Thursday, June 30, 2005

More Family Photos

(More family photos. Sorry it's been a while - I'm still sick, but thought I'd better get some photos out there lest I fall really far behind...)

First of all, my wife suggested I break the "contemplating which way to perish" photo into three separate photos, so here are the new versions:
Contemplating an Unpleasant Choice
Baked to Death
Lion Buffet

I mentioned before that my mom liked dolls. Well, my dad didn't care for dolls particularly, but he did have his own related obsession: miniatures. His job at work was to measure really, really small things very accurately, so something about a tudor sofa at 1/2400th scale appealed to him. For some reason. Anyway, near the end of the first day's travels, he said he wanted to stop at a miniatures shop that he had heard about. We went about forty minutes out of our way to get to this little hole-in-the-wall shack in the middle of nowhere.

It was tiny, not much bigger than an outhouse. I was relieved. "This won't take long," I thought.
The Shack of Miniatures
Unfortunately, I was about to learn a little something about not judging a book by its cover, or in this case, judging an itty bitty teeny book by its eensy weensy tiny cover. As I walked into the shop, a wave of horror swept over me as I realized that when you deal in products that are measured in square millimeters, you can fit a lot of inventory in a tiny little shop...
Shack of Miniatures, Interior

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Bring out yer dead

This has been quite a week. Early in the week, my wife and I were both grappling with the Hershey squirts. She's still dealing with hers, but mine has subsided in favor of something that looks and acts like a sinus infection, complete with drainage nausea, but which the doctor tells me is just allergies. My son is all congested with a rattling cough, and has an ear infection in both ears.

And to put the icing on the cake, I woke up this morning unable to open my left eye because it was sealed shut with a vile yellowish crust. That's right, pinkeye!

At this rate, I think one of us is going to see an arm drop off tomorrow afternoon or so. I'm hoping that being sick all this time is at least making us a little more resistant to the crawling cruds so that when Captain Trips comes to call, it will all be worth it...

First Steps

It was a big milestone day for my son. He took his first steps across the living room floor between me and my wife today, without holding on to anything. He walked like a drunk zombie, but he did it. He didn't seem to understand what all the cheering was about, but he grinned anyway because mommy and daddy were acting like such giddy fools.

It doesn't seem that long since he couldn't even crawl. Already, I feel the sands of time slipping through my fingers. Tomorrow, I'll be standing on the sidewalk waving goodbye as he drives off to college, and I'll wonder where my charming little boy disappeared off to.

Friday, June 24, 2005

An Unpleasant Choice

(More anniversary party stuff.)

As I mentioned last time, we went on this trip through the deep south in the middle of summer with no air conditioning. Normally, that's not so bad, because you can always roll the windows down.

Unfortunately, my dad had the brilliant idea to go on one of those drive-through safari's, where you drive through a park full of lions and tigers and bears that aren't in cages, just roaming freely. The only thing between the predatory animal and a delicious tourist smorgasbord is a rolled-up window.
Safari of Death
To make things worse, dad's estimate of a five to ten minute drive was off by a factor of ten, because the sadists in the car in front of us wanted to stop every five feet to take pictures of every tree, shrub, rock, and blade of grass.

So, we sat there simmering in our own juices for about as long as it takes to roast a turkey. When the heat stroke settled in and I started to hallucinate, I realized we had a dubious choice: either roll the window down to let a breeze in and risk death by pointy teeth, or leave the window rolled up and bake to death. Luckily, I was too weak from dehydration to move the window handle, and I passed out.
An Unpleasant Choice
To this day, I don't know how we made it out of there alive.

Road Trip

(More anniversary photo stuff.)

Although my dad was handy in the woodworking area, he wasn't so handy in the automobile department. When I was about ten, we went on a road trip from Albuquerque to Washington DC to New Orleans and back.
Trip Map
We had put in a new air conditioner in the car to prepare for the trip, and on the second day out, we noticed that whenever we turned it on, parts would fall out of the bottom of the car!
Parts Falling Out
So, we spent the rest of the trip, through the deep south in the high heat of summer, without air conditioning.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Monkey Game Proof of Concept

Monkey Game ScreenshotI was out from work sick today, but that didn't stop me from working on the proof of concept for one of the mini-games in our upcoming educational title. This particular minigame has the player using fruit to entice a monkey through a ruined temple.

Most of the artwork was taken, for testing purposes, from an older personal project I was working on that was going to be something like Final Fantasy Tactics, but the graphics required proved to be a bit overwhelming. But it was sure handy to have the handful of tilesets I drew lying around when I went to build this proof of concept! (No, the monkey wasn't going to be in the tactics game - one of our graphic designers provided the monkey graphics.)

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Out in the Woodshop

(Sorry I haven't had an update in a few days. I've been sick with a plague my son must have brought home from day care. Here's some more anniversary photos to help take back the slack.)

While Mom did all the painting and detailing, my dad was the one who did all the woodworking on projects like haunted dollhouses. Another way to put it would be to say that he did all the dangerous work. Considering himself an expert woodworker, he favored the biggest, most dangerous power tools he could find, which he would outfit with giant rusty bloodstained sawblades with long sharp teeth.
Dad's Workshop
Of course, he didn't do it alone. He needed a helper. That turned out to be me. My dad would push the wood towards the sawblades. My job was to reach around either side of the spinning wheel of death to guide the wood on the other side. "Careful," my Dad would say, "get too close, and that thing will chop off your head."
Daddy's Little Helper in the Workshop
It was scary helping him like that. I'd always try not to look at the floor, where the severed fingers of previous helpers lay strewn in the sawdust. That just made me nervous.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Disney Marketing is Truly Everywhere

Tortilla DecalsSo you've seen Disney marketing on just about every type of merchandise, and you think you've seen it all. Not even. I was looking at a package of Mission brand tortillas (which are pretty good, btw), and I saw that they have an offer for - get this - edible tortilla decals with disney characters and landmarks on them. I have to see these in action. Unfortunately, you can't order them online - it's a snail-mail-only offer involving writing your name and address on a 3x5 card. (Do people still do that?)

Friday, June 17, 2005

Crafts Galore

(More anniversary party photos.)

It turns out that the Haunted Dollhouse really left an impression on the neighbor kids. I mean, what other kid had a torture dungeon playset?
Showing the Dollhouse
The fact that my parents made a haunted dollhouse for me wouldn't surprise you if you knew what life in the Chamberlin house was like. You see, my parents loved arts and crafts type projects. They were always working on projects, and there were craft supplies in every nook and cranny throughout the house.
Project Central
I started counting the projects we started when I was eight, and by the time I was fourteen, they had worked on over four hundred and twenty projects. Of which they completed two. (And the haunted dollhouse was not one of them - it's still not finished. It still needs the vampire balcony attached, and the mad scientist's laboratory has some machinery that needs finishing up. Not that I cared, because the cool parts like the trap door, secret passage, and death bed all worked...)

Slipping into the Dark Side

(More anniversary photos.)

So, in that house, you couldn't stay indifferent to the creepy things forever. At some point, you had to either embrace the creepiness (a'la the Addams Family) or go completely insane. Some would argue that there's not much distance between the two.
Dark is Your Friend
After that night, I had a newfound interest in all things spooky. I would get anything from the Scholastic Reading Catalog that had anything to do with Dracula, the Wolf Man, Frankenstein's Monster, and so on.

My mother actually found a way to take advantage of her love of dolls and my love of creepy things. The following Christmas, there was a haunted dollhouse waiting for me under the tree. My mother, normally a calm, quiet woman, described with unnatural zeal the vampire belfry, the secret passageway, the deadly bed, and the trap door that led to a dungeon in the mad scientist's laboratory.
The Haunted Dollhouse

Thursday, June 16, 2005

The Doll Workshop

(More drawings for the anniversary party.)

It was easy to lose your way in the dark with all those creepy dolls staring down at you. But the one place you didn't want to stumble into in the middle of the night was Mom's Doll Workshop.
Doll Workshop
Trays and trays of severed baby limbs and arms, their ceramic skins glowing eerily in the moonlight!
Trays of Limbs
And those faces! Hundreds of decapitated dolls staring at you with empty eye sockets, the backs of their heads sheared off and their eyes plucked out, glaring balefully at you with evil intent!
Doll Heads
What is a child to do with such terror?
Going Catatonic
Approach of the Doll
Cured of Catatonia
When you're a little kid, nothing is worse than a doll you accidentally set off in the middle of the night. You jump right out of your skin.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Evil Dolls

More anniversary party "photos" for the photo album. This time, we're taking a look at what my parents' doll obsession does to the poor child living with them.

My mother liked to keep the creepiest dolls in the living room, standing around as if they were half-alive little zombie children waiting for someone to cross their path. I never really trusted those creepy dolls.
Suspicious Dolls
As creepy as they were during the day, at night, they were far worse. Imagine being a six-year-old boy and getting up in the middle of the night to get a drink of water. As you step out into the hall, you see them, staring down at you from the shelves, watching...watching...
Midnight Encounter
Their glassy eyes seem to follow you as you tiptoe down the hallway, their unnaturally pale skin glowing eerily in the moonlight...
Creepy Doll on Shelf
What malignant force lurks inside those hollow skulls? What evil presence lies in wait inside these creepy automatons?
Creepy Doll Closeup

Dodged a Bullet?

At the risk of jinxing myself, it looks like the much-afeared communications merger won't be happening, at least not anytime soon. Our new department head, tapped from within the ranks of the department, and someone who has served as department head before, is now sitting in the captain's chair, and things are looking better.

One point that was made in the departmental meeting was that our team would not survive being transplanted. Not that we're a fragile group, but that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Having a group of intelligent people of diverse skills, who are professional, good at what they do, and like working with each other is pretty rare in the industry, and it would be foolish to throw that away. The products created from this synergy is exactly the sort of thing that will help advance our university's interests.

The emerging game lab is a good example. Only a handful of universities are even acknowledging gaming as a viable means of mass communication and artistic expression, but we're taking our first steps in that direction, and we're doing it from the beginning with a outreach-minded perspective, rather than an insular academic one. The fact that we have media muscle enough to spare to create a gaming lab is a testament to how strong, versatile, and forward-thinking our unit is (and by extension, the administration who supports us in our efforts).

In the end, I don't think any of our jobs were in danger. We have a great team of highly talented people. But we probably were in danger of having the wind sucked out of our sails by transplanting us or dividing us up into different groups under different leaders. It's good to see that the administration understands and values the sort of team that we've managed to build. It bodes well.

Merlin's Revenge

I just stumbled on this really well-done webgame called Merlin's Revenge. The gameplay reminds me of Robotron and Crystal Quest, but it has its own game mechanic that works really well. Check it out.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Mom Rocks

More anniversary party drawings. These are about Mom, who liked dolls maybe a little too much.
She was very protective of her dolls, which caused problems, since it was quite a while before I could grasp the concept that some toys are not meant to be played with. I got a little lecture the time she found me playing Star Wars with her antique German Claudette Bébé doll. (Little Charlotte was kicking Darth's ass, by the way.)
Mom Explaining About Her Dolls
Back then, I didn't distinguish between "dolls" and "action figures." Now I understand that boys don't play with dolls, which leads me to believe that "action figures" are simply dolls without cooties.

And so it begins

We all knew that a meta-economy for videogaming was in the works. Between the for-sale Everquest items to the planned deluge of micropayments on the Xbox 360, it was only a matter of time. Now it's been bumped to the next level; people with more disposable income can skip the tedious levelling-up process for MMOG's by just paying a premium for a more experienced character.

My worry is that this is the beginning of a vicious circle. If I'm a game company making a MMOG, and I can make money off of people wanting to skip the work it takes to level up, then I can make MORE money by making it even HARDER to level up. And if people will pay for items that you have to work for in the game, maybe they'll pay even more for items that you can ONLY get by paying for them. Gameplay could easily slip away from entertainment value to revenue generation value. And if the real-world rich people become virtual-world rich people, then all the bad things about class differences will come with it - how long before we start seeing a problem with virtual poverty in MMOG's?

More Rabbit Pictures

I continued making graphics for the show today. Here, we see my brother giving the universal hippie hand symbol for "peace." Or maybe he's ordering five more beers from a Roman bartender.
Big Brother
Eventually, my brother escaped went off to College to find himself.
Brother Leaving
That left me-self alone with my parents. Little did I know what would become of me...

Friday, June 10, 2005

NMSU Game Lab Coming Together

Our university game lab is really starting to come together. Next week, we begin our first Game Play Think Tank, where we bring in a gaggle of kids from diverse audiences, teach them to look critically at games and elucidate their opinions, and plumb them for insights on game design targeted at their age range.

The result of this first Think Tank will hopefully be a solid process for helping kids help us analyze games, and a way to package that up for clients or for our own internal user testing. Once we get the process down, we'll start doing actual feedback testing with a lot more kids in an after-school program setting. We have two projects in the pipe for the next Think Tank already : our own pirate-themed food safety game, and a careers game for NASA.

Also, a long-term goal will be to help kids produce some games themselves by teaching them how to use programs like Adobe Photoshop and some easy-to-use game development engines. The goal here is to see what they come up with, make them really good at thinking about game design, get kids doing creative work instead of passive play, and to get them thinking about a possible career in game development.

But first, we have to get everything set up. We've got the game lab painted with hip colors, and we've got a lot of our equipment in place, but we still need to purchase some furniture, consoles, and even more games to round out our little game library. The library itself is rather tiny - my personal library eclipses it - but part of the expansion strategy for the library is to let the kids advise us on the games we absolutely have to have, so we purposefully held back some budget to pick up more games later on.

If you have relatively recent games you would like to donate to our library, or if you're a game developer and you'd like to send us a review copy of your game to include in our kids-as-critics program, please contact me - we'd love to have your game(s)!

Floydian Slip

More work on the piece I'm doing for my parents' anniversary party. I'm currently working on the part about my big brother. Here's two pieces about him. The first depicts the normal course of events as I was growing up (poor guy!):
It was like that pretty much all the time until he learned that he could put me into a butterfly-hallucinating stupor by playing Pink Floyd at me:
This would give him a chance to relax, and probably also get him a few laughs at my dazed expressions.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Simpsons on the Silver Screen

It was only a matter of time, I suppose: a Simpsons movie is in preproduction.

Nuclear Family

I'm thinking of doing a little slideshow/animation for my parents' 50th wedding anniversary. I don't know if I'm going to have time to do what I have in mind, but I've at least sketched out a cartoon version of our family:
Nuclear Family
The idea of doing a black-and-white rabbit-based cartoon thing, obviously, is based on Chris Harding's excellent work that I blogged about last week. His piece worked so well that I think the idea would be perfectly suited for what I'm trying to accomplish with my piece. Also obviously, I have nowhere near the illustration skills of Harding. Hopefully since I'm family, that much will be forgiven...

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Compelling optical illusion

This is one of the best optical toys I've ever seen. No matter how many times I look at it - even bringing it into Photoshop to check the veracity of the claim - my brain still tricks my eyes.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Game Creator Roundup

Two game creation platforms were recently released for you aspiring game designers.

The first is the impressive-looking 3D game platform called Unity the engine for which was developed for the Ambrosia game GooBall. Unity appears to go to a lot of effort to streamline the game development process. It allows the programmer to modify the game environment on the fly, and replay the environment at will without compilation. It uses C# or JavaScript as its scripting language and appears to be a very capable platform.

The other game is Sawblade Software's Power Game Factory, a user-friendly tool for making sidescroller games. Whereas Unity requires actual programming (and is therefore more powerful), Power Game Factory has a more point-and-click dialogue box approach to game construction, making it more accessible to novice game developers. Still, it looks like no slouch, with multiple levels of parallax scrolling and support for sexy features like camera zooming. The sample gameplay movies show a very fluid and detailed environment.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

SeaWorld Trip

We went to SeaWorld San Antonio yesterday, and damn, was it hot. Sweltering heat and high humidity made for miserable conditions; our day consisted of hopping from shade to shade to air conditioned building - anything less would have meant sunstroke. I bought a frozen lemonade, and it had already started melting before I could pay for it.

But we still had a lot of fun. Having my son along changed the theme park experience completely. I'm typically a roller coaster nut, but I found that I had no desire to go on them (and there are two really good ones there - the Great White and the Steel Eel), because I just wanted to spend the day doing things that my son could do. Least of all did I want to subject him to one of those long, hot line queues with no payoff.

So, we attended the fantastic water shows. He absolutely flipped out when he first saw the dolphins jumping out of the water, pointing with both hands, eyes wide open, and making insistent grunting noises. Nothing like a child's excitement to help you rediscover your sense of wonder at the natural world.

And his cheerfulness was infectious. I noticed other patrons sitting near us watching his reaction to the performances and smiling. More than once, they commented about how happy and excited he seemed - his antics had added to the enjoyment of the show for them, as well.

The only attraction we went to that wasn't a sea life show was R. L. Stine's Haunted Lighthouse (featuring the acting talent of Christopher Lloyd, Lea Thompson, Michael McKean, and "Weird Al" Yankovic - you'd think it would be better than it is with all that talent!). We sat in the back so that if it turned out to be too much for him, we could leave. Quite the contrary - the boy fell soundly asleep to the sound of ghostly noises, tense music, thunderstorms, and screams of terror. That's my boy - he'll be a home haunter for sure!

So, it was hot as Hell's kitchen, but it was totally worth it. It was a big day for my son, too - he slept long through the night and let us sleep in until well after nine o' clock. Thank you, SeaWorld!

Friday, June 03, 2005

Haunted Castle

Because the transportation to the conference's Boot Scoot didn't have a car seat for our son, we ended up staying at the hotel tonight instead of joining everyone. Barb took a nap and watched the boy while I sauntered over to the IMAX theater nearby to catch Haunted Castle, a 3D animated adventure-movie-slash-music-video.

Haunted Castle

I was expecting something on the order of R. L. Stine's Haunted Lighthouse, which is a spooky 3D attraction you'll find at the SeaWorld/Busch Gardens parks. But I was pleasantly surprised. The 3D video effects were superb - easily better than even the Disney attractions Honey, I Shrunk the Audience and Muppet Show 3D. It was so immersive, I was able to notice some 3D pebbles on the stairs that had been placed a little above the ground. There were still some places that caused errors, mostly when they tried to put things too close to the camera, but overall, it was very good 3D presentation.

Unfortunately, the story was terrible, but still better than the Haunted Lighthouse storyline. It follows a would-be rock star who is offered the Faustian bargain to sell his soul in exchange for becoming a rock god. His mother, who made the deal before him and now inhabits the Haunted Castle as a ghost, tries to save him. It turns out that "Mister D" doesn't like opera, so our hero does his three tenors Donna Mobile impression at the end, and it causes the Haunted Castle to go down in flames. Somewhere in the middle of all this, we see a music video of a four-piece robot monkey band (no, I'm not kidding).

But really, you don't go see a show called Haunted Castle 3D for the plot, now, do you? The plot is merely a vehicle for some really fun 3D environments. The castle is very well done, as is the Musician's Hell scene (the idea of Hell being a giant run-down theme park over hot lava somehow appeals to me). The scenes don't really mesh well together (again, robot monkeys), but once you've transitioned, each segment starts working on its own. Curiously, one segment (the Opera area) is jarringly more graphic and violent than the rest of the segments, with extended shots of maimed people being subjected to torture. This, when the rest of the show is solidly kid-friendly. This latter phenomenon is perhaps explained when the credits roll, where you discover each segment was done by a different person.

The music, which I expected to be terrible, turned out to be pretty good. Although most of the fan reviews I've read like the guy's songs (performed by a band called Arid), I actually liked the mother's song better (performed by a band called Lunascape), because it had that dreamlike rock/operatic feel of the song from The Fifth Element. Curiously, both bands are Belgium-based, so I assume the production was Belgium-based as well.

All in all, a fun ride. Not a good show, but certainly worth the price of admission for all the eye candy and 3D immersive effects.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Greetings from San Antonio

I'm currently attending the Association of Communication Excellence conference in San Antonio, Texas. So far, the experience has been enjoyable - my wife and I are trading off attending sessions while the other watches our son. This is a great place to have such an arrangement; the conference is at the San Antonio RiverWalk hotel, which is right on the RiverWalk. I can take him out in the stroller directly out of the hotel and onto the riverwalk, where we can stroll up and down the river, watching the boats and ducks. I went out last night to take some photos, but we left our card reader at home, so I'll have to wait until we get home to post them.

The conference itself is pretty good so far, although a lot of what I'm hearing is stuff I already know. For instance, I went to a session on using RSS for news syndication this morning, where I was hoping to get some insight into some character set problems I've been having with our own news feeds (in the Southwest, you get a lot of tilde's and accent marks). Unfortunately, the session was aimed more at the beginning RSS user. I did have some discussions about RSS with some other people afterwards that were productive on some other fronts, but I still don't know how to do tilde's and accents.

Most of my other time was spent learning more about "e-eXtension," which is a proposed way of unifying Extension efforts online across the country. To hear them talk, it will be the be-all and end-all of online Extension presences; it promises to take "the best of the best" - but still allow localized content. It will serve up great publications from, say, Arizona, but brand them as your own university's, and your stuff will get served to people in other states.

There are still a lot of questions, though. For instance, they're saying things like "standards based" and "any format any device," but they're also saying that each content group will be needing its own "Multimedia Designer" and "Multimedia Programmer." I'm not sure exactly how they plan to achieve multimedia-based, interactive, media-rich web sites that are standards compliant and play back on any device.

The other concern I have is that this is sounding more and more like a separate corporate entity that expects national Extension employees to just give them content for free, while they turn around and sell advertising on the site. The idea of a federal, state, and locally funded web site selling banner ads strikes me as being a bit odd. Ostensibly, we're here to be unbiased reporters of the results of scientific research in the public interest, but won't having corporate ads undermine that independence? Is it appropriate to have Yu-Gi-Oh ads on our national 4-H page?

However, I'm willing to put all of my concerns aside and participate. IF they turn out to be right about being able to deliver what they are describing, and IF this doesn't turn into a cash cow for someone, then it could a pretty great way to strengthen everyone's Extension efforts. Extension needs a unified presence of some sort, and even if this isn't the best way, at least it's some way.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Make Mine Shoebox

Screenshot from 'Make Mine Shoebox'Make Mine Shoebox is a corporate morale-booster for Shoebox greeting card company done by the talented Chris Harding. It's pretty hilarious. My favorite line is "Input and Out-crap." Heh. That's a good one.