Free Lunch Studios

Tom Gordon

Tom Gordon's Blother

March 26, 2006

Shiny Unhappy People
And the needle swings back to 'manic' once again. Yay! Just in time, too -- as the Internet was beginning to suffer a massive shortage of badly-rendered, anatomically-distorted six-limbed alien things!

Ah so. I finally broke down and rented "Serenity". Which -- to draw an analogy for those wholly unfamiliar with Firefly's appeal -- is a bit like digging out old letters from somebody you were once madly, hopelessly in love with long ago... and reading them while staring into his/her candlelit portrait. In other words, a curious form of self-torture.

Oh, it was surely nice to discover that Reavers really DO resemble George Romero-esque space zombies rather than just crazy standard-issue human beans. T'was hella grand to see what'd been addling River Tam all this time, witness the highfalutin' doctor and cute prairie-gal engineer finally together at last, and be able to guffaw over snarky Joss Whedon one-liners once again... even if only for a couple of hours. But damn it, all of these plot developments should've had the privilege of unraveling slowly over at least one additional season. Wonder if Book knows if there's also a 'special hell' for visionless media executives who choose to stamp out greatness, and replace it with this femtosecond's reigning reality-themed twaddle?

Anyway, I only mention this here-and-now because my wistful observation of the movie has apparently stoked the Gordonian creative fires, there -- I suspect I'll be uploading a Firefly-themed piece of "art" before too long. And -- as my caricaturing proficency only barely approaches that of Calvin the Counterfeiter -- god help us all. (Oh, all right... Realistic Artistic Assessment Time: I'm fairly certain I can nail down most the female crew members, and Jayne the Classically Square-Jawed Rogue, and prob'ly Wash too. But distinguishing Mal's features from Simon's is just gonna be a gorram pain in the patookus. OTOH, Serenity should be lots of fun to draw -- I just love the design of that ship)

Other news: the new/olde Wallstreet laptop's of mine's still taking some getting used to. It's fine and dandy for browsing and retrogaming and digesting assorted documents. But when it all comes back to Basic Productivity 101, there's much to be desired. For one thing -- the unit's surprisingly heavy, and the temperature of its bottom regularly approaches that of a medium-sized oven. As I'm one of those mindless twits who foolishly believed the term 'laptop' implied performance of computing tasks with the machine sitting in one's LAP -- no doubt I'll be rendered sterile and/or plagued with inexplicable charlie-horses for the rest of my life, before long. Another incessant whiney gripe is the keyboard itself -- it's set so far back that I usually have to impersonate Quasimodo to see whatever it is I'm typing. And the keys themselves have the tactile quality of your average late-seventies Speak & Spell -- I suspect if I even look at one of them cross-eyed, it'll break off.

On the plus side: wireless fargin' Internet. Love it, love it, love it. The first time I fired the WiFi modem up and felched packets of laughably frivolous content from the ether, for a very brief moment I experienced a pale ghost of the same 'whole new world opening up before my eyes' rush/wonder that'd hit me back in 1995, during my initiation to the Web. Of course, this present-day realization ("hey look, no cables necessary!") was but a mere feather being brushed against my cheek compared to that previous Sledgehammer of Readily Accessible Global Communications Lashing Together The Great Human Database At Last (And Free Pr0n Too), coming down upon my overwhelmed cranium and spewing a grey tapioca-like substance outta my ears.

Alas. We take so much for granted, nowadays...

March 8, 2006

Games People Play
Hooray! My very first posting from the new (old) laptop. As you can see from that previous photo of feline sleep-imperialists (just try moving Buster out of that chair without bleeding profusely), last week I bought a "WallStreet" G3 PowerBook on eBay for a scant hundred greenbacks. A most excellent transaction, as the owner had lovingly souped up the RAM, processor, harddrive -- and sweetened the deal further with a removable pocket-sized Zip and wireless modem. It'll be lots of fun trying that last out at the local Starbuck's, since the entire world of wi-fi's still a new one on me. Should also mention the computer's roughly equivalent to a Swiss Army knife, sporting more comm ports than I'll probably ever need -- while still being fully compatable with ALL my existing laughably obsolescent software/hardware. Heck, the darned thing even dual-boots between OS 9 and OS X! Go, tech-hoarding nerdery, go!

Speaking of pocket-protecting dorkitude, here's a drawing that was always 'on the tip of my tongue' (so to speak) for decades, but never found an proper avenue until I visited a local GamePlace chain, uneasily stepped around bug-eyed teenagers noisily perforating anime-themed eldritch horrors on XThings and PlayCubes, and encountered one of those all-in-one "classic gaming" joystick units:

Dalek-esque automatons bubbling and shooting lightning bolts! A lone agent, running and leaping back and forth with a curious fluidity (almost as if his component animated sprites had found previous use in a sports-themed video game)! World-saving puzzle clues, inexplicably placed in such unlikely locations as bathtubs, long-necked lamps and something that resembled Robby the Robot's amputated head! Such was "Impossible Mission" (AKA "Jumpman on Steroids").

Great Zeus, I freakin' loved Epyx. When the Free Lunch Studios site was first... uh, 'established,' I proudly featured a downloadable WAV of Elvin's menacing introduction to set the audience-alienating 'mood' (which continues to this very day). Somewhat presumptuous, considering the "content" then was little more than a grey-hued collection of mercifully long-dead links -- but there you have it. And NBC should really be providing that company's programmers a subsidy/stipend, for having grabbed a generation of sports-loathing computer enthusiasts years ago, and turned 'em to future Olympics afficionados.

Watching all the snowy drama couple weeks ago also got me thinking about the team Epyx would've brought to Torino. They were a major competitive force at one time, don'tcha know. See, in "Winter Games" et al, you'd always get to choose what nation your electronic alter-ego gets to perform triple lutzes for (I always picked Canada, not out of any sense of American self-loathing, but because their SID-ified national anthem sounded the best). And among this selection of assorted people's republics and oversocialized banana states was a strange new kingdom called "Epyx." Really. With its own Rodin flag and everything!

Where was it located? (One contemplates a self-contained arcology, rife with high-speed lifts and lots of badly-placed ventilation shafts maximizing the chances of an Epyxian citizen "accidentially" plummeting to his death.) What kind of government did it have? (Given the Thinker symbology, evidently some rule by smarty-pants know-it-all intellectuals -- commie communist, of course.) Did they have voting privileges in the UN? (Seems likely, if they're rubbing elbows with Norway at the Games.) And -- most importantly of all -- did they sign the Kyoto accords? (Feh.)

I jest, of course. Yet just imagine how much fun it would be if companies and corporations were able to compete for gold medals, just like their terrritorial counterparts. Oh, probably not in THE Olympics, proper; leftist Tranzies all over the globe would scream "blasphemy!" upon hearing that... almost as quickly as they kowtow to newly-fabricated Islamic prohibitions-of-the-moment. But the megacorps could create their own competing version -- call it the "Trade Games" or something -- with the same unusual sports, host cities, quasi-religious torch-toting pomp and ceremony, et cetera.

To quote Christian Bale's Bruce Wayne, it'd sure be "damn good television." And just THINK of the great public-relations value (to say nothing of the advertising/economic boon!) such an event would provide to the participants. When people think of "the business world", they usually envision Evil White Men in suits and ties, frolicking decadently in piles of gold like Scrooge McDuck, Well, with the Trade Games, a company could put forth an recognizable identity before the world; complete with their own unique flags, anthems, uniforms, and so on. And the colorful athletes themselves would represent a much-needed image change from the bloated top-hat 'n monocled caricature that has been with us for far too long, there.

So! Who's up for watching a white-knuckled curling match between McDonald's and Halliburton?

(crickets, chirping)

Erm. Guess it's Totally Brilliant Ideas like this, that explain why I make pretty pictures for (not even remotely) a living.

March 4, 2006

Geekier Than Thou
Useless furballs

(I hate my cats.)

So it appears John Varley cancelled I-CON 25 -- damn. Probably just as well, as his most unprecedented appearance there would've been the Mother of All Arguments convincing me to attend. Oh, I'll probably still go anyway -- if for no other reason than this'd be the first where I actually have something resembling 'money' to spend (on worthless plastic bric-a-brac, undoubtedly). And besides, rubbing elbows with the likes of Spider Robinson, Rowena Morrill and Charles Stross' nothing to shrug at, either. So we'll see.

One of the things that truly annoys me about cons, though (besides not getting credited whenever I win program cover-art competitions) is that there's no social 'crossover,' for lack of a better word. I've been to at least eight or nine of these things since 1987, and I can't tell you how many times I've attempted to strike up a friendly conversation with a complete stranger/fellow fandividual -- and gotten little more a cold stare and even colder shoulder for the trouble.

Cheeses cripes, one would think that at a rare gathering of science fiction and fantasy enthusiasts, there'd be SOME vague sense of 'outsider/outcast' comradery -- much more so than say, at the local mall in Podunk, USA. But of course, it's the same old story; even on alleged 'friendly ground,' safely removed from the pigskin-throwing jocks and water-cooler mundanes and avid "Everybody Loves Raymond" watchers, fen nevertheless still huddle together into obscure, narrow little cliques amidst a larger 'fringe' subculture. Unless you're an obsessive "Doctor Who" completist -- we don't want your kind here! Eh? You play D20 role-playing games, but not GURPS? Scram -- we don't want your kind here! Hey, those your drawings? Lemme take a look -- WHA? Where's the required oversized Bambi eyes and nonexistent nose? Get lost -- we don't want your kind here!

And so it goes. I don't know.. maybe it's just because people already come to these things in a socially pre-damaged state there, where years of mockery by soi-disant "normal folk" have formed a hard chitinous shell that no one -- save those elite few who ALSO love to write Harry Potter-themed fanfic, paint miniatures, etc -- can penetrate. (Or maybe I'm deluding myself, and they all really ARE Comic Book Guy-type priques.)

IAE, it's just sad. And come Sunday afternoon -- when the dealers have packed up and the displays torn down and the "normal folk" have taken back the campus from the invading armies of weirdos -- it becomes a regular source of aching, hopeless depression for me.

Because if there's ONE thing I've been sorely looking for all my life, it's a 'scene.'

March 2, 2006

Gooey GUI
Ah yes, that obligatory early March snow, a presumed death knell for a Geriatric Personification of Winter. I swear, if I hear one more person belching "in like a lion, out like a lamb", that repeat-o-bot individual's gonna quickly find their nice pretty dental work rather nastily mucked up with a handful of gravel-laced frozen slush. Or (better yet) be wholly cast off kicking and screaming into one of my typical mediocre sketchbook entries, and forced to fend for themselves against a hungry Somewhat Chartreuse Great Worm:

And why DO they always collect virgins? I mean, I can see why THAT would matter to Sir Testosterone, Square Jawed Sword Toting Adventurer, who's anxious to rid the town of its overly-scaly pyromajestic scourge. But why would the DRAGON care? (Somehow, I suspect Phil Foglio probably has a warped theory about that. I dare not inquire further.)

Anyway, among lots of other things, I've recently been trying my hand at (badly) making OS X icons using (duh) Iconographer. Unfortunately, with Apple's Aqua-themed design paradigm firmly embedded in place -- decreeing that all digital iconography bobbing in nausea-inducing Dock waves must either be miniature photographs/3D-modeled symbols, or else something that looks like a translucent stylized Gummi Bear -- making 'em's a far more labor-intensive task than my 256-color, System 7 whimsy-filled heyday's offerings:

And as it's virtually a requirement now that any graphickal work be done up in Adobe Photoshop (so as to get achieve them primo masking/translucency effects), with that imagesmith's juggernaut at one's disposal, it would also appear that the era of cleverly wrangling limited ResEdit palettes into dithered checkerboards, and all the other pointless skills associated with 'pixel art' are finally numbered.

"Hooray! The creator now has total freedom!" Well, yeah, but... y'all can call me an aging, reactionary dinosaur if you want -- I think there's also something to be said for the invention and ingenuity that -- cruel contradiction of contradictions! -- only comes through when there are boundaries (within limits) in place. After all, you can get pretty darned creative with your Crayolas, if you're forced to color inside the lines. Heck, just look at all the wonderful music that came from arranging eight simple Oppressively Arrogant and Eurocentric notes. And the Internet is just filled to overflowing with assorted clever 'mods' of games thrown together with 'construction set' style tools. Et cetera.

"Today's news flash: Tom Gordon calls for the wholesale suppression of artistic liberty! Is he a brownshirted fascist? An uptight, born-again Christer? Or just another sellout to the top-hatted Corporate-Industrial Plutocracy?" Oh, for the love of -- never mind. Fine! Enjoy your effin' splatter canvases with their pretentious titles, and that occasional knuckling under to bug-eyed demands of Islamodorks. See if I care!
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