August 23rd, 2010 by Mike Fulton

When I started using Facebook regularily last year, I started playing several of the various games like FarmVille and Mafia Wars.  The main reason was that they seemed to be popular attractions for many of the old friends I was reconnecting with and playing seemed to be a means of continuing that reconnection.

The various “games” on Facebook seem to fall into several basic categories.  The first of these is the theme-based “WAR” games like Mafia Wars or Pirates!  Then you have the build/decorate games like FarmVille.  Casino games like Texas Hold ‘Em Poker are also popular.

It’s War!

In most of the theme-based “wars” games like Mafia Wars, you start out at level 1 with a fixed amount of “energy” and a fixed amount of “health”.  You advance by doing “jobs” or pulling “heists” or whatever else the theme in question might specify.  Each job uses a fixed number of energy points and rewards a certain amount of experience points that go towards earning the next level.  When you reach the next level, your energy and health is reset to maximum, and you’re given additional points to distribute between your maximum health value, maximum energy value, and other various offensive or defensive attributes.

In order to keep holding your attention just a wee bit longer, your health and energy regenerates over time, so that if you just sit at the computer another few minutes, you’re able to do another mission and maybe reach that next level.

Another aspect of these games is the “send a gift” mechanism whereby you can send some virtual item to Facebook friends playing the same game.  The recipient gets a message on their Facebook home page that they’ve been sent an item, and then they accept it, which brings them back into the game.  These items may provide some in-game advantage or they maybe purely decorative.

The other social component to these games is that you and whatever Facebook friends also play the same game form a team of sorts.  The games generally feature some sort of “combat” where you can attack another player or be attacked by another player.  When this happens, it’s actually your team versus theirs.  Both the size of your team and all the various attributes of the individual players are combined in some fashion to see who wins.

Game or Software Toy?

We keep referring to these things as “games” but many of them are nothing of the sort.  They’re really more like software toys.  You might call them an “activity” but “game” is not really all that accurate.  It may be mostly semantics, but there are several attributes of being a “game” which don’t apply to many of these Facebook applictions. Here’s a few of the reasons why I would say that something like FarmVille is not a “game”

  • There’s no particular goal.
  • You can neither “lose” nor “win”
  • There’s no particular skill required, no real strategy involved, or an element of chance, either.  All you really need to do is put in the time.
  • You can advance your standing by spending real money to obtain game items.

Think of traditional games like “Monopoly”.  There’s a clear goal: collect the most money and property while the other players go bankrupt.  When that happens, the game ends.  There are different strategies that affect your success… like when and where you should improve your properties — do you buy a hotel on Broadway or a bunch of houses on New York Avenue and the surrounding neighborhood?

By comparison, FarmVille has no particular goals other than reaching the next “level” and buying more stuff with which to decorate your farm.  There’s no particular combination of “stuff” that’s inherently more desirable than any other and nothing you do will ever cause the whole thing to end, other than to stop playing.  (In that case some might say YOU’RE THE WINNER!)

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August 10th, 2009 by Mike Fulton

It’s been nearly 30 years since just about anybody got a chance to see this, but here is the SENIOR SLIDE SHOW that we showed at the Class of 1981 Senior Graduation Brunch.

Note that the original video project for this was configured for the standard television 4:3 aspect ratio, but for posting online I’ve rendered it to 720p Hi-Def.  Thus the pillar-boxing.  (Side bars)

While I have tried to keep everything as close to the original as possible, there are a FEW minor changes from the version seen at the senior brunch.

First, the original show included both horizontal and vertical images.  For this version, I’ve cropped the vertical shots to create a horizontal image.  In some cases, there are still extra-wide black bars on the sides because I could only crop so much out without losing the subject.

Second, I re-did the titles.  The originals were just plain bad.  The first attempt just didn’t turn out very good and we didn’t have time to redo them.  See the history info below for details.

Third… the music is remixed and now in stereo. The original soundtrack was mono because the slide projector dissolve unit needed an audio track to store the dissolve cue information.

Last, over the years, a couple of the original images were removed from the slide carousel for some reason or another, probably to make prints, and never returned.  As a result, there’s perhaps 3 slides that have been substituted for the original.  However, at least 1 or 2 of those are pictures that were taken within a few seconds of the one we originally used and feature the same people.

How I Got Into Creating Slide Shows

My first REAL photography class happened when I started at Cypress High School.  I had some previous experience in the darkroom, but to be honest I didn’t really know that much about TAKING pictures.  It turns out I had hit the jackpot, because it turns out that CHS had one of the top high school photography programs in the entire country. Our teacher Skip Loomis had a laid-back approach much of the time, but if you were enthusiastic about what you were doing, he’d double it and throw it back at you.

We had an awesome setup at CHS, probably better than most college photo programs in fact.  We had a darkroom with something like 14-15 large format enlargers and a huge wet sink for developing prints.  We had a whole array of different kinds of paper cutters and matting tools for mounting photos.  And perhaps the neatest thing was, we had a really well equipped studio with a variety of hot lights and flash equipment.

The CHS Photography program and the Photo Club, which were effectively the same thing, had basically three big events each year.

First was the submission of entries to the Kodak National Scholastic Photography awards, a nationwide contest open to high school juniors and seniors.  Both Juniors and Seniors were eligible for awards for individual images, while Seniors also had the option of submitting an entire portfolio.  The individual images would be considered, but the portfolio as a whole would be judged against other portfolios.  If I remember correctly, submissions for this were in late January, and the results came in mid-April.  (I won a top award each year, and my senior portfolio was a finalist!)

The second big thing every year was the trip to Yosemite National Park during spring break.  Basically a big camping trip with about 35-40 kids with 2-3 teachers and perhaps another 2-3 parents.

The last “Big Thing” of the year was the Photo Club Banquet.  There were awards and the highlight of the evening was the presentation of slide shows, perhaps a dozen or so, that had been created by individual students or small groups.  These weren’t “let’s show the neighbors our vacation slides” slide shows.  These were pre-programmed (mostly) multi-projector shows with music and/or narration.  These were basically what the word “Multimedia” was used for before computers came along.

These slide shows were a big deal with the CHS photo crowd.  The subject matter could be just about anything.  The lengths varied from perhaps 3-4 minutes to 10 minutes.   What I remember most about the end of my sophomore year was the buzz about everybody’s slide shows.  Some students had been working on their projects openly, and while we were all awaiting the final result, we had a good idea what was coming.  Other students kept their projects tightly under cover until they were finished.

Music was a source of controversy for some slide shows.  I remember that the creators of one show wanted to use the Jimi Hendrix song “Are You Experienced” in their soundtrack.  The lyrics are fairly tame compared to some examples in modern popular music, but things were different in 1979.  All the parents went to the year-end banquet, and they were generally fairly conservative. About 20% of them were Mormon.  There was some… concern that this particular song might not be seen as appropriate by some of the parents.

Anyway, my point is that this whole slide show thing really caught my attention.  I was too much of a noob to do anything that time around as a sophomore in the beginning class, but it gave me the inspiration for later.  That fall when school started again, Paul Alatorre did an awesome show for the football team that they showed at a pep rally before one of the big games.  While the various shows from the banquet had been interesting, Paul’s show was something else altogether.  As soon as I saw it, I knew I wanted to try my hand at something like that.

That year, our photo teacher Skip Loomis was the brand new soccer coach, so I approached him with the idea of doing a slide show for the soccer team.  I wasn’t sure about doing this alone, so I invited Jerome Broekhuijsen to team up for the project.  Anyway, that first show turned out fairly decent, all things considered.  And we ended up doing a second show later in the year for the soccer banquet.

When starting my senior year the next fall, Paul Alatorre had graduated, so I was asked if I wanted to do that year’s football slideshow.  To be perfectly honest, this was the chance I’d been waiting for.  I made the most of it, and it was very well received. Throughout the rest of the year, I did another version of the football slide show, another show for the basketball team, and a couple of soccer shows.

The Senior Slide Show

Sadly, the slide show tradition started to kind of fade out after my sophomore year.  A few people did them when I was a Junior, but by the time I was a senior, I was pretty much the only person doing anything with it.  And after doing so many shows throughout the year, I was ready for a break.  Did I mention that doing these shows was sort of stressful under the best of conditions?  Ideally, one would pre-program a show onto cassette tape.  Then all you had to do was zero the projectors and playback the tape.  But because of the time crunch that was frequently involved, we sometimes didn’t have time to make a “final” program and then the shows would need to be performed “live” by the creator operating the dissolve unit during the presentation. And on several of these occasions, this was while I was standing center-stage in a pep rally with 2800 students surrounding me.

At the very end of the school year, we were all signing each other’s yearbooks when Doug Smith and Lisa Livote came up to me in the photo classroom and asked if I might give them a little help with the senior class slide show they were supposed to present in two days at the senior graduation brunch.  At first, I just thought they needed some help figuring out how to operate the dissolve unit that we used to control the projectors in a multi-projector show.  It turned out that things were a bit more desperate.  They had already picked out the music for the show and it came in at about 9-1/2 minutes long.  They thought they might be a little short on slides, but were hoping I’d have some better sports pictures that we could use.

Slide shows can vary greatly in their pacing, but in my various slide shows as well as most of the others I’d seen, it was generally the case that each slide would appear on screen for perhaps 5-6 seconds, on average.  Including the fade to the following slide.  So for a 570 second show, you’d need roughly 100 slides.  In my sports slide shows, in order to get 100 slides that actually made it into the show, I probably took something like 800-1000 pictures.  That is, perhaps 1 picture in every 8 or 10 were considered “good enough” to make the cut.

Doug and Lisa had perhaps about 80-90 slides.  Total.

To be fair, neither of them had created a slide show before.  At least not one of this nature.  And the slides they had represented a larger total number of slides they’d had at some earlier point, but it was still way below the number of slides you want on the light table when you start organizing a show.

If you watch the video, you’ll see that several pix in the slide show feature people with their YEARBOOKS.  That’s because the first thing I did upon seeing how few slides we had was to grab my camera and grab Doug and Lisa and start running around school to take as many good candid pictures as we possibly could.  We did that and I immediately left school to take the film to the lab for rush processing so we could get it back later that afternoon.

Once we had the last-minute slides back from the lab, we all went to the light table and started arranging everything.  The show ended up with a total of 86 slides, excluding titles.  That’s a little slow-paced for the running time, but not too bad.  Of those 86 pictures, 22 of them were pictures we shot on that last-minute mad dash around school.  (At least 22 that I’m sure of 28 years later… several others are “maybe”).  Another 30 pictures were taken either from my various sports slide shows or elsewhere in my stack of slides.

It was tight, but we made it.  We didn’t have time to get the program down on tape, so I performed it “live” at the senior brunch and then made a pre-programmed version for posterity later.

Hindsight is 20-20

The senior slide show is a bit of a paradox for me.  It’s one of my favorite all-time slide shows in many ways, but it’s also deeply flawed in others.  I recognized many of these issues while we were putting it together, but just didn’t have any way to fix it.

The first problem is that certain sports and certain PEOPLE are over-represented.  I know that you can’t fit a senior class of 700 students into 86 pictures, but we might have done better.  I had plenty of slides for Football (and by extension, the cheerleaders, the band, and the drill team), Basketball, and Soccer, but no slides at all for sports like Baseball, or Girl’s Softball, or Water Polo, or Track & Field, or Volleyball, and who knows what else.

The thing is, I wasn’t on the yearbook or newspaper staff, so I was never required to shoot all of the different sports teams.  I might have done so anyway, but I was constantly short of money for film and processing.  The film and processing expenses for the sports I did shoot were largely paid by the booster club.  It’s a shame because just a roll or two per sport would have made a big, big difference when the slide show was being put together.

As I said earlier, the pacing is kind of slow.  Combine that with the aforementioned conundrum of fitting 700 people into 86 pictures and I can’t help thinking we might have picked up the pace and squeezed another 10-20 pictures in there.  I don’t know where those pictures would have come from, however, without referring back to the previous issue about over-representation.

The one thing that keeps coming back to me is, what if I’d shot more COLOR negative film throughout the year instead of B&W?  With develop-only processing I could have still made B&W prints and it would have split the difference between shooting color slides and shooting B&W negative film.  And I could have made color slides later if needed.

The last thing that occurs to me is how much more we might have done if Doug & Lisa had come to me earlier.  To be honest, I don’t know long they’d been attached to the project before approaching me, but even a few days might have made a big difference.  We might have tracked down negatives shot by the yearbook staff, shot more last-minute candids with a wider range of people, and so forth.

Oh well, as the headline says, hindsight is 20-20.

The Original Video Transfers

After I graduated from CHS, there was nobody left behind with the skills needed to create the sports slide shows like I had done, so they asked me to come back and do it.  The booster club didn’t have a huge budget, but they covered the film and processing expenses and paid me a little bit over the top of that, and it was something that I enjoyed doing.  So I ultimately I did football and soccer slide shows for the next 5-6 years.  I think 1985-86 was the last year I did it, although I came back and did one more football in 1990.  I still have the original slides in the carousels for some of those slide shows.  The last I knew, Skip Loomis had the remainder in storage.

At some point along the way, we figured it would be a good idea to make a video transfer of the slide shows that we’d done over the years.  We tried using a consumer camcorder to film the screen during a presentation, but that turned out… bad.  Then at some point, Paul Alatorre rented a really nice pro-level camera because he wanted to transfer some of his own shows.  He did this at the high school since the program tapes were proprietary to the same dissolve unit he’d originally used.  As long as he had the camera we also transferred several of my shows too.  The results with the much better camera… weren’t really much better.  The bottom line was simply that the screen illumination was just too uneven, the contrast build-up too great, and the color loss too excessive.

While those video transfers may not have been all that watchable, they did provide one important thing.  Since I no longer have access to multiple slide projectors and the original dissolve unit used for the shows, those old crappy video transfers provide a visual reference of how the slides and music soundtrack are synchronized together.

The New Digital Transfer

When film scanners first started to become affordable, I knew that I would ultimately want to scan all of my old film-based images so that I would have digital versions available on the computer.  Before that really happened though, some of my early scanning projects included the pictures from the senior slide show.   This was the mid 90’s and besides scanning, I was also getting into using the computer to do video editing, and I thought it’d be cool to make a video version of the slide show.

At the time, HD TV was still in the future for the most part, so I created my project with the 4:3 standard television screen in mind.  I scanned everything and then brought the pictures into Photoshop one by one to crop them down to the 4:3 aspect ratio.  Then I imported everything into Adobe Premiere and started the process of recreating everything.  First, I video-captured the tape of the original analog video transfer of the slide show as a reference.  Then basically I went back and forth between watching that video to see how things synced up and then moving things around in the Premiere timeline.

This was all something like 12-13 years ago.  Ultimately I embarked upon my project to scan all my old film images, but I never came back to the slide show video project until now.  I suppose I could have posted it somewhat earlier, but to be honest it wasn’t until I recently became active on Facebook that it occurred to me that I should re-render the project and post the video online.

Now I suppose I have to get around to do transferring the CHS Football slide show…

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