Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Kids and Media Panel Discussion

I get to do some of the most interesting things! I got to be on this cool panel at the Children's Museum, where the other panelists were: Judy Slatky (who puppeteers Alice the Snuffalupagus), Jim Martin (director of Sesame Street, and voice of Gary Gnu from the Great Space Coaster), and Kris Boban (animator at Animal, who worked on Yo Gabba Gabba). It was totally fun! Everyone had smart things to say, and they were all so nice!

Joe Wos put it together, so you know it was good!

We Sing, We Dance, We Steal Things.

Nyra likes him, and I can't say I don't like Jason Mraz, but I can never remember any of the songs after I hear them.

Monday, June 29, 2009


Knoebel's is an absolutely magical place. I was there twenty-five years ago, and was astonished to find it had a carousel where you could grab for a ring -- just iron ones, no brass ones, but still. On whim, I took the family there recently, expecting it to be greatly changed -- and I was shocked to find it was exactly the same! Even the carousel still let you grab rings but now, they put a brass one in the with the iron ones, and I ACTUALLY GRABBED THE BRASS ONE on my first try! It felt like some kind of weird destiny. Vortices of temporal waves were swirling around that moment, I could feel it.

It really is a beautiful park, well-kept and the quaintest I have ever seen -- it really is like travelling back in time. I can't wait to go back to see the Flying Turns coaster, when it is complete -- a coaster with NO TRACK -- more like a crazy bobsled. It's based on some ancient design, and the workmen on it looked more like boatwrights than anything else. Well worth the trip!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Treehouses and Playhouses You Can Build

Oh, yeah -- this is so totally happening. It's a strange book, because you have to read it in a kind of non-linear way, but that's a good thing, because you will have to formulate your treehouse plan non linearly. It's a really good book, with very clear, straightforward advice, inspirational pictures, and sample plans. We're totally going to do it this summer! Now if I can just figure out the tube slide...

Zee Avi

This is pretty, intelligent, and fun!

Sunday, June 7, 2009

The Games We Played

A pleasing collection of reminiscences of childhood games from a bunch of famous people. It was nice how many of them are about the same things, and how childhood games don't seem to change much. Here's the formula: games that kids make up themselves, play only when parents aren't around, and involve an element of danger. I don't know why that's the formula, but it is, and there's magic in it.

R. Crumb and his Cheap Suit Serenaders: Number 2

Something about the Serenaders always makes me feel like I'm at home. I know it's not supposed to make a difference, but they just sound better on vinyl.

The Art of War

Someday, I'll make a collection of all the "The Art of" books. This is a book I've been meaning to read for ages. I tried once before, but it didn't hold my interest. Surely, in audiobook form, read by Joe Montegna, it will be more interesting, right? Okay, not so much. I mean, it wasn't bad, and at least it was short. So much of it rings true -- my favorite quote, by far:
In general, in battle one engages with the orthodox, and gains victory through the unorthodox. Thus, one who excels at sending forth the unorthodox is as inexhausible as heaven, as unlimited as the Yangtze and Yellow Rivers.
So, the book itself is short -- only about 90 minutes of reading. Sadly, there is another 150 minutes of commentary, which was mind-numbingly dull. It did, however, move me to compose a poem:

Thoughts inspired by Ralph D. Sawyer's commentary on Sun Tzu's The Art of War

is boring.


Malcolm Gladwell does it again! I wish I could write about important things so lucidly -- and so often! This book will keep the world thinking for a while, I have to say! The short summary is that hard work, environment, and luck are what make people successful, more so than innate ability. Also, lots of talk (and evidence) that 10,000 hours working on something makes you into a world-class expert at it. At first I thought maybe I've got 10,000 hours of juggling in, but adding it up, it only comes to 3 or 4 thousand. Now, game design, that's something else... to my surprise, I have something like 35,000, when I add it up! Jeez, you'd think I'd be better at it.

Oh! And the idea of the Power Distance Index was worth the whole book.

E3 2009

Oh, E3, we missed you so! So good to have your noisy self back. Every conversation there this year was "active, active, Natal, active, active, active." I hope Natal is enjoying its time at the top of the hype cycle, and I'm glad to say it seems resilient enough to survive the long way down. This will be an interesting couple years for games, thank goodness!

For me, the coolest part of the show was Scribblenauts. Keep an eye on that thing!

Ollie Hopnoodle's Haven of Bliss

I had very fond memories of this Jean Shepherd film. It was hard to track down -- no DVD version available. Once I watched it, I saw why. It is not the best of his films. It has moments, without a doubt -- it was a collage of those moments I remembered watching 25 years ago. But it also has lots of dry patches, and gags that don't go over like they should. Oh well -- I still had fun seeing it again. And at the end, I realized why it really meant so much to me -- the parts I didn't consciously remember -- it's a movie about a boy and his father, finding peace at a lake, despite the whole world working against them.

Relay for Life 2009

There was a time when I was snobby about walk-a-thons for charity -- they seemed like such a silly way to raise money. Finally, I'm mature enough to understand what they are really about: Camaraderie, working together face to face, even if only symbolically, to make the world better. Jeez, my younger self sure can be embarrassing! Thank goodness that guy is gone! It was a nice day for a walk, too.


Hooray for Pixar! It was hard for me to understand how the premise for this movie could work, but it worked so beautifully! I could tell it had an emotional secret -- everyone who watched it and raved about it talked about it shyly. And that secret is Ellie! Oh, it was wonderful to see this film -- it was clever, funny, perfectly timed, and bursting with marvelous Christian allegory, but in a way that was so subtle and indirect, that I can only call it "mythological."

Maybe my love of bottle caps is clouding my vision? Hard to tell. I know one thing -- Disney could never have made this movie -- it won't sell any toys, or spawn sequels. It simply sits quietly as a masterpiece. Hooray for Pixar!

Stuart Little

I did not see this when it came out (1999), partly because the trailers made it look, well, cheesy. Or maybe I should say tawdry -- the book is so charming, and the trailers all focused on action. Anyway, watching it with my daughter, I was pleased to find that it was charming indeed, and the action sequences were well-paced and appropriate for the story. It is vastly different from the book, but the fact that it retained its charm for all the differences is a testament to the team that worked on it.

How nice to see Jeffery Jones play a nice guy, and not a villain, for once! I did wonder, though -- when you go through all the trouble to make a charming kids movie, why would you make the characters say "damn" and "hell" so much?

LOGIN Conference 2009

This is my first time attending LOGIN. I liked it a lot! Many of the great minds of online game design were there, and the talks are small and intimate. It was not uncommon for audience members to speak up during talks, making each talk more of a discussion than just a lecture.

Many talks gave me pause -- the highlights for me:

Economies of Fun: Kevin Maginn, Flying Lab Software. The title vastly understates the topic. Kevin blew my mind talking about the fact that the MMO market has fundamentally changed, and to use his term, we are now living in a "post-scarcity" MMO economy. That is, we can no longer create artificial scarcity in games, and give it out bit by bit, because our competitor will just give it out faster! Instead, we must embrace what is naturally scarce in MMOs (skilled guildleaders, etc.) and reward that. Horrifying, but probably true! Get ready for the great MMO crash of 2010!

Designing for a New Audience, A Case Study: Sam Lewis, Zenimax Online.
This was an excellent description of the creative process that went into the design of Cartoon Network's Fusion Fall. It made me realize some holes in my MMO design process!

The Real Value of Violence: Scott Rigby, Immersyve. Gah! Another mind blowing talk! Scott presents real data showing that violence in games does little to aid enjoyment -- instead, enjoyment is derived mainly from the PENS model, which violence just happens to line up with. It was wonderful to see a talk involving real data for a topic like this! Valid studies in game development are as rare as hen's teeth.

I wish I could have seen more talks than I did, but I was busy preparing my own talk, which went pretty well, I think. LOGIN definitely exceeded my expectations -- I hope I can go again next year!

The Zen of Creativity

This is the first book I read in pure digital format, all the way through. One night I was having a late night IM chat that turned to the topic of the Zen of Creativity, and how strange it was that there were no books on that topic. A quick Amazon search revealed this one, and through the magic of the kindle, seconds later I was reading it. It's a very strange experience to think of a topic, and be reading a book on it seconds after that.

Anyway, the book is pretty good -- it is written by a photographer who also teaches Zen meditation. He has lots of fascinating stories -- some of my favorites involved how his emotions came out in his work in ways he couldn't see. For example, after witnessing some young teens skinny dipping, he was taking pictures of rock formations. Viewing his photos later, many people commented how erotic the rocks in the photos seemed.

I can't say I took away very much concretely practical from this book, other than a deeper appreciation that art is created with our whole mind -- but it is a light, breezy, pleasing read.