Librarian/dork alert: Find in a Library uses Google and WorldCat to find out whether a book is in a library near you. This could make my life a whole lot easier.
My inner geek let himself out this week, and I downloaded GRIM FANDANGO, one of the few LucasArts adventure games that I missed, and a truly beautiful piece of art. (No kidding.) The world is the Day of the Dead festival meets 1930s art deco meets a Raymond Chandler novel. You play Manny Callavera, a Grim Reaper/Travel Agent who uncovers a nasty plot of corruption and murder in the Aztec Underworld.
As a kid, one of my dream jobs was a computer game designer for LucasArts. Don’t know what ever happened to that dream (I think maybe I discovered rock and roll and girls), but it all makes sense to me now why they appealed to me so much. The games are little worlds that you drop into: the art is fantastic, the stories are all smart and funny, the music kicks ass, and the greatest part is that they’re fun to play (LucasArts’ philosophy was that the player should never die, and never reach a complete dead end).
With DOOM and the massive success of the 3-D first-person shooter, LucasArts decided that dinky little 2-D adventure games with great storylines and characters were undesirable, and switched their efforts instead to lamo Star Wars games. Despite all that, there’s still a huge cult following on the net for the old games: check out the LucasArts museum, Grimfandango.net and Mixnmojo.com.
I pulled a 180 in an intersection trying to turn left yesterday, and that’s when Meg and I thought it might be a good time to head home. Does nasty weather=longing for good music?
I don’t know, but I really really really like the new Beth Orton album, COMFORT OF STRANGERS. Jim O’Rourke played bass, piano, marimba, and twiddled knobs on this one, and you can tell. Supposedly he was just hired as a session guitarist, but he ended up taking over production, and they cut the thing in just two weeks. It’s beautiful, check it out. You can see her performing the title song on Letterman, here, or listen to her live on the radio, here, or stream the whole damned album, here.
Also, I’m hearing more and more layers in The National’s ALLIGATOR. What a kick-ass record. Check their stuff out here.
Finally, Jeremy Warmsley has a new EP, OTHER PEOPLE’S SECRETS, on London’s Transgressive coming out in March. My history with Jeremy, here. Like the last one, this EP will be vinyl-only, limited to 500 copies. Unlike the last one, on this record, Jeremy worked with live musicians. Check out the new songs here. They’re way good.
Oh, I like music. Meghan and I are debating whether to start our own podcast. Does the world need another podcast? Probably not. What do you think?
Over at Gamestudies.org, there’s a fantastic 2003 interview with Tim Schafer, creator of some of my all-time favorite LucasArts adventure games. Schafer studied computer programming at UC Berkeley, got bored with computer programming and thought about becoming a writer, then landed a job with LucasArts right out of college. He worked on Day of the Tentacle, Full Throttle, and Grim Fandango, and then opened up his new production company, Double Fine Productions, which last year put out the game, The Psychonauts, which, though it didn’t sell well, ended up on tons of top-10 lists.
In the interview, Schafer talks about worlds being the initial inspiration for his games, and characters being the motivational force to keep players playing. “The goal,” he says, “is really to create this total immersive fantasy experience, where you’re sucked into a strange world, where you are the character, and you’re having all this fun, and you get to do anything you want.”
CP: I’m curious when you’re starting a new game and inventing a new world, what’s your process? How do you go about creating a world?
TS: Well, often, the world is the initial inspiration for the game. One day I was listening to someone tell me their stories of spending the summer in Alaska. They had hung around this one biker bar, with these people with names like Smilin’ Rick and Big Phil. And I thought, “Wow, what a crazy world that is.” It’s so apart from everybody’s life, and yet it’s right there, it’s so mundane in a way. And that’s where Full Throttle came from. The world was the starting point. And Grim Fandango, also, seeing the Day of the Dead art, that was the starting point too. So it wasn’t so a game idea, and then “let’s make a world to fit it.” You sort of stumble upon some world, and thing – that’s something that’s never been brought to life before. Let’s bring it to life. Wouldn’t it be fun to run around in that world?
I found all his thoughts about making games to be easily transferrable to the crafting of fiction or comics. Eventually, I want to teach the old LucasArts adventure games right beside novels and comics in creative writing classes. Problem is, it’s hard to get some of them to work on new computers (I never have been able to get Grim Fandango to work). Some clever fellows have created engines to help out: check out SCUMMVM and QUICK AND EASY.
UPDATE (3 days later): Since some Studio 360 intern reads my blog and steals my ideas, here’s Kurt Anderson interviewing Schafer about the Psychonauts.
my first attempt at a webcomic…enjoy.
Sean had big-time problems with the movie, but the weirdest criticism was on the subject of names:
The story was inane — characters named “Lureen” and “Alma” and “Ennis Del Mar.” A gay cowboy named “Jack Twist.” Jack Twist? You’ve got to be kidding me. E. Annie Proulx lived in Wyoming, but I’ll guarantee you that if you threw a rock into a roadhouse in the early ’60s, you wouldn’t hit a single “Alma” or “Lureen” or “Ennis.” Stephanie Zacharek has a funny line about this in her review:
Their names — straight out of a boy’s adventure book of the 1930s, or maybe just the result of a long think on the front porch at some writers’ colony…
When I first read the story, I thought, ooh, great names. But then I started to doubt myself. Are the names too much? Could you really throw a rock into a rockhouse and not hit a single Alma or Ennis or Lureen? My suspicion was no. (But then, I did grow up in a town that had a resident listed as “Butts, Caressa”).
Armed with my handy reference librarian skills, I set out on a quest to dissect the heart of America’s phone listings, and here’s what I came up with:
- 839 guys named Ennis
- 583 Almas
- 63 Del Mars
- 26 Lureens (one from Bowling Green, Ohio!)
- 3 listings for a “Twist, Jack” : one in Audubon, IA, one in Catonsville, MD, and one in Jackson, MI
But the biggest kicker:
- Twist, J, Riverton, WY
Someone living under an alias?
teaching myself Flash, and working on a webcomic that’s taking over my life. should be up tomorrow.
in the meantime, BROKEBACK TO THE FUTURE. sheer genius.
This weekend we went to the Cleveland Institute of Art with Don and Amanda to watch Amanda’s friend Mike blow glass. Here’s a drawing of him.
When we weren’t playing video games, Don and I talked quite a bit. He wants to do a thesis paper in the form of a choose-your-own-adventure book. I told him I thought that was a great idea.
I watched Jimi Hendrix play guitar today during lunch, and it reminded me that music is the coolest thing on the planet, and that if practicing art can teach you anything, it’s this: sometimes mistakes can be made into miracles, and take you places you never would have gone otherwise, whether you’re playing guitar, or blowing glass, or making soup.