Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The End

Somebody pooped in my sandbox.

I never thought of myself as the blogging type. In fact, my constant, repetitious overuse of the word "blog" comes from my discomfort with with the very idea. Or, more accurately came from that discomfort. You see, I've grown to quite like this blogging thing.

JakeyPen began as a way for me to keep in touch with the friends and family I left behind when I set off for DigiPen, and that's all it was ever meant to be. It started adventurously, with tales of leaving my old life behind and photographic tours of my new city, then quickly petered out. I didn't want to be the sort of person who fills the Internet with accounts of all the mundane banalities that make a day, but I found that it's these little things that are perhaps most important to who a person is. Keeping touch is not simply about the big, spectacular events, but the trivial thoughts and even the stretches of boredom.

Looking back at the last two years, it's been... something. Okay, I've hated it. There have been good times, certainly, but overall... yeah, I hate this place. I feel like I'm gaining nothing, losing plenty, and the entire experience has been shallow, empty, and isolated. This dumb little blog, though, has given me some connection to the real world. I've made a few friends, maybe communicated to a few people I already knew in a new way, and, if nothing else, the acts of thinking and writing something - anything - has had a certain soothing effect.

And now, it's over.

When I started this blog, I was given a choice - private or public. Would I require any readers to sign up for an account, be personally approved for readership, and login each time they wanted to learn my opinions of which cereals had the worst box designs? No. I made that choice, knowing that anything I wrote would be available for all the world to find and read. I made that choice, knowing that the one person in the world I didn't want to have any part in my life would one day find it. I knew this venture was doomed from the start, and I did it anyway, so I only have myself to blame if things didn't go the way I would've liked.

Everything happened as I knew it would. I don't know how long ago I was found, but I decided to stick to the commitment I'd made and finish the Blog-Off! Today is the end of the challenge, and so it is the end of JakeyPen.

A cliché sentiment, but a true one: I knew it would end one day, but I didn't expect to be so sad to see it go. I never knew I would grow so fond of blogging. The were plenty of times when I didn't want to write, but, as a whole, it's been fun.

It was fun. Now, it's just uncomfortable. For the majority of my readers, thank you, and I'm sorry to end it like this. I can't keep this up, though. It's too weird. What was a pleasant way to let you know what was happening in my world, or often an excuse for me to ramble all these words out of my mind and hands, has turned sour and awkward, though, and I'm done.

Endings are strange things, though. In real life, they don't happen. After I post this to the Web, I won't go anywhere, and there will still be words and pictures and songs inside me, as well as the need to let them out. JakeyPen is over, but Jake will live on. Even under different circumstances, I think I might be a little burnt out on blogging after two years and two long challenges, and I'm ready for a break. Don't you cry. Maybe I'll be back again someday with a private blog or under an untraceable pseudonym. Maybe the blogging chapter of my life really is done, and it's time for me to find some new angle. I don't know. At the moment, I don't care. Can you picture what will be, so limitless and free? I'll figure out something.

To the loyal fans and the occasional readers alike, thanks for the support. You've been the flaming wreck to my bent metal. It's been much nicer talking to you than it would be talking only to myself. Even here, at the end, the goal is the same as it was at the beginning - keep in touch with family and friends. If you're a new friend and you'd like to keep in touch when I re-emerge wherever and whenever that happens to be, leave a comment and we'll work something out.

Much love,

Monday, June 29, 2009

When I wrote my last post about Michael Jackson, I went back and forth on exactly what to say because I hadn't yet come to the conclusion of what to think. I ultimately settled on the few things I knew with certainty - he was one of the greatest entertainers of all time and he was unusual.

Now, time has passed and I've had time not only to think about it myself, but plenty of chances to talk to others and read their thoughts. It's left me with quite a few thoughts of my own; so many that I feel compelled to return to this subject; so many that I haven't quite sorted them all out, so my apologies if this gets a little messy and disjointed.

The most interesting viewpoints I've heard so far are not those that try to capture what Michael Jackson meant to the world, but to the individual. My own experience with Michael was probably not uncommon for people my age until recently. By the time I was born, he was already heading for his denouement, and by the time I was old enough to care, he was a surreal fantasy and easy punchline. Save for a few "Weird Al" parodies, the music had been lost in my concept of the man.

Make no mistake, Michael Jackson was bizarre, and an easy target, and I was content to leave him at that. I heard the hits, of course, but I paid them little mind. In fact, for much of my life, I was so swept up in the scandal that I would get uncomfortable at the very sound of any of his songs. You guys know me, though. You know I'm pretty big on thinking for myself. At some point, I thought I'd put aside all I knew and just listen to the music. I was blown away.

Over the past year or so, I've rapidly grown as a fan of the music, and beyond that, I've begun to reevaluate my relationship with Michael Jackson, the person. I'll state it once more, in no uncertain terms: Michael Jackson was a loon. He was crazy, but it's unfair to dismiss him as being only one thing. He was complex, to say the least. Certainly we can all agree that the man had more than one side.

Going back to my pre-fan days, I got really into ABC's "Living with Michael Jackson" special. Regardless of how things may or may not have been skewed to tell a dishonest story, that was some fine entertainment. To this day, it may be the most amusing television event of my lifetime. How long was that thing on? Like, a week? I was so excited every night, just dying to see what sort of madness Michael would have in store for me. That's the great thing about Michael Jackson - love him or hate him, he could find some way to entertain anyone, even if it was unintentional.

Maybe that comes across as a little mean. People say you're supposed to respect the dead, but I disagree. I'll get back to this a bit later.

Anyway, whilst undergoing my transformation into Michael fan, I looked the special up on YouTube, along with other interviews from across the years. I watched it again, and what I found was a very troubled person; someone who didn't seem quite like he was on the right world. Listening to him speak about diregarding age as a basis for friendship, or about how he had no greater pleasure in life than climbing a tree, and observing the interviewer's disbelief, discomfort, and disgust, mixed with a sort of restrained awe and jealousy made me think that maybe Michale Jackson was someone less bound by convention; someone who could see further, dismissed as an idiot and a freak in his time, only to one day be revered as forward-thinking and ahead of his time.

Still, he came across as a very troubled individual, and deeply damaged. As I said, in my introduction, though, I'm not terribly interested in pontificating on a distant figure, and I'd like to bring this back to Michael as he relates to my own life, though that, of course, warrants some mention of a holistic view. (If you want my take on Michael Jackson, the person, see the South Park episode, "The Jeffersons" - it's hilarious and spot-on. He wasn't a bad person, and people treated him too harshly, but he may have let his own personal problems get out of hand, probably at the expense of the people who were important to him.)

When news of Michael's death began to spread around the office, it was met with immediate jokes, and I have no problem with this. Once you enter the public eye, you are going to be subject to ridicule, and even if you're not, I think it's the idea that everyone has to be totally serious and respectful just because you're dead is... stupid. Death itself doesn't bother me. I'm not ready to die, myself. I don't believe in killing because I don't think I have the right to determine whether someone's life should end. Death itself, though? It happens. I'm not going to get too upset about Michael's death. He hasn't done anything in life that's affected me in years, so the act of his dying means nothing to me.

Obviously, though, I have a lot to say, and I've been doing a lot of thinking.

The picture at the top of this post is of Michael's iconic glove and jacket, worn during the live Billie Jean performance/Moonwalk debut atMotown 25.

The glove and jacket are on display at the Experience Music Project museum, and I didn't really know what Michael's death meant to me until seeing them. Outside the EMP, the ground was covered in sidewalk chalk messages and flowers, and inside were tables covered in paper and notes of sorrow. In the middle of it all stood a jacket and one white glove. Behind that, on an enrmous screen, played the above video. All around me was a crowd.

The death itself didn't get to me, but this did, watching all of those happy, screaming fans on the screen, and being surrounded by a captivated audience in a more bittersweet setting. I know from talking to them that my roommates aren't Michael Jackson fans, but they stood there, too, and I got the feeling that the moment meant something even to them. The connection, the solidarity - it was... moving.

There have been a lot of celebrity deaths over the past week, but I overheard someone at work talking about how this was different that events that have come before. This news seemed to travel faster than anything else ever before. Everyone knew within minutes. More amazing than that, though, was there was no question of "Who's Michael Jackson?" Farrah Fawcett died the same day, and though the name was certainly known, there were people who weren't quite sure why they should care. Not so with Michael.

This is an interesting point in history. With all of the blogs and Twitter and text messaging, news spread as quickly as it ever has before; not just pop-culture/celebrity news, but news of any kind. I take it as an indicator that we, as a society and species, have now crossed a line, and there's no going back. We know everything exactly when it happens. That's weird.

It's this same culture and technology that unifies us and grants us limitless knowledge which may have a very different effect. It's the end of mass media. We all know Michael Jackson because he dominated TV and radio. He was the King of Pop, and the last big star. This idea of a person completely dominating music is relatively recent, I believe. We've had Elvis and the Beatles and Michael Jackson. Has anyone else, ever, been the cause of such hysteria? With the fragmentation of the market and the democratic approach to finding fans over the Internet, trillions of cable stations, satellite radio, and MP3 players, will we have another? It's tough to say.

All of these things have, however briefly, turned back to Michael for now. A week ago, calling yourself a Michael Jackson fan was dangerous. His albums have continued to sell, and his upcoming tour had sold out, so obviously there were plenty of fans, but it seemed many were afraid to admit it. How often did you hear a Michael Jackson song on the radio in the past decade, even on '80s stations? How drastically things have changed in the last few days.

What I'm writing is not about Michael Jackson' death. It is not, despite what I said, about my personal connection to his music and life. This is about stories.

Life is not like most stories because it has no ending. Regardless of what happens, something will continue. The universe moves on. The closest we come to an ending is death.

I have to go to work in the morning and this is getting lengthy and unguided. I'm going to have to wrap it up tomorrow.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Breaking News! All Racial Tensions Solved Forever!

Thoughts From the Grocery Store

  • The checkout line seems like an odd place to make out.
  • The robotic voice of the shelf checkout scanner greets people with the line, "Welcome valued customer," and this is so eerie.
  • I want to buy every copy of the latest issue of Globe and wallpaper my room with the cover.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

No, Blog, No

I have not stopped moving all day with the exception of 45 minutes spent waiting for a bus.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Attention Smokers

Please don't smoke at bus stops. It's dumb.

Better yet, don't smoke anywhere where I am, or might be.

Or just don't smoke.

Ooh, on the subject of dumb things, I discovered a movie the other day called Gamebox 1.0, and you don't even know how dumb it is. It's about a video game tester (just like me!) who gets a new game system in the mail. He tries it out and it all seems too good to be true - it's the most realistic game console in the world! What he doesn't know is that it is real - if you die in the game, you die in real life! I've only watched the beginning so far, but I think I might watch the rest of it tonight. It's on YouTube, and I don't mean a pirated copy that someone illegally uploaded to the site; it's one of the select movies that YouTube has acquired the rights to legitimately host. Most of YouTube's movies are documentaries, public domain garbage, or movies so bad that the rights holder is willing to give them away over the Internet. This falls into the latter category so hard, and I love it for that.

Gamebox 1.0
This ain't no game!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

This Is the End of Your Life

Michael Jackson was one of the greatest entertainers of all time. Listen to his music. Watch his videos. Play his games. Speculate about his personal life and comment on his appearance if you must, but remember that regardless of his weirdness - and, yeah, he was a weird guy - he earned his place in history.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Attention Screenwriters

Please stop having your characters order "the usual." It's dumb.

Drugs Are Bad

Funny things I shouldn't have even tried describing to my mom over the phone:

Oh, You Make Me Dizzy

Of all the things in the heavens and earth, is there any other as disgustingly named as "Honey Bucket"?

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

A Fountain of Blood in the Shape of a Girl

I wrote a thing about how I'm becoming a Björk fan, but I didn't like how it turned out, so I deleted that and wrote this in its place. But, yeah, Björk's pretty cool. Listen to her.

The week is still fairly young, so we'll have to see how this goes, but I'm getting the feeling this is going to be a bad writing week for me. Shame, since the blog challenge is will be over next week. Hopefully things turn around before we reach the end.

Also, there are sick people all over my apartment, and I'm not sure any two of them have the same thing. I'm not the type that gets sick often, so I wasn't too worried about this, but I've been sneezing endlessly today.

I haven't read over what I wrote above, but I have fixed some typos. I bet there are a bunch more.

When you have a bad writing day, the best thing to do is keep writing. Bad writing loves company. The company of more bad writing. IT's in abundance here/

I'm done.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Reveresed Assumption Comics

I keep re-reading this comic from last week and it keeps making me laugh.

Sunday, June 21, 2009


Yesterday's adventure was averted. Tiffany has a few friends visiting from Texas, so we all went to the improv show together in his car, which is good because the bus I had planned on taking, in spite of what the Internet told me, wasn't running.

Today, all of us went "hiking." That was Robin's word for it. I'm not sure if it's my own naïveté or a matter of Robin's characteristic faulty lexicon, but "hiking" puts me in the mind of metal-harnessed backpacks, walking sticks, cargo shorts, and cranberry-filled granola bars. This falls more in line with my understanding of a picnic. We walked around a lake on a flat asphalt trail for thirty minutes before stopping at a wooden table to eat sandwiches. Still, the mountainous scenery was picturesque, getting to the locale required an hour drive each way, and the trail was positively rotten with the poop of various animals, so it felt like an Important Event, which I guess means Robin can call it whatever she pleases. I get the feeling that if Robin walked to the mailbox she would report the journey as a "hike," though.

Walking in poop is a weird thing. As for myself, I'm not down with it. Backtracking across the path, however, I couldn't help but notice how much flatter some of the piles seemed to be, and not on my account; I was quite careful with my steps. I pointed this out and was met unyielding defense and treated like I was the crazy person for not wanting to have the grooves of my shoes filled with beaver dookie. It made me glad that we don't wear our shoes in the apartment.

Oh, we had to be sure to be back to the apartment by 6:00 - Robin and Tiffany had a very important raid scheduled in World of Warcraft. Their guests have been exiled to the living room to watch a movie. By the way, Robin and Tiffany, to my knowledge, don't know that I blog, but they are quite aware that I ridicule them every chance I get. I mock because I love.

Overall, my thoughts on hiking: whatever. It was definitely pretty. No question. The thing is, everything is pretty out here. I see mountains and trees and rivers every day. I'm always happy for a chance to get away from Redmond and nerd-life for a little while, but driving an hour to see a pretty area seems strange when I see beauty all around me. Again, not a bad way to spend an afternoon, but as I write this, I'm sitting in my room, looking out my window, and seeing a far more beautiful sight:

The guy across the street took his Christmas lights down!

*I saw other Christmas lights on the drive to the lake.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

I Remember Searching for the Perfect Words

The reason I took a ride with strangers last night is the the bridge over Lake Washington, the bridge which connects Redmond and Seattle, was closed for an annual inspection. As it turned out, the buses stopped running early, before the bridge had been closed, which was why I was left stranded in the rainy Seattle night.

I'll be going back into the city tonight (I'm scheduled at the improv place), but this time I know for sure that the bus will not be going to my usual stop because the bridge is to be closed for the rest of the weekend. There's an alternative route, but I'll have to go to a different bus stop to get there. Naturally, I went to the local Metro Web site to plan the trip. I would expect the closure of a major freeway bridge into Seattle would be fairly important news, but, no, I've been searching the site and I can't find any mention of it. The site does have an automated "trip planner" - type in your starting point, destination, and when you'd like to leave or arrive and it will tell you which buses to take. The only problem is that it's telling me to take buses over the bridge to bus stop which are closed.

Fantastic. I get to have an adventure.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Leo, Kim, and Claire

These are the names of the people with whom I rode back to Redmond when the bus didn't arrive, but it's okay - I know their names know, so it's not like I was getting in a car with strangers. Besides, they offered me some awesome candy.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

What a Week

Guhhhhh. All I want to do is lie in bed and watch a dumb sitcom. I must thank the library yet again for making that possible.

I can't wait to watch the Shredder throw DJ Jazzy Jeff out the front door! Man, that's gonna be hilarious. By the way, did you know that the seventh episode of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air was a clip show? It's especially good on a DVD set when you might watch several episodes in a row. It's fun to nostalgically reminisce about the episodes I watched the night before.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

If You Need Directions, I'll Be Your Guide

If you read this blog or know me in real life, you're likely aware that I want to make video games, but gamemaking is a big field, and it's quite possible that you've missed specifically which role I would most like. Really, my desired field is not just video games, but entertainment as a whole, and video games are my top priority at the moment. Anyway, within the wide world of entertainment and video games, among the many jobs I'd love to try, my first choice would be directing. Oddly, it seems directing is a largely ignored part of gamemaking. When I tell people that I want to direct, I'm typically met with quizzical looks and questions like, "Huh?" "Why?" or "Directing video games? Is that a real job?"

It exists, but is not the kind of thing anyone teaches, so I'm left picking up what I can from notes on directing in other fields, which leads me to a book I just finished, entitled, Notes on Directing.

It's incredible. I almost left it on the shelf at the library, but I'm so glad I didn't. I'm thinking about getting a copy of my own for reference. It's this tiny, condense, plainly-written book that makes so many difficult, abstract concepts and methods that have always impressed me about great directors into little tips and reminders. I can't believe how much I've learned in about 100 pages. It's an astonishing book and one I highly recommend.

I know that's a weird recommendation - how many of my readers want to be directors? - but while it is very specifically written about directing for the stage, the skills of a good director can be carried over into acting, teaching, coaching, management, and plenty of other jobs. Even if you'd just like a bit of insight into how a play is created and what a director does, it's worth reading. It has me really pumped for teaching my improv class again when summer ends, which is weird, because I don't want summer to ever end.

Amazon will allow you to read the table of contents (click "LOOK INSIDE!"), which should give you some idea of whether or not this would be of interest to you. I was totally sold before I even finished that much, so I'm probably on the right path with the choice to pursue directing.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Sing, Sing a Song

This weekend was all about spending money on musical stuff. Rather than relay the entire drawn-out affair today, though, I'll get straight to the point. After what must've been a few years of looking, I found some audio recording equipment for super-cheap, so now it looks like I better make some music.

No video here, just the sound of my guitar.

Being able to record audio is extremely useful when you have some need to record audio. I, unfortunately, do not have such a need at this time, so I'm just messing around right now. The above is almost entirely improvised, which is why it sounds as messy as it does; it was only a mindless test to see what I could do with my new toys, recorded this weekend. There are a few chords in there from an unfinished song I wrote, too, but this is in no way representative of what that song might sound like if I ever do finish it.

Songwriting is one of those things to which I haven't devoted much time, and, as a result, I'm not great at it. I've played around a little, but never gotten very serious about it. Having the means to actually record songs now has awoken some urge to write, but the results are, so far, nonsense. My general approach is to let my subconscious take care of the lyrics and leave the music to my fingers, leaving me with weirdo gibberish. For instance, here's a bit of another song* I started writing last night at an hour when normal people would be sleeping. In this case, I was thoughtlessly strumming my guitar and came across a fairly pleasing sound, then started mumbling along until the following placeholder words fell out of my mouth.

Chocolate-lover, movie-lover, peperoni pizza lover
Pillow, mattress, sheets, and covers
Paper, Scissors, Rock

*The word bit, that is, not the music part. I haven't recorded it, so there's nothing for you to hear.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Snow Dream

I replaced my dearly departed CD player this weekend (R.I.P.). I ended up going with a simple red Sony Walkman, just $4 at Value Village - what a steal.

I didn't want to make such a hefty purchase without properly weighing my options, though. First, I looked at the local department stores, expecting that the near domination of the personal music player market by MP3 players would reduce CD players to insignificant prices, but, no, instead it's just made them harder to find. Even online, the costs and selections are pretty weak, so it was off to Value Village, then back to my apartment to look up reviews of the CD players I'd found at the store, then back to the store, this time with my headphones and a pair of batteries so I could test all of the players firsthand.

Jeez, I'm a freak.

Whatever. I got a classy CD player for four bucks.

Anyway, I needed a CD with which to test the CD playing capabilities of the available CD players, so I went to the CD shelf and grabbed the album with the prettiest cover. I found a picture of it online, but I assure you, the case is much, much prettier in real life.

If you were wondering, no, this story isn't going anywhere. See, this is the trouble with forcing yourself to blog everyday.

Oh, wait - something interesting did happen today - a guy at work made an Opti-Grab reference. I laughed. It was the best pizza in a cup ever.

Back to the story: While testing the stack of CD players, I heard this ridiculous song many times and now it won't leave my head. I can only hope I have the fortitude to resist the urge to go back and buy the CD.

Blogs are stupid.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Regarding the Winking Emoticon

Also known as "semi-colon close parenthesis."

I can't remember the last time I winked at anyone, and I don't receive many winks, either. So why do so many people on the Internet feel the need to pictorially represent a smile and a wink?


Buy All Our Playsets and Toys

I just had an idea for a toy-type thing. This just popped into my head, so it's not yet fully formed, but I wonder if the concept could go somewhere.

My initial thought was to team up with LEGO, but there's no reason it couldn't be it's own thing. Assuming that it is LEGO-like, though, here's the idea... What's a playset, really? Some of the cooler ones do stuff - they have trap doors that action figures can drop down, or they shoot cannon balls or something - but, essentially, they serve as a sort of backdrop for the adventures of action figures. Playset - the set for the play your action figures perform. So you have the architecture and the visual theme. Generally, these tie in with the theme of some specific set of action figures. Most kids I've known had a bunch of action figures (or dolls), but only a few playsets. So, for example, let's say you're really into the Turtles, and you get a bunch of Turtles action figures, and for Christmas, your big present is the Technodrome. Then, let's say a few months later, you get a Bucky O'Hare figure for your birthday. Well, that's fine, they're both big, green, antropomorphic heroes, so you stick Bucky in with the Turtles and they all battle Shredder together in the Technodrome. Great. Now a few years go by, and you have Turtles and Bucky O'Hares and G.I. Joes and Trasformers and Little People all jumbled together, but the only place they every get to go is into the Technodrome from the Turtles' universe. That playset was really expensive, too, so you can't expect your parents to get you something new every time you get a different kind of action figure in your Happy Meal. It's the predicament of every middle-class 3-10 year old in Western society, but what do you do?

Making your own environments out of other materials is an option. You can make something out of... hmmmm... Legos. The trouble is, though, that things made out of Legos tend to either look like some specific LEGO theme (City, Space, Harry Potter, etc.) or like the generic LEGO theme of red, blue, and yellow bricks. Playsets made in this way may work architecturally, but they'll be second-class visually. You can make a playset out of something like cardboard, and draw on it and paint it until it looks right, but that can be a lot of effort and the results are generally not as arcitecturally sound.

So here's my solution: LEGO "What's Her Face". Basically, dry-erase Legos. Now, for all I know, Legos can already be used with dry erase markers. Not a problem. As with so many LEGO varieties, it's all about marketing. Put a bunch of white Legos in a box, throw in an assortment of dry erase markers and an eraser. Add in a few "gimmick" pieces - hinged pieces for trap doors little see-saws to use as catapults - and package additional gimmick sets in smaller boxes, along with additional markers. Produce a decent commercial. Make a trillion dollars.

Again, this could be any kind of sturdy, simple construction toy. They key is the ability to draw on it, erase it, knock it down, and create something new. Market it as the last playset parents will ever have to buy, and a creative, imaginative toy in it's own right.

Please don't steal my ingenious idea. If you do, at least give me a few billion dollars when you're rich. Thanks.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

When God Closes a Door, He Opens a Window

Wait a second...

Windows open from the inside. So... God is shutting himself in a room? And he still wants a breeze, I guess?

I think I've been misinterpreting that saying, unless the lesson is that you should sneak into God's room through the window when he's not looking, in which case I'm still confused.

Religion, you so crazy.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Whale Magic

I'll try to get a real post up later today, but for now, here's something cool:

Life size blue whale image.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Every Day Is an Ordinary Day

My big accomplishment for the day was that I made it to level 3 in Donkey Kong for the first time. I was pretty proud of myself.

My department only has a half-day of work tomorrow, but I'll be working at the improv place during the night, and Saturday night, as well.

The dude across the street still turns on his Christmas lights every night.

Here are some exclamation points: !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Whatever Happened to Dear Old Lenin?

In case you've forgotten, we, as a species, are freaking weird.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

How Do You Own Disorder?

I really shouldn't have to tell you people this, but apparently my particular brand of common sense doesn't come so readily to everyone: Quit buying things you don't want or need. To be a little more clear, just because something is cool and trendy and popular doesn't mean you want it. That's something you should decide after thinking about this hot new item. Remember thinking? It's back, and it's groovier than ever. Try it. Remember, thinking should come before buying.

My beef (for today's blog post, at least) is with "High Definition." Let's start with HDTVs.

You don't need one. First of all, can you really tell the difference between standard definition and high definition? I'm not saying that there is no difference; just that most people are not sensitive enough to television picture quality to justify the added expense of an HDTV. As a freaky geek, I do notice such things quite readily, and, honestly, standard definition TVs look better in many cases. There are times when HD is undoubtedly better, but generally it either looks similar or worse. Your computer monitor is "HD." This is good because you sit right by it and need to be able to make out fine details like little words. This paragraph would be tough to read on a standard definition TV, but you know what? That's okay. Most people sit across the room from their TVs. The minor blur gives the picture a more organic look. Video games, especially, benefit from having their harsh digital edges smoothed out.

The other thing is that so many people who have HDTVs don't know how to use them. They don't buy the right cables, the don't set the TV up correctly, and they don't have access to HD content, all of which invariably mean the picture looks worse than it would if they would just use a regular TV. I love people watching low-resolution, stretched-out shows, remarking about how great their new LSD flat screen is. People buying things they don't need and that they don't understand. God bless capitalism.

Worse still are HD-DVDs and BluRay Discs. The progression from VHS to DVD was meaningful. While DVDs have their problems, compared to VHS cassettes they tend to have significantly superior picture and audio quality, they're cheap to produce, they take up less space, they don't wear out due to normal usage, and they have enough capacity to hold a full movie and an assortment of bonus features. When was the last time you saw a VHS with director's commentary?

HD-DVDs and BluRay Discs have... slightly better resolution than DVDs, which is unnecessary, since DVDs are pretty much the only things that look decent on an HDTV. Oh well, at least the discs and their players are more expensive than DVDs, and the selection of available movies is smaller. Hmm. Still, the great thing about HD and BluRay is that they have far more capacity than DVDs, so we can have... commentary on director's commentary? Really fancy interactive menus.

HD-DVDs aren't really around anymore. For a while, there was a lot of talk amongst people who care about such things over whether HD-DVDs would win, or BluRay. The manufacturer (I can't remember who it was) of HD-DVDs soon gave up the fight, and people started telling me that BluRay had won. I was confused. The only definitive conclusion I had reached was that HD-DVD had lost. BluRay, I argued, simply hadn't lost yet. If there was any winner, it was the DVD.

That was several years ago, and so far, I've been right. Do you know anyone who watches BluRays? What's the point? Sony keeps insisting, even now, that sales of the PlayStation 3 are going to explode any day now and surpass the Wii because the PlayStation 3 has a built in BluRay player, and that's what people really want.

In this case, BluRay provides us with a fine example of what we should continue doing - not buying inferior, worthless things that we don't want. For those of you who did get suckered into an HDTV, can I ask: Why?

Monday, June 8, 2009

I have this kind-of friend type person at work - a work-friend, really. Not the sort of person I hang out with on the weekends, but someone with whom I can idly chat while at work. You know the type.

Anyway, he and another of my work-friends were talking and it came up that he writes and makes funny videos online, so I looked him up today. To my surprise, his videos really are funny, and so is his writing, and beyond that, they're both done well. To be perfectly honest, we're talking about him recoding himself talking about video games on a personal digital camera, and his writing has a few lazy blogger tendencies - the personal pronoun "I" being written with a lowercase letter, and the like - but you get the impression that if he was doing more professional work and making an effort to polish all the details, he could do a fine job, indeed.

I know from talking to him that he does have a bit of moviemaking and editing experience (you may have even seen some of it), though he's obviously working with me in product testing at the moment. However, his site reveals that he's actually an aspiring screenwriting, and he's currently fixing up a feature length script.

It got me thinking about how how it's possible to make smalltalk with a person for a month and still know nothing about who they truly are or what talents they hold.

It also reminded me of something I mentioned a few days ago; that I am a much better writer than you'd suspect from reading my blog, but I never do anything to prove that, to you or to myself. Another few weeks of this challenge and maybe, after a little break, I'll start to think of some other way of employing the written word.

Bonus Fun Fact: My spell checker claims that "today" is not a word. Overruled, spell checker.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

JakeyPen: The Greatest Blog on the Web

Nicole lost yesterday.

You might think that makes me the Shiny Buttons Blog-Off! winner because you are a know-nothing ignoramus. No offense. While Nicole's loss does make me the last remaining contestant, the challenge is to continue blogging everyday for the rest of the month. So, just to be clear, I will win, but I have not yet.

Everyone else has lost, though.

Saturday, June 6, 2009


I just spent an hour waiting for a bus! Woooooooo! Bus stop benches are perfect for long periods of sitting.

So I watched The Toxic Avenger earlier today, and let me just say, you know you're dealing with a good movie when the DVD cover boasts a claim like "Featuring the full 'HEAD CRUSHING' scene." You know you're dealing with a great movie when you finish watching and have to wonder exactly which "HEAD CRUSHING" scene they meant. In fact, the only thing that could make a movie like that better would be if it had spawned a Saturday morning cartoon. Oh wait.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Stop Making Sense

Though I haven't been writing about it, I've still been on my library kick lately, thought it's now returning to the state of being a standard part of my week, as the library should be. Anyway, in my latest stack of check-outs was a DVD of Pee-Wee's Playhouse episodes. Along with being one of the greatest shows ever on television, it has one of the greatest theme songs, which I shall now quote in full:

Come on in, and pull yourself up a chair (like Chairry!)
Let the fun begin, it's time to let down your hair!
Pee-wee's SO excited,
'cause all his friends have been invited (that's you!)
To go wacky, at Pee-wee's Playhouse!

There's a crazy rhythm, comin' from Puppetland (what that?)
Dirty Dog, Cool Cat, and Chicky Baby are the Puppet Band (yeah!)
He's got a couple of talkin' fish,
and a genie who'll grant a wish -
Golly, it's cuckoo at Pee-wee's Playhouse!

Globey's spinnin', Mr. Window's grinnin',
'cause Pterri's flyin' by (hello!)
The Flowers are singin', the Picture Phone is ringin',
and the Dinosaur family goes, "Hi!"
Mr. Kite's soarin', Conky's still a snorin',

there's the flashing Magic Screen,
The Cowntess is so classy, Randy's kinda sassy -
A nuttier establishment you've never seen!
Spend the day with Pee-wee and you'll see what we mean! (Come on!)

Get outta bed, there'll be no more nappin'! (Wake up!)
'Cause you've landed in a place where anything can happen -
Now we've given you fair warnin'!
It's gonna be that kind of mornin' -
For bein' wacky!
For getting nutty!
Golly, it's cuckoo!
At Pee-wee's Playhouse!

(Thanks to Paul-Reubens.net for the lyrics)

Now, obviously, the song is riddled with direct references to characters from the show, but beyond that, what a great way to start your Saturday morning! What a fantastic message for kids or anyone else! It's a message that's carried throughout the whole show - life is fun, so spend some time with your friends and go crazy. That is a real positive message. It seems like all the Saturday morning shows these days try so hard to be serious and tell dramatic stories and teach moral lessons, but what message is better than "let down your hair... anything can happen"?

* * *

To close out E3 week, here's a game I don't think I've ever mentioned on this site, but one that I've been following for quite some time. It's called Scribblenauts, and I'm incredibly impressed by it. For all the talk lately of 3D cameras and "Vitality Sensors," it appears the thing that's impressed me most on a technical level is a game with a keyboard and simple graphics running on the DS. It's a type of puzzle game in which you must help your character reach... something. I don't know. How do you accomplish this goal? Anyway you want. Type in almost any noun and that thing will appear on the screen for your character to use. You might wonder what "almost any noun means," and it means just that. There's nothing which might be considered innapropriate for some age groups, and no copyrighted items, but short of that, you can seriously write almost anything. Apparently, the big challenge at E3 has been to try to stump this game. Not easy:

Thursday, June 4, 2009

It's Too Hot For Clever Titles

I accidentally broke my CD player this morning. Also broken: my heart. At least I broke it close to the end of the week, as I'm not sure I could get through a full work week without it. Looks like I'll be buying another one when I'm out this weekend.

I'm really upset about this. That CD player lasted a long time. I don't know if I've mentioned it here before, but I lost half my CDs a few months ago (a polite way of saying they were stolen) and I haven't been the same since. Is it time to get an MP3 player? Not now, but I'm not happy with my recent CD luck.

- - -

A thought I had today: I haven't seen Steve Urkel in any goofy/retro commercials. What's the deal? Doesn't he seem like the type who should be selling us cell phone plans alongside Mr. T and William Shatner and Alf? So my question is, has no one else thought of this, or does Jaleel White have enough integrity to turn down offers?

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

What Am I Blogging For?

It's a question that's been on my mind. How much longer will I keep doing this? I don't know. For now, I'm blogging because of goal I've given myself with the Blog-Off!, which concludes in less than a month. On thing I've always said about blog challenges is that I like being motivated to write something, anything, every single day, but lately I've found that rather than necessarily improving my writing abilities, it's made me far more sloppy. Perhaps there will be a net-positive effect from this in the future, but for now, I'm disappointed in the bad habits that have become the norm in my writing. The meandering sloppiness is probably indicative of more things in my life, but I still don't feel like, at this moment, anyway, daily writing is helping me much. I won't say that I'm a great writer, but I'm better than what you see here.

Just something that's on my mind. I'll be finishing up the challenge (in first place, no less), and I doubt I'll enter full bloggy retirement after that - I may even do another blog contest someday - but I feel like I need to reconcile my relationship with writing. We'll see where this train of thought goes.

Chill Out

Sun, you know you're my boy, and we's tight, you're too freakin' hot. It's summer; I get that, but please cool down.

Continuing with my E3 obsessing this week, there weren't any big announcements today, so I've had some time to wander the Internet and read what the kids online are saying about all the upcoming games. Reading blogs and Internet comments always leaves me a bit exasperated, but there's something about the stuff I've been reading today that just leaves me depressed. I just can't identify with the vocal, enthusiast video game players anymore. The "hardcore gamers" as they call themselves. Anyone who would willing, proudly assign themselves a title like that is not okay with me.

They're the ones who most likely to follow E3 video game announcements and write about video games. They're the types that are going to speak the loudest, the ones whose opinions will be most prevalent online. They're obviously not the only ones playing video games, but they like to think that they are, and they do a great job of convincing many game developers and publishers that they are. As someone entering this business (and it's rapidly looking more like a business than an artistic field), it truly bothers me.

I was thinking about explaining in detail what sort of popular thoughts are floating around that are bringing me down, and maybe I will some time, but not now. I feel weird enough about turning this blog into "Nerdy Video Game Rant Central" for the week without boring you with the details of paradigm shifting in this industry.

I know I'm not leaving you, dear readers, with a very compelling read tonight, but I know that if I get started on this stuff, I'll be up all night ranting, and the resultant hastily-written, stream-of-consciousness nerd-speak won't be any better.

To put it as simply as I can, I'm very pleased with what Nintendo is doing - mostly creative, lovingly-made, diverse games and software (and hardware). There are some things coming out of Microsoft and Sony which, while absolutely unappealing to me, will make somebody happy. That's great. I want nothing to do with any of it, but I'm glad there are games for tastes other than my own. What does bother me is how much there is that's unoriginal, focus-testing-driven, generic, and/or ripped-off from other games and hardware. What's worse is the masses that swear these are the only kinds of games that deserve to exist. It's selfish. It's ignorant. It's shallow and philistine, and from what I'm hearing, few people - fans, journalists, or developers - seem to care that their being swindled. On the contrary, they delighted welcome the fall of creativity and fun.

There are as many brilliant, amazing games coming out as ever before, and the companies I like best are mostly sticking with the sort of philosophies and games that made me think so highly of them in the first place, but it's the people who claim to be video game fans who have been on a long decline, and I think I've finally hit my tipping point where I must step away and say I'm not one of them. I don't what that means, exactly - I still obsess about video games, I still want to make games, and I never called myself a "gamer" - but I've been feeling gradually, increasingly distanced from this crowd for so long that I didn't notice how far from them I'd drifted. Or maybe I've stayed in the same place and they left me where I've always been. That seems more likely.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Oh, Snap!

To the great surprise of absolutely no one who keeps up with things like this...

So, I'll admit it - this is pretty impressive. Very early, very rough, but there's potential here. It's doing some things that Wii isn't, and while they're not showing any real games, or even solid ideas for games - there's nothing as flashy as Milo, for instance - I get the impression that Sony's thought a little more about the application of this technology within video games than Microsoft has. It's still not going to make a dent in the sales of Wii, though, and for the same reason Natal's going to flop.

Free business tip, Microsoft and Sony: Learn to innovate.

Meanwhile, Nintendo proved to be the worst employer on Earth. Ostensibly, I give Nintendo fourty hours of my life each week in exchange for money, but today they've told me that I have to give back all my money. They didn't exactly put it in those terms, but they did announce a bunch of games that I will have to buy. I have no choice. Some of these games are essential to my survival.

Like I said, I won't comment on any specific games, but I will say generally, well done, Nintendo. There's nothing like a camera (there's the Wii MotionPlus, which will significantly increase the accuracy of the Wii Remote, but that was announced last year). There's nothing truly innovate, which is perhaps disappointing, but not really necessary, and a safe move in a rough economy. What Nintendo does have over the competition is a selection of games that I want to play; games which I will pay real money to purchase. Fun games. I'll take fun over sci-fi technology any day.

By the way, "Oh, snap!" is the dumbest phrase I've ever heard. I want to punch myself for using it.

Monday, June 1, 2009

I Don't Like Milo, Not at All

"Science-fiction writers... filmmakers... They haven't imagined what we're able to do today," says gamemaker Peter Molyneux in the video below. I used to think Molyneux was one of the greatest in the field of video games until I noticed that none of his games were actually that good. He's developed a reputation as someone who over-hypes his own games. There's a common argument that he really does make great games; they just can't live up to the impossible expectations he creates. I disagree. He makes decent games. They tend to be sort of fun if you can get around the fact that they're always overly ambitious, poorly designed, and unfinished. To give you a point of reference, if my readers have played any of his games, it would probably be Black & White, which fits all of these descriptions.

Today, he was onstage at Microsoft's E3 press conference. E3, the Electronic Entertainment Expo, is the biggest annual video game trade show, where all of the biggest upcoming video games are announced. Microsoft's biggest announcement today was "Project Natal," which is some stupid camera/microphone thing that I hate.

"Science-fiction writers... filmmakers... They haven't imagined what we're able to do today." Yes, Pete, they have. The difference is that they usually skip a few steps ahead in their stories to a few years later, when the last band of free humans is desperately struggling against the repressive robot overlords. I don't know; maybe he's never seen a movie or read a book like this before. Spoiler Alert: There's usually a message in there about how we shouldn't build creepy robots with thoughts and feelings.

Even putting aside that this is the first step in the extinction of our species, does anybody actually want that? Is that not seriously freaky? Does it look fun or desirable in any way?

This idea of a direct communication game is nothing new. The Project Natal camera looks very similar to the Sony EyeToy, which was nothing new either (you've probably played around with a motion-sensing camera at a museum or someplace). The idea of talking to a virtual friend via microphone has also been done plenty of times, and, as far as I can tell, in more compelling ways. Hey You, Pikachu! was a good idea (though, I'll admit, a bad game) because it was made at the peak of Pokémon hysteria. Between the games, the toys, and the TV show, half the kids in my generation wanted nothing more than a Pikachu of their own. Nintendogs has become one of the best selling games of all time because it offers you an adorable pet with none of the hassle of a real dog. Seaman is beyond creepy, but it's a game that accepted and embraced its creepiness.

This is just some kid who's supposed to trick you into treating him like he's real. Pure Uncanny Valley.

Also bizarre is that they're trying to pass this video off as if what you're seeing is totally unplanned. Bragging about how Milo is so affecting that Claire "felt the need to reach down for those goggles." "This wasn't acted." What? First of all, yes, it was acted. No one would speak so natually to a video game if they weren't acting, and even if she wasn't an actor, if you lnow you're playing a game that uses a camera and a character in the game throws something at you, you'll try to catch it. If you watch a 3D movie and the character starts jabbing a stick in your face, that doesn't mean the technology, or, more importantly, the movie, is any good.

"...that thing in our hands, that thing that's evolved in our hands, and got more and more complex, and got more and more buttons actually has been the biggest barrier to what we want to create." This is... sad. This is the same exact thing that Nintendo said (more eloquently) years ago, while developing the DS and the Wii. They said video game controllers had gotten to complex for most people to use, that they had too many buttons, and that they'd evolved in a way that excluded all but a select group of enthusiasts from playing video games. They said there were more opportunities for what a game could be and who could play games.

When Nintendo said these things, the video game industry laughed. Believe it or not, most video game fans, journalists, analysts, and developers said the DS would be unsuccessful; that it would be outsold by the PSP, while, in fact, the opposite turned out to be true, and by a large margin. Before the release of Wii, the same prediction was made, this time that the PS3 would be the best-selling home system, followed by the Xbox 360, with Wii in a distant third. This prediction was so very wrong.

If people like Peter Molyneaux really believed that simple, intuitive, interactive controls were the most important possible advancement in gamemaking, why didn't he try making Wii games? Even the DSi, which has been out for more than half a year in Japan, has a camera and a microphone built in, as well as a screen which allows direct interaction and tactile feedback. Why didn't Molyneux make a DSi game, or an iPhone game? Because he didn't really think that. Why did it take Microsoft 3 1/2 years to announce motion controls for the Xbox? Because they never thought anyone would want motion controls.

It's incredibly cynical. The industry turned against Nintendo. Nintendo was wildly successful. All the while, the industry is ripping off Nintendo at every possible chance. The big difference is that cynicism. Nintendo released the Wii with WiiSports, a great game that benefited from a new control scheme. It was hugely innovative. Project Natal is a disingenuous imitation, and Microsoft still has the gall to take shots and Nintendo. If I haven't lost you yet - and there's a good chace I have with a post this long - check out the video below and listen for the crowd response when the arrogant jerk onstage takes a not-so-subtle shot at Nintendo's "waggle" controls.

The whole thing is an attempt to get a pice of the Wii Sports/Wii Fit crowd, but you know what I think? It's no secret that a lot of the Wii audience is composed of people who either stopped playing games many years ago, or who never played games. I don't think those people bought a Wii because it has motion controls. I think they bought it because it was a system designed with them in mind. The motion controls weren't the selling point; it was the philosophy, the idea that someone was making games with you in mind. Games that weren't about fairies or muscle-bound dudes with huge guns. Games that are fun for anyone, whether you've played games all your life or you've never tried one before.

The technology behind Natal is impressive, and not without potential, but it's ultimately going to fail because it's not being created with any true philisophical reasoning or understanding or even any innovation from a business perspective. It has no Wii Sports, or any other compelling software. Most of all, it has no heart.

Forgive today's length. I feel like I always write too much or too little, and E3 week is a time when I like to let myself geek out. Tomorrow morning is Nintendo's press conference, followed by Sony's. As someone working at Nintendo, it's probably safest for me to decide right now not to comment on what Nintendo shows, but I'm sure Sony will announce something stupid. There's a lot of buzz about a PS3 motion-based controller/camera, and given Sony's inability to keep a secret lately, I'd be surprised if that doesn't turn out to be true.