Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Mirror, Mirror

In my "Star Trek nostalgia" post the other day, I mentioned (briefly) C.R. Brandon's Far Trek RPG, a fun looking thang that actually makes me want to role-play in the Trek-verse. What I failed to mention is that Brandon's game is actually a knock-off of Mike Berkey's game Where No Man Has Gone Before which can be found over here. The main difference between the two is that Berkey's game is based on MicroLite20 while Brandon's is D6 based. However, I must admit I'm a little more disposed to the Far Trek system and its presentation (the artwork is especially evocative).

ANYway...it had been awhile since I'd even checked out Fenway's Far Trek blog, so I'd missed his great link to Glenn Greenburg's blog, in which Greenburg writes about re-watching all 79 original Star Trek episodes with his eight-year old daughter, including their comments and critiques of the better shows. It's a great (and quick) read, and brought back more than a few memories for me...so much so that I ended up re-watching a couple-three of the old shows on Netflix (the entire original series is available for streaming). One of my personal favorites was the Mirror, Mirror episode from the second season, when Kirk and buddies get thrown into an alternate universe with "evil twins" of the Enterprise crew members. It's a lot of fun to watch (as I'm sure it was fun for the actors) while the cast members ham up their sleazy, bloodthirsty villainy. Plus, the re-worked costumes, Spock's beard, Sulu's nasty-ass scar (Takei really does get a juicy role in this one)...it's a classic.

The "Dagger-Thru-Earth" symbol is awesome!
And there's a lot of "food for thought" in it: I couldn't help but think that such a setting - that of an evil, warped version of the normal Trekverse - would be an excellent premise for a real cutthroat RPG. Where the players are crew members and a part of this evil Starfleet Federation, with a prime directive to see that "terror must be continued or the Empire is doomed." Where players get ahead (and promoted!) by lying and cheating and jockeying for position in the bottle environment of a (nominally) military vessel, and in which you constantly building alliances and counting on the loyalty of your personal retainers to keep you safe from assassination. Such a thing could be a knock-off from Berkey or Brandon's system, but with a play-style much more reminiscent of Paranoia (or the latter stages of 3:16 Carnage Amongst the Stars), and would make for a fun few game sessions. As a setting that pretty much carries a mandate of PvP conflict, I wouldn't call it suitable for "long-term" play.

I throw the idea out for someone else to develop, however. It's cool to knock-off other folks' games (and other folks' knock-offs) in this way, when inspiration strikes, but lark projects can really be distracting (even though the exercise can be worthwhile, fun, and educational). Case in point: I've spent entirely too much time fretting over the mechanics of Lord Gwydion's Flying Swordsmen RPG...so much so that I spent the last day-and-a-half writing a sprawling, rambling preamble post about Asians, Caucasians, and Hong Kong Action Theater. It was pretty ridiculous, actually, and probably offensive on a number of levels...so I deleted it in its entirety. I've already offered to provide some feedback to LG (which he accepted), but that's all stuff I can submit to him privately, rather than hashing it out on a blog with a bunch of random personal history stuff.

[just FYI: Flying Swordsmen is Dennis Laffey's own streamlined knock-off of Chris Prama's Dragon Fist supplement written for 2nd Edition AD&D. Despite being a fairly impressive looking book (available as a free download) Lord Gyd has expressed some disappointment with how the system works "in-play" and is currently looking to retool it. I've never seen Prama's game (it's no longer available on the web), but I think Flying Swordsmen has a lot of potential if it can be tightened up a little, both conceptually and rule-wise. However, like I said, I'll give the specifics to LG privately...fans of wuxia with even the slightest interest should at least take a gander at the current version of the book]

Monday, March 2, 2015

Regarding Star Trek

I've got lots of other things to write about (kind of...if they were coherent, organized essays, they'd probably already be posted), but I should probably put them off to write a minute about Star Trek, considering the recent passing of Leonard Nimoy. Reading about his death has led me to a little reflection on my past...and isn't that part of what this blog is about (tooling over my thoughts and memories?)? Yeah...it is.

In the past, I have often identified myself as a "not fan" of Star Trek, or (more often) contrasted it with my super-fandom (somewhat) of Star Wars. While both franchises take place "in space" and are considered part of the "sci-fi" genre, there's a number of major differences between the two. Star Wars is fantasy and operatic, with battles between good and evil; it takes place in a fictional galaxy "far, far away" and is a simple adventure story with sci-fi tropes applied. The rubber masked aliens one encounters have all the same desires and issues one finds in any normal humans...culturally, there just ain't much difference between Jabba the Hutt (for example) and any human crime boss.

Star Trek, on the other hand, takes the opposite track...it is (nominally) set in our own universe: the humans one encounters are all from standard Earth stock, not Corellia and Alderaan and Tattooine. But they are a more evolved-enlightened type human...a futuristic human and not of the cynical dystopian, cyber-punk-like variety found in other "Earth-based Sci-Fi" (see Total Recall, Blade Runner, etc.). The rubber-faced aliens encountered often have very alien wants and needs based on their own strange cultures and physiology, and whereas only the wookies (of Star Wars) stands apart with a non-human mentality (compared to Greedo or Dax or...well, just about anyone), even the human-looking aliens in Star Trek (like Nimoy's Spock character) exude alien "otherness." Non-humans are clearly inhuman in the Trek franchise, and a major part of the drama explores the dynamic of how the humans' values interact with these other sentient beings.

[leave aside the arrogance of purporting that Earth values are more "just" or "good" than those of most of the aliens encountered. It's a human-centric franchise written for and by good old Earth humans. Such arrogance can be forgiven, I think]

Star Trek, while an adventure program (each episode or film being its own "adventure") is, in some ways, a much more introspective show...it raises questions to be considered by the viewer. Star Wars, despite its "episodic" structure, is really just a single story (well, each trilogy of films is its own story) and introspection be damned! It's about slam-bang action in a spectacular (visually speaking) galaxy. So, of course, me being me, I tend to prefer the latter.

[plus laser swords...I'm all about swords]

But to say I'm not a Trek fan is a bit inaccurate. Or disingenuous. As a child, I watched the syndicated reruns of the original series regularly, loving it. I wouldn't change the channel if it was on. I watched the first four films, loving them (and still enjoy The Wrath of Khan...whenever it's on TV I'll watch it). I even watched most of the first season or so of Star Trek: The Next Generation. I remember the episode when Tasha Yar got killed off and felt surprised by the event and disappointed with (the cheesiness of) her "memorial recording."

[you know Denise Crosby wouldn't have made a bad Wonder Woman]

That was back in 1988 and it was about that time that I stopped being interested in Star Trek. I never watched the fifth film of the franchise (which was released in 1989), nor any other Trek films until the 2009 reboot.  Notice I say "stopped being interested;" I'm not so sure that I actually lost interest in Star Trek...it may have been more of a conscious decision than an actual "growing out of" the show. I honestly can't remember. But 1988 was a crazy, often difficult year for me...the end of middle school, the beginning of high school, and I had a severe falling out over the summer with a group of friends who'd been my best friends (and my core gaming group) for about seven years. Star Trek, with its idealistic universe and introspection was not something I was really interested in exploring anymore...real life was far from idealistic.


These days, I still don't identify myself as a Trek fan, though that's more out of habit (yes, habit) then actuality. Hell, I remember owning Star Trek dolls (of the 12" variety) back in the day...my brother had Spock and that was the coolest one to play with. I remember seeing George Takei live at an event at the Seattle Center and thinking it was the height of awesome (I always loved Sulu...probably the fencing thing).

Everyone gets old, everyone dies. Time...being able to live for a good, long while...gives us some perspective over the events of our lives. From what I've read, Nimoy embraced his status as "Spock" in the last decades of his life...as a symbol, as something that had touched and impacted the lives of many people. He may have preferred to have been better known for his other accomplishments: his charity, his stage acting, his writing and directing. But time gives us perspective and a chance to embrace (or at lest accept) those things which we, at first, resist. Introspection can be painful at times (and worse: it can be stagnating if you do nothing with it), but it can be a useful tool, too.

So long, Spock.

[by the way, I'm pretty sure I've posted this in the past, but for a truly awesome Star Trek RPG, please check out C.R. Brandon's Far Trek. You can download the free PDF from this site over here...very cool indeed]

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Savage Land

Sorry, folks...my internet at the house has been down the last couple-few days, leaving me unable to post and/or rant in my usual fashion. No idea when this will be resolved...this is part of the challenge of living in a "savage land" like Paraguay.

[since January, I have been strongly considering starting a blog specifically about being an American living residing in Paraguay, but my wife has asked that I do NOT, unless it is under an assumed name. She knows there's a lot of negative things I could and would say and she doesn't want it getting back to the folks we know here and offending anyone. I know some of my readers have expressed interest in the subject...sorry, but you won't find any links from this blog anytime soon]

So here I am sitting in what passes for a coffee shop (a hotel restaurant that serves coffee in the morning...people really don't do "breakfast" in Paraguay; and this from a culture that puts egg on everything! Even Washington D.C. has places that do breakfast till 9:30ish...but I'm digressing...again), writing apologetic emails to folks who've ordered books that haven't got 'em yet.


Anyhoo, I HAVE been working quite a bit on the "new book," though dammit, it really is almost entirely "new," both content-wise and design-wise. All you people who demanded space opera...fine. I'm doing space opera.

But it ain't B/X space opera...or even Traveller. Which means it's going to need testing...testing that cannot be accomplished in Paraguay unfortunately, as I'm purposefully designing a game that cannot be played "on-line." Which is stupidly obtuse of me, I suppose (given the technological climate of today's RPG crowd)...but acting recalcitrant isn't anything new over at Ye Old B/X Blackrazor blog.

Baron Karza...much scarier than Vader.
*ahem* So, yeah...play-testers will be wanted. Not yet, probably not soon. I've got a bunch of random tables to devise still. But it's coming along. No, it's not Star Wars and it's waaaaay far away from Trek, but it should still have cybernetic replacement because...you know...borgs. If I could find a way to make the Micronauts' "body banks" work with the setting I would. THAT shit is f'd UP...and I love it.

[I'll have to do a post on Ye Old Body Banks sometime. The Micronauts comics went to a lot of "dark places," back in the day. Where's the HBO series based on THAT intellectual property?]

Okay, I'm outa' here for now. Yak at you more soon (hope hope).

Friday, February 20, 2015

Playing With Traveller

Or rather, "Playing Around With Traveller."

The last couple-three days I've been ditzing around with Classic Traveller (i.e. the original Little Black Books), a game I haven't played since...hmm, high school? Probably. This is one of those games I played with my buddy, Rob, who really wasn't into AD&D.

[ugh...Blogger's acting wonky today...hopefully, this post will stick]

I picked up the original three books (as PDFs) off Drive-Thru RPG as well as Book 4 Mercenary because A) I wanted to own these classic books, B) I wanted to take a look at how they were put together (their design and format and whatnot), C) I wanted to "explore the nostalgia," and D) I wanted to see if I could make them work for me...either on their own or as the basis for another project of mine. The "ditzing" (which I'll come back to in a moment) has actually been in lieu of working on the design for the new game...I just had to take a break and a breather.

[yes, it's a "space" game; no, I'm not ready to talk about it yet; yes, I like how it's developing and will hopefully get down to some serious work on it starting next week. Except that I might be doing this United Nations presentation thang (in English) for the Paraguayan government...we'll see if that happens and how much time THAT ends up taking]

SO...as sometimes happens when I need a breather, my mind starts wandering to the Space Wolves.

For those who aren't familiar with the game WH40K, the Space Wolves are one of the traditional space marine chapters that have been a part of the game "fluff" since its inception. They're kind of "space vikings" in power armor (you can see how that kind of thing would appeal to Yours Truly). While my own 40K armies have, for the most part, been on the side of Chaos (usually Khorne, sometimes Nurgle), in recent years my stance on the Wolves has softened. They're a lot less prone to cheesiness (army-wise) than they were back in the 2nd edition days.

Anyway, even though I stopped playing 40K back around 4th (3rd?) edition, I still have a couple codices for the Space Wolves lying around, both of which I took to Paraguay in the thought that there may be a fun little game to make out of a squad of "battle brethren." But I've been busy, and while my mind has often turned to the idea, it was only the last couple days I started considering possible systems as a starting point for a scratch side-project. And Classic Traveller was one of them.

[this really would be a lark, folks. I've written before that it would be difficult to do this kind of thing as a long-term RPG. More on the subject later]

I personally love the LBB format.
Hence the reason for picking up Mercenary (which includes systems for large-scale ground battles and such).

Welp, I spent a couple days reading the rules in Book 1 and Book 3 (not yet terribly interested in the starship thing) and was really liking what I saw. Seemed pretty clear, pretty well thought-out, pretty easy to use. Sometimes, first edition games are designed better and work better than later editions (I say this as someone who own Mongoose Traveller and thinks its pretty well done). So today, I started ditzing around with the random tables creating characters and systems/planets.

What an exercise in frustration!

Wow. I don't know how I managed to get such a competent character with Mongoose when the systems are so similar. That guy didn't exactly match my "concept" expectations, but he didn't suck rocks either. The dudes I've been creating using CT...even the ones with the expanded chargen system of Book 4...just aren't even in the same realm. It's not even like they're dying (well, my scout died...but that's the scout service for you)...they're just getting kicked from service long before they've developed into anything resembling competence.

I don't actually have a copy of Mongoose with me (back in Seattle), but if memory serves, the wild discrepancy between the chargen systems comes down to two main points:

#1 if you fail to reenlist in Mongoose you have the option of going into a different career (and possibly reinventing yourself. Kind of like real life (at least in the 21st century). Fifty years ago (perhaps), people might have changed jobs during their lives, but perhaps not careers (at least, not as frequently). To be fair, CT career paths are limited to "adventuring" types: armed forces, scouts, space merchants, and "other" (which seems to be the catch-all for criminal elements). I would hardly expect the marines to accept my enlistment at the ripe young age of 41 either! But in a universe of anti-aging drugs and technological enhancements, shouldn't there be a little less age discrimination?

[on the other hand, in a universe with trillions of inhabitants, perhaps Classic Traveller envisions a more disposable society where warm bodies are exceptionally easy to replace]

#2 in Mongoose, your character receives a number of bonus skills from a variety of sources. PCs receive skills from both their home world and from the GM depending on the style of campaign they intend to play. Also, random "life events" hep develop characters in a number of different ways (I believe both good and bad, but my memory is a bit hazy).

The half dozen characters I rolled up this morning could have benefitted greatly from either of these Mongoose additions. My "criminal" character (from the Other category) ended up with two terms of service, most of UPP under 7, and a single skill (Bribery 1) to show for his career. Blah! That was the point I decided to stop, after half a dozen likewise disappointing PCs.

The planets (I created a random "home world" for each of my PC attempts) were equally disappointing. For whatever reason, I ended up with a lot of low tech water worlds sporting small populations and a conspicuous lack of star ports, and where a population of hundreds ends up with "rival competing governments" (the neighborhood watch groups are drawing up sides!). I don't know...there's some sort of weird, cascading effect when creating planets where a particular number rolled for one planetary stat skews the roll for the next...and yet the modifiers for tech levels are strangely affected.

[my criminal's planet? It was yet another water world with a dense, tainted atmosphere. Its population was smaller than Asuncion, had a law level of 0 ("no prohibitions"), a government level of 0 ("no government structures; family bonds predominate") and a tech level of 13. Grav craft, powered battle armor, maxed out computers, etc. -- all on a tiny barbarian planet of floating "tribes." Not sure which hut-raft they're using to manufacture the star drives]

If you can't tell from the tenor of the post, I'm disappointed. The system...which seems perfectly set-up to help players/GMs and even facilitate "solo play" (something you really don't see much of anymore)...leaves more than a bit to be desired. It's own randomness, while intriguing, seems to beg for "fudging," both to help develop characters for play and to develop a setting worth playing in.

Yes, yes...some folks will say I'm terribly unimaginative regarding the setting stuff, and others will point out that Miller points out Referees are free to use these tables as an aid, retaining the freedom to  invent one's own worlds as desired. Got it. That still doesn't help with the lousy character creation. I can understand that it may certainly fit with the setting that my 22 year old marine was kicked to the curb with nothing but skill level 1 in gun combat and "recruiting." Fine. Let's start our adventuring career now...my character is young, ambitious, and full of fire. Unfortunately, there are no rules in CT for my 22 year old to acquire any more skills or abilities. I maxed out my career at 22? Okay...but I maxed out my LIFE, too? Give me a break!

[maybe this is the reason for the prevalence of psionics in CT's human population?]

I was quite at ease with Mongoose Traveller's lack of progression/advancement for characters (it has a couple spot rules about studying or something with a bunch of time and money), mainly because the ease of staying in the chargen process made it easy to develop a competent character. The real restriction was age limits (how old and decrepit do you want to allow yourself to get before striking off in your Free Trader?). But Classic Traveller is a hard one. It really is. Playing it "as written" would be at least on par with some of those Old School games that are classically considered to be "tough" on new players: like 1st edition Stormbringer and Holmes Basic D&D or (Revised) Heroes Unlimited with random power type determination. It's interesting, and challenging (which is good) but has the potential to be really frustrating, too.

I was frustrated just playing around with it.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

A Few More Superhero Words...

...though it's not as if I'll probably ever end the occasional (or more than occasional) supers posts. Sorry.

[BTW, school has not QUITE started for D: it was an hour Monday and an hour Tuesday and will be ramped up to 3+ today. Spent the last couple days building pirate ships and sushi restaurants out of legos (no, these aren't existing sets...we're cannibalizing the shit-ton of Duplos he owns). The sushi restaurant was especially nice as it was based on the Medieval Nights franchise and had a large acquatic pool surrounded by two tiers of tables...after the seafood (plastic sea life toys) had been fished out, there was then a "show" that featured a show between Aquaman and Black Manta for the pleasure of the clientele. The pirate ship is gigantic and managed to use all the pieces save a handful that was left to construct a dock with a gas station/inn we named "The Admiral Benbow." Ugh...I was never this creative as a child...]

First off, did a lot of research on Marvel's Cinematic Universe the other day: what it is, how it came about, why it's been successful, etc. No, I'm not going to post about it...I just wanted to take a look at the phenomenon that I mentioned in my last post (regarding the proliferation of super-hero flicks) and its impact on other film studios (and why or why not comic franchises like DC have had such a hard time catching up). And even though I wrote that I am unlikely to watch EVERY hero film that's coming out these days, I do find myself really looking forward to seeing the two new MCU flicks scheduled for the summer: Avengers: Age of Ultron and the Ant-Man. The former only because I like James Spader and I dig on Ultron and I want to see how both translate to the screen, the latter because...well, because I always liked Ant-Man.

Not the original Ant-Man mind you (Hank Pym was always Yellowjacket for me), but the Scott Lang, ex-criminal version. That was my introduction to the character and, for whatever reason, I always thought it was a cool character, despite what most would probably admit is a rather lame suite of super powers. The great conceit of supers comics, of course, is that the writers can make ANY character central to the story and devise plots whereby the particular application of power (like shrinking and talking to insects) is necessary to "save the day." But part of enjoying the genre is voluntarily forgetting this conceit on a regular basis.

[part of what makes it difficult for a supers RPG to work in a true "sandbox-y" fashion is that ignoring this conceit makes it tough for such "minor league heroes" to have an adequate impact. Hence, you find games like Mutants & Masterminds where a level 17 Ant-Man should be able to take down a level 12 Silver Surfer (f'ing ridiculous) or games requiring heavy GM-tap-dancing...like Heroes Unlimited...to make the game work. Don't bring a stage magician to a cyborg super-soldier fight!]

"Superhero? Hell, yeah! Anything but Aquaman..."
Anyway, love the idea of Paul Rudd as Lang, love Michael Douglas as former Ant-Man Pym, even dig the concept of Evangeline Lilly's character. All in all, I may be looking forward to Ant-Man more than either Ultron or Dawn of Justice. But then, I've always liked "quirky" huper hero flicks (I've watched Mystery Men multiple times).

Now, as for Wonder Woman...

If I had bothered to do any research on-line before semi-ranting the other day, I would have seen I'm not the first person to bring up the question of why it's taken so long for this particular hero to get her own live-action film (many of whom are much more amusing than myself). It IS fairly ridiculous, considering how film studios will throw any type of idea against the wall, especially ideas that have a built-in, cash-paying fan base...but I'm really not all that qualified to sit down and start banging out a screenplay for the Wondrous one. The fact is, I really don't know squat about Wonder Woman.

Aquaman's lucky she lets him hitch a ride.
I mean, I know (most?) of the basics of her character, her powers and original origin and whatnot. But my information is almost entirely informed by television, specifically the old Superfriends series of the late 70's, early 80's (drawn by Alex Toth) voiced by Shannon Farnon. Despite her skimpy outfit, Farnon lends her a no-nonsense delivery that includes humor while never skimping on command; it's pretty much the archetypal "warrior-queen" that never goes soft, even when calling for help from some Legion o Doom trap (i.e. like her male counterparts, she's sometimes outmaneuvered but we never hear the voice-cracking panic of a distressed damsel).

[funny aside...you can actually pay Ms. Farnon to leave personalized voicemail messages as Wonder Woman through her web site. Great Hera!]

Lynda Carter's live-action portrayal is, of course, the other main "source" of my WW knowledge, but it was so long ago since I've watched it, I really have difficulty with the recall. I have watched youtube clips lately, of course (my boy is a big fan of Wonder Woman, as he is with most all DC heroes), and while the product seems a little light on quality (as does a lot of dated programming aimed at younger folks), there's quite a bit of ass-kicking that takes place. I mean, setting a person with the strength to stop a small plane or German tank up against non-powered goons is grossly unfair...but it can sure be fun to watch. I especially enjoyed the scene where she steals a motorcycle and uses it to run down a bunch of bad guys. In a way, it's the same type of campy ridiculousness as the 60's Batman without the "Pow!" and "Zowie!" effects...which considering the source material and the time in which it was created isn't too bad.

My first (and last) WW comic.
But that "source material" has a lot more to it than what's in the television show: over 900 self-titled issues, to be exact. And of those, I've purchased/owned exactly one issue. I never did purchase many DC titles (I did enjoy those Blue Devil comics back in the day...quirky, you know?), but it was more than just "DC superheroes are dull" (which IS what I thought when I was a kid with my first allowance and purview to purchase comic books). The inclusion of mythology in comic books was a definite source of irritation, because so often I didn't agree with the liberties the writers would take. It's probably safe to say I was (and am) a bit of a snob when it comes to ancient tales and myths, and while I was fine with origin stories based on those myths, building stories on those myths or that contradicted things in those legends was...well, irritating.

[take Thor, for example. The idea that Loki and Thor would continue to have ongoing conflicts in the Marvel universe is acceptable to me because, according to Norse mythology, Thor and Loki would have ongoing conflicts with each other until the end of days (i.e. Ragnorak). What's NOT acceptable is the recent Thor movie where neither Loki nor Thor are aware of the former's frost giant roots (only discovered in the film), despite this being a part of the traditional Norse lore for centuries. That kind of poor writing really chaps my hide]

Anyway, much of Wonder Woman's conflicts appear to involve the Big Names of Greek Myth in a way that...well, let me put it this way: Wonder Woman is a 20th century invention. Making the incarnate war god Ares a fisticuffs opponent seems a little beneath his dignity (as if a god doesn't have better things to do than pick fights with 20th century superheroes). *sigh* Can't she just have a giant robot or alien tyrant or random demon prince or something. I mean, once upon a time Ares was sacred to someone.

But...whatever. The point is: I'm NOT an expert on WW's body of work by any stretch of the imagination. My understanding of the character is based on a couple (perhaps faulty) translations to the television screen and whatever characterization is described in Wikipedia. I thought she was supposed to be kind of an embodiment of female power in its most positive form...but these days it seems she's more like some demigod of war, complete with swords and spears and a willingness to take life which kind of contradicts the original precepts of the character.

[oh, wait...I just read she actually BECAME the God of War by killing Ares. Um...]

I mean, even Batman with his messed up childhood and messed up life and penchant for violence and whatnot seems to be able to avoid killing dudes like, say, the Joker after the villain murdered Robin. You know, holding himself to a higher standard or something? Why make Wonder Woman so weak? Of course, if she's been trained to be a war god (as opposed to a heroic ambassador of peace and love to the people of the outside world) than I suppose you've gotta' give her the whole battle-born shtick, or else the reboot doesn't make sense...um, does it make sense? Wasn't the reason for Ares being in Wonder Woman's rogues gallery is because she was always crossing-up his schemes to bring the world into war (like, starting in WWII?). Um...

Perhaps the folks who would like to make a kick-ass Wonder Woman movie find themselves in the same quandary that WotC found itself in when trying to design a fifth edition of D&D: there are lots of folks who are fond of the "old school" version of Wonder Woman and plenty of people who like the "new school" version and trying to reconcile these things in a single film (or single game) is a nigh impossible task. Are you going to give her the invisible plane? Or are you going to allow her to soar the skies like Superman? Are we going to see the magic lasso or the magic sword?

Or, rather than pick a side, are you going to attempt to create some mash-up of both that ends up feeling like weak-sauce compromise to most everyone who really cares (i.e. the true fans of the character)?

I doubt there really is a perfect solution, but the great thing about the superhero genre (especially when dealing with iconic superheroes) is that you don't have to wait for a perfect solution. You just need to do it, and if it doesn't work then you do it again in a different way. How many times has Spider-Man been rebooted? Looking only at live-action (he's been rebooted multiple times in both the comics and in animation) I count three, including his old television show. Cinematically, Superman's been rebooted four times. Batman's scheduled to be rebooted for the fourth time (since his appearance in Dawn of Justice will be unrelated to Nolan's franchise). Daredevil was released to dismal reviews, rereleased as a better "director's cut" (that explored different angles of the character), and will be showing up in a Netflix series in April this year. And then there's the whole X-Men deal...

The thing is, existing IP like Wonder Woman have a built-in fan-base that is going to see a film regardless...because they're super-fan completists, or because the character's their favorite, or simply because they're curious as to what will be presented and which one of the character's enemies will appear and how the special effects will look. I've never been an Electro fan, and I'm not terribly thrilled with the story direction the latest Spider-Man franchise is taking, but I watched the latest film anyway (one of my options on the last plane flight) just because I know the characters and I wanted to see how they were handled this time. And the Spider guy's not even a Top Ten supers draw for me. There's really no excuse to sit on Wonder Woman for so long...she should have been making money for DC and Warner Brothers for the last two decades. With the possible exception of Superman IV (I don't have its international numbers) there has never been a major superhero film created that has not made money at the box office...that's before rentals and toys and whatnot.

[wow, wouldn't it be cool to have a WW action figure based on the Lynda Carter TV show that had a bunch of different outfits and vehicles and...]

Cash money, my capitalist-swine amigos. How have you been turning that down for so many years?

All right, I've got to go work on some design-writing stuff. I told D that we'd build him a lego submarine when he gets home from school today, so I better knock some stuff out now.

The pirate ship...now, sadly, in Davy Jones Locker.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Actually Excited...

...about the upcoming film Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Which is surprising for a number of reasons.

[apologies on the lack of posting...school starts up again for the boy on Monday, and like many parents of young children I have mixed emotions on the matter. Happy that I'll again have (more) time for myself; sad that my boy's growing up and I'll have less time with him. Haven't been writing, but I have been researching and designing. More on that later]

I'm sure I'm not alone in my general apathy towards superhero films these days. Once upon a time (not too long ago) it was a little different, but my desire to see absolutely every such film that hits the theater has faded with the ubiquitousness (is that a word?) of the genre. Since entering the 21st century, we've been fairly inundated with these super-suited theater releases...the last five years we've seen roughly half a dozen, comic-culled blockbusters annually. Probably more than are truly needed, considering the similarities inherent in most of them.

But this wasn't always the case. Take away made-for-TV films (I can still remember the final scene of 1979's Captain America II: Death Too Soon), and your films of "popular" comic book heroes was pretty darn limited prior to 2000. You had the Superman franchise which lasted from 1978 to 1983, and which was pretty much required viewing for every kid in America, right up there with the Rocky films and Star Wars.

The only game in town for 10+ years.
[O yes, I'm aware of the 1987 Superman IV, which I've never watched and, from what I understand, was a failure in every regard]

Then you have the Batman franchise started by Tim Burton in 1989 that lasted nearly a decade with a sequel being released every two to three years until it devolved into the same campy ridiculousness of its 1966 precursor...or so  I've read. I only ever saw the first one (which I remember thinking was pretty good, considering I wasn't a "Batman guy"), because my 90's film budget was going to either "darker" hero films (I enjoyed both The Crow and Darkman) or something indie or Tarentino-esque.

And that was pretty much all she wrote until X-Men appeared in 2000, by which time I was married and not nearly as dark and indie as I once was. X-Men was a hit and then Spider-Man in 2002 was an $800 million smash success that launched the entire Marvel film franchise...as far as I'm concerned. Hell, it might have launched the whole "ubiquitous genre;" Lord knows we've been up to our eyeteeth in Marvel comic films ever since.

Meanwhile, it took DC nearly a decade to even get back into the game (Catwoman doesn't count)...and when they did, it was rebooting the venerable Batman franchise (again) with Nolan's semi-aptly named Batman Begins. I mean, at least the title told us we were going back to Bruce Wayne's (rebooted) origin story, even if it absolutely was not the beginning of Batman in theatrical release.

Isn't it a little sad, by the way, that the only franchises DC has really been willing to invest in are Batman and Superman? I've met so many comic aficionados over the years who insist that the DC universe is "sooooo much better" than what Marvel's got going on, and yet there's never been a Wonder Woman or Aquaman or Flash or Justice League on the big screen. Just Ye Old Caped Crusader and Ye Old Man of Steel.

But then, maybe DC is something of a mess when it comes to films. Green Lantern went into production in 1997, was released in 2011 (14 years!) and - due to "underperformance" - had all related projects (sequels, shared film universe a la Marvel) scrapped. Thank goodness everyone loves that Dark Knight cash cow, huh? The three Nolan Batman films combined to take in $2.4 billion in the theaters. All other DC films since 2004 (beginning with Catwoman)? Less than $2 billion...and that's for nine films including two Superman movies.

"Cash Cow"
By contrast, Iron Man 3 and The Avengers alone took in a combined $2.7 billion. And Marvel's got a whole slew of successful franchises going strong (Thor, Captain America, Wolverine, Young X-Men or whatever that one's called). It's pretty disgusting how Marvel's films have completely lapped DC's, when DC has (arguably) the most recognizable comic book characters on the planet. I know my introduction to comic book superheroes was through The Superfriends on Saturday mornings...and I watched plenty of Adam West Batman and George Reeves Superman reruns as a child (not to mention the iconic Linda Carter as Wonder Woman).

[and while I haven't seen them, I know there have been plenty of animated DC serials over the last couple decades featuring Batman, the Justice League, and the Teen Titans...kids are still growing up recognizing DC's stable of superheroes]

Too bad girls don't go to movies, huh?
I don't know what it is...maybe DC prefers to operate in the small-budget arena of television with all their live-action serials (Arrow and Gotham and Flash and whatnot). But Christopher Reeves made one helluva' a big screen impression, back in the day, and I think the success of Batman over the decades (regardless of the quality of the films) shows that there is money to be milked from folks...even those (like me) who are more "casual" fans of the DC universe. Hell, can I just get a damn Wonder Woman film to take my kids to? It's only been 70+ years since the character was created...

[yes, I'm aware that there is a Wonder Woman film in development with a scheduled release date of 2017. But of course, DC has to put out a Suicide Squad film first (2016) because...um...why? And being in development is no guarantee of being completed]

"Holy halibut, Batman!"
SO... Dawn of Justice. Yeah, I'd never heard about this project until today, and I'm pretty excited for it. Not because it's got "Superman" and "Batman" in the title, but because it's supposed to have appearances by Wonder Woman, Aquaman, and Cyborg (though as an old geezer, I'm more interested in the portrayal of the first two than the old "Teen Titan" dude). I find the casting of all these characters to be very intriguing (Jason Momoa as the King of the Sea? Where's that solo film?). Especially the principals...I've had the opportunity to watch Man of Steel three or four times, and while I've dozed off every time, I do like Henry Cavill as Clark Kent.

Forget the costume. It's the jaw and the hair.
And I really, really, really dig the idea of Ben Affleck as Batman. Underwhelming as Daredevil was, I still enjoyed it a lot (probably helps that DD's one of my faves...though the same didn't save Ghost Rider for me), and Affleck's portrayal was a big part of the reason why. I'd like to see his Advil-crunching take on crime-fighting brought to the Dark Knight's role...plus the guy actually looks like Bruce Wayne for a change (at least, the way he always looked in my old Detective comics) and he's got that kind of cynicism about him that I think Bruce Wayne requires (even for a guy as idealistic as Bats, you have to be a damn cynic about the justice system to devote your life to becoming a masked vigilante...sorry). Keaton, Kilmer, and Clooney all have too much humor, Bale has too much...I don't know...drama? (I never believed him as a billionaire and he never had enough jaw).

Anyway, yeah. Looking forward to this one coming out. And I'm really hoping it's good.

[though I'm wondering why the hell Wonder Woman has a sword in the promo posters. Is she going to stab someone? Isn't she already "strong as Hercules?" Why does she need to stab people? Sigh...I guess I really am getting too old...]

Friday, February 6, 2015

New Book

I want to write a new book.

Despite the lack of time I have, despite the lack of actual gaming available, despite the sheer inertia of slack that living in this damn country seems to instill in me (well, to be fair, I'm kind of busy being a father to my children), I feel the need to complete something.

More than that, I have a completely unreasonable challenge of wanting to get something done here, in Paraguay. I don't know how much it would cost to do a print-run down here or what the quality of the product might look like, but I feel almost obligated to try...just to have the experience. I have visions of making the trip up to the U.S. with one suitcase full of Paraguayan printed books. How wild would that be?

I've been thinking about this a lot, even as I dither around with projects. I find myself frustrated when I look at the works on my hard drive that are 50% or 70% or 95% completed (CDF was completely finished, save for the art, and I scrapped and started a complete rewrite due to my dissatisfaction with the final product). I get an idea in my head and I go gang-busters on it for a few days or weeks or months, and then...ugh. It's not that I run out of gas, so much as I run out of inspiration. Or fire. Or something. I want to give something to the community that...well, that's worthwhile. And while such a thing is certainly in the eye of the beholder (like the chicken-shit reviewer that gave one of my books "1 star" without a single comment...fuck you, dude), it has to seem worthwhile to Yours Truly. It's all well and good to say, hey, let's make a cool "space RPG," but if Classic Traveller is good enough for such a concept, why do I need to write a new book?

[not that retools of past concepts are never worthwhile, just by the way. Batman '66 is, quite frankly, awesome sauce]

A friend down here recently gifted me with a very nice, hard cover journal of the blank page variety. It would make a cool sketchbook, save that the paper is a little thin for drawing. I've yet to write word one in it; I just keep turning it over in my hands and wondering what I can and will do with it...if anything. And I just keep thinking, "I need to write another book." Something concrete, something finished, something that can be handled and held and used...by both myself and others.

The hard copies of Five Ancient Kingdoms is dwindling (just checked with my mailer via email the other day)...probably about a dozen-twenty copies remaining...but it hasn't really sold well enough (in my mind) to warrant another print run. And yet I was just informed via email of a long-time gamer about to start a 5AK campaign with her gaming group. That's very cool. I want to do that again...I want to create something useful and fun and entertaining. I'm not a novelist. I don't write screenplays.  My "rockstar days" are long behind me. This is what I do...the "game thing." Blogging just ain't enough.

OOOOOkay...glad I could get all that off my chest. It's been stewing a lot lately (along with everything else...football playoffs and holiday travel and whatnot) and I really needed to put it in writing, spew it out into the universe so it stares back at me. Instead of just having it bouncing around my brain in an endless loop.

Give me the weekend to figure out the specifics of the project. Thanks.