Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Four Squares 1: The New Pod

Well, that hardly escalated at all.

It's been a busy month, and the month is almost over. My big October of RPG-blogging never happened - although I have been listening to a lot of SaveOrDie. Nevertheless, besides family stuff and work stuff I have fitted a few more things in. Like this:

Beyond the Sofa is another podcast I'm part of, after dipping my toe in the waters of Zeus Pod last year and watching and listening to it become the modest success that co-founder Jono Park made it. Zeus Pod is curently on hiatus while Jono works on his new life project, being a dad.

Coincidentally, BTS was born as a project between me and my good friend and fellow Dad and fan, David Ronayne.

Unlike Zeus Pod, BTS is a little less-focused on the new Doctor Who series, and in fact tok an element of my last Zeus Pod appearance as its kicking-off point. Two episodes in, and it's going well, and there's plenty more gas in the tank.

Also,we have a Facebook group. And a Twitter! And a gmail and a Soundcloud account!

Tune in!

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Rolling around inside my own head

It's all change again in the Simian household as this monkey is once again donning his big boy pants on weekday mornings and slaving over a hot laptop in a typical inner city office. However, leading up to this week, and even during, the mind has wandered in non-work hours, and as nature demands, that abhorrent void has been filled - with visions of tumbling polyhedral dice.

This blog bears witness that I am not a regular roleplayer, and my life has most certainly been busier, more varied, and generally better for it. But it remains an itch that occasionally demands scratching over the years, or it manifests in weird, dead-ended, compulsive ways: podcast hunting, doodling, module downloading, idle listing of past player characters and wonderings what-if. Last week I bought a second-hand Deities & Demigods specifically for the Erol Otus cover, and sought out my 'old' (ten years old - tops) poly dice and encouraged Jet Jr to use them in his maths games for school. I'm currenty musing on posting a crowd-sourced therapy call-out under the title of 'Schroedinger's Thief' (apologies to those of you who know what/whom I'm talking about.) For that reason, the next few posts might actually involve some of these subjects, but to cut some to the chase and not clog up wordspace, here are some of my recent online RPG finds:

1. One of my new favourite podcasts, SaveOrDie, which is strictly OSR/BD&D oriented, with dashes of Cook/Moldvay and Mentzer in focus, and more than a dash of Gygax invoked. And now I know how to pronounce "Gygax".

2. From episode 111 of the same podcast, one of my favourite RPG-related songs: Mikey Mason's  Best Game Ever. Because we've all been there. I know I was.

3.  There are many many great figure paintings based on classic D&D out there, but Lead Adventures' Witchtown thread has to be the best I've seen yet.

4. Monster Manual Sewn From Pants is a blog that not only documents what it says on the tin, but is chock-filled with great ideas. Come for the button-eyed Beholder if you must, but stay to take in the mad creativity. The Werebear is ADORABLE.

5. Kobolds were never retconned into little dragon men somewhere in the 90s. That's a lie - they evolved into pangolins.

Coming soon: a long-overdue Legends of RPG Art post.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Ed Games

This has been out a week now, so apologies for the dated-ness.

But, datedness is sort of the theme of this post! Iron maiden's new album is out next month, and in advance of this their new single 'Speed of Light' was released to the internet just over seven days ago.

The song is pretty cool - something of a throwback to early Nineties Maiden with Bruce Dickinson's growly voice, and a more rocking feel than the progfests of recent albums. That said, it's an opening track, and the band tend to have form on this tactic - 'El Dorado' was the taster for Final Frontier, 'A Different World' was AMOLAD's opener, and it's arguable whether either was indicative of their parent albums.

But hey, I like it. It's got a lovely Ritchie Blackmore style riff to kick things off, some nice leads from all three guitarists, Bruce sounds great (pre-cancer diagnosis, it must be said), and there's more cowbell working hard here than Waikato Stadium in a home game.

To be honest, though, it's the video that's the drawcard. I love a good video, and with Maiden I think they're something of a rarity: the early days are very much live performance-based with movie cutaways; in the Nineties these turned into slicker products that somehow didn't really sell the band or Eddie very well - some of them just tried too hard. On the whole, however, it's when Eddie'in the visuals that the videos work best, and 'Speed of Light' is a great example, being almost all about the history of Eddie and Maiden's most memorable album covers, as experienced through the medium of... video games! I have fond memories of mashing rubber ZX Spectrum keys to the background sounds of Number of the Beast and Maiden's debut album (point of fact: both games and music were likely loaded on the same tape deck.) Iron Maiden are around the same age as your common or garden home entertainment system, so the synergy of the band's evolution alongside that of digital gaming works really well. Eddie is back in his rightful punkish fright wig original form, it's witty, deferential, self-referential (count those nods!*) and, I think, more than a little essential.

A brief pause to reflect that this is not the first time the worlds of Maiden and video games have crosed paths, as the mid-Nineties compilation/video game Ed Hunter attests. Reception in the gaming mags was not kind, apparently, and it goes to show that despite heavy metal making an excellent gaming soundtrack, getting the right mix is a delicate art. I think they've cracked it this time, though. Hell, I'd buy it :)

UPDATED: Thanks to Dave R's observations, it appears I got my wish! 

*Visual references I noted:

Friday, August 14, 2015

All the Jackals and the Undead

"All the jackals and the undead just can't wait to wipe the last of us out
First there were others like us, then there were none."

I didn't intend to blog about this again, so apologies, but this has been on my mind for the whole week.

The Fantastic Four is crashing globally in cinemas, the latest in a long series of battles it has had to fight since day one. Why? Lots of reasons: director hassles, studio hassles, reboot hassles, fan anxiety - that last one for me is the clincher. Logically The Fantastic Four property should not have a large and influential fan base - its last movie was in 2007, and Marvel cancelled its comic line last year, pointedly killing off likenesses of Fox's forthcoming movie in strip form (real classy, guys). And yet I think fan activity, and in particular fan vitriol has played a large part in the negative pre-publicity of this movie. And it seems I'm not alone, here's award-winning writer Peter David's view.

Look, films are hugely difficult things to make, and lots of films - sometimes incredible films  are borne of terrible shoots. Marvel' Studios' movies have not been immune, with directors leaving films during or pre-production (Thor 2, Ant Man), and even some of its most celebrated creators seemingly swearing off the whole game (stand up, Joss Whedon.) But it makes big, successful movies, and it has a very large and very vocal army of fans who apparently resent any studio who has 'their' heroes. Two years ago it was Sony's Amazing Spider-Man, this year it's The Fantastic Four. This fan resentment, fan entitlement is expressed online on websites like Comicbookmovie, where fan made 'editorials' are the by-word for the site's existence. The bad mouthing turns into a partisan headline, and this bleeds through to modern news media which, under-resourced and fighting for relevance in an ocean of free competition, jumps at clickbait articles for its own hits - and with that imprimatur fan opinion becomes reported as fact.

Of course I'm over-simplifying, and of course FF's troubles are many. But bad press sticks, and I still think this film has been unfairly maligned by... 'enthusiasts' with questionable loyalties. And poor judgement. You kids want a Fantastic Four movie series, and you think the way to do this is to sabotage the box office of the current movie - and that the average movie-goer will notice the difference when it switches studios and turn out in droves? You're crazy. And you deserve your stereotype.

Fandom makes me uncomfortable most of the time. I've made the best friends I have ever had through fandom, and yet I take to social fandom like I take to dancing - under duress, with great awkwardness, and best left after a few drinks. It's not a club to which I readily subscribe; I just get a bit lost amongst it, Organised fandom can be a toxic thing, but it can be a wonderful and supportive thing as well - and some fan communities can be lovely, bonkers collectives of mutual enthusiasm.

And when a group shares the love with its fans, neat things can happen - like this, the official video for The Darkness' title track off their latest album. Ostensibly a song based on the character of Crow from Hawk the Slayer, more than a few reviewers have taken its defiant tone as the voice of a dying music form: pure, fun rock and roll. Fittingly then, a fan army provides the backing chorus in the track, and some appear in the video - a shambles of awkward, excited enthusiasts, bouncing, dancing, singing and just enjoying themselves. And that one particular fan - what a mover! Well played, sir. Well played.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Four on the Floor

I seem to be part of a select group who turned out to see Fox Studio's new version of The Fantastic Four. There weren't many of us! But I'm one, as was Jamas - who shares his review here. And here's my review.

I have no stake in The Fantastic Four as a comic property, so I probably don't care enough, I guess. I saw the two earlier cinematic movies, and didn't really care for them, finding them a bit too campy and more than a little silly. So, on stumping up the cash and braving (somewhat nervously as it turned out) the final, now-infamous product, I find myself preferring this version. It's not perfect, in fact it's a right Curate's Egg. But I can't find it in my heart to cal it a rotten one.  I thought the serious tone and the body horror elements were sensibly matched: it is a new take on the Four in film, and I don't know how I'd have introduced comic elements into that if I was making the thing. That said, there are moments of lightness, and some nice character moments in the first half.

The core Four are fine in their roles, and clearly not playing characters based on the mid-'00s models. I reckon Michael B Jordan brings a lot to the new Storm family dynamic in his performance, and there are seeds of the future family dynamic through the movie - Johnny and Ben's rivalry, a budding attraction between Sue and Reed, but on the whole this is clearly not a story where the heroes come fully-formed. In fact, most of the movie is about them finding their new identity and escaping their confines - it's almost all origin story.

The CG work was pretty good, the score was great, and the support cast noteworthy. There's a good story in here, possibly butchered in post-production, if rumour is to be believed. I'd say the biggest disservice done to the movie is that it doesn't have 'Part One' at the end of its title, because it is true that just as the Four are established, the movie ends. Frustratingly. A post-credits scene would have also been a great addition - not necessarily to link the movie to a Fox/Marvel universe, but to simply promise more; and I think this signals Fox's lack of faith in the project. Any accusations of cynical rights-grabs fall easily on this point; like it or not, in a movie genre dominated by Marvel's shared universe model, continuity and continuance are forgiven, perhaps even expected. 'They' will come if you only promise to build.
Perhaps, though, this movie shouldn't have been 'about' the Fantastic Four, and certainly the second half looks like... unhelpful things happened in the editing suite (maybe not by director Josh Trank's intent, though we may never know.) But I feel I'm repeating the words of others by saying the first half is pretty good, and inventive. Overall I didn't hate this movie, I suspect the current vortex of gloom is dragging down any neutral discussion on it, and I refuse to join the lynch mob. It's a decent take fluffed, that's all - and as I said, I'm just not as invested in these charcters to feel personally wounded by the changes wrought. The movie's terrible opening weekend is awful, though - I do feel for those directly involved; it's a mess. The closest comparison I can find is Ang Lee's Hulk - a stylised and singular take on a known property that may deviate a little too far from its comic origins for some fans.

The future is yet to be written. "Change is Coming", the movie's tag-line reads, and I rather fear it is. We may not see a sequel, a cross-over with more succesful Fox/Marvel properties (X-Men, the forthcoming Deadpool and maybe Gambit) looks tenunous. I find myself feeling similar to how I felt at the end of The Amazing Spider-Man 2, although maybe not as let-down. A sequel could improve, build, reinforce the sound core and casting of this movie - but I fear the revised returns and critical drubbing will just spook Fox's execs into pulling the plug. With Fox and Marvel not enjoying the same relationship as Sony and Marvel, the much-crowed and anticipated 'return of the family' to its Nineties sellers may not happen. Nobody wins this one.

But I went all the same, and I'm glad I did.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Thunderchild 1: Totally Tubular

Thunderbirds is big in the Monkeyhouse these days; both versions, and mostly with Jet Jr, who has a small version of his favourite International Rescue vehicle, plus a not-to-scale Scott Tracy to loom over it threateningly. Recently a Glad Wrap tube was co-opted into playing the part of a slightly larger Thunderbird 1,so in a foolhardy fit of paternal involvement I suggested we work together on a pimp-up project.
Plans were drawn, coloured in, internets consulted and dismissed, and measuring was done and everything. I'd like to say it took a few hours, but I can't. I can't even say it took a couple of weekends! Nevertheless, a month or so on of stolen moments between Real Life Distractions, we got the job done.
Apart from some replacement paints, nothing was purchased in the making of this model, and aside from some printed lettering (done by Jet Jr's Mum to hurry things along - not unlike other more pressing projects) everything was done by hand. Cardboard tubes, tape, PVA glue, acrylic paint and some Mod Podge and muttered swears to seal the deal. Most of the model is double-thickness card - including the nose cone which spent an hour or so wedged on a broomstick tip to hold its shape. And it has some heft!

And yes, a request has been put in for a follow-up!

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Death Race 2000 (1975)

It is the distant future, the Year Two-thousand. The US is an autocratic state with an alleged enemy in France, and a nation has an obsession with the Death Race, a coast-to-coast rally where pedestrians, zealots, onlookers and even one's pit crew are fair game for vehicular carnage and point-scoring along the way. Race favourite is the shady Frankenstein, a patchwork man in black who is close friend with Mister Pesident, and wants to get closer still...

I've been thinking about watching this movie for years on curiosity value alone, and now I have - job done. And do you know what? I really enjoyed it!

I'm sure that a lot of this is down to timing. Twenty years ago I'd likely have taken this film in as a dated piece of seventies tat, much as I did Rollerball or The Omega Man. Ten years ago I'd have been a little more forgiving, but now, with my extracurricular activities involving kitbashing model cars into Mad Max-styled vehicles of pedestrian destruction, its time seems finally annointed. What a movie. Also, teenage me was an idiot. I might be edging towards the actual 100 points in Death Race's arcane scoring system, but I'd like to think I know the value of a decent Roger Corman movie.
But teenaged me was also a comic reader, and in particular a 2000AD reader. The DNA of 2000AD is all through this movie - future dystopias? Check. Ultraviolence and amoral heroes? Check. It's long been said that the initial look of Judge Dredd was based on the image of Frankenstein on the movie's poster; how satisfying then for a fan of the comic and films to see Dredd's spiritual godfather beating several layers of unholy crap out of Sylvester Stallone - Awesome! I swear that this is more a comic brought to life courtesy of Corman than the likes of Fantastic Four or Battle Beyond the Stars, and it seems fitting that the comic sequel was the work of 2000AD's Pat Mills and Kevin O'Neill, when their previous creation Marshall Law bears more than a passing resemblance to David Carradine's Frankenstein. 
There's just a real anti-authoritarian, gonzo vibe throughout that transcends the occasional performances, the low low budget, and the small cast. in places it is outlandishly violent, but it is by and large he violence of cartoons, and it shares the gleeful twisted humour of Mills and Wagner's best works. The themed cars and outlandish identities (Nerothe Hero, Machine Gun Joe, Matilda the Hun) are fun, the design work a little bonkers - especially Stallone's gangster suit pinstriped helmet, and although the cast is perhaps a little too white-bread, it serves its female characters pretty well, and I must admit I felt quite sorry for Calamity Jane's lonely three-point-tun into oblivion when her time came. Plus, not knowing the twist in the story meant that I was quite taken in by Frankenstein's concluding gambit.
Time's been rather kind to this film, making the movie's more outlandish plot points almost self-fulfilling in real life, from the Fox-style cynical TV coverage, the vilification of France as the enemy of 'Amurrikkin freedom', and even the President accusing a foreign power of sabotaging the telephone network has to be the Seventies equivalent of cyber-terrorism.
So yeah, a big thunbs up from me, and a nice wee birthday present for me over the weekend as I contemplate getting closer to the age when I too might be wheeled wheezing out into the street in front of a hospital, perhaps to meet my maker under the wheels of an oncoming novelty cat-shaped death machine or something. In the mean-time I rather fancy catching this again, perhaps in a double-bill with Rollerball.