Cheap E-Gut Shots: Part 1

I hate cheap e-gut shots. What, you ask, is a cheap e-gut shot? Basically, anytime you are set up by a writer to have a emotional moment (typically negative) by using obvious or easy short cuts. This is lazy writing / designing and I abhor it with a passion, whether it happens in a book, a movie, a video game, or what-have-you.


Just about any horror / slasher flick ever made is chalk full of these. You put a character in a “dark and scary” place, you lower the volume on the creepy music, and after artificially wratcheding up the tension, out leaps the killer as the volume spikes! The audience jumps in horror!

No, actually – the audience jumped ’cause they got cheap e-gut shot. They’re startled, not actually frightened. Big, BIG difference.

Another standard cheap e-gut shot – any character introduced with the specific purpose of being likable / sympathetic, so that the audience will feel bad when he/she gets killed later on. This has a major caveat though – if a character serves a number of other purposes, e.g. the character is fully realized as a character, not as a one-note-dead-man-walking you are being suckered into liking, then while you may have been gut shot, it wasn’t cheap.

Great example off the top of my head: Aliens. Our introduction to the Colonial Marines is flawless in its execution, we get the feel for a number of different characters and though we know, we know, that most of them are going to die horribly, we still get to liking a number of them and feel bad as they fall one by one. He even introduces a little girl, normally a harbinger of easy sympathy and she turns out to be an awesome character, as well as part of Ripley’s character arc in yearning for the daughter she lost… Not cheap, masterful.

Admittedly, Cameron drew a bit on genre conventions and archetypes, but when you’ve only got two hours (approx) you’ve got to make every one count – which is why I tend to give movies more of a pass then books, or television, or video games, all of which have far more time in which to explore character nuance.

Published in: on February 19, 2011 at 10:44 PM  Leave a Comment  

Let it Rain…

…for this is the year (2011 that is) of the superhero flood. We have, let’s see, the Green Hornet, Priest, Thor, the Green Lantern, and Captain America. Technically we also have Kung Fu Panda 2 and for all I know, the Spiderman reboot. I think Nolan’s third Batman is slated for 2012, but seriously, lot o’ freaking superhero films.

I’ve been thinking about it because my friends at Green Ronin are soon to bust out their greatly anticipated Mutant & Masterminds 3rd edition, complementing their DC Heroes book, and Adamant has the glorious Icons in full swing.

Anywho, knowing the circles I run in lots of folks have been asking me what I think about all the superhero movies coming up this year. So am I looking forward to all of the above? Well, yes and no. I have mixed feelings on most of them, save one. I think Thor is going to kick ass, mainly because I’ve always liked Kenneth Branagh as both an actor and a director. Some of his Shakespeare adaptations have been a little self-indulgent, but in general I think he does good cinema. The fact that he has been a Thor fan since childhood is big icing on the cake. The newest Thor trailer looks amazing (I don’t give two shits that Heimdal is black – I literally didn’t even notice until it was directly pointed out to me) and Chris Hemsworth looks to be a knock-it-out-of-the-park casting decision for Thor.

And Sir Anthony Hopkins as Odin? Fucking A.

I go back and forth on the others – though Captain America’s direction, as homage more in the Indiana Jones style of movie – is a great choice and could really make that one stand out – as could Green Lantern’s decision to flat-out embrace the alien nature of the GL Corps.

We shall all get to see eventually…





Published in: on January 16, 2011 at 7:46 PM  Leave a Comment  

Well Hello 2011

I have such plans for you, oh yes I do.

Published in: on January 1, 2011 at 11:30 AM  Leave a Comment  

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  

Unconquered Indeed


OUT of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.


William Ernest Henley wrote “Invictus” which is Latin for “Unconquered” in 1875. His life was a long struggle against tuberculosis of the bone, for which he had one leg severed below the knee. His friend, Robert Louis Stevenson, based Long John Silver on Henley. He lost his daughter, Margaret, in 1894. She was 6. Her friend (and Henley’s) J.M. Barrie immortalized her in his book Peter Pan as the sickly little girl could not pronounce Barrie’s name, so she called him her “fwendy-wendy”.

I am the captain of my soul. Fuck’n a, Bill. Fuck’n A.

Published in: on May 3, 2010 at 3:38 AM  Leave a Comment