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Wednesday, March 23, 2005

You are now entering Panic Mode. Have a nice day.

I apologize in advance for this post. In the past few posts I've been sort of one-note, and the blog is already suffering as a result. I am writing this regardless. Why? Because when you ignore the stress you should be acting on, it builds up. I am aware that this is corrupting the blog, but so be it. A little bit too much banality from the Real World should make a good contrast from the posts later on.

Yesterday, the head of music at our school caught me and informed me that I would need to give her the music project by the next day. I had been avoiding her for months as well as the teacher who had been supervising the project. I also remembered that I had been neglecting to write up more of my piece "Untitled" on the computer as well as burning a disc for Eliezer. Eliezer takes preference over the rest of the school, so that evening I played "The Secret of Monkey Island" on my computer. Cute game, by the way. Then, when I was supposed to go to bed, I did some work on Untitled and burned the disc for Eliezer.

This morning, I left early in order to get to the improv session with Eliezer at a reasonable hour. It went great, until all the speakers in the school started blaring Purim songs. I went up to the secretary to see if there was a way to shut it off in our room, but no lasagna- they didn't know how to work the speakers. So improv was over. I played Untitled for Eliezer again, and once again he announced that he felt it was complete. I played Variations On V.O.V. for Eliezer again, and he announced that one section was incomplete. I ignored his comments. Then was Music History. The room was taken so we sat in the library, whispering. The teacher was explaining things that we'd need to know for the bagrut, so I found nothing of interest. On leaving the library, the head of music caught me again, and I reaffirmed that I'd have the project today.
My plan: Make the changes I had been told to do to the project on the school computers, print it out, bring it to the supervisor, get her corrections, go back to school, update the file on the computers, print it out and hand it to the head of the music department. It'll go away.

Murphy's Law has a way of sneaking in.

I went to the computer room and asked if the printers were working. No, I was told. No? Could it just be some little-? I asked. No, I was told. The printers weren't working. So the plan was over. I went home. That took about an hour, then I had something to eat. A few minutes before I had to go, I changed the file, printed it out, and sent it to myself by e-mail. I went back to Jerusalem. Of course I was late by that time. I called to find out what bus to take from the Central Bus Station. I waited for that bus, took it, and got there 40 minutes late. She showed me what I needed to change to complete it.

She had no working printer. I called person A who is in my class to see if I could come over. He said that he didn't have a working printer, and I should call person B in my class. Person B said he wouldn't be home, and I should call person A. I came home.

Hours later, I finished up the project. I called the head of music, who said she has no fax, so could I bring it tomorrow. I said no, I'd be busy. Could I fax it to her then? OK. Tomorrow then. I'll send it at 9:00.



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Friday, March 18, 2005

VI: The elimination of unworthy life

My father wanted me to mow the lawn.

It was so pretty, so full of interesting plants, so alive. There was grass, and weeds, and clovers. And he wanted me to cut it all down. Now, I am not an enviromentalist, against cutting down anything at all for the sake of progress, but this is different. If it needed to be cut to make room for something else, I could understand. If it needed to be cut because it was preventing something else from growing, I could understand. If it needed to be cut because someone was allergic to something there, I could understand. But when I asked my father, "Why do you want to cut it all down?", he replied, "It doesn't belong there." Those plants had been growing there for months, and would continue to grow chaotically until the lawn became even prettier. Naturally, I refused to go along with him.

Two days ago, (almost immediately after I had written my last post) my father came to me with a proposal. I should first explain that my monitor, which I had liked a good deal, broke down less than a week ago for apparently no reason at all. I have since been using a fifteen-year-old piece of trash which can't do any resolutions above 640x480 and which, no matter how much I try to tweak the graphics card's settings, can't get colors right. My monitor was especially missed for Myst IV- it had broken down when I was halfway through, and I've had to play the rest of it (I finished it yesterday) with this monitor which predates the entire series. I've been dreading the prospects of having to continue using this monitor, as I have no means to get money. Enter my father's suggestion that he would pay to fix my broken monitor if I study for my tests. I was surprised, to say the least, to hear such a clever parenting trick from my father. And then I went to Dr. Elmaleh for another counselling session and found out, understandably, that it was he who had planted the idea in my father's head. But I suppose it does not matter at this point in time which of them can use minimal brainpower when it comes to destroying my life. At this point in time, what matters is that the damage has been done. The two games cannot compete when an artificial need has been created for them to cooperate. That conflict has been postponed, although I fully intend to get back to it later on in this blog. Until then, I will do whatever is necessary to ensure that I will still be here to share it with you, my dear Imaginary Friends.



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Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Lost in Myst

I recently bought the entire Myst series of four games. If you haven't played them, do. All but the third are phenomenal. The fourth, in particular, is spectacular, with puzzles that despite their complexities make perfect sense. For instance, right now I'm at a puzzle where you need to use lots of wooden mechanisms to change the direction of the flow of water so that you can drain a certain area from water. I first tried to map out the area so I'd know where the water should flow, but gave up after a half-hour attempt gave me an undecipherable mess. Next I spent around an hour playing around with them, which gave me a very vague idea of where the water flowed. Then I tried and failed to decipher a map of the water which was drawn in mosaics. So I checked walkthroughs on the web, which told me that I had already set all the mechanisms correctly except for one. At this one mechanism, I must close off two streams. The machine is easy enough to use, and I can close off both of them separately. But each time I close one, the other opens. And so I have spent hours standing in place and closing one, then the other, then one hafway, then starting over, etc.

No, it really is an amazing game. The puzzles, except for that one, are brilliant, and- Oh, stop rolling your eyes, you'd agree with me if you'd played it! In any case, I'm stuck there now. If I were to play any other game while I'm still playing "Myst IV: Revelation", I'd naturally compare them and not enjoy the other game as much as I would have (because few games are as good). So I'm not playing any games right now. Battlestar Galactica won't continue for months, and Enterprise won't have any new episodes for a few weeks, so I have very little TV to watch.

And as long as I'm giving you all these meaningless details, I might as well go on to describe what else is going on: I just finished my latest piece, aptly named "Untitled". It certainly isn't one of the pieces I cared most about, and from the start the intent was to let Eliezer (my composition teacher) help me out, whether I agree with his decisions or not. I must say, it's sounding quite nice for the most part. I haven't touched Variations On V.O.V. since working on it in January. I was supposed to get a disc with the "Finale" notation software from Eliezer for the past few weeks so that I could more quickly write it up, but I never went to who I was supposed to get it from. I got it directly from Eliezer today. I'm planning on reading the Megilla on Purim, which is coming up soon, but I haven't been practicing. I have a bagrut (the final exams here, which all schoolwork is working toward) in Music History coming up. I have all the papers I need to study, but I haven't studied them. I have a bagrut in piano playing coming up, but I haven't been practicing. Wait, and there was something else I wanted to say... oh right, there was a paper I was supposed to hand in a few weeks ago to sign up for the programs I'd need to go to to do the bagruyot I'm not doing this year after the year is over. I actually came to hand it in today and found out that it's too late.

But why am I going off on such a tangent? Let's get back to the subject. As I was saying, due to apparently coincidental circumstances I'm not busy with games or TV shows right now, so clearly what I should be doing is posting on this blog.

[At this point in writing, I had to pause for about an hour and a half -no exaggeration- trying to think of how to continue from this statement.]

Do you know of Epimenides' Paradox? Surely you must, even if not by name. The most recognized form of the paradox is: This statement is false. How can one deal with such a statement? The only way we humans can deal with such self-referential speech is by creating a more understandable representation of the sentence in our minds, and then analyzing that.

And I'm very happy to be writing on this blog, because it offers me such a good way of dealing with Real World problems. Here I can create reason for human irrationality. Here I can make a good game out of a lousy one.

My mother asked me a few hours ago how I can ignore the Real World around me. It doesn't make any sense! Don't I know that I can't get anywhere without getting good grades? Sure, I know. But reason is a game, not reality. I am not applying the lessons learned to myself, but to an imaginary representation of myself. As such, I have no internal obligation to follow reason unless I want to. And in this case, I don't. My deepest desire is to see the words "Game Over", and be allowed to move on with my life. My real life, as a gamer. To move on to games worth playing.

Myst doesn't have a "Game Over" screen. The implication being that the game doesn't actually end, it just continues badly (although you are spared from seeing the continuation). Of course it can't end, because if it were to end, then how would you ever get to explore any more Ages (Myst worlds)? At the very beginning of Myst is the statement: "The end has not yet-"

I don't know why I brought this up in the first place. Forget I mentioned it.



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And I suppose the next break will be a month, will it?!

Imaginary Friends, you are the most loyal readership I could possibly have hoped for. A week has gone by without me posting, and not one of you has left! It's so nice to know that I'm giving you some food for thought, or at least something to laugh at. A few quick words about the format of the blog, before getting on with the somewhat more substantial posts: I've realized that I don't actually need any feedback from live people, although it certainly would be appreciated. (I'm sure that every single one of you, now that you know, will take the time and effort to contribute a little bit of your Imaginary selves to this blog by commenting.) When I have a question I can't answer, I'll post it here with "Part 1" in the title, as I have done retroactively with "The elusive key to longevity". And how will this help me answer the question? First of all, I will read your comments which will attempt to answer the question. Incidentally, in the time since I recommended commenting a few sentences ago, you have all written in comments. I am stunned by the swiftness with which you took my words to heart, as well as the sheer quantity of comments- by my estimate, each one of you has posted 15 times already! By looking through these comments I will be able to gain some insight into the problem. If these personal comments don't give me the answers I'm looking for, I'll leave it for later, as I do so many other projects. This is not to say I will definitely get back to it, of course. Indeed, I never finish any project I start. (This blog isn't the way I intended it to be, for example, but I might get to changing it eventually.) But it is always possible that some future version of Mory will look back at this relic from his buried past and post a simple answer in order to demonstrate his superiority over that idiot. If and when he does so, he will title it "Part 2". If no such Mory comes along, then the riddle will simply fall a Part, and there remain.



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Tuesday, March 08, 2005


A central theme in my life of the past few weeks has been whether or not I am capable of making friends. Dr. Elmaleh implied to me that I wasn't, at least not without making changes to the way I approach other people, but then over the next week I got into several enjoyable conversations, not because I suddenly had motivation to talk which I hadn't had before but because the circumstances I was pushed into brought me in contact with people who I simply hadn't met before. God was clearly trying to let me know that I am not as socially inept as Dr. Elmaleh would have me believe. No sooner did I mention this to Dr. Elmaleh, than my opinion was reversed yet again. For a day or two later was the shul's dedication, and the few families which had contributed the most (including mine) celebrated by having a joint dinner for friday night. Never mind that there was so much social activity that I felt like I was on the verge of seeing blue screens of death in front of my eyes; when I did manage to pay attention, the conversations bored me stiff. I tried and failed to find an entry point into the discussion. On Shabbat, I tried to speak with one of the friendly kids on the block and found I had nothing to say to him.

I had also, at around the same time, gotten very frustrated with the fact that my entire class had been ignoring me since I joined the Academy a year and a half ago. I started considering confronting someone -anyone- in the class about this, but never did. And right around then, a few kids in my class started unintentionally proving to me that they had no grudge toward me but simply had never considered forming any sort of opinion about me. It was way back on the three-day trip at the beginning of this year that I attributed the lack of a connection with my class to a lack of common interests.

This didn't happen at the same time, but it should be mentioned nonetheless: there were several friends I made over the past year with people who like me were interested in videogames. Every single one of them has disintegrated. I don't know if they ever wanted to talk to me, but that seems like a moot point. After talking a little bit with them, I got bored and no longer cared if I ever saw them again. This has happened to me many times over the years. I still remember the last time I spent some time with a friend from elementary school. We sat around, each trying to think of something to say, and both failing: We had nothing better to do than talk, but had gotten sick of talking to each other. So if common interests aren't enough, than what is?

My questions were answered a week ago, when Marcus came for dinner. Marcus was my best friend in kindergarten. Yes, kindergarten, back when I lived in America. He and his family were visiting Israel and stopped by. A few words about Marcus: He is very hyperactive, talks about what interests him whether you care or not, and one of his favorite hobbies is bothering his two older sisters. The reason I say this provided me with the answers is because it did. Even though I had not seen him for a long time, even though we had almost no common interests, even though we acted differently and talked differently, my conversation with him was the most effortless and enjoyable I have had in a long time. Marcus showed me lots of star constellations in the sky, not because I had asked, not because I cared at all (I didn't), but because he cared. Other people might have hated that, but that's precisely why I like the guy. That's when it hit me- it doesn't matter whether you have common interests (although it's certainly nice). There are some pairs of people which can have a good time together, and most pairs of people who consider themselves friends can't. The former can and will have unconditional friendships, the latter will pretend they are friends just to convince themselves that they are satisfying their need for friendship.

My mother, in a rare moment of truthfulness, once told me that despite being friendly with many people, she doesn't think she has many real friends. I have none, at least which I am in contact with. The last time I had friends in my class was in seventh grade, when I was fortunate enough to have two very good friends: Tuvia and Yosef. When I think about it now, I think Tuvia had Asperger's Syndrome. He would talk nonstop about marine biology. I couldn't have cared less about the subject, but he talked about it because he cared and I cared about him. Yosef was bouncing off the walls sometimes for effect, and I cared about him too. Those were real friendships.

I asked Dr. Elmaleh to get me in touch with other kids with Asperger's Syndrome. I hope this goes somewhere.



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Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Ignored Potential of the Impatient Phoenix's Pillar and the Immature Public's Perception Problem

At E3 2004, Nintendo revealed their "Third Pillar". It was to be called the DS, and would have two screens placed vertically, the bottom one a touch screen. I read this on the internet and got very excited. Here was a handheld system that could actually improve gamism rather than just copying what consoles had already done. Old Forms could utilize the two screens to give much more depth than previously possible, while being much more intuitive than a conventional controller. I immediately thought of how my favorite Forms could benefit:

The Zelda Form (Or can someone please give me a better name for this Form?) is designed around immersion- that you should never be pulled out of the game by a change in controls, or a change in interface, but should feel that you exist inside the game. But until now, occasional changes in interface were practically unavoidable for a reasonably complex "zeldan" game because it is difficult to allow for actions such as switching items (The Legend of Zelda), trading items (Beyond Good & Evil), checking progress, checking maps, etc. without resorting to a menu. But on the DS, all this could be put on the bottom screen! That way, the main screen would never need to change, and the player would never be pulled out of the experience. This may sound like no big deal, but for a zeldan game immersion is king. Additionally, the touch screen could create unprecedented depth for many items. For example, imagine how much greater the combat of Zelda would be if once taking out your sword (from its sheath on the bottom screen), you could attack by swiping on the screen! Suddenly, you would be able to attack in many different angles and even styles of swordplay by moving the stylus in different directions, as opposed to the one-button swordfighting in current Zelda games.

Now imagine a platformer where the top screen shows the 3D environment you are playing in (with the character in it), while the touch screen shows a view of the main character from the back. You would jump by "flipping" the character around with the stylus. For instance, you could push from the legs upward to jump, and then spiral around to do a somersault in the air, and finally using the stylus to push the character so that he falls on his feet. This could be a deep, nuanced game beyond any conventional platformer.

For Myst, the DS would be ideal. The top screen could allow you to scroll through pictures you've taken of all the hints/maps/symbols you found, while the bottom screen would be the game itself, played with the stylus almost exactly as it is now with the mouse. Having your "notes" on the top screen would take away the need for a pencil and paper without cluttering up the interface, and voila: Myst on the go could finally be possible!

And so on, and so on. The ideas I came up with were all of how the system could be used to enhance current Forms, allowing gamists to bring their crafts to greater heights. But instead of taking this historic opportunity Nintendo has afforded themselves, they decided to reinvent the wheel. That's right, rather than perfecting their Forms they would like to throw them out and create lesser ones. The concepts for the DS they have demonstrated are all starting from scratch. They have shown a Yoshi game in which you don't move Yoshi around but draw clouds for him to walk on. They have shown a "Metroid" game which does not deserve the name but is just a mindless First-Person Shooter. They have talked about a Zelda game that will use both screens equally. They have shown a Mario game that goes back to 2D. And so on, and so on. The motto they're going by is: "Let's throw out everything we've worked so hard to build and start over". This is not what I was expecting, not what I would want from my favorite gamists. All of these games look reasonably fun, but of the Super Mario Bros./Wario Ware variety, not the Super Mario 64/Legend of Zelda variety. No Form can hold your interest for very long until it has been sufficiently developed. The new Forms they are creating, though, don't look like they have any room to develop! They are all designed to use the features of the DS as gimmicks. What I expect is that after one or two iterations of each new series, Nintendo will throw it out and start over again. This was they pattern they had a long time ago, and apparently they miss it. Back in the 80's, they made Zelda -a very promising new Form- and threw out the entire form in favor of making Zelda II a shallow RPG which was completely different and did not rely on the foundations they had worked so hard on. The same can be seen in Donkey Kong 1, 2, and 3. Nintendo likes the invention stage so much, that they're not interested in building up what they've started. (In case you're wondering, this is what I was referring to as Impatient Phoenix Syndrome.) I have no doubt that these games will be very fun, but they won't lead anywhere. It takes a long time for a Form to develop from "a fun experience" into something greater. Without those greater games, the DS has no appeal for me.

So who, exactly, is the Pillar for? (...other than the Nintendo gamists, who are doubtless having a blast with it.) These are intuitive, simple games which neither require nor develop good gaming skills. They would be good for people who have not experienced any Forms interactively before, and are not willing to invest too much time and effort into a game. I'll cut to the chase: I think the DS is perfect for girls and women. Don't believe me? I've been trying to get Miriam and Dena to play games for a very long time without success. There are only a few they like: Animal Crossing, Yoshi's Island, The Sims, Wario Ware, Mario Party. They both like Animal Crossing because it's very cute, not challenging and doesn't force them to do anything but lets them play as they likes. Miriam likes Yoshi's Island because it's cute and not too hard. (Dena isn't a good enough player for it, but she likes the Yoshi character a lot too.) Both girls like Wario Ware because it's simple yet fun. They like The Sims because it's simple but rewarding. They like Mario Party because it's easy to jump into, but allows for a lot of fun if you bring a few friends. All these games are simple, with not too much depth, but manage to be fun because they are new experiences. This defines pretty much the entire first-party DS lineup! There's an Animal Crossing game coming out, a Wario Ware game out, a Yoshi game coming which is very simple, a music game which allows many people with DS systems to play music together easily, a Kirby game which looks pretty simple, a "puppy simulator" called Puppy Times which simply allows you to play with and train virtual dogs, similar to the old Petz computer games (which, incidentally, they both liked). The DS lineup looks like it is tailor-made for my sisters. And I don't think it's just my sisters: these games can appeal to anyone who is not a very good gamer and isn't turned off by cute graphics/themes.

Nintendo has been, from the beginning, marketing the DS to twenty-something guys. Their TV ads featured the slogan "Touching is Good", and had guys in their twenties as the focus, or women as sex objects. Why? Why isn't all their advertising aimed at girls and women?! I could only conclude that their marketing was a bunch of morons, until I brought the issue to the Gamecritics forum and received a powerful rebuttal: Nintendo is probably afraid of being seen as a "girl's company".

At E3 2001, Nintendo unveiled the Gamecube. While its competitors (Playstation 2 and XBox) were painted in black with boring, ugly designs, Gamecube was a cute little purple box with a handle. I think the Gamecube is the most adorable console ever made. But I have read countless editorials assessing that the general public didn't like it for precisely that reason, and also because its main launch title was Luigi's Mansion, a "family-friendly" game with cartoony graphics. Whether or not this is true is by this point irrelevant, because Nintendo's heads have gone on the record saying that this was a bad marketing choice, and they are working now to correct the error they supposedly made. Apparently, this "mess-up" set in stone Gamecube's status as a "kiddy" system, which of course insults the maturity of many gamers. The legend says that the Industry's target audience was turned off by the fact that the Gamecube did not go out of its way to turn off younger gamers. This legend must be true to a certain extent, as I have seen many people calling Nintendo a "kiddy" company. Is this hurting Nintendo's sales? Maybe. Nintendo isn't doing as well as they used to when there wasn't such a demand for "Maturity" (read: sex, violence). So they're now trying to create a new, different image for themselves. An image which people who are insecure about their maturity won't be repelled by. Just one problem- this image doesn't correspond with the games they're releasing. Their new commercials all imply trashiness, but Nintendo's games are too good to live down to that image. The commercials imply that the games are unsuitable for kids, but to make such games would be going against Nintendo's style which they do so well. When Nintendo, at last E3, showed a video of the new Zelda game, which unlike the last game (The Wind Waker) which had bright and cheery cartoony graphics, is going for a more photorealistic approach, the fans went crazy with excitement. What they were cheering for was not a change in target audience -in fact, what was shown was too minimal to suggest much deviation from the great Zelda tradition- but a feeling that Nintendo has stopped being "for kids", because near-photorealistic graphics have a connotation of rated-M ("mature") games. The feeling, doubtless incorrect, was that Nintendo has abandoned their ideals of games that are appropriate for kids in favor of what the public wants of them. And this new Zelda was proclaimed as a correction of the "misstep" Nintendo took with The Wind Waker, which incidentally is a fantastic game.

What would happen if Nintendo were to point out the appeal their games naturally have for girls? In a worst case scenario, exactly what happened when they pointed out that their games can appeal to kids- they would alienate a large portion of their fanbase. So they would prefer to project an image which will not have any basis in reality. People may buy the DS expecting anti-childhood games, but they will find the games on offer seriously lacking. Will they appreciate Animal Crossing, or Yoshi's Touch & Go, or Super Mario 64 DS, or Wario Ware: Touched, or Kirby's Magic Paintbrush, or any of the other games scheduled for release? I doubt it. It is better to have an audience which expects something the general public will not approve of, than to have an audience expecting something the general public will approve of and finding nothing of the sort.



There's a happy ending to this story. Some time after this post Nintendo's marketing changed course, following the general approach I'm advocating here. Except they went even farther than I could have hoped for: They've been aiming not just at girls but at the elderly and the health nuts and all sorts of other historically non-gamer types.


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