Friday, May 31, 2013

Bad at Games (1)

I’ve decided I may be too old for video games. 

There, I’ve said it. With the announcement for the new Xbox One and the PS4, both new and exciting consoles that can do everything bigger, faster and with more amazing graphics than ever, I looked at what was planned with a feeling a disappointment and boredom. I’m sorry. I’m just not excited by the prospect.

When I started this blog I was going to do a few reviews, discuss gaming stuff about roleplaying games, and reflect upon my life as a roleplayer. But the more I thought about it, the more I realised that it’s been gaming as a whole that’s been following me over the years. And it’s videogaming that I’m disappointed with at the moment.

I grew up in a seaside town which meant something major when it comes to anyone my age – arcades. We had a few in our little town… not as many as the neighbouring seaside towns, but we had a healthy selection of arcades that would suck up every spare 10p I had. Starting with Space Invaders, and the revelation that was Galaxians, we used to hang around at the arcade and play the lot. 

Many of them were pretty basic, especially by today’s standards, and probably the most gaming time would be spent either on Gauntlet (let’s face it, it was trying to be a video game version of D&D – they certainly saw us coming didn’t they), or trying to master the elaborate controls of Defender.

Warlords on the Atari VCS (1981)
Then home gaming came. Coop and I both had the old Atari VCS, where we’d play the Space Invaders cartridge for hours. The best Atari experience had to be from the simplest of games – Warlords. It was basically “breakout” but four players used the breakout paddles to control a little defence thing that span around a castle in each corner, and we’d hurl little pixelated blobs at each other.

We progressed into computer gaming after my parents bought me a Sinclair ZX Spectrum (48K) one Christmas with the hopes that I’d become a wiz-computer programmer and make my fortunes in the growing computer industry. However, Sinclair BASIC was not the language of choice in most cases, and my A-Level Computer Science project that was printed out on that heat-sensitive Sinclair Printer “silver toilet roll” may not have put me in good stead to become the next Steve Jobs. 

But we played them all – Jet Set Willy, Horace Goes Skiing, Atic Atac, and of course Elite. Even upgrading to the Sinclair ZX Spectrum 128, and playing what would be the pinnacle of Spectrum gaming for me – Starglider (which took around 30minutes to load from cassette).

Aliens - The Computer Game (1986)
Even then, I could see one of the major problems I’d have with video gaming. It started with Aliens, the computer game. Published by Electric Dreams, this was possibly one of the most basic forerunners to a first person shooter. You controlled a squad of six, running around the installation on LV-426, with basic graphics, and just the constant heartbeat noise of the motion-tracker for company. You’d run through many identical rooms, encountering the odd facehugger that would leap out at you, before you ventured into the scary hive, and the warriors would take your squad out one by one. I never got very far, never saw the queen. All I’d see would be teeth, and six flatlining monitors as my squad all became either eaten or impregnated.

It was terrifying. I used to get sweaty palms, and have to stop playing. Sad really…

Eventually, I sold my Spectrum to a colleague at the Archaeology Unit where I worked, and I turned my back on video games for a bit…  That was until I met my future wife, played an intense six-hour session of Doom and she was introduced to Lara Croft on the PS1…


There is a point to this story, but it’s a long story. Too long for one blog post. A tale of epic quests, midnight launches, heartbreaks and halos. Of Master Chief and world tours. Of bank heists and riding into the sunset, before it all starts to go horribly, horribly wrong…

Friday, May 17, 2013

Roll Your Own Life (18) - As One Door Closes

I mentioned a couple of “Roll Your Own Life” entries ago that I used to publish comics. I had my own company, set up by The Prince’s Youth Business Trust, and the couple of titles I did (Missing and D’Israeli’s “Consequences”) were shipped internationally. But all was not great with the comics. 

Mostly, because my main comic (Missing) was a bit rough in the artwork, though I still liked the story, but when your main distributor says you’re just not worth carrying, it’s time to close the business. So I did. I officially shut the business down and gave up. But before I finally flick that switch, let’s rewind a little to before I moved to the south coast and ended up in the cinema.

The local video rental store was only a five minute walk away (well, ten coming back, it was a bloody steep hill) and we rented a lot of movies. This was before the wonders of the streaming interwebs and stuff. As we’d frequented the place a lot, we got chatty with Jason, the guy who used to work in the video store. We’d chat when we went in, and we discovered we had very similar interests, and became good friends. We even went to his wedding last year. [We seem to have this knack of becoming friends with people we meet in shops – the manager of our friendly local comic store became such good friends he was actually best man at our wedding!]

Cover for the 1st Edition
Conspiracy X
Anyway, Jason at the video store knew I was a huge X-Files fan, and knowing I was a roleplayer said that I should check out a roleplaying game called Conspiracy X. I’d not really heard of it, but he loaned me the core rules and I was hooked. Loved the game, thought the game setting was possibly one of the coolest things I’d ever read. It was so well designed and tapped into real events that the whole thing could have been a government leak to spread disinformation, or to prepare the public for the revelation of their dealings with aliens.

I was still publishing comics, so I did some internet research and discovered that Conspiracy X was now published by Eden Studios (rather than New Millennium Entertainment as the edition I borrowed had been) and I thought I’d drop them a line about doing a comic based on the game. Nothing big budget, just a little black and white indie like I normally published, but following the adventures of a Cell as they encountered the weird, the alien and the corrupted.

The Eden guys were as positive and supportive as you could expect, but before I knew it I was relocating to the other side of the country, closing the comics business down and I didn’t really give it much more thought. 

While there, I picked up All Flesh Must Be Eaten and WitchCraft, not really twigging that it was all Eden Studios again until I looked at the adverts in the back of the book. Then, we relocated back this side of the country, Debs taking a new and different job in graphic design, and I looked around desperate for work. I was sat at home while Debs was working, with no comics business and nothing to do except look for a job, when I thought about Eden Studios and my old dream of writing roleplaying games. 

I didn’t have a gaming group, but I was still buying games. I read rulebooks like there was no tomorrow, but Unisystem just seemed to be what I wanted from a game system. I thought I’d drop the guys at Eden a line to see if they were looking for writers, reminding them who I was, how I’d talked to them before about comics and stuff. 

All Flesh Must Be Eaten (2nd Edition)
Rather than the expected response of “Thanks, but no thanks,” they suggested that I wrote something for them to prove I could write a game book, show that I knew the system, and to give them an idea of my writing style (if I even have one). I saw this as a “Hell yes!” and promptly started work on writing my first book for Eden.

I don’t think they were really expecting a supplement – I think they were just expecting a few thousand words, but I just didn’t know how to take a hint. I wrote a supplement for All Flesh Must Be Eaten that allowed you to play the game as survival horror, but without the zombies – to take the game out of the zombie genre, and into the realm of the slasher movie, under the working title of "Summercamp Stalkers and Unstoppable Evil". 

Rightly so, it wouldn’t see print. A lot of it represented rules from WitchCraft for ghosts and spirits, and writing a rules supplement for a game about zombies that didn’t have zombies in it was about as stupid as writing a supplement for Star Wars that was about being clerical workers on the Death Star doing mundane work and never getting involved in any fighting. But, I liked slasher films, and thought it would be interesting to have some of the zombie traits applied to a single enemy, and create a few more.

It meant that you could basically run Friday 13th, Halloween, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, or even Scream, as adventures. I’d even worked out how to do Phantasm (one of my faves), but the problem was that the players needed to be “in on the fun” and willing to split up, and do stupid things. And above all, they should not get too annoyed when their character is killed off half way through the adventure. This is why I added the spirit rules from WitchCraft so even dead characters could try to assist in a “use the Force” way when there were very few player characters left alive. Probably would work as convention games, when the max length of the game would be about an hour, but a whole evening spent sitting around after your character went and investigated the noise in the basement? Not fun for that player.
Terra Primate Core Rulebook

There was a scenario in the book too, set in an old cinema based on the creepy and abandoned bits of the Odeon where I used to work, as a cursed film inspired a supernatural killer to attack the few people invited to an exclusive screening. 

You never know, something may come of it one day. Maybe I’ll strip it down to a 32 page PDF as a freebie or something. But, it proved to Eden that I could write, and before you know it I was asked to work on their new single book RPG – Terra Primate.


Conspiracy X 2nd Edition
The rest, as they say, is history.

I’ve helped out on more Eden titles than I can remember, before finally returning to that game that really got me back into game writing – Conspiracy X. And, since then, I’ve gone on to write for other people and design and develop the game system (and write a lot of the core book) for the Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space RPG for Cubicle 7.

Which kinda brings me up to date. As I'm writing for these companies, I'm not going to go into any great detail - you don't want to know all the secrets of the universe do you? However, it won't be my final "Roll Your Own Life" retrospective, I've plenty of gaps to fill in and I'll look at specific classic games from my youth as well as my first convention experiences and more.

Anyway, I shouldn't be writing this! I've a game to write! 

Until next time, stay multi-classy!

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

What's so WILD about it? (part 2)

I'd been having some problems writing WILD, my RPG of dreamsharing. I have the system, I know how to write the slightly different take on character generation, and I had the way the game works written, but I'd come to a grinding halt when it came to the second chapter. The Setting.

I knew what I wanted for the setting, and the events that created the dreamshare device that is used in the game (after all, that was all written as a short novel for NaNoWriMo last year). It was really how to put the information across to the players of the game.

The world isn't so different to begin with. Think Inception.

Still from Inception (c) Warner Bros
The dreamshare device was created by a big tech company whose "Steve Jobs / Bill Gates" had a family tragedy that lead to the device's creation.

I had a couple of ways of approaching it. I could do a normal history, starting with the beginning of dream research, through Freud and Jung, to the discovery of REM sleep, adding in fictionalised bits about Soviet psi-research during the Cold War, how the tech went onto the black market, and so on.

Or, I could do it as a journal of the device's creation, presenting chunks of the fiction I'd written before from his point of view. But that lead to another problem - the guy was the designer of so much new tech, developer of computer Apps, that having him write a physical journal with notes and drawings would be tricky.

I was so hung up with this chapter, I'd come to a grinding halt. Stupid, I know...

But last week, I had an epiphany. A moment of clarity. I suddenly knew how to do chapter two. It just needed to introduce the players to the concept of dreamshare and how the tech worked. The history behind it can be revealed later for the GM.

And that was it. I was writing again. The chapter is done in its new style. Neither normal history or fictionalised fluff. It's something very different... that's all I can say.

Now, I'm back on Chapter Three. The character generation chapter. It's about half done, so I'd best get on with it while I'm on a roll.

Proper blogpost to come soon!!!