Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Levar Burton Effect

The most frustrating part of having a genius level IQ is the constant discrimination. Sadly, most people are too clueless to even realize it's happening.

If you're taller, or faster, or stronger you get to just be taller, faster, or stronger. No one expects a hulking person to pretend everyone he interacts with is equally capable of lifting things. Not true if you're smart. Being smart is like being black.

"It's cool. Just try to be non-threatening if you want people to like you."

I walk on eggshells with the universe. Friends, family, passersby... they all expect me to treat their goofy ideas as if they were equally valid. If they are, I do. If they're not, I'm still expected to coddle. So generally speaking, I coddle.

It's an extremely frustrating way to live. It fosters an internal sense of hostility that I can't always hide. It attaches a clock to most of my relationships, because I can't keep it up forever.

And on top of everything, somehow I'm considered the arrogant one. That is, of course, exactly backwards.

Friday, November 21, 2008

So your sackboy wants to go to art school...

So there's a lot of buzz right now about Little Big Planet hasn't met sales expectations and (gasp) might not be the silver bullet savior of Sony's undernourished ps3. It seems like every place I go for gaming news, I'm finding articles about the situation. Predictably, almost everything being written is sheer stupidity. No one seems to have the foggiest idea why LBP isn't blowing up the charts. Sigh. Let me explain... since apparently I need to.

Since arriving on the scene in 1993, Sony has done virtually everything in its power to be the anti-Nintendo. They sell slick. They sell cool. They sell high tech 14-29 year old male demographic gaming. Playstations are where games like Grand Theft Auto, SOCOM, and Gran Turismo live. ok, stay with me, I'll try to keep this simple.

Whether you call the ps3 a failure or a very late bloomer (this quiz accepts either), it's easy to see that it's in last place in this generation of systems. There just aren't that many out there. The people that do have them, have them for Metal Gear Solid 4, Resistance: Fall of Man, and a handful of shooting/driving games. They're mostly Sony diehards. See above.

The ps3 has a small choir and Little Big Planet wasn't designed to preach to it.

That's it. LBP may be a masterpiece, but it's a masterpiece on a third place, testosterone-driven console. A console that's not particularly friendly to casual gamers. LBP is a killer app, not a fairy godmother with an army of time machines.

Now please stop pestering the LBP dreamscape with your bizarre mathematical expectations.

In a broader sense, it's wrong to even treat LBP like a game. It's not a game. It's a game system. The first truly functional game system in the pixel driven world. Comparing its sales figures to Legos or Dungeons and Dragons would be more accurate.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Politics of Dogs and Chickens

It's not easy to find a good veterinarian. It's even harder in Mexico. Weeks of trying to get Emma the kitty decent medical treatment led to the diagnosis of liver disease. That confirmed my own suspicions, since Google and I had also concluded Hepatic Lipidosis. Emma the kitty has been doomed for close to a month now.

I was really having a hard time with that. Emma was the kitten that picked me out and followed me. Because she fell in love with me at first sight, I decided to adopt a girl cat, and my girlfriend at the time was sort of fenced into taking Emma's brother - Spike the kitty. When we broke up, I stole Spike and kept the family together.

Fifty thousand miles and one international border later we're missing Spike and Emma has been failing rapidly. It's been long and heartbreaking, but she never stops eating. It's hard for me to give up on an animal that's ravenous. Something in that doesn't feel right. Maybe it's just that watching someone die slowly can force an addiction to hope.

So the third vet... the desperation vet... the 'I can't stand to see Emma wither away for six more hours, so please just tell me something better' vet... whose office is more like an urban barnyard pet and feed store, takes one look at her and literally makes a "pssh" noise at the idea of liver disease, and sentences Emma to four days of shots for parasites.

Four days later she's getting her fourth shot, and Emma the kitty is much improved. We pay the second half of our 300 peso vet bill and we go home. Everyone is going to live!

Well, not everyone.

A few hours after giving Emma her last shot, and telling us to come back in three days for a check-up, the veterinarian and his two helpers, along with a 15 year old boy, were gunned down in their shop. I don't know anyone's names. If I did I'd recount them uselessly for you.

Nor do I know exactly why it happened, although it's pretty easy to connect the dots if you start with the roosters and consider our local cartel wars.

What I do know is that Emma is sleeping on a green towel right now, and the guy who saved her life is dead.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

I laughed, I WAAAAGH'd, and it became a part of me...

Every time Blizzard releases a new Warcraft game, I have to remind myself that they do not have the official Warhammer license. It's hard to tell. Warcraft is a direct copy of Warhammer, right down to the most minute stylistic details. Make no mistake, Warhammer existed long before Blizzard started stealing their ideas and using them for RTS games. By the time WoW debuted, they'd been biting on Warhammer for almost a decade. So this game, Warhammer Online, had two difficult jobs:

One, be a better mmorpg than World of Warcraft.

Two, steal back the Warhammer identity, and return it to its rightful owners - Games Workshop.

For the first twenty minutes of Warhammer Online, I thought it was a tie. Honestly, Warhammer just seemed like a different version of WoW; as much a clone as WoW had always been itself. Then the details started to bleed through...

Warhammer classes are interesting and well designed. Archetypes you've grown used to from every game since Everquest suddenly have new twists. My Battle Priest, for instance, must melee to recharge her healing spells. My Dwarven Ironbreaker is a tank that can make an oath to protect another character, and share his combat activated defensive buffs. (I can't say enough about the social/personal investment dynamic this ability creates!) My Dark Elf Sorceress tempts backlashes of magic energy as she collects greater and greater amounts of dark energy, becoming more dangerous to others AND herself. Every character class has their own little special mechanic that adds a dimension to their skills and abilities. It's really quite clever.

The PvP section of the game, a segment of massive online gaming I tend to ignore outside of Eve Online, is structured and implemented in such a way that it's fun, engaging, and perhaps most importantly, directly rewarding. Go play arena scenario games against the opposing force of Order or Chaos, and earn cool renown awards - from new goods at merchants to actual loot on the bodies of dispatched players.

Warhammer just brings so many good ideas to the table, and carries them out so well. Public quests that are fun and interesting foster a sense of community and teamwork among strangers almost from the moment the game begins. Npc banter is well written; for the first time since... well, since ever in a mmorpg... I find myself reading the quests. Grinding has been rendered ineffective and useless; virtually all gameplay is purposeful and quest driven. Exploration is rewarding and fun; the maps are littered with clickable objects that bestow experience and quests or new entries in your Tome. And the Tome!

The Tome of Knowledge is perhaps the greatest single addition to massive online rpg theory I have ever seen. Imagine a slick, user friendly combination of your journal from Oblivion, the statistic tracking reward system of Madden football games, and Xbox Live's achievement system. Plus a lot of other cool stuff. It brings the game together into a cohesive presentation that would be very impressive in a well designed single player game. To see something that good in a massive is a rare moment indeed.

I think that's the most basic truth of Warhammer Online - it's the first massive online roleplaying game with a design that genuinely compares to the best experiences of offline, single player gaming. It doesn't require (or ask for) your forgiveness for being an mmorpg. After a couple days of playing Warhammer, you'll understand why Blizzard stole every idea they ever had from these people.

And you'll be glad Warhammer just stole them back.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

What Chuck Woolery has always known...

Politics, for those of you taking notes, has almost nothing to do with issues or logic. Democrats should be careful about getting smug, and republicans should be even more careful bandying about a defeatist attitude.

Because politics is really all about the romance.

Either side could still easily win or lose this election. Since I'm playing for red team this year, I'll tell my people how we win.

We win by being nice. I'm not talking about John McCain or Sarah Palin, though they could certainly chip in. No, the real road to red team victory lays with us, the supporters.

Don't fight. It's retarded. The only people who will fight with you about politics are the people you will never convince. So while you think you're "standing up for what you believe in", what you're actually doing is damaging our cause by driving off the spectators we desperately need to be romancing.

Nothing is decided yet. We've just got two proposals. America still sleeps with no ring on her finger. Our plan is simple.

Be upbeat. Be strong in your kindness. Be good natured and funny.


Thursday, October 2, 2008

Class Act - 75AP

Dear Sarah Palin and Joe Biden,

Thanks for a really fun debate. Genuinely fun. Whatever people say about you... and I'm sure we're all going to keep saying a lot... I'm proud of the two of you for finally representing my United States of America: the one that's civilized and good natured.

For ninety minutes you didn't annoy me. Neither of you embarrassed me or yourselves. You didn't get snarky, condescending, or interrupt each other. I laughed a lot and cried a little and found you both very likable.

Keep this up, and you'll actually foster a sense of inclusion in this election. Randomly placed decent human beings will be encouraged to vote and participate in their republic. I have no idea if we've even got chairs for them, but we'll figure something out.

And so I award each of you the 75pt Acheivement - Class Act. Please make the corresponding changes to your gamertags.

Again, thank you for a lovely evening.

~ Reed W. Decker, Red Team

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Old Yeller - A solo adventure for levels 1-4

Among the people who come from broken families there is an oft repeated saying.

My friends are my family.

It's almost like mantra for us. Friends said it with conviction twenty years ago, and different friends say it with conviction now. I've said it many times myself.

We say it because we don't have actual families. We know it's not quite accurate, but we hope it will be. We're social critters. We need to feel connected and loved. So we project a prophecy outward, and pray it self fulfills.

The problem is it rarely works. The combination of timing, chemistry, and personal commitment required to pull it off is extremely rare. The most common result is complete failure; someone simply disappears.

Paths diverge and people vanish. Sometimes they fall. Sometimes you push.

The next most common result is limbo. People wander forward, together but apart. Everyone is in contact, but there's no actual substance to the friendship. New families, new jobs, new hobbies and interests.... priorities shift like glaciers, slow and irrevocable.

This is where it falls apart me. I just can't stand it. I don't like human bookmarks. They're placeholders in an hourglass that can never be flipped over. Which brings us back to "Go" again. Everyone collect $200.

My friends are my family.

There will be a purge soon. For most of my bookmark friends, and it's stunning how many they number, these are the last days we'll ever know each other. It's not malice that brings us to this final rail stop.

It's social economics. I can't afford to have a family full of almost empty chairs. They can't afford another significant person in their busy lives. I'll miss them, but I miss them now.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Life after Little Wooden Boy...

My anime collection is nearing the terabyte level. There will be a celebration. Sometime in the spring.

There's never a good time to stop and list all my recommendations. I'm always in the middle of new series and always telling myself I'll attend to the "master list" in due time. My friend Roland and I were talking about anime the other day... and I realized the time to make some list, any list, is now.

Some of these will be old, some will be new. I'll even throw in one or two current suggestions. In all cases... I mean "when watched in order" and the subtitled version with the original Japanese voice cast. The first series on the list, for instance, is almost unwatchable in dubbed form.


Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi - One of my all-time faves. Abenobashi basically dares you to declare it juvenille and silly...

Mushishi - Low key paranormal investigations in provincal Japan. Lots of neat stuff goes on in this one.

Now & Then, Here & There - This is a tough one. You can't not recommend this series, because it's really unique and well done. But it's also a deeply brutal story that revolves mostly around little kids.

Denno Coil - The best cyberpunk ever constructed in any medium. So relentlessly brilliant that you'll feel terrible for not thinking of virtually everything that happens for all 26 episodes.

Edo Rocket - A fireworks maker tries to build a rocket to get a friend home to the moon.

Code Geass - Robot tactics/fighting, high school drama, world domination story with more characters than you could fit on a steamboat... very well done and home of the most advanced plotting I've seen since the Watchmen. Their trick is different than Moore's highly synchronized clockwork storytelling, but no less impressive. This is currently in its second season and is being fansubbed by Eclipse.

Melancholy of Haruhi Suzimiya - A deranged chick starts an after school club with no discernable purpose. Very funny and strange.

FLCL - If there were some way to describe it to you, I would try. It's six episodes and possibly the coolest thing ever animated. It seems short, but then you have to watch it several times anyway, both to understand what the hell just happened to you, and to bask in the amazingness... so it actually works out to be about normal length.

Clannad, AirTV, Kanon 2006 - The old joke "I laughed, I cried, it became a part of me." is finally brought to the dreaded "five over five" status. All three of these are done by a company called Key and they all alternate between funny and heartbreaking. I'm just a huge fan of Key. Also noteworthy (!!!), they have excellent, clever, three dimensional leading male characters.

Read or Die - Both the three part mini-series and the full length television series are excellent. Highly recommended. Sort of a British spy meets pulp level metahuman thing they've got going on. It's eccentric, heartfelt and imaginative.

Higurashi no Naku Koro ni - There's three of these now, and I'm not through the third one yet... they're all very (very) dark civic horror stories. They're roughly Lovecraftian in pacing, and they're oddly veiled behind a bunch of total lolicon characters... but all of them so far have been very intricate and well conceived.

Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha - The first two series of this are great. Imagine the best days of Beta Ray Bill being relived by a nine year old girl. It's like that, but to be honest Thor never had fights this good. Remember to drink each time you furrow and say "Damn."

Magical Girl Squad Alice - Amazingly, this series is nothing like the previous anime that began with "Magical Girl". Alice is more like Alice in Wonderland meets the old American cartoon movie "Wizards". Every episode is ten minutes long and there are fifty something total. It had neat art, a lot of good ideas, and an interesting storyline.

Rocket Girls - High school girls get drafted into an underfunded space program. It's impossible not to begin this series with a facepalm, but then it turns out to be a charming story with a lot of really cool educational stuff about rockets. This should be the first anime on PBS.

Bokurano - Part giant robot battles, part sci-fi horror, and part dramatic vignette. It's not a happy story, but I liked it a lot.

Paranoia Agent - A murder mystery presented through a lens of Bhuddism. Another of my all-time favorites and another anime that flops like a thrice bashed fish after dubbing.

This is really just scratching the surface. We could go deeper in many directions, but these anime are all solid. And there's a lot of anime that is perhaps more foundational, like Bebop and Ninja Scrolls, but presumably you can find that with any "best of..." google search.

I've watched tons of anime, so if anyone has questions about anything specific, don't hesitate to ask. I suggest bittorrent and www.fansub.tv as good places to look for free fansubs.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

The World of Burning Ears

Sarah Palin is too ordinary to be qualified. If being mayor of a little, moose adjacent town is laughable, imagine what they must think of us. I'm just a broke writer. My friends certainly aren't as "special" as a small town mayor. They manage hotels, go to college, design web pages, work in cafes, etc. I had been under the impression that all people born under our flag were gifted with unlimited potential and equality. I thought one of the great strengths of American freedom was the beautiful idea that anyone, representing any of our widely varied hopes and faces, could become anything they wished to be. I must have misunderstood something.

Well, at least I'm not involved with the real idiots - the community organizers. What a bunch of incompetent losers... ok, wait. Charity work doesn't count as community organization does it? How about years worth of essays trying to impart a more reasonable sense of perspective to the world around me? What about my mom's job with the LA County Park Service? Helping local families find and enjoy public parks is different than community organizing right? I mean just because she's technically organizing sections of her community... No, I'm certain that Rudy Giuliani, a man I've spoken well of for years, did not just laugh as he made fun of my mom.


Everyone's gotten awfully comfortable insulting me. That's an interesting way to try and make friends. I can't say I care for it.

There's a knock at the door. It's Ralph Nader. He jabs you in the eye with a pencil and says "Sorry it took me so long. I had to ride my bike."

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Little Known Facts of the Magic 8-Ball

Little Known Fact: Sarah Palin...

...is the 494th pokemon, and she wants to pwn your pikachu.

...can squeeze rocks into other rocks. With her eyes.

...used her snowmobile to take Gary Gygax's magic dice to the vault at the Fortress of Solitude.

...fought Chuck Norris until the entire planet of Namek was destroyed.

...can talk to beavers.

...occasionally stops time to help Doctor Who fight the Daleks.

...wrestled Cthulhu to steal ellipses for this blog.

...has tiny Magic 8-Balls behind her pupils.

Magic 8-Balls say...

The Daily Show dynamic might be in for a major backfire. There's a pretty huge swath of young democrats that have been trained to align their politics with their sense of humor. Many of those same people would happily follow Chuck Norris into the sun.

Absurdism has become an actual cultural force. As it should be. I, for one, couldn't be happier.

[This blog entry is a forgery created by three different Andy Warhols.]


Friday, August 29, 2008

A word, by any other name...

It's Friday night and I'm sick with some kind of Central American Lizard Flu. What a pain. I could be nerding out with the other virgins right now, but no, instead I'm sniffling and tracking down ex-girlfriends in Guadalajara.

Anyway, I thought I'd stop by and give the award for the best internet expression ever. Bruce, if I could get a drum roll. Thanks, Bruce.

And the winner is...


Alright, that's all. Get out.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Vancian Spellcasting

The only Jack Vance book I ever read was fascinating. It was all about language, and how the very words you speak shape your thoughts and experience. The premise of the book was that whole worlds could be redesigned with linguistic overrides and manipulation.

The Languages of the Pao.

The basic idea is so clear and obvious and correct... I doubt I'll ever stop thinking about it. It's one of those concepts that shifts your perspective into a slightly different place. The words you know, and the structure of how they flow together, affects your future and potential just as clearly and impeccably as your genetic heritage. The way you learn to speak is the way you learn to think.

Interestingly enough, Vance himself has an unrivaled vocabulary. Click click click...

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

EMOTICON DIPLOMACY FAILS - U.S. at war with Chinese gold farmers

Read a good article about gaming yesterday. The most interesting part is this idea that major corporations are going out of their way to hire WoW guild leaders for their organizational skills.

Topical, because only a week ago I tried to drag one of my arch-gamer cohorts over to Eve Online from Xbox Live. The results were disastrous. My friend, Killer, who is an utter badass with a 360 joystick, was 100% dysfunctional once you took away the spoon fed tutorials found in his "native" software. It was just sad. Like trying to teach a dog to fly a helicopter. Seriously, his intellect and the game's level of complication were that far apart.

Aside from the direct personal ramificiations, I was highly disturbed by the realization that my friend is actually one of the smarter kids I know. I immediately wondered how things like business and government were going to survive Killer's generation.

The answer, apparently, is that at least the people running World of Warcraft guilds will have the skills required to maintain infrastructures.

Well, I stand corrected. Problem solved. Silly me for worrying.

Monday, August 25, 2008


Congratulations to Maria del Rosario Espinoza and Guillermo Perez for winning gold medals in Taekwondo! And to Tatiana Ortiz and Paola Espinosa for bringing home the bronze in Synchronized Diving! [1]

Very cool guys. Way to represent out there.

ok, the truth is I didn't watch much of the Olympics. I rarely do. The most exciting part for me personally - getting to try Microsoft Silverlight. [2] Still, it was much more fun to eavesdrop on the games this cycle than usual. The opening cermony was insane and wonderful, and when Tatiana and Paola won their bronze medals I was pretty excited for them. [3]

Perhaps more interestingly, so was my mother, who lives in LA and visits me down here very rarely. In fairness, she doesn't always have the best experiences as a tourist in Baja, but she still considers Mexico her other home team. Which if I'm not mistaken, is actually the point of the Olympics. [4]

[1] I'm going to let you guys slide on making up new sports, but only because you invented one where hot chicks jump off things. But I'm watching you people. You are not to show up in 2012 holding lawn darts.

[2] Silverlight seemed nice... but I think mine's broken. I can't get it to transform into the robot at all.

[3] The other little girl was cute too, China! Are you all licking pandas to get high?! Hold on. I'm training fifteen hundred people to stand on a LCD screen the size of an aircraft carrier and facepalm in perfect unison...

[4] Apparently that magic torch they stole from Zeus is working. Death to the gods!! Peace in our lifetime!

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Thirdrail Ink

I bought my first Tablet PC, a Fujitsu Lifebook [T4220], about a year ago now. Her name is Daisy. I never thought much about tablets until I wanted one for drawing. Now I can't imagine ever going back to the oldtech laptops.

I'm also certain Bill Gates is right about tablets being the future of educational computing. Any computer task even remotely resembling schoolwork, writing, or note taking is many times easier on a tablet. It's also a more casual experience. The tablet sidekicks like a clipboard, not a computer. It's that simple. The difference is amazing.

There have been a number of telling moments since Daisy's arrival.

Fujitsu, unlike any pre-built pc company I've ever dealt with, put virtually nothing extra on my hard drive. Some little photo handler program called "Picasso" and a Realtek audio manager program are as close as they got to saddling me with "bloatware". [I've dealt with HP, Compaq, Gateway, and Dell pre-builts in the past, and always had to spend the first day clearing drives of their nonsense and then defragging.]

She's the first computer to get dragged around the house with me. In tablet mode, it's just so easy. The DS is the only other device I own with comparable tote-ability.

Kid's adore Daisy. My friend's daughter never asked for my DS again. She only wanted to draw on the tablet. [Kudos to Alias Sketchbook on this one too.]

When I brought Daisy home, I was hanging out with a lot of Mac users. It was the first and only time I've ever seen Mac people feeling inferior without the words "game" or "market presence" being involved. The two classic strong points of Macs, ease of use and technological superiority, both seem outdated in the presence of a tablet.

When life outside the tech belt brought my desktops to their knees, Daisy was forced into being the "main computer" for several months. Despite having no real video card [965 chipset, at best a pseudo-card even by laptop-go standards] Daisy managed to play Dawn of War games and made Eve Online [classic graphics] look good at 35-50 fps.

Stepping up as prime game machine and holding your ground... there's probably no better way to prove your technological qualifications here in the kingdom of the Thirdrail.

Which in turn earns Daisy and the tablets their two cents. There you have it.

Interesting footnote - Daisy stopped me from going Apple. I left the house that day thinking I would check out the tablets while buying my first Mac laptop. I was literally obsessed those beautiful backlit keys and I wanted a smaller, lighter computer than my HP Notebook. After comparing the two formats, I was blown away by how cool the tablets were. Apple didn't make one, and still doesn't. [Except for their phones.] Which is sad, because the Mac Air as a tablet would allow me to declare the future officially open for business...

Go Team Venture! Just promise to come back.

Venture Brothers just wrapped up its third season. The finale was a little reference heavy, even for VB, but awesome nonetheless. This has turned into one of my all-time favorite series.

It's odd, I've also been watching the Colbert Report lately, and as funny as his show is, I can't help feeling like he really screwed up when he bailed on Venture Brothers. I mean yeah, he's no doubt got a much larger audience at the moment. But what about the future?

I can just barely sit through an episode of the Daily Show or Colbert Report from three months ago. I'd never watch an episode of those shows twice. Conversely, I've got every episode of the animated Tick series sitting on an active drive right next to me. And that's The Tick, which had moments of genius [fe Mr. Smartypants], but nowhere near the consistent quality levels of Venture Brothers.

Anyway, congratulations to Jackson Publick and Doc Hammer and all their people on turning a good show into a great one. I can't wait for next season.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Get the hell off my lawn.

Do I hate Gamespy more than Steam? Or do I hate Steam more than Gamespy?

It's impossible to tell. They're both such awful spyware.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Mysterious Chicken

The Pokemon Mystery Dungeon games are the best of the Pokemon series. They have great writing and much more challenging game play than the other Pokemon games. I highly recommend them.

Also, I suggest using a Torchic or Cyndaquil as your partner (if possible). I have no idea if they're "powerful" or not, but they're super cute. Plus, the npcs in Darkness/Time will be calling your timid partner a "chicken" pretty often, which makes for great comedy when you're actually talking about a chicken.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

The kids, they never listen...

The file sharing conflict has been going on for quite a while now. It's p2p vs. the megacorps. Little guy vs. big guy. David on Goliath.

David and Goliath is right... funny, I've never understood why that story gets read the way it does. I mean we were supposed to be surprised that a deity's champion defeated a mere giant? Goliath was hosed from the moment that scenario began.

Much like the forces trying to stop file sharing. Allow me to explain, in simple terms, why p2p piracy will always win...

File sharing is owned, operated, and maintained by nerds. Nerds, by definition, are the smart ones. So when you set out to stop file sharing, the deck is stacked against you from the start. Now, in Sun Tzu's honor, let's look at the terrain. Where will the battle be located? On computers you say? I see. So now the plan isn't just to outsmart a bunch of geeks, but to do it via the computer. That's a stupid plan.

A more fruitful use of corporate energy would be curing the ails that drive people to p2p in the first place. Lower prices, remove commercials, return to corporate values that emphasize quality products over maximized profits... just a few ideas.