Quote of the Moment

"Beep Industries currently has no openings. This is a good thing. Any number of career paths are better than game development. Lots of jobs are more lucrative and far less work. We hear marketing and animal husbandry are filled with potential."

Friday, August 31, 2007

A Litter Snitch is Born

Washington has a litter snitch program. Probably as an offshoot of their carpool lane violator snitch program, they have a toll free number that anyone can call to report their neighbors, or drivers in traffic, for flicking cigarette butts out their car windows, or leaving beer bottles on the lawn.

They even have incredibly annoying commercials that convey a nice, nanny-state message of "We know you're an irresponsible littering pig, and only the threat of a half-dozen strangers turning you in is going to keep you in line". I positively loath them.

That said, thanks to the jackass who couldn't be bothered to trash or recycle his beer bottle and instead flung it somewhere in a street, I'll be dialing the snitch hotline as fast as my fingers can manage the next time I see some yucca-puck tossing something from his car. It's jerks like him who cost me an hour last night putting on the emergency spare tire after a tiny piece of glass lodged itself with critical hit precision in the right-rear tire of our Vue, and another hour this morning getting said tire fixed.

As a public service to other Saturn owners who haven't had the pleasure of locating the "jack flange" with jack points that are "clearly marked" with an inverted triangle on the underbody of the vehicle, the triangle is molded into the bodywork, and located in the indents on the underbody. Also, be prepared for tired arms, as the combination tire iron/jack lever is too long to rotate through more than 200 degrees while raising or lowering the jack.

However, I will say that Les Schwab Tires has me as a customer for life now. Doing the entire service for free was nice (although expected, since it was under warranty), and remounting the original tire was appreciated, but they went well beyond what I expected when they also put the spare back in the tire compartment, and put the floorboard coverings back on. I'd expected to waste at least five more minutes messing with that stuff later. The only complaint I would have for them was the questionable choice of TV channel on in the waiting area. Understandable, considering the number of soccer moms I saw getting their minivans and SUVs done, but still, how do people watch Regis and Kelly without their brains crawling out their ears and escaping to the Bahamas? Just having to listen to it while I tried to occupy myself with Final Fantasy III, I could feel brain cells crying out for mercy before committing suicide.

All's well that ends well, I guess, and at least I was able to do the tire change in a parking lot rather than on a freeway shoulder. Still, for costing me an hour of D&D game time last night, and an hour of sleep this morning, I've gone from annoyed by litter to ready and willing snitch. Hope the convenience of tossing your beer bottle in the street was worth it, you brainless, inconsiderate, ill-mannered twit.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Crunch Time Initiations

It was October, 2001. After several fruitless months competing with laid off dot-commers for the entry level programming jobs available in the Seattle area, I'd finally taken a job as a game tester at An Unnamed Game Publisher (AUGP for short). The pay was lousy, but it was a foot in the door of my dream career. Besides, it's not like companies were in any kind of competition for my employment.

I oriented with a group of about fifteen other people. The actual training was short and simple. "This is a bug" they said, as they showed a video of a snowboarding game where the player's character was stuck flying through the sky, "write a legible bug report for anything you see that's wrong, and always, ALWAYS, keep your VCR running. If it's not on tape, it didn't happen." A couple of people in my group were let go within the first couple of days specifically for forgetting to have their VCR running.

I drew an easy assignment. Thrown on to add man-hours to a game that had already been released but was doing an additional SKU for Europe. No bugs, easy deal. After that it was on to another game, a racing game this time, that was in the final states of polish, where I once again did little more than add man-hours necessary to certify that the game could be shipped.

We worked a few hours of overtime for the racing game, but not much was necessary. When it went out the door, I was added to a new project that had just come in for testing: a fighting game! There were a lot of bugs, and the deadline was growing closer. To be on store shelves by Christmas, a game has to be approved and released for manufacturing no later than very early November, and October is preferable. Eight hour days quickly became ten hour days, then twelve, then twelve plus weekends. People periodically quit, done in by the hours (or merely the demands of having to be on time for the first time in their lives), or were fired (technically their contracts were "completed", but we all know it's the same functional thing) for incompetence. They were quickly replaced though, and the marathon testing wore on.

Finally we neared the end. "One last big push!" our test manager promised us. One catch though. We were up against the deadline, and the game had to play for a certain number of hours without a single crash. It all came down to a twenty-four hour marathon shift. "Come in at 2pm tomorrow. We'll go from there."

I showed up ready. I had my CD player, books, and an iron stomach capable of swilling tester-blend coffee black. But a few hours into the test, it was called off. "Build's broken. We'll go tomorrow."

The wait only psyched people out more. The next night, people in my row had cases of Red Bull, Ballz, and other unholy beverages of gamer's fuel. The marathon began. Before we were even a third of the way in, we were a man down. One of our testers had seriously overestimated her caffeine tolerance. Blowing chunks, even when you do make it to the toilet, tends to make your body not want to keep going any more.

We broke periodically for half-hour meal breaks, and fifteen minute relaxation or smoke breaks. By 5am, I was starting to lose it. Head bobbing up and down, characters on the screen slowly becoming blurry as I ran off a cliff for the 500th time. More coffee! Double Strong! The witty banter had all but ceased between test stations as we grimly focused on our TVs.

Slowly the witching hour passed, and with dawn came new energy. Or at least, a sugar buzz from donuts, danishes, and more coffee. We were in the home stretch, and we were going to beat this thing! And then, finally, it was over. twenty-four hours, and no game crashes. People perhaps, but the game could go out.

The smart people packed up all of their stuff, for it was never quite certain that once a big push ended, if they would find you to be unnecessary head count and end your contract. It wasn't the end for me, but it was for some. It's funny though, that after six years, I can think back, and while I can't recall all the names, I can still remember the faces. For people trying to break into the games industry through a QA path, product test and contracted work are our trenches, and twenty-four hour crunches capping ninety-hour weeks are our air raids. The survivors come out stronger, tougher, and with a shared camaraderie helps fill higher positions later in careers. The fallen, well, we wonder about them sometimes. Did he end up as a truck driver? Maybe she's a bank teller now. Who knows? But when you're twenty-one and making video games, it's just the cap to an exciting day. Go home, call your fiancée, then crash. Get up and do it all again.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Crunch Time

The limited blogging the past few weeks has been brought to you by Crunch Time. Yes, Crunch Time, when the work/home balance gets all skewed and all you can manage when you drag yourself home at the end of the day is to play with the kids for an hour or two before bed, then collapse yourself.

Fortunately, things look to be letting up for a while now, so tune in tonight or tomorrow for a good story about learning what crunch time really is. You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll throw up from Red Bull overdoses.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

New Blogs on the List

A few new blogs have been added to the list on the left. These are mostly aviation related, but many of you may enjoy them.

  • Flight Level 390 is an active airline pilot. Read some of his posts and understand why people want to fly for a living.
  • Skywritings is an ex-airline pilot and now an LEO. She's got a great mix of aviation stories, gun stories, etc.
  • V1VrV2 is another airline pilot, with a great sense of photography.
I heartily endorse all of their blogs. I hope that when I finally get my wings, I can convey my experiences with a vividness and passion that approaches theirs.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Sometimes it doesn't have to make fiscal sense

Rachel Lucas, a blogger whose work I rather enjoy (in spite of her having a mouth that could make some sailors blush) recently did a post explaining why she never wanted kids, and linking a lot of it to the financial horrors that crumb-crunchers wreck upon the wallets and fiscal stability of their parents.

To be honest, I can't argue with her that kids do terrible things to the budget. I do the books for my family, and I can say with certainty that we made more money before my lovely and gracious wife decided to be a stay at home mom when The Boy was born. I also can't deny that all of my favorite leisure activities have seen declines in the time spent on them, directly due to needing to watch/interact with children rather than settling in to read a good book or play the latest video game. She's got me there. My family is financially poorer and I have much less time for myself than before, all because of two small children whose combined weight is still under 100lbs.

But... If I didn't have my son, I'd never know the unconditional love that comes from getting home after a long day at work, opening the door, and hearing "Da-da!" as my boy jumps off the couch, sprints down the hallway and grabs my legs as a walk through the door. I'd never feel the peace that comes from my little daughter falling asleep snuggled up on my chest every night because that's where she feels safe and warm. I wouldn't have anyone I could just make silly faces and noises at and still be the funniest guy in the world, or someone I can sing goofy songs to without feeling self-conscious. And I'd never understand how much love my Heavenly Father has for me, if I didn't know how much love I have for my children, and that I'd do anything to protect them from harm.

Yes, they're expensive, and as a financial investment they're probably losing proposition unless one of them becomes the next Bill Gates. But my own life is far richer for them being in it than it would ever be otherwise, and no amount of entertainment or money could change that.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

A Wish for Wings That Work

In news that will excite my entire family, at least, it's been officially announced that A Wish for Wings That Work, the Opus 'n Bill Christmas Special and perennial family favorite (yes, even more so than A Charlie Brown Christmas) will finally come out on DVD this November.

You can find the product listing and pre-order here:

This and White Christmas are the two Christmas movies I watch every year (and have since I was a kid), and I suspect that my brothers and I could quote virtually the entire dialog of Wings verbatim at this point.

But still I wonder: just where IS the Starboard-stabilizing ailertutter on a DC-3?

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Olde Tyme Aviation

Since Ahab started it by talking about the Focker Eindecker ultralight, I thought he might be interested in the KC Dawn Patrol. They're not TOO far away from his current abode. Also, they have some nice plans for a gas powered machine gun.

Personally, I'm partial to the Nieuport 11 and 12 replicas. A couple of the single seat 11s flew into Arlington while while I was there earlier this summer, and aside from being tiny aircraft, they look great. Susceptible to errant gusts of wind, but that's the price you pay for being able to climb out of the cockpit, hoist the tail up on your shoulders, and tow your plane to its parking spot.

To be honest, if I had the garage space and a few extra thousand dollars lying around for tools and materials, there'd probably be a Nieuport 12 replica taking shape in the garage I don't have right now. I'm not sure what I'd do with it during the 10 months of the year when the VFR flying weather in the Pacific Northwest stinks, but it's be a great summer airplane.

Monday, August 13, 2007

New Toys

Is this a toy for me? I think it is!

The PS3 arrived in the middle of last week. Thanks to work commitments that have me pulling overtime for the next few weeks, it wasn't until Friday night that I was finally able to uncrate and set up the Deathstar of consoles, but as the above picture shows, The Girl had already taken possession. It's fortunate for me she can't talk yet. If she could, I'd likely give her whatever she wanted.

Since this is my first console of the current generation, I believe I'm now required to fulfill the following fanboy rant: "Xbox 360 suxx0rs! Wii is a total fad! PS3 r0xx0rs!

Okay, I'm back, minus the IQ points required for that bit of inane stupidity.

Saturday saw us acquiring a few necessary extras for the new toy: component A/V cables to get at least a slightly better picture, an actual PS3 game (Armored Core 4), and used copies of Kingdom Hearts and Gran Turismo 3 (to which The Boy gleefully screams "Car!" whenever one passes his father during a race). And while I have a hard time accepting the fact, if next year comes around and we haven't acquired a new high-powered gaming PC yet, then I know I'll still be able to play Fallout 3 even if it's not on the perfect system.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Next Generation Gamer Angst

I've finally gone and bought a new console game system. To be honest, it was one of the more difficult purchasing decisions I've had to make (then again, my wife and I haven't gone car shopping yet), but in the end, I hit submit on an order for a new 60 GB PS3 from the Sony store.

The PS3 will join the Gamecube, Xbox, and Super Nintendo serving to take up space on the top of our small entertainment centre.

So why a PS3? The co-workers I've told react with surprise when I tell them I've acquired a PS3 but not only don't own an Xbox 360, but don't plan to anytime soon. Well, honestly, there's two main reasons: first, I needed a current gen system. I'm a game developer, I work on titles that go on the latest and greatest consoles, so I ought to have one of them. Second, the PS3 works as kind of a hedge against future expenses. While I'm primarily a PC game player, the cost of a new game PC is in the $5000+ range, and I don't know if we'll be able to afford that in the next few years. At least this way I have something for the bulk of big name titles coming out in the next few years. Third and finally, the PS3 fills a gap in my game library that nothing else does. You may have noticed in the list of consoles we already own that there wasn't a PSOne or PS2. That's not a mistake. The PS3 is the first Sony manufactured console I'll have ever owned. Considering my predilection for Japanese RPGs in the Final Fantasy mold, and giant robot games in the Armored Core mold, I've got a good back-catalog to choose from.

Now I just have to convince my wife that what the kids are really going to need for Christmas is a new HDTV to play Blu-ray movies on.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Wow, and Thanks

Apparently, the way to blogging success is to amuse Ambulance Driver and get a link from him. That, and invoking the name of an oft-searched celebrity. For those of you just coming to this blog, welcome, I hope you'll come for the weird satire and stay for the random hodgepodge of reviews, musings, and wholesale weirdness that is my stock.

Also, a huge thanks to AD for the initial link. In 24 hours this little blog has doubled its total hit count. :)

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

The Real Truth About Lindsay Lohan's Latest Scrape

Apologies for the lack of recent posts, however, as you'll see, there was good reason. I was deep undercover to uncover the truth about what could become one of the greatest scandals of this decade, if not the century.

Lindsay Lohan was framed.

No, really, it's the truth. All she wanted was to be a hero. The real culprit behind her high-speed chase and DUI/drug bust afterwards, was none other than that arch-criminal mastermind, Sumdood! It was her claim that the pants she was wearing at the time of her arrest, which contained cocaine in one of the pockets, weren't hers that tipped me off. I had to investigate. And so, after a week long search that took me to the dark, seedy underground of Rodeo Drive, I can finally give the true story of what really happened to Miss Lohan that fateful evening in July.

It had started off so well. Miss Lohan was on her way to an AA meeting that met in the basement of a local church, after which she was scheduled to practice the hymn she would be singing at that same church on Sunday morning. Pre-occupied with her choice of hymns (Amazing Grace, The Old Rugged Cross, or Beaulah Land?), her good judgment failed her when she stopped to render aid to a stranded motorist. Tragically for Miss Lohan, that motorist had been waiting for her.

As AD and Lawdog have shown, Sumdood is a master, both of disguise and deception. It took mere moments for him to place his drug-laden pants on Lindsay's body, and offer her a Jack Daniels flavored breath mint as thanks when his car started running again. Then he was off, and Miss Lohan none the wiser. Save that a few minutes later, she realized what had happened. It's likely she reached into her pants pocket to touch her pocket Gideon New Testament, only to revile in shock and horror when she found not the Word of God, but drugs, the Devil's Sugar. From someone, she must have learned of Sumdood, and surmised his involvement in her predicament. But what to do? The police wouldn't believe her, they'd just assume that she had fallen bak to her wicked ways. Her only recourse was to apprehend Sumdood herself.

She must have thought she'd spotted him in the back of the car she began chasing. Poor Lindsay. All she wanted was to be a heroine. By capturing Sumdood, she would have done what law enforcement has never been able to accomplish, and would lhave instantly put her name in the running for a Nobel Peace Prize, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and a Lifetime Achievement Award Oscar. Countless of her Hollywood starlet sisters would have been saved from the ravages of Sumdood, for he is as much a predator in the mansions of Hollywood as he is in the trailer parks of Louisiana.

Alas, it was not to be. Like an ethereal spirit, Sumdood slipped away from the pursued car, leaving only a frazzled former assistant, her mother, and Lindsay Lohan to await the police.

And that, Gentle Readers, is the truth of what really happened to Lindsay Lohan.