How the Air Force Has Saved Me Tons of Aggravation

To start, my grandfather was in the Air Force, and was in the Air Force. As such, most of my experience of the US military comes from that area. And while I don’t have any interest in discussing the pros and cons of the US military or the Air Force, it did mean that my ears perked up a bit when I heard about this about a year ago: an Air Force Blog Assessment flowchart.

Air Force Blog Assessment

Writing like a programmer

So on Sunday I got a weird idea to make a small computer game. There are tons of free options to make a variety of computer games, and I figure since I work for a video game company, I should learn something about the process. However, I’m not a programmer nor an artist, so my options quickly got whittled down. I was about to toss out the idea as just a lark when I stumbled across Inform 7.

Now, I’m no stranger to text adventures (or as they’re known as now, “interactive fiction”), both when they originally popular and the resurgence of innovation in the medium in the 90s and early 21st century. I fell out of touch with it around the time I started seriously freelancing, so I missed the release of software that lets you program IF games in English.

PROGRAM IN ENGLISH.

I have been obsessed with this ever since. As I dig into it, it’s not nearly as magical as it first seemed — getting the software to do things like combat requires some heavy coding (or “rules creation” in Inform terms) — but there’s also an active community of people who create extensions Firefox-style that you can plug into a game. The only downside so far is that they’re usually pretty hefty (for a word game — 256k is actually a meaningful amount of space), but for what I’m doing, that’s fine for now.

After going from pointless and random noodling to wanting to making something cohesive, I decided that a wacky pulp story would work well with an unambitious text adventure, so I dusted off my old friend Agent Patriot and started working on an actual adventure. In three days, he hasn’t left his office, but I’m building a lot of the infrastructure.

I can’t entirely explain why this appeals to me so much. I’ve written a bit for EVE Online, as well as another MMO project, and I’ve learned that writing for a video game is very different from both fiction and RPG writing. Playing with Inform 7, I’m getting a lot of that same vibe that I did working on those projects. The big difference for me is that I can compile the program and see my results right away, so I can modify and stretch the story as needed based on the limitations of my software or my knowledge.

But this does lead to situations like last night, when I stayed up until past midnight trying to keep a character from continuing to clean Agent Patriot’s office after he died. I finally figured it out, only to realize that it didn’t matter — the game probably shouldn’t continue if that character died anyhow. But that work isn’t thrown out, because I learned a LOT about how to construct similar situations in future, and I’ve increased my options for later story development.

(I admit that I just cheated and got a combat plug-in. It works almost exactly how I wanted it to, so it was a LOT of work I just didn’t need to do.)

I’ve always liked writing fiction to tell a certain story, and I’ve always liked writing and running RPGs to let others tell a story as well. But somewhere in the middle there’s a range of collaboration between writer and audience that I want to explore more. This is one avenue — I have another one kicking around as well (the elusive “Whitechapel” idea I’ve mentioned) that I want to wait until we’ve moved before I pursue further. And has shown me a third avenue that I like as well. Maybe we should collaborate on a project at some point.

This does mean that my original idea of trying to get back and committing to daily wordcounts is kind of shot, but I think this is all valuable work to improve my skills as a writer overall. As technology continues to evolve, I think there’s going to be new ways to close the gap between writer and audience, and I can’t see how that kind of interaction will do anything but help me to become a better writer overall.

Transformers 2: Revenge of Michael Bay

Before I begin on my attack commentary on Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, I need to set the stage.

During the week, I had a lot of trepidation about going to see this, to the point where flat asked why I was going to see a movie I expected to be bad. I didn’t have an answer at the time, but it really comes down to the fact that I support the Transformers franchise. I’ve watched and read just about every version of Transformers — maybe not every episode or issue, but I at least looked into it. I’ve been a fan for 25 years, and I expect I’ll be a fan for 25 more. So I have a strong interest in seeing any version of Transformers succeed.

Further, I had heard so many bad things leading up to this that I had very low expectations. Living through the disappointment that was Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull also killed off a chunk of my soul. I even read (and reposted on Twitter) io9’s hilariously scathing review. I had resigned myself to trying to watch the movie as if it was just a movie about alien robots beating the shit out of each other. I set my opinions and emotional investment in the franchise aside. I also tried to get into the mindset of braindead appreciation that allowed me to (accidentally) appreciate Terminator Salvation as an entertaining movie.

So, keep that in mind: I’m a fan that wants to see the franchise succeed, but is willing to set that emotional investment aside and try to see the movie outside of my own nerdrage. And I recently was able to appreciate a movie that was criticized for many of the same flaws as this one. I’m not sure how much more sympathetic and biased I could be toward this movie.

And even then, I was still surprised at how fucking horrible this movie was.

Spoilers. Though I’m not sure how to spoil this movie any more than it spoils itself.

Googling my Writing Process

A few years ago, when I was working on personal projects as well as freelance writing, I found that I needed to write out a zero draft in a journal before I could compose my thoughts into Word. Then I got the job to work on Mind’s Eye Theatre: The Awakening, and from there I got hired by CCP, so I haven’t had time to use a journal to compose drafts (though I do use it for taking notes and initial brainstorming a lot).

As I started working on a short story, I did some initial writing in a journal, but it ended up not working out — it’s just too slow after years of doing everything with a computer now. But using Microsoft Word is firmly equated with “work” in my mind now, so I was looking for something that was had a few more features than Notepad, but got out of the way more than Word.

I tried using OpenOffice, partially because it’s very Word-like, partially because I’m familiar with it, partially because it’s free, and partially because there’s a plug-in that allows you to quickly upload and download to Google Docs for backup. But as I started getting ideas for “Get Over,” I wasn’t at my home laptop, so I composed my initial ideas in Google Docs with the intention of importing them later into OpenOffice. And next thing I knew, I had written most of the first essay in it. I quickly plowed through the next two over the course of the week. I also found it was easy to dump footnotes into the essays as people brought up other pieces of information.

Then I started dumping information for the nextWAVE game into a Google Doc. And now I’ve continued working on the short story in Google Docs directly, as well as starting to do some initial planning for another project in a Google Doc. And I discovered that it works with Google Gears, so I don’t have to be online to access my latest work (at least on my home laptop).

For some reason, Google Docs hits a sweet spot with me in terms of the creative process. I’m expecting that once I get to the heavy rewrite phase I’ll pull it into OpenOffice or Word, which not only helps me to see it a little differently, but also is more full-featured and fits into the “editor” space in my head better. I still expect I’ll use notebooks to jot down short scenes, brainstorming, ideas and plotting ideas, but I’m moving more and more toward working entirely within my computer creatively.

This might seem like a “duh” moment to some (I know , for example, has been using Google Docs this way for years), but it was an interesting revelation for me as someone who used to really worship paper and journals to find that I’m getting more comfortable with creating inside a computer environment as I grow older.

Of course, between this and moving many of my RSS feeds to Google Reader, this means that Google owns more of my soul.

Looking for obscure Marvel characters

After our Scion game wrapped up last night (write-up pending), the idea of running Nextwave: Rookies of H.A.T.E. came up again. I’m still kicking around ideas, but the one thing I need is data. And I figure I have a lot of comic book fans that read my LiveJournal, so I thought I would ask here. What I’m looking for are:

* Supervillains primarily. Heroes are good, too, as ideas to throw my players and to use as cameos, but mainly I need villain fodder.

* Characters that never had a series (or appeared in a series) for more than twelve issues.

* Characters that should probably never have a series.

Inspirations include not only Nextwave, but also The Great Lakes Avengers, Deadpool, The Tick and Brave and the Bold.

If I could get links to webpage references (such as to the Marvel Comics Database), I’d appreciate it.

Returning the Gold Watch

As I mentioned in my prologue, on June 13, 2009 I watched one of my best friends wrestle his last match. It was Ric Byrne’s retirement match at WWC No Escape 2009 — an “impromptu” four corners match for the VCW World Heavyweight Title against JT Stahr, Ben Kimera and Shirley Doe. It was a fantastic match. Afterwards there was a lot of heart-felt sentiment, including both Ben and Shirely breaking character in the ring as heels to express their gratitude to a crowd of over 200 people for Byrne’s contributions to not only the midwestern professional wrestling scene, but to the industry as a whole. I was at Byrne’s premiere match, and there was absolutely nothing that would stop me from being there for his final one as well.

I was also present for the retirement of another Ric: Ric Flair’s final match against Shawn Michaels at Wrestlemania XXIV. Again, it was a fantastic match, easily one of the best of the year. Again, there was a lot of emotion afterward, both on Raw the next day and in the following weeks as Flair bid farewell to a long and legendary career in professional wrestling. From there he went on to do a number of publicity appearances, as well as a few on-mic roles for WWE and some for Ring of Honor. We didn’t expect Flair to stay away from wrestling forever, but he had certainly retired from the ring.

On June 1st, 2009, Flair had a planned “backstage brawl” with Randy Orton on Raw. Although Flair himself said repeatedly that he wasn’t having a match, there have certainly been enough sanctioned street fights, parking-lot bouts and other matches-that-aren’t-inside-a-ring in WWE history that most fans I know call bullshit on the semantics. It was a match. It was a match on a professional wrestling program. It was a match on a professional wrestling program that he claimed he retired from.

As far as I’m concerned, Flair broke his word to his fans. He returned the gold watch.

Now, there’s certainly a history of leaving retirement in professional wrestling. There are a number of angles where the loser leaves town or a wrestler retires only to come back several months or years later. (For example, Mick Foley retired in 2000 from the WWF, only to start wrestling again in TNA in 2009.) Certainly fans can point to the rich history of wrestling and claim that it’s actually very rare that a wrestler stays retired. I’m not saying that there isn’t a tradition of breaking retirement. But there’s the other side to consider: a lot of wrestlers are forced to retire due to medical conditions or personal decisions, and may get nothing more than a short speech and a tournament over their vacated belt, if they’re not just mentioned in passing at the next show. There’s no consistency as to how a wrestler retires, and it seems that a particular performer has to build up a lot of respect in the industry before they’re given any kind of retirement match at all.

This tradition of false retirements and sudden returns means that we, as the fans, often don’t know if a retirement is legitimate until it’s too late. We become blase and suspicious of retirement matches or speeches, only to feel bad when we find out later that the retirement is legitimate. At Wrestlemania 25, I saw JBL’s last match, but at the time I didn’t know it was his last match, because he’s “quit” a number of times before in the WWE. On June 8, 2009, Vickie Guerrero suddenly quit as Raw General Manager, and we as fans didn’t realize until later that she had decided to leave the company to spend more time with her children. So when a wrestler has a lengthy build-up to retirement and a chance to put out a fantastic match, and when that match is able to overcome our inherent skepticism and get us emotionally involved, that’s something special. It’s special to the wrestler, to the industry and to the fans.

Which is why I’m so pissed that Flair had a chance to do something classy with his retirement, and barely waited a year before he was mixing it up again.

His decision makes the problem of future sendoffs so much worse. Now just about every retirement is going to be mocked or ignored. We won’t realize someone is gone until a few years go by and someone asks “Hey, whatever happened to so-and-so?” Nothing is going to be taken at face value. This isn’t exciting. This isn’t clever. This is disrespectful to the fans, the wrestlers and the industry as a whole, because now if a wrestler does have to retire and does put himself through one last amazing match to celebrate his career (like Ric Byrne), it doesn’t mean a damned thing. It’s going to be harder and harder for the guys in future to have respectful, dignified retirements, because I’m going to be thinking “If the legendary Ric Flair couldn’t stay retired, why will you?”

I saw that we declare this particular swerve over and done with. I’m sick of it. It can be done with class and dignity. For example, Chris Jericho didn’t “retire” in 2005. He was (kayfabe) fired from the WWE, but he said that he was just leaving wrestling “for now,” and that if and when he came back, it would be with the WWE again. Others have quietly left for other feds or other opportunities, such as mixed martial arts. That’s fine — I can accept that. But if you use the word retired, be serious about it. Make it rare, make it special, and make it stick. I’m tired of being emotionally abused by fake retirements.

If you take the gold watch, you’d better damn well keep it.

To the best wife in the whole world

Today is a special day, a day to celebrate the birth of the most wonderful woman in the world, my wife Michelle ().

I have previously gone on at length about the awesomeness of being able to marry my best friend, the woman that completes me. We have been together for over a decade and married for over eight, and while the relationship has naturally changed as we’ve gotten older, I still simply cannot envision a life without her.

Michelle, you are my partner, my strength, my fantasy, my support, my cheerleader, my protector, my fury, and I love you. I am so proud of what you’ve accomplished, and I eager await how far you can go. I know how much you’ve brought into my life, and I can only hope that the world can appreciate a fraction of that.

Many happy returns.

Writer. Gamer. Sherlockian. Usually Not Dead.

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