Saturday, June 30, 2012

Ender's Game in 2013

Two reasons to hope the world doesn't end in December are the second half of the Hobbit and Ender's Game, both being released in late 2013. I have a few friends that have been waiting for an Ender's Game adaptation for years and years, probably since they read this very addictive piece of science fiction by Orson Scott Card. After reading the news yesterday, I sat down, opened Ender's Game for the second time in my life, and conquered half the novel in one sitting.

For those that haven't read the original novel or any of the series (I've only read the first installment), the basic premise is earth was nearly wiped out twice by aliens referred to as buggers, a race with ant-like behavior. We were ultimately saved by a genius commander named Mazer Rackham, who will be played by Ben Kingsley. Afterwards, the united people of earth decided to prepare for a third invasion by designing a space station where they train genius children in the art of war through games--not monopoly. We're talking zero-gravity combat with stun guns and psychological role-playing games tailored for each child. Even their daily routine and social interactions are part of the game. With proper CGI, it could be an on-screen marvel, assuming it doesn't resemble Tron and takes on a life of its own.

While I don't recognize majority of the actors because they're children, seeing Harrison Ford was cast as Colonel Graff, the man that recruits Ender, gives me hope for the film. Graff is somewhat of a mysterious, layered character. As a long-time fan of Ford's work (Indiana Jones, Star Wars, Blade Runner, etc.) I'm already imagining him discussing his plans for Ender in futuristic rooms. It could be wonderful.

Then again, I don't know much about writer and director Gavin Hood. He directed X-Men Origins: Wolverine, yet I wasn't particularly fond of that film. Granted, he didn't write that screenplay. However, the action scenes he was responsible for were not compelling. I haven't seen much else that he's worked on, so Ender's Game will either make me adore him or he'll botch the adaptation, as Hollywood is prone to do, and I'll hate him for all-time.

I'll have to wait for some trailers to formulate solid expectations. Aside from most comedies which tend to hide majority of their hilarity (I thought Your Highness, Super Bad, Step Brothers, and 40 Year Old Virgin would be terrible and was pleasantly proven wrong when I finally saw them), trailers usually give me a good idea of what I'll experience when in the theater. By this winter, we should be given a trailer or at least a teaser.  It will only take me a couple minutes to know whether or not Ender's Game will be faithful. The novel is a little over 300 pages better be.

Friday, June 29, 2012

I Miss Farscape

I'm generally picky when it comes to science fiction on television, but as the title states, I miss Farscape. The characters were complex. At times, they were downright ruthless. None of them were typical heroes. They did good things incidentally while trying to survive. The villains were nasty, and once in a while, heroes became villains and villains became heroes. Sometimes, the heroes and villains remained enemies yet worked together to defeat a common enemy. The characters eeked by akin to Indiana Jones; every plan went wrong yet they persevered by the skin of their teeth. The banter was great too; probably not as witty as Joss Whedon's writing in Firefly but great nonetheless and funny as well. Characters conspired against one another, zero trust between them. They were secretive, manipulative thieves, warriors, pacifists, murderers, sex slaves, and they were all prone to mocking humans as an inferior, dumb species.

There was always an intriguing idea behind every episode, ranging from traditional alien encounters to a living spaceship giving birth to a warship, not to mention some really trippy, somewhat psychotic scenes. Every episode progressed the story for the season as well. They never inundated viewers with freaks of the week. Plus the dark, moody sets, make-up, CGI, and puppetry was done splendidly by the Jim Henson Company. I still feel makeup and puppetry can look more realistic than CGI when done correctly. More often than not, Farscape reaffirmed my belief.

When I found out Farscape had been cancelled, I wrote the SyFy network several disgruntled emails with lines such as, "I hope you're proud developing B movies and generic TV shows," and, "This is the best show you've ever aired. Too bad you're too stupid to realize it." I still feel that way. I haven't watched that network since the cancellation of Farscape, which they replaced with Stargate: SG1 or something, a spin-off of a spin-off I believe failed after two seasons. SyFy has offered nothing original that has peaked my interest in years.

Bottom line is if you've got some time on your hands and are looking for a show to get into that you might have missed out on, Farscape is my recommendation. In my opinion, it is and always will be the best science fiction series ever to bless my TV.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Broken Smile

Today, after almost a year, I had my chipped, front tooth fixed. One might not think it, but problems with a smile can severely damage a person's confidence. Even though the chip was not very large, almost unnoticeable to anyone who did not know me prior, I was aware of it every second of every day. I spent a lot of time running my tongue over the chip, staring into mirrors as if it would magically grow back, and curbing my laughter/smile. I had a tendency to stop mid-laugh/smile, so I could close my mouth.

And why not be self-conscious of my broken smile? As the dentist said when working on the bonding, "The smallest things can make a person not like you. I can see why you want this fixed for interviews." Two hundred dollars for the repair seems trivial compared to how good I feel since leaving Camp Mohawk this morning. It was painless too, unlike the first bonding on that tooth; should I get insurance with my next job, it will be my permanent dentist.

Since I'm in a good mood, I'll also shed light in how the tooth was chipped, along with several others, in the first place. My junior year of college I spent a night playing beer bong with my friends that lived a floor down from us at Elmira. For some reason, when I was extremely tanked that year, I thought it was funny to mess with fire extinguishers.

At some point in the night, the door to the suite was opened, I remember spotting a fire extinguisher at the far end of the hall, and sprinted at it. Drunkenly, I went full speed, overestimated the length of the hall, and did not have time to even slow down. I went face first into the wall, fell on my ass.

Once my friends stopped laughing themselves to tears, they noticed I was walking around searching the floor. They asked if I was all right, maybe wondering if I had a concussion. Then they asked what I was doing, and I responded, "Looking for my teeth."

They helped search. We found nothing. Apparently, I swallowed four shards of my smile upon impact--that's how fast I ran into the wall. For the next two weeks, I covered my mouth when I talked and rarely left my dorm room. Our next break was close to when I chipped my teeth, and I had them repaired.

As I told my college friend today (I posted on Facebook that I got my tooth fixed and he immediately knew what I was referring to), it's a good thing smartphones, Youtube, and Facebook did not exist when I was in college. A video of me hitting the wall, among other things I did those carefree years, might have gone viral.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

"Merc" Photoshopped

Downloaded a free trial of Photoshop today to see how my drawings would look with color. After about 6 hours of relearning software I haven't used since college, I'm really excited about how it turned out.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Memories of Being Bullied

After watching the video of Karen Klein the bus monitor being bullied last week, after my rage subsided, I started to think of instances of bullying in the my life. I'll say up front that I was mostly on the receiving end, but there were a few occasions that I was either the bully or laughing at the bully's actions, which is nothing less than encouragement. I'm not proud of it, and when I ran into one of my victims a couple years ago at the bar, we had a long talk, I apologized profusely, and he invited me as a Facebook friend the day after.

He's a better man than me, as I don't think I could ever forgive my tormentors. I'm not built that way. While I have a long list of what I endured (I'm also aware some that read this will have had it worse), I'll stick to the most prominent.

In seventh grade, during finals, we had wedgie day. That particular event entailed 8th graders chasing 7th graders around the school and through the streets of the town, giving anyone they caught a wedgie. For those not privy, a wedgie is when someone yanks the band of your underwear/boxers as hard and high as they can. It can be painful. Not only did the group of four guys who had consistently picked on me and gave me welts with punches and kicks throughout the school year catch me, they caught me twice.

The first time was across the street from the middle school, where I was given a Super Man Wedgie (dangled parallel to the ground) in front of a porch full of girls, after the principal kicked us off school property. The second time was after lunch. Returning from main street for our last final, this group of kids singled me out in a group of ten people. We took off running. I was the lone person chased and caught. I was smashed in the back of the head with a school lock. Bleeding from the lump already growing, they filled my underwear with pine cones, wedgied me (Nature Wedgie) off the ground, and dropped me in the street. A passing teacher slowed down, honked his horn, and told me to get out of the road.

Our wedgie day was the last to be seen at Knox Middle School, as far as I know. So many parents called the school that the year after, a year too late in my opinion, the cops patrolled the streets throughout finals and students were given warnings that anyone caught giving a wedgie would be suspended. I should note that not a single person dealing wedgies the year before was punished.

In high school, I had a locker across from a group of guys that didn't like me. Part of the reason I don't like being called a, "Baby-face," even as a compliment or comment of how young I appear, is because they used to call me that along with a slew of other names. As my bullies verbally taunted me, showing off for the girls they hung around with, they threw wads of paper, erasers, and paper clips. Sometimes, they spit or dumped water, juice, soda on me. Sometimes, they hit me with a fist or a foot. They also enjoyed waiting for me to bend down so they could shove me face first into my locker. It got to the point that I carried all my books all day long in a backpack, rather than going to my locker.

Needless to say, I did not enjoy my first two years of high school--I spent majority of those years bruised. I had a lot of dark fantasies in that time, drew a lot of violent pictures I still own and shake my head when looking at. I lashed out in a lot of different ways too: fist fights in school, out of school, and a couple of times while playing intramural soccer, mouthing off to teachers/coaches, yelling at my parents. Eventually, I was able to funnel my anger into drawing and writing rather than bringing a knife or gun to school and putting my tormentors six feet deep. Once that group of guys graduated/dropped out, life was a lot better.

Most importantly, I developed empathy. Knowing what it's like to be bullied, I became less and less likely to participate or condone such actions. Ridicule and bullying is nothing new to society, but its public display (I still can't believe those kids mocking Karen Klein could do that to an elder, let alone throw it up on Youtube) certainly is. No one at any age should have to endure that.

I think the most important thing to do at times like these when an issue is brought to our attention is to open a discourse. Those that are bullied need to know they're not alone, they can talk about it with others instead of harboring the pain, and the bullies need to be aware of their actions--they need empathy. As do we all.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Job Hunting

Part of being unemployed for over a year is applying to everything and anything I'm even slightly qualified for. I apply to positions I might be overqualified for as well. I spent six hours today perusing the local listings on Monster, Careerbuilder, Craigslist, Times Union, and the New York State Job Bank all with the hopes of employment at any capacity--I'd take a position as personal ball-washer at this point, if it paid enough to move out of my parent's house.

Of the twenty-five resumes I sent out today, I'll be lucky to hear back from three of the companies to set up an interview. If Murphy's Law upholds as it has the past year, I probably won't hear back from anyone, but my fingers are crossed to the point of losing circulation when I think about the editor's assistant opening at a national magazine I located about an hour ago. To have a career in publishing on any level would be success in my book; it would mean I'd finally done something with my degree.

However, I can't begin to imagine the stress I'd be under if I had children to support or a mortgage to pay or parents that couldn't put up with my insane behavior. Instead, my measly 401k leftover from my previous job in Denver, now that I've cashed in, should hold me over for months. That's even after I sunk five hundred dollars on a new computer; as my friend said, "A new PC for a gamer is as good as buying a new car," and I have to agree.

Computers these days are vital to job hunting, not solely because of required skills either. Today, I was able to have 10 windows open rather than one. I was able to enhance my resume, copy and paste email addresses, search for positions, and research formats all while listening to music and keeping up-to-date on Facebook. Yesterday with my computer, the hunk of plastic sitting in the corner of my room like an abandoned prom date, I would have had to go window by window (when not frozen or loading) with a tower that sounded like a jet engine. Seriously, the racket from my old PC has haunted my dreams for five years. I'm pretty sure it took a chunk of my hearing too, as I'm now prone to ask, "Huh? What'd you say?" on a regular basis. What took me a week to perform on my old PC I can now do in a handful of hours.

This computer might not be top of the line but it's exceedingly useful in job hunting. When I did my community service for college at the Department of Labor, I spent time assisting people on their computers. I helped them write resumes and cover letters. I helped them find job sites and perform searches. That's, of course, when I wasn't jammed in a dingy room shredding papers for hours on end. If there's one tool that must not be ignored in a job hunt it's a computer. Going store to store is well and good, but having every job opening in a 300 mile radius at the tip of your finger is priceless.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Through the Wormhole

Through the Wormhole on the Science Channel is arguably the best science show out there and highly addictive. Narrated by Morgan Freeman, it poses some of the most interesting questions I've ever encountered, especially on television, and handles a lot of fringe science, as well as theoretical physics (I'm grateful that they explain the topics in layman's terms).

Last night, I caught a rerun episode called, "Is the Universe Alive?" and every segment sent my imagination into a tailspin. I'm still thinking about the proposed theory that the universe is a living organism, which breeds via blackholes. Though I sometimes wondered if the universe as a whole might be alive and have thoughts much akin to the notion of God, not once did I ever consider how, if it was an organism, it would replicate. The offspring would go hand in hand with the multiverse concept too. Instead of realities simply growing alongside each other, they would actually be given birth, possibly resembling our own yet improving generation after generation in the same way life on earth adapts and evolves. I find the idea fascinating. It gives a whole new meaning to, "which came first: the chicken or the egg?" on an epic scale.

Yet the "big picture" is not all the show covers. The new episode following the rerun was on memory: can we change who we are? It discussed the importance of memory, current studies, and proposed the idea that in the future humans might be able to not only erase bad memories that cause post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) but manipulate memories to change our personalities entirely. In one example, lab rats had a gene removed and became incapable of formulating memories. Another study demonstrated how a drug could block an important particle in the brain and stop the link between memories on mice, erasing what they had demonstrated having learned.

Other topics have included the evolution of technology, life on other planets, string theory, wormholes, blackholes, time travel, and multiverses. What I enjoy most about the show is that a lot of subject matter people think is only the product of science fiction is portrayed and discussed scientifically. Leaders of each field are interviewed, their theories explored, and we're shown what these scientists are attempting to do to prove their theories; sometimes we're given a glimpse of their mathematical equations that look like hieroglyphs to me.

I recommend this show to anyone interested in science, specifically theoretical physics, a person looking for interesting questions, or a writer in need of new ideas. I have yet to see an episode of Through the Wormhole that didn't make me think long and hard well after the show was over.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The Weirdest Thing You've Heard or Said

Comedian Lewis Black has a bit about sitting in a diner and hearing a woman say, "If it wasn't for my horse, I would've never spent that year in college." We all hear friends, family, and strangers say bizarre things, sentences that stick in our minds years after the fact, and in turn, whether we can admit it or not, we say them ourselves.

For instance, one of the weirdest things I can recall ever saying happened when I was living in Somerville, MA. I had a couple friends visiting from Pennsylvania and we went downtown to the bars. On the Night Owl bus ride back to Harvard Square, we talked about a waitress hitting on one of our friends. She was pretty, a slim brunette with a charming smile. He, however, either didn't realize she was hitting on him or wasn't interested. If I remember correctly, she offered him her number and he didn't understand why, resulting in an awkward moment.

Later, on the bus ride I mentioned, I told my friends, "I can't believe he turned her down. I would've built a boat on that shit." I don't think a second passed before my friends and the drunk couple sitting in front of us burst out laughing and wanted to know what I meant. When asked to explain my comment, I had no idea how. I had no idea what I was even talking about. To this day, I try to analyze: maybe I meant I'd lay down wood and stay afloat (wink, wink), maybe I didn't mean anything at all and simply said the first thing that came to mind, due to intoxication from roughly 8 Guinness, Jell-O shots, and a Scorpion Bowl, or maybe it was a rather large, failed euphemism that sounded better in my head than out loud. I don't know, but I thought about it this morning and it made me laugh.

Anyone else out there hear or say something ridiculous lately? Or have one to share from long ago?

Thursday, June 14, 2012

What Happened to RPGs?

I was looking for a new RPG (role-playing game) for my xbox 360, and I couldn't help noticing that the selection was not only slim, it was loaded with heaps of garbage. Classic turn-based RPGs from my childhood like Breath of Fire, Dragon Quest, Phantasy Star, and Final Fantasy have gone out the window. These were games I particularly enjoyed because there was an element of thought and strategy, similar to playing chess, stories that sucked me into their worlds, and a whole lot of exploration that is simply lacking in most RPGs as of late.

Nowadays, turn-based has been replaced by button mashing. While it's understandable to try and revolutionize a style of play where one could go to the bathroom, run to the store, make something to eat, and return to a boss fight where you left it, games today give you a wide range of spells and attacks, yet you only rely on a select few, the strongest, because you're allotted a short window to react. Even in a game as rich and deep as Skyrim I found myself using a small portion of abilities in the 100+ hours it took me to complete it and get every achievement. Not that I have a problem with first person or action-RPGs; I am a fan of Dark Cloud, Marvel Ultimate Alliance, Tales of Vesperia (the best RPG on Xbox 360), and Rogue Galaxy.

Speaking of Rogue Galaxy, what has Level-5 Games been up to? Their successful franchises seem to have gone the wayside. No sequel to Rogue Galaxy, Dragon Quest (DQ VII is one of my all-time favorites), or Dark Cloud. Like the rest of the industry, their RPGs seem to be delegated to handheld devices, which I haven't owned since the original Gameboy.

And forget anything amazing from Square Enix. That company is joyous squeezing out piles of shit and charging for the flies. The latest installments of Final Fantasy for consoles have been complete disasters. From what I see on their site, they're not in the process of making a new RPG outside of handheld devices either, forgoing Kingdom Hearts 3 any time soon. That company, once known for releasing jewels (FF3, FF7, Chrono Trigger, KH) one after another has been circling and sinking into the toilet since the merger. Final Fantasy XII was probably the last game they created that I enjoyed, but it really wasn't that impressive compared to previous installments.  It appears they care more about cinematics than story or gameplay, less than a shadow of the mighty Squaresoft.

At this point, probably because I had to sell my SNES, Genesis, and PS2 along with games when I was scraping by in Denver, I'd take rehashes, revamps, or unaltered DLC versions on any of the classics. I'm even considering purchasing a Wii just for some of these titles, and it has the widest selection. I would play Indies, yet they're very difficult for me to find. Honestly, I don't even know where to start.

In a nutshell, the state of RPGs for consoles is few and far between, loaded with weak, lackluster content. I can only hope that once-adored companies such as Level-5 or Square Enix return to their roots or another company rises to take the industry by storm. There really is a market for RPGs, especially quality ones. Until then, I'll continue to scour my limited options and revel in the glory days.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Sketches Part 1

Sketches are an artist's best friend, probably as important as the final piece. I thought I'd share some of my own that no one really sees besides myself, because I have two desks, two cabinets, and a portfolio full of them. Though a lot of the sketches are garbage that I'm too weak to throw away (I've collected them since I started drawing in kindergarten), some have a lot of potential. The ones I enjoy most, I'll share. The rest I'll continue to hoard. I tend to doodle on everything, so the paper quality won't always be great either. I also doodle with Bics a lot, especially when I was at work or in college, which is evident above with the "blue" sketch.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

CD Art

In 2001, I took a Digital Imaging class. We were tasked with creating art for a CD. I decided to use ideas from the fiction novel I had been writing about high school kids and a school shooting. All the art is based off the characters, inspiration I had for events in the novel, and music I used within the novel or listened to while writing that I stuck on the CD. While I only used black, white, and some gray I now wish I had used colors, as did my professor, according to the note I dug up with this.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Novel Excerpt

Excerpt from The Fate of Kings:

The exhilaration Bishop Glauss had when he set the pile of dead aflame was disturbing, even to himself. He clenched his cigar in the corner of his mouth. He laughed with tears in his eyes. He laughed at the insanity of laughing at dead mothers and children and the men they called lords, father, my love. The whole of the Kaynebridge vanguard gave him a wide birth, altering their path from the weeping, laughing, singing man in the tall hat, whose eyes hid beneath a solid black visor. He wore a dark blue uniform, plated on the shoulders, forearms, chest, and thighs, a relished trophy he took from the Kaynebridge Royal Guard at the height of their civil war.  Bishop was but twenty when he helped to overthrow the aristocracy, tied the commander to the base of a stone column, and forced himself upon the two daughters and wife of the interim king in the same room that held his corpse. He left the commander alive to spread the tale, knowing those loyal to the fake crown would never serve fouled women. Bishop smirked. His seed had marred an empire.
          His ear itched, but he did nothing about it; he’d have to lift his hat. No one ever saw more of Bishop’s face than his crooked nose, mouth, and the stubble on his chin. No one had the spine to ask or closely look. The men at camp had plenty of stories: it was rumored Bishop was bald, ugly, and scarred by fire at the razing of Vaeland Tower, that he was blind, that he had no eyes, for a pagan God took them at birth. A thousand gold coins went to the first man or woman that could provide photographic evidence of what was under Bishop’s hat. In the beginning, many were apt to try. They bought him beer at taverns and asked plainly. They wagered for his hat in high-stakes card games. They challenged him to duels, yet any form of instigation while the man was drunk or in a bad mood, which was almost always, escalated to the drawing of weapons. Bishop didn’t let a man walk away. Once free of their holsters, his guns fired.
“What’s so funny?” asked Elias Turk, Bishop’s partner. Elias drank from a bottle of whiskey, something he’d found in a mansion overlooking Icehammer. Offering sunflower seeds to the hawk on his shoulder, his sullen, aged eyes passed over the smoldering mound of corpses as if they were a small stain. “What’s so funny?”
Bishop grinned. “The old days are back, coz. The Gods have offered us another chance to pen our deeds in the Book of Remembrance.” The flames ceased, and Bishop began to slap and punch the nozzle of his flamethrower. As a girl crossed his path he shoved her to the ground, shouting, “Are you out of your fucking mind?”
Covered in mud, the girl’s mother lifted her into her arms. “I didn’t see her wander off. Please, don’t kill my baby.” She rubbed the girl’s back, rocking her side to side, wondering what Bishop would do to her and her child, and the longer she wondered, the harder it became not to cry. “Please. She’s all I have.”
Bishop spat. He mulled the situation over and nodded. As a private dragged the girl and her mother away, a captain marched over. He waved for the private to come back, and like a fool, the private did.
The captain said, “Bishop, I want that girl dead. We have to set an example.” A crowd gathered as the prisoner lines halted. “I want that girl dead.”
“I heard ya,” growled Bishop. “I don’t kill girls, especially retarded girls. You saw her face. She don’t know two plus two.”
“Do you, coz?” Elias asked, trying to diffuse the situation.
“You seem to have no problem burning them,” said the captain. “There’s at least fifteen of them in that pile alone.”
Casually, Bishop pointed to the corpses with his cigar. “I didn’t kill these ones.”
“I gave you an order, merc,” said the captain, scowling. “Are you disobeying me?”
“This is a breach of contract,” Bishop said. “I do what I please when the fighting stops. Thems the rules decreed by your king. I ain’t one of your lackeys, and I don’t kill girls without reason. I ain’t gonna tell ya again.”
Before the captain could unsheathe, Bishop pulled his six-shooter, fired, and holstered. A smoking hole appeared through the captain’s face as he lingered on his feet, eyes rolling up into his skull, knees buckling. Bishop shoved the captain and added him to the pyre, chuckling, resuming his song, and spraying the corpses with more fire.
“That man scares me,” said Prince Kergis Trallonius, peeking from his war tent. “He’s as lethal at camp as he is on the battlefield.”
“We knew what we were getting,” replied Decitor Osiris, advisor to the king. “Him and the old man were necessary for a siege on Icehammer. The keep was somewhat modern and not built for defense against sharpshooters. Bishop and Elias are vile cutthroats, but their fee is rightly so, as is their company. Their guns saved the lives of thousands. Rather than a week, a month, hell, maybe even a harvest, we took Icehammer in less than a day with little casualties of our own. Most of Weslin has now sworn fealty to your father. Rather than a city, you will inherit an empire.”
“At what cost?” asked Kergis as he sauntered round a table covered in maps. “The people we conquer will fear our army, and in so doing, come to fear me. From the Horn of Deira to Old Furlton, they will loathe the heir to the throne, and when my father dies, they will test my hand.”
“And you will swat them.”
“Will I? What the men have done to the conquered on this campaign makes me question the spoils of war.”
“It could have been worse,” said Osiris. “We could have been ordered to burn their lunar domes, embargo their lands, and let them starve the harshest months while they debated their independence.”
“Or we could have called council with the city-states of Weslin, discussed the benefits of a union, and come together on financial terms,” said Gerid Gerard, entering the tent. His assistant followed, bustling to get him tea before he reached his chair. “Of course, that was all in my report. I wanted to make Kaynebridge the lead shareholder in a city-state conglomerate.”
“I was never told of this,” said Kergis.
Gerard’s eyebrow arched. “I was under the impression that you had a say in every measure. The first page of my report was addressed to you."
“An oversight.” Osiris tightened the flaps to the tent. “One your father deemed necessary, my prince. If the press found out we didn’t have a legitimate reason to invade our neighbors, our heads would roll. You would be the first one summoned to the hearing. We’ll leak the news when the war is won and take responsibility in the aftermath. By then, we’ll be too wealthy to care about opinion polls. The unification of Weslin is destiny.”

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Single Life

I had an interesting interaction with a woman, a complete stranger, while waiting for a taxi home from the bar last night. As my friend sort of hung out the front window to the bar, the woman inquired which man was her husband as I stood with him near the curb, and the woman's response to the answer was, "Good. The other one's kind of ugly," referring to me. Having known me since grade school, my friend knew how I was going to take hearing this, and she croaked, "Oh."

While it's true I shouldn't have responded with, "Fuck you," and am in dire need of, "thicker skin," being referred to as ugly sets me off. It's probably due to my history, as last night was not a unique event. Since the 6th grade it has been a fairly regular description used both behind my back and in my presence. I find it hard not to believe when just as soon as two weeks ago, on three separate occasions in the same night, I talked to three separate women and they each stared into the distance like I didn't exist, perking when my married, "hot" friend (a different one than previously mentioned) approached.

The world is a superficial place. The sagely wisdom and magazine articles about a sense of humor or personality being more important than looks, never judging a book by its cover, is complete nonsense. Us weirdos spend life chained into the role of friend, sometimes acting as a surrogate boyfriend (doing everything a boyfriend would do minus the physicality), watching the more attractive people decide who they're going to take home, watching them lie and cheat and break the hearts of those we care for, watching them get married and have children and, in some cases, listening to how bad they supposedly have it.

As any reader can tell, self-perception has almost been a lifelong battle of mine, probably starting in puberty like most others. I've been single for a decade, and it's not for lack of trying. I've asked women out for coffee, dinner, the movies. I've asked them to join me on group events. I've joined dating sites. All to no avail; I've heard every excuse in the book, some nicer than others. One of the most intriguing excuses happened in Denver when I was dumped for being, "kind of depressing," a day after one of my best friends died from cystic fibrosis. I've heard others speak of not dating me as if it's a badge of honor.

Until this year, I actually believed in love-at-first-sight and soul mates. I thought there would come a time when I'd finally be given the opportunity to prove my worth and devote myself to a woman wholeheartedly, but now I am not as certain. Time is fleeting, and every day is a missed opportunity. Every day I'm less apt to try.

It's easy to believe some people go through life alone, regardless of their intentions. In fact, in my circle of family, friends, and acquaintances I know two virgins older than 30 that have never been in a relationship in their life. I suspect, however, that it doesn't effect them as greatly as me as they've never voiced a concern about dying alone or hinted at putting a bullet in their brain.

The only ways I've dealt with such feelings is by concentrating on the things I have control over: writing, drawing, hobbies, taking care of pets, and hanging with my nieces. Anything else, at this stage of my life, seems a pointless endeavor.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Prometheus Plot Review (Spoiler Alert)

I was very disappointed by Ridley Scott's first science fiction undertaking since Blade Runner more than twenty years ago. There was a lot of eye candy (I saw Prometheus in 3D) but not much else.

For starters, the opening sequence is never thoroughly explained to the point I wasn't sure what planet it took place on, when it happened, or what spaceship was seen flying away. Throughout the film, I hoped for answers. Instead, I had more questions leaving the film than when I went in, and they weren't good questions like I had watching the original Alien. Prometheus' questions were holes in the plot.

This was not a prequel, though at times it did have links to the Alien film. We see Engineers yet learn nothing about their culture other than the fact they're rather large, our creators, and they liked to design planet-eradicating weapons to destroy planets they just created...apparently. In a particular scene, we find a high-tech map room identical to the one in the original Alien film, the room above the alien eggs where the first facehugger derives. Eventually, we see the facehugger's ancestor, which is gigantic and spawned from a C-section. We see the first alien that is only similar to what they eventually evolve into.

Yet, is this the same planet where aliens are discovered? Maybe. I really don't know. If it is, it's not the same ship that's discovered, for the pilot does not die in its chair from a chest-burster; it dies on Prometheus and spawns a fully-grown alien, rather than a baby. There are no eggs. There is no hive. Rather than eggs there are vases that contain an ooze, which (I guess) rapidly evolve DNA turning normal organisms such as insects and people into mindless beasts with acidic blood. Another disturbing fact is that the Engineers on the planet are pretty much wiped out prior to Prometheus' arrival, so how did one get into a pilot's chair years after aliens evolved into a species that overran the planet? It would have to be visited again by another crew.

There was also no mention of the warning signal Ripley's ship first receives in Alien. A message is left, however it's the main character speaking in perfect english, not in the Engineer's language. Also, how did Ripley's crew receive that transmission without knowledge of the planet's location, Engineers, etc. when Prometheus is funded by a corporation and recording everything that happens? Especially since Prometheus' mission takes place 50 to 100 years prior to Ripley's encounter? Also, because the film has been made 30 years after the original, the technology is better onscreen yet should be chronologically less evolved. It's not. Part of the charm of the Alien franchise is a rundown future, and part of what threw me off about Prometheus were pretty colors in a universe Ridley Scott first created as dark and eerie.

Because of the eye candy, the scenes were not scary. I did not jump or get chills once. I'm not even sure Prometheus was intended to be scary, though it did have horror-esque parts. All of these scenes were predictable as well. Oh, two men are left behind because they got lost, despite having mapped the area already and being in contact with their ship; obviously, they're dead. An android drops ooze in a man's cup. See ya. The female main character has sex with a contaminated man...I know where that leads. And so on until one uber religious character remains (body count 16+ with a crew of 17 and at least 4 stowaways, 3 that are seen once and never seen again after grooming their employer).The main character then decides to pilot toward the Engineer's home planet for the final scene, setting up a sequel I doubt I will pay to see in a theater. And why is she seeking out a race where one of them just slaughtered a bunch of her crew and tried to do the same to her?

Questions left unanswered include: why did Engineers leave humans a map to find their military base when they intended to destroy us? And if humans made the map, how did they know the location of the base without contact with Engineers? Why does Ripley's crew in Alien catch an Engineer transmission, not the one left by Prometheus, if it is the same planet, and why would an Engineer leave a warning when they already know the planet is dangerous, abandoned, and they appear to want all other lifeforms dead? How did an android sneak a rather large vase in his backpack onto Prometheus through a contamination scan? Why did an android poison a crew member when he already knew the contents of the vase was not a cure for death, which his stowaway maker was seeking? It wasn't for an alien to take home and study; they left the baby ignored in the lab. Why were there insects in the vase room, nowhere else, and not picked up on the life scans? Why did the insects not effect the vases until the arrival of people? Why was the Engineer so violent when released from its hypersleep chamber, when spoken to in its native language? Again, what was the point of the opening scene? Was that meant to show our origins, an Engineer poisoning himself, breaking apart, and polluting water that humans evolved out of? Weren't we already created and meant to be destroyed? Why was that Engineer left behind to begin with? If there was no life on the planet until then, what was the hurry? Why did betrayal, death, murder, lies, and sabotage roll off the backs of every single character? How was the main protagonist running around after a C-section that was healed with staples (pointed out by my friend that watched with me)?

Too many questions and none of them thought-provoking. That sums up my experience with Prometheus, regardless of some clever lines that gave a chuckle and decent acting. If I had to give the film stars, I would go 2 out of 4. It would be a great rental but definitely not something to watch over and over like the original. I'm feeling very letdown this morning as I type the review, thinking of my expectations for the film. While I knew it wasn't technically a prequel it did shed light on many origins of the aliens seen in the trilogy, but I wish it hadn't. The truth, as it was portrayed in Prometheus, was disappointing, mishandled, and inconclusive. A real shame, as I hoped Prometheus would revive the franchise.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Video Games and Violence

I read an article today where World of Warcraft is being used by prosecutors and the defense attorney to explain why Anders Breivik killed 77 people in Norway. He played his human mage an average of 7 hours a day (only 7?), as well as Modern Warfare. They are attempting to prove his gaming is evidence that, "he does not seem to be very successful at distinguishing between the virtual reality of 'World of Warcraft' and other video games and reality."

The effects of media, specifically video games, on people has been an ongoing debate that I've read and listened to most of my life. I still remember when Mortal Kombat came out, followed by a slew of news stories blaming its violence for the actions of children. I played this game at the age of 12, after begging my parents for it as a birthday present. I have played games just as violent or worse since. I can concede games like Modern Warfare help people become better marksman, yet in order to do so, one must practice with real weapons. I have never held a gun in my life, and I'd be willing to bet if someone put one in my hand today I couldn't hit the broad side of a barn, let alone headshots or center mass.

World of Warcraft is not on par with Mortal Kombat or Call of Duty; there is no blood in WoW, no gore. You kill, but it is cartoonish, less than what I saw in the movie John Carter last night. Currently, WoW has 10 million subscribers worldwide. If WoW was a direct cause of violence, that would mean more than 10 million people (its peak was 17 or 19 million players that act as a revolving door, new ones coming in and old ones taking a break) were potential serial killers, armed gunmen, and psycopaths. There is no evidence I'm aware of that this holds true.

Personally, I think gaming and violence are coincidental correlations. After all, violence is as old as humanity. I feel a violent person has a predisposition prior to using video games as an outlet, and if anything, postpones or deters their eventual actions. Similarly, Marilyn Manson's music was scapegoated after what happened in Columbine. I listened to Marilyn Manson at that time, and found that bullying and being ostrasicized were better factors to consider in the shootings than what the killers were listening to, reading, playing, or watching. We seek the things we love; would it not make sense then that a person thinking of or thrilled about killing seeks its depiction in many forms?

While WoW is notorious for consuming a person's time and attention, is it the game's fault for ruining marriages, untethering reality, neglecting kids, or are there other factors to consider? If WoW did not exist, who is to say another video game or a completely different outlet would not have the same effect? One could just as easily escape into a book as they can a video game. Hitler, for instance, was into fine art and classical music, yet he was the brains behind one of the largest atrocities in history.

While video games have the potential to be a factor, if not a major factor, in bad behavior, I find they're often used as a scapegoat rather than a component of a much bigger issue and larger problems pertaining to these individuals. Can video games influence weak or mentally ill minds? Probably, and I wouldn't be surprised to find evidence that they do. Addiction in any form, drugs or games, is detrimental, but in my opinion, committing a violent act depends on the person, their history, their environment, and differs from case to case. It can not solely rest on the shoulders of media, or we would all be murderers, thieves, and rapists.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

"Flowers In A Vase"

Even though I don't like painting, I was required to take Painting 1 in college, when I was still going for a double major. For this, we had to copy a still life from photos other artists. I forget the name of the painter I copied...but I liked how it turned out.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Diablo 3 Needs Work

Though I am not yet in Inferno and haven't faced the brick wall others are talking about, here are my 3 main concerns Diablo 3 needs to start  to improve upon for me to continue playing:

1. Maps need upgrades.

I'm just about to begin Hell mode on my DH (Demon Hunter) and I already have a general idea of where things will spawn and the general layout of every map in the game, prior to even starting to unfog and explore it. For instance, I really wanted The Tide of Battle achievement in Act 3 Battlefields so I would log out/in, zone back to bridge, hit points A, B, and C in a matter of minutes to verify locations, and repeat if the event was not there. It seems to me there is a core map for every zone like a basic template and the randomness boils down to what events/entrances appear in set locations rather than the map varying in size or overall layout. Also, I can zip through a map on my alt characters ridiculously fast, finding exits and required locations without really having to search. For example, when doing the Search for the Crown quest on my monk I knew where Defiled Crypts would be, popped in to see which crypt it was, and if it did not resemble the location of the crown, I left and tried another. On three of my new classes I'm leveling I found the crown in either 1 or 2 peeks into the Defiled Crypts before clearing them and receiving said crown. Any improvement in randomness and map size, as well as inclusion of more events or places to search, is direly needed as this is a large concern of mine in terms of whether or not I will continue to devote time to playing this game.

2. Loot/Blacksmithing

I play World of Warcraft, am a long-time fan of rpgs/action rpgs, and adore dungeon crawlers, so farming for loot is not a concern of mine. In fact, smashing maps for potential upgrades is part of what draws me to a game. Having said that, there's no real incentive to farming in Diablo 3. Most of my drops, including the couple of "legendaries" I have found have been piss-poor at best. If I repeat maps, it's simply to gather gold to buy my upgrades from the auction house. Likewise, most of my drops (with my follower decked with Magic Find) are for levels well below me, 10 or so levels, and even if the stats are decent, this gear either sits in my stash for an alt or goes on the auction house for some quick gold. While I haven't experienced it for myself, I have read repeatedly that you can not farm gear in Acts 1 and 2 of Inferno in preparation for Acts 3 and 4, making the grind for gold, not loot. This is a terrible flaw in a dungeon crawler, centering the game around buying/selling rather than exploration/drops. To advance, you must play the auction house, which requires leaving the game entirely and sitting on the character screen, refreshing, and searching for decent prices on required stats. Along these lines, the Blacksmith is a pointless endeavor. It requires a substantial amount of gold to upgrade, as well as mats, yet offers weak, randomized gear in return. Again, the auction house will always have better gear than what can be crafted. It's somewhat useful for alts in beginning stages, but beyond Act 1, you're better off spending 10k gold in the auction house instead of 10k gold unlocking new recipes.

3. RMAH (Real Money Auction House)

I still have my fingers crossed this feature does not make it to live. This is less of an improvement and more of a suggestion to keep it out of the game, for the RMAH will most likely kill the gold auction house, which I said above is necessary for advancement, and require a player to sink real-world money into pixelated gear. Not to mention it will open the floodgates for hackers and gold spammers (that are overwhelmingly present already). Personally, I will not spend a dime on such a feature, though I'm aware others will. I fear the day this is implemented, because there's a great chance that it will become the sole way to advance through the game, meaning, in a sense, Diablo 3 will be a pay to play game. I suspect already that people in Acts 3 and 4 Inferno, people farming the hell out of them (pun intended), have a stockpile of powerful items they plan to stick on the RMAH for profit, instead of gold, especially those people that discovered chest exploits to bolster their gold in the initial days after launch. It will also offer a monetary medium for hackers to sell stolen, overpriced goods that players sunk hours to obtain.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Game of Thrones' Second Season Ends

One blast for rangers returning. Two blasts for wildlings. Three for White Walkers...

With the final, ominous horn season 2 of Game of Thrones on HBO came to an end in thrilling fashion, leaving us with a taste of the prologue to A Storm of Swords, my favorite book of the series. Between the music, CGI of the Other/its steed, the shambling White Walkers, and Sam's cowering, it was one of the strongest scenes in the entire season for me. I immediately started reading Swords again this morning.

I've seen a lot of complaints on forums and Facebook threads about how season 2 strayed from A Clash of Kings more than season 1 strayed from A Game of Thrones, ruining its faithfulness, but I found the changes did not alter the overall story. In some cases, I thought the changes enhanced it. In particular, the scenes with Arya Stark and Tywin Lannister were enjoyable. Dany's stolen dragons added mystery and intrigue to a rather bland story. If HBO followed book 2, she would have spent most of the season sitting in the desert, thinking, making sad faces. Plus, it gave viewers an early glimpse of the type of untrustworthy, downright despicable people she's going to face off against while trying to build her army and return to Westeros.

There were a couple plots in the novels merely hinted at or insinuated that HBO decided to show rather than tell: Renly's homosexual affair, Stannis and Melisandre's affair, Margarey's desires to be queen. None of this was shown in the books, but it was heavily hinted upon through dialogue. Many readers griped...I found the stories interesting.

That's not to say I adored all the changes. Early in the season I did grumble a bit about the appearance of the white raven, which might lessen a jaw-dropping scene that occurs in book 5, A Feast for Crows. I also felt, at times, the Hound, Varys, and the Mountain, especially the Mountain, did not get enough time, while we saw an overdose of Cersei. I don't know if it was due to casting or something HBO has planned for season 3, which will split A Storm of Swords into two seasons, but the Mountain is a very influential character that went ignored. I can't recall a single scene he was in during season 2. It's understandable that they shortened and altered some of Arya's tale, but to exclude a villain such as the Mountain was a head-scratcher to say the least, most notably standing in the background when he should be out of King's Landing, butchering and pillaging.

Also, Ros is one of those added characters I could do without. Yes, she's pretty, the actress is good at her job, and offered at least one interesting scene with Joffrey, but any random "whore" from Little Finger's brothels would have sufficed. There was truly no need for her to ever leave Winterfell or be seen again, especially when the brothels and Joffrey's sadomasochism are mere character development, not a cornerstone of the story. Her inclusion also lessened the allotted time that could have been devoted to expanding the relationship between Sansa and the Hound, the Halfhand and Jon Snow, or further developing any number of important characters.

As a side note, HBO's portrayal of Littlefinger has often left me curious in what direction they are taking him. During season 2, he was very sporadic, emotional, blundering, apparently violent according to Ros' scene with Varys in the finale...unlike his calm, calculative, sly persona in the books. This is one character HBO needs to fix. Like Varys, he's a manipulator, a guy behind the scenes. His intellect should be on par with Varys and Tyrion, especially because he was cast so well. We should always be questioning what Littlefinger is plotting, guessing about his allegiance, not watching him spill his guts to Caitlyn or show his hand to Sansa (I really hated what he said to her in the finale).

The exclusion of the Reeds, Freys, Stannis' daughter and wife, and Ramsay Bolton irked me yet was understandable. For people that have not read the books, there was already a ton of character introductions. It does give me comfort that all the characters I just mentioned will be brought to the story in season 3. They are currently being cast, and splitting up the novels within separate seasons is a promising move by HBO; it should give the writers room to be more faithful and take their time, rather than cram 1,000 pages of nuances into 10 hours. After all, this will probably be the only adaptation of the Song of Fire and Ice Series--it's best to get it right.

My limited highlights of season 2, in no particular order, were Yoren's conversation with Arya, his end, Arya and Jaqen (I'm a conspiracy theorist that believes he's also Syrio and another character from later books, after all, he's a Faceless Man), Jon Snow with Mormont, "You know nothing, Jon Snow," the chats with Tyrion and Bronn, Tyrion and Varys' conversations, the entire Blackwater episode, the riot, Davos, and Brienne (I think her kill count is already at 5 or 6). Did I mention Tyrion? Dinklage is absolutely captivating in his role. And, of course, the march of the White Walkers.

And to anyone that thinks season 2 was a massacre of A Clash of Kings or that it was a dull season, I can only shake my head and ponder if we watched the same show. No one should expect an adaptation to be identical to its source on a limited TV budget, though this is close. I'll be chomping at the bit next year in anticipation of season 3 and probably end up reading A Storm of Swords again; a lot of people agree it's the best book in the series.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Zombies and Sharks

Everybody, I don't care who they are or what they claim, has nightmares and fears, something that makes their skin crawl to the point they're uncomfortable even thinking about it. I was reminded of a couple of mine this week: zombies and sharks.

Now, I realize zombies are fiction, and they won't be clamoring into my house, yet every so often I have a nightmare about them that leaves me on edge and unable to fall back asleep. When it happened as a child (I can count three specific instances) I would have to sleep with the light on and spend hours staring at my door. One nightmare in particular was about a zombie in my closet that shambled out and chewed my face off. I took the closet doors down the next day with my parent's help after I screamed so loud I woke them up. They also bought me a nightlight, which lasted a week because I started dreaming about ghosts and angels coming out of it.

For some reason, my zombie dreams are incredibly vivid. It had been over a decade since I had one, but I think all my hours playing Diablo 3 this week, combined with talking about the Walking Dead and current news stories, brought on my most recent nightmare, where I was trapped on my bed, helpless as zombies ripped open my stomach, pulled out my intestines, and ate them while I watched/screamed. I dream in first person, so when I woke with a gasp I had to assure myself I was still intact...followed by a couple Our Fathers that for whatever reason calm my nerves after a nightmare.

The next day at dinner I also learned a bit about my fear of the ocean, lakes, any body of water not in a backyard. While I have no qualms about being on a boat or dock I rarely swim. I've never been submerged in the ocean; water up to my waist is the farthest out I've been, and even in a lake I hover around things I can easily clamor on to. I always assumed my paranoia of being a shark attack victim, meal for a crocodile, or being tugged under and drown by some sort of monster was because of watching Jaws and Friday the 13th at a young age with my older brother and his friends.

However, my mother told me about my swim lessons when I was three while we discussed my nieces learning to swim. I have no recollection but apparently while I was at the YMCA an older boy with a kick-board swam over the top of me, and I vanished underwater. All the mothers watching the pool from above started beating on the glass to get the lifeguard's attention, but he didn't seem to notice. By the time they ran downstairs I had been dragged out of the pool and was coughing up water. Needless to say, I refused more lessons, and I'm told I wouldn't go into a pool until years later, probably when I was tall enough to touch the bottom.

It's odd to me where fears derive and how they evolve--in my case, I almost drown as a boy and by the time I was on my senior trip in high school I believed I'd be eaten by a shark if I joined my friends in the ocean.

And at the age of 31 a nightmare about zombies can still put as much terror in me as it did when I was a child. It makes me wonder if fear is ever really conquered or merely subdued as we go about our day. I imagine the latter when I see grown women shriek and sprint away from a daddy long legs.