Austin Central Library Picked By TIME As One of the World’s Greatest Places

We’re all proud of Austin Central Library. It’s an impressive structure right by Town Lake in the heart of downtown, with a lot of great books, an event space, a rooftop butterfly garden, a “tech petting zoo” where visitors can try out new gadgets, and even a world-class collection of self-published lit with a focus on Austin ‘zines.

And get this: TIME Magazine has chosen it as the only American library to be listed in its 2018 “World’s Greatest Places.” Pretty cool.

There are only two places in Texas on the list. (The other is Morgan’s Inspiration Island in San Antonio.) Here’s the page for the library: http://time.com/collection/worlds-greatest-places-2018/5359176/austin-central-library-texas/

If you haven’t visited our local oasis of words, get down there ASAP. Any good game writer should of course be just as enamored with the written word as with digital entertainment.

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Game Case Study Update: Kaos War and Damon Grow

So recently I wrote a long, rambling post talking about the Kaos War MMORPG and some of the mistakes that founder Damon Grow makes during their journey (as documented by a Games.net video series).

What ever happened with Damon and Kaos War?

Kaos War never came out. Not a big surprise, you say? Get this: Damon Grow has pivoted successfully and is now leading a small dev team at Superstar Games, which has investments from a number of notable groups, including lead backer and NFL legend Joe Montana.

Grow has clearly done well, even if he hasn’t blinded us with brilliance. I’m pleased to see that he’s managed to make the most of the unique attributes we saw on Kaos War: the passion, the communication skills, the chutzpah.

His big project when he launched Superstar was a VR football game, though. On the website, there’s not a hint of that project, although if you search around you can find video and news coverage. Instead, the site touts several modest casual VR games.

That, too, I think can be read two ways. Either you’ll think he never finishes his projects, or he’s learned to bite off something he can actually chew. Good luck, Damon. It’s a tough industry.

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This Is Why Marvel Is Better Than Star Wars

Marvel Is Beating the Pants Off Star Wars – Admit It

Marvel Comics and Star Wars have always been the polestars of my geekdom, but things have changed and now we have to admit that cinematically, Marvel is better than Star Wars, for some really obvious reasons.

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Star Wars came to greatness by taking chances. It had a cast of virtual unknowns, wacky creatures and locations, and a story based on Japanese archetype that blended fantasy and scifi elements.

Now, after a whole trilogy’s worth of cringe-rife agony brought on by George Lucas’ egotism and inability to innovate, Star Wars is trying to regain its mojo, but in the worst possible way. Star Wars: Force Awakens summarizes the dilemma in a nutshell. They hired a hotshot director and were so busy trying to please the fanboys that they remade Star Wars: A New Hope with a less-compelling protagonist with no weaknesses or interesting flaws. (Aptly named, Rey, which is “King” in Spanish, enters the franchise able to fix spaceships better than Chewie, fly and shoot better than Han, mind-control better than Obi Wan, and swordfight better than Luke, but is as interesting as a cardboard cutout.) The whole thing felt more like a salute to a dead franchise than a new chapter in a living one.

Meanwhile, In a Marvel Franchise Far, Far Away

Marvel has its own set of issues, as it introduces more and jankier heroes and muddies the waters of public consciousness as it tries to combine storylines and build team adventures while still maintaining a logical universe (not exactly its forte). Honestly, sometimes I wonder if they’d be better off keeping each character’s arc as separate as possible, a.k.a., not digging into the Civil War storyline while the Avengers thread is still running.

And then Thor: Ragnarok comes out with a totally new approach. Folks, Marvel reached out to Taika Waititi, not the other way around. And this indie director, best known for the hilarious Flight of the Conchords vampire spoof What We Do In the Shadows, is destroying Thor in just the right way.

This is a movie where Thor and the Hulk have a fight and then the next scene is the two of them sitting on a bed, talking about their feelings. Would this scene ever have been pre-approved by committees and fanboy screenings? Hell no! But are the fans loving it? Hell yes! We don’t want crowdsourced entertainment. We want new ideas, and the two are antithetical.

It’s different and fresh and irreverent, but also attuned to character and Marvel’s rich history. Marvel has always been the anti-comic universe, the funny universe, the reality that counterpunched Superman’s sanctimoniousness with Spiderman’s sass and humanity. And Thor has been Marvel’s Superman in the previous movies, noble and distant and sterile.

That’s right: the Marvel handlers wanted a Cannonball Run-style wacky romp with Thor at the wheel. They knew that Thor was boring and stiff and needed a revamp. The MCU vision remains clear, echoing the blast of fresh creativity and fun that was Iron Man. Rather than strangling out new approaches and slavishly trying to recreate its past, it is charting a new and vibrant future.

This is the kind of vision that I admire as a game writer. This is why Marvel is better than Star Wars. All hail Marvel.

And what is Waititi doing next? Why, a stop-motion retelling of the Michael Jackson story from the point of view of Bubbles, his pet monkey. Depending on your point of view, it’s either trash or genius, but apparently it’s one of the hottest scripts in Hollywood.

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PewDiePie Makes $15M/Year and Is a Racist

Sigh.

I haven’t watched much PewDiePie but occasionally I’ve enjoyed one of his playthroughs as a way to get a sense for a game. Now, after he’s been dropped by Disney and YouTube, I realize from the reports that he’s a dirty scumbag and a hero to neo-Nazi hate groups. (I also realize he was pulling in $15M per year for his goofball videos. WHAT?!?!)

This is yet another sign that the Internet is making it so we can’t have nice things. It used to be that you could watch baseball, play videogames, and pretend for a few isolated moments every day that we can all coexist without hating each other based on superficialities.

But no, that’s no longer the case. Baseball’s now political (I cite the congressional hearings where Democrats and Republicans lined up on party lines to support or criticize Roger Clemens for PED use). Choosing a home improvement store or a pizza delivery service is now political. And watching a freaking game playthrough is political.

I blame you, PewDiePie. Die, PewDiePie, die.

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Do You Watch Your Friends Play Games?

Not everybody enjoys watching others play videogames, just like not everybody enjoys others play sports. There’s something about games that demands that hands-on experience.

Of course, a big part of it depends on the style and personality of the person you’re watching. If you’re a stealth gamer, you probably wouldn’t enjoy watching a brawler barrel through levels, for example.

But assuming you’re watching someone who plays like you do, or perhaps faster than you do (!), do you enjoy watching them play? Or are you itching for them to get an urgent call from their significant other?

I don’t love watching gameplay video, but I’m watching theRadBrad on Youtube right now. He’s got a pretty good style, he moves quickly, and he’s got a friendly, funny energy to him.

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Red Robin Gourmet Burgers and the Future of America

Had a Red Robin Gourmet Burger and Now I Am Nostradumbass

So your immodest game writer went to Red Robin, the burger chain, the other night. While the experience is fresh in my mouth (why does that sound wrong?), I feel I must crack wise about what Red Robin gourmet burgers tell us about the future of this country.

red-robin-gourmet-burgersRed Robins are really a microcosm of what is good and bad about the name-branding and big-boxing of America. They’re made from fresh, healthy ingredients. They’re tidy, clean, identical, carefully marketed to Joe Six-Pack, and unerringly friendly.

The staff seem ridiculously cheery; you have to wonder about the pep talks and management, because they’re totally getting it done. I do admit, however, to a flashback to the cynical and often twisted movie Waiting when I saw them gather up twice to sing out birthdays to families celebrating their kids’ special days.

So Yeah, The Burger

I ordered the Whiskey River BBQ Chicken Burger, which is basted with BBQ sauce. It also includes cheddar cheese, crispy onion “straws” (think skinny onion rings), lettuce, tomatoes, and mayo. “Cowpokes and real folks both love this one!” crows their website.

The burger arrived promptly, accompanied by a serving of their piping hot “bottomless fries” and some gigantic crunchy onion rings. At first it looked a little small to me, peeking out of a white paper wrap*, but it’s about the size of a chicken burger you cook on your own grill. The menu photos always look enormous.

So I took a big bite and I had a revelation. Red Robin gourmet burgers are telling the future, and the future is expensive, heavily sauced, carefully manicured, and so full of flavor that you can’t taste what it’s made of. The future is served by marvellously attentive people who refill your soda before you’re done, sometimes bringing you a second glass so you don’t even have to lower the glass to get more.

A bite of my burger was like a little bite of Las Vegas. The glittering lights, the gambling, the dancing girls, and the empty feeling. I followed the cheese, I was diverted by the onion straws, and I was waylaid by the barbeque sauce. The overall effect was pleasurable and comforting, because on an animal level I was happy that I was getting some serious calories. My tongue responded to the sweet and the salty. But on the other hand it had none of the subtle interplay of flavors that truly great food possesses. It didn’t surprise or delight; it overpowered.

And somewhere in there was a chicken breast, flanked by some lettuce and tomato, all yelling to be heard, but no one paid any attention.

My gourmet burger was relentlessly adult but built on childish principles. It’s forgotten what it is. A Red Robin gourmet burger is what mall food looks like when it grows up. And the future is lavish, clean, and bright, but it looks to be overdramatic and desensitized at the same time.

*By the way, this wrap is really a brilliant innovation, keeping the burger together without a toothpick, and making it easy to hold.

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Uncharted 2 Steals Hearts

Uncharted 2 and Naughty Dog Revive the Adventure Genre

The Uncharted 2: Among Thieves SKU and its action/adventure gameplay are dominating the ratings at Metacritic. Adventure games? Zork? Monkey Island? Indiana Jones? Hello again. We’ve missed you.

Uncharted 2 brings back Nathan Drake (Indiana Jones?) for another round of high-stakes artifact hunting, this time to the fabled Shambhala, a remote valley in the Himalayas, where he’s pitted against a fugitive war criminal.

I don’t have a full gameplay review today — just a little celebration, and a link to Uncharted 2’s astronomical Metacritic score and review.

97, in case you’re curious — a point below all-time PS3 leader Grand Theft Auto IV.

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Hogwarts’ Harry: Top Five Europe Photos

Hogwarts’ Harry and Other Pics

Hogwarts School and Harry Potter don’t actually appear in any of my “game writer on vacation” photos, but there is a connection, as you’ve probably already noticed.

So I’ve decided to jump the gun and throw up a top five of the photos I took in London and Paris, with five more to come shortly.

Notice the devious writing trick I used — the non-commital “a top five” rather than “my top five photos” or (heaven forfend!) “the top five photos.” Not really a game writing trick, per se; more of a legalistic way to avoid saying anything definitive.* These are just five photos that I like, for various reasons.

* I recently read an interview with one of my English profs, Nancy Packer, who lambasted the semi-colon. She said it’s the language’s ugliest punctuation mark, and that one should use dashes instead. Punctuation passion!

Sorry about the dorky watermark. I’m submitting these to some stock photo agencies and I don’t want slimeballs leeching these.

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Was amazed to stumble upon this college courtyard in Cambridge. This isn’t even one of the heavy hitters like King’s College; this is one of the minor colleges. I wish my university dorm looked like this. Ready for a brisk game of Quidditch!

By the way, Quidditch is the most ridiculous game in creation. It’s clear that J.K. Rowling isn’t much for game design. She can write the crap out of candy and sweets, though, I’ll grant her that.

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You might recognize this structure. Hint: Paris.

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Brick apartments in Swanage on the Dorset coast.

game writer at buckingham palace

Buckingham Palace and the Victoria Monument.

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Hopital de Les Invalides. Napoleon is buried in the cathedral whose gilded dome you can see up top.

Hope you — Harry Potter fans, science fiction readers, and otherwise — enjoyed these ramblings. More soon.

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Boxing Games and Fight Night Round 4

Boxing games are back. Fight Night Round 4 has been announced with a ship date – actually, a ship season – of “Summer 2009.”

It’s good to see this boxing franchise making another run. There’s also leaked video on Youtube of an EA representative comparing FN4 and FN3, which I also found encouraging. I loved FN3 but it still had plenty of room for improvement. I think we still haven’t seen a true next-gen arcade-simulation of boxing, just very tantalizing and visually appealing boxing imitations.

Part of the problem is that boxing really involves the whole human body, like dancing. (Seen any good dancing videogames? EA, want to use the FN4 engine to make one?) Obviously, it’s a different scale than controlling a running back in a football game. The biggest disappointment is that the game is destined for the PS3 and Xbox 360. Of all the next gen platforms, you’d think the most natural fit for a boxing game would be on the Wii. However, motion detection on the Wii isn’t as precise as Nintendo would like you to think.

I think what we’d all like to see is a boxing game that captures true body movement- a lean of the shoulders, a flick of the hips, a tilt of the head – rather than a string of rote offensive and defensive boxing moves. Whether it comes in a boxing game, a brawler like Tekken or Street Fighter, or in the aforementioned dancing game, we all want more control and simpler controls.

One analog stick for punching was a cool idea, and revolutionary in its way (kudos to you, Kudo), but ultimately untenable. After all, that little stick had to do all the work of two arms. Being lefthanded, I found it especially perverse, and eventually joined my human boxing compadre in using the face buttons, a la Punch Out and time immemorial.

Good to see Tyson in there, too. I definitely wished for his presence in FN3.

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Videogame Writing Influences TV?

EDGE Thinks Videogame Writing Is Affecting Television Plots

Rely on EDGE Magazine to throw out some interesting memes. Today I stumbled upon this thought – that some of the hot new television writing is actually becoming more like videogame writing. And not in a good way:

TV is yet another medium struggling to compete against interactive entertainment…. Even TV shows are becoming more like videogames, with a flat palette of two-dimensional characters moving progressively through random objectives, the odd big boss and perplexing, pointless plot twists. Heroes, Lost, Family Guy. Shit, shit, shit.

Family Guy Has Videogame Plots?

So those cocky Brits just compared your favorite TV show with human offal. But you have to admit that some of these modern ensemble television dramas aren’t TV shows in the classic mode.

Instead, they’re giant productions that will continue to throw out new characters, obstacles, and plot threads in a desperate and calculated effort to survive. It’s fully possible that, like the great red herring generator, Twin Peaks, there’s no overarching meta-narrative. I fear that they exist only to exist. When the concept wears thin and viewers turn elsewhere, these shows might just crumble and crash into the rocks without ever attempting to answer the questions that they raised in the first place.

Still, An Interesting Reversal

Sure, the videogame movie is a Hollywood staple as movie studios reveal again and again their timid business strategies. But it’s not every day that you see someone postulate that game writing is bleeding stylistically into other media, instead of vice versa. Some food for thought the next time you’re zoning out in front of the idiot box.

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