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"Your 'reality', sir, is lies and balderdash and I'm delighted to say that I have no grasp of it whatsoever."
— Karl Friedrich Hieronymus, Freiherr von M√ľnchhausen

So Much Monitor

I am absolutely drooling over the Radius 320, a seamless, three-paneled monitor, offering a 50" diagonal view space and 4800 x 1200 resolution. I want one. Thanks to Brenton House for blogging about it.

The Diary of a Space Avenger

Two weeks ago, I decided to take a stab at Flash development. I had tried Flash very early in my career (circa 1998) and couldn't get the hang of it, and so I gave up. But my reasoning was this: I'm a professional programmer. I love games. I've seen hundreds of these dopey Flash games all over the web. I know a lot more than I did back then. How hard can it be?

As it turns out, Flash has come a long, long way as a platform and I have come a long, long way as a developer. It wasn't long before it became fun. Lots of fun.

I downloaded the trial version of Flash from Adobe, and started familiarizing myself with the environment. The Flash scripting language, ActionScript, is a direct descendant of JavaScript, and I have used JavaScript for web development since 1998, so picking up the basics was a snap.

I spent my first Saturday banging my head against the wall trying to figure out how to capture keypresses. The event paradigm is a little weird, and you're doing this stuff in real time, unlike a web page scenario where you're just responding passively to user events. I found this tutorial at "Steve's Tutes" to be particularly helpful at the very beginning; it showed the basics of hooking into the onEnterFrame to do your main loop and gave me some clues as to how you can leverage the concepts behind object-oriented programming (something I'm very familiar with) in Flash. Later, I went through a bunch of the material on Kirupa.com for some more advanced techniques. Slowly, I got the hang of how to lay out animations and use scripts to drive the interaction. I decided to start where I suppose every aspiring game developer starts: with a Space Invaders/Galaxian clone.

First, I needed some graphics. I'm not much of an artist, but I can draw passably, so I decided to take a stab at drawing a few space ships. Flash has a full set of vector art tools, but they took a bit of getting used to. For example, you have to double-click to select a shape and its outline; otherwise you drag them independently. Also, you have to be careful to separate everything into layers (anyone who's used Photoshop knows this one). Otherwise, your shapes erase one another, even though they're independently draggable. Eventually, I was able to put together a good-guy (white) ship and a bad-guy (red) ship. A few lines for bullets and presto! The beginnings of a Space Invaders clone. I ganked an animated GIF for the explosions. Importing that into Flash was simple enough. When a bullet hits a ship, remove the ship, add the explosion, and add to the score. Simple.

The next tricky part was sound. I scoured the web for free WAVs and eventually found most of what I needed in the "Science Fiction" section of the "Absolute Sound Effects Archive". Then I downloaded a freeware version of EXPStudio Audio Editor to do some manipulation. Flash was free, the sounds were free, the graphics were free, and even the sound editor was free. As a developer, I think free software is a bad idea, but as a consumer, how can I complain?

Once I got the basic mechanics working, I decided to add wrinkles. I added in capsules that you can pick up to upgrade your ship. First, I did the easiest ones: extra lives, speed boost, rapid fire. Then, I decided to implement "Teleportation", allowing you to move off one edge of the screen and appear on the other. That wasn't too hard. But then I decided to get fancy: multiple shots. Sounds simple enough at first. Two bullets instead of one. Not too bad. The only gotcha there was that since they were firing at the same time and my bullet object triggered the laser sound, dual-firing was twice as loud. That was distracting, but fairly simple to fix.

Then I went to three shots. It was easy, but it wasn't much more useful than two. That's when I got the bright idea to make the shots spread out. Suddenly, everything wasn't traveling in straight lines. I scratched my head and thought back to eleventh grade: trigonometry. Sines, cosines, radians, all that. After going through Kirupa's and Cody Lindley's Flash trig tutorials, I was able to figure it out over the better part of this past Sunday.

And so now in two weekends, I have produced a game that is actually playable, starting from zero: no experience, no materials, just a desire to make a game and an internet connection. I present the beta version of Space Avenger, my first Flash game.

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Who Hates Whom?

Thanks to Roy Osherove for this amusing-if-not-accurate chart on who hates whom in the Middle East.

Madden 2007 Has Arrived

Madden 2007 has arrived, and while I still hate those low-lifes at EA for their cowardly exclusive NFL deal (which crushed a superior game, ESPN Football), I'm happy that it's football season and I get to turn the Jets into a winning team for a change, if only in a virtual world where Chad Pennington can manage to stay healthy for an entire season. And be sure to check out this amusing article from ESPN.com on Madden's player ratings. My favorite tidbit:

99 -- Ego rating for 16 players deemed the most arrogant in the NFL. And not surprisingly, five of the 16 players -- Jeremy Shockey, Kellen Winslow Jr., Clinton Portis, Warren Sapp and Ray Lewis -- are from "The U." (So called, of course, because football players who received their "education" in Miami are often unable to remember the actual name of their institution of higher learning.)
You know T.O.'s Ego rating has to be a 99, too, but he wasn't mentioned because he didn't go to Miami. He's a way bigger jerk than Jerky McJerkerson Jeremy Shockey.

Yeah, We're Winning

As reported by the BBC:

Death tolls - both military and civilian - since the fall of Saddam Hussein have far outstripped those during the initial period of US-led military action.

Numbers of civilian casualties are highly controversial and not recorded by the US or UK military.

Look at the graph. Notice that steady upward climb? Now tell me again, Mr. President, that we're winning this war. Zarqawi is dead, and the insurgency hasn't stopped. The simple fact is that the Iraqis do not want the Americans there. They never did.

And the worst part of it all: 42,358 Iraqi civilians dead since March, 2003. For what?

On Hit Points

Troy of Socratic Design posted an article yesterday talking about hit points versus damage-per-second in MMORPGs. In it, he linked to an essay written by Jonathan Tweet (co-creator of my personal favorite RPG, Ars Magica) on hit points in AD&D. It's Tweet's piece that I ended up reading twice and mulling over for a little while, because he makes a really good point.

Everyone and their brother has bashed the hit point system. I know I have. There are all sorts of forms that this complaint takes, such as "Why do hit points increase with level?" or "How can a 12th-level fighter take more damage than a rhinoceros?" All of these complaints boil down to basically the same thing: hit points are unrealistic. And it's true, they are. But that's not necessarily a bad thing. Tweet explains:

Back in high school, when I switched from (thoroughly hacked) D&D to RuneQuest, part of the reason I did so was that RQ has a more realistic hit point system. In RQ, even a tough character can die with a single lucky blow (say, a critical impale to the head). In D&D, a player can assess the combat and calculate when there's no chance whatever that a given blow is going to take their character out. RQ seemed more realistic. And it I still think it is.

But I played a lot of RQ, and bad things happened. In one memorable incident, a long-running character was killed by a single lucky shot in an encounter that was supposed to be a diversion. More generally, once the characters were tough enough to take on big monsters, such as griffins, the monsters' ability to deal lots of damage made them hard to balance. Characters that dodged or parried were OK, but those that let a monster's attack through, or got critted, went down. Even at lower levels, the chance that an attack might disable one's sword arm or knock one down meant that a character's position in a fight could take an unpredictable dive.

For the gamist, this suspension of reality is done for a very good reason: it enhances the playability of the game. It makes it more fun, because it keeps things balanced, keeps your character alive, and makes the GM's job of providing solid challenges a little bit easier.

In my early fantasy role playing game design, I actually used two sets of hit points to strike this balance between playability and realism. Constitution was lost when taking damage that actually tore your body up, Endurance was lost when taking damage that knocked you around. If you ran out of Constitution, you were considered incapacitated: your character was lying on the ground, bleeding badly and unable to move. If you ran out of Endurance, you were considered unconscious. If you lost both, then the character died. Normally, characters had more Endurance than Constitution, but armor normally worked better at absorbing Constitution damage than Endurance damage. This worked well because you could be knocked out of a fight fairly easily, but dying was hard because you had a lot more points to chew through.

This is the main thing about games without hit points ("critical hit" systems suffer from this problem, too): it's fun when you get a lucky hit in to cut the bad guy's head off, but it doesn't seem like much fun anymore when that random encounter kills a character that you've played for a long time. My goal, like Jonathan's, is that this is something to be avoided, because while it may be realistic, it can really kill your fun.

Hit points (like levels) is one of those design conventions that never seems to go away, because it solves a common problem in a way that is clean and very simple. From a simulationist point of view, they cause all sorts of problems because they're just not reflective of reality. For the narrativist, it robs us of opportunities for tragic accidents. Screw all that. I'm a gamist. Let's just play the game.

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A Different "WoW"

Thanks, Raph Koster for showing me a different "WoW".

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Friday Free Game: Dice Wars

If you're anything like me, then you probably went through a phase where you thought that Risk was one of the coolest games around. And if that's you, then you'll probably really like this week's Friday Free Game: Dice Wars, because it brings much of what you love about the classic board game — big armies, epic battles, huge wins and stunning upsets — and leaves behind pretty much everything else. Dice Wars is a lazy man's strategy game, with just a little depth and a healthy dose of luck. It's perfect for casual strategic play, because it doesn't get mired in all the details.

Dice Wars allows you to select a number of players, from 2 to 8, and then randomly generates a board, allowing you to continuously regenerate until you find something you like. Each territory is controlled by you (purple) or one of your computer opponents. The goal is to conquer the entire board by using your dice, which you see stacked up in each territory you control.

The combat system is very simple, and this simplicity is what makes the game fun. You click on a territory you control that has at least two dice in it, and then click on a neighboring territory to attack it. Each side rolls its respective number of dice, adds them up, and compares the total. The player with the greater total wins, and ties go to the defender. Like in Risk, you have to leave at least one die in any territory you control and when you win a battle, you automatically leave one die behind and move the ramining dice into the newly-conquered territory. This means that where you attack, from where, and in what order all becomes important so that you can best defend yourself from your enemies. Also, there is a number at the bottom of the screen next to your color. That indicates the largest contiguous number of territories you control. At the end of your turn, you get that number of extra dice (placed randomly by the computer, unfortunately) to fortify your empire.

As you're probably gathering, this isn't a game of deep, complex strategies. There's a lot of randomness in this game, and often times, things just don't go the way you planned. But there is a balancing act to be done. Remember not to overextend yourself, try to keep your territory coherent, and use the divide-and-conquer approach against your enemies. Over the long haul, the statistics will all average out, and it's simply about the number of dice you can throw at somebody. Plus, this is a game that's very light on its feet. If things don't go your way, no worries: you can be trying to conquer the world all over again in about five minutes. I'd recommend Dice Wars for any strategy game fan for its deft blend of luck and skill; just don't take it too seriously.

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Hacking IE Restrictions

We had a new Windows build rolled out to our desktops at work recently, and the sneaky systems administrators set my IE home page to the intranet home page and disabled my ability to change it. I never use our corporate intranet and always end up going to Google anyway, so I poked around a bit to see if I could hack around the restriction. I found a solution and figured I'd share for those who, like me, are suffering under the thumb of an oppressive infrastructure regime at their place of work.

To unlock your IE home page configuration, you'll need to edit the registry key HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Policies\Microsoft\Internet Explorer\Control Panel. Any value under this key set to 1 disables the corresponding functionality in IE. In the case of your home page, the key is called (aptly enough) "Home Page". Simply edit the value to zero, restart IE, and you're good to go.

Twenty Questions Vader Style

It's amazing that some classic games never die.

Twenty questions, incarnated variously as The Bar Kokhba Game or 20Q (play the web version here), is one of the oldest parlor games around. You know the one: you get to ask up to 20 yes or no questions in order to figure out what the other person is thinking.

The Sith Sense is Twenty Questions presented as Vader trying to read your mind, sponsored by Burger King. It's scary enough having Darth Vader taunt you, but when the King comes out and whispers in Vader's ear, that's when my blood really went cold. That guy creeps me out. Take this not-work-safe video as an example why.

Microsoft XNA Enables Amateur Game Development

Microsoft announced today that they will be releasing a beta version of what they are calling the XNA Game Studio on August 30th. And just what is XNA Game Studio, you might ask? It's a version of Microsoft Visual Studio 2005 aimed at amateur and hobbyist game developers to allow them to create video games for the PC and the Xbox360 using a version of the .NET Framework (2.0) with additional libraries for game developers.

The software is free for PC development, and you can join the "Creators Club" for $99 a year, enabling you to test and distribute your games to the Xbox360 as well as gain access to additional tools and content for your games.

The blogosphere was abuzz about this today (thanks to The Average Gamer for being the first to show up in my feed reader with news about this) and with good reason: Microsoft is (a) giving away free software and (b) is enabling a potentially huge number of amateur developers to get into the game space. For someone like me, this is a godsend. I fully intend to redevelop an old game that I wrote in QBasic way back in 1991. I will post more details when I'm able to download the software at the end of the month.

Friday Free Game: Click Drag Type 2

For me, the most exciting part of playing a new game is the sense of discovery. A game that is well designed draws you in by presenting you with a challenge and letting you figure out how to solve it. While all games operate under this principle to greater and lesser degrees, some games express it in its purest form, where playing the game means figuring out the rules.

The prototypical example of this kind of game is the classic Myst. The player, transported to another world with literally no background or information to guide him, wanders through lush, surreal environments, slowly unraveling the story of Atrus the mad inventor through a series of puzzles. If you've ever played Myst or any of its sequels or clones, you know how it goes: sometimes you're standing right in the middle of a puzzle without even realizing it. The fun is figuring out how it all fits together.

This week's Friday Free Game is a pure puzzler just how we like 'em: Flash-based and free. It's a far cry from Myst, but the challenge is essentially the same. It's all about interacting with what's right in front of you, with only three little clues as to how: ClickDragType. The game's intro tells you the deal right up front: "This is ClickDragType... There are no instructions... You figure it out."

There are ten different puzzles and so far I've only worked my way through four of them; each one was unique, interesting, and usually involved multiple steps to solve. But these aren't brain busters: while they may be odd, each puzzle has its own internal logic, and once you figure out what's going on, you can solve the puzzle without too much fuss. You have to use everything that the game gives you: the sounds, the colors, orientation and positions of the various objects, and the relationships between them all. Try it out when you need that 15-minute distraction. You'll probably want to come back again to try out another one of these oddly amusing brain teasers.

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Impeachment? Hell no. Impalement.

The Progressive's Will Durst has a few choice words to say about the people in the Bush administration:

I don't know about you guys, but I am so sick and tired of these these lying, thieving, holier-than-thou, rightwing, cruel, crude, rude, gauche, coarse, crass, cocky, corrupt, dishonest, debauched, degenerate, dissolute, swaggering, lawyer shooting, bullhorn shouting, infra-structure destroying, buck passing, hysterical, criminal, history defying, finger pointing, puppy stomping, roommate appointing, pretzel choking, collateral damaging, aspersion casting, wedding party bombing, clearcutting, torturing, jobs outsourcing, torture out-sourcing, election fixing, women's rights eradicating, Medicare cutting, uncouth, spiteful, boorish, vengeful, jingoistic, homophobic, xenophobic, xylophonic, racist, sexist, ageist, fascist, cashist, audaciously stupid, brazenly selfish, lethally ignorant, journalist purchasing, genocide ignoring, corporation kissing, poverty inducing, crooked, coercive, autocratic, primitive, uppity, high-handed, domineering, arrogant, inhuman, inhumane, inbred, inept, insipid, incapable, incompetent, ineffectual, insolent, insincere, know-it-all, snotty, pompous, contemptuous, supercilious, gutless, spineless, shameless, avaricious, noxious, poisonous, imperious, merciless, graceless, tactless, brutish, brutal, Karl Roving, backward thinking, persistent vegetative state grandstanding, nuclear option threatening, evolution denying, irony deprived, consciously depraved, conceited, perverted, peremptory invading, thirty-five day vacation taking, bribe soliciting, hellish, smarty pants, loudmouth, bullying, swell headed, ethics eluding, domestic spying, medical marijuana busting, Halliburtoning, narcissistic, undiplomatic, blustering, malevolent, demonizing, Duke Cunninghamming, hectoring, dry drunk, Muslim baiting, hurricane disregarding, oil company hugging, judge packing, science disputing, faith based advocating, armament selling, nonsense spewing, education ravaging, whiny, insane, unscrupulous, lily livered, greedy (exponential factor fifteen), fraudulent, delusional, CIA outing, redistricting, anybody who disagrees with them slandering, fact twisting, ally alienating, betraying, chickenhawk, sell out, quisling, god and flag waving, scare mongering, Cindy Sheehan libeling, smirking, bastardly, voting machine tampering, sociopathic, cowardly, treasonous, Constitution shredding, oppressive, vulgar, antagonistic, trust funding, nontipping, tyrannizing, peace hating, water and air and ground and media polluting (which is pretty much all the polluting you can get), deadly, traitorous, con man, swindling, pernicious, lethal, illegal, haughty, venomous, virulent, mephitic, egotistic, bloodthirsty, yellowbelly, hypocritical, Oedipal, did I say evil, I'm not sure if I said evil, because I want to make sure I say evil . . . EVIL, cretinous, slime buckets in the Bush Administration that I could just spit. Impeachment? Hell no. Impalement. Upon the sharp and righteous sword of the people's justice. Make it a curtain rod. Because it would hurt more.
My sentiments exactly.

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A Letter to FOX News

From The Angry Arab's blog, a resignation letter from two producers in Amman, Jordan to Fox News:

Date: Mon, 31 Jul 2006

Dear All,

We would like to announce our resignation from Fox News in Amman. Although we never actually worked for your organization, we helped for the past three years in facilitating your work in the Middle East.

We base our decision on moral issues. We can no longer work with a news organization that claims to be fair and balanced when you are so far from that. Not only are you an instrument of the Bush White House, and Israeli propaganda, you are war mongers with no sense of decency, nor professionalism. You have crossed all borders and red lines. An Arab mother cries over the death of her child very much like an American and Israeli mother.

Arab blood is not cheap, and we are not barbarians. You ought to be more responsible and have more decency when you take one side against the other. You have a role to play and a responsibility to shoulder for the sake of your very naive viewers.

Throughout the three years we worked with you, and helped you, we thought you would develop a degree of respect to people in this part of the world. But the disdain and blatant one-sided coverage of all Mideast conflicts only highlights your total lack of humanity and bias toward Israel. Your lack of professionalism has made you a tool of ridicule throughout the world. Your inexperienced anchors with their racist comments are not only a shameful scar on the American Media, they simply represent state run Television networks in countries you despise in the Middle East.

Finally, our decision again is based on moral and professional basis and from now on we will no longer help in any Fox related matters.


Serene Sabbagh
Jomana Karadsheh
Sabbagh appeared on The O'Reilly Factor last November after the hotel bombings in Amman.

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Internet "Conspiracies"

According to today's New York Post:

More than one-third of Americans suspect federal officials assisted in the 9/11 terrorist attacks or took no action to stop them so the United States could go to war in the Middle East, according to a new poll.
This echoes some earlier polls, including one from the summer of 2004 (cited here) that states that half of New Yorkers believe that the government had foreknowledge of the 9/11 attacks. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, citing the same study as the Post, reports that
people who regularly use the Internet but who do not regularly use so-called "mainstream" media are significantly more likely to believe in 9/11 conspiracies. People who regularly read daily newspapers or listen to radio newscasts were especially unlikely to believe in the conspiracies.
Is this because people who get their information online are more gullible than their more traditional counterparts? It's possible, but I don't think that's what's going on.

Considering that corporate mergers are happening in every industry unchecked, further concentrating the power to control the flow of information into ever-fewer hands, is it any wonder that the mainstream media is less and less able to provide fair and balanced news? With the Telecommunications Act of 1996, it is legal for a single company to own all of the news outlets in a town, as long as it only represents up to 45% of the total number of total media outlets (e.g., entertainment) available. So it's okay if one man were to own all of the newspapers, news magazines and news television stations in an area, because it measures your 45% holdings against all other media, not just news media. As a result, according to Wikipedia, 90% of the media holdings in the United States are controlled by six companies: Disney, Viacom, Time Warner, Rupert Murdoch's News Corp, Bertlesmann and General Electric. This includes news, music, television, you name it. Each of these companies is headed by a small number of people with similarly-aligned interests. Is it any wonder that the American people have failed to rise up against the Bush-Cheney cabal? Most people simply don't know what's going on, because it's not in the interest of these plutocrats to let them know.

The Internet is the one channel of information that is not centrally controlled. It's the closest thing we have to a truly democratic society, where everyone's opinion can be heard. Sure it's littered with the ravings of madmen living in their parents' basements; sure it can be used as a tool of disinformation, too. But when you can't trust the papers, when you can't trust the TV, then how is the truth to be made known? This is why the Internet so important. This is why Net Neutrality is so important. As always, it's essential that everyone evaluate each piece of information carefully, considering the source, and deciding for himself whether or not to believe it. But the news has been reduced to sound bites and sensationalism. Your choices are ignorance or the Internet.

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September 11th Revisited

For those of you who, like me, never bought the official story about what happened on 9/11, please watch this very important video, called September 11th Revisited. It basically assembles footage that was shot on the day of the 9/11 tragedy and was never aired again, followed by several speeches given by experts, explaining why the official explanation for what happened to the World Trade Center is quite plainly absurd. Consider:

  • Never before or since has a steel-framed building collapsed due to fire.
  • Nearly all of the concrete in the Twin Towers was pulverized into dust, which would require a massive explosion.
  • The World Trade Center towers were designed to withstand the impact of a Boeing 707. The Boeing 767s that struck Towers 1 and 2 are extremely similar craft. Their difference in fuel capacity is only about 4%.
  • All of the physical evidence from the site was carted off almost immediately, making a forensic reconstruction of the events impossible.
  • Each tower collapsed in about 8-10 seconds, as if there was no resistance at all from the floors beneath the point of impact.
  • WTC7, which was never struck by an aircraft and had fires on only two of its 46 floors, inexplicably collapsed completely into its footprint, much like the Twin Towers.
Please watch this important video. Judge for yourself.

You can find out more at 911Truth.org, 911Research.com, and 911Proof.com.

Please help support 911 Revisited by Digging the video here. Just click the link and click "Digg it". I've linked directly to the video, not this post. Spread the word. Demand answers.


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The Red Bull Diary is the personal pulpit and intellectual dumping-ground for its author, an amateur game designer, professional programmer, political centrist and incurable skeptic. The Red Bull Diary is gaming, game design, politics, development, geek culture, and other such nonsense.