Thursday, March 31, 2005

"I'm On My Way."

Dick Tracy
's on my mind.

It's one of my favorite movies for a few reasons, despite the fact that it concerns a comic strip character that few people remember now, and that it's been accused in some quarters of being nothing but absolute camp.

Sooner or later you're gonna be mine,
Sooner or later you're gonna be fine.
Baby, it's time that you face it,
I always get my man.

I'll admit that the dialogue needs work, and that the casting director could have gotten some better actors in some cases - the makeup does most of the work anyway. But for me, a writer who tends to dwell on plot and characterization as the most important elements in a story, this movie is a revelation.

Sooner or later you're gonna decide,
Sooner or later there's nowhere to hide.
Baby, it's time, so why waste it in chatter?
Let's settle the matter.
Baby, you're mine on a platter,
I always get my man.

Dick Tracy is a unique movie in that it creates an atmosphere that has never been equaled. It's that atmosphere that makes it ultimately watchable, if only because you just can't help marvelling at everything. The set designers resolved to use only primary colors to set the tone of the gangster-era comic strip, and the extensive painted backgrounds only served to highlight the artistic feel of the set.

But if you insist, babe, the challenge delights me.
The more you resist, babe, the more it excites me.
And no one I've kissed, babe, ever fights me again.
If you're on my list, it's just a question of when.
When I get a yen,
Then baby, Amen.

I'm counting to ten, and then...

Adding to the visual atmosphere is - of all people - composer Stephen Sondheim, who is very well-known for his Broadway musicals. What makes his part in this movie interesting is that, where you expect a comic-based gangster-era movie to be fast-paced, Sondheim contributes a number of pieces that alternate between fast and slow, reckless and thoughtful, exultant and depressed. His pieces end up fleshing out the characters and the settings significantly, allowing them to laugh and cry just as we do.

Maybe it shows,
She's had clues, which she chose to ignore.
Maybe though she knows,
And just wants to go on as before.
As a friend, nothing more
So she closes the door.

Dick Tracy took home three Academy Awards, none in any of the acting categories: Best Song (in a category traditionally dominated by Disney), Best Art Direction / Set Design, and, appropriately, Best Makeup. To this day, I still look upon it as one of the best examples of effective mood and setting in live visual media.

Quite interesting, I think, for a movie that's actually an adaptation of a comic strip. Eat that, Garfield. :)

I'm gonna love you like nothing you've known,
I'm gonna love you, and you all alone.
Sooner is better than later but lover,
I'll hover, I'll plan.
This time I'm not only getting,
I'm holding...

* "I'm On My Way" promotional poster from .
* "Sooner or Later" lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. It's a nice song. Don't sue me.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Playing Catchup

Hey, I'm back.

Seeing that I was going out of town from Thursday to Saturday last week, I took some leave off work last Tuesday and Wednesday. All the preparations and packing I did - as well as the small vacation itself, which was in a place that didn't have Internet access - mean that today is literally the first time in a week that I've been able to go around the Net.


That's not good, especially considering my level of entrenchment in the virtual lifestyle.

I had 12 messages waiting in my office inbox when I got back. This wasn't particularly impressive, but on the other hand, most of my company's clients go on leave for the Holy Week holidays, too.

I had almost 50 messages spread out over my two different public e-mail addresses, though, and only about one-fifth of that number was spam. Most of the e-mails centered around blogging, Alan Moore, and the triple-ko aspect of go, for some reason.

No new comments for blog entries... how sad. But then again, my last article came out quite some time ago.

The L5R boards offered up about 200 new card rulings, which took me about three hours to slog through. I'm beginning to believe that, contrary to popular opinion, the attraction of the L5R CCG isn't in the rich game, the creative deckbuilding or the vibrant community; The attraction of L5R is in knowing each and every one of the game's little nuances, which explains why I spent three hours of my life catching up on some of the strangest rules questions ever asked.

Some blog writers went out of town as well, but those who stuck around have updated their entries a bit: Sacha's out sick, Dominique has a review of The Vagina Monologues up, Clair's working on quite a few tanaga, and Jac is putting out a new webcomic starting tomorrow.

Speaking of webcomics, I'll have to get up to speed on them as well. Sitting high on my list are the manic Sluggy Freelance and creative Partially Clips, but I figure that Liberty Meadows and Wildguard - albeit not webcomics per se - will also be worth checking out.

Then there's the issue of pending projects. I still have that comic script to complete, for one, and then there's also the prospect of finishing up a second batch of puzzles in time for my birthday, which will come around in just over a month. I've also got to continue Antaria sometime, but that can wait till I finish catching up on the ways of the virtual world.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Casting Call

Finally got my hands on a copy of Nautilus Comics' Cast #4 a couple of days ago. I first mentioned the series in a previous blog entry, and back then I promised that I wouldn't do a review until I was relatively well into the story.

Admittedly, I'm not really well into the story yet. But I do have a few choice comments on how it's progressing so far.

The fourth issue of Cast follows multiple plot threads - a class field trip, a mall gimik, and a blind date all at the same time. We get to see how a number of characters relate to other people - parents, classmates, the cute girl sitting across the table - and it feels like an introduction, in a way. It's a strange arrangement, for a fourth issue.

I feel that the major weakness of Cast lies in the fact that it has too many characters for the reader to reference. At the moment, I still find it difficult to say how each of them thinks and feels because I'm simply not familiar with most of them. While the emotional situations presented in the series do have some impact, I find myself unable to empathize with whoever's going through whatever. The fact that the fourth issue's art duties were handled by a guest artist doesn't help much in this regard.

That assessment allows me to raise my justification for a review at this point: We're at the fourth issue, and we should be well into the story already. But we're not. Why? Because we're still making introductions. We've got too many characters to flesh out.

In addition, I think the comic really needs a better touch of detail in order to burn the stories into its readers' minds. Where was Janina going for her field trip? What's the name of the restaurant that Lel's (at least I think it's Lel's) family handles? What does Erica model for? Little details like these are important for making each of the characters distinct and coherent.

On the plus side, I think I can name all the characters on the cover of the issue now. But I still need a little help from the little guide that appears on the inside front cover.

Interestingly, though, the backup story was pretty good. We get a look at some characters outside the two schools, and we get a beautiful observation about what being in a relationship really means. While it didn't offer much in the way of specific introduction, it provided excellent character development.

The essay on Beta-Carotene didn't leave such a good impression on me, though. I'm actually familiar with it - I also entered the same Roche-sponsored contest back in 1994, although apparently Jaime Bautista's submission took it all home. The true issue there involved how to make a lecture on Beta-Carotene into an interesting, readable essay, and I think that Bautista deserved every inch of that first-place trophy. It's a very good piece of writing, easily comparable to making a silk purse from a sow's ear.

The trouble is that, even though it's a very good piece of writing, it's an old piece of writing - it's over ten years old. Why would Cast bother printing something that's over ten years old? I mean, it has little to do with the comic's subject matter to begin with. Does it look to resurrect old glories, perhaps? Bring us back to simpler times and more poignant writing exercises? Fill out a few more pages of the issue? The presence of the Beta-Carotene essay puzzles me.

So do I have anything good to say about the fourth issue? Sure. I love the Janina-Jem conversation, and Jem feels more fleshed out to me than any other character I've seen in the series. Will and Meg's first exchange is right on the money. And there are all these nagging questions about where Erica is, and how she feels now that she's been kicked out of the play.

However, I'd like to see a lot more with regards to the series. It's hardly been a story so far - it's been more of an endless character walkthrough, if you ask me. Unless Cast #5 does something pretty drastic about this, I might not be reading this series much longer. For a comic about high school students experiencing life as they prepare for a major production, I think that it may have some serious growing up to do.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

The Demise of Dame Elemen

Elemen took a few steps forward, the words of the Frozen Orb burning themselves into her mind. Behind her, Iona nocked another arrow.

The shrine was just beyond a copse of trees, but if there was anything that Elemen knew, it was that shrines were never left unguarded. What could it possibly be this time - Quill Rats? Dark Spearwomen? Or perhaps a legion of those nigh-irritating Carvers once again?

The sharp cry of a Carver gave it away. Carvers never hunted alone.

Iona fired an arrow just beyond Elemen's line of sight. That was the signal; the little devils were getting too close. Elemen strode from the trees, unleashing a storm of ice shards, and then a second. Where the first few Carvers - those who survived the two waves - had fled in terror, the remainder immediately rushed forth from their rocky burrows to assault the sorceress and her guard. Behind them, their accursed Shamans screamed orders even as they cast their foul resurrection spells.

Elemen strained to reach the shrine even as the Carvers gathered in a malevolent swarm. Dodging their weapons, she brushed the ancient, petrified wood and felt its energy surge through her body. The energies of the Frozen Orb once again gathered between her fingers, and as she turned to face her enemies...

...the power went out, and the computer rebooted.

Darn it.

And I was only just getting used to a nice third-level Frozen Orb spell.

After ScanDisk completed, I gave the game a test. Diablo II started up fine, but loading the Elemen file gave me one of the most ominous messages I had ever seen in a piece of software: "Cannot load game. File may be corrupted."

I tried it a second time, and then a third. Same message.

There went years of play. Elemen had managed to hit 'Dame' status, and I guess that it was going to take me longer to find out how far I could take her.

I had a backup, yes, but it was from way before the first time I had finished the game, and I was definitely not eager to face Diablo again. Especially with Elemen. Diablo eats sorceresses for dinner, after all.

Maybe it's time to start a new game. Diablo II's been nice and all, but it's obviously overstayed its welcome. Besides, I can probably return to Elemen's world once my appetite for new games has been sated.

That said, I'm definitely getting that power source. If you'll excuse me...


Elemen couldn't understand. One moment she was fighting Diablo's minions, the next...

She stood in total darkness. It was as though her slender form hung over the still void. There was absolutely nothing around her - no demons, no humans, nothing. She wasn't sure if there was even supposed to be a floor.

"Sean?" she called, expecting the echo that never came.

"Sean?" she asked, "Where are you?"

No one answered.

"Sean?" she asked again. "This isn't funny, Sean..."

Monday, March 14, 2005

Suppose That You Were a Cockroach...

...Then wouldn't you have aspirations of ruling the world by now?

I mean, it's a common perception that cockroaches are one of only two things that are likely to survive a nuclear holocaust scenario (the other being tupperware). You're also gifted with the ability to sense miniscule changes in air pressure and possibly chemical composition, so you'd be able to go to ground long before any other animal would realize that the shockwaves were coming.

Population problems? You'd reproduce quickly, especially with fewer roach-killers in the world. Food shortages? You're a scavenger anyway, and in the worst-case scenario, you could eat through anything. (Tupperware included, although it would probably taste terrible.)

In fact, you could probably just hollow out a little Tupperware palace of your own right now and wait for the moment. That would be tantamount to building your own underground bunker, wouldn't it? What could a nuclear winter possibly do to a cockroach who's safe and sound in his or her little Tupperware home?

Sometimes you wonder why the cockroaches who make their homes in the nuclear silos don't just wise up and push the launch buttons. The truth is that, despite your general hardiness, you haven't been able to grasp the concept of alphanumeric passwords quite yet. That, and you haven't quite figured out how to lift those little keys.

Not that it's all bad, mind you. You can wait a bit. You're a cockroach, after all. If some paranoid human decides to jump the gun and turn the planet into uninhabitable wasteland ahead of schedule (uninhabitable except for you, of course), then that's perfectly all right. More tupperware for you.

Perhaps one day, a couple million years after the day, you'll achieve full sentience and look back at the species that provided you with wonderful, wonderful tupperware shortly before blowing themselves to tiny bits. Perhaps, on that day, you'll wonder if you'll ever turn your own advancements upon yourselves, wiping the world clean and paving the way for the next evolutionary stage to take over the planet. Maybe it'll be moss and lichen this time.

But for now, you're just a cockroach. And you dream, deep down inside your little tupperware home.

You dream of the world.

Friday, March 11, 2005

The Hunt is Over

Solutions for the puzzles in my previous article, "The Hunt is On," are now available through the following links. I won't spoil them for you in this article if you're still solving.

Geller Building (puzzle and solution)
Apollo Street Theater (puzzle and solution)
Club Bubbles (puzzle and solution)
Metapuzzle solution

As of this writing, Pat is the only person to submit a correct answer to the metapuzzle, despite not being able to answer the Apollo Street Theater puzzle. (She was able to deduce her final answer based on the answers to the Geller Building and Club Bubbles puzzles alone.) In fact, no one has submitted a correct answer to the Apollo Street Theater puzzle yet.

The feedback I've received (through comments, instant messages and e-mail) has given insight into a lot of the logic involved in solving these puzzles. Many thanks to everyone who shared their thoughts.

I'm thinking that it would be nice to have another one of these again. Maybe I can offer up a prize next time...

[Edit: Roy and Switch posted a correct answer on the same day this solution came out. Congratulations, guys.]

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Thoughts From the Back of My Head

I love plot twists. You know, those things that shock you out of your skin just as you're settling comfortably into the confines of a story? I love those.

While angst-filled, rant-based blog entries are readable, I have to say that they don't do anything for me. Maybe they provide some nice insight into human emotion, but sometimes they highlight those parts of the soul that I'd rather not see.

Maybe I should include my design notes for the puzzles along with their solutions tomorrow. That way, anybody could read through them and find a way to frustrate solvers even more.

Writing characters for a computer game feels good. Seeing those characters brought to life by animators and scripters looks even better. But finding out that some people are cosplaying the very characters you created? My jury's still out on how that feels.

I haven't been able to find a copy of Cast's 4th issue yet. If it's delayed any more, I'm going to lose interest in the series.

Tekken 5 is out. I don't play Tekken, mind you. I just know that it's out.

Given ninjas, zombies, and giant robots, how can I fit these three discrete elements into a single story? Can I possibly make it a romance comedy? Will it win the Oscar for Best Picture someday?

Geez, I need a shave.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Ficathon Blues II

Ah, yes... the 3rd L5R Ficathon. Whatever happened to that, anyway?

L5R Ficathon III entry, first draft
Conversation Overheard on the Deck of the Weeping Tiger (Final entry)

The production process this time was a lot shorter than my experience with the last Ficathon, mostly due to the fact that nothing good came to mind until the last two or three days. The final entry is totally different from the first draft, and it's based on a new idea that arrived at midnight on the evening of my deadline.

Again, my two seeds were:

1) A day after a kobune voyage begins, two passengers who have shared intense emotion (good or bad) discover that the other is on board.

2) A monk spends weeks meditating on the nature of Rokugan whilst travelling in the Burning Sands and is dying of hunger and thirst. Does he accept the aid of a strange traveller?

I started writing with a plot idea that was borne from the second seed, but after a couple of pages, I hit a point where the story was starting to drag. I gave myself around one or two days to come up with a better story idea; Otherwise I planned to head back to the draft and do a complete rewrite.

I toyed around with the first story seed in front of the computer for a while, wondering how best to approach it. The most obvious emotion for the two characters to share was Love, although I did consider Fear, Hate and Regret at times. Eventually I decided that romantic relationships weren't stereotypical of L5R fan fiction, and moved in that direction.

The problem, of course, is that I'm not very good at love stories, much less love-and-regret stories. So I figured that the only way I could get to the bottom of the deal was to have the two characters talk to each other, and then take it from there. (I first tried this approach for "Untitled", and it worked fine then.)

The result was surprisingly minimalist, and is currently up at the Rokugan Fan Fiction Resource Forum. I'm not sure how I was able to flesh out both Saeko and Minoru with mere dialogue, though, so I'll have to chalk it up to the possibility that literary characters have a mind of their own sometimes.

If there was anything that frustrated me about this work, though, it was the lack of proper treatment for dialogue silence. I mean, if you're writing a short story that's made out of pure dialogue, how do you express a moment of silence to the reader?

Maybe I'll write an article on that sometime. I use silence a lot in my works; it would be interesting to analyze the proper use, timing and syntax for such a device.

Monday, March 07, 2005

The Hunt is On

I'm making games and puzzles now. Must be one of those days.

I'm a huge fan of the MIT Mystery Hunt puzzles. You see, every year, students of the Massachussetts Institute of Technology run a 72-hour, non-stop puzzle marathon where all participants compete for the mere privilege of hosting the next year's contest. Don't take my word for it if I make it sound mundane - the puzzles are some of the most difficult things you'll ever see in your life, and every year tends to be more creative than the last.

Aside from being more difficult than their more conventional counterparts, the MIT Mystery Hunt puzzles operate on a "metapuzzle"-type arrangement. That is to say, puzzles are grouped into categories, and all the solutions for a certain category will collectively make up one last "metapuzzle" that gives the final answer. Get that final answer somehow, and you count yourself among an elite circle of solvers.

If you still don't understand how it works, maybe it's best that I show you by means of example.

I've enclosed a miniature version of the Mystery Hunt below. The solution to each puzzle is a legible word or phrase, and when put together, should be able to clue you in on a final answer. I've purposely laid everything out in a manner similar to the Mystery Hunt puzzles, but I've tried to tone the difficulty down a bit so you don't end up tearing your hair out.

Now, let us begin...


Quincy took a long drag on his cigarette. "So, who dis guy again?"

"I don't know. We might have to find that out ourselves."

"Peh," Quincy spat. "We ain't gonna get nobody if we don't know who he is."

"We'll find out," I told him. "We've got a few leads already."

Geller Building
Apollo Street Theater
Club Bubbles

[Edit: A copy of the Greek alphabet might come in handy. It'll be useful for bringing about some form of order to the Apollo Street Theater puzzle, and that's saying plenty already.]

Disclaimer: March 2005

I guess people should really know the drill right now, and it should really be obvious to anyone who regularly browses content on the web: Everything posted on this weblog is the original work of Sean, except where noted. Anything here that isn't my work is given the appropriate reference where applicable.

The presence of online disclaimers like these is a necessity nowadays, because a number of unsavory elements have recently been ripping off some sources of web content. Blogs have been a... favorite target, since they're usually run by individuals and can only produce... limited... small... reactions to the theft.

Despite repeated... warnings, however, some people just don't get it. Sean has... not been victim yet. But... possi... possibility of it happen to Sean still... here.

If it... happen to Sean, Sean get ANGRY. And you don't like Sean get ANGRY.


Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Wonderland (v1.0)

Disclaimer: Technically, putting this up on the blog already constitutes a legitimate copyright claim. So no funny stuff, if you get what I mean.


The Queen of Hearts is rather proud of her garden hedges. For the past few years, she's struggled to cultivate a special breed of red rose, and it's only recently that she's able to enjoy the fruits of her labor - the hedges are in full bloom this season.

On the other hand, that's where the problem lies. During the planting, the Queen's retainers accidentally planted sprigs of perfectly ordinary silver roses instead of the Queen's special seeds. So when the flowers finally bloomed this season, many retainers stared in horror, remembering the Queen's favorite saying: "Off with their heads!"

With the Queen now touring her many gardens, there's only one alternative - paint the roses red before she notices.

Ironically, the Queen actually doesn't mind having silver roses. What she does mind, though, is anyone caught slathering her beautiful flowers with ugly red paint. If she does manage to catch somebody who's gone as far as to paint her lovely roses, then they're going to wish that they'd never been born.


Remove all face cards from a standard deck of playing cards and shuffle. Deal five cards face-up to each player. Each player must arrange those five cards face up in a row in front of him or her, from left to right. This row will act as the player's "garden", and each card represents the rose hedges that have to be painted. The gardens are connected, so each player's rightmost hedge connects to the next player's leftmost hedge, and vice-versa.

Now reshuffle the face cards back into the deck, and deal six cards face-down to each player. Each player selects one card from their six, and places that card face-up on top of the central hedge of their garden. That card will be considered to be your "guardsman", the personality who you have tasked to paint the roses. The remaining five cards are then considered to be that player's "hand".

Place all undealt cards into a draw pile, which should be accessible to all players.

Turn Sequence

The Dealer starts play. Turns then proceed clockwise around the table.

During your turn, you may have your guardsman perform any of the following actions, in any order:

1. Once per turn, move to a new hedge.
2. Once per turn, paint the roses on the current hedge.
3. Once per turn, play a face card.

If you do not have a guardsman in play, you may choose one non-face card in your hand and play it on your central hedge as a guardsman. You may not perform any other actions during that turn.

At the end of each of your turns, you must perform the following actions in order:

1. Draw two cards. Discard down to five cards, if applicable.
2. Check the top card of the draw pile for the Queen of Hearts.
3. If you are the Dealer, reshuffle all cards from the discard pile back into the draw pile.

Moving Around the Gardens

Each guardsman has got it bad. They've got to move around, find and paint each and every one of the roses, and they've got to do it before any of the royals spot them, too.

During your turn, you may discard a non-face card from your hand to have your guardsman move a number of steps equal to the value of that card. If your guardsman's path takes him to the leftmost or rightmost hedge on a garden, he simply continues moving along the next player's garden, and so forth.

Painting the Roses Red

Some hedges will have more roses than others, as evidenced by the value of each hedge. Your guardsman will have to work quickly in order to get everything painted.

During your turn, if your guardsman is currently standing on an unpainted hedge, you may "paint" it by discarding a card from your hand with an equal or higher rank than the rank of the hedge. If you do so, turn that hedge card face-down in order to mark that it has already been painted. Your guardsman may not paint an already-painted hedge, nor may he "un-paint" a hedge.

Playing Face Cards

Face cards represent the members of the Wonderland royalty. While they're actually rather a frivolous sort, they're all about as potentially dangerous as the Queen of Hearts. Fortunately, you can always sic 'em on your opponents to take some of the heat off yourself.

During your turn, you may play a face card from your hand to produce any of the following specific effects:

Jack - Jacks are willing to do anything to pique the Queen. If another player's guardsman is currently standing on an unpainted hedge in your garden, you may play a Jack to automatically paint that hedge.

Queen - The other Queens run in the same circle as the Queen of Hearts, although they're not quite as much of a threat. When you play a Queen, choose a painted hedge in play and turn it face-up and unpainted. The Queen of Hearts has additional uses aside from this. (See below.)

King - While not as strong as the Queens, the Kings can nevertheless provide suitable distraction. When you play a King, place it face-up in front of you. If you have a King in front of you, you may discard it the next time somebody plays a face card in order to cancel that card's effects.

Unleashing the Queen of Hearts

The Queen of Hearts is notorious for her temper, and if strongly irritated, she'll stalk the area in a fit of rage until she finds somebody to pay for their transgressions.

When you play the Queen of Hearts, you may choose to instead put her right into play on your garden's central hedge. As long as the Queen is in play, any player may spend their move action to move the Queen of Hearts instead of their guardsman.

Every time the Queen lands on a painted hedge, then that hedge automatically turns face-up and unpainted. ("Who's been painting my roses red?!" the Queen screams.)

If the Queen ever lands on a painted hedge that has at least one guardsman on it, then that hedge automatically turns face up and unpainted. Remove all guardsmen on that hedge from the game, and discard the Queen. (No, those guardsmen can never come back. You don't want to know what happens to them.)

No face-up card can cancel the Queen of Hearts' effects while she is stalking the table. No one's even going to want to get near her while she's in this state.

Ending Your Turn

At the end of your turn, draw two cards from the top of the draw pile, then discard down to five cards if you have more than five cards in hand.

Afterwards, reveal the top card of the draw pile. If that card is the Queen of Hearts, immediately put her into play on the central hedge of your garden. She'll start looking for victims from there. If otherwise, discard it.

Finally, if you are the Dealer, then at the end of each of your turns, you must reshuffle all cards from the discard pile back into the draw pile. Cards that have been removed from the game stay removed from the game.

The next player to the left (clockwise direction, in other words) then takes his or her turn.

Winning the Game

Easier said than done. If all of your hedges are painted (face-down) at any time during your turn, then you win the game.