Thursday, March 30, 2006


Scalia: "Vaffanculo"

I think it's worth pointing out that "vaffanculo" is a bit stronger than "fuck you". If I was translating it for the Boston Herald, I would have translated it as "go fuck yourself up the ass." Va = go, culo = ass. I forget what the "ffanc" is a contraction of, but presumably it means "fuck yourself" or something along those lines.

Vaffanculo is one of the choicest Italian epithets, and in my experience is generally reserved for special occasions.

To wit: when I was in Italy, I and another American friend took three Italians out for a night of bar-hopping in the countryside, and at 4 AM, when we were about an hour from home, the car blew a hose. My friend Alessandra had to go to a nearby house and call her mom to come pick us up.

She showed up driving an old Fiat 500, which is one of the smallest cars ever produced, we all piled in while she swore and spit at us, and then she tore off down the road with her carload of six, weaving drunkenly while screaming and swearing at her daughter.

I remember her calling Alessandra an asshole and a whore, and when we finally pulled into their town, Alessandra jumped out of the car, dropped the V-bomb on her mom, and stormed off down the strada.

Ah, Italy.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

What holds interest?

The obvious question to ask at the end of that last post, of course, is: Well, what WOULD keep you interested?

A genuine emotional connection. Gameplay that encourages savoring, rather than speeding through. Contact with other humans. An opportunity to interact with real people meaningfully and explore my own self, rather than arbitrary role-play.

That all sounds pretty damn airy-fairy, but I'm not necessarily describing Fully Self-Actualized Group-Hugs in Unicorn Land. Even Counter-Strike, as laughable as it may sound, provided most of that stuff for me.

In CS, that feeling of hunting and being hunted completely sucked me into the game. If I was killed in-game, it genuinely made me upset, and while I was waiting for the round to finish so I could come back to life, I had some hilarious/interesting/puerile conversations with fellow dead players.

The interesting thing about that example is that role-playing has nothing to do with CS at all. The game mechanics just happen to provide a slot of time where you have nothing better to do than talk to your fellow players.

I was frustrated with World of Warcraft after playing it for a while. Eventually I realized that it had been so easy to go through the initial parts of the game without much social interaction, that by the time I got to where I needed the help of other players, I resented that I couldn't just go off and play by myself.

I'm not saying I know what the answer is, and the problem is a tough one to solve. I just think the problem is a different one than I used to think it was.

3 AM Reassessments

I'm recovering from a bad bout of food poisoning. The first day was pretty much all about my gastrointestinal tract and the rapid exodus of all substances therein. The second day I wasn't feeling quite so horrendous, but couldn't do much of anything but sleep. The third day my head was finally clear, but I wasn't healthy enough to go to work, so I stayed home and played Oblivion all day, which was better for my mental health than thousands of dollars worth of therapy.

Today was a little different, though.

My wife (it STILL feels weird to say that) left early to go visit a friend's new baby, and was gone most of the day, so I kept merrily playing Oblivion...but it wasn't quite the same.

The Elder Scrolls games (of which Oblivion is the fourth in the series) are known for providing huge, detailed fantasy worlds, with extremely open-ended gameplay. There are an incredible number of options open to the user. Simileically speaking, many other video games make the player feel like they're driving a train--you can go faster or slower, but you're basically stuck to one path. Games like Oblivion or Grand Theft Auto, on the other hand, generally make the player feel like they're a hiker plopped down in the middle of a national park--there are marked trails they can take that will get them to a defined destination, but they can also just strike out in any direction that appeals, and see what they run across.

Anyway, that's a very cool thing, and I guess it gets at the heart of what I've always been looking for in video games. There's this nerd fantasy of experiencing a virtual world that feels as real as the real thing, only better, and you can do anything you want within it. Anything at all, completely unconfined by the limitations of your physical being or your emotional shortcomings.

The point of this being that I was playing a beautiful game, in which there are many options, and I suddenly found myself wildly bored. After completing several dozen quests, I started realizing that succeeding at one would just lead to another. I could choose to ignore the quests and spend all my time picking flowers and mushrooms, using these exotic ingredients to concoct potions of my own design...but all that harvesting made me feel like a farmer doing repetitive labor.

I'd gone from being bored in the real world to being bored in a pretend world, only now I was bored in a place where there were elves and vampires and wizards.

Eventually, I just switched it off. This isn't the first time I've felt this way about a game, either. More and more as I get older, I find I'm just not willing to spend the time on stuff like this.

Now, this really isn't intended to be a criticism of Oblivion, which may be a fantastic game if you put in a bit more time and are a little more creative about how you play it. I've had this reaction to a bunch of games that are well-regarded by the community.

My initial interpretation was that I was bored of the game because it wasn't realistic enough, that the environment wasn't really rich enough to grab me and make me suspend disbelief. There's definitely some truth to that statement, too. The thing is, I went to bed and started thinking about it, as I was lying insomniac in the dark, and it seemed like maybe the real issue is that it was a little too real.

A lot of life is drudgery. Many people's lives feel pointless and purposeless a lot of the time. Oblivion provided me a fresh life in which to play, but why should that life be any better or more interesting than the one I have already?

Sure, there are goblins and magic swords, etc. etc. None of those are new to me, having been a nerd for 31 years. The virtual landscape is beautiful and filled with lush vegetation, which I dash through at top speed, eyes only attracted to things that look like they might try to bite me.

It's strange to be presented with limitless options and watch yourself make expedient choices, see your doom of ennui repeated in play as it is in reality.

I've had this thought in the back of my mind for such a long time, that if I just had more options, things would be so much better. Primarily, if I could free myself from needing to have a day job, that I would:

1) write a bunch of Really Important Novels
2) direct a bunch of Really Important Movies
3) be happy

That thought has been a comforting opiate to me as I go through the well-understood, generally-safe, not-highly-rewarding career I've been in for the last ten years. Now I'm thinking, would it just be the same, only with nobody to talk to for eight hours of the day?

That may be over-pessimistic, but the basic premise is valid.

And all of this ridiculous self-analysis comes because I got bored of playing a video game. :)

Thursday, March 09, 2006

The Pocket Threshold

The big question for Origami is whether or not the Pocket Threshold is more important than the Bag Threshold.

Something that fits in a pocket is more likely to be carried than something that fits in a bag; something too big to fit in a bag is not going to be carried at all.

On the other hand, it takes a fairly big pocket to fit a 770. So maybe if your device isn't RAZR-sized, you need to target the bag.

770 vs. Origami

Origami: 2 lbs
Nokia 770: 0.5 lbs

Origami: 800x480 resolution
Nokia 770: 800x480 resolution

Origami: 7" screen
Nokia 770: 4.1" screen

On the face of it, they can both display the same quantity of information, but one is much bigger and heavier.

Origami's thumb-typing system is interesting, though, and I have no doubt that its handwriting recognition will blow away what the 770 has.


The Origami site is finally up.

Part of me is really interested in it...part of me thinks it may not quite hit the sweet spot. Based on nothing but hype, it seems like a capable device, but doesn't seem small enough to be really portable. I don't know that there's enough mobility benefit over a straight-up laptop or Tablet PC to make it worthwhile. I guess we'll see.

The Nokia 770 seems to be less capable (well, less capable than the dubiously-based-in-reality astroturf marketing videos I've seen for Origami), but also is reasonably small. It'll be interesting to see whether people are more drawn to functionality or mobility, but MS's marketing muscle may tip the balance of that particular scale.