Welcome to the Halloween Bar!

There’s a place where the dark things party

The monsters, ghouls, goblins and ghosts

The drinks are strong and the meals hearty

It’s the door under the bridge

Which bridge?

Every bridge!

WELCOME TO THE HALLOWEEN BAR!

The old Vampires and Werewolves admonish their progeny

Scary was the way, not sexy

The youths laugh it off, proud of their androgyny

But they’re underage so they’re kicked out

The Zombies get down on the dance floor

Bones cracking, moans gurgling, they then rise again

Some are fast, some are slow, they ignore the lore

All end up upset by the lack of chicks or brains… or both

The Ghosts can only drink ectoplasm liquor

They’re the vegans of the monster community

That they died in the bar is the kicker

And at least three have their eyes on their bodies in the Zombie horde

The Witches are clearly racist towards the undead

“Vampires and Zombies and Mummies, they’re all basically the same”

But they brew the best hellish drinks that alcoholics dread

And secretly write a screenplay for their own sexy reboot

Nobody really knows why the Leprechauns are there

They’re turning everything green and throwing glitter everywhere

For a monster themed bar it’s overzealous flair

Although par for the course just about anywhere else

The Grim Reaper is the owner showing around a human guest

An extra dimensional tesseract space bar requires a nightly sacrifice

He’ll make sure any visitors are put to rest

And the ghosts add another to their growing entourage

Only here is Halloween all year round

If the drinks don’t kill you the patrons will

Make friends, dance all night, enjoy the sound

Because you probably won’t survive the night

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It’s About More than “Beating” the Game

Video Games bear an interesting burden as the only art form you can be bad at.

Before you raise any protest, yes, video games are most certainly art. Every time you look over a gorgeous landscape in Destiny, every time a musical swell in the Legend of Zelda urges you forward, every time you come up with an elegant stealth maneuver in Metal Gear Solid, that is art at play.

In the last decade a narrative device has been perfected in video game storytelling. The decision wheel. I thank Bioware, the studio behind mega hits Dragon Age and Mass Effect, for that. The decision wheel is a way to choose your own adventure through conversations in a game. They let you control the flow of conversation, making it easier to feel like your character is an extension of yourself. Most importantly, they can be used to make decisions in a game that will ripple out and effect the rest of the game’s story.

In my humble opinion, the perfect decision wheel is when there is no “right” choice to make. Everyone I know, including myself, is a cynic. We can all see narrative beats coming from a mile away and there is always a “right” option.

But sometimes there isn’t. Sometimes a game can put characters and moments together in a way that catches even the most logical person off guard. In those moments it stops being about “beating the game”. It starts being about making the choice you can live with.

maxresdefaultComing back to Mass Effect, specifically Mass Effect 2, there is only one perfect decision wheel in the entire game franchise. It appears when you are fighting a ship full of an enemy machine species called the Geth. You are given two options. One is to kill every Geth on the ship. The other options is to rewrite their “code” so they are no longer your enemies.

Genocide, or steal their free will away. You can tell yourself that the Geth are just machines and have only ever been acting on code. But they have religion and society. They have fought wars for the right to be called equals. In that moment, when you must make that choice. I had to stop and think about it.

There was no right answer that day, but I chose to rewrite them. Was it the right choice? Well, Mass Effect 3 removes a lot of nuance by making it clear that, yes, I made the wrong choice. All those Geth were freed from their reprogramming and turned on me. To be honest, it does detract from that decision, Bioware’s crowning achievement in my opinion, but I will never forget my first encounter with that choice.

the-walking-dead-uiThe Walking Dead video game from Telltale Games, which is better than both the shows and comic, is rife with these. You play as a man who finds himself the caretaker of a young girl, Clementine, in the aftermath of a zombie apocalypse. It isn’t about your survival, it’s about hers. Time after time you must make questionable decisions for her sake and by the end of the first season (as an episodic game, TWD comes in seasons) you must confront each of these choices in turn to prove that you are worthy to protect Clementine.

The game is exhausting, and you wonder if you’ve made the right choice after nearly every interaction. Instead of watching someone like Rick Grimes be concerned with doing the right thing in this world, these become your real concerns. And there’s no way to go back and make a better choice.

And then there’s Life is Strange

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Life is Strange is art from start to finish, no question about it. In the game you play as Max Caulfield who, along with her friend Chloe, try to unravel the disappearance of a girl from their high school. It’s episodic like The Walking Dead, and relies heavily on binary choices where there isn’t a right answer.

But there’s a twist. Max can rewind time.

It’s a useful skill, and game mechanic, that lets you answer questions right in class and solve all sorts of puzzles, but it also makes every decision that much harder. When Chloe is hit by her step father, the head of security at your school, you can rewind time to prevent it. Only then, he sets his sights on getting you kicked out of school. You must choose, your education or Chloe’s momentary safety.

Max and Chloe are our main protagonists, and I found something strange happening to me over the course of the game. I was, as Max, falling in love with Chloe. I wanted, needed, for them to end up together. I started manipulating events so they could be together, and happy. Which meant rewinding time, many, many times to ensure everything turned out alright.

Life is Strange throws moment after moment of this at you, to the point where you feel like you are abusing your abilities, all while increasing use of your powers throws off the natural balance of the world. Yesterday the final episode of Life is Strange came out, and when the final choice arrived I had to put down my controller and think for nearly 15 minutes about what decision I could live with myself for making.

*SPOILERS FOLLOW*

The game begins with Chloe’s death. She is shot dead right in front of you and your desire to see her live is what activates your powers in the first place. Then, in every subsequent episode, Chloe’s life is put in danger again and again.

If you’re a fan on Lost, you might recognize this as Desmond seeing Charlie die and saving him over and over. Or it’s like in Final Destination. Basically, Chloe has to die. And the town the game is set in is hit by a massive hurricane in it’s final episode, destiny coming for Chloe.

Chloe realizes this and asks you to make a sacrifice. Go back in time to that first moment and let her die, thus undoing all the changes you have made as Max. My brain immediately registered that as the “right” thing to do. The choice is made astoundingly clear. Either let Chloe die, or sacrifice the entire town.

And like I said, I was in love with Chloe and Max together.

This time I decided to be selfish. I saved Chloe one last time. I wasn’t going to go through all of this, saving her all these times, just to kill her in the end.

*SPOILERS END*

Life is Strange emotionally wrecked me, and I recommend it for everyone, regardless of video game skill and interest.

This was a game far beyond needing to “beat” it. This was a story I needed to experience. This was something that blinded me with it’s characters and emotions to the point that I didn’t see the big twist coming.

I always see the twist coming. And no, what I mentioned in the spoilers isn’t the big twist.

Life is Strange is something that will stay with me for a long time. Most video games that are objectively art should, much like Journey did in an earlier post. There were no right or wrong choices, and I feel compelled to start a new game. But the real irony is how well that would play into the developer, Dontnod’s, hands. It’ll be traveling back in time with knowledge of the future, and I’m scared of finding out what I can and cannot change.

-JP

P.S. Life is Strange also has a sublime soundtrack. Take a listen.

I am Sad, so Very Very Sad

I’m not happy with myself right now.

I write this post having just returned from a job interview that did not go very well. This is easily the most emotional post I have made, so I’m interested to see where it goes. You have been warned.

Today I interviewed for an assistant position with a talent management company. I was very excited going into the interview because, to be frank, this was the first response I had gotten for an entertainment position since my graduation in May.

They had called me on Friday, I really thought I had botched the phone call because I had forgotten what kind of company they were. I apply to a lot of places and the names of production and management companies can sound extremely similar. I answered the first few questions thinking they were producers only to hear them suggest maybe I’m not interested in their business.

Somehow, that phone call ended with a request to meet for a formal interview today. They had wanted to know what my words per minute was, and I told them I didn’t know but I would take a test over the weekend and have a number by today.

I went in for the interview and immediately started salvaging the phone call. I went through all the motions I have learned to do during an interview and I even thought it was going well. Then…

“So what’s your WPM?”

I realized in that moment that I had entirely forgotten to take the test. I had no frame of reference. I desperately picked a number out of thin air and then lowered it because my brain told me that first number must be too high.

“22.”

“That’s really low.”

SHIT.

Everything fell apart after that. He told me how busy he is and how important his time is. He gave me advice to build up that WPM, something like 75 is good, and informed me that he simply couldn’t afford to wait for someone like me to get up to speed. Then he sent me on my way.

Then I swore at myself the entire ride home.

At first I wanted to blame him. How dare he toss me aside for some bullshit I made up. At least let me fail for my actual merits! But then I remembered what I had said on the phone. I didn’t do the test. I didn’t follow through on what I said I would do, and that’s what really hurt me.

Luckily I have very supportive housemates. They reminded me that this is a learning experience. I will do better the next time. The usual. I’m not very receptive of support when I’m upset with myself.

I should probably see a therapist at some point for that.

Yes, all these things are true. I will never let this happen again. Next time I will have an answer. It’s 56 by the way. But that doesn’t change the fact that I’m not getting interviews, entry level in this town means “2-3 years experience”, and I am very quickly falling out of love with my current job.

Like I said. I’m upset with myself. I know I could have done this job, and even done it well if I had the chance. It’s just that this door I’m sticking my foot in is very heavy, and there are a lot of people pushing it shut on me. There are days, days like today, when I am scared I won’t be able to make it inside.

I need a pick me up.

-JP

P.S. Every time someone in a position of power says, “It’s show business, not show art” I die a little bit inside.

Using my Phone as a Phone

I have some phone calls to make, and I am far too nervous about that.

I shouldn’t be, right? When I was little I made calls all the time when I wanted to have friends over… or whatever I used to do before the internet. But I think that’s where this anxiety– no, wait. That makes it seem like I have social anxiety and I know that isn’t true. It’s more of an apprehension to making calls. I think the internet is where this apprehension comes from.

Generally, most pieces of conversation online is either text only, where both parties have as much time as they like to make sure they are saying the right thing, or with video, where you can get a read on someone’s thoughts as they speak. Even phone texting became the go to means of communication over my lifetime. I text or IM my friends and family, and through this becoming habit I have become less and less comfortable with calling people, especially strangers.

Telephone Apprehension is, according to the internet, a real thing. So of course approach it with skepticism. For plenty of people, they spend extra time trying to use the internet to avoid making the call, they must write a script for every phone call they will make, or they just never make the call at all.

When I am the one answering the phone, I never have this apprehension. I am perfectly comfortable picking up and talking to anyone who has called me. Maybe it’s the position of authority that comes from being on that side of the call. They are trying to talk to me, and nobody is a better expert on that subject. But when I am calling someone else, I lack both the time to respond perfectly that text communications offer, and the understanding that comes with being able to see another person’s face. It’s a disembodied voice, unknowable, and that always makes me nervous.

This is something I’m working on. There are ways to help, once again according to the internet. I can write a script for what I should say. However once I start, I always deviate from it. Still, it gives me a little bit of confidence that I will have something to say once I start. And if I’m feeling extra nervous I act the script out, just to practice the words.

I can try to find that power from being the one answering the phone when I am calling. Yes, they are a disembodied voice. But so am I. I can be nervous when I speak to them and they won’t notice as long as my voice is quaver free.

It helps to be in a comfortable environment. Sometimes that’s my room, sure. But I always felt most comfortable with phone calls when I had a desk job. That business environment kind of promotes phone calls and makes me feel more comfortable with them. It makes me wish for a home office. I’m sure in that kind of setting, quiet and low on distractions, I would be far more efficient with writing and calls than I am now.

When I need to talk to my family back home, I try to call if possible. I’m calling my friends who I’ve moved away from more too. I call them mostly to wish them a Happy Birthday, but I want to expand that to be a call for anything that warrants more than a “like” on Facebook. It’s good. It’s better than texting even. Last week I spoke to two of my friends from NJ on the phone for about two hours. It was awesome.

Most importantly, I need to maintain some perspective. It’s a phone call. What’s the worst that could happen?

That’s mainly why I’m putting this on the blog. Addressing my issue in a public space is forcing me to confront and explain it, and it sounds kind of silly. I have some phone calls to make. I have to make them if I want to move forward with my career today. So it’s time to stop writing about eventually making these calls and make them. If nothing happens, nothing changes. But if something does, then this could be the start of something big.

-JP

P.S. I called them, and they all told me to use their websites to apply for jobs. So yeah.

You Should Be Watching Jane the Virgin

I can distinctly remember the first time I heard about Jane the Virgin. It was during network upfronts, the NFL draft of TV, and this was one of three shows coming to the CW. Jane was entering alongside The Flash and iZombie and one of these things is clearly not like the others.

In fact, I was taken back by how unlike anything else on the network Jane was. This was a one hour dramedy playing in the same court as two shows about superheroes, two about vampires, one about survival in a post apocalypse, and, because it will be on TV forever, Supernatural.

But then I watched the first trailer:

And I didn’t tune in. The premise sounded ridiculous, and silly past me thought that was a bad thing.

That fall season I started watching Gotham and Scorpion, and quickly stopped watching both. They are bad and should feel bad.

Luckily, I started noticing how much the rest of the internet fell in love with the series and decided to start watching. What I discovered was a show that had far more happening beneath the surface.

Yes, Jane the Virgin is about a pregnant virgin.

There’s also a story line about murders happening at the hotel Jane works in. Jane’s long lost father reappears and is a telenovela superstar. She breaks up with her fiance for the father of her child. Her grandmother is pursued by immigration.

Secret lesbian romances!

Surprise deaths!

Secret twins!

This!

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And this!

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And its all tied around a smart, emotional, and character driven story. Not to mention the brilliant performance of star and golden globe winner Gina Rodriguez. She brings a warmth and heart and excitement to Jane that carries the entire show.

I am writing this recommendation today because the second season premieres tonight. Here in LA, every mall seems to be plastered with this poster:

Jane The Virgin

But since LA isn’t real life, I figured nobody else is seeing these around. So I’m here to throw this excellent show in your face.

I’m trying to explain why it’s so good and I fear I am raving like a mad man. I don’t want to tell you too many plot points because SO MUCH HAPPENS in the first season.

What I can tell you is that every episode opens with a Latin Lover Narrator who is more than willing to tell you what has happened, what is happening, and what will happen. Add that to the frequent text on screen helping to break everything down and you get a very dense show that is also easy to follow. It moves in line with my belief that TV needs to be more fun.

Jane the Virgin will add some fun to your Monday night, and I promise you won’t regret it. The first season is currently available on Netflix, which means you just ran out of excuses. There are 22 episodes, and they will be a very easy binge.

I recommend making a weekend of it, bringing friends, and eating some three cheese grilled cheese while you watch. Then when you’re finished, the first episode of season two will already be available on the CW’s website.

Oh and one last thing. These were their Emmy Campaign posters. First for the show and Gina Rodriguez, filled with the words from her excellent Golden Globe acceptance speech:

jane-ad-100px

And then there the one for Jaime Camil:

emmyYou’re welcome indeed.

-JP

P.S. There’s another show premiering after Jane called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. It has a crazy title and an equally mad plot. I expect to fall in love with it too.

Fluency in the Visual Language

“Show, don’t tell”

That’s a common criticism given to writers of television and film. If there is a way to get information across to the viewer by letting them see it, then that is the preferred way over simply talking about that information.

There’s a certain feeling to watching something and being able to figure out a rule without being told directly what the rule is. But at the same time, there is rarely a work of art that requires the viewer to rely on the visual language to understand 100% of the story. It turns out, trusting the audience to understand entirely through the visual, expecting them to be completely fluent, can create the most engaging stories there are.

I will begin on very well worn ground. A video game called “Journey”.

For those who don’t know, Journey is a game where you play as a faceless, nameless, genderless, person making their way through a desert toward a mountain with a great light at the peak.

You are introduced to this story by climbing a hill and then seeing the mountain and light. No one tells you this is where you have to go or what you have to do. In fact, you can try to walk away, but soon find yourself turned back toward the mountain.

As you progress, you discover the history of the world. Not through journals or intricate cut scenes. You walk through it. You find ruins and old murals of civilization. You discover that with scarf fabric you can defy gravity. You see how these living scarfs helped civilization grow, and then you find out how civilization destroyed itself. You encounter machines based on the living scarfs, ones that destroy the originals and try to destroy you. You slide down hills of sand, walk through dangerous caves, climb a snowy mountain, and encounter the entire hero’s journey narrative without a single word being uttered.

The experience makes for one of the most compelling and engrossing video games ever made, and a true work of art. One that I honestly believe makes the player a better audience member than they were before.

This brings me to another desert based story to be understood entirely through visuals. Mad Max: Black and Chrome.

Black and Chrome is a fan edit of Fury Road based on this quote by George Miller:

One thing I’ve noticed is that the default position for everyone is to de-saturate post-apocalyptic movies. There’s only two ways to go, make them black and white — the best version of this movie is black and white, but people reserve that for art movies now. The other version is to really go all-out on the color. The usual teal and orange thing? That’s all the colors we had to work with. The desert’s orange and the sky is teal, and we either could de-saturate it, or crank it up, to differentiate the movie. Plus, it can get really tiring watching this dull, de-saturated color, unless you go all the way out and make it black and white.

He had also wanted a special feature on the Fury Road blu-ray to include a black and white version of Fury Road with all the dialogue audio taken out. Unfortunately, this version was never created for the blu-ray. Happily the internet, much like life, finds a way. An anonymous fan created that exact version of Fury Road.

No dialogue. Black and white. Thus turning the best action movie of the summer into the best silent film of 2015.

And it works! I mean I personally miss the saturated color pallet of the original cut, but the effect of Black and Chrome is striking. The story is told just as well with absolutely zero dialogue audio. I think there’s an experiment in this as well. If an audience member could watch Black and Chrome, and understand it as well as someone who saw the normal cut, then they would have a whole new understanding of the visual language.

This could help anyone in life. Being able to process much more from how things look rather than just what’s being said. It opens up a whole new layer to life. As a person, I want to increase my visual literacy to improve my social capabilities. As a writer, I have to tell stories in the visual language to make them the best they can be.

I know my two examples are very similarly desert themed, and I wonder what other massively effective, mainly visual stories there are out there.

Oh, yeah! The Artist! Hey guys, remember when we gave The Artist an oscar?

-JP

P.S. Black and Chrome has been taken offline due to copyright infringement. It lived, it died, and, since this is the internet, I am sure it lives again somewhere. In the meantime, the fan edit used to be found here: https://blackandchrome.wordpress.com/

The Status is not Quo

Superman is almost powerless and has lost his secret identity.

Thor is a woman.

Batman is Commissioner Gordon in a mech suit.

Captain America is Sam Wilson, a Black man and the former Falcon.

Wonder Woman is the goddess of War.

Iron Man is… okay Iron Man is pretty much the same.

Among many other changes, this is the state of DC and Marvel right now. But as Marvel launches their “All New All Different” Omniverse, and DC sets about to initiate DC You, the companies are taking different approaches to their recent changes. See, Marvel is doubling down on change. It’s not just all new, it’s all different. Then on the other hand DC, after a very disappointing fiscal year, has decided to move back to “Meat and Potatoes” superhero comics.

It’s an odd position for DC to take. They appear to be blaming their riskier changes for a recent downturn in sales and I don’t believe that’s their problem at all. This summer both DC and Marvel released event miniseries which were, on the surface, identical. DC’s Covergence was about a patchwork planet made up of versions of their heroes from every reality ever written struggling to survive into a new reality. Marvel’s Secret Wars, which is still in progress, is about a patchwork planet made up of versions of their heroes from every reality ever written struggling to survive into a new reality. The general consensus is that Secret Wars is better than Convergence, and it isn’t because it’s taking less of a risk. It’s because Secret Wars is being written to show off every different angle that can be taken on your favorite heroes and villains, all depending on the reality around them.

Convergence was written to make your favorite heroes and villains fight. Outside of canon. And also to buy DC time while they moved offices.

That’s what makes the All New All Different titles compelling too. Writers and Artists are finding new angles on old ideas. The Avengers will now feature Thor, Iron Man, and Captain America training the next generation, Ms. Marvel aka Khamala Khan, Spider-Man aka Miles Morales, and Nova aka Sam Alexander. This is not only the most diverse team of Avengers ever, throwing in Vision for that key android demographic, but it’s one that arrives with a purpose beyond “we need an Avengers comic because people buy them.”

It’s finding a new angle on an old idea that keeps bringing people back to the same properties. It was taking Batman from silly and Schumaker to dark and Nolan that brought everyone out to see it. It was making The Amazing Spider-Man movies the same as the originals that kept everyone home.

To put it in terms of a metaphor no one has ever looked so deeply into, how are my meat and potatoes served? Are the potatoes baked or mashed? Can I get garlic potatoes or some gravy? What’s the meat? Chicken, steak, pork? Meat and potatoes don’t have to be a bad thing as long as you change up the formula, but I don’t think that’s what DC is planning.

I used to be the biggest DC comics fan. My favorite superhero was Green Lantern, and I would bring new issues to school and turn all of my friends into fans as well. But about a year ago I realized I was only reading two DC comics, Justice League and Multiversity. Multiversity was written much more like Secret Wars. It explored the multiverse and took new looks at old stories, characters, and tropes. It was outside of the main canon and excellent. At the same time Justice League felt like a chore. They had found a new angle, adding Lex Luthor and Captain Cold to the team, but that was their only title doing anything new and interesting. But that wasn’t even enough because the storytelling was frustrating. Every story line had an issue long prologue and epilogue, with a five issue story between. It was, as they say, written for the trades. So when Multiversity ended, I stopped reading DC.

I’ve begun reading much more third party titles and much more Marvel. Their approach to storytelling feels modern, where a single issue can contain a full story. They have found new angles on old characters that are genuinely exciting and, beyond that, intellectually stimulating. One of the friends I got into comics through Green Lantern wrote his thesis paper on Captain America being a Black man. He has a degree because of comic books (and on a day when I’m feeling particularly egotistical, me). Marvel has refused to maintain their “classic” status quo and I applaud them for it and want more. I have read the stories written from those angles, and they are preserved online forever. New stories shouldn’t feel the same as the old ones, they should feel all new… and all different.

This is all a way of saying that I desperately hope DC still takes some risks, because I want their comics to be good. I eagerly await the day I get back into reading their stuff.

Except Green Lantern. That series should have ended when Geoff Johns finished his story.

-JP

P.S. This is also why I’m hopeful for the Marvel Studios Spider-Man. I’m sure they know of a new angle to come at Peter Parker from.