(2) Thu Jul 17 2014 09:23 The Average Minecraft Skin:
Currently my two spare-time hobbies are 1) Situation Normal revisions and 2) gathering Minecraft data. Yes, I'm still at it! There's a lot more data than I anticipated! I'm up to about 175,000 maps, and I've branched out into archiving mods and texture packs. There's even more I could do, but pretty soon I'm going to have to put away the data-gathering part of this project for six months or a year so I can get other stuff done.
My reach keeps expanding because whenever I decide that a certain dataset isn't interesting and I won't bother with it, I immediately come up with something really cool to do with the dataset. For instance, Minecraft skins, the little images that are bitmapped onto your character in the game to make you look like a penguin or Jean-Luc Picard. I never really cared much about skins, but in the process of deciding not to bother with them, I discovered that Planet Minecraft, one of the biggest repositories of skins, lets someone who uploads a skin specify a gender ("male", "female", "interchangeable", and "other"), as well as a category classification ("animal", "cartoon", "famous person", etc.). Now I was interested! Skins are data about how people present themselves in the virtual world, data that I could gather and graph.
Here's a simple graph showing the skins available on Planet Minecraft, broken down by category and gender:
In every category male skins are drastically overrepresented, but the discrepancy is smallest in "Other". Why? My guess is that "Other" is where you'd put a skin that you made to represent yourself.
Since there are only two different sizes for skin images, you can average a number of skins together to get a new skin. Here's a skin that is the average of 100 of the most popular "female" skins on Planet Minecraft:
And here's the average of 100 of the most popular "male" skins:
That's a pretty preliminary result, but I think it's interesting. The major sexual dimorphism among Minecraft skins—the shape of the eyes—comes through loud and clear. If you want to use one of these as your actual Minecraft skin, I recommend going in with an image editor and erasing the upper-right part of the image. Otherwise your character's head will be shrouded in a ghostly hat, and it won't look good.
Sun Jun 29 2014 11:03 June Film Roundup:
It doesn't get better than this. I liked every single movie I saw this month. Two, maybe three of them are in my top ten. I guess that's what happens when you only see time-honored classics and movies you've already seen and loved. I'm posting this a little early because I'm going on vacation next week. Have fun!
- Ghostbusters (1984): When Sumana said she wanted to see Ghostbusters my first thought was "She's going to love the fake Atlantic cover." And she did like that, and she liked the rest of the movie, because Ghostbusters is fabulous. 'Nuff said.
- Godzilla (1954): A top-ten movie for me. I'd seen the American version once and the Japanese version once, but never on the big screen. This movie speaks to me because it takes something silly and cheesy and gives it a real emotional core. That's what I always try to do with my work, and when you see a work of fiction that deconstructs the Godzilla mythos, that's what they're trying to do to Godzilla. (I admit I have dabbled in this myself.) But there's no need to deconstruct anything--just strip away the goofy stuff that has accumulated over the past sixty years, and you have the raw power and horror of the original. You leave the theater totally mystified and overwhelmed by Godzilla's invincibility.
The one false step: the first appearance of Godzilla, when it puts its head over the hill, doesn't look good. A hill can be any size, so there's no sense of scale.
- The Terminator (1984): Hard for me to believe this came out the same year as Ghostbusters, because I never heard of this movie until 1991 when Terminator II came out. Wasn't it Sylvester Stallone who starred in Terminator? Weird.
Anyway, this movie's... all right. (Sorry, Sukiko.) Definitely my least favorite of the June films, despite being the only one that passes the Bechdel test. I liked the basic concept, and seeing Sarah Connor's transition from harried waitress to seasoned freedom fighter. I liked seeing the sleazy side of the L.A. of my youth. Not a fan of the heavy-handed satire; Robocop (see below) would do it much better. I haven't seen Terminator II but I feel like it's got the material to be a much better movie, and IMDB agrees (8.5 vs. 8.1).
There's a lot of skulls in the future scenes. Like, disproportionately many skulls. I guess the robots invented a weapon that turns a human into a pile of skulls?
- Solaris (1972): I was apprehensive about the length of this movie, especially in the context of a brief clip I'd seen a few years back, which was the dialogue-free scene with the car driving on a Japanese highway for several minutes. But I can't say no to a Lem adaptation, and after two years of stretching myself with art films I was up to the challenge. And it was fun! Having read the book definitely helped. This is the earliest filmic use I've seen of my beloved "dingy spaceship" aesthetic. Probably not going to see it again because of the length, but an excellent movie. Next up: Stalker, I guess.
- Robocop (1987): What a weird, weird movie. Like Godzilla, it wants to have its B-movie cake and eat it too. And it does! Twenty-five years, later, it's still got that cake in the feezer. But unlike Godzilla, it doesn't do anything to elevate the material. I think enough has been written about the way Robocop managed to simultaneously satirize and embody the blood-lust of the Hollywood blockbuster, so I won't add more, but how about this example: Robocop shows you a fun stop-motion animated effect and then it's embarrassed about it. Stop-motion isn't cool in 1987. So then it shows you a fake commercial with some really cheesy Ray Harryhausen type stop-motion, just so you know Robocop is in on the joke.
I dunno, man. It's like there's two movies here in one package: a totally off-the-wall movie full of wild ideas and a dull Terminator-like cop movie. The satire is a couple levels above Grand Theft Auto, but that's a really low bar to clear. And it's so violent. If they were getting some emotional mileage out of the violence, like Godzilla does, I could see it. But that never happens!
I'm also pissed off at how the movie's critique of capitalism suddenly starts pulling punches in the final scene. But Robocop contains what for me will always be one of the great moments of cinema: the comedic slow-burn of ED-209 encountering stairs for the first time. It's so good. I'm so happy I saw that.
PS: I'm no master criminal, but if I were being hunted by Robocop I'd aim for the mouth.
- Silent Running (1972): Unlike most of my reviews this is spoiler-free because I want to watch Silent Running with Sumana. This was my third or fourth time seeing this movie, and the first time on the big screen. I picked up a few details I'd never seen before, and it was fun to see it with Tully Hansen, a known #botALLY, but also in the theater were Hal and Babs, who hated it ("It's so earnest." -Hal), so I feel like I have to defend it.
Silent Running is my second-favorite movie. It's my second favorite in a different sense than The Big Lebowski is my favorite. Lebowski has a good concept that's executed perfectly. It's the movie I wish I could make. But I'm not a filmmaker. Silent Running has a perfect concept that's executed near-perfectly, except the plot makes absolutely no sense. It's the movie I could fix.
All right, so it's earnest. It's okay for a movie to be earnest! Earnestness is the difference between Godzilla and Robocop, and I stand with Godzilla. If I were writing the screenplay I'd give it more nuance, but the core is perfect. The movie starts with an act of redemptive violence—the way movies like Robocop end—and then it turns out that the violence wasn't redemptive at all.
Visually, this film is so beautiful it hurts. The cramped but relatively tidy interiors are the missing link between the roomy jet-set aesthetic of 2001 and the "dingy spaceship" aesthetic of Star Wars and Alien. (Solaris, of course, was ahead of its time). Yeah, great movie all around, but the plot doesn't make sense. You might also try Moon (2009), a more modern take on the idea whose plot also doesn't make sense.
Mon Jun 02 2014 09:37 May Film Roundup:
Ready for "Wacky Wednesdays" here at News You Can Bruise? Here's the deal. We got five movies in the May roundup, but only three of them I actually saw in May! One is from April and one I saw yesterday. Also, it's not Wednesday.
- THX-1138 (
1971 2004!!!) I saw this in April and forgot to write about it, and then I remembered it and I was angry! Because guess what? George Lucas went in to this movie in 2004 and George Lucased it, and that's the version the museum showed us, under the pretense that we'd be seeing a 35mm print of the 1971 original. Fortunately, I don't think there were any substantial changes, because—and this is the official Crummy.com Opinion Of George Lucas—Lucas wouldn't know a substantial change if he made one by accident. He goes in and re-edits his first movie, not because the studio meddled with it, but because he now has the technology to make the car chase look cooler? Gimme a break. I'm sure it was fine.
The thing is, this movie's really edgy and disturbing for a 1971 sci-fi flick! I really liked it while I was watching it, and I would still like it if I weren't so angry about the editing. The plot is awful but, to damn with faint but sincere praise, I consider George Lucas to be one of the world's great art directors. There's a lot of eyeball kicks (I loved the opening scene), deliciously overwrought dialogue, and bizarre details and conundra.
For instance, why are all the holograms played by black actors, and why are they the only black characters in the movie? Is it mere artifice, an allegory that we see but the characters don't? Or is it a horrible reality within the world of the movie? With another director you could debate this point, but with Lucas, why bother? We've seen what he considers an artistic decision, and it's nowhere near this level. We've also seen that he frequently puts super racist stuff in his movies, so maybe it's best to back away slowly.
- The Famous Sword Bijomaru (1945): The museum is on a serious Mizoguchi kick (I believe they call it a "retrospective"). I never heard of the guy, but I figured I'd see a sampling. This is a bit of rally-round-the-emperor wartime propaganda that's full of low production values and sword-slashes that clearly don't connect and battles that are choreographed like kids roughhousing in the backyard, and overall it's not very good. But given that the Americans were firebombing the country while it was being made, I'm not in any position to complain.
In an interview Mizoguchi said making this film saved him from being drafted, so yay this film.
- Altered States (1980): This movie brings a lot of intellectual firepower (screenplay by Paddy Chayefsky!) to a subject that can't support it. It's like if Aaron Sorkin wrote a Godzilla movie. And not one of the tentpole Godzilla movies, but, like, Godzilla vs. Space Godzilla. The dialogue is snappy, the scientists talk more like real scientists than movie scientists, and there are quiet moments of yelling between the action scenes where it turns into something really special; the sort of good movie you made up in your mind when I said "Aaron Sorkin wrote a Godzilla movie," just to prove me wrong. But overall it's a mess, too ridiculous to even be pretentious.
Also not a good picture from an animal cruelty perspective. It's my non-expert opinion they actually killed the cute lizard (or a cute lizard, anway) used in the first hallucination sequence. Maybe you think I'm a fool and it's all Hollywood magic, but Cannibal Holocaust also came out in 1980, and William Hurt hits an elephant at one point, so who's gonna stop them killing a lizard?
- Lady Oyu (1951) Original title "Oyû-sama". More Mizoguchi. Three people spend their whole lives being miserable because the alternative is... doing something impolite. Just bite the bullet and do the impolite thing! A sad, sad movie.
- My Love Has Been Burning (1949) Original title "Waga koi wa moenu". Here's a confession, folks: I didn't originally intend to see Altered States or Lady Oyu. I saw them because twice in a row I showed up at the museum at 6:55 hoping to see My Love Has Been Burning, and twice in a row I'd misread the schedule and the 7:00 movie was something else. It doesn't help that the museum's website illustrates almost every Mizoguchi film with a screenshot of a woman looking unhappy. You think I'm joking? 1
and the one happy woman.
Anyway, I kept coming back for this movie because it sounded awesome, and let me tell you, it delivers! Kinuyo Tanaka gives an incredible performance for a character whose emotional options never open up past a) put up with shit, or b) quietly refuse to put up with shit. Much worse things happen in this movie than in Lady Oyu, but because the stakes are so high it feels like a political thriller, not angsty or exploitative (even when at one point it literally becomes a women-in-prison movie). It's preachy and didactic, but when virtue and right are repeatedly trampled, preachiness serves as a rallying cry.
I didn't think much of the first two Mizoguchi films I saw, but My Love Has Been Burning takes him all the way into James Tiptree "are we sure this is by a man?" territory. Like The Famous Sword Bijomaru, this film is propaganda: it was produced during, and to some extent for, the American occupation of Japan. But as Lori Spring wrote in 1983 (courtesy of the museum's handout flyer): "there has not been, to my knowledge, any film produced in the American popular cinema from the 40's to date with nearly as direct and radical a feminist intent as that of this film produced under American supervision."
Wed May 28 2014 11:04 @MinecraftSigns, And Minecraft Maps:
I finished a draft of Situation Normal and sent it in to writing group, so I've now got time to reveal the other non-NYPL project that's been taking up all of my time. Ta-da! It's a bot! @MinecraftSigns posts signs that I found in Minecraft maps using the pymclevel library I learned for the Historical Minecraft project.
For a long time, signs were the only form of textual self-expression possible in Minecraft. You get four lines of 15 characters each. In normal play they're generally used as labels or signposts. Custom mapmakers also use them for instructions to the player, dialogue, narration, and hidden messages. They are a medium of communication with more severe character restrictions than Twitter, which makes them a great subject for a Twitter bot. Signs posted so far range from the profound:
To something I think I saw on one of those trendy t-shirts recently:
To the crowd favorite so far:
You will lose.
Oh goodie, you say; another bot from Leonard! What will he come up with next? Yet another bot? The answer is yes. But, before you dismiss @MinecraftSigns as just another window into a beautiful realm of found poetry, ask yourself this: how did I get this data in the first place? Where did all these Minecraft signs come from? Oh, I don't know, maybe from the sixty-five thousand Minecraft maps I've got on my hard drive?
That's right. After the Historical Minecraft project I thought back to late 2011 when I was enjoying the world of custom Minecraft maps. I then thought forward to early 2012, when I was kind of done with custom Minecraft maps, but when I moved all the ZIP files I'd downloaded onto a backup drive rather than deleting them, because these things don't stay on the Internet forever and it would be nice to have a copy, say, twenty years from now. And then, in early 2014, two years into that twenty, I was thinking about that little act of preservation and it hit me: who's archiving the rest of those maps?
The answer was: apparently nobody. And then the answer quickly became: I am. From the middle of April to the middle of May I archived 65,000 maps linked to from the Minecraft maps forum. That's out of about 100,000 maps total. I verified that 25,000 maps are gone, and there are about 10,000 maps I didn't get because they're scattered across a million different file-sharing sites.
So, at least a quarter of the maps put up since 2010 are already gone. I was able to get screenshots for a lot of the missing maps, so it's not a total loss, but that's still really bad, and not only because it's generally bad when interesting things leave the Internet.
Minecraft is the medium used by a lot of accomplished designers and artists. The most obvious examples IMO are Vechs (Super Hostile) and three_two (Vinyl Fantasy). Those two are pretty legendary and their maps are in no danger of being lost, but there's a lot of really great stuff published in 2011-2012 that was lost in the flood. 2011-2012 was the silent-film era of Minecraft custom maps, when the genres were being defined and the first wild experiments were happening, but when the medium was not taken seriously enough to warrant systematic preservation. In the future we'll have tools for finding the overlooked gems, but first those maps have to make it to the future.
Speaking of the future, Minecraft is the training ground for the next generation of game designers, the way ZZT was the training ground for my generation. There's a ZZT archive; it's got about 2,000 ZZT games. How many are lost? Sure would have been nice to save more of them, but all we had back then was BBSes. We didn't have a big official "ZZT forum" with a special place for posting links to your games.
Finally, even a map that's made by a young child who grows up to be an actuary rather than a game designer is valuable. For one, it's valuable to the actuary. I didn't grow up to be a visual artist, but I value this awful, mysterious poster I drew when I was six. That poster would be long gone if someone (my mother) hadn't archived it for me. Second, these maps might be useful in the aggregate as a source of information about period slang or the way children visualize three-dimensional space. Third...
Well, I think one reason Minecraft is so popular with kids is it recreates an experience that American kids generally aren't allowed to have anymore: going outside and playing in a semi-natural environment, on your own or with friends, without parental supervision. There's this infamously bad Minecraft map from 2011 called Quest for Gallell, which turned out to be made by a six-year-old. Presumably this goofy swashbuckling playthrough was made before the players knew they were making fun of a six-year-old's map, but if you watch the video you'll notice that the players understand how to approach the map: like kids playing together in the woods. They're acting out kids acting out adults.
Quest for Gallell is the three-dimensional record of an imaginative play session, which you can play through yourself if you want. It sucks that kids can't play outside anymore, but at least we have some records of what they do instead. Those records are worth saving.
Fri May 09 2014 18:16 Crosspost:
Apparently I have a new weblog! It's my NYPL staff weblog and I've put up a post about a project I worked on with Paul Beaudoin on like my second day at NYPL Labs. We turned a historical contour map into a Minecraft world. This is cool on its own, but it also means I now know how to programmatically generate Minecraft maps with Python scripts. The possibilities are endless, and you'll be seeing more of them later. Like, when I'm done with this novel.
If you must get all your Minecraft news in video form, you're surprisingly picky but you're also in luck. I took Nashville's own Joe Hills on a tour of 1860 Manhattan, and he recorded the whole thing. My only regret is that I didn't prime the buried TNT he discovers near the end of the video.