Sunday, July 31, 2005

Your Kind of Funny

I only occasionally give in to the guilty pleasure of personality tests, but the 3 Variable Funny Test is worth a look. In determining your preferred humor style, the test posits the interesting concept of three axes of humor -- clean/vulgar, dark/light, and complex/spontaneous -- and the test itself is entertaining. Here's me:

the Wit

(65% dark, 30% spontaneous, 16% vulgar)

your humor style:

You like things edgy, subtle, and smart. I guess that means you're probably an intellectual, but don't take that to mean you're pretentious. You realize 'dumb' can be witty--after all isn't that the Simpsons' philosophy?--but rudeness for its own sake, 'gross-out' humor and most other things found in a fraternity leave you totally flat.

I guess you just have a more cerebral approach than most. You have the perfect mindset for a joke writer or staff writer. Your sense of humor takes the most effort to appreciate, but it's also the best, in my opinion.

Also, you probably loved the Office. If you don't know what I'm talking about, check it out here:

PEOPLE LIKE YOU: Jon Stewart - Woody Allen - Ricky Gervais

I guess I better abandon KICK TO THE NUTS, that bodily-secretion slapstick high school raunchfest I just started.

Friday, July 29, 2005

Spec Check

Writing a TV spec? Thinking about it? Shawna Benson of Shouting into the Wind posted a helpful list on The Artful Writer's forums breaking down which current shows are good, bad, and too played out to spec, based on her TV writing class experience.


My PC gameplaying has ground to a halt: I'm having bizarre display problems on my computer. It's a two-year-old laptop, an Alienware 51m with an ATI Radeon Mobility 9000.

Check out those crazy broken colored lines. Larger images are here and here. The screenshots don't suggest how bad the problem is, but trust me, the computer is largely unusable. Any ideas? Anyone? Bueller?

I hear that the lines could be due to a hot video card, but these lines are there from startup and the fans seem to work fine. The machine's always run hot, so I suppose I could've fried the card.

No luck with Alienware's self-help support section. I'm putting off calling them because they're going to yell at me for installing non-ATI drivers. I had to install the Omega ones because City of Heroes kept crashing with the OEM ones. And I needs me some CoH. The computer ran fine for over a year on those drivers, so I doubt that's the problem.

Sorry about the messy desktop. I usually clean up for company. And yes, that's PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: THE CURSE OF THE BLACK PEARL wallpaper on my desktop. I won it fair and square in a promotional game on the movie website. What?

Update: I did call Alienware and they did not yell at me. They did, however, diagnose the issue as a dead/dying video card, which in a laptop translates to "buy a new computer, sister."

Thursday, July 28, 2005

D Battery to AA

The Matrix Online is consolidating servers. Since low player population is the only reason any game does this, the news is not a good sign for MxO, recently signed over to Sony in a deal rumored to have been brokered with Warner Bros. chiefly for the DC Comics MMOG rights that came with it.

You don't need to be the Oracle to forecast a bumpy ride for MxO, I fear.

Sam and Jim Are Back

For anyone who's been listening to the terrific podcasts at Sam and Jim Go to Hollywood, the site's got a couple of new shows. Alternately inspiring and cold-shower sobering about life as a writer in LA, the shows both entertain and educate, and are funny as hell to boot. Give 'em a spin.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Internal and External Conflict Among the Mutant Set

I saw THE FANTASTIC FOUR last weekend and got into one of those sugar-fueled parking lot discussions about a curiosity at its center (the movie, not the parking lot).

For superheroes, they don't really do much that's superheroic.

Apart from the big action set piece at the beginning where they all become aware of their powers, their struggles are oddly interior.

I kept waiting for the heroism to kick in, for the Four to realize that they can use their powers to help society. Wouldn't matter much if they did, however, because society never came under threat.

Their nemesis doesn't seem interested in doing much besides revenging himself on his colleagues, small potatoes for a guy set up to be a rich, megalomaniac scion of a sketchy foreign nation. Who's part metal and can shoot electricity out of his hands. I mean, what happened to taking over the world?

If their final fight didn't take place in the middle of the street, a friend noted, it's unlikely anyone would even know something was going on with these people.

BATMAN BEGINS is about a guy facing his lifelong fears-- and saving the city. SPIDERMAN is about another guy's accepting the responsibility that comes with power-- and saving the city. And in both cases, the city-saving ties into the internal theme.

THE FANTASTIC FOUR is about people forced to adapt to dramatic personal changes-- and that's it. What with all the intense late-night discussions and petulant spats in their Tesla-chic penthouse, the movie feels like The Real World: Baxter Building.

I liked the humor, and some of the performances, but if you're a superhero who goes through your origin story without high-stakes, public danger and an equally ingenious rescue, you don't deserve a boat party. Just sayin'.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

The Church of Baseball

Struggling Neifi Perez of the also struggling Chicago Cubs just hit a grand slam in the top of the 10th against the St. Louis Cardinals to ensure the Cubs' win, 8-4. This was Neifi's first homer in 110 at bats in the Cards' home stadium. Color that streak snapped.

I'm only tangentially a Cubs fan (The Boyfriend is dyed-in-the-wool, however), and even less so a Neifi Perez fan (he used to play for my SF Giants, and not nearly as well) but I am a baseball fan. And this was one of those transcendent summer moments that, in the face of salary nonsense and steroid scandals, just makes you beam, grateful for the game.

Finish Line

Last night The Boyfriend and I finished Katamari Damacy (as daffy a good time as there ever was. Pick it up or rent it if you haven't yet), the latest in a fairly short list of games we've seen through to the end. Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, Ico, LOTR: The Two Towers, and Half-Life 2 are some recent titles. Going back further: Grim Fandango, The Neverhood, the Myst games, Silent Hill.

What do the games we've finished have in common, apart from being, well, good? They're forgiving of gaps between play sessions, featuring quick cognitive reconnection (the "uh, what was I doing?" factor) and easily (re-) learnable UI. They take place in inventive worlds that invite revisiting, even if those worlds are creepy or dystopic. Some are story driven, but with the possible exception of Grim Fandango ("Turning the battleship! Don't pet the cat that way." Brilliance.) the narrative wasn't the engine behind completion.

Started KOTOR, didn't finish. Ditto Morrowind, Medal of Honor: Allied Assault, Planescape: Torment, Champions of Norrath.

It exhausts me to even contemplate starting some of these 40, 60, 100+ hour monsters. Maybe it's a product of being a busy adult in a busy age instead of a stay-up-'til-3am college student with more time than money and more money than sense, but I don't consider sheer quantity of gameplay a value proposition. I'd rather play four 10-hour games than one 40-hour one. Make those shorter games commensurately cheaper and I'm yours.

The rise of casual and mobile games points to changes in how people integrate games into their lives. The question remains whether the mainstream PC and console gaming industry, trapped in a vicious cycle of escalating production costs driven by technology advances, can or will take the risk to create games that leverage these changes.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

The Unfired Wolf

THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW was on HBO tonight, and reminded me of Chekhov's assertion (I'm paraphrasing here) that if in the first act of a play you see a gun, by curtain it should go off.

This device can be effective and a lot of fun when laid in well, but too often leads to silliness like DAY's wolves, introduced in scenes completely outside the main thrust of the story (Zoo Guy: "The wolves! They're gone!") just so they can show up later to menace Jake Gyllenhaal.

The movie has another unfired gun: Emmy Rossum's injury. We see her get cut, and she winces in pain in a later scene, and that's it until the wound becomes serious enough that Jake has to go out and face -- wait for it -- the wolves.

Though more a part of the story's spine than the zoo scenes, I think the injury device jars because it's treated implausibly. Emmy's character is established as a smart girl, so why wouldn't she realize she was sick, or where that sickness came from? And she's not set up as being overly stoic or a martyr, so why didn't she mention the wound before it went septic?

Things That Become Important Later can give a story continuity, depth, and surprise, or they can become a distracting game where the audience identifies the item early on and just sits and waits for it to pay off.

Thoughts? Any favorite examples of unfired guns that work, or don't?

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

The Zombie Pirate Ship Level Is Teh R0xx0r

Games as recruitment tools and training for the military have been around for years now. Unlike America's Army, Marine Doom, or Full Spectrum Command, however, the U.S. Navy's new entree into the genre saves Seaman Sixpack from reality until basic training.

The Navy of today apparently is all about rail gun dogfights between mechsubs. And 3-in-a-row puzzles. Suh-weet!

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Failure Is (Not) an Option

I've been banging my head against a character point in my current feature script.

The hero holds a position where you'd expect her to know what to do under extreme circumstances. Imagine a police officer or firefighter. Coping with adversity is her job. You'd assume, should everything go to hell, that you could look to this person and she'd handle things and get you out alive.

Which was ruining my script.

The story has elements of both horror and disaster movies. The characters need to fail and fail and fail (die) and finally succeed (survive). However, my hero is supposedly a skilled professional in a position of authority, and these repeated screwups just made her look incompetent. She was an extraordinary person in extraordinary circumstances that she couldn't handle. People kept dying on her watch.

So the realization I came to after talking this out with a friend is related in part to the excellent Subtle Hero discussion underway at The Artful Writer.

My hero can't be heroic from the outset. She can't be the initial leader of the group. She needs to assume that role from some other, catalyst character. She can't be the skilled professional.

She needs to be ordinary.

The initial leader, the extraordinary person, needs to fail to allow the hero to become more than she appears, more than she thinks she's capable of.

Ripley is the hero of the Alien movies, but she's not the one making plans and directing traffic at first. She's the third officer, the tagalong expert, what have you. It's only when the official chain of command is dead -- has failed -- that she can step up and find those superhuman reserves.

Do I know how I'm going to fix my script? Not yet. But I'm starting by giving my hero a demotion.

OMG, Macbeth, Stop Camping Dunsinane

Shakespeare by way of EverQuest II

Monday, July 18, 2005

Call Me Ishmael

The Blank Page has a handy reminder up that bad character name choices can sink your script.

Several screenwriting software programs include name databases, but those can be hard to browse. Here are a few URLs you might throw into your bookmarks to help nail that name:

The U.S. Census Bureau Name Files - Male and female first names as well as last names.

The Social Security Administration's list of popular baby names - Lists go back to 1880. - Offers the ability to search by gender, region, religion, and meaning.

Name-o-Matic - Random name generator. Tip o' the hat to The Moviequill for the suggestion.

The Da Vinci Load

Before even cracking the spine, I characterized the megablockbuster novel The Da Vinci Code as Umberto Eco with training wheels. Now that I've actually read it, I'd like to revise my assessment.

The Da Vinci Code is Umberto Eco with a lobotomy.

The book came out in 2003, for those keeping score, and is still in hardback, presumably to maintain the dumptrucks full of cash that must back up to Doubleday's Accounts Receivable loading dock like clockwork.

I am not an early adopter on contemporary fiction. The fact that The Da Vinci Code was a hit made me dubious; the crazy cottage industry that's sprung up around it -- additional books pro and con, TV specials, shot glasses for all I know -- left me feeling faintly ill.

I'm not qualified to dish on the research inaccuracies contained in the book despite Dan Brown's claim that key elements are factual. My art curator brother-in-law has a choice few words on them, though, as do the various internets.

The pedestrian, hackwork quality of the storytelling, however, is fair game. The writing style lacks imagination and energy (Brown never met a flaccid, passive voice verb he didn't like). The characters are supposed to be brilliant but make stupid mistakes (who needs half a chapter to recognize mirror writing?). The romance between the two leads is stillborn. The reveal of the villain is, um, unrevelatory. The stakes and risks of the story, the very heart of the book, feel trumped-up and false.

When I finish a book, I want to think, "That was a hell of a thing." When I finished this book, I thought, "Crap, I gave Amazon my office address and won't get Harry Potter until Monday!"

But what do I know? Brown's sold a gazillion books to my none.

I love a good puzzle mystery. Who doesn't? But if you're one of the other four people in the world who hasn't read this yet and are considering it, do yourself a favor and read The Name of the Rose instead. Or, if you're all about the Templars, try Foucault's Pendulum. That too hard? Just rent Indiana Jones #1 or #3.

Or, hey, go right to the source.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Grand Theft Auto: Pink Slip

Someone is so fired at Rockstar, or should be. Friday's Gamespot contained an article proving that GTA: San Andreas' infamous Hot Coffee sex minigame is present in the game's PS2 version.

The problem, besides more shrill, ad hominem alarmism from Jack Thompson and Hillary Clinton's opportunistic political haymaking? Rockstar had previously claimed that the minigame, which surfaced when the PC version of GTA:SA was released recently, was solely the work of hacking modders or modding hackers or some such.

You can't hack or mod a DVD-ROM. That stupid minigame was always in the game code.

Way to go, Rockstar. Way to make the ESRB look like idiots and the entire industry a pack of deceitful jerks.

The thing that gets me is that multiple developers had to have been complicit in this, from animators to texture artists to programmers and designers. By the Gamespot account, the game is nothing worse than you'd see in an R movie, but videogames are once again in the crosshairs and this. Stuff. Does. Not. Help. Get a clue. Players are smart and motivated, and if you've hidden something in your game, they will find it.

7/20 update: Penny Arcade has weighed in on the foofaraw.

Titans Go!

Have you watched Teen Titans yet? No? Holy cats, what is wrong with you?

Last night the Cartoon Network aired the last in a three-part Teen Titans story about the Earth's ruin and domination by an all-powerful transdimensional demon. Let me repeat that. This was a three-episode arc of a kids' show about the end of the world.

Teen Titans features first-class writing that manages at once to be funny, touching, and earnest, and refuses to talk down to the intended kid audience. Like Buffy before it, the show uses allegory (superhero rather than supernatural) to illustrate what it's like to grow up in the 21st century. Being more than the sum of your parts. Knowing your limits, and how to rise beyond them. Finding out, painfully, that friendship may not last forever. Recognizing and confronting racism. Becoming more than you were born into.

The voice performances are terrific, the action sequences fresh, and the style unique, mixing a Western animation style with anime-inspired quick shots that lend the show additional humor and texture.

As Cyborg would say, boo-yeah!

There have been a few off the grid episodes that suggest lickable toads were on offer in the writers' room that week instead of bagels ("Mad Mod," "Bunny Raven"), but by and large Teen Titans, along with Veronica Mars, is for me ably filling the hole left by Buffy. I wish them a long run and Emmy nominations.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Now Read This #1

The Day of the Locust by Nathanael West

Think criticism of Los Angeles as a soulless husk of a place is a product of the excessive '80s or the corporate oughts? The bitterness goes way back. West's 1939 book starts with disillusionment and ends in a riot.

All the characters are broken people, somehow loathsome and sympathetic at once, and while all aspire to life in The Pictures, their Hollywood is one of chipped glamor masking delusion and rage.

Though it's a raw story, and bad stuff happens to nearly everybody, much of the prose is just gorgeous. The descriptions of Homer Simpson's (not that one) hands, for starters.

Macabre fact of the day: West died in a car crash while speeding to attend F. Scott Fitzgerald's funeral.

You Have Become Better at Avoiding Panhandlers! (14)

What does it say about me that every 3D map makes me want to populate it with monsters and whatnot?

Seriously, though, the new mapping technologies out there are pretty cool. Also -- NERD ALERT! -- check out Google maphacks for some nifty user-created overlays using the Google map API.

Blockbusters on the Cheap

I came across a couple of interesting articles on Bill Martell's Script Secrets site on how to write a big splashy action movie with high production values that actually can be filmed for (relative) peanuts. The techniques he lists are simple and useful, and the articles include a production mini-lesson in how these kinds of movies are made.

When I was reading and covering scripts for theaters, I was often amazed and chagrined at how little grasp some writers seemed to have of the reality of staging a play. You don't send a script that relies on live animals, falling rain, and levitation to a regional stage company, however well-heeled, and expect to get added to the season.

On the other hand, we did produce a play set in a Cape Cod beach house, and had not only the beach onstage but part of the ocean as well, but that writer was previously produced (read, proven commodity).

While part of the fun of writing a spec script is to not be fettered by real-world limitations, I have to believe some notion of the practical aspects of filmmaking can only help the writer.

Thoughts? Do you consider the plywood and power tools side of moviemaking when writing your spec script?

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Always Room for One More

The MMOG Graveyard sprouts a new headstone: Here lies Mythic's Imperator.

As Mythic well knows, making these games is hard. And expensive. And represents elephantine amounts of work and passion. Sincere condolences to the devs, and best of luck on your next projects.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Those Who Do Not Learn From the Past

Lordy, the minds behind dotbomb are at it again. I love the smell of burning capital in the morning.

Monday, July 11, 2005

You Got Your Earwax in My Motor Oil! No, You Got Your Motor Oil in My Earwax!

Why do movies and games, both often characterized by rich stories and immersive, heart-thumping action, usually suck so utterly when translated into each other's form? I'm not getting into that involved narratology vs. ludology debate, mind you, just putting out there what happens when Coming to a Theater Near You meets your Xbox.

Either the movie's good and the game's not (true of most crossovers, but let's just say BATMAN BEGINS for now), or the game's good and the movie's not (much rarer. I can only think of THE CHRONICLES OF RIDDICK), or they both just blow (CATWOMAN).

There's a worthy rant up on Hollywood Hack about this.

If recent elbowings by Microsoft and EA into the Hollywood scene are any indication, the gamers will figure this out before the studio suits do.

Transverse Story Arcs

I recently caught THE COOLER on DVD, and admire the tension engineered into Bernie's emotional and action stories. The better things look for him personally, the worse things get professionally.

The stakes are high for both threads, and this conflict caused a more engaged response than I typically get in a movie. The audience wants him to be happy -- Macy's in excellent Likeable Sadsack form as the perfectly-named Bernie Lootz -- but fears the danger that this happiness means for him and the people around him. There were points in the movie where I had no idea how things were going to get resolved. Even if some of those resolutions ended up falling a bit flat, dang, that was refreshing.

What are some other movies that have this kind of richly oppositional story tension?

There Is Only One Subculture

Friends and I have a theory that all subcultures intersect. Cosplayers LARP. LARPers belong to the SCA. SCA folks go to renaissance faires (if only to mock them). Ren Faire-ites are all swing-dancing behind the hay bales after closing time. In that spirit, I present a most excellent way to spend a weekend.

I Need a Drink

This blog's title was coined by Dorothy Parker, patron saint of boozy writer broads, and pretty much sums up my year to date.

Hell, not even year. We're talking the last, oh, two months. Plenty of curveballs, plus the odd wild pitch that plunks you in the ear and would send you to first base if you weren't staggering around claiming you were Lord Nelson.

The details aren't interesting, and of course, things could be worse. They could always be worse (I'm two generations from hardcore Lutheran but that mindset is baked in the blood). There's plenty to be happy about and grateful for.

But right now, I'm having a martini. Join me!