Friday, January 13, 2012

12-Sided Die: Should You Be Game for this New Webseries?

Earlier today, the team @12sideddie blasted the internet with a solicitation of their new gaming themed web series 12 Sided Die.

12 Sided Die is a web series directed by Daniel Murphy and written by Curtis Fortier that is aimed at the table top gaming community. According to the show's website, the show is:
A hilarious new web-series about romance, geeks, and graph paper.

Our hero: Curtis Foster, Permit Processor by day, Level Fourteen Wizard Warrior by night.

If theres one thing Curtis loves most on this Earth, it's playing a rousing game of "Swords and Swordsmen" with his friends Chris and Eric.

Sadly, the group is growing older... Eric is newly married, Chris is a father, and the time between games is growing larger with each passing day.

So, on their eve of their first game in over six months, when the stakes have never been higher, Curtis is convinced that nothing can get in his way.

Except, perhaps, a surprise distraction of his own: his neighbor Cynthia.
But is the show hilarious, and does it really capture geek romance?

The answer to this central question is maybe. The first episode of the series (embedded below) suffers from a significant dose of what I like to call "pilotitis." This is the slight awkwardness that many pilot episodes suffer from which fails to capture the full potential of the idea underlying the show, or the talent of the creators and performers of the show. A good historical example of pilotitis is Star Trek. The show's original pilot was pretty bad, but by the time they reworked the show for the second pilot the show's potential really shined through.

12 Sided Die has a good concept. It's a show about gamers and romance, but it is also a show about the difficulties of balancing a hobby with real life. Anyone who has played games, or had a passionate hobby, in their post-college/high school years understands how difficult in can be to find the proper balance in time to meet all your obligations and still find time for your hobbies. For example, I love playing board and role playing games. I also love running around the park with my wife and daughters, the allure of spending time with History and Mystery (our 3 1/2 year old twins) is a pretty significant obstacle to making time to play games. I am thankful that the girls really like the people who come over to game twice a month, and even more grateful that my friends like spending time with the girls. To be honest, if they weren't willing to let the girls "watch" us play it would be a deal breaker. History and Mystery would win out in the battle of hobby vs. family and which provides more joy. That said, my group does enjoy having the girls come around and the girls love to play with our "little men." It's that kind of tension, though other tensions as well, that underlie the dramatic/comedic conflicts of 12 Sided Die. Just add a dose of 30 something and single/looking for a relationship, and you've captured the show perfectly.

Back to the show's pilotitis. It leaps out at you from the first scene. The lighting during the play session in the opening is a distraction. The room looks unnaturally yellow, when it should be lit to look like a normally lit apartment. The problem is that they filmed a normally lit apartment, and normally lit apartments don't look like normally lit apartments on film. This scene is also a tad overacted. While Christopher Gehrman's over the top performance as the dungeon master can be forgiven, as he's playing an over the top dungeon master, Curtis Fortier's performance in this scene needs to be backed down a little. Not his "in character" performance, but his "I'm so excited about where the game campaign is going" performance, the same should be said of Eric Vesbit's performance in the scene as well. As the show progresses, the actors seem to fall into more natural rhythms and I don't see this being a problem in the long haul. It is just something that needs to be pointed out. As Hamlet would say:

Speak the speech, I pray you, as I pronounced it to
you, trippingly on the tongue:but if you mouth it,
as many of your players do, I had as lief the
town-crier spoke my lines. Nor do not saw the air
too much with your hand, thus, but use all gently;
for in the very torrent, tempest, and, as I may say,
the whirlwind of passion, you must acquire and beget
a temperance that may give it smoothness. O, it
offends me to the soul to hear a robustious
periwig-pated fellow tear a passion to tatters, to
very rags, to split the ears of the groundlings, who
for the most part are capable of nothing but
inexplicable dumbshows and noise: I would have such
a fellow whipped for o'erdoing Termagant; it
out-herods Herod: pray you, avoid it.

It should also be noted that the sound design is a bit off. There is an overuse of score, and the individual sound edits don't always match up with what I'm supposed to be hearing. This is particularly acute during a scene in which Curtis makes himself some "Strawberry Milk."

The show's strongest suit is in the story, it has a nicely done cliffhanger that is timed almost perfectly. This is a tale of a group who hasn't met to continue their game for almost 6-months given their current responsibilities, what happens when a new romance enters one of their lives? It's a nice touch, and well done. Kristina Lynn Bell is a nice choice for the romantic interest. I was a bit concerned with her introductory performance. Her acting to the audience "behind the fourth wall" started out a tad over the top, but by the end of the scene she won me over. The camera angles were bit off, but her performance really started to hit a sweet spot.

All of this can be written off as pilotitis, and I will certainly return for a second episode. The show as it stands did leave me wanting to see what happens next. It really left me wanting to see what happens next.   So...what happens next?!

But there was one thing that I couldn't quite write off as pilotitis, and it affected the verisimilitude of the entire show. That was the use of "made up game mechanics" that didn't quite sound like real game mechanics. I can understand, and appreciate, the desire to avoid violating other people's copyright. But in a d20 license world, there is no reason for a character to utter the line, "I'll cast my Pyro spell." Especially when one could just as easily say "I'll cast my Fireball." Heck, even in a pre-OGL world, you could have gotten away with that. This was magnified by the fact that the writers were willing to include real world references to Coke and Mountain Dew, but stumbled at the mention of concepts that would most appeal to their target audience. Don't be afraid to say D&D. Even better, if you want to have a little "geek cred" as Erik Mona and crew at Paizo if you can use the Pathfinder brand as your game of choice. If they say no, it doesn't matter. The rules are Open, just avoid Golarion specific references.

All of my criticisms are written with the understanding that these people are working really hard to provide something entertaining that they really believe in (see Jody Lindke's recent blog post on the subject).   But they are also written in the hopes that the show will address small problems and continue to improve.  There is something here.  Something that is already worth watching, for gamers, but it is something that could appeal to an even broader audience if it continues to improve on its strengths and address any weaknesses.  Entertaining people at all is hard.  The 12 Sided Die crew have already succeeded in entertaining me, now I want them to blow me away.

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