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.