Thursday, April 24, 2008

Scanner Frustration... Final Project Progress...

I've gotten started on the final project, at least the write-up of details. Web-design hasn't really started, I plan on co-conspiring with my little brother to do something... nifty. However, the big thing I needed hasn't materialized, even though I've checked star labs and other Mason sources: a large flatbed scanner. I need it to scan in some stuff that's basically on 11"x17" paper, something a normal scanner won't fit. Perhaps I will have to dig out my family's old one and try and get it to work... we'll see, otherwise I'll be reduced to using multiple scans on images and then trying to piece them together in photoshop... arg.

Ahh well.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

On swords for random reasons...

Mostly inspired by this post over on Ahab's blog...

Perhaps more so than any form of weapon, people like to compare swords and declare that they think "X" is the best or "Y" is better. Sure, you see this in firearms, but when it comes to guns its a much more statistical game that ends with some obvious facts that can be compared. Swords are more esoteric, and a lot hinges on the skill of the user more than the quality of the blade.

But in the end, its pointless to compared different blades to say which is the best.

Why? Well, frankly, every sword design tells a story, a story of the culture that forged it, about their advantages and disadvantages, their philosophy of combat, and how the society changed. Take, for instance, the Katana. One of the most "fanboyed" blades in existence. Don't get me wrong, I like the Katana, but it is designed very specifically for one thing: cutting through an unarmored or lightly armored opponent. The blade is thin and sharp, folded many times, used mostly used with a slashing motion. What does this blade tell us? That the Japanese were resource poor, having limited quantities of good iron, and did not have to worry about cutting through heavy armor. The European Cruciform sword, on the other hand, has a thick blade that is usually more blunted than sharp, has a thicker spine and used more in a slashing motion, though relatively easy to thrust with (being straight rather than curved). This tells us that the Europeans had a significant amount of good quality iron, enough that they had to design a sword that could break through heavy armor, as well as keep a hand free to use a shield.

Other swords tell similar stories about their cultures and history. The history of swords is the history of metal smithing, and while everyone finds a favorite sword among the hundreds of weapons designed over the thousands of years, saying that one is definitively the best out of all of them is, in the end, an exercise of futility.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Technicaly Behind in old Blogging, but this is about Games and Gameworlds...

Yes, I know I haven't updated the blog for my class as frequently as required, but, well, I've never been really good at this updating online stuff. However, today's assignment, blogging about games and gameworlds, is something quite close to my heart.


I'll be honest, I'm a gamer. I'm also not a simple computer gamer, I'm a role-player in the worst degree, I play DnD, I play a LARP (that's a Live-Action Role-Play), I play Computer RPGs and Console RPGs (yes, there is a major difference), I've played MMORPGs, I've played Persistent Worlds and play by email or forums RPGs. There are very few genres I haven't hit, and the reason behind my love of them all is very simple:

I'm a sucker for a good story, especially ones I can be a part of.

I've also played lots of strategy games, some shooters, hells, I have a drawer full of computer game jewel cases, to say nothing of the shelf of console games I own.

And in every case, my favorite games (outside of the Sim-style games) all tell engaging stories that I, as a player, get to take part in (well, except for Total Annihilation, but the gameplay more than makes up for the weak story).

I play these games for the same reason I read a book, to be told a story, albeit one I have a little more say over. That being said, since I was just a little guy, I'd read a story, then late at night as I'm falling asleep, imagine myself as a part of the story. The games I tend to replay (that are not open-ended like the Sim games or Civilization games) are ones that tell an engrossing story, where I just want to play through the next section (read through the next chapter) to find out what happens next. What is around the next corner in the dystopian New York of Deux Ex? Where am I as I exit through the next hyperspace jump as I return to the Homeworld? Just what is a Spirit Eater and why am I one in Neverwinter Nights 2: Mask of the Betrayer? Will the Prince of Falena succeed in Suikoden V? Will the Chosen One find the GECK of Vault 13 and save the people of Fallout 2?

In any case, the fundamental part of a gameworld is a degree of interactivity, allowing the players to do things are they will. Even if this is as limited to what actions to take from an action menu while the players go down a preconstructed story, these choices are what differentiate games from a movie, television show or novel. That being said, everything that is important in those venues is important in creating a gameworld and engaging game. What are those? Well, its the fundamental three things that are part of any story: setting, characters and plot.

The setting is potentially the most difficult thing to set up in any for of fiction, especially in the genres that games most often use: Science Fiction and Fantasy. Some games can build on previous games, for instance the Suikoden games, unlike the more famous Final Fantasy series, all take place in the same world. This means that games all draw on similar ideas and even similar game mechanics. This also allows the games to have reoccurring characters, some who have multiple adventures in their lives, and others who are just mysterious, just like a series of novels or movies.

Dystopia futures are also common settings. This makes it a bit easier than creating a world from scratch, as you draw on the read world, but in a twisted future, perhaps rules by conspiracies and megacorps like in Deus Ex, or in the post nuclear war world of Fallout. Finally, the science fiction games have their own challenges, just like any science fiction story, they have to seem plausible, and at the same time, fantastic. The actual setting of the game must interest people, since the player's character, the person or people they control live in and affect this world. If the setting does not engage a player, they quickly loose interest.

Characters are equally important, but perhaps much more complicated. The main protagonist of a game is the player. In completely linear games, this isn't a problem, as you can always put words in a character's mouth, making a game into a movie with interactive combat. That being said, often what is done in games is what is termed the "silent protagonist," that is, a character who doesn't speak at all, letting the player fill in the gap with their own dialog. Or, in some games that don't use extensive voice acting, there is extensive use of dialog choices that shape the player's relationships with the world around them.

The supporting cast of a game, what are called Non-player characters in RPGs, also play a huge role. These are the characters that are more in line with more traditional storytelling mediums, as the creators of the game have complete say over their personalities, their actions and their ends, though often in RPGs the creators will allow the way the player acts or talks to them to affect them, changing their actions and outlooks. Like any medium, these characters must be developed and sympathy (or hatred) must be engendered. If a character that is suppose to support the player is hated or shallow it can drive people away from the game, while if the characters are interesting and sympathetic it can help overcome bad game mechanics or buggy gameplay.

Finally, like any story, plot plays a major role. This area is the most open, as any story can be told, at the same time because of the nature of computer games, the plot often is a heroic story involving the player character overcoming the odds and various enemies. Conflict resolution is usually through some sort of violent means, which is one reason Science Fiction and Fantasy are popular genres. That being said, many games hide their plot and set of the world so that, instead of the player being the center of the plot, the player(s) are merely a part of the world: MMORPGs are the chief of this type of game. At first glance, World of Warcraft, for instance, has no clear plot, but this is actually not quite true. There is a story going on in the world: the struggle between the Alliance and the Horde and the potential revival of the Burning Legion, but unlike other games, the players play only marginal roles in this plot, as it is revealed through expansions that change things about the world, and the smaller stories, that though persistent and never truly resolved, that the players work through at they play.

It is possible to have a game without the elements of storytelling, these games don't have a true "gameworld" in the sense that there is fully fleshed out alternate world, but are merely diversions designed to entertain through distraction rather than through storytelling. In the end, there's nothing wrong with that, but for me, personally, I've still got a soft spot for a good story.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The Remix Project...

So, technically, the post was suppose to be written before the project was actually done, about the idea, etc. However, I forgot to write it up and got working on my project, got an idea down, and set to work.

So what did I do? I remixed a remix. I had some work from AVT 180, which while called "Computers in Creative Arts" is really "How to use Photoshop." In that class we had to make collages out of randomly scanned items, three to be precise. However, for the Remix I decided to use only 1, which I had entitled "Gone to Flowers," and portrays a field of gravestones, with small white flowers in front of the stones underneath a blue sky with a rainbow. The title comes from the old folk war protest song "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?" Is it, in itself, a war protest piece? If you want it to be, I'm not personally opposed to war, nor the current ongoing wars (but that's something else entirely), I made it because I felt like it and liked the image I ended up with.

But to remix this, I needed some text that fit the image, both melancholy and hopeful. A hard combination to say the least, so again I delved into my old schoolwork for inspiration. Last semester in Engl. 497 I was working on a fantasy novel called "Skiamancer." The main characters, Kagaea, Cazain and Jackin, stuck in my mind, and I wanted to use them in more (as well as complete the novel), so I wrote a short scene involving an old story in their world while they traveled during the events of my novel. Using some of the closing dialog, I mixed it with the image to produce the final assignment, which can be found here...

Why go through all this instead of doing like most folks will do and remix things that are creative commons or public domain? In the end, I simply wanted to create all the pieces going into this project. This could be because I wished to maintain my own copyrights, or perhaps, more likely, because I simply enjoy creating things from scratch.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Belated Homework...

It was supposed to be up over the weekend, and here it is now... much belated.

Oh well.

For the record, I hijacked my girlfriend's webspace to host it as I figured it would be simpler than setting up everything on my own.

So without further ado... simply click here...

Thursday, February 7, 2008

On copyrights and freedom...

Its overall funny, I have mixed feelings on copyrights. On the one hand, I believe the current system is completely messed up, after all, the current copyright length can be summed up with the following equation:

C is the copyright length, where L is the lifetime of the creator and D is the length of time nessisary for Disney to keep the copyright to Mickey Mouse.

Its absurd, and flies in the face of what the idea of copyright is meant to do: protect a creative artist's livelihood. At this point there is no need for Disney to keep the rights it has, its not going to suddenly go belly up if people can make Mickey Mouse dolls or use the image in their own productions.

The extension of copyright also has other issues, if a great novel was published in the 1930s, it still might be under copyright, but if nobody reprints the novel, it disappears and dies, forgotten. If the novel was under public domain, it might become more widely circulated and continue on with a life of its own. In the end, what this does is encourages an elitist control of the market, where what decision makers like, or perhaps academics like, is perpetrated, while other, perhaps equally good things, are left to rot on the back shelf.

On the other hand, I'm an aspiring author, I want to write novels, be published, and make money simply for creativity. In this regard, copyrights are my friend, they protect me personally from people stealing my ideas, or publishing an unauthorized edition of a work of mine, making sure that they do what they're suppose to do: protect a creative artist's livelihood.

Then comes file sharing into the mix. This is a really complicated bag for me. On the one hand, if the RIAA ever got their hands on my computer... well, actually, they likely wouldn't be able to do a damn thing, most of my "pirated" music does not fall under their jurisdiction, and the stuff that does I can produce originals of, even if it happens to be a LP record from my father's collection. That being said, the RIAA is a damn money-grubbing organization that actually does more harm to creative artists than good, in my opinion. As some have said, most artists wish they were at a point where they were being pirated...

However, that being said there is an industry where things get more... hazy: the Anime industry. For those of you who don't know, Anime is Japanese Animation. It became quite popular through the 90s with shows like Inu Yasha and other things on Cartoon Network's Adult Swim (before they dumbed it down with stupid fart-joke shows). Anime, in Japan, is a primary form of televised entertainment, unlike the US where animation is mostly reserved for kid shows and only makes up a small block of our entertainment. In America these shows come out very slowly by companies that purchase distribution rights in the US, then go through a painstaking process of localization, subtitling and dubbing. This means that often Americans get released of these shows a full 3 to 4 years after they've finished in Japan, and shows that were broadcast on a weekly basis as part of a regular season are stretched out over years.

Then came the internet and high powered computing... and most importantly, peer to peer file sharing. People from around the world could go to Japanese websites and download the raw video of a show broadcast... they could translate the show, put in subtitles and release it onto the internet for fans to watch not in a matter of years, but a matter of days. The record times from raw to subtitled release are probably measured in hours. These shows are not licensed for distribution in the US, and the fansubbers, as these groups are called, do not charge a dime for their work, so they are not benefiting from their activities. Most are very meticulous on staying on the good side of American and Japanese companies, pulling their fansubs when a license announcement is made or when requested (well, told via Cease and Desist orders really). It has had beneficial affects on the anime industry, popularizing it with Americans even more, leading to a boom in the early 2000s... this boom was actually so big that it helped pull Japan out of a recession. But now things have cooled in the US and the American industry is starting to turn on fansubbers, claiming they're killing the industry. Its a partially legitimate claim, after all, when you've already watched a show back when it was actively coming out in Japan, why go and spend the money on it now? To re-watch it? To get extras? Yes, but if the show wasn't that good, you'll likely not spend the money on it at all, which means if they choose a show known as "bad" they'll not make money on it. It also doesn't help that the DVDs are often overpriced, the company who was making the accusation, Geneon, charges $30+ for a DVD with 4, 30 minute episodes + a few extras, and we're not talking really major extras here. A similar DVD for an American TV show would likely cost <$20 and contain twice the amount of viewing material. It doesn't help that the way they release things is messed up, stretching out projects by months at a time rather than a complete series all at once. I personally have incomplete anime series because of that, I lost track of when they were coming out and forgot about them, now a few disks sit on my shelf, lonely without the rest of the series.

I don't want the American anime industry to disappear, I prefer having DVDs that will last longer and are more portable than files on a computer... and before you mention how easy it is to transport data, these files are typically over 150 MB in size and you need special software, or at least the proper files to play them, something which is easy to come by, but an overall pain to set up. Further, for watching things with friends, most of the time a TV set up is more group friendly than a PC.

Is there a better way t do these things? I'd say yes... but that's another rant altogether...

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Overrated "Literature" Online

The Electronic Literature Collection vol. 1 is perhaps typical of "literary" "innovation." It presents itself poorly, with a non-intuitive interface that has to be dug through to get any real information, and the majority of works on it merely present "innovation" that has been used for more entertaining and enlightening things for years. It also ignores more common web literature that is less "literary" and more popular, despite the fact that this popular stuff laid the groundwork and created the means by which this database could be collected.

Most of the items on the database are more based on using flashy (and flash) animation affects to disguise worthless content. Or using some sort of crutch of computer technology to disguise the lack of real content. The example I looked at was a version of Red Ridinghood
... and it was, in my opinion, poorly done overall, frustrating in its interface, and in the end failed to actually say anything.

Then again, maybe I'm too much of a storyteller to really get this stuff. My ideas of creative writing is perhaps, to narrow, as I believe that the fundamental goal of any form of creative writing, with exceptions for poetry, should be to tell an entertaining story. I find that things that disguise or confuse this storytelling a hindrance, no matter how "innovative" or "avante garde" that might be. In the end, I think the ELCv1 typical of "literary" writing, it is purposefully arcane and unusual in order to impress or cover up the lack of actual story. It also seems to ignore the largest single form of online literature: the webcomic. This form has been around since the middle to late 90s and continues strong to this day. Unlike many items on the ELCv1, webcomics are a truly open field with people ranging from high schoolers to professional artists, rather than a collection of more established and "literary" authors and artists. Sites range from the very professional to using nothing more than clip art.

Perhaps, in the end, preference is more the key. Some people like the arcane and "literary," and find it uplifting and fascinating. Others, like me, find it pretentious and obscuring, and, frankly, overrated.