Well, the PDF embed plug in used has gone to a subscription service, so that means I will be on the hunt for a new option.
Until then, my portfolio is going to look a little bare.
In other news, I do have a few very exciting projects on the horizon that are going to really be an incentive to making this website and blog a priority. So you can expect to see much more content coming through here.
If you are coming in from Carol Benanti’s screenwriting class, one of the things you can look forward to is a written adaptation of my history of the screenplay format lecture. That is going to be a multi-part series so keep an eye on this space.
I don’t play video games like I used to, which is unfortunate. But it’s E3 season, which means I’m drooling over new trailers like Charlie Bucket smashing his face up in the window of the candy store. I want it all, but there’s no way I can afford it.
But in a weird crossover, one of my favorite YouTube channels, Night Mind, recently posted a very in depth breakdown of the ARG “Tender,” a promotional campaign for the new Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines 2.
It’s long, but worth a watch. They really breakdown the different elements of the game and how they fit together. It’s a good analysis of an ARG and a good case study to look at if you ever think of creating one of your own.
There’s also a really good interview with the writer at around the forty minute mark where they go into detail about the process of creating the ARG and what it was like working on it.
I like Minecraft. I don’t play the campaign mode, but the sandbox is my favorite thing ever. It’s one of the reasons why I got an enormous SD card for my phone. I have a lot of little world I open up and tinker with. Sometimes when you have a day, it’s satisfying to dump a lot of lava on things.
I always thought it would be cool to have an AR component to the Minecraft mobile app. It would really lean in to the whole Lego element of the sandbox part of the game.
There is an app called Assemblr, which is a little counter intuitive and hard to control, even on my Galaxy Note and using the S-Pen to place and manipulate elements. It is still updating, and for once in my life I was an early adopter with one of these things. But Assemblr, as slick and fun as it is, doesn’t have the same pick up and play as Minecraft, and I still struggle with it. It showed itself off as a Minecraft style creative tool, and just… was disappointing.
Why isn’t there just a really cool, block based mobile game that let’s be just play Lego with my phone?
I didn’t see that coming!
Let’s go through why I love this…
One! This isn’t a Niantic reskin of Ingress
When you’re good at what you do just keep doing it over… And over… And over….
When Pokemon GO first dropped, it didn’t play nice with my phone for a while. So I did a little digging in the Play Store and downloaded the other thing that Niantic put out.
Ingress is a cool little game where you are supposed to claim outposts for your team, connecting them in real time in order to control areas for your team. It’s still live, and you should download it and play. And when you do, you might notice something…
It uses the same location data as Pokemon GO. And Wizards Unite. It is possible, right now, to have three people go to the same location, performing pretty much the same actions, and each one of them is playing a different Niantic game.
I’m sure it’s a very good way to quickly produce and release these licensed mobile AR games, but unless you’re only ever going to play the one game, it’s pretty obvious what’s going on. Honestly, once I saw behind the curtain, it took the shine off all the Niantic games. I didn’t really play much after that.
Two! The Creative Mode!
It’s a AR-based Minecraft experience!
This opens up play in a way that Niantic games can’t by their nature. By having a purely creative element as well as challenges, it appeals to the different ways people already play Minecraft.
I appreciate this thoughtful approach to the gaming experience. They could’ve taken the Niantic approach to this, but they seem to have really looked at how people play the game on PC and tried to translate to mobile.
In my opinion, I think the biggest deal for this is going to be collaboration. Being able to share a build, work on it together, and then be able to play in that build in the real world is going to be an absolute game changer. Not only will this allow players to create bigger and more complex builds within the game, it will foster a sense of community among players that a mobile game like this needs.
Four! Free. To. Play.
While you need an Xbox account to save your progress, Xbox is very clear that this is going to be free to play on both iOS and Android. They’ve also stated that Minecraft Earth is going to be lootcrate free, which is a big breath of fresh air.
While I hesitate to see how they’re going to monetize this (ads? An in-game store?), seeing that they’re taking the younger demographic into account and abandoning the more predatory aspects of gaming.
This is what needs to happen in the mobile game world
This is a huge leap forward in utilizing mobile AR for games, and I am very excited. Taking these kinds of chances with such a recognizable franchise as Minecraft is going to change the game. It’s going to show developers that you don’t have to make a clone of a Niantic game to make it, and that we needs to start taking chances with this technology.
Hats off to the Minecraft team. I’m not going to think for a second that this is going to go off without a hitch. There are going to be bugs, I’m sure. But the point is that they’re taking a risk when established, successful companies in the field have very aggressively avoided risk when they’re making games like this.
While Pokemon GO and Wizards United might be on my phone collecting virtual dust, I can’t wait for this release.
Minecraft Earth goes into beta this summer, if you have an iOS device that’s AR compatible. Learn more here.
I’m living in front of my computer screen, and it has this sort of Las Vegas casino effect. There are not any windows here. Is it daytime? Nighttime? I blink and it’s sunset… or sunrise?
I’m a little bit afraid what effect this hermit lifestyle is going to have on me as I apply for jobs. My sleep schedule is completely jacked. I’m becoming a little bit set in my ways, working on my own projects and little freelance projects with no real purpose other than what I force on myself.
So, I’m afraid I am going to become, temporarily, one of Those People.
Yes, I am going to be the most shameful of creatures, the Starbucks Writer!!!
I know, I know… I’m a cliche! A hack! John Scalzi wrote a whole book on why this is bullshit! Whatever, dude.
It’s a matter of mental health. As much as I love my cat, I’m getting cabin fever. I’m seeing things crawling up the walls, man! Solitary confinement is really, really bad for you…
So I’m going to be one of Those Guys… And I’m going to try not to be embarassed about it. I’m making money, I’m doing what I love. And if some Starbucks Dude wants to peak over my shoulder and give me grief about it, they’re going to have to deal with it.
I am currently making my way through the Criterion collection on Kanopy, and I came across an interesting film from 1978, called The Killing of a Chinese Bookie.
On paper, it’s a pretty standard mob crime story: the owner of a strip club gets in too deep with gambling debts owed to the mob, and is tasked with killing a rival bookie to pay off some of what he owes.
What makes it notable is director Cassavetes and cinematographers Mitchell Briet and Al Ruban’s choices in how they shot the film. At first glance, it seems amateurish. It looked like the sort of movie that a film student who watched too much French New Wave would shoot. The picture is often out of focus, pointed at nothing in particular.
It wasn’t until I got to the end of the film, when the camera is rock solid and the picture is almost impossibly crisp did I realize what was going on.
The cinematography was being used as an extension of the main character’s state of mind. The camera wanders with his focus.
When Cosmo is distracted, the camera itself is distracted, focusing on seemingly random parts of the scene, out of focus, and wandering through the set. But when Cosmo is focused, the scenes are shot crisply and simply, focusing on what Cosmo is currently working on.
When the movie ended I immediately started it over, and this new insight really made me more invested in watching the film. It also reminded me that any time I watch a movie, I need to be more cognizant of these tools in the filmmaker’s toolbox, especially if I’m resisting the film for some reason.
If you can find this movie (I watched it on Kanopy) I cannot recommend it enough. And I hope my little observation helps you appreciate it a little more.
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I recently found an early access app in the Google Play store called Assemblr. It’s a Minecraft-like sandbox where you can build in 3-d, then drop these creations into augmented reality or even VR.
I’ve been playing around with it, and while it is pretty buggy, it’s very feature rich. There a lot of pre-made elements that you can drop into a scene. You can also build with blocks or other assorted shapes for a real Minecraft experience. The skins and colors are customizable with detailed textures. I’m having a hard time getting the AR elements to work consistently, but I am going to be in contact with the developers because I really, really want this to work.
The applications for a handheld AR platform are incredible. What if you could have a zero impact art installation in a local park? Or graffiti that is secret? Signage for local business could be revolutionized, especially in cramped, busy cities. You could leave messages in a bottle on the sidewalk that can only be read by people with a certain app. Or you could add to certain places, such as supporting your team by leaving a message at a sports arena up on the wall. Or glamming up a statue in a sort of digital yarn-bombing. You could interact with great works of art and remix them into something original.
But as someone who spends a lot of time at theme parks, I think this technology is a huge opportunity. One big criticism of theme parks is the manufactured nature of your environment. You don’t have much impact over the things around you. Over the years, these things have begun to change. I first noticed it in the immersive environments in the queues at Universal’s Islands of Adventure, where the now-closed Dragon Challenge coasters had a part of the line make it seem like there was a dragon on the other side of the wall ready to attack. Recently, the refurbishment of Disney rides means they have started doing the same, with games and touch screens to keep guests entertained while they wait.
What if, instead of just distracting guests while they wait in line, you build on that concept to build up the entire world of the park? You could have an augmented reality map, with a line guiding guests to their destination projected onto the ground. You could have AR experiences that enhance the settings of the different Kingdoms. A large pirate ship outside the Pirates of the Caribbean ride. Animated birds flitting around, tempting you to go into the Enchanted Tiki Room. A large billboard for space tourism outside of Space Mountain. Animated characters appearing in Fantasyland and Presidents hanging out outside the Hall of Presidents. A parade float with an augmented reality beacon could have a fire-breathing dragon on top of it. You could have information about different types of flowers in the landscaping during the Flower and Garden festival at Epcot. You could have extra content about the different animals living at Animal Kingdom. You could have AR backgrounds in pictures that can only be accessed by visiting a designated Photo Spot.
And the best part of all this is that it would be cheaper to create than actually physically refurbishing the entire façade of a section of the park. This would allow for the constant creation of new material, which would keep the experience fresh and relevant. Seasonal content could be the Hitchhiking Ghosts dressed up as carolers outside of the Haunted Mansion during the Holidays. It could also enhance the experience of other secondary experiences in the parks, such as the Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom game, with hints or bonus content hidden throughout the park.
I’m looking forward to seeing how this little app improves. Hopefully they develop a social media component, so you can drop augmented reality blips and have others visit them.
And if the Walt Disney World Imagineers happen to stumble across this and like what they hear, they can contact me using this form.
Zero Draft Thirty is a fun, rewarding experience… until it isn’t.
The easiest way to ensure that your ZD30 is a success is to plot everything out in advance. When you’re writing a large chunk of text over a long period, the burnout comes swift and it comes hard. Don’t try and make it more difficult on yourself by going in without a plan.
Pantsing vs Plotting
In the great debate of “flying by the seat of your pants” versus “plotting it all out in advance,” I am what is known as a reformed pantser. I believed wholeheartedly in going with the flow and letting the characters tell me what to do.
When it comes down to it, you need to plan out longer work. When I was writing my feature The Patron Saint of Spies, the first draft was done intuitively. I let the story flow through me and went with my gut. I only worked when the Muse was talking, and it took me forever. When I finished, I read through the draft, and I did not like what I saw.
Knowing that, I plotted out my next script (a ridiculous chase movie called Certified Public Accountant) pretty extensively. Even though it was a silly thing designed to boost my confidence, I was amazed at how much faster my second script went to my first. I was able to put out a seventy page draft in a matter of weeks instead of months, and the plot problems I had with Patron Saint just weren’t there.
So learn from my mistakes! Plot out your script before you start writing. When you have a map to go by, you’re much less likely to get lost.
How to Plot
I’m not going to tell you that my way is the only way. Every writer has a way of plotting out story that works best for them.
Some people like being more free. You could keep a notebook and jot down ideas, connecting them in a mind map. You could storyboard major set pieces. You could also put together a loose narrative story. You could also go the tried and true route of putting each scene on an index card and carrying them with you.
Some people work best with a more rigid system. They use bullet points and go through each scene, putting loose notes what’s happening in each place. You could also put together a whole story bible, with every bit of information that you’re going to use for your screenplay.
Personally, I like Post-it notes. I use a pad of little two-by-two Post-its, and put each beat of the story on a note. I then put all the notes on the table so I have a literal bird’s eye view of my story. I can look at the progression of the story, where there might be holes, and rearrange beats as required. If I want to carry them around, I have a folded up piece of poster board that fits in my bag. I just stick my story on the poster board, and then every table becomes a desk.
However you do it, make yourself a map of your story so that you don’t have to rely on that fickle Muse to get you through. You’re going to be busy, so you can’t rely on her.