Thursday, November 27, 2008

Eco-Terrorism and Final Fantasy 7

So I was thinking about Final Fantasy 7, one of my favorite games; and found myself contemplating something that I often think about when I reminisce about FFVII.  It is the interesting fact that the protagonists are terrorists.  AVALANCHE, the group that the player controls, is blatantly a terrorist organization.  When playing the game, the you plant bombs and blow up buildings, make assassination attempts, and routinely have to run and hide from law enforcement.  This feels like it might be a politically incorrect theme politically incorrect in this decade, especially the because the terrorists are heroes of epic proportions.  

So where do I stand on this whole topic of FFVII putting terrorism in a positive light?  I thinks its a great concept that might have been shot down is FFVII had been made in the year 2002.  After all, the Sons of Liberty were a terrorist organization and its perfectly fine to celebrate them in this country (I learned that from an awesome lecture I attended my senior year).  I think it's important to note that the kind of terrorism in FFVII is not really "911 terrorism" but really more along the lines of eco-terrorism.

Eco-terrorism is something I find to be really intriguing.  For one, loss of life is something that eco-terrorists work to avoid, just like AVALANCHE does in FFVII.  However, the FBI points out that their actions certainly can be dangerous enough to inadvertently take a life.  This reminds me of how the bomb AVALANCHE plants in FFVII is a lot bigger than the group planned for it to be.  Anyways, eco-terrorism is among the top domestic terrorist threats in the United States, and eco-terrorism has some significant advantages over terror networks such as Al-Qaeda that makes them such a unique breed of terrorism.  For starters, people can sympathize with them due to the fact that many people may agree with eco-terrorists motives of preserving the planet and the aforementioned fact that they try to avoid taking lives.

The real advantage that eco-terrorists have is that they do not need to operate in a network.  There is no need for coordinated attacks because their objectives are simple and individual cells can plan their attacks on their own.  This level of independence makes eco-terrorists hard to track down due to the lack of communication between cells.

Personally I don't have an opinion either way on the activities of eco-terrorists because even though I don't believe in reckless vandalism, I also think that too many people turn a blind eye to how they treat their planet.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Extra Limbs

So I was in the GEL lab today and I was contemplating what it would be like if human developed extra arms.  I figure more arms is the most practical evolution because more legs would be awkward and other things like extra ears don't really seem that practical.  Having an ear sprouting from an elbow would just be... weird.  However, if you believe in evolution, I don't think those sorts of things would make it past natural selection. If your a creationist, well at least for me "elbow ears" do not fall under the category of actions typical of a loving god, then again I think back to Catholic middle school religion class, and contemplate old-testament, vengeance God.  Perhaps a plague of ears will be set upon us if we make him angry enough.

Anyways, the thought of having four arms is a rather tricky sort of thing, because its such a foreign idea.  I've been trying to imagine them the way that amputees often still can sense their missing limbs.  However, even if I get somewhat close to actually tricking myself into believing that I have an extra set of arms, there is a gigantic problem with the concept of extra limbs.  The problem is that I don't think that the human brain is equipped to be commanding of that many hands at once.  I can't keep track of four hands at once in my head.  There's a reason why people generally have a dominant hand/arm, and I think that it's because we aren't very good at utilizing all of our resources at once.  I think that as the number of arms increases its likely that the usefulness of each new arm would significantly decrease.

I wish I could conduct a scientific study to look at all sorts of things concerning the effects of increasing the number of arms on a human, but unfortunately I can't just make people sprout extra arms.  I think this is one of those questions that I'll have to ask Jesus if I ever get the chance to meet him.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

My shoes might be holier than the Pope

It has been snowing a lot at Michigan State for the past several days.  Which is great because I love snow (and snowboarding), but the first snow is also a learning experience.  The kind of learning experience where you get know which one of your shoes has more holes in it.  For me, the answer is the right one, with several small holes in the sole by the heel, the cold icy slush flows into my foot and makes it go numb when I'm walking between classes.  I think I'm going to have to invest in a new set of shoes.

The good news is that I started scripting my character controller for Manatee Quest and I've managed to get the manatee moving how I want it to except for a couple of tweaks I'm going to finish off before I go on Thanksgiving break.  Hopefully in the two weeks before Christmas break I'll be able to implement a good camera script and integrate some animation.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Ska died. Again.

I'm going to see We Are The Union tonight at Mac's Bar.  WATU is still going strong despite the fact that the ska scene that I knew and loved has begun to dissolve.  I feel like this always happens with ska music.  It dies but it won't stay dead.  Someone always comes along and turns it into something fresh, and it builds a following.  My friend Johnny Tsunami, saxophone player for WATU and The Flaming Tsunamis, told me a couple of weeks ago that everyone in the scene was friends.  The problem is that our scene's not growing, but rather growing up and getting old.  As a result, many of the significant bands have decided to call it quits, such as The Fad and Public Access, and there are more that have yet to officially announce that they will be no more.

Needless to say the whole thing bums me out a little bit.  It's especially weird that at the golden age of 18, I am "old."  However, I have a lot of hope that the next generation ska bands that are making something fresh and new.  I feel like Bomb the Music Industry! has started an entire era of bands releasing their music for free.  WATU is something fresh as well, considering they really do an awesome job of blending posi-pop punk with ska in ways that I find much more enjoyable than Less Than Jake, considering I never really could get into Less Than Jake.

Anyways, I'm stoked for some awesome music tonight and I think I'm going to make a road trip to Connecticut where a lot of the bands that are breaking up are playing one last show together.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Game Jam Conclusion

Balls to the Walls came in first by 1 point! If my team had contained more than 3 people I would have been inclined to say that I didn't contribute a whole lot. Charles Roman, the president of Spartasoft, held down the programming end of things, and was really what made our game happen. Eric Musser did sound and music as well as instructions, interfaces, and credits. As mentioned in the previous post, I cooked up the art assets and some level design. I'm excited to see what the other teams came up with when we present them at the Spartasoft meeting in 2 weeks. Fun stuff, I get to be back in the lab to work on more video games in 7 hours.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Game Jam: Balls to the Walls

I've been doing a game jam with Spartasoft this weekend. Spartasoft, MSU's video game development club, holds game jams on a regular basis where the club splits into teams to make games in a 48-hour time period (or at least its usually 48 hours). Currently I'm on a team with two Media Arts & Technology majors, which I'm working on picking up as a second degree. I'm a Computer Science major, so naturally I've made a lot of the art assets.  I decided to post some of the stuff I made, being as it is currently 3:27 in the morning and I'm working on the homework displaced by the game jam.
The theme for the game jam was simply the word "save."  Our game is based around self preservation where the player is a sphere whose life meter is steadily draining.  The game is multiplayer split screen and the players control their spheres with XBox 360 controls.  Players survive by collecting health pick-ups and give themselves an edge by getting a variety of power-ups.  Our game is made with Unity3d and the art assets are made with Autodesk Maya.  The snail shown above is a negative pick-up that temporarily makes the player slower.
The shoe is the inverse of the snail and it temporarily increases the player's speed.
The rocket power-up launches homing rockets into all of the other players.  It's probably the strongest power-up in the game and will be placed in the levels.
The Chinese food grants a random power-up.   We're considering weighting it so that players low on health tend to get better power-ups.  In the last stretch of the game jam we plan on doing quite a bit of level design and play testing to tweak it so that our game becomes a legitimately fun game.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Manatees in the workplace!

So I have a few minutes in between work and my first class, so I decided to upload a couple of shots of the manatee model I've been working on.  It's a pretty basic model, but it's also my first.  If the game actually turns out nicely I can always go back in and redo certain assets when I'm better at Maya or know an artist willing to help out.  Furthermore, I found out that at Sea World they feed their manatees a variety of vegetation including lettuce, spinach, and cabbage.  So I guess I could have cabbage collection as a component of my game and not give false impressions of what manatees eat.  However, the jellyfish idea definitely isn't realistic because manatees have no natural predators.

If you notice in the picture above, I got the skin attached to the bones, which means that I can move my model now.  Hopefully I'll be able to post a clip of some animations next week.  Right before I posted this I was watching manatee videos so I could have a better sense of how they naturally move, which roughly equates into me loving my job.

Thursday, November 13, 2008


As one might guess by the title I gave my blog, I am quite fond of a marine mammal known as the manatee. I currently work in Michigan State University's GEL Lab, where I help make video games. My boss is having me do an independent project so I can learn how to use Unity and Autodesk Maya. I'm a little overwhelmed with the fact that I'm diving into 3d game development in my first semester of college, but at the same time its exciting that I'm getting paid to learn tools I probably wouldn't get to learn until a lot later in college.

Anyways, my independent project is currently a game that I have currently titled "Manatee Quest." I have a simple 3d model done in Maya with a basic bone structure, although I haven't added any IKs yet. I plan to have the player swim the manatee around an aquatic environment and collect cabbages and other goodies. I'm contemplating having jellyfish as enemies, but that wouldn't be very realistic (then again neither would cabbages).

With regards to being realistic, I'm also contemplating adding some tangential learning features. I originally had a different game concept floating around in my head after James Portnow gave an awesome presentation at the 2008 Meaningful Play conference. That idea is getting saved for later and I started on my manatee project without even realizing how easy it would be to implement some efficient tangential learning about my favorite animal.

I'll try to post my game on this blog when its completed, which might be a while, and it might not be any fun (so don't hold your breath). This whole blog entry about manatees was inspired by my adventures on the internet last night when I discovered this gem in the Mongoloids online store:

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Election Day!

This one is going to be exciting!  The fact of the matter is that we have two candidates that are both moderate and somewhat close together in position.  Between that and the fact that we're coming off of an eight year presidency, this means that the election is probably both going to be very close and result in a very fresh set of opinions in the oval office.  Personally, I'm a big fan of considering third-party options before hopping onto one of the big two.  Not that there's a whole lot of time left to decide...

Sunday, November 2, 2008

EA Layoffs

So, I'm a first year student in college and through my studies I hope to land a job in the video game industry (which as many will tell you, is not as easy as one would think).  I've been happy to hear all of the reports saying that the games industry is "recession proof," as it is still going strong and is expected to see growth yet again in the upcoming holiday season.

However, I don't particularly appreciate it when I see this in the industry news on  Layoffs in one of the largest companies in the industry might have nothing to do with the industry as a whole, but it does not bode well for a student hoping to get an internship at a company like EA, which was well known for taking a decent number of interns.   At least I'm not in the auto industry...

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Xbox 360 vs. Paper Games

I recently acquired an Xbox 360 and yesterday I went out and purchased Call of Duty 4 and Assassins Creed for it.  I started Call of Duty 4 and so far have been really impressed with the quality of single player in a game well known for its online play.  After I chew through those two I think I'll get Bioshock, which I heard a lot of discussion about at the 2008 Meaningful Play Conference that was hosted at Michigan State University.

However, there have been a lot more than just video games being played.  Thursday night I learned how to play the card game Citadels, which is essentially a cross between Monopoly and Magic: The Gathering.  I have to admit I was really quite impressed with the game design of Citadels.  It puts strategy both in the place of role selection (from different cards that give you certain abilities and attributes for a round) and in the actual utilization of the cards in hand during the round.  Furthermore there are extra role cards that can be swapped in and out to increase replay value of the game.  I think it would even be feasible to make some DIY role cards just for fun.

It's a game that is similar Magic: The Gathering (and I would argue just as fun) that is contained in a single box.  The fact that it's not a Trading Card Game makes it a lot more accessible to people have never played before.  I definitely think I'll be playing it again sometime soon.