Monday, May 6, 2024

The Pali-toys that made me


I have a very distinct memory. It must have been the summer of 1977, and my dad had gone away for a few days on a training course. It didn't happen often, usually once a year or so, but working in mental health I'm sure he had to keep up to date with what was happening with nursing treatments and stuff. He rarely talked about it. Anyway, he'd been away for a few days, and came home with a gift for me. I was, like, nine years old, so getting a new toy was always awesome, but I don't think my dad realised how much of an impact he was going to have. 

He handed me two carded figures – R2-D2 and Chewbacca – and said that he had no idea what they were but the guy in the toy shop said that they were going to be big. They looked really cool, and the Star Wars name at the top of the card flagged something in my memory. 

That summer, 2000AD had produced their "Summer Special Supercomic", a big version of their regular weekly comic with some extra features, some longer stories, and all the 'thrill-power' you could handle. Kinda designed to take with you when you go on holiday, keep the kids quiet for the trip or something. But there was a feature in there with some early photos was a feature on Star Wars

The facts were wildly out in some cases, but the photos were cool, and 2000AD was saying that the movie was going to be really something special. 2000AD was like the bible of cool at the time, and if they said something was going to be good, and the guy in the toy shop said it was going to be big, I needed to know more. 

I opened those two figures carefully (my mum suggested cutting the tops of the blisters to slide the figures out so they could go back in once I'd finished playing with them). They were amazing. I had no idea who these characters were, or what they were going to do, but they were great. But the back of the card said there were another ten figures... 

It was the start of my obsession and love of Star Wars. I eventually completed my set of the first twelve, then the next six, and so on. That summer, my dad bought me the oversized Star Wars comic adaptation (the first half of the movie), and we booked tickets to see it (though there was only one cinema nearby that was showing it – the Dorchester, a long closed movie theatre that opened to just show Star Wars, three times a day, for about six months). We had to book so far in advance, it wouldn't be until early 1978 that we went to see it, and seeing the film just cemented my love of Star Wars even more. 

Those figures, however. No matter how simple, how un-lifelike they were, they were my childhood. I was Luke Skywalker, and could create my own Star Wars adventures with them.

They went on holiday with me. My fondest holiday memory is of a small self-catering cottage in the middle of a huge forest in the Borders of Scotland, near Hawick. Access with down a muddy path you could drive through, and on two sides of the cottage there was nothing but trees, with farmland and fields on the other. It was so quiet. By day I would wander around the forest, my stick of choice became my lightsaber, pretending I was training to become a Jedi. In the evening, I'd retreat to my small room, with my Star Wars figures, making more stories, listening to the soundtrack tape I had (not the official one, I couldn't afford that, so I had "The Sounds of Star Wars by the Sonic All-Stars" on tape). 

Another holiday we had was in North Wales, where most of the time I'd hide in my room playing Star Wars, trying to block out the sounds of my parents watching The Omen and trying to ignore the fact that the self catering cottage we'd rented was right next to a cemetery. I spent those two weeks saving my 'holiday money' as a local toy shop had a snowspeeder in the window. The day before we left, I got my snowspeeder, completely unaware that it was supposed to make sounds. How was I to know, we didn't have internet or anything. I just thought it lit up and that was it... oh well.

I mean, I had other toys. Lego, Scalextric, and so on, but those Star Wars figures were everything. 

Until I discovered roleplaying games. I mean, I loved Star Wars, and my two biggest interests collided when West End Games brought out the Star Wars RPG, but by that time all of my 'play' was either D&D and Runequest, or on the ZX Spectrum. Those figures were sitting on the shelves, still carded (as my mum's advice always held)... and I made one of the biggest mistakes of my life.

I sold them.

There must have been about 40 figures, the snowspeeder, landspeeder, and a tauntaun (without opening stomach). What the hell was I thinking? This must have been about 1984, just as we moved house. I was thinking I was all grown-up and nonsense, and someone local to me got themselves a bargain. 

And I regretted it ever since. 

For the last twenty-plus years I've regretted it so much I'd find myself looking on Ebay at replacing my collection and swearing at the prices. I could never afford them, not without that elusive lottery win. I'd see the odd one here and there in shops for about £20 each, but even then they'd be faded, without their guns, and I'd never be too sure if they were real or dodgy knock-offs. I was never going to replace them...

It was my birthday last month, and I'd learned that Hasbro had done something remarkable. They'd remade those original figures, carded in a very similar way to them, and released the original twelve in two packs of six. My lovely wife bought me the first set (Han, Chewie, Luke, Leia, Vader, Stormtrooper) and I bought the other six (Obi-Wan, Threepio, Artoo, Tusken Raider, Jawa, Death Squad Commander). 

It was like being ten years old again. The muscle memory kicked in, and just holding them brought back all of the memories of my childhood. The way Han doesn't stand very well, or hold his blaster. The clicky head on Artoo to make 'bleep bloop' noises. The slidey lightsabers that go up the characters arms. 

I have to say it was slightly emotional. It was like that moment when my dad first handed the figures to me. All those memories came flooding back. Sitting at the back of the Dorchester cinema (as that was the only place they'd allow a wheelchair for my mum to park) but being so far back the very top of the screen was cut off from view by the balcony – and my mum almost leaping out of her seat as the Star Destroyer first loomed overhead...

Or us dressing up as the characters for the town carnival, with my dad wearing a carved up black bucket on his head to be Darth Vader.

Reading the novel-sized paperback of the comic adaptation of The Empire Strikes Back not believing they could make those AT-ATs appear on screen... and not believing the revelation of Luke's father in the final act...

Perfect. One of the best birthday gifts ever...

Now to buy some little stands. 

Thursday, April 11, 2024

Bustin' Makes Me Feel Good


This week it was my birthday. I'm very old. At least, I feel it sometimes. And usually, when a birthday comes along, I'm kinda happy for the day to go by with as little fuss as possible. 

However, this year my lovely wife insisted that (a) I took the day off from work, and (b) did 'something'. So, after four-plus years of not venturing to the cinema we finally made the effort and braved the public to take in the new Ghostbusters movie - Frozen Empire

Okay, disclaimer time – I love Ghostbusters. I always have. I was obsessed with the first movie, saw it when it first came out (in the UK) forty years ago, bought the film on rental VHS from my local video store when it first came out (costing me a pretty penny, saved up over many weeks), and leapt at the opportunity to play the tabletop RPG from WEG. I've written about my love of Ghostbusters many times on this blog, and how it was the game that inspired me to get into game writing. So, you know it has a lot of meaning for me. 

Ghostbusters: Afterlife was a revelation. An incredibly emotional lega-sequel, and I loved it. Always felt it kinda just ended, and needed more and thankfully Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire did just that. 

No major spoilers, but I must say I may not be the best person to review this. The opening titles came up and I was already getting overly emotional. I love the characters. Mckenna Grace is flippin' brilliant as Phoebe, and the writers made the very smart decision to make her the focus of the story. I was particularly interested in the subplot about what happens to all of the ghosts?

It was the only thing that has really bugged me about the series as a whole – what does happen to them all, do they all just get stuffed in the containment grid and it fills up? It's something I tried to cover in Spirits in Manhattan, where the ghosts are captured, contained, and the characters try to either resolve the ghosts' issue that's tying them to this world, or exorcise them completely. It was great to see that issue covered in this movie, though I'd like to see them try to 'resolve' more ghost issues in the future, rather than just shoving them in a bigger box and hoping they don't get out.

Anyway, I digress. Plenty of nods to the older movies, and even the cartoon series I was suitably obsessed with - probably not something an 18-year old should be obsessed with. Cool new villain, some great new characters (Nadeem was great, but then Kumail Nanjiani usually is) and some upgrades to the tech. 

I have to confess, once again, I loved every second of this. While it didn't have the emotional punch in the gut that Ghostbusters: Afterlife had – and let's face it, it could be tricky to do that every movie – it was everything I really wanted from a Ghostbusters movie. I feel like there may be too many characters now, and it'd be great to focus even more on the new Spenglers in future movies, and I really hope there's more. 

Monday, April 1, 2024

Nothing Can Stop Me Now...

I had the notification come through from my domain host that the domain for this website had auto-renewed and I've paid for it for the next couple of years. Just as I was about to delete the whole thing and go into hiding. 

So I'd better use it! 

I had a moment of clarity a few days ago, wondering why I was in such a funk. I suddenly realised that it's the typical frustrations of a creative mind. 

When I was working in retail, as I had for twenty years, a lot of it was okay, and there were some moments where it was absolutely horrific. But while I was there, I had the release in the evenings and on days off, of writing roleplaying games, making stupid videos, writing fiction, and so on, to keep me sane. 

I dreamed of an escape, to get out of retail, to do what I wanted, and to create stuff...

"It didn't turn out the way you wanted it to, it didn't out the way you wanted it, did it?" - NIN

Now I'm out of retail, and I'm doing creative stuff during the day - albeit not necessarily the creative stuff that still bubbles away at the back of my head. However, when the working day finishes I don't have that creative release of doing something personal. I could - as long as it's not RPG related - but that restriction sometimes just makes me want to sit and stare into space or hide. 

I could do something outside of RPGs, but the idea of spending another couple of hours in front of the computer in the evening is off-putting, and my drawing skills have severely diminished since the ol' comic drawing days (not that they were very good then either). I'm sure many artists have the same problem where you look at the page, picture what you want to produce, and when you actually put pencil to paper it is just a mess or nothing like what you had in mind. I get frustrated and give up, returning to the 'stare into space/TV' mentality which I know isn't good for me.

What's the solution? I seriously considered going back to retail recently, until a good friend said to me "Friends don't let friends go back to retail". 

We'll see. Something may happen. I live in hope. 

- D.

Sunday, February 25, 2024

What the heck am I doing here?

It's been a long time since I wrote a blog post. I think the last one was just after Christmas when I was in the middle of my obsession with Alan Wake. Since then, many things have happened, including the demise of my beloved laptop. Ah, my poor beauty. I bought that MacBook Pro with the money I inherited when my mother died and it has served me well for the last eleven-plus years. I'm hoping to get it fixed in the future - after all, it's always good to have something with a CD/DVD drive. 

Otherwise, things have not been great. I mean, around me things are okay - I'm relatively healthy (despite being unfit), and things are happy at home. But I'm just questioning everything I'm doing. What the hell I'm actually doing with my life, and whether I made the right choices over the last 20+ years. 

I'm doubting my work, whether what I'm doing is any good and whether, in the grand scheme of things, it's worth it. 

I'm doubting what I do in my spare time - I just seem to spend all my time doomscrolling or playing stupid match games on my phone and finding it incredibly hard to be enthusiastic about anything. There have been TV series that I've managed to watched (A Shop for Killers was awesome, and I really enjoyed S4 of True Detective), but I can't concentrate on reading a book (I have about five on the go and just can't find the urge to go back to them). I haven't read a comic since I read "DIE". I miss comics, even if I can't afford them. 

The internet is driving me nuts. As Scully said, it's not good for you. I made some unboxing videos which no one watched. Half of my followers on social media are bots or spam. I don't recognise a lot of people I'm friends with on Facebook, and no one really follows me on Bluesky or Threads. 

Hell, I get about 100 people look at this blog. 

I don't know if it's just my frame of mind at the moment, but my domain is due for renewal soon and I'm wondering if I should bother. I had the urge to delete all of my Youtube videos on my channel. 

But I'm not going to - yet. 

I think I just need some time away from it all.

So this is just me saying, don't panic. I'm taking a break. Time out from the world, as they say. Just going to have some me time.

Stay safe everyone.

Saturday, December 30, 2023

Here's your Remedy...

Let's start this post with a little disclaimer. I don't play a lot of video games anymore. I've just found that (a) I don't have enough time, and (b) I'm rather terrible at them. I do still love video games, and I was obsessed enough with some games to actually 100% them - LA Noire, I'm looking at you. Fond memories of trying to sit in every type of car in the game to get that last achievement. 

My problem is, I often get too involved in the story and empathise too much with the little character on the screen I'm controlling. I could just about handle Halo and its sequels, and the lead characters in games like GTA4 and 5 were not pleasant. The tension was there, but if they came to a horrible end it wasn't too traumatic. 

The most recent game I played and completed was Life is Strange - a perfect game of moral choices, hard decisions, and brilliant storytelling, but already that was edging too close to my empathising. I really felt for Max, and that's the genius of the game. Those decisions were hard, VERY hard, and any stealth parts had my palms sweating because I cared about the characters.

And that's the problem, especially when it comes to horror games. I can watch a horror film no problem, but when I'm actually controlling the protagonist in such dire and terrifying situations it often results in me throwing the controller to the ground with a resounding chorus of 'Nope!'

And that brings me to Alan Wake. Man, I loved Alan Wake. I saw the previews before the first game came out and I was immediately hooked. I mean, I'd played the first two Max Payne games and completed them, so when it came to Alan Wake I bought the collector's edition even if the Deerfest T-shirt was too small for me. I bought the guide with the cool artbook. I immersed myself in that game. It was everything that I loved - Stephen King, Twin Peaks, weirdness. Yes!

However, I never finished it. I got to a point, got stuck, and I just couldn't get past it. I'm just rubbish at games. Didn't stop me loving the game though. I watched gameplay videos and saw how it finished, and marvelled at it. 

And then Control happened. Again, amazing concept, super-weird, almost like they read my mind. I mean, secretive government agency looking at weird happenings? It was punching those X-Files buttons hard, and when you go into those early rooms at the FBC and there are people just hanging in mid-air, suspended by unseen forces, that's just an amazing visual.


Why am I writing about all of this? Well, after many, many years, Remedy released Alan Wake 2. Unfortunately for me, it's only on what I'd call 'next gen consoles' (though they've been around long enough for everyone else to call them 'current generation'. Yeah, I'm still on an XBox One...).

I watched the trailers, got really excited, and while I've been unable to actually play it (and, let's face it, it's bloody scary and I'd be rubbish at it - throwing my controller down with a 'Nope!' at the first 'dead' screen or jumpscare) I've been avidly following the design, creation and actual play of the game. Once again, I've just been marvelling at the execution of the game. Remedy have a clear and definite vision (I'm not sure if this is just Sam Lake, or a team decision) but it's absolutely phenomenal and stunning. 

Again, tapping into all of the things I love in narrative fiction and games - FBI agents investigating weirdness in small towns, dreamlike realities that can be distorted and changed, strange cults, paranormal forces... it's everything I'd want from media, whether this is video games, tabletop gaming, or TV/movies.

Here's what really stood out to me as being particularly amazing:

1) Saga's Case Board

Half of Alan Wake 2 is following Alan Wake's attempts to escape the Dark Place, but the other half follows FBI Special Agent Saga Anderson as she investigates a ritual murder that may tie into similar cases that happened thirteen years ago. Yes, Bright Falls is ticking the Twin Peaks boxes for me, but the actual gameplay mechanic of Saga going into her 'mind place' to theorise about the cases is absolutely genius. There, acting like Sherlock's 'mind palace', you can look at clues, and (like Frank Black in Millennium) really put yourself into the minds of the suspects or witnesses and discover additional theories by questioning these imagined versions of the people you encounter.

And then there's the case board, where you take the clues, and revelations from your theories, and put them on a massive wall chart, pinned and connected with red string. As you discover clues, you add them to the wall, working out how things are connected. This is put to chilling effect towards the end of the game where Saga is trapped in her own mind place, the clues forming her own self-doubt and the player has to uncover evidence that Saga is capable and strong enough to escape.

2) Dream Logic

The Dark Place in which Alan Wake finds himself trapped is a weird version of New York, his apartment building, a nearby movie theatre, the TV studios of the mysterious Mr. Door, and the streets in between, but these bleed through into Saga's reality as she explores Bright Falls and the Cauldron Lake area in places called Overlaps. 

There are some amazingly creepy scenes of walking around the same corridors over and over again (a trick that those familiar with Max Payne will recognise) following a dream logic – trapped in a loop (or is it a spiral?) where things change ever so slightly each time you loop. I wonder if Max Payne's nightmarish return to his home inspired the legendary experience that was PT – the teaser for the unmade 'Silent Hills'?

But there's an even more fluid element of dream logic in the Dark Place, as Alan can rewrite the scenario and experience a location in a very different way, depending upon whether he's seeing the location as part of a cult-investigation story, a murder case, or something else. Alan's version of the case board is a writer's plot board, and he can change the story, drastically changing his surroundings with the strange echoes of typewriter keys being struck. Brilliant.

A few of the playthroughs I've watched I've seen a bit of confusion about changing the environment with the plot board as well as using the light switch. Must admit, I got a little lost in places following what they needed to do, but that may just be me. But hey, that's a kinda realistic depiction of dream logic. 

3) Herald of Darkness

I couldn't write about Alan Wake 2 without mentioning that level. Let's start this with another disclaimer – I'm not a fan of musicals. In my head, Buffy was perfect, and nothing can come close, but there's a chapter in Alan Wake 2 where Alan is trapped in Mr Door's chat show and it turns into the most bizarre musical number – all, while you're running around the studio and scenes from the video above play on gigantic screens, and the shadowy entities are attacking, reliving some events of the first game. 

Heck, it's glorious. I loved the soundtrack to both games, and a real highlight of both (besides the excellent inclusion of tracks by Poe) is the in-game fictional band, Old Gods of Asgard. In reality, Poets of the Fall, their music has appeared in other Remedy games (I'm looking at you Control), but the music is great, and bloody infectious. I've had Herald of Darkness going around my head for weeks, so much so that my lovely wife bought me the Old Gods of Asgard album (Rebirth) for Christmas. The Poet and the Muse from Alan Wake 1 is brilliant, and I heartily recommend checking out their music. 

This culminated in the recent Game Awards where the band played live, complete with the actors from the game (and voice talent) joining in. The last moments when Remedy director and writer Sam Lake is on stage, as his character Alex Casey, dancing the same routines as in the game, the look on his face is of someone who is loving every moment of it, and it's a level of job enjoyment and achievement that, let's face it, we all strive and hope for. 


Part of me could go on about the seamless integration between live-action and video game, the perfectly crafted story, the realistic moment when Alan is pursued by the dark entity and is running through corridors looking over his shoulder shouting 'f*** off!', or the genius move of adding more connections to Control and developing the story by playing it through again – after all, it's not a loop, it is a spiral. But that would make this post incredibly long. It's already strange that I've become this enamoured and slightly obsessed with a game I haven't even played. 

However, it is somewhat inspiring to see the game exist – sure it's a sequel, but in a world where I watch the big game presentations of what's coming out and just sit there saying 'shooter', 'shooter', over and over again, to see something with such a narrative, and a focus on investigation, it's refreshing and inspiring.

And this inspiration is something I'm hoping to look at in the new year, on how video games can inspire tabletop game design.

In the meantime, stay safe, stay creative, and stay in the light.

Sunday, December 24, 2023

The point comes in a man's life...

 "The point comes in a man's life when he looks to the past to define himself, not just his future."


That line in Picard has really stuck with me for many months this year. As we come to the end of 2023, I can't help but look back on this last year and hope that it offers some insight into what the hell was going on, and what may be in store for the new year.

Last year wasn't so bad. Admittedly it started full of hope and optimism, promising "Big Things"(tm) that, as the year progressed, it was clear wouldn't not be coming to pass. The hope and optimism has faded, and the latter half of the year has been filled with a sense of going through the motions - Buffy would be proud.

Lovely beach

But it wasn't bad. The highlight may have been a trip back to my old hometown. To sit on that beach once more, to see familiar streets and parks, and a quieter pace of life that has left me eager to return... maybe on a more permanent basis. We're working on it at least. 

We played some great games, watched good movies, and an awful lot of TV series (next year I'm actually going to keep track of everything I watch/read). And we had possibly the most active #RPGaDAY in August, as we celebrated its 10th anniversary. 

As for next year? As The Stranglers so perfectly said it in the video above - 'Something Better Change'. One of these changes may have to be a new Mac (it's 11 years old now and incredibly slow), as well as other changes. 

I have no idea what's ahead, I can't even begin to predict. 

All I will say is that no matter where you are, I hope that 2024 brings peace, security, and happiness. 

Stay safe everyone. 

Saturday, November 18, 2023

Not Everything You Do is For An Audience

After my recent post about how I was frustrated at my drawing and wanting to do something but it being a little... how's the best way to put it?... crap, I received a perfect message on Instagram from a good friend pointing me to a wonderful comic strip by @pascalcampionart (seriously, check out the art, it's lovely).

In the strip (I won't post it here as I haven't asked for permission) the frustrated artist says that he has ideas, but doesn't like them. 

The wonderfully drawn cat says that he should just do it, get them on paper - it may inspire something better. The strip closes with the line "Not everything you do is for an audience". And that one kinda hit hard. Maybe that's my problem. Everything I've done except for a couple of rare passion projects (WILD, and Missing) have had an audience in mind. 

And that is what's holding me back. The weekend comes, I have time away from the dayjob, and I want to be creating something, but I think 'what's the point if I don't share it with people?'. Sometimes you just have to get it out of your system, put it on paper, and you'll feel better.

I need to get over myself and just do it. I mean, look at me, I'm displacing by writing a blog post on a blog that barely anyone reads. 

So here I go. Putting the computer away again, and just going to do something for me for a change. 

Sunday, November 5, 2023

Genre Defying (continued) - Moving and Behind Your Touch


A few months ago I posted about a couple of series I'd been watching, mostly South Korean series as I've been having difficulty focusing on things. A lot going on in my head at the moment, so I'm finding it hard to sit in front of a TV series and actually watch it, if you know what I mean, rather than having it on while sitting on my phone doomscrolling. 

I found that watching a series that had subtitles meant that I had to concentrate on the screen, not get distracted by anything, and actually taking in the information. It meant that I had been watching some seriously amazing series that managed to defy genres by squeezing in romance, action, supernatural stuff, superheroic powers, humour, horror, and more, all in one series. My favourites so far have been The Uncanny Counter (series 2 was just as great as the first), Sell Your Haunted House, and The Bad and the Crazy

My head has returned to that state of distraction, and when I wasn't watching The X-Files I was getting easily distracted by the slightest thing, my mind wandering to work worries, that feeling that I'm not accomplishing stuff, or doing what I wanted. So I returned to those South Korean series and discovered some amazing dramas.

First up was Behind Your Touch, which really should have been titled the other way around. The premise is incredibly silly - vet Bong Ye-bun returns to her childhood town to work in her family practice, and is out seeing to a cow at a farm when a meteor flashes and she gains the power to see people's (and animals') memories by touching their butts (as she was touching the cow's behind when the flash occurred).

Her power helps her find out the problems of the town's animals, but when a serial killer strikes, she tries to work out who it is by touching people's butts. Grumpy detective, Moon Jang-yeol, wants to go back to Seoul, and thinks Bong is a pervert, but when he learns of her 'gifts' they team up to track down the killer. 

Yes, it's a silly premise, and leads to a lot of hilarious scenes, but there are some seriously dark moments in there with the serial killer. There's a great helping of romance, some red herrings, a subplot of drug smuggling, action, and good ol' detective work. And, as with so many of these series, the characters and the supporting characters are all interesting with great backgrounds and some brilliant acting. 

Really, really good fun. It's on Netflix at the moment and highly recommended.


We finished that series, after a really tense finale, and switched over to Disney+ (Hulu within the US) to check out Moving, a series that seems to be getting a lot of critical acclaim and is heralded as 'Heroes' (but the first series, when everyone loved it). 

It was not disappointing at all. At least, not so far. I've got two episodes to go to finish it, and I seriously hope there is going to be more. 

Moving starts as a simple tale of a few school kids at Jeongwon High School, mostly focusing on Jang Hui-soo, a new transfer who is great at PE, and Kim Bong-seok, a friendly and cheerful student who carries a lot of bags.

We quickly discover that Hui-soo heals really quickly, and Bong-seok floats off of the ground when he's emotional (hence all of the bags full of weights). They become close friends, and it's freakin' adorable. There are other characters who seem to have superpowers, like the school bus driver, and the class president, but the school seems to be a training/clearing ground for potential new powered kids.

It's brilliantly done, and the introduction of a powered assassin adds tension. Then, after seven or eight episodes, the focus changes completely, looking at the lead kids' parents. 

We discover Hui-soo's father's story, who also heals really fast, and we see Bong-seok's parents, the awesome Kim Doo-sik with his flying ability, and equally awesome Lee Mi-hyun who has extraordinary senses. We get seven full episodes of backstory and flashbacks before returning to the present, and it's flippin' awesome. These characters we thought were pretty cool to begin with are suddenly completely fleshed out with complex histories that intertwine, and their struggle to save their kids is even more urgent. 

The final chapter (so to speak), the last five episodes of the twenty episodes, are brilliantly orchestrated, with some amazing superpowered action that puts some of the Hollywood movies to shame. And it's so tense, as you really feel for the characters. The villains are bad and hateful, and I'm hoping something happens to the school principal ("Mr Sniffy" as we're calling him) as he's just... arg!

Seriously can't recommend it highly enough, and if you don't like reading subtitles I've heard it is being re-released on Disney/Hulu in English Dub due to its popularity. 

Saturday, November 4, 2023

If it wasn't so comic it'd be tragic


The old Missing Comics from 1998-9

Many, many, many years ago, back in the very late 90's, I used to write, illustrate, and publish comics. This was back when Autocratik was "Autocratik for the Masses", a play on the REM album name, 'Automatic for the People'. 

My main comic was called Missing, a planned 90+ issue series about a hotel on the Scottish border, after England had become the 51st US State, and after global warming at raised the water levels to the point where cars needed to be amphibian, and highwaymen used surfboards to attack unsuspecting travellers. There were subplots of psycho boyfriends, the local sheriff department, kidnapping of the President's daughter, and weird metal bands. So much was planned, but alas it only lasted four issues and looking back at it now it's a little 90's and a bit cringey. 

After Missing was cancelled due to losing my distribution, I published one more comic for the legendary artist D'Israeli (Consequences) before pulling the plug on comics. I had ideas for a weird story involving a massive cathedral, motorcycling paladins, and an alien creature being worshipped as a god, but didn't get very far. 

Original sketch for I in the WILD major arcana

Since then, things have been very quiet with my drawing. I gave up completely, only really putting pencil to paper when I was storyboarding the webseries, or doing my initial sketches for the tarot cards for WILD

WILD was always going to be a square book, and I found a company making cool square sketchbooks for artists (so of course, I bought three, one of each size). 

However, I realised my art wasn't up to scratch for WILD, and Stoo and I recruited my old friend Gareth Sleightholme to do the Tarot deck, which came out brilliantly.

I thought about using these sketchbooks to do something different, something autobiographical, but I only really got a handful of pages into it before I gave up again, mostly due to the frustration of what was in my mind not making it onto the page.

During the pandemic I was inspired to do something, to finally get drawing and creating again. And again, my mind went to something autobiographical. Maybe it was the stresses of the pandemic, and the weird paranoia it brought on, but I really just wanted to get things on paper.

I went to the art department of our local department store where they had a great deal on A5 exercise books that had blank, sketchbook quality pages. I bought ten of them, inspired by artists I'd seen on Instagram, and thought this was going to be my next creative pursuit...

But once again, what I saw in my mind just wasn't what came out on the page. Frustrated, I gave up again, and those many sketchbooks seem to taunt me from the shelves next to my seat. 

I keep getting the urge to draw, but I just don't seem to be able to do what I want. Maybe I'm too impatient? I remember when I was working on Missing I used to work on that daily, determined to get it done, but looking at it now I kinda think it was pretty awful. 

Will I ever go back to comics? Will I get over my own self-doubt and hyper-critical self-depreciation? 

Who knows, but for now, I'll remain a lapsed comics artist...

Sunday, September 10, 2023

The X-Files at 30 - Close Encounters of the First Kind


Today marks the thirtieth anniversary of the airing of the first episode of my favourite TV series - The X-Files. I've talked about The X-Files multiple times on this blog, and you know how obsessive I am, but as it's the anniversary I couldn't help but talk about it again.

Bear in mind that it's not really the thirtieth anniversary for me. Over here in the UK we had to wait just over a year before that first episode aired on BBC2. However, to mark the anniversary I thought I'd do a series of posts about it, picking out my favourite episodes and memories of the series. 

The best place to start is at that very beginning - my first contact with the series. I was obsessed with TV series in my teens. I LOVED TV. I fell in love completely with Moonlighting, watched every episode of Midnight Caller making notes of great lines of dialogue, and then along came Twin Peaks. When I left school I didn't go off to university immediately, and was kinda left behind, trying desperately hard to write RPGs or draw comics, and spending my weekends renting VHS movies by the armful. I watched the VHS of the UK 'Twin Peaks' movie, was immediately hooked and loved every second, so when the actual series started airing in the UK I was faithfully recording them on my parents' VHS so I could watch them over and over again (I still have them somewhere, though I'm guessing the tape has probably degraded a bit now).

This started a trend in me - FBI agents investigating weirdness. Sign me up! Dale Cooper was everything I wanted to be in life, and I couldn't believe it when they left us hanging for so long.

Eventually, I went off to art school, or university as it is now, and even there my love of Twin Peaks influenced my projects (graphic design projects to explain something became complicated flowcharts explaining the relationships in the series). I started buying Wrapped in Plastic magazine, and this only fuelled my love of the series. 

Now, bear in mind I didn't have access to the internet then, and the UK was a whole year behind the States, but whispers of this new series called The X-Files had made it over the waters, and when Wrapped in Plastic dropped that issue looking at The X-Files as well as Twin Peaks, I knew this was a series I had to check out. 

Besides, one of the leads of this new series was iconic in Twin Peaks (as DEA Agent Denise Bryson). That issue featured an episode guide, and interviews, and I knew reading what was in store on The X-Files that I had to watch it. 

Eventually, a year after the States, BBC2 aired the first episode. I have a distinct memory of this as the adverts on TV had already made it look awesome, and a fellow student at art college/uni was also a fan of all things UFOlogy and weird. Debs and I were already dating back then, and we were invited over to this student's flat (we'll call her Caroline, even though that's not her name) to watch. Snacks at the ready, TV tuned in, we all watched, engrossed in the episode.

The Pilot

What is there to say about The Pilot that hasn't already been said? Rewatching it now I can remember the feeling of seeing it that very first time. When the opening caption saying "The following story is inspired by actual documented accounts" came on screen I knew I was in for something cool. And I wasn't wrong, when the leaves are swirling around and he light shines down from the sky? Heck yes... I was grinning like a school kid.

The introduction of Mulder and Scully was great, they had a dynamic and a chemistry straight away on the screen, and I instantly loved them both. 

But there was one moment, out of all the cool scenes in The Pilot, that stood out and I remember as the moment when I knew my life would never be the same again. Mulder and Scully investigate the forest where the abductions are alleged to have taken place, but are forced to leave by local law enforcement. On the drive back the radio bursts into life, there's a blinding light, and we see these freeze frames of the agents shielding their eyes in the car. The lights go out, the car has stopped, and they're just at the X in the road Mulder painted earlier in the episode, and Mulder realises they've lost nine minutes of time. 

That was the moment I knew this was the coolest thing I'd seen since Twin Peaks and I had to watch every episode religiously. 

Going by that issue of Wrapped in Plastic, I knew that The X-Files had already taken the US by storm, and had quickly become a favourite. We may have been a year late in the UK, but I was eager to make up for lost time.


Happy Anniversary to The X-Files, here's to thirty more years searching for the truth.

Thursday, August 31, 2023



This is the end, beautiful friend. The end of #RPGaDAY2023. Another year done, and the final question of this year's initiative is possibly the most difficult one of them all: Favourite RPG of all time

Back when I started #RPGaDAY all those years ago, I asked exactly the same question. And my answer?

West End Games' Star Wars RPG

And that's because it was flippin' amazing. The system was great fun, and involved lots of dice to roll. It was great in its presentation, especially when you think it was produced at a time when there wasn't any Star Wars happening... it had been a few years since Return of the Jedi, and that game went on to shape a game system, to shape the Star Wars universe (even to this day characters and places from that game become Star Wars canon). 


Is it still my favourite? Probably. It's right up there with Ghostbusters (also by West End Games) and Tales from the Loop (by Fria Ligan). All of which have relatively simple systems that are incredibly evocative of the setting, and all of them are incredibly inspirational to everything I do. I can only aspire to do something as cool as West End's Star Wars. 


So that was 2023's #RPGaDAY. The tenth time we've done this, and once again I'd like to thank everyone who has got involved - even if it was just the odd day here and there. Every little post spreading a little more positivity about tabletop gaming can get another person playing, or give an unnoticed but brilliant game the exposure it needs. 

Thank you again, and until next year, stay safe. 

I'll return you all to your usual scheduled program.

Wednesday, August 30, 2023

#RPGaDAY2023 - DAY THIRTY: OBSCURE RPG you've played

Day Thirty of #RPGaDAY2023 changes things up a little. The first year, the question was 'rarest RPG you own' which kinda devolved down to lots of people saying that they had the Dune: Chronicles of the Imperium RPG. Maybe not as rare as I thought, at least not in the RPG circles I was frequenting.

I switched this out to be less about owning something, and turning it into a great opportunity to talk about those games that don't get enough love online. 

There are certainly a few. There's The Gaslight Club - a really cool game of Westworld style robot theme parks, but you play the 'hosts'... and Action Potential where you play operatives who can switch body-shells - like Altered Carbon but not, if you get my drift. 

You should check them out!!

Tuesday, August 29, 2023


 This one's a tricky one. Day Twenty-Nine asks about the most memorable encounter. Back when #RPGaDAY began I talked about our old Call of Cthulhu game where one of the player characters had been forceably retired, only to return as the big bad. 

It's still a very memorable encounter, though my thoughts are drawn to that Tales from the Loop game again. After failing to stop the explosion of the Loop facility as teenagers (play progressing through Things from the Flood), there's nothing more memorable than your teenage character's mother appearing, mutated and evil, with crab-like legs and a host of mutated minions under her control. 


Monday, August 28, 2023

#RPGaDAY2023 - DAY TWENTY-EIGHT: SCARIEST game you've played

 Day Twenty-Eight of #RPGaDAY2023 returns to the question of the initial year, asking what is the SCARIEST game you've played. 

I'm afraid that this answer is the same as the first year - Kult, most notably 2nd Edition Kult, is still the scariest thing I've played. Really cool and unsettling, without resorting to the extremes of its most recent edition.