Dead Rising: Watchtower - 2015

PROS:
It's almost worth watching the movie for Rob Riggle as Frank West.
Somewhat fun if you've played the games.

CONS:

The movie would have been enjoyable as two 30 minute episodes.  As a full length movie, you'll spend more time watching the clock than the screen.
Dennis Haysbert was a bizarre casting choice.
The movie could have really benefited from taking the style of Dead Rising 1 and Dead Rising 2.  Instead it tried a more gritty Dead Rising 3, which is unfortunate, because it missed the only opportunity to be something other than low-level-zombie.  

FINAL SAY:

Take a combined 20 minutes of funny Rob Riggle and Dead Rising Easter eggs, wrap it in an hour of decently acted bullcrap, and you have this movie.

Kickstarter's Journey Part 5: The Prototype

I've touched on this before, but the prototype is magic.

For some reason, I think it's human nature to think your friends aren't capable of making something others want.  "No prophet is welcome in his hometown," they say.

I think we all equate success to making it on American Idol or winning the lottery.  That happens to other people, not people you know.  Most go into things with a decent amount of skepticism... and for good reason.


It's hard to make something good.  Few people do.  You tell people you made a game, and they say, "Oh neat."   

It almost has a pitying tone to it.  I always feel like a child when this happens.  I picture them thinking about their child's artwork.  Yeah, it'll make it on the fridge, but as soon as the kid forgets, it's going in the trash.

So that's already against you, but that skepticism can be your friend, too.

The bar is probably set pretty low.  You might even be able to limp over it if you're lucky.  And if your prototype is even average, you might have a chance of blowing people away.

I remember after we played my game.  People said, "I was just surprised how good it was."  Meaning: surprised how well it was thought out.

People will base 50-70% their total opinion off your opening presentation:
  • If you aren't confident, they will think you have reason to be embarrassed.
  • If your prototype looks rushed, they will think it's not worth their time (because it clearly wasn't yours).
  • If you are confused by every question, they won't think the game's even worth finishing.

So what does this mean?  It means you're going to put a lot of time and money into something that will be obsolete after the first play-through.  

For the first eight months of playtesting, my game changed anywhere from 30-50%... that's not total.  

THAT'S EVERY TIME WE PLAYED.  

I scrapped design layouts I spent hours on the night before.  I changed rules I was once pretty excited about.  
And if that doesn't discourage you, peoples critiques might.  

You have to learn how to interpret people's comments, because most of the time, they aren't experts.  HOWEVER, no matter the comment, their view is valid.  The danger is that you might not understand what they are saying.
Someone might say, "Combat is boring, and you should get rid of it."  And you might feel like cutting it.  Sometimes, they are right, and you should cut it.  Other times, one tweak can make that once flawed mechanic their favorite part of the game.

Really, the only thing you can do is try to put yourself in their shoes.  Try to see the game from their point of view.  This will be your best muse if you can figure out how to do it.


Find more entries here.

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day (2014)

PROS:
The family generally loves each other.
Some funny moments.
Entertaining to watch.
Steve Carell is a living legend.

CONS:
The remaining cast is somewhat forgettable.
It's a premise you've seen a thousand times.

FINAL SAY:
Although the movie is based off the much cliched "wish causes cosmic mix-up" plot, the movie doesn't fall into the typical pitfalls the formula often does.  I kept expecting Ed Oxenbould and his family to be like the family in Sixteen Candles.  Thankfully, they did not.

Kickstarter's Journey Part 4: Life


Here's the hardest part to learn: life doesn't stop because you have a good idea.

In my experience, it almost seemed to get harder.  My wife is pregnant, and there was a period of time when the baby's health was in jeopardy.  My "day job" is going through a lot of changes (all good, but the process has been very hard).  I have 18-month-old, and as I write, she keeps hitting the "caps lock" button.  Friends got married.  Family had a garage sale.  Holidays brought time constraints.  The lawn needed mowed.  The siding fell off the house.  Family vacations took me away from creativity.  It goes on and on.  Not to mention, you gotta eat, sleep, relax, worry about hygiene, etc.  

Basically, it all comes down to this:
I'm a husband (full-time job), I'm a father 
(full-time job), I'm a game designer (full-time job), I'm a friend (full-time job), and I have a full-time job (full-time job).

I'm not saying this to throw a pity-party.  I'm saying this to warn you.

There will be times when you feel pulled in so many directions, you might physically split in five little pieces.  You will worry one of the balls you're juggling is going to fall.  And since you've already cut out everything you could, you're terrified of what you might lose.

I had a lot of positive experiences, but they were rarely strong enough to carry me through the negative ones.  And here is the worst part.  I don't know how to tell you how to overcome these problems.  It takes personal dedication and time management, and you can't teach that in a blog post.  Still, it's what's necessary to succeed. 

But I will tell you one thing... I couldn't have done any of this without my wife.   Almost every night, I needed to do 2-3 hours of creative work (sometimes more).  That means I wasn't pulling 2-3 hours of weight.  My wife put that weight on her shoulders, and carried us both to this point.

There were also times when I was so discouraged, I almost gave up.  Luckily, at these times, the people that played my game were more confident in Planet Hysteria than I was.

This is the main reason I've been doing this series.  Keep going.  Keep fighting.  Don't lose sight of the big picture.  Be patient.  Trust your heart.

Find more entries here.

Kickstarter's Journey Part 3: Steps to Conception


Step # 1: Need 

I came up with the idea for my project from playing a lot of games, and perceiving a need.

Probably my favorite game of all time is Battlestar Galactica. The "hidden bad guy" is such a fun game mechanic.   But it, like may games of its kind, have three main problems:
1) They are long, and even worse, they feel long.

2) There is virtually no secrecy.  Everything is done in the open, limiting what all players can do. 
3) It's a lot to teach someone how to play.


Filling a need is key to making a good project.  If you feel the need for something, others probably do to.  A lot of people out there try to manufacture a need.  Often, they just end up selling buyer's remorse.  If you let the need drive the project, you'll have less marketing costs (among other negative things).

Step #2: Muse

For a long time, I tried come up with a solution to Step #1.  I came up with that solution in one quick moment... all when watching The Thing.  Here is the trailer.




I remember the idea hitting me like a lightning bolt.


It was Christmas time, and my family was in town.  I love my family more than anything, and I don't get to see them as often as I like.  Still, I grabbed a piece of paper and just started writing down ideas.  My wife leaned over and told me, "Stop, you're sister is only here for a few days.  Hang out with us."

She was right (as I'll talk about in a later post).  Family does matter, but I couldn't stop.  I couldn't stop until I finished my first prototype.  That was because I came up with the solution to my need:

1) My game can be long, but because of the room movement, it NEVER feels long.  It always feels fresh. 
2) Also because of movement, you have secrecy unlike that created by any other game.  
3) Since I based all game mechanics off story reasons, it's easy to learn.  People can intuitively follow story; rules, not so much.

Step #3: Prototype 

Even though it was an incomplete/untested project, I made it the best I could.  People say "don't judge a book by it's cover", but they do.  Oh boy, do they.   Mechanics that clutter the game detract from the fun.  Artwork and graphic design carry theme just as much as game mechanics.  If I can't explain all elements, the game loses credibility (and so do I).

Then, once it was done, I gathered a few of my close friends.  These were people who could be good judges, but also had my best intentions in mind.  So w
e played the game, and to everyone's surprise, it was fun!

I can honestly say, without the enthusiasm of the people that played it that night, Planet Hysteria would have never moved forward.


Step #4: Revisions

The game has changed many times since then.  I had to be comfortable with that.  No.  That's not the right way to say this.

I had to be comfortable with criticism.  The first iteration is never perfect.  Neither is the second, third, forth, or fifth.  People's critiques are the road map to perfection.


Rarely do people know how to fix the problems in your project, so... when this happens, return to Step #2. 


I'll tell you two main changes I made.


The first was the story.  Since it started based off The Thing, I knew that had to change.  I couldn't afford licensing.  Besides, I didn't have the time to figure out how.  But more importantly, I consider myself a storyteller.  A friend recommended I tell MY story, NOT someone else's.


The second was by removing unnecessary cards.  In the game's first few versions, players drew and resolved a card every time they took an action.  This ended up taking twice as long to learn and play for very little payoff.  Also, it would have almost tripled the price of manufacturing.


Step #5: Learning

There is only so much you can do with the skill-sets you have now.  There's a lot you'll need to learn.

Through previous projects, I've taught myself a lot.  For this project, I did the art, graphic design, game mechanics, story writing, trailer, marketing, research, ..............

And the list goes on and on.

I once thought my previous projects were failures, but when you look at all I was able to do "in house", it is pretty amazing.  That all comes from previous "failures". 


Step #5: Networking

Step #4 is good, BUT you can't learn everything.  You don't have the time or money to do that.  That's why you need to make friends that have different skill sets than you do.  This allows you to trade work.

Luckily, there were people who believed in my project that had skills I don't.  The music and filming were all done by  friends with skills I didn't have.



Find more entries here.

Left Behind (2014)

PROS:
Nicolas Cage's Left Behind is slightly better than Kirk Cameron's Left Behind.  (But to be fair, if both movies were made at the same time and with the same budget, that might not be true.)

CONS:
For the first time in 15 years, Cage is not the worst actor in a movie he stars in.  (You might think this belongs in the "Pros" section, but I only watch his movies for the train-wreck that is his career.)

It's a christian theme that not even a christian could love.

LAST WORD:

In a movie about a time when millions suddenly disappear, a plane is thrown into mutiny, and the world falls into mass-chaos... very little happens in Left Behind.

Parallels (2015)



PROS:
Fun story of dimension hopping.
Interesting method for jumping through parallel worlds.
For something I hadn’t heard of until Netflix recommended it, Parallels is surprisingly well done. The four main actors (Mark Hapka, Jessica Rothe, Eric Jungmann, Constance Wu) do a pretty good job, especially considering they are relatively unknown.



CONS:
I’m not sure if Parallels is the first episode of a series or a movie with an odd conclusion.

FINAL SAY:
Parallels, as a stand alone movie, doesn't ever peak.  It rises towards something that never comes.
However, if Parallels does become a television show, it looks promising.  Unlike Sliders, the show seems to have a tighter thread.  Both the alternate versions of people and the building itself, are plotlines that will keep the show from feeling as random as Sliders did.

Unbroken (2014)

PROS
Louis Zamperini's life is incredible beyond words and imagination. 

CONS
Zamperini's life is so full of important events, the movie has pacing issues.  There are so many necessary plot points, the movie quickly jumps from one scene to the next, never doing justice to any of them.  It ends up being the truth behind the scenes (more than the scenes themselves) that make the movie compelling.  

Non-Stop (2014)

PROS
Interesting premise. 

CONS
Liam Neeson is the exact same guy he is in every other movie.
Mastermind's end reveal and 
plan's realization feels like a cheat.
A slowly unraveling Bill Marks is similar to an slowly unraveling Nic Cage in "The Wicker Man".
Premise was more than the writer's could do justice.

Being Human - Full Series (2011)


PROS
All characters are likable.  They each have a unique take on the show's namesake.  
The show has interesting insights into different monster cultures.  It builds on the old tropes in a way that is fun to discover.

CONS
The show relies too heavily on the "something crazy just happened" but "jk, it was just a dream" plot cliche. 
Characters often make stupid decisions, not to develop plot, but because the writer needed episodic conflict.  This is especially true with Nora.
The show simultaneously widens and narrows its scope, ultimately settling on a narrow scope.  This is good for the resolution of relational plots, but not for the big picture.  All the characters gain abilities that make them superior to their kind, but they don't really use them for the betterment of their kind.  They have the right (and sometimes responsibility) to be kings and queens of their worlds, but they withdraw in a way that seems like the least interesting path.
Sometimes monster cultures are not fully fleshed out.  The vampire leadership, for example, seems to build to something that is never pays off.  

Bloodline - Season One (2014)

PROS
All characters (and their motives) are believable and interesting.  So much so, that each character could star in their own movie.
Tensions build in way that constantly leave the audience with anxiety over the chaos that is about to explode.
Even though it's about how one event can set the course for generations to come, it is excellently well-paced.
Fun mystery.
Danny and John's scene on the beach in the second to last episode. 
The last episode masterfully walks the line between humor and tension.

CONS
It's hard to see the show's story not jumping the shark next season.  The show's structure (flashbacks and flashforwards) seems to be better as a self-contained series.  It's hard to believe the show will survive without Danny.

Paddington 2014

PROS
Amazing style.  Set design is always unique and interesting.  Visual transitions are clever and fun.
Narration and dialogue are well written.
Childish fun that's never too immature for adults.
Heartwarming, and besides for the father's rooftop speech, isn't cheesy.


CONS


Mid-plot conflict caused by a miss dumb and unbelievable understanding.   Just as with every movie with an abnormal character joining a normal family: 1) character enters family through bizarre circumstances, 2) one family member hates the guest, 3) guest discovers normal family has issues, 4) guest gets blamed for some misunderstanding, 5) family boots the guest, 6) family realizes they need the guest when the antagonist realizes the family is made better because of the guest, and 7) family saves guest and guest becomes family.  (Elf, Son In-law, Soldier, Beethoven)
Unnecessary villain.  Also, does every villain in a children's movie have to be someone who likes to murder animals?
Weird bear culture.  It's never fully explained.  Everyone is okay with a beat who can talk and lives among humans.