Thursday, December 31, 2009
Wednesday, December 23, 2009
Friday, December 18, 2009
I will say, however, that my needle is tipping slightly away from Freeport again. Slightly. I really like the map, and the set-up, and the basic layout of the setting. This time around, though, I found the general tone to be too campy for my taste.
Even the Lovecraftian horror came across more as an esoteric in-joke or Easter egg rather than something truly horrific.
What I've decided to do with my Freeport for the game I'm in now is to take the geography, many of the names and many of the locations (as needed) but otherwise import a lot of elements from Five Fingers that will bring the darker tone of that pirate city to Freeport. I think Five Fingers suffers a bit from overly complicated geography, and too many ties specific to the Iron Kingdoms campaign setting. At least, those are problematic given how I would want to use the material. So hybridizing Freeport and Five Fingers, getting mostly the geography from Freeport, and mostly the tone from Five Fingers seems like a great idea.
While I'm at it, I think I'll probably re-read my Absalom book from Paizo, and maybe portions of my Katapesh book too. There's no harm in scouring sourcebooks for wretched hives of fantasy scum and villainy for material I can import. But first, I'm re-reading the Five Fingers book, and quite enjoying it. In fact, I'm going to import the gang-stuff wholesale; Mr. Wednesday has been mentioned, but isn't currently around (which is part of the initial mystery the PCs will have to resolve) and Finn never even existed at all. I'm all about Waernuk, Kilbride, Riordan and Hurley from Five Fingers.
I'll probably also import the cult activity from Five Fingers almost wholesale too, although I might switch a few names around. It helps that I've envisioned Freeport's rival, Mazin, as Cryx, so they can jus slot into each other's places easy-peasy.
Watch the trailer below, for the hit movie of this last summer, The Hangover. Now, imagine if you will, taking that same concept... a group of PCs waking up with no memory of where they are or how they got there (but lots of other people sure seem to remember them!), translate that to a seedy fantasy city like Freeport, and imagine what can happen...
Friday, December 11, 2009
I'll report more on my Freeport game soon. I actually started an ENWorld blog specifically to talk about it, but I'm considering moving that discussion here instead, or at least crossposting it.
Monday, December 07, 2009
Wednesday, December 02, 2009
Be that as it may, this is my blog, and therefore my forum to ramble on about whatever I feel like rambling on about. You noticed the "most opinionated guy on the Internet" tagline, right?
I promised that after picking my "best of" from the fighting game genre, I'd do a few runners-up and then also a few "not runners-up" and why those games in particular didn't get picked when a lot of other fans of the genre probably would have included them.
Without further ado; here's a list of games that I also like quite a bit, but don't quite make the cut as "best of the best".
King of Fighters XI. This game is notable for several things: 1) very impressive character selection (although some notable and popular characters are missing, and a few others were only added back in on the console version as unlockable "secret" characters, 2) refined and polished gameplay based around the equally impressive King of Fighters 2003 game engine with tag-team fighting, 3) a continuation of what is possibly the most ambitious storyline the KoF franchise has attempted yet, although as normal this is often difficult to see for all the noise around how it comes out.
This one doesn't quite make the cut because I find the tag-team gamestyle a little too hyper for my taste. Much of that can be mitigated by playing in 3 on 3 team mode or single player mode (instead of arcade mode) but it still feels like it could take a Ritalin and be improved by the experience.
Fatal Fury: Mark of the Wolves. Sadly, none of the recent Fatal Fury compilations for the Playstation 2 included this, the last Fatal Fury game. Luckily for me, I've had a copy for my Dreamcast for years now. This is a beautiful game; well rendered, and with extremely engaging gameplay. It's considered one of the best fighting games ever by many fans of the genre, and I don't disagree with them.
For me, it doesn't quite make the cut because many of the characters aren't quite as engaging as the ones we're already familiar with, or they feel like rehashes of other characters on whom they're loosely based. I don't find the protagonist (Rock Howard; Geese's orphaned son, raised by Terry) very compelling. In fact, the character select in general is what brings it down. Apparently work on a sequal was underway when SNK went bankrupt. It was over 70% done. That might have improved the game significantly; at the very least, one presumes it would have bulked up the very Spartan line-up of selectable characters, which was sorely needed. Still; this one came very close.
Street Fighter 3: Third Strike. The final iteration of Street Fighter III was the best that that subseries got. It's got a fairly back to basics gameplay engine; almost as if the Alpha games never happened and this evolved down its own path from the final Street Fighter 2 game. It added a few more technical things as well; the parrying feature in particular.
What brought this game down was its character selection and its presentation. While the redrawn sprites were fairly attractive compared to the Alpha sprites, and the improved framerate made their movements very fluid, more than half of the characters, quite frankly, I had no interest in seeing. Interesting character design was not something that Capcom had on its mind when this was developed. Word on the street is that they almost didn't even include Ryu or Ken; what a disaster that would have been! They were among the only characters I was interested in trying for some time as it was. Although marginally prettier than the Alpha games, the Alpha games are much more fun to play, for me. I also have a pet peeve about some of the jazzy drum n bass songs in the soundtrack. There's a few good tracks, but at least half of them are almost painful to listen to. Plus, the boss, Gill, was just a dumb idea to begin with.
Darkstalkers 3. This is the final iteration of another series that was concurrent with (and similar to) Street Fighter Alpha, except with movie monster type characters, including a vampire, a frankenstein monster, a werewolf, a zombie, a creature from the Black Lagoon, etc., all seen through a sharply anime-styled lens. It's a pretty fun game, with gameplay not too unlike Street Fighter Alpha in many ways, but it also suffers a bit from too much silliness.
Real Bout Fatal Fury Special, King of Fighters 2002, Street Fighter Alpha 2. These games are very solid games, but just barely are edged out by other games in the same subseries that I picked instead. For example, Real Bout Special is almost as good as Real Bout 2... but not quite. Same thing with the Alpha title. King of Fighters 2002 is a dream match, not unlike King of Fighters '98. It's also a very fine game, but I think '98 manages to edge it out ever so slightly. The "Ultimate Match" version helps with that (although an ultimate match version of 2002 will come out in 2010 for Xbox Live download) but only a bit. Probably nostalgia makes up the rest of the difference.
A major not runner up is Marvel vs. Capcom 2, which I have on the Dreamcast, but which has also recently been re-released for current gen consoles and which was also released long ago for the old Xbox and PS2 for that matter. I found this game to be way too hyper and way too silly for my taste. Many of the characters are just plain bizarre. The ridiculous lounge lizard music is insult to injury. I also dislike that there is no option for single player, which I greatly prefer to lengthy team player games.
It's too bad; the Marvel characters are fun, and I really enjoyed the older Marvel Superheroes game. I wish they would take all the Marvel characters out of this game and put them in their own Marvel Superheroes 2. I'd have played that in a heartbeat, and it would possibly even have made my top games list. Ah, well. Wishful thinking.
I also did not include any of the Street Fighter 2 titles. While many of them are indeed still pretty fun to play, and they deserve a lot of credit for almost single-handedly creating the genre in the first place, to me they feel like they haven't aged well. The presentation is lacking in those games, and the options for play are limited. Possibly it's just worn out its welcome due to over-exposure. I have no idea how many hours and hours and hours I've put into SF2 games... but I'm mostly done with them now. I play them on occasion, but I feel like it's just nostalgia when I do. For engaging gameplay, I prefer newer games with more going on.
Fatal Fury Special is another game I considered adding to the runners-up list, but it's got the same issues as Street Fighter 2, and in addition is saddled with slightly less iconic characters overall, and much more fiddly controls. I can't in any honesty include it unless I include the best of SF2 first, and I've decided not to do that. So this one misses out too.
It's still a little cheesy; very anime in feel, and heck, the hardware that supported this video was debuted in the late 80s fer cryin' out loud, but given those limitations, it's surprisingly well done.
Tuesday, December 01, 2009
Here's what I consider the best the genre has to offer... minus the newest offerings, because I don't have either an Xbox 360 or a Playstation 3, so I can't play the very newest games. I had actually thought that it wouldn't matter because the entire genre was peetering out, but some new life has shown up in the form of hi-def Street Fighter IV and King of Fighters XII. I'll get around to those. Eventually. When I get a system from the current generation. Anyway, yeah. Best in the genre. The ones you really want to make sure and sample. There's a lot of other good games out there, but I'm going on the assumption that most people who are interested in this genre aren't going to be obsessive collectors, and are instead curious about what I think the best ones are. Because my opinion matters so much to everyone out there, right? Right? Ahem... Anyway, as it turns out, my picks seem to cover about one per major series, which works out really well, although the fact that it does so is actually coincidental.
Street Fighter Alpha 3. As far as I'm concerned this is the epitome of Street Fighter design. It had all the characters from every version of Street Fighter 2, a lot of characters from Street Fighter 1, a lot of characters from the Final Fight side-scrolling beat-em-up (firmly establishing that the two series take place in the same continuity, among other things) and had the best gameplay, most options, and yet still pretty intuitive and easy to pick up play. The graphics weren't literally the best technically (Street Fighter 3 had a higher frame rate, and some of the sprites were kinda clunky looking compared to those that were on other Capcom fighters from more or less the same vintage) but they were still quite nice and pleasing aesthetically. This game, quite frankly, has it all. It even has one of my favorite BGM soundtracks from the genre.
There's a few nitpicky complaints I could make about it; there are too many characters that are too similar, for instance. Ryu, Evil Ryu, Ken, Akuma and Shin Akuma are all at best slight variations on the same theme. For that matter they were variations on the same sprite. You could maybe add Dan to that list too. Maybe. But there was enough selection otherwise that that didn't matter too much. The announcer could use a Ritalin. And although he was clearly a native English speaker, whoever wrote the script for him wasn't; there's a few things he shouts out that are clearly mistranslated. "What a terrible fighter!" either means terrific or terrifying, for instance, but not terrible. That's an understandable mistake, I suppose. In regular play, some of the characters almost never come up as antagonists, while others almost always do. I wish the opponent select was a bit more truly random. But all in all, this game delivers for both single player and competitive play.
How best to get it: Probably the easiest way to get a hold of this game today is through the Playstation 2 collection Street Fighter Alpha Anthology. Not only do you get this game, but you also get the rest of the Alpha titles as well as the Puzzle Fighter game, which is good for a laugh.
Capcom vs. SNK 2. This gem of a game also has it all. Not only does it have most of the Street Fighter characters, but it's also got tons of your favorite Fatal Fury and King of Fighters characters thrown in to boot, drawn by the Capcom artists in a more or less Street Fighter style. The sheer size of the character roster is a big draw, the gameplay is phenomenal, and the most exciting part of the whole affair, of course, is putting the rival Capcom and SNK characters together in the same game so they can fight against each other. There's a lot of gameplay options; you can set it up as a single player type game, a la Street Fighter or Fatal Fury, or you can create teams that fight against other teams, not too unlike King of Fighters (in fact, there's specifically a 3 on 3 option that is almost exactly like classic King of Fighters play.) You can change other settings that make the game play like various other games in terms of super meters and other ancillary features like rolls, dodges, etc. In practice, I find that this is less of a draw than it sounds, because I found which system I like best and tend to stick with it, but at least I have enough choices to get the system I like.
I have a few nitpicks from this game too. There's a few characters that just don't fit, but they were thrown in there anyway. In some cases, this is because they come from games that are too dissimilar (like Samurai Shodown or Last Blade) and in other cases its because the sprites are so antiquated and clunky looking that they just look terrible (Morrigan, I'm lookin' at you.) The music and backgrounds are pretty forgettable, making the presentation of the game as a whole feel subpar. Luckily, it makes up for that with great gameplay.
How best to get it. This game was released for the original Xbox, the Playstation 2 and even the Nintendo Gamecube. I have it for the Xbox, and most folks will tell you that that release along with the Gamecube are the best ones. I don't think that there's sufficient differences to go out of your way to buy a new system, though, if you've already got a PS2. You can do most of what you need to in this genre with a PS2 these days.
Real Bout Fatal Fury 2. Arguably, this is where the Fatal Fury series made it's best showing. Some folks would instead claim Mark of the Wolves and while I'll certainly admit that that's a good game, this one is much more iconic. All of the Fatal Fury characters (to date) appear in this game. It's got the best graphics of the series, and the best sprites, and the best movelist. The two-plane fighting system feels much less gimmicky in this game; in some Fatal Fury games you spend so much time jumping from plane to plane that you don't actually bother with any regular attacks it feels like. Here the 2-plane system is handy and fun, but it doesn't overpower other options tactically. I find this game the most fun to play of all the Fatal Fury games, and like the characters' presentation best of all the Fatal Fury games.
Of course, it comes with a few nitpicks too. The button layout is different for a lot of the Fatal Fury games than it is for the other series, whereas with the other series, they feel more familiar. This is a very minor nitpick, but it serves to cause the game to stand out a bit, and not necessarily in a good way. There are some minor presentation issues; the game doesn't really have any endings to speak of except for a handful of images for each character. Some people will hotly argue that Real Bout 2 is a "canon" game, whereas the Wikipedia entry said for a long time that it was a "dream match." I don't think it really matters, since nothing of import happens anyway. The game also reuses a lot of its backgrounds instead of giving every character a unique one, which is a bit of a pet peeve of mine.
How best to get it. The easiest way to get a hold of this game today is to get the Playstation 2 collection Fatal Fury Battle Archive 2 which comes with all three Real Bout titles. Despite the 2 in the title of this one, it's really the third and final in the subseries, and the best of the Fatal Fury greater series overall.
King of Fighters '98. This is a perennial fan favorite. King of Fighters was a great idea; combining characters from a whole bunch of different video games that SNK made (including, obviously, fighters like Art of Fighting and Fatal Fury, but also including others as well.) By the time '98 came out, it had been chugging along for five years, and '98 was technically the 5th entry. It was also meant to be a "greatest hits" within the already greatest hits framework of King of Fighters; it had the most refined gameplay and largest character roster of any of the games to date, and purposefully brought back a lot of fan favorites that had otherwise quietly never made another appearance. And frankly, five years of polishing had made the series excellent by this point. The characters are a joy to play and experiment with, and there's a lot of them to play around with. The gameplay is spot on; one of the best and most responsive in the entire genre, and very varied and tight. With only a few exceptions, the characters are very well balanced as well. This game is in many respects, a great answer to Capcom's Street Fighter Alpha 3; a game about which I said it has it all. This one definately does as well.
A few minor nitpicks, as I did with the others so far. Presentation-wise, this game could use a bit more polish. In fact, in the most recent release, it finally got it, but for years I played the Dreamcast version, and the menus and a few other items were surprisingly ugly and clunky looking. Other than that... well, I guess there were a few notable misses in the roster; folks who didn't show up despite having appeared in King of Fighters games before and being reasonably popular characters. That's since been addressed too. So... really, not much here on the nitpicks side at all, is there? Hmmm... I might have to bump this up to most polished game in the entire genre. It deserves it, if I do make that move. It's arguably SNK's best fighter.
How best to get it. Lately, it's been relatively easy to get this for the PS2. The Orochi Saga collection has it, in its original arcade version. The best option, though, is the PS2 King of Fighters '98: Ultimate Match version, which went ahead and added all the missing characters into the roster, made some very slight tweaks to gameplay and balance, added a few new stages and gameplay elements, and which also includes the original arcade mode as well.
Next up! The runners up, and the notable not-runners up. By which I mean games that I didn't pick that you may have expected that I should and why.
The premise of this one is that a controversial political figure needs protecting in the lead-up to an election, and Hawk and Fisher are assigned bodyguard duty (again.) This leads to a more straightforward plot than the mystery-influenced earlier book, but it's still an interesting one. There are some intriguing supporting characters, including a confirmed psychopathic mercenary woman with a fetish for setting things on fire, the two political candidates themselves, and their respective sorcerous assistants. One of whom starts the story dead, yet still active.
Without spoiling the plot, I can say that the action is very interesting; I really enjoyed the plot development. The characters were intriguing, yet not deep. They only go so far, which is fine because the book isn't really that long anyway (less than 200 pages in this trade paperback printing. If I hadn't been away and busy for the holidays, I would have read it very quickly.) The setting is explored a little bit, and the raw city of Haven proves itself again to be a character of its own nearly as interesting as the actual characters. Simon Green does manage to avoid the travelog approach though; setting elements come up when their relevent to the plot, and not otherwise. Much of the setting appears to be handwaved away; there's the Low Kingdoms, the Forest Kingdoms, the Northern Kingdoms, etc. And of course, Haven itself, which is in many ways a remarkably modern city. Or perhaps an exaggerated stereotype, in many ways. Haven is, however, a great model for what an urban roleplaying game setting could be like; there's tons of opportunity for adventure right within the city-walls, or as this novel shows, within even a single neighborhood of the city.
Because I came at Simon Green through RPGs (usually I'm the other way around; my interest in Dungeons & Dragons when I was younger was sparked by my interest in fantasy literature) I find that an interesting take. drnuncheon's Freeport story hour (which I've mentioned here before) was set in Freeport and featured two player characters, a man and a woman, both of whom were members of the Freeport Watch. The idea was, drnuncheon himself admitted, borrowed from the Hawk & Fisher books, and the broad similarities in tone and theme between Haven and Freeport made porting the idea all the easier. So, once again, I'm recomending this novel and the series in general as a great model for someone who would like to run an urban D&D campaign but isn't exactly sure how to go about it.
Wednesday, November 25, 2009
I didn't look up the release dates, but I think Art of Fighting 2 was the next one, at least of the labeled maps that I have. This takes the original Fatal Fury map, rotates it a bit, and then attaches it to the mainland for a much fuller picture of Southtown.
Here's the map from Fatal Fury 3 which is very similar to the previous one, although turned into an isometric view and made slightly more stylized. This is the one I was working with when I wanted to label my Southtown geography. It was more work than I thought, because I didn't actually know what all the locations were without playing through the game.Finally, here's a map from Fatal Fury: Mark of the Wolves. You can just see the eastern edge of the past maps over on the western edge of this map, so you can tell that all of these locations are new ones to the franchise(s).
Anyway, there's my Southtown geography lesson for the day. I'm actually kinda interested in that because I find weird esoteric details about my hobbies interesting. Plus, some of the Fatal Fury games are among the best in the genre (Mark of the Wolves and Real Bout 2 are the ones in particular I'm thinking of, and lots of other folks would also put Fatal Fury Special on that list) and because Southtown plays such an important role in the King of Fighters franchise, it's interesting to know.
Friday, November 20, 2009
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
Because it's only a 12,000 word novella (about 70 pages) I grabbed it and read it in about an hour yesterday evening. It takes place at an undetermined point in the series, but it must be fairly late due to a few details that are made clear in this narrative. It also shows that there's quite a bit more going on in the supernatural world of Chicago than Dresden himself knows about.
This one is an interesting concept. Apparently Thomas Raith belongs to a secret society called the Venatori, and their goal is to weaken or break the power of the "old gods" and other cthonian entities by causing them to become forgotten. Because various gods gain power through the worship of mortals, this essentially makes them relatively powerless over mortals. Of course, Thomas is first introduced to us as a White Court vampire, and that's still true, naturally. He's not doing it necessarily because he's a hero. Well, possibly he is, but the rest of his organization certainly isn't.
There's not a lot to say about the narrative, because it's so short. The concept behind it works. Thomas is a readable character, although he comes off as not too different from Dresden himself in most respects. Also, surprisingly, the roll-out of the plot was not unlike that of a Dresden-helmed novel. Thomas keeps saying that he's not that good at magic, and yet that's a big part of what he uses to resolve the conflict.
In fact, if I have any complaint at all about this book it's that; it was an opportunity to see the universe through fresh eyes, and yet it felt pretty much the same. It's well done, it's recommended, but ultimately, if you miss it, you aren't missing much.
Oh, yeah... that is a Mike Mignola piece, in case you were wondering. There's two or three other black and white pieces of his throughout the book too.
Friday, November 13, 2009
I'll try again in a few weeks. Or maybe I'll just buy it. I saw several copies for less than $5 on Amazon.
I'm also considering possibly reviewing the Hawk & Fisher novels individually, even though I have them collected to two three-novel omnibus editions. Stay tuned. If I decide to do that, the first one should be done fairly quickly; it's not that long and I made some decent progress last night. Part of the reason for this is so I can "pause" and read my ILL request of Northwest of Earth when it comes without having to worry about timing.
Thursday, November 12, 2009
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
Monday, November 09, 2009
Friday, November 06, 2009
A sandbox gaming paradigm is one in which the setting or mileu in which the game takes place is static, and only shows signs of life when the player characters interact with it. The classic example is a completely open-ended site-based game design in which the characters can choose to go do anything they want to, pretty much, and as they interact with the sites on the site-based design, things that are waiting in those sites occur, whether it be a monster that attacks them, a treasure they (can) find or something along those lines. Site-based and sandbox go hand-in-hand (although that's not the only way to do a sandbox, it's probably the simplest and most direct.) Because of this, "old school" and sandboxes also go hand in hand. In fact, in some old-school discussions, I've seen folks nearly fetishize the sandbox.
In essense, they've created an ideal that never really existed, where in "the Golden Age" of roleplaying, the proscribed, accepted, and E. Gary Gygax-approved method of gaming was the sandbox, and everything that's come since is a dangerous heresy. I didn't start playing D&D back in 1974 in Wisconsin with the first group, or anything, but I think that attitude is a bit of hogswallop at best. For one thing, it appears that Dave Arneson and Gary Gygax differed in playstyle preferences, making the call of "original" playstyle difficult to ascertain at best. For another thing; who really cares who Gary did it? I'm much more interested in what works for my group. In my experience, which does go back to 1980 or so (although it was a few years later before I became a bit more integrated into the D&D hobby) people didn't always play pure sandboxes. In fact, I think a pure sandbox game would be rather boring, personally. The important thing to remember is that a pure sandbox is a theoretical endpoint on a spectrum... not necessarily a desireable goal in its own sake. Some sandboxish campaign design is certainly good in any roleplaying game, but it's not, and wasn't ever meant to be, held forth as an ideal to strive for so much as an extreme to avoid. Running a sandbox game either requires that a great deal of material is prepared ahead of time, or that the gamemaster have a highly developed skill at making stuff up on the fly.
A railroad on the other hand, is something that's never enjoyed a faddish adulation of idealised game design. For the most part, everyone recognizes that a railroad is a bad game situation. As you'd expect from the opposite of a sandbox, a railroad is a game in which the players have little choice to make; they can't go anywhere they want, and in fact they can only really do what the gamemaster wants them to do. Railroadish GMs are often would-be writers, who find themselves uncomfortable with "winging it" when a player character does something unexpected, so their goal is to cause the unexpected action to fail, get the player back on course, and have the game again proceed according to his predetermined plans for the game. The advantage of a bit of railroading is that you can present very interesting and complex scenarios to the PCs... because that's what you've spent your time preparing, instead of a bunch of other things that the PCs may or may not interact with, according to their choices. Of course, the downside is very obvious; few players enjoy having the GM's story read to them; they want to be creating the story themselves through their actions.
The kind of game I like to run utilizes some very limited railroading, and then a non-site-based sandbox idea. Here's what I like to do. The model is called narrow-wide-narrow (and I can't take credit for the name or the expression of the model; I was doing it kinda intuitively, but a much better GM than I had actually quantified this). In the beginning of a game; either a campaign or a one-shot either one, the players probably don't have strong ties to anything. They don't yet "stick" to the setting, or have any reason to get engaged with it. You need to be a bit forceful up front, giving the players more direction to get the game going.
While you do this, you also throw out a lot of potential plot hooks. See what the players are biting on. Let them gradually take control of the game. This is the transition from narrow to wide. The players want to set the agenda for the game, and pursue the things that they find interesting, not what you do (so make sure that the plot hooks are going to be just as engaging for you to run as it is for them to play.)
As you near the end of the game, there's probably going to be a lot of dangling threads, unresolved and un-followed issues. This is where you need to start narrowing it again. As you see that a potential end is in sight for the game, start bringing these back together. This is best accomplished if you don't plan very far ahead. Elements can be linked after the fact, and players can't tell the difference. You don't need to be a conspiracy mastermind to make it look like you are; you just need to keep track of what they've done, what they've discovered, and what your reaction as the arbiter of the setting has been to that. Start bringing all this stuff to a head, so the game can end on a high note, with a satisfying conclusion that leaves things resolved and done.
And that's my narrow-wide-narrow strategy. I find that games that veer too much into pure sandbox or pure railroad territory are equally unengaging, uninteresting, and ultimately, not very fun to run or to play either one.
Thursday, November 05, 2009
Camouflage is one of those bands that's been around for a while. They actually released their first CD (in America) in 1987 ("The Great Commandment" single; the follow-up album came out in '88) but they'd been kicking around in Germany together as a band for a good three years or so before that. They had some early success ("The Great Commandment" and the single from their next album, "Love is a Shield") but then struggled to find a market. The trio went down to a duo, changed their sound, released a disappointing studio album (that nonetheless has the brilliant song "Heaven (I Want You)" on it), stumbled around failing to find follow-up commercial success and label support and almost leaving the music business altogether.
Happily, that didn't happen; in 1999 the trio reunited (the band member who left remained good friends with the two who stayed) and they recorded the single "Thief." However, due to label stuff, it took an additional four years for the album that it was supposed to lead off from to get released. FOUR YEARS! However, that album is Sensor and for my money, it's the best Camouflage CD ever made.
Camouflage recognized that a return to their roots was going to be important for this album, so it's a good, German, dark, melancholy and bleak synthpop CD. Unlike a lot of more recent synthpop, it's not full of overt club anthems with pounding pseudo-industrial or trance beats; in fact, it's rather slow-paced and introspective in nature overall. It's got some guitars (mostly acoustic, which is anathema to some synthpop purists, but isn't really uncommon the genre).
The nice thing about it (if you want to call it that) is the thematic unity and focus. The entire album is pretty grim in tone, but it's got an awful of lot beauty to it nonetheless. Camouflage of the past often struggled a bit with English lyrics, but these sound smooth written, smoothly delivered, and work very well.
I've attached a few Youtube clips. First up is an unplugged rendition of the song "Can't Feel You" which isn't too different from the album version. The album version is obviously more synthesizer driven and lush in comparison. Second is the song "Lost" which is my personal favorite. And I've topped it off with the single version of "Thief" although it's important to note that the album version is quite different from this one.
Wednesday, November 04, 2009
And, frankly, I just wasn't feeling it in those first 40 pages. I think the concept is still really interesting, and I want to revisit the Saga of the Pliocene Exile sometime... but I want to do it on my terms, not feel rushed.
So, I've removed it from my reading list and I'm sending it back to the library. Instead, I picked up the really short Thief of Llarn, the sequel to Warrior of Llarn that arguably I should have read months ago. I've got enough of my own books to read that I probably won't pick anything up at the library for a while with the probable exception of the next Dresden Files book.
Tuesday, November 03, 2009
Friday, October 30, 2009
OSR, or "Old School Rennaissance" is a newish trend (ironically) in roleplaying games that's quite the rage in certain circles on the Internet these days. The OGL (Open Game License) enabled it; after running under the OGL for some time, someone got the bright idea of "reverse engineering" Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (first edition) out of the open content. The result was OSRIC, (Old School Reference & Index Compendium). OSRIC is basically 1e, but open. Because of it, anyone could publish material compatible for 1e by making it compatible with OSRIC.
Prior to OSRIC, there were other games that had a bit of "Old School" flavor under the OGL; Castles & Crusades, for example, was a kind of hybrid of some older rulesets and the 3e SRD. But for my purposes, the "OSR" really starts with OSRIC. Because the OGC is utilized to make a "clone" if you will of the older ruleset, OSRIC is often called the first "retro-clone." For a time, it was questionable whether or not what OSRIC attempted to do was legal, but after it became apparent that they were in the clear, other retro-clones popped up on the marketplace. Basic Fantasy Roleplaying Game and Labyrinth Lord are both slightly different takes on the Moldvay B/X ruleset. Swords & Wizardry is an attempt to retroclone the original D&D ruleset; before the bifurcation into AD&D and B/XD&D even happened. Because of broad similarities in the rules of all those original rulesets, material for one is mostly compatible with material for the other, and elements can kinda be mixed and matched as desired.
The interesting thing about this is that some other publishers have since put out material that's compatible with these products. OSRIC compatible modules. S&W compatible settings. Etc. There's even several magazines that are kinda like very old school Dragon magazines in some ways; dedicated to promoting these old school games and products.
Now; it's probably obvious from many posts in the past on this topic; I'm not really all that keen on playing any of these games myself. I don't like old school D&D. I left old school D&D for greener pastures and only the "modernization" of the rules that happened at 3e tempted me back. Since then, I've made RPGs one of my main hobbies again, and D&D is the game I play most often. 3e+, that is.
However, I have a keen interest in the development of the OSR, since with the advent of 4e, I'm kinda in a similar situation; looking for material that's compatible with an out of print version of the game. And sadly, this is where my problems with the OSR start. It's not with the idea of it, which I actually quite like. It's with some of the personalities associated with it. I've read a lot of OSR blogs, I've seen a lot of posts from OSR fans on places like ENWorld and even Circvs Maximvs, and frankly, these guys are a bunch of jerks more often than not.
Now, I get that a few loudmouths can spoil the fun for everyone. Most OSR players and fans are probably fine people. But a lot of the vocal ones, have a real problem. There's a strong vibe in OSR themed discussions online of smugness and fundamentalism. They reject anything that postdates the early 80s as wrong, mistaken, foolish, and occasionally treat it as if it's heretical. They're an insular, clannish group that is not interested in reaching out to the broader RPG fan community, and in fact often doesn't acknowledge their existance, other than with a teeth-gritting railing against them for somehow "ruining" the hobby.
I've been somewhat appalled to see otherwise even the reasonable and polite OSRers frequently make allusions to trying to recreate a "pure" Gygaxian playstyle; doing things for no other reason than because they believe that's how Gary did it. Gary was not a prophet, and the first edition D&D was not holy writ. There's nothing wrong with liking what you like (and not what you don't) but the outright dismissive and often contemptuous treatment of any other roleplaying paradigm or ruleset is a real turnoff at times.
Anyway, I guess my point is that my academic interest in the OSR movement has been considerably blunted by many of the people who are part of it, which is a real shame. It doesn't invalidate the movement for those who like it, nor is it meant to be a condemnation of those people who are merely enthusiastic for out of print games without being insulting, but sadly, I've found that sifting the wheat from the chaff in this regard isn't worth the effort to me personally.
If the OSR truly is interested in recruiting into their ranks, expanding their movement, and otherwise contributing meaningful to the hobby (which, honestly, I'm not sure if they do want that, or even if they should care) then they need to present a more accomodating front. The smug, self-satisfied, and dismissive tone of too many of the OSR people that I've encountered online has ensured that I will never develop enough curiousity to try out one of these games. Not even for a mere nostalgic temporary thrill-ride.
Wednesday, October 28, 2009
Fool Moon by Jim Butcher