Holiday Reunion

Appropriately enough considering our Knights of the Old Republic addiction, we had dinner last night with an old friend from my WotC days who has been working at Bioware for the last couple of years. His wife and two month old baby joined Nik, Kate, and I at a Brazilian place on “the Ave” called Tempero do Brasil. I had found the place on the internet, as many of our usual haunts were closed for the holidays. Turned out to be a good choice. It’s small and family run, so it has a cozy feel. Three musicians provided some good tunes while the kitchen dished up the eats. I had feijoada, which the menu claimed was one of the favorite national dishes of Brazil. It was a black bean stew, with ham hock and sausage. Very hearty and quite tasty. The portion was big enough that I had it for dinner again tonight. We also sampled several appetizers, including crispy cod rolls and a delicious chicken croquette with a spicy green sauce. Of course, Nik and I also had to have caipirinhas . We discovered these in Vegas several years ago and never pass up an opportunity to hoist a few. They are made with a sugar cane liquor, lime juice, and sugar and go down far too easy. This place made a decent caipirinha, but they were nowhere near as huge as the ones at Samba in Vegas. I capped off the meal with Brazilian coffee and a regional variant of flan. I would certainly go back to Tempero do Brasil.

It was a fun dinner. I wished we could have spent more time with our friends, since we haven’t seen them in at least two years. It was good to catch up though, even for a couple of hours. Hopefully, we’ll see them again before two more years pass by (though the chances of us visiting Edmonton seem remote).

Oogie boogie, Solo?

We had a pretty mellow Xmas at Chez Lindroos/Pramas/Frein. We opened our gifts on Xmas Eve, which has been traditional for my family for many years. Kate was beside herself. You’d think the poor girl was being physically tortured as she waited for darkness to fall. “Can we open our presents now?” she pleaded all day. We had dinner out, at Cedar’s in the U District, and then came home and opened gifts. Kate, with her multiple grandparents and endless relatives, did quite well for herself. I was finally able to unleash the big family gift I had been kept mum about since ordering it on Thanksgiving: an X-Box. Nicole and Kate were both delighted. It came with two games, but I also bought Nik Knights of the Old Republic because I knew it was up her alley.

Nik hooked up the Xbox and started playing Knights. I was content to watch for a few hours. Once the girls went to bed, I gave it a try. I figured I’d poke around a bit, but didn’t expect to get sucked in. I’ve never gotten adept at modern controllers, being more of a joystick and fire button kind of guy. Well, wouldn’t you know I got totally sucked in and played until 1:30 am. I woke up this morning with Star Wars on my mind. Nik, of course, was already playing. She let me take over in the afternoon and I kept at until 5 or so. Nik’s been playing since.

I had heard good things about the game and I must say it lives up to them. It feels more Star Wars than either of the new movies. It’s like the guys at Bioware understand what made the first trilogy cool so much better than George Lucas does. The only downside is that we can’t play together. I think we’ll have to schedule X-Box time for the next couple of weeks.

Ultimately Cliched

I picked up the latest issue of the Ultimates recently. At this point, I’m not sure how long I’m going to stick with it. When the series started, I was in to it. I’m not enough a comic nut to be offended by the way Marc Millar has reinterpreted some of the characters. And I totally dug his rewrite of Thor. The first six or seven issues had some good stories and clever dialog but at a crucial point the series failed.

[Stop reading now if you don’t want the plot ruined for you].

The point I’m referring to was the revelation that evil shapeshifting aliens are on Earth, have been for a very long time, and are responsible for many of the most terrible episodes in humanity’s history. And of course it was really aliens behind the Nazis.

I was quite disappointed that this was what the series had been building towards. Aliens controlled the Nazis, that’s the best they could come up with? I must say, I hate it when stories try to tritely explain away the evils of mankind. “Oh, the holocaust wasn’t our fault, it was those damned shapeshifting Nazi aliens!”

I’ve kept up with the Ultimates in the hopes that this whole story arc will be an elaborate double bluff or something and that the actual interesting plot will be revealed soon. After issue 12, I don’t think my hopes will be realized.

On the other hand, Courtney Crumrin continues to be delightful.

Voodoo Economics

There are several game industry forums where members of all three tiers—manufacturer, distributor, retailer—can interact. This may not sound like a big deal but in the old days the distributors really weren’t too keen on manufacturers and retailers getting too friendly. It is, of course, useful for manufacturers to get news from the front lines. What’s selling, what’s not, what was the surprise hit, etc. For the last four months I’ve been seeing retailers talking about how poor their sales are compared to previous years. At first I thought it was a periodic dip, but every month since September I’ve been seeing reports about how business is down. Some messages have been frantic. For many retailers, Xmas sales have not magically reversed the trend.

Today I went out to do some Xmas shopping. Nik and I stopped at the post office to mail some packages to our folks. I fully expected a monstrous line and an endless wait. Instead we walked right to the front and were out in ten minutes. Then I went to downtown Seattle to pick up a few last minute items for Nik and Kate. I walked through the corpse of FAO Schwartz, which was having a going out of business sale. Nonetheless, they still played the “welcome to our world of toys” theme song over and over at the front entrance. It was the cheeriest funeral dirge I’d ever heard.

There were certainly crowds downtown, but it was all very manageable. There seemed to be plenty of everything for all the shoppers, the lines weren’t too long, and it only took me a couple of hours to finish. You wouldn’t have guessed it was three days before Xmas in downtown Seattle. This all seemed to reinforce what I’d been hearing from the game retailers: this year people aren’t buying. At least, not as much as usual. Now maybe that’s great and we should all celebrate how the commercialization of Xmas has been taken down a notch. Or maybe what I’m seeing are a lot of signs that the recession is far from over and 2004 may be a shitty year for everybody except the super rich—and hey, I’m sure those guys will get some more choice tax cuts.

Two Quick Stories

I’ve got two quick GenCon stories before I leave for Portland, one amusing and one appalling.

Amusing: Shatner was there signing autographs and the line wasn’t that long. My friend Zev, of Z-man Games, decided he had the perfect thing for him to sign. It’s a card from one of Zev’s games (Grave Robbers from Outer Space, IIRC), with the flavor text, “Where’s Bill Shatner when you need him?” Zev walks up to Shatner and hands him the card. Bill looks at it, laughs, and says, “I’ll sign that!”

Appalling: One of the union guys walks up to a cart full of donations for Toys for Tots, reaches in, and grabs a baseball hat that Privateer Press had donated (with their logo on it). A GenCon staffer (who related this story to me) says, “Hey, what are you doing, that stuff is for kids?” The guy replies, “My head is cold.” Then he walks away, hat on his head.

Now I Mean It

The other day when I used the caption “Sick of Being Sick”, I had only been ill for a day or so and figured it’d pass quickly. I used that title more because it’s an old song by the Damned than anything else. But today, I mean it! This wretched flu won’t go away. The fever comes and goes, I’ve been coughing enough to make my throad raw, and it doesn’t seem to be getting better. Tonight I decided I just had to work through it lest this whole week be a wash, so I pulled out the Psychic’s Handbook ms to finish my development pass. I had started this last week, first on the plane ride down to Anaheim and then during mornings at Starbucks before the exhibit hall opened. Only took a few hours to finish my development pass and send off my queries to the author and editor. Hopefully, I can get that off my plate by the weekend regardless. It helped that it’s a really good book and came in clean from both author and editor.

We are driving down to Portland this weekend to have “early Xmas” with Nik’s brother, sister-in-law, and mom. Hope I feel better by then, as I don’t want to infect my entire extended family in one go. Bleh.

It’s Goob Time!

No doubt millions of nerds are writing about seeing the Return of the King at this very moment. If you don’t want to hear another thing about it, stop reading now. I am about to activate this fully armed and operational Tolkien Goob.

Like many gamers of my generation, I grew up on the Lord of the Rings. When I was young I always hoped I’d get to be the guy to bring it to the screen. I rate the chances of that happening now as unlikely at best! However, I am pretty happy with the Return of the King. It hit all the high notes, unveiled the most stunning visuals of the whole trilogy, and generally got the spirit of the book right. The big battles were very impressive, the oliphaunts were awesome, and Eowyn’s duel with the Witch King was tre cool. I do, of course, have a few comments. Here we go:

1) Why are the orcs the only ones who know how to use a damn bow? It bugged me in the Two Towers when the Rohirrim just let the huge orc horde march up to the walls. Similarly here, we have Faramir’s rangers letting the orcs land in Osgiliath without firing a shot. Then the Gondorians let siege towers and orcs get real close before they start shooting. Conversely, the orcs decimate Faramir’s cavalry and then kill a bunch of the Rohirrim as well. Legolas needs to school the Free Peoples!

2) I think the book did a better job dramatizing the arrival of Aragorn. In the book, after Theoden is slain, Eomer and his men have been surrounded and are prepared to give their lives after taking piles of orcs with them. They chant “Death, death, death!” Then the black sails of the Corsairs are spotted and hearts sink. It’s only when Arwen’s banner is unfurled that the Free People’s realize that Aragorn has shown up to kick ass and take names. The movie stumbled with this a bit and didn’t play the moment for what it was worth. What’s funny is, they add all this stuff for Arwen that wasn’t in the books and then cut the one thing she actually did do–give Aragorn that standard.

3) No Mouth of Sauron!? I know the movie already had a lot of characters. I know that only people like me even wanted to see guys like Elfhelm and Imrahil show up onscreen. But you gotta have the Mouth! He’s only in one scene in the book, but he’s so coolly evil that he makes a larger impression.

4) While it was nice to see Theoden acting like a king in this movie (since he more or less whined his way through Two Towers), I wish the charge of the Rohirrim captured the book a bit better. I totally understand cutting Ghan-buri-Ghan. There’s no real time to develop him or the Wild Men of the Woods in an already long movie, but I think they still could have shown a surprise attack by the Rohirrim from an unexpected quarter. As it was, they line up on a hill and the orcs literally turn to face them with readied weapons.

5) They sure do make shoddy castles in Middle Earth. One catapult stone and down goes several storeys! OK, so I’m mostly kidding. I did love the depiction of Minas Tirith though. Really well conceived, though its design sure does make it hard for minis gamers to recreate the battle.

6) Pippin didn’t get to kill his troll. A small thing I know, but surely there was a chance in the Battle at the Black Gate for Pippin’s hour of glory. He had to keep up with Merry, after all. I thought the whole sequence with Aragorn and the troll was leading up to Pippin getting medieval, but no.

7) Thankfully, Gimli was much less stupid on this installment. He did have a few one-liners, but at least he wasn’t getting tossed or pinned under worgs.

8) I’ve thought since the first movie that the Eye of Sauron was way too obvious. I never really imagined it as a huge neon eye in the middle of Mordor. That was magnified to a ludicrous degree in this installment. I didn’t need to see the Eye acting as a giant spotlight across Mordor to get the idea that Sauron was looking for the ring. Or to see it literally swing away to know that the battle at the Black Gate was having the desired effect.

That’s about it for my nitpicks. Really not too bad considering. As I said above, I really enjoyed the film. I’m now wondering what’s going to show up on the deluxe DVD. Cirith Ungol got short shrifted (though again I totally understand why), so maybe they’ll have some more scenes of Frodo in the tower. I doubt they bothered to film the Houses of Healing, since that would bring the movie to a screaming halt as it moves to the climax. I know the Scouring of the Shire wasn’t filmed, which I still think is too bad. The whole point of that sequence is to bring the War of the Ring home for the hobbits. It’s not just far off lands that were affected, but their quaint little homes as well.

Ah well, I’ll just have to wait another damn year to find out.

Sick of Being Sick

All I’ve been hearing about lately is the damn flu. John Kovalic had cancel his GenCon SoCal plans because of it, Charles Ryan had to fly home early because he got it bad, and so on. I got through the con OK, posted my update last night, and then continued to browse the web. Then I started coughing and realized, “Hey, this isn’t an I-have-something-caught-in-my-throat cough, it’s an ow-my-lungs-hurt cough.” It came on fast and by bedtime I had chills and a fever. Spent a long, long night tossing and turning, alternately freezing and burning up. Although I have no end of work to do, I just had to surrender today and rest. Hopefully, I’ll be well enough to see Return of the King tomorrow. John Tynes was cool enough to hook up Nik and I with free tickets, so I surely don’t want to miss out.

I watched a new History Channel show about the Alamo tonight and it was quite interesting. They spent about half the show putting the battle in its historic perspective, which didn’t make the Texas patriots come off very well. Basically, you had American settlers coming into Texas because the Mexican government offered them cheap land. Most of these Americans came from slave states and brought slavery with them. When Mexico abolished slavery in 1829, it became a real bone of contention. The commander of the Alamo, William Travis, believed in a fundamental right of slavery, although no such right was in the Mexican constitution. I find it pretty ironic that one of the things the freedom fighters were fighting for was, in fact, slavery.

I also learned that Jim Bowie was a huge scam artist. When he found out that land grants dating before the Louisiana Purchase would be honored, he forged enormous numbers of them. Had his claims been granted, he would have the largest landowner in the west. However, his forgeries had enough errors that investigations began and his claims were denied. He fled to Texas before he could be charged with fraud.

All in all a pretty interesting period. I studied it a bit from the Mexican POV in grad school in a class about the Mexican Revolution but I must admit my knowledge on the subject is pretty sparse. I didn’t understand until tonight, for instance, how the conflict in Mexico between Federalists and Centralists affected events in Texas. So I may be sick, but I least I learned something today.

Home at Last

Finally returned home from GenCon Southern California today. Although the con itself was modest in size (4400 people or so) compared to the summer cons, I had a busy, busy week in Anaheim, with multiple business meetings and seminars on top of working the booth. We announced the Red Star license on Thursday and that went over really well. I also had a chance to sit down with Christian Gossett, the creator of the comic, and that was very enjoyable. Like me, he’s a gamer with a deep love of history and we had a great time talking about the game book we’re going to do, the future of his comic, the Russian Revolution, WW2 and a host of other things. I feel really good about doing business with Archangel after meeting him and other members of the company. I can’t yet talk about any of the other meetings I’ve had, but damn, 2004 is going to be an eventful year for Green Ronin!

Guessing how much product to bring to cons is always a crapshoot and we ended up with a few boxes left over. We decided that shipping them back to the warehouse would be a waste of money, so we donated everything to Toys for Tots (who were onsite) instead. I bet their sorters are going to be scratching their heads when they run across titles like the Witch’s Handbook and Plot & Poison, but hopefully they’ll find a good home. Maybe we’ll help make some new roleplayers this Xmas. The hobby certainly needs them!

I slept for crap most of the con (hotel beds are just not as good as mine!), and got about 4 hours of rest the last two nights, so I’m pretty burned out. Maybe I’ll post some con stories tomorrow.

Yankees Raus!

I’m not sure what it was, perhaps reading Talking Point Memo the other day, but for some reason I had a real desire to hear the song “Yankees Raus” by Deutschpunk legends Slime. I hadn’t pulled that record out for some time, but still found it quite enjoyable. Slime, from Hamburg, was one of the most prominent of the early German punk bands. They were active in the early 80s and then again a decade later. Unlike many of their contemporaries, they sang most of their songs in German. It’s common for European bands to sing in English to “read a wider audience”, but Slime bucked that trend for the most part.

I had all of two years of high school German, but anyone who has seen Hogan’s Heroes surely knows what “Yankees Raus” means. Still, I wondered about the rest of the lyrics. I’ve had some success finding punk lyrics on the internet, so I Googled “Yankees Raus”. I did indeed find the lyrics, and also ran across a story that’s sadly typical of the later punk scene.

It seems that one member of Slime, the guitarist Elf, re-recorded “Yankees Raus” with some new lyrics specifically about George W. for a benefit comp. There was apparently some kind of dust up , with some people complaining the song was racist because it equated the actions of current regime with that of the Nazis. Hyperbolic? Surely. But racist? Against who, Nazis? Very odd. In the end, the comp was split into two disks and the one featuring the song did not have the logo of the political group the comp was a benefit for. It was just this kind of judgmental finger pointing that helped burn me out when I was heavily involved in ABC No Rio (a non-profit punk club/arts space I was involved with in NYC; I’ll write more about it later I’m sure).

Amusingly enough, Slime has another “Raus” song. I guess when you have a word as good as “Raus” in your language, you’ve got to use it. This one is, appropriately enough, “Nazis Raus” (and the better song of the two actually). I don’t think anyone has complained about that one!

GenCon SoCal

Nik, Kate, and I are leaving for GenCon Southern California in a few hours. I imagine updates will be sporadic at best while we’re gone. We’re announcing one of the licensing deals we’ve been working on tomorrow when the show opens. It’s something of an “art” license, but I’m happy to be doing it. It’s a very cool property and totally up my alley.