Not Yet, Egon
6/21/02: This week's Austin Chronicle is running a feature article by local (way-cool) film critic Marc Savlov, a piece about the death of film. It's inspiring me to ramble a bit about another subject nearer and dearer to my heart: electronic publishing. Read Savlov's article first, then come back here while I launch into what amounts to a mini-editorial gumming up the Blue Desk.
So we see that modern filmmakers are embracing this groovy technology that lets them create the way they want to create, with more immediate results, greater efficiency, better economy - and the result looks as good on the silver screen, if not better, than the old fashioned way.
But, years ago, Frank Zappa was doing just what Rodriguez used to, and took it a step further. He shot 200 Motels entirely on video, and released it to what theaters were willing to carry it. It was, I think, the first all-video movie made for moviehouses. Frank's film looks and feels like video . . . It did not match, much less exceed, the visual clarity of film. But Frank didn't care, because the artistic freedom and control - the ability to see immediate playback, the ability to experiment with multiple takes on the fly, everything Rodriguez is so happy about now - just plain mattered more to Frank than some silly tradition about film, or any perceived stigma of using a "lesser" medium. Zappa didn't care to wait thirty years for the technology to be perfected (good thing, too, since, sadly, he didn't live to see it happen).
Rodriguez' cool praise of HD now (and his reminiscences of his early shot-on-video days) reads like a near-verbatim echo of Zappa's enthusiasm those many years ago. Since Frank was shooting with the Mothers and (mostly) others he worked regularly with, and they were all just having a grand time, he didn't run into many problems with actors being horrified at being in a lowly video production, the way Stohland apparently did. They just wanted to make a fun movie. Art for art's sake, for real (contrast with Ahhht for Ahhht's sake, which is just sad). He wanted to do it his way, and that was the way to make that happen.
Anyway, now I have a good analogy to point people to when they hit me with the inevitable "When will you be moving back up from e-publishing to 'real' publishing, S. John?" They always get confused when I say "I won't be moving any such place. This was a move up."
Electronic publishing doesn't yet have its equivalent of HD video. There's talk, of course, and high hopes - of being able to go down to your local Kinko's or a dedicated bookstore and saying "print me this new file, please, in a nice sewn hardcover binding with a . . . a cloth cover, I think. Make it blue. No wait! Red leather. It's going to be a present, after all. And trim it out in gold leaf." The document will feed into a quick-print gizmo and that'll be that. In a short time, fresh book. Every bit as good as a book made the old fashioned way, without the risks of printing thousands in advance - and customized to your tastes, to boot.
The technology is in the works now, and various early forms of rapid press are already working, but the "insta-book on every corner" dream isn't there yet, and won't be for a while. When it happens, the publishing world will be restructured accordingly, and many folks will benefit. It won't be a "bandwagon," even, it'll be a full-fledged revolution, just like HD video is shaping up to be.
But some of us don't care to wait. I for one, not entirely unlike the mighty Mr. Zappa, care more about doing it my way, on my budget, without the slow-poke methods of old - without others that never, ever care as much about quality as I do: without trusting editors and production guys to make the layout legible and the index useful, without trusting publishers to organize proper playtest, without trusting the distributors to tell retailers it exists, without worrying about books vanishing from print when the companies tank. I did it the old way for a long time, and as soon as I caught a glimpse of an alternative, I was hooked, and hooked I'll stay.
When the revolution comes, I'll have a community, too, and that'll be nice. In the meantime, I've got the freedom to work on projects I love the way I want to work on them, and, happily, they've been earning modest but respectable sales - roughly comparable to what I was getting in the more restrictive world of freelancing. Folks who can only enjoy old-fashioned books can stick to my old ones.
Now, of course, I don't mean to imply that I share any of Zappa's genius . . . just his priorities. Making cool stuff rules far, far above traditional, commercial ideas of "ambition" in my book. I don't claim to be on some kind of high ground, either . . . Just on the ground that feels right under my feet. Someday, I'm gonna have a really nice house built here, so to speak.
I think it's great that filmmakers have their HD, now, and I think it'll be great when bookmakers get their own equivalent. And most of all, I think it's great that I now have something to point those confused questioners to . . .
6/12/02: With the perpetually-impending release of the "Gold Designer's Cut Edition" of Pokethulhu, I've decided to warm up by starting a new mailing list to provide both a news feed and an occasional "random game resource" in the form of unexpected late-night posts of setting musings, 'thulhu, and peeks into the very very strange nature of the Designer's Cut (which may be the first RPG to have a commentary track, and should almost certainly be the last).
In other PDF-gaming news, Three-Sixty Publishing has released Mean Streets, by Mark Bruno. I've got a copy handy and I've written a review of the game that explores the good and the bad of it. The really cool unwritten footnote to the review is that Mark himself has been very agreeable about the whole thing, and I suspect future editions of Mean Streets, if they happen, will be worth keeping an eye out for.
6/9/02: And suffice it to say, I feel much better now! So does she ... the convention was really hard work, and Sandra came home utterly exhausted and in need of hugs. Fortunately I had plenty saved up!
The good news is that now she's got an extra day or two off work to recuperate, so we can get back to the proper business of bumming around Austin, browsing Central Market, and poking into new neighborhoods to comment on people's lawns ... (it's really a great way to spend an afternoon)!
Sandra, Come Home!
6/7/02: Sandra's been away since Wednesday morning, and by now I'm completely worthless. I've taken to doing laundry for comfort, which is never a good sign. Saturday, I'll be achieving a similar effect (with a less soapy smell) by running some Call of Cthulhu at Austin Game Day.
Ironically, the last time Sandra and I were apart this long (the only other time in our marriage, in fact) was also for a convention, but of a very different sort! I was being flown down to New Orleans to appear as a guest at a science fiction con on the weekend before we moved to Austin. And now, fully integrated into our new Texas home, Sandra's off at a convention for the state Republican Party (when we use part of Sandra's pay to buy me a new pair of sandals or tie-dye shirt, I always pause to enjoy the subtle irony).
I've been keeping very busy, getting lots of writing done and also some tedious techy stuff. Every eight months or so I reformat the hard drive and rebuild the computer from scratch, and this seemed like a good time for that (it was getting sluggish and quirky again). That seems to have worked out pretty good, and I kept extensive notes this time to help it go just as smoothly in the future!
Here on the website, there's a minor new addition to the Secret Library: a small collection of my homemade Windows icons. What they're good for, I leave as an exercise for the reader.
Hope this finds you well and snuggled closer to your sweetie than I am to mine. I love you Sandra! I miss you! Come home!
6/1/02: It's been a long week for Sandra and I! My sweetie's been working extra-long hours as her office preps for a big convention in Dallas next weekend, and by the time we're on the bus riding home in the (very late) evening, she's been curled up against me, sound asleep. I've made a lot of progress on Fly From Evil and some other work-projects with the extra time, but I look forward to week after next, when Sandra will have some time off to rest and wander Austin with me again. The convention will be our longest time apart from one another since we got married! Yeek. Time to schedule some intensive, distracting RPGs to keep me sane while she's gone . . .
In Cumberland news, Risus has broken yet another language barrier! Thanks to Joaquín González, Risus is now available to Spanish-speaking gamers across the globe (including a very spiffy PDF version that faithfully adapts the original). That makes six translations so far (you can find links to the French, German, Italian, Czech and Dutch translations at the Risus homepage).
And, of course, June is here, which means a new free font! This month's TrueType doodle is "Arvigo," a hand-scribbled caps font born of late-night work sessions at the all-night burger place across the highway. Enjoy!
5/29/02: Ever since we first arrived in Austin back in the summer of '98, people have remarked that it was funny that when we say we moved here from Fredericksburg, we meant Fredericksburg Virginia, since Fredericksburg, Texas, is a popular "day trip" from here - it's a pretty little place out in the Hill Country, an old-timey sort of town where all the shops are along Main Street, and most of them sell antiques or handicrafts to tourists. The settlement has a lot of Germany in its history, too, and there's an assortment of German restaurants and biergartens and so on. Outside of town, there are lots and lots and lots of peach trees growing lots and lots of peaches.
We finally had an excuse to visit the town this past weekend when my Mom came down for a visit. Friday night, we had gone out for some tasty Mex (complete with a Mariachi serenade), but Saturday we decided to head for the hill country, to attend Fredericksburg's annual crawfish festival - a "cajun festival in a german town," which turned out to be quite the hoot. We caught a lot of country and zydeco from the bands, ate fun food on sticks, and enjoyed the log-rolling hijinks at the lumberjack competition. I highly recommend attending any or all of the upcoming German-Cajun-Lumberjack festivals in your area . . .
5/22/02: For the past several days, I've felt dominated by things mechanical. I bought a used, four-year-old portable computer to help with work, and it's already required two bus trips back to the shop for part-swaps (thank goodness for warranties). Then, the kit I bought for transferring files between that and my home machine crashed both systems, and tech support's response was essentially "it isn't meant to happen; take the kit back for a refund." Then the TV went on the fritz, and as of last night, the clothes dryer has given up the ghost as well. I think I need to go find a place where the most advanced piece of technology is a hammock slung between two shady trees.
Sandra and I went to see Attack of the Clones last night, and watched machines beating up other machines (and people who behaved like machines), and that helped a little. The little kung-fu Yoda was cute.
On the why-machines-are-cool note, however, there are fonts! The folks over at FontFace have chosen another one of my fun-and-junky little hand-drawn fonts as their Font of the Day for today (the playful Skuntch, which I made with a combination of a cheap calligraphy marker and really poor penmanship, plus a lot of technology). Fun!
And on the why-machines-are-even-cooler note, this week marks the five year anniversary of Sandra's first visit to see me down here (back in Virginia), and that wouldn't have happened if not for these wonky "com-pyoo-tar" thingies (plus airplanes and stuff), so I guess I can forgive the machines, after all. Here's hoping this finds you tuned up and well-maintained!
Crawling Towards One
5/14/02: The Blue Room FAQ has been around for a while now, slowly creeping towards the magic "Version One" where I actually call it tentatively finished. That may happen sometime this week, even, if the Sourdough Bug strikes (I've got close to 400 emails in my "distill these into the FAQ" folder, but 90% of them are about sourdough). This morning, though, the FAQ jumped from version 0.60-something-or-other to version 0.7, with the addition of my own eccentric take on the age-old "What is a roleplaying game?" question and other game-related stuff, including a couple of common GURPS Black Ops questions and a micro-guide to doing Austin on the cheap.
Dear Pen Pal
5/11/02: Had a nice, mellow Friday this time around - we spent a lot of time walking on the north side of the city. Our general destination was a used bookstore we're fond of up there, but we took our time, wandering off the trail a bit. We got a fresh pork bun in a Chinese market we hadn't shopped at before and walked under the highway supports. After bookshopping, we loafed a bit at a crowded bowling alley, watching folks smash the pins down and having a drink (we were still thirsty from the pork bun)!
Tonight, we've got a special spring ritual to enjoy: Every year, the Zilker Hillside Theatre puts on a free play in the park, and tonight's the last night. It's You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown, this year (folks who know me will know how much that one means to me, in particular) so it should be a very good time.
And tomorrow, we'll be doing housecleaning and be on the phone with our moms for Mother's Day! Happy Mom's Day, in advance, to any moms dropping in here to read, and I hope the weekend is a good one for all of you!
Austin Kitchen Party
5/6/02: Sandra and I had a really fun night Friday at the Great Big Sea concert. They played La Zona Rosa, one of the downtown warehouse district venues, and we were up against the stage dancing and shouting the whole time (when Sandra got a drink splashed on her face, the drummer came down to the edge of the stage to offer her a towel). We ranted and roared like true (or, in my case, honorary) Newfoundlanders, and the whole crowd did the same. Just when we thought Austin couldn't get any better, suddenly it had a cool piece of Sandra's hometown in it!
We also caught the Cat's Meow that night, a cool little film that's sort of about the mysterious death of Tom Ince aboard the Oneida, but is really about the relationship between William Randolph Hearst, his mistress, Marion Davies, and her affair with Charlie Chaplin. Great casting all around, and an impressively subtle refusal to condemn a bunch of people behaving very badly indeed. Every act of infidelity, desperation, greed, fear and rage is treated with a dose of even-handed sympathy, which gives the picture an unusually humane feel. Fine work.
On the work front, I'm very pleased to be able to announce the release of the #1 most-requested Sparks set in the history of Sparks sets: our first superhero set, Sparks: Justice City. I wish I'd had this two years ago, but the timing isn't too bad, coinciding with the triumphant return of the Hero System, the pre-release buzz over Silver Age Sentinels, and other superhero-gaming-coolness happening this year.
Let's Play "Jedi"
5/2/02: I wandered up to the the local game shop today to pick up a recent incarnation of Call of Cthulhu - I've been using my old 3rd Edition hardback forever, and it's still in great shape, but I figured it was high time I caught up with the current state of the game (which is pretty much exactly the same as the old state of the game, with some extra Stuff, but I like my games to have lots of Stuff).
So there I am, preparing to fork over the painful (but entirely justified) sum, and I spot the new Star Wars Gamer. "Ah, cool," sez I, thinking "I'll get mine in a couple of days, via subscription." But then I notice a blurb on the front: "Jedi Solitaire Adventure." And so now I'm confused. "Hey!" I think. "I wrote one of those, too!" But I didn't expect it to hit the magazine 'til the fall, and, after all, somebody at WotC would have told me, right?
Guess not! The magazine was in plastic wrap, so I pestered the owner to let me peek, and sure enough, Jedi's Legacy is in the new issue. It's a perky little number, short but with a nice variety of scenery and action, and the illustrations are nice. So, if you enjoyed Ring of Thieves, you might want to give it a look. SWG is the best game magazine going these days, anyway, so if you enjoy space-gaming of any sort, it's worth a flip - adventures and ships and other good stuff in every issue.
Now I just have to wait for my comp copies!
And speaking of complimentary things; the new Free Font of the Month is up over on the Cumberland Games site, a high-detail stressed typewriter font that looks better at large sizes than most, adapted from the typewriters at the public library downtown.
The Great Pumpkin
4/29/02: I've been on a fiddling-with-the-website kick these last couple of days, and this time, it adds up to some small improvements to the Gourmand Bleu section, with a new logo, improved page background, and slightly-improved layout on some of the recipe and article pages. Better still, there's a new recipe: my delicious Pumpkin Custard, a diabetic-friendly creation for dessert at the holidays (or anytime! we're having some tonight)!
I Beg You Call the Tune
4/28/02: It seemed fitting to give the front page a fresh coat of paint; I think this last incarnation of the logo was one of the longest-lasting in the bunch, so hats off the old girl, and may she enjoy her retirement. I should put up an "old logo gallery" sometime; I've got quite a few by now!
I wish I could claim the font used in the new logo as one of my own, but of course, it's the lovely and popular Aquiline, which you can snag at various points around the net (like here).
It's been a good weekend here in Austin. Sandra and I went up to Stubb's on Saturday night to enjoy the Dark Star Orchestra, an incredible Grateful Dead tribute band that's so much more: they recreate entire historical concerts, and they've built quite a fan following. I'd read about them for a couple of years, and we had a great time experiencing them for ourselves. After years of living in Fredricksburg, Virginia, where carefully re-creating Civil War battles was considered a good time, it was nice to see that same kind of energy focused on something closer to my heart, and doubly nice to be snuggling and swaying with Sandra the whole time.
Five Years Blue
4/22/02: I don't remember the exact date in April of 1997 that the Blue Room went online, but it was "sort of near the end of the month," as I recall. That means that the site is celebrating it's fifth birthday today! Or possibly yesterday. Or, maybe, later in the week. It's shy, and still insists it's only three.
Suffice it to say that I just had no idea that the site would one day be hundreds of pages of assorted stuff, generating a constant stream of interesting email and even allowing something like Cumberland Games to exist.
I get lost around here, myself, these days! But I'll never be done adding to it 'til I'm done, period. Here's to you, for being interested enough to visit; hope to still see you in another five years, and another and another after that. Thanks for keeping it fun for me.
A Federal Scrapbook
04/17/02: In the course of doing research for my work, I run across a lot of interesting websites. Most of these get tossed into a temporary directory and discarded when the project's done; those I think I'll always have a chance of wanting to see again eventually wind up on the Links page.
While working on Fly From Evil, I've found a lot of great government-hosted sites, and my favorite of those from the past few weeks has been the Freedom of Information Act stuff from the files of the F.B.I. - lots of huge (and I do mean huge - hope you've got a fast connection) PDF files filled with scans of old newspaper clippings, office memos and other good stuff on subjects ranging from the death of John Dillinger to cattle mutilations. The truth is out there, and it's in slow-downloading bitmap form.
What's For Supper?
04/9/02: Meatloaf! And don't roll your eyes at me, young man; sit down and eat it or you'll get no dessert! Despite America's long history of meatloaf-based child and spousal abuse (I think it amounts to nothing less), meatloaf really can be heavenly, and my meatloaf recipe (I call it Holy Experience Loaf) is one of my proudest achievements. So, I've finally made it public, along with lots of variations and notes on how I make it a little leaner and more diabetic-friendly, these days, as a permanent addition to the Gourmand Bleu pages.
The Java Jive
04/5/02: I work all over town, writing on curbs and in fast-food restaurants and in hospital cafeterias - anywhere I can find a place to sit, really. I like watching people while I work; sometimes they practically write the book for me, just by making me wonder about them.
More than half of the time, though (much more than "more than half" lately) I'm in that most traditional of writing spots, the coffeehouse. Far be it from me to reject a serviceable cliché! But a couple of months ago, it occurred to me that I was drinking a lot of funky coffee and understanding it not at all. I mean, I know tea; I know wine; I know cheese; I know bread. But all I knew about coffee was that some of it tastes heavenly and most of it tastes nasty and it's best if I stick to decaf. What really triggered my interest was when I asked the person serving me some coffee a question about the coffee and they didn't know, either. It occurred to me that I was in a crowded house of coffee drinkers and there was a good chance that nobody there actually cared about the brown stuff we were chugging down. Drinking brown liquid and not understanding it struck me, at that moment, as a particularly strange way to behave.
So, I've been reading up: books and articles and FAQs and websites and supermarket pamphlets - anything I can grab. I've learned about the way the beans are grown, harvested, roasted, ground, blended, prepared and (the scary part) sold. Big, scary industry. I mean, petroleum big and petroluem scary, or nearly so. I knew Donald Westlake wasn't fibbing in Kahawa, but I never really had a sense of the scale of things. Lots of the growing regions (and entire countries) have a total economic dependence on a crop that busts and booms and fails and gets diseases and all the other things crops do, and it's all worth billions of dollars. Dangerous. The only thing scarier than the business side of coffee is the stuff they smother with caramel at Starbucks so you can't taste how cheap it is. And here I thought I just didn't understand Starbucks. As it turns out, it really is crap - it wasn't my fault.
Which brings us to the basic lesson of any kind of food appreciation: Your taste buds are always more important and more reliable than anything you might learn. Enjoyment is all. But learning is cool, too. This is similar to my sourdough quest a few years back in that I'm finding a lot of snobbery, though, so maybe I'll write a nice non-snobs guide to coffee for the Blue Room sometime soon, to help others who are curious about the brown liquid they're drinking.
Anyway, that explains the coffee references in Darcy Dare, if you were curious, and in the meantime, I have a book recommendation: The Book of Coffee & Tea by Joel, David & Karl Schapira. It's where I started on my own obsessive reading and it's a real joy. Lots of great stories of swashbuckling coffee theft, coffee womanizing, and two different kinds of coffee spies (no, really). Heck, it'd make a good roleplaying game (or at least one heck of a one-shot time-travel adventure ... hmmm). It was written in the mid-1970s but most of it is just as relevant today (except the part about Starbucks being a nice little mail-order importer) ... Cheers.
Oh, and if the old-time coffee ad in the side square amuses, give this wallpaper a look. Good fun for Risus (I did it for the inside cover of the upcoming Diana RPG from Heliograph).
Look and Listen
03/27/02: I've got a new Sparks set officially up as of today, a modern pulp/action set designed and described by Yours Truly, as always, but illustrated and given its heart by a swell new member of the Sparks family, Jonathan McNally. Give a looksee at The Adventures of Darcy Dare (click on the Summers & Dare logo for a hidden wallpaper) and see what I mean.
Some more Great Big Sea news: Go to your local Border's bookstore and head to the music section. The new GBS release (can't miss it; there's a fish on it) should be prominently displayed and (best of all) loaded into the listening system, so you can read a quick blurb about them and listen to see what Sandra and I enjoy so much!
Great Big Smiles
3/21/02: Sandra and I got some great news the other day. Great Big Sea, a Newfoundland band Sandra's been digging for ages (she's got me and most of my friends hooked on them over the past few years, too) are finally getting gigs in Texas. Long-time Blue Room visitors may remember how happy we were to see them in Virginia (where, these days, they play pretty regularly), but we had begun to give up hope on ever seeing them in Texas. Not only are they coming to the state, they're coming to the city, playing La Zona Rosa right in downtown Austin. Presumably, the wider nationwide push is to help promote their new CD, which we snagged just a couple of weeks ago. We'll be there cheering them on!
Speaking of music, I wrote a review of Battle of the Bands, Dan Smith's card game of playful cutthroat life in the music business. Give it a look, and give the game a try!
3/18/02: Okay, now I'm just tired, but in a very good way. The past eight or nine days (depending how you count it) have been dominated by South By Southwest (SXSW), Austin's glorious multimedia/film/music festival. Or, at least, by the music and film parts of it (I work with computers every day, but I work with pencils every day, too, and I don't go to pencil festivals). On top of the festival's festivities, Tim and I also hit the City-Wide Garage Sale for some heavy junk-and-book browsing, and (of course) made a mini-tour of some of my favorite Austin restaurants, from the little taco houses and BBQ shacks to off-the-trail gems like Gene's (don't let the odd website fool you; Gene never wears that dorky chef's outfit unless he's posing for a photo).
Most of the films we chose were documentaries: Journeys with George gave us an unusual perspective on the President's hustle towards election (if I told you that it was the perspective of the media, would you still believe that it's unusual? It is). Welcome to the Club: The Women of Rockabilly has a title that eliminates any need for a summary; it was great fun and will apparently be appearing on PBS soon, so check local listings. Hell House told the story of one year at a highly controversial haunted house in Dallas (those easily offended by anything at all, for any reason, should steer clear; everyone else should seek it out ASAP). Our fourth film choice was actually part of the festival's Music track: the Golden Arm Trio (an incredible experimental-jazz ensemble) providing a live soundtrack to the old German silent film, Faust, which is a really good movie at the beginning and at the end, and for the rest of it we had that awesome music to enjoy ...
Films are good but music is my favorite, and we got an earful of some good stuff. My favorite by far was Git, from Melbourne, Australia, a kind of Andrews-Sisters-Gone-Country-Bluegrass-Gospel affair. We caught their in-store show at Cheapo on Saturday, and I enjoyed them so much that I made a point of scooting Sandra along to see them with me at Threadgill's yesterday. Sandra enjoyed them as much as I did, and, as a bonus, we got to see a great additional two hours (or nearly two hours) of gospel from another group inside the restaurant (Git were vague on when they were actually showing for the gig). This was Sandra's first and only taste of the festival, sadly, since she'd been sick for most of it, camped at home playing SimCity 3000 and keeping in touch via cell (thank heaven for portable phones!).
Some of the best times of the festival week had nothing to do with the festival. Sandra and Tim and I were home playing the Buffy the Vampire Slayer boardgame Thursday night (which is to say, Sandra was kicking my butt in yet another game), and Tim and I were playing assorted German boardgames at Great Hall Games on two other occasions (we were especially impressed with Knizia's Samurai). One of those included Tim's brother, Jerry, dropping down to visit from a nearby Army base. That was probably my favorite night overall, since Tim and Jerry and I got to hang around on buses and in coffeehouses talking about GMing, and while I get a steady diet of gaming these days, I almost never get to just hang around and talk about GMing. I don't think I'd realized I'd been going through withdrawal! My other favorite gaming moments included Tim and I rolling up random character backgrounds with an old Central Casting book late at night at a neighborhood burger joint, and playing the new ready-for-game-shops edition of Dan Smith's Battle of the Bands.
My apologies to the people, places and things I didn't have room to mention (this has been a long Blue Desk entry as is)! I even got some writing done in the midst of all this (though, as you can imagine, not much). Today I'm back on the job, and I've got a million things to catch up on! Hope this finds you well.
3/14/02: Just a quick note so nobody thinks I've been hit by a car or anything (that happened a couple of months ago now, and fortunately it didn't really hurt).
My friend Tim has been visiting for the past several days, and we've been enjoying the festival, catching some live music (the Monday night jam at the Elephant Room, my favorite jazz spot, was a great night out), walking along highways, combing through used bookstores, gaming, and taking photographs of a stuffed penguin. More of the same to follow over the next couple of days! When things return to normal, I'll have a number of items to talk about here; see you then!
Puzzles and Paranoids
2/27/02: While I've kept the Crossword Puzzle page as a main Blue Room link for the last couple of years, I've been terribly lax about adding to it. While I've added wordfills and mazes and other things now and again, the last real crossword was posted way back in 1999! Until yesterday morning, that is, when I woke up with a little extra zip and decided to do my morning wake-up routine writing a crossword instead of playing computer games or websurfing. I also decided (since I had both work to do and a Risus game to run last night) to race myself, and create the puzzle from flour to crust in just one hour. The result was the One-Hour Crossword, the newest puzzle to be unveiled here. As per the custom, I announced the puzzle on the Blue Room Mailing List to give them first crack at it, but now that they're done with it (Stuart Faulds is the new Godling; huzzah!) it's archived for your amusement.
And speaking of that Risus game, it went well. It was an Alpha Complex adventure (that is to say, a game of Risus Paranoia) with a good many amusing explosions, burns, mutations, and the occsional fatal faux pas. Comedy gaming's good for the soul!
2/25/02: For the font addicts tuning in, here's a way to make your own "alien alphabet" font in just a few seconds: The Alphabet Synthesis Machine is a new website I wandered into this morning. Crazy! I've often thought it would be neat if somebody would develop a fontmaking method where you could draw a few key letters (the R, for example, and the G) and a program would extrapolate basic letterforms based on the curves and weights and so on . . . This isn't that, but it's a pretty fun toy.
Logic is Overrated
2/19/02: Sandra and I caught two films over the holiday weekend, Metropolis and John Q. Metropolis (Rintaro directing, w/Otomo doing the screenplay based on a Tezuka manga - what a trio!) was the beautiful one, with lovely retro character designs ("Bodies By Popeye" complete with Segaresque wrinkles at the knees) and really gorgeous cityscapes. The story, while wildly implausible in that delightfully anime way (maniacal villain makes a world-crushing superweapon in the shape of a cute girl, who falls in love with the hero), the story was strong enough to keep up with the visuals, which is saying something.
John Q was, in its own way, even less plausible than Metropolis, but I didn't much care about plausibility while watching it. If I can cheerfully ignore physics and logic to enjoy science-fiction and fantasy, I can sure as heck keep 'em scratching at the door to enjoy Denzel and a great supporting cast doing a here-and-now drama, especially when it's about taking on authority for a righteous cause. Logic be damned, brother; that's my religion up there. Go, see; leave the brain at home and bring a hanky.
Apart from the films, we focused on walking again, exploring some new territory at the extreme southwestern edge of the metro system. We met up with a fascinating guy selling pecans who taught us more than we ever expected to know about the local youth crime scene, the trials and terrors of selling cars, and why couples who walk everywhere are especially cool. Well, we knew the last part already ...
Space, Doom, and Bears
2/11/02: This week is another week of work on the second Points in Space volume (see inset for a peek at some half-finished deckplans for the armed merchant scout the players were flying in last week's playtest game). I've really been enjoying the work on this one . . . I was worried, at the beginning, that doing a book of whole ships would dilute the character-based approach that made the first Points work well, but that turned out to be my usual silly fretting. I'm looking forward to getting it into playtest; it's turning out to be a hoot!
Sandra has been nibbled by the computer-game bug again lately, but that's my fault for getting her re-hooked on Doom (and for picking up cheap copies of some more Bioware CRPGs at Half-Price Books). She designed a fun new Doom II level last week, and started work on a second one over the weekend! We'll sneak 'em up for download sometime soon, so if your old copy of Doom95 or Doom II isn't installed anymore, dust it off and warm it up!
Happy news: Eternal friend-of-the-Blue-Room Uncle Bear has added a full-fledged mail-order shop to his website this week, so drop by and give him a look!
2/7/02: They're everywhere in the grocery stores and drugstores and shopping malls ... Boxes and boxes of those little grade-school valentines (I want all of the SpongeBob Squarepants ones, but that's because I'm a loon). This year, I decided to make my own, for all the little kids of consenting age out there. Click here to download the file (180k ZIPped PDF; you'll need Acrobat Reader). Share them with someone you love!
Other than that, just been busy doing work stuff. I ran a fun little GURPS Space one-shot Tuesday evening, though. While the system was GURPS, the adventure was an adapted version of "Stopping at the Beast" from my LUG Star Trek work, and the materials I used were playtest stuff for the sequel to Points in Space, so it ranged all over the map! Three of the players were gamers I hadn't gamed with before (it was part of my ongoing series of one-shots that I run for that very purpose) and a good time was had!
Tarasque on a Leash
1/27/02: One of the nice side-effects of being caught up on my work is a saner sleep schedule and more energy, which means more (and better) time with my Newfie cutie-pie, Sandra! Today we got up early and immediately started gaming; it's been ages since we just hit the boardgames, and we did both Talisman and Robo-Rally before heading out to stomp around South Austin.
This particular Talisman game (combined with the last one we did with one of my D&D campaign groups) inspired a fresh revision to the Blue Room Talisman cards available on the Secret Library: I finally toned down the Tarasque a little, bringing him more in line with Earthquake in terms of overall board-clearing power. He's supposed to cut out clutter and break a few hearts, not leave the board eternally blank and boring! The new version (where he's stopped at the walls of the City or the Castle) will play a lot better.
Over on the Cumberland Games pages, I recently did a major revision to the Fontworks, too, adding eight fonts to the permanent archives (and dividing the archives into two pages to handle the load)! Snag 'em! They're free and fun and frequently goofy.
Sigh of Relief
1/18/02: It's been another really good week. That Star Wars project is done (again! the editor got back to me quick with the revision requests), my final draft on Uresia is done, next month's font is done, the GameWriting mailing list is past its opening-week frenzy and settled into place, and even my fractured sleeping schedule seems to be repaired. I got a badly-needed new pair of sandals, too. Appropriately enough, I gave the Current Projects page a complete spiff, too; its 100% current as of this morning.
Sandra's been doing well, too, conquering the last of the "Year-End" madness at work, so this weekend we can just relax, straighten up the apartment, play some Doom, and do some grocery shopping. I feel all relaxed just thinking about it; this'll be the first weekend where I haven't felt work-pressure for a couple of months. Yesterday, I got around to answering some three-month old emails . . .
1/13/02: If you're one of the six or seven people who were a fan of the Font of the Week, you may be disappointed to learn that I've cut back a bit. Making a whole new font every week (even a goofy one) was eating up a lot of work-time, and the feedback from the page was minimal. I haven't nixed the page entirely of course; I'm still a fontmaking junkie, after all. It's now the ever-spiffy Font of the Month page, instead! Odds are, there will be several months when I post "bonus" fonts without warning, but this way my obligations are more reasonable, and I can focus more on higher-quality stuff (and work like crazy to get Fly From Evil finished).
Just settling in for another late night of either work or sleep (can't decide which yet) after a nice game of D&D! More soon on all manner of topics . . . It's going to be a busy, interesting year.
Busy but Happy
1/9/02: Austin's brief autumn (that's the season between summer and spring; it comes every December) is starting to lose its hold on the climate; it was really nicely springlike yesterday! I'll be enjoying more of that today as I bum around town marking up Uresia for the final post-playtest draft.
It's been a good week so far. I spent much of the weekend putting the finishing touches on a piece for Star Wars Gamer, and it's good to have that done; I've been fiddling with it over most of the holiday season. Now I'm back to work on all the dozens of other projects I'm swimming around in these days, and it feels great. I even started a new mailing list.
I got a pleasant surprise, too. Heliograph is licensing Risus as the system for a satirical modern fantasy game they're publishing later this year. The game is by Marcus Rowland, with art by Aaron "Nodwick" Williams. This means I get to be part of a comedy game illustrated by a popular gaming cartoonist for two summers in a row! Kinda cool.
I've been meaning to write a review of Scrollworks, a little d20 'zine by Christian Walker, for a while now, but haven't had time. To make up for that, I tacked a post onto somebody else's review. After reading mearls' praise of Scrollworks, I was instantly guilt-tripped that I hadn't put my own praise out there, so I gushed onto the forum at the bottom; you'll find a link with my name on it down at the end of the review. Read the review, read my additional gushing, and then please consider subscribing to Scrollworks. Also, email Christian to pester him to put up some PDF samples. A dedication to print doesn't excuse not giving away PDF samples, by gum!
1/4/02: Just a week or so ago I mentioned that Thunder Thighs, one of my little homebrew fonts, was being used in an upcoming Hero Wars supplement. Tonight, while browsing Half-Price books for 20-cent Peanuts collections and true-crime miscellany, I made the startling discovery that somebody else had been using one of my fonts in RPG publishing, too! Visionary Games publish an RPG called Archangel, and the entire book is laid out in Hultog, one of my earliest offerings from the stone ages of the Fontworks. I saw Archangel and flipped through it because I flip through every new RPG I see, but my expression must have been very funky as I recognized the quirkly little stressed typeface it was set in. What makes it a minor miracle of typography is that Hultog has no Bold, Italic, or Bold Italic variants. Visionary Games made do, anyway!
I didn't buy the game, so I have no take on that, yet, but I did email the publisher and he's sending me one, so maybe I'll write a review on RPGnet or somesuch. Buttkicking angels are always worth a try; we'll see.
In boring techy news, the entire Cumberland Games portion of the Blue Room is now no longer a portion of the Blue Room! Sort of. I've moved the Cumberland parts of the site to roomier quarters on the same server I've been keeping the big ZIP files and things, so old URLS to those pages are now out-of-date, alas. If you have a webpage with links to the Fontworks or Sparks pages or so on, feel free to follow me as I wander across the web! At any rate, I'm slowly fixing all the internal links here at the site; there are placeholders around if anyone gets lost. Sorry for the mess!
1/1/02: It still feels very science-fiction to be living in this century. "It is the year two thousand and two." It just sounds like the introduction to some cheesy movie with ray-guns to me. But in a good way!
Sandra and I had a quiet night tonight; we had a cheap supper out at Gatti's, went to see Amelie at the Dobie (a fun little French film about a girl who overcomes her shyness by becoming an agent of Eris, and finds love in the process), and scooted homeward. After coffee at the Whataburger across the highway and a quick stop at the supermarket for some veggies, we curled up in front of the T.V. to do a nice long, warm countdown smooch, and then Sandra fell asleep almost instantly after that, and I'll be up 'til sunrise working to beat a deadline I'm facing.
In other words, it's a really great day. After a year of High Wierdness, having a calm, private New Year with just the two of us is pretty ideal. And while I'm sure the parties raging downtown are fun, it's really nice to sit here, brew some chai in the background, and settle in for a cozy night of (A) working and (B) avoiding working by doing Blue Room updates, making fonts, and probably playing Doom.
Happy 2002. May your ray-guns never fail to strike the enemy's Transtubular Ergodine Module Thingy right where it counts, and may your house smell like chai (or whatever it is you like), too.