Wednesday, April 17, 2013

To Fight Monsters

Originally posted on my Tumblr:

Seriously: circulating photos you and yer Scooby Doo crimefighter pals have determined to be of the Boston Bomber is criminally stupid
— Cory Doctorow (@doctorow) April 17, 2013

The fact that half the posts on my FB feed are about 4Chan and other groups having "found" the bombing suspect is inredibly infuriating for several reasons. Yes, I get it, we want to know who did this, why, and to see them brought to justice. Contrary to what the 24-hour news cycle and TV police prodecurals would have us believe however, this shit takes time.
First off, the FBI needs to make sure they nab the right person. Getting the wrong person early because the public demands results will only send the actual bomber further underground and muddy the investigation. Second, horrific act of terrorism or not, we have due process in this country. Attempts to expedite or bypass the rule of law will only lead to chaos, confusion, and more harm than good. Doing things right takes time.
What really pisses me off though is the way that people are praising the amateur sleuthing being done on the internet based off of the scant images the average (or even privileged) person has access to. The kind of "detective" work going on with these pictures is exactly the kind of witch hunt that people regularly criticize in their arguments against increased public surveillance via drones, CCTV cameras, etc. I won't post them here so as not to validate them, but these pictures showing people circled in crowds at the marathon are the most baseless kind of "evidence" I have ever seen.
"This backpack looks like the blown up one in the police photo" - Good thing all backpacks are as unique as fingerprints and no two people can have the same one.
"This guy is standing off to the side and not looking at the race" - Because there's no reason someone would ever turn their head from the finish line during a race, not for a moment.
"This guy has a backpack on in this picture, but not in this other one" - Because Boylston street is not surrounded by offices, places of business, apartments, condos or anywhere else that someone may have relieved their burden.
This is the "logic" that these pictures are ascribing to the crime scene and it is both ludicrous and dangerous. This is the kind of half-assed circumstantial evidence that people start beating their chests over when they think that "Big Brother" is going to take their rights away. The FBI at least seem to be doing the opposite and taking their time to get the job done right. They're not the monsters who are jumping to conclusions based on blurred images and inference, we are. Stop giving these people your time and attention. Let the experts do their jobs. Stop expecting instant gratification and wait for the job to get done right. This is too public an area and too public an event for the person who perpetrated this evil to stay anonymous for long. They will be found and justice will be served.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

State of the Plenty

It's been a while since my last real post so I figured I'd give a quick update. Between life, work, and writing for OVRLD, I haven't had much to blog about. Honestly I think I've just become adept at turning my typically blogable thoughts into 140 character tweets instead. I'm pretty sure this is where the internet at large has gone as well actually.

That being the case, I've decided to start a Plenty For All Tumblr. Right now Tumblr seems to be the vogue in the realm of over sharing on the internet and it's a nice repository for stuff that is too big for Twitter and too small for a blog post.

So you can head on over to and check it out. Right now it's just a repository for my OVRLD articles from the past year, but I'll be posting more there (and here) soon.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

85th Oscar Award Picks

I know, I'm down to the wire on my picks this year, but in my defense I didn't see my last "actually has a chance" nominated film till just last weekend, that being Zero Dark Thirty. Anyway, let's get right to it then.

Best Picture
Let's just cut the crap. Prior to the "let's nominate 10 films so we have stuff that more people are familiar with" move of several years ago you could always narrow this category down to about 3 actual contenders anyway. This year is no different. Out of 9 nominees only 3 have a chance and those are: Lincoln, Zero Dark Thirty, and Argo.

My personal pick and my prediction in this category are both the same: Argo

Out of the three viable films, Argo is the most successful, the most accessible, and the most likely to have lasting appeal. There is no doubt that it's a tough field this year. Both Zero Dark Thirty and Lincoln are excellent films as is Silver Linings Playbook as well, but while the Zero Dark Thirty formula won for Katherine Bigelow with The Hurt Locker before, it's going to miss this year. When it comes to Lincoln ... well, I'll get to that when I talk about Best Director.

Argo is both crowd and critic pleaser and I think the Academy is going to give it top honors here.

Pick: Argo

Actor in a Leading Role
This is unfortunately an easy one. It's unfortunate because Bradley Cooper and Joaquin Phoenix both delivered exemplary performances in their respective films, but when all is said and done, Daniel Day-Lewis' portrayal of Abraham Lincoln was both riveting and as close to historically accurate (based on what we know of Lincoln's mannerisms and even his speaking voice) as we're likely to see.

I'd love to give this to Joaquin Phoenix, but I have to give it to Daniel Day-Lewis. He really earned it.

Pick: Daniel Day-Lewis

Actress in a Leading Role
I can't think of a decision between best actress nominees in recent year that has been as difficult as the one between Jessica Chastain and Jennifer Lawrence. Both performances were brilliant in their own way, yet so different. I'm glad they were in separate categories for the Golden Globes thus allowing them both to win, but for the Oscar it's literally going to have to be a coin toss for me.

Ultimately my pick will have to be Jessica Chastain as much as I adore Jennifer Lawrence. If anything, the Academy knows Lawrence is a rising star and she'll be in this position again. That's not to discount Chastain however. She is the sole character anchor for Zero Dark Thirty and she's amazing in the role. I don't think there is a single human emotion that she doesn't get to absolutely nail.

Pick: Jessica Chastain

Actor in a Supporting Role
This is another tough one, because there are plenty who are going to want to give this to Tommy Lee Jones for Lincoln, but while I feel his performance was excellent, it wasn't anymore than I normally expect from him. Others (like myself) may want to see Phillip Seymour Hoffman get this prize for his brilliant role in The Master, but for all it's nominations I'm afraid the film isn't going to win anything this year.

That leaves us with Christoph Waltz for Django Unchained, a decidedly different role than the one that won him this award for Inglourious Basterds a few years back, but just as well portrayed. This could be a category I lose if the Academy decides to go with Tommy Lee, but I have to go with Waltz on this one.

Pick: Christoph Waltz

Actress in a Supporting Role
OK, so I didn't see Les Mis, but I heard that Anne Hathaway was excellent in it. The problem here is that I did see Lincoln and Sally Field gives the performance of a lifetime as Mary Todd Lincoln and for her ... that's saying quite a bit.

I love Anne Hathaway, but I have to go with my gut here. I have to go with what I've seen and I have to back Sally Field on this one. If anything, I feel that Les Mis was luke warm enough among many critics to give me justification here.

Pick: Sally Field

Spielberg. I mean really ... in this list of Directors there is no other choice. Yes, there are some great films here. David O. Russell did an amazing job with Silver Linings as did Benh Zeitlin with Beasts of the Southern Wild, but let's face facts, under any other director (and with any other cast) Lincoln would have been  no more than a History Channel documentary.

Spielberg made that film and I can think of no one more deserving of this award.

Pick: Steven Spielberg

Writing (Adapted Screenplay)
This is not an easy one, especially with The Life of Pi having been one of those books that was deemed "unfilmable". Even so, I have to go with Argo on this one. While I haven't read the source material I know enough about film to see how they adapted it while both staying true to the original text and making a compelling motion picture. This is not an easy task and Argo accomplishes it without my ever thinking twice.

Pick: Argo

Writing (Original Screenplay)
I (and the Academy) usually seem to give this award to new screenwriters, but given the nominees this year, I have to go with Tarantino. If you've never read a Tarantino script then you're very much missing out. There's a reason this man has won this award before, his scripts tend to stand on their own as masterpieces and with this year's field, I'm guessing he's got the upper hand again.

Pick: Quentin Tarantino

Animated Feature Film
There are two rules to this category:
  1. Never vote against Studio Ghibli
  2. Never vote against Pixar
Brave wins ... 'Nuff said?

Pick: Brave

While there is a decent field in this category this year, I have to go with The Life of Pi. While each of the nominated films contain excellent cinematography, I think that The Life of Pi represents the biggest cinematographic challenge and therefore will gain the respect and votes of the Academy here.

Pick: The Life of Pi

Costume Design
Never vote against the period piece and if the period piece is a musical ... doubly so: Les Mis ... easy

Pick: Les Miserables

This is usually a category I steer away from because I'll be damned if I know what the Academy thinks good film editing is. This year I'm willing to go out on a limb and pick Argo for this category for one reason and one reason alone: the last 20 minutes of the movie. If you can find me a more tense 20 minutes among the other nominees this year, then more power to you, but that final sequence made this film and editing played a HUGE part.

Pick: Argo

Foreign Language Film
You may have noticed that one of the films in this category has shown up in several other categories as well, including the overall Best Picture category. This is the Academy using the Oscars as a sort of bully pulpit and passive aggressively suggesting that American movie makers might think about taking a look at what's going on over seas for some inspiration. I don't necessarily disagree with them, but this is the only category that Amour is going to win tonight.

Pick: Amour

Make-up and Hair Styling
This is normally another category I don't follow, but given that there is a period piece musical this year, this is an easy one: Les Mis

Pick: Les Miserables

Music (original score)
Of the three films I saw in this category this year I don't recall the scores jumping out at me particularly, but that's often the case here. I'm going to go with the buzz on this one though and say that The Life of Pi gets it.

Pick: The Life of Pi

Music (original song)
This is another damn toss up category like Best Actress. You're basically looking at either Adele for the Skyfall theme or Les Mis because it's a musical and this is kind of its category. Given some of the critical panning of Les Mis and the fact that Adele's star is still on the rise, I'm going to lean in her direction and say that Skyfall gets this one.

Pick: "Skyfall" by Adele

Production Design
I may be deluding myself, but I think this is an easy one this year. Despite the excellent production design of the other nominees, it takes a little something extra for a musical and therefore like costuming and make-up before it, this award should go to Les Mis.

Pick: Les Miserables

Visual Effects
This is usually the one award where a summer blockbuster can be seen winning outside of  the technical awards given out prior to the show. This year however one of the nominees is also one of the Best Picture nominees as well. Given the fact that The Life of Pi features a CG main character along side a flesh and blood actor and succeeded enough to be nominated for Best Picture, I have to pick it for this category despite a very competitive field this year.

Pick: The Life of Pi

Friday, February 22, 2013

This is Important

From: Get Stuffed!
RE: The recent EA Montreal and LA Layoffs and some of the community reaction
"The people who got laid off were your friends. They spoke your language. They played your games. They fought for you. They argued with their supervisors over decisions you eventually echoed after the game’s release. Nobody goes into games because they have no options left. They don’t sacrifice health and family for brutal overtime because they don’t believe in what they’re trying to do. They have children. They have partners. They have mortgages and car payments and meals to put on the table. And they live for the moment when a fan sends in a letter saying ‘thank you.’"
There's a way to be a person and when you behave in ways that are contrary to that social contract, you forego any right to be listened to or taken seriously. If you want to be part of the discussion and you want your opinions considered, show up and have some respect. Otherwise, expect for no one to consider your positions or even your existence.

Thursday, February 7, 2013


So my buddy Mark sent me this link earlier and I couldn't help but laugh, mainly because of the link to a portfolio web site I haven't been able to access in over 6 years, but also because I never in my wildest dreams would have thought that anyone would consider my first game project to be anywhere approaching relevant so many years later.

It was roughly 12 years ago this month that I started working at Turbine, my first paying gig in game development. For a couple years prior I had been working with a small group of developers under the moniker of Crytek in my spare time. At the time we were organized over the internet much in the same way mod developers were, but the founders (Cevat Yerli and his brothers) had big ambitions.

I started working with Crytek when Cevat contacted me after noticing my Half-Life mod work online. Crytek was working on an FPS and was looking for level designers. As a fledgling operation they didn't have any way to pay us at the time, but I was in college and a contract for royalties should our work ever bear fruit was good enough for me. The project and the game engine went through many iterations over the course  of the two years I worked on it. Somehow I ended up being the "Lead Designer" and (dumb kid that I was) began developing a rather lofty design for a game would have borne a striking resemblance to Deus Ex in both tone and game play, except exceedingly more sci-fi in its presentation.

In the summer of 2000 we had succeeded in created a tech demo for "Engalus", our would-be FPS. Even then, Cryek was on the cutting edge of graphics with an engine that rivaled the reigning king Quake 3. Cevat shopped the demo around at the conventions that summer and even got it showcased on NVIDIA's website, but by the time the end of the year was rolling around I had graduated and a paying gig was becoming more and more necessary. At the time my buddy Scott (who I had nabbed to help out on Engalus) had snagged a job doing GUI and other art work for local dev Turbine. I was well aware of Turbine as a player of the then recently released Asheron's Call and when Scott told me they were looking for designers I jumped at the chance. It wasn't so much that I had lost faith in Crytek and what we were working on as it was that I knew if they found backing I'd have to move to Germany, which I was not prepared to consider at the time and besides that, I would have been in WAY over my head at that time as the lead on a professional project. In an effort to get my professional career started with something closer to entry level, I left Crytek and Engalus, and started working at Turbine.

To make a long story short, I got laid off from Turbine several months after starting there, Crytek got backed by Ubisoft to make what would become FarCry, and I spent the next few years working odd jobs while making mods and trying to break back into professional development. Eventually I got my second chance as a content developer at Mythic Entertainment and six-and-a-half years later I'm a Content Lead for Bioware Austin on Star Wars: The Old Republic. I've come a long way since Crytek and so have they, but I've always been grateful to Cevat for seeking me out and giving me the chance to figure out that making games was what I wanted to do with my life. Engalus may have never seen the light of day, but to me it will always be my first real attempt at game development and though there's not much to show for it, I'm proud of the work we did and where we all ended up because of it.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Gamers and Developers: A Love Story

Communication between gamers and developers is a tough issue. Most people outside the industry (and plenty inside) have no idea how tumultuous live development can be. I can tell you that in previous jobs I've had experiences where one day I'm working on a feature and the next day it's been cut or de-prioritized. This along with other concerns often makes it difficult to communicate with the end user in a way that a) doesn't get their hopes up about a feature they want, but may not see the light of day and b) still engages those users in a way that makes them feel accommodated. It drives both sides crazy. Gamers end up feeling like their investment isn't being rewarded and that they're just being used, while developers end up resenting what they see as "entitled" users who think they know better how to make the game, but are never happy with what they get. Better communication can often help everyone to reach a happy middle ground, but the signal to noise ratio on the internet is lousy and it always has been. Add to this the logistical issues of time, money, manpower, and the need to please the largest audience possible in order to get the biggest return on investment and you're always going to end up pissing someone off and making others feel as if they're being ignored.

I know a lot gets said within the industry about games being art and how dare anyone not think of games as art, and as a designer I agree: games are art. There are degrees however and not all art is created equally. Speaking musically (because I can always analogize things in regards to music) I've come to realize that what we normally refer to as "triple A" games have way more in common with pop music than they do with punk rock while audiences seem to expect a more punk mentality regardless. Mainstream pop music wants to reach the widest audience possible and (to me at least) ends up sounding watered down and bland. There's something for "everyone", but if you're looking for an 8 minute drum solo then you're probably out of luck. Punk rock (real Punk rock ... but that's a whole other discussion) doesn't care about the broadest audience. The philosophy there is "the right people will get this". Is there great pop music? Hell yeah! Is there lousy punk rock? You bet! The same goes for games and when you're dealing with live development on games that are essentially pop music (every game I've ever worked on) you're never going to please everyone.

There's no right way to foster better communication between gamers and developers. I've often been heard to rant that developers should give gamers much more information about the process of development. I'd love for people to really see how the sausage is made, but that's not my call. I like to think that maybe if people saw that just because you can come up with the "perfect" answer to a problem doesn't mean it can be done, they'd be more forgiving. Game development involves a lot of compromise and often frustration. Gamers always feel like their prefered feature is the most important and "why doesn't someone just put this in the game?" To be honest, I know plenty of designers who feel the same way. I personally have designed at least as much content that has seen the light of day as hasn't but that's how pop music gets made. For every 10 tracks on a top 40 album, there's maybe twice as many that didn't make the cut, but that there is probably some (albeit smaller or more dedicated) audience for.

If developers tell you everything they're doing as they make or support a game, there's going to be things that you're really into that just dissipate and when you get people excited about something and then pull it away, it never ends well. I can remember this exact thing happening with Ultima Online back when I was in college when they had proposed a radical and (to me at least) interesting sounding bounty/good/evil system to help curb (or gamify) their player killing issues. The system as it was discussed never went live and they ended up going for a simpler option of splitting the world into PvP and non-PvP mirrors. On the one hand I appreciated the openness and on the other hand I felt cheated out of a system I was looking forward to. In hindsight, I have to assume that the system wasn't all it was cracked up to be and didn't solve their issues in the manner they desired.

You can only ever say too much or say too little and when opinion is already turned against you (warranted or not) the outcry is almost always going to be negative. The more negative the gamers are, the less the developers want to talk to them and the less both sides talk to each other, the further apart they get. If you want real discussion and insight into development, say nice things. Sometimes developers don't have all the information they need. Sometimes developers don't engage enough with their audience. Sometimes developers think they know better than their customers, but developers aren't out to get you and most of them are pretty good at what they do. If those things weren't true then they wouldn't have jobs and you wouldn't be playing their games to begin with. Publishers (in my experience) don't manipulate studios (at all) or as much as the public thinks they do and being that this is pop music, developers are here to make money as much as they're here to make art.  They don't want to be taken advantage of or undermined just as much as gamers. Show them respect and they'll show it right back. Sensationalism and misplaced outrage will only fan the flames and I personally would much rather we find a way to make better games together.

Monday, January 14, 2013

On Live Game Development

Update: Seriously ... ranting aside, I love the people who play my games. Infuriating as they can be. I'm sure the feeling is mutual.