Friday, October 13, 2017

"His name was Jason, and today is his birthday..." Happy Friday the 13th!

It's Friday the 13th -- a horror fan's Thanksgiving and New Year's wrapped into one! I just wanted to take a minute to wish you a very Happy Friday the 13th and ask you to check out the latest article I wrote for PopHorror - Jason vs. Jason: Famous Friday the 13th Set Feuds!

It was a lot of fun to write. I hope you enjoy reading it! Oh, and if you're bored, you can also check out the article I wrote for Jason's last birthday: Ranking Jason's Final Girls on Friday the 13th!

This was a fun one to write, too. Enjoy!

Finally, if you get a chance, check out the Friday the 13th Fan Film "Never Hike Alone" from Womp Stomp Films. It releases tonight, 10/13/17, at 11:15pm EST on their YouTube Channel. I didn't have anything to do with it, other than I backed their kickstarter at the Junior Counselor level. Paramount can't seem to get their shit together, so this might be the best we can hope for for a while! Fingers crossed it's as great as I think it will be!

Thank God it's Friday!  Stay out of the woods...

Monday, September 25, 2017

PopHorror Retrospective - 1 Year and 100 Articles

It was a little more than a year ago I started writing for It was August 29, 2016. I know because my first piece for the site was a happy birthday article for William Friedkin's 81st. Here we are, 13 months and 100 articles later and I'm still having a blast writing about one of my favorite subjects: HORROR.

Looking back on those 100 articles, here are 8 of my favorites. If you haven't read them yet, please do and let me know what you think. I'd love to hear your feedback.

8. Kathy Bates Receives Hollywood Walk of Fame Star - Most of my early articles were birthday wishes. This was the first article I wrote that had a little more meat to it. It was fun finding all of the quotes and images and recapping Kathy Bates's illustrious career.

7. Wes Craven's DEADLY FRIEND Turns 30! - Another fun article to research. It gave me the chance to re-acquire and re-watch the film for the first time in years. I learned a lot about the movie and its development. It's a little heftier than the average piece I write, too. I like how it turned out.

6. Saying Goodbye To An Icon: Bill Paxton Dead At 61 - This was a rough one. I'm still in shock. I had a Bill Paxton movie marathon the same day I wrote this one. He was loved. He is missed.

5. Lee Majors To Receive Lifetime Achievement Award - I'm a big fan of Lee Majors from THE SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN to THE FALL GUY to SCROOGED to ASH vs. EVIL DEAD. Writing this article allowed me to reach out to Lee Majors fans all over on Facebook. Of all the articles I've written, I think this one got the biggest public response.

4. 10 Fun Facts About BUG On Its 10th Anniversary - BUG is a great movie. This was a lot of fun to write. I feel like the article didn't get a lot of exposure when I wrote it because there was no real way to hashtag it or promote it effectively on Social Media. That's a shame. It's one of the best articles I've written so far. Go read it!

3. Watch EVIL DEAD 2 In The Woods With Bruce Campbell - I'm not really a fan of my own writing, but I feel like "Who’s up for a road trip to Austin? All we need are $55.00 tickets and some extra gas for the chainsaw!" is one of my better one (two) liners. Plus I'm a huge fan of Bruce and Evil Dead 2. If I still lived in Houston, I would have made the road trip for this. I wrote this article in record time, too, for a slow news day. When I finished it I realized "Hey, I'm getting pretty good at this."

2. Celebrating 35 Years of John Carpenter's THE THING - John Carpenter's THE THING is my favorite movie of all time. I never pass up a chance to talk about or write about it (or blog about it). I'm glad I got the opportunity to write this one for its 35th anniversary milestone.

1. Meet Our Writers: Kenn Hoekstra - I haven't been interviewed since I was a game developer, so it was fun to do one again. I got to answer some fun questions about movies and horror. Everyone should interview themselves if they get the chance. It's therapeutic.

Thanks for reading. Hopefully I blog again before I hit my PopHorror 2 year, 200 article milestone! :)

Monday, June 26, 2017

Celebrating 35 Years Of John Carpenter's THE THING

The weekend box office chart 35 years ago was pretty amazing. You had Blade Runner, John Carpenter's The Thing, and MegaForce debuting on a weekend when E.T., Poltergeist, Rocky III, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, and Conan The Barbarian were already out in theaters. I mean look at this! Amazing!

I was 8 or 9 in 1982 (depending on the time of year). I saw a few of these in the theater (back when it was $1.00 or $1.25 to see a movie). I definitely saw Rocky III,, Star Trek II, E.T., and Poltergeist that year. I also remember Secret of Nimh, Dark Crystal, and Tron. The first movie I remember seeing in the theater was Empire Strikes Back in 1980. I also remember Superman 2 in 1981, but I think my theater going ways started in earnest in 1982.

I was too young to see John Carpenter's THE THING in theaters, but I saw it on HBO not long after. What a life changer. It's my favorite horror film of all time. It may even be my favorite movie of all time. It's so good. I took the opportunity to write about it for PopHorror. Check out my 35th anniversary retrospective of The Thing right here.

I watched it over the weekend. It still holds up. I'm looking forward to the next 35 years!

I've written quite a few articles for PopHorror over the past few months. If you're bored and want to check them out, you can do so here.


Friday, February 3, 2017

Looking Back At Raven Software - 20 Years Later

It occurred to me recently that it was 20 years ago I started working at Raven Software. 20 years ago today, actually: February 3rd, 1997. Working there and the events that unfolded during my time there completely changed my life. Interested in a little trip down memory lane? As the Gilligan's Island theme song goes, "Just sit right back and you'll hear a tale..."

I was working as a restaurant manager at my Alma Mater - The University of Wisconsin - Whitewater in 1996. I hired a guy by the name of Jeff to work part time in the kitchen while he was finishing up his Master's Degree. Through him I met his brother Eric who was a level designer at Raven Software (and he still works there). We hit it off and he told me they were hiring designers and that they were willing to train creative types to do the work. Level design sounded way more interesting to me than restaurant management, so of course I jumped at the chance.

I asked how I should dress for the interview. Should I wear a tie? Business casual? I was told that I would be laughed at and tossed out of the office if I showed up dressed like that. I think I wound up wearing a Green Lantern t-shirt and a backwards baseball cap. The interview was me sitting with a group of other designers answering questions about my favorite movies and TV shows, comics, RPGs, board games and whatnot. It was very casual. They were cool guys. Afterward I went to my eventual boss's office and watched him work for a while and he asked "Do you think you can do this?" I said "Sure. When can I start?" He said I could start in two weeks. Yeah!

"Night of the Living Designers"
Even though it was a salaried position, it was truly entry level. I actually took a pay cut from the big *cough* bank ($22,000 per year) I was making at the restaurant job to take the gig. Raven was still independent then. It was pre-Activision acquisition (though Activision was in the process of publishing Hexen II) so things were running very lean. You had to make games quickly and pretty much every game had to be a hit or you were out of business. It was hard work. Long hours. But I loved every minute of it.

Taking this job was a huge risk for me. Not only was I taking a pay cut, I was relying on myself to learn and do a job I'd never done before that had nothing to do with restaurants or my English Degree. If I failed, I would be out on the street. It was a big leap of faith.

I grew up in a town of less than 1500 people before moving to a farm in the boonies. When I went to school in Whitewater, that was a city of maybe 10,000 people. I was living in Fort Atkinson and that, too, was a tiny town. The idea of working in "the big city" of Madison scared the shit out of me. I had to drive an hour each way every day and driving on the beltline in the mornings was terrifying. But I did it. I even moved to Madison a year later. I laugh about it now, but this was a a huge step for me. The first of many huge steps. Luckily I had the newly reformatted 94.1 WJJO morning show to keep me sane on the morning commute. Happy 20th anniversary to you, too, Johnny and Greg!

My first title was Take No Prisoners. Raven was working on that, the aforementioned Hexen II and a third title called MageSlayer. Three PC games. Three different publishers. Less than 30 employees. It really was a different era. My first workstation was a Pentium Pro 200 with 128MB of RAM running Windows NT 4.0. My only previous Windows experience was with 3.1. I had to learn 3-D Studio Max. I'd never seen or touched 3-D design software in my life. It was a steep learning curve, but I did okay. I definitely put in my share of extra hours. I was 23 years old and single and I was used to working 60 or more hours a week at the restaurant, so living at the office was natural for me.

Take No Prisoners was originally called Riot. The only problem? Halfway through development, Monolith announced that they were working on a game called Riot. (Interestingly enough, Monolith's Riot would later become SHOGO: Mobile Armor Division so what follows was pretty much for naught).


We had to come up with a new name. We all brainstormed and we sent the publisher tons of name suggestions. They wanted to call it Outrage. The project lead thought that sounded like a 3 year old having a tantrum at a K-Mart, though, so it didn't really fly. There was a lot of back and forth and Take No Prisoners eventually emerged and somehow the name stuck. We didn't come up with it. We weren't really huge fans of the name, but we felt it was better than Outrage. I liked it, though, because I was (and still am) a big fan of the Megadeth song of the same name.

Toward the end of Take No Prisoners' development in 1997, 3dfx released their new Voodoo 3-D Accelerator card. The Voodoo Rush, maybe? I remember walking across the field behind Raven to go to Best Buy with another designer (Hi Jon!) to buy a couple of them and bring them back to test. They were pretty badass at the time. At least until nVidia came along a short while later and blew everyone away with their TNT, TNT2 and GeForce cards.

Anyway, the programming team that was working on the Vampire Engine (which powered Take No Prisoners and MageSlayer) wanted to take advantage of the colored lighting that could be done using these new 3-D cards. They put in support for the technology, but the team was on a tight deadline to finish up the maps so we didn't think we would have time to touch them all to add it. At this point I went off the reservation and decided I would try to do it all myself. I lived at the office for two days and slept under my desk so I could try to get it all done. By the time anyone realized what I was doing, I was more than half way there so we decided to finish the job...because we really had no choice.

Looking back, I'm honestly surprised this little stunt didn't get me fired. I imagine I have my original boss, MRJ, to thank for shielding me from that shit storm. We got it in. We got it done. It was pretty rad. That game really did come together at the last minute. The engine technology was in development the whole time we were working, so it was only at the end that things really started working the way they were intended. We got multiplayer in in the last few months and we even supported a half dozen (or more) custom game types. I put my blood, sweat and tears into Take No Prisoners (as did everyone on the team) and the day it released I couldn't have been prouder.

It bombed. I was heartbroken.

No one really knew how to market the game. Raven was known for first person shooters, so the whole top down perspective was making people scratch their heads. The view was adjusted to make it more 3rd person than top down, but that didn't help, either. To make matters worse, Activision was in the process of acquiring Raven, so I get the impression that the publishers of both Take No Prisoners and MageSlayer had little interest in these games making a ton of money that would only end up lining Activision's pockets. I believe they tried to cut their losses at that point and just put the games out there to see what they would do. Unfortunately, they didn't do much.

Hexen II was a moderate success, though. Activision was happy. The acquisition went through and we started work on the Hexen II Expansion Pack - Portal of Praevus. That was a lot of fun. It was my 2nd project. I had to learn the Quake tools and our modified QuakeEd editor. I did it. I learned a lot. My career as a game developer was off and running.

In the years that followed, my time at Raven coincided with some of the biggest events in my life. These events included, but were not limited to:

  • The death of my father and meeting my future wife in 1998.
  • Moving to "the big city" of Madison.
  • The Internet boom and the rise of eBay, Amazon and countless other online empires
  • Buying my first "new" vehicle in 1999.
  • Writing my first book (the Brady Games strategy guide for Soldier of Fortune)
  • Getting married and building my first house in 2000.
  • My first puppy dog (who was with me for 16 years)
  • The 9/11 attacks in 2001.
  • My first ever travel outside Wisconsin (nationally and internationally)
  • Attending various E3's, gaming conferences, conventions and press events
  • Writing my first Screenplay (Soldier of Fortune II: Double Helix)
  • Working on some of the biggest franchises in entertainment: Star Wars, Star Trek and X-Men
  • My divorce and selling my first house.
  • Seeing my mother battle and eventually succumb to brain cancer... :(

Outside of game development, my time at Raven taught me how to manage, support and promote projects -- skills that served me well years later when I was a Producer at Pi Studios. I also learned desktop support, customer support, and a variety of Information Technology skills which would eventually allow me to transition out of game development and back into IT when Pi Studios closed in 2011.

I worked with some really talented people and made a lot of lifelong friends...many of whom still work at Raven today! I loved working with all of those friends (and going to their weddings). I loved the work itself. Most of all, I loved promoting our projects in the gaming press. It gave me great satisfaction to help get so many eyes on all the fantastic work everyone was doing. It was never about me. I never wanted to be (or tried to become) a rock star. I just wanted our work to be seen and wanted our games to succeed. I took pride in that back then, and I still do to this day.

Thank you Brian and Steve and MRJ and Mike and Eric and all of the rest of the 100+ Ravenites I had the pleasure of meeting and working with over the years. It was a great opportunity and it shaped the person I am today in so many ways. I hope you remember me as fondly as I remember all of you.  :)

On a final note, I was sad to hear that Charlie Bernstein, the fine gentleman who replaced me as Raven's IT Administrator when I left, was recently in a major car accident. I'm very proud of the way the Raven family (and everyone else) from around the world is banding together to help support Charlie during this terrible tragedy. "Charlie's Army" has raised $65,000 so far, but there's a lot more work to do. If you can, I encourage you to make a donation to support one heck of a great guy.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

John Lynch - NFL Hall of Fame Finalist? HA HA HA HA HA!

John Lynch? Come on, man. Or should I say MEDIA DARLING John Lynch? The NFL is actually considering enshrining Lynch in the Pro Football Hall of Fame this year. Yep, he's a finalist. I admit Safety is a vastly overlooked position when it comes to the Hall of Fame, but Lynch?  LYNCH?

I guess he was pretty good.  But let's compare Pro Football Hall of Fame candidate John Lynch to another "pretty good" Safety who will never even come close to being nominated to the Hall of Fame...the Packers' LeRoy Butler.

John Lynch (Tampa Bay Buccanneers, Denver Broncos, New England Patriots)

John Lynch Hoisting The Hardware
9x Pro Bowl
3x All Pro (1st Team)
1x All Pro (2nd Team)
1x Superbowl Champion (1 Appearance)

13 sacks
16 FF (8 recovered)
26 INT
89 Passes Defended
0 TDs
1051 tackles (4.7 per game)
224 games

LeRoy Butler Inventing The Leap
LeRoy Butler (Green Bay Packers)

4x Pro Bowl
4x All Pro (1st Team)
90's All Decade Team
1x Superbowl Champion (2 Appearances)

20.5 sacks
11 FF (8 recovered)
38 INT
95 Passes Defended
1 INT Return TD (Culminating in the invention of the Lambeau Leap)
726 tackles (4 per game)
181 games

So in 43 less games, Butler has 7.5 more sacks, 12 more INTs, 6 more passes defensed and a TD, while Lynch forced 5 more fumbles.  Who's the Hall of Fame nominee here?

This somehow resulted in 5 more trips to the Pro Bowl for Lynch? Based on fan voting, no doubt. Lynch always had a pretty amazing media presence, whereas LeRoy kept to himself. That will ultimately be Butler's undoing when it comes to enshrinement. It'll never happen.

Another guy who probably deserves the Hall of Fame more than Lynch?  Steve Atwater! But that's another story.

2x Super Bowl Champion, 8x Pro Bowler, 3x All Pro, 90's All Decade Team, 1180 Tackles, 24 INT