My writing goals of 2016 were to build a better writing space, to take a couple of writing trips, to release my thesis novel on paperback, and to make progress on my fantasy novel. I made some progress in some of those areas.
I did accomplish gaining a better writing space, having bought a condo, which along with fixing up said condo took up much of the second half of my year. But, it was a good thing. Now I can sit out at the pool and read or write all I want. And better yet, I feel a lot more secure about my future remaining in Los Angeles. With the soaring real estate market in Southern California, I had to take the time to get this done, and I'm glad it's behind me.
I did make progress on my fantasy novel, though I haven't worked on it in six months. The break was fruitful, though. I thought about the story and characters a lot. When I do get back to finishing up that first draft, the plot is pretty locked down, but the framing of how the story is told will change. I'm glad I had the time to work that out.
I only took one writing trip this year. It was short, but I enjoyed it and made good progress during it. In 2015 it was Big Bear, 2016 San Simeon. Don't know where I'll go in 2017, but it'll probably be somewhere not too far away. Maybe Santa Barabara or San Luis Obispo. At some point in the future, I need to go to a writing conference to see what they're all about. Won't happen in 2017, but at some point, hopefully.
I did get the technical stuff worked out with releasing 'The Wicked Trees' on paperback. I'm currently going through the digital proof, and will then go through the physical proof. I expect that this Spring is a likely release time.
I hope I'll finish the first draft of my fantasy novel in 2017, but I'm not confident I will. I also have to get back to my horror script at some point and write another draft of that.
As long as I'm pushing forward, I'm happy. 2016 turned out pretty good for me, but I hope that 2017 will produce a much greater volume of writing.
Few things are as frustrating as what has been done to the Star Wars universe, post-Revenge of the Jedi. While most people seemed to think that The Force Awakens was adequate redemption for the three films which preceded it, I disliked the film, and thought it to be a squandered opportunity.
Hence, when I walked into the 3-D, AMC-mini-IMAX viewing of Rogue One, I came with low expectations. Very few films would justify my losing of a Jackson and +2 hours of my time. But Star Wars still holds a strong place in my heart, and I wasn't going to wait around to watch this film on my TV.
First the bad news: Rogue One mostly squanders two acts on mediocre film craftsmanship and character development. There are far too many MS's and MCU's prior to the third act, making the film look cheap. The occasional XXLS looks fantastic, but there is an extreme dearth of LS's, to the detriment of the film.
There is not one character in Rogue One that is as well established or as engaging as Luke, Han, Leia, Ben, R2D2, C3PO, or Vader. Though I liked many of the characters, they were awfully thin. Some of the casting was great. Felicity Jones was fantastic in the lead as Jyn, and Ben Mendelsohn of Blood Lines fame, is terrific as a higher-up Emperial officer. How the hell they returned Peter Cushing from the dead, I'll never know, but they did it in very convincing fashion.
To repeat: the biggest flaw of this film is the weak character development.
After those two very mediocre first acts comes some of the best Star Wars filmmaking we've ever seen. The third act is an enormous, world-class crafted, epic masterpiece that is as great as any of the previous Star Wars films. It's a battle that happens on land and in space, with a well-paced build-up of tension, that leads to a fulfilling transition into A New Hope.
If only the characters had been crafted as well as the ones in New Hope.
However, this is a one-off, and as a big spectacle popcorn movie, it greatly succeeds. I couldn't fall into it during the first two acts, but I'm sure most people did. I enjoyed the hell out of the third act up on that big screen. To me, it is easily the fourth best Star Wars movie, and is a much better film than The Force Awakens.
Perhaps one of the biggest mistakes that Disney has made with the Star Wars franchise was separating from Michael Arndt during the early stages of pre-production on The Force Awakens. He is exactly the type of scribe they need to bring Star Wars back to where it deserves to be.
Though I had my issues with it, Rogue One, if for but 30 or 40 minutes, brought me back to the Star Wars of my childhood. And for that I'm happy and satisfied. And just to be clear: I think Felicity Jones is a huge star in the making.
My rating: 9.3/10
We've had a pretty awful year when it comes to celebrity deaths. Going forward, I think it'll just get worse as so many of the stars of the '60's, 70's, & '80's are now entering their golden years. The heavy toll that the fast celebrity lifestyle brings, as always, is causing too many of our beloved celebrities to die far before they should.
The death of Carrie Fisher is going to hit many hard. Not only did we fall in love with her amazing wit and sharp attitude over the years, but she, as Princess Leia, was nothing short of a monumental part of many of our childhoods.
I don't think that Millennials had anything like Star Wars in their childhood. Harry Potter was huge, but it wasn't Star Wars huge. Virtually all of us kids growing up in the '70s and '80s lived and breathed Star Wars. We begged our parents to buy us the little plastic figures and space ships which we played with for hundreds, if not thousands of hours. There is nothing today, not even close, to the anticipation of The Empire Strikes Back or Return of the Jedi being released. They were enormous cultural events—around the world.
And as these main Star Wars actors pass, so does a little part of our childhood. It's crushing. It's not just that it reminds us of how mortal we all are as human beings, It reminds us that the beloved parts of our childhood were just a temporary moment in time that will one day be forgotten forever.
Unlike so many of the celebrities we see on the TV all of the time, Carrie Fisher truly seemed like a person who would be an absolute blast to have lunch with and hear her stories, so many of which will now never be told. Now we just have the iconic images of her that will never leave our brains: bending down to give R2D2 that all important message, fighting in the Rebel base on Hoth, being chained to Jabba the Hutt.
It's a sad day, but it puts into perspective how truly special our childhoods were, in large part because of this monumental sci-fi space series that happened so long ago, in a galaxy far, far away, that changed our lives forever.
Gamespot's top five games of 2016 are:
5. The Last Guardian
4. Dishonored 2
3. Titanfall 2
2. Unchartered 4
I don't play the Dishonored or Unchartered series, though obviously they're well liked. I didn't play The Last Guardian either.
I am very glad that Titanfall 2 and Overwatch scored so high. I love them both. I'd give the strong edge to Titanfall 2, though Overwatch was designed for a much broader audience. Both games can easily be played for dozens, if not hundreds of hours and still feel fresh.
Overall, 2016 was a solid year for videogames. 2015, to me, was the year of The Witcher 3, Fallout 4, and Star Wars: Battlefront. 2017 is the year of Titanfall 2 and Overwatch.
What will 2017 bring? I think Red Dead Redemption 2 and the new Battlefront will be early contenders for game of the year. What I am pretty sure of is that a year from now, I'll still be playing Titanfall 2 and Overwatch, just like I still play The Witcher 3 now, a few months short of two years after its release date.
It is free trial weekend for Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare, the 13th installment in the series which started way back in 2003. I had been a long-time COD fan, from the beginning. I gave up after Ghosts and Advanced Warfare because it became obvious that Activision was putting the series into profit mode and out of innovation mode.
I really loved the Infinity Ward versions (COD-IV, Modern Warfare 1 & 2) back when Vince Zampella was still around, but after he left to form Respawn, Titanfall became the obvious FPSer series to jump to.
Although I haven't been happy with COD for some time, I decided to download Infinite Warfare to see if it was as mediocre as the reviews claimed it to be. It was Infinity Ward, after all, so maybe it wasn't so bad?
I could only play a few rounds. It was horrendous. The graphics, the map design, the game flow: it felt like something straight out of 2006. I stopped playing it, and went back to Titanfall 2.
To be clear: COD: Infinite Warfare isn't worth the price of free. It's garbage. The series is dead to me.
Thankfully, Respawn and DICE are still pushing the genre forward. Call of Duty had a terrific run. The series is a significant part of videogame history. Unfortunately, after Black Ops 2, it started a deadly quality slide. I hold out no hope for a return to glory.
In its heyday, nothing was better than Call of Duty. It'll be missed. It's highly unfortunate to see it suffer so badly in its later years. Activision should put it out of its misery. Unfortunately, as long as there is a penny to be made, that is unlikely to happen.
Total time put into Infinite Warfare: less than 30 minutes.
Total time (so far) put into Titanfall 2: over 40 hours, and still loving every minute of it.
I'm sure that under normal circumstances, I would never have watched Gilmore Girls. I'm obviously not the targeted demo. However, in the early 2000's, I was working at Warner Bros. in the main network control room which aired The WB, so I saw every episode, several times.
I actually enjoyed the show. It was witty and had great characters. After the original show-runner, Amy Sherman-Palladino, was replaced after Season 6, it became obvious that Season 7 would be the last. I always felt like the show didn't get the chance it deserved to run its full course.
Fortunately, Netflix, like they often do, came in several years later to save the day. They brought back Sherman-Palladino and let her do her thing. The reviews for what resulted, Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life, were terrific, as was the estimated views, and after watching all four feature-length episodes, I can understand why.
It took about a couple of scenes for me to fall back into the show, but once I did, I was hooked. The writing was as sharp as it ever was. Palladino wisely chose to skip forward to Rory's early thirties, where she's struggling to find her way, not only in the competitive NYC journalism space, but in life in general. Lorelai has her crossroads ahead of her as well, both with the inn and with Luke. Emily, along with the rest of the Gilmore family, has to deal with the death of Richard, which is handled in tremendous dramatic fashion throughout the episodes.
There are some minor problems. There are timing issues which seem odd. Characters seemingly travel long distances instantly. Rory writes an inch thick part of a manuscript overnight. Some scenes are tied together in similar unfortunate, clunky ways. Although most of the humor is terrific, some of it falls flat, like when Lorelei fires one celebrity chef after another. It's one of the few sets of scenes that should have been left out.
Most of the scenes work tremendously well, however, At times, Sherman-Palladino even lets us dislike Lorelei and Rory, more so than had ever been the case in the show. Rory is having an affair with Logan, who is engaged. But it fits, now that she's in her thirties and her world is crashing down around her. It leads to the ultimate question, will her poor decisions lead her to repeat the life of her mother?
A Year in the Life does a stunningly good job of bringing back so many of the old characters, even if for a scene or two. The characters have for the most part moved on, but Stars Hollow stays stuck in its eternal time warp, The town was always a central character to the show, and now that Rory is at her inevitable what-am-I-going-to-do-with-my-life? phase, it is even more important. Could Stars Hollow be enough for her?
I think A Year in the Life is the finest season of Gilmore Girls to date. Sherman-Palladino deserves major credit for this accomplishment (and her husband as well). Some of the tense scenes where the Gilmore family fights to come to grips with the death of Richard are the best of the entire series. And in fitting fashion, it ends on a wallop of a note, so we must hope that Netflix allows for future seasons so that Sherman-Palladino can end the series in the way she feels it must.
My rating: 9.5/10
Sometimes the stars align in the most magnificent of ways.
My work week starts on Thursday afternoon. My typical routine is to go to the grocery store on Thursday morning, cook my lunch for the next few work days, and then head off to work. However, this last Thursday, the water was shut off at my condo complex for maintenance purposes, so I didn't do any cooking.
On Thursdays, my employer gives out free bagels. I decided to eat one this Thursday, since I didn't bring my lunch. I was thinking about going out and getting something else small to eat, but decided to go for a walk during my lunch break instead, something I almost never do.
During my walk, which was at night, I strolled by the Westin Hotel on Century Blvd., just downstreet from LAX. There was a little black kitten, sitting in the grass in front of the hedges alongside the hotel, crying loudly. Several people just walked by her, without even looking. I decided to leave her for the time being, since I didn't want to take her in case her mother had left her there while going out to hunt.
After work, at 11:30pm, I walked back to the front of the hotel. I didn't see the cat, but I whistled, and it replied. So I put out a can of tuna, and after a few minutes, it came walking towards me. I let it eat for a bit before grabbing it and taking it home.
My previous cat had passed away at age 18, early last year. I wasn't planning on getting a new cat for another year or so. But, I figured I certainly wasn't going to pass up the opportunity to save this very frightened little kitty. It had been left on a very busy street, and I'm sure hundreds of people walked by it, ignoring its pleas for help.
She is doing well. I took her to a vet on Friday, and she's a healthy 5-6 week old female kitten. She's getting braver by the day, is eating copious amounts of food, and is a very playful, black ball of fur.
So, as fate would have it, because those water valves at my condo happened to be replaced on Thursday, I was able to rescue a beautiful little kitty who I've named Miss Daisy Buchanan High Dragonborn Metal Cat of Apocalyptic Supernova Thunder, or just plain 'Daisy' for short. You can follow her on Instagram: @missdaisykitten.
There has been a noticeable shift in first-person-shooters to not include, or to make it somewhat difficult to view, a player's Kill-to-Death ratio. The old Call of Duty syndrome, where too many players focus on their own K/D's over their team's goal, made shooters less fun to play over the years. The players who took great pride in their K/D often camped or sniped, even if it was hurtful to their team. The great thing about FPS's that have small teams, is one person can oftentimes make a big difference—but can be a great hinderance, as well.
Blizzard's Overwatch has no visible sign of any K/D, and that's a good thing, as the game modes are non-Team Deathmatch in nature. I never feel stressed about dying in Overwatch. The penalty for dying is a time fine, because you don't get back to the battle very quickly. This can hurt your team, but it has no lasting effect beyond the current game.
When Titanfall 2 first came out, there was no visible K/D stat. In a recent update, they added it, both a total K/D and a pilot vs. pilot K/D. The stats page is not hard to get to, but it's not brightly highlighted either.
I've noticed that having the stats available has caused me to adjust my play. During the first prestige of any FPS, I'm always under 1.0 with my K/D, regardless of the game. Not knowing the maps or weapons burdens me more than the average player. Then in subsequent prestiges, I tend to turn positive. During those first couple of prestiges, I tend to check the K/D stat far too often.
When the Titanfall 2 update hit, my total K/D was 2.5, and my pilot vs. pilot K/D was 0.8. Now they're both, as expected during the second prestige (regen), creeping upwards. But what's changed is my anxiety when I have a horrible game. It tracks the last ten games you played, and I'll go a game or two where I'm 3.0/1.2, and then one where I'm 4.5/2.5. But when that one awful game hits where I'm 1.5/0.6, it definitely affects my play for the next few rounds, as I become more conservative with my play, and as I switch to weapons/Titans that I'm better with. My gaming brain doesn't accept that I was just having a bad game, probably against better players. The odds of going up against a stack of superior players in the next few rounds is low. And sometimes the flow just works against you for a game, even against average players.
I think a wise thing would be to put the winning percentage up front and center. For a game like Overwatch, or any game without Team Deathmatch, K/D doesn't belong at all. But for something like Titanfall, it's useful. I don't hear people bragging about their K/D or their worry over it dropping. It would nice if it was burried further though, so its psychological ranking would be below other stats that are more important to team play.
Kill-to-Death ratios had their heyday. The time has come for them to be put in their place, however. How good of a FPS player you are, especially in our current gaming era, depends on far more than your ability to live and die. It depends more on your ability to achieve the objective of the game mode. We probably need a whole new order of stats to measure our competency at doing this.
And for the love of God, game developers, please come up with a way, even if it's minor, to punish frequent campers. Having a camping stat that everyone can see, so they know how awful of a human being you are for sitting behind that doorway because you're too much of an ass to play the game like it was meant to be played, would be much more useful to the gaming world than any K/D stat ever was.
I finally finished the first season of Netflix's Stranger Things, the 1980's fantasy themed, Spielberg-esque drama.
I loved the retro feel of the show. It felt like every minute of it, from the Dungeons & Dragons basement stuff, to the cheap wood paneling in the houses, took me back to my teenage years. The production artists did a fantastic job. This is nostalgia done right and is a huge part of why so many people love the series.
The casting is great too—especially the kids, who are terrific throughout. There are some relatively dark, heavy scenes, and the child actors seemingly handle them with ease. The adult actors do a fine job as well, especially David Harbour who plays the local police chief trying to figure out the mystery.
I felt Stranger Things shined in tense moments of wonderment and confusion as to what exactly was going on. When the kids were looking at each other, and you could feel their minds churning, trying to figure stuff out—it was pure awesomeness. The more it tried to explain what was happening, especially from a scientific standpoint, the more trouble it got into. Believability issues extended to other areas as well, such as the police chief easily sneaking into a top secret government facility. The special effects were at times great, and at times mediocre. I'm guessing Netflix will pony up a higher budget for season two to address some of these issues.
The concept, sans the scientific explanation of it, was absolutely terrific for such a period piece. These kids are playing characters that were my age at that time. I could strongly relate to so much of what was going on, and I loved it.
Eight episodes was fitting for this first season. The tension was effectily built up over the season's arc. I'm glad Netflix is keeping Season 2 to nine episodes, so we won't get unnecessary lulls in the emotional buildup.
Overall, I give Stranger Things high marks, especially in terms of 1980's fantasy nostalgia. Except for a few, and sometimes major, believability issues, I enjoyed the hell out of it. Netflix did things right, yet again.
My rating: 8.6/10