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Month: May 2007

DKM Surfaces

From his new blog:

In any event, AI War is the only thing I’ll be working on this summer, and once it’s clean, I’m going to roll into the concluding sequel — it’s been years since I’ve written SF, but I am going to publish AI War and its sequel, Crystal Wind, before the people who care about it succumb to Alzheimers.

But, yeah. He was gonna turn in AI War to Bantam in 1995. And he was gonna animate The Long Run in 1998 — “the pilot will happen.” Plans, I suppose, sometimes fall through.

There’s this weird dichotomy, too. DKM says, “Now … the book is still under contract to Bantam. I doubt they want it, but who knows?” Bantam said, back in 1998, “Mr. Moran has bought back the rights to his Players: The Ai Wars and left Bantam.”

So take it all for what it’s worth. It’s also the case that the guy went blind in one eye, and I can see how that would blow out one’s ability to write. I wouldn’t criticize him for not finishing the books; I’m just suspicious of his ability to self-evaluate the chances that they’ll get done.

Orlando Trash Wrapup

According to the wiki, I put up the prospectus for Orlando Trash on June 6th, 2006.

“Mickey Rourke is in this movie. Val Kilmer is in this movie. It’s directed by Michael Mann, or maybe Tony Scott. But it’s not The Hunger. Luis Guzman has a role as a shiftless drifter who erupts into surprising bursts of violence.”

Hm. I never did get Luis Guzman into the movie, but in retrospect that was just as well. Danny Trejo made it in.

This is the first campaign I’ve ever run to completion. I planned for it to last about one long story-arc; this was really liberating in that I didn’t worry about handing out experience too quickly, and I didn’t worry about whether or not the world would be playable long term. I just went full speed ahead with whatever caught my eye, following the leads of the PCs, and it worked like a charm.

Things I concentrated on:

Cool NPCs. I do good NPCs, so I wanted to let that shine. (Also I’m modest.) I like to think I have a strong range of voices, and since every NPC was played by a well-known actor, it was even easier to make the characters memorable. I had to pull off imitations of Val Kilmer, Meryl Streep, and Nathan Lane — sometimes in the same scene — but I was pretty sure I could do that.

Big blatant plots. It turns out that it’s almost never a lose to telegraph stuff from a mile away, and it’s always easy to turn around and surprise players when you need to. Also, I have a tendency to automatically do mystery plots, and I wanted this to be an action flick rather than a detective thriller. So while I wrote in a certain amount of mystery, I never wanted it to be too mysterious — answers weren’t ever that far away. It is not my fault that the players occasionally decided to kill the source of the answers.

Balance between shooting things and talking. Given our approximately 3-4 hour session time, a good fight wound up taking up most of the session, as I discovered a few sessions in. That meant, to me, that the right thing to do was to throw in a chance for a good fight scene every two or three sessions. I think that worked well. I could have stepped up the fight scenes if the group had seemed to want more of them.

Player-driven. I let ’em do what they wanted, and it all worked out okay. I was ready for just about any turn of events, although I would have been sad if the group had split up. But I was ready for their allegiances to go wherever, I had spurs to push them back towards the action as needed — I was a leaf in the river of their plot interests. Boo yah.

Things I want to do better next time:

Foreshadowing. Example: in the last session, I pulled out Jack Trash’s body, and that was cool, and I showed them a letter clarifying a couple of issues. Also cool. But it would have been better if I’d pulled out Trash’s corpse in the previous session.

This goes with planning; I didn’t really have an overarching plan. I had a few key NPCs with strong motivations, and I let the world react to what the PCs do. Good for me for empowering the PCs and avoiding railroading, but it meant there wasn’t as much build as I woulda liked. I think the way to fix this is to have some cool multi-session things in mind, and remembering to drop the setup scene in there.

I’d also like to take more advantage of player backgrounds. I didn’t pay enough attention to that, particularly in Teo’s case.

But all in all? Quite happy.

Stranger Than Fiction

Spoilers ahead.

I’m unclear as to whether Stranger Than Fiction is a comedy or a tragedy. I guess strictly speaking it’s a romantic comedy, but really, that’s not the story of the movie; the story of the movie is about how something dies. Does a great person have a downfall? Yep. So I think I have to read it as a bittersweet tragedy, albeit one with an ending which could be seen as rather happy.

Then again, it perhaps betrays my bibliophiliac nature that I think the death of a novel is a tragedy. But — no, I think I’m on target. A classic tragedy is inevitable. In Stranger Than Fiction, everyone makes the right decisions; ethics prevail throughout. It just so happens that the result of these decisions is that Karen Eiffel doesn’t complete her greatest novel.

But the alternative would have been worse. It’s to the movie’s credit that there’s a bit of uncertainty there, though. Around fifteen minutes before the end, I thought Harold was going to die, and that would have been an impressive choice. Then I thought we were going to have a saccharine ending; then it was redeemed, because it was clear that the choice made was a painful one. Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson pretty much pulled this off with their final scene; perfect portrayal of two people who know a sacrifice has been made.

The two of them more or less made the movie work all along, actually. Will Ferrell was good; the role wasn’t deeply demanding, but he did avoid hamming it up and he was perfectly decent as a mostly blank cipher. I’m guessing he’ll do one of these every few years to maintain cred, and if he’s this good every time he’ll deserve whatever cred he gets. But really, it was Thompson and Hoffman deserve the credit for creating the context in which he could work.

So I liked it. As elliptical Wes Andersonesque movies go, it was no Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, but it beat the crap out of I Heart Huckabees.

Scion Settings

I’ve been kicking around a lucha libre Scion game in my mind, along with a couple of other ideas (Southern Gothic comes to mind), but I think the winner is 17th century pirates who happen to be children of gods.

We’d wanna finish up our Catholic saint pantheon, for obvious reasons. Voodoo fits well, Aztecs fit just fine. Greek gods? Sure. Norse gods? Very well, given the Norse tradition of rampaging around on boats. Egyptian and Japanese are a little tougher, but I have ideas.

And it’s not at all difficult to make Caribbean piracy mythic and grand.

Day and Date

A while ago, I wrote about Stephen Soderberg’s desire to see movies hit theaters, DVD, and cable on the same day. I was wrong about him not making Ocean’s 13, but I was right about it being a trend.

$30-$50 is pretty ambitious pricing even for a first run movie, but (and I’m sure this is how the price point was set) it’s cheaper than taking a family of four to the movies, if you figure in popcorn and drinks.

Recent Reading: The Lost Colony

The Last Colony is a pretty fun read in the “crowded galaxy with humans jostling for position” subgenre of the space opera subgenre. It’s kind of hard for me to evaluate it objectively, because it kept hitting all these SF tropes I know and love. Look! A colony lands on a new planet, and yeah, that thing that happens quite often in colonizing novels happens. Hey, there’s a wide-ranging alliance among semi-hostile races. And… wait, no powered armor.

This isn’t a bad thing at all; it’s all done quite well, albeit there’s no payoff to the thing that always happens in colonizing novels. It’s just the kind of thing that suits me perfectly, and I can’t say if it’d make someone who isn’t steeped in the field quite as happy.

The politics is fun. I really like the way Scalzi writes politics; you get a good range of motivations, bad guys don’t always agree, and it’s complex but believable. People get lucky a lot, but I suspect that’s a world law of the Scalziverse.

Hm. Yeah, it definitely is. “Hey, we managed to lay our hands on this MacGuffin here for reasons which will go completely unexplained, but it’s what you need, yep.” OK, so his characters are remarkably lucky as a class.

Quibbles: there’s a big expository lump or two in the middle of the book, and a couple of characters who exist largely to feed our protagonist expository lumps. See also Scalzi’s remarks on the Fermi Paradox. It might have been a slightly better book if he hadn’t given into the temptation to answer those particular critics via lumpage, but eh, it’s a pretty small lump.

So fun reading. I really like coherent straight-forward heroic space opera. (I also like Iain Banks, mind you.) This is that.