Monday, December 28, 2009

WoW Talk

Tonight, internet, I will be discussing the new World of Warcraft Looking for Group interface and how it affects community.

I'll catch up old WoWers who may not have played in awhile about the system, then ramble a bit about the design and community and some things that surprised me. Then a tanking anecdote for your enjoyment.


Alright, so if you've played WoW in the past but haven't played in awhile, the new LFG interface is AMAZING. First of all, cross-realm instancing. Remember back when they made battlegrounds cross-realm? And you were so excited because you could finally get into Arathi Basin? Plus, you just put in your role, and the system forms the group, then, boom! You teleport right into the instance. No more summoning, no more traveling hither and yon. You're just there. That's the gist of it.



Now, don't get me wrong, I will always prefer instancing with friends over strangers, but I do PuGs much more often with the new LFG system. Thinking about this, I ran into what felt like a contradiction of my previous understanding about community in games.

You see, the reason I like cross-realm instancing better than only instancing with people from my realm is that it is far less stressful, especially as a tank. It used to be that I agonized over instancing with strangers, because I was worried something would go wrong, or get in a terrible group of jerky people, and I'd have to deal with potentially running into these people again elsewhere in the realm.

I feel that the new LFG system has vastly improved my quality of play in World of Warcraft, in spite of the fact that it diminishes the sense of community within the realm. Now, one could argue that it increases the sense of community in the greater player base, but there are so many players cross-realm that you don't run into the same folks as often. Plus, there's not even a means of adding another realm member to your friends list, to group with them again. The system is MUCH easier to use than trying to form a pickup group within your realm, so people are more likely to be grouping up with people cross-realm than the ones they will be more apt to run into out in the world.

There is something fun about seeing people around the world (of warcraft) and recognizing them, or having run with them before, and saying "oh hey!" and whatnot. And its fun when you have realm "usuals" (as much as I can't stand that dirty no-good Alliance priest Hutch and his ganktastic habits, it is fun to announce he's in the area and have all the high level Horde rush in to save the day).

But the quality of realm community doesn't go much beyond that. I don't know about other realms, but the Gurubashi realm forum is generally full of whining and yelling and thick wells of negativity. It's not a pretty place to be. Guilds are probably the sweet size for maximizing community benefits, but on the realm level it's pretty rough.

So perhaps Blizzard sacrificed something that added to realm community in order to improve the overall experience. When using cross-realm LFG, if you're in a bad group, it is much easier to just abandon the group, knowing that you'll get into a new one fairly quickly, and that you won't have to deal with people whispering at you and harassing you for leaving the group. This is very important for someone like me, who is very shy, and who is in a position of great responsibility in the dungeon group. It takes SO much of the stress out of doing instances!

Community is important, but it's not THE most important thing, even in an MMO. At least, if you have to sacrifice it for the sake of improving the mechanic of the game, it's worth it.



And now, a small story which doesn't have much to do with the topic other than it's WoW-related, but I just wanted to share it.

Sometimes it's frustrating being a warrior tank in a group of DPS that obviously does not have much experience with warrior tanks. We don't have the AOE tanking that the Death Knights and the Paladins do, so DPS has to be a little more careful and attentive with us. You don't find things like caution and attention in DPS these days. Being DPS with a warrior tank requires some finesse, just ask Scott! In fact, Scott could probably write an article of Tips for DPSing with a Warrior Tank. In fact, I think he should. Get on that, Scott!

Running as my shaman alt, I've noticed that when there are multiple DKs are in a group, and one of them is the tank, the others will help with the pulls, gathering the room into the AOE of the tank. I was running Halls of Lightning the other night as my warrior tank main, and a DK in the group kept pulling extra groups of mobs. At one point this resulted in things getting out of control and one of the other DPS dying.

Part of me wanted to yell at this guy for being hasty (I HATE running with people who are like "gogogo!"). Part of me wanted to ask if HE wanted to tank, since he seemed to be intent on stealing all the aggro.

Instead, I took a deep breath, figured that this DK just wasn't used to the warrior tanking style, and said "I know that warrior tanking is much slower than other types, but please be patient!"

And to my utter surprise, he DID. No whining or yelling that I just wasn't a good tank or saying "omg just go" or anything like that! He got his DPS under control and followed my lead, and the rest of the instance went smashingly!

Anyway, it just brightened my day.


And thus ends an entry's worth of WoW talk. Enjoy!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Avatar

Avatar was a gorgeous movie! But it could have been about 2 hours shorter, I think.


The post-movie baller consensus was that this would make a fantastic MMO, due to the rich detail of the world and the potentially awesome mechanic of interfacing with the ecology. Lots of cool plants, cool creatures and whatnot.

Watching it in 3D actually took an edge off of the effects, so that everything felt more "real." I have a sense that if I'd watched it in non-3D it would have felt fake and overly-ridiculous. It was a nice use of 3D versus the classic hand-toward-the-camera gag that a lot of movies do.

Meanwhile, the story was painfully predictable. Paaaaaaaaaainfully.

"Only 5 people have ever been giant-dragon-thing-riders since the beginning of time!"

Whelp, there's about to be 6!

Oh no, we tried to transfer bodies but she was too weak and died. Translation: foreshadowing that they're going to perma-bind Jake to the body.

All is lost! Everyone is dying! The badguys are going to win! Oh look, all the animals decided to attack and save the day. DIDN'T SEE THAT COMING!

There were a few surprises, granted, like the mech suit having a knife?? I literally bursted out "WHAT" in the theater! I guess all mech suits need to be equipped with giant robot knives in case they have giant robot knife fights?

Anyway, it was definitely a beautiful world, and is probably best appreciated in 3D on the big screen, so I can't say "wait for rental" very fairly. See at your own risk!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Princess and the Frog

We saw the Princess and the Frog tonight, and I liked it a lot, it was super sweet! I am glad, because I wanted so badly for this movie to be good. Well done, Lasseter! I hope people will get excited about 2D again.

My favorite thing, as pointed out to me by Will before I even saw it, was that the comic relief characters are endearing and not annoying. Like, the little lightning bug that you saw in the previews and thought "Oh, God!" and were all worried about? You totally love him.

AND NOW THERE WILL BE SPOILERS, YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED




...


I loved that little lightning bug, I loved him so much, and they SQUEESHED HIM!!! Now, Disney movies are certainly no stranger to character deaths for pullin the heartstrings, but not THAT character! That would be like Timon or Pumbaa dying, or Abu, or the clock or the candelabra from Beauty and the Beast. It was a good move, I think, because it was quite unexpected, and I think it took a lot of people off guard.

VERY SNEAKY, LASSETER.

I love you, lil lightning bug! *SOB*

The rest of the movie was pretty good. I loved the music and the style, although I never was a fan of the 90s Disney musical style, but plenty of people are totally into that. The villain design was amazing, and the shadow creatures were awesomesauce.

I did feel like they crammed a lot of stuff into the story, but all in all they did some nice things to throwback to the positive elements of 90s style Disney (while poking fun at other elements). I approve!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Back in Kentucky

Ah, to be back in Kentucky once more, it feels wonderful!

Shortly, Scott and I will be off to do some adventuring, which may or may not include going down to the river to take photos. Either that, or scouring the Goodwills for picture frames. Or maybe just lunch. Who can say!

Anyway, my goal this break is to do more soaking in of Louisville locations. Last visit's trip to Cavehill Cemetary was wonderful, and I want more of that.

In unrelated news, I've been playing around with formspring. It seems like it has potential to be a fun little application, especially since I often enjoy memes but am usually reluctant to post them in my journal. Anyway, check me out.

http://www.formspring.me/wertle

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Continuity

If anyone's been following my tweets recently, you'll notice a fair amount of the recent ones were about an awesome little web game, Continuity

This game is a combination slider puzzle, maze, and platformer. Basically you move the tiles around to arrange the space for your little guy to traverse. You can't move between two panels if their walls (or floors or ceilings, depending which direction you're trying to go) don't match up. Get the keys and reach the door, pretty simple, but a very elegant game.

Continuity demonstrates something very strange that happens when you inject simple movement interaction into the main stop-and-think puzzle solving part. It does delightful things to the pacing! It's as though the simple act of moving your little guy is a reward for how clever you are for solving which panel to put where. It also helps break up the heavy thinking in the later, more difficult puzzles - just work at finding one piece you can match up, and getting to move there is a reward. The platforming is very mild, even in the later levels, but you do eventually have to do tricky things, like jumping up into a panel, then pulling out and switching out the one you'll fall into.

It also makes beautiful use of the music to communicate which mode you are in - puzzle slidy mode, or move-your-guy mode.

The other thing it does really well is ramp across all of its levels. Every time a new tricky mechanic is introduced, you face an extremely simple level where just that mechanic is involved, so it's very clear you will have to use that little trick in the upcoming levels.

Lastly, I love that there is no formal instructions in the game. You figure out what you're supposed to do and how to move by the constrictions of the first level, and then you're all set for the rest of the game.

I beat the last level today, and of course yearn for more. I'm very curious about the process these guys used to design their puzzles - if they had a step-by-step method or if they were something more reverse engineered. Puzzle design is something I take for granted.

Anyway, I hope you try it out. Enjoy!

Monday, November 30, 2009

Phone Fun

Today my cellphone contract expired, so I went to the ATT store and asked to downgrade to a prepaid plan, and to keep my current phone.

The guy helping me was completely baffled, and fulfilled my request with an arched brow of puzzlement. He said he had worked there for 2 years and had never had anyone ask for that, was surprised he knew how to do it, and was extra surprised that the change was instant.

Alas, in spite of my cravings for an iPhone, I simply can't justify the phone part of it. I looked over my phone usage for the past year and I use an average of, like, 6 minutes a month. And I never use more than 200 texts a month, so the 200 text $4.99 feature package, and $0.25 a minute basic prepay plan is plenty good for me. It certainly will save me lots, considering I was paying about $50 a month for the contract service.

I suppose an iPod Touch would be more practical a device for me, so I'll keep my eyes on that for the future.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Ballergiving

I had a wonderful evening of games and stories and food with the ballers!

Beatles Rock Band is a blast, and far superior to normal Rock Band, and even Lego Rock Band, in my opinion. Most of this is due to the classy visual between-gig load screens, and the hilarity of multiple part harmony with Scott and Maria. I would have loved to sing, but alas, my voice is completely lost, so I stuck with the guitar.

I can only use Rock Band style guitars, because I can only use the meedley string buttons at the base of the neck. My hands are too small for the normal buttons, as are Beth's, which lead to this conversation snippet.

Beth: I can't use this, my hands are too small.
Maria: Mine are too, that's why I don't have to give prostate exams!

After dinner and pie and catching up on stories with the Clarks, we gathered to play Shadows Over Camelot with the Merlin's Company expansion. I think the expansion is an excellent supplement to the game, but Merlin couldn't help the knights this time, as I had my first successful game as traitor. Muahahaha! The lack of voice didn't help, as all my commands and narration turned to diabolical hissing.

Nevertheless, it was a fun game.

I also got to see Brenna, who was very happy to see me again, and George (who is always happy to see anyone). Hooray for puppies!

Hopefully I'll be able to hang out with people again some tomorrow night. There is a plot of my brother and sister-in-law to go see Return to Oz, which is this week's midnight cult movie at Baxter. I would totally go see it, but my flight leaves at 6am Sunday morning, and a midnight movie would probably end up with me staying up all night.

We shall see, we shall see...

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Thanksgiving

I'm sitting in the airport, waiting around for my red-eye to board. I'm very excited about going home! LAX is bustling with holiday travelers, and there's a guy sitting next to me using his dog to pick up chicks (well, I dunno if he's doing it intentionally, but he sure is attracting all the ladies!)

Anyway, I'll be happy to see my family tomorrow, and hopefully catch my friends before skipping back out here on Sunday. I'm mostly looking forward to getting back to Kentucky for a little bit. It always seems to recharge my roots when I spend time there. I miss its beauty more this year, I think, since I've spent the last 6 months in the desert. Well, LA likes to pretend real hard that it isn't a desert, but if you squint your eyes and tilt your head, you can see right through to the rocks and sand.

Even in the winter, Kentucky has a special beauty to it.


This year, probably more than anything else, I'm thankful for having a job. And I'm even more thankful for the icing on the cake, that I have a job as a game designer, in the games industry, makin games!! It astounds me from time to time, but here I am!

I know I don't have a real scope of how lucky I am to have a job that I love in the economic climate, but I have some idea of it, so I'm thankful for it every chance I remember.

I'm also thankful that I'm making it home to see everyone. I do miss Louisville. Stay safe, all!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Inner Fire

I'm having one of those stretches where I'm really excited about what I'm doing at work. We got updated schedules, which helps a TON in how energetic I am in any job. When I know my schedule, I can adjust my energy output across time very efficiently.

It's one of those times where I'm all giddy when I wake up in the morning, because I'm excited about getting in and doing stuff, or perhaps I solved a particularly tricky problem in a dream. It sounds silly, but I solve game design problems in dreams all the time. Subconscious Lisa, she is very clever, and I give her plenty of time to work, what with all the sleeping I do.

Like everything else lately, I know that times come and go and change, so I'm trying to be thrilled and happy while the inspiration lasts.

I think part of the inner fire comes from me recently jolting up and realizing, "OMG, I'm making games, like, as a job."

A similar thing happens to me with music. I often forget music exists, and then when I suddenly remember for whatever reason, I'm like "MUSIC EXISTS!!" and listening to music endlessly and dancing for days. It's a strange phenomenon, but whatever. Being surprised now and then by a truth of life never hurt anybody.

Friday, November 13, 2009

More on Uncharted 2

Josh: So, which is better? Uncharted 2 or Arkham Asylum?
Me: Hmmm, it's a tough choice, but I'm going to say Uncharted
Drake: I don't think so

In spite of Nate's humorously-timed modesty, it is true. Both are amazing games and super fun, but I'm gonna name Uncharted 2 as the winner because of being an original IP.

Now, I could talk about all the mechanics that make this game wonderful, or its amazing character and story development, or I could speak of its touching amount of polish. Many elements of the game are blogworthy, but you can probably read about all those elsewhere.

Today, I will instead talk about how appreciative I am of the design of the main character, from my perspective as a lady.

Now, note that as a girl into games, I'm used to being subjected to character design aimed to please the straight male demographic. Many a time I have rolled my eyes at the stock shape that most girl characters seem to take, and the attention to detail in the realm of boob physics. At the same time, male characters also seem to be designed for the straight male demographic, because apparently straight males fantasize about being large and unattractively bulky? I don't pretend to understand.

I long ago accepted this quality as the way of games, and moved ahead with my life.

But at long last, ladies (and gay men), we have been given a piece of eye candy unto ourselves! Surely those Naughty Dogs must have made this character for us, and I am proud of whatever research into the straight female/gay man market they did to finally come up someone that we could gawk over.



Sure, sure, they made Chloe to appease the straight males, and how the straight males latch right onto her. They don't seem to mind that the main character has been given to us. It's a win situation for everyone involved!



Also, butt!



Even more, it has perhaps helped bridge the gap between the sexes. For example, I was always a little bit baffled when my male friends preferred hot and scantily clad women to use for their avatars. I would make male avatars, sure, but never from the perspective of them being attractive. But now, with Drake as my default Multiplayer skin, I understand!

And so, thank you, Naughty Dog. Thank you not only for making the best game I've played so far, but for creating a fictional character who is easy on the eyes for the...uh...more neglected gamer demographic.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Internet Power

Most of the time, when I get mail from the former residents of my apartment, I just toss it in the shredder. But occasionally I get something that gives off the "important" vibe (something from the IRS, packages, etc) in which case I turn to the internet.

There's something fun about tracking down a stranger on the internet at finding a means of contacting them, be it email or myspace message. Every time this has happened, the person has been very grateful of my snooping so that they can be reunited with their important documents.

Last week I had my first incident since moving to LA - a suspiciously important looking letter turned out to be a check for $130 for one of my unit's former residents. Lucky for me, she had a unique name, so google turned her up pretty quickly (though I did have to make a Plaxo account to get her email address). Anyway, it turned out she still lived in the complex, but in a different unit, and was EXTREMELY grateful that I'd tracked her down. I went over the next day and taped her letter to her door.

Today when I got home, she'd taped a little thank you note to my door, thanking me again and saying I could call on her if I ever needed anything. So nice! Physical thank-you notes are the best thing ever.

Anyway, it just goes to show that having all of your personal information floating out on the internet available to anyone with decent google-fu can lead to good, afterall.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Dream Games

I often have dreams about games I've made, and of course they're the awesomest ever in dreamland, because they follow dream logic. When I wake up and start reviewing my awesome new game idea, it is usually quickly apparent that, in real-world logic, they wouldn't work at all.

All the same, I try and write them down, because even if they are meant for the land of dreams I occasionally pick out some idea or mechanic or insight that could be useful later. In some cases (like tonight) I wake up immediately after the dream and can not get back to sleep until I write it down.


Tonight's dream game was a pen-and-paper RPG of sorts. I was gathered round with people who were presumably my friends (in my grandma's old basement, but that's an aside). One person was chosen to be the main participant in my game, and the rest gathered round to watch. I was DM, of course.

I gave a premise, that he was stuck in Hell, but had gotten there a non-traditional way. Then I gave him a set of objects I'd gathered to use as inspiration. Now, he was to tell the story of why he was in Hell and how he got there, improv-style, to the other people gathered round to listen.

The player launched into an epic story, and we took occasional breaks for snacks (and to allow the player to plan ahead some thoughts). The rules allowed that some of the audience could choose to do some storytelling themselves, and step in front to take the role of a character in the main story, then tell a bit from that character's perspective (which would inevitably steer the course of the main player's story when he took to the stage again). Two people did this in my dream.

All the while, I was watching and listening and taking notes.

When the storyteller was finished, we took one final break, as I set up the adventure. The short adventure was the character trying to get out of Hell by climbing some crazy tower (I had a cool little set piece to represent it). It was totally improvised, using information I'd learned from the main character's story.

When we all gathered back, I took over the story to explain the premise, and then we played through encounters as the main character climbed up the tower. All the encounters had something to do with his "how-he-got-there" story that he'd just told, and the audience was all anxious to see if he would get out.

Sounds pretty fun, yeah?? In dream world, that is. I don't know if anyone in real life is as good and brave at improvised storytelling as that. But, I do really like the idea of a pen-and-paper RPG adventure that other people watched as an audience, and for whatever reason were really invested in the outcome.

Food for thought!

Saturday, October 31, 2009

MW2 Controversy: a rant to other game devs

So, the controversial Modern Warfare 2 footage leaked out, and now all the world's in a hissy fit. Some are in a hissy fit because they are offended by the content, while some are having a hissy fit over the fact that anyone would be offended by the content. Most of these arguments I've read (from both ends of the spectrum) are from people who work in games. It's a lot of the same bickering over and over, which mostly induces eye rolling in me.

BUT. I think it's a shame, because people can't put aside their bickering for two seconds to look at an interesting phenomenon, which could be extremely useful to us as game developers!

The two ends of the comment spectrum are equally frustrating. On one end is the "how could anyone defend this, it's an abomination!" view. At the other end is the "how could you be offended by this when you play/make other shooters? You are a hypocrite!" The middle is peppered with milder, yet still annoying views, like the ever so common "IT'S A GAME."

When I watched the video, my response was "wow, that's pretty horrid! I hope there's a way to skip it, because I don't think I could play this and I wouldn't be able to complete the game!"

Enter the people who don't understand how I could feel that way when I play other shooters - the implied hypocrite stance. I don't understand this reaction! One shooter evoked an emotional response in me, one did not. You can't control the emotions that you feel, they just happen, you can only control your actions. The fact that one evoked an emotional response in me does not mean I'm a hypocrite, you guys.

ESPECIALLY since that seemed to be the whole intent behind the controversial sequence: to evoke a powerful emotional response. And they succeeded! They did their job, guys, it worked on me. They were TRYING to get me to have an intense emotional response where I may not when playing other shooters, that's why they treated it so artfully.

It just happened that the emotions evoked in me exceeded some threshold, into the repulsion territory, as in "wow, I can't endure that, abandon ship!" It's the same reason I can never watch Boys Don't Cry ever again.

Anyway, what's the thing that everyone's missing which I implied earlier? Well, if people could stop "how dare they"-ing Infinity Ward for including the sequence, and if people could stop saying "I wasn't offended but you were, therefore there's something wrong with you," we could get a good learning opportunity out of this.

You can't deny that this scenario is different than other shooters. People love to bark "how is this any different than x, y, z?" and I'm like, "well, HOW?" Explore the answer to your own question rather than using it as a way to say there's something wrong with that person who felt something. There might be something useful in the answer!

It evoked a strong emotional response, others did not, and I'm not the only case here. Shouldn't we, as game designers, be looking at WHY that happened? How mysterious! Why did this segment have such a different impact on this person? Was it the content? Was it the polish put into the ambiance? Was it the timeliness of the content? Was it some more complex arrangement of attributes that, standing alone, would not have been sufficient to evoke an emotional response? How are the people who had a response different than the ones who had none? Did it hit close to home for them on some level? Is there a correlation in demographic for the ones who did or didn't?

Aren't we always after tools and methods to create more emotional experiences in games?? We should be picking this thing apart and researching it, not arguing and accusing each other of being flawed because someone did or did not have an emotional response to it.

GEEZ, you guys. To hell with the lot of you! Hrmph.

Rant over!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Uncharted 2: A first look

I just played the first bit of Uncharted 2, and made this tweet: "Uncharted 2 has the best acting and dialogue I've ever seen/heard in a game. EVER."

However, I feel I need to clarify my point. Seeing as I've just resigned myself to the fact that all voice acting in all games is going to be shitty, regardless of how good the game is, such a compliment seems meaningless without qualifiers.

So, here is a better metaphor. You know the L-Curve, right?

http://www.lcurve.org/

Now, instead of family income, pretend that graph is for "quality of voice acting in games." The majority of the football field encompasses "all games." The last stack there at the end is Uncharted 2. You'll have to zoom out several times.

There, I feel like my comment has been qualified.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Happy

Today I was eating an orange, which at the time was the tastiest orange in all the land, and I realized that I'm living like a queen.

I have this little home, and it's perfect, and it's pretty and the light shines through every morning and makes little rainbows. And there's an uppity hummingbird who chirps demandingly at me if his feeder is empty, but that's okay. And there's all this water! Look at all the water we have! It's like a miracle! We can swim in it, and take baths in it - queenly activities, don't you think?

And I can lay on the floor and stare out the window if I want to, and that's okay.

Oh, what a happy time I'm having!

Friday, October 16, 2009

Art Books - Internet Garage Sale

I have a few art reference books that I have no use of anymore, but I remember how very valuable they were to me when I was drawing and learning the ins and outs of rendering anatomy and all that, so I'm selling them (hopefully to some artsy folks who would get good use out of them).

Prices are cheapsville, with shipping costs on top.

If you're interested in one, shoot me an email (since my journal propagates to so many sources, I don't wanna play the timestamp game with comments) - wertle at wertle dot com

Bridgman's Life Drawing - George Bridgman
Selling for $2 plus $5 shipping

How to Draw the Human Figure: An Anatomical Approach - Louise Gordon
$5 plus $5 shipping

Drawing Lessons from the Great Masters - Robert Beverly Hale
$6 plus $5 shipping

Anatomy for the Artist - Jeno Barcsay
$5 plus $5 shipping

Costs may vary a bit, and if you'd pay with a credit card through PayPal, it'd be a little more for the fee they charge the seller, stuff like that. Basically, email me and we'll work out the exact price :)

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Lavender leaves?

Hey Internet. So, I've started taking clippings from my herb garden to dry, and I'm wondering what I can do with my lavender. It's a young plant, so it probably won't bloom until next year, but the leaves smell wonderful!

When I look up uses for lavender (culinary or otherwise), almost all of them involve using the buds or dried blossoms. What about uses for the leaves? Anyone know any good ones?

Saturday, October 10, 2009

What I want for Christmas

I'm really bad at asking for Christmas presents, mostly because when someone asks me, my mind goes totally blank. Sure, there are things that I think "this would be nice to have," here and there throughout the year, but I can never recall them on the spot.

So this year I started keeping track of things with Amazon's wishlist, hence this materialistic post. Not that I want ALL of these things, but it gives a narrower pool of selection than I usually leave my exasperated family with. Oh well!


Games
Now that I'm a game designer, I feel justified in seeking out new games to play, or old games to play, or the like.


Boom Blox Bash Party - because my original copy of Boom Blox gets more play out of it than pretty much all of my other Wii games.

New Super Mario Bros. Wii - because I'm always on the lookout for cooperative 4-player games.

New Super Mario Bros - because I'd like to get more games for my DS.

Rhythm Heaven - see previous note about expanding my DS collection.

Far Cry 2 - I saw several talks about this game at GDC, and I'm curious to see if it is all that it claims to be.

Batman: Arkham Asylum - wait, didn't I already beat this?? Well, yes, but it was so good that I feel like I want a permanent addition to my library. Plus I'd like to try it again on hard some day.

Stuff for my bike
Now that I'm primarily a bike commuter, I could use a few tools to make my life easier and safer.

Bike Gloves - because they do make things more comfortable.

A standing pump - I have a hand pump right now, which is good for emergencies, but I don't have the arm strength to get my tires to their max PSI



U-lock - I only have a little cable lock right now.

Cat Stuff
When the new year rolls around, I want to get a cat! Some help on the starter supplies would be awesome.

A litter box

Cat tree

Clicker training kit!

That's a pretty healthy list right there. I also want to get yankee candles and more kitchen stuff, but that's all gift-card-worthy business.

Ta-da! A list at last.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

An Experiment

After chatting with some friends in WoW today, I've decided to try an experiment. I want to see if I can progress as a character without doing damage to anything.

I'm going to track my progress and any insights I have along the way here:

http://wow-pacifist.blogspot.com/

So if you're on Thorium Brotherhood, say hello!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

R.I.P Bando

I remember when we first brought Bando home. The whole Bandology team had gone out to shop, and I had resolved to get a fish (after having "given up" bettas several years before). I had him in his cup on the drive home as we pondered a name. "How about Bando," I said, "after the project."

When we first got him set up in his tank, he clamped his fins and dashed behind a fake plant to hide. However, his timidity was short-lived. As soon as he caught sight of Joe's black winter coat hanging up nearby, Bando went on a flaring rampage. He flared at the coat for so long and with such vigor that I was worried he would exhaust himself, and put a piece of paper on that side of the tank so he couldn't see it anymore. Thus began Bando's trademark hate of anything the color black. We tried to make him a progressive fish, but it just didn't work.

Bando was a tough little fish, and unlike previous bettas I have owned, he was not a picky eater at all. He'd gobble up anything dropped into his tank, including a piece of popcorn that fell in there by accident once. He attacked it, ripped off a little piece, and ate it right up! All the same, frozen brine shrimp were probably his favorite treat. I fed them to him out of an eye dropper, and he would bite the end and suck them all out at once!

When I went on my internship at Insomniac, Bando spent his summer at Schell Games, winning the heart of Brian Evans. Bando loved Brian, and frequently did his happy dance every time he approached later in the year.

However, the true love of Bando's life was Tracy Brown. The first time Bando built a serious bubble nest was for Tracy, and he was all flirting and dancing whenever she approached. That's another difference between Bando and my previous bettas: he was teeerrrible at building bubble nests! He'd try now and then, but they'd always fall right apart, until there were all kinds of stray bubbles floating about the tank. But for Tracy, he always put in top effort!

Moving from the ETC to Schell Games and back several times, I discovered that Bando was very low-stress about being moved. He just shrugged it off, as well as a fish can shrug. Thus, I was confident that he could make the trip across the country to California. He rode out with Josh and I in a travel mug, sitting in the cup holder of the car, and residing in his one-gallon tank at nights to rest. When he got settled back into his big tank at Insomniac, he was happy to go on patrol and make sure all the decorations in the tank were keeping in line.

My desk at Insomniac was a brighter place with Bando around (both literally and figuratively), and he was happy to swim up to say hello to anyone who approached his tank. He loved that he could see me out of one side of the tank and Josh out of the other, and spent most of his time swimming about, resting in his cave, or defending his territory from the dreaded Mirror Fish.

Bando has been an enriching part of my life, and I will sincerely miss him. I am very sad, but I am happy that his suffering from dropsy is over. Goodbye, Bando, you were a good fish!

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Batman: Arkham Asylum

Will and I finished Arkham Asylum tonight (well, finished is a relative term. There are still Riddler secrets to discover and challenges to complete, but we stumbled upon the final boss encounter kind of on accident).


This is really a fantastic game! It is well polished and a lot of fun, and it really leverages its IP to make the gameplay suit the story. Spiderman games, for example, mostly feel like "GTA except you're Spiderman," to me, but this game was very well matched to the Batman franchise. I'll rattle off a few of my favorite things...

1) The property itself. This game combines the wonderful storytelling of the animated series (along with most of the voice cast) with the dark, violent world that the new movies portray so well. It uses the lore from the comics as a pillar, I think, on which the whole story is rooted. You can see influences from Batman Begins and The Dark Knight in the technology (like Batman's detective cowl vision) as well as in the musical score. And there are even homages here and there to the Burton films. Basically, the game pulls from just about everything the entire Batman franchise has to offer, and ties it all together really well (a complicated task, considering the multitude of sources). Everything in the game feels like it belongs in the world.

2) The freedom in gameplay. I really feel like this game gives a lot of freedom for the player to approach situations in different ways. The custom upgrade unlocks really help with this, since you can sort of focus on your own play style when choosing what to unlock. This was really fun when playing with Will (we traded off here and there) - I really enjoyed stealthing and setting traps and sneaking about, but Will is a better brawler overall. As far as the overarching gameplay, I felt like there was a great balance between the objective-driven story and the opportunities to explore (and find all those Riddler challenges - they can be a little addictive, I'm not gonna lie)

3) The setting of Arkham Island. I'm really glad that they limited the play space just to Arkham, because I feel like it helped give the world a grander sense of scale. It sounds a little counter-intuitive, but if they'd had the game such that you could go all over Gotham city, it would inevitably feel shrunken down. They were able to stick to Arkham and still get a fantastic variety in play spaces; I think it was very cleverly done.

4) The Scarecrow moments. OMFG, Scarecrow gives me nightmares.

Well done, Batman! You were made into a great game. And well done Rocksteady Studios! May you reap in the many rewards you deserve from the experience you created.

I'd say anyone should give this game a shot, Batman fan or no, but some of you in particular would really love it (I'm lookin at you, Ken).

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Painting!

Okay, see, this is what happens when Josh points out to me that the paint buckets in Half Life 2 splatter paint on impact...





Tuesday, August 11, 2009

What It Is: Part 1

Jesse gave me a book called What It Is by Lynda Barry, as a spontaneous gift. He said that reading it felt like talking to me, and I can see that, because for me reading it feels like being inside of my brain. It's the sort of book I'll have to read twice: Once to absorb it all, and the second time to put into practice the questions and exercises.

There is a part that touches on things we wish we could do, often as children, wishing we could draw, or sing, or dance, or write stories, or act, and so on. Barry questions the reader, "Do you wish you could draw? What do you think it would be like?" Similarly, what do you imagine being able to sing would feel like? I answered along as I read through, and noticed a similarity that I hadn't before.

"I would feel free," I thought. I think that being able to sing, or to dance, would make me feel a certain, unique freedom. I think that many people who wish they could draw imagine that it would feel the same way. Isn't that interesting? What's that all about?

I remember riding on the ACTS bus with Monica Hardin as a sophomore in high school, and we would badger her to sing for us. I remember thinking, "if I could sing like that, I would sing all the time!" I also remember stopping suddenly after that thought, and remembering all the times people had complimented my drawing, saying "if I could draw like that, I would draw all the time!" Interesting.

There seemed to be a disparity in the reality (my being able to draw already) and the perception of what it must be like to be able to (probably similar to my perception of what it would be like to sing). I think it's similar to the idea of not being able to fly. We often wish we could fly, and dream about it, and yearn for it, but I think it's important that we can't. The feeling of yearning is an experience in and of itself that can be appreciated and taken for granted. If we COULD fly, it would mean something different to us.

I feel like I'm scratching the service on some insight or another, and that there is deeper digging to do. I haven't pieced all these thoughts together quite yet, but I have them all in the same net.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Crawfish and other fun

Today was a fantastically social day, by my standards, seeing as I normally spend my weekends napping. Rob and I and some others were commenting about how the older ETC alums know very little of the current first-years (or rising second-years at this point), so we decided to organize a brunch for the LA alums and students who were interning in the city this summer.

A healthy crowd turned up, and a fun time was had by all mingling and chatting and such. I got a really tasty drink, which was essentially water infused with lemons, oranges, and cucumbers, with a large amount of each floating about in it. It was cheap and refreshing, and I'd like to attempt making some myself at some point.

After the ETC Brunch, Ben and I headed south for the Long Beach Crawfish Festival, which is supposedly the largest festival of its kind out of New Orleans. The buzz had been spread around Insomniac about the event, and we were all for it. I'm certainly glad I went, for the crawfish were DELICIOUS. They scooped up a giant pile of steamed crawfish onto my platter, along with some red potatoes and corn, and it was all seasoned very well. I also picked up a plate of jambalaya from another booth, and it too was fantastically made.

We sat down in the shade with a multitude of other people and listened to some great live Cajun music, including one band featuring a washboard played with spoons. Fantastic! The atmosphere was great all around, as there were tons of people decked out in fancy hats, dresses, and parasols (much to my delight, as I was carrying my own). Everyone was having a great time, and I couldn't help but snap up some photos of people dancing and enjoying themselves.

After our crawfish feast, we met up with Josue, who lives in the area, along with his wife and friend, and went to an arcade. Normally I am not one to pass up on playing arcade games, but today I was content to watch Josue and his amazing skills at the old school Star Wars game, as well as some crazy sword game on which he got the high score for the day (some other girl was doing quite well playing after us, and Josue eyed her intently, thinking he may have to defend his sword game title, but she only got 2nd place. Fortunate enough, as we may have been there all day, otherwise).

We parted ways at last and Ben and I returned to Burbank, where I was quick to catch a nap upon arriving home. Today was a delicious adventure, for sure. I think I'm going to have to make a pot of shrimp creole before too long.

Fat Princess

So I downloaded Fat Princess tonight and gave it a whirl, and it had its pros and cons.

Overall I'd say it was enjoyable to play, especially since Josh and I worked out a system for playing through the single player story. I really enjoyed resource collecting as a worker, and he enjoyed fightin, so I'd resource it up in the beginning of the battle and upgrade the units, and he'd do the fighting necessary to finish it off. It worked out splendidly and was quite fun!

There are some things about the game that are very hard, as though they didn't get enough noob-testing in. We gave up on the lava level after trying again and again to make some headway and failing each time. I feel like it's the kind of game which, especially in online play, can end up being like old school Alterac Valley, in an endless stalemate. Though, even in the long games where little was made towards the end goal, I still noticed a lot of little gains and advances and retreats going on throughout, so that was pretty cool.

I was actually surprised at how little the Fat Princess gag actually comes into play, as most of the time is spent as different units - gathering resources, capturing holds, killin dudes and whatnot. The time for actually capturing the princess seems very short and swift, regardless of how many people it takes to carry her. It didn't feel like the focus of the game, but I guess the gimmick helped sell it a lot more than a generic capture the flag theme.

Anyway, I loved the ease with which you could change units, and the theme of putting on a new hat makes you a new unit was delightful. I also loved that each unit is rewarded with points for doing its job, so the worker is rewarded for cutting down trees and mining ore. It helps make those players feel valuable and rewarded.

In the end, I feel like I would like to finish the story mode for this, and like it's the sort of game I may drop into online play for now and again. Once you understand all the units, it's easy to pick up and get going, in a very "Castle Crashers" sort of way. I'd say it's worth a try for sure.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Wildlife Adventures

Tonight I went out to play frisbee golf with some ETC alums and some park in Pasadena. It was a fun time all around, but being out in the park really drove home for me how unfamiliar I am with the plants and animals of my new home.

Ever since the sixth grade (go Holy Family Ecology Team, woo!), I've had some ability to identify trees, and while I may not remember their scientific names anymore, I could always name the more common varieties in the woods of Kentucky and Pennsylvania. The animals I ran into always felt familiar to me. I mean, I grew up with all of that, right?

Tonight at the park, I saw some lizards, but didn't know what kind. We flushed out a family of some kind of ground bird with a stray frisbee. Kind of like quails, but I don't think they were. And, of course, we trudged through all manner of desert scrub and under trees which I couldn't name if I tried.

Basically, I feel like I have a lot of catching up to do. Surely the library will have one of those tiny books on identifying local trees.

Speaking of trees, around the 13th hole, we saw some guys who had treed their frisbee, and couldn't get it down by throwing rocks (it was wedged high up among the small branches pretty good). I was feeling adventurous, so I clambered on up into the high branches of the tree (about 15 feet up), then walked out onto a bough near the edge, in spite of the terrified protests of my friends below. I managed to prod the frisbee out with a stick, and climbed back down without injuring myself (though I did sustain a fair amount of scrapes).

The two guys were extremely grateful, and I felt very happy knowing that I can still climb a tree at 27 - I'm pretty sure the last time I did so was in high school or earlier. Adventure! I'll probably regret it tomorrow morning, but for now, I feel hard core :)

Monday, July 6, 2009

Books

It's easy to take for granted, but the library is pretty much the greatest thing ever.

I haven't just been focusing on games since moving to LA; there are plenty of books I'm plowing through. Living right next door to the library has inspired me to use it, it would seem. Here's what I've finished so far.

Moby Dick, which I'd never read before. I liked it a lot! Even the whaling sections! I think it has to do with my insanely fast pace at reading: it made all those informational chapters feel like pleasant asides, nothing that I had to plow through. As I mentioned in a status update before, it could just run in the family (my brother is a big Melville fan).

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. I always got this and To Kill a Mockingbird mixed up, because they both had birds in the title. I enjoyed this read quite a bit as well, even though I foresaw the inevitable end. It was tough, but fascinating and well-contained.

Shardik. In spite of Watership Down being my favorite book ever, I realized I'd never read any of Richard Adams' other stuff. Shardik was a focused journey story, and had a lot of the same feel as Siddhartha to me. I think I prefer Adams' animal-POV stuff, but it was a good read nonetheless.

Next up on my plate are The Forever War and another Adams' book, Traveller

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Twilight Princess

Twilight Princess checked off my video game list! I finished tonight, and was extremely pleased with the game. I enjoyed it through and through, especially a lot of the items and mechanics that I wasn't used to, and the storylines were all great. I really loved the relationship between Midna and Link that grew throughout the entire game - it was beautifully nourished (and I even shed a few tears at the very end!)

Creating believable relationships in games, and making you really care about characters, is hard as all get-out, as we all know. Many times if a game tries very hard to make you feel a connection to a character, it feels forced, contrived, and induces eye rolling and scoffing (*coughcough*GearsOfWar*cough*). The Midna relationship, however, grew and changed and was believable, and I latched right onto it. I feel like just about everything in that game (from the story, to the animations, to the audio) served that character relationship, and it worked!

Also, Twilight Princess has some of the best end credits ever. When I finish a game, I want the end credits to wind down the experience - a nice ease out of the interest curve. Credits that give nods back to the story and show "what happened after" are wonderful and gratifying. I'm pretty sure these end credits were the most pleasing I'd experienced since Final Fantasy VI.

Well...7 games left! I'd better pick up the pace! :) I doubt I'll make it by the end of the summer, but I'll keep working at it.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Squee!

I am full of happy, you guys. A near-full month has flown by right under my nose, and I am completely at ease with the pace. I don't feel like I'm in a hurry for anything.

I love my job! The Insomniacs scooped me right back up into their pack, and I feel completely at home there. I love my team and I love the work that I'm doing, and I try every day to be grateful for it and for how lucky I am.

I also love the place that I live. There are so many flowers piled up outside my window, and every day hummingbirds zoom about and drink out of them. It smells wonderful! I was hesitant about choosing to live by myself out here at first, but now I'm very glad I did. Owning my space has inspired me to take responsibility for it, and I've made it into a place where I am happy to be. I took Joyce's suggestion and printed out several photos from my trip to the Phipps Conservatory, framed them, and hung them about my apartment.

The greatest thing about moving across the country and starting a new career is the opportunity it gives for creating good habits. It's like a clean slate for starting up routines.

I've been cooking regularly again, like I used to before grad school, and I have a little herb garden which I use just about every day.

I've started riding my bike to work every day, and I've been stretching every morning and every night. It's like I'm getting healthy again, or something!

Anyway, I'm trying to burn a solid memory of how I feel these days into my mind, so that when I run into hard times in the future, I can call it back up and smile.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Training

A week into work and already things are in full swing! I am extremely happy :)

Now that I am a Dr. Professional Game Designer, and now that I have some threads of consistency to schedule around, it's time to start training! That is, it's time to start catching up on games that I have been intending to play. As I started making a list and a plan, I realized that this is rather like having a workout schedule or an exercise program.

Dividing daily workouts between cardio, upper body strength, lower body strength...dividing daily game playing between the Wii, the PS3, the PS2, the PC...it's amusingly similar.

An issue to contend with is my budget: I'm in no place to start buying games, even used ones, so I'm starting with what I already have or what I can scrounge up for free or very cheap, via Insomniac's game library or Gamefly or whatever. Jake at work suggested that I could scrap by pretty well on demos and betas, and gave me a multiplayer beta voucher for Uncharted to get started (it rhymes, tee hee!).

So, here's my starting list of games to either beat or sample.

Wii
1) Twilight Princess - which, I realized the copy I have doesn't even belong to me, it's DC's! I borrowed it and never gave it back because I'm a TERRIBLE FRIEND

PS3
2) Ratchet and Clank: Quest for Booty - hooray for Insomniac freebies!
3) Assassin's Creed - I feel like I practically played through most of this when watching Joe last spring, and I would like to play the sequel when it comes out, so I need to catch up
4) Far Cry 2 - I saw so many talks about this game at GDC this year that I want to check it out and see what's what
4) Flower - I only got to play a tiny bit when we were playing it at Schell, so I went ahead and bought it

PS2
5) Fatal Frame - oh how you taunt me! This game is effing hard, but not in a discouraging way, in an "omg I must conquer you!" way. I'm gonna get myself a guide and play through and have enough film for the last two nights. SO THERE!
6) Ico - this gets referenced and brought up in game design discussion so much that I simply must play it for research.

PC
7) Half-Life 2 - I had a pretty good run playing through this game until I got myself stuck under a pipe because I wanted to see if I could fit under there. It happens. Anyway, research!

DS
8) Rhythm Heaven - because i almost beat it when I borrowed it from Carlos, and had a super fun time with it!

8 Games in one summer, can I do it?

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Banana Tortilla

So I've been in my new apartment for a few days, but my stuff won't get here until tomorrow. Thus, being left with my cast iron skillet, my travel/camping spice kit, a banana and some corn tortillas, this delicious treat was created...

Ingredients:

1 banana
2 corn tortillas
cinnamon
honey
vegetable oil

1) Drizzle some oil on the cast iron skillet and heat it up, medium-high
2) Slice the banana and throw the pieces on the skillet; sprinkle pieces with cinnamon
3) After about 30 seconds, flip the banana slices and sprinkle cinnamon on the other side
4) Remove banana slices and divide between two corn tortillas. Drizzle with honey and fold the tortillas over
5) Heat the banana-filled tortilla on the skillet, about 15 seconds each side.

Enjoy!

As for other updates, I LOVE my apartment in Burbank. Love it! It is so beautiful, and the area is filled with fragrant flowers, and the view outside my sliding patio door is so pretty and placid. I've already set up an herb garden and printed out a few of my Phipp's photos to hang on the wall.

Once I get all my belongings in and set up, I will be keen on visitors for sure. I start work on Monday: excitement!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Phipps Conservatory

So I went to the Phipps Conservatory today to take some photos. I love my fancy Canon Rebel, but I'm notorious for leaving my camera behind when going on outings, and so I never have any new photos! It seems that if I want to take pictures with it, I have to plan a trip to do so. That's all the well, I'll get better at remembering eventually.

The Phipps is one of my favorite places in Pittsburgh - both the architecture and the overwhelming pleasantness of the botanical gardens. Plus, it has a whole room devoted entirely to orchids, my favorite flower!

You can see all the photos here, but below are a few of my favorite shots. Enjoy!

































I took all these with a standard lens kit, though I often was craving a macro lens. I think I did just fine without one :)

Monday, May 18, 2009

Graduation

I have a Masters degree! Wooo! This morning when I woke up, I felt free and full of adventure. I felt like a different person, which did not happen at my high school or undergrad college graduations. It was mysterious!

First off, an update about my grandfather. He was able to get his oxygen intake down and return home, where he is apparently doing well considering the circumstances. Hooray!

When my family came in for graduation on Saturday, we went to Claddagh for dinner. On a Saturday night of graduation weekend, it was unsurprisingly packed, and we had a long wait for our table. Later, they informed us that the wait would be longer, because the kitchen was so backlogged on orders that they weren't taking any new ones until they caught up. They said they could seat us and we could order drinks, but that it'd still be 45 minutes or so until we could order food. We said that was fine.

When the waiter brought us our drinks, he also brought a couple packages of oyster crackers for us, which was very thoughtful. While we were snacking on them, my brother and I theorized that oyster crackers might be tasty with malt vinegar. So we started pouring, very carefully, single drops of malt vinegar on single oyster crackers, then eating them with delight (it was very tasty afterall!)

Well, I think the waiter saw us doing this, and assumed that we were either starving or crazy, because he showed up a few minutes later with the good news that he'd talked to the chef and was going to be able to take our food orders just then. Bwahaha!

The graduation ceremony on Sunday was really nice. Delicious, delicious food! Photos of me looking all masterful here. Afterwards, in true nerd fashion, I took my family to see Star Trek, and everyone enjoyed it. Wins all around!

Speaking of wins, my parents totally surprised me by getting me a PS3 as a graduation gift! I was completely caught offguard! Hooray! Now I can actually play the games that Insomniac gave me! Oh, that too...I know I jabbered about it on facebook and twitter, and most people know about it, but I can't remember if I blogged about it on LJ. I have a job! I'm going to be returning to Insomniac as an Associate Designer. I'MA MAKE GAMES FOR A LIVING!

WOooooooo! Spring Break!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Mountain Dew Commercial?

Does anyone remember, like, a billion Derbies ago, there was that Mountain Dew commercial with Pat Day in it? It started off just with shadows making you think it was some hard core basketball player drinking the mountain dew, then the gate bells sounded and it revealed that it was actually a jockey standing on a bench. He jumped down and said something snarky.

It was hilaaaaaaaaarious! Unfortunately, my google-fu fails me in attempting to dig it up. Anyone?

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Home and Back Again

Whew, what a week! Those of you who read my twitter know that last Monday I dropped everything and drove home to Louisville, as my grandfather was in the hospital. He has pulmonary fibrosis, which is basically irreversible scarring of the lungs, and as such cannot so much as sit up in bed without a critical drop in his oxygen levels.

Thus began a typical week of having a loved one with a terminal condition in the hospital, which means I did a lot of dish-washing, laundry, litter-box-cleaning, and brought lunch to my family at the hospital almost every day. Basically, I tried to do everything I could to keep my parents sane. My mom said that just being there helped loads, which I believed, as my extended family converged on the hospital every day throughout the day to be there in support of my grandparents.

My grandfather was in a very bad way on Monday night when I got in, but stabilized as the week went on. He's doing a lot better now, as far as being able to talk with people and such, but still has no oxygen reserve. The goal at the end of the week was to work with the respiratory therapists to get his oxygen intake down to 10 liters (he was on 15, which is too high for him to be able to go home, which is what he wants) and Hospice is involved to try and make things as comfortable as possible. The condition is terminal, but that could mean days, weeks, months...no one really knows at this point, but my grandfather seems to have no intention of going anywhere but home right now :)

The rest of my family is hanging in there, but very tired, especially since any sort of family crisis seems to squeeze out all reserves of drama or family-craziness into the open. I've been a sounding board to the frustrations of family members as much as anything else. It all helps.

So, I want to thank the ballers, especially Scott and Maria, for taking care of me this week while I was taking care of my family. It really meant a lot to me, and really helped me deal with the situation. I love you guys!! <3 <3 <3

Friday, May 1, 2009

Student Loan Stuff

Alright, internet, it's advice time! After consultation with Tracy on money matters, I have decided to consolidate most of my student loans. But, of course, this is going to be much trickier than it was with my undergraduate loans.

You see, every big bank and its brother has suspended their student loan consolidation plans as of last July, so finding a lender is much more of a pain these days. AES, the service through which I have my federal loans, has a listing of consolidation lenders, but there are all small, local Pennsylvania banks. If I were to go with a small bank lender, I'd rather do it with someplace local to where I'll be out in California.

Another option I've been investigating is the US Department of Education's Direct Consolidation Loan, which FinAid and Fastweb point to in light of the banks' suspension of consolidation programs. I am eligible to consolidate all my federal loans in this program, and I would get a decent interest rate, and right now it's my strongest lead.

But, I wanted to double check with you, internet, to see if anyone has heard more about this program? I've searched for reviews or potential horror stories (I don't want to get myself into something akin to Sallie Mae) but haven't found any. If anyone has stories or experiences with the Direct Consolidation Loans, I'd love to hear of them!

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Don Quixote

After seeing this particular xkcd (which I can strongly relate to) I realized that, while I know the story of Don Quixote through parodies and pop culture, I've never actually read it. So I picked up from the library and gave it a try.

At first, I was very amused at the silliness of the language, and the fact that the antics were just as ridiculous as portrayed in any parody. But the depth of the story never really changed. There was a shallowness and redundancy to the plot that made it feel less like reading a book and more like watching TV - in particular, like watching a painfully mediocre sitcom.

Occasionally there would be long pages of what was obviously social commentary and satire on some topic from the time it was written, and before long I would skip entire chapters. It's kind of like when you watch a really dated movie that has pop culture references, you think "oh, that's commentary on this thing that happened," and shrug and move on.

Don Quixote is very straight forward, and pretty flat. There's really no change in any of the characters, and the plot devices and antics never really change, either.

When I found that the incident with the windmills happens in the very beginning of the book, and is pretty unimportant to the story as a whole, I was puzzled. But after reading on, I figured it was because very few people probably read much further than that :)

So, Don Quixote, I gave you a solid attempt! It just wasn't working out. Sorry!

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Batman Dream

I had a fascinatingly epic dream! For LJ people who hate reading about dreams, a cut. For everyone else, tough luck!


In the dream, I became friends with the Joker. This would be the newest, Heath Ledger-portrayed Joker (which, I'm surprised to say, has trumped Mark Hamill as my all-time favorite Joker! Who would have thought!). When I found out he was the Joker, I was like "Aw, does this mean we can't be friends anymore?" and he was like "Well.....I mean...I guess we're still cool." So we became the bestest of friends.

Now, apparently this was before the Joker went *totally* crazy. He was still pretty crazy, I mean, but there was some semblance of humanity left in him at this point. Batman, of course, did not trust the Joker one bit.

The dream quickly turned very psychologically heavy, and I found myself in the precarious situation that A) If the Joker thought that I didn't trust him, he would surely be driven over the brink of sanity, but that B) he's the freakin Joker, so of course I was kind of scared to be in his company, especially when he had crazy Joker moments! It suddenly became very emotionally themed and circled around the nature of our friendship, and the responsibility I felt for keeping the friendship from tumbling over the precipice of no-return while at the same time keeping myself safe. The sort of thing that would probably never show up in a Batman movie (though in a Batman comic, I wouldn't be surprised).

Batman did not approve.

At one point in the dream, I found myself in some sort of trouble - kidnapped by some third party bad-guy. The Joker came to rescue me, since we were BFF. Batman, on the other hand, assumed my kidnapping to be the work of the "not trustworthy afterall, I should have known!" Joker, and also came to my rescue, complicating matters. It turned out that the whole thing was a setup by the third party bad-guys, in order to devastate the Joker's tie to friendship and push him over the edge of madness!

I don't know how the situation ended, having woken up, and I spent the entire day thinking about it and wondering what happened and worrying about my close, personal friend, the Joker. I always hope that dreams like this will resume upon the next night's sleep, and that the conclusion will be revealed at last! I know better by now, but I still hope.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

San Francisco wrap-up

Ugh, I have been sick like a dog all week with post-convention funk. I think I'm finally killing it, though.

So, GDC was fun times for sure, but several of us stayed an extra day over the weekend to hang out around San Francisco. Andy, Edmundo and I stayed with M.E. We got up the next morning and headed for Chinatown to meet Carlos, Carren, and Carren's sister. The goal was dim sum, but no no, not just ANY dim sum.

You see, when the crew went on their ETC West Coast trip two years ago, they went to a specific dim sum place while in San Francisco. They were all determined to find the same place again, but had no idea what the name of the restaurant was, and nothing but fragmented memories about where exactly it was located.

Between looking up dim sum places and seeing if they looked familiar on Google Street View, looking at photos from their West Coast Trip to see if any pictures contained street signs in the background, and trying to combine their memories ("I remember it was at the crest of a hill!" "I think we were parallel to the Transamerica Tower!" and no less than a dozen "THIS LOOKS FAMILIAR!"), we walked up and down nearly every block in all of Chinatown and STILL didn't find the place.

I suggested that perhaps it were a magical place, and you could only find it if you'd never been there before. All the same, I wasn't about to go wandering around by myself to test the theory.

Nevertheless, there is no shortage of good dim sum in Chinatown in San Francisco, so we still had a DELICIOUS lunch!

The other big highlight of the day was going to see the Exploratorium. I had heard many sing the praises of this science museum, and was anxious to check it out for myself. The songs of praise are true! It is, by far, the best science museum I have ever been to. All of the exhibits are 95% interaction and only 5% text (The Louisville Science Center's newest installations could learn from this place for sure) and the interactions were significant and engaging (not just "press this button").

Of course we didn't see it all, and I really wanted to check out the Touchdome, but it was sold out for the day. This is fine, for it will give me an excuse to go back to San Francisco at some point so I can finishing exploring the museum. HEY COLIN!! Can I come visit you sometime so we can go to the Exploratorium? :D

Anyway, it was lovely time spent in San Francisco. (it was actually sunny for the whole week! Not a cloud in the sky! MADNESS!!)

Friday, March 27, 2009

GDC Friday

Today, the conference caught up to me, and it was somewhat lazy. With the exception of getting up at the ungodly hour of 8:00am to go to a Schell Games breakfast, I spent the morning in full nappage. After we checked out of the hotel, I took my napping to the little park area behind the Metreon, where I was lulled to sleep by the water feature.

For lunch I had 2 banana-strawberry-nutella crepes from the fancy food court, which perhaps wasn't the wisest decision I've made, and resumed my lazy day at the bean bag lounge in the conference center. I happened to run into Olivier there, and eventually Drew showed up, and then some Schell Games people, and so on (the more people in a cluster, the more magnetic it is, I guess).

Several of us went to the afternoon talk about level design in Far Cry 2, and how it supports varying player types and allows for player expression. It was certainly an interesting lecture, and drew some fascinating analogies that I'm not sure I agree with, but were interesting nonetheless. More delicious food for thought.

The Schell Games crew bid the fancy food court a final farewell, and now I'm chilling with Andy and Edmundo, waiting for M.E. Chung to come and fetch us and bring us to her abode.

Overall, I had a fantastic GDC! I got to see so many people again, and the talks I did see were very good. A worthwhile experience for sure!

GDC Thursday

Goodness, today was a very busy day! I'll be friendly and cut it for my LJ list.


This morning I went to Valve's talk on Playtesting, which turned out to reflect a surprising amount of tips and techniques that we use at the ETC and at Schell Games. The things that we don't do which I find super interesting are the physiological tests - monitoring heartrates and EEGs and eye-tracking and such. It made me think of Scott, who was wondering if there was a role in the game-industry for a full-time scientist. So it would appear! At least on the front of collecting playtesting data. That sort of thing, however, is way way expensive, and likely out of the scope of the ETC (though I can imagine a future project working with the psychology department on main campus and what that might yield).

Afterwards, I got to meet up with Colin, who was my lead from the summer. I love Colin! He is one of the awesomest of people, and we strolled about the Expo floor for awhile whiles't catching up on one another's adventures. I am ever grateful for Colin's trust in me over the summer, which gave me a huge confidence boost, and transformed me from pre-Insomniac Lisa to post-Insomniac Lisa. It was delightful to spend time with him once more.

In the afternoon I went to Blizzard's talk about how their quest system evolved from Vanilla WoW through WotLK. It was pretty interesting! I especially liked the "lessons learned/mistakes" portion of the talk, where they went over problem points that needed to be improved, and how they were problematic from a design standpoint. At some point I will have to type up the notes I jotted down during all these talks.

Today was a day for reunions, and in the evening I met up with Steph, seeing her for the first time in 4 years! Amusingly, the last time we were able to visit we were both in New England, and now we both happened to be on the West Coast. I went out with her and some of her friends to Bucca de Beppo, and was graced with the delightful gift of two of her print book collections! (You can take a look via her art blog: http://stephsketches.blogspot.com/ ) So good! It was wonderful to catch up, and hopefully I'll get to hang out with her more tomorrow.

The night ended with a very pleasant gathering in the 5th floor lounge of the Palomar. Comprised mostly of ETCers, and joined later by Drew, there was a lot of catching up and story-swapping. Also, there was the revelation of the app that makes it so I MUST OWN AN IPHONE.

http://appbeacon.com/apps/023144/kitty-parade

Sooooo good! Bryan Cash said that I was reaching some point of Critical Delight while playing with it, and feared an explosion. I managed to contain myself, though.

I've really had a splendid GDC so far, and I hope it will finish out strong. We shall see!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

GDC Wednesday Night

I'm chilling out in my hotel room wearing an outrageous zebra-print bathrobe, for it seems that the hotel provides tacky animal-print bathrobes for all its guests. Classy!

I spent the afternoon schmoozing about the expo floors. The amount of booths on the floor was somewhat dismal, and the career floor was packed, but I suppose that isn't surprising given the times. There was a lot of me introducing people to other people, and a lot of randomly bumping into folks, and other such socialization.

The evening was a restful one - Tracy, Chris and I ordered in food and hung about the hotel room. Afterwards, I joined a pack of ETCers and headed to the ETC Gathering, picking up Drew along the way. The party was loud and crowded in a small space, and I was proud of myself for lasting a good 15 minutes in there. I am, as always, terribly apt to be drained by large and loud social gatherings.

Drew and I then headed over to the top floor lounge at the Marriott to meet up with a bunch of people from Project Horseshoe. Much like the gathering on my first night in San Francisco, this social setting was MUCH more to my taste. We didn't sit and chat for long before someone busted out the card games - Family Business taking the forefront.

Family Business is a fun little card game in and of itself, but the true joy in the game is from the gimmick where all the players have to speak like mobsters. This, of course, amplifies hilarity in every action, and I was happy to observe the rise and fall of the city mobs, particularly the vicious rivalry between Olivier and Brenda (I suspect that feud may last for generations on end!)

Tomorrow I'm planning on hitting up the Valve and Blizzard talks, and hopefully catching up with Steph and Colin if I am lucky.

GDC Wednesday Morning

After a whirlwind of excitement (by which I mean a 5 hour delay in Dallas), I finally arrived in San Francisco last night to be bombarded with social greetings. We're staying at the Hotel Palomar, which is multitudes better than they sketchy place we stayed last year (sans purple track lighting and a palm tree painted on the wall, though) and much much closer to the convention center.

Andy and I met up with Drew and some of the Insomniacs and there was much greeting and hugging. Amusingly, Insomniac and Schell Games seems to have booked the same hotel. Before long, Reagan joined us, having "heard my laugh" from God knows how far across the floor. I'm flattered that my laughter is a beacon, but occasionally embarrassed by how loud it apparently is!

There was chattering and drinking and people came and went and I gave out many hugs. Jesse stopped by, and Schell Games Austin showed up, and then the ETCers started filing in. It was much fun! These are the sorts of social encounters that I truly enjoy, rather than exhausting myself at the IGDA party.

This morning I hit up Clint Hocking's lecture on Fault Tolerance, which was about Intentionality and Improvisation in the design of Far Cry 2. There, Drew and I found and greeted Olivier, and subsequently threw things at Brenda Brathwaite a few rows in front of us (she brandished threateningly and there was much giggling from our row).

The talk itself was very interesting! I thought that looking at gameplay patterns in a cycle of composition/planning phases and execution phases was a pretty insightful way of analyzing how a player interacts with the game, and one I hadn't thought of before. While I think his use of the word "Improvisation" was misleading, the ideas behind it were sound and fuel for much thought. Plus, after chatting with Brenda Harger afterwards, we agreed that having the phrase "Improvisation" more accessible in this industry was a good thing, even if it was not being used accurately. Having it get exposure may lead people to investigate, and that's always good!

After the talk, Drew and I went and grabbed lunch with a friend of his from Infinity Ward whose name slips me. The fancy food court in the shopping center is just as delicious as I remember it! Paninis for the win!

As I expected, I was exhausted after lunch, and in need of a nap. I think I'm pacing myself much better than last year, now that I have an idea of how GDC is gonna roll. Looking forward to social gatherings tonight! Stay tuned for ADVENTURE!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Brainz!

I noticed a weird thing that my brain did the other day...

I was at the animal shelter, and went into one of the cat colony rooms to work on cat socialization (read: petting and snuggling). The cat colony rooms are setup to be like a living room of sorts: a couch, coffee table, some tables, and an abundance of cat trees and toys and hidey holes. This is where they keep cats who enjoy being around other cats.

Anyway, as I sat down to join one of the cats lounging on the couch, I noticed my brain processing information in a particular way, and I found it rather interesting.

When I looked at the cat, I realized "that cat has three legs." But, I noticed that it took me until I sat down beside him for several moments before I'd registered *which* of the three legs he was missing.

I find this kind of bizarre. It wasn't as though I thought "there is something different about that cat" and then after a bit of observation noticed he was missing a leg. No, my brain processed the fact of his three-leggedness all in one go, but it took extra time to notice the specific of which leg was missing. I recall that I even spent several moments looking at his hind legs to find the missing leg before seeing that it was one of his forelegs.

Is this not a strange ability? Maybe it is similar to reading - how I tend to process text in big chunks at a time before actually seeing their individual components.

Or maybe I just think too much.

As an aside, the three-legged cat was very friendly and snuggly and seemed perfectly at home with only having three legs.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Perdido Street Station

So, in an effort to acquire new fiction for my mind to devour, I checked out Perdido Street Station by China MiƩville, as recommended by Drew on my LA visit.

The story world is a brilliant sort of non-Tolkien-derived fantasy, complete with science-magic, math-magic (Scott, you would like it), and a splash of steam punk for good measure. It is gripping, exciting, and in the end, rather rough. I just finished it tonight and feel shaken and slightly ill-at-ease, but in the good way that happens from immersive books.

My brain feels refreshed and newly hungry, after going quite awhile re-reading stories that I'd known already. Fortunately for me, there's more to the series.

I have to sit for awhile, though, and digest and ponder what I've read before I subject myself to another. Back to the library with it!

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Experimental Dinner

Sometimes I throw together complete experiments for dinner, and sometimes they turn out really well! This week I had some leftover ground pork from making nikuman, and so threw this recipe together for pork burgers. It turned out to be DELICIOUS.

Ingredients
- ground pork... half poundish?
- small onion, finely chopped
- clove of garlic, finely chopped
- dash of rice vinegar
- dash of soy sauce
- bread crumbs (like, super fine crumbs, as in "throw a hunk of stale bread in a blender and puree it into dust" fine)
- a kaiser roll to use as the bun

1) Mix everything together and make patties
2) Grill them
3) Serve on bun

NOMLICIOUS!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Penny Arcade visit

They Penny Arcade people visited the ETC and Schell Games this week. They were a delight to have around. Apparently, they really liked the ETC, and the Get In Line project especially! How fun!

More...

http://www.penny-arcade.com/2009/2/11/

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Font Fun



That's from tooling around on http://www.yourfonts.com. A fun idea, but probably not practical for chicken-scratchers like myself.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Her Morning Elegance

My favorite thing in the world is when people find things or make things that they say reminds them of me. It is so fascinating!

On that topic, Bryan Cash said, "I think that can tell a lot about what you unconsciously bring up in people."

He said this video reminded him of me. Perhaps for my unusual relationship with sleep? Who can say, but it might be indicative of how I live my life!

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Writer's Block: Left Behind

Today's Writer's Block question on LJ is: What do you want done with your body after you die?

I'll be donating my body to science! Let me explain my reasoning..

A few years ago I had the unfortunate luck of having to go through many, many funerals in a short span of time, and I remember making some noteworthy observations.

Funerals are expensive. Caskets are expensive. Burying people is *expensive.* The stressful responsibility of paying for and orchestrating these purchases falls on those who are grieving and probably the least deserving of the burden. It seems like an awful system, in a way. During this time, I thought, how could I make my funeral less of a painful ordeal to my family?

From living several years with Scott during the time when he was often working and teaching in the gross anatomy lab at UofL, I learned some things about the cadavers that I hadn't known. After being dissected and used in class, the bodies are gathered and cremated, and the school holds a nice little memorial service for all of them. The ashes are then returned to the family, if they want them.

What a nice system for the family! When I die, the university will take care of moving my body. My family won't have to purchase a casket, and look...FREE cremation! So much less stress!

Sure, they won't get the ashes right away, but that's partially a good thing. That way, if they DO want to get a fancy urn for me, they'll be doing it sometime after the initial grieving process, and probably while in a much better state to consider that decision.

And yes, someone will cut off my arms and legs and head with a bone saw so that I can fit in the cremation bag, but the family doesn't have to deal with those details.

Oh...yeah...and some students learn some stuff blah blah whatever.

In spite of this plan, I STILL have not completed the paperwork necessary to authorize the donation. Part of this is because I've been between primary doctors, but I think that the next time I go to see my Pittsburgh doctor, I'll bring it along. I also have to have a few other people sign it, but I forget exactly who...I'll have to look at it again.

ANYWAY! Looking for a way to make your death less of a pain in the ass for your family? Consider donating to science! Just sayin.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

25 Random Things

I don't like to tag other people to do these memes, but when tagged I feel compelled to complete them...



1) I used to do synchronized swimming when I was young. It gave me super strength. We had to put knox gelatin in our hair and smile brightly during our routines, even though we were in terrible pain for most of it (or at least, I was).

2) When I drink soda, I have to swish it around in my mouth before swallowing.

3) My first crush was on Egon from the animated Ghostbusters. It was less of a "I want to marry you" crush and more of a "I want to be you" crush.

4) When I was little, I always wanted to play Little Red Riding Hood, and I was always the wolf

5) I kissed a boy for the first time in my life when I was 21 years old

6) I'm TERRIBLE at practical math. Horrible. Calculus? No problem. Subtraction? SO HARD.

7) When I was in the second grade I wanted to be a fighter jet pilot. I think I believed that they just got to fly the jets around all day for fun.

8) I'm pretty sure I'm the happiest when I'm in the water.

9) As a child, I tended to step on rusty nails by accident during summer vacation. I stepped on nails so frequently that I assumed that it was just part of life: that every year I'd step on a rusty nail, as sure as Christmas or my birthday.

10) I went through a phase when I was young where I was obsessed with symmetry. If I took a step and put so much pressure on one foot, I would HAVE to match the exact pressure on the other. If I accidentally touched my face, I'd have to touch the other side of my face in the same spot. I thought it was going to drive me mad before I grew out of it.

11) If I'm at the ATM and there's a line behind me and I have multiple transactions to make, I will make one and then get back in line for the other. Similarly, if I'm paying at the grocery and there's a line behind me, I get too stressed out from the prospect of getting out exact change, for fear I will slow down the people behind me.

12) I used to think that the Kentucky Derby was a holiday that *everyone* celebrated, like Christmas.

13) Pianos give me anxiety attacks (not hearing them, but sitting at one, or the thought of having to play it)

14) I am a tactile/kinesthetic learner and communicate with the world best via touch and movement.

15) I have a second degree black belt in Kempo

16) Sometimes I know the future, it's an AWFUL talent.

17) I hate The Vagina Monologues. I HATE THEM!

18) The music of a cello makes me cry, or feel like crying. It's like an on/off switch.

19) The first video game I ever beat by myself was Super Mario Bros. 2 on the NES

20) When you get dinner rolls from the store that have the vertical slice in them for easy cutting, I always ignore it and slice the roll horizontally (more surface area for butter)

21) I like vinegar and I like cucumbers, but I do not like pickles.

22) My favorite poem is "Out, Out" by Robert Frost

23) I tend to wave my arm in front of automatic doors, as if I am opening them with the Force. I do this mostly without thinking anymore.

24) I inherited my two favorite kinds of cake from my parents: yellow cake with chocolate icing from my mom, and spice cake with vanilla icing from my dad

25) I can't make the number three with my fingers. Like, putting your thumb on your pinky and holding the rest up? I can't do it, and forcing my hand into that position has always been painful. I dreaded the number 3 while learning to count because of this agony!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Results of the Sleepathon

So, my internship at Schell Games has started in full swing and is awesome thus far! However, I thought I'd post about what I learned, or concluded...or just theorized from my 2 week sleep study.

1) I think I caught up on an amazing deficit. The first few days I was sleeping upwards of 14 hours a day, and eventually this tapered off somewhat to around 9 or 10 hours a night. I felt it was good, rejuvenating sleep, though. Kind of like the subconscious version of a 2 week cleanse.

2) I am, at heart, a night creature. I've denied this for ages, because for some reason I had some deep resolution that my being a night person was "bad." The world, after all, does not cater to us very well. But screw that. I harbor tons of nocturnal energy, and this can't be corrected by a rigid sleep schedule, which I think causes more harm than good. I've started working out at midnight, doing my grocery shopping at 1, going to bed around 2 or 3 and that's okay, because that's how I roll.

3) I've identified my napping needs more closely. I tend to need a small nap in the early afternoon, even if it's just 45 minutes, to kick me back into gear. Around 3:00pm seems a good time. This is often followed by a longer, evening nap. I used to get so stressed about taking naps at 8:00 at night, worrying that it would "mess up my sleep schedule," but now that I've embraced point number 2, I'm much less worried about it (and being less worried means I get to bed more easily when I do sleep at 2 or 3).

Overall during the test, my sleeping periods tended to be vastly erratic. At first I was concerned about this, but I think what I learned is that spaced out, shorter blocks of sleep just work better for me in general. This is roughly what my most comfortable sleep schedule has ended up being...

2:30am - 8:30am (6 hours, my "main" night time sleep)
3:00pm - 4:00pm (1 hourish, my afternoon nap)
8:00pm - 11:00pm (3 hours, my evening nap)

With this, I still get the 9-10 hours of sleep that I seem to need a day, and I'm not tired during the day or stressed out about the fact that I'm staying up late. I imagine that on the weekends I will let myself sleep more freely, to catch up on any deficit, and I will stop beating myself up over it.

One thing that has helped me IMMENSELY during this experiment was this little device, the Sleeptracker Pro: http://www.sleeptracker.com/

Jesse lent it to me. Basically, it is a watch with an accelerometer in it that you wear at night. It detects "near-awake" periods based on your movement. When you set your alarm to wake up, you give it a window of time instead of an exact time, and the alarm won't go off until it detects a "near-awake" moment in your sleep cycle during that window. Thus, you're more likely to get woken up when you are in the light stage of sleep, versus being yanked out of REM or stage 4 sleep, and all groggily.

I'm normally not one for gadgets, but I'm in love with this thing, and am going to get my own as soon as I am able (Jesse kindly is lending me his for the duration of my co-op, and I really think it will help).

So! There are my sleepy conclusions, and it's midnight now...time to go to the gym! :D