The Animal Farm

May 27th, 2007

Chicago Week 1 Retrospective

Random musings on my time here, in no particular order:

(1) People here are mean. My first indication was the aggressiveness of the drivers and the number of times you hear a car horn go off in anger (which never ends, regardless of how late). But it’s not just driving - they’re hostile in general. They have no problem being pushy to a ten year old boy who’s afraid to get on an escalator. It broke my heart a little.

(2) The 24 hour food services in Granville are disappointing, bordering on criminal. I found two bars, one noisy bar-and-grill, and one burger joint. The burger joint turned me off the least, and the food was ok, but the atmosphere was uncomfortable and the price was not right.

(3) The place is nuts with tourists right now. I guess because it’s summer. It made trying to navigate Michigan Ave. annoying.

(4) The place is also nuts with homeless. At first, I would either ignore them or politely decline to give them anything, but I’ve opted not to do that anymore. I’m not going to give away all my money or help everyone, but ignoring everyone just isn’t in me either. I don’t buy for a second that they’re all there because of their own mistakes and they could get out of their situation if they just “worked harder” or “got a job,” and even if I did, I’m still not going to deny a man food when he clearly doesn’t have any.

(5) Diversity here is interesting. I always assumed that Morgantown, a college town with people coming from all over the world to go to grad school, was a pretty diverse place. It isn’t. The people in Morgantown aren’t 1/5th as diverse as those in Chicago.

(6) Public transportation is a beautiful thing. The eL makes the PRT look like outdated rubbish. Almost everything is connected (although there is a fair bit of walking involved in getting to many places). I hear a lot of people complain about the eL. They’ve clearly never been to Morgantown or to a town lacking any public transportation at all.

(7) EA is a great place to work. I really can’t say much about the project I’m working on or the stuff in development, but it’s all Pretty Awesome.

(8) How is it that a seven story mall doesn’t have a single video game store? In fact, I haven’t seen a video game store yet in the entire city. I hope I find one soon, since I fully intend on spoiling myself when my first paycheck comes around.

I think that’s all I have to say. I purchased GPU Gems today, so I’m going to be spending a good bit of time reading that, and maybe I’ll be implementing some cool things to show off. Speaking of which, I still haven’t updated the site to show off my shadow mapping or nifty plasma effects.

“At 30 years old, a woman’s greatest fear should be choking to death alone in her apartment.” –Jack Donagee (30 Rock)

May 26th, 2007

Masters of Doom

I picked up the book Masters of Doom, because, as a game developer, it was almost shameful that I hadn’t read it already. The book is the story of the Two Johns - John Romero and John Carmack, famous for their work on Commander Keen, Doom, Quake, and about a gagillion other less known games. It details their childhood, their rise in the game industry, and the conflicts that split the two.

The book reads splendidly. It’s a narrative put together for someone almost completely unfamiliar with games, but it still doesn’t shy away from difficult or little-known topics. I was especially surprised when I saw a description of BSP Trees in there, although it didn’t seem quite right the way the author had written it. The book isn’t really full of these technical things, but their insertion gave it a little street cred in my mind.

I was surprised by what I read. For some reason - a reason I can’t explain - I always imagined id as a company that had itself together. Masters of Doom paints the opposite picture - of people constantly in conflict and companies with heaps of issues. Both the Johns come out a little less likeable. Whereas I once would’ve dreamed of working for id, I now don’t think I could handle it.

Still, it’s a very good story, and I’d recommend anyone (even non-gamers) read it.

It looks like I’m going to be getting quite a bit of reading done while I’m here. My next purchase is likely going to be 3D Game Engine Architecture, but if people have any books they feel I absolutely must read, feel free to leave your recommendations as a comment to this post. If I think you’re smart, I might listen.

You better step it up.

May 26th, 2007

Awesome

That is awesome that you get to work on something cool, Sowas.  I can’t wait until you get back and can tell me some of the stuff you worked on/show me some new tricks you learned.  I hope you are having a great time there, with work and play.

I don’t really have much to say right now, just thought I would post a comment to Brian instead of simply commenting :-p.

~Zach

May 21st, 2007

Challenge Everything

First day at EA today! And it was crazy awesome!

I’m working on… well, I can’t tell you. The truth is I’m not sure how much information I’m allowed to divulge, and I’m not about to risk my job so you goons can have your curiosity satiated. Be satisfied when I say I’m working on something cool.

The people are all pretty awesome. Everyone’s fun and energetic and constantly cracking jokes. The HR person, who I fully expected to be a grumpy business-type, was lively and provided the best tour/introduction to a job I’ve ever experienced. And given the stuff I’ve seen people doing, they all seem very talented.

Everything’s underway. I’ve already done my first task, and I’m looking forward to seeing the other stuff they’re going to have me doing.

He’s going to try to make you get coffee.

May 19th, 2007

I’m in Your Chicago, Living in your Apartmentz

Train Assessment: Not as bad as I expected.  Got a little sleep.  Train was three hours late, which was fun.

Apartment Assessment: Pretty nice.  Cushy room.  Comfortable futon.  Lots of space.  A giant whiteboard (!!!).  Hardwood floors mean a lot of creaking, though, and I can hear the neighbors walking around a lot as a result.

Roommate Assessment: Cool guy thus far.

Driving Assessment: Never take a car to Chicago.  It’s suicide.  Right-of-way laws are merely suggestions - very lax suggestions.

Taxi Assessment: Most terrifying experience of my life.  Taxi driver viewed the right-of-way laws as less suggestions and more things to be completely ignored.  Speeds were ridiculous.  Tailgating was commonplace.  Merging without looking was the norm.  We only got honked at once, though, and he only pulled into the other lane of traffic once.

Town Assessment: Cozy.  Peaceful.  Aside from the noisy traffic.  Lots of pretty ladies.  Walking around is relaxing.

Stay tuned for the eL and sight-seeing assessments.

I wish I had a cute picture of a cat to go with this post.

May 13th, 2007

Nibble Meows

I leave for Chicago on Friday. Which is nifty considering I don’t yet have a place to live. Not through any fault of trying - I’ve contacted well over thirty people now trying to work things out, and the few who have responded to my e-mails are significantly more hard-pressed to respond to my phone calls. One guy may have said yes to me subletting his place, but he has yet to send me any of the papers. One girl may have also said yes, but she is practically unreachable. It’s made for a very frustrating week. I wonder what living on the streets is going to be like.

Does anyone want to get together Friday? My train doesn’t leave ’til midnight, and I figure I’ll try to get as many people together for dinner as possible before I leave.

Nikki came down this weekend. It was fun, though we mostly just lounged around and yelled at each other. Went out a few times and did random things; nothing much to say, though it was a good visit.

Mother’s Day is today! Give your mother a call, you insensitive son or daughter or son-daughter!

I’m sort of a big deal. People know me. My bookshelf is filled with leather-bound novels and my house smells of rich mahogany.

May 1st, 2007

Three Weeks

Ahem.

“You’re one of my best students.”

“Are you a doctoral student? You definitely should consider it. You have the aptitude.”

Those were two comments I received when demoing my final project for Natural Language Processing. Sortta made me feel all tingly. The project actually turned out pretty neat - it would take a body of text and produce a terse summary of the text by extracting key phrases. I’m considering adding a “Projects” section to the site to display works which aren’t games, and that may be one of the things that goes up when this happens.

Moving on. I may have talked about this before, but I’m starting to feel a backlash toward academic papers. The concept is great, and I definitely love having all that information readily available. However, the way they are written can sometimes be frustrating. You’ll be presented with mountains of theory and background, but in the end the implementation of the paper doesn’t nearly reflect the complexity with which the paper’s presented. For example, the crux of Watanabe’s paper on text summarization clocks in at about 25 extremely simple lines of code. The Perona-Malik paper on image smoothing (which was a particularly hard one to read) all boils down to less than fourty lines which are all straight-forward. I’m not saying all the information isn’t necessary, but there has to be some way to present the information so that the underlying theory and the implementation don’t seem harder than they actually are.

I picked up Stranger’s Wrath for $5 at K-Mart, and it’s probably one of the best $5 I’ve spent. It’s a very pretty game with a whole lot of style. The voice acting is very western-esque, and the dialog is campy and typically very entertaining. It’s a first-person shooter that plays differently from any first-person shooter I’ve played, and trying to play it like those games inevitably ends in a game over. The different missions are varied and provide a whole lot of challenge. Overall, the game is just amazing. I’ll try to provide a more thorough review when I get further along, but in the meantime, if you see this game lying in a bargain bin somewhere, don’t think twice about buying it.

Oh, I start at EA on May 21st. Nice.

Ancient Chinese secret huh?

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