I’m sure this can’t just be me. The games design industry is getting ever better at metacommentary and self reflection, we’ve developed a pretty wide array of habits and design fallbacks that we’re aware of our own foibles and the like, and it’s not like we don’t have parodies of games on YouTube, gods there must be thousands of skit comedy groups producing jokes that only make sense to gamers. We talk our own language, we have our own jokes, and we have a community and culture that is ripe for parody.
What we don’t invest in, are parody games.
Weirdly I have fond memories of a Myst parody that I found long before I found the original game. It was crude, barely a game, more of an interactive comic strip of sorts, but if featured John Goodman as King Mattress, a mockery of Atrus, who appears as a floating head in a pool, much as he did in the original game funnily enough. The Parroty Interactive rendition paints the island of Myst as a lousy tourist attraction that has fallen on hard times, is falling apart, and is being taken over by a big corporation with radical ideas on how to run a theme park. Everything is viewed through postcards, so that the writing on the back of each snapshot becomes a mockery of the reading that forms the backbone of Myst’s puzzle solving.
Fun fact, one of the biggest producers of parody games is PETA, an organisation that has become a mockery of its own purpose, who produce games about animal cruelty. There we go, that’s something you now know. And they’re not the only people to produce pokemon parodies either but… well we’ve got a month left but we’re going to keep things above board, let’s not delve too deep into pokemon parodies.
We have the likes of Braid which is a non-comedic lens shone on classic gaming tropes, we have the likes of Knight of Pen and Paper, which is a great game filled with jokes for tabletop role-players, same as Bard’s Tale, and Goat Simulator which is a madman’s idea of a simulator game, but I think we lack direct parodies. We don’t want for material, but we seem to turn all of that material into sketch comedy rather than full titles, and to be fair, that is one hell of an investment in time, money, and resources for an extra-long joke, but it’s not like we’re lacking a sense of humour about ourselves.
I genuinely think that a proper parody is required, something that points a mocking finger at a specific title like Skyrim that’s been a titan of gaming history for the last eight years, or Final Fantasy which seems shockingly lacking in parodies given how it has dominated the last decade or two. Small-time producers used to flood the likes of Newgrounds with Flash games that were mocking takes on the big titles of the day, but it’s been many a year since that was common practice.
Perhaps I’m longing for a time long gone, or perhaps parody lends a formality to the art form, and that without analytical pystakes (see, ’cause…. ahh, you get it) games can’t take themselves seriously enough. It’s a logical paradox, but if we can’t laugh at ourselves can we analyse ourselves enough to grow, and to take another step forward. We need to break a few old habits. If we don’t, we’ll never break them, and we’ll be making variations on the same game for years.
Have you ever been on a serious gaming holiday? You and a bunch of friends in a caravan or a rented house or something that has some combination of beds and a table that gives you space to just play some games, somewhere that isn’t home.
It sounds counterproductive, what’s the point of going somewhere different to do the same thing you do at home with the same people you game with every week? If you’ve allocated time off work already, is there much point to spending money on a change of surroundings as well? At least at a convention there’s an event, friends who have travelled across country to see, strangers to meet and chat to, shows and panels. Going on holiday should usually be an opportunity to go out and see somewhere new, experience different things, things that break the monotony of life at home and give you a change of scenery, scenery you’re not going to see if you’re playing board games inside.
Plus if you stay home you get to sleep in your own bed.
This weekend I was in a hostel less than half an hour from my house with a bunch of friends, most of whom I see once a week, many at least once a month, all compressed into bunk beds with a small kitchen/diner with limited parking and sat on the side of a hill that made moving stuff from our respective cars hard work… because I’m a nerd and spend most of my day in a computer chair not walking up and down hills. There were ten of us with little to no room to breathe, let alone cook bacon and pancakes for everyone.
Sincerely, I would advise everyone go on a gaming holiday with friends. It’s not my first either, many years ago I went to a caravan in Wales to do the same thing but heavier on the Dungeons & Dragons, and there are plans on the table to do the same thing again soon. There were hill and valley walks available to us, a small town within a half hour’s walk, but the main attraction by far was the collection of games we’ve all played dozens of times before, but there is something about the change of scenery, the geographic distance from day-to-day life, and in my case, distance from my computer, it all makes you appreciate and enjoy your hobbies so much more, and at the risk of sounding cheesy, it makes you appreciate the people more.
It gives you the time to settle into the larger-scale games that may not be played all that often because of the investment of time. Robo-Rally and Arkham Horror, things that can take hours, or take obscene amounts of setting up. I would say that taking a holiday with ten people and only one six-person table between us was perhaps not ideal, and as an astonishing majority of games cap at eight players, it’s an awkward sized crowd when you really want everyone at the table.
I also advise taking coffee because you’ll need it the morning after playing Mao until 4AM and only stopping because every card you play is giving you a panic attack.
At the time of writing, I’m about an hour away from publishing the dates for next year’s games at Oswestry Library, currently my most dependable source of income, and at this point places are so hard fought for that I am going to be disappointing more people than I will be entertaining… which is nice… I think.
By the time this article is published, this will already be plastered all over the local Facebook pages:
Here’s a quick rundown of the plans:
Wizards Only, Fools: January 11th, under 16’s D&D, and it’s an all-wizard party. Currently I’m thinking level 6 so we have lots of spells to play with but not so many that we’ll be overwhelmed. And of course with everyone playing as students of the arcane, something magic is bound to go wrong.
Bury Me Deep: January 11th, over 16’s D&D. An odd stipulation to find in someone’s will, a ten foot deep grave and a lead sheet over the coffin. Players will be a standard team at level five, and they might need a few extra magic items to get to the bottom of this mystery.
End of the World: A three session D&D game for the under 16’s, 8th and 22nd of February, and the 14th of March. Over three sessions a group of level 5 players will witness the beginning of the end, and maybe there’s nothing they can do about it.
Bear Hunt: A three session D&D game for the over 16’s, 8th and 22nd of February, and the 14th of March. Mighty hunters (level 4) will face a pack of bears that cooperate too well, fight too ferociously, and threaten a local settlement with complete extermination.
Sci-Fi Month, Era the Consortium: 11th of April, and yeah, I think April will remain sci-fi month for the foreseeable future. Another team of expendable mercenaries take up a job for one company in order to screw over another.
Night of Demons: 9th of May under 16’s systemless game. From the pit arise a new host of demons, insubstantial wisps of malice barely capable of influencing their surroundings, but bent on causing chaos however they can, in order to grow in power and return home stronger than ever.
The Train Heist: 9th of May, over 16’s systemless game. Flat caps a must, because a band of gangsters are hopping a train to lift something priceless on board. Screw this one up and you’ll end up on the wrong side of the next train going through, capeesh?
Dungeon: Now with Real Dragon! A three session D&D game, 13th and 27th of June, and the 11th of July. It’s a straight forward dungeon crawl for level 6 characters. Light on the story, heavy on the monsters and traps, possibly a dragon, I guess we’ll find out! You might even make it to the end.
Character Building Workshop: Twenty spaces in the morning and twenty in the afternoon, 25th of July. We’ll spend some time creating characters for roleplaying games, but easy on the rules, heavy on the roleplay, psychology, and creative writing.
Improv Month: 8th of August, D&D. Who wants to see me winging a whole game? Utilising some limited random writing prompts and a few suggestions from the players, I’ll be pushing my DM skills to the limit, with zero prep-time and all made up on the spot. Coherence is not guaranteed.
Dungeon Master’s Guide: Twenty spaces in the morning, twenty in the afternoon of the 29th of August. Ever wanted to do what I do? Good, everyone should at some point, you’ll finally appreciate how much furious paddling is going on behind the screen. Everyone will leave the room with an idea for an adventure, ready (or nearly ready) to run!
Weird West: 12th of September for both the over and under 16s, let’s dabble in Savage Worlds and the Weird West, a jaunt into a version of nineteenth century America, but we’re not just talking guns and gold. This frontier is crawling with stranger things than scorpions and bandits.
The Thing in the Ice: A three session D&D game for the under 16’s, 10th and 31st of October, and the 14th of November. Humans will raise a town just about anywhere, and while you’re stuck in a frozen port town in the middle of nowhere, strange occurrences surround the iceberg that’s floating in the middle of the bay. Characters should be 4th level.
Grave Dirt: A three session D&D game for the over 16’s, 10th and 31st of October, and the 14th of November. The death of a senior in the church hierarchy starts arguments about who is best to bring spiritual guidance to the people. Players will be required to keep the peace, as society begins to crumble during the “debate”. Level 5 characters most likely.
Christmas Special: 12th of December, another D&D game with a shameless seasonal theme because good goddamn I love Christmas and I love writing Christmassy games. Character levels tbd.
Now, I mention character levels for a reason, a lot of you have been asking about bringing your own characters. I’ve planned out as much of the year as possible because I’m usually happy for people to bring their own sheets but I rarely knew this year what I’d be running from month to month. If you want to bring your own character, talk to me first, I reserve the right to make alterations or outright veto a character but I’d still prefer you had characters that you really wanted to play.
And on the subject of reserved rights, a couple of important notes: All of the dates and game titles are subject to change and availability is extremely limited, in fact in the last hour and a half since I started writing this piece I’ve sold most of the under 16’s places for the year.
I watched King of Monsters the other day as part of a larger kaiju-based binge, specifically the new Kong films too, as we’re only a few months away from the big showdown. Godzilla versus Kong has been teased since the first of the new Godzilla films way back in ’14, was made official in ’17 with Skull Island, and we’re far too close to a release date now for there not to exist a cut of the film, probably not a finished cut, but there’s got to be something by now, right?
Well, here’s what I’m thinking, I’m going to do a quick (spoiler-ish) review of King of Monsters, then I’ll tell you why I think Godzilla and Kong could bear the weight of a new cinematic universe.
Long Live the King
I can actually understand why this film got a raw deal from critics. I’ll give it credit for continuing with some reoccurring characters and themes, and I’ll admit to being mildly curious about the various activities and political conflicts of the titan research group “Monarch”, but we’re still pretty light on rich and interesting characters, and yet those characters still feel like they take up a lot of screen time compared to the real stars of the show. But critics would complain if we had nothing but monsters, and they’d complain if the characters drew too much attention away from the monsters, there’s not really a right answer here.
And it’s not exactly easy to try and slide aliens, Atlantis, and the hollow earth theory into a film about giant monsters fighting each other, and to be honest probably not a great idea either, but they managed it all without it being too ridiculous. These days you can’t just roll out the likes of King Ghidorah without some kind of explanatory power, even if it’s a tenuous explanation, and it’s not like twelve thousand years of human civilization and mythology haven’t left us with some groundwork for giant monsters.
But if you like watching giant monsters get into fights then it’s a great film. It’s actually a really good film, I think I enjoyed it almost as much as Pacific Rim. As well as bringing in all the big classic monsters like Ghidorah, Rodan, and Mothra, it also managed to introduce some background players with very little effort, and I find that I’m really interested to see more of the MUTO, Methuselah, Scylla, and Behemoth, as well as the other titans listed in the wiki,*.
We have a Thanos-like villain, a group whose motives I can get behind 100%, and not just because they’re headed by Charles Dance. This time the method is to awaken the titans and have them topple human civilization and put an end to the holocene extinction, destructive harvest of natural resources and extermination of non-human life. Interesting to note that the counter-argument given by the so-called good guys is “No, don’t stop, that’s… very bad.”
Biggest highlights of the film for me, Godzilla’s case of nuclear diarroea, Rodan’s “Starscream” moment, and the closing credits… which sounds like an insult, but they used the song “Go Go Godzilla” and so help me it made me smile. Right, to the point:
The King Is Dead
Pretty sure at this point Marvel’s done. I don’t know what the next four films are, I don’t even know what the next film is, the excitement bubble seems to have burst pretty hard in the jagged edges of the Sony vs Disney debacle. And with every studio clawing and scratching at the market, desperate to be the ones to raise the next big thing, I think Time Warner might actually be in control of the right horse and they just aren’t betting on it.
So far as material content, as I already mentioned they have a glut of titans to play with, and with repeated mentions of the Hollow Earth theory in King of Monsters and Skull Island, I suspect a tie-in with Journey to the Centre of the Earth, and it’s been more than ten years since the Brendan Frasier version. There’s scope for a couple of dozen films, and the fifth is already well under way as we speak… although we’re not speaking, I’m doing the- never mind. Besides, Godzilla is every bit the media darling now that comic books were for decades before the MCU, and with the rise of anime fandom in the west, and the likes of Pacific Rim opening the way, now could be the time of the Kaiju.
We know the basic conflicts of narrative, Man versus Man, Man vs Self, Man vs Supernatural, Man vs Society, Man vs Technology, and Man vs Nature, and it’s that last one that I think is most topical. The last decade or two have been governed by “Man vs Man”, all of the comic villains being dark reflections of the hero, often villains of their own creation, but there’s a new growing narrative, something that could become a dominant talking point, with the escalating arguments over the environmental crisis, could Godzilla and Kong be poster-children for natural order in the 2020s?
Maybe. For certain the age of comic book films has come to a close, or if it hasn’t, if the Joker foolishly reignited that flame, then it needs to go back to sleep soon, like a huge, ancient monster returning to its resting place, deep underground. The new titan of schlocky box office dominators could be, and should be, Godzilla and friends.
*Seriously though, just click that link, there’s some interesting names listed in there.
It seems like picking on Blizzard right now is the geek-culture bloggers equivalent of kicking a dead horse, but that horse knows what it did, and while an apology has been issued for the political controversy, it comes across has a rather hollow token, to say nothing about the mass-blocking of comments on YouTube videos from the event.
We are not here to stir the political pot, that’s not what we’re here for. I am here to pick on Blizzard for something a little less volatile, the games that were announced this year.
What? I said a little less…
Blizzard do one thing exceptionally well, and have done since the 90’s: epic cinematics. They fall firmly into the “pros” column on pre-rendered cinematic cut-scenes and trailers and whether you are for or against them, there is nothing negative to say about Blizzards cinematics in their own right. As if to prove a point, oh wow that Diablo 4 trailer was pretty. There were times when the graphics quality bordered photorealism a little too closely, and there seems to have been a positive tone shift, which I will get to shortly.
Pretty pictures aside, we also got a good look at some in-game footage, and the level of detail is delicious, especially given the genre. Moreover, Diablo 4 is darker visually, and it sounds like they’re going dark in narrative, like it should always have been. My biggest issue with 3 was all the pretty colours, in defiance of the legacy left by 1 and 2, and it easily meant that Grim Dawn made a better successor to the throne. A more “medieval” version of hell has been suggested, and the little glimpses we’ve seen suggest hints of Hieronymus Bosche, and the brightest coloured things on screen – the blood red demon “fallen” – are stringy and drawn out horrors.
But of course it wouldn’t be Blizzard without compulsory online multiplayer elements, and sure you don’t have to engage with the other players, but so help me I don’t even want them around, and I don’t like the idea that they might try and engage with me. You’ll pardon me if I remain far more interested in Crate’s ARPG than the usurper to D2.
Oh, and can I get a citation on the claim “Best in class visceral and fluid combat” please? What I’m seeing is that there is a way to play the druid, a way to play the sorceress, so on so forth, with not a great deal of variety, only an optimised route to power. I’m going to hope that this has more to do with the demo than the finalised game, but I’m going to profoundly suspect that I am wrong.
Oh… good? Whatever happened to the days when Blizzard would wait over a decade between sequels? No, I’m not going to complain about this one.
As you may have already guessed, I don’t really do online or multiplayer, so I’ll keep my critique here short. Another of Blizzard’s fortes is great character development, we’ve seen it across the Warcraft legacy, and Overwatch really shows what they’re capable of. There’s a great Extra Credits video on the idle animations of Overwatch and how they communicate a great deal about the character you’re playing. I will watch Overwatch content because the stories are pretty cool, and I like that they’ve introduced some singleplayer content.
I hope that the new game will be more than just shooting while wiggling from side to side.
More World of Warcraft
Among the early announcements, onesies! Do you hear the sound of scraping? That’s the bottom of the barrel.
The former stranglehold Warcraft held on the market is broken, and I feel like now would have been the time to go completely revolutionary, bring back Warcraft as an RTS, I’d even take a World of Starcraft, just to see something that isn’t yet more WoW. There was a lot of talk about the Overwatch sequel being massively supportive, rewarding, and compatible with players of the original game, would a Warcraft 2 be so outlandish?
The game has been updated, modernised, more and more content has been brought to the game, and the original game has been repackaged and redelivered to us in brighter and shinier colours, which I cannot and will not disparage because I bought and played the re-releases of Skyrim, Myst, and Heroes 3 among others. And after fifteen years of World of Warcraft, it has now exceeded the lifespan of the strategy game that preceded it.
Board gamers can look forward to a Smallworld of Warcraft that looks like it’s close to a release date, and it looks like that’s as close as we’re getting to a Warcraft “original” style game.
Am I going to rag on Bethesda next week for only having Elderscrolls, Fallout, and Dishonoured? Well to be fair they also have Doom and Wolfenstein and whatever Deathloop is but it looks inte- y’know what? Bad example. And to be completely fair, I should also point out that Hearthstone, Heroes of the Storm, and Starcraft exist.
I suppose I look to Blizzard as an example of a bubble that looks set to burst, and recent events make that bubble look especially fragile. The popularity of their fairly narrow range of intellectual properties is undeniable, and one must pay respect to any company that can keep players enthralled and enjoying a game for fifteen years, and then still go on to produce another market-dominating title in Overwatch.
And yet I’m watching the opening ceremonies from this year’s Blizzcon, and there’s an astonishingly similar feeling to watching the advert for a “new” apple product. It doesn’t sound like they’re changing much, it doesn’t sound like they’re innovating in any way, and yet there’s a host of fans who’ll still pour their money into the new thing and keep the bubble floating for another year.
Happy Hallowe’en! Ok, we’re now at the Sunday after Hallowe’en but still, it was rather nice to distribute sweets instead of the standard disappointing prizes. That’s not to say that people weren’t disappointed with the sweets they got, honestly I never asked, but assume that they shared. And my gods did a lot of you bring confection to share.
I parked about six foot from where the river had occupied Frankwell carpark, knowing full well that it would rain, and that I wouldn’t see my car again between 2 and midnight. Call it bravado, call it foolishness, only one of those is right, but I was curious, and I figured there’d be more spaces, I was right! Oh, and kudos to the Alb for the cool spider and dangling corpses on your scaffolding.
Anyway, Shresbury Coffeehouse ended up being a most relaxed affair, certainly from my perspective as I simply could not move from my seat, and Cal ended up getting me my second coffee and a waffle. Consider this an IOU, I haven’t forgotten I still owe you one. Gameplay was negligible, but the conversation was about as nerdy as it comes; Pokemon, video games, magic, D&D et al.
First quiet GeekOut in a little while, first time we haven’t surpassed 30+ attendees in a few months, looks like Summer is finally dead at last, or perhaps the flood waters just put a few folks off. Still, a quiet day of casual gaming was exactly what was required, as was a hasty dash for a roll of selotape to finish my terrible mask (pictured later on Cal’s face). Thanks to Harley for the cherry-blood cupcakes, and to those of you who joined in the terrible costume competition.
Oh, we had to move part way through the evening too, the problem with GeekOut coinciding with a holiday is that Monty’s opens up the dance floor for the less geeky members of the public, and we were forced to coexist with normal society for a while there. On the bright side, at least one member of the public appreciated our company and had nothing but nice things to say about all of you. Well done, geekery wins out over normalcy once again.
Next GeekOut Shrewsbury is November the 28th, and not the 21st that has previously been listed on our Facebook page… not sure why that would have been the case, there’s nothing preventing the 28th. Weird. Anyway, keep an eye out for further details on Facebook and Meetup, and of course our countdown timer.
When I was growing up, the science fiction I watched painted a fairly clear picture of how the creator thought humanity should be. Star Trek and Babylon 5 showed versions of humanity who were united in a universe full of creatures who showed us that we were not so different to one another compared to the aliens that surrounded us, and we could reach out to those races with our newfound acceptance of one another to form stronger unions with them. (more…)
The oft-promised followup to Matt Colville’s Strongholds and Followers began it’s Kickstarter campaign on Monday, and simply put it’s a prime example of a creator with a great relationship with his fan/customer base.
Strongholds and Followers gives options for players to build fortresses and bases of operations for their party complete with class-specific annexes, a host of artisans, assistants, and military units to help maintain your stronghold and protect it from attack. Kingdoms and Warfare will go into rules about keeping political rule over your stronghold and environs, and how to assault your neighbours on a political and military front.
If you’ve followed Matt Colville for a while (I have) you know that he is incredibly learned on the nature of politics and war, certainly learned enough to introduce verisimilitude to nations in his campaigns, and that he has been practising on his friends during the streamed game on Twitch that was also funded as part of the Strongholds campaign, along with a few exclusive minis. Whatever rules come out the other side of this campaign will be tried, tested, and fun, and the book will also be building on a few other fan favourite elements.
New creatures, including new courts and more units for the existent courts, groupings of unique creatures aligned with one another to serve a greater power. My personal favourite – the court of All Flesh – was aligned to chaos, impermanence, and change, and I look forward to seeing new members join them… but the campaign is rather cunningly teasing its newer horrors…
A: Very pretty
B: Horribly tantalising
C: If you would like to see any of these pieces of art in full along with some lore behind each, there’s plenty of that on the Kickstarter page.
All of these will be available as miniatures that can be added to your pledge after the fact, as well as appearing in the new book. Following the success of the miniatures in Strongholds and Followers, MCDM will be working with the same company again to produce more high quality products, and the same will be true of the completed books. I have a lot of respect for the planned distribution times, because while they could use their experience and new business connections to promise a faster turnaround, kudos for allowing a bit “wiggle room” on their deadline to ensure that the final product is as good as it can be.
The rules will be scalable from the smallest of factions and guilds, all the way up to continent-spanning empires, making it useful for whatever style of campaign you’re running, and making it easier for DMs to manage large-scale activity without micromanaging the activity of every individual concerned, and I cannot emphasise how much that notion appeals to me.
Pledges will get you the book as a pdf, hardcover, nicer hardcover, a t-shirt, and of course an exclusive dragon miniature, most of the delights available above are purchasable with the pledge manager after the fact but it appears that they will also be made available on the MCDM shop.
At the time of writing the campaign is already a long way through its $300K goal as you can probably tell by the stretch-goal image above, so this is not a campaign desperate for your support. It may not see as monstrous a final figure as the two million dollar debut, but… well we can’t rule it out. What this will be is an excellent product worth pre-ordering, I highly recommend watching the introductory video and possibly skim-reading the rest of the information if you’re interested because I’m summarising heavily here.
Now, we’re all familiar with the likes of Funny Or Die, and College Humour – who started doing D&D games online last year, Brendan’s a decent DM – and before I even start I can tell you that you almost certainly recognise a name or two from the short list below. YouTube has been a great space for comedy acts to get their ideas out there and appeal to a unique sense of humour that might not have reached a mainstream audience without it, and maybe that’s because network executives don’t understand, or maybe it’s that certain niche markets can’t get comedy that appeals to them any other way.
Here are some of my favourites, some of the geekier comedy groups and lesser known sketch channels that deserve a few more views… more accurately I want more people to know them so that I can reference their sketches in conversation, so help me I just want to share the joke!