Monday, April 24, 2017

Live and In Stereo

This blog post is about audio tapes. I know it's a strange topic to pick, as I've not really discussed music here before, but it's mostly inspired by Guardians of the Galaxy and its "Awesome Mix". With the release of the second movie just a few days away, what better time to talk about Awesome Mixes, mix tapes and cassettes in general.

A few of my old tapes (yeah, very Goth) and my wife's old Walkman (that still works - mine died long ago)

This was also partly inspired by both my lovely wife deciding to sort out part of the spare room for her projects and stumbling across our boxes of audio tapes (and a couple of old personal stereos), and also by watching Th1rteen R3asons Why on Netflix - a series that stunned, shocked and left me in an emotional puddle on the floor. Before you complain and say "doesn't that glamorise suicide?" I'll stop you there and say I don't think it does. It's horrible, traumatic, but is getting people talking, and that's a good thing.

Anyway, this post isn't about Th1rteen R3asons Why. I may come to that in a later post.

This post is about audio tapes. Remember those? I do. Yes, I'm old. Audio tapes for me had double the use as not only where they a great way to record music, and even voice recordings, but they also held data for my old, trusty ZX Spectrum. Nothing quite like the old days of waiting thirty minutes for your game to load from the screeching sound of data transfer.

But Guardians of the Galaxy really made tapes popular again. Maybe the combination of that and Th1rteen R3asons will bring a new renaissance of tapes, just as vinyl is now the go-to media for real audiophiles?

Guardians of the Galaxy's Awesome Mix (vol 1) is the tape that Peter Quill's mother gives him before he is abducted from Earth. They're tunes his mother loves that she has selected for him, and so have an emotional resonance as well as being great choices of music.

At my day job, we decided to take this one step further. While I can't get my parents to make an Awesome Mix for me anymore, we decided we'd each try to create our own Awesome Mix. The rules were simple:

1) Select 12 songs that have an emotional meaning for you - remind you of your childhood, your parents/guardians/friends/family.
2) The first 11 must be songs that you listened to before you started buying your own music.
3) No duplicate artists.
4) Compile them into a list - an Awesome Mix - think carefully of the running order.
5) The final song on your Awesome Mix should be the first single you ever bought for yourself, not bought for you.
(That last rule is one I added, not everyone at my day job has stuck to that one)

There you go! Your very own Awesome Mix (vol 1).

So, without further ado, I present my own Awesome Mix for your audio enjoyment.

1) Jive Talkin' - The Bee Gees
May 1975 - RSO Records

My dad was a huge Bee Gees fan. He seemed to play them constantly in the house and in the car. Our old house had a "front room" which was only really for when the weather was good, but it was where dad had set up the record player and during the summer the big bay windows would open onto the tiny street outside and the Bee Gees would fill the air (probably to the annoyance of our neighbours).

2) The Chain - Fleetwood Mac
Feb 1977 - Warner Bros

I remember my sister saying to my dad, "Have you listened to Fleetwood Mac? They sound a bit like the Bee Gees and it's the music from Formula One?" My dad used to watch a lot of motor sport (hell, he used to watch a lot of sport), and I think this was my sister's way of getting him away from listening to the Bee Gees constantly. Thankfully, it worked. The Chain is still a work of genius (and it's no surprise that it appears on the official Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 Awesome Mix).

3) Nightflight to Venus - Boney M
July 1978 - Atlantic

My dad used to play the drums. Not professionally, but he was in the "work band" at the hospital where he worked as a nurse. I knew he played the keyboards a little, but I didn't realise his musical background until we found his piano qualifications from the London Academy of Music when we were clearing my parent's house.

Anyway, being a drummer, he loved this. Probably because it owes a lot to one of his favourite singles, "Dance with the Devil" by Cosy Powell.

So that gets an honourable mention, but isn't on my Awesome Mix.

I do have a distinct memory of going to a "do" that was being held at the hospital where he was working. A Christmas do or something like that. I can't remember. I just remember it being in a big hall, with a stage for a band, and dad letting me sit behind the drum kit - but I wasn't allowed to touch them. Last thing they needed was an out-of-tempo racket ruining their evening. It was so cool. Shame I can't drum very well (if my playing Rock Band is anything to go by).

4) Ruby, Don't Take Your Love To Town - Kenny Rogers
1969, Reprise Records

My mum had a bit of a liking of country music. Well, both of them did really. I remember them videoing the Country Music Awards every year so they could rewatch the good bits - not that I remember them actually watching the tapes. I remember my mum liked Kenny Rogers, and for some reason this one always stuck in my mind. While I preferred "The Gambler" myself, this one stuck in my head for the bit about taking his gun and shooting her. Even as a youngster that sounded shocking.

5) Do You Wanna Dance? - Barry Blue
1973, Bell Records

You're probably thinking "WHO?" In 1973, this guy had a few hits including Dancin' on a Saturday Night, and this one. It was very glam, very over the top. Dad had the album - I remember it had a weird label in the middle of the vinyl that looked odd when it was going around. I can't remember much more than that, but after researching this Awesome Mix I've had this song stuck in my head for two days...

6) (I Lost My Heart to a) Starship Trooper - Sarah Brightman & Hot Gossip
1978, Ariola Hansa

I was so obsessed with Star Wars when it came out, that I have a distinct memory of going to a department store with my parents and my dad deciding to buy a record. One of those compilation albums (long before the "NOW" series ever started). He picked out a few, and couldn't decide which one to go for and asked me to have a look. I knew a few of the tracks on them thanks to listening to the Top 40 on a Sunday evening, but Starship Trooper stood out as it was kinda sci-fi. So the album with that on it became the album of choice. This leads to the next one...

7) Denis - Blondie
1978, Chrysalis 

We put the aforementioned album on when we got home, and the first track on side 1 was "Denis" by Blondie. I can't remember what the second track was, but I remember my dad said that I'd picked the one with lots of punk on it, but he didn't mind the first one as his name was Denis, even spelled that way. And I would grow to be quite a fan of Blondie.

8) The Ballroom Blitz - The Sweet
1973, RCA

Not inspired by my parents' music choices this time. This one's thanks to my childhood friend from school who I'll just call Jinx incase he doesn't want to be named. Jinx was his nickname, though I don't think he liked it much. Jinx started with the whole "buying records" before me, and I remember going 'round to his house and him putting this on. I think his music tastes, and him buying singles, is what inspired me with my first music purchase, but that's a way off yet... Good choice of single, Jinx.

9) Misty Blue - Dorothy Moore
1975, Malaco

Not my usual music choice, but this one brings back fond memories of my dad. For some reason, he really wanted to listen to it, but he didn't know if he had it. Of course, I didn't know who sang it, dad proceeded to sing a bit of it for me, and I set to looking through all of his vinyl, every track on every compilation album looking for it for him. I don't think he had it in the end, but I know he always loved that song.

10) Tiger Feet - Mud
Jan 1974, RAK

Mum, however, liked her music a bit more up-tempo. While she couldn't dance due to her disability, she loved anything with a good beat that she could bop around to - and Tiger Feet by Mud was one of her favourites.

11) Summer Night City - ABBA
Sept 1978, Epic

As for choosing my own music, I do have a distinct memory of listening to ABBA (This was before I had my own music to choose from). My parents had a really cool "Best of ABBA" album (Greatest Hits Vol 2) and I remember listening to this on my folks' stereo in that front room. That was before I bought my own first single and everything changed.

12) Eighth Day - Hazel O'Connor
1980, A&M

Before this, I'd had a few records of my own that had been bought for me. I had a couple of singles (ELO, the Theme from Monkey, etc.) and a few albums (mostly Bond themes, Star Wars and War of the Worlds), but the first single I remember going out and buying for myself, with my own pocket money, is Eighth Day by Hazel O'Connor. Probably inspired by Jinx (who had Breaking Glass as an album if I remember correctly) and that music video that looked like Tron before Tron even happened (though I don't think I've ever seen the movie Breaking Glass)... It was epic, sci-fi, and unlike anything I'd ever heard before.


There you go. My Awesome Mix (Vol 1).

What would yours be? And what rules should constitute a Volume 2?

Until then, listen to music, dance, watch Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2, and enjoy.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Three Doors

There's a really cool track on the VAST album (Visual Audio Sensory Theater) called "Three Doors". It has been circling my head a lot these last few days, as I really do feel like I'm trying to pick a direction.


If you've been following my blog for any length of time you know I've been working for many years on WILD, an RPG of Dreamsharing. Open, untethered, and born from my love of Inception, Dreamscape, Paprika and The Matrix. I've been working on it off and on while doing other projects and its always bubbling away at the back of my mind, like a constantly spinning top locked away in a safe, in a house, in the city of my subconscious.

But I keep suffering from doubt, and also hearing tales of how horrible our hobby can be. Ignorant, vocal men, mostly. Threatening creators, posting abuse online. I'm sick of it.

I tried to voice some positivity years ago by creating RPGaDAY, trying to get people talking about the positive aspects of gaming. But I'm so ashamed of the abuse and discrimination in my hobby.

WILD Fiction

The door next to working on WILD is to concentrate on the fiction. For a NaNoWriMo many moons ago I wrote the first book of a trilogy, set in the WILD universe. A teenage school-leaver finds herself trapped in a nightmare she cannot wake from, while her father tries to create what will eventually become the dreamshare technology of the game to try to guide her back to the waking world. It was bizarre, a little personal, and weird thinking as my lead character - an eighteen year old girl facing the pressures of leaving school, going to university, her strained relationships with her parents and the betrayals of her friends.

Once again, doubt has reared its ugly head. Can I write fiction? Would anyone want to read it? What's the point?

And behind door number 3?

Something else?

My desire to write the Harry Potter RPG has never subsided. I know it's a mostly fruitless exercise, but there's that part of me that knows it's a good thing. It could be great for kids and adults alike, getting kids using their imaginations rather than staring at a screen. But while things seem to be more likely now than ever before, with the Fantastic Beasts - Cases from the Wizarding World game on iOS, as well as the forthcoming Harry Potter miniatures game, I'm still just a dreamer. A lone writer with no financial backing or big company to put the money where my mouth is.

I know how it could work, how it wouldn't even really be an RPG, and part of me just wants to write a good chunk of it, and digitally print a couple of copies to really show off what I have in mind. Send copies to WB and JK Rowling. But even then, I'm just me.

Besides, I'm sure there are already others out there who are working on it.


So at the moment, I'm standing there, like the guy in the stock photo above. Looking at the doors.

I had a birthday recently, and there's a big one coming up next year. Part of me is just thinking "You're too old for this crap" and there's another part of me shouting "Get it done! Do something before the next birthday. You have a year. Get off your ass!"

Well, I'm off my ass. I'm just lost looking for the right door.

Monday, April 3, 2017

He thrusts his fists against the (blog) posts...

...and still insists he sees the ghosts...

Pennywise illustration by Mark J Hiblen
(Illustrations of M J Hiblen)
Had weird dreams last night again. Clowns this time. I guess I shouldn't have watched the trailer for the remake of "IT" in the evening beforehand.

IT has long been an important book to me as it was the one that got me into reading for pleasure. Before IT I wasn't a reader at all. Sure, I bought a lot of books, mostly adaptations of movies that I'd seen at the cinema so I could replay the best bits long before we had a VHS player. But I recounted my experiences with IT before - how the cover used to stare at me at the tiny bookstore in my small hometown, how I became haunted by it and finally had to read it - in an earlier blogpost that also related my meeting the legendary Stephen King himself.

IT was one of those books that really resonated with me, mostly because I always felt like our D&D group was our version of the Losers Club. Not that I'm saying the rest of our group were losers, but (probably much like a lot of kids in school) I never felt like I fit in with the rest of the school. The D&D group was the one place I really felt at home and comfortable. School was always trying to avoid being bullied, struggling to get through the lessons, and failing to get the attention of that girl in your class who made your heart quicken but didn't even know you existed.

Our D&D group met two or three evenings a week, during the week, with games usually filling day and evening at the weekends. When most of the group disappeared off to Universities, leaving only two or three of us behind, the games dwindled, and real life kicked in - having to find work, etc. While I tried to get into game writing, I spent my time discovering reading for pleasure, with IT being the gateway drug of choice. Even though I was only 18-19, I was already nostalgic for the earlier days of gaming with the group, and the routine of school. What a messed up teen I must have been.

IT, and its Losers Club, really struck a chord with me - though the time period was a little off in the book to really hit home. Of course, that's something that has been rectified with the new movies, with the Losers Club taking place in the 1980s, rather than the 50s.

Of course, with the 80s being when I was a chubby, weird-looking, unliked teenager, the Netflix series "Stranger Things" really appealed to me too. I've just started watching it again, and its IT influence is obvious. Damn, that's just about a perfect series.

Illustration of The Demogorgon from Stranger Things
by Mark J Hiblen
(Illustrations of M J Hiblen)
Stranger Things was a brilliantly executed series that fed people of a certain age's nostalgia. The group of teens (again, united by their "outsider" status and playing D&D) were familiar to us, not only because of movies like ET, The Goonies and the like. But also because we were those teens. 

Of course, none of our RPG group were abducted by creatures from the Upside-down. At least, not to my knowledge.

But the IT trailer drew me back to a rewatch of Stranger Things, and I started wondering again about RPGs. Maybe Stranger Things is the perfect source for an RPG? I know there have been a few "fan created" RPGs or D&D supplements inspired by Stranger Things. And you could easily play Stranger Things using the rather awesome Little Fears, or the new Tales from the Loop RPGs. (Both highly recommended and inspired in their execution).

That train of thought, and April Fool's Day, reminded me of a couple of April Fools products I touted on here a few years ago (No, I didn't do an April Fools this year, as I know a lot of people who get pissed off by them). 

Cover for fake RPG I posted a few years ago
I posted about Ka-Tet, the RPG of Stephen King's The Dark Tower - I really did approach Stephen King's lawyers about that, but I think it must have been just as the movie rights were being finalised and it all came to a grinding halt. Of course, a Dark Tower RPG would have incorporated elements from most of his books, including IT, The Stand, Eyes of the Dragon, etc... That would have been amazing...

I also posted about Full of Secrets, the RPG of Twin Peaks. Though I never tried to get the license for that, it still would be cool. I do love Lynch, and Twin Peaks' return is only a couple of months away. Cannot wait!

But both of these are slightly nostalgic, and small town exploration. Sure, The Dark Tower has the potential to be epic fantasy with gunslingers, but a lot of King's work is set in small places like Derry, Castle Rock, etc. - King Country as I always call that area of Maine. Twin Peaks too is small town, supernatural elements... Much like Stranger Things' town of Hawkins. 

Maybe it's that urge to write about small town mysteries that's getting to me. I always liked the idea of having a setting (rather like Chaosium's awesome sourcebooks like Dunwich) which is filled with characters, secrets and plot-hooks. With a simple system, supernatural overtones, and a sense of the weird, you could easily do Stranger Things, IT or Twin Peaks. That's probably something that's really appealing about Tales from the Loop on top of its 80s setting.

Of course, this may just be my nostalgia kicking in again. Growing up in a small town, but living in a city for the last 20 years... Maybe I just feel the draw of a small town again. Get away from the cities, back to my roots. Small towns, full of mystery and secrets.


Sorry this post was a bit rambly and stream of consciousness. Normal service will be resumed soon. In the meantime, go read IT. Go watch Stranger Things if you haven't already (and if you have, why not rewatch it before season two in October?). Maybe rewatch Twin Peaks, ready for the long awaited third season in May?

Remember, the owls are not what they seem. 

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Hip to Be Square

I hope you'll endulge me this post, as I'm going to talk about a weird obsession I have - square books.

Weird huh? When I first decided to go it alone and start work on WILD, thinking "I want to make my own RPG that's about dreamsharing", before I'd even considered what kind of system I was going to use, I'd already determined that the book was going to be square.

Nobilis 2nd Edition - the "Great White Book"
Look at it. Isn't it glorious!!

I love square books. There aren't too many of them in the gaming hobby, from the amazing Mouse Guard, to the holy grail of RPGs - 2nd edition Nobilis. There's just something stylish and cool about them. 

Page example from 2nd Ed Nobilis
Two column with two quarter column asides.

From a design point of view, you get the wonders of having a two column layout just as you would with a traditionally shaped book, but you get a cool half-column that you can litter with sidebars, notes and other info, or just keep it clean. 

Sorry, the old-school graphic designer in me was clawing its way to the surface for a moment there.

I'd always imagined WILD to be my Nobilis - but I knew I wasn't smart or prolific enough to produce something as vast or wordy. In my head, it was going to be about the size of Wizards of the Coast's Star Wars RPG (Saga edition). The same width as a normal RPG book, but shorter to make it square. Cool! Also, it'd mean you wouldn't give yourself a hernia picking it up, as Nobilis 2nd edition has a tendency of doing if you approach it wrong.

Star Wars Saga Edition
Force Unleashed supplement
Not only had I a clear image in my head of how big the book would be, but I also knew what I wanted on the cover. I wanted it to be reversible, with a person on the front (originally intended to be the lead character for the WILD spin off fiction novels) wearing the dreamshare device, and her hair flowing out behind to become part of a swirling image of the many dreamworlds. The back cover would be the same image, only with her father hooked up to the machine (creator of the device, hoping to wake her from her coma-like persistent hypersomnia). You could approach the book both ways, with the back being the reference for the cards.

I'd even had the idea that you could put the whole thing in a slipcase that would also contain the Tarot cards, so on the shelf it'd be the same height as the rest of your books...

But I've been having a lot of ideas over the last couple of weeks. A LOT. And the more I think about it, the more that could work with WILD. No longer is it just a one-shot deal. A one-trick pony. It could work as a line

Rough design for the corebook cover -
please excuse the art, it's very small (10cm x 10cm)
and I haven't drawn in years!
With a book that details nightmares and night terrors - turning the game into more of a horror game.

Rough supplement cover design -
again, only 10cm x 10cm, sorry.
Another book that looks at other ways of accessing the dreamspace, some being able to do it without technology either by meditation, ritual or psychic ability. Organisations and groups using the dreamspace to manipulate others, and even control or eliminate elements of the waking world.

Supplement cover rough number three!
Maybe a book on the real world. The waking world. How does the technology impact on the real world and the dangers involved. Does society accept the tech, or does it get out of control and lead to a disaster like the flash-forward episodes of Joss Whedon's underrated series "Dollhouse"?
Supplement cover rough number four!
A book on the collective unconscious. The raw dreamspace that hides at the heart of the dreaming, where creatures of myth and archetypes lurk, hoping to ride their way to the surface, to break into the real world.

And, before I knew it, I was doodling the covers again. Rethinking the design, and realising that the covers could all join together, as well as be reversible. If only I knew how to draw...

How the covers could fit together. The fifth cover, of the collective unconscious
could lay over the middle, changing the dreamspace to a new image.

Who knows. I need to finish the first one to begin with. But we can dream, can't we?

"But what about the rest of it?"

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Wildly did my mind wander...

Taking time away from everything, letting the mind rest, thoughts of that game keep coming back to me. It's the burden of a creative mind, at least that's what I've read. That need to work on something, to get it out there. If you've followed my blog, or know me at all, you know that I've been working on WILD for many years now - tinkering away in the quiet moments.

Well, I've been thinking about it again. Coming back to it after some time away has made me question some of my initial choices, and it's going to take some work, some thought, and maybe some changes. Nothing major or drastic, but a few tweaks to some of the cards of the Tarot, changing the names of some things, and I can get back to where I was.

The playtest roughs, nowhere near final artwork

The horrible thought that dawned on me just after Christmas was that I had been working on WILD on and off for five years. I'd hate for it to become one of those great unfinished projects.

I'm not going to over-do it. I'm not going to stress myself into illness again, but I'm certainly going to chip away at it with a little more determination. One day I'll get it finished. One day...

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Bryan Fuller-ing

Before we start, I just want to say I'm a big fan of Bryan Fuller, and I hope he doesn't mind that I've verbified his name for the purpose of what I have to say in this blog post. Bryan Fuller has made some amazing TV, including one of my favourites - Hannibal. I struggle to think of a more beautifully filmed, scripted and crafted series. It is simply gorgeous - if not one to watch while you're having your tea.

Bryan Fuller, as you probably know, got his start by being a huge fan of Star Trek. Back in the 90's, when Star Trek was producing multiple series as well as the movies, they had an open door policy where you could submit a script. This almost unheard-of process gave us a whole host of brilliant writers who have gone on to do wonderful things. Fuller, of course, went on to fantastic series like Dead Like Me, Wonderfalls, and the eagerly awaited adaptation of Gaiman's American Gods

Last year it was announced that he'd be showrunner on the new Star Trek series - Star Trek: Discovery, and fandom screamed and shouted for this was a genius move on behalf of CBS. Unfortunately, production has taken its time, and scheduling has meant that he's had to back out of Star Trek: Discovery completely. Speaking to Newsweek he said:

"Ultimately, with my responsibilities [elsewhere], I could not do what CBS needed to have done in the time they needed it done for Star Trek. It felt like it was best for me to focus on landing the plane with American Gods and making sure that was delivered in as elegant and sophisticated a fashion as I could possibly do."

Basically, he's defined how the series is, helped write the first couple of episodes, and he's had to pull out. It's not that he doesn't still love Star Trek, but circumstances beyond his control has meant that he's had to reassess the situation and pull out of the project.

I think you're starting to see where I'm going with this now.

Last year it was announced that Modiphius would be producing a new Star Trek roleplaying game, called Star Trek Adventures

In actuality, I knew about this a long time before as I had been involved since almost the second that the license with CBS was signed. I've known Chris at Modiphius a long time, and he was instrumental in getting the Doctor Who license for us when Cubicle 7 approached the BBC. Chris had seen my blog post many, many moons ago where I was ranting about how there isn't a Star Trek RPG, how I'd do it, and so on, and knew I was the person to ask to get involved. 

I, of course, leapt at the chance. Remember that time I was asked to write for Wil Wheaton's Titansgrave and turned it down? If someone asks if you're a God you say YES! So I did.

Modiphius, and Chris, were brilliant. They accommodated my day-job, and set me to work thinking how to adapt their house system, the 2D20 system, to suit Star Trek. Not only was I "lead writer" they had me consulting on artwork, how the miniatures looked, how the game would work, what supplements should be produced... everything. It was awesome. 

However, (and you knew it was coming) working two jobs, filling every waking hour with one job or another, was a bit too ambitious for me. When Christmas in retail came, along with a death in the family, I started to realise that something was going wrong. I wasn't sleeping, my health was suffering. I was breaking out in a rash, getting irritable with everyone, snapping and being just a misery to interact with. I couldn't concentrate on anything for more than ten minutes, and the docs pointed the finger at stress. I had to do something.

My last few posts have been about taking a "time out" from the world. Cutting back on everything for the sake of my health and sanity. Unfortunately, one of those things that I've had to cut was Star Trek Adventures

So, that's where the "Bryan Fuller-ing" comes from. I'm having to pull out of Star Trek Adventures. It doesn't mean I don't love Star Trek, and I have tremendous faith in the game. The vast team who are working on it are doing a fantastic job, and the line developer is doing a brilliant job of coordinating the various arms of Starfleet as they work on every aspect of the game - from the main RPG, to the Living Campaign, the miniatures, and the various supplements. 

It is going to be brilliant. 

Much like Bryan Fuller's input on Star Trek Discovery, there is a lot of me still in the game - the tone of voice, the "skills", freeing up the links between skills and attributes in a true IDIC-way, and the way the game is structured. Even the planned special editions are inspired by some of my suggestions. And, again like Bryan Fuller, I've penned a portion of the project, but alas I'm having to step away and reassess things.

I doubted myself, as you'd expect. I thought I was making a terrible mistake. But in the weeks since I made the decision, the stress is dissipating. My concentration is back - I'm able to sit through a whole episode of a TV without getting distracted. The skin is clearing up, and I'm sleeping better (when the cat lets me). 

If it's a choice between Star Trek and my health, then I'd have to listen to Spock and "Peace and Long Life". I'm sorry it has had to come to this, and I do feel like I've let Modiphius down, but if I'd have stayed on board my lack of concentration could have put the game at risk, and the project needed someone who could dedicate their time to making it the awesome game it will become. 

Keep up to date with Star Trek Adventures at - it's going to be great. 

Until next post, I'm going to watch some great TV, await American Gods, and put my head in order. Maybe book some time on Riza... Maybe, just maybe, in the future, if Starfleet will have me and when I'm fit to serve, I can rejoin their ranks in a lesser capacity.

Live Long and Prosper.


Monday, February 20, 2017

Back to Back to the Future

Taking time away from the noise, away from overstretching the mind, is difficult. Especially when you have periods of time where your mind can do little but wander. Standing on patrol in my dayjob, I found myself thinking about Back to the Future

That epic poster!
I miss the Eighties. Sure I was a nerdy teenager, full of desperation and angst. Stumbling through school, playing far too much D&D, and sitting in my room hunched over a ZX Spectrum.

I used to get obsessed with things far too easily. I loved Star Wars and everything that went with it. Was obsessed by Tron. No surprises there I suppose. However, one thing I was obsessed by in my teens that you may not know was Back to the Future

It's weird looking back. In this age when trailer and film posters just about give you the whole movie on a plate, Back to the Future was an enigma. The poster, that iconic Drew Struzan poster, gave nothing away. The trailers were really vague. But there was something about the wording of the title that got you interested. And it was that guy from Family Ties, so it had to be okay.

I mean, that was the only trailer I saw. It was cool, ambiguous and slick. Had me intrigued!

After the film I wasn't much better. Sure I was fourteen and too old for that nonsense but it didn't stop me from collecting the stickers (only one short of the album). I still have it somewhere, with that one missing sticker that even Panini couldn't supply direct as all the Michael J Fox fangirls had bought them all and stuck them on their exercise books at school.

When the VHS came out it was surprisingly cheap, unlike some of the other movies I was sad enough to save up to buy as a rental version - (I'm looking at you Ghostbusters and Temple of Doom). 

Rewatching the film I became fascinated by a shadow that goes across a sign at the Twin Pines Mall car park at the beginning and I started formulating theories that it was Marty coming back and witnessing the events again, even though the mall's name had changed indicating it was a new timeline...

But, hey. I was young. It was before the internet. It kept me quiet. It still is an awesome movie, and for a socially awkward teenager it proved that someone as awkward as me (George McFly) could find the girl of his dreams.

The lame cover I made for my
Ghostbusters adventure
"Back to Transylvania"
When I started trying to get into game writing, Back to the Future loomed in my head again. I had already submitted one adventure for Ghostbusters that drew upon Weird Science and being frightened by a yoghurt in my youth. 

My next attempt at writing for West End Games would be influenced by Back to the Future, Dracula and Moonlighting. As you can imagine, it didn't see light of day...

Why now to write a blog post about Back to the Future? Not entirely sure. I was at my dayjob, patrolling and keeping an eye on things in the shop, and standing next to the Back to the Future merchandise. I started thinking about RPGing BTTF and thinking about how the DeLorean would work using the Doctor Who RPG rules.

Thinking about it, the DeLorean DMC-12 Time Machine isn't too complicated as a gadget. The basic one from BTTF has Vortex (Special Trait - 8pts) as it can travel through time, but it probably has a Rare Fuel (Bad Trait - 2pts) to make it a little cheaper as it requires plutonium (or that lightning strike) to power it, and Frozen Hull (Bad Trait - 1pt) for it emerging from travel frozen up and covered in ice. It'll be up to the Gamemaster if the DeLorean actually travels through the Vortex, or does the film-like instant time-jump. It'd have 5 Story Points.

Of course, the later model loses the Rare Fuel Bad Trait, and gains Flight (Major Good Trait - 2pts). It'd probably have 9 Story Points.

Then I started thinking about Back to the Future as an RPG. You could have Doc and Marty going off on loads of adventures a bit like TV series. Remember there was a TV series of Back to the Future?

Doc could create weird new devices and things could go wrong and they could... oh... oh wait...

I just realised I've started thinking of a Rick and Morty RPG and have to stop myself.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

SING review

Before I decided I needed a hiatus from the internet, I was offered the opportunity to attend a review screening of a new animated film called SING. The film opens this weekend, but the review screening was months ago, before Christmas, as the film had already hit cinema screens in the US.

I have to confess, it's not my cup of tea, but I knew just the person who would be keen to see it - a colleague of mine from the dayjob who not only is a huge Matthew McConaughey fan, but also has a daughter who is the perfect age for this movie. Having these tickets to hand, I thought she'd love to see the film in advance, and in return I'd get a review written (so that I didn't have to!)

So, without further ado, Maz's review of SING!


A failing theatre owner decides to put on a singing talent show in an attempt to save his business. Auditions are held and contestants are chosen. Each contestant has as many of their own problems as the theatre owner, Buster Moon. All the characters are anthropomorphic animals, which makes Sing fun. I mean, a singing snail is funny!  Dancing bunnies, punk rock porcupines and gangster gorillas are also in there. Coming together in the hope of winning cash to solve their personal problems these animals find friendship, love and support. What came across most was a passion for singing, showing how music positively affects different lives. The soundtrack is a wonderful eclectic mix including Queen and Stevie Wonder which works very well.

The direction of the film is also great; the fast movement through the city gives it a live action feel at times. The cast is fantastic with Matthew McConnaughey's optimistic koala, Buster, Reese Witherspoon's singing, housewife pig, Rosita and Seth McFarlane's crooner mouse, Mike. 

Both myself and my 12 year old enjoyed Sing throughout, it's not going to change the world but it's a lovely uplifting film which touches on many human issues such as shyness, family ties and heartbreak. If only X Factor showed us as much talent, passion and fun as these animals in the world of Sing.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

A Minute to Breathe

I once met a woman who wasn't there.
I followed her down to the pit of despair. 
She was not evil, she was kind. 
It was not her, but me who was blind.

I had a moment of revelation today. Continuing from my previous post about needing to take a "time out from the world", I've been cutting down on my commitments, taking time away from the internet, and trying to get my head into a better place.

Today, I started watching "Falling Water". Properly. I posted about the series back on the 7th October and I used words like "VERY slow" and said it was probably going to get cancelled. But if anything, this is indicative of my mental state. Back in October I was obviously doing too much. This was at the start of the build up to Christmas in retail (ug), as well as working seven days a week in two jobs.

I couldn't concentrate on anything. I had the attention span of about ten minutes before I got bored and needed to try something else, check the internet, see if there were any more bloody messages on that app, check my emails, make some notes or something. I couldn't focus, I couldn't see the end of the week. I was unable to sleep, felt tired all the time, constantly catching colds, being quick tempered and irritable with everyone.

Today, thanks to the complete season one of Falling Water making its appearance on Amazon Prime, and thanks to the trial month, I gave the series another go. I'd only watched the pilot before, feeling my interest drifting away every five minutes. Now, trying it again, not only is it a revelation - a whole host of ideas for WILD firing off in my brain in a good way, but it really has shown me what my mental state was like just a few months ago.

In the last few weeks I've made big decisions, taken a step back from things, and trying to give my head time to get back into a normal space. I'm still a way from getting 100% - I still worry about everything, still have times when I can't sleep, but I can feel things easing slightly and that things should ease more in the future.

I've been really enjoying the series too. I'm only four episodes in, but loving every moment of it. And being able to sit, and watch a series without feeling super-twitchy and distracted, has been a delight. 

I'll be continuing to cut back on things, giving myself a minute to breathe more often, before it all gets too much. Remember to do it yourself. Watch this video, listen to the wonders of Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, and give yourself a minute to breathe.

Stay safe, and look after you and yours.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Time Out from the World

I've been quiet recently.

Finding it hard to concentrate on things, to keep my attention focused. Hell, it's hard to sleep. Dreams filled with work, work, worries and more work. I woke this morning after a dream of struggling to find something for work.

And then, I had a revelation. An epiphany of sorts. I've seen what I need to do. I need to disconnect. To take a time out from the world - to quote Goldfrapp. I realised where I had been going wrong all these many years. I've been trying to be something I'm not.

I'm not a film reviewer. I've dabbled in it, used to blog for the SyFy Channel's site back when it had blogs, but it's all just marketing movies and TV series that are being covered by every other site out there anyway. I loved going to the press conferences and screenings in London, but it's all at my expense and funds are tight at the moment. So I'm going to withdraw from that for a while. If I see something I really like, I'll write something about it, but it has to be a personal connection. You'll have noticed that in my past film reviews, I've tried to make it about how it made me feel - rather than a review of the film.

I'm not a Youtuber. I've dabbled in that too. Wrote a webseries, hosted some vidblogging events. I mean, let's face it, what's the point? I'm not hip, young or attractive, so it's hard to get casual viewers. And no one really cares. The one thing I've done on Youtube that I'm happy with was launching #RPGaDAY. Trying to get people talking in a positive way about gaming. I doubt I'll be doing that again this year, and #RPGaDAY is in very capable and safe hands with Anthony Boyd and the RPGBrigade. They'll keep it going and spread the spirit of what it's about far and wide. Thank you Brigaders.

I'm not a famous game designer. Sure I've worked on a lot of books, and designed the system that's used for the Doctor Who RPG. But in the end, I'm just some guy who played a lot of RPGs as a kid, and wrote a bit, but my dayjob is a normal retail one. I'm not famous. I'm not hugely successful. I'm not a "bankable name". I'm not making huge amounts of money out of it.

I need to reassess everything.

I need to get away from Facebook, Twitter, and all that nonsense. I need some "me" time.

Maybe it's a sign of my age, or our surroundings. The desire to pack up, move to the middle of nowhere with the wife and cat, and hide from the world is pretty strong at the moment.

Maybe it's the emotional punch of another family funeral this year, putting everything into context.

Maybe I'm just having a midlife crisis.

Sorry if I'm quiet. Sorry if I'm going to continue being quiet for the time being. I just need to get my head in a better place.

Meanwhile, may I take this opportunity to wish you all a better 2017.

Peace and Long Life.


Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Staying up late to catch a Fantastic Beast

Last Thursday night we did the crazy and exhausting thing that every true fan does, and we went to the midnight opening first screening of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them at the IMAX. We'd already seen the first ten minutes thanks to attending the amazing Fan Event last month, but the movie continues to be a delight for fans of JK Rowling's Wizarding World.

You probably know what the story is by now - Newt Scamander, magizoologist, arrives in New York by ship (thinking about it, you can only apparate so far without risk, and portkeys have a nasty habit of making you sick... maybe a portkey would have affected the animals in the case too). He has a TARDIS-like suitcase storing many fantastic beasts, and some escape when his case gets muddled with budding baker/muggle, sorry - no-maj, Jacob Kowalski. The chase is on to recapture the beasts before they are harmed.

Simple huh?

Minor Spoilers follow... so shhhhhh...

No. Not simple at all. Behind this is not only the underlying threat of Gellert Grindelwald, the dark wizard that fought to undo the International Statute of Secrecy protecting the wizarding world from muggles (and vice-versa), but also the threat of a different kind of "beast" that is terrorising New York.

As expected, I loved the film. Great stuff, though very, very different from what you could have expected. It really does feel like the start of a much longer story (which will be told over the next four movies) and it doesn't follow the predictable Hollywood structure. Things happen because they have to, not because it follows a three act structure or "set pieces". It's a little jarring at first, but refreshing in the end.

At first I was unsure about the casting of Eddie Redmayne, especially as it felt in the trailers that he was going to be mumbling a lot through the film, but when you actually watch it it all makes perfect sense. He's quiet, introspective, shy, and (much like someone who spends all of his time with animals) rarely makes eye contact. He's determined to save lives, both the creatures he's protecting, and everyone around him - even the villain(s) of the piece.

It has some seriously dark moments too. With the major monster of the movie being the way humans treat things they don't understand, you can expect some dark turns. Not only that, MACUSA (the US equivalent of the Ministry of Magic) is super-paranoid about creatures, and exposure to the muggles. A bit of a comment about gun registration with the need for wizards to have a license to carry a wand. Hmmm... But also, a nasty bit about capital punishment as well, with MACUSA's equivalent of the gas chamber, where wizards are executed in a "death cell" - but it's okay, because they'll take your nice memories out of your head and put them in the pool that'll kill you and you'll be happy to go and see all those nice memories again. As I said... DARK!

We're already planning a second trip to see it, so we can take in the extra details that we missed the first time around (mostly due to it being the early hours of the morning).


On top of that, the few free moments I've had recently have been spent playing a little free app (available on Android and iOS) called Fantastic Beasts Cases from the Wizarding World. A new game approved by JK Rowling where you play an investigator for the Ministry of Magic's Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures.

You partner with Mathilda Grimblehawk and go around locations trying to solve mysteries that involve beasts. It's a basic "find the object" game, with timers, mirrored levels, spot the difference, and more. It's horribly addictive.


What with that, and the announcement of a new Harry Potter Miniatures game coming next year from Knight Models...

Looks like I should brush off that pitch for a Harry Potter RPG again...  one day... one day...

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Strange Days Indeed

The Doctor will see you now.

Doctor Strange, the latest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies, opened in the UK today.

I've been fan and a reader of Doctor Strange for years, so I've been looking forward to this movie for a while. My first comics as a kid, before the realms of 2000AD even, was a British title called Super Spider-Man and the Titans. It was a Brit reprint of a number of Marvel titles, printed landscape - a double page spread each side, so four pages of US comic across when open - and in black and white. I was a massive Spider-Man nerd as a kid, but it didn't stop me reading all of the contents of this title.

Inside was the continuing stories of Spidey, just at the time when it was amazing - the death of Gwen Stacey, the Green Goblin, the Spider-mobile, and yet another attempt by Doc Ock to marry Aunt May. I loved it.

Also inside this weekly was pages of Thor, Captain America, and tucked away at the back was Doctor Strange, master of the mystic arts.

UK Marvel reprint comic "Super Spider-man and the Titans" 1976

At this time in the 70's, Doctor Strange was... well, strange to say the least. It was right in the middle of what most Marvel fans would consider the peak of Strange's run, and it was certainly the coolest art I'd ever seen. I don't know how "current" the issues being reprinted were in the UK, but at this time in the 70's, Super Spider-Man and the Titans was printing the Strange stories illustrated by the legendary Gene Colan.

Much like the art of Spider-man at that time, the artwork in black and white was glorious. If anything, the colour may have ruined it. John Romita Sr.'s Spidey was amazing and the definitive Peter Parker for me. Gene Colan's Doctor Strange was astounding but freaky as hell.

There have always been scary images that freaked me out as a kid. I was always a bit sensitive like that. The cover of IT. The Doctor Who annual 1977 with its weird art. And the sequence of Doctor Strange when he's off in the astral plane, in a weird dream sequence where his head pops off like a wax dummy and bounces down the stairs. Totally freaked out.

It was one of those things were you're a little wigged, but you can't stop looking at it. I wasn't entirely sure what the hell was going on, but it was mesmerising.

Of course, time passed. I grew. Moved on to 2000AD, Starlord, Tornado, then discovered Sandman and Shade: The Changing Man, Watchmen, etc... But that's another story.

Fast forward a bit to the mid 90's, and my future wife says that she's a big fan of Cloak and Dagger. She has the entire run of Strange Tales featuring Cloak and Dagger / Doctor Strange and I had some time on my hands after finishing art college. I blasted through every issue. Excellent!!

But again, things went quiet for me on the Strange front. Thankfully, it has returned recently with the art of one of my favourite artists, Chris Bachalo. (Been a fan of his since his work on my fave comic of all time - Shade: The Changing Man). And awesome stuff it is too.

Anyway, you didn't want to hear about my comic history, you wanted to know if the Doctor Strange movie is good.


To cut to the chase - yes. It is. Very good.

The movie follows the story of the comic fairly faithfully. Strange is a neurosurgeon, and a brilliant one. Problem is, he knows it. He's arrogant, self centred, and over confident. He's smug, rich and career-focused. When he is busy looking at his phone while driving (let that be a lesson to you all), he piles his car up and in the accident his hands are crushed. Countless surgeries and all of Strange's money later, he still can't stop the shakes from the nerve damage.

Just like the comics, his desperation to get his old life back takes him East, where he is taken in by The Ancient One where he learns that opening his mind can lead to a kind of spiritual healing that will give him his hands, but also open up the realms of magic and sorcery. And when the Ancient One opens it up, you get some of the trippiest and weirdest visuals you'll ever see.

There's the inevitable villain, played by Mads Mikkelsen (who, in my opinion, gave us the greatest Bond villain, and the coolest Hannibal Lecter ever) and various levels of training and events that gives Doctor Strange his abilities, his cloak of levitation, the Eye of Agamotto, and the Sanctum Sanctorum.

In fact, if you look at it from a distance, it really does play out through the expected beats of an origin story, and it doesn't really surprise. What does surprise is how well such a basic story is presented.

Scott Derrickson, the director of Doctor Strange, is best known for his horror work (Deliver Us From Evil, Exorcism of Emily Rose and one of the scariest movies I've ever seen, Sinister). It's rumoured Dan Harmon was brought on to lighten the tone of what could have been a very dark movie. The humour is pretty good too, showing that Marvel really know how to make an entertaining superhero movie with thrills, scares and light moments - not getting mired in the gloom.

Visually, the movie is stunning. Taking inspiration from Steve Ditko's original art, and movies like The Matrix and Inception, the world twists and bends, folds in on itself and changes orientation in a fluid and mindboggling way that is very cool but is never too confusing. It looks massively complex, but you still understand what's going on.

Being a Strange fan from my childhood, I never thought I'd ever see a fight on the astral plane, or the Dark Dimension on screen, so this is a dream come true. Cumberbatch is great, with his best Hugh Laurie doctor accent, and the rest of the cast are just as cool. Of course, Rachel McAdams is severely underused - something we can hope will be rectified next Strange movie. C'mon, Marvel. You can do better than that.

On the whole, great stuff. I'd have liked more, though. It's just under two hours long, and when the final fight comes, you don't really expect it to be the "final fight".

Not the best of Marvel (my faves still are Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy) but still a great, great movie.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Fantastic Beasts Fan Event (and Where to Find Us)

You're probably well aware by now by my posts about the regular visits to the Warner Bros. Studio Tour: The Making of Harry Potter, and my numerous posts about how and why a Harry Potter RPG would be a great thing, that the wife and I may be a little obsessed with JK Rowling's Wizarding World.

Just because you're allowed to do magic now doesn't mean you can whip your wands out for every tiny thing!
(Me and Debs in the queue - any excuse to wear the Hogwarts robes)

Press interviews the group at the
front of the queue
Last week we were lucky enough to be invited to the Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them "Fan Event" in London, at the Cineworld Empire in Leicester Square. It was one of those things that they advertise on the film's social media pages - they get you to sign up for updates and you never really expect to get tickets. But, miracle of miracles, we had the email saying we had tickets reserved for us, and we hurriedly set about booking the necessary time off of work to make a quick trip to London.

We got there in plenty of time, but considering the event we were surprised to be about fifth in the queue with only a couple of hours to waste before they started letting in. Security was high, but the press presence was even higher, with them targeting all those who had made an effort to dress up for the night (as suggested on the invitation). We were interviewed by Sky News Germany, a website for Japan, and Good Morning Britain where our bemused and startled mugs graced the TV screens across the country the following morning.

Then, the doors opened and we were let in. Checking our names off of a list, we were given our tickets and had a UV mark made on our hands. Then it was into the entranceway to take in the cool decorations they'd done. Astounding considering they weren't even showing the film, just a few bits of it.

In the main hall, we handed our tickets over to get a specially produced Newt wand, and an even more special silver foil bag. That would be an essential item later... the drinks stands had been decorated with wanted posters of the cast, and there was a couple of booths where you could wave a wand and make a video of yourself doing magic effects.

Also on display were the costumes as worn by the cast for the film. We had just enough time to take in the sights before the doors opened to the auditorium and we were let in. A quick check of the UV marks on our hands, and double checking we had a silver bag each, and we were let into Cineworld's IMAX screen. 

Costumes as worn by the cast!
Once inside there was the decision of where to sit. We knew we were there to see footage from the film, but that was purely secondary. I mean, let's face it - we're going to see the film when it comes out anyway. Possibly more than once. No. The important thing is getting to sit at the front to get a good view for the interviews with the actors. 

We managed to get seats on the front row, to the side. It was only when we really settled into our seats and looked around we noticed that we were near the doors where the cast would emerge and walk to the stage for the event! 

With the audience settled, a guy came out to warm up the audience, to get them suitably worked up into a state of complete fan-frenzy. He got everyone cheering, ran around the audience doing some quiz questions to give away tickets for the London premiere, and hosted the fancy dress competition to determine who would win the big bluray boxed set of the Harry Potter movies. 

Then our real host, Edith Bowman, came out and took to the stage. She explained that it was a worldwide fan event, and the screens would be syncing up with audiences worldwide and live on Facebook. 

You can see the whole video online here -

As you can see from that, the main cast of the film were in London on stage (Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterson, Alison Sudol and Dan Fogler) along with director David Yates and producer David Heyman. They were joined via video from LA by Colin Farrell and Jon Voight.

They answered questions, and it really came across that everyone involved really got very into their characters and loved being part of the wizarding world. Despite the huge names involved, they just seemed to enjoy their time on the film, and the meaning of their characters, and the heart behind the story. I've been to a number of press conferences and you can tell when someone's faking it, or a bit cheesed off with having to do the press junkets. None of that was apparent here. It bodes very well for the franchise.

Then, of course, was the big moment when they brought out the extra chair. Debs was about five feet away from where JK Rowling was standing waiting to take to the stage. I'm surprised she didn't just jump over the railing and hug her right then.

JK Rowling took to the stage, and announced that Fantastic Beasts wouldn't be a trilogy as originally thought, and that it would be five films. The audience went nuts. 

Then the celebs left, the live feed ended, the press cameras were taken away and we were asked to put our phones in those special silver bags, to ensure we didn't video any of what was about to be shown. Security stood at the front of the cinema with nightvision goggles to try to catch any acts of piracy, and they screened the first ten minutes of the film.

I won't go into many details, but I will say that it starts just like a Harry Potter movie, with the music, the dark clouds, the camera flying through the logo. Then, with an epic explosion of magic, we see Gellert Grindelwald, one of the most dangerous dark wizards of all time, defeat a group of wizards. Headlines from newspapers whiz by before we join Newt Scamander...

Epic stuff. And an interesting tie into the history behind Harry Potter - events covered in the books but not put on film. 
The T-shirt and wand we had in the goodie bags!

The ten minutes was over way too fast (everyone's going to want a toy Niffler) and we started to shuffle out of the screen. 

We were collared by some of the publicity people for the film and they recorded our reactions for possible use in some advertising, then headed over to the exit where they gave us all goodie bags that contained our tickets again (so we could keep them as a memento), a poster and a t-shirt (far too small for my lardy arse, but a very cool t-shirt all the same). 

The back of the t-shirt, the ticket and the free bag of popcorn everyone got!

Very much looking forward to the movie, and had a real blast at the fan event!