- ['Bell, Game, and Candle' is a regular new GameSetWatch column by game commentator Alex Litel, discussing stuff that happens in the game business. This time - trips to North Carolina and Los Angeles reveal ineffable truths about the human condition.]

As a young person in this twenty-first century, it is requisite that I participate in some sort of counterculture; that is why my vice of choice is cosmopolitan patience - I love to wait and spend most of my time doing such. These waits could be anything from a David Sedaris book signing to vampire bingo. In addition, there is also the occasional wait related to video games and thus I am here today to share the two most memorable (and possibly only) gaming waits of the first half of 2008.

North Carolina

It is an early February night and, as I do every night, I check out the following day’s “Buzz Waits” on LineWire; I notice something sizzling in a peculiar place—Cary, North Carolina. Being an impolitic fiend, I book the next flight to Raleigh-Durham International Airport.

Eight or so hours later, I come out of my cotton tent and notice I’m in front of an office in front of some guy carrying a Huey Lewis & the News duffel bag and wearing sunglasses and a Cosby sweater. Then I began panicking because I was certain that I had indulged in some sort of hallucinogenic; it was an utterly rubbish wait, perhaps the worst since that midnight screening of The Terminal.

“Hello there, my name is Kudo Tsunoda,” said the man behind me. “What is your name? I am trying to get the names of everyone here at Epic before I enter the building.”

“Oh, I’m Alex Litel, enthusiast of enthusiasm,” I responded. “Where would I happen to be?”

Kudo told me I was at the headquarters of Epic Games, developers of the Gears of War series, and even though I was not an Epic or Microsoft employee, he insisted that I accompany him into his meeting “to ensure that the deciding is not corporatized and actually reflects the interests of the common gamer. Also, I really have not played Gears of War because I am not so hot on the kill-fests with contrived narratives.”

So, I tag along with Kudo on a fairy treacherous fifteen-meter quest from the fifty-three degree coldness of Cary at eight in the morning into a heated office, where a man who is obviously recovering from serious RTC follicle follies greeted me.

“Clifford Michael Bleszinski, commander of aesthetic here at Epic; Epic Games has developed games such as Dare to Dream, Jazz Jackrabbit, Unreal, Jazz Jackrabbit 2, Unreal Tournament, , Unreal Championship 2: The Liandri Conflict, Gears of War, Unreal Tournament 3 and engines such as Unreal Engine, Unreal Engine 2, and Unreal Engine 3,” said the man.

“Epic Games is currently at super secretly at work on the game Gears of War 2, a sequel to the 2006 game of the year Gears of War that no one suspects the studio is developing, for a late fall release,” Bleszinski continued while I pondered if he was a fellow Jew. “There is this stupendous teaser that will be unveiled at the close of the Microsoft Game Developers Conference 2008 keynote in thirteen-ish days that depicts this gnarly chainsaw battle overlaid with this trendy gritty graphic style.”

Then we walked up into to the conference room, where Clifford Michael Bleszinski introduced Kudo and me to a whole bunch of “Epicureans.” The meeting as it went down, more or less, follows.

Epicurean #1: Yo CliffyB.
Clifford Michael Bleszinski: Clifford Michael Bleszinski has told you Clifford Michael Bleszinski wants to be called by his entire name, like Neil Patrick Harris. Clifford Michael Bleszinski is an artist who desires to eschew sophomoric tendencies like nicknames, juvenile creativity, and unkempt hair. A man in his thirties must engage in professionalism and maturity in order to be taken seriously.
Epicurean #1: Sorry, Clifford Michael Bleszinski.
CliffyB: Clifford Michael Bleszinski thought this should be started with a gameplay demonstration, which can talk for itself.
Kudo Tsunoda: Alright.
Cliff Your Hands Say Yeah: Kudo, it is very disrespectful to wear sunglasses while I am demonstrating this game.
Kudo I can see fine; like Bono of U2, I have a medical predisposition to light.
Clifforoni: Anyways, as Clifford Michael Bleszinski has said in internal meetings the past seven months, BioShock was a fucking epiphany; you have to do a human story with characters who dissimilar to those found in a Duke Nukem game, sonorousness, and conspicuous originality. A game has to be about something—--the lawman beating up the wrong guy or sailors fighting in the dance hall.
Kudo: Clifford Michael Bleszinski, how does Gears 2 differ from the first title?
The Cliffster: It is darker, deeper and bloodier—man, there’s fountains and trails of blood, classic Jodorowsky. There are these extremely intimate chainsaw battles that allow you to slice Locust in half. But simultaneously there is this ironic “Semi-Charmed Life” overture. It is really girl-friendly, goes mano-a-mano with Nora Ephron or CSI: Miami in the ability to attract females with a story innovative in how deeply personal it is and accessible gameplay. There are also these really beautiful environments that make Yellowstone look like Bakersfield, even more so than the first game.
Me: All of this sounds so bloody am-dram; you should do something original like have Marcus and Dominic be lovers.
Kudo: That is some narrative innovation right there, I agree with it.
Cliffs n’ Chips: That is not possible, Dominic’s main motivation in Gears 2 is searching for his wife Maria, who appears in the game. He is on a very heterosexual quest.
Epicurean #2: “Heterosexual quest”? Are we making a video game or pornographic film here?
Epicurean #3: Both, dude. Ha! Psychic high five time!
Me: How does that null the possibility of Dominic and Marcus falling in love with each other? They can have bisexual discovery like Ennis and Jack. It might, just maybe, even be a little subversive.
Gears of War Dude: I don’t understand the gay experience; I don’t want to be held responsible for an inauthentic portrayal.
Me: Oh please, the John Hughes excuse did not pass in the early 90s and it definitely will not fly today, regardless of medium. The cardboard characters who the relationship is between are interchangeable, but it is important that the protagonist be involved in the relationship instead of a “fringe” character.
Clifforoni: Are you going to want to use Antony & the Johnsons for a Gears 2 ad as well?
Me: If you want an ad so solemn that it will make “Mad World” look like Pushing Daises, then yes; however, your eyes are telling me that your shortlist is the Jeff Buckley cover of “Hallelujah,” “Hoppípolla,” “Suicide is Painless,” Johnny Cash’s cover of “Hurt,” and a children’s chorus something from Sea Change or TV on the Radio.
Cliffhanger: The point is to sell a video game, something that you are not going to do with “Gloomy Sunday.”
Me: You do have a good point there.
Clifford the Big Red Dog: Yes, Clifford Michael Bleszinski is like a factory of quips—total East Coast Diablo Cody.
Epicurean #3: My eggo is preggo, homeskillet!
Chocolate Cliff Cookie Dough: That brings this meeting to a close.
Kudo: Sounds good, thanks for showing us your latest masterpiece.
Cliff Upper Lip: Also, Alan Alda is voicing Chairman Prescott—the leader of the Coalition of Governments.

- Santa Monica

On a Friday in the middle of June, I am walking down Cloverfield and I notice David Hayter, David Benioff, Major Tom, Michael McCullers, Zak Penn, Mark Fergus and Werner Herzog waiting in a line outside some building. Of course, I immediately joined the line after noticing patience luminary Werner Herzog was in it. Using my deductive skills, I figured that the crowd of primarily screenwriters was there to pitch their take on some license; I was right, Capcom’s Lost Planet somehow warrants a film adaptation.

(At this moment, you probably are asking “Alex, what would qualify you to be amidst established screenwriters?” To which, I would respond “I was briefly attached to Stay Alivee, the direct-to-DVD sequel to the apparently successful 2006 horror film Stay Alive, and I pitched a sequel to 300 that is just as historically accurate as its predecessor, it takes place 2132 and has robots.”)

I actually have played Lost Planet, and, while it may have only been a demo that I didn’t spend more than twelve minutes with two years ago, I remembered the important things—jetpacks, snow, colonizing, aliens, bases, space, shooting, mediocrity, and pirates.

In other words, it is a relatively easy pitch—much easier than having to devise a storyline from Hot Wheels, Ziploc bags, or Jimmy Kimmel Live (to be honest, this was an elevator pitch for one TV movie: Jimmy Kimmel Live: the Hot Wheels Quest for Ziploc).

Unlike the other wait I wrote about, this was completely solid. There was plenty of people and no lack of vivacity.

What did I pitch?

“Okay, so this spaceship crashes on the completely snowy planet Commodore Four with this guy, I don’t know, Ralph Holden. Holden was on his way to examine Commodore Five as a possible outpost for the remaining human colonial population.

This ragtag gang of space pirates, who have these rad mechs and stuff, discovers him—techie named Zach, tough-as-nails chick named Zip and her too-cool-for-school adopted bro Zap, who is the leader. Leader quickly notices his gold dog tag, which symbolizes that is a commander—something that will prove useful in the gang’s battle against this clandestine party led by this enigmatic figure, Zeta, that is determined to dominate over all resources once and for all.

There is a love triangle between Zeta, Ralph and Zip. Zeta is the abusive, albeit beautiful and powerful, ex-boyfriend of Zip, and pushed her to learn Space-Fu and to current distant and distrusting tendencies. This makes the fight personal for Ralph, who is, as I have said, in love with Zip and vice versa.

However, Zeta’s forces attack the gang’s base and grab Ralph and Zip, who are sleeping. Both are sprayed with a mind control drug, manufactured by a company owned by Zeta, that makes them totally subservient to Zeta.

Zip falls back in love with Zeta and is impregnated by him, whilst Ralph becomes another soldier in Zeta’s vast forces. Zeta offers Zip a private plane for the two of them in exchange for her hand in marriage, she agrees. All of this occurs in the span of half-a-day.

At that moment, the human colony army that Ralph is a member of and Zach locates him by finding the coordinates of his heart GPS. There is a brief battle, during which both parties discover members have turned on them.

Then, Zap works with army chemists to design an create an antidote that they would bomb the base that Zip and Ralph are at. Then they bomb the base, an action that reduces Zeta’s forces to zero.

The now-mentally free soldiers that were Zeta’s forces revolt against him, easily toppling Zeta. Ralph and Zip kiss against the backdrop of explosions.

As a new member of a gang, Ralph sets off a climate bomb and the planet turns into myriad of grass fields and bodies of water. Commodore Four becomes the new permanent outpost for humanity. The end.”

Apparently, I was not picked to write this film adaptation.

[Alex Litel can be reached at alexlitel@gmail.com and occasionally found at alexlitel.blogspot.com. This column may include some statements and facts which are not, in fact, factual.]