Saturday, January 31, 2009

The Game Jam continues ...

Ladies and gentlemen, I swoop in for a flash update on how things are faring in the 48 hour Global Game Jam. As mentioned yesterday, I'm currently sitting in Gauteng with a couple of Game.Dev associates and churning away at a remote entry in the hopes that even if we don't get to receive prizes and accolades for our efforts, we'll at least get a pat on the head and an orange smoothie to fight over.

“Smoothie's MINE, bitch.”

Right now I smell like doody, my hair is greasy enough to deep-fry a pan of chips and I hate the majority of mankind. So I guess I feel like a real game developer again. And we've only just gone a wee bit beyond the 24 hour mark so far. I'm relying on a fairly respectable arsenal of noodles and Play energy drinks to tide me over.

Tic-Tacs: I may smell like armpit, but at least my breath is minty fresh.

That concludes this mini-update. The other devs are staring at me in funny ways and asking me why I'm not trawling through code right now. Better get going before they bring out the whips and butter again.

... don't ask about the butter.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Global Game Jam approaches

The past day or so has been spent in anticipation of the Global Game Jam, an event in which teams of developers gather at specific locations around our fair planet and knuckle down to make games for 48 hours – generating enough geek power to raze 600 rugby fields and destroy all jockstraps in a 10-kilometer radius. Although the game jam has already begun in other parts of the world (check the website for live feeds), South Africa's own event is not yet underway – we're still sitting pretty and waiting for the local 5pm mark.

Regrettably, the team that I'm in cannot make it to UCT for the South African leg, so we'll be doing some pseudo-formal Gauteng-based participation instead. This shouldn't be a problem though: the competition starts this evening, but it seems to have a remarkably generous signup deadline.

Fact: Game development is synonymous with time travel.

I'm still not sure how hectically we're going to be involved with this – it will probably depend on the topic, our schedule and how much Red Bull is currently stashed in the fridge. Going full steam ahead, however, may mean 48 hours without sleep and a couple of missed blog posts. We're pretty much just playing it by ear at this stage.

To take our minds off the impending Jam, we had a board games evening last night where I was introduced to Arkham Horror . I had a great deal of fun playing it once I got accustomed to the rules – if you're a fan of H. P. Lovecraft and board games in general, consider getting your hands on this little gem.

Halfway through the game, Danny failed a roll and entered this trancelike stupor. We're worried about him.

So long for now, dear reader. You may or may not hear from me tomorrow. Updates will resume when I manage to piece together the inevitably shattered components of my sanity.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

This entry is about lasagne

As a travelling geek, there will be times when one has to bite the bullet and actually cook something instead of living off Easter eggs and peanut butter sandwiches. This blog post will teach you everything you need to know about making an amazing and delicious lasagne using everyday objects that you can find at the local greengrocer. Yes, dear reader, you are about to become a culinary artist, and the kitchen shall be your canvas!

Two fridges. One embodies the power of Good. The other holds broccoli.

You will need:

- some mince meat stuff (replace with plant stuff if you're a vegetarian)
- a block of cheese (preferably delicious)
- a bunch of pasta
- cheese sauce (though it'll look like powder at first, so don't be fooled)
- milk, I think


- prepare by nagging your associates two hour in advance to start making supper because you're bloody hungry and don't know where any of the kitchen hardware is.
- receive block of cheese. Wait for fellow cooking person's instructions, then begin to grate cheese.
- after about 30 seconds, realise that you don't have a cheese grater. Request grater. Discover that there isn't one. Slice cheese with knife instead.
- eat two pieces of cheese because you're hungry and you like cheese. DON'T TELL ANYONE.
- receive pot of lumpy slop. Figure out that it's cheese sauce. Begin stirring to get lumps out (WARNING: do not attempt to eat the lumps, steal more sliced cheese if you're hungry).
- as an added bonus, tilt the bowl slightly and use a fancy whisking manoeuvre that you learned a year ago. This looks far more professional and your colleagues will respect you for it.
- keep stirring until fellow cooking person tells you to stop. Continue stirring anyway because you take pride in your work.
- get distracted and watch a friend playing Worms on Xbox Live.
- feel inspired to play Gears of War 2 for an hour.
- return to kitchen, open oven, and the lasagne will miraculously be ready.
- congratulations! Slice into portions and enjoy!

Om nom nom nom.

Credit goes to Danny “dislekcia” Day, who actually does know how to make lasagne for real and whose hands have graciously posed for the picture above.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Tide Media office romp (NAG / SACM)

Being a freelancer, I try to hunt down as many separate income streams as I can. One job which holds a special place in my heart however is my work for Tide Media, a gaming and technology group which gives us the dearly-beloved NAG magazine every month.

If you aren't a complete philistine, you may also know about NAG's slightly smaller sister, SACM. I throw a few articles at the latter on a regular basis, but in all the years that I've worked for this employer, I've only visited the stomping grounds once. Yesterday, I decided to up that count and nagged my Bat Cave buddies to take me to the office in Johannesburg.

What I have been dying to do for a very, very long time is have a bit of face-to-face shop talk with some of the staff at Tide Media – you know, the typical, angst-ridden speech and related malarkey of, “Do you like my work now? What direction would you like it to take? Am I a good little journo? Can I lick your shoes?”

Unfortunately, as expressive as I like to think I am in most circumstances, I tend to falter horribly whenever I try broaching this particular subject. Thus, after arriving at the office and giving a timid little wave to some of the faces that I actually recognised, I realised that sitting around feeling tongue-tied wasn't nearly as cool as ogling at a Call of Duty multiplayer session and chatting with Geoff “GeometriX” Burrows while he played the Dawn of War II beta.

Actually, this is a pic of Geoff with Left 4 Dead. But he does have a winning smile.

Of course, what few people seem to understand is that it's not always fun and games in the Tide Media office. Yes, as with many journalistic pursuits, there are times when you'll be sitting around with nothing to do but play videogames and kid around. But this line of work is fickle. At any moment, an endless swarm of tasks could scramble out of the woodwork and latch onto your face like a troupe of demented headcrabs, devouring all traces of joy, spare time and sleep. I've seen it happen in many organisations. It can get messy.

No, Geoffy, noooooooooooo!

Fortunately, I caught the team on a quiet day and I ended up having quite an enjoyable visit to the office, shop talk be damned. Heck, I even snagged a free copy of SACM just because I could. Life is good.

Of course, that wasn't the only stuff I got up to that day. Take this tasty little postscript, for example. While wandering about Melville that evening with a Joburg friend, I caught sight of this rather interesting place:

If you weren't reading this post already, I bet you're paying attention now.

Yes, adult shops aren't all that uncommon, especially in the bigger urban areas (I think I actually saw three separate Adult Worlds while cruising about that evening), but the green sign above it was what caught my interest.

If you don't believe me, go visit Melville. It's real. And it's hilarious. Check out the full-size image if you want.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Bat Cave – the geek haven

Currently, my sojourn in Pretoria has me staying at possibly the most awesome gaming sanctuary in South Africa. From the outside, it looks like the average two-man digs. Stepping through the threshold, however, reveals a warren of gaming consoles, dual-screen PCs, geek paraphenelia and beanbag chairs all interconnected by a network of fly leads, USB cables and iron chains made of raw awesome. They call this place the Bat Cave.

The wardrobes are full of gaming T-shirts earned at launch events. On the coffee table lies a copy of GPU Gems 2 , the Exalted game guide and other gaming-related literature. A large cupboard in the living room serves as a home for the largest Xbox game collection I have ever seen outside an actual store. Oh, and for some reason, these people have two bloody huge Gears of War 2 promo banners just standing about in one corner. I've yet to ask how they got their hands on these.

They're real. I've touched them.

These people are no ordinary gamers, however. They're two of South Africa's top game development evangelists with their own company, a thriving game development community and a Top-20 finalist in Microsoft's international DreamBuildPlay competition which they lovingly named SpaceHack. They have their submission video up on YouTube.

I recommend hopping to 1:10 for the juicy action shots

I'm also pleased to say that these kind and gentle folk have a pretty nice couch for me to sleep on. Being something of a self-styled “couch connoisseur”, I take it upon myself to rate every couchlike object that I sleep on in the same way that a sommelier judges a fine wine.

My couch. My throne. My art.

This particular couch is long, reasonably soft and the arms are fairly low, making it possible to rest against a cushion or pillow on the edge without taking too much strain in the neck. It is situated perfectly in front of the living room television and the smell is nothing to complain about (it turns out that these geeks are the reasonably clean kind). You can also fall asleep within view of the aformentioned Gears of Awesomeness posters.

The only drawback is the chafing of the couch material at times, which can get rather uncomfortable when turning or moving in one's sleep – particularly during those summer nights. Still, I give this couch a sleep rating of 8/10 overall. Congratulations, gentlemen: you possess a fine resting spot for the weary vagabond.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Kung Fu Kitchen

Me being a glorified hobo of note (although I prefer the term “wanderer and vagabond”), one of my ever-present concerns is sourcing (and eating) cheap, reliable and reasonably healthy food. Occasionally, I'll benefit from a host with a fully stocked kitchen, a passion for food and Jamie Oliver tied up and locked in their basement. At other times, it's up to me to figure out what my wallet and stomach will best tolerate.

A few places near the Tuks varsity in Pretoria have some good food at a great price to appeal to the local student population, one example being Kung Fu Kitchen. Not only is the food good, but it has a full complement of actual Asian waitrons! Truly amazing!

( Disclaimer: Not actually a picture of Bruce Lee.)

Food takes a while to prepare, but the wait is worth it. The chicken chow mein doesn't skimp on the chicken. The sweet and sour sauce really tastes like sweet and sour sauce. Possibly one of the most awesome little factoids to remember, however, is that R35 can get you a full 3-course “set meal” that includes (for example) soup, dumplings, vegetables, chicken and a lovely bow-tie dessert. Add two rand to that price and they'll throw in the entire nation of Australia.

Mmm, Australia!

If you're looking for something a little cheaper, get yourself some of the chow mein. The serving is enormous, and if you grab the leftovers for takeaway you'll have a very convincing breakfast the next morning.

This is just the leftover portion. The full meal outweighs a baby elephant.

Apparently, the kitchen can get a little too busy on big nights, but it was an awesome place to spend a Sunday evening chatting with a few friends. My gastronomical satisfaction serves as testament to that.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Mayhem LAN at Johannesburg

My visit to Gauteng wouldn't be complete without a 24-hour session of sweating, swearing and gaming in a great big hall full of people who are very nearly as socially maladjusted as I am. At this month's Mayhem LAN, tempers flared, people overdosed on caffeine and the LAN hall smelled just the way you'd expect a room full of dirty gamer things.

Of course, I'm still forced to admit that this is possibly the best such LAN I've ever been to ever ever. Mayhem has been going for a while already, growing from a handful of enthusiasts to a major gaming event supporting a total of 220 merry networking individuals.

Welcome to gamer heaven. Bring deodorant and Red Bull.

What really makes this LAN special, however, is the personality of those involved. Most major gaming events are lamentable examples of how spoilt, annoying or downright dull enthusiasts can be – little more than a bunch of raging DotA and CS players who have no sense of variety, fair play or common sportsmanship.

Instead of this grim scenario, I was presented with a group of pleasant and interesting individuals who exposed me to a variety of new games and whined a full 90 percent less than usual. We even took out the time to sit outside, have a few drinks and braai between gaming sessions – not the experience that I was expecting, but it was a welcome change.

I dressed appropriately, adorning myself with stamps, stickers and even a neat little F1 key earring that I'd received the day before. Amidst the LAN madness, I struck a few handsome poses to showcase this.

Winning formula: black and white photo, faraway look, awkward posture and six pages of emo poetry.

Eventual go-to-sleep time was about 5am, after returning from Mayhem to discuss cool Invader Zim quotes and laugh about Ninja Gaiden.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Learning about Pretoria

Right now, our dashing hero is gallavanting about in Pretoria, Johannesburg's itty baby brother (or sister – can never remember the correct term, really). Things have been interesting so far – having spent the better part of the past three years sitting in quiet ol' Grahamstown (home of the National Arts Festival), I've forgotten about some of the more quintessential facets of modern society, including the idea that people actually need cars to get from place to place, and that said cars have a nasty tendency to get broken into if you leave them unattended for more than half an hour.

Security concerns mean that I stop carrying around my beautifully adorned HP laptop, leaving it to rot in one of those maximum-security forts that the Pretorians call 'average suburban households' while I go off impressing men and seducing women.

If you look carefully, you'll see a small sticker on the side. That's a kitty.

This leaves me feeling somewhat naked, however, and the missing five kilograms on my right side (my laptop case doubling as a carry-everything-you-own manbag at most times) has left me rather unbalanced and dangerously stooping to the left.

Pic unrelated.

Some of my recent activities have touched upon the more chilled-out sectors of Pretoria's night life, including such environs as Tings an' Times and a Cool Runnings hangout in Hatfield. Both have a distinct Jamaican vibe, and the latter also sports a pool table, foosball table and hubbly (hookah) rentals from the bar. This is pretty awesome, mainly because you don't have sweaty, gel-spiked jocks brushing up against you on a near-constant basis. Just be sure to get in when it's not too busy – especially if you want to benefit from Cool Running's sweet little extras.

Friday, January 23, 2009


At the request of a few good friends (and a considerable number of Internet stalkers, no doubt), I've established this blog to highlight the slightly more interesting points in my life for the year 2009. Why? Because I can, because I want to, and because I'm going to be doing things slightly more interesting than geeking out in front of my computer this year.

In fact, I hope to geek out in an endless number of South African locations over the next 365 days, assuming that all such locations have a reliable cellphone signal and a nearby 3-prong power supply. Being a fresh-faced Rhodes University graduate with a penchant for writing and a tendency to be extremely awesome, I deemed myself fit to wander the country for a year and avoid the responsibility of a desk job for just that little bit longer.

This means braving uncomfortable couches, yukky bed and breakfast food, agonising bus rides and exasperated friends all over this beloved country. The obstacles may appear insurmountable, dear reader, but I shall overcome them in the name of being interesting – to seek out new events, people and videogame outlets.

And now I leave you with this caveat: according to sources, the average person reads between 200 and 250 words per minute. This particular blog post weighs in at about 276 words.

If we were to do a quick bit of calculation, that would pin your average reading time for this blog post at just over a minute.

That's a minute of your life that you spent reading this silly introductory post instead of something more interesting, insightful or important. Sucks to be you.