Friday, 28 February 2014

Book review - The Art of Titanfall

Please welcome to Farsight Blogger guest blogger Richard Williams, a fellow gamer, weird stuff enthusiast, writer and a really good friend of mine. Richard has a passion for art books and for a few weeks he'll be sharing his thoughts on some of his favourites.

There are some art books which you can't help getting excited about. Concept art for a game featuring an alien world, giant mech suits, spaceships, free-running, and all the additional material to support such a setting... The Art of Titanfall definitely ticked all the boxes for me. The fact it was being published buy Titan Books, my favourite concept art publisher bar none, gave me cause for relief and raised expectations even higher. The only problem then being my own over-hyping of a product which then can't possibly hope to deliver. I've done it before and it leaves me dissatisfied with the product through no real fault of the publisher. I am pleased to say, however, that this is not the case here.

Titan must have a genie working in the back office somewhere to keep producing work of such quality. And it's a quality that you can see right away before you even open the front cover. The minimalist design of the exterior, giving pride of place to the art, is exactly what's called fort when you've got a picture which tells you what the book is.

Inside the book the layouts are just what I like to see. Plenty of art, descriptive text to go with most of it but never enough words to get in the way, and lots of full page and two page spreads. It's also nice to see more of the development of ideas this time, an improvement on certain previous books and something a lot of other publishers don't bother with, showing the iterations of a design to show you what could have been as well as what eventually was.

This book features the concept art if Iain McCaig (who worked on the Star Wars prequels), James Paick (another favourite of mine), Bruno Werneck, Steve Burg, Paul Christopher, Matt Codd, Harrison Fong, James Oxford and Manuel Plank-Jorge. Some names in there you might recognise and others worth looking out for in future because they have produced work of exceptional quality and have managed to make old ideas look new with a modern polish. I don't envy anyone who has to design original looking starships or robots and I think it's fair to say that the concepts here aren't really changing the shape of science fiction in these areas. They simply give them a damn good make-over and the result is impressive.

I feel more could have been made of the character design section but it's not so lacking that I'd knock the book down a star, especially when there's so much of the other sections to enjoy. I especially liked the environment concepts which really give you a good sense of the mood and also make this far-away sci-fi world very easy to relate to.

In summation I think it's safe to say I'm enjoying this book immensely. The art itself is the kind of work you can stare at for hours and, I know, will inspire other creative types who appreciate this genre. The design, layout and production quality of the book is also first rate.

So who'll want to buy this book? Fans of the game, probably, but mostly lovers of concept art (who will think Christmas has come early) and sci-fi geeks like me. I would say it is definitely worth the money and I would happily have shelled out more for a book of this caliber.

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Book review – The Art of Thief

The Art of Thief

By Paul Davies

Published by Titan Books

From the book and the Titan Books website:

The Art of Thief is the ultimate gallery of the world of Garrett, the master thief. Sketches, concept art, and behind-the-scenes commentary from the artists shine a light on the dark alleys and deadly foes Garrett faces every day. The City and its oppressed citizens are realised in stunning detail, from the secrets and lies lurking around every corner, to the halls and treasures of the Baron himself. Follow Garrett through the back doors of The City and into a world of amazing detail and surprising beauty.

Titan Books’ The Art of Thief will give fans and in-depth look at Square Enix’s enormously anticipated new game, featuring exclusive concept and development art, as well as detailed creator insights and commentary throughout. This book will showcase Garrett’s underworld in beautiful detail and truly show the art of the Master Thief.

An art book can be more than just a bunch of pages filled with pretty pictures. Done right, an art book can give you valuable insight into the thought processes that go into the design of something, be it a TV show, movie or – in this case – a computer game, and give the entire thing much more depth and personality.

Titan Books are well known for the quality of their ‘Art of ‘ books, and once again they haven’t failed to deliver.

I have spent the day immersed in the pages of this book. I’m a great admirer of the ‘steampunk’ genre, and of alternate histories that feel real but have a small twist that makes it just that little bit fantastical, such as the inclusion of magic or technologies far ahead that of reality. The world of Thief is one such creation, a pseudo-Victorian world of darkness, decay and weird things that I don’t remember seeing in the history books.

The world is at once recognisable and different, recognisable enough to be able to connect to the reality of it but just so far removed so that you can revel in the strangeness of it all.

This hardback edition, with a minimal uncrowded cover that’s probably the brightest part of the entire book, is quite hefty so you already feel like you’re getting your money’s worth.

The Art of Thief expresses these weird and wonderful differences only too well. After a forward from Nicolas Cantin, the game and art director of Thief, the book begins with chapter one and this is an overview of ‘Garrett’, the game’s protagonist. It’s an interesting design study, with plenty of images of him in various stances, designs for his sneaky hands (which you’ll no doubt see a lot of in the game), facial renditions, small storyboards of him in action and equipment. With plenty of unobtrusive notes there’s a lot to learn here and the designs and artwork, even though some of it is a little repetitive, is excellent.

The next chapter, ‘Characters’, gets much more meaty as we see the designs of plenty of people that populate the world of Thief. Personalities shine here through expressions and costumes and the design work is incredibly atmospheric; the designs for the Watch are particularly impressive.

Chapter 3, ‘Loots, puzzles and Props’ details the smaller things in the game, such as things that Garrett might be stealing, the trials and problems he might face getting to the things he wants to steal and the nasty surprises awaiting him should he steal it. There’s some amazing oil painting artwork and Victorian style flyers/posters here that look great

Finally, my favourite part of the book is Chapter 4, ‘The City’. This is where the book oozes atmosphere and the dark, grimy world of the game comes to life. The decaying Victorian-style architecture seems to be almost camouflaged against the dreary, grey rain-soaked sky and the locations, varied and expansive, look to be amazing places to game in. It makes me want to grab my controller and play the game right now, the illustrations just make me want to experience the locations. This chapter is rounded off with a glorious map of the City so you can get an idea of just how large the place is.

As much as this book makes me ache to play the game on my console, I’m also a tabletop roleplayer and I could use this book to run a very successful steampunk-style Victorian campaign with no problem. The art on show here can’t fail to inspire any kind of gamer.

This is an excellent book filled with some amazing artwork. Paul Davies writes clearly and doesn’t intrude on the images, and the insights he gives regarding the inspiration and thought that went into the designs is informative and interesting. Titan Books have once again produced another ‘Art of’ title that both looks great and reads great. This is a must for any fans of the game, the genre and art in general.

Highly recommended.

Saturday, 22 February 2014

Interview - Michael Ward, author of the DestinyQuest game books

I'm delighted to welcome Michael Ward; gamer, author of the best selling DestinyQuest game books and all-round decent guy.

Perhaps you'd like to tell us a little bit about yourself?

Ha! This is the part where I wish I lived an exciting and outrageous  life, filled with extreme sports and hobbies, and at least one exotic pet. Sadly, I’m pretty boring. I spend most of my life in my dressing gown, Arthur Dent style, sat in front of a computer – swearing occasionally, shaking my fist, cackling maniacally, but mostly just frowning in a constipated fashion and willing words of wisdom to appear on the screen.

I’ve always been a geek –and now I’m a middle-aged geek, embracing the highs and lows of mid-life crisis. Whereas most males deal with it through fast cars (and probably fast women), I er… embrace it through middle-age spread and writing the occasional gamebook. I win obviously. Ahem.

Tell us about your gaming history - what got you into the wonderful world of roleplaying, wargaming and adventure books?

Well, as I mention on my site, Dungeons & Dragons was the event that really sucked me into the hobby. I had glimpsed the metal miniatures and was always curious of the ‘game’ that lurked behind it all, but it seemed like something mysterious and underground – the type of thing to be whispered in shadowed corners, usually by older kids who looked a little bit scary. It wasn’t until I saw the movie ET: The Extra Terrestrial, that  I got my first glimpse of what a D&D session was like – and when I left the cinema, I was determined to get involved.

Of course, at the same time, the first Fighting Fantasy books were being released – and these were incredibly new and exciting. I remember the book clubs we used to have at school, where someone from outside would bring in a sort of portable rack that was opened up to reveal the books for sale. Cue a class of screaming kids (gripping their spending money in sweaty fists) rushing forward, elbowing and kicking to get the best ones before anyone else. In those days, I was but a puny mortal (before I developed my special abilities and put extra points into brawn and vitality) so I had no chance of getting to the front. But I always remember one time, when the dust settled and the “best books” had been taken, I finally reached the book rack to scrutinise what was left – and there was ‘The Warlock of Firetop Mountain’ by Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone. It was meant to be. I grabbed it excitedly – the cover screaming at me ‘FANTASY GEEKNESS!’. Once my friends realised what the books were all about (‘Wow, you roll dice and stuff!’) then I suddenly became Mr Popular pretty quickly! Fear my skills, fools!

Seriously, at that time, there was nothing else around quite like those books – and computer games were still pretty much in the stone age, so for the first time we got the chance to imagine a fantastic adventure where we were the hero and got to make exciting choices. Gaming bliss!    

The DestinyQuest books are incredibly popular so tell us more about how you came up with the idea?

Well, my love of role-playing games was soon surpassed by another, more compulsive passion, which was computer gaming. I was lucky in some ways to grow up at an exciting and innovative time when games consoles (like the Atari 2600) were just being launched, and then computers came onto the scene (the ZX Spectrum, C64, BBC, Amiga etc.). Each new platform brought with it incredible new gaming opportunities. I’ve always stuck with the hobby, from Pac-Man through to the latest MMORPGS like World of Warcraft and Guild Wars 2.

I got pretty addicted to online gaming and that got me thinking about how I could replicate that online RPG feel in a book. I guess the gamebook format that I grew up with was an obvious connection there too. I already had a completed manuscript (for a kids’ book) doing the rounds with my agent, so I was kind of twiddling my thumbs. Time and again I kept coming back to the idea of an MMO experience in book form.

So I set about roughing out a system and writing some quests. I came at it as something just for fun. If no-one else reads it, who cares – I just wanted to create something I could play myself and have a laugh with. But as I carried on writing, I realised it was evolving into something quite exciting – something that I felt could be commercial.

What makes DestinyQuest different, if anything, from other gamebooks?

Traditional gamebooks tend to have a basic combat system. You roll dice, apply damage and just hope that your rolls are high enough to win. There is no real strategy – and the opponents don’t have much personality other than being a bunch of numbers. With DestinyQuest I wanted the combat to be much more dynamic – almost as if you were bashing buttons and selecting abilities in a computer game. I wanted opponents to have their own ‘battle scripts’ if you like – so that you were forced to react to their abilities, identifying their strengths and weaknesses.

Tied in with the dynamic combat, I also wanted to provide full-customisation of your hero. So instead of rolling some stats at the start of your adventure and that was it, I wanted to bring in the computer RPG experience of collecting items as you progress and then having these items boost your hero and give them abilities. Obviously, all this was a complete nightmare to balance (there was much swearing and shaking of fists) but I got there in the end.

Why did you decide to have a go at writing a new generation of adventure gamebooks? 

I think it was probably a pretty crazy idea. At the time, gamebooks were considered dead in the water. There were a few FF titles getting released but nothing that was mainstream. This was also before the explosion of Apps, so really no-one was even thinking gamebooks. I stuck at it because I was convinced there was still a market – those vets like me who grew up with gamebooks, but also a new generation of computer gamers who may be eager to experience books that were more interactive.

I met with a lot of opposition. So much so that I ended up self-publishing. Thankfully, I was lucky and the book sold well – and I do have to thank the gaming and blog community for embracing the book and help spread the word. That success won me the attention of a mainstream publisher who decided to take a punt on the series. So far, so good – but still a rocky road.

What were your inspirations/influences?

My main inspiration was World of Warcraft. It was such a huge part of my life at the time and kind of occupied most of my waking thoughts! I also loved action-orientated RPGS such as Diablo and Titan Quest. I’m a fan of most genres of gaming, if I’m being honest, and I think all of those influences got distilled into the DQ game experience.

Did you create a specific world for the adventures to take place in, and will we see more of it?

Yes, I did create a source document that outlines the history of the world. One interesting thing that I frequently see misquoted is that Valeron (the setting for the early books) is the name of the world. It isn’t. Valeron is just a kingdom – one part of a much greater whole.

I try not to overload the books with too much exposition of the world, I prefer to keep them action-based and filter in the ‘history’ when it is needed. With each book, I feel like I am opening up the world a little more, showing more of the broader canvass. If there are further books in the series, then more pieces of the puzzle will be revealed. I really want to explore Mordland, for example, (an area only briefly mentioned in the first books), which is very cool. Time will tell!

A lot of work must go into creating one of these books, more than producing a straightforward story - what's your plan of attack when writing one?

They certainly are incredibly complicated and time-consuming, which miffs me a little bit when the mainstream press turns their noses up at interactive fiction as something ‘just for the kids’. These books are monumental projects.

I suppose I start by deciding on the environments (or zones, if you like) and marrying that to the story I want to tell. Then it is a matter of breaking down the story into the individual quests. I write each quest in a separate document then compile them together as each is completed into a ‘master document’, which has all the numbers and links.

What do you see as the future for DestinyQuest? More books? Computer games? Maybe even a tabletop roleplaying game?

I have lots of ideas for things I would love to do. The thing is, to reach that point of having spin-offs, you probably need quite a huge player base. I don’t think I have quite achieved that yet. If the books continue to be successful and reach new markets, then who knows.

At the very least, I would love to finish the series (which is six books – originally seven, but one is now superfluous to the overall story). I do have ideas roughed out for interactive spin-offs and a customisable card game (played too much Hearthstone to resist, sorry!) but nothing concrete. Always open to offers!

If you could sit down with several friends and play a tabletop RPG right at this very moment, what would it be and why?

At the moment it would be the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game by Paizo. A friend of mine recommended it to me last year (I was sort of aware of Pathfinder but had never given it a go). He urged me to try it because it was ‘a bit like DestinyQuest’. In some ways it is – you have individual quests broken up into locations, and guide a hero (or party of heroes) through the challenges, equipping them with better and better gear as you do so. It is very addictive, both as a solo game and played with friends. I highly recommend!

Are there any other projects you are working on, or is DestinyQuest a full-time thing?

Contrary to what people might think, writing is a tough profession - one that doesn’t come anywhere near to paying the bills – so I still take on a lot of freelance projects (I write educational materials for schools). At the moment, freelance work is taking up a lot of my time, but when I get a chance I am scribbling down ideas for DestinyQuest 4. I do have a cool idea for a novel that I would like to write, but I feel – at the moment – it would be “cheating” to ditch DestinyQuest for another project. Ultimately, I guess I am your typical male – chronic at multi-tasking! But, as they say, watch this space. Who knows what the future holds…

Friday, 21 February 2014

Book review - Queen of Thorns by Dave Gross

Queen of Thorns 

Written by Dave Gross

Published by Paizo Publishing LLC

'In the deep forests of Kyonin, elves live secretively among their own kind, far from the prying eyes of other races. Few of impure blood are allowed beyond the nation's borders, and thus it's a great honor for the half-elven Count Varian Jeggare and his hellspawn bodyguard Radovan to be allowed inside. Yet all is not well in the elven kingdom: demons stir in its depths, and an intricate web of politics seems destined to catch the two travelers in its snares. In the course of tracking down a missing druid, Varian and a team of eccentric elven adventurers will be forced to delve into dark secrets lost for generations - including the mystery of Varian's own past!'

This Pathfinder Tales novel from Dave Gross is the third novel of the characters Count Varian Jeggare and Radovan. Dave Gross' previous novels with these two individuals have taken us through plenty of ups and downs but this time it's much more personal as a missing person drags the two men into a pit of danger and adventure. Although the banter between them is what we've come to expect from these books it's still well written and can be very funny.

The story itself moves along at a nice pace and doesn't feel like it's dragging at any point - I read the novel over three days and at no point did I feel like I didn't want to go back to it. In fact, I was quite eager to go back to the story as finishing each chapter makes you want more, and that's a sign of a well-written, involving book.

Compared to the two previous books in this series, "Prince of Wolves" and "Master of Devils", this is by far the best one and I can heartily recommended it.

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Interview - Sarah Newton of Mindjammer Press

Mindjammer - The Roleplaying Game (PDF & Print Bundle)It's a great pleasure to welcome to Farsight Blogger Sarah Newton, the author of the excellent novel and roleplaying game 'Mindjammer'.

Hello Sarah, and welcome to Farsight Blogger; perhaps you'd like to tell us a little bit about yourself?

Thanks for having me on the blog! Well, I’m a long-time RPGer and a writer of genre fiction. I always say I live in a field in rural Normandy surrounded by farmyard animals - Chris my blues muso husband and I have a wee smallholding and practice a semi-self sufficiency, which lets me spend time gaming and writing, and occasionally wresting sheep. I’m a Brit by birth, and a linguist by training, although I’ve moved about a fair bit; I still make it back to the Mother Country quite regularly for conventions and seeing friends and family.

Tell us about your RPG history - what got you into the wonderful world of tabletop roleplaying?

I’ve been an RPGer almost as long as I can remember - I got into gaming in the summer of 1980, on the very last day of my first year of secondary school, when I saw another kid showing off a softback copy of the brand new “Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Player’s Handbook”. I’d discovered Tolkien, Burroughs, and a heap of other fantasy and SF writers a couple of years earlier, and was totally receptive to this mad game where you could explore dungeons and fight monsters and win treasure. I went straight home that afternoon clutching a little paper catalogue from “Games of Liverpool” and spent all my pocket money on a £1.75 postal order to buy “Buffalo Castle”. I didn’t even know it was a solitaire adventure for Tunnels & Trolls - when it came I just made up my own rules and spent the whole summer playing it and talking about it endlessly. I even wrote two or three of my own solo dungeons using my dad’s “Brother” typewriter.

I got the T&T rules a month or two later, then rapidly discovered RuneQuest (2nd edition), Metamorphosis Alpha, Traveller (Black Box), The Fantasy Trip, Arduin, D&D (White Box), C&S (Red Book), then Gamma World, Space Opera, Ringworld, Stormbringer, Cthulhu, and lots more - more or less in that order. I was a total addict from day one - the chance to tell exciting adventure stories with friends as a game was utterly fascinating, as was designing your own worlds. I still have my first ever overland maps from that first summer wrestling with Tunnels & Trolls - enormous great sheets of parchment-like A2, with the dungeon maps and overland maps drawn at the same scale, and the room descriptions written directly on!

What is it about the tabletop RPG hobby that attracts you? What do you enjoy most when playing a game?

I think it’s still the sense of heroic achievement when you tell a story of adventurers succeeding against deadly and impossible odds - that’s what I love in books and movies, and the same goes for games. Sitting around a table, breathless, waiting to see if your characters are even going to survive, let alone succeed, is a real dramatic tension which is utterly compelling. Then on top of that as a GM, being able to describe and create a world that’s fascinating and exciting for the players to explore - there’s something enchanting about that.

You've recently released the new edition of the RPG 'Mindjammer', a game of 'Transhuman Science-Fiction Roleplaying in the Far Future'. It appears to be a huge and detailed setting so tell us more about it; what we can expect to find in the universe you've created?

Mindjammer is the huge RPG project I’ve been working on for the past couple of years. It’s a complete science-fiction RPG, and a very open setting for playing “21st century” science-fiction - that is, its concepts are very modern, it’s not retro in any sense. It’s a game which reflects our 21st century take on science and science-fiction - hyper-advanced technologies, transhuman evolution, sentient machines (even starships, which you can play as characters), realistic and thoroughly “alien” aliens, planets and star systems which reflect latest theories. It uses the Fate Core engine in a way which you can really customise to your preferences - you can dial up the crunchiness and tech-i-ness if you like, or emphasise the softer and more narrative elements, or seamlessly merge the two. It comes with a default setting - the New Commonality of Humankind - but equally it’s modular, and designed to be used easily with any science-fiction setting, whether your own homebrew, an already published one, or one from your favourite book or movie.

It’s also meant to be very playable - there are guidelines throughout the book for what you can “do” in the game. Many settings are so detailed and complex that they often appear “closed”, like it’s difficult to work out what your characters can do; that’s not Mindjammer. There’s a whole chapter dedicated to ways to play the game and hooks for adventures and campaigns, and you can play all your favourite SF games: military sci-fi, investigative, exploration games, interstellar trading, intrigue and espionage, virtual worlds, alien battles, cyberpunk, and lots more.

Mindjammer’s default setting is the galaxy 15,000 years from now, and a young-but-old and expanding interstellar civilisation called the “New Commonality of Humankind”. For 10,000 years humankind was confined to Old Earth and its solar system, and the handful of worlds close to it which were accessible by slower-than-light travel. It was an ancient, highly advanced, yet ultimately stagnant civilisation. For five millennia it had sent out slower-than-light generation ships and stasis ships to the stars - many vanished without a trace, some sent back signals millennia after they’d left - but no great interstellar civilisation ever arose, and slowly humankind began to stagnate and die.

Then, two hundred years ago, just as the light seemed about to go out, faster-than-light travel was discovered. The Old Commonality set out to the stars - and found countless lost colonies, all waiting to be recontacted and rediscovered. Often massively divergent - evolved away from human norms, or genetically engineered to the hugely alien - these often ancient cultures reacted to the arrival of the New Commonality in a variety of different ways - some with extreme violence at what they perceived as “alien invaders” from a homeworld they had long forgotten had ever existed. And these lost colonies had some very alien ideas - cultural concepts, attitudes, technologies - which disturbed the ancient and somewhat decadent Commonality, and threatened to destabilise it even as it expanded.

Two hundred years later, and that’s the present-day; a Second Age of Space, filled with cultural conflict, outbreaks of violence, surprising new civilisations and rediscovered worlds, and lots of mysteries. The Commonality holds itself together by virtue of the Mindscape, a vast technological shared consciousness and data storage medium like an interstellar internet, to which all Commonality citizens are connected by neural implant. The Mindscape enables a technological form of psionics, and also allows people to upload their memories, and download and “remember” the memories of others - even of dead people, whose memories are stored in the internet. Sentient starships and other synthetics have personalities derived from the memories of dead heroes stored in the Mindscape, and you can play some very unusual characters - including those who are pushing the boundaries of what it means to be human, the “transhumans” and “posthumans” of the New Commonality.

Mindjammer is a standalone Fate Core game, and compatible with all Fate Core products, but it also features hugely expanded rules, including rules for starships, vehicles, and other constructs; organisations, governments, and mega-corporations; and even entire cultures. Your characters can interact with all these; you can rise to command a fleet of sentient starships, lead a world to war, or conduct cultural manipulation missions to defuse dangerous memes and help rediscovered worlds deep in culture shock integrate into the Commonality - and pretty much anything else you can imagine doing in a science-fiction game. The game features new systems for worlds and civilisations, stellar bodies and star systems, and ecosystems and alien lifeforms, including exotic biospheres like the surfaces of neutron stars or the photospheres of red giants. You can easily use these new systems with any other SF RPG.

There’s a lot in it! You can find out more here.

You can order Mindjammer - The Roleplaying Game here - the 496-page hardback ships at the end of March, and you can download the PDF immediately today.

It's been described as a 'space opera transhuman' setting; what was the attraction in this particular genre of science fiction?

I love RPGs where characters overcome great obstacles and are transformed by the experience - I love D&D for levelling up, RuneQuest and Glorantha for becoming Rune Lords and Heroes, but I’ve often found those concepts lacking in science-fiction RPGs, even though science-fiction movies and novels are *full* of them. Our immediate future here on Earth in the 21st century is going to be profoundly challenging - we’re approaching the Singularity, we’re early transhumans already, with our links to the global massmind, instantaneous communication, virtual experiences, and soon to be biotech augmentations and self-directed evolution. I think those are really cool issues which you should be able to address in RPGs - and that’s what Mindjammer was conceived to do. Of course you can play more traditional science-fiction games if you want, but the background of Mindjammer is turbulent and chaotic change, cultural conflict, and widespread transhuman evolution - and your characters can be part of that, and even affect how the future of the human race develops.

You also wrote the popular Mindjammer novel. What came first in your mind, the novel or the game?

It’s a bit of a cop-out, but the setting came first. I was writing the Chronicles of Future Earth setting, which is a very, very far future science-fantasy setting, originally published by Chaosium in 2011 but which will have a 2nd edition shortly, and I was wondering about its backstory - how the human race left Earth, spread to the stars, and just what happened. Mindjammer as a setting came out of that brainstorming, then completely took over and became its own thing. Now, maybe Mindjammer is the distant past of Chronicles, or maybe Chronicles is one possible future of Mindjammer - I don’t know myself, but I love that they’re independent things with lives of their own.

The Mindjammer novel and its two sequels and the short story anthologies still to come are examples of the sorts of amazing events that can happen in the Commonality. I’m not trying to write a canon history in them; when you play Mindjammer, the Commonality is yours, and you take it where you want. The Mindjammer novels are just my version, but I think they’re also a good way to get a feel for the setting - to see the adventures your characters can have. And the novel’s characters appear as pregens in the game - you can download their character sheets at www.mindjammer.com right now!

What more can we expect to see from the Mindjammer RPG in the future?

All being well, plenty. As long as there’s appetite, I have a lot of products in the works - a pipeline long enough to keep me busy for several years! There are scenarios, Commonality atlases, setting and sourcebooks, and so on. We’re not intending any rules splats as such - Mindjammer is a very complete RPG already, and contains everything you need to play - but people have already been asking for more equipment and starship books, for example, so that’s certainly on the cards. In the immediate future we’re planning to release three independent scenarios: Hearts & Minds, a cultural operations scenario; Occam’s Razor, a rescue mission to a vast sentient “bioship”; and The City People, an exploration and contact mission with some *very* alien aliens. Lots more to come!

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?

I think we’re in a new Golden Age for RPGs - the hobby is thriving, although changing rapidly. Self-publishing, digital distribution, cheaper printing, crowdfunding, and a mature fan base means that there are some top quality games out there. I think we’ll see the continued development of online tabletop gaming, with things like Roll20, Infrno, and the 3D Virtual Tabletop becoming increasingly sophisticated. Plus there are lots of possibilities for using things like Google Glass, the Oculus Rift headset, and even the Epoc brainwave reader headset for all kinds of neat applications. I think at some point too there’ll be a fusion of online gaming and LARPing, with RPGs becoming online frameworks for virtual world games. But I don’t see tabletop RPGing disappearing anytime soon - as long as we’re writing, playing, and GMing, I think it has a great future!

Sunday, 16 February 2014

Book review - The Wylde Hunt by Gunnar Roxen

The Wylde Hunt

By Gunnar Roxen

Delta14 Publishing

From the book:

'The Wyld Hunt is an explosive science fiction detective thriller set in a futuristic London.

When Agents John Aries and Lovelace takes on the search for a missing wealthy businessman it becomes a fight for survival and his very soul on the streets of London. With time running out can they stay alive long enough to solve the case?

Aries, his partner Agent Lovelace, the tough ex-street cop, and the enigmatic and dangerous femme fatale Clarice, are pulled into a maelstrom of politics, intrigue and corruption in a case that will take them from the peak of London’s power structure but to the darkest depths of the human soul.'

Gunnar Roxen’s first book of ‘The Agency Case Files’ takes us through a science fiction London where the Echoes (humans with psychic abilities when, if used, takes them closer to death) and Slivers (modified humans with increased strength and abilities but a weakness towards sunlight) live alongside other types of modified humans.

Battling their way through this world of both science and the supernatural are agents Aries (an Echo) and Lovelace (a Sliver) , who are paired together to investigate the death of one Massey de Sargon. The demise of this individual leads them into the dark underbelly of London and with both guile and violence they must confront dangers as the truth unfolds.

Aries and Lovelace are two intriguing characters and are well defined, and although we learn much about them in this book they are two people I’m looking forward to reading more about. Although there is no real distrust at their initial meeting it makes for an interesting story as they learn more about each other and how they fit into the overall story. Aries especially is a well-defined individual as his life-shortening power makes for an almost tragic figure.

The story moves along at a nice clip and has some very good action scenes, not brutal but still quite violent, and the intrigue is very involving. It took me a while to get a handle on the setting, with the science, supernatural and religious threads all thrown at you in short order, but the casual everyday attitude the characters have to it makes it feel very comfortable, almost natural, and that helps you ease into it. Once you get your head around the setting and what it’s all about you can get into the meat of the story.

And it’s a very good story. It may feel like the usual ‘innocuous death snowballing into a massive world-busting story of massive proportions’ type of plot, but the nature in which you get to the conclusion and the adventure you experience with the characters is worth it.

A well-written book of action and investigation with interesting characters in an intriguing science fiction/supernatural setting. Recommended.

If you like this book, or settings like this in general, then I can also recommend the tabletop roleplaying game of the world that the Wylde Hunt is set in: ‘Broken Shield’ from Chronicle City.

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Interview - Chris Birch of Modiphius Entertainment

Please welcome to Farsight Blogger Chris Birch of Modiphius Entertainment, the guys who'll be bringing us the 3rd Edition of the Mutant Chronicles roleplaying game.

Perhaps you'd like to tell us a little bit about yourself?

I used to work in music booking tours for bands, then organising big electronic music events before moving on to video games marketing and finally clothing, I had a t-shirt company making cool tees based on video games called Joystick Junkies before I left to start Modiphius.


Tell us about your RPG history - what got you into the wonderful world of tabletop roleplaying?

I've been a gamer all my life since my intro to D&D age 9 and Steve Jackson's Ogre game shortly afterwards. It was both my brothers that got in to RPG's at different times, and introduced me to D&D and Metamorphosis Alpha. I then got my elder brother in to war-games from about 11 was always dreaming up rules for war-games and RPGs. Actually I still remember the first day playing soldiers when I suggested we roll dice instead of just knowing soldiers over as a kid.

This passion for designing game ideas continued but I never had a vehicle to use it, until about 10 years ago I thought of developing an RPG based on the Starblazer comics from the UK (black and white, cool colour covers, a whole story in 70 pages from the 1980's). I published it through Cubicle 7, then co-wrote Legends of Anglerre with Sarah Newton. I always wanted to do something to do with weird war ever since I read Sergeant Rock as a kid and had been thinking of doing a Kickstarter project with World War 2 and Cthulhu.

I'd also been wanting to add 'Cthulhu' to games of Flames of War my friends and I were playing and suddenly 'Achtung! Cthulhu' was born. Sarah Newton had a great plot for a campaign in a Cthulhu based WW2 campaign so we teamed up to offer that as the first release under Achtung! Cthulhu and Modiphius Entertainment was born. Of course once we did the Kickstarter a year later following several successful releases the company launched full time and I left my old job to focus on tabletop adventures!

What is it about the tabletop RPG hobby that attracts you? What do you enjoy most when playing a game?

The passion you find in people who are designing, making or playing the games, the sheer wonder and excitement around each cool new game we have, the opportunity to create amazing new worlds of adventure and see them come to life in people's minds. I love playing challenging unbalanced games where the odds are against me - I love a war-game where I 'might' just win if I do exactly the right thing. There's something about facing impossible odds and seeing your strategies win through. Equally I love throwing a great dinner party and introducing people to roleplaying games for the first time.

So tell us more about the Mutant Chronicles Third Edition roleplaying game; what's your history with the license?

I first played the RPG in the 1990's, I'd discovered the Blood Berets Boardgame set in the same universe and then the Doom Trooper card game (that was in 16 languages). So the Third Edition is a complete revamp - we're taken the long history from the old books, filled in the gaps, developed a deeper plot and backstory to explain everything, mad more sense of some of the awesome clues and plot hooks left hanging in the 90's and brought the rules system up to date with a brand new cinematic game system.

All the good stuff is there like the awesome world, the cool character life path creation system, plus we're adding new things like spaceship travel and combat for the first time, a conversion system to the Warzone skirmish system (that re-launched last year) and much more. We've really expanded the incredible storyline so there's so much more to discover now.


What was the attraction in giving this particular universe new life and another chance? 

It was a fresh, crazy, mad for it gaming world that drew you in with the awesome looking art. Having played it and loved it in the 90's and offered the chance to bring it to life again I knew I had to do it, and with Kickstarter and the ability to find all the old and new fans it was a fantastic opportunity to share the experience of the Dark Legion invasion with everyone again.

Will we see many changes from the previous editions?

We're offering an extended time period - now you can play in the first days after the outbreak of the Dark Symmetry with investigative style missions as well as the full blown 1st and 2nd Corporate War and the 1st and 2nd Dark Legion invasion - this gives GM's and players SO much storyline to explore.

The rules will be more cinematic, wider ranging (allowing spaceships, your own corporations, allegiances, and much more) and allowing the GM to really introducing fantastic dramatic scenes and let the player's do the kind of things you've always imagined they should in Mutant Chronicles.

What more can we expect to see from Mutant Chronicles in the future?

We're planning a big range include all the books that were out before plus three big campaigns and other guides, merchandising, RPG figures from Prodos Games and much more.

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?

Like all industries retail is shrinking, stores are closing - it's the same in fashion, music, gaming - so businesses have to find new ways to reach their customers, new products that compete better, that give their fans exactly what the fans want. At the same time it's getting easier for anyone to put great quality games out - what with print on demand, Kickstarter and the rise of 3D Printers so it's a great time to be a gamer!


Sunday, 9 February 2014

Comic Review - Flash Gordon: On The Planet Mongo

Flash Gordon – On The Planet Mongo

Published by Titan Books

I first became aware of Flash Gordon in my childhood while I was running around the playground pretending to pilot an X-Wing. I was a huge Star Wars fan and my small world revolved around space battles and lightsabre fights. I remember the black and white serials from the 1930s being shown every now and then on television but the connection to Star Wars was never evident to me.

It wasn’t until my teens that I discovered that George Lucas had created the Star Wars universe as a homage to the serials that he loved as a child, and as he couldn’t secure the Flash Gordon license he decided to create a myth of his own. I was intrigued by this, and as luck would have it the TV was once again showing the old Larry ‘Buster’ Crabbe serials. I sat and paid a bit more attention this time as I wanted to see what it was that Star Wars and Flash Gordon had in common. As it happened, it was quite a lot and I immediately understood the charm of the serials and why they were so dear to so many people. There was no pretence, no deep angst or dilemmas of the soul; there was Flash Gordon, and he’d throw a punch at a dinosaur to defend what was right and battle on no matter the odds. He was a big damn hero.

This started my fondness of these serials; Buck Rogers, The Phantom Empire, Radar Men From The Moon, King Of The Rocket Men, Undersea Kingdom… all these and more I watched and enjoyed. As a Star Wars fan I could see where it was that George Lucas and his team had gotten their inspiration and then updated it to suit a modern audience, with modern special effects and sensibilities.

I devoured the lacklustre 1950s show, the camp-but-fun 1980s movie and the excellent Filmation cartoon series but very rarely touched on the genesis of all of this; Alex Raymond’s original cartoon strip that began in 1934. I’d always had a few pages here and there but never a chronologically ordered version. Now, thanks to Titan Books, I have the chance to have all those original strips that Alex Raymond and Don Moore created.

The first volume, containing strips from 1934 to 1937, is a large, sturdy hardback book with excellent binding that allows the pages to sit on the respective pages with no risk of damaging the spine. The cartoons are presented in a portrait layout with some modifications depending on how they were printed in their original newspapers. The front cover has an art deco feel to it, which is very appropriate, and a wonderful image of Flash and Dale adorn the top while ‘Flash Gordon’ is emblazoned across the cover in reflective gold letters. It’s very attractive.

There are two people writing introductions to this volume, Alex Ross and Doug Murray. Alex Ross (comic illustrator) gives a personal account of his love for Flash Gordon – as well as a wonderful and exclusive pencil drawing of Flash for the book - and details Gordon’s influence on the sci-fi genre, especially it’s influence on TV and cinema. He takes us through Flash over the ages, how Alex Raymond’s wonderful artwork broke new ground and influenced artists for decades to come, and otherwise reminds us of Flash Gordon’s legacy. Doug Murray (comics writer) then gives us an account of what it was that led up to Alex Raymond creating Flash Gordon, his history, his influences, his inspirations and finally the genesis of Flash and how he was created as an answer to the popular Buck Rogers strip. Interspersed with these introductions are images from the serials, the cartoon and some wonderful previously unseen black and white Alex Raymond art from the Flash strips.

After this build-up I turned to the first page of the actual strip with some excitement. Was the strip going to live up to all of this?

Absolutely. The full colour strip begins strong and just gets stronger. With little space in the newspaper and only appearing once a week there was little time to go through any long character introductions or motivations; it’s straight into the action with the world in peril, fireballs falling from the sky, crashing aeroplanes, parachuting heroes, gun-wielding scientists, and rocket ships blasting off into the stars… and this is just the first page, thirteen panels of action and adventure. You get an idea of Flash’s heroism and Zarkov’s genius and desperation, but that’s it. Once they blast off to Mongo there’s very little time for soul-searching or character developing – on the second page they fail to stop a comet, Flash punches Zarkov’s lights out then flies over an alien city, crashes the rocket ship, rescues Dale, staggers across the desolate Mongo landscape and gets stalked by a monster; that’s page two, ten panels. The action is thick and fast and continually holds your attention, the sheer speed makes you turn to the next page with anticipation as to what on Mongo is going to happen next and what else can they possibly come up with. I could hardly wait the few seconds to turn the page so I have no idea how they coped in 1934 having to wait for the next Sunday paper.

Alex Raymond’s artwork is, without doubt, wonderful. The panels seem to have been drawn from movie stills as the images are incredibly dynamic with plenty going on. The designs are wonderfully 1930s with rocket ships, ray guns, insane monsters and an eclectic mix of historical ages; the aesthetic seems to move from ancient Roman to medieval to Napoleonic, with plenty of blaster fights mixed with sword duels. If you put a lightsabre glow over the blades you could quite easily put any of the panels in the universe of Star Wars, the influence is evident.

The colour is excellent but there are instances of the print being slightly out of synch with the images but this is a direct reproduction of the originals so it no doubt couldn’t be helped. It doesn’t detract from the adventure, that’s for sure.

There are illustrations that literally sweep from the page. It can be exciting, evocative, and even sensual and brutal but it can‘t be denied how the artwork clearly creates another world and immerses the reader into it; there are panels and pages that would look great in a frame on a wall. My favourite panels are on page 128, here we see Flash and Dale fighting off the enemy in the last panel, and page 66 where we see a huge arena brawl begin.

The writing serves the story well but can be a little stunted and brief as it’s trying to fit into that week’s paper. When it’s describing the action and adventure it’s fine but it falls a little flat when Flash and Dale are declaring their love for one another, but I wonder if this is simply something that hasn’t really translated very well from the 1930s to the present day. In fact, some of the scenes of ‘I‘m a woman in distress!’ followed by Flash coming to the rescue can be a little grating but these are interspersed with other moments that make you wonder what Dale was worried about, as she can obviously take care of herself (which is why I love the image on page 128 so much). Again, the attitude is of its time and some of that might not sit well with a modern audience.

This first volume of the Flash Gordon collection is excellent – I have finally fully experienced the original Alex Raymond strips and learned where the serials and movies I love stemmed from. Alex Raymond’s art is wonderful and I can easily see why so many artists down the ages have been inspired by him. The influence on Star Wars is more than evident and I have to wonder what a George Lucas Flash Gordon movie would have been like; but, let’s face it, it turned out to be a good thing that King Features turned him down.

Very highly recommended.

Thursday, 6 February 2014

Kickstarter: Mutant Chronicles 3rd Edition RPG

Modiphius unleashes the Dark Legion in the 3rd edition of the dieselpunk sci-fi RPG with brand new content & cinematic rules

The Mutant Chronicles Kickstarter is a re-boot of the amazing techno-fantasy roleplaying game from the same team who produced the successful Achtung! Cthulhu Kickstarter.

Raising money to pay for stunning full colour, hard cover books for the settings and rule books starting with the rules and setting book Mutant Chronicles: Dark Symmetry. We plan to deliver the core book PDF in July, and the print version in August. Backers will receive pre-print PDF's to assist with proof reading in June.

Modiphius plans re-design of the rules and a re-write of the setting guides and supplements to include brand new material alongside the existing storyline. You can expect the usual high quality production values that Modiphius is known for (just check out the comments from backers of the Achtung! Cthulhu Kickstarter).

Awesome new art will reveal never before seen parts of the Mutant Chronicles universe alongside the existing fantastic images by Paul Bonner, Peter Bergting and Paolo Parente. You can expect massive campaigns, fantastic accessories and miniatures produced in conjunction with Prodos Games specifically for the roleplaying game.

Mutant Chronicles: Dark Symmetry - The core rules plus everything you need to know about the Dark Legion, their heretics and Apostles, how they operate, their different tactics and creatures, the five big Corporations (Imperial, Capitol, Bauhaus, Mishima, Cybertronic), the Brotherhood and Whitestar. The future history that led to the exodus from Earth, a timeline leading up to the first outbreak of the Dark Symmetry, the first Corporate War, the rise of the Brotherhood, the Dark Legion invasion and through 700 years of stagnation to the Second Corporate War and return of the Dark Legion. Full details and rules for life in the 25th century, the colonies and space travel. Plots, adventure seeds, GM advice and plot secrets, lifepath & point buy character generation and a d20 based cinematic system with 8 attributes that is fast and furious. Now you can join the assault on the citadel in the first great war with the Dark Legion, hunt down Heretics or go on the fateful mission to Pluto or even Nero!

Mutant Chronicles: Dark Soul - This book replaces the Algeroth and Ilian Guide books - however all the Apostles will be heavily represented in the core Dark Symmetry book. The Dark Soul book will detail Pluto, Nero, more details on the citadels, the Dark Legion universe, the true ancient history, their 'last war', the in-fighting and politics, more tactics, creatures, and plot seeds.

The Guides - Each corporate Guide book will present more detailed lifepath generation based on each Corporation or Faction, specific equipment, their colonies and resources. Plots and storylines and how the faction differs between the Dark Symmetry (First Corporate & Dark Legion War) and Dark Legion era's (Second Corporate & Dark Legion War). Additionally each Guide will also double as a guide to one of the worlds or regions of the Solar System with planetary maps and local information on Dark Legion activity. There will also be other guides on Luna, Freelancers, Mutants and more.

The Campaigns - Three campaign are planned set in each of the three main eras: Dark Symmetry, Dark Legion and Dark Eden. Dark Symmetry will take introduce characters as lowly freelancers and Luna Police Department cops investigating the first outbreaks of the Dark Symmetry through the rise of the cult and on through the great events of the Corporate and Dark Legion wars up to the final assault on the citadel. It leads up to a very cool surprise! The Dark Legion campaign will take you through the epic events of the Dark Legion era (the same as the 2nd Ed RPG).