Monday 31 December 2012

Review: Ripper Street 1.01 - I Need Light

It becomes obvious only a few minutes in to the BBC's new period crime drama Ripper Street that creator Richard Warlow owes a slight debt to Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes, what with the music and bare-knuckle pit fights. However, where Ritchie created a rather goofy London, Warlow's vision is more true to the reality of 19th century Whitechapel - brutal, grim and dark. This isn't your usual crime procedural.

Set in 1889, the series follows H Division, a branch of the police who patrol London's decrepit and poor East End. It's been six months since Jack the Ripper left behind the bodies of the canonical five prostitutes in the grim streets of Whitechapel and it's a time when every murder is hyped by the media as yet another deed of old Leather Apron himself. The H Division, consisting of Detective Inspector Edmund Reid adeptly played by Matthew Macfayden, the rough Detective Sergeant Bennet Drake and freelance Pinkerton-turned-surgeon Captain Homer Jackson. The characters in this core group all have their dark hang-ups and juicy secrets, leaving us eager to find out more. Reid is the moral, upstanding copper who is trying to get over not being able to bring Jack the Ripper to justice, while Drake is a brash 'bad cop', a firm graduate from the school of hard knocks. Jackson, on the other hand, is a man of passion, frequenting the brothel owned by Long Susan, who he has a rocky relationship with.

I Need Light focuses on the body of a woman who is found to have been in the smut industry. Journalist Fred Best, a slimy guy if there ever was one, attempts to sensationalise the murder by turning it into a Jack the Ripper story, all the while Reid fights him to hold off the story until all the facts have come to light. But the newspaper man isn't the only one seeing the Ripper in this case, as Chief Inspector Fred Abberline (Sherlock Holmes alum Clive Russell), a man torn by the Ripper murders insists that this is the work of the prolific killer.

As I said before, this isn't your everyday police drama. Ripper Street is definitely for grown-ups, dealing with the early days of the adult industry, snuff and some good old bloody violence. The episode introduced the characters nicely and gave a good overall set-up for the series. The story was a good one, with twists and turns at every direction, and the acting was top notch. There's no doubt that this will leave most people coming back for seconds.


Saturday 29 December 2012

Example of play from 'USR Fantasy'

One of the projects I've been writing this year is USR Fantasy, a guide to playing in the fantasy genre with the Unbelievably Simple Role-playing game. The book is pretty much finished now, but I wanted to just share an example of play with you from the book to give you an idea of how USR plays in general.

We join the GM along with Steve as Burrow the halfling rogue, Pete as Lucan the elven druid, James as Kronk the dwarf warrior and Dave as Wenlock the human archer. The players have been sent on a quest to find a cure for the plague that has hit Bornshrike, a village in the Golden Hills. They have delved deep into a network of caves beneath a mountain where it is said the cure can be found...

GM: You enter a rocky man-made tunnel. There is moss growing on the walls and you can see tiny insects scuttling around the floor. There is a foul stench coming from the north, straight ahead of you but as you're using a torch you can only see so far.

Steve: Burrow's feeling pretty cautious. He tells the others that he has a bad feeling about this and is going to check the area for any traps. He carefully inspects the walls, floor and ceiling ahead of him for any out of place crack or hole.

GM: Cool, roll your Wits and add any Specialism that could help you. [There is a dart trap, so the GM decides it's going to be a hard difficulty of 7 on the attribute test].

Steve: I have Spot Traps! Ok, so I roll 1d10 and add 2 for my Specialism. [Rolls] I rolled a total of 8.

GM: Well done, you spot three suspect holes in the wall that you immediately recognise as a dart trap. These are triggered by stepping on a pressure pad a couple of feet ahead of you. However, you can hear someone coming!

James: Kronk draws his axe and waits to see what's coming.

Dave: Wenlock will knock and arrow and point it down the tunnel.

GM: Ahead of you appears three ugly orcs, their crude black swords drawn. They roar and charge at you. What are you going to do.

Pete: Let's retreat back a little and hopefully they'll be stupid enough to trip the dart trap.

Steve: Good plan!

[The group retreats a few metres and watches the frontmost orcs step on the pressure pad, much to the enjoyment of the group].

GM: The leading orc is peppered with darts and takes 1d6 damage [she rolls a 5]. The orcs receives one straight in the eye and collapses in a heap on the ground. The other two are running at you. Can everyone roll to see what order they fight in?

[Each player rolls the Wits die + their Action die, the highest going first and continuing to the next highest and so on]

Dave: Right, Wenlock looses an arrow at the closest orc [he rolls his Action die, which is a d8 and gets a 6 and then adds 1 for his short bow giving him a total of 7].

GM: [Rolls the orc's Action die, d6, for his defence, resulting in a 4]. Your arrow flies true and lands with a thunk in the creature's chest for 3 damage. He's not looking peachy. The other orc, however, is within stabbing distance of you. He slashes at your abdomen. [The GM rolls the orc's Action die of d6, getting a 3 and then adds 1 for his short sword, resulting in 4].

Dave: Wenlock defends with all his might! [He rolls a 2 on a d8, meaning he takes 2 damage from the attack]. Arrgh!

James: Kronk runs up to the orc attacking Wenlock and attempts to hew him in two with his axe. [He rolls a total of 10 with his Action die]. Oh yes!

GM: [Rolls a 2 for the orc's defence, meaning he takes 8 damage!] The orc's torso is separated from his legs in a red haze. The final orc drops his blade and pleads for his life.

Steve: Go on, orc, beg for mercy! Hahahaha!

Pete: Lucan raises an eyebrow at Burrow. How's about you tell us where the elixir of Avarice is, orc.

GM: The orc's not going to give the information up that easily, but I'm sure there's some way to get it out of him.

Pete: Elves are naturally charismatic, so I could use my Specialism to persuade him to show us the way.

James: Or Kronk could just intimidate him until he soils himself.

Steve: Let's try Lucan's way first. If it comes to it we threaten the bugger.

Pete: We won't hurt you, orc. In fact, you probably don't like it down here what with all the death and having to poo in the corner of a cave. If you shows us the way to the elixir then we can make sure you get out of here and live a new life in a nice place.

GM: Cunning. Ok, this is going to be a hard attribute test, requiring a 7 on an Ego roll.

Pete: [Rolls his Ego of d8 plus his Charismatic Specialism, which is another 2, resulting in 5]. Dammit!

GM: The orc laughs and tells you he actually likes it down here and he's not going to tell you where the elixir is.

Steve: Alright Kronk, you're up.

James: Kronk marches over to the orc and pins it against the wall that's covered in his kin's blood. He hold the blade at its throat and growls, “Tell us where it is or I'll turn yer gizzard into a nice fountain.”

GM: Ok, roll Ego plus any Specialism.

James: [Rolls d6 plus his Intimidate Specialism of 2, resulting in 7]. Only just!

GM: The orc whimpers and tells you to let him go and he'll give you the description of the room the elixir is in.

The story continues as the party make their way further into the mountain, fight new hideous creatures, overcome traps and find some excellent loot.

Interview with Hamnasya gamebook publisher Oliver Gavrois

It's very rare that a book trailer can blow you away, never mind a digital gamebook trailer, but when I saw the teaser for Hamnasya - Askaryl's Grimoire I was speechless. Seriously, give this a look.

Holy crap, that's insane! I'd never heard of Blue Flame Publishing before but I wanted to make damned sure I found out more about Hamnasya, so I got in touch with Oliver Gavrois from Blue Flame Publishing and talked to him about this new digital gamebook series.

Hey Oliver, can you tell me a little bit about yourself and what Hamnasya's all about?
Hi Scott, I'm Oliver Gavrois, I'm French and I've been living in the UK for about (thinking and counting...) 20 years. Ouch, 20 years already ? I managed somehow to keep my strong French accent. Most people in the UK call me Ollie, which is fine by me :)

A couple of years ago, I was at a crossroads in my life and I was looking for something else to do. I picked up a gamebook from my study and I thought to myself that it would be great to revive this genre of reading and gaming in a digital format. I started to look at what was available and I thought nothing of it for a while. Everything came from an encounter I made several months later. I met Nicolas Lenain, a French unpublished author and we got talking about the novel he was working on. During the discussions we had, Nicolas revealed that everything had started several years earlier in the format of a gamebook. A little spark ignited in my mind, a gamebook? 

Nicolas shared with me his initial ideas and I liked his universe and characters. It was clear that Nicolas, like myself was a fan of the genre, so I shared the idea of converting his work into a digital format. We said let's do it ! This is how it all started really.

Hamnasya is a fantasy world, where once lived dragons. It is filled with magic and monsters. The story, as you know, is in the format of a gamebook, where the player/reader chooses the paths to follow. Hamnasya also follows a rpg structure where the player can manage several aspects of his character from his vital attributes down to his equipment.

Gamebooks have shot up in popularity in the past couple of years, with new developers cropping up all the time. What do you think is the cause for this surge in interest of what is typically seen as a dead genre?
The genre appeared to be dead but was not really. It might not have been "mainstream" but it was dormant like a sleeping dragon waiting to be awaken ;)

There might be a bit of nostalgia from people of our generation who grew up and who had their lives changed by their experiences of reading a gamebook. I think the gamebooks were just waiting for a new platform really and the new mobile devices allow us to revive the genre. 

I think the interest in interactive stories, the essence of gamebooks, has always been there. We could and we still can find it in adventure video games which were popular in the Nineties but even nowadays in the latest big name console games.

The thing that originally piqued my interest about Hamnasya was the epic live action trailer, which is surprising for an app. Can you tell me a little bit about why you wanted to go with a trailer like this?
I'm glad the trailer piqued your interest, that was the idea :) I thought it would be interesting to try to tell part of the story of our main character, Edhan from a different angle and through a different medium. If it brings people, who consider themselves as not readers, back into reading in general and reading gamebooks in particular, then it's mission accomplished. It's like what did the gamebooks to me when I was a teenager.
Regarding the trailer, I must say that I have been really lucky to meet the creative team at Delapost Paris, the guys who made this possible. When I initially approached them, my idea was a simple short story and I was enquiring about what was possible. 

When I met the film director, Frank Vroegop, I shared my ideas with him and he came up with even bigger ideas :)

From an initial storyboard where we had 5 assassins chasing the couple on foot, where the troll was not even seen but only suggested, we end up with the epic scene that you've seen.

You've impressed us with the trailer, but what does Hamnasya bring to the table that other gamebook apps don't?
Hamnasya is in the similar vein of other gamebooks apps available out there. It might offer more of an rpg element than what I may have seen but I would prefer to let our readers/players juge by themselves.
I personally love the other apps out there but we tried to be and offer something slightly different.

Design-wise, what was the most challenging aspect of creating Hamnasya?
One of the challenges was to translate everything from French into English and I think that Rebecca Smith from RL Translations has done an excellent job. The other main challenge was to take the work from Nicolas and try to adapt it so it would work better in a digital format. 

For instance, we tried to make all the if statements such as "If you have the Dragon Ring, then go to 14", disappear. The engine knows if you have it or not in your inventory, it then displays the relevant block of text or it makes the statement invisible.

Sometimes, we changed the statements to give clues to the player that he might be missing an important item. So we could end up with a block of text stating: "Unfortunately, you do not have the Dragon Ring, you have no other alternative but to run..." 

If you ask, Alison from Running in The Halls, who developed the app, she might say that one of the challenges was to code the interactions and relations between the hundreds of objects you can find in the story. I'm sure she pulled her hair more than once on that topic.

This is just the first part of the series. What can we expect in future instalments?
The story designed by Nicolas is a trilogy and Askaryl's Grimoire is the first part. So there is only one ending leading to the second part which leads to the final part where we will have multiple endings.
The idea is to follow Edhan, our hero, on his journey of discovery about himself but also about a sinister plot that could change the world of Hamnasya for ever. In the following episodes, we will try introduce some more puzzles, I'm fond of puzzles, they can be tricky to implement though. 

We also have a behaviour system where the player can loose or earn behaviour points depending on his actions. In the first part, this element of the game is active but not really used. We want to gradually introduce the different consequences based on the hero past actions. So certain characters may interact differently based on the behaviour level of the hero. For instance, a scoundrel might be more willing to interact positively with a player/reader if they have a similar behaviour level. 

The player will be able to save his stats and equipment at the end of part one so he can continue to further develop his characters in the future instalments.
Thanks for speaking to us, Oliver.
Thanks for having me and for the opportunity to present Hamnasya to your audience.

You can find more information about Hamnasya and Blue Flame on the official website

Ian Livingstone recognised by New Years Honours

Fighting Fantasy co-creator and digital evangelist Ian Livingstone is to be made a CBE as part of the New Year's Honours list.

It's been a big year for Livingstone with the 30th anniversary of The Warlock of Firetop Mountain and this honour is well deserved, not only for his services to gaming but also the role he played in convincing the British government to adopt a better standard of ICT teaching in schools.

He told the BBC: ""I'm genuinely humbled to get something,"

"My life has been all about games, and I think we learn an awful lot through play.

"Writing Fighting Fantasy books with Steve Jackson in the 1980s seemed to have got a whole generation of children reading again. And I'm delighted that what we created not just manifested itself in interactive books but it's actually inspired people to join the computer games industry."

This year saw the release of Livingstone's latest Fighting Fantasy book, Blood of the Zombies, which received a positive reception from fans.

Well done Ian - hopefully we'll be calling you 'Sir' at the close of 2013.

Monday 24 December 2012

Review: Merlin 5.13 - The Diamond of the Day Part 2

Major Spoilers Ahead

This is it, the ending to the five year run of Merlin, a series that began on a bit of a wobble but culminated in an amazing ending to great last season. The brutal and well-choreographed battle of Camlann concludes at the beginning of the episode with Emrys-style Merlin laying down some serious lighting destruction on Morgana's Saxon army. Soon after Morded and Arthur come face to face in that fated showdown, both running each other through, Arthur mortally wounded and Mordred dead on the ground.

The rest of the episode is a quest of sorts. Merlin has to get the dying Arthur, pierced by a blade forged in Aithusa's breath, to the fabled Isle of Avalon for him to heal. Here we get the moment we've all been waiting for- the magic reveal. This was always going to be a huge moment for the writers, so it's good that they didn't rush this scene. At first Arthur doesn't believe Merlin at all until he gives a quick light show above the camp fire. Understandably Arthur is confused, betrayed and frustrated, leading him to shun his friend for a while. However, as Merlin helps him on his way to Avalon, casting Saxons aside with his magic and tricking them into following different paths through the forest, Arthur begins to understand Merlin's position. This is where we get some heartwarming scenes as Merlin explains how he has only ever used magic for his king and that it's always been his destiny to serve him. These moments are well-written and touching, especially as everything dawns on Arthur.

Meanwhile back in Camelot, the spy who was sleeping with Gwaine for information gets rumbled and subsequently hanged for her betrayal. Percival and Gwaine head off to find Morgana and slay her once and for all - a brave move for just the two of them. Once they find her, they effortlessly dispatch of her Saxon entourage but fall foul of Morgana's powerful magic (no duh!). Gwaine is tortured while Percival is tied to a tree, culminating in what felt like a really rushed but important scene where, after telling Morgana of Arthur's whereabouts, Gwaine dies in Percival's bulky arms. As a fan favourite, it was heartbreaking that they didn't give Gwaine a better send off, and especially one where his last deed was to give secret information away.

Soon Arthur is clearly on the verge of death as he and Merlin arrive at the lake overlooking the isle. They are confronted by Morgana, who after thinking she'd dispatched of the young warlock, proceeded to do her evil talk thing that she likes to do before getting well and truly stabbed by Merlin wielding Excalibur. Merlin summons the dragon to take them the rest of the way but it's too late, after a final "thank you" from Arthur, the once and future king expels his last breath. The dragon explains that, despite what he thinks, Merlin hasn't failed and that Arthur is destined to rise again when Avalon needs him the most. This is pretty much what the stories tell, so it's great that they didn't cop out and keep Arthur alive to run the kingdom. Instead, after legging Excalibur into the lake, where it's deftly snatched up by the Lady of the Lake, Merlin loads Arthur's body onto a boat and sends him out towards Avalon. Back in Camelot they learn of the king's death and Guineviere is sworn in as the Queen.

The final scene is one that I don't think many people will have expected, but one that I had an inkling they might run with. The camera pans on the Isle of Avalon before a truck blasts past, revealing a weary bearded Merlin in what could be fisherman's clothes stopping to gaze at the isle before walking on with a little smile. I can predict a fan backlash against the way the writers ended this, but I liked it. It brings the legend into our reality and sort of gives us some hope that in all these dark times, there may just be a chance that a true leader will rise up and bring us back into a new golden age.

The final episode did have some pacing issues but where the story and character relationships are concerned, it did everything right. The magic reveal was treated with respect and the relationship between Arthur and Merlin had never felt so close. The series, as much as it had been about adventure, has always been about these two men and their relationship that has been growing since the beginning and I'm happy to say that everything works out. There were some silly holes, like why didn't Merlin just summon the dragon in the first place and get Arthur to Avalon in like a day, but otherwise it was a top episode to end a great series.


Temple of the Hag released by Peryton

Just in time for Christmas, Peryton Publishing has released a new Tunnels & Trolls adventure in the Trollish Delver line called Temple of the Hag. It was written by the ever brilliant Tom K Loney and set in Peakvale, my campaign setting.

Here's what the blurb says:

Finding the Temple of the Hag is not as simple as getting from point A to point B. The dark spirits that live within keep their temples well hidden. Sword-bladed grass, quicksand, and the dreaded doomsday skeeters are only a few of the dangers that skulk along the haunted paths of the Swamp of Doom. Somewhere within, living in the shadow of the Bat-Winged Fiend himself, the mysterious swamp hag bottles her stolen souls.
 This scenario is set in Scott Malthouse’s Peakvale campaign setting. While it can be incorporated into any other T&T world, such as Trollworld or Elder, we recommend that you check out Trollish Delver Games for details first. The player characters should either have Combat Adds of 50 or more or be able to cast at least a couple of 3rd level spells. It is assumed that the players have survived the No Fences to Mend scenario (and possibly had a few Hot Nights in Lowhollow), but the scenario can just as easily be played as a standalone adventure.
So why not treat yourself or someone you love with a trip to Peakvale for Christmas. You can't got wrong for $2.25.

Thursday 20 December 2012

Grail Quest is coming to digital devices

It seems that not a day goes by when Tin Man Games don't announce something new and awesome. Our metallic friends have snagged the license for 80's gamebook hit Grail Quest by Herbie Brennan, further securing the developer's bid for total world domination.

Grail Quest: Castle of Darkness, the first book in the series, will drop mid-2013. The story follows the young protege of Merlin, Pip, on his adventure through Arthurian Britain. The book is a send up to the fantasy genre, poking fun at its tropes and generally not taking itself too seriously.

This is the second series of books Tin Man has taken on written by Brennan; the other being the Demonspawn series.

Tuesday 18 December 2012

Watch the opening to the 90s X-Men cartoon re-created with toys

This is probably the best thing you will watch all day. After two months of animation, Kyle Roberts has created this blistering masterpiece that re-creates the epic opening to the 90s X-Men Saturday morning cartoon. This is amazing!

Monday 17 December 2012

I'm writing a new gamebook for Adventurer

Adventure Games Guild, publisher of the upcoming Adventurer solo roleplaying system, has announced the books and authors that will be releasing books next year, including my very own book called Blackstorm.

I'll be joining a list of other great authors working with the system in 2013, including Stuart Lloyd, David Walters and Shane Garvey.

You can find the announcements on the blog.

I don't think I can give many details away about Blackstorm, but it's going to be damned good. Well, that's what I'm aiming for anyway. I'll be reporting on Adventurer, Blackstorm and all the other books as more details are released.

Sunday 16 December 2012

Lovecraftian interactive fiction coming to mobile devices

As I reported yesterday, Tin Man Games are announcing a tonne of great gamebooks over the 12 days of Christmas and today's news is no exception. The developer is working on a Lovecraft-inspired interactive novel called Les Fils d'Uruzime (Sons of Urizime), a French app that will later be translated into English.

This comes at the same time as the company revealed a new line called Gamebook Adventure Choices, a series of apps that focus on interactive storytelling rather than dice-rolling gameplay. They have also announced two more games in this line: Vietnam War story La Drange '65 and a "1930's pulp adventure story".

According to the website, the story of Les Fils d'Uruzime revolves around a young professor in 1920s America during the stock market crash. One of the professor's students vanishes, a studious lad from a powerful and disapproving family, and it's up to him to uncover the mystery of his disappearance and discover how members of Arkham's elite become so very powerful.

The game will land next year in French with an English version to follow.

Saturday 15 December 2012

Review: Tropico 4 Gold Edition - Trouble in Paradise (X360)

It would be going too far to call Tropico 4 a game-changer in the city simulation genre, but it’s certainly a game that shows the rest of them how it’s done. The banana republic cultivator is back and this time coupled with hefty expansion Modern Times and while it’s not going to offer anything new to hard-bitten dictators, Tropico newcomers will get everything they need to become the El Presidente of their dreams.

Tropico 4 allows you to take on the role of the ruler of a small island nation and it is up to you to determine whether you will be the benevolent dictator, keeping your population content, or the militant tyrant who always has his finger on the trigger. As head honcho, or El Presidente, your cigar-sucking self will be in charge of pretty much everything, from making sure hospitals aren’t under-staffed to dabbling in the turbulent world of foreign policy. In fact, you will barely get any time to breathe when you’re constantly trying to keep your nation from falling apart, whether that’s the fault of the economy or the variety of random natural disasters that can occur at any given moment.

You could probably describe Tropico as a ‘light’ simulation, but that would be doing it a disservice. Sure, the layout is simple and the menus easy to navigate, but that’s not to say this isn’t a city builder that anyone can’t sink their socio-political loving teeth into. Building farms and mines will net you resources while money flows from tourist locations where foreigners flock to your island paradise in search of sun and sangria. You will also be keeping your loyal subjects happy with houses, hospitals and other buildings, but here’s where Tropico 4 gets a bit clever. The populus is split into different factions including capitalists, communists, nationalists and environmentalists, all of which have conflicting agendas and all of which need appeasing by yours truly. While the capitalists are kept satiated with a thriving industry and a free market, communists prefer farms and housing. Of course, the nationalists don’t like the country getting involved with foreigners, so you’re going to have to decide whether you’re going to marginalise a couple of groups to appease everyone else, or you’re just going to do what you want. Factions keep gameplay fresh and exciting and are a great addition to the game.

While this all sounds quite dry, Tropico boasts a humorous charm, with missions ranging from the rather mundane to whacked out scenarios like keeping a group of murderous mimes at bay until they can tour Vegas. Yes, that happens. There are 20 missions in the main campaign and the Modern Times expansion adds an extra 12 scenarios. Each mission is varied and adeptly takes you from a tiny burgeoning nation to a thriving civilisation, with a learning curve that’s not as frustrating as some other titles in the genre.

Thankfully, the console controls are very well done, using the bumpers and analogue sticks to great effect in place of keys and a mouse. In fact, this is one of the better simulations ported onto a console.
Modern Times gives you a plethora of new toys to play with in addition to the new scenarios. Set a year after the events of the main game, the expansion focuses on the rise of technology. Buildings become obsolete and have to be upgraded, you can build skyscrapers, biofarms and modernise your current architecture. You can also block people’s internet, stop people using social networks and create a police state if you’re feeling particularly despotic. There’s even a zombie invasion complete with a zombie inquisition by religious zealots. But one of the big additions Modern Times brings to the table is the metro station which allows people to quickly travel between stations, allowing you to reach new zones and plan your flag, so to speak.

As a whole, Tropico 4: Trouble in Paradise is a great package with a fantastic game. While the visuals aren’t cutting edge or anything, Tropico 4 and Modern Times presents a range of great scenarios as well as a sandbox mode allowing you to pretty much do what you want for as long as you like. Sure, you’re not getting anything new out of the gold edition if you’ve already invested previously, but for newcomers looking for a simulation that doesn’t overwhelm you with complexities, but that’s also satisfying and humorous, then look for further than this fine package.


Originally written in the December issue of Thirteen1

How to make mind-blowing paper snowflakes with maths

Vi Hart is a Youtuber who dedicates her time to blowing minds. The crafty maths whiz has created a video showing you how to make some amazing paper snowflakes using mathematical theory, and they're insanely good. So get out your scissors and paper and prepare to spend the rest of the day snipping Christmas decorations. 

Tin Man Games have ALL the announcements

Currently the guys over at Tin Man Games are running a bunch of gamebook reveals on their blog under their 12 days of gamebooks event. So far they've announced a bunch of great games, including the much speculated 80's gamebook series they teased not so long ago.

As well as having a new Judge Dredd gamebook and a sequel to An Assassin in Orlandes, the app developer has a tonne of other projects in the works, including Sagas of the Demonspawn, the 80s gamebook series, beginning with Book One: Fire*Wolf.

Not only that, they have also announced an interactive novel based on a Japanese dating sim, which will be called Shira Oka: Alice's Story, a spin-off of the Shira Oka games by Okashi Studios. This is relatively new territory for Tin Man and it's great to see they are expanding their repertoire with different genres.

Other gamebook announcements include The Spellcaster Trilogy, a series aimed at a younger audience and written by Melbourne based author Louisa Dent Pearce; and Gun Dogs, a brand new series by Lone Wolf co-creator Gary Chalk. This is part of the new Gamebook Adventures Masters line, which showcases veteran writers crafting interactive fiction in brand new worlds.

But that's not all! There are still five more announcements to go, so keep watching the Tin Man blog for more reveals.

Suffice to say, it's an exciting time to be a gamebook fan and it looks like there's going to be no stopping Tin Man Games in 2013. Roll on the New Year!

Pacific Rim trailer shows giant mechas punching giant monsters and it's awesome

The trailer for Guillermo del Toro's kaiji-bashing Pacific Rim has finally hit the internet and it looks amazing. Ok, I'll level with you: I'm a big Godzilla fan already so I was already won over at the mere announcement of this film, but holy crap look at this trailer. Did you see the Jaeger punch that huge monster in the face? Bad-ass.

The plot revolves around a dimensional fissure in the Pacific ocean that allows massive beasties to come through into our world to wreak havoc and chaos all manner of destruction. However, we humans decide to fight back by building huge whopping mechas, called Jaegers, to lay the smackdown on these giant underwater hooligans.

Pacific Rim is due out July 2013.

Monday 10 December 2012

New Tunnels & Trolls edition gets trailer

More information about Deluxe Tunnels & Trolls, the upcoming edition of the venerable roleplaying game, has been released, including a teaser trailer.

The new rules will be funded via Kickstarter (like everything else nowadays) and feature the most comprehensive details about the T&T setting yet, including maps, new kindred and more information about Trollworld.

The trailer also states there will be more character options, races (kindred, surely) and weapons. The rules will also contain a solo and a GM adventure, so it sounds like you're going to get a lot for your money.

There's been some discussion among us die-hard T&T fans and creator Ken St Andre about what number edition this will be. Ken has pretty much said that this is really the 9th edition, because the 8th edition is the French edition that came out earlier in the year.

Sunday 9 December 2012

RIP Sir Patrick Moore, master of the stars

It's a sad day for both science and broadcasting as it was announced earlier that Sir Patrick Moore, presenter of The Sky at Night and renowned amateur astronomer, has died.

Moore was known for his eccentric persona, his monocle and most of all his fiery enthusiasm for astronomy. He holds the record for the world's longest presenter of a television show, having started as the face of The Sky at Night on the BBC in 1957 and carried on working on the show up until his death.

He was responsible for making the public excited about the universe and was a well-respected and much loved British institution.

Moore is a personal hero of mine and I know we will never have anyone else like him. He was a true fountain of knowledge and someone I could listen to for hours. He will be missed greatly.

Friday 7 December 2012

You Are The Hero launches on Kickstarter

I wasn't kidding when I said that 2012 would be the year that gamebooks would return to public imaginations. Fighting Fantasy author Jonathan Green today launched his Kickstarter campaign to write You Are The Hero, a book documenting the history of Fighting Fantasy. It sounds awesome.

I was disheartened when Fighting Fantasy documentary Turn to 400 failed to fund, but I perked up a bit when Green tweeted me his new blog which promised something else fans of the series could support. 

On his Kickstarter page, Green outlines his ambitions for the project:

I want YOU ARE THE HERO to be something special, a book worthy of commemorating such an extraordinary achievement and the impact Fighting Fantasy gamebooks have had on the world. I want it to look like the kind of artefact you might hope to find in the Warlock’s own treasure hoard.
As a result the first print run of YOU ARE THE HERO will be a limited edition. The book will feature brand new, specially-commissioned cover art by Martin McKenna, as well as original artwork from the series, and a foreword written by Steve and Ian themselves.
Not only will YOU ARE THE HERO tell the amazing story of how Fighting Fantasy gamebooks changed the world, it will also cover everything from spin-off novels and puzzle books, to foreign editions, board games and video games. It will even delve into such areas as the gamebooks that never were, the myths and legends surrounding the series, and how Ian Livingstone’s newest gamebook – Blood of the Zombies – almost never happened.

 With a £15,000 target and already £684 in the pot in the past few hours, this one's looking very promising.

In which I was stuck in bed (and it sucks)

I just wanted to apologise for the lack of posts. On Wednesday I contracted some whacked-out fever that's still being a real jerk to my insides, yo.

I should be back to posting regular updates over the weekend when I pass my constitution saving roll, but until then, have a happy Friday.

Sunday 2 December 2012

Review: Merlin 5.09 - With All My Heart

Copyright BBC/Shine

Minor spoilers ahead

With the announcement that this season is going to be Merlin's last, it's almost crunch time for Camelot and episode nine sets things on course for what could be a great finale.

In the opening Arthur and Merlin spy on Gwen as she meets up with Morgana in the dead of the night, giving away more of the kingdom's strategic secrets. Merlin is told to seek out the Dochraid, an ancient sorceress, who explains the only way they can reverse Morgana's brainwashing is to have Gwen willingly step into the Great Cauldron and be bathed in the light of the White Goddess. Old Merlin makes an appearance here, and as much as he usually annoys me he's actually pretty good here. He's stopped trying to sound like a shouty geriatric and now speaks in a more gravelly cadence. He's also got a take-no-crap attitude which he displays when he whips out Excalibur and starts slicing into the Dochraid, sending flecks of green blood spattering across the cave.

There's quite a bit played for laughs in this episode, some of it genuinely funny (Merlin, Gaius and Arthur staring at Gwen at the dining table, waiting for her to fall unconscious after drugging her, for example) and other parts not so much. Merlin and Arthur take a sleeping Gwen on a dangerous journey through the mountains, followed closely by Mordred, who suspects foul play on Merlin's part. However, he soon joins them on their quest and we learn that maybe he's not just putting on an act to get into the king's good books - he genuinely seems to care for both Arthur and Merlin, which is going to make the next few episodes very interesting indeed. It's good to see Mordred take a front seat again, as he's been in the background for far too long while the whole Gwen being evil storyline was going on.

We also finally see a bit of Aithusa action, the still emaciated white dragon of Morgana's that doesn't do a whole lot apart from get shouted at by Merlin. I'm still convinced we're going to see an Aithusa/Kilhgarrah brawl towards the end, which should be cool.

Oh yeah, and Merlin becomes an old woman - so there's that, and it's actually a pretty good, if campy, performance.

With All My Heart is a very simple episode, but one that pushes the series further towards the finale. Arthur's used sorcery to save someone he loves, Morgana loses a pawn in the fight against Arthur and Mordred's fate is still to be determined.


Will OUYA become the next big thing in gaming?

After one of the most successful Kickstarter campaigns of all time, funding the entire project within eight hours of going live, Boxer8 has just announced that OUYA developer consoles will be shipping just after Christmas. Already people are proclaiming the open source gaming platform to be the next big thing, but there are some who are also saying the project could end up going the way of the Dreamcast.

For those of you who aren't familiar with OUYA, it is a tiny Android-based console that's completely open to developers and hackers, with the designers encouraging creators to tinker with the console's capabilities. All games will be free in some way or another, either offering a demo, in-game paid- for upgrades or just being flat out free. In addition to having a library of exclusive OUYA games and access to Google Play, it will also be linked to Onlive, giving players access to hundreds of console titles. Big name developers like Square Enix and Namco Bandai have announced their support for the console, which adds a tonne of credibility to the fledgeling platform. Oh yeah, it's also going to be retailing at $99, meaning that if everything does go pear-shaped there's not a huge risk on the investment.

While everything is sounding fairly peachy, I do worry that it's just going to become a dumping ground for the same crap shovelware that infests Google Play at the moment. Historically, app gaming has been a very casual affair, spending a few minutes here and there on a game that you inevitably delete after only one play. Home consoles are a completely different beast to portable gaming devices, requiring more engaging storytelling, bigger games and deeper gameplay. If most of the library is made up of app games converted for the TV, then it's not going to be a particularly fulfilling experience. Console games require time investment and the ability to keep the player engaged, but the majority of stuff out there for Android at the moment isn't going to cut the console mustard.

Still, with the announcement of titles like Final Fantasy III and Shadowrun Online, as well as the possibility of Minecraft making an appearance, this little console could have some weight to it. We will have to wait and see when OUYA is released early next year.

Tuesday 27 November 2012

Submit your news to the News section!

Rejoice! The Trollish Delver now has a dedicated news section of the blog that keeps you up to date with all the latest geek news from across the web and the best part is that you can submit your own news instantly!

Powered by social news curation site, Rockzi, the news section allows you, dear reader, to submit the geek news that you would like to see on the blog.

This means that YOU get to play a part in what gets put on this site, and I'd love you to join in and submit your news. You can also vote up and share stories that you like.

(Pac)Man on the moon

Ok, so it's not our moon... and there's been two 'men' found, on separate moons. This is still a really interesting finding, though. It would seem that the rotation and orbit of two of Saturn's moons, coupled with the impact of high energy electrons on their surfaces, have contrived to produce a striking image of 80's arcade game character 'Pacman' on both Mimas and Tethys when thermally imaged during the day.

So, how is this all happening? Well, it’s all rather complicated but to break it down; it appears that high energy electrons found within either moon’s ‘magnetosphere’ are flowing retrograde to the spin of each celestial body. It’s thought that this is causing to impact the surface of the moons leading hemisphere and somehow increase thermal inertia at lower latitudes. An increase in thermal inertia simply means that the lower latitudes of Mimas and Tethys are less prone to change in temperature in either direction. So how does this lead to the moons looking like Pacman under  thermal imaging?
Look specifically at the image at the top right hand corner of the figure above (taken from Howett et al, 2012). You can clearly see that the temperature near the equator of Tethys is cooler than that further away and that this difference disappears the further away you look from the leading hemisphere… creating what can only be described as Pacman.

I fully expect a report claiming the existence of multi-coloured ghosts on Mimas and Tethys to be published within the next couple of years!

Genome sequencing: the next steps.

The majority of people with access to any kind of mass media will have heard of the human genome project and be aware of genome sequencing, even if they don't know the ins and outs of it. A lot of those people will know about the 1000 genome project, the results of which were published in Nature last month, and plenty of people will know that the genomes of all of our main model organisms, such as Arabidopsis thaliana, Mus musculus, Danio rerio, Drosophila melanogaster, Saccharomyces cerevisae and (of course, the laboratory workhorse) Escherichia coli (That's Thale Cress, Mice, Zebrafish, Fruit Flies, Brewer's Yeast and E. coli, respectively). Advances in genome sequencing, particularly in pyrosequencing, mean that sequencing the genome of a whole organism is no longer a major issue. The time consumed by the process, as well as the cost, is coming down rapidly in some kind of Biological version of Moore's Law. So now that we're edging ever closer to the ability to personalise human medicine based on our own individual DNA sequence, and we can be sure that the big commercial sequencing companies will keep chipping away at the both the cost and time issues, which direction will basic research be taking from now on?

One avenue being pursued is that of 'metagenomics', or the sequencing of genetic material isolated from whole environments or ecosystems. The main interest in metagenomics stems from the fact that a technique called 'massive parallel pyrosequencing', a technique based on sequencing between one and one hundred million short DNA sequences in parallel, allows an unprecedented snapshot into the diversity of bacteria present in a given environment.

The process involves the extraction of DNA from environmental samples before cloning into a bacterially derived artifical chromosome capable of accommodating up to 350kilobases of DNA. The DNA is then amplified via the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and sequenced. In the past, this would have meant the Sanger chain-termination method of sequencing, which was quite low throughput. Now, pyrosequencing is used, which involves building a strand of DNA based on an immobilised template strand. Each letter of the genetic code (A, T, G and C) is added sequentially to the reaction. As one of the letters is incorporated into the growing strand a fluorescent signal is emitted. Because only one letter is present in the reaction mixture at a given point in time, it's easy to figure out which letter is being added when the fluorescent signal appears. This gives you a heck of a lot of sequence data but leaves you with a big, big problem... you could be working with approximately 10,000 different species and dealing with an impossibly large number of sequence reads, most of which will be code that has been read several times in the same experiment,  so how do you even begin to make sense of this information overload? In short, the answer is 'with great difficulty'. Bioinformaticians have developed programmes which should, in principle, assemple the sequences into genomes accurately. However, most of these programmes are optimised for single organism assemblies, not for metagenomic studies. The use of a 'reference' sequence improves accuracy immensely but there are relatively few bacterial genomes available outside of the main species used in the laboratory, which makes it quite clear that sequencing the genomes of single organisms is far from flogging a dead horse.

So, what's the point of all this? Well, it's a pretty big deal. One of the major metagnomics projects is the study of the human microbiome, particularly the gastro-intestinal tract microbiome. Human associated bacterial cells outnumber your own body cells ten to one and species diversity exceeds 10,000, we simply have to accept that the influence they have over us is enormous. There's even one school of thought, albeit a hotly constested one, that the unit of natural selection in evolutionary terms is not the gene, or the organism, but the organism and all of the associations it forms with microbes. The idea states that an organism is capable of utilising the genome of the microbes it hosts (humans, as an example, use gut bacteria to aid food metabolism) and that the microbial genome evolves at a faster rate than the host genome. This gives us what is called a 'hologenome' and the hologenome's propensity for rapid evolution allows a far greater level of adaptive potential than would be possible when considering the host genome alone.

Quite simply: an understanding of the microbial communities we host will allow us a better picture of who we are and where we came from, as well as opening the door to a new generation of medicine, acting in concert with personalised medicine stemming from the sequencing of individual human genomes.

Monday 26 November 2012

Current season of Merlin to be the last

Sad times in Camlot as the BBC has announced that Merlin will conclude with the current season, ending with a two-parter this December.

Many of us have been speculating as to whether season 5 will be the finale, as the writers have set up much of the end of the tale, including the fated Battle of Camlann.

In a press release issued by the BBC, the cast gave their utmost thanks to fans and talk of the good times they had creating the show.

Colin Morgan, who plays Merlin, said: “From the beginning this was always going to be a five year journey that we embarked on and I think the show has run its natural course. The show has grown and grown each year and now we’ve arrived at its strongest point and we’ve achieved what we set out to do… I know this is the end, and I know this is goodbye, but thank you for being there on the journey with us because it has been a lot of fun!”

The creators have confirmed that the series has run its course and will end at a logical point.

Co-creators and executive producers, Johnny Capps and Julian Murphy, said: “This is the series where the storylines truly reach their apex. We always felt the story of the legend was best told across five series, leading to a spectacular finale that draws on the best known elements of this much-loved story and brings to a conclusion the battle for Camelot.

“We’d like to thank the amazing cast and crew for their professionalism and dedication, the BBC, FME and all of our partners globally for their incredible support and encouragement across the last five series.

“But chiefly, our thanks go to Merlin’s remarkable and loyal audience around the world for their enthusiasm for the characters and Camelot universe.”

I, like many others, will be sorry to see it go, but respect that this is the time for Merlin to bow out on a high and for the show to end as it always should have.

Sunday 25 November 2012

Buy a gamebook and help save a life

If you're a regular reader, you'll know the love I have for the BEAN! The D2 roleplaying game and its creator, Jeff Freels. The recent controversy due to the naming of his campaign setting, which was originally called Beanworld, has blown over (it's now The World of BEAN) but Freels is still in need of a life-saving operation.

Tunnels & Trolls writer Sid Orpin has released a two new solo adventures for BEAN! called Cellars of Castle Cassoulet and East of Fabassia, and all proceeds go towards the Jeff Freels Transplant Fund. Beware the zombeans!!

Here's the descriptions:

Cellars of Castle Cassoulet:
The Lords of Soy have made their ancestral seat at Castle Cassoulet for the last 9 generations. In former times it was a magnificent place but since the 7th Bean Baronet of Soy started to dabble in the darkest of the dark arts the family have been reduced to allowing thrill-seekers like you to explore his abandoned cellars and taking 10% of the value of any loot that is brought out.

East of Fabassia:
 A hearty adventurer can make their fortune in the Great Sea Of Ash & Dust.  All they have to do is survive the harsh climate; avoid the roving slavers; defeat the many deadly creatures, curses, and other hostile challenges there; and somehow find the secrets buried beneath the centuries of dust.  Do you think you're up to the challenge?
The books are only $2 and $3 each respectively, so please head over and buy Cassoulet and Fabassia. If you don't own BEAN! then now's the time to buy it - it's only $3!

Review: Merlin 5.08 - The Hollow Queen

Minor spoilers ahead

We're now over half way through this season of Merlin and so far it's the strongest its ever been in terms of writing and acting. Guinevere is still in league with Morgana and Merlin is coming ever closer to doing something about it. The Hollow Queen continues Morgana's nefarious scheming, using Gwen as her pawn in an attempt to off Arthur once and for all.

While Merlin still feels like a family show, the subject matter of treason, politics and torture aims this story arc at older viewers. The episode begins with a druid boy, Daegal, breaking into the citadel in search of the young warlock in order to convince him to aid his dying sister. While Merlin at first flat out refuses, he's swayed by the young man and heads off on a treacherous journey into the Valley of Fallen Kings, leaving poor Gaius to make up an excuse to Arthur for his serving boy's absence. Predictably, Merlin's journey is a wild goose chase, as the only person waiting for him is an ever-vengeful Morgana, who poisons him and leaves him to die and the "druid" to collect his bounty. As a result, Merlin is pretty much out of it for the episode, leaving Gwen to carry out her treacherous deeds in the kingdom unhindered.

Shakespearean actor John Shrapnel makes a fantastic appearance as the Sarrum of Amata, a merciless ruler who makes an appearance in Camelot in order to sign an agreement with the kingdom. We discover that it was the Sarrum who imprisoned Morgana for two years in the pit with her dragon Aithusa, and it's clear that he relished every second of her captivity, describing in excruciating detail how the dragon grew too large for the pit causing its body to twist into a malformed mess. After witnessing Arthur's defeat to a warrior of Amata, Gwen convinces the Sarrum to assassinate the king in order to claim much of Camelot's land as a reward.

Although Merlin is on his back for a fair bit of the episode, he does show off the more bad-ass side we saw last season when he killed Agravaine. For instance, he faces off against a large mob of bandits, responding to the exclamation that he has no sword with "I do not need a sword" before blasting the leader across the encampment. He also flat out kills someone, showing that he's come a long way from the jokey kid who arrived in Camelot all those years ago.

Still, the episode is very predictable and Gwen's smirky creepiness is beginning to grate a little. From the teaser for the next instalment it looks like there's going to be a change to the 'let's all try and kill Arthur' formula of late, and it looks like we'll be seeing Mordred and Aithusa again.

Not the best episode, but a rung above mediocre - The Hollow Queen was enjoyable and saw a return of some of the humour that Merlin has been missing, for better or for worse, this season. But it does look like things are going to heat up this week, so stay tuned.


Tunnels & Trolls 4th edition now available for download

Great news for Tunnels & Trolls fans as well as lovers of rare old school roleplaying games. Flying Buffalo
has released the 4th edition rules for Tunnels & Trolls, a rules set that has been like gold dust up to now. You can download the PDF from DriveThruRPG for $4, the original price of the book when it was released way back in 1977.

Even if you're not going to play it, this edition is an interesting one as it marks a time before what we would consider as 'modern T&T', which started with 5th edition. There are loads of little rules in 4th edition that have been stripped away in newer versions, such an alternative missile combat rule, expendable shields, charisma effects and berserk rules. Throughout the rules charming cartoons are dotted around, which jars a bit with the more serious Liz Danforth art, but that's what this game is all about - being different and not taking itself seriously.

This edition seems somewhat more detailed than current ones, with more detailed rules and advice given to the GM. For instance, the rules specifically state that you cannot fight while carrying a torch or casting a light spell and that if you drop the torch too hastily, it will extinguish on a d6 roll of 1-4. Now that's specific! I quite like this added detail, but I do appreciate why stuff like this has been removed in subsequent editions. T&T works best as a rules-lite game, so it shouldn't be too bogged down in minutiae. Nevertheless, 4th edition is definitely worth picking up if you're a fan of the game. It's still T&T but a bit different.

Saturday 24 November 2012

Marvel hero Bond girls are awesome

I love me a nerdy mash-up and this one definitely caught my eye. From the talented hand of Bill Walko come these amazing Marvel heroes fashioned as Bond girls. These are seriously fantastic and I strongly urge you to head over to his DeviantArt page and check out the other awesome work he's done.

Thursday 22 November 2012

Dragons Den skit hopes to win Kickstarter funding for Turn to 400

I've written about Turn to 404 before, a Kickstarter project that's looking to make a documentary about Fighting Fantasy. I've pledged money myself because I believe this could be something fantastic, but with only 8 days to go and only £10,442 pledged out of a hefty goal of £40,000, it's not looking great. But film-maker Sean Riley isn't about to give up just yet, releasing a clever mock Dragons Den video where pitches the documentary to the Dragons. It's really funny, so give it a watch.

But seriously, if you are a fan, ever been a fan or are just into roleplaying games in general, you should totally fund this. There are some great incentives up for grabs, but more importantly you'll be helping a great filmmaker make a great film.

Go, go, go - fund this baby right now!

- Scott Malthouse

Follow @scottmalt on Twitter

Wednesday 21 November 2012

Russia to the rescue in mission to the Red Planet

Last year it looked like a joint ESA-NASA programme to launch a satellite, followed by a rover to Mars was destined to failure as NASA revealed that it would not be putting up its side of the funds for the venture.  Luckily, following talks this year, the project is back on track after Russia was ‘invited’ to join the mission.

The partnership got off to a rocky start; when talks began between the ESA and Roscosmos it was pretty one sided… the ESA got two Russian built proton rockets and Russia got, well, nothing. 

Unsurprisingly, Russia said no.  Proton rockets are particularly expensive and Russia would get no tangible benefit from the project. Despite all this, Russia’s scientists continued their interest in the joint mission and, thankfully, have more or less reached an agreement which will see them provide the rockets needed to launch the satellite and rover in exchange for space on both launches for their own equipment and places for their scientists on the ESA research groups.

It’s hoped that the satellite will launch in 2016 and look for possible points of origin for Methane on Mars, which will inform a 2018 rover launch, which will look for signs of life, past or present, on the surface and up to 2m into the surface. However, these dates could be pushed back further… the agreement between the two space agencies hasn’t been signed and sealed yet! Although work as begun and most of the £1.2 billion required is in place.

Oh, and the Americans haven’t quite gone away; a smaller rover built by NASA will be accompanying the European rover in 2018.

- Ben Hall

Follow @benkhall on Twitter

What you should be reading: People I Know

I'm going to spend a few posts talking about some of the gems I discovered at this year's Thought Bubble Comic Con because I think it's important to showcase small press creators as well as the big guns. My hope is that after reading this series you will go and check out these comics and support the people behind them.

Today I'm taking a look at People I Know, the brainchild of Timothy Winchester, a London-based cartoonist who I happened across at the con. His bright, bold and simple art style popped out at me and after a quick flick through a couple of his books I just had to throw some money down. The particular book I bought was called Thirteen, a choose-you-own-adventure comic that revolves around a conversation with a fairy who casts a bunch of magic spells for you, from turning into an owl tote bag to making everything 8-bit. It's a fun idea and being a gamebook fan I had to take it.

Winchester also runs a webcomic where he publishes all his strips, some of which make it into print volumes. He started drawing these in 2009 and has since done hundreds of them, ranging from slice of life comedy to cutesy absurdism, with characters like Toby, a dinosaur who's constantly looking for a boyfriend, Christina the piece of toast and Toby's sort of friend, and three wizards who have a habit of appearing every Wednesday. Like me, Winchester has a love of puns and throws out some zingers as well as some groanworthy ones. His style is quite sweet and the plethora of colourful characters makes this a really fun comic and one well worth checking out.

- Scott Malthouse

Follow @scottmalt on Twitter

Tuesday 20 November 2012

Pratchett's daughter to continue Discworld legacy

In an interview with The New Statesman, Discworld author and all round legend Terry Pratchett stated that his daughter, Rhianna will continue writing the series when her father is no longer able to write.

Currently, Pratchett uses dictation software and the help of his assistant Rob Wilkins, who has been aiding him for 12 years. However, as Alzheimers takes more of a hold of the author there will be no way of him continuing.

Rhianna doesn't lack writing chops, having worked on Tomb Raider, Heavenly Sword and Prince of Persia to name a few videogames. Having grown up with her father's stories, I have no doubt that she will do his work justice and keep Ankh-Morpork ticking over nicely.

I've been a fan of Pratchett's books for many years as I was introduced to them when I was quite young. The mythology he's created is unimaginably brilliant and it will be a very sad day when he has to stop writing. Still, I have no doubt that Rhianna will be an excellent writer and someone who will keep the Discworld alive for decades to come.

[Via io9]

Monday 19 November 2012

10 gifts for your nerd this Christmas

Can you believe that it's almost a month until Christmas? Me either, and if you're anything like this lazy nerd you probably won't start shopping until at least three hours before the big day. However, this year I want to make it easier for you to find the gifts the nerd(s) in your life will love. So prepare the chestnuts over the fire and put up the tinsel - here's ten gift inspirations to set you on the path to present success.

Subscription to their favourite comic book

Make their life easier by finding out their favourite ongoing comic and buying a subscription to it. It doesn't cost a whole lot, but it's a gift that keeps on giving for a whole year. Either that or if they're Marvel fans, buy them a digital subscription, which I still believe to be the most value for money of everything ever. Seriously, you can read thousands of comic books, making the fee negligible. Trust me, they will thank you for it.

A personalised superhero action figure

Imagine tearing open the wrapping to find your likeness on the body of Iron Man. That would be awesome. Make it someone's dream come true with one of these awesome personalised superhero action figures. All you need to do is send a couple of photos of the recipient (how you obtain these secretly is up to you, I don't want to know anything about it) and choose a figure out of heroes like Batman, Thor, Power Girl and Superman.

Rebel pilot headphones

Gold leader standing by and rocking out. You know what it's like - you're cruising in your Y-Wing, getting ready to bomb some Imperial bunkers but dammit, you have no tunes to compliment your wanton destruction. Any good pilot goes out with some damned snazzy headphones like these ones, so you can crank out The Trooper while taking down the Empire. Oh yeah!

 1st edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons

Remember the days when death came swift and bloody to most characters in D&D, in the time before healing surges and ridiculous hit points? The grognard in your life sure does, so why not treat them to a copy of the new AD&D rules re-print! Being able to go back to the days of yore, when fighters bashed people with a sword and wizards fled under a table when they were out of spells.

Game of Thrones: The Card Game

Whether they're a fan of the books or an initiate into George R. R. Martin's epic fantasy world through the TV show, Fantasy Flight's upcoming card game will surely be a winner. Players wage war on the fields of Westeros, using plot cards to change the balance of power and overcome your opponent with military might. Why not stick on the series soundtrack while you play?

Star Trek Catan

How did it take so long for this to be made. Mind melding the classic resource management boardgame with Star Trek, the latest version of Catan sees the federation populating the galaxy and harvesting resources from planets. Just look at those super cute USS Enterprises! All tiny and junk. If you're sick of playing Monopoly with the family at Christmas, give the gift of Catan and watch your family degrade into crazed resource hoarding lunatics.

The Hobbit Lego
By far the most anticipated movie this winter is The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, where we return to Middle-Earth for more awesomeness courtesy of Peter Jackson. It was inevitable that Lego would seize the opportunity to produce some cool blocky dioramas of some of the key scenes from the film. There are a bunch of sets to get, ranging from Attack of the Wargs to Escape from Mirkwood Spiders. You can see the full range here

Blood of the Zombies

You've probably heard all the praise I have to give for the latest in the Fighting Fantasy series but I can't stress enough how much I love Blood of the Zombies. If they're a zombie or gamebook fan, this is a must. In this book, YOU are the hero as you try to escape a maniac's castle that happens to be filled with flesh-eating zombies. Gather an arsenal of weapons and start tearing into these undead critters, lobbing grenades, beating them with a bat and mowing them down with machineguns. All within a book. Awesome.

Fund a Kickstarter

Sure, this isn't one that's going to produce a tangible gift on the 25th December, but if there's a Kickstarter that they want to fund then why not give them a helping hand by pledging some money towards it? 

The Wonders Collection
There is a god and his name is Professor Brian Cox. The Wonders Collection includes two amazing series: Wonders of the Solar System and Wonders of the Universe, in which Cox expertly takes the audience through the creation of the universe and the magnificence of astronomy. Not only is this a terrific exploration of science, but it's Cox's cheeky charisma that really makes these series shine. 

- Scott Malthouse

Follow @scottmalt on Twitter

Sunday 18 November 2012

Thought Bubble Comic Con Day 2 - Kate Beaton steals shows

The second and final day of Thought Bubble wrapped up today and although I'm sad to have to wait another year for it to return, I had lots of fun and met some great people. I actually had chance to properly browse creators' wares today and have some nice chats with a few of them about their experiences. Read on to find out who sang to me, why Hollywood are very lazy, and how Kate Beaton was Queen of the Con.

Sunday was a day for browsing, and it was the day I picked up the most comics. I decided to focus only on small press and independent creators rather than going for the big guns because it's always good to discover brand new things and support up and coming artists and writers. The first panel, Women in Comics, was by far the most popular of the whole con with a queue that snaked around most of the Armouries Hall, and for good reason. The panel consisted of Alison Bechdel, Kate Beaton, Simone Lia, Hannah Berry, and Fiona Stephenson, moderated by Dr Mel Gibson (yes, she did make a joke that she has been invited to a prison to give an inspirational speech in place of the actor). What followed was a funny and insightful panel, looking into the perception of females in the comic industry, what the panellists grew up reading, and how more women have come to work in comics. No doubt the star of the show was Kate Beaton, creator of Hark! A Vagrant, who shone on every panel she was on with witty snark and an amazing down-to-earth attitude. Of course, the rest of the panel, particularly Alison Bechdel, were fantastic too.

After the panel I went into wandering mode, approaching most tables and chatting with creators. One particularly memorable exchange came from Timothy Winchester, who greeted me with a sing-song voice and instantly captured my attention. He's the creator of People I Know, a hilarious webcomic that's now in print which captures slices of his daily life as well as some nice surreal humour. The particular book I purchased was Thirteen, a choose your own adventure comic (hear that, Mr Lloyd?) which I'll be reviewing this week. I also spoke to Joe List, who did some promo art for the convention, and picked up all of his stuff because, frankly, it's awesome. I then queued for a while to meet Kate Beaton and get her book signed with a sketch.

Soon I was off to the last panel I'd be attending, From Stand to Screen - Comics in Film, which included Robin Furth, Jock, Charlie Adlard, and Phil Noto. All of them had worked on TV and film in some way or another, from The Walking Dead to Dredd, and opened up a discussion about translating the comics medium to film. The panel became more like an intimate conversation with the audience, which was great. I managed to ask them whether they thought the influx of comic book movies has impacted the mainstream perception of comics. The answer was that with well-known franchises like Spider-Man and to some extent The Avengers, it was negligible, but for less well-known comics like Ghost World and The Walking Dead there's clearly a lot of people becoming interested in comics through film. The most interesting and revealing part of the discussion was when the panellists spoke about Hollywood optioning properties. It's not uncommon for Hollywood to go to a convention like San Diego, approach creators and tell them to list all their properties they would like optioning. Because of this, producers end up with huge lists of potential properties to choose from, very few of which come to light. Hollywood loves comic books because a) it saves money on creating new ideas and characters, and b) they can easily visualise characters and scenes because most of the work is already done for them, again, saving them lots of money. It was a great panel to wrap up the final day and I came away from the weekend educated and lighter in the wallet.

- Scott Malthouse

Saturday 17 November 2012

Review: Halcyon & Tenderfoot #1

Remember the innocent days of superheroes when the good guys were actually good instead of being good sometimes and arses to each other the rest of the time? If you fondly recall those days, then Halcyon & Tenderfoot is probably a comic you want to pick up. While it's primarily aimed at children, this small press gem is something that an adult can definitely embrace, especially one who has become jaded with the current spandex scene.

Written by Daniel Clifford, known for his work on Sugar Glider, Halcyon & Tenderfoot doesn't wait around to introduce all the main players of the story. Halcyon is the world's best superhero and an overt commentary on the state of the modern day 'gritty' superhero. He stands for justice and goodness is every respect and outright denounces other heroes whose methods straddle the line of heroism and villainy. He's also had a long career and is seen by many as washed up and irrelevant in today's society. At the beginning, Halcyon introduces the world to his new sidekick, his son Lennon, also known as Tenderfoot - the 'fastest boy on Earth'. Tenderfoot is unsurprisingly excited to get out and do some real heroics, but his father tells him to be patient and cherish the moments that he's not out trying to save the world. However, this changes when it's discovered that a prolific villain has been released from prison. Although this is a book for young people, that hasn't meant development and real human emotion has been edited out of the equation. At the end of the day this is a story about a father and his son, and when they're both out on the field there's not a single panel where Halcyon doesn't look concerned about his boy's well-being. It's a testament to Clifford's writing that something as deep as this can be read in what could have been a simple two-dimensional comic.

Not to spoil anything, but the final panel definitely comes as a shock and I'm looking forward to reading the second issue. Lee Robinson does the artwork, which is bold and clean, popping out of the page even in the absence of colour. I especially love how Robinson draws facial expressions and he also has a really good eye for perspective. However, one day it would be great to see this book in full colour.

It's clear that a lot of heart went into the creation of Halcyon & Tenderfoot and while on the surface it's a kids' book, underneath lies a commentary on modern superheroes as well as a touching relationship between father and son. My only real complaint is that the dialogue can be a little stilted on occasion, but this is a minor fault.


-Scott Malthouse