The Bush Hotel

There’s this dingy old hotel in the International District of Seattle. It’s the sort of place you’d use for a sordid tryst or maybe to meet your Tong contact to complete a heroin deal. As you walk up Jackson from the train station you can see the side of the building. Painted on there in big letters is the following: “Bush Hotel. Modern. Fireproof.” It is perfectly clear that the Bush Hotel is neither modern nor fireproof. I find this entirely appropriate.

The Tossers

I went and saw Chicago’s own the Tossers at El Corazon last night. This was the smallest crowd I’ve ever seen there. Several of the bands had 7 members (due to banjos, tin whistles, and the like) so I’d guess there were 30 band members and maybe 50 paying attendees at most. The show was also overbooked, with four opening bands. These ranged from terrible to pretty good. The best of the openers was Secret Agent Bill, whose penchant for mockery was right up my alley. Their song about teenagers in black eyeliner, “Only Trent Would Understand”, was a riot.

The Tossers finally came on about 11 and despite the late hour and small crowd, they put on an enthusiastic performance. They are another of the Irish punk bands, mining territory similar to contemporaries like the Skels and Flogging Molly. So basically, if you like the Pogues, you’d probably enjoy the Tossers. Unlike some of the opening acts, the band was tight and all their elements worked in harmony. Amusingly, because this was an all ages show, no alcohol was allowed on stage. Since nearly every Tossers song was about alcohol in one way or another, this made the band sad. The singer kept hoisting up an empty glass to toast the crowd. Later someone gave him a big bottle of cranberry juice. I’ve never seen someone so sad about having to drink juice.

Overall, a decent show. Since there were too many bands though, at midnight the club just flipped on the lights and kicked everyone out. The Tossers didn’t get a chance to finish their set or do any encores, it was just suddenly over. I’d gladly have seen one less opener so they could have done a full set.

Let’s Talk About Freelancing

As many of you know, freelancing writing is how I got my start in the game biz in the early 90s. I worked for a lot of companies, wrote for a lot of games, and experienced all the freelancer classics. I had writing published I was never paid for, put a lot of work into projects that were never released, watched publishers that owed me money go bankrupt and disappear, and more. I had good experiences too though and met some people that treated me fairly and taught me a lot about the game business. I also met other up and coming freelancers and we commiserated about our experiences. Griping about publishers was par for the course. We were certain that shit flowed downhill and we freelancers were at the bottom of that hill. The publishers controlled the purse strings and that gave them the power. In disputes between publishers and freelancers, our starting assumption was that the publisher was out to screw the freelancer.

Later I started my own companies and I had a simple goal in regard to freelancers: treat them the way I wish I had been treated when I was a freelancer. Over the last ten years I have worked with hundreds of freelancers. Many of them have been great to work with. They did their work on time, they were pleasant to deal with, and they materially contributed to projects that made both them and us money. It has not, however, been all wine and roses. People we have trusted have flaked on projects, turned over material months late, done work so shoddy that developers had to do near complete re-writes, passed off the work of others as their own, and pulled the ever popular prima donna routine. We have also wasted money on ads for products that ended up coming out six months to a year later because the creatives involved couldn’t hit a deadline to save their lives. And of course it’s the publisher that takes shit from the fans who don’t understand why Product X is late.

Needless to say, these experiences have changed my point of view. It turns out that there is plenty of blame to go around. So do some publishers screw over freelancers? Yes, absolutely, and it happens with sad frequency in the game business. However, freelancers screw over publishers just as frequently. The narrative of the big mean company taking advantage of the poor abused freelancer is a popular one, but I’ve found there’s often more to the story than gossip might suggest.

Now you might think that my experiences have made me value freelancers less. The opposite is true. It’s hard to overestimate the value of a good freelancer and that’s why we try to have a continuing relationship with people who are talented and professional. As with just about every aspect of our business, the Osseum debacle has made this more difficult than it used to be. The past year and a half has been a slow and painful process of working down the debt accrued by all the products Osseum sold and never paid us for. It’s no secret that we haven’t been able to pay all our freelancers on time and this has been a bitter pill to swallow. We do take our debts seriously though and we have made steady progress in paying them down. Most of our regular freelancers have been more than understanding and for that we are thankful. I can’t pretend it’s anything but a shitty situation for all concerned though.

Now yesterday I made an observation about freelancers being dickish about money and there was some confusion about what I meant. To be clear, I do not consider negotiating pay rates or querying about monies owed to be dickish. If we owe you money, of course it’s OK to ask about it. I was more talking about folks who don’t bother to read their contracts and then send belligerent letters about getting paid months before it’s even due. Or people who turn over two months late and then get pissy if they get paid two weeks late. That’s dickish.

10 Things I Learned in the Past Year

If you have fond memories of a book or movie from your teenage years, keep those good feelings by not reading or watching it again.

Freelancers with good paying day jobs are more likely to be dicks about money than freelancers living hand to mouth.

Seeing a documentary about Jim Jones and the Jonestown Massacre is not the most festive thing you can do on your birthday.

You shouldn’t be surprised when your friend the artist shows up to a minis game with a nicely painted army.

When you start buying books in languages you can’t read because they have pictures you haven’t seen before, you may have too many books about WWII.

Vietnamese banh mi sandwiches are delicious and super cheap.

I am lucky to have such good friends.

It is incredibly rare but possible for a band to take 20 years off and come back with great new material. Mission of Burma proved it and my fingers are crossed that Radio Birdman will do the same this summer.

Even if you are a bit of a curmudgeon, rabbits make OK pets.

There is apparently nothing an American politician can do that is outrageous enough to get the average citizen out on the streets.

Another Long Day

Yesterday was another long day. Got up at 6:30 because Nik and I had an 8 am meeting in Columbia City. We had a good breakfast at Geraldine’s Corner, which means there is finally a decent breakfast place relatively nearby. Huzzah. After a quick stop at home to pick up my laptop, I headed over to the U-District. Anthony Bourdain was at the University Bookstore so I thought I’d check that out. I figured an author appearance might bring out 30-50 people on a Tuesday afternoon. I drastically underestimated Bourdain’s appeal I guess because the place was a madhouse. The entire upper level of the bookstore was crammed with people and the only place I could find to stand put me out of sight of the event area. By chance though I was standing right where they were bringing him out, so I did get to note that he was taller than I expected. Luckily, he had a mic so I could at least hear everything. He read a short funny essay about modern English pubs trying to serve gourmet found (“What’s wrong with meat pies?”). Then he did a 45 minute Q+A. He was quick witted and quite entertaining, even when asked inane questions. Since he couldn’t see me, I did not get a chance to ask my question (If you could shoot heroin with any member of the Ramones, living or dead, which one would you pick and why?). Of course, it’s entirely possible he did shoot heroin with the Ramones in the 70s; plenty of New Yorkers did.

When the Q+A was done, I left the autograph hounds to stand in the huge line and took the bus over to Capitol Hill. Ended up at the Bauhaus Cafe, where I fired up the old laptop. I worked until 6:30 and then met up with Ray for a SIFF movie. It was another documentary at the Broadway Performance Center, this time Boffo: Hollywood’s Bombs and Blockbusters. I had thought it was going to analyze some of the biggest successes and failures in the movie business, but instead it was a real pro-Hollywood piece that used interviews with well known actors and producers to let you know that it’s hard out there for a movie pimp. While some of the anecdotes were good and people like Morgan Freeman and George Clooney came off well, the whole thing was little too self-congratulatory. It was funded by HBO, so I’m guessing it’ll be shown there some time soon.

After the flick, we stopped in at the Elysian Brewing Company for a bite. I had a mediocre chicken sandwich and a good mojito. Got home about 11, did some light reading on the Eastern Front in WWII, and hit the hay.

Go Go Saturday

After getting perhaps three hours of sleep, I was up at 6:30 am yesterday morning for the start of a long day. Rick picked me up at 7 and we drove down to Olympia to spend the day at Enfilade, a local miniatures convention I’ve been meaning to attend for years now. The drive was about an hour and we got there in time to register for the day and sign up for a 9 am game. We played Stargrunt, a scifi minis game that Rick has been talking up to me for ages now. The game is meant to focus on infantry combat and the refs even pointed this out but nonetheless the game had a lot of grav tanks, VTOLs, and mechs. It lasted until 1 and was fairly enjoyable. One of the vendors was selling Stargrunt and its sister game Dirtside for $5 each, so I picked them both up afterwards.

We were both starving by game’s end, not having had breakfast, so we went upstairs to grab lunch in the hotel restaurant. While we were waiting for our food, I went back downstairs to sign us up for an event for the next time period. I guess we should have done that first, since all the games we wanted to play were filled up. Whoops. I was ultimately able to find a 2 pm game though, a Flames of War event recreating part of the Battle of Kursk run by Chris Ewick from the Game Matrix in Tacoma. This was a huge game, with over 170 tanks and vehicles and 12 players. I commanded a T-34 company for glorious Mother Russia. It was interesting to play a game on that scale and with vehicles that I don’t field with my regular army, like Panthers and Tigers. Chris was a good ref and kept the action moving, a must in a game that big. Unfortunately, I could not stay for the whole event, so after flaming some Panzer IVs I had to bow out. We left around 4:30 and headed back to Seattle.

Next year I’d like to go back to Enfilade and just stay for the full three days. This year it overlapped with the Seattle International Film Festival and Nik and I already had tickets to several movies. Rick kindly dropped me off in the U-District and I met up with Nik, Ray, Christine, and Carol at the Neptune for OSS 117: Nest of Spies, a hilarious French spy spoof. If you are a Bond fan, you so have to see this flick. Very stylish and very funny. It’s also rather timely, as much of the humor derives from Western attitudes about the Islam and the Middle East. It’s set in Nasser’s Egypt of 1955 though, so it also has all the Cold War trappings you’d want for a good spy story.

After that it was dinner at Bento, an Asian place on the Ave, where I had some good Korean BBQ. Then two hours later Nik and I were back at the Neptune for Evil Aliens. This film from the UK was one part Evil Dead, one part X-Files, and one part Texas Chainsaw Massacre. It follows a crew from a TV show doing an expose on a Welsh woman who was impregnated by an alien. She lives on a remote island with her three brothers in what can only be described as the Welsh version of the Leatherface family. The group includes a cynical reporter, a super-nerdy “UFO expert”, a videographer, a soundman, and a hot actress and gay actor for the reenactments. Of course it turns out that aliens are indeed on the island and they are soon fighting for their lives.

To say Evil Aliens is over the top is an understatement. In the opening sequence an abductee is anally violated with a dildo-shaped drill and that’s just the start. From there it moves on to impalings, decapitations, people being beat to death with their own limbs, and a seemingly endless parade of faces splattered with blood, ichor, and other fluids. Plus alien fetuses and a threshing machine gone mad. Ultimately though, the film satirizes its sources and there are many funny moments. This made it pitch perfect for a midnight movie and the crowd seemed to really enjoy it. I kept thinking, “Man, it’s like they made a movie with Rob Schwalb in mind.” Dr. Evil definitely needs to track down a copy.

Nik and I finally got home at 2:30 am. After 20 hours on the go, I was ready for sleep and was soon unconscious.

Uncomfortable Conversations of Middle Earth

As Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli run through Rohan after the fleeing Orcs of Isengard, they have long hours to fill with conversation. Most never appeared in the Lord of the Rings…

Legolas: “Aragorn, you have the endurance of ten men!”

Aragorn: “The blood of heroes runs in my veins. Although I will always live in the shadow of their greatness, I strive to be worthy of my birthright.”

Legolas: “Your lineage is indeed impressive. Beren and Luthien, Thingol and Turgon, and Earendil the Mariner himself.”

Gimli: “And even so Lord Elrond will not let you wed the lady Arwen?”

Aragorn: “Not until I am king, dwarf-friend.”

Gimli: “He must think her more precious than mithril!”

Aragorn: “She is, Gimli. She is the Evenstar.”

Gimli: “Yes, indeed. Now if I have my story straight, you are also descended from Elros?”

Aragorn: “I am.”

Legolas: “He was the first king of Numenor.”

Gimli: “Right. And he was Elrond’s brother?”

Legolas: “Yes, and like Elrond he was half-elven. He chose a mortal life, however.”

Gimli: “I see. So…Aragorn is descended from Elros and Arwen is Elrond’s daughter.”

Aragorn: “Yes, yes, you have it right. Is there some point you are trying to make?”

Gimli: “Well, I’ve just been wondering, doesn’t that mean that you are Arwen are related?”

Aragorn: “Yes. What of it?”

Gimli: “Nothing, nothing.”

Legolas: “Come, Gimli, speak your mind. It is clear you have more to say.”

Gimli: “I just thought humans considered it bad form to marry in the family. Some say it was such inbreeding that created the hobbits.”

Aragorn: “At least we have women! Ever seen a dwarf woman, Legolas?”

Legolas: “I have not. Nor has any elf or man.”

Gimli: “We have women. Scores of ’em. Hundreds of ’em. We have so many women…”

Legolas: “So many women, what?”

Gimli: “Never mind, Aragorn’s right. There are no dwarf women. We are a brotherhood of men.”

Legolas: “I knew there was a reason I liked you!”

Aragorn: “Both of you shut up and keep running.”

What Do You Say, Jeb?

DC has started doing these big b+w collections of old comics similar to Marvel’s Essential line. I picked up the first volume of Showcase Presents the Haunted Tank over the weekend. This unusual title follows the adventures of American soldier Jeb Stuart Smith, who commands a Stuart light tank named Jeb Stuart that is haunted by the ghost of Confederate Civil War general Jeb Stuart. We can only imagine that Smith refers to his unit as “lil’ Jeb.” Anyway, the Haunted Tank has all the ridiculousness you would expect of comic war stories. At one point, for example, the tank parachutes out of a cargo plane so it can shoot down a German fighter that had been dogging it. Its 37mm cannon routinely blasts the turrets of Tiger tanks. And about every other story features one or more crew members getting knocked unconscious so the ghost of Jeb Stuart can take control of his namesake tank.

What I found most amusing about the stories is that the only German tank that ever appears is the Tiger. On the one hand, this is funny because it’s so absurd. The Tiger was, in fact, a rare tank in the German arsenal. Only 1350 were ever produced and just 130 were deployed in the West in the summer of 1944 when the Allies landed in France (the period during which the comic takes place). On the other hand, the comic (likely inadvertently) does accurately reflect the mindset of many American soldiers at the time. They were in such fear of the dreaded Tiger that other German tanks were routinely reported as Tigers so the actual number deployed was always massively overestimated. So even amid such campiness there is a bit of truth.

I’m sure the fact that only Jeb Stuart Smith can hear the ghost’s “gay, reckless laughter” has no deeper meaning…

O’Reilly vs. Reality, Part 1543

Normally, the antics of blowhard Bill O’Reilly are not worth commenting on. He’s an idiot, a tool, and a liar and anyone with half a brain realizes these things. He’s really outdone himself this week though. In seeking to defend US troops who may have killed Iraqi civilians, he argues to Wesley Clark that massacres by American soldiers are nothing new. His example is the Malmedy Massacre, an infamous incident from the Battle of the Bulge in 1944. According to “Papa Bear”, SS troops surrendered and were then cut down by Americans. As if often the case, O’Reilly got things completely backwards. It was of course surrendered US troops that were massacred by the SS. True to form, O’Reilly has not issued an apology or a correction and the Fox transcription has substituted “Normandy” for “Malmedy” to make him look less stupid. Later in the week Keith Olbermann took O’Reilly to task, excoriating the buffoon in hilarious style. You can see the piece here:

Now it is true that American soldiers in WWII killed enemy soldiers trying to surrender, particularly in the Pacific Theater. To think that justifies killing civilians today is, of course, ridiculous. Such tortured logic is par for the course for Bill O’Reilly.