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A Hard Day’s Night at the Opera

When I was about 22 or 23 years old, a half lifetime ago, I had this mash-up idea one night that stuck with me for years. I saw the bits of it that I saw clearly very distinctly in my head, but the rest was fuzzy, whenever I tried to develop and finish it. Yet, tonight, it comes back again, and I still remember it. One of those ideas you only get when you’re that young, that open, that high, and that inspired. That I remembered it even the next day is pretty fancy a feat; that I remember it 20 years later is weird indeed.

It was decades before they even invented the term “mash-up” to describe a creative synthesis. This was a mash-up of three of my most favorite things: the Marx Brothers, the Beatles, and Mozart (as incarnated, specifically, in my favorite movie, Amadeus). It was called “A Hard Day’s Night at the Opera.”

There’s a scene in Amadeus where Mozart hears his music being played, and runs full tilt down a palace corridor, that reminded me of the Beatles running full tilt away from screaming fans at the beginning of Richard Lester’s movie. The Beatles were compared to the Marx Bros. in the film A Hard Day’s Night, which Lennon in an interview later dismissed (“There were four of them, and four of uz, so that’s why they said it, that’s all.”).

There was to be a Sig Rumann character, a jealous composer (the Salieri character); and a Margaret Dumont empress.

Then there were to be the four of them, incarnated as composers. I wrote, once, in a notepad (that is somewhere, but I know not where), a scene in which they introduce themselves.

JOHN: I’m Beethoven, John Winston Beethoven. This is James Paul McMozart. Over there is the silent one, George Harrison Bach.

George honks a horn in a four-note Bach melody.

JOHN: And Ringo.

RINGO: Hullo.

There was a scene in which, like in the Amadeus scene, they take a mediocre ditty of Salieri’s and start riffing on it, building it up, and it becomes an orchestral “Hey Jude.”

I always loved this idea. It probably would only stretch long enough to make a 20-minute short, but a great one. Any longer and it would grow thin. Any shorter and why do it?

It would still take a considerable budget to pull off, what with being a costume historical, and requiring a talented composer/arranger and musicians to do the score, and actors who could be the Beatles and the Marx Bros at the same time.

And a script that conquered the idea and followed its logic to a height worthy of all of these guys.

Never did it. Twenty years I’ve been carrying it around in my head, occasionally taking it out of its box to say, “Isn’t it pretty and shiny and fun,” then parking it again.

I have so many impractical ideas, but I do love some of them so.

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Mozart In America

It is a curious fact of history that Mozart was at his most active contemporaneous with the American Revolution. As Lexington and Concord waged, so did concertos and opera tours across Europe. Which leads me to the alternate history idea: that should Mozart have lived, he would eventually have come to tour the new United States. Mozart in America, 1804. A tale worth telling.

Or pondering how to tell, at any same rate.

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Dateline- HOLLYWOOD!

DATELINE – Hollywood, CA. Producer Jerry Bruckheimer is fired from his coveted production deal with Disney Studios, which want to focus not on things like The Lone Ranger, but more on Avengers and Thor type deals. Picked up by Paramount Pictures, recently signing off on a deal for never-to-be-produced (with anyone good) Indiana Jones sequels (?!), Bruckheimer, 70, admitted that his first pictures to lens in the new deal are to be Top Gun 2, starring Tom Cruise, and Beverly Hills Cop 4, starring Eddie Murphy, if anyone can still get it up.

More news as events develop. Ur reporter, out.

Rob

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Best Pictures-All

I started a few memory exercises years ago. People used to memorize poems, but I’ve never been one much for that. Even for my own poetry. (Which, I remind myself, I really ought to be able to recite, at least my favorites.) Come to that, I can’t even recite complete Beatles lyrics in the shower, even though I’ve listened to each of those songs a dozen thousand times.

One of my memory exercises was to recite all of the Presidents of the United States of America, forward and backward. Another was a long Monty Python sketch, forward-only. The third was to memorize and recite all of the winners of the Best Picture Oscar(R) award from AMPAS, not just backwards and forwards, but odds and evens years, random access, whatever. It occasionally comes in handy in crossword puzzles, when the clue is “Best Picture (year)”.

I’ve lapsed on all of these, in recent years. Last night, I decided to recite the Best Picture winners from 1980 to the present, and it went okay, until I got to the last three years, the elevensies. The aughts were hard to remember, I had nearly as much trouble for the thirties and the fifties and sixties, once upon a time. Got those down. But the recent ones are more and more difficult to remember.

2009 was The Hurt Locker. Okay. Got up to there. So, 2010, 2011, and 2012. 2012 was Argo, I remember that because I was like, “WTF? Argo? It was okay, but Best Picture?” And then I stuck on 2010 and 2011. For an hour. Eventually I had a brain spark and shouted, “The Artist!” But I couldn’t remember whether The Artist was 2010 or 2011; even so, there was one missing.

In vain, hopeless, I searched the “cable-channels-of-movies-on-demand” for help, and “The Descendants” (2011) came up, and its precis said it was an Acadamy-Award-winning movie. I recalled that it was nominated for Best Picture, but it didn’t seem stored in my memory as the winner for whatever year that was (just one ago, from this one).

Damn, dang, damn, damn, dang, damn, dang, dang, argh. What was the one?

I had this idea that there were two (or three?) “The _________” movies in a row. So, “The Hurt Locker” and “The Artist” were at least two, so the third “The ___________” was what? Or was it just two? So those were the only two “The ___”‘s?

Finally, 24 hours later, I looked it up, looked into it. “The King’s Speech”. FeCK! Right. Of course. That was 2010. “The Artist” was 2011. So there *were* three “The ___”‘s in a row.

It’s always easy to remember when you read the list, and then go “ohhhh yeahhhh.”

 

Now, I just need to remember how to recite my poems. I only ever wrote poetry for a year and a half or so, nearly 20 years ago. As if the Muse came and then fled. I wrote a bunch. All memorable, so I can take up the task of memorizing them, because they’re mine, my words, my poems, and I need something to recite while I’m in the shower.

Something else to put on the docket for 2014, besides the other stuff.

 

Rob

 

 

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Blogging

It surprised me to know how much active interest there was in my starting a regular blog. “Finally,” one supporter said to me, as just one word in a longer sentence expressing doubt about the venue I was seeming to choose for such a venture. In essence, he said, Rob’s finally going to have a blog, and he’s going to waste it on a flighty start-up blog thing?

Rob’s finally going to have a blog? As in, “Where was this blog years ago, so we could have started following it every day back then?” Why have you waited so long?

I have a very small audience, but I was forced, for the Nth time, to realize that I do, yes, have one. And what is a blog? Some guy’s take on things, posted regularly — daily, one hopes. Whatever that guy comes across that makes him think, let’s have it. Let’s hear his take on that thing. As a reader, I have my own take, or maybe I’ve never heard of it, so maybe I’ll read this guy’s take on it, then investigate it myself.

The important thing is, this guy, and his take on things. I want to read that. I’m interested in that. I’m amused and entertained by that. I’m challenged by that. I’m moved to thoughtfulness by that.

I honestly didn’t realize, until I started making noises about having a blog, that I had an audience who were happy to hear my take on things, in the form of a blog. As of now, I realize that I do.

It is enough to make me want to have and keep up and respect having an actual blog.

This is just the prelim version. The actual version starts and runs for the next year, I think I promised my faux-admin guy, who will help me out, but really wants me to learn to help myself. As if I could learn to fish and feed myself every day, without help. Hah.

 

Rob

 

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Impractical idea #9017

I have all sorts of ideas that have no practical application. That is to say, they won’t make any money at all, even if wildly successful. I’d have to develop them on my own dime and then give them away for free.

Tonight’s idea was inspired by the last few minutes of MST3K: The Movie (1996), which happened to be on tonight. The idea was for an app, iphone/ipad/whatever. It’s called: Abacus.

It is an abacus. For anyone who wants to learn how to work an abacus. Abacuses have the same UI as i-devices: sliding your finger. So the animation goes clickety-bead clack, and math is performed. Plus a tutorial mode, so that you can learn how to use one, so that human culture does not forget how to use an abacus — in fact, it re-learns it, right when VHS tapes and digital calculators are going extinct.

Obviously you can’t charge for an abacus app, but I bet you could move a lot of the merchandise, to curious and interested geeky people who like math and always-wanted-to-know how to use an abacus.

 

Totally impractical, completely worthwhile as a project, but absolutely not worth doing, except that obviously, it is, and there’s a huge (non-paying, free) market for it. It’d be nice to be the guy (and/or team) that does it first, does it right, does it so first and so right, nobody bothers doing it again. Just shipping it out there, to the world culture, to preserve world culture, and to teach maths to everyone again.

 

That’s the kind of idea I have every day. It’s like a blurse, or a cessing.

 

Rob

 

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Post-recording from Anthony

“I like it. I’m proud of it,” Anthony said, one late night in 1996, after we’d just recorded the best tape recording of our career/lives. He added:

“Nobody else would’ve done that.”

It was a — how can I describe it? A re-creation of “War of the Worlds”, Orson Wells’s 1938 broadcast. It was an improvised effort, entirely unplanned, among three friends from high school, without the fourth (Grog)  that made us a foursome, late into my and our friendship, but in 1996, that was all and enough.

It was the last tape and recording of Anthony, but we still sounded like we were just getting started on a podcast career, all of us. We just finally sounded like we could do it *for real*, but we never did it again, because …

Well, never mind that. “I like it. I’m proud of it. Nobody else would’ve done that.” Makes me laugh, every time, and smile, and know — no, nobody else would’ve done that, nobody else ever DID do that, we were the only ones who would ever *do* that, and we *DID* it, and the recording survives, telling that we did, did, did, do it, did it, done it.

 

Thanks to God, we were the only ones who would have done that, and we did it, and that we (thank you, Dave) recorded it, and so not only did we, were were, the only ones who did that; but that, people can hear what we done did, that one night, in 1996. So long ago, and such yesterday,

http://raddial.com/audio/oct1996_antdaverob_sandstorm2_wotw2.mp4

Good morning. This is maybe why I started a blog.

Rob

 

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Interactive Writing Conf – Autumn 2014

I want to put together an interactive writing conference, in an unlikely place. I have looked into the future, and it is will have been having going to happened, so I know it will shall have worked out, but not yet.

Do you know how I should get the thing started. Does it take some sort of LLC to reserve a venue, or can you just do it with phone calls and emails. Would you be available to show up, a year from now, plus or minus.

Might I invite everyone I can, and who else can be there, and how do you do a conference, in a year?

I’ve seen that it is has was been happened, but it still could not happen. But, it might have been actually did.

4-dimensionally,

Rob

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For Uncle Al

2nd March 2o12
He

To all my Family,

I have not felt the pain of loss of a parent, or a spouse, but I do know the loss of someone inextricably wound into the fiber and pattern of my life. Someone closer to me than my dear Uncle Al–a childhood friend who did not make it to 40. It is a loss that still hurts.

I did not get to meet my Uncle Al past my infancy or early toddlerhood (at the latest). He appears in none of our home movies, and in precious few photographs. I always have understood how his professional career required him to live in another country most of his–and therefore my–life, but he was *always* a part of the family, actively, just as he still, in a new way, now, is. I wish, now, that we had spent a few minutes every family gathering that he could not attend sharing stories about him, that through hilarious anecdotes I could know him better, now.

My mother, who is a repository of family lore, has one favorite story about Uncle Al, that she often recounts; and I love to hear it, as it tells me so much about him. It goes like this:

At the Camp one summer, Uncle Al volunteers to do the grocery shopping. He returns with the beaming face of a little boy having procured the most awesome vegetable ever: a single head of broccoli, the size of a tree trunk, itself filling one whole paper grocery bag — the big kind. One can imagine him irresistably drawn to the most kingly stalk of broccoli in the world, delighted–while having no earthly idea how inedibly wooden a thing to cook for dinner the thing is going to be.

Smiling happily, having acquired vegetable awesomeness — that’s my Uncle Al!

I did get to hear Uncle Al’s voice on the phone, on one of my recent visits to the Camp. I was closest to the phone when he called for Aunt Kai. We spoke for fifteen seconds, but it was enough–to hear his voice, and to say hi–for it to be a small comfort now: Yes, we talked! How nice that is, how lucky. It makes perfect sense, in retrospect.

I searched my unconscious/pre-conscious memories — ie, I “let go” and just *felt* — just imagine-remembered — any and all feelings and impressions of my Uncle Al. I discovered definite avuncular feelings, fond and goofy, of this same man having chuckled with me, having read me a story, having rescued me from some bit of mischief or trouble that I was about to get into. A smiling face. Now being an uncle myself, to Andreas and Karen li, I know what an uncle’s affection feels like, and I always felt that from my Uncle Al, no matter how absent he was in person, from that time early on, until now.

Maybe, from Peter’s upcoming wedding on, we can use every family occasion from now on to share a few stories about Uncle Al, and about Grammy, and Grampy, and Winn Mayo, and indeed about all our family’s loved ones, and thus to help us all know them better, and love them always in the present tense, not in the past — because I know it will make them all still present with us, now and for ever after.

With love,

–Rob

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Book Review: DRIFT

——– Book review ——-

DRIFT:
The Unmooring of American Military Power
by Rachel Maddow

Chapter 1: Swift-Boaters for Truth

If this book were a blog, serialized in installments every day, praise would be effusive and overwhelming in the blogosphere. Outstanding, award-worthy, riveting — “You should redo this as a book!” the popular consensus would cry out, and they’d be right.

But “Drift” is not a blog, it is a book, but a book with the taints of being very blog-like. Conversational. Slangy. While relaying in paraphrase a lot of information based on a lot of research, it lapses occasionally into very informal style, informal tone, informal voice. Chummy. You know, blogger-to-reader informality, which is perfectly legit these days, especially in the blogosphere.

However, it does not seem scholarly. Or rigorous. This informality cheapens the book’s arguments, makes them seem one-sided, like they’re rounding off complexities. At its best moments, the author’s informality does communicate with potent force, and humor, and personality — as if one’s best friend had just said something awesome off-the-cuff, reminding you why you like them, because they think like you but can still surprise you — but in its most clanging, cringe-worthy passages, it seems unfortunately almost child-like.

There were at least two examples in the book, however, where something was put in quotes that was, in fact, not a quote, because I have memorized the actual quotes, and knew them not to be quotes, but paraphrases put in quotes. This is the laziest form of journalism I know, and I despise it the most because of that: Paraphrases put in quotes. In each case, even Wikipedia-level research could have nailed down the actual quote, but the author didn’t apparently bother to do that, and neither did the editor, or the publisher, or the copy editors, or the fact-checkers.

Not rigorous, not scholarly, not to be taken seriously. Informative and entertaining, but lightweight and casual. Perhaps that just means youthful and modern, and I am old school and out of touch, but so be it.

In other words: “Yeah, no.”

It *is* the best serialized blog about the subject any blogger has ever written, and provides a lot of information every informed citizen of the United States of America should know. This is why the casualness is so damning: it will easily not be taken seriously by a lot of people who, therefore, will not read it; and, therefore, this book will not transmit vital information to all the people that need it.

Chapter 2: Niagara Falls

The final huge problem of this book is that its climaxing chapters are unwritten. This is rather unbelievable to me. The thesis of the book is that we as a republic have allowed our Constitutional checks–on the ability to wage war without significant civilian cost, on the foundational principle that the Commander in Chief of the military *be denied* the power to wage war by unilateral decision–to erode and be discarded in the past 40 years. (“Slowly, I turned… Step by step… Inch by inch…”) It begins with Lyndon Johnson’s decisions leading to the Vietnam War, then takes a long journey through the Reagan administration, damning it with its own words (which, I hope, are more accurately quoted than the two quotes I know were paraphrased inaccurately). It takes us through Poppy Bush’s ulcerous worries about having to appease a Congress that wanted to keep its Declaration of War powers to itself, thank you very much. It tells us of the Cheney-influenced propulsion into reliance on extra-legal civilian contractors, an eerie deal-with-the-Devil that a vacillating Bill Clinton authorized with a relieved wipe of his brow.

This is all clearly leading up to everything the George W. Bush Administration perpetrated, because clearly the book is an indictment of everything that happened between 2001 and 2009 (and beyond), a CSI-type autopsy on an American princple that had been molested and then murdered: We do not go to war on the decision of one Executive, and We do not go to war without the whole nation, the entire people, and the national Welfare, being balanced into the cost.

And then, she skips it. The author writes nothing about the years 2001-2009. This seems lazy, or as if the book had been released six months to a year prematurely. This should have been the centerpiece of the whole argument of the book, and it’s not here. Why is this?

Chapter 3: Tough Love

Another petty thing that seems lazy and unscholarly is that the author will often reference a historical person (such as a journalist, a cabinet member, a military officer, or a member of Congress) by their title, but not by name. Clearly she has researched a quote from a specific person, so she knows their name, but she doesn’t write their name, she just says their job title and leaves it at that. This contributes more than anything else to the feeling of blogginess about it, that one is writing for 30 minutes to a few hours every day, being somewhat quick about it, meaning to fill in more details but one can’t recall them on the top of one’s head just at the moment but if one doesn’t keep the momentum going and get to the next sentence one will not finish writing one’s blog for the day. But, as a conscientious reader, I am moved to wonder and, further, to ask: if the author cannot be bothered to go back and fill in the names… ? Further: if that was the level of immediacy of writing, such that the author could not remember the name, merely the station, of someone she was about to quote, then — what is the accuracy of the quote that follows?

Q: If this book is in alignment with your beliefs and opinions and political leaning, then why do you have to be so *mean* to it?

A: Because not doing so would be *intellectually dishonest*.

Buy it anyway. You need to know this stuff.

)) J. Robinson Wheeler holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communication from Stanford University.

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TV Review – I Love Lucy

I LOVE LUCY

A pioneering television show, one might say foundational for any number of reasons. It was the flagship of a new independent production studio, Desilu, founded by Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball. Both possessed talent and smarts as well as snorting-bull, titanic egos, and their creative marriage and on-air marriage were far more successful than their real-life one. I Love Lucy, their greatest offspring, survives in full health, immortal and young to this day, because of Desi Arnaz’s far-sightedness and shrewd business acumen. Having grown up in early 20th Century Cuba and made his way up in show business the hard way, he had met a few dangerous characters along the way, and probably didn’t find Hollywood bosses all that tough to deal with. He could throw his personality and great, stormy intellect around, with all the showmanship of a professional entertainer. He could see the worth in independence, in retaining ownership of one’s creative property, in using the highest quality film stock and hiring one of cinematography’s legends, Karl Freund A.S.C., to capture the action. To show off Lucy.

More can be said about what Desi Arnaz brought to the series as a supporting character, his musicianship giving him impeccable comic timing. In a way, he could conduct a scene while playing in it, giving Bill Frawley and Viv Vance and Lucy a rhythm to play to and play off of. Lucy, a trained showgirl dancer and, undiscovered by Hollywood, the last great screen comedian to come out of the tradition dating to Chaplin and Mack Sennett and Laurel & Hardy. The show had three main writers, who cranked out high quality half-hour plays week after unstinting week. As sometimes happens, the intensity of the creative effort expanded their imaginations, and they began to move the series along mini story-arcs. As a child, watching reruns four and five times, I learned to see how the show developed and evolved. Ricky and Lucy Ricardo start out in a modest apartment (the Mertzes are their best friends and landlords), then move to a much better one. They have a baby, who gets to meet Superman at his first big birthday party with his little friends. The four of them go on an extended trip to Europe while Ricky is on tour, and Lucy has a whole new set of obstacles to play with for six episodes: border crossings, roulette wheels, unflappable Royal Guards, and a famous, famous vat of grapes. Ricky’s career goes into high gear and he’s cast in a Hollywood movie, and the Ricardos and the Mertzes pack off to Beverly (Hills, that is). Lucy makes John Wayne have to redo his Grauman’s Chinese Theater cement prints over and over and over again. Lucy re-creates the famous mirror scene from Duck Soup with Harpo Marx himself. There is romantic intrigue with Charles Boyer.

And then, the magic stops. There is a final season, one that feels very tired, and bored of doing it. The Ricardos and the Mertzes move out to a luxury house in the country, away from city life. When this change in the series happens, you can feel that it’s about to retire. They’re putting this show out to pasture, literally. The marriage strain between Arnaz and Ball shows up in the writing, where their characters rarely have scenes together. Many of the episodes look like pilot versions for the later series, The Lucy Show, a 1960’s sitcom reuniting Ball and Vance as divorced (implied) single women, getting up to slapstick antics because they once again followed Lucy’s nutty ideas to their conclusion.

Then, after all these unhappy episodes, if you’re watching in syndication, ta-da! The series starts over, back in that tiny little windowless apartment, and the marriage is happy again, and Little Ricky is still a sparkle in Desi Arnaz’s seductive eyes, and all of Lucy’s misadventures lie ahead, to be enjoyed all over anew.

It’ll be a shame when there’s no more syndicated television and it’s all order-on-demand because I Love Lucy should always be a living document.

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Game review: Alan Wake

Replaying Alan Wake from the beginning so I can write about it. I only just started it over the weekend, but I had a headful of things to say about it. Yeah, I’m gonna kind of dump on it and nit-pick it.

On my first playthrough, I had the language set to Francais, so I was primarily reacting to the visuals (because I could not understand everything that was narrated or spoken). I gave the writing a lot of benefit of the doubt, but now I’m playing in English, and I was sort of taken aback by how reliant on redundancy it was. “Suddenly, the body was gone!” or whatever he says, after the body suddenly disappears, which we just saw happen. This is basic stuff. If this were the work handed in by one of my students* I would draw a big red line through it and make him write 25 different lines that are better than that. And he’d thank me for it.

The main problem of the opening cutscene (I have the game paused now just at the point when controller-enabled play begins) is that it is a cutscene. Let me explain. I have to make this same complaint every year that I judge the IF Competition games: A lot of the material in your intro tells us about a bunch of stuff happening, instead of letting us get to play it. Start the game earlier and let us play the intro. For Alan Wake, player-controlled play should begin right after the opening title, as soon as he describes having a dream where he’s driving at night. The players should be driving the car, even as the narration continues to play. Then when Alan Wake suddenly hits a guy who pops up in the middle of the road — BANG! It’s a scare for us, because we’re driving, and we just hit that guy! Then we could get out of the car, inspect the guy, hear more narration, react to the headlights in the car going out, react to not seeing the body there any more…

I mean, the only reason to make us watch that instead of getting to play that — like it never even occurred to the people making the game to make it interactive, it was always supposed to be this movie — is that they want to play at being filmmakers. So they do these swooping helicopter shots that I guess are supposed to be like the beginning of The Shining or something, and this particularly bugs me when it goes past the point where I said the game should start — that as far as the storytelling goes, Alan Wake is now telling us his dream as he recalls it. Why is he recalling swooping aerial view shots of his car instead of a first-or-second person viewpoint?

If you want to make movies, go and make movies. If you want to make videogames, make videogames.

At the checkpoint where I stopped last time. Alan and his girlfriend, whose name escapes me, because it hasn’t been properly taught to me I suppose, have just arrived at a remote cabin. She is apparently afraid of the dark — “She has a phobia, a fear of darkness…” as Alan tells us — which seems like a strange place to take someone like that. It also is reminding me of that Lars von Trier movie with Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg, come to think of it.

There is some nice character animation done on the girlfriend’s face, but the effect still comes across of either puppets or blind actors. That second one is an uncanny valley effect, but the eyes of all these digital actors are greatly harming their impression of lifelikeness.

In an earlier draft of this, I was going to talk about how I could tell them exactly what is wrong with the eye positions, and how to set them correctly so that even if they don’t move they look more convincingly alive and alert more of the time on average. Then I realized, this could be a great specialized thing to say that one does, and to charge lots of money for doing it for about a year, until everyone catches on how to do it and stops hiring a special expensive guy who does it. Then I realized, hey, I can’t even prove I actually do know how to do this, I’m just extrapolating from what I know I can do to assume that this is the sort of thing I’d be able to do. How embarrassing it’d be to find out that I actually couldn’t do it, I just thought I could.

Anyway, back to Alan Wake. It’s not bad. I’m having a harder time this go-round thinking of things to really be critical about how they’re being done. I need to look back at my notes, which I left in my jacket, which is hanging in the closet. But if I go to get my jacket and put it on, I will start the habit-mechanism that will propel me out of the house to go get a cup of coffee, because that’s always what I do immediately after I put on the jacket. So before I read my notes, I have to ask myself: Well, do you? DO you want another cup of coffee right now?

—-One cup of coffee later… —-

When I left off the first time, I let Alan Wake just stand there outside his little cabin, so that I could watch his idle animation cycle. And it does, it cycles, but people put thought and effort into these things. It’s one of those things I like to do in a game, just to see what they did — not input any commands for a minute, and watch the character shift their weight and glance around. It doesn’t seem to have any randomized or weighted choice variety to it, it’s just a cycle of different things, about 15 seconds long or something. Here, all the casual-yet-concerned body language acting the mocap people did is once again undercut to a degree by the frozen eyes. Except, wait, they’re not frozen — in the idle cycle, Wake shifts his eyes to the side and then back again. So, it is possible to animate them at least that much. It helps, but it’s still not quite right.

I’m thinking of an algorithm, a method, for having eyeballs focus on the right things in an animation. Can you guess how I’m thinking of doing it? I don’t know how hard it would be to do, really. Surely someone would have done it by now if it were that easy.

Make that check out to JRW Digital Media, and I’ll get right on solving that for you.

I liked the scene where you run to safety over a rickety wooden bridge that blows away when you get across it; it worked dramatically while letting me steer myself. I also liked the Ferry scene, a contemplative, unhurried ride with a couple of conversational elements that play out automatically as you wander around. You get to watch the bridge go by overhead, and can find a couple of places to walk to, like up a set of steps, while Alan takes a phone call. It’s a very natural thing to do, wander around a bit while you’re gabbing on the phone, and I really enjoyed that they let me do that. This is what I mean — they could have decided to make this another cutscene, but why do that when you can at least offer a tiny bit of interactive exploration?

Alan starts to slow down and wheeze after a fairly short sprint. Well, he’s a writer, he’s not in good shape. However, that only happens when he’s in an action scene. If you’re just wandering around — and again, I like the fact that the game sometimes just opens its borders a little bit and lets you wander off. Before you go to the cabin, a cutscene leaves you on one side of a bridge, but you can go the other way, up the hill, back to where your car is parked, and walk back down again. This all happens with the sunset glowing its lovely “golden hour” glow, so it’s pleasant to take a walk around.

I do walk, in these games. I know a lot of people go through games full-tilt, but I like to sometimes role-play my movements, and when I’d walk if that character were me, I try to make the character walk. Some games are much walk-friendlier than others, both in how sensitive the control is to gentle direction input, and in whether they’ve even put a good slow-walk animation cycle in there. Sometimes it’s either you’re standing still or you’re going a funny staggered jump-walk where it’s vacillating between two digital states that don’t have an inbetween.

Someday we’ll need to invent digital-analog, so everything degrades smoothly. Patent application pending.

In other games, I’ve noticed that the bigger animation problem with walking very slowly is with follower NPCs. They are tailored to keep up with a PC who is going at a full run, and do a terrible marionette dance when forced to walk. So basically nobody has testers who like to walk slowly instead of running, is what I’m gathering. Oh well.

The Alan Wake game tries very hard to limit the amount of interactivity it allows in whichever mode (explore vs action) it happens to be in, so a lot of the buttons are “numb” — they don’t do anything at all when you press them. You kind of want them to, and they don’t, and that always makes me feel restricted or kind of off balance. I think I’d even prefer it if it made a little feedback sound that meant “this does not do anything” when I heard it, than nothing at all. Numbness. Don’t like.

There are small errors, little details. A vehicle drives by, making an engine and tire sound from a completely different type of vehicle. Yes, it makes a difference. Oh, speaking of audio — this is another general problem I have with many videogames, the ones that do spatialization of audio sources within the game. I’m not sure what physics they’re using to make the audio modifications — maybe they’re exactly supposed to be how they work in the real world, with an inverse-proportionate dB drop-off of sound compared to the distance from the source, but it’s wrong to use that. It has to be tweaked, padded, stretched, into audio that’s “unrealistic” in how it’s calculated, but is more realistic to hear. People’s voices don’t disappear into the distance when I turn my back or even if I walk 15 feet away from them. They can sound a lot more present than that. Our brains and ears do a lot of cool stuff to make sounds work better in our heads than microphones do when they pick up point sources of audio, which is basically what you’re simulating when you run the absolute math on the localized audio. Everybody, stop doing that.

Well! That’s as far as I’ve gotten with Alan Wake, about 15 minutes of it, twice. Plus the hour it took to write up my thoughts. Non-billable hours, of course.

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* I don’t actually have any students. Perhaps this is why.

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