Woosh! There goes another one!

And with another turn of this tiny speck around a bigger and brighter speck I find myself in my 41st year.

41 is not a very interesting number to me, it’s prime, it’s the sum of two squares, its a centered square number (which I had never heard of before and I must admit is actually kind of interesting)… symphony number 41 was Mozart’s last. I choose not to red anything into that, or that it is the age that the director of Teenagers From Outer Space committed suicide.

The last year decidedly got away from me in many respects. I accomplished some cool stuff but didn’t really document much and spent probably the vast majority of my time completely alone in my head.

Note that my head can be a very interesting place to be sometimes, but it really needs to interface a bit more with the material world. A ‘rich and rewarding inner life’ is all well and good, but makes for terrible conversation. I find myself to be a very annoying person to talk to these days, when I get a few minutes of someones time I just sort of vomit forth whatever my brain is chewing on in a pretty disjointed stream of non sequitor… a pretty good sign I spend too much time alone.

This year therefore, I am going to do twice as much cool stuff and I am going to tell you all about it!

Upcoming projects include but are not at all limited to; A small run of small toys/figures as practice for larger toys, a final draft of surreality engine and the long awaited release of Goblin City, An as of yet unnamed collaborative game book which I will certainly go on about much more very soon, a rewrite of one of my novels so it is fit for human eyes, and an ill defined but looming video project that won’t leave my poor head alone.

A less interesting but absolutely critical project will be getting rid of a large portion of what I own. If the process seems at all amusing I will let you know how that goes as well.

Time to face the day and get ready for my yearly ritual of hanging out at Forbidden Island in Alameda. It’s a monday so I am expecting/hoping it will be a little low key, though the holiday of explosions and meat looms so we shall see I suppose.

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Birthday, 4th of Juplaya, life, 2011

So on the 2nd of July my odometer ticked over to 40.

I celebrated this elegantly divisible year with my dad and a revolving group of friends at the Forbidden Island Tiki bar in Alameda. FI is not nearly the place I fell in love with a few years ago, the atmosphere, quality, and clientele have shifted a bit away from what it once was. But such is life and it is still a place I enjoy going and spending some occasional time getting pleasantly inebriated with cool people. Fun was had as well as large drinks with umbrellas and fruit, and thanks to some conspiracy between a certain sweet someone, her mother, and my friends and family there was probably as much cake mass as there was people mass! Including, it is important to note, a Princess Cake which has always been a favorite of mine… because I am a pretty princess… wanna fight?

Sometime after midnight, possibly closer to 1 am, we loaded up and drove up to the black rock desert arriving shortly after sunrise. Passing by the now defunct town of Empire was rather weird and I was a little sad the store wasn’t open yet as I would have liked to have bought a couple sodas and a can of baked beans for old times sake. They are meant to stay open through this next burning man so there is an offhand chance I might be able to.

Man I am nostalgia’s bitch sometimes…

The drive out to the playa itself was beautiful with the sun rising and painting the mountains a gorgeous orange. It was very odd to see the terrain so green… and to see so much wet still on the playa. It was also quite odd to see how much insect life the place has just a month earlier (including some little bastard that bit my hand). It makes me want to visit a few other times in the year to see what the place is like.

So Duane set up a quick improvised shelter (that as usual proved to be more or less invulnerable to the elements) and we settled into the pure suckiness that is daytime in the desert.  Hot, windy, dust, all the fun that Burning Man had to offer… but without anything interesting going on and the addition of bugs!

4th of Juplaya is less of a cohesive event as it is a bunch of crazy people spread over a really quite startling amount of desert. The vibe (with some exceptions evident) is very much “this is our party here, have fun with yours.” which I was half expecting but did make daytime boring as hell. I would not want to go again with as small a group, but it could be fun with 10 or 20 people. We had a good time doing some wandering on the night of the 3d, there were some fireworks, a really quite impressive display of laser, a few art cars in the distance, then sleep.

The 4th was very strange in that about 80% of the place packed up and left. We hung around till nightfall, packed up, watched some of the remaining camps set off fireworks and set off our own… then packed up and headed home that night, arriving again just as the sun was rising. An odd experience but well worth the time and effort.

so 40…

Feels a lot like 39…

I keep thinking I should get around to having a midlife crisis. I have a young girlfriend, that’s a good start. Sadly I can’t afford a red sports-car, and if I could I would rather it were a nice deep blue… but then as I plan to live to 100 I guess I have a decade to get around to it. We can check back in 2021.

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Book Review: Dead Mech

Dead Mech: (Apex Trilogy, Book 1) by Jake Bible

Just finished this book and it is fantastic. There are layers and layers of awesome and they keep building until the end. I bought the e-book and less than halfway through I bought the print version because it was that good. I then bought every e-book this author had on Amazon and would have pre-ordered the next two in this trilogy if they were available yet.

I was sold by (and agree with) the following review : “It’s mechs. It’s zombies. It’s zombies in mechs. You already know you’re going to buy it, so just get it over with.” If you need any more of a synopsis than this then perhaps this book is not for you. Best grab a copy and make sure though, It could change your life.

Dead Mech is so much better than it sounds… and it sounds amazing!

 

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Movie Monday 7: Hunter Prey

Hunter Prey
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1270291/

Available at Amazon

The surviving crew of the downed Starship Promethius (how many starships in sci-fi have this name?) scour a hostile world for their escaped prisoner who may have the key to their homeworld’s survival.

Plot : D12
A very familiar plot with a couple of rather good twists. This would make a very good game for solo or small group play. It has some good twists that take the story in interesting directions and is a good example for taking well tread plots and giving them some new life.

Characters : D10
Not a whole lot to write home about other than a couple of rather good twists that keep anyone from really being the good guy or bad guy. Some nice layers of motivation that

Setting : D12
While the action takes place in an isolated location, enough glimpses of the larger universe are given that you have a feel for the bigger picture and all that is at stake.

Gear, Tech, and Magic Swords : D12
Well made sci-fi armor by people who are clearly used used to making Mandalorian gear. Guns that are decidedly Nerf gun redeco’s… but really really good ones! Neat suit computers, shields cut from the hull of a downed starship, lots of cool little bits of gear made by enthusiastic prop-makers. This movie had to be at least a third made as an excuse to build cool shit.

Beasties and Baddies : D6
Three races, all humanoid, and a sort of nasty sand leech. Not much to mine from this movie.

Soundtrack : D8
A solid soundtrack, suited to the action at hand, but not apparently available for purchase or download anywhere I could find.

Overall Score : D12
A very solid sci-fi movie far better than it’s budget. It homages (sometimes not entirely subtly) some other great films and borrows so heavily from Enemy Mine that it might as well have been a sequel. Very well shot on the RED camera (oh god I want one) as well as directed and acted with unexpected skill. Worth watching and an interesting plot for a small party. Sadly it’s set up for a sequel that I find unlikely to ever come, but that can easily be used as a springboard for the imagination rather than a downside.

Recommended System : GURPS, Traveller, Battlelords of the 23d century

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Movie Monday 6: Death Racers

Sorry for the unplaned two week break, I was in Indiana.
I am also sorry for this weeks movie… really I am.
Death Racers
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1261046/

Available At Amazon if for some reason you collect such things.

Criminals in a walled off prison/ghetto are threatening the world with a release of Sarin Gas into the water supply. The obvious solution? Release criminals, arm them heavily, and promise them their freedom if they kill the other criminals first! What could go wrong?

 

Plot : D8
Kind of dumb, kind of predictable, kind of done before and better… but also pretty good for an evening of mayhem and chaos. You probably already know everything you need to know from the synopsis.

 

Characters : D6
Bad two dimensional cookie cutter stereotypes bordering on racist and the Insane Clown Posse… yes the Insane Clown Posse! Good god really?

Setting : D8
Standard issue dark future dystopian city/prison not very well explored or fleshed out. Some fun looks at the world through over the top newscasts.

Gear, Tech, and Magic Swords : D8
Cars loaded with guns, rockets, and in one case a sort of cow catcher/mulcher. Exactly what you would want in a setting like this. I only wish they had been used a little more cleverly instead of taking every opportunity to get the ‘characters’ on the ground and into painful dialogue.

Beasties and Baddies : D4
The bad guys might as well have been yellow and black cardboard cutouts with the word ‘Villain’ stamped on them over a bar code… not that this movie had good guys. Bonus points for gratuitous sporting good based cyborg.

Soundtrack : D6
Insane Clown Posse… Need I say more? At least it’s kind of appropriate to the level of quality the rest of the movie exhibits.
Overall Score : D8
I have seen worse… and the basic premise could be used for a pretty fun game session or two or a convention scenario. It is a terrible movie… of course it is, its an Insane Clown Posse vehicle, how could it be anything other than completely terrible? Go into it with a good sense of humor and maybe a pint glass of whiskey and you will be OK… Actually scratch that, just go rent Death Race 2000. It has a David Carradine and Sylvester Stallone in it.

Recommended System : Car Wars/GURPS Autoduel, octAne, Savage Worlds.

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Movie Monday 5: Nightwatch

Nightwatch
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0403358/

Available Here

The forces of the Nightwatch and the Daywatch fight for an edge while enforcing the ancient balance between good and evil.

This movie is based (a little loosly) off the exellent russian novel Nochnoy dozor. part of a series of four books; The Night Watch, Day Watch, Twilight Watch, and The Last Watch. I cannot recommend these books enough and while I enjoy the Nightwatch movie don’t judge the novels by the film.

A second movie Day Watch was made and it is an awesome, spectacular piece of amazing crap. It barely has anything to do with this movie much less with the books. I enjoyed it immensely.

Oh, also, the subtitles in the US release are awesome, almost another character.

Plot : D12
Good Vs Evil in modern day Moscow, what’s not to love? Throw in secret supernatural cabals running things from the shadows, some ambiguity as to who really are the good guys, and a nice end of the world kind of prophecy and this movie has all kinds of good plot handholds.

Characters : D10
A really fun mix of characters who are all part superhuman, part beaurocrats. Anton is played as sort of a bumbling newcomer (not his role in the books) which is a great position for the PCs to begin in. Gesar is a great patron, wise, powerful, and not entirely clear on where his motives lie… Zavulon (the main villain, named Zebulon in the books) is a little more over the top ‘grrrrr I’m bad!’ than he is in the book, but is still a good example of the villain who really has his shit together.

Setting : D20
The balance between Day and Nightwatch is practically made to be an RPG world. You have all the faction infighting of Unknown Armies and World of Darkness with the institutional fun of X-Files or any given detective show. You may have awesome (or nearly awesome) powers, but there are laws buddy!

Gear, Tech, and Magic Swords : D10
A few clever weapons and relics, a good example being a flashlight with a crystal bulb used to burn vampires. You also get a glimpse of a bunch of other crystals, what are they for?

Beasties and Baddies : D10
Vampires, dark sorcerers, evil possessed dolls with spider legs… and of course Others like yourself with all the powers you do and just as much right to arrest you as you have to arrest them.

Soundtrack : D8
Good incidental music and some Russian pop music. It’s not available for sale or download that my casual search turned up. But you can find lists of Russian bands that aren’t entirely impossible to track down.

Overall Score : D12
A fun movie with a lot of potential. Not as good as the books, but then how often is a movie as good as it’s source material? Russian Sci-Fi has been an unsung treasure almost as long as there has been sci-fi and this holds it’s own and beats most of what the US produces.

Recommended System : Unknown Armies, Over the Edge, Worlds of Darkness

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Movie Monday 4: ZA Zombies Anonymous

Zombies Anonymous http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0465517/

Just a few left at Amazon

Poor Angela is shot by her jealous boyfriend and wakes up in a world of zombie support groups, alive-supremacists, and discrimination against the hungry dead.

A low budget horror comedy that skews more than a little towards the horror side… Actually it strays well into the severely grim.

Disclaimer : I mention Shambles a lot. I didn’t write Shambles (this guy did) but I did the layout and art direction for the first two editions of the book and think it’s a fantastic game. Some of that bias is very very clear here. I also like All flesh must be eaten and mention it in order to appear completely impartial. I do not mention Rifts because I hate that game.

Plot : D8
A great take on the zombie movie reversal, perfect for Shambles “I want my life back” setting. It touches on racism and terrorism but manages to remain true to it’s core concepts.

Characters : D8
The players are engaging and have immediate handles that would make them good NPCs. The main villain is some kind of over-acting machine developed in a government lab, but the rest are just believable enough to be interesting.

Setting : D10
Just to one side of the Living dead movies, almost to Shaun of the Dead. ZA’s world is on the brink of an entirely different war between human and zombie.

Gear, Tech, and Magic Swords : D4
Baseball bats and shotguns, no new and interesting gadgets aside from some zombie specific makeup which is pretty amusing.

Beasties and Baddies : D6
You got yer zombies, you got yer thugs, not much going on there. An extra die side for flesh eating zombies instead of brain eating zombies.

Soundtrack : D8
Decent enough, but not very cohesive. Not available as a whole, but with some easily found classical pieces that are used to good effect.

Overall Score : D10
While not a lot of use for most games, this movie was practically made to be a Shambles campaign. It’s world is a little different than the published one with Zombies being an out in the open thing, but the blend of comedy and surprisingly grim horror is a great blueprint for giving your Shambles (or other game where the PCs are the zombies) adventures a real punch.

As a movie it is decidedly a low budget effort, it suffers from poor lighting, awkward sound, and some pacing issues. The ending happens a half an hour before the movie actually ends and the movie shifts gears a bit towards the less effective. The special effects are suitably grim however, and though the acting is a bit heavy handed it is better than many movies with higher production values. I would rather watch ten more like this than sit through the next transformers movie.

Recommended System : Shambles, All Flesh Must Be Eaten

 

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Movie Monday 3: Pandorum

Pandorum http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1188729/
For sale cheap at Amazon

The crew of a deep space colony ship Elysium awakens to find Earth gone, their ship in shambles, and host to some rather disturbing stowaways. To make matters worse they have almost no memories of who they are or what is happening.

Plot : D12
I am actually a little pissed as the plot to this movie very strongly echoes a game I was already writing. This plot could be used easily as is or split off into many interesting variants on the theme. It is not an original plot to be sure, but I have never seen it done better.

Characters : D10
Interesting characters with a variety of motivations and skills. These could easily be either PCs or NPCs. The acting is pretty solid and the dialogue is believable.

Setting : D12
This movie does a good job setting up the Elysium and it’s place in the universe without overexplaining things. The sets are very impressive and feel used and lived in and reaching the end of their durability. There are a lot of nice details to keep in mind for when you are running a game in an old space ship, station, or other high tech installation gone to seed.

Gear, Tech, and Magic Swords : D10
A good mix of high tech in decline and improvised tools and weapons. Everything new looks suitably high-tech and everything else looks like it was made out of broken remains a long time ago. This movie does not have much in the way of special items or macguffins, with the exception of a wrist mounted energy weapon that really could use better straps, but the look and feel of everything is very solid and believable.

Beasties and Baddies : D12
Like Mutant Chronicles the enemies are all of a type with only a few individuals who stand out as being just the bigger and tougher versions of the same thing. There are no additional monsters or beasties nor would it make any sense if there were any. The baddies are nasty and frightening and could easily be used as is or tweaked a bit for other similar scenarios.

Soundtrack : D12
A nice moody and dark score very well suited to horror sci-fi. Available on CD or for digital download.

Overall Score : D20
This movie sort of quietly came and went. One moment I seem to remember a preview and the next it was on the discount table at my local video store. I bought it solely based on it’s cover to fill out the 5 for $20 deal and was amazed when I finally watched it. Not only is it a solid sci-fi adventure movie, but wonderfully suited to inspire all kinds of games. I place this movie solidly in my top 10 sci-fi horror movies.

Recommended System : BRP, GURPS, Traveller

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Multitools part 1

I love my multitool(s), I never leave the house without at the very least a good swiss army knife and often two plus a heavier folding knife and one if not two Leatherman tools. And even as well equipped as this I constantly lust after new and exciting ones as well!

Multitools are an amazingly engineered device made specifically to be not quite the right tool for just about any task you can or can not yet imagine. I have built computers, repaired my bicycle, cooked, and started fires with my multitools (and a magnesium fire starter which I also habitually carry around). If I ever need to perform an emergency tracheotomy on you I sure hope for your sake I have sharpened my blades recently because that bad boy Leatherman is gonna be in my hand and in your throat before you can say “Ack gurgle, ghhrrrrkhisssssssssgasp”

 

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Movie Monday 2: Mutant Chronicles

Movie Monday is a bit delayed this week due to being trapped in the snow with barely a hint of network connection and the laptop I brought utterly failing. I gave the ‘experimental’ web browser on my kindle a try but it was not quite up to the task of getting a post up.

But enough of my sob story, on to…

Mutant Chronicles http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0490181/ (directors cut)

This week is almost cheating. “A movie based on a game being reviewed for gamers?” well yes. I will do a few of those, and I believe this one deserves another look.

In the year 2707 the earth is wracked by war between rival corporations. Battle lines have been drawn up WW1 style between Bauhaus, Capitol, Mishima, and Imperial. Meanwhile The mysterious Brotherhood continue their vigilance against the threat of the return of the machine from the stars that so nearly destroyed humanity until they sealed it beneath the earth hundreds of years ago.

One artillery shell in the wrong place later and POW! The machine is unearthed and mutants are swarming everywhere!

As the planet is evacuated Brother Samuel leads his rag tag team chosen from among all the corporations on a suicide mission to blow the machine up once and for all.

There are some light spoilers in this review.

Plot : D10

On first glance this is the exact same movie as Recon 2022. A bunch of unlikely heroes take a bomb somewhere and blow something up with bad guys in between. In practice however, the heroes are more believable, the thing that needs to get blown up is something interesting and the bad guys have some reason to be there. Also it has a subtle twist or two that keep it from being “go from point A to point B and blow up C while killing D and E.”

Characters :  D10

These characters just scream ‘adventuring party!’ Each has specialties, unique abilities, and some immediately accessible hooks to draw them into the game and motivate them. About half the characters are admittedly walking genre cliche’s… but that’s not necessarily a bad thing from the point of view of a convention game or for useful NPCs. You may need to do a little scrubbing to get past the less than subtle acting from time to time, but if you ever wanted to see a good set of motivations to make a group of completely separate and ill fitting heroes stay together and go on a suicide mission… this movie will not waste your time.

Setting : D12

Sci-Fi WW1… what is not to love? From the trenches in the opening battle scene to the ruined remains of a skyscraper hundreds of years old this is a beat up and used world. The look and feel is consistent throughout the movie and the transition from place to place is logical and feels nicely precarious. The world outside the scope of the movie is lightly sketched out but there is enough to spark the imagination. A lot is said with the locations that goes unspoken in the dialogue and action and that is precisely what I like to see.

Gear, Tech, and Magic Swords : D10

The look and feel of the tech in this movie is very nice. Anachronistic weapons, a couple gadgets, coal driven space ships! The big alien machine of evil has a bit of a video game level feel to it which I am never fond of, but it is maken up for by stick grenades, chunky mechanically wound machine guns, those coal powered spaceships again! And a magguffin devide that is largely ignored except when it is needed to move the plot along a little, just like it should be.

Highlights are those lovely coal driven ships, half aliens dropship and half locomotive… A white phosphorus shotgun… a very useful sword… and the chronicles themselves. A wonderful mix of bible, hand written notes, sketches, and old city blueprints. I want one!

Beasties and Baddies: D10

We got yer mutants right here! Cybernetic nasties stitched together from the near dead with a blade for an arm and black blood. That’s it. With one mechanical surgical arm as an exception (and that’s more a physical obstacle than an enemy)  There are no big monsters to fight, no special guardians, no giant robots or tentacled final baddie. This is an army of killing machines made from your former friends and designed to stab.

I applaud the lack of “boss monster” villains or gratuitous extra monsters. I hate it when a monster is tossed at the plot because there is a big boring hole they just need to cover up. On the other hand, the original source material for this movie has a lot of interesting and creepy kinds of mutant we don’t get to see and the grunt grunt stab stab mutants we get here (while well done and useful as unpleasant cannon fodder) lack character. That there are no silly monsters and that the look of the mutants really fits their origin and purpose bump this barely from D8 to D10.

Soundtrack : D10

A nice driving orchestral score and some good mood music useful for dark sci-fi or fantasy. Available from itunes or (at half the price) from emusic or wherever soundtracks to movies that did not do well a couple of years ago are sold. I bought a copy and have it in my background gaming playlist folder and have a couple tracks ready for specific action scenes.

Overall Score : D12

This is not a great movie, but it’s not a bad one. It gets the look and feel of the original games without trying to encompass them and where it takes liberties with the source material is entirely forgivable. I own almost every book put out for the Mutant Chronicles RPG and Wargame and had no problem with this movies interpretation of that world. It is a rich mine from which to carve out game ideas, characters, and situations. I myself have two scenarios and several scenes in the wings that I can directly attribute back to having watched this movie.

Mutant Chronicles was not a darling of the media, it was a bomb. I am hard pressed to find anyone other than myself who likes it as a movie and I am confused by this. It is far from a gem yes, but it’s not a turd. Compared to Transformers or any given movie by Ew Boll and this is a good solid film. It does not reach the heights of Aliens true, but it takes a good step past Starship Troopers. It’s worth a watch and in my case, worth buying the directors cut on five for $20 discount at blockbuster.

Recommended system : Mutant Chronicles or Dark Heresy

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