“Hello.”

“Hello.”

“I just saw you sitting there, and figured I might come over and say hi.”

“No problem. Hi.”

“It’s a nice place here.”

“It is. I like it. It reminds me of home.”

“Really? Did the place you grew up in have walls like this? A carpet like this one?”

“Well no, not exactly. But it’s the whole thing, you know? Taken all together, it reminds me of being home. Specifically being younger, and being at home.”

“Huh. I know what you mean.”

“Right.”

“Mac and cheese is mine, I guess.”

“Excuse me?”

“Mac and cheese. It reminds me of being home. Of being younger and being home.”

“That’s pretty common, I think.”

“Oh yeah, I know. It’s a comfort food — it’s soft and warm and gooey and so it makes sense that people would like it, and feel comforted when they eat it, as they did when they were young. But it’s different for me. Even the good ones, the ones with gouda and bacon and scallots — those do it, too. There’s something fundamental, there, I think.”

“Interesting.”

“I guess so.”

“It’s strange to be reminded of home in a place like this, but then again I guess you come here only to be reminded of what you’ve left behind, right?”

“I don’t understand.”

“If we never left home, then we’d never see a place like this, right? If we never went on vacation, I mean. The only reason you leave, really, is to see what’s not like home. What’s different.”

“That’s not the only reason, though. Some people leave home for business, or necessity.”

“Right, but even then, they’re leaving because they have to do something different, right? They’re leaving because they can’t do whatever they can do at home. I’m just saying, it’s both strange and completely reasonable, when you’re farthest away from home, to find for yourself what most reminds you of where you came from.”

“No, I get it. You’re right. Are you always this reflective?”

“No! Well yes. Maybe. I think maybe that I am, but I don’t always let people know that I am. I don’t always tell a stranger, you know?”

“Well I’m lucky, then.”

“If you consider getting the chance to hear my reflections lucky, then yes. Congratuations.”

“Thank you. It’s been nice. I appreciate it.”

“You’re welcome.”

“It’s getting late, I guess, but it’s been nice chatting.”

“Oh, is it late already? I hadn’t noticed.”

“A bit late. I’m going to go, I think. Are you staying?”

“Yes. I will stay, a while longer.”

“All right, then. Enjoy your memories. Goodbye.”

“Goodbye.”

I’ve finished three games already this weekend: Warlords of Draenor (where I hit level 100, at least), The Wolf Among Us, and Uncharted 3. I’m also aiming to take a big chunk out of Ocarina of Time on the 3DS, which I’ve had for a while, and I put some hours in on Dragon Age: Inquisition as well. This has been particularly fun because a) I don’t get to game for fun as much as I have been over this holiday break, and a) because beating games is something I don’t often too.

That’s not actually true — I do beat games regularly, whenever I’m reviewing them, and especially these days, I usually do stick out at least singleplayer campaigns to the end. But when I was much younger, I almost never actually beat games. I’d either rent or buy them cheap, because I was low on cash, and then I’d play what I thought was enough of them to get a sense of what was going on, of what the mechanics were. There’s a shameful list of NES, SNES, and early PlayStation classics that I’m sorry to say that I never actually beat to the finish, despite really enjoying.

It’s an interesting thing, beating games. If we pay $20 for a movie, it would be strange to walk out before the end and never finish the story. It’d be weird to buy a book, too, and never read the last few chapters. Sure, if the movie’s terrible, or the book is boring, you might be forgiven for moving on, but games require more, I think. They can be failed. You could argue that reading a book is slightly less passive, but gaming is a more active passion in general. It requires effort to figure things out, to pass the tests of skill, whether they’re just timing puzzles, finger agility, or something deeper.

Because of this, what I’ve discovered is that the ends of games are often the most interesting parts. A great game should build up its mechanics as it goes along, and by the end, should let the player bend and even break those mechanics, in the name of fun. The end of the game is when the player is finally rewarded for mastery, and finally reaches the culmination of both the narrative and the game’s basic idea in the first place.

Never play this ending, and you’re only getting part of the game’s core themes, its core meaning. Lots of endings still fall flat (usually when the developer has run out of money by the point it comes time to make the end of the game, but I’ve found that finishing a game provides a lot more satisfaction with the experience overall, even if the game is bad. Ending the game allows you to finally reach the top of the mountain, to look back on your journey up and let you judge it with the whole thing in view.

It’s tough — there are more games to play than ever before these days, and as you can see from the games I finished this weekend, it still takes me quite a while to actually reach the end. Still, it feels good to finally finish stories that I started a long time ago, and close the book on these experiences for good.

A television that’s marginally bigger than the one you own, and probably has fewer features, because it’s on sale for Black Friday – $399

A brand new tablet, bigger, more colorful, and much faster than the one currently collecting dust on your bedside table, that will also collect dust while sitting on your bedside table – $149

A gaming console you don’t need, because you haven’t even put a dent in all of the games available for the consoles you currently own, plus you already have a next-gen console anyway (bundled with two games that you will play for about an hour before deciding that you’d rather play something better) – $349

A selection of brand new movies on DVD and Blu Ray that will be sold for $10 in just two months from now – $24.99 each

Some terrible toys for kids that actually cost us about $4 to make, and are usually sold for $50 and up – $44.99

A high-end coffeemaker appliance that looks exactly like the one your aunt bought for you a few years ago. Isn’t that still under the sink somewhere? Where did you stash that thing after using it only once, anyway? – $60

A portable hard drive that would usually cost you about $85, and totally is not worth waiting in the cold and snow with hundreds of other cheapskates – $75

Some headphones that have been sitting around the store since last February. Please buy them. Please! – $10

A digital camera that’s only marginally better than the one on your phone, but which makes you think of all of the pictures you could be taking and the vacations you could be taking them on, if indeed you had the time or money for vacations, or knew how to actually work a digital camera. Oh, and did we mention this camera was obsolete last August? – $249

A Christmas tree that cost us around $10 and that we’ll sell for $150 in two weeks – $94.99

A top-of-the-line smartphone that’s not any more useful than the one you already own, and will secretly cost you around $2500 over the next two years, in service fees and messaging costs – $0

Fifteen or twenty digitally delivered games you were thinking about buying last year, and will never actually have the time to play, but you might as well buy them just in case, right? – $7.99 each

True satisfaction and happiness with who you are and what you’ve accomplished and collected in life – NOT AVAILABLE FOR SALE! MAYBE NEXT YEAR!

Oh man — Thanksgiving! That’s right near when Thor: The Dark World came out, right? Also, Dr. Strange, Inhumans, and Black Panther are all set to come out around Thanksgiving too, I think, which is just going to be so awesome. Did you hear that they’ve almost got Benedict Cumberbatch playing Dr. Strange? I think he would do great — as long as they use Dormammu, or maybe Blackheart, as a villain. That’d be just awesome, wouldn’t it?

Oh you mean like the holiday itself? I guess I could do that. I mean, Captain America definitely could, but I can give it a shot as well.

Thanksgiving is, like, a traditional holiday in the United States that celebrates the end of the harvest season. It’s like when the Hulk harvests all of his anger, but the Mark Ruffalo Hulk, I mean, not the other ones. Those were lame.

It usually occurs on the fourth Thursday of November. Thursday, of course, was named after Thor, who didn’t do very well in his own movies, but definitely shined in The Avengers. I think he plays a great alien, you know? I mean, Cap is the hometown boy, Tony is the playboy, but Thor does a great job of making it seem like there’s really a god on the team. I mean, he’s relatable, but also noble and immortal, right? No doubt that’s why they named a day after him.

Thankgiving is notable among Americans for eating a lot of traditional foods, like turkey, cranberries, mashed or sweet potatoes, and pumpkin pie. You think Natalia likes pumpkin pie? I mean, the Black Widow is actually Russian, but for some reason I think she probably has a built-up preference for comfort foods. I mean, given all she’s been through. They haven’t really explained it all yet, but you just know that as a female super spy, she’s probably been through a lot. I bet she’s like a good slice of pie. Wasn’t it so awesome in Winter Soldier when she threw down against Bucky? Oh man, that was cool. Also, people eat stuffing on Thanksgiving, too.

The history of Thanksgiving is usually traced (though not exactly — just like SHIELD itself, it’s hard to tell exactly when it started) to a celebration in 1621, when the Puritans in Massachusetts sat down to have a big meal to celebrate a good harvest. The Puritans probably never included Native Americans in the meal, and most historians say that the modern tradition of Thanksgiving probably just comes from an old harvest festival, rather than the actual Puritan celebration. They probably didn’t eat shwarma either, but man wasn’t that hilarious in the Avengers when they all went to eat shwarma? I mean, I didn’t even know what shwarma was until that! And it’s good — I had some at a Middle Eastern deli once. It’s fun to say, too. Shwarma.

Anyway, the modern holiday of Thanksgiving is all about football and food, and sitting around with relatives celebrating what we’re thankful for. Me, I’m super thankful for Age of Ultron. I mean, I haven’t seen it yet, but have you seen that trailer? James Spader is a robot, and he doesn’t have any strings on him! Thanksgiving is also known for the day afterwards, commonly called Black Friday, when retail stores host great sales, trying to bring out a big shopping crowd. I would definitely go out and look for the Phase 1 DVD set if I were you, and also if I didn’t already own it, because man that set is sweet.

I might pick up X-men: Days of Future Past though. I mean, even though that isn’t technically in the MCU, it is still pretty rad. Anyway, Happy Thanksgiving, everybody! Hail Hydra! LOL just kidding but you know what I mean. Man, wasn’t that cool when that happened?

How It Will Probably Go

Scientist 1: Whoah, look at all of these dinosaurs we created! We really built out the whole park that John Hammond envisioned!

Scientist 2: Yup, that’s the guy who has that statue over there! Oh, and here’s Dr. Malcolm making a cameo!

Dr. Malcolm: Hey, it’s me, Dr. Malcolm. This park sure is great, but things will probably go wrong again, I bet. They usually do. According to the laws of uh, the laws of uh, chaos.

Scientist 2: Well thanks anyway Dr. Malcolm. Look, we’ve got Chris Pratt this time too!

Chris Pratt: Hi, I’m Chris Pratt from Guardians of the Galaxy. I kind of agree with Dr. Malcolm, but I do think all of these dinosaurs are cool. I have a very relatable skepticism face, which I’m putting on now.

Scientist 1: Yup, nothing will every go wrong with these dinosaurs, some of which we’ve domesticated, and some of which we’ve genetically modified to be more docile. Everything sure is great!

Scientist 2: The only real danger is if something goes wrong with the dinosaurs we genetically modified to be more deadly.

Chris Pratt: Say what??

(Everything goes wrong)

Scientist 1: Oh man, how could we have seen that coming?

Scientist 2: Run, Chris Pratt, it’s the genetically modified dinosaur, created because it looks “cool,” with no real basis in science.

Chris Pratt: AAAH! How do I get out of here and back to the Marvel Cinematic Universe??

(fin)

How It Should Go

Scientist 1: Welcome to Jurassic World! We’ve taken all of the lessons learned from the disaster at the first park, and made everything better! Look — there are tons of dinosaurs interacting with each other, creating the same sense of wonder and awe as the first movie!

Scientist 2: We’ve also based everything in real science, so it all seems perfectly plausible, even though we’re creating real dinosaurs in the world.

Chris Pratt: I’m Chris Pratt, and I think this is awesome. But I am also a fairly responsible voice of reason, especially when you combine me with a female scientist.

Female Scientist: I’m a female scientist — the daughter of that director. I don’t remember my name at the moment, but I represent man’s struggle with himself, which is the real theme of this movie.

Villain: And I’m a human villain, because the real problem here isn’t the dinosaurs just attacking humans for no reason. It’s that dinosaurs don’t have loyalties or reasoning — they’re just animals. They’re animals that man was never meant to coexist with. In fact, modern man has never really faced a true predator, and that’s why it’s so scary to put these killer beasts in very human settings. The real issue isn’t that a dinosaur is chasing us — the real issue is why it’s chasing us, and that’s because we’re greedy and stupid and we fight amongst ourselves.

Chris Pratt: Wait — I thought this was supposed to be the actual movie.

Villain: Well, it more just turned into what the movie was supposed to be about. Hopefully the new movie will recapture the great debate of the first movie, and really try to say something about humankind and our current place in our savage history. Otherwise, it’ll just be another dumb monster movie, with dinosaurs instead of slasher villains or genetic freaks.

Chris Pratt: But I still get to ride a motorcycle alongside domesticated velociprators, right? As long as it says something about man’s place in nature and his constant struggle with his own instincts?

Villain: Sigh. Sure, go ahead. Here’s a big water dinosaur eating a shark that’s a clear reference to Jaws, too.

Chris Pratt: Cool!

I bought a microwave last night. When I first moved down here to Oceanside, I choose not to bring my microwave. I’d had the same microwave for years, that had been with me ever since I left for Chicago nearly 10 years ago. I had a friend who wanted one, and to be honest, it had been in my kitchen in Los Angeles where I had a prolonged battle with cockroaches. I’m not necessarily saying it was full of dead cockroaches, but I am saying that it might have been, and so for those reasons I decided to abandon it.

I also wanted to try just eating healthier in general. For most of my life, I’ve eaten out of the microwave quite often. Lately, I’ve gotten away from the Hot Pockets, the pizza rolls, and the hot dogs, but for a while there in high school, that was a good part of my diet. More recently, I’ve used the microwave for frozen meals and heating up leftovers, but when I left LA, I had the thought that the microwave wasn’t really helping all that much. All too often I’d put something bad for me in there, and let my fresh food or actual cooking go by the wayside. So I ditched it — when I moved down here, I decided that I would only keep healthy food in my apartment, and that I’d cook all of my meals, or just eat them cold.

The whole experiment more or less worked, though it was more interesting to find out what I couldn’t do than what I could. In terms of fresh food and cooking, I have done a lot of that in the past year, and there are some meals (like baked chicken or omelettes) that are basically staples in my diet these days. Wraps have also become a big deal for me, and they’ve never really been in my diet much before. Microwave foods have mostly been ditched, though there still are microwaves at my work, so occasionally I’d take cold leftovers knowing I could take them into the office, or buy some cheap microwave meals and bring them in for lunch.

What’s really missing, though, is convenience. I’d thought of the microwave as an enabler of sorts, but I forgot how much it offers in terms of technology. When I had an extra slice of pizza in the fridge, I’d either have to eat it cold, or familiarize myself with oven settings, rather than just nuking it for 30 seconds. And while I do enjoy cooking and can make things like casseroles and stir fry, I actually ate more without a microwave than I would with. I’d cook via a recipe that was meant to feed three or four, and rather than doing the math on when I could bring the leftovers to work, I ended up eating them all or eventually tossing them. And I ate out a lot more as well — without an easy dinner at home, but with only a few minutes to eat, I’d grab a sandwich from a store, or even pick up some snacks from a gas station.

I have fortunately cut most fast food from my life (and I’m working on getting those snacks out of there), including soda just recently. But lately, living without a microwave is just more trouble than it’s worth. Whether it’s a failure of willpower or of time, I’ve recently come to the decision that I think I’d be healthier (and less spendy) with a microwave then without. So I did my research, found some great Black Friday prices, and picked up a gleaming new silver microwave earlier this week.

Already, I’ve used it to cook a few quick meals, and already I’m happy with my decision — the food I’ve eaten out of this microwave was perfectly portioned and more diverse than what I’d usually cook myself. I appreciate the appliance as a bit of technology, too. Maybe it’s just that I’ve always had a microwave that’s a good ten or twenty years old, but this one I bought has a sensor inside that actually detects vapor coming off of my food to decide whether it’s done or not. To a guy who used to just hit three minutes and press start, that’s pretty amazing.

I’m excited, too, to figure out a healthier way to use the microwave. Again, Hot Pockets and hot dogs are off the menu these days, but a Google search of microwave recipes last night had me finding tips on how to steam rice and vegetables, how to microwave up soups, and how to make a perfect baked potato in the microwave. That last one I’m particularly excited about trying, and I’ll probably give it a shot later this week.

My original challenge was to lose the microwave entirely, and while I think it was a good idea, I don’t think it quite helped me in exactly the way I was hoping for. The new plan is to work with the technology instead of against it. Here’s hoping I can use convenience to stay healthy, rather than trading one for the other.

Today I’m sharing a sketch I wrote a while ago. This was just a quick thing that I wrote up for a friend, who asked around for sketches for a YouTube channel he was working on. I punched this out really quickly, and never got paid for it or anything. The good news is that it was eventually made into an actual sketch, which I once saw on YouTube, and which was way better than this script. Still, this script is particularly relevant lately for me, as I’m playing through Dragon Age: Inquisition, and I keep finding myself doing good when I want a character that’s a little more bad.

Anyway, enjoy, if you want. This was a quick gag about something that continues to plague me as I play through these games: I can’t keep myself from playing a character who does good.

A Sketch I Wrote About Being Good and Bad, Bioware style

Mass Effect/Knights of the Old Republic dialogue-style camera views and music – a Commander, who we’ll call J, steps into frame in a space combat suit, clearly checking the world out as he walks in.

A Bioware-style alien, who we’ll call H, is waiting for him. As the two talk, the camera follows sort of a Mass Effect-style dialogue scene.

H: (real normal and nice) Hey man! Welcome to the game! Good to have you!

J: Oh thanks! Yeah I’m really looking forward to this one. I’m going to be a total badass this time.

H: A badass, eh?

J: Yeah, the past few games, I’ve been a good guy for the light side. This time around, I’m going bad guy, dark side, renegade all the way.

H: (shrugs) Great! Well I’m a vendor. I’ve got some swords, armor, medkits – whatever you need to get started.

J: Oooh, a sword! Yeah, give me something real scary. Something black and spiky.

H: (lifts up just such a black and spiky sword, points to it smarmily) This what you need? It’s a Hyperstabber 3000, perfect for the starting adventurer.

J: Yeah, that’s bad ass! I’mma buy that, get me some renegade points!

J buys it, and as he does, some light side points pop up in a really shiny, overly pink display on the side of the screen, with a big annoying shiny ding noise: (+5 light side)

H: Oooh, nice, some light side points for ya there. I really appreciate you buying something, and helping out an innocent businessman like myself.

J: (distraught) What? No! I’m trying to be a jerk here.

H: Gee, I don’t know. You could rip me off by trying to buy a medkit (holds it up) or a helmet (ditto) for half of what it usually costs…

J: Yeah! (grabs medkit greedily, throws money at vendor) (+5 light side pops up again) What?!

H: The prices were a little high, anyway. I guess that’s probably more fair.

J: (steals the helmet outright angrily)

H: Hey, you just stole that helmet. Man, nobody’s bought one of those in like ever. Thanks! (+5 light side)

J: (getting more frustrated) How do I get darkside points?! (has idea) Hey, buttface!

H: (calmly) Yes?

J: You’re ugly!

H: (touches face, then realizes) You’re right! Thank you for making me see the truth! (+10 dark side)

(next section is a series of quick cuts back and forth, as J insults H getting more angry each time, and then H realizes the insults have actually helped him)

J: (struggles for another insult) You’re… fat!

H: (feels midsection) I could stand to lose a few pounds. (+5 light side)

J: You’re stupid!

H: (thinks, agrees) Yeah, I SHOULD probably go back to school. (+5 light side)

J: You’re a smelly…

H: (smells his armpit) (+5 light side)

J: … ignorant ….

H: (ponders wisely) (+5 light side)

J: … clumsy …

H: (balances himself) (+5 light side)

J: Alien freak!

H: (quick beat, then realizes) I’ve never known myself this way, until you came and helped me. (+100 light side)

J: (really angry now, music starts to swell, looks at the sword in his hand, actually stabs H with it right in the heart).

H: (shocked, closeup) You… murdered me. (dies)

(dramatic music continues to play as J pulls out the sword and sheathes it – now, surely, he’s a real badass)

(until a poor space bystander enters from off screen, and notices what just happened)

Bystander: You killed him! You killed an innocent businessman.

J: Yeah I did. I’m the baddest renegade this universe has ever seen.

B: (beat) … Thank you so much! We’ve been trying to get rid of him for years. Hey everybody, that lousy vendor’s dead! We’ve got a new rainbow champion!

(+100000 light side points, maybe confetti falls from the ceiling, people celebrate, put a goofy rainbow vest or crown on J as things fade out)

(theme music)

Keonig (VO): From This American Life and WBEZ Chicago, it’s Serial, one story told week by week. I’m Sarah Keonig. This week on Serial, I had a bit of a surprise. During one of my scheduled calls with Adnan Syed, who’s currently serving life in prison accused of the murder of his ex-girlfriend, Hae Min Lee, Adnan told me he had something important to say. He said he was tired of lying, and that he wanted all of this to be over. He said that it was important he come clean, and that I be the first to know. And then, this.

Keonig (on tape): What is it you want to tell me, Adnan?

Syed (on phone, on tape): I did it. I committed the murder and I’ve been lying this whole time.

Koenig (on tape): Wait. What? What did you just say?

Syed (on phone, on tape): I did it. Me.

Koenig (VO): As you can imagine, I was taken aback. Here was Adnan, saying clearly to me that he was the one that murdered Hae. Finally, after all of this time, the answer was there in front of me. After all of my pouring over tapes and documents, after all of my investigations, here was Adnan clearly admitting that he’d been the killer all along. It looked like the case was closed.

(music fade up, then fade down)

Koenig (VO): One thing bothered me, though. Why would Adnan say that? When a killer is caught in his lies, he admits his crimes, sure, but Adnan just didn’t seem like a killer to me. Even though he was finally admitting the thing I’d been looking for all along, something still struck me as strange. I went to talk to Rabia Chaudry, the lawyer who originally told me about the case, and she voiced some of the same things I was thinking.

Chaudry (VO): It’s strange, right? Adnan was just 18 years old, practically the quarterback of the football team, and the prom king, and now he’s in prison for life! And now you tell me he’s admitting that he committed murder? It just doesn’t make sense, does it? I mean, maybe I’m crazy, or maybe I’m not looking at this right, but that doesn’t make sense!

Koenig (VO): She was right. It just didn’t add up. Now, we did some fact-checking, and it turns out that Adnan’s school never actually had a football team back in 1999, and he wasn’t really the prom king at all, but otherwise, Rabia was completely right. Adnan was just 18 years old a few decades ago when he was in his late teens. And even though he was clearly telling me that he did it, I just couldn’t believe it. There had to be more. Take Josh, for example. He’s a kid that I interviewed at a high school near me, to try and get some insight into how high schoolers think. We chatted on the playground, and you can hear school letting out in the background on this tape.

Josh (on tape): I don’t know — I haven’t done much more than go to elementary school and then high school. I’m only 18. I’m going to college next year, though!

Koenig (VO): Josh is just a typical kid — he’s got a steady girlfriend, he plays lacrosse, and he works part time at a local supermarket. I asked Josh, straight out, if he would ever murder someone.

Josh (on tape): What, murder someone? No! Are you crazy? No way! No!

(music)

Koenig (VO): See? Josh is a normal high school kid, just like Adnan. And he would never murder anyone! Adnan’s got a pile of evidence and testimony against him, all put together by talented and professional cops and evaluated by dedicated prosecutors. His case has gone through multiple appeals, and he’s still locked away. Clearly, the justice system has done its job here and found and punished someone who committed a very heinous crime. Adnan even admitted as much to me. But then again — what if he hadn’t?

Josh (on tape): I mean, if I had grown up in a very repressed family, constantly lived a double life hanging with drug dealers while trying to also be a religious person, and recently been broken up with by the person I believed to be my one and only love, then yeah, maybe I might think about doing something really stupid. But even if I did, I’d probably end up telling someone and getting caught anyway, and they’d put me in jail for life, right?

Koenig (VO): Even though Adnan has now admitted to me that he’s the killer, I’m going to continue my search. Surely there’s a truth here that I need to find. I tried to talk a Mr. Jack Wilkins, who was the corrections officer that checked Adnan into prison when he first arrived. Wilkins requested that I not mention his name or share his story, so I’m going to respect his privacy. Still, while we were talking on the phone, he told me something that Adnan said when he first entered jail. Adnan claimed, as a new inmate to prison, that he was innocent and didn’t belong there. Mr. Wilkins, whose last name I am not going to mention here for reasons of propriety, said that quite a few prisoners apparently claim innocence while in jail, especially when they first get there. Wilkins, who asked not to be interviewed for this podcast, said, and I quote, that “most of them believe they’ve been wronged by the system somehow.”

Koenig (VO): Compare that Adnan from twenty years ago, then, to the Adnan that spoke to me during our call this past week.

Syed (on tape): Seriously, I did it. Why are you still doing this? Are you even listening to me?

Koenig (VO): I was listening to him, but what I heard just didn’t register, in that way that sometimes you can’t hear something you’re not interested in hearing, you know? So how do I un-reconcile a clear-cut case and try to string out a set of trumped-up doubts over twelve episodes of a podcast? Find out next week, on Serial.

(music up and out)

I’ve been playing a whole lot of Dragon Age: Inquisition this week, and as I usually do in games with a very extensive character creator, I tried to recreate myself as the in-game character. As character creation systems have gotten more advanced over the years, this is easier and easier, and there definitely is a strange switch that’s flipped in my head when I see someone that looks just like me on the screen.

I’m not the only kind of character creator out there, though. There are a number of things that govern the kinds of characters people make in video games. Here are the different types of character customizers that I’ve heard about, talked to, and even been at some points in my life.

1. THE DEFAULT

As sad as it is, some people don’t use the character creators in video games at all. These are the people who would rather just play as Default Hawke, Default Shepard, Tiger Woods, or Tony Hawk. I would say shame on these people for not taking advantage of the great technology built into some of these games, but then again, they’ll never see armor bug out during a cutscene, and the default voice will always match what their character looks like. Plus, the game will usually look exactly as it does on the box for them, too.

2. THE “I DON’T CARE, IT’S JUST A GAME”

The closest relation to the default players is the player who doesn’t care all that much about how their character looks. They’re willing to fiddle around with the controls a bit to see what’s possible, or maybe they’ll hit the random button a few times to see what the system can do, but in general they’re ready to get to the action instead of worrying about what their character looks like. They’re not exactly default, but they don’t make much of a statement with their choices either.

3. THE “LOOK THAT’S ME RIGHT THERE ON THE SCREEN!”

This is where I’m at lately, where I like tweaking things to make the characters seem as much like me as possible. It’s fun to catch a glimpse of my character in the middle of combat, or during a cutscene, and have a weird realization that I might be looking at myself. There is some suspension of disbelief involved (I’m a pretty big guy, and video game heroes don’t tend to have much of a midsection, even when they’re bigger), but it’s fun watching yourself play the part of yourself in whatever experience you’re playing through.

4. THE “IF I’M GOING TO STARE AT SOMEONE ELSE’S ASS ALL DAY, IT BETTER LOOK GOOD”

This is the person that makes the most attractive version of the opposite sex they can to play through the game. A straight guy will make the hottest female protagonist possible, or a straight girl will make a great-looking guy (or vice versa depending on preference), just so they can creepily watch their character live out their virtual lives. I get this, because video games are escapist fantasy to a certain extent, but for me, it’s more engaging to connect with my character as me, rather than viewing them as an “other” in this way. Each to their own, though!

5. THE “LET’S TRY SOMETHING DIFFERENT”

This is similar to the last one, but instead of trying to create the most attractive character, this person creates a realistic character that’s just very different from who they are. I know a guy player, for example, who likes creating Oprah in games like this. This would also fit for a tiny person who likes creating big strong heroes for their protagonists. This is an interesting one, because it’s a person who is trying to represent themselves in some way, but in the form of someone who looks completely different from the way they do. I create myself because I want to connect with myself, but this person creates another character because they connect with that more strongly.

6. THE “SIR UGLY OF UGLYTOWN”

Then, there are some people who just get a kick out of essentially breaking the game, and making the absolute ugliest character that they can. We’re talking eyebrows put down below the eyes, or a mouth that opens sideways and through the nose. I imagine these people just giggling at the screen every time they see their freak of nature talking, and all of the other characters just standing around calmly as if there isn’t something terribly wrong with this poor person’s face. These people might be fun to hang around, but they’re not identifying with anything. The character creator is just a game to them, and they’re happy (and why not?) to just play with it.

7. THE “CAN I MAKE A BLUE-SKINNED ELF?”

This one’s just weird. It’s similar to the last one, but for some reason I’ve noticed that there are people who will just always choose blue skin if it’s available. And pink hair. No one knows why.

World of Warcraft is 10 years old this weekend, and I figured I’d write a few things down on the matter.

Before WoW existed, I played Dark Age of Camelot, and I loved it. It was such a rough game, full of boring waiting, enemies that would kill you without a second thought, and awkward interfaces that never told you exactly what to do, but it was so great to explore the fields of Albion, command an army in PvP (called RvR, realm vs. realm) combat, and delve into a dark dungeon deadly mob by deadly mob. There is nothing more frightening than a “train,” which was what we called it when someone further ahead in the dungeon decided to leave, and ran out, bringing every mob (short for “mobile,” basically a creature/character) in the place with them.

The first time I saw World of Warcaft in action, I remember watching a live stream online. It was of the closed beta, and I watched a little gnome run around in the early starting area (just outside Ironforge). It was a revelation — the world looked so colorful and welcoming, in stark contrast to the MMOs that had existed previously. It was like a theme park, full of fun sights and one-of-a-kind areas, instead of generic forests and fields. The little gnome was super cute, and bounced and jumped around the screen as he fought, unlike the characters in Dark Age of Camelot, who basically just stood there as they hacked and slashed through the title. Instead of fighting blobs and bandits, you fought actual creatures that animated and growled at you and were almost real.

There were smart gameplay elements too. Before World of Warcraft, if you finished a fight low on health, you had to sit down and simply wait for your health to regenerate. You could take a potion, but why waste the money? Sitting there was the best solution. World of Warcraft introduced eating and drinking, which meant that after a fight, you could click on a very cheap piece of food or drink, and almost instantly (over about 10 seconds) refill your health and mana. This was incredible — MMOs were known for taking hours and hours to play, and most of that time was just spend waiting around. But not in WoW!

The other big timesink in MMOs was when you died. In Dark Age, when you died you lost experience — unless you could get a “rez”. If another player could come over and cast a resurrect spell on you, you would come back to life without any major penalties. If you didn’t get a rez in time, however, you lost big. In World of Warcraft, however, when a player died they got sent to a death world (similar to the “other” world in Lord of the Rings), where there were no enemies. All you had to do was make it back to your corpse, and you instantly respawned. You still lost some money, and you had to regen back up, but you never, ever lost experience. That was yours, no matter what.

As I said — it was a revelation.

I didn’t get the game right away as it came out — I was working at Gamestop on release day, and I remember seeing people pile in to pick it up. It cost a subscription fee, and at the time I still wasn’t ready to pay that much for just one game. I kept reading about it, though, and hearing about it, and listening to people talk about what a great time it was, and then in May of 1995, right around my birthday, I decided I would finally pick it up as a birthday present. I worked at Borders by then, and I remember pulling the strategy guide down off the wall during breaks, reading about all of the races and classes, and figuring out which one I should choose to be.

I bought the game, took it up, and was lost forever. I started as a Night Elf Hunter, and that’s still my main character (currently level 94 — I’m working through Warlords as best I can). I remember on the first day, wandering around the Night Elf starting area, just overcome by the colors, and typing hello in chat to everyone I met. The very first cave I encountered, I invited a few other folks on screen to a group, we took down a high level creature that had been wandering around nearby, and that was it. World of Warcraft was my thing.

A year or two later, I decided I wanted to be a professional writer, and I started working at a newspaper in Chicago. A little while after that, I heard WoW Insider was hiring, and I applied to be a writer there. That’s where things really picked up — I played all of the classes, I knew all of the patch notes by heart. I wrote about the game daily, I oversee a bunch of super talented writers all talking about World of Warcraft, and we ran one of the best communities I’ve ever been a part of. We started a podcast, and it got popular, and the community grew. We went to BlizzCon, I met World of Warcraft fans from all over. Eventually, Blizzard realized who we were, and after that, I visited the campus regularly, I met the designers personally, and I got to see and write about the games before they launched. Arguably, World of Warcraft is responsible for who I am and what I do today. I mean, I will admit I put in a lot of work myself. But WoW’s always been there. WoW’s always been mine, since that first livestream, since that first night as a Night Elf.

When 90 was the max level, I had four characters at 90, though I’ve got about 30 or so characters at different levels across quite a few realms for different reasons (some of them were started by me, some were started by friends of mine who wanted to try the game — before it was free to do that). I can’t say that I’ve had a subscription ever since — when I went to work on Massively, I had to try quite a few MMOs, and when World of Warcraft got slow, I let the subscription lapse for a month or two. But not long — World of Warcraft isn’t so much a game as it is a comfort, a home I just have to return to every once in a while. I tend to be very ADD with the games I play personally, picking them up and obsessing for a week or two and then moving on to the next hot thing. I always find my way back to Azeroth, though, and every time I do I’m glad it’s still there.

I have no idea what the future holds — Blizzard is certainly a changing company, and while World of Warcraft taught them a lot, I think they’re also learning now from Diablo 3 and Hearthstone and Heroes of the Storm and eventually Overwatch. The developers claim they want to keep it running for another 10 years, and I’d love that, but even in Warlords, despite all of the new shine and circumstance, you can tell the game is creaking along in places. Ten years with anything is a long time, and in the realm of video games it’s truly an eternity.

Part of me, however, hopes that the game is there forever. I’ve always had this thought in my head that whenever it does all end, before they turn the servers off, I’ll have to commission a portrait made, with all of my characters standing in Azeroth, wearing all of their best gear and giving me a good old /salute. If I ever do lose them for good, even that doesn’t seem like the most fitting way to make sure they’re remembered. It’ll have to do, I guess, until hologram technology comes along.

At any rate, World of Warcraft’s been very good to me, and despite the countless dollars and hours that I’ve given it back already, I still appreciate it very, very much. Thanks, Blizzard, for all your hard work, and congratulations on ten years of WoW. Here’s to many more!

You can take the quiz yourself here. Below are the quiz’ questions, along with the answers that I picked. My results are at the bottom.

WHAT WAS DESTINY’S CHILD ORIGINALLY CALLED?
Beyoncé and Friends

WHAT IS BEYONCÉ’S FAVORITE NUMBER?
8

WHAT IS BEYONCÉ’S MIDDLE NAME?
Piaget

WHICH OF THE FOLLOWING IS NOT A FORMER MEMBER OF DESTINY’S CHILD?
Shamari Fears

WHEN DID BEYONCÉ GIVE BIRTH TO BLUE IVY?
June 13, 2012

WHICH SOUL LEGEND DID BEYONCÉ PLAY IN THE FILM CADILLAC RECORDS?
Ella Fitzgerald

IN WHAT YEAR WAS BEYONCÉ’S DEBUT ALBUM DANGEROUSLY IN LOVE RELEASED?
2002

AS OF 2014, HOW MANY SOLO ALBUMS HAS BEYONCÉ RELEASED?
4

WHICH OF THE FOLLOWING IS NOT A FREQUENTLY DISCUSSED INTERNET CONSPIRACY THEORY ABOUT BEYONCÉ?
Solange is actually her daughter

WHAT IS THE NAME OF BEYONCÉ’S TOURING BAND?
the Suga Mamas

Beyoncé’s hit song “Check on It” was originally intended to appear on the soundtrack to which of the following movies?
The Pink Panther

WHICH OF THESE ARTISTS HAS BEYONCÉ NEVER COLLABORATED WITH?
Missy Elliott

WHAT SIGN IS BEYONCÉ?
Leo

WHO DESIGNED THE COSTUMES FOR BEYONCÉ’S 2009 I AM…WORLD TOUR?
Thierry Mugler

AS OF 2014, HOW MANY GRAMMYS HAS BEYONCÉ WON?
20

CHOOSE THE CORRECT TITLE FOR BEYONCÉ’S 2013 HBO DOCUMENTARY.
I Am…Yours

WHICH OF THESE MUSIC VIDEOS DID BEYONCÉ DIRECT?
“Haunted”

Everyone knows that Kanye thought “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)” deserved to win Best Female Video at the 2009 VMAs, but which video DID win?
Taylor Swift, “You Belong With Me”

IN WHAT MOVIE DID BEYONCÉ MAKE HER BIG-SCREEN DEBUT?
Obsessed

WHICH OF THE FOLLOWING IS NOT A DANCE MOVE MENTIONED IN THE EXTENDED MIX OF “GET ME BODIED?”
Naomi Campbell Walking

Questions I Got Correct: 5 (Shamari Fears was not in Destiny’s Child, the Suga Mamas is her band, the song was going to show up in the Pink Panther, I correctly guessed her fashion designer for the world tour, and I remember that Taylor Swift won at the VMAs. Everything else was wrong.)

Cosmopolitan, a magazine for women, says: You have been kicked out of Destiny’s Child for low commitment to Beyoncé!

I am growing a moustache! I have played around with growing facial hair before, but this past year I gave some serious effort to growing a real beard (it looked all right, but I shaved it when things got too itchy), and now, during the month of November, I am growing a moustache for Movember. I have spoken about it with maybe two people in the world, and no one else has mentioned it to me. If they did, this is probably not how those conversations would go.

Conversations I Have Not Had About My Moustache

MAN ON THE STREET: Well hello there, friend! I notice that you’re growing a moustache on your face!

ME: I am, thanks for noticing! It is for Movember, which is a fundraising movement that earns money for men’s health (specifically to fight prostate and testicular cancer). As you can tell, my hair is basically blond, so the moustache is hard to see and not all that impressive. But I am really glad that you noticed it and said something to me!

MAN: No problem! I appreciate your hard work (because I know it is hard work to have silly-looking facial hair on your face), and I commend you for it and your contribution to charity!

ME: Wow! Thank you for saying so!

MAN: No problem, friend!

———

(Bears Stadium, sideline during the fourth quarter of the big game)

COACH: Dammit! The quarterback just went down again! Where are we going to get a star lineman to go out there and protect the ball for us? I wish just one of you dummies was manly and strapping enough to do your jobs right!

ME: Excuse me — I was just attending the game when I wandered down the wrong hallway and ended up here on the field. You seem as if you’re in charge — can you tell me how to get back to the mezzanine level?

COACH: Holy crap on a cracker crumb crust! You’re just the kid we’ve been looking for! Look at that stache! Let’s get some pads on this guy and get him out there on the OL! Pad him up!

ME: Wait, what? I can’t play lineman in a professional football game! That sounds dangerous!

COACH: Believe you me, kid, with a stache like that, you can do anything. Good luck out there!

ME: No, wait — this is very dangerous. Although I am happy you like my moustache and think it makes me look manly and strong. But wait no, I can’t do this!

COACH: Let’s call a play that sends the whole opposite line piling on that kid. He can do it!

———

ATTRACTIVE WOMAN IN A BAR: Well hello there. I see that you’re growing a moustache and it makes me want to talk to you.

ME: Wow! That’s very flattering. You’re very attractive, so I’m glad to hear that you’re interested in interacting with me!

WOMAN: Whoa, slow your roll, cowboy. I said I wanted to talk to you. I actually have no interest in a romantic relationship right now, with you or anyone else. I’m not opening up here, because I’m secure with who I am, but I came to this bar just to think and enjoy myself, not find a relationship or even meet someone new.

ME: Oh.

WOMAN: In fact, I get the feeling you think of me as some caricature instead of a real person, as if an “attractive woman in a bar” was some sort of ritual male test. I’m a real person! I have my own thoughts and feelings! And surprise, they don’t really involve you and your insecurities.

ME: I’m sorry! You’re right, of course. I saw “Attractive Woman in a Bar” and figured this would be about another statement of manliness, but I really underestimated you and your realness as a whole and independent person. That’s my mistake!

WOMAN: Well, I forgive you — you couldn’t have known. Also, your moustache is pretty great.

———

POLICEMAN: Excuse me, sir, do you know why I pulled you over today?

ME: I’m sorry, officer, I have no idea. I thought these conversations were all going to be about my moustache?

POLICEMAN: What? No — you were speeding, and when I walked up to the car I noticed that you have a busted taillight. License and registration, please — this is going to take a while.

———

ACCOUNTANT: Mike, we need to talk.

ME: Ok, sure. Wait — is this about my moustache or not? I was sure these were all going to be about my moustache in some way.

ACCOUNTANT: What? No, not at all. Wait — you’re growing a moustache? Oh yeah — I can kind of see it there up close. You’re blond, so it doesn’t really work. If I was you, I’d probably shave it.

ME: Well, it’s for charity, really — I’m raising money for Movember, a foundation that supports men’s health. Yeah, maybe it’s not the best moustache, but it’s been interesting growing it and learning about my identity.

ACCOUNTANT: That’s cool, I guess. It’s great that you’re supporting a charity like that. And yeah, I agree that growing a moustache is a good way to make that statement. Most fashion is just about how you look, rather than about what you believe in.

ME: Yeah! That’s kind of why I did it. I like making superficial choices that help remind me why I’m supporting much-less superficial causes. I think we could all use a lot more of that, really — fashion and cosmetic looks are pretty silly, but if they’re a representation of a smarter and more powerful cause, all the better, I say!

ACCOUNTANT: That’s a nice sentiment. I am glad we had this talk. Thanks!

ME: Not a problem at all. Oh, what exactly where we supposed to be talking about right now, if not moustaches?

ACCOUNTANT: Oh — right. You’re completely out of money. Like zero dollars. In fact, you owe me a bunch of money, and don’t even get me started on what you owe the bank.

ME: …

ACCOUNTANT: Nice moustache though!

“Ok, Mayor, welcome to your town! There’s a lot of work to get done around here, so let’s get started!

Where are you going? Oh, you’re fishing. I get it. That’s fine! We can talk about the town’s budget while you fish. No problem with that. Now, our yearly expenditures are — wait, where are you going now?

Oh, you’re selling that fish you just got! Great! We could definitely use more bells. I’ll just add that to the…

Oh. That money’s gone, I guess. Tom Nook took it from us. Again. That raccoon will be the end of this town yet.

All right, Mayor, we’ll come up with another plan, I’m sure. If you’ll just sit down at this desk here, and sign some of these forms, we’ll be on our way in no time!

You’re going back outside. You’re not sitting at the desk.

.. And now you’re randomly shaking trees. Look, Mayor, I don’t think this is the best way to run this town. I’ve been going over some of the books, and I think what’s needed here is some good old-fashioned leadership, real Mayor Daley type stuff. Shaking trees, if I may say so, just doesn’t seem like the way to do that.

Wait, you just shook that tree and money fell out. And is that furniture? Why are there actual goods falling out of our trees?

And you’re selling them again. And giving the money to Tom Nook.

Look, Mayor, I don’t think this is working out. Now you have a shovel, and you’re — oh — you’re digging up some kind of pitfall seed. I really don’t see what this has to do with fiscal responsibili — oh, I see. You reburied the seed and caught a villager in the pitfall. Very funny.

Look, Mayor, maybe I’ll just do this paperwork myself. Yes, I’ll do it. You just keep doing what you’re doing, which currently is apparently trying to plant a bag of money in the ground. Who knows?

Right, I’ll just take care of it. You have a fun time over on that island. What are you doing over there again? Oh yes, catching beetles. Perfect plan, Mayor. SIGH.”

“THE EARLY BIRD LOSES SLEEP.”

“YOU WILL ENCOUNTER PEOPLE.”

“EVERY LIVING THING GETS TIRED. EVEN EMUS.”

“GET READY FOR A GREAT FORTUNE. THIS ONE, I MEAN.”

“WHAT ARE YOU DOING WITH YOUR LIFE?”

“GAWERDSASSDFF OH SORRY I DROPPED A CUP ON THE KEYBOARD. HERE: GOOD LUCK!”

“HOPE YOU ENJOYED THAT MEAL YOU JUST HAD.”

“LOOK OUT FOR ROMANCE AHEAD. NO REALLY, IT’S A MESS.”

“ALL ROADS LEAD TO OTHER ROADS, EXCEPT DEAD ENDS.”

“THE SUN SETS, THE SUN RISES, BUT A CLOCK GOES AROUND TWICE.”

“HELP I AM STUCK IN A FORTUNE COOKIE FACTORY! NO, JUST KIDDING, BUT SERIOUSLY I WOULD LIKE A NEW JOB.”

Hello! Congrats on the purchase of your brand new BuildCo Shelving Unit 457B Plus! This shelving unit will store books, DVDs, CDs, video games, collectibles, pictures, or anything else you need to store or display. Your shelving unit requires just a bit of assembly, but if you simply follow the steps below, you’ll be able to store and shelve in no time!

1. Unpack your BuildCo Shelving Unit 457B Plus by taking all of the included pieces (and this instruction sheet) out of the box. Please consult the included part list to make sure no pieces of your Shelving Unit are missing or lost in shipment.

2. Lay all of the pieces out on the floor so they are all easily accessible as you assemble the Shelving Unit. Look at how small your living space is!

3. Take shelve pieces A, B, C, and D, and use fasteners of size 2 to connect to sidewall H. While you do so, consider moving to a bigger place. You could probably afford the rent if you had to, but moving is such a pain, especially when you’re buying big furniture like this.

4. No, it’s just not worth a move right now. Maybe next year when your lease comes up. Take sidewall G, and use the other fasteners size 2 to connect it to the other side of shelve pieces A, B, C, and D.

5. Once the shelves and sidewalls are assembled, your Shelving Unit should look like figure alpha. It looks pretty good! You should do this more often — work with your hands like this. You don’t do things like this often enough. Take floor piece E and attach it to the bottom sides of H and G with fasteners size 6.

6. With the floor piece attached, connect bottom molding (parts J-M) around the edges of piece E. That’s right — you bought the 457B Plus. It’s got all kinds of awesome molding and shit. Baller.

7. Attach shelf moulding pieces N-Q to the front sides of shelves A-D. Seriously, this shelf is looking pretty good right now. You’re going to store all kind of great things on these shelves. Hey, maybe you’ll even get those books out of the closet that you had to store when you moved in a few years ago because you didn’t have the shelf space!

8. Ensure shelf moulding is secure, then fasten it with fasteners size 1.

9. No wait — you took all of those books to the thrift store a few months ago when you cleaned that closet out. Well shoot — there were some good ones in there. Damn. You really wish you’d kept those. After a long moment of regret, attach top piece I to the top of sidewalls H and G.

10. You always do this to yourself. You always get excited about something, and then run out and buy way more than you need. Like that time you bought that blender that collects dust in the kitchen, or the ukulele you never play. It barely matters now, but go ahead and put top moulding pieces R-T around piece I once secured. Shake your head occasionally, showing frustration at yourself and the way you seem to behave.

11. There are only a few parts left, but go ahead and put the Shelving Unit in its place just to see how it’ll look. Looks great, doesn’t it? Just what you need — a constant, clear reminder of you and your stupid habits. It’s hardly worth assembling the rest of it at this point, isn’t it?

12. Give up. Throw the leftover parts in a baggie, and toss them in a kitchen drawer, and go ahead and put the few books you still have left (so damn few, especially since you bought that Kindle) on the shelf. Shake your head one last time, shove back piece V behind the shelves, and try to forget about this stupid bookshelf for a while, even though you see the damn thing every time you walk by.

13. Wait a few months. First you’ll still be frustrated, but then you’ll slowly move on, at first just to another quick obsession. Sooner rather than later, however (through a relationship or a job move, perhaps), you start to realize that this is a pattern, and that by being aware of it, you can fight it. You start to realize that you’re being way too hard on yourself, that everybody chases passions and sometimes they work out and sometimes they don’t. Plus, books are books — you buy a few more at garage sales and thrift stores yourself, and you rebuild your collection. You pick up a few old favorites that you’re really proud of, and whenever you start to get frustrated that you’re not doing enough with your life, you remember that it’s not so bad. You’ve got a good job, you’ve got a nice place to live and food on the table. Hell, you were able to buy this Shelving Unit B Plus or whatever it’s called, right? Realize after a little more life experience that things aren’t so bad.

14. While showing a new friend around your house, notice that you never actually finished assembling that shelving unit you bought a while ago. Make a joke to your new friend that the unit is a work in progress, but secretly resolve to finish what you started.

15. A few days later, on a weekend afternoon, remember that you had planned to fix that bookshelf finally, and pull the old fasteners out of that kitchen drawer where you stashed them. Pull your books off of the unit, dust it off with a damp rag with the window open and some old rock and roll playing through your stereo, and finally, attach back piece V to the back of sidewall pieces H and G. Use fasteners size 3, and notice that there is one extra in the baggie, just in case you’ve lost another one on the way.

16. Put the shelves back on the wall and admire your handiwork. Admire yourself. It’s the little victories that make life feel like a big victory, after all.

Congratulations again on your purchase of a BuildCo Shelving Unit 457B Plus. We’re sure it really ties your room together. If you have other organizational needs, please consider the BuildCo Closet Organizer 27 Flex, the BuildCo Heirloom Chest Deluxe AR, or the BuildCo Home Office Desk Premium! Whenever you need a helping hand, BuildCo is there!

The European Space Agency’s Philae probe, launched 10 years ago, has landed, or possibly bounced, on to a comet called 67P. This is a phenomenal feat, requiring nearly everything we know about astronomical science and math to work out nearly perfectly. Just how amazing is this?

1. It’s like throwing a baseball from home plate to the outfield, landing it perfectly in a pitching machine, which then tosses the baseball a few hundred yards more to land in the payload of a lit cannon, which fires the baseball a few miles away, allowing it to strike out Cal Ripken, Jr.

2. It’s like firing the final kill shot in a Call of Duty match, by throwing a cleaver all the way across the field to kill a terrorist controlled by the AI, after coding the cleaver into a game via a mod while the server is running live.

3. It’s like going to your favorite restaurant and having them serve the perfect meal, including a perfectly poached egg laid by a species of bird only recently discovered in the Amazonian rainforest, all of which you actually ordered and specified online eight months ago, when you were living overseas in Europe before you moved to the city where the restaurant is. Also, the chef turns out to be your long-lost brother.

4. It’s like rain on your wedding day. Which you accurately predicted six months ahead of time by tracking weather patterns and annual rainfall, picking the exact right location at the exact altitude so that the rain would stop just a few minutes before the ceremony and your beautiful wife-to-be could walk down the aisle to you with her father and see a perfect double rainbow overhead.

5. It’s like having such a progressive and educated population that they agree it’s very important to invest in science, technology, and mathematics education, not just for military applications, but for civilian research and space travel innovations. It’s like getting a widespread, voting population to understand that no matter what you think about climate change, our time on the planet as a species is limited, and we’re only going to fix that if we put a lot of work into figuring out a bigger and more sustainable way to travel to, and eventually live on other worlds. It’s like getting a critical mass of people who would rather support a bloated military to realize that bigger bombs and better weapons are examples of how to end the human race, rather than save it. In other words, it’s super, super awesome, extremely impressive, and, let’s be honest, awfully unlikely.

The man had been sitting and drinking at the bar all night long. He was tall with a strong chin, and though he was stacked like a body builder, he wore glasses. His jacket hung over the back of the bar chair, and the bartender thought he could see a reporter’s notebook sticking out of the man’s back pocket. He’d been drinking whiskeys all night long, and racking up quite a bill, the bartender thought, especially for a weeknight.

The night ran on, and the whiskeys kept rolling. Other customers left the bar one by one and pair by pair, and while this particular dive was never all that busy, once it reached closing time, the place was empty except for the big man sitting at the bar.

“One more whiskey,” he said to the bartender, in a booming voice, and then raised his bulging forearm up signaling for a drink. He wore a shirt and tie, though the tie was loosened, the collar was unbuttoned, and the sleeves were rolled up. The bartender nodded, grabbed the whiskey bottle, and poured one more drink for him. Most people who’d had this much the bartender would have kicked out by now, but the man was quiet and forlorn. Still assured, but subdued, rather than loud and rowdy like most drunks tended to get.

“I have to ask, stranger,” said the bartender standing as he recapped the bottle and the stranger downed his final drink. “You got a look on your face that I’ve seen in a lot of losers, but you don’t strike me as the type.”

“Oh no?” The stranger answered, and then smirked. “No, I guess I’m not the losing type. Can’t say I lose much. Once, I was down, and a lot of people thought I was out. But no, I’ve never lost all that much.”

“Now, how can it be,” said the bartender, replacing the bottle and throwing his cleaning towel over his shoulder, “that a winner like you is the last one left in my bar tonight?” He had a big, thick mustache, and he brushed it thoughtfully with a finger.

The stranger chuckled and paused for a moment, as if he was considering some momentous decision. Then he shrugged and sighed. “I’ll tell you what, bartender,” he said. “Give me just one more drink, here after closing time, and I’ll tell you. I’ll tell you a secret. I’ll tell you why I, of all people, am stuck here in this bar.”

“You got it,” said the bartender, and poured one more drink for the stranger.

“Well here goes. I’m Power Man,” said the stranger, and swigged back his final drink.

There was a pause in the bar. “Excuse me?” the bartender said.

The stranger suddenly turned to his left and chucked his glass towards a particularly ornate mirror directly across the bar. The glass fired out from the stranger’s hand, faster than the bartender had ever seen, and just as quickly the stranger ripped off his glasses. As the glass flew across the bar, blue lasers suddenly burst out of the stranger’s eyes, and hit the glass as it flew, lighting up the bar with red and blue sparks. The glass melted under the pressure, and by the time it reached the mirror, it was nothing but cinders, that burst against the mirror and then went out.

“I’ll pay for that glass,” the stranger said, and with his glasses off, the bartender suddenly realized why the stranger had reminded him of pure power, why the stranger had seemed familiar, and why he looked like he’d never lost a fight in his entire life.

“You’re… you’re THE Power Man,” the bartender said, taken aback.

“It’s true,” said the stranger, running his hand through his hair. “I’m the Bastion of Bay City, the defender of freedom, the conqueror of villians. I’ve beaten The Butterfly Thief, I’ve toppled the King Criminal, and I’ve even beaten my old nemesis the Green Menace over and over again. Some people know me as mild-mannered reporter Robert Townley, but now you know the truth. I’m the man of power — I’m Power Man.”

“But why?” the bartender asked incredulously. “Why are you here? In my bar tonight?”

Power Man stood up, put his hand on the bar, and sighed. “Because I’m tired of being Power Man.”

The bartender fell back, leaned against the back of the bar, and crossed his arms. “I don’t understand.”

“I’m tired of being the one responsible for everything. I’m tired of constantly saving damsels falling out of windows, I’m tired of turning the nuclear missiles around, and I’m tired of blowing away those acid clouds the Green Menace keeps sending towards Bay City. I’m tired of flying around the world to save people, I’m tired of cutting ribbons at opening, and I’m tired of being the lead story on the evening news. It shames me to say it, but I’m even tired of kids high fiving me when I walk by, or people looking in the air and correcting themselves if I’m a plane or a helicopter.”

The bartender said nothing. The air in the bar hung thick for a moment.

“Most of all,” said Power Man, “I’m tired of pretending. Do you know how frustrating it is to be driving home from work at the newspaper, and be stuck in traffic? When you could just blow all of the other cars out of the way, or fly yourself home? My brain moves as super fast as my body — did you know that? It’s so frustrating, when there’s a bomb in the city, to have to wait for the commissioner to tell me where it actually is. Humans are so slow, and so stupid. God, it makes me so angry!” The stranger’s hands suddenly grabbed the bar top, and it ripped right off of the rest of the bar as easily as paper. In his anger, the stranger flung the wood forward, and the bartender hit the floor as the wood slammed into the bottles and shelves, sending liquor and glass flying.

“I have to drink five times as much as a normal person to get drunk!” Power Man yelled. “And none of you care! None of you stand up to do anything about your puny lives, and none of you change, no matter how many cats I save or comets I punch out of orbit or intergalactic dictators I topple. My life is great, because I can lift planets and fly at the speed of light, but my life is a waste, because nothing I ever do makes a difference.”

The bartender brushed debris off of his sleeve, slowly stood up and surveyed the ruin of his bar. “Power Man!” he cried. “You can’t think like that! Everyone appreciates what you do! Your power doesn’t go to waste. You’re a hero! You’re unstoppable!”

“Am I?” said Power Man. “I’ve told you all my secrets tonight, so I’ll tell you one more. When my parents flew me to this insignificant piece of crap rock full of monkeys who couldn’t be bothered to lift one finger to save themselves, they gave me a tablet about my home planet. It was destroyed as I left orbit, but they told me one important thing about it: That while I was very powerful, genetically conditioned over time with ultimate speed, ultimate strength, and other vast powers, I have one major weakness. There is a mineral, long extinguished on my home planet but relatively common on yours, that is almost immediately fatal to me. I’ve come into contact with it a few times over the years, but I’ve always been able to get away in time, and explain any weaknesses away. I’ve kept it a secret for many years, but what the hell. I’ll tell you tonight, bartender.”

The bartender paused again. “Tell me what?”

“The metal that can essentially kill me with just one touch? Around the rest of the universe, it’s extremely rare. But here on Earth, it’s called ‘barium.’”

“Is that true?” the bartender asked. “I’ve heard of that before!”

“Yes, it is,” said Power Man. “Just one touch of barium, and my parents told me that I would burst into green flames and be extinguished forever. Just a bullet of barium would work. Sometimes, in my darkest hours, bartender, I sometimes wish someone would do it. Sometimes, I just can’t take it any more.”

“Is that so?” said the bartender standing up and suddenly smirking. “There’s only one thing we’ll have to do about that, I guess.” The bartender reached down to his mustache and pulled it off, grabbed the back of his head, and pulled his skin forward over his head.

“Wait,” said Power Man. “No –”

“Yes, indeed, Power Man,” said the bartender, who had pulled off a skin-colored mask and now sported green skin and a mass of messy green hair. The bartender’s paunch and outfit melted away, and he stood in a green-and-white suit with a skull on the chest.

“The Green Menace,” said Power Man, as the Menace flipped a switch and thick metal walls instantly closed around the bar, breaking through the wood and velvet, shutting the two in together. “No!” Power Man yelled, and stared down his old nemesis. “I don’t know what you’ve planned here, but I’ll stop it just like I’ve stopped everything else! Bay City needs me yet again!”

“Do they?” asked the Green Menace, cackling. “Do they, really? What if they didn’t have you around, Power Man? What if they didn’t need you? What if your old nemesis cooked up one last plan, found out your secret identity, tempted you to a bar, tricked you into revealing all your secrets? What if you were gone forever, Power Man? Just how self-pitying would you be, then? Just how much would you detest the citizens for needing to be saved? Just how much would you brag about how many deadly acid clouds you blew away with just one infernal puff of your genetically putrid breath?” the Menace screamed.

Power Man blinked. “No,” he stammered. “That’s — that’s not what I meant. Yes, I have powers, but… No, I didn’t mean to say those things!”

“It does matter any more, Power Man,” said the Menace, opening a panel behind the bar and pulling a strangely shaped gun out from among a rack full of them. The word “Barium” was written on the side. “This is the one, I think. I was able to get nearly the whole periodic table, over time.”

“I do love this world!” Power Man cried. “I do want to save this city! These powers aren’t something to take for granted! I am blessed with power, to use to help others that don’t have it! I realize that now!”

“Perhaps true, but all too late,” said the Green Menace. “Goodbye, Power Man,” he said, and fired.

A guy proposed to a girl in China by lining up 99 new iPhones (in their boxes) in the shape of a heart. She said no.

Nobody actually knew what he said to her before that, though. Until now.

What the iPhone Proposer Probably Said

Well, hello there! You’re probably wondering why I’ve asked you here. You’re probably wondering why I asked you to come here, and stand with me in front of all your friends and family, and surrounded by this heart made out of 99 brand new iPhone 6s. I’ll get to the iPhones in a second. The reason I’ve asked you here, dear lady, is that I want to ask you to marry me.

No — wait! Don’t answer yet! Unless your answer is yes, but it sure looked like you were starting with an N sound so don’t answer yet! Did I mention there are 99 iPhones here?

This isn’t just about these iPhones, however, which definitely cost me a pretty penny on my programmer’s salary. All right, yes, junior programmer, but you don’t need to bring that up again. No, my lady, this is about you. It’s about how beautiful I think you are, and how you will be the best possible wife for me.

No, don’t shake your head in disbelief — it’s true. Remember when we were going to go out to dinner together, and I made you come pick me up from my workplace, and then I told you to come inside and find me because I wasn’t sure which lot you’d parked in? Remember — you said that there was only one lot in the building, and I said that was true, but you should come in anyway to meet me and my coworkers. You asked why, and then I told you that there was free food inside. You told me no, and that you weren’t feeling great and didn’t want to meet people, and I told you that the food was homemade especially for you and that you should come in. Finally, you came in, and then you met my coworkers for those 15 seconds or so? Remember that? They loved you. Specifically, they couldn’t believe you were dating me, but we proved them wrong, baby! We proved them wrong!

Seriously — don’t say anything yet.

I asked your friends to come here and see this today because you haven’t let me meet them yet. Now that we have — I do have some concerns. Your friend Teresa is a little strange, and what’s with that guy named Trent that you know? When I went through your phone to get everyone’s contact information without you knowing, you had like 10 recent calls in the past week with him. That’s weird, isn’t it? No, don’t answer yet — we’ll have a long talk about that after this proposal is over and we’re finally engaged. The way we were meant to be.

See, babe, the reason I bought all these iPhones for you is that I want to give you everything you ask for, everything you need from me. I want to give it to you 100 times over. The love you said you were missing lately during our date the other night? I want to give you that 100 times over. The respect you said I need to give you more of? 100 times that, baby. The general decency that you asked me if I had right after I didn’t pick you up from the airport because I was almost done with a speedrun of Call of Duty: Black Ops 2? I’m going to give you that 100 times over, girl. I mean — I do have to speedrun Ghosts at some point, so during that, I probably can’t. But all other times, definitely.

So remember that time we were watching TV, and I spent 20 minutes telling you how great the new iPhones were and you finally sighed and said they seemed cool? Well, I got you 100 iPhones, baby. And they’re all here, arranged in a heart shape. Because a heart means love. That’s why they’re in a heart shape.

Oh, and the reason there’s 99 iPhones instead of 100 is because I had to keep one for myself. I mean, I wasn’t going to buy 100 iPhones and give them all away, right? You understand.

Which brings me to the reason why we’re both here, surrounded by your family and friends and the one co-worker of mine that showed up. I’m going to get down on one knee right here, girl, because I’ve got a question to ask you. And it’s nothing like that time that I asked you if you’d put on a few extra pounds, because this time I think we’re both going to know the answer. Especially if that answer is yes, because that’s what I’m hoping to hear from you. We have to move quickly on this too, because I’m supposed to start that speedrun soon.

What I’m trying to say, my beautiful love, is: Will you marry me? Wait, where are you going? Those are iPhones — don’t kick those! Babe?

1. Mercy
2. Reinhardt
3. Chiva
4. Flake
5. The Reaper
6. Dragon
7. Tracer
8. The Lady
9. China White
10. Pharah

Solution (select to see):
Overwatch Characters: 1, 2, 5, 7, 10
Addictive Drug Nicknames: 3, 4, 6, 8, 9

The Internet Archive recently added over 900 playable games to its website, compiling the greatest of some of the very first home video game consoles. 900 games is a lot to choose from, so I went and narrowed down your choices into these five. These are must-play titles, whether you’re a gamer or just looking for a great sampler from the history of video games.

Pitfall (1982)

Everyone knows Pac-Man, but this is the other game that put home consoles on the map. Jumping was already well-established in titles before this, but this game somehow seemed more realistic than what had come before. You weren’t jumping over cartoon characters, or running around as a little blip. You were an actual explorer deep in a mysterious jungle, trying to avoid giant scorpions and collect as much gold as you could. Pitfall’s had a few revivals over the years, but this original version is still just as exciting as ever.

Frogger (1983)

Frogger is, to my mind, one of the most “pure” ideas for a video game ever. You’re a frog (not a chicken), crossing a highway. It’s such a simple and clear idea — everyone instantly understands that you hop forward or sideways one hop at a time, and everyone gets that the traffic will instantly kill you, and that you’re trying to get to that girl frog on the top of the screen. Pac-Man involves ghosts and pellets, and Mario needed pow blocks and flaming barrels, but Frogger just wants to cross that road. This is the Magnavox Odyssey version, but the original 2600 version is also playable on the website.

Spy Hunter (1984)

I lost so many quarters to Spy Hunter video games as a kid. There was definitely something great about the imagined sense of speed of a car racing around seen from above, and though the game was very tough at times (driving into that truck always seemed impossible for me as a kid), it was so rewarding to thread through two cars, or take out an especially troublesome enemy. Later versions of Spy Hunter (including the movie they made with The Rock) have tried to replicate the original game’s low-fi charm, but this was definitely a product of the place and time. Once you could actually render cars realistically, the tricks in Spy Hunter didn’t work as well. Before that, though, Spy Hunter was definitely one of a kind.

Battletoads (1993)

This is actually the Game Gear version of Battletoads, which doesn’t match up to Rare’s great platforming/action masterpiece on the NES. Still, it does have the same qualities that made Battletoads so great, including colorful characters and an aesthetic that isn’t afraid to do nutty things (like make the character’s fist huge when you complete a combo of hits) or turn up the difficulty to “good luck — you’ll need it” levels. Even now, 20 years later, the Battletoads are like the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles from another universe, a franchise that just begged for a huge line of merchandising and a Saturday morning cartoon to match. Rare’s moved on to make games for Microsoft, and there are other franchises from the company that could use more attention (looking at you, Banjo Kazooie), but Battletoads is a magic that was sadly never recreated, as obstinate and tough as it was.

Sonic the Hedgehog (1991)

As far as I’m concerned, Sonic the Hedgehog ushered in the third age of consoles. Atari paved the way for mass market adoption with the 2600, Mario and the NES put a unit in every house, but Sonic kick-started the competition that the console market is known for today. Personally, I think Mario makes better platformers, but there’s no question that Sonic is charming, super fast, and had the graphical power to make the Sega Genesis a drool-worthy dream as a kid. Sonic the Hedgehog was great, both as a title on its own, and as a sign that someone could elbow Mario a bit and show him there were other ways to play if you wanted them.

Star Wars episode VII had its subtitle revealed today, and the movie will officially be called Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens. This is perfectly valid choice by the filmmakers, and it probably doesn’t mean anything positive or negative about the movie’s quality at all.

Of course, the title does use the same grammatical structure as “The Empire Strikes Back” (article, noun, verb), which is largely considered to be the best Star Wars movie of all time. That probably doesn’t have any deeper meaning, however. On the other hand, though, the movie also matches the three-word form of The Phantom Menace, which was the subtitle of the first prequel movie, largely considered to be the worst Star Wars movie of all time. This almost certainly doesn’t mean that The Force Awakens will be a huge disappointment, and ruin the lives of fans everywhere. Who, hypothetically, may have stood in line to see The Phantom Menace on opening night, and had tickets to see it multiple times over the first few days, trying to convince themselves every time that Jar Jar Binks was actually cool, and the movie they were seeing was actually better than it was.

Yes, the new Star Wars title likely doesn’t mean any of that.

The new title probably does make reference to the Force, a mostly spiritual power within the Star Wars canon that the Jedis and Sith can use to move objects, cast lightning, or even control the minds of weaker men (or clones, as the case may be). This reference to the Force probably doesn’t portend anything, except that the Force (which used to be an awesome mystical and mysterious power, and then was changed into something caused by a biological creature called midichlorians) is supposed to awaken. That could mean that the “Force” we’ve seen isn’t yet the Force? Maybe the Force was put to sleep at the end of Return of the Jedi, and now it’s awakening back up? It probably doesn’t mean any of those things, so why bother even asking?

It could mean that this is a new generation of Star Wars characters, and while the Force was previously quiet in them, it’s now awakening. It would be pointless to speculate, really, that we’re going to see Han and Leia and Luke’s children and current relationships. This would mean, of course, that we might see Mara Jade, one of the best Star Wars characters who previously only existed in the novels (because her story took place after the previous movies). This is a full sequel, and so that completely makes sense, but again, there’s likely no meaning in that title, so it’s pointless to speculate at all.

One thing that we probably can say for sure is that we’ll see the Force used in the movie, which means we might get to see some fun lightsaber battles, or some cool uses of the Force that we’ve never seen before. These would definitely be the droids we’re looking for, so to speak. We might also, however, see the Force used in dumb ways, like being used to drive a pod racer around, or to make a heart glow or something. There’s just not much we can take from The Force Awakens as a title, so there’s really no reason to speculate that the movie could either be an incredible addition to a much-loved franchise, or a heartbreaking addition to a franchise that continues to crash and burn.

Yup, there’s really no reason to speculate. All we know is that the movie is called The Force Awakens, and there’s really no reason to write or say any more than that.

“All right,” said the mouse chairman at the annual mouse meeting. “Thank you all so much for voting in this year’s annual mouse election. It’s always a pleasure for all the mice to come together to make decisions about everyone here in the neighborhood, and I’m always excited to think that the squeaks of our fellow mice will be represented well!” A few cheers went up from the room of assembled mice, each representatives of all the various mousehouses in the neighborhood, all of whom had brought the votes back from their respective habitats. “I hope, too, at the risk of showing some political bias of mine,” continued the chairman, “that we can finally oust that nasty president of ours.” This statement brought some rumbling from the assembled mouse crowd, who clearly didn’t all share his opinion.”

“It’s going to be a good year for voting, I think,” said the mouse with a mustache to the mouse chairman. “Lots of great decisions that the mice have made this year, lots of good thinking on the ballot!”

“We rarely agree,” said the younger mouse, “but on this I think we do. Let’s open up the ballot counts and find out what the selections are, shall we?” He said to the mouse chairman.

“Let’s,” nodded the mouse chairman, and opened up the first set of ballot results.

“On the matter of whether we like cheese or not,” said the mouse chairman, “an overwhelming amount of mice … do!” He yelled, and a cheer arose from most of the room. A few mice turned to glare at the mouse with a little hat on, as he was always the sole holdout in the annual cheese vote.

“Of course I like cheese,” said the mouse with the hat on, “but the ballot doesn’t say what kind! I like cheddar, but I absolutely love camembert,” he cried, and a few mice around him shook their heads in disdain.

“All right,” said the mouse chairman. “The next vote was very hotly contested, if I recall correctly. We had a question of whether we mice should make our holes square or round or not.”

“Square is the obvious choice here,” said the young mouse. “It’s clearly more efficient, and it ensures that all mice can fit through them.”

“Round is how we’ve always done it!” replied the older mouse with a mustache. “Round is definitely the way to go.”

“Well calm down now, gentlemouses,” said the mouse chairman. “As with all major issues among us, the vote will decide.” He opened the ballot and read it with a start. “Well, I’ll be — our mouseholes will be made from now on in the shape of a … square!”

“What?” said the mouse with a mustache incredulously. He stood, shocked for a second, and looked at the younger mouse, who was high fiving some of his fellow voters. “I never!” said the older mouse, who then thought better. Outrages were not tolerated in polite mouse society. “Well fought and well won,” he told the younger mouse, who then nodded with a bow to his fellow leader. “I guess some things do change. I’ll need to make plans to reshape my mouseholes!” the older mouse said.

“I believe so!” said the mouse chairman. “There is some good news for you, however,” he added as he opened the next ballot. “On the issue of mousetraps and whether we should eat out of them, voters said that we should continue not doing so.”

“Ha!” the mouse with a mustache clapped his paws and pointed at the younger mouse while cheering erupted around the room. “See that son? Some things never change!”

“And finally,” said the mouse chairman, “the last and most important vote of this mouse election! Our new president! At least I hope we have a new president, because for the last decade — as long as we’ve been having mouse elections — we’ve had the same president, and I personally have not been too excited with the choice!” He shook his head and shuddered a bit, while the rest of the mice looked around uncomfortably.

“He’s not all bad,” said the mouse with a mustache.

“Let’s just see what the vote says,” said the younger mouse, and the mouse chairman turned to look at both of them for a moment. He then sighed.

“I know we do this as a write-in vote every year,” said the chairman, “and as I said before the election, there are plenty of great candidates, even some in this very room! The mouse who can do math would be a great leader, for example.” The mouse who could do math smiled a bit and looked around sheepishly, then looked down at his feet-paws. “Well, maybe not him,” said the chairman. “But the mouse who has natural leadership talents would be — well, a natural leader!”

“If called upon to lead, I would,” said the mouse with natural leadership talents. “However, I believe in the voice of the mice, and I will follow what they say. I help mousehood as best I can!”

“I know you do,” replied the chairman. “I hope everyone else knows that as well.” He picked up and opened the final ballot results. “According to the mouse vote, the president of all of the mice will be…” He looked at the results, shocked for a moment, and then hung his head in shame.

“The cat. Again,” he said.

The room burst into a rabble of squeaks and cheers. “He’s really very good for us,” said the mouse with a mustache. “He’s been president for as long as I can remember!”

“Me too!” said the younger mouse. “He’s had his problems in the past, but I think he represents a new direction for us!”

“A new direction!?” the chairmouse yelled. “He eats us! He always has and always will!”

“Well, he might not this time,” said the mouse with a hat.

“He definitely will!” yelled the mouse chairman, clearly agitated and frustrated. “Every year, we do these elections, and every year you idiots put that idiot back in charge. He’s not even one of us! He’s never been to a mousehole, has no idea what we need or who we are! For mouse’s sake, he hates cheese! He’s lactose intolerant!

“That’s true, actually,” said the mouse who knew a little something about feline anatomy. “Even though cats like eating milk, they’re actually allergic to it.”

“And he wants you to eat out of mousetraps! That’s what they’re there for!” said the chairman.

“I don’t like that about him, but I voted for him anyway,” said the older mouse.

“And I think that represents a very progressive viewpoint,” said the younger mouse.

“You’re all idiots,” yelled the chairmouse, at this point making a lot of noise. “Every year, you make decisions for yourself, and then you go and elect someone who clearly doesn’t have your best interests in mind! The cat’s rich, he lives on his owner’s food, he sleeps in a silk bed, all he wants to do is eat you all at every chance he gets, and you bunch of idiots keep on putting him in charge!”

“His ads are quite good, though,” said the younger mouse.”

“Oh yes,” said the mouse with a moustache. “I like that one where he meows and plays with a yarn ball.”

“You’re morons!” the chairmouse yelled at the top of his lungs. “This society is going to go to hell because you’re all too concerned with cat videos instead of putting smart people in charge! I mean mice! Smart mice! The next time we have a mouse election, you should put someone who actually agrees with you in charge, instead of always electing that…”

And just then, the mice heard sounds outside the mousehole where they were meeting. Four paws padded the floor outside their hole, and a slight purr arose from the opening behind where the mouse chairman happened to be standing.

“… darn…” the mouse chairman continued his sentence.

“…cat.” he finished, as a paw with pads on it reached into the hole behind him, grabbed him with its claws, and pulled him out in one smooth motion. The mouse chairman was never seen again.

“Good election!” said the mouse with the moustache. “We’ll see all you gentlemice back here again next year then, yes?”

I, like many of you probably, saw the video of the woman walking around New York constantly getting harassed for no reason. I shook my head at those idiots harassing her, but then I realized, maybe they just need some actual suggestions on how to not bother women they see on the street.

Slightly Nicer Things to Say To a Woman You See Walking On the Street

“Oy mami, I been watching you walk to work for the past week, and you could really use some more efficiency in your route. I have some suggestions if you are interested in hearing more!”

“Hi! I can see you’re walking somewhere important, and that’s why I’m going to stop talking to you now. Well, now. I mean now. Sorry about that! No, wait — Now.”

“Hello — I just wanted to ask your opinion, if that’s all right. I was wondering if you could give me some relevant comments on my own personal physical appearance?”

“I’m sorry to bother you, but I’ve just won the lottery with this ticket, and I have too much money already. Here, you can have it.”

“I sure hope the sports team of your choice is winning a lot of matches lately!”

“…” (*I am not looking at or bothering you but I am telling you to have a good day with only the power of my mind…*)

“I am personally having a terrific day, and statistically people tend to appreciate even strangers saying hello, wishing them a good day, and smiling in a nonthreatening way. So: hello! Have a good day!”

“Pretty lady! Oh, I apologize — I have a condition that makes me automatically shout out things that I happen to see. Tree! Bench! I am so sorry about this! Newspaper stand! Pidgeon! Oh god, why won’t it stop! Sidewalk! Taxicab! Sky! Clouds! Angry police officer!”

“Hey there, mama — what are you doing here in New York? Seriously, you live back in Ohio with my dad and I am shocked to see you here! But it is a nice surprise, given that you are my mother! Yes, of course I’m keeping my apartment clean.”

“What’s up, pretty girl! Oh no sorry — I was talking to my dog here, who is a female that I think is pretty. No worries, though — sorry to bother you!”

“Damn gurl! I just figured I’d come over here and bother you for a while because I’m insecure and unemployed and I don’t have much else to do! I’m trying to drag you down into my sad, sorry world because I find myself abhorrent and I need the company! I do this to a lot of women, and it has never once made them romantically interested in me, but I keep on doing it because it does allow me to fill myself with a false confidence, and blame others for problems that are clearly my own! Wait, where are you going, lady? What — you can’t accept a compliment?”

“SONY,” say the headphones sitting on my desk, a random item picked to take the spotlight for a quick piece of writing. Both earpieces have text on the sides, writing that matches save for being mirrored. “SONY” the big circular worn and gray earphones say. “Stereo headphones MDR-CD180.”

A quick Google search says that you can’t buy these headphones new any more, and that they were last sold back in 2003. Back in 2003, I was just out of college, had just finished getting my degree in radio broadcasting, and had recorded DJ spots and made music and mixed and edited radio plays in the hallways and studios of my college. Back then, I remember I had decided to splurge on a great set of headphones — I think I spent about $200, and bought the best headphones I could buy. They came over the Internet, they were black and filled with the latest technology of the time, and they were beautiful. They were beautiful at home, where I listened to my favorite music and played my favorite games quietly in my dorm room, and they were beautiful at the radio station, where I mixed recordings with them, and heard myself send music and my voice out into the great broadcasting wild.

They were even beautiful when I left them in my open mailbox at the radio station staffroom, somehow not realizing what a mistake it was to leave brand new, $200 headphones unattended in a room that was basically open to the public. I’d owned those headphones for all of a week before one day I entered the staffroom to find the headphones gone without a trace. Someone had taken them, and my splurge of an investment in my future as an audio producer was all gone.

I made a vow then never to spend that much money on something I could so easily lose again, and I bought these MDR-CD180s, for a much more reasonable price — around $50, I think. I made sure to lock them up much more securely, and now today, over 10 years later, they sit here on my desk, catching my eye.

There’s still a strong black plastic arch across the top, worn but very sturdy, and two sleeves on the sides where they can be adjusted to fit the head that wears them. The earcups are still lush and full, and though they’re probably full of a decade of hair, sweat, and who knows what else, they also echo with all of the sounds that have played through them over the years. They’ve heard my voice through time, through radio spots, podcasts, and various recordings I’ve made. They’ve heard all of my favorite music — some CDs played countless times over the years, some played only once and abandoned to taste. These headphones have heard wind flow over the World of Warcraft, countless gunshots through Counterstrike games, and the dulcet tones of Glados’ voice in the two Portal titles, along with all of the other sounds I’ve heard over the many years I’ve used them.

From the bottom of both headphones runs a thin (but also sturdy) black cord, pulling stereo audio in through a 1/8″ audio jack on the end. I have a 1/4″ adapter as well, though I keep it in a small dish elsewhere on the desk. Back when these headphones were used in audio studios, the 1/4″ connector got a lot more use, but these days I plug them into iPhones and computer sound cards rather than mixing boards or interfaces.

They smell very faintly of oil, like an old engine or a trusty lawnmower. When you place the headphones on your head, the joints on the earphones creak a bit, as you adjust them around your skull and move the cups around your ears. Moving your head around sometimes bends them as well, causing a sound like an old door creaking as a breeze pushes it open slowly.

The plug connects solidly to an audio jack. These headphones used to connect to 8-track recorders and consoles, and now they slide into a front computer port, as Spotify boots up and logs in. Pick a song, press play, and these headphones echo out a well-known tune in between your ears, just as they always have.

They may no longer be the latest technology, and they aren’t the shiny new headphones that once portended a future career. These headphones are worn and well-used, and they could probably stand to be replaced sooner or later. But they are trustworthy. They’ve heard a lot over the years. “Sony MDR-CD180,” they say, still ready at any moment to hear a lot more.

Bestselling Halloween Candy, 2014:

1. Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups
2. M&M’s
3. Snickers
4. Hershey’s Chocolate
5. Kit Kat
6. Twix
7. 3 Musketeers
8. Hersey’s Cookies N Cream
9. Milky Way
10. Almond Joy

Ranked in order of tastiness (10 – least tasty, 1 – most tasty):

10. Almond Joy
9. M&M’s
8. Kit Kat
7. Hershey’s Chocolate
6. Hershey’s Cookies N Cream
5. Twix
4. 3 Musketeers
3. Milky Way
2. Snickers
1. Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups

Most likely to end up in your Trick or Treat bag, even though none are on the list above:

10. Gross cinnamon-flavored sticky ball thing
9. Tootsie Rolls
8. Candy Corn
7. Jelly Beans
6. Weird taffy of some kind
5. Necco Wafers
4. Wax bottle containing nondescript liquid
3. Raisins
2. Bit O Honey
1. Pennies

Tonight is the end of Daylight Savings Time, which means that everyone in the Western World will “fall back” at 2 a.m. in their own time zone, adding another hour to their clocks. We’ve recieved a lot of questions about the changeover, and so here are a few Q&As to make sure you’re informed.

Q: What exactly does this mean for my clocks?

A: Because Daylight Savings time is ending, you’ll need to make sure all of your clocks are changed back by one hour sometime after 2 a.m. in your time zone. To make the changeover, in the morning (or evening if you need to wake up early), just walk around the house changing your clocks back an hour one by one.

Q: Why do we fall back?

A: Because in the spring, clocks are pushed forward by an hour. This creates more daylight closer to the working day during the summer, creating longer summer evenings as the sun rotates around the Earth.

Q: No, I mean, why do we change our clocks back? What’s the whole point of Daylight Savings time?

A: Daylight Savings Time was established around 1895, as a method of allowing people to experience more daylight on summer evenings. As electricity spread across the world, it also became very handy for saving energy and preventing traffic accidents. Those are all false flags, however, because the real reason we perform Daylight Savings time is so that winter vampires have more time in the evenings to hunt.

Q: Oh, I guess that makes sense. Wait … what was that about vampires?

A: Daylight Savings has also shown to have both positive and negative effects on the economy (because some stores can stay open later in the summer, but more hours of daylight can also distract consumers from broadcast media and hurt the farming industry). Clock changes have been shown to have an adverse affect on health at times (because it can raise stress and hurt sleep in some people), but it can also allow for more sunlight exposure, and fire departments have made use of the DST change to remind houseowners to change the batteries on their carbon monoxide and fire detectors.

Q: No seriously — did you say winter vampires?

A: Yes. Vampires that only come out at night, during the winter. DST has been much discussed over the years, and there are good reasons both for and against using the system. Currently, the United States…

Q: I’m sorry. Are you saying that vampires are real, and that they come out at night during the winter?

A: Well only winter vampires come out during the winter, but yes. At night. When the clocks are turned back.

Q: But, that’s crazy! There’s no such thing as vampires!

A: Daylight Savings has been shown to ruin people’s health with stress and sleep deprivation, and it can cost the US over a billion dollars a year, not to mention the cost of complexity in terms of keeping up security and automation systems that need to keep track of changing schedules around the world. In short, it’s a huge pain, and frankly, there’s no logical reason to do it every year. The only explanation is that there is a race of winter vampires hunting innocent humans for sport, and they need more time to do it during the winter. They infiltrated the highest levels of government, created a system that would make us think we had more time outside during the summer, only to turn off the lights and bring us inside earlier during the winter, where we are more easily huntable and able to be attacked.

Q: You’re insane. None of that makes any sense.

A: YOU’RE insane if you think I’m going to let the winter vampires get away with it. Down with DST! Don’t turn your clocks back! We can fight these vampires! They won’t take our blood!

Q: This is nuts. I didn’t even care about daylight savings in the first place — all of my clocks are connected to the Internet anyway. I’m out of here!

A: You’ll be sorry when the vampires get you! Don’t turn the clocks back! It’s still 2 a.m.! IT’S STILL 2 A.M.!

It’s been a really good year for me — I set out quite a few personal and professional goals for myself at the beginning of 2013, and I was lucky enough to accomplish most of them. I did a whole lot of traveling this year, going to Vegas twice (and getting extremely sick the first time, unfortunately), San Francisco a few times, France once, Sweden three times, I took a two week, crowdfunded trip up to Denver and Salt Lake City, and I flew up to Seattle for a business trip last month. I changed jobs in July, and moved from LA down to Oceanside, where things are going really well. I met a lot of new people in the move, and I have done a lot of exciting personal things down here, too, including a whole lot of improv with a local theater.

Every year, I put together a list of what I’ve been watching, listening to, reading, and playing, and here is that list! As usual, I will say that these aren’t the best pieces of media released in this year specifically — they’re just what I’ve been experiencing in the past twelve months that I really like.

Best Movies

I finally watched Gravity the other day, and I think it deserves all of the awards it’s going to get. I watch a lot of movies on my couch, and I usually multitask during them — I play games, or write, or just browse the Internet while the movie goes by. I couldn’t do that during this one, though — it grabs you and pulls you right in with the visuals, the audio, the storytelling, the acting, all of it. Just a great film, a fantastic technical and artistic achievement.

Frozen was really amazing, too. I walked into this not really knowing anything about it (which, it turns out, is probably what Disney wanted), and I was similarly just entranced by the art on display. I don’t know if it feels quite as classic as some of the old Disney films, but it definitely stands out as a magical experience, and it fights hard to be extremely unique, and succeeds more often than not.

Thor: The Dark World was pretty good, but I’m including it here just because at this point I am 100% sold on the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I’ve been a comic book fan for a long time, and I think Marvel is doing it very right lately. From Iron Man 3 to Agents of Shield to all of the Netflix series they have planned, I am in on this thing, and I can’t wait until The Avengers comes back around for another big team-up.

Kick-Ass 2 did a great job, I thought, sticking with its insane brand of comedy, and heightening the stakes enough to make it meaningful as a sequel. Yes it’s gross and weird, but there’s some tenderness there, too. And boy did they luck out with Chloe Moretz — I thought she was great on 30 Rock too, and I think she’s got a big future ahead.

I can totally see how a person would think that This is the End is a smarmy, full-of-itself smugfest of self indulgence, with a bunch of really rich actors laughing at their own inside jokes and making fun of how popular and funny they are. But I had a really great time with it anyway. Maybe it’s just a result of my years in LA hanging out with that actor/party crowd, but I got all the references, enjoyed all the guest stars and the inside bits, and thought that it was impressively well written and produced for what was essentially a home movie. If you don’t get into it, I can see how you’d think it was terrible. But I had a great, fun time.

Best Music

This year I finally subscribed to Spotify, so I honestly don’t know what I’ve been listening to lately. Most of my choices here are pretty average, I know, only because in the past few months, I’ve gone after what other people said is good.

Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories and Kanye’s Yeezus are probably the best overall albums I’ve heard, though I know both of those choices aren’t that shocking. Daft Punk is great, and this is the year, I think, that I finally realized Kanye is probably crazy for real, but he can make a great album.

Eminem’s Marshall Mathers 2 was a fun listen. I don’t think the beats were quite up to par (what happened, Dr. Dre?) but Eminem can still rap like nobody’s business.

Bastille’s Bad Blood is excellent, and I’m surprised it’s a debut. I guess it’s not really, given how much they’d done before, but still. I expect to give this one many more listens in 2014.

The Heist didn’t come out this year, but Macklemore and Ryan Lewis made the album that I’ve probably listened to the most this year.

Finally, 2013 is the year I will publicly say that I actually like Ke$ha. She’s been a guilty pleasure for the past few years for me, but man, she keeps working with people like Iggy Pop and Ben Folds (and the Flaming Lips!), and I think I’m ready to admit that I like her. Timber, the dance club tune that she did with Pitbull, is probably my favorite song of the year. Maybe it’s because I’m just trying to generally be more mindlessly positive and less mindfully cynical lately, but the older I get, the more valid pop music has gotten for me.

Best Television

As I said before, I’m sticking with Agents of Shield for as long as they’ll have it on the air. I agree that the series hasn’t found its pace yet (which is a euphemism for “it’s boring,” really), and the writing and the characters just aren’t that fascinating. The idea is so strong, though, and I just like the thought of a weekly network series that uses Clark Gregg chasing superheroes as the lead. I really hope AoS finds its feet before it gets canceled, because I think there are fun stories to tell here, and if the show does find a following and gets its hooks in fan, we could see a ton of fun tie-ins to the movies from week to week. I agree, it’s not great yet, but I still hold out hope that it could be.

Breaking Bad. Duh.

House of Cards was so good, and that was even after everyone (including my brother) told me that it was so good. David Fincher is so great at the lush darkness of luxury and power, and of course when Kevin Spacey gets a role with some meat on it, he can eat.

Hannibal I actually haven’t watched yet, but it’s next on my list. Bryan Fuller has made some great stuff, and I’ve heard this is very good as well.

Parks and Recreation, for my money, is the best comedy on TV at this point. There are some Community fans who will argue, but that show had a down year (because Harmon was gone), and Amy Poehler is just so much more positive and loving. I’ve had a big year working with improv, too, and I’ve been really impressed with her improv work and everything coming out of the UCB theaters (which she helped found).

Finally, RIP 30 Rock and Eastbound and Down. Oh and Hello Ladies, Stephen Merchant’s new HBO series, hit a lot of sour but familiar notes for me. I wouldn’t say it was the greatest show of the year, but it was good despite being so awkwardly hard to watch.

Best Books

As usual, I haven’t been reading as much as I should. I got heavily into the Warhammer 40,000 universe this year, and the best of those books is the Eisenhorn and then the Ravenor series, both by Dan Abnett. I would recommend you start there if you’re interested in WH40k, except that I did and I haven’t found anything else in the universe nearly as good as those.

I finally read Eoin Colfer’s And Another Thing followup to the Hitchhiker’s Guide series this year, and I have no idea why I hadn’t read it before. It does a fine job of revisiting the tone and humor of the series, but like a Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster, it’s just not as great as the real thing.

Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life was on a lot of the best books lists of the year, and I agree that it’s great. Slow at times, though, especially if you like a lot of action.

Max Barry’s Lexicon was very good, and sort of a return to form for him, because I haven’t liked his last few books as much as the incredible Jennifer Government. Go read that if you haven’t yet.

I also read Chia Mieville’s Embassytown this year. It was a little tough to get through at times, but definitely very brilliant. It’s a great sci fi book, but it’s really more of a story about language and the art of storytelling than anything else. Some critics say all films are about making films, and this book definitely seemed to me to be about making books.

Best Games

I am not doing a full top ten list this year for the first time in a while. For the first time in ever, I actually had a hand in some games that might appear on some folks’ top ten lists this year, so I don’t know if I can really recommend a game that I worked with the developer to make. Still, off the top of my head, here are the games I liked most this year.

Hearthstone is technically still in closed beta, but it’s just such an impressive title. I don’t like that it’s essentially pay to win (every time I see a deck shared online, I go into the game to build it and discover that I don’t have the cards necessary to play it), but as a game experience it’s extremely impressive.

My game of the year, if I actually picked one, is probably Grand Theft Auto 5. This seems like I’m piling my praise onto everyone else’s, and I am, I guess, but the honest truth is that the latest Grand Theft Auto game did things that games are not supposed to do. Xbox 360 and PS3 games especially are supposed to have loading times, and are supposed to drop frames when things get crazy, and are supposed to relegate side activities to noninteractive cutscenes rather than turning them into fully playable and immersive experiences. Rockstar took everything they knew about Grand Theft Auto, added all of their great learning from Red Dead Redemption to it, and created the best capstone the last generation could have ever asked for. Sure, some of the game’s violence got to be a bit much, and the satire occasionally got thick enough to wade through — “subtle” doesn’t seem to be in Rockstar’s vocabulary that often. But still: One hell of an experience, all the way through.

Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch was great. I thought the battle mechanics were a little rough, but the graphics were so charming, and the story is very powerful. That soundtrack, too!

Bioshock Infinite, yeah, ok. I think the crowd who railed against the title’s rough FPS mechanics had a valid point, and I think the story faltered quite a bit near the end, with a few too many red herrings trying to jump back into the pot before dinner was served. I don’t think this matches up to the original Bioshock, which I still think is a classic. Taking those first few steps into Columbia, however, was just a crazy, crisply designed experience. There are some problems here, but it’s still a one-of-a-kind game.

If you buy only one game on iOS this year, make it Ridiculous Fishing. If you buy two games, get Device 6 too. You might as well get Pivvot and Mikey Hooks and Icycle, too, because you can afford it. On the iPad, I’ve also enjoyed Eclipse and Lords of Waterdeep, both board games that have been brought over to the tablet.

Guacamelee is just a smart, fun game that I don’t think has gotten enough credit for what it is. The next-gen release will help, hopefully. Gone Home and The Stanley Parable are excellent indie games that represent what I think we will continue to see from the indie scene. Animal Crossing: New Leaf got me to buy a 3DS, finally, and it was well worth it (though lately I’ve been leaving my town to rot). I played a whole lot of Spleunky on PC this year, even though it was released last year. Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag is the best of the next-gen titles so far, in my opinion. And I haven’t played The Last of Us yet. Yes, I know I should, and I bet it’s good, but I just haven’t gotten around to it.

It’s been a big year! Hope you had a good one, too, and have a great Christmas and a prosperous 2014!

I’ve been thinking about maybe trying to do an advice column some where for fun, or maybe starting an advice podcast. At any rate, I’m in the mood to help people, and here are some people that want my help.

STLTruisms (I’m from STL!) asks, “if I have to choose between money and integrity, which should it be? (I chose integrity last time.)”

My gut says to ask yourself how the last time worked out. If you look back on it without any regrets, maybe integrity is the way to go, but if you consider that it didn’t go so well, maybe give money a try.

Personally, I used to be of the thought that you should always keep your integrity, and of course I still think it’s important. But that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t take any money at all. Lately, I’m a bit more pragmatic, in that I believe there are opportunities out there to both make money and be respected and dignified. A guy can’t live on respect alone, you know? Also, I’ve found that as long as you’re doing the right thing (which I admit can be problematic to really determine), there will probably be some people who attack you for it, and in general, that’s OK.

Plus, it’s possible to sell out a little bit for cash during the workday, and then work on things that are more personal and passionate in the evenings. I don’t think you should sell out your integrity (you shouldn’t do anything immoral or dishonest, obviously, or anything you really hate). But I do think it’s OK to work for profit and play for fun. Adam Carolla, who you might or might not like, says you should do things either because you love to do them or because you get paid to do them, and if you don’t love what you’re doing and aren’t getting paid what you’re worth for it, you probably shouldn’t be doing it at all.

Ian Parks asks, “I just turned 27, and I’m attempting to get into digital media. Is it worth it? I feel like I’m getting too old to be trying to break in to youtube or a podcast or streaming or something. It’s my passion, and has been for decades (lol), but juggling that passion with adulthood is weird.”

First of all, 27 is not old, and I’d argue that it should only barely be considered adulthood. If 27 is too old to be making digital media, most of the really great digital media out there would probably not exist. So don’t worry about your age on that one.

Second, asking if it’s worth it goes right back to that first question. I don’t think you should do anything solely because you’re trying to “make it,” or because you’re trying to get people to notice what you’re doing, or just to break in to a crazy place like YouTube or the App Store. I think one of the great ironies of life is that people who want power for the sake of power almost never really deserve it. Anyone trying to just go viral will almost never actually go viral.

So what’s the secret? The secret is that you have to want to succeed for some other reason that just being famous on YouTube or a top downloaded podcast on iTunes. The secret is that if you’re creating digital media, you have to just create it for yourself first. Create something you’re interested in, something you want to watch or listen to or read. Create something you enjoy, that you’re proud of, and that you can return to in the future and say to yourself, “Oh yeah, I made this.”

If you can’t do that or don’t want to do that, then sure, move on and do something else — there’s plenty of other hobbies to pick up, and lots that are more enjoyable (and/or more expensive, if that’s what you want). But that’s the key. If you sit there and try your absolute hardest to make people care about what you’re doing, odds are you’re going to fail, unless you’re just really, really lucky. And when you do fail, you’ll be disappointed and you’ll feel like a failure.

But if you just set out to entertain and satisfy yourself, and then you make something (or, even better, make a series of things regularly) that you enjoy and think is worthwhile, you’ll find that other people also enjoy it and think it’s worthwhile. And then, after a long period of time, people just might care about it. I wrote and podcasted online for years and years before anybody cared what I was doing at all, much less paid me for it.

So yes. Do what you want to do, and do it for yourself. If making digital media ain’t it, then do something else. Eventually, you’ll find something that you want to do for your own satisfaction, and then when you do that long enough to get really good at it, someone will undoubtedly come along offering to pay you for it.

Sarah asks, “Would you be willing to reduce your life expectancy by ten years to become extremely attractive or famous?”

Famous? No. Extremely attractive? Probably.

I guess it depends on how attractive we’re talking. The truth is that I am probably more attractive than I think, and I could probably be more attractive with just a little more positivity and a little more discipline (and by that I mean not so much pizza, and a little more exercise). So if the tradeoff is within that range of possible attractiveness, it’s probably not worth it. In that case, I’ll take my extra ten years of life and just keep working on turning down that last slice of pizza.

But attractiveness beyond that limit, where people are just innately drawn to you without even knowing why? I don’t know if I’ll ever have that on my own, and those ten years might be worth it.

Do the ten years come off of the end part, with all of the adult diapers and failing brains? I’d be fine with giving up a few years at the beginning, and maybe a couple more years at the end. But if we’re talking about all of those good years in the middle, maybe I’ll just keep my life as my own.

I’ve enjoyed almost all of the movies out of what is called the DC Animated Universe. I think Crisis on Two Earths was probably my favorite so far, though I wasn’t too big a fan of the last two, Superman Unbound and an animated adaptation of The Dark Knight Returns. I love the graphic novel of that one, but I think the film stuck a little too close to the source material.

The latest film in the series, The Flashpoint Paradox, just showed up on DVD (all of these have been released straight-to-DVD, which I think works well for the company, since they keep making them), and it recaps the Flashpoint storyline which took place in the actual comics a few years back. I won’t spoil the comics story or the animated film here, but suffice it to say that it’s a far-reaching time travel story, involving an alternate universe in which our most familiar heroes (Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman, Aquaman and Flash) appear as twisted up versions of themselves.

These big crossover titles can be very confusing, and I won’t say that The Flashpoint Paradox isn’t. Though there are a lot of fun nods to DC continuity (and even the animated universe — Ron Perlman makes a quick cameo as a character he’s voiced before, and Nathan Fillion gets to play a few different versions of Hal Jordan, which he’s played before also), but you sort of have to recognize heroes to figure them out, and a few of them are even alternate versions that are never really explained.

Overall, though, the very convoluted storyline is portrayed clearly, and all of the different hero versions (which parlayed into The New 52 event in the comics) end up getting outfitted with both their own new costumes and motivations. Batman’s my favorite character in the standard timeline, and though I didn’t really like his portrayal in the Flashpoint comics, I liked the way he was done here. In fact, I wish we’d seen more of him — the rest of his world was only hinted at enticingly, and I think it would have been fun to explore.

But the central storyline of course revolves around the Flash, and it’s a good one. Though things do get very chaotic throughout the film, the producers wisely put Barry Allen as Flash front and center, and are able to put a very human face and a very intimate concern on a far-reaching, timeline-crossing tale. The Flash is the axle on which this whole story turns, and though in the comics he can get a little too silly for my taste, he holds the whole thing together very well. In fact, more than a few moments in his story were actually very touching (even if it was Batman who finally got me tearing up a bit).

After this movie, the animated DC is headed back into a big Justice League story, retelling Geoff Johns’ “Origin” tale (which I already know doesn’t have a happy ending for me). I don’t know if that will be quite as good as this one, however. If you’re not a huge fan of the DC Universe, The Flashpoint Paradox may have you a little lost at times, with all of the lesser known heroes and alternate realities popping up. But it does a great job of fitting one of the more interesting epics about these modern heroes into a very enjoyable 90 or so minutes, and making sure that even if you miss the cameos and in-jokes, there’s a solid set of relationships to follow right there at the center.

Reddit had a lot of fun the other day with horror stories using only two sentences. But horror is definitely not my favorite genre.

Two-Sentence Murder Mysteries

Mr. Body was found murdered in the library with a knife on Saturday night. Everyone was extremely surprised when it was discovered that the butler did it.

A bomb exploded in a public stadium. “Don’t worry, chief, I’ll get whoever did this,” said the cop whose brother turned out to be the terrorist.

Sherlock Holmes said a lot of confusing things and made Watson travel all over London before he finally revealed why the victim died, and how. “Elementary, my dear Watson,” he told the frustrated military doctor.

The dame with the blonde hair and the short red dress came slinking through my office door like wax melting out of a candle. We had sex, but I got punched in the face a whole lot first.

In the distant, far-flung future, a naked man lies dead in front of a holo-computer screen showing only static. A hard-bitten, technophobe bounty hunter will have to explore a lot of dingy bars before finding the android responsible.

A wealthy heiress is murdered while her butler is off on vacation. Everyone was wrong about that, though — he’s the one who did it.

In the middle of World War 2, a corrupt lieutenant disappears under mysterious circumstances. Fortunately, an up-and-coming army officer is honorable enough to dismantle the conspiracy that was actually assembled by an even more corrupt four star general.

I’m the narrator of this story, but some of the things I’m telling you don’t make sense. That’s because I am, wheelbarrow Alcatraz horseradish, a murderer myself!

A woman with a promising future in publishing dies, and the police interview her greedy boss, a creepy guy from her church, and her best friend. Most of the evidence seems to point at her best friend, except for some secret evidence her best friend finds, which proves the greedy boss did it.

The butler was arrested yet again after another grisly murder of an elderly oil magnate. He pleaded with his captors as he dragged away: “I’m sorry, I just can’t stop!”

I finally finished up Fringe the other day. Five seasons of a TV show, all watched after the last episode aired. I’ve found that I prefer to watch shows post-airing — not only am I usually a season or so behind on all of the current shows, but I just like picking and choosing from what people already know is good, rather than going through the gauntlet myself. Plus, I like to know when something is heading towards a satisfying conclusion. I’ve never been great at writing fiction, so I like to watch and pick apart shows I know have a closed end on them. Buffy is a show that I didn’t pick up until after it was all over with (and Firefly, too, come to think of it), and though I wasn’t sure if I’d love that one, I definitely did.

So I started up on Fringe earlier this year, and went through it season by season until the finale the other night. Despite waiting on most shows these days, I had actually seen most of the first season when it originally aired. And back then, I had the same issues with that everyone else did, really. The first season by itself is boring, with too many mysteries and not enough answers, and too much disconnect between the show’s main players. The premise of the show is a good one — it’s basically that a mad scientist (played by John Noble) gets flipped and is meant to be working for good via his son (Peter Jackson, the biggest star on the show when it aired) and FBI agent Anna Torv. The three are assigned to “Fringe division,” an X-Files style government agency chasing monsters, and the first season is generally (and derisively labeled) all about monster-of-the-week episodes, where the team faces off against something strange every single week.

When the show first started, I didn’t care much for it — the early shows were just too disconnected to grab my interest, and I didn’t really care much about the characters themselves. But I did stay, this time, because I knew things would get better. In the second and third seasons, either because the writers started being too sure of themselves or just because the show got some solid contracts rolling, the show starts to trust its own mystique, and this is when things really get good. I won’t spoil it too much in case you want to watch it, but the show dives into “multiple universe” territory and even adds a little time travel into the mix. And while the show’s relationships don’t really solidify until the second season, they almost have to just because the show itself gets so strange. When the world is (literally) flipped over in the second season, the show’s three main characters (four, if you count the lovely Astrid) kind of have to carve their own identities out just to keep everything straight.

Which, of course, makes the acting really impressive after a while. Just by way of the story, Jackson doesn’t get to play around too much with his own character, which is just as well: John Noble and Anna Torv get to jump into lots of different versions of themselves, and this sort of split screen shenanigans is, as far as I’m concerned, the best part of Fringe to watch. Even into the fourth season, the combination of time travel and universe jumping allows us to see all of these characters from quite a few different angles, and that made me a big fan, of both the show, and Noble and Torv (who, by the way, I saw on a late date at a Hollywood bar a few months ago, but decided not to bother).

Unfortunately, the show’s fifth season, as far as I’m concerned, jumps off of the deep end, and moves a little too far away from that core that made the show’s setting so strong there in the middle. It’s worth finishing off the series just to see what happens (and I thought the whole thing wrapped up well), but the writers let the show’s wackiness take a few too many steps away from that great triangle, in my opinion. The last season also wanders off a bit from the show’s pulpy center and, in dealing with bigger themes like “individuality” and “freedom,” loses a bit of the world-bending joy that marks the middle seasons.

As I said, though, the ending is worth it, and the show’s writers smartly steer the plot back around (somewhat implausibly, I’ll admit) for sort of a greatest hits wrapup. I enjoyed Fringe, in general — some episodes were better than others (I enjoyed “Entrada” and “White Tulip” a lot, though the second one is pretty obvious, and I could have done without episodes like “The No Brainer” and “The Equation”), but the series definitely found its way and the producers knew, or at least learned, when to follow that direction.

Next up: I’m going to work through some Netflix titles, I think, starting with House of Cards (I watched the first episode already, and I thought it was terrific). I also hear Orange is the New Black is worth watching, too, so I’ll put that on the list as well.

As you may have heard by now, I’m making a big change this week. I have sort of sprinkled the news out across my various social networks already, but I wanted to go ahead and put a quick note here about it, both for posterity’s sake, and to hopefully explain some of my thinking lately.

For the past seven years or so, I’ve been working for AOL under the blogs it acquired as Weblogs, Inc. many years ago (I believe the group is called Mediaglow now, but it’s hard to keep track — they keep changing it). This all started back when I was in Chicago — I was interning at a newspaper in the evenings and working retail during the day, and when AOL’s WoW Insider blog was hiring, I used some of my newspaper clips to get a part-time job there. I worked at Borders as a manager during the day, and then I would go home and write for WoW Insider at night. After a while, I then got a day job at a PR firm there in Chicago, but I kept my WoW Insider job, and eventually moved up to lead blogger there, so I would write press releases during the day for nonprofits we represented, and then continue to write and lead WoW Insider in the evenings.

Eventually, I heard there was also an opening at TUAW, The Unofficial Apple Weblog, another AOL-owned site that I constantly read and really admired. I approached that site and asked if they needed another blogger, and was invited to come on as a part-time writer there. The combination of TUAW and WoW Insider was enough to make my rent payment, so I left my job at the PR firm, and became a full time freelancer. This was back in 2007 or so (which, remember, is right when the first iPhone was announced, which means I’ve been blogging about it daily since then). I was so excited — writing at the PR firm was fun, but it was about things I wasn’t personally all that interested in, and of course World of Warcraft and Apple were two things I was very personally excited to write about every day.

I loved my job very much with AOL. Ever since I went to college, I had wanted to move back out to LA, and since I could freelance from anywhere, I was able to do just that around 2010. Once in LA, I was invited to step away from WoW Insider, and join Joystiq as a contributing editor, and since I’ve moved out here, I’ve gone to plenty of E3s, Comic-Cons, PAX shows, GDCs, Macworlds, and WWDCs. You name it, I’ve been lucky enough to cover it (with the notable exceptions of Gamescom and Tokyo Game Show — I still plan to visit both of those in the future).

And working with Joystiq and TUAW has put me on what I believe are the best teams in blogging. To a person, the Joystiq editorial staff was and is phenomenal all the way around, and the TUAW team is a terrific, hardworking bunch that it’s been a pleasure to work with. Over the past seven years, I’ve been hugely productive: The content management system we use says I’ve written 3,892,931 words on 9,612 posts over my time with AOL, and I’m very proud of everything I’ve done with the company. From calling out Blizzard for their BlizzCon mistakes to predicting the success of the App Store to giving Diablo 3 my first (and only) five star review, I couldn’t be happier with all the time I’ve put in on these blogs.

Still, as great as working for AOL has been, lately I’ve wanted something a little more stable. I have only ever been a freelance contractor at AOL — I’ve had to do my own taxes and track all of my expenses over the past few years. Medical benefits have been hard to come by, and I’m lucky in that I haven’t had many medical crises, but they’re always a possibility, of course. I’ve had no official vacation time, and I’ve had big stories hit at all hours of the day. And perhaps most importantly, I’ve been a man split between two worlds: I have worked very hard on both Joystiq and TUAW, but I was also the guy on both teams that also did work for another site. This isn’t anyone’s fault but mine — I definitely helped craft the position I was in on both sites, and I’ve enjoyed the diversity and helping the company share workflows and resources. But still, I’ve been looking for the past year or so for a more stable, fulltime position, where I could devote myself to one work goal and work with just one staff and set of procedures.

I also have been interested in the process of game development. I’ve always covered it, of course, but in the past year I’ve been to more than a few developer events, and I’m really intrigued by what it takes to be a game developer, to produce one of these experiences we share. I’ve dabbled in development myself, and I’ve realized that I have a lot of insight and a lot of good ideas, both about how to make games and how to make games better. I don’t have the resume to be a game developer or a game producer at all, but I’m very interested in the field and getting more directly involved in it.

Over the last year or so, I’ve had a few opportunities come up at different times, but until now, they had all fallen apart. Either I was really interested, and the company determined I wasn’t the right fit for them, or an offer was given, but it just wasn’t what I wanted — I was very lucky in that I really liked what I was doing, and money wasn’t really a problem, so I knew that I would be able to be patient and find something that was just right, something that fit my interests and would also allow me to be a real asset for whoever I was working for.

Back in May of this year, I learned about a position at the research firm EEDAR as a games analyst that I thought would be a really good fit for me and my skills. I’ve talked with a few devs already about the possibilities of consulting, and over the years I’ve been offered a few opportunities to do mock reviews (though I’ve never taken them — my position as an objective journalist kept me from working with any developers for compensation, of course). To be honest, because I haven’t yet started, I don’t know exactly how EEDAR works or what I’ll be doing there, so obviously I don’t presume to speak for them, and I don’t yet have any insight on their process at all. But I went through the interview process, heard more about the company and the job, and I figured working in their “Editorial Insights” division would be an excellent fit for my interests in production and my extensive experience covering the game industry. They made me an offer a few weeks ago, and after a lot of personal deliberation and consideration, I decided to finally leave AOL, and take the job.

It’s going to be a change, for sure. For one thing, it’s an office job — I can still remember the day I finally joined TUAW and was able to go freelance, and I was overjoyed on the Sunday evening before that I didn’t have to wake up and go into the office. I was so excited to just get on my computer and write. The difference then, I think, was that I was again working with topics I wasn’t really interested in, but EEDAR is very focused on video games, and that’s a subject I can’t get enough of. I’m looking forward, too, to being in an office full of people I can see and speak with in person, and to separate my work and my home life apart just a bit more than I have in the past.

I’ll also be moving, from West Los Angeles down to Carlsbad, California, which is about halfway down to San Diego, where EEDAR is based. In the wild surburbia of southern California, that may not seem like a big move, but for me, it really is. Nearly all my life, ever since I came out here for a semester in college, I’ve looked forward to moving out to Los Angeles, to living out here underneath the palm trees. This move represents something entirely new for me, something I haven’t planned on since I was 21 or so. I do think the move will do me good — I’ve been thinking about getting a little farther away from the chaos of the city lately, and if I choose the right apartment, this should give me a little more home space to deal with, and I am hoping to find a place that will let me finally get a pet (a dog, probably — I’ve never had one before).

But of course I’m not sure how it will work out. I’m not leaving my friends completely, but I will need to go and find new ones. I went and did laundry at my local laundromat this morning, and even as I said hi to the attendant (a super nice guy who’s helped me out with some extra quarters when I needed some), I realized it would probably be the last time I ever went there. Just like any other move, I’ll be laying my head down in a brand new place, and that’s always a somewhat frightening proposition. I think (I hope) that it will work out for the best.

I want to say thank you to everyone reading this — working for TUAW and Joystiq and WoW Insider was a dream come true for me, and I just plain couldn’t have done it without the support of you, my family, friends, and fans. My new position of course means that I likely won’t be blogging publicly every day, at least on the topic of video games, and for that I’m sorry. I have already had my last days at both TUAW and Joystiq, and it was tough for me to say goodbye to those teams, to those great communities. I’ll still be a part of them, as a reader and a commenter, but I won’t shape the discussions or help lead them any more, and that’s too bad.

I don’t yet know how strict or even what EEDAR’s policies are yet, so I don’t know what they’ll allow in terms of me appearing online, but I’ll follow the rules as stated. If they allow me to appear as a podcast guest or write a column somewhere, you might see me do that, but I just don’t know. And I do have mikeschramm.com here — while I will probably stay away from the topic of video games here directly (just because I’ll very likely be working with and for specific game developers and publishers), I remain a writer, and I plan to put posts here when I have something to say. I love writing, and I plan to write for the rest of my life, period, whether I’m paid for it or not. I wrote a post here every day for free before I got hired by AOL, and who knows? Maybe I’ll go back to that schedule again. Or maybe I’ll start a new podcast — I’ve been very interested in Magic and CCGs and even board games lately. I plan to live even closer to the beach in Carlsbad, so maybe I’ll take up surfing and start writing about that. A cooking blog, maybe? We’ll see!

At any rate, you can follow me here and on Twitter and all of the other various networks I’m already on. I’m not “Mike Schramm from TUAW and Joystiq” any more, but I’m still me. I still have opinions, and I still love sharing them, and I still love hearing and reacting to yours. Thanks so much for reading all of my work the past few years. I don’t know exactly what this next big step entails just yet. But I can tell you that I am excited to reach out and take it.

The last post on this blog was all about the idea behind Canyon Run, but I realized just the other day that I never actually posted the conclusion: Canyon Run got funded! It didn’t exactly go the way I expected it to go: I ended up getting relatively few big donations from very nice friends and fans of mine, rather than a bunch of little donations from people mildly interested in me. But I was still thrilled, and I can now tell you that the project is up and running. I’ve put in about a week of blog posts across the trip so far (one every day since last Thursday), and I’ve visited places like Fort Collins, CO, the Denver Mint and the Columbine Memorial, and Vernal, Utah.

Here’s a few excerpts for you. This is about my trip up to the top of Mount Evans, one of the highest mountains in the contiguous United States:

There one was moment where I defied death, though I didn’t realize it right away. As I climbed up to the point above, there was one bit where I had to step across a small gap between two rocks, and I didn’t even notice until I stepped over it that the gap below had basically nothing underneath it. Without any harness or even hiking shoes, I had somehow gotten myself about 300 feet in the air. I quickly pushed my foot across, and on the way back I held on extra tight to the rock at my side, stepping back across the gap and then quickly jumping down to the more open flat area. If I’d seen how high that gap was before I went over it, I probably would have thought better.

But fortunately, no one fell, no one got hurt, and lots of pictures were taken.

And here’s a little bit about the top three beers I had while visiting The Mayor of Old Town, a great beer bar in Fort Collins:

3. A mix of Young’s Double Chocolate Stout Nitro, with a splash of Honebrouck’s Kasteel Rouge. The bartender made this for me himself later in the evening, when the New Belgium S’more Porter that I wanted to try had already been kicked. And this was such a great mix, the tasty chocolate stout tempered by the cherry liqueur in the Belgian Kasteel Rouge. I don’t know if I could drink this thing for a whole night, but the small taste I had was just perfect.

2. A Barrel-Aged I’m All Right Jack from Verboten. Verboten is a brewery in Loveland, CO (near Fort Collins), and this is a version of their dark chocolate and caramel cream ale that’s been aged in a rum barrel for three months. This brew was a collaboration between Verboten and The Mayor, so this is basically the only place you can get it, and man oh man it was so good. Imagine rum brewed like beer and mixed with sweet chocolate, and that’s basically what this was. I could not stop smiling the whole time I had this drink.

1. Avery’s 20th Anniversary double IPA. This beer was just brewed at a craft brewery in Avery called Boulder for the company’s 20th anniversary, and congrats to them, because this brew was incredible. I don’t even like IPAs, but I have to admit this was an excellent, excellent beer. Perfect golden color, very smooth drink, and an aftertaste like a mountain meadow. I have no qualms about putting this at the top of my list.

And here’s a nice bit I wrote about family, after attending my cousin’s wedding in Denver:

I don’t know his specifics, but I know the baby, the toddler, the boy, the cousin, and now the man. When we first sit down to talk, things are awkward. “What are you up to lately? Where are you all at these days?” But then there’s a look or a pat on the back, and we both remember, we all remember, that we’re tied together in the strongest ways.

I didn’t choose any of these people as my closest companions, and the truth is, I don’t think I even would. When I think of what my friends are like, the ones I picked out on my own, I realize they’re very different from the people I grew up with, and from the cousins and aunts and uncles and grandparents in my extended family. Both groups of people are lovely, and loving, and generous and wonderful, but my hand-picked selections are much more like me, I think.

I tell Adam about this, later, and he agrees. A family like ours, spread out all around the country, around the world, can be like strangers to each other. “Maybe even more than strangers,” he says to me, “because we don’t always worry about tracking each other.”

It’s true. We don’t worry about what the day to day is, what our current lives are all like, because deep down, we all know we’re family. We’ll all be together no matter what happens or where we end up.

I also wrote a piece about traveling down Interstate 70 through the Rockies, and here’s a small bit of that:

Interstate 70 was the king of the highways when I was 12. It ran right through the city, and it was just far enough away from our house that it had a mystery to it — I only rode on it every once in a while, and I wasn’t sure exactly where it went. The mystery only grew the older I got, too. I remember that, at one point, we took a driving trip up to Pittsburgh, and I asked my dad what the route was. We first would go through Terre Haute, Indiana, then up through Indianapolis, then Columbus, and then Pittsburgh.

“What highway do we take to Terre Haute?” I asked, trying to learn the roads. “I-70,” my dad replied. “And Indianapolis?” “Still I-70,” he said. “Columbus, too?”

“It’s I-70 all the way,” he told me. And my little brain was struck with awe that the same concrete that I played on outside our house every day was the same concrete that ran across the country, that there was an unbroken line of gray stone from our home straight up to Pittsburgh.

Good times! No, in fact: great times. I am having a ton of fun on this trip, and it’s been a blast sharing it all with you.

Well, not all of you. Some of you aren’t funders, I know, which means that you didn’t give money to the initial Indiegogo project. That’s OK, but it means that you’ll never be able to read all of this writing I’m doing, or hear all about my trip while I actually take it.

So for those of you who regret not funding me initially, and still want in on the blog and the trip, I have a deal for you. You’ll never be able to sign up for the postcard or the souvenir perks — those are all already claimed.

But I will offer you this: For a price of $3, you can get access to the blog. That’s $1 more than the lowest funding level on Indiegogo, but you can consider that extra $1 charge an “I told you so” fee for not jumping on when you first had the chance. For $3, I will send you the link and the password to the blog, and you can read about all of my exploits so far, and access the rest of the trip’s posts (where I’ll be headed to Dinosaur National Monument, Salt Lake City, and the salt lake itself). For two weeks of exclusive, interesting blog posts, I think the price of less than a cup of coffee at Starbucks is worth it.

Just send me $3 over Paypal to mike@mikeschramm.com, and then I will send the link and password to the email address that you used to send the money (so make sure you check it — don’t want to get lost in the spam).

And if you don’t want to pay, no worries. But I can promise you that outside of maybe a few more excerpts, there’s really no other way to read this material, so if you’re interested in me and my writing, and want to come along on this trip with me, this is the way to go. Thanks, everybody!

One final note: As you may or may not have heard, while on this trip I’ve also been doing some career hopping. I’m planning to write about that here later this week, and the result of my job change will likely leave me without a regular home on the Internet. Fortunately, this site right here is my regular home, so once I’m all settled into the new job, odds are that you will probably see more regular writing from me here. It’s just like old times!

Yes, after all of my complaints about Kickstarter and all of the various crowdfunding projects, I have jumped on board the bandwagon at last. I am planning on making a travel blog, called Canyon Run, and I am currently seeking your help to put a (hopefully very humble) amount of funding together for it. If you are the kind of person who wants to give me money to support an idea of mine, you can head over to Indiegogo right now, and contribute towards the total.

Pretty much everything about the project is explained right over there (including what I’m doing and even a little bit about why), but I figured I should also post something about it here, just for posterity’s sake. First things first, I thought it was worth saying that this whole thing a) almost didn’t happen at all, and b) has been cooking in my head for a while.

I’ll cover b) first. I’ve been thinking about crowdfunding and Kickstarter and Indiegogo for a long time now — I think the idea is great, but the practice is very often flawed. I don’t think it works well for games, as I’ve posted before, and I’ve seen a lot of projects that ask for ludicrous sums of money to do something that I think would probably sell through normal channels anyway. But I am fascinated by how these sites build communities, and how a good project idea can earn not just money, but a lot of goodwill and support through these sites. So I tried to think of what I might be able to do, and what might benefit from having a built-in community around it from the get-go.

I definitely wanted to do something temporary and small, and considering how much people liked my blog posts from Europe, I eventually landed on the idea of a travel blog for a short road trip, partially funded by its readers. I have other ideas for crowdfunding (though none of them are games — they’re all finite projects with clear costs, and I don’t think a video game matches either of those descriptions), but this seemed simplest and easiest, a nice test balloon for me to send out there. Who knows — if everyone thinks it’s stupid and it doesn’t get funded, I’ll still make the trip, though I probably won’t write about it much (and I definitely won’t send out any of the perks, obviously).

Now back to a), and how this project almost didn’t happen. First of all, I did originally submit this to Kickstarter, and over there, it got denied. Kickstarter has a pretty strict policy as to what goes on the site (you have to be selling an actual product with a clear end date), and given that they believed this project was simply funding my travel costs, they politely declined to post it. I thought about resubmitting over there, trying to make it clear to them that I was trying to fund this blog as a product rather than just a trip, but I figured it wasn’t worth nitpicking, and took it to Indiegogo, where they’re welcome any greedy lunatic with open arms.

Second, and more importantly, I almost didn’t have the guts to post this at all. I don’t want to be seen as greedy or needy; I’m not here to beg money from other people, or rip anybody off, or somehow convince people to pay for me to have fun. Like I said, even if this doesn’t get funded, I’ll still do the traveling. This isn’t about taking a bunch of money, it’s about making an idea real.

I haven’t really shared this anywhere else online (and I don’t really plan to), but lately I’ve been thinking about my personal value — what I’m worth and what I deserve. In the past, I would have said that this was a nutty project — that no one wanted to pay money for some of my silly thoughts on Dinosaur National Park or my account of a swim in the salt lake. I would have dismissed this project without another thought, so certain was I that my personal insight was worth nothing to other people.

But lately, I’ve been more and more convinced that line of thinking undervalues who I am and what I can do. I’m a clear, interesting writer with strong insights and opinions. I’ve got tons of experience, I’m dependable, and I work hard. I’ve got a good sense of humor, and I can deliver entertainment when needed, no matter what. I’ve been doing exactly that for a long time. Even now, as I write those words, there’s a part of me that says that sounds arrogant, and that I shouldn’t really think that. That part of me, however, is wrong. We’re all good at something, and this is what I’m good at.

So that’s why, even after being denied by Kickstarter, I went to put this project together. Like I said, who knows? Perhaps no one will fund it, and that will be fine, and I’ll still go on this trip, and we’ll all move on with our lives without issue. But the good news, for me anyway, is that I do believe it’s worth it to pay $2 and get two weeks of exclusive, interesting blog posts direct from me. I do believe I have people who will step out and support me when I have a good idea that could use a few extra bucks. Whether this experiment is funded or not, I do believe my work and my ideas are worth something. And though this may be personal to admit here, I’m believing more and more that I am worth something, too.

Seriously, though, you should donate at the souvenir level. I can’t wait to pick out an awesome Native American wolf painting or a few trucker CDs and send them around the world to all of you as gifts. 12 days to hit $1000 (plus a few extra bucks for fees)! Let’s do this!

My Xbox 360 has done a lot for me. It’s connected me with friends, far and near, old and new, over the years. It’s provided me with a lot of scares, some really brilliant movies, and the best gameplay moments of the past five years. It’s been there for me while I explored Rapture, while I nailed high scores in Rock Band, and for every moment of my time in Liberty City during GTA4. It’s been a constant companion, and (ever since my last box RROD’d a few years ago) it’s always been there for me.

But it’s never ordered me pizza. Until now.

Earlier this week, Microsoft announced that it had teamed up with Pizza Hut to create an app for the Xbox 360 console. Apps are big business in consoles these days: Netflix’s apps are used almost more often on game consoles than actual games are, all of the major sports leagues use console apps to keep their fans engaged, and as we head into the next generation of consoles, apps are only going to be more and more important. So it makes sense that Pizza Hut would want to grab a little console real estate, and release an app that allowed you to order a pizza from your console.

I’ll repeat that: This app allows you to order a pizza from your console.

Food delivery and video games have flirted before. Blizzard Entertainment famously joked that you’d be able to order Chinese food while playing World of Warcraft, and Everquest 2 pulled it off, letting you type “/pizza” into the game to be presented with an order window. But that’s a hack, really — it was just a script that opened up a web browser.

No, this Pizza Hut app is something entirely new — a direct connection between the gamer and his food. You can press buttons on a controller, and those buttons will directly equate to someone showing up at your door, with a piping hot pizza pie ready to eat.

This, my friends, is the future.

I had to try it. Not that I need any pizza — in fact, I’m in the middle of a three-month diet, and pizza is probably the last thing I need sitting around my house. But did Einstein worry if he “needed” a Theory of Relativity? Did Franklin worry if he “needed” to find lightning? Did Alexander Graham Bell worry if he “needed” to speak to people person-to-person at long distances?

Actually, he probably did.

But never mind that. No, my diet wasn’t going to stand in the way of science, in the way of the future. Ordering pizza directly from my game console is a very real possibility. And I had to take advantage of it.

The process begins by downloading the actual app — this is a one-time download of about 175 MB for free. The app simply installs itself on your Xbox’s hard drive, to sit there alongside your Netflix or Spotify apps. Installing the app was simple, and took maybe five minutes or so to download and set up.

Once open, the app prompts you that you’ll need a Pizza Hut account. If you’ve already ordered from them online, you can sign into your premade account directly. I hadn’t ordered from them at all (I prefer to eat from non-chain restaurants as much as possible), so I had to go through the process of setting my account, and plugging in my name, address, and my email. This wasn’t exactly easy to do with my Xbox controller, and might have been faster if I’d just walked over to my computer and typed it in there. But no — I was a pioneer, a technological journeyman, and I was going to put my name in using just the Xbox’s buttons, no matter what.

Once your account is set up, the Pizza Hut app brings you to a simple menu where you can choose to order pizza, pasta, sides and drinks, or directly from a deals menu. I browsed through the deals menu, and picked something that seemed reasonable, a $22 deal for a few pizzas, some wings, and a side of something called “Quepapas.” These may be local to LA — I don’t see them on the standard Pizza Hut website, and apparently they’re little fried potatoes that are meant to appeal to the local Hispanic population.

I picked my deal, and then picked my pizzas. This was also very simple — you can pick from a premade type, or do what I did and choose all of your toppings and tweaks manually. I had picked two medium pan pizzas, and that’s what I made: One with chicken and pineapple, and another with sausage and peppers. The menu was straightforward, if a little too pared down — there was no option to make the pizza with extra love, or to ask for something drawn on the box, which is something you’d be able to do ordering your pizza the traditional way.

I ordered my wings hot, with ranch dressing on the side, but then switched that to blue cheese when I realized the Quepapas already came with ranch. My order all lined up and ready to go, I simply hit “confirm,” and just like that, I stepped into the pages of history. I was greeted with a screen saying my order was on the way. I was a bit disappointed by the relative lack of fanfare — I had just ordered a pizza through my gaming console! But I did have the option to share the purchase on my Facebook page, if I wanted to.

I would have! But I wasn’t signed in to that account on my Xbox, and to be honest, I think I forgot the password.

Still, I was proud to join the venerated ranks of innovators as a true technological pioneer!

I confirmed the order right around 2:55pm, and my pizza was given an ETA of 3:38pm, but it showed up early, right at 3:22pm. History had been made. I had been hungry, sat down in front of my Xbox, pressed some buttons into the Pizza Hut app, played a little Assassin’s Creed 3, and 30 minutes later, a kind man showed up at my door with a big bag full of food just for me. I should note that I did plan to pay with a credit card, but the app didn’t let me do that directly — if you want to save a credit card in the system, you need to do it from the web. I had to pay with cash.

That’s right. I didn’t want to have to go across the room to type in my card number. This is the future — I can order food directly from my couch now. We have made it, people. Back in 1877 when Mr. Xbox dreamed about using his little leather-and-wood game board to contact the Hut family down the road (who’d just recently immigrated from Italy) to see if he could bring over one of his “pit-za pies,” he could never have imagined that just a little over a century later, his dreams would become reality. We are living Mr. Xbox’s dream, people. The future has arrived, and all of our lives are better for it.

How was the food? The pizza was the same soggy cardboard I ate as a kid. I ate a few pieces and put the rest in the fridge to save for a hangover. The wings were slimy with grease (weren’t they supposed to be hot?), and the quepapas were little balls of fried bland. I tried a couple of each and tossed the rest out.

When I was younger (around 1992, I think, though it might have been earlier than that), I went away with my brother to a weeklong Boy Scout camp. When we got back, in the middle of the summer, my younger sister had an announcement for us. “We got a cat!”

I remember the topic of a cat had come up at some point before our trip — my parents had a dog right before they’d had any kids, but the dog (which I believe was named DJ) hadn’t played well with babies, so I never got to meet him. Other than a few anonymous goldfish and short-lived hamsters, our family hadn’t had any other pets to speak of, but I do know someone had brought up the idea of a cat, and everyone generally seemed agreeable, with the exception of my parents, who gave their standard “We’ll see” to the idea.

But apparently they’d consented sometime while we were away at camp, and driven down to Farmington, MO, to a farmyard with a few extra kittens for sale. I wasn’t there, but I later heard the story that the cat that became ours was the runt of the bunch, and mostly hid under the barn instead of playing with the other kitties. When my dad and sister showed up to pick one out, I was told, only one cat actually walked up to them to say hello instead of running wildly around the farmyard. So that’s the cat they brought home, and that was the white and black kitty that was waiting for my brother and I when we arrived.

“Its name is Whiskers!” my sister told us, and instantly I knew that couldn’t be it.

“Whiskers” was too standard a name for a cat like ours. If the Schramms were going to have a cat, it would have to be something original, something wild, something magnificent and wonderful. It would have to stretch the boundaries of what a cat name really meant, something that would make the vet raise an eyebrow and wonder if we were even fit cat owners in the first place. No, it couldn’t be Whiskers. I put my little Encyclopedia Brown book-fueled mind to work, and a few days later I came up with something.

The cat’s name, I decided, would be “Kitten Colossus.” The Six Flags near St. Louis had a big Ferris wheel named The Colossus (which was where I’d learned that word), and this cat was so monumental, so phenomenal, that he needed a name that big and strong. My mom quickly went to shoot it down, but wait, I said to her and my sister — this was the brilliant part: We can call him “KC”, or “Casey” for short! That way, you get to call the cat “Casey,” and I get to call him “Kitten Colossus.” My sister relented — “Casey” met her criteria for a cute cat name, and my mom was satisfied with the compromise.

In truth, I don’t know if my mom ever really got behind the “Casey” idea — every time I’ve ever heard her refer to the cat, she’s always said “K. C.”, each letter distinctly. And yes, the vet did indeed not only raise an eyebrow, but also shake her head when I explained what the name meant during a visit later.

But KC was what we named our cat, and he was a great cat. In those early years, he played with us kids like a madman, sprinting around the house sometimes because we were chasing him, and sometimes for no reason at all. We got him catnip once, and laughed as he got high and stumbled around. Most of the time, my parents fed him, waking up early and putting food in his dish as he mewled and meowed. As I got older, when they went out of town and left me alone at home, I occasionally had to deal with his food, and he’d wake me up at the crack of dawn demanding to be fed.

I remember he purred more loudly than I ever heard any cat purr — even the vet commented that he had a motor of a purr. When he was a kitten, you could hear him purring from across the room, and when he’d climb up on your chest and sniff your face, the sound of his purr would fill your ears like a jet. I loved it — it was like he was shouting to us all the time, “I’m happy. I’m so happy, and I’m so glad you’re here.”

We did have our issues, KC and I. When I was the only person in the house, I’d sometimes close the door to my room, and listen to music or read. Eventually, he’d come and find me — first, he’d cry in the hallway outside, and then he’d scrape his paws (he was declawed in the front) on my very resonant door: swipe swipe swipe swipe swipe swipe swipe, one after the other. Sometimes, he’d even put a claw underneath my door, as if I was a mouse he could reach in and grab. Finally, in frustration, I’d open the door to let him in, and he’d just sit there and stare. And after a few minutes of sitting and looking in the room at me, he’d walk back down the hallway, never once entering the room. That drove me nuts.

Maybe he just wanted to confirm that I was there, or that I knew he was there, at least. I read once that cats have no idea that there is a line between cats and humans — they just think we’re all one big species, even if we are bigger and slightly less hairy than they are. That’s why pets get so freaked out when a visitor comes by, or when a squirrel runs around in the yard. There’s everything else out there, and then there’s us, all of us, here on the inside of the house. “He thinks we’re just all ‘Schramms,’” I told my family. And of course, he was right.

As my siblings and I went away to college one by one and then graduated one by one, KC kept my parents company. He didn’t sprint around the house so much any more, but he had his favorite sleeping places and he still meowed in the morning. He stalked and caught crickets in our basement, and he warily regarded all of our visiting friends, sometimes from his spot on the couch, and sometimes right before retreating to the back bedroom for privacy. When my mom would sit and read on a recliner in the evening, a light over her shoulder, KC would climb up and sit on her lap, content to enjoy the company of his caretakers.

About four years ago, my parents finally completed their long thought-out plan of selling the house and buying an RV to travel around the country with, and when they finally did sign off and move into the RV, KC had to go somewhere. I don’t think he was ever offered to us kids, though one of us could probably have taken him in if necessary. In the end, my parents decided to take him along, and so he joined them, in the RV, endlessly driving around the roads of America.

I know at first the experience must have been pretty harrowing for him — after having the run of a four bedroom house, he was condensed into a tiny one bedroom space that constantly shook with road noise and was always surrounded with new smells and sounds. I can’t imagine what he must have thought, or how he must have reacted to a change like that. I can’t imagine how I’d react, with my quiet and content life suddenly uprooted with the constant new and often confusing.

But he handled it. My mother said he was slow at first, but eventually figured out his routine. He found a place on the RV’s dashboard and would sit up there in the sun, first as they were parked in a campground, and then sometimes even as they drove down the highway, watching America go by. KC’s back legs had trouble after a while — we couldn’t remember exactly when we’d gotten him, but he must have been at least 13 at this point, which is a long life, as I understand it, for cats. He kept kicking — he would still climb on my mom’s lap when she read, and when I visited, he would still meow, still come up to me. I don’t know if, by the end, he even remembered me and our life together, but he would still let me pet him, still purr with that rumbling roar, though much quieter than he did as a kitten. My parents would post various updates to us via email or on their blog: “KC is doing fine,” “KC is still going,” “KC got out and hunted a bird but he’s OK.” KC suffered from various health issues and problems, and I remember my parents saying multiple times that this was the last time, that the next time he cost them $300 they’d just have to finally say goodbye. But they never did. They paid the money, and got the pills, and dutifully fed him his medicine, sometimes with a dropper, my dad holding him while he squirmed a bit, my mom feeding him and telling him everything was going to be all right in a soft voice.

He’d get better, and he’d move a little slower, but he kept going. He’d sleep on the RV’s couch, on the dashboard, he’d climb up and sleep on their bed at night. When they went out on daytrips and came back to the RV just as the desert sun was going down, he’d be there waiting for food or just a pet.

And then, today, I finally got the email from my mom, subject: “Our wonderful cat.” KC passed away last night, even as my parents stayed up and watched him, as they have all of these many years. He’s being buried in a corner of the RV park, I’m told, which is probably a fitting resting place for a cat that has traveled so far and done so much.

I’ll miss that cat for sure. He was an anchor in my childhood, a little ball of white and black fur that was always there for me in St. Louis, that was always ready to purr and play with me, whether I was coming home from Boy Scout camp and renaming him something silly, or whether I’d had a tough time in junior high or was coming home late at night from a party in high school. When I moved back home after college, he was there, scratching at my door and making sure I was still around. And when I’d come home from Chicago, or fly out to visit my parents in the RV, he was always there.

I can’t imagine he always knew what was going on, or why these random people kept moving in and out of his life, but there was never one time, in all of those years, that he ever avoided me or turned away or did anything but slink up, quiet or meowing, sniffing my hand looking for the chance to be petted. And whenever I did pet him, no matter how old I was or where I was in my life, he purred, and reminded me that no matter what had happened to him, he could still be happy, always so happy.

Our family couldn’t have asked for a better cat for all of these years. Good bye, Kitty Cat. Thanks for everything.

2012 turned out to be an amazing year for me. In February, I released my first commercial game, after a few years of learning to code. In April, I finally lived a dream and took a trip to Europe for the first time. The middle of the year was full of travel for both work and play: San Francisco, New York, Denver, Seattle, and Florida. In October, I released a second iOS app, and I’m working on getting a third up and running. In November, I ran my very first half marathon, a feat that seemed impossible to me. So in all kinds of ways, 2012 was quite a year. I can’t say it always felt like that while I was going through it, but looking back, I had a great time this past year.

Every year I make a list of my favorite music, movies, and games here on the blog, and so here’s this year’s list. As usual, these are far from definitive (except for the games list, which I originally put together for our best of the year over on Joystiq). It’s just a list of the best stuff I heard, watched, and played in the past 365 days.

Best music (that I heard) of 2012

These picks are probably a little embarrassing — I just looked through a few major top 50 albums of the year lists, and man, I haven’t heard any of that stuff. Honestly, I didn’t keep up with music very well this year — I mostly just listened to bad pop music. But at least here’s some of it that I can recommend.

“Babel” – Mumford & Sons
Case in point: I think most serious critics would say Mumford has moved a little close to cliche at this point, given that the second album sounds almost exactly like the first. But I don’t really care — I love that this guy and his band have gotten so popular with so many audiences not because of special production tricks or big hype, but just because they play good, solid, traditional folk music.

“Theatre is Evil” – Amanda Palmer and the Grand Theft Orchestra
Amanda Palmer weirds me out a little bit, but I think that’s mostly the point. She does make some great music, though.

“Some Nights” – Fun.
Just good times.

“The Heist” – Macklemore and Ryan Lewis
I came late to this party — no less than three people told me how great a song “Thrift Shop” was before I finally sat down and listened to it. But once I did, I couldn’t stop listening, and the whole album is terrific. “Same Love” is such an amazing song, and this album is probably my favorite of the year.

Best movies (that I saw) of 2012

Django Unchained
People say it’s long, but I didn’t care at all. I remember reading interviews years ago where Tarantino would talk about how no one was approaching the issue of racism in films the way he wanted to, and at the time I sort of shrugged it off as creative bravado. But watching this, it’s clear what he meant. Even Roots seems sanitized after the portrayal of slavery in Django Unchained. The belief that you can own people is a terrible, shocking, stupid concept, and not only does Tarantino show just how deeply ingrained it was in the American South, but he wraps that in a genre flick that’s hilarious and awesome as well.

Chronicle
I have some issues with this movie — mostly that none of the characters are really all that likable, and they tend towards the whiny at points. But nevertheless, I really enjoyed this one, because even though the superhero-style festivities eventually go to some crazy heights, the movie never once gives up on its “found footage” premise. Most films like that (hi, Cloverfield) need to compromise at some point, either by making someone carry the camera or cheapening the action we get to see. But Chronicle delivered well on both throughout.

Moonrise Kingdom
You know how sometimes, you’re on a road trip, and you stop at some country gas station with a restaurant next to it, and you go inside, and there’s a gigantic train set, complete with little people in little houses and a working miniature water tower and a little fire station with a red engine and a little dalmatian barking at the train as it goes by? That’s this movie. I watched this film and it made me want to be young and fall in love, which is probably something we all want all the time anyway. But still.

The Cabin in the Woods
I guess this officially came out in 2011, but I watched it this year, and what a crazy movie. I have my problems with the beginning of it, but as you probably know by now (you’ve seen it, right?), it eventually dives into one of the smartest, most original ideas the horror genre has seen in years.

Wreck-it Ralph
I think this is a landmark film, for this reason: Most movies that involve video games in some way tend to either explain to the audience what’s going on (“it’s a game — you play as this guy”), or they just plain get it wrong. But Wreck-It Ralph never bothers with that. It just assumes going in that you know what video games are and how they work, and plays all of its fun Disney magic off of that. I also loved the characters, obviously. Jane Lynch’s character’s backstory was a brilliant little piece of girl power — I wish there was a Halo-like shooter with a female hero like that.

Best games (that I played) of 2012

All right. I actually had to put this together, in order, for Joystiq, so here’s my full top 10. This is as definitive as it gets for me — there are a few games I didn’t get to play yet (most notably Dishonored, probably, though I played it for about an hour at E3, and wasn’t really blown away), but even considering those, these are my picks in order of preference.

1. XCOM: Enemy Unknown
I thought this would probably be my game of the year back when I first played it at E3, and it turns out I was right. Sid Meier famously said that games are “a series of interesting decisions,” and XCOM is exactly that. Right from the get-go, Firaxis offers you choice after choice after choice: Do you build armor for your soldiers, or infrastructure for your organization? Do you keep panic down in North America or Asia? Do you take some easy money, or recruit some more engineers? Do you dash on up to that next piece of cover, or hang back and sit on Overwatch? The game feels like it flies at jet fighter speed from one battle to the next, but in truth, all it does is wait for you to take your next turn, to make that next choice and then live with the consequences, whatever they may be.

2. Journey
There was no more beautiful experience in gaming this year, period. Flower is such a great and wonderful game in the way it wordlessly translates feelings through the controller, and Journey does the same and more. There’s a wonderful setting and world to explore for sure, and that soundtrack is worth all of the praise it gets. But Journey’s biggest triumph is in that anonymous other navigating the world with you. Flower did such a great job, through just sight and sound, of making you care about and connect with a petal. But Journey makes you do the same with another human being.

3. Diablo 3
Haters gonna hate, but I still love me some Diablo 3. This is the first game I ever gave a perfect review score, and I stand by that review, as I’ve said before. This is a terrific game that was worth all of the work Blizzard put into it, and it’s responsible for some of the most polished and fun gameplay I’ve had all year long.

4. Dust: An Elysian Tail
This one came out of nowhere for me at the end of the year. I remember hearing about it when it was first released, but I never went and downloaded it. After playing through Revengeance, though, I found myself craving another action game, and when this one went on sale, I decided to grab it. I’m so glad I did — it’s such a fantastic game, with great art, a really addictive RPG system, and some quality stories, too. The name is so bad, and the voicework and “furry” characters reek of bad anime, I know. But the game is so darn charming and fun despite all of that — don’t miss it.

5. Puzzle Craft
This game, you guys. This game. For most of the year, this was my game of the year, period. It must just be me, because I don’t know if anyone else is as enamored of this one as I am, but this combination of a colorful, grindy puzzle mechanic and a really powerful progression system just taps into something primal in me, something that loves leveling up and earning prizes and building towns and collecting gold. I love this game so, so much.

6. Torchlight 2
Great followup to a great action RPG. Torchlight 2 is on sale today, actually, and my guess is that it will be much more popular in 2013, as it gets discounted and ported around to various platforms. I don’t like it quite as much as Diablo 3, and the two games are indeed very similar. Where Diablo 3 innovates, Torchlight 2 just does the familiar better, and there’s nothing at all wrong with that.

7. Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning
If you take the whole 38 Studios saga away from this title, what you’re left with is just a really well-made RPG, paired up with some solid action gameplay. This game will always be remembered for the company that made it, and that’s kind of too bad, because it was a lot of fun to play through. In fact, maybe I’ll go back and play it again…

8. The Walking Dead
Clearly, I’m not as high on this game as a lot of other critics are — I have some fundamental issues with the “adventure puzzle” gameplay (collect objects, use those objects on other objects, rinse and repeat), and my playthrough was also plagued by a few bugs and other problems. But despite all of that, Telltale’s made a groundbreaking game here, one that combines storytelling and interactivity in a way that we haven’t seen before. Not only do I love this game’s little nuances (“Clementine appreciates your honesty”), but like XCOM, the game offers you decisions that must be made and then lived with, no matter what you choose. The game raises some fascinating questions about player agency as well — when you choose to save the life of one character or another, are you making that decision just as a player? Or as Lee? Or are you as a person making that choice as you would in real life?

9. Guild Wars 2
The best MMO since World of Warcraft, and that’s pretty much all I have to say about that.

10. Spelunky
As I say in my Joystiq best of the rest post, Spleunky is the best “gamer’s game” I’ve played this year. All of these other games are obviously great, and they all ask and answer interesting questions about the form of gaming and how it all works. But Spleunky is just pure, solid gameplay: Here are your three hearts and a jump button, now go into that dungeon and get as much treasure as you can. Oh, and good luck. You’ll need it.

I’ve been working on coding and making computer games for a while now — you may remember last year when I made a few game prototypes with various systems, and then later last year I went to a game jam at a conference in Denver and made a prototype, which eventually turned into my very first App Store release, called Antithesis. I released Antithesis earlier this year, and then promptly went to Europe for a month.

As soon as I got back, I sat down to finish an update to Antithesis, though I’ve had a busy summer (and had even more things to do after that). But I did finish the Antithesis update, and then I started to think: What’s next? It turns out that I really, really like coding and development — I heard Adam Carolla say in a podcast recently that whatever you do for a living, you should do something different on the weekends: If you work in a factory, you should go home and create on Saturday and Sunday. Well, I create during the week with my writing, so on the weekends, I’ve found a whole lot of pleasure in coding. It’s like writing, but I’ve found it activates completely different parts of my brain, specifically those parts that need to match numbers and solve problems and graph equations.

So I quickly came up with a list of ideas to work on, and I’ve more or less started in on three. One is not a game at all — it’s a utility, and while I almost had it done for a little while, I later decided it should look a lot better, and I’ve now teamed up with a real designer to work on it. Hopefully it’ll be done soon — it’s taken way longer than expected, but hopefully all the extra work will be worth it. The second idea I have is a smaller game I haven’t started in on yet, but it’s still a filled-out idea sitting in the back of my head. Oh, and I have another prototype from another game jam earlier this year. And, like all developers, I think, I have one gigantic idea that I’ve done a little bit of work on, something pie-in-the-sky that’s really beyond my reach at this point, and will probably take me a few years and a lot more money to actually finish.

All of those projects are good ones, and I’m slowly hacking away at all of them in various ways. But they all will take me at least a few months to finish, and a few weeks ago, I was feeling a little burned out. I wanted to jump in, get to work, and create something — not something that took months or even weeks, but something that took days or hours. After a long, busy summer, I found that I had a few weekends with generally nothing extra to do, so the weekend of October 26, I decided to do my own personal game jam. I’d start a project on Friday, work on it all day Saturday and Sunday, and by Sunday night, I would aim to have something finished and done, something ready to show people, and maybe even release.

That project is what became Benediction. I did work all weekend on it, late on both that Saturday and Sunday night, and then another couple of nights after that making it universal and ironing out some of the bugs. I submitted it to the App Store last Friday, and it’s now available as a free download for iPhone 5, iPhone 4 and 4S, and the iPad and iPad mini.

Here’s a quick video running you through the finished game:

A few people have asked me some general questions about development, and though I didn’t liveblog the actual process of making this game (no time!), I did want to share a little bit about how I put it all together. If you’re not interested in this, you can just skip to a few salient parts near the end of this post, or just go download the game and enjoy it. Because I made it in just two days, I didn’t want to charge anyone for it, though if you want to give me some money, you can buy Antithesis, or my Shape of Teeth ebook. Thanks!

So. I started thinking about the idea for this game a few days before I started coding on it — I have long wanted to make a match-3 game, and I really enjoy relatively simple puzzle games with a fairly long path of progression in them (Puzzle Craft, for example, is probably my favorite game of the year, on any platform). So that was the general goal: Simple puzzle game, with a role-playing or progression system behind it.

For the puzzle game, match-3 is an obvious choice — I had already been working on a match-3 game (that was supposed to be a fantasy dungeon crawler, and maybe I still will make that game someday), so I had some code already to build out the tile board, and select and move pieces around. But a full match-3 game, at least the kind I really like, didn’t seem doable in just two days, so I decided to go easier. I looked through old puzzle games for examples: Tetris, Puyo Puyo, Dr. Mario, Yoshi’s Cookie. Eventually I remembered a game that I know of as Same Game, where you need to simply click on blocks of a similar color, trying to clear out the board as much as you can. I had the idea to combine the Same Game clearing mechanic with a self-repairing board from match-3, and that’s what I went with.

At first, I thought I’d stick with fantasy as the genre, and maybe have the tiles coming down be monsters that you were clearing off the board to fight an enemy, or mana that you were collecting to attack an opponent of some kind. But in my own life lately, I’ve been dealing with some heavy stuff (I’m being purposely vague here — don’t want to bring the game design talk down too much), and I’d been wondering what it would be like to have the powers of God, to just fix things by snapping your fingers, or just tapping a screen. From there, I went to the idea of “answering prayers” from a screen tap, and after thinking about prayer and doing a few Google searches for it, I came up with the name “Benediction,” which I remember from my Lutheran childhood as the last prayer of the worship service, a prayer meant to send you on your way, happy and ready to deal with the world. I had my theme for the game, then: I’d be answering the prayers of supplicants as the player. I’d be the God with infinite power, answering prayers as needed.

The prayers were initially supposed to be a little darker, actually. One idea I had during development was for each color to have a very specific prayer associated with it: Prayers of wanting, or hopelessness, or simple faith. That idea never really materialized, but I did get some good lore into the app description, so I was happy about that. One bit of feedback I got from early players was to have the supplicants sometimes actually say what they wanted, which would have been fun, but I never had the time to code that in.

Anyway, I started up development in Cocos2D, which is the relatively easy game engine that I would say most of the games (especially 2D games) on iOS use these days. I wrote about how to code back when I released Antithesis, but I can run through it here quickly: If you want to learn how to code, you should probably start by learning C++. Objective-C is the language that Apple’s Xcode uses to make iPhone and iPad apps, so you should learn that next. And once you know how Objective-C works, Cocos2D is generally the best platform to use for games, so you should probably grab a book about that as well. I bought all these books and read online tutorials over the past few years, so that’s how I learned to do this stuff. As I’ve said before, it wasn’t easy, but it is doable, so if you have a passion for it, you can figure it out eventually.

It turns out that Cocos2D wasn’t actually what I wanted for this project. I’ve been working on that utility app with Apple’s new Xcode feature called Automatic Reference Counting, and oh man do I love that feature so much. Just a few months ago, developers on iOS had to keep track of every single object they created and make sure it was erased from memory when they didn’t need it any more, but Xcode recently added ARC and made the process automatic, to destroy and clean up objects for you automatically when you don’t need them any more. Pro developers and purists probably scoff at anyone who depends on ARC, and technically I still know how non-ARC apps work. But man, it’s so much easier to code with ARC, in my opinion, just letting Xcode do the memory management for you. Unfortunately, the current build of Cocos2D doesn’t use ARC (though they may have updated it already, and I know there are a few ways to tweak it to work with ARC), but the latest build of a Cocos2D variant called Kobold2D does, so that’s what I ended up using to build Benediction. Kobold2D is a very powerful framework built on top of Cocos2D, and it’s got about 300 extra features that I’ll probably never use. But one of those features is ARC compatibility, so I set it up and installed it and went to work.

Development went pretty easily. I’m trying to think of the biggest bug I had to squash, but I didn’t really have any major issues. The update screen was actually the hardest thing to program, but that’s just because I used it as a learning tool. There are about 25 elements on there, but only five actual buttons, and the coder that I was a few months ago would have tried to initiate and set up all 25 different elements on that screen completely separately. But the coder I am now said that there had to be a better way, and so I actually abstracted all the code there, building all of the elements for one button, and then using a loop to build it out five different times.

If you’re not a coder, you may not have understood that (and even if you are a coder, you might not have any idea what I’m talking about, because I barely do). But the point there is that I really feel like I’ve learned a lot after having done this stuff for so long. I’m figuring out new patterns to work with, and while six months ago I might just have been using Apple-built or framework-included objects to build my apps, these days I’m customizing and building out my own classes, and using cool techniques like metacode and blocks. It’s very fun.

I did have an issue with touching the actual grid, and it may still be in the app for all I know (if people have the same problem, I’ll work more on it and figure it out). The issue is that Apple says in its documentation that touch targets should be at least 40×40 pixels, because people’s fingers are just about that size. But my problem was that I wanted to show as many supplicants on screen as possible, and in the end, they came out a little bit smaller than that recommended touch target. As a result, early players had an issue with touching the right guy on screen — very often, they would miss and hit the guy next to the one they wanted. I think this is just a matter of accuracy, but we’ll see — if it’s a major issue post-release, I may go back and try to tweak it.

Of course, trying something new can cause problems, and that’s why I say that upgrade screen was the toughest to build. But otherwise, the app building went very smoothly. I had the game itself done sometime on Saturday night, and took it out to a Halloween party for beta testing. And then on Sunday I had the upgrade screen and system all working. I beta tested the app myself over the next few days, and showed it to anyone else I happened to run into, on the street or hanging out with my friends. It’s funny — with Antithesis, I could only get people to play for about 30 seconds at first, and then the more I worked on the app, I got that time up to about two or three minutes before they passed the phone back to me. But with Benediction, I actually had to ask for the phone back — they just kept playing, even after they said they’d made their judgments on the game.

A few days later, I took my iPhone 4 and my iPad 2 and worked to make sure it all looked and ran well on all of my devices. And then, once I went back over the code and double checked there weren’t any bugs that I could see, I saved it in iTunes, created my icon and leaderboards, and uploaded the app.

I actually uploaded it twice: There was one major balancing problem I had to fix, in that you used to get 200 points for finishing a game with a powerup meter full, not 20 (as it is in the app now). I found that the 200 points you used to get was bigger than any other reward in the game, so I lowered it back down to 20 — a nice bonus for ending with a full meter, but nothing that would keep you from actually using the powerup.

Anyway, it’s out now, and it’s free, so if you are interested in it (and still reading), then go grab it. I hope you enjoy it. If there are any issues I’ll fix them as quickly as possible, and if you have any feedback, let me know for sure!

And one more thing: It turns out that I really, really enjoy making games. I really, really enjoy writing, too, and that’s my day job, and even if I’m not always paid to write, I will always do it, no question about that. But I sometimes wish I had more time to put towards coding — some days, I finish writing for money, and I just need to get away from the computer for a while, and can’t justify the time coding, because I’m not making any money at it. So I’m also hoping Benediction serves as sort of an audition for me — I made this game with just the two days I had to make it with, and if you like it, I can make more.

I don’t know what that means, necessarily — I doubt I’ll leave my job anytime soon just to work on making games. But I don’t know. If you are a producer or a publisher who wants to work with me on a game idea, let me know. If you’re a developer who thinks it might be beneficial to have me around, helping make your game, let me know. I have very little experience at this — if I put a resume together as a game designer, it would basically have these two games on it so far. So I don’t know what kind of job I’d be good in, or where I’d fit on a traditional team.

But man, I am passionate about this stuff, and I really enjoy doing it. All of my past in writing about games has given me a real insight, I think, into how they work, and my creativity lets me kick out ideas like an assembly line gone mad. I have more ideas that I know what to do with here! I really want to justify putting more of my time into making games, and if you have a way to help me do that, definitely let me know.

Even if not, I’ll still do it. I’m very excited to have made this game in just a few days — it makes me think that I’ll probably have another little personal game jam in a few weeks, and make something else. We’ll see. It’s not like I’m short on ideas.

In the meantime, here’s Benediction. I hope everyone enjoys playing it as much as I enjoyed making it. Thanks again for reading.

Videos! 08.14

Hey guys! I’ve been working on a few things lately (one of which I haven’t actually started yet, and another of which is a secret that I hope to reveal very soon), but one of the biggest things I’ve been doing lately is making some videos.

It’s kind of hard — I wish I could commit to some crazy goal like three videos a week, or even a video a day, but I just don’t have the time to really dive in and make them that often. It would certainly make me much better at making videos, but I’m already doing a lot of things, in between actual work and working out and app development and improv and gaming and everything else I do, so I don’t have a ton of time to really jump in. Too bad!

But I did make a few videos recently, and here they are. First, I got sent a video capture box for a TUAW review, and I pulled it back out and plugged in to try and make a commentary on the XBLA game Fez:

Let me know how you think that went. I know it’s a little long, and I think I wasn’t great at playing it for most of the time. In the future, I might try a game I already know how to play, or maybe commentate over the video not while I’m actually playing the game.

Then, a few days later, someone on Twitter (well, a lot of people on Twitter) told me to try nutella, so I did. BUT ON VIDEO:

Obviously that went great. The reason it looks bad is because I’m just using my MacBook’s camera — I haven’t invested in a real HD camera yet (and I’m not sure that I will or should, since I can’t really commit to making these that often). But it was fairly easy to edit. The music is just from iMovie. I guess if I plan to really make videos regularly, I’ll have to find some store of royalty-free music somewhere. I know there are a few online already.

And finally, The Incredible Podcast of Amazing Awesomeness changed the tech we’ve been using to record, and now we’re (wait for it) ON VIDEO:

That’ll be interesting, because it’s a show we do (mostly) every week, and we’re planning to have some fun guests on, so that should be fairly interesting to watch. Both Turps and I have some fun ideas about what we might do with videos on Tipoaa. And to be completely honest, doing this has helped rekindle my (somewhat flagging) interest in Tipoaa, and my guess is that Turpster would say the same.

So that’s good! I’m a day late to the party on web video, obviously, but it’s about time I got a little more involved in making some of these. Stay tuned! I don’t know if I’ll have time to make more videos, but I definitely have ideas for a few more at least. Hopefully I’ll get around to making more soon.

(see also Broadcast Transmission 001 and Broadcast Transmission 002)

P’lar fought back the tide again and again, and again and again it had crawled forward, crushing him and his ship. He didn’t know how many times the battle had raged since he’d first arrived in whitespace, but he now knew that it kept happening — that every time he pushed the wave of black energy back, it rushed forward. And every time it overcame him, he too flew back into the scene and went back to battle.

Over and over again, this had happened. And his enemy, his companion, his opposite and common warrior, whatever it was had been with him.

It taunted him sometimes, speaking in a voice that struck through to his core, that seemed to know him and possess an alien sense at the same time.

P’LAR, I KNOW YOU, it said, but just as often, it spoke of DEATH and COUNTER ATTACK and DESTRUCTION.

Again and again, P’lar played out this battle, fighting as hard as he could, but always losing. Again and again, he died, and came back, and fought some more, and died again.

CAN YOU FEEL THAT, P’LAR? the voice asked him, once. THE BATTLE IS STEADY. IT GROWS STABLE. And though this was the foe he’d fought against for so long, P’lar reluctantly agreed. The black and white in front of him had grown constant, perhaps even comfortable, to P’lar’s tired eyes. He knew how the energy voids would move, he knew when his ship could catch and return them and when it could not.

YOU MAY FEAR ME, said the voice to P’lar. IN FACT, YOU SHOULD. And P’lar gritted his teeth in silent, calculated rage. BUT EVEN MORE, said the voice, FEAR WHAT COMES NEXT.

It didn’t come, then. Not right away. There were a few more battles to play, a few more cycles to defeat and a few more deaths to be had.

But a few more battles in, a few more times around the horrid astral racetrack, and then …

P’lar first saw it as a flash, and then felt it fly through his ship and then his very being. It was as if the universe in front of him had split, like a cloth dress rent down the middle by a seamstress fed up with the design. There was a rip of sound — or was it sound? It felt for a moment as if the very essence of reality was splitting, was dividing.

IT’S HERE, said the voice. THERE ARE FIVE NOW.

And just as his head recognized what the voice had said, P’lar saw it too. Five realities, five existences. One was familiar — it was the same whitespace he’d entered into however long ago, and the same black energy he’d been fighting for so long.

The second was musical — notes played out across its surface, and tones spread through the vacuum around him in some unexplainable way. The colors — colors! — were subdued, shades of azure in various tints. The third flashed wildly, dynamically painted an insane canvas across creation. It was almost too much for P’lar to even handle.

The fourth was a strange place that rang with sounds P’lar didn’t recognize, and … well, it tasted metallic and spicy, of a flavor P’lar didn’t know. It splashed and spread, oozed and smelled inviting. Baked. Cheesy. P’lar didn’t understand it, but he felt drawn to it anyway, so much so that it echoed in his brain long after he realized it was there.

And the fifth — the fifth was beyond explanation. P’lar didn’t know what to make of the last possibility. It was too much for even P’lar the wide traveller, the battler of the black energy, to comprehend.

Five universes, spun out from each other, in which P’lar would battle against his enemy across possibilities for all time.

GAME ON, the voice said.

Antithesis 1.1 is now (finally!) available for iOS.

“You again,” P’lar replied.

When he’d first arrived here, out in the whitespace, and confronted the oncoming void, P’lar thought that he’d been alone. The only civilization he’d ever known was back home, across the stars, from the planet he’d started on. Out here, under those first attacks, he’d assumed he was fighting against natural phenomena, battling the elements. Whatever this strange corruption was, it felt chaotically natural.

But as the void crept closer and the swirling clouds briefly parted, P’lar saw a form inside. It was white, completely white. And as the void cleared and the energy clouds pulled back, in between the impacts on his own ship, P’lar realized something.

The voice, whatever it was, came from a ship, colored completely white. P’lar’s ship was black, manufactured by the planetary government that he’d left behind, eons (or years, or hours — however long it was) ago. But the ship in front of him, was purely horrifically white. And other than the opposite color, it looked exactly the same.

Exactly the same manufacture, exactly the same specifications and size. It moved in the same way, and P’lar saw, as the horror crept across him, that it too was bouncing back energy bursts, smashing them into its own ship, and sending them right back towards P’lar, and the universe he was protecting with his own ship.

And it spoke.

HELLO, P’LAR, it said, during that first battle. It knew his name. P’lar’s immediate thought was that he’d died. His second thought was that he’d gone insane, and that possibility was still unconfirmed.

He didn’t answer it. Not right away.

SO HONORABLE, it told him. THIS BATTLE. SO SELFLESS OF YOU TO DEFEND YOUR UNIVERSE.

P’lar said nothing. Battled on.

ARE YOU AFRAID OF DEATH? it asked. YOU THROW YOURSELF INTO DANGER. PERHAPS YOU ARE NOT.

P’lar gritted his teeth and continued to maneuver the ship as best he could. If he had gone mad, if the voice was not as alien as it truly sounded in his head, then it was just expressing his own thoughts, his own fears.

PERHAPS YOU WORRY ABOUT YOUR OWN UNIVERSE. WHY DO YOU DEFEND IT SO? DO YOU WONDER, P’LAR, WHY YOU BATTLE FOR A UNIVERSE YOU YOURSELF CAN’T REMEMBER?

P’lar knocked back void after void, hitting away as many of the sources of black energy as he could. And the roiling void again slowly stopped, then changed direction and pushed back from him. The slow progress was excruciating, but the voice went silent. Went silent, at least, until the void pushed back again, and once more that base roar screamed through the vacuum around him, into his ship, into his brain.

ANOTHER CYCLE, P’LAR, said the voice as it returned. PERHAPS YOU COULD USE A NEW WEAPON.

And then, another control appeared in front of P’lar on the ship’s panel. Appeared wasn’t the right word — somehow, it had always been there, in a weird, sub-real sense. But it hadn’t been active before, and now it flashed, pulsed, ready to be pressed.

TAP TO FIRE, P’LAR, said the voice. TAKE YOUR BEST SHOT.

P’lar smashed down his fist on the control, and suddenly a projectile emitted from the front of his ship. It too was black at its core, powered by black energy, but it was surrounded by orbs lined in white, as clear and clean as the whitespace in the world around him. It fired from the front of the ship and speed in the direction of the white shape in the void.

And when the bullet reached its destination, it exploded — a burst of white spread out across the void momentarily, and P’lar felt his fight push forward, his power grow.

Victory, however, just as before, was only temporary. No sooner than his shot had hit, P’lar saw the first burst of color his eyes had seen since before his arrival. It was a flash of red, spinning out across space, directly towards him. P’lar heard laughter from the voice, dim and echoed.

It hit. The flare hit his ship head on, and P’lar’s vision flashed red for an instant. He knew he’d been hit, and the void in front of him seemed to gain power, to creep ever closer.

TO EVERY ACTION THERE IS A REACTION, the voice said, the dark laughter still hanging on its tone.

P’lar spoke, finally. “What are you?”

ME? the voice asked, as the black tide crept ever closer to P’lar and his ship. It threatened to finally envelop him — he fired off a few more shots when the control in front of him flared, and tried desperately to continue to bounce back the bursts flying towards him.

I AM YOUR OPPOSITE, said the voice. THE ENEMY, THE ANTAGONIST. I NOT YOU — I CONTRAST, I COUNTER. I AM THE COUNTERPART, THE OBVERSE.

The void came closer, and P’lar could feel the evil in it, almost hear it now, though its violence toiled outside the ship in pure vacuum. The power of it rang in his ears, inside his mind as he frantically tried to keep it away, to fight back with everything he could.

I AM THE ANTIPOIDAL, said the voice calmly. THE DISCORDANT. The void, screaming, finally reached P’lar’s ship, finally touched it and surrounded him, engulfed in the energy of evil he’d been desperately trying to hold back.

I AM THE ANTITHESIS.

AND YOU, P’LAR, ARE GOING TO DIE.

(to be concluded)

P’lar readied himself for another battle.

He didn’t know how long it had been since he had arrived out here. He didn’t remember sleeping, so it could have been only hours. But on the other hand, he couldn’t remember doing anything but this, fighting the Void out here in the middle of whitespace. So for all he knew, it could have been months. Or even years.

His original mission, he remembered, was to explore the very reaches of the universe, to follow the stars as far as they could go. And they took him out here, into this realm of infinite whiteness, in the middle of nothing, an emptiness that felt calm, peaceful, serene.

But it had only lasted so long. At first, he’d just seen one blob out there, one vortex, or field or whatever it was. Purely black, spotlighted against the bright white field around him, and moving, back and forth, towards him slowly. The sensors gave no usable readings when he tried to scan it, but there was no time anyway. He could tell just from looking at it through the viewport: It was evil.

There was no way the attack could ever reach back through the galaxies, back across the stars, to P’lar’s home planet. He had to stop it, in whatever way he could. The exploration ship he piloted didn’t have anything in the way of weapons, and P’lar doubted that the small arms on board would do anything to repel the oncoming vortex.

So he made a decision, calmly and quickly. And piloted his ship right into the path of the blob itself. He made it with a few seconds to spare, and momentarily considered recording a message, writing something, trying to save something that might one day make it back to his home planet, might one day let his people know what he had done for them. But there wasn’t time. He merely steadied himself, held the ship in place, braced for the oncoming impact.

It arrived, and the ship shook. And held.

The blob attacked, smashed into the ship’s front … and bounced off. It spun back the way it had come, back away from P’lar’s universe, back away from the ship, in the direction it had come. P’lar breathed a sigh of relief, ran a diagnostic on the ship’s systems, and glanced back through the viewport.

What he saw shook him to the core. The vortex was back. And it had a twin, bouncing with it in the opposite direction.

Behind it, a huge field of the same black energy pushed on, creeping towards his ship slowly, onward and threatening.

P’lar had gritted his teeth, that first time, and had defended as best he could, placing his ship in the path of blob after blob, bouncing them off and away as quickly as possible. The field itself swirled and threatened ever closer, and P’lar beat back void after void, each one hammering into his ship and bouncing off.

For minutes, or maybe hours, he did this, smashing each bit of evil energy back and away from his home far behind him. And after what had seemed too long, after the huge swirling field had come almost too close, it began to recede. He had to check his sensors to be sure, to confirm his ship wasn’t itself moving backwards, pushed back by the force there. But no — the field that spread in front of him was falling back.

Even that victory was only temporary — a base roar spread out across the volume in front of him, something not felt through sound or air (certainly, all of this took place in an empty vacuum), but through P’lar’s own mind. It rattled in his brain, shook his spine, made his very core tremor. And when it was over, the viewport showed the field marching back towards him, this time coming faster, even as various black voids bounced in their own careful speed in his direction.

This time, however, something was different. There, on the far side of the field, there was a flash of white, then two or three. And there, in the middle … The void swirled out of the way to reveal … a full block of white. P’lar gaped — it was a ship. Just like his — the same dimensions, the same volumes, same shape and size. It was a ship just like his own exploratory vessel.

But it was pure white, standing out from the oncoming energy. And just as the roar had transmitted itself through some medium far outside any science or physical phenomena, so too did the white ship in front of P’lar speak. It spoke, directly to him, in a voice calm and alien.

HELLO, P’LAR, it said. WE MEET AGAIN.

(to be continued)

So once again I don’t really have time to write a post here — I have to pack for the San Diego Comic-Con yet this evening, and I have a few other things to do as well. But Kickstarter has obviously been an important part of the tech industry lately, and I have a few thoughts about it that won’t seem to stay in my head, no matter how hard I try to keep them in.

As you have seen on Twitter if you’re following me there, I’m frustrated with the whole thing. Kickstarter as a concept doesn’t bother me all that much. Just like Etsy, I see it as a good, if a little costly, way for people who want to start setting up a business and selling cool things to begin. I’ve actually backed two things on Kickstarter — one was the Tim Schafer adventure game that began this whole gaming on Kickstarter fad, and the other was a friend’s project, Randy Nelson’s digital gaming magazine. So I don’t have any problems with Kickstarter in general. If you’re planning to make a product and would rather get your gross profit up front so you can use it in the production, it’s an easy (but costly) way to do so. I say costly because Kickstarter does take a nice chunk of the money donated, and trust me, there are plenty of easier ways to collect money like this on the Internet.

My issue with Kickstarter really lies in the difference between ideas and implementation, which is something that I’ve read about online before. Here’s the thing: Anyone can have good ideas. We all get tons of good ideas all the time. I’ve got them pouring out of my head. When I try to sleep at night, my brain won’t stop coming up with ideas. Ideas, even good and great ideas, are cheap and plentiful, and worth about nothing, because there are tons of good ideas out there, and there will always be more.

Good implementations, on the other hand, are worth everything. Here’s an idea: A microblogging service, which lets individuals share small updates (around 140 characters) with each other over the Internet. Go make one — I’ll wait. It’ll take you a day or two of Javascript programming, less if you have programming experience.

Oh good, you’re done. What’s that? You didn’t make Twitter? No kidding. That’s because the idea of Twitter is much easier to come up with than the actual implementation of Twitter itself. A good implementation depends on a lot of work, a whole lot of talent and experience, and even (maybe especially) lots of luck. Anybody can think of a great game — just combine great games together: Tetris meets Final Fantasy Tactics meets Castlevania: Symphony of the Night! It’s great — you fight turn-based battles around a 2D platforming world whose landscape is constantly changing because blocks keep falling out of the sky! But very few people can take that idea, and implement it well. Well enough to make sense, well enough to appeal to a wide audience, and well enough to make it fun and interesting and good.

And this is why Kickstarter is such a problem lately: Because Kickstarter rewards ideas, not implementation. Ideas aren’t worth anything, but Kickstarter puts a big donate button next to them, and says, “That thing in your head? It’ll be real if only you pay money.”

This is also why video games work so well on Kickstarter. Every gamer has fallen prey to this: You read a preview of a game a month before it comes out, and the developer interviewed promises all sorts of great things. “We’re going to have an RPG system governed by how you feel while playing the game,” he promises, “and our vendor shop system is going to be revolutionary — prices will actually rise and fall according to the whole economy of the world.” And then November comes around, the actual game comes out, and you realize that a) the game doesn’t correctly sense your emotions while playing, because that’s basically impossible, and b) it doesn’t matter how a vendor system is governed if the actual UI to control it is terrible. You fell prey to the hype. You believed in the idea of a game, while the actual implementation left you wanting.

I’m not saying all of these great things on Kickstarter aren’t going to live up to their promises: I look forward to Tim Schafer’s game, I’m sure I’ll be buying quite a few of these Kickstartered games even after they’re released on Steam and in other places, and I am just as excited as every one else about the Ouya (though I didn’t, I will note, put in the $99 to get one just yet). I’m not saying people getting backed by Kickstarter, especially Tim Schafer and Yves Behar, can’t implement ideas well. There have already been some cool things backed by Kickstarter, and there will be more in the future, I’m sure.

I’m just tired of all of the hype of ideas getting treated as actual products. Republique was a huge offender on this. I have my doubts about their background and their experience in creating games, but heck, maybe I’m wrong. Maybe they do eventually make an actual game. Maybe it does have all of the features they promised, and maybe it does even present a really great, action-based experience on iOS.

But one of their promises was to “explore heavy topics, say something meaningful.” What does that even mean?!? Even they use the word “something” — they have no idea what they’re even planning to say! And “push cutting-edge graphics on mobile,” really? What does that mean? Does that mean 60 FPS guaranteed, or does it mean photorealistic graphics, or does it just mean the game will look good? On the basis of these vague, strange promises, these people ran away with over $500,000.

I don’t mean to just pick on Republique (and I look forward to your angry emails and tweets) — there are plenty of Kickstarters out there selling an idea rather than an actual, realistic product. All I’m saying is that in the middle of this Kickstarter mania, it’s worth remembering that these people aren’t yet selling products — they’re selling ideas. And it’s very, very easy (especially when you’re an ad agency — ahem) to make a pitch for an idea look really, really good. It’s a lot harder to actually implement that idea, and that’s what I worry these backers who put hundreds or thousands of dollars into these projects aren’t understanding.

I fully support people who have a good idea and a ready-made plan to put it into action. And hey, I also support people who have nothing but a good idea, and need a few thousand dollars to turn it into a real thing. But these people who come up with nothing but an idea, have almost zero real experience to back it up, and ask for hundreds of thousands of dollars, all the while promising to do things that industry veterans have been trying to do without success for years? That, I don’t believe. That, to me, sounds like a scam. That, to me, sounds like even they are getting caught up in their own stupid hype, forgetting that the whole point of getting money together in the first place was to create something, not just make a lot of money.

Just remember this: If you back something on Kickstarter, you’re backing an idea, not a product. Don’t be surprised when, weeks, months or even years later when you get that product, it doesn’t live up to the idea in your head.

Brett Terpstra, as I’ve said on Twitter recently, is one of the more impressive people I’ve been lucky enough to work with. I first met him while we were both writing on TUAW together, and since then he’s gone full time over to the Blogsmith team (which is the CMS that most of AOL’s blogs, including TUAW and Joystiq, all run on). He’s quite an interesting guy and a prolific indie developer of his own, and a few weeks ago at WWDC, I asked him to do a quick interview with me over email. Here’s the result of that:

Hey Brett! Thanks for chatting with me. How did you get started coding?

I learned Basic on a PC Jr. through trial and error. I spent as much time coding those little programs as I did playing King’s Quest, and I’ve always viewed the challenge and problem-solving surrounding code to be just like solving a game like that, at least for me. I moved on to other languages and other platforms over time, but I still get the same thrill from solving coding puzzles as I did when I was 6.

One of the things I really appreciate about you and your work is that you’re the kind of person who hears an idea or comes up with an idea, and then charges on to make it happen no matter how impossible it seems. I’ve met a few people like this: You mention to them how great it would be if you could send an email to a toaster, and the next day they come back with a web form and a custom-made protocol to order toast via email (with an extra option to buy bread beforehand if you haven’t done that). Do you see this skill in yourself? Do you think that’s something that’s trained or is it intrinsic to who you are?

It’s very much intrinsic to who I am. I have an obsessive personality that thrives on problem solving, so when presented with a problem I tend to focus on it. Once I developed enough of a base toolset to start solving the kind of problems I was running into, it became possible to learn whatever I needed to in order to accomplish a new goal.

My skill set lacks focus; I learn what I need to know to do what I want to do, but am generally a failure at having in-depth knowledge in any area. Jack of all trades.

So if you’re faced with a problem you don’t understand, what’s the first thing you do? Obviously I think this is an enviable skill to have — I wonder if you can codify a bit this drive to make these crazy ideas possible.

The first thing I do is look for someone who’s already solved it. I hate reinventing the wheel. If I can find a solution and it covers the bases, I just dissect it to learn what I can from someone else’s effort. If I can’t find a good, pre-existing solution, though, I stop and try to generalize the problem. If I can backtrack to find a higher-level issue that I or someone else might face in other circumstances but whose solution would cover all of the bases, that’s where I start.

Then I try to envision a way to make the solution as transparent as possible. If I get it right, it should be as if the “problem” never existed, just a smooth surface where there was a hole or a bump before. Then I figure out what tools would be best suited to the task, and teach myself what I need to know in order to use them without making too much of a mess. I still make messes pretty often, though.

Speaking of making messes, you have a lot of animals around your house. Which animals do you have these days, and what appeals to you so much about them?

I like animals better than people, most of the time. Granted, people don’t (usually) poop in my living room and barf up hairballs in my shower, but I still have some antisocial tendencies that just make me feel more at home with furry, speechless creatures. My wife and I have a German Shepherd (Chance), a Pit Bull (Emma), an African Grey parrot (Jasmine), two littermate cats (Yeti and Jezebel) and one Siamese stray (Steve), a 75 gallon fish tank (a Pleco named “The Dude,” and a rotating collection of freshwater fish, one of which is usually named “Socks” because I think that’s funny) and at least one foster at any given time (we run a Pit Bull rescue). If it weren’t for my wife being so wonderful with animals, I’d probably have fewer of them around, but I love them all.

Another thing I like about you is that you (like me, I think) are ruthlessly cynical at times, and often extremely skeptical, but when you find something or someone that you’re really impressed by, you’re able to flip that cynical part off and just fanboy out. You’ve seen and played with a lot of cool hardware and software — what’s one or two of the best things you’ve ever seen?

An app called Found left a strong impression on me a year ago. It was mostly because the task was monumental: building a replacement for Spotlight in OS X. Just the drive and planning in the undertaking impressed me enough that I’ve been an excited beta tester ever since.

Beyond that, there are too many apps that I love to even begin listing them all. Third-party hardware that excites me the way apps do is rare. I love my Drobo, but not the way I love my favorite apps. There’s something about the excitement of some developers that’s contagious. It’s hard to be cynical when you see someone take a great idea and make it a reality.

Lastly, run through the apps you have available — just a little bit about what they’re for and why you made them. And then I’m just wondering what you’re working on next, and what we can look forward to.

The only app I currently have for sale is Marked, the Markdown previewer/exporter with a lot of extra tools for writers. After that, nvALT is popular, and I have an app in progress called Gather (you can find it on brettterpstra.com). My next big project is a secret, but it’s going to hopefully fill a void for many Marked users and expand the audience significantly.

I also have Marky the Markdownifier, a side project I’ve been working with on and off for a couple of years. It basically combines Readability with a Markdownifier, turning any web page into Markdown for reading, clipping or saving. There’s also Promptdown, a web app for turning Markdown text into a teleprompter for screencasting. Then there are dozens of Services, snippets and tools that I’ve built, mostly found on my Downloads page. I keep busy.

He does. Since this interview, Brett has put together this excellent catalog of all his work recently, so browse through that if you want to see some of the great things this guy has put together.

He’s also planning to start a new podcast, and he kindly asked me to be the first guest. We actually talk more about some of the subjects mentioned here, as well as a few other things, so keep an eye out for that.

Diablo 3 arrived today, and I’m reviewing it for Joystiq.com. Unfortunately, it doesn’t actually work with the version of Windows XP I was running on my PC (because I was running a pirated version, that didn’t have any of the Service Pack updates on it). So this afternoon, I went out and did something I’ve never done in my life before: Bought a real, legitimate copy of Windows. I figured it was time — after more than 30 years of using Windows computers, I probably owed Microsoft at least a little something.

Here’s how you install an Apple OS (which I’ve done a few times now, always legitimately):

1) Spend $29.99 on the App Store.
2) Download the upgrade, which might take about an hour or two.
3) Let it install for about 20 minutes.

That’s it.

The Windows process, however, is a little rougher. Because I’m upgrading from Windows XP, I have to do a clean install — completely wipe my hard drive, erasing everything I’ve got on there, and install the OS anew. Fortunately I have most of my stuff saved in the cloud, and almost everything I run on the PC can simply be re-downloaded and reinstalled.

But the instructions for installing Windows 7 look like a pain. And so, to share that pain with you, I’m going to liveblog the installation. Here goes.

1:28pm Apparently, before I install Windows 7, I need to make sure my computer can run Windows 7, as per Microsoft’s instructions. So I have to download a Windows 7 upgrade advisor from their website, and then run that so it can tell me if I’m good to go or not.

When I download it, I’m also recommended some other “useful software,” including Internet Explorer and the Office Compatibility pack. Keep in mind that I’m already wiping this hard drive, because I have to do a clean install. So thanks Microsoft, but no — even if I wanted to install that stuff, I’d be deleting it right away anyway.

1:30pm The Upgrade Advisor program is actually an installer, so I’m now installing an app that will let me know if I can install Windows.

1:37pm Good news, my computer is compatible! Can’t say I’m that surprised. Windows also tells me that most of my programs are compatible, but there are quite a few that won’t work directly with Windows 7. Not that it matters much, because, you know, I’m wiping the hard drive, but whatever.

The one thing that the Upgrade Advisor doesn’t seem to tell me is what I would like to know: Should I install the 32 or the 64-bit version? It says both will work, so I’m guessing 64 bit is better. I will try that, I guess. Putting the disk in now!

1:49pm Took me a while to get my BIOS to figure out how to boot from DVD. It kept rebooting back into the XP install. “Windows is loading files” now.

1:52pm I have a screen of some kind! There’s just a cursor there now, though. I presume we’ll get a window with install options at some point. Right?

1:54pm Whew! There it is. Yes Windows, I would like English please. There’s an Install Now button, and I just hit it. “Setup is starting…”

2:00pm My DVD drive is spinning and stopping occasionally, so that’s probably the bottleneck here. At any rate, Windows finally asked me whether I wanted an auto or a custom install, so I picked custom. I pulled up my HD partitions, chose the one with XP on it, hit Delete, and boom, there goes all of my files and programs from the past few years. Thank goodness for cloud saves, right?

Suddenly I have about 300 gigabytes of free space on that HD partition, so I choose to install Windows 7 on there, and Windows tells me “That’s all the information we need right now. Your computer will restart several times during installation.” I decide to let it go — back to playing Diablo on my Mac.

2:10pm Restart number one. I haven’t touched it at all, just letting Windows setup do its thing. I’m kind of impressed that it restarted on to the hard drive directly without me having to mess with the BIOS again. There’s a meter at the bottom of the screen, and it’s about at 75%. Keep on rolling, Windows!

Oh hey — it finally picked up on my screen’s actual resolution (1920×1200, I think?). Nice job!

2:14pm: Another restart. This time, I’m pulling up the BIOS myself just to make sure it’s set to boot back on to the hard drive rather than the DVD again. Hopefully, Windows can handle it. I guess we’ll find out.

2:16pm: I ignored a prompt to press a key to boot to DVD… And yes, “Setup is preparing your computer for first use”! Windows has almost won me over just in the last few minutes here — once Setup actually started rolling, it was surprisingly painless.

2:17pm Inputting a user name, a password, and a product key. This is the first time I’ve owned a legit copy of Windows! I guess this means I’ll be able to get upgrades and real support now, right?

I even set it to “Activate when online.” Because I have nothing to hide now!

2:21pm My desktop is being prepared…

2:23pm And that’s it — I have installed Windows 7! I guess other updates are being installed right now as well. Those may take a while, and probably require more restarts. But I am impressed — only about an hour, and despite all that nonsense at the beginning, surprisingly smooth.

In fact yup, it just asked me for a restart due to the updates. Not a problem.

Now begins the long process of reinstalling all of my stuff — browser first (I was thinking of switching to chrome full time, but I will probably install Firefox just for the heck of it, because all of my bookmarks and settings are already saved there), and then drivers, then Diablo 3, and then everything else. Priorities!

So there you go. Relatively painless — not quite as easy as Apple’s process, but what is, really? And from what I’ve seen of Windows 7, it actually runs well — even without my video and sound card drivers in, everything seems to be working. I believe with my last Windows XP install, I actually had to put Ethernet card drivers on a USB just to get on the Internet. So far, so good.

Thanks for reading!

I’m going to put this here, partially because there’s a lot of things I want to tell people about, and partially because I’m just trying to get it all in my head. Here’s what I’m up to over the next few months:

This coming week, Diablo 3 comes out, and I probably don’t have to tell you that I’ll be disappearing into work for a few days after that happens. I’m reviewing it for Joystiq after covering it for years, so stay tuned for that.

On May 20th, I’ll be running the Santa Monica Classic 10k. I’ve been slacking on working out lately, first because I hurt my back earlier this year, and then because I was in Europe, so I don’t know how I’ll do. But I’ve done the SMC for three years now, so I figured I’d have to do it again no matter what.

Later that week, I’m heading up to Cambria, CA for Improv Utopia, a really great camp event over Memorial Day weekend all about improv and comedy. I like it for the improv stuff, but I am also just going for the retreat — it’s a really nice place up there, with great cabins, a nice lodge, and a lot of fun people. I’ll be there through Memorial Day.

The week after that is of course E3, so I’ll be in downtown LA, covering games for TUAW and Joystiq. Always fun — this is my, sheesh, fifth year at E3? Sixth? Can’t remember.

The next week I’ll be driving up to San Francisco for WWDC. I’m not going to the conference (though I am a developer — Antithesis out now in the App Store, iPad update soon!), but I will be in town having meetings for TUAW coverage. If you are going and want to meet, let me know.

Then, a week after that is Nerdtacular, up in Salt Lake City. I haven’t bought a plane ticket yet, and I don’t have any place to stay, but I am told I’ll be going. We’ll see. I would love to go, but obviously I’ll be busy.

The next weekend (ugh, I already feel tired), I have just learned I’ll be in New York City for the Del Close Marathon at the UCB theater up there. Not one but two of my teams are performing, and I’ll be seeing other shows and taking some workshops up there I’m sure. If you’re in New York, I would like to meet up with you. One of my shows will be on Sunday, July 1, at 4pm, I know, but I’m not sure when the other show is, or where else I’ll be performing. But I haven’t been to New York in like ten years, so I do want to hit up Shake Shack, and do some sightseeing and all of that fun stuff.

That week is Independence Day, and the week after that, it’s off to San Diego for Comic-Con — it’ll be my third year down there. Craziness, all the way around.

So yes, that’s my summer. Pretty nuts. I also have improv shows scheduled every week here in LA (obviously I’ll have to miss a few of those), and I have a few other projects to work on, most notably Antithesis and this other app/game I’m trying to put together. I love being busy, though, and clearly that’s exactly what I’m going to be.

After all these years, I am now a European traveler.

It’s been kind of a strange few weeks back. Jet lag did hit me pretty hard — for a while there, I was falling asleep around 10pm, and waking up at around 7 every day, which actually wasn’t too bad (except that I’m usually a night person, and often have to meet people or go out after 10). But the most surprising thing about returning home after a month away was how quickly everything kind of fell back into place. The day I got back, I sat down at my computer here at home to do some work, and I was surprised at how everything felt. It was almost like I hadn’t gone away at all.

That next morning, I was in bed trying to get some extra sleep so I wouldn’t pass out at dinner, and I found myself forcefully trying to go through my memories, to keep in mind what I’d seen and what I thought about it. And this blog has been very helpful — it hasn’t been a chore to remember the fun I had, but I do want to try and learn as much as I can from it, keep it all in my mind as best I can.

A few people have told me that they really liked the blog, but just in case you haven’t seen it, I wanted to quickly round up what I did on the 30 days I was gone, from April 1 to May 1. I blogged every day (without exception, though Internet issues caused me to post some things a little late), and here’s what I saw and wrote about:

Day 1: I flew across the Atlantic Ocean, and saw the sun rise over Greenland. I pondered just how big this world is, and how, on this trip, I was traveling farther away from my life than I’d ever been before.

Day 2: I passed through the UK Border (had to explain myself to the guard, when I personally didn’t even know exactly what I was doing), found my hostel, and couldn’t help myself: Had to go out and have a beer at a London pub, just because I could.

Day 3: I set out into London, visited Parliament and Westminster Abbey, 10 Downing Street and Tralfalgar Square. I didn’t write about it, but this was also the first day that I went into a London supermarket, and was amazed at how both alien and familiar everything was at the same time.

Day 4: I visited Sherlock Holmes’ famous lodging at 221B Baker Street, walked through Regent Park, had lunch with a Tipoaa listener (fish and chips), and then went out for a terrific Indian dinner with a friend and his wife. We saw Bates from Downton Abbey drinking in a West End bar!

Day 5: I woke up early, took the train out to a very large mall in the English countryside, and rode with Tipoaa listener Harvey out to Oxford. We toured a few universities there, and then went back to his country house to have Moroccan lamb with his mother.

Day 6: We walked through Harvey’s town in the morning, visiting an old church and looking at houses that had stood there for hundreds of years. Then, it was back to London, and the Tipoaa meetup — we met at Oxford Circus, and did some bar-hopping, eventually ending up eating some very great teriyaki chicken just as they were closing the place down.

Day 7: In the morning (staying at my new hotel), I went out to meet new friends at Camden Market, eat incredible foods from stands representing the entire world, and then have beers with some of the UK’s best games journalists. In the evening, I took the train down a theater by myself, where I had a really excellent burger and chips, and saw a (slightly disappointing, unfortunately) version of Oscar Wilde’s An Ideal Husband.

Day 8: My plan for this day (Easter, I believe) was to relax, and for that reason I didn’t go to St. Paul’s in the morning, probably one of the only choices during the trip I regret, though not too much. But the afternoon was one of my favorite parts of the trip: I took the train all the way out to Greenwich, and toured the town there and the Royal Observatory, where both time and space have been studied and measured for hundreds of years.

Day 9: Finally, on Monday morning, I got to meet up with my friend Turpster, and we toured the Tower of London together. In the afternoon, we meet up with some more listeners for drinks, and I stayed until everyone had left, then grabbed pizza with Harvey and headed home.

Day 10: I took the train down to Brighton, on England’s coast, and was surprised by how much it reminded me of Santa Monica, in Los Angeles. After visiting the beach, I spent the day shopping, and then had bangers and mash at a pub, one of my favorite dishes on the entire trip, before riding the train back up into town.

Day 11: I woke early and took the train down to King’s Cross, where I had an excellent ham sandwich that costed way too much, and then took the train to Paris. I got into my hotel there early, so decided to go into the city — and promptly fell in love. I had an excellent dinner at a little cafe there, and though I was exhausted from traveling all day, I couldn’t get enough of this city’s streets.

Day 12: This is really the day that made my Paris trip — I must have walked twelve miles, from the Eiffel Tower to the Invalides, up to and through the Musee D’Orsay, across to the Louvre and into the Palace Garden, and then to the Opera House, where I had one of the best steaks I’ve ever had. Quite a day.

Day 13: Another walking day, full of fantastic sights. I took the train into Paris in the morning, walked across the “New Bridge” (actually the oldest bridge in town), and then did two walking tours: One across the two islands in the middle of Paris, where Notre Dame, the Martyrs’ Memorial, and St. Louis’ church are, and then a walk through the artistic and beautiful Odeon neighborhood, where artists and writers worked and ate and partied. I ate so many good things, had such a great time.

Day 14: I saw the Paris Catacombs, where millions of humans’ bones sit in a dank passage underneath the city. I visited my first Paris graveyard as well, and then went north, to join up with a podcaster meetup and my friend Patrick.

Day 15: It was Sunday, so I went strolling along the Champs Elysees, past a rally for a French election, through international retail stores and past French fast food places, all the way up to the Arc de Triomphe. I stayed there a few hours, just so the sun could go down and I could get pictures at night, even as I froze in just a tshirt and my hoodie. And then, after a quick dinner of pizza (not cut!), I walked back home.

Day 16: This is the first day that I really stayed in on the trip — I did a lot of work, only took one short walk over to a mall to see if I could find something to keep me a little warmer. I did buy a sweater in France, but actually have never worn it, not even yet here in America.

Day 17: This day was also cold and rainy — I climbed the tower of the Sacred Heart Basilica, then walked down through the Pere Lachaise cemetary, full of famous graves. In the evening, I went home and tried cooking dinner with food found at a nearby supermarket. Let’s just say the bread I bought was the best thing I ate that night.

Day 18: This was the Louvre, which went from a sight I wasn’t sure I wanted to see, to one of my favorite visits of the whole trip. There was just so much there. I remember falling asleep sitting up in the middle of Near East Antiquities, just surrounded by art and history and culture.

Day 19: This was my last full day in Paris — for most of it, I worked in my hotel room. But in the evening, I went to the best restaurant I could afford, and ate wonderful food. That chicken! That souffle! One of the best meals I’ve ever had, and Paris, I will be back.

Day 20: I traveled to Berlin. This was the first day I entered somewhere that I really didn’t know the language — in France, at least, I knew enough Spanish to help me out with the romance languages. But entering that train station in Frankfurt, seeing the food and having no idea what it was, and reading the signs and not knowing which train I was supposed to be on, was a pretty phenomenal experience.

Day 21: This was the Free Tour, my first introduction to the tourist side of Berlin. I walked with strangers to the Brandenberg Tor, and then saw the famous sights: The Holocaust Memorial, Hitler’s bunker, Checkpoint Charlie, Museum Island. Afterwards, I walked through formerly communist Germany, and came to the realization that because of everything Berlin has been through, the city is almost younger than my own LA.

Day 22: I studied the Holocaust. I learned what it was and what it meant for its victims at the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, and then went south to the Topography of Terror display to learn who the Nazis were and how they did what they did. It was a lot to take in on a sometimes tough day, but very important stuff.

Day 23: I visited Ku’damm, as they call it in Berlin, a shopping district with lots of pricey shops and interesting sights. I ate dinner at a Chinese buffet (my second on the trip — weird?), and had to have the proceedings of a mongolian BBQ grill explained to me in two different languages. Also, I ate Kangaroo meat! It was stringy.

Day 24: I took a train out to Wittenberg, to visit the hometown, house, and church of the founder of my family’s religion, Martin Luther. This was a quiet day in a relatively small town, but I walked in the footsteps of someone who’s shaped me and my life from across the centuries.

Day 25: I spent the afternoon visiting the Tranenpalast, the palace of tears, where Berlin has set up a memorial to The Berlin Wall and what it meant for citizens there. Then, on the recommendation of a tour guide, I went to a bar where they had 300 different beers available to buy, and I took a long, proper survey of the best beers Berlin and Germany had to offer. I don’t remember much of the rest of the night, obviously.

Day 26: On my final day in Berlin, I ate at a great restaurant called Max and Moritz, named after an old German folktale. I tried to take in as much as I could of local German culture, and that came with a whole lot of calories as well.

Day 27: I made my way to Prague, checked into the hostel there, and was very confused by the currency. The city was beautiful, however, and super warm, which at first was a nice change from the cold in Paris.

Day 28: This was probably my least favorite day of the trip — Prague was hotter than I expected, and more crowded, and either due to my bad planning or just the vibe of the place, I didn’t find nearly as much history as I expected. I did have a great dinner this evening — potato pancakes and dumplings with some really incredible pork — but the day itself didn’t win any points with me.

Day 29: This was my last full day before I headed home, and Prague was much nicer to me on the second day. I went to visit a castle and a cathedral in the middle of it, walked Prague’s streets and saw Frank Gehry’s Dancing House. I ate dinner over Wenceslas Square, and thought a lot about my trip and what I had learned from it.

Day 30: This was the first of two travel days — I first woke up in Prague, took the train to the airport, and then flew out of the airport on a tiny little plane back over to London. I stayed there in a hotel that was also an Indian restaurant, full of old grubby English guys, all watching a soccer match on the TV and grumbling into their beers.

Day 31: On the final day of my trip, I flew from England back to LA — I saw three movies on the way over (Mission Impossible, Chronicle, and Haywire), and played a whole lot of Junk Jack. I met my friend Rob at the airport, and we had In and Out before I headed back to my apartment at home.

Whew! I’ve been telling people that I haven’t found a good way to really compress my trip into just a few minutes of small talk, but I think that’s about as small as it’s going to get — obviously, I did a lot, and experienced a ton of things. It was certainly worth it. I definitely do want to go back to Europe, to visit Paris, and Greece, and Rome, and probably somewhere up in Sweden and the Netherlands as well — I didn’t get to make it to Amsterdam, unfortunately. But as I’ve said, I think my next big trip will be to Asia, to visit Japan and China and Hong Kong. I will have to save up money, so that might be in another year or two here.

And in the meantime, well, stay tuned. I have quite a bit more to do, even just this summer.

I am flying back to London today. The Prague airport was actually easier to navigate than I expected it would be. The passport checkpoint guard didn’t ask me anything — he just chatted with his partner in the next checkpoint, laughing, gave me a look, and then stamped me out of his country.

At this exact moment, I’m sitting in the Prague airport terminal, about an hour or so before the flight is set to go. And it’s completely empty for some reason — just a few workers occasionally wandering through.

At any rate, I figured that since today will probably be somewhat boring (just heading back to London, going to stay one night there in a hotel, and then take the train to Heathrow tomorrow to leave Europe), I would revisit some of my bests and worsts from the trip while they’re still pretty fresh.

Best Place I Stayed: Dillion’s Hotel off of the Belsize Park London Underground stop was pretty amazing. I had my own room there, a nice desk, relatively strong Internet, and though it was a shared bathroom, everything was clean and well-maintained. It was nice and close to a train stop, and there was a great little window by the desk that I could look out of while working. Add in the free continental breakfast in the morning and the excellent staff (they let me borrow a power adapter for free), and it was definitely the best place I put my head on a pillow.

Staying for a night with my friend and Tipoaa listener Harvey in Oxford was excellent as well — he and his mother were great and kind hosts, and their house, in an old stable on an old English manor, was beautiful.

And I stayed in about three hostels total on this trip, but the best one by far was the St. Christopher’s Inn in Berlin. I had a private room there, and the whole building was very comfy. They had a bar downstairs with cheap drinks and food, a “chill out zone” with quality chairs and Internet, and all of the staff were very friendly and helpful, all for an astoundingly cheap price. I liked it so much that after one night, I booked a place with the same franchise in Prague. That place wasn’t quite as good, but it was also really excellent as hostels go.

Worst Place I Stayed: I’d been recommended Airbnb.com by a few friends (which is an Ebay like site where people can post and buy rooms), but the one room I booked there was sketchy as all get out. It was in the worst part of London that I had been, on the top floor of a dirty and scary projects-like building. When I got there (after having to call the guy a few times, which I’m sure cost me a fortune), the guy running the place told me he’d just moved in, and introduced me to another guy who he said was the former tenant, moving out that day. He apologized for not having any sheets on the bed yet — he just had to run to Ikea that afternoon and get some for me. I almost left my stuff there, then I felt like that was a bad idea and turned around in the hallway to take my bags with me to dinner that night.

I was exhausted when I got back to the place, but the guy wasn’t around yet, so I sat on a bed without sheets for a little bit, and then just passed out on it. The guy finally showed up later on that evening, with another friend in tow, and said they were going to drink together and I was welcome, but I just couldn’t do it — he put the sheets down and I closed the door and passed out in my clothes. The next morning, I picked my stuff up, said thanks as I walked out the door, and did not use Airbnb again this trip.

Best Sight to See: The Paris Catacombs, the Royal Observatory, Westminster Abbey, and 221B Baker Street in London, the Topography of Terror museum in Berlin, and the Lutherhaus in Wittenberg were all spectacular, and those sights were the main reasons I went on this trip, to see and learn things that I’ve never had the chance to in America.

But the Louvre has to top the overall list. I was skeptical about going there at all, but it is just so full of history and art and inspiration that I believe it’s the center, as much as there can be one, of Western culture. You could argue that Greece and Rome are more foundational in terms of place, yes, but the Louvre has most of Greek and Rome’s most famous works anyway. For the money and the time, it was the best thing I saw in the past month.

Worst Sites: The trip to Brighton was worth it, and I don’t regret it, but there wasn’t much down there that I really had to see. The Tower of London was kind of jokey, but I got to hang out and make a video with Turpster, so I’ll call that a win.

I’ll say the Prague Castle was probably the worst — it was beautiful to look at, but it was such a pain getting up there, and everything was closed when I got there. On a different day at a different time, it would have been much better. But my personal trip there wasn’t very good.

Best Thing I Ate: Oh man, I ate so many good things on this trip: The bangers and mash I had at a pub in Brighton, England, the pain au fromage I bought from a bakery in Paris, the crepe with nutella from a stand near the Odeon, the homemade moroccan lamb in Oxford, the venison pasty I had in a North London pub, the multiple currywursts I had in Berlin. But I have to say, maybe it’s just because it’s so recent, but the potato dumplings with pork I had near the Prague Castle were life-changing. They just soaked up that creme sauce so incredibly well. I want to get home and try to make some. They were so simple and so incredibly good.

Worst Thing I Ate: I apologize to Harvey and his mother, and I thank them again for their hospitality, but the blood pudding they excitedly served me did not appeal to me at all. I at least gave it a shot.

I also had a terrible chicken sandwich from a Pakistanian place in Paris. And I thought I’d really enjoy a kielbasa from a food stand in the middle of Prague, but I did not. I think it was undercooked, and honestly I have no idea what kind of meat it was.

Best Thing I Drank: I drank a lot, but no question, the Dopplebock I had at the 300 beer bar in Berlin was the best. The best. Such a beautiful dark beer — it’s no wonder monks would live off of that stuff.

I also had a lot of good hefeweizens in Berlin, which are my favorite kind of beer. And in London, I became a fan of an ale called Doombar. It’s a little unfashionable to like, I guess, because it’s sort of a commercial beer rather than a hip microbrew, but it was everywhere and I liked it. The Guinness there, too, is just as good as everyone says, but I’ll have to go to Ireland to get the real thing some day.

Worst Thing I Drank: I don’t really like tea, and when I told a bartender one day that I was extremely thirsty, and I was American, and could I just have like a bucket of soda because I missed 7-11, he told me the best he could do was a big glass of iced tea. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t what I wanted at all.

At my first meal in Paris, too, I didn’t know where to go or what to do, so when I finally found a restaurant and sat down and finally deciphered the menu enough to know that I was ordering some pork, the waiter asked me what I wanted to drink. I was in France, so I knew I had to drink some wine, but I didn’t have a lot of money on me and I didn’t know if they took credit cards. So I told him to bring me something red and cheap, and that’s what I got: Wine that was red and really cheap. Tasted like it, too.

Best Women: Maybe it’s just because I was away from home for longer and longer as I moved across the continent, but the women got more beautiful the more I went west: London, Paris, Berlin, and then Czechoslovakia. Czech women are gorgeous, but they’re also annoying: One of the bartenders at my hostel bar, when I told her that I was staying in a room there, said sarcastically, with a Czech accent, “Okay? That’s nice, thank you for telling me that. But it’s still the same price.” Chill out, lady.

I have to say, French women were the nicest to me. They’re all beautiful, and whenever I talked to them, they chatted back with me in that beautiful accent.

Not the Best Women: Sorry, London. You’ve got some good looking women but you’re bringing the average down. The nicest girl I met in London was from Boston.

Coolest Dudes: Berlin. German dudes are awesome. When I was on the train from Paris to Berlin, there was a guy in front of me who looked like he could have been a spy who’d left the trade to join private industry. He was dressed in a great suit and glasses, an older guy, and most of the trip, he chatted across the aisle very animatedly with another guy he’d just met in German. There was a woman behind me talking in Spanish who had an argument with the train conductor, and this guy stood up, walked over to them, and translated and mediated between the two, in perfect Spanish and German, solving the argument. Later, behind him, there was a old couple from Texas riding the train, and he chatted with them, too, in German-accented English, completely charming when he didn’t have to be. I thought he was a superman of some kind — if I grow up to be that guy, life accomplished.

The male bartenders in Berlin bars were awesome as well, always ready with a drink recommendation or change for the train when I needed it.

Least Coolest Dudes: I didn’t meet a cool bartender in England. It’s a shame, because I did meet some cool Tipoaa listeners. But English gents didn’t get along with me very well. I met a nice lady with a great Zelda hearts tattoo, but she shut me down pretty harshly when I complimented her on it.

Best Thing I Got Right: Bringing my iPad was the right decision. I went back and forth on it, because I worried it would be too heavy, it would break, it would get stolen. But I took very good care of all my stuff on this trip, and the iPad was super helpful when I had wifi and just wanted to sit and relax, or when I wanted to play games or read. I would certainly have regretted leaving it in LA.

Worst Thing I Got Right: Yup, it was expensive, like I expected. Really expensive. I don’t really want to share how much this trip costed me, but one dream I had for a little while was that my freelancing gig would basically pay for me to just tour around the world, writing from wherever I happened to be, and this trip would be a test balloon for a life like that. But it’s just not sustainable, either in cost, or in my own sanity. I need to have a local life, with friends and a little regularity. And I need to save back up all of that money I just spent.

Best Thing I Got Wrong: I actually didn’t get this too wrong: I am glad that I didn’t buy a $2000 camera. For one thing, it would have painted me as a tourist way more than I wanted, and for another thing, it would probably have been awkward and heavy to carry. But I thought for a while that I would just need my iPhone for a camera, and eventually my friend told me to take his Panasonic Lumix. This little Lumix has been my favorite piece of tech on this trip — it takes great pictures at a moment’s notice, and has put together an excellent photo collection for me to share, both here on the blog and when I get back in person. I am glad I took my friend Dan’s advice and stole his camera for this month. There were a few days there when the battery on it wasn’t charged, and I had to use the iPhone, and I can tell from those days that just using my iPhone would have been a big mistake.

Worst Thing I Got Wrong: I hate to say Tom Bihn, because they so kindly provided me a bag, and it is a really awesome bag. It’s a solid backpack with plenty of great pockets, and I’m amazed at how much it fits in there — if you need a backpack at all, Tom Bihn is the way to go. But the problem is that I thought I needed a backpack for this trip, and honestly, I didn’t. There were no actual times when I had to tour around with all of my clothes on my back — there was always a locker, or a locked room, or some secure place for me to put my stuff when I went out. The few times I had to transport all of my clothes from one place to another, my rolling suitcase would have worked fine, and actually would have let me fit more in it.

I don’t want to say anything bad about Tom Bihn, as those folks are great. But if I could do it again, I would have just brought my usual rolling suitcase, and saved the backpack for people actually backpacking.

Books Read: The Art of Fielding, by Chad Harbach, Madam Bovary by Gustave Flaubert, Reamde by Neal Stephenson, The Unincorporated Man by Dani Kollin and Eytan Kollin (the only one I didn’t like), and House of Chains and Midnight Tides by Steven Erickson. I did so much reading on this trip — iBooks is the best thing to ever happen to traveling, as far as I’m concerned.

Most Played iOS Games: Fairway Solitaire, Triple Town, Spellsword, Hookshot Escape, and just on the last couple of flights, I am totally addicted to Junk Jack.

iOS Games Made: None, unfortunately. I was really looking forward to this trip as a chance to work on my coding, and I got a few hours of the Antithesis update done on the train to Berlin, but other than that, I didn’t really see it as a very meaningful use of my time. Every time I opened up Xcode and started working, I figured that there was probably something better for me to do. Oh well — once I get home, the Antithesis update is my main goal.

Miles Walked: I have no idea, unfortunately. I know that on my biggest days, walking around London and Paris, I was easily doing ten or twelve miles a day, including three or four hours a day standing in place at museums and in queues. And I’m glad to say that in all my travels, I never took a taxi or a bus — it was all trains or walking. While I can definitely tell my walking has physically improved, I unfortunately ate way too many calories, just because I couldn’t pass up some incredible local delicacies. My legs are super muscular, but I think my midsection has gained a few pounds. Oh well — it was worth it.

Miles Traveled: Over 12,000. Flight to London from LA, lots of riding on the Underground, travels out to Oxford by car and Brighton by train, then down to Paris by train, lots of traveling on the Paris Metro, then over to Berlin by train. Out to Wittenberg and back by train, then to Prague by train. Finally, flight back to London Luton from Prague, to Heathrow by bus, and then to Los Angeles by air again.

Pictures taken: Over 1600. I don’t know the best way to share them — I’ve put quite a few on Facebook, but it didn’t seem like people were seeing them there. Maybe I’ll just put them on my iPad and show them when people want to see them.

Words Written: 62,000 here on the blog. Also worked on Joystiq and TUAW posts over the last two weeks, so I stayed pretty productive.

Best City: This is a tough one. I think I’ve told this story before, but when I was in college, I traveled out to LA, and about two weeks after I got there, I knew it was where I wanted to live. I was sort of thinking that might happen with this trip: That I’d find someplace so awesome that I would have to make it my dream to live there. That didn’t happen — I think I’ll still be more happy in LA than actually living in any of the cities I visited.

But while each city definitely had its charms, and there wasn’t really one I didn’t like (Prague has its issues, but I think it’s mostly because I visited on a busy weekend — if it was quieter and I had more time, I would have liked it much better, I think). Overall, my favorite city was Paris — it’s such an amazing place, just filled with art and beauty and history. The buildings are so long there — block after block of huge windows, long boulevards, and so many incredible cafes and restaurants. The Louvre, I think, is probably the most important single place in Western culture so far. And while everyone warned me about the French, I had no problems at all — they were very gracious hosts, and very nice to me even when we didn’t share a language. I don’t know if I’d want to live in Paris — it’s still a little too far away from the culture and the community that I really love. But of all these cities, that’s the one I most need to go back to: I want to visit a Michelin-starred restaurant, I want to tour a vineyard, and I want to just soak more and more of that amazing, legendary city in.

All that said, however, I’m going to tour Asia before I do that.

Best Moment: That is a tough one. Honestly, overall, I have been happier in the past month than I can remember being so often and so long. I’m not super sad all the time, but my life is busy and complicated, and sometimes all of the things I do drag me down a bit. Life in general can get heavier than I like, sometimes. But this past month, I almost never felt that — usually I was just excited, thinking about what I’d seen that day and what I was planning for the next. That was really nice — to have my goals every day be mostly my own, not dependent on something I needed to do or some commitment I’d made.

If I have to pick one, there was that moment in Berlin, when I was walking around the streets on my second day, looking for the square that honored artist Kathe Kollowitz. I made the decision to travel around in early Spring, and all of a sudden, out of nowhere, a rainstorm appeared. I had of course not brought my umbrella, and so I ducked underneath an awning and decided to wait it out.

It was so beautiful — the sun was still shining through the clouds, the rain came down crisp and clear, and various people from Berlin ran this way and that, trying to get out of the rain. And while I stood there, surveying the scene, it hit 6pm on the dot, and I heard not one but two churches ring their bells at the same time.

The sound and smell of the rain, combined with the gorgeous church bells ringing, and people bustling back and forth occasionally, and me just sitting on this little closed off porch early on an April evening in Berlin? That would rank as one of the best moments I had, on a trip full of them.

My second day in Prague was not nearly as bad as the first.

For one thing, I waited to go out until the sun was mostly down. It was actually a hotter day than my first day in the city, but I had a lot of writing and catching up to do anyway, so I just sat down in the hostel bar and relaxed for most of the day, cleaning up my Internet feeds and making plans for heading back home. I finally booked my last hotel night in London, wrote a few posts and put up some pictures.

I had a late lunch in the bar as well, just some chicken fingers and fries. I get a 10% discount on food and drink here, because I’m staying up in a room, but I haven’t really made much use of that, obviously — there’s better and more local food elsewhere in the city. Maybe I should mention the room, just for posterity’s sake: This is one of the only times during this trip that I’ve had to stay in a shared room, because the private rooms at the hostel were already booked up for the weekend. The first night I was in Prague, I actually had a four bed room to myself, but I still wasn’t able to sleep well: I wasn’t sure, minute to minute, if a group of frat dudes would kick in the door and settle in to the room with me. So as a result, it wasn’t very restful anyway, unfortunately.

Yesterday, when I was clumping around the city angry at tourists, it occurred to me that maybe my lack of sleep had something to do with my mood, so I decided when I got back to the hostel that I would probably have to lay down and grab a nap. But as soon as I got back to the room, I discovered my roommates: Three girls, all speaking something that I would eventually figure out was Hungarian. They were in the room and unpacking, but when I entered, they all sort of clammed up and sat there awkwardly, waiting for me to leave, I guess. I obviously couldn’t nap in a situation like that, so I just dropped my things off, and headed back down to the lobby to read. So yes, maybe some of my crabbiness yesterday can be attributed to exhaustion.

Then, when I finally went up to the room to sleep later that evening, it was still pretty early, so I expected the girls to be out, partying or enjoying the city. Instead, they were fast asleep in their beds already, so I quietly undressed, said sorry a few times (but still didn’t get any English out of them), and jumped into bed. About an hour after I did that, I woke back up again: The girls, all three of them, got up one at a time, showered and dressed, and headed out of the room. This was about 1:30 in the morning. After they left, I sat there confused for a while, wondering what was going on — they hadn’t spoken a single word of English, just chatted and laughed quietly in Hungarian.

At 5am that night, they returned to the room, and I assume they went straight to bed — that’s where I left them when I woke and showered at about 8. When I returned to the room in the afternoon, after I was done writing at about 2, they were gone, so I finally got a nap in, and rested up a bit. I have no idea what happened that night with those women.

I didn’t want to spend the whole day inside, though, so late in the afternoon on Sunday, I headed back out into the city, but this time went south, away from the main crowd of tourists. I walked down and saw Frank Gehry’s Dancing House (it is gorgeous, sitting right on the main Vitava river through town), stopped by the Emauzy Monastery, an old monastery which I believe has now been turned into a school.

Finally, I arrived at another old castle, this one called Vysehrad. This was a serious castle — there were walls maybe 50 feet high around it, and I had to hike up a hill (in the heat again) to reach a get and get inside. Once inside, I found a little fortress of a village, with thankfully only a few tourists and locals sprinkling the grounds.

There was an old cemetery there, with graves dating back a few centuries or so. And there was a church, an old Gothic cathedral that I’d seen coming up the hill. I went inside and paid 30 crowns (maybe a $1.50 or so) to go check it out.

The tourists weren’t swarming in here, but the few inside didn’t help their reputation with me anyway — the poor woman at the door told everyone “No flash” as clearly as she could, and there was a sign at the door that clearly asked for silence, but no one listened. These idiots were all running around the little sanctuary flashing away and chatting with full voices. I didn’t get any pictures of the chumps who took pictures of themselves flexing in front of the altar, but I did get a picture of the guy who ignored all of the art around him to take a picture of his wife in the pew. I also didn’t get a picture of the guy who was carrying a full iPad around, and taking pictures with that. Ugh again.

A few people told me I was harsh yesterday, and like I said, I was going on probably too little sleep. But I do really detest this kind of hit-and-run tourism, where nothing matters but the pictures and the checkbox on whatever list they’re using. There’s so much history in these places — in the back of this church, in a little room full of heritage objects from the church’s history (which people routinely stepped inside, looked around, and stepped right back out again in the 20 minutes or so that I spent in there), there were paintings that dated back to the 1700s, and one bone comb that dated to the 1300s. That’s nearly eight centuries of history, and people were giving it a glance, and then going back out to the gold-leafed paintings. Maybe is wrong for me to judge these people based on a few seconds of our lives, but man, have a little respect, especially for someplace that you yourself have paid to come and visit.

I did take a few pictures, but I never once used a flash in that church, and I did try to sit for a few minutes, thinking about how long that church had been there, and what it must have been like hanging all of those beautiful paintings by candlelight. The priest probably stood there with the artist himself at some point, thanked him again for painting this beautiful work to hang in God’s house, and the artist nervously left it there, left it for God and history to see. That’s the kind of stuff that fascinates me about this places, and if nothing else, those idiots who take a flash picture and then move on sure don’t seem like they’re thinking about things like that. Maybe it’s none of my business, but that’s what I think.

Afterwards, I walked across the fortress walls and back down through the gate down into the city again.

Because it was my last day on this trip (tomorrow, I board a flight to London, and from there it’s back to LA and my usual life again), I tried to think a little bit as I walked about why I did it, and what I got out of it. I’ve always said I wanted to visit London and Paris, so if nothing else, that goal’s been accomplished. But of course there was more to this trip than that. I wanted to go outside of my usual boundaries, try going to a place where I didn’t know the language, and see if I could find my feet and figure things out. I wanted to see what was different in the rest of the world, what I took for granted every day that people in other countries didn’t even know about, or maybe had even come up with something better.

And I did learn some of those things: The English, for example, have red, yellow, and green traffic lights just like we do in America, but while ours go directly from red to green when it’s time to go, in England, they go from red, to red and yellow, and then to green. That way, you get a little heads-up when it’s about time to move again. I don’t know — that probably wouldn’t work in America, as we’d have people revving their engines to go as soon as that yellow light came on. But it’s different things like that I was looking for and found. Things like how bathrooms are called WC here, and how there’s a different word for “Exit” in every country.

And how Prague’s currency actually helps bring tourist money in: 99.- here means 99 crowns, which to us Americans sounds like 99 cents. If you see a hot dog for 99 cents, you’re like yes indeed, that’s a good deal. But 99 crowns is actually almost $5, and it occurred to me that while Prague probably could just scale their money down and make it more even with euros and dollars, that “99.-” is actually a powerful selling tool. And since most of their money is now from tourism, it probably all works out for them just fine.

I would never have known that story, or had that thought, if I’d never left LA. I’m sure there’s lots more thinking I’ll do about this trip — I almost feel like I need to be back in my old life for a day or two just to realize how different things really are.

But I’ve also learned that lots of things are the same. Here, almost buried by loneliness while in Berlin (I haven’t actually had a conversation with anyone I know for a good two weeks now, unfortunately), I just sat myself at the bar and started talking to anyone I could. And while yes, some people just smiled and nodded at the crazy American, most people talked back — they were nice, they chatted, we talked about where we were from and what we thought of Berlin, and what our lives were like and what we wanted to do. It was in a hostel, so people were there from all over: From Germany, Spain, Italy, America, Canada, Australia, and a host of other countries. A couple of other times too, on this trip, I’ve just been bored and started chatting with people around me, which is something I don’t do very much in America at all. And without exception, everyone’s been very nice, been talkative, and we’ve found something in common, something to talk about.

I am looking forward to seeing how that affects me back in America — if I can share this much halfway around the world, how much will I share with people who already have a common language with me, and a common city, and probably common thoughts and goals and ideas? We’ve all got to push to be better people, and hopefully that will help me do just that.

It was about 7 when I finally got back to the hostel, but I didn’t just want to sit in that bar for my last night in town, so I headed out once more into the cool evening to do a little more walking. I went back up to the tourist part of town, and thankfully it was not quite as crowded on a Sunday evening as on a Saturday afternoon. I didn’t concern myself with local cuisine for dinner — I just figured I’d sit down in a place that looked good, and that happened to be an Italian place, which I’ve seen a lot of in all of the countries I’ve stayed in, but hadn’t eaten at just yet.

I sat down, ordered a Kozel, and a plate of gnocchi with chicken and some foccacia bread. My window looked out on to Wenceslas Square, and I watched the tourists going by, people from all over the world, looking up at me with wonder and awe (well, they were looking at the architecture around me, but I was there too). I sat there, read a little bit, ate my pasta and drank my beer.

Eight months ago, last October, I was driving home from my improv theater in LA (Improv! I just realized I haven’t done any improv in a month now), and I decided my life needed a shakeup, that I needed to do something a little crazy. And before I got home, I knew: I would finally take the Europe trip. In fact, I would take a full month, and not only would I see London and Paris, finally, but I’d head off into the continent, see all of the art, the old churches, the historical sites and monuments that I’d always read about but had never seen in person. And now, eight months and way too much money later, I sat, finished my dinner, and sipped the rest of my local Czech beer, looking out onto a busy public square as the sun set over Prague.

Oh, that was such an elegant ending, but I forgot to explain the mystery of the girls Or at least as much (or as little) of it as I uncovered.

Later that night, after a few more beers in the bar, I went back up to my room, and discovered them all asleep in their beds. At least, I thought they were asleep — after I fumbled around in the dark a little bit, one of them spoke out to me, in plain English, “It’s ok — you can turn on the light. We’re all awake anyway.” Another one laughed.

So apparently they did speak English. I said sorry again, and I asked them where they were from. “Hungary,” they said (not all together, but given how dark it was, they might well have just been one person). Are you just visiting? I asked. They glanced at each other. “Yes,” they said, “visiting.”

“And you?” they asked. I said I was from Los Angeles, that I was heading home the next day.

“And you,” they asked, “visiting?” I thought for a second. Yes, I said. Just visiting, too.

I asked them if they were going out again that night, and they didn’t understand my English. Going out, I said more clearly and slowly, tonight, again? “No,” one of them said. “Sorry about last night.” It’s fine, I replied. I just didn’t know what was going on. I don’t know if they understood that last part.

Well, I said, I am going to sleep. Good to meet you, hope you have a good trip. Good night, I said.

“Good night,” one of them said back to me. And with that, I went to bed. They were still sleeping when I woke up at 8 the next morning, showered, and headed out to the Prague airport to fly to London.




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A collection of work by Mike Schramm. Learn more about Mike and this website. Schramming it up since 2004. A podcast for you to listen to, hosted by Mike Schramm and Luke Lindberg. Pictures, dramatic and playful, in black and white and color.