Showing posts with label Buck Rogers. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Buck Rogers. Show all posts

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

SyFy's Mercury Men -- "Skyscraper Saboteurs"

"Skyscraper Saboteurs," the second episode of the intriguing Mercury Men web series, went live this morning. The episode builds on all the qualities that worked in the first episode, and features fewer of the drawbacks. It appears that the series is quickly getting past the sense of "pilotitis" I felt regarding the first episode.

The series takes place in Pittsburgh in 1975 where Jack Yeager (Curt Wootton) -- a character wonderfully inspired by classic pulp figures -- discovers a sinister plan by Venusian invaders, a plan that only he can stop. Lucky for the Earth, Jack is a combination Flash Gordon, Doc Savage, and Blackhawk:

Daring League captain, aerospace engineer, and former US Air Force pilot, Jack travels the galaxy to explore unknown worlds, new alien races, and advanced technological wonders. Always at Jack's side is the LumiƩre, his trusted revolver which fires bolts of condensed light. Jack is dispatched to Earth to investigate the glowing men of Mercury.

Like the pilot, I do have some complements and criticisms regarding the episode, but watch the episode first. It is well worth your time. Join me in discovering the sinister plan of the Mercury Men!


I've got to give the production team at Mercury Men Pictures credit for their focus on sound design. Poor design can really tank a feature, particularly a genre feature, but the MMP crew have added some interesting environmental sound effects that add depth to the feature. I am particularly fond of the "fuzz" sound of the Mercury Men themselves.

The visuals continue to be fairly impressive. I was particularly impressed by the scene where our heroes were on one side of a wall constructed of glass bricks, and the Mercury Men were on the other. The image where we look through Jack's looking glass was also impressive as it included "warping" around the edges and was more than a mere "circular cutout" image. Jack's hologram projector was a nice touch, and a nice effect.

Like the serials that Mercury Men is based upon, the MMP crew use a lot of visual storytelling. When the Mercury Men's plan is revealed, it is shown and not told. Very nice!


I still find Mark Tierno's performance as Edward Borman a little forced. He seems to be acting in a style more akin to silent films than talkies. He isn't bad, but his movements have an odd fluidity that seems natural in a purely visual story. His line delivery is good, but I'm on the fence. If Edward gets blasted by the invaders I won't be overly distraught.

When Jack and Edward are walking down a stairway there is a wipe effect -- a nice homage to the serials -- that goes against the movement of the action taking place. This has the visual effect of slowing down the pace of the story and decreasing urgency. It almost feels as if the action is being rewound. I think wipes should follow movement, not run against the grain. Just a personal opinion.

Now that I've seen the story so far, I am more convinced than ever that I need to lift ideas from it for a short term Savage Worlds or Cortex+ campaign. I will certainly be statting up some of the characters as the show goes on and we learn more about them.

The MMP crew have captured the tone perfectly. This show is obviously done of love of the material and lacks the kind of ironic distance that too often seeps into the gaps and ruins a good story. Let's hope they keep it up. If their website, and their digital props, are any hint I think they will.

I already wish they'd build a flash based game based on their fictional Atari 2600 game.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Bitterness in the Gaming Hobby

In certain gaming circles, the name Lorraine Williams is synonymous with "Evil" -- others reserve such ire for Gnomes. While I have read many blog/bulletin board posts excoriating Williams, I have never been of the opinion that she was bad for TSR or even bad for the roleplaying game hobby.

Largely, this stems from the fact that Williams' tenure at TSR is one that I consider a Golden Age of rpg gaming goodness. Under Williams' management TSR published the Forgotten Realms setting, and excellent Buck Rogers roleplaying game by Mike Pondsmith of Cyberpunk fame, Al-Qadim, the D&D Gazetteer series, the Advanced Marvel Superheroes rpg, and the highly under-rated Rocky and Bullwinkle rpg -- something that was aimed at bringing new people into the hobby. Meanwhile, Gary Gygax was making the unplayable Cyborg Commando at New Infinities Productions. There are those who blame Williams for Gygax's being forced out of the company, but I believe that had more to do with the Blumes than with Williams herself. I also think that Williams hard fought battles to preserve the D&D brand, and all other TSR brands, were just good management -- not good PR, but good for the company.

I also believe that Williams only had a limited understanding of the gaming marketplace. She understood where gaming was in the late 80s and early 90s, but (not being a gamer herself) she had no clear vision for how to respond to the emergence of Magic: the Gathering. Her response was an explosion of rpg product and a rushed collectible card game response. The explosion of rpg product was high quality -- Birthright and Planescape were remarkable settings -- but the prolific pace of publication, combined with a brand diluting low quality card game, put more product on the market than the market could bear. In that way, she is also responsible for the implosion of TSR as a company a decade after she took charge. It would have been nice to see someone else take over the company after 5 - 6 years of Williams running the company.

The bitterness between the Gygax camp and Williams isn't the only case of deep bitterness and ire in the gaming community. I was recently reading some back issues of Interplay magazine, Metagaming's house organ after Steve Jackson left the company. I was amazed at the venom they were directing at Steve Jackson. Not because the split was a genial split, but by the obsessive nature of it. Metagaming seemed obsessed with mocking Steve Jackson every chance they had. Ironically, fans of GURPS -- and most modern gamers for that matter -- are likely oblivious to this deeply felt hatred. The Williams is "Evil" meme has lasted decades, but the Steve Jackson is a "Turkey" meme died long ago. Unlike the Gygax/Williams affair, Jackson leaving Metagaming lead to that company's rather quick demise. Steve Jackson was a font of ideas, while Metagaming was wallowing in bitterness. GURPS may be, and I certainly think it is, a direct descendant of "The Fantasy Trip" and Steve Jackson's early board games might have been indistinguishable in appearance from Metagaming's microgames, but the fact is that Steve Jackson and his company were coming out with quality new products while Metagaming was living in the past.

Metagaming has two famous spoofs of Steve Jackson Games material one is their Fist Full of Turkeys game and the other is a spoof of Steve Jacksons excellent One Page Bulge called One Page Bilge.

It should be noted that one of the things that makes Metagaming's protests against Jackson so purile is that Jackson was one of the leading voices advocating for designer rights in the gaming industry. Eventually his desire to see designers properly compensated led to him forming his own company, but the fact is that gaming is one of the last venues where the creators see almost no benefit for their creations due to the "work for hire" environment in gaming. People like Wolfgang Baur deserve credit, and ownership, in products like Dark*Matter, it's the only way to guarantee high quality and it is the right thing to do from a PR perspective. Imagine if designers had options on the systems they created. The Pinnacle Entertainment Group edition of Torg would be more than a pipe dream, and GURPS might be called The Fantasy Trip.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Buck Rogers Web Series Debuting in 2010

The Dille Trust and Cawley Entertainment will be streaming a new Buck Rogers web series in 2010 and have posted a teaser trailer. When they wrote it was a teaser trailer, they meant it was a teaser trailer. One cannot discern much about what the series will be based in the short trailer available, but a couple of things are pretty clear.

First, there WILL be rocket ships. This is a good thing. One of the major flaws of the Syfy Flash Gordon series was its awkward attempt to write around rocket ships as transportation.

Second, Gil Gerard will be involved in some way. Given that the Gil Gerard series had a good cameo by Buster Crabbe, it's nice to see the Dille trust continuing the tradition of "handing off the baton."

Third, this is Buck Rogers. That in and of itself is enough to spark my interest.

Here is a description of what they intend to bring to the monitor next year:

Executive Producer James Cawley will be bringing Buck back to his beginnings telling the story from the perspective of a 22 year old Buck Rogers who leaves World War One and is propelled into the 25th Century. “We will be using the technology we have today, to present The Original version of The First Sci-Fi Hero ever! Previous filmed incarnations never really captured the original Buck from the comic strips, which is what we aim to do” Franchise owner, writer and game designer, Flint Dille will be an Executive Producer and Consultant, and will be instrumental in keeping true to the Buck Rogers mythos. Charles Root & Gary Evans who have been instrumental in the success of “New Voyages” will also be serving as Co-Executive Producers for Retro Film studios.

If it is true that they will be aiming to bring the "Original" version of the character to the monitor, some audience members may be turned off by the Yellow Peril nature of the narrative. The early comic strip stories were heavy with Yellow Peril imagery.

While I love rocketships and the classic time period for Buck, the best Buck adaptations -- the Gerard series, the Crabbe serial, the XXIV roleplaying game -- all contained some elements that updated the narrative for "contemporary" audiences. For example, the Gerard series played off of Cold War nuclear holocaust fears and the XXIV game (written by the talented Mike Pondsmith creator of the Cyberpunk rpg for R. Talsorian) incorporated cyberpunk and steampunk narrative elements. I hope this new version does something similar.

Speaking of Mike of these days I am going to have to do a post on just how influential this man has been in geek culture and how ahead of his time his concepts have been. Cyberpunk, Steampunk, Mecha, and Dragonball Z...he was there early and deep.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Hulu Recommendation Friday: Buck Rogers

Given the recent discussions of Planetary Romance, it is natural to recommend the 1979 Buck Roger's television show starring Gil Gerard. The TV series falls somewhere between Space Opera and Planetary Romance. I'll leave it for you to decide exactly where. Many of the plots in Buck Rogers are similar to PR stories, but the emphasis on space fighter battles makes a good case for Space Opera. Regardless, the show's first season had a two part storyline entitled "Planet of the Slave Girls." The episodes aired back to back, if Hulu's airing dates are to be trusted, on September 27, 1979 and Buster Crabbe (the original Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon) made a cameo appearance.

And no one would argue that Buster Crabbe, who played both Flash Gordon (a Planetary Romance classic) and Tarzan (a character created by the father of the field) doesn't belong in a discussion of the genre.