Friday, August 27, 2010

Star Wars Status Updates: A Response

Please find below a Facebook status update exchange re: Alderaan. Don't believe the hype. (Other than mine, names changed to protect the foolish.)

Mike Wines
Please put this on your status if you know,or are related to someone killed on Alderaan when it was obliterated by the Death Star. My wish is that people will understand that the Empire is a band of murdering scum. The Rebel Alliance wants only to bring peace to the galaxy, but the evil Empire continues to kill innocent civilians. 93% won't copy/paste this. Will YOU make this your statusforat least one hour?

Alex Livingston
I don't normally talk politics on FB, but you have drawn me out with your conspiracy theories.
An entire planet destroyed by a battle station? A man-made moon? This baseless nonsense has been sent around the galaxy in forwarded emails and treated as if it were fact. The explosion of Alderaan is the greatest tragedy in recent memory, and marginalized political groups trying to bend the facts to suit their ends is shameful.

Fact: The only accounts of the "obliteration" of Alderaan via a mysterious "Death Star" come from terrorists.

They allege that they destroyed this massive station and killed everyone on it. No witnesses -- convenient.

Fact: Until the Alderaan event, no one had ever heard of this alleged moon-sized battle station.

What purpose would a Death Star serve? Why would Coruscant pay for something that large when warfare is known only to history? Who would they use it against? Not the systems, surely. Why would the Empire destroy its own tax base? Any pirate threat has never required more than a few twin-ion-engine pilots to bring to an end.

Fact: Only days before the Alderaan event, the archaic and bloated Galactic Senate had finally been dissolved, with authority over the systems being moved to regional governors.

After the sad end of Alderaan, this "Death Star" story was invented by the elusive terrorist organization. They play on the fears of the citizenry -- the breakdown of the Empire into chaos. I urge you not to take the incendiary rumors sent around by gun-toting backwoods types seriously.

Mike Wines
Your points are all very interesting Alex. However, you failed to address one small issue. Where's Alderan?

Alex Livingston
The planet of Alderaan is gone. The exact cause remains in the realm of conjecture (a fact the terrorists are all too happy to exploit), but I am much more inclined to believe that some kind of massive geophysical disaster destroyed it than that the government blew up a weaponless planet without cause or warning.

The reduction of the planet to asteroids is very telling -- what kind of technology exists that could do such a thing? The Death Star "argument" infers that the Empire not only built a base of unprecedented size in complete secret, but also developed a world-destroying weapon under the same cloak. The term "far-fetched" does not even come close. Again, what would be the use of such a weapon? The Empire has no enemies; we are one united galaxy. And the only people with anything to gain from making us believe otherwise are the terrorists.

Bill Kelly
Fortunately, i did not have any family on akderan, however, I did have 2 sisters and their families contracting on the new DeathStar. They were lost in the newest terrorist plot, which has also brought about the end of our peace abd the demise of our fair and beloved leader, Palpetine. So, now I ask you, are the murdered parents of my neices and nephews the same merciless scum that you so vehimently prosecute? I think NOT!!! they were innocents! i think you should rethink your stance, sir, before you offend one more likely to draw first!

Alex Livingston
Mr. Kelly -
Thank you for your letter. I write to you from prison, placed here by your illegally installed new senate, may the blood never be washed from their hands. My unflagging loyalty to the Empire and the iron oath I swore to defend her have made me an enemy to the dandies who now swarm over beauteous Coruscant. After Endor, I did not skulk in shadow as was the wont of the terrorist; nay, I spoke my fidelity, knowing it would place me here.

It truly saddens me to hear of the untimely passing of your sisters. While the tears of one called "traitor" may not serve to assuage your family's pain one jot, I extend my condolences nonetheless, and I beg you to accept them in the spirit they are proffered.

I hope it is not too painful to set your memory back to the last days of the war, but I must ask -- how came your sisters to work on what you call the "new DeathStar" (sic)? To my knowledge, women did not serve in the Imperial Navy, an example of the humanitarian leadership under which those soldiers fought and bled. The Death Star was built by the Navy Corps of Engineers, military men all. Civilian contractors never set foot on the base.

There is a legend of the noble Lord Vader's first visit to that ill-fated space-station in which it is told that the officer who received him promised that his men would work overlong to ensure its completion before its grim purpose need be realized. His men, not civilians.

The construction of the battle-station was a brilliant coup by my beloved Empire. The success of the fallacious rumors of a Death Star (maudlin name, really) put the Navy in a position where to not build one would seem to be weakness. How could the good people of the Empire feel safe if the greatest technological marvel ever built had been destroyed by a band of angry criminals? The Navy needed to build a better one to assure the public they were well-protected, and so they did.
The world-destroying laser beam was an impossibility, of course. A large cannon was built into the base, but it was meant to be used only for the harassment of capital ships. The myth could go only so far.

The terrorists won that day, and what choice did the people have but to celebrate? The statue of our fair Palpatine on Coruscant was torn down not out of joy, but out of fear. Who would dare be called "loyalist"? Very few, I assure you.

As for your offer of a duel, I must play the part of coward. Even were I free, I would decline; I abhor blasters, you see. My pacifistic conscience was allowed to flourish under the Empire, but I'm afraid the new world - built on the bodies of honorable Navy men - cleaves to violence too much for me. Even from my cell I have heard rumors of a return of the order of the Jedi, the thugs of the old senate. They state themselves to be peacemakers and ambassadors, but I ask you what needs a diplomat with a sword?

All I can ask is that you think on what I have written, as I have thought on your note. And as for your challenge, I offer an alternate -- a duel of spelling.

Bill Kelly
Mr. Livingston, firstly, allow me to apoligize for my typing... i never claimed to be a typist, and attempting to do so on a qwerty cellular comlink occasionally ends poorly, however, I MOST CERTAINLY AM ABLE TO SPELL. Secondly, you were not the subject of my violent outburst. That being said, you most certainly may step onto the field should you so desire. you claim to be a pacifist? Perhaps,sir, you are the reason that your beloved empire has fallen!?! Lastly, you state that there were ni civilian contractors? Were you there? you assume truth in all that you read? If so, I have an entire wikipwdia volume for sale at a very reasonable price!!! Forget, never for a moment, that history is written by the victor. My sisters and their husbands were in fact "civvies" in the project which was so very ill fated. It is the likes of you, the "sheep" mentality, accepting all that is laid out nice and neatly for them that has ruined this galaxy for all time.

Bill Kelly
I appologize for my candor, alas, it is late and the Corrillean Ale, and my emotions, have gotten the better of me. Perhaps, when next we speak, it will be of happier tidingd. Adeiu

Alex Livingston
Thank you, Mr. Kelly, for your correspondence, and for proving my point for me.

Friday, January 01, 2010

Thursday, December 17, 2009

You know. Like a sword

I've been tooling around with Double Edged, a nice-looking, simple flash game over on Nitrome. It's pretty much just head right and slash at the baddies, very reminiscent of the old 8-bit games. I can help but wonder, though, what would this game have been like if it were released for the NES?

No Way, No How, No Saving

After sliding the big gray plastic Double Edged cartridge into the NES, the lucky player would have been given three lives and quite possibly a limited number of what us classic gamers remember as "continues". If you wanted to beat this badboy, you better have slated a whole afternoon and better not ever make a mistake. Or maybe you would get some unintelligible passcode which your brother would write down for you. You know, the kid whose "A"s and "E"s look exactly the same.

Oh yeah. This shouldn't be problem at all.

Now, Double Edged has twelve levels, or more correctly three levels and twelve save points. Short, I grant you. Just remember that Castlevania had six.

The graphics would be much closer to awful

Is this the face that launched a thousand titles?

Pixel art has come a long way since Kid Icarus. Just playing as a character made out of more than nine little squares was a life-altering event. And shading? Utterly jaw-dropping.

Here in Double Edged, not only do we enjoy well-crafted sprites and scenery, but we even get to enjoy multiple levels of moving background! And the characters have shadows!

The mountains move! Devilry!

You'll take 2 axes, and you'll like it

How'd you get up there?

Whoa, wait. You want to press up and move FARTHER AWAY? You are blowing my mind.

In NES land, you will go left, right, or nowhere at all. Better find a way to jump that box, because there's no going around it.

"Well, I'm stumped. You win, Joker."

A Few Points

For reasons that make little sense, the already-limited screen would have a points counter on it, hovering above you, as untouchable and judgmental as St. Peter. You know, so you could take a polaroid of your highest score and show it to your buddy Jay next time he came over. At least now you can shoot for an online leaderboard.

Yep, it just keeps ticking away up there. Kinda creeps me out.

That music will be stuck in your head for a very, very long time.

Red X, you are beauty.

So, somewhere along the line somebody figured out that not everybody likes chiptune? Being able to shut the damn music off is one of the better game developments in recent history. Sure, I like synthetic stylings as much as the next guy, but hearing the same eight bars on a loop as you repeatedly get killed by the same boss is just rubbing 8-bit salt in the wounds.

Now how much would you pay?

Minimum wage in the eighties was $3.35. NES games were fifty bucks. is free. It's a wonderful time to be alive.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

The First Party Polo

Ever give a gift to someone out of the blue? The sentence "hey, man, I got this for you" when uttered some time other than the Designated Gift-giving Holidays elicits a strange response from the recipient, a bitter cocktail of shame and terror. Fortunately, we have the holiday season, a socially-acceptable chance to act on those altruistic urges.

Buying for a gamer can be... let's just say "frustrating". The Geek Nation is known for having oddly specific tastes, and trying to pick up a game, accessory, or other such notion is fraught with the sort of Christmas peril usually reserved for Eastern European folklore. So, what to do? Our friends at Penny Arcade have a solution.

Some four years ago a posted an open letter to the suburban-trend-machine Hot Topic, asking, nay insisting they reconsider their marketing strategy as relates to gamers. A series of brilliant points were made about the fact that gamers aren't all kids and that many want something more subtle, but their nascent genius died on the inter-vine, apparently.

From the open letter:
Here is what I would like to see from you: a series of unassuming polo shirts with corporate logos embroidered on the right breast, but the logos are from the evil corporations from various videogames. For starters, whip a few for Shinra Incorporated, Datadyne, and the Umbrella Corporation.
Too subtle, perhaps, but the concept holds. Stop giving us puerile junk. What is needed is some sort of gamer polo shirt. You know, for grown-ups.

Enter the First Party v1.0 Launch Polo. Nice sharp shirt. Understated gamer logo.

At last! We can wear our colors with pride, not gaudy ostentation. A shirt for that day when your office holiday party and buddy Jonesy's LAN party are scheduled back-to-back.

You see polos with tennis rackets, golf clubs, skis, sports franchise logos, heck, even an actual polo player from time to time. And finally now we see something for the more sophisticated lover of the virtual lifestyle.

Now, the in-one's-face style of gamer swag has its place, certainly. In fact, it can be rather rad. But it is nice to have an option. Sports fans have enjoyed this luxury for some time, and I can only hope the First Party shirts are a harbinger of better days.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Better than Nothing - Cognitive Surplus and Gaming

We've got time. So much free time. For the last fifty years, we've spent it watching sit-coms, but not we've started to do something else. We're making Wikipedia and Lolcats. And we're playing Warcraft.

You should read this article, the main thrust of which is that we are starting to figure out what to do with the vast amount of free time we as a society have, and that the people who craft the future will be the ones who do just that. The issue of gaming comes up briefly:

In this same conversation with the TV producer I was talking about World of Warcraft guilds, and as I was talking, I could sort of see what she was thinking: "Losers. Grown men sitting in their basement pretending to be elves."

At least they're doing something.

Did you ever see that episode of Gilligan's Island where they almost get off the island and then Gilligan messes up and then they don't? I saw that one. I saw that one a lot when I was growing up. And every half-hour that I watched that was a half an hour I wasn't posting at my blog or editing Wikipedia or contributing to a mailing list. Now I had an ironclad excuse for not doing those things, which is none of those things existed then. I was forced into the channel of media the way it was because it was the only option. Now it's not, and that's the big surprise. However lousy it is to sit in your basement and pretend to be an elf, I can tell you from personal experience it's worse to sit in your basement and try to figure if Ginger or Mary Ann is cuter.

Are here we come to a main difference between Our People and non-gamers -- interactivity. We don't want to yell at the running back, we want to control his movements. Seeing who ends up being The Biggest Loser is not for us; we want to train our own characters to succeed.

And as everything people see and touch becomes more and more interactive, we recognize that the world is finally starting to catch up.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Turn to the left

Geeks don't really know much about fashion; aside from T-shirts and glasses, we're pretty much lost. You've seen the guys who work in IT -- you know it to be true. But do the fashionable know about video games?

Enter Charlotte Ronson. No, I didn't know who she was either.

Ms. Ronson, a fashion desiger, is collaborating with Nintendo on Style Savvy, an upcoming DS game slated fora November release.

From Nintendo's website:
Style Savvy combines creativity and fashion with a collection of trendy clothes, chic accessories and stylish shoes. As the owner of a clothing boutique, you must purchase inventory, monitor the store’s funds and try to please a constant stream of customers who look to you for the best fashions.
What's the game going to be like? Don't care. What I do care about is pictures like these:



A VG device used as a fashion accessory? Nails painted Noble Blue to match? I thought gamers were all supposed to be mouth-breathing weirdos. Aren't I supposed to be embarrassed to own a DSi?

Something called "Fashion Week", which I assume is some form of festival related to clothing and cigarettes, took place recently, and Ronson held an after-party featuring several DSes and a preview of the Style Savvy game.

From here:
Charlotte Ronson knows how to put together a good show on and off the runway. Following an edgy SS 2010 collection, the designer threw a party where celebs drank Svedka cocktails and previewed a new fashion boutique game called Style Savvy from Nintendo DS and DSi. (The yet-to-be released game will launch later this year so you won’t have to wait long!) Erin Lucas, Tinesley Mortimer, Kirsten Dunst, and Avril Lavigne were all glued to their Style Savvy shopping and styling outfits. It’s only a matter of time until we see this cute little game in every fashionista’s hands as they frolic in the park, travel on the subway, and sip their lattes at Starbucks.

I'm assuming we aren't going to see hand-helds incorporated into any challenges on Project Runway any time soon, but any press is good press when it comes to normal adults gaming. No, games aren't just for children. No, gamers don't all talk funny/smell funny. Yes, videogames are cool. Even the people who decide what 'cool' means think so.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Super Star Trek -- Neolithic Gaming

“Retro-gaming” is a highly-mutable term. Pulling out the tangle of cords that is your old Atari 2600? Retro-gaming, certainly. Blistering your fingers on that old NES controller? Sure. But how about the PS one? The Gamecube, even?

Semantics aside, there can be no doubt that logging some time with Super Star Trek counts as retro-gaming.

Yes, that’s an actual screenshot. A far cry from this, yes?

I first heard about SST when I was a young kid and my dad would tell tales of playing it on some massive old rig at work. (“During breaks”, of course.) Various incarnations of this game could be found on various boxes and home computers throughout the seventies. It was distributed for home use the old-fashioned way – by publishing the complete BASIC code in a magazine. A few hours of careful transcription and you were ready for… what exactly?

What on earth would motivate a modern gamer to keep playing this thing after a few curious moments? Sure, download a new version, tool around a bit, have a laugh. But to actually play? What could this code-snippet possibly have to offer?

It comes down to three aspects, few of which remain in today’s games.:

#1 – Turn-based play. Sure, it’s still out there, even on consoles, but there’s not much of it around. Spending some time with a game that allows you to leave it alone for a few hours while you consider whether or not you want to use your last photon torpedo on that distant klingon warbird (represented by a capital “K”) has a completely different feel. SST combines tactical turn-based play with the map size and freedom of a larger-scale strategy game.

#2 – Randomness. As you direct the Enterprise (that’s the “E”) around the charted galaxy, just about everything can go wrong. You are quite often yanked across the board by a “tractor beam” and placed in the middle of a firefight – not good if you’re on your way to a starbase (“B”) to reload. Sometimes the transporter will just flat out fail without warning, and the last sound your away team will hear is Scotty wailing that he’s losing them. A star (“*”) in your sector can go nova and toss you across the map like an empty can of Tab. Etc. And when I say “etc”, I mean it; much of the strategy in this game is focused on how to prepare for the worst that merciless random-number-generation can deal out.

#3 – The promotion system. Every lasting game needs a rewards system, and in SST it comes as a notification that you have been promoted to the next difficulty level. Sure, you could start at the hardest setting or keep on riddling away at the easiest, but getting the word that you have saved the Federation and are ready for harder trials makes the challenge all the more fun. When the player reaches the Expert level and scores well enough, the program will print a plaque. That’s right – something you can hang on your cube wall to show the world how awesome you are at Super Star Trek. Smitty over in networking will never live it down.

A large part of my personal enjoyment of this game comes from the hard-core, early-days-of-computing, Soul of a New Machine feel. After few rounds of typing in your commands (“pho 3 2 1 5 4 8 7”, for example) and squinting at the box of numbers and periods that serves as the starchart, you’ll feel your sideburns growing and your shirt sleeves shortening. There’s a romance to that green-texted era, the first time in history that true geekiness could be used for something other than HAM radio and Monty Python references. This is the time of legends, when Our People began. Which is why I can’t help but feel a flush of embarrassed pride over this:

Download it here.