Washington DC: The Rest of the Story

Originally I wanted to do a post per day while I was on vacation, and I did… for two days. After the third day I was so tired that I didn’t. And then day four was the same. And day five… We had a wonderful time, saw a lot, and did much, but walking almost everywhere took it’s toll on us.

In total, we got to see five and a half of the Smithsonian museums, plus about half of the zoo. We saw Madame Tussauds, which was simultaneously interesting and super creepy. We ate food at a bunch of local joints. And we saw a number of monuments.

We also got to stroll along several of the streets of Capitol Hill where we were staying, and it was lovely. The neighborhood and the city made us decide that if we ever win the lottery we will probably move there.

We happened to be in DC for the 4th of July, which was crowded and crazy and absolutely glorious. We sat on some grass out in front of the Lincoln Memorial and watched the best fireworks show I’ve ever seen in the sky above the reflecting pool.

So, final thoughts on the vacation:

  • If you go to Arlington National Cemetary, pay the $9 for the tram tour. It is the best $9 you will spend your entire vacation. Anyone who tells you that anything in that place is “just a short walk” from anywhere is a damned liar. If you decide to save the $9, bring lots of water and sunscreen, and plan to spend literally all day there walking.
  • We rented an apartment through airbnb.com and it was great. Nicely located about a mile off the Mall on Capitol Hill. I would totally do this again, and after 2 successful vacations using the site, I’m prepared to go there first before hotels for pretty much any future vacation.
  • The daytime bus tours are kind of a ripoff. Especially when you consider the air conditioning almost never works, and even though they promise live tour guides, most of the buses have broken PA systems so the tour guide can’t work the bus and you get to listen to the pre-recorded stuff. But that’s sort of okay since the tour guides make the most predictable lame jokes and they all make the same jokes. However, the night tour was pretty great, because it actually stopped at monuments and the tour guide got out and showed us stuff.
  • A week is not enough time in Washington DC. I want to go back. I will go back. There are still like a dozen Smithsonians to see.

Washington DC: Day 2

Sleep. Normally I get about 5 hours a nice, maybe 5. It is my standard running number. Maybe it shouldn’t be, but it is. On vacation, however, I can usually manage more. 7.

The goal for the day was simple. Find breakfast. Go to the National Air and Space Museum, Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center. Visit a grocery store for some food for the week.

Being the first non-travel day, we were slow to rise and get moving. So breakfast almost became lunch, until we found an IHOP. I got lunch anyway.

We arrived at the Udvar-Hazy Center and it was closed. Not really, but apparently Google Maps likes leading people to the entrance that is restricted to staff only on the weekends. So we had to call the museum to get better directions to the correct entrance.

The museum is amazing, wall to wall and floor to extremely high ceiling with flying machines. Planes and helicopters and balloons… and space.

I’ve seen in TV and movies, read in books, people who repress or for other reasons have a delayed reaction to things. In 1986, when I was 11 years old, the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded during launch. Perhaps because I was too young, or perhaps because I didn’t really understand death, or maybe because of the manner in which the news was unfolded to me, as a child I didn’t react to the news.

When it happened, our school was supposed to gather for assembly and watch it together, but for whatever reason they decided it was too much trouble or something, and we just had a normal day. The launch came during lunch and recess for my class. While we were on the playground, my teacher was with some of the other teachers who also had the same lunch and recess periods in the teachers’ lounge watching the launch. We returned from recess and Mr. Strykowsky sat at his desk, unusually quiet. The normally boisterous man who was always joking and laughing sat, his hands folded on the desk in front of him, staring blankly into the middle distance.

Kids, at least at that time, loved space. And with Christa McAuliffe on board, it was doubly so. You might dream of being an astronaut, but doing that is a long road with very few people making it. But Christa was a teacher who made an end run around the usual program. A back door into space. We were all excited about a regular person making it onto the shuttle.

One of the other kids asked how the launch went. “It blew up.” It was all he said. Because he was the type to joke around, I don’t think any of us really believed him. It didn’t become real until I got home and there was nothing else on television, the footage replayed on a near constant loop. But I was detached. I didn’t cry or even really feel it.

The Wife and I talked about photos while we ate at IHOP. We laughed as we came up with the idea of taking photos of very large things from far away while one of us was standing next to the object. Imagine a photo of “Jason at the Washington Monument” and it’s a photos of the full height monument, and at the bottom is a little spec with a red shirt – me.

There is a high walkway in the Udvar-Hazy, equivalent to a third floor. From this walkway you can look down the hall toward the Space Shuttle Discovery, its nose pointed right at you. The Wife waited up on this walkway while I headed down to stand next to the shuttle, to be the little red dot.

As I made my way down the hall, the shuttle loomed before me, growing in size as I approached. I passed people stopping to take photos, themselves large in the frame with the shuttle small in the background. I’m over a hundred feet away and my vision begins to blur. I rub my eyes and my hands come away wet. As I get closer, tears begin to roll. When I get to the shuttle it is undeniable, I am crying. And I can’t seem to stop.

I walk away from the shuttle and climb the stairs to meet up with The Wife. When I get to the top I’ve gotten control of myself and we finish touring the airplanes. When we return to the space wing, the feelings still well up, but they don’t explode out of me again.

We picked a good day to be here… well, picked is a strong work, lucked would be better. The United States Navy Band Commodores were giving a free concert in the hanger. It was lovely.

Then we went to Wal-Mart. Every vacation has to have its less than glorious moments.

Washington DC: Day 1

We arrived in the nation’s capitol just after 6pm. Quickly we settled into the 1 bedroom apartment we’d rented for the week, cleaned up a little after the 7 hour drive and headed out to dinner.

The Wife wanted to go to Hard Rock, mostly to visit and add a shirt to her collection, but we decided to eat as well. We were staying at a place on the corner of E & 10th NE. The Hard Rock is on the corner of E & 10th NW. That makes it roughly 20 or so blocks away, 2 miles. We walked.

Washington DC is a beautiful city. There is a ton of history here and lots of old buildings. Perhaps I just haven’t hung around the right neighborhoods in Atlanta but that town never had that sort of presence to me. The first 10 blocks of our journey, from our temporary home to Union Station, was through a primarily residential area. Lots of homes with little gardens on their front steps. A few were for sale and we talked about how cool it would be to live here. I picked up the flyer for one of these homes. 2 bedrooms, 1.5 baths, kitchen, den… $800,000. Well, maybe after we win the lottery.

Once we passed Union Station we cross from the NE to the NW side, and the once declining street numbers started to rise. I don’t know if I have ever encountered this before. It seems like it would be sort of confusing… says the guy from Atlanta, land of a thousand Peachtree Streets.

This side was pretty much all business, but rather than the skyscraping towers of glass and steel you might get elsewhere, here the buildings all have a more storied and solid look. The city feels grand even though it isn’t tall. The business side also has homeless people. And a couple of sketchy areas, especially during the walk back after dark. Even so, I never felt in danger, but then I’m a guy and I’ve been told a semi-scary looking one too. It’s the shaved head and goatee.

It’s nice to be in walking distance of so much and I look forward to exploring over the next week here. I brought two pairs of shoes but I suspect I’ll be wearing the hiking boots most of the time. I like the look of my black sneakers and they are good for the office, but the padding is inadequate for long foot journeys. The Wife brought six pairs of shoes, none of them are hiking boots. And our first night walking she chose to wear sandals.

The blisters are epic. The last block or two I thought I was going to have to carry her, or leave her behind to save myself. Luckily we weren’t being chased by Nazis or zombies or Nazi zombies or zombie Nazis – there is a difference, one are Nazis who died and reanimated, the other are zombies who decided to become Nazis – so I didn’t have to make that choice, just walk a bit more slowly.

We returned to the apartment and tumbled into bed.

All Running, All the Time

Since I tend to want to approach games with the thought of immersing myself into the world, I tend to do weird stuff.  At least, things other people think are weird.  Like, while playing the game Red Dead Redemption, I never used the camping method of fast travel until after I’d completed the story and was just chasing achievements.  I used the wagons, and I even did the thing there you hit the button, John says “I’m going to sleep” and you skip the travel parts, because, you know, that made sense.  But setting up a campfire and a tent, and suddenly being halfway across the game world… immersion breaking.

With that in mind, you can imagine how I feel about logging into an MMO and finding a world where everyone is running, full speed, all the time.  The funny things is, back in my days of EverQuest, people were more apt to switch over to walking, at least while in town and perhaps a little more pliable to role-playing as opposed to when they were sitting in a group on a wall whacking mobs for experience and loot.  In World of Warcraft, however, I don’t think I ever saw a person walk until I went to the RP labeled servers.

In my perfect MMO, walking would be the norm, and every player would have an endurance bar.  There wouldn’t just be walking and running either, there would be varying speeds you could toggle/cycle through.  Walking to fast walking to jogging to running to sprinting, each having an increasing effect on endurance drain.  And players could get bonuses to endurance recovery, and even reductions in endurance drain for special situations.  Like, if you just switch over to sprinting for no reason at all, endurance would drain at X rate, but if you enter into combat and your adrenaline is now pumping, sprinting would drain endurance at, perhaps, X/2 rate, allowing you to sprint longer to flee an overpowered NPC foe.

I’ve yet to decide if this endurance would be used in other places, like fighting for example, but I’m leaning toward not.  At least not the same endurance pool anyway.

Two Kinds of Time Travel

As I am prone to do, I spent an inordinate amount of time over the weekend considering the concept of Time Travel.  Central to any and all discussions of time travel, once you’ve accepted the possibility of it, is the paradox.

The most common of which can be described simply: you build a time machine, go back in time to before you built it and stop yourself from building it.

If you stop yourself from building a time machine then you can’t have stopped yourself from building it, so you will build it and can then go stop yourself…  It’s confusing to even talk about because impossible logical loops make most people’s brains hurt.  You’ve heard this before, though probably more in the “go back and kill your grandfather” mode where you actually prevent yourself from being born and then wouldn’t be alive to travel back and prevent yourself from being born which means you’d be alive, and so on…

So, taking that into account, there exists only two kinds of time travel that are logically possible.

The Closed Loop

In the closed loop, you can’t change anything.  If you were to go back in time to try to prevent yourself from building the time machine, you will, in some fashion, fail at your task.  In fact, unless you recall someone trying to stop you when you were building your time machine, not only will you fail, you won’t even get to try.

Going with the grandfather example.  Your grandfather tells you a story about this one time he was almost hit by a car, but he jumped clear, the car swerved, drove off an embankment and the driver died in a fiery wreck.  When you are older, you build a time machine and on your journey you decide to visit your grandfather as a young man, you see him on the street, lose control of the car you are driving, almost hit him but he dives clear, the car swerves and drives over an embankment and you die in a fiery wreck.

What makes the closed loop interesting as a story telling device is that no matter how much evidence you provide that things cannot be changed, the reader, along with your protagonist, will fight you and insist that it can be changed.  The challenge of using a closed loop is craft the story in such a fashion that even though the inevitable inevitably happens and nothing changes, nothing changing turns out to be what needed to happen to get the resolution the story demands.  The book and movie The Time Traveler’s Wife actually handles the closed loop very well.  It manages to tell a compelling love story while both characters experience it in different orders, and even with every event being unchangeable the expectations of the audience is twisted to keep elements of it surprising.  In fact, the only real sticking point it has (the lottery ticket) is handle well enough that it still fits within a closed loop design.

The Parallel Reality

In this kind of time travel, you can change things, but by doing so you create a separate reality.  You build a time machine, you travel back and then you successfully prevent yourself from building a time machine… but you still have the one you built, so you hop back in and return to your own time, two weeks from this moment, only to discover you are now at the correct time, but in a world where you didn’t invent the time machine.  You are an anomaly, because the other you, the one without a time machine, is still hanging around – he doesn’t have a time machine to get into a vanish with unless he steals yours.

Meanwhile, back in the world that you left after building your time machine, you’ve gone missing.  Once people notice, police reports are filed and searches are made, and eventually you become a segment of a TV show like Unsolved Mysteries about a man who vanished without a trace.

Here is where it gets complicated.  You decide you want to go home, so you travel back in time again and prevent yourself from preventing yourself from building the time machine.  Assuming that in your original timeline there were no attempts at all by other versions of yourself to stop you, that you are the “prime” reality, the world you are in right now still isn’t home.  While the you in this reality has just built a time machine and sailed off into history to stop himself from building a time machine, you are standing in a world where not only do you (you prime) exist, but there is also an unconscious you (only because we assume that you didn’t kill the other you to stop him from stopping you) sitting on the ground.  There are two anomaly yous (and third you who just vanished into history is about to go create more yous).  The end result of these actions is that there will exist worlds without you and worlds with two yous (unless you do actually kill you to stop you, you bastard), on into infinity until you decide to stop trying to stop yourself.

This form of time travel intrigues me because I like the idea that you can’t change your own past, but you can change the past of another version of you.  Imagine if you were building your time machine so you could prevent the death of a loved one.  When you leave your own time, the world continues on with the loved one still dead and now with you missing, but in a parallel reality you save the loved one, everything is different, except you, who knows the loss parallel you will never know, and he’s knowing non-loss that you can only observe (unless you kill parallel you and take his place).

Other Possibilities

Of course, there are more theories, but most of those require mental gymnastics or forgiveness of giant flaws that make them feel of much lesser quality that the two I’ve illustrated.  Most commonly used is the “reality fixes itself” idea, that the world changes around you when you alter the past, but it only does this by pretending that paradoxes don’t exists.  You stop yourself from building a time machine and your machine vanishes and you are suddenly you again, only now you didn’t build a time machine… but do you remember doing it?  If you don’t, why wouldn’t you just do it again?  Or are we accepting that whatever you did to stop yourself was enough to convince you to never even attempt it?  If you do remember it, are you just going to sit on that knowledge?  When things go wrong in the future, why not just build that time machine and go fix it?

As much as I love the Back To The Future trilogy, if I spend too much time thinking about them, I get irritated.  By the end, if Doc Brown is a commended scientist, respected in his work, then would he have been building a time machine using plutonium he has to swindle from Libyan terrorists?  If Marty’s family is well off, he has the girl and the truck and his band is doing well, would he be hanging around Doc Brown at all?  They even go to the extent of explaining in the second film that since the future has been altered they can’t go forward to fix time, they need to go back to prevent the divergence.  Only before they go back and fix the divergence, wouldn’t there have a been a Marty that went to 1955 from the first film who returned to 1985 AFTER old Biff from the future had changed things but BEFORE having gone to the future himself?  There would have to be, since old Biff gives young Biff the book and alters time BEFORE Marty from the first film leaves 1955.  That said, in the future, after old Biff returns… wait… how did he return to a future that doesn’t happen anymore?  He changed it by going back and giving himself the book.  Old Biff should have gone to the future of alternate 1985, not the future of original 1985.  And how did Marty get to alternate 1985 from the future anyway?  Wasn’t he in the original timeline?  They leave Jennifer on a porch in alternate 1985 because “reality will change around her”, but then why didn’t reality change around them in the future after old Biff dropped the book off to young Biff?  I’m going to stop now.  BTTF is great fun.  I’m going to go back to enjoying it now and not analyzing it.

Most times it’s best just to avoid time travel altogether.  And yet, I am fascinated by the concept and keep trying, unsuccessfully thus far, to craft a time travel tale.  Someday…

Fantasy Fantasy MMO

If I were to set about trying to build yet another fantasy MMORPG, here is what I would do…

I’d start with EVE Online.  There are many reasons for this, the first being that I don’t mind having zones.  Lots of people will tell you that you have to have a giant seamless world, but I always ask them “What seamless worlds are you playing in?”  They always say World of Warcraft.  But they are only half right.  Yes, you can run from one end of a continent to the other without zoning.  You can fly on a griffin or other travel beast and cross no zone lines.  But how do you play the game?  Most people are in instances, dungeons and battlegrounds, and crossing from one continent to another makes you zone.  Warcraft has seams, they’ve just gone a long way to hide them from you.  EVE does too, but thankfully for them their Sci-Fi setting makes it easy to throw up gates and wormholes and faster than light travel and hide them in plain sight.  In my fantasy world, I’d have large sprawling zones.  Some zones would be city zones where a large city rests at the center and is surrounded by farmland and sparse wilderness.  Some zones would be town zones where it is mostly wilderness with a sprinkling of small villages and towns, two to five per zone, just a small cluster of buildings or an inn at a cross roads.  And some zones would be full on wilderness with caves and dungeons and evil.

Players would be able to own and run the small villages and towns, possibly even city blocks in the large cities (but not the whole city – the advantage of controlling part of a city would be in the nearness of so many other people, the disadvantage would be that you have to share the city – think of cities as being the trade hubs of the game).

When you want to leave a zone, you would go to a “crossroads”, of which there might be several on each zone at the edges.  From the crossroads you would use the signpost and it would tell you which zones you could get to from here.  Players would be allowed to choose if their journey was “safe” or “unsafe”.  A “safe” journey would simply zone you directly to your destination.  An “unsafe” journey would randomly generate an adventure zone with one or more encounters that you would need to cross.  These unsafe adventure zones would have two exits, one where you start would be back to where you came from and the one at the other end (not necessarily the opposite side, the path through could wind around and end up anywhere on the zone perimeter) would take you to your destination.

The point here is that there would exist in the game shared content raids (the zones I mentioned earlier with caves and dungeons and evil) with spawn timers and event cycles and so on, and there would exist instanced travel content where a player or group of players (or raid full of players) could go thwart evil unhindered by other players (an added bonus could be that clearing a road of bandits and other nasties could have an impact on the prices of NPC trade goods between the two end points of the journey).  As well there could also be “pocket” zones that would work more like traditional instances in other game – perhaps players, from a village or town, can accept a posted bounty or task that sends them either immediately into their own instance or directs them to a nearby crossroads where they can select their instance from the signpost.

Of course, I’m just spit-balling here.  But I think this sort of thing would be a very interesting idea to pursue.  Another day, I’ll go into how I’d apply EVE’s character design/building to a fantasy game as well…

Indiana Jones and the City of Gold

No, this isn’t news about some lame 5th Indiana Jones movie, nor is it an announcement of an upcoming video game. What follows is simply how I would have done the 4th Indiana Jones movie instead of what got made: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Some elements will be very similar to the movie you know, but other elements will be radically different. So, sit back and enjoy and I regale you with the tale of how Dr. Henry Jones Jr. gets mixed up with El Dorado…

We open on the Paramount logo, which fades into a slide projected picture in class. A teacher lectures, a door opens, and a boy about 17 or 18 years of age, wearing a leather jacket, sticks his head into the room. “May I help you, young man?” “I’m looking for Dr. Jones.” We follow the boy as he heads down the hall, a class lets out, “Dr. Jones?” he asks of someone, they point him into the class room. He enters, but no one is there, the door on the far side of the room shuts. He follows, out among the students, across the quad, and to the office on Dr. Henry Jones Jr. – Archeology. The interior is filled with students, the boy asks the secretary if Dr. Jones is in and she indicates he’ll need to wait. The boy looks unhappy with that answer and leaves.

Inside Jones’ office, he and the dean are speak. Dr. Jones has passed up another opportunity for field work, the dean says, “I know the past couple of years have been rough, with the loss of your father and Marcus” (cut to photos on the desk) “but you can’t hide in your classroom, and the University needs its head Archaeologist to go out and occasionally discover something, or at least research and publish.” They talk more leaving Henry under the orders that he has to find something else beyond just teaching his classes. The dean leaves. Just as Jones relaxes a little, the boy climbs in his window.

The boy introduces himself as Walt Williams, and explains he needs to talk to him about Harold Oxley… we get some back story here about how after Walt’s dad died, he and his mom, Mary, stayed with Oxley. Some months ago, Oxley went to South America in search of something. A couple months later, his mother got a letter asking her to come down and bring some things with her. That was a couple weeks ago that she left, and Walt got a letter from his mother telling him to find Dr. Henry Jones at Barnett College, which he did. Walt says, “Look, there’s more. Can we go somewhere?” Jones looks at his door and we hear the sounds of people waiting to see him. Both men leave through the window.

At a diner, they talk a little more, Oxley was looking for El Dorado, the City of Gold. The letter from his mother said Oxley was in trouble, there are some notes in the margins which Walt thinks might refer to some of Oxley’s books. Jones notices a couple men in suits watching them, one has a gun. They get up to leave, the suits get up to block them, Jones has Walt start a fight to cover their escape. A chase scene ensues with several men in suits trying to catch them. They evade capture.

Map overlay – travel to Chicago.

At Oxley’s home, they quickly run through the clues on the letter. Those written within the letter give them info on where to find them, Mary and Oxley, where they’ve gone. The clues in the margin which are more difficult indicate that Jones should not come. He’s about to tell Walt to take the location information to the US Embassy to get the authorities involved when he discovers that Mary Williams is actually Marion Ravenwood. He agrees to go, although Walt has his doubts that Jones is going to able to do much if his mother really is in trouble.

Map overlay – travel to Peru.

Here they find where Marion and Oxley have been and where they were headed. Again they are followed by men in suits who now have thugs in more casual attire as well as native guides. They discover they need to go to Brazil after sorting through what they find (at one point, Walt slips a small sack into his backpack when Indy isn’t looking), and Indy says he “knows a guy” who can probably help them. Indy meets up with Jock (pilot from the opening scenes of Raiders) who says he can’t fly Indy to Brazil, but puts him in touch with a group who will take him by truck. Unknown to Jock, the guys he knows are working with the men in suits.

Map overlay – travel to Brazil.

Indy and Walt get out of the truck and find themselves surrounded. Pull back to show the men in suits, Indy appears to look around, beyond the men and says, “Didn’t you guys lose?” and gets hit with the butt of a gun. Pull back farther to reveal their camp, complete with Nazi symbols.

Dr. Jones wakes up restrained, bound at the hands and feet. The Nazi in charge explains that Indiana Jones is somewhat of a legend among the SS, while historians may decide that many different things lead to the downfall of the Third Reich, those with the knowledge know that ultimately it was the denial of true power… the Ark, the Grail… that lead to their defeat. He explains that when they find El Dorado, they will have all the money they need to rebuild, to start the Fourth Reich, that thanks to ODESSA many officers of the SS are in South America just waiting for the call to arms, that when they rise, Germany, though defeated, will stand behind them again. But in order to win, they need to fulfill the prophesy, to bring the Crystal Skull to the City of Gold, and that they were just waiting for Jones to bring them the skull. “Well, you’re out of luck, if it exists, I don’t have it.” “No?” The Nazi opens Walt’s bag, opens the small sack from Peru and reveals the skull. “The best part, Dr. Jones, is that in the past, we have needed you… to find the Ark, to find the Grail… but the Fourth Reich, to find El Dorado, we have Dr. Oxley, so we don’t need you.” They pack up most of camp, load Walt into a truck and the Nazi tells Jones, “I’d kill you myself, Dr. Jones, but I’m afraid someone else will get that honor.” and they load him into a different truck. The main group heads off one way, Jones’ truck head in another.

Action scene, Jones fights men in truck and turns it around.

The Nazi brings Walt and the skull to a new camp, Walt is reunited with Marion and the skull is given to Oxley. Marion asks when Jones is, Walt says that he was to be executed. Marion gets very angry. Walt and Marion are locked up. The Nazi takes Oxley and the skull and begins to threaten him about leading them to the City. Walt manages to get free of his bonds, frees Marion and knocks out a guard. He and Marion are trying to sneak out of camp, another guard is coming up behind them. A truck comes smashing through camp and hits the guard. Its Jones. “Get in! Where’s Oxley?” Short action sequence of getting Oxley and the skull, the four of them drive off in the truck. They stop, pursuit vehicles are heard. Everyone gets out and Jones rigs the truck to drive straight and they hide in the jungle. A couple of jeeps and motorcycles drive past after the truck.

Oxley explains that even though they have the skull, the Nazis know how to find the city, but if they can get there first, the skull is rumored to have the power to destroy the city. So they go.

They reach the city, but so do the Nazis. The City of Gold isn’t really made of gold, but instead all the walls have yellow crystals in them, as the sun begins to rise, the light begins to shine in the city making the entire thing talk on a gold colored shimmer from the crystals. Jones and company race through the ancient city occasionally fighting and occasionally avoiding soldiers, eventually they reach the main temple. Inside there is much gold, real gold, on the walls and in the chambers. They reach the central chamber to find a room surrounded by thrones. They try to understand what to do with the skull, but the Nazi arrives. “So, looks like I’ll get to kill you after all, Dr. Jones.” Indy uses his whip to disarm the Nazi, but the Nazi uses the whip to pull Jones off balance. Other soldiers enter but the Nazi holds them off, preferring to take Jones alone. They start to fight.

During the confusion, Marion, Walt and Oxley slip off behind one of the huge thrones. While Jones fights, the others try to figure out the room. Light begins to pour in from a hole in the ceiling. The crystals are reflecting/refracting the sunlight causing a beam to shine down into the center of the chamber where a chest high pillar sits. As Walt looks on, the Nazi gets hold of Jones’ arm and forces his head down onto the pillar. “I know what to do.” Walt says, “Give me the skull.” Jones breaks free of the Nazi and gets in a few good shots. The soldiers look on. Walt comes running out and places the skull on to the pillar and with his hands on the sides, aims it toward the soldiers. The light from the ceiling pours into the top of the skull and beams of light shoot out of its eyes, burning the soldiers like lasers, setting them afire. He turns, Jones takes a hit and falls, the beams cross over the Nazi and he screams. Jones gets up and looks around the room. Chest high, in the main throne is a hole, he puts the skull back into the column of light and aims the eyes toward the hole. The beams shoot out of the eyes and reflect off something there and go downward. The Nazi stand up, his face and hands burned. He looks at the skull, “The power of the skull…” “… can be used to destroy the City of Gold” Oxley says as he and Marion step down. The ground begins to shake. Indy, Walt, Marion and Oxley run from the chamber, out of the temple, trying to leave the city as it begins to fall apart behind them. The Nazi takes the skull from the pillar, but the rumbling doesn’t stop. “The power of the skull is mine.” And they run, Jones hypothesizes that the heat from the beam must have triggered something that is literally tearing the city apart.

Jones and company run from the city in time to see the retaining wall at the far end of the valley in which the city rests collapse. They climb and beat the waters as the city is buried beneath them taking the Fourth Reich with it. “That was clever, kid”, Jones tells Walt, “that bit with the light and skull. Clever. And Quick. That’s one smart kid you’ve got here Marion.” “He gets that from his father.” then through a bit of clever dialog which I can’t work out at the moment, it is revealed that Walt is Henry Walton Jones III.

As with that last little bit, obviously I’ve left out pretty much all the dialog. Throughout, much like, although much better than, Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, I’d want to see Jones getting close to the kid, and when Marion arrives, a bit of witty banter that shows the old spark is still alive (I actually loved the bit where Indy said that all the girls after Marion hadn’t worked out because “They weren’t you”). I wouldn’t, however, end the film with a cheesy wedding scene. Just a smile, maybe a wink.

Anyway… that’s essentially how I would have preferred to see the new Indiana Jones film go instead of the gophers, monkeys and aliens we got… oh well.

The Sarah Connor Chronicles

11 out of 13 nots
for Terminator fighting awesomeness

When I first heard about the new TV show The Sarah Connor Chronicles, I was excited.  I love the Terminator movies, and I always wanted to know more about the points in between, particularly the gap from Terminator 2 to Terminator 3.  However, after watching the premier episode, I was left with a general “meh” attitude.  The show certainly didn’t suck.  It wasn’t garbage, but it also lacked a certain pizazz I was hoping for.

I’m glad I stuck with the show, because in my opinion it got much better… more after the break.

Read more

The Whole Wide World

If you have played any MMO, you have likely run into a quest that needed you to circumnavigate the world to finish it. Visit some guru in a far off place or take a note to an officer in some city’s army, whatever. You have also likely found a time when you wanted to group with someone who you grouped with yesterday, but today find them to be on another continent. If the game had no travel assistance, like run speed enhancements or teleports or griffin mounts, you probably got a bit annoyed at the twenty or thirty or sixty minutes all this running around was going to take you.

And, if you are like most people out there, you probably wanted them to fix the travel issue with instant travel teleports so that you only had to travel a couple minutes to a portal, port, then a couple minutes to your destination, at most.

In my opinion, though, the problem here has been misidentified and the solution is completely ass backward. The problem is not the travel time, the problem is that you have to travel.

Travel should, to me, be a non-trivial task, like it is in the real world. If you need to run errands in your life, don’t you try to get a few of them together and make one travel loop getting them all done and returning home at the end? I know I do, and that’s because I don’t want to go out and come back for each item, especially if those items are far away. To that end, I try to do things near home if I can, or if I find I’m always going far away for stuff to move my home closers to my interests.

This is the problem with most games: not enough content close to “home” for the player. There should be content for solo, groups, raids, PvE, PvP, every level, every class, whatever boundaries exist in the game within a reasonable distance from “home”. Now, what is a reasonable distance is another argument altogether, but for now we’ll just vaguely say that reasonable is “a travel time for which the majority of players feel no disappointment in making both there and back”.

A long while back, I started down the road in my design thought processes of what I refer to as a “town-centric” design. (If you are so inclided, you can go read the thread and my posts over at the MMO Round Table.) And I still hold that, in my opinion, this is the best way to design a game: start with the player’s home and radiate content out from there. At some point if a player tires of one town, they can move to another town, at which point they will have all the content they need around the new town, all within a reasonable distance from the new town.

I love travel in games, and sometimes just for travel’s sake, but I hate when travel becomes a barrier to fun.

A butterfly flaps its wings…

I went out on Saturday and saw The Butterfly Effect at the theater. And wow. It was good.

If you don’t know, the story is simple enough, a man is able to "travel" back into his past to try to fix what went wrong, but sometimes when he thinks he’s doing right, the world spins out of control more.

The movie was well written, filmed, and all that. It was just solidly good.

Oh, and Ashton Kutcher, to my surprise, can actually act.