Saturday, 15 March 2014

New Thief

The new Thief game is apparently not good. I am Jack’s complete lack of surprise.

Some say it’s a calamitous disaster. A woeful disappointment. There’s a complete roundup of reviews but I mostly went straight to the Zero Punctuation review:

 

Another good review, slightly less acerbic but just as sweary:

There goes my last reason for buying a new console. Oh, wait, there’s Dishonoured…

I would like to be the last person in this post to say “taff”.

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Remember Me How I Was

WD82

This is the cover of WD82. It contains a Traveller adventure, a great article on running an AD&D Discworld game, a Judge Dredd article, a Warhammer article, an article about cartography, and all the usual columns–Open Box reviews Jorune of all things, Dave Langford’s Critical Mass considers Donaldson’s The Mirror Of Her Dreams, and there’s Gobbledigook, Thrud, ‘Eavy Metal, all the other good bits. There’s also a very nice pull-out for the original 1e WFRP.

WD141This is the cover of WD141, the last one I have. It reads like a sales catalogue. There’s a piece on epic scale WH40k, a piece on wood elf armies, a piece on the forthcoming Golden Demon awards, a “battle report” of someone else’s war-game (ooh, exciting) that lasts 14 pages, a big section on GW’s Space Fleet line, and seven pages of unpainted minatures with serial numbers in the back. There are some nice glossy photos of painted minis, and a couple of full page illustrations and… lots of adverts for GW.

I don’t begrudge GW making money out of a glorified product brochure, or choosing to refocus their business firstly in-house and later by dropping RPGs entirely.

Oh no, wait a minute, I do. I begrudge the hell out of GW for turning a punky, irreverent, quintessentially British RPG magazine into a shill for their cynical, youth-focused product line. And that goes double for their RPG product lines. This may be unreasonable of me, but what the hell: towards the end of the era of GW as a RPG brand, they produced British imprints of BRP titles as well as WFRP which was a decent British competitor to the US staples of D&D and Runequest. Black Industries‘ resurrection of WFRP was a noble effort (and short lived) but by then the punk spirit was gone. The latest incarnation (and its siblings) are pretty things but they don’t have the heart of the WFRP1e/WH40k Rogue Trader mashups we cobbled together in the 80s.

British gaming is like British Hi Fi. It does its thing and it doesn’t compromise; it has texture and flavour; it’s great value for money. GW is no longer any of these things. We need an OSR for the British Old School. I guess Zweihander may have to do, for now.

Now that GW has taken the step of trademark bullying over “Space Marine”, my last mote of sympathy for the brand is exhausted. I hate to sound like an old git, but that logo used to mean something to folks around here, once upon a time.

Interestingly there’s a letter from a certain Davis Morris of Wandsworth in issue 85, which concludes:

No. It’s you people at WD that I’m griping about. You are the cause of the rot. You shove in a whole mess of junk to help you sell more copies and more game, never mind if it’s giving all those newcomers a useful start.

What we’re seeing in WD now is a sellout–like a photography mag shoving ‘glamour’ pics into its pages to boost circulation. Any blaming or sneering I have to do is directed at the commercialism that motivates this, not at the readers and gamers who are forced to suffer the consequences.

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p>Dave called it.

RPG Spotlight: Rifts

This is sort of a request from an online acquaintance.

Rifts RPG 1st Ed 1990

(Cover by Keith Parkinson

I owned the original Rifts, the first couple of sourcebooks (including the original Vampire Kingdoms) and even the Conversion Book–at the time we had other Palladium games like TMNT and Robotech.

I hadn’t touched Rifts for years. My dim recollection was of a system so unplayable and unfocused that it was impossible to make it through a second session. But I was young then–surely with nearly 30 years experience I could squeeze some value from the game?

Just holding the book in my hand took me back 20 years. Strange to feel yourself holding an artefact of your youth–and this book, for me, was particularly resonant.

I didn’t have long. The pentagram was a bit rough and ready, and the book howled as I nailed it down. The binding took me about four hours; I went through a gallon of coffee and lost two pints of blood. 

Once the thing was bound, I gathered up the whole library, took it into the back garden and burned it. The flames were a lambent green, and accompanied by jets of white stars and lightning shrieking into the earth. God knows what the neighbours thought. Once they were completely burned I gathered the ashes up in a dustbin. Then I ran the dustbin over a few times in the car. Then I drove the car to Beachy Head and pitched the dustbin over the cliff. Then I set fire to the ocean just to be sure.

You nearly had me, you bastard. But I’m on to you now. The next time it won’t be so easy.

If you really want a retrospective on Rifts, you could go here. I recommend some sort of eye protection.

I have to admit the Glitter Boy was pretty cool, though.

Sunday, 30 September 2012

Looper

I saw Looper yesterday. It was quite good.

Looper2

I say “quite good” because critics have gone apeshit over it, and I’m starting to wonder if I saw the same film. Angela Watercutter’s Wired review opines

“There are the moments where Looper truly excels at simultaneously being a sci-fi film, an action movie, and a thought-provoking drama”.

Peter Bradshaw calls it “very exciting and very confusing at the same time”. Henry Barnes calls it a “sharp, smart sci-fi thriller”. Total Film calls it “This Decades’ The Matrix“.

Philip French’s praise is faintly damning, ending with

“It’s one of those pictures that courts the adjective “thoughtful” but doesn’t stand up to much thinking about.”

For a spoiler free yet balanced view of the film, read this review: it pretty much sums up everthing I like and dislike.

Here’s what you can find out from the trailers: in the future time travel is illegal and used by organised crime to dispose of bodies by sending them back in time where they’re executed by a waiting assassin. Some times the older version of the assassin is sent back to be killed by himself. This is called “closing the loop”. Young Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) fails to kill old Joe (Bruce Willis) when he’s sent back. Plot ensues.

The premise is fantastic, the direction is very good and there are a couple of scenes that are truly inspired; but I wouldn’t give it an unreserved recommendation. On the other hand it’s worth watching if only to debate on what standards it should be accountable to.

Now for some spoilers

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p>Wattercutter opens her review with “Here’s the problem with most time-travel movies: They’re about time travel.” She goes on to say “so many time-travel stories have been told that it’s hard to make a new one”.

The problem with Looper is that it promises to be a time-travel story. Its whole setup is worthy of Philip K Dick; yet when it’s approaches the really hard questions about determinism, causality and multiple timelines, it flinches. We’re told early on that every minute Old Joe runs around in the past is “bad” (as in paradox-bad), but there are no obvious consequences to anyone other than the victims of his murder spree. Early on the mob take great pains not to kill Seth for his transgression, implying that to do so would be “dangerous”; yet when Young Joe kills himself at the end of the film, there are no obvious consequences.

We know there are (at least) two timelines; they never come into conflict, simply existing as two “possible futures”; nevertheless Old Joe is certain that his future is the one that will come to pass, even after admitting that the time-travel is making his memories unreliable.

The biggest issue is The Rainmaker, who in the future has supposedly taken over all organised crime single handed, and is closing everyone’s loops. But at the end we learn that The Rainmaker is a ten year old boy with monstrous telekinetic powers. Suddenly the film is not about time-travel, it’s about psionics. I don’t mind being surprised like this but it draws a great deal of attention away from what little time travel plot there is, and mostly robs the viewer of the needed confrontation between Old and Young Joe. Not to mention the fact that the Rainmaker as a threat to looping isn’t very credible; he’s a blunt instrument. Throughout the film the Rainmaker is touted as a mastermind with a definite purpose to closing loops, but at the end that premise is all but abandoned.

Overall the film promises big and fails to deliver; halfway through the pace slows to a crawl, only to pick up in one of the incongruous scenes of violence.

For a deeper, equally spoilerific analysis of the ending, go here.

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Cycle of Time

The Times is reporting about a solicitor who was knocked down by a cyclist and left brain damaged while the cyclist walked away with a measley £850 fine.

Susan Hyer (wife of Clive, the unfortunate victim) said

“It’s about time people stopped worrying about cyclists being killed by lorries if they do not conduct themselves in the right manner. He nearly killed my husband.”

Now OK, it’s an emotive subject. Clearly it appears that justice has not been done. Although the cyclist was prosecuted within the law and hopefully the Hyers will be able to pursue a civil claim (though this is another round of stress for them).

But now the Times has followed up with a story about the need for tougher penalties for law-breaking riders. Sneakily they’ve name-dropped Mark Cavendish at the end, making it appear as if he endorses the penalties. What he actually says is

“I believe I am the first to stand up and say cyclists have to be more responsible as well. Cutting a red light might just aggravate someone who will just take it out on a general cyclist”

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p>When you ride a bike, don’t be a dick.

I kind of expected better of The Times after their extensive campaign for safer cities. Was it just fashionable reporting? They also published Matthew Parris’ ill-judged call for cyclists to be garrotted with piano wire.

Now, back to the subject: the law needs to protect and punish justly. But to suggest that cyclists are getting away with murder is ludicrous.

Firstly, a bit of perspective: in 2010 there were 40 fatalities involving trips, slips and falls in the workplace. I don’t want to sound callous but had Mr Hyer fallen over at work and knocked his head, he’d be another statistic.

How many victims of violent crime suffer head injuries?

OK, perhaps a better, traffic related example: if a cyclist is doored by a negligent car passenger, that motorist can be fined up to £1000. The same order of magnitude as the fine in Hyer’s case. The fine is irrespective of injury to the cyclist – and if the cyclist were to pursue compensation it would probably come out of the motorist’s insurance.

The Dangerous Cycling Bill failed to achieve a second reading in the commons in 2011. The CTC provides a good commentary including links to various cases where motorists have been prosecuted for killing cyclists only to receive suspended sentences or small fines.

Now Ms Hyer says “It’s about time people stopped worrying about cyclists being killed by lorries if they do not conduct themselves in the right manner.” Which supposes a burden of guilt for every cyclist killed by a left-turning lorry, and paints us as plainly irresponsible and architects of our own misfortune.

So in the spirit of that statement, I have to ask if Mr Hyer was looking where he was going, and why he wasn’t wearing a helmet.

Doored 1