Thursday, March 31, 2011

Now Playing: Devil

“Who are you?” “Today?”

To the credit of all involved with “Devil,” they managed to wring every ounce of tension out of five people trapped in an elevator. That’s it. That’s the story. Oh, wait. Slight twist to this setup: One of the five happens to be the Devil. So, what we’re looking at is how the Devil is out to collect a group of very bad people and the only thing we can do is watch.

The other observers are the police who are investigating a suicide that occurred at the building. As things get stranger and the body count rises, the police and building security realize that something is definitely wrong with one of the passengers. All of this happens in under 90 minutes too, credits and all. The result of such a limited time span and an equally limited budget is a determined focus on core characters to the exclusion of all the normal trappings inherent to this genre.

Usually films like this go off in several directions and refuse to stay in the box, primarily as a way to alleviate the tension. When that happens in Devil, it’s so that we get to know the people in the elevator. Instead of having everyone in the box discuss who they are, what their feelings are for the world at large, etc., we find out about them as the police do. And once we find out their respective MOs, we come to understand why the Devil was drawn to this particular group in the first place.

There isn’t much in the way of mystery either. Once things get going, one of the building security guards begins to spell out the beats of the rest of the film. This isn’t much of a surprise considering that, at times, the film feels like an extended episode of The Twilight Zone. This also isn’t surprising considering writer/producer M. Night Shymalan has been ripping off the show his entire career.

So what is surprising? The effectiveness of good, old fashioned practical effects. The number of special effects shots in the film can be counted on one hands (maybe both). Everything else happens in camera via nifty editing tricks and clever use of sound effects. That’s it. That’s the ballgame. Frankly, I love it when film makers rely more on imagination rather than hurling CGI at the screen and expecting you to be afraid of it.

But the setup is a bit disingenuous. In essence, we’re stuck in a box for 70 minutes or so (excluding the setup and epilogue) with four bad guys and Satan so who is there to root for? Why, I’m so glad you asked. We get to root for the wooden cop trying to rescue the passengers. How wooden might he be? I dubbed him “redwood” right about the time things started going crazy.

I love how simple things like the lights starting to flicker indicate that someone’s about to bite it, and that when things do go dark that the sound effects take center stage. You never see the devil’s handiwork in action, only the results as they bleed out on the floor. The tension is ridiculously high, you’re not sure of the motives of everyone until the end, and even though the major twist is easy to peg about five minutes in, it still delivers a corker of an ending.

On the whole, its brevity definitely works in its favor and as a result Devil is short, but very sweet.

Max’s Unbearable Sweetness & Light

Seriously. This kid is a walking saint. He’s so good natured and has such the sweetest disposition that if he ever turns evil, I’m going to spare no expense towards hunting Senator Palpatine those responsible down.

Case in point: I went to pick him up at daycare this week and arrived earlier than usual. I hung back to observe how he interacted with the other kids. It’s something I’m curious about but rarely get to see. Normally when either My Fair Lady or I show up, the rest of the parents are in the midst of scooping up their children, so Max is ready to go. But on this day, he and the others were enraptured by what their teacher held. She showed off a small tower comprised of four ladders and a plastic frog was stuck in the middle. The teacher would talk softly to one of the kids and touch the ladders to the top of their head before doing it to the next child.

Max and a little girl stood at the back of the circle of kids, so when it was his turn he gingerly stepped forward. He wasn’t entirely sure but he trusted his teacher not to lead him astray. She touched the item to his head and he pointed at the frog, at which point I’m sure he said, “froggie!” Then it was the little girl’s turn but she was having none of it.

At. All.

She stepped back and vigorously shook her head side to side. No way! The teacher calmly asked Max if he could convince her that it was alright.

Max looked at the little girl, then reached over and took her hand in his. He had a look on his face that said, “it’s okay, I did it and it’s alright.” He didn’t pull her into the circle either. He gently tugged on her, urging her forward with a sense of caring for the well being of another that I hadn’t seen from him. The girl still wouldn’t do it, so Max let go of her and walked over to the teacher to try and get the froggie out. Yes, he was successful.

That was the point where I stepped to the door and got his attention. He immediately smiled, pointed at me to let the teachers know that he was outta there, then ran to the door. When we got out in the hall, I gave Max a big hug and whispered in his ear, “I’m so proud of you big man. Thank you for being so sweet.” He replied, “I poopie!” and grabbed his crotch.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

And a month later...

Shut it. Posting to recommence in 5... 4.... 3.... 2....

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Mommy's Robe

A few years ago, I gave My Fair Lady an anniversary gift of a fluffy pink bathrobe. It’s soft, comfortable, and she hates that she can’t wear it during the height of summer due to the heat. Our little man has, apparently, taken a shine to it as well. Once we take him into his bedroom post bath, we set him down on the changing table and proceed to put on his diaper and jammies. He then likes to say “Mommy’s robe.”

Whenever I would read to him and lay him down, I wear my robe which is actually two robes in one. Both are old and in need of replacing, but I combined them a number of years ago to maximize my comfort level. Max would continue to say “Mommy’s robe!” even after I put mine on.

This was disheartening on a number of levels.

For starters, it told me that he preferred mommy to put him down at night. For another, I began to think that he didn’t like my robe. Why the hell is a two-year-old critical of my fashion selection? I don’t CARE if the edges are frayed and the thing is falling apart. Don’t you dare tell me how to dress!! AHHH!!


So on a whim, I put on mommy’s robe and he was all smiles. I wore it while reading to him. I wore it while rocking him a little bit afterwards, and walked out of the room with it still on. I’m man enough to do what it takes to make my child happy.

My Fair Lady, on the other hand, was disheartened to see that our little man more enthusiastic about her robe than with either of us. I was just satisfied to know that it wasn’t me that was putting him off. So going forward, mommy’s robe will be the one used to put him down. I’m now adding a manlier version of this robe to my 2011 Christmas list.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Gaming Thoughts 03/07/11

Okay, so I’m a little late with this. Last week was a running exercise in absolutely lacking motivation. Combine that with anxiety over a possible upgrade on my day job which ultimately failed to materialize, and I haven’t exactly been the most focused of late. But with my inability to seal the deal on this last, I’ve come to a reluctant conclusion. I intend to keep my head down, work hard, earn a paycheck, and focus on my family and hobbies for the remainder of 2011.

Which means no additional distractions will be allowed in. Due to the public nature of this blog, I’m not going to specify those. Suffice to say, that this year will be a writing intensive year and that trend goes forth right now. When you consider I turn 34 this weekend, I’m long past the point where I should have “gotten on this.” I have a hard deadline of early June for a script contest I’ve decided to enter, which is about a week before I leave for E3. That follows several weeks worth of trips and parties and precedes more weeks of trips and parties. Then we’re into the fall and you can forget about it because from October on, each and every year, my feet barely touch the ground.

Ahh, the joys of adulthood.

Speaking of travel, this trailer for “Dead Island” should not be on your must-watch list if you’re heading to Hawaii anytime soon. It’s gorgeous, emotionally devastating, black hearted, and mean as hell. It’s for a video game and it depressed the hell out of me. I’m not kidding. I defy you to watch this and not sit there in shock at the end of everything you just saw. It also does in three minutes what "The Walking Dead" failed to do in six hours.

The catch on this game is the difficulty. You’re a tourist on an island and a zombie outbreak occurs. Fine. Heard that one a million times. But the catch on this one is that the only weapons available are those that would naturally be found in such a scenario. No rocket launchers. No gatling guns. No flamethrowers or heavy artillery or boxing gloves with knives strapped to them. What you find is a fireaxe in the hallway near a fire alarm. A paddle next to a kayak at the docks. A gun hidden in a safe in the manager’s office with only nine rounds of ammunition and no more in sight.

Feel safe yet?

I’m dying to try this one out based on the concept that you’re finally an average soul in the middle of a worst case scenario with the freedom to go anywhere. The challenge is going to be figuring out how best to defend yourself against an army of undead when weaponry is limited in scope, and few and far between in location.

And that trailer is a knockout, pure and simple. It’s stunning. It’s all digital, it’s about a zombie game, and it packs more of an emotional wallop in two minutes than most of the movies Hollywood released in all of last year. Looking at you “Scott Pilgrim.”

I’ve still been playing “Enslaved” of late and the game continues to improve the further you go. Watching as the central characters further the growth of their relationship is astounding. I honestly care what happens to them both right now and that wasn’t the case when I started the game. There’s only been one significant hiccup thus far and it’s having to race through a minefield. It’s a play on the old “memorize the pattern/path” and it’s easy enough to beat the third or fourth time you try. But the point is that gaming should have evolved past this process. It was fine in the coin-op days when developers had to milk every last quarter out of our pockets. But now it’s just stupid, along with save points.

To that end, I’m encouraged by reports coming in that Activision is flailing. That may sound odd coming from a member of the gaming press, but here’s the catch: They ain’t the only ones. The big dogs of the gaming world spend millions upon millions for retreads (how much was spent beating the Guitar Hero franchise into the ground?) with nary an original thought to be found. Then guess who walked in the door?


The iPhone has sparked a revolution in countless ways, but one of which is the democratization of video game development. Can a guy working out of his office crank out the next Grand Theft Auto? Probably not. But the trick is that he now gets the chance to at least try. This is where Yoda and I disagree. If you don’t try, how will you know if you can? The game Angry Birds is apparently sweeping the country and I can’t figure out why. I’ve played it. Yawn. There’s not much to it and it’s a simple strategy game… unless this is the first game you’ve ever tried. Then it must come off as genius.

Seriously. All the Junior Leaguers and other people who I know that have never tried games before are hooked on Angry Birds. What this means is that they’re more willing to try more and more games for $.99 on their iPhones which translates to vastly more opportunities for indie developers to have their wares seen. For a relatively small amount of money, one person can build a game and sell it to the public at large via digital distribution.

Hello Future, so good of you to kick in my front door and help yourself to the fridge. STAY OUT OF MY ICE CREAM!

I don’t have numbers on me right now, but they’re available online if you really want to look. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a large number of mergers and acquisitions occur in the next 24-36 months in the games industry as one large company gobbles up another and another. I don’t think consoles are going anywhere, but I DO think that the games industry has been blindsided by the rapid growth of iPhone and Android compatible mobile games. Their monopoly on flogging franchises isn’t over by any means, but they can definitely see the horizon and it’s filled with an army of younger, hungrier indie developers who are no longer chained. Those new voices may not always make the best or even the most successful games, but at least now they have the opportunity and the format in which they can try.

And what iPhone game am I most hooked on? Dungeon Raid. At heart, it’s a match three tile game but its theme is that of an RPG. You match gold coins to buy weapons, spells, and general upgrades. You match shields to increase your armor to the point where you can upgrade that. You match red potions to increase your health. And you match swords to do damage to enemies. Where the strategy comes into play is that as you increase in strength, so to do your foes. Among the monsters are occasional bosses who perform different means of attack each round. Strategy is required along with a healthy dose of luck. Entire games have blown past without seeing particular status enhancing drops, then three of the same will appear in a row in a subsequent round.

The game also takes a hilarious swipe at the conventions of the genre by randomly generating a backstory for your character at the outset. It always varies in some form of you being the chosen one, which is absolutely hilarious for anyone who has ever played those games. Whatever happened to your character minding his/her own business before the world came crashing down on your front door step?

If you have an iPhone, it’s a lot of fun and worth checking out.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Showing Off

Max has started showing off. Monday night saw Casa de Skim play host to our neighborhood high-stakes winner-take-all fight-to-the-death bunko matchup. It was also a day that bore witness to said house being professionally cleaned top to bottom for, I believe, the first time ever. We decided to try out this service because of a friend’s recommendation and the very real need to have it scrubbed ceiling to floorboard.

I showed up about 6 p.m. and she was still there. Apparently she has an assistant who helps out but was unavailable this time. The woman arrived there at 10 a.m. and was still freaking there at 6 p.m. and had STILL not mopped and cleaned the kitchen. I wasn’t apoplectic or anything, but it stunned me to think of how long it must have taken her to do each room. For the record, it’s not like we’re one McDonald’s bag away from starring on “Hoarders.” We keep things pretty straight and tidy but don’t run the Roomba as often as we should.

My calm exterior belied a raging undercurrent when I walked in. But all that evaporated as I inspected the rest of the house. In a word, it was perfect. The windows were spotless, the floor was dirtless, and we could eat off the bathroom counters. So she may have moved rather slowly, but her determination to clean the Hell out of each room was evident.

The trouble was, she hadn’t finished a critical room that would be filled with neighborhood ladies in approximately one hour. The scramble was on to feed Max and finish off the work after she left.

Let’s just say it was a mad dash down to the last second. Once the women started showing up, I took Max into his bedroom where we wrestled, played, and read a few books. Before his bath time, he ran out and greeted the women. He also climbed up on his horse to show how awesome a rider he was. He pointed out his kitchen and in general ran around acting like he was slightly off-kilter. It made us laugh when we realized he was showing off, so I let him do so longer than I should.

Of course, he wanted no part of his bath and threw a tantrum. I’m pouring water on him and washing him down and he’s crying his head off. Ahh, parenthood. Once I dried him off, I threw him into his monkey pajamas and took him out to see momma. He looked around at the women, My Fair Lady hugged and kissed him goodnight, and then we returned to his room to finish the nightly routine. At that point he was calm, and was excited about picking out his books. Fortunately, he went down easily after reading “Horton Hears A Who.” One of the ladies later remarked that her child has screamed bloody murder the entirety of their bunko match.

We got lucky that night, kids. Real lucky.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Gaming Thoughts 02/09/11

Should have gone up in the last few weeks but here it is as I play catch up.

I managed to finish off two titles this past weekend and I like this drive to finish what’s on my plate before moving on to the next meal. That’s been my MO for 20 years, and it’s continued to this day despite my best efforts. Last week, I received a game via trade that I’ve been dying to play but opted to hold onto it until I completed at least two of the three games I was working on. As such, I knocked off “Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena” on Saturday night and “Darksiders” on Sunday night and my world was the better for it.

“Dark Athena” still feels like an expansion pack to “Butcher Bay” and I can’t recommend it. It was fun enough for the most part, but the story just stopped about 2/3 of the way through, the villain’s final line was utterly nonsensical under the circumstances, and the finale lends no credence to it being a prequel to the movie “Pitch Black.” It also failed to make convincing use of Vin Diesel as the titular character, which is an amazing feat considering you’re playing as Diesel start to finish. But I rang up some achievements along the way and now I’m done with Riddick.

Moving on to “Darksiders,” I have to take major issue with THQ for this. The final dungeon, such as it is, was totally unnecessary to, well, everything. The setup for the final goes like this: You finally free a big demon named Samael who teleports you to a giant tower. Upon entering, you find the Angel of Death, Azrael, suspended by an energy field. He provides some long missing exposition, then you have to channel three separate energy beams to his prison in order to free him. This ENTIRE dungeon took me the better part of an afternoon to complete. I can say with absolute certainty that the game was not enhanced in any way by this sequence. Strip this sequence out, have a lengthy cutscene where Azrael lays out the story for you, then be on your way. THAT’S how it should have gone, and I’m routinely puzzled by developers who fail to realize that sometimes less is more.

Once you complete the massive waste of time dungeon, you have to track down seven sword pieces scattered across the numerous maps (none of which are small), take them to another place to get them reforged into the Real Ultimate Weapon™, before finally tracking back to Azrael who sends you up against the big bad guy. That’s a heck of a lot of puzzling and problem solving for a story following one of the four horsemen on an act of revenge against an army of monsters. “Darksiders” may have ripped off “The Legend of Zelda” whole hog, but a Zelda-only clone this ain’t. I thought “Darksiders” pilfered everything the industry had seen in the last five years, but I considered throwing in the towel once the “Portal” gun appeared. Seriously? We’re ripping off “Portal” in a game where the mechanic makes absolutely no sense to implement?

To its credit, the finale was pretty good despite blatantly setting up a sequel. To add insult to injury, word came out a week or two ago that the sequel (slated to hit in spring of 2012) would in fact take place at the same time as the first game, thereby not continuing the story so much as milking the same cow from a different angle. Sigh. Throughout “Darksiders,” you get the sense that a much, much larger story is at work even if those nuggets of information are few and far between. If you have a “LOST” vibe then you’re not alone. When some big revelations hit late in the game, they allow for all manner of directions in a sequel. But that would have to be a sequel which continues forward rather than steps to the side.

Stupid is as stupid does I guess.

Fortunately I’ve found a dazzler. Upon completing “Darksiders,” I transitioned over to “Enslaved” and I think I’m in love. Right now I’m up to chapter four (of about 13 or 14 I think) and it’s fabulous. Thus far. I reserve the right to change my opinion should the game suddenly drop off the Cliff of Stupid as so many other titles do. They start out strong, gain momentum, then… nothing. Either they simply run out of ideas and repeat themselves (looking at you “Halo”) or they fail utterly to stick the landing (too many to count). So fingers crossed for “Enslaved” but I’ll tell you what my favorite aspect is—the setting.

The game is set in the far-flung future where mankind has been decimated and some unknown apocalypse has flattened the globe. Cities lie in ruin. Heavily armed mobs of rusting robots patrol the broken streets. No signs of life are to be found anywhere. Sound familiar? To me, it sounds like just about most every post-apocalyptic game ever released. But “Enslaved” has a crucial distinction, one which I think will lead people in the future to reconsider its appeal.

In the future of “Enslaved,” Mother Nature has reclaimed the land. Vines, shrubs, grass, and trees grow everywhere—even from the tops of crumbling buildings. The cloudless sky is a beautiful azure blue. Sunlight glints off exposed, rusting girders. Through this genuine urban jungle, the two main characters must venture. They arrived courtesy of a slaver space craft (though whether from outer space or a different part of the planet hasn’t been specified as of yet) and have to trek some 300 miles to the west to find sanctuary. Thus far, the two have started working as a team and begun to rely on one another.

In short, it’s brilliant. The game takes you to dizzying heights that rapidly fall out from under you, throws new environment-based challenges at you so quickly it’s tough to keep up, and focuses a tremendous amount of energy on the evolving relationship between the male and female leads. As I said, I love it. I can’t wait to see where this thing goes and if it fails to stick the landing I’m going to be sorely disappointed.


Below is the story I wrote during the snowpocalypse of '11. Obviously, didn't quite get it posted until now but here it is.

If you aren’t still stuck under 13 feet of snow in the northeast, north Texas got hammered this past week by a massive ice storm. If that wasn’t enough, the storm called in reinforcements which proceeded to drop several inches of snow on top of the ice. Oh, and the temperature hovered around 15 for pretty much the whole week.

This was exactly the kind of weather Texas is known for, which made for an especially amusing spectacle as Arlington played host to the Superbowl at Jerry World.

There was a joke running rampant that this was Tom Landry’s revenge upon Jerry Jones and I had to laugh. Even though I wasn’t even a teenager at the time, I can clearly remember the level of vitriol directed at Jones for how he outright fired Landry. It remains to this day a classless and tasteless act that no single Cowboys fan of the era will ever forget or forgive. I say this as someone with no attachment to the team or the sport at large. But if you live here and were conscious at the time, then you know and understand the lingering anger towards Jones.

Ergo, Landry’s revenge.

But more than that, the storm essentially shut down the metroplex for a week resulting in a staggering loss of productivity. My Fair Lady was at work every day last week save Friday, while I missed both Wednesday and Friday. The roads weren’t too bad on Thursday, and once you exited the suburbs things improved dramatically. Things were looking up until midnight on Thursday when the snow hit. By Friday morning, there was over six inches of snow on the ground at my house. When I tried to go to the store as a test run, I power slid down my alley and almost punched through a neighbor’s fence. This was the point where I turned around, went home, and dutifully notified my boss that I would not be attended work that day. The office closed for the day an hour later.

Being trapped in the house Friday did have its advantages. We cranked up the fireplace, let Max run outside and play in the snow, and My Fair Lady made a snow angel. Once Max woke up from his nap, we introduced him to “Toy Story 3” which, funny enough, I’d never seen (full review pending). He got a major kick from it but then asked to watch “Horton” again (as in “Horton Hears A Who”). We opted to feed him dinner then put him to bed.

Once the snow melted, we bolted to the store and I didn’t realize until that point how much cabin fever had set in. I can tolerate being at home for a few days, but anything more than that and I start to go postal. Throw in weather that’s the rough equivalent of the apocalypse in this neck of the country, and I was full blown stir crazy by Saturday. I don’t mind being at home voluntarily, but I go nuts when I’m held there against my will. And yes, I say against my will because unlike some other people I am not the best driver on ice and snow and recognize that fact. Ergo, I do my best not to drive on it until it melts.

Now we’re looking at the same hitting again on Wednesday but it’s only one night. I mean, how bad can it get?

/takes shelter

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

And here we are a month later

My how time flies. Been an insane month. Lots of posts typed up and are coming right now.