My Toy Story Story

So we turn the way-back machine to the summer of ’95. My friend Patrick and I went to see an early Saturday matinee of the film from a relatively new little studio called Pixar. We had both seen the short of the bouncing light along with “Tin Toy” before. It was the first weekend and the theatre was absolutely packed with children.

I think we were about 30 minutes in when a sense that something was off in the theatre struck me… I couldn’t put my finger on what it might be for another 20 minutes or so until I suddenly realized what it was. I’m a big fan of all forms of animation, be it Miyazaki or Disney or what-have-you I see it in the theatre, often at a matinee and kids, even the best behaved kids, make a lot of noise at the movies…

There was no sound from the audience; no sound at all. I mean, there was popcorn munching, and frequent laughter at appropriate moments, but otherwise, no sound from the kids. I turned and looked back into the darkened theatre and all I could see was little faces staring up in rapture, eyes wide open, mouths agape. The whole theatre was soundless, speechless, utterly captivated. I caught the eye of a few Moms and Dads and grinned. They grinned right back.

It was magical.

I’ll be damned if it didn’t happen again last Saturday afternoon.

Soundless, mouths agape.

Magic.

I love you, Pixar – thanks for my Father’s Day present.

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Published in: on June 20, 2010 at 4:33 PM  Leave a Comment  
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There Is No Plan B

So, like many scions of the 80s, I loved me some A-Team. I can’t say I was obsessive, but I did know the Intro by heart and secretly hoped that one day, maybe, I could hire the A-Team. To do what, I have no idea. Probably eliminate corrupt administrators at my school… not that the A-Team ever actually, you know, “eliminated” anybody…

So it is reasonable, I’ll go out on a limb here and say not very spoilery at all, to tell you that the A-Team does a 100% more eliminating in their new film than they did in their previous TV incarnation. The critics have been pretty squarely mixed, presently sporting a 52% at Rottentomatoes. Screw ’em. I had no expectations whatsoever – correspondingly, it was an absolute blast. Lots of them, in fact. Big damn explosions every 10 minutes or so like clockwork.

It was fun and I got my money’s worth.

Standout performance: Sharlto Copley. I thought he was awesome in District 9, but Holy S@#@! Keep an eye on that one, I predict a long and character-filled career for that man. He was absolutely flawless as Howling Mad Murdock, smoothly striding along the edge of Crazy-Like-A-Fox and believably genuinely having lost-the-plot.

Published in: on June 13, 2010 at 7:53 PM  Leave a Comment  
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So What Do We Do?

A question that, for my money, is not asked nearly enough by game designers: what do the player characters do in this game? A vibrant setting with lots of plot hooks is all well and good, but if players have no idea how their PCs are supposed to interact with the game world, the details become somewhat meaningless or worse actually cause a sort of paralysis that intimidates an inexperienced GM into not running the game.

Over on Gameplaywright Will threw out an interesting question about why Sci-fi games sell or fail to sell – but it is something that was brought up in the comments that really got me thinking. All of the successful science fiction games that I know of – whether they be hard science fiction or roving into science fantasy, invariably have a good framework that tells the Game Master what his PCs should be doing. This allows a GM to come up with adventures, or in a more open ended game, informs players of the sorts of things their characters could / should be doing so that they can drive the game forward.

So sci-fi framework examples:

Shadowrun – Groups of mercenaries act as covert deniable assets, performing “needful” tasks outside of the law for a wide variety of individuals / corporations.

Dark Heresy – Acolytes join the Inquisition’s shadow war against the forces of heresy – be they blasphemers, xenos, or the hounds of Chaos – in preservation of the cruel magnificence that is the Imperium.

Star Trek – Working for the Federation, you explore strange new worlds, seek out new life and new civilizations, and boldly go where no one has gone before.

Cyberpunk 2020 -As Shadowrun, but make certain you look cool while doing it.

Star Wars – A mismatched far-flung organization of rogues and dreamers must fight the Empire. (Or alternatively – Crush the Rebellion. Or Jedi Cops/Texas Rangers.)

Eclipse Phase – Groups of skilled individuals, each with their own talents, assemble in ad hoc teams working for a covert group called Firewall for the purpose of stopping catastrophic events known as “existential risks”, e.g. things bad enough to kill virtual immortals en masse.

Rogue Trader – As Star Trek. Append: “Working for yourselves.” and “Then exploit the shit out of them.”

After Dark Heresy came out, a fair number of people questioned me what we didn’t “just make a Warhammer 40K RPG” where you could play whatever you wanted from the 40K universe. The simple answer is there is no framework for a generic Warhammer 40K RPG. Groups of underhive scum don’t hang around with their off-duty Space Marine buddy.

Published in: on June 6, 2010 at 12:00 PM  Leave a Comment  
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