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News You Can Bruise

Your chicken, your egg, your problem


How Game Titles Work: 2017 Update

Thu, 23 Nov 2017 16:58:44 GMT

In 2009 as I was writing Constellation Games I researched how game titles work on a rhetorical level. I published my results as a six-part series of blog posts: 1 2, 3, 4, 5, 6. This post is a summary of that post and a bringing it up to date for 2017, based on a talk I gave at Penguicon in March. (Slides are here.) In my 2009 research I discovered a basic tension: games are works of art, so there's a tendency to name them like movies, but in our society games are packaged and sold like laundry detergent, so there's a tendency to name games like detergents. Different game-makers resolve this tension differently. In the early days, games were named after real-world activities, or about the very act of playing a game mediated through a computer; otherwise, it was difficult to get people to understand what was going on. You don't see that much anymore; nowadays it's common for games to have names that resemble (in formal terms) the names of 19th-century novels, laundry detergents, episodes of TV shows, or rock albums. But all games have two things in common: the second person and the present tense. A movie can be the story of something that happened to someone else long ago, but a game is always the story of what you are doing right now to complete the feedback loop. So most games are named in the second person present tense, e.g. named after your character within the game. I originally had to figure out How Game Titles Work because for my story "Mallory" I spent a long time making up titles for six fictional classic arcade games, and despite all the work I was unhappy with the results. The final draft of Constellation Games mentions thirty-three fictional human games, plus thirty-five games made by space aliens from various alien cultures. Since cultural artifacts are created and named by people embedded within that culture, I had to figure out the underlying rules for games so I could apply those rules to the various extraterrestrial cultures. I also worked this process in reverse: came up with a weird game and used it to figure out what kind of culture would create that game. I decided to update the series because one of my conclusions in 2009 was that shareware games in the 1990s, and indie games generally, have better titles than contemporaneous big-budget games. Since 2009 the indie scene has exploded, so I decided it was time to take another look and see how naming techniques have evolved. I used the MobyGames API to get the names of all games published since 2009, and went through them looking for interesting names. Although AAA titles still have boring names, indie games have dramatically expanded into more artistic naming spaces. It's now fairly common for a game to have a title that's not in second person ("Papers, Please", "This War of Mine"). More frequent than in 2009, but still not common, is a game whose name is not in the present tense ("Gone Home", "Thomas Was Alone"). The games themselves are still second-person-present-tense, but their titles play with tense and person to zoom in or out emotionally. Even more common, though, are games whose names transcend synecdoche to convey the mood of the game rather than referencing specific elements: "The Flame in the Flood", "No Man's Sky", "Sir, You Are Being Hunted". An older example of this is "Grim Fandango" and I think this quote from a Tim Schafer interview provides some insight into the naming process as well as the function of a game's name: "The original title, when I was pitching it, was Deeds of the Dead.. The Last Siesta was one [working title]. Dirt Nap I think was in there somewhere..." "And then I finally came up with the name and was like, 'I'm so smart! This is the best name ever!' I remember I ran out of my office and I told someone... [a]nd they were like 'That's terrible. You'll never sell a game called Grim Fandango. What does that even mean?' But I've always loved it... I mean Grim Fandango just as a metaphor for what? For life or death depending on how you're looking at it." Schaefer starts off with punny titles, like you would s[...]

Behold, mortal, the origins of robotfindskitten...

Mon, 13 Nov 2017 01:49:12 GMT

I wrote a thirty-minute talk for the Roguelike Celebration about good old robotfindskitten. Then I saw that I only had a fifteen-minute timeslot to deliver my talk, and I cut it way, way down. As you might expect, that made the talk a lot better; what had started out as a kinda rambling history was boiled down into an exploration of what it means for a game to be good.

Here's my transcript of the talk as prepared for delivery: Behold, mortal, the origins of robotfindskitten...

I went through a lot of archival material to write this talk and I was planning on putting a bunch of the stuff I cut in this blog post, but... I'm pretty happy with the talk as is and there's only a couple pieces of extra material I feel a strong need to share with you.

First, I put up the original DOS binaries and all the source code I could find for the very first version of robotfindskitten, from 1997. I also included the C++ source code for a student project I did a couple months before rfk, which really looks like a dry run for rfk, both in terms of the subject matter and the code.

Second, I just wanted to highlight the message I wrote in the docs for the 1999 Linux release of rfk: "I like this program a lot. It's fun without being violent."

Third, this sequence of Nethack-related files I had on my BBS (which I ran from 1993 to 1996). This was useful for establishing when I obtained Nethack 3.1.1, a factoid which itself turned out not to be very interesting.

SPOILER.ZIP  Size:    22,125 | A complete walkthrough of Nethack! Very
Date: 01/31/94  DL's:      1 | handy!

HACK311.ZIP  Size:   749,285 | Nethack! The biggest, most feature-packed
Date: 03/01/94  DL's:     14 | Rogue clone ever!

NETSPOIL.ZIP Size:   129,059 | New versions of the Nethack Spoilers!
Date: 10/27/95  DL's:      7 | Everything you need to know.

NHDECODE.ZIP Size:     4,294 | A handy thing that translates the rumor &
Date: 11/09/95  DL's:      1 | oracle files for Nethack.

I called roguelikes "Rogue clones" back then. (A bit later, I uploaded a copy of Angband and described it as a "Nethack clone".)

Bizarrely, the description file inside SPOILER.ZIP says "A complete walkthrough of Netrunner! Very handy!" They are Nethack spoilers, though. Maybe my co-sysop Andy wrote that description and had Cyberpunk 2020 on his mind.

October Film Roundup

Sat, 11 Nov 2017 13:29:20 GMT

Sorry for the delay -- I've got a lot of other stuff to work on and was in fact working on it. Only now finding the time to procrastinate and talk about a couple movies I saw last month.
  • Good Time (2017): Y'know, when I see a movie like Dog Day Afternoon, part of the fun is reveling in the problems of a bygone era and not thinking about the problems of my own. In 40 years, if mankind is still alive, Good Time may be that type of movie but now I feel the despair of someone who watched Dog Day Afternoon in 1975. Everything's falling apart and there's no hope. So... a good modern noir, I guess?
  • Underworld U.S.A. (1961): By contrast, this noir is nothing special. The bold move of putting a chart on the movie poster made me think this film would have the hard-core attitude that there's no moral difference between organized crime and "legitimate" business, but the attitude was more of a scandal that organized crime was ramping up by taking on the management structure of big business.

    You could really sense the boundaries of the Hays code in this film. Having a hoodlum as a "hero" was pushing the envelope, so they spent a lot of time rehabilitating him and farming off unpleasant hoodlum duties to other characters, to the point where I don't think we actually see him take any morally questionable action. Which, y'know, fish or cut bait, noir movie. Also, I don't think I can trust a chart in which "vice" is one of the things being measured. The chart format implies a level of precision which is not present.

  • Portrait of Jennie (1948): Gets credit for being a very early paranormal romance, but the romance starts with an atmosphere of ickiness, and even without the ickiness the IMDB summary of this movie is "A mysterious girl inspires a struggling artist" and who needs another one of those? I would rather just watch the scenes with the supporting cast; they're fun.
  • Love and Taxes (2015): Sumana is a Josh Kornbluth fan so we watched this film adaptation of his monologue, which took an Adaptation-like twist and started becoming about the film adaptation of one of his earlier monologues. It was a pretty fun time. I'd like to call out the character of Bob for being a rare example in narrative drama (not sure if this is "fiction" or what) of a really supportive boss.
  • I saw a series of horror movie trailers at Metrograph, and am excited to some day see The Manitou (1977), Wicked Wicked (1973), and Lady in a Cage (1964). Most of the rest of the trailers were kinda meh, but it was fun to see a big-screen trailer for The Giant Gila Monster (1959). If you think about it, the gila monster really does become giant when footage from the movie is projected onto a screen.

    I never knew that Joan Crawford was in so many genre films. (She's not in any of the ones I just mentioned, that's just a general observation.)

This month's Television Spotlight focuses on Terry Jones' Great Map Mystery (2008), a documentary miniseries that seems to have been funded to provide local content for BBC Wales. It was eager to present Welshness and Welsh things in a way that's familiar to me from Canada. There's a lot of interesting stuff in there, most of it more or less irrelevant to the Big Question of the documentary, which is fine because the Big Question turns out not to be all that big. It's definitely a cut above what we find on most of our lazy "see what's free on Amazon" trawls.

September Film Roundup

Mon, 02 Oct 2017 20:57:43 GMT

Here we go. I'm sick right now so who knows what kind of weird opinions I'm going to have. Blaaah! Roll camera! Baby Driver (2017): This film serves as the counterpoint to Paul (2012): it shows the downsides of letting Edgar Wright direct a film without having Simon Pegg and Nick Frost to weigh it down with likeable characters. It's formally impressive but I didn't care about any of the characters. If you don't like Scott Pilgrim you could say the same thing about that movie, but... I do like Scott Pilgrim. I caught a lot of hype for this movie and I always expect a lot of Wright, so I was psyched up, but it falls into the familiar territory of popcorn noir. It was fun to watch, but its "innocent pulled in life of crime" plot is right out of the black-and-white era and hasn't been spruced up much. The Teacher (2016): A.k.a. Ucitelka. An effective horror movie where nobody dies. By horror movie standards, the things that happen aren't even that bad. But it's creepy as hell. I would compare this to Get Out in the way it exploits an underused fuel source for its horror. IMDB classifies this as "Comedy, Drama" but based on the poster and the final scene I'm comfortable with my opinion that it's intended to read as a horror movie. Run Lola Run (1998): A lot of fun, lots of eyeball kicks. I thought there were going to be four runthroughs, but three works better. I'm always pleasantly surprised when a movie is shorter than I predicted. Has some of the same problems as Baby Driver but I'll cut it more slack because it was made twenty years earlier and it's a half-hour shorter. Come to think of it, my favorite part of Baby Driver was the scene where he had to get out of the car and run. Jaws (1975): I absolutely loved the first two acts of this movie about a society so focused on short-term economic gain that it jumps through hoops to rationalize away an ecological threat. Then act three was a couple guys on a boat and I fell asleep. If I were this film's hotshot young director, I would have spent about ten minutes on that boat and then come back to shore to focus on the mayor's ass-covering, trying to hang the fiasco around the necks of the people who noticed the problem and did something about it. Overall this is a fine film and I recommend it, but with one big asterisk: I believe Jaws is the movie that caused Hollywood execs to say "we found it!" and pull the lever that eventually stopped all that lovely 1970s experimentation. (c.f. my Die Hard review) So watch it with a pretentious tear in your eye. Old-computer watch: includes an outdoor arcade that features the Sega mechanical arcade game "Killer Shark" and, more relevantly, a Computer Space cabinet. You can see the arcade in [...]

August Television Roundup

Fri, 01 Sep 2017 22:49:10 GMT

Yes, here is is, the monthly accounting of all the television I watch. I sure do watch a lot of television. Comrade Detective (2017): The smart parts of this faux-80s Romanian cop show are not smart enough and the stupid parts are... well, they're fine. A valiant effort, but this would have been a lot better if they'd had the Romanians write the first treatment. Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Return (2017): Does a great job of recapturing the original show, by which I mean the Joel show. It's laid-back, more often enjoying the cheesiness of the movie than ripping into it. That is, it's clearly on the Cinematic Titanic branch of the phylogenetic tree as opposed to the RiffTrax branch. I'd actually rate these riffs higher than the Joel-era riffs. There was a lot of Baby Boomer nostalgia in the old shows, and most of the new show's riffs take the present day as their jumping-off point. No real problems, but I frequently got confused who was talking in the theater because the voices are kind of similar. Thank goodness for closed captions! I'd like to see some fan discussion about the little weird things they show you and don't really remark upon. Who is the alternate host you see on screen for like a second? What's the significance of the spacewalk, given the other thing that happens in that episode? I guess the disadvantage of releasing the whole season at once is the Internet doesn't have time to obsess over the little details you've carefully snuck in. Steven Universe is taking this to the unhealthy other extreme, I think. Full disclosure: I backed the Kickstarter so my name is in the credits with thousands of others. I'm the only "Leonard"! The Great British Baking Show (2013????-2015????): I don't even know which seasons of this show we watched. PBS renamed the show and renumbered the seasons, and the IMDB episode guide just says "Pie", "Cake", "Biscuits" over and over for each year. Anyway, I've never watched a reality show before, and I wouldn't have watched this one except I was promised there's no yelling and the contestants are all nice to each other. And it's great! Really soothes my nerves after a long day of whatever I do all day. My fave: contestants who use idiosyncratic slang like "get a wiggle on". Angels In America (2003): We're in the middle of this one so no review yet, but a) it's really heavy, b) the Mormon stuff is extremely inaccurate, c) it looks like Meryl Streep is going to play a different character in every episode and I'm not sure what that does, dramatically speaking. Tune in next month, when we'll have the new Twin Peaks, maybe? Oh yeah, I almost forgot. Every month, Television Roundup presents the Film Spotlight, a listing of the films I saw that month. Of course, films, with their 98-minute running times, cannot compete with the many hours of entertainment that television provides. After all, one of your puny Earth "films" is but a single episode of MST3K. Nevertheless, we honor these bite-sized morsels of entertainment below. Trafic (1971): I'm glad that at the 2000 Academy Awards this film finally got the recognition it deserved. It's a goofy ride, doesn't drag like Playtime sometimes does, but also never feels like it's saying something Important. The Enchanted Desna (1964): a.k.a. "Zacharovannaya Desna". Lots of really beautiful photography and the kind of episodic, slow-moving plot that lulls me to sleep. Some nice Tom Sawyer bits in the flashback. There was some audience tittering at the Commie propaganda at the end, but I'm stunned by the scale of it and still trying to figure out what it was saying. That's a lot of concrete, comrade. We're damming up the river you grew up on? And that's a good thing? I'm overwhelmed by man's totally non-hubristic ambition! Maybe I should ask my doctor if communism is right for me. It's a weird mix of "I had to put this in" and "I'm being ironic" and "I really believe this" and "I'm a filmmaker from a different culture from [...]

Nashville 'Clipse

Tue, 29 Aug 2017 13:22:24 GMT

Howdy, y'all. Leonard here, recording our experience of traveling to Nashville, Tennessee to see the solar eclipse. Sumana and I stayed at the home of Joe Hills (here's his take) and greatly enjoyed his family's hospitality. The eclipse itself was amazing! We had a convenient watching spot and good weather, and it was fun to experience the wonders of celestrial alignment through the eyes of Joe's young child, who probably now thinks eclipses will drop into her lap on a regular basis. We lost AN ENTIRE DAY off the trip, and thus a visit to Chattanooga, because our flight to Nashville was cancelled. This was very annoying (though less annoying than dying in a thunderstorm). Imagine trying to book a trip to Eclipse Central just before the eclipse, like a chump who just heard about the sun and wants to get front row center on the Greatest Hits tour. That was our position. Amazingly, a very diligent United rep ("The only place in the United States I can get you tonight is Cleveland") eventually found us a Sunday flight through Atlanta. As we made our sad way back from Newark (only to return the next day) I thought: "when this is all over, I'll remember the awesome eclipse and this will just be a footnote." Well, here's the footnote.0 Some of the great experiences of our vacation: You ever try to get your luggage to Newark for a 6AM flight on a Sunday when all of your local subways are undergoing maintenance? Fuhgeddaboudit. NJ Transit to Newark doesn't even start running until, like, five. So we spent Saturday night in an airport hotel (cost: competitive with a cab ride to the airport). I never grasped this aspect of airport hotels; I thought they were just for business conferences. It was surprisingly great! We relaxed in a hotel room and instead of early morning stress we just got up real early and took the shuttle to the airport. It was like having a really square vacation before the actual, cool vacation. In Nasvhille, we took a fun tour of the Nashville Craft distillery. Unlike most tourist things we experienced in Nashville, this was reasonably priced ($10 for tour plus cocktail). Very focused on the chemistry. "This is what I wanted Breaking Bad to be like."--Sumana The Ryman Theater -- overpriced self-guided tour, interesting history and where we thankfully discovered: Hatch Show Print, an amazing old-fashioned press that does prints for many of the shows and events in town. Johnny Cash Museum - another pricy tourist trap but lots of fun and what the hell, we're on vacation. I don't like how stingy my dad always was on our vacations, even when we weren't poor, and the flip side is you end up spending more money than you'd like on a fun experience. At the museum we struck up a conversation with an academic who specializes in the history of spy fiction. He said the earliest known "secret agent" type novel (where the spy is being run by an intelligence agency as opposed to just kinda stumbling on a German plot while on vacation) is 1934's Secret Service Operator 13. Caution: it's got problems! Joe's spouse gave us a fun walking tour of the lovely Vanderbilt campus. Hot chicken sandwich! Very tasty. They have 'em at Shake Shack now, too. The Farm House, a nice farm-to-table place in the city center. We didn't spend a lot of time in the main branch of the Nashville Public Library, but we were there long enough to appreciate what a nice space it is. Overall we had a good experience with Nashville's public transit, except for one bus stop that stopped existing due to construction. No signage, no alternate stop, just... the bus went right past us. We took private cars five times, and two of our five drivers volunteered the information that they have side gigs as music producers. I think the longstanding estimate of 1352 guitar pickers in Nashville may need revision. 0 It was awful.[...]

July Film Roundup

Fri, 04 Aug 2017 01:16:09 GMT

July's always a good month for movies, in quality if not quantity. This July, News You Can Bruise Presents Film Roundup is proud to present... wait, what was I saying? The Big Sick (2017): Sumana's a big Kumail Nanjiani fan so we couldn't miss this pretty fun rom-com...? My romcometer isn't finely calibrated but this seems more towards the "rom-dram" region than most. On the plus side, that means not as much "awkward" humor (of which I'm not a fan) as I feared. I think cutting has a lot to do with it. As I recall, in this movie Nanjiani would have an awkward moment with (e.g.) a family member but they'd mercifully cut to something else, even if just another shot of the same scene. Proving, once and for all, that you don't have to let it linger. In Transit (2015): A soothing documentary about being on a train. Filmed up north where (according to the movie) Amtrak is the primary form of public transit. Lots of guys in their early twenties working in the fracking boom, trying to figure their lives out. Lincoln (2012): This movie has its cheesy Spielberg moments but it makes the minutiae of politics super compelling, as they should be presented. I dislike the ending. Totally unnecessary. But I understand that if Daniel Day-Lewis plays Lincoln and doesn't do the Second Inaugural, a lot of people are going to want their money back. So I take it in stride. A Man For All Seasons (1966): Sumana and I enjoyed this tale of a civil servant who carries "If you can't say anything nice..." to the extreme. Is there a lesson in here for our time? Unfortunately, as a 501(3)(c) registered nonprofit, Film Roundup cannot take a stand on the relevance of a work of art to any partisan issue. But if you put together the first letter of every review this month, you'll find my answer. Psst, while they're piecing together the first letters, check this out: RELEVANT. Becket (1964): The last gasp of old-timey boring Hollywood spectacle. So many long, ponderous dialogue-free scenes with trumpets tooting away while someone walks up some stairs in the distance. Four years later, the same actor's playing the same character, and it's squalid and grimy and close-up with a deliberate lack of grandeur. Skip this one and move right to... The Lion in Winter (1968): Here we go, late-sixties Hollywood. They're still adapting plays rather than having Robert de Niro improvise for ninety minutes, but they're tackling "adult" topics and it's super Freudian. I saw this film in high school (like, in class) for some reason and I don't think it's boasting to say that I now understand it on a much deeper level. Lots of creepy scenes where O'Toole is interacting with people not as a human being but as the State personified. Katharine Hepburn is brassy as always. "They don't call her Hep-BURN for nothing!"—The Sumana Daily Herald The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974): Apparently all movies whose titles end in "One Two Three" are awesome. I'll have to test this hypothesis using this Armenian film. Anyway, this is great stuff. Constant tension without constant violence, 70s New York stereotypes, cranky Walter Matthau, subway system behind-the-scenes... it's crime-and-grime cinema gold! It didn't hurt that I saw this at Film Forum on a sweaty July afternoon with a bunch of New Yorkers who'd gotten there on the subway. Lots of camaraderie in the theater, lots of laughs at hyper-specific New York in-jokes. Across 110th Street (1972): My high hopes for this film were not met. The first scene had me primed for a power struggle between the black mob and the Italian mob, but instead the two mobs teamed up to take out some small-timers, in an act of serious overkill. There are also some cops I didn't really care about. The small-timers were believably down-on-their-luck. I rate the "grime" in this one highly, and the "crime"... lowly. The Spy Who Came In From The Cold (1965): I'd read the book a lo[...]

June Film Roundup

Sun, 02 Jul 2017 00:14:50 GMT

Welcome to July! Here's June: Wonder Woman (2017): You know me, I'm not big into superhero movies. But I do like women, and wondering, so Sumana and I saw this together. It was all right! Cool stunts, funny comic relief, mostly good action scenes. But we talked about it afterwards and agreed that this movie doesn't really make its argument. Wonder Woman is the story of Diana learning that horrible things like wars have complex historical causes and it's not just anthropomorphized concepts running around causing trouble. But what are superheroes and supervillains but anthropomorphized concepts? And what is a superhero movie without a big fight at the end between two of 'em and the world at stake? So that's what happens. The form of the movie is at odds with its content, and given Zack Snyder's "story by" credit I don't believe it even knows it. In a Film Roundup first, I'm proud to link to a review of this film by my sister, WWI scholar Rachel Richardson: “I’m the men who can”: Wonder Woman as a First World War heroine. Jurassic Park (1993): Sumana and I both love this movie. I remembered nearly every scene even though I don't think I've seen it since 1993. It's not super deep, but it's got layers I didn't see when I was a kid. Notably Muldoon's respect for the dinosaurs and Hammond's attitude as the thing he's built crumbles during the test that was supposed to demonstrate it was safe. Such a joy to watch. It seems trite to say that the most successful, highest paid people in show biz were able to provide crowd-pleasing entertainment, but... they nailed it. PS: This is more a fact about the book than the movie, but Jurassic Park has one of the cleverest science fiction premises I've ever seen. Love it. Kelly's Heroes (1970): The second museum movie I've walked out of. Not because it was horrible or offensive, but because serious technical problems threatened to interfere with my bedtime. I ended up watching about an hour of the movie proper, plus fifteen minutes of the movie with out-of-sync audio, a repeated viewing of the same footage, and about a reel of Where Eagles Dare (1968), a completely different movie. How did that happen? Did they torrent the whole Clint Eastwood war pack and click on the wrong file? According to film scientists, Kelly's Heroes uses an earlier war as a way to talk about the then-current Vietnam War! This movie has a good look, and since there are no women characters, it avoids the sexism of similarly situated M.A.S.H. (1972). But I can't give it a strong recommendation. Don Rickles is believable as the hustling supply sergeant, but The Americanization of Emily did that better back in 1964. Anachronistic hippies in my WWII movie? That's pretty cool, I must admit. Kamikaze '89 (1982) Rainer Werner Fassbinder, director of well-regarded-by-Film-Roundup film The Marriage of Maria Braun and eternal MST3K reference Berlin Alexanderplatz, does what I can only describe as "an Alphaville thing". It doesn't work out great. Alphaville has the cold smoothness of the 1960s Paris business district, a period look also exploited effectively by Playtime. Kamikaze '89 has the cheesy look of a 1980s West Berlin dance club. I'm sure everyone had a great time making this movie, and I don't want to begrudge serious European directors having their sci-fi Alphaville flings, but... not great. Uh, I should make it clear that Fassbinder isn't the director of this film, he's the star. Wolf Gremm is the director. So maybe it's Wolf Gremm's Alphaville fantasy, but Fassbinder is the one in the tacky outfit running around firing guns, so I suspect he's the one who wanted this to happen. Miracle Mile (1988): I'm about do something I've never done before on Film Roundup. I think you should see this movie, but I'm not going to tell you anything about it. I went in knowing basically what happens in this movie, and I abs[...]

May Film Roundup

Fri, 02 Jun 2017 00:25:16 GMT

Yes, may Film Roundup bring you blessings throughout the year! No Twin Peaks spoilers, please. Antitrust (2001): Semi-hate-watch with Sumana. (Here's her review.) She saw this on a plane in 2001 and had ever since wanted to revisit it to make fun of the bad tech. But... turns out the tech isn't all that bad. Pretty accurate for the most part. The software development processes we see aren't great, but they're in line with what I saw in the 90s. The biggest technical flub (an impractical plan to spy on people as they write code) is, IMO, just a way of dramatizing GPL violations. Which is not to say that this is a good movie. It's bad. "Killer App" (1995), a television pilot, does a better job of just about everything that's not directly related to free software, e.g. the Bill Gates character's house-of-the-future. Not recommended unless you gotta see an old version of GNOME on the big screen. Bahubali 2: The Conclusion (2017): First, read my review of part 1. Now, read it again, because the sequel is another 3-hour battering of the senses with spectacle. There were some moments where the plot got more complicated than your average blockbuster, but also moments where they passed up what I considered obvious opportunities for coolness. I was never bored, not at all, but where the first movie frequently went in directions I wasn't anticipating, this movie... didn't do that. It's hard to stay unpredictable when half your movie is a direct prequel to a movie your audience has already seen. Sumana and I agree that the Bahubali series needs a mode where you can just watch the sub-films in chronological order. Currently it's as if you had to watch the Hobbit movies halfway through the Lord of the Rings movies, with Elijah Wood playing both Bilbo and Frodo. Cops and Robbers (1973): Really good crime-and-grime heist movie with just the right mix of NYC and Long Island. Nothing serious, but classic popcorn. Not a science-fiction film, but does a great job incorporating Apollo stock footage into the plot. There's a feeling in twentieth-century crime movies that's made explicit in Cops and Robbers. Society expects people to stay in their lane, crime-wise. You expect a cop to take bribes, a store manager to embezzle, a stockbroker to commit securities fraud. What causes a problem/creates a movie plot is when you pull off a crime that someone like you isn't supposed to do. There's this great scene in Cops and Robbers where the two cops realize that someone else has casually piggybacked a much more successful caper on top of theirs, and they react with the same New York "whadayagonna do" attitude they exhibit when stuck in a traffic jam. Exploited by the ruling class again! Wah wah. I saw a series of films by Charles and Ray Eames which ranged from the somnolent (House: After 5 Years of Living) to the hypnotic (Tops) to the suspiciously sexy (S-73 Sofa Compact). Powers of Ten is always a treat. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017): This movie succeeds where Interstellar fails: it turns Solaris into a summer blockbuster. I had a good time! Better than the first one (which I also liked), though significantly more violent. Still not sure why these movies bother to have villains. Isn't it enough that the heroes hate each other? D.O.A. (1950): An unbeatable first scene is, in fact, not beaten by anything else in this kinda dull noir. Nice dramatic structure though. The most interesting bit is how it dramatizes the white-collar nightmare that something you did at your boring desk job, something you don't even remember, has made an enemy of someone you don't know. Thief (1981): Another criminal-goes-out-of-his-lane heist film. Not as punchy or as... subtle?... as Cops and Robbers, but fun enough. Dave Thomas of Wendy's has a masterful turn as the evil spirit of capitalism. Wait, I'm being informed that that role[...]

Minecraft Archive Project - 2011/11 Sample

Fri, 12 May 2017 03:43:50 GMT

For a while I've been working with Jason Scott on the best way to make the data from Minecraft Archive Project available. The basic problem is that if you zip it up, it's many terabytes of data, and if you don't, it's millions of individual files. Although the Internet Archive is technically capable of handling either one of those options, neither is great for sharing data with the public.

The Minecraft Geologic Survey gives you an overview of everything posted before July 2014, but generating it was incredibly processor-intensive, so it's not really something I can update. So we decided to try out time slices instead.

Here's a 22-gigabyte archive containing everything Minecraft-related I could get that was posted in November 2011. If you think you might be interested in doing something with the full archive, please download this tiny slice and see if you can figure out how it works. If you have problems, complain to me. (Not to Jason, he just puts the files on the Archive.)

I picked November 2011 because it comes in the month of the 1.0 release, at a really interesting time for the medium. By 2017 standards the maps in this set are very primitive, but it was right around here Minecraft went from indie darling to decade-defining megahit. At the same time, fans had started to chafe at the limitations of the medium-- was the month I wrote my "Programmable Minecraft" essays, where I basically asked for command blocks.

Command blocks would be introduced in August 2012, and IMO they mark the distinction between the "silent film" era of Minecraft and the "talkie" era. I think the next most important month-slice of data would be August 2012, which would let us see what people did immediately after they got command blocks. But the point of this exercise is not to release one month at a time; it's to release a single month and make sure the package is usable before we package everything else the same way.

Tonight's Episode: An Oral History of Murder

Sun, 07 May 2017 18:23:17 GMT

(image) It's been seven years since the last episode of the podcast, so you might be forgiven for forgetting that it even existed. In fact, forgetting about a podcast is not a sin in any human religious tradition, so no forgiveness necessary. Just enjoy tonight's episode, "Tonight's Episode: An Oral History of Murder".

This is an hour-long conversation between myself and Sumana about Tonight's Episode, a feature even older than our ancient podcast, and the first creative collaboration between the two of us. Listen, and explore the origins of Internet comedy so small in bytesize that a joke might be compared to a short sound a bird might make.

A couple things I forgot to mention in the podcast: first, Tales from the Crypt and the Cryptkeeper's stupid puns as a predecessor to Tonight's Episode. Second, Murderous Magnetism, the Jason Robbins magnetic poetry kit for making Tonight's Episodes.

April Film Roundup

Wed, 03 May 2017 02:29:38 GMT

As they say, April showers bring Film Roundup. Many, many people say this, I'm told. Hundreds, possibly millions, chanting in unison. Can they all be bots? I say no.
  • The Cinema Travelers (2016): Really neat documentary about travelling movie theaters that go around rural India showing films at fairs. I was surprised to see that fairs in rural India look just like fairs in the United States. In retrospect it makes sense. Why would they have different rides?

    Although there was a lot of cool hardware in this movie, I felt this film fetishized the hardware, even when it was so obsolete as to be a burden. I felt bad for the guys towing a nonfunctional bus around India because their film projector was mounted inside the bus. I doubt audiences care whether the projection booth contains a old-timey reel projector or a LCD projector and a laptop. Are ticket sales in decline because everyone has satellite TV now and doesn't have to settle for 1970s Bollywood reruns? Good! You think I'm going to side with the people running the theater over the people who want to see movies? Who's your audience? By definition, it's moviegoers. You don't have a theater full of projectionists and one ticket-holder up in the booth.

    The most striking shots in this film aren't really shots, they're stills, just photos of people who are watching a movie, unaware of the camera, and having a great time. Often when you're sitting in a theater watching a film of people sitting in a theater, it's supposed to be an unnerving experience, but these photos are so full of life and joy. It's like the end of Sullivan's Travels. There's one in particular of a man with a monkey on his shoulder, both of them super excited about whatever they're looking at.

    PS: I think is the first film I've ever seen that shows someone negotiating a DRM license.

  • Cabin Boy (1994): “Isn't that a Pauly Shore movie?” —Sumana. No, this is a lot more highbrow than anything Pauly Shore ever did. It's a stupid, corny movie, but it's got a lot of originality and... heart? Maybe I'm grading on a curve, but so many comedies from the 90s are so awful, that letting Chris Elliot goof off in a Ray Harryhausen fantasy seems like a gift from the comedy gods. Thalia, I guess.
  • Italianamerican (1974): Really cute early Scorsese film where he gets his parents to tell all the family stories. Back in the day you couldn't just do a podcast, no, it had to be a big production. Strong recommend, good "Immigrant Experience" stories.

That's it for now, but we're almost caught up on Jane the Virgin, so maybe next month the Television Spotlight will have a new focus.


Thu, 27 Apr 2017 15:54:26 GMT

I'm in Detroit to attend Penguicon as the plus-one of Sumana, who's a guest of honor. This is my first trip to Michigan and I've already met some cool folks. I'm giving two talks (?) this weekend: an overview of bots and an update of my groundbreaking exposé How Game Titles Work. (previous version from 2009)

Wed, 19 Apr 2017 19:27:24 GMT

Why "send an email" when you can "use the RFC 2822 method"?

March Film Roundup

Sat, 01 Apr 2017 22:58:18 GMT

The LEGO Batman Movie (2017): Man, you head to the movies to take your mind off the increasingly troubling political situation, and then something like this happens. Anyway, the first hour of this movie is really fun and goofy, and then it develops a plot and bogs down in action scenes that are impossible to follow. I forsee an edit that cuts 22:30 of the last 45 minutes, then slows down what's left by 50% so you can see what's happening. It seems really weird that IMDB lists Siri, a nonsentient computer program, as an actor in this movie. I mean, I get that that's what it says in the credits, but it seems like fodder for "Crazy Credits" and not something we should take seriously. Are there other fictional actors in IMDB? Kermit the Frog doesn't have a .... wait... why is "Kermit the Frog" showing up as a hyperlink? Dammit, he does have an IMDB actor page. The very first example I looked up. This makes no sense. Why is Kermit the Frog listed as having an "uncredited" role as The Minstrel in Once Upon A Mattress (1972)? If you're copying down whatever it says in the credits, that's one thing. But a fictional character can't have an uncredited role! As Kermit would say, aaaaaaah! Come out from under that Muppet and face our scrutiny! Boxcar Bertha (1972): Just what I needed on that day: a Roger Corman B-movie directed by Martin Scorsese. Raw talent doing its best to fulfill a crappy work order. Trains, labor organizing, and 1970s poster paint blood. Recommended but only if you're in that kind of mood. Film Roundup regulars will not be surprised to hear that like most movies Boxcar Bertha features John Carradine, but unlike many movies it's also got his son David. In fact there's one Oedipal scene where David mugs his dad. Overall, I wasn't super impressed with David's acting chops. It was like watching Joel Hodgson rob trains: entertaining, but not quite believable. Beat the Devil (1953): Humphrey Bogart and Peter Lorre, together at... still? With Robert Morley filling in for Sydney Greenstreet, I suspect. The whole movie, I was looking for a twist that turned out not to be there. But Jennifer Jones steals the show as the bored wife who blithely surfs the edge of a hazardous Bogart-and-Lorre caper, just because it's something to do. This month the Television Spotlight shines on Jane the Virgin (2014-), a fun, silly melodrama we picked up based on a recommendation from Julia. Way to go, Julia! A while back in Film Roundup I said that Jacques Tati's Playtime is like Brazil but with all the nastiness taken out. Well, Jane the Virgin is like Arrested Development with... most of the nastiness taken out. In fact one could do a comedic Tumblr on the topic, a la Breaking Development, but I don't know how big the overlap fandom is. Should be bigger, is what I'm saying. I was initially disappointed that Jane the Virgin doesn't have the fantastic element I assumed it would have, but it's addressed within the show with other people incorrectly making the same assumption, so that's fine. Whew! Let's do the books while we're at it: I finished The Fortress of Solitude, the incredibly long novel I mentioned last month. The first half was really good, and I started out hating the second half, but it eventually won me over... just in time for the book to end. The writing was really good on a sentence-by-sentence level; a decent experience overall. Four Futures by Peter Frase is basically a four-part series of blog posts. I don't think I found a lot of new information in it, but I like the framing device. [...]