Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Elite Dangerous: #SoloOfflineGate

Who'd have thunk it that Braben was a fan of DRM?
Well, the signs were there apparently.
Seriously, what is up with all the things suffixed in Gate recently?

I've avoided blogging about Elite: Dangerous, and probably will do a review of the current build at some point this month. It's actually not a bad game, albeit one that still feels empty, unbalanced in places (piracy, exploration and mining are just not worth the time compared to trading and bounty hunting) and a little repetitive.

Frontier Developments announced, via an offhand mention in the 49th newsletter, a mere month before release, that Elite: Dangerous would not support offline play. This upset a lot of the backers, who, as fans of the original games, are apparently outside of the usual internet-obsessed demographic. Somehow these poor deluded fellows gotten the idea that the game would support offline play, just as Elite, Elite 2: Frontier and Frontier: First Encounters had done. I just don't know how they got that idea...

(and references continued in forum posts up until 4 days ago).

I backed E:D at the early bird digital price of £20, before being tempted by Beta and Expansion passes when footage from the game was released. I'd reservations from the very start of Elite: Dangerous's Kickstarter as Frontier seemed to be taking cues from the EA school of game publishing. The Kickstarter was not particularly well run in my view, being empty of any non-textual content initially, and the cost of the some of the perks seemed absurd - with in-game rewards such as starting with ships up for grabs. Other absurdly highly priced perks included  the £60 'DRM Free' Boxed edition, £90 for the Deluxe Boxed Edition, £500 for a model of the Cobra Mk III). Later the EULA mentioned dynamic advertising in-game (some space stations have fictional corporate adverts around them that could be easily retextured to include ads for Coke, Pepsi or Wonga.com). Lastly, and most irksomly, the inevitable microtransactions like the £2-£10 textures for your ships began to appear in the Elite store that apparently aren't included in the Expansion pass. Such as this 'bargain'...

Game - £20. Texture - £10.
Did I mention the game has no external camera so you can see your ship yet?
Or that the Viper's default hyperdrive capability is broken, making it a risky in-game purchase.

Personally I haven't seen much gameplay enhanced by the online servers during my Beta playing. While seeing other Commanders occasionally is fun the economy is a lot less predictable than in earlier Elites. I've turned up at stations whose major imports are allegedly medicines to discover, presumably because of other players, they do not need any medicine. Not exactly a 'feature', and real-time stock exchange data is not available in-game. Earlier builds were terminably slow if you selected Open Play. Routine transactions such as buying cargo need to be approved on the server, leading to absurd occurences where I've not been able to buy things in space dock due to either my connection or the server's being less than perfect.

A lot of the time when the servers were laggy and I sat reading a web article while the hyperspace animation played endlessly I often thought, "Well at least the offline version of this will be almost instantaneous." Silly me.

I'm lucky. I have a relatively stable internet connection so I will still be playing. However I'm not a big fan of the online-only model. I fail to understand why similar games in 1984, 1993 and 1995 did not require a client-server model while E:D does. This may be because I've clearly not experienced these new online features that will, presumably, appear on launch. However not everyone is so lucky, and some people are requesting a refund. Including, possibly, one backer who pledged £5000. I hope he gets it all back frankly.

Saturday 22nd November is Elite Dangerous's launch party in Cambridge (ticket available from the Elite: Dangerous store for the kingly fee of £50 naturally). I wasn't planning on paying it much attention but with many of the backers in the community up in flames I'm looking forward to seeing the Twitch footage to see if it is the main topic of the evening or censored.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Dr Stu on Doctor Who

With Season 8 of Doctor Who over it's time to give my thoughts.

Capaldi is a great Doctor and a departure from the often seemingly identical user-friendly personas that Doctors 9, 10 and 11 have had.

Coleman as Clara, she does a reasonable job, though as with most nu-Who companions is written with too much spunk and too little fear of the scenarios that unfold (such as when she managed to temporarily persuade a group of Cybermen she was the Doctor. Quite why this did not end with the coldly logical response of, "If you are the Doctor, you will regenerate from this near fatal shock... bzzzttt" I don't know). That said, as with Tennant, I look forward to Capaldi getting a companion that was cast with him in mind. I'd also love to get beyond the 21st Century London girl companion. By now in the original series we were seeing companions like Jamie, Zoe, Romana and Leela.

I felt the scripting in this season has been somewhat weak in places. Season 8 seemed to repeat scenarios from earlier episodes, which is worrying given this show is supposed to be able to go anywhere and anywhen. I'm not saying all the episodes were carbon clones of earlier ones, but it still seemed quite pronounced. Most aggredious of this is The Caretaker, which like School Reunion felt like a child's show set in an BBC Exec's PC view of what an urban London School should be like. Again, a show that can go anywhere in time and space and we've had 2 episodes set in a high school in London.

Of particular note:-

Deep Breath - elements of this episode were a retread of Moffat's infinitely superior The Girl in the Fireplace. I found the coincidence that the Pompadour's sister ship would have a near-identical malfunction lazy writing in the extreme. Largely this is the B-plot to the episode though.

Into the Dalek - the whole captured Dalek-in-chains scenario was done in Dalek back in Season 1.

Robots of Sherwood - nearly every episode the Doctor meets and "inspires" a historical figure. They really need to tone down these number of these episodes or humanity won't be able to cross the road without the Doctor.

Listen - Some elements of RTD's Midnight. I'm stretching with this one.

Mummy on the Orient Express - this was cribbed from the ending of Season 5. Plus the Orient Express in Space, remind you of I dunno, the Titanic in Space? The whole "contemporary-reference but in space" is getting a bit worn thin.

The Caretaker - the Doctor goes undercover in a London High School and the alien menace takes a back seat to relationship shennanigans. Now where have I seen this?

The Finale - Arguably Moffat's most RTD style finale so far, with a worldwide invasion of the Cybermen, whom no-one remembers from Doomsday in Season 2.

Deep Breath - not as solid a relaunch as the 11th Hour, this seemed to meander for me and it took a while for Capaldi to tone down the Matt Smith impressions. 3/5

Into the Dalek - despite starting off like Season 1's Dalek a very solid start for the new less-accessible Doctor we have. 4/5

Robots of Sherwood - Childish rubbish. Seriously, can we tone down the smug post-modern celebrity episodes. This was as medieval as Martin Lawerence in Black Knight. 0/5

Listen - Solid Spooky Moffat. 4/5

Time Heist - Excellent outing that suits the 12th Doctor's callous exterior well. A truly original episode for once (even if it did slightly remind me of Big Finish's 8th Doctor outing Grand Theft Cosmos). 5/5

The Caretaker - School Reunion 2. Except with Danny Pink on springs instead of Sarah-Jane. If I wanted to hang around high schools, I'd either have become a teacher or been arrested by now. 2/5

Kill the Moon - Science, common sense and the American constution take a back-seat for a reasonable ethical dilemma. 2.5/5

Mummy on the Orient Express - A great outing for Capaldi where his apparent callousness pays off again. Oh and apparently someone called Foxes was in this for 2 seconds to make it kewl for the kids. 5/5

Flatline -  A pretty good episode with an original idea for a baddy. 3/5

In the Forest of the Night - Has all the elements I love about Doctor Who - more coverage of life in school, child actors fresh off a CBBC set, the power of love trumping science and the people of Earth apparently forgetting all the weirdness they just witnessed. 0/5

The Mistress Duology - I'm not a big fan of changing the Master's gender, nor of the way post-Delgado Who seems to portray the Master - more Joker, less Lex Luthor. Gomez, who I've loved since the Blue Wing, however is more believable than John Simms ever was (not that I blame John Simms acting chops). However this was reasonable, if a somewhat convoluted finale with some silliness, like making the Doctor President of Earth or noting, "Hey the Cybermen can fly. Quick, let's all get in a plane. I hope they don't attack us in the air!" 3/5

All in all, a reasonable season but I worry poor Moffat is running low on ideas.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Thoughts on Gabriel Knight: 21st Anniversary Edition

My love of the old series of Sierra adventure game series called Gabriel Knight is on record. It's a series about a New Orleansian book store owner who starts researching local voodoo murders for a novel and ends up discovering the supernatural element is real and that he is from a line of Schattenjagers - witch hunters - who deal with the supernatural. It also helps that a lot of the lore in the game is painstakingly researched from real life (enough to make me get over my fear of the Deep South of America and want to visit New Orleans) and the game has a very mature sense of writing to it. The second and third games deal with additional cases involving werewolves and vampires he takes on after embracing his Schattenjager heritage.

Sadly the series ended as adventure games fell out of vogue and Sierra was abosrbed by one of the evil megacorp game companies. The creator, Jane Jensen, now has her own indie games studio and decided to remake the first game as a Gabriel Knight 20th Anniversary edition. Having just completed it I have mixed thoughts on it. I love Gabriel Knight and I hope the sales lead to a 4th game, though there is also the possibility they may remake the 2nd and 3rd games. The 2nd game was FMV game, and one of the better ones, albeit with few alternative paths as film was expensive. The 3rd game was really hampered by an ugly slow early 3D engine and I personally don't think 3D adds much to point-and-click adventure games unless it is very stylized like Telltale Games's various series.

My mixed thoughts on the 20th anniversary edition (which amusingly came out 21 years after the game) include:-
Death by telekinesis?

  • It is interesting, and makes one feel old to realise, that Gabriel Knight is now a period piece. Still set in 1993 there's no mobiles or internet - you need to research things the old fashioned way. Thankfully the remake avoided making this too in your face - like say how when people now do 80s period pieces everyone has massive comedy mobile phones.
  • While the backgrounds are often beautiful (and Schloss Ritter is more consistent with the later games) the 3D modelling is terrible. My Dr. Who fangame looks way, way better as I opted for 2.5D (i.e. prerendered 3D models). The sprites look fine when stationary but the bodies of the character contort in unrealistic manners and are clearly not interacting with the pre-rendered backdrops of the game, frequently ice-skating across the floor or walking through walls and curtains. Complex animations, such as a character changing clothes, are avoided by 'fading to black' and then showing the character in a new outfit, which is really lazy, or by new 'comic book' style cutscenes with very limited and often stuttery animation. The original 93 game used a few comic book style scenes, but had a lot better animations both in cutscenes and in-engine sequences. Most aggredious is that during action scenes some of the 3D models are clearly not in sync with each other, such as when Dr. John decided to murder me using his telekinetic powers.
  • There are a few new puzzles added to the game, but these tend to be 7th Guest style puzzles that bring the plot screeching to a halt while you solve them. 
  • There are a few minor tweaks to the storyline - for instance a puzzle involving using a bagel vendor to distract some cops while you raid an office is replaced with a more realistic sequence where you breaking into the police station through a back alley window. Once you get the swag you need the cops are all start inexplicably acting like zombies (I'd like to have found out how the voodoo cult did that) and scare you off in a sadly uninteractive cut scene. At least it explains why you don't call the cops at the end of the game.
  • Some tweaks "streamline" the game. I personally miss the old point-n-click interfaces where you could choose a specific action on a target (e.g. try to  eat the door) and get a humorous or unexpected response. Now if one clicks on an object only the actions the programmer has decided you can do are offered (e.g. open/close the door is fine, but talking to the door is not offered). The original Gabriel Knight 1 had a ridiculous number of actions you could perform any mundane objects.
  • There was an overwhelming number of locations to visit at the start of the game that served no initial purpose (such as Gabriel's gran, a bar and so forth). These are now streamlined and unlocked at the points in the game when they become necessary - something that simplifies the game but that I personally do not like (especially as you unlock your local bar by finding an advert in the local paper for a jeweller you must talk to who hangs out there and inexplicably gives the bar as his contact details, but who - as his dialog is unchanged from the original game - is long retired from the jewellry trade and thus wouldn't be advertising his services).
  • Other tweaks are nonsensical. In the original a character, Dr. John, gives you the address of a voodoo priestess who helps you out. In the remake you find a flyer for her but the character still uses the originial script, making references to how you were sent by Dr. John.
  • Even more stupid - Gabriel now appears as he does in later games of the series, but the dialog where people comment on his appearance (such as his spiky hair, which is now long instead of spiky) is still unchanged from the original game.
  • There are game-stopper bugs in the remake that were not in the original - something I find unforgivable in a remake (the recent Baldur's Gate remakes had similar issues). I found myself being unable to progress on Day 3 despite having solved all the puzzles and had to download a save game to get unstuck.
  • The original game had Tim Curry, Mark Hamill and Michael "Worf" Dorn amongst its A-list voice cast. Sadly the recording were relatively low quality and had to be redone with... let's just say "other" actors. Generally the voice acting is ok, but I miss Hamill in particular.
  • The new music in this remake is probably the best thing about it. The old game had midi music that can't compare with the synth-electric guitar of the Schattenjager theme.
So, mixed bag really. Amusingly the original game is a mere £3.60 while the remake will set you back £12.99 and clearly still needs some work.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Thoughts on 5E

I downloaded the PDF of the free 5th Edition rules of Dungeons and Dragons and had a gander. I had played a Ravenloft adventure of D&D Next at the UK Games Expo and it felt like a solid alternative implementation of D&D 3.X with lower numerical ranges and fewer, but more complex feats.

The Starter Set that's out looks pretty... plain. 2 small booklets that - if it had been a bit more fancy with bits you could use after you have the 3 Core books I might've parted with the £10. However 5E is not revolutionary enough to persuade me to part with any bucks unless I get into a game. This is what I said about 4E though, and resulted in me buying 0 books from that range.

Thoughts on the free PDF though are:-
  • No feats are included as of version 0.1?! I've not followed the crunch enough  but don't you need those to generate characters?
  • I like that they've brought back references to Greyhawk, Dragonlance, Ravenloft and I guess Forgotten Realms. If they resurrect some of the old campaigns that might persuade me to buy the core books and settings.
  • I also don't mind that Realms is the default setting now, as it makes them less likely to screw over Greyhawk/Ravenloft/any other setting I actually give two hoots about in the way 4E already seems to have done with the Realms, so much so that they've had to do a massive retcon for 5E already.
  • I like the character sheets and the backgrounds  - it actually encourages roleplaying as opposed to min/maxing and reminds me of 2E's kits, as opposed to prestige classes in 3E which were too crunchy and high-level play to be of much use initially.
  • Paragraphs on allowing you to play transgendered and non-heterosexual characters has been hailed as a triumph for political correctness, wonderfulness and equality on RPG.net. Now, being politically incorrect I don't see the big deal - I tend to avoid such issues in gaming, since I play for fun and escapism and these issues smack of too much real life. I am happy to play with all and sundry and I would have said its always been your game - so including these aspects has always been a DM/player call. I should also ask the indelicate question - wouldn't most transgender roleplayers simply prefer to play as the gender they identify as and not be treated differently? Sexuality on the other hand is no big deal either in RPGs since it only crops up infrequently in most D&D games.
  • I'm not so keen that tieflings are still a core race, as opposed to a race introduced in a setting where they make sense, such as Planescape or wherever. Obviously half-demon types with horns and tales don't strike me as being suitably generic enough to fit into any generic medieval campaign setting. I hope Dragonborn and Teleporting-Not-Elves don't make it into the core PHB, while gnomes, bards and such like do.
The artwork is pretty generic looking, though not as terrible CGI as some of the 3E/4E covers I saw. For me my favourite cover is the original 2E PHB, back when they were comfortable that core D&D's roots was in western medieval Europe and the art reflected it. Compared to games like Esteren and LotFP the artwork is far too safe and politically correct.

Friday, July 18, 2014

More Games

Some more new games now stored at Casa Kerrigan include:-

The Green Ronin Edition
Need to work out the system.
A Song of Ice and Fire Roleplaying/Game of Thrones D20: I've got the expensive D20 version and the new Green Ronin D6 system. I'm not sure which to run but I have a yen to run a short one-off in the Game of Thrones universe. The default setting for both games is 10 years before the books/TV show, though I'd also be tempted to run something in the Dunk & Egg era, which feels a little more 'pulpy' and 'high adventure' than the Song of Ice and Fire series.

The Night's Watch would be the most typical "adventuring party" setup for a one-off although the minor house playstyle idea might work for a mini-campaign. The D20 game has a couple of downloadable adventures and ASoIFRPG comes with a pretty long adventure detailing the adventures of House Whatever. Most likely I'd use a Northern House, or a Riverlands House.

Am I alone in thinking
"Lovely art, lousy font"?
To be honest I couldn't imagine running a massive campaign of this game as I'd feel too beholden to the source material. It's the same reason Dragonlance stopped being my D&D campaign of choice - there's too much 'canon' to beholden too, and I'm too OCD to canon.

That said the D20 House adventures and Peril in Kings Landing could make a diverting series of adventures and creative players could easily make enough material for House Whatever.

7th Sea: I was a little late to this party as for some reason it is out of print while Legend of the Five Rings, its oriental cousin, is still around but I've finally managed to track down the 2 rulebooks for this game, and have pdfs of pretty much every supplement. Ever.

7th Sea is a swashbuckling game I feel I should have loved playing but never got into the right game. Pirates, musketeers, magic and intrigue - along with a heroic combat system allowing your hero to wade through expendable NPCs - this should've been a shoe-in.

7th Sea - why is this game
out of print?
I played a few mini-campaigns I never really enjoyed but I put that more down to the DM not advising character generation (i.e. telling where the adventure will be set, and which common languages are advisable) or the players being dicks. One time I played a pirate in a campaign involving Avalonian politics. So my ability to kick my sword into my hand from the floor of a ship didn't become relevant and I was generic muscle for the noble PCs. Another time I played an Avalonian nobleman in a campaign based in Castille. One player even deliberately insisted the party plot in languages she knew my PC didn't speak, and I couldn't interact with the NPCs.

So again, one I'd love to run, but more to play in.

I got 7th Sea from Noble Knight along with a ton of free RPG Day goodies, including some RPG Grip Mat samples - which are great for holding miniatures in place, but apparently one cannot draw on with water soluble marker.

Another downside is the sample mats are too small  for any
serious RPG carnage. Good job I got 2!

Thursday, July 03, 2014

Two New RPGs From Brom

Last month I popped over to the UK Games Expo in Birmingham for the weekend. I'd recommend it to anyone - it's a huge convention with the largest trade hall in the UK. I picked up a couple of games:-

LotFP has nice artwork too - much nicer
than the generic D&D/Pathfinder art
Lamentations of the Flame Princess is a Weird Fantasy Roleplaying game that uses a system similar to the old OD&D (original Dungeons & Dragons) with some of the later innovations of D&D (ascending armour classes etc.). Character classes are very tightly focused (only fighters get better at fighting, only specialists get skill improvements), elves, dwarves and halflings are classes to themselves. I have some reservations - for instance dwarves seem to stacks of hit points but no combat skills.

The Weirdness is in the adventure material, and the often graphic artwork, and they are typically set in a form of the real world in the 17th century. James of LotFP does a very strange thing at conventions - Pay What You Want. You can buy any books he has an give him whatever you want. If you give him above a certain threshold he'll even send you a forthcoming module when it is done.

I threw down £50 and bought the core rulebook hardback, Carcosa, Isle of the Unknown, F**K for Satan (yes really!), the Monolith Outside of Space and Time and the God That Crawls. They're weird. There's been a lot of criticism for some of the adventures from various quarters (one of them features a gigantic alien mind controlling phallus), but James is clearly not someone who wants to filter his imaginations for political correctness, nor does he hold with the idea of "fairness" in adventures. There's no bestiary - monsters and spells are unique and introduced in scenarios. For example one wizard has a 1st level spell allowing time travel.

This was always a contention of mine when I used to write roleplaying games. Scenarios, particularly those in living campaigns, have to be playtested and the encounters balanced using some sort of pre-determined equations. I once had to make the walls of an enemy city manned with only 2 archers in order to fit the Encounter Level of a ranged encounter. The author of the Free RPG Day Pathfinder module apparently had to apologise for a particularly dangerous encounter where a bad guy's abilities made him near unbeatable if the DM wanted to play by the rules. It makes it boring if you know the only encounters your DM throws at you will be "fair". Some of the parts of LotFP adventures are not "fair". Player characters can get mangled without a saving throw just by following the plot. As it says in the rule book, there's a reason the average mook doesn't become an adventurer. You cannot expect what you face to always be within your power-level, and running away is always an option. Even if it does rip that IV Drip of experience and treasure of your living camapign.

That said I envisage running LotFP for a lot of hilarious one-offs. I would not drop them randomly into an ongoing campaign without planning - most of these modules will not leave your PCs unaffected. You can get the rules for free here, and the 2013 Free RPG Adventure Better Than Any Man is a huge scenario that highlights the weird fantasy aspect. Well worth the downloads.

Fear the stones of Esteren!
The other game I picked up was a French game, Shadows of Esteren. It is a completely different beast of an RPG yet still has overlaps with the Weird Fantasy. It is very much a new-school roleplaying game set in a Celtic-like set of kingdoms known as the Tri-Kazael. It describes itself as part Dark Ages Cthulhu and part Ravenloft - with a very gothic feel.

Part of the fear comes from the isolation of the communities in Tri-Kazael, who live in fear of the Feondas (or enemy). These are unique abominations of plant, animal or even humanity - basically mutations of the natural order and each Feondas has the potential to be a unique horror that could terrify player characters.

In terms of magic the PCs can wield there are the Demorthèn (the druids, the old faith of the Tri-Kazael who still hold considerable influence), the Church of the One - a new faith whose miraculous powers are often more powerful than the dweomers of the Demorthèn and the steampunk-like Magientists, who combine magic with science through the use of a mysterious substance known as the Flux.

The game itself is gorgeous and you can download the first book as a PDF for free here. I played it twice at the Expo, one 4 hour game and one 2 hour demo at the desk (great game, but they cleaned up my Pepsi can in the time it took for me to buy the game). I was sold and bought the uber-bundle of all the rule books, the CD and some player aids/DM screen.

It's a multimedia project, there is a point-and-click adventure game in the works, as well as a boardgame which I've help Kickstart, and some music CDs - though I did not yet get my CD (or PDF copies of the books) as part of the bundle.

I've an idea for a really spooky convention scenario for this - called The Sentinel. I might run this at the Nationals.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Tabletop Day

Tabletop Day was started a year ago by the Geek and Sundry Channel (an unofficial stuart_kerrigan video affiliate, snarf, snarf). The idea is for people to get together and play games during the day. As G&S is American-based they made the classic snafu of organising last year's one during the Easter Holidays (not a good idea even if you're a millionaire).

After much umming and last minute pickups we wound up in Burton-on-Trent around 2pm and decided to stay there to enjoy the tabletop fun with Glen, his bruv and his chum along with the assembled worthies. I think it's the first time since my Living Greyhawk days I've gamed in a shop, and probably the first time I've just been an attendee, not an organiser, so it was great. Even my missus, who has learned to dread the inevitable roleplaying shop visit, enjoyed herself and I think was tempted to buy the Munchkin Duck. She loves her some Munchkin you see.

Sadly I've mislaid a lot of my games in my flat somewhere - mostly Cheapass ones. However the week before I'd bought Once Upon a Time from Spirit Games. I'd been half-heartedly looking for this game for yonks but could only ever seem to find the expansions. Until Phil handily found the core set, and the enchantment set, and the knights set. I'm sure you can see why I like this game.

Before long we were roping anyone and everyone into our loud games. Not everyone got the rules first time but soon epics were told such as Shield Wolf I and Shield Wolf II, two stories involving a wolf with a shield on his back that was in no way an excuse for the player to play the wolf and shield cards in rapid succession. No, sirree...

Finally got to play some Carcassone, though I am truly awful at it and it turns out Naomi has been secretly mastering it on the web for years, alongside Settlers of Catan.

After some more Once Upon a Time we played Braggart is thematically similar to Once Upon a Time and involves bragging a lot. Sadly it seems to be out of print as I'd have happily paid the £10 for this gem.

Finally we played some German murder game I have no idea about. Y'see by this time it was 1am and we'd forgotten with all the fun to eat dinner.

Tabletop Day Rocked!

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

I Should Run A Disco...

... Or DJ as people now call it. I present to you the ultimate nerdy set.

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

BritSciFi: A Tale of Two Halves

It was BritSciFi this weekend and while our Sunday visit was not quite the military-planned smooth ride we had last year, it was fun nonetheless.

Our problems stemmed from the fact I could be accused of being slightly laid-back in my ETA due to a particularly tasty glass of orange juice at breakfast. We arrived just after 10am, picked up our preordered tickets, for the con only to find we were at the back of an enormous queue for tickets. By the time we got to the front all of the ticketed Doctor Who and Red Dwarf events had all sold out.

This solved the conundrum of do we go to see the Minister of Chance Sonic Movie or the Red Dwarf Q & A.

Unfortunately it did not endear me to my other half who had compromised on going to the first Minister panel in exchange for the promise of us seeing the entire Red Dwarf panel instead of the Sonic Movie panel. Only the promise of a nice post-con dinner mollified her.

Unfortunately this queuing for nothing seemed to be a recurring theme throughout the day. However if you were anywhere near me in a queue you were probably inflicted with my witterings to help pass the time. There was a lot of time in those queues. I think some births and marriages may have taken place. Certainly I could've filled out an application for a pension to while away the hours.

So, snark aside, BritSciFi seemed a lot busier this year. Apparently Saturday was very quiet. Perhaps it was because of the high profile guests that day -  the entire Red Dwarf crew (sans Holly/Norman Lovett, who funnily enough we saw in stand-up last weekend on Leicester High Street) were due to appear as were several big hitters in the Whoniverse, most notably Paul McGann, Lalla Ward and John Leeson. Naomi reckoned Paul's awesome turn in Night of the Doctor might have increased people's enthusiasm for his autograph.

A lot of our chums showed up even later than us without preordering and it seemed everyone had the same problem - the panels were all sold out. Several of them, after paying for admission and realising anything to do with their two favourite shows was full left to console themselves on pizza and beer. However we were not to be put-off, we went to both Minister of Chance events and Naomi reckons I appear to be a scarily zealous fan of the Minister of Chance. They know our names now.

ACTING! Apparently it isn't that easy y'know.
(This image will get replaced with a less shaky one when I find me camera)
The first panel involved getting the actors present, Paul McGann, Lauren Crace (I still haven't got over them killing her character Danielle off in Eastenders, yes I just outed myself as a watcher of Eastenders) and Julian Wadham, to read a script whilst playing different characters.Then they handed it off to the audience to do the same scene. Thankfully I decided not to have my big-break in audio, though if there is ever a part for a Scottish guy everyone thinks is American, I'll be there with bells on.

The second event was a writing workshop with the head-honcho of the Minister of Chance, Dan Freeman, where he took us through his writing process and distilling the themes of movies, and talked about how to apply that process to our own writing as well as the challenges of writing for audio. I was of course my usual obtuse self when answering his questions but he was very patient with me.

We went from the Minister events to lunch and then... lurking at the Minister desk. Clare and Dan, the brains behind Minister, were super-cool enough to introduce me to the stars of the audio drama (Lauren plays the companion, Julian the Minister - he's also in some new Avengers audios from Big Finish). I was slightly star-struck, but the Minister of Chance people really are that super-cool and made the con for us. We also got to look at the various props and costumes from the Minister of Chance micropilot, as well as their award.

After that began the second half of the con, which I called "Waiting for McGann". Things got a bit confused. Lots of people around me got a bit grumpy. I wittered on to random strangers in a queue for a good few hours.

You see, while Naomi sensibly looked around the con I joined the autograph line to get Paul McGann's scrawl on the latest Dark Eyes boxed set. Except he was elsewhere, probably doing the aformentioned Q&A. The staff kept asserting he would be along in a minute. Whilst in that queue I managed to get a cool Minister of Chance poster signed by Dan, Julian Wadham - the Minister of Chance himself - and Lauren Crace. I suspect they undercharged me for all those signatures, so I also bought an awesome Minister of Chance T-Shirt. I can now appear even more the superfan at the next event. Lauren Crace even offered to hold my place in the queue of eternity. That was pretty cool of her. Did I mention the Minister of Chance people rock?

Finally it was revealed by a steward that Paul McGann and the others were not signing until 4pm. After a short refreshment I divested myself of a lot of the junk I'd brought to the con. I'd decided by then that the 8th Doctor knitted doll I'd been carting around was getting a little heavy/warm to carry in the Space Centre (though every female in 5 miles thought it was adorable). I also didn't think Paul'd be impressed by my showing him my 8th Doctor animation effort and holding up the massive queueso I dumped my Android tablet in the car.

Getting back in, I discovered, despite the fact it was only 3pm, the autograph queue has reformed and that the guests were definitely signing at the end of the queue. I decided to join it rather than actually look around the con, and was lucky, as the stewards stopped people joining the queue almost right after I joined. One little girl in particular didn't seem too happy about this. Naomi offered to give me the girl's stuff to get it signed, but she really wanted to meet Paul McGann. I should add this story had a happy ending as Paul decided to let her sneak in at the end and she was last seen crying tears of joy rather than disappointment.


When the Con organisation seemed a little off, it seems all the guests really stepped in to be extra-friendly.
Paul was grateful for the use of Naomi as a human shield
from the blithering fanboy on the left. (Nah, he was awesome).

After much queueing I got his autograph, and Lalla Ward's. As she signed my Shada CD I told her I'd seen the Ian Levine Shada. She asked how it looked and was mildly amused about my comment about how she looked like "Doctor Who on Ice". It was pretty clear they were all tired by the time we got there. I certainly was. It was time to buy my patient girlfriend a post-con dinner. Thankfully there's a pub near the Space Centre that does great nachos with pulled pork.
So, while I got to do most of what I wanted really, I didn't get a lot of time to look around the con. Next time, no matter how good the orange juice is, go to the Con early!

Also, don't get surgery done on your feet and then 2 weeks later stand for several hours against Doctor's orders.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Minister of Chance Micropilot Review

"Is it good or bad
... That depends on the pilot."
-The Pointed Hand

Paul McGann (Durian) doomed to always wear an awesome waistcoat/collar combos instead of leather.
I just saw two movies tonight, the Lego Movie, which I won't blog about, and the micro-pilot for the Minister of Chance, which I will.

Minister of Chance is a rather strange beast. It is arguably a Doctor Who spinoff but in my opinion it is so much more and this production stands on its own legs - effectively not part of the Whoneverse. The Minister of Chance was a Time Lord from a non-canon BBC Doctor Who audio production - Death Comes To Time - starring Sylvester McCoy. The Minister was initially played by Stephen Fry and the author, Dan Freeman (all-round nice guy), spun the character off into a 6 part audio drama, which moved from being sold on iTunes to being a free download, paid for by crowdfunding. You can still download the audio series, for free, here and it is well worth doing so. Now Radio Static, the production company, are moving towards developing a Minister of Chance TV/movie adaption of the story.

Minister of Chance seems to have come at the right time for me, as science fiction franchises on TV and at the movies feel like they are dumbing down in terms of vision in the script department when ironically the technical limitations are being removed. Doctor Who, despite its larger budget, rarely seems to ever leave contemporary Earth and the Doctor can only pick up 21st Century girls in England as his companion, despite the fact the TARDIS can travel in space and time. The new Star Trek movies instead of exploring strange new worlds seem to always involve a big SFX fight over Earth so we can have a post-9/11 allegory. Even when we do leave Earth it is very rare in TV sci-fi one gets a nuanced 'alien' world (though to be fair this is probably easier to do in a book). Doctor Who tends to work with one issue homogeneous planets, like Planet of the Ood - where it seems the only thing of interest on the whole planet concerns production of Ood, or Varos where everyone watches TV, or the pirate planet where everyone's about getting richer.

One of the things I like about Minister of Chance is that it is set on what seems a living planet that is not Earth, but yet has its own distinct nations and a wide range of political and theological ideals. The micro-pilot shows this by introducing the quasi-medieval nation of Tanto that borders two more technologically powerful superpowers. The micro-pilot is an adaption of the first audio episode - The Pointed Hand. Essentially in both the audio prologue and micro-pilot Paul McGann's ambassador from Sezuan, Durian (who the authors based on super-slick King of Spin Tony Blair) pays the King of Tanto a visit and a battle of wills ensues.

A tactical map showing Tanto, or as
they call it in Sezuan "Piggy in the Middle".
However it is not a straight adaption of the audio series. Clare Eden, the producer, told me when they visited Leicester's Space Centre, audio and film are completely different mediums and to simply film the audio script would not necessarily do the material justice and would require a budget the current film production sadly lacks. For instance two main characters played by well known actresses exchange literally a handful of lines of dialog in the audio version but do not appear in the pilot. Instead of overseeing the bustling court in the audio the King of Tanto appears to be enjoying a private retreat in a sumptous looking manor house in the micro-pilot. Fair enough - I know which I'd prefer.

The whole micro-pilot has an almost ethereal quality to it, with pale lighting and an operatic classical score. It is a two-hander, with McGann squaring off against Tim McInnery (Percy/Darling from Blackadder) as Tanto's king. There are also some mute soldiers and an incredibly cute Princess Didi but in the largest departure from the audios McInnery's king is a much more sympathetic character than his psychotic counterpart played by Mark Lewis. If it goes to series I hope to find out what happens to the king, as in the audio version his character disappears without any real explanation.

The micro-pilot is good. I hope someone picks it up and finances instead of brainless fare like Sharknado III: The Lobotomy or Godzilla vs. Tetris.

I even managed to sell my missus on watching the micro-pilot. (When I said it cost £8 for ~8 minutes she said she was thankful the 100 minute Lego movie were not going to charge at a similar minute to pounds ratio). However she enjoyed it and asked to hear the audio prologue so she could compare and understand how initially I sided with Durian. Given I can't get her to listen to Big Finish this is high praise indeed fellows!

If you are interested in checking this out, I recommend listening to the free audios first - the titular Minister does not appear in the micro-pilot and there's over 3 hrs of story - and then dropping £8 to see the short film and support a future endeavour for the Minister (or if you're local and see me at a PC, ask me to show you it). You won't regret it.

Not someone you'd want over for dinner.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Mini-Rant: Felicia Day and Geek and Sundry Borrowed My Footage A Long Time Ago

A long time ago I made an Ultima V Lazarus let's play. It was fun until the laptop died with the save games on it. I should get them off the HD and play again, or backup on Dropbox next time. Or just retrace my steps and finish it. Lazarus is good.

A year ago along came Felicia Day on her Geek and Sundry, who made a great video with some weird Ultima beat-poetry. There was a little bit of footage from Ultima V Lazarus at the codex, given Felicia Day is called Codex Dragon and Codex in the Gamers. Except the Ultima V Lazarus footage looked incredibly familiar. It was from my video. Which is probably the only Let's Play to get to the codex in U5:L as that is frickin' late in the game due to the fact you can't just jump in a pirate vessel like in the original Ultima 4.

Unfortunately pointing this out in the comments section led to the following 2 camps of individuals bombarding my inbox and the odd comment on youtube and (with swear words removed) said...

"I should be happy that Felicia had ripped off my footage without even telling me she was doing it."

"The footage is completely different from my let's play, so how dare I try to get some youtube hits by linking my rubbishy videos to this glorious lady."

More stingingly Felicia noticed this, apologised and her people (as one dare not speak to the goddess of the internet herself lest her voice destroy thy modem) promised to send some schwag to me as compensation which never materialised despite numerous re-emailings. Salt on wound methinks as Hollywood players like Felicia would be first to complain if I started pirating the Guild.

Anyway I present Exhibits A and B.
(Incidentally internet, feel free to rip off all my stuff, just toss me a mail to let me know you are doing so as a courtesy).

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Resurrection of the Lamented Heroquest

Heroquest 25th Anniversary has been back for a while and doing relatively great-guns trade despite two failed crowdfunding attempts. While I'd love to back it, the fact they do not have the rights from Hasbro to make Heroquest and that the excessively litigious Games Workshop might one day throw their hat into the ring mean it seems like a fool's investment.

Add to that I've yet to see any real plastic miniatures (but an abundance of 3D models) and the poor English on the site seems to be a warning sign that the rules may read like Tommy Wiseau wrote them. They also seem to be adding a lot of new stuff (new characters, 'hero cards') and are rushing the game out, which makes me wonder how much testing and game balance there will be.

Finally there's the number crunching - my current copy of Heroquest, bought in 2013, cost a mere £25.00 on Ebay + £6 shipping. This new edition costs 65 Euros (or £51) + 29.41 Euros (£24) shipping. And that's presumably with the crowdfunding discount along with the fact they've taken your money and you won't see a product until allegedly December 2014 (and every kickstarter I've backed has been 2-3 months late). The deluxe edition with all the extra stuff (vampire crypts, rolling boulders, levers) costs a whopping 115 Euros (£95).

Maybe if it appears in a retail shop, heavily discounted.