Monday, April 24, 2017

Live and In Stereo

This blog post is about audio tapes. I know it's a strange topic to pick, as I've not really discussed music here before, but it's mostly inspired by Guardians of the Galaxy and its "Awesome Mix". With the release of the second movie just a few days away, what better time to talk about Awesome Mixes, mix tapes and cassettes in general.

A few of my old tapes (yeah, very Goth) and my wife's old Walkman (that still works - mine died long ago)

This was also partly inspired by both my lovely wife deciding to sort out part of the spare room for her projects and stumbling across our boxes of audio tapes (and a couple of old personal stereos), and also by watching Th1rteen R3asons Why on Netflix - a series that stunned, shocked and left me in an emotional puddle on the floor. Before you complain and say "doesn't that glamorise suicide?" I'll stop you there and say I don't think it does. It's horrible, traumatic, but is getting people talking, and that's a good thing.

Anyway, this post isn't about Th1rteen R3asons Why. I may come to that in a later post.

This post is about audio tapes. Remember those? I do. Yes, I'm old. Audio tapes for me had double the use as not only where they a great way to record music, and even voice recordings, but they also held data for my old, trusty ZX Spectrum. Nothing quite like the old days of waiting thirty minutes for your game to load from the screeching sound of data transfer.

But Guardians of the Galaxy really made tapes popular again. Maybe the combination of that and Th1rteen R3asons will bring a new renaissance of tapes, just as vinyl is now the go-to media for real audiophiles?

Guardians of the Galaxy's Awesome Mix (vol 1) is the tape that Peter Quill's mother gives him before he is abducted from Earth. They're tunes his mother loves that she has selected for him, and so have an emotional resonance as well as being great choices of music.

At my day job, we decided to take this one step further. While I can't get my parents to make an Awesome Mix for me anymore, we decided we'd each try to create our own Awesome Mix. The rules were simple:

1) Select 12 songs that have an emotional meaning for you - remind you of your childhood, your parents/guardians/friends/family.
2) The first 11 must be songs that you listened to before you started buying your own music.
3) No duplicate artists.
4) Compile them into a list - an Awesome Mix - think carefully of the running order.
5) The final song on your Awesome Mix should be the first single you ever bought for yourself, not bought for you.
(That last rule is one I added, not everyone at my day job has stuck to that one)

There you go! Your very own Awesome Mix (vol 1).

So, without further ado, I present my own Awesome Mix for your audio enjoyment.

1) Jive Talkin' - The Bee Gees
May 1975 - RSO Records

My dad was a huge Bee Gees fan. He seemed to play them constantly in the house and in the car. Our old house had a "front room" which was only really for when the weather was good, but it was where dad had set up the record player and during the summer the big bay windows would open onto the tiny street outside and the Bee Gees would fill the air (probably to the annoyance of our neighbours).

2) The Chain - Fleetwood Mac
Feb 1977 - Warner Bros

I remember my sister saying to my dad, "Have you listened to Fleetwood Mac? They sound a bit like the Bee Gees and it's the music from Formula One?" My dad used to watch a lot of motor sport (hell, he used to watch a lot of sport), and I think this was my sister's way of getting him away from listening to the Bee Gees constantly. Thankfully, it worked. The Chain is still a work of genius (and it's no surprise that it appears on the official Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 Awesome Mix).

3) Nightflight to Venus - Boney M
July 1978 - Atlantic

My dad used to play the drums. Not professionally, but he was in the "work band" at the hospital where he worked as a nurse. I knew he played the keyboards a little, but I didn't realise his musical background until we found his piano qualifications from the London Academy of Music when we were clearing my parent's house.

Anyway, being a drummer, he loved this. Probably because it owes a lot to one of his favourite singles, "Dance with the Devil" by Cosy Powell.

So that gets an honourable mention, but isn't on my Awesome Mix.

I do have a distinct memory of going to a "do" that was being held at the hospital where he was working. A Christmas do or something like that. I can't remember. I just remember it being in a big hall, with a stage for a band, and dad letting me sit behind the drum kit - but I wasn't allowed to touch them. Last thing they needed was an out-of-tempo racket ruining their evening. It was so cool. Shame I can't drum very well (if my playing Rock Band is anything to go by).

4) Ruby, Don't Take Your Love To Town - Kenny Rogers
1969, Reprise Records

My mum had a bit of a liking of country music. Well, both of them did really. I remember them videoing the Country Music Awards every year so they could rewatch the good bits - not that I remember them actually watching the tapes. I remember my mum liked Kenny Rogers, and for some reason this one always stuck in my mind. While I preferred "The Gambler" myself, this one stuck in my head for the bit about taking his gun and shooting her. Even as a youngster that sounded shocking.

5) Do You Wanna Dance? - Barry Blue
1973, Bell Records

You're probably thinking "WHO?" In 1973, this guy had a few hits including Dancin' on a Saturday Night, and this one. It was very glam, very over the top. Dad had the album - I remember it had a weird label in the middle of the vinyl that looked odd when it was going around. I can't remember much more than that, but after researching this Awesome Mix I've had this song stuck in my head for two days...

6) (I Lost My Heart to a) Starship Trooper - Sarah Brightman & Hot Gossip
1978, Ariola Hansa

I was so obsessed with Star Wars when it came out, that I have a distinct memory of going to a department store with my parents and my dad deciding to buy a record. One of those compilation albums (long before the "NOW" series ever started). He picked out a few, and couldn't decide which one to go for and asked me to have a look. I knew a few of the tracks on them thanks to listening to the Top 40 on a Sunday evening, but Starship Trooper stood out as it was kinda sci-fi. So the album with that on it became the album of choice. This leads to the next one...

7) Denis - Blondie
1978, Chrysalis 

We put the aforementioned album on when we got home, and the first track on side 1 was "Denis" by Blondie. I can't remember what the second track was, but I remember my dad said that I'd picked the one with lots of punk on it, but he didn't mind the first one as his name was Denis, even spelled that way. And I would grow to be quite a fan of Blondie.

8) The Ballroom Blitz - The Sweet
1973, RCA

Not inspired by my parents' music choices this time. This one's thanks to my childhood friend from school who I'll just call Jinx incase he doesn't want to be named. Jinx was his nickname, though I don't think he liked it much. Jinx started with the whole "buying records" before me, and I remember going 'round to his house and him putting this on. I think his music tastes, and him buying singles, is what inspired me with my first music purchase, but that's a way off yet... Good choice of single, Jinx.

9) Misty Blue - Dorothy Moore
1975, Malaco

Not my usual music choice, but this one brings back fond memories of my dad. For some reason, he really wanted to listen to it, but he didn't know if he had it. Of course, I didn't know who sang it, dad proceeded to sing a bit of it for me, and I set to looking through all of his vinyl, every track on every compilation album looking for it for him. I don't think he had it in the end, but I know he always loved that song.

10) Tiger Feet - Mud
Jan 1974, RAK

Mum, however, liked her music a bit more up-tempo. While she couldn't dance due to her disability, she loved anything with a good beat that she could bop around to - and Tiger Feet by Mud was one of her favourites.

11) Summer Night City - ABBA
Sept 1978, Epic

As for choosing my own music, I do have a distinct memory of listening to ABBA (This was before I had my own music to choose from). My parents had a really cool "Best of ABBA" album (Greatest Hits Vol 2) and I remember listening to this on my folks' stereo in that front room. That was before I bought my own first single and everything changed.

12) Eighth Day - Hazel O'Connor
1980, A&M

Before this, I'd had a few records of my own that had been bought for me. I had a couple of singles (ELO, the Theme from Monkey, etc.) and a few albums (mostly Bond themes, Star Wars and War of the Worlds), but the first single I remember going out and buying for myself, with my own pocket money, is Eighth Day by Hazel O'Connor. Probably inspired by Jinx (who had Breaking Glass as an album if I remember correctly) and that music video that looked like Tron before Tron even happened (though I don't think I've ever seen the movie Breaking Glass)... It was epic, sci-fi, and unlike anything I'd ever heard before.


There you go. My Awesome Mix (Vol 1).

What would yours be? And what rules should constitute a Volume 2?

Until then, listen to music, dance, watch Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2, and enjoy.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Three Doors

There's a really cool track on the VAST album (Visual Audio Sensory Theater) called "Three Doors". It has been circling my head a lot these last few days, as I really do feel like I'm trying to pick a direction.


If you've been following my blog for any length of time you know I've been working for many years on WILD, an RPG of Dreamsharing. Open, untethered, and born from my love of Inception, Dreamscape, Paprika and The Matrix. I've been working on it off and on while doing other projects and its always bubbling away at the back of my mind, like a constantly spinning top locked away in a safe, in a house, in the city of my subconscious.

But I keep suffering from doubt, and also hearing tales of how horrible our hobby can be. Ignorant, vocal men, mostly. Threatening creators, posting abuse online. I'm sick of it.

I tried to voice some positivity years ago by creating RPGaDAY, trying to get people talking about the positive aspects of gaming. But I'm so ashamed of the abuse and discrimination in my hobby.

WILD Fiction

The door next to working on WILD is to concentrate on the fiction. For a NaNoWriMo many moons ago I wrote the first book of a trilogy, set in the WILD universe. A teenage school-leaver finds herself trapped in a nightmare she cannot wake from, while her father tries to create what will eventually become the dreamshare technology of the game to try to guide her back to the waking world. It was bizarre, a little personal, and weird thinking as my lead character - an eighteen year old girl facing the pressures of leaving school, going to university, her strained relationships with her parents and the betrayals of her friends.

Once again, doubt has reared its ugly head. Can I write fiction? Would anyone want to read it? What's the point?

And behind door number 3?

Something else?

My desire to write the Harry Potter RPG has never subsided. I know it's a mostly fruitless exercise, but there's that part of me that knows it's a good thing. It could be great for kids and adults alike, getting kids using their imaginations rather than staring at a screen. But while things seem to be more likely now than ever before, with the Fantastic Beasts - Cases from the Wizarding World game on iOS, as well as the forthcoming Harry Potter miniatures game, I'm still just a dreamer. A lone writer with no financial backing or big company to put the money where my mouth is.

I know how it could work, how it wouldn't even really be an RPG, and part of me just wants to write a good chunk of it, and digitally print a couple of copies to really show off what I have in mind. Send copies to WB and JK Rowling. But even then, I'm just me.

Besides, I'm sure there are already others out there who are working on it.


So at the moment, I'm standing there, like the guy in the stock photo above. Looking at the doors.

I had a birthday recently, and there's a big one coming up next year. Part of me is just thinking "You're too old for this crap" and there's another part of me shouting "Get it done! Do something before the next birthday. You have a year. Get off your ass!"

Well, I'm off my ass. I'm just lost looking for the right door.

Monday, April 3, 2017

He thrusts his fists against the (blog) posts...

...and still insists he sees the ghosts...

Pennywise illustration by Mark J Hiblen
(Illustrations of M J Hiblen)
Had weird dreams last night again. Clowns this time. I guess I shouldn't have watched the trailer for the remake of "IT" in the evening beforehand.

IT has long been an important book to me as it was the one that got me into reading for pleasure. Before IT I wasn't a reader at all. Sure, I bought a lot of books, mostly adaptations of movies that I'd seen at the cinema so I could replay the best bits long before we had a VHS player. But I recounted my experiences with IT before - how the cover used to stare at me at the tiny bookstore in my small hometown, how I became haunted by it and finally had to read it - in an earlier blogpost that also related my meeting the legendary Stephen King himself.

IT was one of those books that really resonated with me, mostly because I always felt like our D&D group was our version of the Losers Club. Not that I'm saying the rest of our group were losers, but (probably much like a lot of kids in school) I never felt like I fit in with the rest of the school. The D&D group was the one place I really felt at home and comfortable. School was always trying to avoid being bullied, struggling to get through the lessons, and failing to get the attention of that girl in your class who made your heart quicken but didn't even know you existed.

Our D&D group met two or three evenings a week, during the week, with games usually filling day and evening at the weekends. When most of the group disappeared off to Universities, leaving only two or three of us behind, the games dwindled, and real life kicked in - having to find work, etc. While I tried to get into game writing, I spent my time discovering reading for pleasure, with IT being the gateway drug of choice. Even though I was only 18-19, I was already nostalgic for the earlier days of gaming with the group, and the routine of school. What a messed up teen I must have been.

IT, and its Losers Club, really struck a chord with me - though the time period was a little off in the book to really hit home. Of course, that's something that has been rectified with the new movies, with the Losers Club taking place in the 1980s, rather than the 50s.

Of course, with the 80s being when I was a chubby, weird-looking, unliked teenager, the Netflix series "Stranger Things" really appealed to me too. I've just started watching it again, and its IT influence is obvious. Damn, that's just about a perfect series.

Illustration of The Demogorgon from Stranger Things
by Mark J Hiblen
(Illustrations of M J Hiblen)
Stranger Things was a brilliantly executed series that fed people of a certain age's nostalgia. The group of teens (again, united by their "outsider" status and playing D&D) were familiar to us, not only because of movies like ET, The Goonies and the like. But also because we were those teens. 

Of course, none of our RPG group were abducted by creatures from the Upside-down. At least, not to my knowledge.

But the IT trailer drew me back to a rewatch of Stranger Things, and I started wondering again about RPGs. Maybe Stranger Things is the perfect source for an RPG? I know there have been a few "fan created" RPGs or D&D supplements inspired by Stranger Things. And you could easily play Stranger Things using the rather awesome Little Fears, or the new Tales from the Loop RPGs. (Both highly recommended and inspired in their execution).

That train of thought, and April Fool's Day, reminded me of a couple of April Fools products I touted on here a few years ago (No, I didn't do an April Fools this year, as I know a lot of people who get pissed off by them). 

Cover for fake RPG I posted a few years ago
I posted about Ka-Tet, the RPG of Stephen King's The Dark Tower - I really did approach Stephen King's lawyers about that, but I think it must have been just as the movie rights were being finalised and it all came to a grinding halt. Of course, a Dark Tower RPG would have incorporated elements from most of his books, including IT, The Stand, Eyes of the Dragon, etc... That would have been amazing...

I also posted about Full of Secrets, the RPG of Twin Peaks. Though I never tried to get the license for that, it still would be cool. I do love Lynch, and Twin Peaks' return is only a couple of months away. Cannot wait!

But both of these are slightly nostalgic, and small town exploration. Sure, The Dark Tower has the potential to be epic fantasy with gunslingers, but a lot of King's work is set in small places like Derry, Castle Rock, etc. - King Country as I always call that area of Maine. Twin Peaks too is small town, supernatural elements... Much like Stranger Things' town of Hawkins. 

Maybe it's that urge to write about small town mysteries that's getting to me. I always liked the idea of having a setting (rather like Chaosium's awesome sourcebooks like Dunwich) which is filled with characters, secrets and plot-hooks. With a simple system, supernatural overtones, and a sense of the weird, you could easily do Stranger Things, IT or Twin Peaks. That's probably something that's really appealing about Tales from the Loop on top of its 80s setting.

Of course, this may just be my nostalgia kicking in again. Growing up in a small town, but living in a city for the last 20 years... Maybe I just feel the draw of a small town again. Get away from the cities, back to my roots. Small towns, full of mystery and secrets.


Sorry this post was a bit rambly and stream of consciousness. Normal service will be resumed soon. In the meantime, go read IT. Go watch Stranger Things if you haven't already (and if you have, why not rewatch it before season two in October?). Maybe rewatch Twin Peaks, ready for the long awaited third season in May?

Remember, the owls are not what they seem.