The Seattle Saga - Day Two

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The Date: 27th July to August 3rd

The Place: Seattle

The Occasion: A meeting with the Puppetmasters


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The Face of the Enemy

This was the day when we visited Microsoft.

Remarkably, we all managed to get up at a reasonable hour (10AM) and meet up for breakfast. Dan Fabulich, the Fab Dan that he is, had brought along a birthday present for me - a stone for The Stone, a puzzle-gaming group on the Internet. A bit like the AI game, but without the stories. I swear that Dan had no small amount of satisfaction on trying to get me hooked on yet another puzzle game right after the end of this one...

[Dan Fab and I both have birthdays on August 3rd. Yes, I know that this was only the 28th of July...]

I also had an interesting discussion with Phil Freeman about the power sources of the robots in A.I. (it's got to be nuclear power or nothing) and the whole TP-web shebang. I pointed out that it was pleasing for a change to see a total absence of nanotech shenanigans in the game, seeing as nanotech usually gets lumbered with the irritating role of being the magic wand in science fiction. At this point we both started off on a diatribe about the fundamental misconceptions that people have about nanotech then realised that we agreed anyway.

The visit to Microsoft was of course great fun and can best be summed up by the huge numbers of photos I took.

Some props from the set of A.I. including a lamppost and amusement ride car from the Coney Island scene.

Paolo and Vic showed us some of the props that they managed to pick up from the A.I. set - the attention to detail on these props is incredible. All our attempts to secret these props within our clothing utterly failed.

One of the little computer thingymajigs from the movie. The writing on it is actually about the computers operation and someone must have spent some time composing it. Unfortunately my photo of it is a bit blurred so I can't tell you what it says. But it lights up and everything! (it doesn't work though, unsurprisingly).

Yes, it's the genuine robot-detector that they have in the movie! Right now Matt Phillips is attempting to check if I really am a human (unknown to him, I've already disabled the detector...)

Cabel Sasser posing with a sheaf of crisp 50 Newbucks - imagine, in 141 years we'll have progressed so far to have money with rounded edges! I think Cabel is amused at the stern looking visage of the woman in the money. Brian Seitz is in the background.

A Newbucks credit card, together with embossed numbers at the bottom. No, you can't use it for 'real' Newbucks in the game.

A whole load of stuff in this box including Flesh Fair flags and a stash of Newbucks money which will be worth something serious in just under a century and a half.

The best part of the visit - seeing the Founder puzzle up close! You can see Dan Fabulich and Dan Hon trying to puzzle it out here. I can say personally that it does in fact work, but foolishly enough I didn't take a photo from the correct angle. However...

...I did manage to get a photo of Elan in front of the whiteboard where you can see an explanation of the puzzle still there. You can also see a To Do list, completely empty for the first time since the game started.

Only a small selection of Elan's vast collection of Microsoft Parking Violation notices. I can just tell that Elan is going to make me remove this photo from the public trip report, but a guy can try...

So what books does Elan Lee, creator of the A.I. web game read? First off, we have 'IQ Puzzles' - a no-brainer, that one. Also there's 'The Visual Display of Quantitiative Information' - great for those puzzles, again. Next is 'Godel, Escher and Bach', a favourite of the Cloudmakers who will undoubtedly be delighted to see it here. There's 'Sleepy Hollow/Stuart Little/Fight Clug' there, and also (ha!) 'Debugging the Development Process'.

What else... 'Galveston' by Sean Stewart, a natural choice. 'MathMagic', for those tricky puzzles, and 'Code Breaking'. Finally we have 'The Golden Compass', an absolutely wonderful novel by Philip Pullman that in my opinion not only blows Harry Potter out of the water but also nukes him from orbit (it's the only way to be sure). Last on the shelf is 'Teach Yourself Microsoft Outlook 2000 Programming in 24 Hours'; for shame, Elan, for shame! Okay, I'll shut up now.

While some might claim I'm being hard on Elan here, I believe I have just cause - while in his office he caught me admiring his selection of toys, and then gave me a box set of some 'House of the Dead' figures (which I wasn't admiring). I refused such an extravagant gift but he insisted, so I tried to get rid of it later by leaving it in Cabel's room at the hotel, but he wasn't having any of that and gave it back to me later. I only managed to get rid of it at my birthday.

Of course, I omit the fact that Elan did give Dan and I two mobile phones that only worked in the UK...

Paolo, with the three-screen setup that we'd all love to have. He's currently showing off his art skilz with Jeanine Salla's business cards. Incidentally, do you remember the Red King restaurant bill, that had the Statue Security phone number on it? The Art Department created that from scratch in Photoshop. Not too shabby, huh?

Having a break in a Microsoft conference room after taking full advantage of their free soft-drinks policy.

After a quick chat in the conference room during which time we talked about the game, we had some lunch in a Mexican place then went back to the hotel where we had a bit of a nap (some people had a walk around the city, which had some serious consequences later on that night...). Then most of us including Pete Fenlon, Sean Stewart and Phil Freeman met up for a game of The Adventures of Baron Munchausen. The rules are basically that each person has to make up a fantastical story based on the character the guy before you gives you; for example, Pete named me 'Pope Adrian' and I gave Sean the title of 'Grand Poobah'.

The game was absolutely hilarious and had a recurring theme of evil twin brothers (we had three twin brothers at one point - don't ask me how), dirty strings of yarn, armless and nameless princesses, an adventuring Pope who blessed the entire Atlantic Ocean to kill off attacking tuna fishes and an inexhaustible supply of groan-worthy puns from Pete, Sean and Phil Freeman, most of which were based on the word 'serf'.

You had to be there, I suppose.


The moderators disappeared off for a dinner and then we spent a couple of hours in the GameWorks arcade with Elan. We'd all been looking forward to this and I think the photos will sum it up:

Once we got there, there was no option but to play Dance Dance Revolution as soon as was humanly possible. Here we see Cabel and Dan Fabulich (a seasoned Dance Dance veteran) strutting their stuff.

The photo you've been waiting for, Elan on the dance floor. Elan is a very accomplished swing dancer, so Dan was definitely feeling the heat on this game, as evidenced by his lack of sweater in this photo.

We didn't just play Dance Dance Revolution. No, we spent quite a bit of time playing what is possibly the best lightgun game ever - even better than Silent Scope! (my friends will know exactly how much that means to me). This is Police 911. It looks like a normal lightgun game, but you'd be wrong in thinking that. Police 911 has sonar sensors above that yellow pad that can sense how you are standing on it - whether you're tilting to the right or left or if you're crouching. It can then translate that information into your movements on screen, so if someone's shooting at you, you can duck beneath a car and shoot his legs out from under him.

It's enormous fun and you get a pretty good workout (and aching knees from all the crouching) from it. Between the four of us (Cabel, Elan, Dan Hon and I), we managed to finish the game!

I had a go on this game the following game while some Japanese tourists were watching; they didn't know about the sonar thing so they thought I was just a bit too involved in the game when I started crouching and flailing about all over the place. But they learned, oh yes, they learned when they went on the game <cue evil laughter>.

So this is Elan playing here, with his super-shiny-shoes and badass mofo 'you messin' wit me?' glint in his eyes.

Dan Hon and I on Dance Dance Revolution. I may need to buy a Playstation and the game now.

Once we were kicked out of GameWorks because it'd closed (Dan Fabulich was desperately trying to finish off his last game of Dance Dance), we all adjourned to the hotel lobby for drinks. Shockingly, the bar was closed, and it was only 1AM! There was much frenzied discussion about buying drinks and locating bars, and eventually we managed to obtain some drinks. But no sooner than we'd set them down on a table in the lobby, a menacing man appeared who informed us that drinks were not welcome in the lobby. After shooting him with the requisite amount of disbelieving stares, we tramped up to someone's hotel room and chatted there for a bit.

It didn't last for long though. I mentioned earlier that some people went for a walk around Seattle instead of having a nap; Dan Hon was one of those people. Consequently he was completely exhausted and required an injection of coffee, stat. The problem was, he was so tired that the problem of making coffee in a strange and distant country with peculiar coffee makers presented too much of a challenge...

Dan Hon attempting to make some coffee, with Irwin, Cabel and Elan looking on in amusement.

The coffee was made, yes, but at what cost? For during the coffee-making, we laughed too much that the hotel received two separate complaints from other rooms about the noise we were making (I still maintain that it was their fault for trying to get to sleep at 2AM), so once again we went down to the hotel lobby, alcohol-less but bearing lots of snacks.

Lots more talking ensued and all I can remember is that the topic of the seminal game Bridge Builder was brought up. Bridge Builder is a magical, wonderful engineering game where you have to build a bridge across a river with limited resources in a real-physics world. The first levels are easy but as you go along you find yourself trying (unsuccessfully) to jump trains across gaps in the bridge. For the last level one of my friends built a tilting bridge that collapsed after the train had gone over it (but the train got to the other side, which is what counts!).

I also talked about the game of Orgasmic Cat, also known as 'Bust a Move' or 'Puzzle Bobble'. Why do I call it Orgasmic Cat? Well, I played a lot of this game on a pirated Japanese copy, and so we had no idea of the rules or what the characters were saying. All we knew was that occasionally, for no apparent reason, you'd fire a bubble and the entire screen would explode with colours and the cat (if you chose that character, which we did a lot) would seemingly have an orgasm.

It being a kid's game, I knew this couldn't be true but there simply was no alternative explanation.

The rest of the conversation went on those kind of lines, and we all got to sleep at 3:30AM.

On to Day 3 >>