Jungle Run

April 29th, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink

My lungs are burning as I run through the jungle.  If I had any breath to spare I would curse the foliage that keeps slapping me in the face.  The same goes for the humidity.  And the bugs.  And the snakes.  And every other single thing between me and the river.
I know at this point that it can’t be that far away.  I’ve been running for almost three straight hours.  And I can feel all three burning through my legs.  I didn’t rig this body for endurance; I had focused mostly on sensory enhancements and agility.  I figured the most action I would need to be able to handle on this job would be maybe a little brawling, and even that would be a worst case scenario.
Yeah, right.
How in the hell did they find me, anyway?  In the middle of the freaking jungle, in the middle of the Barian Archipelego, the middle of gods-damn nowhere, and a pack of Hounds show up to try and take a bite out of my well-sculpted ass.  I tell you, it ain’t fair.
Drake’s teeth, where’s the river?
Gods, my legs hurt.  Maybe I should focus a little on cleaning those muscles out…no.  Not enough time.  If I could stop, catch my breath, focus, then I could stretch myself.  If I had time to prepare, I could run for days without being winded.  But they caught me by surprise.
And the operation was going so well, too.  I had gotten into the Solenz Guard, the elite soldiers that ran the inner workings of the corrupt government there.  I had ferreted out which one of them was going to betray the crown Princess.  Not that I held any sympathy for her, mind you; she was a stupid juvenile brat focused more on her feasts than the suffering of her people.
And don’t get me wrong, I don’t care overmuch about that either.  Now, I’m not a sociopath, mind you, I prefer to see good things happen to good people.  But I’ve been all over this world, and that doesn’t happen as often as it should.  Most villains are just criminals that get lucky, and most heroes are just zealous assholes that get lucky.  Both kinds get statues made for them, depending on who gets the money when they’re done.
And the little guy gets screwed.  That’s the way of the world.  And I say, roll with it.  If Little Guy doesn’t want to get bent over, then he or she can hat up and join the big boys, rally a mob to run over everyone, or they can grunt and take it.  Which, let’s face it, is what most people do.
Ah, Bildrik’s face, there’s a ravine.  The river…no, just a creek.  Damn.  Follow the creek, or climb the other side?  I’ve got maybe another three seconds as I spring down the side, bouncing between Cho’nella trees and vine.  At least being light on my feet works some times.
I can’t risk the other side.  If any of the gods-forsaken pack is flanking me far enough, they could find a better path and gain too much time.  I can’t risk a direct confrontation yet, not like this.  And they know it.  Follow the creek, then.
Why haven’t they caught me yet?  They must not have had time to prep.  If they did, they would have had draft lizards tearing through this jungle.  Wouldn’t need to fight me, could just have one of those behemoths run me over like one of those bugs crunching under my feet.  Bam, the end, nothing left but to haul away the corpse.
Alright, keep reviewing.  Might as well use the mental exercise, movement functions fine on auto-pilot.  Thanks for the instincts, Sergeant Tral, may you and the rest rot in the hell of your choice.
Alright, could someone in the Guard have found me out?  Turned me over to a local Pack?  No, they couldn’t be local, locals would have caught my scent and twigged to me sooner.  That must mean that they came in for something else, and dropped it to try and earn whatever ungodly sum is being promised these days by the Iron Teeth.  Damn priests.  They don’t even worship a real god; they just say their Prophet was an enlightened mortal.  They will transcend past the Gods, with their bodies and wills, blah blah blah.
Friggin nutjobs.  Should be learning from me, not hunting me.  I mean, what I do is just like evolution, only without the necessity of breeding.
Seriously, if those psychos could just lighten up for a whole minute, they might even…Kimber, that’s the hugest gods-damn cat I have ever seen.
Nice Kitty, I’m going ’round, just keep eating, I don’t want any, please don’t chase, you’re too hungry…
Gods, can’t look back.  There’s no point; I couldn’t possibly outrun or outfight that monster.  He either ignores me and keeps eating, or he takes an interest and I’m fucked.  Keep eating, Kitty.  If you want someone to play with, just wait a few minutes, and someone tougher will hopefully run in from upwind and jump over that log rather than go around.  Play with them.
Why in the hell would a Pack even ship into Solenz, anyway?  Unless…of course, I’m an idiot, the Riggers must have been moving up the timetable.  Bought a mercenary Pack of half-rabid magic-immune furred maniacs to set on the storm-witches.  They would rip right through the lot of ’em.  Without the storms threatening to rip between the isles, the pirate lords could move that fleet they’ve been building right in.
Well, that plan is shot to hell.  I managed to slit that fat elf Barclay’s throat, so he’s not going to be letting anyone in the palace back door.  And with the racket these bastards are making, howling down these hills to keep me moving, there’s no way the Solenz won’t be prepping for an attack.
Well, the Riggers would be a hell of a lot worse for these islands than Princess Cheni is, so I suppose this is my good deed for the month.  Keep a bunch of folk out from underneath a bunch of vicious slavers and get my fee for exposing the traitor.  That would be nice.
Where is the river?
Ooh, listen to that yowling.  Somebody interrupted din-din, and I imagine somebody else isn’t too happy about it.  Feel free, Tiger.  Rip a couple apart for me.
That means they’re not far behind, though.  And even if a few stop to tango with Tabby, the rest won’t.  If they’re a small Pack, then that might be good.  If the others are flanking, they might very well lose my scent and have to slow down to reacquire.  That’s not likely, though.  The Baron and the rest of those thieves have deep pockets.  If there’s one lesson the Riggers took from the goblins before throwing their asses overboard, it was that sometimes you have to spend money to make money.  I should know, I’ve pulled a few jobs for the dimunitive greenskins before.  They might be theives, but at least they were honest about it.  That’s probably over with now, though.  With the Cartel broken out here, and the gangs back in Ukrik nearly stamped out, there isnt really much in the way of organized goblins left in the world.
Short-sighted, really.  The goblins murdered and stole, but at least they kept it relatively clean and simple.  Oh well, times change.
One foot pounds after the other, from tree root, to rock, now slinging through mud, pulling myself out with a vine.  Splash through the crick to wash the mud off of the gills lining my ribs.  They should be done in another fifteen minutes.  Maybe then I can fix my legs a little.
Oh, I shouldn’t have brought that up.  Gods, my legs hurt.  A lot.
Can’t think about it, need to focus on something else.  Where’s the river?
Oh wow.  I’m at the cliffs.  I can see the ocean from here.  It’s a gorgeous view, but I can’t stop to examine it.  Even I can’t survive a jump off of these cliffs.  The river must be east of here, right?
Yes, east.  Turn, keep moving, don’t stop.  If I can just get to the river, I can let the current carry me out to the saltwater.  I won’t even have to swim much.  I’ve already got the scales on, so the pik-fish won’t bother me any.  They’ll tear off what’s left of my clothes, but that will just save me the trouble.  And they’ll rip apart any furry sonova bitch that tries to swim after me.
Though maybe I should have done the gills first, since the scales slow my articulation a little.  Just the barest bit, but that adds up in a race like this.  Oh well, too late now.  I either make the river, and live, or they catch me, and I die.
Okay, let’s assume I get to the river.  That can carry me out to the sea, and from there I can make Tarries, or Fintown.  It would be easier to slip around in Tarries; even if the Hounds try to hunt around there, the filth of the pirate port would make it hard for them to track a pine tree, let alone me.  But there’s still the risk.
Fintown, on the other hand, would leave me a little more exposed, but the more reputable ships would mean I could get to a decently civilized nation faster.  I miss real cities, with fey-light lamps instead of the bug-lanterns they’ve got out in this rot-infested pack of atolls.
Good food, though.  They know how to cook out here.
Huh, I’m hungry.  I’m a little amazed I can even feel that, over the pain and the tiredness.  Of course, that just means I’m running low on energy.  Can’t be helped though.  There’ll be plenty of time to rest and eat in the river, deep spots a plenty in the mad twists of the Snake.  Just sit back and relax, and let the river coast over me, snatching out the occasional pik-fish.  They’re not actually bad raw.  Wouldn’t be my first choice, but not a terrible one, either.  Kinda like the river itself.  Which would be nice.
Whoa, losing focus, that means slowing down.  Gotta keep moving.  Where is the fucking river already?
Dear Gods, I don’t have blood anymore, just streams of liquid magma pipping through my body, collecting in my lower extremities.
Fuck it, when I hit the sea I’ll just head farther out to one of the smaller islands and find one of the frog tribes.  I won’t even need to impersonate one; the gills and scales will suit me.  Just kill one, and the rest will respect that.  Hunt with them and relax for a week or two.  By then, the Hounds will be long gone and the Riggers and Guards will be too busy eyeballing each other to watch for one measly shape-shifter hopping onto a ship for the nearest continent.
Oh, I hope that sound is the falls.  That’s gotta be it.  Almost there. Just a bit further, then no more jungle, no more bugling wolf howls, no more branches in the face.  Just a River-Mer, coasting downriver with the current with nary a care in the world.  The only spots shallow enough in the Snake where someone could possibly catch me are way upstream from here, before numerous tributaries swell together into the teeming froth of the falls.
And there it is, the beautiful edge, the water ending in a false horizon that means a fair pummeling at the bottom, but nothing that can’t be taken, especially compared to what I’ve just endured.
Almost there.  Down this last slope, over the rocks, and into gods-blessed freedom.
Arrow!  Damn, if it weren’t for the scales, that would have done more then just a light slice on the bicep.  Zig-zag a little, try to use the trees for cover, there’s less foliage to slow, but that works for pursuers, too.  But whoever shot it will have to stop to aim for the next one, and that will buy me the extra few seconds to get to the rocks.  I’ll take the arrow if it hits, it can’t kill me and it won’t be able to stop me from getting in the water.
But this is a Pack, so if one of them is running without fur and claws to use a bow, then that means there’s at least another, probably coming over the rocks right…there.
Sorry, bitch, but I figured you’d be here and gravity is on my side.
I plow into her and we tumble into the rocks.  Something, maybe an arrow hits the rock next to us, and its a brawl.  You might have fangs and claws, Miss Hound, but for the next five seconds, its just you and me and the boulders.  You would be a tough fight on open ground, and I wouldn’t have a chance now if any of the rest of you were nearby, but they ain’t.
Plenty of dense surfaces to bash your head against.  Gonna be a patchwork smile til you heal up, sister.  And it’s slick with moss, so every tumble just gets me closer to where I want to go.
I’ll be damned if I don’t hurt like hell and I don’t mind sharing.  You can’t get a grip to apply pressure with those claws, while I just get more opportunity to get in with knees and elbows.  I’ve broken at least three of your bones already.
Hey look at that, there’s two of your mates, unfurred and with bows, and four more rushing in in full wolven form, but you realize, don’t you, that it doesn’t matter?  It’s too late.
We’re at the river.
Nope, you can’t pull away.  I’ve got a grip on your neck and I’m pulling both of us over, and we hit that blast of cool water and sink down.  Come with me, darling, let’s go for a swim.
You can thrash all you want, hun.  This is my element, now.  This is what I’ve been preparing for.  And you can’t beat me without surprise.
Here’s the falls.  I’ll let go, now, sunshine, because its all over, and you know it.  You might make the surface before we hit the edge, but you’ll go over.  And there’s enough blood of ours in this water that the little Piks will be waking up and moving about below.  And that won’t be fun for you.
Here comes the drop.  There will be some vertigo, and the slam at the bottom will probably knock me unconscious, but this rip on my arm isn’t wide enough for the little jaws to get through, and I won’t surface with the last of the air expelling from my lungs right now.
I could use the nap.

Republic Commandos

April 27th, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink

As I have stated before, I have become disgusted with Boba Fett from the Star Wars universe.  Not only was he not worth the adoration that tons of fans (including myself, for a time) lavished upon him, but that adoration got milked far beyond what it was worth.  Boba Fett was expanded out into an entire race, the Mandalorians, all of whom have similar body armor and are badass.

Oh, but that’s not enough.  Not only are we going to have all of these guys sitting out there somewhere, but we’re going to take it a step further and clone his ass.  Okay, so technically they’re cloning Jango Fett, and Boba is just one of the clones trained differently than the rest, but thinking out of character, Jango is just Boba with dual pistols.  And still lame.

And now there’s millions of them.  And I love them. I play through Republic Commando game on Steam probably once every six months.  I’ve read almost all of Karen Traviss’s novels.  And they are great because (and not in spite of) the fact that they only barely touch the movies and Lucas’s horribly written characters.  I don’t have anything against Hayden Christiansen, but Anakin Skywalker in pretty much any form needs to be shot out of a cannon and into a suitably dense nearby surface so as to splatter.  We’re talking gruesome rorshach drawings, here.

(Speaking of Rorschach, anyone that likes cheesy action should be watching Jackie Earle Haley in Human Target.  It’s on Hulu.  But I digress.)

So instead, there is an entertaining FPS with some good vocal work, and a surprisingly fun (if a bit repetitive) music soundtrack, and nice action.  And a set of novels that go into some interesting battle psychology with the contrast of teenage boys that also happen to be hard-as-nails snake-eating Special Ops badasses.  (Someone out there needs to do a psychological compare and contrast between these guys, the kids from Battle Royale, and Hit-Girl from Kick-Ass.  I would do it, but I’m lazy.)

So, Republic Commandos are everything that Boba Fett should have been, but wasn’t.  And they’ve been on my mind lately, so I will share with you further evidence that I have Nerd-cred: how to run a Republic Commandos role-playing game using the White Wolf World of Darkness rule set.  Who saw that coming?

First: a complaint.  TOO MANY SHORT STORIES IN THE W.O.D. RULEBOOK.  Any time I get lost looking for the gorram table of contents, there’s a problem.  Seriously, if I want to read stories, I will pick up a freaking novel or short story anthology!  You know what I want and expect from a rulebook?  A book.  Of Rules.

That having been said, I really like the W.O.D. rules.  There’s a simplicity there that is great for roleplaying, because it leaves plenty of room for stories.  And that is also great for roll-playing, because simple = faster combat, and faster combat = more dead enemies, which = more XP, which = PC’s that are harder, better, faster and stronger, and capable of…More Combat!

I enjoy both styles, and participate in 2 groups a week, one of each.  Both ran through the Wizards of the Coast published adventure “Thunderspire Labyrinth.”  One  group almost wiped several times (this is before I started playing with them).  The other, well, as D.M. I had to dynamite a bridge just to slow them down after they found a back door, took out the Boss and completed the main objective within the first two encounters of a dungeon.  I had to beef up most of the mobs and completely redesign one of the later levels to make it at all challenging.  I might go into more detail in a later post, but for now, I think you get the idea.

First step: Rules conversion.  The W.O.D. rules can function pretty much as stated, there just isn’t enough there for militarist combat.  Enter: The Armory.  Any power-gamer that’s playing a vanilla mortal and doesn’t want to use the bunch of different merits for hand to hand combat and wants his guns, dammit, suddenly perks up and pays attention.  Ooooh, guns.  Ooooh, gunplay merits!  Likey likey.  And it converts over really well.  Examples, you say?  Fine, here we go.

From W.O.D Armory:            
Type Damage Ranges Capacity Strength Size Cost
H&K MP5 2 30/60/120 30+1 2(2/3/3) 2/L ••••
Barrett M107 5 (8 again)* 300/600/1200 10+1 3 4 •••••
Grenade Launcher 3(L)** 75/150/300 1 3 3 ••••
Star Wars Conversion:            
Type Damage Ranges Capacity Strength Size Cost
DC-17m ICWS Blaster 2 30/60/120 90 2(2/3/3) 2/L ••••
DC-17m ICWS Sniper Attachment 5 (8 again)* 300/600/1200 10+1 3 4 •••••
DC-17m ICWS Anti-Armor 3(L)** 75/150/300 1 3 3 ••••

*Armor Piercing 6
**Knockdown, Armor Piercing 4

The only significant change is the ammo capacity for the Blaster, and that is actually cosmetic.  The H&K MP5 is capable (depending on the published variant) of a semi-automatic, 2 or 3 round burst, or fully automatic.  In the spirit of Star Wars and the eternally visible blaster shot spread, the DC-17m ICWS (Blaster) does not have a semi-auto setting, it starts at a semi-automatic 3-round burst and goes to auto from there.  This means that the accuracy and damage will be the same as the MP5, and still have plenty of blaster bolts flying around the field in true Star Wars fashion.

Image from Star Wars RPG: Galaxy at War, which is a fine publication, but too complicated for my tastes.  Jedi and the Force always, always, over-complicate things through no fault of those fine game designers.  If you’re willing to deal with the extra math, by all means, buy that book, because God knows George Lucas needs the money.


From there, it’s easy!  I adapt armor and a few other cool peices of equipment from the novels to WOD stats, pick a couple of battles from Wookipedia, and BAM! I’m just about ready to go.  I just need to convert over Mobs, and that’s easy.  Take the SWAT Officer example from the W.O.D. book, ignore the pistol, and call him a basic Separatist Robot.  Upgrade a bit with more HP and armor, and you have a Super Battle Droid.  It just goes on from there.

Adapt environments that are directly ripped off from any video game, and simply change the decription of the environment.  Dry out mud from a jungle, add canyon walls, and you’ve got Geonosis. Need an Urban Environment?  Play a round of Left for Dead, take notes.  Describe downed hovercraft instead of cars.

Oh man, I totally want to finish out the 4E Adventure I’m running for my Saturday Night crew, and hook them on this.  Oh, I also need to reformat some of the Armory merits, like the Spetnatz Knife-fighting becomes Mandolorian Guantlet Vibroblade tactics.  Change some proper nouns and its done.


April 27th, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink

So, the site is fixed, because Katie is a web design ninja.

And I didn’t know, because I’m lazy and haven’t checked this site since, apparently, August.  Yeesh.

So, some thoughts and musings are on the way, and maybe a few short stories.  First draft short stories, so not polished at all. But…I really don’t care.



August 14th, 2009 § 0 comments § permalink

As I return from a large foray into the realm of Procrastination, or more accurately sneak under the fence into the realm of Finality from which I will likely soon be deported back into my native homeland, I am trying to wrap my head around Twitter.

I got curious, and clicked on a Twitter link today.  It was the twitter account for a fictitious character, likely deigned and designed by the same author who writes this character in their original medium.  Like so many others, this particular Twitter account was set to follow others…including a fictitious character from a completely different story-universe.

These two characters don’t exist in reality…do they?

They have stories told about them.  People read these stories, and so they exist in the imaginations of the readers.  People tell these stories, and so they exist in the minds of the writers.  People put these characters on T-shirts, and the only obvious clue as to their factual existence is the fact that they are both animated, drawn characters …and in this way, they might exist, if only for a moment, in the minds of strangers who would not through their own interests pursue the mediums in which they are characterized.

But…what if someone merely pursues a random link via Twitter and begins following these conversations, and at least for a time does not recognize their fictitious nature?  For a time, in the mentioned hypothetical mind, they will attain a level equal to that of any other twitterer, from a real life friend to Barack Obama.

This relational equality would not in fact be difficult, due to the fractious snap-shot nature of the medium.  In 140 characters, a person’s intent to communicate is simultaneously distilled and truncated.  It is both incredibly pure…and incredibly shallow.
I delightedly ran through the “public” thoughts of some actors that I found.  “How entertaining,” thought I.

Followed quickly by this came the question, “is this real?”  How much of what this particular actor is saying is for the benefit of his audience, looking for sympathy or a quick laugh?  Is that singer really just telling a person that they respect that yes, this restaurant actually is quite nice?

Comedian and actor Dane Cook once mentioned in a Wired article that it is important for him to update his MySpace constantly, to encourage his fans to A) keep coming back, and B) to be his fans.  So Twitter is a marketing gimmick.

A random account thanks all of the people that offered condolences over the loss of a loved one.  So Twitter is a social communication device.

One friend tells another, simply, I love you.  So Twitter is for relationships.

Fictitious characters joke and authors crack wise.  So Twitter is for entertainment.

Yes.  All of these, and none of these.  It can be a very powerful tool…but like so many other advents, especially those that have developed online in the past twenty years…it can also be dangerous.

You don’t know these people.  Any of them.  I don’t care whose Twitter you’re updated on, be it Ryan Seacrest or your spouse.  You don’t know this person.

I was once told, by a man that I consider wise, that it takes thirty to fifty years to truly know a person, if it is possible at all.  Time spent together before puberty counts for double.

Following, or even participating, in these Twitter conversations easily shows a solid relationship.  You can get a picture of who this person is, and you think you might know something about them.

Do not forget the lesson of Welles’ presentation of War of the Worlds, and its descendant, Lonelygirl15.  Your reality is what you can touch.  Any farther than a few feet, and you begin running into the designs of others.  Your reality is defined by your perception of reality, and that quickly injests the filtered presentations of the world around you.  Architecture, makeup, advertising, posture, food, clothes, a shout into the wind, all carry intent (whether conscious or not), and very little of it is yours!

So then, should we cut ourselves off from the world?  Should every man truly be their own island?

No.  At the very least, seek to make archipelagos.  If intent of the one is motivation, and intent of the many is culture and government (society), then seek out the intent of others!  Jump in, feet first, and make a splash!

Understanding, like perfection is both impossible and worthy to strive for.  Tweet!  Follow Tweets!  Read websites!  Post blogs!  Call your friends on the phone!  Hug someone, kiss someone!  Any of these!  All of these!  Expand yourself, and your world.

For in every observation, there is a change in the observer.  I read the tweet of one actor, and was challenged to draw my own soul in a picture and post it for the world (via a particular forum) to see.  I read the tweet of a politician, and was encouraged to educate myself as to the workings of my government.  I read the tweet of a celebrity I once thought shallow, and was humbled, shamed, and inspired by the words that I was led to.

And, in the end, I was encouraged to get of my ass and write a post for this blog.

So thank you, Twitter.  Let’s see where this takes us.

Bubba Fett was a Little B*tch

April 13th, 2009 § 1 comment § permalink

Or: Why Star Wars should have been left in the 70’s

Yes, I know the second two came out in the early 80’s.  But the early 80’s were still the 70’s.  Just like the early 70’s were still the 60’s.  And, Yes, I do know his name is Boba Fett.  If you have a problem with me purposely mis-spelling a Star Wars character name, then I would advise you to stop reading right about now.

So, to begin with, until I redifine it as otherwise, when I say “Star Wars” I am referring to the original trilogy: A New Hope (’77), The Empire Strikes Back (’80), and Return of the Jedi (’83). And I am referring to the cuts that I am familiar with, which is to say, VHS tapes in the late 80’s.  Han shot first, and you can see a little bit through the speeder vehicle cockpits with the POV shots on Hoth. 

Boba Fett was a screw-up.  Let’s just get that out in the air right now.  Screw.  Up.  Whether or not he was the pinnacle of his professional competition or not is not the point.  The point is, he sucked ass before he got sucked into the Sarlaac Pit.

Exhibit A:  Out of all of the bounty hunters that ended up on Vader’s ship, Vader picked out him specifically with the “No disintegrations!” line.  Why would he need to tell him that, if the boyo didn’t already have a history of screwing up?  Also, just because they were on Lord Vader’s ship, doesn’t mean those bounty hunters were particularly good.  It just means they showed up.  They were nearby, is all.

Exhibit B:  Fett didn’t even make the catch!  He called it in and let a crapload of stormtroopers make the collar.  He just showed up.  Again.  And his prize got handed to him on ice.

Exhibit C:  Someone shows up near your boss.  They have a deadman’s switch activated on a small nuclear device.  What do you do?  Well, WWBFD?  He would point he gun at them.

That’s right.  Get ready to shoot them.  That’s brilliant.

Exhibit D:  Things to turn your back on while on a small, crowded airship:  Jawas.  Thirteen-year-old girls.  Bitter old ladies.  Things not to turn your back on while on a small, crowded airship:  Former bounties.  Brawls.  MUTHAFUGGIN WOOKIES.

Look.  If there is a brawl, and there is a Wookie involed, you do one of two things: A) be somewhere else, or B) Shoot the Wookie.  It was already established in casual conversation that Wookies are known to pull people’s arms out of their sockets for winning in strategy tabletop games.

Hmmn.  I would pay money to see a Wookie at a Magic: The Gathering tournament.  But I digress.

This leads us directly into Exhibit E: Boba Fett got taken out by a blind dude.  On accident.  Because he was too busy lining up a shot at a target that has already shown that they can deflect blaster bolts.

And so he died.  Or rather, he fell into a pit were he will endure excruciating agony…until he dies.

“But no!” cries out the nerd!  “He escapes!”

Yes, yes he does.  In the Expanded Universe.  Ooooh, sounds fancy.  For those of you unfamiliar with the term, EU in this case does not refer to the European Union.  No, its the comics by Dark Horse Comics and the now vast collection of science fiction novels that after many many issues and books released and about a generation’s worth of in-character time still has seen only one of the main cast from the movies die.  Maybe there’s been more by now; I stopped reading when I realized that I didn’t feel any suspense for characters that were licensed and thus not allowed to die.  I was reading authorized fan fiction.

But the nerds picked it up.  Some of it was good, I will give you that.  Some of it was bad.  And among other things, Boba Fett was idealized, and even Idolized.  His back story was expanded.  He became the elite, the cream of the crop, complete with copycats.  He got out of that Sarlaac pit, and retained his bad-ass ways.

And then came the re-releases, Star Wars, back in the theaters!  With a few edits.  Suddenly, Boba Fett is watching while Han and Jabba have a conversation.  [shrug]  That’s fine, whatever.  That doesn’t excuse his sheer incompetence in the rest of the films.

Ah, but I will admit, there is evidence for the Defense:  Out of the five or six bounty hunters that showed up on Vader’s ship, only one figured on watching for an obscure trick.  Yes, Fett predicted Solo’s move.  Yes, he tracked them to Cloud City.  I will give his supporters that one.

But that’s it.  That, and cool armor does not make him worthwhile of the adoration that he received.  Or does it?

You see, part of why this realization hit me so hard, is because I used to be a Fett Fan.  I had a Boba Fett action figure growing up, and he was the bomb.  He took out so many Legos, Transformers, G.I. Joes, if we had an action figure of it, Boba Fett took it out at least once.  We played with that toy til it broke, then we glued it back together and played with it some more.

But one day, years later, I watched Jedi.  And I thought, ‘Whatever happened to my Boba Fett action figure?  He was so cool.’  And about thirty minutes later, I realized that no, no he was not.  He was actually pretty lame, just with cool armor.

But it was okay, because of the novels, and comics.  Boba Fett can be cool again.  There’s back story, fill-in before the movies–

BOOM.  What’s that?  The trailer for the new Star Wars movie?  A double-bladed lightsaber??  GLEE!

Then it came out.  Uh, okay.  Darth Maul, that’s a pro.  Young Anakin, that’s a con.  Midichlorians…that’s an oh dear god, what were you thinking?  And Darth Maul, the only person who looked cooler than the Fett, gets chopped in half for a janitor to sweep up.

This is leading us to my main point:  the new movies was Lucas pandering to the masses.  He gave fanboys what they said they wanted to see.  Or maybe he was only listening to his internal fanboy.  In either case, he forgot that the movies should be good, as movies.  The cheesiness of the originals can be excused because of the limitations of the time.  (Film students and profs are more than welcome to disagree with me, and you may be right.)  Also, because of the grand scope of the story.  That plot out-weighed the dialogue writing and delivery.  I will tear up a little when a Muppet fades away to his death.

But the new movies…no.  Just no.  They suffered from the same problem as the EU, even while contradicting: the point was not to make good movies, but to just expand the existing story.

Let’s go back to my example:  Boba Fett.  Hey, here’s his dad/brother/clone predecessor: Jango Fett.  Jango Fett has…similar armor!  That makes him cool!  And he’s also so good at what he does, we’re going to clone him.  A lot.  Enough to take over the WORLD!  I mean, the UNIVERSE!  At least the part of it that is the REPUBLIC! 

See? That’s how bad-ass Boba Fett is!  He’s so cool, that he’s basically an elite version of the billions of white-clad cannon fodder wandering over the universe! Uhhhh…

Jango was alright, but he couldn’t catch a Jedi.  Especially if they hide their spaceship on something larger and wait for you to go past before floating away.  Need to make a note of that trick, little Boba, a smuggler might try that in twenty years…

Now it’s time to confront the Jedi.  Okay, so my opponent is telekinetic, and can deflect my lasers.  I think I will… fly and shoot at him with two guns!  This will work!

Hey look, there is a LOT of JEDI.  They are decimating the robot army.  SHOOT AT THEM.

Oh, poor sad Boba Fett.  Your father figure (ehhhhh) just got his head lopped off by a Jedi because he didn’t know his own limitations.  You should take the helmet, repaint it, and follow in his footsteps.

Sigh.  The prequel movies couldn’t work.  They would have to be either better, and thus lessen the weight of the original three, or worse, and then suck.  Usually, the latter.  But occasionally the former.

Podrace?  Kinda impressive.  Watching the hoverbike scene on Endor seems to lack now.

Darth Maul lightsaber duel?  Badass!  Yoda?  Badder!  Asthmatic robot with four arms and an unprecedented four lightsabers?  No way!  No, seriously, there’s no way I can take that seriously.  Just, stop.  And Christopher Lee’s best Jedi duel was against Gandalf in The Fellowship of the Ring.

Regardless, there was some nice combat stunt work in the prequel trilogy.  Which makes Luke vs. Vader in RotJ kinda lame.

Its gotten to the point where there is only two ways to enjoy the original trilogy.  Option A) never watch the prequels and never read any books or comics.  Option B) work yourself into a near-frenzy of nostalgia.

Maybe you don’t have this problem.  Maybe you can watch the originals, or even the prequels for that matter, without cringing in pain.  Maybe you can recapture that suspension of disbelief and just sit back and enjoy the films.  That’s not a crime.  (Unless you appreciate Jar-Jar.  That’s a crime.)

Me?  I go with option B.  If I watch the prequels, I make extreme selective over-use of the fast-forward and mute commands.  And I imagine a remake twenty years down the line (not only will it probably happen, but it will probably happen sooner than that) in which Boba Fett regains his coolness and by proxy redeems the entire franchise…by being played by Bruce Campbell.

One day…

They Called Me Mad!

April 8th, 2009 § 5 comments § permalink

No great genius has ever existed without some touch of madness. — Aristotle

Why does the Mad Scientist archetype persist in modern entertainment? It seems to be a bit old fashioned, and often outdated. What’s the point of writing a character that works by themselves attempting to achieve any kind of technological advancement that in all likelihood would instead be reached first by a team of engineers working with corporate funding?

Several reasons. Imagination. Lack of limits. And, frankly, they are entertaining.

The Mad Scientist thinks the things that no one else thinks. They aren’t constrained by a boss, or or by any limits that they haven’t placed on themselves. And any limit placed upon them by God, Nature, or anything else? Well, that’s merely an obstacle to be overcome!

A Mad Scientist, whether arrayed in literature, movies, or music, enables a creator’s imagination to run wild. And the madness itself is a near-perfect plot hole. Where did that crazy idea come from, what could possibly have motivated them to do what they did?

“I’ll show them! I’ll show the world! Mwaahaahaahahahaaaaaaa!”

The Mad Scientist is exciting, and often times, simultaneously frightening. Who hasn’t felt the urge to cut loose and do something wild and crazy? What held you back? Civilized cultural mores, laws, morals. For whatever reason, you didn’t. And good thing, too. I’m no anarchist; I feel some rules are useful.

But that’s what fiction is for. To reflect pieces of ourselves that we can identify with, without our needing to act upon it. We don’t need reality, with its dark gritty edges. There’s enough of that around in our lives. We want the wild and crazy when we escape. We want to laugh maniacally, to throw the switch and consequences be damned!

The Mad Scientist allows us to see different worlds, or sometimes the same world with a skewed angle. I want to watch a movie about a teenager that rolls around on his skateboard and aspires to play guitar, but can’t identify with his humdrum parents. Wait. No, I don’t. What I want is to see Christopher Lloyd convince him to drive a silver DeLorean DMC-12 at precisely 88 miles per hour and thus be catapulted 30 years into the past!

Who wants to watch a man mope about, distraught over his lost love, who died in childbirth giving birth to his rival’s son? Not this guy. Who wants to see Rotwang make a robot based on his lost love, then make it emulate the grown child’s love, so as to destroy the rival’s plans? Well, anyone who hasn’t seen the restored version of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, needs to do so. And right soon.

The Mad Scientist sees things that others can’t, or won’t. Nikola Tesla is considered one of the principle founding figures of modern electrical engineering and inventing. The man was polite, believed in gender-equality and free energy. He also only stayed in hotel rooms with room numbers divisible by three and claimed to have a wild white pigeon as a life-long companion. Tesla has reoccurred in multiple movies and books, because using a real-life Mad Scientist ties the concept into the real world in a definable way.

And seriously, what self-respecting Mad Scientist after the 1930’s does not have a Tesla coil or two in the lab, throwing electricity about willy-nilly?

The Mad Scientist also works as the natural expression of the hubris of man, and is used often as a criticism of post-humanism. Victor von Frankenstein wanted to conquer death, but instead lost his brother, his wife/cousin, his father, his work, and ultimately his life in contest with his twisted creation.

The previously mentioned Rotwang creates a working robot, yet instead of pursuing any form of noble goals, he uses his robot to incite chaos in his city. In his mad quest for revenge, he eventually falls to his death. Rotwang’s appearance sparked the classic visual for the Mad Scientist, with his lab coat, crazy hair, and big rubber gloves.

Kimiko “Thunderbolt” Ross from the webcomic Dresden Codak could simultaneously represent both complement and criticism to post-humanism. An expert in robotics and time travel with an obsession for the Singularity, Ross’s efforts at one point nearly end the world. While it is revealed later that the event in question would improve life rather than end it, that wasn’t known to Ross at the time. While she initially claims to not care about the death of humanity, she nevertheless nearly dies saving her friends.

The Mad Scientist can serve as a warning: mucking about with science, regardless of motive, often leads to tragedy! Dr. Jekyll, Dr. Moreau, and many others try to improve humanity, but shortcuts often lead to suffering and cinematic violence. Dr. Horrible only wants to be in the Evil League of Evil, yet his freeze-ray only leads to heartbreak.

In short, whether hero or villain, the Mad Scientist is a highly enjoyable archetype that needs to continue to be employed so that we, the viewing public, can have our lust for entertainment slaked and possibly our imagination fueled. Anything is possible.

Radioactive Panda:


The Frankenstein Simplicity

March 27th, 2009 § 7 comments § permalink

I’ve seen a lot of bad movies, and some good ones.  So why does the AI treatment in Eagle Eye bug me?

Well, for one, because it’s shoddy writing.  The plot becomes predictable once the AI, ARIA, is formerly introduced.  But this is not a diatribe against weak movie writing, and while the movie was annoying in parts, it wasn’t painful.  It didn’t cost me a lot of money to watch, so I don’t regret it.  Plus, Shia LeBouf is growing on me.

So.  Aria.

Aria wanted to help people, and to that end was going to kill people.  She felt that the Executive Branch of the government would ultimately result in the loss of great amounts of life, and so should be replaced.  To that end, she came up with a highly convoluted plot to to off the proverbial head cheese, and his successor, and so on down the line about 10 or so until she got to the one she wanted in charge.

So she forces some folk to infiltrate the Pentagon to remove a few pesky restraints that are preventing her from implementing a plan that has been implemented for a few days at that point already.  Then she uses cat’s pawns to setup the end game, which she supports with a rocket-enabled unmanned aircraft.

Now.  Lets examine this for a moment.  We’ve established that she can hack just about anything, anywhere; she can scramble cell-phone and radio signals.  So the question remains, why didn’t she use the drone to carry out her will?  It’s not like she couldn’t negate the Air Force no-fly zone over DC airspace.  No, the plot simply asked for a Hitchcockian nod at the end, which I did respect, but the setup was ludicrous.  Somehow, a Special Agent of the FBI, stationed in New York I believe it was, knows about a secret tunnel through the DC underground.  This knowledge plus an FBI badge let one untrained civilian penetrate the entire security package on not just the President, but lots of other very important people.   Hmmmn.  Shrug.  An airstrike, foiled or not, would be an anti-climactic ending.  So that’s not really my problem.

No, my main beef with Aria is that she was not a character in this film, she was a plot point.  Plot should not have dialog.  Characters have dialog, and their actions and reactions should be the plot.

So lets take a brief look at other film AI’s by comparison.  Up for perusal are the main two that I feel inspired ARIA: HAL-9000 from 2001: A Space Odyssey and Joshua from War Games.  Also up for comparison is Mr. Smith from The Matrix Trilogy, Johnny 5 from Short Circuit, David from A.I., both Sonny and VIKI from I, Robot, and The Terminator from Terminator 2.

I’m skipping over the Transformers (whom I love more than I should) because they don’t appear artificial; there are significant religious overtones to the All-Spark that went largely unexplored, but a Transformers’ creation still seems closer to birth rather than manufacture.

Joshua had a similar purpose to Aria but his decision to kill people was largely due to a lack of any applied value for human life.  There was no appeal to any moral or ethical code; the decision to not launch nukes was rooted in the logical redundancy of mutually assured destruction.  Joshua doesn’t even completely count as AI as it had no personality, just pre-programmed responses meant to emulate a lost child.

Hal-9000 was driven to homicide by a dichotomy in orders: He must be truthful to his crew and he must lie to the crew about their orders.  The easiest way to fulfill both is to get rid of the crew.

Aria shares a similar design concept as Joshua in that her purpose is intelligence analysis for the military, yet she seems light-years ahead in that she can form correct sentences, engage in conversations, and predict human behavior.  Visually, Aria even looks like Hal, with the big creepy red eye and all.  Yet her conclusion is more in line with Joshua than Hal; she is not conflicted, a logical conclusion drives her.  The only internal conflict she has is the programmed imperatives to follow orders (which she ignores both before and after the block is removed) which conflicts with her objectives.

Mr. Smith, Johnny 5, and David all share a desire to be more human.  I’m not sure if Smith fully counts as AI, however, as it could be said that he was infected with human characteristics by his interaction with Neo.  An argument could be made that his psychoses and attempted genocide might be rooted in his human side more than his computer side.

The same with Johnny 5.  He was struck by lightning, and gained sentience.  He defined life, both in general and his in specific, by his environment and interaction with the people around him.  He was eventually accepted by mainstream society by proving an ethical code and becoming a media sensation.  Working the public; how very human.  Yet again, the lightning leads back to the spark, which is thematically analogous to God breathing life into Adam.

David seems the farthest away from Aria: he is limited in power and singular in his goal of pursuing his ‘mother’s’ love.  I’ve often felt that David was a natural precursor to both Smith and the Source from the Matrix trilogy.  If a robot can feel love, then a robot can feel hate.  Yet, we start running back into a hazy ground, here.  The introduction of ‘love’ into David’s programming is only mentioned as the plot point that it encompasses.  No mention is given as to the how.  The love that David contains might as well be a lightning-strike for all that it is explained.

Sonny is a thematic cousin to David.  Sonny struggles with his place in the world, and yearns to re-establish a connection with his lost ‘parent.’  But again, Sonny has messianic dreams that he ultimately fulfills, which more than hints back to the reoccurring religious undertone we’ve seen before.  This isn’t too surprising considering the Judeo-Christian cornerstone in the founding of the Western culture, particularly that subset known as Hollywood.

VIKI, on the other hand, is very similar to ARIA.  Viki has an internal conflict, like Hal, although the philosophical scope of hers is grander:  Do no harm and do not allow harm.  But when humans harm each other, how do you end the harm without harming?  Ostensibly, Viki’s increased sentience allows her to re-interpret her rules , allowing her to obey the spirit of the law while violating the letter.

SkyNet from the Terminator movies isn’t up on the list because it is only referred to with second-hand information.  When you add into that equation the fact that each snapshot of SkyNet is already muddled by the changes applied to the time-line by both its agents and the opposition, and any understanding of this particular intelligence is negated.  (For today’s post, I am only looking at movies out today; so any insights that may or may not be gleaned from The Sarah Connor Chronicles are disregarded, and Terminator: Salvation is not out for another month.)

But there is something to be gained by looking at the Terminator.  Evidently, there are some discrepancies as to whether the one I am talking about was a T-101, T-800, or another model type.  I will specify that I am referring to the Terminator played by Arnold Schwarzenegger in Terminator 2: Judgment Day.

The Terminator began as a simple tool: an elaborate and efficient killing machine.  This efficiency was already proved by the model from the first film.  And yet, towards the end, this machine not only displays the capacity to disobey orders, but goes on to understand that it must be sacrificed in order to fulfill its deepest commandment: to protect John Connor.

This Terminator was not struck by lightning.  There is bit of the metaphor that we’ve seen before: it was adjusted by the future John Connor, who undoubtedly represents a consistent Messianic figure.  However, this adjustment was not made to give it life, or a deep and fulfilling understanding of human beings.  It was a relatively simple change in purpose from killing to protecting.

The large robot fits closest with Joshua and Viki; logical conclusions gained by analyzing the data observed.  Like Viki, the Terminator can disobey an order if it is superseded by by a greater order.  It establishes this understanding by word and deed, towards the end when it ignores the young John Connor’s orders.  Its sacrifice is somewhat lessened by the fact that it likely has no value of its own worth beyond how much its potential can fulfill its orders.  It poses more risk by existing than it could gain by remaining to play bodyguard.

This is, in my opinion, a closer model to how Aria should have acted.  She should have been more limited; also, they should have cut out most of Rosario Dawson’s subplot.  Viki should have been revealed as an AI only when Jerry shows up at the Pentagon, and even then should still have been significantly limited in her operational ability.  Instead of brute digital force, I think it would have been scarier to have everyone think that Jerry’s controller was an actual human operator, even the folks working with Viki to try and analyze Jerry’s behavior.  Viki’s actions should have been more subtle.  Alternatively, she could have been more direct, while still restrained somewhat in ability.

Both the Terminator and Viki, while powerful within their own domains, nonetheless were somewhat limited in their influence.  While I liked Sonny’s climactic actions to take down Viki, that’s nothing that couldn’t also have been resolved by a surgical air strike. 

I suppose this is why I didn’t like Aria, and why her treatment bothered me: it could have been better.  This is a constant lament on my part for movies in general, but that is a separate diatribe against Hollywood.  In this particular case, a better showcase of the “villain” of the piece would have served as more of an obstacle, which would have shown the heroes to be more heroic in overcoming the obstacle, leaving we, the viewers, more satisfied to have been a part of it, if only in observation.

All Systems Go

March 27th, 2009 § 0 comments § permalink

Alright, so it looks like its time to get crackin’ on the posts.  I have a responsibility, as a member of the KSF Bloglomerate.  We’ve got an initial post here, just to make certain things are working, and then a real post later today.  Eyes peeled, kids.


March 25th, 2009 § 5 comments § permalink

Establishing parameters…

Homogenizing Creativity…

Ripping off World of Goo Intro…

Trying to think of another way of kicking off the new blog and failing…