Showing posts with label Mike Pondsmith. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Mike Pondsmith. Show all posts

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.

Monday, December 07, 2009

War of the Worlds: Goliath -- Coming in 2010

Next year will see the release of Tripod Entertainment's animated Steampunk film WAR OF THE WORLDS: GOLIATH. The film's premise is that 15 years after the Martian's failed attack on the earth in 1900 the aliens return to continue their attempted conquest of Earth. Much has changed in the intervening 15 years, as the industrious have reverse engineered a substantial amount of Martian technology. This sets the stage for a more evenly balanced conflict between the two worlds. The film's trailer hints at what the film will offer. The film will star geek favorites Adam Baldwin, Peter Wingfield, and Adrian Paul.

GOLIATH isn't the first WAR OF THE WORLDS sequel to make its way through the Hollywood entertainment assembly line. In 1988, there was a 2 season syndicated television series based on the premise that the Martians who invaded during the George Pal film merely went into hibernation and didn't die when they collapsed. The series aired in the US on Fox, and it too starred Adrian Paul (during the 2nd season).

The narrative premise of GOLIATH is a promising one and the show looks to have combined the best of the Steampunk genre with some elements of the classic animated television series STAR BLAZERS. Instead of a giant space faring WWII battleship, we have a giant sky spanning battle-zeppelin. I think the battle-zeppelin wins hands down.

Steampunk is a genre that has been gaining some momentum over the past few years. It combines "Vernian" futuristic technology with a Victorian/Edwardian time frame. I would posit that the first iteration of Steampunk was the Castle Falkenstein roleplaying game by Mike Pondsmith of R. Talsorian Games (publishers of the Cyberpunk rpg) and that the genre gained real traction with the novels The Difference Engine by Gibson and Sterling and The Prestige by Priest.

It has been noted in the comments that I am in error with regards to the origin of the term and genre of Steampunk. I will concede the term's origin, but I would take issue with some of those items retroactively classified into the genre. One could classify Spenser's The Faerie Queene as Epic Fantasy, but one would be misapplying a term for fantasy fiction in the post-Morris era. The same holds for Wild, Wild, West which shares as much with James Bond as it does with Steampunk (specifically). One might as well classify Ian Fleming's brilliant Chitty Chitty Bang Bang as Steampunk. Wikipedia and "internet citations" from Locus be damned!

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.