Monday, March 30, 2009

We're Communicating

My son just turned 19 about six weeks ago. Recently, I was dropping him off at the Kimo Theater (where, if you're interested, Christopher - my son, in case you aren't smart enough to deal with things like "context" - is a supernumerary in Lucia di Lammermoor, a fact which I throw in because, like much of life, this sentence isn't complex enough; plus, I'm reasonably proud of the boy, even if he is just a halberd carrier, a task which he performs masterfully, along with his duties as a sword carrier and occasionally a faggot carrier - which isn't as dirty as you make it sound - he is not, incidentally, a spear carrier, because there are no spears to be found in this production, which is probably for the best, since he and his two companions successfully make up the single worst set of guards in the world, and god only knows what they'd do with a set of spears)...

Where was I? Crap, I hate it when that happens...

Right, Walgreen's. OK, technically, I hadn't made it to Walgreen's before my train of thought was derailed by a Donizetti opera laying on the tracks, but that's where we'd been headed. We were in a rush, but I needed a couple of things, and because there was a small liquor section attached, I could get the bottle of brandy for my lovely wife at the same time. It was convenient.

Or so I thought.

We picked up a random collection of stuff; my son got a Coke, I got some makeup for the wife and a small bag of potato chips, if I recall correctly. And a bottle of brandy. We walked up to the counter, talking about various subjects (mostly the video game Fallout 3, but more on that later), and I put all the stuff on the counter, and obligingly had my driver's license ready for the tattooed mook behind the counter to see.

Said mook's reaction was to look at me, then look pointedly at Chris, and then say "I'm gonna have to see his ID, too."

I smiled my most engaging smile, considered batting my eyes in the off chance he was gay, and explained calmly "Well, you could, but it wouldn't do any good. He's my son."

"I'm still gonna have to see his ID."

I didn't see where this was likely to end well, but Christopher obligingly handed over his ID, whereupon the mook started typing his birthdate into the cash register.

Ever the optimist, I tried explaining again: "That won't do any good. He's 19. You can probably figure that out by the way that the birthdate says '1990'."

"Yeah, but he's in my department."

"Oh, is that the problem? Chris, go stand by the door."

It was his turn to try and explain things. "No, I already saw you together."

I wasn't particularly calm any more, because stupidity pisses me off. But I don't think it showed in my voice. "That would be because I'm driving him."

"Yeah, but that's the policy. Next time you should let him walk around the store over there." He waved in the general direction of cosmetics and gel insoles, where I had a fleeting vision of a milling crowd of teenagers waiting for Dad to buy a six-pack.

"So you're saying that because I didn't hide the fact that I have offspring, I can't buy this brandy."

"Yeah, that's the policy."

"That's a goddamned stupid policy."

It's a shame that I didn't have time to waste, because I would have quite cheerfully called over the manager and had him explain to me which law was being broken by the fact that my son was within ten feet when I bought a bottle of E&J (not, incidentally, the first drink of choice for the average teenager).

I hadn't seen any signs saying "no children past this point." (Not that a 6'3", 220 pound hairy behemoth like my baby boy really qualifies as a "child," but that would at least have stopped us). On top of which, the mook in question hadn't troubled himself to check Christopher's ID as we wandered past him; he just stared at us, cow-like, over the heads of his complete and utter lack of customers.

But this aforementioned goddamned stupid policy raises a few questions. For example, once a woman isn't breastfeeding any more, she can drink alcohol without endangering her precious little snowflake. But that particular snowflake probably shouldn't be wandering the store alone while Mama grabs a fifth of Jack (although God knows some do). So how does this goddamned stupid policy address this conundrum? Can Mama buy her perfectly legal adult beverage with a toddler in tow? Is there some magical cut-off where the child isn't going to burst into flame when their parent's hand brushes a wine bottle?

I realize the purpose of the goddamned stupid policy - they have to make sure that underaged kids aren't drinking alcohol. But there's no law that says that I can't buy alcohol just because I had the bad fortune to reproduce.

No laws would have been broken if I'd walked out of there with a legally-purchased bottle of brandy. And I would be happy to be hauled away in handcuffs if the cops had found me and my son swigging big gulps of a distilled amber beverage produced from wine; essentially, I was penalized because this store (or perhaps just this particular mook) felt that he was capable of reading the future.

Why does Walgreen's feel that, in a recession, that they don't want my business?

So that was (with a few additional comments) the customer comment I just submitted at The rest of this post is a comment I just sent to a software company. (OK, game company. Sue me.) This part probably won't be real interesting unless you're playing the game (and maybe not even then). I'll update this post (or make a second one) if I get a decent response to either email.

Dear Bethesda Softworks,

I’d like to thank you for revitalizing one of my favorite videogames of all time, the Fallout franchise. It has a simple, relatively intuitive interface; hours of playable scenarios (plus available sandboxing); and a weirdly beautiful playing environment. Plus, the downloadable content has so far been excellent.

I would like to suggest a fourth download pack, though. The most important part of this would be a larger music library; there are thousands of hours of usable, free (no longer under copyright) music available in record stores around the country, and you could only find twenty songs? Even limiting yourself to pre-50s jazz/pop shouldn’t restrict you too much. The Library of Congress even has an on-line database of music (although I’m not sure how extensive it is, to be honest).

And really, how much would it cost you? Some time spent searching for music, a lawyer verifying that your minimum-wage intern properly checked copyright on the songs, and you’re done. You could even link it to a quest, where the player has to locate a cache of pre-war music for Three Dog.

A second addition that would improve the game would be a larger collection of randomized stuff to find – nothing major, but with the amount of stuff you can pick up, you get a lot of repetition in that area, too. The biggest expense here would be the design of the images. A few suggestions off the top of my head (offered, like everything in this email, free of charge):

- Metal flashlight (you could even make it a minor melee weapon, with a slightly redesigned Pip-boy light function)
- 1 gallon can of fuel alcohol (which could blow up like a fire extinguisher if shot)
- Chris Avellone Brand Dancewear (tights and a fringed leather vest - value of 1 as armor, but comes in multiple neon colors)

More food:
- Cap’n Scurvy Orange slices (a quick redesign of Dandy Boy apples, maybe)
- Dried fruit
- Cheezy Poofs (hey, they already used the name in Fallout 2)
- Base a few brand names off previous Fallout characters (Patrick the Celt could have marketed “Patrick’s Best Haggis,” for example)
- All the various food/drink items from previous Fallouts (the lumpy-apple looking “fruit”, Cherry and Classic Nuka-Cola, Afterburner Gum, etc – do you hold the rights to all the previous Fallouts?)

What happened, for that matter, to all the Jimmy Hats?

Homemade hooch: if you wanted, give each one a slight chance that it causes a few points of damage from a bad batch. Probably worth half or less the value of “regular” booze – although I’d say that moonshine would be worth more than vodka, just for giggles
- Homemade wine
- Bathtub gin
- Moonshine

Cosmetics seem to be left out entirely
- Miss Phyllis Brand Bobby Pins (adds 10 to your bobby pin collection)
- Comb
- Hairbrush
- Curling iron
- Various makeup items (can be generically labeled “makeup kit” – might get you a better reaction from females if you give it to them – possibly even female ghouls)

There’s got to be more mechanical/electrical bits that you can sell than conductors and sensor modules (OK, you have more than that already available, but still…)
- Power cords
- Electrical wire
- Fuses
- Burned-out fuses (worth almost nothing, if not less)
- Surge suppressor (probably important, with the irregular energy supplies available)

- Soldering iron
- Pipe wrench (also usable a club; much like a tire iron, only heavier)
- Needle-nosed pliers
- Socket set

The possibilities are endless.

Oh, and I've got to say this. I realize that ammo is weightless for gameplay purposes, but Mini-Nukes? Really? Between the fissionable material and the shielding, these things should really NOT be weightless.

Maybe that's just me.

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