The Thing (2011) SPOILERS

OK, so I have very fond memories of the 1982 version of ‘The Thing’ by John Carpenter. It scared the piss out of me when I first saw it.  So you can understand that I was a bit skeptical in 2011 when I heard they had remade ‘The Thing.’ I know that movie nerds are going to tell me that complaining about remakes is lame but since I’m old enough to have seen the original ‘The Thing’ in the theater and loved every blood soaked, chest-bursting, eye popping minute of it, the fact that I bitch, bitch, bitch about remakes should come as no surprise.  Yes, this old person is old. Now go stick your dick in a pencil sharpener and let me complain.

That is some fucked up shit!

I was a bit less annoyed when I heard that rather being a remake of the original, the new ‘The Thing’ was going to be a prequel.  In the 1982 movie, it starts during just another day at a US arctic research facility. Some Norwegians show up, trying to kill a dog that is running across the snow and the Norwegians end up dead (one in a hand-grenade accident, the other is shot when he accidentally wounds one of the Americans while he is trying to kill the dog). The Americans think that the Norwegians have just gone insane and stick the dog in the kennel. Kurt Russel flies his helicopter back to the ruins of the Norwegian station where they find everything destroyed and a very strange burned body and clues that something happened after the Norwegians found something in the ice. Unfortunately, that something is now disguised as the dog (the ‘thing’ is an alien organism that can duplicate and replace other creatures) and it starts killing off the rest of the Americans one by one.

So, I though, OK, it will be dealing with what happened at the Norwegian station BEFORE the “thing”got to the US station.  OK. Cool.  I can deal with that.  And it did.  But it was otherwise almost the same movie. Which kind of made me wonder, “Well, what was so wrong with the original that we had to have the same movie made again?” It wasn’t exactly the same, but it was ‘same enough’ to feel redundant — people find weird thing in the ice, thie weird thing ‘infects the humans and duplicates members and then tries to turn them against one another, the humans are cut off from the outside world and are trying to kill the thing and the more altruistic decide that ‘the thing’ must never leave antarctica since it will wreak havoc on humanity if it does, so freeze the thing and roll the credits.

One of the interesting things about ‘The Thing’ (1982) is that the film is filled with people being ripped apart and transforming into all sorts of slimy, rubbery, grotesque tube-filled critters that are then burned. Despite all this death and dismemberment, the scene that always made me wince the most is when some of the survivors start instigating a test to see if someone is infected, they use a scalpel to slice the thumbs of the others to check whether they were ‘dopplegangers’ or not. Maybe the rest of the bloodshed seemed so over the top and the slicing of the thumb seemed so specific that I was able to dismiss the way out mutations on fire as ‘special effects’ whereas slitting your thumb open was a pain I could relate to.

I don’t know. I think I’ll just stick with the 1982 version. I suppose if the 2011 version was the first one I saw, I wouldn’t be so ‘meh’ about the remake. And the original story concept is so good that it would be hard to get away from — I just wish they had found a way to make the plot substantially different from the last one.  Give it 2 out of 5 severed heads (and that’s a gift).


Home Moanership

Yesterday the section of water main under our yard exploded and water came gurgling up out of the ground.  You can see ‘old faithful’ there, under the DANGER orange stripey thing that the Water Department put over it in lieu of a repair.  To the right of it are the remains of our tomato patch.  We were told that the utility would soon bring in back hoes, ditch witches, trench wenches, dirt flirts and other earth moving gear and tear some shit up and the tomato garden was right in the way.  I tried removing the fencing and stakes carefully but is soon became apparent that the tomato plants were fucked… so I just tore it all out, apologizing to the plants as I did so.  We now have a big bucket of green tomatoes. Hopefully the deer and rabbits will eat what remains before the water company arrives and grinds.

Curiously enough, even though the water is geysering out of the ground, our water still works.  Go figure.  The one thing I am thankful for is that the break is clearly on the outside of my watermeter. I’d hate to be paying for those thousands of gallons of wasted water.

My neighbor explained how the repairs will progress since this happened in his front yard a few years before we moved in. “First they will shut off the water and tear up the ground and determine that the only part of the main that requires replacement is the part that broke.  They will replace that little bit and turn the water back on and, almost immeadiately, the rest of the pipe will disintigrate under the increased pressure.  They will then turn off the water again, tear up the rest of your yard and replace the rest of the pipe.” Sounds about right.

Luckily for us, we are slightly uphill from the neighbors and their front yard is now a muddy lake.

Update: The pipe is fixed and part of the yard looks like someone had a tractor pull in it.  The former tomato plot is 100% gone so I don’t have to feel bad about fucking up the plants. I guess the grass will go back, but I’m pretty uninterested in having a quality lawn. Really, it’s just a place for our dogs to take a piss.


Another thing I really hate about Windows…

When I am using shitty, shitty windows 7 (which is still much better than shitty shitty shitty shitty fucking shitty windows Vista), sometimes a window will pop up telling me that the program I am using has stopped working. This window gives me the choice of either a) checking for a solution to the problem or b) closing the program. From past experience, a) never works so I always want to click b). When I click b), another window pops up telling me that Microsoft is now searching for a solution to the problem.

If I wanted Microsoft to search for a solution, wouldn’t I have clicked option a)?

As a former Mac user, one of the things I found irritating about the Mac OS is that the designers seemed very fond of dialog boxes that popped up asking me if I was sure if I wanted the computer to do what I had just asked it to do. At times it made me quite snappish. “Yes; I WANT to delete that now go and fucking delete it you smug, condescending, overpriced typewriter!” These days, I’d trade it all in a heartbeat if I never had to touch a Windows machine again. Urrg.


Am I a part of a culture of "always buying shit"?

When I tour the different discussion sites having to do with RPG stuff, I frequently come across posts about buying stuff and links to sites where one can buy stuff. There is cheap and stupid stuff for sale. You can buy steel, hematite or wooly mammoth ivory dice. There are even high end ’boutique’ sites that cater to the ‘geek culture’ with all sorts of stuff like Geek Chic where you can buy an $8,000.00 gaming table. And they now make a USB drive shaped like just about anything.

I have to confess that while I LIKE buying and owning shit (I am an American, after all), part of me thinks the whole “Geek is the new cool” and “express your unique individuality by buying more shit like a sword handle umbrella or a set of Lord of the Rings Plush minis” begins to make me a bit sick. Because, let’s face it, if you need a table to play games at, do you really need one that costs 8 grand? Do you carry an umbrella to keep the rain off your head or do you carry an umbrella with a samuri sword handle to impress your cubemates at how wacky you are? And if you collect things like Gandalf plushies and you are over 8 years old I don’t even want to know you.

I don’t know if I am a geek or not. I’m not good with computers or math (in spite of having one lightly used MSITM degree). I can’t tell you which actor played Doctor Who in which episode nor do I have a strong opinion on whom the best doctor might be (my default answer is ‘Tom Baker’ because I know his name). I can’t speak Klingon nor do I know the Vulcan calendar. I don’t really like gaming conventions (I have been to two). But somehow I fit the definition of ‘geek’ or I am ‘geeky.’ And when a large part of the definition of ‘geek culture’ seems to be ‘buying clever and useless shit’ or ‘collecting one pristine sample of everything and keeping it in mint condition,’ then I want out.

I realize that for me to rail against the ‘rampant consumerism’ of ‘geek culture’ is a lot like the pot calling the kettle black. I try to make money by illustrating RPG products. I have about 100 lbs of vintage lead minis (including a Jabberwocky and an Umber Hulk) in my basement. I buy more books, art supplies and music than I probably should, given my budget. Right now I’m trying to make some money by making some mosaic items that I hope people will buy (unemployment is like that). I even published my own game book via Lulu (which probably makes all of my “I don’t wanna be a geek” talk kind of ridiculous — and did you see how I snuck in a link to it? Buy a copy, please? Thanks!). But there is stuff and there is crap — and, I’m sorry, but most of what is sold through ‘Think Geek’ or other similar sites is useless crap.

I don’t know where I’m going with this. Maybe I’m just fed up because more and more of our lives seem to be spent on paying for or buying things… maybe it’s just male menopause or a mid-life crisis. What about making and inventing things? Miller (played by Tracey Walker in Repo Man (1984)) said, “The more you drive, the less intelligent you are.” Maybe that’s true. Everybody drives in Detroit and we have some astoundingly stupid people out here (like the guy who leaned on his horn and gave me the finger the other day because I made a left turn). But I also wonder if just spending a lot of time acquiring more and more stuff we don’t really need also makes us stupid.

2011 is a year when I will buy less. I’m still buying tools and art supplies, books and I’ll include a small budget for music. I’ll buy electronics and similar stuff only if I must (my S.O. has asked for a DVR capable TV because Netflix is phasing out discs by mail in favor of downloads). For the rest, I’ll do my best to recycle, re-use, repair or self manufacture.


Who needs more stuff to buy?

At the end of last month, the HUGE RUINED PILE posted an entry about the proposal of going a year without gaming purchases. Without hesitation, I decided to borrow that as my own new years resolution …and I just realized that I broke that promise yesterday when I ordered a book online that had some of my illustrations in it and for which I did not get a contributor copy, so I had to buy one… grrrr! Technically, I suppose my promise to myself still stands, since I promised to avoid purchases for 2011 (and, technically, 2011 hasn’t started yet — but I wouldn’t respect such justification from someone else so I can’t accept it from myself).

Part of what makes HUGE RUINED PILE’s suggestion appealing to me is that since I don’t have a job (and, thus, no money), many purchasing decisions have already been made for me. But I also have a ton of books on my gaming shelf that I have never used and will probably never use… and will never read. I just don’t devour rule books like I used to when I was 15. I also think my game mastering days are over — no one in my current circle seems to want to play the kind of game I want to run… and my interest in (and patience for) running anything they do want to play is too low. I just don’t see that changing.

If I were to run a game tomorrow, I doubt I’d use published stuff anyway. I’ve got some continent maps that I drew when I was much younger with such “inspired” names as, “The Dales” and “Elfwood” and “The Sinking Lands” that I would probably use as my setting, hokey names and all. My pantheon of gods would include a few borrowed from mythology, some who were made up and the rest stolen from The Church of the Subgenius. Monsters would include stuff from my old D&D manuals, borrowed from movies or comic books (Fin-Fang-Foom is perhaps a minor god), and other sources (i.e.: dero from Shaver). There would be mole people. And robots. And, of course, both magic and ancient ‘technology’ a la Gamma World and the aforementioned Shaver. I’d be shooting for ‘Hiero’s Journey’ meets Lankmar with heavy detours through HG Wells and Barsoom. Of course, given that everything in it would be someone else’s IP, it would be unpublishable.

It also becomes ethically problematic for me not to be buying (i.e.: supporting the efforts of others) if I’m working on stuff that I expect other people to buy. Maybe the solution to that dilemma is to just offer it for free. Which is what I am thinking of for Mines of Khunmar. I may just take the document that Geoffrey McKinney typed up from my notes, add the maps and dump it on the internet for all the world to have for free instead of toiling on it for 100+ more hours and then trying to sell it via Lulu. This would probably make more sense. I worked many hours on ‘Exquisite Corpses,’ and, if I figure how much work I put into it versus how many dollars I got out, I would probably be making less than an Indonesian twelve year old making shoes for Nike.

I might make more money if I had it printed and bound and then shipped it out myself, but I lack the front capital to make that happen and don’t want to spend all that time packing and shipping copies to individual customers. I also don’t want to invest the hundreds of hours it would probably take to make Mines of Khunmar ‘print ready’ with all of the editing, writing, redesigning, etc. The maps alone have taken a lot of time so far and I am not even finished with them. And then there are the illustrations. Even if I were to do just 20-25 illustrations (which doesn’t seem excessive for a 150+ page book), that would represent at minimum 100 hours. I just don’t have that kind of time.

In addition, I have to admit that the RPG business, with all of the drama, chest thumping and shilling that goes on, seems less and less attractive to me the more I look into it. The fact that it pays so poorly, making Khunmar more of a ‘Vanity’ project than anything else, makes me think that it may not be for me.

This probably isn’t the last word on this. I am considering the options, however.


Despair

I don’t think I’m ever going to get to run / play in the kind of game I want. Maybe it is a case of ‘grass always being greener’ or my desired ‘perfect game’ doesn’t exist… may I’m just a malcontent and a ne’er-do-well… maybe I’m just getting too old for this hobby and ought to take up golf or heavy drinking.

Currently I am playing in 3 games:

1) A ‘Savage Worlds’ Game: The guy (whom I will call K.) who is running this is a friend, and, for his sake I don’t like to slag on the campaign he likes or the style of game, but somehow ‘Savage Worlds’ just does not catch fire for me. It seems entirely too easy to succeed for the players — eleven sessions and only 1 PC death (which was reversed by someone playing a ‘mulligan’ type card. As far as I can tell, most of the campaign seems to come right out of his brain as we play — conceptually not a deal breaker, but somehow I don’t feel like we are really solving problems when we are confronted with an obstacle and everything we try just seems to fail until we light upon some randomly chosen solution. I don’t really want things to be that easy for us — maybe I’m just jaded, but it feels like as a group we succeed on quests too easily.

I confess that I am also having ‘DM’s Remorse.’ I was running a campaign earlier with the same players but ran out of time/energy because I was on the job market and trying to finish my degree. I handed over the reigns to him and said, “do with it what you will” and suddenly he kept enough of my material to make me feel like I couldn’t re-use some of that material in the future but changes it so much that I can’t see myself incorporating the changes he has made in any future campaign either.

Plus, and I hate to harp on this, but I have trouble maintaining my ‘suspension of disbelief’ in the reality of the world when all of it is being generated on the fly and does hang together… “Ok, the mayor’s name is, uh, Frank… and he says that his, um, sister, Jane, has a problem…” I’m not expecting (or hoping) for a Tolkienesque level of detail, but I’d like something that at least makes a gesture towards consistency and verisimilitude. One of the pleasures of working through an adventure that has been designed beforehand is that the DM will hopefully feel resonably constrained by what is recorded — i.e.: I suspect that K the DM often pulls his punches in the game simply to make sure we don’t get wiped out — which dampens the feeling of victory somewhat.

After playing it a while, I don’t like ‘Savage Worlds.’ It just seems kind of cheesey. It’s less of a ‘thinking yourself into the situation’ game and more of a ‘confine yourself to activities in which you have good dice rolls’ game. RPGs with ‘search’ rolls and ‘notice’ rolls just get my goat.

This game meets about 1x every 2 weeks. The DM of Savage Worlds, K., and A., the DM of game 3 (below) don’t get along.

2) D&D 3.5 using Goodman Games adventures: This is run by another DM I’ll call J. Now J. is sometimes/usually a pretty good DM (however, on at least one occassion, presided over one of the worst game sessions of my life — a story for another time), but his campaigns tend to run very sporadically — we will meet once every two weeks for a while, then months will pass before we meet again. Half of the people in this group are people I normally play with. We are also joined by folks who really test my patience — and maybe that’s my failing. In the current group, there are 2 guys who ‘chat’ the whole time about everything except what is happening in the campaign we happen to be playing in at that time… a bad habit which drives me nuts (since I really attempt to pay attention and interact with my fellow players in terms of what is happening in game at that time).

I’ll be honest. I don’t like D&D 3.5 and D&D 3e, etc. Again, explaining why the post 2e D&D leaves a bad taste in my mouth is probably another story for another time. But the guys I play with love 3.5e. Le grande sigh.

One of the more ‘chatty’ players is a complete power gamer — which turns me off. Another one is a complete freak — and I like most freaks — but this guy is just too freaky for even me.

3) A’s Game: The third game, which meets once every blue moon (or more often) is run by a guy named A. Again: D&D 3.5. Ugh. The problem with A. is that he does not have a creative or improvisational bone in his entire body, but he also is never prepared. He is that species of person who really wants to DM, but runs only prepared adventures based entirely on what is written in the material that someone else has created… but usually has not read over the material before we sit down. So you get the worst of both worlds. If a player says, “I’d like to steal the doorknob from the temple door and sell it,” he will spend 15 minutes trying to look up a rule in one of his books about doorknob stealing, then will flip through the adventure to see if they have a price on the doorknob listed, and, when all of those things fail, simply tell the player, “You can’t.” And I find that approach frustrating, not because I think the players should be allowed to do whatever they want, but the player characters should at least have some measure of control over their characters.

One of my fellow players is still fuming because we found an abandoned Wizard’s Tower, overcame all of it’s traps and then rented wagons to haul away the 1000s of antique books about magic (academic works; NOT spellbooks) that we found within the tower. We hauled them to the nearest city where we announced we wanted to sell them, but since A. could not account for this action within the published pages of his adventure, he simply dissallowed it. “No, you can’t sell them. No one wants them.” After long experience in A’s campaign, I begin to realize that he simply does not want the players to do anything that he did not anticipate beforehand. If we had managed to sell the books for 100 or 1000 or 10,000 gold, we would have been able to try to buy passage on a ship, or buy a ship, or hire mercenaries, or do one of a thousand things that he could not account for beforehand and this would require A. to make a decision of the fly which is something he simply cannot bear to do.

Instead of being ‘Monty Hauls,’ his adventures are screwjobs where we fight monsters that run away before we can defeat them (thus we get little or no XP) and we get treasures which are worth less than the calories, torches and crossbow bolts we expended to win them. We defeated a young Black dragon and got a pile of copper and silver, some damaged mundane armor and a wand (which ended up having 0 charges) for our trouble. At the same time, no one died and no one got a lot of XP even though we The problems with A’s campaign often boil down to the DM limiting player choice to such an extreme degree that the players are frustrated and bored. One of the players actually fell asleep during the game.

A. also makes wierd and dumb mistakes. On one occassion my character tried to climb a ladder… and, since this is 3.5e, of course it was not sufficient to just say, ‘I climb the ladder.’ I had to roll a dice to see if I could. My character failed and fell something like 30 feet, and I mentioned, “OK, my sorceror has eight hitpoints — he’s probably a goner…” at which point A. mentions that I only took “temporary” damage from the fall. “Okayy…” says I… even though something seemed really wrong at this point.

The rest of the party tried to follow me down the ladder and all or most of us fell. I’m not the world’s biggest 3.5e rules expert, but this sounds really wonky — first, climbing what seems like an ordinary ladder seems strangely difficult for a character of at least average strength and agility (I don’t think my character had “ranks” in “climb skills” but it was a ladder for crissakes — unless she is in a wheelchair, a 90 year old granny could climb it!). Second, I’m pretty sure that the old D&D chestnut, “You take 1d6 damage for every 10 feet you fall” should apply… and yet all of our low level characters survive the fall without taking any serious damage… which seems statistically unlikey since this fall should have inflicted an average of around 9-12 points of damage. I can’t imagine that everyone rolled a 1 on a 20 sided dice on their climb check so obviously something is, well, askew.

Now we are all puzzled and asking, “We search the ladder; is it trapped? Are the rungs loose? Is it greased?” Nope, nope, nope the DM replies; we are assured that it is an ordinary ladder — “What did you roll on your climb check? 14? OK; you fall…” Despite many questions, the DM cannot or will not expand on why the entire party failed on their attempt to climb an ordinary ladder. Things like this make me wonder why we have ladders in A’s fantasy world at all; wouldn’t they just be a waste of wood since no one can climb them anyway? But now all of us are at the bottom so we just decide to ignore it and press on…

I guess I don’t mind that A plays fast and loose with the rules… but in a situation like that, which is periodically repeated throughout the game, the player eventually feels like what one attempts or decides will make no difference — and player interest in what happens drops like nobody’s business.

I’m guessing the games I have DM’d in the past are no great shakes either… but I took pretty thorough notes on what seemed to work (and what didn’t) and tried to improve. Plus I tried to write my own adventures. But I hated DMing 3.5e or 3e, especially when players wanted the whole suite of feat and skill ‘splat’ books… so I was always trying to push the players to more old school editions and/or Hackmaster 4e. My games seemed to be popular, however, when I was running them. But whenever I mention that I’m thinking of dusting off the old DM dice, some of the people running the existing games seem kind of down on it.

I guess I’m just fated to be a player for the forseeable future.