Beelzebub writes Copy (for Hollywood of course)

Thursday, August 31, 2006 | 11:07 pm

The Cox TV Guide tonight served up the following one-line description for the film The Devils Advocate.

"An attorney goes to work at a law firm run by Satan."

Well, there goes that plot twist.

Repeating Myself Myself

Language patterns are a funny thing, the way we fall into habits with certain catch-phrases is something that helps us embrace our particular slice of immediate culture, but also becomes a converstional standby, pulled out to smooth over the stutters that may normally be an "ummmm...", or (god forbid)—silence.

I find myself in certain moods where I try to listen to "what I say" rather than just how it is being received. For a while there, it was needed to monitor how often I was using the word "like". For someone with a fairly reasonable grasp of the English language, it was far too often. I wasn't breaking out into full Valley Girl such as "like, really?" or "like, awesome", but it was still turning up too regularly. Pauses were the enemy though, a scary-slice of empty air where someone might cut in with something else to say, removing that which we all crave, the conversational focus.


Once I noticed my habitual dependency on "like", I started paying attention to others use of same. The trick then becomes actually concentrating on the words that are being spoken by someone when you are mentally ticking off their conversational crutches. It's an "NCE" - negative conversational experience.

This comes up today because last night I caught 15 minutes of a documentary called American Rap Stars. It was interesting to me because this is not a style of music I grew up with in 80's Australia, so the cultural reasons behind it always seems predictable, yet strangely foreign to me. I joined the documentary in time for an impromptu interview with Ludacris talking about what the rap lifestyle means to rappers. I was immediately distracted by the term "d'ya know what I'm sayin'?"*. The counter in my head started to pop and my attention went to that phrase, even as 'Cris was tryin' to point out to me how language was an identifying factor of his art-culture. I was too distracted and lost track of the (somewhat meaningless) point he was making. My miserable Gen-X television attention span expired, and I changed channel.

It was only later that the irony struck me. Because of that phrase, I no longer knew what he was saying.

* Note - I insert the question mark there with some trepidation, as at no point did I get the impression it was posted as an actual question; rhetorical at best. And never did anyone on the receiving end answer "nope, I have no idea".

Edit: corrected pronunciation for Erika.

Computing Days of Yore

Monday, August 28, 2006 | 3:36 pm

Remember your first computer? I don't know about you, but it was a wonderous time for me. All endless possibilities and surprises, rather than the take-it-for-granted machines of today where we battle the internet, web-marketers, the hardware, the OS and half the applications as much we profit from having them (assuming you are a Windows user of course :)

I skipped the Commodore Vic-20 in my computing hey-day, going from the locally made Radio Shack style Dick Smith VZ-200 (with its 6K of RAM and no storage device) straight to the revolutionary Commodore 64 (what a machine), before graduating during college (with a loan from my grandma!) to what was one of the greatest machines of its day, the Commodore Amiga A1000. The next computer I bought after that was, believe it or not, last year (always having had laptops from my employer) when I got myself a delectable iMac G5.

It's hard to believe things have changed so much in the last 20 years. Yes, I am getting older and crankier. So this old 30-sec spot for the precursor to a great computer, hosted by a great (?) Canadian, is just priceless to me.

Sayonara Pluto

Thursday, August 24, 2006 | 1:36 pm

Pluto, ex-planet

It's offical. Pluto is now an ex-planet. Well more correctly a "dwarf planet", but clearly a second-class citizen in our solar system's celestial body rankings.

At 2,274km in diameter, Pluto is smaller than seven of our solar system's moons, but now that we finally have a definition of "planet", it fails the test because its oblong orbit overlaps with Neptune's.

At war with Pluto

And thus earth's scientists fired the first salvo in our future interstellar war with the aliens of Pluto, which I am sure will begin in 2015 when the spacecraft "New Horizons" becomes the first ship to reach this far away... thing.

Someone Old, Someone New

Wednesday, August 23, 2006 | 4:56 pm

Ronaldo against Charlton
United's campaign is off to a good start, with our biggest win in 40 years for the opening match of the season at Old Trafford on Sunday (untelevised, crap) followed by a convincing 3-0 win today against Charlton, even without Rooney. Eight goals in two games = goodness!

I even really like the black and white away strip, although the home strip, standard red with the new sponsor logo irks me for a reason I can't put my finger on...

Big news from today's game was the appearance of new signing Micheal Carrick, and a goal to fan-favourite Ole Gunnar Solskjaer after 3 years (!) sidelined with injuries. He's no spring chicken anymore, but he is beloved by the Old Trafford crowd, due to his allegiance to supporters during the Glazer takeover, and more significantly, his winning goal in injury time of the 1999 Champions League Final that gave us the "Treble" (winning the league, domestic FA cup, and Euro Champions League cup all in same year).

Early days, but The Red Devils sit top of the table, 3 points clear of Chelsea thanks to Aussie Mark Viduka's late winner for Middlesbrough, which was fantastic for Manchester, but horrible for my Fantasy Football points.

A Surpise for Both of Them

This short video of a Halloween prank contains a scarecrow surprise. Ouch!

Movies You've Never Seen (and likely never will) Pt.2

Tuesday, August 22, 2006 | 11:20 pm

Naked Weapon (Chiklo Dakgung) — 2003
¤½ stars — half for the cinematographer, half for the opening scene, and half for the girls involved, more out of sympathy than anything.

[Marit Thoreson]

Even for a Hong Kong action flick, it's not a title that would normally drag you in, but the opening scene certainly did when it popped up on digital cable recently. The delectable Marit Thoresen vamps it up in the traditional assassin-as-hooker role, kicks gangster butt (including a great soccer-move with a shotgun) La Femme Nikita style, and then calmly strides away into her waiting white Porsche.

And then she's dead. Some random gangster with a rocket-launcher (!) on a hotel balcony just turns up and blows her away, and then she is finished off by an icy Asian lady in a limo, who at least has something to do with the rest of the script. We now know that we are in action–without–plot land.

And it's all downhill from there. Seems the ice-cool Asian lady is abducting bunches of talented twelve year old girls in order to take them to an assassin-training-camp-island(tm) and turn them into sexy killing machines. A few try to act (unsuccesfully), try to escape, and predictably get killed (for escaping, not for their acting I presume). At this stage, you're not really sure who to barrack for (certainly not the dialog coach): Marit is dead, as are 2 of the 3 cops you got introduced to in the opening scene. The other cop, Agent Jack Chan has a hunch about all these missing girls, more later. At this stage I was hoping for a tender introspection about the friendship between the imprisoned girls, and a rousing story that follows their charge to freedom a-la a teenage The Great Escape perhaps! Not so much.

Subtitles quickly inform me that it's 6 years later, and the girls are all tall leggy sex-goddesses still running up and down the same beach (guards seem about the same though). They jog like runway models, not assassins, and luckily for them it seems the barracks include tanning beds, and copious amounts of hair and makeup gear, as they rarely look anything less than their best. In a few long-shot martial-arts training scenes, they kick and punch like models also. The convincing fight scenes come with the main Asian actresses in close-up fast cuts, who are talented fighter-gymnnasts in the HK style. These scenes are well done and effectively edited. The girls are put through a handful of pointless life-or-death tests against top militray special ops forces, all of which are succesfully overcome (except the question of how twenty hardened killers can't maime their guards and escape).

Like a louge driven by a blind man, the downhill slide accelerates to breakneck speed from here. The ruthless madam, who has spent 6 years training, feeding, and clothing them, decides that as a final test the girls should all have to kill each other until one is left, using a ridiculously lopsided seeding method. Our two 'heroines' benefit when the assassin-madam breaks her own rules to let three of the girls live. She congratulates them and treats them to a lavish final dinner before sending them off into the world to kill for her. We learn the girls are well educated because they can tell any make and year of a glass of wine from one sip, but unfortunately their refined palates could not detect the drug in the wine (just like their agent couldn't detect a stinker movie) At this point, the scriptwriter must have given up and gone home as a few nameless sneering guards come in and rape the girls. Easily the most heavy-handed attempt to generate sympathy I've seen in a movie, even from a director this pointlessly misogynistic. It kind of worked for me though: I truly did feel sorry for these girls, and that they'd ever had the misfortune to audition.

You also wish the same for the cinematographer, because the movie does look very slick and luridly coloured, well beyond the skill of the plot and director to do any justice.

I lost interest after that... there was some big fight scene during an assassination attempt (yep, the girls still decided it was a good idea to work for the madam). It's about here the surviving cop from scene 1 gets a cameo as the nasty assassin girl tries to kill the good assassin's mother, as he has been chasing the missing girls with a hunch for the past 6-10 years. What a boss he must have! I know I was watching this movie so that you don't have to, but I let the side down about here and have no idea how it ended.

To add insult to injury, I checked IMDB once I had regained consciousness, only to find out that Marit Thoresen hasn't made any more movies. Bugger. I did find out that this is apparently a sorry ripoff of a better HK film with an equally silly title, Naked Killer. After this though, it's pedigree may never be tested.

GenCon in 3 Photos

Friday, August 18, 2006 | 2:24 am

On the way to the Con.

At the Con.

After the Con!

O my gentil rederes...

Thursday, August 17, 2006 | 4:15 pm

Ever wanted to read the ramblings (and computer game reviews) of Geoffrey Chaucer? Apparently, he is (quite surprisingly) now a member of the online community, allowing you to wade through his Middel Englysshe ramblings here, with a glossary even. Look especially for the posts: "Ich pwne noobs!" and "[internet] abbreviaciouns"

I couldnt see his profile, but assume he works in Canterbury.

I'll Buy That for a Dollar

Wednesday, August 16, 2006 | 5:39 pm


This is for Tom, thanks for the reminder! I call it victory by inebriated lack of planning! I credit it to Evan for his remembrance of the $10 rule.

The Double Edged Sword of Gamers

A little snippet for those familiar with the old company. At GenCon, I had a mission to buy some WARS TCG. This was one of the final card games produced by The Company, and was a redesign of the revolutionary Star Wars CCG mechanics, which is pretty much the sole reason I am here in the US (thus I can indirectly quote SWCCG as the reason I am married).

Anyhow, when me old mate Holty came over from Oz for my wedding, he mentioned how he liked the one game of WARS we had over a year prior (he is an old casual SWCCGer), but I have hardly any cards from that game to play with–I was well out of the marketing and design areas by then, which is where the freebies usually accumulated. So I decided I needed a few boxes of WARS for old times sake.

So standing at a card retailer booth at GenCon, bargaining them down to 6 shekels per booster box, I am also glancing through the SWCCG stuff they have there. A big gamer waddles up next to me, and starts orating about how SWCCG was the best CCG ever. I agree, and we pass a few back and forths on the good old days. We chat briefly about how the rules were pretty damn tricky (thus WARS CCG), and I laugh and mention that I should know, I use to have to write them for Decipher.

This shows how long I have been out of gaming–rookie mistake. His eyes light up and he launches in with the classic line you always heard sooner or later when someone realized you were an employee: "I always meant to write that company a letter and complain." (like that would have worked...)
"Really? Why is that?" I ask idly while glancing for an escape route.
"I never liked the way the mixed Episode I cards in with the classic tournaments. I just wanted to play with classic cards"
I injected a little lateral thinking here, "Well, if you told your tournament director he would have arranged such a tournament if the demand was there. And regardless of what Decipher sanctioned, you can play any format you want at home." (ahhh... for an all creatures deck...)
This truly seemed to stump him momentarily. He mumbled about "I suppose so", gave it a last half-hearted attempt, then the fire went out in him and he was quite a civil bloke after that.

Damned if that doesn't just summarize the interaction you always had as an employee. Face to face, nearly anything could be explained or resolved (c.f. SWCCG Worlds 1998). But via email, message boards etc, it just festers. People want to complain, but more to the point, they want to know that you (even involuntarily) listened.

Trust me, The Company firmly deserved some of the grief it got, but gamers (and I include myself in this category) are remorseless nitpicking machines. If you are another player asking us what we think of a game we love, we can defend it to the end of the earth. But if you are an employee of the company that makes the game we love, you can expect a laundry list of problems (who gave droids ability anyhow).

Although this helps keep game designers honest (they know they aren't dealing with fools, and will hear about it if they treat them as such), it can also fortify the gap between them. Designers usually have only one place to go and bitch about players (remember we are gamers too, so we like to bitch), and that is each other. If you generalize the species "game designers" as often not possessing social interaction skills at the level of say, salesmen, then the effect can be even worse: designers who will go to great lengths to avoid perosnal interaction with players (unless they can control the interaction i.e. virtual).

That's one edge of the sword that you wield when you make a product that is people's hobby, their passion. You can benefit at the sales end from their purchasing irrationality, but have no doubt that it will sting you also if you don't get their buy-in. That affable geek may have spent a lifetime extolling the virtues of your creation, but you go and make a change he didn't ask for, and you can expect no end of grief.

Blacklight Tatts

Tuesday, August 15, 2006 | 9:57 am

Boney blacklight tattoo
Now here's the way to get a tattoo. Can't be seen at work, and on the flip side you can't just show it to anyone, but when you do get under a blacklight, the effect is impressive. Follow the link to the complete Wired article to see a comparison of how the scarring heals nothing to see under normal lighting after 10 months. Mind you, I am assuming this stuff is not radioactive to any great degree?

AD&D Dungeoneers Survival Guide
Oh yeah... GenCon was fun, if a lot of bloody driving. Funnily enough, very little has changed (except location) since I last went there in 2002 or 2003. Nothing like wandering into a sea of black t-shirts and getting your first whiff of gamer to take you back! Just strolled around, caught up with mates from my last job, played a few demos, and had fun glancing through the old 1st edition AD&D books they had there, including ones I had forgotten like the Dungeoneers/Wilderness Survival Guides.

Always great to see CheeseMan, and big props to Hollywood for being great car company, and master of the iPod's On-The-Go playlist. I may never listen to so many Hits of 1997 again.

Just When I Thought I Was Out...

Thursday, August 10, 2006 | 3:25 pm

Somehow last night I got talked into joining an obseqiously long roadtrip today. Destination: GenCon. Gaming geek heaven, and place of few showers.

This is the first time I have visited GenCon in a non-working capacity, and my first time doing GenCon in Indianapolis, so it will be a somewhat different perspective. The real reason is to catch up with some of the old colleagues from The Company, of which there should be 6 or 7 there. Twice as many hours of driving than actually being at the Con though. Daunting.

Dragon magazine circa 1985
Its funny to reflect on my early gaming days back in Oz, when I was a fledgling D&D player (back when you had lots of dice), and to page through the well-read near-mutilated pages of Dragon magazines and see the RPG association's (what were they called again?) inserts for GenCon. With no equivalent in Australia, I thought it was some sort of gaming mecca, and as mythically fantastical as the games I played. Nothing like getting old and working in an industry to blow the gloss off it!

But this trip may help me rediscover a little of that, even though the stars-in-my-eyes kid-gamer has long since dimmed, it will be a fun trip for a fun trips sake. And there's beers with mates, so there's no real downside here.

See you when we get back.

A new sense of style

Wednesday, August 09, 2006 | 1:21 pm

Ta-dah! As you should have noticed, I have finally finished my Blogger template redesign, pretty much from scratch with help from some of the public templates.

There's some items still to be finished, like the spacing of the profile section in the top left etc, and I am not sure I got the necessary Internet Explorer hacks in place (especially as I am primarily a Mac/Firefox guy), so let me know if you see any oddities or have any suggestions. I know there are a lot of talented designers out there with a good critical eye (and if this job in the web industry has taught me anything, its that every client thinks they are a graphic designer).

Really, I just embarked on this as a real-world exercise in HTML/CSS for me. As you can tell, I am more cowboy-scripter than graphic-designer, but it was fun, if perilously time consuming.

So now I no longer have an excuse to delay posting! I have some back some non-World Cup content saved up, and luckily the English Premier League season is about to kick off. wouldn't want you soccer-junkies to go cold turkey... ;)