Friday, July 03, 2015

(More of) The Gaming News

The trouble with reporting on what's going on stuff in gaming would be easy. But nooooooooo! You just mention one bit of news and another truckload shows up, including stuff you had learned earlier but just hadn't mentioned:

ITEM: In addition to the ENnies, GenCon also is the site of the Diana Jones award, which since 2001 has presented a Lucite-encased fragment of the Indiana Jones game to the game/person/thing that best embodies the spirit of excellence in the game industry, as determined by a shadowy, neefarious, and largely unknown committee. The short list of nominations has been published, including the massive Guide to Glorantha, which, by the way, I am still reading. No, really.

ITEM: The Ed Greenwood Group was established a which back with the idea of launching new worlds and concepts in a variety to mediums. This week  they unleashed a plethora of announcements on agreements with the Gamehole Convention in Madison, Twin Fire Productions, Dungeons and Dragons Under the Influence, ACD Distribution, and the latest incarnation of Amazing Stories,  Oh, did I mention they were working on their own RPG as well? Yeah, they're a pretty active group.

ITEM: Also I got to see this week Lester Smith's new d6xd6 Expanded Edition. In addition to simple, straightforward rules for roleplaying, the book contains a slew of new worlds, including concepts by a number of the Alliterates - Rob King, Doug Niles, Steve Winter, Steve Sullivan, and Matt Forbeck. Which is what happens when you drinking on a regular basis with other game designers - they all get together and decide to put on a show!

ITEM: Lastly, there is a generational nature to gaming. Tracy Hickman's son, Curtis has been working as the Chief Creative Officer on a new product called The Void, which is two parts Dream Park, two parts Matrix, two parts Lazertag and all wrapped up in virtual reality. Find out more about it here (oh, and Curtis has an interview on Australian TV here, and I am amazed he has a beard now).

More later,

Monday, June 29, 2015

The Gaming News

So I have been a wee bit busy this month, but I want to catch up a few things.

Lion's Arch gets a wedding area, then the Supreme Court rules on marriage.
First off, the NTRPG was real treat. A small convention with a very low Fan/Pro ratio (like ten of the former to one of the latter), it was a combination of an Old School Game Designer Reunion and a Small Relaxing Con. I ran events for the first time in many, many years, and people seemed to like it. Strongly recommended.

Also, I've been reducing my social media postings (but that's another blog for later), but my Facebook page blew up over an article on io9 over the original Marvel Super Heroes RPG that Steve Winter and I put together (cough, cough) thirty some years ago. Almost all the comments were supportive and it is very, very rewarding to see that the game has continued to be a fan favorite for low these many years.

And speaking of increased web presence, I was particularly pleased to see that Dave Gross's latest book, Lord of Runes, got a mention on Geeksmash as a recommended June reading. Given that shared world novels are often considered the children of a lesser god compared to more mainstream offerings, I'm delighted to see Dave's name invoked in the same article with Robert Charles Wilson and Vernor Vinge.

In other news involving fellow creatives, Nichole Lindroos, Chris Pramas and the gang at Green Ronin are re-launching Blue Rose with a Kickstarter. Blue Rose was a non-traditional traditional fantasy that puts more emphasis on epic romance than epic monster bashing. Yes, it is knocking down stretch goals like ten-pins, but still has a while to run. As a fan of multiple flavors of fantasy, I liked the original, and expect to like the new version, powered by the Dragon Age system.

And one more thing. The short list for the ENnie awards is out, and I'm glad to see a number of things that I have purchased and enjoyed being on that list, in particular the Hoard of the Dragon Queen adventure and the Guide to Glorantha megabooks. Check out the full list of nominees here.

And yes, I will be at GenCon this year. More about that later.

Monday, June 01, 2015

Texas Rising

This coming weekend,4-7 June, I will be attending the North Texas RPG Con at the DFW Airport Marriot in Fort Worth. It looks like a fun weekend of gaming, topped off with an all-star list of veteran game designers (about a half-dozen of them from Seattle, so it will be a weird flight). Yep, I know about the weather conditions there, but we're only just south of the airport, and there are no major rivers between the terminal and us.

See some of you there. More later,

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Your Moment of Zen

Weird how suddenly you think about a song from years and years ago.

More later,

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Fat City

I returned from Pittsburgh about a week ago, and am pleased to report that not only is it still there, but it is a better place to find parking than most of Seattle. In addition, the Steel city also has an increasing number of really good places to eat. But, alas, I must also report that I have done too much of the latter in recent months, such that I really need to shed a few pounds.

I must admit I am overweight, and have been for the past two decades (at least). The stylish photo to the right of this text shows me in my natural garb, but conceals an increasingly large waistline. I rarely button my overshirts, and get pants with elastic waistbands from Big Ed’s Hulking and Huge store. Still, I have not until this trip realized how far down the road I have gotten.

The first warning came from Rex Stout, through his creation Nero Wolfe. I’ve been reading the Wolfe detective novels in the Bantam series of the books, and the early one placed the corpulent hero at a seventh of a ton, or 285 pounds. Which was my fighting weight about 15 pounds ago. Yes, later (post-depression) books boosted the weight to tipping the scales at nearly 400, but still, when you state that this detective sat around the office, he sat around the office, you must give pause to realize he was lighter than I currently am.

Then the airline industry got into the act. Two of my four flights this trip required a seat belt extender, and for one I had to move my seat from the emergency row (because one cannot wear a seat belt extender in the emergency row - of course I checked later) and so I was packed off the back of the airplane, where a smaller seat with less leg-room was provided, but at least I could wear the extra four inches of fabric to keep me from leaving my seat during an emergency. (and mind you, two the four flights had sufficiently long belts, and they were on older planes, which can lead one to conclude the it was the belts that got shorter as opposed to my waistband longer, but still, I am apparently eating my way out of particular seat class).

And then there was the car rental. I have a long torso, so the Nissan line of mid-sized was out due the fact I would have to crouch to see through the windscreen. But to discover I could no longer slip behind the wheel of a Chevy Cruz was maddening. I pulled the seat all the way back and pushed the steering column up and still found I could not enter the car without using the Ryker Maneuver over the steering wheel. So that is another warning, and I fear I am going back to watching what I eat, and eating less of it.

Which is easier now than earlier, because Pittsburgh has a growing number of excellent places to eat. To wit – Andora on Mt Nebo Road is particularly nice, with a variety in house specials and, most important to the Lovely Bride, an excellent patio garden. Their shrimp bisque is very good. Mallorca on the East Carson Street, right at the end of the Birmingham Bridge, was a true delight and discovery, specializing in Spanish Cuisine (which is not Mexican, but really SPANISH). The prosciutto filled squid was excellent and the veal was tender enough to cut with the side of one’s fork (this is preferred, according to my sister-in-law in the restaurant business). And more on the workaday end, the Paradise Island Bowl on Neville island makes a darn good cheesesteak panini, and has a summertime patio from which you can enjoy the river.

But alas, all those pleasures must be put aside for a while, since I am now verging on the level that I will not be marketed to, and instead suffer a bit of economic fat-shaming. I should be grumpier about it, and will likely be so after a week on water and flerkorn from IKEA.

More later,

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Theatre: Blarney Stone The Crows

Outside Mulligar by John Patrick Shaneley, directed by Wilson Milam, Through May 17

What is it about Irish plays? Or rather, what is it about plays about the Irish? Plays about the English, the French, or the Americans all embrace differing groups or attitudes, but if the play is about the Irish, then the overstuffed cupboard door gives way and let all the tropes, archetypes, and stereotypes come flying out. Rural poverty. Drinking. Violence. Depression. Grand gestures. Oaths. Tempers. Family feuds. Superstition. Signs and voices. Religion. Self-destructive behavior of all types. It is like that when you choose to write about the Irish, you get a kit, and you're expected to use all the tropes in the kit.

I can see how it attracts, of course. The language can be eloquent, and an Irish lilt can make even asking for directions to the bus stop seem otherworldy. Initially, the words seem to come tumbling out at such a rate that you feel like you've grabbed onto a moving roller coaster, but soon the calluses in your eardrums build up and you can follow well enough. And one of the tropes of the Irish play is that its characters simultaneously speak their minds and hearts without thinking, plus are emotionally prickly enough to take offense at anything being said.

So, anyway, Outside Mulligar is a relatively simple comedy wrapped up in tropish Ireland, where no Blarney Stone goes unturned. The Muldoons and the Reillys have been neighbors and rivals for generations. At one point father Tony Reilly (Sean G. Griffin) sold the road access for his farm to the Muldoons, and this has been a burr in the saddle for Reilly and his son Anthony (M.J. Sieber) ever since. The passing of the Muldoon patriarch creates a chance to get the land back, first from Oeife (Kimberly King) and later from the surviving daughter Rosemary (Emily Chisholm).

Of course, nothing is that simple, being an Irish play, and there is a cascade of family secrets, lost loves, snarling arguments, misunderstandings, accidents, and incidents. Passions flicker on and off like erratic rural electrics, and despite modern references (the Chinese Olympics, modern farm machinery, in vitro fertilization), it still feels like we are but three steps from the Potato Famine. There is romance and happy ending, but the path is strewn with thorns, mostly planted by individuals who consider themselves unworthy in the first place.

And the reason it works at all is from the efforts of strong actors. Kimberly King as the hard-as-nails, romantic-at-heart Rosemary (another Irish trope) does most of the heavy lifting. M.J.Seiber has a harder road - he's simultaneously called upon to be sensitive and oafish in turns, committed to the land but harboring his own secret, which may only be comically revealed. He acquits himself, but it feels like he is dragged in multiple directions and while you want him to be happy by the end of the first act, and you similarly want to shake him until he rattles. Sean G. Griffin and Kimberly King are the parents who provide grounding for the entire operation and set up the fireworks in the second act between Rosemary and Anthony. All of them are REP vets, ranging from Glengarry Glen Ross (which sounds like an Irish Play, but isn't), to Pullman Porter Blues to Inspecting Carol. So kudos to a production that puts the Repertory concept to work at the REP.

It is all in all a good performance for an OK play, and pales only because there has been so much good material this season from the REP. The two monstrous LBJ plays loom large, and August Wilson stands out in any season he is presented. Yet Lizard Boy was every bit as good as The Piano Lesson, and The Vaudevillians was a tasty opening morsel that allows people to say they saw Jinx Monsoon just when she was hitting the big time. Outside Mullingar follows after these, and Dear Elizabeth after that. The weakest play was The Comparables, and even that would have been merely average in previous seasons. This has been the strongest season in years, and fitting testament to its Creative Direction, Jerry Manning, who passed on this year. Next year has its work cut out for it.

More later,

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Political Desk: Microtransactions

To the surprise of many King County residents, there is an election Tuesday. This is offest of the off-off-season elections, consisting of one main item (funding to replace the King County emergency radio network), but depending on your locality, there may something on transportation funds, schools, firefighting equipment, parks, or one case, an annexation.

The intent is good - we could really stand to upgrade the network and it makes things better for police, fire, EMTs, and other first responders.  But this sort of thing reminds me of nothing less than something in my own neck of the woods - microtransactions.

In games, in particular in tablet-games (Android, iPads), the current vogue is to give away the game for free, at the cost of the download and the fact that the manufacturer has some information on you. Then, you are offered small purchases within the game that cost real money (or more often, an in-game currency that is then purchased with real money).

There is a spectrum to how microtransactions are used - there are microtransactions which are cool-looking but do not directly affect game play (hats, special outfits, pets - fair warning, we do all of that in GW2), ranging to the point where to do almost anything in the game, or remain competitive with other players, you have to dish out some dosh (at which point I tend to walk away).

I'm thinking about microtransactions in this case because we have the baseline services of the community, paid for by a variety of taxes, service fees, guaranteed bonds and the like. And then something like THIS shows up, a good cause, good for the community, improves safety, and this improvement costs over and above the baseline.  And it is a good cause, because it is ALWAYS a good cause when they put this offering in front of us - I have yet to see proposition to, say, raise the mayor's pay or increase the number of county-owned vehicles. Because THOSE are covered in the budget, which we don't get to directly vote on.

But it is for a good cause. Such a good cause that the arguments against section in the voter's guide feels required to say "Of COURSE we need a new radio system". But then the "against" team worries that, should we tie this to the property tax, and then those property values drop, we would have to lay off first responders. Which sort of begs the questions of how these first responders are being paid in the first place, that they would otherwise be immune to reduced property taxes. Worse, the opposition team provides no alternative to the tax to raise funds for this.

And one more thing (who knew I would get so much mileage out of a single vote?). The "for" team has sent out fliers about how the original system was put in place in 1992, and as such is practically antique. Well enough, but the fliers also list the top five contributors to the campaign, and number one on the list is Motorola Solutions, which (you guessed it) makes radio systems for first responders.

Despite all this, I am still voting to Approve this tax hike, because, when it is all said and done, we really DO need to upgrade the system.I just want to be able to fund the salaries of the King County Councilpeople in the same way.

More later,