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Geek Rants

Those Bad Creative Habits

While Tim brings a close to his NaNoWriMo efforts (well done man), and as the year heralds the end of GeekOut, I’m coming to realise that a few of my bad habits have reared their ugly heads. Perhaps it’s brought about by the sedentary lifestyle of a self-employed writer and entertainer, destined to only travel for work once or twice a week for the foreseeable future. I’m stuck in front of my computer far more often, clawing and reaching for excuses to get out of the house for a few hours. Fortunately running GeekOut events have afforded me a far wider social circle, so I’m certainly not short of people whose times I can encroach upon. But in between coffees and gigs, I sit, a slave to my keyboard and microphone.

I recently used Skyrim as a means of pulling myself out of an unpleasant mental spiral. It worked, and I’ve built up a rather brutal sneaky barbarian and necromancer who I’m rather pleased with. Built a house at staggering speed, took part in the civil war for the first time ever (disappointing cycle of quick mission and dull fort sieges to be honest), and then realised how much time I’d been pouring into the game… and all of the games I’d neglected.

Understand that I am not saying Skyrim was a bad choice, nor am I particularly saying that the amount of time I’ve been spending playing games has been particularly negative, but there is a definite need to dig into the untapped well of unplayed games, and not give in to the temptations of the Autumn sale! That well is not running dry any time soon.

And it’s not just Skyrim, I’ve been watching the same cycle of YouTube videos, watching the same old films and TV shows that make me a little over-comfortable, and while they do just that, I come to face a blank page and find myself with nothing new to say. I sit and drive at old projects, progress definitely slowed, but I’m definitely not going to give into the temptation of starting a new project and consigning the current ones to the archive of half-finished trash.

To be fair I’m rather proud of some of that trash, pieces of it are constantly being rolled into the next thing, and onwards to the next thing, so that my entire library of unfinished products can be charted like sedimentary strata, but it doesn’t change the fact that there’s very little finished work in it. It’s a terrible cycle, but there’s some positive side-effects.

We’re creatures of habit, life is a series of cycles, good and bad. Hells, I’m almost entirely certain I’ve written this article before, perhaps not with the same words or the same examples, just something to consciously break the loop and to drive me back into doing something positive with my work, and maybe to encourage others too, to recognise what are positive habits and what are destructive cycles, how to promote some and break others.

Sometimes one requires a kick up the idiom, and as perverse as it sounds, I tend to use the same YouTube videos every time I need one, because it’s advice I need to hear, and sometimes need to be reminded of.

Next on the to-do list, play a different game, prepare for Christmas, and the start of a new chapter, get some new working routines, and try and get back into the habits that GeekOut has fostered in me for the last six years.

Live for the positive takeaway.


Gaming Until 4AM

Have you ever been on a serious gaming holiday? You and a bunch of friends in a caravan or a rented house or something that has some combination of beds and a table that gives you space to just play some games, somewhere that isn’t home.

It sounds counterproductive, what’s the point of going somewhere different to do the same thing you do at home with the same people you game with every week? If you’ve allocated time off work already, is there much point to spending money on a change of surroundings as well? At least at a convention there’s an event, friends who have travelled across country to see, strangers to meet and chat to, shows and panels. Going on holiday should usually be an opportunity to go out and see somewhere new, experience different things, things that break the monotony of life at home and give you a change of scenery, scenery you’re not going to see if you’re playing board games inside.

Plus if you stay home you get to sleep in your own bed.

This weekend I was in a hostel less than half an hour from my house with a bunch of friends, most of whom I see once a week, many at least once a month, all compressed into bunk beds with a small kitchen/diner with limited parking and sat on the side of a hill that made moving stuff from our respective cars hard work… because I’m a nerd and spend most of my day in a computer chair not walking up and down hills. There were ten of us with little to no room to breathe, let alone cook bacon and pancakes for everyone.

Sincerely, I would advise everyone go on a gaming holiday with friends. It’s not my first either, many years ago I went to a caravan in Wales to do the same thing but heavier on the Dungeons & Dragons, and there are plans on the table to do the same thing again soon. There were hill and valley walks available to us, a small town within a half hour’s walk, but the main attraction by far was the collection of games we’ve all played dozens of times before, but there is something about the change of scenery, the geographic distance from day-to-day life, and in my case, distance from my computer, it all makes you appreciate and enjoy your hobbies so much more, and at the risk of sounding cheesy, it makes you appreciate the people more.

It gives you the time to settle into the larger-scale games that may not be played all that often because of the investment of time. Robo-Rally and Arkham Horror, things that can take hours, or take obscene amounts of setting up. I would say that taking a holiday with ten people and only one six-person table between us was perhaps not ideal, and as an astonishing majority of games cap at eight players, it’s an awkward sized crowd when you really want everyone at the table.

I also advise taking coffee because you’ll need it the morning after playing Mao until 4AM and only stopping because every card you play is giving you a panic attack.


Sci-Fi – What The Future Holds

When I was growing up, the science fiction I watched painted a fairly clear picture of how the creator thought humanity should be. Star Trek and Babylon 5 showed versions of humanity who were united in a universe full of creatures who showed us that we were not so different to one another compared to the aliens that surrounded us, and we could reach out to those races with our newfound acceptance of one another to form stronger unions with them. (more…)


Studying Video Essays

I’m a great proponent of the internet as a tool for delivering easy to digest learning materials, and yes, YouTube is awash with exactly the kind of tools I’m talking about.

Movies especially have an abundance of video essayists who talk at length about films and the film industry, taking wildly different approaches to the art form. Nerdwriter is a current favourite, whose short discussions that may dissect a single scene in a film, deeply explore a particular technique, or occasionally delve into a different topic. Lindsay Ellis does extensive studies that delve deep into the industry, historical relevance of certain creative choices, or shed light on some behind the scenes processes you might not have heard about before. The Closer Look, Every Frame a Painting, Lessons from the Screenplay, there are many of incredible students of film out to share their thoughts and insights.

For academia in general, Kurzgesagt, CGP Gray, some of the extra vlogbrothers content like SciShow; for literature Tale Foundry, and to an extent Terrible Writing Advice; for tabletop RP, Monarchs Factory, Matt Colville; these are the talking heads, the voices of people who have learned enough to want to share and impart what wisdom they can. Though most of it is heavily slanted by the perspective of the author/essayist/YouTuber in question, most strive for an objective approach and back their opinions with research or extensive experience.

I have been spending vast portions of every day studying the talking-head genre, because some time before the end of this month I’m hoping to put my own videos out there. Not something you’d think I’d consider too difficult, I’ve written 500-2000 word articles twice a week, almost every week, plus Top 10 entries, and most of those have been released on time (here, the author coughs by way of acknowledgement that this does not include today’s piece). I also like talking, especially to an audience, be it a half dozen gamers sat at a table, or a hundred or so gamers who are fool enough to want to listen to my opinions.

So where’s the hang-up?

First of all, a moment of gaming the algorithms on YouTube, what I need to produce has to last for ten minutes. After some experimentation playing around with an autocue generator, I’m estimating a minimum of 2000 words, and I – unfortunately – have a tendency to write concisely, too concisely. So it has been a lesson in padding and drawing out subjects without making it dull listening. This also presumes a script, which I’ll come to momentarily.

Second… talking to a microphone is a world apart from talking to an audience. I invested in a moderate quality microphone, poor audio quality is a killer for videos like this and frankly my webcam was proving inadequate. But here this thing sits… glaring at me, unresponsive. As someone who – by necessity – feeds off the reactions of the audience to inform the content, a microphone is a maddeningly passive audience.

Do I improvise, or do I script in full? I know there are plenty of talking-heads who do one, the other, or both. In my early attempts I tried to strike a balance, writing my script as if it were a D&D game plan, a few notes on talking points, a rough idea what I want to talk about and when, enough to structure without being restrictive, but I learned afterwards that I have a maddening idiosyncrasy that makes editing that style of essay impossible: when I’m thinking, I draw out syllables so that the space in between is almost non-existent. So effort two reads straight from a script, and, while better, I find I stumble over the words that I have written. I entered into the idea thinking it would be the perfect for someone who enjoys talking as much as I do, and here I find I’m learning to talk all over again.

When I put down my keyboard I’ll be trying again, and again, to get this right, possibly trying a few other approaches. I write purely to vent, this is a topic on which there are a thousand answers, none of which right for everyone, it falls within the category of “practice making perfect” and “finding what is right for you”.

I’ll be back when I have a right answer.


Monstrous Ecology

A quick soapbox moment, August has been a busy month and what little bit of time I have had for myself should not be spent watching mediocre films.

So that Netflix had something to suggest when people looked for A Quiet Place, they produced The Silence. The shameless similarities are well documented, it’s practically an Asylum film*, a piggyback on the popularity of a blockbuster to parasitically gain a sliver of notoriety, so I won’t go too deeply into the similarities, but here’s the brief synopsis:

The world has become overrun with monsters that have some hypersensitivity to sound, and they hunt and kill anything that makes a lot of it, they appear to be blind, so anyone capable of living in silence has a chance to survive. One member of the family we follow is deaf, so sign language becomes an essential part of day to day life, and little mistakes cause death, plain and simple. One film is most definitely better than the other, and I won’t start on why, but The Silence raised one hell of a bugbear for me.

So many films are simply bad at designing monsters, and in many cases it’s because drama defies logic. I remember years ago hearing someone remark that dinosaurs would never have roared at random during a hunt because it’s simply bad stealth, announcing your intent to kill someone is the business of certain serial killers who enjoy the fear and dominance of predation, not something that depends on killing to eat. That’s shoddy dinosaur behaviour, but it’s only a narrow leap of logic away from the truth; The Silence’s subterranean bats on the other hand, require some tremendous feats of thought.

Creatures wholly dependant on sound and echolocation make only sounds that support their hunting efforts, and they are adapted to make sounds at a pitch and frequency that make echolocation incredibly effective. We – humans – understand very little about our surroundings by screaming at them. For a start echolocation requires short sounds that are over by the time the echoes return to us, rather than a drawn out howl that drown out the feedback. Of those humans that have mastered echolocation as best as a human can, they make small clicks and pulses, incredibly quiet, but shockingly effective.

The creatures in The Silence shriek, and they shriek constantly. When they move they make a loud fluttering, they scream at each other, they attack anything in the way with a loud clattering sound. These are not echolocation sounds, these are not hunting sounds, these are horror film sounds, and the dimmest understanding of the logic is enough to make such monsters unwatchable and boring no matter how good an actor Stanley Tucci is. A prime example: in an early film moment when the bat-things are attacking a car, and somehow one of them hears activity nearby that the others don’t, and hears it over the sounds of senseless screeching and battering.

And yet later on loud noises are enough to drive them insane?

Let us also briefly touch upon the notion of horror movie predators that delight in leaving corpses for people to find, still with plenty of edible flesh on them. For a creature that appears to have survived centuries below ground, that’s some profoundly wasteful eating habits for a creature that requires a vast amount of calories to both fly and keep screaming like that.

Anyway, rant over. Feel free to discuss other examples of illogical creature design with me, this particular irritation doesn’t appear to be going anywhere, not as long as we continue to sacrifice the basics of logic in the name of a good story. A plot hole or two is fine, but I will not climb down into that particular crater.


*Actually the screenwriter, Shane Van Dyke, has worked on Asylum mockbusters before! There’s interesting. Dude does not understand how deafness works.


Energy: Slowing Games Unnecessarily

Have you ever been bored and downloaded a random game, be it from the App Store or Google Play? I do this a lot. At the moment, I’m playing a daft game where you summon all the chickens, akin to the little girl who wants you to look at all of them. I’m also playing some castle defense game, where I just summon as many monsters as I physically can to take down the enemy. As such, I’m pretty set in that I have games to play – And I find them amusing. Sometimes though, I yearn for a new game… And I love strategy, puzzles and more. It’s also here I find the most deadly sin of all; energy systems.

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Top 10 – Company Blunders

Ever feel like a company has to put on a brave face? You bet that it happens to every company at some point in their lives. Hey, we’ve made mistakes on this here site, definitely including a number of typos (sorry!) Nevermind, we’re here to embrace, or perhaps shun the top examples we can think of when we say company blunders, when a company makes a big mistake, whether it was funny or just outright disastrous.

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“Watch Later” – Where Good Intentions Go To Die

File “Watch Later” in the same place as all of the books you bought and intend to read, and all the unplayed games in your Steam library, all of those Magic decks you’ve been meaning to build, and all of your unpainted miniatures yes I’m calling you out. I’m calling you all out! And I don’t get off lightly in this lecture, I have more books than I have bookshelves, and a terrible habit of not reading anything that isn’t a role-play accessory of some kind, I’m a terrible person. (more…)


Top 10 Worst of 2018

GeekOut Top 10s

2018 has been home to some of the best and worst things we’ve seen in a while, which isn’t surprising – That happens every year. So, last week during our usual Top 10 slot, you chose for us to write about the Top 10 Worst of 2018. So buckle up, we’re focusing on the best and worst of anything geeky, from films, video games and even the internet itself gets a stern looking at.

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The Pursuit of Perfection

Here’s a positive message on which to end a bad year*. Stop striving for perfection! (more…)