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Zombies make anything better. February 3, 2009

Posted by jmoran21 in Humor, Hypertext.
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There are more than a few gaps in my exposure to the so-called “essentials” of human creativity, and my efforts in high school (or lack there-of) probably has something to do with this. In any case, I’ve never cracked the spine of a Jane Austin novel, and indeed the closest I’ve gotten is the theatrical trailers for films inspired by her novels. I may have to rectify this situation, if a new novel turns out to be anywhere near as amusing as its premise: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Based on the classic of the same-ish name, the text is a mash-up of the original, along with “all-new scenes of bone-crunching zombie action.”

Disclaimer: I haven’t yet read this collaboration between Jane Austin and Mr. Seth Grahame-Smith, nor have I attempted to find and critical descriptions, so for all I know it’s a peice of crap. It is mainly the idea which excites me; despite being a print media work, the idea feels very new media. Bizarre juxtapositions are not a new concept (The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen jumps to mind), so I don’t overcredit the author of Zombies. When I first read about the novel, though, it made me think on the potential this idea has for hypertext. Using well known literature classics, one could integrate links to borderline incongrous subplots. Example: The USS Enterprise is involved in a time-traveling accident that sends it back to 17th century Massachusetts, showing that it was in fact James Kirk who fathered Pearl Prynne. Plenty of other genres and characters could be matched up through this format, as long as the author of the mash-up has the skill to integrate his own text with the original in a sensible, appealing way. Maybe I’ll give it a shot.

Mashups January 31, 2009

Posted by jmoran21 in Big Brother, Humor, Law, Perception, Tech.
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Tuesday was the first meet of New Media 2, and a sizable chunk of time was devoted to Twitter. My opinions haven’t changed much since my first exposure (useless to me, but a potential goldmine). Apparently others feel the same, if its estimated worth is any indication.

On its own, Twitter is just another Stalk-Lite tool of Web 2.0. It’s appealing as a broad ranging, persistent text message, appealing for all the same reasons. Text lets us put in more thought and personality, better conveying our chosen web personae. Lots of Twitter mashups exist that attempt to make some sense of the chaos- Tweet News and twittermap jump to mind.

My ideas for the killer twitter app:

Twitterbell: a flash animated Tinkerbell on an accumulator. The accumulator tracks the number of unique tweets that say “I don’t believe in fairies.” and “Clap!” If the “don’t”s ever outpace the claps by more than, lets say, 500, Tinkerbell dies a gruesome cartoon death.

Twittercraft: a pan-realm twitter client integrated with Blizzard’s World of Warcraft. It would be filterable based on realm, allegiance, clan, and topic, but carry over the foreign language barriers of the main game. The key stone would be a filter for “role-playing” tweets. Imagine, a torrent of harvestable info on the races of Azeroth. Finally, a way for the major corporations of today to make major inroads into the tricky “Male Orcs Age 18-24” demographic!

ETRS (Emergency Twitter Response Service): It’s only a matter of time before common practice grants toddlers a cell phone with texting priveledges before they master vocal communication. Before long, typing onto a mini qwerty keyboard will be our primary, fastest means of communication, and to better prepare for that day, its important we get the groundwork laid now. ETRS will monitor tweets from people in distress and will then promptly dispatch the proper authorities.

America’s Most Twittered: Similar idea, in reverse. Enlist the Twitter public in helping track down fugitives, stolen goods, and missing children. How simple would it be to at least add Twitter to the Amber Alert system?

Twittered and Found: Organize all tweets regarding lost and found items, goods, and even pets. If you see a stray, just tweet the word out with a description and its whereabouts.

Plenty more ideas where those came from, although to be honest some of those ideas might already exist and I’m just too nearsighted to find them.

Brings new meaning to the word… January 24, 2008

Posted by jmoran21 in Uncategorized.
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When I was just a tot, I got a chance to play a very high-tech virtual reality game that some guys were running in Boston’s Quincy Market. I don’t remember what it was called, but you basically climbed up onto an enclosed pedestal while wearing a bulky headset and holding something a lot like the nunchaku controller. The controller was responsible for movement and firing while the tilt of your head controlled your POV. Obviously at the time it seemed like I’d just stepped into some totally wild science fiction of the year 3000 shit. Even today, however, that sort of interaction is missing from our home computers and consoles. Would it surprise you, then, to learn that the technology for very similar (better?) experience is sitting in many homes across the globe? Behold mortals, what one determined geek can do with the Wii Remote.

My latest intfic… December 18, 2007

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intficFor the final project for New Media, I decided to go back to an earlier idea I had before “The Wretched Hive” that concerned itself with death. I thought about how many text games ended with player death, but none that I know of began there. So this was my concept when I began “You Have Died.” I wanted to evoke images of Planescape: Torment, another game that took an unusual approach to death. In YHD, you begin as an ethereal spirit, ascend “into the light,” and then enter a library filled with a cast of oddball characters. Conversation is the main play mechanic, with “x (name)” and “ask (name) about (topic in bold)” being pretty much all you need to complete the game. There are six different endings, depending on what books you read and which you found intriguing enough to ask about. I tested it pretty thoroughly, so I don’t think there’s any game-stopping glitches, but the walk-through is available after the jump.

New Media Principles:

Digital: Check. Modularity: All you need is a program to play it .zblorb files and it will work on any machine. Automation: Well, the game automatically plays with you, but it doesn’t allow for user creation of content, although that’s exactly what Inform is for. Variability: Check. I coded 6 endings, from simple epilogues to a chase/fight scene. You can progress through the Library any way you choose, out of the four compass directions. Transcoding: The game transcodes the act of reading a book into a digital experience, minus paper cuts.

(more…)

Guitar Heroics December 11, 2007

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I enjoy fiddling around with GH from time to time, but I’ve never brought myself to the actual investment point. 80$ for a game is a threshold I cannot cross, regardless of how much I want to be/already am a rock star. Still, I understand the draw, and also the perils that face those who plunge the depths of their soul for the resolve to master the game’s intricacies. Indeed, my father is a highly accomplished real musician, and I felt his scorn burning holes in my back as I clumsily strummed away at Monkey Wrench. That jabbing remark of “Why don’t you play a real instrument?” is in many ways echoed by the “Why don’t you make real money?” or “…friends?” or “…dysentery?” heard throughout gaming history. Tycho proposes that this argument is flawed from the start: that the simulation of the guitar has the potential to become a source of music creation. His points are valid and persuasive, but he seems to be overlooking, or at least downplaying, one very important thing: playing a live instrument is cool. This is not to say that a new generation of Guitar Hero born musicians will not spring up, on the contrary, I believe they may. But the real deal, the drums and the strings and all of it, will never lose its prestige over the simulation, just like Wii Golf won’t replace country clubs.

Pong December 11, 2007

Posted by jmoran21 in Games.
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Pong’s borders and boundaries utilize the edges of the screen. These are the necessary boundaries for the game due to the technical limitations at the time of its conception, but also as a gameplay element that makes it easy for new players to understand these boundaries. The rules are obvious, score points by bouncing the “ball” past your opponent’s paddle using timing and trajectory. The rules are fixed and constant; there is no point in which you must avoid the ball, for instance. The logic of Pong is geometrical, and almost anyone could grasp this after watching the game for a round or two. Pong’s emergence is evident in every game you play: no matter how many times two players play it is entirely unlikely they will play the same game twice. This is because the number of possible trajectories the ball can take, multiplied by the number of times the ball is bounced in the game is astronomical. The cultural impact of Pong is apparent in the number of people who identify with their paddle as a game character.

Mass Effect December 11, 2007

Posted by jmoran21 in Games, Uncategorized.
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One of the most hyped games of the fall was my biggest reason for taking the 360 plunge last month. Predictably, I’ve fallen victim to its siren song, and would gladly pursue the Geth to any number of backwater worlds for hours on end. Since Bioware is behind some of my favorite games (KOTOR and Baldur’s Gate 2 for example), I had high expectations for their first next gen effort. And while they seemed to have pulled a Molyneux on some really cool features, (dynamic interruptible dilogue, full control over party- err, squad-members) overall the finished product is gleaming, and may be the best storytelling, if not story, I’ve ever seen in a game.

Biggest change from previous Bioware titles: fully voiced protagonist. This makes a huge difference in how you perceive the game. First off, you spend a lot of time staring at your characters face, which makes it much more sensible to go with the default, most highly polished visage for your avatar. If the voice acting sucked, this feature would be worse than useless, but this is not so, luckily. In fact, as many reviews have stated, I find myself slogging through combat just to get to the next dialog tree. The elegant wheel of choices gives you just enough information about your next lines to make a semi-informed choice, but keeps it simple enough to be useful, as well as interesting to listen to.

While the galaxy’s worlds may be a little empty at times, it is way more expansive than the five-planet choice of KOTOR. Not to mention that driving around in the rover is eff you enn fun.

Renting Music December 11, 2007

Posted by jmoran21 in Morality, music, Perception, Tech, TV.
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As previously stated, I have a short, circular kind of attention span. Games come and go for me in an arc, which starts with mild curiosity, builds to an earth shaking hunger, then blazes into triumphant addiction for varying lengths of time, before sputtering out into ash and disdain 75% of the way through. Thus, a huge collection is not necessary for me, but getting ripped off by high-end pawn shops isn’t an appealing alternative. Gamefly (or any forthcoming competitor for that matter) is a great solution, because I get to play any game I want, basically when I want. I adopt a similar philosophy for music.

As someone who digitally came of age in the golden years of Napster and Kazaa, well, let’s just say we all did things we weren’t proud of back then. They were simpler times, what can I say? Now, I’m legit, though still short on means. The middle ground is a subscription to what I think of as music on demand, in the form of Rhapsody. I’ve used iTunes, of course, hasn’t everyone? But still, a dollar a song is pretty steep, regardless of what Doug Morris says. Anybody can do the math to see that for the 15 songs you buy in one month you could have gotten (mostly) unlimited downloads from any of the current competitor music stores, with the caveat that you don’t explicitly own the song. This is pretty much the future of entertainment, however, as most major networks have followed this model for their most popular shows (ad-supported rather than subscription based.) When bandwidth undergoes another paradigm shift over the next 10 years, and the line between computer and TV is blurred by the invention of new set-top boxes, consoles, and designer desktops, we’ll be getting all of our media this way.

The Vernacular of Heroes December 11, 2007

Posted by jmoran21 in Comics, Perception, TV.
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PetrellisGames and comics have a common characteristic: no matter how diverse the genres, level of quality, or creative talent behind them, repeated experiences will build a “vocabulary” of commonly used devices. This is how life long gamers can almost immediately decipher what on a given screen is interactive, or how a reader can easily follow comic panels with varying layouts. This even extends to within genre specific standbys and cliches, such as sniper rifles, loot, and super powers. The problem that faces Heroes is that the show must account for a large number of viewers who already know words like technopath, as well as a general audience completely naive of, say, the ins and outs of time travel.

While I think the writers handled this task quite well last season, that fact made it so much harder to see them lose their way in Volume 2. It’s not worth trying to point out the myriad examples of shoddy writing and plot holes. (Okay, just one: how do you manipulate a man who can read your mind?) I tried to isolate the general causes of this drop in quality, in the hope that the show could be saved through amputation.

1. Poor use of powers. Low budgets may account for the lack of special effects shots this season, but even the zero cost abilities saw little to no use in situations where they could be of great use (i.e. invisibility.) Obviously more time needs to go into considering what difficulties may assail the protagonists and the most logical way they would tackle said task. Also, do they even have a list of powers for Peter? It was definitely a mistake to give him the powers of anyone he comes into contact with, and I honestly think that if the show is to be saved, the prime-time viewing public is going to be introduced to one of the aforementioned comics staples: the retcon.

2. Lack of character development. Amnesia. Adolescent rebellion. Alternate personalities. In the museum of television, these things ought to have their own wings. Sometimes they can work, sometimes they are boring. Stagnant characters filled our screens this season, while a certain niece and uncle apparently just decided to have the same exact crises they’d had four months previously.

3. Sylar. I’ve previously gone on record saying Sylar isn’t evil. This was wishful thinking on my part, as the writers have turned what could have been something really unique into just another megalomaniac without a heart. Before, I saw madness, tragedy, hunger, and yes, even a chance for redemption in young Gabriel. Not rehabilitation, of course, but perhaps down the line some meaningful sacrifice could have brought him back from the dark hunger that transformed him overnight from a humble watchmaker into a wanton killer. Now this was the guy to give amnesia.

This is too long-winded, I could go on for pages. My main point was the show suffers because it’s like trying to translate an epic poem into junior-high reading level prose; the subtleties of the source format yield a far richer story when coupled with the experience of classical scholars. In the meantime, I feel like a history buff watching 300, unable to keep my mouth shut.

Ps: the good this season: Adam, Elle, and Matt freakin Parkman. How long after realizing he can control thoughts is he using it to brainwash his boss and rape dark secrets from people’s minds? So perfect. As long as Volume 3 follows this totally obvious and completely un-Professor X-ish descent, I’ll tune in every week.

Crime and Punishment November 19, 2007

Posted by jmoran21 in Games, Law, Morality, Perception, Tech.
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A politely incredulous anchor read this story on last Thursday’s Morning Edition:

Morning Edition, November 15, 2007 · A teenager faces charges of stealing furniture that doesn’t exist. The youth in the Netherlands was on one of those Web sites where you create virtual people to wander around virtual buildings spending what amounts to real money. You pay cash for credits to spend online. The 17-year-old allegedly stole $5,800 worth of imaginary furniture. Real police arrested him. They suspect other teens of receiving the stolen goods.

It’s a safe bet we’re talking about Second Life here. My own appreciation of Second Life has increased a bit since my last comment on the not-a-game, due mostly to a lecture I attended by The Tracer, a Second Life architect. So of course when I heard the wording of this story I was rather appalled by the seemingly “lighter side” slant of the reporting. What listeners will fail to realize, due in part to the sloppiness of the writing, is that “stolen goods” in SL are the valuable products of individuals, and that theft is not a part of gameplay, as a layman might assume from the tone of the story. I’ve heard some cool stuff on NPR about games in the past, but I guess they’re still alright with catering to the non-gamers in order to get a chuckle in between the real news.