Friday, April 17, 2015

Welcome to Left Coast: a trailer for my new game

Left Coast, my game about science fiction authors in California, is available for purchase for $6.99 at payhip:

Here's a trailer for the game, which I think captures its vibe pretty well. (The soundtrack comes from the band I was in at university.)

Please feel free to reshare this with anyone you think would be interested in science fiction, authors, the lives of writers like L. Ron Hubbard, Philip K. Dick and Alice B. Sheldon, California in the 1960s and 70s, and general weirdness in the vein of The Truman Show, Stranger than Fiction, and A Scanner Darkly.


Monday, April 06, 2015

The Jinx: Interesting articles about the timeline (all filled with spoilers)

Just finished watching The Jinx, so finally I can read all of the articles I've had piled up in my feed.

Spoilers all the way down ...

First, I didn't know that Andrew Jarecki and his team had been working on this project for ten years (starting in 2006 with their research for All Good Things, which was initially supposed to be a documentary).

Here's Slate's overall timeline of the events in Bob's three murder cases.

Jarecki discusses the origin of the interviews with Daniel Fienberg at Hitfix. He talks about the intentions behind doing the show, and the way they decided to structure it (in terms of number of episodes, their pacing, and the reasons behind his decision to incorporate himself into the film):

We began cutting sort of episode one and episode one was really fascinating and Bob doesn’t even sit down until the end of episode one. 
So we said, "Well that’s the pace of the thing. The pace of the thing is obviously we need to know enough about this person before we meet him and then we need to absorb these chapters of his life. 
And this is a guy who’s been accused of three murders over 30 years. There’s no zipping through these things because we investigate. So for us, we needed to go and understand what had happened in every one of these situations. The audience needs to understand them in a way that’s not the kind of glossy way that you get in a a traditional television environment.

This Gawker timeline of the interviews shows us that the way Team Jarecki presented the events of the documentary (particularly Bob's first visit to his brother's house) don't match the order they happened in.

David Poland has some reasonable follow-up questions about what would be useful to know about the production process.

The film-makers say they didn't go to the police before their final (probably their second) interview with Bob because they didn't want to be seen as 'working for the police' when they spoke to him.

The film-makers' lawyer, Victor Kovner, talked to the Village Voice about the implications surround the production company's research and decisions.

Kovner says the facts are clear. "The final interview was conducted in April of 2012," he says. "The washroom confession — or the talking to himself after the video, as the audio kept going — was not discovered until June 2014 and was made available to law enforcement shortly after."
Kovner also dismisses the notion that there was any deal struck between law enforcement and filmmakers to schedule the arrest for maximum publicity. Rather, he says, the authorities operated independently, though they may well have factored in the possibility that the airing of the final episode would force Durst's hand.

"It came as a shock to the producers and to me that he was arrested on the morning before the airing of the final program," Kovner says. "The probability of flight risk was evident and law enforcement obviously knew that."
Kovner says the relationship between the filmmakers and new law enforcement efforts is "complicated."

A professor of constitutional and international law at Harvard University gives his opinion on the legal standing of Bob's closing statements at Bloomberg News. He raises points about:

* the chain of custody on the recording
* whether it's been tampered with
* whether Bob's state of mind was distressed (post-interview) when he made his comments
* whether he should have had an expectation of privacy
* whether, as evidence, the recording would be probative or prejudicial. (Probative:  the jury is likely to glean useful information from the statement that would help prove guilt or innocence; Prejudicial: the jury is more likely to form an irrational prejudice the basis of the evidence)
* whether the structure of Bob's statement (as a soliloquy) means the material is hypothetical or trying out various possibilities. In particular, the identity of the participants in the soliloquy matter in determining Bob's intended meaning

And for the hell of it, Daniel Kanemoto's fan credits for the Walking Dead using The Eels' Fresh Blood:

Friday, April 03, 2015

The Limit: What collaborating with myself on a script polish felt like

I've had the oddest script-writing experience over the last week: I've co-edited a script with my past self.

Some background:

  • I finished my thriller, 'The Limit', back in 2011
  • I sent it off to about seven producers, none of whom were interested
  • Last week, a producer asked for a writing sample so I decided to polish The Limit
  • Re-reading it, I discovered I'd been sending out the wrong copy, a previous draft, to producers.
The draft I should have been sending out was filled with amazing writing choices and punchier scenes. It had reduced the page count from 106 to 100 pages. It felt leaner, more intense. And it gut-punches you right in the feels exactly when it should.

But there were still sequences that felt clunky.

And so 2015 Steve decided to collaborate with 2011 Steve. We used pretty much every rewritten scene from the 2011 draft. With another four years of experience and distance, I was able to look at the scenes that didn't work and say:

  • This is too verbal; we're writing a movie
  • This is too complicated; this movie needs to be simple
  • This is too overwrought; let's make our point and move on
In most instances, all three of those things were true.

I was a compassionate but brutal editor of my own work. I loved and respected what 2011 Steve had done, while feeling authoritative about saying that the script now needed to work 'this' way in order to achieve its potential.

The script is now down to 93 pages. It'll probably lose another couple after this next editing pass.

Saturday, December 06, 2014

Had a great playtesting session with @gamesteratlarge & @simoncarryer last week.

+Simon Carryer has been developing a game which he pitches as "What if D&D has been designed by David Cronenberg?" Over the last couple of years we've worked through what the biologically-invasive monsters would look like and tried out a few versions of brutal combat. But there's always been this tension:

  • the communities in this game are traditional and suspicious of outsiders and monsters
  • the adventurers are outcasts from society being gradually transformed by their exposure to the dungeons they enter
  • the communities need the adventurers but are primed to reject them.

We discussed how the adventurers could fit into the setting, and that prompted Simon to share some very cool ideas that had been implicit in his rules for a long time.


+Michael Sands has been designing a Napoleonic naval combat RPG for a while. Recently he switched it over to a science-fiction setting in order to explore crew creation without having to bring players up to speed with lots of historical information.

It worked great: crew design is a bit free-form, and we argued for a while about whether our stolen and experimental racing ship needed a User Experience Consultant in addition to our Pilot and Engineer. Plus we have a teenage stowaway and an uplifted (and kleptomanic) octopus who just wanted to fit in, on board.

Really looking forward to giving this more of a test next month.


We finished off with a playtest of my game, Soth. I think this is close: it's a game about cultists trying to summon a dark god. After the last round of playtesting, I've simplified the rules for how a community grows suspicious about what the cultists are up to, and introduced some Mountain Witch-esque not-so-secret agendas to complicate the cultists' attempts to maintain the appearance of normality while performing four ugly rituals to summon Soth.

One more playtest and then I think I'm ready to whip this up from a beta draft that I can use into something publishable.

Friday, July 18, 2014

What are your picks for the best sit-coms of the last 10 years?

Someone just asked over on Facebook and said pick only 1.

I cheated when answering:

---   ---   ---

I've found that most sit-coms in the last 10 years have had one or two seasons of greatness (or greatness sprinkled all the way through.

So, picking only one? Nope. But …

Arrested Development (2003-2006) is the master of the gradually building running gag.

Community is inventive and has the bonus of pulling back the curtains on how a sit-com works. Not only about the plot mechanics, but about watching a team of amazing writers correct the faults it discovers in the show as it's running. It needs to be heavily curated though. I'm happy to point you in the direction of what I consider to be the 'right' episodes to watch. The creator, Dan Harmon, has also done great in-depth interviews with the AV Club and Alan Sepinwall that make great companion pieces.

The Thick of It (Season 3) combines humanity, astute observations about how political power is wielded and lost, and is pretty damn filthy.

How I Met Your Mother (Seasons 2 and 3) are a show coming into its height: most episodes play around with narrative structure or running gags. It also has a lovely rom-com heart.

Louis (Season 2) is something I haven't seen, but reliable reviewers have described it as incredible.

Silicon Valley (only one season so far) has the setting with the most comic potential of any sit-com I've ever watched.

Personally, I've also found Big Bang Theory has executed its premise splendidly. It's trad multi-camera comedy, and one day I will write my defence of it—but I have found (a) that by turning geeks into the lead characters, the first few seasons found an entirely fresh field of jokes to plough, and (b) despite massive stumbling blocks in Seasons 3 and 4, it fulfills the promise it makes to the audience and is not afraid to let its characters grow. The latest season I've watched (7) is disappointingly filled with misogyny and jokes about obesity: some episodes were basically unwatchable as a result.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The Stone Roses: Made of Stone (2013) is a must-see for fans

Last week, I had the pleasure of watching Made of Stone, the new documentary by Shane Meadows about the Stone Roses reuniting for a tour.

If you've ever enjoyed listening to the Stone Roses, this is a must-see. 

It's touched with insights into the legal events that surrounded their break-up, examines the creative dynamics between the band, and has some great drama in the vein of the best music docos.

But best of all: the music. Meadows has edited the film and the performances of the songs to bring out the subtext in the lyrics and the interplay between the band members. The way each song (and where it's performed) adds to the story of a band trying to reunite is just incredible. There were at least two points where I cried, and I was absolutely riveted by the last 15 minutes of the film.

Anyway, here's the trailer (which I think accurately captures the vibe of the film). If you like the trailer, you'll like the film.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

My new game: 'Soth'. It's Call of Cthulhu, after you've gone mad

If you ever wanted to know what the world looked like from the villains' point of view, Soth is the game for you.

Soth (26 page .pdf)

It's a roleplaying game where you play cultists in small town America trying to summon the dark god Soth. 

I call it ‘the horrible game’: it starts with your cult having just completed your first ritual sacrifice, and continues with you having to juggle four things:
  • covering up your crimes
  • continuing with your cult’s rituals
  • fulfilling your mundane responsibilities so your family, friends and workmates don’t get suspicious
  • warding off the growing number of investigators looking to bring you down.

The tone of the game is noir. In my playtests, it's felt very much like a ‘cat-and-mouse’ thriller. Sometimes the cultists are on top and their evil plans seem unstoppable; sometimes they're very much on the back-foot, scrambling to save themselves. It's got a very competitive ‘players vs. GM’ dynamic.

This was my entry in this year's Game Chef entry this year: a scorched-earth rewrite of an earlier version that's now a mostly diceless hack of Apocalypse World.

If it sounds like your sort of thing, feel free to download, share, play and comment here.