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By Samuel Stoddard


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Sunday, December 8, 2002

It's RinkWorks' fifth birthday today. But it doesn't seem real to me. Five years I've been running this web site? That's longer than I've been married. (See the Site Journal for July 1998.)

So much has happened since December 1997. My life has changed dramatically; RinkWorks is directly responsible for more of those changes than I ever thought an entertainment web site could possibly trigger. It's changed the lives of others as well, hopefully more for the better than not. I know I do not have any regrets.

It is amazing, sometimes, what God can work with. He doesn't get lost in new-fangled technology. But even the most savvy of the rest of us can. You don't learn how to relate with people from a technical manual. The fundamental lessons of life don't come any easier because you can write HTML or wrestle a finicky browser. As for the content of RinkWorks itself, it's mostly just light and fun; even the features I'm proudest of are hardly of the life-changing variety.

And yet I've seen, in the community of regular readers of this site, or at least those who make themselves visible and participate in the Message Forum and RinkChat, dozens of people, young and old, from different nations and different walks of life, grow and mature, often as a direct result of their interaction with each other. Life long friendships have been forged here. A few hearts have been broken. Some found companionship and moral support right when they needed it. Others found the simple joys of laughter just when a distraction was called for. Many gained valuable life experience, good and bad. We've all matured, a little or a lot. Most found friends. Some found more. A few found spiritual direction. At least one came to know Jesus Christ as his personal savior.

We've all matured, a little or a lot. Life will do that to you anyway, but it's been fascinating to see when RinkWorks itself has played such an integral role in it. I take neither credit nor blame; I, too, am one of the several who has -- sometimes directly by God and sometimes as a consequence of my own actions, right and wrong -- been taught, hurt, uplifted, and mostly, well, blessed by the experiences I've had through this simple little web site and the relationships I've forged within it. Among those are kinds of friendships I never realized could exist. In good times and bad, I will treasure those always. Life moves on, through unpredictable twists and turns. Sometimes I like what it brings me (or what I bring to it) and sometimes I don't. In either case, I drink my fill of it with thanks.

Sunday, September 22, 2002

There is a very interesting story behind Fantasy Quest II, which is the new game at Adventure Games Live. What is so interesting about it is that its existence was prophesied by Stephen K., a regular reader of this site, long before I ever imagined that there would be a sequel to the original Adventure Games Live game, Fantasy Quest.

The prophecy occurred in RinkChat and is documented in one of the RinkChat Archives, called Brainstorming, which is dated almost exactly two and a half years prior to its release. Even more amazingly, it is dated two years before Fantasy Quest II was born in my head as a serious project. What I'm saying is, Stephen is prescient.

Ok, so there's a logical flaw in all of this. I admit it. I figured it would be a great joke to self-fulfill Stephen's prophetic typo. It was around last January that I reread that Brainstorming archive and thought, hey, Summer 2002 is coming up. Wouldn't it be funny if Fantasy Quest II truly did come out then?

It was a subject of a very brief conversation in RinkChat that I hope was quickly forgotten. Certainly it was never brought up again. But I got to work on it, starting in late January. I was going hard on Murkon's Refuge, so I knew I couldn't thrust Fantasy Quest II into full development before I was done with that, but I figured I would get going on Fantasy Quest II shortly after finishing Murkon's Refuge. And I did...sort of. I picked it up again in late March, after Murkon's Refuge was released, but by that time I had another idea I was excited about, which I also wanted to work on. And I did.

Around May, I made Stephen a bet: that I'd release not just one but two major RinkWorks features before the RinkWorks Convention in mid-August. I bet him a nickel, which I still owe him, because I forgot about the bet when I saw him at the convention. Because, you see, it turned out that both projects took a lot longer than I had anticipated. One is around 75% done, and the other, Fantasy Quest II, I had to throw into high gear in late August, racing to finish it before summer was officially over.

Those of you who saw the RinkWorks main page in the last couple days have noticed an odd note there: "COMING SOON: The Autumnal Equinox, which occurs this year on September 23, 12:56am EST." You see, I was only too aware of that looming deadline of mine. Miss it, and Stephen's prophecy would be flawed. So I spent hours upon hours of time each day hammering the thing out. It's a rush job, and it probably shows in a few spots in the game. On the whole, however, I'm happy with it. It's not as detailed and involved as The Game of the Ages, but it was never meant to be. I set out with the intention of making it as superficial and frivolous as the original Fantasy Quest was. In the process, I poked fun at the original game. In fact, the sequel pretty much exists to poke fun at the original game.

The other thing I tried to do was make the game as faithful as possible to the discussion about it in Brainstorming while still keeping the game playable. So a few things could simply not be implemented. There was no way, for example, that I was going to make the Pitch Black Cavern that big, or ever require the user to replay the game from scratch. But I think you'll agree, after playing it, that I got as close as was practical.

One thing surprised me during the development of Fantasy Quest II and that was the realization that it needed a sequel all along. I didn't realize how much in Fantasy Quest was left unresolved. Although I don't think it is apparent when you complete Fantasy Quest, there are a lot of questions left unanswered and a lot of scores to settle. It is good that there is a sequel now to add closure in places you may not have even realized needed it.

I hope you enjoy this game. I got pretty sick of it toward the end of its development, but on the whole, it was a great little diversion amongst the development of the larger projects I have going.

Wednesday, September 18, 2002

J. Siehler writes, in response to I Think #176:

Thursday, September 5, 2002

Some interesting statistics about RinkWorks:

So here is what your friendly local webmaster is thinking as he is faced with these numbers and recalls the days when RinkWorks was small enough to be operated out of a couple meg university computing account and a dozen visitors a day was fame: What happened?

Tuesday, May 14, 2002

With the release of The Scorpion King and Spiderman, we are now in the thick of summer movie season. Here's a brief look at what's around the corner. What are YOU most looking forward to?

Tuesday, April 2, 2002

Well, yesterday was fun. I put up a press release, reporting that RinkWorks would be shifting from an entertainment site to a financial news site. The Reader Poll question asked what readers wanted most from RinkWorks -- financial news or entertainment -- and it was rigged so that ALL votes counted for "financial news." One single vote was stuffed in for "entertainment" so that someone who had just voted for that might initially think that that single vote was his. None of it was intended to seriously fool anyone -- I always figure April Fools jokes look horribly conspicuous on the web, where one is unable to employ a straight facial expression and honest demeanor to help sell the gag. Then again, I've fallen for April Fools pranks on the web before, and I do admit to being amused when I heard from a few people who were confused for a little while about what was actually going on.

The most entertaining response I got from it all day, however, was from someone who played along. "Monkeyman" has this to say in response to the press release:

Saturday, March 30, 2002

David H. writes, about the Oscars:

Tuesday, March 26, 2002

Trip Payne writes about yesterday's journal entry:

Monday, March 25, 2002

The 74th annual Academy Awards are over. I was expecting an interesting show, because the race was so close in most categories, but ultimately it ended up being rather lackluster. I'm sure A Beautiful Mind is a great film. I haven't seen it, and so I won't say that it didn't deserve to win. But isn't it such a kneejerk choice for the Academy, to pick a feel-good film about a schizophrenic genius instead of a one-of-a-kind musical on crack or a fantasy blockbuster? Isn't it such a kneejerk choice to pick Ron Howard for Best Director instead of, for example, Robert Altman? Don't get me wrong. I love many of Ron Howard's films and have the utmost respect for him, but he's simply not in Altman's league, which includes other Oscarless greats such as Alfred Hitchcock and Martin Scorsese. The guy that should have the Best Director Oscar on his shelf right now wasn't even nominated: Baz Luhrmann, whose Moulin Rouge had to have been the most difficult film to direct that I have seen since -- yes, I actually sat down and figured my best guess out -- Saving Private Ryan in 1997.

All the same, it is nice to see for sure that a ridiculous controversy concerning the screenplay adaption of A Beautiful Mind was not a decisive factor in the vote -- it earned not just Best Picture and Best Director but Best Adapted Screenplay as well. And it is also nice to see that Halle Berry was not denied an Oscar over controversy in her personal life. And while I truly despise the practice of awarding Oscars to people that should have won in previous years, I was actually glad to see the reverse happen this year. Russell Crowe didn't get an Oscar he deserved because last year he got one he didn't. Instead, it went to Denzel Washington, and it's about time. So in the Best Actor category, things kind of sorted themselves out, and maybe next year we can actually have a fresh race, untainted by errors in previous years.

Jim Broadbent's win for Best Supporting Actor is obvious to me in hindsight. Of course! The guy turned in not one but two great performances this past year, both markedly different from each other. The guy's fantastic, and I've thought so since I saw Topsy-Turvy two years ago.

I don't have much to say about Best Supporting Actress, so let's move on to the biggest upset of the night. Best Foreign Language Film didn't go to Amelie. Who'd have thunk it? It got five nominations total (winning none) and was the only nomination of the five that anybody had heard about. I haven't seen any of the five, and so I can't say if the Oscar was justified or not, but I have a theory that, if true, perhaps means the Academy's system was working properly.

The nominations for Best Foreign Language Film are determined in kind of a shady way. Countries have to submit films for consideration, and there are weird limitations on what and how much they can submit. That process seems barely functional to me, but I understand the difficulty: how do you get the Academy to even realize great foreign films exist unless there is some system set up for campaigns?

Amelie was a special case, because it found U.S. distribution through Miramax, which is notorious for being good at selling films to the Academy. The recognition it got with U.S. distribution was, I'm sure, responsible for the other four Oscar nominations it got.

But here's where the broken system starts working. For Academy members to be eligible to vote in the Best Documentary, Best Short, and Best Foreign Language Film categories, they have to attend special screenings. So every vote cast in these categories is cast by someone who has seen all the nominees. This is not the case for the other categories, and it's one reason why some were saying Halle Berry might lose Best Actress to Sissy Spacek -- perhaps not enough people had seen Monster's Ball.

So I'm wondering if all the additional exposure and campaigning that Amelie got that the other four Best Foreign Language nominees didn't became moot after Academy voters actually saw all the films. If this is true, it suggests the winner, upset No Man's Land from Bosnia and Herzegovina, actually deserved to win. If only the taint of campaigning and exposure could be removed from the other categories as well! I can't blame Miramax and DreamWorks for being good at campaigning to the Academy, but I wish more Academy voters understood that the award are about the movies, not the circumstances of their making, not the hype, and not the ticket sales.

Gosford Park swiped Best Original Screenplay from Memento, which is not necessarily unjust, even though I wish Memento had come away with something. Still, I'm glad it didn't take Best Editing just for the novelty of its backward story structure, when one or two other nominees in that category deserved it more. Moulin Rouge should have had that one, but Black Hawk Down took it. Most of the technical awards were shared between The Fellowship of the Ring, Moulin Rouge, and Black Hawk Down, although Pearl Harbor predictably won Best Sound Effects Editing, as for some reason people seem to think it's a universal constant that war movies with loud explosions are artistry, and animated features just sort of make themselves.

Shrek won Best Animated Feature Film, which works for me, but I'll take a moment to gripe about the nominations anyway. WHO thought Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius was more worthy of a nomination here than the groundbreaking Final Fantasy?

Congratulations, Randy Newman. It's about time you won an Oscar. It's just too bad you didn't win it for your superior work in each of the Toy Storys or, better yet, the now classic original score for The Natural. You had my vote in previous years, but this year I think I'd have gone with Enya's May It Be, from The Fellowship of the Ring. A weak year in that category, but it didn't have to be as weak as it was. Why wasn't Come What May, from Moulin Rouge, even nominated? A weak year, too, for Best Original Score, when not one but two nominated John Williams scores seems like a weak point in a career with more highs than seems physically possible. The Fellowship of the Ring won in that category, and I'm fine with that.

Finally, on a personal note, this is the first year I've ever seen ANY of the nominees in any of the Best Short categories, let alone an actual winner. The winner of Best Animated Short, For the Birds, aired before Monsters, Inc. in theaters. It was indeed extremely amusing and very well-done.

Until next year.

Saturday, March 23, 2002

What is there to say about Murkon's Refuge that I haven't already said in the Making of Murkon's Refuge featurette? Not much. From reading that -- merely from observing the fact that there is a "making of" featurette -- should get across what kind of labor of love this game is for me. Well, it would have to be a labor of love for me to have been working on it off and on for three years. It's satisfying to me as a game (it's one of the few games I've written that I've also become addicted to on occasion) but also as a technical challenge: whatever you may think about the game itself, it is certainly by far the most complex and intricate RinkWorks feature from a technical standpoint.

As I write this, it is not quite five hours into the game's release, and 150 people have already registered for it. That's about 50 times the number of people that played the original UNIX version of the game, which I wrote between 1993 and 1995. And I think I was the only person who ever finished it. A lot has changed since the advent of the web.

Now that I have a working RPG engine, may one expect more RPG games in the future, much like games continue to crop up on Adventure Games Live? Absolutely. But the arrangement will be a little different, I think. I was very close to naming the feature "Role-Playing Games Live" or some such, to allow for future games to be added to the same feature. But I don't think I want to do that, because I don't have a lot of interest in churning out new games just by swapping out dungeons and monsters. It would be trivially easy for me to do that, but I'm more interested in stretching the engine and adding features and functionality, instead of just providing new mazes to explore and monsters to kill.

So we'll see how it goes. I need a serious break from it all, and of course there are other things on RinkWorks that need my attention. But I will certainly be revisiting Murkon's Refuge at some point in the not too distant future and seeing what more I can do with it.

But we'll cross that bridge when we come to it. In the meantime, enjoy the game.

Friday, January 25, 2002

I am constantly fascinated by looking through my web site logs and finding out what search terms have led people to RinkWorks. Most of them are quite ordinary, of course. It is only natural that doing a search in Google for "funny computer helpdesk calls" would turn up a link to Computer Stupidities, or that a search for "dysphemism" would turn up the Glossary of Linguistics and Rhetoric on Fun With Words. Some people get wordy, but it does the trick. A search for "longest word whose letters are in alphabetical order from left to right" led one web surfer to the Word Oddities page, also on Fun With Words.

But there are other search terms that crack me up. I can look through my referrer logs for almost any day in the history of RinkWorks (or I could if I had records dating back nearly that far) and find not just one or two but quite a large handful of completely wacky search terms that have led web surfers to RinkWorks. I used to play the "spot the weirdest search term" game way back in 1998, when RinkWorks first got its own domain name, and I had the referrer logs to go with it.

Here's a few culled from just the last 24 hours:

It makes me wonder what future searches will find this site journal entry. After all, "binder clip bored at work" found the January 1999 Site Journal page, "numb tongue and lost taste" found the February 2000 page, and "Guam nudist" found the September 1998 page.

Some search terms complement the hit I got for it in unexpected ways. One search term that found the Screen Savers page on Computer Stupidities ("I shut down my computer and it came back on") would seem to be a computer stupidity in itself. And a search term that found the Grammar page on Fun With Words ("preposition end a sentence with") is fraught with irony.

I'm not entirely sure why "rating legend of rating" found the particular rating legend that is on At-A-Glance Film Reviews, but I'm flattered that Google thinks my rating legend page matches such a superlative search.

Sometimes people don't really get how search engines work. Or maybe it's me that's wrong and doesn't realize how far the envelope of search engine technology has been pushed. Nonetheless, I would be shocked if the guy who found the Letter Groups page on Fun With Words ever found what he was looking for with the search term "words that have only b c d e h i k o x." He tried, either beforehand or afterward, searching for "B C D E H I K O X," and found the same page with it, which I suppose is quite impressive.

Best of all, though, is when the web yields to excess. I wonder if the guy who searched for "people who eat their own eyelashes" and found the Eyelash Eater RinkChat archive had even expected to find anything on the subject. Most precious of all, however, is the fellow who wanted to know the "definition of Sanguine." He must have been royally impressed at the wealth of information the web can provide when he stumbled onto this.

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