Wednesday, December 04, 2013

In Which The Warlock Rattles Off Reviews...

With the massive "30 Days of Gamemastering" behind us, I feel like I've somewhat fallen behind on my geekly duty of reviewing the assorted nerdity that's come out in the last few weeks.  It's time we remedied that!  So, let's take a quick, encapsulated view of some of the comics-based items that have been out in the past few months:

Better than the first one, but not flawless.
I'm holding out more hope for Captain America 2.
Thor: The Dark World:  While I enjoyed the first Thor movie, it played something of a weak sister to Iron Man and Captain America: The First Avenger, settling on a bog-standard "hero learns humility" arc.  The movie was serviceable, but the sequel's promotion promised raised stakes and a more nuanced plot.  Really, Thor: The Dark World didn't disappoint.  While Chris Hemworth's Thor is solid, Tom Hiddleston's Loki is the again the real star, chewing the scenery with aplomb.  Unfortunate, Christopher Eccleston is utterly wasted as dark elf villain Malekith the Accursed, whose motivations are enigmatic at best and whose lines are few and far between.  Seriously.  Darth Maul got more face time than Malekith

Overall, I really enjoyed Thor: The Dark World, but I left the movie feeling that certain character beats were just missing.  I really look forward to seeing the Blu-ray/DVD release, as I wouldn't be surprised to see extended versions of certain dialogue scenes, particularly between Thor and Loki.  It's not a perfect movie, but it's a great addition to the Marvel Cinematic stable.

Give it time.  It's getting better.
Plus, Tahiti is a magical place...
Marvel's Agents of SHIELD:  I've really had high hopes for this show, hoping that it'd provide the "connective tissue" linking some of the Marvel movies and hinting towards an ever-expanding universe.  So far?  Ehhh.  Individual episodes have been somewhat hit or miss, with real winners like "The Girl in the Flower Dress" and "F.Z.Z.T." but also several mediocre filler episodes.  While Clark Gregg's Phil Coulson is still an inspiration--particularly as he slowly uncovers what really happened to him following his "death" in The Avengers--the remainder of the characters feel like they've been ripped straight from TVTropes.

But, there's promise.  Victoria Hand, played by an inspired Saffron Burrows, provides a unique glimpse at a darker, more covert SHIELD, seeming to point to the turmoil upcoming in Captain America: The Winter Soldier.  An upcoming episode features the Extremis-enhanced Mike Peterson (J. August Richards) joining the core group, implying a greater focus on the superheroic universe.  This is a show that, more than many others, has been suffering from "First Season Syndrome".  Once it finds its niche?  It's going to roll on all cylinders.  I'll keep watching.

Poor animation, a middling plot, and
unnecessary gore keep this one under par.
Justice League:  The Flashpoint Paradox:  Ouch.  Just ouch.  While the DC Animated Universe has trounced Marvel's handily for the past decade--probably the only multimedia arena that DC has unequivocally won--this one left me utterly disappointed.  Based on a Geoff Johns plotline which led into the "New 52", the Flash's nemesis, Professor Zoom, alters the timeline such that the world sits on the brink of war between Atlantis and Themyscira.  Thomas Wayne has become Batman, following the death of his wife and son.  The Flash is left to navigate the chaos, track down Zoom, and find a way to restore the original timeline.

While the voice acting in Flashpoint Paradox is quality, the character designs and animations are clunky and ill-formed.  Many of the masculine characters are overly muscled and veiny; Aquaman, at times, appears to have no neck whatsoever.  Female characters, notably Wonder Woman and Lois Lane, are given "anime eyes" that look almost detached from the rest of the character model.  The art here simply is not of the same high quality that the DC Animated Universe has established thusfar.

Worse, though?  The level of violence in The Flashpoint Paradox is utterly deplorable, particularly for a film rated PG-13.  While I'm not averse to violent comics or the like--I enjoy Sin City, The Boys, and pretty much anything else by Frank Miller or Garth Ennis--this film is marketed to a younger audience, for whom it is utterly inappropriate.  Aquaman flat-out executes individuals on screen.  Dismemberment is rife.  Justice League mainstay Cyborg is literally ripped apart in one of the final fight scenes, while another scene shows Batman use a pistol to shoot another character...through the bloody hole in that character's skull.  The violence in The Flashpoint Paradox is gratuitous, distracting, needlessly gory, and totally unnecessary for the plot.  I can't recommend it.

Mechanics and theme clash drastically
in this disappointing board game.
City of Remnants:  I had high hopes for this game, after being given the elevator pitch by Sean while we were up in Columbus for a game night.  Imprisoned by an oppressive alien force, players took on the role of gang leaders, attempting to carve out a niche for themselves beneath the noses of their alien overlords.  The game promised cutthroat conflict, conniving, backstabbing, and underworld dealings.

What I got?  A Euro-style worker placement game with elements of "Dominion"-style deckbuilding.  Unless the players actively engage one another in player-vs-player combat--generally a bad idea for both factions involved, due to the clunky mechanics of combat--there are few ways to even influence another player's actions, much less backstab or even interact with other players.  After losing a key piece of territory--I made a calculated risk that didn't work out--my influence on the game was utterly nullified.  The game went on for over an hour more, with no meaningful contributions on my part.

City of Remnants could have been a tactical, backstabbing good time, but its Eurogame elements really hold it back.  Rather than achieving victory by accumulating wealth or territory--items that would thematically be fitting for an organized crime game--the game insists on using a nebulous victory point system.  Instead of being able to interfere with others' operations--shaking down a casino, tipping off cops to others' activities--players have no real interaction unless they directly confront one another, which is almost universally a bad proposition.  The theme and mechanics of City of Remnants are utterly dissonant, leading to a misshapen, poorly designed game.  Give this one a pass.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

In Which The Warlock Interviews a Dread Pirate...

Now that I've recovered from the "30 Days of GameMastering" challenging, it's time to get back to our normal routine of entries.  This time around, I had a chance to catch up with an old friend:  Tim Riley, who's currently running a GoFundMe campaign for his new endeavor--GamePAWN.  Tim's been a community member of the Wittenberg Roleplaying Guild for quite a while, so this is definitely exciting...

You've been in the games industry for a while – who have you worked with and in what capacity?

Since I owned a store a lot of my working relationships have been with other store owners, distributors and with company owners.  I've worked with several small game companies, stocking their product and offering critiques as requested.  I have relationships with other folks, from seeing them at conventions and chatting online.  I've also worked with some of the local printers both for advertising and for production.  A long time ago I produced a couple of game books and got to know the process.

Tell us a little bit about what GamePAWN's mission is:  Why this company and why now?

Well, the why now is easy – I have time.  I can spend time finding the right people to introduce and take time to make GamePAWN work.
As to why this company, because I've been studying Kickstarter projects that fail to meet their shipping dates and it seems to me that most of the problems come with creatives that don't have access to business infrastructure and they spend their time and capital trying to set up the business framework required to run a company and then lose track of actually creating the product. I want to see if I can help with that.

What benefits would a creator see by working with GamePAWN?

Access to introduced contacts and to each other.  Insight on projects and plans. Looking forward, access to services like bookkeeping, payroll, marketing, copy editing and anything else we can do to make life run smoother.

How does GamePAWN fit into the digital revolution in publishing?

Even with the digital revolution you still need framework and access to the people who make the publishing work.  GamePAWN will work with creatives to find the best prices and most advantageous delivery schedules.  Sometimes better prices can be arranged when several companies are planning to use the publishers services and GamePAWN can help negotiate that sort of thing.

You're currently running a funding drive via GoFundMe – what does this funding go towards?  What does a pledge net me, as a game creator?

I'm planning for the funding to be used to sponsor networking events at the major cons.  A pledge will get you an invite and the swag from your sponsorship level.

Is there anything else you'd like our audience to know?

This will grow and expand as our members need.  We want to make this a useful part of a free-lance or start-up experience.  There will be room for growth and improvements as we find our feet and get an even better idea of what the membership can use.

Thanks, Tim!  I'm sure we're all excited to see what's in store with GamePAWN!

Sunday, November 03, 2013

30 Days of GameMastering--Day 30!

And this is it!  Our final entry in Lindevi's "30 Days of GameMastering" challenge!  One last charge unto the breach, my friends!

How do we grow the hobby?

Seriously?!  How is there not an RPG of this yet?!
We live in a golden age of geekery.  The Marvel cinematic universe has brought together some of the classic comic-book icons together in a cohesive internal mythology.  Comic book movies are now among the most anticipated films each year.  The Walking Dead has become an international sensation, breaking records with each new season.  A local Halloween attraction just south of Dayton now features a "Zombie Sniper Patrol" where you can live out your wildest zombie apocalypse fantasies, to say nothing of 10K runs that have turned into zombie-survival runs.  San Diego ComicCon has become the new Mecca for all things pop-culture.

It's easier nowadays to be published than anytime in history.  Anyone with an internet connection can start a blog or put together an e-book for publication online.  Digital correspondence allows artists, designers, writers, and publishers to collaborate and create product from anywhere in the globe.  For Cold Steel Wardens?  My mapmaker is from Germany.  My publisher is British.  My artists and editors come from all over the United States.

The frustrating thing on my end right now?  For as easy as it is to be published, for as high as the general public is on nerd-culture, the role-playing games market just doesn't seem to capitalize on what's popular.  While there is a new edition of Mutants and Masterminds corresponding directly to DC universe comics characters, there was no crossover with the recent Batman or Superman movies.  There's still no true Walking Dead RPG (which I'd love to write, if I got that license).  There are so many opportunities to capitalize on already-existing properties to usher in new players that it consistently astounds me that there aren't more RPG players and that those opportunities lie fallow.

For now?  The best thing we can do is keep pushing.  Keep spreading tendrils out there amongst the 'norms' and keep one mantra in mind:  "Oh, you like comics?  How would you like to play as a superhero?  Like zombies?  How about we run a zombie-apocalypse scenario?  I've got some dice you can borrow..."