Wednesday, 13 May 2020

Alien Isolation is my preferred sequel to Alien

Alien: Isolation (PS4): Amazon.co.uk: PC & Video GamesI've started playing Alien Isolation again recently and I love it to bits, so much so that I've come to regard it as my preferred sequel to Alien, rather than Aliens.

Aliens is, by far, my favourite 80s action movie; I saw it on it's opening night in the UK in 1986 and I riffed on it for years, in my games, writing and art. As I've gotten older - and probably more jaded! - I realised that Alien was my favourite movie of all time and I much preferred the unknowable Lovecraftian horror of the first movie rather than the action thriller that was the second. As much as I loved that film I do think it was the beginning of the end of what I loved about Alien and an end to the unknowable, cosmic terror that was the creature (Prometheus and Covenant only helped to compound that, but that's another story).

Then came Alien Isolation; it went back to it's tension/horror roots, removed any extraneous material that didn't refer to the first film (having no Queen was a great decision) and instead of changing the nature of the story, it changed the scope of it. Gone was the claustrophobic corridors of a starship, this was a huge station and it was the Alien's hunting ground. You, as Amanda, come into this when it's already gone wrong and the threat is tripled; Alien, Working Joes and desperate, terrified people who will do ANYTHING to just stay alive another hour.

I enjoyed the story - I even liked the conceit of Amanda Ripley looking for her mother because it kind of made sense - and the return to the space jockey's derelict on the Anisadora was just spot on. Regardles of certain issues with the actual gameplay (backtracking, repetetive tasks and sitting in a locker for half an hour at a time) I felt the story was solid and is pretty much what I was lookng for in a sequel to Alien.

Tuesday, 28 April 2020

Thoughts on 'Those Dark Places'

Media of Those Dark PlacesI thought I'd talk a little about my upcoming RPG 'Those Dark Places'.

It's a dark science fiction thriller game, and although it's influenced by movies such as Alien it's more in line with the character-driven psychological dramas of Outland, Blade Runner and the like. There's nothing stopping you from including alien mystery, cosmic horror or throwing in some Dead Space violence - the game alludes to that - but the game itself is centered around the very human problems surrounding the rigours of space travel and exploration.

What I've taken from movies like Alien and Outland is the design aesthetic. I love the dark corridors, the dimly lit rooms and the strange, misty atmosphere. Alien especially feels really cramped and claustrophobic, the corridors are low and the rooms apear to have ceilings you can easily smack your head on, and as for the air ducts... well, it's perfectly suited for that kind of story, being trapped in the back of beyond where there's no help coming for weeks, if at all. What made Alien terrifying was the fact that the crew were utterly alone and had to rely on their wits - which were in short supply - and what they could cobble together from what they had. In fact, it wasn't until the last twenty minutes where pure frustration, desperation and anger drove Ripley on did we see any decisive action being taken. The terror of the situation seemed to dull their senses.

Outland was a much bigger location and dealt with less cosmic horror, and it leaned more towards the uncaring corporate and profiteering company side of things. This was a much more human drama and, even though it was basically 'High Noon' in space, it dealt with the psyche, drives and ambitions of normal human beings be they corrupt business people, exploited employees or idealistic officers of the law. This is probably more in line with 'Those Dark Places' as it's a very story- and human-centric plot with a smattering of action. Again, it's the design of this movie that drives the atmosphere I'm trying to create in my game - everything is dark, dingy and very analogue with clunky CRT screens and chunky switches. It's a very hands-on world.

Those Dark Places is a rules light game and depends on a single D6 to decide actions and tasks. The system is incredibly easy and can be adjusted, modified and changed to suit most gaming groups. This is so that the focus can be on the setting and the story, trying to establish atmosphere and pushing the players along a route where a plot can unfold and the entire group can experience a very involved adventure. In my experience, some game systems can slow the story and interfere with the spirit of the game as the action stops to consult rules or tables to decide outcomes; Those Dark Places, I hope, does away with most of that and enables the adventure to unfold without the need to interrupt the mood.

More thoughts on Alien and Predator stuff

I don't like the Engineers in Prometheus/Covenant and I don't like the idea that David was somehow responsible for the creation of the Alien as we know it. The 'space jockey was a suit' idea really grates my nerves, and the whole 'they made us, too' is so far removed from the original cosmic horror and mystery that it feels like a different franchise altogether, with the Alien thrown in at the last minute.

I like the films, they look great and I appreciate the fact they tried to do something different but the mental leaps in logic and downright stamping on what came before makes it feel like the movie was created from half-remembered notes made from the original films, and it's hard for me to reconcile the two. It doesn't expand on the mystery, it utterly destroys it.

And don't get me started on Ressurection...

In my opinion, the AvP movies are a bit of joke and are more like glorified fan fiction than any attempt to bring the two franchises together. They did a really good job with the Dark Horse comic in 1990 and, even though I didn't feel the two worlds would - or should - co-exist it was an entertaining romp and would have made a far better movie than 'hidden temple in the snow and the predators were gods' rubbish. I can't even talk about Requiem, it felt like a knock-off movie that got away with using the title.

I love the first two Alien films and the appreciation of the 3rd, it was a good movie when it was cut properly. I love Aliens to bits but think it's a bad sequel, considering the lore the first movie et up, and I prefer Alien Isolation as a continuation of the first film. Resurrection can 100% do one, with it's comic book characters and ego-tripping main character. That could have been an interesting story but they decided to just throw as much dodgy imagery and exposition at the viewer in an attempt to hide a plot lacking in depth.

Prometheus? David was a great character but was ruined/let down by a weak story and a spotty character arc. His involvment in not only the history of the alien and his attack on the engineers was kind of ridiculous, and any interesting developments were tossed out of the window when he went HAL9000 'bad company robot is bad' on the story. It was a waste.

Covenant looked amazing, as all Scott films do, and there's a lot to enjoy but the story is undermined by trying to force on a continuity with Prometheus, and wasting Shaw - probably the only compelling character in the first film - so they could get to the 'Hey! here's the Alien you wanted! Yeah? Yeah?' moments. The end was incredibly flat and I have to wind past the shower scene - I mean, what the fuck? Really? After everything you're having a sexy shower scene so that the alien could turn up teen slasher movie stylee? Fucking do one.

If the sequels and crossovers did everything they could to murder the cosmic mystery and unknowable horror of the original, the prequels dug up the corpse, set it on fire and then tried to sell it as nostalgia cake with sparklers.

This is Hicks, signing off.

Thursday, 23 April 2020

The Farsight Podcast Episode 5 - Voicing NPCs

In this episode I talk about voicing NPCs, how it shouldn't be a requirement and how I handle it, and a quick and easy way to create an NPC who might be spending a long time in the game.


Sunday, 19 April 2020

The Farsight Podcast - Episode 4

In this episode I generally ramble about my love for the Alien movie and how I'd use it in my own Alien RPG games.



Tuesday, 7 April 2020

Those Dark Places - my RPG from Osprey Games

Those Dark PlacesIt's time to let you know that my TTRPG 'Those Dark Places' is in the pipeline, to be published by Osprey Games. It's a rules-lite scifi game, and I'm quite excited!

I want to explain a few things about my upcoming game 'Those Dark Places' from Osprey Games. I'm just sharing this post with friends on here, there'll be more detail when Osprey do a full press release.


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Space is a hell of a thing but you need to be sure that this is what you want. Like, what you really want. The idea of space exploration to further the frontiers of mankind is noble, but let's not kid ourselves – it's really all about furthering the profit margins. There's money to be made and out there is the place to make it, but you hear all kinds of stories… equipment malfunctions, strange discoveries, crewmembers going insane... You'll be out there in the reaches, alone, for months or years, breathing recycled air and drinking recycled water, with nothing but a few feet of metal and shielding between you and certain death.

Are you sure this is what you want?

– Crew Orientation Briefing

Those Dark Places is a rules-light, story-focused roleplaying game about the darker side of space exploration and the people who travel the stars in claustrophobic, dangerous conditions. Starships, stations, and outposts aren't havens of safety with clean, brightly lit corridors – they're potential deathtraps, funded by budget-conscious corporate interests and running on stale, recycled air and water. The stars may be the future of humanity, but they are also home to horrors and terror the human mind cannot comprehend.

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It's my first fully finished RPG game and it's a dark scifi setting, and while it's inspired by movies such as Alien, Dark Star and Outland it takes inspiration more from the aesthetic rather than the content; so, no aliens or monsters or cosmic entities, they only exist in the minds of those who can't handle the pressures of working in deep space.

Or perhaps they don't.

It uses a single D6 for its mechanic but its quite versatile and generates a lot of uncertainty. This is the final version of my ODDS System - One Die Determines Success - but is not referred to as such in the book. That's something I'll concentrate on depending on how well the game does.

Although the game is rules-lite the book focuses more on how to use the rules and the atmosphere of the setting. There is also no definitive setting - just a guideline - and this leaves it open for groups to use the game as they see fit. Combat is brutal and very deadly.

The game focuses on characters and stories, and the system is designed to support that. I'm hoping the game will encourage games of intense fun, as I'm trying to emulate thrillers in an industrial science fiction future.

Even though 'Those Dark Places' is inspired by movies and games like Alien and Dead Space, it's more the aesthetic and design I've taken my cues from. If anything, it's more a thriller like Outland - but you can add whatever strangeness you want.

Although 'Those Dark Places' can be used for ongoing campaigns - the aim isn't to improve, it's to simply stay alive long enough to finsih your tour - it's perfectly suited for one-shots and short adventures over several sessions.

PC creation takes around 5 minutes.

That's all for now. I'll no doubt be in full publicity mode once the game is fully announced, but in the meantime if you have any questions then feel free to ask!

Sunday, 15 March 2020

Why, to me, the Prequel Trilogy feels more 'Star Wars' than the Sequel Trilogy

Image result for star warsI’ve realised something – I think that the prequel trilogy is more Star Wars than the sequel trilogy.

I’m not a fan of the prequel trilogy for all kinds of reasons, but I don’t switch them off when they’re on. In fact, recently I’ve sat down and watched them again and there’s plenty to like, even love, about these movies. I understand now, and probably realised back then, that these films were never going to grab me the way the original trilogy grabbed me; I was 8 when I first saw Episode IV: A New Hope and I was 28 when I saw Episode I: The Phantom Menace. I was two totally different people.

I was 44 when Episode VII: The Force Awakens hit the cinema. I enjoyed it because I entered the cinema prepared, I shed myself of the expectations I had when I went to see Episode I and watched it for what it was. It was a new, fresh take on the saga and was exciting, fun and emotionally charged. Then I saw Episode VIII: The Last Jedi and I felt severely let down; the rules appeared to have changed and characters were flat and a little lifeless, even the original trilogy characters I grew up with. Then Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker hit and it was fun but… well, let’s just say it wasn’t the ending I would have chosen, and spectacle appears to have taken the place of story and drama, which was a problem I had with the prequel trilogy. I’m not a huge fan of the sequel movies – apart from The Force Awakens – as it feels very disjointed to me, with a lot of things thrown in to serve the action with changes made to the Force and what it’s capable of that, quite frankly, pulled me out of the saga and made no sense to me.

Anyway, I was watching the prequel trilogy again and I realised that even though they have what I think are flat scripts and some special effects that have not dated well, they felt really Star Wars. The world was rich and vibrant, detailed and really well defined. The locations were huge and really evocative and there were some really good world-building moments.

Then there’s the other movies and the new TV show; Rogue One, Solo and The Mandalorian. As these were depicting characters and events that had no bearing on the overall saga I liked them, loved them in the case of Rogue One and The Mandalorian. They were taking the galaxy in a different direction and they could explore other aspects of the universe, so the expectations were different or, in the case of The Mandalorian, simply not there so you could watch fresh and exciting new material. Also, the background is either already established, such as with Rogue One and Solo, or it was properly explained, as it was with The Mandalorian. They, too, felt very Star wars to me but in a very different way.

I didn’t get any of that with the sequel trilogy. I didn’t know much about the events between Episode VI and Episode VII, wasn’t sure what the First Order was about or why they were doing what they did, and didn’t fully understand why the Resistance was fighting without the help of the New Republic, or the Galactic Alliance, or whatever they were calling themselves. It just felt like the Big Bad Guys were still around in their big pointy warships, flying their TIE fighters and wearing white armour. It felt like the events of Episodes IV, V and VI were for nothing.

The worldbuilding was dropped in favour of spectacle and the movies suffered for it; if I had no understanding of the conflict, or had any idea how or why the conflict was taking place, then why would I care what was happening? I felt all three sequel movies suffered from this. I understand that there’s a stack of source material that explains all this, but… I paid my money to watch a movie that should have explained it, and I shouldn’t be trawling the internet or buying extra product to enable the movie to make more sense. It’s like downloadable content, or a ‘Pay To Win’ game. You want the full experience? Let’s see the cash. That’s really unfair, especially to the casual cinemagoer.

Also, the main characters from the original trilogy were being used as throwaway characters in the sequel trilogy, characters who you know are important and have a history but they’re only there to move the main characters forward – a line of Ben Kenobis from Episode IV, if you will – and they felt underused and a little wasted considering their pedigree. Why do I mention this? Well, perhaps, that’s another factor as to why these movies don’t feel very Star Wars to me, because the trilogy characters simply felt so, so different (apart from Han Solo, for the most part). I honestly feel they would have been better movies if these main trilogy characters had been left out.

The prequel trilogy, however, explained everything, however badly I felt it was written or however clunkily I felt it was acted. Everything you needed to know was on screen and, even though I was somewhat confused as to why certain things happened – especially the whole Sifo-Dyas thing – that was more the plot not making sense to me the first time. I didn’t need to research, purchase or otherwise search out the reasoning behind what was happening on the screen. I knew what was happening and, in some ways, I cared.

So there you have it. This probably makes more sense to me because I know how I feel, but I thought it was something worth sharing.

Saturday, 7 March 2020

Alien RPG Notes

Image result for alien rpgI've made some notes on the kind of game I want to run with the new Alien RPG, and most of them have nothing to do with the creature at all but the machinations of the companies trying to profit from them.

Also, I've decided that the 'big bad company is bad' angle doesn't work for me, and I'm looking at creating secret organisations within the firms, or just really ambitious individuals trying to line their own pockets using company resources, to add a layer of threat. I think it will add depth to the story and dissuade the players from going after the big guy to expose their lies in some misguided cyberpunk/Shadowrun mission.

The Alien itself will have a showing, but as the finale to a campaign. I'm imagining the game building up to a huge adventure with the monster, like a build-up to the events on Sevastopol where everything comes together.

I've also created a new company called Omega Centauri, who buys patents and copyrights decades out of date and produces them at cut prices - 'Reliable Technology From A Reliable Time'. They're looking to make the big time... All notes. I need to get a game on!

Saturday, 29 February 2020

The Farsight Podcast

Okay, I've just published my first #ttrpg podcast, it's very simple and quick, only around 11 minutes. Feedback and questions for future episodes welcome!

The Farsight Podcast.

The Farsight Podcast

Sunday, 23 February 2020

Non-western fantasy settings

A fantasy world with no Western influences. No white faces anywhere in the setting. Not based on the eras, just influenced by them as I don't know enough about their history or myths.

So, I'd ask designers from different countries to create a kingdom based on their own country and folklore/myth, and then bring it all together in one book.

So, I'd ask someone in South Korea to create an original fantasy kingdom based on their history and legends, someone in Japan, China, Africa, India, South America etc. Each one would be unique in design and presentation and a whole land and lore to explore.

Then I'd bring it all together in one book on one world. Tie it all up in one system (most likely D&D) and then work out the relationships between each kingdom. There's so many more opportunities for creativity instead of sticking to the standard western tropes as well as seeing interpretations of fantasy races from other cultures. Players can still have their elves and dwarves, but they'll look and feel very different.

I can see potential in that, and it would be so refreshing.

I was watching some of Ice Fantasy recently, and now elves with a Chinese influence is how I see them, now. Such a great fit aesthetically.

Image result for ice fantasy