Showing posts with label Joss Whedon. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Joss Whedon. Show all posts

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

New Buffy the Vampire Slayer Boardgame Coming from Jasco Games and Lynnvander Productions

Lynnvander Studios, a game design studio founded in 2005 by Thomas Grofton, has recently announced that they will be producing a number of licensed board games with significant cache in the geek community in partnership with Jasco Games. One of the first games to be released will be a new Whedonverse inspired game entitled Buffy the Vampire Slayer: the Board Game.

When designing adventure games inspired by heroic fiction or tropes, designers tend to choose between one of two models. The first model, and that chosen by games like Heroquest and the majority of role playing games, is to have one player take responsibility for being the Game Master/Storyteller who controls the actions of all of the villains, adversaries, and non-central characters in the narrative. The second model is to create a cooperative game where all of the players take the role of characters central to the narrative. In a cooperative game, the players work together to overcome the game itself. While there has been a recent increase in the number of cooperative games available, these kinds of games existed earlier in the hobby with one of my favorites being Games Workshop's classic Warhammer Quest board game. Either form of game play can be rewarding, but one of the advantages of cooperative game designs is that they allow for more natural implementation of solitaire game play.

The Buffy game being designed by Lynnvander studios is a fully cooperative game for 1 to 6 players that should be able to be played in about 40 to 60 minutes. The designers have decided to have the players take the roles of Buffy and her friends as they defend the town of Sunnydale from an onslaught of vampires and demons, even as the players must also work to prevent a big bad’s plot and open the Hellmouth.

By the description of the game, it seems that the Lynnvander productions design will be closer in mechanics to Fantasy Flight Games' challenging Lord of the Rings card game than to classic Warhammer Quest. Both of those games are excellent, but each presents a different gaming experience. This is all speculation on my part based on the descriptions presented, but either way I am excited to see what a new Buffy game brings.

The game should be available from Jasco this October, just in time for Halloween.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Castle Feeds the Joss Whedon Fan

The writers of ABC's lighthearted procedural CASTLE (full episodes available at the link) have no illusions regarding who watches their show, and they are giving the early adopter fans some easter eggs tonight. In the brief episode preview below, I counted two Whedon easter eggs and one Underworld/White Wolf World of Darkness easter egg -- and I wasn't paying that close attention to the preview. It's nice to see the staff on CASTLE acknowledge that a lot of their fan base is there solely due to Nathan Fillion. We might be staying because the show is very enjoyable, and I certainly think it is, but we followed Nathan here.

It has been interesting watching the first few episodes this season. The title sequence is making it clear that the show is still in the "recruiting an audience" mode. Every episode begins with a brief description of the premise, something only new fans need. Certainly not something that the fan who has already purchased Heat Wave need to see. My guess is that they are trying to recruit some of the older demographic that is currently watching DANCING WITH THE STARS and wanders over to CSI: MIAMI when that show is over. Given the comedic and romantic tones of CASTLE, versus the almost 4-color melodrama of CSI:MIAMI (which I really like for all its over-the-top-itude), it's probably a good strategy.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Blogging Northwest Smith: "Black Thirst"

In the last installment of "Blogging Northwest Smith," I discussed how C L Moore's tales of Northwest Smith included elements of Space Opera and Weird Horror and pushed the envelope of what constituted a Science Fiction tale. By Space Opera I am referring to the earlier "Space Opera equals Space Westerns" description often used during the early days of the genre.

I am far from the first to notice that Moore incorporated elements of Weird Horror into the tales of her space faring anti-hero, Lin Carter noticed her inclusion of these elements and thought it likely they were added to garner publication in Weird Tales. Whatever Moore's reasons for including Weird Horror elements, as she did with her adaptation of the Medusa into "pleasure vampire" in "Shambleau," she was deeply enough tied to the Lovecraftian circle that she was one of the co-authors (in fact she was the jump start author) of a Lovecraftian "shared world" tale entitled The Challenge from Beyond (more on this in a later post).

For the modern fan of Science Fiction, the incorporation of horror elements into a Science Fiction narrative seems perfectly natural. Everything from the Atomic Horror films of the 50s and 60s to Ridley Scott's masterpiece Alien (based on A.E. van Vogt's 1939 Astounding story "Black Destroyer" which was included as chapters 1-6 of The Voyage of the Space Beagle) to Joss Whedon's Firefly demonstrate how deeply saturated film and television are with the SF horror story. But for fans of "Space Westerns," Foundation, or modern Space Opera, the shift in suspension of disbelief from hard SF to Weird Horror SF isn't guaranteed.

When I read "Shambleau," I was struck by how much the narrative followed the format of a classic Western and by how the monster/alien of the tale was Lovecraftian in nature -- tentacles and all. "Black Thirst" takes the combination of Science Fiction and horror a different direction than "Shambleau." Where in "Shambleau" the tale was one of Weird Horror overlaying a Western, "Black Thirst" is a tale of Gothic Horror that contains no small elements of the Western and Weird Horror genre.

Our tale begins with our protagonist, Northwest Smith, leaning against a warehouse wall in some unfriendly waterfront street on Venus. He soon encounters a woman, immediately recognizable as a Minga maid, who begs Northwest to visit her in the Minga stronghold in order to provide her some sort of aid.

Moore spends some time describing the Minga palace as a building that pre-existed the majority of civilization on Venus, describing how the stronghold was already built by the time some great Venusian explorer had sailed the seas in search of new land. The Minga maids themselves are as mysterious as the palace from which they are sold, they are "those beauties that from the beginning of history have been bred in the Minga stronghold for loveliness and grace, as race-horses are bred on Earth, and reared from earliest infancy in the art of charming men. Scarcely a court on the three planets lacks at least one of these exquisite creatures..."

Establishing the mysterious origins of the stronghold and the maids, Moore quickly establishes the dangers associated with attempting to "lay a finger" on a Minga maid. It is a danger with no appeal as "The chastity of Minga girls was proverbial, a trade boast." The purpose of these beauty slaves seems not to be a sexual one, and this is reinforced later when the real purpose of the breeding of the maids is reveals, but a purely aesthetic one. The women are bred for their beauty, in form and manner, and the price paid is for these things alone.

The concept of a stronghold of courtesans, trained in the art of charming men, combined with the similarities between Malcolm Reynolds and Northwest Smith leave one wondering if Joss Whedon had read this tale before creating Firefly. Not to imply with any certainty that Whedon was directly influenced by Moore, but it is hard for me to visualize anyone other than Nathan Fillion playing Northwest Smith in a movie -- and if he did Whedon fans would cry foul that Northwest is a direct Mal ripoff.

As the Minga maid, named Vaudir, leaves Smith she does so with a warning. She warns Northwest about the evil that is the Alendar and hints at his origins when she discusses there are "elemental" things that don't sink back into the darkness from which they came if a civilization develops too swiftly. "Life rises out of dark and mystery and things too strange and terrible to be looked upon." Here she hints at the history of the Minga and the Alendar and Moore incorporates imagery from Weird Horror. The concept of elemental evil is one of Weird Horror and it is the type of horror that is used to describe the Alendar.

Smith agrees to help the maid and approaches the stronghold as she told him he should. What follows is a series of scenes reminiscent of Bram Stoker's Dracula in which our hero plays, a much braver version, of Jonathan Harker. Smith wanders the hallways of the palace sensing, but not seeing, the great evil that awaits him. He arrives at Vaudir's room, but it is not long before he encounters the Alendar him/itself. The Alendar is a manlike creature possessed of great psychic powers, powers which overwhelm our protagonist and could kill him in an instant. But a quick death is not to be for Smith as he possesses something of value that the Alendar desires.

The Alendar, it seems, is -- like the Shambleau -- a kind of vampire. Unlike the Shambleau the Alendar does not feed on sexual/physical pleasure, instead he/it feeds on beauty. For the Alendar beauty is a tangible thing, an objective thing that provides real nourishment. The only way in which beauty is subjective regarding the Alendar's hunger is in its "form." What is beauty for a human female isn't beauty in a human male, which is why the Alendar has spared Smith. Smith possesses the quality of male beauty which must be fully developed before the Alendar can feed on him. As the Alendar describes his method of nourishment, Smith is given glimpses of unimaginable beauty -- beauty that can cause madness.

How the tale unfolds from here I will leave for you to discover on you own, but I would like to spend some time discussing some of the interesting concepts Moore threw into this story.

She is quite obviously writing a tale about slavery and presents human trafficking as a horrible affair, but she is also presenting a discussion of beauty and what constitutes true beauty. The Alendar describes beauty as follows:

"Beauty is as tangible as blood, in a way. It is a separate distinct force that inhabits the bodies of men and women. You must have noticed the vacuity that accompanies perfect beauty in so many women... the force so strong that it drives out all other forces and lives vampirishly at the expense of intelligence and goodness and conscience and all else...

For beauty, as I have said, eats up all other qualities but beauty."

The beauty that Moore has the Alendar describe is in itself horrifying, yet it is also an interesting spark for discussion. Vaudir -- who has asked Smith for assistance and led to his current state of danger -- is beautiful, but she possesses something more. She possesses and intelligence and free will that make her more desirable to the Alendar than her beauty alone would demand. Smith too possesses this combination of independence and beauty, a combination that the Alendar seeks to use in order to overcome the boredom which results from the consumption of his current fare of pure beauty. Moore is simultaneously critiquing the "cult of beauty" and proffering an alternative -- a beauty that combines intelligence, independence, and appearance. There is a strong feminist spirit underlying the story and it is this spirit that separates this tale from a run of the mill narrative.

As before, Moore combines elements from a variety of literature in this piece in a manner that is fluid. The discussion of elemental evil has ties to Weird Horror. The Alendar, his stronghold, and the equation of beauty itself with the horrific echo Gothic Horror. The manner in which Smith is encountered and the stories resolution are straight from a Western, one could easily see "Black Thirst" as an episode of Wild, Wild, West. With all that Moore combines genre elements one might expect to become lost in some residual narrative clutter, yet that never occurs. Moore has a story she wants to tell, of a vampire who consumes beauty yet seeks something more, and it makes for quite an entertaining ride.

Previous Blogging Northwest Smith Entries:

1) Blogging Northwest Smith: "Shambleau"

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Where "Dollhouse" Went Wrong

In his Entertainment Weekly column on Monday, Marc Bernardin asks the question "Where did 'Dollhouse' go wrong?" His article, in short, is an expression of his concern that the show will soon be canceled because its ratings (that's the number of people who watch the show) are on the decline. He mentions a number of contributing factors to the show's decline: Whedon's tendency to have strong finales and week starts, the "Friday Night Death Slot," poor advertising, and bad lead in programming.

I have another explanation, one that Bernardin overlooked. I think it is odd that Bernardin overlooked it, as we generally have very similar tastes when it comes to the pop culture/mass media menu, but he overlooked it none the less.

In a nutshell, it's because "Dollhouse" never gave me a reason to CARE about what was going on. Certainly, there were entertaining episodes that were filled with Whedonesque action and humor. And it would be unfair to say that I didn't care about any of the characters on the show. I worried about Echo's (Eliza Dushku) safety. I also enjoyed the portrayal of the FBI agent Paul Ballard (Tahmoh Penikett) and Echo's handler Boyd Langton (Harry Lennix). In fact, Lennix's portrayal of his character's conflicts are one of the strongest elements on the show. As a fan of 'Angel,' I was pleased to see Amy Acker working again in the roles of Dr. Saunders/Whiskey.

In fact -- I'll just put it out there -- I liked all the characters and actors on the show. Their performances were strong, especially the aforementioned Lennix and the unmentioned Alan Tudyk (who is always awesome), and I always felt like I was watching "real" people in a "real" universe.

Yet I still didn't care.


Because Whedon and crew never made it clear to me whether I should support or hate the human trafficking organization at the root of the show. Is the "Dollhouse" supporting some amazing philanthropic work that is threatened by the outside world, or are they just an organization that wipes people's minds in a kind of "forgotten" indentured servitude? Are they just an immoral human trafficking company that happens to have employees that I find pleasant?

If that's the case, and it seems to be, then there is little stake for me as a viewer in the narratives that Whedon and crew offered as a story arc. If Echo is trying to bring down the techno-brothel (where the doll's have no say in what they can/will do and won't remember anyway), I have a stake. Given the presentation of the Dollhouse so far, the only character I could really root for is Alpha (Alan Tudyk), but he's dead now having failed in his mission to defeat the Dollhouse and attain apotheosis. Sure he was crazy for the desire to become a living deity, but he was perfectly right in seeking to bring down the Dollhouse -- as it has been presented to us.

I could write at length about Whedon's seeming obsession with brothels/prostitutes as manifest in this show and Firefly. But at least the "courtesans" of Firefly seemed genre appropriate, possibly even inspired by C.L. Moore's Minga maids from her Northwest Smith story Black Thirst. Given that Malcolm Reynolds is the closest approximation of Northwest Smith to appear on any screen, I wouldn't find it surprising if NW were the entire inspiration behind Firefly, but you can read more about Firefly and Northwest Smith in a future "Blogging Northwest Smith" post (you can read the first one here). The dolls of Whedon's "Dollhouse" universe don't seem to be deeply rooted in the needs of the universe Whedon has presented in the series. In Firefly the courtesans also doubled as spies and were an integral part of the social dynamics of the 'verse. Last I checked, there was no equal need in the modern world unless your last name is Mitterrand.

Why should I desire the continued existence of the Dollhouse in the "Dollhouse" universe? There are a couple of hints, like with the Mellie character, but never any concrete reasons given. Unless I'm just supposed to think that human trafficking to fulfill sexual (and other) fantasies is unquestionably a moral virtue. Which I don't.

The reason the show is failing is because while Whedon has given us an emotional stake in the dolls, he has failed to give us a positive emotional stake in the Dollhouse.