A Long Time Ago…

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Today’s the 40th “birthday” of Star Wars, when the film first released to 32 theaters across the country. Which then spawned probably the greatest franchise in history. (Arguably, I’m sure.)

Think about it – how much has this film and its subsequent megalithic mythos permeated global culture? There are currently 8 films already out, three more in production, and more on the way for the foreseeable future. Innumerable books, comics, toys, games, apparel… It’s everywhere.

I’ve been seeing a lot of reflective articles and blogs about how the franchise has impacted lives in so many ways. At the risk of getting lost in the noise, I’ll just add my humble two credits to the pile.

I saw Star Wars when I was 5; I know it wasn’t opening weekend because no theater in Florida had the movie at that time. I do know it was in the summer, probably around my birthday. And what scant memories I have of that night do stick out pretty well. My dad had misread the showtime, so when we arrived, the movie was already underway; we walked in during Leia’s interrogation scene. I otherwise don’t remember that much about the evening other than I was enthralled with the cool starships, lightsabers, and the music.

We returned to see it the next night – dad got the time right, then! – and I was hooked. (It also started an unbroken trend in my life where I’ve seen every Star Wars movie twice during opening weekend.)

I want to say that the movie – and its sequels – were my inspiration to go into the creative route I have followed ever since. But that’s a little disingenuous. Star Wars has certainly played a factor – and a heavy one at that – but my exploration into role-playing in the 80s and comic collecting in the 90s also played large parts.

But I will say that Star Wars fanned the flames of story within me. Because of George Lucas’ creative vision – and risk! – I found myself diving into the universe alongside my brother and our friends. And that has never stopped.

Happy Fortieth, Star Wars. Let’s keep celebrating.

Why I Won’t Be Seeing Deadpool

deadpoolTalk everywhere in my circle of nerdom is about some flick that came out over the weekend. Perhaps you’ve heard of it? I believe it’s called Deadpool.

Ok, I’m being facetious. Pretty much everyone with an ounce of comic book nerdity (which can be substituted in this case with major media superhero pop culture-ism) knows who Deadpool is. The famous “merc with a mouth” finally got his own flick, with a major push from Ryan Reynolds. Word is already out that a sequel is on the way.

Despite knowing who Deadpool is, and despite my absolute love for most superhero-themed movies of the last two decades (or so), I won’t be seeing it. I’ve already decided to add it to my personal pile of “Won’t Watch” flicks, alongside Batman v Superman (or whatever it’s called now) and any Marvel movie not made by well, Marvel (aka Disney).

There’s a simple reason for it, though it took me a while to finally admit it. This simply isn’t the Deadpool I grew up with.

Let me ‘splain.

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I got into the comics universe back in high school, when I also entered my gaming nerd phase. I was fascinated with the endless stories (often reading like action-style soap operas), the seemingly unlimited proliferation of characters, and the simple format. I got hooked first on GI Joe, then moved into Batman, X-Men, X-Factor, Wolverine, and other spinoff titles.

I saw a t-shirt the other day that neatly explains why I really loved this world of superhero and mutant comics:

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I collected and read comics religiously from the mid-80s through the mid-90s, right when I really needed the simple escapism the most. I went to the Chicago ComicCon several times, adding back issues to various titles – I had every X-title written by Chris Claremont at one point – because I loved the story arcs, the interconnectedness of plots across titles, and a lot of the characters.

Deadpool arrived on the scene in the early 90s and quickly became a recurring enemy character in X-Force. He looked cool, he was a great villain, and I was intrigued enough to get his first miniseries, The Circle Chase.

Marvel morphed Deadpool into his newer, brash, fourth-wall breaking smartass self in the later 90s, after I had already stopped collecting and reading comics. There were a few reasons for my breaking it off with the hobby, of which the first was, obviously, money. I was collecting more than 30 titles a month, and that is expensive change to drop when you’re only making 20K a year and living on your own.

Second, I gave away 98% of my collection to a kid who had lost everything in a house fire. I’d heard he was a huge X-Men fan, and the other titles and whatnot in the boxes we dropped off could easily be sold to help him and his family rebuild.

Third, I was at a point where I really needed to pare down my hobbies to just a few more passionate pursuits. Because I adored role-playing and computer games, with a healthy side of miniature assembly and painting, comics just faded from view.

They remain a staple of who I am, though. When Hollywood started making better versions of the superhero movie, I was ecstatic. When X-Men was announced, I felt like I was going to get to revisit some old, dear friends from high school. Unfortunately, I was really disappointed with the first movie; it didn’t measure up to my own imagination. I took a chance on the second, and after that travesty I knew I wouldn’t pay any more attention. (The newest one being advertised – X-Men: Apocalypse – horrifies me because there’s no way they can do justice to the original Apocalypse and his Four Horsemen, who were fantastic in the second incarnation of X-Factor.)

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I embraced the Marvel Cinematic Universe, because they reminded me of the classic comic heroes I remember during that formative decade of time. Slightly campy, unrealistic ‘violence,’ snarky-yet-serious – sure, the plots don’t hold up perfectly, but neither did the comics! They are, to me, great renditions of the lighthearted action soap operas I remember, and a perfect escape vehicle.

Which circles me back to Deadpool.

I don’t remember Deadpool being the way he’s described in the current movie, a rated-R raunchy romp that glorifies the current incarnation of the character. A fourth-wall breaking, pop-culturized anti-hero built on internet memes, over-the-top violence, snappy buzzwords, and sexualized gratification is not what I want from my superhero escape. It sullies the memory I have of a scheming, snarky, capable villain. I’m sure the movie has its moments, and by all accounts, people have been flocking to it in record numbers.

But it does raise a concern to me, being that this might alter the superhero movie landscape. Its success (and profitability) may well make Hollywood take a turn into the more pop-culturized, over-the-top violence, snappy snarky buzzy internet meme-mouthing mentality with future flicks. Already, Fox (who owns Deadpool‘s rights) has made noise about the next Wolverine movie going for an ‘R’ rating, and others may soon follow.

It’s not a trend I particularly crave to see. (But may well happen.)

I do rest in the fact that Disney, who owns the Marvel Cinematic Universe, will most likely NOT go that route since most of its movies aim at the family audience, pushing at the PG-13 element. So, for now – at least through the current Phase 3 of Marvel movies – I’m satisfied.

But if this trend persists, as Hollywood is wont to do, I may well end up walking away from my superhero friends  once more.

And I’m okay with that.

When a Boy Meets Girl…Forever

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“I’m just a boy, standing in front of a girl, asking her to love him.”
-paraphrased from Notting Hill

So inevitably, the question posed to me and my wife at some point – alone or together – is just how we met. Because to know us is to know two fiercely independent-dependent people. How in the world did all this collide, fusing together into a nearly nineteen-year long love affair and marriage?

Well sit back, I’ll tell you. Think of this little story as a romantic comedy, if you will. I’ll let you decide who plays who in this little tale of action, passion, determination, and love. Ready? Here we go!

Back in 1994 I moved from Chicago to Pittsburgh. I wasn’t exactly Mr. Popular – I hadn’t retained any friendships from college or high school, so moving out East was only me, myself, and I.

The second day of work at my new job, I was in a meeting with other “trainees” for middle management. Yes, that’s right: I took the first job offered to me as a college graduate, so you can shut up now. Anyway, in waltzes two “older” trainees (as in, higher on the seniority list); a man and a woman. The woman looked cold as ice on the outside but had that fiery demeanor that you knew if you uncorked it, her full Irish wrath would just burn you to a crisp.

And yeah, was she hot. On many, many levels. For young men, the looks is the hook. For me, the intelligence behind the beauty is the catalyst. This woman had both, and I was smitten.

She had Irish and German blood in there, mixed with a slight Pittsburgh accent and attitude. Green-brown eyes and intelligent to boot.

Did I mention she was extremely beautiful? Yeah….hooked.

It is at this point in our story that my eyes, for the first time, fixed on the woman you all will know as my future wife. It was also the last time I would ever see a beautiful woman, because she? WAS IT. (And make no mistake, she still is.)

Of course, I made a complete ass of myself during that meeting, too. I have no excuse – at the time, I was a person in a lot of pain inside, so I typically covered with caustic sarcasm and snide remarks. And I flirted. A lot. Yeah, I was “that guy.” Not exactly a great catch.

She, on the other side, was dealing with her own issues.

So OF COURSE in the tradition of all good romantic comedies, we absolutely ABHORRED each other from second the first.

Ok, back story now set. Let’s switch scenes, shall we?

Now, there was another trainee in my store branch that I became acquainted with. (I can’t say “friend,” we really weren’t.) As in, we knew names and covered each other when we were being lazy at work. (Hey, it was retail management, not exactly rocket science.) She also happened to be a friend of the mystery woman. So of course, she was fed reports of my idiot behavior and humiliatingly failed attempts at a social life in a city I barely knew (except for the hockey team) and lived all alone.

So my coworker knew my birthday was coming up and decided to set me up on a blind date. As was told to me later, she also set up my mystery lady on a blind date that night and would be there for her for moral support.

Yeah, you can see this train wreck coming a mile away, can’t you? Remember, “romantic comedy” here. Because tragedy is not the subject of this movie.

We were each set up with the other. Our mutual friend thought it would be funny to have two people who didn’t like each other meet up. She wanted to see fireworks, and not the fun kind.

We’ll skip the stereotypical looks of disgust and swearing from both individuals during the reveal. I mean, that’s a staple of these movies, right? To be nice (and fair), she bought me a beer. I, in my attempt at elementary schoolyard manliness, promptly challenged her to a game of pool; I was eager to show my male superiority by conquering this woman at a game I was good at.

Or …so I thought.

(Obligatory flashback: I spent a lot of my non-existent downtime in college alone at a nearby bar, shooting pool solo and throwing darts. I had no scale of ego, so I really thought I was good. That, and winning $100 when I was loopy-faced drunk during a frat-boy showdown really wasn’t good for my head. In hindsight, that is.)

Listen, I’ll not mince words: she handed my butt to me after stomping on it for about 15 minutes and running the table. AT EIGHT-BALL.

Attempting to assuage my now-wounded (ok, “mostly shredded”) pride, I suggested darts – another game I was good at. I actually brought my darts with me, as I’d figured if the date hadn’t panned out, I could at least get a game in.

Well, this game took longer because I wasn’t as good as I thought and she’d never played. Our “benefactor” for the evening, had, of course, gone missing – we saw her floating around on the dance floor with various guys. My date suggested a great way to pay her back: dedicate a song to her from several of the drunken old barflies at the bar. Yep, that totally felt good.

My walls reduced somewhat and her defenses relaxed, we started chatting for a while after the darts game and found out we had some things in common after all, including our mutual dislike (read: simmering hate) for our corporate employer.

She drove me home – our “friend” had disappeared. And on the spur of the moment (at the time, I thought I was an idiot) I asked the lady out on a ‘real’ date. Hey, I was lonely and getting my behind handed to me was preferable to sitting at home watching reruns of Mighty Ducks 2 on HBO.

She accepted. You could have scraped me off the asphalt.

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And thus it began. Our dates were pretty intense affairs – low on the entertainment (though I did drag her to Forrest Gump and Lion King) but extremely heavy on the problem-sharing. Seems we found we were both wounded people and talking just seemed to help. We were frequent late-night table squatters at Eat-n-Park, often talking from early evening into the early morning. Sometimes, we unloaded on each other that would put the lobby scene in the Matrix to shame, and then right our ship with a kiss.

After a fashion – two months – I began broaching the topic of marriage. She was hesitantly receptive.

I proposed twice, about a month apart. Both times she turned me down, we’d talk it through, and our budding relationship moved forward.

In December – five months after our first date, we were on one of our late Saturday night dates: go to movie, then to late-night drama improv at University of Pittsburgh, then to Eat ‘N Park until 3 a.m. This time, I did the unthinkable…..near the end of the improv session, when questions are called out to the troupe, I raised my hand. Taking the floor near where we sat, I told everyone that though I had only known this lady for a short time, and though we started off on the wrong foot, and though she still kicks my butt in pool….I wanted her to do it forever. And I spun down to my knee and proposed on the spot. I’d bought a sapphire ring she’d admired and that was her engagement jewelry. (Gals, I know diamonds are your best friend and all, but I’m not being cheap – she dislikes diamonds.)

We made the front page of the student paper on Monday.

Oh, and this time she accepted. We married nine months later in September; our honeymoon wouldn’t come for another three years.

Now, at this point, I cannot say it was all roses and sunshine and lollipops from then on out. We had some serious problems our first few years, many of which were both our faults and issues. Some of it has been from baggage from years past. Some has been from old filters we’ve not removed – filters put in place over our hearts due to past hurts, childhood experiences, emotional/physical traumas, and so on. These filters sometimes twist what we hear from those whom we love, and send us on a different angle than intended. In part, communication within the marriage relationship requires tossing out those filters and putting in new ones that are directly related to our spouse. It’s an ongoing process; I’ll let you know when it’s over.

Long story short, we’re still here. (Think “Eighteen Years Later” as the Epilogue header of the movie.) We’re more in love with each other than I ever thought possible. It’s humorous to tell people we know that we hated each other with ribald passion in the beginning, considering they only know us “in the now.”

Every year, on our anniversary, we watch One Fine Day. Because that movie is a humorous representation of our relationship (well, aside from kids) pretty well.

I’ve been told we’re an inspiration to some, a model of good marriage to others. I can’t take credit for that: I mean, we still have our moments – I’m sure our neighbors in the past can attest to that – but by and by, all in all…it’s a VERY good partnership-relationship-friendship indeed. All credit really goes to God.

I don’t foresee an end to this, and don’t want to. My life has felt complete for the last eighteen-and-a-half years. Each day, I look to immerse myself anew into the depths of this woman who not only enraptures me, but has saved me from life ever dull.

And that, dear reader, is our story.

Faith, Science Fiction, and Gaming (Part 1)

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A few weeks ago I was invited to participate in a gaming podcast. This one was not your typical game industry interview, however. Saving the Game is a group of gamers who are Christian; their podcasts focus more on how elements of the Christian walk and faith can interact with games and gaming. It’s not a sermon or a slam on gaming; it’s just guys who game who happen to be of similar faith, discussing their gaming hobby.

The interview was the most fun I’ve had on a podcast or discussion about gaming. We ended up with so much material the podcast was broken into two episodes. The first posted this weekend. (You can listen via streaming or mp3 download.)

In this one, I talk about:

  • Games’ Most Wanted, the new book authored by Chris Hussey and myself due in July 2013
  • What an Assistant Line Developer does for BattleTech
  • Science fiction, religion, and faith in various books and stories
  • Shadowrun
  • BattleTech (specifically, House Kurita and ComStar/Word of Blake)
  • Gamemastering and storytelling

Yes, we do talk about Christianity, but in the context of games and science fiction settings and character. It’s not a “come to Jesus” sermon or forced proselytizing.

I know some of my readers might be instantly turned off because this involves “religion.” All I ask is that you set aside the instant stereotype that just popped into your head and listen with an open mind. I thank you in advance for that.

If anything can be gained from this, people who enjoy my work with BattleTech or other material I’ve written will (hopefully) come away with a better understanding of how this particular writer’s mind works.

I hope you enjoy it. Part 2 will post next week.

That’s No Moon…

My wonderful wife gave me the Lego Death Star exclusive kit this past Christmas. Rather than spend a solid two days gorging on building this awesome set, I decided to take my time and spread the construction love over the course of several days in 2-3 hour sessions.

She gave me the idea to “chronicle” the process by taking photos after each stage, so this is the result (of sorts). I had other Lego minifigs in my collection clamor to help – how could I refuse? You’ll see their goofing off efforts scattered among the photos.

I’ve posted a few below. For the complete set, check my Flickr album, which will be updated as progress continues in the creation of this “technological terror.”

After the first stage:

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After the second stage:

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Of course, after reports of all the goofing off, there was the inevitable visit…

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“We shall redouble our efforts!”