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.
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.
J. Siehler writes, in response to I Think #176:
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?
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?
Nothing needs to be said about this. Everybody will see it, even though the backlash against Episode I was harsh. Probably won't out-gross Spiderman, though, which is pretty surprising.
Al Pacino, Robin Williams, and Hilary Swank star in a crime thriller by Christopher Nolan, who directed Memento. Williams is good in dramatic roles, although I've never seen him in a thriller. Pacino is always good. And I can't be the only one interested in seeing how Nolan follows up the brilliant Memento.
These days DreamWorks is arguably as if not more reliable than Disney for producing really good animated feature films. Whether this one will hold up the standard, I don't know, but anyone who knows my wife will know where I will be on May 24th.
Tom Clancy's hero Jack Ryan returns to the screen after a long absence (previously appearing in Clear and Present Danger, in which he was played by Harrison Ford). Chief Charles E. Davis of the U.S. Air Force calls it "one of the most technically correct movies in a long time." Many are dubious about Ben Affleck being able to handle the character, but the word from early screenings is very good. A more important concern is how the film's subject matter will be received. It's the first major film that wrestles seriously with themes of terrorism to be released after September 11th. (I don't count the Arnold Schwarzenegger flick Collateral Damage, made before September 11 but released afterward, as it used terrorism as a base for escapism. The Sum of All Fears, while still a commercial thriller, would treat its subject matter more realistically, as in previous Jack Ryan films The Hunt For Red October and Patriot Games.)
I read about this, I saw the trailer, and I still don't have any idea what this is all about. The tagline is "Mothers. Daughters. The never-ending story of good vs. evil." It marks the directing debut of screenwriter Callie Khouri, who wrote one movie I like (Something To Talk About) and one I did not (Thelma & Louise). The cast is impressive: Sandra Bullock, Ellen Burstyn, James Garner, Ashley Judd, Maggie Smith. Shrug.
A live-action Scooby-Doo movie with a computer generated Scooby -- if that isn't a humorously outrageous premise for a movie, I don't know what is. Anyway, I never liked the cartoon, so I don't know why I'd like this movie.
John Woo's World War II movie with Nicolas Cage. Woo and WWII may not seem like much of a fit, and Woo is not a reliably good director. But when he's good, he's very good, and I can see how his use of ultra-violence for anti-violence would fit perfectly in a film about World War II. A reviewer on the IMDb describes it as "pure adrenaline, struggling, and in the midst of it all, a crazy sense of re-rationalizing." Enthusiastic early word of mouth is often suspect, but if Woo can pull off something close to that, I'm there.
Matt Damon was trained by the government to be the perfect assassin. But he washes up out of the Mediterranean with amnesia and has no idea who he is or why government agents are trying to kill him. I'm cautiously optimistic about this one. The premise has a lot of potential, and while things like it have been done, there is a lot left unmined.
Bet you didn't even know there was an Air Bud 3.
How odd that DreamWorks would be doing the Disney-like animated film, while Disney would be doing the...non-Disney-like animated film. An extra-terrestrial fugitive is adopted by a Hawaiian girl. Rated PG for "mild sci-fi action." Strange.
Steven Spielberg directs Tom Cruise in a movie based on a Philip K. Dick novel. The idea is, in the future, the police force can learn of crimes before they happen and arrest the perpetrators for crimes they would have committed had they not been arrested first. Cruise plays a cop who suddenly finds himself a wanted man. I'm lukewarm on Cruise, but Spielberg is The Man.
Adam Sandler remakes the classic Mr. Deeds Goes To Town. Spare me.
Can you believe this? Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin saves a crocodile from poachers, but what he doesn't know is that the poachers are the CIA and the crocodile has swallowed a top secret U.S. satellite beacon. The Crocodile Hunter is better in small doses, I suspect. I can't imagine this movie will be well liked. I must say, however, that the trailer, in which Steve Irwin marvels at the powerful jowls and mighty roar of the MGM lion, is one of the most hilarious trailers I've ever seen.
Matthew McConaughey wages war with dragons in a post-apocalyptic future. Hollywood needs ideas.
Sam Mendez (American Beauty) directs Tom Hanks in a drama about a hit man. This is another one that strikes me as really odd, although not without potential. I don't know what this is doing in summer. Summer is traditionally reserved for movies that sell easily; movies that slip in under the radar tend never to surface. A fall release would permit this movie to gather an audience as word of mouth spreads. But what do I know? I have no idea what this is all about.
I wanna know why the makers of slasher series put up pretenses about killing off the recurring badguys when, no matter how dead they get, somehow there's another movie. Michael Myers was pretty thoroughly dead at the end of Halloween: 20 Years Later, but now we "find out" that it wasn't Michael Myers behind the mask after all. Ok, whatever. In this episode, a reality TV show boards up strangers in Michael Myers' old home, but then things start to go wrong.
Giant spiders walk all over the city in this horror/comedy. I'm weary of horror/comedies. How about some, you know, actual horror? Arachnophobia was great.
I liked the first Austin Powers. I didn't like the second. If the ante is upped still further, I'm pretty certain I won't like this either.
M. Night Shyamalan has yet to err with me, and Mel Gibson is one of my favorite modern actors. I'm pumped for this.
Vin Diesel and Samuel L. Jackson star in what looks like a really noisy brainless action movie. In spite of the fact that Samuel L. Jackson is smooooth, I don't see this as being anything but obnoxious and irritating.
The first Spy Kids film was an uncommonly popular family fantasy. Whether this holds up to the original or not, I cannot speculate.
A retired FBI director (Clint Eastwood) is hired by a woman to investigate the death of her sister, who happens to have given Eastwood his heart in a heart transplant. The transplant angle makes me wonder, but the screenplay is by Brian Helgeland, who has written a number of films I like if not love: L.A. Confidential, Conspiracy Theory, Payback, A Knight's Tale.... Thing is, he also wrote the screenplay for The Postman, but I suppose everybody has to crash and burn at least once. Eastwood directs -- another point in the movie's favor.
A movie that involves both the mafia AND outer space cannot be called timid. But Eddie Murphy does not have a good track record with me. I think he's quite talented, but I generally deplore the material he works with. The last Eddie Murphy comedy I liked (excluding animated films like Shrek) was Bowfinger, in which he shared the spotlight with Steve Martin. Before that, Coming To America in 1988. If the pattern continues, I shouldn't expect to like an Eddie Murphy movie again until 2010.
Jackie Chan? I'm there.
Andrew Niccol wrote two recent films that I treasure highly: The Truman Show and Gattaca, different in every way except in the underlying themes about the triumph of humanity in dehumanizing circumstances. Niccol knows how to write films with substance and food for thought while not forgetting that movies are basically about entertainment. So I am more than a little intrigued by Simone, a movie about a producer that creates a digital actress for his film when the real actress walks out. The subject of this movie couldn't be more relevant, and I can't even imagine what thought-provoking things Andrew Niccol (who directs as well as writes) would have to say about it. Moreover, the stars, Al Pacino and Catherine Keener, are eminently reliable.
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:
"I am mainly writing to you today to make some humble suggestions on how you might reuse some of the old useless entertainment material in your new site. For example, RinkChat could be converted to a virtual trading floor, connected by satellite link up to the NYSE. People could spend their time in there typing 'BUY BUY BUY SELL BUY' in capital letters. I know that I, for one, would find this to be a marked improvement over the current state of affairs. Also, I would like to see It's a Bad, Bad, Bad, Bad Investment as early as possible. Of course, this feature should be written by Mr. Parker, as he has extensive experience in the field.
"Actually, those are the only ideas I have. I suspect that whatever intelligence I once had has been sucked away by your mind-numbing 'entertainment.' I can't wait to see the promised tax-shelter information. I do hope, however, that you cater to your existing international audience. As a Canadian reader, I would be sorely disappointed if the coverage of retirement plans was restricted to the 401K, overlooking the exciting work being done in RRSPs.
"All in all, your bold move is one that has long been needed, and I am glad to see that it finally came about. I look forward to many years of sound financial advice from you and your team."
David H. writes, about the Oscars:
"Second, in regard to the Best Animated Feature category: why didn't they just go ahead and call it the Shrek award? I absolutely agree with you -- it was ridiculous to nominate Jimmy Neutron, Boy Genius. Final Fantasy might have been suitable competition, having a sophisticated plot, great actors, and breakthrough animation and all. The film that I thought should have been nominated, however, was Waking Life, which was, in my opinion, the best animated film of the year, and one of the top five or ten films of the year overall."
Trip Payne writes about yesterday's journal entry:
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.
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.
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.