Thursday, June 28, 2012

but the secret is still my own

(from the loss album; from a 1908 edition of The Fairy Tales of Hans Christian 
Andersen; illustration possibly by Helen Stratton)
Of all my myriad maintained presences on the web, I think only Twitter has survived unscathed from the current bout of worry and depression. Every time I try to turn the tide away from one place, it explodes in another. I suppose it's notable, in some sense, that I'm not sharing my current anxieties--outside of brief mentions--with my loves, but I'd say that's more an indication of me falling into bad habits, than a sign of strength and safety.

It's never easy living with an open heart. And I have tried my level best to stay open, stay accessible, but I am watching myself fold away, close in, curl up. And the real tragedy is that I'm not entirely convinced that--right now, at least--that's not the best thing to do.

But I am going to make a better effort to lift the Train Wreck from the current mire (which is morbidly amusing considering the blog's name), and get back to other things. We'll see how long this resolution lasts this time.

Last night I had a chance to play through City of Heroes' new Summer Blockbuster event. It's actually interesting--which is good, because to get eligible characters all the badges they can get, I'm going to be playing through this a lot with friends.

There are two parts to the event, they're both fairly random as to which one you get first. The "Time Gladiators" part sends you to a Romansesque arena, to fight several sets of enemies. It's very challenging, depending on your group strength (and, since these events are limited to four players, that can very wildly indeed), and it's not uncommon to die on the arena floor--at which point, of course, you're sent back to the theatre lobby (where you can fill up on "concessions" at the concessions stand ("concessions" in this case being inspirations which help you heal, make you stronger, tougher, restore your endurance, give you luck--whatever it is that you need, they'll sell it to you), and from there you can click back on the Theatre 2 door to get back to the arena.

(from the media album; the Champion from the arena)
This is Götterdämmerung, one of the Champions from the arena, and you can see a larger version of this image here--if you keep in mind that both the characters on the ground are fairly tall, all things considered, this guy? He really is that huge. And he hits hard--one hammer blow from him instantly killed me three times!

But between him, the initial minotaur fight, the ninjas, the space monkeys, and the shooter with the feral dogs--it really keeps you on your toes. It's not easy, and I don't think it should be, because the end prize is one of six massively powered enhancements for a power set. You can get one of the six at the end of this part, once every twenty hours (per character, not per account).

The other half of the event draws so strongly on Leverage it's not even funny, but it's also a challenging event. The "Casino Heist" gives you the chance to play one of four archetypes, each with specific things they need to do: the Grifter (who mainly works the casino floor), the Hacker (who infiltrates the security system), the Hitter (who knocks out the generators powering that security system, and takes care of any casino guards along the way) and the Thief (who searches the casino owner's office, and uses that information to infiltrate the vault).

(from the media album; the lasers blocking access to the vault in "Casino Heist")
The first archetype I played on the "Casino Heist" section was the Thief; and I thought it was terrifically inventive how the devs mocked out a highly secured vault. While those blue lines are lasers, and will trigger alarms if you just blindly run through, there's actually a narrow clear path to navigate. If you're careful, it's doable, but you still have to make sure you're not bumping into any of the laser "walls".

The "Casino Heist" story is told in a set of flashbacks, split with what's supposedly happening "now"--so the cut scenes we see show us where we supposedly attacked (thus telling us where we need to go and what to do once there), and then we're always trailed back to our warehouse lair, where we fight several sets of enemies to end the event.

Both events make up a short time investment (we managed to do both in the half hour before CoH shut down last night), for a fairly significant reward, plus there's two notable reasons to do this event that are independent of what we actually do once there. First, there was a forum contest for what sort of movies might play in the world City of Heroes is based on--the winners of those contests have their posters up in the theatre lobby as "Coming Soon" movies.

And secondly, the winner of the last costume contest, "Theater Popcorn Man", is now being used as the series of "popcorn bots" that staff the concession stand. I've always loved how closely the devs behind CoH listen to their users.

Finally, I want to talk about another Kickstarter project--the Hauntbox. They have seventeen days to go, but there's already been enough interest that they're fully funded! Why is this such a cool idea? Because this offers an open-source, modifiable, enclosed console based on Arduino programming and Lady Ada's innovative designs, that will coordinate sound files, physical haunt effects, and haunt movements from a desktop console, a laptop, netbook, even an iPad or iPhone!

I don't know what anyone reading along knows about haunted houses and events, but trust me--nearly always, behind the scenes, is a snarled tangle of wires, various control units, sometimes even haunters stationed at specific points just so they can physically press a button at the right time because there's no other way to control it that doesn't take up more space. This? Takes up very little space, has maximum inputs for control options, can be weather-shielded, can be hidden or left exposed, and best of all, they're lowering the total cost of the end unit by acquisition of a 3D printer to craft some of the parts.

It sounds like it's going to cost between $250 and $300 for the end product if you don't toss in support on the Kickstarter, and again, that's very very reasonable for a controller that is going to save this much manpower and device management. Considering most big-scale haunt objects (think animatronic zombies and the like) are very expensive, this is a little investment for maximum control possibilities.

Just to make the point, Fright Catalog's Tortured full-body prop is lifesize and includes the metal table, leather hood, metal chains, cassette player and cassette tape, and amplifier. It retails for around $6,500 (including shipping), and that's without the optional motion sensor or timer, or the air compressor required to make it work.

Say you owned this prop for a room in your upcoming haunt. With the Hauntbox, you could record the sounds (or find your own), then set up the time for shaking, any motion sensor reactions, and time the bursts of air all from a single program. If you needed to change it on the fly, nothing simpler--open the program on a desktop or wireless device, make the change, save the change, and it will adapt to the new parameters then.

Obviously, this is intended for commercial haunts, but I think it's something even yard hobbyists could find useful, depending on the size of their animatronics or effects.

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