Sunday, December 31, 2006

Profile updated

So if you ever ask yourself "who the hell is this guy and why is he like this", you now have a little more information at your disposal in my updated profile.


War will be fought alone

I have, myself, full confidence that if all do their duty, if nothing is neglected, and if the best arrangements are made, as they are being made, we shall prove ourselves once again able to defend our Island home, to ride out the storm of war, and to outlive the menace of tyranny, if necessary for years, if necessary alone.

Even though large tracts of Europe and many old and famous States have fallen or may fall into the grip of the Gestapo and all the odious apparatus of Nazi rule, we shall not flag or fail.

We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender, and even if, which I do not for a moment believe, this Island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God's good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the Old.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

War is terrible

Interview with Jim Shooter

For comics fans, as well as comics creators, he is one of the most polarizing figures in the business. Most respect him, most hate him but few can deny that his reign as Marvel editor-in-chief was both contentious as well as successful, with Marvel controlling about 70% of the market at the time of his departure.

A really interesting interview that gives a unique glimpse into one of the least understood men in the comics industry who is still the subject of debate almost 20 years after leaving Marvel.

You can read it here.

War is unavoidable

Friday, December 29, 2006

War is coming

I would say to the House as I said to those who have joined this government: I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat. We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many, many long months of struggle and of suffering.

You ask, what is our policy? I would say it is to wage war by sea, land, and air, with all our might and with all the strength that God has given us; to wage war against a monstrous tyranny never surpassed in the dark and lamentable catalogue of human crime. That is our policy.

You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: Victory. Victory at all costs — Victory in spite of all terror — Victory, however long and hard the road may be, for without victory there is no survival.

Something I've noticed about superhero movies

Watching the FF-2: Rise of the Silver Surfer trailer again for about the 80th time, something occured to me about superhero movies: they're no longer self-concious.

Remember the first Punisher movie, the one where Dolph Lundgren refused to wear the Punisher's costume? For the longest time comic movies proceeded from two assumptions: ordinary people wouldn't get comics and so you needed to make the movie look as little like a comic as possible.

In the first X-men movie, the costumes are very military. And you almost never see anyone fly. The powers are really understated in that movie.

It struck me how far that has changed with this trailer. Johnny Storm just runs off a building, yells "flame on!" and he's on fire and flying.

Sure there was some "can he or can't he fly" in the first movie, but they didn't shy away from the costumes, the powers or even the taglines. He actually just says "flame on" and makes it sound like the coolest, most natural thing you could say when bursting into flames while flying off a building.

Bout damn time.

Powederkeg #3 released

Part 3 of my ongoing adventure series for the Prometheus Rising setting, Powderkeg Part 3 has been released.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Fantastic Four 2: Rise of the Silver Surfer

Ok... I actually liked the first Fantastic Four movie... *for the most part*.

I hated what they did with Doom... but liked the actor who played him and by the end of the movie it seemed like he was, well, more Doom-ish than he had been in the movie.

But the rest was awesome. Good telling of the origin, perfect casting for all four principles, great special effects.

Good popcorn fare.

But today the trailer for Rise of the Silver Surfer has been released and all I can say is OH. MY. GOD.

This looks awesome.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Comics review: Dark Phoenix saga

The definitive arc of the Chris Claremont's epic 16-year stint (can you call 16 years a "stint" I wonder) was the Dark Phoenix saga. This is often called the greatest comic story arc of all time and featured a who's who of comic greats at the helm including: Chris Claremont (author), John Byrne (artist/plotter), Louise Simonson (editor) and Jim Shooter (editor in chief).

Unknown to any of us reading at the time, it was also the focus of a pitched battle behind the scenes as the creators fought with their editor in chief over how to end the story. Phoenix, in turning evil, had killed millions. Should she be punished?

Jim Shooter, always ready to impose his personal morality on the Marvel Universe threatened to fire the entire creative team if Phoenix was not punished. His initial proposal, that she be sent (effectively) to hell, banished to an asteroid where she would be punished for eternity, likewise had Claremont threatening to walk.

In the end Phoenix comitted suicide, at least allowing her a noble exit from the story and for a time it was thought, from the Marvel universe.

25 pages and counting

So despite taking a break from it for awhile this month to do some other projects the boss thought were pressing business, I have already passed the 25 page mark on Secret Project X-13.

I'm really excited about this one. Here's hoping I'm right everyone else is equally excited ;)

For those wondering, the two "other projects" I did this month were the final installment of Blood and Guts II (yep, I actually finished it after a couple of years, who knew), Blood and Guts II: On the Ground which covers tanks, fighting vehicles and small arms.

Like all the B&G II books its expanded over 1st edition.

The other thing I did was Part 3 of my ongoing adventure path for the Prometheus Rising setting, called "Powderkeg".

I'm interested to see how folks respond to this one, because it takes the adventure in the direction of the science fantasy elements of the setting, which some people seem not to like.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Comics review: Red Menace Part 1

As I've mentioned previously, I am a huge fan of the current run on Captain America, written by Ed Brubaker. He has taken the character back to his roots in many ways but also refashioned Cap as an actual soldier (anyone remember the 70's when Marvel sissified the super-soldier so much that they not only claimed he didn't kill but had NEVER killed? not even in WWII?).

Red Menace continues after the Winter Soldier story arc and features all the same supporting characters and even most of the villains. Red Skull, Alexander Lukin, Winter Soldier, Crossbones and Agent 13 all return.

Nick Fury is absent, having gone underground under mysterious circumstances and a new villain enters the mix, Red Skull's daughter, Sin.

Oh yeah, and hordes of AIM agents. I love acronym agencies. Heck I wrote abook about them. In Red Menace part 1 AIM (Advanced Idea Mechanics) is under assault not only by Crossbones and Sin, but the Winter Soldier and even a splinter organization, RAID (Radically Advanced Ideas for Destruction).

Under assault from all directions, AIM turns to... Captain America and asks for help. It's a great story and seems almost like something Stan Lee and Jim Steranko would have done in the 70's.

Adding to the fun, there is a second story in the Red Menace tradeback, a flashback story set in WWII, with Captain America, Sgt. Fury and the Howling Commandos attempting to stop the Red Skull from unearthing an ancient artifact buried in Latveria. This is one of the best Cap stories ever written, is drawn in the Golden Age style and has a VERY Indiana Jones type feel, with the Nazis looking for a mysterious artifact.

All in all, Brubaker's run continues to be golden. This is another great addition to an already impressive run.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Merry Christmas to all

Id like to take this opportunity to admit two things: first, I'm not particularly religious and second, I am a huge sucker for Christmas.

All of it. I love the crass comercialism, the shopping, the massive wave of video games and electronics.

And I also love the true spirit of the holiday. I'm not really religious but the closest I come is Christmas, when stories of the manger are in the air.

Ok, enough of that schmalz, here's another thing about Christmas I love: the insane engineering projects some folks transform their home into.

Fire hazard? Sure.

Annoying to your neighbors? Sure.

Psychosis inducing to live in? Definitely.

But who cares. It's Christmas-y!!

RPGNow changes (or I for one welcome our new OBS Overlords!)

If you're a regular PDF buyer, you've probably heard about the winds of change blowing through PDF distribution business.

The two largest PDF delivery sites, RPGNow and DrivethruRPG have merged. I have a lot of thoughts about this, most of which I will be studiously keeping to myself.

One thing I would like to point out right now though, is that RPGObjects now has an affiliate site. As part of the current changes, besides merging, the new OneBookShelf or OBS (which is the company RPGNow and DTRPG became when they merged like Voltron) added affiliate sites at ENWorld and, two of the largest fan sites on the net.

This allows people to shop from the site where they read a review of my AWESOME new book and support their favorite review site at the same time (since affiliates get a cut of whatever they sell).

Well some of the PDF manufacturers said "heyyy... that sounds kinda good".

So like those pods in day of the triffids, affiliate sites have started to spread, including to RPGObjects!

This means you can do all your shopping for PDFs, made by RPGObjects and others, directly from RPGObjects. By buying through the affiliate store, we get a nibble off everything you buy.

And of course if the PDFs you buy are actually made BY US... well that's even cooler.

20-07: Roll with the new

As Geddy Lee once said, "Changes aren't permanent, but change is".

It's 20-07 ya'll, time to roll with the new.

Pretty nifty huh.

If you disagree, let me know, one of the new changes is a comment box at the bottom of the page.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Marvel Masterworks Uncanny X-Men #1

It's hard to warp my mind into the way-back machine to remember those days, but at one time, way back in 1975 (god that was 31 years ago wasn't it? I. am. old.) Chris Claremont was a young writer working on Iron Fist, a title created by Roy Thomas to cash in on a martial arts craze that was quickly dying down.

It was then that Len Wein tapped Claremont to head a revival of the rare Marvel title to be cancelled: X-men.

That's right, Claremont was at one time a 25 year-old intern just out of college given books designed to cash in on fads and books that Marvel was attempting to resurrect after being cancelled.

Of course, in hindsight, we can see this shiny hardcover Marvel Masterworks reprint of those heady days for just what it is: the beginning of one of the most storied runs in the history of comics and a book that should be on the shelf of every self-respecting library.

Claremont's run would wind up lasting until 1991, a 16 year tenure that still has not been matched in Marvel comics history (and given that most writers are given a 12 issue run on a book before being shuffled off to a different book these days, I believe the 16 year run never WILL be topped by a single writer on a single book).

But this reprint title lets us begin at the beginning. The title starts with Len Wein's Giant Size X-Men #1, which introduces the new team, including a cast of new characters destined to become pop culture icons not only in comics, but in hit movies as well: Storm, Nightcrawler, Colossus and Wolverine (who had previous appeared as a guest star in a couple issues of the Incredible Hulk).

These heroes form a huge team that includes the original X-men (Cyclops, Jean Grey, Iceman, Beast, Angel, Banshee, Havok and Polaris) along with some less familiar new-comers including Thunderbird and Sunfire.

Then the title moves to #94, Claremont's first as writer of the comic. Claremont puts his stamp on the book immediately, paring the team down considerably. Iceman, Angel, Beast, Havoc, Polaris and Sunfire all leave in the first pages of the work (along with Jean Grey but we just KNOW she'll be back).

This paring down will give Claremont the room to do what he does perhaps better than any other writer since Roy Thomas: give each member of his team a chance to shine as characters while still delivering on all the action comic readers love (especially in teams).

This issue also sees the introduction of character arcs new to the X-men that will be staples of Claremont's entire 16-year run. Wolverine and Cyclops can't get along. Scott and Jean's love affair. And Cyclops' emergence from Xavier's shadow as the true leader of the team.

In issue #95, Claremont continues to pare down the roster of his new team but in a decidedly different way: Thunderbird dies.

The harcover ends with a fight with the Sentinels, introducing another of Claremont's central themes that helped to turn the X-men from a cancelled book about student-heroes into Marvel's top-selling title: The X-men are outsiders, a racial minority who are not superheroes by choice. They're freaks by an accident of genetics and most would much rather be normal folks instead of costumed vigilantes.

Finall Claremont introduces the Shi`ar and Lilandra, presaging the many science fiction overtones the series will carry.

In short I can't recommend this title enough. Not just for comics fans, for anyone who likes to read. It's a look at the beginning of a pop-culture phenomenon and the defining of some truly iconic characters by a legendary writer at the beginning of his career.

One childhood on the way...

So I went a little crazy and ordered almost 70 comics from the 70's.

Sounds like an oldies station "70 hits from the 70's coming up, after these messages!"

I snagged a complete run of the Invaders, the classic Roy Thomas comic about Captain America, Human Torch and Namor fighting Nazis in WWII.

Also a big chunk of Chris Claremont's run on Marvel Team-Up, including team-ups with Iron Fist, Black Widow, Shang Chi and Nick Fury.

Finally, I got a bunch of old Power Man/Iron Fists, including the entire Claremont/Byrne run and a chunk of the Mary Jo Duffy run.

I got low-grade copies, average quality Good and spent less than a dollar each for almost every one of these so I can, you know, READ them.

That said, I haven't read any of these since the 70's so I'm curious to see what doesn't hold up for me now. I have memories of all of these as AWESOME.

Will I find Baron Blood's battles with Union Jack as cool now as I did then? Will I be as wowed by Nick Fury shooting Spider Man in cold blood and leaving him lying in a pool of his own blood?

My gut tells me HELL YEAH, but we will see. Maybe some childhood memories should stay in childhood? Here's hoping the answer is no.

The image is from the new Ed Brubaker Captain America run (which is AWESOME) and which includes a lot of cool beyond belief flashbacks to the Invaders, part of what triggered this nostalgia kick in the first place. Also should give an idea how cool (and scary) the Invaders were when they were kicking Nazi ass.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

I might need to find a comic shop...

... or subscribe.

Just got the next two tradebacks of Ed Brubaker's Captain America run, with the *awesome* title "Red Menace" and all I know is, I can't wait for the tradebacks on these I don't think.


Sunday, December 17, 2006

And now... your starting lineup!

Tis the season

My Christmas shopping is done. For the rest of you, it's crunch time.

Since I'm a hell of a guy, I thought I'd help.

For the role player

Since I write RPGs and know tons of gamers, let's start here. One caveat, Im not pimping any of my stuff here, I figure I do that enough in my own weird historical-essay-posting way.

Thieves World (Green Ronin)

One of the best RPG books I've read in a long time, this will be a sure hit for that gamer you know itching to start a new campaign (it also makes a great hint if you would like your DM to run Thieves World so you can play it).

It's got solid mechanics and a really nice set of magic rules that were drawn from the Sovereign Stone campaign setting, one of the first (and still one of the best) d20 books I ever bought. But the GR team adds some wrinkles to those rules, making them even stronger.

Conan RPG (Mongoose Publishing)

This is one of the best designed game settings for any system period. The fact that it brings to life my favorite all time fantasy setting to vivid life is pure (and oh so sweet) gravy. Some nice combat rules that add flavor to the rules and yet another alternate magic system to make magic both dangerous and unreliable.

Plus this book is just flat out gorgeous. Also, for the gift-giver on a budget, there's a pocket version out that comes a little cheaper.

Call of Cthulhu d20

This is a little older but can still be found for a fairly reasonable price. An excellent modern game, an excellent 20's game and an excellent horror game. It has it all. Maybe the best d20 Monte Cook has done (other than, you know, writing the 3e DMG).

For the video game player

You can probably guess what I think would be good picks here, and since I've just gabbed about FF XII, Marvel Ultimate Alliance and Dragon Quest VIII, I'll throw in a couple of PC games this time.

Civilization IV

I have been a fan of these games from the beginning. They're the best turn-based strategy games ever designed for the PC. Period.

That said, Civ III was something of a disappointment. More is not always better, and though the graphics improvements were nice, Civ III just took TOO LONG to play. Im not in high school anymore. I have a life that I can't duck as easily as homeroom (and all the classes that came after).

Civ IV improves on Civ III's graphics (by a mile or two) but also makes the game shorter, more fun and more engaging.

This might be the best version of my favorite strategy game.

Romance of the Three Kingdoms X

For your console turn-based strategy fix, look no further. Another venerable series, this takes the time-tested formula of united three kingdoms China and adds a role-playing element or two into the mix, making the game even more intriguing.

In this version you can play any officer in the game and you won't always be the boss. You can play the entire game SERVING a computer officer, trying to earn prestige by diligently performing your lord's assignments and hoping to be given a military command.

Of course you can also blow off your boss' instructions and slack, spending your time dueling and raising your personal fame (either just because you're that happy go lucky of an adventurer or because you plan on being your own boss some day).

For the reader

My other big passion, I love buying books for friends, introducing them to something good.

Astonishing X-Men

These are out as individual issues but also tradebacks. These days I prefer tradeback collections to getting comics monthly, mostly because I have a life and can't be bothered to trek to the comics store every Wednesday.

That said, I flat-out gave Marvel my credit card and subscribed to this one cause I couldn't wait. Joss Whedon writes the X-men? Joss Whedon brings back Kitty Pryde and Colossus to the X-men? I am so there.

And apparently I am not alone. As the Buffy scribe nears the end of a two-year run some are already calling one of the X-men's finest EVER, the book is consistently Marvel's single highest-selling title.

Inside Delta Force

A serious look at a very serious group of men, this inside look by one of the group's founders is a riveting read. Interesting, enlightening and sometimes a little scary. The author of this book is also the technical consultant on The Unit, a show that I will tune into again and again.

For the couch potato

Clerks II

A sequel to a classic? Bad idea. But as Ben Affleck (playing himself) informed us in Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back "Sometimes you have to go back to the well".

Good Will Hunting II: It's Hunting Season this ain't. Dante and Randal (and Jay and Silent Bob) are back, and this time it's personal. No wait, this time it's in color.

And since the Quick Stop and the Video Store where they worked has been burned down (Randall: "Was it terrorists? Oh... I left the coffee pot running again didn't I...") our intrepid Inaction Heroes have found gainful employment at a Mooby's (and fortunately no angels of death show up).

It's just as funny as the original, perhaps raunchier and with an honest to god United Colors of Benetton dance number set to the Jackson 5's "ABC".

If this is going back to the well, sign me up for a regular shipment of the water.

Sleeper Cell

If you like 24, or the Unit, or just good well-written adult drama, you will love Sleeper Cell, a 10 part mini-series that debuted on Showtime but is now out on video.

Oded Fehr (of the Mummy movies) is flat-out AWESOME as the smart, charming terrorist cell leader who doesn't know his tight-knit group has been infiltrated by a Muslim former Army Ranger turned FBI agent.

It's a great series with a great ending.

Well, there you go, I did my part to help you be the ultimate santa, hope this helps at least one panicked gift giver out there.


Thursday, December 14, 2006

Video Game Review: Dragon Quest VIII

I recently bought a new copy of this game, which I had rented previously. As I'm going through it again I just wanted to say if you haven't played this excellent RPG yet, you definitely should.

It's a classic Square Enix RPG, offering over 100 hours of gameplay, some great mini-games (such as a monster arena and collecting coins in return for rare treasures) and a very engrossing alchemy system that allows you to make items that can't be bought anywhere else in the game.

Each character has 5 skills, some of which involve weapons and some character traits. For instance the hero (that's his name, unless you change it, "Hero") has a Courage skill, Yangus, the reforming bandit, has a compassion skill, and Jessica and Angelo both have a sex appeal skill that is both useful in adventuring and hilarious.

If you've never seen a giant man o' war lose an action being smitten with an adventurer, well it's your loss not mine.

The game features beautiful cell-shaded graphics that look great, if a bit cartoony.

One last point for those who haven't yet tried Final Fantasy XII, there's a demo disc for that game included with Dragon Quest VIII.

Another plus for DQ VIII is its price, currently for sale at the most excellent price of $20. For a game this good that has over 100 hours of play, as well as a demo disc, that's a great price.

Up soon: in the review department I have a couple more Captain America tradebacks on order, so look for more comics reviews. Also I'm working on the 3rd part of my Prometheus Rising adventure, the Powderkeg, so expect a preview of that shortly as well.


Friday, December 08, 2006

Sneak Peek #6 Blood and Guts 2: Deep Blue Sea (working title)

It's somewhat fitting that I post this next preview on December 8th, the day after the anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attacks, because really, no one realized, three years into WWII that the naval war would be a carrier war.

But on December 7th the United States was put into a position where it would have to rely on its carriers and its submarines for the early part of the Pacific war. Their ability to strangle the Japanese navy both militarily and economically with these two forces would change history.

World War II: Carrier War

As WWII consumed Europe, the mighty British Royal Navy sought to attain control of the vital Mediterranean Sea. Their principal opponent in this was the navy of Axis Italy. Despite several victories over the Italian Navy, the Italians kept the bulk of their ships safely in harbor under the naval doctrine of a “fleet in being”. This requires an enemy power (in this case the British) to devote substantial forces to counter the “fleet in being” without that fleet ever needing to risk itself in the open ocean. The doctrine was deemed especially sound since it was impractical for the British fleet to come into port to seek out the Italian fleet, since their ships would be easy pickings for ground-based artillery.

In response to this, the British Navy came up with a daring, brilliant plan that would alter the course of history in a most unforeseen way: they would use aircraft launched from a carrier to destroy the Italian fleet in port. This surprise attack on Taranto, Operation Judgment, was conducted by just one carrier group, the HMS Illustrious, overloaded with planes from HMS Eagle. She was defended by 2 cruisers, 2 light cruisers and 4 destroyers and on November 11th, 1940 the carrier launched 21 Swordfish Torpedo bombers which sunk 1 Italian battleship and damaged 2 others. This blow crippled the Italian fleet and caused them to move their ships to more secure ports in the north, opening up the Mediterranean to British control.

That one carrier was able to inflict such damage to a fleet in port was not lost on naval planners but the Japanese Navy in particular studied this attack with intense interest. Ultimately the lessons learned from the Battle of Taranto led the Japanese Navy to formulate the plan to attack the much more formidable American Navy in its port at Pearl Harbor in a classic Japanese high-risk, high-reward decapitation attack. Using 6 carriers rather than one, they would catch the American battleships in port and achieve a level of naval dominance that would force the Americans to the negotiating table and grant the Japanese Navy control over the Pacific.

Attack on Pearl Harbor

On December 7th 1941, 7:53 am (Hawaiian time) Japan put the lessons of Taranto into practice against the American Navy, moored at Pearl Harbor. For this attack the Japanese would use 6 carriers not one and launch 441 planes at their targets rather than 21. This was Taranto taken to its logical conclusion. The primary attack was a tight grouping of battleships nestled between two islands in what was called “Battleship Row”. Of the eight battleships on Battleship row, four were sunk (USS Arizona, California, Oklahoma and West Virginia) and four were damaged (USS Maryland, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Tennessee). Despite bearing the brunt of the assault, an astounding six of these vessels would eventually see action in WWII (only the Arizona, which was ripped apart by a magazine explosion and Oklahoma, which capsized before sinking were beyond repair).

If Taranto and Pearl Harbor had not already shown decisively that the carrier had supplanted the battleship as the most potent weapon in the modern naval arsenal, the remainder of WWII drove the point home again and again with brutal clarity. While battleships spent the majority of the war bombarding shore positions in support of amphibious landings, carriers fought and decided every decisive engagement of the war between the United States and Japan, with planes from the carriers engaging their opposite numbers and large task forces of cruisers and destroyers on each side acting as pawns and knights to protect their carrier queens.

In the Battle of Midway, considered by many naval historians to be the pivotal battle in the Pacific campaign, three American carriers protected by 50 support ships engaged four Japanese carriers and seven battleships, along with 248 supporting ships. While the great Japanese battleships labored to even get to the site of the battle, the carriers dueled, with one American carrier and four Japanese carriers being sunk. Having achieved parity with the Japanese in number of carriers, the Americans were immediately able to go on the offensive and invaded Guadalcanal almost immediately. Japanese battleship hulls under construction were converted to carriers as rapidly as possible but the damage was done, the Japanese were not able to match American industrial production and soon fell behind in the carrier arms race and would never catch up.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

A bit about the Infinity Engine by request from comments

Edge asked in the comments for a little more information about how Marvel Ultimate Alliance plays. Apparently "button mashy" wasn't a very insightful analysis, go figure ;)

The engine used for MUA is called the infinity engine, which was created for Baldur's Gate Dark Alliance and adapted for: Baldur's Gate Dark Alliance II, Champions of Norrath (and its sequel return to arms), Fallout Brotherhood of Steel, X-Men Legends (and its sequel Rise of Apocalypse) and now finally Marvel Ultimate Alliance.

Basically the infinity engine was designed to provide a Diablo-style button mashing and barrel smashing experience on the play side and it does this very well. In fact this is the real heart of all the games made with the engine in a lot of ways, if you liked Diablo, if you like killing things and taking there stuff while pressing the buttons a lot, you will probably really like any game made with this engine and they seem to come out like once a quarter.

On the character creation side, you get 1-3 skill points each level (1 at levels 1-8, 2 at levels 9-18 and 3 at levels 19 and up usually) and each ability costs 1 or 2 skill points to "level up".

Since each character in one of these games typically has 10 powers or abilities, and each ability can rise to level 10 (requiring about 15 skill points), you can see that it's possible to create radically divergent characters.

You also gain HP and mana (called "energy" in the three supers games and Fallout) for rising in level.

There's a few ability scores as well, Stamina or Endurance that determines how many HP you get per level and how fast you recover HP, Focus which determines how much energy or MP you gain per level and how fast it recovers, Defense, how easily you shrug off damage and Fighting, how much hand to hand damage you inflict.

Here's another Diablo "homage" in the infinity engine, if you think about Diablo's four ability scores (Strength, Vitality, Magic and Dexterity) you've more or less got the Infinity Engine down, just sub Defense for Dexterity.

And then of course there's your standard magic items (yes even the superhero games have magic-items) to further enhance your character abilities.

To these already impressive list of customization options that are in every Infinity Engine game, Ultimate Alliance adds a few new ones. Each character in Ultimate Alliance has 4 different costumes, and each costume adds three abilities to the character.

In other words, Captain America has 10 powers that are the same no matter what costume you give him. Things like Shield Throw and Patriotism (that temporarily buffs the entire party).

But he also has 4 costumes, and each costume has three seperate abilities. So if you play "Classic Cap" you'll have a few different wrinkles to add to the character than if you play "WW II Cap" or "Ultimate Cap".

Also you can have radically different teams. There's 20 playable heroes but you can only have four in your party at any given time. Obviously you want a team roster that compliments each other, a ranged attacker like Cap, who also has some party-wide buff abilities, works well with other characters who inflict physical damage. Spider-man, with his ability to web targets and stop them from closing on the group, works well with a ranged specialist and so forth.

Finally your TEAM gains levels, with team levels determined by Reputation rather than XP. Your team can gain abilities just like a character, giving you bonuses to damage, or energy or defense or even XP while those specific four heroes fight together.

And one of the abilities of the "team as character" is to add a "bench", allowing you to add additional members. You can have four players in play at once but sometimes an extra hero is handy when one falls in battle, or for fighting villains who need a certain power (perhaps an all flying team).

So as you can see, on the character side there's a LOT to tweak and min-max to try and form the perfect party and a lot of the heroes can go in different directions. Depending on the powers you take, Iron Man can be a devastating close-in fighter or a skilled sniper blasting enemies from afar with energy attacks.

Compared with OTHER Infinity Engine games, Id rate Ultimate Alliance pretty highly as well. Champions of Norrath, set in the world made famous by the Everquest MMORPG would be the best in my opinion, with Marvel Ultimate Alliance and Dark Alliance II comining in tied for second.

Champions of Norrath II Return to Arms and the two X-Men games were ok... and the original Dark Alliance, along with Fallout are great games but just to short for me to recommend buying them. I would strongly suggest renting them though.

So, there's my exhaustive run-down on the Infinity Engine and its many games.

Hope this helps and that it was an enjoyable read.


Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Video Game Review: Marvel Ultimate Alliance

It has been ages since I have been as geeked for a game as I was for Marvel Ultimate Alliance.

Even FF XII. Sure, I was *anticipating* FF XII and preordered it, and the strategy guide (I see no point in playing an FF game without one lol) from Amazon a few days before launch.

But I wasnt surfing the web desperately looking for who I was going to be able to play and watching gameplay videos on gamespot for the month before launch, like I did for Marvel Ultimate Alliance.

The reason of course, is that MUA melded TWO things I love: comics and RPGs.

As most of you probably know, I'm also a huge fan of superhero RPGs.

Finally, I had played the X-Men Legends games by this same manufacturer and enjoyed them both.

So this game really had my nerd heart beating in a way not many things do.

So, now that I've detailed in excruciating (and possibly disturbing) detail how much I wanted this game before launch, how is it now that I have it in my hands?

The answer is pretty damn good. Not the greatest game ever. But damn good.

It's a little too button-mashy for me to play in large doses. Basically you wander around and savagely beat down anything that moves. Then after the fight you break open crates for health, energy and "shield credits" which look like big gold pieces.

Yes, you're playing the Avengers and you break open crates for cash (in gold pieces no less). And yes, I happen to think that is AWESOME.

Occasionally you have a boss fight, which tend to be interesting because those ARENT just button-mashing, they're puzzles you have to solve, FOLLOWED by button mashing. The short story is that most of the bosses, think, Ymir the Asgardian Frost Giant, or Galactus, are more or less invulnerable, so you have to solve a puzzle, which will then allow you to hurt the monster.

Here's an example: at one point you fight Tiger Shark underwater. Since he's actually a native, he basically swims around you, pummeling you at will, much too fast for you to connect with him, even with ranged attacks.

Fortunately there's a couple of drains in the room, activate them, he gets pulled to ground level, and THEN you can waste him.

In short, I like this game a lot, like the different elements it offers, such as the mini-games where you play comics out with individual characters. There's also a trivia mini-game in each act, that rewards your characters with XP.

Finally, you can build your own supers team from a roster of 20 playable characters, customize them with different costumes (so you can be the classic red and blue Spidey or the venom-y black suited spidey) and even find "magic items".

The only real "problem" I have with this game, and Im not sure it's the game and not me, is that I can't really play it in large doses. After about 30 minutes of button mashing, Im tired of the experience (it really is mindless and light) and ready to read a book, or play FF XII.

Still, I keep coming back to the game, and always delight in each new costume or hero I unlock, and I am committed to beating the game, just so I can unlock Nick Fury and then play the game AGAIN.

In short, it's a really really good game in a beer and pretzels way, not sure I'd call it a great game but certainly a worthy addition to my console library.


Monday, December 04, 2006

Sneak Peek #5 Blood and Guts 2: Deep Blue Sea (working title)

Early 20th century: Rise of the Dreadnoughts

As the 20th century dawned, vessels that would look familiar to our modern eyes as battleships began to be built: steel hulled, with cannons firing explosive shells arranged along the centerline of the main deck. In 1906 however, every one of these early battleships was rendered obsolete when the British Navy launched HMS Dreadnought. At 20,000 tons, with oil-powered turbines for speed and an array of 39 big guns she single handedly changed the balance of power in naval warfare. Battleships of the day were instantly designated “pre-Dreadnought” and “Dreadnought” as every navy in the world consigned their old-guard battleships to defensive actions and began to design ships capable of combating this radically new British design.

In the Russo-Japanese War, these new design philosophies were put to the test on the open sea and it was shown that the newer naval vessels far surpassed what had come before in speed, armor and firepower as the Japanese navy’s newer vessels soundly defeated the less modern Russian navy, leaving dozens of ships on the ocean floor.

World War I: War of the Dreadnoughts

Despite the tremendous advances in sea power acquired by the German and British navies in the build-up to the First World War, their navies were largely concerned with bottling one another up. The British thus dedicated the bulk of their dreadnoughts to a commercial and military blockade to hold the German fleet close to shore. Finally, in late May early June of 1916, the German fleet attempted to break the blockade, resulting in the largest naval battle of World War I: the Battle of Jutland. On the 31st of May the battle was engaged and it was enormous, involving over 250 ships. In the end fourteen British and eleven German vessels were sunk, many going down with all hands resulting in a tremendous loss of life. Though both sides claimed victory, the British achieved their objective of bottling up the German fleet and preventing German mercantile shipping, while the Germans failed to achieve their objective of breaking the blockade.

Near the end of WWI it became clear that air power had a critical role to play in naval operations, especially with regards to anti-submarine warfare. The British Royal Navy had begun experiments with converting merchant vessels into seaplane carriers. For these primitive carriers, the use of seaplanes was essential, since craft could take off from, but not land on these early flight decks. Seaplanes would lift off from the carrier, perform their mission, then land in the sea alongside and be lifted back into the carrier by crane. These experiments were promising enough that the first ship built from the ground up as a carrier, HMS Ark Royal was commissioned in 1914, serving in the Eastern Mediterranean throughout the war.

In 1917, as the war was drawing to a close, the first aircraft carrier designed for land-based fighters to take off and land from was commission, the HMS Furious. Carrying 7-10 Camel fighters, she only took part in a single operation during the war but that was a success. Landing on her deck was extremely dangerous and unpredictable, making Furious difficult to use reliably but naval planners clearly saw the potential, indeed even the necessity of using aircraft to supplement naval forces.

Interbellum: Between Wars

In the period between WWI and WWII, research into naval aviation increased tremendously. Some of this focus on aircraft carriers was a recognition of the importance of naval aviation but some was artificial. The Washington Naval conference was a postwar attempt by Britain, the United States, Italy, France and Japan to limit the power of their navies (Germany was not a part of this agreement since the Treaty of Versailles limited the strength of its navy tremendously). It was thought this would reduce tensions between the great powers. This treaty stipulated tonnage limits, weapons limits and, most importantly, forbade the powers to upgrade their ships except at twenty year intervals. Meaning naval power would only be upgraded (in theory) every twenty years and at a one-for-one basis (each new ship required an outmoded vessel to be destroyed). An important consequence of this was an increased emphasis on aircraft carriers by all nations bound by the treaty. Although the ships themselves could not be upgraded, the treaty placed no limitations on upgrading aircraft, allowing carriers to be effectively upgraded by including more modernized planes.

As it turned out however, the treaty did not last long enough to have a major effect (other than encouraging the construction of aircraft carriers). France and Italy withdrew from the treaty in 1930 and when Japan withdrew as well in 1934, Britain and the United States dissolved the treaty as all parties began to upgrade their navies. The build-up for the Second World War had effectively begun.

In this period between wars the navies of all sides built up their forces both in terms of aircraft carriers and in ever-larger dreadnoughts. The British Royal Navy constructed the following carriers between WWI and WWII: HMS Eagle (1920), HMS Hermes (1924), a totally rebuilt HMS Furious (1925), HMS Courageous and HMS Glorious (1928-1930) and finally on the eve of WWII one of the most famous and beloved British ships of all time, HMS Ark Royal (1938).

The United States constructed its first carriers during this period, making remarkable strides in carrier construction. Indeed many of the carriers constructed during this period became famous for their service during WWII when they were forced into the limelight following the destruction of the bulk of the American battleship fleet at Pearl Harbor. It is often (and truly) said that these well-designed carriers saved the United States from a forced armistice with Japan during the early days of the war. The carriers constructed by the U.S. between wars were: USS Langley (1922), USS Lexington and Saratoga (1925), USS Ranger (1934), USS Yorktown, Enterprise and Hornet (1937-1941) and USS Wasp (1940).

Japan also made great strides in carrier construction between WWI and WWII including the following vessels: Hosho (1922), Akagi (1927), Kaga (1928), Ryujo (1933), Soryu, Hiryu and Shokaku (1937). All of these except the experimental Hosho would take part in the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

Due to the restrictions of the Treaty of Versailles and the need to rapidly build up its armed forces across the board in the preparations for WWII, Germany did not start its carrier, the Graf Zeppelin until after the start of WWII and it was never completed.

On the battleship front, once the Washington Treaty was abandoned, naval planners began to build even larger dreadnoughts than before, still believing that the dreadnought was the key to naval supremacy. As part of this effort, the accomplishment of the Japanese Navy in constructing the two largest battleships yet designed, the Yamato and the Musashi was particularly noteworthy.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Video Game Review: Final Fantasy XII

So, in a previous post I mentioned how a recent spate of game-buying for my PS2 (which, for a console supposedly on its last legs had a HELL of a year gamewise).

Having just finished the first of the three games I bought (FF XII), I thought I'd give a review of the game.

For those unaware of the series, the Final Fantasy games have been around in the US since the days of the Nintendo Entertainment System, that thing you played Mario on. The games then jumped to the Playstation and then the PS2.

Although this is labeled #12, there have been less games than that released in the US.

They are known (the more recent ones, especially since FF VII saw the jump to the CD-ROM based Playstation gave the designers room for full video cut-scenes) as part game, part interactive movie.

This is sort of a divide in the fanbase for the series. Some people (like me) became MORE interested as the games evolved into hybrid movies and games while others lost interest.

The games have also become EXTREMELY long, typically promising over 100 hours of gameplay if you wish to explore all the options of things you can do. In other words, you can play the game in a linear fashion and complete it much more quickly (typically in about half the time) but if you wish to really explore, there is always a wealth of things you can do.

In some cases these other things you can do are full blown mini-games, such as snowboarding (FF VII), Magic the Gathering style collectible card games (FF VIII) and a water polo type game, but played underwater known as Blitzball (FF X).

Still, even if you complete the games as directly as possible, the games usually take about 50-60 hours to play, or about twice what a game of Diablo would take take you, so it's a long haul.

Again, this is a love it or hate is situation in most cases. For the casual gamer, who wants to play a few hours a week, they typically don't want to sink a YEAR or more into a game.

But on the whole, the Final Fantasy series is best described as venerable, with many of the current games among the highest rated for their platforms. Using Gamespot as an example, FF VII and VIII received 9.6 out of 10, FF X receive 9.3 out of 10 and FF XII received a 9 out of 10.

To use an even MORE respected outlet, Weekly Famitsu in Japan gave FF X a 39 out of 40 and FF XII scored the magazine's first ever perfect 40 out of 40.

So how does FF XII stack up?

Well pretty damn well. Having just completed the game, I found the story and characters less engrossing than FF X. However, the gameplay is really really solid, with a return to frenetic real time battles found in many other Final Fantasy games, such as VII, VIII and X-2 (yes there was a sequal to X and no they didn't make that game FF XI, deal with it).

I'd also say this might be the longest Final Fantasy game ever. I completed the game in 114 hours and completed about half of the optional material in the game.

An interesting turn for the series, FF XII is almost a move toward the dreaded (but highly successful) Action RPG genre pioneered by Diablo (and copied by about a quadrillion games since then).

Even in the realm of the game's mini-games, the majority of them are "hunts" for monsters so vicious they have bounties on their heads. That said, there are also two mini-games that are completely non-violent, including a rumor-mongering mini-game and a fishing mini-game.

On a 10 point scale Id give the game a 10, but Id still rank it below the BEST game in the series, FF X, which is probably the finest console RPG I've ever played (and would be tied with Diablo for the best electronic RPG ever imo).

Upcoming (whenever I finish the game), a review of Marvel Ultimate Alliance for the PS2.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Bill Gates for President

Scott Adams has this exactly right:

The man took one look at capitalism and beat it like a 14-year old boy with unrestricted Internet access. Bill Gates is a winner. Wouldn’t you prefer having him on your side for a change, beating the crap out of North Korea instead of Netscape?

Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t want a role model in the White House. And it seems I usually get my wish no matter which party wins. If you haven’t already told your kids “don’t fellate the president” then you’re probably a bad parent.

Forget about whatever Bill Gates did in the past that made you curl up with your free copy of Linux and cry. In his first week in office he’d probably link Microsoft Virtual Earth to the government’s spy satellites so you can look for Osama yourself. I’ve always felt that terrorism is a technology problem disguised as a political problem. Bill Gates can fix that.

For my president I want a mixture of Mother Teresa, Carl Sagan, Warren Buffet, and Darth Vader. Bill has all of their good stuff. His foundation will save more lives than Mother Teresa ever did. He’s got the Carl Sagan intelligence and rational mind. He’s a hugely successful businessman. And I have every reason to believe he can choke people just by concentrating in their general direction. You can’t tell me that wouldn’t be useful at a summit.

I’ve always felt that you should pick a president the same way you’d pick an attorney to help you out of a dangerous legal problem. Do you want the attorney who dresses nicely and belongs to your church? Or do you want the attorney who can rip out your opponent’s heart and put it on the hibachi before he dies? Maybe it’s just me, but I want an attorney who is part demon. And I want a president who isn’t afraid to make rational decisions.

Now in the interest of balance, I have to acknowledge there would be some downside to the Bill Gates presidency. For example, he doesn’t have a voice you’d want to hear every night on the news. But I’d be happy if he just stayed home and ran things by e-mail. I really don’t need to hear him yammering to know he’s working. If I have questions, I'll check his blog.

Second – and this is the most disturbing part – I noticed on the web site that Bill is starting to look like Mr. Burns from The Simpsons. (See his picture with Queen Elizabeth.) That’s only going to get worse. But I’m willing to overlook it.

Bill Gates for president – you could say you have a better idea, but you’d be lying.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Da Fookin Short Version

The Committments is, without a doubt, one of my all time favorite movies. Recently on Youtube I came across "Da Fookin Short Version".

This is the most hilarious thing I've ever seen.

Not safe for work. Recommended for anywhere else without pointy-haired bosses or small impressionable children.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Legends of Excalibur (True 20) released

Just wanted to let folks know that RPGObjects just released our first True 20 product, an adaptation of Legends of Excalibur. I'm really excited about this one and think it's a great fit for a great set of rules.

Id also like to take this opportunity to personally thank David Jarvis, owner of Reality Deviant Press and new RPGObjects team member. His knowledge of True 20 was invaluable during the editing process. He caught numerous things that weren't up to spec and made the book much better than it would have been otherwise.


Friday, November 03, 2006

Oldie but a goodie (Blood and Fists)

There's a new review of one of my older books (but one that seems to have had a long, healthy life), Blood and Fists.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Fertile Crescent Sneak Peek #2

Another sneak peek for everyone, and a mention that this is now on sale at RPGNow.

And the introductory adventure for the setting, the Feeding Grounds, has been out for a bit now, since it was run at this year's Gen Con.

Now that I'm done paying the bills. Enjoy some more of the early history of the city of Bastion.

Early History: Whittaker takes command

No one knows why the Midwest was spared so many of the ravages suffered by the rest of the country. The missiles did not target the great cities. The android commanders and combat walkers all mysteriously shut down in the early days of the conflict. Rather than commanding the armies of man to their destruction with “brilliant” battle strategies that used human beings as cannon fodder or becoming the threat themselves (more details on these events can be found in the Metal Gods sourcebooks) the robots of the Midwest went dormant early during the Fall and remained that way for the length of the conflict. The humans had to fend for themselves.

When Whittaker arrived to take command of Milwaukee, he found the city in chaos. Local authorities were ill-equipped to manage fire and other emergency services during the best of times, used to leaving such things to their android city managers. During a crisis, they were worse than useless. As fires raged uncontrolled through the city, (most the result of civilian rioting) the Mayor would stand before the city manager AI pleading like a child for it to do something. Whittaker advocated forgetting the robots, even stripping them of their pumps to allow humans to fight the fires. Such lunacy was not going to be tolerated by the inebriated Mayor however. Stripping the robots was madness! Any minute they would reboot and begin to help the city recover from the devastation. Whittaker was to be placed under arrest.

Stories vary about who it was that actually killed the Mayor in those dark, early days. Many say it was Whittaker himself while other writers, who see Whittaker as a more benevolent figure, place the blame at the feet of his second in command, Officer Growell of the local police (a somewhat menacing, Iago-like conspirator in the stories that have come down from those days). In reality who killed the Mayor is somewhat moot. He was killed and Whittaker took command. The dormant robots were stripped for parts, water pumps, energy cells, dismantled to create cover or simply pushed into place to hide behind. The decision had been made that humans were not weak and did not need the robots to defend them.

Over the course of several bloody weeks rioting was put down by any means necessary. The jails and asylums were emptied. Everyone, regardless of their past histories would be given an equal chance to help put down the chaos gripping the city. Anyone who was found to be a destabilizing influence was summarily sentenced to death and hung (bullets being far too valuable to waste on an execution). Oddly, the criminals and the insane were some of the most effective men in Whittaker’s early regime. It seemed these individuals were not cut out to fit in with the placid, drug-induced stupor preferred by the governments of the day. They adapted quickly to the vitality and decisiveness demanded by these new times much more quickly than many of the “stable” members of society who cracked under the strain.

Soon it seemed the entire city had been divided into two camps: those who followed Whittaker and those who followed the Pariahs. After a few tense days of calm following the end of the last riot, with the last rape gang swinging from the light poles on East Clybourn Street that a confrontation was sparked when the leader of the Pariahs demanded Whittaker cede control of the government to God (meaning the Pariahs). The federal government, represented by Whittaker had to be punished for bringing about the apocalypse. Whittaker responded with his usual reserve. His soldiers followed him as they always had, without question. They had decided long ago to follow him to their deaths and fulfill his promise of no surrender and no defeat. He would rule until relieved by a lawful representative of the government of the United States and that was all there was to it.

The Pariahs

The Pariahs had begun as a televangelist network in the days before the Fall. Society had become debased and debauched, they warned and soon God would strike it down as he had Sodom and Gomorrah. Once laughing stocks, the ranks of this group swelled in the time of the Fall. They were proven right, it seemed. God was back and he was angry. The Pariahs took it upon themselves to punish the wicked, who consisted of every man, woman and child. Sinners were stoned to death. The faithful were to flog themselves in eternal penitence and all had to live by the Word of God, according to the old laws of sacrifice and fidelity.

Having succeeded in putting an end to the initial chaos and panic that gripped the city when he arrived, Whittaker, along with his federalized police, fire and highway patrol units was not about to turn control of the city over to religious fanatics. The fight was quick but brutal, with the Pariahs possessing an inhuman glee about dying in support of their cause, believing it guaranteed them entrance to Paradise and escape from the hell of the world. Whittaker’s soldiers, for their part, took no joy in their duty as they drove the Pariahs out, hanging the thousands who preferred death to exile.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Sneak Peek #1 Fertile Crescent gazetteer (Darwin's World)

This is coming out soon. As always I thought I'd drop a few previews for the loyal blog readers.


Pre-war name: Milwaukee

Estimated Population: 3,000 (2,000 transients during the best of times, swelling to an estimated 10,000 transients during times of severe drought)

Ruling Faction: Guardsmen

Background: Visionary Reinventor

Skinball team: Bastion Gronts

The guiding light of the western side of the Great Lakes, this city, along with Purity to east brought the Fertile Crescent through the dark times in much better shape than most regions of the Twisted Earth. The fact that the two cities have ceased to cooperate and seem to preparing to turn against one another is like a dark cloud on the horizon for the entire region.

The modern history of Bastion begins when the city was still called Milwaukee, in the days immediately after the Fall. A young Wisconsin National Guardsman, Pfc. William Whittaker, was sent to take temporary military command of police and emergency services in Milwaukee until such time as reinforcements could be sent. They never came. In the orgy of destruction that was the Fall, the Midwest seemed spared almost by the hand of God. No nuclear weapons struck the shores of the Great Lakes or its mighty cities and the leaders themselves seemed to forget about these cities as they concentrated on the battles taking place at the edges of the country over the east and west coasts. The android round-ups and executions that were a fact of life in so many other areas of the country simply did not happen in the Midwest. This isn’t to say that there were no threats to the region as the country fell apart around it. Those threats came from without and within: the chaos of war, the Pariahs and the Ghouls being those best remembered from the city’s earliest days.

Sneak Peek #4 Blood and Guts 2: Deep Blue Sea (working title)

From the upcoming Blood and Guts 2: Deep Blue Sea (working title)

Pax Brittanica

In the 18th century wars began to become larger and larger as European powers with far-flung empires engaged in conflict on a scale never before witnessed. America seceded from the British Empire with the help of the French, who then proceeded to war with the English navy over the West Indies. The spiral of war seemed to grow ever larger in its scope and the French Revolution which put the conquest-minded Napoleon on the throne only added fuel to the fires of Europe. Finally, in the early 19th century, things came to a head at the Battle of Trafalgar. In this climactic battle the British navy sent 27 ships of the line against a combined French and Spanish fleet numbering 33 ships of the line. The British fleet was led by its greatest naval hero Admiral Lord Nelson and despite his death during the engagement it was a tremendous victory for England, who reasserted her naval dominance in this battle. In fact the battle finally brought peace to the oceans, the so-called “Pax Brittanica”. Following Trafalgar there would not be another major engagement at sea until the First World War.

Despite the peace imposed by the fearsome British Navy during this period, technological change began to come to naval warfare, the first revolutionary changes since the introduction of the large sailing vessel and the cannon. Ship designers began to experiment with steam engines to replace the sail as a vessel’s primary motive force. Weapon designers also began to adopt exploding shells to replace the iron cannonball. These explosive rounds could sink a wooden vessel with a single hit, prompting the need for iron plating over the ship’s now vulnerable wooden hull.

Although these technologies had all been under development for decades, it was the American Civil War that marked the turning of the tide in naval warfare. Here two ironclads, the CSS Virginia and the USS Monitor fought for the first time. The age of the ironclad had officially arrived. A mere four years later, in 1866, the first battle between fleets of ironclads was fought between the navies of Austria and Italy at the Battle of Lissa. This engagement was ended by a ramming maneuver and for a few decades ironclad designers focused on the ram once again as an essential part of a ship’s design.

Weakness? Meet responsibility.

So my plans to buy a Wii at launch ran afoul of both sides of my brain.

Not the left and right.

Not the conscious and the unconscious.

The responsible and the irresponsible.

I was nosing around online today and realized I could get Marvel Ultimate Alliance for the PS2, Final Fantasy XII and Dragon Quest VIII (which I played and *love* but I rented rather than bought it) for about 100 bucks.

The responsible says "that's less than you were planning to spend".

The irresponsible says "and you get the games NOW, without waiting outside overnight".

And so, with full knowledge that dropping 100 bucks, on top of Christmas shopping, means no Wii till the new year...

I did it anyway.


Saturday, October 28, 2006

Must-Geek TV: Heroes

Heroes is a modern superhero take, created by Tim Kring.

Though the titular "heroes" have superpowers, the take of the story is more realistic than comics. No costumes, no masks no code names.

The series also has a lot of influence from X-Files, Lost and the Stand.

From X-Files you get the conspiracy angle: the government is investigating the heroes, including a mysterious agent who claims "not to be a member of any agency that uses initials" and another hero with the ability to erase people's memories. The agent has abducted several of the heroes and performed tests on them, then used his mutant comrade to erase their memories. The coolest thing about this angle is that we're not totally sure that the agent and his comrade are evil.

And oh yeah, the agent is the adopted father of one of the heroes, Claire Bennet (see below).

From Lost you get the serialized, cliffhanger-based storytelling. Although to my mind, as a geek, this comes as much from comics as anything. Still, Lost seems to have FINALLY convinced TV execs that serialized storytelling works on TV (duh).

From the Stand you get the syncronicity and sense of destiny about the heroes. Someone is going to set off a nuke in NYC in 5 weeks (more on how they know that below) and the heroes' destiny is to stop it. Along the way they seem to run into each other a lot, almost like destiny is trying to pull the group together.

The Heroes

Isaac Mendez: Painter with the ability to paint the future. Currently he can only use this ability when high on heroin though it's not clear if this is a physical or mental block. He is one of the first to realize that a nuke will be set off in NYC.

Claire Bennet: A cheerleader with a seemingly unstoppable level of regeneration. As an example, she falls at one point and has a sharp branch puncture her throat and dies. The person she's with drags her to a river and dumps her in. After an unspecified time in the river, she's found and autopsied, cut open completely. When the ME finally removes the branch, she wakes up, folds her skin closed, heals almost instantly, gets up and walks out of the room.

Hiro Nakamura: Japanese programmer with the ability to stop time, teleport through time and teleport through space. He is the other hero to first realize about the nuke, when he accidentally teleports to the future and sees the nuke go off, teleporting back to the past just in time.

Hiro also stole a comic book drawn by Isaac Mendez (see above) while in the future, which he has used as a guide to the future on occasion.

A much buffer and more experienced Hiro has also appeared from the future and given cryptic advice to another hero, Peter Petrelli (see below).

Peter Petrelli: His power is to mimic others' powers. So far we have seen him mimic Isaac's painting ability and his brother Nathan's flight (see below).

Niki Sanders: Single mother of a boy genius, this former internet *ahem* entertainer has an alter ego which has a split personality and seeming superhuman strength, along with a bad-ass tude. She sometimes sees this alter ego in mirrors, though it isn't clear if she needs a flective surface to manifest.

Her ex-husband also seems to one of the heroes.

Nathan Petrelli: This ambitious, amoral politican has the power of flight at supersonic speeds (his body also seems perfectly adapted to flight at these speeds). Committed to being in Congress, he's much more concerned with that than his destiny right now.

Matt Parkma: A police officer with the power to read minds.


If you're a geek, there's no reason not to be watching Heroes. Seriously. And for more information you can check out 9th Wonders, the show's "Official Unofficial Fan Site" which has some nice info as well as spoilers (carefully marked so you'll only come across them if you want to).

Friday, October 27, 2006

Great moments in insomnia

I was preparing to post about Heroes, the new superhero show on NBC. I still will post about it and in the meantime while you wait breathlessly for that future post, let me just say it's the best. show. ever.

Go download it on Itunes right now, watch it and then come back.

See? Wasn't that awesome?

If you're wondering why I'm not posting about Heroes, that would be because I looked up Jeph Loeb on IMDB, one of the writers/producers of Heroes. Jeph is a comics writer (including the awesome Batman: Hush, which you should order overnight shipping and read right now, then come back). He also was a writer for Smallville.

On a lark I decided to look and see if he was involved in anything else and I came across this:

Model by Day: Lady X works as a model during the day but at night she fights crime with the help of her karate master, Master Chang.

Already, sounds like something that MUST be located and seen.

Then I look at the credits: Famke Janssen as Lady X. Awesome. Clark Johnson, the black streetwise detective from Homicide as Master Chang (if you don't know who Clark Johnson is, go rent the first season of Homicide and... oh you know the rest). Awesome. Shannon Tweed and Sen Young as two dames named Shannon and Mercedes.

This sounds like the best movie ever!

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Sneak Peek #3

Age of Sail

As larger sailing vessels exceeding 100 tons displacement began to appear, powered by increasingly sophisticated sails, vessels were able to make longer voyages and withstand the harsh weather of the open ocean in order to begin exploring areas further and further away from their homes in Europe. These larger vessels were also able to carry more weapons and with the addition of the cannon, ships became more dangerous than ever, both against targets at sea and targets on land.

Although the voyages of discovery made during this period were primarily mercantile in nature, the protection of sea lanes allowing the profits of these voyages to return home quickly sparked an increase in battles at sea. Just ten years after Vasco da Gama opened trade with India in the 16th century, the Portuguese fleet crushed an enemy fleet to gain dominance over the Indian Ocean and ensure that goods could travel freely between Europe and India.

Seventy years later, in 1582, the first naval battle in the Atlantic took place as Spain and France fought over the Azores. Just six years after this victory for the Spanish navy, they sent an Armada against England, then ruled by Elizabeth I in one of the first naval engagements fought on a mass scale. Sir Francis Drake was able to scatter the Spanish fleet, which lost more than half of the 130 ships forming the armada. This marks the rise to dominance of the English Royal Navy, a position they would enjoy for nearly 300 years.

The 16th century also saw some of the largest naval engagements in Asia during the Middle Ages. Throughout much of the history of Asia the dreaded Wako pirates of Japan strangled trade between Japan, China and Korea. But the end of Japan’s long and bloody civil wars and the rise of the Shogun Hideyoshi saw Japan for the first time turn attention to foreign conquest. Hideyoshi built a large and formidable fleet, ridding the seas of Wako (at least temporarily) so that he could invade Korea. His ultimate aim was the conquest of China’s Ming Empire as well. This seven-year war between Japan and Korea shows the importance of a combined arms strategy in any foreign invasion overseas. The Japanese army dominated the Koreans on land but the Korean navy was generally superior to the Japanese fleet. By fighting a scorched earth strategy denying the occupying Japanese army access to Korean crops and preventing resupply over the sea, the Koreans eventually forced the Japanese to withdraw.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Wii are anticipating arrival

Ahh... my first dumb-ass use of the name Wii. Probably not the last either. Felt kind of good.

Another random thought, I should shill for things I get no money from more often. I'm much more shameless about it, and in fact it makes me feel pretty good.

Oh yeah, the Wii countdown clock has a permanent home at the bottom of the page now, go look at it and then everyone do your best computer voice from Wargames.

Man, Wargames might be the best movie ever. Where was I? Oh yeah, shilling.

So besides Marvel Ultimate Alliance, which of course gets my nerd heart beating fast, I also am looking forward to Red Steel like nobody's business.

Guns? Check. Samurai swords? Check. Destructible environments? Check. Kill Bill type storyline involving a girl, some Yakuza and a cool sword? Check.

Does a game need anything else? Hell no!

Well ok, big giant robots fighting kaiju WOULD of course make this game better, but they make everything better.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Sneak Peek #2

Barbarians at sea: Naval Warfare in the Dark and Middle Ages

Although the barbarians that brought about the fall of the Roman Empire operated mostly by land, the infamous Vandals were a notable exception. These barbarians moved down through modern-day Spain where they began to build a large fleet. In 429 80,000 Vandals crossed to North Africa where they took the city of Carthage. From this base, one of the most excellent deep water Mediterranean ports, they conquered Sicily, Sardinia, Corsica and the Balearic Islands, attaining a virtual stranglehold on Mediterranean trade. Despite becoming a sea-faring superpower of the dark ages, the Vandals were not primarily a mercantile empire as the Carthaginians had been but instead conducted piratical raids on trading vessels of more civilized empires.

As the political landscape began to become more settled following the fall of Rome, new seafaring powers took to the seas, most notably the Byzantines and the Arabs who fought many heated battles in the 7th and 8th centuries for control over the Mediterranean and its valuable islands, especially Sicily. The Byzantine vessels of this period were greatly feared because of their use of “Greek fire” which they could shoot from the bow of their ships in the first known flamethrower.

In the 8th century the Norsemen made their first appearance as a naval power, adopting a tactic of a surprise attack from the sea, raiding and plundering a target then retreating with their bounty before reinforcements could arrive. This tactic would prove devastatingly effective for centuries.

In the 10th century Arab naval dominance of the Mediterranean began to wane along with the rise of the great mercantile empires of Italy: Genoa, Pisa and Venice. These mercantile powers achieved dominance over the Arabs and Norsemen before fighting with one another over control of Mediterranean trade. These conflicts continued until the 14th century when Venice finally gained the upper hand and controlled Mediterranean trade for a century. Outside of Mediterranean during this period, use of sea power was restricted to the Norsemen and the use of ships to ferry troops across the English Channel during the seemingly endless conflicts between England and France during the early Middle Ages.

Friday, October 20, 2006

First look: a snippet of an upcoming book

Another history post for you guys since they seem to go over well... this is a snippet from a book I started yesterday...

Naval Warfare in the Ancient World

The first known battle at sea occurred in 1210 BCE when the Hittites defeated a force of vessels from Cyprus and burned their ships at sea. By 700 BCE the Phoenicians were employing advanced vessels equipped with rams and two banks of oars, one on top of the other while a third deck carried fighting men for boarding actions.

By the time of the Greco-Persian wars, during which the Persian Empire attempted unsuccessfully to conquer the Greek city states on several occasions, combat at sea was carried out by fleets of advanced vessels known as triremes which worked in concert with forces on the ground in complicated land-sea operations.

Although the Roman Empire is known primarily for the military might of its powerful heavy infantry legions, they too engaged in naval warfare, especially in the Punic Wars against Carthage, one of the great naval powers of the ancient world. These early vessels leveraged the might of the Roman ground forces, with Roman ships equipped with powerful grapples that would allow their ships to link with enemy Carthaginian vessels so Roman marines could employ the infantry tactics of which Rome was the undisputed master to eliminate enemy vessels during boarding actions.

As Rome expanded, they discovered an increasing need for naval power in order to quickly project their military might over a wide area, a need every wide-ranging empire has needed from the Persians to the United States of America. The Battle of Actium, fought between Octavian and Marc Antony to determine the successor to Julius Caesar shows just how Rome’s naval power had expanded as the size of the Empire expanded, with hundreds of ships involved on each side bearing towers filled with archers and boarding parties and ship-mounted catapults.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Marvel Ultimate Alliance: It must be mine

This game looks awesome. Best game ever. If the screenshot provided, showing Spider Man, the Thing, Wolverine and Ghost Rider throwing down on bad guys doesn't convince you of that... then my work here is far from over.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Oops he did it again

Paul Tevis runs one of my favorite podcasts, Have Games Will Travel. For the most part he discusses board games and indie RPGs but occasionally discusses d20 games as well. Fairly often when listening to his RPG podcasts, I hear about a game I would have never thought to try and end up being intrigued.

In other words, the man should get a comission. He just did it again, selling me on Cold City, a game about monster hunters in 1950 Germany, with American and Soviet investators attempting to put aside their differences as they try to kill monsters and hunt down Nazi weird science.

Maybe the best game premise ever. More when I've actually read it.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Fertile Crescent coming this month

Welcome to The Fertile Crescent, my own personal corner of Dom Covey’s magnificent Twisted Earth setting for Darwin’s World. Since this book has been (more or less) in the works for a few years I thought a little history might be in order as we prepare to explore a new area of the world after the Fall.

In 2002 I discovered RPGNow. Here the word “discover” is used in the same way in which Columbus “discovered” America. RPGNow was already around, making products and selling PDFs. I just had no idea it was there. I was on my way to India. Actually, I was looking for a good post-apocalyptic game for d20, something to allow me to run the Gamma World campaign of my dreams. In my googling I came across RPGNow and a book called Darwin’s World. My first PDF seriously spoiled me and my campaign was up and running.

The mainline campaign setting was a little grimmer than what I had in mind, so I decided to get all “do it yourself” and homebrew and picked the area around the Great Lakes, which hadn’t really been covered by any books to date as the location for my campaign. I decided to leave the lakes more or less intact, making the campaign area a relatively fertile region, a place where civilization might be reborn. Once I decided to get all historical and call the region the Fertile Crescent, after Mesopotamia, I knew I had a place where heroes could make a difference. Maybe even rebuild.

Around this time, I started talking to Dom and Chris at RPGObjects about my campaign and bugging them to release it. They liked the idea and although a lot of ideas went back and forth, I ended up doing other things for them, including providing some editorial help on Terrors of the Twisted Earth and Metal Gods. Eventually I would make a book with RPGObjects, then another, then dozens more, starting with Blood and Space. The Fertile Crescent was always just on the horizon bookwise but it never seemed to float up to the top of the list. In short we got busy.

When it came time for Darwin’s World 2nd edition, I provided some mechanical help and figured that was that. When I saw the map for the game though, Dom had marked the Fertile Crescent to Great Lakes region. That was my first signal that a gazetteer of the area would eventually need to be done. Eventually, Chris and I just decided to do it and the area was fleshed out. Since we needed an adventure for GenCon, I decided to use that adventure (Feeding Grounds) as an introduction to the setting. The ball was rolling.

So here we are, nearly four years later and the sun is finally rising on the Fertile Crescent. Will it be an anecdote lost to history, uncovered by future explorers? Or will it be a new beginning. That’s up to you. Beyond the occasional adventure, my part is mostly done. The Fertile Crescent is yours now and I hope it brings you as much gaming fun as it did me.

The clock is ticking...

I am geeked. It's actually funny. I haven't gone fanboy over anything in ages. I thought I was just too jaded.

But I am waiting on the Wii. Red Steel, Marvel Ultimate Alliance and Trauma Center *will* be mine. Oh yeah and that Madden thing.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Cast Iron

It's official, from the Marvel Pulse Newsletter: Robert Downey Jr. will play Iron Man in the Marvel movie, slated to debut in May 2008.

I think this is awesome casting, as good a job of nailing a part as Warner did when it cast Christian Bale as Batman.

Downey has been Oscar-nominated and is just a perfect fit for Tony Stark, a brilliant man with a serious addiction (just like Downey himself).

Tuesday, October 03, 2006


So if I've been a little quiet lately, it's partially because I took a little breather in honor of my 38th birthday, which was yesterday.

In related news, True 20 rocks and my True 20 conversion of Legends of Excalibur is shaping up very very nicely.

As I go through the conversion I got to realize, after a long time away from the rules, that Excalibur might be my favorite book I've ever written, with only Blood and Vigilance or Blood and Fists have any chance of competing with it in my eyes.


Sunday, September 24, 2006

True 20 stuff

So I've been a little quiet here lately, which usually means I'm writing something for monetary gain (cause I'm a sell out like that).

And I think it's far enough along for me to share a bit.

RPGObjects scored a license to do some True 20 adaptations of our works and we decided to do a fantasy, a sci-fi and a modern.

I'm almost done with my conversion of the first, the fantasy work, a True 20 version of Legends of Excalibur.

I really like True 20, it's simple but robust enough to handle almost anything you need and felt right away that it was a perfect fit for Excalibur (a product I always thought was one of my best).

I'm almost done with the monster conversions, leaving me a boatload of NPCs from the "who's who" section.

More info as it become available.


Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Knights of Cydonia

So, been a few days but I found something I had to share. Best. Music. Video. Ever.

Imagine the Lone Ranger... but he knows Shaolin style martial arts and hangs out with a hot blonde. Now imagine he rides a motorcycle and fights dudes who wield laser pistols and also use martial arts... oh heck... just watch it already.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Review Roundup: Blood and Time

Psion has posted a 4 star review of my time travel book Blood and Time over at ENWorld. Thanks as always for the thorough and thoughtful review.

And of course my favorite bit: "Blood & Time is the best treatment of time travel campaigning I have seen for the d20 system. It is not merely a collection of time themed spells. It tries to provide support for things you will need in time travelling campaign, but avoids mechanically defining the nature of time travel effect."

Monday, September 11, 2006

Gamer Traveler

The Dragon's Landing podcast has a regular feature called the gamer traveler, a perfect source for those who like historical fantasy (as I surely do). In their feature this week about the city of Brugge in Belgium, Daniel Perez was kind enough to mention RPGObjects' Legends of the Dark Ages as a system where Brugge would make a good adventuring destination.

Being mentioned in the same breath as Green Ronin's Medieval Player's Handbook is quite flattering indeed and hearing the mention was as unexpected as it was delightful. Thanks Daniel.

I encourage everyone to check out Daniel's blog where they can find information on all the location spotlights he's done thus far.

And of course I recommend everyone check out the Dragon's Landing podcast where they can hear Daniel's gamer traveler segments in glorious streaming audio.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Veronics Mars: Season One

So I just finished watching Veronica Mars Season 1 on DVD. Here's my thoughts/review:


Definitely a good series and worth a watch. A lot of mysteries, a lot of clues scattered throughout. Though each episode is standalone, there is a running thread throughout the season (the Lilly Kane murder) which is developed at a good pace.

Without spoilers, I will say I was satisfied with the things that were wrapped up, as well as the things that were left hanging. I never got that "Twin Peaks" feeling that the central mysteries of the show would NEVER EVER be wrapped up.

The Good

The main cast is compelling and the characters experience some growth within the first year.

The guest cast is also top notch, and there are some good minor characters who recur, and who I am always GLAD to see when they do recur (there are many many shows that either eschew recurring characters, or the ones that return annoy me, while the ones we never see again are interesting).

The Bad

The special features on the DVD are really, really lame. This is the 21st century people. If shows like The Shield and Buffy and NYPD Blue can have actor and director commentaries and featurettes, you can too.

The only special features for an entire season are deleted scenes, and even those are done badly. There's one huge batch for the entire season at the end of disc 6.

Meaning you watch the scene and you vaguely recall the episode the scenes were deleted from but not to the extent that they enliven the episode any. Worse, there's no submenu. The deleted scenes just play one after another.

In other words, even if you WANTED to go to the trouble of going back to the episode and watching it right before you watched the DVD, you'd have to fast forward through them.

I know I'm going on about this a little, but it's really inexcusable. There should be more to a boxed set than just getting the episodes. If I was a fan and had watched these as they aired, I would be mad at the paucity of additional insights to the show offered by the boxed set.

Final Grade


If the set had come with the usual amount of special features, including a few episode commentaries and a featurette about the show, this would have been A+. I'm not sure if the issue was money or laziness but either way, it's a big omission in an otherwise excellent show that deserved better.

Night Ride Part 1

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