The portfolio and blog of David Bennett

Category: Personal

Off Hiatus

Testing… 1, 2, 3. Is this thing on?

After over a year of not updating this site and giving it up for lost, I’m returning with a vengeance. Putting together map posts is a way of organizing my thoughts, but it’s also easy to go down rabbit holes. That’s what happened as I began researching settlement patterns and trade routes. Looking at medieval resource distribution led to researching tin mines led to trying to figure out trade routes in the Flanaess and things devolved from there.

I still plan to organize all that material here along with some other fun stuff I’ve looked at for itineraria and travel maps. At the same time, I recently reacquired a whole batch of old gaming material. It includes more Gamma World material and a long-running D&D campaign I ran that I’m eager to share.

Until then, here’s a portion of an old world map I made. I won’t claim the place names are terribly original and I never developed it further, but I had fun drawing it and experimenting with map styles (I even included meridian lines!)

Dad’s Double Features

Seattle is a film city with a tradition of arthouse venues and the Seattle International Film Festival (SIFF). It was at the Harvard Exit on Capitol Hill that I saw my first double feature (at least, as far as I can remember). The two films were Walkabout and The Last Wave, two Australian films that both featured actor David Gulpilil. As kids (circa 1979-1980), my brother and I found Walkabout bewildering and bleak, so much so that, despite the lateness of the hour, we convinced our parents to let us stay up late to see The Last Wave. I think my fondness for Australian films, the weirder the better, comes from seeing that second movie. I’ve since watched Picnic at Hanging Rock, Incident at Raven’s Gate (released in the States as Encounter at Raven’s Gate), The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, and all of the Mad Max Films, among many others.

From my experience, that remains my quintessential double feature. I think there’s an art to the double feature that goes beyond the basic idea of watching two films of the same genre or from the same director. Those sorts of double features can be served up by a machine algorithm and aren’t that exciting. The films in a double feature should have certain things in common, be it genre or atmosphere, often making picks by the same director easy (I’d feel comfortable pairing any two earlier Wong Kar-Wai films together, in part because his films achieve their striking visuals from his collaborations with Christopher Doyle, but less so with the works of the Coen Brothers). Most of the films I would put together are at that middling state where they complement each other while providing just enough contrast to surprise. I’m not enough of a film enthusiast to come up with combinations that I feel are truly sublime combinations, being more the kind of dullard who would pair The Draughtsman’s Contract with Barry Lyndon, or maybe one of those with Brotherhood of the Wolf, and all because of the period costumes (the latter two for some sort of 18th century cohesiveness works better with that reasoning). For that reason, these are my “Dad Double Features”, not overly adventurous, fun for the family, with something that stands out for me.

In creating this list, I discovered that the cinematography for Rabbit-Proof Fence was by none other than Christopher Doyle with a soundtrack by Peter Gabriel, who composed the brilliant music for The Last Temptation of Christ. I’ve been remiss in not watching it sooner. In the meantime, let’s start with these five pairings of some of my favorite movies.

Cold Fever (IMDB | Wikipedia) / The Last Wave (IMDB | Wikipedia)
Why these two: These films both present cultures from the point of view of outsiders using visuals that juxtapose the real world with nearly fantastic elements. In the former, an encounter with a pair of Americans is counterpointed by the otherworldly girl who restarts his car, while the latter plays the courtroom elements with against mysterious owls and visions of the city drowning.

The Lost Boys (IMDB | Wikipedia) / Near Dark (IMDB | Wikipedia)
Why these two: Two vampire movies, one humorous and one, well, dark. They both seem to have every trope you can think of, with The Lost Boys representing pretty much peak “brat pack” in a teen movie with campy adventure, while the other is Bill Paxton at his best in a road movie that hits all the right vampire movie notes. It’s worth noting that Near Dark is extremely different from Katheryn Bigelow’s subsequent films (Blue Steel and Point Break would pair terribly with Near Dark)

Time and Tide (IMDB | Wikipedia) / God of Gamblers (IMDB | Wikipedia)
Why these two: The charisma of the stars, particularly Wu Bai and Chow Yun Fat, paired with their younger counterparts, both directed by Hong Kong directors at the top of their game in action-packed adventures. I love Hong Kong action and the fight scene during a hurricane in Time and Tide is only one of many stand out elements. God of Gamblers also has great action scenes, but as a New Year film, it mixes in equal parts comedy and romance also.

Night of the Comet (IMDB | Wikipedia) / The Quiet Earth (IMDB | Wikipedia)
Why these two: Both of these movies imagine a world where everyone seems to have mysteriously disappeared. Investigating what happened is the basis of the plot in each case, with very different stories. Night of the Comet was an influence on the Buffy the Vampire TV series and the opening on the vacant streets of LA are eerily reminiscent of the deserted London in 28 Days Later. The Quiet Earth has similar visuals and plays with the themes of vacancy and loneliness, but is far more elegiac than horror-filled.

Brazil (IMDB | Wikipedia) / Time Bandits (IMDB | Wikipedia)
Why these two: Tonally very different, these films are both wonderfully weird. Brazil is a dystopian future with fantastic elements, while Time Bandits is a dysfunctional universe that, apart from the dimension-traveling is conversely more grounded than Brazil. Both feature quirky characters with the map-wielding dwarves (the titular bandits of the movie) knowing way too much about the world underlying the one we perceive, while being far more inept than the Brazil’s repairman, Harry Tuttle. Both movies display director Terry Gilliam’s brilliance who, when he succeeds, he’s magnificent.

It’s alive!

Through the web and database version of mitosis, the development posts and professional content that used to reside here are now in a new location at a brand-new website. The new site, DavidBennettDev now exists as the professional counterpart to this site as I focus more on things like music and games here.

So if you’re looking for my posts on web development, Agile methodologies, coding, and data manipulation, then I encourage you to visit the new site. It’s shiny new from the top down, using Twitter Bootstrap and a bunch of new things that I didn’t care to add here. On the other hand, if you’re looking for my excursions into music, writing, games (of any stripe, be it computer, pen-and-paper, or board), genealogy, maps, and all those things that I find interesting, then you’ve come to the right place.

Coming soon is yet another site, this one focused on my family, my family tree, and things of interest to history and genealogy buffs. Stay tuned for the launch of that site.

Epic Adventure and Spear Carriers

While I’m not a hard-core fan of the Halo video game series, I’ve certainly played my fair share of the franchise, read the books and more. While working on Crimson Skies XBox title, we had the privilege of looking at the controller scheme and played quite a bit of multiplayer LAN matches of the first Halo game as a break from the game we were developing (those of us who weren’t playing Battlefield 1942).

As a result, though, there’s a bit of bias in my enjoyment of the Forward Unto Dawn web series that’s prefacing the release of Halo 4. The series follows a group of cadets training to fight the insurrectionists right when the Covenant launches its first attacks. Seen from the eyes of these ordinary people, Orbital Drop Shock Troopers (ODSTs) are regarded with a certain degree of hero worship, but when we’re introduced to the Covenant and the appearance of a Spartan, we see them all in a different light. In particular, the Covenant Elites are rather terrifying and their appearance in the show makes for great drama.
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Lost in Guangzhou, or The Map is not the Territory

When I was in China last year, I spent most of an afternoon wandering the city of Guangzhou exploring the neighborhood around Yuhu Lake, an area diametrically opposite to my intended destination. I set out from my hotel with a good idea of where I was headed and figured my destination, Yuexiu Park, was so large that there was no way I could miss it. It turns out, I was wrong.

The problems began when I discovered the map I had used to initially orient myself was inadequate for the task of displaying three dimensions. In particular, the area I was headed contained hills, a multi-tier highway, a pedestrian overpass, an elevated railway with a pedestrian underpass, roads running at angles to each other, few visible landmarks, and road signs in Chinese. I’ve since educated myself further on the last point (at least to the extent of knowing Xiaobei Lu translates as Little North Road), but that still would have only helped a little.
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Libraries Matter

The flailing world economy has affected everything, nothing more than the things we take for granted like public parks and libraries. The King County Library System, of which my local library is part, faces chronic budget shortfalls, though they never seem as severe as the woes experienced by Seattle Public Libraries. The rhetoric and reasoning behind cutting back at libraries always seems to focus on the idea that libraries are a luxury or that needs to be run as a business. When we talk about the efficiency of libraries, we miss the point, since libraries are more than the sum of their parts.

Facing even more severe budgetary problems, many libraries in Britain are on the block for closure. For that reason, people like author Philip Pullman are speaking out about the short-sighted nature of the closures. In a recent speech by Mr. Pullman, he said, in part:

“It’s imported the worst excesses of market fundamentalism into the one arena that used to be safe from them, the one part of our public and social life that used to be free of the commercial pressure to win or to lose, to survive or to die, which is the very essence of the religion of the market. Like all fundamentalists who get their clammy hands on the levers of political power, the market fanatics are going to kill off every humane, life-enhancing, generous, imaginative and decent corner of our public life. I think that little by little we’re waking up to the truth about the market fanatics and their creed.”

“And you could go a little further back to the end of the nineteenth century and look at the ideas of “scientific management”, as it was called, the idea of Frederick Taylor that you could get more work out of an employee by splitting up his job into tiny parts and timing how long it took to do each one, and so on – the transformation of human craftsmanship into mechanical mass production.”

He also speaks about the wonders of libraries, their place in society and much more. If you spend time at your local library, you know these things and the importance of libraries and the skilled staff who work in those places. But articulating that defense to someone who sees things only in terms of dollars, who doesn’t think they should be taxed for services they don’t use (a notion that ignores the interconnected nature of society and how funding for schools has an impact on crime rates or how parks affect overall quality of life – intangibles that don’t lend themselves to line items in a budget), is a difficult proposition. The way Mr. Pullman expresses his opposition to the idea that government needs to be run like a business resonates perfectly with my thoughts on the subject.

It was at my local library when I was young that I chanced upon a copy of the script to Monty Python and the Holy Grail, complete with scenes cut for reasons of length. Perhaps not life-changing at that age, but definitely one of the more memorable finds among the cornucopia of offerings that could be found at the Vashon Public Library. And though I use computers all the time and make my living building websites, I still visit the library with my daughter almost every week. Because the internet isn’t a place and a website isn’t a book and a library isn’t a business. A library is something unique and wonderful that can’t be replaced.

What’s the Definition of a Game?

A month ago, I updated my LinkedIn profile to say I was, “…playing and making some games.” I’ve had a few game ideas kicking around and the games I’ve been playing lately have gotten me a bit more motivated to work on my own ideas. My thought was that this small declaration would keep me moving forward and I would actually make some headway on at least one project. As others have noted, ideas are cheap, but seeing a project through to completion is considerably more difficult.

What I hadn’t anticipated was a co-worker asking me what kind of games I was working on. Since my day job is in web development for an HMO, my co-worker was unaware of my background in game design and my continuing interest in doing that kind of work. However, the reason I’m not employed full-time doing game design has more to do with the nature of industry, particularly the crazy hours and my daughter being of an age where she started to think daddy lived in the phone. At the time, people were beginning to take a hard look at some of practices and work environment that went with game development, the most visible being the story of EA Spouse. Just as a case in point, the agency I contracted through gave me vacation time that accrued at a rate of 2 weeks per year based on hours worked. In my first contract, between overtime and the occasional all-nighter, I accrued four weeks of vacation.

So, though I’m not working in the game industry as my day job, I’m still very much interested in games. But my co-worker’s question raised an interesting point: What is the definition of game? Her assumption was that, as a computer guy, I would be turning my energies toward some form of computer game. But even that’s a pretty broad range, given the proliferation of casual games, many of them web-based, alternative reality games, that incorporate many forms of technology including web pages and other technology, and console games, developed on computers despite the hardware being rather specialized.

However, I also play pen-and-paper roleplaying games (Dungeons and Dragons and Ars Magica, among myriad others), I am guilty of having played live-action roleplaying, and I play boardgames, given the opportunity. In fact, about the only thing I don’t play is fantasy football and its real-world team sports analogues.

So, while I’m not planning on creating something like BASEketball any time soon, I’m casting my net considerably wider than trying to develop the next version of Duke Nukem Forever (figuring whatever game I work on still probably has a better chance of seeing the light of day).

Unforgotten Legends

blackmoor_supplementThere have been many game designers and creators of game systems who I admire, but few as much as Dave Arneson. So I was saddened to hear he had passed away last week on April 7th. For someone like me who remembers the original three book Dungeons and Dragons books (as do many others), the Blackmoor supplement remains one of my favorites of all time and the first setting to really capture my imagination and to hold it more than the many others over the years.

Matt Blum wrote in his Wired Magazine column, “It was Arneson’s spark that transformed Gygax’s game Chainmail into the first edition of D&D, and begat everything that followed.” In his career, he was a man of many talents, combining a love of games not just as the developer of D&D, but as a teacher and creator in other mediums including computer games. In the Star Tribune (article no longer available), his daughter said, “…her father enjoyed teaching at Full Sail University in Winter Park, Fla., in recent years, where he inspired future game creators, and taught students to make a solid set of rules for their games.” His approach to games makes more sense to me than that of other designers and probably why some of my earliest favorite computer games tend to resemble computer versions of Arneson’s Temple of the Frog, among them games like Telengard, Temple of Apshai and Wizardry. There are some great insights in this previously unpublished interview with Dave Arneson from 2004.

Though’ll he’ll be missed, we’ll always be grateful for the person he was and the legacy he left. It’s truly a great one.

Daily Schedule

Turns out I keep much the same daily schedule as Ben Franklin without the long lunch.  More or less.  I thought that, “early to bed, early to rise” meant going to bed by 7 PM or something.  Turns out it’s more like 10 PM.

Here’s Benjamin Franklin’s Daily Routine and there are plenty others on this site that make for some pretty interesting reading.

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