Saturday, January 31, 2009

Of Ear Worms & Brain Itches...

...Sounds like parasites an intergalactic villain uses to torture his prisoners.

Well, almost.

A "brain itch" is when you can't get a song--especially a bad one--out of your mind. While an "earworm" is the process in which the song bores into your brain. Believe it or not, someone is doing a study on this!

Pictured here are Aly and AJ, two sister-musicians who're also fans of the video games Guitar Hero and Rockband. In the photo shoot, they're displaying signature "girlie guitars" for the game.

And what do these two have to do with Brain Itches? Nothing really. Other than they're more visually appealing than the usual photos of scraggly-looking, drug-addled rockers I found on line.

In case you want to know what the Top 10 Brain Itches are:

http://new.music.yahoo.com/blogs/getback/83062/brain-itch-songs/

But be careful! You may develop a Brain Itch!

Friday, January 30, 2009

Book Review for: The Games of War

There are three words that can describe John Bobek's book The Games of War: Good, simple, fun.

John's made a major contribution to the wargarming hobby by writing a book gamers of all ages can use and enjoy.

While the book weighs-in at 271 pages, it contains 39 rule-sets for playing games from Ancients to Modern, with a couple of off-shoots for running sci-fi and fantasy games.

This book is an excellent tool for "converting younglings to the Dark Side."

Seriously, I mean it's great for introducing wargames to adolescents. Each set of rules ranges between 3 to 22 pages in length; with the World War II, Modern and Aerial games being the longest due to the vehicle status charts. Despite the length of the more technical orientated rules, novice wargamers of all ages can quickly grasp the game mechanics and dive right into the action.

Which is why the rules bound in this book also serve well for convention games. Conventions have several periods a day in which to run games within 3-4 hours each period. That's not a lot of time to digest a weighty tome of rules, unless the game session calls for experienced players. But by making games exclusive would be defeating the purpose of introducing newcomers to this exciting hobby. So simpler sets of rules are in order and the rules packed in this book fit the bill.

Nor is this book limited to youngsters and convention goers. The demands of everyday life limit the amount of time gamers can spend with their friends indulging in their favorite hobby. More often than not, players don't have the mental energy to devote to studying war simulations.

We'd rather spend our valuable time playing an enjoyable war game! (Oh, and maybe even learn a thing or two about military history).

John even suggests using these rules as teaching aids in the classroom. (He's a high school teacher himself).

Good Lord! I wish I had a history teacher like this guy! Some of his History Labs include the Battles of Chickamauga and Tarawa. Heck, I would have played the side of the 7th Cavalry at the Little Big Horn if it meant playing wargames in history class!

You can read glowing reviews about John's book on Amazon.com and Boardgamegeek.com. Like the other reviewers, I give John's book a whole-hearted 5-stars.

The retail cost of the book is $32.95, which at the time of this review, Amazon.com is offering it for $29.95. Either price qualifies the buyer for Amazon's "Super Saver" (ie., free!) shipping, at least in the US.

I only have a couple of recommendations in using this book. First that you mark the places where each separate set of rules start. John suggests using Post-It Notes or sticky-tabs. I'd further recommend making photocopies of the necessary rules to use during game-time. This will be much handier for the game master and players than trying to thumb through the entire book in the heat of table-top battle.

Second, some of the lengthier material, like the tank charts in "Tiger, Tiger Burning Bright" are several pages long, but don't always have the column headings on the top of each page. So you may want to pen & ink-in the necessary column headings to avoid confusion and unnecessary page flipping.

I'm happy to add Games of War to my rules library.

Book Review: Save the Cat!


Thinking about writing a screenplay?

Blake Snyder's Save the Cat! may not be "The Last Book on Screenwriting You'll Ever Need!" as he claims it to be. (Especially, since he's published Save the Cat Goes to the Movies).

However, this book is a fun place to start.

The author discusses all the basics of what you need to write--and publish--a screenplay in Hollywood.

In an easy, breezy style the author emphasizes the importance of the primal, yet formulaic pattern a screenwriter needs to create a truly memorable screeenplay. Before you even begin writing though, you must ask--and be able to answer--what your movie is about in one or two sentences, otherwise known as a "logline."

Once you answer "what's it about?" you have to fit your movie into one of 10 genres. These, however are not labelled in typical fashion, like Romantic Comedy, Action/Adventure, etc. Instead, they're identified as: "Monster in the House" (Alien), "Dude with a Problem" (Die Hard), "Golden Fleece" (The Wizard of Oz) and seven other glib, but accurate titles.

Mr Snyder then breaks down a 110-page script into 15 "beats." That is, plot points that must occur on a specific page or you run the risk of boring the audience. For example, the movie's theme should be stated by page 5, while the "all is lost," or low point for the hero occurs on page 75. By the way: "Save the cat" refers to a scene where just after meeting the hero, he "...does something--like saving a cat--that defines who he is and makes us, the audience, like him" (pg xv).

Throughout the book the author stresses the importance of "primal instincts" to motivate the hero. The most primal forces are: Survival, hunger, sex, protection of loved ones and fear of death. You don't get any more primal than these! What's more is they're universally understood.

Mr. Snyder advocates the use of a storyboard limited to 40 index cards. This along with adhereing to the "Immutable Laws of Screenplay Physics," such as including a "save the cat" scene as previously mentioned; while avoiding anything listed in "What's Wrong with this Picture?" will improve your odds of publishing success.

Even though I'm not in the midst of writing a screenplay, I feel Mr. Snyder's advice can be helpful in any genre. I give this book whole-hearted 5-star rating. It was both informative and entertaining, which is a rare combination, to read.

However not everyone agrees with Mr. Snyder's "last book on screenwriting you'll ever need." According to Amazon.com's Customer Review Section there are: 179 x 5-star ratings, 14 x 4-star ratings, 15 x 3 star ratings, 4 x 2-star ratings and 11 x 1-star ratings.

The readers who gave Save the Cat! less than 5-stars struck me as being the more artistic types. These folks are put-off by Mr. Snyder's adherence highly formulaic and rigid structures. Other complaints include: His derogatory comments about some of their favorite films (Momento in particular) and his haughty tone.

I've never seen Momento, and after attending a lecture on this very subject by the author, I found his tone to be funny.

Some of these folks, though are so upset with him, I wonder if they actually read the book. One reviewer claimed Mr. Snyder was pushing readers to make "cheesy family films." While the author does prefer writing family-friendly screenplays, he's not trying to steer the would-be screenwriter in that direction. His advice is to know all about the films in the genre you like, figure out what works and then write screenplays within that genre.

I do agree with the harsher critics regarding one of Mr. Snyder's successes. All of them panned the author's screenplay Stop, or My Mom Will Shoot!

I saw that film--once.

But then again, Steven Spielberg produced Howard the Duck...

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Book Review: The Complete Writer's Guide to Heroes & Heroines

While reading a story, have you ever wondered why some characters clash, while others mesh?

If you're writing a story, are you stuck trying to figure out how your protagonist will interact with those around him?

This book, The Complete Writer's Guide to Heroes & Heroines: Sixteen Master Archetypes, can help you sort out complex human interaction.

The trio of authors, Tami D. Cowden, Caro La Fever and Sue Viders; draw heavily on the work of psychiatrist Carl Jung. Based on his theories, the authors and developed 16 archetype personalities--8 male and 8 female--that have showed up repeatedly in stories throughout the ages.

How do they define heroes? A hero may be: a Chief, a Bad Boy, a Best Friend, a Lost Soul, a Charmer, a Professor, a Swashbuckler or a Warrior.

Meanwhile heroines are defined as: a Boss, a Seductress, a Spunky Kid, a Free Spirit, a Librarian, a Waif, a Crusader or a Nurturer.

Each archetype attribute is examined in detail: Their qualities, virtues, flaws, possible backgrounds, their usual style of interaction and the occupations most likely suited for them.

However not every character in fiction fits neatly into these pigeon holes. Some characters remain the same throughout a story (Core Archetype), while others change (Evolving Archetype), or are multi-faceted (Layered Archetype).

Finally these archetypes don't operate in isolation. They interact with other archetypes throughout a story--often generating sparks along the way. The authors compiled an extensive matrix on how these characters view each other; and how they clash, mesh and possibly change their outlook.

The authors provide plenty of examples of each character from film, television and literature. There are side bar notes and examples throughout the book for quick referencing. A dozen films or television programs provides the reader with identifying archetypes, their interactions and how they move the story forward.

I found this book to be very helpful and enjoyed reading the colorful examples of each archetype and their various interactions. This book can provide a solid framework for an author to build complex and compelling characters to populate the pages of their books or screenplays.

According to Amazon.com's Customer Review Section: There are 21 reviews of this book. Of which, there are 18 x 5-star ratings, 2 x 4 star ratings and 1x 3-star rating. The 3-star rater felt the book was too "Jungian." Since I never took a psychology class this was fine by me. And while the 4-star raters liked the book they felt the archetypes were either too obvious or merely "stock characters."

The only pet-peeve I had was the introduction to each chapter is "redundantly academic." That is, each intro is populated with phrases like "First we'll discuss...then we'll discuss...and finally we'll..." A reader can skip such textbook-style wordage and dive right in to the archetype descriptions.

Otherwise, the authors did a fantastic job developing a useful tool to assist other writers hone their craft. I'm glad to have this book in my "Writer's Library" and I give it a full 5-star rating.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

"Brains! Brains!..."


Looks like some George Romero/Max Brooks fans had some fun.
One or more hackers decided to change a Texas Department of Transportation road sign.
This is one of those: Yeah it's wrong--but very funny incidents.
FOX News has the complete story:

Monday, January 26, 2009

Happy Lunar New Year!

I spent a year in South Korea and remember some of their holidays.

This is the Year of the Ox, according to the Chinese astrological calendar.

Best wishes to all of you this new year!

Below are some pictures I gleaned from the Seattle Times Photo Gallery. Enjoy!

http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/photogalleries/living2008659715/?cmpid=2654

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Movie Review of Star Wars: The Clone Wars


The Star Wars saga continues in animated form: Jabba the Hut's son has been kidnapped and it is up to Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker to rescue him. Otherwise, Jabba will side with the Seperatists and close the trade routes to the embattled Galactic Republic. While fighting off hordes of battledroids, a Togrutan girl named Ashoka Tano is assigned to Anakin as his padawan.
Christopher Lee, Anthony Daniels and Samuel L. Jackson lend their voices to their respective movie characters. While the rest of the cast are voiced by lesser known actors.
This film serves to fill in the gap between Episode II & III. Apparently The Clone Wars will be, if it isn't already is, a weekly series. George Lucas insisted on the movie's blocky, 3D animation as an homage to Japanese anime and British supermarionation. He also didn't want his latest creation to be compared to the latest CGI movies.
Whatever.
The movie's been panned by film critics since its release this past summer. Reading reviews on Amazon.com doesn't help because critques of the all the other Star Wars films are lumped in to the review section.
I give this movie 3-stars. I wasn't dissappointed, but I wasn't "wowed" by it either. I thought the soundtrack was the most interesting part of the film. The music sounded like a New Age/Tribal version of the original Star Wars score.

Movie Review: the ONION Movie


I've laughed at many articles posted on the ONION: America's Finest News Source. In fact I posted one such article on 03 Dec 08. (See the Humor Section). But I haven't laughed at every article posted on their website. It's hard to be funny all the time and even harder to translate humor from one medium to another.

This is the case for the ONION Movie. The comedic vignettes in this film range from stupid, lame, mildly amusing, hilarious to offensive. What you find funny depends on your brand of humor.

The scenes often seem disconnected but there is a plot current running through most of them: A veteran news anchorman becomes increasingly angry over the corporate sponsors commercialization of the news broadcasts. Towards the end, the characters in several of the scenes end up watching their televisions as the finale unfolds at the news station.

I rate this a 3-star movie, because I did find portions of the film to be very funny: Steven Segal parody's himself, while a Brittney Spears-type of singer is the subject of some interviews regarding her hyper-sexually charged performances.

So if you rent or buy this with low to medium expectations you won't feel you've wasted an hour and a half of your life that you'll never get back again.

I needed the laugh and this film fit the bill.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Errata on YouTube Video

Well my 2nd YouTube video, Impending Fury contains and embarrassing error. There are, not one, but two scenes where a German reconnaissance plane is chased off by British fighters.

The fighters are suppose to be "Sea Hurricanes" used by the Royal Navy in 1942.

Somehow I overlooked that and called them "Sea Harriers" which is the VTOL (Vertical Take-Off and Landing) aircraft pictured here and used by the Royal Navy and USMC today.

Note to self: Get someone else to do my editing before I post material on the web. Material that, as of now, has been seen by over 600 people!

I spent the a good portion of last night posting notices and replies to this historical faux-pas to all the wargaming sites and forums I notified about my movie.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

"Impending Fury" SRS's 2nd YouTube Production

Earlier today I finally uploaded Part 1 of my "Operation Pedestal" movie on to YouTube. My recent production details the course of action mentioned in my previous wargaming posts. (See "Wargaming" posts dated 22 Nov & 14 Dec 08).

Like many other writers I fell into the trap of getting carried away with my research. Pictured here is the cover of one of the reference booklets I used: Supermarina II, by John D. Gresham and Michael Markowitz.

I found this particular operation fascinating and as a result the scale of this wargame movie project grew exponentially. Instead of playing-out a simple game involving a convoy and it's escorts, I'm now running a campaign involving 6 Royal Navy task forces versus hordes of Axis aircraft, submarines and ships.

Impending Fury, as I titled Part 1 of this saga is 8:36 minutes long. To make this, I took 84 pictures of which 75 are used. In addition to painting on most of the pictures, I downloaded sound effects and license-free music in order to add action and drama to the program. I also experimented with some of my computer's special effects in order to create the constant movement of the ships and aircraft.

I primarily used music instead of the "battle ambiance" sound effects I added to my first movie The Road to Eggmuehl. Unlike a short land battle, Impending Fury is the opening of 5-day naval campaign. So there was a lot of audio dead space that I wanted to fill and I couldn't find any "nautical ambiance" to add to the 8.5 minute program.

I'll probably use more "battle ambiance" in my upcoming--but as of yet, unplayed--films. Especially as the convoy nears Malta and the battles intensify.

I was surprised to see this movie already linked to this blog. (See the Stern Rake Studio Productions Section near the bottom). However, you can see a better picture by logging directly on to YouTube.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Ringing in '09

Best wishes to all of you throughout the new year.