Sunday, April 28, 2013

Expecto Extremis

Well, it's been a while since my last post - the last three weeks have been intense to say the least...

Mid-April marks not only my birthday, but also my wife's birthday and our wedding anniversary, so we always try to get a week off together to celebrate. This year was no exception, and we did lots of cool stuff...

On my birthday we went to see Trance, the most recent film by Danny Boyle. I must admit, I'm not a huge Boyle fan, but the trailer intrigued me and the talk of it being the new Inception really made me keen to see it.


We were not disappointed. It's one of those movies that (a) you really want to watch again to see the first half knowing what happens at the end, and (b) you can't really talk about without spoiling the whole film. But, you get the gist of it from the trailer. James McAvoy's character helps Vincent Cassel's gang to steal a painting, suffers a head injury and can't remember where he's hidden the painting. They hire a hypnotherapist (Rosario Dawson) to help him remember, but there's always going to be more to it than that. His memories have been altered, and we recap events as he slowly uncovers what actually happened, each time filling more and more detail.

It was an excellent movie, and I'd highly recommend seeing it if you get chance. We'll certainly be picking up the BluRay when it comes out. The soundtrack is fantastic too, an excellent bit of background music to write to!

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The huge model of Hogwarts at the WB Studio Tour
To celebrate my wife's birthday (and our wedding anniversary) we did what all dedicated Harry Potter fans should do - we went to the Warner Brothers Harry Potter Studio Tour at Leavesden. The actual studios where they filmed the Harry Potter movies have been turned into an exhibition where you can walk around the sets, see the actual props from the movies, and experience the movie magic first-hand.

From the amazing entry to the Great Hall in Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry, through the massive studio tour, to the vast and dangerous shop, the whole experience is absolutely amazing. They tell you on the website that you can expect the tour to last about three hours, but after five and a half hours of looking around we still felt like we could have spent longer.

Okay, so it helps if you're massive Harry Potter fans like we are (I must admit, I thought more people would have dressed up for it, but my wife and our friend Alix seemed to be the only ones in Hogwarts school uniform on the day) but I honestly can't recommend the experience enough.
Me about to go into the Headmaster's Office.
Debs (left) and Alix (right) at Honeydukes!

Diagon Alley! So amazing!

The model of Hogwarts. Those are people in the front! It's HUGE!
When we finally left, we all decided we had to go back. We're already planning a return trip it was THAT cool. 

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The day after that excitement, we returned to London to attend the preview screening of Iron Man 3 at the Odeon Leicester Square. The preview screening was introduced by the writer/director (Shane Black) and co-writer (Drew Pearce), who were keen to see their two years' worth of hard work to finally get shown on the big screen in front of an eager audience. 

Of course, as expected, the film was excellent. You can read my reviews both for Forces of Geek and for the UK's SyFy Channel site

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And then, after all that, it was back to the day-job for a lovely 10-day stretch... 

Tomorrow is my first day off for a bit, so I'm going to sleep, recover, and then get back on the horse. I've been so slack with the writing recently, so distracted by the little things, I'm determined to get back to it. 

Anyway, I'm going to hit the sack. It's research for the game, honest!

Until next time, stay multi-classy!

Friday, April 12, 2013

Then "WALLOP!" Our Turn To Do Some Wiping Out!

As part of my birthday prezzies this week from my lovely wife, I was treated to an evening of Jeff Wayne's Musical Version of The War of The Worlds. Something I've always been intrigued with seeing as a live production but we've never managed to make it to any of the actual concerts.

Thanks to the recent trend in showing theatre productions in cinemas, last year we managed to see the rather cool production of Frankenstein with the legendary casting of both Sherlocks, Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller. An amazing bit of acting by all involved (when we saw it, Cumberbatch was Victor, Miller was the creature), and I'm stunned it hasn't been released on DVD yet.

After the success of seeing that in the cinema, we were intrigued to see that they were showing a recording of Jeff Wayne's War of the Worlds in cinemas.

Jeff Wayne conducts War of the Worlds live on stage
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I'd always loved that album. I have distinct memories of the record, dating right back to primary school. It was part of the school's routine that each class had to host and sometimes "perform" the school assemblies. I remember distinctly that we hosted one demonstrating basic first aid and after the assembly I had to fake passing out in the crowd to see if the rest of the children had taken in the information... they just really ignored me...

Anyway, I have a memory of standing in assembly and one of the other classes was putting on their presentation and while we were waiting for the talking to start and for all of the classes to arrive, they were playing The Eve of the War. I'd never heard anything like it before, and I was fascinated. I asked the others in my class what it was, and one of my friends (though I use the term lightly as he did make part of my school life miserable) identified the record as he had it.

The "Dead London" image from the LP booklet. Always held a
morbid fascination with me as a kid.
It was immediately on my birthday requests. I think it was the only thing I asked for that year, and was my main birthday present. Two glorious LPs worth of it, with a book with all of the lyrics and pages of awesome artwork. Mum didn't understand why I would want such a thing, she couldn't see why I'd want a record of someone telling me the story of War of the Worlds. Of course, the moment she heard it, she realised - it became one of her favourite albums ever.

I had a poster magazine as well. Remember those? I still have loads of poster magazines (probably worth nothing now as the posters took their turns decorating my bedroom walls) from various movies, from the first Star Wars, through Tron, Indiana Jones, and Ghostbusters... But I remember I had the second issue of the War of the Worlds poster magazine. I loved that magazine, as it had blueprints for the Fighting Machine. Typically, I took it to school one day, and it was gone.

Blueprints of the Fighting Machine from the poster magazine.

Wherever you are, I'd like it back (even though it's almost 30 years later...)

Anyway, that album was always one of my prized possessions. Not worth anything except sentimental value, I do still have that double album. I have it on CD now as well, and still listen to it. It's still fantastic.

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The production we saw was the "Next Generation", with slightly more drums and new artists. Liam Neeson showed that even as a hologram he has immense stage presence. Jason Donovan was absolutely amazing as the Parson Nathaniel, and Ricky Wilson did a great job as the Artilleryman, recapturing part of the David Essex-ness about it while still making the role his own.

The whole stage production was rather excellent, and is due to be released on DVD/BluRay in November.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Diceni

Sunday 7th April saw a new event in Norwich aimed mostly at gamers in the region - Diceni.

Just a handful of the many gaming tables at Diceni 2013 in Norwich
Hosted at The Forum in Norwich, the event has been in planning for months with the sole purpose of spreading the word of gaming and hoping to recruit some new players to the hobbies.

From what I could see, the only downside to the event was that it took place while I was at work! Damn-it! However, there was a brief opportunity to have a look around just as the event was starting, and even just twenty minutes after opening the event was already humming with activity, gaming and excitement.

Sentinel head! And more courtesy of the Artyfakes stand!
I managed to get a few photos taken before I had to head off to work, which I've posted here, but on the whole it was an excellent first convention. Not only were there plenty of stands for traders, and tables for gaming, there were cosplayers, tanks, a Dalek and lots of other activities going on.

Lots of cool stuff from Warlord Games too!
Just have to say it's fantastic to get some gaming stuff like this going on in Norwich, and I really hope that next year Diceni returns. My only suggestions for building upon the convention would be (a) more roleplaying (but, as an RPG designer, I guess I'm a little biased), and (b) maybe aim for the Saturday a week earlier in the year... you never know, that may collide with the second International TableTop Day and Diceni would be able to tie in!

Above all, I'd just like to offer my congratulations to the team behind Diceni. A fantastic event, that should hopefully grow and grow. May there be many, many more.

Check out Diceni on Facebook here, or on their homepage, to see more pics of the event and hear about future conventions.

Friday, April 5, 2013

"They're all going to laugh at you..."

[This blog-post was originally written to feature a promotion for the remake of Stephen King's Carrie. Since the promotional videos are no longer online, these have been cut to get straight to the story of how I first started reading Stephen King, to meeting the legend himself...]

I’ve always been a big fan of Stephen King. This really does go back to my youth. In the past, before the internet and the masses of video games out there, there wasn’t really a lot to do except watch TV, go to the cinema, and in my case, play Dungeons & Dragons. I used to read, but my reading really consisted of my weekly subscription at the local newsagents to a comic (which started with Look-In, progressed onto the UK Spider-man reprints “Super Spider-man and the Titans” and then onto the comic that everyone had to read every week – 2000AD). 

When it came to books, I really didn’t read an awful lot as a kid. I used to get the novelisations of movies I’d been to see, so that I could relive the movie again and again. I could skip to the cool part, and while I was reading Lucas’ novelisation of Star Wars, I could picture the X-Wings over the surface of the Death Star, and the extra stuff about Biggs was like the deleted scenes of the Eighties…

Even then, I didn’t have much time for reading. That was until most of the gaming group vanished off to University and I found myself bored and unemployed, trying to write scenarios for Ghostbusters.

We didn’t have a great bookshop in my hometown. It used to be part corner shop, part card shop, and part bookshop all crammed into a room about the size of Harry Potter’s cupboard under the stairs. But they also sold vinyl records (yes, LPs and 12” singles) so I used to pop in there when there was something I was after, and they’d order it for me. But there was one book in there that unnerved me. It used to taunt me while the old lady that used to run the place rummaged through the delivery for whatever obscure Mike Oldfield or Jean Michel Jarre album I’d asked them to get in for me. The cover was of a drain with a pair of inhuman eyes staring out of the darkness. In the water, a lone paper boat drifted towards the void, while a red balloon floated to one side.

The book taunted me. It looked horrific. It was huge – longer than Lord of the Rings (which I’d tried to read when I was thirteen and gave up on – don’t worry, I’ve read it and loved it since, but that’s another story that involves Babylon 5). But something compelled me to get it. In the same way that the cover of Kult lured me into purchasing that game many, many years later.

That book, of course, was Stephen King’s “IT”.

I’d never read anything that long before, but there was something about the writing style that just pulled me in. It had everything I could ever imagine in a book. The lead characters – the Losers Club – appealed to me instantly, being one of those kids who wasn’t popular, suffered a little from bullying, and ended up with a group of like minded “nerds”. A group that formed bonds that would stay with us the rest of our lives. 

The villain of the piece, the IT of the title, appeared as the things these kids were afraid of. Bloody clowns. I hate clowns. What’s the point of them? And that mind-blowing ending that could never be captured on film, it just amazed me. A book that looked like a camp horror novel was far from it. It was brilliantly written, with characters you cared about. I was hooked. I couldn’t get enough of them. My record buying habit was replaced as I purchased most of Stephen King’s work up to that point. I blasted through Carrie in a week, faced heartbreak and returning evil in Pet Sematary, lapped up every moment in Christine, and survived Captain Trips in The Stand.

I watched the movies as well, bought the soundtracks of a couple, but as with all things, real life gets in the way. I got a job, which lead to art college, and moving away from home.

Luckily, my future wife was a big fan of Stephen King as well, and when we both ended up working at the same huge bookstore, Ottakar’s, we rekindled our love of King’s work. We caught up with his works and devoured the titles of his second renaissance – Insomnia, and Rose Madder especially, before Debs convinced me to give The Dark Tower a try and loaned me The Gunslinger.

When Lisey’s Story was about to be published in 2006, the publishers hosted an evening talk in London in association with one of the major newspapers, and we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to hear him talk in person. But as an added bonus, booksellers from around the country were invited to a private book launch in an old masonic temple behind the Strand in London the following day. We, of course, leapt at the chance.

King takes to the stage to sing with
Alabama 3. (Sorry about the
grainy photo)
The publishers of King in the UK have always been incredibly good to us, and our regular sales rep from Hodder came over to see us in the strange environment. There were complimentary drinks, nibbles and copies of the book, while Alabama 3 played on a strange stage to the rear of the building. The rep explained that Stephen King had been signing all day at some supermarket somewhere, and was exhausted and may not make much of an appearance, but he insisted that he’d try to get us to meet the man himself somehow. Then to make the evening even more surreal, Stephen King appeared in the venue, and took to the stage, joining Alabama 3 and singing along to a couple of songs. 

He apologised that he was worn out from a gruelling signing session and couldn’t stay, but the ever-wonderful rep from Hodder ushered us to where King would be exiting the building for the briefest of encounters. 

It’s at those moments that you realise that you don’t really know what to say.

What can you say to him? Do you ask how he is? Ask how he’s enjoying the UK? Something banal like that?

Or do you explain to him that he is really the reason I started reading books for pleasure? Without picking up that copy of IT I may never have ended up working in a bookstore (I still cite working for Ottakar’s as being one of the best “day job” experiences of my life).

The rep stopped King and his entourage briefly as they were making their way out of the building, and said that he just wanted him to meet some of the booksellers from Ottakar’s who were selling his books so enthusiastically. Stephen King stopped, and despite looking exhausted by the insanely long day he’d had, he shook our hands and said hello. 

Words were lost completely. It was as if I’d lost all power to communicate. I may have just made a meeping noise, but that’s about all I remember. Debs managed to thank him for all the hours of enjoyment we’d had from his books, though she always cringes at the thought as she opened her one line to Stephen King by calling him “dude”. 

I really don’t see that as a bad thing. He is a dude. The dude. He’s as Dude as Lebowski. He’s the grand dude of horror and suspense.

I like to think that in that brief moment, before he was whisked away (with the chocolate that Debs gave him) to rest and recover before yet another intense signing period, that just the smallest amount of particles from the hand of Stephen King himself remained on our shaken hands. And that somewhere, hidden at an atomic level, the smallest part of King’s writing ability has transferred itself to me. If it has, it is laying dormant somewhere, waiting to be activated, because I’m still churning out the same old crap as I ever was.

Blimey.

That was a bit more than I was expecting. Amazing how many memories just one trailer can conjure up. I guess, that’s the power of Stephen King. More power to you, dude.

Monday, April 1, 2013

ANNOUNCING: The Beatles RPG


The Beatles Roleplaying Game

Adventures with the Fab Four

Picture yourself on a boat on a river…

The music was just the beginning. The biggest band in the world may be best recognised for their influence on the world of music, but their adventures in between recording albums was just as legendary. Now you can experience their crazy adventures in The Beatles Roleplaying Game.

From their secret base, cunningly disguised as four terraced houses, the Fab Four embark on many madcap adventures around the world, avoiding packs of screaming girls and murderous cultists, while travelling to other lands and dimensions in their reality bending Yellow Submarine.

Within its pages you’ll find:

  • A completely new game system (FAB) which allows you to do anything within the vast scope of Beatles Roleplaying incorporating four special FAB dice – with images of John, Paul, George and Ringo on the 6’s. Roll a Beatle and get additional bonuses! 
  • Save the world by breaking into song. New game rules allow the power of music to change the outcome of encounters, and full advice (and a backing CD) will allow players to sing their way out of situations with additional effects for convincing harmonies!
  • Three distinct eras of play to get you started – A Hard Days Night, Help! and Yellow Submarine. Each with in depth locations from Liverpool to Pepperland, and a host of NPCs from insane death cultists, Paul’s Granddad (he’s very clean), Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band to the Blue Meanies. 
  • Full colour character sheets for the Fab Four, with the option for a fifth player on later campaigns. 
  • Complete introductory adventure – Magical Mystery Tour.

Available in two versions (White on Black, and limited Black on White).

344page Hardcover
Written and Designed by: David F Chapman
For four Fab players and one Manager. 
ETA: Spring 2014

An Autocratik Publication


















This is, of course, an April Fool's joke. But, like the Think Geek Tauntaun sleeping bag from a couple of years ago, there's a level of hope there. While there is no RPG for The Beatles, and the logistics and costs of securing the rights for the Fab Four would mean such an RPG would be almost impossible (small independent RPG publisher approaches the biggest band in history and says "Hey, I'd like to make a little RPG about the band, based on the madcap adventures seen in the awesome films like Help! and Yellow Submarine"... not really much of a chance there), there's always that dream isn't there.

Yes, I think "The Beatles RPG" could work. Sure you'd be limited to a maximum of four players and a GM (Manager), but the scope of the game would be immense. Just watch Help! and imagine how insane an RPG would be in that universe. Then watch Yellow Submarine and tell me it wouldn't work. Or the opening cinematic to The Beatles: Rock Band and maybe some of the episodes of the old animated series from the sixties, and imagine the possibilities. 

It'd be fab.

Almost impossible, but fab.