Some weeks you don’t have the energy for anything other than looking through old videos. None of these are recent, they’ve all been memed and re-memed and their creators have likely milked every last penny of virality out of them, but they still make me laugh every damn time. I miss Vine. Look at all those chickens!
America’s Funniest Videos compilation of kids at theme parks has some classics, the standouts being: the little girl who’s got no patience for Snow White at 0:39, the girl who was mistaken about the size of the ferris wheel at around 2:05, and most of all, the Jabba Mongo kid at 2:30, who’s become my hero and de facto life coach.
Friday link post featuring Adult Swim and long-term storage of renewable energy
This week was the 20th anniversary of the Adult Swim block on Cartoon Network, and this mini-retrospective by Kyle Anderson on Nerdist.com does a pretty good job of concisely summing up why the combination of cheap TV programming and clever ad bumpers made such a huge impact on nerds of a certain age.
Or multiple certain ages, I guess. I’m having trouble coming to terms with the idea that I was 30 when Adult Swim debuted, because I could’ve sworn I watched it in college. Anyway, it’s a good opportunity to listen to the D-Code Mix of Mambo Gallego by Tito Puente and remember there’s no eating in the pool. What’s that guy eating? Is that pimento?
Dianna Cowren on her YouTube channel PhysicsGirl just finished a series about hydrogen fuel cell cars. It was sponsored by Toyota, so it’s definitely spun to be more positive of the potential of fuel cells than you’d tend to see otherwise, but it also does a good job of realistically assessing the downsides of hydrogen, why passenger vehicles may not see wide adoption over battery EVs, and why a combination of fuel cells (faster refueling, longer range) and BEVs (everything else) will be necessary to get wide-scale conversion to electric.
The parts of Cowren’s series that I thought were even more interesting were the episode about approaches towards storing renewable energy and different kinds of solar farms beyond the familiar photovoltaics. I was vaguely aware that solar and wind power needed some kind of storage solution to be available on demand, but I’d just assumed that massive batteries were the solution. That video explains some ingenious alternatives, such as using excess energy to pump water to a higher elevation, then using the water falling to power turbines when that energy is needed.
Lucas Pope is doing a devblog for his Playdate game Mars After Midnight, and last week’s entry “Working in One Bit” was a neat account of what’s involved in making art for a small one-bit display in 2021.
Those two projects made me realize that I’ve been a little short-sighted about what exactly appeals to me about the Playdate: as somebody who still pines for his Mac Plus, I had been thinking of it as throwing back to a very specific kind of mid-to-late-80s nostalgia for the early Macintosh aesthetic. Instead, I think the actual appeal is broader: it feels like a direct expression of creativity from developer to audience. I got reminded of the wonderful and bizarre Comic Chat IRC client from Microsoft. Frankly, I never saw it actually work as well as its concept promised, but I’m still amazed by the fact that it existed at all. Not just that such an R&D project came out of Microsoft, but that they managed to get Jim Woodring to do the art!
My friend Graham Annable has a new sketchbook available on his store Gricklemart. While there, consider the Ghost Writer mug, with a spectral entity re-enacting his favorite moment from Raising Arizona.
There’s an interesting thread from Angus Johnston on Twitter that gives a convincing counter-argument to a recent story in the New York Times. In short: the environmental impact of a cotton bag is almost certainly not as severe as the article, or the study on which it was based, would have you believe, by several orders of magnitude. The most significant takeaway, I think, is don’t use tote bags made of “organic cotton.” Is that a New York City thing?
There are now more episodes of the Behind the Attraction series up on Disney+. The show is a lot more goofy than I’d expected; I like that it’s a counter to the sometimes overly self-serious The Imagineering Story, but it seems light on details and heavy on lionizing individual employees of Imagineering. I have to admit I mostly like it because of Paget Brewster’s narration, although I can’t help but wish she were able to let loose as much as she did on Drunk History.
Something on Disney+ that I’m absolutely not conflicted about: The Wonderful World of Mickey Mouse. I’ve already gushed about the Paul Rudish-led series of Mickey Mouse shorts, but this new series is even weirder. The most recent short, “Game Night” does great stuff with Mickey & Donald’s relationship, and the one previous, “Once Upon an Apple,” had more laugh-out-loud moments crammed into 8 minutes than I’ve had in months.
Speaking of that short, the only two voice actors credited are Tress MacNeille, who’s pretty much universally regarded as one of the greatest voice actors ever, and Chris Diamantopoulos, who just annoys me. His take on Mickey Mouse (and the magic mirror, in that short) has re-invigorated one of the most valuable characters in animation, if not all of fiction, and he does it singing, in different languages, and with accents. It seems like a grievous cosmic injustice that he could be such a good voice actor and also look like that.
A random bunch of links including Korean cooking channels
I’ve only recently realized that I’d spent years thinking I liked cooking, but I really don’t. I’m not that good at it, and because I don’t have a good idea of how to correct when something is going wrong or tasting bad, I pretty much have to rely on the recipe working right on the first try. It’s frustrating.
What I think happened was I used to enjoy watching cooking shows on the Food Network so much that it tricked me into thinking I liked cooking. Now, I’m realizing that there’s just something relaxing and entertaining about watching a well-made cooking show. One of my favorites at the moment is Aaron and Claire’s YouTube channel. They’re a couple living in Seoul who focus on easy ways to make Korean and other East Asian food. Honestly, I haven’t yet tried any of the recipes (although I really want to try making Kimchi fried rice), but they’ve got the formula down for making entertaining videos, with all the familiar and funny repetition. Don’t worry about it.
I’m late to the party, but I’m also getting to be a fan of J Kenji López-Alt. His main “thing” is bringing ideas from food science to simpler and easier dishes you make for yourself at home. It’s unassuming, practical, and accessible. But I think I’m as impressed by his overall sensibility, right down to his sign-off to “guys, gals, and non-binary pals.”
This video by Matt Ferrell is primarily about the work of a French company called Qarnot with a fascinating and ingenious idea: recovering waste heat from data centers and rendering farms and using it to warm buildings or heat water in boiler rooms.
Tim Robinson’s sketch comedy show I Think You Should Leave has been getting rave reviews and being the subject of memes for a while, but I have to say it doesn’t really do it for me. But this sketch about a driver’s ed class and Eddie Munster ruining a woman’s tables is somehow one of the funniest things I have ever seen.
Friday Link Post inspired by getting pissed at oil companies, again
One of the most frustrating things about the climate crisis is that it’s tough to keep it from feeling simultaneously too abstract and too overwhelming. Even for those of us who take it seriously and are suitably worried about it, it can feel too distant to be able to take significant immediate action.
That’s part of why I like Rollie Williams’s Climate Town videos: they let me stay motivated via pure rage. The latest video recaps the story of an Exxon executive blatantly acknowledging the company’s role in the climate crisis, how they’ve been knowingly lying about their role in public, and how they’ve been lobbying to prevent the government from doing anything to halt it.
I’ve been avoiding Exxon ever since the Exxon Valdez oil spill (that’s how long I hold a grudge!), but I’d started to wonder if it were foolish to act as if my meager boycott were doing anything. Now I say screw ’em all, and if I can help it, I’ll never buy another tank of gas again.
Climate Town is also a good source for reminders about bullshit corporate statements pledging to be environmentally responsible, like a recent FedEx campaign.
Unrelated to climate change: I don’t believe I’ve mentioned it before, but I’m a big fan of the Monstrum videos by Dr. Emily Zarka for PBS, which have long been excellent takes on cryptids and monsters from folklore. I wish PBS hadn’t lumped it in with a couple of unrelated topics, because they’re so well made they deserve their own channel.
The most recent entry in the outstanding 50 Years of Text Games series is about one of Emily Short’s games, which reminded me to check out Short’s blog about Interactive Storytelling. It’s great both for her deep dives and for her link round-ups with a little bit of everything of interest to people interested in narrative games.
The Friday link post that asks have I been missing out on the joke my entire life?
A few weeks ago, I read a comic strip about the classic “Why did the chicken cross the road?” joke that mentioned that the joke had a double meaning that had gotten lost over the years. The claim is that in addition to being a nonsense joke, it was kind of a double-entendre about “going to the other side” as in going to the afterlife. It was convincing enough that I started to wonder if everybody got both meanings, and I was the only one who’d gone since childhood assuming that it was funny only because it was a non-joke.
(Asking around to some friends and former co-workers online, I learned that none of them had heard of the double meaning, that it seemed an unlikely “retcon,” and as Dave Grossman pointed out: if one of the first appearances of it in print was as far back as 1847, that was before roads had a reputation for being dangerous or getting run over. So it’s very unlikely part of the secret double meaning. But I already spent minutes making the image for this post, dammit).
Pre-orders for the Playdate started on Thursday. They went through the initial batch pretty quickly, but orders made now will deliver next year. It’s good to see so much interest around it, since those guys have been working super-hard on this thing forever. (While backing up stuff the other night, I saw a bunch of early art assets for my game, and I was stunned to realize how long I’ve been working on the thing!)
As part of opening pre-orders for the Playdate, Panic released a new episode of the Panic podcast, interviewing a lot of people involved with the project, from initial concept to software development.
Speaking of gross: Activision/Blizzard has been sued by the state of California for a long history of sexual harassment and discrimination. What’s been remarkable to me is how awful Blizzard’s response was — and yet 100% in line with what you’d expect from rich white men in Orange County, CA. NPR, as usual, both-sides it into an innocuous non-response, but the full text is just dripping with indignation and passive-aggressive blaming California liberals. Instead of making even a token attempt to address the allegations. I’m impressed that so many employees were outraged by the response, enough to make a statement and schedule a walk-out for earlier this week. Meanwhile, Activision Blizzard keeps digging their hole deeper and deeper. It would be very satisfyingly ironic if the arrogance of Activision Blizzard’s exec staff is what finally spurs a “Me Too” moment in video game development.
Friday link post exploring the baffling world of non-photorealistic shaders
Above is a tutorial by Ocean Quigley on how to make a non-photorealistic shader for Blender that looks like an etching or engraving. I was lucky to work indirectly with Ocean on SimCity 4, and he remains one of the most intelligent people I’ve ever met.
Here, he makes the baffling process of shader creation seem not simple, but at least attainable. I definitely can’t claim to understand every step of the process he outlines, but he does do a great job of walking through step by step and explaining why he’s doing each part.
I’m frequently trying to learn how shaders work (and then getting hopelessly confused and giving up). One of the most useful-seeming resources is The Book of Shaders by Patricio Gonzalez Vivo and Jen Lowe, which encourages you to interact with the examples instead of just passively reading. This is a perfect approach, because it’s a reminder that this isn’t magic, but neither does it require a deep understanding of math. It is presumably possible to understand the basics and then experiment until you get what you want.
The reason I’m interested in shaders at the moment is to see if I can use Blender to make art resources for a possible game for an upcoming black-and-white video game device. This article by Braden Eliason on getting that classic Mac dither effect in Blender seems like it’ll be invaluable for that!
Friday link post featuring Panic! at the Bluetooth Speaker
I imagine that most of the people reading this blog will have already seen it, but just in case: Panic put out a video with lots more info about their upcoming Playdate handheld videogame machine, with pre-orders starting in July. Mentioned in the “Season One Games” section of that video is my own game, “Sasquatchers,” which makes sense because it’s one of the Season One games. I’m sure I’ll have more to say about it on here as it gets closer to release, because for such a small game, it’s taken up a surprising amount of my life over the past several years.
Congrats to Christa Mrgan and the rest of the team there at Panic for managing to get across so much of (what I think is) the personality and core appeal of the project. I’m a fan of the company and just the whole notion of wanting to do something weird and different, and to do it well and responsibly. Now I have to find out how to get one of those audio docks for it, because the Poolsuite FM screen with 2-color dithered video of a plane running in the Mac classic interface as a music player triggered intense feelings of need I wasn’t aware I even had.
If you don’t have patience for the whole update but would rather see an extremely Portlandish 2-minute ad describing what it is, that’s available separately. (It’s at the end of that update video as well).
Plus, they’ve been running a developer preview, to expand the number of people testing out the SDK beyond just the devs in Season One. There’s been some really imaginative stuff already hinted at; you can get a good sample from Arisa’s Twitter feed, since she’s been handling developer relations for the Playdate project. One of my favorites from seeing screenshots and previews is Dustin Mierau’s “Playmaker,” which seems to nail the whole aesthetic of the Playdate and its philosophy of creative exploration.
A pre-update for a new videogame console! A maybe-BDSM-cult-driven series of computer games! A new land at Disneyland!
Panic has been working for quite some time on making the Playdate, a handheld videogame device that I think you should all be interested in, for reasons. Today they made a pre-announcement that a video update is coming next Tuesday, with some more news about the device, the games, and how you can pre-order it later on.
Aaron Reed’s 50 Years of Text Games series is just going to be a constant fixture of my link posts, since they’ve all been fascinating. This week’s is about an adventure game called Silverwolf and really, the bonkers story about the people who may or may not have developed it, and why.
A YouTuber named Kelsea Dyer made a video exploring the new Dragon Quest Island in Japan, and it looks like an interesting attempt to translate as much of the experience of the JRPGs to a real-world setting as they could. It looks more screen-heavy than I would’ve liked, personally, but the twist of traveling to random encounters along the path, then back to the village for shopping and treasure-hunting, seems like it would add some fun interactivity to it. The official site has more info, assuming you can either read Japanese or are better at finding language settings than I am.
The Avengers Campus opens at California Adventure this weekend, and Nerdist’s video is a pretty good overview. My unsolicited take: the available space and the mostly-real-world setting both make it seem a little, well, underwhelming when seen on video, but it’d be stupid to pass judgment until I’ve spent more time in the land. Even Galaxy’s Edge was unimpressive at first, until I got to spend more time there and get a sense for how all the place-making works together. The rides themselves are just a small part of it; I’ve already seen that from riding Mission: Breakout and having a dance party break out outside the queue, which made the whole experience seem 10x more fun. I get a sense that the emphasis on characters and smaller details are going to do the heavy lifting of making the place feel exciting.
My favorite touch that I’ve seen so far: the homage to Adventure Thru Inner Space inside the Pym’s Test Kitchen, using pretzels instead of Omnimovers. And I can’t imagine ever getting tired of seeing that acrobatic Spider-Man being flung over a building.
Aaron Reed’s 50 Years of Text Games series continues to be exceptional, and the entry about Trade Wars 2002 hit me with all kinds of nostalgia. I never actually played that game, and in fact I was never that active on BBSes, but I was way into CompuServe, GEnie, and later, QuantumLink, and the potential energy in text-based games over a phone line just can’t be overstated. I wish I could explain exactly how this all-caps paragraph:
EACH OF YOU IS THE CAPTAIN OF TWO INTERSTELLAR TRADING SHIPS. YOU WILL TRAVEL FROM STAR SYSTEM TO STAR SYSTEM, BUYING AND SELLING MERCHANDISE. IF YOU DRIVE A GOOD BARGAIN YOU CAN MAKE LARGE PROFITS.
hits me harder even than when I first put on a VR headset running Elite Dangerous.
Finally for this week, Frederico Viticci and Silvia Gatta’s tour of the new Apple store in Rome, a restoration of a historic building on the Via del Corso, is stunning. Just imagine what wonderful things Epic Games would be able to do with that kind of money!
This week’s link post features music for imaginary games and real etymologies
For the past few years, Gabriel Gundacker has been producing soundtracks for Wii Sports games that don’t exist. These exist somewhere in the space of 21st century creativity that I’m not even sure how to explain: they’re not parodies, because there’s nothing that calls itself out or hints at its being a joke. It’s just a bunch of compositions that would fit perfectly — eerily perfectly — into the music of a 15-year-old game, and are as catchy as much of the rest of the music for the Wii.
Drew Mackie’s blog The Singing Wolf is full of interesting, short-form posts about the etymology of words, how they contrast with what you’d assume is the etymology, and personal observations about each one. This is exactly the kind of blogging I’d like to see more of as we all abandon Twitter, Facebook, etc, and return to the Open Web.
Mackie is also co-host of a podcast called Gayest Episode Ever, about “the one-off, LGBT-themed episodes that classic sitcoms would do back in the day, when it was rare to see queer characters represented on broadcast television.”
Plundered Hearts is a game I’ve known about for over 30 years, since I knew the titles of all the Infocom games, even though I’ve never been able to finish one. At the time, this one wouldn’t even have been on my radar as something I’d want to play, since it was an interactive romance novel, instead of a story about spaceships or wizards.
Reading Reed’s account of its author, Amy Briggs, going into the creative process, and the game’s reception to audiences in 1987, is fascinating. It shows how much we’ve matured over the years — seeing the reaction from both “eww, girl stuff!” computer game reviewers as well as “eww, too much girl stuff!” from contemporary feminists seems so alien right now that it’s almost quaint.
But it also shows how much we’ve developed tunnel vision. I think back in the 80s, an interactive romance novel might’ve felt dismissible simply because it still felt like there was so much potential for interactive entertainment. When it seems like the medium can do anything, having it do something as familiar and as seemingly low-brow would seem unambitious. Now, the idea of a commercial video game release that’s both a clear work of an author and an unapologetic celebration of genre fiction would be a huge novelty.
We’re better suited to individual creators making story-driven fiction like this than at any point in history, but it’s also unlikely to get any traction because there’s not much money in it. Well-written, unconventional games that aren’t entirely action- or puzzle-based are still seen as academic experiments or hobby projects. The only game in recent memory that has that feeling of “literary fiction” is Firewatch, which felt more like an adult contemporary short story floating on the surface of a first-person action adventure game.
Reed’s article on Uncle Roger by Judy Malloy was even more fascinating, because it’s a game and a developer I had never heard of. It sounds even more like adult contemporary short stories, but presented in hypertext format. Again, it shows how much the game industry has overlooked and undervalued the work of women, and how much innovation and sense of raw potential there used to be in the game space, before we got stuck with so many over-familiar genres and formats. Reading about Malloy’s innovation made me feel simultaneously inspired and like a huge, unimaginative, fraud.
I haven’t yet read Jimmy Maher’s post about Plundered Heartson The Digital Antiquarian, but I’m looking forward to it, as it sounds it’s a little closer in time to interviews with Briggs, and it’s more in the tone of looking at the game as a creative work as opposed to its place in video game history.
This blog post from 2012, lamenting the loss of “Miss April-December” from Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion, was circulating again now that her portrait has been restored to the ride’s loading area.
Matt Sephton has a blog post explaining how to Turn an iPad Pro Into the Ultimate Classic Macintosh. I’ve always had bad luck with emulators, but Sephton’s links an explanation made it so easy that even I was able to get it working. (You do need to be able to run Xcode and make builds for an iOS/iPadOS device). Reading about video game history has made me severely nostalgic for my old Mac Plus, so I really appreciate his pointing me towards the instructions and an outlet for running HyperCard and the like again.