Sunday, October 30, 2011

NaNoWriMo

So the wife is going to be undertaking NaNoWriMo in just a couple of days - 30 days of writing to try to produce a 50,000 word novel in just one month (hence the name - NAtional NOvel WRIting MOnth). I'd thought about doing it as well, but I have a major set-back... to qualify as a "winner", your novel has to be 100% new stuff, no using any writing you've done before. But, I've decided I'm going to try and keep up... not in an official NaNoWriMo capacity, as I'd like to try to continue the work I'd started before on "The Case of Lost Possibilities" (man, I need a new title for that).

Also, it means that if I get stuck writing the book, I can flit back to writing RPG stuff (while I'm still working on how the game system works).

So, why am I suddenly inspired to write fiction?

"Lost Possibilities" started out as a comic that didn't make it to page 1. I'd been brainstorming ideas with Mark Hiblen about a guy with a suitcase that would be a quantum entity - it could contain anything until you actually opened it and quantified its contents.

Nothing happened with it, but a few years ago I was inspired to get back to writing it as prose rather than a comic. I'd done around 8,000-10,000 words before I decided it was just too bizarre and weird to actually be read by anyone. I'd posted about half of it online at my other blog (which I've since taken down as no one was reading it) and just gave up for the time being, thinking that maybe, one day, further down the line, I'd go back to it.

I'd originally put it online in chunks inspired by David Wong's "John Dies at the End". I'd read the first couple of chapters online years ago, had it in my Safari bookmarks for ages, and never really got around to reading the rest. But his was a great success story - the novel posted online was read by people, gained cult status, had a limited print run, was picked up by the director of Phantasm (yay!) and has become a film and had a big commercial print run...



I recently finished reading the book (just a couple of days ago, actually) and it's easily gone into my top 10 favourite books. But what really struck me was (a) how weird it was, and (b) how it was like David Wong (not his real name) had used the Soy Sauce to pluck ideas and stuff from out of my brain. Always weird when you have that moment when you finish a book and say "That's just like something I'd have written!"

So, inspired by the coolness of Wong's book (which you should all read by the way, or at least check out the film when it comes out) and how similar it is to my writing, I've decided to go back to "Lost Possibilites" and see if I can bash it into a coherent whole. I'll probably get so far, give up, and then have this same experience next year when I read "John Dies at the End 2" (aka "This book is full of spiders - seriously dude, don't touch it!")

So, while I'm not on NaNoWriMo, I'll be posting what my word counts are as the month progresses...

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Conspiracy X 2.0 - The Extraterrestrials Sourcebook

Bit of a diversion from talking about WILD and movies/TV series that feature dreams, as I wanted to bring to your attention one of my past projects - Conspiracy X 2.0.

I started work on Conspiracy X 2.0 in 2002, shortly after my father died. I guess it was a way for me to cope with it all, concentrating on writing the RPG, so ConX has a bit of a personal meaning for me. I loved the game anyway, after it was first recommended to me many, many moons ago by a friend of mine, Jason. He knew I was an obsessive X-Files fan and said "hey, check this out!" and loaned me the original core rulebook.

While I loved the setting, I was a bit baffled by the system. I get it now, but at the time I thought it was a bit over-complicated, so never actually ran it as a game. But, so blown away was I by the game setting, I started talking to those lovely people at Eden about writing and producing a Conspiracy X comic (this was back in my hay-day as a comic publisher - see the previous post). One thing lead to another, which lead to my work on Terra Primate, plugging the game system into a setting I'd been given, so the logical progression was to take Conspiracy X's awesome setting and to plug in Eden's house system - Unisystem.

As I said, I started work on this in 2002, and the core rulebook hit the shelves over four years later, and was nominated for an Ennie Award in the 2007 Ennies.

But then, one thing after another happened, and Eden were unable to get any more books out. The Extraterrestrials Sourcebook (collecting the three original ConX alien books, Exodus, Atlantis Rising and Nemesis) was released as a PDF (in 2009) but it's not the same as a lovely book is it?

Anyway, Eden have come up with a solution. They've put the Extraterrestrials Sourcebook up as a Kickstarter project, hoping to raise the $5000 needed to get the books printed. If you pledge, you'll not only get a copy of the PDF (and the book if you pledge enough) but also the more you pledge, the more you get like signed bookplates, t-shirts and your name in the credits!

And, even more exciting, if the book gets funded, then book 3 (The Paranormal Sourcebook) is more likely to get printed, and then book 4 (The Conspiracies Sourcebook)... and I may actually get paid for writing them!!

So head on over to Kickstarter and have a look - check out the little video I filmed for Eden, and maybe pledge some money. If you're new to Conspiracy X, I'd go for the $75 option and get the corebook as well. It's an awesome game, with one of the coolest settings for an RPG!

Monday, October 10, 2011

What's in a Name?

When I first started this blog, I had a couple of people ask, "Why 'Autocratik'?" But when I added the header to the blog, with the red flag, it prompted even more questions, "Why the flag, dude?"

So, here's a quick answer to both of those questions.

Set the way-back machine to 1998. Since school I've kinda only really wanted to do one of two things. Write RPGs and draw comics. Well, in 1998 I had a go at the latter. I was unemployed, living off of the wifey's meager income from her job in graphic design, and I set up a company to publish comics. It was just at the tail end of the boom in black and white independent comics, and after going to a couple of comic conventions and talking to the indie guys who were actually getting their stuff out there, I thought I should give it a go.

And so Autocratik Press was born.


I created this comic series called "Missing", an epic drama set in an alternate (then) future at the turn of the millennium, in a vast hotel on the border between Scotland and an England under American rule. It was my "Twin Peaks", a soap opera like cast of dozens - the suicidal runaway, the local sheriff, suited criminals, dandy highwaymen on powered surfboards who held up the traffic on the flooded roads north, and the psychotic boyfriend seeking revenge. I had about 90 issues planned, but the indie comic scene was fading a little, and I had my distribution pulled.

Debs published a few little microzines, deeply moving stories of love and haunting, and groups of goths, under the Autocratik imprint, and I published a very cool one-shot by the legendary D'Israeli D'Emon Draughtsman, artist of Batman, Sandman, and more. A sequel to his awesome Timulo strip that used to run in British magazine "Deadline", "Consequences" was an epic and beautifully illustrated tale of hit-nuns and giant fish. You can read it in this excellent collection along with the original Timulo strip by purchasing the Timularo (The Complete Timulo) Collection.

In the top left corner of every issue of Missing, and Consequences, was the Autocratik Press logo. Inspired by Soviet propaganda, it was Debs and me with the red flag, leading the revolution in publishing. It was fun while it lasted, and Autocratik closed its publishing doors late 1999.

However, if I hadn't been working on comics, I'd have never contacted a certain game company about doing a comic for their RPG, which lead to writing books, and... well, that's another story.

When pondering the idea of going solo and doing my own game, there was only one name that came to mind - Autocratik.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Moment of Clarity

I had this moment of clarity a couple of days ago. Chatting to one of my day-job collegues I said "I kinda want to create a new game system for the new RPG, so it's all mine..."

He said to go for it. So I am...

Then, chatting to the wife last night I told her that I was going to design a whole new system for WILD.

She said, "As it's about dreams, the game system should be called REM."

And I said, "That's it!!! Rapid diE Movement!!!"

So there we go... the name of the new game system - RAPID DIE MOVEMENT.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Inception

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a long piece about Zach Snyder’s flawed movie Sucker Punch, one of the big influences on the WILD RPG. This time, I’m going to look at the biggest influence on the game, Christopher Nolan’s Inception.


Okay, I confess, I’m a huge fan of Inception. Just about everything in the film is what I want from a narrative – it’s multi-levelled, good action, clever, has a nice twist that you can sort of work out on the way, it’s ambiguous in its ending which leaves you discussing it for hours on the way home. It’s just awesome. Saw it a few times in the cinema, then had to go again when the local IMAX reran it just to get the huge screen and deafening levels of soundtrack.

I guess it helped being a Nolan fan, especially after Memento and The Prestige (both awesome, multilayered acts of smart storytelling). It also helped having a great cast - Leonardo DiCaprio was great, which was a really pleasant surprise after seeing Shutter Island a couple of weeks before (which I found incredibly predictable), and the rest of the cast were suitably awesome.

Maybe it’s just my usual movie failing that I really love films that I can’t see how they’re going to end. If I get about an hour in and I can consciously feel myself thinking “I have no idea where this is going” then I’m kinda sold. I had a similar moment about an hour into a low budget movie called Ink (which I’ll write about later) when I suddenly realised the twist and thought, “wow, it took this long to see how it’s going to finish, that’s a sign of a good film.”

Anyway, back to Inception. It does have its faults. Just a couple, in my opinion.

The first is The Rules.

Unlike Sucker Punch, Inception set out the rules clearly in the 1st act. As an audience we’re told how time works in the dream, how if you die in the dream you wake up unless you’re under the sedatives the PASIV device (the dream machine) require to maintain multiple layers of dreams. We’re also told how the “Kicks” work, and how the environment around you influences your dreams.

This means in the 1st layer of the dream, when Yusuf is driving, when the van is flipping about or screeching around corners, the dreamers feel a sense of gravity shift. This means that when the van is driving off the bridge, acting as the Kick from level 1, the dreamers in level 2 are thrust into weightlessness, and Arthur has to come up with a way of triggering a Kick to get them back from the dream of the mountain fortress.

So after spending so long establishing the rules, why did they break them? If the van’s in freefall off of the bridge, and Arthur can push the unconscious dreamers around in zero gravity, why does the feeling of weightlessness not continue into the 3rd level? In the mountain fortress dream, there’s no weird gravity shifts or anything. If the rules were behaving completely through all of the levels, the final sequence (not including Limbo, as it’s understandable if that defies the rules) should all be in zero gravity, with Bond-style commandos floating above the base and being catapulted about by recoil…

Guess that would have been tricky to film. Awesome looking, but tricky…

Anyway, the second thing - that’s not so much of a problem with Inception, more just a disappointment – is that we’re shown the potential and it never really comes to being.

There’s a great and memorable sequence with Ariadne being shown dream architecture for the first time where she bends Paris in on itself, and then creates corridors with mirrors and stuff like that. It really shows off the power of lucid dreaming – being aware that you’re dreaming and being able to manipulate your environment.


While Cobb warns her that too many changes will cause his subconscious to fight back to suppress the changes and remove the foreign element in his mind, we’re shown the real potential of what Ariadne could do – not just to create the mazes and mindscapes for the dreams they’ll enter, but also to bend stuff around like The Matrix or Dark City.

However, once they’re within the dreams in the mission, nothing like this happens. Sure Arthur gets to play around with some Penrose Stairs to defeat some armed goons, but that’s about it.

I guess Nolan wanted to go for relatively mundane dreams as most of the people who were hosting the dreams were not wildly eccentric characters. After all, Robert Fischer’s mind is filled with the troubles of big business and the death of his father, so his imagination is more like a Bond film, and not, for example, steampunk Nazis, dragons and mech-suits like Sucker Punch.

I guess that’s where the game came in. I really wanted to be able to merge the two together – to have the rules, the technology and the multiple layers of something like Inception, and have the scope and bizarreness of the fantasy-scapes of Sucker Punch.

Again, I must point out that while I’ve been mildly critical of some elements of Inception, it is one of my favourite films of all time. It’s up there with The Matrix, Fight Club and Dark City for me, my top 5. I really hope that Nolan goes for a sequel, or that his plans for a video game come to fruition, so that we can see the potential of going into some wilder dreams and being a little more experimental with dream-logic – more like the film that heavily inspired it, Paprika (another movie I’ll discuss at a later date).