Sunday, December 24, 2006

Wii means Whee

Well, both the PS3 and the XBox 360 are apparently having disappointing seasonal sales. The PS3 is low because they haven't been able to make enough, and the XBox 360 is low because, well, they're sitting on shelves collecting dust, I guess. But the Wii has been selling strongly, and apparently, there are lots of people on Craigslist looking to trade their $700 PS3's for $250 Wii's.

I can understand why. The Wii is just plain fun in ways that the other consoles can't be. This phenomenon is discussed in a new Gamasutra article that details the developer's perspective on the console wars, and I have to agree. When I think of the possibility of developing games to be delivered on the network services of the different console systems, it's the Wii that actually gets my creative juices percolating. Sure, we could do something cool for XBox 360 or PS3 as a downloadable, but the Wii is just plain sexier. I want people who play my game to be jumping up and being active, physically engaged with my game and loving it. What developer wouldn't want that?

It's still too early to tell who will dominate this generation of the console wars, but it really wouldn't surprise me to see the Wii let Nintendo leapfrog from third place to first place. The XBox 360 and the PS3 are locked in an "arms race" (which the PS3 has won hands-down), but the Wii is the one that took risks and bet the farm on fun rather than frame rates. I hope it sticks.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Facing the darkness

In a recent meeting about Science Pirates, our educational game to teach kids about the science process and food safety, the deadline for first playable was mentioned: the end of March. It's looking like we're going to have to kick up the development rate to meet it - we still have about 20 scenes (!!!) to build to get to first playable, and then after that, we have another 5-10 scenes to flesh out the story, opening, closing, etc.

It's probably not a good thing, then, that I took on the responsibility to port/revamp another web site at work over the next couple of months. Basically, we're taking over a web site that has a lot of problems, and trying to make them not-problems, both for the client and for us. Unfortunately, the guy who wrote the original site has some really odd ways of doing things, and his code has security holes to boot. I'm basically having to go through and reprogram the entire site, trying to decide what features and existing data schemes to keep, and which to toss and redevelop. I don't really know how I'm going to build their site AND get Science Pirates done at the same time.

I think I'm looking at some long nights and weekends between now and April.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Minor tweaks to MVC.DIR

I've made a few minor tweaks to mvc.dir, my Model-View-Controller Framework for 3D Director projects. Basically, I changed the "game state" manager into a "game state" model object, because there's no need for it to be a full-blown manager.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Off-season Yorick Interest

Here's something I didn't expect: people are still downloading and tinkering with Yorick in December. Halloween is ten months away and we're fully in the swing of the holiday season, yet people are still investigating and planning for their home haunt. I expected for there to be no interest at all in Yorick until at least July or so, but here we are. Home haunters are nothing if not a dedicated group, I guess!

Friday, December 15, 2006

Dodge That Anvil Available for Download

Hooray! The rabbi-licious carrot-collecting anvil-dodging exploding-beach-ball game Dodge That Anvil is now available for download from RabidLab.

If you haven't played this game, you owe it to yourself to check it out. Fresh, polished gameplay that is at once charming, fun, and infuriating. Cool secret areas. Innovative game mechanics. Great graphics. I just spent my lunch hour re-acquainting myself with the world of DTA, and every time I play it, it's as much fun as the first time.

Kudos to RabidLab for a great game. Support them by buying a license, because the world will only be a better place with more RabidLab games.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Sick at the Happiest Place on Earth

I mentioned that I just returned from Disney World. What I didn't mention was that on day two of seven, I woke up with a sore throat, a headache, and nonstop drainage. That was a real bummer, I'll tell you what. I get these symptoms pretty regularly - must be an allergy attack or something, and usually when I get these symptoms, it's a predictable schedule and progression that usually lays me out with nausea for a day or two.

Now, when you're staying on Disney property, you're in a controlled little world. We didn't even rent a car, because they pick you up at the airport, take your bags directly to your room so you don't have to deal with them, and let you go directly to the parks after checking in. It's a great deal, but it pretty much means that you don't have many options for getting stuff that you can't find in the gift shops at the resorts.

Thankfully, Disney had a deal with a local pharmacy. We called them up, they recommended some items, and delivered them to our resort within an hour. I just had to run down to the lobby and pick it up. To my surprise, the drugs they recommended actually staved off the illness for the duration of our time in Orlando, rather than just taking the edge off. (The sore throat and runny nose hit me pretty hard once we got back - I'm only just now getting over it - but this was the first time that predictable progression ever changed much.)

One theory is that these brand drugs are somehow significantly better than my usual brand. But then why would those same drugs stop working as well once I returned to New Mexico? Maybe I was the happy beneficiary of the placebo effect - knowing that I was at the "happiest place on Earth" may have given my body the boost it needed to stave off the sickness for the days I was there. There are stories of elderly people staving off death long enough to see important celebrations and milestones of their children; maybe the promise of riding the Haunted Mansion again had a similar effect...?

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

I'm Back!

For those of you wondering why I haven't been blogging lately, it's because I've been in Orlando visiting the Haunted Mansion, Splash Mountain, and Mission: Space. I went out there with the wife and her side of the family, and we spent a week hitting all the theme parks, meeting all the princesses, and giving my son the ultimate "pirates!" fix he needs to become a well-rounded individual.

Of course, that doesn't help you, does it? To make it up to you, here's a joyous tune to get you into the holiday spirit:

Monday, November 27, 2006

Model-View-Controller Shockwave3D Framework

Today, I released an article on my Model-View-Controller Framework for Shockwave3D Projects which I've been using on various personal projects, and more recently, projects at work. It's been mostly a personal project, but I wanted to make sure there was some documentation for it for my co-workers, so I went ahead and wrote up a description. And now you benefit from that work, too!

In essence, the MVC framework provides a generic way to quickly define the elements of a scene, both the logical model and the visual representation, and to manage user interaction. By writing a text script, you can control what elements get loaded into a scene, what their parameters are, and the order in which they are loaded. It even includes a progress bar for scene loading to give your users feedback on long load sequences.

You can download the framework with a sample scene, and read about how it works. It's set up to work naturally with other concepts discussed in my Shockwave3D Developer's Guide: code thumbnails, multiple cameras, and explode()-based simple scripting.

Feel free to post comments or questions in the comments block of this blog entry.

Monday, November 20, 2006

I'm sold.

I think Nintendo has a winner on their hands. The guys at the studio brought in their new Wii game system today and I've gotta say I'm ready to jump platforms. I'd decided to wait to try each of the new gaming consoles before committing to a platform for the next generation, but today, my mind was made up for me. The PlayStation 1 and 2 have served me well, but the Wii is downright fun in a way that the typical systems and their controllers don't enable.

Case in point: today, I swung a cartoon cow attached to a chain over my head and flung it out into a field, listening to it moo and gonk as it bounced and skidded across the turf. It was hilarious, fun, and different. At $250, it's a no-brainer which console I'm picking up next.

And I wasn't the only one. The Wii had drawn a big crowd over lunch, and everyone was having fun with it. One of my coworkers, who hasn't owned a console since the Atari 2600, was sold on buying a Wii after only a few minutes with it.

The video gaming pundits were skeptical about the Wii because it takes such a different path than the "traditional" consoles. But that's exactly what makes it so attractive, and what will probably make it successful. It puts the fun back into controlling things onscreen. I'm willing to pay for fun, and I'm betting that a lot of other people will, too, after they get a dose of this great little system.

Well done, Nintendo. Sign me up for your next release date.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Featuring our Friends

Tim's Crypt
I've finally gotten around to throwing a little love towards our Friends of ImaginEERIEing experience. We've been getting some truly awesome work from people, and I wanted to do some improvements in how we showcase their work.

First of all, we have a nicer form powered by WuFoo.

Second, the "friends" entries now know what effect of ours they use, so they now appear on the web pages for the individual effects. For instance, peoples' Magic Mirror implementations now show up on the Magic Mirror page in addition to the "friends" page.

Finally, this new version of the "friends" functionality should be a little more reliable. Before, we were doing a database pull from LazyBase, and although they have a great little service, it suffered from outages more than I'd like, so now I'm trying out WuFoo, as mentioned above. The guys at WuFoo are working on an API that should allow me to do "live" pulls eventually, but for now, some Javascript pulls the data from a CSV file. Be sure to have Javascript turned on if you want to see these new features.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

2006 Madame Sarita's Spirit Parlour Script Available

Black Light Puppeteer holding Marius Blackwood puppet
For those of you who were unable to come out to Carnival of Souls 2006, but you want to keep up with the ongoing saga of the struggle between Madame Sarita and the vile Marius Blackwood, the 2006 show script is now available for you to read.

This year, we introduced a lot of new special effects, including a very large, very scary, very menacing puppet for representing the Dark Powers of the Earth, the evil cabal of primordial powers that is ultimately responsible for the benighted state of the Carnival. This show also included more special effects action and less exposition than previous years, which is always a good thing.

As usual, Tracy did a fantastic job as Madame Sarita this year, having to shoulder the burden of learning most of the lines (all other characters are prerecorded). And our puppeteers really did a great job with a pretty tightly choreographed and confusing script that required precise blocking. In particular, Nick did a great job with Marius Blackwood, the villain. Marius is our most articulated puppet, and Nick put that capability to good use bringing Marius Blackwood to life with some laugh-out-loud antics, yet without breaking character. Overall, a great set of performances from everyone involved.

2006 Carnival of Souls Tour

Are you brave enough to walk into the Blackwood family Mausoleum? Dare you speak to the dead in Madame Sarita's Spirit Parlour? Do you have what it takes to stand before the Magic Mirror?

Death angel atop the Blackwood family mausoleum

I'm a little late getting this out, but Halloween 2006 was a huge success, and I now have some photos up showing some of the highlights. (More should be coming when I get the time to compile them.)

So if you're not chicken, come inside and take a guided tour of Carnival of Souls 2006.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

As if Microsoft doesn't have ENOUGH money

I'm beginning to see a pattern in the way Microsoft's new business models are playing out. Now that they have made their fortunes from you buying stuff once, they want you to buy stuff twice. Consider these two recent articles:
  • According to Dan Pourhadi, the new "iPod-Killer-Don't-They-Wish" from Microsoft, called the "Zune" is based on a subscription model for music. The idea is that instead of buying up a whole music library and then listening to only what you buy, you instead pay a subscription fee, and then have access to the entire library to listen to. Only with the Microsoft Zune, you pay a subscription fee and still have to buy the music you want to listen to. (If it's there - Zune Marketplace is reportedly pretty barren at this stage.)
  • According to Tycho at Penny Arcade, EA (and I'd argue, the Xbox 360 development culture in general) is geared towards "unlockable content" which, as you might have guessed, requires a credit card to get unlocked. In other words, if the execs get their way, you will shell out $60 for that cool new game, but then if you want everything that is stored on that disk, you also have to connect up and pay $5 here, $5 there to unlock all the tantalizing pieces that they've essentially decided to lock up and hold for ransom. As Tycho says,
    Gamers aren't angry that they are being given (quote) choices, though let's be frank, these are some pretty shitty choices. They're angry because EA is trying to sell them the game they just bought, again, piece by piece.

Is it just me, or do these two "business model innovations" out of Redmond seem like two sides of the same coin, namely, fostering an environment where you pay Microsoft twice for every product they sell you? It would be one thing if that meant the two pieces were half the price, but neither Xbox games nor Zune music players or downloads seem to be going anywhere near half the market value. They're just double-dipping, pure and simple.

So if you buy a Zune, or buy unlockable Xbox content, I don't want to hear you whining about the price of music or games in five years when this experiment has become the de-facto standard, got it? You're part of the problem, not part of the solution.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Slimy tactics in the eleventh hour

So the Republicans are biting their nails about Democrats looking good in the polls. What's the "party of family values" to do? Start engaging in more deceptiveness and underhanded tricks, as has been their hallmark of late, of course. Apparently, in Philadelphia and other close races, the GOP has been making thousands of robocalls pretending to be from the Democratic candidate in order to annoy voters, including making calls to voters on the "Do Not Call" registry.

The idea is to get people so annoyed with the Democratic candidate from fake robo-calls that they vote for the Republican out of spite.

Get a clue, Republicans. Behavior like this is exactly why you shouldn't be in power. A willingness to engage in outright deception of your constituents is not a good trait for a legislative representative.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Article about our haunt in Las Cruces Sun-News

The Las Cruces Sun-News featured our home haunt today. The article was written by a journalism student who knows Tracy (our "Madame Sarita" this year) who is also going to be helping out at Carnival of Souls this year.

I haven't been doing much blogging much lately, because we're in Halloween crunch mode, but hopefully we'll have some great photos to share after the holiday. If I don't get to the blog before then, have a Happy Halloween, everyone!

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Yet another reason why I use a Mac

The guys at 37signals just posted a comparison of software installation experiences on Mac and PC that would be humorous if it weren't so sad.

They took start-to-finish screen-capture video of the process for installing the Javascript debugger for Safari/WebKit from Apple and the Javascript debugger for IE from Microsoft. The download sizes alone almost tell the story themselves - the Apple move took 1MB, and the IE movie took 10MB - but the real kicker is how ridiculously often popup windows show up under Vista asking you the same thing over and over again.

Watching the PC video, I felt the same chill I feel when I realize I'm going to have to go use a PC somewhere. Using a Mac, you really do get spoiled by the clean and clutter-free work environment. Vista is attempting to steal from Mac OS X, but they still have a long way to go.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Michael J. Fox's campaign ad for Claire McCaskill

I just watched the political message Michael J. Fox recorded for Claire McCaskill about her efforts to support stem cell research.

It's good. I don't know what it is about Michael J. Fox - maybe it's just the great characters he's played so expertly over the years - but he has the rare ability to, even in a political ad of all places, appear that he is speaking genuinely and frankly, almost spontaneously, directly to you. Seeing how his Parkinson's has progressed was disheartening, but the man's sheer charisma overshadows it.

Sometimes, it's hard to connect with issues like this if you don't personally know someone with Parkinson's. I do, but she's not going to have much of a public voice on the matter; she simply can't make the plea to voters, even if she were given the opportunity. But this is about as good an ad as I can think of to make the message for her. I just hope it can get some air time.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

"Plussing" your Halloween Decor

Halloween decoration is on the rise, and the various general stores around town are more than happy to sell you Halloween décor that works as spooky trappings for your house out-of-the-box.

But, let's be honest, while the quality and creativity of these run-of-the-mill store-bought effects have improved over the last several years, they are still a far cry from being either realistic or being effective at evoking an entire scene. Throwing a lot of orange and black cutesy things around may be fun for a party, but they won't trick your visitors into thinking they are in an actual haunted home.

If you want to go that extra mile, though, you don't have to go so far as to build all your décor from scratch. There is a middle ground. You can cherry-pick the effects available at the general stores and then leverage the style and creativity they have into creating a more holistic scene for your visitors. Borrowing a term from Walt Disney, with a little work, you can "plus" the stuff you buy at the store to make it even spookier.

Here's an example. Target this year has some clever talking statue busts that are pretty cool. If you liked the singing busts from Disney's Haunted Mansion attraction (or, less likely, the movie of the same name), they do a reasonable job approximating that effect for a mere $25. But if you were to just place them on the floor or table, they would be novel, perhaps, but not exactly spooky. For them to become spooky, they need to be part of an environment.

That's where "plussing" comes in. You've got the core mechanical effect that would be difficult to recreate easily - light-up eyes, a mouth-motor that moves in sync with the sound, and a latex rubber head of a bust that surrounds it all. Now you just need to flesh out the effect. Here's what we came up with this year:
Plussed halloween decor
This is the presentation of one of these simple busts from Target - we've turned the bust from a small curiosity to a large attraction. When it's all lit up with creepy lights, it's going to be even better.

And it wasn't difficult, either. Anyone can do this stuff with a little creativity. What you're seeing here is a cardboard column mold from the local hardware store attached to a flat piece of wood on the ground with "L" braces. The top lintel was made out of two squares of pink foam gorilla-glued together with a circular piece of foam underneath to set the lintel snugly in place on the cylinder. Then, we painted it black, and used a paint sponge to add in the marble effect. We then surrounded the entire column with cheap iron fencing units from Lowe's.

Not shown here are the name plaques (made out of pink foam, natch) that will be affixed to the lintels, giving each bust both a name and a birth-and-death range, which adds personality and gives visitors something to read.

We're actually doing this for all three of the busts we bought, and each one will have a different fencing unit, one of which we are making very cheaply from scratch using PVC pipe and wood. Each bust will bring its own character to the scene, each will stand boldly on its own, and each will help set the mood for their intended purpose: to lead our visitors through the Blackwood Family Graveyard.

So plus it up with your own Halloween décor! You don't have to go to the extreme lengths that we went to here, but don't be satisfied with the way your props come out of the box at home. Plopping the prop on a table will not get you the biggest bang for your buck - spend a little time on the environment these store-bought props will live in, and they will end up looking a whole lot better.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Bush Administration's recommendations on Avian Flu

So the White House, a while back, released its recommendations for how we should prepare for an Avian Flu pandemic. This was done as a web site called Most of us aren't in a position to set government planning policy, so the section on "Individual Planning" is of most relevance to most of us.

I started reading the recommendations, and among the recommendations for Individuals and Families was this little jewel of wisdom:

Prepare backup plans in case public gatherings, such as volunteer meetings and worship services, are canceled.

It seems to me that if your church services have been shut down because of a pandemic threat, the dumbest thing you can do is fall back on your "backup plan" for getting together. Not only does that completely dissolve any health protections gained by closing the church, it also makes it much more difficult for the CDC and other health professionals to contain and track the spread of infection.

To be fair, most of the content on the site looks reasonable, and matches up with the content on the CDC Avian Flu site. But one has to wonder, when the Bush Administration actively replaces science, research, and evidence with politics in other topics such as global warming, evidence for WMD, number of dead killed in Iraq, whether or not anyone foresaw the levees breaking, etc., whether this was a recommendation laid down by fiat, as opposed to a recommendation based on sound science.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Subscribing to Validation

Every once in a while, a sexy tool comes along that makes you go "Now why hasn't anyone thought of this before?" Ben Hammersley's XHTML Validator to RSS is one such example.

In a nutshell, it removes the tiresome job of validating your page with the W3C's XHTML Validator whenever you make a change. Instead, you subscribe to an RSS feed that points the web page you're working on at the validator, and then whenever you update the feed, it returns all the errors and warnings as RSS items. Nice idea.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Yorick update

I've posted a development build update to Yorick which attempts to address reports of the performance playback being sluggish.

If you're experiencing this issue, and you would like to try out the development build and let me know whether it works for you, you can download the development builds here: Mac Version / Windows Version.

(For you Lingo heads, the issue appears to be that the elapsedTime of a sound asset is apparently not reliable, and will return the same number several times in a row, even if the play head has obviously moved ahead. A better approach is to keep track of time using the milliseconds separately.)

Friday, September 29, 2006

Republican leadership hits a new low

Pedophile priests are low, but I always considered the Catholic administrators who covered up their existence lower. A pedophile clearly has something wrong with him - some brain imbalance or trauma or something causes him to be sexually attracted to children. But the administrators have no such excuse. Rather than allow the existence of pedophile priests to tarnish the image of the church, they paid off the families of molested children to keep quiet, and failed to remove the priests from contact with children. This is bad not only for the children, but also for the priest - you're not doing him any favors by hiding the issue rather than getting him counseling or medication, or allowing him to continue assaulting children until he does end up in jail. (And no, prayer is not a cure for pedophilia.)

Now we discover something very similar going on within the Republican leadership. Congressman Foley has resigned because it has come to light that he was propositioning the teenage pages via IM and email.

This is bad enough, of course, but you can't really extrapolate the behavior of one Republican to the group. His actions were the actions of an individual that could just as easily have been a Democrat. It says nothing about either party.

However, the Republican leadership learned that he was propositioning people's children and covered it up. They apparently didn't even take steps to separate him from the pages or make him go get some help, let alone bring it to the attention of the authorities. Check out this stunning quote:

Rep. Rodney Alexander, R-La., who sponsored the page from his district, told reporters that he learned of the e-mails from a reporter some months ago and passed on the information to Rep. Thomas Reynolds, R-N.Y., chairman of the House Republican campaign organization.

Alexander said he did not pursue the matter further because "his parents said they didn't want me to do anything."

I'm sorry, but that's hardly an excuse for allowing a pedophile to continue to have access to children, or to excuse his behavior. What if the next set of parents don't want their kids propositioned? Or worse, what if the next time, the proposition doesn't stop at email and IM?

You know, I never really understood why the Catholic administrators who allowed pedophile priests to assault on in obscurity were never brought up on charges. They deserve to be in jail, doing hard time. Hell, they should at least have been excommunicated. But religion is a funny thing. People will excuse practically anything, apparently, for the sake of faith.

But when it happens in politics, too, the common denominator becomes crystal clear. It's not about protecting the faith. It's about holding on to the power. Both the Catholic administrators and the Republican leadership build their power on the (false) premise that they are a moral center. "Embarrassments" like this threaten that power, forcing them to choose between a potential loss of power or another child being sexually assaulted.

And they chose wrong. To my mind, that more surely strips them of any moral authority than the mere fact that there was a pedophile in their organization. A responsible man would have set aside his personal desire for power and taken steps to protect the children under his protection.

"Yeah, he's propositioning teenagers, but we might lose a Congressional seat! If we can just keep it quiet until after the election..."

Monday, September 25, 2006

Bob Diven hits the big time!

The good news for today is that Bob Diven is currently being featured on NPR! Go Bob!

(Readers of this blog will remember Bob from his excellent role as "Dead Bob," barking for the Blackwood Mausoleum at our Carnival of Souls home haunt.)

If you like what you hear, and want to pick up his album, Play With Yourself, Live at the Black Box, there are some copies available through Amazon.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

NMSU is bleeding

Is it just me, or is NMSU bleeding good people?

Today, I went to a going-away party for two of my good friends who are moving away, and although it was fun, it really sucks to realize that I'm not going to see them much any more. This is on the heels of hearing the sad news that another one of my personal friends is moving his family away within the month, too.

All three of them are people I regularly hang out with socially, and all three of them work(ed) at NMSU, in three different departments, and are very good at what they do.

I don't know exactly what's causing it, and it may just be a freak coincidence because I happen to know them all, but it seems like this is getting to be something of a ritual around here - good people seem to be leaving NMSU in droves. Lots of people I know all over campus have headed off for greener pastures. It's one thing to watch your excellent professional colleagues vanish one by one by one by one by one. It's another thing to have to say goodbye to close personal friends. Yeah, the former makes your job more difficult and less pleasant, but ultimately, it doesn't go beyond the workday. But the latter drains away your quality of life. Las Cruces is going to feel a lot more empty next week.

Friday, September 22, 2006

HDR Rendering in Shockwave3D

Ben from RobotDuck has posted an explanation of how he achieved "high dynamic range" (HDR) rendering in Shockwave3D. You can see the effect in action here, but basically, it's a means of mimicing the eye's response to light by adjusting the exposure levels of the geometry depending on how long the camera has been in a dark or light area.

For instance, on a bright, sunny day, if you look into a shadowy building from the outside, it will look very dark because your eyes are adjusted to the light outside. But from the inside looking out, it will look brighter, because your eyes are adjusted to the darkness, but the outside will look very light.

The effect is achieved by multiplying and adding dynamically-generated light maps to produce an exposure effect. A good read.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Some Transworld video is up on YouTube

Someone has posted some great Transworld footage to YouTube. Transworld is a convention for the haunt industry, where all the vendors of skeletons, zombies, vampires, and, erm, zombie midget pets congregate to hawk their wares and share ideas. Be sure to check it out:

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Who's the letter writer?

Well, they've released the letters from the ransom demanders, and it sheds clues on who the perpetrator is. Check it out. Below is a comparison between the criminal's handwriting and the Iron Maiden logo:
Handwriting comparison
In particular, check out the triangle "O" and the angular "A". There are similarities to the logos for Def Leppard and Judas Priest as well.

The joke, of course, is that it's Eddie himself who is the extortionist. He's disgruntled because Iron Maiden jumped the shark after Powerslave.

Okay, with that out of the way, I wonder whether there really is something to this - the entire letter is written with that dumb Iron Maiden handwriting that every kid that listened to metal doodled on the covers of their notebooks with. I think chances are good that whoever did this had the same background. Judging by the typo's and third-grade writing style, he didn't do so well in school, either. Combined with the fact that this not-very-smart author tries to "trick" the Las Cruces Police into thinking he's from out of town, I'll bet they could get a lot of leads by asking local high school principals for lists of underperforming, metalhead troublemakers that have passed through the system over the years...

Monday, September 18, 2006

Halloween must be coming

Halloween must be drawing near, because my server logs are going crazy compared to their normal moderate selves. Here's my page load log graph (actual numbers removed) from the last ten weeks:
Server page load graph
As you can see, server traffic in the middle of November is five times the server traffic of July. I had to bump up my .Mac subscription to cover the bandwidth and shunt off all my high-traffic digital video offsite or you wouldn't be reading this right now. I hope my bandwidth holds out throughout the Halloween season!

Rumors abound

As I mentioned earlier, we have some waste of carbon in town demanding a ransom or he'll start shooting Las Crucens randomly. Or so he claims.

It didn't seem to register much - life in Las Cruces went on as usual as near as I could tell, despite major news networks saying things like "New Mexico town under siege!"

But the news came out on the weekend. I guess news didn't spread until the first workday, because today, we started hearing multiple scare-rumors floating around that "gunmen have opened fire at (insert random location here)." Near as I can tell, all of them were hoaxes / false alarms.

Unfortunately, one of those "random locations" was very close to where my son goes to day care, so I was basically unable to concentrate until I got further news that it was a false alarm, despite the fact that I knew the chance that he was in danger was practically nil. By contrast, when the rumor came that the gunmen were on the NMSU campus, I was fine.

I hope they catch the guy soon, because even if you keep your head through these things, the primordial brain that simmers under our consciousness can't ignore the "what if?" possibility. When I think of my son during the day, I want to remember the stunningly cute thing he did this morning, not dread a sorrow that I can't even begin to imagine. I think enough about how this country and world is going to crap - I don't need this on top of it.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Man Stuff

So my wife is afraid of squishing bugs. You wouldn't guess it if you knew her, 'cause she's pretty level-headed and no-nonsense in a lot of ways, but the mere prospect of a little bug sends her into such a tizzy that it awakens the male "chase the girl with the bug" gene in me. (This gene is present in all males of the species, not just me, btw.)

She seems to think that it is somehow uncouth to hold a recently-deceased dead bug that she refused to kill out for her to see. My view is that if you're not going to kill it yourself and play the "that's the husband's job" trump card, you're asking for a little ribbing in exchange.

What she fails to realize, however, is that it could be a lot worse. I hold it out to her, follow her around with it a bit, and then it's over. But I am a home haunter, so I have the skills to do something much more...elaborate. For instance, I could do what SpookyBlue, another clever home haunter, does. Not only does SpookyBlue go to much greater lengths than I to evoke that squeamish reaction in his wife, he also hides hidden cameras so that he may not only watch her squee around over and over again at his leisure, but he also posts it on the internet to let you watch it, too.

Madame Sarita divines nasty things in store for Halloween 2006

Madame Sarita sat down tonight and entered a trance in an attempt to divine what the fates have in store for the Carnival of Souls in 2006. Sitting in her parlour, swaying in her spirit reverie, she scribbled out some nightmarish renderings of what is destined to come. Here is one:
Unquiet Grave
Others can be viewed here. The question is: is this destiny immutable? Or can Madame Sarita stop these new horrors from being unleashed upon the world? We shall only know on All Hallow's Eve, and the night is swiftly approaching...

Friday, September 15, 2006

They say bad things come in threes

Well, it turns out that my car was damaged by the "tornado hail" a few days back. Looking at it closely today in the sunlight, I noticed dozens of tiny little dents all over it, and a few scratches on the hood. (Still nothing like the Socorro thing, but annoying nonetheless.)

But as they say, bad things come in threes. New Mexico is one of the states being hit hard by the E. coli spinach outbreak.

And now there's some dillhole threatening to start shooting people at random if the City of Las Cruces doesn't pay him a ransom. I was in Virginia when John Allen Muhammad and John Lee Malvo were going around shooting people. Few things piss me off more than idiots who, when they decide to go on a shooting spree, don't have the decency to start with themselves. Personally, I doubt this guy will make good on his threats, but you never know - tomorrow is Dieciséis de Septiembre, a big Aggies game, and some parades, plenty of venues to cause a ruckus.

I guess I'm hoping that the whole "bad things clustering in threes" thing is the case, because if you look at this as a "trend line" instead, we'd have aliens from outer space zapping people with death rays before long...

Thursday, September 14, 2006

What's the hardest part of Bush's job?

This is good for a laugh if you enjoy black humor.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Tornado Results

Okay, we survived the tornado, but skylights all over the city were taken out by the hailstorm. I imagine Lowes and Home Depot are going to be doing a brisk skylight business tomorrow. When I got home, I went up onto our roof, and luckily, ours survived, but one of our neighbors who is out of town had six of her skylights break, so I took a ladder and went and duct-taped black plastic over her skylights.

Not as interesting as competing against the black-clad evil meteorologists from Twister, but hey, I think I prefer this to flying cows.

Tell my son I love him

As I type this, we're under a big, dramatic tornado warning. Hail is raining down around us, and the doppler radar images show a giant mass of red and purple over the place where I work. So if this blog suddenly goes silent, you'll know why!

Luckily, our building is built like a bunker - concrete blocks and no windows, designed by a prison architect. It's probably the safest place in town right now. Unfortunately, the tornado's path went right through the area of town where our house is, and it is not built like a bunker. I guess we'll find out whether our house is a "mysterious tornado magnet" or not.

One humorous note is that the local weather service is telling everyone to stay away from windows. As a Mac user, I've been saying that for years. Hyuk.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Wow, Target executives must be dumb

So Target was sued by the National Federation of the Blind because Target's web site wasn't built with an eye towards accessibility. Rather than do the right thing and agree during the negotiations to just make the web site accessible, Target fought them in court and lost.

One wonders what the hell they were thinking. Let's look at the options here. They can either avoid a possibly huge judgement by increasing the number of people who can shop their online store, or they can keep their customer base smaller, get hit with a judgement, and get news releases written about them about how they don't care about the blind community. Yeah, it's a no-brainer.

If some Target executive doesn't lose his job over this, there is no intelligence at Target headquarters.

(Via Pete Freitag)

Monday, September 11, 2006

The Home Haunt Community is the Best!

So as you know, I recently put up Yorick for sale on our web site. I'm not charging much, just a bit to help take the sting out of the cost of running Carnival of Souls every year.

But what I didn't expect was for people to purchase Yorick when they don't even intend to use it. I've gotten multiple people send me messages saying that they bought Yorick simply because they appreciate the things we've done on our web site over the past several years. How cool is that? For all the tinkering with corpses, body parts, and monsters, home haunters are at heart a selfless, generous, and gracious group.

Of course, this should come as a surprise to no one. Every one of them puts a lot of planning, effort, time, and money for months at a time into making other people happy for just one night a year. Of course they are cool people - they're all about giving to others. (Giving scares is still giving, after all. Heh.) But sometimes, its surprising just how gracious people can be, and this is one of those times.

Man, I picked the right hobby!

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Yorick purchase issues resolved

Well, it looks like the online purchasing issues have been resolved. You should now be able to purchase Yorick without issue. If you discover otherwise, of course, let me know, and I'll try to make it right.

In other news, we've made our first sale! CC does the happy dance! I am now officially part of the haunt industry, and a better, more creative, and more crowd-pleasing bunch one couldn't hope to be a part of. It feels really good to know that something we've put out there is not only of value, but that the people buying it are doing it to provide enjoyment for many other people.

And it's self-perpetuating happiness, too, since I plan on putting every cent we earn from Yorick back into our home haunt. Yorick sales will make our haunt better and take a bit of the sting out of the rising cost of running a free haunt that caters to almost 1,000 visitors. The candy budget alone was getting painful, but what are you going to do? Turn kids away?

Home haunting really is one of the best things I've ever done. Once a year, we bring a lot of magic and happiness to a lot of kids (and adults!), and it's so fulfilling that it sustains me the other 364 days of the year. Many of the kids in my area have never seen, and will never see, magical haunted attractions like The Haunted Mansion while they are in their wonder years. Or have magical experiences of any kind, for that matter. We live in one of the poorest states in the nation, and there aren't a lot of age-appropriate entertainment experiences available. And the ones that are available are beyond the means of some families. By keeping our haunt free and accessible to all, we reach kids with a sense of wonder that would normally not experience it. One visiting kid said, "This is the best time I've had in my entire life!" Whether that's hyperbole or not, that statement makes me sad and proud at the same time - sad that our amateur, low-budget yard haunt registers as the best time that kid has ever had, but also proud that we were really making a difference in this kid's life with foam skulls, plastic rats, and black lights.

I view starting sales of Yorick as another milestone in that process of bringing magic to the kids of the world, because it extends our capabilities to deliver beyond what we can stretch out of our own personal budget. Is $15 a lot of money? No. But it will help. And it's a statement that bringing a little spooky magic to others is worth something to people. In the end, that's what the haunt industry is all about.

And now I'm a part of it. Yay!

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Yorick e-Commerce Woes

Well, last night, I went ahead and quietly opened the Yorick online store after having tested it a few times with different browsers and machines.

Unfortunately, near as I can tell, the only person who noticed and tried to purchase was unable to get through the payment screen from PayPal. (I've sent queries to both PayPal and PayLoadz, the digital download service I'm using for help. PayLoadz responded very quickly, but unhelpfully only said that it's a PayPal problem. PayPal, on the other hand, remains silent eight hours later.)

Now, what I don't know is whether he's the only person who has tried to buy Yorick, or whether lots of people are failing to purchase it, and only one person is letting me know that it's broken. I hope it's the former.

So, if you're planning on puchasing Yorick, and you feel like helping me out by being an e-commerce guinea pig, please consider trying your purchase now, and if you get blocked, posting here with details on where the process fails.


Friday, September 08, 2006

Yorick almost ready to fly

Tonight, I got through almost all the stuff I need to get through to get Yorick available for purchase. It's actually easier than I thought, and it's ready to go, but before I "flip the switch" to make it live, I want to try a few purchases myself to make sure everything is smooth.

If you feel gracious, you could download version 1.2, which has the registration code in it, and try it out. I'd especially like to hear reports about whether or not the dialog box that comes up prompting for a registration code works or not. If it's broken (which it shouldn't be), I'd like to know about it before I go live.


Thursday, September 07, 2006

Exporting from Maya to Director

Mainly for my own reference here, but if you do Shockwave3D work, the Golden Xp Archive has a tutorial going over the steps to get models and animation from Maya to Shockwave3D.

Currently, we use Lightwave3D for our Shockwave3D development. As long as you don't try to add bones to anything it's very straightforward. Once you add bones, though, things get difficult, so it's good to see that the Maya process is pretty clean. We've got a copy of Maya, so if we start doing more bones-animated scenes, we may have to switch to Maya.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Yorick 1.1

I just uploaded the demo version of Yorick 1.1. New to this version:
  • Pirate Ornamentation
  • Custom backdrop support
  • Attempt to fix a font issue under Windows

Let me know if you find any problems with the new version. Enjoy!

Jim Ludtke, RIP

I just found out, two years after the fact, that Jim Ludtke died back in 2004. I often wondered what had become of him - his awesome work for the Residents pushed the capabilities of multimedia when CD-ROM's were in their infancy. He did desktop 3D when it was still hard, when you had to have a lot of patience because the CPU power just wasn't there. His fantastic, original, and distinctive designs combined with his obvious attention to detail and patience of Solomon earned him enough notoriety that there was even an "Absolut Ludtke" ad in Wired once.

I still consider Bad Day on the Midway to be one of the most engrossing and cool computer games ever created, and Ludtke's ingenious use of mapping video of real peoples' mouthes onto the 3D models made for a creepy and crisp look to the characters. To this day it gnaws at me that I never managed to find where Dixie's neo-nazi comatose (or is he?) husband hid the gold.

I'm really sad to hear of Ludtke's passing. I'd love to see what he would have come up with using the computing power of today's machines.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Yorick demo available

Okay, there's finally a demo available for Yorick, our new digital puppet for use in Halloween home haunting. It's available for both Mac and PC.

As I've mentioned before, this digital puppet is much nicer than the original Magic Mirror, because it has more features and now has a console which makes it much easier to set up:
Yorick Screenshot

I'm in the process of getting an online store set up so that you can get your hands on the full version. (The original Magic Mirror will remain free for those of you on tight budgets.)

I'd appreciate bug reports and other problems you encounter, especially on the Windows side, since I don't have a Windows box to test with. Or just whether you like it or not.

NOTE: If you're planning on using Yorick or the Magic Mirror for your Halloween home haunt this year, please test it out well in advance of the big night - last year, we had some eleventh-hour emergencies from people trying to get their Magic Mirrors working, and it was tough to get the time to respond to them. We're home haunters, too, so time gets a little short as All Hallow's Eve approaches.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Runic System Reference Document

John Kim has posted the System Reference Document that I mentioned yesterday to his web site as HTML.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

RuneQuest SRD now publicly available

The RuneQuest SRD and Developer's Kit is now freely available for download to the public off of Mongoose's web site. This allows you to check out the system yourself before committing to buying the books, and it also allows you to create your own RuneQuest publications, in the same way that the d20 license allows you to create d20 products.

Be warned, though: there are no examples or any other fluff, and the license terms are about as restrictive as the d20 terms. Experienced RPG players shouldn't have too much trouble with it, though.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Buen Provecho!

The Iron Chef New Mexico party was a huge success! Everyone had a great time and ate great, and the competition was very close, with strong entries by both teams.

The secret ingredients were unveiled at 1pm. The ingredients followed a "New Mexico" theme, and were green chile (of course), pecans, and avocado. We originally were going to have tomatillos instead of avocado, but we couldn't find good tomatillos in the stores but avocados were cheap, so we went with that.

Team Iron Chef Messilla, consisting of Tracy, Alexis, and Lacie, made some great dishes. Their appetizer was an avocado and nopalito (prickly pear cactus) salad served in martini glasses, which had a crisp, fresh taste like pico de gallo. Their main course was a really tasty Spanish lasangna made with tortillas, chile, and salsa rather than pasta, meat, and tomato sauce, with a cute little garnish made from a jalapeño. Their dessert was a plate of strawberry nachos with cinnamon, pecans, and whipped cream that was quite good and fun to eat.

Team Iron Chef Ventanas, consisting of Jenny and Kathryn, also put in a strong showing. They presented their dishes with a theme of "threes," and each dish featured one of the three ingredients, but included all three, which must have been a challenge. Their appetizer was a plate with three avocado appetizers on it: a three-pointed tortilla chip with classic guacamole on it, an avocado and goat cheese bruscetta with radish, and some "avocado sashimi," which was just thin slices of avocado with lime and pecan dust. Their main course was three three-pointed green chile ravioli centered with a pecan and avocado compote. Their dessert was three small cups of ice cream, each of a different flavor: butter pecan, green chile, and avocado. (Everyone seemed to like the green chile ice cream, but my favorite was the avocado.)

Our three judges were myself, Jen, and Jess, a friend of Joe's he brought to the party. Judging this event was a lot harder than I thought it would be, because everything was so good, your first inclination is to go with all five-out-of-five's, but then that doesn't do much to differentiate the two teams. Both teams produced food that was, frankly, better than any food you can get here in Las Cruces - you can't find this level of attention to detail and presentation in a restaurant (or at least, not in a reasonably-priced one). That made it very tough to distinguish between them, and I found myself having to really nit-pick to be able to justify in my mind a difference between the two. It was tough. In fact, after the party, I went back and did a little math on my scorecards and found that the point totals I gave both teams came out even.

But after all the points were tallied, team Ventanas won, but only by a slim margin: out of 150 possible points, the difference in scores was a mere three points. Both teams really earned the title Iron Chef.

Both teams said that the time frame - five hours - and the three-ingredient setup worked really well, so I think we have a winning setup for future Iron Chef parties. Anyone out there interested in challenging one of our Iron Chef teams? If so, let us know, and we'll set up another kitchen stadium rematch! Allez Cuisine!

Friday, August 25, 2006

Enter the Kitchen Stadium!

Tomorrow marks the kick-off party for our Halloween planning for 2006. (Well, actually, we've been doing a bit of planning, but now, it's time to get our butts in gear - Walgreen's and Big Lots already have their Halloween junk for sale!)

In order to start it off right, we're having an Iron Chef Competition. That's right, two Iron Chefs and their assistants will be doing battle in our own version of the kitchen stadium right here in New Mexico. Thus, the name of the competition is Iron Chef New Mexico. Here's the logo:
Iron Chef New Mexico
Our house will serve as the judging center. Tomorrow at 1pm, the Iron Chefs will gather at the judging center and we will unveil the secret ingredients for the challenge. The Iron Chefs have five hours to go to the store, buy any additional ingredients, prepare three dishes, and return to the judging center for plating. At exactly 6pm, the plated dishes must be set on the judges table, and then the judging begins!

In a twist on the usual theme, this competition will have three secret ingredients, and each must be the primary focus of one of the three plates: an appetizer, a main course, and a dessert. It's up to the Iron Chefs which ingredient to use with which plate - should they be safe and use the sweetest of the three for the dessert for flavor points, or should they go for originality points by bucking the obvious choice? We'll find out their choices tomorrow!

We're sending video cameras home with each Iron Chef so that we can edit it together into a show. Let's hope we get some great footage!

Allez cuisine!

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Using the CANVAS tag

The Mozilla Developer Center has a good article on using the CANVAS tag to add interactive drawing capabilities to your web pages, say, for adding interactive graphs and charts. Or blobs.

Unfortunately, as with all things web, Internet Explorer can't deal with it, which means it would be difficult to use in a production environment, although there are workarounds.

(Via Particletree.)

Monday, August 21, 2006


Flow is one of the most mesermizing and hypnotic Flash games out there, and it has a great life-simulator feel to it on top of that.

In the game, you play a small organism that, as it eats other organisms, grows longer and faster. Depending on how you play, your organism "evolves" to have a different look, with different placement and lengths of fins. Each level has a blue organism and a red organism. Eating the red organism dives you down deeper, with the background turning to black. Eating the blue lifts you up, with the background turning to a calming blue. As you descend, you encounter many other organisms which you can feast upon (or which can feast upon you!). The goal of the game, I think, is to reach the bottom blackness and see how your organism evolved.

The graphic style, done with calm, glowing circles and line segments, is simple and elegant. The depth levels are achieved with a blurring effect (thanks to Flash 9!) that resembles focusing on different items using a microscope. The audio reinforces the graphic style, and in the end, you have a very well-rounded, intuitive game that is deeply engaging. More Flash games should be this good.

Friday, August 18, 2006


Hyperfabric would be a great technology to put to use in ImaginEERIEing. I wonder how much it costs? Be sure to check out the other interactive technologies at the site.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

The New RuneQuest

While I was in Albuquerque this weekend, I stopped into a local game store and bought their last copy of the Runequest Main Rulebook. I haven't made it all the way through the book yet, but I had a good chunk of time in the car ride back from Albuquerque, so here are my impressions so far:

Production Values Okay, I realize that Mongoose does not have the publishing resources of WotC. They set ambitious goals for themselves and are a prolific publisher on what must be a shoestring budget. But come on, guys. The number of typos in the core rule book is embarassing, and there are some layout mistakes that one cannot believe were overlooked (such as the bullets in bulleted lists flying way off to the left). Typos in a rulebook don't affect the game (unless they're so bad they obfuscate the actual rules), but they do make you wonder about how solid the rule system is if the rulebook looks thrown together.

This impression is made worse by the confusing or incomplete ways in which some rules are presented. A good rewrite and editing job on this book would go a long way.

(Mongoose, if you somehow end up reading this, I'll volunteer to proofread future RuneQuest publications and make suggestions.)

Besides this, though, the production quality is better than most small publishers. It's a solid hardback book with obvious effort in making the interior pages attractive and readable.

Artwork The artwork is quite good in places, but it is unfortunately not of a uniform quality. And there's precious little of it - most pages look exactly the same, and often, when there is artwork, it's just a picture of a rune. I can excuse this due to the likely budget for this offering, but again, art often carries the burden of communicating the atmosphere of the game system (and RuneQuest does differentiate itself from, say, d20 in this respect), so it's not exactly negligible to the rules, either. I would have liked to see a little more artwork used to portray the unique elements of the Runequest flavor, such as showing a situation where a wounded arm causes problems for the hero.

Rules Ah, the meat of the matter. I think it's fair to say that the new edition of RuneQuest preserves much of what made RuneQuest what it was back in version two, with a modernising to bring it more in line with current game systems. For instance, the skill-based system remains, but a game mechanic that allows for "power-ups" for characters, similar to feats in d20, is in place.

But some of the graceful game mechanics that I really appreciated about the game have been removed. For instance, gone are the little checkboxes next to your skills which you roll against to see if you improve in them at the end of an adventure. This is replaced by a "pick three skills to improve" sort of mechanic, which is less satisfying to me. The original system was very cool in that you get better at using a spear by using a spear, and you get better at using an axe by using an axe. It was natural, straightforward, realistic, and best of all, responsive to what the player does throughout every moment of their career.

Also gone is the resistance rule of pitting characteristic versus characteristic, which was an effective and easy core mechanic of version two. In order to achieve this, they had to adopt some conventions that seem clunky on the first read. For instance, what may have been a STR or DEX rolls in version two are now replaced by an "Athletics" skill check. It seems to me that this would largely make the primary characteristics only marginally useful as skills eclipse them in importance.

The good news is that they have somewhat streamlined the hit location mechanic by removing the "total hit points" thing, which always seemed to be extra bookkeeping, and simplified impale and critical rules so that you're not having to figure out what 5% of 37 is on the fly. Fumbles have also been made more infrequent, which is good.

They also streamlined the confusing "strike rank" mechanic from version two in a way that is not only more efficient, but actually makes tactical decisions more interesting. You have a fixed number of actions and reactions per round, and you can use each in different ways that require some interesting combat decisions. For instance, if someone attacks you with their "action" and you do a good enough job parrying the blow with a "reaction", you can also "riposte" and immediately make an attack roll. But to take advantage of this, you must expend an additional "reaction" for that round, which may put you in a position where you are unable to parry or block an incoming attack later in the round. This is the sort of thing that makes combat interesting: tactical decisions that are simple, but important.

Overall, I'd say the changes balance each other out from what I've read so far, and if I were to run a RuneQuest campaign, I'd very quickly put the old version two rules back in place as house rules.

Value Here's where the RuneQuest Main Rulebook falls down in my opinion. The $24.95 price tag was worth it to me mainly because I have prior knowledge of the system and what it is capable of, but a newcomer to the game is likely to feel ripped off. The book is about a third the size of the d20 Player's Handbook, has a font size/line spacing about half again as large, and has rather gigantic margins in comparison. A lot less content than I expected for a core rulebook.

Worse, the organization of these books is going to make for a lot of back-and-forthing. From what I can tell, the RuneQuest Companion contains information that should have been in the core rulebook, like how spirit combat works, character advancement between adventures, and part of the list of character backgrounds for character creation. Meanwhile, the core rulebook has monster stats and giveaways on how certain diseases work and such. If you're going to split the rules into two parts, split them into a book containing player information and a book containing gamemaster information - that speeds up play if only because it will usually be obvious which book to open.

In the end, this book is a lot less content than my well-worn second edition version had. I was willing to buy this new version because I know the value of the system, but I'm skeptical that others will be so gracious. After getting a slim volume for $25, it makes you wary of dropping more cash on that franchise; I would have preferred to see a thicker, more feature-complete core rulebook to usher in new players.

Final review: Disappointing in some ways, delivering in others, it's a moderate offering, but the system remains a solid alternative to the typical d20 fare which focuses more on high fantasy. RuneQuest is more Robert E. Howard than Tolkein, and if that's a fantasy flavor you like, RuneQuest is an excellent system for achieving that feel. Just be prepared to put in a little more work as GM to compensate for the awkwardness of the rules presentation, at least until such time as Mongoose issues a revised edition.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Viacom is buying Atom

Tom Higgins, the product manager for Director and Shockwave Player, blogged today that MTV Networks (owned by Viacom) are going to buy Atom Entertainment. For those who don't know, Atom Entertainment is the owner of, which is basically a heavy install base driver for Shockwave player. This is significant because plays a part in the install process for the Shockwave Player (last I checked, anyway). My understanding is that there has always been a very close relationship between and MacromediaAdobe (but perhaps that has eroded over the years).

Because of this, the fact that Tom is still learning about this is troubling. Tom is a smart, level-headed guy who is intimately familiar with the product and what the development community's reaction to changes to the installation process would result in. If the executives were smart, they would have started out this process by talking to him first to see what he had to say.

This makes me wonder anew whether there are any executives actually viewing Director and Shockwave as a technology instead of as a static brand element, an unchanging token to be traded around for cash. Shockwave's long-term value lies in the developers creating content with it. Every time a developer jumps ship, not only does Adobe lose revenue from the loss of future sales of new versions of Director, but also, there are fewer people developing content in Director, which in turn means less impetus for people to install the Shockwave player. Which in turn makes people less likely to adopt Director. And so on.

They don't appear to understand it, but Adobe executives are sitting on an absolute gold mine. They have a commanding lead in the web-based 3D game technologies realm, and the industry is poised to take casual gaming by storm. It's a no-brainer that this could mean a serious windfall for Adobe (and Atom, and Viacom). But if they squander that away by letting Director and Shockwave languish, letting other technologies move in and leapfrog them, then they won't be taking home the lion's share of development revenue and a cut of the consumption revenue.

Maybe Viacom understands this. Maybe Viacom, to protect their new investment, will prod Adobe into updating their aging 3D player so that new content that comes out for stays on top of the heap. But I doubt it. They probably just view this as buying eyeballs. Otherwise, they would have been talking to people like Tom. But we'll see.

Guess I should start learning Torque.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Developing Dashboard Widgets

Andrew Hedges has a nice article on developing Dashboard Widgets that acts as a nice companion to the Apple document on the same topic.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Leopard will ship with Ruby on Rails

My "Should I learn Django and Python, or should I learn Ruby on Rails?" dilemma just got a serious boost in the direction of Ruby on Rails. It looks like Leopard, the next version of OS X, will ship with Ruby on Rails pre-installed. That means easy peasy Ruby on Rails installation, updating, and quick-starting. With the new Intel Xserves coming out, combined with the heavily-Apple Ruby on Rails community, this looks like it's going to be a pretty sweet next-generation web development platform for yours truly.

I think I need to get a second job

My wife and I had the rare opportunity to go to lunch together today, so at Nopalito's, I asked her what she wanted for her birthday, which is coming up soon.

"Nothing too expensive," she said. She thought about it for a while. Then her face lit up with an idea. "I know! You can get me a Honda Element!"

Monday, August 07, 2006

Brisco County, Jr. coming to DVD!

This news just made my day: the entire Brisco County, Jr. series is coming out on DVD. Took plenty long, too - makes me wonder, to paraphrase Bowler, just where they were hiding them things...

Sunday, August 06, 2006

The Archimedes Palimpsest

"There are things which seem like miracles to men who have not studied mathematics." - Archimedes

I'm a big fan of Archimedes. His early mathematical proofs, such as estimating the radius of the Earth and discovering the properties of density and buoyancy, were ingenious, astonishingly accurate, and insightful. And if scholarly pursuits like that don't get your blood racing, how about this: he is said to have been personally instrumental in staving off Roman attacks, setting fire to ships, building great traps for invaders, and improving catapult technology. Oh, and he demonstrated to his king the power of the pulley by lifting an entire ship, complete with crew and cargo, by pulling on a single rope, saying, "Give me a place to stand, and I can move the Earth."

So it is that the story of the Archimedes Palimpsest continues to fascinate me. It's got so many of the elements that resonate with me:
  • Archimedes, and his brilliance in Mathematics
  • communication of Mathematics
  • the loss of knowledge to the sands of time
  • the historical hostility of organized religion to truth and knowledge
  • interesting details of historic publishing, illumination, and papercraft
  • alert bibliophiles rediscovering important texts thought to be lost
  • philanthropists that do great works and remain anonymous
  • using science to reconnect with truths once known but lost
  • ...and irony.
What's the irony? That the ascetic who scraped off the words of Archimedes to pen his own spiritual treatise, despite his intent, actually served to protect them through the slow and dangerous crawl of time. Had he not done that, this original treatise would have been burned with all the other "heretical" works. Only by masquerading as religious dogma was this important tome of early mathematics saved from holy immolation. And now, despite being scraped away literally to the flesh (goatskin to be precise), the very words penned by Archimedes are being coaxed forth using cutting-edge scientific methods developed specifically for the purpose. It's amazing work, technically and historically, and it makes me glad to have studied Mathematics so that I can appreciate its value.

Friday, August 04, 2006

JSON Communications Module

I'm posting this here mainly for my own reference, but hey, other people may benefit, too, so...

I've written a JSON communications module to make it easy to send JSON-based content back and forth between a server and a Javascript application on the client side. In other words, AJAX, but with JSON as the format instead of XML. (I guess you'd call it AJAJ or AJAJSON for "Asynchronous Javascript and JSON", but that sounds dumb. Maybe something like SONJA or JASON, an anagram using the letters from AJAJSON. Sure, it uses fewer letters, but then, so does JSON compared to XML. Heh.)

Here's how it works. Suppose you have a Javascript object you want to perform an action with that requires communication with a server. You set up an action with a meaningful (unique) name for that action, and then when you want to take that action, you "fire" the action with some postargs. This code handles setting up the connection with the server, sending the postargs, receiving the JSON code from the server, parsing the JSON into a Javascript object, and then calling the given method in the given object with the result.

Dependencies are Prototype and JSON in Javascript. (Truth be told, most of the heavy lifting is done by these libs. My code is just glue.)

Anyhoo, the code can be found here.

Thursday, August 03, 2006


Okay, so one of the geekiest of my interests is something I guess you'd call RPG Archaeology. I'm interested in RPG's not just for playing them, but also from a game design perspective, and one of the interesting things to look at is the manner in which game systems evolve.

I've made it clear in the past that I think very highly of the RuneQuest system, and I think its game system is strong even by today's standards. But I'd have to say (granted, not having seen the new edition yet) that the pinnacle was 1980's release of the second edition. My copy was even more well-worn than my AD&D Player's Handbook.

So it was with great pleasure I found the RPG Archaeology site that relates the entire history of the RuneQuest game. It's an interesting read if you geek out on stuff like this.

Of particular interest to a RuneQuest fan like myself was the discovery that there was - sort of - a fourth edition to RuneQuest which was never really published. It was to be called RuneQuest: Slayers, and apparently had nothing to do with the series (much in the way Halloween III: Season of the Witch had nothing to do with the Halloween movie series), so it's probably a good thing it didn't become an official member of the RuneQuest line.

But it is available as a free download under its modified name, RuneSlayers, if you're interested in scoring a free, fully-developed RPG.

But as I mentioned before, I'm still looking forward to the Mongoose edition of RuneQuest.

Spreading the Horror

Ever since I picked up Arkham Horror, it's been spreading like a nameless, sanity-blasting spawn of an otherworldly eldritch fungus. At this count, I figure I'm responsible for at least three other purchases of the game. (And I've bought two copies of the Curse of the Dark Pharaoh expansion, one for myself, and one for my buddy Rich.)

This game is a lot of fun, and the production values are really high. I've been very impressed by the games from Fantasy Flight Games so far - I've also played the excellent RuneBound game, which had equally high production values. But are they good enough? As a result of playing Arkham Horror and RuneBound, I was thinking of picking up Descent: Journeys in the Dark, until I saw the pricetag: $80 ($65 street). It's just too steep for my blood.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Javascript Helper Libraries

As I begin working on a new Javascript/AJAX web application, I've been poking around the web for helper libraries and best practices. Recently, a few interesting ones have come to light:


jQuery came to me from, of all places, a games blog, but it looks to be pretty interesting. The fluffy premise is that "jQuery makes writing Javascript fun." It does this by "taking common, repetitive tasks, stripping out all the unnecessary markup, and leaving them short, smart, and understandable." jQuery provides helper classes that assist in manipulating the DOM, handling events, and performing AJAX work.


Prototype is remarkably similar to jQuery, right down to the very heavy reliance on a $() function they define. Because of this, I doubt the two are compatible, and at this stage, I really have no idea what the relative strengths of each product is. Good documentation for Prototype (there is none at the download site) can be found here.


One thing Prototype has going for it is the fact that the very well-done Scriptaculous Javascript effects library is built upon it. Scriptaculous provides helper routines to do cool DOM tricks like sliding panels, fades-ins and fade-outs, and non-fluffy visual effects like letting users rearrange lists by dragging <div>'s around.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

The Return of RuneQuest

One of the best RPG systems I've ever played was the one used in RuneQuest. This was back when Advanced Dungeons and Dragons (first edition) was king, when a house cat could kill your first level character, but your high-level character could walk off a sixty-foot cliff and know he'd survive. (Okay, well, it's still sorta like that.) RuneQuest's elegant advancement system, simple yet realistic combat system, and interesting magic system made for a great little game, and the improvements to the Dungeons and Dragons second edition seemed to borrow a lot of its game mechanic ideas. Like the d20 system, the early RuneQuest system proved to be adaptable to multiple game world settings, with its core rule system used in StormBringer, ElfQuest, and the critically acclaimed and still-going-strong Call of Cthulhu.

Well, now, Mongoose Publishing is releasing a new version of RuneQuest, and it's available for pre-order now at Amazon for $19.95. More companion rulebooks are slated to follow, including a massive guide to Glorantha, the original game world setting that was so popular.

Interestingly, they're releasing it under the same philosophy as the OGL that Wizards is releasing the d20 rules system under. Although I haven't perused the license agreement, from what I've read, it's similar to the OGL in that it allows people to freely publish content for the game so long as they do it with their own IP. Nice.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Who's to blame, Microsoft or Myspace?

Schenier pointed to an article today that describes how a hacked MySpace server infected a million computers with malware.

Now, first off, this doesn't sound like Myspace got hacked. It sounds like they just pipe in remote content like a million other web sites, and some of that remote content was infected with malware. And Windows users who viewed the web pages became infected because of bugs in Windows / Internet Explorer which allow malicious web content access to muck around with your system.

If this is the case, MySpace shouldn't take the brunt of this. Even if MySpace came up with a technological solution that could strip out all Windows exploits that pass through their servers (if such a technology were even possible), it still wouldn't solve the problem for the next web link you click on. It's infeasible to expect the administrator of every single web server to solve this problem. Web authors should be able to pipe in third-party web content from other sources without fear of killing their users' machines.

The appropriate place to lay blame is at Microsoft's feet. Your browser should not allow your computer to become infected no matter WHAT content you're browsing. It should be strictly contained in a sandbox. I understand that this was a patched vulnerability, but the Microsoft approach to security probably played a large role in the vulnerability being there in the first place; if you start with the premise that nothing should affect the system, you're more likely to succeed at protecting the system than if you go adding a bunch of feature-driven exceptions ("but wouldn't it be cool if you could just go to a web page and have the software installed FOR YOU?"). And there's always the question of the actual product quality out of Redmond. They shouldn't release software with millions of known bugs.

This is a failure of Microsoft, not MySpace, and until Microsoft changes their approach to security and the quality of their software, we're going to continue to see problems like this.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Django's pretty cool

I've been hearing a lot of buzz about Django lately, so I decided to download it and check it out. Django is a Python-based web application framework for quickly building web applications. And baby, it is hot. I'm really impressed with this product.

Django does out-of-the-box most of the stuff that I spend time building from scratch in PHP. You define what your data model is, and you get intuitive accessor classes and an admin interface for free. And its method for responding to server interactions is downright brilliant, using a Model-Template-View triad that brings all the benefits of Model-View-Controller but none of the cruft.

My only gripe with Django is that, as with most such products, it was a pain in the ass to get installed. I ascribe to the philosophy that you shouldn't have to type esoteric commands into a terminal window to get software installed. I guess I'm just spoiled by the Mac, but if you have to write an installation guide for your software that doesn't start with "Double-click the installer...", then I have to be pretty committed to try out your product or else I'm going to not bother. (Luckily, in the case of Django, the installation pain was worth it.)

I'm also new to Python as a language, but it seems pretty nice so far. It has some language features that I have always missed from other languages, such as being able to just name the arguments when you call a routine, like so:

choice = models.CharField(maxlength=200, core=True)

Objective C has a feature like this, but oddly, you don't name the first argument - only subsequent ones - which always seemed presumptuous. How does the language know that there is only one "natural" object for a method to work on?

Python also leaves off a lot of the extraneous syntax that most languages require, like trailing semicolons and such, but this nicety is counterbalanced by case sensitivity, which I really dislike in programming languages. If I type "post" when I should have typed "Post," the language shouldn't look at me like an idiot and go "huh?" Making a semantic distinction between "post" and "Post" is a bad idea. If the two things are distinct semantically or conceptually, they should have different names.

One curious aspect of the language, to me, was the idea that indentation has literal code meaning. I spent a good fifteen minutes trying to debug some code I typed in from the tutorial before I realized the whole code block was tabbed over one stop too far. Not sure whether I like that or not yet.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

New Dollywood ride looks pretty good!

I've never been too jazzed at the idea of going to Dollywood, Dolly Parton's theme park based on her childhood, because "growing up in the Ozarks" and "Country-Western Music" have just never resonated with me as compelling themes. But it looks like Dolly is starting to reach out to a wider audience. Coming in 2007, her new Mystery Mine attraction looks like it's going to be really cool. Like the Mummy ride at Universal Orlando, it appears to be a combination dark ride and roller coaster with state-of-the-art immersive effects to tell a story as you scream along the tracks. Way to go Dolly! Now, if I'm ever in the area, I want to go to your theme park.

Friday, July 14, 2006

NMSU Learning Games Lab featured in the Las Cruces Sun-News

Barb plays bongos with Kailey in the Game Lab
The Las Cruces Sun-News today featured the NMSU Learning Games Lab in an article titled Grading games: NMSU lab utilizes youth to test video game products. It's on the front page of the SunLife section.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Las Cruces makes the "Odd News" section of NewsVine

Makes a guy proud when your town makes for some odd news. Apparently, a bird dropped a snake on power lines and caused a power outage.

It's good to know that news stories about Las Cruces don't perpetuate the false notion that we're a bunch of hicks in the desert sticks... "Hey, Ma! Bird dropped a rattler on the power lines agin. Get the bee-bee-kyoo sauce and some candles, willya?"

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Steering Behaviors For Autonomous Characters

If you're looking to add intelligent collision avoidance and other steering behaviors, Steering Behaviors For Autonomous Characters is a great site that explains techniques for achieving these effects.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Arkham Horror and 1000 Blank White Cards

We picked up Arkham Horror yesterday and gave it a spin. The production values on this game are incredible, and the game was pretty fun as well. (Of course, I'm a sucker for Call of Cthulhu stuff.) Arkham Horror is a remake of a 20-year-old game that used a lot more luck and random movement, and the updated rules improve the game considerably, I think.

The best part of this game is that it is a cooperative style game; the players are working together to thwart the designs of the "ancient one" (Hastur, Cthulhu, Yog-Sothoth, Nyarlathotop, or another randomly-chosen Great Old One), and either they all lose, or they all win, must like in the Lord of the Rings game. This makes for a fun session, since there is a lot of community-strategizing on how to best approach a rather complex puzzle.

The game is a little pricey, but worth it in my opinion - it's fun.

Also, I want to play 1000 Blank White Cards.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

DAFE Update and Article on Astroworld's The Alpine Sleighs

DAFE (the Darkride and Funhouse Enthusiasts organization) has updated their web site with a new look, and to coincide with it, they've added a great, detailed article on the Alpine Sleighs attraction from the now-defunct Astroworld. It's a superb read if you're interested in dark rides, coasters, or other environment-based entertainment experiences. Of particular interest are the stories of things that failed and pranks that were played.

I very vaguely remember going to Astroworld as a kid, and even more vaguely remember the mountain that this unique ride was housed in. The only concrete memory I have of Astroworld, really, is the bumper sticker our little white Datsun B210 sported until its demise during my college years. But some of the photos in the article really sparked some memories for me, so this was an especially good read for me. This is why I life DAFE; they are supporting and extending this unique art form that I so enjoyed as a kid, hopefully for future generations. I guess we'll see if it ever comes back into vogue.

Best 4th of July Activity Possible

I just watched the shuttle launch. What better activity for the fourth of July than to again reach into space, one of man's greatest endeavors? As I write this, the shuttle's reaching 10,000 miles per hour, almost 70 miles above the Earth, having just broke out of the Earth's pull. They're in space now, and the external camera is showing the curvature of the earth and space beyond. Wow. With all the crap going on in Washington and all the partisan bickering, it's good to have something that reminds us of our drive for excellence, our courage, and our starry-eyed vision of what we can be. Happy Fourth, everyone.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Security? Huh?

Bruce Schneier pointed to an article that talks about how Microsoft will yet again weaken security rather than fixing their OS. This time, they're making a way for ActiveX controls to be "pre-approved" so they can automatically be installed on "Standard User" machines without an admin password:
In an interview with eWEEK, Microsoft security chief Ben Fathi said the decision to add the ActiveX installer was a direct result of demands from beta testers. 'The feedback we get is that UAC is great but, in the enterprise, there is a legitimate need to install applications on Standard User systems. We had to create a way to safely preapprove applications without the need for an admin password,' Fathi explained.
What a boon to hackers and virus-writers: executable code that can be installed without the admin password prompt. And people wonder why Windows has so many viruses.

Friday, June 30, 2006

Watch out for that false positive

It looks like Microsoft has an upcoming "feature" that can kill your OS. They're going to require you to use the "Windows Genuine Advantage" software - some of the most laughably named software ever - which checks back with Redmond periodically so they can check your license and what applications you have installed to check for unregistered software. And if you don't install it within 30 days or prevent it from "checking in" with Redmond, Windows will activate a "kill switch" and cease to function completely. What's the "genuine advantage" for customers, exactly?

Considering Microsoft's inability to make software that works properly and securely, the chances of either (a) WGA failing to install properly and block the kill switch, or (b) a malicious worm or virus taking advantage of this "feature" seem rather high.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

40 ways to be a better (game) designer

Raph Koster (author of A Theory of Fun) made a blog entry that describes 40 ways to be a better (game) designer. It's a good read.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Tomb of Horrors

This weekend, some buddies of mine came into town for a marathon game session of Tomb of Horrors, the original module-of-death by Dungeons and Dragons creator Gary Gygax. My buddy Byron had never played it, and so we set ourselves to the task of patching this hole in his RPG literacy.

It went rather well. These guys are expert players, and hardly missed a beat. They squeaked past dangers, risked only what they needed to in order to get what they needed (in most cases), and fought very effectively against the overbuffed foes I sent against them. I only managed to kill off two characters. One of those was in an encounter that I added with an undead Illithid that plane shifted him into oblivion somewhere. The other got disintegrated by the encounter with the lich at the end of the hall of spheres. Personally, I don't think these are the faults of the players, since they're pretty much cheap shots by the game universe, IMHO, because it takes a healthy, prepared character all the way to death with a single action that leaves everything to a single die roll - face enough of those, and eventually you go down, no matter how skilled a player you are.

Throughout the adventure, I didn't really pull any punches, although I admit that I decided to be generous in the final battle with Acererak. They won legitimately, but if I were a nasty DM, the outcome may not have been so rosy. Two of their number went down during the battle - the two fighters who were the ones who could do damage; the spellcasters really didn't have much that could damage the lich. They both made their consumption checks, though, and were returned to life at the battle's conclusion.

First, the paladin went down after rolling dismally on a saving throw to avoid getting his soul sucked. I suspect that this was in large part due to the fact that he succumbed to the urge to start trash-talking to Acererak (calling him "Ass-Crack") in the demilich's own tomb, which caused an irony distortion field to practically ensure he'd roll low. Still, it's pretty awesome to watch a paladin trash-talk a lich. It would have been cooler if he'd have lived.

Then, the bugbear fighter went down after dealing about 90% of the damage. He was really the hero of the fight because he shook off several soul suck attempts, and dealing mighty damage, before falling.

But in the end, it was the wizard who dealt the final blow by picking up a Shatter scroll off the floor (why the lich would leave this stuff lying around is anyone's guess), casting read magic, and blasting the demilich into chopsticks and craps. This was entirely satisfying to me, considering there had been much discussion leading up to the game about some decisions I had made about generating mages. Some people claimed that I had "nerfed" the wizard class, and there were dire predictions that such a character would die horribly and quickly. But instead, he was the one who dealt the final blow. I think he did okay.

I was also impressed by two other things. Byron was the only character who managed to survive from the very beginning until the ultimate defeat of Ass-Crack, and about a third of the way through the tomb, he was stripped of all his equipment (along with most of the party), and so was working with only his natural gifts and no item buffs. Not bad. I thought for sure that was a death sentence, but apparently not.

The other thing that impressed me was the fact that the ridiculous "oozemaster" class actually worked pretty damn well in a dungeon crawl. Kurt made one for this one-shot just to see how it worked, and I have to say that it's pretty handy to have a character that can ooze under a door to see what is beyond. Too bad it's mainly for spellcaster-types, because an oozemaster rogue would be a formidable combination.

In the end, the Tomb of Horrors was no match for this bunch. In order to kill off the party, I would have had to boost the DC checks for threats throughout the tomb by about 10, because people were exceeding their DC's by such large margins, they'd only fail at something on a natural 1. As it was, I made the dungeon more difficult, adding some nasty little suprises to the canonical tomb, but still, they knocked back challenges almost as fast as I could throw them.

Part of this was due to the fact that they were able to design their characters specifically to survive the Tomb of Horrors, though. It would be a huge difference to actually drop it into an existing campaign, where people have not been at liberty to pick and choose the item buffs they want. So DM beware - Tomb of Horrors is a deadly place, and it most likely will claim several lives, so use it with caution. But you might be surprised at the skill level of your players if you decide to give it a spin.