Monday, April 30, 2012

GameCola Recap: April 2012

Holy Hatris! Thanks to a frenzy of podcasting activity, some exciting news in the adventure gaming world, and the celebration of its tenth anniversary, videogame humor website was inundated with my participation in the month of April. Looking back through the archives, there haven't been this many articles with my name attached to them since February 2010!

I need a nap.


- The Archive Dive: GameCola's 10th Anniversary Edition [Collaboration with Paul Franzen]


- See Ya on the Chronostream...Again?


- GC Podcast #38: UNCUT [April Fools' gag]

- GC Podcast #39: It's Pronounced "Crystalis"

- The GameCola 10th Anniversary 10-Hour Podtacular Is Live NOW!


- GameCola 10th Anniversary Blowout Extravaganza Collaboration Celebration

- GC Podcast #33 on YouTube: 3D Games

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Sunday Spotlight: "The Customer Is Always Right"

When I was younger, my family used to frequent a store called Stew Leonard's--"The World's Largest Dairy Store." A twisting labyrinth of produce and animatronic livestock, Stew's was, by far, the most fun place a kid could possibly hope to go grocery shopping. Engraved in a big stone at the entrance were the following two rules:

1. The customer is always right.
2. If the customer is ever wrong, re-read rule #1.

At the time, I assumed these rules to mean that, should the customer tell a Stew's employee to give him or her free ice cream, the employee should comply without delay. Were the employee to argue with the customer, he or she could simply point to rule #2 on the big stone, and shrug. Of course, I realize those rules weren't intended to be so grossly misinterpreted, but those rules were literally set in stone. No matter how you phrase it, the sentiment is the same: the customer always comes first.

A sentiment that Blogger, YouTube, Facebook, Pandora, and Microsoft all seem to have forgotten.

My displeasure with the current layout of all things electronic is a subject I've written about more than once, but no amount of griping is going to fix the situation. Whining about it might make me feel better, but it won't change Blogger's deceptively clunky new interface, and it won't make Facebook's Timeline go away. Given enough time, I'll learn how to deal with these alterations, and I may even grow to appreciate some of the new features...but I will not abide total complacency.

I may be just one customer in a crowd of billions, but I am a customer who is tired of being told, in one form or another, that he is wrong. Wrong not to embrace every change with open arms. Wrong to be content with anything that works just fine. You can please all the people some of the time, and you can please some people all of the time, but you can no longer please Nathaniel Hoover at any time, and that's what's truly wrong. After gradually warming up to The Next Big Thing in computers, telephones, cars, and video games for two or three decades--no matter how hideous, cumbersome, or impractical I may have found them to be--I've finally discovered an age of technology so far removed from my style that I am honest-to-goodness on the verge of disconnecting myself entirely from the modern era.

If you were to have asked me eight months ago what I wanted to improve about the websites, programs, and operating systems I frequently use, I would have given you a short list of minor suggestions. A tweak here; a modification there. If you were to ask me today what I wanted to improve, I'd have a laundry list of corrections to the appearance and functionality of virtually everything I use. This goes beyond simply being comfortable with the old ways and requiring time to adjust to the new ways; there has been an unmistakable shift in perceptions regarding what the customer wants and needs.

What I want and what I need out of my technology haven't changed. Let me write my posts, watch my videos, read my comments, listen to my music, and access my programs, tools, and documents as efficiently and effortlessly as possible. I am outraged not just because the new formats barely resemble the old ones I liked, but because the interfaces are now herding me toward using technology in a way that's inconsistent with the way I've always used it. I objected in school when I was forced to take notes in a way that wasn't helpful to me; I objected when the physical effort became a mandatory part of playing video games; I object now to the penetration of social media in all aspects of electronic culture, and to the insistence that every option needs to be neatly tucked away in a tab or sidebar so that the ugliness of convenience doesn't interfere with our appreciation of how clean and organized everything is.

I also object to the fact that the "New Blog" button is larger and more obvious to me than the "New Post" button.

I'm here to generate content, and to interact with people on my own terms. If you think you can make it easier for me, be my guest--but give me the option to turn you down. Give me the option to reorganize the interface to my liking. And don't involve me in your feud--now that Google+ is a competitor to Facebook, Blogger users are being punished for being affiliated with Google through Facebook's Open Graph Protocol, which demands careful reading and a certain degree of HTML skill to implement in Blogger--but which any WordPress user can blindly implement with a few button clicks thanks to a convenient plugin Facebook is providing to them and only to them. I'm not even on Google+ and my blog is suffering because neither Google nor Facebook is offering an obvious, simple solution that doesn't involve switching to WordPress.

The Pepsi company doesn't penalize me for eating at a restaurant that serves Coke products.

I have been frustrated, annoyed, and inconvenienced on a daily basis ever since these massive changes began, and no amount of "learning to deal with it" is going to fix the situation. I'm not demanding free ice cream here; I want my posts to actually get published on time like they did two weeks ago. I want to stop concocting my own workaround every time you break something. The amount of patience and effort required for me to maintain the old status quo is just as staggering as the amount of patience and effort required for me to adjust to the new status quo.

I'm not entirely happy with the new Pandora, but the basic interface still works well enough. Office 2010 and Windows 7 are required at work, but they have enough merit and customizability to be tolerable. As for everything else, it's no longer the services offered that are keeping me tethered to them--it's the people. I've got plenty of other outlets for my creative endeavors, but Blogger, YouTube, and Facebook, are about the only way I keep in touch with some of my family and friends. If it weren't for the people, I wouldn't be anywhere near these sites right now. I'd be writing a D&D quest or hammering away at a new article for GameCola, which runs on WordPress and is already fully compatible with Facebook.

Ironic that I'm being driven away from family and friends by changes that, in large part, are intended to keep us socially connected. Either the customer isn't always right, and I'm completely missing the point of the websites I've been using comfortably for years, or the customer is always right, and the developers and designers of these websites have mistaken a vocal majority (or worse yet, a vocal minority) for their larger customer base.

Either way, the end result is the same: I am exhausted, unhappy, and seriously questioning the value of continuing to fight Blogger, YouTube, and Facebook at every turn. And if the customer is always right, then there's nothing wrong with him taking his business elsewhere.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Weekend Writing

On Thursday I was tasked with a pretty cool job. Along with a couple of coworkers, I'll be writing an episode of a YouTube show for my company. It's a cool opportunity, and one I'm really, really excited about.

Of course, it's due first thing Monday morning, and we've all been slammed this week with other stuff, so the bulk of the writing will have to take place, with haste, this weekend.

It's not the fact that we'll need to do some work on the weekend that's got me worried, though.

I'm used to working through Saturday and Sunday, and honestly, I prefer working over the weekend to working in the office during the week, because of the lack of meetings and other distractions that just don't happen on weekends.

What's got me a bit worried is the fact that there's the distinct possibility that a hundred thousand people will be watching the show we're writing.

The script is due Monday morning, they film it Monday afternoon, and it'll be edited and released sometime early next week.

So right now, my usual, happily neurotic self is busy being a bit more happily neurotic than usual.

Like I said, I'm quite pumped up to have the chance to write this bad boy, and I just don't want to screw it up. The show is supposed to be funny, so we'll need to write funny stuff for it. Writing funny is incredibly difficult, as I prove almost daily on this blog.

But it's a beautiful Saturday here at Exfanding HQ, my computer is up and running, and my funny bone has been tickled. Also, I'm thirsty.

So I'm gonna go hunker down in my hole and churn out a script for Monday. Depending on how it goes, I'll even provide a link to the show next week. And, hey, if it turns into a complete disaster, at least it'll make for an interesting post. 

Friday, April 27, 2012

Suit Up!

Using a trio of images found on a website called Anime Paper, I've created a new Metroid desktop wallpaper for my computer. I like it so much that I figured I'd share. Click to enlarge--it's 1440 x 900, but you can effectively resize to smaller resolutions if you stand farther away from your monitor.

From left to right, that's the Light Suit and Dark Suit from Metroid Prime 2, and the PED Suit from Metroid Prime 3. Not pictured: the Zero Suit, which was cool until it sprouted high heels and became the only suit anybody remembers Samus having in the last five years.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Writing, Ironically

There’s a strange irony about being paid to write things for a living and not having any time to write things outside of work. As with most things in my life, irony is pretty much old hat for me, so I’ve come to accept the fact that, once I became a “professional” “writer” I pretty much abandoned all outside writing.

Which kinda stinks, because writing about whatever I want to write about is pretty much my favorite thing in the world.

My “off” days are spent writing about the things I couldn’t finish writing on my on-days, so when I finally have a few moments when something’s not due, or something’s not about to be due, I prefer to stare at a wall, blankly.

And, really, is there any other way to stare at a wall? Not for my money, there’s not.

Not for my money.

It’s gotten to the point where things like this happen. See, when I started writing this post, oh, about five minutes ago I’d say, I knew where it was going. The general direction was in place, and I had a beginning, a middle, and an end.

Now, though? Nope. Completely forgot what I was trying to accomplish with this.

So, instead, I’ll link out to a really interesting interview with Grant Morrison about Batman. And how, in Morrison’s words, “Gayness is built into Batman.” Go check it out here. It’s definitely worth a read.

Also, just to chime in on the matter, I completely despise this new Blogger. It's annoying, non-functional, and certainly not user-friendly. Other than that, though? It's a fantastic achievement in...[insert something snarky here].

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Waiting for Wednesday, Volume 4, Issue 17


Not gonna have the time today to write up a proper Waiting for Wednesday, so instead I’ll make it short, sweet, and to the point.

It’s Wednesday, it’s a beautiful day out there, and comics shops have new product just waiting for you to go out and pick up. So today, take a little field trip on your lunch break and venture out to your nearest comic book proprietor.

And while you’re there, pick up the latest issue of The Goon, from Dark Horse Comics and Eric Powell. Also, today's a good day to jump onto Wolverine from Marvel, as a new creative team takes over with an all-new storyline.

Sorry, folks. I'm not gonna be much more of a help than that. I'll be back tomorrow with a real post.


 In the meantime, what are you Waiting for?

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Monsters as an Alternative to Creative Interior Decorating

[Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3 - Part 4 - Part 5 - Part 6 - Part 7 - Part 8]

Now we had a premise. The heroes had agreed to test the effectiveness and security of a training facility run by Ziggy Frood, a wizard not entirely uninspired by some of the hippie surfer bums from Hawaii Five-O (which I'd been watching on Netflix at the time). The agreement was that the party would be healed and resurrected should any calamity befall them, and their short-term memories would be wiped so as not to allow any biases or preconceived notions about how to approach the challenges. Unbeknownst to the party and the wizard, the gnomes who had been funding the whole endeavor had decided to pull the plug on Ziggy's funding--in other words, no more resurrections. What was supposed to be an ultimately harmless (albeit eccentric) exercise between good guys had turned the wizard into a bad guy, without him realizing it.

Actually, I'm getting a little ahead of myself. By the time I had finished drawing the empty, circular room that was the ground floor, only part of the premise was fleshed out. I knew the tower was going to be some sort of school, but I still couldn't decide whether it should be a wizarding school, or a janitorial school, or what. So, I bought some time for myself by using the second floor of the tower as the dormitory level. Surely by the time I was done drawing the beds and the bathroom and the dining hall, I'd have figured things out.

As a side note, a characteristic anachronism of my generally low-tech campaign settings is that they all have bathrooms with running water and flush toilets. I don't know why that is. It's just the way it's always been.

I always struggle when it comes to designing bedrooms, kitchens, and other areas that are more often assumed to exist in an RPG than actually shown. Unless there's a particular reason for a party to visit them (beyond thorough exploration), it's tough for me to do anything other than jam them in out of a sense of obligation to some sort of realism. Thus, there were many bland rooms with little other than basic furniture in place.

If the students were supposed to be on break or not even at the tower yet, the second floor would seem especially barren. It wouldn't make much sense for there to be random monster encounters, and no particularly good skill challenges or puzzles seemed appropriate. Once more, Dungeonscape to the rescue: instead of having a dungeon with designated locations for each encounter and event, why not have a dynamic dungeon with a life of its own, that the heroes happen to be interrupting? What if the caretaker--say...a minotaur--was patrolling the floor? And what if there was a shopkeeper--the owner of the "school store," as it were--who might interact with the caretaker should they ever cross paths? I could always spice up the rooms with some vivid descriptions of how boring they are--the real focus of this floor would be its inhabitants.

I wanted a monster for a shopkeeper. Poking around my various Monster Manuals for something exotic, and of an appropriate challenge rating should fighting break out, I selected one of the more unlikely options for a shopkeeper: a redcap.

Brutal and nearly insane, redcaps are the kind of monster that would sooner slice you open and soak its fashionable hat in your blood than quibble over exact change. However, there are always exceptions, and there's usually at least one way to twist a monster's normal behavior to conform to whatever unusual role you might have for it. Redcaps, for example, are very superstitious. They also have been known to hole up in abandoned locations such as old towers. Suppose one outcast redcap gets separated from the pack, finds an empty tower, decides to make himself at home, and then encounters a persuasive wizard who does a little bit of sweet-talking and bargaining to get the redcap to stay on as a shopkeeper...setting some very clear boundaries by persuading the redcap it's "bad luck" to do one thing and not do another thing. It's bad luck to eat the customers, for instance. See? Perfectly logical redcap shopkeep.

As for the minotaur caretaker, he could simply be a hired hand who has grown too old and wise to lust for battle the way his more reckless kin do. Moreover--and this would work nicely once I'd established the tower as a battle academy, too--he'd still be capable of scaring off any hoodlums and would-be invaders. Not too capable, mind you; the heroes still had to be able to take him down if push came to shove. A half-blind minotaur (so, 50% miss chance), with no weapons other than his natural attack (gore 2d6+STR, if I recall correctly, with a lower strength score due to his advanced age) would be appropriate against a party of three low-level characters, I thought.

To add to the fun, the key to unlock the door to the next level would be dangling from a ring placed atop one of the minotaur's horns. Victory in combat, sleight-of-hand, or a clever ploy to otherwise separate the key ring from the minotaur would be the order of the day, and the otherwise dull rooms on the second floor could provide interesting opportunities for the party: scoop up the key ring from atop one of the bunk beds, or knock over the stew pot in the kitchen and grab it while he's leaning over to clean up the mess, perhaps.

Between the monster merchant and the roaming caretaker, there was finally enough for the party to do on this floor. Next up was the final floor of the tower before the roof, but the roof would only serve a brief story purpose--the real action, and the final showdown, would be just ahead.

[To be continued in Part 5.]

Monday, April 23, 2012

Exfanding Review: Batman in the New 52

First off, a quick apology for the weirdness with the posting times the last few days. I guess it started on Thursday or Friday, when a post of mine that was scheduled for 1:00 just...never posted. Nathaniel noticed it and manually published, but it seems like things continued acting strangely over the weekend. Sorry about that, folks, but (for once) it wasn't our fault!

With all the strangeness we've been experiencing with the new Blogger, I'm just hoping this will actually post today, at the time I've set it for. Guess we'll just have to wait and see.

Right. So...

Anyone reading Batman lately? Because I certainly am. Reading Batman, I mean.

While it's true that the Dark Knight has had a couple of rough years in the comics universe--including his long and drawn out "death" and eventual return--it's safe to say that The Bat is back in top form, thanks to writer Scott Snyder and artist Greg Capullo.

Snyder, who's now arguably become DC's top writer thanks to his success on Batman and American Vampire, had a nearly one-year-long stint writing the Dick Grayson Batman. That run was met with critical and fan acclaim, and it cemented Snyder's place atop DC's next wave of creators.

When the publisher relaunched their books with the New 52, Snyder teamed up with artist Greg Capullo to reintroduce Batman to the fanbase. Just eight issues into their run, Snyder and Capullo have delivered what I think is DC's best superhero book, bringing a younger, more thoughtful version of Bruce Wayne into the DC Universe.

This Batman is analytical; a true detective in every sense of the word. He's also incredibly skilled and resourceful, as one might expect from the Caped Crusader.

What sets this new version of Batman apart, though, is that he's still learning. He's still figuring things out, from how best to curb Gotham's crime rate to how to deal with the city itself.

Right off the bat (ha!), we're introduced to The Court of the Owls, an ancient and secret society that has been around since Gotham's earliest days.

The Court is exceedingly dangerous and they aim to shape Gotham exactly to their liking. Despite the claims of Gothamites that The Court is nothing more than a fairy tale, weird signs have been popping up since the book's first issue, leading to the first "event" of the New 52: Night of the Owls.

While I'm not exactly the biggest supporter of event books (especially lately, as Marvel's Avengers vs. X-Men has hit all the wrong notes with me), I am a big fan of events that are fairly contained. And, with Night of the Owls, I feel like I can get away with just reading the main Batman book.

However, I enjoyed the first issue of the event so much, that I ended up buying a Bat-title I'd never before picked up. Now that is what an event should do for readers--give the main story in one book, but make things interesting enough that the reader wants to pick up ancillary titles, but doesn't necessarily need to do so in order to follow the story.

Marvel, take note.

Anyway, Night of the Owls kicked off in Batman, issue 8, and, boy, did things escalate quickly. Tons of intrigue and tons of action, right from the start of the issue.

And the best part? You don't need to be steeped in any kind of continuity to get what's going on. All you need is the following, conveniently provided by DC on their website:

The wait is over, and the war for Gotham City is about to begin. Pitting Batman and the extended Bat-family against the Court of Owls and their sinister agents, the long-awaited “Night of the Owls” crossover kicks off this week.

A shadowy secret society with deathless assassins known as Talons to execute its malevolent will, the Court has roots that reach back into Gotham’s deep past – and now this cadre of killers has mounted an all-out assault to exert its influence on the city’s present. It’s the Court of Owls versus the Allies of the Bat to determine once and for all who will rule the shadows of Gotham City.

Seriously, that's all you need to know io order to enjoy this book. If you've been looking to try a Bat book but have held out for precisely the right moment, I'd say that moment has arrived. So go ahead--check out Batman, and tell 'em Exfanding sent you!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Sunday Spotlight: Free Time

Yeah, don't seem to have much of it this week.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

GameCola's 10th Anniversary Podtacular!

Just a quick link post to help explain why I've been so absent from the blog this week: Sunday, April 22, 2012 is the tenth anniversary of, and among other things, I've been throwing myself into a big collaborative post that'll hopefully be posted by the time you read this.

Tomorrow, though, is The Big Day, and to celebrate ten years of videogame humor, we're doing ten hours of continuous podcasting. I, of course, will be participating for at least an hour, possibly two. More info at the link below!

Friday, April 20, 2012

Amazing Adventures in Self Publishing! Part Four

[Continued from Part Three.]

There’s a lot going on here at Exfanding HQ today, so I’ll be pretty brief. Instead of giving up on writing the next part of my (EPIC!) Adventures in Self Publishing! missive, though, I think there’s something pretty relevant to talk about.

Specifically, my lack of any free time to work on side projects.

This weekend will be my last relatively quiet one for a while, as I’m working through next weekend and then...well, who knows? So, despite the fact that I have two family commitments (one on Saturday and one on Sunday), I still plan to carve out at least a couple of hours to devote to my little publishing venture.

I’m in a holding pattern for the moment, but once I get final art pages from my artist, things are going to pick up considerably. So, my time now needs to be spent figuring out how to make that time as painless as possible.

Because my book has a spooky feel to it, our plan has been to release the book sometime around October.

Which means it’ll need to be printed by end of summer. Which means, in the next few weeks, I need to figure out how I’m going to print it (preferably without going bankrupt) and how I’m going to distribute, both physical copies and digitally.

As that’s happening, we’ll also need to launch our marketing campaign, which will be grass roots.

For any of this to happen, of course, I need to have the time to sit down and do it. And time has been the most fleeting of luxuries as of late.

I’m not gonna sit here and use this space to say something like, “If you really want something, you need to just go out and do it.” While good advice, it’s also impractical and, well, stupid, and I’ll be darned if my quasi-journal of starting a publishing company will include something as contrived and clichéd as that sentiment.

Most people have other, more pressing matters to take into consideration—like fulltime work, or family, or looking for fulltime work while trying to raise a family, and the thought of neglecting all of that to pursue a dream? As romantic as it may sound, it’s just not for me.

Let me put this right out there: I do not, nor have I ever, bought into the “Starving Artist” philosophy.

I believe that, while one’s art (whatever that may entail) should be an important—and, frankly, huge—part of one’s life, it cannot get in the way of one’s life.

There are all these great stories about indy filmmakers quitting their jobs, maxing out their credit cards, giving it “one last shot” to make it. Those stories are wonderful and inspiring and incredibly reckless. And I can hear you say, “Sometimes we all need to be a little reckless.”

Sure, but also remember that we usually only hear about the times that recklessness leads to something great and not the countless times recklessness leads to something not so great.

So here’s my thinking on the matter: Be responsibly reckless.

Huh. I think that’s my new motto.

[Continued in Part Five.]

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Amazing Adventures in Self Publishing! Part Three

[Continued from Part Two.]

I think the single harshest word in the English language is, “No.”

I also think “no” is the one word that can really drive me to get off my backside and get motivated. So, in a weird, in-Alex’s-head-only-does-this-make-sense kinda way, “no” is also my favorite word in the English language.

It’s a good motivator, is what I’m trying to say.

I can’t help my ineloquence.

You see, I have a lot of ideas floating around in my coconut, and some of them are even worthwhile. I tend to get very passionate about things, and once I have my heart and/or mind set on something, I get really frustrated if I can’t see it to fruition.

When I started my own (tiny, independent) publisher with two of my best friends, one of the biggest reasons to actually go out and do stuff on our own was the simple concept of not having anyone there to tell us “no.”

It’s our money, it’s our time, and when it comes down to it, it’s whatever we want to publish, in whatever form we want to publish in.

I’d had the idea for a publishing house for quite a while, but it took a conversation one Sunday morning in an NYC diner to put the idea into practice. It’s always more fun to do stuff with friends, so we decided to give it a go.

Sure, it’s been a slow ride to where we are today, and we still have, well, pretty much all the work still in front of us, but we’re at the really exciting part.

As I’ve said in previous posts, I’m now waiting on the final art for my children’s book, which will be the first product we put out as a publisher.

But I think it’s important for us to establish ourselves as being capable of producing new, different, high-quality work. That last bit—the high quality part—is super important. We need to be able to show that we can go toe-to-toe with the big boys in terms of production value, even if—heck, especially because—we’re just three people who decided to start a publisher.

I know we have some cool stuff that we can show the world. I know that we have the independent spirit within us, and that we’re totally capable of pulling this off. Next time, I’ll talk about the process of “pulling it off.”

Stay tuned...

[Continued in Part Four.]

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Waiting for Wednesday, Volume 4, Issue 16

And, hey, look at that! It’s Wednesday again! Which is nice, because I’m in need of a trip to the comics shop.

Lessee what’s on tap for today...

There’s Rachel Rising, issue 7, by the incredibly talented Terry Moore, and the latest issue of Vertigo’s excellent Hellblazer series (issue 290). Hmmm...what else? We’ve got issue number 8 of DC’s very best comic book of the past year, Batman, written by Scott Snyder and with art by Greg Capullo.

Marvel has another big week as Avengers vs. X-Men, issue 2, hits stands today. This is a make-or-break issue for me, as I really wasn’t all that thrilled with the first issue.

But for my part, I’d rather talk about a book that came out last week. That’s just how I roll.

Last week, Oni Press released the first volume in their new hardcover collections of Ted Naifeh's Courtney Crumrin series, which is celebrating its ten-year anniversary. I, however, had never read any of the books in the series until last night, when my order arrived from Amazon.
I read that first volume, entitled Courtney Crumrin and the Night Things, in one sitting, and immediately set about pre-ordering the subsequent volumes.

The book is wonderful--great, crisp, smart writing and perfectly cute, creepy illustrations. At times a biting satire of societal tendencies and at times a really good, scary story, Crumrin brilliantly delivers a post-modern fairy tale with characters who are both real and over the top.

Here's the solicitation information from the publisher:

Fan-favorite and critical darling Courtney Crurmin is back in a series of newly remastered, full-color hardcover editions! Courtney's parents have dragged her out to a high-to-do suburb to live with her creepy Great Uncle Aloysius in his spooky old house. She''s not only the new kid in school, but also discovers strange things lurking under her bed!

If you have the chance, be sure to try this book out. And be sure to catch the new ongoing, which started last week.

Okay, time to go. Before I do, though, what are you Waiting for?

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Circular Logic

[Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3 - Part 4 - Part 5 - Part 6 - Part 7 - Part 8]

In my time as a Dungeon Master, I've created a lot of circular rooms. Big ones, small ones, some as big as your head--assuming your size category is Gargantuan or larger. It is increasingly difficult to come up with new ideas for them, in part because I have a strong drive to make my circular rooms symmetrical, and to fill them will pillars.

Anyone who's ever played in any of my campaigns will tell you there must be pillars.

So, there would be a circle of pillars on the ground floor of the tower. And if the elevator wasn't lined up to emerge in the center of the room, I'd just put the stairs up to the next level in a symmetrical location. Add the huge (locked) doors to the outside world, and we'd be all set. All set with absolutely nothing. Either I needed some creativity, fast, or I needed a good explanation for why this room was so barren.

I thought for a little bit. What if this tower was a training facility? The evil wizard I wanted to have as the "final boss" could run the place, and perhaps his students could have wizard duels here on the ground level, hiding behind pillars and Wingardium Leviosaing people when they least expected it. Wrong fantasy world, sure, but I could see this tower as a sort of modest Hogwarts for the bad guys. The jail in the basement could be where they kept monsters and prisoners to be dragged out for training exercises, too--now things were starting to come together.

However, with the underground storage area still somewhat under construction, and heroes who would be ill-prepared to take on a horde of trainee spellcasters at this point in the quest (unless the spellcasters were spectacularly terrible, in which case it might be funny to watch the enemies blow themselves up), it made sense for this quest to take place either between semesters (if this was a sort of wizard university) or before the tower's grand opening, when people roaming around would be at a minimum.

Still...the room felt a little empty. Perhaps a statue of the villain they'd eventually fight might be a nice touch. Wizards like feeling self-important, and what better first impression of a school than to see the headmaster's huge crystal statue directly through the front doors.

Yes, the statue should be made of crystal. A sort of translucent orange-gold crystal. The wizard would be standing proudly with his arm outstretched toward progress, the future, world domination, whatever, like that Zefram Cochrane statue from Star Trek. For flavor, sculpted onto the statue's arm would be the jailbreak cat from the beginning of the quest, blocking the wizard's view of whatever he was pointing at, and staring back at him. I had decided the cat would follow the adventurers throughout the tower, coming and going as he pleased, but it wasn't until creating the statue that I changed my mind from having this be the wizard's cat to having this actually be the wizard himself. The wizard could keep tabs on the party's progress, potentially mess with them or even rescue them if desired, and help prevent the tower from ever seeming too empty.


I laid out the pieces I had introduced and began looking for a connection. Heroes imprisoned with all their gear still in hand. Wizard Cat follows them around. Tower is designed to hold students, but no students are here. Portions of the tower are still empty or incomplete.

The wizard was testing his own facility before opening it to the public.

The heroes were guinea pigs. But maybe they weren't the first ones, or the only ones--what if they were the last guinea pigs? Maybe the wizard had an agenda, was under pressure, was in a rush to make sure the heroes had a shot at testing everything in the tower.

I started considering all the possibilities of absurd deathtraps that would make perfect sense as training exercises for the students. Hm...the party would be no match for a wizard powerful enough to create everything I had in mind--he'd have to have outside support. Who would finance such a tower?

Wait...the gnomes could finance such a tower. Before the tower quest started to materialize, I had thought about kicking off the adventures in this world with a quest launched from a gnomish kingdom, which in my head was in the same region as where this quest would take place. The gnomes gave the wizard near-unlimited funding to create whatever kind of training facility he wanted. But, again...why? Why would the gnomes be so generous?

Maybe they weren't generous. Maybe they had a vested interest in the success of the tower.

Maybe the crown prince of the gnomes was about to become a student.

Yes...this would do nicely. And this would help to make the bad guy a bad guy without necessarily making him evil. The wizard I had in mind was named Ziggy Frood (a little Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy influence there), who would be a laid-back dude who, for all intents and purposes, would appear in a puff of smoke from the '60s or '70s, if you take my meaning. Not really a bad guy, but all ideas and none of the responsibility necessary to manage his funding wisely. I wanted him to be slightly sympathetic, or perhaps just slightly pathetic--killing the heroes wouldn't be his goal, but the circumstances would put him into a situation where he would inadvertently become the villain.

That's where the heroes would come in: they had been hired to test out the strengths and shortcomings of the facility, from the security of its jail to the training rooms up on the third floor. They would be intruders to test the readiness of the staff. They would have their memories wiped so their testing would be completely unbiased by what they already knew about the tower. They would be promised a gnomish resurrection spell if they were to perish along the way. The safest, most authentic testing method Ziggy Frood could think of, and harmlessly deadly diversion, to boot.

But...what if the gnomes got tired of resurrecting the beta testers? Those spells are costly, you know. What if they demanded results from Ziggy Frood, issuing an ultimatum that funding was being cut off and the facility was to be ready by the time the inspectors--or the prince himself--or the prince's father himself--arrived within the next few days?

Better yet...what if he hadn't received the ultimatum yet?

At last, there was a plot.

[To be continued in Part 4.]

Monday, April 16, 2012

Amazing Adventures in Self Publishing! Part Two

[Continued from Part One.]

My time spent in traditional publishing--from my time with a very small publisher, then with a very nice but incredibly unorganized magazine publisher, and then a with a larger publisher--afforded me innumerable important lessons about the industry.

At my last gig, I worked for the smartest person in the book business, and I literally learned something every single day from him.

At previous jobs, I learned how not to do things--which, as I was told back in my baseball-playing days, is also quite valuable. One of my first coaches told me that you can learn a whole heck of a lot more by watching someone do everything wrong than you can by watching someone do everything right.

In publishing, a whole lot of folks have been doing a whole lot of things wrong for quite a while now.

One friend in the book biz likens even mid-size publishers to large ships incapable of changing course quickly. Publishers, no matter their size, should be just the opposite--small, quick vessels able to turn on a dime. Especially in today's don't-blink-or-you'll-miss-the-next-big-thing environment of technology, publishers need to realize that the old ways, though maybe not dead, are certainly in need of repair.

But the words "publishing" and "technology" haven't exactly fit well together since that Gutenberg guy came along.

Somehow, there's a 10-year-old kid at the Apple store in the mall who is more technologically advanced than the heads of most publishing houses today, large and small. I got so tired of asking questions about technological advances (like, "Hey, shouldn't this be an ebook?") that I left publishing altogether and now work in digital media.

I have a Kindle that I don't use (two, actually). I go to used book stores on a frighteningly weekly basis. I collect first editions. I am the guy that will never prefer an ebook to a printed book. But I'm also smart enough to realize that the rest of the world doesn't agree with me.

Digital isn't the future. It's last year.

The next big thing just flew by my window. He's being replaced tomorrow.

So the publishers, slow as they were to embrace digital, now finally have thrown themselves into the fold. Good for them. And, with the emergence of new and awesome digital products, the same publishers are now putting out lots and lots of new, exciting books and genres and characters to take full advantage of the new, exciting digital landscape, right?

Sure. Just this year (it's APRIL!!), there have been 100 books on Titanic published. IN THE UNITED STATES ALONE.

New and different, indeed.

I could honestly rail all day long on how publishers big and small refuse to take gambles or are simply restricted financially from taking a risk on something that's unique to the marketplace.

I've seen enough Profit and Loss reports to know how mind-numbingly difficult it can be to justify the expense of publishing a book. In that sense, it's an absolute wonder anything gets published.

But, for my part, I think I just got tired of hearing the word NO. Then, it dawned on me.

When you self-publish, there is no one to say NO.

So, along with two of my best friends in the world, I started a publishing house. Initially, we were going to open things up to a whole slew of unpublished and untested writers and artists and photographers and circus clowns, but I realized that, A. I'm deathly afraid of circus clowns, and B. In order to attract others to our cause, we'd first need something of our own to show.

Something professional and cool and different and, well, something that we did completely on our own, without the help of a "real" publisher. Without the help of agents or writing coaches (whatever that is) or a marketing team.

Just three friends looking to do something fun that might just work and might just attract others.

And it all started with a doodle on a Post-It note and a conversation in a diner.

But more on all that in Part Three.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Sunday Spotlight: Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan Phaser (Diamond Select Toys)

Since I was a wee lad, I've been collecting Star Trek toys. Action figures, playsets, model starships, replica props, the works. For a number of reasons, my collecting tapered off in the mid-'90s, but I have been known, especially in more recent years, to pick up the occasional Soverign-class vessel to display on top of my computer or, in this case, Type II phaser to fire at my wife.

We're very much in love, I assure you.

On a recent trip to a mall I've never had the chance to explore, she and I happened upon a Local Comics Shop peddling Star Trek merchandise on top of the regular fare of Ultimate Comics Ultimate Crisis Crossover Calamity and 6" statues of naked women with just enough clothing to suggest they're supposed to be dressed as superheroes. Within minutes of entering the store, I had spied the only thing, aside from my wife, I was planning on taking home with me from there: a Diamond Select Toys replica of the style of phaser used in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (and Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, but consider which movie the average fan gets more excited about seeing listed on the side of a box).

In my possession already from the Diamond Select line were a tricorder and Type II phaser from The Original Series. On the one hand, they look and feel authentic, right down to the sound effects and flashing lights. On the other hand, I call into question the technical design, or possibly the craftsmanship: The "on/off" switch for the tricorder is buried inside a compartment within a compartment; the fold-out panel of the outer compartment needs to be popped out of place completely to actually reach anything inside of it, and the panel covering the inner compartment with the switch needs to be pried open.

The phaser features a smaller detachable Type I phaser with a flip-up "targeting grille" (which barely flips up at all) that doesn't lock back into place properly; pulling the trigger on the main body of the Type II phaser actually makes the Type I phaser pop back out, and extensive fiddling only occasionally seems to fix the problem. On top of that, the electronics don't always respond as expected--I know what the buttons and knobs are supposed to do, but sometimes the lights don't light up properly, and sometimes nothing happens at all. And yes, I've checked the batteries.

When they work, however, they're tremendous fun. Even when they don't, it's still neat to have a part of my favorite fandom in a tangible form. The Wrath of Khan phaser suffers from the same kinds of issues as the aforementioned toys, but at the end of the day, it's the most fun with new Star Trek merchandise since the resurgence of Star Trek toys around the release of the 2009 Star Trek film. Plus, my collection is severely lacking in TOS movie-era memorabilia, so I'm always happy to make an addition there.

This phaser is a button-presser's paradise: there's a big, glowy "on" switch, a mode selector that allows you to cycle through the various settings of Tickle, Stun, Kill, and Disintegrate (with pleasantly distracting light-up indicators showing your current setting), a big ol' trigger, and alternate fire buttons on the detachable Type I phaser (yes, it's detachable!). These buttons can be used in conjunction with the mode selector button to trigger a power cell overload that will destroy the phaser and anyone in the vicinity (for pretend, silly) after a short countdown filled with flashing lights and oddly transporter-esque sound effects.

My wife suggested that setting the phaser to self-destruct on the coffee table and then taking cover behind the couch would not, in fact, protect me from the blast.

I appreciate the extra playability that a detachable phaser brings, but as with its TOS counterpart, this little Type I phaser is almost more trouble than it's worth.

While it's incredibly simple to detach and reattach this phaser thanks to a crazy-powerful magnet, there's a crazy-powerful magnet on my electronic device. I saw no warning on the package or instruction manual about it, so I can only assume it's well-shielded, but the force with which the smaller phaser snaps back into place is slightly frightening. The trouble is that (a) it sometimes takes some adjustment to get the electronics to work again once the whole phaser is reassembled (because all the functions of the larger phaser are based on a connection with the smaller one), and (b) the smaller phaser looks kinda dorky.

It's a little awkward to hold, too.

The fact that this detachable action was never seen on-camera also makes this feature feel a little unnecessary. But hey, it's one more feature for the people who want it, and it doesn't affect the use of the Type II phaser for people who don't.

Overall, I'm pleased with my purchase. I am easily enthralled by flashing lights, and I approve of the number of functional buttons. The phaser is sleek, fits comfortably in the hand, and just plain looks good. The only oddity is that holding down the trigger does nothing--the lights and sound effects don't happen until after you release the trigger. Still, that didn't stop my wife from scoring a few good hits on me while I was typing away on the computer. Can't say I didn't deserve it.

Next time she wants a phaser fight, though, I'll be prepared.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Amazing Adventures in Self Publishing! Part One

So things are starting to move a little bit on the old self publishing front. The book (a children’s book that I wrote and am now self-publishing, for those playing along at home) is in the hands of the amazingly talented artist, who is now more than halfway through the final illustrations.

For my part, I’m in the middle of researching printers and costs of printers and trying not to pass out from looking at the insane cost of printing a book with full color illustrations.

You’d think paper was a hot commodity, or something.

Being in publishing for a while, I certainly understand how the paper market fluctuates, and how that fluctuation effects...well, pretty much everything when it comes to making and publishing books.

That in mind, you might be asking why I—as someone who has left a traditional publisher for a job in digital media—am now so fixated on the cost of printing a physical copy of a book. You know, with paper and everything.

The answer is simple: Actual books are nice...and I like them.

I’ll be printing a very short run of books, and then offering the whole thing digitally for a fraction of the physical price, but, darn it, if I’m gonna write a book, then I want to be able to hold a physical copy of that book.

Also, it'll be nice to give out copies of the book to family and friends.

But I completely understand that digital is where the industry is, and where I want to go with things.

Going digital is also a heck of a lot cheaper than printing physical books.

But I've jumped way ahead of myself with this post. So let's stop things here, and call this entry an introduction. An overview, if you will, to get everyone up to speed on the project.

Next time, I'll go back to the beginning and talk about how the book began, how I found and hired an artist, and I'll show design sketches and page layouts and all that fun stuff.

So stay tuned, Exfanders, because these Amazing Adventures in Self Publishing are just getting started.

[Continued in Part Two.]

Friday, April 13, 2012

Playing Around on the Rafters

[Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3 - Part 4 - Part 5 - Part 6 - Part 7 - Part 8]

Seasoned D&D players always run the risk of metagaming, or thinking about the game in terms beyond what their character would know or think. One's first encounter with a skeleton or devil might leave the player wondering why their weapons seem to be so ineffective, whereas an experienced player might know to keep a small stockpile of silver daggers, cold iron javelins, good-aligned morningstars, and other weapons of various types and qualities for monsters with every kind of damage resistance. An excellent way to discourage metagaming without completely rewriting the stat blocks of time-tested monsters is to simply modify the physical descriptions of, say, those dire rats that everybody knows carry that nasty filth fever disease and shouldn't have more than 10 hit points.

OK, I had to double-check in the Monster Manual to be sure. So maybe not everybody knows.

The imprisoned Seryulin notwithstanding, this trio of cuddly, fluffy rats would serve as a fine introduction to basic combat for first-level characters, with the added bonus of crates and boxes behind which to hide, should any of the characters choose to attack or provide support at a distance. Frankly, I would've let the characters dive into barrels and stealthily Looney Tunes their way across the room, with the rats oblivious to these three storage containers tiptoeing their way toward the ladder on the far wall (with the proper skill checks, of course). That was another possibility--avoiding combat altogether. All the XP, but none of the loot--though none of the risk of a premature and violent ending to the quest, either. I'm all about options, and especially when the challenges are geared toward a party of a higher level, any possibility that avoids excessive bloodshed is a good one.

Hopefully the "aw, it's strangely cute" appearance of the rats would deter the adventurers from charging in with swords...uh...blazing. Actually, they wouldn't likely get blazing swords at all this quest. Charging in with swords...masterworking? Eh, nevermind. More importantly, I felt like adding in stupidly fluffy rats that bopped and hopped everywhere they went. I'd justify it later.

At the far end of the storage room would be a ladder leading up to the rafters. This would be a two-story storage room, with the heroes possibly running around on the crisscrossing support beams above, chasing another bouncy rat à la Chrono Trigger during the first trip to the future. I included a platform with an overturned table and chair at the top of the ladder--the idea was that there had been a previous jailbreak, and either the guards or the escapees were using the table as cover during a showdown. When not being used for defense, the table and chair setup would have been a sort of unfinished office for the official in charge of monitoring incoming prisoners and outgoing personnel; given that the corner of the storage room was rough rock wall and hadn't been neatly carved into yet, I was going for a bit of a feeling like there was still some work to be done in this area.

The key reason for climbing up to the rafters was to reach the platform in the center, which was supported by a tall round pillar and featured a freestanding cylinder with a sloping top and two triangular panels that could be pressed to make this elevator go up and down. Depending on how the adventurers went about getting there, they might get into a scuffle with the dire rat ambling about the rafters, which would squeak and awaken the sleeping swarm of bats in the dark corner of the room that was still more like a cave than a finished storage area.

Now, a bat swarm (or any kind of swarm, for that matter) can be particularly tricky for a band of Level 1 adventurers, seeing as how normal weapon attacks are more effective against individual creatures than a whole moving mess of individual creatures. Area-effect spells and swung torches are two ways to damage a swarm, and there would be torches in abundance on the walls of the jail and storage room--any adventurer with any sense of self-preservation would pick up a freebie torch when there are clearly signs of being in or around a cave. Plus, these bats would have an absolutely minimal amount of HP, so one hit would be all it'd take to disperse them. It's all about options for me, but it's all about balance, too--higher-level monsters are still fair game for lower-level parties if they're not working at peak performance.

Perhaps the trickiest part would be getting onto the elevator from the rafters, as there was enough of a distance that a Jump check from a standing start (over an almost-deadly drop to the floor below) would have been required. Alternately, the heroes could push that overturned table to the edge and form a bridge to the elevator, or even find some rope in the crates below and lasso the control pillar to climb over.

Once aboard the elevator, they'd have the option of going back down to the ground to pick up anything else they'd left behind, or ascending into darkness. This is where my advance planning started getting fuzzy--I'd had the first section of the tower mapped out since before I put pencil to paper, but I hadn't really considered all that much about where the heroes would go from here. I was hoping I'd have some inspiration by the time I got to drawing the first floor above ground.

I drew an empty room.

[To be continued in Part 3.]

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Laying the Foundation for a Tower

[Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3 - Part 4 - Part 5 - Part 6 - Part 7 - Part 8]

When I was taking suggestions for the column that would eventually become Sunday Spotlight, my blogging compadre Alex suggested a weekly behind-the-scenes look at crafting adventures for Dungeons & Dragons. Up until recently, I haven't had much new material to discuss--my D&D heyday was back in college, and the regular sessions and one-shot campaigns I'd been playing since then got more and more infrequent over the last year or two. Well, after mulling over the options and putting myself in the right mindset, I have successfully launched a new D&D campaign setting, with a trio of college friends as the guinea pigs for the first adventure.

There's two major parts to this story: This first part covers the thoughtful planning and preparation of the adventure. The second part covers the total deconstruction of my planning and preparation at the hands of three adventurers who killed my shopkeeper, literally redrew my dungeon map, and harbored an irrepressible fascination with some random mutant slug monster. The full story is really too long to tell in just two parts, however, so I'll split this all up into an indeterminate number of smaller parts for easier digestion.

The decision to create a brand-new campaign world for this quest was the right one, I think. The setting I used in college holds many fond memories for me, but its continuity is complicated (and undocumented) enough in a few places that I'd eventually run into some issues reconciling what already exists with where I want to go from here. The setting I'd been using post-college quickly began to show signs that it had been too hastily constructed to achieve the lofty aspirations I had for it--I'd hoped for each adventure to play a major role in establishing the history of the world, but I was so focused on how things would come together in the long term that I lost sight of what the heroes would need to face in the short term, and how even the little details would play such an important role in the world's history. I've learned lessons from my successes and shortcomings with both campaign settings, and when I finally sat down to write the quest the day before we were to play it, I knew exactly how I wanted to structure it.

The very first campaign I ever played in had the adventurers exploring an old "abandoned" castle at one point. There were, of course, monsters and traps and an evil wizard to fight, but it was a completely self-contained portion of the adventure that didn't have us mucking about in town or exploring Generic RPG Cave #8472. I liked that. I wanted to emulate that. Town adventures can be fun, but it can be incredibly easy for the players to get sidetracked with colorful townsfolk who are entertaining but in no way useful toward stopping the cabal of dissident shamans in the woods where 90% of the adventure is supposed to take place. Roleplaying staples such as caves, forests, and the basic monsters that inhabit them can absolutely be a hoot, but you can really only get away with that sort of thing once, with a group of first-timers. Only one of my players was effectively a neophyte; the other two had played in a number of my campaigns previously, and were quite familiar with the "kobolds jump out of the bushes" routine.

In my head, there were vast snowfields and a huge city and a number of other notable features on the part of the world map where the heroes would find themselves. On paper, there was merely a tower. Two levels below ground, three stories above, and enough space for a dramatic showdown on top of the tower. Looking out the window, the heroes would see only a frozen expanse, but there would be enough clues inside the tower to hint at what lay beyond.

My new rule of world design: Always plan for more than the players will see. Even if you yourself don't know exactly what's out there, offer glimpses of future plotlines and yet-to-be-revealed secrets. Nothing has to be concrete until it's immediately relevant to the players, as long as you're willing to improvise or deflect if something becomes relevant sooner than expected.

The basement of the tower was the easiest part of the quest to write. And by "write," I mostly mean "draw." Though there was once a time when I hammered out several pages of florid descriptions and contingency plans for when the adventurers did one thing or another, nowadays I tend to simply draw maps, scribble notes in the margins, and rely on my imagination and improvisational skills to convey the rest.

I knew I wanted a jail. The original premise of the quest was going to be a straightforward jailbreak involving the heroes fighting their way out of this tower, with a confrontation with their wizard captor at the end, but there were some lingering questions with that scenario: Why were they captured? How were they captured? What purpose does this tower serve when there aren't heroes in need of an adventure? What kind of self-respecting jail would possibly allow this trio of no-name Level 1 characters to escape from it? One of my favorite supplemental rulebooks, Dungeonscape, prompts the DM to ask and answer such questions in order to craft a dungeon that works as a functional location in the campaign world, and not just as a series of challenges slapped together because the DM felt like it.

Eh, I could figure out the details later. Right now the most important part was to start drawing. I grabbed a mug from the kitchen cupboard and used it to trace several circles across a regular piece of paper, and began filling them in one at a time with each level of the tower.

As I said, I knew I wanted a jail. I sketched out a row of simple holding cells and a hallway wide enough for an ogre or something to comfortably patrol, and then drew in two key racks--one right in front of the cells, and the other at the end of the hallway. I put numbers in circles next to them on the map to correspond to numbers in a separate document that I never ended up writing, which would have given a short blurb about what each numbered thing was. If I have a little extra time, I do try to get at least a few things written out in longhand, you see.

I'd decided the quest would open with each of the characters in a different jail cell, and that they'd have all of their equipment from the get-go. That opened up another question of why they'd be in jail fully armed, but I was starting to formulate that part of it. The obvious key rack in front of the cells was close enough that anyone toting around a 10-foot pole in their pants would be able to snag the dangling key with the proper Dexterity check. This would be funny, because the key would be enchanted to explode in the lock. I'm sure there's a lesson about careful adventuring in there somewhere, but really, I just wanted the key to blow up. The real key would be on the other rack, also reachable by a Mage Hand spell or other clever solution. Failing all else, there would be a cat. Meow, Handle Animal, go kitty get key. That sort of thing.

Once out of the--oh, wait a second. I'm getting ahead of myself. There'd also be a sea slug. Specifically, a seryulin (page 148 of the Monster Manual III for those of you at home), which is a sea cucumber of doom used by a particular water-dwelling monster race as war mounts that are alarmingly fast on land. I thought one would make a fun addition to the jail.

Now, the seryulin was mostly added as a gag, the random sea monster randomly in jail alongside the adventurers. However, I've played too much Space Quest, and fully intended for the heroes to get eaten/trampled/dissolved by the beastie should they be stupid enough to open the cell of this unidentified and slimy CR 7 monster simply because they had the key.

That's another thing worth noting: I am unusual. I mean, cruel and unusual. The challenge ratings of the monsters and traps I had in store were fit for a higher-level party, or at least a party of more than just three Level 1 characters. To balance this out, every potentially life-threatening situation would have at least one alternate solution that would lessen the chances of bodily harm and permanent dismemberment. A clever party might be able to avoid direct combat and do-or-die skill checks by paying attention to their surroundings and using the objects they find to their advantage.

The first real test of the collective cleverness and general disposition of the heroes would take place in the storage room just outside the jail. Amidst crates and barrels filled with who-knows-what would be a scavenging trio of rats.

Big, fluffy, bouncing rats.

That sneer when approached.

Pretty sure I didn't consult Dungeonscape on this one.

[To be continued in Part 2.]

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Waiting for Wednesday, Volume 4, Issue 15 is a light week of comics for me. I actually don’t have anything that’s jumping out at me to write about today. Huh.

Well...this is embarrassing.

Um. Okay, let’s improvise a bit, shall we? Just to piggyback on Nathaniel’s post from yesterday about negative comments on his YouTube page.

Let me quickly say that I do not understand people who go online just to criticize the work of others.

It’s like listening to the radio, or watching television—if you don’t like something, then simply don’t watch it.

Of course, the Internet exists for people to complain about things behind a wall of anonymity. At least, I’m pretty sure that’s why it exists.

And let’s be clear here—complaining about things you don’t like it perfectly fine. As long as you make a clear, reasonable counterpoint. If you’re just here to yell and deem something “bad,” then I have no time for you.

It’s the main reason I don’t lurk around comics forums online—there’s simply too much vitriol about...well, about everything.

Let me also say that it takes quite a bit to get Nathaniel angry. It takes even more to discourage Nathaniel from adding to his impressive list of YouTube videos. I know firsthand how much work he puts into them, and how much time they take.

I also know that Nathaniel is busy with work, and family, and occasionally, he even likes to sit around and do nothing. For a couple minutes, at least.

I’m currently reading the latest Kevin Smith book, where the writer/director talks about how he managed to get as far in life as he has. And the big thing he talks about is not listening to the people who ask, “Why?” every time you set out to do something different. Or creative.

Obviously, the people who ask why are the same people who never try. Ever.Instead, they sit in their chairs and complain about the people who actually do try.

So, I know I don’t have to tell him this, but Flashman? Keep on keeping on, brother.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012


Oh, this is the last thing I need today. I had hoped to write about music, or Dungeons & Dragons, or Police Quest today, but a rash of nasty comments on my YouTube channel has gotten me in a snit, and I was going to use today to vent my frustrations instead...but now I find that Blogger has received a total interface overhaul like everything else on the Internet, and I am 100% displeased.

I wonder how easy it'd be to transfer to WordPress.

I wonder what it would hurt to disable comments altogether.

I wonder why I even bother hanging around on the Internet if all I ever do is get annoyed by everything I see.

I'm tired of trying to be rational, objective, and even somewhat fair. I'm fed up with what's been forced on me recently, and today I'm angry.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Exfanding Review: Avengers vs. X-Men, Issue One

So. Avengers vs. X-Men, issue one.

I read it this weekend and I have some thoughts on the book. Unfortunately, they’re not all good thoughts. I say “unfortunately” because, as always with a potentially negative review, I hesitate to even post this one up. Why focus on comics that I’m not digging when there are so many unheralded books that I do dig?

Maybe it’s because I’ve been working nonstop and I just want to vent a little on a Monday. Maybe it’s because I’m incredibly disappointed in the fact that AvX, issue one, didn’t grab me by the throat and get me excited for a nice, long series.

While I didn’t dislike it enough to drop the series entirely, it definitely didn’t strike the right chords with me. Which is disappointing considering my high hopes for the book, and my belief that this event would be the thing to get me back into the Marvel Universe proper.

Here’s why.


I feel like we’ve seen this before. I feel like we see this every time there’s an “event.” Too much setup and exposition. I work in a world where you have to get to the point in the first line of whatever you write. If you don’t, you’ve buried the lead and you’ve lost your readership.

In the case of AvX 1, I understand that there’s lots of back-story that needs to be explained. But, then, what was the purpose of the zero issue that came out a couple weeks back?

Issue one needed to hit the ground running, and, frankly, lots of big, crazy stuff needed to happen.

What we got instead was lots and lots of talking.

And, yes, I get that this is only issue one and an entire series lies ahead. But there needed to be something “newsworthy” in issue one. There needed to be something other than a verbal skirmish between Cyclops and Captain America.

Yes, the underlying threat is that the Phoenix Force is headed to earth. And, yes, this will WIPE OUT EVERYTHING, FOR ALL TIME. That’s certainly newsworthy, right?

Well, sure, if the X-Men hadn’t been in this exact situation on several occasions in the past.

The threat might be the impending Phoenix Force, but the crux of the story is the conflict between Avengers and X-Men (hence the title).

But the “conflict” is Cap and Cyclops talking loudly at each other, disagreeing almost for the sake of disagreeing. Both take almost ridiculous stances on an issue, and instead of putting the fate of the world as the highest priority, these heroes would rather fight each other.

Human nature? Maybe, but these heroes have been fighting each other since Civil War. It’s kinda become their thing.

Here’s a question:

Are there no bad guys to fight anymore? Is Dr. Doom too busy dealing with the intricacies of Latverian politics to even attempt to take over the world these days?

Obviously, Marvel has great villains. I wish they’d utilize them in their stories, instead of fixating on making their heroes the villains all the time.

I’m sticking around for issue two. I want to love this book.

Here’s hoping Cap punches someone other than Cyclops in the face at some point in the series.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Sunday Spotlight: Cadbury Creme Eggs

They're good, but I don't think I like them as much as I used to.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Saturday Serenity?

Okay, fine. So this is being written on a Saturday evening while I'm still at the office, waiting on...something. From someone. For...something. I forget.

It's been a long three weeks.

I gotta apologize, folks. I messed up today. I had zero time to post, and this is what happened.

I also apologize to Nathaniel, who has carried this blog for months now. I'm getting back to normal, though. I promise.

Just...bear with me for today.

Comics Withdrawal

Annnnd Friday.

My epic three-week work binge has one more day to go, as I’ll need to be in/around the office tomorrow, but I think I might be dangerously close to getting things back to normal.

Which will be nice, as I could use some sleep.

I plan to spend at least a little time tomorrow afternoon at my local comics shop, just hanging out and not doing much else. While I’ll be on-call for the day at work, let’s hope it’ll be a slow one and I can enjoy being in a comics shop for a little while.

Maybe even for an hour.

An hour in a comics shop on a Saturday afternoon sounds like pretty much the best thing ever.

I have been so detached from my beloved funnybooks lately that I feel like the last time I read a book, Batman was still dead.

And, while it hasn’t been that long, I’m at the point where all I want to do is sit down in my reading chair with a stupidly high stack of comics and read and read and read until I fall asleep.

I’ve been so detached from, really, any geeky things lately that—as you might have noticed—I have very little to write about on this, a geek-centric blog.

My hobby—passion, really—has been reduced to background noise, the original art pages on my wall a distant echo of the stories I used to read daily.

I’ve been gone too long. I need to jump back in.

Stand back I come.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Base of Operations

If you've spent any length of time reading this blog, you'll almost certainly know that I've got a YouTube channel that I primarily use for posting Mega Man videos and having discussions with my viewers. The key here is the word "primarily"; for a little while now, there's been more than Mega Man, but I get the feeling that it's been somewhat overlooked.

Not too long ago I added a number of playlists to my channel:

- Four different GameCola playlists covering my participation on the official YouTube channel of the videogame humor website to which I contribute;

- A Miscellaneous playlist to act as a catch-all for my April Fools' videos and whatnot; and

- A Collaborations playlist, collecting all the videos featured on other people's channels in which I've been invited to participate.

Now my Mega Man channel is more of a base of operations for all my YouTube endeavors, and I dig the opportunity for the cross-promotion of other channels I've been involved with.

I realize I've missed the chance to introduce several of the videos in these playlists when they were first released, so I encourage you to take a look if you've been relying on this blog as your source of YouTube updates. Here's a quick sample of a few of my favorites that, lamentably, never got mentioned here:

The end of a joint playthrough of Super Mario Bros. 2 with GameCola staff writers Paul Franzen and Michael Gray:

An unexpected installment of a let's-all-take-turns-playing-stages playthrough of Mega Man 7 with YouTube users Jeffro826, SAOyster, and Arglefumph, also notable for being the only video series thus far for which I've provided live commentary while recording my footage:

A split-screen race through the first half of Mega Man 4 against YouTube users ClassicGamesFTW, JoeReviewer, n00bzXD, and later on, SearchSnake22:

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Waiting for Wednesday, Volume 4, Issue 14

Hey, here's a goal for today: I'm going to try having this post ready to go by the 1:00 deadline. I'm writing this first paragraph at 9:55 Wednesday morning, so that gives me all of three hours to get it done.

[UPDATE: I just returned to this tab. It's now 12:19. Should be interesting to see if I can actually squeeze this out by 1:00.]

Looking at my list-o-things to buy for today, I'm immediately struck by one book. One big, important mainstream book. From Marvel, issue one of Avengers vs. X-Men ships today.
In my opinion, this book is the most important comics event of 2012; a book that has to deliver on its promise to be as big and as epic as the ads leading up to its publication have said it will be.

Personally, I have high hopes as I really (really) want this book to get me back into the Marvel Universe proper. I just...want to read enjoyable stories about Spider-Man and The Avengers again.

Because...well, it's been a while.

Here's the (slightly hyperbolic) solicitation information for the issue:

The Story: It’s No Longer Coming—It’s Here! Does The Return Of The Phoenix To Earth Signal The Rebirth Of The Mutant Species? That’s What The X-Men Believe! Unfortunately, The Avengers Are Convinced That Its Coming Will Mean The End Of All Life On Earth! The Stage Is Set For The Ultimate Marvel Showdown In This Oversized First Issue!

All those exclamation points must mean that it's good, right? Right?

Today's a huge day for Marvel. They launch their biggest book of the year, a title that will certainly have an impact on every other book they produce.

I know this whole post sounds snarky, but I'm being honest when I say that I want back in. I want back in to the world of the Fantastic Four and the X-Men. But I need something big and, more importantly, good, to get me there.

So, fingers crossed Exfanders.

On that note, I'm heading out. Before I do, though, what are you Waiting for?

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Month in Review: March 2012

It's probably a good sign that we're already three days into a new month before the Month in Review rolls around, and it's not because we forgot. Means we've got a lot to talk about, and for the first time in a while, I've got writing ideas more than a few hours in advance of the posting deadline.

However, that was now. This is then. We're looking back at what we've already written, in the glorious month of March. Feel free to replace "glorious" with "review-happy," "YouTube-crazy," or "horror-oriented." See for yourself:

- A recap of my contributions to videogame humor website in both February and March

- A review of Stephen King's post-modern vampire horror novel, 'Salem's Lot

- My new whatever-I-feel-like weekly feature, Sunday Spotlight, covering The Dick Tracy Show, Mario Party 2, Stop Making Sense, Clannad and Clannad After Story, and Airplane II: The Sequel

- Spoileriffic general thoughts on television's The Walking Dead, a specific review of Episode 2x12, and a follow-up blurb

- Crowd-driven anxiety about releasing more YouTube videos

- Alex's weekly comics news/ramblings feature, Waiting for Wednesday, Volume 4, Issues 10-13, covering Fairest, a candid interview with Alan Moore, The Goon, and New Deadwardians

- Reactions to YouTube's new layout, and my pleasantly successful protest

- A review of the well-crafted animated feature Justice League: Doom

- The conclusion of nearly two years of Mega Man 6 on YouTube

- An announcement that we'll be posting at 1 PM Eastern moving forward

- A calamity-ridden collaborative playthrough of Mega Man 2: The Power Fighters

- A discussion of how Stephen King doesn't take his own writing advice

- A shrug and a grimace for Avengers: The Children's Crusade

- The search for motivation to write a new Dungeons & Dragons quest

- Reflections on spring from a guy who's been hunkered down inside for quite a while, and the season's annual call to play baseball

- Preparations for Wrestlemania XXVIII

- A guest post recounting the accidental death of a nerd

- I have a sudden urge to go outside

- A Saturday satire that, as far as I'm concerned, is not so much a satire as a straightforward discussion about how so much is riding on Avengers vs. X-Men