Saturday, January 31, 2015

John Carpenter's first album, 'Lost Themes" @ NPR

To be clear, it's his first album that isn't a movie soundtrack. According to NPR:

This is thoroughly '80s-sounding music, and understandably so; Carpenter wisely sticks with what he knows, leaning on his trademark synth sound rather than forcing his aesthetic into an awkward modern update. Paradoxically, the dated nature of Lost Themes gives it a timeless aura. At 67, Carpenter can still make something frozen in time feel eternal.

Link here. Apparently the whole album's streaming on their site so listen to it before it mysteriously disappears.

I've been listening to Carpenter's themes throughout the writing of my novel, so I'm ecstatic to have a new album fall out of the sky during the final draft. This and Boom! Studios' comic book adaptation of Escape from New York have made the withdrawal for a new JC movie even harder. I don't give a shit he's nearly seventy. I want something to cleanse the palate after The Ward.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Fade In: Michael Piller's unpublished account of Star Trek Insurrection

From the book:

I wish I could have been there back in 1987 when Gene Roddenberry went to the studio and announced he’d found the perfect actor to play the new Star Trek captain -- a middle-aged, bald Englishman.

If the show had been scheduled on CBS, NBC or ABC, Patrick Stewart would never have been Picard. Give us another Shatner, they would have said. Youthful, bold, swashbuckling. Young demographics! But Star Trek: The Next Generation was to be syndicated, that is, sold on a station by station basis. What that meant was that Paramount could mount the show any way they wanted to and if they wanted to cast a middle-aged, bald, Englishman, so be it.

Personally, I feel he missed a perfect opportunity to replace "so be it" with "make it so," but that's just me. Here's the complete .pdf. If I could link you to a source where the book is purchasable, I would, but it was never officially published. It's my understanding Michael Piller really wanted to give this book to fans and aspiring writers. So go, spread it like wildfire. It's not a great book, but there is some good stuff in it. Like this:

Paramount had Patrick’s toupee overnighted from England and he returned the next day, this time with hair. Roddenberry took one look and said, “Take it off.” Everyone in the room realized that Patrick’s bald head carried a certain power.

I'm halfway through reading it and so far the book is more about writing than the fun bits of trivia. Writing is a lot like knitting. For people who are into that kind of thing, nothing is more rewarding than sitting down in a zombie-like trance and getting to work. But let's face it: talking about the craft itself is almost as dull as listening to someone go on and on about the meaning of the dream they had last night. If you spent all day cleaning the house, you'd probably have more interesting stories to tell than if you had spent your day telling an actual story.

The point is a good book on writing is rare these days. Fade In almost qualifies. In it, Piller writes about writing the screenplay to a movie only a die-hard Star Trek fan could like. More importantly, he (sometimes) makes it interesting without resorting to "tell-all" drama and tabloid controversy. The Kid Stays in the Picture it ain't, but it's honest and shows a side of Hollywood that rarely sees the light of day. When was the last time you read a book about Hollywood in which everyone was A) acting so professional and B) hard drugs weren't mentioned at all?

This is still brain candy, through and through, and I'm not convinced anyone but Star Trek fans would like it. And if you are a fan, you'll shake your head as Piller enthusiastically relates how he and other forces conspired to craft a film that was a letdown for most viewers. The previous film in the series, First Contact, had a lot of goofy stuff in there ("Assimilate this!"—Worf), but it's still one of the best and most lighthearted Star Trek films. 

Why Paramount would want to move away from that, why Piller would want to move away from that, why producer Rick Berman would want to move away from that, is beyond me. Usually with these kinds of franchises we wonder why they didn't deviate from the formula. Here, we wonder why they decided to deviate so unanimously when so many of us actually wanted more First Contact. Piller's book has many answers to questions like these, but they're not as satisfying as expected.

For instance, in the film Data is back to being the Data we knew before he installed his emotion chip. We saw him temporarily deactivate the chip when he and a security team fought the Borg in the previous film (Picard: "Sometimes I envy you, Data."), but why didn't he ever turn it back on? Piller, demonstrating good attributes for an episodic television writer but not necessarily a movie writer, says he wanted to avoid what he calls "The Rhoda Effect." He says audiences became uninterested in Rhoda after the titular character was married on the TV series. Well yeah, that's true, but I kind of became uninterested in Data after he fell down a few rungs of his character arc.

Another annoyance with books about screenwriting is the unnecessary amount of filler material they employ. Early on, Piller includes a treatment for the screenplay in its entirety. Not much of it ends up in the final product. While some die-hard fans will find its inclusion interesting, I found myself skimming. By Piller's own admission, when Berman read the treatment he said, "Who cares?" When I got to the second treatment Piller includes, I skipped it altogether. That's not the stuff I personally wanted from a book like this, but a greater fan than I might appreciate it.

I think the most fascinating thing about the book is it makes you realize that sometimes there's not really any one person or group to blame when a movie turns to shit. Whenever a movie in a series turns to shit, fans are always looking for excuses: "Oh, the studio ruined it," or, "Their creative decisions were all about money," etc. But everyone involved with the project was concerned with making an honest Star Trek flick, something that stayed true to the spirit. On the chairman of Viacom at the time, Jonathan Dolgen, Piller says:

As a rule, Dolgen doesn’t involve himself in creative decisions. But he breaks that rule for Star Trek. And it’s not (just) the money. He happens to be a huge fan. Dare I say, a Trekker?

Despite good intentions all around, it fell apart anyway. Apparently Piller didn't get that memo. You can tell he feels the film turned out great despite the mixed reception. I think my biggest problem with Insurrection is Brannon Braga and Ronald Moore had just proven a Star Trek movie works best when it resembles a bonafide popcorn movie more than a television episode. Piller (and even Patrick Stewart, as indicated in correspondence reprinted in the book) seemed more interested in making a two-hour episode of The Next Generation. And on the big screen, that's just kind of out of place.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Kotaku: "The Exceptional Beauty of DOOM 3's Source Code"

I've got DOOM on my mind. Again. Every few years or so I have to gush about DOOM here so bear with me. For the first time in years, a DOOM title has kept me up well past my bedtime. It's far from the first time ever.

Here's Kotaku's article on the beauty of DOOM 3's source code, which even I found fascinating, despite my lack of programming skills. Be sure to check the comments because there's a reply by John Carmack himself.

As I said in my last post, I reinstalled DOOM 3 (not the BFG Edition, mind you) and, surprisingly, had more fun with it than I ever did in the past. Yes, I was one of the many people who purchased computer hardware specifically to play this game ten years ago. Now that computer is collecting dust in my closet with three or four other obsolete systems. I've beaten the game at least twice, but that's nothing compared to the bazillion times I've played through the preceding titles, with and without mods like Brutal Doom. I've played vintage DOOM games on PC, a Super Nintendo emulator, Sega 32X, Nintendo 64 (a surprisingly fantastic version), XBLA, and even had a version of the original on my Android phone several years ago, minus the awesome music. So I haven't been as familiar with DOOM 3 as I was with the other titles.

Nor have I been as fair as I should have been.

I guess I was too nostalgic for the previous titles to see just how good of a game DOOM 3 really is... at least if you look at it as a standalone title. Compared to the controls and rapid movement of the original engine, DOOM 3's combat is a lot slower, though a little more realistic. And to be honest, we couldn't have expected id Software to release more of the same "outdated" frantic action of the previous titles. Nonetheless, I would pit DOOM 3 against a lot of the shit that came out last year, that is to say pretty much everything but the surprisingly great Wolfenstein: The New Order and Shadow of Mordor.

I'm disappointed the developers have said the next DOOM game is a reboot, considering DOOM 3 itself was a reboot. Kicking ass on Mars again was pretty awesome, but wouldn't it make more sense for the new one to follow Hell on Earth's plotline? Considering it's been ten years since the last installment, I wonder how many decades it will take to see the series brought back to Earth.

Reinstall DOOM 3 if you get the chance. Here's a simple guide to getting the game to run in modern resolutions.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Mytbusters to test DOOM


Well, I can't say I'm as excited about the episode as I am about what this likely means: we'll finally be getting a taste of the latest DOOM game very soon. 

Time to reinstall DOOM 3. 

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Apollo Robbins' amazing pickpocketing skills

Here's The New Yorker's in-depth profile of the famous pickpocket. In it, Penn Jillette tells him, "Fuck you." I imagine that's pretty high praise in the world of trickery. Here's Robbin's mind-boggling Ted talk on the art of misdirection. And here's a video of him tricking Neil deGrasse Tyson:


I love this stuff.

* * *

So it's been over two years since I started my current novel. Sure, I've finished a few short stories and a novella in that time, too, but I never imagined the damn thing would have taken so long (I expected six to eight months for the final draft). The thing is I've been writing novels since I was seventeen. I haven't written a good one until now, about a month away from my 32nd birthday. I've learned a lot more in these last two years than in the previous ten, probably because I took my time and didn't rush through the process for once. Just one more draft and I'll be completely happy with it. At least until I get some feedback on it... at which point there will be several more revisions. Hopefully then I won't get obsessive with it all over again.

The older I get, the longer I take. This would have horrified 21 year old me, who thought time was zooming by at supersonic speeds. Looking back, 21 was an eternity ago and I wouldn't suffer that guy's presence if my life depended on it. Since I began writing this novel I've found gray hairs and somehow didn't give a shit, finally learned how to play guitar with almost average abilities, and started eating a little bit better... just a little bit. I also tend to stay at home on Saturday night and play a ton more video games than I ever did, but hey, I think one of The Beatles once said that if you enjoyed doing something, it was time well spent.

Sounds good to me.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

The Expanse and The Man in the High Castle are coming to TV


Journalists are already calling it "A Game of Thrones in space!" Well, okay. If you guys say so. I know one of the writers of the source material used to work for GRRM, but let's not get all sensational and shit. Watch the writers wince when the lazy GOT comparison is made in this video.

I admit I'm usually not a fan of SyFy productions. I tried watching their Dune adaptation at least three times and never got very far into it. For the record, I've never finished the David Lynch movie, either. The trailer for The Expanse resembles too much of SyFy's stuff that I don't like: too slick for its own good, too shiny. At least it's got some good actors.

If it sounds like I'm not excited about this series, I assure you it's only because I'm not. But hey, I'll watch it anyway and I really, really hope I'm wrong. At the very least it reminded me I need to read the sequels to Leviathan Wakes. (I have a bad habit of starting series and not reading the sequels.)

You know what else is getting the TV treatment? Philip K. Dick's The Man in the High Castle. Here's a clip:


Now that's more like it.

The Man in the High Castle has to be one of the best alternative history novels ever written. See, it's a novel set in a universe in which the Axis Powers won WWII. The characters themselves discover a novel set in a universe in which the Axis Powers lost. It's an alternative reality set within an alternative reality. Look, it sounds a lot more gimmicky than it is, trust me.

Friday, January 16, 2015

H1Z1: First Impressions

"It's going to take a helluva positive community response to convince me to spend twenty bucks on yet another zombie survival simulator." —Me, about five hours before I bought H1Z1. 

I know. I'm stupid.

The user reviews on the Steam page are already "MIXED" and many of the positive reviews are clearly sarcastic. I know a lot of fans are responding to the negativity with, "Wait! It's early access!" I kind of agree: if you're criticizing glitches and bugs or long login times, you have no business playing early access. That stuff is a given. That stuff doesn't ruin a good game.

On the other hand, there are terrible creative decisions being made here, such as the fact you can pay real money to have an airdrop of weapons delivered to your approximate location. Another worrisome aspect is nameplates appear above everyone at all times, which means if you're hiding in a bush from an attacker, they'll just see your gamer tag hovering above it. Anyone who believes that's an okay inclusion for a game like this shouldn't be making games like this.

The login issues are to be expected. Attackers occasionally clipping through the floor as they scream "Fuuuuuuck yooooooou!" is par for the early access course. I expect things like cars disappearing and zombies failing to react when you punch them. It's even okay that my flashlight comes on at random, usually when I least want it to. I'm being fair here: the game runs a lot smoother than DayZ and Rust did when they released, at least when you're not trying to open a dresser drawer or other in-world inventories. Bugs aside, what people don't like about this game is that it sucks. And if the developers spend their time fixing the bugs like they're supposed to at this point, they won't have time to fix the things that make it a shitty game.

UPDATE:

I got into a server and had a blast. Sometimes I would kind of lag when searching for loot, but not where it counted: during combat. This game does not deserve the bad reception it's getting over the airdrop issue. If you liked DayZ, Rust Legacy, and 7 Days to Die, this is more of the same, but in a lot of ways it's a lot more responsive and smooth.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

H1Z1 releases today

H1Z1 is coming out to Steam Early Access in about three hours. I'm still undecided about buying it today. More accurately, it's going to take a helluva positive community response to convince me to spend twenty bucks on yet another zombie survival simulator. Especially considering the game will ultimately be free to play in the future.

Still, it's one of the few games that have been on my radar for months now. I've been hopeful of recapturing the ludicrous fun I've had with friends in DayZ and Rust: Legacy. I haven't been able to get back into Rust (I tire easily with games that require my player character to scrounge food and eat more than I do in real life) since the new branch of development was introduced. And migrating from DayZ's Arma 2 mod to the standalone edition certainly proved to be premature: as far as I'm concerned, the free mod is still a better game than the $35 version. The lesser known 7 Days to Die offered some brief fun in this category as well, but damn it, it's just time for something new.

I want something with decent graphics and great gameplay. Something that doesn't lag just as you're sneaking up behind an unsuspecting victim with a shotgun. Something that's every bit as fun as Rust and DayZ, but, respectfully, smoother and more intuitive to control. I really hope SOE knocked this one out of the park.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Raimi compares Ash's situation in The Evil Dead series to "Unforgiven"


From the Nerdist podcast with Sam Raimi.

When Chris Hardwick asks Raimi if the upcoming Evil Dead TV show is set after Army of Darkness, the director indicates it is... sort of. "I'm kind of more approaching it like he's the Clint Eastwood of monster fighters," he says, making a comparison to Unforgiven's implied relationship to The Outlaw of Josey Wales. Paraphrasing because Raimi talks a mile a minute: "That was years ago when he fought the monsters, now he's kind of living life the way he likes to live it as a stock boy and he's kind of hiding out from them... but they come back."

Sometimes Raimi is clearly (and characteristically) pulling our legs: "It takes place in a Valu-mart and Bruce is still the stock boy." Hardwick and company burst out laughing at this. "Only now he has incontinence issues."

And in case you missed the original announcement, here's the goods from The Rolling Stone:

The show will find Ash, complete with his chainsaw arm, facing off against a plague of "Deadites," the demonic creatures from the movies. "Ash is finally forced to face his demons – personal and literal," the show's logline said. "Destiny, it turns out, has no plans to release the unlikely hero from its 'Evil' grip."

Starz has ordered 10 episodes that are reportedly thirty minutes a piece. I thought I heard February 2015 as the premiere date somewhere, but I haven't been able to find a good source on that. If this manages to come out before Game of Thrones returns in April, it'll make the wait a hell of a lot easier.

The entire hour and a half of the podcast is a blast. The reason Raimi's there is to promote his wife's upcoming feature, Murder of a Cat (trailer here), which looks like it suffers from the classic "good movie, bad trailer" problem. Honestly, though, the cat's double life is genius. I love the idea of two characters meeting because it turns out they owned the same cat.

So it's 2015 now. Welcome to the future.