Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Swing through E-Wa

So recently, we took a swing through eastern Washington to visit Camille's relatives (Camille = Wifey). Her family originally hails from Spokane, the second largest city in the state and center of the great Inland Northwest. Mainly we were going to visit her grandfather, who's 87 and in the middle of his fourth bout with cancer. The out-of-region family has been gathering to pay their respects and say their goodbyes. But the old goat may surprise us all and live another few years. He survived World War II in the Pacific and whupped cancer three times already, so I wouldn't count him out just yet.

Spokane River Park

We saw Grandpa most every day we were there. He's been giving his things away to friends and family, doing what he can to unclutter the place before he departs. He showered Camille with jewelry that belonged to his late wife, a lovely lady who died about a year into our marriage. I wish I'd known her longer. The first time I came to Spokane was to meet Camille's family as the fiance. Grandma -- who was carrot-haired and about 4' 10" -- came out with her arms open, an unmistakable "hug me" gesture. I walked into her arms -- and she pulled me down in a hug that guillotined my throat against her shoulder. "Oh, it's so good to meet you!" she gushed. I said nothing, because I couldn't breathe with her shoulder in my throat. At our wedding a few months later, she goosed my dad, who she thought was her younger son (but to be fair, my dad and Camille's uncle are both Gregs). We miss her very much. So does Grampa. Which is why the family thinks this may be the last round for him -- he's ready to be with his wife again. And I can't fault that.

Camille's Grandpa is also quite the hobbyist. He has a basement full of fully functional model rockets and airplanes, which he's selling off to collectors. He made me sit at his computer and play the model airplane simulator -- which has a perfect reproduction controller, with the two mini-joysticks -- until I could perform a simple turn. After about twenty impressive crashes and over $100,000 of virtual damages to his virtual air fleet, he got disgusted and let me leave. I never did make that turn, but I did perform a rare inverted landing (i.e., the plane landed upside down and didn't explode).

He also has a bunch of old several video game systems. And that's what I pre-inherited. He gave me a Nintendo 64 and Super Nintendo, both with extra controllers and head cleaners. But the big prize, which I couldn't believe he gave me, was an old Atari 5200, first released in 1982. A game system as old as my sister. And with it came a stack of over twenty games, with plenty of old school 8-bit classics: Pole Position, Dig Dug, Pac Man, Jungle Hunt, Q-Bert, and more. Getting that through security was fun. I haven't set it up yet, because our home TV doesn't have the right hookups on the back. And because the Atari's adapter has a few exposed wires. And because we can't find the Atari controllers. We'll get it up and running eventually, I'm sure.

We stayed with Aunt Sharon and Uncle Terry on their farm outside the city. Far outside the city -- they own 80 acres of prairie on either side of a gravel road. It's been a long, long time since I've heard crickets. Or seen so many stars in a sky without light pollution. Time seems to move more slowly there, at a more relaxed pace. I actually had time to read for pleasure. I mowed through the latest by S.M. Stirling -- perhaps my favorite author -- before we left. Sharon and Terry have one of those basements that's quiet and dark as a tomb. You lose all sense of time and orientation slumbering down there. My grandparents, the late Vancil Grandparents, had a similar pair of beds in their basement bedroom. Until coming to Sharon and Terry's, I'd never slept as well anywhere as in my grandparents' basement.

The food on this trip was, as it always is with our family, amazing. Sharon cooked huckleberry pancakes twice for Camille. She left a tub of oatmeal cranberry cookies in the kitchen for me to raid, and pretended not to notice. For one lunch, she made me a tuna fish sandwich from a tuna Terry had caught himself and brought back to the farm. And at cousin Lisa's, we had fried chicken with garden-fresh corn on the cob.

We visited cousin Lisa -- who's really Camille's big sister -- and her two boys, Gunnar and Cannan, in the no-horse town of St. John. Last time I was with the bear cubs (what the family calls the boys), they tag-team wrestled me to a draw. They were six and eight at the time. Now they're eight and ten. I would have lost that match, so we played football instead. Eventually it got dark and we had to go back inside. I was the only one without grass stains, because they were more interested in tacking each other than me. And I'm quick on my feet. The boys kept asking if we could stay the night. Sadly, we had to fly out at midday the next day. But that didn't stop them from asking. And if we could have, we'd have stayed. The drive back was beautiul, taking us through the Palouse at night.

The entire town of St. John. I'm kidding. It's actually smaller.

It was hard for us to come back to LA. It always is, but doubly so this time. It didn't help that my bag never made the connecting flight -- Camille's did, but mine, not so much -- and didn't show up for another two days. There just wasn't enough time. There never is. Especially knowing that the next time we return to Spokane could be for a funeral. But at least we know that it's coming, so we could make the time to visit. And there's a blessing in that.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Love letter to DG

MWP's Jamie Chambers -- the award-winning game designer of the Cortex system and the man who created our very own Demon Hunters Role Playing Game -- apparently felt he hadn't done enough for Dead Gentlemen and wrote us this glowing love letter. It is the finest compliment I and my writing have ever been paid. I'm not used to receiving such praise, especially not from a man I admire so much. Jamie, thank you. You are a true friend and a karaoke god.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

PAX Dorkana

So last week, Don, Jeremy, and I flew up to attend Dead Gentlemen's first ever PAX -- the Penny Arcade Expo made famous by the geek culture vanguards at Penny Arcade. The con showcases computer games, console games, and role-playing games. In only its fifth year, PAX had outgrown its original home in the Meydenbauer Center, and had levelled up to the Washington State Convention Center in downtown Seattle.
For the DGs, it was coming home. We've filmed all our projects in Washington. The real Washington, not that fetid swamp between Maryland and Virginia. Most of our members, cast, and crew call the damp and drizzly northwest home. And to be honest, compared to the cloying, invasive heat of a Los Angeles summer, we didn't want to leave. Overcast skies, clean air, crisp wind -- I don't want to film anywhere else.
So excitement trumped our fatigue. For a while. Because this was our fourth con in four months, and our third in six weeks. We were more than ready for the con season to be over. This one should be easy, though, we figured. We only have one screening, so we're only doing one day at the con. Plus, with the home stays and local friends around, it should be an easy and relaxing experience. Right? Right?
We arrived Friday morning at 11:00. We thought we were arriving a bit late. In our experience, cons usually start at ten. So we got in line to enter the hall -- a rather massive, wrapping-around-itself line that reminded me of a derailed train -- and waited. And waited. Which was odd, because the hall should be open. That's when we bothered checking the schedule, and noted that the hall didn't open until 2:00. So we abandoned the line and groused around, scoping out the hall.
On the fourth floor, at the top of the convention center, we found our screening room. Which was not so much a room as a corner of the hall floor -- a corner right at the top of the escalators, right at the exit to the main exhibit hall. We were going to screen in an open floor theater. Which, upon reflection, was a great location, really -- the cross traffic alone from the escalators and hall would be massive. Except there was a massive supporting pillar right near the screen that obscured the view from most angles. We'd have to see ...
So we had a few hours to kill before the hall opened. We ambled around a bit more, and found the entrance to the exhibit hall. Figured we'd sneak a peak in, so we tiptoed up to security. Who, oddly enough, didn't stop us or send us away. So we kept walking -- past them, into the hall. Ninja skills for the win? Not so much. The badges the con had given us -- our special guest media badges, cha-ching! -- allowed us into the exhibit hall an hour before everyone else. So we got to walk the hall with a small crowd. At 2:00, the hall opened to the public, and some 50,000 gamers stampeded into the hall. By then, we'd safely navigated our way towards a lunching station, and had belunched ourselves.

So properly fooded and orientated, we set out to bother celebrities. We met Felicia Day and Sandeep Parikh of The Guild, the much loved webseries that has won all kinds of awards and much critical acclaim. They are lovely people, approachable and funny, with serious Geek cred and the glow of newly-minted celebrity. Sandeep recognized Jeremy from Comic Con, and Felicia recognized Don when he introduced himself -- we've volunteered to crew the second season of The Guild, which is slated to film as early as this fall. Which would be an awesome of undeniable magnitude.

After getting our Guild fix, we found the line to meet geek guru and web entity extraordinare Wil Wheaton. But we didn't actually get to meet him; there was a dude at the end of the line, a Security Guy, turned around with his back to the line. "I'm the end of the line," he told us. Wil would be leaving in a few minutes to attend a panel, so we'd have to come back in a few hours. "Oh," said Don, bummery clouding his face, "we wanted to give him this," and he held up a Dorkness Rising DVD. "Oh, you're Dead Gentlemen!" Said End-Of-The-Line-Guy. Then another Security Guy came over. "Dorkness Rising? Cool!" said New Security Guy. "This is for Wil?" We nodded, and New Security Guy took the DVD to the front of the line. He handed it to Wil ... and Wil warily took it, looked at it ... and then totally geeked out. Big clowny smily grin. "Oh, I've been waiting for this!" he said. "Thank you!" We strutted off, rather stoked. We'd comped Captain Awesome McKickass, and liked our movie.
After dinner, we attended The Guild screening in a two hundred seat theater, which was packed to the gills; they had to turn people away. The audience -- some of whom hadn't seen it before -- absolutely loved it, as well they should have. At the panel afterward, Felicia said this was the first time they'd actually seen it with an audience. It was a huge thrill for them. There's nothing quite so rewarding as watching your work with an appreciative audience. There's also nothing quite as terrifying. Cinema is the the only art I can think of where you can be both performing and a member of the audience at the same time.

We snuck out of the Guild panel to prep the Dorkness screening, which started directly afterwars. Many of the northwest DGs turned out for the screening, even with Matt Shimkus' wedding looming only fourteen hours away. We saw some people we hadn't seen in years, others we hadn't seen since we filmed: fight choreographer Kevin Inouye; Tracy Ivory, one of our amazing costumers; and the omni-talented Ed Gibbs, who plays the Hierophant. My parents, who'd never seen the movie with a crowd, somehow talked the convention into giving them free passes so they could attend the screening. They stood out a bit, being as they were the only gray-haired attendees we'd seen.

The screening itself went as well as could be hoped. The chairs filled quickly, and it was sitting room only. Over 200 people crowded any spot with line-of-site to the screen. The tech folks had to jack the volume up to contend with the convention noise, which only attracted more people. I've seen the movie so many damn times that I'm interested in watching it is with an audience. And I don't so much watch the film as the audience. They gave us a standing ovation after the credits, and after our mini-panel after the credits. And after that, we completely legally sold about fifty DVDs to fans. Which is pretty good for not selling anything at the con.
I got a nice chance to chat with Sandeep Parikh, who caught the end of the screening. Great guy, quick on his feet and very funny. He was showing the first three episodes of The Legend of Neil directly after us. If you haven't seen The Legend of Neil, and have ever played or heard of The Legend of Zelda, you must watch this series. It's absotively marvlarious. Really damn funny. Not for the kiddies, though, and not safe for work. But absolutely worth the viewing.
With the end of the screening, so ended our convention season. And not a moment too soon. We bade farewell to family and fellow DGs, and trekked back to Magnolia to billet ourselves in Wifey's dad's house. The lid came off the hot tub, and it was Tub Time with Don, Matt, and Jeremy, boiling the brats with beer.
So now we're back in L.A., with no more cons to attend this year. To all the fans, friends, and family of Dead Gentlemen: Thank you for your support and camraderie. We would never have gotten this far without you. And I solemly swear that the next project will not take five years to complete. If I break this promise, you may burn Don in effigy.