Saturday, July 24, 2010

A Sketchy Post

Two weeks ago I finally got to put up all my sketches from Comic Con 2008. My awesome sketchbook is one of my most prized possessions, and filled with incredible art and signatures from the most amazing people. As well as the complete Flickr Set, I also created a nifty video showcasing the sketches, for my own pleasure.

Maulers And Grinders And Butchers, Oh My!

Last week I saw the movie of the year, if not decade. Inception is simply a stunning piece of work that will be debated for years to come. I think anyone coming out of the cinema were wondering what kind of strange and unusual dreams they would be having that night. I for one, had a normal, peaceful nights sleep.

Last night, however, I did have a wacky dream, but it was not because of a movie.

San Diego Comic Con is running this weekend. You may remember me freaking out over it two years ago as I was there myself. However, I can't be there this year, and the creators of the Gears of War series decided to cheer me up while I sat at home. While SDCC is running all modes in Gears of War 2 have a twenty XP multiplier!! Nice, but not the best thing.

Horde mode has long been my favourite thing about Gears 2. It was the first game to popularise the concept of a team of players up against waves of AI enemies, and still remains my favourite. I love getting a group of friends together to stomp some tickers, drones and friends. Except this weekend, things are different.

Waves one through nine are the sole territory of the Boomer Family, a terrifying collection of Maulers, Grinders, Boomshots, Butchers and Flamers, and even then I think I might have left out one. Wave ten is left to the terrifying power of the blood thirsty Bloodmounts, which are hard enough to kill in a normal game and damn near pants-wettingly impossible in the numbers onscreen this weekend.

All this results in a lot of frantic screaming and running from the players and a lot more laughing and having a good time. It also caused me to have a nightmare last night. As is usual, I remember only snippets of it, but I do remember running through a large room in a mansion (not the Mansion map in the game), ducking behind chairs to avoid the Grinder in the room. Man, those things are huge.

Anyway, thanks Epic Games. You've crafted a wonderful experience made better by a terrifying weekend of pain and suffering and bursts of adrenalin. I don't know if my heart can take much more, but I'm off to find out. If I don't blog again in a week, tell my wife I love her and that I'm probably not faking this time, so move me off the couch before I start to smell.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

When Last We Left Our Heroes

After much soul searching and internal monologuing, with a heavy heart I have come to the decision to Fox my Monday Night RPG (To Fox: Verb, to bring to an abrupt stop usually without resolution). In all honesty, this has been coming a while now. I just haven't been feeling the love for the game that I want to as a GM. Where I used to look forward to Monday nights and gaming, it has been a chore for too long. This has nothing to do with my players. It's not you, it's me.

I've been reading a book from my hero, Sir Ken Robinson, called The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything. In it, Sir Ken makes the point that when you are doing something you love, then there is no "work" involved, time passes at a different pace, you can adapt and manage change within whatever you are doing with ease and nothing seems impossible. You are in your Element.

All this made me realise that GMing is not fun for me right now. I am not in my Element. In my last Spirit of the Century game I looked forward to each game night. My brain was filled with ideas and I relished the opportunity to be actively creative and exercise my mind on the go as the players repeatedly screwed up my perfectly laid plans. I didn't know what was going to happen next week, but it didn't bother me. The players controlled the flow of the game to some extent, and I simply had to come up with the connecting pieces to join the end of one game to the start of the next.

With my current game, I just don't feel the same ability within myself. I find myself "sending in the ninjas" far too often just to stall things, or to drag out the evening until people go home. I've always enjoyed out-of-game conversations at the gaming table, as I feel that game night is as much a chance for people to get out and hang with friends as it is for them to solve the latest adventure. But when I'm looking forward to just hanging out with my players and having those out-of-game conversations over playing the actual game, I know that something is not right.

In my previous campaign I was happy with the twists and turns I had the story take. I never second guessed myself about how I did something in a game. In this game, I am constantly regretting how I played a scene. "Oh, I should have done this, I should have used him, I could have made them appear, I shouldn't have played it like that." I don't feel the same confidence in my own abilities.

Maybe I made my world too big? In my previous campaign it was just 1920's Earth. Here we have eight other planets and various hidden locations. I had this grand idea for each planet, a system for travelling between them (robbed wholesale from a sci-fi series), at least two important NPCs on each world, and even some threads of what each NPC might want. But it was too much. I didn't know how to handle it, or, maybe, I did, but I just lost interest. I hadn't enough of it written down, or solidly plotted out. But then, I had virtually nothing written down in my first campaign, just single word ideas, a sentence here or there and some stuff bookmarked in Firefox.

In the end, all that matters is that I'm not happy with the level of quality I'm bringing to the table as GM. I hereby hand off our own little Monday Night Gaming to anyone that wants it. We have a set of enthusiastic players who deserve a GM to match.

Right now, I need a cookie.

And so, we end tonights final episode of "Across The Stars" as our heroes dangle precariously from the edge of the asteroid with the villainous Dr. Apathy sneering overhead. From everyone here at KWRYN, we thank you for listening, and remember, always "Shoot for the stars!"

Friday, July 09, 2010

A Story From Two Years Ago

This story actually starts almost three years in 2007. Mike Wieringos sudden and tragic death in August of that year was a shock to me. I was a huge fan of his work and followed his blog which he updated regularly. He had posted on a Friday, wishing everyone a good weekend, and no-one knew that he'd be gone from us before he could post again.

Through his good friend and regular collaborator Todd Dezago I had managed to get hold of a commemorative sketchbook done for Mike, which arrived just a week or two before I left for the US.

Flashforward to the Friday evening of SDCC 2008. It's 5:30 and people are starting to pack up as the hall closed at 6. I ask Claire to just take one more walk through Artists Alley before we leave while it's nice and quiet.

Wandering through I happen onto a table with some very nice art laid out, and the artist is relaxing behind it all chatting to a girl.

"I know it's late" I said, "but I was wondering if I could buy one of your sketchbooks and get a quick sketch." That was how I got a lot of my sketches. Most of the artists had sketchbooks for sale and if you bought one there was a page at the back for a quick sketch. I asked them to do the sketch into my sketchbook instead, which was roughly the same size, not some huge A4 monstrosity.

"No problem! I'd love to. Who do you want?"
"Oh, it's late, and I'm sure you're tired. Pick someone you enjoy drawing and can sketch without too much work."
"Fair enough," he replied, checking out the cover. "You like Marvel then? I've always been a fan of Juggernaut. Is he ok with you?"

And so James "Bukshot" Bukauskas started on his quick pencil sketch of Cain Marko's super powered alter ego. Claire marveled at his work that was on the table and I started to leaf through his sketchbook.

"Cool. Ninja Turtle. Ha! Thundercats. Woah. G.I. Joe Dreadnok." And then I turned a page and went silent. Claire spotted the change first.
"What is it" she asked.
"This sketch. I know this. I got this just before we left in a book for Mike Wieringo."

James looked up from his sketch.

"Yeah. I don't generally draw stuff for things like that, but Mike was a nice guy. He was a great artist. I wish I'd met him."

I'm not ashamed to say that my eyes started to water up a little looking at that sketch. It was a black and white piece with Spider-Man crouched atop a No. 2 HB pencil saying "Thanks Mike". James and I got talking about Mike then, and our conversation just ran on.

Somehow we got on to happier subjects and we mentioned that after San Diego we were heading to Las Vegas to get married. James looked at the girl behind the table and they both laughed! Turned out the girl was his girlfriend, and they were planning on getting married in Las Vegas later that year!

By the time Claire and I said our good-byes, I felt like we were long time friends. James and his girlfriend were so incredibly nice, and the short, quick, easy five minute sketch of Juggernaut that James had started turned into my favourite sketch in the entire book, not only because of how awesome it is, but also because of the story that goes with it.

If you ever see this James, I hope you and your wife are having a wonderful life together, and I want you to know that I will always be eternally grateful for the time you gave to Claire and I on that Friday of Comic Con in 2008. You deserve every happiness and success. God bless you.

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