New passport review

Well, since I'm going to Québec again on the 19th, I ordered a new passport. I had one from my trip to Japan some time ago, but it expired since then. So I got the new photos taken at Kinko's...they used a digital camera and I ended up with essentially a colour printout of a couple of pictures. The quality wasn't that great, but I guess most people are used to bad passport pictures. My last one was pretty good, so I guess I had higher expectations.

Well, I paid the extra fee for expedited service and express mail return delivery, so it cost me about twice as much as it would have if I'd had the money to do it earlier. The service was actually very prompt and without trouble, to my surprise. After my trouble at the DMV in getting a replacement driver license all thanks to their increased "security", the replacement passport was very straightforward. Took only about a week, even though they said it would take 2 weeks. I received my new passport 2 days after seeing on my online banking that they'd cashed the check. Happily, they also returned my old passport (cancelled with a stamp and 2 holes punched in it), so I still have that memento of my travels.

So, the new passport style...well, it's prettier with all the colours and shiny seal on the main page, and the font is better than before, but the cover material is thinner than the previous one. Also, the photo is not one of the two I sent in. It's clearly been scanned and re-printed on the page with the rest of the information, and the contrast is harsher and the colours are uglier. Half of my face is stark white. Why did they require I send 2 pictures if they weren't going to use one of them for the passport itself, like they did before?

Well, that's my only real gripe about it. I notice that the new passport has 6 pages of general information before the visa marks start, where the previous one had only 3. The rest of the pages are decorated with bluish watermarks of all the state seals, different on each page. A nice design decision, and probably good for anti-counterfeiting purposes, too.


Very specialised humour

I don't expect most people to get this, because it's in German and it's along the lines of Spamusement! humour, but I found it hilarious, and I decided to share it. A little background info: I had written down a line from a song that I was having trouble remembering, from Melotron's Manchmal. The line is:

So, a few days later, Martha found this notepad on my desk, and she drew a little cartoon for it to caption:

LOL! What more is there to say?


GTA: San Andreas, the "Hot Coffee" mod

It's sort of old news now, but I'm very disturbed by the huge disaster that's been made over the Hot Coffee mod that hacks GTA: San Andreas to allow the player to execute code that was otherwise inaccessible, to allow the character CJ to have sex with his girlfriend. Unlike some people who are quick to judge things that they haven't bothered to actually try out, I've played the game, in depth. And an amazing game it is. It has broken the record for PS2 game sales, and it well deserves that record.

The game is meant for adult audiences -- it's rated M, which means no one under 17 may buy it. I haven't watched any gangster movies other than Pulp Fiction and Kill Bill -- I assume Boys In the Hood would be a better comparison if I had seen it, but the level of grittiness (violence and language-wise) seems on par with those two movies. As gritty as they were, they were rated R, not NC-17, and certainly not X, which is the equivalent revised rating they've given GTA: San Andreas. Setting aside for the moment that you cannot see the sex in the game without hacking it, let me describe how the sex is portrayed:

The sex occurs between CJ and a girlfriend only after many dates where we see them smiling, laughing, holding hands, and kissing in the cinematics that play after successful dates. CJ must wait for her to offer the sex, after he has been dating her for a while and been treating her well. He cannot force it on her. It is entirely consensual and positive, and an entirely believable thing for a happy couple to be doing.

You see no penis, no vagina, no penetration, no closeups, no sound effects other than an occasional moan from the girlfriend if you're doing well. A movie with this content would get no more than an R rating.

Aside from the fact that there is no way to access the sex in the normally-played game, it is evident that Rockstar decided not to use it and left this code unfinished, because CJ is entirely clothed during the sex, and there is no music in the background.

Movie directors never get this kind of outrageous attention when they leave a few scenes on the cutting room floor to achieve a lighter rating. That is exactly what game producer Rockstar did -- they edited out a game feature. A piece of software is not as easily edited as a movie. Removing chunks of code can be tricky and if it's not done very carefully, it can cause the whole thing to become unstable. They were well within their rights to lock it away, unused like a vestigal organ. If someone found a way to make it work again, that is not Rockstar's fault. Indeed, their user license expressly forbids the kind of reverse-engineering required to have done this.

I am further disturbed by a seeming inability of the news media to understand the reality of the situation. Time and again I see people reporting that Rockstar first denied creating the Hot Coffee content, then changed their story. I read their statement, and they did nothing of the sort. They blamed the hacker for doing what was forbidden, reverse-engineering the game, to create the mod that allowed players to see this abandoned code. They didn't say the hacker created the content of the Hot Coffee mini-game, they just said in a carefully worded statement that the sex was not a part of the finished game, as they released it. I quote: "...the 'hot coffee' scenes cannot be created without intentional and significant technical modifications and reverse engineering of the game's source code". Get it right, media people. You're doing them more harm than good. They are the victims here.

"The editing and finalization of any game is a complicated task and it's not uncommon for unused and unfinished content to remain on the disc," also said the spokesman. Similarly, another lesser-known mod for this game allows players to re-enable a skateboard into the game. Rockstar had planned to include skateboard riding, but abandoned that code, too, yet vestiges of it are still in the code. And in the same way, a player will never see the skateboard unless it is hacked back into the game like Hot Coffee was. Even then, the skateboard is even less finished than Hot Coffee, and even with the mod, you will not be able to ride the skateboard, because Rockstar just never got that far into the programming before abandoning it.

Despite how some people make it out, this game is not nonstop mindless violence and sex. It has a solid, realistic story with excellent scripting, well-respected actors such as Samuel L. Jackson playing the characters (see the IMDB listing for more big names), and a boatload of non-violent activities to pursue. You do not have to go around shooting people (which is exactly what you have to do in most other first person video games). In this game, it is the choice of the player. GTA is primarily a driving game, and you don't even need to carjack people's cars to go for a drive. There are plenty of unoccupied cars and other vehicles available to drive. Here are some of the more "inoffensive" activities available:

  • Playing basketball: Shoot hoops solo, trying to make baskets from different areas on the court. Just go to the court and pick up the basketball to start playing.
  • Playing billiards: A full-featured, very fun (if you like playing pool) pool game played against a computer opponent or another player. Realistic billiard ball physics, different viewing angles, and a helper for difficult angles. Just go to the local pub down the street and talk to the guy standing by the pool table to start playing.
  • Playing video games: Yes, within the game you can play other games. There are 3 or 4 different 90s-style arcade games at various locations in the game world.
  • Bicycle delivery: Quite fun and challenging. Deliver packages from a food mart to various locations all over town, within the time limit. You have to deliver more and to more widely scattered locations as levels progress.
  • Taxi service: A lot like the game Crazy Taxi. Pick up passengers and get them to their destination within the time limit. Bonuses for speed and the levels get progressively more challenging. Remember, although you can drive like a maniac, you are punished for hitting pedestrians or other things -- hitting pedestrians will make the police start chasing you and you could end up busted and lose all of your items and some of your money. Similarly, hitting other things and damaging your car too much can end the taxi mission, or make it blow up and you'll end up in the hospital, which also makes you lose all your items and some money. The goal of driving is to drive skillfuly, avoiding collisions with anything.
  • Paramedic: Injured people need your help! Pick up people in an ambulance and get them to the hospital on time. Drive carefully, or they might die!
  • Firefighter: Extinguish fires across town in a fire truck.
  • Vigilante: Assist the police in chasing down dangerous criminals.
  • BMX challenge: Ride your bike, doing trick jumps and riding up and down ramps and half-pipes to catch all of the rings throughout the bike park, within the time limit.
  • Triathlon: Swimming, then running, then...I don't know, because my stamina wasn't high enough to get further than that.
  • Boxing and martial arts matches: Available at the various city gyms.
  • Dancing: DDR-style arrow-based dancing moves.
  • Lowrider bouncing competition: Arrow-based just like the dancing, but you're bouncing your lowrider's hydraulics to the arrow beats.
  • Exploring: The game world is huge and detailed. Just exploring the scenery, the cities and the wide and varied countryside is a pleasure in itself. But there are also specific exploration-related activities you can pursue:
  • Collecting oysters: There are 50 valuable oysters to be found underwater all over the state, for those who would like the challenge of finding them all.
  • Collecting horseshoes: There are 50 horseshoes scattered throughout one of the cities to find as a scavenger hunt.
  • Graffiti: There are 100 gang tags on walls throughout one of the cities that the player can cover up with a spraypaint can.
  • Photography: There are 50 particularly scenic locations that the player can find and photograph for another bonus.
  • Unique jumps: There are 70 ramps throughout the state which will give you a bonus if you find them and jump them in a car or bike.
  • Just going for a drive: Cruise downtown with the radio on your favourite early 90s station (there are quite a few to choose from, even though the amount of content seems to be on the slim side) or fire up your own custom folder of mp3s interspersed with 90s DJ chatter and amusing fake commercials. Or drive along the coastal highway. Turn on some thumping bass and cruise your hydraulic-bouncing lowrider down the inner city streets. Drive through rural country roads and watch the farms go by while listening to country music if you prefer.
  • Dating: The dating is a whole game in itself. Meet certain girls, dress up or work out in the gym to impress them (they all have different tastes), bring flowers, take them to restaurants or out dancing, or various other activities (also based on their tastes). Personally, I think the Hot Coffee mod is a welcome and challenging addition to the dating portion of the game, but you still have the option of declining to go inside for "coffee", if you so desire. Keep the girls happy by giving them plenty of attention and dating them often, or your relationship status will go down.
  • Stadium racecar driving: Do laps around a racetrack with a bunch of computer opponent cars, with an announcer and a cheering crowd.
  • Attending flight school: You get your pilot license this way, allowing you to legitimately fly planes in the game.
  • Plane and helicopter flying: For fun, for transportation, or for challenging race and checkpoint missions.
  • Parachuting
  • Base jumping
  • Horse racing
  • Various full-featured casino games: Including video poker, blackjack, roulette, slot machines. and wheel of fortune.
This is nowhere near all of the non-violent things you can do. This is what I've found after exploring less than 1/3 of the locations in the game. I haven't even mentioned the ability to go clothes shopping at the several different kinds of clothes shops and getting different styles of haircuts, customising your cars at auto shops, etc. There is much, much more to do, in addition to the more gangster-oriented storyline missions. This game is literally dozens of games in one; scores of games, even. An incredible value.

Rockstar deserves awards, accolades, and lots of money for this game, not the huge costs of recalling discs, carefully editing the game code to remove the already-censored sexual content in an already adult-rated game, being careful to keep the software stable -- and they certainly don't deserve a Federal Trade Commission investigation.

And for reason's sake, politicians, shut the hell up about "the children". The game is for adults. I'm an adult, and I want to play the goddamned game. Stop trying to turn the whole world into a nursery.


People I can do without:

Okay, computer. Time for an actual rant. After all, that's what title says. And this one's about a particular breed of Newgrounds user. This is the type who thinks it's all about him.

Here's the thing. My personal creative works are not designed with a mass market appeal in mind. Yes, some people flame me for my art style, not because of the technical skill, but because in their minds I'm just trying to cash in on the recent popularity of anime. Never mind the fact that I've been drawing anime-style since the mid-1980s, long before the recent surge in anime's popularity, even before most of these people had been born, and that my strongest influences are a wide range of artists that even many hardcore anime fans have never heard of. Ebi Fry, anyone? Ramiya Ryo? Amagi Kei?

But that's not the main rant. The type I'm talking about is the type who ignores my descriptions of what audience one of my works is intended for, and insists on watching it himself -- only to angrily complain about the fact that he doesn't understand it. Indeed, many flames amount to "I don't understand the point, therefore there is no point."

First taking as an example the Pink Lemonade Valentine's Day card: It is obvious that this card was intended for lesbian women to send to their loved ones on Valentine's Day. How could anyone take it any other way? Yet, time after time I got reviews from guys saying "I can't send that to my girlfriend -- she'd hit me!" Well, that's because it's not meant for you, genius. I even got such complaints after I spelled out in clear language in the description who the intended audience is.

The second, and more major example is Cutethulhu, recently resurrected in Newgrounds consciousness thanks to it being featured on the front page as part of a promotion for the H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival contest (which incidentally I don't think Cutethulhu can enter, since it's already been shown there at least once).

I stated very clearly in its description that it was not meant for a wide audience, and that only literary-minded people (specifically fans of the writings of H.P. Lovecraft) would get it. Incredibly, a statistically significant number of angry people were of the harshly-worded opinion that I should write stories that everyone can understand. That is, I should not give my intended crowd the specific material that they can appreciate -- that which is lacking in mass entertainment in general. Why are Hollywood movies so trite and cliché, you may ask? I believe it's precisely because of this attitude.

As Joel Hodgson said regarding MST3K, "The right people will get this." That is the kind of writing that I applaud. No pandering to the masses, but being true to oneself. I write for my sort of people. People who think like me, and appreciate the things I appreciate. In my opinion, there is not enough entertainment for people like me -- and it's clear from the enthusiasm of the many positive reviews that there are plenty of people like me who feel the same way. They -- you, if you're reading this -- are my audience. As for anyone else...my analogy went like this: If I'm performing a rock concert, should a classical music magazine review it? I would say not.

And yet even though I take pains to ensure that viewers are aware what my work is like, there are people who actively seek it out for the express purpose of loudly complaining and insulting it, as if they can't stand the idea that other people like what they hate. This is akin to someone who hates a particular standup comedian (let's say George Carlin) going and attending every George Carlin show in the area, just so he can heckle and raise a fuss. This is sad. Such people's insults have no bite, no weight, because they are simply irrelevant.

And the right audience will understand that.



Now that I actually understand CSS a little better, rather than just flailing around in the dark like I was before, I've made some small improvements to the design here. Chances are, the casual visitor won't notice anything different, but I've made better use of space, which adapts to people's browsers, and added a few extra CSS classes that I can use to throw in some more pizzazz to my posts, should the occasion arise.

Edit: Okay, so Internet Exploder doesn't handle absolutes the way Firefox does. So here's a slightly uglier solution that works in both, even if it's uneven depending on your font sizes.

Edit 2: Well, the ugliness is fixed, and it's no longer uneven. Even though it behaves quite differently between Firefox and IE if you resize smaller than the width of the widest graphic in the main column, the effects aren't too bad.


What I would like:

If anything deserves to have an absolutely faithful animated version made of it, it's Courtney Crumrin and the Night Things. This comic by Ted Naifeh embodies everything I love about fairies, wizards, and witches.

By "absolutely faithful," I mean that it should be animated exactly as Ted drew it and wrote it -- nothing added (unless Mr Naifeh wants to add something he may have omitted in the comic), nothing taken away. No directorial indulgences nor toning things down to appeal to the kiddies or to placate angry religious fanatics.

News tells that Fox has picked it up for a live action movie version. I have mixed feelings about that. Personally, I would much rather see it animated. Indeed, it would be a dream project for me. I can think of nothing I'd rather animate (aside from my personal projects, naturally -- I'm talking about paying work here) other than this. Now if only The Dream by Birthday Massacre could be snuck onto the soundtrack, it would be all the better, methinks.

My fear about the Fox movie is that it will change it into something other than what it is. I have never seen a faithful comic-to-movie adaptation, and there is absolutely no reason for that. Unlike novels-to-movies, a comic is already in a visual medium, complete with timing. It is already written for the screen. Indeed, movies are shot from storyboards, which are, essentially, comics. So, while this movie will no doubt be a good thing in terms of money and exposure for Mr Naifeh, I think I'll stick with the comics.

At the time of this writing, I have read two of the completed stories in the Courtney Crumrin series (a third has recently been released). It concerns a young outcast girl brought to a new town by her vacuous socialite parents to live with the family patriarch -- a brooding, reclusive, and imposing gentleman. Courtney immediately becomes the object of torment at the local school, and soon happens upon hidden things belonging to her grandfather, providing knowledge of a sort that is very useful in her travails, both pedestrian and otherworldly.

A premise that could easily have failed at the hands of a lesser writer, this story is told masterfully and is satisfying all the way through. The art is appealing and both stylised and detailed, and the writing is rich with folkloric detail, which appears to be primarily from Celtic sources if I recognise it correctly. The only other comic that I've read that so well utilised such folklore was the original Mage: The Hero Discovered series by Matt Wagner. Both are highly recommended.