Archive for the 'Blog' Category

Transantiago: PAX Version

2011 Aug 20

There’s nothing like having a deadline. After waffling about the details of Transantiago for over four years, I knocked this out in a few hours today. The rest of the play materials and rules will be posted before the end of the weekend.

Only 3 more games (Firmament, Super Farmhand, Geiger Counter) to prep after that!

Project ADD

2010 Dec 28

Suddenly moving from being busy to having free time always gives me project ADD, where I can’t decide what thing to work on first and end up doing partial work on a dozen different things. This can leave me with nothing to show for my trouble besides more unfinished projects, most of which will never get finished, but it’s still fun.

Here’s some things I’ve been thinking about, but no promises on any of them:

Assuming he brings his bassoon back from New Mexico, Sage and I are going to work up a few songs. That doesn’t mean we’re necessarily going to start a band, but it doesn’t necessarily mean we won’t either. I’m also not-so-secretly hoping we can convince Leigh (my brother) to play my Zendrum or maybe tradeoff Zendrum, vocals, and string instruments. The Walton boys have too much ambition to be confined to a single instrument! Unfortunately, since Jefferson Death Star is a prominent indie band in Seattle, we probably can’t call ourselves Jefferson Bible Society, a great name I recently came up with. Oh well. Maybe I’ll write a song with that title instead. In any event, writing for a bassoon rather than a bass guitar is going to be fun. Haven’t done that since the Paradise Lost operetta I wrote in college, which had TWO BASSOONS! There’s no such thing as too many bassoons. Or sackbuts. I actually missed getting to hang out with an acquanitance from Oberlin who plays the sackbut due to exams. Very unfortunate timing.

I really thought I was gearing up to finish a draft of my How to Host a Dungeon + Mountain Witch hack, now tentatively called Last Crawl, or That Ancient Serpent, my one-page Apocalypse World hack for doing dragons + body horror. But then Emily posted about a design contest in January focusing on single-player RPGs. That got me thinking about how many of my games are actually attempting to recreate fiction that works best with a single protagonist — a trap that I think a lot of indie designers fall into, since a lot of thr media around us revolves around a lone hero, set apart.

So now I’m thinking about both my long-time interest I’m writing a Zelda-inspired game (Super Snow Queen, Ghost Opera) and whether Firmament works better as a solo game, since one of the core emotions I’m trying to invoke is loneliness. John even poked fun at me the other week — I forget specifically about which project — that I was doing something else where all the characters would never meet up and do things together.  It’s true; I do really like playing in sessions that provide opportunities for solo spotlighting. That’s not just a camera hog thing, though, since I really like watching other players interact mostly with the GM.  It gives me time to reflect and appreciate what going on, as an audience.  In any event, I’ll probably submit something Zelda-inspired to Emily’s contest, though I might take my own advice and base it on Western literature (more like Super Snow Queen than the Shang Dynasty-inspired Ghost Opera).

I think my analytic article for Magic Missile is going to be about what I’ve learned about design from participating in and running design contests. There’s a lot I could potentially say there, and I honestly want to begin building some sort of “legacy” document to leave behind on Game Chef and what its first decade has meant: a document that future generations should trod all over, but they should at least trod with a sense of purpose, rather than just massacring the whole thing do to avoidable mistakes (and believe me I’ve made more than a few).

There’s also the introduction to the book, which Macklin and I will presumably share portions of or collaborate on. I suggested the general theme of the battle over “system matters” being over, with a victory for the pro-design forces or at least us driving away most of the hippy freeformers, which may not be a real victory so much as something that has happened. In any event, there should be an effort to move beyond the “we’re doing something unique and special, unlike those other games” discourse. Those other games and the culture that surrounds them isn’t clearly different from what we’re doing. And I’m not sure it ever was. But there’s no need for us to be defensive and protective of what we’re doing. Looking for some other behemoth (after “mainstream roleplaying”) to oppose is like fighting that battle all over again, which would be really dumb. We’ve fought for enough space in which to exist and thrive, but our future significance involves continuing to make and play games that are fun and well-written.

Anyway, that’s what I’ve been thinking about.

Wuxia with Western Literature

2010 Dec 28

I was looking for Christmas presents for my father, the Shakespeare professor, when I stumbled upon “Chinese Shakespeares” by Alexander C. Y. Huang, which looks at the history of Shakespeare being performed in China. That got my subconcious working.

Weeks later, once I found out how little money I had after holiday spending, I was frantically thinking about small publishing projects, though, as my brother helpfully pointed out one time: getting involved in publishing is no way to make a quick buck. Nevertheless, I thought about the tentative plans I made with Shreyas and Elizabeth to help revise or develop playsets for Mist-Robed Gate.

I messaged Elizabeth, saying: “I have a fantastic idea for a wuxia playset: Hamlet!” To which her response was: “That IS fantastic! Have you seen The Banquet / Curse of the Black Scorpion?” Duh, *faceslap* Feng Xiaogang beat me to it.

Well, really, Kurosawa beat us both, with Ran, Throne of Blood, and Bad Sleep Well.

Which brought me to a third thought: something often feels missing from sessions of Mist-Robed Gate and other wuxia games that I’ve played and I’m beginning to think part of it is the sense of adapting and reworking literary and/or historical tradition. Honestly, I often feel the loss when I watch period Chinese dramas — including wuxia films — as well.

To explain: when somebody raised and educated in China watches Red Cliff, the character of Zhuge Liang is not just some cool Chinese dude but ZHUGE LIANG!!! They’ve grown up hearing bedtime stories and reading children’s books and watching tv shows and playing video games and seeing music videos and taking history classes and repeating jokes and using idioms about the Three Kingdoms period.

Ben Lehman got it right, when talking about Dynasty Warriors, that most of the context is lost on Western audiences, even among us China dorks. It’s harder for folks not raised in Asia to get that “in real life, I was a failed general; here, I kill people with a giant yo-yo” aspect. Josh Roby was really smart to head in that direction with Sons of Liberty, where US history though I kinda wish that game took itself more seriously, like Brotherhood of the Wolf, which is set in France during the same period and may be the best Western wuxia movie aside from The Matrix.

I would argue that perhaps the best way for those raised in the West to experience something analogous to wuxia is for them to adapt great works of Western literature as Feng Xiaogang and Kurosawa have done. It’s not as if we don’t already do this: check out King of Texas or The Lion King.  But that would add resonance and history to the roles, even if you were adapting a work that the players only knew in passing and even if you were responsible for playing bit parts like Rosencranz and Guildenstern.

Take, for example:

A revenge-mad ronin leads a group of fellow misfits in a doomed hunt for the mythical mountain-dwelling, albino mercenary who chopped off his leg and, even worse, left him alive to live in shame and dishonor. One member of the party is a tattoo-covered spear-fisherman Ainu warrior from farthest Hokkaido.

Boom! Now you’re playing with power. Though that actually sounds more like The Mountain Witch than Mist-Robed Gate to me.  I’m not sure why I never saw the Moby Dick parallel before.  Or the parallel between Melville and Conrad, since John was telling me about an Apocalypse Now-themed Mountain Witch game that he played in. Guess I know one of the things I’m running at GoPlay.

In any event, hopefully you get my point.  In addition to what Milan Kundera calls “litost” and what I’ve called “trainwreck heartbreak,” wuxia typically build resonance with its audience partially by drawing on familiar stories and characters. That’s part of what often makes pure fantasy movies like The Promise so mediocre.

We have 5,000 years of human literature to draw from, so surely we can find a few thing to base “Western wuxia” on. Personally, I can’t wait to see Claudius battle it out with his brother’s ghost.

Game Chef Coming Soon!

2010 Sep 10

Game Chef starts around 5:30pm pacific time.

Obligatory Watchmen Post (No Spoilers)

2009 Mar 13

It was way better than I was expecting, after hearing my brother’s lukewarm comments. Definitely worth seeing, despite some of my bone-picking below.

The fight scenes were exceptionally mediocre, with the exception of the jail fight which was beautifully choreographed, reminiscent of the pre-decapitation fight in 300. I’m not sure what the hell the choreographers were trying to express in any of the scenes, though, even the jail fight, which is generally a sign of poor fight choreography or a director who doesn’t know how to work with a fight choreographer. When there’s no purpose or narrative to a fight, it’s just a meaningless fight, even if it’s beautifully choreographed. They would have been better off following Gibson’s illustrations more, because I can’t imagine Alan and Dave wasted a single panel on something meaningless (plus it would have been cheaper, probably, and wouldn’t require FX). Plus, Leigh was right that the gruesome violence of the early fights kept Rorschach from standing out as the sole murderer among the heroes.

The new ending worked for me. What didn’t was Dr. Manhattan’s reaction to it. It just didn’t fit with the characterization we’d seen previously from him. I also felt the ending was really drawn out, as if it should have come to a head faster and then wrapped up faster, leaving the audience a bit confused and shocked by the pace of everything. But instead there was this pause and a lot of explanation. The whole film seemed slow at times, but the slowness of the climax was especially odd.

Rorschach was perfect. I can’t imagine him being any better. It was worth it just for him and Daniel.

They only say the superheroes’ names once or twice. I found that I’d forgotten many of them by the end (such as Ozymandias and Nite Owl). Interesting.

The director didn’t seem to know what to do with the female characters but, to be fair, neither did Moore (at least, at the time) or superhero comics in general.

I find myself wishing there was a happy medium between this cut — which leaves out a lot — and the drooling fanboy cut that includes everything. Oh well.

A Jumble of Recent Thoughts

2009 Mar 13

The Newman O booze turned out so well that I tossed the orange rooibos booze I’d made several weeks back. I think the new booze is mostly cream-flavored, that not a lot of chocolate was infused into the Everclear, but I’ll have to see what other people think when we break it out to share. Additionally, there’s this ongoing issue where adding water to an Everclear infusion sometimes makes it turn cloudy. I’m not sure what to blame. Maybe something in the tap water (iron from the pipes, flouride)? Next time I might try bottled spring water.

Mouse Guard last night was great, if a sordid affair involving a ton of dice rolling through three-and-a-half separate conflicts. Robert was saying he’s not sure he’s ready to stop playing after Session 6 next week, but I feel like need a break and reconvening things later on seems like it might be full of troubles. We’ll see.

As far as the inevitable “What to play after Mouse Guard?” issus goes, this morning I was realizing that it would probably be much easier to run Fingers on the Firmament in 4E, given the tools I have available, than Nine Suns Must Fall. So I’m thinking about doing that instead and maybe saving Nine Suns Must Fall for later. Nine Suns might even end up being a Dogs in the Vineyard hack, since so many folks on SG were saying they wished there were alternate Dogs settings available.

In other news, I am continually reminded that playing and writing games makes me more excited about playing and writing games, while talking about games on internet forums makes me less excited about playing and writing games. This is a lesson I never seem to learn. Seems like talking about games on blogs and chats is the way to go, most of the time.

What a Week

2009 Mar 11

Today I was separated from my job in a relatively amicable way, my chief regret being that I won’t be able to finish the recent project on Chinese science research that I started a couple weeks back. Hopefully grad school will work out shortly or some other options will present themselves, so I’m not too worried. Honestly, things have been so stressful and disconcertingly strange in my work environment recently that I’m kind of relieved I don’t have to deal with that anymore. I’m a bit worried about the long term prospects of the think-tank I just left, but hopefully they’ll be able to pull things together.

This unexpected news came on top of us dogsitting for a neighbor’s dog that vomited in every room of our apartment last night. Fun stuff. At least Hannah is starting new work next week, so we won’t both be unemployed at the same time. And my boss said they’d make sure I was okay for the next little bit, so money isn’t an immediate concern, especially with my savings.

Anyway, not sure what my much freer days will consist of now. Murderland reviews will be much easier to finish, that’s for sure. Plus, it’ll be nice to have the option to finish some reading and a few personal projects over the rest of the week before spending time this weekend looking at my options for the future.

Not Going to Harvard

2009 Feb 16

What a week for disappointment.

Just got an email from the “Regional Studies: East Asia” master’s program at Harvard, saying that they decided I was very qualified for their program but that the Graduate School put strict limits on admission numbers this year and that they couldn’t admit me. That’s both disappointing and a bit strange because it’s not as if they were going to offer me any money for a master’s degree anyway. I’m not sure what the GSAS is thinking, aside from maybe worrying that folks will be unable to get the college loans necessary to fund their degree.

Still haven’t heard from UW in Seattle, but I was honestly hoping to avoid having to move across the country, even though their master’s program is great and a whole lot cheaper (plus, Alexis and Ben are already in it).


2009 Feb 15

Looks like Dreamation is a no-go, considering I have an overdue paper for work that I have to finish this week. That’s the second big con I’ve had to back out of in a row, after GenCon this past summer. Scheduling should be better, I hope, if I end up going back to grad school in the fall, but I feel the worst about disappointing folks that were expecting to see me or play in my sessions. I was really looking forward to finally playing some of the Murderland games too.

P.S. If you pre-registered for any of my events, email me (jaywalt at gmail) and I’ll try to make it up to you somehow (free copies of Mortal Coil Revised and Transantiago, maybe?). Vinney is already giving me a world of shit for having to cancel after pre-registration, probably because it means some people who chose my games may be locked out of many of their second choices now. That totally blows and I apologize for having screwed-up other people’s Dreamation schedule.

Priority Reordering

2009 Feb 2

Since I missed the deadline for Jared’s contest, I’m gonna put off finishing up Last Days of Old Macau until the final edits of Mortal Coil Revised are off to Brennan and Murderland reviews are all posted. Still trying to keep my New Year’s Resolution to finish things I’ve started. As always, my priority list is being kept on the left side of my blog, as a reminder.