By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
By Dennis Romero
Jack Black has been a guest, as have both Bob Odenkirk and David Cross from Mr. Show. Recently, our host Captain Oopsie and Deems, one of the ranking players, devised a special lottery so that players would be randomly assigned to one team or another, to avoid some rather unpleasant experiences in the past. "They used to go out on the deck and choose up sides, but it was too much like sad junior high," says Captain Oopsie's significant other, a sitcom actress who occasionally sits in but more often slips away to the bedroom to watch Saturday Night Live.
During a break, Dr. Takahashi, the resident historian, explains some of the elaborate cosmogony of the game, having just read Halo: The Fall of Reach, the official 340-page "prequel" by Eric Nylund, who has degrees in chemistry and theoretical physics and is the author of five other virtual-reality thrillers.
"It is the middle of the 26th century," states Takahashi. "A band of augmented Marines, or bioengineered humans known as Spartans, use their technologically enhanced skills and exoskeletons of armor in the tactical mission of their lives — battling the Covenant, a cartel of aliens bent on annihilating humankind due to some obscure religious doctrine. The book follows the career of John 117, who later becomes known by his Spartan name, Master Chief. The Halo Ring, where the fighting takes place, is neither Covenant nor human."
Having mastered the complexities of killing in organized packs, four of the better players — Captain Oopsie, Deems, Evelyn and A Cute Baby —- attended a Halocompetition at Badlanz, an Internet café on Cahuenga. Calling themselves the Senior Citizens, a team name they initially thought was ironic, they were instead dealt an emphatic lesson in hubris.
"We got our asses so kicked," recalls Captain Oopsie. "We had a strategy going in, and they just adapted our strategy and used it against us. As we were leaving, one of them told us, 'I don't want to be rude, but, you know, we play every day.'"
"They were basically beaten by Chinese children," says the sitcom actress. "But they're going back again. You gotta admire that."
Gliding between the screens, following the game from multiple perspectives, you quickly learn the strategies of individual gamers. Captain Oopsie is one of the strongest players as well as one of the most aggressive, and rallies his teammates accordingly. Chili Mac is a top-notch field lieutenant. Takahashi is good with the sniper rifle and frequently hides out up in the mountains, while Chimp Nugget prefers to climb up on the roof and slaughter everything in sight. Sicky, the one girl who plays regularly, is a master of stealing behind enemy lines in a Ghost, while Mucho plays an organized defense, even if he once fell asleep on patrol. Every game ends with an automated carnage report: When four people die, it's a killing spree, and when six or more die, a disembodied voice announces, "Kill-tacular!"
Despite the graphic blood and gore, players are instantly regenerated at the moment of death, although in some variations, they must suffer a cumbersome five-second "re-spawn" penalty.
The best players quickly learn to avoid death altogether.
There's been an emergency. Thirty-eight seconds of Moe, Larry and Curly must be cut in order to squeeze in another commercial for The Three Stooges 75th Anniversary television special which aired last week. Chip Pauken, the editor, comes to the rescue.
Rewind. Chip, a med-school dropout from Toledo, Ohio, arrived in L.A. during the late '70s doing disco lighting that caught the attention of the industry. Now, he's one of the top television editors in Hollywood, having done nostalgic specials on I Love Lucy, The Mary Tyler Moore and Disney. Currently, he's working on a Bob Hope hour. He just finished five months working on The Three Stooges.
Chip doesn't understand why I want to interview him. He keeps asking if I need to know the specs, when NBC runs its special, who directed the special, is there anyone else I need to talk to?
"What's your angle, why do you want to talk to me?" he asks.
"Because you just spent five months watching The Three Stoogesevery day for over eight hours a day!"
This does not compute. Chip's just an ordinary behind-the-scenes guy. He's reserved but polite. He invites me to his editing bay.
Ask for Chip Pauken at Matchframe Video Studios in Burbank and they'll direct you to the "Three Stooges editing bay" (they actually say things like that). There, at least four monitors are showing America's favorite nitwits, poking and jabbing and yukking. Chip and another guy are steadfast at the Avid keyboards as they settle into fine-tuning a frame where Larry is at a cashier's counter pointing out each food stain on a customer's tie, counting out, "Roast beef, two dollars. Green beans, 50 cents. Mashed potatoes . . . ," etc. The editors are down to the last dribble, custard pie, and going back and forth between frames. Finally, they nail the edit and give each other high-fives. Then they back up to a scene of Moe striking Larry on the head with a hammer. I laugh out loud. The two editors look back at me, startled. They then turn their attention to another clip of Curly doing his rub-a-dub-dub shtick. I'm howling. They shoot me another look of surprise.