Archive for May, 2014

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An open letter to Egosoft and Tri Synergy

Dear powers-that-be at Egosoft and Tri Synergy,

It has been more than a week since you sent me a press release for the 2.0 release of X-Rebirth. Similarly, it has been a week since I sent Tri Synergy’s public relations department an email requesting a review copy of said game. Earlier this week the Egosoft twitter account recommended I send another review request directly to Egosoft, and I did so this morning. While I will certainly respect any decision you care to make in this matter, I would like to reiterate why I think you would do well to trust my website with a review of your game.

At the time of this letter X-Rebirth has a meta-critic score of 33, making it one of the lowest scoring games on that particular review aggregator. Despite releasing a game that many critics have written off as broken and unplayable, the development team at Egosoft has soldiered on to produce the 2.0 version of X-Rebirth. Such a decision demonstrates a rare sort of courage. How easy it would have been to write off X-Rebirth and move on to greener pastures.

But I fear that no amount of press releases promising sweeping changes will make up for the fact that X-Rebirth has about as much good PR as the bubonic plague. This is where me and my humble website enter the equation.

I have not played a single minute of X-Rebirth 1.0. It has been months since watched a let’s play of X-Rebirth or read another critic’s review of the game. I also have very fond memories of Terran Conflict and Albion Prelude to serve as a baseline for review. As space-sim enthusiasts go, I dare say I am the closest thing there is to a tabula rasa for X-Rebirth.

Whatever your decision, this will be the last you hear from me on the subject of X-Rebirth – notwithstanding the arrival of a steam key for the game. Should you wish to facilitate my review of X-Rebirth’s new iteration, your press department has my contact information.

Cordially yours,

 

Adam Shaftoe


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Movie Review: Elysium

A few months ago I found myself defending impossible things in science fiction movies. The conversation, which largely focused on Pacific Rim, boiled down to one point: the need to sell the audience on the initial lie. To wit: the previous discussion saw a friend refusing to buy into Pacific Rim’s first principle – the idea that giant robots are the best way to defend the earth from a Kaiju invasion. In so much as I disagreed with his justification, I respect the point he was trying to make. If a film wants the audience to suspend disbelief, it needs to do a good job of selling the initial lie. This brings us to Elysium, a movie that utterly fails to sell any of its lies.

Elysium is the sort of movie that brings out the best and worst in me as a critic. Ten minutes of Neill Blomkamp’s sophomore feature film turned me into a snarky Gollum. Part of me wanted to do nothing more than revel in pedantry and point out how nothing about the movie makes sense.

Fire a ground based missile at something in orbit, precious? Precious doesn’t understand physics very much, does he?

Then there’s the more mature – and much more likable – part of me that wants to have a discussion about the ideas Elysium is trying to work with.

It doesn’t matter that the science of Elysium is written by a fourth grader if it gets people thinking about automation and drones in everyday life.

I expect this is the back and forth that any sort of thinking person has to work through while watching this movie. There’s no denying that Elysium engages with some truly outstanding ideas. Blomkamp’s writing taps into the psychology of the Occupy Wall Street movement to tell a story that is equal parts Robin Hood and the good parts of Johnnie Mnemonic – all ten minutes of them. Would that Blomkamp was content to leave it at that, Elysium might have stood a chance of being a good movie. Insert a bit more H.G. Welles allegory, take a potshot or two at Walmart economics as the anti-thesis of Fordism, and the movie would probably be a winner. Instead, it seems like Blomkamp is intent to pile on with every modern controversy you can imagine, hoping that the hot mess will somehow come together like the Voltron of speculative fiction. Instead, it looks like a bunch of robot lions trying to hump a door knob.

Elysium is as much about the one percent stepping on everybody else to make their lives more comfortable as it is about police drones, a surveillance state, peak oil, environmental collapse, inner-city poverty, cybernetic augmentations, private military companies, two-tier health care, illegal immigration, the commoditization of humans in the workplace, urban crime, street gangs, and probably a half dozen other blink-and-miss-it themes. Watching Elysium’s motifs elbow at each other like the Three Stooges is as messy and unwieldy as a creative orgy between DMX, Upton Sinclair, and William Gibson.

The real tragedy is that on a unit level Elysium‘s ideas are good. Yet the bloating repertoire of ideas means that opportunities to develop a singular focus are forsaken in lieu of saying “Hey, don’t you think police drones are a bad idea? Yeah, fuck police drones!” or “You know what’s awful, rich people stepping on the backs of the poor. Yeah, fuck the rich people!” How profound. What other sage revelations do you have in store for us, Master Jedi Blomkamp?

On the heels of such a complete and total failure to meaningfully explore any of the movie’s potentially interesting ideas, picking on Elysium’s technical shortcomings seems like flogging a dead horse. What’s the point in thinking critically about the scientific impossibility of Elysium retaining its own atmosphere when the writer can’t see past the end of his nose in terms of building a society with a robot police force? The pedantry is fun, mind you, but it’s a more tedious way of shining a light on the movie’s core problem: Neill Blomkamp had an idea about a space station full of rich people, and then slapped a story around the concept. As such, Elysium has all the charm and narrative strength of a bad episode of Star Trek: TNG.

For all of the movie’s narrative flaws, one should not overlook its piss-poor casting choices. There’s something of a race to the bottom of the conceptual barrel between casting Matt Damon as the lead in a movie that predominantly features Latino secondary and tertiary characters (i.e. why not cast a latino actor for the lead?) and Jodie Foster’s milquetoast space racist act, featuring an on-again off-again South African accent. At least, I think it was South African, might have just been South Idiot. Foster’s performance is about as tiresome as the time Harrison Ford tried to pull off a Russian accent in K-19.

Though it offers a valiant effort, Elysium spectacularly fails to become more than the sum of its parts. It is a messy agglomeration of ideas moving at break neck speed from one plot point to the next. There’s no effort on the part of the script  to unify its ideas or narrative blocks into something more meaningful. Similarly, the cast portrays cut-rate archetypes, who are incapable of adding anything remarkable to the story. Ultimately, the movie has to fall back on pathos and a sick child to achieve any sort of emotional resonance, and only then after a messy two acts of foreplay.

Elysium

Written and Directed by: Neill Blomkamp

Starring:  Matt Damon, Jodie Foster, Sharlto Copley


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Crowdfund This: Second Contacts by Bundoran Press

At the time of this post, Ottawa-based publisher Bundoran Press is a little more than half way through an Indiegogo campaign for Second Contacts, a science fiction anthology that will explore humanity fifty years after making contact with alien life.

This from Second Contact’s indiegogo campaign:

Science Fiction is our conversation with the future. But what if we’re talking with alien voices?

Second Contacts will seek stories, from the best writers in the field, which explore the consequences of first contact, for us, for them, for our shared future. The possibilities are endless — conquest, collaboration, assimilation, or separation. On earth, in space, or on alien planets, what will happen to individuals and societies after two generations or more of staring into alien eyes?

Aurora Award-winning editor, Hayden Trenholm returns in partnership with Mike Rimar, Writers of the Future finalist to co-edit the collection.

Considering Hayden’s fantastic eye for fiction – if you don’t believe me, then I dare you to read Blood and Water and not come away from it with a changed worldview – the editorial track record for this anthology is reason alone to support the project. That said, I think it’s also important to highlight one of the reasons why Bundoran is making use of the crowd funding model for this book.

The turn to crowd funding, if successful, will allow Bundorian to raise the pay rates of Second Contacts from 1.5 cents per word to 6.5 cents per word, thus meeting pro-market requirements, as defined by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. While I won’t get into the economics of SFWA’s decision to raise the bar on pro-rates, I do admire the fact that Bundoran is working to ensure that their writers cross that particular threshold. For me, this is another great reason to support Second Contacts on a grass-roots level.

If economic altruism and the good karma that comes with supporting a small Canadian press doesn’t sell you on Second Contact’s indiegogo, then you should stop by the Bundorian blog, where Hayden has offered up seven reasons to support the anthology’s funding campaign.


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Afternoon Anime – Space Battleship Yamato 2199: Episode 24

Surprisingly enough, there’s not a lot to say about the third to last episode of Space Battleship Yamato 2199: The Faraway Promised Land. After a voyage of 160,000 light years, the Yamato arrives on Iscandar, and it turns out that Princess Starsha, Earth’s guardian angel, is a bit curmudgeon.

Despite surviving the depths of space and the brutality of Dessler’s armadas, Starsha doesn’t want to give the Cosmo Reverser, the key to Earth’s salvation, to the Yamato’s crew. Even with Yurisha begging her sister to save humanity, and Admiral Ditz – defacto leader of the Great Gamilas Empire in the wake of a supposedly dead Dessler – announcing the end of hostilities with Earth due to Captain Okita’s decision to save the Gamilan homeworld from Dessler’s madness, Starsha still needs to think about if humanity is worth saving.

Seriously, Starsha? What’s your damage? In a word: guilt.

The Iscandarians, as we know from the original series, are an almost extinct people. But instead of being an enigmatic, but generic, counterpoint to Gamilas’ brutality, this episode shows us that Iscandar’s pacifism is the result of a history of brutal imperialism. Starsha reveals that her people once weaponized wave motion energy and used it to forge an interstellar empire. So we have a bit of a nuclear allegory on our hands here; this is to be expected from Space Battleship Yamato, but it’s telling to see said nuclear guilt coming from Iscandar and not humanity.

Starsha’s guilt turns the Cosmo Navy, and the Earth, into the ultimate good guy, excusing all previous actions on the part of the Yamato. Though it’s obvious that Starsha sees something of Iscandar’s violent past in humanity, recent actions from the Yamato prove that humans are, despite our flaws, far better than Iscandarians as a people. I mean, we don’t go around using wave motion energy to blow up planets unless we absolutely have to.

If that wasn’t enough guilt, this episode also reveals that Starsha is partly responsible for Dessler building the Great Gamilas Empire. During a flashback we see a young Dessler speaking on his desire to unite Iscandar and Gamilas. Starsha refuses on the grounds that their planets’ philosophies are too far apart to ever facilitate a unification. Post-empire Iscandar wants to bring salvation and enlightenment to all sentient races. Dessler then perverts that vision into a justification for building his empire. He will bring salvation and peace at the end of a gun. Therefore, all of the suffering the Gamilans inflected upon the Milky Way and the Magellanic Clouds are partly Starsha’s fault.

Between species guilt, personal guilt, and the acute pain of watching Mamoru Kodai die in her arms after the Gamilan prison ship carrying him crashed on Iscandar – so much for the love story between the elder Kodai and Starsha – Starsha’s decision to help humanity seems to have less to do with the Yamato’s actions, and more to do with her own guilty conscience.

And that’s really all there is to this part of the story. It is a lot of watching the Yamato’s crew wait while Starsha wrings her hands and backfills on the Iscandarian side of the story. It’s not a bad episode per-se, but it is another “pause” episode following an “all out action” episode. With two more episodes to go, I think it’s clear that the moral of this story is not “the guilt of the reluctant hero,” but simply that humans are better than aliens. Of course, the more interesting question emerging out of that motif is should we read a national allegory into this message?

Stray thoughts:

- SPACE BIKINI YAMATO 2199. Seriously, what’s the point?

- I would wager a thousand dollars that Dessler isn’t really dead.

- Is anybody going to explain how Admiral Ditz managed to insinuate himself as the defacto leader of the Gamilan Empire, or are we just going to have to roll with that one?

- Does anybody else think that Mamoru Kodai’s soul went into the Cosmo Reverser?


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Hands on with Democracy 3

Positech Games’ Democracy 3 is a little bit outside my usual review spectrum. For the benefit of anybody who doesn’t regularly follow my website, I strive to make sure that everything I review has some sort of genre element. Democracy 3 is the exact antithesis of genre. As a political policy simulator, the game is about as real as one can expect. Reality, however, is a subjective thing. Even though I have only invested a few hours into this game, I find myself questioning the reality that underwrites the simulation’s “real” world.

Democracy 3 has players select a western democracy and act as its head of state. From there, a complex web of policy options are layered into various national crises and data tables (e.g. organized crime as a social issue has ties to policy decisions on prostitution, alcohol, policing, narcotics, drones, and so on). Armed with this knowledge, players spend political capital to legislate as they see fit. The endgame is two-fold: keep the country on track and get re-elected.

Great, I thought to myself, I’m a political wonk and a data analyst by day – not to mention the fact that I’ve mostly figured out Crusader Kings II – this should be a walk in the park.

Hubris, thy name is Adam…or is it?

My attempts to run Canada in a socially progressive and Keynesian fashion led to ruin on two separate occasions. Play through one saw Canada’s GDP bottom out so badly that after ten turns (2.5 years in game time) I said “fuck it” and started again.

On my second play through I lasted thirteen turns before a Christian fundamentalist group assassinated me. I suppose that’s what I get for refusing to enact surveillance policies while investing in community policing.

Meanwhile, the policies I did support never seemed to earn the approval of the electorate, my cabinet ministers (upon whom my pool of political capital depends), or the private sector. While it’s possible that I’ve yet to discover the right way to finesse success out of this game, I’ve also noticed some problems that make me think Democracy is less a simulator and more a political statement on the part of the developers. For example, each time I’ve started the game as PM of Canada, I’ve come into office with ~20% popular support. I get that the developers are giving me a steep hill to climb, but that number doesn’t make sense. Nobody gets a majority government in Canada without at least ~40% popular support.

Then there’s the economy. Canada starts with a roughly 7 billion dollar quarterly defect and a national debt of a trillion dollars. On my second play through I shrunk the deficit with each turn, and then crushed it through the creation of a carbon tax (All for you Stéphane Dion). After two turns running a surplus budget, my global credit rating was downgraded to triple B.

Again, the game defies reason. Nations that are actively shrinking their deficit – an in-game deficit born of Democracy’s desire to replicate recent global economic trends i.e. Keynesian-style spending to offset a lack of market demand amid the global recession – don’t get their credit ratings knocked down. Pair that with an in-game recession as a seemingly fixed event, and I was as good as sunk. Interest payments on the debt became impossibly high at a time when GDP was falling independent of any of my policies. Since raising taxes during a recession is akin to economic suicide, my only option for addressing a spiralling deficit would have been to roll back the social policies which addressed widespread organized crime and unemployment. Because who needs employment policies when the economy is in the toilet?

All of this leads me to ask: is Democracy 3 actually Wargames. That is to say, is the only way to win at Democracy not to play? Or perhaps a better question, are the economic and ideological biases of the developers being marked out as the path to victory? Consider that when I raised taxes on mansions and very high income earners, I got hit with a brain drain. For a third time in as many hours the game didn’t make sense. Very high income earners don’t represent the bulk of knowledge workers. So is the game punishing me because I’ve made a poor policy choice, or because the developers think I’ve made a poor policy choice?

I can live with Democracy 3 if I’m not fully appreciating its complexity, but after a few hours, I fear that my lack of success might be due to the game disagreeing with my politics.

More on this as it develops.


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TV Review: Attack on Titan: Season 1

A few weeks ago I mused on Attack on Titan’s ability to mobilize the tropes of Neon Genesis Evangelion. Fun as it was to write a piece that walked the line between genuine commentary and tongue-in-cheek sniping, it didn’t really offer much in the way of a meaningful review. So after a small delay, I now present you with my review of Attack on Titan’s first season.

The story begins in the last remaining city on the planet. For more than a century, humanity has huddled within a kingdom built inside three concentric walls, safe from the Titans – a vicious race of giants that feed on humans. While the idea of monsters eating humans is nothing new, turning those monsters into dough bodied, smiling morons is something of a deviation from the norm.

With rare exception, the Titans have an almost childish look to them. Watching one grin like a toddler as they bite a person in half defines Attack on Titan as a unique take on the man vs monster trope. Unlike the Angels of Evangelion, whose threat is rooted in a supernatural narrative, the Titans are built upon the much simpler, but similarly effective, notion that there is always a bigger fish. When the series reveals that the Titans feed on humans purely out of blood lust, their innocent demeanor becomes all the more menacing. Consider that a zombie feeds on impulse, a Titan does it to revel in drinking blood, chewing  on man-meat, and then puking it all out when its belly gets too distended.

The series also boasts a sprawling cast. As the primary triad of Eren, Mikasa, and Armin go from raw cadets in the King’s army to members of the elite Scouting Legion, many secondary characters come and go, and most of those who go are eaten by Titans. Yet none of these characters ever feel like redshirts. They all have names, too many names to remember quite honestly, and their deaths inform the larger sense of hopelessness that underwrites the story.

As is the case with most anime that touches upon war, Attack on Titan is pretty direct, bordering on heavy handed, in its treatment of people in combat situations. With a century of Titan-free life as the backdrop, the majority of the kingdom’s military is woefully corrupt and/or incompetent. The first episode sees a member of the city guard drop his swords and run when faced with his first real Titan encounter. The prolonged peace makes even those with the best of intentions tremble before the prospect of real combat. During his first combat operation, Armin is paralyzed with fear after witnessing a Titan swat one of his comrades out of the air and eat him. These examples, however, are only the beginning.

The deeper Attack on Titan gets into humanity’s perpetually losing war with the Titans, the more those fighting the war grow discontent with their lot in life. Humanity’s army begins to look a lot like the Soviet army in World War Two, where Commissars with pistols stood behind the men and threatened immediate death in the face of probable death. All too often in anime we see the soldier archetype defined by their willingness to fight and die for the cause. While the Scouting Legion certainly embodies that principle, the mainstay of humanity’s military is cowardly and weak. This transition from individual weakness to the failings of the whole helps keep the writing from banging too hard on the drum of human misery, and adds a refreshing subversion of anime’s love for the selfless soldier.

Even though the first season is broken up into distinct story arcs, which in and of themselves do a great job of keeping a clear narrative focus for the larger story, the overall pacing of the series isn’t perfect. It’s not quite as bad a Dragonball, where five minutes of story time can take five episodes to unfold, but there are moments when I finished an episode, and wondered if they couldn’t have made better use of their time. Do we really need to spend five minutes focusing on Eren’s inner turmoil amid a battle? Broadly speaking, it’s great for character development, but it comes at the price of some episodes moving at break neck speed, and a few that tend to meander from start to finish.

All this amounts to a series that easily lends itself to binge watching, and then raging because the second season isn’t even in production. Anybody who liked Evangelion, will likely find Attack on Titan to be to their tastes. While I still have a few lingering critical questions that would require a closer re-watch – e.g. does this series actually pass either the Bechdel Test or the Mako Mori test? – I have no qualms about recommending this series for veteran anime fans and newcomers alike.


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Shadow Bound: The Web Series I’m Talking About…Tomorrow

It’s a shamelessly fast post for you tonight. Why? Certainly not because I’m horribly prepared and didn’t have a review ready for tonight. Not at all. Rather it’s because tomorrow evening I’m making my third appearance on the Limited Release Podcast. Hooray for being able to play nicely with others.

For those of you who don’t know, Limited Release is one of the finest review podcasts on the internet. Without sounding like too much of a suck-up, it is an absolute pleasure to be able to guest host again.

Bearing that in mind, and in the spirit of shameless self-promotion, I thought I would give you a taste of one of the web series I will be reviewing tomorrow night – which you won’t get to actually hear about until the episode gets released on iTunes sometime next week.

The series is called Shadow Bound. Not only is it an homage to the fiction of H.P. Lovecraft – absent the pesky racism gets in the way of really enjoying Lovecraft’s work – it’s shot as a silent period piece. Not to preempt my review, but it is one of the finest examples of what the web series is capable of doing. And I shudder to think how much time and effort went into the props and costumes for what amounts to a feature film in five acts.

Here’s the first episode, and I dare any fans of supernatural horror not to keep watching after this initial chapter.

 

And if you make it to episode three, sleep well tonight.

We’re back to the usual routine on Friday; wherein, I’ll either talk about Attack on Titan or offer another angry rant on Star Wars Episode VII: The Ancient Herp-Derp from the Outer Rim.


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NBC Cancels Community: Welcome to the #DarkestTimeline

Well, here we are again. It seems like every year I end up eulogizing Community, only to have it defy death and come back again – such as it was during the gas leak year. Alas, this year saw the final nail driven into the coffin of Greendale Community College. NBC has sent Community off to the remedial Spanish class in the sky. Instead of #SixSeasonsandaMovie, we got ninety-seven episodes, and most of them were good. And I think that’s okay.

That said, if you asked me how I felt about this on Friday, then you would have been treated to all the righteous indignation that I could muster.

How dare NBC cancel the smartest comedy on television?

Fuck the tasteless, classless, Republican rabble of middle America for their dominion over focus groups, test audiences, and a broken ratings system.

Why do we live in a world where the nerdspolitation of Big Bang Theory gets picked up for three seasons and Community gets cancelled in favour of America’s Fattest Fatties (aka The Biggest Loser)?

Sufficed to say, I was angry.

I know things end. I know nothing lasts forever (except Days of our Lives), and I know that ninety-seven episodes is about seventy-two more episodes than some NBC executives wanted to give Community after its first season. Be that as it may, until this morning I had a version of this post ready to go that was all fire and vitriol. Then I chanced upon Dan Harmon’s blog. Though his whole post on Community’s cancellation and potential future is worth reading, here are the two paragraphs that have Harmon speaking to fans about what they can do to help keep Greendale alive in the interim.

I honestly think you can totally sit back and relax for this chapter. I know you don’t feel relaxed but I mean you don’t have to worry that someone on this planet isn’t aware of this show’s value to its audience. There are actually astronauts on a space station right now saying “we get it, you love Community” in Chinese. You have done your thing.

If you want to know the God’s honest truth, part of my “eh” was coming from the unsettling thought of your passion for campaigns being once again exploited by this rather unfair, somewhat backward system, one that now treats you like it’s your responsibility to keep a show alive, like a corporation is doing you a favor by feeding you low grade opiate through a regulated tube. Like you owe them an apology when they can’t measure or monetize you to their satisfaction. You deserve better. I love you guys, and at its best, Community is me saying that over and over again, saying let’s get less mad at ourselves and each other and more mad at the inhuman systems that keep us down and divided. “Maybe it should have said less of that and more jokes.” Shut up, voice of my grade school principal that also coached and umpired softball because shrieking “steeeeeeerike” at children was his sole recourse to virility.

Ladies and gentlemen, Dan Harmon just gave us the Winger Speech to end all Winger Speeches.

One of the things that is most alienating about fandom is the fact that it so often seems like people screaming into the void. Business almost always trumps fan sentiment, yet fans yell in the hope that if they can harmonize all of their voices, things will change their way; as if there is some magic brown noise where audience outrage will trump lackluster ratings. I suppose the worst part is that every once in a while the screaming works, which then gives us all a sense of false hope for the next time something goes wrong. Sure, fan outrage brought Jericho back for a final season, but how did that work out for Stargates Atlantis and Universe? Fans still scream about Firefly, but a second season of that is probably never going to happen.

We scream because if the suits know just how much we love something, we can appeal to their humanity, and they’ll give us more of the thing that we built a community around. Except maybe there is no humanity in the entertainment industry, save for what Dan Harmon gave us on his blog: a few words to let us know that we have been heard.

Harmon’s words are validation to all of Community’s fans for the blog posts and rants to friends who are tired of hearing about the weird meta show that is television shoved up its own ass. As someone who did more than his fair share of crowing about Community’s genius, there is peace to be found in knowing that as part of the larger voice of Community fans, who from time to time took over Twitter with our hashtags and in-jokes, I was heard.

Community might be gone, but so long as there is Hulu, Netflix, and DVDs, its subversion of the entertainment industry and its commentary on the simplistic tropes of film and television – a commentary which, without trying to sell us anything, tells the audience that they deserve better than what is out there – will go on.

And I can live with that.


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The Essential RPG Etiquette

Photo By: Brandi Miller Art - http://brandimillerart.com/

If you read Wednesday’s post, you’ll know that I supported the kickstarter for Storium, an online RPG/communal story-telling game. On Thursday evening I signed into the Storium beta in search of my first adventure.  It took me five minutes to find a cyberpunk story in the “looking for group” phase.

The story’s narrator offered a setup that was straight out of Shadowrun. A group of miscreants get together for a data “smash and grab” robbery but then stumble into something much larger. Stoirum’s cyberpunk module offered a handful of character archetypes, most of which were pretty standard fare for anybody who knows the genre. I opted for the “company man.”

Enter Hiraku Boone, a company man born of a company family. The company was always a part of Boone’s life. He wanted nothing more than to get a job with the company and join the ranks of its executive. Ten years after starting his internship with the company, Boone secured a job as a senior data analyst; whereupon he began to notice irregularities. Though he couldn’t prove it, Boone knew that the marketing and sales data coming into the company was wrong. Someone on the inside was cooking the data before it got to Boone’s desk for analysis. His juniors were too inexperienced to see it. His supervisors assured him that they would look into the problem. Even Boone’s father, a Senior VP with the company, would hear nothing of his alarmist warnings. Unwilling to let the company that gave him everything fall to internal subversion, Boone joined up with the party to discover the truth of the data manipulation.

From where I sat, Boone seemed like a fun character. He could get the party into places they couldn’t get to on their own, but his actions would always have to be checked against a sense of loyalty to his employer. He could bend the rules, but he would always be working for the greater good. This moral code could even turn him into something of an antagonist depending on how the story ebbed and flowed. Maybe he would use the party as a means to an end before selling them out. Maybe he would come to realize he was working on the wrong side of history all along. Who knows?

I was confident that my character would be approved in short order. Instead, Boone was rejected outright. The narrator offered me the following justification.

“I don’t want upper class characters in this story.”

Well how very petty. And yes, I’m aware that somebody could accuse me of being equally petty for taking to my blog to write about a random person on the internet rejecting my character for an RPG. Boo hoo for Adam. But here’s the thing, there’s an etiquette to being the dungeon master/host/narrator. Said etiquette is as follows: the story does not belong to the dungeon master; it belongs to the people playing it.

If a DM is presented with something unusual, their job is to integrate that into the story – so long as the unusual thing isn’t completely out of line with the RPG. For example, a DM is well within their rights to say no to a person splitting the atom in a fantasy RPG. The unique quality of communal story telling is that so long as people are holding to the spirit of the world in question, the unusual and unexpected are what give a story legs to go on for months at a time.

In the case of Boone, a good dungeon master should put aside their preconceived notions of what the story ought to be (e.g. no affluent characters) and instead see what the group does with it. Failing that, a good DM would ask for revisions to the character – perhaps making him a former company man fallen on hard times.

Then again, I wasn’t yet part of the story, so maybe the narrator was well within his rights to tell me to sod off. However, if this is the attitude that a majority of narrators bring into Storium – the idea that their preconceived notions are at the forefront of the experience – then there are going to be a lot of players who get a sour taste from the game.


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Storium – What it is and Why I’m Backing its Kickstarter

Arguably, I’m rather late to the game with Storium. By the time this post goes live, Storium will have less than 24 hours to go in its fundraising campaign. Not to worry, though, Storium has already met and exceeded its initial fundraising goal by almost an order of magnitude.

So what’s so different about this game that I will make an exception to my general policy of not crowd funding computer games? First and foremost, it’s a narrative driven RPG system with source books written by some of the best genre writers in the business. The likes of Saladin Ahmed, Mur Lafferty, Chuck Wendig, Richard Dansky, Tobias Buckell, Karen Lord, and Ramez Naam, just to name a few, are contributing to the “worlds” that are at the core of the Storium experience. There’s also the fact that the game itself is being designed by Will Hindmarch, who worked on the Dragon Age RPG. That’s a whole lot of awesome all wrapped up in a single package.

This from Storium’s campaign.

Storium is a web-based online game that you play with friends. It works by turning writing into a multiplayer game. With just your computer, tablet, or smartphone, you can choose from a library of imaginary worlds to play in, or build your own. You create your story’s characters and decide what happens to them. You can tell any kind of story with Storium. The only limit is your imagination.

Storium uses familiar game concepts inspired by card games, role-playing games, video games, and more. In each Storium game, one player is the narrator, and everyone else takes on the role of a character in the story. The narrator creates dramatic challenges for the other players to overcome. In doing so, they move the story forward in a new direction. Everyone gets their turn at telling the story.

I don’t often find myself having a “Shut up and take my money” reaction to things, but how can any nerd, gamer, writer, or combination of the former not look at something like this and drool? It seems like all the fun of a tabletop role playing game, but with all the hard work being back loaded into the game engine. This scratches an RPG itch that I have begrudgingly ignored for years.

What really sells me on parting coin from hand is the beta availability for contributors. The fact that Storium has a working engine gives me sufficient confidence that the final product will be finished – even if there are delays. Show me a functioning work in progress that needs funding to make the final mile, and I’ll be much more inclined to support it over a project that is nothing but concept art and promotional copy. But enough of my editorial.

Storium: a game I want to play right the hell now, but in the eternal words of LeVar Burton, “Don’t take my word for it.” Here’s the link to Storium’s kickstarter.