Friday, December 23, 2005

Merry Merry!

I'm going off the grid until after New Years. While the jungle resort where I'll be staying has WiFi (!), I will be too busy drinking things involving rum and bananas and trading Indiana Jones quotes with The Boyfriend to keep the hell fresh.

In the meantime, watch some holiday movies, hug your loved ones, pick up a major award. Play some games, even the kind that don't beep or give Jack Thompson agita. Write if you feel like it and don't if you don't.

I leave you with a piece I wrote during my three-year stint as a columnist on classic movies for Girls on Film, which is not the kind of website you think it is. Years ago the site was bought by Bolt and then by Oxygen (yes, Oprah's internet play) and then closed down, so I have no idea who owns the rights to my columns but I know it's not me. Please don't sue.

Anyway, enjoy. I've kept the dated refences intact partially for your amusement (Shasta McNasty! VCRs!) and mostly because I am lazy.

Merry Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Solstice, Festivus, Chrismukkah, and all the very best wishes for the new year!

A Classic Christmas

Heaven help us, Ricky Martin has a Christmas special. Amidst the seasonal faves "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" and "The Year Without a Santa Claus" (starring Heat-Miser and his chilly bro), TV this time of year chokes on Very Special Episodes of shows that were dreck even before getting dunked in eggnog. Me, I'm headed straight for the video store. Come along before the cast of "Shasta McNasty" goes caroling.

The undisputed champeen of holiday flicks, IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE (1946) stands up just fine under the ritual yearly viewing. For both of you who haven't seen it yet, LIFE is about Everyguy George Bailey (James Stewart) on the worst night of his life. Sent to save him is Clarence (Henry Travers) an angel who not only hasn't earned his wings yet, but has by all accounts "the I.Q. of a rabbit."

George's story is one of kindness and self-sacrifice, starting from saving his brother's life as a kid. Putting aside his own grand dreams, George grows up to see everyone around move on to apparently bigger and better things. Pal Sam Wainwright (Frank Albertson) makes a fortune in plastics. Brother Harry (Todd Karns) goes to college and becomes a decorated Navy pilot. For his part, George quietly but surely becomes a pillar of his town, marrying the radiant Mary (Donna Reed) and starting a family.

Missing money, threat of arrest, and a string of other indignities drive George to the brink of suicide. Clarence counters by showing George what life would be like had he not been born: not a pretty picture. The town teems with sleazy bars and pawn shops. People are mean and hard. Harry and all the men he would've saved as a pilot are dead. George sees the light and runs home to a triumphant Christmas Eve, the community he served for so long now coming joyfully to his aid.

If you think LIFE is just a goody-goody holiday tale, think again. It zings with humor and stellar performances, stuffed with more terrific lines than a fruitcake has nuts. It's a wonderful film (pardon the pun), from the charming walk home that George and Mary share after their first date to their magical wedding night. More than just about Christmas or angels, IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE is about the often-forgotten fact that each of us touches many other lives, a sentiment well worth remembering this time of year.

Check out WHITE CHRISTMAS (1954) if you want to score big with your Great Aunt Marge. Bing Crosby, musical numbers, Vermont through Hollywood eyes... it's 1950s eye candy with a yuletide twist that'll have Aunt Marge swooning into her Pink Lady.

Bob Wallace (Crosby), a well-known crooner, and Phil Davis (Danny Kaye), a wannabe entertainer, first meet as soldiers in WWII. After the war, Phil joins Bob in his act, the pair becoming hugely successful. A businesslike look-see at the singing Haynes Sisters -- Betty (Rosemary Clooney) and Judy (Vera Ellen) -- turns into more as the gents join the gals at a Vermont inn for their holiday gig.

Who should be running the inn but their old General, now retired and finding business dangerously slow. Our heroes decide to give the General a whopper of a Christmas gift, and pull all kinds of strings to move their sellout Broadway show up to the mountains. Naturally, love blooms among the fir trees for one and all.

Make no mistake, WHITE CHRISTMAS is a musical. Aside from the numbers sensibly staged in clubs and rehearsals, these folks break into song at the drop of a top hat, from musing about snow on the train to serenading each other over liverwurst sandwiches. And break out the Benadryl if you're allergic to huge production numbers-- this is old-style Hollywood, with the dancers and spangles to prove it. WHITE CHRISTMAS is also trademark post-war fare, with appropriate respect for the veterans of World War II. The soldier element might be enough to keep Uncle Mort awake, but don't bet on it.

So don't let holiday TV turn you into a Scrooge. Your VCR can be your window on Christmases Past. Grab some vids, mull the cider and snuggle close to the ones you love. Happy Holidays!

Monday, December 19, 2005

Doc Doc Goose

One nice thing about the holiday TV hiatus is that it gives us all a chance to catch up on DVDs. A number of documentaries bubbled to the top of my Netflix queue:

  • MAD HOT BALLROOM - Delightful. When I heard about this movie, I figured it'd be one of those heavy-handed deals about kids lifting themselves up from poverty through dance. Or growing up and learning how to deal with their identities and the *gasp!* opposite sex. Or coping with a high-pressure competitive situation.

    While MHB touches on all these, it's with a light, deft hand. The filmmakers don't have any obvious agenda, except that of showing the joy these young dancers express as they merengue and rhumba.

  • MARCH OF THE PENGUINS - Amazing story, amazingly filmed. Really just a National Geographic special writ large, it's nonetheless an astonishing tale, full of sweetness, perserverance, loss, and hot penguin-on-penguin action. It's not afraid to make you choose sides (seals are mean!) and goes to some lengths to anthropomorphize the penguins, who already look like a scrum of maitre d's.

    Although the making-of doc behind the doc tends to the overwrought ("Do I darken the purity of the White Continent with words?"), it provides more birdy footage plus context for the filming, which included a near-fatal whiteout that sidelined production for a month.

  • MURDERBALL - Apparently audiences found quadriplegic rugby players less cuddly than penguins. Too bad. This story is far more gripping and immediate. Lively and lecture-free, MURDERBALL zings with the energy and personality of its stars. Yeah, these guys are in wheelchairs, but they're just as ornery, proud, horny, independent, and occasionally juvenile as anyone else.

    At its heart a sports movie, MURDERBALL follows Team USA and their Canadian rivals, and the drama runs high. A parallel story thread about a newly rehabbed young man trying to come to terms with the shifted definitions of his life provides both bitter and hopeful moments.

    The most heartbreaking scene for me, though, came at the very end, where the team demos quad rugby for future players among Iraq War veterans, all of who look about fourteen years old.

  • MONDOVINO - Not as well-shaped as these others, MONDOVINO zips from vineyard to vineyard around the world, painting a sobering (har!) picture of the impact on the wine industry of globalization, technology, and high-profile consultants.

    One year, an Orellaia red sells for 35 Euros. The winery partners up with American juggernaut Mondavi, and the next year the wine's at 110 Euros and named the best in the world. Not, importers and retailers note, because the wine got better, but because it was made more palatable to the market and critics. Kinda makes me feel like a slob for buying my wines from the bottom shelf at Vons.

  • Goose! WINGED MIGRATION - Okay, I saw this ages ago in the theater, but it was top of mind because:

    (1) It's another incredible story about the natural world.
    (2) Even more than MARCH OF THE PENGUINS makes you gasp, "How did they film that?!"
    (3) Though narration-free (Morgan Freeman must've been booked), it contains myriad mini-narratives, some funny, some sad (crabs are mean!).
    (4) It's the DVD selection of the month in the cat area of the kennel some friends are using to board their feline over the holidays. Yes, in LA even the cats have screening rooms.
  • Saturday, December 17, 2005

    Happy Horrordays

    I'm pretty sure Sartre came up with that "hell is other people" bon mot after coming off a 10-hour shift working retail during Christmas. It's well-known among the dramaturgical cognoscenti that the first drafts of NO EXIT were about three retail clerks doomed to work the Friday after Thanksgiving for all eternity.

    That day's alternate moniker, Black Friday, was not coined by the media or by merchants, mind you, but by cash register slaves and stock jockeys. I know -- I used to be one at a Borders Books.

    We're rounding the bend to December 25th, which is when they come out of the woodwork, those people who've waited until the last minute to shop and as such are full to the eyeballs with panic and guilt in addition to whatever intrinsic assholery they may bring to the party.

    So, I'd like to extend a holiday wish.

    Please have a kind word for the folks at Candles R Us or Trendy But Generic Clothing or Ottomans! Ottomans! Ottomans!.

    Their feet hurt.

    They make crap money.

    They've been asked to find a book for a customer who can only say that it's pink. Title, author, genre? "No, but it's pink! Jesus, are you some kind of goddamn idiot? Fine, I'll just get it online."

    Knock yourself out. You think I get paid on commission, bitch?

    Retail workers get sick more often than those in other industries, because you bring in your germs and leave them all over the merchandise.

    You mess up their sections and then complain that you can't find anything.

    You decide you want to charge your purchase instead of using cash only after the clerk has finished your transaction, which as any retail survivor (and David Sedaris in his brilliant SANTALAND DIARIES) can tell you is a gauntlet of calling over the manager, initialing this, filing that, and starting all over.

    Don't assume this is the only job they can get or that they're stupid.

    Your mileage may vary, but in my store many of us were working to save some money for grad school. One guy was headed to Georgetown for his MBA. I was between Stanford and NYU. We even had one woman who had been a lawyer for years and just decided she wanted to do something different.

    Retail is different from the law. When you're a lawyer, you can put the bad people in prison. In retail, you smile and give them a complimentary bookmark and mentally record them for when you have a private hitman at your disposal. I'm looking at you, Pink Book.

    As I used to say, any day in retail you can walk away from is a good day.

    So ask your clerk how they're doing. Listen, smile, wish them well. They're worthy and needful of any kindness right about now.

    Except for the clerks at Barnes and Noble. Those guys are freakin' morons.

    Friday, December 16, 2005


    Things all we delinquent writers should pen one hundred times, if only that didn't keep us from actual writing:

    Only writing is writing.

    Reading about writing is not writing.

    Rereading something you've already written is not writing.

    Rewriting is writing, but the obsessive polish and re-polish and re-re-polish of the same eight pages for the last year and half is not.

    Outlining is writing.

    Taking a walk to think about writing is not writing if it ends in a latte and two pairs of new shoes.

    Blogging about writing is not writing.

    Blogging about bad haircuts is certainly not writ--

    Ahem. Gotta go.

    You too!

    Thursday, December 15, 2005

    Wednesday, December 14, 2005

    I Look Worse in Hats

    For some reason, the very nice but misguided folks who've cut my hair of late think I can pull off the choppy, layered look. The kind that says, "Are you READY TO RAAAWWWK, DETROIT?!"

    I'm not Joan Jett, people. I'm not even Joan Lunden. I'm edgy as a bagel.

    The conversations with the stylist (lordy, call them hairdressers at your peril) typically go like this:

    STYLIST: I think some more layers in here will be fun!

    ME: It won't be too severe, right?

    STYLIST: No, no. Wispy. Sweet. Fun!

    ME: That "fun" is scaring me.

    STYLIST: Just some architectural chunks in there.

    (Pause while I blink and try to parse this. Stylists love to use words like "architectural" that have a different meaning in the parallel reality of chairs that can go up and down via a foot pedal)

    ME: Okayyyy... Will it be subtle?

    STYLIST: Oh, yeah. Subtle. But fun!

    And I end up with a haircut that makes me look like I should be holding Courtney Love's purse as she yarfs into a Vegas toilet somewhere.

    I'm in meetings where I want to be taken seriously as a Credible Creative Person and I'm now rockin' a 'do that says Off Her Meds and possibly Flight Risk.


    Wednesday Web

  • Guess what? When you change the fundamentals of your online game and jettison characters -- and their associated relationships -- that took your audience years to build, players don't like it very much. At all.

  • A Feast for Crows, George R. R. Martin's new book, is, duh, doing well. Even though The Boyfriend says it suffers from incipient Robert Jordan Disease, which involves taking 300 pages to tell 40 pages of story, I'm looking forward to it.

    Martin, a former story editor and producer for "The Twilight Zone," knows how to give his characters layers and complex motivations. While ostensibly fantasy, the Song of Ice and Fire books (particularly the first couple), tend to the Shakespearean in scope and theme. They feature messy, violent politics, Tudor vs. Plantagenet-style, rather than twee fairytaling around the countryside. Oh, and there's a lot of sex.

  • How is DIE HARD like SIDEWAYS, and how can that info help us make better games? MMOGuru Raph Koster thinks gamemakers need to improve as filmmakers in order to help the medium realize its potential, including getting smart about hiring actual writers to work on games (naturally, I agree).

    At the heart of this is what Raph calls the Pixar lesson, namely that story deserves respect, as does the audience. Amen.
  • Monday, December 12, 2005

    O Holy Crap

    I'm at a Christmas party and no one I know is there.

    For the shy (INFJ in my case, if you're into all that Meyers-Briggs stuff), this is a pretty solid definition of hell.

    I attended a couple of earlier festivities with The Boyfriend, and the poor bastard was as usual stuck talking to me all night, but he's not at this shindig.

    This is an alumni thingie for my college. Those functions tend to hit me where I live because everyone there was valedictorian and is clever and poised. This particular alumni thingie is in Los Angeles, so not only was everyone there valedictorian, but also homecoming queen or king. The ones that weren't now run record labels.

    In such situations I can't even take refuge by tucking into the free pinot because I don't want to be That Girl, you know, the one who after midnight turned into Tara Reid and fell into the pool.

    So I'm stone-cold sober, socially paralyzed, and wishing I was home watching Christmas movies.

    Speaking of! The real reason for this post, some of my seasonal movie faves. In no particular order:

    IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE - Darker and funnier than you remember.

    HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS - WARNING! VERY IMPORTANT!! I mean the ANIMATED version, with charming Chuck Jones art and plummy voice work by Boris Karloff. Not the Jim Carrey redundancy, for the love of Fah who for-aze.

    WHEN HARRY MET SALLY - Not strictly speaking a Christmas movie, but many of the story's key moments happen at the holidays. The season of groveling, revelatory Mallomars.

    MUPPET CHRISTMAS CAROL - I'm serious. Michael Caine gives excellent deadpan as Scrooge in the face of adorableness (Fozziwig!) and catchy songs, but the movie gets scary and sad right when it's supposed to. All that and mini Miss Piggies. Get over yourself and rent it.

    THE THIN MAN - Another not-quite-Christmas movie, but who cares when you have William Powell shooting ornaments off the tree with a BB gun while Myrna Loy watches, amused, in a new fur coat? In a movie that glimmers with champagne dialogue, this wordless moment is a standout.

    THE GODFATHER - Okay, okay, I'll stop cheating, but the Godfather saga is framed around moments rich with ritual and family significance: weddings, baptisms, the holidays. I love Al Pacino's tense and terrifying vigil at the creepy, Christmas-quiet hospital.

    A CHRISTMAS STORY - Some time ago I came across a rant against this movie, which I just don't get. So it's faux nostalgic. Nostalgia is false almost by definition. A CHRISTMAS STORY is funny, sweet, just arch enough, and yes, authentic, capturing the tribulations and joy of being a kid at yuletide. Plus Peter Billingsley now is poker buddies with Vince Vaughn, so there's that.

    What about you? Any other holiday flicks you find yourself watching year after year?

    Saturday, December 10, 2005

    Another County Heard From

    TV writers both aspiring and ascended (erm, that came out more Operating Thetan VI than intended) take note: another pro writer has tossed his official SIMPSONS staff baseball cap into the scribosphere ring.

    Ken Levine's freshly-minted blog takes on the writerly life, including what exactly it means when you get a coffee mug from your showrunner for Christmas (shorthand for "pack up your desk, we're getting canceled"), internecine squabbles between LA's West and East sides, and divers newsbits and musings.

    One choice item: "Mariah Carey nabbed eight Grammy nominations thus continuing her stunning comeback and pushing back her Magic Mountain concert at Spilikin Corners until October."

    We can only hope, Ken, we can only hope.

    Friday, December 09, 2005

    Game On, Gray Lady, Game On

    While it's always amusing to see the New York Times catch up with the more leading edge press -- What's this? People pay monthly fees for some sort of electronic game? Over the internets? What next, miniature phones you can put in your pocket? -- a front page story there is undeniably a benchmark that the subject has hit the mainstream.

    This time, it's gold farmers (visit if you don't have a account). Stale news to many of us, but surely a novel head-scratcher to those outside the dev or player community.

    For a fictional take on this phenomenon, read Cory Doctorow's short story Anda's Game. It deals with gold farming in MMOGs, but also the medium's larger questions of identity, community, and achievement both true and illusory.

    Monday, December 05, 2005

    Extra Dry

    I stumbled across Martini Shot, TV writer Rob Long's weekly commentary on Hollywood, while driving home the other night. For you Southland locals, it airs on KCRW 89.9, but is also available on Teh Intarweb in podcast format.

    Entertaining insider stuff, from hosting stargazers in denial to a new take on Scientologists to more nifty TV show lingo. Though successful and experienced, Long's just as neurotic as the rest of us, be it calling up for the network overnights in a cold sweat or trying (and failing) to reassure a doubtful friend that he Really Is Happy for the friend's lush studio deal.

    I think a debate is in the offing between Josh Friedman and Long, who in one piece calls us monkeys to task for our poor sartorial sense. Sweatpants deathmatch!

    Thursday, December 01, 2005

    CSI: San Fernando Valley

    What is up with that terrible Jeff Kent pornstar mustache lately sprouted on otherwise toothsome Nick Stokes (George Eads)?


    Tuesday, November 29, 2005

    Talking the Talk

    Because I am lazy and still digging out from post-Turkey Day catchup on all fronts, here instead of a real post is a link to a real one, Craig Mazin's informative and entertaining on-set glossary. Be sure to scroll down and read the comments for more insidery goodness.

    It's fascinating (if not exactly surprising) how much movie lingo derives from that of the theater, which naturally has its own nutty lexicon. Carps and LX, ghost light, par cans, all that left is right/in is out nonsense, twofers, teasers and tormentors... And no, the latter are neither agents nor recalcitrant subscribers.

    Going back further, some terms like "flying in" date to the days of tall ships, when many early theater technicians were former sailors, employing their knowledge of lines (not ropes, you fool) and knots in theatrical rigging.

    See, it all comes back to pirates. Arrr!

    Tuesday, November 22, 2005

    Slumming with Microsoft

    Have you seen those vague, arty Xbox 360 ads? The ones with aggressively multiculti crowds having balloon fights and jumprope jams in what looks like the sets from CITY OF GOD?

    I think they're supposed to convey inclusiveness, fun, and diversity, but I'm left cold by the disingenuous casting and the poverty-chic setting. I mean, the people who live in those tower block apartments, you think they have $400 to drop on a game console? Instead of on schoolbooks or a bike to get to a job? Or, say, food?

    And while it's fun to think of folk playing together regardless of age, gender, race, or class, the truth is, Xbox Live is not diverse. Xbox Live is this kid.

    More to the point, it'll always be that kid until the games for Xbox 360 stretch beyond the predictable likes of Madden NFL 2006, Call of Duty 2, and Rumble Roses XX.

    Rumble Roses XX?

    That's a title that, to paraphrase a Katrina-era rant, deserves to have its developers covered in iPods and left in an unpicturesque alley in Rio.

    Hey! The Microsoft marketing bunnies squeal. What about Xbox Live Arcade? Yeah, the service features puzzle/parlor classics Zuma, Bejeweled 2, and Spades, but with the occasional exception like Wik: Fable of Souls, innovation's wheezing by the roadside, and you know that developers of these kinds of games aren't getting a thimble of love compared to Project Gotham Racing 3.

    Kinda makes me want to take to the streets of Redmond and throw something. But it ain't a water balloon.

    Thursday, November 17, 2005

    Ante Up, Boys and Ghouls

    Activision has a new game out called Gun, which sounds like a serviceable if not spectacular shooter.

    What makes this Western-themed FPS interesting is Last Call Poker, the elaborate promotional alternate reality game, or ARG, that was built to promote it. The folks behind LCP are 42 Entertainment, which did the I Love Bees ARG for Halo 2.

    The Last Call Poker site includes a real, free poker room but also a parallel puzzle game about unlocking the backstory of the Activision game. The notion is that everyone in LCP, including you, is dead.

    Dead doesn't mean eternally resting, though. You and your colleagues in the hereafter have bones to pick and missions to solve.

    One nifty element is how the LCP site's visual style -- front page, poker room background, your avatar's clothing -- changes as the narrative has moved back in time to Gun's setting, from present day to WWII Europe to Prohibition to Deadwood.

    Part of Gun's backstory follows the bloody history of the antique Navy Colt in question as it slam-bangs into the lives of cross-dressing orphans, OSS agents, Ambrose Bierce, Calamity Jane, Al Capone, and more. A second thread is a Tarantino-y, LA-set action drama about Lucy, poker ace, sometime chauffeur, and rightful owner of the gun in the present day, and all the colorful and homicidal characters hot on her trail.

    Pretty entertaining stuff, even if the performances and writing tend to be a bit over the top. You can catch up on the previous episodes at the site.

    As the community solves the puzzles, bits of story are revealed through photos, text, fake recorded phone calls, comic book pages, video snippets, and even live events, the last of which is being held this Saturday in a Hollywood cemetery. The event will feature a tournament of "Tombstone Hold 'Em," a poker game using headstones as pocket cards.

    Should be interesting...

    Monday, November 14, 2005

    Truthful Videogame Boxes

    Does "Katamari Damacy" really translate to "Magically Adhesive Ball of Garbage"? Maybe it should -- at least you'd know what you're getting.

    Imagine the tears and effort that would be spared if your local Gamestop carried games that truthfully declaimed their content, such as Fanboy Bullshit VII and Roster Update NFL 2006.

    Thursday, November 10, 2005

    The Great Indoors

    Part of the reason I write things set in the mountains or in space or backpacking around Europe or attending UFO conventions is to have my characters do these things so I don't have to.

    As a kid, a Girl Scout no less (a pre-Jack Thompson Girl Scout, mind you. Me and my Atari-playing friends would have no part of that lunacy), I used to go camping, and enjoyed it.

    I got older and paler and found that I liked books and movies and the theater and computers more than insect bites and sand in inconvenient places. Any camping trip I'd consider now would probably need to involve a bed with sheets and WiFi.

    This December, The Boyfriend, Sis and Brother-in-Law, Mom and Dad, and I are off to Central America. Don't get me wrong, I am very excited to be going. Beautiful country, Mayan ruins, time with folks I love, rum drinks.

    It's the preparation I hate. Trips like these involve planning like you're Shackleton tasked with provisioning the goddamn Endurance. You get shot full of vaccines and buy weird things you never thought you'd need that are only sold in weird places.

    REI. I'm in an REI, God help me.

    I'm a room full of kayaks staffed by people who look like they're made out of beef jerky.

    These people terrify me. I know, and they know that I know, that should the apocalypse come, they can and will track me down, joint, bone, and fillet me. Me, I can and will get eaten.

    REI sells enchiladas that come in a mylar bag. This is somehow more hair-raising to me than the cannibal scenario.

    REI staffers are very nice and very helpful and very cheerful, because they are trying to get you to become an official member of their beef jerky cult, with its associated rituals involving carabiners and helmets and crampons.

    Hee! Crampons!

    And you can't leave REI without buying something, because the place is overwhelming (did I mention the astronaut enchiladas?) and because the staff will hunt you and skin you in your sleep if you don't, because, y'know, they can.

    I now own some unspeakably ugly sandals and shirts that "wick," whatever the hell that means. Wish me luck.

    Meet Market

    For writerly types in the LA area, there's going to be a gathering at the Hotel Figueroa's Veranda Bar this Sunday, 11/13, at 6pm after the Screenwriting Expo next door. Warren over at The Screenwriting Life has the details.

    I may not be able to be there, but a bunch of cools folks will be, so come by if you can! Because writers and booze go together like...well, writers and booze.

    Slainte, prosit, and na vashe zdorovye!

    Monday, November 07, 2005

    The Triumph of Met Expectations Part II

    Spotted on TV this weekend, although happily not back-to-back on the same channel:




    Tuesday, November 01, 2005


    One of the few episodes of the excellent FREAKS AND GEEKS that I actually caught on TV was their Halloween show. It captures the death of the classic version of the holiday, both for one family and for society at large.

    Travel with me, back, back, back, before the giant Spirit stores that pop up in September and vanish November 1 like mushrooms, before the boom industry of pre-packaged Slutty Cinderella and Slutty Ninja and Slutty Napoleon Dynamite costumes.

    We're at around 1980 now. You with me?

    The show's mom loves Halloween. Dresses up, decorates the house, makes homemade treats for the goblins that ring the doorbell.

    This year, though, the younger kid decides he's too old to go trick or treating. The older girl doesn't want to stay home with mom, but wants to hang with her friends. The goblins throw away the treats because their parents fear that they could be poisoned.

    The look of sadness and loss on the mom's face is heartbreaking, because not only are her children growing up too fast for her, she can see the end of something fanciful and connecting, mysterious, silly, to be shared with your family.

    Flash forward to now, where surely in some neighborhoods the goblins still appear on the front stoop, going home to carefully sort through the candy to avoid the razor blades and syringes and anthrax powder, but not in mine.

    The kids trick or treat at school, in the mall, at their parents' offices. Places well lit and clinical and utterly free of that wonderful frisson of being out after dark and talking to strangers! It was scary-but-not-really, because mom or dad was always behind you, curbside, with the flashlight.

    This year, we got a grand total of two goblins the whole night, a very shy fairy and her bolder pirate sister, bless her little pillaging heart.

    Leftover candy isn't worth it.


    I'm huge in Germany!

    A quick check of my site referrer stats and a confirmation on the internets shows that a search for "maslow pyramid" on Google Deutschland returns Fresh Hell on the first page.

    Next up, Google Sudetenland and maybe Google Austria.

    Wednesday, October 26, 2005


    My ol' blog may hit a lull again this week, as I'm off to Texas today through Friday at the Austin Game Conference for online gaming tastiness.

    I like the AGC. It's smaller than Game Developers Conference and cheaper, but with the same caliber of speakers and attendees and wholly focused on online.

    Austin's also a fun town, or so I'm told by people who get invited to the parties.

    I do not get invited to the parties.

    While others are at the parties to which they have been invited, I am back in my hotel trying to get the in-room internets to work. Screw parties, there are games to be played, man!

    Tuesday, October 25, 2005

    A Quiet Drink

    When I lived in New York, among the noisy scene clubs there were always a handful of places where you could go for a cocktail with friends and actually, y'know, be able to walk right in, sit down, and carry on an intelligible conversation.

    In LA, not so much.

    There must be places that aren't packed to standing-room capacity, that don't have that little rope outside going on, where the music isn't turned up so loud you get nodules on your larynx debating whether or not LOST has jumped the shark.

    I suppose there are a couple such places. They're called "hotel bars."

    And I don't mean the hotspots like the Standard or the Roosevelt. I'm talking old school, like Shutters on the Beach and the Fairmont. These, I love. Nice surroundings, sometimes a vocalist or jazz combo, usually decent pours, the occasional famous person ("Hey, isn't that Sean Penn over there ranting about the WHO and pandemics?").

    Hipster bars at unfashionable hours also work, provided you bail before the crowd moves in and the volume goes up.

    Any place else like that anyone knows of?

    Tuesday, October 18, 2005

    MMOG Mailbag Misfires

    Got a couple of email missives this morning that really jarred my apricots.

    First up, Blizzard sent World of Warcraft players a lengthy screed about an uptick in account theft and related fraud. Included in the letter was a dire warning about the dangers of downloading cheat programs, since they can include viruses and other nasties.

    Funny, since this comes shortly after the revelation on Blue's News and elsewhere that WoW itself contains spyware.

    That's right, the game you spent 40 bucks on plus your monthly fee regularly sniffs out the titles of open windows on your computer -- programs, email addresses, URLs, document titles -- and happily ships them off to Blizzard, who I'm sure has your best interests at heart.

    Everyone got that?

    Spyware that comes from the various internets: bad.

    Spyware that comes from Blizzard: good!

    Next up, City of Heroes sent players a note informing us of a character name policy change. Characters below level 35 who haven't been logged in in 90 days will have their names up for grabs for any active player.

    What the fuck?

    Is there anything more fundamental to identity than your name? In an online game, your avatar's name is your touchstone for relationships, networks, community, reputation. Is there any faster way to shred a player's connection to a game than to rip that away?

    It's not like names take up any significant database space. I cannot understand why these games make it anything other than easy, seamless, and painless to restart a moribund account.

    Back in our Star Wars Galaxies days, The Boyfriend logged back in after a long absence to discover that his house, factories, and all stored goods had vanished. No way to get them back. Pure restart for his character, in effect. Think he kept his account?

    NCSoft says this policy change is due to player feedback. Yeah.

    It's spelled "player feedback" but is pronounced, "Oh God oh God please please come back and play our game! World of Warcraft ate our lunch and soon DC Online and Marvel Online will launch and pick our bones clean. Please PLEASE oh God come back and play our game!!"

    And since when are players so lacking in creativity and individualism that they demand a community-wrecking policy so that they can finally get that coveted name Sp1ddorzMan335?

    Jeez. It's like, if Frank fails to call his Mom for a few weeks, his brother gets to be Frank.

    It's okay, there's always Frank01.

    Sunday, October 16, 2005

    Show Me the Way to Go Home/I'm Tired and I Wanna Go to Bed

    For those who came here looking for the lyrics to this song, check out this link.

    There may be other sites out there with this info, but this one has the lyrics along with the chording, plus some silly alternate lyrics.

    Enjoy, and check out the rest of my blog if you're so inclined...

    The posting here's been light of late due to busy weeks and weekends, sorry! Recently I went to an event in Hollywood for alumni from my university, which was a fun mix of reunion, networking, opinion (yours truly spoke on one panel), and stories.

    Veteran producers Richard D. Zanuck and David Brown, who brought us such classics as JAWS, THE VERDICT, and DRIVING MISS DAISY, were presented with an award to add to their already groaning shelves, and following the presentation engaged in a casual chat moderated by Todd McCarthy of Variety.

    Good stuff. Zanuck and Brown decried the corporatization of the movie industry, and talked at length about the golden age studio heads. These were men who may never have gone to college but were far from uneducated, with a eye for story be it classic or contemporary. And, as Zanuck said, "They were showmen."

    One of Zanuck and Brown's own anecdotes involved filming the underwater scenes for JAWS in Australia. The sharks were too small. They put a little person in a scuba suit inside a scaled-down shark cage, and voila! Big sharks.

    Now, while I've since found this story in IMDb, I hadn't heard it before then (neither had McCarthy, which makes me feel better) and I wasn't sure if these two guys were putting us on (they also made THE STING, after all). But did it make me want to go watch JAWS again? You bet. Showmen indeed.

    At this event, I also observed the sartorial taxonomy of Hollywood as described in Josh Friedman's latest hilarious post.

    The actresses were amazingly easy to spot. They clustered together like gazelles, perhaps fearful that a predatory casting director would weed stragglers from the herd. All were pretty, about 10% thinner than the thin women found elsewhere in the US, every single one in a dress or skirt, and studiedly casual. They looked fabulous.

    Me and my peeps, not so much. No one was in sweat pants, but more than one of us hid behind chunky glasses in an effort to look interesting and I give you one guess at the group who spent the evening hovering rather too near the open bar.

    Wednesday, October 12, 2005

    WGA: Older, Female, Minorities All Still Fighting for Their Share

    The 2005 Hollywood Writers Report is out, summarizing earnings and employment trends in film and TV.

    "Catching Up with a Changing America?" questions the report's title.

    No, comes the answer in the following pages.

    $12,000 pay gaps between female and male TV writers. Single digit employment percentages for minority feature writers. Earnings remaining steady for older writers while employment rates drop -- these cats are earning more but working less.

    The reading's both grim and galvanizing.

    I'm talking to you, women, writers of color, of all ages. Write well. Get hired. Change those damn charts.

    Monday, October 10, 2005

    The Kindest Cut

    The recut "trailer" of THE SHINING as goopy family dramedy SHINING shows the power of music and voiceover in selling emotion, but even with the sound off, the juxtapositions zing, thanks to clever editing.

    Jack Nicholson's hilarious look of comic frustration? Brilliant! Especially since it was homicidal rage the first time around.

    The documentary THE CUTTING EDGE: THE MAGIC OF MOVIE EDITING (forgive them the obvious/dorky title) goes into fascinating detail about this invisible art, starting with film's birth and seminal films such as THE GREAT TRAIN ROBBERY to the Kuleshov experiment right up to the present with the impact of videogames and MTV on how -- and how quickly -- we process visual information.

    In between, the documentary explores different schools of editing (the seamless style of D. W. Griffith as opposed to the media-aware jump cuts of Eisenstein), the role of editing in crafting stars out of actors (Sharon Stone's BASIC INSTINCT flash of naughty bits, anyone?), and the amazing care and detail required, as shown in scenes where Walter Murch constructs a sequence of COLD MOUNTAIN like a mosaic-maker placing tiles.

    Should writers care about editing?

    Spielberg, Scorsese, Cameron, Tarantino, and the rest of the all-star interview subjects all agree that the editing room is where the final draft of the screenplay is born. The unforgettable opening sequence of APOCALYPSE NOW wasn't in the script.

    Even the SHINING trailer was prefigured decades ago, when Charles Ridley recut TRIUMPH OF THE WILL, Leni Riefenstahl's infamous Nazi propaganda piece, into a silly musical short, THE PANZER BALLET, a somewhat less infamous British propaganda piece.

    THE CUTTING EDGE aired as a special on Starz a while back, but is out now on DVD. Give it a spin.

    Friday, October 07, 2005

    Coming Soon... to Your Desktop

    The Movies, Peter Molyneux's insanely ambitious studio sim slash digital backlot, has gone gold on the PC, with a release date in early November.

    It's been a-comin' for a while. Somewhere I still have a promotional film-can tin of ossified Tootsie Rolls from the game's E3 2004 booth.

    The time to market is understandable, since a bigger game it'd be hard to imagine. The Movies is part Civ/Sim-type game where you build and manage a movie studio from the 1920s to the present, part The Sims where you groom and manage stars through their careers, and part ready-made machinima engine, letting you create digital movies and share them online with other players. Any one of these threads could be a honkin' huge game in and of itself.

    The UI implications alone are daunting -- any non-animators out there ever tried to create anything in a 3D animation program? Fun, like sand in your eyes.

    The Movies clearly has sophisticated AI, much flexibility in framing scenes and shots, and a grounding in both the contemporary lore and fantasy of Hollywood as well as its scrappy, technology-driven roots.

    I'm definitely intrigued. If Lionhead can pull it off, this could be another advance for social media and the democratization of filmmaking.

    Players are already filming amazing things in games not at all designed for this, albeit mostly shelvable under Funny, Lewd, or Music Video. The Movies seems poised to offer a sandbox for much more, although I'm betting that the first batch of player films will be overrepresented in the Kick to the Groin and Batman/Alien/Star Wars/Firefly Crossover genres.

    Funny how gonad injury and backyard fanboidom have become the ARRIVAL OF A TRAIN AT LA CIOTAT for this new generation of amateur filmmakers. Those Lumiere brothers missed out on a goldmine. Chumps.

    Tuesday, October 04, 2005

    Stakes, Well Done

    Spoilers for PRISON BREAK follow.

    The show's about some guys trying to break out of prison.

    Specifically busting loose are Michael, a canny structural engineer, his older brother, the convicted murderer Lincoln, and a motley crew of cons, from amiable short-timer Sucre to Mafia middle manager Abruzzi (Peter Stormare in fine, unhinged if unconvincingly Italian form).

    While preposterous in the extreme, the show's proved to be consistently good, inventive television, thanks in part to rich characters and strong performances, but largely due to the risk-taking present in nearly every episode.

    This is a show where the lead character loses toes to hedge shears in episode two. Michael callously cost Sucre his conjugal visits -- and very likely his girl -- in a test of trust. The stern but reasonable warden has a skeleton in his closet that prompts ethically gray decisions; one of the bad guys is a family man headed for a crisis of conscience.

    The show's got, y'know, layers.

    PRISON BREAK, which airs on Fox, is about to go underground for a few weeks until the World Series wraps, and presented this lollapalooza volley of parting shots:

  • Michael triggers a lockdown to buy time for a crucial step of his tunnel-creating plan.
  • Lockdown turns to riot.
  • Inmates breach the cellblock.
  • Nasty Dangerous White Supremacist discovers the tunnel.
  • Rookie corrections officer about to become a snack for NDWS discovers the tunnel too.
  • Prison doctor (and governor's daughter) barricades herself futilely in the infirmary.
  • Musclebound assassin corners Lincoln in a dark passageway.

    Michael's forced to make life and death choices: include the evil NDWS in the plan or let Abruzzi kill him? Rescue the doctor and risk revealing the plan? Sacrifice the corrections officer to keep the tunnel a secret?

    That was just part one.

    Part two solved some of these issues but introduced yet more wrinkles involving the knotty conspiracy behind Lincoln's conviction, and further put into jeopardy everything all the characters hold dear. Even one placid old prisoner's cat has gone missing.

    The story manages to convey real danger, rather than the rather chilly and remote stakes behind other new shows such as THRESHOLD and INVASION, which have so far failed to click with me.

    On PRISON BREAK, I have no idea what's going to happen, but I know the writers will pull no punches. I love that.

    Will I be back once baseball's over? Oh, yeah.
  • Thursday, September 29, 2005

    Independence Now!

    Game industry vets Greg Costikyan and Johnny Wilson have just announced their launch of Manifesto Games, a distribution and promotional channel for independent games.

    Why is this important? Without this kind of outlet, independent games wither and die on the vine, innovation stagnates, and the whole industry chunks further down the road of corporate consolidation and risk-averse design. Some terrific games out there ain't coming to your Wal-Mart.

    Greg, a longtime critic of the game industry's substantial failings, in particular is walking the walk after notoriously talking the talk at GDC and other venues.

    Games have no analog to the thriving independent film industry. Manifesto hopes to spark one. Give 'em hell, comrades!

    Monday, September 26, 2005

    Coming to a TV Near You in 2006, Maybe

    Sam and Jim sold their pilot to ABC!

    These guys' podcasts are must-listens, laying out in funny, personable detail their experiences with transmogrifying from Minneapolis restauranteurs to Hollywood writers. They're smart, did their research, and have worked hard at the plan they've set for themselves.

    A healthy dollop of realism grounds the proceedings: this podcast, while deservedly jubilant over the sale, also contains a downright depressing outline of the financial realities of most writers in LA. Sam and Jim, WGA members both, have sold features and now a pilot, and still rely on their wives to back them.

    Hopefully this is a temporary state, with their sale a sign of things to come.

    Saturday, September 24, 2005

    Hollywood Explosions and Implosions

    This weekend's DVD double feature was OVERNIGHT, a riches-to-rags documentary about writer-director Troy Duffy, and THE BOONDOCK SAINTS, Duffy's movie at the center of the documentary.

    The start of Duffy's story is the kind that lures the hopeful out to LA; the middle and end of his tale are something those same hopefuls should be made to sit down and take like medicine before booking the U-Haul.

    Duffy, a bartender at a Melrose dive, hits the trifecta. He sells SAINTS to Miramax, gets the thumbs-up to direct, and has his band signed for the soundtrack. For the cherry on top, Harvey Weinstein is even in discussions to buy the bar Duffy was working at.

    Then, nearly as quickly as good fortune arrived, it disintegrates, at Duffy's own hands.

    He yells at the studio. He screams at his agents. He insults the actors he's trying to land for his movie. He bullies his business colleagues. He gets sloppy drunk in front of the camera. Repeatedly. He seems to have no clue about how to operate in normal professional life, let alone Hollywood with its arcane dances of etiquette and propriety.

    What he would call "bucking the industry bullshit" most of us call "being a combative asshole."

    Did success change Duffy? Only by giving him a bigger stage on which to self-destruct. Watching him with his entourage of enablers, you get the feeling that Duffy was always a controlling egomaniac, with just enough charisma to keep others in his orbit.

    Hollywood knows how to deal with a barking dog. The script goes into turnaround, finally entering production with a different studio at half the budget. At Cannes, no distributor will touch it for fear of angering the Weinsteins. A tiny distribution house finally gets it shown in five theaters for a week. The soundtrack sells under 700 copies.

    When the inevitable "where they are now" scenes roll, the camera, parked furtively across the street, catches Duffy outside a bar -- working the door? -- apparently talking to himself.

    It's easy to feel that the guy got what he deserved, that anyone who brags about a "deep cesspool of creativity" and pisses away golden opportunities many would kill for had it coming.

    But I just felt it was sad, even pathetic. This guy's so fucked up that simply treating other people civilly isn't in his vocabulary. People like that just end up broken.

    Saddest of all, Duffy brings his friends and brothers down with him. Once aspiring actors, producers, and musicians, we see them at the end of OVERNIGHT in their post-Troy lives: working construction, checking groceries, painting houses.

    By all rights, THE BOONDOCK SAINTS should suck. It doesn't. While not great, it feels like a first movie by someone with some talent and competent advisors and staff. It evokes Project Greenlight with its few big names and raw style.

    Two Irish brothers turn vigilante against the mob, with a goofy low-level crook in tow and scenery-chewing FBI agent Willem Dafoe hot on their trail (and rather less hot in drag, for the climactic action sequence).

    Quirky gangland dramas would be fresh if Tarantino hadn't gotten there first and best, but SAINTS features some inventive scenes and good performances. Family is a big theme, a little ironic given how shabbily Duffy treats his own brothers.

    The movie suffers from herky-jerky pacing and newbie self-indulgence, but the story's biggest problem is that the leads are ciphers. We never get a clear indication as to who the brothers are or why they're on their bloody road. One brief scene suggests that they're called to action by God, but the story is missing a crystallizing event to drive this.

    SAINTS apparently has found a new audience on DVD, but Troy Duffy won't see dime one, having signed away his ancillary rights.

    According to the IMDb, the sequel is in production. Hollywood may be done with Duffy, but he may not be done with Hollywood.

    Wednesday, September 21, 2005

    Outbreak in Azeroth

    Emergence kills, kids!

    Clever/fiendish/unsuspecting World of Warcraft players have introduced a virulent in-game plague to population centers. A vicious damage over time debuff, Corrupted Blood spreads through proximity to friendlies.

    It has a short lifespan and exists chiefly in one high-level dungeon, but the aforementioned cleverboots/fiends/unsuspectoids brought it back to town, for example, by recruiting healers to keep Typhoid Marys standing. They targeted, among other places, cities home to new players.

    The sagas will tell of skeletons knee-deep in the streets.

    The plague wasn't intended to leave the instance where it was found, but as we've seen before, players are fond of telling stories the game designers didn't intend.

    What's amazing to me is that the disease has vectors like real-world ones: some exotic ailment is contracted out in the wild then exposed to cities, where it wipes out some vulnerable segment of the population before dying out. It even has animal carriers, non-combat pets. Plague pandas!

    Of course, evil rage-virus labs and occasional sociopaths aside, plagues aren't spread deliberately. Griefers went after newbies but also auction house patrons and gold farmers, bringing a economic slant to the events.

    Corrupted Blood hasn't broken wide on many servers yet -- and may not at all if the developers quash it -- but as news spreads you can be sure the cooties will as well. If there's anything more virulent than a plague, it's news of an exploit.

    Monday, September 19, 2005


    Yes, it's true, me hearties. September 19th is your excuse to talk like a pirate. But, really, do you need a reason?

    I mean. C'mon. Pirates!

    Sunday, September 18, 2005

    TV Tempus Fugit

    Ye gods, is it really the start of the fall TV season already? It seems like just yesterday that the Giants were losing their way through April, and here they are not making it into the postseason.

    New shows I plan to check out:

  • PRISON BREAK - Off to a strong start but I'm dying to know how they pitched seasons 2 through n.
  • INVASION - Okay, so we're looking at LOST/X-FILES redux on all frequencies this season, but this one got an Entertainment Weekly stamp of approval.
  • MY NAME IS EARL - I don't much care for most sitcoms, but this one earned another EW stamp.

    Returning shows I'll pick up like unminded top-shelf Scotch:

  • LOST - Yay JJ Abrams!
  • DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES - Yay Felicity Huffman!
  • CSI - Not Miami, not New York, not Perth freaking Amboy. Vegas, baby.
  • MEDIUM - Yay Patricia Arquette! The Andrews Sisters called, though, and they want their hair back.
  • DEADWOOD - You were robbed, Swengen, you magnificent c*cksucker.

    On the bubble:

  • THRESHOLD - Impressed by the actors and performances. Not sold yet, though.
  • GILMORE GIRLS - Loved it the first few seasons, fell off the wagon, and now I feel like I'm missing something again.
  • ALIAS - Ditto.

    Shows that I didn't watch last season but I feel like I should but jeez I'm already watching way too much TV, obviously:

  • HOUSE - Caught the premiere. Good stuff. Hugh Laurie is excellent, but I can't look at him without picturing him in a powdered wig and satin bloomers crowing, "Bladders!"
  • HUFF

    And that's not counting the full season of BATTLESTAR GALACTICA clogging up the DVR.

    What about you? What do you already have programmed into your TiVo? What's good that I'm not watching?
  • Post Emmy Wrapup

    Who needs a theremin when you have Frederica von Stade?

    Friday, September 16, 2005

    Pwned by the Java Jive

    A vision of our caffeinated future, courtesy of Alien Loves Predator.

    If you haven't read aLp, I strongly suggest you start (tip o' the Colonial Marines* helmet to John Rogers over at Kung Fu Monkey). Abe and Preston's adventures give double funny if you've ever lived in New York.

    * A MUD I played in the early 90's, Three Kingdoms, had an Alien-themed area. Probably still does, the game's still live. Anyway, in this area patrolled Colonial Marines, of course.

    Now, at the time I was playing this game I was working on a play called OUR COUNTRY'S GOOD, about the first boatload of convicts to Australia in the eighteenth century, and their jailors, military veterans of the Revolutionary War.

    Stay with me, I do have a point.

    MUDs are text games, so in my mind's eye the Colonial Marines of 3K were not Bill "Game over, man!" Paxton and the rest of that rough-n-ready crew from James Cameron's movie, but British redcoats.

    They had the BFG's of course -- you can't fight aliens with a bayonet, that's just silly -- but also powdered wigs.

    Erm. Well, I didn't say I had a good point...

    Wednesday, September 14, 2005

    I Don't Care If I Ever Get Back

    The Cubs were in San Francisco this past weekend, and The Boyfriend -- Cubs partisan for life -- and I caught a couple of games. He took these pics from our seats, literally right next to the visitors' dugout, a scant fifteen feet or so from the players (like Derek "MV" Lee at left) as they walked to the on deck circle. Close enough to catch Nomah in mid-handflapping OCD pre-AB ritual.

    The Giants won 2-1 thanks to a dominant complete game pitched by rook Matt Cain (my Gigantes would go on to lose the series 3-1, alas), but The Boyfriend was on cloud nine nonetheless thanks to the seats and the game ball tossed to him at the end of the 8th by Cubs catcher Michael Barrett.

    Who cares if we had to take out a loan to finance the snacks and beer, it was an enthralling night.

    Tuesday, September 13, 2005

    Katrina: The Gathering

    See the full set, courtesy of Zen of Design and Broken Toys.

    Monday, September 12, 2005

    Everyone's a Critic

    Came home tonight to learn that the cat had discovered my COLD CASE spec treatment.

    She had some notes.

    What is it, kitty? B story a little thin?

    Thursday, September 08, 2005

    You Need a Ms. Hume

    Because you probably didn't have one. Ms. Hume was my 10th grade English teacher, and her class was notorious around school for one reason: she forbade any form of the verb "to be" in the papers she assigned.

    Is, was, has been, is [insert verb here]ing. Those and their pallid brethren would get you points off. Big points.

    Can I just say that this was one of the most important educational experiences of my life? Even now, I feel a twinge of icky guilt whenever I type "is" and "was" (and yes, you'll find those in this post and elsewhere in my work). Those words? Lazy. Weak. Wan. They permit passive, boring sentence construction and dull the energy of the language around them.

    Sure, my classmates and I tried to find the easy way out ("seems," "feels," "appears," oh yes, we used 'em all), but Ms. Hume's ultimatum meant that our impressionable little minds had to work to find the best, richest words for our treatises on Wuthering Heights and whatnot.

    Ms. Hume's class made us mindful of the words we use and how we use them, and that, I've never forgotten. I owe that woman a lot.

    As writers, this mindfulness is our job. Sometimes "is" is the word you want, but decide that consciously. Words, and the choices we make when we fill a page with them, are our only tools. Language holds a lot of wonder for those willing to put out the effort to uncork it.

    Try this. In your next piece of writing, whatever it is, don't use any form of "to be." See where that takes you. I bet it'll be (yes, be) someplace good.

    Wednesday, September 07, 2005

    Sir Crab of Cake

    Maryland's state sport is jousting.

    I am not making this up.

    None of that Medieval Times crap, either, but people riding with sharp metal lances on horses at a full gallop, tilting not at each other but at progressively smaller and smaller rings, the tiniest a mere quarter-inch in diameter.

    I don't know what tickles me more, the fact that this sport goes back to the 1940s, or that its current practitioners, despite SCA-inflected titles such as Knight of Maple Hill and Maid of Dragon's Lair, often joust in jeans and trucker caps (the real kind, posers) and would not look out of place at a NASCAR rally.

    The things you learn when you're channeling-surfing instead of watching the Giants lose.

    Monday, September 05, 2005

    Haven't We Met Somewhere Before?

    Spoilers for Guild Wars follow, so if you haven't reached level 20 and Ascended yet (or aren't interested in the game), you might want to check out something else. About hamsters, maybe.

    Guild Wars attempts a number of innovations in the MMOG genre, one a new business model that abandons monthly fees in favor of regular expansions. This idea, along with the game's heavy use of instancing, lends itself to a single narrative spanning your character's evolution from initial to final level.

    The story of the game so far involves a land laid waste by otherworldly demons, refugees in need of protection, secret societies, betrayals. The final chapter sets you on a spiritual quest. After a number of trials, you face your final ordeal, a battle with your toughest enemy yet: yourself.

    More precisely, your doppelganger. Bigger than you, with a glowing skull for a head, but otherwise your double right down to the skills you have.

    Whatever you can do, so can it. And it hits harder. Prepare to die, when you face this cat at first. A lot.

    To win, you need to strip away that which makes it, and you, strong. You must become weak, so your opponent will be likewise weak.

    What this means in practice is somewhat unglamorous, basically loading up your character with abilities that are intended to wreak havoc on classes other than your own. You then whomp on your doppelganger with whatever blunt object you have at hand, while it does the same, and hope that your armor holds out.

    But the overall concept of wading, after twenty hard-fought levels to become powerful, into a battle that can only be won if you are in effect naked, is compelling and fresh on both gameplay and story levels. I hope this is a sign of things to come from the game.

    Sunday, September 04, 2005

    Name That Tune

    Does anyone know of a free Web resource for looking up the release dates of albums and singles? will tell you-- if you pay them. Amazon is of limited use because, particularly with older music, sometimes the only version of an album in print is a remaster, and the original release date is not always listed. Artist fan sites are sometimes inaccurate, or don't note that a song or album was only released overseas.

    Any ideas?

    Saturday, September 03, 2005

    The Membrane Pierced

    Civilization is hideously fragile [and] there’s not much between us and the horrors underneath, just about a coat of varnish.
    --C P Snow
    Everyone by now is familiar with the stories of both heartbreaking heroism and the most appalling kind of opportunistic brutality that have come out of Katrina's aftermath. People under incredible stress do incredible things.

    I'm reminded of THE TRIGGER EFFECT, David Koepp's 1996 thriller about how long it takes for civilized Angelenos to go completely paranoid batshit survivalist when the power, radio, and phones inexplicably go out. Not long.

    The movie is an homage to the Twilight Zone episode "The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street," which also dealt with what happens to people when our culture's social veneer gets eaten away. The theme winds its way through our storytelling tradition from LORD OF THE FLIES to the disaster movies of the 1970s to LOST.

    The questions all these stories ask: say it was you who had the rug of your life pulled out from under your feet.

    What would you do?

    More to the point, if you live in an at-risk area -- mine's the seismic tinderbox that is the San Andreas Fault -- what will you do?

    Friday, September 02, 2005

    The View From the Top of Maslow's Pyramid

    Haven't posted much this week because, really, things with me feel small and frivolous compared to the trauma and privation unfolding on the Gulf Coast.

    I'm trying to choose between writing projects, not figuring out which of my family members will get the last of the fresh water. Or fighting off armed gangs stealing the medicine right out of my hospital. Or, say, dying in the street.

    Unlike post-September 11, there's no pride to be had in going to a movie or out to dinner with the rationale that if we don't, the hurricane will have won. I hate vague, unactionable guilt. The best we can do is help however we can and live our lives, I guess.

    I worked on an online game that launched late summer of 2001. September 11 happened, and, given the particular mechanics and storyline of the title, the company made the decision to suspend the game for a week out of respect for the victims, survivors, and rescuers.

    Our subscriber numbers never regained the momentum lost from that week, and this ended up being one factor in the game's being shut down.

    I still think that one week was the right decision.

    Tuesday, August 30, 2005

    Because Life is Not a Movie or a Videogame

    The Gulf Coast had the holy hell smacked out of it; lend a hand if you can.

    Ding! Gratz!

    They did it. World of Warcraft has booked more than 1 million paying North American subscribers. Worldwide, that's now 4 million plus for WoW.

    In other words, beanbag chairs in the Blizzard offices are now stuffed with cash.

    This milestone is exciting chiefly because it expands the market for MMOGs, instead of continuing the pre-WoW trend of dividing the same piece of gamer pie into thinner and thinner slices. World of Warcraft will be a whole new group of people's EverQuest, that first heady massively multiplayer online gaming experience.

    Good, because most of us who played EverQuest or UO or Meridian 59 (and, peering back through the mists of time, text MUDs before that) have moved on more and more quickly from each new game. As Damion Schubert writes in a comment to a recent Zen of Design thread:
    Most people I know played EQ for 2 years, SWG for 6 months, and WoW for 2 (or some similar pattern). Once you’ve levelled up a character on one game, it’s a lot easier to walk away from a ‘bag of experience’ on another.
    It's pretty clear that WoW has the hottest bags at present, but I don't think anyone would disagree that their take on the genre is evolutionary not revolutionary.

    Come to Me, My Pretty

    Happy dance! Happy dance! I finally broke down and ordered a new gaming PC, since my previous 'chine's video card is circling the drain.

    If I was smart, I would've ordered it to arrive before the Labor Day weekend, but I've been finishing a script and don't trust myself to ignore any new teh shiney.

    (Also, I always need to be dragged into large purchases after much thought and research. I drove a '64 VW bug daily for over four years, including a 15 mile commute for two of those, before finally buying my current car.)

    But my new rig is on its way now! I didn't go too nuts: 3.2 GHz P4, GeForce 6800 (v. unhappy with ATI and Radeon right now), 2 G RAM.

    Bejeweled is gonna fly.


    Sunday, August 28, 2005

    Another Monkeywrench in the Turbine?

    Gamespot posts that Turbine is closing down its Santa Monica outpost, the home of the original Asheron's Call. The staff are being offered jobs at the main office in Massachusetts, so it's unclear what's in the cards for AC.

    With high-profile (and pricey licenses) Lord of the Rings Online and Dungeons & Dragons Online in development, this news and AC2's closing could indicate the studio's desire to direct resources to games that might bring a larger subscriber base than the < 40k and < 20k of AC and AC2 respectively.

    I never played AC2, but had fun with AC and was impressed by a lot of their innovations: the fealty system, episodic content, a changing world, live events. 2000 was the year to be playing, and culminated in the famous Defense of the Shard, which people are still talking about. Here's hoping that LOTRO and D&DO include some of this good stuff.


    For a little pillaging and plunder to wrap up your weekend, set sail with the Discovery Channel tonight. Tune in for "The Quest for Captain Kidd," "Real Pirate of the Caribbean: Captain Henry Morgan," and something called "Sunken Treasure Bling."

    I love pirates. I loved pirates before they were cool. I've seen all the golden age pirate movies you've heard of and many you haven't. My favorite? AGAINST ALL FLAGS, an obscure but terrific Errol Flynn/Maureen O'Hara swashbuckler, with poor Anthony Quinn tarted up yet again in bronzer and bad Italian accent. I own both a VHS and a slightly sketchy DVD copy.

    For a while, I subscribed to a pirate 'zine. I still get the email version. Yes, it has been that bad.

    A play I wrote about pirates, rip-roaring (three swordfights!), heavily researched, and written with the Chieftains soundtrack to TREASURE ISLAND playing in the background, was produced before CUTTHROAT ISLAND poisoned the well. Huzzah to Ted Elliott, Terry Rossio, Gore Verbinski, Jerry Bruckheimer, Disney, et al for digging a new well, and for their somewhat counterintuitive wisdom of mixing earnestness, camp, and zombies.


    Saturday, August 27, 2005

    My Friends Are Not Only Imaginary, They're Trying to Sell Me Stuff

    Yesterday's post rang up a site high of 10 comments in an hour-- all from adbots.

    I don't know if spammers have spiders scraping Blogger's "recently updated" list, or that the word .s_e-x. fired up a jackpot klaxon in some dank basement somewhere. I suspect it's the latter, as the crickets and tumbleweeds have reappeared now that I've removed the offending word.

    It's silly of me to get a little thrill when a comment appears, but it's pathetic to go read the comment and find out it was posted by a piece of software advertising ligitation funding. Or credit line counseling. Or "bench press tips." Or phentermine.

    My imaginary friends are hucksters who think I'm financially irresponsible, possibly a felon, and fat. The bastards.

    Friday, August 26, 2005

    Friday Fish(ing Minigame)wrap*

    A bunch of interesting MMOG newsbits today.

    Asheron's Call 2 to Close

    From the official site:
    Closing Asheron's Call 2

    Dear AC2 subscribers,

    In spite of our hard work and the launch of Legions, AC2 has reached the point where it no longer makes sense to continue the service. We will be officially closing the Asheron's Call 2 service on 12/30/05. Until then, we plan to run live events, but we will not be adding any content or features.

    We deeply appreciate the many dedicated fans of AC2 who have stood by us over the years. You have our sincerest gratitude.

    Best regards,

    Jeffrey Anderson
    CEO, Turbine
    I imagine WoW like a WWII-era B-52 bomber, its nose dotted with little stencils of sword-wielding elves, each representing a vanquished competitor.

    SOE Makes Bank with Station Exchange

    Sony's in-house real money auctions for EQ2 equipment and characters saw $180,000 in transactions during the service's first 30 days. SOE charges listing fees depending on what's being sold as well as a 10% transaction fee, so while they won't reveal how much they've made, they've raked in at least $18,000 so far. Small potatoes, maybe, but those potatoes are free, mac.

    Toontown to Be Sold in Stores

    Sony again, this time their publishing arm, signing Disney Online's Toontown for publication and distribution. Toontown's been available as a download since launch, but has not yet reached a very wide audience despite the failsafe Disney brand, savvy game design, and consumer-friendly low technical requirements. During a presentation at last year's Austin Game Conference, developers noted that many people in the mass market still are hesitant to buy software online, citing security and technical concerns. Plus, you can't give a download as a gift. A boxed product that comes with two months gameplay makes a lot of sense.

    Game Rental Outfit Hunting Down Loose AO Copies of GTA: SA

    Ok, so it's not an MMOG, but The Boyfriend and I are now part of the Hot Coffee kerfuffle! Quick, book us on Fox News for some poorly sourced commentary!

    Dear The Boyfriend,
    Our records show that you currently have Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas rented.

    As you may know, the ESRB recently changed the rating of GTA: San Andreas from M (Mature) to AO (Adults Only).

    Due to Take 2 Interactive's recall of this AO-rated version, GameFly is offering you two options for this title:

    • You may place a Keep It order for $29.99*, and we will send you the case and instructions. Shipping and handling is free for members.


    • Return the copy you currently have rented by September 9, 2005.

    If you do not place a "Keep It" order, or we do not receive your rented copy by September 9, 2005, GameFly will charge you the "Keep It" price for the game.

    An M-rated version of the game will be available soon. You may add this version to Your GameQ today, and we will ship it once it becomes available.

    Thank You
    GameFly Support
    Just to be clear, we got the game before the scandal broke, not after. Ahem.

    * With apologies to the late Herb Caen.

    Thursday, August 25, 2005

    Sometimes You're the Snakes, Man, and Sometimes You're the Plane

    I don't know if this is the The Triumph of Met Expectations Part II, or B My Valentine Part II, or both, but apparently there's a Samuel L. Jackson movie coming out next year entitled SNAKES ON A PLANE. Maybe. At least Sam thinks it is. And Sam strikes me as a cat who knows the titles of the goddamn movies he's in.

    Snakes on a plane. Fantastic. What more do you need to say?

    The more I learn about this movie, the more AWESOME!!! OMG!! it becomes. Here's the IMDb synopsis:
    On board a flight over the Pacific Ocean, an assassin, bent on killing a passenger who's a witness in protective custody, lets loose a crate full of deadly snakes.

    Suh-weet! One of those inefficient assassins who think a hermetically sealed tube, 35,000 feet up, that arrives and leaves from buildings with metal detectors and armed guards is a really swell place to off a target. Do we know why he or she decides a box o' snakes is the best way to fulfill a hit contract? Do we care? Did I mention that this movie has four credited writers?

    Another fun fact: Sam is joined on his reptilian travels by Julianna Margulies, no stranger to at-least-you-know-what-you're-getting movies. GHOST SHIP was, as promised, a ship. Full of ghosts. And Gabriel Byrne.

    Screenwriter Josh Friedman describes his personal run-in with the aforementioned airborne serpents on his new RSS-worthy blog, as well as the koan possibilities: "Snakes on a plane" as a 21st century "Shit happens" or "Whatcha gonna do?"

    SNAKES ON A PLANE. 2006. I am so melonfarming* there.

    * Best TV profanity overdub ever, bar none. Actually witnessed in its original form ("melonfarmer") by The Boyfriend, spoken by none other than Samuel L. Jackson, repeatedly, in a bowdlerized rendition of DIE HARD 3.

    Monday, August 22, 2005

    Who's On First

    Over on Ink Slinger, Paul Guyot details taking notes from the network on his new pilot. The whole thing's worth a read, of course, but I was particularly struck by his take on one of Hemingway's famous (apocryphal? I've never been able to source it) adages on writing: The first draft of anything is shit.

    Paul's point? "First" may not mean what you think it means.

    Not the first completed draft (which also will suck, true), with its minor holes and nubby bits that don't work right, but the first solid draft. This may not make sense unless you've heard M. Night Shymalan's description of how it took something like five drafts of THE SIXTH SENSE to figure out that Bruce Willis' character was dead, and another several to get it right. He had five first drafts.

    One of my feature scripts was finished, baked, soup-to-nuts done. Except that one core thread of the story involved a long-buried conspiracy, something that my readers, bless them, didn't find very interesting.

    First draft.

    Another script, likewise scrubbed pink and glowing and ready for school pictures, upon closer examination revealed an abrupt tone change halfway through. The movie at the script's end was not the movie at its start.

    Another first draft.

    This realization can be crushing, because unlike the smaller chores of catching typos and tweaking dialogue that characterize version 0.5 of a script, there's nothing to do in these cases but haul the patient into surgery and open the fucker up. Then, faced with entrails and tubes and panicked nurses, figure out how to repair what didn't seem broken.

    That past conspiracy? Gone. Lots of hard rewrites, doubting my ability to reknit a sweater from all that loose yarn I'd pulled out. I centered the script on the present, found the right places to reference the past, and I'll be damned if a richer story didn't emerge.

    It's not perfect, of course. But it's a second draft.

    Saturday, August 20, 2005

    B My Valentine

    I so totally heart the Sci Fi Channel. Not only is that where bad sci-fi goes to die (and, in the case of Farscape and Firefly, where good but dead sci-fi lives on), they bring us movies called MANSQUITO.


    How can you not watch a movie called that? Me, I'm not that strong. Actual line of dialogue from the movie:

    He's... more mosquito than man by now...

    With this, FRANKENFISH, and HAMMERHEAD: SHARK FRENZY, you'd think that DNA fun and games gone awry would be the sole bread and butter for these cinematic jewels, but if so, you'd be forgetting the shaking camera and falling drywall standby, the natural disaster.

    TORNADO! -- exclamation point theirs -- with Bruce Campbell (EVIL DEAD). TIDAL WAVE: NO ESCAPE -- dire subtitle theirs -- with Corbin Bernsen (LA LAW). EPICENTER, with Jeff Fahey (LAWNMOWER MAN) and Traci Lords (uh, lots of porn. And CRY BABY). Wherever there's a plummeting styrofoam rock and the same three stuntmen getting tossed like quoits scene after scene, my channel is there. I watch, and swoon guiltily.

    According to the IMDb, Corbin's also in something called RAGING SHARKS, which if it hasn't aired on Sci Fi, damn well better. Can. Not. Wait. It's got sharks! That rage!

    Thursday, August 18, 2005

    My Mom Is More Uber Than Your Mom

    The family that plays together, stays together! Here's a gem of a post from the World of Warcraft forums:

    Q u o t e:
    ok i have a proposition for the horde, let us kill Korrak while you sit and watch. and well let you get all the honor youll ever want=}. no? ok well it shall be a great battle then, hope to see everyone there!


    Pardon me for hijacking the thread, here..

    But, Brion - if you don't want your mother to know you were up and on the computer at 3:29 in the morning - DON'T post on a forum that she reads.


    Full thread begins here. Humor aside and provided it's not teh h0aXX0rz, I think it's great that this family is wreaking havoc in Azeroth together, same server, same guild.

    Wednesday, August 17, 2005

    Guided by Voices

    One of my first produced plays was a coming-of-age piece that followed the friendship of three girls from age 5 through high school graduation, a sort of alpha/beta/gamma girl character study before those terms hit the pop consciousness.

    The play dealt with serious stuff: the characters betray each other mean-girl style, take up with bad boys, and generally grow up and apart. Y'know, a drama.

    Opening night, full house. Lights up, and you could knock me over with an Olsen twin.

    Holy cats, I gaped, the audience is laughing. The good kind, too, laughter of recognition from the women in the audience, and so-that's-what-the-girls-were-on-about laughter of discovery from the guys.

    Dang, I'd written a comedy.

    Sort of. A bittersweet comedy, anyway ("sharply wistful" went one review). The audience loved the Wonder Woman lunchbox bit, the getting caught smoking scene. And these moments, instead of steamrolling over the darker sections, helped reinforce the drama of the play as a whole. Growing up, after all, is a mix of the funny and the tragic.

    Learned a couple of key things here.

    One: A little comedy helps any story.

    Two: Get your work spoken in front of an audience to truly understand what you've written.

    Just speaking the lines yourself, as you write? This will save you from the clunky phrase and inadvertent tongue twister, but you won't understand how the actors' back-and-forth flows, or, more importantly, what the audience will draw from it. Writing groups and classes are handy for this, since typically the participants take turns reading aloud each others' work, but getting actual actors to read your work is even better. These folks know how to take the words off the page, and your audience can give themselves over to listening and reacting rather than reading ahead or anticipating their own next line.

    If you have warm bodies willing to read and others willing to listen, you'll be surprised at what you learn about your own script. Plus, for pure narcoti-- I mean motivational value, it's tough to beat.

    Tuesday, August 16, 2005

    The Triumph of Met Expectations

    Tired of tuning into TV movies and not knowing what you're in for? Titles like ARTIFICIAL LIES and VOICES FROM WITHIN just too oblique to commit two hours of your life to?

    Try these, actual titles spotted on Lifetime during some guide-surfing this weekend:



    A quick pass of their website turned up a few more:





    BABY BROKERS (clearly an Issue of Interest to the Lifetime audience)

    As an aside, aliens uncovering the ash-choked ruins of our civilization will, upon dusting off the scorched vault of Lifetime TV movies, draw the not unreasonable conclusion that the female of our species was all about murder, kidnapping, love affairs with wholly unsuitable people, mental illness, facing adversity with pluck, and occasionally buying or selling babies. We all also looked liked Gabrielle Carteris. Or, on a good day, Daphne Zuniga.

    Sunday, August 14, 2005

    "Theatre Is a Well-Lit Hell"

    Fan of high-quality TV? Shakespearean theater geek past or present? Check out Slings and Arrows, a six-episode Canadian series airing this summer on the Sundance Channel.

    Meet the asylum inmates of the New Burbage Festival: the former Hamlet whose insanity runs at full strength offstage as well as on; the Blanche Duboisy leading lady, a literal drama queen; the self-loathing old artistic director who's no less bitter now that he's, well, dead; a viperish (American) corporate sponsor; the malsocialized general manager who sees plays as just the noisy prelude to gift shop sales; winsome apprentices whose winsomeness doesn't mean they're above skipping call time for a Corny Smacks audition.

    These people are nuts, but only about 10% more so than the real deal. I know. I've been one.

    At its heart, Slings and Arrows is a workplace comedy (the GM is right out of The Office), but for workers who giggle knowingly when a stage manager mutters "35 to 65" into her headset as a director tries to get the lighting just so-- for an onstage funeral.

    Finely acted, articulate, and touching, the show's nonetheless not above a sight gag involving a semi hauling Canada's Best Hams. It's funny for all audiences (the creators include a Kid in the Hall), not just those who know what the Equity Cot is.

    I'm utterly charmed by the fact that a TV series, mini- or otherwise, about a Shakespearean theater festival can find mass market acceptance and recognition in Canada. Not something I'd imagine happening here in the States.

    Saturday, August 13, 2005

    FAQ Checker

    Alex Epstein of Complications Ensue has a wealth of info about TV writing up on his site, and a book on the way.

    Wonder what it's like to break a story in the writers' room? Where TV writing differs from feature writing? When to have your specs ready for staffing season? How threaded together the A, B, C stories should be? Look no further.

    Archibald Leachapalooza

    Today and tonight TCM features a trainload of classic Cary Grant movies, including NORTH BY NORTHWEST, TO CATCH A THIEF, HIS GIRL FRIDAY, and GUNGA DIN. Mix up a martini (2 oz. vodka and a short half-ounce of vermouth, shaken, is the house recipe Chez Fresh Hell) or three and check 'em out.

    Wednesday, August 10, 2005

    "It's a Unix system!"

    One game I'm playing now (more about it to come in a future post) features a puzzle where you clean up a fuzzy digital photo with a fake image enhancer. You fiddle with various sliders until the picture comes into focus.

    Sound familiar? Yep, it's that hoary ol' technology chestnut of mysteries and procedurals, where the lead comes into the lab of the day player geek with a digital picture of the crime scene. The resulting convo goes like this:

    Can you enhance this image?

    Sure thing, boss.

    Aaaaargh! Not possible. You can't
    derive a high-resolution, sharp image
    from a lower-res mass of blurred pixels.
    The data simply isn't there!

    (into radio)

    Blowing up a blurry pixel gets you a bigger blurry pixel, not the killer's face or a license plate or an incriminating spangled pink thong. Someone decided once that this is something computers can do, and a slew of identically wrong scenes using this tired device were spawned.

    Dramatic license is dandy, but works best when grounded in the plausible. Technical advisors with hard-science cred were brought on board MINORITY REPORT to consult on everything from the form factor of the cars to the amazing orchestra conductor physical interface of the Pre-Crime Unit's computer (and those same advisors went back to MIT and created a working version of that interface).

    Research is fun! You learn nifty stuff, and it's procrastinating from writing that still feels productive. Did you know that you can make a battery from nickels, pennies, and paper towels soaked in salt water? How cool is that? I can't wait to use that somewhere.

    JURASSIC PARK's classic computer moment, the "Unix" flythrough past 3D models marked "/var" and "/usr," is my fave mainstream culture technogaffe. What's yours?

    Monday, August 08, 2005

    Somewhere, the Editors of the OED Quietly Burst Into Flame

    Richard Wade, founder of "freespeling," suggests that illiteracy can be combated most effectively if we just give up on standard spelling and let people spell words however they want, based the way they sound. Height becomes hite, business becomes biznis, and crackpot becomes krakpot.

    I love that Wade trots out the rotting and presumably horrified corpses of no less than Shakespeare and Queen Elizabeth I to make his case.

    The idea is so patently loodakris that I almost believe it's a hoax, except that if it is, both the BBC and assorted debunkers have been snowed.

    Personally, I'm excited for the arrival of "freemath." 1 + 1 = llama, baby!

    Sunday, August 07, 2005

    Now Read This #2

    Why I Hate Saturn by Kyle Baker

    Vacationers in Mexico should make sure to see the neon, the giant video screens, and the mini-skirted blondes. I must've missed out on all that when I was in Mexico, but, fortunately, the designers of El Caliente restaurant did not.

    So begins the 1990 graphic novel by author and illustrator Kyle Baker, who won two Eisner awards at this year's Comic-Con.

    Toxic breakups, crap bars, an unfinished manuscript entitled "Man, That's Grapefruit," a loopy neat-freak sister with weird and dangerous secrets... New York writer (part time) and bitter neurotic (full time) Anne has a lot to deal with. Which brings us to the aforementioned Mexican restaurants, "the only place you can drink abusively with your meal and not look like a lush."

    The writing's funny as hell and pointed without being arch, sneaking in social criticism among the jokes and cinematic action. Baker's artwork, effortless-seeming sketches in three colors, captures the story's moments both large and small with amazing economy and authenticity, from Anne in full rant mode to a skanky bus ride to San Francisco.

    Never read a graphic novel? Think they're just comic books? As proclaimed by the sales pitch on Saturn's back, "Hey, nothing wrong with comic books. Comics are pretty hip right now. Musicians read them."

    Friday, August 05, 2005

    Tell Me What I Want, What I Really Really Want

    A surfeit of bigsplashynoisy summer movies has left my brain feeling a little bloated and ill*, the way your stomach feels when you work late and have to eat dinner out of the vending machine.

    So now that the Cheesy Poofs and Chocobombs have worn off, I want something else, something real. But what?

    Yahoo! Movies Recommendations to the rescue.

    I've been skeptical of these "You Might Like" tools, simply because I hadn't yet found one that could reconcile the fact that I like movies as disparate as HIS GIRL FRIDAY, DIE HARD, THE SOUTH PARK MOVIE, and DROWNING BY NUMBERS. Well, this one does.

    Far better, for my money, than the systems behind Amazon and Netflix, this engine understands that while SHALLOW HAL and BRINGING UP BABY are both romantic comedies, they're very very different. Whether you align with critics, tend to seek out particular actors or directors, or only see movies with explosions in them, it knows.

    The engine's not psychic: the more ratings you feed it the better the recs it returns. But I'm impressed at any algorithm that can tell I want to see both CRASH and THE WEDDING CRASHERS.

    It also suggested THE EDUKATORS, ME AND YOU AND EVERYONE WE KNOW, and MURDERBALL. Now, whether I act on those recs for a cinematic meal rather than another helping of summer movie SugarPretzelToes is another thing.

    *I know I'm sick in the head because yes, that's a Spice Girls reference in the post's title.

    Mental Jumper Cables

    Push-start your Friday brain with Planarity, a simple but addictive Flash puzzle game.

    Tuesday, August 02, 2005

    Say Howdy to Microtransactions

    Three Rings Design, the studio behind the pirate puzzle MMO Puzzle Pirates, have announced their new game, Bang! Howdy.

    A Wild West-themed strategy MMO geared towards casual gamers is plenty compelling, but the thing I find most interesting about the new game is that the business model is based solely on the sale of in-game items.

    This is huge business in Asia, particularly in Korea. The item sales revenue model is how half of the 30 most popular games in Korea's PC-bang game rooms make their money.

    In the US, both There and Second Life, while still niche products, boast impressive stats on player purchase of virtual items for real money. Sony's Station Exchange brings ebaying in house with the company taking a cut, albeit to an audience of only a few hundred thousand. For console jockeys with cash to burn, Xbox 360 games will include microtransactions.

    The booming ring-tone and cell phone wallpaper businesses indicate that charging small amounts of money for electronic trinkets works if you make it easy and make it about personalization.

    Is the North American mass market ready for virtual item sales in their games? Three Rings is certainly bettin' on that hoss.