I play video games and I have fun doing it, but I want them to be better.  I find myself getting bored of most games far before I get anywhere near completing them.  I see people talk about games having “a great story”, but I’ve never found any game’s story to be even as interesting as a mediocre movie, let alone a great movie or book.  The story has never been good enough to motivate me to churn through the tedium that every game inevitably throws at you to fill itself out.  I think that’s done by game developers because gamers always complain when a game is too short.  I’ve never found that to be a problem, though… I don’t finish any games, so in my opinion most of them are far too long!

Another problem with games today is ‘sequel-itis’.  Game makers are worse than the worst filmmakers about milking a successful ‘franchise’.  I loved Guitar Hero and played it for hours on end, and then I loved Guitar Hero 2 even more.. but I found myself playing Guitar Hero 3 mostly just to unlock all the songs.  I think Guitar Hero 3 is a superior game to its two predecessors, but the concept is already feeling tired to me.  Rock Band was so popular mostly because it took the next step and added an extra layer of group fun, and the ability to play drums and guitar is definitely pretty great.  Despite that, though, I found myself tiring of the game pretty quickly.  They keep releasing new for-pay songs you can download which should keep the game fresh, but I just find that I never really play it any more.  Rock Band IS a great party game, and playing it with a big group of people is some of the most fun I’ve ever had in front of a television, but it just doesn’t have the same appeal when I’m playing on my own.  The newness is gone, and without that there’s just not enough left to keep me interested.  Grand Theft Auto IV had the same problem for me.  It looked pretty, but I felt like I was just pretty much playing the same game I had burned myself out on several years earlier with Grand Theft Auto III.  Give me something new!

Here’s what I think would make games more fun for me…  Game studios should bring in the same level of writing talent as they do programming, design, voice, and graphics talent, and they should release games in smaller, lower-cost (both for them and for us), episode-like chunks.  The very best game developers should still be making full-length games of very high quality, but most game developers do not fall into that category.  Most game developers are really making TV-quality content while they’re trying to convince us it’s high-class film-quality content.  Game studios should also stop killing their best ideas by sequeling them to death.  That probably makes more money in the short-term but it’s just turning off many would-be gamers and ultimately restricting the development of the audience for the game industry.

I know I’m not the only one thinking this, and I think there’s already a movement towards my suggestions (as if anyone in the game industry really cares what I think, haha) so hope is not lost!  The smaller, cheaper, downloadable games on the Xbox Live Arcade, the Playstation 3, and more recently the Wii are breathing new life into gaming.  The games are not all great (few of them are, actually), but they’re small enough in scope that a lot of new ideas are being put into them and some of them are worth paying for just for that.  The episodic concept is being put to the test with games like the Penny Arcade one, too.  I still didn’t finish that one, but I think I got probably 3/4 the way through it, which is something for me!

I bet the people making the games don’t really care too much about what I have to think, but I feel better to have that off my chest anyway.

I want a personal audio cloud so I can have music surrounding me all the time.  People within 3 feet of me would also hear the music so we could listen together.  It wouldn’t emanate from me, but would just be around me in this cloud so my companions would hear it as the same volume as I do.  People farther away would not hear it at all so it wouldn’t bother them.  It would also have an option to let other people relay the cloud so anyone within 3 feet of them would also hear it.  That way a larger group of people could all hear the same music.  This would be awesome for things like bike riding in the city where you don’t want to wear headphones that obstruct your hearing.  It would also be awesome for hiking.

My wife has a baby on the way and we’ve been attending some baby related classes to prepare ourselves a little bit mentally. The class we are in now is about the birthing process and we have heard about a number of techniques, both medical and otherwise, to make the experience more comfortable for the woman. The thing that keeps striking me as so curious is how most of the most up to date “best practices” essentially equate to just letting nature take its course and doing things the way people have done them for hundreds of years. The really curious part is that these are generally cutting edge or progressive ideas about childbirth among the U.S. medical community and are not even widely practiced yet.  How did things get so turned around such that doing things naturally is somehow progressive?

Hunter turned Animal Activist

A recent episode of the excellent tv show, 30 days, put a life-long hunter living with a family of vegan animal rights activists. The episode itself was pretty emotional as it shows some of the truly horrific things that are done to animals as part of the food-making process in our country. To get prices down as low as possible a system of factory farming has developed that completely removes the humanity from the treatment of the animals. They are treated just like machines designed entirely to produce food for humans, with no respect for their rights as living creatures. It’s really terrible and it’s now starting to have dramatic effects on the health of humans consuming the food as well.

I’m not an extremist when it comes to the issues of animal rights. I understand that people have the right to choose what they eat and don’t eat, and I support personal choice in that regard. I do wish that more people actually knew what sort of acts are being committed on a daily basis in the production of their food though, and tv shows like this episode of 30 days will hopefully make a bit of a difference there. I also think it should be illegal to treat farm animals the way they are treated by factory farms.

I also have some personal experience with hunting, and I support the rights of people to do that. I went to highschool in North Dakota and while there I went hunting with my dad and friends. I was (and am) a very bad hunter and I never actually killed anything (it’s hard!) but overall I think the experience was a good one for me. I would not go hunting now, but I don’t feel guilty for having done it. All of the hunters I interacted with back then were very respectful of both the animals and the land. A lot of emphasis was placed on avoiding needless suffering, and we always picked up our spent shells and any other trash. In North Dakota at the time, one hunter could only legally kill one deer per year with a gun, and one additional using a bow. The gun season is also very short (only a couple of weeks) and many hunters are not skilled enough to actually kill a deer in that amount of time. It’s a lot harder than you might think, even with a rifle. They’re quick! The bow season was a few months long and most of our time hunting was spent using a bow. I’m sure other places have different rules.

Overall, I think the key is respect. Animals are, of course, not all human, but humans are animals. We are part of a natural ecosystem and we should remember our place in it. That sounds obvious to me, but somehow it’s not obvious to everyone. If we are respectful of the rights of animals to live a healthy and natural life (I won’t go so far as to say ‘happy’!), we’ll also be producing more healthy and natural food from them and that can only be a good thing for us as humans.

A Flower in the Garden

Since we last spoke I’ve spent about 4 weeks on a jury, among other things.  The jury was a great experience, even if it was tedious at times (man, the wheels of justice do turn slowly, don’t they?), and I wish people wouldn’t try so hard to get out of jury duty.  You just don’t get experiences like that every day.

I also got a new camera to play with… a Canon G9.  The official reason for the new camera is to take lots of obligatory pictures of the new baby when he arrives, but in the meantime it’s just a new toy.  The picture above is my favorite one so far.  It’s the “look I got a new camera and I went into my garden” type of picture you see all over but I like it anyway.

Whenever DreamHost has a massive screw-up of some sort, the thing I most notice about the customer response is the high level of animosity and aggression in the comments. People obviously have a right to respond to any situation in their own way, but still I can’t help but feel that some of them would benefit from taking a moment to step back, take a look at their actions, and consider if those actions are really the most effective path towards a positive solution for themselves.

Websites can be very personal in nature and it can be emotional to have something like that not functioning properly. Technical people in particular can become very frustrated when a technical issue is out of their control. They can feel powerless and in a situation like that anger is certainly an understandable emotion to feel. Still, it seems like an odd logic leap to me to go from feeling some anger inside to taking that anger and using it to fuel more anger and animosity. Ultimately, the goal in any problem scenario is to get to the solution as quickly and painlessly as possible. Obviously emotions can interfere with that but still most people can stay focused on the resolution anyway. The form that particular resolution or solution takes is obviously an individual choice.

What I see an unusual amount of online is people deciding that the best resolution for an unpleasant situation is to get revenge, no matter how much effort it takes. People decide that it’s worth hours and hours of their own time to start up ‘anti’ websites or to post message after message of spite and bile to message boards or blog comments. I get angry myself at times, but I just can’t comprehend expending so much emotional energy over something so ultimately minor. There’s just not enough time in the day.

What’s most unusual about this is that I feel like I don’t see this sort of animosity in my day to day life. When the burrito place up the street gives you a steak burrito instead of the veggie burrito you ordered, do you scream at and wish death upon the guy behind the counter? When the auto repair shop takes 3 days longer than they said it would take to fix your car, do you make picket signs and walk around outside of their business yelling at people walking past? I’m hoping not! What is it about the Internet that makes people exhibit such odd behaviors? Where does all the animosity come from?

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Something got me thinking about Compute! magazine the other day and the role it played in my early computing life.

In the late 1980s my family had an Atari 800 XL home computer which had a slot for game cartridges but also had a full keyboard and was similar in ability to the famed Commodore 64. We mostly just played games on it, but it was a personal computer and not a game console. It was later replaced with the awesome (for the time) Amiga 500 but we were an Atari family for a long time before then.

Issues of Compute! had source code (usually Basic, I think) for games and other small programs that would work on all of the most popular home computers of the era, including our Atari, and my family would spend time entering them in line by line into the Atari. The source code was mostly just gibberish to us at the time so it was usually a two person job… one person reading the code out loud and the other person typing it in. It would usually take my parents and I several days to a week or more to do one of them. The programs usually ran and worked at the end but sometimes had small glitches due to typos on our part. When they didn’t run at all it was pretty heart breaking. The games were never awesome, but it was still very gratifying to see the result of our efforts and it was painful to end up staring at useless text. Towards the end of that era of my computing life I started trying to change random bits of our working code to see what would happen, too. I didn’t know then what role computer software would play in my future life, of course.

The cover of the issue here mentions a hands-on look at the Amiga 500 so it seemed like an especially fitting one to go along with this little trot down memory lane.