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February 15, 2009 — 268 words

Internet Blackout NZ

By MCM

 
New Zealand's new Copyright Law presumes 'Guilt Upon Accusation' and will Cut Off Internet Connections without a trial. CreativeFreedom.org.nz is against this unjust law - help us

It's a big and complicated issue, but I think anyone with half a brain can appreciate it: there's a new law in New Zealand due on February 28 that "calls for internet disconnection based on accusations of copyright infringement without a trial and without any evidence held up to court scrutiny".  It's basically creating a digital version of the Salem Witch Trials, except the accusers tend to be foreign interests.

It's absurd that this kind of law could even be considered, but since it HAS, there's a protest against it online.  Black out your gravatars, your websites and anything else you can.  If not to change the state of affairs in New Zealand, at least to show your local elected officials that this isn't the kind of legislation they want to be imitating at home.

1889.ca will stay as black as I can make it until February 23.

If you want to add the bar I'm using up top, paste this HTML into your website template (somewhere in-the-way, if you can):

<a href="http://creativefreedom.org.nz/blackout.html"><img src="http://1889.ca/ui/blackbarnz.jpg" alt="This black bar could eat your entire screen (if you let it)"/></a>

February 14, 2009 — 798 words

RollBots Recap: 102 “Breakpoint”

By MCM

Every week, I’m going to try and give you some inside information about episodes of RollBots, so you can see the things that went into producing each story.  You should probably watch the episode first (probably won’t have a choice, since these posts won’t go live until after the episode airs).

"Breakpoint" is the last script we wrote, and the second episode broadcast, originally coded 101a because I was so used to calling the seventh episode "107" and didn't want to change (99% of the oddities in RollBots can be attributed to my laziness).  We added this episode because our previous 102 ("Wipeout") was not quite actiony enough, and we were afraid we might lose the interest of the audience if it played second [note: 102 is now 103, and all is well].  "Breakpoint" nudged an episode called "Bad Penny" out of season 1, which is a shame because it was really good and laid some groundwork for season 2.

The episode was written by myself at Craig Young, the line producer for the show.  One might think asking a producer to write an episode would be a bad idea, but Craig is really good at this stuff.  When we were performing heavy surgery on the last third of the season (to be discussed later, when we arrive at such episodes), Craig was the one coming up with the best lines.  So when I was asked to write 102, I dragged Craig along for the ride.  He pretends he didn't do anything, but he's just being modest.

Our criteria for 102 was to make it action-packed, show some of the relationship between Pounder and Spin, and lay more of the groundwork for Vertex's plot (which was previously a lot more vague).  I believe 102 is the first and only time we actually name the Dymex Key, the artifact that Vertex stole from the money canister in 101.  That scene between the Zogen-sha and Vertex will give you context for the entire season: there are artifacts hidden, and they have to be recovered to form a weapon.  Break out your notepads, kids, because its HARD to keep track of all those artifacts.  TRUST ME.

Interesting trivia: in the original script, in the sequence where Spin flies the cargo ship down after the falling platform, he doesn't go UNDER it, he spins the ship around to match the rotation of the platform, and then carefully scoops it up.  The first storyboard for the sequence came back totally different, so I tried to re-explain it... but only made it worse.  In the end, the directors decided to do what's in the final episode, and I believe they added my email address to their spam filters.  I aspire to be articulate and concise some day.

One thing that we never really explain in the series, but illustrate in 102, is the idea that rolling through the Hub regenerates a bot's power.  The Hub provides the energy for the entire city, and it's powered itself as bots roll through it, but they also pick up some of that energy themselves.  That's why Spin can boost himself by taking that detour.

Oh, and the scene where Manx and Spin are trying to grab at those little round indentations on each other's backs... those are called UpStream Ports... if you turn them, it releases all the energy in the bot at once.  It's like the "off" switch, but with a bit more fiddling.  UpStream Ports were designed early on so we could avoid having bots kicking and punching each other (concerns about violent content on TV)... instead, they'd be doing a kind of game of tag to try and power down their opponents.  Then we added the punching and the kicking back in :)

And finally, I save the best for last...

When we were doing this episode, we had to give it a name besides 101a.  Because it was a bit of an unexpected addition to the season, I thought it'd be funny to call it "Rickroll".  I even added dialogue where Pounder said: "I'm never going to give you up, Spin!" and then later "Never going to let you down."  The lines were cut because they were silly, but we got all the way to rough animation before anyone really noticed, and we were forced to change it to "Breakpoint".  I wanted Rick Astley to play the Zogen-sha, but apparently he was busy.

102 ends on a happy note, even though there has been a lot of story arc material laid out.  This episode probably lays out more hints per minute than any other episode before the 117 mark, so try and remember it.  It'll come in handy later...

If you've got any questions about the episode or feel I'm pulling another Rotating Cargo Ship on you, let me know in the comments.

February 11, 2009 — 293 words

Help Promote RollBots

By MCM

I know a lot of people know about RollBots already, but I want to make sure everyone that could, does.  So I'm doing something a bit like transparent astroturfing, asking y'all to help me promote it.  And not in an icky way.  I just want people to see that it's around, and that's enough for me.  So I set up a little page to help that along (see the actual page for all the details)...

Below you'll see a little text field. Enter your email address into it, and hit submit. You'll be given a URL, which should look like "http://rollbots.1889.ca/[number here]". That will be your URL. Drop it on your blog, on Twitter, anywhere you like. Every time someone visits that link, you get credit (note: I'm filtering based on IP, so reloading the page 9000 times won't help you). At the end of four weeks (so March 11, 2009 at 11:59PM Pacific time), I will tally the numbers and award prizes!

...

To the top five word-spreaders, I will be sending limited-edition copies of "The Art of RollBots", which was a little book we threw together at the end of the design phase of production for the cast and crew. It has tons of early sketches and drawings, all the way to the end result that you see on the screen.

I know it's not the perfect scheme, but I'm going for a "simple but effective" approach.  And as I said, all I need is for people to know to tune into YTV at 7:30AM on Saturdays, and I'll be happy as a pig in shhhhhowtunes.

Ahem.

Visit the RollBots promotion page and help me be happy again!

February 11, 2009 — 624 words

RollBots Online!

By MCM

I just realized I haven't given any credit to the geniuses at Xenophile for making the (ahem) RollBots Online Experience.  When we were dreaming up the idea of a site for the show, I had all sorts of crazy ideas about what to do... and they've exceeded my expectations at every turn.  Very cool stuff.  So you can either head on over to the site yourself, or just look at some of the things they've done (all academic-like)...

RollBots Online HoloGrid

The basic navigation is the idea that you're in the FCPD, and you can use the various systems there to get around.  My favourite part is the HoloGrid, the giant blue map of Flip City that Penny uses to diagnose trouble.  There are a bunch of glowy spots on it that you can click on to get to games (and they're adding a new game every other week, I believe, so it'll get busy fast).

RollBots Online Game

The games are simple but fun.  My kids are both better than I am at every single challenge, so I've given up trying to win altogether.  In the game pictured above, I've taken to just shooting anything that moves.  Especially those snotty little bottots.  They make me so MAD...

RollBots Online DataBank

Another fun feature is the databank, where we keep files on all the bots from the show.  We've put an insane amount of work into this system, so you'll get context-sensitive clues about the storyline.  For instance, there's a bot that's appearing in 105 that you won't see in the databank until after that episode airs... but when they do, you'll get a bit more of the big picture revealed (whether you realize it or not).

RollBots Online BotBuilder

The thing the kiddies like most is building your own bot.  We've got all different shapes and sizes to choose from, and you can swap out arms and legs and colours at will.  Then you choose your bot's tribe (each has its own benefits) and name 'em and you're done!  My bot's name is Dego, but I won't say why...

RollBots Online Translator

Aaaaaand finally is the part that I actually made myself, long ago (or at least the coding part of it).  It's the Danuga translator, which converts English into the RollBots language.  I'm pretty sure I've covered Danuga elsewhere, but the gist is this: RollBots have their own way of speaking (though it's a bit of an extinct language, speaking-wise).  There's an alphabet and grammatical rules etc that I worked VERY hard to put into code, so you can usually enter any phrase and have to spit back something useful.  At one point in the season, you will actually get to hear this stuff spoken.  It is very cool.

And that, as they say, is that.  Just a quick tour of the site.  You should give it a look-see, if for no other reason than to play with the translator.  Insult your friends!  Woo!

I have one other bit of cool RollBots news to reveal soon, but I have to do some legwork first.  Stupid legwork...

February 10, 2009 — 489 words

“Why’s your book free?”

By MCM

A question I'm getting a lot recently is "Why are you giving The Pig and the Box away for free?"  There's a subset of the eBook crowd that, I think, finds the notion offensive because it's cheapening their format of choice.  I can appreciate that, and I will do my best to explain the lack-of-theory I employ:

Firstly, the Pig and the Box is so generally available on the internet that NOT giving it away for free would be silly.  I want people to see the new edition because it has some tweaks in it, and I think it's a better product.  If I suddenly put it behind a pay wall, the pre-existing PDFs would drown out the second edition, and I wouldn't be doing much good for myself.

That said, the eBook edition of the book has sold decent numbers since it went live two weeks ago, despite the fact that the free PDF is right below it on the page.  But that speaks more to the generosity of my audience than anything.

Looking ahead, I'm going to try different techniques with future books.  The next release, Poke of the Titans, will have a free PDF as usual, but you won't get to see the advertisements unless you buy the eBook or the print copy (in this case, the ads are not real ads.  they're possibly funnier than the book itself).  It's a small bonus if you shell out the money.  I still want the book to be widely traded, but I also want the purchasers to get something special for their investment, no matter how token.

Then in a few months, when The Vector is released, I'll be trying something entirely different... serialized release.  You can download all but the last four chapters through your favourite RSS feed, three times a week, for free.  But if you pay for the eBook, PDF or print copy, you can skip the staggered release and get the whole book at once.  This only works (if it works at all) because the book is long enough to sustain it... but I think it's an interesting technique to try.

So when all is said and done, I have no idea what the "right" answer is.  I know Cory Doctorow's famous quote is "the artist's enemy is obscurity, not piracy", but to me it's even less about obscurity and more about why I write in the first place... I want people to read my stuff. Charging for things too strenuously is going to limit my audience, and money-wise or not, that feels wrong.

The other big question is my ratio of print-to-eBook sales, and how I'd like to adjust that in the future.  If I don't cover it in the next few weeks, someone remind me.

February 8, 2009 — 335 words

Re: RollBots Worthiness

By MCM

I will quit writing about RollBots soon, I swear.

I've been getting a lot of email about RB101, so I wanted to try and address one of the primary questions about the series before people go jumping to conclusions...

This is a show for kids, but it's a more complex series than you might expect.  Sure, there's potty humour and slapstick and (let's be honest) some juvenile-sounding one-liners, but a lot of that will melt away as the series progresses, so you're looking at a much more sophisticated series than you started with.

There's a history to this city that isn't explained fully in season 1 (let alone in the first few episodes).  Characters in this show have pasts that are long and complex, and even when you think you understand them, you probably don't.  There is a major storyline that spreads 26 episodes, but you probably won't be able to see it until the halfway mark or later.  There's a moment in an episode in 122 that won't make sense until season 4.  It's a VERY fine-crafted series.  This is like "Lost" with robots (and significantly less death).

I felt I needed to say this because a lot of people see 101 and think we're making a purely popcorn show.  It's definitely got its popcorn qualities, but I think it's vital for a kids show to start of with the candy coating, and become more sophisticated as it goes.  If we started off too dark and brooding, kids would tune out.  We want them to join Spin's world as Spin sees it, and then have that world chipped away, the way it is for him.  It takes time to do that, so if you're watching the series and thinking it's too young for your liking, give it a few more episodes before you really judge.  It's all part of the plan.

Oh, and in case I haven't been blunt enough about it: tell everyone you know to watch RollBots, please!  One way or another, it's all good with me ;)

February 8, 2009 — 75 words

RollBots Early Art

By MCM

Andrew King, genius artist and overall great human being, posted some of his early RollBots art on his site.  In it, you can see a bit of the evolution of Spin's character, as well as other elements that changed from their initial concepts to the final product.

Check it out on Andy's site, and while you're there, check out his other great artwork!

February 7, 2009 — 694 words

RollBots Recap: 101 “Training Day”

By MCM

Every week, I'm going to try and give you some inside information about episodes of RollBots, so you can see the things that went into producing each story.  You should probably watch the episode first (probably won't have a choice, since these posts won't go live until after the episode airs).

So, "Training Day".  Not surprisingly, this is the first story I came up with for the series.  Structurally-speaking, the first draft of 101 (I use production numbers, sorry... 101 means "season 1, episode 01") was a lot longer than what you saw on air.  There was an entire B plot with Lance getting badly injured and having to go to the Hub to get repaired, and the drama of that.  It became a Spin/Penny split and was way too long to produce, so we cut out the Lance side story and moved it into its own episode (now 105).  So more on that later.  But you can see the remnants of it, where Lance is falling and Spin catches him in mid-air.

The other element that was edited out was an extended action sequence with Spin battling Botch, which I had had in my mind since before I even knew Botch's name.  That sequence has been moved into a much later episode, but I won't say which one.  It is probably my favourite battle sequence in the entire series.

There are some subtle things in the episode you may have noticed.  I'm a web developer, so there are a lot web terms in there, like a "301 Redirect" or the names of various trax systems throughout the city.  Vertex's hideout has a joke to it that you probably don't get because the final version of Zetag doesn't have broken windows clearly visible like I intended :)

Oh, and for those who remember the old Mac OS X development layers, the top and bottom-most areas of Flip City are called "Quartz Sector" and "Boot Sector".

Oops: there is one glitch to do with things underfoot that doubles as a hint.  I won't say what the glitch is, or what the hint is.

The part where Vertex transforms from his rolling mode to his spider mode, when we saw it in leica (moving storyboards), was the first moment I really thought: "Yeah, this show is going to kick ass".  I thought that at various stages along the way, but it wasn't until that shot that it really clicked for me.

The speech that Vertex does to the henchbots is overly-long, and I apologize for that.  We'd just settled on Vertex's voice and his design was looking cool and I just kept re-writing that block so I could have a little more "evil villain" time.  Luckily, Vertex doesn't do that ever again.

Interesting trivia: Spin was originally blue.  He went through a lot of design variations to arrive at where he is.  He had to lose his blue body because it reminded us too much of Sonic the Hedgehog.  We also nixed some white racing stripes down the front of his face (if you google image search, you can still find some of the old pics) because they conflicted too much with his eyes when he animated.  Oh, and Penny used to be pink, but we had to switch her for Toy Reasons (girls won't shop in the boy toy aisle, and boys won't buy pink toys).

To wrap up 101, a final note: when we started writing this episode, we were trying to decide whether we'd actively promote the idea that there was a continuing story to this series.  Ending like we did with Pounder chewing out Spin, and Spin being defiant... that was a long and complicated discussion amongst the producers.  In the end, I think it was a good choice... it warns the audience that we're not just making a fluffy kids show here... there's going to be some twists along the way.

If there was anything in 101 that you wanted to ask about, feel free to do so in the comments.  I can't guarantee I'll answer all questions, but I'll do my best to shed light where it won't conflict with the major plot points of season 1.

February 5, 2009 — 374 words

Jehan Khoorshed on iTunes

By MCM

Long, long ago, I was a student in the Literary Arts program at Canterbury High School in Ottawa.  Actually, to be precise, I was in the first Literary Arts class (we were beta testing the idea, I believe).  One of my classmates was Richard Parry, who is a genius writer but apparently a genius-er musician (if the popularity of Arcade Fire is anything to go by).  Who'da thunk writers could play song-stuff, right?

Another Literary Arts student (younger, but still beta testing) was Jehan Khoorshed.  Jehan has always had a good history with music, having written the truly magnificent "In Walks God" song for my thankfully-lost student movie "Deep Regrets".  Jehan has a way with words, and a way with notes.  And with flaming cocktail napkins, but that's another story.

Anyway, the point of this is: Jehan has a new CD out.  Actually, it's his first CD.  And it's good.  It's a mix of styles (country and pop, I heard mentioned), wrapped in his typical wry humour.  As our teacher, Mr Fitzpatrick, would have said: "11/10, witty!"  It's a really good album, and I don't just say that because we know each other.  It's honestly very good.

So if you're looking for something new to listen to, head on over to iTunes or CD Baby or Jehan's official site (I'm going to be giving it a graphical overhaul soon, I swear!) and get a copy.  Because one day, you'll be able to hold up your beat up old jewel case (or iTunes receipt) and say "I bought this back before anyone else knew he was a star."

I mean, aside from me.  I get first dibs on that.  But you can embrace your second-fiddle status.

February 5, 2009 — 350 words

RollBots in the Ottawa Citizen

By MCM

I will refrain from saying too much about this article in the Ottawa Citizen (I've said a lot about the photo-taking excitement already), except to say this:

I ramble.  I apparently ramble so much that, to quote a journalist friend, "You make for a fun interview".  On the other hand, I believe I come across like a nutter, and I hope I don't scare people away from the show.  If you read that article and arrived here by some chance, please realize I am a much more down-to-Earth and studied person that I came across.  I...

... yeah, okay, I can't do it.  I'm a nutter. 

Sigh.

Witness the insanity:

"He is the equivalent of an orphan in this world, and then (the show will) play out his evolution into a hero through that basis," said MCM. "It sounds funny. I am talking so poetically about a show about robot marbles."

This just goes to show you that some people are not meant to talk to the press.

Update, after day of replying to email about the article:  One thing I want to explain is that everyone on the production was very aware of the fact that we were making a show about robot marbles, and we knew it was a bit of an uphill battle to make the series appear as anything more than a 22-minute toy commercial.  So we worked really hard to wrap that basic premise with interesting characters, engaging plots, and a story arc that spans many seasons, that twists and turns in ways you (hopefully) won't expect.  So what's most silly about it, to me, is that we've made something so insanely elaborate, all based around the concept of talking marbles.  It's not belittling our efforts to say that.  It's like: "Wow, we are able to talk poetically about a show about robot marbles."  I just wanted to make sure it was clear I wasn't insulting my own show.  I save my insults for myself.