Sunday, 19 October 2014

Review - The Art of ALIEN: Isolation

Inline image 1With the launch of the frankly amazing ALIEN: Isolation and associated books, Farsight Blogger will be featuring a few reviews and articles regarding the 1979 Ridley Scott classic. Expect a review of the game itself in the near future.

We kick off with this review of The Art Of ALIEN: Isolation by Richard Williams.

Author: Andy McVittie
Publisher: Titan Books

Yet another solid offering from Titan publishing bringing together a great collection of production art for Alien: Isolation.

The book is nicely divided into fairly obvious sections (characters, environment, weapons, etc) which I appreciate as I don't like art books to be all over the place without decent consideration to layout. The character design is nice with clean lines and there's also plenty of it. In fact one thing this book does right in spades is to show the iterative process of designing a game and what you'll find in this book is plenty of stuff which never ended up being used. As I've said in other reviews I really like to see that kind of material, the 'game that never was', and especially when the quality of art is as high as it is here.

Not surprisingly there is a goodly portion of environment art. I say not surprisingly as Alien: Isolation is a first person perspective game which means that almost all of your time will be spent looking at your surroundings (typically whist cowering behind a work surface, if reviews of the actual game are anything to go by). Therefore the ships and, particularly, Sevastopol station provides the lion's share of concept art. The style is appropriately dark and moody with a keen attention to detail which is just a joy to see. I also really appreciate the handful of examples of concept art from the original Alien movie, linking this work firmly with its source material and demonstrating how close to its roots the game designers were determined to stick.

There's a short but fantastic section on the weapons and equipment that players will use and, again, this is where we see a lot of material that never found its way into the final product. This can sometimes go against the game creators as it can leave you thinking 'well damn it, that sounds like something I wish they'd left in'. In this case the idea that players would have to jerry-rig and craft their own weapons, an idea which was dialled back for the finished game. Is that a problem for me, though? No, I get to see top-notch concept art so I'm happy.

The section on the design of the eponymous Alien is great but obviously the vast majority of that work was done a long time ago. What this book adds is to show the alien more as more animated and animalistic in a range of poses.

Aside from the art there are other elements to consider. First of these is the landscape layout of the book. I'm not a fan of this format as it makes the books on my self jut out and the uber-organised side of me (a normally very small part of me) would far rather have all my books looking neatly the same. Especially since this book came from the same publisher of my other favourite concept art books. Would it have killed them to make a book which fit with their other publications? would it? WOULD IT!? ahem. Sorry. Faux rant aside this is a minor gripe and by no means a deal breaker, I just mention it in the hope that publishers out there are listening.

There is also the descriptive text. This is a mini science in itself and I'm glad that Titan seem to have the formula down pat. Not so much that it gets in the way, not so little that you're not learning anything. The text in The Art of Alien: Isolation provides plenty interesting nuggets regarding the design and development process which makes interesting reading without leading away from the purpose of this book, namely top notch art.

Do I have any problems with this book? Only a couple and the landscape format of the book is one of them. Other than that there is the fact that artists are not thoroughly credited on the pages. Sometimes the artist gets a mention in the accompanying text but largely there's nothing to say who drew what. As a guy who likes to chase up artists I like online to see what else they've done I find this a little annoying. But only a little. But that really is it. I could make my usual complaint that I would like to see more artwork (because you know there's a lot more in an archive somewhere) but this book is the usual size for an art book and so I think I've just got to accept they're never going to give me all the goodies.

So, should you buy it. Two questions; 1) are you a fan of the Aliens franchise? and 2) do you like concept art books? If the answer is yes to either then you can buy without worry as this satisfies both interests handsomely. If the answer is yes to both then you've probably already bought the book without reading this essay of a review and are just as happy as I am.

- Richard Williams

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Interview - Jamie Fry, editor of the official Fighting Fantasy website

Welcome to Farsight Blogger Jamie Fry - 'The Warlock' - the guy in charge over at the official Fighting Fantasy website. He's a big figure in the Fighting Fantasy scene and is known as something of an aficionado when it comes to the classic gamebooks.

Perhaps you'd like to introduce yourself?

Greetings, my name is Jamie Fry and I am the webmaster (or Warlock) at and all associated official social media. Some seasoned readers may know my other site that is I’m a family man with 3 kids and live in Poole. I have a day job at the Local Authority.

How and when did you first come across Fighting Fantasy?

My most vivid memory is seeing the green spines in my local newsagent and seeing the Warlock magazine on the shelf. This would have been when I had my paper round in the mid-eighties. I recall buying House of Hell and Talisman of Death first with the pittance I was paid but it was well worth it. I vaguely remember having contact with them at school as well but don’t remember the green spines so well then and therefore must have had access to the originals not realising their later significance at the time. I was never lucky enough to have them bought for me as some did from school book clubs but I soon discovered the rest in the local bookshop and I would borrow very dog-eared copies from the local library to slake my thirst (ending up having to create my own adventure sheets because there were always used, nowadays I would not dream of marking the adventure sheet). In my late teens I got distracted by girls, beer and work so lost sight of the books for many years until I re-discovered them again in the early nineties when the last few came out. My wife bought me the 10th Anniversary Yearbook as a present which re-kindled my interest but by then a lot of my earlier copies had long disappeared when I moved out of my childhood home. Some fans still tell stories that their cherished book collection has been uncovered by parents when clearing out the loft trying to get rid of the last traces of their off-spring.

You're known as something of a collector of Fighting Fantasy and the checklists and price guides are required reading for FF enthusiasts. Tell us more about the collection and how it came about.

Back when my renewed interest in the books started again back in the mid-nineties I did not realise it was to end very quickly. Books were still available in the shops so I would pick up the odd title here and there but never really kept hold of them. At this point my first child was born (1997) and FF pretty much took a back seat again. However, in 2002 I discovered that Icon books under the Wizard imprint were re-releasing the books once more with new covers and in a different order. I then set out to buy every book as they were released. It is at this point that my love for the books was re-kindled. In search of a checklist of the books and every related product I would discover no one site could cater for such a need so I set about collating all this information and sometime around 2004 I tracked down Ian and Steve to check the idea out with them and with their blessing I set about putting together which is not maintained these days due to my commitments to the official site and such like but it stills acts as an on-line pictorial museum of all the books and collectables. Today, the site content has manifested itself into my guide which I make available as a pdf or through the Issuu platform and update it on an annual basis. For the record my earliest guide more or less reflected everything I owned at the time but now it is far bigger than I had ever imagined and contains references to many items I can only dream of seeing let alone owning. One of the best sights was recently at the Fighting Fantasy Fest where I witnessed people walking around with pages from my guide using the checklist as intended to record what they had and what they still needed. It was especially touching to receive a request from a young girl whom handed me her list to see what i had she could buy, I only had an original Starship Traveller left but she still wanted it!.

What's the rarest thing you have in the collection?

It has to be the original Puffin shop display. I bought it off a store called They Walk Among Us back in 2005. According to the ebay listing and the picture that accompanied it, it belonged to and was from the office of Steve Jackson himself. I took it with me to the Fighting Fantasy Fest a few weeks back and I could have sold it many times over for many times more than I paid for it. I currently value it at £40, although on reflection it could be worth more based on the demand and the fact it is the only one known in existence. In fact if I left it for too long on its own I couldn’t be sure it wouldn’t have gone missing that day. I know one fellow collector had his eye on it but it isn’t leaving my collection anytime soon. I also have the original colour pen and ink map of Allansia, the one from inside The Trolltooth Wars that Leo Hartas tells me is the only one he drew and sent off to Penguin. He recalls you were very lucky to receive it back from the publishers in those days. Others exist, but another rare favourite is the FF logo tombstone bookend by Clarecraft.

You took over the official Fighting Fantasy website a few years ago. How did that feel, to get your hands on the go-to FF website?

Back in 2009 is when I first met Steve at Gamesfest and got talking about my guide, my website and a few other ideas I had. it was around that time Ian made contact with me (!) to ask if I would sell his surplus books for him, of course I would, what a stupid question. I was squealing like an excited teenager at a Vamps concert when I heard from him. A few visits to his home later I came away not only having spent a considerable time with him (and Steve) on several occasions, I saw things in his personal collection very few will have the privilege of seeing  with their own eyes but I walked away with several hundred books signed by them both. This lasted about a year and on one such visit they popped the question. Again, who was I to say no. On the way home that day, if twerking was invented then, that was what I did all the way back! The site had gone dormant since its upgrade a few years earlier and this was  it turned out to be due to the then resident Warlock, Dave Holt, unable to spend the time on the site due to personal reasons. They both felt that since I had already got a fan website with followers and was well known for my guide they felt I was best placed to take the role on. It was a slow start as I had a lot to do in the background. Looking back it has been harder than I first imagined but in my eagerness and passion I persevere.

What are your day-to-day duties for Fighting Fantasy?

I do not have daily tasks as such but as I look after all the social media feeds I will check them every day and regularly tweet or put a post on Facebook to keep the fans informed. I try to put news on the official website every week and make tweaks here and there as required. I also monitor the e-mail traffic as well. Through that we get a lot of licensing enquiries, amateur adventures and artwork for the website, lots of queries about the books and collectors wanting to buy books in order to complete their collections. It may come as a surprise but I have to find out what is new and upcoming the hard way, it is rare to get the heads up if something has changed or new is coming out or happening. I often find myself trawling around for news and hope I have found it in time to post it to the website as soon as possible. So, if you see stuff before it is on the official site that is why.

What's your favourite gamebook?

Those that have read anything I have written or said in the past may think I keep changing my mind but I can be forgiven if that is the case because of the sheer number of titles available and reading through different ones the favourite may change. However, having said that, my ultimate favourite will always be House of Hell, more recently I re-played Forest of Doom and loved it. I keep coming back to Deathtrap Dungeon and Trial Champions as well. I have fond memories of Temple of Terror and strangely, Beneath Nightmare Castle which others take a dislike to. Oh and The Warlock of Firetop Mountain, that is the epitome.

It's been a while since we've seen any reprints of or new Fighting Fantasy books. Can you give us an idea of what's next for FF?

The last I heard neither Ian nor Steve have any known plans to write a new title other than for the 40th Anniversary in 2022 (both will be in their seventies by then). That is still 8 years away to wait and anyone thus far trying to fill the gap with new titles have been turned down, that could change of course (fingers crossed). Equally, whilst we have seen an upsurge in interest for the gamebook genre, this particular brands publisher has little appetite to pursue re-prints let alone new titles. Apps are going to keep coming out and miniatures of different types will be released. It is rumoured that a boardgame might materialise as may a card game. Plans for merchandise such as t-shirts are in discussion as well. We may even see a movie of some kind as well. Who knows really, I still get excited about what is around the corner and telling the world about it.

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Interview - Stephen, Joe, John and Stephen: The Crew of AetherCon III

Please welcome to Farsight Blogger the team that makes up AetherCon - Event Coordinator Stephen J. Holodinsky, PR Coordinator Joe Sweeney, Technical Coordinator John Brese and Fest Hall Coordinator Stephen Jacobs.

“The 3rd annual AetherCon Online Tabletop RPG Convention is a gathering of pen and paper roleplaying gamers that will take place in cyberspace on the weekend of November 14th-16th, 2014.

AetherCon is a free to attend, free to partake, non-profit initiative. Thoughout the weekend there will be a plethora of tabletop RPGs on offer for all to play in. Among those will be three, three part tournaments taking place over the three days of the event with final tables to be played on Sunday. [/two_third_last] All games will be run on the free, browser-based virtual table tops INFRNO and Roll20. These programs will allow GMs and players alike to simply click on a link and enter the playing area as opposed to needing to download and install the software to participate.

In addition to the collection of independent RPG playing opportunities and those run by RPG publishers, there will also be Q&As and themed panels as well as speedpainting duels using the free, browser based conferencing program Anymeeting. A further highlight of the event is original artwork that will be released periodically by those artists partaking in the speedpainting duels in the run-up to our event as free downloadable wallpapers. You will be able to find the schedule and registration for all Aethercon events on Warhorn.

Our goal as organizers of this undertaking is to provide Online RPGers as a whole with a common stamping ground for a weekend in the spirit of the traditional tribal moot. Historically during these gatherings, which took place in a mutually agreed upon location, trading, discussion and various contests among other things took place under a truce between all attending. It is our hope that this undertaking will also prove to be a way for gamers of all stripes and all places to meet up and celebrate our favorite hobby together.”

Hi guys - Perhaps you'd like to introduce yourselves and tell us something about your gaming history?

Stephen J. Holodinsky: Stephen J. Holodinsky grew up in a part of Canada that used old Buicks on blocks as lawn ornaments, son of an appliance dealer Father and a Mother whose heart was in the right place but had no sense of timing when it came to clapping in rhythm at baseball games. He played drums as a youth and was one of four on his block who did so (it was a noisy neighbourhood). He's also worked the tobacco harvest, delivered refrigerators, planted trees, gone to university, stopped going to university, and worked at a once proud institution of a blues hotel in Toronto, now deceased. It was during this time he began playing RPGs. He once had a AD&D 2nd Ed Half-Elf Ranger get brained by a pot thrown by a big mean angry Momma Troll while 60 feet up in a tree outside of the City State of the Invincible Overlord taking 2d10 + 6d6 falling damage (it could have been worse, I landed on the pot and not the pot on me). He has since played a bunch of other games including Gamma World, Traveller, Boothill, Serenity, Savage Worlds, Pathfinder, RIFTs and many others but holds a special place in his heart for the setting of Harn. In the midst of all that dice rolling he took a sabbatical from gaming to go over to Europe where he lasted for 10 years on a backpack and $2200 CDN. It was over there that he learned that the German phrase 'Hast Du mal feier?' (Do you have a light?') was not one word. He also lost his passport while getting a lift, nearly fell off of two mountains and got lost on a third, moved Canadian soldiers into their homes, worked for the post office, hitchhiked between Bonn, Germany and Reading, UK in 18 hours (upon which he waited another 6 for a bus to take him the last 30 or so miles to Oxford), and had a band called 'The Flaming Ted Rogers' whose sole claim to fame was almost opening for Jeff Buckley Jr (the promoter pulled a bait and switch). He took up gaming once more five years after returning and among other things makes up Pathfinder characters to blow off steam. He is a big Toronto Maple Leafs fan despite the fact that they last won the Stanley Cup when he was four years old.

Joe Sweeney: Hi Jonathan! I’m Joe Sweeney. I’ve been gaming for about 35 years. After my initial introduction to Dungeons & Dragons when I was Hobbit-sized, I never stopped… some would say I never grew up. I began writing games when I was 14. The first was a fantasy game aimed at developing a “moral” context similar to Aesop’s Fables. The game was called Knight Errant, which evolved into the “StoryWeaver” game for children.  However, it was only about 10 years ago that I began publishing games directly under the StoryWeaver Games brand. The most popular lines are the sci-fi space opera “High-Space” and the science fiction horror thriller “Rapture: The End of Days.”

John Brese: Well, my name is John Brese aka Winged Human, and I’m a 34 year old father of 4.  I’ve been “gaming” since about my 8th grade in Jr High School, where I met my long time best Friend, Chris.  I had previously heard about Dungeons and Dragons, but neither my parents, nor any of their friends played it.  It was one evening that my parents had taken my siblings and I to the library that I saw my classmates, huddled in an enclosed room.  I wandered in, introduced myself and asked what they were doing.  It was then and there that I began my love of gaming.  I have delved into all aspects of what I consider gaming, from Miniatures, to board games, card games, Roleplaying face-to-face in a table-top setting, and online.  To this day I continue to try to be involved in all aspects of the gaming culture.

Stephen Jacobs: I started gaming in the mid 80's. I was in 7TH grade at the time and our art teacher had a copy of the D&D red box. A friend of mine introduced me and I was hooked. From there we branched out into almost any RPG we could get our hands on, including Car Wars, Metamorphosis Alpha, Gamma World, Vampire. In 89 I meet Winston Hamilton of GR/D who got me hooked on the Europa series of war games as well as the WWII miniatures game Command Decision. Today I own Multiverse Comics & Games in Grinnell Iowa. I still play D&D, but I've moved into Pathfinder, Savage Worlds, and most recently the Edge of the Empire RPG by Fantasy Flight Games. We play Warhammer and Necromunda at the shop and I've been pretty heavy into Magic the Gathering for nearly 17 years now.

Tell us more about AetherCon; when did you come up with the idea and how did you get it started? 

Stephen J. Holodinsky: When I did return to my hometown, the only game shop that did exist had long since closed and the RPG scene was long since dead. This meant turning to the internet to find other players. I'd been out of the game for 15 years at that point and when I started frequenting different chatrooms the one thing I took away from that experience was the fact that everyone was at each other’s throats about this game over that game or this edition over that edition. The anonymity of the internet had basically turned the RPGing community on its head. Before I left to go to Europe, it was much different. If a new game came out, it didn't matter who wrote it or what edition it was, folks were all over it. Everyone wanted to try it. It was much more communal. There were no groups of folks who hived themselves off from others based on this game or that edition.

There may have been a time in the past when the RPG industry was big enough that it could afford such fissures, but that time is definitely not now. There are a bunch of different places to put a person's entertainment dollar these days. Movies, Concerts, Nightclubbing, Sporting Events, Theatre and the list goes on. It is highly unlikely that RPGs ever ranked above maybe 15th on that list, especially when you start counting the various sports separately as they should be. We couldn't afford infighting and backbiting or not only would we stagnate, we would lose folks to other things. If someone were to come into a chatroom who was interested in RPGs but had never played before and watched one of these donnybrooks unfold, why would they stick around?

That is the primary reason AetherCon was started, to bring gamers from all over the world and of all stripes together. We like to say that 'there is no RPG or RPGer that can't fit under the AetherCon Umbrella'. We try to live up to that at all times. Our goal is to be the 'tribal moot' for all RPGers.

Joe Sweeney: I was not involved in the development of Aethercon. However, I’m a huge supporter of gaming conventions, both off-line and online.  They are the lifeblood of the gaming community: the best place where you can make new friends and try out new games. StoryWeaver actually maintains one of the largest lists of gaming conventions on the net: (Global Gaming Conventions Calendar) and we offer support and prizes to many of these. If you’ve got a gaming convention, we love to help make it a success!

John Brese: I was recruited by Stephen for AetherCon 2 (AC2).  Originally I was asked to be the lead contact for training all of the guests and panel moderators on how to utilize our conferencing software (Anymeeting).  I worked closely with the Technical coordinator at that time as well as Stephen.  I was eventually asked to actively monitor all of the anymeeting rooms during the event last year.  Afterwards I was asked to fill the role that I do now as Technical coordinator for the whole of AetherCon.

Stephen Jacobs: I helped out in Aethercon II as a retailer supporter. Stephen invited me to join the staff in the spring of 2014 as a PR rep but I quickly moved around through several positions from video editing to web site design. My experience with the game shop makes me pretty flexible when it comes to tasking.

It's a huge online convention so it must be a hell of a job. What's involved in managing all of this?

Stephen J. Holodinsky: It is a massive undertaking with numerous facets. There is a bunch of outreach involved, to gamers, to publishers, to artists. You need to keep in touch with everyone, coordinate everything so everyone involved with a particular facet is on the same page. There can be no surprises. There the tech side of it as well. We have podcasts both throughout the year and on AetherCon Weekend. We have to have knowledgeable folk onboard to make sure all of that runs smoothly. It is fortunate for us that this year, for the first time, we actually do have what resembles a multi-person Tech Staff. Could we use more bodies? Who couldn't? But right now we are looking at four dependable IT experts whereas in the first two ACs we had none and one respectively. Our PR Arm and Administrative Arm has also been added to which has helped immensely.

You have to be aware of how things are working. Can we improve here? If so, is it a tweak we can slip in now or is it something that we have to wait to implement for AC IV? What do the gamers, publishers, artists think? We send out a survey specifically to ask that after each AetherCon. There is no such thing as a perfect convention. You can always make it better. Anyone who tells you they have one is selling you a bill of goods. We need to improve year on year. So long as we move forward, we are not moving backwards.

Joe Sweeney: When Stephen asked if we could help out with Aethercon this year, I knew it was going to be a big job. Luckily, I have a wonderful employee, Jaie, who has taken over most of the hard work. I think the secret to running a successful convention is to be really well organised – something I’m not. Jaie has been invaluable in that respect.

John Brese: Managing something like this is an undertaking that was completely overwhelming when I first became involved.  It’s like a juggling act of immeasurable proportions, and quite honestly I have no idea how Stephen H. keeps it all straight.  But I would definitely say that the primary thing involved in managing is communication.  This virtual convention would almost immediately disintegrate without a consistent line of communication between all departments, and participants all the way from Stephen down to the individual players.  AetherCon has volunteers from all over the world, and I am constantly impressed by every volunteer’s willingness to make this this event the best online RPG convention as possible.

Stephen Jacobs: Everything. The convention is as complicated to manage as any business and we are all volunteers. There is public relations, whether it's through our web site or Facebook. There is getting publishers, vendors,supporters, Gms and players together in a network that has to span the globe, and keeping them excited. Since we don't have a physical location we depend upon the tenuous connection of the net, which can be a pretty fickle monster at times.

What kind of pressures are there and how do you cope?

Stephen J. Holodinsky: There are some things that we do not have to worry about that Real Life Cons do such as space booking and guest accommodation etc. At the same time, we have no operating budget. Expenses like the server we are on or aps for the website etc, all come out of pocket. It was never our intent to be money mountain. That's not why we started this. Everyone here is a volunteer, including myself and we recruit from the internet. That combination can be lethal when it comes to finding help because it is so easy for someone to bail on their commitments without ever having to answer for doing so. If you are hired to do a job and don’t do it, you get fired. You might not like the particular task you have been assigned but your paycheck depends on you doing it, so like it or not, you deliver the goods. We do not have that luxury. We only ever ask of our volunteers one thing: 'If you say it, do it.' I'll be honest here. If we had a dollar for every person who came to us and agreed to be a part of AetherCon only to either back out or simply disappear weeks later, we would have no recruiting problems because we would be able to afford to pay everyone.

When it comes to recruiting, folks buy into volunteer opportunities for one of two reasons. Either they commit to the mission or they commit to those behind it. No one knows us from Adam and we've yet to prove anything to anyone so the whole 'cult of personality' thing is a non-starter. That leaves the mission.

People make time for what they believe is important in their life. That's human nature. "X is important to me, I'll prioritize it, Y not so much, I'll let that slide." We need to make AetherCon more important to more people year on year.

As for coping, personally I try to play RPGs when I have the time which to be honest is not often. I listen to sports talk radio or music when I'm doing stuff for AetherCon. I watch TV to unwind after the day is over and I make RPG characters.

Joe Sweeney: I think the biggest pressures for me, as someone who is supporting the endeavour rather than running it, has been simply time management. Putting together a convention like this is almost a full-time job in itself, and since I run my own business (two in fact) ensuring that we set aside the time needed to get the job done right is very tricky. It’s a balance between doing what I love, and doing what is going to pay the bills.

John Brese: Have you ever heard the expression “It’s like herding cats?”  Well, imagine that, and compound the fact that all of the cats are spread all over the world, with all levels of backgrounds not only in the RPG arena, but writing, artistry, and technology.  My best coping mechanism after a long day of working on AetherCon, is to put on some moderately loud music and continue my quest to finish “A Dance with Dragons”.

Stephen Jacobs: Time. Besides working for AetherCon, I am the Quality Manager at a plastics factory here in Grinnell, I own Multiverse Comics and Games, and I run a part time office cleaning service in partnership with my mother. I have a pretty good support group in my local bunch of friends and family and that is what keeps it all together for me. I make sure I have time at the shop to actually sit down and play some of the games with folks.

What can we expect from AetherCon III? What do you have lined up?

Stephen J. Holodinsky: You can expect a whack of gaming opportunities both on Roll20 and INFRNO, 18 very good Themed Panels with a ton of really good guests, 24 Live Publisher Q&As, and 18 top end artists going head to head in Speed Painting Duels all weekend long. Oh and prizes. We will be giving away prizes in the Ox & Mule General Chat Room throughout the convention and making the draw for the big one, the Convention Program Bundle (download the PDF to be entered) Sunday evening.

John Brese: Stephen would best be the person to answer this question, but what I can say is that we have more GMs, and players involved with AetherCon than we have any previous year.  This year will be specifically spectacular because those volunteers involved have done so much work to make this the best possible.

Stephen Jacobs: Lots of guest panels, and lots of games, and most importantly lots of fun. My store is holding a cosplay contest and a magic tournament in conjunction with the con and I’ll have a computer set up so folks can participate in the panels.

What are you looking forward to? What's your personal favourite part of the event?

Stephen J. Holodinsky: Bringing folks together :)

Joe Sweeney: Personally, I’m really excited about the panel sessions. Being based out of Australia, it’s quite difficult for us to be part of the mainstream gaming community in the USA. Just being able to sit and listen into these panel sessions, to see the faces and hear the voices of the Masters of role-playing, is going to be awesome!

John Brese: I’m definitely looking forward to all of the Q & A sessions.  I love hearing from some of the new Game makers, as well as some of the “old dogs” of this industry.  My personal favorite part of the event is seeing all of the players and GMs playing and getting together for one Weekend to enjoy their favorite hobby.  The community is my #1 priority, and I am thankful every day that I get to continue to be involved in such an awesome undertaking with such a great bunch of people.

Stephen Jacobs: I'm looking forward to it being a success and then growing even bigger for AetherCon IV. The panels are going to be great and the in store events I'm planning at Multiverse.

Thursday, 9 October 2014

Review - An English Ghost Story

By Kim Newman

Published by Titan Books

'A dysfunctional British nuclear family seek a new life away from the big city in the sleepy Somerset countryside. At first their new home, The Hollow, seems to embrace them, creating a rare peace and harmony within the family. But when the house turns on them, it seems to know just how to hurt them the most – threatening to destroy them from the inside out.'

I sometimes wonder how the age-old Haunted House story can be given a new lease of life, how it can be reinvented with new and exciting twists. It’s been done so many times in different formats, with differing levels of creepiness and darkness and, if the mood calls for it, violence. Dark rooms, badly-lit staircases, shadows on the walls and basements you simply don’t venture into just because you heard a noise… yes, the Haunted House story has been done many times and may even be a little trite.

So, I came to Kim Newman’s An English Ghost Story with a little cynicism; another haunted house? I’m not sure about this. You can’t get me with jump scares as it’s not a movie, and I’ve read enough ghost stories to have some kind of idea of what’s to come.

Newman doesn’t really go down that route with this book. Oh, there’s levels of creepiness in the story that got my back up but the underlying mystery is incredibly compelling. A nice touch, and it’s something that gives the story depth and the house itself personality, is the inclusion of a story by the house’s previous occupant, a children’s book author. This story really is the central key that makes the story work… but I can’t go into any more detail. This really is a mystery that you’ll have to read with no prior knowledge to appreciate.

The family in question, the Naremores, are the primary characters in all this and they’re a great family to read about. They gripe and snipe like any normal family and the mother/father/daughter/son combination gives every reader a character to latch on to and share the story with. This means that the characters drive the plot and that also means that the suspense is heightened because you come to care about the family and their fate. There are chills, and these chills are what you’d expect from a ghost story and that expectancy makes them feel a little predictable, but the investment you have in the characters and the unfolding, and very intriguing, mystery makes those chills much more prominent.

Kim Newman hasn’t reinvented the wheel with this book but he has given us a sharp, enjoyable story with an excellent mystery and some enjoyable, identifiable characters that you come to feel for which only helps to heighten the tension.

An English Ghost Story is a great book and, while it doesn’t break any new ground as far as spooky stories are concerned, it makes for an excellent, suspenseful read.


Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Interview - Jim Pinto of Post World Games

carcass_cipherPlease welcome to Farsight Blogger Jim Pinto of Post World Games! Post World Games is dedicated to creating games that Jim loves to play, and also offers consulting advice, as well as developmental, editing, graphic, and writing services.

How did you get into gaming?

1980. Scholastic magazine reported about D&D. I was hooked before I ever read a word of the game. Started playing in 6th grade with my friend… Greg. I think that was his name. We played module B3. I got trapped in a web and a princess killed something with a dagger. That's all I remember. After that, I moved around a lot and tried to make time/room for gaming.

James Glover and I used to game in 9th grade. A lot. Robotech. Traveller. T&T. Runequest. We tried everything. But that didn't last.

10th grade was D&D and strat-o-matic football.

It wasn't until 1986 that I gamed on a regular basis with anyone. Andy Phillips (and I forgot the other guy's name). We'd game every weekend. Still remember my first all-nighter of Car Wars and Star Fleet Battles. I was too young to realize they were the same game.

In college I got into Torg, Blood Bowl, and more D&D. And by 1992, I was the know-it-all at my local game store. The rest is history.

Favorite game?

It's hard to answer this question without context. Given that there are no constraints? I would say Kick the Can is the most perfect game. That's right. Double superlative. It just has everything a game should have. And kids have to make tough decisions. Can I make the run to the can before my name is called? Should I hide close or far? My earliest, most favoritist game memories.

If I had to pick a favorite RPG... Twilight: 2000, original edition. Despite the fact that I don't like any games similar to it. Favorite board game? Either Dominare or Carcassone: Hunters and Gatherers. Favorite card game? The old Jyhad CCG. Favorite bidding game? Ra. Favorite war game? History of the World. Favorite Social Game? Anything without shouting. See. There are too many qualifiers to games.

You run Post World Games, a website that offers 'design, development, discussion'. As well as your own games, you also offer consulting and advice for other gamers. What is it you offer, and how did the website come about?

I've been working for myself since 2006. I originally was doing graphics for people and I got tired of that and wanted to get back into writing. I'm one of the few people I know in the game industry who can do everything himself. So. I went about creating games that I wanted to play. Some of them were sitting around in my head. Others were just laying around on my hard-drive. Some still are. Post World Games is sort of my attempt to make what I want after years of making the same old tired games for people who don't know what they want. PWG might just be my rebellious streak.

One of these days I'll get around to charging people a consulting fee.

Your most recent game is 'The Carcass', a post-apocalyptic game that's not 'safe, soft or careful with the language'. It looks really good - what can you tell us about it, and what was the design ethic?

The original idea was unsafe PVP, fighting for control, dealing with the consequences kind of game. We don't have those anymore. All of the edges have been stripped off of modern games. Everyone is on equal footing all the time. Every class needs to be protected from harm. Every player needs to be protected from himself. There's so much soft, passive language in game design, I knew I wanted something mean. I just sort of started writing. Six hours later, I was playtesting it. Two weeks later, I had a game.

It wasn't originally going to be post-apocalyptic. But that's my favorite genre, so it was just a matter of building it differently. Which I think I did. Each time you play it's completely different. The world is built from the roles you pick, the questions you answer. I'm already thinking of doing a new edition, just to clean up some of the dents in the writing.


What else can we expect to see from Post World Games in the future?

I'm actually doing a mash-up in 2015. I said I never would, but I came upon an idea with Anthony Moro that just needed to be done. It's never be done before and so we're going to hopefully surprise people with it. He said with his fingers crossed.

After that, my fantasy game world that no one has ever heard about. Also writing that with Anthony. And of course, more Protocol games and more Carcass.

The tabletop roleplaying hobby has been through a lot changes over the years and it seems that its death-knell is always sounded when newer hobbies come along, such as collectible card games and online computer games. It still seems to be able to hold it’s own, though – what do you see happening to the hobby in the future? What changes, if any, do you think will have to be made to ensure its survival?

Well. It's a hobby. So it will never truly die. Even if there's only 12 guys playing in Uncle Pete's garage three times a year, roleplaying games will go on. It's the industry that has to worry about CCGs and computer games.

For me, I just make what I like. Eventually it finds an audience. Even if it's tiny. But there are certain financial boundaries to doing things. The day I do a kickstarter that needs 5k to survive and it only makes 2k is the day I need to move on from all this and become a greeter at Wal-Mart.

Best use of my talents, really.

Saturday, 4 October 2014

Review - Pathfinder Tales: The Crusader Road

By Michael A. Stackpole

Published by Paizo Publishing

A very long time ago I had the pleasure of helping to craft some interview questions for Michael A. Stackpole for the UK website Lightsabre, a Star Wars fansite now merged with Before then and since I read his science fiction work – primarily the BattleTech novels and Star Wars - so this book is the first fantasy work of his I’ve had the chance to delve into. I’ve mostly enjoyed the Pathfinder Tales books so what could Stackpole’s talent bring to the mix?

‘When the aristocratic Vishov family is banished from their native Ustalav due to underhanded politics, they're faced with a choice: fade slowly into obscurity, or strike out for the nearby River Kingdoms and establish a new holding on the untamed frontier. For Lady Tyressa Vishov, the decision is simple. Together with her children and loyal retainers, she'll forge a new life in the infamous Echo Wood, and neither bloodthirsty monsters nor local despots will stop her from reclaiming her family honor. Yet the shadow of Ustalavic politics is long, and even in a remote and lawless territory, there may be those determined to see the Vishov family fail...

From New York Times best-selling author Michael A. Stackpole comes a new novel of frontier adventure set in the world of the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game and the new Pathfinder Online massively multiplayer online roleplaying game.’

I’m no stranger to the Pathfinder world so it was nice to see the book dive straight into the plot. The opening wastes no time and sets the scene, giving us backgrounds, personalities, plot direction and, most importantly of all, gives us a reason to get attached to the primary characters:

Lady Tyressa Vishov is a sharp-witted, clever and determined woman who intends to do the best for her family as well as prove her doubters wrong. I like strong characters and she was definitely one of the strongest I’ve come across in any book. Her shoulders have a lot of weight to bear and it’s a delight to see how she confronts all kind of problems. She certainly has no qualms about getting her hands dirty.

Her daughter, Serrana, is a noble woman of the court who has to adapt to her new, crude and less than perfect new lifestyle. It’s a classic fish-out-of-water story.

Finally, there’s her son Jerrad. He’s the one you root for as he’s young, inexperienced and very, very scared of this sudden change to his once privileged lifestyle. He knows, and you know, that he’s nothing special but he has a good character arc in which, yes, you do think he’s something of a coward, even a fool, but there’s something endearing about him that makes him a very likeable character.

As the plot unfolds we’re entertained with plenty of action, conflicts of both violence and personality. There’s not only battles against the local rampaging goblins (amongst others) to contend with, there’s also political shadows being cast that threaten to topple the Vishovs and destroy their plans for a future. It makes for not only a great adventure but also an intriguing thriller.

Stackpole has written a great story that kept me entertained from the opening chapter to the very end. The complex and interesting characters and enjoyable plot makes for a satisfying read and I have no problem in recommending this to not only Pathfinder fans but also fantasy fans in general. Hopefully this will not be Stackpole’s only venture into the worlds of Pathfinder, and a sequel to this particular book would certainly be welcome.

Sunday, 28 September 2014

Review - You Are The Hero: A History of Fighting Fantasy Gamebooks

By Jonathan Green

I need to get some things out of the way. First things first - I’m a huge Fighting Fantasy fan. I’ve been reading them since 1983 and it was the game that got me into the tabletop gaming hobby. I got myself wrapped up in the worlds of Fighting Fantasy, especially Titan, and I played the books, the RPG, the boardgames and the computer games. I was first in line at the UK Games Expo a few years ago to get my 25th Anniversary book signed by Jackson and Livingstone, and I can quite easily attribute my love of fantasy gaming to the exposure I had to these books. I’ve also got a mention in the actual book itself, which warms my heart on so many levels I can’t even begin to explain it.

Telling you all that will probably cast a bit of a shadow over this review as I’m hardly going to be subjective, am I? Look at it this way; I’m not writing this review as a critic, but as a passionate fan of not only the subject but the genre in general. The chances are you’re reading this because you have an interest, perhaps even a love, of gaming. In that case, let me share with you my excitement in reading this book.

You Are The Hero has been researched, compiled and written by author Jonathan Green, himself a veteran of Fighting Fantasy as both a fan of the books and as a writer for the official line. Inside the lavishly illustrated full colour book you’ll find pretty much everything you need to know about Fighting Fantasy gamebooks, from Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone starting out in Games Workshop in the 1970s, to the first books and how they got them on the shelves, to the artwork, other writers and the different worlds they created, to the RPG and where Fighting Fantasy is today. All the way through we’re treated to images, artwork and snippets of interesting information in the little Fighting Fantasy Facts (I’m in number 27!). As far as presentation goes it’s a great looking book, and the interior full-page colour panels of the book covers are quite beautiful, especially as they’re just the images with none of the original text covering it.

All in all the entire book oozes flavour. The images evoke a sense of atmosphere and - for me and no doubt other older fans of the series - a sense of misty-eyed nostalgia. It really threw me back to the heady days of fandom when I was in my teens and all of this was new and exciting. Newcomers to the hobby or those reading this book out of pure curiosity will find it all quite informative as the illustrations take the reader through the years and decades.

The story that the book tells is, of course, the meat of the product. From Jackson and Livingstone’s early days up to the present day and the involvement they still have with the Fighting Fantasy world we’re taken step by step through their own histories, their meeting, their early hobby and Games Workshop day and then the books themselves and how the got them off the page and into the stores. Much of this was covered in talks I attended at the UK Games Expo but if you think they addressed everything in their seminars then think again – there’s plenty of stuff in here that I didn’t know and getting to hear the story of the first books from the publishers, artists and writers gives you a whole new appreciation of how these books made it into the eager hands of children such as myself.

All the way through you get details on the books of the original series. With information about the book’s plot, little quotes from the writers and artist and snippets of information these make for good reading and cast new light on the books and the people who helped create them.

There’s plenty of stuff in here covering every aspect of the Fighting Fantasy franchise; the books, miniatures, boardgames, battlegames, RPGs, computer games and magazines. This information leads on to details about other gaming books and lines, such as the Sorcery! epic, Clash of the Princes and the novels, as well as other lines such as the Tasks of Tantalon and the Way of the Tiger series, even the old F.I.S.T computerdial telephone game (which got me into plenty of trouble over phone bills). Everything Fighting Fantasy touched and influenced gets a mention and there are plenty of people interviewed, and they all talk about how they became involved or how the books influenced them. Fighting Fantasy gets a lot of love and it’s quite wonderful to see the positive power the gamebooks had on the public and on professionals who were either in the business, about to break into it or were inspired to get involved.

The whole tome gives me plenty of pleasure from beginning to end. There were more than a few ‘Oh, yeah! I remember that!’ moments and plenty of material that makes me look at my Fighting Fantasy collection and want to add more to it. It’s also made me revisit the world of Titan and ponder running an original roleplaying campaign using the original basic rules from the 1980s.

More than anything, it’s made me wonder at the future of Fighting Fantasy and how it can be relaunched into the national consciousness. I’ve thought of everything from new computer games to radio dramas to children’s TV; although it was the books that fired the imagination of a generation in the 1980s and 90s, this is a new age of technology and multimedia. The books are still relevant but there has to be a new hook, a gateway, to get the young people of today reading them again. You Are The Hero takes me back to the days of old when the books were new and exciting but it also really makes me want them to be successful again, so that this generation can explore and enjoy the worlds of Fighting Fantasy.

An excellent read that takes old gamers like me back in time, as well as being an incredibly interesting history lesson in the early days of gamebooks and British gaming for the regular hobbyist to enjoy. Highly recommended.

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Review - One Trillion Dollars by Andreas Eschbach

Translated by Frank Keith
Published as an eBook by Bastei Entertainment
I have only ever read one other book by Andreas Eschbach and that was his incredible science fiction epic ‘The Carpet Makers’. That book has a special meaning for me as it came along at a special time in my life. My son had just been born and during his first two weeks in this world I needed something to do between the regular feeding and cleaning. I had purchased The Carpet Makers many moons beforehand and now was the time to read it. While my son slept and my wife and I watched over him, I would read the book and get lost in the amazing universe of small people and huge empires. The book made a huge impression on me at an important time in my life and it is one book that I am incredibly attached to.

It’s been many years since I read The Carpet Makers. Sadly, I could not find any other Andreas Eschbach books because his work had not been translated into English. That is, not until I was handed an ebook copy of his newest novel, ‘One Trillion Dollars’.

‘John Fontanelli is paid a visit by the Vacchis, a family of Italian lawyers, who have some startling news. He is to inherit a fortune, which started as a three hundred florin investment in the sixteenth century by his ancestor Giacomo Fontanelli, but through the magic of compound interest has grown into a trillion dollars – and is still growing! In one fell swoop, John has become by far the richest person in the world, his net worth being bigger than the GDP of most countries.

Giacomo had prophesised that his heir would use the money to restore humanity’s lost future, but John has other ideas. Initially relishing his new life of luxury and with no idea how to fulfil the prophecy, he buys fast cars and a yacht; is personally petitioned by cardinals and politicians; and enjoys being chased by hoards of beautiful women. Eventually jaded by his wealth however, he is contacted by the mysterious Malcolm McCaine, who claims to understand the prophecy and has a vision to improve the world both ecologically and socially with the Fontanelli fortune. Following some strategic investments on McCaine’s advice, John gains the power to decide the fate of corporations, currencies, and even countries’ economies. Nothing and no one can stand in their way…but is McCaine really a visionary and genius? Or is he a dangerous and manipulative madman?’

There’s no long-winded introduction of the protagonist John Fontanelli – you get to know him through some snapshots of his miserable job, his broken relationships and his uncertain future. At first I thought that I would have liked to have a bit more background on him but Eschbach wastes no time in getting to the meat of the story. It’s then you realise that the caricature of Fontanelli is there so that you have a point of view, so that you can experience what it’s like to be suddenly thrust into a world where you will want for nothing. Although you come to know, and love, John throughout the book I do get the impression that he is initially there so that the reader has a viewpoint on the extraordinary circumstances he finds himself in.

Almost straight away you’re asking yourself the question ‘what would I do if I inherited a trillion dollars?’ John helps to address and even question these thoughts in the opening chapters. There’s the period of disbelief, the uncertainty, the sudden bursts of spending. Then there’s the soul searching and, more important than anything else and the driving force behind this novel, what to do with so much wealth.

The outside problems are also addressed – sycophantic ‘admirers’, problematic friends and hangers-on, legal disputes, people coming out of the woodwork to take advantage of the money, false friendships, fawning diplomats and the crushing paparazzi and media who besiege his life. These are things that John confronts and, in many ways, I hope that I’d act in a similar way that he does. All through this, John Fontanelli remains a likeable if slightly frustrating character. Likeable because he remains grounded in the real world as best he can and frustrating because he has a tendency to be led around by those around him. More than once I found myself almost yelling at the book, ‘just tell him to get lost!’ when he was dealing with a problematic character. The I found myself thinking ‘was that me talking, or the money?’

There’s another character in the book, Malcolm McCaine, who comes into John’s life in an underhanded and mysterious way. His character is at first confusing and then incredibly harsh, but it’s very difficult to go into any detail about his role in John’s life, and future, without giving away some serious plot points that work best when unexpected. I’ll just say this; there was more than one moment in the book when I wished I could have reached into the pages and throttled him.

Both characters are well realised and have plenty of layers, especially John who you learn more about as the story progresses, so you get to watch his journey and watch him grow at the same time (not always in directions you either expected or wanted).

At first I found some of the worldwide and geopolitical business workings somewhat far-fetched and unbelievable, so it was with some shock that when I looked into these things a little further that nearly all of what Eschbach wrote was based on fact. Does the world really work this way? This book has opened my eyes to a few things and has surprised me in many ways and much of that surprise translates into the real world. It’s a bit of a shock to the system.

If I had to gripe about two things they would be this. Firstly – and I appreciate that a story such as this positively calls out for it – there’s a lot of exposition in this book. And I mean a lot. The nature of the novel means that crash a course in global politics, social and geographical, and the worldwide economy is in order. Shares, acquisitions, mergers, companies, everything is touched upon or talked about in detail and I found myself having to read certain paragraphs more than once to be sure that I had understood what was being said, and how it pertained to the story. It did feel like certain chapters were nothing but walls of text, and I’m not a fan of exposition in stories, but sadly it’s something that had to be done to make the story work.

Secondly, the end was very sudden and, in my view, somewhat whimsical. It didn't ruin or cheapen the book – far from it – but I did feel that after following the journey of the world’s richest man it concluded rather quickly and neatly. The annoying thing is that I can’t explain why without ruining the ending for you. Just be aware that it is one of those endings that people will either love or hate. I lean towards love but I’m not 100% convinced that it’s the way the book should have ended, but it’s a satisfying read overall and it certainly didn't discolour the rest of the novel for me.

One Trillion Dollars is an excellent book that will leave you wondering, pondering and thinking about not only the idea of having so much money that you can, quite literally, have anything you want in the world,  but also about the roles of government and business and how it affects our everyday lives. It also addresses the state of the world and the future we’re heading into. It works not only as a thought exercise but also as a thriller as it does a good job of making you turn the page to see what happens next. For a novel with no car chases or gunfights that’s an amazing achievement and a testament to Andreas Eschbach’s writing. You just have to know.

A great book that’ll keep you pretty much gripped from beginning to end. Highly recommended.