Bill Murray

I always found it a little odd how Bill Murray seemed to be so dismissive of Ghostbusters, and more recently, Groundhog Day. When I watched them properly a few years ago (i.e. when I was an adult and could understand all the jokes), I wondered what his problem was. As I saw some of his more recent movies such as Lost in Translation, Broken Flowers, and The Life Aquatic, I thought that perhaps he preferred being known for slightly more serious or subtle films.

Then I saw these clips from over twenty years ago, and realised the true reason – the man is damn funny all by himself, and it must be tough for him to be known for essentially only two movies.

Bill Murray on the very first David Letterman show in 1982 (it really gets going about two minutes in):

Co-hosting the broadcast of a Cubs baseball game in 1987 (solid gold all the way through).

Steve: Now after doing the lineups and looking at the names of the various clubs here…

Bill: I don’t think there’s any question that the names on the Cubs are a lot easier to pronounce, and they seem to be like baseball players’ names.

Let’s make an Oscar-winning movie…

…or not.

There’s an interesting article on the New York Times about the recent blossoming of internet comedy, partly thanks to the Writer’s Guild of America strike (will it continue after it ends, I wonder?). In it, there’s an interesting quote:

“I love it when people say, ‘I want to make a viral video,’ because it’s like saying, ‘Let’s make an Oscar-winning movie,’ or, like, ‘Let’s write a best-selling book,’ “ Ms. Cackowski said. “You can’t force that.”

There are an awful lot of people who need to read that. I’ve heard, “Why don’t we just make Lonelygirl?” or “How about we do a Flash game like Bejeweled?” a truly depressing number of times. Hey fellas, it’s not like I’m holding out on you – if I had a formula, then I’d be doing it. Probably for myself. But it’s just not that easy. The longer you work at it, the harder you realise it is.

New Conversations

At GDC this year, I remember hearing some writers talk about the sorry state of story and dialogue in action/adventure games. One of the promising games that they looked forward to, though, was Mass Effect – apparently it would have a brand new conversation system.

Over the months, details emerged. In effect, the game would allow you to choose from a number of ‘attitudes’ to reply in any appropriate situation. The attitude you picked would then determine what you said – so you don’t pick the actual line of dialogue directly. Here’s what it looks like:

It works pretty well, and there are a few reasons for this. Firstly, because you only pick an attitude, and you do it by simply flicking the analog stick, participating in conversations is much quicker and unobtrusive than any other system I’ve seen; in other games, the list of options traditionally has more text and requires you to make additional button presses or movements. Secondly, though you can’t see it here, I hear that the conversations take place in real time. That means that if you don’t answer relatively quickly, the other person will find you a little weird. For me, this turns conversations into a minigame rather than a tedious exercise in tree-exploration.

I wouldn’t at all be surprised if these two innovations made it into practically every action/adventure game in the future, plus a bunch of other genres. They’re not utterly ground-breaking – it’s not as if the developers have created some strong conversational AI system – but they seem to work much better than what’s already out there, and they wouldn’t require many changes in other aspects of gameplay. Incidentally, also at GDC, I saw a few talks about conversational AI, which were enough to convince me that no-one is even close to making it work and that we’re going to have to wait for natural language processing to get a lot, lot better. Anyway, I digress…

Finally, Mass Effect works because the animation, character models and script is all fairly good. It’s not amazing, but it’s better than what I’ve seen before, and ultimately, no amount of technical achievements will make up for bad scripting. You need to get everything right, and hopefully Mass Effect has done that.


One of the most innovative games that’s come out of this year’s E3 is Echochrome for the Playstation; basically, if M. C. Escher could’ve made a computer game, this is what it would look like. I have some questions about the control scheme, difficulty level and gameplay (e.g. does the guy keep on walking all the time? Can you pause?) but I have to applaud it for its originality.

Bits and Pieces: Centuries


In a book about weather (called ‘Weather’) that I’m reading, there’s a fact that blithely states:

Driest location: The Atacama Desert in Chile has virtually no rainfall (0.08mm annually), except for a passing shower several times a century.

Not several times a year. Several times a century. What impresses me about this is not the fact that it’s a dry place, it’s that records exist to the extent that meteorologists can say this with confidence.


I’ve been selling a bunch of games on eBay lately, and I have to say that it’s really improved. The last time I sold something on eBay was several years ago, and the entire experience was unpleasant, from listing the item, to writing the label, to queuing in the post office. It wasn’t something I wanted to repeat, so I didn’t.

In the meantime, I was always amazed by the fact that several hundred thousand people in the US alone make their livings over eBay. How were they not driven into a murderous rage by the clunky interface and the all the other attendant irritations? The reason, it seems, is because the selling interface is really pretty decent now. What’s really cool, though, is a tool that lets you automatically buy postage – with the correct address already on it – and print it out at home. Given my long-standing hatred of the post office, I really appreciate anything that lets me avoid the place. It’s not a particularly sophisticated tool, I suppose, although it did need eBay, PayPal and the Royal Mail to all work together. In any case, it’s not the sophistication that matters, it’s the result. Well done eBay!

24 hours and 39 minutes

That’s the length of a day on Mars. What you’re thinking is probably, ‘huh, why is it 39 minutes longer than our day?’ But what you should be thinking is, ‘wow, why is it so close to our day?’ The fact is, there’s no reason why it should be close: the day length on Venus is 243 (Earth) days, which is 18 days longer than the time it takes to orbit the sun. I don’t think anyone knows why it’s so close, but it is certainly convenient for anyone who wants to live there.

The Mars Society has a base in the Arctic that is an ‘operational’ simulation of a base on Mars. Long-time readers will know that I spent a couple of weeks at a similar base in Utah a few years ago. Since the base in the Arctic is 75 degrees north, and it’s currently summer, the base is basically in eternal sunlight. By blacking out the windows at appropriate times, this means that the inhabitants of the base can effectively simulate living on Mars time. The question is, will the people at the base be able to cope with their usual routine (e.g. collecting rocks, conducting experiments, etc) without suffering any number of ill effects? And will Mission Support be weirded out by the time on Mars apparently slipping forward by 39 minutes every day? That’s what makes this (apparently unprecedented) experiment so interesting, and I’ll be waiting to see the results.

Rock Band

While writing this post, Firefox suffered a bizarre semi-crash that stopped it from talking to the Internet and then lost everything I’d written. Let me just say that while I love Firefox, it clearly has some real issues. To calm myself down, here’s a video of Rock Band, the spiritual successor to Guitar Hero:

Say what you like, but one thing’s clear: those guys are rocking out. So come Christmas, when the games released, I’ll definitely be buying it. Along with a 360 or PS3 – whichever has the least rubbish lineup by then…

Yann Tiersen – a disappointment

A couple of months ago, I went to see Yann Tiersen play at The Scala in London. Mr Tiersen is, of course, the person behind the tinkling, cheery and immensely popular music to Amelie and Goodbye Lenin.

Shortly before the gig, I discovered that he probably wouldn’t be playing just Amelie-style music, but instead he’d be performing with his rock band. This was slightly worrying, but I had faith in him and I figured that he wouldn’t disappoint his fans by completely ignoring the music they wanted to hear… or would he?

In short, yes. Now, I can totally understand if Yann is fed up with playing Amelie-music all the time. No doubt he’s done those songs a thousand times now and thinks that he’s just being musically typecast. So I’m not at all surprised that he wants to try rock music. The only problem is that he’s not really very good at it. About 90% of what he played at The Scala was bizarre, non-melodic rock music that was heavy on the weird and annoying, like this:

Okay, so it’s not my style of music and maybe there are other people out there who love it. But not this audience. Most of the people were there to listen to Amelie-music, as evidenced by the guy I met from my college who said, “Yeah, I’m not a big fan, but I really liked that movie.”

Occasionally, Yann would taunt us by putting down his dreaded guitar and playing some nice music:

But of course, it would quickly degenerate into weird guitar thrashing. And this went on for two hours. I really wish he would’ve just played all the Amelie stuff at the start and then I could’ve skipped the rest. Still, hardly anyone left, perhaps hoping that he’d throw us a bone for the encore. But when Yann came back on stage at the end, he didn’t go to the accordion, or the xylophone, or the harmonica, or the piano – he went to his guitar.

“No more guitars, please!” moaned a French guy beside me. Sums up the entire gig, really.


Much as I hate to perpetuate memes like this, the whole saga of YouTube’s lonelygirl15 has just hit Metafilter. Basically, someone has posted a bunch of video diaries to YouTube purporting to be a young homeschooled girl with ultra-religious parents. She’s having drama with a boy, and she appears to be involved in some satanic cult.

If it’s not fake, I will surely print out this blog post and eat it. It’s too well produced, too ‘instantly popular’, too well written and altogether too pat. My top two theories are that it’s a promotion for a movie (follow the links on the Mefi post) or it’s an ‘original drama’ for YouTube. I feel slightly depressed that people would even entertain the possibility that the video diaries are genuine, but then again most probably aren’t as sensitised to ‘fake’ fiction as I’ve inevitably become.

I’ve posted a few times in the Metafilter thread with more thoughts – just scroll down to see them.