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Thursday, July 31, 2008

Late-night thoughts, none of them new

I'm not like them! I'm not like you!

I've got ideas. I've got, I've got

Hey, where are you going?

Stay. I want to argue.


I don't need them. They won't let me argue.

They think it's bad to be outspoken and alone.

Who needs them? Some day I'll meet a whole

group of people with Asperger's!


It's gonna happen.

Any one of these days.

"Aspies" like games.

So if I make my own games, and they're not like anyone else's, and people are put off by how not what they're looking for they are, and I put a piece of myself into the games, and they stand up to the world and shout "I am great, because this has never been done before, and there's no reason you shouldn't do it too!" and if they have genuine enthusiasm for what they're doing, then the "Aspies" will all come to meet me.

I don't need normal people!
I can hang out with people like me!
I can talk to people like me!

Or this wall here.

Does anyone want to play with an adorable character given life?

It won't try to impress you.

I won't try to sell it to you.

I won't try to engage you.

I won't listen to you.

I don't care about you.

Play my game.

I see it there.

It winks at me: "I am here, just waiting to be made!

"I will shine like the stars in the darkness!"

And it's so close.

So close.

Only a few more pages left.

I spent the day working.

I wanted to get closer.

May the emptiness drive me.

I don't like programming, all the logic and little details.

It's a chore.

It's a form of hell.

But isn't that work I did just fine?

Isn't it? Isn't it? Isn't it?

Isn't it?

It isn't, is it.

Why am I talking. It's just me and the wall.

No, it's me and myself.

I am not…

Please come back.

I want to argue.

It's just me and myself in here.

I love myself.

I hate myself.

I have potential.

I am a lazy bum.

I have ideas.

I talk and talk and when the time comes to do

I spent the day working.

They say there are few things more satisfying

They're wrong.

I'd like to go back now.

I have other worlds.

Is it just me, or are they more real?

I didn't play any videogames today.

The seventh day will be satisfying.

Though of course it won't be.

Please come back.

I'm not like you.

Let me tell you who I am.

Let me tell you where I'm going.

I have an answer now!

I don't need you!

Please come back.


Monday, July 28, 2008

No work done.



And here I was starting to think I'd never see what these autoposts look like.

Keep up the good work, even if it's kinda illogical to say that in response to a post like this one.

I wanted to comment on "The Garden Needs Pruning", but I didn't the comment button.

Your future of Adventure games sounds like a "Choose Your Own Adventure" Book done on a DVD. I think this sort of "Game" has already been done too.

I'd love to see a game with live actors to interact with, and not idiot NPCs or idiot MMORPG players. I don't think it's at all feasible/sustainable for a game though.
I guess it might be similar to running a role playing campaign just online. Maybe with volunteer roles, or a just a gaming gourp coming together and receiving roles and information to play with. It would depend heavily on the game group, but most things do.
Kind of like the whole Murder Mystery evenings, but online.

Or maybe like limited "God" games like Democracy (
where all you do is decide on policy and laws, and watch how your decisions play out on your populace

The comments are after the second post, just as they always are with "The Garden & Droplets" posts. I guess "The Dynamic Interface" not being explicitly named "Droplets: Adventures" threw you off. But it's not a standard G&D.

"Choose Your Own Adventure" are absolutely a kind of adventure game. Just not very good ones, because the interactivity is so spread out and uninteresting. The interactivity is a gimmick rather than a proper artistic medium, so it's very similar in its approach to text adventures and can have the same criticisms applied to it.

I'm not familiar with Democracy, but it sounds like a strategy game. I don't see how that's similar to an adventure game.

I don't imagine the ideal future of adventures would appeal to you too much. You play games as a way to apply yourself, and that's not what adventures should be about. When an adventure gives a lot of freedom to do whatever the player want, it feels vaguely-defined and pointless.

It occurs to me that what I said might be seen as offensive. It was not intended to be.

I don't like reading novels. I don't find them satisfying, with all their little descriptive details and their consistent presentation and their rigid linearity. That doesn't mean there's anything wrong with novels, or anything wrong with me. It only means I don't like reading novels. It would be lovely if everyone could enjoy everything, but that's not the way personal taste works.

Democracy is a kind of strategy game, but it seems similar to how you are describing the interaction level in Adventure Games of the future. The difference being that you are following the wellfare of a nation instead of an individual or a group of individuals. But you are right in that it is not story driven, it's decision driven.

I guess one way of looking where you want Adventure games to end up is which of the following you want it to be:

1) _I_ want to go on an adventure
2) I want to help Fred The Adventurer on _his_ adventure
3) I want to join with Fred and grow and adventure _together_

Eh... this isn't really thought out well. It's 3:30am and I wasn't able to sleep...


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Sunday, July 27, 2008

The Garden Needs Pruning: Adventures

(Please note: I have relatively limited knowledge on this subject.
If I am in error about something, please correct me in the comments.)

The game presents a block of text, the player responds by typing a simple text command, and the game responds with another block of text. When this interface is the dominant element of an experience, you've got an adventure game.

The primary content of an adventure is no more or less than the dialogue between player and program. In that sense, it is similar to chatterbots, which I'm not sure how to classify. The difference is in the player-program relationship. In an adventure game, they are not equals. The program outputs paragraphs of carefully crafted pre-written text, to which the player responds with just a few words.

These words are typically a verb and a noun, for the sake of practicality. "go south". "take key". "drop sandwich". "open door". "examine chair". That sort of thing. Sometimes only one word is needed. "look". "north". "inventory" to check what you're carrying. The interactivity is just enough to give the sense that you are participating in a piece of prose. Then the program reacts. If the writer anticipated the action, then the story will be effected and continue. If not, the program will say it doesn't understand.

Once you have that back-and-forth, what do you do with it? What is there for a player and a program to talk about?

There's the world, for one thing. The player can explore the scripted world by moving from place to place and examining everything he sees. The writer engages the player with the creativity and detail of these surroundings.

Or there can be added rules, of some sort. (Rules can always be put anywhere.) A monster with hit points to fight with. A trap which will pop up and hurt you at random. A magic wand to cast spells with.

There can be characters to interact with.

You can collect stuff. This was typically tied together with everything else, where what you're collecting are points, and you get points by doing just about anything. Or you might have to collect physical objects, where you can't proceed past a certain point unless you've taken everything.

There can be games of perception, where the player needs to notice little details in the environment.

Wow, that's a lot of things to talk about. Anything goes, as long as it inputs commands and outputs lavish prose. And all these things combine to make a rich experience, where the player feels he is participating in the dialogue in a meaningful way. And the more you surprise him with new kinds of gameplay, the more he's impressed by the interaction.

The adventure game is closely related to the original role-playing games. So closely, in fact, that it can be seen as a direct descendant of that discipline. In a (non-computer) role-playing game, the game-runner talks and talks and talks and then the player responds simply with what he would like to do. So the adventure is essentially a role-playing game in text, with the game being a pre-scripted program rather than an intelligent person. (This connection is not meaningful with computer role-playing games, which have evolved in a different direction.)

The adventure game is a weak Form, because the player-game dynamic -which is the purpose of all the interactivity- cannot change significantly from game to game. Every adventure game is a showcase for nearly the same interface.

That interface is pretty cool. Which is why adventures were pretty popular in the 80's. But the adventure Form never aimed to go anywhere past where it already was.

The novelty eventually wore thin. The fact that the player was influencing prose was no longer enough of a draw for that to be the dominant element of the experience. So adventures got a new definition:
There is a world to explore, and puzzles (predictable rule systems) to solve. There may also be games of interaction, perception and/or collection. When these elements are present and dominant, you've got an adventure game.

This is a textbook example of a complex Form. And the primary content of a complex Form is story.

Well, there's a lot of stuff there to tell a story with. A world in which to set the story, puzzles with which to advance the story, characters for the story to happen to and around. Collection (theoretically) serves as an incentive to keep going in the story, and perception… okay, I don't know how perception games fit in. Ah! They give you what to do while you're waiting for the story. How elegant.

Though interface is not particularly relevant, adventure games are commonly classified by their interfaces. This is perhaps a hold-over from an earlier way of thinking. "Text adventures", also commonly called "interactive fiction", use the old-fashioned text interface. Anything with graphics is a "graphical adventure", though that is split up further: "Point-and-click adventures" have you control… you know what, this really doesn't matter.

Let's move on to categories which do mean something: actual genres. The adventure, like all other complex Forms, is a strong Form, because there can be many kinds of stories. So there are the comedies and the fantasies and the science-fiction and the dramas and the horror and the mysteries.

And let's stop on that last one for a bit. Mysteries. Where you look around and act clever but sociable to get clues which you can use to figure out who did whatever was done. If you look at the adventures that have been made, an awful lot of them have been mysteries. Many which seem like other genres are actually mysteries in disguise! And even those which genuinely aren't mystery stories tend to have little bits of mystery all over in them. And why?

It's because with a mystery story, the adventure Form actually makes sense. There's a world, setting the tone and context for the crime. There are puzzles, demonstrating the cleverness of the detective. There are people to interrogate. There are clues to collect, which require careful observation. In short, there isn't anything in the gameplay which isn't perfectly suitable for a mystery story.

The format isn't particularly suitable for anything else, though. Having a big world to explore doesn't make sense in a thriller or a romance or a comedy or a drama- it distracts from, rather than adding to, the human emotions of the piece. Having to notice small details keeps you distracted from the bigger picture you'd want in a fantasy or science-fiction story, and it doesn't add any emotions either. Having puzzles which demand to be solved puts a speed limit on pacing.

So while adventures are capable of any kind of story, they're only good at one. Any standard adventure which is not (to some extent) a mystery is less than the sum of its parts, because no matter how good the gameplay is it's all in the service of a story that can't be told well.

There are two ways gamists get around this. One is with the old gamistic cheat that is cut-scenes. You don't know how to tell your story with the elements you've built in, so you take away all interactivity for a few minutes and tell your story as a movie.

The other way is to make one element dominant over the others, so that the adventure becomes a simple Form. Maybe you can't tell a good story with adventures, but you can design a good world or good puzzles or good characters or good… um, hiding places for collectibles. So if you just focus on that one element and make that one element good, then the whole game will be good.

Unfortunately, that doesn't work so well. The extra elements which have attached to the adventure as a part of its evolution do not suit exploration games or puzzle games. It does not suit a game of exploration to limit significant areas based on how far the plot has progressed or how clever the player is at predicting rules. It does not suit a game of rules to require you to wander around aimlessly. It does not suit a game of perception, along the lines of Where's Waldo, to be so darned complicated that kids can't enjoy it.

The types of games included do not fit together with each other, and they do not fit together with the focus on story. A puzzle-driven adventure can't be as good as a dedicated puzzle game. An exploration-driven adventure can't be as good as a dedicated exploration game. A perception-driven adventure can't be as good as a dedicated perception game. Almost all the parts of the adventure Form are being held back by being in this context.

The adventure game is broken.
There is a pre-scripted story which progresses when the player makes choices. When those choices are the dominant element of an experience, you've got an adventure game. Its primary content is the pre-scripted story.

That may sound simple. It is.

The difference between a pure adventure and a non-interactive story is that the progression of the story is directly tied to the player's involvement. That means the player controls pacing, and the player controls which of several (or even many) pre-written directions the story should go in. He controls these things on a macro level and a micro level, and it makes for a distinct kind of experience.

The player is presented with things he can do. Just having those options to begin with, and having specific carefully-chosen options, already creates all sorts of emotions in the player. They change depending on context: In a conversation, for instance, options will typically be limited to lines of dialogue. In a usual adventure only one character is playable at a time. So the player is given options which are relevant to that character in the current situation. The player can't jump around unless the writer thinks it makes sense for the character to jump around.

When the player uses a certain option, however that option is presented to him, the game will react by continuing the story in a way fitting to that choice. Then the player can feel a small sense of ownership over the story, even though he doesn't have total freedom in the game. He can also experiment with different options, where the effects on the game environment tell him something about the story.

The adventure is similar to rule systems in that respect, but there aren't really any rules. If you wanted to stretch it, you could say adventures are rule system games where the only rule is "Whatever the writer says, goes." and the player's trying to anticipate what'll happen next.

The story can be presented in any fashion. It could be text, or something like a movie (or an actual live-action movie), or a comic book, or even a musical! Any sort of non-interactive entertainment goes. Take any one of those, and add relevant (but small) interactivity throughout, and you're using the language of adventures.

If the player has too much freedom, then the experience of using that freedom takes precedence over the pre-scripted story and what you have is no longer an adventure. And if there is not enough freedom, that's not an adventure either. So the adventure is like the "missing link" between the old, passive experiences and the new, active experiences. It can get strengths from both sides: Vivid characterizations, but where you get to stand in the person's shoes. Carefully crafted plots, where you can still feel pride or guilt over how it turns out. Empathy, but with a personal investment. An experience crafted with the writer's instincts but tailored to whatever the player's mood is.

Any genre of story is possible, and indeed all could thrive. Mysteries will never go away, but there can also be romances and thrillers and provocative science-fiction and escapist fantasy and insightful drama and interpretations of moments in world history and politics and live-action opera and short poetry and whatever else you can think of.

Adventures have so much potential!

The Dynamic Interface

How can adventures evolve? I wrote this two years ago:

What I'm most interested in are dynamic interfaces- interfaces which change depending on what's going on. This would be easiest to pull off (and most effective) on the DS, so let's say this is on the DS. The idea I thought I'd post a minute ago would have been a hybrid interface, with movement on the D-pad. But now that I'm writing, I figure, why not go the whole way? So everything's done by the bottom screen.

On the top screen is the 3D gameworld, shown in cinematic camera angles that turn around as necessary. (The player has no direct control over the camera.) The bottom screen is covered with buttons for contextual actions ("Exit, Talk to salesman, Hop Up and Down while Singing 'Thus Spoke Zarathustra'") pictures of key objects in the vicinity (a screwdriver, a stereo, a lit dynamite stick, a purple cat hopping up and down while meowing "Thus Spoke Zarathustra"), and/or a few (as few as the designers can get away with) consistent buttons like one for opening the inventory. Pressing on one of the pictures moves the camera to a better position to see it (like zoomed in real close while the cameraman jumps up and down to the tune of "Thus Spoke Zarathustra"), and maybe some new buttons will appear (For the stick of dynamite: "Hit with hammer, Stuff in Stereo, Eat, Ignore, Run Like Heck, Go Back") and maybe even a little textbox will pop up with the player character's innermost thoughts! (For the stick of dynamite: "Hmmm.... what is this? I've never seen a thing like this before... Nosiree, I've never seen anything like it... I have no idea what this is..." and a button marked "Ponder Further")

See, the beauty of what I just said is that I haven't really said much of anything. There's lots that the designer could put in, but nothing that needs to go in! Since this is a "dynamic interface", the designers get to put in whatever is most dramatic/funny/effective/reminiscent of "Thus Spoke Zarathustra" for whatever's going on. If you're outside, then the designers could put in a top-down map, or buttons for all the buildings nearby, or a signpost, or a little rhythm mini-game of skipping forward to the tune of..never mind. And just think of the amazing possibilities there could be with an ever-changing interface!

For my first example, let's say the designers (like any good, righteous, "Thus Spoke Zarathustra"-fearing adventure designers) are passionately in love with pixel-hunting. They wouldn't mark out the objects- oh no!- Then they wouldn't be able to give you the fun of finding them yourself! So instead, they'd put buttons (or pictures) for each of the locations objects might be hidden in (Top Shelf, Middle Shelf, Bottom Shelf, Left Shelf, Right Shelf, Floor next to Shelf, Underneath the Shelves, Behind the Shelves, On the Ceiling above Shelf, Inside the Unscrewed Knob on the Left Side of the Middle Shelf, On Top of Shelves Examined Under Microscope), each one turning the bottom screen into a 2D representation of the area for you to enjoy yourself pixel-hunting in. Now, if the player has been searching for the brilliant hiding spot (the third black dot to the left on the front of the bottom shelf) for a reasonable amount of time (seven hours) and is still too pathetic to find it, the merciful designer can have the game start to eliminate the buttons that lead nowhere (or, if he feels like having some fun, the Bottom Shelf button), to point the player in the right direction.

My second example assumes that the designers are godless evil simpletons who shamelessly want to spell out how to push the story along. Some of the items in a room will be important to the story and are obviously important to the character (say, his pink bunny slippers. This character is obsessed with his pink bunny slippers.), while other items are only there to flesh out the gameworld a bit more. The buttons (or pictures) for the most crucial items could be bigger or placed to attract attention on the bottom screen, so that the player (if he is the sort of mindless bloodsucking drone that these evil designers worship) can play through the game quickly if he so chooses. (Bah!- free will.) Or if there was an item which the player ignored before, but now has become crucial to the plot, it could get bigger to attract attention. Or a button could start out big, but get very small once the player has already seen it so it shouldn't distract.

Similarly, some characters are extremely important (the hero's girlfriend), while others are not (the hero's wife). The button to go talk to the girlfriend (or join her in hopping up and down to the tune of Thus Spoke Zarathustra) should be bigger than the wife's button, so that the player always understands what the character's priorities are like.

Let's say our hero is having a conversation with his wife (dialogue would also, obviously, be handled on the bottom screen), and really should be telling her that he sort-of-accidentally allowed her beloved purple cat to be blown up. This would be a pretty big button, since it's weighing heavily on his mind. Naturally, the player will try to push it, but whoops!- the button hopped over to another part of the bottom screen. Try to push it again, and again it hops as our hero puts off the inevitable. Eventually the button may try to hide under some other "excuse" buttons, or jump to the top screen where you can't reach it, or something like that. Now that's drama!

(When talking with his girlfriend, half the dialogue choices would be truly pathetic and half almost-intelligent, and the buttons would be sort of wavy and shake around, so that it's hard to press on the right one.)

If you're inspecting the scene of a crime, the game should move slowly to let you figure things out, take notes (on the handy-dandy bottom screen), etc. And by "slowly" I mean "slowly". It shouldn't be rushing you onwards or reminding you that your wife is outside carrying a club. The trouble is, the player is the one in control of the progression just as much as the designer. A dynamic interface can be used to encourage him to slow down. Let's say that since the beginning of the game the buttons have been hopping around, there have only been a (relatively) few buttons, and those buttons were often pretty big. Now you walk into the scene of the crime, and suddenly you've got no movement controls, no hide-from-wife controls, but twelve pictures of pieces of evidence (or red herrings) all given equal space in a four-by-three grid. In addition, everything is given narration by the character in a textbox at the bottom of the screen. As soon as the player sees all this, he understands that he's meant to go slowly.

On the other hand, let's say in the next scene he finds out some urgent news. (His wife is driving home to rip his fluffy pink bunny slippers and smash his record of Thus Spoke Zarathustra!) Let's say the designer is staying away from timed sequences- how can he indicate the urgency and speed up the game? Simple- he takes away all buttons but the "Run Like Crazy Back Home" button, and has that button take up two-thirds of the screen, hop up and down urgently and flash. (If that doesn't get the player's attention, maybe it could have an obnoxious sound effect like a siren combined with a French Horn.) As he runs back, he'll go through many areas he's been to before, but the buttons will (at least mostly) be missing: What difference does that third black dot to the left matter when the music (and the fluffiness) is in jeopardy?! It doesn't matter that there's no time limit- the player will run home (because he doesn't have any other choice) and won't really feel too cheated. (Because he understands that buttons can appear and disappear at random, and because -overall- this isn't too long a scene.)

These are two extremes, you understand- I'm not saying it would ever have to be so exaggerated.

Symbolism and Other Gimmicks
When you can play around with the layout of the interface at will, you can do all sorts of nifty stuff. Have you ever read David Mack's comic book Kabuki? No, I didn't think so. Oh well- that was a good example of the style I'm talking about. How about Bill Willingham's Fables?- That did stuff like that occasionally... Never mind. Okay, let's say you're in a garden, and you want to hit the player over the head with the word "flower" because this is some deep artistic nonsense. So you could arrange the buttons on the bottom screen so that the layout looks like a flower! Pretty cool, huh?

Practicality, practicality. Always you yell about practicality. Okay,- I'll give you practicality. Let's say there's an unresolved mystery in the story- it's just sort of there. But you want to tell players the answer to the mystery, and you just want to hint it. So in some important scene, you've got one picture in the center, and all the others around it. And why?- the player wonders. Why, it's because it's a clue, you nitwit! And he sees this clue, and then he understands the mystery. What do you mean, "pointless"? You're too picky.

Anyway, dynamic interfaces are a whole new language. I'm sure I've barely scratched the surface of all the possibilities that would be opened up here. You can probably think of more yourself. Something to think about...



You've got some fascinating and spot-on insights and ideas, here.

Coming from you, that means a lot. Thanks.


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Monday, July 21, 2008


I want to believe the future is going to have more opportunities than the present. I want friendly robots and perfect simulations of people to talk to (like myself!) and clones and full-blown transporter-accident human duplications. I think it's theoretically possible to perfectly predict humans by understanding the brain. And I have faith in science to get us there eventually.

Naturally, I don't believe in souls. We exist entirely within the little box that is the physical universe. We start in the universe, we play around in the universe and we end in the universe. We don't come from understanding everything and "forgetting", we come from lifelessness. It all needs to be built up. And then when it's built up, it doesn't lead anywhere. It just goes back to lifelessness. No heaven, no hell. We don't get to leave the box. All that matters is what you do inside the box.

This does not clash with my belief in God. God is on the outside of the box, and he/she/it put us in here. We are no higher than animals, except for the complexity of our intelligence -which allows, among other things, for rationalizing what we see. We can judge the walls of the box, and imagine that there is a box. That allows us to be mirrors, of sorts. The inside universe, dimly reflecting the outside of the universe. Like art imitating life, life imitates truth. But there is a clear and unbreakable hierarchy here. Reflecting God is an artistic flourish, not an escape.

What this does clash with is conventional Judaism, unfortunately. I can't go two paragraphs in the prayers without reading about some sorts of angels and demons and spirits and the like. None of which we should have any way of knowing about. Other than God, we don't know anything about the outside. It could be anything, or nothing. We know that God exists only because we see his creation and it couldn't be so elegant without him. But all the rest is fairy-tales. What do we see, that can't be explained sufficiently by saying that God is great? So all those other spirits, I don't believe in. I mean, I can't say they're not there. But I also don't see any reason to say they are. So I have a problem with a lot of the davening, as well as some other practices.

But that's not reason enough for me to spend a lifetime thinking about religion. If I haven't quite found my niche, that's okay. The usual Orthodox Judaism is close enough for me.

A person with no understanding of God who does things of value in the world is a hundred times better as a person than an intelligent person who has spent his life studying god, who has failed to do anything of value. Life is not preparation. Life is it. Get up, play your part, get off the stage. If you do a bad job, it doesn't mean you're going to suffer. No, it means something even worse: You did a bad job. No, that really is worse. It's the only job you have!

..but what do I know. I'm just a toy in the box.



I feel I can agree with everything you have written, except I can't come to the same conclusion of believing in God (and I am not as optimistic about hyper intelligent AI).

In your opinion, God answers the question of how and why the universe is as it is.

In my opinion, I would rather leave those questions without answers, as it leaves me more space to think.

I am interested in understanding what advantages are found in believing in God.

Well, I think the most important thing is humility. When we don't see a god, under whom we're all (more or less) equals, we tend to place ourselves in the very center of the universe. This is a natural human tendency which hurts the people around us as well as ourselves to a certain extent.

Aside from that, believing in God isn't for our own amusement or satisfaction so much as it is so that we can play a better role in the world.

Nice post! But I do feel somewhat skeptical about the statements on the powers of science. No doubt all complex phenomenons (eg: the brain) work according to definite rules and causes, but to assume these can be analysed, categorised and translated into a language we can discern (much less controlling them) is to credit science with a power that is out of the "box" it is supposedly describing. Aka it's a natural utopian / idealistic sentiment, but there's a reason science isn't called omniscience, and it's the fact that it can't transcend the practical side of its application.

You and your reasonable statements. Bl'bah. I just want to meet myself already! It'll happen. Just wait. You'll see. Any day now.


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Friday, July 18, 2008

Superhero symbolism: "Omega the Unknown" by Jonathan Lethem and Karl Rusnak

I wrote a review of the ten-issue comic series Omega the Unknown, which is the remake of an old and strange superhero story from the 70's. While the original is just plain weird, this one I very strongly relate to. Anyway, I wrote the review for the review site The Factual Opinion. But I was planning on writing about the series here anyway, so I'm just going to go ahead and paste my review here. I highly recommend this brilliant series, for reasons which will become apparent, and recommend you keep a lookout for the collected edition when it is released in September.

Imagine you're walking through a street, when you see a guy in brightly-colored pajamas shooting laser beams out of his hands. Chances are, your first thought will be "What the hell am I looking at?". Once you get past that initial shock, your reaction will depend on how you tend to deal with the unknown. You might admire the guy, and want to learn all you can about him. Or you might pity him, and take him aside for some fashion tips. Or you might just start throwing rocks. You're probably not going to understand him, though.

Imagine you run into a person with Asperger's Syndrome. He is fascinated and proficient with specific fields, but not interested in other people. He takes things more literally than they are intended. He doesn't like being touched or making eye contact with people. His perspective is impressively analytical but oddly detached. Once you realize he's for real, how do you deal with such a person? You might be intrigued, and want to help him succeed in life. You might pity him, and explain what he's doing wrong. Or you might not be so charitable. But in any event, you're not going to relate to him.

Not coincidentally, the miniseries Omega the Unknown tends to evoke roughly the same reactions in unsuspecting readers. Open it up, and you'll find: characters and plot points which don't quite seem to fit together, a disembodied hand running around, narration which takes some effort to follow, objects which attach themselves to people and turn them into mindless drones, a sentient statue, and a distinctive style of sketchy artwork. The first thought is bound to be "What the hell am I reading?". And then it can go anywhere from admiration to loathing. But in any of these reactions, the reader is still a bit lost. Like the superhero or the autist, this story isn't trying very hard to be understood.

The main character is Titus Alexander Island, a fourteen-year-old boy who doesn't relate to people. He is analytical but naïve, and doesn't understand basic social rules. He is surrounded by many characters, and while he doesn't often express an interest in them they all seem to have something to say about him. He has admirers and enemies and helpers and everything in between, all for no more reason than that he exists. But there is only one person nearby who might possibly be like him. And that's the other main character. He is an equally strange, but more experienced man who has long since made up his mind about the world: He'd rather not be part of it. He never talks to anyone, and we don't really know what's going through his head. But it's clear there is some sort of connection between him and Alexander.

In the real world, that connection would be called Asperger's Syndrome. But this is a superhero story, and so we are given science-fiction explanations for the two characters. Why are they out of touch with reality? Why, it's because Alex was raised by robots and the hermit is a mute from another planet! And their destinies are tied together through the superhero order of "Omega". When you stop and think about it, this is not just random surrealism. Omega the Unknown is a metaphor, using the bizarre "anything goes" nature of superhero comics to tell a story which is -from start to finish- all about Asperger's Syndrome.

Everyone has to wake up and deal with reality, so the story starts with both characters literally crashing into our world from their respective bubbles. And the rest of the story is about how the world deals with them, and how they deal with the world. And Titus Alexander Island needs to deal with himself - starting out scared of his destiny, then trying to ignore it, and finally embracing it.

As in any superhero story, the world needs saving. But here the menace is not a cackling super-villain but the more subtle threat of homogeneity. Against these accidental paragons of individuality stands an army of normal people who've been sapped of their free will by nanotechnology. They get infected by all sorts of trendy adherences to pack mentality: jewelry, books about popular theories, fast food. Then they wander around, without any goal in life except eliminating those who are genuinely different. And just as Asperger people might bitterly challenge the general way of things, the superheroes fight the nanotechnology with a literal "grain of salt". (This comic does so love being literal about things.)

Hogging the spotlight more than the nanobots, but amounting to less, is popular superhero The Mink. He stages fights for the media, he makes messes while pretending to know what he's doing, he gets strength from artificial suits, he speaks in marketable catch-phrases. Everything Omega is, he is cynically pretending to be. But when he sees the real thing, he recognizes it instantly and gets scared. Right from the start, he's obsessed with Omega and Alex. He watches them, he studies them, he attacks them, he tries to control them, he prevents them from doing what needs doing. But he's never going to be like them, or be at all adequate next to them. The Mink isn't trying to accomplish anything, but his careless meddling could do real damage.

The narration itself is no less pretentious than the Mink. Not in the sense that what it says is wrong, because it's not; if you think about what's being said, it all makes perfect sense. But it is pretentious in that it adds absolutely no meaning to the story, while sounding as though it does. At first the second-person narration seems to just be an unusual style for an objective perspective, but a few chapters in the narrator is shown to be a character in his own right, called The Overthinker. He serves as the voice of rationalization, and is presented as an object of ridicule. I think he represents the tendency of Asperger people to spend time thinking about their situations as an alternative to actually doing anything.

Then there's the Nowhere Man, a little creature who gives an imaginary world to escape into. There is the politician, who might possibly have done some good for the heroes if he didn't only care about spreading his own ego around.

It is in this messed-up world, with all these destructive personalities and personified inclinations, that the Omegas find themselves. What drives the story is a question: Where the hell can they fit in? On the one hand, there's no one in the real world they can relate to, and it's a constant struggle just to be understood. On the other hand, the superhero group comes with so much baggage: having a name picked out by "experts", having to stand up as an example for their kind and as an inspiration for others like them, being mocked by the public even more than usual. Where in this crazy situation can the characters thrive? Are they ever going to effect real change on the people and society around them, or is that too much to ask for from two people? Will they ever be held up by the world as a shining example to be followed, or will the pretenders and mass herds always reign?

This is a bizarre story, to be sure. Even for superhero stories this is weird. Even by the standards of fantasy, you might think this is particularly detached from the real world.

Well, you'd be surprised. You'd be surprised.



Great insights Mory. I read the issues as they came out, and just this week picked up the HC, which is very nicely designed.

As a fan of the original series (the final issue, in which Omega gets shot to death by the police, blew my 10 year old mind) I find myself hoping that somebody will get around to interviewing Mary Skrenes, Gerber's co-creator on the book.


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Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Impatient Phoenix Strikes (itself) Again!

The Nintendo Wii really isn't so cheap. $250 might seem, at first thought, to be a bargain, but that only comes with one controller. Each additional controller is $40 for the remote itself, and $20 for the analog stick attachment. Plus you often have to pay more than market price to get the system, since they're still in short supply.

There were a few reasons I bought it. One was to play with my family, which has proven to be impossible. Then there were the downloadable games, the new ones yet to prove themselves and the old ones in absurdly limited supply. Then there was the remote.

You look at a little piece of plastic which translates your physical motions into gameplay, and you think: "Wow. Things could be done with that."

Nothing has been done with that.

Let us review the things Wii is capable of.

It can play normal games with normal controls, and there's an infinite number of great ideas just like that waiting to be made.

Then there's the ability to track movement in both hands, which has amazing potential for movement games.

Then there's the pointer, which works a lot like a computer mouse but where you can rotate the cursor in place and move forward and backward with it.

The remotes could theoretically be attached to any part of the body, meaning that full-body movement in games is possible.

Game Boy Advance systems can be connected to the Wii with cables, adding an extra screen for each player.

DS systems can be connected to the Wii wirelessly, adding two screens for each player, one of which is a pressure-sensitive touch screen, as well as a microphone.

Any sort of configuration of buttons can be attached to the bottom of the remote.

There is enough potential here, that if the Wii's lifespan were three hundred years, there would still be new experiences to be had at the end of it! The format is so flexible that the content can be anything.

Last year at E3, the biggest videogame exposition of the year, I watched the Nintendo press conference eagerly to learn what they would do with all this potential. As it turned out, the answer was: nothing. Nothing at all. Apparently they'd gotten bored with the formats they had already, because they made a new one: the Balance Board. It is a scale you stand on so the system can see the exact balance of your whole body. And there was exactly one game announced which would use this new controller: Wii Fit. It's an exercise collection of mini-games. That particular game didn't interest me (and I knew it wasn't worth my time trying to get my sisters interested), but that was okay. With this new controller, there were now even more possibilities on the Wii.

A whole year has passed, without Nintendo making any announcements at all except to gloat about how well the Wii is selling. And now it's E3 time again.

So I watched through their press conference again, waiting eagerly through all the usual rhetoric and spin for the Big Announcement. Some new game which would have me addicted and engaged and inspired and all that.

It never came.

Here is what Nintendo announced.

They announced a slightly-modified version of Animal Crossing, which I played for years -and beat- on Gamecube. They announced a music collection of mini-games for people who don't understand music, where you're not allowed to play notes but just wave your arms around aimlessly and see what happens. They announced a licensed game (Those are always bad.), and a realistic sports game. There was a brief hint that new Mario and Zelda games would be released at some point in the next ten years, and the implication that they would be as unambitious as possible.

And then there was the part where they spat in my face for expecting anything from them. An unambitious collection of mini-games doing what I thought Nintendo would be doing as soon as Wii was released: using motion controls. Except not as creatively as I thought they would. Stuff like turning the controller sideways and making big rotating motions to drive a waterskiing thing, and simple sword-fighting, and -get this- throwing a Frisbee for a dog. This was their big announcement. And why did this silly game exist in the first place? Why, it comes bundled with a new controller, of course! It attaches to one remote, to make the motion detection more precise or something like that. (As if the regular remotes weren't precise enough to find what to do with!)

And when this attachment is released, and I'm expected to buy one of them for each controller I have, what then? Do they think I'm stupid enough to believe, at this point, that they're going to do anything at all with the technology?!

The Wii has more potential than a hundred visionary designers could use up in their lifetimes. It's nothing but potential. Now use it, you fools, use it! The medium is half the message, yes. But only half! Nintendo is being so rewarded in the marketplace for reinventing themselves, they no longer want to do anything but reinvent themselves! Giving meaningful experiences isn't a priority anymore.

But if Nintendo aren't going to be visionaries anymore, who will? Who's even qualified?

All the other companies have had the same opportunity to use the Wii. They've had it for two years already. And there is no news of creative projects. They have all of gamism in front of them, and all they see is the opportunity to repeat. Critical consensus on the third-party Wii library is that there are around two creative games there- one from the pretentious action gamist Suda 51 and one from Steven Spielberg of all people. Where's the rest?

Who is willing and able to move forward?



Well I had a similar reaction to E3 this year except I have an xbox and follow Microsoft news more closely.

All the seemed to have announced was that they are simplifying the Dashboard to allow users to only scroll through one list at a time in an annoying 3d space and they have decided to copy the Wii by allowing users to create Miis... I mean "Avatars".

They did however announce the release of the sequel to my favorite game Geometry Wars, but I suspect they will have forgotten that it was the simple game design that made the game so much fun.

Also, one question, did you coin the term Gamism? The only other reference I could find to it was for studying paper and pen RPGs.

Yes, I did.


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Sunday, July 13, 2008

Anticipating WALL•E

I think I first heard about Pixar's new movie WALL•E from this article in February 2007. The writer, Jim Hill, tends to hype up all Disney projects whether or not they deserve it. But this- this sounded special. A love story between two robots on an abandoned Earth in the future. And not just that:
Now keep in mind that all I've described here is just the first third of "WALL E." Which plays out with little or no dialogue. By that I mean: The age-old trash-picking robot and the sleek new scanning droid may beep & boop at one another. But -- with the exception of the music & the dialogue that we hear coming from that VCR that plays "Hello, Dolly !" -- that's it. The rest of this section of Pixar's 2008 release is (in effect) a silent movie.
At that point, I ran downstairs and started yelling excitedly to my mother about this upcoming movie. (No one else was around to yell excitedly to.) Pixar doing a serious science-fiction story in the talented dialogue-free style of their short films? That's exactly the sort of thing I'd want to be able to do if I were them. Nothing like it has been done before, and there's no good reason not to. That makes it brilliant.

And that anticipation was mixed with disbelief. Surely Disney would never let such a movie be made! How could they sell a movie so unconventional to the general public? Would they even try to? No, more likely the marketing department would start their meddling, and dilute the movie to the point where they know how to deal with it. I said to everyone I could find that if this movie were made with even close to the ambition originally intended, it would be a minor miracle and likely one of the best animated movies ever.

And then was the long wait. Half a year later Ratatouille was released, another Pixar masterpiece, and as I sat there with my family the teaser for WALL•E, which I'd earlier seen for myself on the internet, came on the big screen. It wasn't a conventional trailer, but the fact that my family was there, watching the trailer for such a movie, gave me shivers. It was real. This idea which I thought could never be made wasn't just an idea. It was actually coming, and my family might even see it.

WALL•E didn't seem like just another movie to me. This was my movie.

Months passed. Every so often a new little clip would show up on the internet, which I'd excitedly show to whoever'd look. Sometimes they'd say "That looks cute.", and sometimes I wouldn't get any reaction at all. Myself, I watched those clips over and over.

Then the movie got closer, and the reviews started coming in. Right from the very first ones, it was clear that this was exactly the movie it was supposed to be. The reviews were overwhelmingly positive, but they talked about how ambitious and unusual and dark and meaningful the movie was!

And then the movie was actually released in America, and it did great at the box-office. You've gotta love a world where a science-fiction love story with a speech-less first third can do great at the box-office. There's some merit there.

It wasn't going to come to Israel yet, of course. So I kept reading reviews, I kept watching clips, I spoiled everything in the entire movie for myself and wanted more.

Then the date that I'd seen for when it was coming to Israel wasn't quite truthful. It was only coming to a film festival on that date, and would come to actual theaters the next week.

And then we couldn't go until next Monday. (We could have gone without my father, but my father likes science-fiction and occasionally sings "Hello, Dolly" thinking it's amusing and I really really want him to see this movie.)

So that's when we're going. Monday.



Hello, please to meet you. I have to say you are the first blogger I have ever happened upon on the internet whose content I have actually been interested in reading.

Unfortunately I have to start with the bad news. I was only searching for someone who might share my opinion that Wall-e is not a spectacular film as it represented by the critics. We will have to wait and see what you think.

On a more positive note, I think we might have similar interests in figuring out video game theory. I will need to read you posts about game theory in more depth to figure out what you think, but for the mean time I will guide you to some posts I had made on the topic.

Videogame Design


Speed Racer

Program Design

Why I hate kyler A very good explanation of myself.

I hope to comment on more of your blog in the future.

Unfortunately I have to start with the bad news. I was only searching for someone who might share my opinion that Wall-e is not a spectacular film as it represented by the critics.

Ha! This blog post was so the wrong thing to click on.

I've gotta go to sleep so I don't have time right now to read through your blog seriously. But just a casual glance tells me that we're going to be disagreeing a lot. I look forward to it.

You're a fan of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time? This is so perfect! I hate you already! Wow.

But to get back to the topic: I definitely am going to say what I thought when I see the movie.

Since sarcasm is difficult to really understand over the internet, I can't tell whether the comment about The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time is simply you implying an understanding of my blog facetiously, or if you genuinely dislike this book, in which case I am curious.

Oh, I detest the book. As someone with Asperger's Syndrome, I take its misrepresentation of Asperger's Syndrome as a personal offense. It disturbs me to think how many people have only heard of Asperger's Syndrome from that book, and think that we're unemotional twits to be pitied.

I think when that book made it on my list, I put it there since I felt I had many traits in common with many of the thought processes described in the book. I didn't put it there because I thought it was an accurate portrait of people will Asperger's.

I think your blog however has provided me with a fairly accurate representation of you.

WALL•E is phenomenal. If you haven't seen it, see it. If you've seen it, see it again. If you've seen it again, c'mere and we'll discuss its brilliance together.

Turns out I didn't know everything. I knew all the quirky little details, but I didn't understand that it would all fit together with such clarity and vision. I didn't know what the movie was about. I didn't know that nothing in the movie would be wasted, that it would be a brilliant work of art, that it would make me cry three times.

My parents didn't like it so much. They and Kyler and everyone else who says this is not a spectacular movie are wrong.

I'll have to do a detailed analysis when the DVD comes out. This movie needs a detailed analysis. (I really would pick it apart right now, but I suspect some people reading these comments won't have seen the movie yet. What are you waiting for, you culture-haters? See this movie!)

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After rereading your comments and reanalyzing the film myself, I have to admit your right, that it is a well focused vision of "directives" VS life.

You have actually almost changed my opinion of the film.

The main hangup that I still have that keeps this film from being spectacular for me was the moment of crisis near the end when Wall-E is being squished.

In the theater I didn't feel any deep emotions around this event. There are many reason's this could be, though I suspect it was because the filmmakers failed to thoroughly convince me that Wall-E was in danger.

I don't think we can really argue that point, since what I felt in the theater, is what I felt in the theater. I accept that it must have really hit a chord with you.

Thanks for almost changing my mind about the film. Apparently searching the internet for opinions is sometimes useful.

No, I actually agree with you that there was little sense of danger there. No one really thought Wall•E was going to die there. It would be better if we did, though we've seen that sort of moment so many times in movies I don't know how it could be convincing.

But the moment is brilliant symbolically. Wall•E has this little dream of his that keeps him going, and the programming is trying to squash him down and stop him from getting there. If it were just Wall•E himself vs. the system, he'd die right there and never do what needed doing. But his sheer determination is inspiring to the humans, and that's the message- that the people he inspires can put in the effort involved and break the system.

By the way, I hope you've realized by now the point of the lighter they kept showing us- a little spark lights it, and then it can be used to start a fire, which spreads and burns things down. It's a clever little metaphor.

It's occurred to me that (though this will sound strange) Wall•E is the mirror image of A Clockwork Orange. Kubrick's point was that humans have been programmed by society, and lost their humanity in the process. Andrew Stanton (the director of Wall•E) is giving the solution: love and determination and hard work can break down the programming.

The reference in Wall•E to 2001 doesn't remind me of the apes in 2001 as much as it makes me think of the march in A Clockwork Orange, which had exactly the opposite purpose. There, the march (set to "Pomp and Circumstance") showed that though the walk (in which the protagonist is led around by a bunch of officials) looks like an inspiring event, it's actually leading to more of society's programming and loss of humanity. In Wall•E, the music is without irony: A few steps taken are an important event, when those steps go against the programming. And those few steps can bring all the programming down.

Another comparison to be made is between the two movies' usage of music. In A Clockwork Orange, old music was what made you feel better about where you were. In Wall•E, old music make you understand that there was once something better to strive for. Each movie has two main musical themes which repeat. A Clockwork Orange had "Singin' in the Rain", about how nothing should make people unhappy. And then Kubrick used it ironically so Alex could brutally rape someone without it getting to him. The other theme is no less than Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, the greatest work of music in history, which triumphantly declares that humanity is great and can achieve absolutely everything. And Alex listens to that (getting very emotional about it) as a reassurance that yes, we are great, and no evil act he performs can change that.

Now compare that to Wall•E's two songs, both minor songs from an old musical no one particularly cares about anymore. To balance out "Singin' in the Rain" is "Put On Your Sunday Clothes", and as A Clockwork Orange ended on its song to tell you that humanity was doomed, Wall•E begins with its song to tell you that there is hope. The message of "Put On Your Sunday Clothes" is to revel in little things. This song is used ironically as well- Wall•E hums it to himself as he rolls through a destroyed world. But rather than making him ignore the world around it, it inspires him to find something to enjoy in it. The other theme is "It Only Takes A Moment", a love song which nobody (not even those who've seen the musical) remembers, to balance out the "Ode to Joy" which everyone knows. Where Beethoven's Ninth is a triumph, "It Only Takes A Moment" is an expression of longing. Wall•E is just as emotional about his song as Alex about his, but for the exact opposite reason: it makes him feel empty, understanding that life is only worthwhile if he does things in the name of love.

See, the problem with A Clockwork Orange's world was it didn't have that tiny little spark of life Wall•E has. If there were one person as pure and driven as Wall•E in it, the entire system set up and criticized in that movie might have fallen down!


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Friday, July 11, 2008

Is it really a good show?
Stargate SG-1 vs. Star Trek: Voyager

I've been watching the science-fiction TV show Stargate SG-1 for the past few months. Each week I watch and enjoy a few episodes, then on Shabbat I go over to Tamir's house to complain about them. I never saw a full episode of the show until after the entire ten-year run was wrapped up, so I didn't have any expectations to begin with. I watched the first episode and saw a lot of potential. The US Air Force in space. Ancient alien gods. Instantaneous transportation between worlds with a very clear rule system behind it. Possession of human hosts. Present-day people with futuristic technology in ancient cultures. It all seemed like interesting material for a long-term story.

There's no long-term story to Stargate SG-1. None of these elements ever go anywhere. None of it is really expanded upon. Simply put, that's not the sort of show this is. It's a show where generic sci-fi characters go through a generic sci-fi premise to get to generic sci-fi scenarios which are dealt with in generic sci-fi ways. That I have watched seven-and-a-half seasons of this so far should tell you that I do like generic science fiction.

But still I'm frustrated. For every episode, my enjoyment of what there is is mixed with frustration at what it's not. And that's why, each Shabbat, I go over to Tamir and talk about how it ought to be different. See, Tamir watched the show when he was little. They used to tape it every week. And he says his perceptions might be painted by nostalgia and are therefore unreliable.

That idea scares me a little bit.

I can find lots of problems with Stargate. The characters are uninteresting, but are given lots of focus (at the expense of plot). The show is much too slow, to the extent that it's generally more fun to watch in fast-forward. New ideas which could make the whole premise of the show more complex are routinely introduced, then immediately discarded. The characters always survive against ridiculous odds, though I want them to all be killed off and replaced. The morality of the show is frequently arrogant. And I go on and on. I complain about how "Any threat to the status quo must be eliminated!" even when it defies common sense. I complain about the actors, and the writing, and the repetition, and everything else I can think of to complain about.

And what scares me is, what if it is all about what we grew up with? If I had grown up with Stargate, and had looked to the screen rather than looking for potential, would I love it?

Because if so, that undermines my sense of control. Which isn't so great.

I was having an argument with someone who said Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is a good show and Star Trek: Voyager isn't. Now, obviously he's objectively wrong. But how can I know that?

Do I love Voyager and dislike DS9 just because I saw more Voyager as a kid?

I could write a book about everything DS9 did wrong. (Incidentally, please provoke me; the comments section of this post seems as good a place for that book as any.) And I could go through each Voyager episode, one by one, and tell you how many things that episode did right.

Wait a minute.

Most of the criticisms I throw at Stargate have been used on Voyager by disgruntled Trekkies! They say it had potential -two crews with conflicting ideologies stranded together on a limited sort of ship in the middle of nowhere- which was thrown away instantly. They say it never went anywhere. They say every possible threat to the status quo was thrown out the window. The characters are simple archetypes, and yet they get a lot of focus. They beat enemies against overwhelming odds, defying all common sense.

But no. I'm right. Here's why.

Each Voyager character is a generic sci-fi archetype. The tough captain, the popular first-officer, the young and cocky outcast, the human-like computer program, the alien outsiders, etc. But there are two things which makes them fun to watch. First off, there were some wonderful actors portraying them, who kept looking for new facets of their characters' personalities. Stargate's only good actor was Richard Dean Anderson, and even he's just repeating the same performance over and over again.

Secondly, the characters of Voyager are not so much a draw as the relationships between those characters. Janeway's mother-daughter relationship with Seven. Tom's friendship with Harry. The history between Chakotay and B'Elanna. The friendly rivalry between Neelix and Tuvok. The Doctor's continual surprise in Kes's enthusiasm. Put almost any two members of the cast together in a scene, and you get an interesting chemistry that's fun to watch. These relationships, and the general family atmosphere, liven up everything. On Stargate, by contrast, there are almost no connections between the characters at all. They all respect each other, and there's a little bit of forced romance between the two leads which doesn't seem like it could ever go anywhere, and that's it. When you throw the four main characters in a room together, all you have is the four main characters in a room. You don't have any sort of meaningful group.

Voyager is not, excluding the first season, slow. Though there is always time given to reflect on emotions, the plots almost always feel like they're moving forward. There are twists and turns and resolutions. On Stargate you have a lot of standing in place. I often feel that nothing at all is happening, not just in the bigger picture but in the context of the individual episode.

It is true that Voyager always goes back to the status quo. The overall plot never gets past "a ship stranded far away". But that's the buy-in. You know they're not going to get home, no matter how likely it looks in the episode. And if they got home, what then? There's not much potential there beyond "become more like Star Trek: The Next Generation". It is worth considering that a fixed status quo can still lead to good stories. Anything can lead to good stories; it's all in the execution. Voyager's execution of the individual episodes is excellent: everything that happens affects the characters, and what affects the characters affects us. It's just good writing. Stargate's execution of individual episodes is substandard, because it's done by lesser writers. There is little emotion in most episodes, and what emotion is there doesn't feel authentic.

The beating enemies against all common sense I'll concede. That is annoying, in both shows. If you're not willing to follow through sensibly, don't make the stakes so high.

And what of Deep Space Nine? Well, come to think of it, I grew up with that too. My father recorded Voyager, and he also recorded Deep Space Nine. Sometimes they'd even be on the same tape. In those cases, I'd fast-forward through Deep Space Nine and watch just the Voyager episodes. I understood the characters and the plots and the settings of DS9, I just didn't care. A bad story is a bad story.



You are soooo wrong about SG-1.
Perhaps if you sat down and started watching the episodes from the pilot you would see that they do have a continuing plot that runs thru the course of the full 10 years. They are trying to defeat a parasitic race called the Go'auld. The leads characters are interesting and fully developed. And the romance between Jack and Sam is not forced but due to their circumstances, he is her commanding officer, they must put it on hold until the Go'auld are defeated.

I have been watching since the pilot, in order. There is no continuing plot. Over the course of the seven-and-a-half seasons which I have watched, almost nothing has changed from the very beginning. Goa'ulds are killed all the time on the show, but it has no meaning. As soon as one is killed, a new one is introduced who is exactly the same. There are tiny hints of rebellion, but they are stuck in a holding pattern throughout because the writers don't seem to know what to do with that idea.

The main characters are paper-thin. Jack is sarcastic, Sam is smart and compassionate, Teal'c is stoic and Daniel is an exposition deliveryman. That's all there is to them, and episodes which make them the focus rather than the sci-fi plots just highlight their simplicity.

The only problem I have with the tension between Jack and Sam is that it is the only hint of a relationship between characters. It makes perfect sense that it can't lead anywhere, but that's exactly why the writers have it there- they don't want a relationship between characters that could threaten the status quo. Look at Teal'c's wife and daughter, who don't live with Teal'c seemingly just because the writers don't want more characters. Or look at the cadets introduced with much fanfare, some of them interesting personalities, who then never appear again. The writers only write in new relationships and characters if they see a way out.

None of this prevents me from enjoying the show, which I do. But there's no long-term development here.

Sorry for making you doubt how good your childhood show is. Mostly, I see mine as a good thing - as a kid, I would have enjoyed (and did enjoy) many sub-par shows as well as good ones. So now I enjoy a few shows just out of nostalgia, and that means there are more shows out there I can enjoy!

(Not that there's a lack of good shows; just ones that make their way to my lazy brain.)


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Thursday, July 10, 2008

The difference between a good teacher
and a bad teacher:

A bad teacher has information to share.

A good teacher has a point to make.

I went through a lot of religious Tanach classes in my time at school. None of it interested me at all. Many positions were recited, none of which I remember at all. But then I went to a secular school, and the secular Tanach teacher had a position on everything. He would take a passage, and argue that it was imperfect, or that it was valid for the specific time in which it was written. He would back these positions up with comparisons to other religions and with logic and with literary analyses, none of which was strictly part of the curriculum. And all of this was because he was certain in his belief and wanted to convince us that he was right. I agreed with him on some points and disagreed with him on others. But I always was engaged by the argument. That was the first time I really title="The Seven Levels of Experience" style="font-style:italic;">experienced any Torah, because I wasn't just perceiving it but also using it to form opinions. I learned more Torah in each class that teacher gave than in each year of religious schools.

I wasn't interested in math going into the school system, and I wasn't interested when I left. Math was a series of rules that you needed to memorize. Toward the end of elementary school, I got a video from "The Teaching Company", of an enthusiastic math teacher explaining all of basic math. To him, math was totally obvious. He convinced me that math was totally obvious by explaining and arguing and engaging. For a few years, I was coasting on the perspective I got from that one video. All math was easy to me, because it just made sense. And then I got into more advanced subjects, and was being taught those subjects by teachers with no points to make. Math no longer made sense, so I stopped caring. I didn't really learn anything new after that. That's why I never took the math Bagrut.

If a teacher doesn't care about what he's teaching, his students certainly won't. A class is not a piece of curriculum. It is an opportunity to convince and debate. And people who don't see that opportunity should never be allowed to teach.



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Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Power Out

Not in the mood for substantial entertainment, I was wasting time as the power went out. I opened the window to get some more light, then went outside to see if it was just us.

It wasn't; everyone else was already outside.

I don't think I've ever talked about the people who live here, since I rarely deign to see them. I don't deserve this community. Everyone is friendly with everyone else, and they're all good people. It's the sort of community that the word "community" was invented for.

And yet we all spend our days in the house, doing stuff in isolation. Even my mother, who will volunteer for anything community-related, who invites to Shabbat lunch every person who sets foot in the neighborhood, and who chats with anyone who wants to chat, spends a lot of time working by herself on her computer.

But the computers were off. The TVs were off. The digital phones were off. And suddenly everyone on the street thought collectively: "Hey, human interaction! There's an idea."

Then power came back on partially. Just enough to light up the house dimly, not enough to run a computer. I went to the piano to start playing, though I didn't have much inspiration. I played, and Eli walked in and sat on our couch for a minute. And the people outside could hear me too, obviously. Then I stopped, and took my Bone comics over to Avri. (I kept meaning to give him those, but never got around to it what with all the time-wasting.)

Avri said the scene reminded of the scene in The Simpsons where a TV show is canceled, and all the kids go out to play in parks. (I'd link to a YouTube clip, but I can't find one.)

We talked about old-fashioned games, in the dark. And I didn't want the lights to come back on, because then I'd have no excuse to not be inside on my own.

The lights came back on. I went back in, and got back to doing what I do.



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Friday, July 04, 2008

Playing Against Myself

I think this is where I jump the shark. How much would he hate me right now?

I got my first paycheck. And I asked myself, how should I use it? Should I spend it all on games for the Wii? Or should I buy myself a Nintendo DS, with Final Fantasy Tactics Advance 2?

And then I said, No.

That money should go into creating a work environment. Get another computer, which will be only for work. A laptop, which I can use from my bed. (Like Benjy used to do, though I didn't consciously think in those terms.) So I started looking around the internet for dirt-cheap laptops not good enough to run anything but my work. I couldn't find what I was looking for- they're all better for entertainment than my desktop.

And how can I work with all that entertainment? I kept telling myself: You will work now. And I'd say okay, and then go read a comic. And another. And another. And a TV show. And then move on to a videogame. And play piano. And talk to people. And the end of the day would come. No work done.

One day I wasn't allowed by the blog to do anything but work, so I just did nothing. I turned off my monitor, and went downstairs, and sat on the couch, and proceeded to do nothing. I didn't play piano. I didn't read comics. I didn't watch TV shows. I didn't play videogames of any sort. I didn't go on forums. I just sat, and thought about the fact that I wasn't working. How broken am I, I said, that I prefer to think about not working than to work?

And I said to my mother, I need pills. I need some sort of medicine that will get me to sit down and start working. I need doctors to turn me into a productive member of society.

I looked at the laptop models, and I said, "This won't do.". They all allowed for too many distractions. I needed something older, less functional. I needed to be chained down to a computer and forced to work.

And then I said, what's this got to do with the laptop? What's it got to do with the money? Except I actually didn't. I didn't ask myself anything. I stopped asking. I stopped thinking. I stopped planning. I just went into the Windows control panel, and made myself a work user.

The desktop is white. I set the resolution there so that I can't see as much. The taskbar disappears. There's no Google Desktop, no shortcuts in the Start Menu, no handy keyboard shortcuts, no accessibility at all. Just the work.

And then I got myself a program to watch me. I'm not allowed in my regular user before 3:30 PM. I'm not allowed in after 2:15 AM. If I'm there, it logs me out automatically.

And I'm working.

I think I was a poor excuse for a person. I think I talked and I talked and I planned and I thought and I analyzed and I did everything that could be done, but I never did what needed doing.

Now I'm doing it. I'm doing it quickly and efficiently. I'm going to be done with Smilie altogether in a few weeks. And then I'm going to show it to people. And then I'm going to move on to something else. And something else after that. And I'm going to move up. And I'm going to get places. And all it costs me is a guilty conscience.



I am reminded of verse from "Oh the places you'll go!"

It's good you found a way to filter out the distractions and do work. I do need pills for that. Man am I unproductive when I'm not on those things and I'm not being actively and urgently pushed.


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Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Progress report:
Page 25 complete.

Subject "Mory" has now completed greater than 50% of the Pages of Smilie.

Proceeding to stage 2.

The subject must now make greater than 0 progress on Smilie code every day.
(EXCEPTIONS: Friday and Saturday)
"day": defined as (5:00 AM-3:30 AM)

If the subject does not make progress, for ANY REASON, a post will automatically be written.
No work done.
This policy will not be revoked
until Smilie has 100% completion.
It will not be revoked even if an infinite number of days pass without progress.

Therefore, if no negative post is made,
it can be assumed that the subject has made progress.



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