Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Smooth fighting

Massive spoilers for Star Wars incoming.

I think I have a weird thing with action movies.  I have watched a few recently and had really strong feelings about them that nobody else seems to share.  The thing that is really getting me is how important action scene continuity is to me to maintain interest in the movie.  I really need action scenes to make sense, to flow, for the consequences of them to feel real.  I also respect an action scene that transitions from stage to stage in ways that keep things new and surprising while maintaining the flow of the story.

That doesn't mean the scenes have to be 'realistic'!  Star Wars has lightsabers and faster than light travel and blasters and sound in space and all of that is ridiculous but it is all part of the base assumptions.  The world has weird magic and violates physics in these specific ways and that is all fine.

The problem is when even if you believe in those standard sillynesses a battle scene doesn't flow.  The easiest example I have of this is a battle scene in The Force Awakens where TIE fighters fly in and begin blasting away at a bar / ancient stone temple.  Firstly they are supposed to capture a particular thing intact, and leading off with random mass destruction really seems like a good way to blow up the thing you are trying to find.  As the battle progresses, the cavalry arrives in the form of X Wing fighters from the rebellion that fly in and blow up all the TIE fighters.  Then, having blown up said ships, they start picking off random Stormtroopers.  Kind of ridiculous when you consider how hard it is supposed to be to hit tiny targets (and how much trouble they have hitting huge targets) but whatever.  Team Good is winning, huzzah!

Then Team Evil decides to kidnap Rey.  They do this by leisurely carrying her onto their ship, flyinig up into the air with a static formation of TIE fighters, and meadering away.  No X Wings follow them, blow them up, or seem particularly interested at all.  What the hell is going on?  Why did Team Good, having swung the battle in their favour, decide to just ignore the enemies?  Then more Rebel ships land and their general hops out of the ship.  Because you need your general to be on the front lines, to make completely sure that if the battle goes badly or something weird happens then she can die and really screw everything up.

It bothers me because I can't feel invested in a battle, can't be immersed in it, desperately wondering at the outcome, when I know that the course of the battle will be randomly ignored at any given moment.  Who cares if the X Wings win the fight if the fact that they are winning will be completely ignored a couple of frames later?

This isn't the same as pulling a star inside a planet.  That is ridiculous, but at least changing it would require a lot of work.  The stupid battle scene isn't like that at all!  They could have, at no extra cost, had the ship containing the prisoner zoom off under heavy fire while its few escorts were demolished by the X Wings.  Set it up so that that one ship gets away because of the delaying action of the last few TIE fighters available.  That makes the story of the battle make sense, and people get the gut punched feeling of 'we won, but at what cost?'  At least the X Wings showing up was relevant!  If they are just going to be ignored, then why try to have their arrival be a big thing in the first place?

People are generally giving The Force Awakens good reviews.  I can see why.  The acting is solid, the scenes at the beginning are great, and there are a lot of good references to the original series and the events in between.  But damn folks, if you are going to write a battle scene at least write it so that the big turning points of the scene end up *mattering*.  When you don't have to give anything up to make a scene better, do that!

If you fail to do that you might as well not have the battle scenes at all.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

A dangerous world

I have been watching the Netflix series Narcos over the past little while.  It is a partly true, partly fictional account of the drug wars in Colombia in the 80s, focusing primarily on a group of American Drug Enforcement Agency agents and the richest criminal ever - Pablo Escobar, a kingpin of the cocaine smuggling trade.

It is a sad tale.  The characters' individual dramas are mostly just made up but the facts about the thousands of people who died in the drugs wars are not.  While the two police officers we saw gunned down were made up, the fact that killers financed by Escobar were randomly killing cops for reward money is absolutely real.  The fact that the drug cartels were randomly bombing streetcorners just to terrify the populace into giving in to their demands is real.  In a move that truly defies reason, the government actually did let Escobar build his own prison and guard it with guards he hired while he ran his empire from inside... and since he built his own prison it wasn't a prison so much as a resort.

The thing that really gets me is how in that world the government was not the leviathan it is in my life.  Sure, you can try to avoid your taxes or yell about how politicians suck but you don't actually *attack* the government - you will get yourself crushed!  In Colombia then the drug lords really did fight the government, and in a lot of ways they could be said to have won.  It is a completely different world when it is plausible for someone to challenge the total authority of the government and be taken seriously.

I have no sense of what that would be like.  How do you live in such a world?  Obviously many people do, right now, but watching this show really hammered home just how different that would be from my current way of viewing things.  What do you do when someone randomly declares that they are going to murder government officials and then does just that, and then gets away with it?

You have to give Netflix some credit in that they don't portray the government and the US agents as all good people.  The American influence is clearly a mess, and the drug war making cocaine both incredibly profitable and only available from criminals is the real source of the problem.  The cartels are clearly the worse of the two evils, but both sides commit atrocities and trample on bystanders in an attempt to win their war.

What I can't figure out how to judge is the constant use of anti gay bigotry in the speech of the characters.  I am sure that members of the Colombian drug cartels would have used slurs against gay people as their insult of choice, so the 'realism' element checks out, but the writers could have simply used other words.  You can call somebody an asshole or a rat bastard and get the same point across.  I don't think there is a real need to use that as much as they did, for certain.

They sure live in a world I don't understand... and I am glad of that.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

The fun stuff

My Kickstarter for my board game Camp Nightmare is trundling along, but it isn't going quite the way I thought it would.  I designed the Kickstarter around the idea that I would get 500 copies of the game made, figuring that most people would want just 1 copy.  I know that lots of Kickstarter campaigns offer cool stuff for backers if they pledge a lot of money so I decided to offer the option to name a card after yourself or to craft a card from scratch that would ship with the game.  I figured I might as well put those up there just in case, but I wasn't at all sure anyone would be interested in dropping several hundred dollars on them.

Turns out I misread my audience in a big way!  Half of the big ticket backer options are already gone, with 3 people wanting to name a card and 1 wanting to design one.  However, I have only acquired 9 backers for the basic amount, which is $20 for the game and $20 for shipping to Canada.  That surprised me greatly, and I wasn't at all sure what to think of it.

It does mean the financial side of things doesn't look the way I expected either.  The amount of money I have backed is much higher than I expected given that I have only got orders for 43 games and have $2875 dollars pledged.  So there are some people that have shown great interest, which is great!

Unfortunately I need to ramp up the general interest in the game a lot if I am going to hit my target.  I have 17 days left, and I need to get orders for another ~450 games to make it a go.  27 games / day is a lofty goal considering that most Kickstarter funding tends to come in the first few days and slows greatly by the end.

Only time will tell!

My brother backed me for the 'create a card' option, and he wants this picture to be the basis for the new card.  I don't yet know what it will do, but it certainly fits the theme:

Thursday, December 17, 2015

A swing and a ...

Over the past sixteen months I have been building a game called Camp Nightmare.  It is a co-op game for one to six players that is about a camping trip gone horribly wrong.  Everyone has to work together to try to survive a terrible series of mishaps and endeavour to have as much fun as possible along the way.

Yesterday I hit the big GO button for my Kickstarter campaign to try to get a bunch of copies of the game produced.  Basically I had two options from the outset:  A game with less stuff, but which I could print a smaller number of copies of, or a better game with more stuff that required at least 500 copies.  The Kickstarter is my attempt to make the second option work.  It will allow me to make the game just the way I want and to look as pretty and professional as possible.  However, it remains quite unclear if I will end up succeeding in getting that many people on board.

If the idea of a co-operative camping game appeals to you, the Kickstarter page is Here.  There are simple options where you get a copy of the game mailed to you, but if you really want to get involved and have your name on a card in the game or even design your own card that is available.

I already have one person excited enough to back the 'name a card after you' option, which seems fantastic as a start.

I am a big bundle of nerves and energy, a combination of worry about costs and taxes and hassle combined with excitement that I am finally trying this.

Here are some pictures from the game.  As you can see the art is already done and it looks superb, so the only thing left to do is to get production going with one plan or the other.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Opportunities lost

This morning Elli and I were talking about one of the books she is reading called The Miserable Mill.  It is part of the Series of Unfortunate Events series wherein the villain, Count Olaf, repeatedly puts on ridiculous disguises in an attempt to steal the inheritance of three orphans.  We were talking about how difficult it would be for Count Olaf to successfully convince people he was female for one of his alter egos and Elli was giggling about his pink nail polish when I mentioned that one of the things that might make this difficult is disguising his adam's apple.  Mine is fairly prominent so it would definitely be a thing that would make this sort of disguise difficult for me... among the many other things that make a rail thin 6 foot 4 man look decidedly male.

Suddenly the conversation veered into more interesting territory as talk of adam's apples brought up the term puberty, and Elli asked me what puberty means.  As is often the case with these kinds of questions the answers brought up more questions and suddenly I found myself flailing about trying to answer all of the things in just the right way.

It is really important to me to do this right.  When I answer questions of this nature for Elli I want to give her accurate information and make sure that I give it in a way that she can understand.  I have to tell her the truth so that she comes to understand the subject correctly, which sometimes involves swimming myself around in circles trying to find just the right phrasing.

At any rate I ended up explaining body hair, voice changes, and hips and breast development easily enough but then when I mentioned menstruation I realized I had another whole kettle of fish to deal with.  Elli was aware that having a period is a thing but apparently didn't really get that it was something that will happen to her.

No problem.  I can give the really fast 3 minute explanation of menstruation on the walk to school, sure!  I have to make sure I cover both the reasons (eventual babymaking capacity), the changes that will happen, and also the basics of how you deal with it.  Time being an issue, I decided that I would explain maxi pads but not other methods of dealing with menstrual blood - I really want her to understand that there are solutions for dealing with menstrual blood and that while it won't be a party it is a problem society has found tools to deal with.  Elli in particular really just needs to know that practical solutions to the concrete problems have been worked out... the existential questions really don't seem to enter into it.  (When talking about the remote possibility of Wendy and I dying, she really just wanted to know for sure that somebody would come pick her up and take her to her aunt and uncle's place to live; she wasn't especially fussed about the deaths themselves.)

Unfortunately for me the conversation kept unfolding and new angles continued to pop out.  Elli said that she didn't want to menstruate... which I hadn't really mentally prepared for as an objection.  I mean, sure, I don't want to menstruate either, but somehow that wasn't the thing I thought she would say!

My response was reasonable but uninspired, since I mostly just said that yeah, it can be a scary thing, it is a while off, it will end up being fine, but it is not something you can get out of.  All of which is true, but perhaps I should have found a more elegant answer.

Before I dropped her off she came out with the final tangent, saying that she doesn't want to have her hips change because she wants to stay skinny.

Well shit.

Suddenly I needed to deal with the topics of body image and the pressure to be thin and coping with changes to one's own body and these aren't easily covered by one line answers!  Unfortunately by this point we were already at school and she was off, lacking any particularly insightful answer to her final statement.

I have all these great speeches in my head, ready to give to her, and she just ends up packing so many questions into a tiny timeframe that I can't give all the speeches as the opportunities present themselves.  Somehow in my brain when these learning moments happen I have lots of time to pontificate at length, to take my leisurely time in teaching her the things she needs to know.

But in real life she pops off a question without a thought, gets a response that is squeezed for time and space, and sometimes just doesn't even listen to it very much.  She, after all, has much less of a sense about which of her many questions are the ones I deem important to get just right.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Love the game

Tonight I was thinking about how the first experience in a video game can be like falling in love.  I remember with startling clarity many of the early experiences in relationships when I felt myself falling into that state of crazy delirium, the sense that madness was taking hold and that I would be a slave to a new rush of chemicals.  It is a wondrous feeling and manages to cement memories that to an outsider might not look like anything interesting at all.  You can't get that sensation back, no matter how hard you try.  You can find love again with somebody new, but that first taste of attractive insanity is ephemeral and temporary.

Games are similar.  I remember playing Skyrim for the first time and my absolute wonder and joy at my first venture up a mountain into the ancient tomb called Bleak Falls Barrow.  It was guarded by bandits who began to rain arrows down on me as I approached.  I saw them up on their high perches and could not figure out how I might survive their assault to get close enough to mash them with my gigantic hammer.  I ran away, badly wounded, and hid behind a pillar to try to heal myself and desperately formulate a plan.

That first foray into an unknown place, not understanding the dangers and pitfalls I might encounter, dreaming of treasures and wonders, was very much like falling in love.  It came from something new, something unexplored, something unknown and terrifying.  That combination of optimism and fear, uncertainty and bravado, was absolutely intoxicating.  I played Skyrim for so many hours and had many fabulous moments of discovery and triumph but I never recaptured that feeling from Bleak Falls Barrow, that first few moments where the scope and power of the Skyrim world revealed themselves to me.  While I loved the game, that feeling would never return no matter how much I searched for it.

There are things that are definitely shared between discovering a new person (or just a new side of a person you thought you knew) and discovering a video game for the first time.  There is something immensely powerful about the unknown, both in that there may be scary things, bad times, and suffering, but also the possibility of rapture and joy.  Once a person is understood, once a game is explored, that sense of secrets to be found and the unknown fades away.  Both the love of a human and the first experience of a game world cannot be sustained over the long term as the unknown fades to known, as the map is filled in.

All of which explains a lot of why people have similar sorts of styles when it comes to games as they do when it comes to relationships.  Some people want to get past that first stage and just settle into playing a game over and over forever, content with second stage love.  Some people flit from game to game, always hunting for that hit of first love, of newness, of desperation and terror and hope.  I don't think that these things are particularly related though, as I definitely know people who sit tight in relationships, very happy to be settled, but are polygamers, never sticking to just one thing at a time.  There are also plenty of the opposite who chase the thrill in new relationships but play one game always and forever.

I can't tell which I am, to be honest.  I used to be more monogamous both in games and in love, but these days I find myself wandering from place to place, looking for new thrills instead of focusing in on one single thing.  I do wish I knew why this is the way it is though.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

The good company

For her birthday Elli got an advent calendar.  It was 25 days of LEGO bits, all themed around outdoor winter activities.  The set came with 2 figurines and a variety of cold weather sports gear including hockey sticks and skates.  Elli was not in the least interested in actually doing the advent calendar thing and just ripped everything open immediately.  Unfortunately it brought as much sadness as happiness because she discovered that two of the baggies were the same and the baggie containing the hockey sticks was nowhere to be found.

I was fairly sure that she would forget about the hockey sticks completely in a day or so but it seemed like a good idea to teach the lesson that if a company does something wrong you can try to get it fixed rather than just sucking it up.  That in mind, I wrote LEGO and described the problem to them.  Two weeks later I got a reply apologizing for the error and giving me exact part descriptions of the pieces that were going to be shipped to me.

Yesterday the parts arrived containing all the bits that were supposed to be in the original baggie.  It even included an apologetic note explaining that they try really hard not to let this stuff happen and such.  The pieces were shipped all the way from Europe, so they actually went to an awful lot of effort to track down the set I described, the pieces I described, and then ship it halfway around the world.

I feel kind of weird and ambivalent about this.  Partly it is great because Elli was absolutely stoked about getting her bits finally and ran off to play with them.  I appreciate when companies fix problems effectively and promptly, and such behaviour really makes me want to buy their products again.

One the other hand, shipping plastic bits in a plastic baggie in a plastic contained halfway around the world seems *heinously* wasteful.  My brother is currently doing a 'no plastic' month to try to get a grip on the way plastic is used and how you can go about reducing its use, and that makes this LEGO shipment seem all the more absurd.

I guess if I am okay with Elli collecting LEGO for birthday presents I probably shouldn't worry about the extra little bits.  It the large view it is more of a general consumption issue rather than a problem with this particular grouping of ten little bits in a bag that is the issue.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Take off that hat

Elli's school has an issue with hats.  That is, children sometimes like to wear hats and this is apparently an intolerable burden to the administration, an unforgivable offence.  I just don't get that reaction.  There is certainly a prevalent attitude in our culture that taking off your hat is in some ways a respectful act, and it has often butted heads with cultural norms that require turbans, kippahs, or other head coverings.

When I see children coming inside from recess and being immediately scolded to remove their hats and carry them instead of wearing them I want to go up to the teacher or administrator in question and ask why, exactly, it matters if they are wearing a hat or not.  How can this be a priority?  You only have so much energy and time, so wasting it trying to correct hat usage means that you have less available to try to achieve other things.  You know, things that might matter.  That child having a baseball cap on while they climb the stairs strikes me as something that does not in fact matter, and so it shouldn't be a priority.

In general it bothers me just because clothing requirements set by the government bother me.  Aside from clothes which directly affect other people (say a shirt emblazoned with racial slurs) I can't find any argument for government employees enforcing dress codes like this.

I also think the message we should be sending to children is that what they wear is their own business, not other people's.  This is especially true for girls as they get far more severely policed in that way throughout their lives, but it is true for everyone.  There is no safety reason to enforce hat removal.  There is no risk of causing harm to others.  The only defence is that it is the way things have always been done, and I don't think that is a compelling case at all.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015


Christie Brinkley, a model, recently posted a photo of herself in a bikini on vacation in which she looked really good.  Thoroughly unremarkable, except for the fact that Brinkley is 61, and still is rocking a body most 20 year olds are likely to be envious of.

So there you go. 61 year old woman with fantastic genetics, lot of money, the best personal training, and maybe other advantages has a pretty hot bod.  So what?

Well, the internet is angry about it.  Lots of people telling her things like "No woman over 35 should wear a bikini" or "I hate that bitch" or "Women her age should NOT be taking sexy photos of themselves" or insisting that the fact that her ribcage is visible is gross.  Some even tossed in assertions that she had obviously achieved this with the use of cosmetic surgery.  Which, maybe she has, I certainly don't know.  But so what if she has?  Doing so certainly doesn't make all this hatred and misogyny acceptable.

It all makes me sad.  Buried in all of this is an assumption that her worth is tied up in her looks and that women who aren't young are meant to fade away, to accept their lack of relevance, to give up the stage to younger folks.  Moreover that it is somehow offensive for an older woman to continue to be happy with her body, or to show it off if she wants to.  Ageism like that applies to everyone, but far, far more so to women.

So let us say that I am glad that Brinkley is sending the message that you can be hot at any age, but we should further add to that.  You don't have to look like her to be attractive.  You don't have to be young or hot to be worthwhile.  A little more focus on accepting her for what she is, and accepting us for what we are, without attempting to compare either to arbitrary and useless standards, would really do everyone a lot of good.