I fight through the gila monsters, hordes of raiders and a few desert dwellers, turning them all into a thin, red paste in order to retain my claim to the treasure tucked carefully away inside my backpack.  I’ve been waiting for this for ALMOST 30 YEARS!  At last, the prize is mine!

As I reach my cozy little bunker, far away from the radiation zones where my Geiger counter sits silent instead of clacking away, the excitement and tension are palpable in the cloistered air.  Booting up the old kitbashed Commodore 64, I remove the carefully wrapped package, pop in the disk and proceed to install WASTELAND 2.

*****************************

So I purchased this some time ago, but my writing schedule did not permit me to play it.  I admit freely that I can be easily sucked into playing a video game for hours, but I have plenty of self-discipline to not let it turn me into the freak that lives off of cheese puffs and Mountain Dew in their mother’s basement whose only exposure is a trip to answer the door when the UPS or FedEx guy drops off that special collector’s edition Mad Meltdown Mayhem III.  However, I had been eagerly awaiting this one, as stated, for 30 YEARS!  Not that the Fallout series wasn’t fabulous (all of the games are), but Wasteland was the one that got me started, back in the day.  I was a young girl then, and when my brother bought the game and installed it on his Commodore 64 (two disks, double-sided, had to be copied*), I couldn’t wait to get my fingers on that keyboard.

And so it is…

First, I made a team loosely based on my characters from Umbra.  [The following may contain some SPOILERS, if you haven’t read the novel or played either of the games.]  There’s Shaw with his beard and boonie, Mance with his youthful stature and mussed hair, without the robes he wore in the novel, however.  And there’s Vera.  I am absolutely delighted to say that within three minutes of starting the game, she had her goat following her.  Now, Aberforth isn’t Casey, but I can’t get everything I want.  And to round out the team, I included hefty meatsmasher Deergut to give my team a little heavy weapons and brute force.  Deergut wasn’t in Umbra, but he will showing up in one of the sequels…

 WL2 Umbra

It was nice to see the “old faces” in the game, namely General Vargas (‘Snake’), Angela Death**, Thrasher and Hell Razor, and sadly, Ace as a corpse. Makes me wonder who else I am going to see***…

What also got me excited was that they tried to stay true to the locations, as well.  The Ag Center map is much like the map from the original Wasteland, with its desk area at the front, the long corridor in the center and the two garden areas off to the side, complete with the satellite dishes. The Ranger Center, now moved to the Citadel where they originally fought off hordes of evil nuns, even has the museum room with the Secpass in the display. (I guess the Quasar key you found there was left behind at Cochise.)

As for the soundtrack, they get extra kudos for bringing in Mark Morgan who created the music for Fallout 1 & 2.  Anyone who reads me knows I am very picky about soundtracks for games/movies like these, but I can’t say enough about Mark Morgan’s work. “Radiation Storm”, the track played during the Vault Dweller‘s trip to The Glow, still gives me the chills when I hear it.  Talk about creeptastic.  If anything, I am looking to progress through the game not just for the storyline and entertainment of playing an RPG, but for the music Morgan brings to the game.

I was really happy to be playing an isometric style game.  I loved the original Wasteland with its sprite-ful overhead view and the combat screens with portraits and descriptors (note that ‘thin, red paste’ I inserted above. And don’t forget to bring the blood sausage!), and I really grew to love the visuals of Fallout.  This game is no different, giving it a retro but not too retro feel.  I am able to accomplish a lot of tactics that I enjoyed setting up, like the crouch and headshot (headshots! woot!) for my sniper in order to get the ‘party’ started, and I like the ambush function.  My only gripe with that feature, however, is that they ALL shoot/aim for the same target on the ambush.  I wouldn’t mind having a simple “wait” so that my sniper, for example, could use her turn on the high-value targets instead of the fodder that can be cleaned up with a club or a simple burst from an SMG when they wander into firing range.  If they change this in an update (which they may already have, but my internet connection is spotty so getting the old computer to a place to DL them is a trip rather than a normal occurence), I will be one happy camper.

I could go on and on, but I think a full play-through will be necessary, and probably more than one, since the very beginning of the game sets it up for multiple playthroughs with different outcomes.  I’ve been having a grand time getting in an hour of gametime a day, so I see this one keeping my schedule occupied for quite a while.  So far, I am going to give the game 4-1/2 out of 5 mushroom clouds.

 

*This was done so that changes made during gameplay were maintained throughout the world, something few if any other games did at the time.  You couldn’t go blow a place up, leave the local map and come back to find everything intact.  Your actions mattered.  This is fairly standard now, but a lot of credit goes to the developers for the persistence of behavior and consequences in Wasteland.  Of course, if I wanted to play the same area over again, I could make another copy of that side of the disk and play ‘fresh’.  I suspect that was how a lot of people, myself included, got their Rangers absurdly high promotions.

**Minor break in continuity, if you had the Strategy Guide from the original Wasteland like I do (yes, I still have my copy).  Angela gets fatally gutted and they leave her behind, and SOMEONE is an android.  Good reading though.

***I hope the reference to the ‘blue woman’ is actually ‘purple’ and happens to be Charmaine, one of my favorite characters from the original game.

So, yes, I know the movies isn’t exactly this summer’s blockbuster, but when I read back over some of my old posts from a different site, I noticed a glaringly obvious snafu.  I promised a review of The Book of Eli when it came out, but I never delivered.

Well, ‘never’ is such an absolute term.  And I am here to rectify my error and nullify that ‘never’.

The Book of Eli stars Denzel Washington as Eli, most often referred to as ‘The Walker’ for the duration of the movie (in fact, his name is said only once, and is written once on a tag and carved into stone).  Mila Kunis plays Solara, the girl who becomes his sidekick by circumstances addressed in the film.

Post-Apoc, this baby takes the cake, eats it and bakes us another one.  The visuals in this movie capture all of the bleak and decaying landscape fans of PA and games like Fallout and Wasteland could ever desire.  One particular scene of Eli peering up at the broken, curving highway directly recalls similar images from Fallout 3’s Capital Wasteland.

The music was very hit or miss for me.  If anyone’s read my review of The Road, they would know that I favor a ‘less is more’ soundtrack for films like this.  Part of the scoring with the languid, melancholy cello seemed perfect, like endless drifting.  Too much of the heavier ‘rock-like’ music felt invasive.  The insertions of other music via the iPod or the radio felt right, and also seemed like something pulled from Fallout (I especially loved the ‘soothing’ song, ‘Ring My Bell’.  Proved this film had a sense of humor, too.)  Fans of Fallout 3 will also find a familiar face (voice) but I won’t spoil that.

I generally love anything Denzel involves himself in, and this film is not an exception to that.  Not a huge fan of Mila Kunis, but she didn’t grate on me in this film, although her character didn’t develop as much as I’d like.

SPOILER ALERT:

The ending image bothered me in that it seemed too amorphous.  I would have liked to see a complete circle happen in this story.  Having her take some of the Bibles with her would have given the sense of completion.  Eli brought the Bible to the place he intended, and now she is taking it (them) away, on another trip, to distribute.

END SPOILER ALERT:

In all, the only gripe I had with The Book of Eli was a very personal one: some of the images I found in the movie were ones I had already written into a very early draft of Umbra: A Post-Apocalyptic Mystery.  Some things that I conjured up seemed too familiar, too similar and so I felt forced to abandon those particular scenes and characters I had grown to love for fear of being labeled a plagarist.  Someone may still point out that a few of the ones I left in were still enough to evoke those similarities between the two, but for some reason or another, I couldn’t give them up, and they stay, albeit as modified as I could bear to change them.  In a very odd way, I suppose it’s flattering.  After all, the movie proved that some of the ideas I came up with would work, and work well.  (This happened to me quite a few times, sadly enough, while writing other stories during my childhood and early teenage years, when I began to think that someone was copying ideas from my brain.  At least that’s the only logical explanation.  I will just say that one of the Predator stories, as told by Dark Horse comics, is frighteningly close to ideas I developed in unpublished fan fiction.  Cree~py.)

Overall, I liked the movie. 4/5 Mushroom Clouds.

It’s FINISHED.  The Opal Necklace is finished.

That’s right, my NaNoWriMo torture time is finally over.  What I ended up with was one great big, steaming pile of verbal crap.  (See, Hemingway, you were right!)

Not literally, of course.  Not the ‘steaming part’, anyway.

However, this one is going to go simmer on the back burner in hopes that I can take the excrement and somehow magically convert it into a savory pot of tasty sauce. Or at least an edible one.

By ignoring the manuscript for, say, a month or two, I can come back to it with a fresh eye. I have my technical specialists who look over some of the aspects (thanks Dave and Greg!) but as for the entire thing, I need to step away from it and pretend I am reading it for the first time.

I’ve also been reading Syd Field’s books, in particular the one on Screenwriter Problem Solving.

Anyone who tells you that novels/plays/screenplays are different… well, they’re correct. They ARE different, but only in nuance. They should all convey the story by showing, not telling (c’mon, I know you’ve heard that one a thousand times before), and even the stage play benefits by minimizing the exposition and the talking heads* doing nothing but droning on alone or at one another. I think it was Blake Snyder of Save the Cat! fame who said if you have to have some exposition, at least bury it in the characters doing something exciting (paraphrasing here).

HOWEVER, saying that a novelist cannot benefit from research into how a screenplay is constructed would be the biggest crime of all. After all, screenplays are three-act structures and the same pacing of good films is really the target that I am aiming for. (I don’t particularly like to read rambling, whatever happens, happens kind of fiction, and I don’t like to write it either.)  Everything in the first two acts of the story builds up to the climax, contributing to the resolution and finale. I like to write out all of my scenes on index cards and “marry them” up with the points on Syd Field’s Paradigm. It’s a fantastic way to see where I might be spending too much time in the setup, for example, or rushing my ending in just a couple of pages. Last thing I need is my reader to go looking for missing pages at the end of the book because the conclusion felt so unsatisfyingly short. While I am not suggesting that all books should end up like ready-to-film, there are plenty of lessons to be learned from the tension and conflict suggestions I’ve already found in Syd Field’s books.

 

*Someone I once knew happened to rape the whole graphic novel medium by having his characters do little more than talk to each other for the length of the comic, while lounging around.  Mediocre art aside, one particular excruciating page had 16 FACES of back and forth conversation depicting indiscernable facial expression changes, and just their heads. It is called a ‘graphic novel’ for a reason, for heaven’s sake!

Thank goodness that one is not indicative of all graphic novels.  There are quite a few which had no words at all, but the story couldn’t be more brilliantly clearer because the action in the artwork conveyed the entire thrust.  Talk about your “show, don’t tell”!

Real Help on Thanksgiving

Posted: November 26, 2014 in Just a Thought
Tags: , ,

Thanksgiving is around the corner! While plenty of us are planning on trucking out to homes of friends and family on order to get their turkey grub on, there are some who are worried about a place to live.

While I like to help folks under “umbrella” charities, it’s good to make it personal every once in a while.

So this guy, who is a friend of a friend, was more worried about how his loyal and beloved pup was going to fare than himself! Looks like he’s got some help for the pup, but HE needs plenty of help too and I want to see him have the most Thanksgiving-ever-after in spite of the shit hand he’d been dealt. Being a veteran myself, those who have served and continue to serve hold a special place in my heart.

Help here.

Or night job, as the case may be. Lately, I’ve been tempted to throw in the towel and give up the rat race. I’m sure most people have experienced the uglier side of office politics (not ‘what’ but ‘who’ you know and how far you’re willing to stick your nose up their butt), or the stereotyping (that person’s just a dumb admin who can’t read too good) or even vicious racism or misogyny.

But… There’s a time to get disgusted and walk out, and there’s a time to hang tough. Not just for the steady paychecks (big, big reason to hang on, to be sure), but also for the conflict. I’ve frequently been finding myself thinking of the events at work: “wow, this situation reminds me of a story I read once.” Sometimes I even think what’s happening right in front of me would have required a massive suspension of disbelief in order to incorporate into a story — “you can’t make this crap up” is a common phrase uttered at work. And if it wasn’t so personal, it would be hilarious. Maybe a little softening over time and I’ll have a comic bestseller.

While I’m working on the next stories (I anticipate having Belly of the Beast published early next month), hoping I’ll be able to earn enough from my writing to keep a roof over my head and some food in my fridgeI’ll keep at it and think of it as inspiration to

And Office Space, believe it or not, is not as strange as it seems to be. Anyone who worked in an office can attest to this. The scenes with the copier? Spot on.

Yes, it’s true, apparently. Over at Authorgraph, readers can request an inscription and signature for their digital copies, and I am happy to provide the service for my readers.

In the middle of NaNoWriMo, I have chosen to forego some of my word count in favor of a vacation. True, I had planned to take a break way back in the distant past (July 2014. Ancient times, you know) but in choosing not to write as much as I normally do per day during this month, I have been able to let some of the ideas simmer. And like anyone who makes spaghetti sauce (or tomato gravy, if you happen to be from Philly), the more they simmer the thicker and tastier it gets. Unfortunately, instead of the ideas for my NaNoWriMo novel, I found some ideas for the sequel to Umbra worked their way into my brain. Can’t entirely fault it, but it’s just as well, since I had been deciding whether or not to restructure my schedule and do the sequel earlier in 2015. Now I’m actually pretty eager to let the ideas get out and play around on the page. So Shaw and Vera and the others may just be making appearances earlier than expected. Stay tuned.