Holy Flipping Jedi!

I’ve just come upon some truly frightening, exciting, unexpected news.  My brain is still trying to process it completely, so I’ll just detail everything and then try and express my thoughts afterwards:

 

Global leader in high-quality family entertainment agrees to acquire world-renowned Lucasfilm Ltd, including legendary STAR WARS franchise.
Acquisition continues Disney’s strategic focus on creating and monetizing the world’s best branded content, innovative technology and global growth to drive long-term shareholder value.  Lucasfilm to join company’s global portfolio of world class brands including Disney, ESPN, Pixar, Marvel and ABC.
STAR WARS: EPISODE 7 feature film targeted for release in 2015.  An investor conference call will take place at approximately 4:30 p.m. EDT / 1:30 p.m. PDT today, October 30, 2012. Details for the call are listed in the release.

Source: StreetInsider

 

Yes, you read that correctly.  Disney announced today that it is purchasing Lucasfilm Ltd. and is planning on releasing Episode 7 in the Star Wars franchise.  As part of the deal, Disney acquires Lucasfilms, Industrial Light & Magic, Skywaker Studios and LucasArts, Lucas’s entertainment software division.  In exchange, they are paying Lucas $4.5 billions dollars, plus roughly 40% of the company in stock.  While the acquisition is not complete, it has been approved by the board of both companies and awaits only anti-trust proceedings to be final.  Disney is not being overly cautious and already has a new feature film in development for the franchise with news of ‘more to come’.

The geek-sphere is split on this.  Clearly, the transfer of ownership to a new company could bode ill for Star Wars.  However, I’m choosing to look upon this positively.  First off all, Disney has done frankly amazing things with Marvel Studios.  All of the movies that Marvel has released in the last five years have been both fantastic movies and incredibly loyal to the source material and the millions of fans out there, but also very lucrative.  I do not see them taking a pop culture standard like Star Wars and do anything other than treat it well.

Frankly, Lucas is a brilliant man and incredibly canny in terms of marketing his creation.  However, he is not as good as understanding that creation outside of a store shelf.  His best movies are those that he had the least creative input in and his attempts to improve on things he has been dissatisfied with have generated hurricane level storms of geek-rage.  It’s not unfair to say that he loves his movies more for what they bring him than what they bring us.  This is not to say that I imagine that Disney is in this for the good of the fans, but they have demonstrated an acute understand of what makes us fans -us geeks- happy.  I believe Disney’s priority will be pleasing the customer and not nurturing their ego, like George Lucas is wont to do.

My personal hope is that Disney -unlike Lucas- will finally release Blu-Ray versions of the uncut Original Trilogy.  But even if they don’t, I am incredibly excited by this news and by what it could mean for the future of Star Wars.

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Pot Luck Post

So, it’s been about a week since my last post and for that I apologize.  I’ve been focusing my mind on preparing for NaNoWriMo and have been making exceptional progress on actually sketching out what I’m going to be writing; I’m actually quite excited.  I’ve been very enthusiastic and I didn’t want to redirect my creative focus elsewhere when I’m making such great headway. That being said, I wanted to get back to my blog and give it some love as well.  However, I have several things on my mind, so this post will come off as somewhat scatterbrained and random in many ways. Consider it a potluck dinner where there’s a variety, but some of the dishes might not appeal to you.

POLITICS
First off, I’m very tired of this election cycle. I look over my previous posts and feel that I’ve had a very strident, raging voice. But I feel very strongly about this topic and to be silent or meek would be a disservice to the importance I feel this election has. It’ll come as no surprise if I say I’m frustrated with the popular media outlets and their treatment of the truth. It’s just so much spin, so much smoke and mirrors these days. The problem is that as consumers we are not requiring more of our media or of our politicians. We accept less and so therefore they give us less. That’s sad and tragic and ultimately we are reaping exactly as little as we are sowing.

The election is in a few days and I’m going to be in line to cast my vote. I’m voting for Obama. I don’t believe he has fulfilled his promises as he said he would, but I believe in his potential. No politician is perfect, but I agree with his views.

Romney on the other hand is definitely not right for this country. He believes that the same failed policies that created the Great Recession will somehow magically fix our country. Everything he has said has been a manipulation of perception or a pure distortion of fact.  The conservatives cannot argue based upon evidence, so they base their arguments on mistruths. I cannot countenance a liar as a leader so I would never consider Romney as a real leader. Sorry, he destroy things, he doesn’t rebuild them.

But whomever you chose to vote for, EDUCATE YOURSELF. Learn before you vote. Be intelligent and informed. Know the issues and what not only the candidates are saying about those issues, but what the people the candidates speak for are saying. Romney changes his tune more often than Pandora Music, but his backers and RNC masters are always singing the same tune. Think of it this way: you wouldn’t have sex with the first person you meet in a bar, so why would you be willing to be screwed by a politician without first knowing what he stands for. Don’t be an lazy idiot; expend the effort and time to know why you are voting for who you are voting for.

The end. I’ll not be posting anything more about the election prior to Election Day. If you’re reading this, you’ve either already decided who you’ll vote for or you don’t care. I won’t waste any more time preaching to the choir or lecturing the uninformed. Make your choice but know why you’re making it and who you’re making it for. That is all.

 

DISHONORED
I recently finished playing a borrowed copy of this game.  As a huge fan of games like Thief 2, System Shock 2, BioShock, and Deus Ex, I was amazed at how well they’ve maintained the emphasis on problem-solving over violence.  For those not familiar with this game, it’s a sneak-or-kill first person game where you play Corvo Atano, a royal bodyguard turned assassin in a steampunk-esque dystopian re-imagining of England (or a very similar nation).  The game focuses on missions that you are sent on by Loyalists to the assassinated Queen wherein you wreck vengeance upon the people who framed you for murder and sentenced you to die.  Along the way, you befriend a capricious deity that grants you mystical powers you can use to accomplish your goals.

There are multiple ways to accomplish these goals and your choices affect not only how the game ends for you, but also the environment that you interact with.  Seek bloody vengeance at the end of your dagger?  Then the world becomes darker, more dangerous and suffering and misery increase.  Seek justice and maintain your honor and integrity?  Things slowly improve and you inspire your cohorts to behave more honorably.  In game, this is referred to as ‘chaos’ and is measured after each adventure.  It is said that the game can be played without causing a single death.  Although I did not possess that level of restraint, I can see how it could be possible.

While there are three epilogues to the game -based upon the level of chaos you cause- I still felt that my decisions were born not from a desire for a good or bad ending, but as an expression of who I envisioned myself  -and Corvo Atano- being.  Perhaps it is because I am currently in a character-building mindset with my writing, or perhaps I am still feeling the influence of Spec Ops and its stark evaluation of violent escapist fantasies, but I played like I felt I would behave were it me.

Above all, the game was exquisitely well-written.  I was truly enthralled with the story and applaud the developers for focusing on a gripping tale over superficial and flashy mechanics.  This was a tale with teeth and heart and there were points where the story being told deeply moved me and made me think.  I think that in this case, the writers wanted to give the player a chance to be a true hero -or a true monster- and did not try to disguise that fact.  In many ways it is like Spec Ops, which also ripped aside the facade gamers love to hide behind, except for instead of feeling dirty and horrified, I felt jubilant and cleansed.  Simply put, this was an amazing game and well worth your time to play it.  Except: be better than me and buy it instead of borrowing it from a friend.

 

NANOWRIMO
NaNoWriMo starts in just a few days, so I’m soon to be diving headlong into that.  Work, Sleep, Eat, Time With Wife, Write.  Not in that particular order (wife -of course- always comes first). So, my blog is going to transition into a different mode during November.  Obviously, my primary literary focus will be on writing my novel.  I don’t want to neglect my blog or my handful of readers though. So for this month, my blog is going to feature smaller posts on the process of writing the first draft of my first novel. I’ll discuss what I feel and am experiencing at various points, to give readers an insight to what NaNoWriMo is like for the participant.

I’ll also include posts written by another blogger and successful writer, Cristian Mihai. I’ve been following his blog for some time and have found his posts insightful. He has self-published, an option I am currently investigating myself, as well as having been accepted by a publishing house. So, I’ll be re-posting some of his work to supplement my own posts.

Anyways, I’m looking forward to the next month with mixed dread and excitement   A lot is occurring and not all of it may be positive (Romney might win), but I’m not going to shy away from dramatic changes. Life is about adapting to new realities and I’ll be embracing that philosophy wholeheartedly. I look forward to seeing how I feel on December 1st: whether I’ve succeeded, what I’ve learned, where I am as a person and a writer at that time. Until then…

The Lies That Bind Us

In three weeks, Americans will once again make their opinions heard and either re-affirm the presidency of Barack Obama or elect Governor Mitt Romney as the 45th President of the United States. While it’s cliched to say that we stand at ‘the crossroads of history’ or that our decision as citizens will have far-reaching ramifications for not only our country but for the world as well, it is nonetheless true. The two candidates have substantially different ideals and visions for the direction and role of our country. I’m not going to compare and contrast the candidates in this post because that is neither my intention nor my responsibility. Indeed, it is your responsibility and the responsibility of all Americans to seek out information on their potential leaders of their own volition; however, the problem is whether the information that they find or the sources that they use are providing the truth about the candidates or are manipulating the facts in an effort to push forward an agenda.

Accusations about a biased or manipulative media are nothing new. Indeed, such claims are so ubiquitous that they are largely ignored these days, dismissed as either overzealous rhetoric or blatant misdirection. However, the fact is that some media outlets do purposefully mislead their audiences. This can take the relatively benign form of ‘spinning’ information or the more egregious examples of omitting information to manipulate the data into a different meaning or even outright lying about the information.

Case-in-point: US Border Patrol Nicholas Ivie was murdered on October 3rd in what is being assumed was a smuggling related shooting. Already opponents of the Obama administration are connecting this shooting with the shooting that is part of the ‘Fast and the Furious’ scandal, even though no direct connection exists. This is known as the ‘correlation equals causation’ fallacy. The two are related only in that they were (1) related to border security on the Mexican border and (2) involved guns. However, so pervasively restated is this connection that what is an exaggeration of the information (at best) is being taken for fact.

A little more close to home is the case of Colleen Lachowicz, Democratic candidate for the State Senate of Maine.  The Maine Republican Party is hosting a site called Colleen’s World, a site dedicated to Mrs. Lachowicz’s level 85 Orc Rogue in World of Warcraft.  If you stopped and did a double take, that’s fine… I understand.  Essentially the site contends that Lachowicz is unfit for public office because she is a gamer- specifically a player of World of Warcraft- since many gamers have addictive relationship with the act of gaming.    They even go so far as to post a link to a ‘study‘ performed by a gaming website  that contends that the ‘average’ player of WoW spends 22.7 hours a week playing the game.  While I can’t necessarily argue that WoW can’t be addictive, that’s not a proven fact; just because some people become addicted doesn’t mean everyone does.  Furthermore, the link they supply is from 2005, making it of dubious value over 7 years later.  Finally they post links to comments on guild forums, wherein she engaged in the typical repartee normally seen on such sites.

The problem with this website and Lachowicz’s hobby is that it has absolutely no direct bearing on the Maine Senate race (or at least no more than any other hobby someone might have).  Someone could be an avid writer or knitter and enough time doing those activities to negatively impact their careers or their ability to govern effectively.  Colleen Lachowicz’s ‘second life’ in WoW should only have bearing if it can be proven that her gaming activities have negatively impacted her normal duties and responsibilities.

Yet, gaming addiction is a hot button issue and largely misunderstood by the majority of people, so labeling her a ‘gamer’ is an effective attack strategy.  The shame is that it shouldn’t be.  This is not an attack on her policies.  Indeed, the only mention of her policies is when she speaks to her support of President Obama.  The Maine GOP can’t argue against her ideals or goals, so they misdirect the conversation to something they can slant any way they want, never truly providing the Maine votes with a serious discussion.

I’ve previously talked about my views about our responsibilities as citizens and consumers of information and how we must be more dutiful in seeking out and sifting through what the media presents us. To be properly governed and to govern in return, we must be educated and informed and be able to differentiate between the truth and a turd.  We must see past misdirection and misrepresentation of information.  However, sometimes that is not as easy as we could hope it would be.

A prime example of a media outlet that forsakes all pretense of truth or objectivity and brazenly programs around a vitriolic and partisan agenda would be -unsurprisingly- Fox News.  Now, I recognize that Fox has mastered the martyr conplex, claiming to constantly be under attack by the ‘liberal elite’ for their views.  That might be true, but I assert it is with good reason.  A 2010 study by the University of Maryland suggested that Fox News viewers are among the most misinformed individuals on issues like the economy, global warming, health care reform, and government spending.  This was later substantiated by a 2011 study by Fairleigh Dickinson University that indicated that people who watched no news were often more accurately informed about the same issues than Fox News viewers.   In addition, Fox News viewers are significantly more likely to believe completely false information because of the concerted and organized way that the various Fox New shows synergize with each other.  “If you repeat a lie often enough, it becomes the truth” – Joseph Goebbels

While it may be tempting to just chalk this up to partisan politics and ignore it, it is something we can’t afford to dismiss.  A substantial portion of registered Republican voters rely on Fox News as their only source of information.  This means that an unacceptably large portion of the electorate is voting on issues they do not fully understand or foster completely inaccurate views on.  Again, liberal and moderate voters might assume that since 47% of the voters will always vote Republican that there’s no point in trying to combat the practice of misinformation in the media, but that’s a dangerous tact to take.

I contend that a good democracy can only be achieved by having a well-informed democracy.  The United States isn’t a better country for having only a single party with educated views, even if that party (in this case the Democratic party) were to win every election.  We need a political system with two varied outlooks that compete for primacy with educated, well-thought out ideas.  In this way the country stays healthy, ensuring that only the best ideas win.  This only happens if voters accurately understand the issues being discussed.  We can’t have that unless we hold our news aggregators to a higher standard.

As voters, we need to seek out information from more than a single source.  We need to hold media outlets who engage in practices that are designed to misinform to task, by petitioning their advertisers.  When it comes to the leadership of our government, we cannot be lax in our duty to be conscientious consumers of information.  It’s our duty as citizens and our responsibility to the rest of the world.  Most importantly, it’s our obligation to ourselves and our children.

NaNoWriMo

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you” – Maya Angelou

In college I was an avid role-playing gamer.  I loved the community of it, how a group of us would gather together once a week, for hours on end and -using on pencil, paper and our minds – create exciting new stories.  What I loved most of all was my role in the games: I was the Storyteller. I created the world and the denizens that my friends would encounter and interact with; I created the narrative they existed within.  They were my actors and I was both the writer and director, weaving stories for them, to amuse, to challenge and to (I like to imagine) broaden them as people.  It was this directed and structured creation of worlds that got into my blood and has never gone away.  However, those games were the luxury of the young and -when entered the workforce-  I could no longer host the games.  Yet, I never lost the desire to weave stories.

Somewhere between then and now though, I lost my way.  My mind and soul kept tapping into unrealized worlds and narratives, fantastical and sometimes horrifying, but I betrayed myself; I never acted on those ideas, those dreams.  Part of it was fear of failure and rejection; these are things that I’ve often found that temper my motivation to do things.  Some of it has to do with the company I kept: a ‘loved one’ once came upon some of my neophyte writing and proclaimed that I was destined to fail.  That criticism has stayed with me for years.   Still, I kept a book of ideas -always adding to it- and promised myself with a liar’s breath that one day I’d do what my heart yearned to do.  One day.  That day has never come, not until now.

On November 1st, I’m going to participate in National Novel Writers Month (NaNoWriMo).  The goal is to write a 50,000 word novel between the 1st and 30th of November.  That is roughly 1600 words a day.  It is an ambitious and challenging goal and I’ll be joined by thousands of other aspiring writers.  However, for me this is about more than just the challenge of the event.  It’s about realizing a long-time dream.

For me, NaNoWriMo is the gauntlet I must conquer to unleash the potential I know I possess inside.  For nearly twenty years, I’ve felt like I’ve failed to live up to the expectations that my collegiate self held.  I wanted to be someone of purpose and significance and I failed myself, being simply mediocre (in my own mind).  My first step back was falling in love with my wonderful wife, who I’ve always loved since I first met her so many years ago, but who only now do I now share my life and dreams with and who supports me without equivocation.  She showed me that I had the resolve to seek out my dreams, so now I am.

I also ask for your support, your prayers, your encouragement and your inspiration in this task I will soon embark upon.  This is not an easy task for a working adult by any estimation, but it is all the more difficult because I’m facing nearly twenty years of entrenched entropy and fear.  Encourage or goad me, whatever works, but I invite you to share in my journey to become the man I need to be, the writer I long to be.  The belief of others is a deep well to draw from for determination and courage.

However, this is not just about me.  Thirty thousand other writers will also be participating, so share a prayer or good thought for them as well.   More importantly, the Office of Letters and Light, the non-profit organization that hosts NaNoWriMo is also sponsoring a mirror event in five hundred communities and twenty-five hundred classrooms, encouraging literacy and fostering creativity in the youth of today.  Currently an estimated 38% of fourth graders read at a level significantly below the most basic; only 31% read at a proficient level and only 7 at an advanced level.  Make no mistake, NaNoWriMo is not a literacy program; It is a program that seeks to encourage young students to write and to show them that writing can be fun if also challenging.  Today’s world is one filled with distractions.  Too many children are raised by video games and television; too few parents teach by example: by reading to their children, sharing with them the wonder  and amazement of the written word.  NaNoWriMo seeks to do that.  It is a cause worth supporting.

So I ask you -friends, family, co-workers and casual observers- to not only support me with your hearts and wishes, but to sponsor me in my writing.  All donations will go towards the Office of Letters and Light and their mission to share the odyssey of the written word with children.  Your donations will also encourage me on my own journey, to add an extra incentive to fulfill my own dreams as well as the expectations of my loved ones and peers.  If you are interested in donating, click here.  You can track both my writing progress and my sponsorship goals on the right-hand side of my blog.  Knowing that you are willing to donate as a sign of faith in my goals would be a incredible motivator.

No matter what you do, I thank you for the time you’ve spent reading this and ask again for all of your prayers and well wishes in November.  The task will be challenging and tiring, but I can honestly say that achieving this goal will be beyond my wildest dreams.  Our dreams are one of the things that make our life worth living.  I think it’s time to get start on this dream of mine.

Review: Scribblenauts Remix (iOS)

You’ll excuse me if I gush a bit about this game. I’ve always been a fan of innovative, super-smart games and this game fits the bill in every respect. Scribblenauts Remix is the iOS port of the original Scribblenauts which debuted for the Nintendo DS in 2009. I’d read about the original extensively and had been very excited at its premise. When I found out it had come to my beloved iPhone, it was a given I’d pick it up.

Scribblenauts Remix (like it’s predecessor) is a puzzle action game where you assist Maxwell in overcoming obstacles and collecting ‘Starites’ by summoning items literally out of thin air by typing in the name (and sometimes description) of the items. The genius of this game is in its emergent game-play and focus on multiple solutions to challenges. Need to get a Starite from that tall tree? You could summon a ladder… or a trampoline… or a jetpack… or a lasso… or a UFO. The solutions are limited only by the imagination of the player and that makes this nothing short of a brilliant game.

This could easily be labelled as a children’s game. Clearly the colorful and friendly graphics and the vocabulary-building and grammatical emphasis of some of the challenges encourages learning during play. This -of course- is another example of just how wonderful this game is. I know I’ll be promoting this game with my wife’s siblings who have children (or to be honest: anyone that asks). But calling it just a ‘kid’s game’ would be to truly underestimate the appeal and the utility of this game.

With a massive built-in vocabulary of tens of thousands of words, some of which no normal child should know nor conceive of, this is a game that adults can apply their own logic and intelligence to. For instance, how did I stop an evil gunman from killing Maxwell’s local sheriff-friend? Nothing ‘Friendly Cthulhu’ couldn’t solve. Yes, Maxwell wanted me to help his friend, so I summoned an Elder God.

That is not dead which can eternal lie, And with strange aeons even death may die.

The game does have a few minor faults, but nothing serious. I suppose it speaks volumes to just how freaking good this game is that my primary complaint is there simply wasn’t enough of it. Scribblenauts Remix only contains four worlds and each world only had ten different challenges. This might sound like quite a bit, but some of the challenges -especially the earlier ones- are very easy to solve, especially for a savvy adult. Still, for only $1.99, I felt that it was more than a bargain for the level of enjoyment I received.

My only other complaint is that I felt that there were too many challenges that weren’t truly open-ended. Some of the puzzles had you looking for -and sometimes guessing about- very specific things. I can understand the need for this; if every challenge could be resolved just by typing in Cthulhu or Laser Death Ray, then the game wouldn’t have been fun or challenging at all. However, the sheer specificity of some of the challenges might be too difficult for a child to overcome and I felt it constrained the fundamental strength of the game by not allowing you to fully use your imagination to find alternate solutions. That being said, there were only a handful of these kinds of challenges, not a significant portion of the game.

Those two things aside, this game is magical. If you are an adult, you will love this: it will challenge you and let you stretch your mind and your vocabulary. If you are a parent, you will love this: not only is it pure educational game-play for your child, but it’s an excellent opportunity to play a game with your child and share some of your knowledge with them. For all of the benefits this game can provide, for the fun and humor, the intelligence and the glorification of grammar and vocabulary, this game is a bargain for the discerning app gaming enthusiast and supports a type of gameplay that sorely needs more attention. This is gaming done right and done intelligently and is a sterling example of how ‘gaming’ can be a truly positive force in both a child’s life and in an adult’s life.