By Kevin Ryan
Posted on August 14th, 2018
Well, so often tragic news strikes like a bolt out of a clear blue sky. Takes your breath away under a huge weight of sadness.
It is a good thing to treat everyone with love and charity.
We were at UCSF for one of Aidan’s shorter stays. I was watching kids play in the very tiny 6th floor outside area just across from the PICU. Willa had been on the phone for over 1/2 hour. I was getting annoyed. Willa finished the phone conversation, came up to me and simply said, “Kevin’s dead.” Annoyance went away – lesson eternally learned. She could have talked to Kevin’s mom for hours/days and it’d be fine.
Kevin had been going into liver failure and he needed a liver transplant to survive. He was did not live in our area. We lucked out so much by having Dr. Rosenthal as Aidan’s doctor who really went to bat for him. Kevin was what is described as mentally delayed. His doctors did not want to do transplant because of this. He died. Kevin was 8 years old.
It bothers me to this day that so much of our society values people by what they can accomplish rather than what they are. The more powerless a person is the more they deserve to be defended.
I’m thinking about this today because it was 9 years ago on this date that Ryan Barrett died. It doesn’t seem that long ago. The memory and hurt returns again every year.
He was a sweet boy who was autistic. I remember the call for urgent prayers when he went missing. I remember that sad update when he was found. He had had a seizure near water when alone. I can picture it. Here comes those tears again….
By Kevin Ryan
Posted on September 8th, 2016
I read an eclectic mix of books ranging from technical ones covering math and physics to autobiographies like Dmitri Shostakovic’s and even occasionally kid’s books like Rex Lee Trailing Air Bandits. That last one had my uncle, Levern Lord’s, signature inside the front cover along with the date 1935. He was nine years old in 1935. My grandma took a photo of him dressed up just like Rex Lee at their cabin at Huntington Lake. My Moms now owns the cabin and the photo is hanging up on the wall there.
Levern was killed in action at Manila in the battle for Nichols Field during World War II. So when I saw his signature that made it a special book for me. A few years ago my Mom showed me the letter that his best army buddy wrote to my Grandma after he was killed. He wrote that Levern had refused to be medically evacuated until every one else who was injured had been and how they were shocked when he didn’t make it. Growing up I pictured him as an old guy like my other uncles who survived the war. He was 19 years old. Now, having had kids of my own that were that age, I realize he was very young. Too young.
My daughter’s fifth-grade class had a field trip, and I was one of the chaperones. We went to see a play called Freedom Train, about Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad. On the noisy bus ride back to school, one of the boys was picking on another boy, poking him and pulling his hair. The quiet boy being poked was developmentally delayed, friendless, I am told, and did not have a clue how to defend himself. Even before one of the adults could intervene, a petite girl seated just behind the two boys tapped the tormentor on the shoulder and said, “That’s really mean. Quit it.”
This brought up some old memories of my own. Back when I was around 7 there was a man that came in sometimes to run PE for our class. All us little kids would line up outside before going out to play kickball or something else. He went down the line having each of us say our name. “Stan” was a couple of guys in front of me in line. I’m pretty sure he was developmentally delayed. “My name is Stan Smith” (Note that “Stan Smith” is not my classmate’s real name). He had problems enunciating words correctly. The man made fun of the way he talked and made him say his name a few more times. Okay, wow, here I am tearing up just a little as I write this.
I can close my eyes and see the exact spot where he and I were standing when that happened. It is one of those moments that we all have in our life, good and bad, that are permanently inscribed on our souls. *** Phone call summer 1985 “Grandpa died” Dynamix office at foot of Skinner’s Butte Eugene. *** My son, Aidan, being born 1999 Clovis Community Hospital doctor not in room “oh no” deliver myself as doctor shows up and says “Your’re doing fine.” *** Twin Towers coming down 9/11 television home office Shaver Lake – what am I seeing as tower falls!? *** I’m sure everyone can close their eyes and list off their own moments. Some moments we all share and some are our own personal family ones.
I don’t know what path through life Stan has taken, but I hope it has been a happy one for him. Whenever I meet someone like Stan I know that, whatever path we taken to that point where our paths have intersected, his path has been harder than mine.
Lately I’ve been spending some more time on Twitter, both trying to post a little bit about what I’m working on and also general life stuff. I’ve also been checking out some of the different content that is there. It seems to me that it is like a very large information mountain interlaced with an amazing mixture of different stuff from all over the world. It’s the internet so there are trolls and silliness, but here and there with a little digging you can find real veins of gold.
Around the same time that I finished up reading those last two books, I was wandering around on twitter and came upon Andrew Selsky’s twitter feed. He had posted a photo of Stephen Stills from his Manassas days back in 1973 taken by his brother. He and his brother had great seats and got some nice photos. Oh, cool, I would have loved to see Manassas (that was a magic band and album), but they were just a little bit before my time. I finally got to see Crosby, Stills, and Nash at the LA Forum in 1977 when I was 16 ( I can drive!) and a couple of years later Stills with his band in June of 1979 at Fresno State. I took my little brother and we got in line early (it was general admission) and we were right on stage rail. Could’ve reached out and touched Stephen through most of the concert.
I started scrolling back through his tweets and scattered throughout are photos of hikes in wonderful places, some craft beers, more photos and videos of different musical groups (I discovered Johnny Clegg and got to see him when he played in Eugene soon after!). And there was even an old super 8 movie from his college days. I filmed some super 8 movies in the 1970s with my friends and little brother as actors/extras. I need to get them transferred to digital if only to see my then 7 year old brother in a dress playing a lady in “The Muggers.” Anyway, what I’m seeing in the tweets is lots of overlapping interests. It brought back to me the sense I’ve had for a ling while that the world is full of buddies that I’ve never met and may never meet.
Andrew also posted many tweets related to his job as a foreign editor/correspondent for the Associate Press (AP). There was a link to a story about marijuana – can’t remember any of the details on that one (that’s a joke – read the story). He has been and lived many places around the world throughout his career; so there are photos, videos, and stories about Haiti, Columbia, Afghanistan, and many other places.
And in some of these places if you are trying to make things better for your country and you say the equivalent of “That’s really mean. Quit it.” then those in power may kill you. Sobering thought. And the ones that say “Quit it.” know this and they say it anyway. Very courageous. Andrew’s job tells their stories to us. It is an important job. It can be a dangerous job. And the bad guys really don’t like these stories being told so sometimes they’ll kill the story tellers too.
Video by: Zoe Selsky
A short aside. Andrew is a novelist and has recently published a new novel called Cowboy Jihad which draws on his oversea’s experiences. I’ve just finished reading it and it is really good. Just a week ago I read a story in the New York Times about a Afghanistan veteran who reminded me in some ways of Stu who is a character in Andrew’s novel. Cowboy Jihad is the story of terrorists planning an attack on Facebook’s data in the cowboy town of Prineville, Oregon. It is also a story about the choices that people make, good and bad; and also about redemption. You can get it on Amazon.
More Serious Games
I originally had the bold above say “Mature Games,” but mature conjures up an image of things that are anything but mature; so I used “Serious” instead. And serious reminds me of something that G.K. Chesterton wrote a little over 100 years ago:
Mr. McCabe thinks that I am not serious but only funny, because Mr. McCabe thinks that funny is the opposite of serious. Funny is the opposite of not funny, and of nothing else. … Whether a man chooses to tell the truth in long sentences or short jokes is a problem analogous to whether he chooses to tell the truth in French or German. … The question of whether Swift was funny in his irony is quite another sort of question to the question of whether Swift was serious in his pessimism. Surely even Mr. McCabe would not maintain that the more funny “Gulliver” is in its method the less it can be sincere in its object. The truth is, as I have said, that in this sense the two qualities of fun and seriousness have nothing whatever to do with each other, they are no more comparable than black and triangular. Mr. Bernard Shaw is funny and sincere. Mr. George Robey is funny and not sincere. Mr. McCabe is sincere and not funny. The average Cabinet Minister is not sincere and not funny.
Games can entertaining, they can have humor, they can make you laugh; and that doesn’t take away from them also being serious.
So reading these stories from Andrew’s tweets/links and especially about his job started to get ideas of possible game projects percolating in my mind. Ideas and scenarios would pop up and drift through my mind as I took my morning walk through the forest. My job is creating interactive entertainment (computer games – but “interactive entertainment” sounds so much cooler, so humor me). I suppose the way that inspiration just magically appears is true in any sort of creative field like literature, music, movies, etc. in that it can strike you at any time from any place.
If you’ve been working in your field for a long enough time it seems like it becomes second nature. You can’t turn it off. There is something magical about the whole process. You snatch these ethereal phantoms out of the air, and soon there are words on a piece of paper telling a story, or new music, or in my case neat interactive things happening on a computer screen. It really feels like magic. You just sit down and apply yourself to your craft and you create something out of nothing.
Now unlike literature, music, or movies, interactive entertainment is a very young field that is just starting to mature. It is maturing in the sense of what types of games are now being created. I’ve been in this industry from the very start, basically from our “silent film” era and it has evolved to the point where now it is a creative medium that has moved way beyond Donkey Kong and Centipede. Not that those games weren’t fun. I spent many quarters in the basement of the Erb Memorial Union at the University of Oregon in the early 1980s playing different video games there.
Okay, one more short aside. Sorry. This time about the Erb Memorial Union. When I was a student you could write checks there for cash. So one time when I was home during school break I had my bank statement and some canceled checks and my Dad saw my checks made out to “EMU”. So he asks, “What’s this emu?” I was tempted to tell him that it is the great bird god that we worship at the University. Oh, and one other thing, you can see the EMU and a whole bunch of the University of Oregon in the movie Animal House.
Alright, back to interactive entertainment and how it starting to come into its own as a true artistic field. That Dragon Cancer is an example of how games are changing. Ryan Green wrote the game while his very young son was battling cancer. It is a game that tells of his family’s journey. It is a very tough journey. I bought it the day it came out to support the author, but I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to play it.
Another game that I have been playing recently is 1979 Revolution: Black Friday. You play a photojournalist caught up in the Iranian revolution. I’ve been playing a chapter or two every so often when I have free time. I’m currently partway through it. It is harrowing. It should be because it was a harrowing time in a dangerous place.
When I was younger computers were much less powerful than they are today. Huge orders of magnitude slower. So it was a big deal and you were a hotshot top-gun if you could get a bunch of things moving around on the screen at a high frame rate. I did that – wrote fast code at the lowest machine code level (6502 hex code – no assembler) that I knew was good. It felt good and was fun. I know I can move pixels fast. But, nowadays moving people’s hearts seems a much more rewarding and challenging task.
#hero of your own life. Pursue your dreams relentlessly. Help others achieve theirs.”
It is interesting how several different events in your life can collide at roughly the same time, one of them being that simple twitter post, and that can move you to move in a different direction in your own life. Serendipity – “fortunate happenstance” “desirable discoveries by accident.” I guess that is what happened. It is an amazing place that this world is turning into. Where a message can fly from South Africa to the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California, from fall to spring, instantly and nudge the trajectory of your own life. And then hopefully it can lead to you to help others to achieve their own dreams and nudge their lives in a positive direction.
By Kevin Ryan
Posted on May 6th, 2016
This is going to be a very short post about what I was just thinking about while taking a short 25 minute walk along one of the trails near our home just now. I got a email this morning from my long time friend and off and on work colleague Jeff Tunnell. It had a few suggestions about making my blog better from the titles of the posts and also about the content. Some of what he wrote echoed what my wife had told me the other day. Now I’ll definitely be doing some of his advice, maybe not all of it, but I’ll sure consider all of it.
So as I was walking along through the drizzling rain we are getting here right now, it got me thinking about collaboration. Jeff felt comfortable sending me suggestions along the lines of “hey here’s what you can do a little better” and I was fine receiving them. I think that is the result of long time collaboration that has built up trust. Although I think our personalities are such that it was probably there almost from day one.
I’ve been blessed over the years to work with a whole bunch of talented nice folk. Two of them were Jeff and Damon Slye who were at Dynamix with me as co-owners. They started it up. As I walked along thinking about how people interact in good and bad ways, what popped into my mind was this one scene in a game that Damon and I had planned for David Wolfe: Secret Agent. Somewhere along the line as development progressed, Damon told me that Jeff was really uncomfortable with the scene and preferred it didn’t go in there. Not “Jeff says take it out.” It meant a lot to Jeff, we took it out.
I’m thinking that is one reason Dynamix did so well, because there was mutual respect and trust. Oh, it did help that Jeff and Damon are super talented, basically the best at what they do. But it seems that there needs to be more present than just that; and our willingness to listen, change, and improve – collaborate in a good way – made the sum greater than the whole of its parts. And now here I am collaborating with Jeff and his latest company, Spotkin, on a game (Contraption Maker) over 30 years after we met. And my son is working with Damon at Mad Otter Games on their Villagers and Heroes game.
By Kevin Ryan
Posted on April 13th, 2016
I took a hike through the forest this morning (like almost every morning). Right near the end of today’s walk there is a log home which I’ve passed by many times. But today I noticed that they have a basketball hoop up in their driveway. “Oh, that’d be nice to have.” We can’t have one at our home because we don’t have any flat land. Actually, I guess we could put up a hoop and it would make for an interesting game since our driveway has a pretty good slope to it.
We didn’t think about how nice it would be to have some flat areas when we bought our land and built our home up here in the mountains back in the mid 1990s. Our log home is made of hand crafted logs that were shaped and fitted up in Canada before being taken apart and then traveling down to Shaver Lake, California. Amusing to think of the shell of our home on a few big trucks making their way down I-5 through Portland, Salem, Eugene (our former home), Mt. Shasta, and eventually making its way here.
I was a discus thrower on our track team in high school and I was competing against people that usually outweighed me by at least 50 lbs and also had quite a few inches on me. Most of the discus and shot putters on all the different squads were lineman from the football team. I’m not built like a lineman. Try as I might, and I really tried, I couldn’t get my weight above 150 lbs. Trust me though, that “can’t get your weight up problem” does goes away when you get older.
I was good enough to get invited to some invitationals with some of the best in the state/nation where my relative size compared to them was even more apparent. My best throw was 151′ 11″ which wasn’t too shabby for my weight. The discus doesn’t rely on brute strength as much as the shot put so I was able to use technique to get on a more even keel with my competitors. Plus my math skills let me know that I wanted to release the discus at at 37 degree angle with a -10 degree angle of incidence.
As a quick aside, those two photos were taken at our meet at McLane High School in Fresno. I recently found out that Warren Zevon went to that high school.
Track and Field is a spring sport just like tennis, so you choose one or the other. Tennis fits my body type and skills much better than the discus did. Not sure why I choose discus over tennis. When I was younger I wasn’t too bad at tennis used to play quite a bit at the tennis club that my family belonged to. My older brother lettered in tennis at Fresno State and I think I would have had a good chance to do the same (at Oregon) if I had taken up the sport seriously.
Discus vs Tennis
When I was a senior in high school back in 1979, I remember sitting in my 6th period math class when Jeff Anderson started talking about tennis and the discus. He was on the tennis team. He thought tennis was a much better sport than just tossing the discus. He said, “When we get old I can call up a friend and say ‘hey want to play a round of tennis?’ What are you going to do? Call up someone and say ‘hey want to toss the discus around?” I said, “Uhhh. Yeah, I guess.” I think he had a point.
My Dad is 86 and he played tennis until recently when his knees gave out. He was Fresno State’s starting QB back when he was in college and I suspect his knees took a lot of punishment. Growing up I watched lots of tennis matches on tv with my Dad and brothers. Wimbledon and the US Open were the big matches, but the French Open was neat because it was played on clay which gives a whole different pace to the game. I remember watching an epic match between Borg and McEnroe at Wimbledon back in 1980. It was beyond belief wonderful. The sort of thing that the word ‘epic’ was made for.
I wonder if I still have my old Wilson wood tennis racket somewhere. I should call up my little brother (50 year old little brother) and play a couple of sets sometime. Seriously. It used to be a lot of fun and its been a long time since I’ve played. Basketball needs too many people and the discus needs too few. To quote Goldielocks, tennis feels just right.
But right now I really feel like calling up my old high school friend, Jeff, and saying, “Hey wanna toss the discus around!”