Happy Birthday! Dept.
It’s about 5:30 in the morning and according to the laws of the land, I turned 31 five and a half hours ago. Ugh.
My friend and colleague Allen Varney wrote me tonight to say happy birthday, and to ask why, in his characterization, I was so driven to do things. I don’t have a ready answer, though he says I told him something a few years ago by way of explanation that he no longer remembers. I don’t recall myself what facile answer I gave him. It seems like the kind of question that boils down to, “Why are you the way you are?” and that’s a question only a lifetime can answer, if then.
It does call to mind a handful of random notes, which I set down herein.
For starters, it makes me think of this weekend. I got up late Saturday morning and went to work, arriving at my studio by 11am. I worked for about four hours on Mike Daisey’s website, beginning to implement the revamp I designed a few weeks ago. It’s still underway and not yet live.
After four hours or so of this I left and arrived at Ray and Christine’s house for my birthday party. Christine made a taco feast, with apple pie and vanilla ice cream for dessert, per my grateful request. It was wonderful. Karen, Scott, and Jane arrived for the little soiree. I stayed for more than twelve hours of eating, drinking, and movies, finally leaving after 4am. I brought two films: the worst movie of all time, Battlefield: Earth, and the best movie of all time, Chungking Express. We also watched Girls Town, a Mystery Science Theater 3000 entry from the late 1950s, a juvenile delinquent melodrama starring Mamie van Doren, Mel Torme, Paul Anka, and Dick Contino, among others.
I got up this morning late–again–and hit the studio a little past noon. I worked for twelve hours straight, continuing my revamp of Mike’s site, finally bailing just after 10:30 pm. Then I returned to Ray’s to watch another MST3K flick, Double 007, a stunning late-1960s Italian James Bond knockoff starring Neil Connery, Sean’s brother. The theme song, “OK Connery!”, was a wonder to behold. Ray and I killed ample time before and afterwards jawing over this and that, including an extended discussion of the gaming industry. Like any small group, the gaming industry has an ample share of love affairs, doomed relationships, and so forth, and this sort of shopworn gossip and reminiscence proved to be the bulk of our latter conversations. We concluded with Ray’s plans for what to do should he ever become rich as Bill Gates; his primary goal is to build a 100-story statue of Ricardo Montalbahn in the heart of Manhattan, ensuring that no one could ever get a helicopter shot of New York without audiences breaking out in spontaneous laughter.
I came home and flipped through a copy of Delta Green, rereading the opening vignette supposedly by Maj. General Reginald Fairfield. That fictitious email, if you look at it closely, is dated February 25, 1994. It has this date because that’s when I wrote it. I typed it up the night of my birthday then, drunk and miserable for various reasons, intending it to start the book. It was three more years before the book finally came out, with that piece of writing there at the start of it, just as I’d planned.
A year or two before that, a friend told me I was the only person he’d ever met of whom he could truly say, “That guy is driven by demons.”
I had no better explanation then than I do now. I only know what I see and feel. The moving hand, having writ, moves on.
Movies Good and Bad Dept.
Well, Ray and I saw Queen of the DAMN! this afternoon and it was dogshit. The voiceovers were particularly grating, and the final scenes broke faith with earlier strong positions the film took (early, vampirism = barbarism; late, vampirism = romance). Worst of all, however, is the clear feeling that it was scripted by someone who really did like the book and wanted to make it work and just failed to do so. It’s a never-shoulda-been kind of project. But it’s no Battlefield: Earth or Mission to Mars, which remain two of the worst big-budget films ever made.
Tonight I saw a far better film: Dersu Uzala, a 1974 film by Akira Kurosawa I wasn’t familiar with. It’s based on a memoir written by a pre-revolution Russian officer and explorer who surveyed the frontier of eastern Russia. During his expeditions he traveled with a local hunter/guide, Dersu Uzala, and they became good friends. It’s a story of a guy whose entire life is in the wild, and ultimately how he is just as much a creature of the woods as the animals around him, and equally as unsuited to life in civilization. It’s a sad story but a beautiful one, and the wilderness looks fantastic in Kurosawa’s capable hands.
In between I went by the comic book store for the first time in a couple months and emptied out my box. The standout was the latest issue of Eightball, the series by Daniel Clowes of Ghost World fame. This issue, #22, is perhaps the best yet. It’s the story of a small town, Ice Haven, and a missing child. Instead of doing one story straight through, however, there’s twenty-nine separate stories that overlap and interconnect. Major characters in some stories are minor characters in others, or even just glimpsed in the background of a panel. The cumulative effect is very powerful, a mix of humor, tragedy, and pathos. It’s amazing stuff, completely relying on the medium of comics to work properly. If you haven’t checked in with comics or with Dan Clowes in a while, order a copy of Eightball #22 and be amazed at what a master of the medium can accomplish. No prior knowledge of anything except basic literacy required; it’s a completely self-contained work. Get it.
Music and Cultists Dept.
Karen and I went to see jr play tonight. She’s a singer-songwriter type of gal, and I’ve been going to her performances for almost four years now, several dozen times at this point. jr has a beautiful voice and a way of playing guitar that’s unique, an amazing crystalline clarity somehow flowing liquidly at the same time. I’d encourage you to listen to some of her songs at her page on mp3.com; there are high and low bandwidth versions, and you can also just download some of the songs in mp3 format to play on your computer.
When I’m not a jr cultist, I’m writing about cultists. Today I was at Flying Lab again writing material on a cult we’re using in the prototype for E3. It’s a cult I made up for this purpose, but it’ll probably turn up in the game in some form. I took the inspiration for it from the work I did on The Golden Dawn years ago, and specifically the whole Sheela-na-gig thing. If you aren’t familiar with the Sheelas, this site has info and photographs.
Friday, it’s time for the Bad Movie Club to reconvene. Our selection for the morrow is, of course, Queen of the Damned, whose reputation precedes it. We expect it to be atrocious. Damn shame it’s the last film from Aaliyah; I quite liked her in the enjoyable Jet Li flick Romeo Must Die.
I keep thinking about summer. This summer holds such promise. I’ll be done with UA2, and my only major project will be the DG computer game. That means a big chunk of time I can spend on whatever I damn well want to. I don’t even know what I’m going to do yet, but chances are excellent that I’m going to write something for myself, an actual personal project. I’ve been turning things down as they come up, saying no to everything, in hopes that I can keep half of my summer to myself. Here’s hoping.
Saturday some friends are hosting a birthday-ish party. Food and drinks and of course, a screening of the crowning glory of Hollywood: Battlefield: Earth. Oh man. I can’t wait. I’m especially eager to see this massive turd again because they allegedly edited the film for home-video release, changing it around a bit to make it suck less. Hah! I just fear they might have removed the awesome, stupefying scene where John Travolta whips out his blaster and shoots the legs off cows. Wow. Even just remembering the scene from that day in the theater makes me heave.
I forgot to mention: we saw jr play at a great place I hadn’t been to in years, Sit-and-Spin. It’s a combination laundromat/restaurant/nightclub downtown, and it’s fantastic. The performance space in back is actually one of the best in Seattle. It’s beautiful and intimate, and the sound system is actually good. That’s no small feat. Plenty of clubs dump bucks on a great system and then assign a random ass clown to run the sound board. In no time the thing’s so out of whack that few bands emerge intact. But jr’s show at Sit-and-Spin was perfect. Beautifully clear, wonderful sound. Must return. Check out their web site for a precious few shots of the awesome decor. Though I still miss the homey OK Hotel (an earthquake casualty) and the raucous, David Lynch-inspired 700 Club (their ghost of a web site still lives). For a while Glancy and I were quite the clubgoers, spending most every weekend at the OK or the 700, carousing like jackals. But eventually we got respectable or something, and now those clubs are gone. So it goes.
Which reminds me of a night we were at the 700 Club, drunk as lords. We wandered out into downtown and, lo and behold, across the street was a brightly-lit all-night porn shop. In we went, looking for laffs, and man we found them. They had the best porn magazine title ever on display: MANDATE. Oh lord. We laughed ourselves stupid over that one.
Ah, it’s late. Tomorrow I need to take some Godlike files over to Detwiller and then see if the upgrade to Mac OS X 10.1.3 I started before I left my studio on Wednesday worked or if it destroyed everything. Should I drive up to find a smoking ruin where Activspace* once stood, I’ll have my answer.
Then it’s time for Queen of the DAMN!!!
* I love that great description Activspace’s site has of the building my studio is in. They leave out the part where it’s across the street from a gun store.
Ridicule and Randomness Dept.
Today was another Flying Lab/UA2 split day. I feel like I’m working two jobs right now, and I guess I am. At the Lab, we did an interview with the editor of a computer game magazine who is giving us a feature first-look article for their E3 issue. It went really well. The guy is a Lovecraft fan and really got into the ideas we were discussing. A promising start to our long-term buzz efforts.
After I left the Lab, Karen and I took a long walk all over hill and dale. We retired to her studio for a little dinner and then I went to my studio for some UA2 work. I finished the first draft of Artifacts, the last chapter in the Cosmic section of the book, and sent it off to Greg. He turned in his edits of the first four chapters in that section, and so I tidied them up and sent them off to some folks for their comments. We’re almost done with part three.
Last night I went to a reading and Q&A by S.T. Joshi, who wrote the definitive biography of H.P. Lovecraft and also edited the critical and annotated editions of HPL’s fiction. Joshi is a very entertaining guy and it was a fun evening. He did some readings from a new omnibus of HPL’s poetry, including a delightful one: a poem HPL wrote at the age of seven in which he condensed The Oddessy down to 88 lines, using the rhyme scheme from Rime of the Ancient Mariner. Impressive as hell for a seven-year-old and very funny, with lots of wonderfully strained rhymes and such. Joshi lives in Seattle now, which was news to me.
Afterwards, I joined my friends Daniel and Heather at their house for dinner. They showed me a beautiful, awful, hilarious book called The Museum of Bad Art: Art Too Bad To Be Ignored. There’s no real way to do it justice, but you can visit the Museum’s web site and see for yourself.
Hell, I can’t resist. This is the piece whose discovery spurred the creation of MOBA. All hail Lucy, and read the glorious story of how she came to be.
Now if we can just get her and OMAC together, we’ll really have something.
And Europeans Boggle At Us Dept.
Well, no sooner did the Swiss design a replica of Bespin than the darn French went and created a giant autonomous mobile flower pot. It’s a freaking triffid, I’m telling you. Check out the animated GIF for the full horror. And this atrocity once again comes from James, who has somehow become a eurofillerfilter.
Obscure Good News Dept.
At Flying Lab we got word today that the company making the Delta Green computer game’s 3D engine, Lithtech, has accepted our short animation demo for showing off at the Game Developer’s Conference in late March. This means we’ll have an easier time finding a publisher for the game and can create some buzz. The animation may go online after GDC is over, but I’m not sure yet.
Oh, those darn Swiss are up to no good again. Link courtesy of James Wallis, who is up to no good 24/7.
Today: finished the first draft of two UA2 chapters: Assumption and Ascension and Demons. Greg turned in his edits to the Cosmic Campaign chapter and I sent him the new stuff. Next: first draft of the Artifacts chapter, and then the cosmic-level section of the new rulebook is ready for edits and peer review.
February 25th is my birthday. I’ll be 31. This still seems young to me, but maybe I’ll always feel that way. If all goes well there will be some sort of minor event this weekend and then Karen and I will go to Vancouver for a couple days of goofing around a week later.
Non Sequitor Hate Mail Dept.
I just got this fantastic email a minute ago. Here’s the message in its entirety:
Subject: I read what you wrote
I have to say you are the most blatantly and openly uneducated and uncivilized. You tear carelessly into what other people believe to be good. Thank you very much for insulting all the things that I enjoy, mainly, The X-Files, Stargate, and Star Trek: Voyager. How dare you. Well if you can express your opinion so carelessly, so can I.
Thank you for your time.
Wasn’t that spectacular? My response:
I have no idea what you’re talking about, or what it is I wrote that you read, so it’s difficult to respond to your seemingly random email. I can say I believe the first three seasons of X-Files were excellent, and I saw two episodes in the first season of Stargate that I thought were clever.
But indeed, I do think Star Trek: Voyager blows apes from start to finish.
And thus my day is made. Actually it was made when my girlfriend called this afternoon to demand I stop working and watch Blade with her, as she hadn’t seen it before and the previews for the sequel look cool. And then it was made again when, at the video store, I stumbled into the new special edition DVD of Tombstone, one of my favorite guilty pleasures–it’s that western with Kurt Russell and Val Kilmer and that older guy with the mustache. It’s a two-disc set! Whoo hoo!
So now my day has been made three times. I’ll post updates if “Eat Sh*t” boy writes back. See how easy it is to get mentioned in a dispatch?
Since I’ve spilled the beans about UA2, I can be more direct about what I’m working on with the project for those of you who are interested.
At present, Greg and I are working on part three, the cosmic-level section. Each section begins with the same two chapters: Overview and Campaign. The Overview presents the setting–stuff about the occult underground, the nature of magick, and so forth. Campaign specifically addresses ways to start your campaign by stressing cabal creation.
Late this week I wrote the first drafts of the Cosmic Overview and Cosmic Campaign and sent them to Greg. Last night he sent back the Overview chapter with edits and new material, and I’ve reviewed those edits and filed the new version of the chapter in my working directory for UA2. There wasn’t anything that required another round of edits, so the Overview chapter is done pending peer review. That’ll happen next week. Once we wrap up the first draft of the Cosmic Campaign chapter, I’ll send both chapters off to our circle of reviewers to get their feedback.
Meanwhile, I’m off to work on the next chapters in the Cosmic section. I’d been planning to lump all the cosmic-level magick stuff into one big chapter, but was having problems conceptualizing such a chapter and what it might be called. Cosmic Magick was an obvious choice, but the connotation of that title isn’t really appropriate. Tonight I realized that I should just keep the chunks of that chapter as separate chapters. The new layout dispenses with the two-page spreads that have traditionally opened each UA chapter, so it’s not a waste of space to have several short chapters in the book. So Overview and Campaign are followed with Godwalkers & Ascension, Artifacts, The Unnatural, and some other stuff I’m blanking on right now.
On the layout track, I’ve got the first two sections of the book–street and global–in decent shape. I need to review the comments on the global section and implement corrections directly into the layout files.
The book needs to be 256 pages, no more and no less, and that’s a huge uncertainty. My page design is meant to hit that target, but the problem is the manuscript isn’t done. We’re still writing stuff like crazy, and I may find that the page design needs more or less text to hit that target because of the length of the final manuscript, or that things need to be cut or expanded. I just don’t know yet. I do have some flex built it–for example, as much as I want to include “Pinfeathers” in this edition, we can leave it out. I’m also not laying out the chapters of the rulebook fiction (“Legacy”) until the end, so I can use that to expand or shrink the page count to hit 256. But this uncertainty also means I can’t start fixing the “see p. xx” references. They’ll have to wait until the end of the process as well.
Ideally, I wouldn’t start the layout until the manuscript is done. But we have so little time left that I have to keep pushing on layout when I’m waiting to get revisions from Greg or whatever, and hope that my layout work doesn’t get undone in the next few weeks. Gah. In some ways it’s a blessing to be writer/editor/graphic designer on a project, since I get as much control over the work as anyone could want. But it can also be a hellish responsibility and a nightmare workload.
This evening Karen and I went to an unbirthday party at Daniel & Heather’s. Daniel’s birthday was last month but he was too overworked to do anything, so Heather threw him an unbirthday party this month. We hung around and watched some bizarre samurai/ninja adventure flick and then two episodes of the documentary Walking with Prehistoric Beasts. This is a sequel to Walking with Dinosaurs, a BBC production. The various Walking projects use the same beautiful conceit: a documentary about dinosaurs and other ancient critters made in the same style as a modern animal-behavior documentary about living creatures. Which is to say that they shoot and present it as if they were taking footage of lions on the veldt or monkeys in trees. There’s no interviews with talking heads or anything. We just see the creatures engaging in their (imagined) natural behavior while the voiceover offers the usual cycle-of-life commentary. This is accomplished by shooting film in actual locations and then using CGI and some puppetry to insert the dinosaurs. It’s beautifully done. They even have some great outtakes in which you see film crews sneaking around to shoot footage of live dinosaurs, and that sort of thing.
I wrote a review of Walking with Dinosaurs last year where I commented on the differences between the BBC project and the American version of the same thing that played on the Discovery channel. They changed narrators, rewrote the narration to dumb it down, changed the on-screen titles to generalize references to specific locations, and cut out the violence when dinosaurs mauled each other. In short, it was really pathetic.
It turns out that Discovery really screwed the pooch on this new documentary, which is about the rise of mammals. Daniel saw the Discovery airing of their version and then bought the BBC DVD release, which is what we saw tonight. He was stunned. The Discovery version chopped out almost half of each episode and replaced that material with talking heads babbling away. And of course the narration was rewritten and replaced, and stuff like prehistoric primates having sex was nowhere to be seen. The whole conceit of the series is that it’s done in the traditional nature-documentary style of “The male lion surveys his territory and there–the gazelle breaks from the trees and the chase is on!”, except it’s about creatures that no longer exist. And Discovery blew that all to hell and cut out much of the brilliant work the BBC’s team did on the project.
So again I can only say: screw the Discovery channel. This is a really great project. The U.S. videotape release is the Discovery channel’s hacked-up version, but happily the U.S. DVD release is the original BBC production. Rent the DVD, or buy it ($28, two discs), and give this thing a watch. It’s good stuff.
Having just gone to Amazon to set up the above link, I discovered that they’ve introduced the stupidest feature yet: Your Message Center. Now on their home page there’s a sidebar that links to this feature and tells me: “You have 6 new messages waiting for you!” Following the link reveals that yes, all six messages are sales blurbs from Amazon. That’s it. It’s not an inter-user messaging system, or a system for people to comment on reviews you’ve posted, or anything else resembling a messenging system. It’s just a link so you can read spam from Amazon! Good God. They expect people to look at their “messages” more than once ever? This is ridiculous. What a waste of effort. My only hope is that it’s a trial program I happened to be included in, and that not everyone who goes to Amazon sees this nonsense. Oh well.
This Dispatch is brought to you by the letters U and A.