Saturday, December 17, 2011

A wrestling MMO, or why I should not become bored.

Last post I made I went over my nostalgia for my old wrestling role-playing game group. Today I want to go over what brought that up.
It all started with me getting bored. Apparently I should not be allowed to become bored. When I get bored I start planning things.
Recently I went on a trip that we need to take my wife’s car because it has more cargo room then mine. I can’t drive a stick shift so she had to drive. It was a long drive. I ended up with a lot of time to think. And where did my mind go?
I started mapping out how you would structure a functional wrestling MMO.
Yeah, really, I went there of all places.
So we went over my history with wrestling role-playing. Go back and re-read it if you need a refresher.
The other link that leads to my boredom inspired plan was a trip to San Diego Comic Con one year. It was when Everquest was the king of the MMO heap.  There was a panel that was about designing MMOs. At the panel I asked the panelist thought were the different genres that could translate to MMOs. The lead designer said that any genre that is successful as a regular video game would work as an MMO.
You know what are fairly successful games? The WWE wrestling games, after all they put out one or more a year.
So these are the elements that came together in my head on this long drive.
So what plan did I come up with? Come with me on my whimsical flight of game design fantasy.
The one major conceit needed to make the game work is that everything shown in professional wrestling is absolutely real.
Also a wrestling game by its very nature is going to be Player vs. Player. There is the ability to have some Player vs. NPC action, but it would not be the focus of the design.
Let’s start with the basics. How a character would work.
When you create your wrestler you would have several choices to make. First would be allocation of points. You would have a basic set of stats to fill: Stamina, recovery, brute strength, technical skill, acrobatics, martial arts, and dirty fighting. All the stats except stamina and recovery represent a style of wrestling and determine the wrestling moves your character can execute and how well. They also define how well the character and defend against that style. Stamina determines how much punishment you can take and recovery determines how well you can regain stamina. Once all the stats or done you will pick your characters finisher (their signature move)
Next you would select the look of your character. Not just what the avatar looks like, but how they stand and walk. You would also select a ring entrance style. Alignment would be next, are you a face (hero) or heel (villain).
Finally you would select personal information. Of course the character’s name would be the most important thing here. This would include a first and last name, plus an optional nickname.  You would also need to pick which one people commonly call you.  You would also select where you are from, and have text field to enter a character bio.
Once your character is finished it would be off to the tutorial. The tutorial would take the form of going to a wrestling school. Here you would go through the basics of how the game works and a few sample matches. All matches in the tutorial would be player vs. NPC. Once you are done it is off to the big bad world of professional wrestling.
The character will start off on the independent circuit. These are shows that have no real storyline outside of the match itself. All matches are set up by the game system itself. It would be possible to have matches some matches that are player vs. NPC here, but they would be worth less points then PvP.
This brings us to rewards. Rewards would take two forms: points and money. Points would be spent on improving your stats, both in raising the overall stat, or buying a special maneuver if you meet the stat requirements for it. Money on the other hand would have several uses. You could by better gear to improve your look. You could upgrade to a flashier ring entrance. You could spend it to hire a manager or valet, which would be an NPC that would go to the ring with you and might provide some bonuses. You can also save it up for one time uses.
Once your character is past the beginner levels they will have the opportunity to join a wrestling federation.
This brings us to the thing you have to deal with if you want to have a wrestling game with thousands of players? In a wrestling game your goal would be to become the champion and hold that championship belt. But how do you do that?
The answer is you base it on a guild structure, an in game organization of players. In most MMOs a guild is a large group that gets together to share resources and go on organized missions. In our proposed Wrestling MMO these would be called federations and would be the crux of the game.
A federation would need 10 people to start. At first it would have a limit of 25 members. There would be a federation point system to allow for growth. Eventually the federation could grow to a membership max of 75. Each federation would start out with a championship belt.  The members would compete amongst each other to be the champion.  As the federation grows it can add more belts.
As with the independent circuit, federation matches would be set up automatically by the system. Getting a title shot would be based on ranking in the federation. The rank would be calculated by various factors, such as overall win/loss record, how active you have been recently, if you had a recent title shot, and so forth.
One rule that would have to be in place is that once you win a belt you have to defend it at least once a week. This way someone cannot just win the belt and sit on it. If you do not the system strips it from you and sets up a tournament to find a new champion. Beside a title match generates more money so there is a reason to get out there and defend it.
The heads of the federation (which would be like officers in a regular MMO guild) could schedule periodic events, called PPV events (named for Pay-Per View events that real wrestling organizations have) They can be whenever they heads wanted them, but no more than once a week. There would be twenty slots available. Getting a slot would be based on how active you were in the week before the event and how well you did in your matches, as well as being logged into the game at the right time for slot selection. If a belt holder is logged in they automatically get a slot defending their belt. All PPV matches are worth double money.
For additional interactions federations can have cross-promotional matches where two feds have a joint PPV with the winner being the fed that wins the most matches.
And I’ll stop here. This is not everything I thought up, but it is the basics I came up with.
Now in all fairness, I am not a game designer, and I do not know if what I came up with is feasible or not. I just know that I would love to play in a game like this.
So what do you think? Cool idea or should I never be allowed to become bored again?

Thursday, December 15, 2011

R.I.P Joe Simon

Joe Simon
Co-Creator of Captain America

Thank you for creating a character that we can look up to.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

My Favorite Role-playing game experience.

Let’s get one thing straight, I love role-playing games.
I’ve been a role-playing enthusiast since I was a teenager. I can trace my connection to the majority of my social circle to role-playing games. I spent several years working at a role-playing game company.  I helped found an international organization devoted to role-playing. Role-playing is second to only comic books in the hierarchy of my fanboy interests.
I’ve played several versions of Dungeons and Dragons. I’ve played most of the old World of Darkness games and a couple of the new. I’ve played Champions, Gamma World, Toon, Chill, Cyberpunk 2020, Deadlands, and many more.
I am currently in a group that plays both Promethean and The Dresden Files RPG.
However like every role-play there is that one game. Every role-player has one, that one group that just clicked for them and even years after it broke up still has that lingering nostalgia for it.
In 1994 while working at Wizards of the Coast I found mine.
I found it when I learned a co-worker found a copy of the WWF basic Adventure Game and had started a group and wanted to know if I was interested in joining.
Yes you read that correctly.
My favorite role-playing group of all time was a group playing an RPG based on Professional Wrestling. It was a game published by Whit publication. It was meant to be the main book for a whole line, but as far as I have ever been able to learn it was the only book released.
To be honest that book as published was a so-so game but we worked at a gaming company. We were able to fix the rules to make a working game.
And what a game it was. For the majority of the nearly two years we played this game there were only three of us playing. All players had several wrestlers and managers, a ref, and a ring announcer.
It was structured so that in a match you would have two wrestlers and the third player would have his ref character in the match. Whoever was ref was the GM for that match. The game was basically a protracted fight that goes move by move with attacks and counters.  In a night we would have time for about 4 to 5 matches and all three of got to play as all three of us also acted as gm. 
Our fictional wrestling organization was Intercontinental Wrestling Federation or the ICW. It was located in Las Vegas out. Steve, whose house we played out went so far as to get little wrestling figures to use as miniatures and made a scale map of the arena that took up most of the table to use for play.
As I said earlier each of us ran about 4 or 5 wrestlers. Mine were a mixed bag of various archetypes that would show up in wrestling.
Johnny Hartman the all-American. He was a college football star from South Carolina that had gotten into wrestling as a form of cross-training.  He was taken under the wing of “Captain America” Lance Arness, who he referred to as coach. He had a long rivalry with a wrestler only known as the Duke of Slamchester and a brief rivalry with the ICW champion the Golem. His finishing move was a pile driver he called the Touchdown.
Vincent “The Don” Vincenzo was a Mafia themed wrestler. He was managed by Uncle Guido Vincenzo and teamed with his cousin Benny “the leg breaker” Pagliocci.  I ran all three characters. Vincent would start most matches offering a bribe to his opponent to throw the match. His finishing move was a coach slam called the Strong arm.
Jerry Aldini, who was often called the hardest working man in wrestling. He briefly held the Intercontinental champion ship after defeating Apollo Storm. Eventually had a heel turn after he felt he was disrespected once too often.
We had storylines that would go on for months, we had rivalries, and we had pay-per-views. We were convinced that the house we played at was bugged because we would have a storyline and soon a similar storyline would appear in one of the real feds.
Seriously, we had a game session where one wrestler was taken out with a high heel shoe. A week later on WCW Hulk Hogan was hit taken down with a high heel shoe.
Of all the role-playing gaming groups I have been part of this one still stands as my favorite. I had more fun with this one than any other I have ever played in.  It was that perfect mix of the right people together with the right game setting. We had three other players that joined briefly at various times, but it was usually the core three.
 The group finally broke up when Shawn, our third player lost interest and Steve and I didn’t think anyone could really take his place.
I made a couple of attempts to put together new groups but they either didn’t gel or just didn’t get off the ground.
And what made me bring up that bit of nostalgia? Stay tuned, I will be getting to that.
So what was your favorite role-playing experience?

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Addressing the new Watchmen rumor.

Watchman, more than any other title ever produced is the cornerstone of the modern comic book industry. (Yes, even more than The Dark Knight Returns.) Coming out in 1986 it redefined what could be done with the medium.
So I have very mixed emotions about the rumors that DC is going to produce four prequel mini-series. Part of this is of course the knee jerk fanboy reaction.
But beyond the lizard brain reaction is some real concerns.
First off the original creators are not only not doing it; they really don’t want it to be done at all. It was a disagreement over the ownership of Watchmen that led Alan Moore to sever ties with DC comics. David Gibbons has gone on record as saying he would not like to see it happen as recently as this last summer. Now to be fair to DC Watchmen was created at a time when most work in the industry was work-for-hire and they own the characters. Add to that the fact that the characters are based directly on another set of characters DC owns and they are theirs to do with as they see fit.
That being said as Marvel’s One More Day proved, just because you have the right to do something doesn’t mean it is a good idea.
Watchmen was a nearly perfectly told story. It was paced to make each issue engaging but also make the whole story satisfying. The art was very much a part of the story with important elements being shown not told and often being in the background. It had a clear arc for the story and the individual characters. Even as beloved as it is, there really isn’t anything more that needs to be said.
And this is what has me worried. Why are we revisiting Watchmen? It just smacks of a cash grab.
“Let’s do new stories with these really popular characters. That will bring them into the stores.”
  I’m not saying a good story can’t come out of it. Last weekend my wife and I went to see “The Muppets.” Again this was a relaunch of an old franchise without the involvement of the original creators. However it is clear that the new creators understand the franchise and made it a labor of love. The result is a movie that is basically pure joy and made me laugh so hard I couldn’t breathe and later tear up just a bit.
We can only hope that if DC does go ahead with a new Watchmen project that the new creative team has the same understand of that Property that Jason Segel had of the Muppets.
Co-publishers Dan Didio and Jim Lee are quoted as saying that DC “ would only revisit these iconic characters if the creative vision of any proposed new stories matched the quality set by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons nearly 25 years ago.”
So we can only hope.
Personally I think this is a bad idea and I would like them to just let the original stand. On the other hand it might end up eating those words if they do recapture the magic of the original.
Or this might just be a rumor and we are getting worked up over nothing.
Time will tell.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Comic Book Speculation Boom: The dark age of comic collecting

A couple of weeks ago I was talking with a friend about helping out with a project related to this blog. During the conversation he asked me if I knew much about the worth of older comics. Specifically he has some Roy Thomas Conan comics from the 70s and he was wondering what they are worth. I told him I had no idea as I am not interested in the aftermarket, but that there are several price guide sites he could check out.
On top of that I got an email from a friend pointing me to an online auction for Action comics #1 (the original not the one from three months ago). The buzz is that this is the copy owned by Nic Cage. As of my writing this the bid is up to $1,306,000.00.
All this brings up memories of the speculator boom of the late 80s/early 90s. It’s the ghost of this boom that makes those unfamiliar think that any older comic book is worth something.
The consensus is that the boom started in 1985 with the release of four titles. Batman: the Dark Knight, Watchmen, Crisis on Infinite Earths and Secret Wars. All four titles were huge hits and together redefined comic books. They also gained a lot of mainstream attention. A lot of news stories at the time would always mention the worth of older comics like Action #1 or Detective comics #27. This prompted people to start collecting the successful books in hopes that they would gain worth over time. This led to other books at the time being collected in hopes that they too would gain worth.
This was an interesting theory but had a huge flaw. The books from the 30s and 40s were valuable due to their rarity. A lot of comics were donated to paper drives during World War II. And let’s face it everyone has heard stories of parents tossing out the comics as trash.
So a speculator market form books in the 80s was interesting but little should have come of it, except that the publishers started pandering to it.
If you were into comics between 1985 and 1993 it was inescapable. Books were released with variant covers.  There were covers with gimmicks like holograms, die-cut, embossing, and foil-stamps. Publishers would look for any excuse to launch a first issue. Back issues were selling like crazy. People were being multiple copies of the same issue.
Back then people in the comic book shop looked at me like I was crazy. I would buy one copy of an issue and then read it. Seriously I swear one guy nearly had a stroke once because I was ruining the resale value of the book by not immediately sealing it in a polybag.
And yes there were speculators who were making money. And how were they doing that? They were selling to other speculator. Here you should see the first flaw in the paradigm.
Who were those speculators going to sell to?
And the other flaw?
Publishers were printing titles that were selling over a million copies an issue.  Remember what I said about the rarity of the golden age books. That was not happening here.
And if four titles launched the boom, it was two storylines that took it down.
The Death of Superman and Knightfall.
These stories saw the Superman die and Batman crippled. Both were replaced by edgier successors. I and my fellow longtime comic fans were starting betting pools about how long it would take Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne to be restored and reclaim their mantles. However a lot of speculators were not longtime fans.
They saw these books as real changing of the guards and bought them in unprecedented numbers. And this was the killing blow, not the inevitable return of the heroes, but the oversaturation from people ordering so much and the publisher meeting demand. Speculators would try to sell them off and couldn’t because their target audience already had plenty of copies of their own. And with that the speculator bubble went pop.
It’s interesting to note that even though it was two DC stories that started the end of the boom DC does not get much of the blame. Most people heap much more blame on Marvel and Image as they were seen as the publishers that pandered the most to the speculators.
As the comic speculation market was collapsing a new speculation market was being created. It was the trading card game market. Magic: The Gathering was designed to be collectible. But there was a major difference. Not once did Wizards of the Coast pander to the speculator market. When I was working at WotC customer service and a customer called in asking about card value we had a standard response. “Wizards of the Coast does not concern itself with the aftermarket and makes no decisions based on it”.
And almost twenty years later there is still a healthy after market for Magic cards, with prices based on a cards value in tournament play more than anything.
What about the comic book aftermarket today? It is still there, driven primarily by sites like EBay and Craigslist.
Sadly you see some companies still trying to pander to it too. Go back and read my blog about the Flashpoint/Fear Itself controversy. What was Marvel offering for the destruction of DC books that were actually selling? A variant cover of Fear Itself.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Wondering about Wonder Woman

It's month three of the DC relaunch and sadly one of the books I have been getting is on the chopping block. That book is Wonder Woman.
The buzz right now is about the fact that in the new timeline it has been revealed that Zeus is her father. That has nothing to do with my problem with the title.
My issue is that they have made her uncaring.
Her attitude to the woman she is trying to save in the storyline is borderline abusive. She seems to be more bloodthirsty and does not appear to get along with the other Amazons. It’s like they gave her the personality of the Huntress
Batman is being portrayed as being more compassionate right now.
I think this is the latest expression of a problem Wonder Woman has had since the Crisis on Infinite Earths reboot in the mid-eighties. Every writer who comes on to the character sits down to figure out who she is and what her place in the DCU is. That would be fine, except they then make that exploration the whole point of the series.
And is that really necessary?
In 1941 William Moulton Marston created Wonder Woman. He saw a comic book market saturated with male characters and wanted to create the ideal female hero, one that would overcome her foes not only with her fighting prowess and powers, but also her heart. She was a heroine who could be a role model for young women.
Yes he did include Greek mythology in the origin, and yes do to his unconventional life style there was some unique philosophy and a lot of bondage. But in the end it was about a strong, caring female hero.
Is that so hard now?
Let’s stop trying to figure out her symbolic place in the DCU. Let’s stop exploring her mythological roots. Let’s tone down the examination of the Amazon culture.
Just get back to the strong, caring heroine who goes out and fights the bad guys. Get back to the role model.
I’ll give the book another issue or two, but I’m not hopeful. But maybe someday a writer will be inspired to go back to Wonder Woman’s true roots.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Dispelling the myths of geek culture.

When I tell people I write a blog the first question is always “What’s it about?”
Of course I answer “Geek culture.”
And I occasionally will get the follow up “Why are you writing about geek culture?”
“I’m writing what I know.”
And here is the kicker “But you don’t seem like a geek.”
Now in my mind of course I am a geek. Not just a geek, but a geek living in the geek capital of the world. How can that not be obvious?
 I collect comics and have since I was able to read. All I read are Science Fiction and Fantasy novels.  I am a role-player with a regular group. I use to work for a game company and I help found a major fan organization that still exists. When my best friend and I get together neither of wives can understand what we are saying to each other because we start talking about the above and use a lot of slang based on geek culture.
But none of that is something you can tell from just looking at me, or hearing me talk in casual conversation. I work a regular 40 hour a week job in the tech industry. My normal mood or dress is business causal favoring button down shirts and blue jeans. I keep my hair and beard well-trimmed and I keep good hygiene. I can handle myself well in a business meeting at work and meeting people in most social situations. Oh yeah, and I am happily married.
In other words I am not the stereotype of a geek.
And the truth is neither are most of my friends that are geeks either.
The stereotype of a geek is someone who is socially awkward, given to poor hygiene, can’t speak on any subject outside of geek culture and won’t shut up about things that are. At best they are uncomfortable around women and at worst they are outright misogynistic.
I’m not going to say that these types don’t exist, because they do. Stereotypes come from somewhere. But they are not the norm. Put bluntly even other geeks find them annoying.
Honestly being a geek is a lot like being a sports fan. You have the guys that paint themselves blue and go shirtless, or riot when their team loses, but most just watch the games a root for the team. The rest of the week those fans have other concerns and interests.
It is the same with geeks. I may love the culture and consume it. I go to conventions, I hang out at the comic shop and I go to the movies. I also like to go to museums, pay attention to politics and world events and volunteer with my church.
But why worry about it, after all if I am comfortable with myself why should I care what the world at large thinks.
Well growth for one thing. There are a lot of businesses that cater to geeks. Comic book shops, game companies, Publishers, and conventions. With the economy the way it is a lot of them are looking to expand their audiences. That expansion is hampered by the myth that the audience already there are a group of stinky hostile misogynists.
So as long as I am trying to promote the culture I love I will do the best I can to dispel those myths.
And the worst part is that most of these myths are perpetuated by geeks themselves. I think it’s the idea of embracing the stereotype helps rob it of its power.  The problem is that is a crap solution. All embracing the stereotype does is keeps it alive.
So next time you are in a fan convention talking about how all you need to do to clear the room is throw in a bar of soap, ask yourself “Is this how I really want to present myself?”

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Review: In Time

I imagine that when the Occupy Wall Street movement started gaining steam the producers of In Time must have high fived each other, and did so again when the 7th Billion human on the planet was born.  
In Time continues the time honored tradition of science fiction using an alternative setting to examine the world we live in. It’s also a fairly standard action movie.
The central premise is quickly established. At some point in the future genetic engineering reaches a point where it is possible to stop the again process. Once a person reaches 25 (the point where people reach physical peek maturity) the aging process stops. To combat overcrowding each person is equipped with a timer that starts counting down one year. When it reaches zero they die.  They can get more time added to keep going. Somehow time has replaced money as standard currency. So when you work you are paid in time, so yes time is in fact money.
Our hero Will, Played by Justin Timberlake, is a poor man who rarely has more than a day’s worth of time at any point in his life, comes into possession of over a hundred years thanks to a suicidal rich man. When his mother dies he tries to infiltrate high society to take them for all they are worth. He meets an heiress Sylvia, Played by Amanda Seyfried, who is intrigued by him as he is not as lifeless as most people she meets. When the Timekeepers (think police), lead by Keeper Raymond Leon, played by Cillian Murphy try to arrest Will on suspicion of murder and time theft, Sylvia is at first his  hostage to escape and later his partner in crime when her father refuses to pay a ransom.
Much of the movie is taken up with Will and Sylvia as they rob her father’s time banks and distribute them amongst the time poor while Raymond hunts them down.
As an action movie In Time is fairly standard. The concept of the life timers helps add tension to as the characters have to find ways of getting more time to just stay alive.
Justin Timberlake does a fair job as an action lead, giving off the feel much like Matt Damon when he first did action. Cillian Murphy is always reliable in these kinds of movies and his presence as a somewhat noble adversary really brightens up the film. Amanda Seyfried seems a bit out of her depth, but this does work for her character that is also a fish out of water. One note is that no matter what happens in the movie her makeup is always perfect.  There are also good supporting performances from Olivia Wilde, Matt Boemer, Johnny Galecki, Vincent Kartheiser and Alex Pettyfer.
Speaking of makeup, one thing I noted was that all the rich people in this movie have an appearance of being somewhat artificial. This helps add to the feel of the class separation in the movie. The rich, who are affectively immortal, are truly ideal since they fear having an accident as that is the only way they can die. The poor are generally active as they have to be on the go at all times to make more time to stay alive.
A phrase used throughout the movie is “for few to be immortal, many must die.” This is meant to convey that it is in the interest of the rich to keep poor people on short time and dyeing regularly in order to support their own extended lives.  Working as an allegory of current economic times is where the movie plays the strongest. It is also something of a weakness as the need to keep the action going once it starts means we do not get to explore as much of the world as we would like.
Use of language in this movie is a lot of fun. Phrases like “got a minute” “I’ll clean your clock” “I haven’t got the time to play poker” and “Don’t waste my time” take on a whole new meaning.
There is a subplot involving a criminal gang of regularly steal people’s time. They want to find Will and Sylvia because they want the time they have taken for themselves.  There is also a point about prices being artificially inflated to counteract the extra time Will and Sylvia are giving the poor.
And here is where I have questions. The central premise works great in the confines of the movie when you can willingly suspend disbelief, but it does not hold up under any kind of scrutiny.
Is the entire world using the time based economy? What is backing this economy? How did we go from our current currency standard to using time?  How did they get people to agree to limit their life spans?
And how long has this been going on? You have one character state that he is over one hundred years old. Technology is not that much more advanced then now, except for the time transfer tech and that fact that all cars are electric. It is never stated how far in the future we are.
So in summery I would say that In Time is an ok action movie with an intriguing and timely premise.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Beware the Slender Man

One of the features of urban legends is that they are basically modern folklore. It is an oral tradition that spreads as a story to from the point of view of a friend of a friend. They are often cautionary tales and will have a hint of the supernatural. Some are even outright ghost stories such as the vanishing hitchhiker.
And now we have the internet.
And our folklore is now known as memes.
One of the best came about on June 10th, 2009. This is the date of the first sighting of the Slender Man.
Who is the Slender Man? That is a good question, not a smart one to ask, but a good one none the less.
Take a look.

Did you see the odd figure in the back ground? This is the first known picture of the Slender Man.
Many followed.

They say that the more you think about him, the more likely you are to encounter him. Those that do start to obsess, often getting ill. Several people who have gotten pictures of him have disappeared.

Spooked yet?

Well that’s the point. The truth is that the Slender Man is a case of an intentionally created urban legend.
In the forums of the web site Something Awful a thread was created dedicated to taking normal photos and altering them to make them appear paranormal. On June 10th, 2009 Victor Surge posted the first couple of what would become many pictures featuring his creation, the Slender Man, a creature composed of aspects that he found creepy.
Unnaturally tall? Check.
Featureless face? Check.
Elongated limbs? Check.
Men in Black Suit? Check.
Never in focus? Check.
 Not content to just make creepy pictures Surge included “facts” surrounding each picture to enhance the story.
 Eventually the thread became dominated by the Slender Man as other people jumped on the band wagon. Those that could not create pictures started creating the mythos that surrounded the Slender Man. Yet he was always left vague enough for people to add their own interpretations. Conflicting accounts were made. In other words the perfect Urban Legend. It has grown to the point where some people have heard of the story in urban legend fashion and have no idea that it was made up on a forum.
The image and myth are so intriguing that several people have written stories are made online videos based on it. Examples include Marble Hornets and Everyman HYBRID. Do you self a favor and do not check these out after dark, unless of course you like to be creeped out when you go to bed.
One of the best parts of the Slender Man myth is how it takes advantage of both the internet and basic human behavior. The myth states that thinking too much about the Slender Man attracts his attention and at some point he will visit you in your dreams. Guess what has a good chance of happening if you start looking up information on something with as iconic a look as the Slender Man?
At some point I’m convinced a feature movie will be made. I hope it is an indie film, but not found footage as that has been done to death. When it does get made I hope Victor Surge gets some kind credit.
Until then there are great sites you can check out for more.
I think that is a good place to end.

Everything is fine.

That noise you heard, ignore it.

Just don’t look out the window for a while.  

His gentle caress.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Role-Playing and Urban Legends Part 2

In the last post, I said that urban legends have been a hobby of mine since I was 12. This has had its ups and downs.
When I was in my early twenties I worked as a clerk at a 7-11. A woman came in wanting to put up a flier warning about lick-on tattoos laced with LSD. It was a classic example of the Blue Star Tattoo legend. I took a flier and explained the legend. 
Let’s just say that both she and my manager were less then pleased.
But the real fun with urban legends started when I was working as a customer service representative at Wizards of the Coast.
I was hired by WotC in July of 1993, the same month they released Magic: the Gathering. So I was there for its early rush of success.
My day-to-day job was answering questions about our games. The majority of these questions were based on the rules to Magic: the Gathering; and later, after we bought TSR, Dungeons and Dragons. However, this was a job based on taking incoming phone calls, so anything could happen.

At some point my manager decided that one of us should be focused on any calls based on rumors about our games, like the ones based on the sources I cited in the last post.  Specifically he wanted a point person to deal with any question about our games being evil, satanic, or harmful. Basically, to deal with people who believed the urban legends.
In his wisdom, he decided I should be that person.  I guess my love of urban legends made me the ideal candidate.
Part of the fun of this new responsibility was that I got to have special training.
WotC flew out a Michael Stackpole to give me this training. You may remember Michael; as I mentioned him in the last post. If the industry had an expert in this field it was Michael.
I would like to believe that by the time I left WotC, thanks to Michael’s training and my own experiences, I was the industry’s second leading expert.
The method used to direct calls to me was pretty simple. The person who got the call would put the customer on hold and then yell out loud, “Jeff! Satan call!”
I ended up developing a lot of responses to that.
“Tell him I’m not here”
“Tell him it can never work out between us.”
 “Tell them we’re not in league with Satan. We’re in a bowling league with Satan. And do you know how hard it is for him to rent shoes?”
“Why don’t I ever get Shiva calls?”
You get the idea.
After that I would take the call and get to work.
Most of the calls and letters fit into two basic categories.
The first would go like this:

"What is this game based on?" I would be asked.

"Math, basic arithmetic and a little algebra." I would answer.

“What?” as I had clearly not given the expected answer.
“Well the game was developed by a math professor. If you take out all the art and flavor text what you are left with is a game mechanic that is based on mathematic principles.”

The other type would go like this
“Is this game based on the occult?”
“I’ll be honest with you; I doubt any of the game designers know anything about it. All the setting and art are based on western fantasy literature and most of that was derived from the work of a pair of English theologians who were writing Christian allegory,” I would answer. Of course, I was referring to J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis.
Between these two sets of stock answers, I was able to field a good majority of those calls.
Of course, there were some real winners.
My personal favorite was a woman who called and as soon as I answered she went off:

"I am going to burn these cards my son bought."

"No ma’am, you don't want to burn them."

"No, I am going to burn them."

"No, please, shred them instead."


"The cards are coated in plastic like poker card; if you burn them the smoke will be toxic. Shredding them will be much safer."

"Aren't you upset that I am going to destroy them?"

"Why would that upset me? We already have your money. The rest is an issue between you and your son."
My manager wanted to give me a stern talking to for that one, but he was laughing too hard.
Another one that always puzzled me was a bit of mail we received. It wasn’t a letter; it was a copy of the rule book found in Magic decks. Someone had written in Bible quotes on random pages. Well, not the quote - it would be Book, Chapter and Verse; it was up to me to look up the quotes. They were mostly from the Old Testament.  I could never really figure out what theme they were going for, since no two passages covered the same subject.
They did write one original thing on the back of the rulebook.
“I Pled the Blood of Christ on your company”
I still look at that and think that the word just seems off.
Then again it’s not like they took the time to write an actually letter.
The last one was a doozy that was still going on when I left WotC in 1997.
I got a call from the superintendent of a school district in upstate New York.
His story went like this. One of the schools in his district had allowed students to start up a Magic: The Gathering club. Everything was going fine until some parents had seen the cards and complained to the district. It was a fairly standard “These cards are Satanic” complaint. What was different was that one of the parents was a lawyer and she was preparing a t First Amendment law suit against the school.
I’m pretty sure you looked at that previous sentence and thought, “A First Amendment law suit? Why?”
This was her logic (so to speak): Since the game was so clearly Satanic in nature, allowing it to be played at school was promoting a religion, and thus violated the separation of church and state.
Honestly, if this was a work of fiction, I would have violated suspension of disbelief.
I spent time helping the superintendent understand the game, and even gave him examples of cards so that he could have the game looked at by a child psychologist. They found nothing wrong with the game, but the lawsuit went on. And from what I heard, it was going on as late as 2004.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Role-Playing and Urban Legends Part 1

With Halloween around the corner, it is time for ghost stories to make the rounds again. And in my opinion the best ghost stories are the ones that grow into urban legends. I love urban legends.
When I was about 12 years old, my mother heard that a woman at our local Kmart had been killed by a snake that had gotten into a shipment of clothes from overseas.  She became very concerned that this could happen at other stores, and wanted me to be careful when we were out shopping.
Two days later, our local newspaper ran a story on about this incident. More to the point: they ran a piece debunking it as an urban legend. It was a well-written piece that covered what an urban legend was, how they spread, and some of the most common ones.  It also cited a book by Jan Harold Brunvand called The Vanishing Hitchhiker: Urban Legends & their Meanings.
The next day I checked out this book from the school library.
I was hooked. I found other books, and from there, following urban legends became a small hobby of mine.
I suppose I should make sure you know what I am talking about before I go on. Of course the best way to educate yourself on this would be to check out Professor Brunvand’s books on the subject.
Basically, an urban legend is modern folklore. It takes the form of a story relayed as being true, usually happening to “a friend of a friend,” and that usually holds some kind of cautionary tale or supernatural element.
But why I am I bringing this up in a blog devoted to geek culture?
It’s due to some doozy urban legends that have grown around role-playing games.
Since almost the time of their inception, fantasy role-playing games have attracted their own set of urban legends.
These grew out of three sources.
The first was simply that fact that some people would look at the fantasy elements in Dungeons and Dragons and assume it meant the game was Satanic. The idea that any role playing game will lead to devil worship come from this basic misunderstanding. I’ve always found this one funny since many of those fantasy elements were lifted from the writings J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, both of whom had Christian allegory in their stories.
The second source was an attempted suicide in the utility tunnels of Michigan State University that was erroneously linked to Dungeons and Dragons. A student at MSU went to the steam tunnels to commit suicide by overdose. He left a map on graph paper (left over from a D&D game) of his location so his body could be found. Instead of dying he wandered off. A detective hired by his family to find him idly speculated that he had gone to the tunnel to play a live action version of the game, and the press latched onto that as fact. This lead to the myth of someone getting killed playing a live action Role playing game. This myth got leverage in an incredibly bad book called Mazes and Monsters, which in turn got turned into a lousy TV movie starring Tom Hanks.
The third source was the suicide of a high school student in Richmond Virginia that is mother attributed to his involvement with a Dungeons and Dragons game he played at school. She tried to sue TSR, the publisher of Dungeons and Dragons at that time. All her lawsuits were dismissed. In response, she formed Bothered about Dungeons and Dragons (BADD) to combat the “evils” of roleplaying. It got to the point that game designer and future Star Wars author Michael A Stackpole wrote the article “Game Hysteria and the Truth” to debunk BADD’s claims. 
These stories have a life of their own now. Even though role-playing gamers now have an image of the loner geek in his mom’s basement, many of these stories still persist. Even now, there is probably a preacher somewhere firm in the belief that role-playing leads directly to Satan.
And in the next post I will discuss how all of this intersected directly with my life.
Here is a hint: I used to work for Wizards of the Coast

Friday, October 21, 2011

The Eighth Avenger

At New York Comic Con the big buzz was about next year’s Avengers movie. Several of the stars were there to promote the film.
During an interview Tom Hiddleston who plays Loki was talking about being the main villain against all the heroes. Specifically he talked about going up against all eight heroes.
All eight?
Wait a minute is that right? Let’s check.
First we have the heroes that have had their own movies. That gives us Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, and the Hulk. Ok that puts us at four.
Now let’s look at the heroes who appeared in other movies. Now we add Black Widow and Hawkeye. This brings us up to six.
If I leave Nick Fury off of this list Samuel L. Jackson will probably track me down and kick my ass. This brings us to seven.
So who is Avenger number eight?
I guess the first question is simply is there an eighth Avenger or did Hiddleston just count wrong. He says it a couple of times so for the sake of argument let’s assume he was right and there are eight.
So again who is number eight?
My first thought was that it would be someone we have already met. This led me directly to War Machine from Iron Man 2. A quick check of IMDB shot this down. Don Cheadle is not listed in the Avengers cast nor is anyone else listed as playing James Rhodes. You also have none of Thor’s fellow Asgardians listed so they are out.
Maybe he is counting someone in the cast who is not normally considered an Avenger. Maybe he is referring to Agent Coulson. Coulson has appeared in Both Iron Man movies and was a significant character in Thor. Marvel has also built him up by making short features featuring him. He has become a fan favorite. In fact since director Joss Whedon has a habit of killing fan favorite characters there is already a save Agent Coulson campaign going to ensure his survival for future marvel movies.
The problem with it being Coulson is while he is a cool character, he is not s superhero, and is not played in a way that suggests he is an Avenger.
There is one other possibility. Joss Whedon loves to sneak one over on fans. Do a misdirection to make fans think one thing and then spring a surprise. Maybe there is another character from the comics hidden in there that we have not seen yet.
Maybe there is a scientist working for shield named Hank Pym. Near the end of the movie he uses an experimental process to grow in size and become Giant Man.  Or Maybe they will sneak in the Wasp. Both were founding Avengers in the comics.
Or maybe I am just reading too much into this.
But isn’t the speculation fun?
So what do you think, who is the eighth Avenger?

Friday, October 14, 2011

Alternate Interpretations: Gilligan's Island

Let’s do something a little different today. Let’s play the game of Alternate Interpretations.
To play the game you take a book, TV show, or movie that everyone knows. You then need to supply an underlying back story that is different from what is the usually accepted one. And to top it off it needs to work without changing what actually appeared in the original, acting as subtext.
So let’s use something everyone knows, Gilligan’s Island.
We all know the story of the seven castaways shipwrecked on the deserted tropical island. But what if there was more going on.
In 1964 the U.S. Government decided that it needed to make several people disappear for various reasons. However it did not want these people dead in case any of them were ever needed. An ambitious plan was hatched to strand them on an uncharted tropical island. The plan hinged on them not knowing that this was deliberate and if they did figure out that they were there on purpose they would not realize the others were as well.
But why did they need to vanish?
Captain Jonas Grumby aka Skipper:  Grumby was a US Naval officer who had come across damaging information about the Kennedy family while serving under John F Kennedy during World War II. If what Grumby learned was ever made public it would end the Kennedy family political dynasty.  After he retired from the Navy the government was able to arrange events so that he found himself the owner of a small boat charter company in Honolulu, Hawaii.
Professor Roy Hinkley:  Hinkley was a genius  botanist and chemist who worked on a project on mind altering chemicals that was funded by the CIA. It was part of larger project involving behavior control. Unfortunately for Hinkley he was smart enough to deduce the real purpose for the project. In disgust he quit, and took a job as a high school science teacher while he decided what he wanted to do about what he had learned. While this was going on he received an offer to join a botanical study in Hawaii. One of his fellow researchers suggested he might find it interesting to take a charter cruise out of Honolulu.
Thurston and Eunice Howell: Thurston Howell the 3rd was an old money robber baron. Major parts of his holding were in arms manufacturing. In the wake of the assassination of President Kennedy and the ongoing war in Vietnam Howell was having a change of heart about this part of his business. This would not do, but he was powerful enough that no one wanted to risk his death. He was brought to Honolulu by his government contacts to discuss what his plans were. After a particularly taxing meeting he was convince to take a break, perhaps a three hour boat tour.
Mrs. Howell was just what she seemed, an aging socialite who was accompanying her husband.
Ginger Grant: Grant was a well-known actress and singer. She was also having an affair with a high ranking Politian whose pillow talk let her know more than was good for her. In the wake of the death or Marilyn Monroe it was determined that adding her to the ill-fated boat tour was the best way to deal with her. A surprisingly well paying musical review in Honolulu was offered to her.
Mary Ann Summers: Mary Ann was a simple farm girl from Winfield, Texas, or so she would have had you believe. In reality Mary Ann was a deep cover KGB sleeper agent.  The government learned of the Soviet Operation she was part of and knew they would be making their move soon. Realizing that taking out a key member of the KGB’s team would lead the operation to being aborted. However they wanted her alive in case they ever had need of a spy for a show trial. It was arranged for Mary Ann to win a trip to Honolulu complete with a three hour charter boat cruise. Mary Ann could not skip the trip without raising suspicion so she went. Of all the castaways she is the one that harbored some suspicion of what is really going on, but can’t reveal it for fear of breaking her cover.
William Gilligan: Gilligan was a highly trained intelligence operative for the US Military. When the government learned that Jonas Grumby had information that could topple the powerful Kennedy family Gilligan was assigned to get close to him and learn what he knew. Adopting a persona that was bumbling but sincere, Gilligan was able to make Grumby accept him as a friend on confidant.  When Grumby retired Gilligan joined him and was able to manipulate him into buying a boat charter in Honolulu.
He was able to Sabotage the boat in such a way that it appeared out of control during the storm the government had made sure was not reported.
Once on the island it was Gilligan’s mission to make sure no one suspected why they were really on the island, and that no one ever left.
Now go watch some episodes of Gilligan’s Island and see how they play out now.

So what should we go after next time we play this game?

Saturday, October 8, 2011

DC Comics Relaunch: the first month in review.

Over the last month we saw the release of the 1st issues for DC comics new 52, the relaunch of their universe.  It’s clear that it has been an initial success.  Many titles are already in reprint, DC is dominating the sales chart and Marvel is already showing signs of their attempt to rip it off.
But was it any good?
I guess the final answer is…..sort of.
There are certainly individual books that are good.  Originally I was not going to pick up Green Arrow or Swamp Thing on a regular basis, but both first issues were good enough to change my mind. Batwing and Justice League International were not as good, but good enough for me to give to want to read more.  Aquaman I bought on the strength that it was being written by Geoff Johns, and it paid off. The Superman books and Wonder Woman were well written and I enjoyed them. The Batman and Green Lantern books were continuing stories from prior to the relaunch and still enjoyable. Resurrection Man also seems to be jumping off from the old series from a few years back, but its nature makes it flow well into the new continuity and was a good relaunch of the character.
I have heard good things about Animal Man, Blue Beetle and Demon Knights, but as of yet I have not picked those up.
On the negative side were Catwoman, Red Hood and the Outlaws and Deathstroke. And each case it is an issue of bad or lazy writing. No second issues for these.
I’ve also heard bad buzz on Hawk and Dove, OMAC and Suicide Squad, but again I did not pick them up.
And on the meh side was the Flash, Justice League Dark. Both were passable individual stories, but didn’t fire me up. I’ll give them a few issues to see if they are worth keeping up with.
And then there is Justice League. The way it was written, I have no idea yet. I can’t help feel this one was paced for the trade edition. I’ll give it a few.
Overall I am happy with the books I am getting, but I see a major flaw developing. The source of this flaw is an issue with consistency of continuity.
When the relaunch happened you had some characters like Superman and Flash getting full on reboots. Others like Wonder Woman and Aquaman were more or less getting some retooling. Characters like Booster Gold and Resurrection Man are vague on what, if anything has been changed. And then you have Batman and the Green Lanterns, where they have not been changed and are in fact continuing their stories uninterrupted. 
Add to that there we have some books taking place today, and others five years ago.
This leads to confusion as knowing how characters relate becomes muddled.  The Kid Flash in teen titans, who if he? Barry Allen is not dating Iris West, so it is unlikely he is Wally West. Is he Bart Allen? Ok but again Barry and Iris are not together so saying he is their grandson from the future is still awkward at best. Is he option C, none of the above?
What about Superman? In Action comics, the book that takes place 5 years ago his costume is jeans, a t-shirt, and a cape that I suspect started life as a table cloth. In Superman which is set today his custom is some sort of Kryptonian armor. Ok fine, expect that Superman appears at the end of Justice League number 1. That issue was set five years ago and yet he was wearing the Kryptonian armor.
I’m sure the real answer was that the editors were not keeping up on what the creators were doing; this seems to be a problem at both DC and Marvel right now.
Once a few more issues are out I will probably start giving more in-depth opinions on the various titles.