Update

Over the past few days, I’ve heard mention of this blog from a few friends, and I realized I haven’t been using it to its full potential. That is, a way for friends to keep up with what’s going on with me, without actually having to converse with me directly. So here’s an update:

I bought a big TV, a copy of Jurassic Park, and an album from the guy from Soul Coughing.

Okay, that should do it. Keep reading this space for future updates!

All right, other stuff of note: I’m still unemployed, but assuming all goes well, will start working as a contractor/consultant for Walt Disney Imagineering R&D around the end of the month. It sounds like an awesome project, and it’ll be working with Jonathan, my friend & boss from The Curse of Monkey Island, so I’m very excited about it. I’ll be working from home, likely with business trips to LA and/or Orlando. Sounds like my dream job, which of course means that I’m just waiting to see what’s going to fall through and make it all go horribly, horribly wrong.

And on the more personal side, things are confusing but generally okay. I’d written (and posted) more here earlier, but that about sums it up. Or at least as much as needs to be summed up on the internet.

Forty-two inches of guilt

I bought a big-ass plasma screen television. There, I said it, and it’s on the internet so I can’t take it back.

It’s really, really nice, easily the nicest luxury item I’ve ever bought for myself. Either the picture is absolutely perfect, or I’m too ignorant of home theater specifications to be able to know the difference — either way works for me. I actually enjoy watching DVDs at home again, and supposedly I don’t even have that great a DVD player. And the image from the Xbox and PS2 are so clear I can finally appreciate how dated they are. Even regular TV looks great to me — I’d been told that everyone who gets an HDTV has to switch to HD signals ASAP since regular TV just looks too bad afterwards, but I don’t have any problem with it. I guess it helps that I mostly just watch Cartoon Network.

I wish I could figure out exactly why I’m so unsettled by the thing, though. There’s the general anxiety about screen burn-in that the websites have me all paranoid about, but that’s not it. I’m happy with the picture and I believe I got the best model available for a decent price, so it’s not buyer’s remorse. And it’s not sticker shock, since I haven’t gotten a credit card bill yet and frankly could pay the whole thing off now if I wanted. (Plus, they gave me a $400 gift card when I bought the thing, which considering how much I go to Best Buy anyway, is like giving me grocery money).

No, it’s just plain old-fashioned guilt. I just can’t explain why. I’m fine with capitalism, and I give to charity whenever I can, so it’s not a redistribution of luxury items thing. And I worked really hard — okay, not “hard,” but I worked really long hours for a really long time to get the money I do have. And I’m lined up for more steady work by the end of the month, so it’s not as if I’m not dipping into savings. Still, spending that much money on a television has the “EVIL” alarm ringing in my head every time I look at the thing. You’d think I’d grown up during The Depression or something. But I grew up in an environment of luxury and privilege and “fake” wars that just killed lots of people but didn’t adversely affect the economy!

And I’m still a man. I have needs. And the Y chromosome has the gene that makes your extremities tingle whenever you come within range of a television with a screen size larger than 30 inches. This is incontrovertible science.

I guess I’ll just have to keep watching the Minas Morgul scene from Return of the King until the guilt stops. Because that scene is just so wicked awesome, and it’s even more awesome seeing it on a big-ass TV with surround sound. And invite friends over to “share” the thing, right? (To any friends who might happen to be reading: That’ll have to act as an invitation, since I worked at EA so long I’ve forgotten how to be genuinely social.)

It’s a UNIX system. I know this!

I found a copy of Jurassic Park for ten bucks today, so I picked it up, thinking what a great deal I’d gotten. What I’d forgotten, though, was: 1) the movie’s 12 years old at this point (it was released in 1993!), so it’s been relegated to “classics” pricing, and 2) it’s really not very good.

Maybe that’s not fair. I mean, there’s the fact that it was written by the evil Michael Crichton, and then there’s the blatant anti-dinosaur bias. And based on how much he delights in watching them suffer, it’s clear that Spielberg hates children almost much as he hates Dennis Weaver. But overall, it’s fine for what it is: a Steven Spielberg movie.

That’s not supposed to be as condescending as it sounds (as if Mr. Spielberg were all that upset about my opinion anyway) — dude made Raiders of the Lost Ark, after all. It just means that it has all the stuff he’s great at: pacing, tension, clear and understandable plots, incorporating effects without making them seem soulless, and memorable action sequences that are excellently choreographed.

It also means that it has all the stuff that he thinks he’s good at, but really just comes across as cloying and smarmy: interminably long and overdone reaction shots, obnoxiously swelling soundtracks, and plenty of scenes clearly intended to be clever, such as the T. Rex and the “When Dinosaurs Ruled the World” banner.

I’d forgotten about Spielberg ever since he tried to reinvent himself as a Serious Director with Schindler’s List and Saving Private Ryan (I have to admt I haven’t seen either), but there’s still something about the guy that bugs me. The scene with the T. Rex attacking the jeeps at night is just unqualified brilliance. Even if the whole rest of the movie consisted of nothing more than grandparents and kids giving warm, knowing glances at each other while using the magic of love and a child’s imagination to bring a dying dinosaur back to life to a heartwarming John Williams soundtrack, the T. Rex scene would be awesome. As I remember, even The Lost World, a much, much worse movie, had a pretty bad-ass scene with a Winnebago falling off a cliff or some such. So the man’s capable of stuff which is just flat-out great.

So how does one explain the rest of it? Or in other words: from whence Short Round? Does the man really and truly believe that wacky and heartwarming ethnic sidekicks, or racially diverse little girls doing gymnastics to fight off velociraptors, are what’s required to give an action movie “heart?” When he’s got the little girl contorting her face in ways that just aren’t natural, and he keeps directing her “More! Really really big dinosaur! It’s going to bite you in half! And your parents will abandon you because you’re ugly! You’re more scared!” does he sincerely believe that this is what’s necessary to convey genuine emotion on the screen? Or is he the most pandering and money-minded son of a bitch on the planet, hobbling his talent to make something that he knows will sell to Middle America and gross 200 million instead of just 50?

And that, my friends, is why the internets is a great thing — blogs make it possible to bring you the freshest of movie reviews to the comfort of your home. Y’all may be saying to yourself, “Steven Spielberg movies can be cloying and pandering; yeah, thanks for the newsflash, Chuck.” But don’t think that the threat is over. War of the Worlds is coming out soon, and it’s got not only Tom Cruise but Dakota Fanning. Dakota Fanning, an up-and-coming child star who by all accounts can actually act. (And she’s from my hometown, by the way). And Jurassic Park IV is in the works!

Well, I suppose I could talk about Mr. and Mrs. Smith, but there’s not a whole lot to say. Angelina Jolie is incredibly hot, smart, funny, and just plain appealing, and I usually don’t like her. Brad Pitt is competent but basically a cipher. The movie is a lot smarter than it looks like from the ads, and it was a lot of fun to watch.

Haughty Melodic

I listened to Haughty Melodic, Mike Doughty’s new solo album, a lot on the drive from LA back to SF, and it’s great road trip music. Turns out it’s good sitting at the computer doing nothing music, as well. There’s nothing really “astounding” about it, like there is with a Soul Coughing album, because it’s more straightforward melodic (hence the title) instead of being all that experimental. Still, the guy’s a great songwriter — the lyrics are clever in places, and every one of the tracks is catchy at least. A couple of them, like “Unsingable Name” and “I Hear the Bells” are genuinely beautiful.

And the lyrics are predictable in places, and some of the tracks are more repetitive than catchy. So I’d say that it’s not brilliant, but still recommend it. Especially to Soul Coughing fans. (If you know El Oso, I’d say that his solo album is like an entire album of “Circles” and “So Far I Have Not Found the Science,” which isn’t bad unless you were expecting a whole album of “Rolling” and “I Miss the Girl.”)

PowerPC and the Apocalypse

I’m only breaking my temporary blog hiatus because I got a notice saying everyone who’s got a blog website has to put up something about Apple’s move to Intel chips. It’s fair that all of us who’ve bought PowerPC-based Macs recently will be concerned that our machines will be made obselete when developers move over to the Intel-based architecture, especially considering Apple’s kludgey OS 9 support, in the long run it can only mean…

Ah, who am I trying to kid? I don’t care. I couldn’t be more Apple’s bitch, and I’m going to buy whatever they come out with. Unless my mail and web browser suddenly stop working, my machine(s) work fine and will continue to work fine. And as for development, I realized a while back that I’m about as technology-ignorant as you can get while still being a computer programmer; I neither know nor care much about what happens after I hit the “compile” button.

Well, there goes any hope of my writing for Wired magazine.

Why must you keep taking all my money?

So I’m at the Best Buy tonight; it’s going to be a quick run. I just wanted to get a pair of speakers for my computer and be done with it. (I ended up getting the Bose Companion 2 set, which were pricey but I’m starting to understand why everybody raves about Bose speakers; they’re damn impressive). But it’s never that simple.

Actually, I came out okay — considering my track record with Best Buy, the fact that I came out with only 2 extra purchases is pretty good. (I also got WarioWare Twisted and The Best of Phil Hartman, just for his reading Madonna’s Sex book as Charleton Heston). But it was tough to get out with only that much collateral damage. I didn’t know that Harvey Birdman was finally released on DVD, and I know I’m going to have to buy that eventually, if only for the Jonny Quest and Apache Chief Episodes. And they had the big Star Wars display, of course, taking advantage of the good will that Revenge of the Sith built amongst us disillusioned Star Wars geeks. All of that I just see as inevitable expenditures; it’s not a question of if I’m going to buy them, but when.

But the most dangerous part of the store was the home video section. Where I go in thinking that I need a bigger TV, one that does wide-screen. It doesn’t matter that I hardly ever watch TV anymore; I need this. And that 37″ Sony plasma screen has an awfully clear picture. And it’s only $4500. A pittance, right?

People always talk about our responsibility as American citizens, and they usually mean our responsibility to vote intelligently. But I think the bigger responsibility is being able to deal with living surrounded by such excess and over-indulgent conspicuous consumption and not be totally consumed by it.

Still, that sure is a nice TV.

Not if anything to say about it I have!

I saw Revenge of the Sith Monday night, so I guess Star Wars is officially over. And I guess it was a pretty good send-off. The theater was more crowded than you’d expect to see on a Monday night, if not as crowded as you’d expect to see on the week of a new Star Wars movie. The crowd clapped for the Lucasfilm logo and the opening crawl, and again for particularly satisfying deaths and fight scenes. It seemed as if they were clapping to build up their enthusiasm instead of out of genuine enthusiasm, but it’s the same idea.

I’ve got two big “event movie” memories: one was waiting in line for four or five hours to see The Empire Strikes Back at Phipps Plaza in Atlanta, the only theater that was showing it, on its opening night. All thoughout the movie, there was no question that this was A Major Event. During the opening crawl, during big fight scenes, whenever a main character appeared on-screen for the first time, there was applause and cheering. Whenever Vader made an appearance, there were jeers and booing. During the big revelation, there were genuine gasps from everyone. No one was thinking about Joseph Campbell, or the demise of the art film in favor of commercial summer blockbusters, or merchandising deals, or implied racism, or any of the layers of irony and distance we’re supposed to look at Star Wars with now. Everyone was just there to get caught up in the spectacle and melodrama and wonder of it all, and it all just worked.

The second memory was of seeing Raiders of the Lost Ark at the Tate Center student theater at UGA; it wasn’t released on video yet, so this was the first time any of us had seen it since its original release. The theater was packed, and you got the same reaction from all the self-important, jaded college students. People cheered for Indiana Jones, hissed at the villains, laughed, applauded, and just enjoyed the thrill of seeing a classic action movie. The audience was used to big summer blockbusters by that point, and knew the movie inside and out, and of course as a college crowd was watching it with some since of liberal over-analysis and ironic detachment. But it still just worked.

It’s pretty much impossible to get that from a Star Wars release anymore; it’s been ruined not just by George Lucas himself, but by decades of over-analysis, artificially high expectations, over-familiarity, accusations of plagiarism or shallowness or whatever else people want to throw at it, and just age. There wasn’t so much a sense of wonder out of seeing Revenge of the Sith as there was a sense of inevitability, or of closure. It was just a case of wrapping everything up. “We’ve got to end a war, start an empire, have a bunch of lightsaber battles, kill a bunch of Jedi, get this guy into a respirator suit, and get these babies off to their respective home planets, all in about 2 hours. Let’s move, people!”

Still, while it didn’t manage to have the resonance or wonder that the original trilogy did, it did deliver on the spectacle. It was better than the first two, by far. But at this point, that feels like describing lessening gallstone symptoms to a doctor. It sounds like damning with faint praise to say that “there was nothing in the movie that outright sucked,” but with the Star Wars movies, the quality of the effects and the depth of the world has never been in question. So not sucking is a pretty big achievement. I’d say that Revenge of the Sith is good enough that it’s not a closer to the first three episodes, but it stands as a good prequel to the original trilogy.

In fact, it makes me wish that Lucas had just made the one movie as a prologue, and left all the Clone Wars and Fall of the Republic stuff to other people, like Genndy Tartakovsky. Where Revenge of the Sith really excelled was where it was like the Clone Wars animated series — minimal dialogue, minimal back-story, quick cuts between action scenes all across the galaxy. And maybe most importantly, staying true to the nature of the old serials on which the whole thing is supposedly based, where heroes and villains became resonant not by virtue of what they say but by how they look and what they do. The coolest characters are the ones with the least back-story and the least dialogue, from Boba Fett to Darth Maul to Count Dooku and General Grievous. And Darth Vader was a more interesting character in the first 15 minutes of Star Wars than he was in any of the six hours of Episodes I, II, and III.

But you could spend hours talking about what Lucas could’ve done with the prequels, which is something people are doing all over the internet and will most likely keep doing to a depressing degree. So I’ll just write my one recommendation: if you start the opening crawl with “War!” then you really should follow it with “Huh! Good God!”

Watch Out, This Ride Swings Wide

Okay, so it wasn’t much of a cliffhanger. I figure that there are probably a lot more trips to LA in my near future, so there’ll be plenty of time to go to Disneyland when it’s not so crowded for the 50th Anniversary, and after Space Mountain re-opens. Plus, it’s not as much fun solo. And also, I slept in until noon.

Turns out the ride on I-5 is just as dull on a full night’s sleep. Just seemed like six hours of wasted time, although I did confirm that Bossa Per Due is a neat album, and the Supersuckers do a great cover of Eastbound and Down.

The subject line was on the back of a tractor trailer. Funny thing it was one of those Covenant truck lines; I think that line is from Proverbs.

The End of E3

I was having trouble telling whether my inability to find anything interesting about this year’s E3 was because a) I don’t have the patience or industry clout to see what’s going on behind closed doors; b) since I’m not actually working in videogames anymore, I’m just not that invested in it; or c) there’s really nothing that interesting about the show. After hearing some other people’s recaps, I’m inclined to think it’s the latter.

The bar has been raised pretty high, and pretty much everything you find on the show floor is fairly polished. But nothing stands out. “Katamari Damacy” is the only game I can think of that truly invented a new style of gameplay, and its release this year is a sequel. There were plenty of games that looked interesting — “Sly Cooper 3” and “Kingdom Hearts 2” for example — but of course they’re sequels too. I’ve got a feeling that whatever becomes a hit from this year’s crop of games is going to be just due to random chance. Mac and I waited around the Square-Enix booth for a while to see if they were going to release any details of “Final Fantasy XII,” but it was another behind-closed-doors trailer movie. Again, it would’ve been easier just to stay at home and download all the movies from videogame websites.

But even when I was more interested in games, I was down on E3 as just marketing nonsense. The best part has always been getting to hang out with friends after the show, and I got to do that tonight. It was a nice, fairly low-key time with friends from the Sims 2 Console team, with the reassurance that people are still passionate about making good games, and it’s just not what “drives” me anymore.

Also, Anouk described part of what is so awful about LA, something I’d forgotten because I always drive into the city. She said as you fly into LA, you can see nothing from the plane except for a perfect square, paved grid that stretches out as far as the eye can see. And that’s totally true; it’s just depressing. While it did make it relatively painless (except for traffic) to drive from place to place tonight, it does tend to suck the soul out of a person. My geekified reference is that it’s like seeing one side of a Borg cube buried in the middle of a desert.

Most exciting bit of the day was that I got to go on a mini-tour of the Disney Imagineering facilities. I had either gotten so jaded, or it’s been so long, that I’d forgotten how that’s been a lifelong dream of mine. And it’s damn cool just to be able to see it, much less to have the opportunity to work for them. I was so excited by it that I’m thinking about heading down to Disneyland tomorrow and pushing my way through all the 50th Anniversary crowds by my lonesome. I’ll see tomorrow morning if I still feel like it, or just drive back to San Francisco.

Cool! My blog’s first cliffhanger!

My Last E3

So yeah: the show itself. It’s tough to come up with anything to get excited about. Microsoft has a huge booth set up for the Xbox 360, but it’s fairly unremarkable. The highlight is a big game from Rare called “Kameo”, notable for having hundreds of enemies on screen at the same time, but to be honest I assumed it was running on an old-school Xbox at first. Apart from that, there’s an unforgivably cheesy “Grand Theft Auto” rip-off, a racing game, and a couple of sports games out on the floor. Nothing to get all that excited about; it seems it would’ve been better for Microsoft to milk another year out of the original console before putting all that expense into showing off a lack-luster successor.

To be fair, it’s quite possible that Microsoft were showing the good stuff in private. It’s been at least three years since I’ve been to an E3, but it seems to have outlived its usefulness to the general videogame public; it’s a lot easier just to let the press and retailers deal with the nonsense and catch all the real info online. The last show I went to was Sega’s dream year, with big, impressive displays for “Jet Set Radio” and “Space Channel 5;” this year, everything worth seeing is sequestered away from the smelly masses. The PS3, the new Zelda game, and a game based around Peter Jackson’s King Kong movie, all had semi-private showings behind closed, huge, very expensive-looking doors, each with at least an hour-long wait in line. As it is, I just kept thinking of how expensive all these displays must’ve been.

Part of it could be that this is The Year of the Handheld, and there’s more new stuff to show for the PSP, the GBA, and the Nintendo DS, but handheld games don’t lend themselves to the huge screens and excess of E3. Sony went balls-out on their booth, with a huge video screen showing off the PSP, but it’s all over the place instead of focusing on anything. There’s a platformer spin-off of “Jak and Daxter” called just “Daxter” that looks really nice, but wasn’t all that fun to actually play. Apart from that, and a version of “Animal Crossing” for the DS, none of the handheld stuff really caught my attention.

There were a couple other minor highlights: a Japanese ink-brush themed game called “Okami” for the PS2, and “Shadow of the Colossus” from the makers of ICO. Bethesda Softworks had a bunch of announcements of cool-sounding games, “Elder Scrolls 4: Oblivion,” “Fallout 3,” and “Call of Cthullu” game, but they weren’t showing anything except for a non-interactive trailer for “Oblivion.” I’ll see if I can make today the “survey” day and see stuff in more depth tomorrow.

Another thing: I saw Brian Posehn again. I see that guy everywhere — the Wonder-Con, E3, and an episode of “Tom Goes to the Mayor” featuring him was just on TV. I think he’s stalking me or something.