Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Here, at the end of all things

(Listening to: "Careful With That Axe, Eugene," Pink Floyd)

"We are just a voice, screaming in the darkness. It's up to you to listen."

So, it finally ended: last night, I ran "Funerals Are For The Living," the final episode in The Voice, the Vampire: The Requiem chronicle we began over a year ago. As much as I tried to avoid it, the conclusion did feel a little rushed -- and it wasn't the ending I had originally planned. After all, two of the players were no longer present. But last October, I put together a vague projection of where I wanted the chronicle to go...and no one is more shocked than me to discover that, more or less, it actually went there. I'm almost proud of myself.

And the ending? It was almost a happy ending. No, really -- Mr. Doesn't Have Hope in His Vocabulary actually managed to bring to a story to a mostly pleasant conclusion. Not all of it, of course -- there was the absolutely gut-wrenching scene where Benjamin and Alice destroyed Doll, a heinous, psychotic creature in the form of a seven-year-old girl, made from wood, glass, and (shudder) real organs from real dead children. Eww. (Big-ass props to the Antagonists book, by the way, which is where Doll came from.)

This chronicle was pretty weird. I mean, even weird compared to my other games. I said at the beginning that this would be a very different story indeed, and it was, especially at the end. See, it started a lot like my other games -- the stereotypical battle for political power was just reaching its peak when, unfortunately, the group sort of dissolved and the game fell apart. The worst part is that this was just before the game was to spin on its axis and reveal its extraordinarily strange dark side.

And it got strange, friends. A mage hiring Benjamin to steal uniform? Ravens becoming the winged black messaging service of the 21st century. Evil Asian street gangs acting very possessive about their motorcycles. Benjamin finally meets his long-lost daughter, Janice (or is it Irene?), only he doesn't tell her who he is and she thinks he's hitting on her. And then, of course, the parallel reality -- Ben finds a mystical artifact that sends he and Penelope into, yes, an alternate dimension, just like on Star Trek (as everyone says when Ben tell the story). And the body count was quite high, too -- a brief list of the dead:
  • Ashley
  • Vladimir
  • Doll (thankfully -- shudder)
  • The Weasel
  • Marguerite
  • The Angry Asian Man (aka, the Contingency Plan).
  • All of Dr. Farubis's mages (though that happened "off-camera")
  • The alternate Natasha
  • The alternate Sahra
  • The alternate Penelope
  • The alternate Wilkins
  • The real Wilkins (thrown from his window)
  • Albert Green (thrown from the same window)
  • Liam (thrown from -- yes -- the same window)
  • Willem
  • Preston
  • Claude
  • Probably more I can't remember...though I s'pose everyone in the alternate dimension died, technically

If I had the time, I'd write out a synopsis of the whole thing -- like I said, I'm actually pretty proud of the story. Especially the out-there second half. I managed to pull off some closure with a few bookends: Alice's arc started with "Alice's Restaurant," and it ended with it, too; Ben and Ashley met at the Four Winds bar, and had their final from-beyond-the-grave conversation there, too.

And Darrell made a joke. Darrell. Yeah.

It was fun. You shoulda been there.

Next, comes Mage. I only hope it can be as much fun as this one.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Things I Hate, Part 2348

(Listening to: Parachutes, Coldplay)

You know what I hate? When I really, really hate something. And I go out of my way to let everyone know about my hatred -- as I'm sure you're aware by now, I don't keep my disdain for...well, anything secret for very long. So I trumpet my loathing for whatever it is I loathe, and everyone knows I hate it. Usually, I get some people who agree with me. And we're all joined together in our Cabal of Hatred: "Yeah, fuck [whatever]! It sucks!" But then a little time passes. And somehow I'm exposed to [whatever] again. And I discover -- to my shock and horror -- that I don't hate it like I used to. In fact, I like it. In fact, I like it a lot.

I hate that.

When I got Windows95, back when it first came out, the disc came with a few music videos -- namely, Weezer's "Buddy Holly." I hated that song when it was first released. Really, I did. And I thought the music video -- you remember it, the one where Spike Jonze used digital technology to splice the band into clips of Happy Days -- was goofy and stupid.

But it's on the disc, so my mom and I watch. And as she starts it, I mumble, "I hate that song." And she knew, and said she did. But the song starts, and I realize...hey, this isn't as bad as I remember. In fact...yeah. Shit. I actually kinda like it.

What I actually hate isn't the wonderful discovery that I can now enjoy something I despised in the past. Actually, that's pretty cool. What I don't like is that look I get from the rest of the Cabal of Hatred.

"Hey, I thought you hated this song."

Yeah. So did I.

And my neurotic rat brain -- somehow, don't ask me why -- feels strangely guilty. Like I've let my friends down. Like I've betrayed them or something. Isn't that fucking stupid?

Now you know why I hate it so much.

What brought this on? Coldplay's "Yellow." Sweet fancy Moses, I hated that song with a passion. And I continued to voice my hatred of it, even though I hadn't heard it in years, because I've found myself talking about Coldplay a lot recently -- X&Y is an awesome album, one of the best of the year, and you should totally buy it if you haven't already. But in my various defenses of Coldplay, I've always struck common ground with my enemy over "Yellow": "Oh yeah, fuck that song. That song is crap."

But then, for no reason I can discern, out of nowhere, they played it on the radio the other day. And guess what.


I'm sorry I've betrayed you.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Lost in space

(Listening to: Hot Fuss, The Killers)

(If you don't watch Lost, the following will probably be boring and/or incomprehensible to you. So be it.)

So, is anything gonna, like, ya know, happen this season on Lost? I realize that some progress as been made this year as far as the overall plots go, but jeez -- the show has been moving at a pace that makes M. Night Shyamalan look like Michael Bay.

Far too many episodes have been devoted to circular plots that advance nothing at all -- Sun loses her ring, then finds it. Michael runs into the jungle to find Walt, but then gives up and comes back. And Hurley gets so worked up over guarding the food stash in the hatch that he wires up the friggin' dynamite and gets set to blow it all up...but then is talked out of it.

And when the stories haven't been chasing their own tails, they've been focused on the caustic tail section survivors, led by everyone's new least favorite character, Ana Lucia. "Collision," last week's episode, did some good as far as making her a little more human, but it almost feels like the damage is done. Contrast this with the treatment of Sawyer in the first season -- he was King Douchebag until his flashbacks revealed an awesome layer of depth that rounded out his character and, somehow, made him one of the most sympathetic people on the island. Ana Lucia's flashbacks, on the other hand, didn't seem to provide that same resonance. Maybe it's me. Maybe it's not.

See, the problem is, the writers decided to devote at least half of every episode this season to the tail section. Which would have been fine, except the tail section people aren't that interesting. We've got a sweet spot for Bernard, because we knew his wife was waiting for him on the other side (and that moment, when we realized who he was, was indeed glorious and one of the best of the season thus far), and Mr. Eko -- portrayed by the fantastic Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, a.k.a. Adebesi -- is certainly intriguing, but then there's Ana Lucia. And the rest, who apparently have (or had) names, but they made little to no impresion on me. Sawyer, Jin, and Michael were there, too, of course, but pretty much every scene with the tail section coterie broke down like this:

1. Ana Lucia says something rude/demands something incovenient.
2. Someone -- usually Michael -- announces they will do something else.
3. Ana Lucia says that such action will cause the Others to swarm down and eat them all like Lucky Charms.
4. They do it anyway.
5. Everyone survives.
6. Repeat after next commerical break.

And naturally, the most interesting of the bunch, Sawyer, has spent the entire season suffering from the effects of an infected gunshot wound, handicapping their story that much more.

The revelation that Ana Lucia is a cop with a tragic past certainly goes a part of the distance explaining why she's such a Queen Bitch, but what it doesn't do is explain why I should give a shit. See the problem?

Hey, remember Claire? And her baby? And Charlie? And Locke? And Jack? I do. Those characters are interesting. The writers don't, it seems. And they practically forgot about Shannon, too, until it was time to kill her. All of the stuff with the tail section people -- and I mean all of it -- could have been collapsed into about half the time, which would have increased the suspense (since we wouldn't have been sitting through every sweaty, whiny second of their trek) and would have allowed for more time exploring the characters and mysteries we already knew: the hatch, the numbers, Black Rock, Dharma Inc., the monster (hey, remember the monster? the writers don't).

My problem isn't that they brought in new characters, or that a bunch of time was devoted to integrating them into the cast. My problem is that it was done badly. The promos and synopsis of this week's episode, "What Kate Did," certainly look to be a gigantic step in the right direction -- we'll see.

Oh, and what the hell happened to Desmond? Shacked up with Danielle? Assimilated by the Others? Eaten by a polar bear? Picked up by a rescue plane and forgot about everyone else? Your guess is as good as the writers'.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Movie quiz #2: Fill-in-the-blanks

(Listening to: Extraordinary Machine, Fiona Apple)

So, here we are, Sunday night/Monday morning. I'm dead tired, and WordPerfect's blinking cursor is practically laughing at me and my feeble attempts to get some actual writing done. Instead, I give you some filler movie-related goofiness. I'm sure you recall my frame grab quiz; this is a little different. This time, a simple fill-in-the-blanks test. I supply quotes from ten various films, only with the titles deleted. You must provide the title for each one. And no using IMDB, either, 'cause that would be cheating. And you're not a cheater, are you?

Simple, no? I thought so. Most of these are pretty easy, so you shouldn't need much help, but I will give a single hint: I kinda-sorta cheated on one these. The blank is actually the subtitle of the film in question -- it's a sequel, see, and the proper title is never spoken. And, also, each blank is the same length no matter how long the title, so don't think that can used as a clue. I'm sure you can figure out the rest.

You can provide me with your answers however you wish. E-mail, comments, AIM. First person to correctly name all then films will receive a fantastic, one-of-a-kind no-prize.

"_________________, by S. Morgenstern. Chapter One...."

*phone rings*
"Hello, _________________." *pause* "Yes, of course they're serious."

"We _________________ be stealin' the gold--"
"Shut up, Conrad."

"A guy who came to _________________ for the first time, his ass was a wad of cookie dough. After a weeks, he was carved out of wood."

"Find the _________________."
"How do I even know which one has it?"
"It's always the more gifted of the three."

"I offer a toast: _________________." *blank stares* "The future."
All: "_________________!"
"Hamlet, act three, scene one."

Doin' _________________,
Breaking my heart into a million pieces,
Like you always do.
And you,
Don't mean to be cruel.
You never even knew about the heartache
I've been going through.
Well, I try and try to forget you girl,
But it's just so hard to do
Every time you do _________________!"

"What in heaven's name brought you to _________________?"
"My health. I came to _________________ for the waters."
"The waters? What waters? We're in the desert!"
"I was misinformed."

"Look, pal, there never was any money. _________________ gave me an empty briefcase, so take it up with him, man."

"Come on, what? What?"
"Always _________________."
"That's it?"
"That's it."

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Pilot vs. Pilot

(Listening to: X&Y, Coldplay)

"I can't believe how bad this gorram script is, can you?"

So an interesting thing happened last night on cable television. The Sci-Fi Channel aired part one of "Serenity," the pilot episode of Joss Whedon's wonderous Firefly...and a few hours later, SpikeTV saw fit to air both parts of "Encounter at Farpoint," the pilot episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, an equally great series. So, thanks to the magic of DVR, I was able to watch them both.

To put it rather mildly: some shows get their feet beneath them earlier than others.

It's pretty much accepted that the entirety of the first two seasons of Next Gen are ruthlessly bad when not entirely unwatchable, but "Farpoint" is something special. Cheesy. Stupid. Preposterous. Badly acted. Poorly directed. Yikes.

Now, sure, one should give them a little bit of leeway, some breathing room. After all, it was 1987. And it was just the pilot episode. But holy Q, how did a script as horrendous as "Encounter at Farpoint" get past a first draft, let alone produced and aired on national TV? Maybe if I weren't so familiar with the rest of the series, it wouldn't be so bad, but it's patently obvious the show's writers (and actors, for that matter) had no real idea of where their characters were going. No thoughts into their pasts, their futures. Each and everything in the episode seems based on one concept: "Hey, wouldn't this be a cool idea?"

An enormous net of energy appears from nowhere in the middle of space. An all-powerful race of beings, called the Q, claims responsibility. Humanity, put on trial for being a "dangerous, savage child-race." They must prove themselves, by solving an extraordinarily simplistic mystery about Farpoint Station.

Now, the whole humanity-on-trial bit makes no friggin' sense whatsoever. Why is Q picking on the Enterprise and Picard, anyway? It's not entirely peopled by humans, after all. And why is he stopping the Enterprise from venturing further into space? Remember, they're on their way to Farpoint Station to pick up half their command crew, mostly made up of humans. Why didn't the Q stop them? Beats me. Maybe he felt it would be easier to make Picard surrender. He is French, after all.

In addition to the dumb plot, the episode also has that unshakable "first episode" smell: characters do everything short of flashing a driver's license at the camera to try to get the audience to remember who they are. Examples of this kind of clunky writing are everywhere, but here's a good one:

YAR: Sir, as Chief of Security, it is my job to make sure that--
PICARD: You have your orders, Lieutenant Yar!


PICARD: Lieutenant Worf, you will command the saucer section.
WORF: Sir, as a Klingon, for me to run away while my captain goes into battle--
PICARD: You have your orders, Lieutenant!

Oh, this is a good one, you'll like this...

LA FORGE: Commander, I was just in contact with the...
RIKER: A little informal, aren't we, Lieutenant?
LA FORGE: Oh. [clears throat] Lieutenant Geordi La Forge, reporting as ordered, sir.

So, the episode is badly written, which is its biggest flaw, but even the actors -- with the possible exception of Patrick Stewart -- are weak when they're not embarassing. Especially Brent Spiner -- apparently, the "Data has no emotions" thing either hadn't been entirely decided on or he forgot, because Data stands around grinning half the damn episode. He's also a lot less human: Picard treats him like a damn computer, and it's practically justified. (Data also uses contractions, it should be noted. This wouldn't be a big deal, really, except that the writers would later bend over backwards to make sure we understood that Data can't use contractions -- in fact, the plots of episodes like "Datalore" and "The Offspring" would hinge on his inability to say "couldn't". So.)

And don't get me started on Counselor Troi's blubbering. Weep, weep, weep, all the time. Thankfully, the directors would soon learn to put a leash on her. Damn.

Now, "Farpoint" has a lot of value for a Trekkie like myself, despite its low quality. There's the historical merit of this being the pilot. And it's a shock to look at it now and see how young everyone is -- it's most jarring for Beverly Crusher, whose hair looks four or five shades darker and makes her look like an entirely new person. And there's the goofy pajama-like uniforms they wore back in the first two seasons. And the cheesy effects. It's fun.

"Serenity," on the other hand, is a perfect example of a show that hit the ground running. Not only does it feel like Joss Whedon has already completely developed the entire 'verse in which Firefly exists, but he doesn't feel the need to have his actors stand around and spell it out for the audience. Sure, there are a few lines of dialogue hanging around that are clearly written in to make sure the people watching understand what's going on -- Wash has a line where he comes out and says he's Zoe's husband, for example -- but they're integrated with far more skill and subtlety than in "Farpoint." There's certainly none of that "Kaylee, Engineer, reporting as ordered, Cap'n!" nonsense.

The actors already, even at this early stage, embody their characters perfectly. And the story the episode tells isn't completely idiotic, like the one in "Farpoint." It's really one of the better pilot episodes I think I've ever seen.

The final irony: "Encounter at Farpoint" was aired, in all its crappy entirety, to a national television audience. It led to the show running for seven seasons and becoming a great series.

"Serenity" wasn't aired until after the show was cancelled. Fox couldn't stop screwing with the series. It never really picked up an audience. They ran less than a dozen episodes.

Funny, huh?

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Out, damn spot

(Listening to: Hit, Peter Gabriel)

In case I haven't told you, I'm writing a novel. Ghost Runners, it's called. It's the obligatory semi-autobiographical tripe you'd expect, only with enough supernatural bizarreness to spice things up and make you question my sanity. Expect a finished first draft sometime in the next few months. (Considering both the rate of fire I've achieved in my first week of writing it and my general track record as pertains to deadlines, you may take "the next few months" to mean whenever you like. I'm betting on December 22, 2012.)

So, in the last episode of That's When I Reach for My Revolver, I revealed that Jason suffers from a condition called muscae volitantes, or "floaters." Little black specks in the eyeball, little spots that drift in one's field of vision. There are four or five possible causes, and no effective treatment. For some people, the problem is minor. For others, it's a major nuisance. Depends on your luck, I s'pose. You just have to get used to it and hope they go away.

I've got 'em. Have as long as I could remember. In the episode, Rebecca relates a story about Jason receiving merciless teasing as a child because he saw little "imaginary insect friends" in the sky. That never happened to me -- I didn't go around advertising I was any more different than I already appeared to be -- but the description of Jason's symptoms came right from my own experience. My floaters are numerous, mostly in my right eye. I can see them almost all the time, especially during the day, and they are always a major pain the ass. I spent so much time in Algebra class in junior high trying to get a good look at these little spots that I didn't pay much attention to the teacher. I failed the class.

Before I finished writing the episode, I found myself in a discussion with someone concerning floaters. They didn't believe me when I described the condition. They thought I was making it up. They'd never heard of it. "No way," they said. So, in an attempt to prove I knew what the fuck I was talking about, I added a disclaimer to the end of the episode that linked to a Wikipedia article that gave all the appropriate information. There. I'm not making it up. Fucker.

But then a funny thing happened. People read the episode. They talked to me afterward. They left comments.

I've always dealt with these things with apprehension. They were annoying, and before I knew what they were, they made me very, very nervous and afraid. And I certainly felt no one else around me dealt with them.

But as it turns out, you know who else has these fucking things? Everyone I know.

With varying degrees of seriousness, of course. But every single person that has spoken to me after reading "Sitting, Waiting, Wishing" has said to me, "Hey, I have those things, too."

Now, considering that I had never heard of these things ever once before I looked them up to figure out why my eyes seemed to be deteriorating in their sockets, and I've never heard of them outside of that research, and indeed was greeted with disbelief when I attempted to spread the knowledge, I am now confused. I know the article says these things are common, but...come on. Am I right in thinking this is just a tad unlikely? If floaters are this common, how have I never heard of them before? (And in fact, no one else seems to have heard of them before, either.) Have I just happened to have befriended a number of people who share this condition? Or this destiny? Is this an example of that nefarious intelligent design I've heard so much about?

And, most importantly, why are mine worse than yours?

In other news, my Vampire 2025 chronicle is now officially the strangest game I've ever run, ever. Alternate dimensions are kewl.