Monday, January 25, 2010

Rickets, Paedos and Home Invasions

So, apparently, there has been an upsurge in the incidence of rickets amongst children in the UK and that has been blamed on ... computer games. What a shocker! Apparently, instead of children staying indoors and playing dark and satanic console games, they should be frolicing in the fields, running around in the brilliant sunlight and playing football, cricket and other wholesome activities.

What a wonderful concept eh?

Of course, on virtually every point its utter tosh. Firstly, have these doctors ever looked out of the window? Its not without some truth amidst the sarcasm that we ask each other what the strange glowing sphere in the sky is - I'm bloody sick of being in a dull, grey country with shitty weather. That these scientists are from Newcastle makes this even funnier. Of course, I am being a little hyperbolic, but we don't exactly have a surfeit of sunshine at the moment.

And of course, we still have all of these playing fields and wonderful facilities for our children to use. Or not as the case may be. I met with some of my old school friends recently and we agreed that almost every place we played when we were kids has now been built over with houses or offices. The back lanes that we played football in are now double-parked with very expensive company cars, nose to tail. My children have a garden, but the next accessible piece of playspace is about two miles away.

So take them? Yeah, thats possible I suppose. Of course, in the time when you have to take the kids to their daily frolic in the 'sun' you also have to hold down your job, move around their after-school club activities, do their homework, do one of YOUR five 30-minute exercise routines a day, cooka nourishing family meal packed with the requisite 5-a-day and .... at this point, the clock explodes. Of course, I also snigger at the idea that every parent in the North Shields. Royal Quays and Meadowell area turned up at the park at the same time. It would be carnage.

Well, what about letting the kids 'play out'? Thats a prescribed activity nowadays, as regular readers know. I laughed until I hurt at Charlie Brooker's latest Newswipe re: the 'terror' media and the various hysterical episodes they have visited upon the masses. The fear of paedophiles is still everywhere and the concept of your child disappearing is so chilling, so present and so likely (?) that you simply don't take the risk. Even beyond the Clear and Present Danger of Kiddy Fiddling Inc. there is still the danger of playing with balls (aka weapons of property destruction) and laughing and shouting (anti-social behaviour 101)

Indeed, any grouping of young people is now considered a terrible danger. I was sat in my living room on Saturday when a group of teenage boys passed the house. They were 'hoodies' and having a laugh and lark about with each other. My wife was on red alert, like a meercat ready to protect her young. I asked her what was the matter and she pointed to the youths. I asked, curiously, whether they looked like they were going to turn, form an organised phalanx and storm our house? Indeed, have any group of youngsters in modern history simply decided to randomly attack a brick building like so many modern visigoths? No. So what was the problem? Was the prospect of home invasion imminent? Should we have raised the hearthside terror level to 'severe'?


You want kids to play out and become healthy? How about building some more play areas? How about stopping drawing upon their time with 101 other things? How about becoming more tolerant of the things that kids do when they play - balls, noise, walking and how about setting up a massive solar mirror to bring some more sunshine to our blighted isle?

And why do I think the latter is more likely than any of the former?

Friday, January 15, 2010

Console Gaming - Five Years Late

I have never had a games console. OK, I tell a lie, for a few months when I lived in Rugby I had a SNES. It was a total impulse buy because I was bored shitless living on my own and I only ever had one game for it - Super Mario Somethingorother.

Since then I have never touched another console. PC gamer all the way. That was until yesterday when I inherited a PS2 from a friend who was moving house. The game came with Guitar Hero (I & II) and some old-school racing games. I am about as musical as a brick but Guitar Hero has proved to be doable. However it has been an absolute smash hit with the girls, who have regular battles now whenever our backs are turned.

And the one thing that has always caused me to back away from the console has not transpired - it has not caused TV-schedule nightmares. Instead of the house being filled with iCarly or MTV hits or some other rubbish, its now filled with ROCK! Indeed the acceptance of the console has spawned Mrs G. to suggest we bought some more pre-owned games - and boy, PS2 games are damned cheap.

So we snaffled up Star Wars Lego, Madden 2007 and Super Mario Somethingorother for a tenner. Of course, in order to play them I am going to have to unplug the girls from their new rock addiction.

So readers, what PS2 games are the MUST HAVE games I have missed over the last decade?

In Search of the Greatest Chili Sauce

Its time again to brew a batch of chili sauce and this time I think I'm nearly there. I love sweet chili sauce but I also love hot sauce and I rarely find one which manages to do both. With this in mind I undertook a mission a couple of months ago to make my own.

The trick, it seems, is in the mix of chilis. A lot of sauces I have read use capsicum peppers and tomatoes for body but I find that they meddle with the sauce too much. I prefer to use meaty medium heat chilis and lots of them, like a kilo of them. I add to that minced Birds Eye chilis and some Scots Bonnet too. That delivers the heat. Minced ginger, a little lime rind, coriander seed and some pepper corns for flavour and some whole cinnamon for aroma. White vinegar and jam sugar make up the rest of the mix. Heat it, reduce it, let it cool and bottle it. It really works.

If this batch works out OK, I reckon I have got it sorted. Next trick - the perfect 'brown' sauce.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

The Flight of the Excalibur - Dr Who Adventures

So the first session of Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space has been executed and it was a success. The girls were thrilled and the story as I planned it rolled out in pretty much the way I imagined.

The Doctor and Donna were dragged onto Camelot Base, the staging platform on the moon for humanities first attempts at FTL travel in 2099. This is the first step for the Great Human Race as they spread out into the galaxy and fulfilled their destiny. A little psychic-paper fueled subterfuge gets our heroes to the main control centre where they meet the science team and generally find out about stuff and then things start going wrong. The medical doctor forgets all of her knowledge. The technician forgets what he is saying on the tannoy announcements. The sympathetic chubby engineer forgets the code to get out of the sealed radiation chamber and has an hour to live and then everyone forgets who each other is and why they are there. Chaos, one hour before mankind's great leap.

As it transpires the memories are being stolen by black shadowy creatures called Harvesters. They try to suck the memories from Donna but her 'Indomitable' trait saves the day. She flees from the monsters just as the Doctor realises what they are. They are the foot soldiers of The Hunger, one of the Pantheon of Discord (see The Trickster from Sarah Jane Adventures) who the Doctor trapped in limbo. If they can feed on the memories of a Time Lord he will gain the knowledge of how to escape his prison and feed on time.

So, how do they escape? The Doctor uses the station's computer to channel all of the massive bank of information about this most famous crew from the media streams from Earth to rebuild their memories. Meanwhile, Donna (!) stands off against the Harvesters and reminds them that they couldn't drain her, she has their number and this is the wrong place, wrong time! And then Emma rolled like a god powered by a fair whack of Story Points. The Harvesters disappeared on a 'Yes, But...' result.

The Doctor and Donna then watch as the renewed but rather confused scientists execute the launch of the Excalibur and humanity makes its first steps to interstellar flight. As they disappeared in the TARDIS, the 'but' occured as space began to fracture slightly and The Hunger whispered a dread warning to his nemesis.

The girls were thrilled. They managed to do a lot of Doctor Who-isms through the entire two hours of the game and they reveled in the situation. The mismatch between the characters was palpable in the game, but in the end it didn't mean much to the experience. The real downside in my view was the strange emphasis placed upon the character playing the Doctor.

We all know HOW the Doctor should be played and its not actually easy. In the show, the Doctor actually powers a lot of the exposition, so you need to have either a player who is very happy to power the setting with a lot of dramatic editing or a GM who can prepare a lot of cheat sheets - but that doesn't seem right. Similarly, if the players cannot come up with something suitably 'Who' as a way to get out of the problem that they are facing, it falls a little flat. I'm not a big one for the 'Spend a story point for the clue' method. It smells of authorised railroading to me.

The system delivered a great game, but I'm not quite convinced that having The Doctor there is necessarily a great thing. That said, the orders are already in for the next episode so I had better get my thinking cap on.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

The Time Lord Conundrum

I have in my possession the wonderfully produced Dr Who Roleplaying Game. It is not, in any way, shape or form, a wonderfully innovative game. It smells more than a little of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer RPG (and as those in the know, know, thats a damned good thing in my book!) but it does offer a doorway into one of the great compelling fictional universes.

I'm running a game for the girls on Saturday and I think its pretty much a given that sooner or later the game will make a run out with the gaming group in one way or another. This has had me thinking about how to structure a realistic Dr Who experience at the gaming table. Its not quite as easy as it looks at first glance.

1. No Combat
That doesn't sound so bad when you say it, but when you think about it hard, it actually removes a large number of pretty staple encounters used in games. It does, however, open up what you can do with the bad guys. Balance? Why do you need balance? The monsters can be as dangerous as you want - its not like they are going to discombobulate the PCs? They're going to do it to the NPCs but the PCs will run or talk or whatever.

2. The Best Baddies are Never Obvious
Whatever the bizarre situation the game presents the players, it is rarely what it seems. The spooky possessed kids are not actually spooky or possessed, the ghosts roaming the streets are not actually ghosts, the smelly politicians ruining the country are not .. you get the idea. Thats a genre staple that you can do a lot with, but it relies upon the players buying into the conceit. Of course, you can always call their bluff!

3. The Multiverse is your Playground
Once you put the words TARDIS down on the paper, you open up the doors to anything, anywhere. You want a historical game? Have one. You want a futuristic game? Have one. Modern game? Have one. Alien planet? Space ship? Cavemen? Yes, they're all yours. You can literally have your game anywhere. Again, that sounds wonderful but how many times do we rely upon the surrounding setting to enrich a campaign? What would happen when that setting is so fluid? Where does the stability go? Well I reckon it makes you put a re-emphasis on the characters rather than the ephemera, which isn't necessarily a bad thing!

4. Truly Iconic Assets
There will be a pressure to building up throughout any campaign for that time when the referee utters that immortal Dr Who word - 'EXTERMINATE!' - but what happens when you do? Thats a pretty heavy legacy you are playing with there and your players are going to expect something massive and potent. Thats quite scary but also potentially explosive. I'm struggling to think of a genre that has a bad guy that is so accessible and yet so iconic in quite the same way. The Klingons? Nah. Sith Lords? Not really. Cyclons are too ubiquitous. Daleks are special sauce.

5. The Technobabble Game - worse than the Investigative Game?
I've probably ranted somewhere about my dislike for the faux inevitability of many investigative games but a different flavour of the same problem may be the technobabble game. Dr Who is thoroughly drenched in boffin-heroes using their brains rather than their brawn to jury-rig a dual-phlange-left-hand-gizmo-bracket to solve whatever problem they are facing. Put the ability to do that in the hands of a relatively creative player and you have the potential for some rather fruity chaos. So what will you have to do? Have wrinkles in reserve, complications and other such madness.

So you have a game where violence is never the answer, you usually obfuscate your bad guy behind at least a couple of layers of intrigue, you have a totally fluid campaign backdrop, you have to be prepare for technobabble solutions and you have some of the most iconic bad guys in fiction waiting in the wings.

Yeah, thats pretty daunting and a different way of thinking about things - but thats also pretty damned cool.

Friday, January 01, 2010

Gaming Resolutions 2010

Well, this is going to be a lot harder than I thought because a lot of my longer term goals have already been completed. I've published my games, I've squirreled away the money to go to GenCon this year. I'm in a pretty decent place when it comes to gaming - certainly better than anywhere I have been in previous years. So, lets see what we can come up with?

1. Maintain the momentum of Omnihedron Games
I have noticed, of late, that my attentions have began to stray elsewhere. I have plans (I always have plans) but I have been sticking them on the backburner. I think the problem has been twofold. I have 'done' my job on D&H and BtQ and in some ways I don't see a need to revisit them. However, there are things that I still have to say on the topic. I haven't published an almanac in ages and I have a definite yearning to bring the games into the Victorian era, especially the Anglo-Zulu War period, if only in a short supplement.

2. Balance the time pressures of work and gaming
Of course, one of the great motivators behind getting my games out was that I did it as a way of staying active during a period of unemployment and loose employment. Now that I have a full-time job again and a one with weird hours and practices, I have to try out some pretty aggressive time management. I have an insane amount of marking to do at virtual every turn and that needs managing. I have a course that I am studying which I need to make time for too. I think what I might try is a method that my friend Ian has used - take the timespace for our D&D game and set it aside as a gaming time, regardless of whether we are playing or not. So every other week, I do some writing and games stuff. We shall see whether that plan survives impact with Mrs Gow!

3. Exploit Google Wave
I am running one game on Google Wave at the moment and hopefully it will reignite after the Christmas lull. As an experiment and a proof of concept that you can game on that platform, it has been a success for me. Now, almost solving #2 in #3 I'm going to try to move some of my creative juices onto Wave. I want to get one more Wave game going, probably Dr Who and see if I can sustain it through the year.

4. Be More Selfish at Conventions
Funny one this. Consider the conventions I went to this year.

Conception: Slots 12, Played 0, Ran 0 (I was very ill through most of the convention)
Conpulsion: Slots 5, Played 0, Ran 2
Games Expo: Slots 6, Played 0, Ran 1
Furnace: Slots 5, Played 2, Ran 3
Dragonmeet: Slots 2, Played 0, Ran 0

Now I could balance this with 'Amount of Money Earned on the Collective Endeavour Stall': Metric Fuckton.

However, I think I need to gain some balance between running, playing and stalling. I recognise that it is important to run games if you want to sell games but I find running con games exceedingly stressful until I actually sit down to run them. The idea is worse than the actual execution, if you get what I mean. So my resolution is to spend a little less time on the stall and a little more time at the gaming table, on the players side. Balance in all things.

5. Avoid Toxicity
As an extension of 'The Hypocritical Oath' post below, I am going to have to re-evaluate my interactions with the wider online gaming community. One of the things that I have found very difficult to work with over the last couple of years is that by publishing a game you have made a statement which in some cases is seen as an unbending and unchanging fact. I get called on perceived inconsistencies between what I say and what I have published, in some of the most bizarre situations. I don't mind it, but it is a constant drip-drip reminder that I am seen not just as a community member anymore, but now as a publisher and a designer and a seller and a number of other things and all the complications that this brings. However, this tendency to combine me with my game leads to some people with ... poor feedback skills ... breeching my tolerances. Already I have bowed out of participation in many forums because of this and I hope I can continue with others, but I simply cannot be arsed with some of the shite that flows around the internet anymore. Ignoring it is one thing. Not getting involved is another. Regardless, I'm not going to let that toxicity poison my life anymore.

So there we go. I may revise that last one, as it was a real struggle to come up with something.