Movie Monday 002: Message From Space

It has been a tiring week, but I did not want to go two weeks without making a review, so…

This week: Message From Space

Toei And then United Artists: 1978

http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Message_from_Space

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0078435/plotsummary?ref_=tt_ov_pl

An ambitious and expensive Japanese movie imported to the US in the wake of Star Wars. The US movie industry was unprepared to supply the publics renewed hunger for sci-fi so they were buying up foreign films.

This movie was bought for a reported 1 million dollars. It probably made about $28 from my dad taking me to see it a couple times. He will remember it as the schlock Japanese sci fi movie with the space ships that were sailing ships with engines on the back. I remember it for the heroes ship with the fantastic fold out fighter bays (that was undoubtedly millennium falcon inspired).

I built a couple models of the ship and the fighters and always lusted after the die cast toys that now go for hundreds of dollars on ebay. I would love to have the model of the main good guys ship again. http://www.fantastic-plastic.com/STARSHIP%20LIABE%20PAGE.htm

This movie is the story of a ragtag group of unlikely heroes summoned by mystical space walnuts to save the planet Julucia from the evil Gavanas.

The plot is moderately ludicrous, the acting amusingly painful (even taking dubbing into account), and the action is very dated. The effects are actually rather good for the time (even if they are used to often ridiculous effect) , and the Star Wars influence on the models and props gives them a refreshing sense of reality.

Message From Space is a movie that is fun despite itself. It is enjoyable for the campiness of it, but it’s also just fun to watch. I loved it as a kid because I had no taste and would pretty much watch anything with a robot in it… I find I love it now for a mixture of the nostalgia and a genuine appreciation for what they were trying to do.

And the ships really are cool.

Characters: D6 : Uninspired archetypes with dubious motivations. Totally useful for space swashbuckling or other slightly silly settings. The enemies are evil for the sake of evil with gratuitous chrome and horned helmets and capes.

Soundtrack: D6 : Nothing special, a mix of 1960s sci-themes and Star Wars inspired orchestral bits. There is a CD out there and it could be fun to have’ but not worth much effort.

Plot: D8 : Ludicrous and clumsy (it is never a good sign when the narrator has to explain what is happening)… But also amusing and pretty well paced out. Not a bad model for gathering together characters and getting them to the action in a somewhat less than serious setting.

Tech/magic/maguffins: D8 : Remarkably fun space ships, swords in space, and tying all the characters together with mysterious seeds that could do just about anything the plot needed them to do at any given moment.

Settings: D6 : A series of locations barely connected to one another in any logical way. Some of them could be lifted for encounters, but I would not recommend using them all in the same plot.

Suggested system: FATE, Savage Worlds, the old D6 Star Wars, Battlestations.

Random Fact about Will 003

Statements like “the best day of your life” or “you will never have as much fun” terrify and depress me.

It seems like if you ever have the best day of your life then the rest of it will be just remembering better times and waiting to die.

I fervently hope that the best day of my life is the one that kills me.

 

No Movie Monday because shut up

Since I haven’t seen a movie this week, I don’t have one to review.

So instead a little bit of good news.

After over a year of barely treading water I have a raise and I am going full time. Hopefully this will give me a little breathing room to get a great deal done that needs to get done.

Next in line: Operation “Survive The Winter”

D&D & Me part 2: My Dice

A bit of an aside after a few days off…

Gamers (and by this I mean role players, war gamers, and board gamers… I will have something to say on other uses of the word soon I imagine) have a very odd relationship with their dice. They (and by they I mean we) have a lot of strange rituals, habits, and superstitions surrounding our dice. Some day soon I will discuss some of these…

But first… A short (ish) history of my dice.

As I mentioned previously my very first game used coins instead of dice. Specifically I am pretty sure I used pennies. I lusted after the cool dice I saw other people using and that were for sale in dragon magazine, but with a weekly allowance of probably .75 to 1.50 they were a world away from me at that moment.

For my next few games I liberally borrowed dice from the board games we had laying around… Most often Risk which had a lot of them and since my mother and her friends only played it (according to my memory) on occasional camping trips, they wouldn’t be missed while I was using them. I may or may not have eventually absconded permanently with those dice, I do not recall.

The first dice that were really mine though, we’re the dice that game with that red box D&D set. Those cheap dice are often called ‘waxies’ because of the feel of the plastic, they had a slight give and translucency that made them almost seem like particularly hard fruit chews.  If you wanted the dice to be readable you even had to fill in the numbers with a crayon because they hadn’t been inked at the factory. The game used to come with a sort of off grey crayon for that very purpose.

I carried these dice everywhere with me, and like most of those dice they became battered and rounded, the cheap plastic wearing away. Eventually I needed new ones.

I vividly remember buying my first set of gem dice. This was an official set sold through waldenbooks and other stores, they came in a blister pack and were clear, multicolored, and had startlingly sharp edges and corners.

I used to haunt waldenbooks at that age. I was reading Zalazny and Ursala K. Le Guin and a whole lot of Pierce Anthony and I probably pestered the clerks there on a weekly basis about new releases. The dice hung to the right of their science fiction section… Drive by the Cars was playing. To me the dice glowed like the sun and were pure treasure.

I added a few more sets of dice to my collection over the years, and eventually I was given a metal set of dice that became the central jewels of my dice bag…

Which I should mention was made of chain mail from a kit I ordered from the back of dragon magazine… A kit made by the father of my fiancé as it turns out… The world is a scary place sometimes.

Those dice (and the bag) were solen in my senior year of high school and I still mourn them. I have my suspicions but nothing was ever proven.

i bought other dice, and some were very nice, but I never really had a special set again. I used whatever fell to hand, and Since I was now playing GURPS and Champions I accumulated enough six siders to supply a small merchant vessel if they needed improvisational cannon shot to drive of pirates… That never really came up… But the point is I had to carry the bastards around in a big box… Which I did… Along with a couple of decks of magic cards, counters, small notebooks, and in later years a flask of something unspeakable.

One year at a local game convention I discovered a very dangerous thing. Chessex (a major manufacturer of gaming dice) had a cauldron of misc. dice. Some were misprints or mold tests with weird mixes of plastic. The rest were just colors or styles that did not sell well. You could give them 20 bucks for a coffee mug or 30 bucks for a beer stein, and scoop up a random helping of dice. Very soon my box was entirely full and very very heavy. I not only owned more dice than I could use at any given time… I probably owned enough dice to equip the entire game convention for every game currently being played… This had gotten a little out of hand.

A couple years ago I spent a few days separating the dice out into sets. I gave a lot of them away to friends and a couple very confused strangers on the bus. For the rest I sewed some simple dice bags and was intending to sell them as horribly ugly dice for people to use at conventions without fear of losing them or having them stolen… I think some of them survived the move… I may have them for sale soon.

so now my dice are a fairly random selection from that mass of dice. No particular style, color, or importance. If I need a D20 I grab one, there are no favorites, no particular memories… These dice are tools, nothing more.

I find that after all these years, I miss having special dice. Dice with personality, stories. I think it’s time to go shopping for dice.

Random Fact about Will 002

As a child I was obsessed with symmetry.

Things that were uneven on one side or the other bothered me. I hated that my little batmobile toy only had batman and that robins seat was empty. (eventually I figured out how to get the little encased batman figure out so both seats were empty).

If my hand itched and I scratched it (and I was thinking about it at the time) I would also scratch the other one so it would be even.

What finally broke me out of this was one of Fisher Prices ‘adventure people.’ Specifically one of the EMT helicopter pilots. Adventure People were an action figure that had one arm in a slightly different pose than the other, sort of pointing or pushing a button. This used to bother me, but one day I suddenly really liked it. And like a switch I began to appreciate asymmetry.

Movie Monday 001: I Married a Monster From Outer Space!

And now it is time for the Movie Mondays to begin.

In these articles I will be delving into the b grade movie archives looking for hidden gems and moments of brilliance In a sea of barely adequate muck. I will be reviewing these films for how fun (or painful) they are, and also how useful they are to mine for games or writing purposes.

Ratings are in dice. From D4 to D20… Because that is how I roll! (I have lost my old icons so there won’t be any yet. Just text. I’ll fix that later if I feel like it.)

This week: I Married a Monster From Outer Space

Paramount 1958

Although the stand alone DVD seems to be out of print it is unlikely that you will have much difficulty finding a copy. In fact, if you are in the habit of buying those “20 sci-fi blockbusters” sets that can usually be found in the bargain bin by the register for $10 or less, you probably already own at least one copy of this film. I am pretty sure I have at least three.

I Married a Monster From Outer Space was not well received in 1958 and has been largely ignored ever since, which is a shame as it turns out to be a surprisingly good film.

The story features newly married Marge Farrell who, soon after her marriage, finds that her husband Bill is not at all himself. He is losing his affection for his wife and seems to have taken up cruelty to animals as a side hobby. Soon she finds out that Bill is not the only man in town who has changed and must figure out who she can trust to fight this menace from space.

A lurid title as well as its posters and other promotional materials point to this movie as the love child of Invasion of the Body Snatchers and Mars Needs Women! And this is actually pretty much where the movie starts.

Surprisingly good cinematography and well above average special effects are balanced by solid B grade dialogue and one dimensional stereotypes… But about a third of the way to halfway through the movie it shifts a bit and becomes something a bit more than its parts would suggest.

Hidden inside of well worn tropes and off the shelf characters is an actual science fiction story and a take on the body snatchers concept with more bite than most.

I enjoyed this movie on a level I was not expecting to and while I would not recommend it as an entry into the classic sci-fi genre… I wholeheartedly recommend it.

Oh yeah, and the cars are gorgeous!

Characters: D6 : mostly cookie cutter, but fun for bit parts. The strong female lead for the time is remarkable, as is a particularly creepy policeman.

Soundtrack: D8 : Good solid classic sci-fi mood music. The soundtrack is available in a limited edition cd http://www.kritzerland.com/monster_atomic.htm and if anyone wants to send me a copy I will do a happy dance. I might film said happy dance.

Plot: D8 : a very well worn path, but with some twists to the story worth paying attention to.

Tech/magic/maguffins: D6 : Not much. Ray guns, a space ship you don’t see a lot of and a few bits of alien gear with antennas. It’s saving grace in this category is a somewhat creepy take on the tech behind body snatching.

Settings: D4 : A poorly defined small town USA with not a lot to look at or think about.

Suggested system: gurps atomic horror, call of Cthulhu, or Cthulhu dark.

Overall: D10 : A fun movie a bit of a step outside its place and time. Well worth watching.

Fiancé summary: “Fish egg goo is gross.”

Budget GM Screen

Alternate title 1: Redneck Referee Screen.

Note for the uninitiated: A GM (game master) screen, also known as a referee’s screen, is a folded screen you place on the table between the person running a role playing game and those playing it. This is done to hide important notes, maps, die rolls, and the like from the players. These can run up to $20 or more for one specific to a game and are usually just thin cardstock with pre-printed charts and tables of which one or two will ever be something you actually ever use.

So anyway. I was in the dollar store buying 20 gallons of bleach (never mind why) and I noticed a big bin of small whiteboards.

 

This started my brain a’ thinkin, so I bought four of them.

Whiteboards

Since I already had some duct tape (is anyone surprised?) this brings the total budget of this project to $4 and change. If you were starting from absolutely nothing you would have to grab a knife and some tape so the total could top $6.

After unwrapping we can see what we have. Basically a piece of cardboard with a glossy side, a few magnets, a crappy pen, and some rubber and staples.

Front Back

I don’t want or need most of this so almost carefully, I started tearing them apart.

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Some were stapled, some were glued, but the rubber game away easily enough, and the hot glue holding the magnets on was quickly defeated with minimal cardboard scarring.

This left me with my four panels and a pile of junk.

Pile of junk

I separated out the potentially useful bits and threw the rest away.

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The pens, though crappy, have some ink in them and so will last a little while. And each one has a little felt eraser to clean up the whiteboard with. I’m keeping them until they wear out. The little clips that held them on to the whiteboards might be useful, and while I am not using them for this project… Everyone loves magnets!

these all got set aside and I laid out the panels.

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You could also lay them out the long way for a wider shorter screen. I may do this in the future if I make another one since I am rapidly becoming a fan of shorter screens for reasons I may one day discuss.

between two screens I laid down a very carefully measured and positioned strip of tape (it was about long enough and placed just about thereabouts). It is good to remember at this point that the tape will form a hinge and so there should be a little space between boards.

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Yes, I am doing this on a pile of wooden pallets… A lot of things in my life happen on a pile of Woden pallets now.

But I digress… I then carefully folded the ends up and worked the tape down into the hinge.

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I wanted to make sure the tape formed a little valley so it wouldn’t be too taught for the hinge to work well.

I added a strip to each in the cardboard side, working it into the valley as I went.

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And repeated for each hinge.

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At this point I could easily just call it done and start using the thing… But I wanted to get just a touch fancier.

I started laying down slightly overlapping strips of tape to cover the bare cardboard side. Note: do not do this to the whiteboard side or you might as well have just cut up a cardboard box and saved yourself the $4.

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Leaving a little border of cardboard showing I covered the entire back of the screen.

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I left eft this border because I wanted to pit a strip along the edge. This would make it look a little neater (really, do we actually care about that at this point?) and will make the edges more durable.

i laid a strip along the sides from the whiteboard side (so I could make the border as narrow as possible on the side I actually want to use).

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And folded it it over onto the back.

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Next i I laid two long pieces along the top and bottom.

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And folded them as well, being careful to keep the hinges nice and tight.

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I really could have have been more careful about the corners, making them nice and rounded or tight right angles… But I absolutely could not be bothered to.

Again, this could be a great place to finish. It’s done, it works! I can stand it up and write lots of gamey stuff on it and the players will have no idea what horrors I have planned for them!

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And it folds up smaller than an average game book!

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But I have all these pens… And the clips… So let’s throw those in for the fun of it.

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The he clip fits neatly over the edge, and a little bit of tape holds it steady.

But I have more pens!

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So with a little trial and error I added a couple more so they wouldn’t collide when I folded up the screen.

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And -now- I will call it done! $4 and a few minutes of work and I can toss it in my game bag and be out the door ready to play. The tape will make the whole thing durable enough to withstand weeks and weeks of abuse and when the terrible pens go bad I can easily replace them at the dollar store with a set of colored ones for another dollar.

A cool addition I just thought of would be to use the magnets along the top edge of the back to hold sheets of paper meant for the players to see… And saving a couple pieces to make a magnetic clasp to hold the whole thing shut.

have fun, and go get ‘em!

Random fact about Will 001

Someone once told me that a man should never leave the house without the ability to cut and the ability to make fire.

I agree entirely, although I would expand ‘man’ to ‘human’ and also add the ability to undo either a slotted or Philips head screw.

at any given time I have up to three pocket knives, a multitool, and usually a block of magnesium with attached flint.

I have been mocked for this.

I have also been the only person with the ability to start a fire when trapped in a cabin in donner pass during a snowstorm… So suck it world!

 

D&D & Me part 1: The first tastes.

This is the first in a series of posts where I will meander and muse on gaming, life, and D&D.

A lot of this happened a long time ago so exact dates and ages may or may not be entirely accurate, and the exact order of things is as best I can recreate through the filter of memory hazy from years of life and mojitos.

So away we go!

As I prepare to run my first campaign of Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition (and my first RPG in well over a year) I have been thinking about my gaming career in general and my relationship with D&D in particular. It was not technically my first game, and over the years I have been far less than its most vocal supporter or biggest fan… but D&D is the foundation of the hobby by which I have largely defined myself for most of my waking life, and I am very excited to be re-entering the fray.

The beginnings:

1: Somewhere in the vicinity of 1979 somewhere near the Russian River in California. I was 9ish, my little sister was 7ish and it was summer.

We were there with our dad for a jazz festival that we had little or no interest in. I am sure we were being absolute pains in the ass, and in an attempt to shut me up for one precious moment dad took us into a game store. I fell in kid-lust with the Avalon Hill Starship Troopers, but dad vetoed what was probably a $20 or $30 game. After what was likely a horrific outburst of whining he got me Metagamings R.I.V.E.T.S. instead. A little pocket game about less than intelligent robots battling it out in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. I barely understood it and had very limited success explaining it to my little sister, but we played anyway.

2: Sometime the same year, It was third grade. My school was made of hexagonal buildings which should have been an omen.

I saw other kids playing some game with little cardboard gladiators and lots of dice. I am not entirely sure what this game was (Arena maybe?) but it was exciting even though I had no idea how it worked. These same kids started playing dungeons and dragons later that year and I remember my friend Justin and I making fun of the arcane language and jargon they used. In my memory these kids all have beards and fedoras… that is likely not entirely accurate.

3: Shortly after… maybe that year or the next. I discovered our local library had copies of Dragon Magazine. I studied every issue intently each month, and used my allowance money to photocopy articles, adventures, and the occasional Tom Wham game (who is my first game design hero).

During this period I wrote my first RPG. It was called Lab! and was a game of scientists trying to kill the horror they had just unleashed on the world before it escaped the lab. I had no dice so I used coin flips for random outcomes, and it would be very generous to say the rules were intensely vague. They filled a paragraph and a half or so with a random potion chart and a map of the lab drawn in marker inside a manilla folder.

I probably convinced a total of three people to play and none of them seemed at all to understand what I was trying to do.

4: Then a magical thing happened. My step-mom picked up a copy of Basic Dungeons & Dragons (the red box edition). She was, as I remember it, curious about this thing she had been reading about and thought it might be a fun thing to do… but after one look at the rule-book she closed the box back up and handed it to me. I finally had rules, and dice! And I barely understood them at all!

I managed to get into a couple games run by other people but in retrospect they understood the rules less than I did and they were not terribly fun or satisfying games. I might talk about them another time.

I continued reading my rules and the magazines and I put the core books for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons on my xmas list… or maybe I asked for them for my birthday. In any case, by some miracle I got them! Looking back that was something near $150 in modern earth dollars, and we were never terribly well off.

5: In the meantime. Closer friends began to discover games and my friend Elden introduced me to Car Wars by Steve Jackson (my second game design hero)… we played that game for hours and wrote giant robot rules and used them to play a simple RPG with complicated combat rules. I got into the occasional D&D game but nothing regular. During this time I wrote my next two games, Spies! and Star! (my naming conventions were complicated and subtle). Neither system was much more than a few stats and a list of weapons, but we explored role playing using those two systems for months before we started venturing again into published systems and writing our own more complicated games.

D&D was pretty much out of the picture at this point. I craved games with giant robots, laser guns, and space ships. I played Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles with my friends in Fresno and mostly home made games with my friends in Marin. I was a bit of an awkward social outcast as a kid, and moving schools right when I was building a strong circle did not help at all, so my gaming was sporadic and all over the map… until High School.

Well that was me from Birth until 14 or so… I’ll fill in some bits here and there if they seem interesting enough, and enough happened in High School for me to blather on for days… but those are for another day.

First!

Hi there! Welcome to my blog-o-thingy!

I am Will Robot, I make things and sometimes I wear hats. I have opinions on movies and food and just about everything and sometimes I like to share them. And so here I shall!

I make art and games and toys. I write things that sometimes are worth sharing, and I make a really really good mojito.

I was actually taught how to make a mojito in the desert by a master, and one day i will tell you about that and I might even teach you how!

In the posts to come I plan to hit a nice rhythm and have themed days… I used to have a ‘Movie Monday’ movie review and I think I’ll start in on that again… Anyone have any good ideas for alliterative themes for other days of the week?

So… this is hello again, and welcome again, I look forward to spewing forth the miscellanea of my mind upon you and discussing the results.

Be excellent to one another!

-Will Robot