An Embarrassment of Riches

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I may have mentioned this before, but there are too many things. And by “things” I mean books, video games, movies, TV shows, board games, songs, apps, and any other media one might experience. Right now, today, there are probably more things that I’d like to have a look at than I have time remaining in my life to do so. And tomorrow, someone will add even more.

I don’t like to leave things unfinished, no loose ends. But now I have this frayed blanket of partially read books, half-watched shows, unfinished video games, barely messed with apps, and board games still in shrink wrap. At one point these things were rare and hard won. As a child I created an impromptu garage sale to fund the purchase of the BattleTech board game, shutting the sale down the moment I could afford to buy. And then I played BattleTech for ages. Now everything is so easy to obtain, effortlessly plucked from the ether. But I feel like it takes a greater force of will to slow down and appreciate a single thing, knowing there are thousands more awaiting my attention. It is like touring the Louvre in a formula one race car.

I’ve decided I need to shift my perception of all this media, or at least to try. I’m trying to see it as another planetary ecosystem, something vast and ever present. In the same way that I do not need to play with every breed of dog on the planet, I do not need to play every game. If I see one I like, I will pet it and enjoy that moment. I’m really happy just knowing that all those things are out there and that sometimes my path will intersect with some of them.

Look at Everything

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Your world has always been a smeared, rained on sidewalk chalk landscape of floating, impressionistic faces, every tree a wad of green cotton caught in a thicket. One day they give you the glasses and you see a world once hidden, presumably everyone else’s world.

Your world has always been sliding planes of glass, a parallax trick of time where towers simultaneously crumble and rise. One day someone slides the paper under your tongue and the stars reveal their highways, all clocks chant the same moment.

Your world has always been a sandy beach spilling a silicon waterfall into the basin where the ocean used to be, a forest of dry wine glasses abrading in the constant thirsty wind. One day someone crests the hill and plunges a dowsing rod into your heart.

Your world has always been a rough sketch, hand drawn dreams from the nubs of sixteen Crayola crayons. One day someone gives you the 128 pack and you realize many of the colors are invisible if you are alone.

But you are not alone now.

Here’s to Trying New Things

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Okay, I’m a little late with this post, but I have been delightfully preoccupied lately.

The other day I went to my girlfriend’s Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu class. Let’s pause and reflect on the layers of awesomeness in that sentence alone. It is like a delicious cake. Okay, let’s move on. Bess has been taking classes for a while and she speaks enthusiastically about how fun they are. Years ago I had taken Wushu, so I had some rudimentary martial arts experience. So when she invited me to come along, I agreed on the condition that she didn’t tie me into a pretzel, hold me above her head and throw me against the back wall. Bess assured me nothing of the kind would happen.

We showed up at the…dojo…gym? I’m not sure if there is a special term for where Jiu-Jitsu takes place. After signing a waiver and suiting up in a gi, I walked out onto the mat with Bess where a demonstration was already underway. I had hoped there would be some kind of intro for complete noobs, but they have you jump right in. Years ago, another version of me would have balked at the very idea of trying out what appeared to be a sport requiring much physical exertion. Also, I would have insisted on an in depth tutorial. But I was with Bess and I trust her and everything seems new again, so why not?

The first half of the class consisted of Bess and I taking turns subduing each other with the new move demonstrated by the instructor. Jiu-Jitsu is all about grappling and choke holds. You’re wrestling around on the ground 95% of the time. I hadn’t really expected that. I thought it might be about self-defense counter moves or something more like karate.

After rolling around for a while, we sat out and watched the second half of the class, which was about sparring. I remarked how everyone wore a disconcertingly impassive expression. Bess explained that each person was deep in thought, considering their next move, like participants in a chess match. There was no aggression or other intense emotions involved. No one wanted to hurt their sparring partner. I never really thought of it in that context. Bess joined in on the sparring. She held her own and looked like she knew what she was doing. I was really impressed!

Ultimately, I decided that Jiu-Jitsu wasn’t my thing, but I’m glad I tried it. It was more an exercise in being open to new things instead of deciding “I am this way” and missing out on opportunities to grow. Also, I want to spend as much time with this girl as possible.

Happy

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I was losing hope that I might ever get to this day, but everything changed last week. Her name is Bess and she is wonderful. And beautiful, and clever, and passionate, and brave, and fun. My heart ignited when I met her and I always want to be with her. I’m glad I held out. I’m glad I was picky. I’m glad I followed my heart.

We are just at the beginning. The road winds ahead through hills and valleys unseen. I am ready.

Lost Boys

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I’ve discovered a new niche of video games which I shall call “Art Games Featuring Lost Boys Which Make Me Cry.” The past few years have each yielded quite a few passion projects, independent games which come in from the edge of the map without a blockbuster agenda. Call them hoity toity or highbrow, but I love when anyone produces something unexpected, thoughtful and unapologetic. Long after I tire of space marines blowing up aliens, I will still be engrossed in the journey of a young boy across a fantastical landscape.

Braid, Limbo and Bastion all come from a place of perfection in terms of art design, story and game mechanics. I have nothing ill to say about any of these games. Each one drew me in with its own particular style. But what I really want to talk about is the emotional payload of each. I’m going to spoil the ending of each game, so stop reading if you care about what happens.

Braid’s opening scene sets up the classic video game tale: your girl has been captured by the villain and you must rescue her. As the game unfolds, you are presented with a series of interior monologues filled with longing for a girl, presumably a real person the designer was pursuing. They seem to have little to do with the game until the end. The main game mechanic in Braid is the ability to alter the flow of time, moving it backwards and forwards to solve the puzzles. So, at the very end, when you think you are about to rescue the princess, you are instead treated to a shocking revelation: The opening scene of the game was playing in reverse. Now it plays again, in the correct direction, and you see that the girl wasn’t captured by the villain. She is in fact running away from you into the arms of the knight who will protect her, the one she really wants to be with. You spend the entire game so self-assured and self-absorbed that you never consider that the princess doesn’t want you to rescue her. Masterfully done.

Limbo had a similar twist, although a more ambiguous one. In Limbo, you are trying to find your sister and perhaps rescue her. It is never really clear how the two of you came to be in Limbo. The game leaves a lot up to interpretation. You encounter your sister on two occasions. Each time she is sitting in a sun-dappled glade, blissful and in no apparent danger. On the final occasion, the last moment of the game, she hears you approach. She turns and gasps. That gasp was an ice dagger in my heart as I realized that she was probably never in Limbo and now she sees the ghostly apparition of her brother looming towards her.

I finished Bastion a several days ago and it still sticks with me. I want to hear that narrator all the time, telling the story of my daily life. And the music! I bought the soundtrack the day it was released so I could listen to those gorgeous songs again. There are two big decision points in the game. The first one just seems like a Voight-Kampff test to determine if you were human. You can either hold on to this devastatingly overpowered weapon that annihilates your enemies, or you could set it down and pick up the broken form of Zulf, your enemy (who had every right to want revenge), rescuing him. I picked up Zulf and moved, slowly, without any defense or means of fighting, out into a battlefield full of enemies. But they all stopped attacking and stood in silence as I carried Zulf past them and to the exit. It was such a moving scene. The second decision you have to make is to either reset the world so that the Calamity did not occur or to move the Bastion and fly into an unknown future. I chose to reset the world, and, of course, the Calamity happened again and I began back at the beginning.

I think I’m drawn to these games because there is romance in having a singular purpose driving you forward from the left side of the screen to right. And while having a goal is great, sometimes you realize in the end that your goal is not what you expected or wanted. And, of course, appreciate the journey instead of the destination. Once you reach the destination, it’s over.

Thufir Hawat

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I’ve worked out the art style for the Dune characters. I decided on a painterly look with unexpected colors. The character design is influenced by the French edition of the game with a bit of the Lynch film mixed in. Here is Thufir Hawat, Mentat Master of Assassins for House Atreides.

I’m working my way through all of the male characters and then I’ll do the females. Today I rendered out all the images for The Duel and started dabbling with designing each of the House planets. There are still a ton of Treachery cards to create.

That’s all for now.

Symposium!

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A few weeks ago I sat down to write an email to invite people to a recurring movie night. But then I recalled some other ideas I had discussed with some friends about doing a kind of show and tell type thing. Basically I wanted an excuse to get a bunch of friends together to watch a movie or play a game and also have someone do an awesome presentation. So, instead of sending out an email about movie night, I created a group on Facebook. I called it the Symposium, after its Greek namesake, yes, but more for what we called those nights in Albuquerque when my friends and I sat out on someone’s back stoop, drinking wine, discussing geeky things.

Here is the mission statement of the Symposium:


“True wisdom comes to each of us when we realize how little we understand about life, ourselves, and the world around us.” – Socrates

“He was a wise man who invented beer.” – Plato

Once a month I will host a Symposium which will always include three things: Amusement, Imbibement and Enlightenment (sometimes in that order).

Amusements will consist of games, films and interactive experiences. These amusements will be curated and presented with care by myself and other participants. The back story about why a game or movie is important will be an emphasized component.

Imbibements encompass all manner of drink and edible delectables. Strange wines, mysterious brews and home-made dishes are encouraged.

Enlightenment is the heart of the Symposium. Each Symposium will feature a presenter or topic of discussion. Every one of you has something to share. If you are a musician, you might have a new song. If you are a poet, a new poem. A game designer might discuss their new game or a work in progress. A writer might read an excerpt from a story they are working on. A scholarly presentation of a subject one has passion for is also possible. Alternatively, one may present a topic for discussion and debate. In any case, questions and answers are encouraged.

The first Symposium, called Symposium I: I Think Therefore I Game, happened this past Friday. About ten other people showed up to hang out, chat and drink wine. Then Marc Majcher led us through a couple of game poems he had created. A game poem can be described as the thinking person’s party game, or a very short role playing game. Or maybe a structured improv exercise. Each game was designed to evoke and explore a particular mood or concept. The first one was a study in fidelity and betrayal. The second one is a bit harder to describe. Maybe a study of identity and empathy? Both were really fun experiences.

After an intermission, game designer Jonathan Leistiko did a presentation on “Applying Philosophy to Understand and Design Board Games.” Really genius, mind expanding stuff about what certain game mechanics say about fate, the future and reality.

Everyone seemed to have a great time and I felt it was a resounding success. I plan on doing it monthly and I have a number of amusements and topics I’d like to schedule. Mostly I’m just happy to give friends a chance to demonstrate their awesomeness and have fun at the same time.

Is it really all that much to lug around

depression

I’ve been physically depressed for weeks now. Makes it tough to get much done, even this post. I’ve started logging my sleep to see if I need to make any adjustments there.

Still working on images for the Dune game. I realized that I had completely forgotten to include the cards from the Spice Harvest expansion in my list of components. They are all pretty straightforward, but it is like three more decks of cards to do.

I have several collaborative projects in the works. I’ll see how they go. It is nice to have projects.

Went out with a really pretty redhead a few weeks ago, but she said there was no chemistry. :(

That’s all.

Plus One

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I just want everything in one place. I already use Google for nearly everything else: mail, calendar, news reader, phone, instant messaging, music, documents, etc. So I see that black menu bar at the top of my browser (Chrome, natch) all the time. It is really easy to check messages and notifications in Google+.

There are still a lot of ties to Facebook, though. So what I am considering is using Google+ as a space for connecting with my friends and channel everything else into Facebook and Twitter. Facebook can become a news feed for anything I’m interested in outside of my circle of friends. And since there is a handy Facebook plugin for Google+, there is no need to actually go to the Facebook site to see it.

At the end of the day, I don’t care about the Facebook or Google brand. I care about the data feed. I am interested in the curated Internet where the import and export of data is managed with as much granularity as I desire. I am interested in certain topics from certain sources and filtering out everything else.

For it to work, people have to actually *use* Google+. This may mean adopting new practices analogous to what is on Facebook. Events can be replaced with Google Calendar. +1-ing something will become easier when there are browser plugins for it along with Google Reader integration.

For something that is so new, Google+ is already pretty great. It will only get better as it gets more closely integrated with other Google services. I want social media to get to a place where it is effortless and ubiquitous. It just works without having to enter some partitioned mind space where we have to think “Okay, I am doing social media things now.”

Truth or Dare

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As has become tradition, my friends and I get together on the weekend of July 4th for a cookout and summertime festivities. We usually end up sitting around with some drinks and playing board games. On the drive over, I was mulling the idea of bringing up a probing philosophical question and see if we could have a discussion instead. The question most recently on my mind had been “What is a baseline authentic Human experience?” Can we even know what a normal human existence should be like in today’s world? I just wanted to have a different sort of evening than usual. As it turned out, I didn’t even need to suggest it.

Later that night, after feasting on burgers and many beverages, someone proposed we play Truth or Dare. Now, we are all adults in this group, so this idea seemed at once silly and charming. After all, we were many years out of high school. While there were a few Dares executed to various degrees of success (we will most likely never speak of them again), we all tended towards Truth. We all asked and answered thoughtful, insightful questions about ourselves. New facets of my friends unfolded, sparkling. I was able to share a lot of things that just never came up during our debriefings of video games and TV shows.

I had had several discussions in the past few weeks about missing deep conversations and how they tend not to happen in certain groups of friends. So this was a very fulfilling evening, one where I got to talk about things that mattered to me with some of the people who matter the most. I think that recently I have begun to reverse my stance on compartmentalizing groups of people and having certain expectations about what is possible with them. A friend recently told me that if you engage people on a level you yourself wish to be engaged, you’ll find that people will meet you halfway.

So here’s to the surprise and delight that comes from expecting more from relationships.