Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The Stone Roses: Made of Stone (2013) is a must-see for fans

Last week, I had the pleasure of watching Made of Stone, the new documentary by Shane Meadows about the Stone Roses reuniting for a tour.

If you've ever enjoyed listening to the Stone Roses, this is a must-see. 

It's touched with insights into the legal events that surrounded their break-up, examines the creative dynamics between the band, and has some great drama in the vein of the best music docos.

But best of all: the music. Meadows has edited the film and the performances of the songs to bring out the subtext in the lyrics and the interplay between the band members. The way each song (and where it's performed) adds to the story of a band trying to reunite is just incredible. There were at least two points where I cried, and I was absolutely riveted by the last 15 minutes of the film.

Anyway, here's the trailer (which I think accurately captures the vibe of the film). If you like the trailer, you'll like the film.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

My new game: 'Soth'. It's Call of Cthulhu, after you've gone mad

If you ever wanted to know what the world looked like from the villains' point of view, Soth is the game for you.

Soth (26 page .pdf)

It's a roleplaying game where you play cultists in small town America trying to summon the dark god Soth. 

I call it ‘the horrible game’: it starts with your cult having just completed your first ritual sacrifice, and continues with you having to juggle four things:
  • covering up your crimes
  • continuing with your cult’s rituals
  • fulfilling your mundane responsibilities so your family, friends and workmates don’t get suspicious
  • warding off the growing number of investigators looking to bring you down.

The tone of the game is noir. In my playtests, it's felt very much like a ‘cat-and-mouse’ thriller. Sometimes the cultists are on top and their evil plans seem unstoppable; sometimes they're very much on the back-foot, scrambling to save themselves. It's got a very competitive ‘players vs. GM’ dynamic.

This was my entry in this year's Game Chef entry this year: a scorched-earth rewrite of an earlier version that's now a mostly diceless hack of Apocalypse World.

If it sounds like your sort of thing, feel free to download, share, play and comment here.

Saturday, July 06, 2013

How to run a forum: Have a clear purpose and expected behaviour. Publicly call out offenders

Notes from a 2007 interview. On his Theory from the Closet podcast, Clyde L Roher interviewed Ron Edwards and Vincent Baker on their moderation policies at the Forge. They had three conclusions:

  1. The site's purpose needs to be explicit.
  2. The behaviour you expect from members of the community needs to be clearly stated.
  3. When a person is behaving problematically, the moderator needs to call them out publicly.

(A fourth principle: you never need to apologise to the moderator.)

It's a good listen, with some other conversation about running Spione and Dogs in the Vineyard. The interview is here:

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

My Left Coast game is a perk for a Philip K Dick movie kickstarter.

There's 8 days left to get a special edition of Left Coast: my game about science fiction writers living in California.

The game was inspired by:

  • a competition called ‘The Ronnies’ where you have to write the game within 24 hours, and 
  • a collection of interviews with Philip K. Dick (PKD) that showed me how human he was: fallible, creative, moving somewhere between a working poor and middle-class lifestyle, filled with convictions and insight, and having experienced something mystical and inexplicable that completely changed his relationship with reality.

The simple pitch for Left Coast is that you create a short story about a science fiction author and her eccentric friends and family. The problems really start when weirdness from the author’s novels begins invading real life. The whole game takes about two hours to play, and you should be able to sit down and be creating a story with your friends within 15 minutes.

How do you get a copy?

Short answer: go to this Kickstarter site and pledge $5: Radio Free Albemuth kickstarter

Long and weird answer:

While I was developing the game, Ivan (one of the playtesters) recommended PKD’s novel, Radio Free Albemuth to me. He was totally right: this book was the missing piece in my inspirations for the game. It’s set in a world that’s pretty much like ours; one of the main characters is Philip K. Dick. The other main character is Nick Brady. He’s receiving telepathic messages that are leading him towards trying to overthrow the government. The book’s main mystery is where are those messages coming from? Is Nick crazy? Is he receiving messages from an alternate dimension or time travelers?

At the start of the year, I was contacted by John Alan Simon, an actual Hollywood producer. Once I'd recovered from my surprise, we started talking about a passion project he’s worked on for years: a film adaptation of Radio Free Albemuth that's (a) finished and (b) faithful to the book.

If you’re like me then PKD film adaptations are quite frustrating. There’s a tendency for the ideas in the original story to get strapped onto a chase narrative, so that Act 1 introduces a cool world and a fascinating premise / interesting situation, and then Act 2 jettisons all that to put the main characters on the run.

Radio Free Albemuth is different. It’s got the character focus of an adaptation like A Scanner Darkly. However, the minds of the main characters in Radio Free Albemuth aren’t disintegrating quite as much as the lead character in Scanner. As a result, the story and film focuses more on what it might be like to live in a country ruled by a government obsessed with surveilling and controlling its citizens, and what the cost of rebellion against that government might be.

John Alan Simon found a copy of my original draft of Left Coast online and recognized we were both passionate about these sorts of worlds and stories.

He talked about how the film was complete and had gotten excellent reviews:

Bleeding Cool
The London International Festival of Science Fiction and Fantastic Film

... and explained that he was kickstarting to finance a limited release of Radio Free Albemuth in theatres.

I was happy to help. So, I’ve offered Left Coast as a Kickstarter reward.

If you're interested, you can find out more about Left Coast and the Radio Free Albemuth kickstarter here:

Radio Free Albumeth: the Left Coast bonus

Sunday, June 16, 2013

This week, I've been learning Adobe Premiere and After Effects

I recut the Jenni's Angels 48 Hour film from 2010: 'Ultimate Monster Fighter: Showdown' (UMF:S). It was a small project to ease back into editing and teach myself the basics of Adobe Premiere.

'The Hunt' is the result:

As I looked over the raw footage of UMF:S, I felt that I really wanted to concentrate on the story of the fight between Jon and Kerina. Figuring out the beats of that story and how to play it tighter and more seriously than UMF:S took a while.

It became clear that it'd be cool to insert a special effect into one of the sequences of the fight. Until this week, I'd never created a special effect but I've watched Norman and Andrew use After Effects to do some great stuff, so I decided to boot it up and teach myself how to use it (google proved helpful).

The weak spot is definitely my sound mixing skills. I haven't figured how to balance all of the elements yet, and that's crucial to any film playing properly.

I'm looking forward to doing more of this.

Here's the original 'Ultimate Monster Fighter: Showdown':

... which is, itself, a sequel to 'Monster Hunter IV: Beyond Repair':

Friday, May 17, 2013

Stephen King's The Dark Tower: Fan Art and Casting

Kevin Costner (Roland), Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Eddie), Traci Thoms (Susannah) and Chandler Canterbury (Jake)

This is a bit of an experiment with Photoshop, to try and teach myself some stuff (I still have MUCH to learn). Also, I've made flagrant use of other peoples' art in putting these images together.

Monday, March 11, 2013

The Fades 1.6:

Turns out that having only 6 episodes lets a show be nasty and status-quo-changing.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

The Fades 1.5

An episode that riffs off both Buffy's 'School Hard' and John Carpenter films. This one simultaneously feels like a placeholder episode, a nasty self-contained horror movie, and a sophisticated piece of writing that clarifies everyone's motivations and puts all the characters in interesting positions for the finale.

Saturday, March 09, 2013

Friday, March 08, 2013

The Fades 1.3: a twitter commentary

This was a fantastic episode, with some of the best plot developments I've seen in a show since Supernatural's Season 1 finale.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Fiasco: Time travel and Coen Brothers shenanigans create a compelling story

On Tuesday night, I had my first unequivocally successful game of Fiasco - a roleplaying game by Jason Morningstar about inspired by cinematic tales of small time capers gone disastrously wrong (such as Blood Simple, Fargo, Burn After Reading, and A Simple Plan).

 Fiasco is a GM-less game for 3-5 players. My previous attempts have been marred by different combinations of the following:

  • too many players 
  • disagreements about tone (some players wanting the story to be gonzo; others wanting it more serious and real) 
  • lack of genuine enthusiasm from all players about the setting of the story 
  • scenes that featured fuzzy motivations and unclear conflicts 
  • confusion amongst the players about how events in the story pay off and tie together. 

This session (which lasted about two hours) dealt with many of those problems head on.

We had five players, and all of us were genuinely keen to play a setting called 'All the Damn Time', which centres around a time-traveller called Sam. Each player portrays Sam at a different stage of his life, and each Sam (from youngest to oldest) has access to a time machine and can interfere or aid the other versions of himself.

Once we'd set the story up two situations clearly emerged. Firstly, my character, Sam at 12 years old (henceforth Sam@12) was obsessed with building a time machine and disappointed with Sam@17 who had abandoned this dream. Secondly, due to a malfunction with the time machine the oldest version of Sam (Sam@33) was stuck in the Mesozoic era trying to avoid dinosaurs and find a way out.

I took the opportunity before the game began to ask everyone a few questions about what was motivating each of our Sams - and expressed a preference for clear simple motivations. For instance, Sam@12 wanted to build the time machine in order to go back and save his mum's life.

From there, the game flowed pretty smoothly. Fiasco doesn't really give you much support in the way of 'what happens in a scene' but the game works well if a group (a) are all enthusiastic about the setting and characters they've chosen,  (b) use the locations, objects and motivations that the setting gives them, (c) have a clear understanding of each character's motives, (d) stay aware of how everyone's plans will affect each other, and (e) are familiar with the genre of ambitious people trying to pull off cons that are too smart for their capabilities.

My favourite moments included:

  • Sam@12's disgust at how Sam@17 just wanted to play his guitar - leading to Sam@12 attempting to crush his own hand with a hammer and being carted off to a psych ward for extensive therapy ... which led to him being convinced that his experiences with time travel were a delusion and that he should take up the guitar as musical therapy.
  • Sam@17 being harrassed by every single other version of Sam into building the machine. The breaking point came when Sam@28 dragged Sam@17 back to see Sam's mother playing with Sam@7. To Sam@17, this was a complete violation of that special moment - and it was at that point we realised that the mysterious figure who'd been defeating all our attempts to save our mum was Sam@17 experiencing a Tyler Durden-style psychotic break / split personality that prevented us from realising we were sabotaging our own efforts.
  • The continual replaying of Sam@22's first meeting with Abby Wright, venture capitalist and lover. By the second meeting it was becoming clear that both Sam and Abby were getting instructions from their future selves about what to say and how to act, and that two different lots of time travellers were trying to get the advantage over each other.

Great game, great players, genuine emotions, twisting multi-layered cons. It may have taken me 10 games, a full-read through of the rules, leafing through tons of internet posts about how to play, extensive thinking, and watching Tabletop's Fiasco episode, but I can now thoroughly recommend this game when played with the right people and the right techniques.

Here's a 30 minute video showing how the first half of an excellent game of Fiasco works.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Just gave some feedback on a game about Mars colonisaton

'Life On Mars' is a fascinating examination of how to present and teach a game. It's about three pages long, and each page introduces new rules into a game about a group of colonists travelling to and exploring Mars.

The game's being written for a competition that's due in two weeks. It's in a rough state at the moment, but I'll be checking out the next / finished version.

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Left Coast: Playtesting begins!

The last few months have been about finish the gamma draft of Left Coast, my game about science fiction authors living in California. Here's the pitch:

I’m about to start a new playtesting round for Left Coast: if you want to try it out, please get a game in between now and 30 July and let me know how it goes.

Download the full rules (130 page .pdf) for Left Coast here.

130 pages is pretty long. If you just want to get a feel for the rules, you can download a 12-page Introduction (including front and back covers), from here: Introduction to Left Coast