Initial Reaction: Serenity

I was hoping it’d be great, but I think I’d give it a solid B. Some cool stuff, some witty dialogue, and I liked the revelation about the Reavers, but the film ended on such a false note that it draggeed it down in my opinion. I also pity anyone in the audience who hadn’t see the tv show, as the film doesn’t explain fundamental things about some the characters. What a companion is, for example. “Well, she’s hot and she used to do something in a shuttle, but now lives in a monastery and prays to Buddha. Hmmmm.” I think Whedon has some work to do before he can make his magic on the big screen as effectively as the small.

Still Kicking

I got sick two weeks ago and spent a couple of days incapacitated in bed. The worst of it was over in three days, but symptoms lingered until just yesterday. I continued to sneeze and cough and had a bit of a rattle in my chest. Nothing debilitating, but it was quite annoying. I went back to work and even did some socializing but it just keep dragging on. Now I am finally feeling like I kicked it. It’s about damn time. No health insurance is just another great “perk” of running your own game company.

I don’t have a lot to report right now. There’s plenty going on but little of it I can talk about in public. I will say that Mutants & Masterminds is finally shipping out of our warehouse this week, after a seemingly interminable transit from the printer. It’s a good thing too. I think fans were getting ready to form a mob and come to our offices. It’s a kickass book too, especially when you consider the circumstances under which it was completed. Soon now it’ll be in a store near you.

Poison Ivy

I just watched the new episode of the Batman animated show, the first of a two parter on the origins of Batgirl and Poison Ivy. I haven’t seen this new Batman show at all, but I had to tune in to this episode because an old and dear friend of mine is the voice for Poison Ivy. Piera moved to LA a little before I moved to Seattle to pursue an acting career. She’s had some success over the past couple of years doing voice acting (she was the Night Elf in Warcraft III and is she is “the Darkest Faerie” in Neopets: the Darkest Faerie). It doesn’t get much cooler than getting to portray a classic villain of the Batman though. And she does a great job too, though it is odd to hear my friend’s voice coming out of the TV. So congrats to Piera, long may Poison Ivy reign.

Everything Old Is New Again

“The German people seemed to be quite happy with the way things had gone early in the war. Even with the invasion of Russia, morale was good when things went well in the beginning. The German population in general saw communism as a social evil because of the reports coming out of Russia prior to the war–reports of mass starvation as government policy, of mass executions of political opponents, and of the brutal forced relocation of millions of peasants. And these things were known in Germany, and of course the Propaganda Ministry emphasized and magnified them. And, of course, the population, perhaps cynically, would not have objected to our acquiring the food-producing Ukraine and the oil-producing Caucasus.

“Since our losses in Russia were becoming more and more severe, however, things were beginning to change. During the quick campaigns in Poland, France, Denmark, Norway, Yugoslavia, and Greece, we’d had heavy losses but our losses ended quickly because the campaigns were short. On the Russian front, our per-day losses in the beginning were lighter, but they never stopped–they continued day after day, week after week, month after month. And as time passed, our casualties kept getting heavier. Our losses were never reported at home, but more and more families had sons who had been killed or badly wounded. Slowly, the people began to get the picture, not from the government, but indirectly from talking to one another. Strangers in a store or in a line waiting to buy milk would talk to each other. What had happened to my family was not different from what had happened to many others, and now it was becoming apparent to everyone that things were not going well in Russia. Of course, everyone hoped that with a spring offensive things would go well again. We learned how to interpret the news, because the Propaganda Ministry always used the same language to describe the same situations. For example, the use of “heroes” or “heroic” always meant we had suffered heavy losses. When we read about the “heroes of Tula”, we knew we were losing the battle for Tula.”

From Soldat: Reflections of a German Soldier, 1936-1949, by Siegfried Knappe

Holy Crap: Uzbekistan

I caught a PBS show called Journey to Planet Earth today. This episode focused on Uzbekistan and the ecological disaster in the Aral Sea. I had no idea what’s been going on over there and it’s a real eye opener, particular when BushCo continue to degrade our own environmental protections.

Uzbekistan was the site of an ambitious Soviet irrigation project in the 60s. One hundred thousand miles of irrigation canals turned desert into cotton-yielding land. It also turned the biggest river in the country into a trickle. Over the years more and more water was sucked into the countryside, drastically reducing the amount of water that dumped into the Aral Sea—once the world’s fourth largest inland body of water. Over the past forty years the Aral Sea has halved in size. This has been an ecological disaster of enormous scale. Uzbekistan’s largest port is now 90 miles from water. A sea that once provided 50,000 tons of fish a year has been devastated and the people that worked on the sea have seen their livelihoods literally dry up. To make matters worse, the exposed seabed is laced with chemical residue that is whipped into the air by passing windstorms. The air is amongst the most polluted in the world. Five percent of the babies born in the area have birth defects; ten percent don’t survive their first year.

You can read more about it here:

The page is titled “Stories of Hope”, though I’m not sure why. There doesn’t seem to be much possibility of this situation getting better. The end of the show talked about Palm Springs in CA possibly heading for a similar fate, since it is losing water to San Diego. Maybe the hope is that it won’t happen here. With the state of environmental regulation being what is though, I wouldn’t bet on it.


I spent yesterday at the home of my former WotC co-workers Gwen Kestrel and Andy Collins for their annual “GwenCon” event. This is a weekend long mini-convention (with formal events, registration, and the whole shebang) slanted towards industry folk in the area. It’s a good excuse to see old friends and play lots of games in a relaxed atmosphere. I’d guess at least 50 people came through over the course of the day and there were games going on in every room of the house, including a walk-in closet. Our hosts provided us with drinks, snacks, lunch, and dinner. All in all, a fun affair and I’m glad I had a chance to go. I was there from noon until midnight and in that time got to play:

·Betrayal at the House on the Hill: This is one of the newer Avalone Hill titles, a horror-themed board game with a mid-game twist. The players are characters exploring a supposedly haunted house. You lay tiles as you explore the house, creating its geography while finding items, experiencing omens, and triggering events. At a certain point in the game, the omens overtake you and one of the players is revealed to be a traitor. The fun bit is that there are 50-odd different evil plots and which one you trigger depends on the final omen and where it occurred. This gives the game quite a bit of replay value. The traitor player goes off and reads about his evil plan and resources, while the remaining players get some info and can try to plan counter-strategies. The rest of the game pits the traitor and his minions vs. everyone else. We played two games and the end games of each were quite different. The “good guys” won the first game, but the traitor got us all in the second.

·Live Action Robo Rally: Jennifer Clarke Wilkes pulled out all the stops for this event. She created a Robo Rally board that took up the entire backyard using artificial turf, tape, traffic cones, and paper plates. She had gotten big blow-ups of the robot ID cards done up at WotC on their large format printers and we hung these around our necks. Each had five card sleeves attached down the bottom to slot in our cards each turn as we programmed ourselves. Jennifer even provided a laser pointer for each of us, so we could shoot other players with our laser attacks. She then adjudicated the whole thing, as we “robots” tried to navigate the board in a race to the three traffic cones. I think 8-10 people cycled through by the end of the game and it was a lot of fun.

·Axis & Allies Miniatures: Sparky had the contents of two starter sets for us to work with, so we gave the game a shot when a table opened up. It’s a pretty simple game and it was easy enough to pick up but I was lukewarm on it. Because it’s collectible, you can end up with weirdly random and a-historical forces. My German force, for example, had only one rifleman. The rest was made of specialist troops like machine teams, tanks, and anti-tank guns. I may want to try it out with a better selection of minis, but I suspect it won’t hold much interest for me except as a quickie beer and pretzels type game. If it serves to introduce a bunch of new people into historical minis gaming though, that’ll all be for the good.

·Secret Playtest: After dinner James Ernest taught me a new game he’s working on and we playtested it with Tim Beach and an attendee I didn’t know. Since it’s still under development, I can’t say much about it except it was fun and has potential.

·World of Warcraft RPG: I ended the evening with a roleplaying session GMed by James Wyatt. He was running White Wolf’s World of Warcraft RPG, which is a variant of the D&D; rules. I haven’t played the computer game and I expected I’d be the only one. Amusingly, only one guy besides James had played it though, not that this mattered in the slightest. It was a big dungeon bash and I played a dwarf fighter with some funky war cry abilities. Whacking up on some demons and nagas was a fine way to end the evening.

It was nice to have a chance to just sit around and play some games. Robo Rally I had played before, but everything else was new to me. My only regret is that I didn’t get a chance to talk to many of the folks there because I was jumping from game to game. But hey, that’s what parties are for. This was a con.

A New Contender

Since 1998 the film Blade has been the clear winner for the “Worst Action Movie Tag Line”. At the end of the film, just before he dispatches the baddie, Blade growls, “Some muthafuckas are always trying to iceskate uphill!” It was agonizingly lame and I hadn’t heard anything as bad in an action movie…until today.

I flipped on the TV this afternoon to have some background noise while I was answering e-mail. The film XXX was on and I had never seen it. For good reason too, because man does it suck. Playing D&D; may have taught Vin Diesel something about courage, but it did not teach him anything about acting. Ugh. Anyway, at the end of the flick, while XXX is trying to disable the biological weapon that’s about to blow, he says (to the weapon apparently, since no one else is there), “Welcome to the Danger Zone!” And yes, you can hear the capital letters in Danger Zone. Not only is the tag line lame in and of itself, it’s even worse because it brings to mind “Highway to the Danger Zone,” the execrable Kenny Loggins song featured in the very 80s Top Gun.

I’m not quite ready to make the call yet, but for the first time in years there is a new contender.

UPDATE: It has come to my attention that XXX is, in fact, even worse than suspected. The line in question is not “Welcome to the Danger Zone”, but “Welcome to the Xander Zone.” Diesel’s character (such as it is) is named Xander, you see. Oh, it hurts us.

A Bit of Respect

So the first day of Conquest, Nik and I were in an elevator with another con attendee and we made small talk with him until he got to his floor. Just your average everyday friendliness and I didn’t think a thing of it. Well apparently this meant a lot more to gamer guy than we suspected because he came by our booth the next day to talk to Nik again. And after having had exactly one interaction with her he felt like he could start rubbing her back without invitation. He came back to try the same thing several times over the weekend too. Sadly, this is not at all unusual, but still I must ask: what the hell? I know many gamers are poorly socialized, but what makes them think that a few minutes of idle chitchat is an invitation to lay their hands on someone they barely know?

There was another incident at GenCon a few weeks ago. One of our editors was attending the show and helping us out a bit at the booth. In her free time she was playing in a bunch of games. One was a Star Wars miniatures tournament. She lost a game and when she reported that to the tourney organizer, he snarked, “Of course you did.” People wonder why there aren’t more women in the hobby, well there’s your answer right there. What’s worse is that she didn’t even get into with the jerk. She said, “Oh, I’m used to it.”

Neither did Nik tell Mr. Grabby to piss off. I think she feels that most guys like that just don’t know any better. Both of these incidents rile me up though, because they are typical of the things that drive women out of the hobby. While there are certainly way more women involved now than their used to be, things are still male-dominated and I’d love to see more parity. Showing female gamers a bit of respect would go a long way to keeping them in the hobby.

Conquest SF

Well, Nik and I just completed our fourth convention trip in two months. I don’t have another business trip until October, so I’ll hopefully have a chance to catch my breath here. Our latest trip was down the Bay Area for Conquest SF. The same folks who did run this show as the LA con we attended earlier this year. We had a great time this weekend and were treated very well indeed by our hosts. I could have done without leaving the house at 4:15 am Friday morning for a 6:40 am flight, but even that wasn’t so bad once we were in the air. I slept most of the way down.

I did two seminars as part of my guest of honor duties. The first was “Industry Trends” with fellow panelists James Ernest, Keith Baker, and Ken Hite. This one did not go as expected, as we ended up talking a lot about the traditional wargame market due to the questions of several members of the audience. While this is an area I know about due to my own wargame roots, it’s not something any of us on the panel have done professionally, so that was a bit funny. The next day Keith, Ken, and I did a “Worldbuilding for RPGs” seminar that seemed to go quite well. While conversation did stray at times from world building and into campaign management, that wasn’t a problem and I think people left the seminar with some useful ideas.

During most days I manned our booth in the dealer’s area, which was largely populated by retail stores. This was all well and good and I got to talk to many fans of our various games, but we shared the main hall with the miniatures games. This meant I spent each day looking over my shoulder at the many impressive miniatures games going on. The centerpiece was a huge recreation of Troy, with hundreds of nicely painted 28mm figs. There was also WWI air to air combat with 1/44th scale planes, AH’s Circus Maximus played on a hand painted leather board with 25mm chariot models, and tournaments for Flames of War and Warhammer Ancients, Battle, and 40K. Other tables had the Civil War, Victorian Scifi, Man O War, and even more WWII. None of which I got to a chance to play! One of these days I need to go to a good con and just play games all weekend. Business is business, but playing games is how I got started as a designer in the first place.

Sunday night the guests and staff were taken out to dinner at a place called Gulliver’s. It had, as you might guess, a Swiftian theme and the waiters all wore tri-corn hats. I was the special guest for the dinner and got to close the festivities with an impromptu speech that seemed to go over well. I spoke well of the con and I meant it. Despite some setbacks, the staff stepped up and put on a cool show. I’d recommend it to any Bay Area gamers.

After cleanup, Nik and I hung around the hotel until our flight. I overheard a heartening exchange there between a father and his young son, who was perhaps 11. The son was excitedly asking his father when the next convention was. The dad replied it was President’s Day weekend in San Ramon (Dundracon), adding that it was near their church. The son said, “OK, so we can go to church and then rush straight from there to the convention!” It’s great to see gamers bringing their families to conventions and sharing their hobbies with their children.

The flight home was uneventful and I frankly couldn’t believe our good luck (our baggage showed up almost immediately, for example). It all went smoothly until I was paying the cab in front of our house. I got my receipt from him and opened my door to get out. Unbeknownst to me, I minivan was just at that moment trying to swerve around the cab and continue on. My door caught on the side of the van, scraping and denting the whole side of it and bending out my door as well. Doh! We then waited around for half an hour for the cops, I gave my statement, and then I finally went inside. I felt badly for the cabbie, because this is going to go on his record with the company. I gave him my phone number and told him I’d be happy to tell his boss that he was not to blame for the incident. Knowing bosses, this won’t help him, but I thought I at least had to try.

Now it’s back to work. As always, there’s plenty to do.

Recent Flickage

Downfall: Truly great film about the last days of the Third Reich in Hitler’s bunker (coincidentally, today is the 66th anniversary of the German invasion of Poland that kicked off the war in Europe). Bruno Ganz manages to actually make Hitler into a character, instead of a simple caricature of evil. The film evokes the feel and mood of Berlin as the Red Army closes in for the kill, while at the same time sticking quite painstakingly to the facts. I’ve read multiple accounts of the days portrayed in this film and I didn’t detect any changes to how things really happened, though I felt it could have gone even further showing the horrors of Berlin’s fall. It made a point of showing the roving squads of German soldiers executing “deserters” and “traitors”, for example, but shied away from the mass rapes that accompanied the Red Army’s advance. Really, the film is a character piece though and it succeeds admirably on that score. Recommended.

The 40-Year-Old Virgin: Although the title makes this sound like an extended and painful Saturday Night Live sketch, the film is actually a lot cleverer than that. More importantly, it’s hysterically funny. I haven’t laughed out loud so much at a movie in ages. I always liked Steve Carell on the Daily Show but he’s struggled to find the right vehicle since leaving it. This is the one that will surely make his career.

Four Brothers: This is a straight up revenge flick from director John Singleton. If you want a well-constructed action film and you’re willing to accept that lengthy gun battles with assault rifles can happen on the streets of Detroit without police interference, you’ll enjoy this movie. In the film the neighborhood saint who adopted four bad kids is murdered, and the multi-racial sons all come together to wreak bloody vengeance. There’s a nice twist at the end involving the henchmen of the chief baddy that I quite enjoyed (I’ll say no more lest I ruin it for people). Brainless but entertaining.