Monday, July 24, 2017

Robotech: Time to Let It Go, Harmony Gold

Well, assuming it actually gets finished and released, I fully expect this to go down like Hapless Pilot #12 vs. Roy Fokker.

The time for a Robotech feature-film was, oh, 1989. Not 2017, 2018, or whatever. Harmony Gold tried thrice to keep this ball rolling: Robotech: The Movie (where the Megazone 23 stuff got added), Robotech II: The Sentinels (it could've been good), and Robotech: The Shadow Chronicles (failed pilot). The problem is always the same: the original fanbase found the original series and transfered fandom loyalties to them, so they didn't care about the new stuff.

The music of the original series is superior. The stories of the original series are superior. The sequels for the one original series that actually took off, globally, are far superior. The only reason that the current tabletop RPG has any fans is due to the ease of using the product line as a defacto TRPG for those original series; the new stuff gets used only as fodder for those really into Genesis Climber MOSPEADA. (Or as fodder for RIFTS.)

In short, there's no "there" there anymore. No one who's come into anime since the boom of the 1990s will give a shit about this live-action adaptation. No one overseas will care either, so there's no market for it. This isn't a film project; this is a tax write-off that allows some folks to collect a check and discharge a contract. We just get a film as collateral damage.

The other reason this film project exists is similar to what Sony did with Spider-Man: make a film every so often to retain the rights. Harmony Gold benefits because they're single-handedly retarded the growth of Macross fandom in North American due to the contract they took out in the 80s as part of making Robotech. There's a termination clause in that contract,and both Bandai and Sunrise want to find a way out from under by using it so they can complete their conquest of the world by finally selling ALL the merch for Macross (including related stuff like Super Robot Wars games).

Harmony Gold needs to let it go. There will never again be a Robotech fandom worth a damn, and when this film either dies in production or flops on release that will be the moment to lay on all the pressure to stop being cocks and make way for the real star: the Macross franchise. (Yes, reasonable re-releases of Southern Cross and MOSPEADA will also be nice, restored and on Blu-Ray.) Then Harmony Gold can finally die off and go back to the '80s, where it should've stayed, and be put back in its place in history: as the catalyst for America's embrace of anime a decade later.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

The Totalbiscuit Is Burnt

John Bain, a.k.a. Totalbiscuit, has had another public meltdown. This time, at CoxCon, he lost his mind over someone throwing out an Internet meme as a question at a Questions & Answer session. That question was "Are Traps Gay?", which is a long-running joke now, and being Internet savvy John and his fellows there (including the founder, Jesse Cox) should've rolled with it. But John decided that Chan culture is wrong and threw the questioner out of the event.

Then he compounded the error by putting it out there on Twitter, and not taking well to the entirely-predictable reception that such a cuck move would generate. This is a pair of unforced errors, both on the grounds of (you guessed it) Social Justice, that would not have happened had John not been in charge of the social media accounts bearing his name.

John normally has a (paid) assistant handle the social media accounts. The reason? To prevent just this from happening. John's past shows repeated episodes of him not being able to handle the bants, freaking out, and attacking the very people who made his life (and his lifestyle) possible. For all his savvy with regard to gaming and the business hereof, he's still far more of an insecure normie than he wants to believe and it comes out when he feels stressed.

His assistant is not on the job because that assistant suffered a family tragedy, and John--being a decent employer--let him take the time off to properly handle the matter. Unfortunately, what did not happen is to have someone else step in to handle the social media accounts. (Genna, as Business Manager, that was your job to handle.) So this own-goal was not only predictable, it was wholly preventable.

And this is not the first time. While others comment on the very public berating John gave of his wife's voting decision after the U.S. Presidential Election (and yes, outing and shaming your wife on Twitter is just that; you might as well have done it at halftime during the Super Bowl), he's flamed out on other occasions in just as stupid a manner over just as stupid a reason. We have a consistent pattern of behavior here. One John knows--by his actions--to be detrimental to him and others.

The behavior cannot be tolerated anymore. This is the second time within a year that something of this sort occurred. Everyone knows how and why it happened, and those able to prevent did not do so in negligence. Once is an error, twice is stupidity, but more than that is--at best--chronic incompetence and I will not tolerate it. I withdraw my support, effective immediately.

No more money goes his way, and no more attention shall be directed towards him until he repents. I have options; I now exercise them. I shall encourage all others to do the same, under the same condition. Once he sees that he's going the way of Marvel Comics, maybe he'll fix himself. Or not; I no longer care either way.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

"Geek Gab" Talks Valerian, Dunkirk, & The Need For Good Storytelling

Today on "Geek Gab", Daddy Warpig and the gang discussed Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets.

Some of us are on the hunt for alternatives to Star Wars now that The Mouse is pozzed and spread the disease to Lucasfilm. Valerian disappointed, and by comparison that film to Nolan's Dunkirk shows how important it is to not only cast your roles properly (which Valerian did not) but to know how your medium works when you tell your story. Christopher Nolan knows how the medium of film works. Luc Besson does not. It shows in the final product.

You also have to know your property, and that includes historical subjects. The director, writer, and producers need to know what the hell they're on about or the final product will be crap. Dunkirk shows that this is the case with Nolan's film, and that Besson's team dropped the ball.

And yes, the head office as Lucasfilm shows by their own words and deeds that they too do NOT comprehend their property. Lucas had the excuse of trying something new; Kennedy and company aren't even doing that- they're deliberately rehashing old stuff and turning out sanctioned fan-films, as if they decided to take the worst of the old Star Wars Adventure Journal and pour in additional pozzing.

They failed to remember that you have to tell a good story to keep a property thriving and profitable, and you can't do that if you subordinate that fundamental requirement for success to the service of an ideological agenda- and that is exactly what Lucasfilm did once the ink on the purchase dried. This is why there's a move to "make our own Star Wars", to fork it, and return to a dissatisfied audience that which they found in the Original Trilogy.

Right now, we have one series of books that aim to serve that audience. Nick Cole and Jason Anspach co-wrote the "Galaxy's Edge" series: Legionnarie, Galactic Outlaws, and the upcoming Kill Team. There are others, some available for sale and some still in the works, and as they come to my attention I'll give them space either here or at the Study.

In the meantime, I think I'll pencil in time to see Dunkirk.

Friday, July 21, 2017

My Life in Fandom: Yoko Kanno - Goddess of Music

Japan has a handful of living masters coming out of their entertainment business. Westerners get told all about Hayao Miyazaki (the current God of Animation), but in terms of music we Westerners hear a lot of great stuff coming from that country without knowing who made it.

Of the most notable musicians, Yoko Kanno is the mistress whose mastery is not confined to creating classical-style film scores to rival John Williams, Hans Zimmer, and the late James Horner. This woman is the genius behind the music of Cowboy Bebop; she can, she has, and she shall continue to rock, groove, jive, wail, and croon for years to come.

She's now in her 50s. Like her colleagues of similar acumen and accomplishment, she's got a proven track record of success as well as quality. Just hit up the TV Tropes page and see what she's worked on in the anime world alone; a lot of the shows she did are emerging as classics in large part with the power of her music; take it away, and the show or film immediately weakens precipitously. (Compare how dependent Star Wars is on its music.) This is no fluke or accident; she's the Goddess of Music just as Hayao Miyazaki is the God of Animation.

Because of Yoko Kanno, we got The Seatbelts. Because of her, we got the late Origa (best known in the West for her two theme songs for Ghost in the Shell: Stand-Alone Complex). She's the one that took an ordinary pop idol track (for Macross Frontier) about a girl's love for a man and turned it into this incredible song and live performance featuring May'n and Megumi Nakajima. (Kanno's the bandleader on the keyboard.)


Yoko Kanno w/ May'n & Megumi Nakajima: "Lion" from Macross Frontier

If I ever get a chance to have something I write adapted into an anime series or feature film, I want Yoko Kanno to be in charge of the music. I think that highly of her, and once you get familiar with her body of work you'll see why I hold that opinion of her; it's rare to seem anyone who's mastered any style or genre of music, nevermind multiples, but she's done it and that achievement is to be celebrated. She's earned her accolades, and is due the respect for it. Long may you reign, Yoko Kanno.


Yoko Kanno w/ Origa (vocals): "Moon" from Turn A Gundam

(Yes, that's Kanno directing the orchestra. I told you that's she's mastered multiple styles & genres.)

Thursday, July 20, 2017

My Life in Fandom: Sword of the Stranger

I wrote a follow-up to my first post at PulpRev this past Monday, giving some recommendations on movies with the spirit of the Pulps in them. I tried to stick to things that new people and normies would not struggle to find, but I had to make one concession for my fellow anime and manga fans: Sword of the Stranger.

This is a fantastic story, told in a fantastic manner, with fantastic skill in all aspects. The TV Tropes link to the summary can spoil it for you, so be careful when reading it, but I don't think that's necessary. This film is a demonstration that storytelling is not just how you use words, and that even in an animated work choreography matters as a storytelling tool.

To give you a good sense of how good this film is, you need to see one of the fantastic fight scenes that drive the plot and do a lot of the storytelling. The final fight that everyone who sees this film loves and adores shows this in spades. Allow me to share:

You do not need to know who is the villain in that scene. You can tell without any prior knowledge. Likewise with the hero. What the stakes are may be a bit murky, but the presence of the boy and the dog give you what you require to figure that out (along with where this fight takes place).

The writer, director, animators, and actors took pains on multiple levels to ensure that the most subtle of details--things you notice, but your conscious mind misses--are in there. It does not insult you or lie to you. The hero ain't no angel, but he still does the right thing. The villains are individuals with comprehensible motivations, but they still do (or support) abhorrent deeds in pursuit of them (and the goal they pursue is arguably evil in itself). The result is a Japanese story that is Pulp to the core.

Find a stream, borrow a copy, or take a risk and buy one from Amazon. This isn't the usual anime bullshit. This is Miyazaki-level stuff, and it deserves a place in your library. Study this one if you're a storytelling, no matter your medium, because you will learn something. It reminded me of Robert E. Howard's historical fiction tales, favorably so. Of course the score is fantastic. Have a listen:

(Note: For those sensitives reading this, the dog lives. You're welcome.)

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

My Life as a Gamer: RIFTS & Me

The flagship line for Palladium Books is RIFTS. First published in 1990, and building upon all of the company's catalog to date, this game became the flagship due to one explicit purpose for putting on the shelves: to allow the users to put anything together at the table and run it in your campaign.

Yeah, well, um, yeah. About that.

Look, there's a hell of a lot to say about this game. I have a (dormant) blog all about that where you can read my opinions upon, and attempts to clean up, the mess Palladium publishes as their flagship game. I won't rehash it here, but instead summarize why I keep at it despite my dissatisfaction.

  • The setting premise is very friendly to interpretation, despite the droning of fanboys at the official Palladium forums.
  • The mess does mean some bitchwork for Game Masters, but that's manageable. However, doing it properly for the setting does mean telling the snowflakes to fuck off because this setting--at no point--is friendly to SJW insanity.
  • The game cleverly associates subgenres with geographic locations, making it easy for new GMs to isolate material to just what he wants to use.
  • The massive catalog of material is firmly in the Rule of Cool camp, exciting readers and firing imaginations, using iconic imagery and decades of comic tropes as shorthand to get the concepts across.
  • If there is an old-school game that's still in print (and never been out of print) that's firmly Pulp and approachable (and not old-school D&D), this is it. The mess creates a liminality that drives Mech Pilots nuts, filtering out the worst right there, but you need to beware of Fandumb and thus set your expectations clear and concrete up front for best results. It's also easy to run it in a Superversive manner, for those so concerned.

I can play and run nothing but RIFTS for the rest of my days and still not exhaust what this game has to offer, and that's just what's published and used as-written. Once you get comfortable and begin tinkering in earnest, you can see why this game has its loyal fanbase- such that some don't even play other Palladium games, nevermind other tabletop RPGs (or even other media).

And just using the core post-apocalyptic North America subsetting, featuring the Coalition States, I've got material enough for years of campaigning. If not for my interests elsewhere, I'd be running my version of the Tolkeen vs. Coalition war right now. (Hint: States that exist in economic scarcity can't win against post-scarcity opposition.)

The line is up at the Bundle of Holding this week, so if you do e-books this is a good chance to get in cheap and easy. Otherwise, find a Half-Price Books or some used bookstore like it; chances are good that you'll find it used and in decent condition there. Failing that, buy it new from Amazon or direct from Palladium's store. Love it or hate it, you'll find something good there to make it worth the scratch to have it.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

After Defiling the Honored Dead, This Is Nothing

My father was something of an Anglophile. He loved PBS, and because of that he introduced me to Monty Python, Blake's 7, and Doctor Who. Along with James Bond and J.R.R. Tolkien, he's responsible for most of my non-gaming fandom that doesn't involve anime or Star Wars.

He took me to my first fan convention--a very shitty Doctor Who convension in downtown Minneapolis, at the Armory--and paid for my membership in a fan society (The Whoniversity). He loved Jon Pertwee; that was his Doctor. Peter Davison was mine. When we got a shot at watching all of the older Doctors, starting from the beginning, back in the 1980s we made time to watch it together. Doctor Who was special for us. We were sad to see it go with McCoy, but we also didn't miss it thereafter.

The new series began five years after my father died. I stuck with it through to Capaldi's first series. The hit-or-miss ratio of the series skewed more and more to "miss" once Tennant and Davies left. Not that Smith (or Capaldi) were bad Doctors, but the rest of the show began veering more and more into the poz. After Danny and Clara, I tuned out and just kept an eye on it to wait out whatever bad writers they had until the inevitable sacking.

Then Moffat defiled The Brigadier.

Nevermind Missy! (That was a very bad move after a series of bad moves, but not a deal-breaker.) That final Cyberman story of that series, what rid the show of Danny Pink, also defiled the sole Companion of the classic series who forced The Doctor to be reasonable when the genius spilled into impracticality: Brigadier Sir Alastair Lethbridge-Stewart, of U.N.I.T., one of a handful of Companions so beloved as to be revived in the new franchise (albeit part of The Sarah Jane Adventures).

My father would never stand for that. There are lines you do NOT cross in this life, and Moffat crossed one by taking a beloved (and dead) character to be used for a cheap shot at the end of a story involving said character's inferior successor fucking it up. It was not only bad storytelling, it was not only Authorial Interference for political purposes, it was the willful violation of an icon of British manhood and masculinity in a series often devoid of it (both old and new).

That was the deal-breaker. After that, the incompetency in storytelling and show-running used to excuse politically-motivated propaganda in the new series--while disappointing--cannot compare to what had already been done. It is being shot in the arm with a squirrel rifle after having one's legs blown off from the waist by an anti-personnel mine. I feel nothing whatsoever about Capaldi's successor. Nothing. No well-wishes. No jeers. Nothing. At. All.

Because the worst had already been done, the corruption of a thing that once brought joy to my father and I, through which I kept his memory alive. I walked away a while ago. This thing that mocks the series I knew by wearing its clothes and aping its mannerisms is a stranger to me, and I care not if it lives or dies. I will, instead, find anew that joy elsewhere. Woe to those who dare pursue me hither.

Monday, July 17, 2017

My Life as a Gamer: Palladium's Historical RPGs

Ever wondered where Palladium's preoccupation with the gods of Egypt comes from? I did. They crop up everywhere, from its fantasy game to its flagship (RIFTS), and for a game publisher that's often mocked for its warnings on the occult there are few other routes to such a seeming obsession with Egypt and her gods.

"Few", however, is not "none". It turns out that one of Palladium Books' earliest games was a historical one: Dynastic Egypt. Back in 1983, Palladium published Valley of the Pharaohs. It's been out of print since it sold through that one print run, not seen since other than its influence upon the more popular product lines.

Go figure. I've never seen it on the shelf, so I never played it. No one I know ever saw or played it either. However, given that this is one of two games written by someone other than Kevin Siembieda (in whole or in part) and not using the Palladium house system of rules, it is no surprise that it is out of print now. It is also the most probable origin for why Palladium's games have so much gratuitous Egyptianism in it; it's just recycling the results of work done for this long-lost product. Lazy? Maybe, but given the decades-long pattern of behavior out of this company it's the most probably answer.

That's not the only historical RPG that Palladium published. The better known-one, and occasionally found on the shelves is RECON. This is another game Palladium published by did not create, and does not use its house ruleset. The reason it sticks around is simple: a game about Vietnam found fans then as it struck during the time when movies and shows about Vietnam made by Baby Boomers hit popular audiences in the United States. With the later supplements stretching the scope of the game beyond that war, world-wide mercenary action gaming became viable.

It's a short step from there to doing all sorts of Cold War shenanigans, ala Metal Gear Solid 3 and certain other games in that franchise. You can see from this game what went into the thinking of Ninjas & Superspies, specifically from the Mercenary side of the game (cribbing also from Heroes Unlimited's Supersoldier options), but the game itself is anything but a heroic adventure game. It's barely more than a wargame, and it shows; if you can handle that much liminality, then track down a copy and give it a go. Otherwise, this may not be for you.

It's a curious thing to see these historical games in the catalog. They're not the usual action-adventure games, and I think that is a big reason for their also-ran or memory-holed status. Most gamers don't want to play historical games, seeing no room for play in such a setting and insufficient differentiation of roles to assume. (That's Mech Piloting influence in action, by the way.), and they don't find in such games the escapism that they seek. Fantastic counterparts always do better than historical games, and we see this play out again here.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

My Life in Fandom: The Launch of "Astounding Frontiers" Magazine

The folks at Superversive Press held one of their regular roundtable podcasts yesterday afternoon. Block out a couple of hours and have yourself a listen. They talked about the pulps, PulpRev, and how this movement (and Superversive alongside) will displace the SJW-converged traditional publishing complex centered upon the New York-London axis and supersede it after the complex collapses under its own weight due to its convergence-compelled incompetence.

The next step towards that victory happened today: the launch of Astounding Frontiers, a new fiction magazine dedicated to entertaining its readers with tales of wonder and adventure- something said complex routinely fails to deliver (and thus alienate readers by the millions).

This is the sort of thing that has to happen. We can't wait for someone else to save us, or for someone to hand us a solution. We have to do it ourselves, and that means building up alternatives to the SocJus death cult's stranglehold on our culture. All we need to do is to satisfy the audience's demand for quality storytelling that gives them something to imagine, to enjoy, to relieve them of their dreary day-to-day existence and give them something that satisfies the desire for a life more than drudgery and death.

And not to preach at them.

The best examples will be those that don't talk down to the reader, don't lie to the reader, and don't bore the reader. This was the brilliance of the old pulps, the classics that still endure to this day despite all of the shoving down the memory hole that went (and goes) on. It's no mistake that the most popular media franchises in the world root themselves in the pulps and--despite mismanagement by entryist SJWs--still get the best reaction when they are loyal to that spirit.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

My Life as a Gamer: Palladium's Three Horror Games

Palladium Books has three horror games in their catalog. The oldest of the three, and the only one to have a second edition, is Beyond The Supernatural. This game came out before the monster-as-hero picked up steam in film and television, and just started to get steam in comics, so it's best taken as being inspired by the horror films of the 70s and 80s. Player-accessible supernatural powers are limited to spell-casting and psychic powers; this game did Buffy the Vampire Slayer well before the TV series (and certainly before the licensed tabletop RPG).

This is a pre-RIFTS game, and it's meant to use the real world as its setting, so the craziness commonly associated with Palladium's games is a bit muted here, but if there is any movie that captures how the game actually feels in practice then go watch Cabin in the Woods. For a game meant to be low-key, the actual disparity of power required for a good horror scenario is often lacking out of the box; it takes a confident Game Master to make it work, something that too many lack.

When done right, you get the experience of a Hammer Horror film featuring competent protagonists. When done wrong, you get satire like Blackula. But there is another option, and that's the option that made this game stand out: the Victim rules. By default, the game doesn't do Slasher Films well; the Victim rules fix this, allowing players to be truly hapless and helpless before the horror they face, and forcing the players to be just as resourceful (and reliant on luck) as the stupid teenagers and co-eds of the films this option emulates. It has its fans, but most horror gamers stick to Call of Cthulhu in general or to another competitor for something more specific.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Shadowbanned on Twatter! Oh Noes!

Last night, I got locked out of my Twitter account briefly. The excuse was someone doing unusual activity, so reset the password to stop them from hacking the Gibson. That's occurred before, so I reset my password and that was that. Or so I thought. Then that lovely pooka, The QuQu, told me that I got my Cool Kid Club membership card:

My response merits a picture.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

My Life as a Gamer: Ninjas & Superspies vs. Spycraft

When I first saw the cover to Ninjas & Superspies, I knew I had to have it. This looked like the Totally-Not-G.I. Joe RPG I'd wanted for years, and it came from the people who made Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Heroes Unlimited and I didn't know anyone who did Champions back then so Palladium was my jam.

It was a mess. It still is a mess. Not because the rules were hard to grasp, even with the new Chi mechanic added, but rather due to cumbersome organization and unclear text in places. Once you figured out what the hell to do, the game itself was not that bad; you're an Operative for an Agency, and you go on Missions for the Agency to advance its agenda. The subsystem for creating your own Agencies would come back time and again in other Palladium products (at least three times in RIFTS alone) for various operative front organizations.

The actual play experience resembled those '80s G.I. Joe cartoons with ease, and with effort their comic counterparts. Remember that this was the '80s, and ninja were awesome. So were the classic '80s Action Films that Razorfist has an entire playlist extolling the virtues thereof. This game--late to the party and not entirely successful--tried to cash in on that sentiment, as filtered by men who were already adults at the time and made their bones in the comics and games of the '70s. This ain't John Wick. It ain't even John Woo. If you try hard, you can get close to Sam Peckinpah.

Which is why this is not one of Palladium's popular games. Not even an entire supplement--Mystic China--devoted to China's martial arts and related mythology did anything to make this anything but an also-ran that sometimes gets mined for use with other games the company publishes. The execution, for many gamers, lacked enough to prompt them to choose a competitor instead. It would be a while before someone tried this concept again and hit.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Looking Forward: The Music That Scores Our Victory Is Yet to be Written

Music often makes or breaks a film or series. What would Indiana Jones be without the Raiders' March? What would Star Wars be without its eponymous opening and closing themes, or the Imperial March? Star Trek, Doctor Who, and many more have a core of their appeal derived from the music created as part of the production process.

We are foolish to ignore this going forward. As much as many in the PulpRev scene focus upon the written word, and secondarily upon the static image (i.e. comics), the audience likes to see and hear the glory of the hot-blooded heroes as well as read about them. In that respect, music is fundamental to success, and we would be wise to start looking now for friendly bards at all levels of the business all across the world.

Just as we should--and are--building parallel alternative institutions to repeal and replace the converged publishing houses in New York City and London, and we're now making the first moves towards severing the napes of the titans that are D.C. and Marvel, so is it wise to begin bringing musicians into the fold and begin organizing parallels to the equally-converged music business. This will bear fruit when the alt-media moves in film and television begin breaking through, and we'll be in need of their services (and be well able to pay them properly).

Imagine a future where we not only have original music made for our films and series, but we also hold concerts where they're performed live. It would be like the Animelo Summer Live series in Japan, or the live concerts at AX or ACen. Allow me to show you what this could--no, will--look like, if we have the will to see it happen:

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Mech Piloting: How The Mindset Works

When you watch someone play World of Warcraft, and you see them open the Character pane, you see what the industry calls a "paper doll". This is where the player can adjust what gear that character wears by taking items on or off the virtual doll. The effects on your character are on an accompanying panel that reads out your character's relevant statistics: attribute scores, damage output, hit points, etc. This sort of thing is an industry standard in videogames now, so you'll find this in older games like Diablo and newer ones like Fallout 4.

Swap the man-like doll for a robot doll and you've got BattleTech. You can do this with any Real Robot or Super Robot, even the non-human ones. You can even do this with vehicles, like cars and tanks; swap the components out, see how that affects performance, settle on a loadout, and go.

Now, when you're actually playing, you're operating your virtual doll. Even if that doll is a tank or a robot, where there is some pilot or crew at the controls, as far as the game's concerned the doll is your man and not the pilot or crew. The doll is your character, because the doll is the robot you control.

That's right, folks. For a Mech Pilot, "Amuro Rey" and "RX-78 Gundam" are two separate characters because they're two separate and distinct virtual dolls and you can only operate one at a time. That you can nest one (Amuro) into the other (Gundam) doesn't change this fact for a Mech Pilot. Not that most Mech Pilots notice this consciously, but by their behavior they do act on that fact.

Now you see why the hate of vehicles in the aforementioned MMORPG works as it does; you're actually swapping robots, and the time you spent on customizing and upgrading one doesn't transfer over to the other.

Monday, July 10, 2017

My Life as a Gamer: The Rise of the Mech Pilots

When Blizzard released Wrath of the Lich King for World of Warcraft, one of the new things that went live was a new alternative user interface for use when the player seizes control of a vehicle. Being that this was new, it got used a lot in the available content at launch, and not just in open world questing. They got used at critical points in dungeons, and it was this bit that turned the masses against the new vehicle element.

Why?

"I'm not playing my character!" was the common response. They resented that all of the work they put into building, mastering, and upgrading their character did not mean jack and squat at the climax of a dungeon or raid encounter. Instead, they got forced to use a different character and figure out how to master this new character or the group gets wiped out by the final boss.

This, folks, is Mech Piloting. When the players of the world's most popular MMORPG--and, this being Wrath, it truly was--openly talk of their characters as if they were models of robot that they turn into Ace Customs over time, and gameplay talk gets dominated by how your robot interacts with the game solely via mechanics, you have Mech Piloting as the dominant mindset. It was that way then. It is that way now. It is that way with other MMORPGs. It is that way with other videogames. It's the norm.

That's forgivable for MMORPGs. Being videogames, it's not like you have any choice that the programmers didn't put in there to work with. The issue, as I've mentioned previously, is this is now the dominant mindset in tabletop RPGs, where such technical limitations DO NOT EXIST!.

Now, why did this backwash to tabletop RPGs? Simple: this mindset already had purchase in tabletop RPGs, and when a generation steeped in it rose to seize control of the dominant publisher they remade The Only TRPG That Matters in that image. PC-as-Mech is Working As Intended, and so is RPG-as-Mechanical-Interaction.

The net effect? Now tabletop RPGs got in line with every other form of RPG (or RPG-like) game out there, which is just this thing. The original, proper way to play is now a minority position; the proof is not only in what gets published and how those publications present their content, but also in the dominant discussion online and in person- rules, tools, and mechanical interactions. Everything Not Permitted Is Forbidden.

This mindset is perfect for publishers. They now have the authority, not the Game Master. They can use Organized Play organizations to push Official Play, thought-policing their users. Players no longer need to trust the Game Master; they can play wherever and get the same experience- like a TRPG version of McDonald's. They can even go so far as to farm out a lot of supplementary production out (which was the explicit goal of the d20 System trademark, and not-quite-so with the Open Gaming License), focusing on the stuff that rakes in the cash. (Still not quite there, but it's getting close to being realized.) It's as if folks thought Games Workshop had an unbeatable business model and tried to ape it.

(Side note: Guess what else started to get bad at this time? The pozzing. Guess why? This scheme's potential for brain-jacking via cultural control. Who knew that Doctor Who's Cybermen were better realized metaphorically than literally?)

The vulnerability that will bring it down is that all of this relies on the Glamor of Officialdom. So long as you give a damn over what is Official, you'll conform to Mech Pilot norms as driven by the publisher. Once that glamor breaks, it's not hard to walk away from Mech Pilot thinking altogether in favor of the liminality of the medium. Why? Because children rely on adults, and Officialdom is the infantilization of adult minds to conform to external authority.

Tabletop RPGs don't need such a thing, and work best without one, because adults can work things out for themselves and do what works for them. The concerns of others outside their own group are utterly fucking irrelevant. As robots need logistical trains that men do not, Mech Pilots needs Official dome and proper play does not. That's how you get out of this mess- you man the fuck up and handle this yourself.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

My Life as a Gamer: Palladium, Robotech, & Mecha Gaming

In the 1980s, Palladium Books got the license to two (at the time) popular properties. One of them was Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and the other was Robotech. Outside of the company's flagship (which didn't drop until 1990), these two were big drivers for the company's increase in profile and the success it signifies. In time, both licenses expired and the product lines allowed to go out of print.

To make use of the former, Palladium rebranded that game to After The Bomb and focused upon the post-apocalyptic setting option of the old line. That wasn't an option for the latter, so a new license got sought; when the (second) aborted sequel came, Palladium got that license and Robotech: The Shadow Chronicles hit the shelves.

I remember how many things Palladium got wrong with the original edition, above and beyond the necessity to conform to the licensor's setting bible vs. the original series' bibles. (e.g. The Beta Fighter all wrong) Now? Mostly fixed, and within the tolerance allowed for (original series) vs. Robotech. The rules are in the wrong place again (the back), so all of those Character Creation and such game info has no context due to contents being out of proper order. The original printings were Digest Format; newer ones are back to the old 8.5x11 format Palladium built its business with- and it doesn't matter which you get.

The other obvious catch is that the rulebook defaults to the Shadow Chronicles setting, with the more popular stuff from the original series shunted into supplementary material. That's how the license works, so I can't be mad. If you want to get your Valkyrie on, you're buying two books; same for you wanting to get your Hovertank action, or being anti-Inbit partisans. (Sentinels fans, on the other hand, have to make due with just the rulebook for now- or find a used copy of the old Sentinels book.) Or you can make up your own using fan sites, wikis, and hacking together your own ruleset- in which case you're just two steps behind Palladium anyway.

What neither the old edition nor the new edition does is address the elephant in the room: D&D-style dynamics rarely work in Real Robot mecha show settings. It's no surprise, therefore, that practical gaming focuses on the Invid Invasion or otherwise seeks to replicate those dynamics. Why? Because partisan cells are (current) D&D-paradigm-friendly and formal military units are not. That doesn mean that you can't make it work, but rather that you have to use another approach.

A mech pilot is no different than a tanker or a fighter jock; they are there to work the controls as they fulfill specific military objectives within a short interval of time- minutes or hours vs. days or longer (i.e. a specific sortie). You don't mix tankers, fighter jocks, mechanics, and grunts together into a squad or platoon-sized party. That only happens when the ordinary function of the military institution breaks down, and it's meant to be a temporary affair.

How do you get around this? Multiple characters per player. Each one focuses on a different playable space, adapting the way you'd run this as a wargame campaign to the tabletop RPG space. One time you're out clearing the skies with your fighter jocks. The next you're clearing enemy bunkers with your grunts. Intelligence operatives do their thing the session after that.

A similar approach is to open up the table, with an eye towards having people who really like one specific part of the whole to play out that part and pass on the success or failure to other groups who handle other elements of the overall operation- similar to how real militaries work. If you're willing and able to run for multiple groups, this is the model for you; more people get to have their fun, while verisimilitude is maintained.

But, for most, they just want to play this game like they do D&D: stake out a role in the party, and go. You're going to have a bad time in most of the playable spaces that Robotech offers, and no amount of Storygame bullshit will fix that. The result is that this game in particular--and mecha gaming in general--rarely leaves the wargame sphere for RPG Land because of the common gamer's unwillingness to adapt to the setting's circumstances. For them, the game is about being in the mecha--being in their favorite mecha--and fuck everything else because it's boring as shit. Most people won't work for their entertainment, and that includes changing how they approach a given category of game; as "RPG" equals "D&D" for most, they approach all RPGs that way- and that includes game designers and publishers. This is a mistake. Yet, it keeps happening. "Will not work" is why.

I like the game enough to have it on my shelf, but most don't. Too confining and restrictive for many to be enjoyable. A'int that ironic: a game featuring mech piloting that most Mech Pilots don't like.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Today's Geek Gab, and Why Pozzing Matters

The folks at Geek Gab had another good show today, featuring a review of Spider-Man: Homecoming. Check it out.

These days, I wait until Daddy Warpig's seen a film I'm interested in before deciding if I want to spend the time (nevermind the money) on it. The reason? I want nothing to do with Socjus pozzing, and Hollywood has plenty of it going on these days. That's why I stopped watching all but a handful of TV shows, none of which are dramas or comedies. (Yep, all non-fiction- officially, anyway.) That's why I stopped watching even the dreck films SyFy uses to fill its programming holes.

It doesn't help that they're formulaic to the point of Mad Libs. One of the reasons I stopped watching a lot of films and shows (and reading a lot of books and comics) is because they're boring and predictable. Once you've seen the pattern, you can't un-see it and that kills my interest in a lot of things. Why? Because there is exploration of an idea, and the execution of it. Since far too many writers (et. al.) rely on the pattern (e.g. Save the Cat!) and just make Pink Slime they have to rely on execution to deliver the goods. If they can't be bothered to explore the idea, then most can't be bothered to execute well where competence in execution matters. This is a big reason for why most Hollywood product is crap before the pozzing is done.

The pozzing, however, makes whatever it afflicts worse by lying to the audience. Fiction is not factual (it tells tales of events that never happened), but good fiction does not lie; it uses the truth, especially the fundamental truth of Mankind, to give these non-factual stories the weight of reality so that we may more readily embrace their narratives and be caught up in them. In this manner, even the most fantastic tale with the most fantastic environments--our Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror tales--tell us the truth about life, Mankind, and those other cosmic fundamentals as any mythology worth a damn has to do to justify its existence.

Pozzing, therefore, lies to us about these things and then--metaphorical gun to our heads--demands that we accept them as true. It does this not primarily to brainwash, but to humiliate and degrade so that later brainwashing can be done to those rendered vulnerable thereby. It tells us that black is white, and then threatens dissenters with social sanction (and, later, state sanction) for daring to speak up and gainsay that lie- it's a form of media-driven humiliation and demoralization.

Go figure. I don't want to give my money, or anything else, to people who hate me. Hence why I've pulled back from a lot of things; once pozzed, usually you're stuck with only burning it to ash and salting the ruins to get rid of it. It's that virulent a disease, and once a critical mass hits the convergence spreads like an outbreak and you see one real form of the zombie apocalypse happen.

And that's the otherwise-good stuff. Imagine how the bad stuff that gets pozzed is- or watch that crap, if you prefer. Me? I'd rather do something else. If Warpig is Right (and he usually is), then I'll see the film sooner or later. Otherwise, to the Forbidden Zone it goes with the rest of the trash.

Friday, July 7, 2017

The ENnies & Origin Awards Are Worthless

In the tabletop gaming world, there are the Origin Awards and the ENnies. The former are named for (and awarded at) the Origins Trade Fair. The latter is a "popular" award (that few know about, or care about) handed out at GENCon. You'd think that my mentioning of them would mean a comparison to other industry awards.

You're not wrong.

The question is: "Are these awards worth your time?" and the answer is an ear-shattering "NO!"

The reason? Winning either award has jack-all influence on later sales or business opportunities. They are close to a fake award as you can get without being literal "I went to the trophy shop and had one made." fake. That, by the way, is before accounting for the SJW convergence factor. Once that comes in, and you have a Hugo-like problem that manifested in a fraction of the time.

Fortunately, the solution is the same: toss them on the trash pile with the Hugos, douse it in jet fuel, and torch the crap castle. Then use the light to guide your way over to the Dragon Awards and participate there instead.

Not that the Drgaons--being only in their second year this year--have proven to actually have an impact on tabletop RPG sales, yet, but simply by the lack of SJW convergence they're already superior to the ENnies and the Origins. But that leads to another problem, a long-standing problem, that the Social Justice Warrior death cult neither started nor escalated.

That problem is the fact that tabletop RPGs are like this: Dungeons & Dragons (at this point, that includes Pathfinder and 5th Edition) is the only game that matters overall. Within specific genres, an also-ran is that genre's top dog (Champions, Call of Cthulhu, Traveller, Spycraft) and some genres that are popular in other media are almost absent in tabletop RPGs.

In short, even if an award was incorruptable and wholly meritocratic, you'd still get utter domination by D&D and its ilk by sheer volume of numbers. Why? Because tabletop RPGs are just like telephone networks and the Internet itself: utterly dependent upon the Network Effect for their utility (and therefore justification for existence at all). The more users you have for a TRPG, the more play that actually gets done, and the more useful information about that game that gets passed around (making more people want to play). It's a feedback loop!

MMORPG players know the other side of this effect very well. Once you invest enough time into a game, you are loathe to leave because you're avoiding the admission that you'd have to accept that investment as a sunk cost as the price for quitting. This is why folks who get into a MMORPG (a) gravitate towards the dominant game, (b) rarely leave for anything but the #2 or #3 rival, and (c) usually come back once they realize that the dominant game is dominant for concrete and practical reasons.

The same thing applies to tabletop RPGs, and always has. This is why D&D in general (and the most recent edition specifically, with 4th edition being a bit weird here) has been--and likely always shall be--the only tabletop RPG that matters, such that D&D defines not just RPGs in general but the entire medium of tabletop RPG play (and greatly influences RPG-like play in other media).

With that level of dominance, awards are going to be mostly useless. Those done by insiders (Origins) don't influence the masses, and those done popularly (or "popularly") are going to reflect the domination of the #1 game in the medium. At best it's good only for taking the temperature of the category, a snapshot of a moment to see where the trend goes, and otherwise is utterly useless.

So let them burn to ash. That's what you do with other fake useless things, like $3 bills, so why not these paper crowns?

Thursday, July 6, 2017

The Fan Convention Faces Obsolescence

If any of you are expecting me at CONvergence 2017, you're going to be disappointed. I won't be there, for reasons I talked about on Sunday of last year. (You can read those reasons via this link here.) I will not attending any conventions anywhere unless and until I am convinced that the convention in question (a) isn't SJW-converged and (b) actually does something that the Internet doesn't do just as well (if not better) for less. (Yes, that's right; I argue that conventions don't provide sufficient value to merit the expense of attendance.)

And, much like I don't give two shits about "the theater experience", neither do I care about "the convention experience" either. You want to keep the convention as a thing in itself relevant? Add value that the Internet cannot possibly match. You'd think this would be "more live events, streamed live", but few bother even trying and aside from BlizzCon even fewer can figure out how to do it properly (and BlizzCon cheats by outsourcing to DirectTV).

Make that "supporting membership" mean something, you stupid SMOFs, and maybe you'll not wither and die in the Internet age. If not, then die in a fire, and take your wretched cliques with them into the incinerator.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Narrative Warfare: The Ideological Conquest of Science Fiction Literature

This video is too good to not give a signal boost to, so here it is. It's just shy of 30 minutes in length, so get a drink and have a seat. Here's your history, which SJWs want you to never remember because once you learn it you're going to hate those death cultists forever- and want to see them destroyed utterly forever.

Let me emphasize that you really should click through to the video's page, and then hit up the Description. The links listed are great and many, and you will find all of the citations therein. This is a clear Gramascian scheme to subvert, demoralize, and destroy a cultural institution with the explicit objective to converge it for the purpose of spreading Lefist meme-diseases of all sorts. Only now is there any serious pushback, for the reasons explained in the video, and that pushback needs to end with these frauds being squished flat and fed into a woodchipper.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

My Life as a Gamer: Superhero Tabletop RPG Hot Takes

There are few things more American than superheroes, and of course tabletop RPGs have plenty of offerings. However, as is often the case, only a few of them actually matter because only those few will readily get players to sit at the table. Here's that short list, and my takes on them.

Champions is the D&D of this genre in tabletop RPGs. Yet it is no class-and-level game. You have to build your man up from zero, literally using a points budget to design your hero as if he were a robot. The Game Master may level further fetters that constrict the mechanical operation of your man, and your man isn't that likely to change much over the course of play. There's a hell of a lot of dealing with rules up-front, and the combat system is slow as hell, but there's a reason it's still the dominant game (now in its sixth edition) in tabletop RPGs: it does deliver on its promise of doing any hero, allowing cross-genre play with ease. Its massive supplement catalog, and house setting, has a following akin to the One True Universe of Traveller, and many of the supplements are good (sub-)genre guides in their own right.

The number two game, and the only real contender for the top spot, is Mutants & Masterminds. This game arose as one of the breakout stars during the heyday of the d20 System, surviving the brand's collapse when Wizards of the Coast changed direction with D&D's 4th Edition. Currently in its 3rd edition, it's been used for the recent version of DC's licensed game. It too offers to handle any hero, and it has not failed to deliver yet, for much the same reason as Champions: it's a point-build system, where "level" is just a power limiter. While simpler (by comparison), that also means fine mechanical detail is lost (but nothing a competent Game Master can't handle).

The only class-and-level game on this list is Palladium's Heroes Unlimited, and it's always going to be no better than #3 because of two big flaws right out of the gate: it can't do any hero (Hell, it can't even do Iron Man!), and its rules are poorly presently to the point of actual contradiction (as in "There are contradictory character generation rules."), requiring that the Game Master either find errata (Good luck!) or fix it before he sits players down. It's still a better option than many you'll find, with only true classics like Villains & Vigilantes giving any competition.

What this comes down to is that the medium is perfect for "Who would win?" questions, then to answer "But this is how it should be done!" fanboyisms, but the lack of clear and sufficiently-frequent character progression (ala D&D) torpedoed the appeal alongside far too much player-facing interaction with rules and mechanics up front. Until these, and other known issues, get fixed you'll continue to see superhero RPGs languish worse than D&D and its clones (and similarly not succeed in videogames for similar reasons).

Monday, July 3, 2017

My Life as a Gamer: Systems Failure - Not a Gem

Not all of Palladium's games are items with hidden brilliance. Systems Failure, made to play on the fears of Y2K over 15 years ago, is that side of Palladium- the one where it's not brilliant-but-bungled. No, this is the sort of thing that would not have gone over during the era of Superfriends (and man, did that cartoon have some clunker episodes), and even Hanna-Barbara would've gone "Oh come on!" and the showrunners during the worst days of Doctor Who would've said "This is just rubbish."

The premise is as simple as its cover makes it seem: giant bugs invade the world and seek to conquer Mankind to use for its nefarious ends, and they use the event of New Year's Day of 2000 to make it happen. Why? Because they can become energy beings, but only travel via solid connection--only via landlines of sufficient bandwidth--so they have a narrow window to conquer target species. (Yes, that's right, go Wireless and the Bugs aren't an issue.)

There's "What If?" and there's "Piss-Poor Excuse". This is the latter, and the result is clear: a game whose premise and presentation does not compel the player or the Game Master to take the game seriously. This is not something that inspires anything but mockery, increasingly so as we get away from the turn of the millennium; it's the sort of vibe one gets from inferior genre fiction (e.g. Fear the Walking Dead), and the play that results inspires satire like Knights of the Dinner Table.

Do give this a read, but if you would not play obvious comedy like Paranoia then this isn't up your alley either. It's worth having (so buy used) only to learn from its failure as a game.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

My Life as a Gamer: Splicers is a Brilliant Mashup

Palladium Books' flagship RPG is RIFTS, and a lot of that accidental brilliance can found therein, but it is a mistake to avoid their other games. I mentioned Palladium's fantasy game the other day, but its science fiction games are no less full of earnest brilliance. The latest one is Splicers, a one-book game that's best summed up as "Terminator meets Bio-Booster Armor Guyver by way of Dune."

The problem is that this summary, while accurate, is a pain in the ass to make work at the table because the book's content is so horribly laid out that you had to wonder if Palladium used a retarded rhesus monkey to do the job. The actual rules are in the back of the book, not up-front where the reader actually needs them to be in an instruction manual (and that's what a tabletop RPG book is: an instruction manual). The rest of the book is similarly amateurish in its presentation.

Yet, once you do get your head around it, this game is a brilliant mashup and there's plenty of potential for dynastic power plays (D&D's original endgame), hot-blooded action against implacable foes using exotic weapons (your default play structure: power-armor unit fights Machine forces to achieve an objective), and the chance to employ the old-school mode of running a game laid out at Ars Ludi: the West Marches model.

The catch here is that the setting isn't that friendly to standard D&D-style play structures. It lacks critical elements that make tabletop RPGs easy to run (specifically, the Anarchy element is lacking; see the link), because you're not going to get the fun stuff without being yoked to an infrastructure controlled by a warlord more powerful than you and therefore there's Oaths of Fealty involved (and you had better believer those oaths have teeth; this is one of those settings where exile is a death sentence). Medieval Mindset in Miraculous Military Machinery is a good summary.

But, if you're willing to abide by those boundaries, you can have a hell of a good time. You just have to work for it, especially as the Game Master, because you're taking half-explained (and half-explored) ideas and having to finish fleshing them into solid complete constructs for use at your table. It helps if you're familiar with the source material that this game draws from, and the concepts as used therein, but it's not necessary. As a player, you've got to accept that your man isn't independent or autonomous; you're better off taking the mindset that you would in playing King Arthur Pendragon than you would with D&D. You act on behalf of your lord and your clan first and foremost, and on behalf of your nation (Mankind) second, when fighting the Machine.

Because this is so poorly presented, lots of people pass Splicers up; most people will never work for their entertainment, and this game does require some to be done to get the fun out of it. That's a mistake; give this game a go if you like your mashups filled with action, romance, giant robot combat (and you don't want to play Mekton).

Saturday, July 1, 2017

My Life as a Gamer: Palladium's Brilliance in Liminality

Palladium Books' fantasy line has its gems of brilliance. I previously posted about one of my favorite adventure modules, which is in an out-of-print product (Adventures in the Northern Wilderness). It was in that long-gone supplement that Palladium presented the Wolfen Empire as being literally Roman Wolfmen. It was simple, evocative, and brilliant even for a no-nothing teenager like me.

Now, decades later, that brilliance is even brighter given all that I've learned since; there's a lot to build an exciting campaign around in that simple premise (and I want to do just that someday). Today? You need to hunt down the successor book: The Wolfen Empire

If you're not used to Palladium's way of writing and publishing material, don't expect the production quality of Wizards of the Coast or Paizo Publishing. Palladium began when publishing was still laid out by hand using wax templates, and even though they (at last) use desktop publishing software and other more recent technologies the company founder still wants the final product to look like it came off the printer in the 1980s. The sincere, earnest quality is as much a result of their adherence to small-printer norms of that day as it is from the half-mad enthusiasm of Palladium's founder and shot-caller: Kevin Siembieda.

You'll get adventures, general social and geographic information, some NPCs, and maybe some toys to play with. To the jaundiced eye, a Palladium product might seem amateurish- and unacceptable from someone who's been a player since the days of Classic Traveller. Yet therein lies a surprising strength from which Palladium's enduring appeal (and audience loyalty) stems: you're expected to fill in the blanks on your own.

That's right, Palladium's games lean a lot of that very exploitation of liminality that I've talked about previously. The Mech Pilots cry because the rules are insufficiently comprehensive, and sometimes contradictory, requiring the Game Master to be Referee and issue rulings to cover the gaps. The Storyfakers cry because, for all the talk of epic tales, Palladium's games are as rooted in the wargame lineage as Dungeons & Dragons and play best that way- as GAMES, first and foremost, and no concern at all to narrative tropes or other such nonsense.

The way Palladium gets away with this is by leaning heavy on iconic imagery and archetypal characters. That Roman Wolfman? He's in the full Legion garb of a Post-Marian soldier, and so's the rest of his unit. It's not hard to conceive of the speed with which Wolfen adapted pack-based hunting and fighting to Roman Legion discipline, with Centurions being civilized pack leaders and units being raised not only from the same tribe, but from the same generational cohort of the same clan. Neither is it hard to see how the viciousness of Roman politics acquires a new meaning when the "Romans" are humanoid wolves.

I bet you PulpRev folks are already having ideas on how this would be a hell of a story, in the mode of Edgar Rice Burroughs' classic Mars books. Congratulations, you're ready to play. You already know what you need to get going. It's just down to deciding on some details, then it's time to grab the books and start rolling dice. This is how Palladium remains a player after over 30 years in the tabletop RPG scene. You've got to admire that sort of tenacity-through-audacity.