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

Sunday, 3 June 2012

Prometheus

How excited was I to hear Ridley Scott was directing Prometheus?

Prometheus

Scott has been (almost) my favourite director since I saw The Duellists on Alex Cox’s Moviedrome. I keep hoping that he’ll do something to equal his last decent film, Thelma & Louise. I don’t know whether it’s poor choices with the script, excessive cutting in fight scenes or just an unhealthy association with Russell Crowe but I don’t think he’s made anything worthwhile since.

In the case of Prometheus my expectations weren’t high, but even those weren’t met. The direction is gorgeous but the script stinks, which I would have figured if I’d realised who’d written it before I watched the film. Half of the writing team is Damon Lindelof whose credits include Lost (I don’t have a lot of respect for a series that can be summarised in 8 minutes).

This is a rant rather than a review, and it contains some spoilers. If you don’t want to be spoiled I recommend the review in The Independent – not Geoffrey MacNab’s inexplicable review (which gives the film four stars despite calling the film “anti-climactic”) but the short round-up from Nicholas Barber, who summarises it all nicely:

if Alien was intended as a spooky little horror movie, only for it to turn out to be a visionary classic, Prometheus gets things the other way round.

Here Be Spoilers

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p>The problem with Prometheus is it’s trying to be worthy, hard-science sci-fi that tackles the questions sci-fi tackles – like what it means to be human. At the same time it’s trying to cater to the lowest common denominator of viewer, providing 3D thrills, explosions, and monsters. All this while trying to be true to the visual and thematic legacy of Alien.

In Alien the cast’s competencies were based on their job flying the space tug-boat Nostromo. They were hopelessly unprepared for what was being done to them – being duped into picking up a dangerous xenomorph – and acted according to available information and their abilities. Eventually the answers for the alien’s origin came from their android traitor, who told them that the Weyland-Yutani corp knew all about the monster and wanted it as a weapon. There was no need to go into how the company knew about it or what they were going to do with it. All that mattered was the present.

Prometheus is a bunch of pretentious plot ideas clumsily thrown together with no thought to coherence or closure (like Lost). Characters don’t behave believably, competencies are not used logically – either by the characters or by the scriptwriters. The cast are a mixture of scientists and spaceship crew, with the (yawn) corporate oversight character. Yet none of the scientific explanations for their situation come from the scientists – instead they’re the first to be killed in unnecessarily gory ways that far exceed Alien. The best we get is a theory from Idris Elba’s nonchalant Captain that this isn’t the Engineers’ homeworld, it’s a military installation full of biological weapons – and the Engineers plan to send their spaceship back to earth to destroy all the life they created having changed their fucking minds.

This theory suddenly becomes accepted wisdom by cast and creators, as the one opportunity to communicate with the Engineer race ends with violence, murder, and the traitor android getting its head ripped off. Oh, deja vu.

Ian Holm Ash Alien

If this planet were not the Engineers’ homeworld, why do the ancient star maps all point to it? Why would the gigantic aliens draw a primitive culture’s attention to a biological weapons dump in space, and communicate it clearly enough to humans that ancient civilisations with no properly evolved language could paint it on cave walls?

As for the rest of the plot – it represents a number of missed opportunities. Android Traitor David is clearly wrestling with the same why-am-I-created question that the scientists are trying to answer, yet his actions are sociopathic. Like Ian Holm’s original Android Traitor Ash he’s at the beck and call of his master, but his mission lacks clarity of purpose. Weyland (Guy Pearce), the hidden master of AT David is an irrelevance.

The final insult is that this film pretends to be a prequel to Alien, even placing the ruined alien ship ready to be rediscovered by the hapless crew of the Nostromo, yet there are visual inconsistencies with the original film – no-one in the pilot’s chair, for example. The corridors in the new Engineer ship are far smaller than those discovered in Alien. And the ending, with a fully-formed Alien bursting out of the dead Engineer’s chest is the worst kind of pandering to the Alien franchise.

Like Lost, this film promises a lot early on – but at some point the writers realise they’ve bitten off more than they can chew and resort to the usual tropes, ignoring continuity and even the plots they thought of at the start. This is straight-to-DVD material that somehow got a big screen airing.