If you listen to the anti-capitalists, they will tell you that the answer is “none, the market will fix the problem.” And then they’ll tell you that the market hasn’t fixed the problem, and that’s why Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae should be taken back into tight government control.

If you are an intelligent human being, you should understand that that line is a turd of bullshit so large you’d never stop counting the agendas embedded in it like corn in crap. Was that disgusting enough imagery for you? ‘Cuz that’s how you should be feeling right now.

What part of “backed by the government, yo” tattooed on F&F’s back sounds privatized? You see, it’s not just how you run the company, it’s not just what investors are rubbing your balls in cash, it’s what your contingency plan is. And when that plan is “the Treasury will bail us out” then that is NOT free market. Unless you think it has no effect on the decisions/mistakes they make.

F&F are GSEs. This means they were created by the government, for the government, regardless of how “privately” they are run. The Fed gives them cheap loans that they securitize for a profit and then pass on to borrowers, who have special faith in that relationship.

So now look at the Fed’s latest bail-out plan:

  • F&F CEO removed… GOOD, though I’m sure they get some nice parachutes…
  • F&F Conservatorship… RIGHT, because the goverment’s had such a good track record before…
  • Buyer of the Last Resort… WHAT? So the Fed keeps F&F stock afloat with $200 billion of our money? BTW there is only the “last resort” left, ding dong.
  • 10% per annum portfolio reduction… WTF?! Who the hell? Wha…? How are you going to achieve this, how is this relevant, and what are you saying when you tell a company to reduce its business as you buy up its stock with our money?

All that does is keep or lower existing mortgage rates. Solving the credit crisis is not going to address the lack of DEMAND for things to DO with that credit. Like I’m really going to buy a house now that lending rates fell 1% when the nation is facing mass unemployment and inflation. Like I’d really solve the latter by doing the former anyways.

You’d think the Republicans would be against ham-handed intervention. Too bad they’ve confused F&F with Terry Schiavo.

I watched Dan beat Braid the other day, a quirky, lovable game that takes all time/space game conventions and weaves them into great, satisfying puzzles that unravel into an allegorical tale about the atom bomb. Atom bomb? You are probably wondering what strain of mary I'm smoking. I orginally wanted to do a story analysis of the game, but I think this article does it perfectly, explaining what each puzzle mechanic stands for, and what the game really means.

And that's great that a game can be such a wholly personal and artistic expression. I'm all for that, really. But it does reek a tiny bit of Jenova Chen syndrome, though. These days what I really want to see is the fun. Pure, delicious fun filtered through the natural aquifers of untamed enthusiasm, with no artificial shame and preservatives added.

This will have to do:



I just read the interview with Bill Roper where he confesses all the mistakes with Hellgate. Now that I'm involved in designing an MMORPG, albeit one aimed at the casual market, I'm particularly sensitive to the violation of what I consider the make-or-break of any MMO:

The first month's experience.

Why is this more important for MMOs than for other genres where a bad first hour means we just buckle down and sweat it out?

What Bill Roper's and his team didn't get was that you can't build an MMO off of great ideas. At least at this stage in the MMO industry, if you want to compete with the big boys, you've got to innovate off of them, not invent a whole new wheel. Indie MMOs of course are a different matter.

The reason that polish trumps brilliance in an MMORPG is because an MMO is a service first, not a game. Gameplay is its function. Think about the way subscription feels compared to a purchase… in the consumer's mind, it buys entitlement because he feels the company is equitably "entitled" to a constant stream of payments that, neuroeconomically speaking, we've already paid into the future for the moment we signed up. The subscriber doesn't expect $15 of service for his first month, he expects some derivative of the whole $180 he'll be paying for the rest of the year that he expects to be playing. This is only compounded by the fact that he's shelled out $60 already for the initial game box.

So while Roper is close in his assessment, he hadn't gone far enough. Sure, the motley features was a design problem. Sure there were bugs. Sure there were play-balance issues. Sure sure sure. But what I had coming out of the beta was the feeling that I wasn't needed in Hellgate. I made no impact, my character was placeholder, the story was a dead cat bounce, and the connection between the two was a corpse twitch.

It wasn't the plot or the play mechanics, it was simply the first two hours of my experience being wholly paint-by-numbers. Maybe feature creep sapped their energy, maybe ambition bought them too large a bite, but the design wasn't as fatal as Roper thinks. Even with a free-to-play model, I felt compelled to subscribe for the full experience, and given my experience was shallow, it was all or nothing. Like everyone else who had already subconsciously done the cost/benefit analysis, the game failed to deliver for the price we wanted to pay, and we had no confidence that would change.

Xstine and I finally went to watch the new Batman movie The Dark Knight, and Christopher Nolan's direction (and writing) continues to amaze me. It's not often that I experience a drama so intense that my chest is left seized in bathyspheric shock, even with a mostly trivial cast.

With one huge exception… Heath Ledger's dying silver screen gift of the most insane Joker yet. His character earns the spot for my third all-time favorite movie villain, the first being Bill the Butcher, and the second being Oldman's corrupt nothing-like-Gordon cop Stansfield. Ledger was chaos incarnate, and reached a place in himself he couldn't return from.

I absolutely loved the rhetorical sarcasm of his finest line "why – so – SERIOUS?" that he delivered with a maniacal slurp of his mutilated jowls. Today, catching up on old news, I found myself repeating and cackling that line over and over as I read this article on the Senate's "landmark" housing bill.

Here's an amateur's opinion, for what it's worth:

  • Establish a stronger regulator for the GSEs.
    And who will that be? Government? Private? Where's the fundamental change?
  • Permanently increase "conforming loan" limits.
    This is good news for me an Xstine, but honestly, I've never understood conforming loans. If the point of the conforming loan is to keep borrowing at a less risky level (less than jumbo), and the amount is determined by median house price across the country, why apply the same loan limit to everyone? Why isn't it by the local median price around the house that the borrower wants to buy?

    You get a conforming loan limit that was too small for us middle-income folks in overpriced California Bay Area, and way too much for low-income people in downtrodden areas. Is it any surprise that those low-income people who couldn't qualify for conforming-loans then went over to non-conforming sub-primes?

    Even worse, those just just failed to get conforming loans went over in droves to Alt-A loans. I'll let Mr. Mortgage explain what those are and why you should continue to fear the housing market.

  • The FHA maximum loan limits for high-cost areas would also increase to $625,500.
    Ok a blanket increase in limits for whatever "high-cost areas" means. I've got to ask how this is paid for, and if this isn't just a way to keep the masses of potential educated middle-class from just defaulting? It's like increasing the credit limit of someone who already can't pay the card off.
  • Create home-buyer credit.
    Up to $7,500 tax rebate for first time home-buyers? Good start, who's going to pay for this? Oh wait a minutes…
  • The refund, however, serves more as an interest-free loan, since it would have to be paid back over 15 years in equal installments.
    …ah we pay for it. Very very sneaky. I see what you did there.
  • Bar down-payment assistance for FHA loans.
    No comment, don't know the full ramifacations of this. I don't see the upside of stopping sellers from helping buyers, is this to stop speculation?
  • The bill would also increase to 3.5% from 3% the down payment requirement for borrowers getting FHA loans.
    Not great, but not that bad either. Not a monumental change.
  • Create an affordable housing trust fund.
    Hahaha… they want Freddie and Fannie's fees to pay for this? Freddie and Fannie who were using $83 billion in cash to juggle $1.15 trillion in debt at 60-to-1 leverage? It's like asking a broke junkie to put something into his IRAs before someone with a tire iron comes to get his due.
  • Give grants to states to buy foreclosed properties. The bill would grant $4 billion to states to buy up and rehabilitate foreclosed properties.
    More money we don't have going to ever more fiscally endangered states to buy properties that you really don't want to encourage people to sell.

So, I'll ask again… WHY – SO – SERIOUS?! :jester:

Friday was my last day at Page 44 Studios, and I don't think anything I say in this post can capture the prism of feelings over leaving those awesome people. It was kind of like the last bite of the most delicious hamburger in the world before starting on the sumptuous molten chocolate dessert… yeah like that. I like to think that I did everything I promised to do before I left, and that the last dinner I had their wasn't BBQ ribs on accident 😀 .

The project I worked on there, High School Musical: Senior Year Dance, was almost finished. I like to think I, and of course all hopelessly driven folks at Page 44, gave it our all to prove that a game based off a wildly successful IP didn't have to suck. This is a game that would have sold at least 2 million profit-laden copies without us lifting a finger, but there's no dignity in that for gamers like us. Not everyone gets to work on a triple-A title, but as Henry Heinz (of ketchup fame) once said: "To do a common thing, uncommonly well, that brings success."

Imagine how ecstatic I was when I saw this IGN preview that actually said our game was fun! And I quote:

Now for the scoffers out there that are quickly writing the game off, I'm going to throw this out here. High School Musical 3: Senior Year Dance played better than Samba de Amigo. The game was overall more responsive with the controls (albeit far simpler controls) and there was a bigger connection to what we were doing and what was going on in the game. Granted, all the songs are from HSM, but hey it was Ricky Martin and Lou Bega in the Samba game, so it seems like a lateral move to me.

There's still plenty of months before the release of either of these games, but HSM3:SYD (ugh I'm just calling it Dance from now on) is shaping up to be a fun, active Wii game that fans of the movie can actually have fun with.

Tomorrow I start a new job at EA Redwood Shores, and hope to bring every ripe, tasty ounce of "uncommonly well" I learned at Page 44 to all projects on the table, common and uncommon. That, with luck, brings success.

Yesterday night we returned from a weekend spent in Toronto visiting my mom's side of the family, and my Grandma who is pretty far gone down the dehumanizing imprisonment of a body stricken by Parkinson's disease. I know she could see us, hear us, and understand who we were, all by the steady twinkling in her eyes, but the best she could manage for a greeting was one upturned corner of her mouth.

You're going to wonder what the hell Diablo 3 has to do anything with my grandma. It doesn't really. It's just this anxious feeling I get, this yearning for radical change, that renewed in me seeing what my own frail old age may be. You ever get that prickly desire to go out and do something anything that matters? Watching the old folks at the convalescence home been force spoon-fed their medicated gruel, Xstine kept gouging my ribs and saying "See! Exercise! Take care of yourself!" But that feeling wasn't new to me, as I had volunteered at these places when I was a teen.

So when I excitedly saw the gameplay trailer for Diablo 3 (see below), I knew I was set up. I happened to have been playing Titan Quest recently with Xstine, which is nothing but mindless grinding, slaying monsters, gathering loot, repeating as flea on flea on flea. It's a game that is fun because it offers no redeeming values, and you yield yourself to that like a drug. The art is fantastic, but the game is simplistic. I never actually played the first two Diablo games, but I imagine they weren't much more.

The question we ask ourselves often is "Have we wasted our lives playing things we have nothing to show for?" Unlike many of the other games I've played, Diablo-type and World of Warcraft-type games feel like they've added very little to my person and yet have debitted so much of my productive free time. How should I translate every second wasted in these games into seconds of my life I could have extended with exercise?

Then I had to listen to Blizzard, the masters of game design, ruminate like guffawing film students as they talked about their design approaches to Diablo 3. It was embarrassing. It shattered my mental picture of them to hear them say stuff like "it makes it more interesting to make the hero the center of the story." Or to point out their grand "philisophical" vision taught to make a barbarian class more barbaric. My gods. I hold those game designs to be self-evident. Hearing that kind of "enlightenment" has seriously made me consider what the personal value these games are having on my life. Now when I play, I can see my grandma's eyes through her haze, judging my expense of youth.

I’ll spare you what you already know about how great the Wall-E movie and how its strong theme is about the ravages of commercialism. I wanted to talk about the secondary theme in Wall-E, the thread of symbolism that enriches what seems like simple story-telling fabric. Forget the “hypocrisy” that one (of the very few) soulless critics pointed out about the commercial viability of the slickly designed cast against the wholesome message. That critic has forgotten his job is to review movies, not corporate greed, unless he’d prefer the movie to NOT have its message and JUST be a vehicle for Disney’s marketing.

SPOILERS!!!
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Michael Walbridge the Game Anthropologist has some interesting things to say about why he felt the Team Fortress 2 community was more civil and mature than what we’ve all experienced to be the absolute dregs of humanity in other online FPS’s. I won’t mention Unreal Tournament, Counterstrike, and Halo, but oops I just did.

While I think his points are on the dot about the way the team dynamic of the game fosters a cooperative us vs. them bond for the players that ultimately leads to self-regulation, and I like how he explains that anti-social behaviour is deflated by being an actual part of gameplay, there’s another point I’d like to add. So far, his comments are true for most team-based online shooters, just handled more elegantly in TF2. Yet one aspect of the game that stood out to me only after a lot of intense playing is that the character classes in TF2 were like tools to me.

Tools? Well, at a certain level of skill, we pick and choose from a small range of classes that we know well, and apply them to the current situation on the battlefield. I don’t think the majority of players play only one class. For myself, I choose between soldier (objective-driven offense), pyro (defense and chokepoints), and engineer (control) constantly as needed. The classes are like my swiss army knife of the proper contributions my team needs.

I think this leads players to identify less with some avatar online through which they would normally evoke all the horrors of anonymity, and instead a certain fourth wall is broken and a player is displayed onscreen as his tactical choice. In my opinion, this places players and their decisions in much greater proximity to each other because their intentions and personalities are more transparent. Only in that kind of openness will player-to-player advice and criticism mean much. I had similarly mature companionship in games such as the Battlefield and the Tribes series, and provide the same way of thinking about your avatar. I don’t think that’s a coincidence.

If you care about games as games, then you should be as disappointed as I am to see that Boom Blox sold only 60,000 copies, even with pantheonized director Stephen Spielberg at the helm. Was his own critically panned addition to the Indy series a harbinger of the move away from well-executed formula in both games and films? Or have the formulas simply become more surreptitious about invading our pop psyche?

Boom Blox is a great game. It accomplishes what many party games want but can't do- elicit laughter, name-calling, and a group agony of suspense over an individual's gameplay, all within ten minutes. The physics are so well done that smashing blocks is the Wii equivalent to popping shipping bubbles. But each ball toss, nothing we haven't done a million times in our lives, causes a whole room to hush, tense up, and then explode along with the shower of blocks in the game.

I think the game takes advantage our primal instinct, that need to dash apart hours of construction a castle made of blocks represents, but gives it to us without the need to clean up the mess. There's no guilt, just the enjoyment of aftermath. Cause, reaction, cause, reaction… and at the same time we know exactly what will happen, but not what happens exactly.

It's a time-tested formula. It's proven. It usually works. And yet it failed on the same platform Nintendo made it work. I don't want to believe there is some kind of Nintendo magic that they apply to their first-party games. There were too many mistakes in how Boom Blox was marketed, how its art was directed, how it was priced, etc. blah blah. However, at the end of the day, I can't help but feel that its simplistic fun, like the taste of a fine Italian pasta with nothing but EVOO and a shred of cheese, is not what epic thrill-seekers with a taste for more "refined" fare are willing to give a sliver of chance…

…unless of course they're giving it to Nintendo.