Jeff Vogel

(Sorry for the lack of posting recently, I was dog-sick last week and figured you didn’t want to hear about that.)

Jeff Vogel is The Man. Honestly, there is a very short list of people I truly admire and Jeff is on that list. Jeff is the president, founder, and 1/3 of the staff of Spiderweb Software, a shareware company that makes role-playing games. During the Dark Times, before the Baldur’s Gate series revitalized the commercial RPG industry, Jeff’s site was pretty much the only place to get a new RPG.

And were they good? You bet! Graphically they invoked old-school, Ultima-style roleplaying. They were well-written, had good interfaces, had tactical combat, and were big like RPGs are supposed to be.

Jeff’s story should be very familiar to anyone who knows any computer game history. He started off on the Apple II when he was 13, playing deep old-school RPGs like Eamon. He taught himself some Apple programming and started writing simple games. But it wasn’t until grad school that he got serious. He bought himself a Mac and a copy of Codewarrior and started writing his first game to escape the tedium and boredom of grad school. That game was Exile: Escape from the Pit. Once the game was done, he decided to try to sell it as shareware and was pleasantly surprised at how the market responded, as are most people who try shareware. Exile’s success prompted him to begin a sequel.

Eventually his games were making enough money to justify his quitting the hated grad school altogether, and since then he’s been making shareware RPGs full-time.

Jeff started his company in 1994. It is now 2005. At this point, Jeff has written twelve games. He says it takes him about eight months to write an RPG, and about two months to port it to the PC (since all his new work is done on the Mac). Then he decompresses for a few weeks and starts on the next one.

That is one hell of a work ethic.

And it basically allows him to live what he considers the perfect life – doing what he wants, living where he wants, working out of his house (which was paid for by his games). This has prompted him to start advocating the shareware system. Jeff says, “Shareware is a force for good.”

And in the end, he’s right. You can download huge demos of all twelve of Jeff’s games, play them all the way through, and not give Jeff a penny. But if you like them and you want to finish them, you can pay a very reasonable fee to get the complete game – and you can do so knowing that every bit of that money is going straight to Jeff, and that your contribution means Jeff will be able to continue to make games. There is a partnership between the player and the developer that just isn’t there in commercial games.

Front Mission OST

Front Mission is a series of turn-based strategy games created and published by Square. They use the same engine as the Final Fantasy Tactics games, but the Front Mission series is set in the future, where wars are fought by large bipedal fighting robots called wanzers. (The Japanese really do seem to like those, don’t they?)

The original Front Mission was a Super Nintendo (Super Famicom) game. It was never released in the States, and boy did we miss out.

Aw, look at the cute widdle mechs!

Aw, look at the cute widdle mechs!

Most of us North Americanians cut our teeth on Front Mission 3. Now, while I really enjoyed playing Front Mission 3, I can’t remember a single music track from the game. Nothing from the soundtrack stayed with me.

But the Front Mission 1 OST is awesome. Yes, there are tracks on there that I don’t like, but most of it is fantastic. And the most interesting thing about the soundtrack is that it was composed by two women, Yoko Shimomura and Noriko Matsueda. My favorite tracks are:

Force Stall (Noriko Matsueda) – Typical “We Won!” music, but expertly composed, and I love that little faux trumpet trill Noriko put in there. When I first heard this track, I thought, “Ah, this is the ‘I won the game’ music!” Oh, no. This would have been a sufficient “final victory” track for any other game, but not for Front Mission.

Manifold Irons (Yoko Shimomura) – I’m going to go on record here and say that this is the best combat loop I’ve ever heard. Ever. It’s urgent but not shrill. The tone is kept low until the high instruments “break through the clouds” as it were, and even after the high instruments take over it doesn’t get on the player’s nerves (or at least, it doesn’t get on mine). Plus it’s just interesting to listen to. Too bad it plays on the enemy’s turn…

The General Situation (Noriko Matsueda) – This is played while the player is being briefed on his mission objectives. It’s very military-oriented music that doesn’t feel triumphant or sinister (you are the good guys, after all).

Ominous (Noriko Matsueda) – The name says it all. This track typically comes up during a plot point where the player is being betrayed. My favorite part of this track is the little radar ping – perfect.

Kalen (Noriko Matsueda) – Is it just me, or do the women always get the best themes in video games? This is the theme for Kalen, the main character’s girlfriend who dies in the first mission. Simple, lovely stuff.

Elegie (Yoko Shimomura) – Hey, did you know that the Super Nintendo could almost perfectly imitate a piano?

Natalie (Noriko Matsueda) – Again with the women having the best themes. This is a slow, beautiful, dancing track.

Within Living Memory… (Noriko Matsueda) – And finally we have the real ending theme. It starts as a mix of Kalen’s Theme, and then builds up to an amazing crescendo.

What you’ll notice about most of the tracks is how sad they sound. Not pity-party sad, but the true grief of lost loved ones. In fact, if there’s a theme to the soundtrack (and to the game, and to the Front Mission series in general) it’s that of the personal grief that war causes.

Meal, Ready-to-Eat

I ate some MREs this week. (Quick definition of an MRE: An MRE is a self-contained meal in a plastic pouch. The pouch contains smaller retort pouches filled with various foods. MREs are designed to last a long time at room temperature and are used by the military and disaster relief agencies.)

Now, you may be thinking, “Why would you willingly consume an MRE? Soldiers complain about them all the time!”

A couple reasons. First, I’d always been curious about them – it’s just an interesting concept. Second, all MREs have about the same number of calories and are balanced meals, which means they could help dieters. (Which I’ll get to in another post soon.)

Having eaten four MREs (clam chowder, meat loaf, pork loin and cheese tortellini), I can honestly say that today’s MREs taste pretty good, actually. The only one I didn’t like was the cheese tortellini. They are also pretty darn filling for such a small amount of food (the main entre of an MRE is eight ounces and the side entre is usually about six ounces).

Which got me to thinkin’. At my last job, we had a frozen food vending machine in the break room. It had frozen meals, as well as ice cream bars and other frozen desserts. But the thing was always breaking down – either the refrigerator would break, causing everything to thaw and go bad, or the machine wouldn’t give you your meal because the vending spring malfunctioned. And in the end, all you got was a frozen meal.

Why not have a vending machine that serves food in retort pouches, like MREs come in? You could have main dishes and side dishes, you wouldn’t have to refrigerate them (food sealed in retort pouches lasts for three years at room temperature), you could have more variety, the machine would work better, and the food would taste better. They’d taste even better than MREs do because they wouldn’t have to be made by the lowest bidder.

Why hasn’t anyone done this yet? Heck, why can’t I buy retort-packaged food at the supermarket? As far as I know, the only company using retort packages for anything is Starkist for their tuna. I guess it’s probably because everybody is set up to use cans and switching over would be a big cost…but I’ve got a feeling someone is eventually going to bring retort-packaged food to the consumer market in a big way, and I think the market is going to respond very favorably.

Hit & Myth Update

It’s coming along. Lots of tweaks made in just the last couple of days have made the game much more fun to play, and the game is stabilizing on the Gizmondo itself. I’ve got the interface stuff in and it looks nice, plus I’ve got the code necessary for translating/localizing the game in, though we don’t have the actual translated text yet.

They’re recording dialogue down the hall, so we have to keep the noise down…occasionally weird/funny stuff floats down the hall towards us.

Ah, gotta go. It’s time for me to do my voice 🙂

I love this job.

Happy Fourth!

“Life is very very short, and it’s important to give thanks for the things that are good.”
– John Linnel of They Might Be Giants, during their performance at Stubbs here in Austin

Hmmm…I’m going to come close to breaking my PSRD rule today (that is, I don’t discuss politics, sex, religion or drugs here). But I can’t help it.

I love my country. There, I said it. I love America and I love being an American. I am fully aware of just how damn lucky I was to be born and raised here. I think that the values that this country was founded on, while not perfect (because nothing is), give the greatest number of people the greatest opportunity to get what they want out of their lives.

And I think that the best way to show my gratitude is to take full advantage of the opportunities I have here. I know that I haven’t been. I resolve to do better in the future. I also resolve to continue to teach my children why it is that America succeeds when so many other countries and peoples fail, so that when they grow up they may succeed, and in doing so contribute to America’s success rather than detract from it.