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.