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  Pop Culture Strikes Back 06:09 PM -- Mon March 20, 2006  

I've finished my latest book - a tiny little thing by Stephen King, The Colorado Kid. As it says repeatedly in it right from the beginning, and even on the back cover, and everywhere I've read anything about it, it is going to be a little frustrating. It's about an unresolved mystery, and that means that the mystery is not resolved during the book, not that this is about the amazing moment when it is resolved. And frankly, it's not an interesting mystery anyway! But I liked the book. Because it wasn't actually about the mystery. It was about the growth of a character who was being told this mystery. That wouldn't have been enough for me in a big book, but this whole thing was 184 pages of very big type - I think it's really more like a 100 page book. It was just right. A fun little thing to read, and I wasn't even really let down by the unsolved mystery (I suppose it helped that they mentioned at least 50 times that it would not get resolved), because it wasn't important.

So as always I don't know what to read next. I guess I could continue on the Harry Potter train. My wife has all of them, and I have read the first one. It was good, but I don't really need Harry Potter so badly.

I have also finished, or at least beaten the final boss of, Spyro: A Hero's Tail. It was a big letdown. I guess I rate it 7.5/10. It was enjoyable, kept me coming back, but it was sorely lacking the fun of the earlier ones. It really felt like (and was) new people trying to ape the original Spyro games. You know, they didn't know exactly what made it special, so they just put in all the actual elements - Spyro grabs gems, smacks guy's armor off and then fries them, Sparx eats butterflies. But the gems don't look quite as alluring, the impacts with the armored guys aren't as nice feeling, and most clearly, Sparx doesn't catch butterflies nearly as aggressively. You have to practically eat them yourself. None of it was quite there. But the one big downside was the bosses, which were awful. In real Spyro games, a boss has to be hit 3 times (I may be misremembering, actually), and you have to dodge all these different attacks and find your opening to do it. In this game, it's the same, except that you need to repeat this 3-hit process 3 times. And up until the final boss, that's annoying and tiresome, but not onerous, because after each 3 hits, the boss inexplicably always proclaims "How could you have beaten me!?" before proceeding on to the next round of the fight, looking none the worse for wear - which saves your progress. Of course, each time they get harder. On the final boss, they throw that out the window, and you have to take the guy down very hard, very very many times. I pretty much only succeeded because I cheated - I bought the "max health in a bottle" item, and then ran off the ledge of the battle 3 times to get the Loser Assist it offers: one butterfly per time you've failed (max of 3). Still barely squeaked by, after 8 or so tries. But more than it being hard was it being repetitive and unfun. That's not what a game should be! Speaking of repetitive, I'm going back now to get the last few eggs and light gems! It's what I do.

So, continuing on pop culture issues, I stepped into the 21st century yesterday and ordered a Nintendo DS. Hooray! I probably should've waited until the DS Lite was available, but it would cost so much more (I suppose the deals on old DSes would've gotten better... oh well, it's an impulse buy). I also got Animal Crossing, Tony Hawk's American Sk8land (a naming convention I will never approve of), and Meteos. A nice broad selection of the classic game types - village living, skateboarding, and meteor puzzling. Should be interesting to play the DS port of the latest Tony Hawk before/rather than the PS2 version. It's the first portable version that isn't a wacky isometric view. The main reason for the DS purchase was Sol's playing of Harvest Moon on our GBA and constantly complaining about the lighting. The DS is backlit. I ordered all the games on eBay, which is always horrible. I hope it goes well. I tried to get the system on eBay as well, but after being outsniped for a solid 4 hours on 10 or 15 auctions (some really good ones that included 5 or 10 really nice games! Augh!), I gave up and ordered a used one from an actual reputable dealer. I'm very cheap, you know.

Also pop culture: We saw V For Vendetta this weekend, and it was very good. To me, there were some weird elements - the way some things looked, the way some dialogue was - that took me out of it, towards the beginning mainly (and I don't mean V's flowery language or truly strange appearance). I can't even really describe what, just sort of a stylistic choice that didn't click with me. The fighting for example was really unimpressive to me, especially the supposedly big finale. Not a lot of drama and excitement to it, as opposed to say a Matrix fight (to mention the Wachowskis, who wrote the screenplay here). But that wasn't really important, and in fact, there is almost no fighting in the entire movie. Actually, something that I would've liked more, and would've majorly changed if I was doing the movie, would've been if V never killed anyone. This is very much a Trigun thing, which I loved. In the very first fight in this movie, he doesn't kill anyone (at least not for sure), and it's really cool to see him taking them down non-lethally, even though he's armed with big knives. Of all the fights, that was the most well-staged, as well. And it's appropriate, because they're not really people who deserve to die, though very much not good guys. Later on, he slays quite a few I would consider innocents. And near the finale (this really isn't much of a spoiler, but beware if you are big on that), he gets someone else to kill someone for him in a way that's really meaningful, and I think could've had a real message behind it... if he hadn't then proceeded to mow down a dozen cops himself. Anyway, that's sort of my desire for morality and black and white, looking for a hero. The movie is more about the real world - nobody's a real hero, though there is no shortage of villains (actually, V does one thing in this movie that really was way out of bounds to me! I was having trouble believing it at first and was looking for alternative explanations, and I think the forgiveness he gets for it is a load of crap). It's a very good movie, with a big political message that is worth hearing: stand up and be counted, fight for your rights, all that good stuff. And it's definitely not black and white, which is nice.
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  Snowed in! 05:18 PM -- Mon March 13, 2006  

We spent the weekend actually snowed in. We got around 2 feet of snow at the highest, which wouldn't really snow most people in, but we have no chains and live out on a dirt road that doesn't get plowed, so here we were! It was rather a shock. Our little inch of snow the other time was exciting and new, but this just blew it away! And it's the middle of March!



It was practically a blizzard for 2 days straight. Okay, it wasn't a blizzard, but snow constantly coming down and blowing in the wind, that's a blizzard by my standards! It looks cloudless today, so I think it's at least going to mostly melt away, but man... snowed in! Sol couldn't go to work today even.



An interesting thing I never thought about was the vastly increased view we had - all the trees were completely bowed under by the weight of the snow, so we could see for miles, houses we never knew existed. That is, when it wasn't completely fogged over. The trees have mostly snapped back now.



Snow! Can you imagine?



They sure couldn't.
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  Slow On The Blogtake 06:51 PM -- Fri March 10, 2006  

I'm not keeping up with the journal as I should! Or with my work for that matter. A major cause is a bit shameful... I have recently come into possession of no fewer than six video games. Let's discuss them, shall we?

Sly 2: Band Of Thieves - 10/10! The Sly series is amazing, and this one is better than the first. The first game was just normal platformer levels you got through, but this time the levels are open-ended cities in which you pull a series of heists to achieve your goals. And you get to be The Murray, which I loved and didn't get anywhere near enough of. As far as I'm concerned, Murray can have his own game of pure brawling. Not that Sly is unfun, he's great, and his pickpocketing adds a lot of fun too. Bentley I didn't enjoy quite so much. Now I need Sly 3!
Jak 3 - 5/10. Blah. Even worse than the first Jak, which also was frustrating (but had fun too). You can see all the effort that went into this game, but it was a waste, because all they ended up with was an endless string of trial and error missions. Die & repeat is the order of the day and it is tiresome. I never played Jak 2 because I heard it was frustrating, and I heard Jak 3 was way better. A horrifying thought. Also more than a few bugs I encountered playing this game. There are some 600 bonus egg-things you need to collect around the game world, and I was not interested in pursuing them. Knowing my predilections, that says a lot about how unpleasant the experience was.
Ratchet: Deadlocked - 10/10! Okay, maybe 9/10. Not as good as the former Ratchets I think... but I don't know. It was definitely still great, really great. For an arena combat game, it was sorely lacking in normal arena battles though. It nonetheless has inspired the idea of a battle arena in Loonyland 2. I kind of liked the concept of how it split each level up into multiple challenges, rather than long journeys where you could slip up at the end and ruin it all.
Spyro: A Hero's Tail - I am currently on this one. I was a few hours into it, and the next time I started it up, it said "your save file is corrupted, would you like to overwrite?" So voila, I am back at the beginning again. It's not bad. I see less magic to it than older Spyros, but it is definitely fun and solid. Interestingly, I have only ever had one other game I needed to restart on - Spyro 2. In that one (it may not be #2, not sure, but I think so), there's a bug where one of the eggs you can earn by doing a race isn't given to you. Only cure is to restart. It was many months before I restarted that, since I had finished the entire game minus that one egg.
Still on the block are Prince Of Persia and Pitfall: The Lost Expedition. It's all research.

I've taken a detour on the Loonyland 2 work, when I actually was working on it. I had some quandaries and art issues, and I think they're all finally resolved, and I've done a bunch more new art. One thing I have changed is that the whole map system is to be revamped. Instead of the one big overworld with caves and such in it, I'm taking a cue from Guild Wars (not that it's the only game like this, but I do play it a lot!) and breaking the world into individual regions, which will be stored as separate levels, with flashy portals between them. This makes some things quite a bit easier, and gives me freedom to expand areas however I wish. Plus I like the flashy portal thing I made. And it resolves one art issue: I had a place where a river needed to divert and flow both to the right and down, and I had no idea how to animate that. So now I don't have to! In one map you'll see it going sideways, in another map it'll be going down.

Here's another insider tidbit on Toonyland, lucky you for having subscribed to The Hamumu Insider! I'm adding a thing, equivalent to Gallery Goals pretty much, called the Allusionary. As you unlock the entries in it, you can read about all of the different allusions and references in the game. Since most of what I do is always a reference to something, I thought this would be kind of fun, and it has inspired me to up the reference count (hey, that could be a programming joke! Nevermind). For instance, there was a quest called "Herbal Remedy" to collect some herbs. I have renamed it "Herbal Essences", in reference to the kind of shampoo I use. It's that kind of incredibly witty and urbane humor that you turn to Hamumu for. And we don't disappoint!
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  Biodiesel 03:20 PM -- Thu March 2, 2006  

In reply to a comment, I wrote far too much for a comment, so here goes:

I found out about this biodiesel station from the forums at Biodiesel Now when some people happened to be talking about it. There's supposed to be a complete or fairly complete listing of them though, at The National Biodiesel Board, good for all sorts of information on the topic. I know the list isn't totally complete, though, because the one we're going to isn't on there! I think that site may be quite a bit outdated.

If your car runs diesel, it can run biodiesel! But there are 3 possible concerns:

1. Biodiesel cleans out your engine, because it's a solvent. That's a good thing, but if you've been running diesel for years, it will grab all the gunk that's accumulated in your engine and stick it in your fuel filter, clogging it up. This will make your engine die (not permanently!), and you'll need to replace the filter. Might want to carry some filters with you initially just in case! They're cheap. Apparently it is not hard to swap filters, something I better figure out about before using my first batch.

2. Biodiesel gels at a higher temperature than diesel (which itself isn't the greatest cold weather fuel), so if you live where it gets way below freezing, you need to be careful. You need to keep the car garaged, possibly even heating the fuel tank (they sell kits for this) before driving if you live in real super cold. If you do live in a snowy place, I'd read up on this issue first. Some people have had no problems with it, others have real issues.

3. If your car is quite old, usually pre-1995, it may have natural rubber fuel lines, which biodiesel will be happy to dissolve for you (over the course of many months). You'll need to have those replaced with the more modern synthetic type, which is a cheap operation (if you do it yourself, it's under $20, I think! Not that I would try).

On the plus side, you can mix it in any proportion you wish with diesel fuel (one thing people do to mitigate the effects of cold weather on it, as well as save money), any time you want. Some cold weather people mix in some kerosene, which scares me, but apparently works (from the stuff I've heard, it sounds like you can throw just about anything flammable into a diesel engine!). You can learn oceans of bio-data at those forums I mentioned above.
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  No Snow 09:57 PM -- Wed March 1, 2006  

No more snow. It rained like crazy yesterday though. Our dirt road is a challenge to navigate now. This weekend, we got a trailer to hitch to my car. It's very little and fun. We had to put it together (with my dad's help!), which was an adventure, and makes me a bit nervous about how long it will stay together, but I think we did alright. After all, we were supervised by an adult. So now we can haul our trash to the dump without having it inside my car, which was always a pungent proposition.

The real reason we got the trailer in the first place though was for the sake of our other car - the new diesel Jetta. We're going to drive out to the nearest biodiesel station - a scant hour and a half away - and pick up drums of biodiesel! Biodiesel is wondrous. It's actually what diesel engines were originally invented to run on. As you can guess, it's made out of plants. It's modified vegetable oil (you can also run a diesel engine on actual vegetable oil, but it's a little riskier, and you need a kit to heat the oil up before it gets to the engine, or it will be too thick). So with this hippymobile, we are reducing American dependence on foreign oil, reducing pollution, conserving the world's supply of oil, supporting the farm industry, sticking it to the man, and smelling like french fries, all at the same time! The hope is also that one day biodiesel will be cheaper than gas - it's much cheaper to produce, and they only charge more for it because they can. You can also make it yourself, out of waste vegetable oil (what restaurants throw away, or your own oil that you've used for frying stuff), for something like 40 cents a gallon... but that's a little more effort than I'm ready to put into it. You can get a book on how to build a biodiesel maker out of a broken-down water heater. I know, because I have the book! Quite a process, though. Especially the part where you go and set up deals with your local restaurants to take their used oil and figure out some way to haul it. I think I'll pass, for now.
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  Sneak Peek: Loonyland II: Winter Woods 09:42 PM -- Wed March 1, 2006  


So much new stuff! I spent the past week doing nothing but new graphics, and here are some.

First, let's talk tiles. The tiles in this shot are the new cabin tiles. I'm still working on them, and the reason the floor is so ugly is that the floor is actually a 2x2 tile thing, but I didn't bother to fill it in properly in this map. I just splashed down one of its tiles over the whole place. If you look in the upper left, you can see a bit of what it's supposed to be - relatively long boards (the leftmost one is longer than it's supposed to be, ignore that), like your typical wooden floor. This is kind of my first foray into making 3D models and turning them into tiles, which is tricky business, I'm finding. Even the floor is actually 3D shapes.

But you're not even looking at the tiles, you're mesmerized by the splendiforously colorful icons in a big circle! Those would be the spell icons (and a blank one for 'cancel' and the handy throwing/melee axe toggle). You are welcome to guess what the spells are, but I'm not telling. You'll have to earn them in the game! I currently have my favorite-named one highlighted. As you can see, there are 5 types of magic, and each is a different color, and has 3 spells in it. This ring pops up, pausing gameplay, when you hold down the magic button, and you press left and right to rotate through the spells and let go to cast it. You can also just tap the button to cast the same spell you did last. I need to add a black outline around the spell name though, to make it more legible.

Inset, we have a shot of two Tinny Tims, the lowliest of the Tin Soldier enemies. As you can see, their guns are too powerful for them to handle, and they practically fall over backwards firing them. The smoke behind the fireball is from the tip of the gun, if you didn't get that. It looks cool in action, poofing out in a ring. The fireball is way overbright, which is mainly the fault of the snow being too bright. I am going to have to tone the snow down somehow, which will be hard to do without making it look dirty.

And lastly, there are new interface goodies! As you can see, your Life and Stamina are on the upper left, and your Magic is on the upper right. In the middle, you get told what area you're in, unless you recently picked up some money, in which case your current money total is shown instead. When you hit enemies, their life meter shows up in the lower right. And as you have seen in previous shots, important messages pop up in the lower left. So every corner's got something to offer you, but most of the time, most of the screen is just gameplay. I squeezed those meters way into the corners to maximize screen space. I fiddled with a bunch of different fancy 3D life meter styles, but this simple style is my favorite. Totally basic, does the job. They will probably stay like this.

There are a ton of other graphics I made which aren't shown here - tables, chairs, dressers, beds, bullets, items, signs, and even villagers. Artwork is a horrifyingly large portion of the work on this stuff. You wouldn't believe how many individual little visuals it takes to make even a simple in-game scene. And each one has to go through a series of conversion steps in no less than 3 different programs before I actually begin coding it into the game itself. Games is hard.
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  New invention! 06:16 PM -- Fri February 24, 2006  

Catch the wave! I have just invented something miraculous and incredible. Don't steal it because I haven't had time to patent it just yet. It's called The Arbitrarium. It's a container, available in any shape you want (in fact, you can make your own out of, eh, whatever you like!). You fill it, or don't fill it, with as much or as little of anything you want as you want. Then you display it. Imagine what visitors to your home will say. Here's a sample situation:

You: Have you seen my new arbitrarium? It's full of fridge magnets!
Visitor: Wow, I just got one myself, and it's packed with fresh croissants.
You: Nice! Have you seen Jim's? It's almost empty, just has a set of car keys and a small pile of sand in it.
Visitor:Whoa, I'm outta here, I have got to see that!

Arbitrarium - the most creative thing to happen to home decor since walls. Order today!
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  Snow Day! 02:50 PM -- Mon February 20, 2006  

I have visited snow before, but I have never lived in it. Until now! The wonders of the high desert:

It was really nice. We wandered around in it with the dogs, who apparently have very tough feet. Here they both are, not doing anything wrong:

And we'd throw snowballs for them, and despite the fact that they won't even look twice at a tennis ball, they chased down those snowballs like they were flying rabbits. It was fun and amusing. When they caught them, they'd chew and lick them to bits, although I think sometimes they tried to bring them back to us, but it didn't really work. Here's Mia enjoying one:

And that's the story of the snow day. Did I mention we live in the high desert?

Poor thing. The snow only lasted a few hours, but I think we might be expecting more, I don't know. It's sure cold enough - 21 degrees when I got up this morning. The weird thing is, it was 70 all last week.
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  Next book 10:23 PM -- Thu February 16, 2006  

Okay, I just finished "Downtiming The Night Side" by Jack L. Chalker. It's not recommended. It's a time travel story, and thus is necessarily convoluted, but this one just adds stacks and stacks of complexity on top for no reason. It has this really weird concept of how time travel works, involving jumping into other bodies (like Quantum Leap!), except some people don't... and if you stay too long you become one with the body... and if you don't, you still merge partially with that personality... and you can intentionally swap bodies... and something about being 'in phase' and 'out of phase' that I completely didn't follow. Confusing, and not feeling terribly scientific. There was kind of this generic concept that time would do what it had to to straighten things out, like modern objects (sometimes, gradually) becoming older ones to fit the time period they're brought to. It all seemed quite arbitrary and illogical. But it had pluses - there were some fun time loop issues (people going off to do things they had already seen happen, that kind of stuff), which I enjoy.

All in all, not recommended, and shlocky despite the highbrow complexity. Pretty much what I expected, although I had no idea it would prove to be so complex. I don't know what book is next. There's one more I got at the library bookstore, also of a sci-fi nature. I guess I will delve into that. Good day to you.
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  Sneak Peek: Loonyland II: Winter Woods 01:36 AM -- Thu February 16, 2006  


I am aware that this is the same shot as the last shot, but I wanted to talk about what's happening in the game but not put in the effort to make a screenshot, especially since I couldn't think of anything exciting to show.

So today I made the graphics for a new enemy, the Tin Soldier, which is what you think it is. I also redid the spell selector. It used to be this thing where you'd hold down the magic button and it popped up the 8 spells in a ring. Then you hold the direction of the spell you want, and release the magic button to cast it. You could also tap the magic button to just cast the same spell you did last. Now instead, it's an easier-to-understand, but not as quick to use, system. You hold down the button and a ring of spells pops up, but you tap left and right to rotate the ring to get to the spell you want. Besides concerns about new players being confused (and annoyed trying to get to the diagonal spells), there was one huge reason to do this: I couldn't stand only having 8 spells, and the directional system couldn't have more than 8. So there are now 15 spells! The spells come in 5 flavors: Nature (AKA Earth), Fire, Wind, Ice, and Death. Each flavor has 3 spells and one passive ability that improves all spells of that flavor, encouraging you to specialize. Thusly, the spells are no longer the wonderful unique snowflakes they once were, but they all have their own fun angles. There are no totally ordinary spells.

In addition to having more spells, there are actually 60 skills total now (well, 58 and two placeholder ones waiting for me to come up with something). I am still unsure on 10 of those. What I did was expand the Magic skills to be 2 pages worth, and then added a new page of skills called the Craft skills. I love the idea of them, but it is a significant amount of more game to make. See, the craft skills are the extraneous stuff. They're things like making your own items, and well, making other kinds of your own items (potions for example, via the Alchemy skill). The teleport to town 'spell' is considered a Craft skill, and I moved a couple of the passive skills there too, since they seemed more like crafts. So it's stuff to expand the game experience. Instead of just slaying monsters and slogging towards ultimate victory, you might want to take a day off to go pick herbs and make potions. I don't know, it's up to you! I really love the crafting stuff in games like WoW, so ripping that off appeals to me. I'm ignoring it for now and doing other stuff though, just in case it seems like too much to do.
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