Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Have Fun Storming the Castle!

Back in the day, before Wizards of the Coast bought TSR, the latter used to set up a giant castle in the middle of the dealer's room. This was their right, because GenCon was owned and operated by TSR, so naturally they got the center of the hall, the most space, and the ability to build a giant castle.

It was a sight to behold. The castle was this two storey, prefabricated building. It towered over the hall. You could always orient yourself in relation to the castle, as in "the White Wolf booth is to the left and front of the castle." Oftentimes, I used it to avoid traffic in the aisles, since it was a huge space and often allowed you to cut across three rows at once.

One year, I want to say circa 1997, someone got a genius idea. Something that comes along only once in a lifetime. Someone decided to storm the castle. I believe it was the guys from FASA, a great game company and a great group of people. I'm not sure what triggered the feud; I'd heard that the TSR guys had pulled a prank of some sort....

The dealer's hall was open to merchants one hour before opening to the public. It was so we could get set up before the stampeding masses could, well, stampede. (This was a lifesaver, since we were all often hung over, so it gave us some extra time get settled in. Most dealers I knew showed up about five minutes before opening.) On the morning of the last day of the convention, during this magical hour, we struck!

Someone had bought out Toys R Us of their entire Nerf stock. Out came Nerf guns of all imaginable types -- the big rifles, the little pistols, even a Nerf crossbow. We advanced down the aisles like SWAT teams, crouched low and in stack up formation. Then, Nerf darts sailed everywhere. Someone had tipped TSR off, and they had their guns ready, too.

It was an incredible sight, to see clouds of Nerf darts sailing over the walls of this castle. It was like something out of 300 or Gladiator. TSR took the battle to the streets, running up and down the aisles blasting everything they saw. Then, it was over. We put down our weapons and went back to our booths for a day of selling.

People tried to duplicate the experience the next year, but it wasn't the same. It became institutionalized. Everyone expected it. It lost it's spontineity. But it was great to be a part of that first storming of the TSR castle.

GenCon Memories

As August approaches, I feel a tug in my heart for a return to GenCon. GenCon is the largest game convention in the country, and is held every year around this time. I started attending in 1996, and it's where I met most of my friends, fellow game designers or not. And even though I have not attended in something like eight years, I feel the urge to go. This must be what the swallows feel like before returning to Capistrano.

When I did attend, it was as a game designer, which meant I spent a lot of time in a booth talking to fans. When I wasn't doing that, I was wandering around the convention hall floor, chatting up fellow game designers. There was precious little game playing.

I think it was 1997 when my friend Dustin Wright instituted what was to become, for me, an annual ritual. It was midnight on a Saturday night, and we were all doing what every right-thinking game designer does at that hour: Drinking. But Dustin had other ideas. "C'mon, Ross, I want to show you something."

Now normally, that kind of come on makes me pause. Were we going to go smoke pot? Was this a come on? Were we going to break into a bank? But I threw caution to the wind and boozily agreed to follow him. I walked back to the convention hall, which I was surprised to find, was still open. It had never occurred to me that anything would be going on at that hour. After all, the sales floor was closed; wasn't everyone out drinking like us? Maybe we were going to sneak back into the exhibition all and pull a prank on someone's booth.

Dustin took me to a secondary building from the main exhibition center, a basketball arena. It was filled with gamers. There were dozens of tables set up, each one surrounded by people playing games. The sound of rolling dice was deafening. I was shocked. Dustin took me to the basement. Same thing there, too. Tables everywhere. Gamers gaming. And oh! the games they were playing. Sure, there were popular games like Dungeons & Dragons and Vampire: The Masquerade. But there were a lot of people playing the shit out of games long dead and forgotten. Villains & Vigilantes. Boot Hill. Elfquest (fucking Elfquest; I didn't think anyone played that game).

It was midnight. On a Saturday night. And I was watching hundreds of gamers playing their beloved games when most right-thinking people were out on the town. That's when Dustin dropped the penny that made everything clear. He did this every year, to remind himself of who we were designing for. To understand that people had fun with our products.

Because most of the time, whenever we interacted with fans, it was either to answer questions or hear complaints. We never really got a chance to see the end user using our products; not on this kind of scale. It was an awsome and humbling sight, and one I repeated every year afterwards.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

The Fett

Many of my friends can tell you, I'm a huge fan of Boba Fett, the bounty hunter from Star Wars 2: The Empire Strikes Back. So much so I have the logo from his Mandalorian armor tattooed on my arm.

I've been a fan of Boba Fett since his original, animated appearance in the Star Wars Christmas Special. Now that I think of it, what retard decided to set this on the Wookie homeworld, where everyone howls at each other? Some TV executive probably said "Chewbacca is popular, so let's have a Chewbacca family Christmas" when what made Chewie so popular was the possibility he could rip your arms out of your sockets. Really, I think it would have been a much better TV special to show the murderous, nine-foot tall carpet of rage tear someone's head of and use it as a Christmas tree ornament. But that's probably why I'm not a TV exec.

Anyway, the story goes that Lucas wanted to add a bit of back-story to the upcoming Empire sequel, so you'd know to be scared of the guy with the garbage pail on his head, and they crafted the short animated sequence. (I believe Chewie's nephew sits down to watch a bit of TV, since there would apparently be no Wookie-related family drama; no Grandma Wookie gets drunk on blue milk egg nog and tells Chewie he was an "accident", and much growling and arm-ripping ensues.) Reportedly, Lucas was completely taken aback by all the popularity and speculation this five minute cartoon engendered for what was to be a tiny role.

We all expected Boba Fett to be totally bad ass. But let's face it, as I look back on Empire, what does Fett do? I mean really do? First, he tracks the Milennium Falcon to Bespin. Does he then kick in Leia's and Han's hotel room door, and hose them down with flaming blaster death? Does he whip out the handcuffs and hog tie them like a rancor? No, he calls Vader to do his dirty work. He basically places a phone call.

Sure, he stands behind Vader and looks all menacing at the dinner party Vader's arranged, but the dude can deflect blaster fire with his hands for chrissakes! It's not like Vader really needed Fett to get his back. If Han got all uppity, Vader had about a million ways to deal with it, from choke the living shit out of him from a distance to using his glowing laser sword of doom.

The next time we see Fett, he's whining to Vader about losing his bounty. I suppose the point of bounty hunting is to capture your prey and collect the fee, but this just seems like so much sour grapes. Even after he's captured Han, frozen in carbonite -- which Vader did for him, which means Vader could collect the bounty if he bothered -- all Fett does is put him in the cargo hold of his ship. Big Fucking Deal.

To add insult to injury, in Return of the Jedi, Fett tries to turn the bad ass meter up to 11, since he was a major pussy in the previous movie. After prancing around Jabba the Hutt's palace (apparently, Lucas thinks the double "t" in a name makes it all alien and shit), he gets his moment to shine during Luke's escape and rescue. He even gets to use his jet pack and little rocket grapple, but ends up getting eaten by a giant sand vagina. An ignominious end for the galaxy's greatest bounty hunter.

You might try to redeem the early badassness promised us by that original animated short by going to the prequel movies and his father, Jango Fett. After all, Jango was the root stock of badassness for the clone troopers. But they turned out to be functional retards with blasters, who didn't know the meaning of "setting up a perimeter" or how to stack up for a standard room entry. And these are all clones of Jango Fett, which means someone should ask for their money back. Nope, no redemption here for Boba.

Which begs the question: Why do I love him so? Because he's still so fucking cool.

Patio Madness

We have a tiny patio out back behind our restaurant. It's got a lovely waterfall and coy pond, and it's surrounded by flowers (which are replanted from the owner's own garden). Behind it is the Sullivan Mews, which is a private park with access only for those who live on the block; everyone has their own backyard, but central is a park with slate walkways and benches. I've seen it a few times and it's really magical. It's like you're no longer in Manhattan. We've got 14 seats out there.

Everyone wants to sit out there, but, as I said, we can only seat 14 people. So when people come up to the door and tell me they want to sit outside for drinks, the answer is "no." Especially during a busy Sunday morning brunch. (If it's a dead tuesday afternoon, that's a different story.)

Today, five people with a stroller wanted to sit on the patio for drinks, and I politely informed them it was against the management's policy. I even offered to seat them in our sidewalk cafe. You'd think I was a doctor refusing to give their kid a life-saving kidney transplant, judging by their reaction.

"Oh," this person said, snottily, "then I guess we'll take our business elsewhere."

That's exactly the point. We seem to have come to an agreement. I don't want you to sit on the patio, you don't want to sit in the sidewalk cafe. You want to go somewhere else; I want you to go somewhere else. We have a deal.

This may seem mean, or anti-business, but I don't want to give a $60 to $100 table to someone who's going to have the $5 mojito special (total check $25). It just doesn't make economic sense. So please take your attitude and your business elsewhere.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

My friend Hakima has a dilemma. She's been invited to a nude beach, but doesn't want to get naked.

Personally, I love nude beaches. Well actually, I've never been to a nude beach, but I like them in principle. Mostly because I love to get naked. When I was married, we had an annual tradition, called, appropriately, Naked Day. It was easy to celebrate. You simply never put clothes on all day long. You lounged all day long, naked. Watching baseball on TV? Naked. Vaccuming the apartment? Naked. Order take out Chinese? You'd better answer the door naked. I think this should become a national holiday.

The only problem with National Naked Day, as I see it, is that I'd have to look at a lot of ugly naked people. That, and it would make serving customers hot food a lot more dicey. And we'd have to suspend all those "no shirt, no shoes, no service" laws, although this poses an interesting theoretical question: if someone comes in with a shirt and no shoes, but no pants, can I serve them?

The only experience I had with nude beaches was through my father. My step mother purchased a trip for the two of them for my father's birthday. He was turning 50, and she wanted to give him a trip to remember, so she took him to Monaco. After he came back, he developed his photos. This was in the day when cameras used something called "film" and you brought this "film" to a developer to have the pictures "developed." It was all very primitive.

So anyway, I was looking through the photos of his trip. Museum, museum, castle, statue, museum, naked woman, naked woman, naked woman.... Fully 80 percent of his pictures were of topless sunbathers on the beaches of Monaco. I learned something important that day. My father was a pervert. Oh, and that women in Monaco have great taa-taas.

I think Hakima's reticence stems from her inability to separate nudity from sexuality. I can appreciate her dilemma, since I think sex is the best reason to be naked in the first place. I remember reading an article once that claimed people who visit nude beaches, especially men, don't sexualize the experience because they're too busy trying not to have boners. This seems like circular logic to me. They're not having sexual thoughts because they're trying too hard not to have sexual thoughts. I don't believe it. I had ten sexual thoughts writing that sentence, for chrissakes.

I think this subject deserves more research on my part. If anyone needs me, I'll be at the nude beach.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Lately the news has been talking about the recession deepening. I've recently seen articles asking where the stimulus money went (boring answer: it's not slated to be spent until 2010), or how we need another stimulus package, or how unemployment will go to 11 percent. I don't know about any of this; personally, I know the recession is getting worse because I see it in tips we're making.

On a $40.00 check, a $5 tip. Fifty dollar check, $6 tip. These aren't Europeans I'm talking about here. They universally tip like shit. I'm talking about Americans. Of all the tips I see come across my desk, 90% of them are like this. Apparently, we all have enough money to go out and eat. We've just decided to cheap out the service people on the tip.

Some of you might be saying to yourself "well, the servers must be giving bad service." Perhaps. But that would mean all my servers were giving terrible service to every single customer who comes in. That just doesn't make sense to me; and if it's true than the owner should close up shop. It can't be that.

The only explanation I can think of is that the American people are feeling unsure about their financial future. They just don't have the money. So let me put this as plainly as I can: If you can't afford to tip, then don't go out.

If that additional $2 you should be leaving is just too much to bear, then you have some serious financial problems. You shouldn't go out and spend $50 if you can't leave a $7.50 tip. You should be putting that $50 in the bank, or use it to pay down your credit card debt.

One of my servers even wants to go back to her tables and hand them their shitty tips back and say "you need this more than me, apparently." But I pointed out that then she'd be making no money at all. See, and that's what cheeses me off so much; service people are just average everyday people who've chosen to earn their livings by serving you. When you leave a crappy 11 percent tip, you're basically taking food out of the mouths of Hakima, who's trying to raise her son, or David, who's trying to pay for school.

So let's review: If you're check is $60, then ten percent of that is 6, and five percent is 3. Six (10%) plus three (5%) is nine (or 15%); you should be leaving a $9 tip on a $60 check. At least. If you can only afford $7, and that two dollars is so vital to your financial future, then stay home. Because you shouldn't be eating out.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Cabbie Tales

Like most New Yorkers (New Yaukers?), I have a love-hate relationship with cab drivers. I love them because all I have to do is stick out my hand, and they pick me up and take me where I want to go. I hate them, because, well, they're cab drivers.

Sometimes, it's as though they hand out hack licenses at JFK airport as they leave the plane; but only to Pakistanis, Egyptians, and Bengalis. ("Welcome to America, here's your hack license.") Moreover, despite rules that bar cabbies from talking on their cell phones, this is precisely what they do; I have a friend who has no problem leaning forward and telling them "my parents died in the Twin Towers, would you mind stopping your terrorist chatter?"

Then, there's Hana the Cabbie. Mr. Hana picked me up on MacDougal Street the other night. I told him through the windown that my destination was Brooklyn; I usually do this because some cabbies won't leave Manhattan, even though it's against the rules for them to refuse a fare no matter the destination. Mr. Hana said "no problem" and I jumped right in.

It became obvious it was a big problem for Mr. Hana, as he turned north and west when the Brooklyn Bridge was actually south and east. Now, usually, it's a this point that you get out, pay the $2.00 fare and get another cab. Because usually this means the cabbie is trying to run up the fare by taking a longer route. But then Mr. Hana asked me how to get to the bridge, and the problem became clear.

"This is my first night," Mr. Hana said. A

s I guided him, step-by-step to my door in Bay Ridge, he told me his story. He'd just started driving a hack that day. He was a student from Egypt, studying finance, and cab driving was the most lucrative job he could find. He'd been here for three years already, and had been trying to save up to start school. He liked America, even though he was all alone in the big city. You could tell he was nervous on the BQE (that's Brooklyn-Queens Expressway to you out-of-towners; see how much about NYC you learn from reading my notes?), where the traffic is still fast and furious, even at 2 am.

And after dropping my off at my door, Mr. Hana assured me that he could find his way back home. Now a lesser cabbie would have balked at driving all the way to Brooklyn, especially on his first night. Mr. Hana could have simply refused the fare. But he didn't. With pluck and determination, he got me home. And he got himself a $15 tip on a $25 fare. So I salute Mr. Hana. I hope he does well.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Here Goes

Here we go.

I've been attempting to blog on Facebook for a long time now, but what with the stupid new page design I think most of my notes have been getting lost in the stream. I find this unacceptable, because for the most part I write to get feedback from my readers. Something I always liked about being a professional game designer was the feedback from fans (even the flames from people who didn't like what I was doing). I believe that feedback from one's readers is vital to learning what works and what doesn't.

I was going to re-post a bunch of my old notes to get things started, but realized they weren't appropriate to a new endeavor. Besides, many of you have already read them.

To kick off the inaugural blog, let's lay down some ground rules:

* I curse. A lot. If you're offended by off-color language, then remove the stick out of your ass or read another blog.

* I write what's on my mind. Sometimes, this is about the world around us, or absurdities I see, or insightful political commentary. Sometimes, this is about game design. Other times, I'll write about what ever sick, twisted, perverted idea pops into my head. My agenda is to write whatever interests me. So if you're looking for one thing in particular, or a theme, that would be it.

* Feedback: I love it. If you have something to say about something I've written, sing out.