Friday, December 23, 2005

GROW Ornament

The guys at eyezmaze have made a special holiday version of their awesome line of GROW games.

If you haven't played the GROW games, you're in for a real treat; these deceptively simple games are beautifully animated in Flash with surprisingly compelling gameplay. Be sure to check out the other GROW games while you're there.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Dancemat-enabled version of Santa vs. the Snow Monsters

Gameplay screenshot from Santa vs. the Snow Monsters
Due to popular request, I've put up a dancemat-enabled version of Santa vs. the Snow Monsters game we did for this year's office holiday party. It's only been tested under Safari for Mac OS X, using a RedOctane USB dance mat, and there are no configuration options whatsoever (being a one-off we slapped together in a few days), so I hope it works for you. If not, well, I probably won't get a chance to hack on it until after the holidays, but send any issue descriptions to me anyway.

Happy holidays!

Pirates Water Test v2.0

Screenshot of Pirate Ship
I've updated the cartoon-style 3D water test that I put up a few days ago to a new version that includes a quick pirate ship that I threw together. This one isn't interactive, but it does show off some more cool stuff like how the wake of a ship might look, and how actual 3D geometry with cartoony textures might look in play.

Guitar Hero

Well, it's official. I'll never be a rock star. I know this because I start to choke even on the easy level of Guitar Hero, the new gimmick-controller game for the PS2. But this is irrelevant, because the game is a blast, and is up there with Shadow of the Colossus in sheer genius of game design. The controller (your "axe") is really well suited to the gameplay, and combined with the music score and play mechanics, really makes you feel like you're playing the music of some of the rock legends. All this is wrapped up in a polished and fun rock-themed interface and graphic style that makes you feel like you're clubbing it in your own living room.

The music ranges from Pantera to Boston, and the guitar hero avatars you can select range from angry teen girls (think Avril Levine) to aging rocksters (think John Lennon), so there should be something for everyone who likes rock music here. Best of all, each avatar has his or her own signature style for firing up the audience, which can be triggered by filling up a gauge by playing well, and then doing a rock pose with your guitar to activate it (serious!).

It really is a great game. Steep at $70 (or $140 for two!), but worth it - the tactile pleasure of holding a guitar in your hand and feeling like you are actually playing Symphony of Destruction or You Got Another Thing Comin' for a crowd of adoring fans is an experience you just don't get with the normal controllers. I give it two thumbs up...or rather, two fingers up: the index finger and the pinky.

Rock on, dudes.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Pirates water test

Today, I've been working on creating some water effects for the pirate-themed educational game we're building. Because we're going with a cartoony feel, and because we're modeling ocean water and not, say, a pool, I didn't think a full-blown simulation with refraction and reflection was appropriate (and would probably be too expensive processor-wise anyway), so I experimented with a particle-like system that draws cartoony waves and ripples across the surface of the water. The result, I think, looks pretty good and is fairly flexible and extensible for particular effects. It could, of course, get even more sophisticated with animated waves, splashes, and other effects, but for now, I think we have a proof of concept for how water can work in the game, which was one of the areas that I was most concerned about.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Judge cuts through the ID BS

Some good news for a change. A judge in Dover Pensylvania has ruled that "Intelligent Design" cannot be taught in public schools there. Score one for reason. It's refreshing to see the judge come out with a clear, unequivocal statement that ID is not science, but is merely an unethical wink-and-a-nudge attempt to "dress up" supernatural creationism in the mantle of science so that it can be taught in the public schools. He said:
We find that the secular purposes claimed by the Board amount to a pretext for the Board's real purpose, which was to promote religion in the public school classroom...It is ironic that several of these individuals, who so staunchly and proudly touted their religious convictions in public, would time and again lie to cover their tracks and disguise the real purpose behind the ID Policy.
Cue: outraged right-wingers decrying "activist judges."

Xyle Scope

Xyle Scope Icon
Just stumbled upon a great little Mac app for web developers called Xyle Scope. It's a web browser (that uses the Safari engine) that allows you to interactively view all the style sheet and XHTML information of the page or any element you click on in the page. You can interactively experiment with the CSS (and save the changes if the files are local), see at a glance what rules in which files are being applied to elements (including the cascading precedence), see padding and margins, browse the hierarchical structure of the XHTML, and even browse the DTD. Well worth checking out if you use a Mac to do your web development.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Shameful acts

According to CNN, Bush is attacking people who want judicial oversight over citizen surveillance by saying:
My personal opinion is it was a shameful act, for someone to disclose this very important program in time of war. The fact that we're discussing this program is helping the enemy.
It is in no way shameful. The New York Times sat on the story for an entire year waiting for the President to either come clean or get judicial oversight back into the process, but he just kept doing it.

The shameful act was instituting covert citizen surveillance when it has explicitly been outlawed by Congress. The shameful act was not respecting the basic principle of judicial oversight over the ability of law enforcement to pry into our lives. The shameful act was to try to smear people looking to stop some of our most fundamental freedoms from being bartered away in the name of a neverending war on terror.

Think about it. Ten years ago, what country would you think someone would be describing if they told you their leader instituted illegal secret surveillance of its citizens, held people offshore indefinitely in a network of secret prisons without access to counsel, and violated the Geneva Convention by using torture to extract information from prisoners? Would you even remotely have thought about America? These are the sorts of things that enemies of freedom, not defenders of freedom, engage in. The war on terror is no justification for waging a secret war on our civil liberties. Like Benjamin Franklin said:
They who can give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.

Santa versus the Snow Monsters

Well, I've finally gotten around to releasing the web version of Santa versus the Snow Monsters.
Santa Screenshot
It's a fun little diversion, but it's also a proof-of-concept for how we're planning on doing our environments and graphics for the pirates-themed educational game we're working on, and I think it turned out rather well, so if you like this look, you're liable to see more of it later.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

The Good News and the Bad News

The good news is that today, I got carded. The bad news is that it was for trying to buy Nyquil.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Santa vs. the Snow Monsters a success!

Well, Matt and I got the Santa vs. the Snow Monsters game done with only moments to spare before its unveiling at our training-slash-white-elephant-gift-meeting today over the lunch hour. Literally, in the last minutes before showtime, we were slapping in the last Santa sounds and snow monster belchy noises, which I didn't even test before throwing the game on a thumb drive and heading upstairs to the room.

But it seems like the game was a big hit. It didn't crash (yay!), and we had some stellar performances on the dance mat as people battled the snow monsters with their feet. The high score went to Gerritt, who dominated the other scores by a whole degree of magnitude, with a final score of 114. People seemed to like watching the game as well as playing, because there were lots of oohs, ahhs, clapping and cheering going on, so I think we had a real winner. I even had people asking for copies of the game for themselves or their kids.

More importantly, though, was the fact that Matt and I got to bust out some game-design-fu on a simple, short deadline. With the help of his graphics, we managed to work together to create something that really worked and looked great in short order - a complete 3D game that looks like we spent a lot more than a few days on it. And Matt and I seem to have a similar philosophy and sense for game design. As we bounced ideas off of each other, we quickly hit on a final idea that just seemed to click well, and Matt's sense of presentation added a whole level of style to the game. With him doing the graphics, I can concentrate on developing the gameplay. It's a clean, streamlined way to go about making the game.

This makes me much more optimistic about the Pirates project - with this test under our belts, we now know what it takes to produce good, fun Shockwave3D content, and the look is such a winner that I think we now know what our game is going to look like. Matt's charming graphics, applied to an entire game, is going to bring our educational games to a whole new level. I can't wait to get started!

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Santa Claus vs. the Snow Monsters

For giggles, Matt and I have been working on a fun little game for this year's Christmas party here at Ag Comm.
Santa Claus Screenshot
It's called Santa Claus vs. the Snow Monsters, and the premise is that Santa has crash-landed in the snow on Christmas Eve, and has to fend off an army of snow monsters bent on finding out if that belly actually tastes like a bowl full of jelly.

The game is controlled with a dance mat (like in Dance Dance Revolution), and you control Santa inside his hastily-constructed snow fort. He can rotate left and right to face the oncoming snow monsters in different directions, he can duck their belched-out snowballs, and throw snowballs back at them. I'm doing the programming and Matt is doing the artwork. (That's not Santa in the snow fort there, obviously - that's a pirate from our pirate game that I'm using as a placeholder graphic for Santa.)

The soaring dream of flight

It's official! Virgin Galactic has put pen to paper to help develop the New Mexico Spaceport, right in our own back yard. The goal is to have the Spaceport functional with commercial spaceflights operational three years or so from now. Three years!

Many times, I've wondered whether moving away from Charlottesville, ranked one of the best places to raise a child in the nation, to Las Cruces, in one of the worst-educated states in the nation, will start my son's life off with a disadvantage he may never recover from. But this news brings with it some real optimism for the future for me. The influx of high-tech corporations will bring high-end jobs, and by extension, good educational opportunities. The tax and tourism revenues will give New Mexico, one of the poorest states in the nation, a much-needed shot in the arm to develop its infrastructure, educational and otherwise. And my son is going to grow up in a community that actively embraces mathematics, engineering, astronomy, and all the other disciplines that go into space flight. All of these things could drastically improve his educational experience as he grows up here.

But more importantly, he will grow up in a community that celebrates the courageous vision of space flight and the steadfast diligence of science. He's going to grow up watching spacecraft shrug off the shackles of gravity and crawl their way up into the bright New Mexico sky on plumes of fire. And he might even one day ride one of those craft into the weightless mantle of space, look down on the shining face of Earth, and experience that magnificent moment of awe that so far only a handful of brave men and women have experienced.

I believe there's value being close to the space program, even for a child. Especially for a child. We have so few things in this world that represent the fundamental dreams of humanity, that transcend the nasty politics and gruesome wars we wage on the surface of this rock, and which open onto such expansive and pristine vistas of exploration. Having the core of space flight so close may give my son the one thing more valuable than an education: something meaningful to apply it to.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Ups and Downs

After arrogantly posting that my PS2 started working again, I have been slapped back by the hand of fate. My PS2 is festering again.

It's a bummer, too, because I wanted to go back into that Splashdown game I mentioned before and take a look at how they did their level design some more. I don't think we're going to be doing racing games in the pirate game we're building, but I still want to figure out some of the "design patterns" that lend themselves to fun environments like the ones in that game.

The good news is that the USB dance mats came in today. Tomorrow, I'm going to try to hook them up to the Mac and see if I can get Director to talk to them via the Enhancer Xtra. If I can, then we can start developing games that use the dance mat controller. Since we're trying to develop educational games and health and nutrition, games that get kids moving are ideal for this topic.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Splashdown: Rides Gone Wild

First, a bit of news: my PS2 miraculously started working again. Go figure.

Anyway, I picked up Splashdown: Rides Gone Wild quite a while ago so that I would have some 2-player games when nephews and other people come over, but I hadn't really had much of a chance to get into it. I broke it out tonight and played it, and it's actually a pretty fun racing game. It's also relevant right now, since it combines good racing dynamics to look at while I tinker on my own racing game, and it has a whole pirates-themed course to look at while we are (still!) desiging the pirates-themed educational game at work.

Of course, the best part of Splashdown: Rides Gone Wild is the fact that they drew upon Disney theme rides as inspiration for the course settings, which is a real blast. My favorite course, by extension, is the one that is a lot like the Disney Haunted Mansion: Blackwater Castle.
Splashdown screenshot
I looked for the official web site for this game, but interestingly, the THQ web site doesn't even mention the game, and they're the ones who made it. Luckily, Gamespot comes to the rescue with a whole raft of images and Developer Q&A, which is always interesting to read. The developer sums up why I like the Blackwater Castle course so much:
For instance, on our Blackwater Castle course, you release a flood of ghosts from a haunted castle in lap one. During lap two, the ghosts attack a sleepy village, zombies pop out of the cemetery, and the villagers get riled up and march up to the castle (pitchforks, torches, and all). In lap three, they burn the castle down--while you're racing through it.
Yeah, can't go wrong with that. And the level of detail is pretty amazing; for instance, there's a great but easy-to-miss sight gag where you see a zombie burying the gravedigger in the graveyard. That's just good stuff. I hope we can fit some of that fun and creativity into the pirates game or my racing game.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Single Parent Day

So, it was me and my son together all day today while my wife was in California at a meeting for our "games on mobile devices" grant. We had a lot of fun together today. We colored and played and ran around and napped, just the two of us.

He was being such a little joy that I took him to Chuck E. Cheese's for dinner, and it wasn't as bad an experience as I thought it would be. I figured I'd hate it but he would love it, but in reality, it wasn't so bad for me, either. Sure, there's the constant noise, but what place where kids have a lot of fun isn't noisy? The place was clean, the wait staff was very polite and helpful, the food was passable considering it wasn't really the point of the place, and the whole operation was well-organized and clear. In fact, the only problem we had was that the photo booth ran out of photo paper while we were in it. The rest of the time, my son was gawking around at a myriad of age-appropriate things to look at, which basically let me relax and eat a few slices of pizza because I didn't have to constantly entertain him.

After Chuck E. Cheeses, we drove out to Doña Ana to check out Daniel's Xmas light display. It's every bit as fun and cool as his photos imply, only moreso. I snapped a few photos that I'll put up later. Although there were many people in that subdivision decorating, Daniel's is the most elaborate, with the most custom-built creative stuff. Looks like Kris Kringle exploded all over his front yard. My son liked it so much he cried when I stuck him back in the car for the ride home. (Thankfully, he quickly got over it as I drove around the subdivision looking at the other light displays.)

And as I was putting him to bed, he struggled up out of his drowsiness to give me a kiss on the cheek. I like to think that's his way of saying thanks for a fun day. And my wife came home just as I was getting him to bed, so she got a chance to rock him a bit before he went down for the night. It was a lot of work, and I'm dogged, but all in all, a pretty great day for him, and a pretty great day for me.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Game Developer's Refuge taken down by a pedophile

Last night, a post appeared at the Game Developer's Refuge, a web site dedicated to independent game development, requesting art assistance for a massively multiplayer game in which the players take on the role of pedophiles trying to sexually assault children. A few board members showed their gutter-stripes, saying that the game sounded cool, and offered assistance.

At first, the claim was that the game would be satire, which I would like to believe is the reason some suckers were willing to help at the beginning. But as critics started showing up and taking the guy to task, the idiot's defense of his game idea shifted to "education" about pedophiles, to "it's better to have pedophiles acting out their fantasies virtually than on real kids", and finally to some crazy-ass rant about how he is a worshipper of chaos or something. Clearly, the guy is a nutjob with pedophilic tendencies himself.

When the site owner for the Game Developer's Refuge came on, he was so disgusted, he took the entire web site down and is no longer going to host it. He is a new parent, and is now disillusioned with his clientele and his site, apparently to the point where he wants to wash his hands of the whole thing. I personally wish he would have left the board up rather than let this psycho ruin things for everyone, but I understand why he did it. When you have a child, it would be hard enough to stomach even satire about pedophilia, let alone a game that allows people of that inclination to act it out. To think that your site and your servers was aiding in that, and that the people whom you host on your servers thought it was a good idea and wanted to actively help...well, I understand why he did it. Legal issues aside, the emotional taint of that would be very hard to bear every night he looks into his child's eyes.

Of course, the creep who's trying to make this game is just going to go elsewhere until he finds someone willing to help him make his game. What an odious waste of carbon.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

OMG Cup: N0x35C49E

The entries for the OMG Cup are up and ready for download. The OMG Cup is a game programming competition for Mac that typically sports some interesting gameplay by hobbyist developers. If you run Mac and would like some free gaming goodness, head on over and download the games that sound interesting.

N0x35C49E avatarSo far, my personal favorite is N0x35C49E, a shmup in the classic tradition, complete with a big crab-shaped boss battle at the end. But what makes this one cool is that it eschews the typical eye candy and goes for well-formed ASCII art for its graphics, making me nostalgic for the days when we made similar game art back in high school on the VT100's. (But the gameplay stands up on it's own, even without the gimmick graphics.) Be sure to check it out.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005


Half elfToday, on the Order of the Stick, Rich Burlew pulled a gag that almost made me snark milk out my nose. And I wasn't even drinking milk. He's introduced a new character, and has a genius way of marking the physical characteristics of a half-elf. What a great strip.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Harry Potter cameo in Order of the Stick

Rich Burlew did a send-up of the Harry Potter franchise today in the always-funny strip Order of the Stick. Be sure to check it out.

One interesting thing that this strip pointed out which I had (somehow) never noticed before is that the name of Harry Potter's school, Hogwarts, is really just a transposition of the syllables in Warthogs. Could it be that there is a fifth house that has yet to be introduced? We already have Griffins, Ravens, Snakes, and Badgers as mascots for Houses - could the reference to warthogs be a clue to something coming in the last book? (Or is it an homage to Welcome Back, Kotter, a series that featured some students - called "warthogs" - who were equally precocious, troublesome, and likable? Is Dumbledore Mr. Kotter?)

It's official

Well, the shoe dropped today. The department I work for at NMSU has officially been taken out of the College of Agriculture and Home Economics and added to University Communications.

On paper, it's just a reporting line change. In real life, it's hard to say what effect it's going to have. The people we're merging with tend to work the marketing/promotion and crisis management angles, whereas we tend to be education and outreach. There are going to have to be some culture changes on both sides to make this work, I suspect.

And as with all major change, people are reacting with a mixture of trepidation and excitement. Any major shift in bureaucracy dregdes up peoples' fear of instability. Hopefully, this move won't be one of those cases when that fear is justified (and we're not out of the woods yet - the Devil's in the details, and there are lots of details left to iron out).

But I'm setting aside my skepticism, hoping that in the end, this will be a good thing. With this move, we will have the opportunity to work on educational outreach materials from all the colleges, so maybe I'll have a chance to work on mathematics or media literacy education for the people of New Mexico. And I'll finally be able to officially develop services and systems that serve the entire university, instead of only our college, something I've been doing on an informal basis anyway.

One exciting tidbit is that the President is hoping to improve the offerings of our local public television station and NPR station. There's some excitement around the office about perhaps being able to develop and produce some excellent southwest-area children's programming, which I think would be a blast. Maybe this move will put us in a position where we can do that. In discussions with my coworkers, we've had many good ideas that would make excellent children's programming, and I don't think it would be that hard to produce if we do it right - certainly, it would be worth the effort.

This is a really stressful time, and I'm as scared as the next guy about the ways this could go wrong for us, as a group or for particular individuals. But now that it's official, the best approach is to hit it full-bore and do the best job we can. If we do that, we might be given the leeway to work on dream projects that weren't possible when we were limited to the scope of the Ag College. I guess we'll see what the future brings.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Braggin' on my kid

Okay, I think I've done a pretty good job of not being a typical dad on my blog and bragging on how awesome my son is, but I just have to say that I have the best kid ever. Every day, he surprises us with a new learned word, a new behavior, or a new thing that sets him a-giggling. He finally has waving people bye-bye down, and he's learned a small vocabulary of baby sign language so that he now says "Please" and "Thank you" for the things you give him. And he's learned how to roll the ball back and forth with Daddy, which is pretty fun. It's good to see the world through the young, eager eyes of a child again.

Things have been pretty stressful at work lately, due to some uncertainties and changes that are coming down the pipe. But it's amazing how fast he can make you forget all that by doing his impression of a lizard. What a cool kid.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Playstation Zero

Tonight, I went to watch one of my Netflix that had come in, Scary Movie 3, to take my mind off of some stressful things going on at work. I pop it into the DVD player, and it tells me there's "no disc". I pop it out, put it back in. Still "no disc." Not really in the mood to deal with that, and not particularly in a movie-watching mood anyway, I decide to go into the office and play some Disgaea: Hour of Darkness on my PS2.

So I pop in Disgaea, and I start getting disc errors on that, too! I take out Disgaea and put in Dark Cloud 2, and it works. So I think it's the disc - I clean it off a bit and pop Disgaea back in, and I still get the disc error. After much fiddling, I put Dark Cloud 2 back in, and then it doesn't work either. I pop in Disney Golf and have no luck with that either.

My PS2 has officially died. The drive won't recognize discs any more. I guess I know what I'm asking for on my Xmas list this year...

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Dungeon Crawl

Dungeoncrawl SplashA long time ago, I made a fun little Roguelike game called Dungeon Crawl. I never got around to releasing it because, well, I hoped to make some shareware profits off of it, and I never got it playtested and debugged enough to the point where I felt I could charge for it.

I recently dragged it out of cold storage and decided to just to make it freely available to play on my web site. Crawl through the dungeon, slay monsters, grab gold, ponder whether those magic items will help you or splatter your brains all over the cold stone walls. What could be more fun?