Sunday, August 17, 2008

Top 10 Things to Know about Jamaica - #1


1. Jamaica is that Paradise You’ve Always Envisioned…Yah, that One

Whether you know it or not, you were in fact always envisioning Jamaica. You know when I mean. Perhaps you were drifting off at work. Or while ignoring the speech of another person—while they blabber on about something irritating, say, “social media”—there has always been that hyper-idealized paradise image during moments of intense boredom: the sun a glowing orb in Technicolor, the sky blindingly blue and electric, water see-through like glass, powdery white sand, drink in hand, all against a slow rendition of “Sleep Walkers.”

(Does the one above on the left not look like something out the classic PC game Myst?)
This, sweet friends, is
Jamaica. How you received the image, in your private daydreams—again, usually while a friend, or someone behind you on a plane, pontificates endlessly about the dual nature of Facebook—without ever having been there, is one of the shrewdest acts of tourism marketing ever deployed. This would be one way to explain the Jamaican economic hardship: all of the money goes into the research of telepathic marketing at the intensely bored. Genius. They make their money back and call it even, I’m sure. Has to be.

I must note to you my surprise, upon arriving in
Jamaica and realizing I had been there in my head so many times. It exists?!, I thought.A land of the lushest, freshest green imaginable. The kind of lush that makes you drool when you say “lush.” Near-jungle, entirely, though not quite jungle. That precarious balance between forest and jungle. A land of cops with machine guns in black, red-striped pants (where they got the name for the beer). A land of transparent waters, the ocean like one hugely heated calm pool. People everywhere sitting, lounging, swimming, leaning against everything in sight. A land of the most bountiful supply of marijuana imaginable. The fields in the countryside reeked of it, whole fields, mountains of it baking and growing strong. Men riding bicycles everywhere rolling joints. Men passing by on the beach offering jet skis, and also, if you would like it, ganja. Bartenders singing with the radio, slowly making drinks, pausing to sit on a stool to watch the Olympics and smoke a joint. Aggressively smoked and sold, though technically illegal. Illegal for Jamaicans the same way spitting in public is illegal to Americans. The most formal and silly of laws.

This amalgam of sloth, heaven, Earth and ocean, all were Jamaica. You doubted its existence. What an asshole you had been. You thought its existence was fairy like, a natural and powerful opposite created by your mind, the only beauty powerful enough to buffer the unwavering speech of internet enthusiasts when they bore you. Which is true, but I guess that’s how the Jamaican tourism board designed it. Genius.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

The Oblivion Blogs: #1 - Character Creation


First of all, welcome to the first Oblivion blog. In an effort to feel productive while playing a two-year old RPG, I've decided to make this into something of a column. I'm sallying forth into Cyrodiil, the setting of The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. The idea is to provide some sort of social commentary on a fake world. The fact that the game is a little dated actually gives me more leeway that if it was released yesterday. I can openly address what blows: the places where the assumptions of designers and gamers alike go whiffing past anything that's even remotely fun or endurable. Of course the game is beautiful, and I deep down love it. It will be like travel writing to...what's an equivalent? To maybe like a summer camp in the 90s.

E = MC shit
In the film Pi, a man tries to figure out an equation to predict the movements of the stock market. In Oblivion, you will need first that equation, a sprightly high school student from China , a telescope, and a fully charged graphing calculator on hand. I'm referring to the character creation/leveling system in the game (see above picture). I'll do my best to explain how it works in as few words as possible, which will be the gist of this first post.

When you create a character, you will need to divvy up 21 "skills" (stuff like Blade, Marksman, Destruction magic) into two main categories: Major, and Minor. Each of these skills start at a base number, down in the 20s/30s, and can go up to 100. Your Major skills level up faster than Minor skills, and you can raise the level of each individual skill simply by using it. If you want your character to have more Destruction magic power, use fire spells to fry the fuck out of some deer for about an hour. It will increase over time. Want to be a sneaky thieving bastard? Sneak into someone's house, stand in the corner while they sleep, and then creepily stay in the "Sneak" stance for hours on end while they dream. You'll get better and better bonuses for each skill as you use it. The game was hailed for this. You can essentially handcraft a character according to your whims, by simply behaving however you like.

Here's a clincher: when you gain 10 points across any of your seven Major skills, in any combination, you will "level up." You'll go from, say, Level 1 up to Level 2. Your Minor skills do not count towards this leveling up business. When you level up, you will get to raise some of the seven core Attributes tied to those 21 skills: Strength, Intelligence, Willpower, Agility, Personality, Speed and Endurance. Each Attribute is plugged into three of the 21 skills. For instance, the Attribute of "Willpower" filters down into the Destruction, Alteration and Restoration magic skills. The main idea of this is, when it's level up time, based on how you've used your skills to get to that point, you can raise any of these seven Attributes by up to 5 points each. 10 levels in one skill set = 5 points can be raised for its governing Attribute.

Here is the problem: If you make your most-used skills (Destruction, if you're a mage), your "Major" skills, you will level up too quickly for your own good. When you gain in level, so do the enemies in the game. Yah. Basically, you'll blow your load on 10 quick levels in just one skill set, and be stuck leveling up in just that one Attribute. You'll become lopsided: a mage who can freeze a witch's tits off (Destruction skill - part of the Willpower Attribute), but runs out of magika faster than Lindsay Lohan runs out of coke on new year's (tied to Intelligence Attribute - filters back down to Conjuration magic, and two others).

In this way, it's actually counterintuitive to load up your seven Major skills with things you will often use. You want to slowly level up, so that by the time you do, you've gained quite a few levels in multiple skill sets. Mage's want business up front, party in the back: Major skills of things like Heavy Armor, Mercantile, Speechcraft, shit you'll never use; Destruction, Alteration, Conjuration, all the fun stuff down in Minor, where you can level the hell out of it without fear of leveling up.

The balancing act, is in loading up the Major skills with at least one or two swift-moving skills, to keep the clip going, while you have the Minor skills full of stuff you want to max.

After pondering this equation with several well known mathematicians, I came up with this tentative division. But first, here's what's wrong with this system.

Mario could also be made more complicated and deep, if "jump" was stripped of its simplicity, and turned into an athletics simulator, where angle, velocity, wind factor, clothing, determination, all these factors were put into the control of the gamer. But that's not how Mario thinks when he needs to jump. He just jumps. Maybe he gets better at jumping, learns new jumps, etc. Similarly, a real wizard would have no interest in the balance between his major and minor skills, his attributes, the fact that his marksman level is only 15 and could be better. It's like giving someone a Ferrari, but telling them they need to manually control each pound of the pistons, each puff of exhaust and movement of gears. The goal, it seems, is to get inside the mind of the Ferrari, not turn into an invisible person who pushes all of its buttons.

Major Skills:

Destruction (willpower)

Conjuration (intelligence)

Blunt (Strength)

Heavy armor (endurance)

Hand to Hand (Strength)

Mercantile (personality)

Security (agility)

Minor Skills:

Restoration (Willpower)

Alteration (willpower)

Alchemy (intelligence)

Mysticism (Intelligence)

Blade (Strength)

Marksman (agility)

Sneak (agility)

Illusion (personality)

Speechcraft (personality)

Athletics (Speed)

Block (Endurance)

Light Armor (speed)

Acrobatics (speed)

Armorer (endurance)

Saturday, August 2, 2008

I Am 8 Bit Gallery - September '08

I went to this gallery last year here in Hollywood, and was pretty blown away. This isn't exactly fan art, it's something a little more intense. The pieces each take a certain video game--the characters, worlds and themes--and sort of slather it with resonant and meaningful imagery. It seems (to me at least) the idea is to project new meaning onto something usually perceived as static, indulgent and childish.

Some of the recurring ideas I pull from these: failure, ecstasy, determination, hubris, impotence, gluttony...some pretty intense shit for Mario, Mega Man and Pac-Man. It's a shame that all of the pieces are all pants-shittingly too expensive. Hundreds and thousands of dollars.

Imagine a future where they have entire museums of this stuff. Someone would have to theoretically be the curator of such a place, and schmooze patrons with chatter like this *schmooze voice*: "Yes, D'Flobinshaute, he has one of the finest Samus Arans, at least for a Welshman, that is."

Anyway, I'm going to try and make it in September. Below are a couple of my current favorites of these.