Thursday, January 28, 2010

End of an Era: Retrospective

It has recently come to my attention that Wizards of the Coast (WotC)  will be ending its involvement with the Star Wars RPG, as well as the pre-painted miniatures line. While this is terrible news, I can't say I'm surprised or shocked about it. Long time readers may recall my review of the Star Wars Saga Edition (SWSE) way back in January 2009. At that time I had lamented about the fitful support Star Wars as an RPG property has gotten. While the SWSE I think is a solid ruleset, and deserves its own time in the sun, WotC's stewardship of the property has been inept, to say the least.

I bears to note that the SWSE is in fact the third edition of the game from WotC in 10 years: the first edition was released in 2000, with a revised edition coming out in 2002. Finally the Saga Edition came out in 2007. In between these editions, WotC released product in fits and starts, with a very long period between the Revised (D20) edition, and the Saga edition (around 3 years or so).

With the SWSE, WotC decided to take a different tack than the previous edition: releasing "era" books with all the information and resources a GM would need to run a game during that era. While I can definitely applaud WotC for this tack, it also has the unfortunate side-effect of leaving other eras undetailed (such as the immediate New Republic era, and the Yuushang-vong invasion). While there are still a few products to be released, and this may change, the simple fact of the matter is that the rules are "incomplete" without it. Still, there is enough there a GM can cobble together something, but I'm dissappointed we did not get a New Republic sourcebook, or a "Tales of the Jedi" era sourcebook.

I'll be sad to see the game go, and this also means that I no longer have any sort of involvement with WotC whatsoever. There are plenty of other good games out there, and I hope I'll be able to explore them. But it is strange that a company that I had so long supported -- felt enthusiastic about when WotC bought TSR -- no longer is a facet in my gaming life. All good things come to an end, and now I'm scrambling to complete my book collection.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Tyrrany of a Construct Pt. 7

According to this website, there has been a falling out with Raimi and the Spider Man 4 movie. Raimi couldn't deliver a movie up to his standards in time for Sony. So Sony's solution is to...reboot the franchise. This becomes problematic, because otherwise what is the point of a franchise?

A movie franchise serves many purposes for both concerned groups: the movie producers and the movie viewers. For the producers, the franchise concept allows them to continue to profit from the original idea or concept of the original movie. Essentially, the audience is "built in," and fans will be likely to continue to see the next film.

For the viewers the idea of a franchise allows for creating a "setting" that can become more immersive over time. It allows for examination in further detail either the core concept, or other secondary concepts. It also -- more importantly -- allows for character development.

The problem here -- like any Hollywood reboot (which is a shorthand for a "reimagining") is that [i]any[/i] character development from the previous is lost, wasted. The essential connection we might have (as a viewing audience) is broken. While there is some merit in "refreshing" a character, for a franchise like Spider Man, which has had only 3 movies over 8 years (averaging a movie every 2.67 years -- a reasonable interval) is that the characterizations are still "fresh" and the movies still relevant.

It's hard not to be cynical about this development. It has become apparent to me that I am not relevant as a movie goer because I am an adult. With this reboot Sony will return Parker back to his high school roots, which already feels less relevant to me. But no doubt will feel more relevant for the legions of teens that have come of age in the meantime. Also undoubtedly (or at least there is a fair certainty) this will include a new origin story -- something we have already seen. Unless Sony is clever and does a move [i]in medias res[/i] with the backstory being alluded to (so that it can for example be rationalized as taking place between the first movie and the second), I don't have high hopes for this.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

By Blood Betrayed by Blaine Lee Pardoe and Mel Odom

I had this book in my collection for some time, but recently decided to pull it out for a read-through. It was from the initial Mechwarrior line, designed to allow someone with little knowledge of the universe a path into the novel line.

Pardoe has a few novels under his belt, but I wonder how much influence he really had in the writing of this book? There are a lot of inconsistencies in the prose, things that have been either long established, or is widely available in the literature. For example, the background has always been that autocannons were rapid fire weapons --  a sort of gigantic machine gun. Yet the book often mentions firing a single round from the weapon. Another inconsistency is the Union dropship featured in the book carrying a K-61 dropshuttle and fighters, impossible as they're not equipped to carry shuttles to begin with, and theoretically they would at least have to sacrifice a fighter bay to carry one. Also, it has been long established that there is no "artificial gravity" in the Battletech universe, and spacecraft must use either rotating sections or acceleration to generate gravity. A few times the prose talks about the "pseudo-gravity" generated via acceleration. In the real world (as well as how it is established in the BTU), unless the craft is maneuvering or there are windows, there is no other way to determine the source of gravity -- 1g is the same whether you're planet-bound or under acceleration. According to the background, Union dropships can easily sustain 1g accelerations for as long as the fuel holds out.

The plot of the book is entirely conventional. Out on the edges of civilized space (the Periphery), a company of Able's Aces, defending the Rim Collection from the pirate band Morrison's Extractors, is wiped out except for their CO. Harley Rassor's brother was killed in the action, and his father (apparently an ex-mechwarrior with his own Commando in the barn!) sends his son to join the Aces and find out what happens.

Of course he expects the company CO Livia Hawke, and spends his time hating her as a traitor, despite the evdence to the contrary (including a red herring added in that one of the communications techs has a cousin in the Extractors -- which Harley promptly ignores). Or course Hawke is no traitor, and it comes out in the end that it was the intel officer -- along with Harley's brother -- who were in collusion with the Extractors, and forcing a showdown with Harley and his brother.

Unfortunately, this book wasn't "great." Besides the inconsistencies, the plot is pretty predictable. And while the plotpoint of Harley's brother being the real traitor shouldn't have been a surprise, it was for me since the book was not very engaging. Pardoe has written other books -- better books -- and I cannot tell if the problem was because it was co-written with Odom.

It's always dissappointing when you read a book from your favorite genre and it turns out to be not-so-great. But that is also not surprising -- even the best writers will occasionally turn out turkeys.