Monday, February 28, 2011

Oh Dear

I didn't mean to do it, truly, I didn't. But I couldn't help myself, and now I have been sucked right in. I don't even want to admit how late I stayed up the past two nights. Sigh.

I am talking of course, about the fact that I started a new game of Dragon Age: Origins this weekend. I had played through the demo for Dragon Age II a second time (as a rogue on this go-around, which I think is the way I will go for the full game, I am not too fond of what I have seen for the warrior's skill sets), and I was just about done with the first Dragon Age book (which is fan-fricking-tastic, if you like this game, get the books, they are amazing). I didn't want to start a whole new other game before the sequel's release, but neither did I want to not play anything until then. game it is. Already I am so hooked. The level of story-telling in this game is just unbelievably deep. I worried last week that Dragon Age might eclipse my love of Stargate. At this point, I don't even think there's a question of that anymore, as much as I hate to say that. Once SGU finishes up its run and there is no new Stargate coming my way, Dragon Age will be free to just continue filling that void. I don't think my love for Stargate will be diminished, but it won't have the opportunity to grow anymore, and if just my brief entry into a second play through of Origins is any indication, my love for Dragon Age is going to grow every time I fire it up. Heck, Family Guy was a rerun last night, but before deleting it from my DVR, I fast forwarded through the entire thing just so I could see the thirty second Dragon Age II commercial that I knew would be airing during the program. Hooked.

This time around I am playing as a human mage, starting out in the Circle of Magii. Even though this origin story starts out by throwing me straight into the Fade, which is the part of the game considered so annoying by most players that there is a mod out there designed to let you just skip the whole Fade quest, I am still enjoying myself immensely. The Fade actually never really bothered me that much, to be honest. Yes, the quest there later on is a bit too long and can get tedious, but I still maintain that the idea behind it is really nifty. Anyhoo, so, completely different character, completely different origin story, just as much fun (if not more) as the first time!

Lyssa, a human mage.

I think part of the reason I am enjoying it a bit more this time is because I am already familiar with the controls and I know how I should be leveling up. Also, once I moved on past the origin story into the main story, I kind of had an idea of what was coming--which means I was more prepared and remembered to do things like stock up on potions and buy a backpack before the camp was destroyed.

Also, I can have a little bit of fun to amuse my inner twelve-year-old. Early on in the main plot, you get three characters added to your party, but two of them are permanently killed off before too long. Knowing this was coming, I opened up my inventory and divested them of all of their armor and weapons so that I could sell it (early times means I could use all of the cash I can get to stock up on supplies). If you take off someone's armor in the game, however, and don't give them something else to wear, they then run around in their underwear. So I was having a field day giggling to myself as these two big burly guys are running around in their burlap skivvies (the undies are not really period accurate, but are amusing, nonetheless), having serious discussions about Serious Things, completely oblivious to the fact that they were almost naked. It was awesome. I tried to find a screenshot for you, so you could see just how ridiculous, but alas, that particular part of the game didn't garner and automatic shot, and I didn't think to take one myself (I have got to get better about that).

I think it is needless to say that I am having fun with this. The only thing that has truly been annoying me is that I kept running into all of these locked chests that I could not freaking open because I am not a rogue and I didn't have my permanent rogue party member yet. Grrr.... It is just frustrating. I am sure there are only a few bucks and some health potions in them, but what if there was some super badass weapon that now I will never get, huh? I finally got Leliana (the first rogue member of your party) yesterday afternoon and immediately went running around unlocking every chest I could find. Oh my goodness, so playing DAII as a rogue. My only regret is that I probably won't get to play this game all the way through, because I know I will want to drop everything and play the sequel next week when I get it. But hopefully I can come back to this afterwards. We shall see.

Saturday morning my husband and I were clearing out the DVR and I saw that I had recorded a gamer show because Felicia Day was on it talking about the Dragon Age webseries she made. My husband joked that I was going to start watching the gamer channel and shows now, and I had to think about it for a moment before disagreeing. Right now, I am not seeking out any new information on games other than from Bioware. They have three big games coming out over the next year that are already going to suck up a good chunk of my non-parenting life (Dragon Age II, Star Wars: The Old Republic MMORPG, and Mass Effect 3). Add that to the huge pile of games we already have at home that I would like/need to play, and I think that's enough to be going on with, don't you? I have already pretty much signed my soul over to Bioware (the parts of it that I didn't give to my husband and daughter, at least). Unless a game is mentioned on some non-game-specific site I keep up with, then hopefully I won't hear about any of the next new games for a while. I have an obsessive nature, and it would be too easy to just get caught up in trying to play every new game that comes out. I think I'll just try to stick with the franchises I am already lost in for now, that way I can have more time to really enjoy them without just rushing on to the next big thing.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Props to Scalzi

This week it was announced that the book Old Man's War by John Scalzi has been optioned for a movie. Yay for Scalzi!

What I love even more than the news that an awesome sci-fi book has been optioned to be made into a movie is the very upfront and realistic way in which Scalzi is discussing the news.

He is very calmly reminding his readers that the movie, while he has high hopes for it to be awesome, will most definitely not be the book. This is because in order for the story to make the move from printed page to silver screen, changes will have to be made. That is why when a book is made into a movie it is called an adaptation. Scalzi very calmly reminds his enthusiastic fans that even if the movie based on the book somehow goes wonky and is royally screwed up, it will in no way, shape, or form harm the original book, which already exists as it is and isn't going anywhere.

I give Scalzi two big thumbs way, way up for this.

So often when a group's favorite book gets translated into a movie, a big chunk of the audience will waste time and effort nitpicking all of the differences between the two, often lessening their enjoyment of the movie greatly, if not completely. I can admit I have been guilty of this myself a time or two, though I try really hard to judge a movie adaptation on how well the story is portrayed in this new medium, rather than the little details. Sure it is fabulous when the movie-makers get the little details just right, but let's face facts. Everyone who reads a book pictures the characters and events described within in their own unique way. When a screen-writer, director, and producer adapt a book to a movie, they are only showing us their unique vision of the author's text. It may not be the same as ours, but that doesn't mean it is automatically bad.

Sometimes authors don't help the cause by publicly lambasting the resulting movie. I would think it is safe to argue that in those cases, the author was usually shut out of the creative process while the movie was being made. When the author doesn't decry the movie we see on our screens, that probably means that they were at least engaged by the screen-writer/producer/director's interpretation of their story, even if it isn't necessarily what the base audience was expecting. Sometimes that can lead to some very interesting results.

For example, Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Did you know it was not originally a book, but in fact first appeared as a radio play aired by the BBC? Yup. I am lucky enough to have copies of that original series, and I can tell you it is very, very different from the book of the same name that Adams subsequently published. I love them both though. The spirit of the story and of the main characters was very much the same in both versions, to be true. Some of the events were slightly different, sure, but that was because Adams really got what I am trying to say here. Different mediums lend themselves to different stories. Sometimes you can do things in one that aren't feasible in the other. The more recent movie of the same name was also very different from the book and the radio series, but I still love it. Adams worked with the movie's creators until his death, and they were dedicated to making sure the finished product was something he would have approved of. Knowing that, and keeping in mind the fact that Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy has a track record as a fluid story, flowing from medium to medium and shaping itself to fill each new cup specifically, allowed me to keep a more open mind than at any other movie based on a book I have ever seen.

It's so easy to get upset when your favorite part of a book gets left out of the movie, or worse, included but changed in a way that you don't care for. But movie-makers aren't going to stop adapting books to film any time soon. To be honest with you, I'd rather they do that than make another Saw film, or another remake of a movie that only came out ten years ago. So I am going to do my best going forward to keep Scalzi's words in mind whenever I go to see a movie adapted from a book that I love. I urge you to do the same.

Besides, there's always the chance that the next film will get it just right, and that's worth the risk of a shaky adaptation in my books.

Happy weekend folks, and don't forget to check out today's new Gronk, all about the perils of board games!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Competition is Edging Up

My husband sent me this link yesterday:

Why Dragon Age Was More Memorable Than Mass Effect 2

I found the timing a bit amusing because I had already been thinking that today's blog post would be about Dragon Age and how it seems to be eclipsing other franchises that I love.

Now, with regards to the article, I found it amusing, and there were a few examples that I totally agree with on both ends. But I have to admit that a lot of the points they brought up are moments in the games that I never triggered. Part of this is because some of them were gained by playing dark side, which I just don't do most of the time. I know there is some inherent fun in playing evil, but I rather like being a good guy. Though, as I told my husband, now I want to go replay both games just so I can find a few of those moments. (If you read the article and click on no other video link, click on the one about Sandal. He made me smile every time I talked to him, he was just so happy. "Enchantment!")

Still, I agree with the overall point of the article.  Mass Effect and Mass Effect 2 I tend to view as a whole, because I played them one right after the other. There were definitely aspects of each I preferred in one game over the other (not always the sequel over the original). But even though I kind of look at Mass Effect as a different animal than Dragon Age, if pressed, I would choose Dragon Age over the other. Still, Mass Effect 2 will always be near and dear to my heart for three reasons. 1) The Normandy 2.0 is my favorite spaceship ever. Period. 2) If you play as a girl, you can romance Garrus. The article I mentioned above noted this, though the author seemed not too amused with this fact. I have to say though, that was hands down my favorite part of the game. It was hi-freaking-larious. I was in fits of giggles every time a new scene in that courtship played out. 3) The game literally starts out by (spoiler! roll over the text to read) killing off the character you are playing. Then you are resurrected with science. By the nominal bad guys. It is a hell of a way to kick things off, and it leads to some pretty interesting character development.

But Mass Effect isn't really the franchise that my love for Dragon Age has so surprisingly overwhelmed. What it is starting to take over, much to my shock, is Stargate. Yes, I may have found something I like more than Stargate.

I'll pause for a moment to let that sink in.

Pouty Alistair is pouty.

Maybe it is a simple matter of being thoroughly let down by my most recently read Stargate novel right in the middle of a whole bunch of Dragon Age awesomeness. The book started to get a little better only to fall completely flat at the ending, which wasn't so much an ending as a thinly veiled set-up for a follow-up entry. I will reiterate, the story itself was actually kind of interesting, but I don't think it is one that really fit in the Stargate universe. The author had a very minimal grasp on the established functions and limits of the technology, and he also had a few very major fail moments in regards to the characters. I was literally shouting at the book as I finished it, I was so frustrated. I haven't been that let down by a book in a long, long time.

But after that I picked up the first of the two official Dragon Age novels (Dragon Age: The Stolen Throne by David Gaider). I am only about five chapters in but I am already blown away by how incredible it is. Sure, it is much easier for the author to get the details write since he was the lead writer for the game itself, but still. It is a video-game tie-in novel, yet it feels like its own fully crafted story. It's set about twentyish years before the first game, and though we know the general outcome of the story already, it is still fascinating to see these characters only mentioned in the game's codex brought to life on the page. It also gives some of the main characters from the game a little more context (*cough*Alistairisjustlikehisdad*cough*), which is nice.

Add to that that I was finishing up the downloadable content for the first game. I just played through all of the stand-alone quests, since I will have to play a whole new game to experience a lot of the smaller in-game extra content, but overall I was very impressed with them. There were four: Witch Hunt, which was okay but I felt like the ending was a little lacking; Darkspawn Chronicles in which you play through the game's final battle as one of the bad guys--it was kind of fun at points, kind of meh at others (and full disclosure, I didn't finish it, because I couldn't get past the final final battle); Leliana's Song which lets us play through the events of Leliana's life before she stumbles into your party--I was blown away by this one actually, it was tons of fun and it made me appreciate this character a whole lot more; and The Golems of Amgarrak, which was another pleasant surprise--very fun to play through and a truly interesting story.

After all that, this Tuesday saw the launch of the Dragon Age II demo, which I highly recommend. It took me all day to download it, the server was crazy busy, but once I got to play it, I got even more excited about the March 8th release of the full game. The demo lets you play through the game's prologue and one more later little story mission. It took me about an hour and a half to get through. I already can tell I am going to like the improved dialogue functions in the new game--it mirrors Mass Effect's dialogue wheel so your character can actually speak his or her lines, rather than just reacting mutely to everyone else's conversations. Also, in addition to the "nice guy" and "bad guy" speech options, there was usually also a "smartass" option, which is just fun. I think that once I get used to it, the new leveling up system is going to be much more user-friendly than in the first game. I didn't get to play with the inventory since it was disabled for the demo, but from what I could see of it, it seems to be much more intuitive this time around. I am already pretty sure that over the next two weeks I will play the demo at least two more times, once for each of the classes I didn't play already (I played as a mage the first time through, but warrior and rogue are also options). That way I can have a better idea of which class to make my character for the actual game.

Garret Hawke, the Champion of Kirkwall (Dragon Age II).

There is also, of course, Felicia Day's upcoming web-series set in that world, which you guys know I am hopping up and down about.

So, with all of that said and done, right now I am just totally immersed in Dragon Age, and I have to say, I am totally in love with the whole world. I am super impressed with how rich and engaging it is, and it is very much fully formed. Maybe when Stargate Universe returns on March 7th it will start kicking back and be able to retain its place as my favorite imaginary land, but for now...well, I'll be in Ferelden if you need me.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011


I think that by now it is a well established fact that I watch far too much television. Go ahead, take a moment to collect yourself, I know you're shocked (insert sarcasm mark here).

Part of the reason for this, I think, is that I truly enjoy stories, and television is a vast resource of stories. Sometimes you have to work pretty hard to find any tales that are actually good, but there are times when you just want a story on in the background to engage part of your mind while the rest of it is focused on something else. Very few of the shows I watch drag me in enough to really, truly, actively engage with them. For the most part when I do want that level of engagement, I will pick up a book (or dive into a strongly story-based video game).

If I am being honest, and generous, most of what I watch could clearly be categorized as pulp. That doesn't make my enjoyment of it any less, certainly. But lately I have been trying to weigh that against whether or not the show is worth my time any more. For now, at least.

As my daughter gets older and more interactive, the actual number of hours I spend with my television a day are shrinking. Part of this is due to the need to share the television, certainly. I by no means subscribe to the belief that the television is a suitable babysitter, but it can be a valuable distraction occasionally, and at best a tool for creating shared experiences between parent and child. There are a few shows that my daughter watches each day (Super Why and Sesame Street, mostly) while I get my own ducks in a row. It gives us each our own time when we are both awake, so she knows it is okay to spend time playing and exploring on her own, while I can get things done and also be close enough to keep an eye on her. But beyond sharing the television (and far more important) is just spending quality time with my kid as she grows and learns and develops new skills. Well, that and making sure that my budding gymnast doesn't decide to do a belly flop through the sliding glass door.

So, with less time to actually watch television, I have started trying to reduce the actual number of shows I watch. I'm using a two-pronged approach to reach this goal. The first is to be more selective about what new shows I watch. I have a long track record of jumping on board a new show just because one or more actor I like is in it. While this has led me to discover some real gems I will admit, it also has led to me watching some truly dreadful television. So, I am trying to only add a new show if it looks like it is something I will actually enjoy for its own merits. This is why, despite my love of Summer Glau, I opted not to watch The Cape when it premiered mid-season. The released plot details just weren't doing anything for me, and none of the trailers I saw leading up to the show's first episode changed that impression.

The second prong is to start weeding out the shows that I currently watch and really could live without. I have finally found a use for the networks' screwed up scheduling schemes! Moving a show around to different nights or long hiatuses in between parts of a season, or even just the summer break, are giving me a chance to gain perspective on whether or not I am really engaged enough to keep watching a show or if I am just watching it out of habit. Case in point, when the current season started, I decided not to continue watching V, because while I enjoyed the first season more or less, and love many people in the cast, I just wasn't even remotely excited about the new season. If I couldn't be bothered to be interested in the coming episodes, I really didn't need to be watching them.

Sure, maybe I am missing out on some really good television these days, but I am willing to chance it. That's why nerds invented DVDs (and, subsequently, YouTube, Netflix, and Hulu). After all, I still haven't seen any of Lost, and my world has continued to move forward.

All of this is to lead up to the fact that yesterday I realized that The Event is about to resume from its mid-season hiatus soon...and I really just don't care. So I went ahead and deleted it from my list of series for the DVR to record. Bye bye Jason Ritter and crazy alien conspiracy theories! Sorry, you just didn't do anything I really hadn't seen before.

Now I have a whole extra hour in the week coming to me and I'll admit, I am pretty darn exited about that!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

An Odd Side-Effect

Since our daughter was born, my husband and I seem to have been gradually switching (or at least realigning) schedules. Until 2009, I worked a five day a week full-time office job. My husband was also working a full-time office job, but it was one with a much more flexible schedule allowance, while also having several music gigs (regular and irregular). What this meant for our schedules was that I would typically get up very early during the week and leave the house while my husband was still asleep, coming home in the early evening and staying up for a few hours before going to bed early (my standard bedtime was 10 PM when I was working) to start it all over again the next day. My husband would sleep in later, head to work (often staying late because he didn't start at 8 AM) and then from work would more often than not head to a rehearsal or a gig, not getting home until after I was asleep. Even on the nights when he came straight home from work, he would often stay up late doing one of three things (working, reading, or playing video games). He's naturally a night owl.

After I stopped working, I was already pregnant, so other than sleeping in later in the mornings, my own hours didn't change too much before the kiddo was born, since I was usually pretty tired. Once Baby Girl got here though, my hours became pretty erratic, and on more than one occasion, my husband would come home to find me still up and awake enough (usually feeding the baby) that we could hang out for a while. Eventually, Baby Girl and I got on a pretty regular schedule though. We have been blessed with a daughter who sleeps through the night and sleeps in pretty late (she gets up at 9:30 AM on most days unless we have to be somewhere early). It helps that her bedtime routine doesn't start until 10 PM, I am sure. Once she gives up her daily naps, we will move her bedtime back to 7 or 8, but for now it works for us. Most days I get up by or before 8 AM so I can do my chores and be all cleaned up before it is time for Baby Girl to start her day, and I rarely go to bed before midnight.

What is amusing is that, while my husband is still often out late for gigs or rehearsals, on the nights when he isn't busy, he has started going to bed before me. As his responsibilities at his day job have increased, he also often gets up, if not before me, then at the same time. It's been interesting seeing the shift this extra person has brought to our family, for sure.

Yesterday I noticed yet another swap in our personal habits--our video game playing. While my husband still gets on his game-playing kicks, over the last year and a half he has been playing a lot less. Usually he'll go for a few weeks hooked on a game and then not play at all for a month or more. I, on the other hand, who used to only occasionally game, playing mostly on weekends or in the summer, and without any real serious dedication, now try to play at least an hour or two every day. It's not that I have more time, exactly, it's just that once my husband introduced me to the PC-based role playing games (and I finally sat down and played one), I was really kind of hooked. Also, I have found it is a very perfect "me-time" thing to do, and it is a good way to enjoy Baby Girl's nap time.

Over the weekend, my husband started playing Mass Effect finally. I actually got it for him for Christmas two years ago. I think this is the first time he's sat down to play through an RPG where I am the one who has already played it. Usually I am the one asking him for a hint on how to get past a tricky part, or if there is a certain order in which I should do missions, etc. It's been a bit surreal having the roles reversed this time. But I am super excited that he is playing it, and he seems to be enjoying it so far. It is also neat to see how his play-through is differing from mine (he is playing as a guy for one thing, which does make the interaction with other characters vary quite a bit).

Of course, I have already been trying to fight the urge to replay this game, and listening to Hubby playing, as well as talking to him about it and seeing him get excited, which gets me excited about it...well, that's not helping. Thankfully I've got some distractions headed my way.

Today the demo for Dragon Age II goes live, and in two weeks the full game is out. So I've got enough to be getting excited about at the moment, I think. Mass Effect will have to wait I guess. But not too long.

Yesterday Hubby had the day off from work and we had a really nice family day. One of the best bits was during nap time, both of us were in the office, sitting at our side-by-side desks, each playing our game (I was finishing up the last stand-alone downloadable content campaign for Dragon Age). It was lovely. I am so glad I married this man.

Monday, February 21, 2011

A Dose of Reality

This weekend I watched the season four finale of the British show Primeval, and it got me thinking about an old television trope that this particular series has managed to more or less ignore completely. You've seen it dozens of times, I am sure. The show's protagonist is faced with an epic life-threatening event, or less impacting but still no less meaningful, a decision about whether to move/change jobs. Will the brave hero survive the ordeal, or will she perish? Will our favorite character stay right where he is so we can continue to enjoy his antics, or will he choose to move on, thus no longer being part of the show?

The problem with this kind of situation in contemporary television is that it has become common enough to be a trope, certainly. But because of this such scenarios have almost completely lost whatever sense of drama or suspense they were intended to lend to the show in the first place. Why? Because we the audience already know how the game will play out. In almost every case of such a trope, the hero survives or chooses to stay exactly where he is. In those few cases where the show does follow through on the threat, it is usually only a matter of time before the dearly departed returns, whether it is from beyond the grave (usually in a science fiction or fantasy show) or from wherever she moved to. In fact, it seems to me that the more hyped up the "event" is beforehand, the closer the actual threat gets to being no threat at all.

There is a largely simple explanation for this, of course. The biggest impact, and therefore the most drama, comes from the threat being leveled at a show's main character. But the actual loss of a main character on a popular show is a frightening idea for networks and other people who make their living from said show. With the main character gone, a show is left with three primary possibilities: End the show, wrap up the story, and walk away; replace the main character with someone new and run the risk that she will be seen as a pale imitation; or have that event truly impact the other players in the story, and have the rest of them move forward, evolving because of their loss.

The first two options are seen often enough, usually when the loss of a character is due to external circumstances rather than the story (such as if an actor chooses to or is asked to leave a show). I am hard pressed to think of examples of the first two options occurring simply because the show's writers felt the story had come to a close or demanded such a change. The third option, however, tends very much to be reserved for the story-driven loss of a character, but it is very rare indeed. So while writers want their audience to feel the jeopardy of the situations the characters experience, or the drama of the lives they are leading, their hands are largely tied in that they can't just get rid of everyone's favorite character because it would tell a good story. I think that's a sad thing, honestly, because it can make for some very compelling stories and character development, allowing for background characters to step forward and shine. Such a change can also breathe new life into a flagging series if pulled off well, giving it an extended run and pulling in new viewers who find something to appeal to them in what they once felt was lacking.

It's a fact of life that people move on and that people die, even people that we care about or consider the center of our lives. I wish that there was more television that could accept and mirror that fact, because the shows I have seen to do so have really surprised me with how amazing they became for doing so.

Primeval, for example. (You were wondering when I was going to get back to that, weren't you?)

Feel free to assume the bit after the photos is chock-full of spoilers for all four seasons of the show, by the way. (Photos from Flickr used via Creative Commons License, roll over photos for attribution.)

Primeval Seasons One and Two Main Cast

プライミーヴァル PRIMEVAL
Primeval Early Season Three Main Cast.

For the first two seasons of the show (which was only thirteen episodes), there were four primary characters on the show, and a few ancillary characters. The four mains were Cutter, Steven, Connor, and Abby. They comprised the field team that locates anomalies in the space-time continuum. The team's job is to monitor the anomalies until they close, track down and contain any prehistoric creatures that might have wandered through, and keep any innocent passers-by from wandering through and getting stranded in another era. If I had to pick one of them as the main main character though, it would definitely be Cutter--he was the guy calling the shots.

The first two seasons were largely one overall story arc, with the team coming together and discovering the anomalies, and learning about the threat posed via the anomalies and from none other than Cutter's wife, Helen, who had gone missing several years previous to the start of the series. The second season concludes with us more or less finally figuring out just what Helen is up to and with Steven sacrificing himself so that the rest of Team Anomaly can actually have the chance to stop her nefarious plans.

The very last bit of the season two finale is kind of interesting, because Helen pops up at Steven's grave promising that this is not the end, and they will be together again (they had a kind of thing on the side before she disappeared). The camera then pans out to show multiple iterations of Helen's henchman, indicating that she has figured out a way to use the anomalies to bring together multiple versions of people in one place and time. While this was a really freaking awesome bit of misdirect, thankfully, the show never carried through on Helen's promise, and Steven never came back.

This started season three with Cutter reeling from the loss of his best friend because of his crazy evil unfaithful megalomaniacal wife (seriously, watch the show, Helen Cutter was a piece of work). Every one on the team is affected by the loss, and new guy Becker (awesome though he is) just isn't cutting it in their minds. New girl Sarah likewise doesn't quite fill the empty space either (that's right, it took two people to replace Steven's scientific and soldiery skills, and that still wasn't enough). But still, everyone is doing their best to move on and continue their work--and stop Helen, because she is back at making their lives miserable--but we've got some amazing character development going on here because the writers offed a character and stuck with it. I will be honest I don't know if that actor left the show due to external circumstances or if it was purely a case of serving the story, but either way, the writers ran with it and it was awesomely done.

Then, a third of the way through the season, Helen shows up and freaking kills Cutter. Yeah, crazy woman killed her own husband, claiming she still loved him the whole time. Gah. So, bye bye Cutter, the show's true lead character. Wow. A third of the way into the season.

Again, the writers took this and ran with it, causing some great character development as well as moving the story along. Everyone was just starting to get over the loss of Steven, and now they are struck another blow with the loss of Cutter. It proves too much for one character, Jenny, who decides to leave the Anomaly Research Center (ARC). She puts in a brief appearance in season four, but just to show that she has moved on with her life and is still alive and well (and perfectly able to kick some prehistoric butt). There is actually a whole other interesting bit of plot/character development with her in seasons one and two, but this post is already long enough that I won't go into the whole Claudia Brown/Jenny Lewis thing other than to say it was really kind of spectacular, and a great example of both how evil Helen truly was and the further implications of the anomalies beyond wild creatures running loose out of place and time.

So, two and a half seasons in and we've lost two team members and an ancillary character has decided to leave. Now everyone has to get used to yet another new guy, Danny, who, along with Becker and Sarah, rounds out the new field team, with Connor and Abby still hanging in there. I think it is interesting to note that once Cutter was gone the show didn't try to bring any of the other characters, new or old, into the main focus. It was all about the team, not any one person. Even Danny, as the new team leader, was still very much portrayed as part of the team rather than the central player. The season closes with Connor, Abby, and Danny chasing Helen through an anomaly into the past. She is hellbent on going to the dawn of humanity as we know it and ending us all there before we have a chance to evolve into what we are today. Danny manages to follow her all the way to this era, though Connor and Abby get stuck somewhere in between (there was a series of anomalies). The season closes with (finally) the death of Helen Cutter, stopping her once and for all, but also with the realization that Danny is stuck in that era, and Connor and Abby are also stranded in the past, in yet another era altogether.

And here many of us feared it would stop, because the channel originally airing the show decided at the last minute not to renew it for a fourth season. Thankfully, another network was interested and though we had to wait an extra year in between seasons, we did finally get a season four.

Season four may have been less heavy on the dying, but all of the previous deaths are still taking their tolls. Also, we get a bunch of new people thrown in the mix with the old (Connor and Abby do make it back to their own time as the season opens). We learn that Sarah was killed in the year bridging seasons three and four, and even though it happened off screen, it still managed to have a huge effect on the show--Becker's grief over losing everyone he had been brought to the ARC to keep safe gave him a very nice chunk of character development and brought the character forward from the guy on the sidelines he started out being in season three to one of the mains in season four. Even the death of Helen has its impact, because her actions in the first three seasons had their own effects on all of the characters, and as season four closes, we learn she may have left other legacies as well, and not for the best. (Which means richer conflict in season five, yay!)

We do get three new characters introduced during season four who do not stick around, though I would consider none of them main characters. Still, their influence on the primary players is not minimal. Danny also does eventually pop back into the modern day, only to leave again shortly to continue the quest that originally brought him to the ARC in the first place (searching for his brother who disappeared through an anomaly when they were boys).

So, while this show's many comings and goings are certainly not always main characters, often enough they are. I truly liked all of the good guys that they killed off, as well as the good guys who chose to leave. I miss them, and was sad at their loss. But I am still happy that the show's writers made the call that they did. It has given the show a much deeper emotional resonance for me, and has strengthened the characters immensely, allowing for the kind of character growth that we don't often see on shows with a more static cast. It has also deepened the show's mythology in a way that gives every single episode more weight than on other shows of Primeval's ilk. I believe the risk is real every time, because I have been shown that no one is truly safe on this show.

The very premise of Primeval is a fantastical one, yet it feels so much more real that any other show I have watched in a long, long time, even those with no science fiction or supernatural elements, purporting to be set in the "real" world. I have to say, that is because the people on Primeval, just like in real life, come and go. I hope they keep it up for a long, long time to come.

(Okay, but I do also hope they don't kill Becker. Sue me.)

Friday, February 18, 2011

The Details Are Kind of Important

Japan Expo 2009
Photo by Jamiecat via Flickr.

Heads up, this is going to largely be a post about Stargate. Well, it is a post about writing, but my inspiration was a Stargate novel, and therefore main examples are gonna be from Stargate. I just say this to warn you, though I will do my best not to delve so far into things that someone who hasn't seen anything can't follow the line of thought.

Anyhoo, disclaimers done, moving forward now.

I have mentioned before that I a huge fan of Fandemonium's series of Stargate novels. These are novels approved by MGM, but not considered canon by the franchise's writers. They are written by a variety of authors and each one is a stand-alone story (with the exception of two that tie into each other, wrapping up a story left untold by a specific episode). There are multiple books out for Stargate SG-1 and Stargate Atlantis, and there might be some on the way for Stargate Universe (so far the only novel they have released for that series is the novelization of the pilot episode, Air).

Basically, and I say this in the most loving way possible, these books are official fan fiction, written by professional writers hired by Fandemonium and approved by MGM. I know that at least one of their regular authors actually started out writing Stargate fan fiction and was contacted by Fandemonium when they started putting these books together and asked if she would like to contribute. From what I can tell from the FAQ on the Stargate novels site (which, to be fair, seems like it hasn't been updated in quite some time because it only mentions SG-1 and still says the books aren't available outside of the UK, which hasn't been true for a long while), while MGM has to approve each story idea and the stories themselves in each stage of production, the writers come up with their own story idea for each novel.

The stated goal is for these books to each feel like an episode of Stargate. While the events within these stories are not considered canon, they do follow canon, meaning they don't change up something that has been established on screen or verified by The Powers That Be. They also must leave the Stargate world as they found it by the end of the story. (I will note this is one of two major deviations from traditional fan fiction, the other being the lack of romantic involvement, save those that have been established or alluded to in the official show canon).

Most of the time the writers accomplish this goal beautifully. When they don't, however, it is extremely jarring. Usually, failure to feel like a true episode is down to a lack of attention to detail. Characters are not acting like themselves, with no explanation given for the change of behavior. Things that have been clearly established as possible within the shows are treated as if they have never been encountered before, with, again, no explanation as to why this particular instance is different from what we, the reader (and presumably viewer) have seen before and know has already been experienced by these characters.

It seems to me that most of inconsistencies seem to come from an author's first entry into writing a Stargate novel, suggesting they are just not as familiar with the show and the mythology of the universe as the other writers. According to Fandemonium's FAQ, all of their authors are fans of the show and have seen every episode at least once, but I wonder sometimes. SG-1 ran for ten seasons, Atlantis ran for five. That's a lot of episodes, and just seeing them once maybe isn't enough to ground someone in the mythology. At the very least, I feel like maybe these first-time Stargate authors need a little bit more hand-holding throughout the process, and their manuscripts perhaps should be given a bit higher level of scrutiny.

Sometimes it is just clear that the writer is perhaps writing for one show, say, Atlantis, when clearly he is more familiar with the other, SG-1. In this case, portrayals of the characters are just a little less nuanced, and that can be overlooked if the story is compelling enough. But when you have a character born and raised in the Pegasus galaxy (where Atlantis is located) thinking and referring to humans as "Tau'ri," it can get extremely frustrating. Why? Because the term "Tau'ri" is a term used by the Goa'uld (a race that has never been to the Pegasus galaxy or had any contact with it until well after the SG expedition arrived in Atlantis) and by those cultures they have dominated to refer to the people of Earth. People from the Pegasus galaxy who encounter people from Earth tend to think of and refer to them as Atlanteans or Lanteans, because they have set up residence in Atlantis. It is a small detail, but an important one to staying true to established characters.

Sometimes though, I wonder if the author has actually watched the show they are writing for at all. Take for example, the book I am currently reading, The Power Behind the Throne. Granted, author Steven Savile seems to be a good writer, I am not trying to knock his skills in that area. His basic story idea is even actually pretty interesting. But I have to say, I am having some problems with one of the major plot lines.

Okay, a little background for you really quick if you are not familiar with the franchise. The stargates transport people and other matter from one planet to another via stable wormholes. Each planet has a gate address made up of seven symbols (six representing the planet's coordinates and the seventh being a point of origin, or the planet from which you are dialing). It is kind of like an interstellar telephone number. (Using an eight-symbol address, with seven coordinates and the point of origin, will take you to another galaxy, but that requires more energy than most stargates have access to.) Matter will only travel one way through the wormholes (from the originating planet to the receiving planet) but radio transmissions and data can go both ways (so people can stay in contact through the gate when they are off-world). When you step through the event horizon, your body is broken down into all of its component molecules and transferred from one end of the wormhole to the other, to be reassembled upon arrival. The effect is almost, but not quite, instantaneous. Assuming that everything is just fine with both gates and the wormhole itself. 

Got that? Okay. Good.

It has been established that all kinds of things can interfere with wormhole travel. The wormhole passing through a solar flare can cause time travel. Interference on one end or the other can cause an unstable wormhole, resulting sometimes in a very painful transit and sometimes in loss of matter being transported entirely (which means death if the matter is people). A directed blast of energy (such as a nuclear bomb) can cause the wormhole connection to jump to another nearby gate, even if there is matter in transit, resulting in that matter coming out somewhere other than the originally dialed destination.

That last one is important, we've seen our heroes make use of it a few times (intentionally and not) throughout the series on SG-1 and Atlantis. The fact that a wormhole hit by a blast can redirect to a nearby gate even with matter in transit was established at the end of the first season of SG-1, when Daniel and Teal'c made it through to Stargate Command, but Carter and O'Neill, just behind them, got stuck on some ice-planet (which turned out to be Earth, but that doesn't matter for the current discussion).

Okay, back to the story. The planet which SG-1 has been visiting is pretty much literally Hell. Sky on fire, bleak landscape, crazy hot or crazy freezing temperatures, yada, yada, yada. It's not a recommended site for gate travel, really (this was on purpose). When SG-1 tries to leave the planet (under fire from their good old enemy, the Goa'uld), they establish a wormhole connection with Earth but during transit the wormhole jumps and they end up somewhere else.

Back on Earth, at the SGC, everybody is freaking out because the wormhole closed before SG-1 rematerialized. Okay, well, that's understandable. But they all assume that this means our heroes have perished and no one even seems to think that maybe, just maybe, the wormhole jumped. Even though there was clearly a huge wonky energy reading right before the wormhole failed.

Furthermore, SG-1, on planet stranded, seem frankly amazed that their wormhole somehow jumped, as if they had never considered such a thing to be possible. Even though the exact same thing had already happened to two of them. We know it has, because Carter is a Major in this book (she was promoted in season three), so clearly season one has already happened. Gah.

Then. Then! They try dialing Earth with the same address they used from the original planet with no luck. Which makes sense because a new planet means a new point of origin symbol. But then O'Neill starts freaking out and lapsing into despair because they will never figure out the point of origin, oh no! Okay, my credulity has been stretched to its limits at this point. This was an issue in the movie, yes, because Kurt Russell and James Spader had no idea how the gates actually worked (or that they dialed more than one planet). Also, they had no Carter. But, assuming that the Dial-Home-Device (or DHD, on which you enter the coordinates of where you want to go), is working properly (and there's no indication given that this one isn't) it isn't gonna be that hard to figure out the point of origin through trial and error. There are a finite number of symbols on a DHD. The first six symbols of Earth's address haven't changed. So they just need to try the address with each symbol on the device until they get a connection.

Like I said, the story itself is actually pretty interesting, but I feel like maybe Savile is working a little hard to cram a pre-existing story into the Stargate framework, and he made a few missteps along the way. I want to enjoy the book, but it is hard to do when characters that I know very well are acting like they have forgotten basic common sense, or at least basic parts of the job they have been doing every day for the last three years at least. It would be like me going in to work at my old job and not remembering that I have to count the money the contractor is giving me before I sign that yes, he did give me that much money, and then freaking out and being confused later on when nothing added up correctly.

Maybe I am wrong and Savile has an awesome explanation waiting as for why these people are acting so stupid. I sure hope so. Shame on MGM though for letting this get through their "approval" process. I know they're facing a bankruptcy and trying to get what money they can from the consumers, but that doesn't mean they should let the quality control slip. We might as well just relegate the stories to the badly written, unofficial fan fiction, otherwise. And I know well enough by now how to spot and avoid those.

I know I am nitpicking, I know that these are small details. But I pay good money for these products expecting something very specific, something which this company says is its intended goal. And I truly believe that something made by fans and marketed to fans should know better. Is that too much to ask?

I think my point with all of this was that this has made me very conscious of my own writing style. Even though I am unlikely to be writing anything professional in an existing franchise outside of straight up fan fiction (and you can be darn sure I will do my best to get the details correct there), there are lessons to be learned from this. The first is to know your characters inside and out. The story you are trying to tell is important, certainly, but the events should be shaped by the characters, and if they are acting contrary toward their established natures, you had better have (and provide to your readers) a darn good explanation for it. The second is that small details count. Keep track of what you write and say about your world, because the people who will end up reading are going to be paying attention to that kind of stuff. Third, and finally, know your target audience. I am not saying pander to them, mind you, we don't always want what we think we want. But. If you are writing for fans of an existing franchise, whether it is your world or the creation of someone else, your readers are going to want you to get it right, so be sure you do so.

Now, it's Friday, so, enjoy a new Gronk (Katie Cook is apparently not a fan of Monopoly), and have an excellent weekend! Off you go, now.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Oh, Plans Are A-Whirring

I don't know if I've said here or not, but my husband and I are officially celebrating our anniversary (number six) in Seattle this year. We're going to Emerald City Comic Con, tickets are purchased and the hotel and flights are booked. My super awesome mother-in-law is staying with Baby Girl and her fuzzy brothers while we're away so it can be a nice just-us trip as well.

I am so super excited about this! It is our very first convention (well, Hubby has been to a music convention or two), so I am also trying to make sure I do this right. That means planning on packing comfortable (and geekily appropriate) clothing, as well as figuring out ahead of time who and what we want to see while we are there.

It looks like we are going to just plan to spend all day in hall/room 4A on Saturday for the various panels they have lined up. We'll probably duck out after Shatner's panel though, we are both of like minds that we will be much more approving of the Browncoats movie if we don't actually watch it. It is something that I fear is much more awesome in theory than in reality.

Gah, and the guest list is crazy. I think I have narrowed it down that I definitely want to try to do the photo op/autograph signing with Wil Wheaton and Felicia Day. Thankfully they are actually doing that together (along with Amy Okuda, also of The Guild) on Friday and Saturday, which means half of the standing in lines, yay! Boy howdy are those photo ops pricey though. Still...probably totally worth it.

I made a list of all of the web comics I read and noted which artists I know will be there (between what I could find on the con's website and what the artists themselves have said). I know which booths four of the five that I *have* to meet will be at, so that's a plus. Hubby has an artist or two he wants to try to meet as well. I am this close to printing up a map of the convention site and breaking out the highlighters and going to town with them.

So, it is looking to be a pretty full weekend. Thankfully the con doesn't run that late, and we aren't leaving until Monday morning to head home. This means we'll have Friday and Saturday evening, and most of Sunday free to relax and enjoy one another's company, as well as Seattle itself. I have never been, so I am just as excited about getting to see a new city as about the con.

The big key, I think, is trying to have a plan in place that leaves us plenty of time to just wander about as well, and to also be flexible if we see something interesting that we hadn't planned on, or if we miss out on something we did. It's a little overwhelming, but also quite exciting.

Now I just have to hope I don't go all fangirl and become incapable of relevant and/or coherent speech when we get there and start meeting people...

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Consider Mine Captured

So I officially gave up on The Force Unleashed over the weekend. Not permanently, mind you, but at least for the time being. Here's the thing. Apparently, the game was originally designed for consoles (think Playstation, XBox, Wii, etc.) and not for PC. But the company that made it wanted to cash in on us PC fans as well and so "ported" the original version into a more PC-friendly format.

I was not actually aware until recently (until I started reading up on on the forthcoming Dragon Age II, in fact) that this is actually a really complicated process. Designing a game for one platform (console or PC) creates all sorts of challenges when making a version for the other platform. Apparently this is the largest reason why there is usually a lag between the release of video games on the original platform and the release of the same game for the other platform. The creators have to decide if it is worth it to go through the trouble to update/change the game play mechanics required to release in the secondary format. This is why it is a huge deal that Bioware is releasing Dragon Age II across all platforms at the same time. There was a lot of work that went into making sure the game play experience was workable across consoles and PCs alike.

The Force Unleashed is a good example of how this complicated process can sometimes go wrong. To use the Force in the game on the PC version, you need to use a combination of keyboard keys and mouse buttons/movements. Most of the moves in the game require a specific series of buttons/keys be pressed in a specific sequence with just the right timing. I think overall the designers did a good job of making this work with a mouse and a keyboard, as opposed to with a singular game controller. But there is one spot where this seems to have failed spectacularly, and that is where I got stuck. Pulling down a star destroyer with the Force is a multi-step process that requires you to be very quick and and to be constantly moving your mouse in addition to pressing buttons and keys. This is rather a challenge when you think about how much room the average computer mouse has to maneuver in. You can only push it up so far before you have to pick it up and move it down to the bottom of your desk and start pushing up again. Unfortunately, this kind of screws up what you are trying to do in the game. Apparently, it is even worse if you have a trackball mouse, which, of course, I have.

So, basically, I have the worst possible computer set up of the PC version of the game, which is at a disadvantage already because this specific move (which is required to move forward in the game) really wasn't designed with a mouse in mind, and wasn't ported very well from console to PC. I spent a goodly amount of time on help-sites and walkthroughs and forums, and tried the tricks and tips they all suggested, but I still could not get that star destroyer out of the sky after multiple attempts. I tried using a different mouse, one without the trackball, but then I ran into the space issue. At this point, I am pretty sure it boils down to two things: I did not level up my character's Force abilities in the best configuration to get past this part quickly, and I am not quick enough to take down the waves of TIE Fighters in between attempts to pull the thing down (allowing it to move out of the required position, which means I waste time repositioning it when I could be pulling it down). To me, this says I just need to start over again and be more conscious of how I level up the next time around. I am going to do that, yes. But not right now. I don't think my hand will forgive me if I were to try.

My warrior elf from Dragon Age: Origins

For now, I am just going to put The Force Unleashed back onto the shelf and move on to the next thing. The next thing being all of the downloadable content for Dragon Age: Origins. Bioware recently(ish) released an "ultimate" edition of the game that included the original game, the expansion pack, and all of the downloadable content. This edition actually cost less than it would cost to purchase all of the DLC separately, and then my husband found it on sale, so he went ahead and bought it a little while ago.

Monday afternoon I decided to break it out, eager to play Witch Hunt, a follow-up adventure to the original game. After about an hour and a half spent wrestling with the game--which was telling me that all of the DLC was installed on my computer but unauthorized (It seems that there was some sort of glitch in the install script of the downloadable digital versions, which included ours since we bought it through Steam. Thankfully the Bioware message boards were quite helpful and once I finally gave them a gander I was able to find a quick and easy fix to get the DLC working. I am actually quite proud of myself for this, truth be told)--I was finally able to fire it up and dive back into Ferelden.

I love this game. It is so incredible. I think my favorite thing about the genre of fantasy is that it is designed to capture the imagination, to take you away to a completely different world where anything is possible. If you had told me even two or three years ago that I would be as enamored with a video game franchise as I am with, say, Stargate, I would have laughed you right out of the building.  But oh my goodness I am. I am not completely sure what turned me on to wanting to play this game, but once I found out about it, oh I wanted in. Before I ever got a copy of the game I found out IDW was doing a tie-in series of comics set in that world and went ahead and subscribed. By the time I finished the first one, I was absolutely determined to get the game as soon as freaking possible. (I had to wait a little while longer, but since I knew I had a birthday coming up, that made it a little bit easier to be patient.)

As soon as I finished playing the game, I hopped online to see if I could find anything about the sequel. I wasn't entirely sure I was correct that one was in development, but was pleasantly surprised to find out that one was, and was in fact due out in March. I preordered it that very night. I have eagerly been following the news about Dragon Age II, drinking in everything I can, bouncing up and down in anticipation. And it is so close now. So close. That is, in fact, why I decided to go ahead and play the DLC now, since it won't be the length of a full game and it will whet my appetite for what is to come in just a few weeks.

So, I started playing Dragon Age again on Monday. If you keep an ear to the geeky grapevine, you might have noticed yesterday when it exploded with the news that Felicia Day, who I adore, announced that she has been working with Bioware to create a six-episode web series set in the Dragon Age world, taking place, in fact, during the events of the new game. Holy frikkin' cow! I spent much of yesterday bouncing in excitement over this news. Felicia Day. And Dragon Age. Together!

There are all sorts of stories about the news. You can read a story about the series here. There's a celebrity gamer profile on Felicia Day here. Felicia blogs about her own thoughts on the project here. Oh, and Bioware now has a blurb about it on the official Dragon Age II site here. Felicia will also be on Jimmy Fallon's talk show tonight with a sneak preview of the new series, score!

In addition to ramping up my excitement for the new game, as well as getting me all giddy about the web series, yesterday's Dragon Age-related news had another little jewel of information for me. There is an official prequel book to the first game. Actually there are two of them. The reviews on Amazon suggest they (both written by the same author, who was one of the story developers on the game) are actually pretty spectacular. Gonna have to pick those up PDQ in order to sate my thirst for all things Dragon Age.

So, um, yeah. If the purpose of epic fantasy is to capture the audience's imagination, I can only say well done, Bioware, well done.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Strange Convergences

I know I said last week that on Friday my friend and I were going to go out and see The King's Speech, but unfortunately it didn't pan out. The show was sold out when we arrived, because apparently I failed to take in how ridiculously hopping the 7th Street Movie Tavern would be last Friday. Sigh. So we were bummed we couldn't see the movie, and there didn't seem to be anything else playing soon that looked interesting to us, so we decided to just grab dinner instead. It would give us the chance to chat anyway, rather than just sitting next to each other in silence. We picked a restaurant, went in, and were told it would be an hour's wait. Sigh. Nope, not so much.

While I had been driving around looking for a place to park (the garage was, like the theater, packed), I had noticed that I ended up close to a restaurant called Dos Gringos. Now, I have driven past this restaurant often in the twelve years I've been in Fort Worth, and I have mocked its name relentlessly in that time, but I have never actually eaten there. But, it was off the main stretch, away from the throng of hipsters who were thwarting our evening out, and the price point seemed to fit what we were looking at, so we figured what the heck and gave it a try. Okay, the food, it was not spectacular, and the service was a weensy bit lacking, but it wasn't terrible, and my friend and I had a mostly enjoyable meal and some good conversation, so the evening was not a total loss. We had fun, it was good. But I gotta say, the place was weird. My friend commented on how it just had a lot of pieces that didn't seem to fit together correctly, as if someone had dumped the pieces of two different puzzles in one box and mixed them up. The primary example of this was the live band in the bar. I'll be honest with you, I didn't even realize the band was live until about halfway through dinner, I really just thought they had a classic light rock station on. What's that, you say? Classic light rock in a Mexican restaurant? (Well, Tex-Mex.) Not Tejano? Not Country? Nope. Strange. Even the list of songs they played was a strange mix--ranging from Neil Diamond to Tom Petty's "Last Dance With Mary Jane." Also, their bathrooms were freezing.

Oh well, at least now I have a valid reason to mock the place, right? Also, my friend and I had a good time, which was the important thing.

I have to say, I was a little bummed I wasn't gonna get to get my Colin Firth on though. So I was super excited on Saturday when I discovered that Syfy's cheesy movie of the week was one I hadn't seen starring Kavan Smith. Yay! This week's monster flick, Iron Invader, was actually pretty darn amusing to me, I have to say. It had a super silly plot about alien bacteria that feeds off of metal taking over a big statue made out of scrap and wandering around a small town in Idaho, killing people by sucking all of the metal out of their blood. The effects were spectacularly low-budget (I am pretty sure the "bacteria" was just neon green paint with iron fillings mixed in that were manipulated with a magnet). But it was the casting, man, the casting is what really got me.

Here is the conversation I imagine the casting people had when putting together this movie:

"Hey, who is our lead for this one?"

"Kavan Smith."

"Oh, hey, yeah. He's cool. I loved him in Stargate Atlantis, and isn't he on Eureka now, too? Oh, and he had a brief appearance in Battlestar Galactica....dang, I think he's been in just about all of our big franchises, hasn't he?"

"Huh. I guess he has. Hey, you know what would be funny?"

"What's that?"

"Let's cast a bunch of people from all of the other Syfy shows he's been in!"

"Yeah, right on!"

So....this resulted in the cast being rounded out with:

Nicole de Boer, who appeared in the Stargate Atlantis episode "Whispers."

(Interesting fun side fact number one: She was also in the movie Cube with another SGA alum, David Hewlett.)

Donnelly Rhodes, who you may know better as Doc Cottle from Battlestar Galactica.

Paul McGillion, who you may know better as Doctor Carson Beckett from Stargate Atlantis (and who in this film for some strange reason had a southern accent, even though he was playing a small town sheriff in Idaho).

(Interesting fun side fact number two: Donnelly Rhodes was also a series regular on Canadian series Da Vinci's Inquest--which is, as far as I can gather, the equivalent of Law & Order in the Canadian acting community--and Paul McGillion made a guest appearance on that series back in the day.)

Chris Gauthier, who you may know better as Vincent from Eureka.

(Interesting fun side fact number three: Paul McGillion and Christ Gauthier and Kavan Smith have all made guest appearances on Syfy's Sanctuary.)

I know people joke about Syfy owning the actors that appear in their original series and "forcing" them to do these silly made-for-television movies, but dude. My head was seriously about to explode going over how connected all of these actors were. It was crazy. In the most awesome way possible.

I think that, along with The Room at the End of the Hall (or The Nightmare at the End of the Hall, depending on which country you are in), Iron Invader will be one of those television movies that I regularly record whenever it comes on. You gotta love those guilty pleasure movies, eh?

Monday, February 14, 2011

Imaginary Valentines

Happy Valentine's Day my dear readers! I hope that whatever your relationship status you truly do have a wonderful day. Remember, there are many different kinds of love out there, so if you don't have a special romantic valentine to share your day with, there's no need to be all grumpy and anti-love. Declare yourself your valentine and treat yourself to a fantastic evening of your favorite things. Or make a good friend your valentine and go out and have a good time together.

I have to say I am lucky enough to have found the love of my life and we have a nice low-key celebration planned for the evening. We're going to dinner with our daughter at one of our favorite restaurants and just plan to enjoy one another's company. I am very much looking forward to it.

I read an interesting Valentine's Day-inspired article on GeekMom yesterday. Geek Mom Delphine asserts her belief in every reader's right to fall in love with the characters in the books we read. I really couldn't agree with her more. I think a character so well written you can fall in love with him (or her) is the sign that a writer is doing something very, very right.  After reading this post, I was inspired to come up with my own list of fictional valentines to share with you guys.

Harry Dresden
(The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher)

Harry is all kinds of awesome. He has his flaws, certainly, but he is a loyal friend and fiercely protective. He does what he believes is right and he always stands up to bullies, no matter the odds against him. He has a pretty solid sense of humor as well--freely joking about the time that one bad guy kidnapped him and tried to sell him on Ebay. Also, he's a wizard. And when he needed a way to stop necromancers, his weapon of choice was a reincarnated T-Rex. I mean, come on, how cool is that? Sadly though, it could never work out between us. My love of computers and gaming would not mix well with his effect on electronics I fear.

Araris Valarian
(Codex Alera by Jim Butcher)

Well, clearly JB is quite a talented writer. Araris is a very interesting character indeed to me, and he is a romantic, which wins him points. Araris was the most well-known swordsman in Alera, and singulare (body guard and friend) to the princeps Septimus before his death. When Septimus was killed in battle, leaving behind an unacknowledged wife and newborn son, Araris allowed himself to be disfigured with the coward's brand and presumed dead so that he could go into hiding with his friend's widow and son and keep them safe from the princeps' enemies. It's not his fault he fell in love with her, but he was a total gentleman about it, which makes their eventual romance all the more sweet.

(The Dragon Prince and The Dragon Star by Melanie Rawn)

Ostvel stuck me as an interesting character throughout the entire span of both of Rawn's trilogies. Not a Sunrunner, but living among them, and married to not one, but two, over the course of the narrative (his first wife died due to illness), he carried with him a perspective on the group that not many others in the series possessed. He was forever surrounded by people of power (Sunrunners and nobility), but he always remained a very straightforward and simple man, even when Rohan gave him is own princedom to run. The guy was just plain cool. If he was real, he would be the first friend I would turn to in any sort of crisis, no matter how big or small, and I would never hesitate to confide in him. Plus, he just seems like a pretty fun guy to hang out with.  

Bardan Jusik
(Star Wars Republic Commando by Karen Traviss)

Oh man, Bardan. I think I've told you before he's probably now my favorite Jedi of all time. Mostly because he had the guts to look at the Jedi Order and see it for what it was--neither good nor bad, just stagnant, and willing to let itself be used and compromise its morals because it thought doing so would serve the greater good. The man has a conscience, which, dagnabbit is just sexy. Also, he didn't stop being a user of the Force just because he walked away from the order, and he was constantly looking within himself to keep himself from being tempted by the dark side, while still allowing himself to have the kind of life that most Jedi deny themselves. It's hard not to love a man who is willing to give up the only way of life he's ever known for his family. Not for some half-baked romance, mind you, but for his actual family.

Lord John Grey
(The Outlander and Lord John Grey by Diana Gabaldan)

Okay, this maybe is a bit of a stretch, since he definitely plays for the other team. But John Grey is an absolutely fascinating character. He falls in love with a man who clearly prefers women, in a time when homosexuality is definitely something that needs to be kept hidden. Instead of pining about his unrequited love, he gets on with his life, while remaining a silent pillar of support for the man who has captured his heart. He is a true gentleman, in every sense of the word, and it's hard not to love him a little bit.

So there's my top five literary valentines for you. Delphine actually threw in one in her blog that was from a movie, Obi Wan Kenobi as portrayed by Ewan MacGregor in The Revenge of the Sith and I have to say I am totally in agreement with her on that. That particular role made me fall in love with MacGregor as an actor and with Obi Wan as a character. It is not easy to make a stuffed shirt like Obi Wan sexy, but MacGregor somehow managed to pull it off, and whatever lingering reticence I might have been having about being a Star Wars fangirl was completely quashed when I realized that while watching The Revenge of the Sith for the first time.

Other honorable mentions include:
Oz the werewolf from Buffy the Vampire Slayer (he is just cool in every sense of the word).
Charlie Weasley from Harry Potter (a British ginger who loves dragons? I mean, come on).
Alistair from Dragon Age: Origins (a cute, super sweet, slightly naive, prince in disguise with a wonderful sense of humor and all kinds of loyalty and courage to boot? Um, heck yeah.)

So, who are your imaginary valentines?

Friday, February 11, 2011

Where the Heck Did This Wall Come From?

Wow, I am so stuck in my game right now. It's not that I don't know what I need to do to get unstuck, it is just a matter of actually keeping my character alive long enough to do that. Sigh.

A quick look through some of the online walkthroughs for the game suggest that this is a point at which many people get stuck, so at least I am in good company, I suppose. Those walkthroughs also seem to suggest that I am actually nearing the end of the game already, which is kind of a crazy surprise. Though if the game really is that short, I will not complain, that means it will be one I can pick up and play again often.

Because, you see, I really am enjoying this game, despite the fact that Star Wars: The Force Unleashed seems to share a major similarity with the last game I played, and in something I did not actually previously enjoy. Remember when I griped that the last game was just a bunch of cut-scenes with a little bit of game play in between? The Force Unleashed is actually doing the same thing. But you know what? It is doing it a heck of a lot better.

This definitely isn't a traditional role playing game, where you get to design your character and choose the class and make decisions that affect how your story arc goes.  Which I guess I should have expected from what I know about the story, but it has all of the other game play elements of RPGs that I enjoy, so I am still having fun with it. Plus, lightsabers. Also, multiple crystals you can find to change the color of and damage inflicted by your lightsaber. Awesome sauce.

One of the things I am, surprisingly, enjoying a lot in this game is that it rewards you for being a total jerk. You get extra points for killing people in creative ways (like using the Force to pick up a stormtrooper and then throwing him into three more stormtroopers, knocking them all off the edge of a platform into the pit of lava, for example). You refill your health bar by killing people and therefore draining their life energy. It makes sense, of course, because the character you are playing is a Sith-in-training. Given that in the previous Star Wars games I've played I have never enjoyed going dark side, I am surprised how much I am enjoying it here. But it is kind of a nice way to burn off negative energy, I've gotta say.

I will do a more thorough writeup once I've finished the game, I am sure, but I did want to give a quick update. Hopefully I can suck it up and get past this stuck part today or tomorrow.

Tonight I am going out with my friend Miss T for another ladies' night! We're going to the Movie Tavern to see The King's Speech. I am super excited about all of the Britishness that awaits. Also, movie theaters that serve sweet iced tea are always a bonus in my book.

Don't forget to swing by the Gronk site to check out today's strip! I will be spending much of today plotting on how to make a hat like Gronk's for my very own...

Have a great weekend folks.

Thursday, February 10, 2011


By which I mean several small bits and pieces...

Realized that yesterday's blog was my 100th entry on Searching For Me. That's pretty spiffy, I would say. So, maybe some literal confetti is in order as well as the figurative kind. I started this blog mostly as a writing exercise--mainly to make myself write at least five days a week so as to keep in practice and hone my craft. I would say I have mostly done pretty okay so far. To those of you who are reading, thanks.

In other quasi-writing news, I am through chapter twelve of the read through of my first draft of Living Legend and still really enjoying it. I have also found one glaring contradiction that definitely needs to be addressed (it came about due to my frenzied writing schedule, I think, just a throwaway line that makes something that happens later a little fishy if I leave it as is). I also found a few instances of characters acting very unlike who they are in my head, so I need to try to establish valid reasons for the behavior or do some rewrites there. Of course, there is also the fact that about two-thirds of the way through writing I decided that one of my mains shouldn't speak in contractions. I am finding lots of early (and not so early) places of her using contractions though so my Big Pink Pen of Doom (it was going to be red, but I couldn't find my red pen) has been going nuts circling. That is probably something I will be continuing to search for through my next two drafts, I am sure. But it is progressing well, I think.

In a recent blog entry, Stargate writer Joseph Mallozzi listed what would be his dream team composed of characters from all three shows of the franchise. It consisted of Ronald Greer, Vala Mal Doran, Rodney McKay, and Ronon Dex, with Richard Woolsey holding down the fort at the base of operations. I have to say, I loved this team! I do think a few more additions would be necessary though: Daniel Jackson (mostly to keep Vala in check, but also because his linguistic and anthropological skills are good for first contact), Major Lorne as the team leader (Greer is awesome but he's got a temper and needs to be taking orders from someone a with a cooler head), and T.J. as the medic (because with Rodney and Ronon and Greer, they will need a medic available). It was a fun little thing to picture in my head this group of adventurers, all very different, and try to conceive of how their team dynamic would develop. I started wondering how I would get them all together, what with Greer and T.J. being stuck on the other side of the universe and all. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that I really want to write a story with these characters. So, unless I succumb to the urge to write this before November, this is going to be my fan fiction NaNoWriMo novel this year.

Watched the season finale of Human Target last night and absolutely loved it. Though I have to say it raised a lot more questions than it provided answers for me. I have my fingers and toes crossed that this show gets picked up for a third season. I really do enjoy it so very much, and the cast is just clicking like it is nobody's business. I really hope to get to see them work together for a long time to come.

I am still working my way through getting caught up on Questionable Content. I am now past strip 1,000, so I would say that is progressing nicely. I did finally catch up to where I started reading it (I was surprised that I have been reading it for so long), and now I am enjoying getting to read those strips all over again and getting the inside jokes and references to previous story lines. My poor husband is getting drowned in emailed links to strips I think he'd find amusing. He also has to listen to me giggle maniacally while I read them, since we share an office. But the guy's a trooper, and I am reminded once more how lucky I am that he loves me!

I took the Jeopardy! Online Test last night. I think I got maybe a third to half of the questions right. That's not great, but it's better than last  year, which is at the very least encouragement to keep trying. There were a few questions that I clearly had no clue about, a few that I think I knew the answer to, and at least three that I did know the answer to but couldn't pull it out of my brain in time. Grr. Still, I am glad I did it. As unrealistic as it is to think that I'll end up going on Jeopardy! and winning big, it is a quite lovely little daydream nonetheless.

Now, if only we can get Wheel of Fortune to come back and hold their next round of auditions when I am actually in town...

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

It May Not Be Real, But It Really Worries Me Anyway

Man, two new episodes of Glee this week! One after the Super Bowl on Sunday and another last night. I really enjoyed last night's Valentine episode, although I have got to say I am still trying to figure out how I feel about Sunday's big football entry.

Last night sealed two things for me.

First: I think Puck might just be my favorite character on the show. Yeah, he's kind of a sleazeball, but at the same time he really does have an interesting character arc going on. You can see him growing as a person, even if he doesn't necessarily go about it the best way most of the time. Also, he gets some of the best songs. This could be because he's more the "rocker" so I enjoy his songs more, because I've gotta be honest with you, I am not really all that on top of the current top 40. I know maybe about a third of it, I'd say. Puck gets a lot of classics, and I enjoy that.

Second: I find Kurt's story arc very intriguing. I love that his parents saw he was in a bad situation and took steps to give him a chance to get out of it. I love that he is really coming into his own, and while he is mostly doing well at his new school, he is also learning that he did have some good things going for him at McKinley, and doing what he can to keep those in his life. I really like that in Blaine he has found so much more than a potential romance (though there's that too). He has found an ally and a mentor, someone who truly understands him on a fundamental level that none of his family or friends from McKinley can grasp despite how hard they try.

You know what, make that three things. I need a pair of those footie sock-monkey pajamas that Mercedes was rocking last night. Holy cow can you say awesome?

But as much as I love Kurt's story arc, I find the underlying basis for it more than a little disturbing. As unreal as Glee is, I know there is no sensible reason I should take any of it seriously, and yet...

It's not the fact that Kurt has been bullied because he was gay and in Glee club and unashamed of either. I mean, that sucks, but it is believable, and Kurt always handled it with aplomb. What really concerns me here is that the bullying at McKinley High, fictional though it may be, is at such an extreme level and completely overlooked by everyone but the people getting bullied. There are abundantly clear patterns of behavior at this school that no one in authority is stopping.

For example, the slushies. The members of New Directions are constantly being bombarded face-first with slushies by the jocks at the school. I get that it's a visual gag and it is supposed to be funny. But oh my goodness is it ever not. The only teachers that seem to notice or care that this is going on are Mr. Shuester, occasionally the guidance counselor, Sue (who hates the glee club and so does nothing to stop the behavior) and now apparently Coach Beiste. But there is absolutely no disciplinary action as a result of these daily assaults. Even when the teachers who do notice take the matter to the principal, he does nothing.

The football players who are not also in New Directions constantly cause division in the ranks during practice and games due to their disdain for their musically inclined teammates--even though it is only with the addition of some of those teammates that they finally see a winning season for the first time in ever. That kind of behavior should result in suspension from playing or removal from the team at the very least. The fact that the bullying and worse carries over into the players' daily lives as well should result in detention, suspension, expulsion, and so on. They don't even have the excuse of being stellar athletes to keep them out of hot water, so what gives here?

Not one of these bullying teenagers seems to be concerned about the bigger picture, i.e., the future, either. Sunday's episode really surprised me in that these guys were willing to walk off the team and forfeit playing in a championship game--the kind of thing that leads to scholarships and talent scouts--rather than suck it up and play nice with teammates they didn't like, or to do a little team bonding.

Then there is the matter of Dave. The alpha-bully. The reason that Kurt left McKinley. I'll give Sue Sylvester credit--during her brief stint as principal, she tried to expel him when she learned about his assault on Kurt. Unfortunately, it didn't stick. Granted, yes, Kurt had been keeping quiet about how badly Dave had been tormenting him, but Dave had an established pattern of violent behavior toward Kurt that was witnessed by plenty of other students and teachers, not to mention similar (if slightly lesser) behavior directed at the other members of New Directions. Not to mention his numerous public homophobic slurs and threats. When the school board tried to say that Dave couldn't be expelled for an attack that had no witnesses, they had some solid ground to stand on. But when Shue and Sue and the other teachers didn't counter that decision with the amassed evidence of Dave's previously documented behavior, that was a major fail on the part of McKinley High.

I spent seventh and eighth grade at three different junior highs/middle schools in two different states. I hate to look back on that time because at only one of those schools (the one I was only at for about a month and a half) I was bullied like there was no tomorrow. I was the new kid (two years and three schools in a row). I had a weird fashion sense that never quite fit in at any of my schools. I was nerdy, and scrawny (wow, that I can remember a time when I was actually scrawny), and I was painfully shy. In other words, I was easy prey. Believe me when I say that I know bullying is real. I do not doubt that it is worse now than it was when I was in school. I was lucky (?) that the bullying inflicted upon me was all of the mental variety. I survived it, and I learned from it. But I was also lucky enough that I had teachers I could talk to who supported me, and family that loved me for who I was. I had already grasped the concept that school was a fleeting thing (helped along by how often I moved before the tenth grade, I am sure), and that it wouldn't last forever. It helped me endure. But not all kids who are bullied are that lucky. They don't all survive, and it seems like the odds against them these days are ridiculously high.

I know that this is all just a television show. I get that, I really do. But it is watched by a lot of kids, and I fear that it is giving off the wrong impression. Yes, the glee kids are doing their best to thrive and embrace their talents and passions despite what a harsh world thinks of them. They are not afraid to be themselves, and that is an important message. But. The writers need to start showing that there are real consequences for the bullies as well. For one thing, it might encourage young viewers being bullied to actually go to figures of authority for help--right now all they are seeing on the show is that the teachers can't or won't do anything about their problems. For another, if there are any kids watching who are inclined to grow up to be bullies themselves one day, this is only going to teach them that it is okay, because nothing bad is going to happen to them if they do. It is those kids who are afraid to tell their parents what is going on in their lives, or who have parents that don't bother explaining to them why something like bullying is wrong (or worse, encourage it) who take their lessons from television shows. Those poor kids are getting some bad answers from Glee, I fear.

I am not suggesting that television has a responsibility to depict the truth or teach our youth. I am really, really not. It's just that for such a silly little show, Glee seems to get it just right in a lot of areas that more serious shows totally miss. I just wish that it could get it right on this issue as well I guess.

Thus ends my rant on the changes that the writers would make to Glee if I ruled the world. Thanks for reading, enjoy your Wednesday.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Creatively Keeping it Clean

One of the more difficult challenges of parenthood, in my opinion, is learning to change your bad habits when the kiddo arrives so that you don't inadvertently pass them on. For me the most challenging habit to break has been cursing. I have a horrible potty-mouth. (Sorry, Mom.)

This is not my mother's fault, I will point out. If I were going to shrink myself, I would likely conclude that this predilection sprung up as being the lesser of the teenage rebellions available to me. I was always a rather mild-mannered and well-behaved kid (and adult) for the most part. Sure, I had my indiscretions, went through my phases, but my acting out was always minor. Developing a colorful vocabulary of expletives and then putting it to good use was also a way for me to keep my image from being too squeaky clean without having to get into any real trouble. At this point, most of the "bad" words I drop don't even have any real vehemence behind them, they are just part of my vocabulary now. But knowing where they come from doesn't really help address the issue of getting rid of them.

And I do need to start getting rid of them. My daughter is not yet speaking English, but she is already an extremely talkative kid, and she has picked up the odd word here and there. I will sadly not be surprised at all if her first real sentence is something absolutely horrible. While that will certainly provide many funny stories much, much later on in her life, it's really not the goal.

But...there is a need for some expletives in anyone's language. I truly do believe that. For a while I have been thinking about how to weed out the words I really don't need my daughter repeating in politer company (or teaching other children with much less laid-back parents). I am really bad about the F-bomb, and the synonym for waste often sneaks in, as well as "damn" and "hell," though those last two are not in and of themselves bad words. My aim is to implement the tried and true method of substitution, and since phrases like "golly gosh darn it" just hold no weight in my mind, I have decided to turn to my love of all things geeky for help in finding some good replacements.

The Little Mermaid
Okay, I know this one might throw you for a loop, but it is the source of the word snarfblatt, which I have actually long used as a replacement for my bad language (I can occasionally filter myself). This one is pretty versatile, actually, and can be used to replace the F-bomb, damn, and hell. So I think I will be keeping that one around for sure.

When astronaut John Crichton got  swept off through that wormhole, one of the first things that happened to him aboard Moya was that he had translator microbes implanted in his body so that he could understand all of the aliens he encountered. For some strange reason though, curse words did not translate (gee I wonder what the reason for that could have been), so we were treated to quite a lovely lexicon of alternative curses to pick from this series. My two favorite are frell (substitute for the F-bomb) and dren (substitute for the word that rhymes with "hit"). I have been using these occasionally for some time now, so it is just a matter of more consciously choosing them to replace their more mundane counterparts. I have tried to get behind Hezmana a time or two (it is their equivalent of hell), but it just doesn't quite roll of the tongue.

Red Dwarf
Ah, this lovely series gives us the word smeg, which is another good all-purpose swear. It comes in handy in pretty much any situation where you have plenty to say and none of it is nice and keeping it bottled in would just plain be hazardous to your health.

Battlestar Galactica
Of course, from one of my favorite space operas we get the ubiquitous frak. I doubt there's any question of what that one replaces. I actually use this one about equally with its Earth-bound counterpart these days, so maybe that means I am halfway to conversion? Though this one is so close to the actual term that I think it will need to be reserved for when I am really mad. Side note: Yes, I am going with the four-letter spelling. In the original version of the series, back in the eighties, the word also appeared and was spelled "frack." That's all well and good, but RDM officially changed it to "frak" for his series, and that is the one I watched, so that is how I spell it. In case you were wondering. (Yes I realize that was some excessive nerdery there, still, it needed to be said.)

Star Wars
Specifically the Republic Commando series. A big part of that series, as I mentioned before, was delving into Mandalorian culture, and that definitely included Mando swear words. I rather liked quite a few of them. My favorite is osik (can range in strength from "crap" to that other word that is worse but means the same thing only with more intensity). There is also shabuir, which is what you call someone you really don't like, and shebs, which refers to one's hind parts.

That's quite a collection to start with, I think. I have a few others that come from life rather than the realm of geeks, too. For example, back in college, I had a friend that used the term heezy instead of hell, and I quite like that, so I have used that one pretty much since then. Also, at some point in high school I thought I should clean up my language a bit. It didn't take, but I was using the term fruitbat in place of another word that starts with the same letter, and I'll be darned if that doesn't crop up every now and again as well. I have heard from a few sources the phrase Whiskey Tango Foxtrot? to replace What the F-bomb? and have also been incorporating that.

So really, it comes down to just getting better about actually thinking about what I say before I actually say it. Really, that's good advice for anyone. It has the added bonus that sometimes just pausing to think takes all of the heat of the moment and the desire to curse at all goes away (sometimes). Honestly, the words themselves are only of marginal importance, because it is the intent behind them that really matters. I know this. But it is nicer for the people around you if you don't walk around muttering obscenities where they can hear (or at least that they can understand).

There are those, I am sure, who feel that because it is the intent that matters, even the replacements are bad and I should strive to not want to have or express those feelings at all. I can only say to those people that their souls are much purer than mine. Either that, or they run into far fewer idiots on a regular basis than those I seem to come across.

Hopefully I can remove the "real" swear words from my vocabulary so that when my daughter does start picking up those phrases, at least she won't get them from me. Also, this way, if she does go around repeating what I say, hopefully the other authority figures won't catch on to what she is saying, or will be amused enough to let it slide.

Also, you know, there's the fact that I do plan to actually teach her about the function and appropriate use (or lack thereof) of such words, but still. Kids are kids, even the good ones. Just look at how I turned out...