My first full guitar build: Semi-hollow body

So, after some promising but lackluster results with my attempt to refinish a damaged Ibanez G10 guitar I figured why not go whole hog and do one from the ground up? To add a ton to the degree of complexity, I decided to go with a semi-hollow body guitar for full build number one. To further add to the difficulty, I chose to dye the wood grain rather than paint over it. Because seriously, when you’re learning to ski, are you going to learn more on the Bunny Slopes or on K12? (and kudos to anyone who got that reference without clicking the link.

So I ordered up a kit and set to finishing it. The body looked like this coming out of the box:
The front had a beautiful grain that I figured I’d be able to finish without much of an issue. Seriously, it looked like I could just throw some blonde (or an equally light-colored) stain on it, lacquer it, and call it a day. That wasn’t my intention though. I bought this specifically to build for my oldest brother, Dennis, for Christmas. The guitar he is currently playing is a semi-hollow body one that I bought for him when I was about sixteen, and that is a damn long time ago. It is showing signs of age, and I thought he might like an upgrade. I was initially pleased with how good the grain on this one looked, because I figured it would be pretty damn easy.

Nope.

The front of the guitar was a beautiful piece of wood in a butterfly cut, which made for a wonderful grain and some awesome symmetry. The back, on the other hand, looked like this. Since it is a sort of hybrid of acoustic and electric, the front appears to look more acoustic, while the back looks like an electric. That means that it is made of some nasty-ass basswood. More than that, the thought appeared to be ‘fuck the grain, just glue some shit together’. At least that’s what it looks like. I assure you that it looks every bit as bad as this photo (and probably worse). That was disappointing.

But since I figured I’d be able to get an easy home run out of the front, I started finishing the back first. I figured I couldn’t paint it, since I was only going to be dying the front, which meant I’d have to dye the back as well. This turned out to be a PROCESS.

I have to admit that after laying down the first coat of dye (I should mention that I’m using Keda Dyes for the entire finish. Mixed more or less as suggested) I was skeptical that I’d be able to pull this build off. After the first coat (which is still wet in the photo) it looked more or less like I’d taken a magic marker and ran it over the back a bunch of times. I think that may be my way of saying that I thought it looked pretty shitty. You can totally click through that image to see it in larger scale, though I wouldn’t suggest it.

But, after sanding back the black and laying down a coat of dark blue, it started to come around:

Those pictures were taken at the same time but from different angles and with different lighting. The dye was still a bit wet at the time, but I found it odd that one angle showed it a deep blue while the other angle hinted at it being almost purple.

Once it dried, the back began to give off a more even color regardless of the direction of the light. I sanded it back once more, dyed it once more (dark blue) and then layered it with about three coats of spray lacquer. The final result looked like this:

Not exactly the color I was hoping for, but there are enough interesting things going on in the cheap, basswood grain that it still looks totally finished (scroll up a couple photos to that first image of the back if you don’t believe me). The back came out pretty darn good.

Once I’d caressed the ass of this guitar to the point that I was happy, I had to start working the front. That was not such an easy process. I first thought I was going to do a sunburst pattern. Yeah, not so much. Here is the result of the first coat of stain toward that:

You’ll no doubt note the exceptional attention to detail as the dark blue around the edges very gradually fades to the light blue in the center. It’s like a gradient that’s using the full 256 million color capability of modern computers. Goddam seamless is what it was. A perfect sunburst pattern, but done in blue!

Yeah, even I wasn’t believing that bullshit and I tried really hard to believe it. To be fair, I knew it would be pretty stark with the first passing and I would lightly sand it back. I’d then cover it with lighter coats of just the light blue until it got to the point where the transition was seamless. I think I could have pulled that off, but I had to give up on the idea because … At the bottom of the photo (if you were holding the guitar to be playing it, it would be just above the top ‘F hole’. There are several areas the dye just wouldn’t penetrate. My assumption is that there was some sort of glue or solvent still present that the dye simply couldn’t touch. Regardless of why, I knew I couldn’t continue with the sunburst finish.

So I sanded the whole thing back. Not to bare wood, but enough that the light and dark blue no longer appeared to be separate colors. It took a lot of sanding, and I don’t have photos of it along that particular path, but once I’d sanded it back a reasonable amount, I layered the entire front in dark blue. And here is the result:

Yep.

I put about a dozen arrows on that image to highlight the flaws, but they in no way point to ALL the flaws. The thing was fucked even after sanding it back and laying down a new coat of dye. It was just that bad (which is all my fault for not sanding enough in the first place. The surface looked so good to begin with that I started with 220 grit and worked my may to 600 grit. I never considered that I might need a coarse sanding).

The next step was unquestionably the most difficult part (mentally) of the entire process. I had to admit that I was never going to finish the project without basically starting over. I put some 90 grit paper on my orbital sander and, with a tear of regret, destroyed my masterpiece. I took care to sand heavily in the problem areas, but tried to go light in the unaffected areas. I also made sure to leave areas of blue amidst the fully sanded area with the hopes that the contrast would pay off later. After an hour or so (the first half with 90 grit, then 20 minutes with 150 grit, and another 10 with 300 grit) this is what I had:

While I’m not going to take the time to highlight every one of the problem areas again, you will note that I sanded all of the problem areas back to bare wood (a few of which I did highlight. Bear in mind that I was using wood DYE so there was no way to get it back to bare wood). Anyways, here is a photo pointing out a few areas I sanded back to wood while leaving other areas a much darker blue:

I want to note that I spent a lot of time making sure this sanding phase left light and dark areas. It was only when I had to sand the whole thing back that I decided I was going to call the project “Blue Velvet”. I hoped that leaving enough light and dark areas would allow me to pull off that effect in the end.

The good news is that my sanding worked out great. Here it is after a couple coats of dark blue dye and a bit of time to dry:

That is a pretty accurate photo of its state at the time. Probably the most accurate photo of any yet posted. The waves of color came out really well, but there was no … what? Pop? Luster? Sheen? I don’t know. It just lacked something.

When I began this project, I decided that I wasn’t going to finish the front with any sort of lacquer. Instead, I was going to finish it exclusively with Birchwood Casey’s Tru Oil. I arrived at that decision after reading tons of reviews and recommendations about finishing a semi-hollow guitar. Tru-Oil, they say, dries in such a way that it will add luster with each thin coat. The result of that will be that after 20 or 30 coats (and I easily put 50 coats on the front of this thing) each coat will dry differently and give the finish something approaching iridescence. Yeah, I was skeptical too. But after rubbing in a coat of Tur-Oil every half hour that I was awake over the course of two or three days, the finish really started to pop.

Here are a couple images of the final product (the dye and Tru-Oil was completely dry by the time I took these photos):


After all the time spent dying and Tru-Oil’ing this thing (it was definitely dozens of hours and probably hundreds) I was very pleased with just how well it came out. I did buy the gold pickups, gold bridge hardware, and gold knobs aftermarket (the kit came with silver accessories and different colored knobs). And trying to finesse all of those things into place through the f-holes on the guitar was extremely trying. Thankfully there are a lot of youtube videos to help you through wiring a semi-hollow guitar. What there aren’t a lot of youtube videos of is what to do when you try to finish a guitar and part of it simply won’t accept wood stain. I limped through it pretty well, but I wish I had been vain enough to video the process. I think you’d have to agree that from the photos at the top of the page to the photos on the bottom, I really nailed this one.

As a final note, The Fret Wire (the place I bought my guitar kit) featured MY GUITAR BUILD -dubbed ‘Blue Velvet’– on their website on January 2, 2017. So it may not be me blowing my own horn when I say the final product looks pretty damn good.

The word of God? Not so much

When I was a kid, I tried to be the best little christian I could be. As a result of that, the following words are burned into my brain:

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.”

That has been etched so deeply into my memory that I couldn’t forget it even if I wanted to. It’s like the pledge of allegiance*: while I haven’t actively thought about it for over three decades, I remember it verbatim. So, while leafing through a booklet today while I was eating lunch -one of those books that is disguised as something other than the bible. You know, it has picture of a waterfall and a title like, “Ten easy steps to change your life” or something like it, then you open it up and get Rickrolled into reading the bible. I was surprised to see this:

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life.”

I’ve added some italics to the passage above to highlight the changes. It has always been the argument of the church that the bible was the undisputed word of God. Sure, I’m talking about the gospel according to John here (purportedly written somewhere between the first and third century -depending on who you ask), but I’m also talking about the single most recognizable verse in the whole book. If they can change four words in the most recognizable verse of the bible in the forty years I’ve been alive, how can anyone believe that the rest of it isn’t, at best, paraphrased?

I can already hear the arguments, “The words have only been changed to make them easier to understand.” Or perhaps, “The words may be different, but the message is the same.” Which are both valid arguments, but which in no way change the fact that the words were altered. I’m not arguing that the message changed, only that the words changed. It may not change the meaning, but if they’re brazen enough to change this verse right in front of us, just imagine all the other ones that have changed over the millennia. Maybe the message remained the same (although that seems unlikely since we are forever watering it down to discount all the brutality, murder and sex) but it seems like the best case scenario is that it’s God’s word filtered through a game of Chinses whispers involving tens of thousands of people and lasting for hundreds of years.

Just saying.

*What’s funny about the pledge of allegiance is that I remember it as:

“I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

I highlighted a portion of the text there, because the way I remember it isn’t the way my Grandparents remember it:

“I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

And even the version they remember wouldn’t be the same as the one their Grandparents remember:

“I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

I wonder how our children’s children will remember it…

Questionable survey choices at Carnival

Since I’m getting older, and thus far estranged from the demographic being targeted by most consumer surveys, I like to take them when offered. My goal is to make sure that those in the 18-39 demographic have to put up with the same bullshit I did when I was part of the cash cow group: Make sure they have to listen to music they don’t like, see entertainers they have never heard of, deluge them with ads for investment firms they are still two decades away from caring about, and that kind of thing. When I was taking a recent survey after returning from a cruise though, I found that Carnival takes it a step further than even I would have. Here are the options presented for what kind of music you enjoy:

carnival

I don’t claim to have my finger on the pulse of current popular music or culture, but Jesus Christ.

I’m not familiar enough with country to know about the choices there. I think Carrie Underwood might be fairly current? Toby Keith and Brookes & Dunn are probably still shitting out albums that fall just below mediocre, as country acts tend to do that for decades after they had their hit. I guess they may all be current in that way.

But a couple of the other choices are full-on WTF.

I don’t think anyone listed on girls vs. boys bands (and why vs.?) has had a record since like the late 90’s -barring some reunion, quick-cash bullshit. I think Boys 2 Men might still be touring in support of the CooleyHighHarmony album (or the more popular reissue of it, at any rate). Hell, if I had an album that sold 9 million copies in the U.S., I’d milk that shit until the day I died. But is anyone really going to check that box on a survey? Even without listening to this kind of music (as far as you know), I would think that they could have put something more current in the list. Hanson was a thing for a while, and I think they are still touring. The Jonas Brothers were hugely popular for a decade or so before they got a little too old and ugly to make anyone’s heart (or anything else) throb. One Direction is currently bringing me within inches of suicide every time I’m within a hundred yards of a shopping mall… I will give them a pass on the girl bands portion though, because I can’t name any more current.

Of course the biggest issue with the selections is obviously the Rap/Hip Hop. Kris Kross, Doug E. Fresh, and Vanilla Ice all came and went while I was still in high school –twenty-five fucking years ago. I don’t think any of them had even a minor hit after about 1992. Chris “Kriss Kross Daddy Mac Mac Daddy” Kelley died in 2013 and hasn’t yet succeeded in pulling off the release-a-bunch-of-new-albums-posthumously thing that Tupac was so good at (and Tupac would have been a more current act to put on their list of rappers, despite being dead for the last decade). Kriss Kross also loses points for never releasing an album called the Kriss Kross Kollection, which would have been cool as hell.

Doug E. Fresh had his hit in 1985. It was the very definition of a flash in the pan. Since this song was recorded with the much more popular Slick Rick, you can’t even really call Doug E. Fresh a one-hit-wonder. More like a half-a-hit-wonder. But half a hit, thirty years ago, is enough to make it onto Carnival’s list of Rap/Hip Hop acts!

caiFinally, Vanilla Ice. Seriously? He stole his high-top fade from Kid ‘n Play and the hook from his only hit from Queen and David Bowie. Sure, he put a lot of seventh-grade asses on the gymnasium dance floor in 1990, but he was hardly a rap or hip-hop act. Yeah, sure, he put out other albums and has managed to stay in the public eye (as recently as February 2015 when he was arrested for burglary and grand theft). He was also fucking Madonna, back when that was a good thing (prior to Dennis Rodman destroying her for all men in 1994. I’m not talking about size either. Maybe he’s hung like a donkey and totally destroyed her. Who knows? Answer: No one. Would you stick your junk into something Dennis Rodman did?) He also put out one of the shittiest movies of all time. Cool As Ice sat at 0% fresh on Rottentomatoes.com for several years before this douchebag gave it a 5/5 with a 20 word review, ending in “Ice Rules!”. I’m not saying Vanilla Ice sucked his dick to get that review, but I’m also not saying that he didn’t (maybe Robert Matthew Van Winkle did). As shitty as the movie was though, I’m glad he made it. It has some of the most memorable one-liners I’ve seen in a movie review. A few examples:

“So bad that it’s borderline fascinating.” -Mike McGranaghan (Aisle Seat)

“Having established that he can’t rap or dance, Vanilla Ice now adds acting to his resume — call it the tri-imperfecta of pop.” -Richard Harrington (Washington Post)

“This one is absolutely pricless in its awfulness.” Scott Weinberg (efilmcritic)

I know some would say, “well, then, where’s your movie, smartass?” The answer to that is that I had the good sense not to make one (I also didn’t have the opportunity, budget, or desire). Something I bet Vanilla Ice wishes he had back in 1991, when Carnival put together the survey question that I had to answer in 2015.

Back Cover Copy finalized

The back cover copy for In the Shadow of Angels, often called a blurb, has been finalized. I have never attempted to write back copy before, and it turned out to be tougher than I imagined it would be. My goal (as mashed together from dozens of idiot’s guides to blurb writing) was to 1) Use strong buzzwords to evoke mental images. 2) Give a hint at the genre of the book. 3) Introduce characters and hint at the stakes of their situation. 4) Leave the reader with questions that can only be answered by reading the book. 5) By virtue of having achieved steps 1-4, rook them into buying the book (which can hopefully live up to the expectations I have set).

All that in about 150 words, and without giving away anything of the plot. Right. To put that into perspective, I have used more words in this preamble than I used in the entire blurb. But I think I did a pretty good job for a first timer:

“Devin Bryant is a young accident attorney who seems to have it all: Gorgeous wife; Beautiful house; Fancy car; Successful career… But, like everyone else in the town of Ashwood, he also has dark secrets.

When he finds one of his dark secrets, local seductress Jezebel Anders, dead outside his hotel room, he panics. Now he finds himself slipping into an abyss of corruption, deceit, blackmail and murder from which there is seemingly no escape. As the spiral grows to ensnare his wife and friends, all of their freedom –their very lives- are at stake. Their only chance is to work together.

When every choice is more heinous than the last, and even your allies have secrets, the only way out is to slither ever deeper. But if they sink low enough to prevail, will they find themselves trapped forever in the shadow of the angels?”

What do you think?

My first novel slated for release!

My first novel, In the Shadow of Angels is complete (as much as it ever will be) and will be released very shortly. After having spoken to a couple of acquaintances regarding editing options, I’ve made the (probably horrible) decision to release the first edition without further editing.

The decision to release without editing is because the likelihood of it actually selling to anyone other than me seem infinitesimally small, so it seems a waste of money. It was suggested that I print copies for friends and family and then just wait. If I sell 100 copies, I will have it edited and re-release it. Don’t miss out on your first chance to own a first edition! Check out the (work in progress) website

11/22/63

My mother has always been a huge fan of Stephen King. I … have not. My experience with his work goes just about as far as the movies that have been created from his works. Some of which have been excellent (The Green Mile and The Shawshank Redemption jumping immediately to mind), and some of which, not so much (Maximum Overdrive and Maximum Overdrive springing immediately to mind [and yes, it deserves being mentioned twice here]). A quick look on rottentomatoes shows that it’s not just my judgement of the aforementioned titles either; The Shawshank Redemption comes in at 90% fresh, The Green Mile is sitting at 80%, and Maximum Overdrive is a lowly 17% (and I can’t help but wonder how many of those 17% are being quite generous in an award the over-the-top-cheese-fest kind of way).

Being that my mother has been reading King longer than I have been alive, I never really had any desire to read his work. I know that probably seems a bit shallow, but see how it transfers to other forms of entertainment. Can you honestly say that you enjoy the same musical artists as your parents? I’m guessing no, but then again if you are really into classical I could see sharing some common interests. For most of us, though, Frank Sinatra, Elvis, and the Everly Brothers probably don’t have a great deal of appeal. I obviously don’t know if those particular artists are ones that your parents listened to, but mine did, and it was and is actively painful to listen to -even today. Elvis’ rendition of the song Blue Christmas remains the most annoying song ever, IMHO, because of 1) the annoying chanty woohing girls, and 2) you have to hear it hundreds of times a year. Every store on the planet earth seems to have this crap in its Christmas rotation.

That being said, that really wasn’t the only reason I didn’t read King. There was also the supernatural aspect. I just don’t find horror or suspense in the supernatural when reading a book or watching a movie. It makes it difficult for me to empathize with a character when they are attempting to deal with the bogeyman rather than dealing with some real -tangible- adversary. Even if that adversary is within themselves; some of the best fiction I have ever read involves a character battling torment inside their own mind. But there is a difference between someone losing their tenuous grip on sanity and, say, a diesel rig suddenly becoming sentient and killing everyone in sight. I’m sure it takes a great deal of imagination to come up with the latter, but, to me, it just isn’t all that interesting to read. I would much rather see a real person facing a real dilemma -in a real world, governed by real laws of nature and physics.

I did attempt to read one of King’s books while I was in high school. That book was It. It is an 1100 page behemoth of a book that I can’t remember a damn thing about. There was a clown named Pennywise -I only remember that because a band later emerged with the same name. I started reading this one somewhere around my junior year (possibly the end of my sophomore year) and finished it probably about the time I was 19. Certainly not a page-turner, at least not for me. And this was at a time in my life when I routinely read Terry Brooks, who, while not particularly original, wrote some relatively lengthy books that I was able to read over a couple of weeks just finding time between school and work.

All of this is hardly glowing praise of King. However, my opinion began to change when I started reading 11/22/63.

I recently bought a Google Nexus 7 and was playing around with it when I noticed that 11/22/63 was on it -or so I thought. As I would find out later, the first 50 pages or so were on it, and then it just abruptly stopped. I had to buy it to continue reading it. I was pretty surprised to find myself shelling out the 10 bucks for the digital edition without giving it much thought.

The concept of 11/22/63 is not something that is new to me. In fact I have actually penned a couple of stories with the same premise. One of them, which I remember rather fondly, was a short story where someone went back in time (I either can’t remember how or why -or possibly I never explained it) with the intent to stop Kennedy’s assassination. In my short, Oswald was actually killed well over a year before he would take the life of the president. While I can’t remember if I explained exactly how or why, this led to the Cuban missile crisis actually ending in full scale nuclear war. The U.S.A. and Russia both unloaded their full arsenals on each other. The warring countries in the middle east rose to power in the ensuing chaos. Of course I just wrote that out on a whim, having done no research whatsoever into the impossibility of it all. But it was a wonderful idea to play with.

When I started reading 11/22/63, I was really just curious to see where King would take the same idea. Thankfully the appearance of the supernatural in this book is limited to getting to the past in the first place. There are some ‘card men’ that exist in the past (or near the portal in and out of it), but they are trivial to the story, and really only mentioned at the start and end. Once I made it past the getting to the past portion of it, I was really enjoying the story.

King did a wonderful job of building the characters in this book. At the beginning I was hoping that it would quickly handle the stopping Oswald bit and get right on to King’s imagined view of the future if it had never happened. Instead I found myself really empathizing with the Jake/George character as well as his love interest Sadie. By the second half of the book, I didn’t really care if he succeeded or failed in his attempt to stop Oswald, I just wanted to find out what would happen between George and Sadie. Would he stay with her in the past? Would she join him in the future? Of course that decision wasn’t his to make -the past is obdurate, after all.

Without going into any detail about the book -which I am going to avoid because you really should read this book if you haven’t (perhaps particularly if you’re not a fan of King)- I will say that the story was excellent. The history portion of the story was handled with meticulous detail. King clearly did a great deal of research to make sure of the times and places of events to weave his story around -making it seem all the more real. I am not a huge fan of the way he chose to end it, but when it come right down to it, there are really only three ways that it could end and he chose the one that you would probably never have guessed. I’m curious to see if the movie version will share this ending or if they will go with a much happier ending (which either other option would have been).

I liked the book enough that I asked my Mom what her favorite King book was. She said The Stand. I am reading it now. Hopefully this one will keep me as engaged as 11/22/63 did, and if so, I may find myself reading the rest of King’s work. It really has been much better than expected so far.

Quick MMORPG reviews!

So, armed with a fancy new PC, I set about to trying to find a good MMORPG to take advantage of it (because Guild Wars 2, Diablo 3, Torchlight 2, and Path of Exile are yet to be released [I am playing in the Path of Exile Beta, of course, but it gets boring after a while]) because WoW isn’t very graphics intense, and after leveling now 13 characters to level 80 (three of them to 85), it gets so damn repetitive. So a quick breakdown of what I’ve found so far:

Everquest II quick review: It sucks out loud, stay away from it.

And to elaborate on that just a touch… First off, the free to play your way thing is the biggest line of bullshit since you told your girlfriend you’d just stick in the tip and stop if she didn’t like it (or your boyfriend told you that if you’re a girl). You download an impressive 15 gigs of information, fire up the game, and find out that the your way in which you are free to play involves being limited to about 1/10th of the playable race/class combinations. If you want to play anything else it is $7.50 a pop (for each class. The races appear to come in three packs for $7.50 … but are exclusive of the class payment). So that was mildly irritating, but I figured what the hell, if the game was good enough maybe I wouldn’t mind spending a few extra bucks to unlock some additional race/class combos -it is free to play, after all.

Next up is the first impression when entering the game world: The graphics are terrible. I want to point out here that I played the original Everquest, starting very roughly in 2002. I remember the graphics being very chunky, but this was at the dawn of 3d games, so at the time it seemed pretty amazing. Now here we are a decade later, and the graphics haven’t improved much. Everything looks better for sure, but it just doesn’t seem like a decade worth of progression. This is especially true of the world itself; I can’t think of a single MMO I have played in the last 5 years that had worse environment detail and jutting polygons. I think the game engine was probably created in 2005 (first release) and they have just been adding expansions to it ever since. For all I know the game is so glorious that it looks like real life by the time you make it to whatever level max is, but I’ll certainly never know… Because…

Most of the reason I will never know is that I uninstalled the game within about twenty minutes of play. The major reason for this was the interface. Monitors haven’t really gotten that much larger over the last five years or so, but they have increased the resolution dramatically. As a result of that, I play games in 1920×1080, but on a monitor that is the same size as the one I was playing games at 1440×900 with just a couple of years ago -which is really only a couple of inches wider than the one I was playing games at 1024×768 a couple of years before that. This means that you need to be able to scale your UI or else the icons on the screen will be roughly the size of your mouse cursor. WoW has a feature right in there that will allow you to go in and scale the UI to any size you want to, thereby making it so you can see the game world in glorious 1920×1080, while the interface is still large enough to be seen by adult, human eyes. Everquest II does not have that option. Or, I should say, it has that option for the fonts in some of the dialogue boxes, and for some of the action bars, but not a broad and sweeping UI scale button that will do it all for you. Also, in order to get some of the text and buttons larger you actually have to download some add-ons, which is just not something you want to be doing within the first thirty seconds of gameplay. I mean seriously, the first thing a new player sees is the UI, it should be the most welcoming, most easily altered feature of the game, not something that requires you to learn how to program in order to fix. So I had to turn the resolution on this down to some 1024xsomething setting to be able to reasonably see the icons -which could have something to do with why the graphics seemed to suck so bad. But since that is entirely their fault, I am damn sure calling like I saw it.

The quests and combat in the game seemed pretty good actually, and if not for the shitty interface options and 1990’s graphics (when played at the ridiculously low resolution that allows for actually seeing your interface) I imagine the game could have been a lot of fun. Pity. But since there are so many MMORPG’s out there, I’m certainly not going to waste the time on this one when I can just download a different one.

Next up is Lord of the Rings Online. LotRO is one that used to be subscription based only, and I had fairly high expectations for it coming in. There are some things about this game that are really great -the Epic quest line being the biggest one that springs to mind- but there are also a lot of things that sour it.

This one is free to play only early on, then you simply have to pay to continue. I don’t mean that in a ‘it will be easier to progress with better stuff’ kind of way, I mean it in a very literal ‘once you reach a certain level, you no longer get experience from killing monsters and no quests will be available’ type of way. Shitty. I enjoyed it enough early on to go ahead and pay for a couple of the expansions (keep an eye on the store to catch these on sale and you can get them for a fairly reasonable price). I managed to keep entertained playing for a couple of months before eventually giving up completely.

While I haven’t read the books since High School, the Epic quest chain (that is what it is called in game, not my assessment of its relative size, scope, or coolness) seems to follow the story fairly well. That is absolutely necessary, as there isn’t really a lot else to tie this to the Lord of the Rings franchise, and without that it would just be another free MMO with relatively good graphics and relatively lackluster execution of pretty much everything. As with the previous game, I can’t comment on endgame content (assuming it exists) because it didn’t hold my interest long enough to get there. If I had to pin down a single element to cite as the reason I just gave up, it would actually be two elements (because, evidently, I suck at math), which would be these:

1) Travel. Much like vanilla WoW, they are making up for a lack of early game content by making everything as difficult as possible. Travel time is how they achieve that. If you want to go from one zone to the next you have to walk there (or ride if you’ve purchased a mount. There is a taxi service to some places as well, but it goes at the same speed). Professions can only be advanced while at a profession trainer -of which are there are many conveniently spread out across the fucking globe. You want to learn the next level of weapon crafting? Be prepared for thirty minutes (real time) of running to get to the trainer, learn them, and get back to what you were doing. So why not wait and just do it every ten character levels? Because your bags can hold roughly 5% of what they would need to be capable of holding in order to pull that off. And that is if you have paid for the bag upgrades (with real money). As near as I can tell, the professions never get any easier to level. And one thing I have learned from every MMO I have ever played is that you really must level them as you go or you will regret it later. And that leads nicely into the second biggest thing that sours me to the game:

2)There is no attempt to group things by zone. By that I mean quests -or any other reasonable means to level your character. Depending on which expansions you have purchased (and again, you must purchase expansions to level beyond 20 [I think]), you may have half a dozen quests that you can do in one zone, then another half a dozen that you can do in another zone -some fifteen minute ride away. Don’t get me wrong, you will have other quests in those zones, but they will either be 5 levels higher than what you can reasonably do, or they will require a group to complete unless you are ridiculously over-leveled, and thus worth no experience. Add to that that the Epic quest line will invariably either send you to a zone you’ve already completed, or one that you won’t be reasonably questing in for another several levels, and the overall effect is just maddening.

I really wanted to like LotRO, and I kind of do, but when you add the mindlessly boring travel in with the fact that you frequently have to buy another expansion to be able to fill in quests from level x-x, the thirty minutes round trips to learn a couple of points in you professions, and that’s not even mentioning the horribly executed auction house interface, I just couldn’t do it long term.

Next up is Runes of Magic. This is AFAIK the largest free MMORPG out there in terms of player base. This one, unfortunately, falls into the free to play: Pay to win category, and instantly loses points for that. You could theoretically make it to end game without paying for anything (slow as it may be due to travel without a mount) then you would be totally fucked. There are those who will argue that it is possible to get geared for endgame without ever spending a penny, but even they will say that it is impractical to do so -and that it would take thousands of hours of farming for currency to even attempt. Of course if your credit line is big enough, you can just pop right out of the gates leveling with speed and ease, be geared and ready for endgame in a couple of weeks.

The graphics in this one are really quite good (certainly the best I’ve seen in any F2P game), and the gameplay is very similar to WoW. The professions are slow to go -and I’m not just talking about leveling them here; it very literally seems to take 3x longer of channeling to farm a node than in WoW. The quests are much better than LotRO for staying around the same area though, so leveling can actually be done fairly quickly. If you shell out a bit of cash for a mount, this one will keep you entertained for a while. I’ve actually installed and played this one a couple of times. It will hold my interest for a few weeks before I invariably go back to WoW. The idea is that I was trying to find a F2P replacement for WoW, and this just isn’t it. An annual WoW subscription costs about $160 bucks (bought in six month increments), which unlocks all available content for as many as 50 characters. To get one character to endgame content in Runes of Magic would cost at least 33% more than that. And that is just the sticker price; you need to continue spending money to keep your gear and goodies current or else you’ll quickly fall behind. Hardly seems like a free alternative.

That said, when I invariably give up WoW again, this is probably the game I’ll go back to -unless something else grabs my attention.

Next up is Requiem: Memento Mori. I happened across this one while looking for something more vampire-y. This one was pretty fun to play just for being different than the MMOs I am used to… At least it seemed like it was. When you break it down, though, its really just the same 8 or so Archetypes from every other MMO ever. They aren’t afraid to throw around some gore in this one though (something that has been all but cleansed from WoW over the years) and that alone was enough to keep me playing for a while.

This game has a nightmare mode that they tout as unique- but it is really a direct ripoff from Everquest (who probably ripped it off from someone else). The basic gist being that a zone will have like level 12 cats in it in the daytime, but at night the same area will be populated with level 60 elite dragons. What a great selling point, eh? Not paying close enough attention to your clock while questing and you go from 6/10 dog tails collected to getting one-shot by the meanest dragon you’ve ever seen. Wouldn’t that be a fun thing to apply to some real life stuff? Say you’re shaving before you go to bed and don’t see the clock hit 9pm -BAM! your electric shaver just turned into a chainsaw and cut off half your face. Try it again tomorrow, sucka!

Overall the game wasn’t different enough to be unique, and it suffered from many of the same issues that seems to plague all of these F2P games. This one, though, offers the ultimate fuck you in that you rent mounts for 30 (or 1 or 10) days at a time. Way to hook us!

Seriously though. If you are looking to start the next big MMORPG, what you need to do is 1)make mounts free and achievable through normal questing. 2)make professions at low level easy to learn, easy to progress, and easy to research (in game) so you get a sense that you are choosing the right profession for the right class but won’t feel attached to it at level 30 if something else seems like a better idea. 3)make questing/leveling quick and easy by zone; no one enjoys having to spend 30 minutes of their two hours of game time riding across fifty zones to bang out the three quests you have available to their level. 4)make your pay items fall into a couple of very clearly defined categories like A)cosmetic only. This could be different spell animations, different skins for existing items, non combat pets, different mounts, dyes for armor, character look editing etc. B)time savers not game breakers. Consumables for quick travel from town to town, increased experience gain for a limited time, increased profession experience for a limited time, etc. C) Useless junk. A great example of this is something in WoW (though I can’t remember exactly what it was) that does an emote where the character will equip an electric guitar for a couple of seconds and play a few notes. It has no value whatsoever, but is just the type of thing that a F2P’er wouldn’t mind seeing since it makes no difference whatsoever to gameplay.

There were a couple of other games that I had intended to put in here, but this has already gone much longer than expected. I may add a couple more at some time later as time/my fuzzy memory permits. If you are a big fan of any of these games and think I have missed the mark, please do drop a comment to let me know why.

Movie Review: Lucky! (redux)

The (redux) is because out of the dozen or so movie reviews I have bothered to throw up on the site over the years (I assure you the preceding wordplay is totally intentional), there was another movie titled Lucky. It’s not that I seek out movies with that title or anything, I just happened to be intrigued by the cover synopsis on each of them and decided to give them a shot.

This particular Lucky was released in 2011 and has a fairly impressive (depressive?) 23% fresh rating on RottenTomatoes. I didn’t actually know that at the time, but I would have been more eager to watch it if I had simply because I like to watch movies the critics pan and generally enjoy them despite -or possibly because- they are so hated. In the case of this particular movie I can definitely understand that rating; I would probably rate it right around a 1.1 out of 10 if I were into using arbitrary numbering systems to gauge my enjoyment of cinema -which I’m not (although it does make more sense than the one goose head and three rabbit paws out of a possible seven goats and two sheep rating I had in mind).

This movie, with its current soundtrack and editing, is hardly worth watching. It is an interesting enough concept to rope you in, but it is so terribly executed in every way that it is very disappointing to actually watch. Yet I continued to watch, hoping that perhaps things would improve as the story moved along. Things did not improve. I really can’t give any detail without spoiling what little plot they decided to use so, before I move on to the spoilers, my recommendation is to watch it if you’re bored and have some imagination just to marvel at how poorly they executed what could have been a brilliant movie. If, on the other hand, you aren’t into watching shitty movies just to pick them apart for how good they could have been, probably best to stay away.

To the spoilers!

The story is supposed to be this: A serial killer wins the lottery and uses his new found fortune to win over the love of his life. When she discovers his secret, plot ensues. Unfortunately that is not at all what happens. To digress for a moment, movies (tv shows, plays, books, anything fictional really) are absolutely reliant on your ability to suspend disbelief for the duration. My inability to do so really cripples my movie-going experience. Once I have seen an actor in a couple of films I can no longer suspend my disbelief. So, for instance, I know that I won’t be able to see any movie with Nicolas Cage in it as anything other than Nicolas Cage pretending to be the character. I can’t believe any of the situations, can’t sympathize with the character, it’s all just people acting. If I watch the same movie with people I’ve never heard of, I can enjoy the movie and sympathize with the characters because I don’t know them as that punk Charlie Bodell from Peggy Sue Got Married. That is more a reflection of me than of their abilities though, and just used to illustrate the point: If you can’t suspend your disbelief, you won’t enjoy the movie.

In the case of Lucky, I was watching two lead actors that had left so little impression on me that, until I just looked them up, I had no idea this wasn’t their first movie. I was totally prepared to believe, but the movie fucked me out of that possibility within the first two minutes. You see, the serial killer doesn’t buy the lottery ticket, one of his victims does. Now if that person had bought the lottery ticket at a store that didn’t have a camera facing the register (if such a place still exists), I could reasonably assume that he would be able to cash it in without much hassle. Unfortunately, the place she bought the ticket has time-stamped video of every register transaction -and the girl who bought the ticket is dead before the lottery is drawn. Now I don’t claim to know a great deal about state-run lottery systems, but I will guarantee you that before any state goes to paying out 36 million dollar jackpots they are going to verify where the ticket was purchased and do their best to verify who purchased it -and I DO know that the lottery knows exactly what location sold the ticket and the precise time it was sold. And even if the lottery wasn’t verifying this information, certainly the retailer would be for the purposes of advertising that the winning ticket was sold there. The movie tells you straight away that this video exists -hell, it is being used by what can only be a mentally incompetent detective that can’t seem to put the pieces together when it’s a woman buying the ticket but a man cashing it. So really the movie lost me right there. It’s the same type of thing that takes me completely out of all the tv crime dramas, C.S.I. for example, where they find a spot of black powder on the taillight of a 2002 Honda, then parlay that into an airtight case against the pizza delivery guy who made a delivery next door to the owner of that car four days ago. It’s such utter bullshit that I just can’t watch it. But in the case of Lucky, I soldiered on.

That digression aside, this movie really had potential. The main problem is that it doesn’t seem like they were entirely sure if they wanted to make a black comedy or a nail-biting, horror/thriller. The acting was really quite good, especially in the case of the female lead, Lucy St. Marten (ari Graynor). She actually looked quite pretty in the beginning, in kind of a girl-next-door way, and had a slightly too upbeat, mall girl demeanor. By the end of the movie she really looked defeated, with any hint of beauty destroyed, and she was quite believably going a bit crazy. But that progression from mall girl to mental patient was done with a musical score that seemed to completely randomly switch between ominous and outtakes from Killer Clowns from Outer Space. I really think that just a bit of editing (and I mean cutting room stuff that that could be done now) and changing the score to embrace either the ominous or the campy and they could have come up with a good black comedy or a great horror/suspense film. Instead you get a bunch of horrible events (theoretically, since nearly all of the actual killing takes place off screen) taking place that are extremely difficult to take seriously because of the music, but just a bit too terrible to find humor in.

Oh yeah, the movie. So some serial killer dude wins the lottery. When Lucy, his gradeschool crush, finds out about it, she throws herself at him -despite treating him like the scum of the earth for twenty years prior. They say money can’t buy love, but in this case it certainly can buy sex and marriage and that’s practically the same thing. When Lucy first finds out her new husband’s secret (when she witnesses him murdering a maid on their honeymoon), she freaks out only for a few seconds, but then does her wifely duty: she doesn’t tell him about it, but disposes of the body. I will give the movie a bit of credit here for not insulting our intelligence by explaining why (the payout is in annuities, so she has to stay with him to get the checks). She later finds a few more of his victims buried at his house, and takes it upon herself to move the bodies to their new house (no idea why. I thought she was trying to find them less likely to be found. Dumb bitch), but she starts going a little bit crazy from the stress of it all. So when the bodies are discovered at the end of the movie, her DNA is all over them. Of course she is the one that goes to jail for it, while he walks away. He does still come to visit the now apparently schizophrenic woman in jail though. And that’s about it.

This movie was just so disappointing for how poorly they handled everything. Every step of the way I found myself thinking “why the hell did they do that”, but there was never a time when subsequent events justified previous actions. When the credits rolled I really hated myself for sticking through it that long thinking that eventually something had to pay off when I knew that it probably wasn’t going to. I don’t know that I’ve ever used the phrase “Sucked out loud”, but it certainly seems fitting for this film in its current state.