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Getting Through the Holidays

December and it's holidays aren't always my best friends even though I love the festive nature of Christmas and New Years. Memories and dreams can make it hard to get through this month. My partner, Lisa Morton, makes it easier by keeping me grounded in the present. Even so, I often think back to previous Decembers I have lived through; sometime with pleasure and sometimes with sadness.

I was rummaging through some old theater photos I had forgotten about and found three that made me stop and think. I was working at the Snowmass Repertory Theater (just outside of Aspen, Colorado) in the late eighties. We presented Cyrano de Bergerac one Christmas Season (If I remember correctly). I took some photos just outside the theater during a big snowstorm.

Just outside the main theater complex

What was I doing outside in cold like this?

We performed Cyrano at the old Wheeler Opera House in Aspen. They do a lot of comedy shows there now. It's a great 19th century-style theatre with an old fashioned stage, a balcony and box seats on either side of the stage. I was fortunate to have an excellent Cyrano to be a villain to. Casey...ach, I can't remember his last name. We both had a great time. I was also the fight choreographer and had a ball putting together the various swordfights. I remember the production was well-received and I was sorry when we closed.

In costume for my first entrance.

I suppose it's getting older that makes be reminisce. December is a month I do it the most though. At least this memory was a good one.

Jason, Ingrid and I would like to wish you all a pleasant holiday. Have fun and enjoy your life.

The "Among Fables and Men" Premiere: Tobias, Anton & Malu

The "Among Fables and Men" premiere was this last Sunday and while it was fraught with lots of technical issues with Skype, we still managed to have a decent Q&A with director Tobias Lundmark. And just at the end of the session, both Malu (Tobias's co-director) and Anton (the new sound mixer) showed up and provided a good deal of commentary and laughter. My thanks to you all for taking the time to answer questions and for having the patience to deal with the communication problems that came up.

This is the first time we've tried to conduct an audio Q&A session for the premiere. Suffice to say, it did not go very well. My apologies to all of you who came and had to cope with bad audio and a fumbled session. We won't be doing another audio session until we solve the problems inherent with people from all over the world trying to conduct a live audio session. Eventually, we ended up having just Ingrid, myself and our three guests on the audio part of Skype, while Ingrid busily typed away a transcription of what we were discussing. Thanks to Ingrid for trying to make the session work, but needless to say many of you who attended didn't really get much interaction with Tobias and his co-collaborators.

Fortunately, I managed to cobble together a short interview from a phone conversation I had with Tobias a week or so ago, along with some parts of the Q&A from the premiere that I was able to record. I've cut it down to about 10 minutes, but I think there are some good comments by Tobias on his changes to the film for the Machiniplex premiere and on specific aspects of the film that I had asked questions about. He also offers up some background information on himself and his work. Background music for the interview is by Skin Mechanix and it's from magnatune.com.

Interview with Tobias Lundmark

As Tobias mentions in the first part of the interview, the version of the film presented for the premiere at machiniplex has re-worked sound, some re-rendered sections and a slightly different ending. The re-mixed sound worked beautifully and made the film much better for it. Anton (who showed at the end of the premiere very hung-over, but in reasonably good spirits) did all of it with Cool Edit and Sony Vegas. Very good work, Anton. And thanks for showing up and talking with us. I wish I could have recording you and Malu's comments. Especially Malu's remarks on working with Fusion with the last part of the film. Sigh....

Tobias is a very articulate and thoughtful young director whose work I look forward to. He was talking about filming in the Half Life 2 engine during the Q&A and was praising the tools that Valve makes available. I sure hope he creates a film in HL2 or Gary's Mod.

Again, my thanks to all who came to the "Among Fables and Men" premiere. I'm sorry for the technical problems and promise that we will have them resolved so that the premiere will be a much better experience the next time around. And, of course, thanks to Tobias, Anton and Malu for your patience and good will. I'm amazed at the command of English all three of them possess. I'm not sure many American machinima filmmakers could do as well in a foreign language as you all did for the premiere.

BTW, the download for "Among Fables and Men" is a whopping 330 Mb's of WMV. I know it's a lot to download, but it's a 1240x780 sized Windows Media file that is absolutely gorgeous. It's worth the wait. So start your download before you go to bed and watch it the next day. You won't regret it. "Among Fables and Men" is a beautiful film.

UPDATE: Tobias has provided a link for a version of the film that's around 100Mb's and yet retains high quality. You can download it here:



How to Participate in the Machiniplex Premiere

Our next premiere film, "Among Fables and Men", is finally up at the machiniplex.com site. Tobias, the director, spent several sleepless nights trying to re-master the sound and re-work the ending of the film specifically for our Premiere. The film you will see today is his revised version and will definitely be the first time the public has seen this new version. The download link will be done by the Q&A time of 1:00PM. We are sorry for the delay.

Since I think there will be some first-timers for the premiere, I thought I'd explain how the premiere works and how you can participate.

We use Skype to conduct our premieres. It is a voice/chat program that is free and widely used within the machinima community for easy calling/chatting to other computers both here in the States and around the world. Basically, if you have a computer and a microphone you can participate in the voice chat; if you have a computer but no microphone you can participate in the text chat. Here's how you do it.

1. go to http://www.skype.com and download the free software. Install. Re-boot and start the program.

2. When the opening screen comes up, you'll be able to choose several options. The first thing you want to do is add contacts (people you want to call/chat with). My Skype name is Ricky Grove. You can use the search function to find me and add me to your contact list. People will send you contact information when they want to trade info with you; just click on the OK box to exchange contact info.

3. To participate in a chat/call you have two options (just like using a phone in the real world). You can call someone by hitting the big green icon at the bottom of the screen (you'll need a microphone to voice chat), you can also accept an invitation to participate in a voice conference.
Ingrid and I will invite you when the conference/premiere starts as soon as we get your contact information. If you just want to chat, again you can be invited to chat by Ingrid and I, or initiate your own chat by clicking the chat-bubble icon.

4. You may have to adjust your sound card settings to get your microphone to work.

5. Skype only allows for 8 people at a time for voice chat (we are working on using another program to extend this capacity). So you might have to participate in the text chat first before you can join the voice chat. We will be featuring the main Q&A on the voice chat side, but will move back and forth with the text and voice chats.

6. If you have a question or comment you can either ask it directly in the voice chat or text chat, or you can send a private message to either Ingrid or myself and we will be sure to get the question to the director.

7. Finally, the current premiere film "Among Fables and Men" is now viewable at machiniplex.com. The download (in wmv) format will be available around the time of the Q&A at 1:00PM Pacific Time. I urge you to download the film as it is beautifully rendered in 1240x780.

If you have any questions or comments please contact me here or via my email at rgrove@iliadbooks.com

December 16 Machiniplex Premiere - "Among Fables and Men" by Tobias Lundmark

Our next machinima film premiere will be Sunday, December 16th at 1pm (Pacific Time) when we will present "Among Fables and Men" a machinima film by Tobias "dopefish" Lundmark . We will have the film up at our Machiniplex site the night before (Dec. 15th). This won't be a true premiere as the film has been up for a while at Stage6 (in a very nice looking version) Tobias has told us he is remastering the sound for the premiere, so the film will still be a unique version we are presenting. We will have a Q&A with the director his collaborator Mads Lund at 1pm (Pacific Time) on Skype (Here's a time zone converter)

Ingrid and I both were very impressed with "Among Fables and Men". The title sequence is lovely and the whole film has a classy look that shows off Tobias' imagination and great sense of design. The film is wordless, but tells an interesting and strange story with striking visuals and interesting sound work. I personally liked Tobias' experiment with narrative form by using multiple frames and interesting graphics. I think Tobias will be a director to watch in the machinima community. His work has a strong personal stamp while being beautiful and witty.

Tobias has a nice looking blog "Through the Looking Glass" where he talks about his films and interests. He is very active in the World of Warcraft movie community, but has taken the style and look of Warcraft to another level, I believe.

You can catch the current version of the film at Stage6 or wait to watch it at Machiniplex. I hope you will take the time on Dec 16th to come check in at Skype and have a chat with the director.

-Sunday, December 16th, 1:00PM (Pacific Time)-

World Time Zone Converter

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Gears of War + Unreal 3 = 1 good game, 2 great level editors

A few weeks ago I was finally able to purchase the first game with the new Unreal 3 editor. Despite the pull away from gaming machinima towards stand alone software like IClone and Moviestorm, I've been so looking forward to the Unreal 3 editor. Nathan Moller (Mu) was praising the new editor when he went to work for Bioware early last year. Of course, they were all using it at Bioware because Mass Effect, their big Xbox 360 game that was recently released to wide acclaim, uses a pumped up version of Unreal 3. for their engine. That bastard kept telling me how great it was to work with; how incredible the new tools are...bladda bladda bladda.

So, early November rolls around and I'm rushing to Fry's Electronics to get Gears of War for the PC because it has a variation of the Unreal 3 editor. Stupid Fry's people didn't have a clue; rush to GameStop 10 miles away and "Bing!", they are just unpacking it and are happy to sell me a copy of their standard edition in shrink-wrap, baby. Get it home and start to install. Cut to: one hour later and the game is still installing: WTF?

Finally, after almost 70 minutes the game is installed. I grab the newest Nvidia drivers and update, reboot and double click the GoW shortcut (by this time I'm nervous as hell...why?). The splash screen appears...almost there..... 6 minutes later the game comes up and I'm able to start a new game. The screen is choppy as hell at high resolution so I kick it down to 1028x760 and it's still choppy as hell..unplayable (and the game takes up 12 gigs!) Damn!

Cut to: three days later.

I've re-installed 3x (3 + hours) and have hand fixed the exe.ini file as per the Epic GoW forums suggestion (apparently dozens of people have this problem). Eventually through trial and error I'm able to get a half-decent frame rate and can play the game with some patience. No such luck with the editor. No matter what I do, the editor will not load.


Finish the game and try the editor again. Update with new Nvidia drivers, defrag, clean out the C: drive, try re-installing on another drive: no editor. Then finally read a short post in the forums that say you have to click "install editor" in a tiny box on the install splash screen in order to get the editor to work. I uninstall and re-install this time clicking the damn "install editor" box! Cut to: hour later and I try to load the editor....nothing. Nothing I could do would cause the editor to come up and work.


But the game-play was a lot of fun. Since I've been re-thinking my machinima adaptation of Macbeth recently, the settings in GoW look mighty "macbethian" to me. Surprisingly good cut-scenes for the film and very good (if slightly cliched) voice acting. The cover system used in the game is terrific, as is the level design and flow between he story and game-play. So good, that I forgot how pissed off I was about not being able to use the game editor I've been panting about for half the year.

Cut to: Unreal 3 purchase at GameStop a week later; Nice shiny tin package for the Collector's Edition: A young woman happily unwrapped the box in the back room and brought it out to me to sell: $59.95 (bling!) Took it home an installed it. This time it went in faster (35 minutes). Nice. Reboot. Click UT3 short cut, splash screen comes up....splash screen...splash screen...crashes to desktop. I am a rock. I am an island.

Cut to: 5 frustrating days later i read that it's my XFI soundcard. I go to the Creative website and they haven't updated drivers for the card in over a year. I see red for a few moments, recover an start thinking. Hmn.....what to do?...what to do? Ah! Yes, I've got another cheap Soundblaster card in the machine which I use for my removable Linux drive! I've disabled it in the windows manager. What if I updated the drivers for this cheap Soundblaster and then used it for Unreal 3 instead of the XFI? I could just disable the XFI and re-enable when I need it. Would windows XP SP2 go balooey on me?

Cut to: 2 hours later I'm playing Unreal just fine (as a new game, it's a lot like the old one...keep moving, no innovation here, keep moving...) Close out the game and try the editor. A brief moment of anxiety with a black screen and Zoooop! the new Unreal Editor comes up and I am a very happy fellow. Almost done listening to tutorials included on Special Edition (3d buzz) and am starting to work on my own in the level editor, which is much, much improved. I take it back that Nathan is a bastard, he was just telling me the truth.

Now there's additive AND subtractive level creation. There is a new "play in-game" function which allows you to play in game without having to jump through hoops; a nice visual scripting function (Kismet), very clear textures/materials editing. And the levels look gorgeous. Such a very cool editor.

Moral of Story: even if game companies don't do their homework, if you do yours you can fix their problems by thinking and asking questions, i.e. use the forums.

Here's a bunch of links for Unreal 3 and G0W related goodies:

-Epic's Gears of War forums and mod developers site

-Epic's Unreal 3 forums and mod developers site

-Hourence's GoW and UT3 tutorials

-Canned Mushroom's video tuts for GoW

-Gas Duck's video/html tutorials for Gow

-Rypel Cam mod for Unreal 3 (fantastic!)

-Some of the 3dbuzz tutorials posted at Stage6

-Very good tutorial by Jesse on importing from Maya/3DSMax to UT3

-Great interview with Mark Rein of Epic @ Gamasutra

-Epic produced vid on Gears of War editor-