Wednesday, December 31, 2008

" Be always at war with your vices, at peace with your neighbors, and let each new year find you a better man."

It was cold and the elevators were all fucked. The one that worked was long and I had to wait for 10 minutes. I live on the 30th floor, so running down is done while really fucking high, or not at all.
Today I saw her, my perfect slave. She was short and plump, lip pierced and horn-rimmed glasses.
I would make her beg me to fuck her in the ass while I neutralized her in a head-lock.
She looked at me long and I knew that she wanted cock.

There was only one elevator working today and the one I took stopped at every floor.
She got on a floor below me. I was already in banter, dry and aloof, with the Scottish doctor who lives on the 31st floor. We joked about rent and heat and when she got on I saw her watch me and that's when I knew I could make her do bad things.

She watched me and I knew she was fucking me in her imagination.
I wanted to say, "Take a number, baby.", but I have not had sex in a long time. Although I don't feel badly about it I do want to fuck, so I say nothing.
I was cute and funny for 29 floors and she bought it and we fantasy-fucked for 20 floors.
That's how I am calling in tonight.
But man, she was such a slut. I would tie her and would 20-to-10 bet my buddies to fuck her. She would be my whore, but I'd love her unconditionally.
And I would make her come every day and as much as I could.

We all joked and then parted ways when the elevator hit the lobby.
I had an erection and walked to the liquor store. It felt good to press against it and the streets were fine, warm even.

I hope the elevator breaks tomorrow, too.
I like the community and I want to eat the cunt of that fine young one I saw today.
I think I could fuck her glasses right off, I'd need her on all fours, though.
Then I would come deep inside her.

Happy New Year.
I hope you get your wee bits sucked.

-Love Sid Heart

Monday, December 15, 2008

"The greater part of what my neighbors call good I believe in my soul to be bad, and if I repent of anything, it is very likely to be my good"

I examined every bit of information, every clue, when I was 16. By 21 I was ruined. By 35 I am a wreck; if you like IKEA.
I am walking and digging it all and will not describe any of it.
I do know, though, that walking is all that matters, anyhow.
See you soon.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

"Sweet Helen, make me immortal with a kiss. Her lips suck forth my soul: see where it flies. Come, Helen, come, give me my soul again."

That's Sumiko on the right and Fumika on the left. I met them at the Sapporo Beer Festival. They worked as office staff for Toshiba, out in the stix, like Nopporo or something, I forget. But I do remember that Sumiko invited me to her apartment, Fumika came too. When we got there, we just drank beer and laughed. I did my best to explain "truth or dare" in Japanese and they were quickly into it. After an hour we were all drunk. Fumika kissed me once as a dare and then Sumiko had to match it. It was fun. I was hard and wanted to fuck.
They wore their summer yukata all night. We laughed together and did stupid things. I tried to balance an open milk-jug on my nose. After a while longer I dared Fumika to touch my cock. She took three drinks before she tried. Fumika was embarrassed, I could tell; her cheeks were flushed and her mouth hung open. Soon we all kissed.
After we had sex I got dressed and wanted to go. Sumiko wanted to exchange numbers and email, Fumika slept and I resisted and crept out into the black night.
I drove home that night, drunk as fuck, but I was so pleased at the random love I had encountered. I thought of it all night, and the next day too.
I love yukatas on the JR from Sapporo to Tomakomai.
I'll go back just for that, that headiness.

Friday, December 12, 2008

"I know now that there is no one thing that is true - it is all true."

It has been a while since I fell asleep to the sound of waves breaking. I have done it many times but I don't remember it well. The last time in bright recall was in Vietnam. Before that was on the island of Malapascua in the Philippines. The Visayan Sea there rocked me to sleep many nights. I spent a few weeks there and learned to drink hard, and watch the stars. There were no tourists, really, because it was an 'undiscovered' island for tourists and also the Abu Sayyaff crisis was is full swing. I watched Philippine Navy boats park there and got drink drunk with them, night after night. We went to some small-town disco and I don't remember the rest. But I always arrived safe and sound around my hut. Several times I slept on the beach, unable to find my place or just too damn drunk.
Those mornings were hard as the sun shone fully and the waves slammed into me and the children tried to sell me plastic bottles filled with sea shells. But I remember the thunder from the waves the best.
These nights, now, I fall asleep to that sound of waves breaking. My new apartment is right next to the ocean and I spend at least an hour every day looking out the window and feeling grateful.
I can look up and into the mountains or to my left, and far out to sea. Waves.
I quit my job to ride a wave, not even a real wave, but a percieved momentum. I wanted time to pursue what I love.
I am still doing construction on the side; I love it and could never give it up entirely. Now I am just doing private renovations, etc.
Tomorrow morning I have to wipe the vodka-sleep from my eyes and finish with a basement suite. It looks nothing like a place one could live now, but it is taking shape; and that's the part I love the best.
I finished insulating the place today, and I was thinking of the future tenants and how they would never know, nor even think of the time I spent carefully making sure that they would be warm. When I was looking at the pipes that would soon be the shower and toilet I thought of a woman in her early twenties, her first rental, first place on her own. I thought of her in the shower that I was installing. If only she knew, but maybe she did already. Do women think of the nubile construction workers who installed their showers whilst they shower? They should. We think of them.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Making of "Sack Trek: Arena"

Pardon a little fuzzy-headedness; I'm running on what amounts to two hours' sleep, and that sleep marked by dreams so vivid and involving it might as well have been wakefulness. Dreams of shifting platforms, flickering menus, pistons, gears, pulleys and explosives, and the constant cycle like a fever-vison: fuckup, undo; fuckup, undo; fuckup, undo. Welcome to the late-nite madness of LittleBigPlanet authorship.

Now, making stuff with LittleBigPlanet's creation tools is easy. Knocking together, say, a functional fire-breathing dragon – or, perhaps more amusingly and certainly more demographically likely, a giant dick on tank treads launching electrified sperms – is the work of a couple minutes. Making an actual entire level, a level more sophisticated than the thousands of worthless “steep hill with ramp” stages clogging up the LBP servers, is more arduous. When my first opus, a cutsey adventure featuring a ride on an owl and a mission to aid a group of deer-worshipping cultists, got vaporized by the close of the pre-release beta period, my heart kind of went out of it; I was content just to meander through the work of others. Yesterday, though, I was inspired to rejoin my worldwide brethren and sistren and get back into the wonder, joy and toil of creation.

Creation... otherwise known as “intellectual property infringement." Unless you move in certain subcultural online circles you may not have heard the howls, but they have been loud and echoing in the hidden chambers: LittleBigPlanet publisher/developers Sony/Media Molecule have been perceived as being hard and merciless in their moderation (i.e. deletion) of LBP levels featuring famous properties. Unfortunately, this means a Pac-Man-shaped portion of the LBP pie is living on borrowed time; seventy per cent of the “community content” – and almost all of the best stuff – has been themed on Batman, God of War, Shadow of the Colossus, Grand Theft Auto, Sex and the City (?!) or some other familiar touchstone. This is natural and wholly predictable behavior for early-adopting nerds, and its censure pisses them right off. In old-school fuck-you solidarity, I abandoned my original IP, the deer-cult-owl thing, and set to work on a stage based on the original-series Star Trek episode “Arena". The one where Kirk fights a lizard man.

Sleeves rolled up and elbows-deep into the toolkit, and the depth of possibility LBP makes available becomes more apparent as every new idea becomes quick reality, even (or maybe especially) when doing the broad strokes. Hang a big black rectangle, spangle it with stars and a moon or two, and bam: Space... the final frontier. A few swipes with some grayish-white material, and there's a recognizable Enterprise. Hollow out bridge, Captain's quarters, turbolift shaft, transporter room... drop to the “planet surface," pull in the readymade Desert scenery, click three times and there's a passable ruined colony, still in flames from the Gorn (aka lizard man) attack. Bam, bam, bam. I am like unto a God, a Roddenberry in virtual styrofoam.

Ah, but... God's in creation, and the Devil's in the details. Two hours of tinkering to get the turbolifts a) working and b) not crushing the player against a bulkhead. Another two or three puzzling over how to create a beam-down effect before just saying Fuck It and letting gravity (and a transparent tube) handle the problem. Tinkering with the Gorn character 'til 3 a.m., first fussing over the motion of its limbs (there's a fine line between threatening and spastic) then fine-tuning the aim on the deadly boulders he's chucking. Agonizing over a spring-loaded death-contraption where Kirk has to zipline over some flaming spikes – it's not canon, but no LBP level can be called complete without flaming spikes. Now to model Kirk's improvised musket...

And that's just the mechanical stuff. What really traps you is the set decoration, the need to get everything exactly right. As long as I spent modeling the Gorn, I spent at least twice that furnishing my Enterprise. The red-alert lights, the space-plants and astro-tapestries in Kirk's Love Chamber. The bridge decor: Captain's chair, consoles, viewscreen and the alien face thereon, Spock's dialogue, background electronic ambiance. Machinery of the transporter room, Scotty's red uniform, sound effects of the beam-down...

The only way to stay sane is to stop fighting for fidelity and let yourself roll with LBP's lo-fi arts-n-crafts aesthetic – suggest, rather than simulate. A viewscreen? Here's a sticker that looks kind of like a TV; slap it up on the wall and move on. Players will get it. Here's the power and glory of theming your level on an established pop-cult property: readymade context. Build a big, urban level with lots of ziplines and pulleys and a big black hotrod... fine. Begin that exact same level with a tuxedoed gingerbread man saying “Good evening, Master Bruce!” and suddenly those clankity traverses become Bat-Ropes, that car becomes the Batmobile, a narrative is in play, and it's f'n sweeet.

I think Sony/MM will relent on their IP-infringement crackdown; I think they'll have to. Their core audience – which in the case of a crowdsourced-content game like LBP is also their core creative team – are bred-in-the bone fanboys, remixers, nostalgists and payers of homage, and those folks won't play (or make) ball if their work's a moderator's click away from becoming electron dust just because it has a picture of Mega Man in it. Meanwhile, look for “Sack Trek: Arena”, coming soon to a Planet near you... just as soon as I get those goddamned boulders right...

"Moral Aesthetics" and the bloddy quest for cute boots

Go ahead and ogle, rotate the camera for a better look, let your gaze move up from the toes in slow femme-fatale exposition: kicky pirate boots, striped breeches tucked into their turned-down tops; a heavy, dark leather duster with a face-obscuring high collar; piercing eyes; an elaborate bonnet, once the pride of a merchant-class matron, now rain-stained and battle-battered. Everything in shades of blood red over the full but firm curves of a woman of action who's not shy of calling for another plate of mutton. Sex and danger, she accessorizes with weaponry: a burnished pistol, a samurai sword.

Yeah, Fable II is the shit for dress-up-dolly.

Seriously. At this point, I'm only in it for the outfits. I've been playing this busting-at-the-seams action/RPG sequel intermittently for a few weeks now – mostly as a break from my Fallout obsession, which is problematic since Fallout's “jump” button maps to Fable's “cast magic” button and I'm constantly freaking out the townies by accidentally shooting fireballs around the pub – and nothing gives me more satisfaction than popping open a treasure chest to find the goblins gave their lives guarding a sweet hat. The other night, I played an extra three hours into the morning because I refused to rest until I'd scrounged up a decent pair of gloves. It's that kind of game.

There's more to Fable II, of course; lots more. I guess there's a crazy evil wizard-duke or something? I'm supposed to be questing for closure with that guy. But even that closure extends into the dress-up-dolly realm, into... moral aesthetics. You choices change your look. Saintly searchers for truth and justice get a glow about them, pale and bright an angelic; hell-bent reavers of bloody vengeance have their complexions veer into the dark and diabolical. My deeds so far haven't had enough ethical weight to make for much of a moral makeover; you're not really picking sides in the cosmic battle while shopping for dyes or rummaging through bookstores for dog-training manuals. All my girl's got so far is a little bit of a hollow, haunted look around the eyes, probably as a result of all the scared-shitless rubes I've left in my clumsy fireball-flinging wake. To get the real exotic smoky-eye look, she's going to have to slaughter a slave caravan, at least...

That is, if I continue playing very much longer. Fable II offers a lot to do – you can get married (even gay-married!), have kids (or not; condoms are a common treasure item), buy a house, buy a business, build a trade empire – but there's something that keeps it from becoming the oh-god-just-six-more-hours-then-I'll-save-and-quit-I-swear obsession it'd have to be to power me through all that stuff. That something is its mechanism for social interaction.

In Fable II, you communicate with the world's denizens through dozens of “gestures,” little animations that evoke certain responses in those near enough to see/hear them. Brandish a trophy from your exploits, and folks might clap and cheer, bumping up your level of fame. Do a little dance in the town square, people might think you're funny and nice and like you more. Blow a fart (or launch a fireball) and you're going to alienate the crowd. I see where they want to go with this – to model your social interactions more organically than might be possible with canned dialogue choices – but the result is just... well, silly.

Let me give you an example. Wandering a misty clifftop trail one moonlit evening, I encounter a ghost. This ghost, the forlorn shade of a jilted lover, charges me with a task: seduce the chump that broke her heart, then do for him as he did to her. I always do what ghosts tell me, so, OK, I head to town and find the guy. I get his attention with a little trophy-brandishing, then just start mashing the “Seduction” button. As the townsfolk look on and cheer, I blow kisses, whisper sweet nothings, wink and mince about, and eventually the guy's love-o-meter is filled and he agrees to marry me.

This takes five minutes, five whole minutes from “Yo!” to “Yes."

Granted, it may have had something to do with the fact the guy's a crummy townie and I'm a buxom samurai-sword asskickin' vixen with a crimson corset and a pouchful of sheepskin jimmy-hats and he'd be a lunatic not to jump at the chance to park his raggedy unemployed ass in my paid-for gypsy caravan, but still. The whole scene was so ludicrous, the gossamer threads suspending my disbelief all snapped in a hurry; I was out.

And yet... the clothes! They bring me back in; I still haven't found the gloves I was after, you know? I can put up with the ridiculous clowning for a while, fired by imaginings of what wonderful shirts, boots and doublets might lie farther into the mysterious reaches of the land of Albion...

Saturday, November 15, 2008

I swear, to you.

This is my hammer. There are many like it, but this one is mine. It is my life. I must master it as I must master my life. Without me my hammer is useless. Without my hammer, I am useless. I must swing my hammer true. I must swing straighter than the nail that is trying to defy me. I must hit it before it hits me. I will. My hammer and I know that what counts in carpentry is not the nails we use, the noise of our hit, or the smoke we make. We know that it is the hits that count. We will hit.

My hammer is human, even as I am human, because it is my life. Thus, I will learn it as a brother. I will learn its weaknesses, its strengths, its parts, its weight, its head and its claw. I will keep my hammer clean and ready, even as I am clean and ready. We will become part of each other.

Before you I swear this creed. My hammer and I are the joiners of wood. We are the masters of our work. We are the builders of my life.

So be it, until construction is complete and there is no work.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

To live is to hurt others, and through others, to hurt oneself. Cruel earth! How can we manage not to touch anything? To find what ultimate exile?

I cut off part of my finger today on the table-saw. It didn't hurt, it was so quick and clean. I thought it was just a nick but then I saw the blood.
After the doctor and the stitches I knew that it was true.
That metal had taken a part of me. I had sold my labour and it had cost me part of my body.
There was no blame to place but upon my own shoulders. I did it in a hurried moment, trying to be fast and correct.
It ended up as neither. It was bloody and crooked and even slow. Especially slow as we drove to the hospital and it throbbed and bled.
I passed out in the Ford F-350, bleeding and starting to shiver. I just felt cold and wanted to go home.
I suddenly missed my father and understood everything.
It wasn't as though I had lost my finger but it was enough.
I didn't cry. I kind of wanted to but I giggled instead, the way I do when I am injured. I laugh like a fool; bones broken or spirit crushed, laughing.
I lost a part of my body today and I guess I feel a little sad now about it. I miss it, it was mine and I didn't take care of it well enough.
I'll be more careful in the future, I guess.
For now, I am wounded and I feel badly.
I miss you, finger-tip. I'll think of you often and even hide my hand in my pocket, feeling shame for neglecting to care for you.
I bled today and I lost my finger-tip.
I thought of you and how I felt when I left.
I bled then, too, when I got drunk and drove and sped through those red lights in the Japanese country side, praying for a crash.
I am sorry for everything and I am sorry like I am for my finger.
It was once a part of me but through carelessness I lost it.
I miss it and it hurts.
I have 9 more, though, so fuck it.
Tomorrow is tomorrow and judge me not as I am just a man.
I will learn to respect that which is stronger than flesh, someday.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Hot document: the Dead Space memo

Dead Space
Publisher: Electronic Arts


So, you've discovered your ship has been overrun by alien mutant space zombies. As a horror-game victim, it is your responsibility to ensure that your final hours are spent making the environment as creepy and spine-tingling as possible for those sent to investigate the carnage. To that end, a few simple rules should be followed.

First, as soon as it's clear that you're all going die and/or be space-zombified, begin covering every available surface with spooky and/or deranged graffiti. Lament your fate, give dire warnings of doom, rail against the absent, pervert God who would allow such horrors in His universe... just have fun with it! If, too late, you happen to discover the secret to destroying the space zombies, be sure to use your dying breath to scrawl this handy tip onto a wall, in your own blood if at all possible.

Second (the so-called “BioShock rule”), as the enormity of your fate, the fate of your shipmates, and the fate of all Humanity should this horror be allowed to spread begins to dawn on you, take the time to record a few audio-visual log entries. If the Internet has taught us anything, it's that no-one – not even a lone adventurer surrounded on all sides by bloodthirsty mockeries of nature -- is too busy they can't take time to catch up on other people's diaries. Sure, it might not seem to make sense to shout your final cry for help into an audio recorder, as if the tape is some kind of message in a bottle that might magically find its way to the Space Marines in time for military assistance to be dispatched, but a hysterical plea abruptly cut off by static goes a long way toward creating all-important atmosphere.

Speaking of atmosphere, remember: you're not just setting the scene for a horror-shooter, you're setting the scene for a survival-horror-shooter. As you scramble in panicked terror through the blood-drenched abattoir your ship has become, do what you can to help our hero survive! Leave your locker stocked with oxygen tanks and medical packs; strew ammunition in your path like bread crumbs as you flee the clutches of the Tentacle Thing. And, if you're called upon to go crazy and disable the ship, make sure you sabotage the systems in such a way that a single individual can bring things back on line with a few critical key-presses. Above all, leave all your cash money in plain view! Space-zombie infestation is no excuse to jam up the wheels of commerce, and a man with a zombie at his throat is the very definition of a “motivated buyer”.

Finally, the Corporation would like to thank you in advance for your hard work in turning the USG Ishimura into a first-rate madhouse of unspeakable atrocity. The decision to create a horrific mix of corporate greed, blind scientific zeal and lunatic religious fervor was not taken lightly. As you know, the Meddling With Forbidden Secrets industry is highly competitive; we're confident that the can-do spirit and attention to detail you brought to your work as a space miner will propel us to success in this grisly and lucrative new market.


Management, Concordance Extraction Corporation

Big Buck Huntin'

Cold dawns in the foothills, morning mist laying over stubble and pasture, pooling thick in the low places. Bare-bone trees and leaves on the ground... I'm thinking of ear-flap caps, bright vests over camo, pickup trucks and thermoses of black coffee... the grey chill split by a crack of gunfire. Hunting season.

I've never hunted, myself, though I figure I'd have a den's worth of trophies by now if all the idle (and kind of ominous) offers to “take me out sometime” I've had over the years had been realized. Still, out here in the rural/semirural places, you can feel the excitement in the air as brief autumn winds down to early winter – here come the pleasant buddy-days afield; here comes some damned delicious eatin'. And just as the excitement of hockey season spills over into street hockey, table hockey, fantasy hockey and hockey video games, so does the excitement of hunting season spill over into gaming: in the taverns and saloons, loonies by the roll disappear ever faster into the coinslots of Big Buck Hunter cabinets.

The most present thing about Big Buck Hunter is the sound. Not the in-game audio of gunfire, running deer and flapping wings – that's usually well drowned by the jukebox, the band, or the general high-decibel rhubarb of barroom bullshitting – but the relentless plasticky clattering of the game's candy-colored shotgun controllers being pumped rapidly and relentlessly. Chakka-chakka-chakka-chakka-chakka-chakka! This virtual sportsman's paradise also offers the fantasy of hunting with unlimited Hollywood-style rapid—fire reloads.

So there's your answer to the question of why a real hunter would be into a hunting video game, especially when the season's open and the real thing is just a sick day away: because it's so fake it's awesome. It's the same reason why a musician would play Rock Band or a skateboarder would play Tony Hawk. Video games are their own thing, their priorities and prerogatives utterly unlike those of the activities whose names they appropriate. You're not “hunting” in Big Buck Hunter any more than you're “killing hookers and taking their money” in Grand Theft Auto; you're playing Big Buck Hunter.

If anything, the fantasy forests and fields here presented are even more outlandish in comparison to hunting's reality than even Guitar Hero's version of rock stardom is in comparison to the life and times of an actual touring musician. Just stand back and look at what's happening on that screen: nearly every square inch of screen space is taken up by tawny digital deerflesh, ungulates streaming through the field of vision in endless gamboling cascades, an environment so rich in targets the key challenge isn't so much to bag your bucks but to somehow avoid hitting one of the harem of does prancing around like Secret Service agents, desperate to take a bullet for their mates. Big Buck Hunter is the Big Rock Candy Mountain of hunting, all that's missing is a Bacon Tree and a creek running with hot coffee and Crown Royal.

But every Garden has its Serpent, right? Paradisaical as the glades and trails of Big Buck Hunter may be – and they are little paradises; you should see the Promised-Land look on a hunter's face as he pauses to gaze at the peaceful scene before the virtual twig snaps and the deer break and run – it wouldn't be a game if there weren't challenges. Now, I know that at the higher echelons of Big Buck Hunter play – like Golden Tee, the Grand Old Man of the boozecan arcade, Big Buck Hunter offers online tournaments and global leaderboards – there are some serious skill elements in the pursuit of perfection, but for most casual players the greatest challenge to overcome is the goddamn guns themselves. I have yet to play a single session where one or both of the players doesn't curse the shit-ass, broad-side-of-a-barn targeting of his chosen weapon. As a hopeless nerd, I compensate by retreating farther into fantasy, pretending I'm playing Stormtrooper Safari, TK-421 and his nearsighted buddies on a little leave from Death Star duty...

You can eventually figure out how badly fucked your aim is, of course, and adjust to compensate, but that takes time... and time costs loonies. Precious, precious loonies that might otherwise be beefing up the anemic tips you've been giving the barmaid. Better to forget precision, and revel in the manic, scattershot, let-God-sort-em-out fusillade Big Buck Hunter allows you: chakka-chakka-chakka-chakka-chakka-chakka-chakka-chakka...

Friday, October 17, 2008

"Ask the river about it, my friend! Listen to it, laugh about it!"

I am alive.

I am grateful to you all for this gift.

Thank you, my friends.

May you find it.

I love you.

Friday, October 10, 2008

I am opposed to millionaires, but it would be dangerous to offer me the position.

I offered this poster to a dear friend of mine, this poster makes me think of her. Strong and dreamy. I love you, C.H.

I bought a lotto ticket today. I don't think I will win but I like the fantasy. For $2 I can have 3 days of thinking about what I would do with $10,000,000.
That's a good deal.

The first fucking thing I would do is buy a Land Rover. Then I would drive to Mexico while wearing no pants and laughing like a monkey.

That's it. I don't know what else I would do or not do.
No idea.
At all.

"The mind has to be empty to see clearly."

I felt bad about myself for a while today. I felt as if I had made a mistake somewhere, and I couldn't see exactly where. I was trying to trace the route like a road map, except I couldn't even find the road I was on, nevermind the one I had deviated from.
I couldn't understand it and I felt badly. I felt like I had cheated myself of something but couldn't recall what it was.

I had the diamond saw this morning and was going through 1/8 inch corrugated steel. The sparks were incredible but I couldn't see and was constantly cutting wide. I rolled a cigarette and waited while the sun climbed over the mountains in the East.
Mt. Baker is imposing, even from that distance.
I was happy when the sun rose and I could see where I was cutting.
When the Fraser Valley had filled with mist and the deep chill began to lift I could see the chalk lines and paint markers for where the glue lam beams were.
I cut well and felt good. I forgot about feeling lost and the sun warmed my back there on the roof of the Hollyburn Country Club.

I worked with Lee after that and we built box-frames for concrete pads that would house air units, etc., on the roof.
Lee showed me how to build a chased-frame today, where the nailed end of each 2x4 overlapped the following 2x4; 'chasing' it.
Lee has been sober from meth and heroin and booze for two years and lives in a recovery house with 13 other men. Lee is a carpenter and the handle of his hammer is wrapped in white electrical tape. He laughs a lot.
Lee called frame-chasing "chasing the dragon". "Get to work, fuck. Chase the dragon". He would yell that with the flash of white from his hammer coming down on the 3 inch common nails he used and swore by.
"Chasing the dragon is fine, fuck, but if a big gust of wind comes along you are fucked" he said, "You wanna get the job done you use a fucking 100cc rig. You don't miss when you go for vein, fuck".
I liked that Lee told me about his fall, his bottoming-out as a man. There was no apology in his stories or his voice. He knew what had happened and he spoke freely as the judgements of others meant nothing to him. He already knew.
Lee reminded me that I felt strongest when I was picking myself up.

I liked working with Lee and he was a good teacher for me today. His words would switch between work and addiction, heroin and 2x4's, life and carpentry.
There was warmth in his voice when he told me about building frames or smoking meth; there were warnings and suggestions for both.

I forgot about feeling bad today when Lee showed me that I hadn't missed anything, I hadn't lost anything. I was where I wanted to be and I was there through pure will on my part.

“What if a demon were to creep after you one night, in your loneliest loneliness, and say, 'This life which you live must be lived by you once again and innumerable times more; and every pain and joy and thought and sigh must come again to you, all in the same sequence. The eternal hourglass will again and again be turned and you with it, dust of the dust!' Would you throw yourself down and gnash your teeth and curse that demon? Or would you answer, 'Never have I heard anything more divine'?”

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Election time tunnel

I was playing Manhunter: New York when this shit went down. Because you know what's coming, the raised-eyebrow glance over the glasses is thrilling. But because you know what's coming after what's coming, and then what came after all that, it ends up pretty depressing.

Monday, October 06, 2008

LittleBigPlanet: crazy shit toolkit

A quick look at my search history (only slightly redacted) over a day of fooling around with Sony's snugglestyle platform-playbox LittleBigPlanet shows a rapid arc from eager curiosity to wholly bought-in obsession: “littlebigplanet levels” -- looking for videos to while away the beta demo download time; “littlebigplanet tutorial” -- that's when I was hoping to learn the secrets of how dudes were coming up with some of the crazy shit I was seeing; “how to knit” -- when my love of woolen mascot Sackboy bubbled out into desire to snuggle him/it for real, for ever.

Developed by Media Molecule, whose founders were responsible for the indie Rag Doll Kung Fu, LittleBigPlanet's prototype working title was “Craftworld”, a name that bombs from a marketing perspective – sounds like something you'd leaf through out of boredom while your Mom shops for scrapbooking supplies – but actually describes the game well. LittleBigPlanet takes the aesthetics of DIY handcrafts and grade-school dioramas, all chunky fabrics, corrugated boxboard, rubber stamps and glitter, and puts them in front of an almost unspeakably robust toolkit and engine for the creation of physics-based platform-game worlds.

Level editors are nothing new; as far back as Lode Runner in 1983 games were shipping with construction sets that let users design their own playspaces and/or use game elements to draw cocks and spell out swear words. It's much less common for the toolkit to be the game, to have creating and sharing content as the whole point of the experience, to have exploring content created by others comprise the overwhelming bulk of gameplay. Sure, LBP comes with plenty of pre-made material, but the only meaningful reason to play through “story” mode is to earn more tools for your kit and to get a glimpse of what those materials might make possible.

Did I say “overwhelming bulk”? That's an understatement, if anything. The game's still a couple of weeks from its official retail release, but the handful of people playing this preview beta – a few tens of thousands worldwide, a relative drop in the bucket – have cranked out enormous quantities of content, powering through the curve of learning and accomplishment from tentative first steps to near-masterpieces in maybe ten days of activity. One short afternoon's power-drive through this cloud of creativity, and you'll see some crazy shit you won't believe, constantly pushing LBP's engine to, through, and beyond the limits of what you might have thought it capable of.

Gamers being gamers, our culture of old-school reference, homage and parody is exceedingly well represented. The first thing you might notice as you orbit around LBP's planetoid menus are dozens of attempts at recreating favorite Super Mario Bros. levels, with various levels of success. From straight re-creation – Sonic's in there, too, and Mega Man, all done up in virtual burlap, paper and felt -- you go on to the adaptations: Grand Theft LittleBigPlanet, LBP Miami Vice, Indiana Jones and the LittleBigTemple of Doom, LittleBigSilent Hill, a Shadow of the Colossus riff that has to be seen to be believed...

Speaking of Silent Hill, by the way, there's another exciting thread of LBP creation, a vector that's inevitable whenever toolkits are opened and an open commons established: subversion. A mathematically trivial quantum of time elapsed between the launch of the beta and the posting of the first levels actively subverting the game/tool's wholesome wuzzy-snuggle style, deploying shapes, textures, sounds and physics to create dark places, horrible dungeons, bloodbathed abbatoirs and weird German-expressionist noir spaces where Paper Mario meets The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari by way of Godzilla.

Then, subversion beyond aesthetics – subversion of mechanics. Limits-testing geeks putting the dazzling flexibility of LBP's Rube Goldberg mechanisms to work tricking what is basically a run-and-jump platform-game engine into becoming, for example, a vertical shooter a la Space Invaders. Or a trivia game. Or an excruciatingly difficult Lunar Lander riff. Or a machine that uses LBP's sound-trigger elements to play the intro, first verse and chorus of Sweet Child o' Mine. Or – most subversive of all – a side-scrolling shooter: the pace of technical development aimed at giving sweet, pacific little Sackboy a big motherfuckin' gun to tote is dizzying.

This pace of innovation is powered in large part by a degree of sharing that goes one step beyond merely making levels available. Creators can choose to present their lovingly crafted gimmicks and gewgaws as rewards for completing their levels: play through some guy's military-themed level, for example, and you might come away with a functional model tank you can then add to your own creations, take apart to study its workings, modify as you see fit. Inasmuch as comparisons of games to film may or may not be valid, imagine: watching Touch of Evil rewards you with all the technical details and resources necessary to realize a four-minute continuous tracking shot; sitting through The Ten Commandments gives you a complete Pharaoh's Throne Room set to use in your next student film.

Sony's hoping to make Sackboy the face of the PlayStation 3, a mass-friendly mascot to soften the console's steely hard-core image heading into the midgame of this generation's battle for market share. It might work; the little bastard's adorable as all hell. But beyond the cuddliness and the frolicsome jingle-jangle of a soundtrack from The Go! Team, LittleBigPlanet is a populist game-making tool of almost terrifying power, and it just might change the medium for good.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Diaspora and return.

One time a few years ago I was driving with my father and we were speaking of his wife's family in France. She had come to Canada in the early 1970's, from Figeac in Southern France, near Albi and Toulouse. She married a musician in Toronto and had a son and a daughter with him, then split for her own reasons. I never knew the whole story, this entire 25 years. I never thought it was my business to ask and she never volunteered the information. It doesn't matter now, anyhow.

Violette met my father in Edmonton and they soon lived together.

My father had met his brother-in-law, his wife's sister's husband, when they were in Paris.
His name was Issac or something, I forget. My father's name is Joseph, Joe.
Joe Cloutier.
The Cloutier became a point of contention as "Issac" and Joe spoke of the origins of the name itself.

Zacharie/Zacharia Cloutier came to Canada in 1630, from Normandy. Issac was from Normandy, too. He asked my father why anyone would leave Normandy. Zacharie Cloutier was a carpenter and illiterate, he signed his name with an upgraded "X". It was instead two axes crossed.
The Cloutier family grew and moved and settled this country.

Issac was a man's man in France. He was a highway EMT, ambulance crew. He would tell stories about having to hold an 8-year-old girl's head together, life rushing out of her , as the ambulance careened down the highway; stories of drunk-drivers, DOA, having been ejected through the windshield and into oncoming traffic. Issac said that when he saw their bodies, those drunks, he would take the cigarettes out of the pockets of the victims, then he would smoke them and look at the bodies and shake his head at how stupid they were.

Issac told Joe that leaving Normandy was what cowards did, running away to the new country. Running from something. Joe, being Joe, sat and listened. He nodded and listened. Issac had evoked nothing from Joe other than careful listening and attention.

Joe's father, my grandfather, Leonard Cloutier, a real Francophone if there ever was one, was in the Canadian Army during WWII. Joe was born in 1943. Leonard Cloutier died in 1982. He had just come home from the RCL and was watching the Montreal Canadiens on television. He died of a heart attack, sudden and alone.

After Issac had laid out all of his reasons for people, French people, to never leave Normandy, and my father had returned to Canada, in June, 2005, Joe sent Issac a letter.
Joe's letter was beautiful, it had coloured pictures and the writing was short and straight.

It read:

"You were right about what you said, about French leaving Normandy, and how it was strange.
I have, with these pictures, included names and dates and times of French Canadians who fought and died on the beaches of Normandy to free France from Nazi occupation. We may have left in 1630, but we sure as hell came back in 1944. We came back to Normandy and we died to return it to you. Happy D-day, Issac.

-Joseph Leonard Cloutier"

I felt proud and laughed when I was driving with my father and he told me that story.
We drove in silence like that after the story, I think I understood what makes a man after that time.

It was some time ago and I forget the details, but that was the greatest story I have ever heard.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

"I don't like work--no man does, but I like what is in the work, the chance to find yourself."

The beams were put in over the past few days. The crane would hoist them, one by one, and place them in their anchors which were bolted into the concrete. When the beams came in, the Ironworkers would guide it in with a series of hand-signals and ropes. Then they bolted the beam in place and it looked beautiful, against the morning sky. I loved the perspective and I thought that it looked like spread fingers, hand opened.

The Ironworkers started at 6 a.m. When it was coldest on that mountain, just before sunrise, those men put on harnesses and strapped themselves into the JLG to finish the ends of those beams and bolt in the remaining plates that went on the ends of every single one of them. They woke up at 4 a.m. every morning, made lunches for themselves, quietly so as not to wake the kid(s) and wife, took a thermos of coffee while stepping quietly even in steel-plated boots caked in dried cement, and they left to work. They were building an annex to a country club.
They had to wear harnesses and use a lanyard to prevent themselves from falling to certain death among the hardened concrete run-off and the exposed rebar, 15 meters below.
They did that so that rich people could have a new place to swim and run on an electric mill that kept them in place.

I had just arrived at 6:30 and still had 30 minutes to go before I began my day. I was in the pool again, but I didn't mind as I imagined myself becoming muscular and smiling slyly when I glanced into the mirror when getting into the shower. Which is funny to do, because I then will laugh at myself as I turn on the shower for being so vain. The first few cubic feet of water from the shower are cold from laying dormant in the pipe, and that usually makes me forget about the mirror and the shapes on my body.

I left early today. I told the foreman I had a dental appointment. I told the others the same when I gathered my tool-belt and headed toward my truck. We joked and talked about the price of dentistry, why it isn't part of the Health Care plan as it is generally regarded as essential anatomical equipment.

I felt guilty to tell them that I was going home to change and going onward to an interview for a government job behind a desk. I could have never told the Ironworkers that.

The interview was great. I got the job, if I want it.
I don't know if I do.

I thought about those beams stretched out like a Japanese fan tonight. Like fingers or paths. In that perspective, they spanned out in different directions, always further apart, and further, too.
I thought how my life is like those beams. All at once, in every direction and getting further from the other as it proceeds down the line of sight.
But the bolts on the beams are what I can't put in. I just can't align it level or flush.

I am going to bring some hot coffee for the Ironworkers tomorrow. They could teach me many things.

The game that plays itself

Delicate decision-making: what videogames to bring on my honeymoon? The best, most sensitive decision, the decision least likely to be greeted with howls of outrage were it discussed on a daytime talk show, would be to leave all the bleep-blorp at home, but... the hand-to-mouth nature of freelance livin' demands constant production; I had to keep working, if only half-assedly.

Then came the Facebook message: A friend has invited you to play Dungeons & Dragons Tiny Adventures. Hey... a light RPG experience, delivered via a platform I'm going to be accessing at least once a day anyway, with that nerd-irresistible flavor of D&D branding? This could be the answer...

I have a long and loving history with Dungeons & Dragons off the tabletop, dating back through the Baldur's Gate games and Planescape: Torment, through the SSI “gold box” titles and on to the two Intellivision cartridges. These were both great carts, but while The Treasure of Tarmin dazzled with its first-person perspective and exciting lightning-bolt-throwing action, it was the earlier game – titled, simply, Advanced Dungeons & Dragons – that provided what is still my all-time favorite onscreen D&D moment.

The thing about the Intellivision AD&D game was, it had no onscreen stats display, no radar or health bar or ammo counter. Everything was organic and immersive; in the highly abstracted mountain mazes you moved through, your health was represented by the color of your little adventurer dude, the proximity of enemies expressed through the sound of their moving and breathing in the darkness, your stock of precious arrows counted out by a series of clicks. There have been few situations in my life of videogaming that have given me goosebumps – I'm getting goosebumps now, just thinking of it – like the moment, standing at the threshold of a pitch-black chamber from which emanate the growls of a riled-up dragon, when I'd press the “count arrows” button and hear a single, dismal click. A wonderful expression of the mystery and terror of dungeon-delving, that was.

Dungeons & Dragons Tiny Adventures on Facebook, not so much. You fire it up, choose your intrepid adventurer from a handful of pregenerated characters based directly on the illustrations from the pen-and-paper Players' Handbook, give him or her a name, and that's it for character creation. In fact, that's pretty much it for all meaningful player input. I'd stumbled upon the perfect game to review on a honeymoon: D&D Tiny Adventures, it turns out, is the game that helpfully plays itself.

Click on the “FIND ADVENTURE” button and select a mission, and your character moves through encounters at ten-minute intervals, with all ability checks and combat rolls taking place automatically whether the “player” (more of a “reader”, actually) is looking at the page or not. Click the button, walk away, and an hour later come back and read all about what your guy got up to in the spooky forest or dank sewers or abandoned mansion or wherever while you were taking care of important real-life business. After a little light loot management, you can just click the game's single control – FIND ADVENTURE – and start the process over again, a totally automated fantasy trip.

Under ordinary circumstances, this would be unacceptably lame. This past week, though, it's been a nice little diversion. I'll wake up and send halfling rogue Boson Darkmatter (character name ripped from Google News sci/tech headlines!) on some fantastic errand, go get some breakfast with the lady, do some shopping, maybe visit a gallery or museum, and when next I open my laptop, taking advantage of the WiFi at some bar or cafe, there'll be a whole little swords-n-sorcery (well, at this point, rusty-daggers-n-potions) narrative waiting for me. More often than not, it's a narrative of humiliation and defeat – the automated die-rolling algorithm has phenomenally cold hands – but, hey... it's not my fault!

Zero effort, zero frustration. Zero input, zero attachment. Dungeons & Dragons Tiny Adventures might just be the future, the equivalent of no-calories, no-caffeine sodas, a completely virtual game experience for busy, busy people who can't be bothered with the hassle of actually playing something themselves. It's an almost mystical experience, transcendentally empty.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008


There are many decoy houses, I have noticed. Around Commercial Drive many houses stand ugly, with exteriors and yards that look quite bad. As though someone forgot about them, stopped caring when they had finished milking the mortgage from the random tenants they let to. They just stopped caring. It was sad in the day to see the paint-chipped peeling shingles.

But in the night, and long after the owners stopped caring, in the night the tenants who left their curtains open let me see that they had kept the house beautiful. The inside was painted odd colours and the art that I could see looked very interesting.
Whenever I go outside to smoke a Marlboro I stand at the gate, and lean into the fence. Just across the alley from me, when I look up into a window, it is the kitchen window, at about 9 or 9:30 p.m. I see two blonde girls doing dishes together. They are always beautiful and laughing and smiling, sometimes they are even singing together.

I want to fuck them.

I don't want to know their names or hobbies or sob-stories or ages or anything. I don't want a single word spoken. I just want to drink some whiskey one night and walk up their stairs and into their house and have them know why I am there and then I just want to fuck them, both.
I want to see them squeeze each others hand in the sink full of dish-water while I lick them and fuck them like that, bent slightly over the sink, one watching the other take the fucking, looking on in as much pleasure as jealousy. I just want to see their faces when I fuck them. I want to see those special facial muscles contract, the ones reserved for getting fucked and cumming.

Many houses here may have external damage, but looking in, at those blonde girls across the alley, makes me happy and shy and even hard in my jeans as I imagine the inside of their house.

Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina.

I remember seeing a picture once of the Kill Devil Hills near Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. In this picture there was young woman tenderly holding a baby and smiling. The woman had on loose, flowing clothing. She had beautiful and long chestnut hair. The baby in the picture was just small and mostly covered by a white blanket. Maybe the baby was smiling, too. They sat together like that the smiling woman and the baby on a carpet or shawl or scarf, or some fabric like that. Directly behind them was the side of a maroon van with the side door open. It looked like an Econoline.

There was a tarp erected from the side of the van outwards, to provide shade for the woman and the baby seated in the sun of the Kill Devil Hills, that small desert. Smiling.
That photo was taken in the summer of 1973, two years before the U.S. pulled out of Vietnam.
I was four months old in that picture. My mother and I were waiting for my father, who was sailing off of the dunes, hang gliding. I loved that picture but I can not find it anymore.

I had just finished my second day of eight hours
straight-armed-hauling, no pulley, five-gallon pails of wet pea-gravel up a 12 foot wall and then dumping it behind me, on the other side of the frame. We were building a swimming pool at a country club in West Vancouver. We had finally met grade and were done. But it was funny because I imagined that I was a slave in ancient Egypt, building for life. It made things seem more interesting as I envisioned a large statue of Horus, and my blood and sweat and strain and loss would make that statue. I also imagined how the pool would look in one year, with aqua-yoga classes, or whatever. But I also thought of when I was a boy and loved the pool at Kinsmen in Edmonton.

The country club is on the side of a mountain in West Vancouver. The land is beautiful. In the morning I love the smell when I am standing by the tool trailer. It isn't construction, but the smell of the cool air rushing down the mountain as the sun rises. It smells like 5 a.m. camping, before the fire. It makes me feel new, too.

I like the work. I am on a roof, there, framing, chipping concrete, zip-disking rebar and sometimes smoking a Marlboro.
I get to look out over the mountainside and down to the water. I see the ships go out and the birds are curious as the trees stand close to me, dwarfing me even when working on the second floor.

After the last bucket of pea-gravel had been filled, lifted and dumped, I carefully stood on the top of the frame at the deep end of the soon pool. Above the pool there is a large circular window that looks North up the mountain. I did my best to lean back a little without falling and out of that window I saw the para-gliders coming off of the peak of the mountain. They flew beautifully and seemed to just keep catching the same updraft as they flew from side to side. I didn't watch for too long because I was tired but at the same time I wished I was there, too. It made me think of that picture in Kill Devil Hills.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

"In that moment, Govinda realized that his friend was leaving him and he began to weep."

It had been four years of constant farewells. I think that is something that can not translate very well. After leaving my friends and family the last time, again, the feeling was subtle and numb. Not that it was without sadness, it had just become routine; the hugs and back patting, the see-you-soon.
In Edmonton it was sweet and warm and drunk while old friends felt joy together again. Sometimes it was sad, too, to see things which had been missed so achingly, to do things which used to make me feel like a man. The sudden wave of being liked and loved and invited was almost overwhelming. I had not felt that way in a very long time.
The only time it rained while I was in Edmonton was on the morning I was loading my truck. I chose to use ratchet straps, which were tighter and more assuring than rope. A good trick is that they need to be given a full turn so that there is a visible twist in the strap. The wind on the highway will make a straight ratchet strap flutter and hum loudly. It might even begin to wear on the integrity of the strap itself. The rain made the loading and tarp-strapping unpleasant and counterproductive, as the rain would pool in wrinkles on the tarp and when I shifted the tarp the water would dump onto the cardboard boxes.
That morning it rained. The three weeks previous had been clear and hot and the Alberta sky was huge, dizzying to follow from horizon to zenith to horizon. It was delightful to escape the heat by simply slipping into the shade. The humid summers of Japan were heavy and relentless. Even the air conditioned rooms, when there was one, were foes. The danger was always catching a chill after being outside and sweating profusely. August in Alberta was easy and casual. It only rained once while I was there.

Friday, September 19, 2008


August was good and the sun was high and bright for the long days. It only rained once in Edmonton. The trip South was on Highway 22, the Cowboy Trail. You can see the mountains from 22 about 160km South of the Yellowhead Trail, West of Edmonton. The Rockies, coming in from Alberta, are sentinels. The vast golden plains give way to awkward crags and hills where the wind bends the trees on the hills and the distant mountains loom until suddenly you are upon them, immense. Driving was hypnotic, which posed little threat, as the road was flat and straight and there were no cars to be seen in either direction; only the Rockies on the skyline. I drove like that with my windows rolled down so I could smell the sweetgrass and horses and hear the birds. Especially the birds. Sometimes I would pull into the entrance of a ranch field, park the truck and just listen. For four summers I had not heard a Chickadee even once. It was strange to realize that.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

I deserved it

Kismet. Destiny. Inescapable fate, whether it's the thread of aViking's life as spun by the blind Norns, the store of a man's days as set down in the Book of Life... or the operational lifespan of a piece of electronics as determined by its warranty period. Hidden actuaries project these things out, and their voodoo math makes reality: a warranty is a death-spell, a terminator gene like the time-bomb killswitch coded into Blade Runner replicants...

... except, unlike Rutger Hauer, my iBook didn't get to have a dove flutter heavy-handedly skyward as it took its fatal plunge to the tile floor, less than a week after its AppleCare period elapsed. It's time was up; the power of warranty expiration basically shoved it out of my hands and into eternity.

And so. You know what happens now. Out of retirement, out of necessity, comes the old war-horse, the beaten-down ThinkPad that'd been put out to pasture (i.e. coffined in a banker's box and shoved in a closet) so many years ago. You pick it up, and... you know the feeling of exquiste delicacy you get when you pick up a really old cat? That's what it's like to handle my laptop.

A creaking, crashy bit-rotten install of goddamn Windows ME, the system restore discs long since lost in a seires of moves; no wi-fi capacity; a single functional i/o port (USB) and an unhinged monitor; some kind of deep, deep trouble that makes opening any web browser impossible so I have to type URLs directly into the address bar of an empty folder, force the desktop itself out onto a Web that's ten years beyond its comprehension... every minor hang, hiccup or crashlet requiring rebooting.

You've got to be a silver-lining type in these situations, channel a little Pollyanna for the sake of your own sanity. A half-dead, unreliable, breeze-fragile laptop from the Clinton years? Well, its lack of now-basic functionality will actually enhance my productivity! All my online time-wasters are dead to me -- even a whiff of an embedded YouTube video sends it to crashland, only the cleanest, simplest of sites come close to functioning properly,and the six-versions-ago Flash player eliminates the possibility of playing any of the browser games that've been eating up five or so hours out of evey day. The only thing on this machine that actually works realiably is WordPad, the stripped-down text editing program. There's nothing to do here but write, right?

You'd think so. But the truly dedicated -- maybe pathological? -- procrastinator, work-shirker and gaming addict will always find a way. And so, a way was found.

One of the cool/interesting things about pulling a years-ago machine out of closetbound dotage is that, if you're like me and didn't do any housekeeping before shoving it into the darkness, is that it's kind of like a time capsule. There's the last things you were working on, the last photos you uploaded, the last sites you visited. Memories, nostalgia... maybe a little bit of heartbreak. In my case, just past the old reviews (I'd forgotten how much I hated the Minority Report game) and sunny pics of distant girlfriends was an old, familiar doom: when last I used this machine, I still hadn't worn away the novelty of NES emulation.

So, there was the emulator -- NESter.exe, public beta 2, (c)2000 -- but... where were the ROMs? For some reason -- maybe in the poorly-thought-out disc-space-clearing frenzy that originally destroyed my web-browsing capacity -- I'd ditched my library of ripped Nintendo classics, the Bionic Commandos and Little Nemo the Dream Masters, and left myself with exactly two titles: Snake, Rattle and Roll and Phantom Fighter.

Now, these are both more-or-less terrible games. Phantom Fighter is a frustrating, repetetive, side-scrolling kung-fu adventure that's only interesting for its weird ancient-Chinese-vampire-hunter premise; Snake, Rattle and Roll is a mechanically interesting isometric action game rendered nearly unplayable by some of the most aggressively, purposely, sadistically aggravating music I've ever heard. But I took what getaway I could get: midnight of my first day of enforced "nothing to do but write" found me with my dust-crusted old gamepad in hand, grimly kicking the digital shit out of vampire after pink, hopping vampire.

Destiny... kismet. There are some things that simply must be; they're part of the Math of the Universe. A service plan expires, and a laptop must die. His laptop dead, the true vidiot (this term must make a comeback!) finds a way, any way, to snatch empty entertainment from the jaws of productivity.

The circle will not be broken.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Firday Freakout: The Price

It's Brian Adams on the phone it's Brian Adams on the phone it's Brian Adams on the phone it's Brian Adams on the phone it's Brian Adams on the phone it's Brian Adams

Dwarf Fortress, pt 2

Sweet southern springtime, the last late skiff of snow evaporated, the lawns lousy with more robins than a Teen Titans cosplay convention. I really ought not to be spending these golden-crisp sweaterweather days indoors, quasimodoed over a laptop, but… other worlds have other seasons and their attendant responsibilities. Besides, I’m parked here by the picture window, plenty of Vitamin D flooding in; I even get a bit of a social life, when I make eye contact with passers-by.

Maybe I should have shaved.

Or taken a shower.

Or at least changed out of my pajamas.

“I can smell you from here,” my lady calls from an adjoining room, and I know she’s not exaggerating. I can feel it on me, familiar as favorite socks: old-time Gamer Sweat, sour scent of The Zone, pheromone cloud biologically calculated to attract… who? Not the female of the species, for sure. Maybe it’s a primitive, cellular matchmaking service, XBox Life: caveman nerds would catch a whiff across the glaciers and know someone nearby was up for a few rounds of StoneThrow 10KBC

I’m still playing Dwarf Fortress, you see, and though you all come here for only the freshest videogame coverage I’m going to take a Mulligan on last week’s column – time, tide and deadlines forced me into it too early: I’d only logged twenty or so hours, and most of that in a series of pathetically stillborn Fortresses. I’ve since sunk another twenty into this most intricately geeky world-simulator and managed to see one noble outpost through two whole game years without collapse… and I’m still Holy Shitting every half hour or so, at the crazy crap that emerges from the simulation’s natural chaos.

But even with a whole workweek’s worth of time dropped into DF, I’m still scrambling up the lower slopes of the game’s craggy learning curve, the rest of the mountain rising before me. Dwarf Fortress is a pain in the ass to play, DOS-shell-style menus on top of submenus on top of sub-sub-menus detailing everything from, for example, the attributes of each individual morsel of food, to where each individual Dwarf sits at dinner, to how that Dwarf feels about her seating assignment and how those feelings affect the healing of her sprained wrist. And it’s all displayed via an indecipherable textlike GUI that looks like somebody’s dog ate the Rosetta Stone and barfed it up all over the Matrix.

Some tips for prospective Dwarven castellans. After grabbing the zip from Bay 12 Games, go immediately to the Dwarf Fortress wiki, devour as much of the newb material (esp. “Your first Fortress”) as possible -- and plan on keeping that window open for a week or so, even though DF’s omniscient God-brain snarls at sharing process time with other programs. And even with your hand held minute-to-minute by these thoughtful tutorials and walkthroughs you’re going to be frustrated – and, let’s be honest, kind of bored -- to the point of Fuck It and beyond… the only way to endure through this is to have a source of hope, a vision of what your manky, poorly-sited, starving cavern of losers could become, of what wonders Dwarf Fortress can offer the stalwart.

I personally recommend the Saga of Boatmurdered, a “succession game” in which multiple players guided (or tried, mostly in vain, to guide) the fortunes of the titular citadel, handing off the controls at the end of each game year and recording the events of their turns in-character. The writing is spotty as you’d expect from an ad-hoc rota of geeks, ranging from workmanlike to comedy gold, but without the example provided by their tale – complete with marauding elephants, genocidal lava traps, grand achievements, hubristic vanity projects and eventual mass insanity – I’d never have had the will to force my head into DF’s maddening depths.

So now I’ve finally got a thriving little outpost going, known to the Dwarves as Thikutostuk: “Booksneak”. Irrigation’s all figured out (only a single puppy drowned in the flooding, this time!), I’m mining a tidy little ore vein, got some lukewarm trade links established, and hopeful immigrants are filling out the population, bringing with them much-needed expertise – or, at least, strong backs and an Old World work ethic (also alcoholism). And speaking of filling out the population, I note that my engineer, Ilral Knifemachine, has been dallying with foredwarf Logem Relicsalves… might the pitter-patter of tiny (yet sturdy) feet soon echo through the halls of Booksneak?

Time – hours of precious, precious time – will tell, and damn me but I’m willing to put in those hours… because I’m more involved in Boooksneak than I have been in any videogame character in a long while. That’s the terrible secret of Dwarf Fortress: behind the savage wall of user-unfriendliness lies a world-simulator of constantly surprising complexity, and the extreme abstraction of the world’s presentation requires reactivation of imaginative capacity long lulled by the advance of graphics technology. More than any other sim game, Dwarf Fortress really lives, and lives inside you...

...which makes it pathetically tough to live outside it.

Dwarf Fortress, pt 1

From the journals of Solon Playfulcastle, Bossdwarf:

Arrived at fortress site early Month Granite. Mood best described as ‘hopefully wary’—the very defensible box canyon location is unfortunately too far above the treeline for anything to grow. The only available timber is from a meager stand of scraggly pine a few miles down the mountain, and from our own dismantled wagons.

There are no game animals around, and on the sterile schist of the canyon only an inedible lichen thrives. With luck, we’ll manage to get the brook dammed and a farm cavern dug and irrigated before we starve to death, or run out of booze.

Oh, and the oracle at the Dwarven Mining Co-op chose the name “Bustmystery” for this enterprise. Great.

A Mac OS port of Dwarf Fortress was recently released, an exciting piece of news; since the middle of 2006, I’d watched longingly through the glass as the various tribes of indie game geeks, hardcore roguelike mavens and other gaming masochists sung the praises and cursed the cruelty of Bay 12 Games’ fantasy base-building sim. At last, I’d have the chance to find out for myself how my fellow nerds were finding tragedy and triumph in those impenetrable screensful of multicolored letters, numbers and punctuation.

On the PlayThis Thing! blog, Greg Costikyan described Dwarf Fortress best when he called it a game from a parallel universe, a universe whose computers are just as powerful as ours but where the revolutions in graphics and user-interface design never happened, where games are powerful simulators displayed in ASCII text and controlled through cludgy shell menus and an arcane repertoire of hotkeys.

To someone from our world, where the wand-waving magic of the Wii is getting senior citizens addicted to virtual bowling and the fastest-growing sector of the games market is in “casual” games that require one mouseclick and two brain cells to play, Dwarf Fortress seems beyond daunting. But on the other side of the insane – sadistic, really – learning curve lies one of the most intricate, involving, entertaining and flat-out satisfying simulation games ever devised…
From the journals of Solon Playfulcastle, Bossdwarf:

Bad idea to schedule the construction of the whisky still and the bunkhouse before excavating the farm. I thought it would help morale, but nothing’s getting done; the big plan now is to give up on gem-mining and just export organic lichen liquor.

Hang on; I think I hear the head mason hauling himself out of bed. As much as I hate to get all hierarchical – this is supposed to be a progressive, collaborative enterprise – I think I’m going to have to lean on him to finish building those irrigation floodgates. The food situation is getting worse.

Dwarf Fortress amazes with is its ambition; developed by a single programmer, Tarn Adams (with design assist from his brother, Zach), the game is a world simulator on every level from the planetary – the world is built fractally, according to rules of geology, hydrology, biology and meteorology – to the visceral: the dwarves working on a Moria of their very own are resolved physically down to individual limbs and organs, and psychosocially to the level of fundamental needs and preferences.

The result is all the wonder of a living world, a game whose challenge and entertainment arise from the barely-predictable chaotic interaction of systems: accidentally digging into an underground aquifer floods a cavern, which kills a dog, which depresses its owner, who stops working, which holds up a fortification project, which means the goblins get in… ad infinitum, on every level, constantly. Eventually, the effects of countless butterfly wings push the whole system over one brink or another and the fortress fails spectacularly.

The Dwarf Fortress motto: “Losing is fun.” Not only is it fun to watch your little ant-farm world of dwarves finally succumb to goblinish or demonic invaders – or to depression, madness and mass murder/suicide – but there’s a whole other Adventure Mode to play, a straight-up roguelike dungeon crawler through which you can explore the ruins of your fortress, discovering its treasures and records, experiencing its rise and fall though the lens of dungeon archaeology.

While the industry encrusts itself into formal genres, cranking out trivial variations like a tavern Blues band barfing up cover after 12-bar cover, Dwarf Fortress comes on like underground punk rock: revolutionary, independent, free, uncompromising… and more than a little terrifying.
From the journals of Solon Playfulcastle, Bossdwarf:

We’re going home. Nothing will grow here, the irrigation system is fucked, we’re dismantling empty ale barrels (there are lots of them) for scrap lumber because nobody can go logging without getting mauled by bears… and now our chief engineer is possessed, or something.

Farewell, Bustmystery. And fuck you.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Manufacturing Badassery

Devil May Cry 4 and the Asskicking Arms Race

In the hack-and-slash action genre, market success depends on establishing a game’s protagonist as a grade-A badass… and there's an arms race going on. Run-of-the-mill Navy SEALS, ex-Green Berets, veteran Marines and hardboiled cops might as well be tree surgeons. Even the go-to Asiatic badasses, samurai, ninja and kung-fu masters need much more than bushido, ninjustsu and the Mantis Fist to turn heads. Gimmick after grim gimmick piles up, and last year’s over-the-top asskicker looks this season like a 19th-century gentleman pugilist.

Ninja Gaiden’s “super ninja”, Ryu Hyabusa, can absorb enemy essences and unleash Ultimate Techniques? Well, maybe he can get a job hassling skateboarders down at the mall now that God of War’s hate-driven, deicidal maniac Kratos has made the scene with his pair of demonic, whirling chain-daggers. And who’s going to relegate Kratos himself to appearances on game shows and faded-celebrity reality series?

Devil May Cry 4 developer Capcom would dearly love their new series lead, Nero, to be that Kratos-killer. The former star of the Devil May Cry games, Dante, once the Crown Prince of all stylish slaughter-artists, was getting a bit long in the tooth; sure, he’s a half-demon, but who isn’t these days? His ridiculously outsized sword, legendary though it may be, is still a sword, and even juiced with magic power his twin .45s are still recognizable as something akin to real-world guns. Old, and, for the purposes of vicarious videogame violence in a novelty-driven market, busted.

The new hotness: Nero, an update on the Dante model. The series-trademark overcoat is still there (no badass is complete without swirly outerwear, unless they wear sci-fi armor or go shirtless) but as a younger dude Nero’s hip-hopped it up a bit: now he wears it with a hoodie vest. On the gun side of things, at first glance it seems the kid’s gone old-school with a Dirty Harry-style revolver, but even the “most powerful handgun in the world” isn’t badass enough for the 21st Century; look closer, and you’ll see Nero’s massive handcannon is actually double-barreled, one above the other. Badasssss!

Nothing says “totally awesome” like having one of your arms replaced by something other than your own flesh and blood -- Capcom’s own Bionic Commando was a pioneer in this area, with his extending cyber-arm. A part-demon like his predecessor, Nero has opted for his requisite arm-replacement to take the form of a spooky, glowing, Geigeresque demon limb called the “Devil Bringer” which, as the name suggests, serves to bring devils closer, via telekinesis, so Nero can smash them into the floor, throw them around or, preferably, chop them up with his sword.

The sword, now, that’s the piece de resistance. I can just imagine the brainstorming session that came up with Nero’s blade. Nero needs a sword, and it needs to be outlandishly big – that’s a given. But Dante already brought a seven-foot blade into the series; where do we go from there? A demon sword? Nah; we blew our demonic quotient on that totally rad arm, and demon swords are a little played out besides. A fire sword, maybe? Pfft; yeah, my grandmother loves flaming swords…she read about them in the Bible.

Well, what, then? Our boy will get slaughtered in the marketplace with some manky off-the-shelf hunk of steel, no matter how baroque we dress it up. What do we do with the sword? With what do we gimmick it? What’s the most badass thing?

How about… how about motorcycles? Motorcycles are still pretty badass, right?

Oh, my darling readers; in that moment, badass history was made. In the asskickin’ arms race, Nero’s sword is the hydrogen bomb. Of course it’s enormous; without demon blood or whatever you’d need a forklift to move it. Adding to its mass is, I guess, some kind of internal engine; the sword’s hilt is a replica of a motorcycle handlebar – complete with brake lever forming the handguard – and before he gets into tough fights, Nero actually revs it up like you would a bike -- RUNNN-nunnunnunn-RUNNNN-nunnunnunn-RUNNNNNNNUNNNUNNNNUNNNRRRRR! – and it starts flaming and smoking and vibrating and does a ton of extra motorbike-based damage to whatever hapless hellspawn happens to get in the way. “Kawasaki Ninja” has a whole new meaning.

Where will this mad rush to ever badder badassery lead us? Thanks to the bloody-minded quest for total awesomeness, the world’s videogame characters between them have the capability to kick the asses of every human being on the planet ten times over. And there’s no end in sight – the fact Nero is Japanese will only motivate North American developers to redouble their efforts, and it’s anyone’s guess what abominations lie beyond the sword-that’s-also-a-motorbike barrier.

For the sake of the children, I urge restraint. In Montreal, in Vancouver, in Boston and Seattle and Dublin and Paris, I beg all game developers: walk away from the zero-sum game of badass one-upmanship. Disarm. Return our gameworlds to the core values they were based on, where a simple ex-Special Forces commando who witnesses his family mercilessly slaughtered by the mob could wreak honest vengeance with a good, solid M-16. Where a young ninja, armed only with the volcano-forged, blood-quenched blade that belonged to his betrayed father, could hope to one day earn himself an international marketing deal. Where just ripping a dude’s head off was a treat, and we were happy to have it.