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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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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