Thoughts on Godus

godusAfter a few days playing Godus on my iPad, I thought “Man, I wish there was a normal, not free-to-play version of this.” I also had these thoughts at various points:

  • “Oh man, it’s another Tapped Out-style Skinner Box game!”
  • “Please let there be a way to build a church soon, so that a pastor can automatically collect all this belief for me”
  • “Wait! My people like trees? Why did you teach me that destroying them was a way to earn belief?”
  • “This game is beautiful…and I’m only going to see a tiny part of it.”
  • “Hey! I’m supposed to be playing god, but I’m being manipulated to keep performing tasks and follow arbitrary rules to benefit an unseen game designer.”

Yesterday, after trying unsuccessfully to get a farmer to work on an abandoned field, I checked the web for some info and discovered…there is a normal, not free-to-play version of Godus! The PC and Mac versions are available on Steam! WTF?!

Screen Shot 2014-08-17 at 6.28.17 PMBut after a quick scan of the support forums, it seems that the $20US, non-iOS version still makes you wait in real-time for things to happen. So, like the free-to-play version, your majority of your time engaging with the game is spent not engaging with it. Don’t most god games give you a way to speed up time at will?

One of my pet peeves is going to see a movie in 2D and seeing loads of shots that were clearly designed for 3D projection…and which totally fail to work in 2D. Why not create alternate versions of the shots for the majority of viewers who will see the film in 2D? It always pulls me right out of the film. I’m looking at you Oz the Great and Powerful.

It sounds like the PC/Mac version of Godus was similarly built as a free-to-play game and plays as such, even if you paid $20US for it.

I blame Peter Molyneux.

I really liked Black and White. I liked Fable. Fable II was pretty fun, but disappointing. Remember what Peter Molyneux promised us the dogs in Fable II would be like?

I wanted a whole game of just that dog!

Finally, just watching Beca play Fable III made me angry. But Godus promised a return to the style of game I loved in Black and White and it looked beautiful. Yes, I would give him another chance.

And I did…for one week. I just deleted Godus from my iPad. Playing it, I constantly felt like I was fending off a particularly aggressive homeless person demanding money every time you are on your way to work (or the store, or the park…).

It’s really too bad. As mentioned (twice), the game is beautiful, sculpting the world is fun, and most disappointingly, you can see a potentially meaningful game there, just under the surface. You can see the game as it may originally have been conceived. One that asks players to ask questions about the nature of wielding godlike power. About how you treat those you are responsible for. About providing trinkets and distraction for believers to keep them loyal. About harming the neighboring tribe to make it less attractive to “your” chosen people.

I want to play that game.

I’m sad that good, thoughtful game designers are being distracted from making good, thoughtful games, because they are chasing the quick money to be made making Skinner Box games.

ftlFTL is a fantastic game that could easily have been wrecked by being shoehorned into a free-to-play model–not that there haven’t been moments when I’ve wished I could pay real money for some extra scrap!

While there have been a few bright spots in the free-to-play space, notably Hearthstone, which makes me very proud to work at Blizzard, it’s mostly junk that plays on the same psychological weaknesses that keep people sitting in front of slot machines for days on end. Candy Crush was fun…until it made me feel terrible.

And yes, I still want to play a version of Fable II in which the dog is the focus.


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Leckman Back Yard Renovation Time Lapse

More time-lapse videos of people we paid to destroy our house…


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Leckman Kitchen Renovation Time-Lapse

The day before demolition began for our kitchen renovation, I dug out my iPhone 4, a long USB charging cable, a Gorillapod, and updated my copy of iTimeLapse. After a few tests, I set it up to capture the process of destroying and re-building our kitchen.

Watching me pack up the kitchen is not the most exciting start, but it gave me a chance to get comfortable with the set-up.


This was the main thing we wanted to capture, but the demo itself shook the shelf that the iPhone was on, introducing an unintentional pan to the shot.








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NPR’s Andy Trudeau Discusses Oscar-Nominated Scores

star_wars-scoreFor years, when Oscar season rolled around, one of my favorite rituals was listening to NPR Music Editor, Andy Trudeau, discuss the nominated scores in detail on Weekend Edition. I learned so much from these pieces, not just about motion picture scores, but about music. NPR hasn’t put together a page with links to all of Andy’s stories, so I collected all of them I could find on the NPR site. There are a few missing, but I was happy to find most of the ones I remember from the past decade.

1997 Oscar-Nominated Scores: L.A. Confidential and composer Jerry Goldsmith (audio not available)

1997 Oscar-Nominated Scores: Amistad (audio not available)

1997 Oscar-Nominated Scores: Kundun and Good Will Hunting (audio not available)

1997 Oscar Nominated Scores: Titanic

1998 Oscar Nominated Scores: Life is Beautiful and Pleasantville (audio not available)

1998 Oscar-Nominated Scores: Elizabeth

1999 Oscar-Nominated Scores: Angela’s Ashes and American Beauty

1999 Oscar-Nominated Scores: The Red Violin

2000 Oscar-Nominated Scores: Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon and Gladiator

2000 Oscar-Nominated Scores: Chocolat and Malena

2000 Oscar Nominated Scores: The Patriot and the scores of John Williams

2000 Oscar Music Wrap: Andy looks back the scores of 2000 and ahead to 2001

2001 Oscar-Nominated Scores: A Beautiful Mind and A.I. Artificial Intelligence

2001 Oscar-Nominated Scores: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

2001 Oscar-Nominated Scores: Monsters, Inc.

2002 Oscar-Nominated Scores: The Hours and Road to Perdition

2002 Oscar-Nominated Scores: Catch Me If You Can and Far From Heaven

2003 Oscar-Nominated Scores: Cold Mountain, Big Fish, and House of Sand and Fog

2003 Oscar-Nominated Scores: Finding Nemo and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

2005 Oscar-Nominated Scores: Pride and Prejudice

2005 Oscar-Nominated Scores: Finding Neverland and A Series of Unfortunate Events

2005 Oscar-Nominated Scores: The Village and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

2005 Oscar-Nominated Scores: Munich and Brokeback Mountain

2005 Oscar-Nominated Scores: Memoirs of a Geisha and The Constant Gardner

2006 Oscar-Nominated Scores; Notes on a Scandal

2006 Oscar-Nominated Scores: The Good German and Pan’s Labyrinth

2006 Oscar-Nominated Scores: Babel and The Queen

2009 Oscar-Nominated Scores

2010 Oscar-Nominated Scores

2011 Oscar-Nominated Scores

Here are some additional stories by Andy Trudeau about film scores and composers:

Andy Trudeau’s Top 10 Film Scores of All Time

Elmer Bernstein: Man with a Golden Ear

Morricone Recognized for Impact on Movie Music

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Yes, A Starship Scale Comparison is a Good Idea

Screen Shot 2013-09-29 at 6.57.52 AM

You know that guy’s spaceship scale chart that everyone’s linking to this week? It’s causing me stress, and I can’t take it any more.

I just posted a comment on Smithsonian Magazine’s blog. it’s the sixth time this week that I’ve posted basically the same thing. I did the exact same thing about five years ago in response to *another* artists “original” idea to make a scale chart for spaceships. I figure I’ll be doing it again in a few years:

“While Mr. Loechel’s poster does a great job of putting everything together, I feel compelled to direct you to Jeff Russell’s Starship Dimensions site:

The Starship Dimensions site has been around since at least 2002, and over the years, many artists, like Mr. Loechel, have taken the information (and often the artwork) from Starship Dimensions and reconfigured it into works of their own. Unfortunately, it is almost always done without attribution.

I don’t know Jeff Russell, but I’ve been a fan of his site since a friend who worked with me at ILM pointed me to it”

I’m not asking for journalism, I’m just asking for people to say to themselves “Wow, that’s a great idea, I wonder if anyone else has thought to do that?” and then do the freaking Google search!

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Tad’s 2013 Summer Reading Suggestions

Summer is here and it’s time to read! On the beach, at camp, poolside, at a cafe, on a boat, on a plane, on a train…just don’t read in an automobile, it will make you sick. Here’s a list of some of my favorite summer books. They are all relatively short, fast reads with compelling plots that are well written. No giant tomes on this list. I’ll collect my favorite big-ass, long books in another post.

Wool by Hugh Howey – I was late to the party with Wool (and finally reading e-books), but I finally read it recently and it’s great! Howey is very good at feeding you just enough information to keep you moving forward, but not completely in the dark. Wool shares some DNA with The Hunger Games and Orphans of the Sky, but is not young adult fiction, so people occasionally swear and think about sex. While reading Wool, I often felt like I was reading vintage Stephen King like Firestarter, Misery or The Stand.

Altered Carbon by Richard K. Morgan – This is the book that brought me back to contemporary sci-fi. After trying Alastair Reynolds, Stephen BaxterJack McDevitt, and Greg Egan, I turned right back to Herbert, Heinlein, Clarke and the gang with no intention of looking back. Then, my dad called me to tell me he heard this guy on BBC talking about his first book, Altered Carbon, and that it sounded interesting. He was right. Richard Morgan writes solid, hard sci-fi full of big ideas, interesting characters and, in the case of Altered Carbon, a noir mystery set in future San Francisco. One of the most compelling characters is the A.I. that runs a hotel downtown on Mission Street. No, really. A hotel A.I.

Night Watch by Sergei Lukyanenko – I’m a big fan of Timur Bekmambetov’s Night Watch film, and the book is even better. The Moscow office of the Night Watch enforces the centuries-old treaty between the forces of Light and Dark, investigating unlawful use of magic, and other supernatural activity by “The Others” who live among us normal people. It’s sort of like Law and Order meets Harry Potter…in Russia! In fact, there are two new worlds to discover in Night Watch: the secret, magic world of “The Others” and the equally fascinating world of post-Soviet Moscow.

Daemon by Daniel Suarez – You know when you’re reading a popular thriller and get pulled out because someone says some crazy batshit uninformed thing about Unix or encrypting files or e-mail or image enhancement or anything technical that pulls you out of the book and ruins the author’s credibility? Yeah, that doesn’t happen in Daemon. Suarez knows his shit and it shows…and that also makes the premise of this novel extra terrifying. What would happen if a billionaire computer game genius set up a series of daemon programs to do his biding after death? An awesome, page-turner of a novel, that’s what would happen.

Ready Player One By Ernest Cline – This one makes a nice pairing with Daemon. The set-up is similar: a billionaire computer game genius sets up an intricate machine that begins comes to life upon his death. But this time it’s more of a Charlie and the Chocolate Factory situation than a nightmare of automated killer motorcycles. The audiobook version is read by Will Wheaton, who does a great job and actually makes a cameo in the book.

Shades of Grey by Jasper Fford – Shades of Grey, not to be confused with 50 Shades of Grey, is a triumph of world-building and trusting a reader to get there without being spoon-fed (although spoons are important to this story). Like Burgess before him in Clockwork Orange, Fford drops you into a world that’s clearly related to ours, but with very different social rules and some physiological differences. And you figure bits of it out as the narrative sweeps you along, and at some point in reading, your mind goes “click” and you get it. Really deft.

Little Fuzzy, Fuzzy Sapiens and Fuzzies and Other People By H. Beam Piper – Yes, yes, it’s three shortish novels, and I should probably put series on a separate list, but Little Fuzzy is great, and you’ll want to immediately move to Fuzzy Sapiens when you finish it…and then you’ll want more after that. If you can find this excellent omnibus edition, you should just grab it. From the very beginning, it’s hard to put down Piper’s Fuzzy novels, which combine sci-fi homesteading, courtroom drama, scientists, first contact and hard questions about what it means to be sentient. The Fuzzies themselves were clearly an inspiration for both Wookiees and Ewoks, but have a charm and depth of their own. Warning: you will probably cry.

Straight Man by Richard Russo – This is one of the funniest books I have ever read. Russo is a really good writer and it’s too bad that Straight Man is the first of his books I read. I had unrealistic expectations going into Empire Falls, which is a fine novel, but it’s no Straight Man. The first time I read it was shortly after I joined academia full-time, and Russo captures that particular type of disfunction, insulation and pettiness perfectly. Even if you just went to a liberal arts college, you’ll detect the ring of truth, which Russo then pushes into absurdity…but a sadly plausible absurdity. Genius!

A Fall of Moondust by Arthur C. Clarke – This novel, which even some Clarke fans are unaware of, exemplifies why he is one of the very best there is. Hard science provides the mechanisms for both the dilemma at the heart of the narrative and it’s potential solutions, and for some authors of his generation, that’s enough to hang your story on. But Clarke deftly unfolds his tale of disaster from the viewpoint of fully-realized characters on both sides of the situation. And it is definitely a situation, and Clarke builds tension as expertly as Hitchcock or  Crichton. While the scope of many of Clarke’s most popular novels is giant, the intimate nature of A Fall of Moondust pulls you in by putting a small number of real people in jeopardy  rather than all of humanity.

. Hospital Station, Star Surgeon and Major Operation by James White – Another omnibus! And it’s worse, because there are a total of twelve Sector General books! But, I started reading them at the beginning of a junior high summer vacation and by Labor Day I’d plowed through four of them. When I saw House for the first time, my first thought was “Wow, it’s like a non-sci-fi version of Sector General!” It’s a series of medical procedural stories set onboard a giant space hospital staffed by  aliens of every description. White quickly establishes the rules for his universe and builds them firmly atop the existing rules of physics, biology and psychology. Each case is an opportunity to explore what it means to be truly other and what it means to be truly empathetic. Of course, it’s much easier to be empathetic with an alien patient with the recorded personality of one of that race’s great physicians riding shotgun in your head.
Battle Royale by Koushun Takami – A few years ago, I might have told you that Battle Royale might be too much for you. That teens forced to violently kill each other for sport was too out-there a concept for a mainstream audience. But then The Hunger Games happened. There are lots of similarities, to be sure, but Battle Royale is not a young adult novel, and is a bit more graphic. It’s also almost impossible to stop once you start reading it. The film version is OK, but I read the novel first and really prefer it. I don’t often recommend the film, but I bought a second copy of the book just to loan it to people.

The List of Seven by Mark Frost – I was on-board with The List of Seven when I heard it included a scene in which Arthur Conan Doyle was trapped inside the British Museum and all the mummies started coming to life and attacking him. Then I realized that it was written by Mark Frost, co-creator of Twin Peaks! Win! The fictionalized version of Doyle, who serves as the protagonist of Frost’s novel, teams with Jack Sparks, a Special Agent to the Crown to uncover a supernatural plot that threatens England and, indeed, the world. The List of Seven feels at times like an Indiana Jones adventure, at other times like a successor to Young Sherlock Holmes and occasionally like Moore’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

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Blade in the Face Shots

When I saw this sequence in Jack the Giant Slayer

…how could I not immediately think of this shot from Mission Impossible?

OK, to be honest, my first thought on seeing that sequence was “Oh, come on! They landed in a pillow factory!”

I know there must be more “blade in the face” shots. Let me know!

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Cinematic Musical Echoes in 1980

First, watch these two short clips and listen to the music.

So, what is that? Now, I have an audio super-sensitivity when it comes to Alien. When I was a kid, a friend with a Betamax made me recordings of Alien by putting a cassette recorder in front of their TV and I listened to it over and over and over. The sound and music of that film are part of me. I’ve recognize the ambient computer hum from Alien in about a dozen movies.

Anyway, when I was listening to the audio commentary for The Shining on the way home from work yesterday, the commentary stopped during this scene. When I heard that music cue, I didn’t see Jack Nicholson in my head, I saw Tom Skerritt!

Not the same piece, but such a similar orchestration! I make no claims that there is any connection between the two films, just pointing out a resonance.

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My Facebook Furlough™ Experiment

For the month of April, I’m trying something. I’m not checking Facebook. I’ve turned off all Facebook notifications on my iPhone and iPad. I’ve checked out for a month.

I will occasionally cross post from Twitter or Google+ or Prismatic or directly from web pages, so my friends may see some phantom activity, but I’m not there.

I’ll be back soon enough, but for now I’m enjoying not reflexively checking to see what people are posting and which of my posts they are liking and sharing.

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Did you ever notice…

Bob and Doug pull back the curtain on movie magic yet again…

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