Inspiration and Cloning

There are only seven stories in the world. Or so the old saying goes. Every book you read, movie you see or game you play, the plot can be boiled down to one of those original stories or a combination of them, the only thing you get with new stuff is to see it played out in different ways. And to be honest, this is a good thing. Throughout the ages, people have been producing things and inspiring others to produce other things. And in most instances, out-and-out copying was considered fraud.

There is only one Mona Lisa. You can own a reproduction of it. But if someone were to paint a new painting that looked exactly like the Mona Lisa, except with a different signature, people would call it out as uninspired or even criminal.

Cloning in video games is getting enough attention that the New York Times is covering it. It’s one thing to say “I’m going to make a first person shooter” and complete another to take Halo, copy every single thing about it, put a new name on it, maybe tint the textures and call it a new game.

I don’t want to get into the subject too heavily, but there is a quote on the second page of the article I linked that I wanted to call out.

The issue of copying, Mr. Schappert said, is not unique to games, but for the entertainment industry as a whole. He compared the game industry to the movie industry, where new films always borrow ideas from older ones.

“The winner is the one with the best ideas, the best script writing, the best actors, the best cinematography,” he said. “It’s the same thing here. We have to earn the engagement of the consumer. This is entertainment.”

Only, it isn’t like that at all. What these game companies are doing isn’t borrowing ideas. It would be like Universal Studios or Sony Pictures sending people to Sundance to watch independent films from small production companies, record the film with a hand-held camera, not buy them for distribution, come back home, transcribe the script, make up storyboards from the video, cast A-list stars, land a top-notch director, and then produce a $50,000,000 version of the $200,000 film they saw at Sundance.

There is a fine line between cloning and inspiration. Some of these game companies are absolutely crossing it.

The happy secret to better work

Let me begin with a video. Take 12 minutes and 21 seconds and watch it. I’ll be here when you are done.

I love TED talks. I’ve posted a number of them before. This one, however, struck a chord with me because it touches on ideas that I have had for myself for years.

Be happy now, not later.

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a short post about my philosophy on work. Whether you saw it at the time, the central premise behind it is that you should be happy with the job you have while you have it, even if you don’t like it and are looking for something else. Being happy with your job, even if it is just being happy with doing your job well although the job itself sucks, is the beginning of a ripple that will affect everything else in your life and everyone around you. You might hate your job, but face it, if the boss pulls you aside to tell you how awesome you are at the job, you feel great. And if your job is managing people, remember that telling people about the good things they do can actually have an impact on places they need to improve. Lead with bad news, then close with a few comments about the good stuff they do. You’ll actually bolster their spirit and that alone may be enough for them to improve in those problem areas. If all you do is yell at an employee, perhaps you should do both of you a favor and let them go, because your constant berating and never telling them anything positive is, for most people, actually going to make them perform worse, not better.

There is an old saying about crying over spilt milk and how you shouldn’t do it that no one these days really understands because who would ever cry over spilt milk? But the point of the saying is another thing I’ve talked about for years. The point is, once the milk is spilt, just clean it up. You gain nothing from being distraught or upset over the loss of the milk. It’s trivial. It’s not like a parent died or anything. Too many people spend too much time worrying about and being upset at things that have already happened and can’t be changed. They wind themselves up in knots, making themselves unhappy over past failures when they should be accepting them, learning from them, and moving forward.

Now, that doesn’t mean people shouldn’t care about stuff that happened, but it does mean that you shouldn’t let it cripple you. And you aren’t going to just wipe it off and move on like nothing happened. No, the point is that you understand what happened, resolve to do better, and integrate the experience into who you are to make you better. Why did you spill the milk? Could it have been avoided? In the future, let’s try not to spill milk.

But how do we get better and being better?

The sticking point for most people is that everything they’ve been taught in their lives has led them to the road described in the video: that happiness comes after success.

I suggest taking to heart the list at the end of the video. You need to actively work at changing the way you approach life. Make sure you take the time to acknowledge and dwell on the positive good things in your life and not spend all your time focusing on problems and the stress of working toward future success and future happiness.

If you need a little push, you might consider giving SuperBetter a try. Jane McGonigal has been pushing “gamification” for a long time, and she’s finally unveiled her new project. This website isn’t going to fix your life, but if you work it you might find that using your old/current mindset of chasing achievements can be redirected into things that may help you be happier now and not later.

I haven’t spent much time at that site, so I can’t speak on its effectiveness. But if you know me, or can sleuth out my email from the site, feel free to hit me up as an ally.

It’s not about the price tag

But it is about the tag. Or tags.

Back in the day, you just blogged and put it in a category. Then came the ability to throw a single post into multiple categories. Then… I’m not sure when, maybe with livejournal or similar sites, we started tagging posts with moods. “happy” wasn’t a category, but you’d have posts in many categories tagged as such. Over time, tags became more formalized, and with Web 2.0 and SEO (that’s Search Engine Optimization for the uninitiated) they became more important than categories.

Much like I still often refer to this place as a “weblog” instead of a “blog”, I tend to resist change, mostly because I hate change for changes sake. If it has purpose though… well, after years of ignoring the tagging features of the blog software’s I’ve used, I’ve finally caved in. This site will now be tagged.

To assist me with this, I’ve installed an auto-tagging plugin and this morning I ran it on all the old posts to see how it would do. It did horribly. And now I’m too lazy to spend too much time fixing it. It created over 4,000 tags for my just over 1,400 posts, and some of them are really stupid. I installed a second plugin that recommended I erase about 2,900 of those tags, and I did. However, going forward, I’ll spend the effort to better police the auto-tagging and make corrections as appropriate. In the meantime, enjoy the word cloud on my blog over on the right entitled “Partly Cloudy”. If I enjoy the tags, I’ll get a better plugin for them later.

And in order to spice up this otherwise boring post, enjoy this music video:

Kiva

In my life, I’ve often wanted to give to charities, but I tend to hold back because I just don’t know what they will do with the money. I’ve seen horror stories of foundations with administrative costs that strip 90% or more of every donation, meaning very little actually goes to the cause. And then there is stuff like the recent Kony 2012/Invisible Children thing where it apparently looks like a good idea, but the money is actually going to people who are guilty of many of the same abuses that they claim to be against.

But Kiva, from every source I can find, appears reputable. And it isn’t your usual “give and forget” kind of thing. The way it works is this:

  1. You put money into your fund.
  2. You loan money to people.
  3. They pay it back.
  4. You get to loan the money out again.

In this way, every time you can afford to toss a little money into your fund, say a few bucks a month, you are growing the account. If you put in $25 this year and next year you put in another $25, you now have $50. And with most people repaying in about a year, if you were to put in $25 a month for 12 months, you would be able to keep lending $25 a month, every month, forever.

If you’ve been hesitant to join up with Kiva, they are running a promotion right now where you get $25 for free if you take an invite from an existing person through a special link. Like this one. I’ve also decided to start up a team where we can pool our resources and track our contributions. If you want to join it, go here.

Especially with this latest promotion, there’s almost no reason not to join Kiva. So, why not?

Worth Doing Well

Any job worth doing is worth doing well.

Any job with acceptable compensation (be it monetary, spiritual, emotional or other) is worth doing.

Any job I take on will have acceptable compensation. (I don’t intentionally commit myself to things that I know I will hate doing and gain no form of reward from.)

So, by the transitive property, any job I take on is worth doing well.

If you live your life by these simple rules, it is possible that you might have a job that sucks, but you should never suck at your job. If you find yourself being terrible at your job, you either need to find a way to be better at it or find a job that is a better fit. By knowingly, willingly being terrible at your job, you are choosing to make your own life worse and having a negative impact on everyone you interact with. Conversely, by doing your job well, you will have a positive impact on the people you interact with, and that, in turn, has a chance of making you feel that your job doesn’t suck.

Lately

Because I know my readers are so very interested in everything I do…

Shakefire.comI’m a writer for Shakefire, and in the last couple of months here is what I’ve written:

I kinda suck as reviewing music. I like reviewing movies more, and hopefully in the future I’ll be given more movies and less music.

Anyway, in the future I plan to post one of these round ups once a month or so, when I remember to do it.

Planning, Packing, and Points Between

I go to Dragon*Con every year. Despite the fact that we live in Atlanta (or near enough to it), we book a room at one of the host hotels and stay downtown for the weekend. It’s like a half-vacation. We go, we have a great time and love every minute of it, but we aren’t really “going on vacation”. Six years ago, I took another non-vacation. An overnight really. We drove to Savannah on Monday, stayed the night, and drove back Tuesday. That was our wedding. A couple of years before that, we did a long weekend in Savannah. You’d have to go back to, I believe, 2003 to find a real vacation-vacation in my life. We went to Cozumel for 5 days. And before that, we went to Mardi Gras in 2001.

On Saturday, the wife and I will be heading up to a little cabin we rented in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. We’ll be coming back on Wednesday. Five days and four nights, away from home, in another state. It’s been about nine years but we are finally going on vacation.

When we go to Dragon*Con, the weekend is pretty well mapped out. There are panels and parties. I’m on staff. It is, as far as vacations go, pretty regimented. When he did Cozumel way back when, there was little plan. We had a hotel, all-inclusive, and that was it. I’d been to Cozumel before and mostly just gone to beaches and bars and the usual stuff (I was part of a group of 30 people who went together). But this time it was just us. One day we rented a jeep and just went driving around the island. We found some unoccupied beaches and a little restaurant on the windward side of the island. It was great.

This time around, I’m aiming for something in between. The final day we have to check out of the cabin early anyway, so we are just going to check out really early and drive over to Asheville and visit The Biltmore, and then head back home that night. Either on the day up, or one of the three middle days, we’re planning to spend some time touring the Great Smoky Arts & Crafts Community. We also plan to do some hiking, and of course a little casual relaxing. It’s cold here, and we are going north, so I expect some time spent in front of a roaring fire might be in order. And as weird as it sounds, we are planning to curl up and watch the Academy Awards on Sunday night. We don’t have cable TV anymore, so events like this are something we don’t get to watch at home.

The cabin has a kitchen, and we are trying to plan some meals to cook and foods to take with us for snacking, though we probably will eat out at a couple of places that have been recommended to us. We are driving up, so the only limitation is what we can fit into the Jeep Cherokee.

And then we get to packing clothes. It is still winter, so we’ll dress warm, maybe throw in an extra couple of sweaters and make sure we take our jackets. There are no plans to do anything super fancy so no suits or cocktail dresses.

I’m very excited about the whole thing, probably more than I should be.

Oh Captain, My Captain

I am the Captain

One ugly mutha fu--

I have long said that I think EVE Online is one of the best MMO game designs out there. Being able to train skills while offline and the entire game being of the “you are what you wear” style where you can take a character with all the skills in the world but if you put him in the shittiest new player frigate, he’s not much better than a new player in the shittiest new player frigate – aside from game knowledge and actual skill at playing. The one thing that always irked me about EVE though is that, essentially, you play a ship.

Yeah, you get to make a picture for yourself, and with the newer expansions you can now walk around in your captain’s quarters. Did they add space station ambulation yet? But for most of the game, you are a ship. A ship with no crew but you.

Two years ago, Cryptic launched Star Trek Online. I had played in the beta, but it hadn’t impressed me enough to be worth $15 a month. But now it’s gone “Free to Play” and I’ve gone back in. They’ve made some updates and I like what I’m seeing.

I am the Captain

The major element that makes STO good, for me, is that I am just the guy in charge. I’m not the ship. Yes, when I do ship combat the difference between Star Trek and EVE are fairly trivial, but to me they are important. The graphics lend themselves to the idea that I’m not actually in a 3rd person view of the ship, but that I’m at the helm looking at a simulation of what all my sensors are telling me. There are pictures of my crew at the bottom of the screen, on whom I can call to use their special abilities to assist in the battle.

Every bit of this game makes me feel like I am leading a team, as opposed to that I’m controlling a single unit. And it feels good.

When we get to ground combat, I have my Away Team, which other games would call henchmen. Except I get to train them and equipment. I get to build, to raise a team to get the job done. I know their names, and when I get new gear or they earn experience, I get excited to help them be better crew members.

Aside from the senior officers, there are also duty officers. Not originally part of the game, they are probably one of my favorite bits of it now. I find tasks that need doing, either on board the ship or away, and I assign my crew to do them. Picking the right crew is important as it affects the outcomes, and when they succeed they bring in experience, credits, items and more. Critical successes can result in double rewards or even buffs for me and our ship. Most importantly, it is another thing that makes me feel like a captain. (I also earned a couple of levels on my character just by logging in a few minutes a day and using my Duty Officers during a week or so when I couldn’t play for real.)

Until the Next Episode

Recently, the MMO world has been abuzz with Star Wars: The Old Republic, and mostly for their focus on story. By this, people really mean that you get to choose answers to dialog trees that lead you toward either the dark or the light. For me, that is completely uninteresting because I would probably 99% of the time pick the light side answer. In general, I just don’t play games to be the bad guy. I like being the hero, and face it, the Sith side aren’t the heroes.

For me, good story simply means it’s told well enough that I become engaged to the story. And one thing Star Trek Online does well is tell engaging stories – if you read them, that is. Although, some missions do have voice overs. But another thing they do that I like is that their “accept” answers are simple, matter of fact “Accept this mission” and “Beam down to planet” and not more involved, essentially putting words in my mouth. I like it when my MMO lets me be me, instead of trying to tell me who I am (I’m looking directly at you, Cataclysm Goblin Starter Area).

Even more, while the game does have its share of random and daily quests (we’ll come back to those in a second), there are chunks of content that are doled out in episodic form. I sit down, start the next episode, and in a half hour to an hour, I’ve played out a whole plot. Very much like an episode of a Star Trek TV show. I love it!

The Non-Repetitive Dailies

Some games have implemented a form of Daily Quest, things you can do once a day, every day. In a few games it is literally the same quest over and over. In other games, it’s a selection of quests that rotate through on a schedule – it looks random at first, but every one is getting the same random quest, so what’s really happening is that the server is cycling through a list of quests.

STOs Daily Quests are more along the lines of what you would expect from a foundation of a continuing mission to seek out new life and new civilizations. You are asked to go to a cluster or sector of space, seek out random spawning anomalies and systems, and complete three adventures. Sometimes you are just scanning unusual formations. Sometimes you deliver supplied to people in need. Other times you defend outposts under attack. Just the other day, I had to beam down to the surface of a planet that was only in the Stone Age level of technology and retrieve a fallen probe before they discovered it, without being detected myself.

Sure, I get repeats now and then, but there appear to be enough of them, a few dozen at least, that it doesn’t happen often. Oh, and there is a daily to do three player created missions.

That’s right. Players have the ability to create content in The Foundry.

Free to Play Pay

I still find the “Free to Play” moniker to be a bit troublesome. Yes, you can play for free, but there are, as always, limitations. Though these may be some of the most lenient limits I’ve seen. Some of them are even lifted by simply buying something, once from the store. I already bought one thing, and I can see myself buying access to certain ships or other things in the future.

I’m enjoying it. Here are a few screen shots of my current ship.

The Super Bowl

A Cook’s tour of the field, watching the players gambol about, was enough stiction to send his mind careening through recollections of his heyday and his mouth to gamming away about them between lymphatic swigs of his alcoholic elixir.

Any Given Sunday

The Only Constant Is Change

So, I just started doing this Drawing of the Day thing where I was doing a drawing based on the word of the day as posted by either reference.com or Webster’s. I did four of them and stopped. I haven’t given up, but I had a thought.

First off, doing something daily is a bit hard and actually detracts from my ability to do other things. Also, some of the words of the day are just odd to think of alone. It’s just a word with a definition, no direction, and what I wanted was actually a bit more of a directed exercise.

You see, I can always sit down and just make shit up. My problem has always been that when I return later to the work from the “make shit up” session, I find it hard to continue the work. So, what I’m really looking for is more like the writing prompts you can find all over the place where they give you a subject and a direction and you are supposed to write on it. But with drawing.

To that end, I’m changing the project from Drawing of the Day to something like A Picture is Worth a Week of Words. Instead of using just a single word, I’m going to take seven words, still using the reference.com and Webster’s sources (I’ll choose all 7 from one source, and either I’ll do one, the other or both), and I’m going to do a drawing. I may also do some writing to go with it. They’ll go up on Sundays and use the words from the previous week (Sunday to Saturday).

I’m excited. I was excited before but quickly became drained. This less intensive version should be exciting without the exhaustion.