October 30, 2006

A squirrel inheritance

On the women's retreat/conference I attended this weekend in Columbus, Ohio, I received an unexpected gift from an even more unexpected source.

A few years back, I noticed one of the ladies in my church women's group had a lovely accessory: a purse with squirrels on it. The squirrels were not just sitting on the purse, taking up imaginary oxygen, however; they were actually immersed in leaves and getting ready to climb a fabric tree to reach the beaded acorns above them--all on a beautiful suede fall day.

I told her how much I enjoyed the purse a couple of years ago in church, and didn't really think about it any more after that. She passed last year. At the conference we saw her daughters, and one of them said she had a surprise for me.

When I saw it, I was amazed. The squirrels were still there. The acorns. The fall day. All the same. She remembered not only me, but what I liked.

So, thank you, dear lady. I hope heaven is a little brighter for the smile you put on my face.

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October 24, 2006

Flashy passion

When I look back on the first half of the semester in New Media Projects, I cringe. I didn't know what was going on, but I'm finally making progress--in Flash. Today, I made a photo fly across a screen, blink, disappear and increase and decrease in size. It was fabulous. There's hope.

And there's help. There are tutorials all over the internet.

I've also changed my plan for my first project in the class, as well. I'm thinking of revamping a story I wrote last year for the Setonian and placing artwork and photos that I've taken from Seton Hill's various service activities and make it run with the story components.

I want to make the presentation interactive, so I may bring together other stories I've written and those photos and put them together in a package under the umbrella of Catholic Social Teaching. I am also planning to link to the documents which formed the ideologies of CST. I really want to take a journalistic stance on this project, so I can not only add it to my skills list, but to my portfolio, as well.

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October 18, 2006

Catalog of creation

When I began this semester, I wasn't enthused about the idea of learning about games. However, as time goes on, and I look over all the things we have covered in "New Media Projects," I see where I have softened my views on some of the material I was so prejudiced against. I don't think I will ever be a gamer, but I think I have the introductory skills to keep learning it. I think I show potential for the projects we are about to begin now that we have laid the groundwork.

I am not necessarily overjoyed at the work I have been doing in this class, particularly in the projects, but I am doing my best with what I have in the new media field. Just as web design came together, I have faith that these programs will click together in time. I hope I look back on what is below and realize that the trials are a great part of the process that is worth just as much as the end result.

Covering my bases:

    Koster 1: In this entry, I discuss the methods of gaming and its particular influence on women. I was surprised to learn that gaming's purpose, in Koster's view is to become boring, rather than fun.

    Koster 2: This entry tackles the topic of videogames and violence. It also assesses the videogaming as a legitimate genre to study and master.

    Strongbad E-mail: I respond to the general -and entertaining- history of gaming provided by Strongbad, but also attempt to discover more.

    IF, Jerz Exposition & Adventure Dwarf: Gaming becomes difficult again. I do not get along with IF, particularly due to the vocabulary, which accompanies the territory. In this entry, I discuss that frustration and the various levels of imagination one has to call up in order to remain interested in play.

    In this entry, I also analyze the style of the game Stephan and I created "Kicking Back at Recess" in comparison to some of the standards set by Dr. Jerz's study.

    Game Choice: "Winter Wonderland":In this entry, I discuss playing "Winter Wonderland." Though the game was not created to be played in the time allotted (much more is needed), the play was fun for me because it acted like a book, and I actually felt as if I was getting somewhere.

    Amazing Games in Minutes 1: I responded favorably to this book because it outlined how the game was going to be put together. I was enchanted.

    Amazing Games in Minutes 5, 6 & 11: The book eventually took me for a loop, and I grew disenchanted with its process orientation toward its games, and not my own. Answers to my questions are embedded deep into other projects that I must seek out in order to create an original work.

    Flash Journalism Intro and Part 1: In this entry, I discuss the importance of a comprehensive manual, and how I look forward to working with McAdams' book. I liked the book so much that I wrote a favorable review on Epinions for it.

    Big Picture Case Study: This densely-linked blog is in reaction to one of the forerunners in Flash implementation on the web.

A deeper study:

    Koster 2: This entry tackles the topic of videogames and violence. It also assesses the videogaming as a legitimate genre to study and master. I quoted from various passages in the book, and called upon my previous knowledge of the genre to form my opinons.

    Big Picture Case Study: This entry searches through the archiving mess of the internet and assesses the uses of various Flash presentations/games to improve upon "traditional" journalism on the internet.

Case Study:

    Big Picture Case Study: This blog discusses the various methods of MSNBC in using Flash as a tool for news coverage.

Interaction: Discussions, Xenoblogging and Timeliness:
Since the descriptions of all of these areas sound very familiar, I am bringing them together under one umbrella in this portfolio. The labels and blurbs about each topic will guide the reader through which element of interaction I address.

Discussion & Xenoblogging:

    Trying to keep the discussion going here about the feminine aesthetics in gaming.

    Comment Primo: I discussed level enhancement with Mike Rubino on this blog. I asked him various questions about his game and asked him questions about the game Karissa and I are currently putting together.

    Comment Informative: Cindy Boland, director of campus ministry at Seton Hill spoke to our "Senior Seminar" course about Catholic Social Teaching. We deconstructed the mission statement of the organization backing Greensburg's Unity Rally, and found that several of the phrases in the statement directly address one, or in many cases, more of the elements of CST. In Stormy's entry, I wanted to clarify this point--that if one takes on one element of life in their game, several aspects of CST may be addressed.


    In this blog entry on Flash, Chris and I discussed various ideas on creating a project based on Catholic Social Teaching for the upcoming project.


Development on Project 1:
In this entry, I discuss what I would like to do in the first project of the course. It is a game, based on a person who must survive, a la Oregon Trail, on minimum wage.

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Darby's Derby: Running me in circles

I will be the one to say I was wrong. Darby's book really scares me now. The chapters 5, 6 and 11 really focus on the specific problems that need addressing within the structure of the games Darby creates, and not necessarily the ones that I need for my game.

I just want a handbook--pure and simple.

When Karissa and I were looking for a solution to our graphics issue (we didn't know what to do because the Paint-like program kept stripping out our Photoshop progress) we searched high and low, but all Darby could say was that the tool is a powerful one. Yippee.

I find myself reading over huge chunks of the book, looking for an answer that somehow turns up in an earlier section of the text.

However, when we do find that answer it is sweet. I just wish the game would be laid out in a more comprehensive way. It is hard enough to work with a new piece of software and create something that looks good, serves a purpose and is interesting to play without a game of hide-and-seek through the text. Perhaps if a book exists by then, Dr. Jerz, you could use a book like Photoshop's Classroom in a Book.

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Taking a stab

It's great thinking of ideas for games, but executing them is another story. I have this idea about taking on Catholic Social Teaching in a game, but I'm not sure how far I can go with it, particularly with the time constraints of this semester. However, I am ready to try it. I just want to make sure I am being realistic in my goals.

The game I have in mind to tackle one (and more) of the Catholic Social Teaching topics is based on surviving on minimum wage. Inspiration for this game comes from The Oregon Trail that I enjoyed playing as a grade-school student. This game, however, takes a current, edgy spin on that same concept. Oregon Trail was set in the 1800’s and was based on America’s greatness through expansion; however, my game will be based on America’s shortcomings in permitting people to provide the basics of life on a limited income.

The game screen will look like a trail, which the person—the game can choose a woman or a man—will travel from their parents’ home across the screen to get to the goal of financial security, perhaps labeled “the American Dream.” The person will travel along and eventually reach various milestones along the way that they must gather in order to advance. A key element of this game will be the score screen and the speed of the earner. If one survives the heaping monthly bills, steep childcare costs, personal sickness and/or death of a family member, and mental health concerns along the path, the minimum wage earner will earn more points—perhaps in dollars—and the earner will advance more quickly. However, if one does not manage their earnings well, which will often be the case, due to the limited income, the family’s health will decline, the budget will look lower, and the player will slow one’s pace. I’ve been tinkering with the idea of a goal, and I’m not quite sure what exactly I want it to be, but it may include owning a small home with healthy children and a car. However, if one reaches the goal, ironically, the outcome will be empty, due to how much one will have to give up in achieving that status. In the final score screen, I hope to include a general or individual reminder, which states what the participant gave up along the way.

This game spans across the board of Catholic Social Teaching, from the dignity of the human person, the option for the poor, solidarity of the human family, the common good, the dignity of work, participation, the universal purpose of material things and the social nature of the human person. What the person on minimum wage in my game hopes to create is a life of value and meaning in a world that has structures in place which may not permit it—one of which is minimum wage.

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Ready to FLASH!

Through the difficult learning moments of Interactive Fiction and The Games Factory II, I looked forward to Macromedia Flash; it is the "it" program for news organizations who want to really take hold of the online genre and showcase something. That is exactly the kind of journalism I want to do, and if I have the capability to do that, I will be pushed ahead of perhaps other applicants in the job market. So, when we finally got there I was let's say, more than a little excited.

I was even happier when I got what I wanted in the selected book "Flash Journalism: How to Create Multimedia News Packages" by Mindy McAdams. I even wrote an Epinions review on the book. Check it out.

The introduction is great. It even separates what one should do for the purposes of professionals, beginners and business people. I loved it. Though I am on the same track as outlined in the class. I am definitely going to find the introduction helpful as a reference when I am stuck on a particular subject in Flash. That is, if I can't find something. The book is very user-friendly. Written as a How-To, it places everything in lessons, yes, but in a step-by-step manner that is not necessarily specific to the project in which one is working.

In class, I created my first Flash scene: a mouth devouring a dark chocolate candy bar. Hey, I wasn't thinking MSNBC yet. I want to really do some good work in this program, and with this how-to text, which really seems like it will walk me through the process a bit better than the other programs I've encountered, I'm ready to really dig in.

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History, Strongbad style

When Dr. Jerz said he felt oddly about assigning a cartoon for an upper-level course, I agreed silently, but I was surprised to discover how much I really learned from the oversized head telling the story of the development of videogames.

From the rudimentary games like Frogger to the complex constructions of current popular game play, I was charmed by the delivery of the material. However, as a lover of history, I decided to delve a little deeper and I found this succinct version of gaming into years at GameSpot. It's a little more my speed.

Not an avid gamer, I never knew the chronology of the gaming industry. Perhaps the most interesting element is the complex graphics of the games. That is something Karissa and I are struggling with currently in The Games Factory 2. The graphics somehow go haywire when they are transferred into the Paint-like program in the application.

However, one element of gaming stays the same, whether two or three dimensional--the trials and tribulations of survival. That is what keeps players playing, and I hope I can inspire the same need to survive in the games I create.

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October 13, 2006

Taking my break

I'm off to Philadelphia for the duration of October Break. Mike Diezmos and Athena Singer--two of the best of Philly pals ever--plan to show me the city and I project major fun. My mother has warned me to stay with the group (which is still endearing) and my dad kissed me goodbye. It's scary to think that will be happening a lot more if I move away. Anyway...time for fun.

FYI: I will not be checking my e-mail accounts--any of them. If anything astronomical happens, I am looking to the sky, rather than Gmail. If you want to know what's going on with me, try looking here.

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October 6, 2006

Looking at the (MSNBC) Big Picture

As an Internet user, I don't usually open anything that takes up my entire screen, or has any kind of content that requires a player. I don't really have time to look at them. I like my news, when I can read/watch/listen to it, fast and efficient.

Before Anne Stadler and I traveled to New York last year, we were asked to read and watch this content-filled flash presentation(?) on class in America. I loved that the reader could pick what elements of the story one could choose, but I didn't like that for each topic, a new window opened. The story seemed to be what Ashley Wells, creator of MSNBC's Big Picture, dislikes: "a rehash of what print is." The rehash is the content, and the added elements of interactive charts and graphics seems to load down the already heavily advertised webpage with even more hard-to-load content.

On MSNBC's Big Picture, however, I found the one screen, though a pop-up, to be a smoother representation. The content of a story, integrated through graphics, sound and video, was a package. Though perhaps not as well-written as the New York Times content, the flawless structure of the story invites the visitor to click the screen elements and take an active role in discovering the story.

I particularly enjoyed searching through the airport baggage for terrorist weapons. Okay...so I'm proven wrong. Games can be fun.

The next site I found in Big Pictures through Google was the Enron scandal. One of the first Big Pictures, it is a little more rudimentary, but still engaging for the visitor.

I am currently working in a library, I should note, which doesn't have sound. However, all of the Big Picture content I could understand because the visual elements tell the story, just as much as (I can imagine) the narrations. I especially found this true in the September 11 Big Picture: The Darkest Day. In fact, not having the sweeping narrations and tear-jerker background music made the story powerful.

If I were creating one of these presentations (which I probably will for my final project), I would not use very many narrations over everything; instead I would, place them in individual sections, which the user could select, and turn off at will.

Up-to-the-minute news in a Big Picture presentation isn't very practical, however, for time and functional purposes. The creators work, according to Wells, up to 16 hours a day on one presentation, and impatient users, like me, would bypass this resource and probably find news elsewhere on a "traditional" online webpage.

I think the MSNBC Big Picture designers found their ideal audience when they began creating presentations for the Oscars. I actually remember some of the ones featured in the book, with Peter Jackson's round head juxtaposed above Clint Eastwood's angular face. Stunning. Not only is the design well done, but the visitors, interested in Arts and Entertainment, and hence predisposed to make time for enjoyment will also take the time to open up and spend time in The Big Picture interface.

Reading this case study really has me thinking about the Setonian's online content. We often do rehash the articles that have appeared in print, but we are offering more online content. We have added links to certain stories in the past, but I am thinking about implementing the first Flash presentation to the Setonian for my project. The Setonian deals with issues of Catholic Social Teaching (our focus for the course theme), so implementing a story into a Flash package sounds like an ambitious, yet fun, undertaking. This is the exactly kind of journalism I've wanted to do for a very long time.

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