I Can’t Believe How Racist This GoogleChat Emoticon Is
May 30th, 2008 by Ice Cream Jonsey



Can you believe this shit?

I am sitting here flabbergasted at what we found. Ben and I are trying to make jokes about it to lighten the mood because, seriously, what the fuck?

I… I don’t even have the words. Google is a company I trust with my documents, with my e-mail, with the analytics of my website… so many things. So many things. And this discovery has rocked my faith in them to the ground. Let me take you back.

A while ago I was chatting with Pinback. We were discussing the fact that Tiger Woods is going to get knee surgery. My position was that it was ridiculous that a guy who fucking plays golf for a living needs his third round of arthroscopic surgery. His take was that Tiger puts so much torque on his knee that it’s amazing that he doesn’t blow it out every round.

I countered with some other people that I would be less surprised to see get knee surgery, like Kool-Aid Man. The Twinkee Kid. Starro the Conquerer. A mannequin. Old B.O.B. from “The Black Hole.” And so forth.

And then he set me straight. I saw a video of his swing and he was right. Tiger does sort of put more torque on that than most domestic automobiles. And that, I thought, was that.

Until a half-hour later, I heard the Google Chat “bonk” and went to see what was up.

And I saw the most horrifying, most insensitive, most racist emoticon of all-time. It was the above “sambo” monkey, or whatever the hell that thing was supposed to be.

It’s made by the following key configuration: :(|) . I can’t remember what Ben was originally shooting for – maybe a frog, or someone being nonplussed, or whatever. But Jesus, to see that thing just happily appear on the screen – what the fuck?

Again, I don’t even know what to do. I love Google’s products… I don’t want to get them in any shit. I don’t want my e-mail turned off or the thirty bucks I’ve received from running ads around here for two years to be refunded or something. Google is my friend! I just – it’s obvious that we sat on this for a long time. I’m not trying to start shit.

But frankly, I didn’t have anything else to write about tonight, so there you go. STILL NOT BELIEVING THIS SHIT!!!

The Point of No Return
May 29th, 2008 by Ice Cream Jonsey

I’ve reached the point of no return when it comes to writing a text game. I’m a complete mess.

I can’t remember the last time I got a good night’s sleep in some kind of string. I’m not just saying that: I’m trying. I’ve tried. Nothing comes back to me as a solid memory that I can point to. I was regularly going to bed at two thirty until I realized that the alarm would more nicely interrupt me outside of a sweet spot if I worked for an hour later. I still wake up completely fatigued. My muscles ache and complain, my knees creak and pop, and there are deep, purple bags under my eyes at all times. I avoid mirrors and all reflective surfaces when possible. I crawl into bed and think about the game, think about what I will be writing next, think about how poor the slop is that I made the night before and how to fix it. Once or twice a day I completely lose my breath and while doing nothing. I need more exercise, I need more rest, I need to eat more fruits and vegetables and vitamins.

I have forgotten birthdays, anniversaries, holidays and celebrations – both made-up by greeting card companies and those I helped to create through the amazing and fortunate successes in my previous life. The only people I can connect to are on-line, in chat rooms, in e-mail, on forums, since they are the ones that make the least number of demands to my time. I judge every possible experience as to whether or not it is taking away from the time I have to write. I demand that movies be better than the quality of the game I have imagined I am making in my head, and silently curse them when it’s obvious that they aren’t. I come to a slow burn putting a DVD in the player, since that requires fighting with the Xbox, trying to immediately get to the menu screen, sitting through the insipid, unskippable bullshit the studio asked for, hoping the last Netflix customer didn’t take a safety razor to the disc, causing freeze-ups. Some worthless suit deigned that their terrible movie or season of TV shows should roll animation for twenty seconds before you can start the chapter or next episode and I wish them their death for having the arrogance to waste my time.

I worry about dying with the game unfinished. I fret over the fact that a glass of gin and Wal-Mart off-brand Kool-Aid gets me almost immediately in the mood to write, and that I don’t let myself do all the time because I’ll develop it into a problem due to my poor impulse control. I feel a deep despair when I play the acoustic versions of the pop punk songs that get my brain into the mode it needs to be to write. I find myself wishing I could exist in a featureless white void of a room for the days I’ve computed I could finish the game in, if I wrote an ever-changing number of lines of code a day.

I get back test scripts and feedback and decide, a dozen times over, to just give up. To be a consumer for the rest of my life. I read what I gave another person to test and find it shit, find it terrible, predictable, moronic, unfunny, uncreative, small-minded, incompetent. The dialogue doesn’t crackle. The scenery isn’t implemented. The puzzles aren’t rewarding. They tried things I need to implement, they found holes in my narrative I hoped nobody would notice. It all needs to be addressed.

I laugh at myself over the fact that the only subject I could get in front of a room of people and teach — the only thing I have ever mastered in my entire life in almost three and a half decades — is how to code in the 4th-most popular text game development environment.

I have become a terrible friend, a terrible confidant, a miserable person with which to live, an empty shell of once happy and functional human being. Nothing I can do will change this until the game is finished and complete and released and judged. I could promise to take a week off and “recover” and get maybe two days into it before the nagging, empty, spectre of text game making pulls me in again and demands that I continue. There’s literally nothing else I want to do in my life but this. Everything else is sighworthy. What is wrong with me. There’s at least an end in sight. There is at least that. This will be the creation I will be remembered by, if I am remembered at all, and every day I have spent on it hurts.

Every Episode of House
May 28th, 2008 by Ice Cream Jonsey

Today’s update is just a link to the script that Pinback wrote, which just happens to be every single episode of House, ever.

Goodbye, everyone!! I’m disappearing into Tomato World.
May 27th, 2008 by ChainGangGuy

For the last several weeks, it’s been same old, same old. Another pilsner, another amber, maybe a couple pale ales. Three stouts. So, while at the bar this past weekend, I couldn’t help bemoaning the sad fact that I’m WAAAAY overdue for something different, something one-of-a-kind. That’s when the bartender kindly informed me there indeed was something different, something one-of-a-kind available: something from Short’s Brewing, a brewery known for their exceptionally unique (if not downright wacky) hand-crafted beers. I at once became agitated with excitement and started pacing the room, glass in hand, like a caged jungle cat (with glass in paw).

Here’s what hit the bar:

BEER: Short’s Brewing – Bloody Beer

“Specialty Beer fermented with Roma tomatoes and spiced with tellicherry peppercorns, celery seed, fresh horseradish and dill.”

Jesus Christ.

One of my drinking colleagues wouldn’t even give the bottle a second glance, noting “that shit sounds made-up” before storming out of the room in a huff. I can’t entirely blame him, either. I was certainly inclined to agree, but rather than cuss the sad bastard out or throw some sort of tizzy, I just poured myself a tall glass and knocked it back, man. Knocked it right the fuck back!

Goodbye, everyone!! I’m disappearing into Tomato World.

Bloody Beer sports a clearish, amberesque body with a small, though lasting, white head. OK, well, it doesn’t exactly look like a Bloody Mary. Cool by me, though, as it’s an absolute treat to smell. The various components come through full and distinct in the nose; you can easily pick out the tomatoes, horseradish, dill, and various spices. Yes, yes, it’s all coming together, it’s starting to remind me more and more of… a Red Eye (basically, a cocktail made with lager and Bloody Mary mix). At the fore is a nice, distinct, though not overdone horseradish and black pepper spiciness. Don’t worry, though, the roma tomatoes are totally in the hizzy, but they simply impart a somewhat mild, lightly sweetish tomato character for the spices and seasonings to rest on. Along the way you also pick up hints of sugar and rock salt. It’s relatively light in body, thankfully not sitting nearly as heavy on the palate or in the stomach as a regular Bloody Mary. And for those wondering: no, it never abandons the charade, tasting of Bloody Mary from start the finish.

All in all, I liked it, but I wouldn’t make a habit of it. That being said, Short’s set themselves a definite goal to reach and really delivered in terms of honest-to-goodness Bloody Mary taste. Unique specialty beers hit the beer scene all the time and oftentimes they fall way, way short of delivering on their promises, so kudos to Short’s in that regard.

If I’m ever fortunate enough to cross paths with some of their other beers, such as the Abnormal Genius (brewed with sunflower seeds and honey) or the Smoked Apple Ale (an amber ale jacked up with seven bushels of apple wood smoked apples), I’ll greet them with an open mind and heart.

Vectrex Pocket Reviews
May 23rd, 2008 by Ice Cream Jonsey

These tiny reviews could fit in your pocket!

WEB WARS: The perspective shifts on this and it messes with your head. There’s not a lot going on here, otherwise. NOT RECOMMENDED!

BERZERK: Flickery crap. I’m selling mine on eBay ASAP. NOT RECOMMENDED!

SCRAMBLE: Sort of like River Raid, but from the side. Things do tend to blow up nicely. RECOMMENDED!

STAR CASTLE: It looks very plain, but I hate that guy sitting in his castle all smug and throwing out missiles and so forth. He deserves to die, and I’m the rogue spaceship who is able to do it. RECOMMENDED!

PROTECTOR: Insanely difficult, like how Defender is supposed to be. This really shouldn’t be a pocket review. Alex Herbert created what is, and what I predict always will be, the most amazing game in the history of the Vectrex. It’s a homebrew game from a few years ago… yeah, this needs its own article. RECOMMENDED!

YASI: YASI stands for “Yet Another Space Invaders.” I do sort of dislike Space Invaders, but this is practically arcade perfect. RECOMMENDED!! IF YOU LIKE SPACE INVADERS!

ROCKAROIDS REMIX: Asteroids, but with the speed ramped up to the fastest game of Asteroids you’ve ever seen. Tough, but fun. At one point I thought it was better than the original Asteroids, but I came around after Pinback slapped me upside the head. RR is still RECOMMENDED!

OK, that’s it for now. We’ll go into how you can get these games for your Vectrex later. I don’t blog on holidays, so see you all Tuesday!

(Oh. I should say, none of these are recommended if you are into “colors.”)

The Crouch-Echlin Effect
May 22nd, 2008 by Ice Cream Jonsey

FROM THE MAILBAG: I was recently asked about the kinds of projects I worked on at Cyrix. I don’t mind saying that I was an insignificant cog that got laid off when Cyrix was sold. But nevertheless, the statute of limitations is over, so out come the gory details.


In 1998, the world was ablaze with the Year 2000. Computer systems would come crashing down, and our financial markets would dissolve into little else but pig futures and shares of Big League Chew.

Two guys, Jace Crouch and Mike Echlin, started documenting and discussing a weird effect when it came to computers.

Imagine if you will, setting the time of a PC to past the year 2000, in 1998. So you tell the PC, through BIOS, that it’s January 1st, 2000. And then you let it go. The effect people were seeing was that of time dilation. While the PC (and I believe people said they saw it on Intel and Cyrix processors, can’t remember if AMD were a major player here or what) was perfectly fine when the time was pre-2000, it would get wonky when set beyond that time.

Well, certainly that was going to be a problem, no? We can’t have that. I was asked to test this behavior.

So I did. I took a couple Cyrix chips, popped them into motherboards, and told them it was the year 2000 and change. And sure enough, I do solemnly swear, they experienced time warping. I do remember that, at the end of the week, they were a couple months into 2000. Set, fakely, for Jan 1st 2000, one was into the end of February and one into March.

I said, with confidence, that these two chips did exhibit the Crouch – Echlin effect.

Unfortunately, I no longer have my notes, so I can’t say what chips they were. And certainly, BIOS has something to do with it, and we were running experimental BIOS. There is definitely a possibility that my report got sent to someone on the BIOS team, they checked some code, said, “oh,” and quietly fixed it. There is also the possibility that my report was completely ignored. But no known computer, anywhere, exhibited the Crouch-Echlin effect in the “real world,” when we actually did get into the year 2000. No PC that I know of showed time warping. And in fact, doing a search for the effect today leads you to people who believe it was all just a scam to sell a “solution” to it.

I don’t know what to say. There was about a year to do something about the effect when I was done testing – but I really don’t think anything was done. I can’t explain why those two computers acted the way they did, and they were soon requisitioned for other purposes. It remains a bit of a mystery.

Pinback’s Top Ten Games of All-Time: #5
May 21st, 2008 by Pinback


I felt almost ashamed, picking up my box of WarCraft III and heading to the checkout aisle that fateful day. I had many reasons for this shame, but chief among them were these:

1. For the first and only time I could remember, at least in the world of gaming, I was succumbing to group mentality. I swear, when you walked into Frye’s Electronics that day, there was no way to avoid running into hundreds of boxes of WC3. If you discount the giant stand-up display which hit you when you first walked in, and which housed a couple hundred copies, and then went on to discount the four shelves stocked to the hilt with more boxes (and action figures and other hazerai), then you’d still be left with hundreds MORE boxes which clogged little displays at the end of each aisle lining the entire computer software section. Obviously, if you did not own WarCraft III, this instant, you were a completely worthless piece of human garbage, who was going to be forced to leave the store in a special line, at the end of which a group of store employees would point at you and laugh as you sulked out the door. Never mind that I hadn’t played any of the previous WarCrafts. Never mind that I hadn’t played ANY real-time strategy game, save for the first couple tutorial missions of “classics” like Earth: 2150 and Conquest: Frontier Wars, which were bought, installed, fiddled with for 30 minutes and then never touched again. Never mind all that, I just HAD to HAVE THIS GAME! WHATEVER IT WAS! BECAUSE EVERYONE WAS BUYING IT! Pathetic.

2. There were four different box designs, each featuring the visage of a representative from one of the four races portrayed in the game. I chose the Night Elf box because her face was so goddamn hot. I had just turned 30, but felt like the 14-year-old drooling nerd boy which I realize I was, just 16 years hence.

Naturally, I was happy to finally get out of there, go home, install the game, lick the front of the box a few times, and finally get back into the whole RTS game!

And just as naturally, after the first tutorial mission fired up, and I had to draw a box around a guy and then right click somewhere, I remembered that I hated RTS games. Oh well.

But full price at that time was $60, and I’d be damned if I was gonna shell out that kind of jing, and suffer the humiliation of succumbing to my sheeplike surrender to groupthink and marketing, just to give up after 30 minutes. So I pressed on.

Given my checkered history with computer games, I think the best and only review I need give to WC3 is that it is the first, and as of this writing, still the only, RTS game that I’ve ever completed.

What made it different? To me, the difference between WC3 and the rest of the RTS world is, I would later find out, what really separates all of the Blizzard RTS games from their competitors, and that is: STYLE.

You could go all “eh, all RTSes are basically just harvest, build, rush” and while that may be true to an extent, what kept me harvesting, building, and rushing with WC3 long after I’d have shelved a lesser game was the consistent richness and quality of the world that it created, and the perfection to which it attains these goals. It tells a story with the artistry of the deftest bard. It oozes style, and always in support of the greater vision of the game. Everthing about the game is like this. The opening cinematic is the best opening cinematic I’ve ever seen. The main menu is still the greatest main menu I’ve click around in a game. The whole thing is just solid.

And besides that, you have just a rock-solid RTS game, with just enough complexity to keep you on your toes and provide the richness and variety of strategies which you’d want, without straying too far from the tried-and-true conventions. “Hero” units, as well as the occasional non-base-building missions, give a nod to RPG-style character building, which provides a much needed and welcome break from the hordes (pun slightly intended) of faceless warriors which you’ll be cranking out by the hundreds.

After completing WC3, I went back to WC2 to learn a little about the game’s lineage, and to see why some people still maintained that the previous game was better. For its time, and budget, it too was an exemplary picture of how solid a product could be brought out if a company was committed enough. But to me, it still seemed like nothing but preamble to the glorious, unmatched main course which WarCraft III ended up bringing to the table.

And come on, that Night Elf was hot.

Gun on the Mantlepiece
May 20th, 2008 by Ice Cream Jonsey

Jimmy Maher was nice enough to play and review No Time to Squeal, a game I did with Mike Sousa a few years ago. Check out his thoughts here. There’s one part that I’d like to comment on – I would have had a take regardless of whether it was in a review of one of my games, it just would have, ah, taken longer to put together:

There's a saying in creative writing that every time you 
introduce a significant character, object, or symbol, the 
reader puts that in his metaphorical backpack. By the end 
of the story, he should have emptied his backpack out again, 
having disposed of everything in its proper place. (Or 
alternately, see Chekhov's famous comments about the gun 
over the mantelpiece in Act 1.)  

I had heard this before, but just in the same way you hear about a lot of things on the Internet – poorly sourced and with bad fonts. I never gave it a lot of thought, in much the same way you wouldn’t spend too much time on the predictions of John Titor if someone wrote them out in Comic Sans. But it is important, isn’t it? People have been having this sort of complaint about my text adventures for quite some time.

For instance, In Pantomime, who gave Raif the liquid code that modified his eyes to show the presence of mimes? In Fallacy of Dawn, who authorized the attempt at blowing up the arcade? In Necrotic Drift, how did the Xbox get into the mall, I mean, physically into the mall? (OK, I am just kidding with the last one.) I had my own theories as to those questions, but I never believed in putting everything out there for the player to see – I have always tried to give the player something to think about and interpret themselves afterwards. I think it’s safe to say that I am pretty frigging bad at this.

Some of this horribleness stems from the fact that I interact with many of the same people who play these games, and if I get asked a question on the mud, I’m not this huge prick that is going to say, “HURRR, figure it out yourself!” It just would be impolite. In Necrotic Drift, there is convoluted process to save a character at the end that normally dies, and that became known because someone on the Interactive Fiction MUD asked if it was possible, and I said, “Ahhhh, er, yes, but it’s more an Easter Egg than anything else.” When that process became well-known and searchable, it seemed stupid and broke protocols between text game authors and their players. There are authors out there – of text games and static fiction – who, when queried as to a ponderable in their work, can ask you what you think with a twinkle in their eye and curled-up grin on their lips. But when I try to do that through an e-mail, the emoticon I have to use just looks like it has palsy.

That being said, I am coming to grips with the fact that there are expectations in static fiction that apply to text games. People want to see things resolved with Chekov’s Gun. I’ve never taken a course on creative writing, and it’s fair to say that I am left pondering many big issues when it comes to finishing a novel or seeing a movie that is in a genre other than horror or action. This is fairly troubling to me, because I have written seven text games in an attempt to get through the million words one must write before the real writing can begin, and I was completely oblivious to something that has a fair amount of acceptance among readers and writers of static fiction. I’m not sure if I have to start over, or what.

At the same time, the thought of joining a writing class or workshop or whatnot doesn’t appeal to me. I have always justified a lack of formal training by the fact that text game players don’t pull punches, and neither do the posters on one particular website that I admin. The happy compromise might be to read more books, books that are considered the classics of the English language, and make it known that I crave (and am extremely appreciative of) the kind of feedback that Jimmy wrote for NTTS. I can’t say I know what the end game of all this text game writing is – I don’t think I’ll ever be good enough to make a livable wage as a writer – but that doesn’t mean that I don’t want to get significantly better.

Bell’s HopSlam Ale
May 19th, 2008 by ChainGangGuy

It’s hard to believe that nearly six years have gone by since Jolt Country, The Great On-Line Empire first came online. And Ben Parrish, with his razor-sharp wit, has been entertaining us from day one. As his posts number well into the thousands, it is clear to see Ben Parrish’s contribution to this BBS has been immense. It is undeniable! Our time is somewhat limited, so I can’t possibly begin to summarize them, so be sure the swing by The Best Of base on your way out. At times he was a bit of a bully, having verbally flogged nearly everyone on the memberlist at one point or another. At times he was quiet and peaceful, with a subdued wisdom infusing his many posts. Some found they were drawn viscerally to his posts, while still others decided to leave the site forever because of them. But love him or hate him, one thing’s for sure, the man TELLS it like it is and his posts always make for an interesting read. Today’s toast is to our dear friend, Ben “Pinback” Parrish.

BEER: Bell’s HopSlam Ale

Today, I’ve chosen a brew from Bell’s, a well-respected craft brewery from Kalamazoo, Michigan. I believe it was Ben who once told me that hops were the “heart and soul” of any good beer, so I felt a double (or imperial) IPA to be a fitting choice for his toast. Double IPA’s are India Pale Ales on a daily HGH regimen and subjected to varying levels of gamma radiation. This produces a hop profile and alcohol content of considerable strength. Let’s get to the beer, we don’t have a moment to waste!

Bell’s HopSlam pours out a bright, translucent orangey body topped by a dense cap of ivory foam. Alright, now lean in close and get a big whiff of that aroma. Wow, they ain’t fucking around. Incredibly redolent scent almost stinking of fresh ruby red grapefruit, pineapple rings, passion fruit, and honeydew melon. Smells wonderful. The taste provides a subtly sweet pale maltiness which is obscured, and right so, by the extreme hoppiness of this fine beer. Wave after wave of intense, juicy tropical fruit hop flavors wash over the palate. Each new sip delivers a moderate kick of potent bitterness (some would even say 4 Whimpering Losers out of 5!). The 10% abv is very well hidden amidst so many superb hop flavors. At last, HopSlam finishes bittersweet with a long, lingering tropical fruitiness.

With 70 tongue-searing IBUs, HopSlam is a true Double India Pale Ale, and it never hides behind a suspiciously malt-heavy grain bill and toothsome sweet caramel flavors more suited to a barleywine. After four years, still the most important name in hops.

Ben Parrish, along with Robb, breathed a rich life into this BBS. Hell, they owned this place. They are the giants on who’s shoulders this site stands. So, let me take this opportunity to extend my sincere gratitude to Ben for giving us so much. Thanks, pal. Many years from now people will continue to look back on your work here with reverence and awe. I truly hope one day to sit down with my friend, Ben, perhaps over a Bell’s HopSlam, and fondly reminisce about our bygone Jolt Country days.

“I hope.” –Morgan Freeman

Alpha One: The Major Havoc Prototype
May 16th, 2008 by Ice Cream Jonsey

I recently went to the Rocky Mountain Pinball Showdown and played a lot of pinball. I don’t know how the industry is doing as a whole, but when there is a convention center with a bunch of games, I’ll be there.

The newest machine was Wheel of Fortune, which I did not play, because it’s a pinball game themed after the Wheel of fucking Fortune. However, there were some arcade games there as well, including the prototype for Major Havoc, which is called “Alpha One.”

Major Havoc was the last color vector arcade game released, to the best of my knowledge. Vector monitors were never correctly debugged – they remain a pain in the ass this day for games like Star Wars, Tempest and Gravitar. If yours dies, well, good luck – nobody will ever spin them again. In fact, making some is one of the things I would do if I ever became moon-laser rich and crazy. They are rare enough that people will take a game completely infested in maggots to save it. So somebody bringing his Alpha One game (a prototype) to a public event like the Pinball Showdown was amazing and generous.

Naturally, I left my fiancé’s camera at home. And even more naturally, the showdown was nowhere near either my home or work. So I had to rely on the Milker’s cellphone for some photos.

The first one is of the control panel. I have never seen a real Major Havoc machine, but I did buy the reproduction roller, you know, just in case. The roller on the protype was definitely smaller, and not translucent:

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And then here are a couple photos of the cab itself (again, apologies for the poor quality):

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Even though I never shut up about it, I was still amazed at how different the game was in the flesh, as opposed to how Major Havoc plays through MAME. MAME really is a wonderful and amazing tool, and I am very grateful it exists, but the differences on the real hardware are obvious during the first play.

There is an extra mode in the prototype – a section somewhat like Star Castle. Major Havoc was released with just three (the Galaxian-like shooting stages, docking, and then the maze level), which was pretty advanced back then. All right, it wasn’t really that advanced, Donkey Kong had four, but still.

It’s a shame that vector monitors never really took off, as there were rumors of a color Vectrex unit in development at some point, which obviously never materialized because of the hundreds of advantages of raster (shakes fist) (flips keyboard).

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