Video: Doctor Who

Watched one of the new Doctor Who stories last night on Netflix — “Voyage of the Damned.” I haven’t paid a visit to the good Doctor in many years, but this episode was just as delightfully and spectacularly cheesy as the ones I used to watch on late-night Channel 54 in the early ’80s.

This is my kind of cheep and cheerful entertainment. The premise makes not a whit of sense — in fact, there’s not even a pretense that it’s supposed to — but the story is well constructed and the acting is more than adequate.

A pleasant surprise in the plot (using the word “pleasant” in a technical sense) was that some of the good guys actually die! Think about it … at the end of Lord of the Rings, all of the good guys made it through. Lord of the Rings is a morality play, not a story about an actual war.

The perils the Doctor faces are real perils. At the end, he tries to bring a young woman who has died back to life — and he fails! That moment of drama easily makes up for the fact that the “aliens”, even the ones in rubber masks, are obviously human and speak with British accents. Doctor Who fans won’t mind that in any case. We wouldn’t have it any other way.

Stimulus & Response

Last week I was bewailing the sludgy, trapped-in-goo pacing that seems to be inevitable in interactive fiction. The glacial pace with which events move forward, I theorized, makes IF not terrifically fun for the player when IF is compared to other entertainment media.

Today I’m thinking, let’s accept the slow pacing of IF as a given. Instead of asking, “How can we crank up the pacing?”, let’s ask, “How can we keep players so entertained that they’ll never even notice the slow pacing?”

As much as 75% of what happens in a typical work of IF is, the player reads descriptions of things. Another big chunk of game output is an assortment of “You try that, but it doesn’t change anything or produce any useful results” messages. Arguably, one important way to make IF more fun for the player  Read more

Brakes & Accelerator

News and commentary lately are devoting a lot of ink and air time to two topics — the global economy and climate change. What’s odd is that we’re talking out of both sides of our collective mouths at once, saying two diametrically opposed things and not making the connection.

On one hand, our global leaders are trying to stimulate the economy. We need renewed economic growth (or so it’s claimed) to lift us out of a deep recession.

On the other hand, we’re being told to use less fuel, less energy, fewer natural resources.

Does anybody but me see a fundamental contradiction here? Is it possible that an economic recession — and the deeper the better — is precisely what’s needed Read more

Pushing the Boulder

The release today of a new version of Inform 7 has me, I’ll admit it, excited. I’m not sure exactly why. Okay, seeing my upcoming Inform 7 Handbook prominently listed on the News page may have something to do with it. It’s nice to be part of a community of intelligent, creative people, even when the community is as tiny and obscure as the world of interactive fiction.

Yesterday, though, I was feeling less than enthusiastic about IF as a creative medium. I enjoy writing IF, but truth be told, I don’t actually enjoy playing it.

I keep trying. In the last month I’ve spent some time with Blue Lacuna (highly regarded, and from what I’ve seen, I’m sure it’s a great game) and, at the other extreme historically, a mondo version of Adventure. I also did some testing on two unreleased games. In all four cases, I bailed out before getting anywhere near the finish line.

I think I can sum up my problems with playing IF in one word: pacing.

In a novel, we naturally expect that every time we turn the page, something new will happen. A novelist who printed the same paragraph ten times within a single chapter would not Read more

Viewing: Aeon Flux

As science fiction films go, Aeon Flux is a cut above. Mavens and cognoscenti will note that I’m calling it science fiction, not sci-fi. The difference is mostly in the eyes of the science fiction community, but it’s significant. What lifts Aeon Flux above sci-fi is that the premise and the plot actually make sense, more or less.

The action sequences are quite silly: Aeon has no trouble killing dozens of black-clad armed guards with her machine pistol, spraying bullets wildly at a distance of at least 50 yards and mowing the guards down like dandelions before a weed-whacker. But when one of them actually shoots her and she falls down … she gets up again and starts running and jumping as if nothing had happened.

That part was stupid, but I guess they had to do it because the movie was based on a comic book or something. But the plot wasn’t bad at all.

Us vs. Them

This morning I saw a bumper sticker in a parking lot that said “Liberalism is a Mental Disease.” This made me angry, of course. As the anger subsided, I started to feel sad — and sorry for the poor schmuck. Not too sorry for him; he drives a Cadillac, so he can take it. But still, it must be awful living inside his head.

On the other hand, having posted a couple of months ago, in this very blog, an only slightly tongue-in-cheek essay suggesting that conservatism might be a form of mental illness, I’m hardly in a position to complain. Everybody has a right to free speech, even idiots.

Without, for the moment, trying to figure out who’s right and who’s wrong, is it possible for us to dispassionately analyze the differences that are causing such tension? I think maybe it is.

First, let’s admit that we’re all wrong sometimes. The world is a really, really complicated place, and nobody has Read more

Move along, folks. Nothin’ to see.

The human brain is not good at absorbing, understanding, and acting on the basis of abstract information that arrives from distant places. There’s no reason why evolution should have equipped our ancestors with that ability. In sub-Saharan Africa, where our ancestors lived, there was no abstract information arriving from distant places!

The only information that was important in the passing on of one’s genes was immediate and concrete. Lion over there, gotta run.

So here we are, living in a vastly different world from the one our ancestors lived in. Abstract information reaches us daily from distant places — and some of it is vitally important to our survival. But we don’t have the capacity to process it and act on it. We act like nothing is the matter. We just stroll onward, averting our eyes.

Here in the U.S. (I can’t speak very knowledgeably about other nations), we have, in no particular order:

— An entirely corrupt Congress and Administration, in which our nominally elected officials are all accepting enormous bribes on a weekly basis from Read more

Power Tools

There are few things more disturbing to a musician (to this musician, anyway) than the sound of a power lawn mower, blower, or edger cutting across the afternoon when you’re trying to practice. Except during the winter, this type of noise crops up more afternoons than not, here in the suburbs. There’s just no escaping it.

Since I’m fundamentally a nonconfrontational person, it would never occur to me to attempt to dissuade anyone who is using one of these implements in my vicinity, or in the vicinity of any other musician. I will say only this:

I hope you trip over the power cord, fall into the blades, and die.

Nothing personal, you understand.

Economic Recovery (anecdotal evidence)

The economy is starting to turn around.

You know how I can tell? Three months ago my student roster had fallen from 22 students to 15. The students who weren’t serious about it had mostly dropped out, leaving only the ones who are more committed. But this week I’ve had three calls from students who want to start lessons — two returning students and one brand new one. I picked up two new students last month, and I’ve also had inquiries from a couple who haven’t yet scheduled lessons.

This is, to be sure, only anecdotal evidence. It’s also way too small a sample to be statistically significant. But like most of the human race, I’m easily impressed by short-term gains.

Just wanted to share the good news.

Burning Down the House

Mr. Stupid-Head has a system. He knows that he has a tendency to put the kettle on the stove, turn on the stove, and then wander into his office (which is at the far end of the house) and not hear the kettle when it starts whistling.

So he has a system. He has a wind-up egg timer. He sets it for seven minutes and carries it into the office with him. That way, when the timer goes off, he’ll remember to go out and pour the hot water into the mug.

Tonight the system worked perfectly, except for one tiny detail. He was so busy thinking about whatever vastly important matters were at the forefront of his mind that he poured the hot water into the mug, set the kettle back on the burner, and walked out of the kitchen without turning off the burner.

There is no system that can help with this.

Fortunately, when he finally emerged from the office half an hour later, he noticed a smell rather like burning candles, and had no trouble figuring out what he had done wrong. Fortunately, nothing had caught on fire. The kettle is probably ruined, and maybe the heating element too. But Mr. Stupid-Head can afford a new kettle and a new heating element.

Mr. Stupid-Head is not, as far as we can tell, becoming senile. He just has lots of stuff rattling around in his brain. Sometimes it’s a little too interesting.

Don’t be like Mr. Stupid-Head.