Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Moonraker II: The Rise of Cobra

Just got back from seeing the G.I. Joe movie. It was dumb, as expected, but it was enjoyable and not insulting like the Transformers movie. First the bad.

1) The acting: It was pretty bad. The actors are not helped by the script here. Much of the dialogue falls into the George Lucas level of "You can write it, but you can't say it". A lot of tired cliches.

2) It rips off Moonraker. Climax of Moonraker: Attack space station to prevent missile launch, chase down missiles that do get launched, and destroy them at the last second. Climax of G.I. Joe: Replace "space station" with undersea lair. There was even the big fight outside the undersea lair just like there was outside the space station in Moonraker.

3) It rips off Firefox: Change "Think in Russian" to "Speak in Celtic" when flying the plane

4) It rips off Star Wars Episode IV: There is a trench run. They shoot pursuers from a turret while escaping the enemy base.

5) It rips off Star Wars Episode VI: One team disables the cannon while the other team is in a dogfight getting slaughtered by the cannon. "Stick close to the enemy ships"

6) It rips off Star Wars Episode I: The ninja fight is almost exactly the lightsaber fight from the Phantom Menace; there is a double bladed katana and Ray Park is one of the ninjas. It rips off a whole bunch of other movies too. They were coming at me so fast during the climax that I should have written them down.

7) All Asian people are not the same: There are Japanese people and there are Korean people, they come from different countries. This is fairly minor compared to the movies of yore, at least they are from the same end of the continent. Sadly this is an improvement for Hollywood.

8) Not all buddhists monks are the same. There are different types of buddhist and they are not all found doing kung fu in Tokyo in large numbers. This is a really minor quibble but worth mentioning since I saw it with a Buddhist.

9) How many homeless white kids are there in Tokyo? How many of them are martial arts experts?

10) Their CGI eyes were bigger than their budget stomaches, and it shows.

11) The usual conservation of mass, momentum, and energy problems that are in every movie show up in this movie. Guns that send people flying but don't have equal recoil; fast moving underground drills. There are so many cool things that can be done that are possible, why always do clearly fake stuff? Hollywood, get people who have degrees that are not BAs to check your scripts. It is really easy to do.

12) It is essentially a Thunderball - Moonraker era James Bond film. With everything that entails, good and bad.

13) The usual hack agency that doesn't exist macho crap. How about showing guys working inside the system to defeat terrorists? We actually have a pretty good track record on this, we have intercepted far more through police work than have succeeded in pulling off their attacks.

14) There are hologram projectors everywhere..... everywhere

The good:

1) It is essentially a Thunderball - Moonraker era James Bond film. With everything that entails, good and bad.

2) The bad guys are nano-enhanced and almost invincible. The good guys rely on training, hard work, smarts, and a little bit of natural aptitude to overcome this. Ordinary people doing extraordinary things through hard work. I can get behind that. There are no special, mutant demigods here.

3) The bad guys find democracy to be chaotic, with too many levels of power division to be effective. The good guys support democracy, and for the most part work within the system to win. They do choose to misinterpret one order on purpose to accomplish their goal, but frankly interpretation is part of democracy. When the good guys step outside the bounds of society they get arrested. One isn't even allowed to return to his home country again. There are consequences for their actions.

4) The good guys screw up. They don't get falsely blamed for screwing up, they actually blow it. This made the movie seem more real to me.

5) The characters came from somewhere. There are a bunch of Lost style flashbacks. They come from a cliched place that you can see coming a mile away, but they do come from somewhere. This is a plus in modern blockbusters. Actual it played out pretty neat. It was too predictable though. Go for broke on this in the sequel.

6) There are very few racial stereotypes in this movie. People from different countries and of different colors are every bit as skilled as white Americans. This almost never happens in movies. There was the usual Hollywood, all Asians are the same crap, but at least it didn't Chun Li on us. It was certainly no Transformers: The Revenge of David Duke.

7) It was well paced. It was much better paced than Transformers or Wolverine.

8) They picked the right amount of characters. There was actual meat here. It was McDonalds but it was there.

9) It actually had something to do with the license. This is a pretty low priority for me. I prefer a good movie to one that is accurate to the source material. Here we got a decent accurate one. But when you make something that has nothing to do with the license, and is worse than it, like Transformers, it really sticks out.

10) The suits were used sparingly

11) Wayons was used correctly. This could have been a disaster (D&D). He was at worst groan inducing and often, funny.

12) My favorite Doctor

13) The finale is stitched together bits of a bunch of other movies, as mentioned above, but they picked good stuff to rip off. I would have preferred an original climax, but at least they picked some of the best moments in action movie history to rip off. Some of them, like the Moonraker parts, actually work better in this movie. Moonraker was terrible.

All in all I think they did a passable job here. They chose to go with something that was fairly accurate to source material that is pretty hard to work with. The movie was fun. It was dumb fun, and you have seen all of it before, but it was fun. It has actually been a long time since the last cool Raid on the Secret Base ending. It is executed well here.

In my ranking of dippy action movies I put this well above Missing in Action, above almost all of the Moore era Bonds and slightly ahead of Independence Day. I would say it is right at the level of the later Connery Bonds (Not "Never Say Never"!) which it is obviously trying to emulate. In a way the climax of this movie is kind of James Bond base raids greatest hits. Thunderball is not bad company to be in.

I hope they stick to the format for the next one. Oddly, no one else is doing this anymore so it has a niche. Hopefully they will come up with their own stuff though. I've seen it before, and I'll see it again for the sequel.

C+

Thursday, July 2, 2009

What the heck is happening in this RPG picture? The Legend of Weathertop



This is it, the first RPG product I ever encountered. I bought it at the school book fair. This was a gamebook, one of those books that combined dice rolling with Choose Your Own Adventure style numbered entries. If I remember correctly it was a hex crawl followed by a dungeon crawl. You had to find the entrance to a cave and find the scepter at the bottom. I remember playing it until it literally fell apart. At the time Dungeons and Dragons was not allowed in my house so my friend Corey and I took the rules from gamebooks and made up our own adventures for them. This series of books was especially interesting because while it had its own rule system it also had stats compatible with ICE's MERP. We had never heard of MERP andhad no idea where to find it. In fact I would not encounter a rulebook for it until I went to the Orc's Nest in London several years later.

Even though we never played it MERP would be the wedge that opened up D&D for us. We did find some sourcebooks for MERP in bookstores. These detailed different locations in Middle Earth. Tolkien was very much encouraged by my mom, and we eventually wore her down because some of this books had stats to make them compatible with D&D. Obviously D&D could not be evil, it went along with Tolkien.

Looking back it is funny that gamebooks are pretty much gone. I actually went looking for some for my nephew the other day and they don't seem to carry anything like them in the stores. Back then they were actually a better approximation of RPGs than the computer RPGs. In fact many of the computer games used a similar numbered entry system. Although I am sure that this was for copy protection and memory management reasons.

So that is what was going on when I encuntered the picture. What do you think is going on IN the picture? I'll post mine later, I want to hear yours. I have been looking at this thing for 24 years, I have had a lot of time to come up with stuff.

D&D and Anime

One of the most common arguments I have seen against 4th Edition D&D is that it has abandoned “pulp style” for “anime style”. Usually this charge is leveled by members of the “old school” community that seem to feel that only books listed in Appendix N can ever influence D&D. I find this charge to be ridiculous. Anime is the modern day pulp. This is quite literally true in the printed form of the style, manga.

Manga tend to be printed on cheap paper in digest sized books. Manga stories are a goofy mish mash of styles with little to no regard for scientific or historical accuracy. This was at the very heart of most pulp adventures in the early part of the last century. Manga stories, especially the fantasy ones, are often violent and tinged with sexuality. Violence tinged with sexuality is the very basis for Conan and his mighty thews. Many people express a love for the baroque, florid writing style of the pulps (time has worn away all the crappy, hack jobs). The best of manga has fantastic, expressive art. Manga, like pulp before it, is the low budget, accessible fantasy of its day. Anime is similar to the old sword and sorcery films in the same way.

Manga is the pulp of today. Having D&D inspired by manga and anime is not some grand betrayal, it is a proud tradition. This is the fantasy of today's high school kids. You cannot expect them to be constrained by seventy to one hundred year old “literary” conventions. Many of those stories have been out of print, or at least not very accessible, for years. Kids today don't know about them. In fact it would be hard for them to know about them. Why should they? They were the low budget escapism of another era, not Charles Dickens.

It is important for D&D to be grounded in the fantasy of the time. In the 1970s it was the pulp adventures dating back to the 30s. During the late '80s and through the '90s it was vast fantasy epics. These were in many ways inspired by the D&D campaigns their creators had grown up with. If fact I would go as far as to say that by the time TSR fell D&D was in danger of sinking into a closed, creativity feedback loop. Fantasy was based on the D&D model which was based on the fantasy it was based on. The introduction of the manga and anime styles is a much needed breath of fresh air.

Kids today are doing exactly what you did. They are living out adventures in a fantasy world inspired by the media they consume. And they seem to be having a good time doing it. D&D is a tool, not a religion.

Word Game: Angry and Sharp

Angry will not be put in the same category as “apple”. Starting with the same letter is not enough to qualify a word for the same category. The qualification must be based on a variety of factors including the part of speech and the composition of the word as noted in Joe's argument. However, whether a word fits in a category will not be decided by a mechanical scoring process where pros must outnumber cons. The number of pros and cons can be persuasive though.

The next word is “Sharp”. Should "sharp" be in the same category as "apple"?

Friday, June 26, 2009

Battlefield Heroes

So I decided to try out Battlefield Heroes. Usually these kinds of games are not up my alley but a few friends were trying it out so I gave it a shot. The opening video is amusing and I like the graphics style. I make a character and run through the tutorial. I have played BF: 1942, BF: VN and Warhawk so there is nothing new here. If anything the plane controls better.

After the tutorial I hit Play Now ready for battle. It can't find a server that fits my preferences and skill level. OK, I go to options and make sure my preferences are not restrictive. I can only find one preference and choose Both. I try to play again, same result. I keep trying for about half an hour before I go to the forums. Turns out that different characters might have a better chance of getting in. I make a character on the Nazi side and still can't get in. What makes all of this more annoying is that you have to keep hitting Play Now, there is no waiting list. Finally after an hour and fifteen minutes I get into a game. Turns out everyone can kill me in one shot, the reverse is not true. This is the level matching that took over an hour? I don't get time to experiment much because I get kicked off the server by something called Punkbuster(22).

I go to the forums and search for Punkbuster(22), there is an endless list of threads with titles like "Punkbuster kicked me off". It is evidently some kind of anti-cheating system. Their clever anti-cheating system caught me not being able to one-shot everyone and took care of it. Obviously, I was up to no good.

There is some kind of suggestion about emailing a different company and.... screw it. You made it clear, I am not wanted here.

Battlefield Heroes = FAIL

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Surfing with the Alien: 6/25/09

Came across this today at Game Set Watch, a steampunk PS3.

There is an interesting post over on Kill Ten Rats comparing the MMO grind to rats running in a maze. The author points out that MMO devs do everything possible to make us spend as much time in the maze as possible. They want us to enjoy the maze, we only want the cheese at the end. There are suggestions about putting more puzzles in the maze to make it better. My suggestion would be to get rid of the cheese. I play MMOs to explore the world, talk to people and have cool adventures with them. My fondest memories are from dangerous forays into EQ or FFXI where the only goal was to see the next zone. I am constantly frustrated by the fact that I have to collect a bunch of cheese to go to a new place. Eventually I get tired of cheese and quit. Get rid of the cheese! If you want people to explore, make it interesting to explore and have plenty of cool social things for them to do.

Disturbing news from EA. There has been a “restructuring” involving Mythic and BioWare. It is not clear exactly what has happened but EA has a long history of buying good gaming companies and destroying them. I am thinking specifically of Bullfrog and Westwood here, and many more.

Jeff's Gameblog outlines something shockingly close to my brainstorming process for a new campaign. Although I prefer a more complex rule set like GURPS because it is easier to convert real world units into play mechanics. Also I like the normal distribution of die rolls so that my players decisions carry more weight than luck.

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (spoilers)

I just got back from the new Transformers movie and I don't have a lot of good things to say about it.

First, the movie is way too long. I wouldn't mind, except that it is all filler. There are so many weapon porn shots of U.S. military hardware getting ready to go to battle that it feels like an Air Force commercial. The problem is, in almost every case these weapons are only there to get blown up. So there is a lot of time spent on planes, tanks, and troops that won't be able to really hurt the bad guys. This was wasted time, it adds a lot of time to the movie too.

My second problem is directly related to the first. For the most part the humans are useless. Even when they do manage to call in an airstrike or barrage on the enemies that is effective, another enemy just picks up where they left off and they aren't able to stop that one. At most the humans are a delaying force. Even more distressing is that the more human the human force the less effective it is. Ground troops exist only to call in men inside machines (granted this is the way many modern conflicts are fought, but realism clearly has no place in this movie). The more machine-like the force the better it is. This was not as true in the first movie where humans, even armed only with a tow truck could contribute in a meaningful way. The main character exists only to activate elite fighting machines so they can save the day. In fact, it evidently is his destiny to activate elites (according to a bunch of dead ghost elites). He is kind of a human Bat-signal or something. Other than that he runs away.

My third problem follows the second, I hate elites, destiny, and prophecies (warning: long pet rant ahead). Every day billions of people get up, go to work, and make civilization exist. Ordinary people have solved every single problem solved in human history. Human courage and ingenuity is remarkable. Humans working in groups are even more remarkable. Humans working in large groups are almost unstoppable. Regular humans, working hard, and working together walked on the moon. They did this when your cell phone probably had more computational power than they had access to. There were no super humans in the invasion of Normandy. No demi-gods carved out our interstate highway system. Aliens did not build the pyramids, god kings did not erect the Great Wall of China. Why can't humans do these things in sci fi and fantasy?

This obsession with elites swooping down and saving us poor defenseless humans bothers me. Why do our escapist fantasies revolve around the idea that we don't have to do any of the work? It wasn't always this way. Conan was a normal human and he laid the smackdown on many a minor god, wizard, and thing that should not be. Even in Lord of the Rings, which has many problems with elites, the true heroes are average people (well hobbits). Frodo and Co. had no special powers, they take the skills and teamwork they have learned and kick the evil wizard out of town when they get home. Captain Kirk was a regular man, one with some obvious character flaws.

Now every science fiction or fantasy movie focuses on some kind of superhuman. Mutants, superheroes, and Jedi are not like Olympic athletes. They did not gain their power by having slightly more talent in an area and exploiting it with years of hard work. They are born/made SPECIAL. You cannot attain their power through work and ingenuity.

Throw in destiny/prophecy and pretty much nobody has to do anything. “Don't worry about it, a few of us get used for cannon fodder till Superman wakes up and everything will be OK. Some old guys told me it would happen”

Then we have the stupid stereotypes, and this movie is chock full of them. The robots represent a host of racial, ethnic, and even mental handicap stereotypes. Let's just say that there is no excuse for the two mini cars in 2009. The fact that they only mentally challenged Autobots were the environmentally friendly cars says enough on its own. Not only do most of the robots fill a stereotype that doesn't even make sense for a robot, they have no characterization beyond the stereotype. When Optimus Prime dies I am sure I was supposed to feel sad, but why should I? Because I had a toy of him when I was eight? This movie game me no reason to, I don't even know anything about him.

And it is not just their personalities that are cookie cutter. I understand why they went from the classic look to the more “realistic” look for the robots. The problem is, they all look the same when there are explosions and shaky-cam. And there is always explosions and shaky-cam. The fights hardly make sense because of the way they are filmed. Rapid cuts, smoke and a shaking camera make the action very hard to figure out. Sometimes I didn't even know if something good or bad had happened.

Speaking of not making any sense, here is the plan. We need to do is take out this robots in as small an area and with as little collateral damage as possible. What we are going to do is first send in our weakest units and let them get shot up for a while. Then we will send in some stronger units who will not be able to contain the situation and will engage in a city destroying chase. Finally we will airdrop the guy who can squash them like bugs. This is the first scene of the movie. It doesn't get any better. Marines run across a whole desert in 15 seconds.

Then we get to Megan Fox. Now, there is no denying that Megan is an attractive young woman. While she is hardly a great actress, she is a better actress than she gets credit for. In the first movie she is by far the strongest human character. In this one she is the only one who can take on a robot one-on-one and win. Not just win, but capture it for later use. You know, a human doing something smart. The problem is, she is useless in the second half of the movie. She just gets led by the hand by a man character as she runs for safety. When push comes to shove and someone has to dump the magic dust in Robo-Elite to wake him up, her boyfriend gets blown up. I was hoping she would grab the sock of dust and get it to Optimus herself. That would have been consistent with her tow truck driving character from the first movie, or working to get her deadbeat dad back on his feet. But no, she wakes up her useless man-child with her love so he can save the day. Actually he doesn't save the day, he just turns on the steel messiah to do the work for him.

Of course she isn't totally useless, this is where we get to her tits. Every shot in the last part of the movie is either gun porn, an explosion, or Ms. Fox's boobs bouncing, sweaty, in slow motion in a halter top. They have gutted her fairly strong character from the first movie. If I was her, I would be pissed. And why is it that in order for a woman to be physically tough she also has to be some kind of hoodlum? This is clearly not true in real life.

Another stereotype that bothers me is a political one. In the last movie when GWB was president the Sec. Def. was a kickass guy. Now that Obama is president (and they call him out by name) the Sec. Def is a weenie who is against the military, and the president runs and hides. Seriously, these Republican = gun toting, flag waving badass, Democrat = peace loving, sell out, wimp stereotypes are so old at this point. They in no way reflect the diversity, dedication, and intelligence present in both of our political parties.

Science fiction and fantasy should be about expanding the realm of what humans can do. They have become about limiting what humans can do and basing the problem on those limitations. We are no longer challenged to explore the unknown, or to buckle down and work to overcome adversity in clever ways. We are taught to hope that someone BETTER than us will come along and save the day. I love sci fi, and I love fantasy. While TV has gotten better with these genres, movies have gotten worse. Hollywood, please go read some actual sci fi like Left Hand of Darkness or Allen Steele's Coyote and make a movie that challenges us.

This movie was insulting to me as an American and a person. It applies stereotypes to me (a human), our armed forces (unable to come up with a good plan to fight robots), my countrymen (numerous ethnic and stupid American abroad stereotypes), and humans as a whole (we need to be saved). It also spent a lot of time insulting me, time that it could have shaved by leaving out all the gun porn and well.... actual porn. Wow, looks like I didn't have anything good to say about it.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Word Game

Question: There is a category of words, we will call it Category #1. Right now Category #1 contains only one word: Apple. Should “Angry” be in the same category as “Apple”?

How it works: Write a short response telling me if you think “Angry” should be allowed in Category #1 after a few days I will make a decision based on the responses and either admit it into the category or not. I will give my reasons for allowing it or not allowing it. You can draw your arguments from anywhere: the structure of the word, the type of word, usage, definition, number of letters, language it came from, famous appearances, anything. But, anything you present as fact you need to provide a link for.

When I make my decision I will also put forward another word, you can then make arguments about that word using all the same sources and my reason for allowing or not allowing any other words we have covered, The longer we play, the more words we will have covered, and the more complicated and interesting the game will get.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Another Life #2

I decided to roll up a Labyrinth Lord character for today. Labyrinth Lord is a D&D Basic/Expert clone, and as someone who came into RPGs with D&D Basic I think it is very well done. I rolled the character the only way a read D&D Basic player does 3d6 straight down the line.

Str:13
Dex: 9
Con: 15
Int: 15
Wis: 17
Cha: 10

Wow, can't ask for much better rolls than that. Why can't I roll those stats when it counts for something? I decide to go with cleric because it turns out in LL they get a spell at first level (awesome!) and my Wis qualifies me for +10% XP. Let's face it, the less monsters you have to face before you get to level 4 the better. Time to roll HP. One. Crap. Well my Con bonus gets me one extra, so I have 2.

HP: 2

Wow, why couldn't one of those good rolls have been for Dex? This isn't actually as bad as it seems. Let's face it, almost everyone has a good chance at getting one-shotted at level one anyway. Two or three more HP would have been nice, but I still would have always been in danger. I just need to make sure I am as hard to hit as possible.

3d6x10 = 70 gp

Gah! So much for loading up on armor. Looks like studded leather and a shield. Throw in a mace, a holy symbol and the usual adventurer's assortment of backpacks, torches, iron spikes etc.

I'll take lawful as an alignment. Traditionally I did not name or make back story for Basic D&D characters until at least level 2. They are just too fragile. This one especially. Your 2 hp and AC of 5 mean that you will be waiting at least 1565 XP before we know more about you.

Since I am by myself I think that memorizing Cure Light Wounds would be overly optimistic. The chances of me ever getting to cast it are very small. Protection From Evil seems like a much better choice. It will make my saves and AC better.

Another Life #1: Cpt. Duke Gerald Hamilton

Classic Traveller
Duke Cpt. Gerald Hamilton, Navy Deceased

Personal ID Number: 645F8F

Born to a wealthy noble family on heavy world Yu-Shar, Gerald always knew he would follow the family tradition of the eldest male serving in the Navy. Straight out of school he accepted a commission and trained for the medical corps. He also rated well with the auto pistol.

During his second term he joined the Search and Rescue division where he piloted a small ship to rescue and care for Navy personal who were forced to abandon ship. He distinguished himself in several harrowing battles against pirates and was promoted to lieutenant. He was asked to join the Navy fencing team.

During his third term his work on a computer program that made coordinating rescue operations easier got him a promotion to Lt. Commander.

His fourth term saw him promoted to Commander after plotting a tricky course through an asteroid field. His squad of ships arrived at the scene of the battle to commence rescue operations even though others thought them cut off. They made over a hundred sorties through the asteroid field, day and night. Often he got back to the MedStar and switched ships so that he would not loose time due to servicing. Thousands were saved. He was presented with the Silver Sword of Valor and tasked with designing a new generation of rescue carrier.

In his fifth term Hamilton served as chief engineer for the new class of rescue carrier. During this time age began to take its toll and he was told he would have to retire at the end of the term due to his declining health. He was promoted to Captain and allowed to take the new ship out for its short maiden tour. The launching ceremony was grand, he was raised to Duke and given a lifetime membership by the Traveller's Aid Society. Two days out of dock the Excelsior received a distress call from a 600 liner that was on fire. Cpt. Hamilton personally went aboard to supervise the evacuation. With 80% of the passengers evacuated the fire reached the compressed oxygen tanks and the liner was vaporized in under a second. Cpt. Hamilton was lost with the ship. Thanks to the new design the Excelsior was able to survive the blast.

Surfing with the Alien: 6/22/09 Bargle

This thread on Pen and Paper Games got me thinking about my most hated RPG villains. I am hardly ever the player. This has pretty much been true throughout my entire gaming career. Whatever group I am in, I am probably the GM. My limited experience as a player doesn't leave me with a large rogue's gallery to pull from. In fact the only villain that really sticks out was an evil magic user that gut shotted my cleric with a magic missile and ran off. I pursued him back to his run down castle lair but I was paralyzed and, presumably, eaten by a carrion crawler. The elf in the party ran away.

After the cowardly, pointy eared archer returned to town he recruited new companions. After a brief discussion in the bar they decided never to go near that place again. In my new form, a dwarf, I would spend the next few months aiding the Duchy in securing its wild interior. I was offered a free trip to a tropical island and was told I could take a few of my friends along. It turned out to be a wild, feral place and all of my friends were eaten. When I returned to the Duchy I found out that my foe had resurfaced, Bargle was back!

Bargle had gone to work with the Black Eagle Barony, Duke Stephan's number one enemy. I sprang into action at once. Bargle must pay! I developed a clever plan. My new companions and I would sneak into Bargle's tower strong arm our way through the guards and dismember him for what he did to my previous character's solo adventure cleric. Sadly the plan was not clever, nor were we sneaky, nor were our arms so strong; in fact, we were the ones who were dismembered. We were captured, taken to the dungeon and Bargle personally sliced us to bits. I was not going to let a little thing like this stop me.

Enter the champion Granger, his warrior friend Viper, his spell slinging elf companion Firebird, the weird albino lizard dude Jocelyn that came from nowhere, and their faithful, and slightly tipsy cleric, Father Thaddius. A group forged to hunt Bargle. A team birth from the primordial soup of Bargle must die! Never before had any.... Is that a copy of second edition? Wait, I can play a ranger instead of just putting the letter G in front of the word “ranger” and making that my name. This is as rockin' as Appetite for Destruction!

I lost track of Bargle. I didn't see him in the Forgotten Realms, everybody was just a drow there anywhere. He never attacked us as we plied the space lanes with our crew of kender fighter pilots and bad ass hippo space marines. He never threw his hat into the ring during the War of the Lance. Dark Sun was not really the kind of place a yellow belly like that would hang out. When we passed through Mystara again there was a whole big world to explore, and frankly, I forgot to look for him. Things got a little weird after that, we went on a long strange trip. By the time we got back from Sigil we found that everything had changed, nothing was the same anymore, we could visit all the old worlds again in a whole new way.

So Bargle faded from memory. Oh sure there were rumors. He had burned and filleted a whole county of halflings. He was caught in a torrid affair with Warduke from the cartoon show. He had written Skills and Powers, and other evil things like that. But there was nothing concrete, and eventually I stopped thinking about him. And then, as the lights were going off on an era I saw his name again. There it was, Dungeon 150, the reason I had started down this path in the first place, Kill Bargle!

So at GenCon this year we are going to string the bastard up and chop him into little bits. I am not sure what form this adventure will take yet, it won't be the Dungeon module but I may draw from it. By rights it should be run with the Mentzer/Rules Cyclopedia rules, but those are out of print and the .pdfs I bought for the box sets won't print right. I will either use Labyrinth Lord or Savage Worlds to run the game. LL is really close rules wise, and Savage Worlds is just plain fun to play. Either way Bargle will die this August.
I didn't really do much net-surfing today. I was busy studying and I went to the gym. I also walked from the Collingswood PATCO station all the way to the game shop Natural 20 in Westmont. Turns out it isn't open on Mondays. Woops. I did get a bit of work done on the alien races for GURPS Traveller.

Not much else to report. I miss Mythos.

Dungeons and Thermo Part 1

The fighter strains as he jams the iron pry bar between the seams of the heavy stone door. Veins stand out on his arms, his neck bulges, slowly the giant door opens. A chill wind escapes into the desert night and whips the rogue's feathered hair. The Great Byxarg's final resting place is open to plunder at last. The cleric hands the fighter the torch and he leads the way into the tomb. Somewhere in the darkness there is a low growl. “What do you think it is?” whispers the....

“Think it is! I don't care what it is, what the hell has it been eating for the last 2,000 years?”
“Well I am sure it snacks on animals passing through and....”

“Passing through! We just opened a door and cold air blew out! This place has to be sealed up tight as a drum. There was a positive pressure differential and the air inside was colder!”

“I think he snacks on moss....”

Now, I love a good kick in the door and loot as much as the next guy. And when the adventure starts at the front door and ends at the exit, there is good reason to let a lot of the whys slide. But a lot of the time you are going to want to make sure that your dungeon makes some kind of sense on a conservation of mass and energy level. Also, doing the extra leg work and developing some kind of ecology can make your dungeons more interesting and maybe even allow for emergent situations that can make the whole session a lot cooler.

Living things need energy and they need access to the basic building blocks of their body. Without energy they cannot move, breathe, think etc. Without the basic building blocks of life they cannot grow or heal. We are going to look at energy first. There are many ways that energy can be extracted from the environment for use by living things. On Earth photosynthesis rules supreme. Other sources of energy can be chemical reactions, nuclear reactions, heat, electricity etc. But on Earth most of the energy used by living things enters the system through photosynthesis.

Photosynthesis (simplified) is converting energy from light into a form usable by living things. It is not especially surface area efficient. Energy is measured in calories, a human being needs around 2,000 calories a day to function. In order to extract that much energy from the sun's rays a human would need to have several hundred square feet of photosynthetic surface area. This is why life that gets its energy through photosynthesis tends not to move around a whole heck of a lot (except in Middle Earth). Moving around burns energy, a lot of energy, trees tend not to jog.

So on Earth (as we know it) energy tends to enter the eco-system through mostly stationary life. In our case plants. Of course most dungeons are underground, this is a problem for the whole photosynthesis thing.

For the purposes of this discussion I am going to divide dungeons into three groups: those that see regular traffic from the outside world, those that rarely see traffic from the outside world, and those that are sealed off from the outside world. The last will be the toughest, and the most interesting. We are going to look at possible energy sources in your dungeon, life that can extract that energy, and how that energy moves its way up the food chain to the types of critters we like to kill.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

More Stuff

So, inspired by perusing old school gaming blogs I pulled out my Classic Traveller books and rolled up some characters. No idea what I will do with them, probably nothing, but it was fun. I might make a ship for them and a couple of star systems.

Speaking of Traveller, I need to polish up my GURPS Traveller adventures before I head back to SC for my group there. They will be playing the crew of the first FTL exploration of the near Sol systems. Actually they won't be playing the crew. Each player will represent one of the special interest groups that helped pay for the mission. They will have to influence the captain to deal with each planet/system/alien they encounter in a way that is beneficial to their group. These guys like to argue.

I got started on the Angel DVDs and practicing guitar again (I am horribly out of shape there).

I read through the Savage Worlds Necessary Evil book. It is an interesting concept, and I appreciate the low level of detail they give with their plot points. The ending is far too heavy handed and forced. If I run it I will not be using the first plot point or the last two or three. There is no group I play with that would not string me up for that level of railroading. I skipped the plot point stuff in the other Savage World products I own. I may have to go back and take a look now at Solomon Kane and Slipstream.

Looking at the days ahead I have a bunch of reading to do about patents. I want to work my way through this New World of Darkness stuff and Hunter: The Vigil. I need to get my games for GenCon ready. I have a bunch of books to read. Finally, I am itching to crack open those Basic D&D boxes and do something with them. I could have a hard time finding an outlet for that though.

Some Free Time Again

Finally have some free time again. The school year is over, exams are over, the journal competition is over, and I am settled in to my study habit for the patent bar.

The first thing I did was... nothing at all. I spent all my free time for two weeks just laying around watching all 7 seasons of Buffy: The Vampire Slayer on DVD. I was that drained of ambition.

Next I started reading. I started with Gary Gygax's The Anubus Murders republished through the Planet Stories line. This takes place in Gygax's Hyboreanesque world that I think may have been attached to his Lejendary Adventures game. I call the world Hyboreanesque because it contains a similar mishmash of real world cultural analogs from different time periods all existing in the same world at the same time. It is a world designed for fun not for realism. I have no problem with this. The book itself is frankly subpar. Novel writing was not Gary's strong point and he is far from Howard when it comes to writing sword and sorcery stories. But it is still fun.

Next I moved on to the second book in the Planet Stories line, City of the Beast by Michael Moorcock. While this is better than the Gygax book it is still a by the numbers John Carter of Mars rip off. But, this kind of thing is what Planet Stories exists for and it is a fun read for the 2 hours or so it takes to get through it.

Next I started The Black God's Kiss by C.L. Moore, also in the Planet Stories line. I am two stories into it and her writing style gives me a headache. There are whole pages with hardly any verbs and due to the fact that the hero is always going to hell by herself there is almost no dialogue. There is way too much description, and way too little action for a sword and sorcery style book.

I started working my way through all the blogs have not been keeping up with. I am not going to be able to read all the entries I have missed since last August but I can at least go back a few weeks in the commonly updated ones. I am glad to see that West Karana is still going. Reading back a few weeks Tipa has me excited about Aion and Free Realms even though the last thing I can do right now is go anywhere near an MMO. OK, so I downloaded Free Realms.

I also discovered Grognardia, and I really enjoy it. This surprises me, I have very little use for the stuck up OD&D movement as a whole. It is full of old bitter men who want everything to be the same as it was in 1975. They throw hissy fits if you use the word evolution with respect to gaming, troll forums about 4th edition (a game most of them have never played), and make gross generalizations about generations of gamers that have come after their's (just like I am doing to them right now).

The funny thing is, I enjoy that old school style of play. I am too young to be nostalgic for the Moldvay/Cook rules but I am just the right age to have come up through the Mentzer box sets (which I am sure they will tell you ruined the hobby given the chance). I appreciate a rules light game that leaves a lot up to the DM, almost always run sandbox games, and rarely use published campaign settings. When I do use published settings they are a suggestion only, the associated canon is meaningless to me. That said, I also enjoy the stuff that has come after. I also recognize that gaming has to evolve and come up with new things or it will no longer be commercially viable. Plus, I am an explorer, I like to try new things.

Despite that, I really enjoy Grognardia. First, it is a well written blog. He is aware of the prejudices of the old school gaming movement and tends to state them clearly so that his posts are not just rants about "whippersnappers ruining the lawn". Second, he spends most of his time discussing useful and/or interesting information for GMs. The good thing about gaming is that while old school gamers may be unwilling (or unable) to use the newer innovations, good ideas from the old school front are useful for newer styles of gaming. And he presents a lot of good ideas. The signal to noise ration is very high on the blog. A lot of good information, a little bit of ultra conservative, fundementalist, jihad ranting. In fact I liked the blog so much that bought his sci fi RPG, Thousand Suns. I have only made a quick pass through it but it looks right up my alley.

One of the reasons I was so tough on the old school movement (it was a little over the top) was so that this next statement would carry the proper weight. I think that James Maliszewski writes the most thought provoking, entertaining, and intelligent table top gaming blog on the internet. I don't always agree with him but I always leave thinking about the subject in a new way. Gaming is lucky to have him.

Friday, February 27, 2009

JRPGs

There are different views on which game was the first JRPG. Some will tell you that it was The Black Onyx, but that was developed by a Dutch guy living in Japan at the time. Others will tell you that Falcom's (makers of Ys) Dragon Slayer series started it all. One thing that is for certain is that for the average JRPG player it almost certainly started with Dragon Quest. One thing all of these games had in common was their desire to copy either Wizardry or Ultima. Dragon Quest (Dragon Warrior here) is very, very similar to Ultima but more linear. Phantasie Star is even more similar to Ultima, even copying the 3D view dungeons and the sci fi elements. The JRPG owes a lot to Wizardry and Ultima, even though they have largely shunned the non-linear elements from the Ultima series JRPGs are still presented in a very similar style even today.

Two systems stand out as high water marks for the JRPG in America, the SNES and the PS2. Final Fantasy II and III (IV and VI) opened the floodgates here for the JRPG. The PS2 hosted an unbelievable amount of RPG games, in fact they still are being released for the system two years into the next gen cycle. The PS2 hosted some new takes on the genre like the MMO inspired Final Fantasy XII, some old school style greatness like Dragon Quest VIII, and some just plain fun takes on the genre like Rogue Galaxy.

It is the current generation cycle that concerns me. The JRPG is not doing well on the anchor consoles. The PS3 is basically devoid of any worth mentioning, the XBOX only fairs a little bit better with Blue Dragon and Star Ocean (neither got rave reviews), and the Wii is practically RPG free. In fact the ega Genesis compilation probably has as many RPGs in it as you can get outside of the compilation on the XBOX or PS3. To be fair the 32 bit generation suffered from crap (Beyond the Beyond) to decent (Wild Arms) RPGs until the release of Final Fantasy 7. Final Fantasy 7 may not have aged well but it was good at the time and the RPGs that followed were significantly better than those that came before. We have not seen the release of a Final Fantasy yet this generation which could be part of the hold up for good JRPGs. It is possible that the other companies are holding out to see what direction Square goes in, where Square goes the American audience for JRPGs follows, and let's face it none of the consoles are setting the world on fire in Japan.

Well none of the next gen consoles are anyway. The handhelds are a different story. Both the PSP and the DS have a healthy amount of JRPGs. In fact you could say that the DS is the current home of the JRPG. However many of these are retro in style if not actually retro in fact. Just in the last few months the DS has seen the release of Dragon Quest IV and Dragon Quest V. Dragon Quest VI is coming soon. A Ys compilation released this week. Retro Game Challenge has a Dragon Quest II inspired game in its collection.

This has been steady throughout the life of the DS, and the retro fever goes even further back than Dragon Quest. It goes all the way to Wizardry and even a step further. The two Etrian Odyssey games are Wizardry/Might and Magic/Bard's Tale clones. The Dark Spire and Class of Heroes are on their way and are both Wizardry type games. But in a step even further back on the RPG evolutionary change the DS is crammed with roguelikes. There are the Unemployed Ninja games, the Pokemon Mystery Dungeon games, the Chocobo Dungeon games and even a re-release of Shiren the Wanderer. All of these games are enjoyable. I love roguelikes so I am not complaining, and I have been lapping up the Wizardry clones. The Etrian Odyssey mapping system is great. I am also looking forward to the old school Dragon Quest style 7th Dragon that is on the way.

But old school love aside, I am a bit concerned, there isn't a lot of forward motion here. There have been some hints. The Japanese seem to be embracing a new type of RPG with some mixed results. They have started to mix RTS with RPG. So far we have seen a Mana game (not good), FFXII Revenant Wings (OK) and Blue Dragon Plus come out in this style. On the PSP Final Fantasy Crisis Core and Dissidia seem to show some willingness to expand the format. But the fact is that no one has brought out the big guns yet, these have all been spin off games.

Are the makers of JRPGs struggling with the sudden shift to portable consoles in the Japanese market? Do they feel that things got stale and are searching for a new way to push the envelope? The handhelds are a safer place to try out the weird stuff because the install base is high and the games are cheaper to make. They seem to be going all the way back to the roots of the genre to see if there was another path they could have taken from the beginning (obviously there was Western RPGs developed along totally different lines). It is going to be interesting to see what happens next.

Hopefully we won't have to wait too long. The first shot will be fired on the DS. Dragon Quest IX will be the first numbered entry in a big series released since the move to next gen. The follow up will be Final Fantasy XIII and then finally Dragon Quest X on the Wii. Traditionally Dragon Quest has been the conservative series and Final Fantasy has been the envelope pusher. Most JRPGs will tend to fall between the two somewhere. Hopefully we will see entries from Wild Arms, Suikoden, Grandia, and if we are really lucky a real Phantasy Star game (don't hold your breath) on the next gen consoles. It is going to be interesting to see what happens. Will there be first person dungeon crawlers on the PS3? The last step based crawler on a console I can think of was Shining in the Darkness on the Genesis. Will the Wii be the home to a host of Roguelikes? Will the action RPG elements we saw in FFXII and Rogue Galaxy take over in the JRPG genre? Is small party RTS the future of JRPGs? Will we see a return to random battles and turn based combat?

Hopefully we will actually get some games soon so we can find out....

Anyway, I actually have some time to play again. Over the next few weeks I'll be hunkering down with my DS, the Sega Genesis Collection for PS3, the Ultima Collection, and some old gems on Game Tap.

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