Friday, 30 January 2015

And then out of nowhere...

Okay, so I’ve let my obsession with doing one post a week slide a little. Sure, we can start by blaming Christmas Eve, but there’s a simpler explanation. Couldn’t think of anything to write. In those situations, forcing myself to sit down and write is very, very counterproductive. Tearing my hair out and screaming at the sky counterproductive. I’m melodramatic. Deal with it.

However, side-stepping this melodrama for now, we take a trip back in time to August 2014. Somewhat fitting, given what I’m about to start talking about. Anyway, it was in that month of that year that something caught my eye. An article about a new game Square Enix were going to publish. What caught my eye was that the screenshot of the game’s central protagonist bears a striking resemblance to a lovely young lady whom, at a friend’s wedding that year, I was arranging flowers with. Yes, that’s right. I got roped into arranging flowers at a friend’s wedding. It was awesome and possibly my favourite wedding experience ever. Also I have a flower-arranging buddy. That part is pretty cool too.

The game is called Life is Strange. It was released today, a fact I discovered yesterday, caved and bought the whole thing on Steam. It’s a five-part episodic videogame created by Dontnod Entertainment that focuses on eighteen year old girl Max Caulfield (who bears striking resemblance to my awesome flower-arranging buddy). Max is a student at the prestigious Blackwell Academy in her hometown of Arcadia Bay, Oregon, a place she had long since escaped. One day, in her beloved photography class, she discovers the most curious thing.

She can rewind time.

There’s the hook. My housemate is a big fan of TellTale games, I’ve watched him play The Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us and I’ve dabbled in the latter myself. Need to dabble some more I suspect. Of course, these are games driven by player choice and build the action of the next act from the consequences of the player’s actions. What Life is Strange offers is the chance to rewind, test the waters and see where you want to go from there.

Naturally, there’s a limit to how far you can rewind time. You have to make a choice and stick with it. But it is interesting to experiment with where those choices can take you, then make a decision, rather than having to make the split-second determination.

Time travel. Check. Next up for what draws me to this game? Visual style. It’s beautiful. Thanks to Max’s penchant for photography, a defining characteristic that no doubt has huge parts to play in the upcoming action, there’s a lot of emphasis on visuals. And boy are they something to behold. Plus, Max doesn’t have a half-bad eye for a good shot – or at least, the developers made sure the right opportunities were open to her.

The other, slightly more curious, draw for me is the teen angst/teen drama aspect of the game. Underlying the main plot are the subtle intricacies of a high school student’s life. The social pitfalls, befriend this guy, snub that girl, help them out or let them suffer. I am sure the developers have figured some way into making all fit into the overarching plot and have all those neat little consequences too, but as a kind of side-quest kick, I like it.
Episode two of Life is Strange is due in March. Between now and then, I’m sure I’ll have plenty of opportunity to replay it and have fun playing with the laws of time.

Thursday, 15 January 2015

Rocks Fall, Everybody Dies

It’s a curious saying that floats around our D&D table. The general gist – piss off the DM, bad things will happen to you. And the party. At least that’s my interpretation. It could also be interpreted as a warning to check for traps – a warning our party failed to heed the last time we played, fortunately not to our untimely doom. Though there was this moment where we nearly brought about the end of the world, but then one of the best, lightning-bolt-from-the-gods, right-at-the-last-second critical success rolls saved not our bacon, but the world’s bacon too. And we like bacon.

Oh, by the way, you’re welcome world. Fantasy world, but nonetheless, we saved your asses. You’re welcome. Just saying.

If you haven’t guessed already, today I am going to be talking about Dungeons & Dragons. It’s been given a paragraph of attention, once upon a many Moon ago. But one of my DMs (I have at least four, depending on campaign), Harlequin, queried my lack of a dedicated D&D post. In the interest of rocks not falling and everybody not dying, it seemed about time. Plus my conversion from D&D novice to D&D adept is now complete. Not only do I own the requisite Player’s Handbook, I invested in the Monster’s Manual and the Dungeon Master’s Guide. I’m a long way from making rocks fall and killing everyone, but the intent is now there.

In the brief paragraph written once upon a many Moon ago (a phrase I appear to be awfully fond of), I described my first steps into the world of tabletop roleplaying games. Here now, a brief overview of some highlights from the year that has been my first in the worlds of Dungeons & Dragons. First off – the heist caper.

This was something from our primary campaign, run by Harlequin. We’ve progressed to Act Two of her campaign’s story arc and we’re learning more about the nefarious big bads and exactly what we’re up against. But we need more information. The hitch – that information is in the heavily guarded Royal Palace. Wait! There’s an opportunity though. The Prince’s birthday. Under the cloak of the festivities we could sneak in, find the information...oh and rescue some of our comrades who had been unceremoniously captured. (My character, an undead fire mage who has died not once but thrice in the course of the campaign, was one of them).

Rolling a temporary player character, we plotted our way in, we planned our very own heist caper. Our rogue would gamble his way into gaining an invitation to the Prince’s birthday party (featuring a beautifully done poker rolling mechanic) and then help distract the Royal Family. How does he achieve this? Well, it wasn’t part of the plan, but...he led the Royal Family in raucous drinking song. That’s right. He got the King, the Queen and the young Prince utterly plastered and sang. Loudly. Which was fortuitous, because behind the scenes, the rest of us were busy killing people.

The heist was brilliant. It was great fun. I got to roll a different character then return to my original character, which was a nice change of pace and renewed my appreciation for the fire mage with a propensity for blowing himself up. And our plan for the caper was flawless! Well, nearly.

We may have forgotten to plan our exit route. This resulted in my undead mage being stuck in a water pipe (luckily he doesn’t need to breath) behind three others who kept getting stuck and the my temporary character, a Psion gnome, having to escape through the palace’s effluent pipes. Nearly drowning in them in the process. That boy is going to have some serious psychological issues with toilets for the rest of his life. So there’s a note for next time. MAKE A FRAKKIN’ ESCAPE PLAN!

Also in our campaign we’ve engaged in a little bit of piracy...a kind of side-mission, off the main quest, which resulted in our rogue reducing an entire Navy frigate to cinders. Suffice it to say, my fire mage is unimpressed with this demarcation of his duties as the party’s official burner of things. Oh and we now have a stake in a pirate ship. Sometimes a bit of mutiny can be a good thing. I mean, this pirate ship could find itself coming in immensely handy during our campaign.

But this isn’t the only campaign we engage in. Harlequin’s campaign has been referred to as a “homebrew”. The settings, the country and its cities, have all been devised by her. We also play a campaign run by Jester, who has set his in the worlds of the Forgotten Realms (all I really know is that it’s a D&D campaign setting and Jester is pretty much an undisputed expert on all things within the Forgotten Realms).

Within Jester’s Forgotten Realms campaign, I am once again rolling a fire mage. Does anyone see a pattern emerging here? Except, instead of incinerating himself to death, it would appear my character has a vested interest in killing the party outright. In our first session of this campaign, I decided that there was this one building that Jester had described in an interesting way. It seemed really, really important. But no one wanted to investigate it. So when everyone had settled in for the night and it was my watch, I decided to saunter off on my own and investigate. In the process lighting a torch and essentially summoning a company of orcs right down on top of my head.

Fortunately for me, one of my party didn’t trust me, remained awake and watched me sneak out. There was a neat bit of battling, I got a bit of a telling off, then we headed off to the big spooky house on top of hill, the spooky house that wasn’t reduced to rubble in a city laid to waste. I guess I was interested in entirely the wrong building...

I could go on, explain in depth and detail all my D&D exploits...but then I think I’d be missing some kind of point. I’ll be honest, I went into this post not exactly sure what I was going to say. I think the general gist of what I’ve been trying to say with my anecdotes of fun times in D&D is that this is an awfully fun game. I thank Harlequin and Jester for drawing me into this world and I look forward to the raucous drinking song, rampant piracy and rambunctious escapades our parties will find themselves in during our various campaigns this year.

Thursday, 8 January 2015

Je Suis Charlie

Let’s start with the painfully obvious. I’m not an artist, not a cartoonist. A couple of times I’ve talked about The Writerverse, the idea of there being a collective universe that writers inhabit, a community in which we share our creativity and have shoulders to cry on. The other day I posted a rant about European Union VAT regulations, standing in solidarity with artists. Today, I wish to posit the existence of a Creativerse (a horrible jamming together of words, this is a working title for now) as creatives of every ilk stand in solidarity with Charlie Hebdo, victims of a heinous act of terrorism.

Twelve people killed in the attack. All because three men – who don’t deserve to be credited with belonging to a Middle Eastern religion – thought it would make their deity happy to grab a couple of Kalashnikovs and jam down on the trigger. It has provoked some deeply heart-wrenching responses from the wider community of cartoonists and artists, a small sample of which can be found in this Buzzfeed article.

I was born in the tail end of the 1980s, I wasn’t old enough to remember one of the darker aspects of Northern Ireland’s history known here as “The Troubles”. I dimly remember the 1998 Omagh bombing. One thing I can recall is that during the height of The Troubles, your religious affiliation – Protestant or Catholic specifically – could, in certain parts of Northern Ireland, result in some pretty grievous harm upon your person. But no one pointed to the Vatican and said “This is your fault!” No one pointed to the Church of England and branded them as extremists promoting the murder of innocent people. So this part of the post is kind of my disclaimer of sorts. Islam isn’t responsible for this. Three idiots who thought they were acting in the best interests of that religion did this, three idiots whose minds have been twisted by insidious propaganda did this. All because they can’t take a joke. I’m fairly sure their prophet would be able to rise about it. Christians would tell you Jesus would just rise above it. And their religion was responsible for starting countless wars in Medieval times.

There’s a comic from The Oatmeal that sums all this up quite neatly. It carries the fitting title “How to suck at your religion”.

Today I stand in solidarity with cartoonists, artists and creatives of every kind, with the staff of Charlie Hebdo. My thoughts are with the families and colleagues of those lost at Charlie Hebdo and the families and colleagues of the brave officers of the French police. One of the wisest things I read today was from a friend’s friend’s comment on a Facebook post. “Can silence the one. But not the many.” Three men have silenced twelve voices. Thousands more will rise to take their place and will not be silenced.