Just what we need in the 21st century. More ****ing war machines.

I just came across an internet article about how an American "defense" company (Boeing) is now moving to sell its latest F-15 (Silent Eagle) to other countries. It reminded me of the Microprose classic F-15 Strike Eagle, and how my feelings have changed over the years.

Now, at 42, I’m a big ‘ol bleeding heart liberal. I believe America is fundamentally warped (and hopelessly behind the times) by its military-industrial complex. While paying monstrous sums for the latest cutting-edge gold-plated war technology, we’ve become steeped in a…
20th century mindset which views war as inevitable and noble. There was a time when people who thought that way also thought this: profiting off war is immoral. Not so anymore; people naturally expect that Boeing will make (and deserves) a profit from sales of fighter planes to Japan and Europe.

Back in ’92, when I was working on the Harpoon Naval Sim (with a bunch of other guys), I was surrounded by peers who fully understood how horrible a mine injury is. They all could quote Arthur Wellesley ("Nothing except a battle lost can be half so melancholy as a battle won.") And that didn’t stop them from assuming that all the war hardware we were simulating was necessary and appropriate. My boss at the time used to proudly assert that jet engines were "the sound of Freedom".

And with hindsight, I can see that all these people (including myself) were affected by the *sexiness* of those war machines. Whether you’re admiring the sleek lines of the fighter, the god-like armor of the Abrams tank, or the technical sophistication of modern radar, the feelings inside ARE ultimately sexual. Terribly, disturbingly sexual. Young men tend to be driven by such feelings, and the modern US military understands and uses this fact.

So I’m not surprised by the subtitle of the new PS3 game, Killzone 2. "War. Perfected." We don’t want to hear "Plague. Perfected." or "Pus. Perfected." or "Venereal Disease. Perfected." But we’d like to see "Dance. Perfected." or "Race Car Design. Perfected." Killzone 2’s marketing is still telling us that war is inevitable and noble. Even fun to do, like dancing. A marvel of creation and sophistication, like race car design. Sigh.

Lighten up, it’s just a game, right? Yes, but the breadth of games and game idioms that exist today show me that not a single game ever has to have a gun in it, ever again. So we PUT guns in games because they are sexy, alluring, simple to make, comprehend, design, and program. While I’ve never personally coded virtual blood spraying out of a virtual skull, I’ve certainly programmed lots of representations of weapons and death in my career. "Shoot the Core!" is an imperative that ANY gamer can implicitly understand.

This post certainly shades into a much larger philosophical debate about how much we are our brother’s keeper, and how much we can change the world. I’m not gonna go there in this blog. But for this old bleeding-heart liberal game designer, it’s something I can’t just ignore.


Some things, like aerodynamics, automotive mechanics, and woodworking, I learned from my father. For other things, I’m a very self-taught guy. I taught myself programming, yes, but also electronics and circuitry (my father helped with this, too, by buying me lots of stuff). But I’d worked with electronics as a teenager, even soldered a little piece-work for a friend’s company. I didn’t keep up with it, though.

Until a few years ago, when I found a design for a sound box on the web. I got George Sanger involved, ordered a bunch of parts, and broke out the old soldering iron.

We made magic.

Seriously, doing electronics after so many years was…profoundly self-affirming, very validating. I hadn’t fiddled with breadboards and resistor color codes for so long, and yet i COULD get back to it. I hear from my wife that when you don’t use a language, you lose it. But THIS was more like riding a bike. It all came back so easily.

Now, I define myself as a programmer. Software, not hardware. It’s what I’m really an expert at, and I’ve no intention of changing my life’s focus. But now that I’m watching (and participating in) the FM&CG show, I’m inspired to build more circuits, and especially to work more with microcontrollers.

So I ordered a couple of Japanese plastic mecha models, and they came in the mail today. One is smaller, and kinda chunky, which is perfect, ’cause I want to add USB ports to it’s arms and legs, and make it a unique USB hub.

The other is larger, and has lots of pretty translucent parts. I have a vision of adding 20-30 LED lights inside it, and making those lights flash and pulse in complex patterns, driven by a microcontroller.

Still have lots of parts to buy, and fiddly decisions to make. I’ll keep ya posted.

Ah loves me sum giant monsters!

To know me is to know of my love of cheesy giant monster movies, like Godzilla. So it shouldn’t surprise you that (over the years) I’ve dug up some real "gems", like Monster X, a terrible 70’s monster movie starring a silver space chicken.

There’s a new sequel: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GrdxdSPyX_w

I want to see it, of course. And I’m…a well-heeled consumer; I’d happily pay to see it right now. But, as usual, the old ways prevent me. "Guilala!-Monster X Strikes Back" got a theater release in Japan in dec. 2008, so soon it should be on DVD, and thus for sale by importers. There’s some talk that Media Blasters optioned it for release in the USA, for what that’s worth.

But this is the 21st century. Only old thinking keeps me from paying $5 and downloading the movie straight to my Tivo or PC. I could easily bittorrent such movies, and then the film’s producers would get nothing. Instead they insist on packing the data up onto a silver disk, sticking it in a box, and asking $29.95 from me (when they bother at all). Why so much? Because it costs lots of money to make the disc, box, and paper, and put it on the shelf of every video store. Send it to me digitally, for $5, and they make the same amount of profit!

Old thinking.

You know, Daniel James told me 3 years ago that the Singularity was only 32 years away. I fear that (if he’s right) we’ll hit the Singularity with a ton of old thinking in tow, and be squished between them.

Bizarrely, there’s a USA TV ad for a website called The Ladders, which features the monster Guilala prominently. My wife did some googling, and found that it doesn’t mean anything, just that the ad agency really likes giant monsters too.