Saturday, March 2, 2013

Creating Likable Bad Guys - A Lesson from Far Cry 3

Continuing my week of video gaming, I decided to give Far Cry 3 a try. It was a pretty decent game and the developers did one thing very well. They created a likable villain completely by accident. I say they did it completely by accident because the two or three other villains in the game don't have the same level of likableness that one of them does.

Meet Vaas Montenegro, pirate psychopath leader of the island.

Note: This video contains foul language, nudity, violence, and gore.

In the video, we see how despicable of a person he is, but that doesn't mean we don't like him. We like him for the same reasons we like Norman Bates in Psycho. He has a problem that he just cannot seem to overcome, the main character.

Now, most video games have issues with the main character foiling the villains plans. In Far Cry 3 however, it's not the main character directly foiling Vaas plans. It's luck and that's the reason he is still a relatable character.

Lets count the ways that Vaas fails to kill Jason Brody, shall we...

1st - Jason running through the jungle after being pursued by Vaas men, Jason falls down a cliff into a river.

2nd - Vaas tries to burn Jason and his girlfriend alive, however, the fire weakens the floor and Jason goes crashing through. Jason's chair breaks during the fall and he climbs his way up to help his girlfriend escape.

3rd - Vaas tries to drown Jason by tying him to a brick and dropping him down a cistern. Jason is able to wiggle his way out of the wrist straps and free himself.

4th - Vaas has had enough. After shooting down the helicopter Jason stole, Vaas walks up to a wounded Jason Brody and puts a bullet in his chest and buries him in a mass grave. Oops, Vaas forgot about that lighter he stuck in Brody's pocket earlier.

What makes this even better is Vaas keeps quoting the Albert Einstein definition of insanity.

Whoever was the script writer for Vaas character did an excellent job of making the character psychotic yet deep and relatable. Like Norman Bates, Vaas is trying to overcome setbacks. He's making these decisions to kill Jason but he is unable to follow through. He lets his men handle the situation the first time, when they fail, he steps in and tries to kill him with fire, when that fails, he tries to kill him with water, and when that fails, Vaas says screw it and just tries to put a bullet in Jason Brody.

Who doesn't like a villain that fails with style?

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Video Games SUCK at Endings

In 8 days, March 6th, 2013, it will be the anniversary of me "swearing off" video games. The game was Mass Effect 3 and the ending killed all interest in gaming.

The Mass Effect Trilogy was a lot like The Matrix Trilogy in that it had a strong opening and a weak ending (which is an understatement). If you've played the ME trilogy, you will know exactly what I'm talking about and how it relates to the Matrix Trilogy, including the terrible "Child God of the Machines" (which I'm fairly sure is where Mass Effect writers got the idea).

Despite my "swearing off" video games, I decided I wanted to give another game a try, that game was Dishonored.

I first fell in love with this game when I saw an amazing CGI trailer that made the game look like a dystopian steam punk story had a hot drunken threesome with Assassin's Creed and a wizard, then the next morning she was knocked up with twins. The tag line at the end... "Revenge solves everything" caused chills to run down my spine.

I love a good revenge story.
My first run was a blast. I chose to play the "High Chaos" way which meant I killed, a lot. Even though it's a game, I still play with my own set of morals, so I only killed people who were in my way and were armed. Not a single civilian died.

Regardless, I got the bad ending.

I liked the fact that I thought I was at the end, then a few of my allies, up until that point, betray me, leaving me for dead. When I fight my way back through the city to our old base, I find out they assassinated about half of our team and re-kidnapped the Empress. The final mission is a stormy, futuristic, Shinra-like Lighthouse that I must fight my way up to save the Empress and to make it worse, they've turned on each other. Oh, and my boatman was pissed I was so "evil" so he lights off a flare after dropping me off to get me killed.

The very final scene was great. I'm at the tippy top of the lighthouse. The final bad guy has the Empress and he's standing at the edge, ready to throw himself and her off. I kill him and dash to the edge to grab the Empress' hand before she plummets to her death.

I was very psyched.

Then I got treated to a 30-second cut scene telling me how, despite saving my daughter, the Empress, everything still went to shit. So I restarted the game to do a "good" run.

This is where the game fell apart and made me realize why I hate video games. Technology isn't to the point that we can truly offer choices and a sandbox environment in a game. Give gaming about 30-40 years and we will have interactive games at that level.

In my good play through, the differences were few. The game was easier because I had to deal with less rat swarms and "weepers" (zombies), the final level was sunny instead of rainy, and I didn't get treated to an epic confrontation at the top of the lighthouse. Instead the final bad guy just "gave up."

My first issue wasn't with such a lackluster ending, but with the quality of the writing. The bad guys had no motivation for what they did.

In the evil run, the bad guys motivation was as follows:

"We helped a deadly assassin escape prison who has then gone and murdered hundreds of watch guards as well as most of the cities leadership all in the name of revenge for his lost love. If anyone finds this out, we will be hanged! Lets fake his death and claim we rescued the Empress and restore our empire to its glory!"
That's obviously some great motivation.

In the good run, the bad guys motivation just doesn't work:

"We helped Lord Protector Corvo escape from prison and, with his help, exposed and brought to justice (not killed) every conspirator responsible for the murder of his love, Empress Jessamine Kaldwin, and kidnapping of his daughter, Empress Emily Kaldwin. If anyone finds this out, we will be hanged! Lets fake his death and claim we rescued the Empress and restore our empire to its glory!"

Uh... What?! I guess it's better than Red/Blue/Green endings, but not much. Maybe next year, when I buy a PS4, Watchdogs can make me remember why I used to love video games.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Top 14 TV Shows That Needed More Than 1 Season...

Everyone has favorite TV shows that get cancelled too early. I've known many people who refuse to watch TV shows that don't have more than 1 season. It’s an understandable rule. People hate when beloved TV shows get ripped away without warning. Often times, these TV shows end on cliffhangers which only makes your love for the show/hate for the broadcasting company worse. 

For me, the latest TV show to get cancelled was “Do No Harm” which I was shocked to find out about after only two episodes aired. Sometimes, TV shows need a few episodes and some better marketing to get them going. Here’s my Top 14 TV shows that were cancelled too soon.

Number 14 – Wolf Lake
If this show aired today, I don't think it would get cancelled. This show was ahead of its time and a little too dark and soapy for the 90's.

The show starred Lou Diamond Phillips (La Bamba), Mia Kirshner (The L Word), Paul Wesley (Vampire Diaries), Tim Matheson (Heart of Dixie), Bruce McGill (Rizzoli and Isles), Graham Greene (Twilight), and Mary Elizabeth Winstead (New Die Hard movies, Abraham Lincoln Vampire Slayer)

Where to Watch: DVD - No Streaming Options Currently Available

Number 13 – Kindred the Embraced

I'm a huge fan of White Wolf and the World of Darkness. As campy as this TV show was, I loved it. Oh, it also had the incredibly sexy Kelly Rutherford!

Kindred the Embraced starred C. Thomas Howell (Red Dawn), Kelly Rutherford (Gossip Girl), Mark Frankel

Where to Watch: DVD - No Streaming Options Currently Available

Number 12 – Over There
War drama set during the opening of the Iraq War. Panned by critics for not taking a stance on the war, but this show was about the characters, not the war.

Over There starred Josh Henderson (Dallas 2012), Luke Macfarlane (Brothers and Sisters), Erik Palladino (ER/666 Park Avenue), Sticky Fingaz (Blade the Series), Omid Abtahi (Argo), and Nicki Aycox (Dark Blue)

Unfortunately, I cannot find a trailer for this TV show.

Where to Watch: DVD, Amazon Instant

Number 11 – Blade the Series

Watch the lovely Jill Wagner before she was on Wipeout. While Blade wasn't the greatest show created, this was a fun TV adaptation.

Blade the Series starred Sticky Fingaz (Over There), Jill Wagner (Wipeout), and Neil Jackson (Make It or Break It)

Where to Watch: DVD, Hulu, YouTube

Number 10 – The Good Guys

I will never be able to get over how much Colin Hanks reminds me of Tom Hanks. He's not a spitting image of Tom, but his voice and mannerisms are spot on.

The Good Guys starred Bradley Whitford (The West Wing), Colin Hanks (Dexter), and Jenny Wade (Reaper)

Where to Watch: DVD, Amazon Instant, Netflix

Number 09 – Fastlane

A late seasons rating dip as well as the extreme cost of each episode was a death sentence for Fastlane.

Fastlane starred Peter Facinelli (Twilight), Bill Bellamy (Any Given Sunday), and Tiffani Thiessen (White Collar/90210)

Where to Watch: DVD, Amazon Instant Video

Number 08 – Drive

Nathan Fillion appears a couple times on this list. I'm glad he ended up on a successful TV show eventually. Drive is more serious and less comedic than Castle and was still a fun show.

Drive starred Nathan Fillion (Castle), Emma Stone (Zombieland), Taryn Manning (Hawaii Five-O), Melanie Lynskey (Two and a Half Men), and Kristin Lehman (The Killing)

Where to Watch: Amazon Instant

Number 07 – My Own Worst Enemy

For whatever reason, TV shows involving multiple personalities never make it. MOWE was fun in the same way that Mr. and Mrs. Smith was fun.

My Own Worst Enemy starred Christian Slater (Cuffs), Mike O’Malley (Glee), Saffron Burrows (The Bank Job), Madchen Amick (Twin Peaks), Alfre Woodard (Memphis Beat), and Taylor Lautner (Twilight)

Where to Watch: DVD, Amazon Instant

Number 06 – Moonlight
Great/Fun vampire TV show. It was a little more serious than Angel but a little less serious than most other vampire shows.

Moonlight starred Alex O’Loughlin (Hawaii Five-0), Sophia Myles (Underworld), Jason Dohring (Veronica Mars), and Shannyn Sossamon (Kiss Kiss Bang Bang).

Where to Watch: DVD, Amazon Instant

Number 05 – The Adventures of Brisco County Jr.
I’m a huge fan of Bruce Campbell and as a result, I’m a huge fan of The Adventures of Brisco County Jr. After his father is killed, Brisco is hired to track down his killer, the notorious John Bly. The series had a blend of genres including Western, Science Fiction, and Steampunk. Critics loved the show but after a viewer drop-off toward the end of the first season the series was canned by Fox. Many believe the main reason was the high cost per episode led to cancellation.

The Adventures of Brisco County Jr. starred Bruce Campbell (Army of Darkness and Burn Notice), Julius Carry (Two Guys, A Girl, and a Pizza Place), Christian Clemenson (CSI: Miami), Kelly Rutherford (Gossip Girl), John Astin (The Addams Family), Billy Drago (The Untouchables), and John Pyper-Ferguson (Alphas)

Where to Watch: DVD

P.S. If you recognize the song in the intro, it's because it was recycled for one of the Olympic Games recently.

Number 04 – Kings
Kings was a bold and wonderful alternate reality TV series. I was totally engrossed until they cancelled it temporarily and moved the remaining episodes to the summer. Like Firefly, this TV show was ahead of its time. If Kings were filmed and aired a few years from now, I think it would’ve been a more successful show.

Kings starred Ian McShane (Pirates of the Caribbean, On Stranger Tides and Deadwood), Christopher Egan (Letters to Juliet), Susanna Thompson (Arrow), Allison Miller (Terra Nova),Eamonn Walker (Chicago Fire), and Sebastian Stan (Once Upon A Time and Captain America)

Where to Watch: DVD, Amazon Instant, Hulu

Number 03 – The Unusuals
This was, in my opinion, one of the best new cop dramas in a long time. Usually, it takes a while for me to warm up to cop shows and I only watch them after they have a couple of seasons aired. A lot of these shows get cancelled too quickly and it takes some time for me to like the characters. With The Unusuals, I fell in love with the characters quickly. 

My favorite duo was Banks and Delahoy (Parrineau and Goldberg). Detective Leo Banks is a 42-year old detective who’s afraid he’s going to die just like his father, his grandfather, and his uncle who all died at the age of 42. He’s overly cautious. He wears a bullet proof vest wherever he goes and he even has all-plastic inflatable furniture. His partner, Detective Eric Delahoy has a brain tumor that threatens to leave him disabled and possibly dead but he chooses to hide his condition from everyone. He has somewhat of a death wish which makes him the perfect partner to Delahoy.

The Unusuals starred Amber Tamblyn (House and Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants), Jeremy Renner (Bourne Legacy and The Avengers), Harold Parrineau (Lost), Monique Gabriela Curnen (Lie to Me), Terry Kinney (NYC 22), and Adam Goldberg (Saving Private Ryan and NYC 22).

Where to Watch: DVD, Amazon Instant Video

Number 02 – Undercovers

I’m a huge JJ Abrams fan and loved the premise of the show. It was essentially True Lies: The TV Series. I wish this show hadn’t been cancelled after a single season. As vain/racist as this may sound, it may have had something to do with the casting of the leads. I thought they were excellent and their chemistry was electric but some shows with minority leads tend to struggle.

Undercovers starred Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Touch), Boris Kodjoe (Resident Evil 4 and 5), Ben Schwartz (House of Lies), and Gerald McRaney (Simon & Simon and Major Dad)

Where to Watch: Pirate, seriously, this show isn't available on Hulu, Amazon, or Netflix as a DVD or Stream.

Number 01 – Firefly
Most people know this show; so much doesn't need to be said. Firefly was before its time. This show should've been a hit that lasted many seasons. Terrible marketing and scheduling as well as an overall mishandling of the show by Fox ruined this series.

Firefly starred Nathan Fillion (Castle), Gina Torres (Suits), Alan Tudyk (Suburgatory and Tucker & Dale vs Evil), Morena Baccarin (V and Homeland), Adam Baldwin (Chuck), Jewel Staite (Stargate Atlantis), Sean Maher (Make It or Break It), Summer Glau (Terminator The Sarah Conner Chronicles), and Ron Glass (Barney Miller).

Where to Watch: DVD, Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Instant

Final Thoughts
No single network can be blamed for cancelling these great TV shows. While Fox holds the title for cancelling the most (6) of these shows, no network is immune to bad decisions. ABC, NBC, CBS, Spike, and FX shows all appear on this list.

I know I've probably forgotten some TV shows that should be in this list somewhere. It's a shame when TV shows with a lot of potential get dropped too early, leaving us wondering what could've been. Meanwhile, the networks seem to be force feeding us garbage "reality" like Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, Jersey Shore, Amish Mafia, All My Babies' Mamas, 16 and Pregnant, Teen Mom, and Stars In Danger: The High Dive; just to name a few.

Recently I started to re-watch the original X-Files. I wonder how the X-Files, which had somewhat of a glut in ratings through episodes 4-7, manage to not get canned by Fox? The writing wasn't that great in the initial season as well. Eventually, Scully and Mulder developed great chemistry that turned the series into a classic. What happened after the 1993-1994 TV season that Fox became so cancel happy?

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

A Mad Little Scientist

I've been studying more than actually writing lately.  I'm taking classes over at as well as trolling the blogosphere.  I find a ton of great information on the art of storytelling spread throughout the internet.  With the recent discovery of RSS Feeds, I've slowly worked my way through archives of blog posts looking for each and every piece of information I can find and incorporate into my work.

Some of it I already know, some of it didn't know, but some of it I "knew" on a more subconscious level and I have "epiphany" moments  whenever I can put a words to something I "sort of" knew.

A lot of what I'm finding result in feeling the need to pat myself on the back.  Why?  Because a lot of little gems help spruce up characters, plots, dialogue, etc. are already encrusted into the ring of my story.  I get a little giddy every time I read a piece of advice that sounds awesome and I can say, "I'm already doing that in my story!"

Take this wonderful piece of advice from the Cockeyed Caravan.  Basically, heroes are becoming increasingly callous and Matt Bird finds it, to some degree, a turnoff.

I once again felt the need to pat myself on the back.  My protag gets caught up in a situation where she witnesses and is disturbed by a public execution.  She believes that it was completely wrong and she is the only one in the town who feels that way.
Gene Wilder-Young Frankstein (1974)

So, what is the worst thing that can happen to a person who doesn't/cannot kill and be callous?  That person will have to kill.  Therefore, my protag will have to kill and it needs to be out of their control.  Then I love thinking about how awful an event like that would have on my protagonists psyche.  I feel like a mad little scientist.

Friday, November 30, 2012

What I'm thankful for...

Thanksgiving at the trolls!

As an infant, I was weak and helpless; an arduous burden upon my parents.  One of them slunk into a bottle, never to be seen again; the other bravely walked away, to start life anew with her child.

Alone and broke, with only the clothes on her back, my mother trudged through my infancy and childhood with a forced smile upon her face.  Life was hard, but she made due the best she could, just like any other dedicated, loving, single parent.  She had a vibrant child on her hands; inquisitive, vigorous, yearning for knowledge.  Yet, something remained out of place.  

My 2nd grade teacher recommended me for “evaluation," she thought I wasn’t normal, something was wrong.  I met with a child psychologist and she concurred.  The child psych didn’t like my responses to some of her questions, such as “If you could change one thing what would you change?”  She believed the right answer was, “I wish I didn’t have to wear glasses.”  

I however, wanted black hair.  At the time, I was one of the few members of my family (Aunts, Uncles, Grandparents, Mom) that had lighter-colored hair.

“Nonsense!” my Aunt denied their claims truth.  They stood behind me.  They knew that nothing was wrong.  They were all wrong.

Things didn’t get any easier.  At the age of nine I got a hard lesson in the unfair.  A train with a faulty smoke stack spewed sparks, igniting dry brush along the tracks it traveled.  The house I lived in was reduced to ash; thankfully, nobody was present when the house burned.  I finished the third grade, but had to leave behind all my friends and start fresh.

The next couple of years, I began to transition from being a bright, vibrant, and energetic child to a dumb, dull, and dispirit teenager.  I was constantly tired.  I used to play soccer, but I became too exhausted to play.  I used to take Taekwondo, but I became too exhausted to participate.  I barely read anymore, because I was too exhausted to finish a single page.  

Food, television, and video games replaced physical activity and mental learning.  My grades began to fall and my waist size began to rise.

The next few years of school was filled with advice such as, “You need to get your priorities in order,” and, “You need to stop being so lazy.”  This unhelpful advice came from everyone around me: friends, family, teachers, guidance counselors.  I couldn’t remember homework, and I couldn’t remember to write down my homework in an assignment notebook.  People began to give up and lose hope; they’d grown to expect me to underachieve.  A kid who, before the age of 14, was able to tackle books such as Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park, Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six, and Pearl Buck’s The Good Earth with ease, stopped caring.  Obviously, it was his personal choice.

In High school, I failed 11th Grade English Lit— Twice.  I was lucky to have been born in a time when very few teachers refused to pass failing students.  If it wasn’t for a News Writing class, which the administration decided to count as an English credit, and a school system that didn’t want to deal with such a lazy, worthless child, I wouldn’t have graduated.

After High school, I worked a series of part-time jobs.  I could only manage to work a few hours per day.  I tried my hand at a full-time position in a big-box retail chain.  It wasn’t for me.  I got lucky and caught a three-hour-per-day job as a receptionist (which paid more than an entire week worth of work in retail).  It was an excellent fit, the shift was late afternoon.  I could sleep 10-15 hours per day, work 15 hours per week, and have some time left over to play video games!

This was my life, for years.

In 2008, things got worse.  Grogginess and headaches that had slowly developed over the last 20+ years were at their peak effect.  I felt ill upon waking every afternoon.  Falling asleep became difficult.  At the worst point, I began hallucinating, this happened most often when driving at night.  

Eventually, falling asleep became disturbing.  I identified with protagonists like the Narrator in Fight Club, concerned about whether I could die from insomnia.

Around mid-October, 2008, I was on the couch, zoned out in the wee hours of the morning, when a television commercial caught my attention.  “Do you frequently wake up in the middle of the night to urinate?  Are you fatigued all day long?  Is your blood sugar out of control?  Are you hungry all the time?”

“Of course, I’m diabetic, idiot!” I said.

“Do you wake up with headaches every day?  Is your snoring loud?”  The television continued.  I wondered if I was losing it at this point.  The television was playing its usual tricks.  After all, it wasn’t the first exhaustion-induced phantom-sound-hallucination I’d experienced.

“You may have a disease called Sleep Apnea; contact the Sleep Wellness institute right away!  We’re partnered with the Reggie White Foundation to diagnose those in need.”

I was hooked.  I went to the computer and began looking up everything I could on this new disease, Sleep Apnea.  I wanted to learn more, so I gathered all the information I could on the websites for the Reggie White Foundation, the Sleep Wellness Institute, and Web MD.

Two days later I was leaving my doctor’s office with a take-home pulse oximetry meter (a little data-collection device you clip to your finger while sleeping).  

A week after that, the lab returned the results.  They were awful, so awful my doctor decided to skip a sleep study and begin sleep therapy, immediately.

January of 2009 heralded the start of a new decade in my life.  A decade which was, much like my first, filled with promise and hope.  I can remember, in vivid detail, the first morning I woke up from a restful night of sleep.  Everything looked brighter, every scent was heightened, every part of my skin tingled with the joy of reawakening.

I enrolled in college for nursing.  I began to study writing and story.  I began to read fiction once again.  Most people take these things for granted.  Even a crappy book was amazing to me; before therapy, I couldn’t read anything without falling asleep.  A small box called a CPAP machine, which takes up less than a square-foot of space on my nightstand, had rekindled my dreams and desires to read and write.

If I hadn’t been diagnosed with sleep apnea, I doubt I'd be alive today, and every extra day with a good story, friends, family, and my mom, is a gift, for which I am thankful.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Pirating! Writers, just ignore it!

I've got an unpopular view towards pirating.  Just ignore it!

The video game industry really got smacked by pirated games.  Whether it was via burned CDs, Software Emulators, or the sale of used games.

Over the last ten years, the video game industry has come to realize they cannot stop what is occuring, and they've embraced a new model.  Free to download.  Free to play.

They tried all the crazy DRM and other gimmicks trying to protect their software, but nothing can offer the security to stop pirating.  Content creators have shifted their business models to make money via ingame purchases in small amounts instead of frontloading their return on investment via the purchase of a $60 game.  Authors don't really have the option of adding purchasable cotent inside of a book so how can this possibly relate?

The business model behind this system has two main parts. 

1-Get the software into as many people's hands as possible. 
2-The people who enjoy the game will purchase items from the ingame store.

If authors and publishers chose to ignore pirating, this is the exact sort of system that would take over the publishing industry. 

1-We would be trying to get our work into as many people's hands as possible (this is what we really want right?  If 1,000 people pirated my book but then each told five other people they liked it, I would probably see a few extra sales)
2-The true fans, as well as those of us with morals, will purchase books the proper way.

No matter how many DMCA notices an author submits, or how many lawsuits get brought against websites that spread pirating, nothing will stop pirating.  As a matter of fact, the idea behind pirating is the precise model of the library system.

1-Buy a copy of the book.
2-Distribute that book to the community for free.

So why haven't authors and publishers tried to shutdown library systems for years?

I'm sure everyone knows somebody who refuses to pay for books when they can get them for free from the library.  Pirates function with this exact same mentality.  What would that someone do if their local library closed?  They probably wouldn't read books, or, they would go to the next cheapest source, buying second hand books.

Either way, the author wouldn't get a sale.

Somehow, the greed infested music and movie industries bored into the skulls of the masses and planted the idea, Inception style, that every pirated download is a sale lost.  It isn't.  Before the internet, people who loved songs on the radio but refused to buy the albums used tape recorders.  People who loved TV shows and Movies but were too cheap to buy them would record the program on a VCR.

The only difference between 20-years ago and today, is pirating is slightly easier and it can be tracked.  The music industry can pretend all it wants that people used to not pirate songs and movies prior to the invention of Napster, but that's false.  Isn't it common for movies, set in the 80's and 90's, with young love interests, to include a mix tape, often as a cliche romantic trope?  THAT MIXTAPE IS PIRATING!

Don't get me wrong, I don't condone pirating, but nobody can stop someone who wants to pirate.  If their source (Torrents) are somehow magically cut-off, they will find new mediums to pirate.  Each pirated copy of an E-Book, Song, or Movie isn't a lost sale.  It's a sale that never existed in the first place.  Instead of writing those DMCA notices, content creators around the world need to focus on creating new content.  Then they can generate those repeat sales and make a living off their work.

Don't agree with me?  I'd love to hear counter arguments!


This blog is still being setup and may change before the end of 2012 (Nano is more important at the moment).