Sunday 30 November 2014
I’ve got a few interests in life, one of them that not everyone knows about is fast cars, and to be honest, my first introduction to that was the film The Fast and the Furious. One of the stars of that franchise was Paul Walker, and in an accident that no one could have even considered, he lost his life on this day last year.
It’s not often that a celebrity passing away actually has anything more than fleeting interest to me, because I don’t know them personally, and for the most part, they live their lives in a different world to me.
Paul Walker was different.
Paul Walker was one of those celebrities who stayed away from the parties, and spent his wealth on trying to make the world a better place for other people, so when he died in a freak accident last year, it hit home, here was a man who did everything he could for others, here was a man who had more good to do in the world, and this was what struck me about his death, that the world had lost one of the good guys.
With this in mind, I went to the Memorial Cruise held in Sheffield this evening, where a number of other people with the same interest in fast cars came along to pay their respects and remember the man who brought the whole scene to the attention of many people who until that point had been tuning up their cars in their own garages and not thinking there were others like them. There’s a cruise most months, where ten, sometimes twelve people turn up and show their cars, and it’s not Hollywood, the women there aren’t in hot pants and the idea of everyone standing there wearing muscle tops is clean out the window.
This is Sheffield, not San Francisco...
But this was different, as you can see from the images, hundreds, if not thousands of people turned up for this, no violence, no racing, just a whole bunch of people who like fast cars. Even the Po-lice turned up, which given the character Paul played in the films, was entirely appropriate, but it was an excellent evening, there was a minutes silence for the man that none of us ever knew, but who brought us together in ways none of us could have imagined all that time ago.
So tonight my thoughts are for Paul Walker, a good man gone too soon, and I hope that they do quarter miles in the sky(line), because if there is a Valhalla for those who like cars, he deserved to find it...
Friday 28 November 2014
Back in August, Dave Chapman (http://autocratik.blogspot.co.uk/) posted a set of questions about roleplaying games, designed to get people talking more about RPG’s in general and also to get some ideas of what people think when it comes to games. I thought it would be a good thing to do the same thing, but not just about RPG’s, about games in general, and so having spoken to Dave briefly (the list idea was his in the first place, so the credit goes to him), I thought to ask a similar set of questions regarding board and war games in general, but this time to put a little explanation behind each one of the headings as I know that some of the august entries were a little open to interpretation. I’m going to be doing this list in December on a day by day basis, and I’ve left the list shorter than having one every day, because there are a few days when I expect that people will be doing things other than writing about board and war (and for that matter, RPG) games.
So, the list is as follows
1 – The first game you ever played, literally that, no matter what it may have been, the game that started you out in the world of games.
2 – The first boardgame you ever taught someone else to play
3 – The first game you ever bought with your own money
4 – The most recent game you bought
5 – The game that most exemplifies why you play games
6 – The game in your collection that you’re never likely to play (which is not to say that you haven’t played it before, just that you’re never likely to play it again, and why...)
7 – The most Intellectual game that you’ve ever played, and the reasons why you consider it to be an intellectual game.
8 – Your favourite counters/pieces in a game, and again, why you like them so much
9 – Your favourite premise/concept in a game, little bit more tricky this one, because the question is not whether it’s your favourite game or the best game, but the game you like the idea of the most.
10 – The Weirdest game you own, and why...
11 – An old game that you still play all the time, and for old, I mean from the first half of your gaming life, which I know for some people means last month, but still...
12 – Most memorable game played, which is often less about the game being played and more about the events that took place while you were playing the game, so let us know why it was so memorable.
13 – Best Spur of the moment Convention Purchase – Because we’re all vulnerable to shiny things, and conventions are often the place where the shiny is too much for us to resist. Sometimes when we get the shiny home, it’s not so shiny anymore, sometimes it is, this question is for the impulse buy that turned out to be gold.
14 – Favourite Convention Game – Either the favourite game you’ve played at a convention, or the game you most enjoy playing at conventions, and why.
15 – Game you wish you owned – But just don’t, Damnit....
16 – Funniest game you’ve ever played – Similar to 12, but more with the humour
17 – Favourite game mechanics – Because if there’s one thing that makes games different, it’s the mechanics we use to play them, here the question is which game mechanic do you like most and why?
18 – Favourite Licensed game – So anything that’s been given a licence from something outside the games world, who do you think has done the best job and why?
19 – Best second hand game purchase – For all those times you went to a yard sale or a car boot sale and came away with something that brightened your whole day, tell us about it.
20 – Coolest looking game – From the designers edition of OGRE to the immense multi boards of Cthulhu wars, some games just look cool, even if they’re not the best in the world to play, here the question is what’s the best eye candy?
21 – Most complicated game – Not to be confused with Intellectual, we’re talking about the games that are so complex you need the rulesbook to get through them, what’s the game that you’ve most needed to refer to the rulebook on?
22 – Favourite game no one else wants to play – Because while you think it’s brilliant, for some reason you’re the only one that does...
23 – Game you’d like to see an improved version of – It doesn’t even have to be out of print at the moment, just let us know which game you want to see a new version of, and why...
24 – Rarest Game owned – Whatever it may be
25 – Favourite game of all time – And why...
26 – What game I got for Christmas this year – Well we need a way to work off all the turkey on boxing day...
27 – What game I would use to introduce someone to gaming – And why
My first post is in a few days...
Thursday 27 November 2014
I read an article a few days back on the different types of game players and designers that there are in the world, it separated us out into those that enjoy games on an emotional level, those that enjoy it on a tactical level, and those that enjoy it on a mechanical level. While I can see the points raised by the article as being valid, I also think that it was missing something...
For me, playing games isn’t about the mechanics of the game, although if the mechanics don’t work, I’ll not be playing the game more than a few times. It’s not about tactics, although if you can’t employ tactical play, it’s about as much fun as flipping coins, and I don’t get emotional about games in general, but If the game doesn’t move me on some level, I also won’t be playing it for very long.
Which led me to thinking that on some level, a game must satisfy on all levels to be something that’s going to succeed as a game, and by succeed I don’t mean sell millions of copies, I mean be a good game, and I wonder sometimes if that message is being overlooked by a lot of people out there who aren’t in the world that we’re in.
And what world is that?
The world where we understand that Monopoly and Risk are not the pinnacle of rolling dice and moving pieces, the world where sometimes the simplest subjects can be made into the best games, and the world where we can see something new based on the same set of rules and still get the same enjoyment out of it as we did when we played the first version.
For me, its games like Smash Up that show the points of what I like about games. The basic concept is put together any two decks and play the game from there, first to fifteen points wins and any deck can be used with any other deck. Sure, some decks work better than others, but at the core of the game, any of the decks can win if you use the right tactics. The reason why it works for me is that while the aim of the game is the same in the end, the tactics and therefore the game change every time unless you play with the same decks all the time. As for the emotional side of things, I find that when I’m playing that game, I’ve played it enough to recognise if my opponent has a particularly good combination of decks and more importantly, if they know how to use it well. Just the thought that they’ve got a deck that will prove difficult for me to beat is enough to get a response from me.
One of my biggest bugbears in games is when the rules are so numerous that you have to spend either a month learning the game or have to refer to the rules book every five minutes to make sure you’re getting it right. I play games to play them, and I like to introduce new people to games, and that to me is the biggest problem when you’re trying to tell anyone that games are fun, it’s the point when you sit them down after getting them to consider the possibility that games could be fun and then start to set up the board, glancing up to see that the enthusiasm they had might have already starting to wane because while they’ll spend half an hour driving to see a movie that’ll last three hours, the idea of spending half an hour setting up a game to play for three hours is beyond what they signed up for.
And then I thought back to the original article, and I started to ask, what gets people into games in the first place. All of us started somewhere, for me it was Ludo, then Chess, and from there I got the idea that games with rules and tactics could be something fun. Then I found Go, and I learned that the simplest rules in the world can make the most tactically complex games if done right, and that’s what I look for now when I look at new games.
1: Can I learn the game in less than ten minutes?
2: Does it take longer to learn the rules than it does to play the game?
3: Will I still be finding something interesting after the fifth game?
If it fulfills all three of these, chances are that I’ll be picking the game up and playing it, if it misses one of them, that’ll put a doubt on it, and if it misses two or more, then I’m likely to leave it on the shelf.
What about everyone else?
Wednesday 26 November 2014
Few men would have believed, in the early years of the Twenty first century...
That Kickstarters could be delayed by this long and more importantly, have the runners of that Kickstarter have the audacity to start selling the product made by the Kickstarter before delivering all the rewards...
Today, Sadly, I have to report that this is the case.
Those of you who've been around the blog a while may remember that I posted this
Some time ago, more than five months ago if the truth be known, about the receipt of the first part of my All Quiet on the Martian Front game, the tripods and a few other bits from the other forces, together with the excitement of receiving the other parts of the game and the possibility of playing it with my friends, who are also massive fans of the War of the Worlds.
I’ve been around the block on Kickstarter, I understand well the nature of delays and I understand that the kickstarters that make their delivery date are in the minority, not the majority. None of this I mind, indeed, if I did, I should stop backing any kickstarters, because I do get that it’s not a preorder, it’s a promise from them to deliver their best endeavours to manage the project they’ve offered and deliver the goods that they are making.
I’ve been fairly lucky so far, in that most of the Kickstarters I’ve backed have been delivered, if not on time, then delayed somewhat, In the case of one, Alas Vegas, there’s an even longer delay than this one, but the difference here is that I backed Alas Vegas because it was being run by a man I know (which I do with a lot with people I know), and so the delays were not so important because I know what’s going on there and I’m willing to wait.
The difference with this one, and the reason I’m compelled to write about it, is that Alien Dungeon, the company who ran the kickstarter, are now selling the products in their store for any who want to buy them, and there are no other updates for those waiting for product that they’ve already paid for, but they’ll be able to buy those things if they want with no delay if they want to pay more.
I understand that some kickstarters go over, and I understand that budgeting isn’t an exact science, much though it should be, and I wouldn’t even begrudge them having to sell things because they’ve gone over budget and don’t have the money to ship out the remainder of the rewards.
What I do have a problem with is the lack of communication, it’s clear the product is there and it’s available, but the last updates we got were some time ago, and the updates have been the same for some time.
Just wait, your things are coming...
You hear that a few times and you start to ask why people need to be saying it all the time, after all, if it were true, surely we’d have got notifications of shipments, and when I say we, I mean all the backers. The comments on the page are now all the same, initially there were messages of support and indications that we didn’t mind that things were delayed because it was clear that things were still being worked on and updates were still forthcoming.
Then this happened
Curiously enough, all the support dried up, there are other games on the ebay account that are labelled All Quiet on the Martian Front, but not these, these are labelled AQMF, so that searches for All Quiet merchandise wouldn’t pick them up...
It was at this point that most of us started asking questions with less than british reserve, but herein lies the problem, there’s no denial from Alien Dungeon that they’re selling things that haven’t been given out to backers yet, and there’s no real explanation other than “We’re shipping”, which most backers are now treating with the same contempt that’s been shown for them by Alien Dungeon when it comes to getting their merchandise first.
In all, a great shame, because Alien Dungeon had a great product here, a grand idea, nice figures and a good rules set to work with. The promise shown by the product was excellent and it had a lot of backing that would have translated to further sales in the future, together with the people who did the designing who have their own fan bases out there, there was no fail to be had, but after what’s happened in the last five months, the chance of me recommending them to anyone else or indeed backing any of their other kickstarters is zero.
So an update from me to Alien Dungeon, if I find myself at a convention with you lot at it (and I do a fair few conventions), and you’ve got product there that I’m still owed, be aware...
I’m collecting it...
And in the mean time, I’m going on Ebay to see if I can get enough figures together to have the first fight I promised myself five months ago...
Monday 24 November 2014
Some time back, I was ranting about everything in the world being nothing but second editions of things that have already come out and games that have been out before. But there are a few out there that actually manage to be most of the things that a second edition should be. Having just come from Longcon where I ran this game, I felt compelled to review it.
Welcome to Mindjammer
The original Mindjammer was interesting, but it didn’t touch on the wider aspects of the worlds and universe that made the field we were playing on more interesting, it didn't give you what you needed to expand on these things. The new edition is bigger than the original in a number of ways, devoting sufficient space to all the things that needed fleshing out. To put some perspective on that, the original Mindjammer was 160 pages of background that needed the Starblazer adventures game to get it to work. The new edition is 500 pages and has everything you need to play a game, rather than being just a setting for another game, and that’s not the only difference that’s been made.
Whereas the original book was almost completely background, this one has a massive number of rules, and the background and nature of the universe in which you play is interspersed with those rules. As an example, the section that deals with culture and cultural differences starts with a brief description of how cultures differ in the universe, and then moves straight on to how you create a culture and how the different rules of the culture make a difference in the universe. Most of the sections follow a similar pattern, with a brief explanation and then all the rules that you could ever need to deal with it. This presents an interesting quandary, because the original was based around all the information you could want to put something together, and the new game is very much on how to play the game without giving you all the background in the first place.
This is not to say that there isn’t a massive amount of background in the sections as presented, but it’s not presented as concisely as the first game (Which is understandable given the increase in rules), the problem inherent with this is that if you already have some idea of the game and the universe, the second edition will certainly enhance the game that you’re playing, but if you’re picking this up and coming at it fresh, the rulebook didn’t do much to get your mindset into the game before throwing rules at you. Five of us generated the characters for seven people on Saturday evening, and from start to finish, it took us three hours to get everything sorted for the characters. It’s worth bearing in mind that four of us were beginners and one of us was experienced at both character generation and the world in which we were about to play. If we’d done it with a book for each person, things would have been faster, but we only had three copies of the game between us and that’s more than most groups will have. Obviously as you get used to the game and setting, character creation will speed up, but the amount of time required to make a character and integrate it with the other characters in the game is large, large enough to take up a normal gaming session in the making of the party.
That brings us to the game and the playing of it. The scenario I ran was one that was designed to run on any system, all you have to do is transplant the system into the game, and then run the game from there. I took into account the differences in the world, particularly the mindscape implants, and then ran it from there. In playing, the game plays very much like a regular Fate Game, with the use of aspects and stunts for the players and compels and complications from the GM using fate points. In comparison with similar systems such as Fate Core and Fate Accelerated, once you get past character creation, there’s hardly anything to differentiate between them
There’s around 500 pages of rules and information in the book, and when you get past the initial amount of time required to make a character, the information available would be a great boon towards both beginning GM’s and those who’ve been playing for years.
The overall impression given by the system is similar to that given off by Traveller in its many incarnations, but this is more complete because it also takes into account the different ways in which civilisations (other than humans) work and doesn’t present new races as merely a set of statistics. The races and civilisations presented here are given completely different mindsets and cultures as well as being different in their physical appearance and capability. The book itself has all the rules you’ll ever need to make science fiction gaming at any level your players could want, from gritty level cybernetics and street scum to high level politics and courtly romance...
All you need to supply are the ideas...
This weekend I found myself running a couple of very long sessions to see if the theory on playing games with people when timescales weren’t an issue and the group could be allowed to take things at their own pace rather than being rushed along to make the scenario within a shorter timescale makes any difference to the general dynamic of play itself. The original plan was to have several GM’s running several different scenarios to get a range of opinions from both GM’s and players, but given the short notice at which we ended up arranging things, we ended up with only two games running.
The normal problem with convention games is that both GM’s and players are limited with time and have to do the game with both random players and no prior knowledge of the GM in question. It’s been something I’ve debated at length on a number of forums. The format currently used by most conventions is three to four hour slots, a little overlap between slots to let people recharge briefly between games, and between three and six slots in a day depending on the type of convention and whether it supports games in the evening. My thought was that for more experienced players, they already have an idea on the sort of game that they want to play and they’ve probably had a few people that they’ve played games with that they wouldn’t mind playing with again. For a lot of these players, the idea behind a convention where they have to go play shorter games with random people doesn’t appeal anywhere near as much as the promise of a longer game with people they know to be players who match their own style.
So it was on Friday night that I travelled down to Stoke to run the first game, a purpose designed scenario based on the Cthulhu Rising setting and using 6th edition Cthulhu rules.
The players (pictured here) from left to right, were Harriet, Martin, Louis, Josh, Martin, and Mary Ann, they play D&D together on a reasonably regular basis and have a good time doing it, but once a year, they want to take a break from the swords and sorcery and have a go on a game where they know the GM works hard on the scenario, but they don’t play with him often enough that they’ve figured out all the tricks he has.
The scenario was a straightforward investigation into a mining station located on Titan that went dark without warning. The players were taking the part of a corporate liaison to the System Police who had been seconded to work on one of the system patrols as it went around the solar system. The players had fifteen days of game time while their ship was on the way to the station, they managed to establish that the mining station had gone dark two days before they reported it as a concern, and that in the week running up to the station going dark, they’d found massive caches of precious metals that would significantly increase the profit share of all those working down there, leading to the station requesting all additional personnel to come down and help mine the resources. Transmissions from Titan two had ceased when the characters were still even days out, and there were no other transmissions coming out of it.
When they got there, they managed to board the ship and found that everything was deactivated, no life pods launched and no sign of the crew, no visible damage to the ship. They made contact with Titan one to find that the administrator of the colony was waiting for their call, having thought they’d been left there when Titan Two went dark. This didn’t go down well with any of the party (particularly as at least two of the players are known paranoids when it comes to games, as this GM well knows...), so they stayed in the vicinity of the bridge trying to find out what was going on. Something in the computer systems on the station took control of the Lander in which they had got to the station and caused it to detach, leaving the players with the unsavoury options of either trying to use one of the life pods to go down to the planet below, or taking a spacewalk back to the main ship. In the end, they decided to abandon the station and head back to their ship.
Well, most of them did anyway...
Two of them decided to try and take some of the precious ores that were mined below from the cargo hold, at which point they found out what was really going on in the station, and while those two were doing that, the others were making their way back to the ship. At the point at which the two who had snuck off made their return to the ship, the rest of the party made the decision that they may have been compromised and merrily blew them away.
So effectively, they came, they went to the bridge, they find out things had gone wrong and they left...
This took six hours to do...
Because along the way, they talked, they checked things, they went over everything twice, they made sure they’d gone up and down every possible option that they could, and when they figured they were out of their depth, they left. Along the way, they made jokes, they argued amongst themselves, they did what all good groups do, they played and for all the mortal danger their characters were in, they never let that get in the way of having fun...
And at one in the morning, I made the two hour trip back to Barnsley across the Snake Pass, a journey more dangerous than any of the one’s I’d just described, particularly with an a**hole truck driver who clearly didn’t know the road very well and thought that the best way to get through a fog loaded pass was to stay within three feet of me at all times...
But still, on to the Sunday, and the second group of the experiment – From left to right, Sue, Jude, Phil, Mark, Jade, Graham, and John, ranging in experience from a few years to more than three decades.
Most of them didn’t know what the scenario was going to be, with only Phil being a newcomer to the group. We thought to try out the new Mindjammer, and had spent the evening previous making the characters to fit to the scenario (which as you’ll see from the accompanying review, took the best part of three hours to do), and then early on Sunday morning, following breakfast (images enclosed so there’s no suggestion that we weren’t eating Gamer approved food), we got started on play around 10:00.
The scenario was a simple one, someone had got in touch with the paladin type of the group to say that they were the avatar for a commonality warship in low orbit of the planet that had been recently separated from its ship and couldn’t re-establish contact. Given that the setting for the scenario was a very closely packed and somewhat lawless block of flats similar to Kowloon Walled City (complete with maps from the same), the only way around the problem was to get the Avatar to the central uplink of the city block, but the avatar had been seen in other areas and the technology of the avatar could fetch a high price to those who were in a position to offer it to others. The players were slightly divided on the subject of what to do with the avatar, some thinking that it would be better to trade it in for enough money to get out of the slums, others only intent on helping a soul in trouble.
The way to the uplink tower was blocked by a number of gangs, and travelling with a piece of cutting edge nanotechnology that has the curiosity of a small child causes its own brand of problems, particularly when it finds something else to look at and doesn’t want to be persuaded otherwise. They had less than a mile between them and the uplink and found along the way that the gangs that made up the ruling part of the city block were all working for the same masters, but that the wars that were orchestrated between them all were there as a way to keep the population down, they also found that the Avatar they were trying to get to the uplink wasn’t actually the Avatar of the ship but a copy that had been programmed to try and stop the original Avatar, leading to a crisis of conscience between the party over which of the Avatars to help.
In all, the scenario required that the characters travel less than a mile and make the equivalent of a phone call, but they too took more than six hours to get the job done.
The reasons were similar, along the way, they were busy discussing the various options, they liked that there wasn’t a straight line between the two points and at no point were the whole group in agreement on what needed to be done (or more importantly, what the end result they wanted for their individual characters needed to be), some made mistakes and the group laughed with them, rather than at them, and above all, everyone was having fun. The atmosphere in the scenario changed when they realised that the Avatar that they’d been supporting wasn’t the one that was supposed to be running the warship, and then they had to make the choice as to what to do. There were moments of heated discussion, moments of downright argument and at least two points where I thought PVP was going to occur, but they got through it all and we rounded it off with them all wondering what to do next.
In all, two games with people who knew what to expect from the other players around the table, and trusted that the GM knew them well enough to know when to step in and when to keep out of it. No time constraints on the games, so no pressure on the GM to step things up when the players were getting themselves tied in knots with what was going on. No concern that the characters would need to be available for the week following, meaning that the players in question were quite willing to give up their character if it was dramatically appropriate to the storyline and letting everyone play a lot closer to the ideal that they wanted to, rather than having to be cautious in case a beloved character met an untimely death.
All in all, a great success, the only negatives that I’ve found from this were that the whole idea of the convention was a spur of the moment thing, so even though we had sufficient space to run several games in the house, we only ended up running one each time, and that between all the other convention related duties I’ve got, I didn’t have time enough to put together all the big props and details that I like to have when I’m running games.
Beyond that, not a displeased person amongst the players, and for me as GM, most satisfying that I had a bunch of players wanting to come back next year for another go.
I’ve got a few people who are helping me put something together and there’ll be an announcement early in the New Year as to where and when the next Long Con will be. For those new to gaming in general, you may want to go to a few regular conventions first, get some idea of the players out there and the GM’s that run the sort of game you’re into. It’s not to say that you can’t come along, but this was a very different experience from normal convention gaming for all concerned. In both cases, if felt like one of the weekend games that we all used to have time for all those years ago, before work and family reduced our schedules to “Busy” and “Busier”, and at the end of both games, we all realised how much we’d missed having those games in our lives.
So, Experiment over, and the question that I’d posed at the beginning was “Is there a need for conventions like this?” The answer?
It’s going to be England sometime in the middle of next year, but if you’re interested, let us know and we’ll keep you updated...
Sunday 16 November 2014
Someone asked the question “What was the best decade in gaming?” and given my (de)evolution over the years, I have to say that there are a number of different answers, particularly when we consider the different stages of a gamers life. In turn, that got me around to thinking about the things that we do as gamers and the different things we get up to. I only have my own perspectives and those I grew up around for reference, but I don’t think that there’s too much of a difference between gamers in general.
Stage one – “You mean we can be heroes in our own heads?”
A lot of gamers start out when they’re too young to appreciate the subtlety of roleplaying and are just happy to get together with friends and play at being something they’re not yet, perhaps with the dream of one day getting to live that dream.
So for me, in the matter of gaming without thinking what about what we were doing, the 80’s were undoubtedly filled with win and in such quantities that we couldn’t carry it all, we never got further than a few weeks into anything before trying something new, and all of it was new, there was no shortage of things coming out and while some of them weren’t any good, it didn’t matter, because there were stores in a number of towns (anyone remember Electronics Boutique?) that stocked roleplaying games in large numbers and it wasn’t hard to get into the hobby because it was so popular. That said, I do think that looking back on those era’s, we didn’t so much roleplay as wander down a dungeon and there beat things till we won. If we were playing in space, we wandered down a big ship and there shot things till we won. These were the times when just getting together with your friends was the main reason why you wanted to do things and whatever you ended up doing was a bonus, because you were there with your friends. This is where my gaming really started, and that I had so much fun with it was the reason I stayed with the hobby, most of the people who were involved in it were similar to me, people who had interests that didn’t involve trying to find porn and beer (which is not to say that we didn’t have those interests as well, merely that they weren’t the only interests that we had). I didn’t always get on well with the groups I was with, got asked to leave by at least one (mainly because I got a girlfriend and they didn’t like that…), and in general, got in less actual gaming than I did in all the years to follow.
But we made those moments that we got count…
Stage two – “Everyone Everywhere…”
The next stage, certainly for those of us born in the seventies and just becoming slightly self aware by the end of the eighties, was in the realisation that there were others out there who weren’t just in our small circle and from there trying to catch up with them and see what games could be played.
This for me was the 90’s
The 90’s were a strange time, I finally got to the point where I had enough money to both survive on a day to day basis and have enough left over to buy new games, and being a single parent, there wasn’t enough to try and save up, and games weren’t that expensive, and I had nothing else to do…
I could keep that list of excuses going for some time, but the long and short of it is that with a reasonable job and no other outgoings, I picked up a lot of games in the 90’s, didn’t always get to play them, but unlike later times, I certainly read through all of them and as I was getting to know myself as well, made a number of choices in the sorts of games that I wanted to play, things with atmosphere like SLA industries and Shadowrun, where the story was the thing rather than the system.
It helped that I had a boss who subsidised my MtG habit (he liked having opponents around who didn’t let him win), so that took up significantly less of my money than it did for most other people. The 90’s were also the time when I started getting into the idea of campaign playing, with a few games in the early nineties and then a massive storyteller system that went across the whole gamut of books to the starting of the huge SLA campaign that introduced me in an indirect route to the internet. Suddenly there was the understanding that there were hundreds of other people out there, maybe even thousands.
So the horizons broadened somewhat and I made friends with a lot of other people with similar interests, no longer separated by anything as petty as a few thousand miles of ocean, and from there I started taking an interest in what else was going on in the world, but not being tech savvy, didn’t ride in on the wave of net that everyone else was already surfing, that didn’t really occur till somewhat later in life. However, when it came to campaign gaming, the 90’s beat everything hands down.
New gamers in this day and age get to this stage a lot faster than my generation, because it’s not hard to find local clubs and groups, and the companies that organise games are now actually organised rather than producing a few modules a year and hoping that would keep people interested. The Internet may be responsible for a multitude of sins, but in telling people that they’re not the only ones who do things (for good or for ill), there’s no better tool in the world.
Stage Three – “What do you mean work’s more important than coming to the game…?”
Stage three usually occurs at the point at which most of the players in the group are starting to settle down and their jobs are taking up more of their time, all of which leads to less time for all the things that can be classified as “Non-life-essential…”
That for most of us includes games…
And that brings me into the 2k’s…
The 2k’s were a bitter time in many ways, the early parts of it were still taken up with going to conventions to run things and getting time to game when I could with who I could, but the real world was starting to intrude in ways I didn’t appreciate, the job was no longer abundantly providing, and as children get older, so they get more expensive, and this was certainly the case here and while I never got to the stage where we were in poverty, we weren’t far off on a number of occasions. I was still supporting every convention I could (didn’t work weekends back then, never let people doubt how much of a difference that makes when you want to go to all these places), helping a number of game production companies (Cubicle 7 is a long way now from those meetings in the back room at Finchley), and writing where I could. The monthly game ceased around 2007 when I took my present job, there simply wasn’t enough time to get the games in without taking days off, but then I went to a new convention in Birmingham and saw something of the future in it and that brings me to the last stage of gaming (or at least the one I haven’t moved past yet), which is
Stage Four – “You’ve never played a game? Try this…”
When you’ve been doing something as long as I’ve been gaming, there’s a good chance that you’ve had a lot of fun doing it, made some good friends, got reasonably good at it, and you get that epiphany moment where you consider how much fun you’ve had and you start to think about giving other people a piece of that fun…
That brings me to the 2010’s…
I still get a game once in a while, I have a fortnightly meet with my good friends down in derby, but with their kid just going to university and mine not being around a whole lot anymore, we often catch random tangents and just enjoy the others company, because work gets in the way for all of us and with me organising all the things I do, I’ve often been dealing with games all day and I just want to do something that doesn’t involve games and just hang out with my friends.
Does this mean I’m burned out on games?
Not at all, it means I’ve recognised (taken me thirty years) that games aren’t everything, and that it’s the people that you play with (Fnar) that make the games what they are. But then a lot of people in my age range that have been lifelong gamers usually get to this stage and do one of two things.
I’ve seen this quite a bit recently, a lot of people that I would have thought would have been playing games in the old folks home have just sold up and moved on. It’s not that they no longer enjoy the games, they do, but they’ve got to the point where they no longer want to learn new systems, they’re not interested in new games, and the games that they are interested in aren’t much being played any more. Some people try and get the game that they’ve been working on since they were a kid published, some believe that if they make it, people will buy it (and more on that in an article to follow), and when no one does, they decide they’ve had enough and just walk away.
Others have found other interests that they like more than gaming, and that’s fine (Bloody heretics…), some have got kids and jobs that just don’t give them the time to game, and some, some have just moved on, it was great for a number of years, but when you’re playing Make:Believe, you can miss the Make part, others will do that for you, but you absolutely need the Believe bit of it.
2: Try and get everyone else into the game
Those of us who are still passionate about games when they get to this stage understand that there aren’t as many people at the same age as us now as there were twenty years ago, and in ten years there’ll be even less, so the only way to make sure we still get to play in ten years is to be there for the next generation, and I consider most people of my age to be second generation, because there were those who were around my age when I was six and it was those who showed me how much fun gaming was all that time ago. The very least I can do is repay the favour to all those just coming into the game and give them the same chance for all the fun I’ve had over the years.
It’s why I put so much time for free into helping conventions around England, if even one person gets out of gaming what I have, then all the effort is worth it…
But this began with the question of which decade I liked most of all for gaming…?
I wouldn’t give up what I’m doing now for anything, but that’s because I’m finally giving back to games all that I’ve had from them, but for me, the best decade without any shadow of a doubt was the 90’s, when I was running one full time campaign and playing in another one, with another playing campaign running once a month in another town, there wasn’t a week went by when I wasn’t having fun playing and when it comes to gaming, that’s the point, to have fun.
Friday 14 November 2014
The Long con...
For all those not in the UK, I apologise, this won’t be as relevant for all of you.
I’ve been thinking for some time about setting up a different type of convention, because while playing shorter games of up to four hours is all well and good, I miss those days when I could set aside whole weekends to play a single game with good friends. Sure, we’d talk s*** for a lot of the time and of a certainty, half the time would be us catching up with each other, but that would leave us a whole day in which to game.
And I’ve really been missing that...
And I suspect I’m not alone in this...
So I’m going to try and do something about it.
In a weeks time, I’m running a trial on something I’m calling Longcon, which is going to be running on a single day (Sunday 23rd) and will involve a number of games that will run for around eight hours, with a whole story being told and enough time being given to get through the whole thing without having the GM have to move things on. If there’s enough interest, I’m going to start doing more of them. It might not be me running them all the time, because there’s a number of other people who’ve been involved in the setting up of this, but it may go some way towards satiating other peoples interests in having longer games to play.
There are still a few spots available for the one on the 23rd, It’s in south Yorkshire, no entry fee, bring your own snacks, full details available on request if anyone’s interested, and there’ll be a report to follow detailing if people really liked it, what worked and what didn’t and most importantly, if there’s been enough good feedback to warrant another one running.
But I’m interested in everyone else’s thoughts on the matter, are conventions that cater for longer games (so real investigative cthulhu and other things that are too long for shorter slots) an interest for people or do the four hour (and shorter) slots suit the purpose well?
I started this month reasonably behind on the wordcount because I’d had two major conventions in as many weeks, and then there was the matter of preparing for the first Dragonmeet in the new venue.
As of the point of going to press, we’ve got more than a hundred different RPG’s to try out at the convention, as well as a number of participation games, giant pandemic, and a best of essen section that’ll be showcasing the various games that did really well at Essen this year, but because it’s a new venue and new territory, I have no idea how well the show is going to go...
Uncharted territory so it is, which is both the best and the worst thing that you can get at conventions.
Best thing because you have no expectations, you have hopes, but not expectations, because you have nothing to compare it with except the previous years at the other venue, that everyone knew all the details for, and here’s something that a good friend told me
“There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things. For the reformer has enemies in all those who profit by the old order, and only lukewarm defenders in all those who would profit by the new order, this lukewarmness arising partly from fear of their adversaries … and partly from the incredulity of mankind, who do not truly believe in anything new until they have had actual experience of it.“
And it’s true, of the messages that we’ve had about dragonmeet, there’s been a number of positive ones where people have been wishing us well and hoping that we’ll do better with it than previous years, but for every person that’s said a good thing, there’s been many that have said that they can’t see it working and they were happier how it was...
Worst thing because while you have hopes, everyone else has Expectations, mess it up and you’ll forever be the people who messed it up, get it right and you’ll start to win people over, but you need several years of winning people over before you can pause (not rest) on your laurels...
So it’s an interesting time, and I haven’t had chance to do the things I’ve wanted to, I’ve been doing a review for a man who’s being very patient with me and I haven’t been able to get to finishing it because of all the other calls on my time and the need to keep on top of things for Dragonmeet (and before that, wyntercon), and then after that, Expo, for which we’ve already started doing the organisation.
There’s going to be a second post following this one that’s mostly for the UK side of things, which is why I’m making it separately, but after the first week in December, updates should be coming significantly faster than they have been doing in recent weeks.
This is John Dodd in the socialist republic of south yorkshire and goodnight England, wherever you are...
Friday 7 November 2014
If you want the short version without spoilers, here, I can save you reading further, it was terrible, I hated it, I seriously thought about walking out...
Everyone who doesn’t mind spoilers, read on...
I’ve been looking forwards to seeing Interstellar since I saw the first trailers about a year back, for a number of reasons. The first of which was the whole premise of having to go beyond the limits of our world and our own lifespans, to explore far beyond what we’ve ever managed to before.
Then there was the director, Christopher Nolan, a man who hasn’t really turned in a bad film since he started, and was the lead man on many of the films I’ve enjoyed over the last few years. Then there was the cast, not a bad actor or ham amongst them and all of them at the top of their game.
All in all it looked like a film that couldn’t fail...
The premise is that some form of blight has come upon the world, and all the crops are dying out, the history books have been re-written to show that the moon landings were faked to try and fool the Russians into spending more money, rather than the truth of what happened and the whole world has turned it’s gaze inwards to try and keep us all alive a little longer rather than turning our gaze outwards at the possibility of doing something on a planet other than this one.
From a social engineering point of view, all of the effort directed towards getting people to start farming rather than aiming their sights any higher and wanting to learn things like science or mechanics made perfect sense and set up a strong image for the beginning of the film. Through a series of events that could only be described as supernatural, Cooper (Matthew McConnaghey) and his daughter Murph (Mackenzie Foy in the first of what will surely be many roles) are drawn to the remains of Norad, where NASA are still working towards sending people into space. Dr Brand (Michael Caine), Cooper’s old boss, is heading up the task force towards sending people out to find new planets to live on via a wormhole that has been found some years ago out in the orbit of Saturn.
Slight suspension of disbelief required at that point, convenient wormhole found at the right time, but okay, we can go with that.
So onwards with the mission, kids left behind while the heroes go off into space with two different plans, the first to find a habitable planet to move the rest of the human race on to, and the second to take a whole colony of people along to the new planet to establish a new race out amongst the stars.
A little like Titan A.E.?
Yeah, very much so, but they got through the wormhole and found that the first planet was a little closer to a massive black hole than they thought it had been, to the point at which gravitic distortions would cause every hour on the planet to be seven years out beyond the effects of the gravity.
It was at this point that disbelief needed gravity of its own to remain in the air...
I’m not a scientist, and there may be people out there who can tell me this is all accurate, but gravity needs to be strong to affect the pull of time, and immensely strong to affect time in any meaningful sense beyond seconds (as has been seen from flights around the earth), so here’s this immense world next to an immense black hole, that they land on and suddenly every minute is more than a month in real time. But despite this immense gravity, they can still walk around on this planet, that has immense waves every few hours that literally scour the world clean of everything but the water but still leave it shallow enough to walk on between waves...
So they get off the planet and 23 years have elapsed in real time while they were repairing their ship on the ground and the method they use to repair the ship could have been done less than a minute after they landed with equal amounts of success.
Then we get back up to the main ship and find that the kids have got older and bitter and because they were down there that long, the ships fuel supplies have been running out steadily and there’s not enough fuel left to reach the other points.
If the Mission Impossible soundtrack had started up at this point, I wouldn’t have been surprised...
So they go to the next planet and find that the astronaut who’d landed ahead of them (an uncredited Matt Damon), has actually gone nutbar and just wants to go home, to the point that he’s willing to doom the whole human race to do it. Between that and the revelation from earth that plan A was never going to succeed because the variables weren’t right and Dr Brand had known about that when he sent Cooper into space, I’d lost all faith with humanity as presented, we’re either myopic luddites who just want to grow crops till the world ends, or we’re self serving psychotics or liars...
Remind me again why we’re supposed to be rooting for ourselves...?
So Cooper plans a black hole slingshot move (I’ve seen star trek, the enterprise does that with no problems, but where’s the enterprise when you need it) and in the process, ends up in the black hole.
And that’s when it got really weird...
Remember those supernatural things that occurred at the beginning of the film? Turns out those were Cooper himself after he falls into fifth dimensional space and starts being able to travel between time and space to send messages by moving books and altering gravity to send messages to his daughter still on earth...
At this point I’ve lost the will to argue, particularly when he finishes sending “Equations too complex to be sent” via Morse code down the seconds hand of a watch that he left for his daughter. This of course is all leading up to the point where Cooper is reunited with (now very old and close to death) Murph so he can fulfil his promise to her, made over eighty of her years ago...
This for me was the greatest problem in the film, and as you’ll note from everything so far, I’ve had a few with this one. Here they are, reunited after what’s been eighty years for her and effectively less than a fortnight of awake time for him, and this is his daughter, who meant everything to him, and they speak maybe ten sentences before she tells him that she doesn’t want him to see her die, so he needs to go off and find a life for himself, ideally with Anne Hathaways character who’s still out there in the new galaxy.
And he does...
I’ve only got one kid, he’s been with me his whole life, and while there’s the theory that it’d be difficult to reconcile the idea of the ten year old you left behind with the octogenarian that’s laying in the bed, both actors played it like it was the most emotional thing that they’d ever had to go through, and from that perspective, Old Murph has had 80 years of abandonment to finally tell her dad where to go, but he’s been gone two weeks...
I don’t like walking out of films, in truth, I’ve never done it, I believe that if you’ve paid the money, then you should stay to the end, if only to get your moneys worth. But in three or four places, when they were playing for the cheap emotional punches and Hans Zimmer was punching the music in at ten times the volume required, I really did think about it...
So, while it may be a fine film for some, not for this man. Certainly not as a parent and absolutely not as a man who likes films that are well put together and don’t have multiple deus ex machine moments within them. Overhyped, overloud (in places it was like standing next to a rock concert speaker), and overcooked, I never thought I’d say that about any film that Christopher Nolan made, but those are three hours of my life that I’m not going to get back and in the time it took to get to the terrible ending, I could have seen any two of my favourite films twice...
My honest opinion, he’s done better than this before and I’m sure he will again, the visuals are stunning, but I believe that in time, people will remember this in the way they do Avatar now, phenomenal in scale, but lacking in the very thing that it was supposed to be all about...
Considering going to see Interstellar tomorrow, not only for the eyecandy that it promises but also because the storyline promises to be something that hasn’t been rehashed a million times before or is just a remake of something that was done twenty years ago, and then I got to thinking...
That seems a lot like many RPG releases these days...
In the last few months, there’s been a number of new games in the RPG world, but the ones that seem to be getting most of the interest are the ones that have already been out...
Usually twenty or thirty years ago...
I got to thinking at this point, because while some games have done just fine as brand new releases, most of them have the backing of one of the major RPG houses like Monte Cook or have had significant time and effort (Not to mention money) lavished on them by the design house responsible for them. The one’s that have been kicking off at a run and sprinting for the finish line are the games that were really popular when I used to go to conventions rather than run them.
Take a look at the list of games that have :
Feng Shui, Mutant Chronicles, Lone Wolf, Paranoia...
All games from the 80’s and 90’s, being offered again for a new generation, but the interesting thing there is that for the most part, it doesn’t seem to be the new generation that are picking up on them, it’s the older generation trying to recapture the magic that they had when playing them when they first came out. Most of the talk is about how great the game was when it first came out and how much people are looking forwards to playing it again.
I’m equally complicit in these things, I remember how much fun all of these were back then. I remember all the games above and more besides, all of which are scheduled for a release to a new crowd of gamers, but I wonder if these will really be of interest to new gamers, or if it’s just giving all us older guys a second chance for the games of our youth.
I believe that games have moved on since the times at which most of these were originally released. When you look at games like the adventure books that comprised Lone Wolf, where the path was clearly defined and you had to make sure that you got that path to succeed. In games such as Paranoia, where no one that I’ve ever talked to has managed to run anything vaguely resembling a campaign game (or indeed advanced beyond clearance level red without some sort of GM Deus Ex), and in games such as Mutant Chronicles, where the escalation of warfare was so fast that it could easily have been 40k the game years before the such a thing was ever envisioned, I have to ask the question of whether or not another rerelease is what the games industry needs?
Don’t get me wrong, I have no doubts whatsoever that these games will be excellent when they come out, but I wonder whether or not the same levels of effort being put into new games wouldn’t have been a better thing. The thing that made these games great at the time was that they were new and interesting, they were the things that hadn’t been done before.
They were the forerunners that got everyone into games, and for me, that’s a big part of why I haven’t backed a lot of them.
I’ve got no interest in seeing a new rule set for a game that I already own, if I played it before and remember it fondly, I’ll still have that book somewhere in the collection and if I want to play it, I’ll just go get the rulebook and play it. If the new version is offering something new that might be useful to running the old game, then I might be interested, if it’s offering something that the old game didn’t (or couldn’t) offer, then I’m definitely interested, but when all it’s doing is showing me a game that I already know...
What would I want it for?
Twenty years from now, I don’t want to see another remake of Numenera or Shadows of Esteren, I hope those games are still running and doing well for the people that make them, but I don’t want someone to take the concept and say “I can do this better.” I want people to be asking the question “What can I do new and interesting?”
So the question today, is am I the only one tired of repeats? Or are people just as interested in a game whether it’s been out once or five times? Are some games literally just all about the game to the point that it doesn’t matter how many editions there are of it?