Free Ebooks by Randolph Lalonde

Free Ebooks by Randolph Lalonde
Free Ebooks by Randolph Lalonde

Friday, May 30, 2008

Campaign to Save Dollhouse Before It Airs! [This show is not cancelled!]

Regular readers of my blog are well aware that I have little faith in the television networks. I'm even bitter of the cancellation of Firefly, more so than most people.

The collaborative effort between Producer / Star Eliza Dushku and Joss Whedon, Dollhouse, already impresses me. I've seen a trailer, read a few bits and heard a few bites about it, and I can count on one hand the number of times I've been this excited about a show coming to the small screen. That's what makes the following blog entry all the more weighty for me.

I believe that you have to discuss and regularly view the shows you enjoy to keep them on the air. That doesn't always work, so sometimes you have to campaign, join in with a group of fellow fans and participate in an activity that draws attention and demonstrates that there is a large, loyal fan base for a series facing cancellation.

There is a point, however, where you're just taking it too far. The administrator named Nathan over at dollhouseforums.com has really found that point. He's opened a plea to the gathering of Joss Whedon fans to start campaigning against the cancellation of the show before the pilot has even aired. That's just like meeting a woman on the street and saying; "Please don't file for a divorce!" before you've even introduced yourself.

Now, it's true that previous Joss Whedon series have been cancelled prematurely. Angel was cancelled after five seasons, which really isn't something to cry about since television shows in the US are lucky to get into their second season these days. Firefly was cancelled before they could finish one season and I completely agree that the show got a raw deal in scheduling, advertising, and in it's treatment from the Fox network. Eliza Dushku, who produces and stars in Dollhouse, had her series, Tru Calling, cancelled as well, but let's face it, it wasn't exactly a television gem. I enjoyed it, but it's cancellation wasn't life changing for me. I was honestly happy Eliza could go on to work on a higher quality series or continue building a film career.

Network decisions rarely seem fair where our favorite shows are concerned, that's true. I reiterate, however, that this bulletin board administrator has acted prematurely and is doing more damage than good.

There's a huge problem with starting a campaign to save a show this early. It fills people who don't closely follow entertainment news with the assumption that the show is about to be cancelled. This isn't true at the time of this writing, but it's the conclusion tens of thousands, more likely HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS of people are going to come to. It doesn't matter if this Nathan fellow posts a retraction, deletes his post, takes out a full page ad in Variety magazine, the damage is done, your words and the negative publicity you've stirred is out there. Many websites have already picked up the story, some of them are attached to television shows that may mention this trigger happy campaign on air where millions of people will see it and make the wrong assumption.

Let's face it, publicity is a careful thing, and most of those people will only hear; "Dollhouse" and "Cancelled" even though this isn't anywhere near the truth.

I'll give you an example. Say someone on an entertainment program is speaking about this issue, they might say something like; "And in other television news, a community site for the new Joss Whedon series set to debut this fall, Dollhouse, has started an anti-cancellation campaign pre-emptively. This is most likely due to creator Joss Whedon's earlier series, Firefly, being cancelled mid season by the Fox network..."

You see? In less than 20 seconds of spoken E-News reporting you have the words Joss Whedon, Dollhouse, and Cancelled. Some of you are thinking; "But those words weren't even in the same sentence!" It just doesn't matter. Half the people watching the E-News are only half paying attention and when you look at that phrase, even spoken differently, those words will stand out and be more memorable as the most dramatic points in the statement.

For anyone who doesn't already know, Dollhouse is about characters called Actives. They can be programmed to love someone, have different skills at the highest levels and even feature entirely different personalities. There are only a few models, and as far as I can surmise there is a company in control of them while at least one of the group fights for individuality. I like the concept, I want to see it go as far as Joss Whedon, Eliza Dushku (this is her first development deal), and crew want to take it. I hope it's on for as long as they want it on the air and I wish them many spinnoffs, maybe even a few million in merchandising and even more in syndication.

I have to admit, I'm more than a little irate with this Nathan fellow. He's really just an over anxious fan who didn't really think about his early call to action before posting it on the web. I'm sure he didn't mean any harm.

My advice to anyone reading this is to actually watch Dollhouse, give it a real chance and don't miss a single episode. Also make sure you record it with your DVR, those numbers are tracked and considered along with ratings figures. Sadly, thanks to this Nathan chap, we'll have to make sure that people know for a fact that this show isn't cancelled, so if you hear someone say it is, quash it right away, correct them politely and firmly. Somehow I thought we might get to see Joss have a good solid run on television without his fans, that includes yours truly, having to go on a bloody crusade. Why can't anything good ever come easy?

Nathan;
I find your lack of faith disturbing.

Everyone else;
Go take a look at the trailers and learn to love the new Whedon / Dushku collaborative effort. Go now, go often from different computers. Let's rack up a few gazillion hits on the website.
http://www.dollverse.com/trailer/

There are also more positive ways to show your excitement and your anticipation for this show at www.dollverse.com on the main page. They're less alarmist and far more effective.

RL

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Yoda Says; "Come see animated feature or kick your ass I will!"

This is old news to some people, but just in case you didn't know; On August 15th, 2008 the Clone Wars Animated Film will be released in North American theaters. This is the big release that heralds a regular television series on The Cartoon Network that will go on for at least one year.

The film and animated series are set between Star Wars: Attack of the Clones and Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith. Here's the quick and dirty version of the history behind this television series.

George Lucas decided that there was a lot more story to tell aside from the six movies and also had a very serious interest in building a state of the art animation studio. He promised the fans at least 60 episodes of an animated series set in the Clone Wars era, and the same number of episodes of a live action television series as well. Then he sort of disappeared.

He built is animation studio in the Orient, taking advantage of some of the greatest animation talent there and built another production unit in the US. He finished the first 60 episodes of his animated series (3D rendered this time, unlike the original Clone Wars cartoon), and shopped it around. Warner Brothers picked up the movie and television distribution rights, working with Disney to show episodes in their theme park at the same time.

Fast forward a bit and we find ourselves looking at a theatrical release date of August 15th, 2008 (See trailer below), with the television series to follow in the fall. This series includes very dynamic battles, a lot of Jedi action, a focus on the relationship between Skywalker and Kenobi, and the addition of a plucky female Padiwan character. She'll be the first female Jedi created by Lucas to get a lot of attention in one of his features or television series. I have to say, after looking into it a little and watching a few of the video clips on www.starwars.com I'm impressed with the animated style and I'll be in line to see the animated feature.

As a side note I'm looking forward to the live action television series a little more. According to information gained form www.starwars.com George Lucas has been working on it since fall, 2007. There are a lot of rumors floating around about it, so I'll only put forward what I've verified from at least three sources including www.starwars.com. George is footing the entire bill, so networks will not dictate how it's done. He's promised to write/direct the first season at least, if not more. He is planning for 100 episodes and would like to produce 60 before finding a home for the show. The live action series will focus on peripheral characters in the Star Wars universe and involve more of the seedy underbelly areas, like where Han Solo would hang out before joining the rebellion. We won't see any main characters from the Skywalker saga (Episodes I-VI) in this series. George Lucas has wanted to tell stories in this setting for a long time, and now that he's finished telling the Skywalker story it looks like he'll get a chance. The events of this show will take place between Episode III and Episode IV, providing a ton breathing room for the series since there's about 18 years or more between the two films.

I predict that we'll get to see some real concrete info on the live action series in the late spring of 2009, but until then I'm sure I'll enjoy the animated series.

See you there!

RL

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

This Generation: Graphics Are Awesome

I'm a gamer. There are a lot of us around. In fact, people over 30 who never played games are actually picking up controllers and loading all kinds of interactive software into their computers. They're even buying consoles. Let's face it, television audiences are getting tired of seeing shows they enjoy cancelled, seeing one formulaic movie after another, and they're happy to look to truly engaging interactive entertainment.

The audience is growing and what people can't help noticing is that the graphics in these new games are just amazing. Frankly, all around it's hard to find a recently released title without fantastic graphics. Even games that seem to have only the most minimal effort put into appearance look better than releases three years ago. You don't even need a $400.00 video card in your computer to take advantage of the upcoming games, a $150.00 graphics card will last you at least two years and play games that look fantastic.

I'm really happy that the technology exists to make our gaming experiences look better all around, but this should change the way games are reviewed in my opinion. I recently commented on the quality of GTA IV and as you may have noticed, I mentioned the graphics briefly and moved on. That's really about as much attention as we should pay to the graphics as commentators and reviewers unless the gaming title actually fails to use the existing technology that makes creating good looking games easier to develop.

I'd happily rake a company and it's title across the coals for a full paragraph or two if they manage to make a terrible looking game. With the development tools and other resources at their disposal this shouldn't happen anymore. Any game should at least look good even if it doesn't meet current standards.

How do commonly amazing graphics change our buying and playing experience? Well, forget looking at the pictures on the back of the box or examining screen shots, you can make a terrible game look great for less money and effort than ever. What's important is grabbing a playable demo! I saw a screenshot for the new Conan console game and it looked amazing. After trying the demo I came to the conclusion that the whole game would be time very badly wasted. The graphics were great, but it really played like a platform game from five years ago, there really wasn't even much point in making Conan a 3D rendered game. I even found myself missing an old Commodore 64 game called Barbarian. Now that was a fun game.


Severely disappointing titles like Conan are out there and there are dozens coming down the pipe as studios release licenced content from the film and television industries that sell based largely on the power of the title. The Lost video game is another title that is really only any good if you're a fanatic fan of the show. The only good point about this $50.00-$70.00 game is that for 20 hours you get to walk through a different point of view on events in the Lost story. That's it, there's no replayability here and no way to change the ending or course of the plot. Sadly I couldn't find a playable demo of the Lost game on Xbox Live!, I wonder why.

There's the other side of the coin here, and I'm not forgetting it. If you take a look at games like Word of Warcraft, whose design team is second to none you'll find another story entirely. They use a graphics engine that can run on four and five year old computers with no problems and thanks to superior design and forward thinking style, the world looks fantastic. Sure, I'd love to see a high definition, next generation, omg-so-pretty! version of the game but I really don't have to. The graphics we have are clear, allow for a lot of variety in landscape as well as character costuming and show us everything we need to see in a style that is unique in the industry. They worked hard and their 10 million subscribers don't care that the game doesn't use a next generation graphics engine. The game is fun, open and uses old and new ideas in combination to create a great gaming experience for everyone.

The expression "Next Generation Graphics" is so yesterday, we're inside that generation and it's a couple years old now. The future comes down to game play because everywhere we look the graphics are awesome.

RL

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Television Cancellations 2008: The Official List

As we ramp up for the summer blockbuster season, E! Online has done us all a favor and compiled a complete list of all the shows that have been cancelled this year. Keep in mind that shows that ran 3 episodes or less are not included.

I'll keep my commentary short and sour. Networks don't know how to weather a storm. The writer's strike hit like a million megaton bomb and the corporate heads running things behind the scenes acted without patience in one short sighted move after another. They cancelled shows that didn't get a chance at winning an audience, changed their schedules around, misused advertising dollars and overall botched damage control all around.

If you want an example of how it can be done right, go take a look at the BBC's summer schedule, then check back in the fall. You'll see some of the best world class programming spanning several publicly funded channels. North American broadcasting has a lot to learn, here's the proof.

ABC

Big Shots
Carpoolers
Cashmere Mafia
Cavemen
Just for Laughs
Men in Trees
Miss/Guided
Notes From the Underbelly
October Road
Oprah's Big Give
Women's Murder Club


CBS

Cane
Jericho
Kid Nation
Moonlight
Power of 10
Secret Talents of the Stars
Shark
Viva Laughlin
Welcome to the Captain


CW

Aliens in America
Beauty and the Geek
Crowned
CW Now
Girlfriends
Life Is Wild
Online Nation
Pussycat Dolls Present


Fox

Back to You
Canterbury's Law
K-Ville
Nashville
New Amsterdam
The Next Great American Band
The Return of Jezebel James
Unhitched

NBC

1 vs. 100
Amne$ia
Bionic Woman
Clash of the Choirs
Journeyman
Las Vegas
My Dad Is Better Than Your Dad
Phenomenon
Quarterlife
The Singing Bee

I agree that some of these shows are turkeys, there are a few every year. However, if you watch television at all and have checked out a few of the new shows I bet there are a few cancellations that burn a little.

RL

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Grand Theft Auto IV: Vulgarity, Violence and Vehicles

I finally bought my first console, the Xbox 360. That's right, I've never owned a console before now, and the reason why I bought it was Grand Theft Auto IV.

I've been a fan of GTA ever since the two dimensional GTA 2 was kicking around on the Internet back in the day. It was a cheap looking top down game where you stole cars, ran over people, caused great big traffic jams and ran from the cops. There were also missions, but mostly I liked the driving and manslaughter.

Then came GTA III which was the first 3D inception of the franchise. It featured a very well thought out plotline centered on the main character's rise through the ranks of the Italian Mafia. It was set in Liberty City, which was inspired by New York. The driving, animations and free roaming play style was revolutionary for the day.

Two more Grand Theft Auto games were made; Vice City and San Andreas. Both were improvements on GTA III while focusing on different time periods, types of main characters and settings. There were good and bad points to each one and in GTA San Andreas many fans believed that steps were made in the wrong direction. They tried adding a number of role playing aspects to the game that seemed to slow things down and over complicate matters. Thankfully GTA IV doesn't include the negative features that were added in San Andreas.

Throughout the series there are common threads. On the development side, Rockstar North (the production team responsible for these gems), push the boundaries of existing technology and innovate as much as possible with each title. Musically the titles are accompanied by hits from different eras, radio hosts that have a ton of style and this all adds to the immersion of the player, you feel a bit more like you're there because the abundance of music helps set the scene.

The titles have also benefited from the voice performances of dozens of Hollywood actors who are immediately recognizable. Each title also takes place in a large city, growing with each game in size and entertainment value. Driving and missions are always a part of the experience. They guide us, transport us into this world and take us through the stories, which have been great for the most part.

There are two more factors that follow the GTA Franchise, and they overshadow any achievements the developers have made. Rockstar and Rockstar North insist on taking their audiences to dark, seedy places. They offer the opportunity to do great virtual harm to the inhabitants of these digital environments, and the stories constantly challenge the main character and are generally resolved with blood shed and violence. Thus, there has been a great deal of controversy surrounding each title.

Now that we've gone through a very rough history of what these games have offered in the past, let's take a quick look at GTA IV, the latest title in the franchise. Here is a list of things that the fans are crazy about and the same list can be used as a reference for what the critics absolutely despise about this game.

The city is huge and it's based very closely on New York.

The Non Player Characters that populate the city look more real and less carbon copy than ever.

The driving is challenging and fun. Having said that, you can actually drive drunk in this game, but it's near impossible to go five feet without running into a lamp post or flipping your car. Furthermore, the police are likely to be on your ass within two minutes of trying. I wish the response time were like that in the real world...

The missions are bloodier and the stakes are higher than ever for the main character.

There is a lot to do in Liberty City. Mini-games include billiards, bowling, and darts. Aside from that there is a variety show, strip club, and Internet cafe. I haven't discovered other locations yet, but just those give you plenty to do as you entertain npc's that can become friends on speed dial using your in game cellular phone.

Free play has never been more fun or more interesting with more varied terrain, a modified cop chase system, and more vehicles.

There are tons of radio stations, celebrity disc jockeys (I particularly like Iggy Pop), and a lot of music you don't generally hear every day, even a Eurasia station I turn the dial to often.

Performances by the digital characters are fantastic. I've failed a couple missions on purpose just to see the cut scene again. The voice acting is spot on and lip sync has improved by leaps and bounds.

The entire world looks incredible. Using the next generation technology in today's consoles, the developers out did themselves on the level of detail and interactivity that really sucks you in.

Combat is much improved using a target locking and cover system that I'm sure will be included in the franchises next title.

There's multiplayer, where digital street violence becomes a different animal entirely as sixteen players go at it and hundreds of npc bystanders are caught in the middle.

That's what you'll find in the new Liberty City in a nutshell. I love it, to be honest. It's like being in a mobster movie. This is gaming for adults at it's best with a good story, lots to do if you don't care to follow the plotline and even a little accountability built in. Like I said, drunk driving in this game is almost as bad an idea as it is in the real world, it gets you no where. The police are also vigilant; just try popping a round off in a back alley with no one around, four times in five you'll have the police on you in seconds and have to make a run for it.

Do I think that this game will give rise to police chases and crazed lunatics gunning people down in the streets? In a word; no. I firmly believe that people who play this game then go forth and commit crimes of any shape, form or severity already intended to do harm of some kind or had much more pressing mental problems before they ever picked up a controller.

The parental and censorship groups are up in arms as usual about this game. The biggest picking point is that this game is rated M (Mature), and not 18+. I understand their point of view, but to rate a game 18+ in the North American market is to make it unavailable in more than 50% of retail locations since they will not carry 18+ rated titles no matter what they are. The stores are already checking ID when they sell a copy of GTA IV and they're making a public stand about it. Best Buy has been the leader here, claiming that they are only permitting people eighteen or older to purchase this game.

I can sum up what I really have to say to all the censorship groups in a simple statement. You're lucky. You're damn lucky in fact. GTA IV is the big target on the shelf, it's popular, it thrives on pressing at the boundaries and it is a massive publicity whore that gets off on the controversy. If you look over into the Asian market you'll find there are over one hundred adult titles. They range from hyper violent console games all the way to full on sex games with digital customizable girlfriends. I'm not saying our market should resemble theirs, that's a question no one can answer until it starts trending in that direction. What I am saying is that the parent and censorship groups are lucky that there aren't fifty production companies all putting English adult titles out next year. Who would you pick on then? There wouldn't be just one title, there would be an absolute epidemic and just like other markets that find themselves in this kind of position, they'd find a way to sell these titles before you got a chance to motivate the law into action. More and more adults are playing video games, their tastes range from the refined to the most base you could imagine. It is only a matter of time before our market realizes what kind of demand exists for games that don't fit easily into our predefined ratings system and genre categories. They're coming, and you're all very distracted by one title so there is a great chance that any vast market shift like the one approaching will catch you parent and censorship groups completely by surprise.

For any adult who is looking to pick this game up, go out and get a copy if you enjoy action movies, mafia flicks or just want to romp around Liberty City. This is gaming with most of the conventional limits removed, and I found it was a lot of fun.

For anyone who's considering purchasing this for someone under the age of 18, don't. Just don't. The ratings system is there for a reason and even if you think your teenage son or daughter is mature enough for this don't even consider buying this for them, especially if you won't play it yourself first. There are graphic images in this game that make full grown adults cringe and ask themselves moral questions, don't put your kids in that position. Their choices may surprise you in ways you're not prepared for.

The barrier between film and interactive entertainment is dissolving and this is one of the games that will become a reference point in history. I really enjoyed playing the first half of the game and am absolutely comfortable recommending it to anyone who's enjoyed previous GTA titles. On the other hand, if you have problems with graphic content and foul language, just walk on.

RL

Monday, May 12, 2008

Night by Night: Finally, an explanation on the name of this blog.

There was a time, a very long time, when all my best work was done after dark. Creative work has always come naturally to me after the sun is down and the lights are dimmed.

I like taking my chosen challenges on when everyone else is asleep, whether I'm writing, working or playing hard online with friends. I miss working creatively at night, to be honest. It's one of the reasons why I left World of Warcraft, dropped a call center job last year, but we don't always get to work on our own projects when we'd like.

These days I work at night, the money is better and frankly, it's not as busy. The challenges I face at night are totally different. I've been doing customer care for over ten years, backing many different companies selling and supporting many different products and services. Going back to that in order to pay the bills is nothing more than an economic venture, so showing up for every shift and doing my best is a massive challenge. I can say for an absolute certainty that I wouldn't be there if I didn't need the money, and frankly, money is a low motivator for me.

This article and this site aren't here so I can complain about where I am and what I'm doing, however. Millions of people dislike their jobs, and millions of people show up every day for decades until they retire, IF they get the opportunity to retire. If I were truly unhappy I would be looking for other work or maybe trying harder to market the books I'm self publishing.

In short, Night by Night is a fitting name for my own blog because throughout my adult life my greatest challenges are undertaken during that time. Just as important is the fact that my job, my writing and other creative pursuits are all tests of endurance. Nothing is completed in just one night for me, no objective is won based on one evening's effort.


I take it one night at a time, whether it's just showing up for work regardless of how I feel about being there, taking pleasure in working on a new book or spending time with friends.

Hope that answers your question, Mr Anonymous.

RL

Friday, May 9, 2008

New For the 21st Century: The YouTube Moment


You remember just a few years ago people would see something endearing, adorable or humiliating and say; "That's a Kodak Moment." Well, it seems that we've tripped into a new age, where everyone with a cellular phone can take a video, often of questionable quality, of anything going on right in front of them and post it on YouTube, giving rise to 'The YouTube Moment'.

It's gone past pictures, past photo albums and completely around photo developing and the most amazing thing is that it's virtually free. Now you can take as many pictures or record as much video as your phone or inexpensive digital camera can carry and just upload it. YouTube, the most popular video hosting site, will make your video available to millions of users. This has proven an obvious truth: when you remove cost from the equation, you also remove taste. That's not true of all candid video on YouTube, but it's true of most. I'm not complaining, I find watching someone get whacked in the crotch by a T-Ball bat held by his five year old son as funny as the next guy even though I often pretend I'm above that kind of humor. The fact that everyone has video phones at the ready means that it could happen to you.

Imagine, you're just sitting there, minding your own business, a flock of birds fly overhead, you look up only to have one of them drop their cargo at the worst possible time. Someone happened to catch it on their cellphone camera and bam! It's on YouTube minutes later and going 'viral' spreading from one user to another, being sent around the globe. You're the famous 'Bird Crap Catcher.'

What's my point? Well, I think the digital revolution comes at a cost. Our privacy isn't at risk, it's under attack. If you're picture or video worthy, people are taking pictures and recording video of you unless you've found a nice secluded place in the mountains no where near the many resorts located in formerly secluded places in the mountains. There are other ways to hide, but I won't go through my list of hiding places because I'm afraid the next time I try to use one I'll find you there. I'm not paranoid, I'm just a private person, really.

YouTube has already been sued, so have their users for various violations of privacy and I think we're just at the beginning. There are new laws on this just waiting to be defined. Some will work for us and the preservation of our privacy, some will work against us. It'll be some time before the balance is found, possibly decades.

There's a brighter side to this as well, and it's important to remember that. There's nothing like typing a friend's name into Google and finding video of them falling down drunk or trying their hand as an amateur actor, or even being the victim of a practical joke. Some savvy couples have even posted wedding videos, baby's first steps, and other really legitimately touching moments that would be a lot harder to share if it weren't for something like YouTube. Those are YouTube moments, share them with your friends, their friends, and even post it on your blog. YouTube moments are made to be shared!

RL