Monthly Archives: June 2010

MST@MSU 2010 – Planning

On Wednesday, I had the first meeting before the start of the MST@MSU 2010 summer camp, which I am getting really excited about! This is the same camp I worked last year, but things change every year (aside from kids coming and going) so it will still be a fun experience. One of the best parts is that our entire RA is returning, plus we’re adding a new coordinator to help retain as much of Troy’s sanity as we can.

I woke up after only a few hours of sleep and walked over to Bessey, stopping at QD to pick up a bag of chips (Cooler Ranch Doritos) for the luncheon. No one ended up eating any of those chips, so I got to take the whole bag back home for my personal enjoyment, but that’s not important. I showed up about 10-15 minutes early, mostly because I walked a little faster than I thought to the building, and saw Troy standing in the hallway. We talked a little bit before various camp staff started showing up, including Darin. He and I would be the only RAs there, since Mazur is in a different time zone and Priya is… Priya. While I did miss not seeing the rest of the crew, we’ll be having a pre-MST reunion before the camp begins, then living together for two weeks, so it’s not like I won’t be seeing them for a while.

While most of the meeting was centered on the actual instructors, as it should be, there was a fair amount of detail that was relevant for me. Currently, the camp stands at 53 students (one more than last year), with applications still open until July 1st and a couple prospective applicants waiting. Right now, we’re hoping for sixty students, but for me the difference between 53 and 60 is almost negligible. Speaking of the kids, each RA will have their own color group, unlike last year were we had two-and-a-half color groups (Blue, Green, and the half-sized Red). This means that I’ll be responsible for knowing ten-twelve kids, much better than trying to swallow thirty names on the first day last year. Plus, the greater fragmentation of the students will be better for our various team activities (scavenger hunt, field day, ropes course, etc.), which I’m really looking forward to. A little competition never hurt, and I’m hoping that I get Red or Green for my color, but honestly any color would be fine.
Note: I’m going to guess the five colors will be Red, Blue, Green, Yellow, and Orange. The first four are probably definites, with Orange possibly switching for Purple or Brown, but my money’s on Orange.

EDIT 7.6.2010 – Color group information: Red, Green, Blue, Orange, and Purple. I was close… I’m also the leader for Team Green.

Once the meeting was over, I realized exactly how close the camp actually is: in three weeks from this upcoming Saturday, I’ll be moving into Shaw Hall for two weeks. That means I have three weeks to adjust my sleep schedule and mentally prepare myself for running every morning and taking the kids to basketball most likely every day. Of course the camp will be a ton of fun, as it was last year, so I almost wish that it could start sooner, but then again if it did, I’d still wish for it to start early.

Back to the Futureheads

On Friday, I went back home for the weekend and arrived back in Beverly Hills around 1800. I was just back home last weekend, but this trip had one purpose: to see The Futureheads in concert. I’ve been looking forward to this day for a long time, even more so after I ordered the tickets a handful of weeks back. My sister and I drove down to Detroit, arriving at the Majestic around 1945.

The only problem, though, was the timing. When I got the tickets (and when I double-checked right before leaving), the concert was slated to start at 2000. Truth is, this didn’t happen. My sister and I couldn’t even get in the upper room until 2030 or so, with the first warm-up band (The Static Jacks) getting on stage around 2115. They were pretty good, but suffered from a little EQ problem with the lead singer’s mic, making it impossible to hear him over the guitars and drums. Their songs were pretty good, with the third-to-last being on of the best. I cheered them on, especially since there were only about a dozen or so up at the stage (everyone else was way back or sitting down at any of the numerous tables, or hadn’t arrived yet), to show my support.

Next up were The Like, an all-female quartet. I hadn’t heard any of their songs, or even heard of them, until I saw that they were on the bill, and even then I waited until a few days ago to listen to their songs. The ones I was able to fine were really good, so I got excited for them to come on. They played two of the three songs I knew as their first two songs, with the third coming near the end of the set. The microphone’s EQ problem had been fixed, and everything sounded great! The chorus for “Fair Game” was probably my favorite, and may be one of the next little parts I learn on guitar. All of their songs were really catchy, and they had excellent stage presence. Unfortunately, I was about two weeks early to grab their CD, so I’ll need to make sure that I look it up.

Then, the raison d’être: The Futureheads! I was so pumped, and my sister and I kept singing through a bunch of their songs while waiting for them to come on. Since we were right up at the front, we got to take a look at the setlist that the hands had taped down, and it was killer! I think the only way they could’ve had a better set was dropping “Sun Goes Down” in favor for “Area,” but of course they had to make sure a decent amount of their new songs were within their planned set. But still, they played a sweet set! Barry was dripping by the third song, followed by joking about the supplied towels, and my voice was already starting to get raspy.

I didn’t care. I rocked out through the set, singing along and basically not caring about anything else. I was in the perfect place at the perfect time, and I couldn’t have asked for anything better. The ‘Heads were hilarious on stage, even with a couple missed cues and a broken string in the middle of their set (only The Like failed to break a string mid-song tonight). I also got to raise up my vinyl in triumph when Barry required that everyone there buy shirts and CDs from the three bands. When their set was finished, rampunctuous cheering ensued; I got a “FU-TURE-HEADS!” chant going, completely erasing my voice right before the encore.

They played “Work Is Never Done” (This Is Not The World), “The Connector” (The Chaos), and “Man Ray” (The Futureheads), and it was stellar! Based on the energy they showed in the concert’s final moments, they could’ve played another six songs without too much trouble. Such a good band, and so great live! I’m so gald that I saw their tour schedule when I did, since it is their first US tour in four years, just to put another golden memory on my year.

Book Review: Second Foundation (Asmiov)

If you think it’s strange that I’m reviewing the third book of the original trilogy, there actually is a reason for it. This past weekend, I blazed through Foundation and Empire, and I first read Foundation years back, but since I already started Second Foundation I deemed it unfit to write about either of the other two. Plus, since I’ve just read it, I didn’t want to discuss topics or events that fall in one of the other books, or misplace events. So, without blabbering about this any longer, let’s get on with the review! I’ll try to keep spoilers to a minimum as best as I can, but if you haven’t read the books before this in the series, then I can’t do anything for you.

Second Foundation by Isaac Asimov (1953)

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Initial Thoughts: If I remember correctly, I bought this book three or more years ago, along with the first two in the original trilogy, but never read it. I read through Foundation, thoroughly enjoyed it, but never moved onto the sequels. I think that I had it in my mind that the sequels wouldn’t be as good as the first, or I wouldn’t enjoy the story as much (a sentiment still echoed in me not having read anything other than Dune in that titular series), so it languished on my shelf for a few years. Having been back home from college this past weekend, and unable to sleep on a non-college schedule, I decided to read Foundation and Empire late one night, finished it, and packed up Second Foundation in my backpack to take back to my apartment. I was gripped by the story, and Asimov’s writing, once more, and I was excited to read again! What events would befall the First Foundation after being taken over by the Mule? How would Hari Seldon’s plan pan out over the next chuck of time leading to the second galactic empire? Why hadn’t I purchased the other books yet?

The Premise: Second Foundation starts off five years after Foundation and Empire ends with the Mule in control of the Foundation and the various trader worlds, along with a number of other systems, and Seldon’s plan has deviated, potentially irreversibly by the Mule’s actions and existence. The catch is that he knows the lore of the Foundations, and based on some mental gymnastics determined that the Second Foundation, the one barely talked about location somewhere on the other side of the galaxy, is the opposite of the first. Instead of nucleics and advanced technology, they posses the technology of the mind: psychology and in particular psychohistory. The Mule knows that this is basically the only thing that can counteract and derail his own plans at bringing about a galactic empire, so he tasks Channis (an uncontrolled individual from Terminus) and General Pritcher with determining its location and traveling there in order for the Mule to figure out what he’s up against.

Fast forward fifty years with the Mule long-dead and the Foundation returned to a relatively close track to Seldon’s original plan, but its citizens have no idea how close, if their close enough, or if their future was already pushed past the breaking point for bringing about the second galactic empire. After knowledge of the Second Foundation became relatively more widespread (relative to what was known before, which was that it existed at the other end of the galaxy), the first Foundationers decided that their best course of action was to try to develop their own fields of psychology, which had been completely absent when Hari Seldon founded the Foundation (and for good reason), in order to combat the growing threat of the Second Foundation. This is mostly carried out by a small group of individuals located on Terminus, although the inclusion of one of the member’s daughter causes its due amount of excitement and drama, especially when she needs to escape from one of the Kaligan spaceports and the ruler of Kaligan himself. Following that escape, Kaligan and the Foundation begin a large-scale war, which the Foundation eventually wins in accordance to Seldon’s Plan (as believed by the residents of the Foundation territories). Following this, they decide to fight and eradicate the Second Foundation, bringing the Foundation back to the path toward the second galactic empire and ending the original trilogy.

Final Thoughts: This book may have been my favorite of the three with Foundation being an extremely close second, especially the second half of the book. Asimov’s writing just draws you in without relying on pages upon pages of descriptions (Tolkein much?); it’s fast-paced, exceedingly interesting, and a fun story to get caught up in. At multiple points while reading, I would audibly exclaim based on what was happening in the story or a major revelation (like the last sentence of the book). The only thing I regret doing is looking at the Wikipedia page for the series before I finished the book (to check which ones I still needed to get) and caught a glimpse of the location of the Second Foundation, which partially diluted that revelation within the story line, but it didn’t dampen my enjoyment of it.

And right now, I’m back to where I was following finishing the first book. I completed the trilogy, with the prequels and sequels coming much later and only after the fans practically begged for them, so I’m worried that they may feel like the Star Wars prequels to me. I’m sure that I’ll buy them, read them, and enjoy them, but I just don’t know when.

Looking back, I think my return to this series came from my changing sci-fi tastes. Back when I first realized that the sweet books about space travel and alien worlds were actually part of an entire genre of literature, I was all about the grand-scale space operas and far reaching stories. I loved Stargate, Star Wars, Ender’s Game and the sequels, etc. for the range of stories that they contained and the imaginative worlds that the characters went to. Then, during the break in Stargate‘s Season 10 run, I started watching Battlestar Galactica which now ranks with The Office as my top favorite show, and around the same time I started reading Ben Bova, who has become possibly my favorite author. I fell in love with the gritty realism, the relative plausibility of the actions (BSG‘s setting still fell into the “space opera”-esque realm, but the human dynamics entrapped me more), and the connection of themes to current events or modern ideas. Now, I think I may be switching back to the first group with the Foundation series and the change in my video game plans, but I don’t mind. The next book I’m reading is actually Ben Bova’s Mars Life, so I may just be merging the two groups.

I will say that, no matter what sci-fi mood I may be in at any point, I will always enjoy the original Foundation trilogy.

The Game formerly known as ‘Red Mars’

With the continuation of my game development this summer break, drastic changes have come about based on what I want the game to encompass and the story I want to tell. Previously, the game would have panned out as a search-and-rescue/detective mission to Mars to determine the fate of the first manned mission following loss of contact, which is a good idea and one I may revisit, but during development I kept changing my mind. The first change came with the ‘Level 0 – Tutorial’ section where the keys and commands are laid out more interactively than just reading it beforehand or in an FAQ. I had the location for it in a training facility on Earth, then a training facility aboard a ship, and that’s when the game changed.

Why such an expansive ship, and why was a training (re-acclimation for the in-game character) tutorial needed within the story, past telling the player how to do what? Well, it’s a long journey, I thought initially, but you would need years of travel time and some form of suspended animation to make it necessary. So, I added those to the plot, which basically negated the entire plan for the game as I had partially laid it out. I threw out the old maps, started drawing new ones (nothing past the first ship so far…), and decided what I wanted the game to be. Right now, I’m still working on getting all of the in-game mechanics down, as well as the system of menus, as you can see below:

This video is also slightly dated, since I’ve changed the Level 3 Stairwell map in order to center the Bridge on the actual spacecraft, as well as included a root menu feature that I’ll be expanding this weekend. Once that is done, I’ll be moving onto NPC and item interaction (past just picking things up, but actually using items), both of which are related closely to picking up items mechanics-wise. That means that they should be relatively basic to program, especially just simply talking to NPCs. Once I have that set, along with a complete menu and save feature, I’ll include some actual enemies that you’ll need to face in the Cargo Hold, plus a few basic cutscenes that tell part of this opening chapter’s story. Past that, I’ll be back to spending a lot of time drawing sprites and maps for the rest of the game (and possibly changing up some of these sprites, but for now they look fine).

Working title: Red Planet