Thursday, September 29, 2011

Survivor: South Pacific Episode 3 Running Diary

Wherever Mikayla goes, Brandon isn't too far behind.

Ah, yes. Another Wednesday, another episode of Survivor. Episode 2 saw the emergence of future Celebrity Rehabber Brandon, who is looking more and more like a Hance each week. Should have known he'd revert to his family's psychopathic ways. Anyone who will tell everyone within earshot how honest they are is usually a hypocrite. As my homie Billy Shakespeare once wrote, "I think he doth protest too much". 

The preview from last week sure makes it look like Brandon is about to lose it. This leaves his buddy the Dragon Slayer in quite a predicament. Does he play the loyalty card that bit him in the ass so many times? Or has he wised up and realized that you can only be loyal to someone who deserves it? But this week's biggest question is, what color of blue will Jeff Probst's shirt be? Midnight? Ultramarine? Sky? Navy? Periwinkle? 

Let's find out in this latest edition of the Survivor: South Pacific running diary!

7:01 - Christine shows up to Redemption Island and proceeds to say, "I don't know what happened at tribal council". That's why you got voted out! Then she tells Semhar that Coach is acting like King Farouk, which could be the oddest historical reference I've ever heard. Yo Christine, do you really think a Spoken Word Artist is going to get your King Farouk dig on Coach? Yeah, I'm sure a 24-year old Californian is going to pick up on your Egyptian king who died in 1965 analogy. And yes, I had to look up who the hell King Farouk was too. 

7:06 - Why is Johnny Drama popping up on my TV screen right now? I guess Ari Gold managed to hook him up with a sitcom after his cartoon comedy Johnny Bananas was cancelled. 

7:07 - Duel time! Semhar vs Christine! A lazy poet vs a middle aged white woman. Should be thrilling.

7:08 - Semhar says a pre-challenge poem that starts with "there isn't anything I wouldn't do for this man, I'd even take off my clothes and give him a private show" and then the camera pans to Probst. Everyone looks around awkwardly. I'm not sure if Probst is intrigued, or ready to crap his pants, but I'm sure he's thinking "she's talking about me, right?" 

7:09 - For the record, Jeff's shirt is an azure blue during this challenge. 

7:11 - And Semhar loses a balancing challenge. Instead of studying poetry, she should have majored in plate spinning. It would have been more useful. Christine and her angry, middle aged, Long Island-self lives for another day. In her post challenge interview she blames Coach for her troubles. Hey Christine, if you'd of kept your mouth shut on Day 1 and would've been more social, your idol Barbara Streisand  diva act might not haven't gotten you voted out. You're "39" for crying out loud! Quit blaming a man for all your problems. By the way, the more I look at Christine the more she starts to look like Nancy Grace. Creepy. 

7:16 - Says Brandon, "this morning God chastised me big time, he was not pleased with me".  Sign #256 that Brandon is Son of Sam level crazy - he talks to God.  

7:17 - Oh. my. goodness. And now Brandon has crapped the bed. He just took off his shirt and revealed that he is Russell's nephew. Because we all have tattoos on our body proclaiming our surnames right? Right?!? Can we revote on who the stupidest Survivor of all time is?!? If Brandon throws Coach under the bus for knowing his secret but not telling, he should be nominated for Reality Show Douche of the Year. Last year's winner was Ashley from The Bachelorette for what she did to runner up Ben, in case you were curious. Kasey and Vienna from The Bachelor Pad are the frontrunners so far this year but Brandon is gaining on them. 

7:18 - I love Stacey's reaction to Brandon's confession. "Blam" is all she says. Evidently she can only speak in the language of fire arms. I'm pretty sure "Pew pew" means "Excuse me, can you tell me the time?" And "Kaboom!" means she has to go to the bathroom.

7:19 - Remember when I said last week that Coach has turned a corner? Forget I said that. Coach is an idiot. He says he still trusts Brandon. Seriously!?! How can you! He lied during tribal. He confesses the worst things at the worst possible time. He has a conscience so guilty that unless he's in church with a Bible jammed up his rectum he feels he's doing something wrong. The guy has the mind of a 5-year old. Which, oh I don't know, just might be a liability on a show like Survivor. I guarantee you that if I bribed him a lollipop I could make him punch himself in the face as hard as he could. It's sad when a lingerie football player is the smartest person on your tribe.  

7:21 - Okay, I'm starting to sense a theme here - I call it Stupidity. Ozzy tells Keith, who he thinks he can trust, that he has the hidden immunity idol. Keith proceeds to tell Whitney, who seems surprised that Ozzie would have told him such a thing. Whitney and Keith think Ozzy is telling him because it's a power move. Little do they know, Ozzie is an idiot and only told Keith because he actually trusts him. So I guess this is the season that Survivor drafted players with an IQ under 100. Granted, I get that you have to have an extremely solid two-person alliance at some point, but it's pretty clear Ozzie (again) has no idea who is trustworthy or not. I'm sure this has worked out great in his relationships with women. 

7:23 - To quote Vince Lombardi, "What the hell is going on here?!?". Mikayla pulls Brandon aside to try and clear the air about why he has an issue with her and Brandon turns their conversation into a televised presidential debate by talking things out with his tribe around. Did this guy take "How to Make Yourself Look Like An Jerk on TV 101" at his local community college? Brandon's trying very hard to look like Mr. Transparency, but instead he's coming across as a total loon. I can't remember a Survivor meltdown this epic since Sue Hawk's Survivor All-Star throwdown where she practically spit in Jeff Probst's face. 

7:29 - Challenge time! It looks like there's water involved. Finally. They haven't had a swimming challenge in a long time. Maybe Brandon will have his mouth so full of water that he'll go 5 minutes without sticking his foot in it. 

Says Coach, "I've never heard a funnier anecdote. Now you tell one."

7:36 - And Coach's tribe wins immunity. I guess Brandon will have to live with seductress Mikayla for another three days. Because, as we all know, she's clearly got the hots for him. What lingerie model wouldn't be attracted to a short, chubby, insecure man with tattoos all over his body? 

7:42 - At Ozzy's tribe. Looks like it's between Cochran and Papa Bear. Sadly, at this point in the game neither one of them seems to have a move to make. This leads to Survivor rule #6 - If you're not in the majority, you are the minority. And like most minorities, you'll get screwed.

7:43 - 7:47 - Weird sequence here. The power group decides to get rid of Papa Bear, yet they tell him they're voting for Cochran. Papa (using his retired cop powers) has sniffed it out and knows they're full of it. He then proceeds to pretend he has the idol, despite Ozzie knowing for a fact that he doesn't. I give Papa Bear credit for creativity, but when you know you're toast, shouldn't you just bite the bullet?

7:48 - Tribal council time! 

7:50 - I understand Ozzy's allure, or any former Survivor's appeal, at least initially. If I was on a season and certain former Survivors were on it (Pavarti, Boston Rob, Amber) I'd be staring at them like a 7th grader stars at Justin Beiber in the lastet issue of Tiger Beat. But why don't these people think rationally and say to themselves, "Look, this guy had his shot. This is his third time, this is our first. Let's get him off now!" Granted, I wouldn't be the guy who brought the idea up because any former Survivor would instantly see me as a threat and vote me out, but I'd jump all over it if someone else did. 

7:53 - And Papa Bear goes. If there's not a major move soon, Jeff Probst's man crush on Cochran shall go unrequited. The dude just doesn't have the numbers. At this point it seems like it's only a matter of time before everyone's favorite verbose Harvard law student is gone. 

7:58 - Just saw the preview for next week's episode. Does Cochran finally make a move? If so, I'll be glad. Use that Harvard brain for something other than a doormat. It also seems like Brandon is getting closer to a meltdown, but they teased us that last week too so who knows. 

Final Thoughts - This was a bit of a weird episode. First of all, I broke my own personal records for Survivor quotes in running diary. And Brandon has got to be going soon, right? He's been getting so much air time I don't see how he could stick around. And Probst's man (nerd?) crush for Cochran may give away that next week is when he turns the corner from being an afterthought to being a major player. Maybe. Personally I'd love to see one of the returning Survivors get knocked out early anyway. As much as I don't like Christine's game, she was telling the truth about what most people were thinking - get rid of the former Survivors. I honestly don't think either Coach or Ozzy will win, but if I'm on there and on the chopping block, I'd have a good reason for me staying over a returnee. 

Sunday, September 25, 2011

What 4 Decades of Gaming Has Taught Me (About Video Games)

This year I turned 40. It wasn't a big deal. To me birthdays are just another day, a day where I get some unwanted attention because people feel the need to remind me that I'm one year closer to collecting social security and eating tons of applesauce. That said, it is nice to get presents and make my wife (who's a vegetarian) go to a fancy steakhouse and have her pick up the check. Ha!
While I'm not a sentimental sort I did do a little bit of reflection recently on the one constant in my life - gaming. Some of my earliest and fondest memories are of playing video games. Here are a few examples: 
- Christmas Day 1979. I was 8 when my dad got "the family" a brand new Atari 2600 (like I was going to share, yeah right).
- Playing Galaga at the NCO club that was between my house and school in 5th grade when I lived in Germany.
- Pumping tokens into Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles at Chuck E. Cheese during my brother's birthday parties in Arizona. 
- Playing Mike Tyson's Punchout on the NES while chowing down on Taco Johns after high school football practice in Nebraska.
- Holding NHL '94 and Madden '94 tournaments in my room in college.
I grew up a military brat and moved around a lot, so having something consistent was a comforting thing. This is probably why I'm still a gamer when most guys my age have outgrown it. It's just something that's always been a part of my life. Over the years I've seen first hand the changes gaming has gone through, and since this is turning into a retrospective piece, here are a few observations about gaming I've acquired over the past 4 decades.
The Good Old Days Weren't Always Good - I'm as nostalgic as the next older gamer (personally I prefer the term "classic gamer", but whatever) but gaming's best days are in front of it, not behind it. Besides a PS3, 360, and a Wii, I own a PS1, a Super NES, and an NES. Did you notice that the Atari 2600 isn't on that list? That's because most of the games for it sucked. I'm not saying I didn't have fun with Missile Command, but pretty much every game for the Atari doesn't hold up now. The same thing can be said for most games on every other home console system that's 10 years or older.
Of course, there are exceptions. Super Mario Bros. is still a blast, as are Sunset RidersNHL '94, and Mike Tyson's Punchout. But those games are the exception, not the rule. There are plenty of gaming aficionados out there that like to blast the current generation and long for  "the good old days". But just like every other type of medium - movies, TV, music - most people look back at the past with rose colored glasses. Personally, I'd rather be a gamer right now than back in gaming's early years. 
Combat on the Atari 2600 was as thrilling as it looks

I've Seen No Connection Between Violence and Games - Nothing ticks me off more than politicians or "family activists" blaming the gaming industry for a kid making a stupid decision. I'm not a psychologist, sociologist, or researcher of any kind and I understand that if you do something for too long it'll mess with your head a bit (I've never looked at buildings the same way after playing long stretches of Crackdown), but in my 30+ years as a gamer I've seen absolutely no evidence that violent video games create violent people. I think the reverse is true. When I'm upset about something I go online and play Halo. Some people exercise, cry, or stuff their face to release stress. I game.
When I was growing up (here's Grandpa Gamer talking now) the kids who were violent or bullies were not that way because of Combat. They were that way because they had a messy home life. I'm not saying all kids should play a game like F.E.A.R. because they shouldn't. But parents need to monitor what their kids play. If you buy your 12-year old the latest Grand Theft Auto, that's on you. As a father of two, it seems that too many parents today don't take enough responsibility for raising their kids. Instead, they like to blame other people for their own stupidity.
We Are In Gaming's Golden Age - There has never been a better time to be a gamer, or for that matter, a game developer or publisher. For gamers, we have more options than ever, both in console and game selection. Games have never looked better, been more engaging, been more interactive, or been more fun. And with an industry that's always moving foward - whether it's 3D or motion gaming or whatever the next big thing is - there's always something to look forward to. For developers and publishers, gaming has become what the film industry used to be - a place to be truly creative and inventive, and get paid. 
Best of all, for us long time gamers the industry has finally reached worldwide acceptance. It used to be that hardcore gamers were made fun of. Now gaming is cool. Hell, you can't get on Twitter anymore without seeing a rapper bragging about how awesome they are online in Call of Duty. With sales numbers in the billions of dollars, gaming is finally getting some long overdue respect as a legitimate form of entertainment along the lines of music, film, and TV. 
Are Games Art? Who cares? - I think that video games are a form of interactive art and it really used to grind my gears when people like Roger Ebert would say otherwise. Now? I couldn't care less. Maybe I'm mellowing out in my old age, but this decades long argument is moot. It's like music. Music is subjective. Some people like Coldplay, other people hate it. Does knowing other people hate Coldplay affect your enjoyment of their music? No. So should some old guy who has never played a game before, yet doesn't think gaming is art, bother you? No way.
Predictions for the Future - I'm no Micheal Pachter, so I don't have any research to back up any of the claims I'm about to make. But, I am a "classic gamer" and I've been around the block a few decades. I've also been covering the gaming industry for 7 years now, so I do have some thoughts on its future. Here are a few ideas on the direction gaming may go. 
- 3D gaming won't be the main way people play games in the future. I see it being a compliment to traditional gaming, much like motion control. Eye fatigue and the glasses requirement will prevent 3D gaming from being anything more than an accessory.
- The Big 3 will NEVER merge to make one console, which is too bad. While it would be convenient for consumers to buy a WiiStation 360, each company has their own unique personality and take on gaming and it would require too much sacrifice from each to make that happen. 
- Microsoft will come out with a handheld in 2 years. Windows Phone 7 is a test run. Imagine getting to play Halo or Gears of War on a portable system, earning Achievements, and moving game progression between the two. Sounds like something Microsoft would do to me.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Survivor: South Pacific Episode 2 Running Diary

Just don't turn around Brandon, you wouldn't want your face to melt like the Nazis in Raiders of the Lost Ark.

It's Wednesday and that can only mean one thing. Survivor time! Will uber nerd Cochran make it past this week? How many trees will Ozzie climb (the over under in Vegas is 5)? How many times will Brandon creepily ogle Mikayla from cover about as concealing as a chain link fence? 

Let's find out on this week's...(dramatic Probstian pause)...Survivor!

7:00 - 7:02 - Recap of last week's episode. Somehow I didn't remember how smoothly Coach made an alliance after being ignored at the start of the competition. I guess like Brandon, I too was distracted by Mikayla.

7:02 - Semhar on Redemption Island sobbing like a spoiled brat. She talks about having "abandonment issues" and proceeds to heal herself through the majesty of poetry, which to my untrained ear sounds a hell of a lot like rhymed whining. And I just looked up Semhar's profile and she's from Los Angeles. Surprise! They don't make people like that anywhere else. 

7:04 - Keith gets his first bit of camera time this season as Ozzie appears to make an alliance with him. Seeing how Keith doesn't have a huge rack and a gorgeous face I'm caught off-guard by this. Maybe that's what it takes to finally do well on Survivor, screw up the first two times you play. 

7:08 - 7:10 - Coach is chatting up Edna, who could have the oddest first name for an Asian I've ever heard. He forms an alliance with her, but personally I just think he's got the hots for her. I've been enjoying this new Coach. He's self-deprecating and easy going. I bet this is how he is in real life. Either that or two stints on Survivor works as one heck of an ego reducer. 

7:12 - Ozzie, doing his best monkey impression (as usual), just found the hidden immunity idol. I guess covering up the idol with a rock in a tree might just give away that there is something under it. Wouldn't the guy who hides immunity idols be the last person in the world you'd trust with keeping something hidden? I bet he's the same guy who "hides" Easter eggs at his local church.

7:16 - Well that didn't last long. After saying he wouldn't tell anyone that he was Russell's nephew, Brandon, who has the strangest guilty conscience in the history of teenage boys, floors Coach by revealing his secret. This is Day 4! Day 4! And you already feel bad about keeping something from a guy who calls himself "The Dragon Slayer"?!? You do know this is a competition right? Didn't Russell give you any advice?!?

7:18 - During the entire Coach/Brandon conversation Coach's junk was pixelated out. I swear if I ever make it on Survivor I won't walk around in my underwear all the time. I promise!

7:20 - You can tell Denver Jim has watched a lot of Survivor. He comes up with this "3 plus 2" plan on who to keep in an alliance of 5 - himself, Keith and Ozzie, and two cute women whose names escape me. I actually like this plan. Maybe its because it sounds like something I'd come up with after taking a few days to size up my tribe and what kind of hand I've been dealt, or maybe it's because after watching this show so many times that's always how it seems to shake out anyway. That said, it seems too easy. I hope something or someone throws a monkey wrench in Jim's plans.

7:25 - Mikayla finally gets some air time! Brandon (who compares her to Pavarti, which is a bit of stretch at this point since she doesn't seem nearly as sly) makes the mistake of fishing with her and he's breaking into a sweat like Waldo in the "Hot for Teacher" video. Brandon is a total contradiction. He's an enigma, wrapped in a blanket, wrapped in a tortilla. He does not act like a typical 19-year old, especially not one related to Russell.

What the heck goes on in that family anyway? You've got a pious teenager who'd flog himself like the albino from The DaVinci Code for daring to look at a gorgeous woman in boy shorts and a sports bra and a toothless "millionaire" who'd stab his own mother in the eye for $20. All in favor of the Hance Family getting their own reality show say aye!

7:28 - I'm rooting for Christine (she's a teacher and I know quite a few teachers) but she's just too obvious in what she's doing. Rule #4 on Survivor - don't stand out early. All that does is put a target on your back. It's tough to tell if she's made any alliances or not, but if she hasn't and she can't find the idol, all she's done is get herself voted out.

7:30 - Challenge time! A May pole, keys, a giant puzzle. Looks like fun!

7:34 - And Ozzie's tribe wins immunity. They came from behind to knock Coach's tribe out. Coach's group had the brawn for the last part of the challenge but not the brains. Funny, after looking over the Survivors, aside from Cochran, only Denver Jim appears to be a real strategic player. Of course, up to this point Cochran's strategy has just been "don't get voted off" so I might be wrong.

"Hey Woody, now that I've taken control of the tribe where do you think my dragon tail should go? Here? (In a redneck accent) How 'bout here sir."

7:39 - I love when a tribe votes off a person for the first time. The stress of it all really shakes up the group.

7:40 - Coach is suddenly taking control of the tribe. Interesting twist. Never would have guessed that after the first episode.

7:42 - Wow, what a great awkward moment. Coach is having a pow wow with his little core group. Mikayla walks over, Coach asks for some "privacy", Stacey walks over, and Coach walks away. If that doesn't tell you the pecking order nothing will.

7:43 - Brandon is DEAD SET on Mikayla. Dude! What is wrong with you?!? Why does she scare you so bad? Are you afraid she'll beat you up? Or are you more afraid you're going to fall harder for her than Charlie Brown did for the little red haired girl but you know she'll flat out reject you because you're a weirdo. You are one odd duck. I think you need therapy.

7:45 - How can Christine be so naive? Survivor Rule #5 - if no one is talking to you, you're screwed. If you have NO CLUE what other people are thinking, you're on the outs and it's only a matter of time until you're gone. How can you not know that?

7:47 - Tribal council! They only show us a few minutes but I've heard these things can go on for hours. I really wish CBS would put the whole thing on their website. It would really give viewers some insight into the game.

7:48 - Coach lays it all out and calls Stacey and Christine out for targeting Mikayla (according to Brandon, but of course Coach doesn't know that). Nice! Really loving Coach this season!

7:50 - Ho-ly crap. Brandon comes clean and admits he was the one who was pushing for Mikayla to get the boot. This prompted Stacey and Christine to start talking over each other like two sixth graders discussing the latest episode of Glee. This guy is an idiot. I'd change my vote to Brandon at this point.

7:52 - Time to vote!

7:54 - And Christine goes home. She looked surprised, Coach looked a little too happy. What a weird tribal. Sophie, Christine, Edna, and Stacey all received votes. That's not good for this tribe, they seem completely disorganized. If Ozzy's tribe is unified in any way they'll wipe the floor with these guys.

7:57 - The preview for next week's show looks good. It appears we'll see the mental breakdown of Brandon, which should be highly entertaining. It reminds me of Jean Grey trying to surpress the Dark Phoenix in the third X-Men movie. And if that's too vague of a pop culture reference for you, too bad!

Final thoughts - I like Albert. He really shined during tribal council. He seems smart, controlled, and savvy. I think he'll go far. Coach suddenly being in control is weird to watch. In his two previous stints he never had any power, now that he does I'm worried he'll turn into Tony Montana in Scarface. I like Cochran but not quite as much as Jeff Probst who I follow on Twitter. I also watch Probst's Tout videos and I think he's giving away (unintentionally of course) that's he's around longer than you'd think. Brandon has some serious issues. My guess? He's a total douche, a drunken booze hound who lived off his uncle's rep for the last 2 1/2 years. He knocked some chick up who was way out of his league (she was only attracted to him because he was a Louisiana D-level celeb thanks to Russell), ended up falling for her, cheated on her, had a revelation and was forced to repent and accept Jesus as his savior in order to keep her and to prevent lawyers from getting at any money he had to pay for child support for some kid that may or may not be his. That's just a guess.

Monday, September 19, 2011

So You Want to Be a Gaming Journalist...

After years of playing games and reading gaming magazines and visiting gaming websites, you've finally say to yourself, "Screw it. It's time to enter the glamorous world of videogame journalism." The early peeks at yet-to-be-released games, the parties at E3, receiving games to evaluate - it sounds like a dream gig. Or is it? There's only one way to find out, dive in and give it your best shot. 
But hold on, getting into any field of journalism is no easy task. You have to be able to write (you'd think this would be a given but it's not, everyone thinks they can write), you need patience and you need a little bit of luck. You also need to know how to to attack your newly chosen profession. 
A number of years ago my colleague Dan Hsu wrote what is still the best piece on the subject when he was the editor-in-chief at EGM, but I figure it never hurts to have another point of view. I'm just a freelancer and not nearly as successful as Shoe, but after stints manning the helm at and GamePro Arcade, and having written for GamePro, OXM, Play Magazine, GameZone and a few other places, I feel I can contribute a little something to the conversation.
So you want to be a gaming journalist? The following steps can help, hopefully.
Work on your craft - This is priority one. The #1 thing I've noticed from aspiring game writers (I've hired several people from is that the good ones can take constructive criticism and work at improving their writing. The ones who think they're good but aren't never make it in this industry because A) they can't write and B) they refuse to acknowledge it. Be your own harshest critic and edit edit edit edit edit edit edit edit edit your own work until it's exactly the way you want it. Read other writers and break down their technique. What do you like about it and what can you do to absorb that into your own style? If you can be your own worst critic and always hand in solid work that needs little cleaning up, editors will love you. 

Also, be sure to put as much effort as possible into what you write and never submit anything half-assed, even if it's for a site you work for for free, because you never know who will read it.
Be Social - The saying "it's not what you know, it's who you know" certainly applies to gaming journalism. I got my first writing gig by emailing the sports editor of my local newspaper and asking if they needed any freelancers. After I got a job at the newspaper I bugged the entertainment editor to let me cover gaming (something my paper didn't do until I asked). From there I got my first job with a major magazine after interviewing OXM's Fran Reyes and making a good impression. I parlayed my experience with my newspaper and OXM into a gig with GamePro and things started rolling from there. That was 7 years ago.

Now keep in mind, a lot of these people let me go at one point or another. The publishing business is in a constant state of flux. A couple years ago Tae Kim, a senior editor at GamePro at the time, called me and gave me the bad news that GamePro Arcade and all blogfaction sites were getting shut down. My entertainment editor at my newspaper has had to hire and fire me more times than I could count due to budget constraints. But guess, what? I rolled with it and I still work for both organizations because I always leave a place on good terms, I always work hard, and I always made friends with the people I worked with. Not because I had to, but because I like to. That leaves a good impression and people remember that. 
Also, be polite and social with people even if they can't get you work. I'm friendly with many gaming journalists and PR reps. None of them can get me a job but they're good people. And who knows, maybe one day they'll be in a position to cut a guy a break. You know how it goes, you'd rather work with people you know than take a chance with someone you don't.

Before becoming a zombie photographer, Frank West ran his own gaming blog.

Don't Be Shy - I'm not saying you should be pushy or annoying, that will just tick people off. But being shy isn't good either. Meet people, introduce yourself, go to gaming events, and send emails to people you'd like to work with or who inspire you. Events like E3 or GDC are great places to meet people. I met Shoe 4 or 5 years ago by accident when we shared a cab from G4TV's studios to the LA Convention Center. I met Dan Amich at E3 three years ago by walking up to him and saying hi. He didn't know my face but he recognized my name. Now he has a face to go with it. Do the same with PR people. Most PR reps treat me great because I'm always joking around with them when I go to E3. I'm not asking for anything, I'm just being social. They remember that when I actually do need something, even though I'm just a freelancer.

Be sure to show off your experience too. Whenever I send an email to a PR rep or someone who may not know who I am, I always include in my signature the places I've written for. It shows that I'm a serious writer who has chops. I may just be a freelancer, but I'm a freelancer with credentials (or Geek Cred as my son likes to call it). Even if the places you've written for are small, it shows you've been published and you're not some random fanboy looking for a handout. 
Location, Location, Location -  Move to California. If you're reading this you're probably young, single, and have no kids. If you really want to make it as a full time game journalist, moving is something you have to consider. I'm too old, have kids, and have a mortgage. I'm not going anywhere. Of course this doesn't mean you have to move. There are a number of people I know who work freelance full time and live where they want (my buddy Robert Workman does just that and lives just north of me in Denver) but if you're looking to work full time in PR or for a major magazine you'll likely have to move.

Several gaming companies and magazine publishers are based in California and it's also where some of the biggest yearly gaming events take place. It's just where more opportunities lie. My friend Matt Swider moved from Philly to LA and is running Gaming Target from there. Why? Better industry access.
Be Patient - You have a snowball's chance in Phoenix of writing for a place like GamePro or Kotaku right out the gate because it takes time to build up clips and name recognition. It will get frustrating because gaming journalism is wicked competitive. The market is flooded with good writers (and not so good writers) so finding work can be a fierce battle. The truly dedicated and talented persevere and will eventually get work but you may have to write for free for a long time. Just consider it part of paying your dues. 
Since being a new game journalist can be stressful, it should come as no surprise that this is where having fellow writers as friends can come in handy. But again, not just friends who can get you work. I've traded emails and phone calls with many other writers. We'll share our disappointments and successes. It's like a support group because, and I can't emphasize this enough, you will get frustrated. What's great about having friends in the industry is that when you succeed no one will be happier for you than your writer buddies because they know how tough things can get, and when things are going badly they'll be there to help get you through it.

Don't Give Up -  If this really is your dream, you can't quit. I turned 40 this year so I've had plenty of jobs (part-time and full) over the course of my life. Some I've hated, some I've loved. The ones I've really enjoyed were the jobs that I was passionate about regardless of the pay. It sounds like a cliche but it's true. Figure out if it's gaming or writing that you really love. That'll be the starting point to figuring out what your career path will be. Maybe it's not even anything to do with gaming or writing. Do what you're passionate about and money will figure itself out. Do that and you'll be a happier person. 

Sunday, September 18, 2011

So You Want To Be On Survivor...

This may be as close as I ever get to Jeff Probst. Unless I bump into him at the airport or move to California and start stalking him.

So you want to be on Survivor? Hey, me too! What a coincidence! Granted, I have absolutely no idea how to get on the show. I've only applied about...(counting on my fingers, ran out of fingers) 15 or so times and have never even gotten a call-in for an interview. Heck, I'd even settle for a Mark Burnett rejection form letter (Dear Sir, quit applying to Survivor, you're just embarrassing yourself at this point.) but I can't even get that. Sigh.

Maybe I'm a glutton for punishment but all that rejection hasn't deterred me one bit. Despite the fact that the older, slower, and fatter I get the less chance I actually have of winning if I do ever get selected. And naturally the uglier I get, my chances decrease even further. Whatever, I'm gonna keep trying anyway. While I may not be able to help you (or me) get on the show, I'm more than happy to share my recent experience of applying at an open casting call. This weekend they had one in my state and I drove 90 minutes to get there. That's how deep my passion runs. 

Of course, I'm the same guy who spent an hour driving to three different Best Buys trying to find the free Darth Vader shirt that came with the recently released Star Wars Blu-ray collection (I didn't get one), so interpret that as you will.  

Check out my experience, through photos and captions, below. 

This is the line in front of me for the open call. It was surprisingly short. I got there about an hour early and there were only about 100 people in line. My guess is that holding the event in a small town outside of Denver reduced the number of people willing to attend. It may also have had to do with the fact that this small town is Black Hawk, known for its small stakes gambling. Aside from octogenarians and people with gambling addictions, I doubt anybody in Colorado knows where the hell this town is. I sure didn't, I had to Mapquest it. 

For the record if anyone from this line makes it my money is on the black guy with the flat top and the brown vest to the right. He was chatting up a lot of people and seemed pretty charismatic. Meanwhile I stood in line listening to a Bill Simmons podcast and checking out fantasy football info on my iPhone. Oh yes, I was already playing the game in line. The anti-social-stay-away-from-me game. 

Here's the line behind me. The one thing I can say I had going for me was that I was one of two minorities (the other being the dude previously mentioned with the vest) in the line. There were a ton of white guys! There were also a few younger, scantily clad women but I don't think they were Survivor quality. When you look like you jumped off your roof to fit into your dress, you probably picked the wrong outfit.  

So here's how it worked. People in line were given a waiver to sign saying it was okay to use their image. This is the same form on the pdf that usually is available on the CBS website, people who've applied to the show before will know what I'm talking about. You walked up to a table, gave someone your name, phone number, and email address and are directed to one of the tents above. Here is where you film your 1-minute video. What do you say? Pretty much what you'd say in the video you'd send in to CBS if you applied from home, but 2 minutes shorter. There's just a cameraman, some dude who takes your name, and a camera. You're handed a mic and you get do do your thing. That's it. 

The line moved super fast, they got people in and out faster than McDonald's during the lunch time rush. From the time I got in line to the time I was done with my video, I was there no longer than an hour and a half. So what did I say in my 60-second blurb? Good question. I honestly don't remember much. I started clamming up as the line whittled down. I thought I'd have more time, so I wasn't really prepared. Which was really dumb. 

What I do remember is making a Patrick Swayze/Roadhouse reference, mentioning something about how my work/life history would make me successful in the game, and then I was out of time. I handed back the mic, took a pic of my boy Jeff Probst that's at the top of this post, and headed home. 

So how did I do? Okay, I guess. Looking back on it now I certainly would have included a few more jokes in my video. In fact, if I knew the exact process I probably would have written out a script to memorize. At the very least I should have written an outline of what I wanted to say while I was waiting in line. I certainly had the time to do it, but that's on me. I dropped the ball on that one. Do I think applying this way improves my chances of being on the show? Not really. There was no application form to fill out, which is where I feel my sense of humor comes through, so that's a negative for me. Can casting get an idea of who I am based on a 60-second video? Probably not. But maybe being hardcore enough to go to a casting call counts for something. Who knows?

Despite not doing my best I'm glad that I gave the open casting call a shot. I'm a bit of a risk taker so why not drive to some sleepy little town and try? Besides, applying to Survivor is just flat out fun for me. I enjoy answering the questions on the application and making the video. I've made some goofy (and incredibly embarrassing) tapes but I sure got a kick out of doing it. All I need is to get in front of someone in casting and I really do think I'd have a chance, but if not, it's really not a big deal. Rejection allows me to live vicariously through the people who are on the show instead of me, without starving or getting eaten alive by bugs.

If nothing else, if I ever do get selected, at least I'll have some good stories to tell. 

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Survivor: South Pacific Episode 1 Running Diary

What's this? Two posts in one week?!? Sorry, I couldn't help myself. I'm a Survivor addict. So you can expect these once a week until the series ends. For the uninitiated, this is best read while you're either watching the show or after watching the show. For this first post I'll be including some links to photos so we can match faces with names. - TT

39 Days! 18 people! One Survivor! Yes! A new Survivor is finally here! It seems like forever since my Survivor man crush Boston Rob claimed last season's title in one of the most exciting seasons in recent memory. Since bringing back past contestants seemed to be a hit last time, we now get a bunch of newbies and third-times-the-charm retreads, Ozzie and Coach. After two male returnees last season, I honestly expected some former female Survivors this time. I was sure Ozzie's former flame (Amanda) and the most beautiful Survivor of all time (Pavarti) are available, but I guess not. 

Ozzie and Coach should be entertaining but compared to Russell and Rob (or Amanda and Pavarti), I seriously doubt either of these guys has a chance of winning, despite the fact that Ozzie's always been a physical threat. Of course, as we all know, a little bit of luck is always involved. If you get dealt a bad hand (tribe) it doesn't matter who you are. If Rob and Russell were on opposite tribes last season, there's no way Rob would've won. 

Enough about last season, let's get to this latest season of...SURVIVOR!

7:01 - My DVR has cut off the first minute of the intro so I missed the Ozzie and Coach intros. All you need to know is that Coach is mildly insane and Ozzie got booted last time with an immunity idol in his hand. Not good news for either. 

7:02 - Oh crap, Russell's nephew (Brandon) is on here. He said he's not going to broadcast who he's related to but maybe the slow drawl, missing teeth, and 65 IQ will give him away. 

7:03 - "I hope its not Russell" whispers a Survivor to Brandon as choppers fly in with the last two players. Ha!

7:05 - Ozzie and his long curly hair makes him look like a hippie, Hispanic Jesus. It's a good look for him.

7:06 - I like Cochran already. He's got a sense of humor and calls Probst out for calling his fav Survivors by their last names. I'm looking forward to Probst calling me "T-Bone" when I finally get on the show.

7:08 - Coach's tribe doesn't seem pleased to get him. I feel bad for the Dragon Slayer. Yes, he's slightly crazy and has a Terrell Owens sized ego, but I believe deep down he's a good guy. I'd work with him right away, but if the other members of the the tribe are down on him, you'd have to stay away from poor Coach or be guilty by association.

7:09 - Time for the first challenge! The Dragon Slayer vs Mexican Jesus!

7:10 - As usual, another great challenge. What I wouldn't give to do one of these, they look like so much fun!

7:11 - Coach is bare chested. The dude has added a TON of tattoos since Tocantins. A bit unusual for a man his age (in his 40s) to add so many tats at this point in his life, but Coach is a unique cat.

7:13 - Ozzie wins the challenge and it wasn't even close. The last puzzle section was very confusing and required a lot of help from both tribes sitting nearby. Ozzie was able to get into the rhythm of the challenge and seemed to get more useful help. Coach? Yeesh, his tribe got frustrated with him real quick. After the challenge ended all but one of his tribemates took off and left him behind. He's in big trouble. If he's not the first guy voted off, I'd be amazed.

7:19 - Ozzie's tribe getting to know each other. A poet, a songwriter, a Harvard law student...interesting mix.

7:20 - Ozzie eyeing the hot poet and thinking about forming an alliance with her. Yeah, hooking up with a hot chick worked so well for you last time Oz.

7:21 - Cochran is awesome. He verbalizes everything I'd be thinking if I was there. A translucent skinned nerd in paradise with a bunch of bikini babes and stronger men. Except for his skin tone, I feel his pain.

7:24 - Coach building bridges with his tribe. He's doing a good job of it too, helping people and working hard to knock down any preconceived notions people have of him. Hopefully it works.

7:26 - We have a Colorado contestant! Denver resident Jim owns two medical marijuana dispensaries (although he told everyone he was a science teacher). His real job is not going to be shocking to anyone who lives in Colorado as these dispensaries are on every other street corner, especially here in Colorado Springs.

7:27 - We also have our token gay contestant, Mark, a former police officer. I like him already. Most of the time CBS casts what you might call "stereotypical gays", but he seems more authentic. He's charming, funny, a team player, and is immediately given the nickname Papa Bear. He's my second favorite new cast member.

7:29 - I just noticed some of the clothing some of the contestants are wearing. Many of them, especially the women, are in business attire. They must have all been caught off guard when they were told it was time to head out.

7:30 - Brandon has the words "Loco" tattooed on his neck. Now that's classy. I was going to have "No Regrets" tattooed on the small of my back but I then remembered I have a brain.

Eventually it all comes down to a gorgeous Spoken Word Artist and a Revenge of the Nerds extra. Guess which one is which!

7:31 - So far Mikayla is the hottie of this season. She. Is. BEAUTIFUL. Not surprisingly she's a lingerie football player. I didn't know there was a way to make a living doing that but if Probst can make bank as the host of a reality show I guess there's a way to make money for anybody. By the way, if you Google Mikayla you might find some interesting pics of her. Not that I did that.

7:32 - Brandon feels uncomfortable around Mikayla. It could be the rumbling in his drawers or because he's a "married, religious" man who doesn't want to be tempted by a gorgeous woman who flaunts her assets. So of course, he acts like a skeevy perv, catching glimpses of her when she's not looking. Sorry dude, but if you're saying stuff like that, you're already in trouble and you're in denial. She's a babe, it's okay to notice a hot chick. God's okay with it. If he wasn't, he wouldn't make hot chicks.

7:32-7:35 - You know why I don't watch Survivor live? Because I don't want to be bombarded with commercials for lame shows like Big Bang Theory, How I Met Your Mother, and 20 different CSIs, that's why!

7:36 - Coach forms an alliance with 4 other guys from his tribe. Gee, I wonder what the chances are that he'll get stabbed in the back? Coach said it himself, his game is straightforward and it's been his undoing so far. I still think he's the one getting voted out tonight.

7:40 - Dawn, an English professor, is already losing it on Day 2 (holy crap, I just looked it up and she's only 1 year older than me! Is this how I'd handle it?? Um, no.). She's crying and talking to a bunch of people looking for support. Go ahead and put a target on her back RIGHT NOW. Even she knows that "the person who has the breakdown goes". She's completely over thinking things. This brings me to Rule #1 on how to get through the early stages of Survivor - say nothing. People will eliminate themselves early, you can make it past the first 3-5 tribal councils by just keeping your mouth shut alone.

7:46 - Cochrane's hacking at a coconut like Freddy Kreuger wailing on a teenager. I'm just waiting for him to chop his finger off. Which would be the funniest moment in Survivor history. He's obviously a physical liability but that doesn't necessarily mean anything. Weak and strategic players have done well before but usually they're women, not guys.

7:48 - I can't believe I'm saying this, especially considering how much I despise Russell, but I like Brandon so far. I was expecting a Russell clone but he seems to want to distance himself from his uncle. Sure, he's a skeevy perv like Russell but he's trying.

7:50 - Challenge time! Anything with coconuts is always a good thing! Except mixed drinks. That's just gross.

7:52 - I wonder how many blue shirts Probst has in his wardrobe. 100? 200?

7:55 - And Coach's tribe wins! Sadly, the poet (Semhar, the chick the Oz-man has the hots for) on Ozzie's tribe started to wilt pretty quick on the coconut part of the challenge. I guess tossing coconuts into a giant net is harder than it looks. You know how it goes, screw up a challenge and you're on the block. See ya Semhar!

8:01 - Coach's tribe celebrates then quickly disperses to start looking for the hidden immunity idol. Given the combined IQ of this tribe, I'll be shocked if they ever find it.

8:02 - Wow, back at Ozzie's tribe Semhar immediately jumps on Colorado Jim. She's feeling the pressure and is trying to turn it on him. Pretty smart move but it comes across as desperate. If I was on her tribe, to me it would seem like a serious deflection job. Yo, Semhar, you did diddly squat during a challenge. Own it and move on, if not, you just look like a blamer.

8:03 - Says Sehar, "Something that might hold me back from this game is that I'm extremely honest." I love it when people say garbage like this. This BS line also goes with"I'm just being honest" and "I'm just keeping it real" and "You want the truth! You can't handle the truth!". So let me translate.

"I'm being an ass so I'll say what I want, then defend my words with 'I'm just being honest' to make it look like it's okay." 

I got news for all of you people who are "just being honest", you're not just being honest. You're just being a giant douche.

8:04 - Survivor tip #2 (from a guy who has never been on the show but has watched every season multiple times) - keep your damn mouth shut. Open foot, insert mouth. The more you talk, especially with passion or anger, the quicker you go home. And yes, tip #1 and #2 are the same thing. That's how important it is.

8:08 - 8:12 - Oh crap, Ozzie is targeting my boy Cochran because he's physically weak. Jim says Ozzie is mesmerized by Semhar's body and I couldn't agree more. Mostly because I am too. Ozzie is going to single handedly screw this up because he's thinking with his junk. What I'd like to know is, why the heck isn't anyone aiming for Ozzie?!? Yo Oz, you keep the weak people around because they're expendable later. You do know you're going to need a guy with a brain some time, right?!? Semhar and her "spoken word artist" skills are not useful no matter where you are, especially not on a tropical island. Did you not notice she folded like a tent during the immunity challenge?

8:16 - Tribal council time.

8:16 - 8:21 - A lot of back and forth between Semhar and Cochran. It's not mean or vindictive, but Cochran certainly shows that he just might be more of a Survivor fan than a Survivor player. I really like the guy, but he runs smack dab into Survivor Rule #3 - Never, ever, under any circumstances admit you are a fan of the show. You won't be taken seriously.

8:23 - And Semhar goes to Redemption Island! Yes!!

8:27 - They just showed the tribal council results and everyone voted for Semhar. Nice bit of editing by CBS because they sure as hell sold it as a Semhar vs Cochran vote. Turns out, it wasn't even close.

Survivor: South Pacific is off to a good start. Ozzie and Coach were interesting, it looks like we might have some villains in the making (Christine, Jim, Sophie), and the cast (so far) appears to be a good one. All that said, what I'm enjoying most about this opening episode is that Ozzie and Coach don't appear to be dominating the game. Last season Boston Rob and Russell drowned everyone else out. This was fine with me since I've had a man crush on Rob for a number of years, but there was also a part of me (the part that, like everyone else, wants to be on the show) that resented it. It seems so far that Coach and Ozzie will blend in better and I like that. I think a balance of returning likable Survivors with new cast members could make for a very memorable season. I guess we'll see.

Catch you all next week!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Fantasy Football and Me: This Kind of Thing Is My Bag, Baby

Has it really been almost a month since my last post? Sorry about that, I've been wicked busy. I promise that from here on out however, you'll see at least 1 post a week. Now that my schedule has settled down a bit I should be able to put posts up more consistently. That and I need a place to rant about what's going on with Survivor. - TT

I love fantasy football but it doesn't love me. The best way to describe my relationship with America's favorite past time is "love/hate". Its like any major celebrity's feelings about fame. They both need it and are annoyed by it. This makes fantasy football my own personal paparazzi. I feed off the rush it gives me but half the time it makes me sick to my stomach and almost wreck my car. 

After some careful contemplation I've come to realize that there are three reasons why I have a Charlie Allnut/Rose Sayer type of relationship (or Ronnie/Sammie for you kids) with fantasy football. 

Fan Free Agency

Why This is a Good Thing: When I was a kid you picked a team you were loyal to (usually your dad's favorite team) and you stuck with them come hell or high water. As a fan of the Denver Broncos, who had a number of lean years in the 70s and early 80s (and now) this set a football fan like myself up for a lot of verbal abuse I just couldn't defend myself from. Raiders, Cowboys, and 49ers fans in particular loved to rub it in my face how much better their teams were and sadly, all I could to was listen because it was true. But now that's all changed. Team loyalty still exists, but more people are loyal to their fantasy team than their home team. Since a fantasy roster is made up of players from so many different franchises, lines of loyalty have been completely erased. 

Suddenly it's okay to root for a running back from the hated Kansas City Chiefs. He could lead your fantasy team to victory over a more menacing and real rival - your brother. Who cares if that KC RB did it against your favorite team? It's more personal when your smack talking brother gets his comeuppance than when some guys from a bunch of different states who get paid millions of dollars defeat some other guys from different states who get paid millions of dollars. When it comes right down to it Jerry Seinfeld's right, cheering for a team is just rooting for laundry. Fantasy football makes the NFL more personal. 

Why This is a Bad Thing: There is no more team loyalty. Part of what made football great is the fierce loyalty fans would have for their team and its players. A team had a rough season? Don't worry, the fans have your back. The QB had a bad game? Shake it off, you'll get'em next time. But fantasy football, combined with technology's "gift" of immediate gratification, has made for fans with absolutely no loyalty and therefore, no patience for any team or player that struggles. 

I'm guilty of this myself. At last night's Denver/Oakland game I too was chanting to get rid of Kyle Orton and for Tim Tebow to be put into the game. Do I feel bad after the tongue lashing the media handed out to Broncos fans today? Hell no! Those guys are just a bunch of talking heads. They're former jocks who can't relate to what it's like to pour the emotional and fiscal investment into a team that a fan does. Of course that doesn't necessarily mean I'm right either. Would a once in a lifetime talent like John Elway have been able to succeed today? I'd like to think so, but his first 2 1/2 years were a complete mess. Most fans would've been ready to trade him quick because they just don't have the patience to watch someone develop. 

Fantasy football has also created a division between the fans themselves. Fans of a team, even if they didn't know each other, had a shared bond. They had a similar interest and a mutual goal. Not anymore. Instead, football fans are more concerned about their own team than their home team. The passion for the NFL has shifted, diluting the community of the home team. 

Oh John, how the Broncos miss you.

Fantasy Football is Like a Romantic Relationship

Why This is a Good Thing: When you have a good fantasy football team the world is a better place. The air smells nicer, food tastes better, water is...wetter. It's also a justification of your own intelligence. "See!! Do you see how smart I am?!? Those hours researching third string running backs really paid off! Look how good my team is doing through the power of my genius!" What's best about succeeding with your own team is who you're besting in competition - people you know. Friends, family and the occasional random guy you don't know all must bow down to your awesomeness. Having a high performing fantasy team just makes you feel good about yourself. 

Why This is a Bad Thing: There's nothing worse than having a poorly performing fantasy football team. It's like being in a relationship with the fun, yet crazy girl you used to hook up with in college (think Jenn from The Challenge, Glen Close in Fatal Attraction, or Jennifer Aniston in real life). During those short bursts of physical activity (the draft, the first half of games) things are great. But the other 80% of the time (the second half of games, the other 6 days of the week) you're worried about your teams inconsistent behavior, whether they'll randomly show up or not at inappropriate times, and your lack of scoring. 

Greater Overall NFL Buy In

Why This is a Good Thing: Before fantasy football I never cared about other teams in the National Football League besides the Denver Broncos. But now, I have a reason to be interested not just in other players but other franchises as well. Who did the Steelers draft? How has the offensive line improved San Diego? What coaching changes have been made to what teams and how will it effect their offensive and defensive schemes? As a fantasy team owner, you have to have an encyclopedic knowledge of the NFL that rivals an entry level front office employee. It's an engrossing and fulfilling hobby, especially when you're winning. You also speak the same nerdy language as a lot of other men, which leads to plenty of male bonding.  

Why This is a Bad Thing: Fantasy football is incredibly competitive so if you want to field a good team and keep from getting ragged on for A) stupid personnel moves, B) drafting guys who are injured or retired, or worst of all, C) having a crappy team; you have to be an NFL General Manager-in-waiting. Unfortunately, this requires A LOT of time. I've been playing fantasy football for over 10 years, during that time the number of minutes spent on my "hobby" have increased exponentially. I have to to keep up with the Joneses. There's so many websites and magazines offering the one thing that can give you an edge, information, that you have to look over it all or get left out in the cold. As a 40-year old with a job and 2 kids, fantasy football can quickly turn into just another time sink. 

So now what? Am I saying you shouldn't play fantasy football? Of course not, that would be hypocritical (although I could make the case that after being a commissioner for 10 years that I'm like Al Pacino in Godfather III, "just when I think I'm out, they pull me back in"). Just be aware that engaging in an activity of this magnitude comes at a cost, and the longer you do it, the higher that cost is likely to be. 

And much like any unstable relationship there are likely to be serious side effects, such as - irritability, financial insecurity, depression, random fits of rage, incontinence, and on occasion, spontaneous sobbing. If this high risk/high reward liaison is something you think you can handle, maybe the minefield that is fantasy football will be gratifying for you. Maybe.