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Nov 7, 2016

Snippet: "The Fireweaver"

Inspiration, especially in writing, is a really weird and often frustrating thing. I wrote this snippet of a novel I intended to write almost two years ago, in the world my cousin and I created, Shaarzahn. I stumbled upon it today and am amazed at how intriguing it is. It draws me in immediately to the story and I'm dying to read more. I don't remember writing a lot of it. I remember having an idea, but not enough of one to assemble into an entire novel. Why did I stop writing? What made me stop where I did? Why can't I ever finish what I start? It's frustrating for me to find such radiant and pure gems buried in the sand, but gems that I know will likely never be cut into the shape they need to be to live their potential as refined, sparkling cut jewels. Well, at least I have material here in case whatever muse first whispered this story's beginnings to me ever chances to return.

- - -

ali An-destan drew his camel-wool cloak closer and shivered. It didn’t seem right to be up this late. Whether or not Zalir was smiling on him at this time in his life, he still felt the lack of the sun-god’s unmistakably powerful rays of sunlight. And being forced to remain not only awake, but outside, during the dark, cold night of the Kharazim desert was… unsettling, to say the least. The moon was out, but its light was cold, foreboding… like the sun-god’s jealous brother who could only mimic the glory of true sunlight.
            “Here they come,” said Hizan. Rali looked to where his friend was pointing. Sure enough, in the distant cold moonlight was a cloud of dust being kicked up by the hooves of four or five horses. Their riders were dark—black shadows against the bluish night sand, almost like extensions of the black of night itself. Rali felt a pang of fear shudder through him, but he tried to cover it.
            He looked at Hizan, trying to lighten the darkness with a smile. “No turning back now, right?”
            Hizan smiled back, but Rali could see fear behind his eyes. Hizan was a couple of years older than Rali, and a couple of inches taller. His own cloak pressed tightly against his bald head as he looked back toward the riders. “I guess not. You scared?”
            “Yes,” said Rali.
            “Me too,” admitted Hizan. He looked back at the dust cloud. The riders were already slowing, even though they were still a hundred or so yards away. “Do you think they see us?”
            Rali pulled out his long knife and a lump of flint from his pouch. He struck the two together, making brief sparks illuminate the air. The riders paused for a moment, then sped up again toward the two men.
            Rali pocketed the knife and flint, then closed his eyes, trying to swallow his fear. Why was he so jumpy? He had been through much more terrifying ordeals than this. Some of them in the past few days. And he had handled them beautifully, like he always had. Perhaps this was more of a “dread” sort of ordeal, though. Acting on impulse was always second-nature to Rali, but this stewing in impatient dread of what could happen was much worse.
            The riders finally arrived, stopping in front of Rali and Hizan. Rali closed his golden eyes once more, imagining himself in an alley, facing another thief. Time for talk. No fighting even… at least, he hoped not… just talk. He could handle that. He opened his eyes.
            One of the riders dismounted. His head was wrapped in a black camel-wool scarf, and he had an equally thick and dark vest over a linen tunic. His arms, however, were bare, and golden bangles shone in the light of the desert moon. Two unsheathed swords also shone, one at each hip, as well as a single orange gem on a golden chain around his neck.
            “Shouldn’t you be leaving the night watch to the Tibaa?” the man asked in a high, raspy voice.
            “They cannot be trusted,” said Hizan carefully, “for they shun the light that must be embraced.”
            The rider nodded at Hizan, then extended a hand to clasp his wrist. He reached to Rali, who shook it, nodding. His hand felt rough, as if it had been grated on rocks. Or perhaps scarred by holding the wrong end of a sword many times.
            The other riders dismounted. It turned out there were five of them, and they formed a sort of half-circle around the two men. They were dressed in cloaks, more like Rali and Hizan, except for their choice of black attire. They each also had two swords at their waists.
            “Hizan An-Tosif?” asked the head rider. Hizan raised his hand and bowed respectfully. “And Rali An-destan?” Rali mimicked the gesture.
            “Who do we address?” asked Rali, hoping he was acting the way he should.
            “You address Sharoh, the first-chosen of Zalir, brother,” said the head rider. “You will learn the names of these your four other brothers in time. For now, we must talk business. But first, shall we sit?”
            Rali looked at Hizan, who seemed relaxed. He tried to relax as well as they all sat cross-legged on the sand. They each pulled their cloaks up beneath themselves as they sat.
            “Now,” said Sharoh, removing the scarf from his face. “You know why I am here. I am here to bring you into the horde of the sun-god.” Sharoh’s face looked as rough as his hands were. He had a black goatee, but some parts of his chin were scarred where no hair grew. “I have heard of your… inexperienced thefts in Ptaliram, which is why I sent Zalir’s second-chosen to reveal to you my intentions to recruit you. The question is, why are you here?”
The two men hesitated. Rali spoke first. “We wish to accept your recruitment, sir.”
Sharoh’s golden eyes flashed at Rali. “There is no sir,” he said as Rali’s spine turned to ice, “but Zalir.”
“Yes… brother,” said Rali.
Sharoh smiled, the fire in his eyes immediately gone. “You wish to accept? Fine enough, but why? Why leave the town of your birth, your houses you call home, your thieving routes, your reputations? Surely you’ve worked hard to become the clandestine thieves you are. You have avoided the capture of the amin, or else you would be dangling from the ropes on the Tree of Thieves right now. As far as my men have gathered, you aren’t even suspected or wanted men. For all the amin knows, you are upstanding citizens who do good for the community.”
Hizan spoke next, leaving Rali relieved. “You flatter us, brother, but we are not as silent as you say. The amin is indeed suspicious of us, and were it not for your timely arrival, we may have been making our last few robberies before being strung up.”
The head rider smiled. “Ah, so it is out of desperation that you accept my invitation?”
“N-no! That is…” Hizan fought for words.
“What he means is, Zalir be praised that you have come to take us to our next station in life,” said Rali. “It truly is by providence’s hand that this opportunity has presented itself.”
Sharoh nodded assent. “Perhaps. It is common for Zalir to shine upon those who hide in the shadows. Perhaps he has seen it fit to bring us together for mutual benefit.”
Hizan nodded, bowing his head again.
“What, brother, is this mutual benefit?” asked Rali.

“Yes, I have been a bit vague about it, haven’t I?” said Sharoh. “I accept your reasons for joining, and will now explain. In the palace, in the Grand City, there is a man who Zalir sees fit to dispose of. He has grown fat on the money of those who serve him, but his real sin lies with the Tibaa.” 

Nov 6, 2016

Relic Story: Mr. Arrow

I stumbled upon this as I was looking through my old WordPerfect documents. It's not a bad story for a thirteen-year-old. The actual metaphor for the entire thing being a computer is a tad clumsy, but I like the pacing and flow of the plot. The inspiration from the story comes from my family's computer's tendency of basically never working. The CD Rom was always having issues, and at the time of this piece, we had a virus or Spyware on our computer. The ending is a reference to my brother Redge calling my uncle, a computer wizard, who walked him through the steps of eliminating the virus.

Mr. Arrow

Mr. Arrow walked up the stairs into the main desktop. Many doors lined the walls, and each had a label. He pulled a list of instructions out of his pocket and read his task again. He wiped the sweat from his brow and walked past several working processors. They greeted him, but he paid them no heed.
Finding a door that read “Port C,” he slowly made his way into and through its corridor. After reading his instructions a few more times and following the directions through the winding maze, he found himself in a room with no more hallways branching out from it. Nervously, he began to root through the crates surrounding the walls. He noticed one that was blotched and reddish, as if someone had spray painted red paint on it, and began to search it. Suddenly his heart skipped a beat. He had found it! A large black card that read Spy-Warehouse Inc. As he pulled the card out of the crate, a red sticky film peeled off that had been attached to the inside of the crate. Mr. Arrow wiped the card on his shirt and turned it over in his hand, reading the details of it. All of a sudden, as he walked slowly towards the door, absorbed in the details of the card, he bumped into a Motherboard executive.
“Just what do you think you’re doing?” the huge, red-faced executive boomed in his face.
“This card shouldn’t be here,” Mr. Arrow said, trying to cover his nervousness.
“Excuse me?”
“It was not imported here by normal means,” Mr. Arrow explained. “Mr. Norton thinks it may be corrupting the factory. In fact, it was spreading reddish film all over the stuff in—”
“It’s not your responsibility. If you think we have corruption in the factory, you should speak to an executive like myself,” the massive man growled. “You could be banished for coming in here without proper authority.”
“But sir, I had to act quickly. Why, if something like this went unfixed, the entire—”
“Let me see that card!” the executive’s muscular arm snatched the black card from Mr. Arrow’s hand. The executive read the details over a couple times, then he chuckled. “This is an important file. I wouldn’t dream of having this file gotten rid of. In fact, Mr. Arrow, while you’re here, make copies of this and have it distributed throughout the factory.”
He handed Mr. Arrow the card and walked away.
Mr. Arrow reluctantly went to the copier in the corner of the room and made two copies. He put one in a crate, and was surprised to find out that it began to excrete red liquid on the other files, crossing out certain words to change the instructions completely. He took the copies of the card and dashed out of the room.
As he began to find his way out of the complex, a voice crackled on the intercom, “Illegal access at Port C / Documents / MyFiles...” and began to list the path at which Mr. Arrow resided. He tried to open the door up a level, but the handle jammed. “Let me out! Let me out!” he cursed, jangling the handle. Executives began running out of rooms with pistols.
“Put down the card!” they yelled, but Mr. Arrow pulled out a portable cutting torch from his pocket and began to burn open the door. Screaming in anger, the executives began firing bullets in Mr. Arrow’s direction. Luckily, Mr. Arrow’s optic boots allowed him to zip around the room, dodging their shots. When they all stopped to reload their pistols, Mr. Arrow found enough time to break the door down. He dashed out into the main desktop, fleeing his pursuers.
“Get out of my way! Stop the executives!” he yelled to the processors, who obeyed him and began to fight the executives.

Mr. Arrow found the door that read “Recycle Bin” above it, and sprinted inside as fast as he could. He quickly dragged the cards into the bin amongst the other useless files inside and pushed the button that said Empty.
A robotic voice inquired, “Are you sure you want to delete these 62 items?”
He quickly punched yes and waited for it to empty.
To his dismay the voice said, “Cannot delete ‘SpyWare.exe’. Access is denied.”
He cried out and grabbed the cards. As quickly as possible, he ran into the main desktop and looked for the doorway that said “Add/Remove.” Finding it, and gratefully acknowledging the processors’ detaining the executives, he ran in.
He quickly accessed the inventory list of everything in the factory, and found “Spy-Warehouse Inc. files.” When he activated it, a large crane pulled all the cards from Spy-Warehouse Inc. into the large vat in front of the list. He typed in REMOVE, but the programs persisted. “Are you sure you want to delete the files from SpyWare?”
Are you sure? If you remove these files, you will not receive the benefits it gives.
Suddenly Mr. Arrow became aware of a beating on the door behind him.
Removing SpyWare will make it so you will not have the benefits such as
l free Internet access
l improved CPU usage
l etc.
Last chance to change your mind. Delete SpyWare?
Mr. Arrow’s heart began to pound as another reading came up and the door began to give way.
The benefits of free Internet access, improved CPU usage, and etc. will be deleted. Continue?
At last, the computer gave in.
The door’s hinges popped out, and angry voices began yelling through the hole between the frame and the bent door.
Mr. Arrow tried to prop things against the door, but he didn’t have much time.
“Give us the card!” murderous voices shrieked.
Mr. Arrow knew it wasn’t long now until the executives could get in. What was worse, they were beginning to shoot and cut at the door with their weapons.
All of a sudden, a deafening explosion rattled the entire factory. The vat that the files were in had combusted, and particles of the files were beginning to float upward into nothingness. The files were deleted. The viruses had not corrupted the computer.

The executives suddenly snapped into their wits as the door came crashing the ground. They all began to retch horribly, and the vomit on the ground was red. It dissolved into pixels, which the wounded processors began to automatically take into the Recycling Bin room.
Realizing what they had done, the executives apologized profusely. Obviously, the virus had corrupted them, as well as the files.
A hologram appeared in the room. It was Mr. Norton.
“Well done, Mr. Arrow,” he said warmly. “The viruses were deleted, and my team is now going to begin fixing up the infected files. Thank you for saving the computer.”

“Is that it?” Redge asked into the phone.
“That should do it,” Scott told him.
“Alright. Thanks again, Scott,” Redge said gratefully.
“No problem.”
 Redge moved the mouse, and Mr. Arrow clicked on ‘Restart Now.’ the computer would be all back to normal soon.


Oct 24, 2016

Short Story: Cold

Austin Ballard

It was a cloudless morning, for the first time this year. Like many of his cabin fever-ridden neighbors, Peter hoped the long winter was finally over—the longest and earliest winter in forty years, the news had said.
   Peter’s snow boots crunched on the frosty grass as he lugged his load to the edge of the pond. He dropped his lunchbox, ice saw, and lawn chair still in its bag onto the ground, then hefted his shovel. He walked up to the edge of the frozen pond, up to the familiar spot by the willow with its hanging tendrils frozen in the water.
   Peter didn’t bother being careful when stepping on the ice. He walked right onto the familiar sheet near the willow and stomped down hard. Nothing happened. He took the shovel and speared the ice with its spade. The ice didn’t so much as chip. It was just too hard.
   Peter let out a long, white breath that billowed into the wind. He pulled his scarf over his shoulder and peered out over the pond toward the pines on the other side. A couple of premature geese honked as they flew over the fog. Even animals seemed to have been caught off guard by the unnaturally cold winter.
   Peter looked down at the ice again. It had frozen so quickly that it had gotten an odd, milky quality to it, like mottled quartz or frosted glass. Still, Peter thought he could see a bubble in a darker part of the ice. Maybe today was the day after all.
Peter trudged off the shore to the grass and set up his lawn chair. He sat on the canvas seat and looked out over the pond. Another goose honk echoed through the air.

“It’s getting cold!”
“I’m coming!” Peter grumbled as he stepped down the stairs. He turned the corner down the hall and entered the kitchen. Hannah sat at the table with her arms folded, a stern expression on her face.
Peter sat down across from her and took a fork, and then sighed. “Egg whites? Really?”
“It’s healthier.”
“I don’t care. I need filling food. I should’ve just made breakfast myself. Now I’ll have to pick up something on the way just to stay full for work.”
“Oh, I wanted to tell you, don’t use the debit card for a while. I ordered the inventory for DressMiss.”
Peter dropped his fork onto his plate. “You what?”
“I know it’s a lot, but it’s an investment. You said it’d be a good supplement to our income.”
“Hannah, I said we needed to talk about it more before you dropped $5,000 on dresses!” Peter said loudly.
“It’s actually $5,600, and, and—” she said, holding up a finger as Peter opened his mouth, “I told you I’ll make it all back in four months! I’ve already got a sales party scheduled for next weekend. I’ve thought a long time about this, and it’ll be something good to keep me busy and make money for us.”
“Fifty-six hundred…” Peter scoffed, eating a bite of his omelet. “I work and save all summer and come back and you spend it all.”
“I’ll make it back,” said Hannah irritably. “Just support me in my desire to work and stop being a jerk about it.”
Peter glared at her. “I don’t see us ever buying a house together at this rate.”


Peter smiled as he swiped on his iPhone app. $230. Not a bad start to the day. Why hadn’t he been this good at gambling when he had tried it years ago? Perhaps he simply hadn’t been mature enough yet. He was so young back then, when he and Hannah had just gotten married.
Peter looked over the pond again. The sun was definitely warmer now—still not a cloud in sight—and the day was turning into the loveliest one he had seen all year. The morning frost had already faded from the grass, and Peter had taken off his scarf a half hour ago. If today’s sun didn’t thin the ice, Peter didn’t know what he’d do. Despite his remarkable earnings, he’d spent too many days out here by himself, it seemed.


Peter briskly opened the gas station door and walked toward the liquor section. He threw open the refrigerated door and started pulling random bottles into his arms. Foster’s, Heineken, lager… he didn’t know if they were brands or flavors or what. He didn’t care.
Peter brought the clinking bundle to the counter and pulled out his driver’s license and wallet.
“Debit or credit?” asked the clerk.
Peter brought the sack of alcohol to the car, pounded on the steering wheel with his fist, and screamed. Four months he had worked while Hannah was watching TV and eating home-cooked meals with her mom, just so they could save up for a new life somewhere else. And she was throwing away her $5,600 investment after one party? It was this type of shortsightedness that had started their marriage off so poorly in the first place, but twice was just too much.
Peter opened bottles and drank the bitter, burning liquor from them as he drove. He hoped a cop would arrest him so he could have somewhere else to sleep tonight. But no cars in the dark streets so much as slowed or blinked their headlights at him. He sped to his neighborhood and parked halfway onto the lawn. Hannah’s car wasn’t there yet.
Peter drank some more in the car, coughing and nearly gagging from the taste. He had never drunk before, and now he didn’t understand why anyone would. But he kept drinking anyway.
Eventually, Peter got out of the car and walked into the cold garage. Small snowflakes were beginning to fall. Peter vaguely thought that seemed odd for this time of year, but there was a fog behind his eyes that made it hard to think. He grabbed a shovel and took it inside the front door.
Peter waited.

Peter had waited long enough. A sheen of melted water had covered the pond, making it blinding in the noonday, spring sunlight. He took his shovel and walked next to the willow again. This time he was careful as he walked out onto the ice. He stomped the wet ice with his foot, and heard a thick shifting sound as white cracks appeared over the surface of the pond. Peter smiled. He hit the ice with his shovel and was pleased to see that it cut a sizeable crack.
Peter peered into the ice below the willow. He had been stupid to throw Hannah’s body into the pond that night, no matter how drunk he’d been. But how could he have known the pond would freeze that very night? It had been the earliest winter in forty years. Snow had covered the pond for most of the winter, but still, the thought of her being here out in the open for anyone to stumble on had been terrifying.
Peter ran back to his chair to grab the ice saw, almost giddy with relief. Now that the long winter was over, he could finally rest.

(1200 words)

Sep 20, 2016

Movie Review: The Jungle Book (2016)

For the most part, I've been pretty impressed with Disney's recent fever of putting a modern spin on their old classics and making them unique through exploring different characters' points of view. I enjoyed Maleficent, as it focused on the villain's point of view and explored an alternate storyline and a different meaning of the word "love" that goes beyond the cliché. And from what I hear (I haven't seen it quite yet), Cinderella does a great job of tying up some plot threads that the original cartoon left loose, adding valuable and meaningful character motivations along the way.

Unfortunately, the 2016 remake of The Jungle Book not only falls short on achieving any of these positive reasons to remake a movie—it fails to even provide a cohesive plot or character development, making for a confusing, clichéd, wholly unsatisfying film that, in my opinion, did not deserve the "widespread acclaim" it got from critics.

The movie starts by playing the same mysterious oboe tune the original intro starts with, which was my first surprise. Was this going to be an exact remake of the original, or a different take like the other films? Maleficent had a wholly unique soundtrack that I actually liked better than the movie itself, but already the movie seemed to be pandering to the audience's nostalgia, as if pleading for them to look past the plot the movie was going to present and just enjoy a walk down memory lane instead.

Honestly, I don't remember much of the beginning of the movie. It's extremely rushed and seems mainly designed to show the audience just how heavy the CGI in the film is. Though the CGI is technologically impressive and the animals' fur looks realistic, the animals lack both beastlike and humanlike looks, making them look unnatural and unemotional. It's disappointing to think that behind it all, Mowgli is the only real character, running and climbing around in a bluescreen studio. I recognize that many movies rely a lot on bluescreen technology nowadays, but this movie seemed to almost brag that Neel Sethi is the only human character in the entire movie as if it were some sort of revolutionary choice on Disney's part. In reality, it makes it very hard to connect with anyone in the film.

The villain, Shere Khan the tiger, is introduced to the film early on, and is quickly and forcefully presented in a dark light so as to engender the audience's hatred against him. It was honestly somewhat conflicting for me as the viewer to hear Shere Khan, who was actually bringing up a reasonable argument against keeping Mowgli around because of the danger of him growing up and burning down the jungle, be rebuked and cowered to by the other animals. The writers of the film seemed to undermine their own reasons for having a villain—they put a modern spin and motivation on Shere Khan's personality while also yielding to old-fashioned clichés of good vs. evil into his psyche for no reason. I was easily swayed to Shere Khan's side through his logic, and his evil appearance did nothing to bring me back. I would have been wholly satisfied if the man-cub had been brought to his man-village and been completely separated from the animal kingdom. Even if that argument had not been brought up, Shere Khan's motivation was based on the fact that his face had been burned by a man (who turns out to be, not surprisingly, Mowgli's father) years before—so of course he would be against the idea of man having a place in the jungle. I'm not saying the Shere Khan in the original Jungle Book cartoon is any more compelling as a villain, but it seems to me that the most important thing here would be consistency—they should have focused either on a believable villain character who was forgiven or redeemed at the end of the movie, or a cruel one that you felt good about seeing die in the end. Disney did neither, and Shere Khan, the driving conflict of the plot, fails as a worthy villain in the story.

After learning a strange unexplained subplot of the elephants of the jungle revered as gods, Mowgli soon encounters Kaa, who is female in this adaptation. Through means unknown, she knows all about Mowgli's story, and somehow gives him a vision of it while seducing him into a position where she can eat him. The scene exists purely for exposition and nothing more, and like every other episodic interaction in the movie, it is extremely rushed and feels unsatisfying when it's over. I think the original movie's position of making Mowgli's origins unknown was the wiser approach. Mowgli doesn't seem to care one way or another how he got abandoned, so we as the audience don't either. This makes the entire encounter with Kaa, like many elements in the movie, nothing more than a nod back to the original cartoon.

The next character Mowgli encounters is Baloo, voiced by Bill Murray. I didn't mind Baloo's character development at first, but his episode did end on a completely forced and unrealistic note: After Baloo and Mowgli spend a montage stealing lots of honey together using Mowgli's technological "tricks" (which is actually one twist on Mowgli's character I did enjoy), Bagheera informs Baloo that Shere Khan is hunting Mowgli down. Rather than simply telling Mowgli this, Baloo makes himself the martyr and needlessly destroys his friendship with Mowgli by saying "Do I have to spell it out for you? I don't want you around anymore." I could not believe that Disney would stoop to adding pointless drama to the story through this line. Of course Mowgli storms off thinking he has no friends to turn to, and Baloo saying to Bagheera "That was the hardest thing I've ever had to do" was utterly laughable when a clear, logical alternative to handling the situation was obvious. I love fantasy films and media, and I can easily get into stories where "unreal" things like talking animals are commonplace, but character interactions in my opinion are the trump card—a character doing something just for the sake of moving the plot along or blatantly creating fake emotional drama kills my suspension of disbelief faster than anything else.

And then comes the character that is most absurd of all, in my opinion: King Louie. Mowgli is brought to an ancient temple by the monkeys of the jungle, and in a completely overdone scene of mystery and a heavily clichéd reveal, Louie (voiced by Christopher Walken), makes odd, indirect small talk with Mowgli behind shadows, finally revealing himself to be not an adorable scatting orangutan, but a colossal gigantopithecus. Now, to be fair, King Louie was not a character found in Rudyard Kipling's original short stories, so Disney had every right to take liberties, but the fact that Louie is a twelve-foot-tall ape completely ruins his purpose in the original story and in this one. Everyone's heard the old joke "Where does a 500-pound gorilla sleep? Anywhere he wants." Being twelve feet tall, Louie likely weighs about 3,600 pounds, using the cubic scaling law. Why on earth would Louie a) "want to be like [Mowgli]," and b) need fire to rule the jungle? Baloo even marvels at his legendary size. It doesn't help my enjoyment of his character that he spontaneously bursts into song in front of Mowgli, even going so far as to (appropriately) rhyme "gigantopithecus" with "ridiculous." Is this a musical or isn't it? Baloo sang his obligatory "Bare Necessities" earlier in the film, but at least he gave an explanation (though lazily undeveloped) of his love of music to Mowgli. Louie's character is utterly pointless, and he was clearly used exclusively by Disney as nothing more than a source of shock value and a chance for another scary animal to chase and narrowly miss killing Mowgli and instead crush himself in his own temple's rubble (but don't worry, kids, the invincible "fire-needing" ape emerges unscathed in the end credits for an unfitting reprise of "Wanna Be Like You").

The rest of the movie is a blur of ridiculous resolution. Mowgli, finding out that his surrogate father Akela was killed, decides to confront Shere Khan by doing exactly as the tiger had predicted—stealing fire from the man-village and carelessly burning down half of the jungle on his way back (which appears to take about an hour, despite his original journey taking days). When Shere Khan points out that he was completely right all along, the jungle animals look forlornly at Mowgli, but do they logically accept that he is too dangerous to live with them? No! They instead inexplicably side with him against the tiger! Is Shere Khan a ruthless tyrant? Sort of. But killing one wolf alpha and slightly brainwashing his cubs pales in comparison to Mowgli utterly torching an entire section of the jungle and the beasts within it. Shere Khan's utter confusion at their stand against him mirrored my own as they charged at him, buying time for Mowgli to "fight him like a man."

Apparently, fighting someone like a man in the movie meant running away to a burning tree, luring Shere Khan onto a conveniently broken branch, and swinging to safety on a hastily-made rope swing. I was disappointed that this scene even included monologuing by Shere Khan, on top of everything else. And the CGI almost makes you forget that fire is not the only danger in those situations—fleeing into a burning thicket would have caused Mowgli to succumb to smoke inhalation very quickly.

In the end, the animals somehow find it in their overly lenient hearts to forgive Mowgli, and rather than accepting his place as a true man for what he has done, Mowgli instead decides that his true place is with the animals, tricks and all. This, along with the female wolf Raksha ridiculously becoming the new alpha to shoehorn in some feminist propaganda made the ending of the movie entirely unsatisfying to me. What is the theme here? That you can be whatever you want? That you shouldn't listen to others? That you should? Just the fact that Disney made this movie was probably enough to make it a success. If any other studio made a film this rushed and CGI-laden, acclaim would have been replaced by harsh criticism.* Even existing critics' reviews of the film seem to be based on such empty praise as "it handsomely revives the spirit of Disney's original film," so it's anyone's guess how this muddled film would have done on its own as a lone release by a different studio, or if it didn't have an all-star cast. Even with the older Disney film in mind, any theme in the 1967 cartoon is lost in this adaptation, leaving this version unconvincing, uninspiring, and ultimately, unnecessary.

*See Warcraft (2016 film)

Sep 19, 2016

WarCraft Easter Eggs: All the Rest

Well, my journey through the Warcraft 3 Easter eggs has come to an unofficial end. I've found pretty much every secret there is to find, I hope. Below are the two "addendum" videos that showcase all the ones I missed during my first pass through all the campaigns. After this, I have ideas for two more videos, one about the models in the game and the other about the interface icons, so I'll get to work on those at some point in the future. But as far as the campaigns go, these secrets were all really awesome to find.

>> goo.gl/rKN0aA <<

Aug 3, 2016

Alfred Shortstaff and the Cavern of Time Second Edition!

I got around to reading Alfred Shortstaff and the Cavern of Time from cover to cover in print, which is a good medium to, sadly, find errors! Gah! There were at least 40 changes I had to make to the text itself, and then I ended up re-typesetting the entire book because I realized that the spacing on the chapters bothered me. How embarrassing. Well, if you've bought the book already, you now own a rare first-edition copy!

The book is now updated on Amazon if you'd like to own a cleaner version (I know I do). No plot changes were implemented (except a few very minor changes to dialog), however, so if the book you own doesn't bother you, I see no reason to spend more money on a new one. Now that the initial launch of Alfred is over, I've lowered the price to its bare minimum, $6.60. That's right—I will no longer receive any royalties whatsoever from the book. I just want people to read it now (I was only making like $0.50 per purchase anyway).

But wait, there's more! Now I'm offering Alfred and the Cavern of Time as an exclusive, free PDF for all Pretzel Lectern readers! Simply click here to get to my official Alfred page and download it. If you'd like more updates about Alfred Shortstaff, consider liking its Facebook page here.

I hope you enjoy the book, and please consider writing a review on Amazon for it when you've read it. I myself am the author and I would only give it 4 stars, so please be as honest as possible as you review the book. With so many other self-published nobodies putting their weird fantasy books online, I want people to know the good and the bad of it so they can know whether it's worth their time.

Thanks! This has been an awesome and fun experience for both my cousin and me.

Jul 29, 2016

The Lord's Prayer in Anglo-Saxon

I've been fascinated with Old English/Anglo-Saxon since I took a course in college (I wish I could've taken the second course and read Beowulf all the way through, but in retrospect it probably would've been extremely stressful and difficult). I decided on a whim to use my memorization skills to memorize the Lord's Prayer. I think it could be a fun thing to brag that I can do. It was fun, and it helped me understand the grammar of Anglo-Saxon quite a bit.

Jul 23, 2016

WarCraft III Easter Eggs: The Founding of Durotar

All right, that should please the thronging crowds for a while—every single campaign in WarCraft III. Looking back, I honestly can't believe how much work I've done. Each video probably took at least a half hour of work per minute of video time, possibly more when you count the research involved. I'm going to take a much-needed break from WarCraft videos, and in a month or two I'll finish with the finale, a video showcasing all the ones I missed.

Jun 30, 2016

WarCraft III Easter Eggs: Legacy of the Damned

Whew! I stayed up late and got up early all week to get this thing done. I think I deserve a break. I wasn't planning on doing The Founding of Durotar, but it did turn out to have some Easter eggs, so this is the second-to-last campaign video I'll feature.

Jun 13, 2016

WarCraft III Easter Eggs: Curse of the Blood Elves

I always thought this was a weird campaign—my least favorite in WarCraft III. But it has its fun moments. Blood elves were my favorite race for quite a while, and this campaign actually surprised me quite a bit with the secrets it was hiding.

>> https://youtu.be/kDxQYR5xEcc <<

Jun 12, 2016

Austin's Thoughts #2

On Weather:

  • Pretty much take the exact temperature and wind speed the place was where I had to mow on Wednesday, and THAT'S what Hell's like. >< And don't be silly. Meatballs falling from the sky would obviously be Heaven's weather.
  • March 25: The quiet, flurrying snow outside is beautiful, in a way... But it's a misplaced beauty, like a man in a wedding dress.
  • Anyone who doesn't like this beautiful rainy weather can move to Antarctica, since that's what the landscape looked like before the rains of cleansing came. It looks like a real spring for once! (Let's hope I don't jinx it)
  • It appears as though after vigorous struggles with each other this week, Spring has finally won the playoffs against Winter. Cross your fingers and hope Winter doesn't try to make a comeback.
  • Water is for drinking. Not for falling everywhere and soaking innocent hardworking people when they're mowing all day long.
status updates

May 30, 2016

WarCraft III Easter Eggs: Terror of the Tides

This one turned out a lot longer than I expected. I may have split it into two if I had known beforehand. The Blink ability really added a ton of secret places. Hope you enjoy! I'm excited to have finally started the Frozen Throne! 

May 25, 2016

Behind WarCraft III: An Interview with Campaign Designer David Fried

As a fanatic of WarCraft III since the game came out when I was in eighth grade, I was honored to have had the awesome chance to speak with an actual developer of the game, David Fried. David came in contact with me through my WarCraft III Easter Egg videos (which can be found here), and graciously answered my questions about his experience as a campaign designer and writer.


Abelhawk: First things first, what was your specific position at Blizzard? Did you just design the campaign levels themselves, or did you have a hand in designing anything else about the game?

David: So at Blizzard I started in Quality Assurance. It was my first job in the game industry and my second job at all. I was working at a technical book store and I was running out of money for college. I didn't want to go into debt, so I thought, why not work in games? I was technical-minded, and I loved games. So, why not give it a try?

I called 4-1-1 and asked for the number for Blizzard, and they gave it to me. I immediately called and asked if they were looking for anyone who had Macintosh experience (I was a big Mac person at the time). Lo and behold, they needed Mac QA testers for Diablo and Starcraft! I went in for an interview and immediately felt at home. Everyone was wearing T-shirts and jeans, and playing games. I knew I wanted to work there, and my background in computers and games made the interview a breeze.

I got the job and started in QA, and while I was there for almost two years, I developed a knack for making neat test levels for Starcraft in StarEdit. I created a new co-op campaign map for Starcraft N64 called Resurrection, and it was very well received, so when Blizzard was looking for new level designers to take over the Starcraft Map of the Week program, I was picked right up.

"Deception" was my favorite Map of the Month that I made. It has the most story elements, and a lot of them ended up sliding into Starcraft lore. That was back when Metzen wasn't paying too much attention to what I was doing. I also did "Trademasters," "Mercenaries II," and "Arena," which someone once told me inspired the Arena maps in WarCraft 3 that eventually became DOTA, but that's not a straight line nor verifiable.

Soon WarCraft 3 began ramping up in development, and so I was moved to helping create the campaign maps. At Blizzard, everyone on the team gets a say in game design, systems, and story elements. So it's a very cooperative process. Primarily though, the level designers are the closest to the end product, and thus they end up working the hardest and longest of anyone on the team. Both because level designers are often waiting for tools and other elements of code and art, which we then have to implement long after everyone else is done, but also because we're the people who have to find the fun, and make sure that each map is an enjoyable experience.

For WarCraft 3 RoC I created "The Culling" (my claim to fame really, if I have one), "Digging Up the Dead," "By Demons Be Driven," and "A Destiny of Flame and Sorrow." I was also the writer of the team, so all of the tooltips (we called them ubertips internally, don't know why), most of the items, and the color schemes for information on abilities and items were my idea. I also wrote a large portion of the flavor text in the game, and some bits of the extended manual. Though looking back, it's definitely not my best writing.

Abelhawk: As a quality assurance employee and later as a campaign designer, how closely did you work with people like Metzen, Samwise, and the voice actors of the game?

David: It wasn't until I was working full time on the N64 Starcraft campaign map that I regularly started speaking to devs from "upstairs." That's how I met Michael Heiberg and Mark Kern. I actually already vaguely knew some of the level designers because three of them were former QA (Scott Mercer, Dave Hale, and Eric Dodds, all great people).

I played Dungeons & Dragons with Chris Metzen, Sam Didier, Jason Hutchins, and Derek Simmons for well over two years while I was there. Everyone was really cool to work with. Blizzard Entertainment was truly a company of like-minded nerds who just wanted to make cool stuff. Once I moved to level design, I interacted with Sammy and Chris all the time. I even had Mike Morhaime come and help with "The Culling," because the triggers got... a bit complicated and he came in to clean up.

Abelhawk: How long did it take to make a single campaign map on average? What was the process like? Did you have the story first, then the map layout, then triggers, testing, doodads, etc.?

David: An average campaign map takes about two weeks if the premise is simple, and up to eight weeks if it's a very trigger-heavy map (as most of mine were). The story was written first by Chris Metzen, then we'd all sit down and walk through the campaign scene by scene to determine what sort of levels each campaign would entail. That first phase is where the level designers get to give a lot of feedback on the story.

So we had the intro and outro story first, then we would pick which ones we wanted to do (I called dibs on "The Culling" immediately). Then we would make a document or write up something about what we thought would make a cool level. Then we'd round-table discuss our levels with the other level designers. After that, we'd go start the layouts, and once we had the basics, we'd start putting in triggers to make things work. When we had a fully playable level, we'd get feedback from other level designers, and then if it was approved by the lead (Rob Pardo at the time), it would go out to all-company testing. Then you'd get a ton of feedback, and combined with bugs from QA, you'd spend the next couple weeks fixing things to make it shippable. Of course, you often had multiple maps in the works at a time, so you'd be starting the layout of a new one while tackling the worst bugs on the existing ones you had. It could get a bit hectic towards the end, which is why level designers are often the ones working right up until the moment you ship. Whereas code and art often gets locked down much earlier.

Abelhawk: Do you remember any changes that occurred to the original storyline over time? Were there any big changes in the lore while the maps were being made?

David: There were a lot of changes to story throughout development. The original Illidan was still Furion's brother, but he was a satyr. His dabbling in magic had changed him into one. It was totally a take on Pan from Shakespeare, and it felt really weak. We were all like... "Whaaaat?" So Chris took that back to the drawing board and made him much more badass. Probably one of my favorite characters.

Jaina was supposed to die in a very early draft, but that idea was squashed pretty quickly. Arthas didn't need any more motivation to chase Mal'ganis than he already had, but that was planned to be a main story element. There was supposed to be a love story between Arthas and Jaina, but that didn't work out. It was a bit too Raynor and Kerrigan again, because Jaina was going to become a banshee or something... I don't remember very well, but that plot point obviously got moved to Sylvanas Windrunner. There were a lot of similarities between the Starcraft and WarCraft 3 plotlines, to the point where the first few drafts got sent back multiple times.

I remember towards the end of development there was a huge backlash because of the ending cinematic where Archimonde is attacked by Nightelf tree sperm. There was all sorts of meetings and in-fighting about it. Pardo was rounding people up to basically attack the cinematics department for giving us something nigh-unusable. In the end we made it work, but the joke about the World Tree jizzing on Archimonde would come up at least once or twice a month until we shipped

Abelhawk: If you could go back and change anything about WarCraft 3 that you worked on, or do anything differently, what would it be? This can include mistakes you think other developers made, such as in the storyline. Is there anything you wish was different about the game, campaign, etc?

David: Well, I would certainly have wanted a lead level designer for both projects, because a lot of itemization and level design problems went relatively unnoticed until late in the project. So a lot of item shifting occurred towards the end of development as we saw things like three levels in a row dropping a ring of protection +1 and things like that. That was part of the reason I had been working on the randomized drop box triggers: to streamline the process and remove the possibility of multiple types of the same object dropping (one of the triggers we were waiting on was a way to check the player's inventory for a type of item we intended to drop, and then to choose a different random item if the player had it, and other stuff related to that).

There were also issues where triggers would get stuck somewhere and the level would just sort of peter out. So if I could go back I would probably study programming a little bit more so that I could have done a better job with my heavier trigger levels. I also would have looked at that cinematography book earlier so that I didn't make so many mistakes in the early cinematics.

As to changing the campaign itself, I think there were a couple of levels that weren't as interesting as they could be, and for me, I felt the campaign was more about showing off a really crafted WarCraft 3 experience. So all of the levels where you just built a base and destroyed the enemy, I would have liked to have redone as something more interesting. In game development, there's always that feeling that "oh man, I could have done that so much better."

Abelhawk: Do you still play WarCraft 3? What is (or was) your favorite race to play in Melee maps?

David: I haven't played WarCraft 3 in a very, very, very long time. There's something about finishing a very long and difficult creation process that will make you hate the game, even if you loved making it. Especially if you're a level designer and you have to play your own levels and other people's levels over and over and over, through multiple iterations. There was some excitement after release to see what players were making, so we hung out on Battle.net playing user-made maps quite often, but after playing the fifth iteration of "Whatever Tower Defense" you get a little bit tired of that as well. It wasn't until TFT development started picking up that we went through the user-made maps more seriously and picked out DOTA as something to include in TFT. It was a very early iteration of DOTA but we helped fix some of the buggy trigger issues and updated it with new triggers we were releasing with TFT. The plan was to have DOTA on the disc for TFT, but I guess it ended up taking more time than we thought so we released it later online. I think it was obsolete within the first two days of release of TFT, because... of course it was. 

My favorite race to play was the orcs, specifically for the Blademaster. He was such a broken champ and could singlehandedly dismantle a player's base with his invisibility and ridiculous crits. The moment he got ahead it was basically over. That and the grunts were so broken as far as unit health and damage. I wasn't known as a good player, though I was well remembered for my Protoss high templar control when we used to play Starcraft in QA. People feared the psionic storm.

Abelhawk: Did you make any of the Melee maps, or was that a different department than the campaign designing one?

David: I made one or two melee maps, but I was known as the guy who made crappy ones. Mainly because I wasn't much for layout as I was for heavy trigger and story maps. None of them were popular, and I think a lot of them got removed later because they had serious flaws where I tried to do something unique with the terrain that ended up making the map unfun to play a serious PvP game on.

There was only one design department for WarCraft 3, which included seven "level designers" and Rob Pardo as the lead game designer. Tom Cadwell (aka Zileas) joined after WC3 as an associate game designer and to help with unit balance. I remember when he put in the bat riders initially, he made them completely broken and then abused them in a game all of the game designers were playing. Of course, Tom Cadwell went on to be design director at Riot Games and made League of Legends, so he's doing just fine now.

Abelhawk: How involved are you in WarCraft now? Do you play Hearthstone or WoW, read the novels, or play the pen-and-paper RPG? Are you excited for the movie next month?

David: I have no involvement with WarCraft now. I played some Hearthstone shortly after it shipped. It's cool, a very good online version of a CCG that avoids all the traditional trappings of card based CCGs that plague other online ones... But I'm not that into it. I read one of the graphic novels and I've played through WoW and its first expansion, but other than that, it's just not a universe that interests me anymore. I expect the movie to be a failure in all honesty. I've never seen that sort of relationship work well for a game.

Abelhawk: What can you tell me about the Frozen Throne? Which campaign levels did you work on, did the story change at all during development, and was the process of making the expansion any different than making Reign of Chaos?

David: On TFT I made "Wrath of the Betrayer," "The Brothers Stormrage," "Dungeons of Dalaran," and "King Arthas." Dungeons of Dalaran was my favorite one to make. The story was pretty straightforward and there weren't any major changes as compared to ROC. Everyone had gotten into a rhythm and so it was all very quick and businesslike this time around. All of the triggers we wish-listed on ROC became a reality for TFT, so map creation was much easier, triggers in general became much cleaner, and so forth. It was just a lot easier overall.

Abelhawk: Is there anything else you'd like anyone to know about WarCraft 3, Blizzard, game design, programming, careers in the gaming industry, or anything else?

David: People should know that there are real people working on these things. They tend to think of game development studios as these nebulous monstrosities, or some sort of tentacled monster that can only focus on one thing at a time. Features take time, and usually one or two people are assigned to a feature, and putting more people on the same feature would increase the amount of time it takes to complete rather than decrease it (or at the very least would waste a lot of time of one or more of those people). Multiple features are often in the works at a time, so the idea that one feature not being done in a patch is related to other features that were done is a fallacy. If a feature didn't get done, it simply wasn't ready at the time of that patch, and it has no impact on the other features

Abelhawk: Thanks so much, David! Best of luck in your future game design work. Thanks for your time talking to me, and thanks on behalf of all of us fans for your work on WarCraft 3!

David: Thank you for taking the time to closely examine three years of my labor of love.

David Fried has 17 years of game design experience, having worked on such games as WarCraft III, World of WarCraft, Oddworld: Stranger's Wrath, and many others. He recently became the lead designer at EdgeCase games. His YouTube channel about game design and analysis can be found here.

May 19, 2016

Knight Guy Strip #100!

Well, Knight Guy officially has 100 strips. I'm simultaneously excited, proud, satisfied, and daunted. The comic has come so far and is everything I hoped it would be (I can't believe how many punchlines I've made work—and only a couple of them didn't), and yet it's only about a quarter of the first of three acts that's finished. I'm still young, but I wonder if I'll ever finish the entire story, or even one act. It's taken two and a half years to get this far. Oh well. I guess that's not important.

Anyway, here is the strip in all its glory. I thought it was appropriate to have the hundredth strip finally bring Humdring and Corlis together after such a long time apart.

Visit the comic site if you haven't caught up with the story yet!

May 16, 2016

WarCraft III Easter Eggs: Eternity's End

I can't believe how much publicity these videos are getting! A WarCraft III developer even commented on the videos and we've been conversing about amazing behind-the-scenes stuff. I'm going to abridge our conversation into an interview for this site soon.
The Reign of Chaos levels are complete! I can't wait to get started on the Frozen Throne ones. This has been one of the most rewarding projects I've ever worked on.

May 4, 2016

WarCraft III Easter Eggs: The Invasion of Kalimdor

This one was a super fun one to make, and I found some amazing secrets that I'm not sure anyone else has ever bothered to look for and find! I hope these videos get popular, especially if WarCraft III gets some updates in the coming year or two.

Apr 16, 2016

WarCraft III Easter eggs: Path of the Damned

The next WarCraft Easter eggs video is up. Click the link below to watch it. I'm really impressed with the audience these videos are getting. The first one got over 1,000 views, and the second one seems to be doing pretty well. I'm guessing it'll get random spikes as people find it. I am a bit disappointed at its low posting SEO-wise on YouTube. Oh well. Maybe it'll get higher as people realize how much more thorough my videos are than any others on the web!

Apr 3, 2016

Recipe: Ultimate Chili Spud

Being an Idahoan, I love potatoes. I remember inventing a potato recipe when I was a kid called Potato Snax, and if I could eat one food every day (in any variation), it'd probably be potatoes. When I was in middle school, my school had a Potato Bar, and I soon took to making chili baked potatoes at home and improving the recipe over time. This recipe represents the best recipe I can come up with. It's a bit on the high side when it comes to number of ingredients, but I promise the taste medley you'll experience in this hearty dish will give you a flavor buzz.

Ultimate Chili Spud
"Idahoan perfection!"

  • 1 russet potato
  • Sea salt
  • Cracked pepper
  • Nalley brand Walla Walla Onion flavor chili
  • ¼ cup chopped onions (or more if you want)
  • Frank's Red Sauce
  • Grated medium cheddar cheese
  • Sour cream
  • Green onions or chives
  • Bacos
  • Ground coriander
  • BONUS: Real bacon bits
  1. Preheat the oven to 400°F.
  2. Scrub and wash the outside of the potato. Stab the everloving heck out of it all over with a fork. The more you stab, the crispier it'll be.
  3. Spray the spud with oil and roll it in sea salt, then put it in the oven on the rack. Let it bake for 1 hour.*
  4. Remove the hot potato out of the oven and brush off the excess salt off the outside. Combine the onions with the uncooked chili, as well as a spank or two of Frank's sauce. Cook the chili in the microwave according to directions (it's like 3 minutes). 
  5. Cut the potato in half lengthwise, then mash each side to spread it out on the plate. Add butter if you want (but I never notice the flavor, so it's probably just a waste of calories and fat), and cracked pepper.
  6. Place a hearty amount of chili on the potato (I usually put half a can), and sprinkle with cheddar cheese. Put several spoonsful of sour cream on top and sprinkle with chopped green onions/chives, bacos, bacon bits if you have them, and a dash of coriander.
  7. Enjoy!
YIELD: 1 spud, which is usually what I eat by myself. It could be divided in half if you don't have as much of an appetite for potatoes as I do.

Washes down well with...  Ice cold milk.

*If you don't have time to cook it in the oven, forget all of the salt and oil processes and instead microwave it on a plate in the microwave for about three minutes on one side and three minutes on the other.

Apr 2, 2016

New Project: WarCraft III Easter Eggs

A few weeks ago, I was mildly interested in working on The Hard Lands (I need to write a post about that more in detail), so I opened the WarCraft III MPQ file to see if I could get any of the map icons to make a custom map. Instead of following through with that, I realized that I could rip the game's actual scenario map files and see them in the World Editor. I realized that there are all kinds of Easter eggs in the game that I never knew about, and indeed, that I couldn't find anywhere online.

Seizing this golden opportunity to do a service to the WarCraft III community (and possibly get some recognition for once), I decided to make a thorough, entertaining YouTube series where I showcase each Easter egg. I just finished the human one, and it already has over a thousand views! I'm lucky to have as high quality a website as The Hive Workshop to showcase my work; I bet most of my views came from there.

I got a lot of inspiration from the way PeanutButterGamer does his videos, and otherwise just had a blast messing around with Adobe Premiere. So far, people seem to like it, so I'm going to work like crazy to get the rest of the videos out over time, continuing with the Undead one next.

Click here to watch it! >> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Jwb73Wx8og <<

Mar 26, 2016

Recipe: Gourmet Chicken Ramen

Everyone knows missionary crusaders eat a lot of Ramen noodles if they're available in the country they're serving in, and I was no exception. It's cheap, easy, and light on the stomach when you just want a quick, small before-bed meal. But I wanted my miojo (as the Brazilians call it) to also be delicious when I ate it. I made all kinds of variations, from Hot-Dog Ketchup Gumbo to Firemouth Beef. Like all meals I make over and over, eventually I perfected this meal to be so delicious that my wife actually craves it and requests me to make it. I've been really proud of this recipe, since it's so easy and delicious to make when everything else sounds like too much of a hassle.

Gourmet Chicken Ramen
"Poor man's food fit for a king!"

  • 1 package of chicken-flavored Ramen
  • A handful of cooked chicken or turkey (leftover is good)
  • Broccoli florets
  • Dried basil
  • Frank's Red Sauce
  • Cracked pepper
  • 1 egg
  • BONUS: Green onions, Parmesan, parsley
  1. Snap the block of Ramen in half, and place the noodles into a pot with enough water to cover it. Turn the heat to medium or medium high.
  2. When the water starts to bubble a little bit, add the broccoli florets.
  3. When the water comes to a full boil, take it off the heat and drain most of the water. You should be able to see a little bit of noodle-broth pool into the side of the pot when you tilt it. This is the hardest part to get right, but if you drain the right amount of water, the Ramen will be deliciously creamy.
  4. Mix the Ramen's flavor packet with the noodles and put it back on the heat. Crack an egg into the pot and stir it up as it boils.
  5. Once the egg has set (like egg drop soup), take it off the burner and turn off the heat. Add the chicken, basil, cracked pepper, a couple of spanks of Frank's, and chicken, and stir.
  6. Transfer the noodles to a bowl and garnish with green onions, Parmesan cheese, and parsley, and heck, why not some paprika for the heck of it.
  7. Enjoy your "I can't believe it's not an entree" meal!
YIELD: 1 bowl

Washes down well with...  Anything. If you're having a lazy enough night to make this, there's no reason to go crazy with the drink. Iced water is fine.

Feb 24, 2016

New Avatar

I thought the old avatar was getting pretty outdated-looking, and when I made this surprisingly good caricature of myself, I figured it was time to update it using some more experienced techniques. Now I just need to update the cover photo for my YouTube account.

Feb 13, 2016

Vid: RPL

I posted this video a few years ago, but the quality was pretty bad. When making it, I mainly wanted to see if I could simulate a first-person RPG around my home town. It's not a great video, and this week I wanted to see if YouTube could stabilize it for me. The shaking was horrible. What I forgot to remember was that I had put a little crosshairs on the video just like games like Oblivion and Morrowind have to aid in picking things up. In the process of stabilizing the piece (surprisingly and impressively well), YouTube moved the crosshairs all over the place, making for a humorous video.

I was hoping my wife would be home when I arrived so I could simulate a roleplaying conversation, but she wasn't, so I just wandered around at the end. Who knows? one day I may make another attempt at this, complete with Premiere-provided UI and stuff.

Feb 10, 2016

Dream: The Duelist's Insanity

I've been fascinated with dreams lately. I have an extensive (125-page) dream journal, and reading through it is astounding... Most of the time I can't remember ever writing them, so it's like reading a bunch of bizarre, amazing short stories. This one was very intriguing.

March 1, 2013

The first part of the dream was pretty morbid. All I remember is looking at some paintings, one of which was Noah’s Ark. I heard someone say that once someone made a fortune just taking a painting and flipping it upside down and then 180° to make an entirely new painting and win an award. I tried doing so (somehow… on Photoshop) and it indeed created a painting of Noah’s Ark that was from an entirely different angle somehow. Something about this action drove me mad. I took my painting to a bridge and, with my two swords, I started killing anyone who would talk to me.

The battle scenes would have been pretty awesome if I hadn’t been killing harmless citizens. I cut them in half, I did complex martial arts maneuvers on them, threw them screaming into the shallow river below where I heard their bones crack. I hated myself, but for some reason I just had to kill people. When people asked why, I told them it was because I wanted someone to kill me so I’d stop hearing voices in my head.

Finally, two beautiful women came by, and I heard them talking in odd Scottish accents about how they were going to try seducing me into snapping out of it. There were guards standing by in case it didn’t work. But they were scared. They knew they would die if they messed with me. Which saddened me. By this point I’m pretty sure I was the duelist character off of Path of Exile. I think I even had the red shirt and everything.

One of the girls approached me, and before I could lunge out and attack her she embraced me and kissed me furiously. Emotions of anger boiled downward and my dream character was completely enveloped in her kiss. The other girl and the guards were coaching her, telling her how best to completely seduce me. In time, I succumbed completely. When I awoke shortly afterward, in a half-dreaming state I could tell that she had apprehended the duelist and they were taking him to the dungeon. She had fought fiery anger with fiery passion, and had won. 

Feb 8, 2016

Caption Comic

I was asked at work to draw a comic that our hired writers could come up with a caption for as a contest. I'm happy to work for a company that strives to give each employee their chance to share their talents. They even gave me two hours of paid time to work on it. It's not much, but it was fun to draw. I was really impressed by the winner's submission and am glad they won!

Jan 29, 2016

Epic Chess printable version download!

It's been a long time since I've worked on Epic chess, but like many projects, sometimes motivation just surfaces without warning. So here I am!

I am totally willing to go out on a limb and try to market Epic Chess. I think it's simple and fun enough that people would get a kick out of it. In order to get to the point of putting it on Kickstarter (not to mention actually commissioning illustration/illustrating them myself), I need the game to be playtested. A lot. I have a few versions of art I've been kicking around, the latest of which was pure Photoshop, but I think I'm going to end up doing a more customized, texture art version like my Battle Cards 2.0 I did a while ago.

However, until then, I made a more basic, black-and-white printable version for easy printing and playing. This will allow you and your friends to easily get a rudimentary copy and help me playtest it! If you're interested, click the link above. It contains all the files you need to print, as well as instructions and advice for how you can best help me playtest it.

When and if Epic Chess (probably not its final name, as an Android app recently took it) takes off and fulfills a Kickstarter campaign, I would be happy to publicly credit you with helping if you playtest the game.

Have fun!

Jan 27, 2016

Figurines and Board Games

Recently, I've become rather obsessed with the card game Munchkin. It's been fascinating to see things like fantasy races, classes, equipment, curses, and mounts have their rules tweaked to fit a specific set of rules. Anyone who knows me and my creative side knows that's what I live for. I've also been extremely fortunate to find an actual weekly group to play Munchkin with at work. Usually I never have that kind of luck (See Dungeons & Dragons), so I've been glad to have a consistent chance to practice the game and have fun.

Anyway, I've also been getting interested in figurine painting. I made a couple of figurines out of Sculpey as Corridor game pieces, and I made this guy, the Munchkin mascot as seen on the box, as a weekly trophy for whoever wins that week's game. Even though the stupid thing leaned when I was firing it in the oven, you can't really tell from the angle seen above. It was fun to practice painting on a small scale like this, too.

I also recently got an amazing board game, Talisman, which comes with 14 character figurines. They're solid gray in color, but they're paintable, and seeing as how I'm going to have that game for many years to play with my kids, I'm going to paint the figurines myself (It's also hard to tell them apart at a glance during the game when they're all the same color). This is a medium I've never really practiced before, so it's fun to get into it. I'll definitely post my progress when I get around to it.

I also hope to get into working on Epic Chess this year!