Corey and Lori's Quest Log


Corey and Lori’s Quest Log

Posts Tagged ‘Humor’

A Salt of the Earth Day

Wednesday, April 21st, 2010

Last month we talked about a green holiday, St. Patrick’s Day. April 22 is an even greener day – Earth Day. This is a good time to explore the world around you and to celebrate nature.

Earth Day began in 1970 as an environmental “teach-in” event on College and High School campuses. Teaching about ecology is of course dangerous. Time Magazine at the time reported that some suspected the date was not a coincidence, but a clue that the event was “a Communist trick,” and quoted a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution as saying, “Subversive elements plan to make American children live in an environment that is good for them.”

Oh noes! Force our children to live in a healthy environment? Horrors! That could mean the end of the world as we know it.

Can We Afford a Green Planet?

I saw an anti-environment protest in my own home town just a few days ago on tax day; I think it was part of the Tea Party movement. One of the signs said, “Stop Eco-Terrorism. Let businesses prosper.” Or something like that.

My first reaction was, “Yeah, right. Bigoted idiot!” But then I thought, maybe I should put myself in their shoes. Maybe that protester had a point. Regulating the environment means forcing people to do things they don’t want to do. Pretty soon Big Government will start thinking they can regulate everything we do.

They won’t let us express our opinions by burning crosses on our neighbors’ lawns. They might even stop us from shooting people who look different from us!

Go GreenBusinesses need to prosper. Parks are wasted space that could be turned into productive operations such as strip mines, nuclear power plants, and jails for eco-terrorists. Clean air, oxygen, and ozone are just abstractions that a bunch of panty-waisted so-called scientists use to scare us. I mean, have you ever actually seen an oxygen molecule? I’m sure I haven’t. Not in Los Angeles or New York, anyway.

It gets worse. Under the Bush administration, people had real freedom to find oil in the Alaskan wilderness and off the California coast. These were brave pioneers, willing to explore the frozen tundra and wild seas in search of treasure. The current government not only wants to take away those rights. They want to raise taxes, penalizing those worthy citizens who hire the hard workers who turn worthless land into valuable industrial property.

The government wants to turn our billionaires into mere multi-multi-millionaires and spend their former wealth on bleeding-heart liberal programs such as feeding the poor, cleaning up the air, and other socialist nonsense. If they are so hot on these so-called public works projects, why don’t they tax the minimum-wage hourly workers more to pay for them? There are a lot more of them, and they already have trouble buying food and paying their rent, so what difference will a few less dollars make to them?

Change Makes a World of Difference

Earth is a hostile place by nature. When we lived off the land, people didn’t live very long. Through the centuries, we have steadily improved on nature. First we planted crops and herded animals, so we wouldn’t have to go out and hunt for them. Then the most forward-thinking of us began to herd people. Slaves and subsistence-level servants made life much easier for the few on top, the people who really knew how to make the world run.

Today these people are known as CEO’s, and they deservedly earn millions of dollars a year through the efforts of their serfs. Uh, workers. During hard times, they may make as little as five or ten million in a year, barely enough to keep up their modest mansions and estates. In a good year, they may make hundreds of millions, and those earnings are well deserved. How could their companies prosper without them to lead the way?

The only thing holding them back are those hordes of workers who insist that they should make the same ten or twenty thousand a year whether their company is making money or losing it. If they really cared about success, they would willingly give up their pay in a lean year so that the CEO could enjoy more of the fruits of his empire.

It is the vision of our leaders that led to chemical fertilizers, pesticides, genetic manipulation, and other improvements in production that have made our world the way it is now. Tree-huggers who insist on organic methods of raising crops want our farm corporations to lose money. Those techniques may work for small, independent farmers, but those aren’t the people who keep the supermarkets stocked.

Pave Paradise!

“Don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you got ’til it’s gone? They paved Paradise and put in a parking lot.” – Joni Mitchell

Green PlanetThe eco-terrorists think of themselves as saving the environment, but let’s face it – They aren’t pro-environment. They’re anti-success! They are jealous of the visionaries who turn wasted empty forests and fields into productive, valuable strip mines, factories, and corporate office buildings. They think they’re smarter than the people who made this country great. They think they should get to tell us what to do when they have never run a single multi-billion dollar conglomerate.

The tree huggers want us to eat organically-grown vegetables and avoid any kind of meat. Real men eat meat. Vegetables are for feeding cattle. And we can’t grow them efficiently without fertilizers and pesticides. We’d get insects! It would cost more to grow them, and that means lost profits. Would you pay more for scrawny vegetables just because someone says they’re safer to eat? I thought not!

Preservation of habitat means restrictions on growth. Making it illegal to build roads and railroad tracks makes it take longer to travel and to move goods to the markets that want them. Stopping strip-mining means that we have less rock and metal with which to build, or higher prices for what we are able to mine. Preventing farming and ranching in jungle and wilderness areas means less land and higher costs for those activities. Do you want to spend more because some namby-pamby regulator makes it more expensive to do business? Hell no!

Goddamn Government

Who are these arbiters of the public good? They’re a bunch of left wing radical hippies. They probably all smoke pot in between sessions of Congress. Maybe even during office hours. Who will watch the watchmen? It better be Big Business, because businessmen know what’s good for the economy. And that means making profits so we can keep America strong!

If we can’t trust the government to make the decisions for us, then we had better take charge. That means taking out a little insurance. Contribute to the campaigns of right-minded, right-wing candidates to make sure their voices are heard. Spend a little more to silence the voices of the Commie-loving, fanatic eco-terrorists and big spending liberals. It will be cheaper than letting them tax your profits – after all, it’s all tax deductible if you know the right loopholes!

Celebrate Earth Day

Meep our Forests GreenSo go ahead. Take a walk in the woods and survey them for your next development. Visit a national park in your Hummer. Earth Day is a great day to remind yourself who is really in charge. Some fools think the Earth has limited resources, and that we’re digging our own graves by wasting and polluting. We know that there’s enough to last our lifetime. Who cares what happens after that? Eat, drink, and be merry – It’s Earth Day!

 

It Ain’t Easy Being Green

Wednesday, March 17th, 2010

Got Luck?Today is March 17, the one day when everyone is Irish – St. Patrick’s Day. In fact, there are a lot more people living in America who claim to be Irish then there are Irish people living in Ireland. They celebrate by drinking beer, eating corned beef and cabbage, wearing green, and drinking green beer. Oh, and drinking beer until they turn green. Since only the Irish get to do this, everybody else becomes honorary Irish for the day. That way we all get to drink beer, not to mention Irish whiskey. (Even those of us who don’t like the taste of either.)

Paddy o’Flaherty used to stop into the same pub every night, and he’d always order three pints of Guinness. The barman said, “You’d be better to order them one at a time so they don’t go flat.” Paddy replied, “Ah, but they aren’t all for me, you see. I have a brother in America and another one down in Australia. I drink a Guinness for each of them so I can remember the good times we’ve had.

One day Paddy comes into the pub and only orders two pints. The barman says, “Oh, I’m so sorry, Paddy. Which brother did you lose.” “Oh, it’s nothing like that. They’re both fine. But the doctor says I have to stop drinking, so I didn’t order one for meself.”

Beer – It’s good for what ales you. Or so we hear.

Snakes. Why Did It Have to be Snakes?

Historically, there’s perfectly good precedent for everyone being Irish on St. Patrick’s Day. St. Patrick himself wasn’t born in Ireland. He was a Welshman who went to Ireland to convert the heathen. Apparently “heathen” is the Irish word for “heather” and St. Patrick converted quite a lot of green heather to church property or such. He was also known for convincing wealthy women to become nuns, another important source of green for the church. All in all, St. Patrick clearly had a gift for the green.

Got Luck?St. Patrick is renowned for driving the snakes out of Ireland. Some cynics point out that Ireland never had native snakes. But so what if they weren’t native? Just because the snakes refused to wear loin cloths and ceremonial feather headdresses is no good reason for discrimination.

Perhaps someday I’ll be known as the man who drove the aardvarks out of California. It’s not that I meant to do that; it’s just that I had a few unfortunate casualties during my grand quest of teaching the aardvarks to fly.

Despite everything being green, St. Patrick’s Day is not the same thing as Earth Day. That’s celebrated on April 22, and is about making things grow; I’m not sure beer is even involved. They’re both green holidays, though, so any confusion is understandable. Then there’s Arbor Day, but that’s usually in April too. So March on to the beat of a different bodhran on St. Patrick’s Day.

Paddy Break

His head bowed, the brewer foreman comes up to Mrs. o’Flaherty and says, “I’m so sorry about your son Paddy. I’m afraid he drowned in a vat of beer.”
“Ah, the poor laddie; he never had a chance!”
“Well,” says the foreman, “I’m not so sure of that. He did climb out three times to visit the bathroom.”

No matter how important your work, or how engrossing that role-playing game, sometimes you need to take a break. Otherwise you might end up like poor Paddy. Grab a brewksi or some green tea, put on some Irish music, kick up your feet and relax. Or dance a jig. Or get together with some Morris Men and try not to break anything with your sticks.

Dublin or Nothing

May the road rise up to meet you,
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face.

Travel is broadening, especially when you visit a place renowned for its potatoes, soda bread, and beer. Why not fit a visit to the Emerald Isle into your schedule? I recently had to turn down a job interview with an online poker developer in Dublin, but I very much regretted it. I would have liked to visit Ireland, see the sights, and catch some music. A bit of gamboling, but no time for gambling.

Incidentally, despite the rocky soil, there is no true rock music in Ireland. Since the Irish traditional music influence seems to creep into everything else, all they have is sham rock. Clover line, don’t you think? Don’t worry; it will grow on you.

Until next year, then:

May your glass be ever full.
May the roof over your head be always strong.
And may you be in heaven half an hour before the devil knows you’re dead.

 

Gnome Anne's Land Lager

The Silmarian Sun

Wednesday, January 13th, 2010

Silmarian Sun

 

The Daily Babbler
by Rona Gabbler

Welcome, Dear Reader! We have something completely different for you today. Far from the golden palaces, magical mansions, and lofty wizard towers of Silmarian society, this time The Daily Babbler takes you to another world!

Rona GabblerNestled in the rolling foot hills at the base of towering snow-crested mountaintops in the land of California, we visited the famous Flying Aardvark Ranch. Here we caught up with the renowned Corey S Cole, Earth chronicler of Gloriana – and especially Silmarian – adventures. It has been over ten years since the Coles related the tale of the Hero’s rise to the throne of Silmaria. Ten years, while their creative talents languished in relative obscurity. But now the talk of the town is about the upcoming launch of Corey and Lori’s mysterious new game project. Here, in this exclusive interview with your intrepid reporter, we reveal some of the secrets.

Rona Gabbler: Mr. Cole, It’s such a thrill for me to finally meet you after all these years. You look just like your photo on the back of the “Quest for Glory II: Trial by Fire” box. Except that you’ve shaved off the beard. And lost all your flowing long hair. Oh, and weren’t you wearing glasses back then? At any rate, our readers are just dying to learn the truth to the rumors that you and Lori are creating a brand new game.

Corey Cole: Well, it isn’t exactly new. In fact, we started on it almost two years ago …

RG: You’ve been working on this game for Two years! That must be amazing! I’ll bet you have the most incredible 3D graphics and fight sequences ever! Flying mounts soaring around floating islands in the sky, barely avoiding the attacking roflcopters… Will the players need special 3D glasses to play?

CC: Actually, it isn’t that type of game at all. There’s excitement and adventure, but…

RG: I’ll bet there is! Exploring the dark underbelly of the Silmarian sewers, trying to find the sunken temple where the magical lyre of the Minoan monarchs lies guarded by monstrous Minotaurs and giant, poisonous, man-eating snakes! Ooh, you’re following the lyre’s notes and you have to duplicate those notes in order to open the locked doors…

CC: No snakes or musical notes. This isn’t “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Loom.” This is interactive storytelling. The player is a critical part of the story and will shape how it comes out.

RG: Oh, you mean the player will get to say something really clever like, “All your base is belong to me,” and you’ll set Silmaria in space! It’ll be every story ever told all rolled into one – You’ll get to create your own creatures at the cell level and adapt them to fit their environment, then they’ll have kids and start societies and go out to space and…

CC: You’re thinking of Spore. Will Wright already did that game. No, we’re focusing on one story so we can make it the best we can. And it’s in Silmaria.

RG: I knew it! Silmaria where the sun is always shining and exciting things happen every day! Silmaria, with its soft, sandy beaches and crystal clear waters. Silmaria, where the pirates ravage… Oh, that’s it! You’re making a game about pirates!

CC: That was Secret of Monkey Island. Ron Gilbert and Tim Schafer. Ok, Lori and I do like pirate adventures…

RG: Yarrr! Shiver me timbers, matey! Scupper me with a marlin spike….

CC: No! Not a pirate game this time! Maybe later. This game is…

RG: Oooh, I’ll be it’s in the palace! You’ll be a skilled swordsman and get to run through the hallways and jump up and down to avoid traps. If you get through it all, the Hero will declare you the new Prince of Silmaria!

Corey and LoriCC: That would be Prince of Persia, and we’re trying to do something very different here. You’ll make friends and solve puzzles; not so much of the swashbuckling. But you will…

RG: Ah! Political suspense! You will rise to meet every challenge. People will look up to you in awe. You’ll promise to save the country from a collapsing economy, and people will flock to your cause!

CC: Um, no, this isn’t about Barack Obama’s election.

RG: Barack who?

CC: Right. Where was I? Oh, going back to school.

RG: You don’t have to do that! You’re already a Hero!

CC: Not me, your character. You get to play one of the students at…

RG: Hogwarts Academy! Ooh, I love J.K. Rowling’s work. She’s just as talented at writing as you are at making games! I can see it now, “Harry Potter and the Sands of Silmaria”!

CC: Um, no, this is about the School for Heroes.

RG: The School for Heroes? I thought that closed down after that little incident with the Meeps and the Thieves’ Guild. They just about ran the Famous Adventurer out of town on a rail.

CC: Oh, well, he got better. The school is open again and better than ever. Well, except maybe for the Rogues. But you get to play a young Wizard…

RG: See? See?! I told you it was going to be Harry Potter! I knew it! When Harry dropped out of Hogswarts, he…

CC: It’s nothing like Harry Potter! All right, so it is about a Wizard at a school with a mysterious past. But other than that…

RG: Mysterious past? Kind of like Katrina and the Dark Master and biting people? Scary! I can see it – You play a Vampire’s child, trying not to reveal that you are bloodthirsty monster. Fortunately, the only thing that gives you away is the pointy canine teeth, your overpowering reaction to the sight of blood, and the fact that you sparkle in the sunlight…

CC: No! It’s NOT about Vampires. But you do have a secret …

RG: A Secret! What is it? We love secrets! Our readers are dying to know what it is that we need to not reveal to anyone else, cross our hearts and hope to cry. Don’t worry, we won’t tell anyone about this. We’re all very good at keeping them. Why, I write about secrets all the time!”

CC: MUST… NOT…. KILL…. GNOME….

RG: Unfortunately, our interview came to an end as Corey apparently had some sort of an asthma attack and had to be restrained, poor dear. But we can now confirm that the rumors are true. The Coles are creating a very exciting new game set here in our own sunny Silmaria. We look forward to hearing more about this great event.

There you have it. Another brilliant interview with your Gnome for news. Toodles!
– Rona Gabbler

Rona Gabbler

The Tale of Eric and the Dread Gazebo

Thursday, May 7th, 2009

A good friend of ours, Richard Aronson, wrote a little tale – based on a true gaming event – that turned into a monster. We think the “tale of the tale” is almost as interesting as the original story, so we’ve invited Richard to be our guest blogger this week.

The GazeboI met Richard through Mensa in the late 70’s. We had both recently gotten into D&D, and I had started up a game for the Los Angeles Mensa group. Richard started his own campaign and introduced me to a couple of other groups. The Cal Tech players had developed their own D&D variant called “Warlock” with more detailed combat rules. And there was Ed Whitchurch, who ran a store called Le Maison du Guerre (that’s “The House of War” slightly misspelled). Ed ran a unique campaign that mixed fantasy gaming and tabletop wargaming, not to mention as odd an assortment of players as you’d find anywhere.

It was in Ed’s game that Richard picked up the story of “Eric and the Gazebo”. Richard added a few embellishments and wrote it up for a few newsletters. And then it spread. Lori and I were amazed to pick up “Knights of the Dinner Table™”, and find the characters retelling the story… without crediting the original source. Later, the characters in Nodwick had a gazebo adventure. And in the online RPG RuneScape, you can build a Gazebo. If you examine it, the game says, “Run away, it’s the Gazebo!”.

When we did a “humorous stories” panel at DunDraCon and asked how many in the audience had heard of Eric and the Gazebo, nearly everyone raised their hands. Just four hundred words, but they turned into a worldwide legend. Here’s Richard’s story of the building of the Gazebo.

The Tale of the Tale

by Richard Aronson

Back in 1985, I told Lee Gold and her RPG group a story. That story, of course, was “Eric and the Gazebo”. And Lee told me, “Now you have to write it up for ‘Alarums and Excursions.'” [A&E is the oldest and longest-running fantasy role-playing game publication, started in 1975. It recently published issued #400.] Since she had the power of life and death over my characters, I did so.

Then Corey and Lori Cole read it in A&E. They reminded me that I was supposedly contributing editor to “The Spell Book”, the magazine of Mensa’s RPG SIG, and they’d cut my salary by half if I didn’t write it up for my column. So I wrote it for them, with some minor tweaks.

From “The Spell Book” it was reprinted in Corpus Christi Texas’s newsletter (which I was told about when I received a copy of that issue) and then it was reprinted in a Mensa newsletter in North Carolina that never told me or asked my permission. And then “The Mensa Bulletin” sent me a letter; they’d read it in North Carolina and wanted to reprint it nationally. Oh, and if I could make it maybe 50-100 words longer, then it would completely fill a page.

“The Mensa Bulletin” ran it in 1989. And John Chu, a Mensan teaching at the University of Buffalo, asked me if he could reprint it on the Internet. In 1989, the Internet was not exactly public. It was used by academia and defense contractors. I was making a very nice living coding proprietary encrypted email for a Fortune 100 because there was no alternative. Ah, simple times. So I told John Chu, “Sure, as long as you spell my name correctly.”

Roughly five years later, I was a professional game designer working for The Sierra Network. I was on a humor panel at DunDraCon in San Ramon. I told “Eric and the Gazebo”. After the panel, an irate and less than fully hygienic (but scrawny and therefore not scary; I am many things but scrawny is not one of them) accused me in a loud voice of having stolen the story from his friend.

Plagiarism is a relatively minor concern to a professional programmer. It’s very serious for a professional game designer. So I had to start regaining control of my copyright. When I got back home, I did a Yahoo Search (I don’t think Google even existed yet) for “Eric and the Gazebo”. As I recall, there were over 3,000 hits. John Chu’s was there, and it attributed me properly. Most of them didn’t.

In order to protect my copyright, I had to contact these people and tell them to give me credit or remove my story. Most of them had no problems with giving me credit. A few asked for some proof of copyright. That cost me some stamps, unless they were willing to believe John Chu’s attribution as being the earliest version on the internet. A Google search today shows 13,000 hits for “Eric and the Dread Gazebo”. Included in the top 10 was an Australian web site which did not have attribution.

Okay, so my characters in Lee Gold’s game avoided some rotting diseases.
Some people got some laughs, and I’ve met some folks that were, for the most part, worth meeting. So I’d do it all over again. But next time I’m arming myself with a torch of gazebo slaying first. Plus FOUR.

The Original Story…

Here’s the version we printed in the Fall, 1987 issue (#13) of “The Spell Book”:

Richard Rambles On

by Richard Aronson

Humor is hard to define. Vocal humor is always easier than written humor, and acted plus vocal humor easier still. Think of how many movies/plays/TV shows you have laughed out loud at, then think of the surely smaller number of cartoons/comic books you have laughed at, and the yet smaller number of books (without pictures) you have laughed at. So I have been handed a tough assignment — make people laugh with only the printed page for my instrument.

Actually, if I could draw, I’m sure I’d be allowed to use a graphic device, and perhaps one will be inserted by ye Editors, but ever since they moved out of L.A. I’ve had much less input into the actual production values of The Spell Book, so I really cannot do more than suggest, whereas in times past I was able to say: Hey, look, right here should be a picture or an ink blob or something to liven up this otherwise drab piece you wro…. But I digress. While I can recount many tales that would (and have) make (made) people laugh out loud, I can think of only one that might, might mind you, work in this altogether restrictive setting: Eric and the Gazebo.

Let us cast our minds back to the early days of Fantasy Role Playing, back when ye Dread Gygax was loose upon the land. Funny how humor and horror can start out so alike. Let us go still earlier (yes, it is permitted to breathe sighs of relief) to the days before Gygax (and the courts) thought that he owned FRP. In the early seventies, Ed Whitchurch ran “his game,” and one of the participants was Eric Sorenson, a veritable giant of a man. This story is essentially true: I know both Ed and Eric, and neither denies it (although Eric, for reasons that will become apparent, never repeats it either). If my telling of it does not match the actual events precisely, it is because I’ve heard it many different ways depending on how much of what type of intoxicants Ed had taken recently.

The GazeboThe gist of it is that Eric, well, you need a bit more about Eric, or else I won’t fill quota. Eric comes quite close to being a computer. When he games, he methodically considers each possibility before choosing his preferred option. If given time, he will invariably pick the optimum solution. It has been known to take weeks. He is otherwise in all respects a superior gamer, and I’ve spent many happy hours competing with and against him, as long as he is given enough time.

So, Eric was playing a Neutral Paladin (why should only Lawful Good religions get to have holy warriors was the thinking) in Ed’s game. He even had a holy sword, which fought well, and did all those things holy swords are supposed to do, including detect good (random die roll; it could have detected evil). He was on some lord’s lands when the following exchange occurred:

ED: You see a well groomed garden. In the middle, on a small hill, you see a gazebo.
ERIC: A gazebo? What color is it?
ED: (Pause) It’s white, Eric.
ERIC: How far away is it?
ED: About fifty yards.
ERIC: How big is it?
ED: (Pause) It’s about thirty feet across, fifteen feet high, with a pointed top.
ERIC: I use my sword to detect good on it.
ED: It’s not good, Eric. It’s a gazebo!
ERIC: (Pause) I call out to it.
ED: It won’t answer. It’s a gazebo!
ERIC: (Pause) I sheathe my sword and draw my bow and arrows. Does it respond in any way?
ED: No, Eric, it’s a gazebo!
ERIC: I shoot it with my bow (roll to hit). What happened?
ED: There is now a gazebo with an arrow sticking out of it.
ERIC: (Pause) Wasn’t it wounded?
ED: Of course not, Eric! It’s a gazebo!
ERIC: (Whimper) But that was a plus three arrow!
ED: It’s a gazebo, Eric, a gazebo! If you really want to try to destroy it, you could try to chop it with an axe, I suppose, or you could try to burn it, but I don’t know why anybody would even try. It’s a *)@#! gazebo!
ERIC: (Long pause. He has no axe or fire spells.) I run away.
ED: (Thoroughly frustrated) It’s too late. You’ve woken up the gazebo, and it catches you and eats you.
ERIC: (Reaching for his dice) Maybe I’ll roll up a fire-using mage so I can avenge my Paladin.

At this point, the increasingly amused fellow party members restored a modicum of order by explaining what a gazebo is. It is solely an afterthought, of course, but Eric is doubly lucky that the gazebo was not situated on a grassy gnoll.

That is the story of Eric and the Gazebo. It’s funnier when I tell it in person. Isn’t it always, though. Be seeing you…

SSECCUS – A “How Not to” Guide

Thursday, April 30th, 2009

SseccusSseccus. That’s “SUCCESS” spelled backwards, the way most of us seem to approach it. Some people are naturally talented and seem to know instinctively just how not to succeed. Others practice Sseccus on a daily basis. But just in case you’re one of those rare and special individuals who hasn’t yet learned how to fail, here’s your “How Not to Succeed” guide.

  • 1. Don’t prepare – Spontaneity is much more honest.
  • 2. Play games at least 5 hours a day – They teach valuable life lessons.
  • 3. Sleep is for the weak. And hamburgers and fries are a cost-effective diet.
  • 4. Dazzle them with your brilliance.
  • 5. Never put off until tomorrow something you can postpone to next month.
  • 6. One size fits all. Customization is a waste of time.
  • 7. Dot every “i”, cross every “t”. They’ll never really understand it otherwise.
  • 8. It’s not your fault, so make sure they know who’s to blame.

Now these aren’t capital crimes. Every one of the above “strategies” can have some value, taken in moderation. But they’re a quick path to failure when overdone. Let’s see how you can turn a grand opportunity into another missed chance.

Don’t Prepare

I recently had a job interview for a project and position about which I was really excited. I didn’t get the job. A few things went wrong, but I think #1 was lack of preparation. I knew the position was mainly about programming using C++, a language I hadn’t touched in about 5 years. And I had a week or two to prepare before flying out for the interview. So why didn’t I pick up a C++ book and review the syntax and features I hadn’t much used? Mostly because I didn’t think of doing so. But there’s no excuse for that.

When you are going into an interview or negotiation, starting a job, or going on to a new project, think about what you will need to do it well. Do a little research and legwork. Find out about the company and the people you’ll be meeting. Refresh yourself on the technical environment. Or you can just be spontaneous – also known as “unprepared”.

Play Games

Obviously Lori and I like games. We play them, create them, and talk about them… a lot. Games have a lot of good things going for them – They teach you hand-eye coordination, problem-solving, storytelling, and often details about the game setting. MMO’s teach you how to get along and work towards a common goal with other people. Player-vs.-player games build your reflexes and give you a competitive edge. You can also learn discipline and patience.

The thing is, it doesn’t take 20, 30, 40 hours a week to learn these things. A good game can be just as fun – probably more – in a few hours of play as in an endless repetition. World of Warcraft “daily quests” are a great example of something that takes a lot of time out of your life without providing any outside-of-the-game value.

Twenty or thirty years ago, all the talk was about how our children’s minds were being turned into gelatin by endless hours of TV watching. These days, a lot of that TV has been replaced by game play. To some degree, there’s value in that – Studies have shown that senior citizens who play bridge are mentally sharper, more alert, and healthier than ones who don’t. But taken to an extreme, those are priceless hours of your life – or mine – that we will never get back. Eh, so what? Let’s play. We can get the work done some other time.

Sleep is for the Weak

I’m writing this at midnight, as usual. I probably have another hour to go on it and I’m getting up at 8:30. But that’s ok; 7 hours sleep is almost as good as 8. Six will probably do in a pinch, or 5. This really comes from a few things – procrastination, habits (a sleep schedule that doesn’t match up with reality), and failing to plan ahead. But the bottom line is, we make mistakes when we don’t sleep enough. We are less alert, more careless, and our concentration and hand-eye coordination are affected by tiredness.

Your health (and mine) matters. You need to eat a balanced diet, keep your weight within a reasonable range, get regular exercise, and so on. It’s easy to skimp on some or all of these when you’re busy, or have other things you want to be doing. And then it multiplies – When you don’t exercise, it gets more difficult and painful, so you find excuses to do even less. When you don’t sleep enough, you lose the benefit of good judgment that tells you that you need to go to bed.

You can develop bad or good habits equally easily. If you have the bad ones, you’re going to have to work three times as hard to break them. Better get started now; it isn’t going to get any easier.

As for those burgers and fries – Well, I lived on the McDonald’s QLT (Quarter Pounder with Lettuce and Tomato) and slices of pizza for a Summer. Somehow I survived the experience. They seem economical, but you won’t be doing your body any favors. Mix it up. Eat some vegetables. Keep your portions small – A few bites taste the same as a Mega Meal. You’ll feel better, weigh less, and have better energy and focus. Ration your sugar intake while you’re at it.

Dazzle them with your brilliance.

Listening is much overrated. You’re so wonderful, and it’s very important that you share that wonderfulness with your friends and coworkers. What would they do without your fascinating tales (also known as “endless, pointless stories”)? If someone else brings up a subject, it’s essential that you either share your anecdotes and wisdom about it or change the topic to a far more interesting one. If you’re bored – and you will be if you have to listen to someone else pontificate – clearly everyone else will be just as bored. It’s your job to entertain them.

You won’t learn anything new this way, but that’s ok. I’m sure you already know everything important already. And everyone else surely wants to hear it from you. Repetition is an effective way of reinforcing knowledge, so surely it must be a good thing for you to tell the same anecdotes to the same people over and over.

Of course, there’s the tiny little danger that the other person wants her say just as much as you do. Or that she might get just a tiny bit annoyed at your telling her something she already knows. Or – perish the thought! – that slightest little possibility that maybe the person on the other side of the table actually knows something relevant and important. Naw, we know from watching actors and sports stars that everyone is automatically an expert on everything.

Never put off Something you can Postpone

Scientific American had a great article last December called, Procrastinating Again? How to Kick the Habit. They said that “everyone procrastinates occasionally, but 15-20% of adults routinely put off activities that would be better accomplished right away.” I’m one of those; perhaps you are too.

There are a lot of reasons why we delay doing things. Some of them are completely reasonable – We need more information, or we currently have higher priorities. Others are silly… to everyone except the person who is delaying. Maybe if you don’t pay that bill, it will go away. Maybe someone else will do your work for you. Maybe a creative muse will descend upon you and make your work much more brilliant if you just give it time.

Procrastination is often caused by anxiety, the fear you will do a poor job. The problem is, that’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. The longer you put off a task, the less time you will have for it, the more stressed you will have become about it, and the greater the chance you will botch it. If you really don’t think you’re prepared to do something well, don’t give in to the fear; fix the reasons for it. That might involve doing additional research, getting assistance from an expert, or breaking the task down into more manageable sub-tasks. But don’t simply avoid the problem. Schedule a time when you will do it, and plan what you have to do first so that you can do the task well.

If you just can’t decide on what to do, stop for a minute and think about it. Write down your choices; otherwise it’s easy to get your thoughts in a loop where you can’t settle on one thing. Look down the list and consider the pro’s and con’s of each possible decision – It might help to write them down as well. Then pick one. If there’s no obvious answer, flip a coin or roll some dice. If the choices are that close, it probably doesn’t really matter which one you pick. In any case, once you’ve made the decision, stop worrying about it. The choice is made; go with it!

One Size Fits All

This has to do with any situation where you’re selling something. Applying for a job or asking for a raise is “selling yourself”. Anyway, we’re used to mass production. Everyone watches the same shows, listens to the same songs, and drives cars that look pretty much alike. We’re told it’s more efficient to make everything the same.

If you want to be just as successful as everyone else, you can be the same too. I mentioned last week how Susan Boyle managed to make herself stand out from 50,000 competitors and millions of people who didn’t even try to compete. Sameness is a losing proposition.

I’ve applied to a lot of jobs in the past for which I didn’t even get a response. Some of them seemed like ones tailor made for my background and skills, but I couldn’t get a foot in the door. For the recent interview, I did things a little differently. Knowing quite a bit about the company and its philosophy (from doing Internet research), I customized my resume and application letter specifically for them. I didn’t tell any lies, but I emphasized skills that they would consider important and cut out some details that wouldn’t interest them. Instead of trying to dazzle them with my amazing “jack of all trades” career, I focused on how I would benefit their company.

I got a response and I got an interview. My letter and resume stood out from the thousands they receive because it told them what they needed to know and showed them that I cared about the company and that job.

This is really all about listening. If someone comes to you and says, “I need X,” you aren’t going to accomplish much by saying, “No, you don’t. You need Y.” Especially if your main reason is that you happen to have extra Y and not much X. Sure, you can discuss whether X is really right for them, but you’ll be fighting an uphill battle. You’ll do a lot better by either finding someone who wants and needs Y, or by doing the work it takes to find a way to offer X. Look, listen, and adapt.

Dot Every “I”, Cross Every “T”

“When all is said, nothing’s done.”

Maybe this is just a variation on dazzling and failing to listen. But certain of us have a habit of trying to say too much. I once marketed a health food supplement. I had a neighbor totally sold on it, but I hadn’t finished my pitch. So I kept going as I watched his eyes glaze over. I made the sale, but would have done a lot better to stop at “enough”.

Maybe, just maybe, the person you’re talking to isn’t totally stupid. They may already know a lot of what you’re trying to tell them. Or they might not, but when they get to the point where they need to know more, maybe they’ll come back to you and ask specific questions on the parts they actually care about.

I have lots of pompous friends and relatives who like to explain every detail. I’m often one of them. But most of us aren’t full-time teachers. Even when we are, students learn a lot better if they ask the questions. Say enough, and no more.

Another form of this is “losing the forest for the trees.”  If you spend too much time on details, you may lose sight of your goal.  On programming projects, you’re often better off using an off-the-shelf library function – even if it isn’t exactly what you want – rather than writing your own function for a common task.  That way you can concentrate on the parts that really matter.

Know Who to Blame

Ever failed at anything? Ever had a project canceled? It probably wasn’t your fault. I’m sure you did everything possible to make it succeed, but those idiots around you blew it. It’s very important you share that information. If you’re applying for a job, be sure to tell the manager how stupid your previous manager was. Surely they won’t think you’ll be saying the same things about them to your next prospective employer.

You may have been through some pretty awful situations, but if you really stop and look back at them, most of them really aren’t such a big deal. People make mistakes; that doesn’t make them stupid, incompetent or evil. You’ve probably made a few yourself. Telling other people about all the dumb things others have done just makes you look vindictive. Enough such examples, and pretty soon they’ll wonder whether there are really that many stupid people in the world, or if it isn’t just simpler to assume you’ve been the cause of all those failures.

I might have the opposite problem. One time when I applied for unemployment payments, I said that I had been laid off because I hadn’t handled the work well. The interviewer said that in his 20 years of working for the unemployment office, I was the first person to admit that I might have lost my job because of my own fault rather than someone else’s. Most people don’t like to admit to themselves, let alone to others, that they could be responsible for their own problems.

But you know what? It’s a lot easier to look in the mirror, say, “I blew that one,” and move on. Be honest with yourself, figure out what you did wrong, and take action to avoid making the same mistakes again and again. Even if other people did screw up, so what? Think about what you can do in the future to help the project succeed even when people make mistakes. I can guarantee this – Mistakes have been made on every significant task ever done. A lot of those tasks succeeded anyway, and those were the ones on which enough smart things were done to override the mistakes.

Learn from your mistakes, but don’t let them control your life. Just work on the things you need to do so that you will make different – and hopefully smaller – mistakes the next time.

Going from SSECCUS to SUCCESS

There are other ways to fail, but success really comes down to just three things: Prepare, Communicate, and Perform. And the biggest part of communication is listening. If you find yourself having trouble accomplishing the things you want to get done, there are reasons. You may be afraid that, if you do too well, others will expect too much of you. You might not be doing the work and preparation needed to succeed. Or maybe you just aren’t listening.

But you know what? Success is fun. It’s exciting and fulfilling. And the more of it you have, the more you take on and accomplish, the better it gets. And that means that high expectations are really just exciting opportunities. That’s something worth striving for… and did I mention fun?

Success

Egg-Centricities

Wednesday, April 8th, 2009

This Sunday is Easter, a time of symbols and traditions. It’s Springtime, and Easter represents hope, new life, fertility, and rebirth. Kids get a few days off school, and families get together to feast and celebrate the joy of life.

Easter Egg MeepAs far as children are concerned, the most important traditions of Easter involve chocolate, candy, and a bright pink or yellow Easter Bunny. People decorate colorful hard-boiled eggs which are then hidden about the house and yard by the Easter Bunny (cunningly impersonated by game-loving parents). On Easter Day, the kids scurry around trying to find and collect the eggs. A few eggs were usually hidden too cleverly. The real surprise came from finding these hidden eggs the following Easter. So these days most wise parents substitute hollow plastic eggs with a few jelly beans or chocolate coins inside. Easter is obviously sponsored by the dental industry.

Un-Egg-Spected Surprises

Game Developers like to hide Easter Eggs, too, but they do it in their games. An Easter Egg is a hidden character, place, or event in a game that seems a little odd, hopefully in a humorous way. They can be references to pop culture, history, other games, etc. Sometimes they open additional game play (“secret levels”), but more often they are just there as a reward for observant players.

While Easter Eggs can be distracting, they actually have an important role in improving the quality of a game. I like to describe the “intensity graph” of a game as looking like a roller coaster. The action and intensity build to a peak, then drop down to a more relaxed level before starting to build again. The “low points” of intensity provide contrast for the high points. Without them, a game becomes stressful and less fun. Also, the highs seem higher when there are lows against which to contrast them. An all-action game or movie will not feel as intense as one that gives players/viewers a chance to relax a little between the action scenes. Easter Eggs provide that lull in the action.

Egging on the Clowns

Quest for Glory featured many Easter Eggs, including “mirages” in the desert such as the Persian Golfer (a reference to the Persian Gulf War), the Awful Waffle Walker, and a submarine that showed up in the lake near Spielburg. We also had cameo appearances by such luminaries as the Marx Brothers, Laurel and Hardy, and “Sanford and Son.”

During the development of Trial by Fire, Brian Hughes mentioned that our menu system reminded him of the menus in productivity software such as VisiCalc (one of the early spreadsheet programs). These programs often contained disabled menu items intended for future enhancements, and he suggested that we could have a menu item that did absolutely nothing. Thus was born the “Silly Clowns” menu, originally a feature that had no game effect whatsoever.

We may have lost some of the purity of the idea, but probably made it more fun, when we decided that we could actually do something with a “Silly Clowns” mode. In the production version of Trial By Fire, Harpo Marx only makes his cameo appearance in the alleys of Shapeir when Silly Clowns is active. Some of the death messages have sillier versions too. Since these are totally useless changes, they keep the spirit of the useless menu option.

Brian was also responsible for the “Saurus Repair Shop” Easter Egg in Trial by Fire. This scene had to be cut from the original release because we ran out of disk space. However, AGDI contacted Brian and recreated it for their recent VGA version of the game. Saurus maintenance – not for the faint of heart.

One of the Sierra artists, Jerry Moore, was famous for slipping a Star Trek reference into every game on which he worked. For example, there is a miniature Starship Enterprise on the shelf of the magic shop in Quest for Glory II: Trial By Fire. Jerry also added the Maltese Falcon statuette to the treasure room at the end of Quest for Glory I: So You Want to Be a Hero.

At the time, this was purely an Easter Egg, but Lori decided it would make an interesting plot point for the rest of the series. We put a “black bird” in each game and added a Thief story thread inspired by the movie, “The Maltese Falcon”. It started as an Easter Egg and became a MacGuffin (a plot point object).

Easter Eggs of Azeroth

World of Warcraft is full of Easter Eggs. “Critters” in WoW are small level 1-3 animals that are just there for atmosphere. While wandering through the Grizzly Peaks, I came across an odd group of critters. They were in a group consisting of a deer named “Mother of Bambina”, a small fawn named Bambina, a rabbit named Thudder, and a skunk named Flower. The names are variations on characters from Disney animated films, and the reference could have stopped there, but…

Suddenly I heard a gunshot and saw Mother of Bambina fall. Off to the side appeared a dwarven hunter; I could imagine his gun still smoking. Bambina called out, “NOOOOOO! Mother, we will avenge you!” Then he ran to the hunter and stomped him flat in a single attack, after which the rest of the party wandered off. It’s amazing what a level 1 critter can do to a level 75 hunter, given enough incentive and adrenaline.

There are dozens, hundreds – maybe thousands – of other pop culture references in World of Warcraft including an entire quest chain with character and object names from The Legend of Zelda video game series.

World of Warcraft also has the traditional type of “Easter Egg”. Every year at Easter time (but running late this year), WoW features the Noble Garden festival, which includes having Easter Eggs hidden throughout Azeroth. Inside each egg is a small prize – a few coins, or sometimes a lovely Spring dress. The latter are rare and much sought-after by role-playing ladies and completists. Lori spent most of our first WoW Easter searching for eggs and slaying bandits with her Paladin in Westfall.

Speaking of eggs in Westfall, Alliance players can tame a chicken in Westfall by repeatedly doing a Chicken Dance around it. If they are willing to make themselves look completely ridiculous, they can earn the small reward of a special pet.

Egg-Qual Time

There are of course Easter Eggs in many other games besides World of Warcraft and Quest for Glory. We just don’t play very many of them these days. Feel free to comment on this article with some of your favorite Easter Eggs from other games. Here are a few from older games:

Some Sierra games were best known for the many ways the character could die. LucasArt’s Ron Gilbert thought that character death was bad storytelling, so the player character could not die in The Secret of Monkey Island. Except when he falls off a cliff, and a Sierra-style death message pops up: “Oh, no! You’ve really screwed up this time! Guess you’ll have to start over! Hope you saved the game!” A few seconds later, the box disappears and Guybrush bounces back up onto the ledge. He looks towards the camera and explains, “Rubber tree.”

In Wizardry: Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord, the main villains are Trebor and Werdna. Try reading those names backwards, knowing that the game authors were Robert Woodhead and Andrew Greenberg.

During development of King’s Quest IV, someone substituted a picture of Roberta Williams topless in a hot tub on the death message screen. The original image came from the cover of Leisure Suit Larry, but was touched up to “add a couple details”. That image lasted almost until the final version, but Roberta made them take it out shortly before the game shipped. Alas.

Diablo is famous for the “Secret Cow Level”. Fan rumors suggested that the original game had such a level, so Blizzard actually added one in Diablo II. You have to play through the entire game, then take a couple of special actions in town, to unlock a game level populated entirely by very aggressive cattle.

Have an Egg-Ceptional Easter!

This Easter, hide some fun for your young (or not-so-young) friends and share some Easter Gaming Goodness. And maybe you can help us find some of those lost eggs from earlier Easters.

So, What Easter Eggs have you found in computer games? We look forward to reading about your favorite game – and real life – Easter egg experiences in the comments.

School for Heroes