Sunday, September 5, 2010

"Does Not Compute" My Eye!

Work on the room project was put on hold for the week last week, as I dedicated myself to the exciting and laugh a minute activity that is reformatting my computer, combining technical work with data entry and a clever logic puzzle, fun for ocd masochists everywhere.

Allow me to elaborate.

My current computer is a couple of years old but still performing well, thanks to a possibly not entirely wise splurge last time I purchased. As it turns out, it's the computer that keeps on giving. At the time I purchased 4gb of RAM, which was the maximum that the operating system that shall not be named could support. (*COUGH*Vista*COUGH*) And all was well and good. However, doing some diagnostic checks earlier in the year (and speaking to my brother who Knows Stuff(tm) about this sort of thig) I discovered that the 4gb limit includes any memory included on my video card, which turned out to be 2gb. The upshot was that my video card was fighting with my memory for control of the available space. Actually that's far too dramatic and now I have a story idea for computer parts fighting for control, although in retrospect maybe I should call it Tron...

Anyway, the end result is I had approx 2gb of memory that I wasn't able to use, and on the whole it would be quite nice to. As it turned out that there was an easy (in theory) way to fix this. My current operating system was a 32 bit system, but I had a 64 bit processor. If I reinstalled windows as a 64 bit operating system, I would then be able access the extra memory. All I had to do was back up my software, then do a clean install from the installation disc, and we'll be right as rain.

After a number of obstacles, partially that I didn't HAVE an installation disc as I'd purchased windows 7 through a downloadable upgrade, and 2nd and more importantly, that it took three tries to get the correct operating system installed (it turns out that while Microsoft can create a new and well designed operating system capapble of runnings the computers of millions of people around the world, what they CAN'T do is label their installation discs correctly), I was finally up and ready, with a brand spanking new 64 bit system installed, and all of my hardware available for use.

3 days and 45gb of downloads later and I'm only just finished reinstalling all my various software and updates. Turns out theres a lot more on a computer than just an operating system, who would have thought.

At last, though, it's done. Which is just as well, as I have, you know, work to go to and stuff and can't sit around installing programs all day.

The end result? A computer that looks the same, sounds the same, and for the most part runs the same as before. But now it's 64 bit!!

...I'm such a geek.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

A Room Without A View: Week 2

Last week was a relatively light week in terms of construction. As I near the end of the current phase of building I'm eager to begin the next training course as soon as possible so I can continue into creating the props for the room with as little downtime as possible. So most of my time was focussed on painting the walls.

Allow me to elaborate.

As previously mentioned, in order for my room to look like my room I would need to find textures that match the wall paper, carpter, and the wood beams. Half Life 2's textures are on the whole an excellent and professional looking lot, but do conform to the theme of HL2, which could charitably be described as "a renovator's dream!". So nothing especially matched. About the only thing that looked closed was the fireplace, and that was only because I found a "wood" texture. But if it were to be an accurate rendition of my room, improvements would have to be found.

A couple of online tutorials later and I was all set. Downloading a communuity made program called VTFEdit (there are some very nice smarter than me modders out there that believe in sharing the tools they've created, which makes my job so much easier) which could convert any image into a texture for HL2, I set about photographing the various walls of my room.

This wasn't quite the simple chore I had imagined, and in the end I had to do quite a bit of careful light placement to ensure I found a balance between shadow and glare, and even then I generally I could only salvage a small square out of the photo, tile it to make it repeatable, and then paste that in. Fortunately this actually works very well as all of the things I was photographing were "repeatable", ie. flat slabs of blue or white. Still, if I'm going to do this professionally it's going to require a good camera and some studio like conditions.

But that's a thought for the future, as to start with I'll be working exclusively in the engine and the textures included therein.

The change was a small one, but it results in a dramatic difference to my eyes, as it is actually starting to look like my room.

I did do a small amount of construction this week, as I decided I was not at the level to be able to create the skirting boards and wall design as a texture, and built them using brushes instead.

All that's left to do building wise now is texture the doors and cupboards, and make them both open, and then it'll be time to start placing props...

Sunday, August 22, 2010

A Room Without A View: Week 1

One week in and the room is proceeding well. The main architecture of the room (walls, roof, cupboards etc.) are complete, and textured, though not with the correct colours yet. I have found the work immensely satisfying and may have found a new hobby/career option, and have learnt many things, most importantly to never put fireplaces in your levels.

Allow me to elaborate.

Monday: Only had an hour to spare between work and a social engagement, so I spent the time taking some reference photos of the room and balancing precariously on a chair with a tape measure trying to make my arms grow another fifteen cm so I could reach the roof.

Managed to get all the measurements I needed based on the age old method of "measure a bunch of short things and add them together", as it turns out the tape measure I thought was absolutely massive when I was ten is in fact, only 2m long. Now I feel old. But also tall.

Tuesday: Took a couple of final fiddly measurements such as "width of cupboard door" and "depth of the lower fireplace shelf at the centre compared the the diagonal line of the edge" (deep breath), and then using my rudimentary Adobe Illustrator skills contstructed an architectural plan of the room showing the scale and measurements of the walls, which served as a reference and also something to make architects fall on the floor and laugh their heads off.

Then started building the room in Hammer, the level editor for the source engine.

Firstly, the Hammer editor is AMAZINGLY intuitive and enabled stupid people (ie. me) to build quite complex objects with ease.

Secondly, Never try and build a room facing north starting from the west wall when you're currently facing south, or expect to get confused by compass directions every few minutes.

Completed the walls, roof and floor, then called it a night.

Wednesday: Started with the wardrobe as the single largest feature of the room, but also the boxiest. Made one of each of the wardrobe and cupboard doors, then copied them accross. Copy and paste is your friend.

The bedroom door posed a quandry, I could quite easily do a thin pretend door and leave it at that but given I eventually wanted the door to open I had to take into account the length of the frame on the OTHER side of the wall. Hammer helpfully has a 'carve' function which allows you place an object through another, and use that to cut a hole through it. So by placing the door frame into the wall and then carving, I was left with a perfectly door shaped hole. Win.
Thursday: Thursday was fireplace day.

I have what I always assumed to be a relatively plain and unassuming old fireplace in my room, which has long been sealed. As it turns out there are lots of little slats and supports all over the thing that I had previously taken for granted. To make it a bit more difficult, most of them have rounded edges. 3d technology has come along way since the days of, say, Quake, but the general rule still applies that curved edges and video games don't mix. The solution is to do lots of little straight edges, and enough of them that it effectively looks curved.

The upshot of which is that the fireplace took me longer than every other part of the room combined, but fortunately it did look the spitting image of my actual fireplace when done. A currently unsolved problem is the mirror just above the mantlepiece. Reflections are a bit of an issue in the source engine (particularly as the main character is never actually seen in Half-Life 2), but there are solutions. I just need to find them.

The main architecture complete, I threw in some placeholder textures ( the 'skin' that objects in the world wear), added a simple light, and loaded up the level in the actual game to see how it looked.

The first thing I noticed is that lighting makes your level look infinitely better.

The second thing I noticed is that the editor is actually more powerful than the game, and so all my carefully curved edges had been transformed into diagonal or straight lines. Still looked good but rather frustrating nonetheless.

But the room was done! Walls, fireplace, cupboards and doors, the framework was complete. I leaned back, breathed a sigh of relief, looked up and realised I had forgotten the roof.


Friday: Taking a break from the roof, I decided to solve another question I had been wondering. Half-Life 2 has a number of built in textures, but of course if I'm building MY room, I should probably make sure it's the same colour as MY room. So I needed a way to create my own textures.

This is slightly hindered by the fact that my drawing skill is almost exclusively limited to cartoon fish, which falls slightly short of the ability to create a bump mapped texture with virtual depth and inbuilt material properties.

To the internet I would go. A quick search later and I had downloaded a program a helpful modder had made that allowed images to be converted to source engine textures with relative ease. Using an image of a white plaster ceiling that I... "borrowed" from the internet until I had time to photograph my own roof, I ran the program, added a view properties to tell the game it was plaster and would react as such when shot or walked on (neither likely in this scenario but you never know) and restarted Hammer.

Sure enough my new "whiteceiling.vtf" file appeared, and I was able to replace the roof texture with this new one. Still looked nothing like my actual roof, but important milestones, people.
Saturday: Having successfully procastinated design work with learning work on Friday, I returned on Saturday to the roof. My roof has 4 cross breams running accross with whatever you call the roof equivelant of a skirting board running around all edges, which includes both the edge of the roof and the cross beams. Now this is the kind of thing you'd normally reserve for a texture but I wanted to go a bit all out on the room to know my limits, so I decided to build them using geometry instead.

The loyal tape measure was brought out once more and some quick measurements were taken of the beams and the skirting boards. From there it was a relatively simple affair of building the beams, building one set of skirting boards and then copying it 33 times to the other edges on the roof, doing a little trimming here and there to ensure that the edges blended appropriately. I also took this opportunity to trim the door frame as the top is two slanted diagonals rather than a single straight line.

On Sunday, after creating my world, I rested, and played video games instead.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

A Room Without A View: Introduction

I have decided to build myself a bedroom.

Allow me to elaborate.

For the past few months I have been working - slowly but mostly surely through a dvd course on level design in the Source Engine (the engine used to create games such as Half-Life 2, Team Fortress 2, and many other games with 2 in the title). I am nearing completion of the course (whereupon I will start one of the 6 OTHER DVDs in my drawer), and am looking for a small project to test it out. I could create a multiplayer map, and indeed I have a couple of plans to do this. I could create a single player map, and this is our eventual goal. But first I'm looking for a project, small in scope but allowing for expansion and improvement as I practice and learn.

My brother (as we develop our attempted buisness we continue to set each other goals and deadlines as an encouragement to productivity) set me the innocent sounding goal of building a recreation of my bedroom as a test. At first this seemed simple enough. As I learned more about level design and the tools involved, it began to seem far to simple. As I learned even more, I began to realise that there was an amazing amount of potential for this simple idea to become wonderfully complex.

This will need to be done in several stages.

Stage 1: Creating the physical space itself. This is easy enough apart from one corner (my room is not a perfect rectangle, it has a dip in one corner behind an old fireplace), but for authenticities sake I will need to do some measurements of the real bedroom and convert this into in game units.

Stage 2: Adding non-moving parts. My bedroom is an old room that's been renovated a few times over the years, it used to be a dining room that connected the front hallway to the back study, but has had an extra wall added in to make it a seperate room that connects onto the hallway. As such it has a few quirks such as an asymmetrical roof design (beams and plaster), an old sealed over fireplace, built in wardrobes and a wall pattern that juts out from the wall slightly. As these are all fixed and don't move they can be added in using fixed geometry, along with the window, which I will leave opaque for now.

Stage 3: Adding moving parts. Door to the room (which, unless I build the wallway, I will need to leave locked), wardrobe and cupboard doors.

Stage 4: Placeholder props. Bed, TV, Various shelves, desk and computer. These will be placed using in engine props, meaning the bed will not look like MY bed, etc, but this will certainly do to start with.

And that will complete the room. However, there's plenty more to be done. Firstly, I have a course in designing 3d content and props, so my eventual long term goal is to attempt to create props that match the content of my room, so I have my bed, my computer, rather than whatever the source engine has available. If I feel particularly crazy, I can even use photographs as actual textures to ensure they match adequately.

Once that's done, I will look to see if anything can be done to fix the opaque window. The simplest solution seems to be create as much of the outside as can be seen from my window (fortunately this is very little, just a fence and a portion of the neighbours house), and then leave the rest as blank, as it will never be seen in game. The same approach could be used for the hallway to allow the door to my room to be opened.

I'll be uploading pictures to my facebook (and here) as I go, to show my progress. Work will hopefully begin tonight.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Why Advertisers Should Fear Me

Dear Universe,

I have been told on occasion that I have an excellent memory. I forget who by. However, over the years I have noticed that, while it definately has its moments, at times it seems to be rather selective in its excellentness. For example, I cannot remember What I had for breakfast on the third wednesday in February. You could argue this is because this counts as unessential information not worth remembering, an admirable explanation that sadly falls flat when you consider the amount of childrens television show theme tunes I know by heart. But whatever else you can by say about my memory, it has always been good at remembering advertising, and my father, in his speech at my 21st, told with some relish (and a slice of cake) the story of how, as a child, I would always tell them which product they should buy and listed all the reasons why it was superior, quoting the ad word for word. I suppose it raises interesting questions about retained memories, and how memory is affected by perceived cultural significance, plus the effect of advertising on children and/or suspecptible personalities. Or maybe I just saw a weird ad this morning.

Allow me to elaborate.

As I walked out of the train station, listening to a rock band singing tragically about how nobody wants to hear you sing about tragedy, I noticed an ad promoting 'The Biggest Aussie Pie Night', showing a lot of Typical Australians(tm) at the football, whooping and holloring at the sight of a meat pie with sauce. While I enjoy a meat pie as much as the next person, perhaps more so, it did seem an overly generous reaction to a baked meat and pastry product, even one with tomato sauce. However this soon was forgotten when I noticed that one of the men (who from the look on his face hadn't seen a pie in years) was yelling out at the top of his lungs: "Support kids with cancer!"

This struck me as possibly the oddest thing I had even seen someone yell at a meat pie. Leaving aside the fact that I've never understood how giving kids cancer could be considered supportive, there was the question of why he was shouting it at all. Was he perhaps so excited by the prospect of pie that his vocabularly had failed him and he merely shouted the first thing that came into this head? Is it a bizarre speech impediment that made him shout "Support kids with cancer! instead of, perhaps "Yay! A pie!"? Or was he ordering the pie to support them?

Then it occurred to me that perhaps he wasn't shouting at the pie, but rather to the footballers he had supposedly come there to watch. As far as sporting cries go it certainly ranks as one of the strangest, but there is a certain nobility to it. Instead of shouting "Caarn the Bombers!" or "The Eagles are a group who are indiscrimate in their choice of sexual partners, and in particuliar we are insinuating that their mothers may have been considered appropriate!" (or words to that effect...), instead this man decided to tell his team that he supported supporting children who are suffering from cancer.

What a kind man. If only more could follow his example. Imagine it. Football fields would be transformed from a cacophany of cheers, insults, and slurs into a place of social commentary and political debate. The place would come alive, fuelled by the passion of people's views and beliefs.

You could even change the names of the teams to causes. Instead of the 'Brisbane Bears' or the 'Essendon Bombers', you could have the 'Brisbane Save The Bears', or the 'Essendon Stop Bombing Iraq'. Their fans could support them by yelling their team names and creating banners. It'd be great television too. I'm excited about this.

Of course, things could get a bit ugly when West Coast Pro Life face off against Port Pro Choice...

In conclusion, don't have people shout slogans on your pie ads, or I will make fun of you.

Yours Sincerely,

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Attack Of The Mini-Blog 2: Return Of The Killer Mini-Blog

An Ill Wind Is Blowing. And Sneezing.

I always get rather guilty when I get sick, much in the same way that other people get blocked noses. Ok, so I get those too, but I also get guilt.

Allow me to elaborate.

It can be argued that I am rather tougher on myself than I am on other people. A friend has kindly put this as "You hold yourself to a very high standard", which is much nicer than saying I do not esteem myself highly. Part of this materialises in a desire to not let other people down, which reflects in my day job just as much anything else. So whenever I'm sick, I start to worry (frequently as I'm busy coughing my lungs out) that possibly I'm just putting it on and I should really just get back to work, you slacker.

My doctor, bless his quite-possibly-although-I've-never-actually-examined-them-in-them-in-great-detail cotton socks, does his best to talk me out of this point of view, and when I took Monday off due to ill health and went to see him fully expecting to be told to get back to work and stop wasting his time (despite being sick for 4 days already) he subtly asked me if I could take a little time off work and when confirmed he leapt on the chance and told me to stay home for the rest of the week.

Though I was initially against the idea in the long run it's turned out to be a very good thing. I was reaching burn out point and this seems to have headed it off at the pass, meaning I am pretty much back at full energy. It also in some says feels like a fresh start, as work, writing, and my current self tutoring projects were all put on hold in favour of giving this whole rest thing a shot, and can now approach them with a fresh eye after the break.

Bring it on. Of course, bring it on-in-a-slighty-less-hectic-way-than-before, but the on shall nevertheless be brung. Or brought.

It's good to be back.

It's Important To Have The Heart Of A Child. I Keep It In A Jar.

Recently I attended a 21st birthday party that could be described as atypical in that it started reasonably early in the evening and didn't involve the consumption of alcohol. Instead it was filled with Pinatas, Junk Food, Board and Video Games, DVDs and Theatre Sports.

In a word, it was awesome. (That's actually three, but lets not mince words. It'd make a terrible mess) And it made me consider that many of the my preferred activities are probably atypical to conventional stereotypical adult society, to whit, I don't drink, don't do drugs, don't follow a football team, don't go out to pubs or parties, and instead prefer the company of small groups of friends, and spend my time with films, video games, and general hanging out.

This is, in fact, pretty much what I did as a child, and pretty much what I did in high school. To be honest, most of the typically "adult" activities don't interest me for the most part, and if I enjoyed the things I did when I was younger, I don't see much of a reason to stop them and start doing things I don't enjoy simply because I've passed the 21 year mark. There are certainly things, such as work, relationships and future long term plans, that are definately the focus of my adult life, just as "going to school" was my focus while I was going to school.

But my hobbies are unchanged, and are in all honesty unlikely to change. Because I'm an adult now.

You can't tell me what to do. Stop it. No you stop it. MUUUUUUUUUUUUUM!

A Short Review Of The Film Inception, By Sam Mellor.

Inception was INCREDIBLY AMAZING. See it.

Also, I like milo.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Diary Of A Mad Writer #8 - So The Foresight Had Some Insight, In The Light Of Hindsight. (Thankyou, Bernard)

As I look towards the future, I've decided it might be a good time to take a step forwards and take the opportunity to look back at the previous projects I have begun, both to get an indication of the work I've done so far, and to see if there are any works that may be worth salvaging and updating for future use. Or to put it simply, in order to move forward I've looked backwards and taken the past to use in the future, and find to think forwards, one must in truth, think backwards, but only in a back to front forward thinking way.

Allow me to elaborate.

Or at least, to stop talking nonsense.

I've about ten years worth of various projects on my computer, not all of them finished. Sadly I don't seem to have anything from before this, as I appear to have deleted it all (or at least, not backed up my files when we changed computers). It was probably terrible, as it was all from 16 years and under, but I'd have liked the opportunity to have said that myself.

As my current main goal is to get something published in a sci-fi/fantasy magazine within (hopefully) the next six months, I've been going through my old files to see if there was anything that could be polished up and submitted as is. the outlook so far, is not good. Out of all the files I've been through, they have all broadly fallen into one of the following categories:

1. Too Short - The magazines I have found have a minimum word count of 2000 words, quite a few of my short stories fall around the 1600 mark.

2. Too Long - Most of the other stories I have exceed the maximum length (8000 words)

3. Wrong Genre - Many of those that are neither too long or too short are in fact too 'not science fiction or fantasy', making them difficult to submit to a sci-fi/fantasy magazine.

4. Wrong Format - Written for radio, film, television, or theatre. Could possibly be rewritten, but most of them fall into category 1, 2, or 3 anyway.

5. Atrocities - Awful work, kept because I no longer wish to throw any stories out, but deserving to be burnt in a fire(wall).

After you throw out all of those, you're not really left with anything, except for a couple of recent projects that fit the bill perfectly, except they fall into category 6: Not finished yet.

However, while looking through the pieces I discoverd a bunch of longer stories I had begun but never conituned beyond about the 10th chapter (or in one case, the 2nd page). As it turns out there's a reason for this which is probably deserves its own blog, but looking through them I was actually rather pleased with what I'd written so far. So I've dug them out and am editing them between calls at work in an attempt to bring them up to spec, and then can look at either finishing them, or adapting them into shorter works that would be suitable for submission.

So is there anything I can submit now? No. But there are plenty of things I will be able to submit, once they're done.

Assuming I don't change computers anytime soon.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

To Sleep, Perchance To Oh Crap It's Half Past Six!

There have been many strategies over the years as to the best way to get out of bed in the morning, with limited scucess. I have been told to try putting the alarm clock on the other side of the room, to keep slippers by the bed, and on one rather bizarre occassion, to tie a peice of string to my toe and through some mechanical genius enable it to be tugged sharpy in the morning, thus waking me up (and hoping there's not a power surge, causing the machine to overload and leaving me toeless). However, I have discovered that nothing wakes you up more effectively than not getting up.

Allow me to elaborate.

I currently work in a position that for the first half of the week requires me to begin work at eight. To follow this backwards in a logical progression, that means I need to be at the office at 7:40 (as when my public transport is late, it's VERY late...), which means I need to catch a 7:00 train, which means I need to leave the house at 6:40, wich means I need to be up at 5:40, which means I need to set my first alarm at 5:30.

This is not by way of complaining, but rather to point out the timing involved. There are plenty of people for whom 5:30 would seem like a luxurious sleep in (or indeed for those unfortunate overnight workers, time for lunch). And there are definite advantages to starting work early, namely that you finish work early, particularly if you're a slack part time worker like myself. So all in all I'm actually rather glad to be working so early.

But my body clock still hasn't quite adjusted. Previously I worked until 11:30 at night, so I used to rise at about 9 or 10 in the morning and could enjoy a leisurely afternoon until it was time to leave. Now I need to be out of the house in an hour, which includes showering, shaving, dressing, eating breakfast, and remembering hat scarf, ipod, wallet, keys, and so forth. I say an hour because it allows me to not rush and instead be able to enjoy breakfast and a coffee before I go (as work for all it's free coffeeness frequently fails to comprehend that some wild crazy people enjoy non-off milk in their coffee on a Monday morning), but it can certainly done in a shorter time.

As I discovered this morning.

I use my mobile phone as an alarm clock as I generally leave it on anyway in case somebody needs anything, and also because it has the handy ability to set multiple alarms, so I generally set one alarm for 5:30 and the next for 5:40 as the first will generally wake me up, and the 2nd will wake me up just as I'm starting to fall back to sleep. This morning I cleverly managed, while turning off the first alarm, to reset my 2nd alarm for 4:40. So I awoke, (feeling sleepy but curiously refreshed), expecting it to be a couple of minutes before 5:40 to find it was, in fact, 6:27.

I have never woken up faster.
On the plus side, I have discovered that if the house were about to be sucked into a black hole in fourteen minutes time I don't need to worry as I can still shower, dress and pack a few things and be out of there in thirteen minutes, but on the downside I appear to have used up all the energy my body had allotted for today in about, oh, thirteen minutes as it happens. The first thing I did when I got to the office was to make a coffee, and was very glad to see that for once the fridge wasn't full of expired milk.

It was, however, full of no milk whatsoever, but mustn't grumble.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Diary Of A Mad Writer #7 - Project Updates

I seem to have story ideas coming out of my ears at the moment, although possibly it's just wax. Either way I have a lot of ideas to write and I'm having a little trouble deciding which to write first, and indeed what style to write them in. Largely it comes down to what I can do with them once they are done.

Allow me to elaborate.

Current project ideas:

1. - "Mistake In Identity." Short comedy film about someone who is convinced a deceased celebrity is hiding out in their local supermarket, despite the fact that the person in question doesn't resemble the celebrity.

Neat idea, low budget requirements and high chance of being turned into a finished project with film group.

2. - "Midas." Long form fantasy adventure featuring dreams, princesses, robot demons and changing worlds when you sleep.

Pet project for the last year or so, still struggling with style and of course the difficulty of publishing once complete.

3. - "MI8" Long form crime/fantasty thriller about secret magic government organisations.

Style downpat and 12 chapters complete, again the issue of getting published.

4. - "The Last Chicken In The Shop" Short Story. Have had the plot worked out for some years about a machine that can make anything out of anything, and gets quite abstract when you ask it to make people you don't like no longer exist...

Working on finding the best tone. Until recently unable to think of what to do with it once it's done (apart from publish online), but recently hit upon the idea of submitting to fantasty/sci-fi magazines.

5. - "The War of The Bear." Teddy Bear story about two brands of bears in a toy shop (the Russel bears and the Jonathan bears) and the xenophobia and fighting that ensues when the new bears arrive in the shop. Eventually everyone is destroyed and put back together from all the different parts.

Told as a creation myth (and therefore very hard to write). Useful as a spring board to other stories.

6. - "A Sword In The Hand, A Pick In The Lock" Fantasy Comedy Adventure story about two treasure hunters, their priest treasure hunting wannabe groupie, and their plan to break into an evacuated underground city and steal all their gold.

A chance to use fast paced dialogue and one liners without it getting too much in the way of the story, but heavy editing required to make sure it doesn't go overboard. Emphasis on action sequences. Planning to submit to magazines or journals once done.

I've started doing some reasearch into fantasy and science fiction journals which will hopefully assist in getting an increase in published work. I figure since I'm at the point where I'm attempting to pursue this, I need to get as much work submitted as possible, so I'll be working to submit as much as I can for the rest of the year. Stay tuned.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Welcome To Your Mid Year Review, Please Sit Down

Well, the first half of the year is over (or if you're financially minded, the first half of the year has only just begun, so well done on catching up to the rest of us). Summer has been and gone (and good riddance), winter has properly arrived (Hello Winter), tax returns are now submittable (yet despite the offer of free money, many won't bother to do them until the night before the deadline, proving once and for all that this is NOT just a student thing), and christmas is now only 180 days away. Not that we're counting. It's also six months since I took my first steps towards pursuing a future in writing, rather than just writing as much as I could around full time work ("as much as I could" = "not a lot"). So it's time for a review.

Allow me to elaborate.

Six months ago (not to scale) I begun looking for part time work, with the interest of pursuing side projects such as theatre, film, and video games (the making, not the attending, watching, and playing of, respectively). By the end of January I had moved into a new position away from my previous employer and begun my new part time work. At roughly the same time I began work on my writing projects. This was very much a test to see if a) I could get by on a part time income, and b) whether I could productive enough to continue to produce material on an expanded basis.

So here is a comparison and review for 2010 compared to 2009, to swell my ego with the helium of success and puncture it with the thumb tacks of failure.

2010 so far: A review and comparison. (Titles by Warren Zevon)

Lawyers, Guns and Money: The financial stuff.

Savings mid 2009: $5000.00
Expensive holidays to the UK: 1
Savings mid 2010: $0

Unfulfilling Full Time Jobs 2009: 1
Unfulfilling Part Time Jobs 2009: 0

Unfulfilling Full Time Jobs 2010: 0
Unfulfilling Part Time Jobs 2010: 1

Number of credit cards mid 2009: 2
Number of credit cards mid 2010: 0!

Expensive medical tests 2009: 0
Number of chronic back injuries: 1

Expensive medical tests 2010: 2
Number of congenitive heart diseases: 0!
Number of chronic back injuries: 1

Personal Loans 2009: 1
Personal Loans 2010: 1

Lottery wins: 0
Lottery entries: 0
Results: Inconclusive.

Non-essential purchases: Too many.

Comments: Great improvement in debt reduction, but poor saving results.
Goal for rest of 2010: Save some cash up for visiting Dad in Perth, laptop. Less debt = good.

Johnny Strikes Up The Band: The creative stuff.

Number of plays produced 2009: 0
Number of plays produced 2010: 1

Number of short films written 2009: 0
Number of short films written 2010: 1

Number of novels written 2009: 0
Number of novels written 2010: 0.1

Knowledge of computer prorgramming and level design 2009: None.
Knowledge of computer prorgramming and level design 2010: a bit.

Number of sword fights won with pens: 0
Number of sword fights lost with pens: 0
Results: Inconclusive.

Number of Fish in Black cartoons 2009: 0
Number of Fish in Black cartoons 2010: 0
Sighs: Many.

World Hunger ended through power of written word: Still none.

Comments: Undeniably a great improvement, but more could still have been done in the time available. Procrastination is a harsh mistress.
Goal for rest of 2010: Finish level design course, write additional films. Resume Fish In Black. Release website.

Excitable Boy: The Misc stuff.

New Years Eve spent 2009: Brunswick
New Years Eve spent 2010: York

Love of Beatles mid 2009: 0
Love of Beatles mid 2010: 9000

Xbox 360 Gamerscore end of 2009: 19850
Xbox 360 Gamescore mid 2010 30071.
Conclusions: Worrying.

Favourite Band: Barenaked Ladies
Favourite Game: Mass Effect 2
Favourite Film: Toy Story 3.
Favourite Pretzel: Don't really eat pretzels.

Outlook: Positive.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Movie Review Smorgasbord Round-up Extravaganza - The Complete Collection Part 9: Toy Story 3

It has previously been established that I am somewhat of a Pixar fan. Indeed, while there are other films that I consider a must see at the cinema (Tim Burton still manages to get me interested in his movies, though with decreasing optimism as the years go by, and I'll be first in line for the Sherlock Holmes sequel), Pixar movies are really the only movies that I would feel genuinely disappointed if I missed.

Allow me to elaborate.

Toy Story 3 is of some significance as far as Pixar goes since it is a) the sequel to the film that shot them to stardom and b) 11 years since Toy Story 2. It's quite the trend to do sequels or 'reboots' of decades old movies these days, (TMNT, Indiana Jones, and Predator, I'm looking squarely at you) which I assume means kicking something while it's down, and the quality of most reboots would seem to bear this theory out. I can't help but feel pity for the marketing executive who puts his hand up in the meeting and says "You know, I think the world is ready for another Friday the 13th..." I suppose it's only a matter of time before we see Rebel Without A Cause: The Next Generation starring the son of James Dean's character going through an surprisingly similiar situation (but with better hair), and Gone With The Wind II: The Quickening, but in the mean time I hope they're a long way off.

Nonetheless I was very excited to hear that Pixar had taken over the development of Toy Story 3 from Disney. Let me summarise in this one act play: (for a less abysmal rendition, check out the excellent "Pixar Story" documentary on the Wall-E special edition dvd)

John Lasseter: Yo Disney!(1) this whole 3d animation thing is pretty cool. We should try it.
The CEO of Disney: Is it faster?
John: No.
Disney: Is it cheaper?
John: No.
Disney: Then you're fired.
John: Oh no! What will I do now?
Steve Jobs: Hey John, I'm interested in new technologies, want to come work for me?
John: Do I have use a mac?
Steve: ...maybe.
John: Well, I guess so. Hey while you're there, I've got this great idea for a portable music device that you can carry around with you, but doesn't require any tapes. (2)
Steve: Now that's just crazy talk John.


Disney: Hey John! That Toy Story thing you're working on looks pretty sweet. We always knew this 3d animation thing was going to be huge. Want us to market it?
John: Sure! All is forgiven. But hey, you seem to be churning out all of these sequels lately, and we're really proud of our characters. Would you mind if we handled the sequels for our characters?
Disney: Johnny. Would I do a thing like that? Of course you can do the sequels! To show you how genuine I am, lets not worry about contracts or anything like that. We'll call it... a gentleman's agreement. Would I break a gentleman's agreement Johnny?
John: Well, no, I guess you wouldn't. Ok, let's shake on it.
Disney: Johnny, buddy! Business partners don't shake.
John: Oh.


Disney: Hey John? It's Disney! Those movies are doing great. Toy Story 2 was great! You're great! That's why we're so proud that Toy Story 3 is being made.
John: Thanks! But, um... we're not making Toy Story 3...
Disney: I didn't say you were.
John: Oh. But you said...
Disney: Is there a contract?
John: No, but you said...
Disney: Did we shake on it?
John: No, but there was a gentleman's agreement...
Disney: That doesn't sound like something I'd say.
John: Oh. Well, I'm sorry, but we probably need to find someone else to market our films then.
Disney: That's fine, we're better off without you anyway. Oh, and we're shutting down our 2d animation unit and focussing on 3d from now on.
John: ...WHAT?


New Disney CEO: Hey, um, John, it's the new CEO of Disney. Yeah we fired the old one for being stupid. Listen, we're kind of in a bind here, all of our 3d films have done really badly, people are going to see Pixar films. They seem to prefer smart, clever, well written movies instead of, you know, bad ones. And I was wondering, you know, if I took you out to dinner, maybe go see a show, if, well, maybe we could patch things up again.
John: Of course, lets see what we can do. But can we have Toy Story 3 back?
Disney: Done.
John: And, sorry, but you gotta open up the 2d animation unit again. That was really stupid.
Disney: ...ok, done.
John: Come on, lets go to dinner. Oh, and Disney?
Disney: Yeah?
John: Bring your cheque book.

Anyway, Toy Story 3 was released last week. The family are getting around to go and see it, but I decided that I would go and see it myself in the meantime and hoped that it'd be good enough to see again with the family. Fortunately my hopes were not in vain.

When you do a sequel 11 years later you have two options. You can pretend that no time has passed at all and just explain away the quaver in the actor's voices as a bad cough, and the lines under their eyes as battle scars. Or you can take the "Cystal Skull" approach and just pretend that everyone took desk jobs for the last ten years and only now has something interesting happened. With animation it's tempting to do the former as you can draw the characters the same way you always have but Pixar rather interestingly chosen the latter, with the toy's owner Andy now 17 and heading to college and the toy's locked away in a toy chest fearing their future. Themes of fear, abandonment, and being outgrown have always run rife through the Toy Story franchise (and is responsible for some of it's darker moments) so the new time period works wonderfully. There is a certain sadness to hear the toys talk about those who are no longer with them, and their plans for the future.

The film maintains the charm of the previous films with the same antics and silly humour just as prevalent. What was more surprising was the genuinely dark moments that enter the story. Partially is due to the story itself, with the sense of lonliness and loss that drives the action. All the toys really want is to be played with one more time. There are moments of horror when seeming wonderlands reveal their darker undersides, and a surprising moment near the end when for once everything genuinely seems lost, and you forget for a moment you're watching a bunch of toys.

It's not quite perfect, the opening sequence is rifed with "mystical" line repititions (Pirates of the Carribean I am blaming you. "Why is the rym gone?" was an amusing line in the first film. The end. You did not need to ensure it was repeated in every single sequel with a kind of mystical significance. The same goes for those sea turtles.) that are a bit of a detraction from immersion, and there is one (but only one is pretty good by most films standards) solution to a problem that feels a bit cheap, but these are small concerns compared to an excellent story, great humour, and superb visuals.

What was almost as interesting as the film itself was the audience. I caught a 4:30 afternoon session in the school holidays, and the adults out numbered the kids by about ten to one. There were people ranging from parents to older citizens, from businessmen to cool and hip teenagers in hoods and far, far too low pants. Most of these people went on their own, or with a few friends of the same age. Most didn't bring children to this arguably kids film. They all clapped, they all laughed. On the way out of the cinema I passed a line of five people on their mobiles calling their friends and family to tell them how great it was and how they had to go see it.

I ruminated as I walked home, rugged up against the cold and rain in jacket, scarf and hat (and enjoying this immensely) that evidently the films had had a much larger impact that I had imagined. I love the Pixar films, but I had always assumed that they were widely regarded as kids films.

Evidently I was (happily) wrong.

Rating 5 out of 6.

(1) As far as I'm aware, John Lasseter has never in his life said "Yo."
(2) Also never happened.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Movie Review Smorgasbord Round-up Extravaganza - The Complete Collection Part 8: Alice In Wonderland

Alice in Wonderland is one of those books that I've always read. Most books I can remember a time when I had not read it, and remember encountering it for the first time. for Alice in Wonderland, I can't. Presumably this means I read it at a very young age, or I have selectively blanked the memory, possibly due to some kind of traumatic experience (I dunno, maybe it gave me a papercut or something), or maybe it just is not remembered with no greater significance or sense, a fact that sits rather well with the nature of the text itself.

Allow me to elaborate.

I do remember not reading 'real' books until quite late, instead focussing on younger texts and stories. My teachers were concerned that this showed a lack of intelligence or learning and eagerly tried to press older texts upon me, and felt sadly their suspicions confirmed when I showed little interest in them. What they failed to work out is that I was not reading the books for 'young readers' they offered me not because I was unable to understand them, but because they were poorly written, with plots that simply didn't interest me. Why would I want to read about a 10 year old girl going snowboarding when I could read about giants and dragons? Now that I'm older, I still ask myself the same question.

But I eventually stumbled accross a Terry Pratchett book (thanks to my stepmother) and read it in about two days. After that, I always had a book with me, and that's never changed. It was an englightening experience to discover that there were fantastic stories outside of the childrens books, and that I didn't have to read texts that bored me simply because people my age group were meant to read them.

In any case, at some point, I read Alice in Wonderland. Overall it amused me, and featured many inconic moments and characters that have entered into popular culture and usage. Everyone knows the Mad Hatter, and everyone knows about rabbits in waistcoats being late for things (It is unsure at this point whether the waistcoat contributed to its lateness). Which begs the question, if a text is so memorable and so well known, why on Earth would you mess with it?

Which brings me to the recent Alice in Wonderland film by Tim Burton.

I have a soft spot for Tim Burton films (or at least, up until 5 years ago I did) as he frequently includes for want of a better word a type of pleasant surrealism in his films that I find quite appealing. Many times throughout each of his films the strange, the fantastic, the peculiar will occur, not to unsettle or frighten but rather to add a sense of awe or wonder to the proceedings. Or at least, that used to be the case, but the more recent of Burtons films have moved from the charmingly bizarre, to the ocassionally amusing but mostly just kind of strange. In some ways, rather than a story with weird visuals in it, the films now seem to be weird visuals with a story in it.

Alice in Wonderland is no exception. Rather than a straight up film adaptation of the novel, it is instead set as a sequel, except due to a rather unfortunate desire to create a sequel but still include all the iconic moments from the book, it manages to feel rather familiar. The visual effects are a treat to behold, but I'd recommend not watching the film in 3d as even at the short running length my eyes were left quite sore at the end (Avatar on the other hand ran for about three hours and my eyes were fine throughout. The headache I got from THAT film was in no way due to the 3d technology.)

Similiar to other recent adaptations like the Lord of the Rings and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the film features a cast of excellent performers, and also similiar to those films their behaviour in no way resembles the original characters. Some the minor characters sound ok but Stephen Fry as the Chesire Cat loses the manic joy and replaces it with a solemn (or perhaps bored) air, a surprise as he's more than capable of insanity, and Johnny Depp perhaps misdefined 'Mad' and thought rather than crazy it meant angry, as he spends a lot of the film wandering around in what appears to be a barely controlled rage, before ocassionally remembering he's meant to be crazy.

All in all it results in a film that manages to feel both entirely too familiar and yet wildly different, culminated in an out of left field final battle that feels thrown in because they felt they needed some kind of big finish.

If you want pretty visuals, go right ahead and see Alice in Wonderland. But beyond that, I can find little to recommend. If you're after a proper sequel to Alice in Wonderland, read the actual sequel, and then play American McGee's Alice, which takes Wonderland to some dark places and actually manages to make it feel new.

Rating 2 out of 6. (1 out of 6 in 3D)

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Attack Of The Mini-Blog

From time to time I have ideas for a blog that can't be spun out to a full length blog, or feel bloated and swollen like they've eaten slightly too many chips (no such thing, but I digress). So this in attempt to use up some of those shorter blog ideas without needlessly extending them. Sort of a spring cleaning, but for blogs.

We'll ignore the fact that it's winter.

Diary Of A Mad Writer #7 - Trying To Find Time At Work To Do My Work

I recently made a rather odd discovery, which is that my most productive time for writing and planning creative work is when I'm at my day job.

Allow me to elaborate.

I started working for a new company earlier this year with the idea of working part time to pay the bills, and allow me more free time to rest and so I could focus more time on my writing work. And in all aspects I appear to have succeeded, but not in the way I expected. The plan was, work during the morning, creative stuff in the afternoon, evenings off, with a full day of creative work on Fridays. Unfortunately however, my afternoons and evenings have mostly ended being spent playing games, resting, and otherwise taking it easy, which has had the nice benefit of ensuring that for the first time in years I am not walking around in a general state of exhaustion. But it means I haven't spent my afternoons writing as planned.

But that's ok, because since moving to the new job I have written two blogs a week, a play, a short film, done planning for some tv episodes, and done a chunk of work on a novel.

Perhaps it's the structure, or the ready supply of tea, but it has been very easy to write between calls or on breaks at work, and after some tests, I appear to write much faster and produce more work in between other stuff than if I sit down and just power through it.

So say what you like about my job, at least it's helping me write!

I am your new leader! I'll be behind you all the way! Wait...

My friends facebook updates have been a blaze since late last night with the news, and show no sign of slowing nearly 24 hours later. There has been movement at the station, and the word has very much gotten around. Kevin Rudd, the PM who managed to oust the previous PM after 12 years, has stepped down, as an alternative to being dismissed. The news is full of debates on both side, those who signal this as the beginning of the end for the Labour leadership and those who are uncertain but hopeful for the future.

I'm honestly finding it hard to work up any enthusiasm.

Allow me to elaborate.

I have a rather unique (some would say naieve) view of politics. I vote, I pay a vague attention to who the candidates are, and I ensure I'm always up to date with the Australian Electoral Comission. Other than that, I have an agreement with them, being that I'll stay out of their way if they stay out of mine.

Back when the previous PM was starting his fourth term, I remember one of my parents saying that it would be near impossible for for the other party to win now, and they weren't sure how they were going to manage. Out of politeness I refrained from pointing out that we seemed to have survived ok for nine years so far, and that the past nine years didn't feel all that different from the six years before that.

In the end, will the new PM change anything? Probably not much. My coffee will still taste the same, my job will still be the same, the homeless will still be homeless. Labour lowered unemployment? They've previously raised it too. PMs come and go, but in the end life goes on, and I suppose it stops politicians from being... I don't know... serial killers. Hey, it could happen.
That Costello chap always struck me as suspicious...
A Short And Insightful Blog About Milo, By Sam.
I like Milo.

You have been reading A Short And Insightful Blog about Milo, By Sam.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

It's all fun and games until somebody dies in a freak yachting accident.

I've never been a particuliarly sporty person. This is apparently odd for an Australian, as we are "The Sporting Nation", whatever that means. I gather it means that we're a nation that plays sport, but given the amount of farmers, office workers, politicians, clowns, street sweepers, telemarketers and pediatricians, I can assume that not every person in the nation does. It could also be argued that it's because we as a nation are very good at sports, but from the little I know of what's happening in the World Cup I assume that the people who argue that are not currently arguing it very loudly. I suppose it sounds better than "The We Used To be Convicts Nation" but nontheless it's not an association I can attribute myself to.

Allow me to elaborate.

I didn't enjoy sports when I was a child. This wasn't due to any particuliar dislike of the activty itself, but more to do with the fact that I didn't feel very good at it, and the combination of lack of self esteem and a general intolerance for this kind of hesitence in my schoolfellows ensured I never actually became good either. This, combined with my unfortunate dislike of vegetables and my enjoyment of computers, video games, and comic books ensured that I was living out the stereotype of the awkward nerdy child rather well, which was only further cemented at age 15 when I was prescribed glasses.

I never really enjoyed watching sport on tv either, to be honest I could never see the sense of watching a bunch of people get fit while sitting there eating chips and ice cream (not at the same time). On the whole I found it rather dull, and would much rather watch something with a story, as narrative always was (and always is, and always will be) very much my thing. But a few years ago my little brother was going to be part of a half time game at an AFL match, and as you're unable to buy half time only tickets, we went along to the game.

And I still don't get the rabid fascination, the screaming, the yelling, the anger and the despair when your chosen team loses. If you were out there playing I could certainly understand the emotion and commitment involved, but I find the reaction to simply watching other people do something quite baffling. This leads in to my confusion regarding sports based patriotism in general. If an Australian were to win a gold medal at the Olympics, my first reaction would not be "Wow! Australia won! We, as a country, are awesome! Bow before our sporting prowess, feeble lesser nations, for we are Australia!" My reaction would instead be "Good for her, she's won, she must feel very pleased." I don't see the connection between the achievements of an athlete, and the achievement of a nation, just as I don't see a connection between the quality of a film and the studio that signed the cheque. I believe in people, not in administration.

But I'm starting to understand, at least, a little of the interest in watching sport being played. I still don't really see the fascination of AFL as far as sports go, but when you're actually in the stadium rather than watching selectively what the camera has decided to film, you can actually see some of the strategy and tactics involved. In particuliar, one teams had developed the habit of passing the ball back behind them and then kicking forward, which the other team didn't quite know what to do with, and apparently neither did the rabid fan sitting in front of me, who would scream out "JUST ****ING KICK IT YOU ****S!!!!" despite the fact that this was largely the reason that their team was ahead by 12 goals. It's hardly amazing viewing by any means, but I started to see some of the strategy and rules involved, and this, at least, was quite intriguing.

Slightly as a result of this, late last year I got into a couple of the EA sports titles for Xbox 360, and was rather surprised by how fun they were. Given the last 'sports' game I had played was NBA Jam on my Super Nintendo back in 1994, I had missed out on a few advancements in genre since that time. Sports, like any other game has rules and tactics that are appealing, and allow for a large amount of strategy. In particuliar, the ability to play as just one player in a team, while a computer controlled team plays around you is rather enjoyable.

Last weekend a friend of mine was playing in her netball finals, so I went along to watch her play and cheer her on in the standing there silently watching the game kind of cheering on. I was very glad to be there, and they played very well and have secured a place in the grand final next week. Once again I found the tactics and rules involved rather intriguing, particularly as with netball you are unable to run with the ball, resulting in a very fast and fluid passing game as the ball generally travels much faster than anyone else does. Having a friend playing also meant that unlike the AFL I actually did rather want their team to win, at least for their sake.

So while sports fans certainly scare me, I'm starting to at least begin to understand some of the intrigue involved, and I'm certainly looking forward to watching my friend play in their final next week. I reckon they'll have a sporting chance.


Wednesday, June 16, 2010

A Moving Experience

In the last 24 hours I've had to completely dismantle and remove everything from my room. In the next 24 hours I will need to completely reassemble and return everything to my room. It sounds almost as if I'm moving, and in an odd kind of way I am, except where I'm moving to is exactly where I'm moving from.

Allow me to elaborate.

We moved into our current property 13 years ago, when my parents decided rather than renting, they would like to invest in a long term property. Actually, we didn't move in until many months later, once you decide to buy a house you need find a house, wait for auction day, out auction everyone, settle the contract, wait for the old people to move everything out, and then finally move everything in, before moving yourself in. In fact, I myself didn't move in until several months later still, as at the time I was staying with my father up in Darwin.

In some ways it was quite a small house for the five of us, and eventually the six of us when my younger brother came along (I don't mean he just wandered by and moved in. He was, you know, born). So after a while (read: five years) we decided to renovate. This was a lengthy endeavour, and involved building a new kitchen, two new bathrooms, a new living room, new wood panneling, and new carpets.

How lengthy? Well, we started eight years ago. And we put the carpets in today. In our defence, everything else was done years ago, but as the carpet was a particuliarly complicated job we had been holding off on. Finally we decided several months ago that enough was enough and it was time to finish the renovations.

One of the 'really should have seen this coming' side effects of replacing your carpets is that you can't have anything on the carpet when it is replaced. So everything in all the carpeted rooms needs to be taken out and moved into a non carpeted area of the house. Now I pretty much live almost entirely in my room. Bed, computer, tv, books, reading chair and writing desk are all in the one room. The only thing I don't have in there is a kitchen or a bathroom, and on the whole I think everyone is glad of that.

But it does mean that my room is rather densely packed. For example. My parents, to prepare for the new carpets, had to move their bed, two bedside tables, and a filing cabinet out of their room. I needed to move a bed, a desk, a computer, two monitors, a tv, a tv stand, associated electronics, a cabinet, a bookcase, dvd racks and about 5 million cables.

I'm not complaining. It was rather satisfying work and will give me a chance to do some reorganising while moving everything. It did however unfortunately mean that I was up until midnight carrying furniture and then got up at six to finish it off, as they were arriving at the wonderfully prompt time of 8am. Since then I've mainly been out walking as there's really not much to do while trapped in the back room as people kindly install new carpets for you.

So I'm a bit tired. But after 13 years, it will be awfully nice to have the renovations finished.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Happy Birthday, Mrs Queen!

Yesterday was the Queen's birthday. Except that it wasn't. Before Queen Elizabeth it was the King's birthady. Except that it wasn't. The Queen's birthday is actually in April, but we 'celebrate' it on June 14th every year, for reasons that perhaps once make sense, but no longer really seem to.

Originally changing with the reigning monarch, along with coins, stamps, and souvenir mugs; it was decided some time ago that as monarchs are sadly fleeting but the calender is eternal, it was opted by many countries in the commonwealth to instead fix a single day to celebrate their birthday, allowing us to get on with our daily lives for the rest of the year without stressing that we may have forgotten the Queen's birthday, despite the fact that, as we no longer celebrate her birthday ON her birthday, we automatically have. In fact, I will be honest and say I have no actual idea when the Queen's birthday is, and had to look it up when writing this blog. That whole "Monarch's are fleeting" thing didn't really work out in practice either, as the current Queen has been around for 50+ years, thus rendering the point somewhat moot.

I sometimes wonder how I would actually feel if everyone in the country celebrated my birthday when it wasn't actually my birthday, like everyone in the office buying you a birthday cake and you haven't the heart to tell them they've got the wrong month. It was a kind thought and, in any case, free cake is not to sneezed at. Unless you're allergic to cake. In which case, I pity you.

About the only thing we can say with assurity is that her birthday isn't on June 14th. So while we don't know when the Queen's birthday is, at least we know when it isn't.

Because of this, or perhaps just because we're Australian and love an excuse for a day off, Whatever significance that was once held has long been lost, and now the Queen's Birthday is little more than a reason for either a day off or holiday pay. Actually this seems to apply to a lot of our public holidays. I do try to wish people a "Happy Queen's Birthday", but this is mainly for the odd looks I get when I do, more than a genuine wish to inspire joy at the Birthday of our reigning monarch. In truth there's only one person I would actually wish to say Happy Queen's birthday to and mean it.

But it's not their birthday.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Movie Review Smorgasbord Round-up Extravaganza - The Complete Collection Part 7: Avatar

Every ten years or so there comes a film that stands out from other films. A film so unique, so driven, so ground breaking and challenging, that it makes it hard to go back. It doesn't just win the game, it changes the way the game is played.

Avatar is not that film.

Avatar is directed by James Cameron, who is hands down the best sequel director there is, at least until The Dark Knight was released. Allow me to explain. Most of Cameron's films have been a little less than impressive. Terminator, Titanic, The Abyss, these films both showcased impressive effects and were at the least an exciting premise, but failed in the overall narrative and final execution. The only exceptions have been his sequels, and 'True Lies', an entertainingly hilarious action film, and that was a remake of the French film 'La Totale!', so arguably a sequel in any case.

His sequels, however, have always succeeded in taking interesting but poorly developed science fiction films, and turning them into highly polished mindless action films. Terminator 2 and Aliens are among the fienst action films ever made, managing to combine a high level of special effects with a well thought out and engaging story.

By this logic, Avatar 2 should be really, really good.

I have rather mixed feelings about Avatar. On the one hand, the special effects were impressive, and the 3d was nice to look at, though it did turn to go rather blurry whenever something was moving fast (so it's a good thing we weren't watching an action film or anything like that). And I did go and see it with my family, followed by dinner out, so overall it was an absolutely lovely night that I highly enjoyed.

But I did spend the entire film rewriting the plot in my head.

It's not that Avatar doesn't have an interesting story, it's just that unfortunately so did three or four other films I could think of, and little has changed between them. The plot can be crudely stated as "good guy sets out to fight bad guys, due to totally unexpected turn of events gets captured by bad guys, bad guys turn out to be good guys and vice versa, lots of fighting, everybody goes home for tea and biscuits, so long as by home you mean various huts and caves in floating rocks, by tea you mean some kind of fruit, and by biscuits you mean the widespread and irreparable destruction of the surrounding woodlands which will leave thousands dead and homeless and cause lasting damage to the ecoystem.

The characters could charitably be described as simplified, and uncharitably described as cardboard caricatures. The hero is in it for revenge and personal gain until he realises there are bigger things like, um, trees and stuff. The main antagonist is a General who enjoys spouting one liners such as "let's finish this, I want to be home by dinner" and then looking around smugly, persumably to check if anyone had noticed that snappy one liner.

What annoys me the most about Avatar is that there actaully is a lot of promise in it. The plot itself is sound, but badly put together. The characters would be quite interesting if they were given a bit of depth, and the effects would be even better if they were given slightly less depth. It's a promising idea, it just needed more work. Mind you, since he reportedly took 14 years to make it, the questions remains, how much longer did he need?

But you never know. The sequel could be ok.

Rating: 2 out of 6.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Back to Basics

I have a sore back.

I don't mean it's a little bit sore, or that I slept on it the wrong way, or anything that could be described as temporary. When I saw I have a sore back, I unfortuantely mean permanently, and not anything that could be described as a little bit. What makes this more interesting is it was entirely my fault. Well, mostly.

Allow me to elaborate.

When I was born, well, I was rather distracted at the time, but as it turns out my spine wasn't entirely as a spine should be. At this point I could make jokes about being spineless and having no backbone, and look, I just did. But the issue in question was that one of the discs in the lumbar area of my spine (presumably where the logging industries work) wasn't quite as sturdy as it normally is.

This was not noticed at the time, I merely mention it now for chronology's sake. Fast forward 21 years, and I was now an adult, writing, among other things, short comedy plays for my local church. We had been doing this for about six months and it was great fun and our humour was being well received.

The latest script included, for reasons that now escape me (possibly as a result of ensuing concussion) a section where an actor portrayed the life of a tree. He started as a seed, then grew into a full tree, before facing off against strong winds, forest fires, before finally being chopped down by the logging industry, at which point he fell sideways to the floor I was that actor. I played that tree, and that floor was a rather sturdy wooden platform, which made a satisfying thump when I hit it.

The audience applauded at this display of violence, and I finished the play in good spirits. We took our bows, and I returned to my seat, whereupon I realised I was having a little trouble breathing, which didn't on the whole strike me as a good thing. The doctor (when I went, he wasn't sitting beside me at the time or anything) explained I had bruised some ribs, but that this would go away in time, and for the moment I should instead concentrate on not falling over in future. The pain went away and so I promptly forgot about it.

A few months later though, I noticed that my back was rather sore. The occasional sore back was nothing really new so I ignored it, but as the month wore on it didn't go away, so I realised something might be wrong, and desiring some medical opinions to back (ha!) that up, my doctor organised some tests to be done, that were a) extremely expensive, and b) a little bit weird

The first was an x-ray, which is not all that weird as I've had them before (once for a suspected broken ankle, and another time to check the airways in my lungs. X-rays generally seem to occur in dingy test labs, like they're slightly embarrassed to still be performing them in this day and age. The problem, as a nervous technician came in to tell me, was that they couldn't find my spine. I idly considered asking them if they'd tried looking in my back, but decided against it and merely assured them that it was there, and could they keep looking.

A couple of readjusted x-rays later and I was proved medically to not be spineless, and I was off to have a CT scan, which is a far newer (and more expensive) test, that scans the layers of muscle and tissue sliver by sliver, therefore giving the odd impression that I had had a nasty accident with a paper shredder. Unlike x-rays, the CT scan took place in a gleaming white spotless lab, and involves lying on a bed which is passed through a giant revolving white disc, and left me with the unerring impression that if they couldn't work out what was wrong with my back they could at least beam me up to the mothership.

My doctor spoke to me once the results had arrived, and informed me that my extremely expensive tests had not actually shown anything conclusive, so he was going to recommend me to a physiotherapist to see if he could do something about the back pain.

I explained all this to the physiotherapist who took at look at the tests and told me that in actual fact, as a result of my fall, I had managed to disloge on of the discs in my spine that has been more than usually fragile since birth.

So, by writing what seemed a midly amusing scene involving a tree, I had managed to give myself a permanent back injury.

On the whole this takes suffering for your art to an amusingly literal extreme.

Movie Review Smorgasbord Round-up Extravaganza - The Complete Collection Part 6: Up In The Air

Earlier this year a friend treated me to a birthday present by taking me out to Gold Class to see the new (at the time) George Clooney Film "Up In The Air." It was the follow up film of the director of the interesting but kind of weird film "Juno," and in admirably symmetry, Up In The Air can also be neatly summarised as interesting but kind of weird.

Gold Class was as it always is, very comfortable with excellent food but with the slight uncomfortable feeling that you've just spent waaaaaay too much to go see a film, even if your trio of mini hot dogs WAS delicious and you've another coffee and some ice cream on the way. A chief benefit is that the chairs actually do a lot to remove the discomfort my back feels at the cinema, but this hardly justifies the costs involved as a regular event. Still, it's a nice thing to do so long as it only happens once or twice a year.

The film tells the story of George Clooney (because one of the nicer things about George Clooney is he only ever plays himself) as he travels around the country firing people, in one of the more bizarre examples of outsourcing. He is joined by two women, one cynical, one not. The tale (such as it is) is a character based drama, meaning that there are some very interesting insights into the characters involved, and a genuine sense of change and growth for them throughout the film. On the other hand though you can't quite shake the thought that not a whole lot has happened in the last two hours, with an ending that believes that being vague and ambiguious somehow stands in for closure.

That being said though, the film has an undeniable intrigue to it, held together by Clooney's performance, that actually manages to make cynical firing guy believable. The plot is lacking but that's not to say there is not enjoyment to be had. Just be prepared to say "Well, that was weird" as the credits roll.

Rating 4 out of 6.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Diary Of A Mad Writer #6, Now With Mad Organising Skill(z)

This morning I went to my slightly overdue haircut, so I went and caught the bus over to Northcote, where I've been getting my hair cut for the last five years. Some would argue (reasonably persuasively) that there are many hair dressers in my own suburb, and wouldn't it save time to get it cut there? Well, yes. But I like this hair dresser, he knows me and he knows how I cut my hair, which is good because I don't, other than "um, shorter than it is now" which really doesn't narrow it down all that much, especially when I haven't been in a few months.

Before I get my haircut I generally treat myself to a cooked breakfast at the cafe accross the road, a) because it's extremely nice, b) because I'm in the area anyway, and c) because I can. There's something quite relaxing about writing some notes for upcoming projects while sipping a coffee and idly munching on some leftover toast, and it's something I would do more often if my budget and health allowed.

The haircut itself was a little short for my liking, though unfortunately once that's occurred it's difficult to say "actually a bit longer would be great, thanks" since the 'damage' so to speak has already occurred, so there's not a terribly huge amount you can do. Unless you're Doctor Who/Marty McFly, as then you could go back in time and, say, prevent the hairdresser from being born. This wouldn't change your hair but it would create a paradox that would at least take your mind off it. In any case it's not terrible by any means, and it will grow into a length that I prefer. And then continue to grow, like the rebellious head of hair that it is.

Currently I am putting some work into a couple of different long form stories I am writing, after the realisation that though it seems slower, I actually am more productive when working on multiple things at once. Even though I achieve less in each project, I achieve more overall, and so in the long term this is beneficial, provided I keep staring into the distance, which is why I really should go back to the optometrist and get my glasses updated.

So there are two stories I am currently working on long term:

A fantasy novel about trying to wake someone in your own dreams.

A fantasy crime thriller about the mysterious descendants of the so called witches from the Middle Ages. I would call it Harry Potter with guns, except that's a terrible thing to call it, and besides, it's not. Anyway, Ender's Game is Harry Potter with guns.

What I've never really done before, but which seems to be helping, is keeping some notes (which I'm using some software on my computer for) on characters, locations, and events and plotting out a timeline to assist me with keeping events going correctly. This is stuff I normally do in my head, but it's definately helping having it all out visually in front of me. The software does go a little too far, asking me rather unhelpful questions like "What does this place smell like" to which I must resist the answer "your face", but otherwise it's good to have an indication of each area and character, meaning their design remains consistent, and chan be updated as needed.

So I'm enjoying working on both of these, as well the website, the game project, the film projects, the theatre project, and the tv projects. Oh, and my day job.

Yup, keeping myself busy...

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Cold Season, Flu Season, Red Season, Blue Season!

They say that every journey begins with a single step. This is true.

They don't say that every plummit off a 5000 ft cliff begins with a single step as well, but this is also true, unless you're Stephen Hawking, Christopher Reeve, or have the ability to fly via perhaps some type of jetpack, helicopter, or a freak mutation at birth that gave you wings/your own jet propulsion system that the other kids mocked you for at primary school but now a super villian is attacking the town hall and the smart yet ditzy and good looking mayor's aide is trapped inside and the only entrance is from the roof and oh if only there was a hero who could get inside and save her/take her out to dinner so WHO'S LAUGHING NOW? HUH? WHO'S LAUGHING NOW?

I think I may have wandered off point.

While it's certainly true that a 1,000,000 step journey does indeed begin with a single step, feeling proud of yourself after only one step when you've still got 999,999 steps to go is probably a bit premature. Don't get me wrong. I will walk 500 miles. And I think the sentiment behind the saying is that rather than worrying about the length of the journey, it's important to just get out there and start (Unless rather than the 500 mile/fall down at door scenario, you are referring to the plummeting cliff death scenario, in which case I heartily recommend NOT starting. Procrastination has it's merits, particuliarly in relation to falling off cliffs).

My brother and I have been planning a number of interactive game projects since we were about 5. This wasn't the only thing we made up, in our heads we created books, movies, tv shows, plays, and ocassionally adventures where we were (obviously) the stars. In many ways we've always been writers. Not necessarily GOOD writers, but writers nonetheless. I remember one of our earliest ideas was a sketch comedy tv show which featured a large amount of video game references (we liked video games, you see). A lot of the sketches we came up with have (fortunately) vanished into the mists of time like so much, um, mist, but what I can recall seems to largely consist of my brother being a lizard (not really for any humourous intent, he just likes lizards), and me walking into walls.

Fortunately we've greatly improved since then. Our current project is a modifcation for an existing game, which I am handling writing and level design/creation for. Every modifcation begins with a single step, and for me that step is that, in order for me to create and design the levels, I need to know how you create and design levels.

So I'm going through a dvd course at the moment, and in a nerdy/geeky (not dorky) kind of way, am finding it thoroughly fascinating. I'm currently playing through the main game we are working with (damn you, achievements) and it's quite interesting to see how it's put together. The first time I played through the thought generally running through my head was "Wow, look at the world they've *BANG!* built, it's incredible *RAAARGH!* how immersive *EXPLODE!* this game is." Now, the thought running through my head is "Interesting, *BLAM!* so they used this texture here, but *SLASH!* rotated it, and used a light field to *SPLATTER* create that shadow..." which certainly adds a rathe surreal air to it all, like an action game where you play as a chartered accountant who defends the galaxy while also doing his tax return.

The type of things you can get away with in a 3D engine is really rather ingenious, including the ability to create a scale model of, say, a mountain range, and being able to use this as a giant 3-dimensional background.

Yes I'm a nerd. But being a nerd is AWESOME.

(As a side note, the title of this blog was suggested by my good friend N3rd Girl, who runs a blog at, which is very amusing. You should read it. You should read it now. I'll wait.)

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Movie Review Smorgasbord Round-up Extravaganza - The Complete Collection Part 5: Where The Wild Things Are

Since cinema began in the late ninteenth century, it has relied heavily on adapting existing media to the screen. It makes a great deal of sense, if you enjoyed a book it is hard not be excited when you hear that it is coming to the big screen (or - if you procrastinate too much and forget to go - the small screen). It's also arguably easier (but also arguably harder) than creating an original story, so the appeal is certainly there. This began with bringing plays and novels to celluloid, but has expanded over time (when a great product has come along, or the studios were feeling particularly lazy) to include television, toys, video games, comic books, songs, and bizarrely, theme park rides (I want to ask the person who thought that making Pirates of the Carribean into a movie was a good idea and ask them how they ever managed to convince a studio to do it, but he's probably too busy swimming in money to take my calls).

Adapting other mediums to film has always been a tricky affair. In many ways this is largely due to differences in length. A full length novel is sometimes too long, which can result in scenes being cut, characters being merged or dropped, or plot details changed due to timing requirements. On the other hand a short story can be far too short. The short story "The Killers" by Ernest Hemingway was adapted into a film in 1950 (funnily enough, called "The Killers") which opened with a word by word faithful translation of the short story, followed by an almost entirely unrelated film that they made up, adding a certain looseness to the term "adaptation". This was taken even further in the adaptation of the long running Mario Bros game series, which kept the names, and... actually that's about all they kept, in a plot that was otherwise unrelated, but with familiar titles from the series applied to unfamiliar objects.

Mind you, this works both ways, with novelisations of films getting fatter with newly added scenes that don't always flow well with the existing plot, (the main crime here is giving an internal monologue to characters that really didn't need one), and video games that contain a lot more shooting than was ever in the film (I don't recall Marty McFly doing quite so much jumping between floating platforms in Back to the Future part 2, but there you go).

Spike Jonze's adaptation of the children's picture book "Where The Wild Things Are" faces an issue because the source on which it is based is only 40 or so pages long, and only about 5-10 words on each page, meaning a near two hour film needs to be created out of only 400 words. Also, while it is undeniably a children's classic, it can't be denied that not a whole lot happens in it. It can be crudley summarised as "Boy gets sent to room, disappears on adventure (as you do), meets a whole lot of monsters and basically goes all British Empire on their arses, and then goes home and has dinner."

Now, there is far more to the story than this, and I have adored this story ever since I was five, but in terms of actual concrete events, this is about all that happens. So when adapting such a brief novel, the two choices appear to be "Make up a lot of extra stuff so more happens" or "do not much. Very, very slowly." So which did Where the Wild Things Are choose?

As it happens, both.

Where the Wild Things Are the film follows the basic premise of the story, but fleshes out a lot of the elements. Max (Our hero/strange kid) is now given a family and some reason for his behavior, and his encounter with the Wild Things expands to a full rise and fall of a kingdom. Each of the Wild Things has been given a separate personality and archetype, and now appear to embody certain characteristics of Max himself. There's the fun loving but easily enraged, the shy and low self esteem, the hard done by and put upon. All of Max's childlike facets are personified and expanded to alarming levels, until he is unable to cope with the results they produce.

However, there is still not a lot of plot to go around and many scenes cannot be given a clear and definitive action, instead only able to be summarised as "Max and the Wild Things run around a lot and have fun/are sad/are angry/tear each other's arms off, etc. etc." This means that the film is very slow at times, and in many cases functions more as a mood piece than as a traditional story. What it does do well, perhaps better than any other film, is capture the feeling and the logic of being a child. In the film, when things are good, things are very good, it's happy and everything goes well, with amazing plans and great adventures. But sometimes things happen. People get mad, and they get mad or angry for no other reason than that they do. There is a certain helplessness that comes accross, where the universe just doesn't go as planned, and there is nothing to be done.

It also features an ending that while satisfactory, is only so up to a point, but I suspect this is by design. It doesn't actually solve the problems presented in the story, these will still be there. But just for tonight, right now, everything is ok.

It's a thought provoking film, but in the end it doesn't quite succeed in telling a succinct and engaging story for the full duration, as its slow pace and brief plot leave long areas without substance.

Rating 3 out of 6.

- As a side note, I have changed the rating from out of 5 to out of 6, as with an odd number it is too easy to label every film as 3 out 5, neither good or bad. This way every film reviewed is either slightly good or slightly bad to lend a little more practicality to the proceedings.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Cold Season. Flu Season. Rabbit Season. Duck Season!

About two weeks ago I noticed I was getting a cold. Normally I just go "oh rats," lay up for a couple of days and hope it goes away quickly, which it invariably does. This time I decided to take proactive action, dosed myself up on cold and flu medication and hoped it could be crushed before the cold I noticed decided to notice me. What a clever person I am, I thought to myself. Well, actually, no I didn't, I just sort of got on with things, but in my heart I thought that. Which is odd, because you normally think things with your head. But I'm a little strange.

As it turns out, taking proactive action was not as smart an idea as doing nothing at all (a comforting revelation to procrastinaters everywhere), as rather than being laid up for two days, I was sick for two weeks and off work for a week. The more medically astute of you will point out that dosing up on cold and flu tablets probably held it in check better than if I hadn't, and in fact, the cold would have been much worse.

I'm an educated man and it's a sad day when I can think of no more apt retort than "So's your face," so today is indeed a sad day.

So's your face.

I went to the doctor last Wednesday (and remembered his name this time too, natch) and he put me on antibiotics, but a friend also recommended that I take garlic, vitamin c and ginger tablets to help combat some of the symptoms and boost the immune system so after the chemist I headed down to the supermarket. While browsing through I encountered a number of worrying labels affixed proudly to packets of cold and flu medication.

One packet told me in a confident sounding voice that their product "May reduce the duration of your cold by half!" Call me crazy (and so's your face), but when I purchase medication, I'd like to know that it WILL help me with my cold. If it only MAY help me, I'd rather buy a cupcake. That also MAY help me with my cold, and also it's a cupcake. Everybody wins.

Another packet was very pleased to inform me that their fruit extract had been "Clinically Trialled." Think about that for a moment. Clinically trialled. Not Clinically proven. Trialled. In other words, all they are confirming is that tests have been performed. They are not in any way confirming that the tests showed it actually worked. For all we know, it may have been shown that it was less useful than a red dead haddock, and I'm guessing that is in fact the case, as if it had been shown to be helpful, they probably would told us that.

So I passed on those two and instead selecting a packet that, while it made no promises, was at least not suggesting ambiguity. And as I am back at work today, it does seem to have been excellent.

So's your face.


Sunday, May 16, 2010

Movie Review Smorgasbord Round-up Extravaganza - The Complete Collection Part 4: Ponyo

Japanese Animation (or Anime if you're in the club) has always been a bit of a mixed bag, and I've always found the idea of declaring oneself to be a fan of Anime is about as silly as declaring yourself to be a fan of film, as the source material is simply too broad. When I say I adore watching films, I should clarify and say I adore watching good films. This is one of the reasons that genre as a study is a misleading topic. To like Westerns in general for example seems to imply that topic is more important than quality. To me, any topic is worth watching, so long as the film itself is good to watch, though it can't be denied that some topics are harder to produce quality with than others (I would watch a My Little Pony film if it was a great movie, but I find it quite unlikely that there will ever be a great My Little Pony film). The same applies to Anime. There are exceedingly good Anime that is up there with the finest of films (Neon Genesis, Cowboy Bebop, Teknoman, Ghost In the Shell), but there is also Anime that is badly written, poorly directed, and embarrasing to watch (Generally any anime film with a rating of 'R', you have to be seriously gruesome or explicit for a cartoon to reach these levels).

Anime has always been a niche market to Western audiences, and largely this is because there are certain stylistic differences between Anime and your stereotypical American/European movie. The first is the sense of humour. While there is definately humour that both cultures understand equally, we also have our own unique styles that each nation enjoys differently. The lines have been blurring between Australia, the UK, and the US, but Japan as a seperate nation with it's own language has remained a stronger sylistic identity.
The second, and slightly stranger difference is that the Japanese are a lot more comfortable with silence than we are. Music features far less prominently in Anime, and as a result many long, slightly uncomfortable silences are present in their films, lending a quiet, almost unearthly air to many of the anime I have seen (the big exception is Cowboy Bebop, which uses an abundance of music to amazing effect). From what I can work out, this isn't the case for Japanese audiences, this is simply how their films are made. English dubs have either preserved these silences as is or filled them with meaningless chatter, crickets, faint background music, general murmering, or unfortunately in the majority of occassions with loud breaths or odd little gasps from the main character, which if anything is more uncomfortable than actual silence.

But I must confess I do still enjoy many Anime, particularly the work of Hayao Miyazake and Studio Ghibli. Miyazake's most recent film Ponyo was released late last year onto dvd. It features all the usual Ghibli trademarks (Young protagonist, flying, general sense of wonder, strange giant floods and giant fish, you know), but where it lacks in originality it does make up for in charm and a general level of amusement. Visually the film is a treat, using an unusual watercolour effect producing a vibrant look that is sadly lacking from many other Anime films.

It does feature the usual long silences, and the humour is a little odd in places, but it still made me grin.

Rating: 5 out of 5 if you're an anime nut, 3.5 out of 5 for everyone else.