Vanity Press: What Kickstarter RPG Rewards Are Available? – Island of Moaning Voices

Happy holidays! Looking for a unique gift for a role-playing gaming fan? How about giving them the opportunity to write for an RPG? On certain RPG Kickstarters, there are vanity press rewards that let you buy the option to create a non-player character that will be immortalized in a RPG product. For a select few, that is the perfect stocking stuffer – the gift of work!

Wait… Work? Hmm… That’s like a tax refund… I’m getting my money back! Yippee… sorta… So, this holiday season, the suggestion is to pay to work for a gaming company? Uh, why?

Your mileage may vary but the reasons I do this are:

  • Build a resume! My goal in buying RPG writing credits via Kickstarter is to build up my resume and experience to move from a RPG wanna-lancer to a RPG freelancer.
  • Be creative! Do you or a friend have more ideas than time? Here’s a chance to unleash just a taste of that creativity on the world.
  • Be immortalized! …at least until the next edition of the RPG system this product is written for comes out.

Tempted? Here’s a possible RPG Kickstarter with some vanity press options to consider.

* * *

Island of Moaning Voices: Setting

Island of Moaning Voices: Setting

Island of Moaning Voices by Entire Party Killed
Kickstarter campaign ends on Wednesday, December 28th, 2016 at 15:37 EDT.

Their pitch:

“An extended adventure module compatible with Fifth Edition, designed for 4-6 characters from level 1 (or more) to 10.

What is inside this book?

  • A complete adventure for 5th Edition, suitable for level 1-10 player characters
  • A whole new island to uncover and explore, involved in the history and politics of two Kingdoms
  • New rules to explore the wilderness
  • More than 20 New monsters, creatures, NPCs, spells and magical items

The Island is available as a PDF or a full-color hardcover volume of 112 pages and, in addition, you can have a 24″ x 36″ Full Color Map and a Full Color Master Screen, with an innovative system of Initiative management.

What is ISLAND OF MOANING VOICES?

It is an epic adventure that can engage groups of players for countless sessions and make them grow from level 1 to 10. It is a whole new island of adventure, mystery, exploration, struggle for survival but also political intrigue and dark plots that can unfold and develop further in the, already planned, sequels. You can immediately start to play with the pre-generated characters or use your own, even if they are not novice ones! The Duke may call it Prosperity Island today but, for the inhabitants, it is still old Moaning Voices and it “welcomes” people of all kind and powers!

Island of Moaning Voices is a 112 pages sandbox adventure for characters of level 1-10 (or more, in the sequels, if we reach certain PLEDGE GOALS) with rich graphics and original contents, set in an exotic and mysterious island. It’s an OLD SCHOOL flavored setting but in line with the simplicity and flexibility of the 5th EDITION game. In the adventure module, presented both in the inexpensive PDF version and in the elegant hardcover volume, there will be many NEW MONSTERS, CREATURES, SPELLS and MAGIC ITEMS! Moreover, NEW RULES for terrestrial exploration will let the players to use the strategic hexagonal map to discover this fascinating setting. A part for the fantastic locations, there is a surprising story and many plot twists! Island of Moaning Voices represents the frontier for the inhabitants of the rich seafaring Duchy of Belqualam, an only partially explored frontier, definitely wild and fraught with dangers. Furthermore, there is the recent discovery of a precious arcane metal whose properties are still not completely understood. The metal, called “Prosperium” to bring good luck to the beginning community, makes the Island a strategic center for the economy of the Duchy and its military supremacy over the neighboring Kingdom of Halethia.

However, the exploitation and colonization of the Island have been particularly difficult. In an effort to clean up the island from the many hostile presences, the Duke thought of gathering there a large number of Adventurers. He has been very successful in this endeavor thanks to a gimmick: since a few years ago, in fact, he organizes the FRAG FEST on the island. It is a month long festival whose main attraction is THE GREAT HUNT, a series of organized events and competitions designed to decimate the population of hostile creatures of Moaning Voices.

What of you? Will you be brave enough to undertake the journey to the Island and become a Hunter? Wealth, Glory or simply Death … what is it really in stock for you?”

* * *

Island of Moaning Voices: NPCs

Island of Moaning Voices: NPCs

Their vanity press rewards:

“Pledge €180 or more
About $191
Sculptor of Fate

In addition to Landlord goodies, you can work with us to create a main NPC of Island of Moaning Voices, with his own background, personality and traits. Our artist Domenico Neziti will realize his portrait.

Remember, it could be your player character too!

INCLUDES

  • PDF versions of the 112 pages Book
  • PDF Map of the Island
  • Hardcover, 112 pages Full color Printed Book
  • Printed Map of Island (24” x 36”)
  • Dungeon Master Screen (about 8.5” high and 3 x 11” wide)
  • Work with us to create a main NPC”

* * *

“Pledge €400 or more
About $424
Lord of the Island

Like Sculptor of Fate but the NPC you created with us will also be central in one of the main events of the plot. You will help us to shape the story, so you will really be the Lord of the Island!

INCLUDES

  • PDF versions of the 112 pages Book
  • PDF Map of the Island
  • Hardcover, 112 pages Full color Printed Book
  • Printed Map of Island (24” x 36”)
  • Dungeon Master Screen (about 8.5” high and 3 x 11” wide)
  • You will create a key NPC in one of the main events of the plot”

* * *

Island of Moaning Voices: The Great Hunt

Island of Moaning Voices: The Great Hunt

Egg’s thoughts:

Choose the Sculptor of Fate reward to create a NPC and see it illustrated by Domenico Neziti. Do the write up and, with that, you will influence this artist’s work. Alternately, you can choose to be the Lord of the Island and not only write up your NPC and have her/him/it drawn but also help guide the plot of the adventure. Along with all of the print and PDF products, you will have a hand in building this fantasy society and creating a member of that world.

With seven days to go, this project still needs to raise 87% of their funding. If you want to create an NPC, back this project. They’ll appreciate the support. If it funds, the world will read your, or if you are giving this as a gift, your friend’s, creativity.

Have a happy holiday!

* * *

Egg Embry, Wanna-lancer

Egg Embry wrote comic book short stories, edited comic book series, wrote and drew a webcomic, and contributed to comic book journalism across the 2000s. Now, he buys the opportunity to write for a variety of tabletop role-playing games in the tradition of vanity press. His purchases have been published by:

  • Sasquatch Game Studio’s Primeval Thule for 5e (2015) available at DriveThruRPG.com
  • Ember Design Studios’ Yrisa’s Nightmare for 5e and Pathfinder available at DriveThurRPG.com
  • Ember Design Studios’ Rats in the Street for 5e and Pathfinder available at DriveThurRPG.com

Vanity Press: What Kickstarter RPG Rewards Are Available? – Sunken Temple and Hypercorps 2099: Wasteland

Behind the scenes, I’ve made strides in my scheme to buy my way up from RPG wanna-lancer to RPG freelancer. Still working at getting into RPGs professionally, but strides are being made all the same. The root of my plan is buying role-playing game writing credits via Kickstarter to create a resume. Currently, here are some of the Kickstarters that are offering vanity press options.

I’ve chronicled the NPC that I created for Ember Design Studios via their Kickstarter for Yrisa’s Nightmare and Rats in the Street. My guildmate, John McGuire, wrote up his experience creating a NPC for the same products here. As it happens, EDS is running another Kickstarter and they’re offering more NPC creation options.

* * *

Sunken Temple, an RPG adventure for 5e, Pathfinder, & WOIN by Ember Design Studios

Kickstarter campaign ends on Sunday, December 18th, 2016 at 12:00 EDT.

Sunken Temple Art

Sunken Temple Artwork

Their pitch:

Lost beneath the waves for untold millennia, the Sunken Temple has been seen again. Inspired by the works of HP Lovecraft. 

Sunken Temple is an adventure written for 5e, W.O.I.N., and the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game. It takes place in a mysterious range of never-before-seen mountains and is suitable for use in any setting. The module is inspired by the works of H.P. Lovecraft, particularly The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, The Shadow Over Innsmouth, and At the Mountains of Madness. 

The project includes: 

  • An adventure suitable for 4-5 characters of 6th-level. The playstyle is predominately a dungeon crawl, with a horrific element appropriate to the source material.
  • The temple includes several wings, each with a different feel, assortment of baddies, and their own malevolent purpose – with additional wings ready to be unearthed through stretch goals! 
  • Game stats and original artwork for several traditional Lovecraft beasties (deep one, star spawn, night gaunt, and rat thing) and a few originals of my own devising. 

Sunken Temple will be available in print, PDF, and through City of Brass.

City of Brass

City of Brass

Egg’s thoughts:

This project will have versions available for 5e, Pathfinder, and – best for my resume – W.O.I.N. That adds another system to my list. Adding to its draw, this is another project that plays in Cthulhu’s sandbox.

For EDS’s last Kickstarter, I created Celltar Drumthunder. It was fun, easy, and formed a part of a set of memorable Christmas gifts as I gave two other NPC creation slots to my buddies, John McGuire and Leland Beauchamp. We tied the back stories of our non-player characters together.

For this adventure, EDS is offering two types of NPCs, sailors or more prominent characters (captain, etc). Since this is a similar opportunity as with Yrisa’s Nightmare, let me offer Sunken Temple the highest praise I can give – John McGuire, Leland Beauchamp, and myself are all investing in it and all paying the extra to create more NPCs. The experience was good enough to warrant repeat business.

That brings us to the 6th Kickstarter update to their campaign, the vanity press rewards:

Sunken Temple art showing the reason the temple sank - Too many C[thulhu]arbs!

The reason the temple sank – Too many c-thulhu-arbs!

New Addon: Make a Sailor

With the unlocking of Voyage of the Sea Darter there is a chance for those of you who want to leave a more lasting mark on Sunken Temple to do so.

Sea Darter boasts a crew of about 20 sailors. Several of them will have minor roles in the adventure, and the more and diverse personalities that they have, the better. So, if you’d like to take a swing at creating a sailor that will appear in this finished aventure, just add $20 to your pledge.

Now, maybe you want to have a more prominent impact both on the project funding and the characters in the adventure. If you’d like to nab one of these slots, add $50 to your pledge and message me, so I know which one you want and make sure we don’t have everyone adding the same ones. For each of these that someone claims, I’ll also commission extra artwork for the character.

The limited roles include:

  • Captain
  • First Mate
  • Navigator
  • Mutinous Sailor (I’m not saying there’s a mutiny but just in case)

* * *

Hypercorps 2099 Wasteland: 5th Edition Apocalyptic RPG (5E) by Mike Myler

Kickstarter campaign ends on Sunday, December 18th, 2016 at 11:59 EDT in the evening.

Hypercorps 2099: Wastelands for 5e - Mutants

Hypercorps 2099: Wastelands for 5e – Mutants

Their pitch:

Venture into the ruins of civilization! Fight nuclear fallout and wild warlords! Try to survive and thrive in Earth’s atomic twilight!

Pockets of Earth are decimated by nuclear war in 1969 after the Bay of Pigs escalates into World War 3 and atomic weapons are unleashed across the planet. The alter sapiens of the world put aside their differences and use their abilities to create safe havens across the globe, saving those they can from nuclear devastation. Almost a century and a half has passed since the atomic apocalypse and through tireless scientific effort, areas of the world are becoming livable once more and civilization is creeping out to seek out life once again under the sun—though doing so means surviving in the Wasteland and many believe they were better off locked away in their shelters.

Help us make a 120+ page campaign setting source book for taking your D&D game into the apocalyptic future of an alternate Hypercorps 2099!

Egg’s thoughts:

This setting is an alternate timeline deviating from their main setting which is a variant timeline from our own. The idea of multiple timeline settings presents a campaign idea – learning the origins of these worlds by dimension jumping the PCs from the Hypercorps 2099 timeline/setting to “our” timeline to find out why the altered sapiens and fantasy races never emerged. From there, travel to the Cuban Missile Crisis to see the start of Hypercorps 2099: Wastelands before traveling to the “current” wastelands setting. There’s a nice story in seeing the cause and effect of the worlds and how the players can influence it.

Add the vanity press post apocalypse Kickstarter rewards and this is a winning setting! Not only do you get to design a wasteland warlord and/or a NPC, you also are involved in the art discussion. You will get some say with the artist on how the character(s) will look which is a nice bonus.

Hypercorps 2099: Wastelands for 5e - Cyborg

Hypercorps 2099: Wastelands for 5e – Cyborg
Samurai

Their vanity press rewards:

Pledge $250 or more
WASTELAND WARLORD

Wasteland PDF, Wasteland hardcover, 5 session mini-campaign through Roll20.net for you and four friends, and you will help design and order artwork for one of the warlords in Hypercorps 2099: Wasteland!

  • Hypercorps 2099: Wasteland Hardcover and PDF
  • Hypercorps 2099 5e Hardcover and PDF
  • 5 Session Mini-Campaign Through Roll20.net for You and Four Friends
  • Help Design a Warlord for the Wasteland (Includes Art Order)

* * *

Pledge $500 or more 
WASTELAND SOVEREIGN

Wasteland PDF, Wasteland hardcover, campaign through Roll20.net for you and four friends (minimum of 10 sessions), and you will help design and order artwork for a unique NPC survivor of your own design and one of the warlords in Hypercorps 2099: Wasteland!

  • Hypercorps 2099: Wasteland Hardcover and PDF
  • Hypercorps 2099 5e Hardcover and PDF
  • 5 Session Mini-Campaign Through Roll20.net for You and Four Friends
  • Help Design a Warlord for the Wasteland (Includes Art Order)
  • Design a Unique NPC for the Wasteland (Includes Art Order)

* * *

Closing thoughts:

Both projects will be fun to see brought to life. Cthulhu or mutants? Both are going to be fun to fight!

I’ve already pledged for EDS’s Sunken Temple. I’ve worked with them before and they are easygoing. I expect a top shelf product with plenty of extras. I’m really excited about this one! And that’s no slight to Mike Myler’s Hypercorps 2099: Wastelands. I believe it will turn out nicely as well. He is presenting an interesting world and solid vanity press options.

Both have an extra bit of win, they could be purchased as Christmas gifts for the RPG fan that has it all… save for creator credits.

* * *

Egg Embry, Wanna-lancer

Egg Embry wrote comic book short stories, edited comic book series, wrote and drew a webcomic, and contributed to comic book journalism across the 2000s. Now, he buys the opportunity to write for a variety of tabletop role-playing games in the tradition of vanity press. His purchases have been published by:

  • Sasquatch Game Studio’s Primeval Thule for 5e (2015) available at DriveThruRPG.com
  • Ember Design Studios’ Yrisa’s Nightmare for 5e and Pathfinder available at DriveThurRPG.com
  • Ember Design Studios’ Rats in the Street for 5e and Pathfinder available at DriveThurRPG.com

Kickstart the Character – Creation Process of Kaiya Blackmoore

It’s not just my fellow guildmate, Egg Embry, who has dabbled his toes into the Roleplaying Kickstarters. I have kicked in for a couple, here and there. Sometimes it was because of the game, sometimes because of the creators, and sometimes just because.

However, it wasn’t until Egg presented me with a fairly unique Christmas present last year that I ever got to participate in the creation side of the process. As he alluded to in his post “Kickstarter Reward Level: Vanity Press – Yrisa’s Nightmare and Rats in the Street“, myself, Egg, and our friend Leland all had the opportunity to come up with a trio of characters that would appear in Yrisa’s Nightmare.

Yrisa's Nightmare.

Yrisa’s Nightmare.

One of the things you tend to do when you roleplay, no matter the system, is create characters. Obviously you create the ones you are going to actually play, and then after you get them going you think of about 100 more that might be cool to play. I have folders upstairs of all the characters I’ve ever played in a game, but lost to time are the others who might have had backstories or perhaps some were just a collection of stats, never to see the light of day past some random afternoon or evening.

I like to think that this bit of daydreaming has come in handy for writing fiction. Novels normally have need of tons of characters – each the hero of their own stories. Perhaps some of those lazy Sunday D&D characters have gone onto a second life within some story without me even realizing it.

This was a little different, as this would be a character who needed to “fit” into the world Lucas Curell had created. And while it wasn’t stated anywhere that the three characters needed to be tied to each other, we felt like it might act as a cool Easter Egg for anyone reading the adventure.

***

Egg actually had his character, Celltar Drumthunder, mocked up by the time Leland and I came onboard. Here was a good-looking guy who travels from town to town playing his music wherever he can find a tavern with attentive patrons (or at least the kind who might part with some hard-earned coin). Of course, he repays their kindness by allowing them to invite him into their homes where he generally takes their most valuable of possessions. Through some form of magic, the people only realize it is gone, and not that Celltar might have taken it.

It was Leland who thought “I think it would be neat to brainstorm a connection between them, then make the character. If they blend together, it would add story.”

Would they be a gang? Or…

“One could be a bounty hunter looking for someone who is stealing these heirlooms.”

But then…

“Or maybe the lost love who is still under the spell.”

There was Kaiya right there. I took the lead on her character. Then a little later the thought of a Wererat was mentioned who would become “Sully” took shape (who Leland wrote up). And it was really there that the connection made some sense and how they tied together made some level of sense. The key points and connections were:

Sully:

A noble who was going to marry a noble woman.

He was cursed at their engagement by a thief.

Possibly mention he’s hiding from his ex-bride.

Celltar:

Cursed a noble at his engagement party.

Tried to use a spell to marry a noble woman.

Kaiya:

First groom was cursed, and they did not marry.

Almost wed to a bard who put a spell on her.

Rats in the Street. Featuring Wererats.

Rats in the Street. Featuring Wererats.

Now there was some concern that these types of connections might not work for Lucas. Perhaps it might be too overt. Maybe it just couldn’t fit in the world he was trying to craft. Heck, maybe we were trying too hard to put our own spin on these characters and doing the “group thing” was not a great idea. Still, we decided to work them up.

Worst case, we thought, we could use these characters for something else on our own.

The great thing about working with others on any kind of story/character/fiction is that you have someone to bounce ideas off of. People who can see something slightly different from you are able to do. And last, but not least, is that you have built-in editors to help make sure you’re not misspelling every other word. What followed was a series of back and forths among the three of us as we worked up a first draft, then a second, and then a final draft in a format Lucas was looking for.

Appearance – This is not only their physical appearance, but also trying to convey some level of insight into their actions. Sully might have been a “lost soul”, but he still held himself in a “regal manner”.

Personality – I’d say this one probably ties most to the actual roleplaying of the character by the Game Master. Celltar was “certain that the world owes him”. “Lazy, liar, and showman.”

Goals – These felt like something which would boil our characters down to their basic instincts. What did they want to do? And maybe how would they get there? To transform into someone they always wished to be. To restore themselves. To get through life as easy as possible.

Hobby – This was as simple as “drinking” or losing themselves in research.

In Yroden (where we lay our tale) – Here was our thoughts on how and why the character might be in Yroden (and thus how they might tie into the actual adventure). This was really the crux of the character and really would determine whether or not the character(s) would end up being used.

Now done, we sent it off and waited…

When Lucas responded he said he loved the interplay between them, but had a twist in mind for using them. Kaiya would actually appear in Yrisa’s Nightmare where the other two would get referenced. However, Sully and Celltar would get their proper appearance in the companion adventure Rats in the Street – especially since that one featured a gang of wererats.

kaiya-blackmoore

From the City of Brass Character Entry for Kaiya Blackmoore

***

And that, as they say, was that. The characters appeared in their respective stories, and my own hope is that some Game Master out there has not only spotted the connection, but worked it into his own story. Maybe Kaiya is out there helping fight wererats alongside some adventurers. Maybe Celltar has finally found the wrong person to charm. Maybe Sully has found a cure after all.

Maybe…

***

Kickstarter information:

Yrisa’s Nightmare, an RPG adventure for Pathfinder and 5e by Ember Design Studios
Raised $2,680 starting November 13th, 2015

If getting a NPC into an adventure is on your Christmas 2016 wish list, Ember Design Studios is running another Kickstarter and is offering two options to get your sailor NPC into the mix (see the 6th update on the Kickstarter). Sunken Temple, an RPG adventure for 5e, Pathfinder, & WOIN by Ember Design Studios
Raised to-date (this Kickstarter is still going at the time of this writing) $5,431 starting November 18th, 2016

sunken-temple

***

John McGuire

John McGuire is the author of the supernatural thriller The Dark That Follows, the steampunk comic The Gilded Age, and the novella There’s Something About Mac through the Amazon Kindle Worlds program.

His second novel, Hollow Empire, is now complete. The first episode is now FREE!

He also has a short story in the Beyond the Gate anthology, which is free on most platforms!

And has two shorts in the Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows anthology! Check it out!

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com.

Kickstarter RPG Reward Level: Vanity Press – Yrisa’s Nightmare and Rats in the Streets

“If I buy my way into RPG freelancing, will I ever be taken seriously?”

To obtain a job and be successful at it, generally, you need the applicable skills for that profession and you have to prove you possess said skills. I want to move from a role-playing game wanna-lancer to a freelance writer. My proof that I have those skills involves buying writing credits in RPGs via Kickstarter. Stocking my resume with vanity press entries. But if my resume is all vanity press, will that make me a laughing stock instead of someone to take stock in?

 

-=-=-=-=-=-=-

 

Yrisa's Nightmare.

Yrisa’s Nightmare.

Before I dive too far into these thoughts, let’s touch on how the Kickstarter vanity press idea works? Some RPG Kickstarters offer rewards that let you submit content to their game. They offer an opportunity to write and you pay them for the opportunity.

Due to my schedule, this is ideal. It lets me write something with a low word count, typically a few hundred words like an adventure hook, a NPC, a location seed, a monster, or a magic item that will be printed and credited to me.

This is my journey to freelancer and it starts with selecting the Kickstarter RPG Reward Level: Vanity Press.

 

-=-=-=-=-=-=-

 

For my first purchase, I participated in Sasquatch Game Studio’s Primeval Thule for 5e where I provided a location seed in their campaign setting. Another opportunity that presented itself was Ember Design Studios’ Kickstarter for Yrisa’s Nightmare and Rats in the Street.

Yrisa’s Nightmare, an RPG adventure for Pathfinder and 5e by Ember Design Studios

Yrisa’s Nightmare is a supernatural mystery set in a viking fort town. Your characters arrive, supernatural attacks happen to them and those around the settlement, and your party either uncovers why these attacks are happening or they don’t get to leave. Ever.

Rats in the Street. Featuring Wererats.

Rats in the Street. Featuring Wererats.

Rats in the Street (5e) by Ember Design Studios

Rats in the Street is a city adventure in the same world as Yrisa’s Nightmare. This time, you’re facing a gang of wererat thieves and you have to piece together the clues to stop them.

Launched in November, 2015, both adventures come from Lucas Curell the creator of the online RPG tool, City of Brass. The concept – viking mysteries – interested me but I collect Kickstarter writing credits. To get my $75 they needed something extra on top of:

  • Print and PDF copies of Yrisa’s Nightmare for either Pathfinder or 5e – $25 via Kickstarter / $25.53 (taxes and shipping to me) via DriveThruRPG.com
  • PDF copy of The Song of Aracos for 5e – Kickstarter Bonus / $4.95 via DMsGuild.com
  • PDF copy of Rats in the Streets for either Pathfinder or 5e – $5 via Kickstarter / $4.95 via DriveThruRPG.com

That extra sauce that captured my wallet was the:

  • World Builder add-on – “Work with [Lucas Curell] to create an interesting NPC for the village of Yroden or nearby countryside.
    Remember, Yroden will be released using a CC BY-SA 4.0 license so only select this option if your comfortable with that. These characters will all be included in the web supplement, and in the finished adventure.”
  • Vanity press upcharge – $15 x 3 = $45
Celltar Drumthunder. Art by Egg Embry

Celltar Drumthunder. Art by Egg Embry

The opportunity to create an NPC expanded my resume from just a location seed to a character. I bought the ability to create three NPCs for Yrisa’s Nightmare. It was just before Christmas 2015 and these seemed like fun gifts for my RPG buddies, John “Cursed Sword” McGuire and Sir Leland Beauchamp. What did we do with three NPCs? We alluded to a shared history through them.

Lucas picked up on the shared backstory and saw a clever way to use the characters. He put Kaiya Blackmoore as an important NPC in Yrisa’s Nightmare. In that adventure, Sully and Celltar Drumthunder appear as part of the supernatural effects that drive the tale. In Rats in the Street, Sully and Celltar take on some of the larger NPC roles within the adventure. The characters unite these adventures through their shared easter egg (no pun intended) backstory.

 

-=-=-=-=-=-=-

 

UPDATE – 2016-12-07 – John McGuire did a write up of his character and the process here.

 

-=-=-=-=-=-=-

 

City of Brass

City of Brass

Credit where credit is due. Lucas took these characters, saw their backstory and potential within his world, and wove them into the fabric of his tales in Yrisa’s Nightmare and Rats in the Street. The steps to bring this to life – pay, bat ideas between John and Leland, write, draw, submit, read, smile – were all easier than I could have asked for. These adventures have been delivered and enjoyed. Vanity press RPG writer’s credit number two and RPG art credit number one complete! On to number three…

 

-=-=-=-=-=-=-

 

To my initial question, will I be taken seriously if my resume is all vanity press Kickstarter rewards? It was a worry. Then Sir Leland* and I went to Gen Con 2016, my first Gen Con. There we had the opportunity to meet Lucas and play through another adventure he created,  Bella’s Yarn (5e), another excellent adventure. I really liked playing mideval detective to solve that mystery. For his part, Lucas was awesome. Instead of treating me like a joke because I am trying to buy my way through the door he was happy to talk gaming, and Kickstarters, and RPG websites. He treated me like a welcome addition to the community. It cured my concern.

Will I be judged for my start in the industry? Likely. Will that be the end of my quest? No.

*The “Sir Leland” reference is because my buddy’s name is Leland Beauchamp – Amanda, Jeremy, John, Chad, Robert, the whole Tessera Guild, we all know Lee – anyways, in high school, he named his D&D knight, Sir Leland. Could you imagine if I tried that? Ser Egg. Only George RR Martin could pull that off…

 

-=-=-=-=-=-=-

 

Sample NPCs from Yrisa's Nightmare.

Sample NPCs from Yrisa’s Nightmare.

Kickstarter information:

Yrisa’s Nightmare, an RPG adventure for Pathfinder and 5e by Ember Design Studios
Raised $2,680 starting November 13th, 2015

If getting a NPC into an adventure is on your Christmas 2016 wish list, Ember Design Studios is running another Kickstarter and is offering two options to get your sailor NPC into the mix (see the 6th update on the Kickstarter). Sunken Temple, an RPG adventure for 5e, Pathfinder, & WOIN by Ember Design Studios
Raised to-date (this Kickstarter is still going at the time of this writing) $4,273 starting November 18th, 2016

 

***

 

Egg Embry, Wanna-lancer

Egg Embry wrote comic book short stories, edited comic book series, wrote and drew a webcomic, and contributed to comic book journalism across the 2000s. Now, he buys the opportunity to write for a variety of tabletop role-playing games in the tradition of vanity press. His purchases have been published by:

 

  • Sasquatch Game Studio’s Primeval Thule for 5e (2015) available at DriveThruRPG.com
  • Ember Design Studios’ Yrisa’s Nightmare for 5e and Pathfinder available at DriveThurRPG.com
  • Ember Design Studios’ Rats in the Street for 5e and Pathfinder available at DriveThurRPG.com

Vanity Press: What Kickstarter RPG Rewards Did I Miss? – The Faerie Ring

Current State? Role-playing game wanna-lancer. Mission? To become a RPG freelancer. Plan? Pledging for writing credits in other creator’s RPG Kickstarters.

The_Faerie_Ring_1

From The Faerie Ring by Zombie Sky Press.

That’s the situation now, but what about the past? Are there any un-mined RPG writing credits in Kickstarter’s long tail of products? As it turns out, yes.

The projects I didn’t back… Some are professional and, likely, memorably fun but charged more for their vanity press pledge levels than I could afford. Some were great looking products but did not have a vanity press option at all. One of the latter was The Faerie Ring for Pathfinder and 5e. I did not pledge but I follow them on Facebook and they have posted a writing opportunity…

The Faerie Ring for Pathfinder Roleplaying Game and 5E by Zombie Sky Press

This Kickstarter is in the rearview having started on November 30th of two thousand and fifteen.

Their pitch:

The Faerie Ring expands the fey options for both players and GMs using either Pathfinder Roleplaying Game or 5E and creates new opportunities for meddling where you probably shouldn’t. It introduces new fey monsters, playable fey races and other character options, fey big bads or patrons (or both!), fey cities and planes and other locales, and more.

This project aims to highlight the fey: to build their mythos with the strong personalities of powerful fey lords, to build their mystery with extraplanar fey locales and adventures, and to build their influence with fey character options.

The_Faerie_Ring_2

This picture encapsulates the wanna-lancer to freelancer journey. From The Faerie Ring by Zombie Sky Press.

We’re updating and remastering the two existing PDF releases (“Prelude” and “Red Jack”) and incorporating them along with nine additional chapters of brand new content as The Faerie Ring: Along the Twisting Way in two printed volumes: a Campaign Guide and a Player’s Guide. Plus, a third book in PDF, the Magic Guide.

The Faerie Ring began over 5 years ago and launched Zombie Sky Press. And though the project’s been silent for a while, we’ve been quietly designing the whole time, and now, we’re ready to unveil our plans. The original “Prelude” is linked in the Update section for everyone to check out.

Egg’s thoughts:

Not out of intention, but every RPG game I’ve played has been set in a human-centric world. The concept of the fey fleshed out to be more than the occasional antagonist is interesting. This product seems likely to offer both the flavor and crunch needed to make the faerie races, monsters, magics, and societies feel grounded and workable. Had there been a vanity press option, I’d have happily put in my coin.

But, a year later, there is an option.

The_Faerie_Ring_5

From The Faerie Ring by Zombie Sky Press.

Update #23:

Public Update and a Call for Magic Submissions

We Want Magic Submissions! 

As we pull together the Campaign and Player’s Guides for The Faerie Ring, we’re thinking more and more about the Magic Guide. So we’re calling for magical pitches. Interested in submitting something for consideration? Accepted pitches will be commissioned at 5 c/w.

For design contributions, please put together a pitch of one or more ideas for the Magic Guide that you’d be interested in working on. We are certainly looking for individual spells and rituals—and I’ll be asking for those at a later date—but we’re currently looking for other things, like fascinating optional subsystems related to magic and the fey. For the pitch, give me a description of what you’re proposing and the presumed word count (assume you can’t have more than 2,000-3,000 words per idea, though great pitches may be given more room). These can be for either 5E or Pathfinder (if accepted, we’ll convert if possible), or maybe, they’re largely flavor with minimal to no crunch; let us know in the pitch. Send pitches to scott(at)zombieskypress(dot)com by December 1, 2016.

Get your ass to Mars.

Kuato Lives! From The Faerie Ring by Zombie Sky Press.

For example, the concept of the moonshadow will be a part of the Magic Guide. This will detail how the moon’s passing affects different fey in different ways (but all fey feel the effects of the moon in some way).

Here’s the PDF that started it all back in 2010. It’s getting some updates for the new release, but it is offered here as inspiration: The Faerie Ring Prelude.

Egg’s closing thoughts:

To this point, there has been safety in paying for the opportunity to write. Once they have my money they can’t fire me without a refund.

What Zombie Sky Press is offering is work-for-hire. Submitting to write comes with no guarantee of acceptance like a Kickstarter pledge does. This situation requires skills not born of my bank account. They’re offering the first major test in my mission: Have I reached the level (oy) where I can move from paying to write to being paid to write? Am I ready to jump from wanna-lancer to freelancer?

Vanity Press: What Kickstarter RPG Rewards Are Available? – Apocalypse the Risen RPG

I am building a resume of tabletop role-playing game writing credits by buying them from Kickstarter. The goal is to go from a RPG wanna-lancer to a paid freelancer. It’s… well, it’s my personal demon. To that end, there is an option to pay to write about that or any type of demon.

 

* * *

Apocalypse the Risen Campaign Setting

Apocalypse the Risen Campaign Setting

Apocalypse the Risen RPG (Pathfinder Compatible) by Rust Portal Games

 

Kickstarter campaign ends on Wednesday, November 2nd, 2016 at 10:18 EDT in the evening.

 

Their pitch:

 

Can you survive the undead and demonic horrors ravaging post-apocalyptic Earth some 25 years after the Rise? Pathfinder Compatible RPG.

 

Apocalypse the Risen Campaign Setting is a Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Compatible post-apocalyptic fantasy horror RPG based on Earth, twenty-five years after the fall of society, an event known as the Rise. This full color hardcover campaign setting will be heavily illustrated and over 400 pages.

 

Ghost, Emotes All by Preston Stone

Ghost, Emotes All by Preston Stone

Apocalypse the Risen thrusts you into the role of a resolute survivor, forging through the ashes of humanity on an Earth besieged by demons and the dead—known as Risen. Twenty-five years after the collapse of society, humankind and their new allies now fight back, staggered and beaten but never broken.

 

Is it the survival of your Colony that drives you onward in the hunt for precious resources? Or perhaps hatred for the evils walking the Earth that fuels your righteous anger seeking redemption?”

 

Egg’s thoughts:

 

First, like so many Kickstarter RPG projects, the art is rich and amazing. The book will look glorious with this level of art.

Second, you get to design a demon. I mean, does it get more metal than designing a demon? No, no it doesn’t.

 

Their vanity press rewards:

 

Descended Draft, Seraphim Banner by Rodrigo Vega

Descended Draft, Seraphim Banner by Rodrigo Vega

“Pledge $349 or more

 

Demonologist

You are the Light against the Darkness.

 

Includes

  • Design a Demon! Apocalypse the Risen includes a detailed demon creation system and we will put it at your fingertips. Give us an idea, a name, a concept, or dig deep into the demon creator and we will work with you to design a demon to be published by Rusted Portal with designer credits for you.
  • Apocalypse the Risen Campaign Setting Hardcover
  • Access to Stretch Goals unlocked during campaign!
  • AtR Character Portfolio Pack (18 Sheets)
  • Apocalypse the Risen GM Screen
  • Apocalypse the Risen Campaign Setting PDF
  • “Adrift” AtR One-shot Adventure PDF
  • Nine 8th Level Pre-Generated Characters PDF”

 

* * *

Shonk, The Holy Wood

“OMG! Demon metal me?! Yeah-no!”    – Shonk, The Holy Wood!

 

Closing thoughts:

 

The project looks stunning, the concept – post-apocalyptic Earth – is, while not wholly original, a fresher patch of farmland than replanting yet another crop of pseudo-western Europe setting-seeds. It looks like a world where action will carry the story and the conflicts of good and evil are defined.

The vanity reward is designing a demon. How do you make a demon fun to run for any role-playing group? Pinhead would not work for every table and, because of that, making a fitting demon would take some thought. The hardest part of this task is likely to be not basing the demon on one of your old role-playing buddies… That might be impossible.

 

* * *

 

Egg Embry, Wanna-lancer

 

Egg Embry wrote comic book short stories, edited comic book series, wrote and drew a webcomic, and contributed to comic book journalism across the 2000s. Now, he buys the opportunity to write for a variety of tabletop role-playing games in the tradition of vanity press. His purchases have been published by:

 

Sasquatch Game Studio’s Primeval Thule for 5e (2015) available at DriveThruRPG.com

Vanity Press: What Kickstarter RPG Rewards Are Available? – The Dread House and Salt in Wounds Tabletop Setting

I want to freelance in the tabletop role-playing game industry. To get there, I’m buying a resume of writing credits via Kickstarter rewards. So far, I’ve largely bought into D&D 5e. But the RPG industry is wider than D&D and I want to add as many systems to my resume as I can. That makes these projects of interest to me.

"Fascinating." - Mirror Mirror Robert Jeffrey

“Fascinating.” – Mirror Mirror Robert Jeffrey II

 

* * *

 

The Dread House (Pathfinder/5th Edition/Call of Cthulhu) by Hammerdog Games

 

Kickstarter campaign ends on Saturday, October 29th, 2016 at 3:00 EDT in the afternoon.

 

Their pitch:

 

The most haunted house in the world, presented with multiple storylines, in multiple time periods, and for multiple RPG systems.

 

Dry leaves crackle under your feet as you make your way up the hill towards the dark manse, your path lit by a bold harvest moon. The taste of rain is in the air and you hear a distant peal of thunder. The townsfolk begged you not to come up here. Not tonight. Especially not tonight.

The Dread House

The Dread House

 

You reach the grounds as storm clouds slip across the moon, darkening the yard. You make your way carefully to the front door but find it barred from the outside. It would take a crowbar and some muscle to get in this way. The windows are high off the ground but seem breakable. You test your theory with a large rock, and the glass shatters as the first bolt of lightning slashes across the sky. You climb up and through the broken pane, carefully turning and lowering yourself to the floor of the room inside. The townsfolk may be afraid of this place buy you aren’t.

 

“Good Evening” says a deep strong voice that makes you whirl with shock. Your eyes search the darkness but you see nothing. A flash of lightning verifies to your eyes that you are alone.

 

“I trust you will be staying?” says the voice. “Excellent, it’s been a long time since we’ve had company.” Lightning flashes again. The drawing room is empty of everything but old furniture. You turn and scramble to the window, ready to leap through it and to the ground below. But the window isn’t broken any more. Somehow it’s healed.

 

You stop to puzzle this impossibility for the briefest of moments. That’s all it takes. The voice in the darkness gets you, and nobody hears you scream. You should have listened to the townsfolk. You should have come better prepared…for The Dread House.”

 

Egg’s thoughts:

 

The Dread House is a series of adventures set in different eras that utilize different systems – Wizard of the Coast’s D&D 5e, Paizo’s Pathfinder, but, most important to lil’ Egg Embry, Chaosium’s Call of Cthulhu. Call of Cthulhu is not on my resume. Add to that the concept – a haunted mansion that exists from medieval times to present – offers a growing tale and world to explore. Character’s actions from one era can be felt in the next. The vanity press offer – “an adventure, encounter, or monster in the Dread House” – combined with the chained nature of these adventures will, I hope, allow me to write something a little longer than many of my Kickstarter vanity press pledges.

The Dread House's Gentleman Ghost

The Dread House’s Gentleman Ghost

 

Their vanity press rewards:

 

“$150 or more

Architect of Dread

 

An undead professional, you seek to further your career even after death. You gain a copy of The Dread Wedding and all PDFs. You will participate in the development process of an adventure, encounter, or monster in the Dread House. No prior experience is required but the more experience you have, the more you can contribute. You will gain a credit as a developer. [Freight Extra]”

 

* * *

 

Salt in Wounds Tabletop Setting for 5th Edition & Pathfinder by J. M. Perkins

 

Kickstarter campaign ends on Thursday, October 27th, 2016 at 2:03 EDT in the afternoon.

 

Their pitch:

 

A gore splattered, monster-fed, city based dark fantasy setting for your favorite Tabletop RPGs.

 

Salt in Wounds is a fictional city; a detail-rich dark fantasy setting designed specifically for tabletop roleplaying games (although it can be enjoyed by anyone who appreciates intricate works of imagination). More specifically, Salt in Wounds is a city whose culture, economy, and existence is beholden to the reality of the giant, regenerating kaiju called the ‘Tarrasque’ which is imprisoned within the city center so it can be butchered over and over again.

 

Salt in Wounds City Map (Rough Draft)

Salt in Wounds City Map (Rough Draft)

There are few monsters in role playing games more iconic than the Tarrasque: the ‘end game’ boss that’s been terrorizing high level characters (and delighting players) for decades. The Salt in Wounds setting takes the beast in an entirely new direction: as the perpetually slaughtered ‘natural’ resource that has been feeding the population & fueling economy of the sprawling metropolis of Salt in Wounds for the last two centuries.

 

Since 2015 I’ve been fleshing out the city, its inhabitants, and setting the stage for adventure: first on the Ennie nominated gaming website Tribality and then on its own page www.saltinwoundssetting.com. I’ve written fiction, created monsters, and worked hard to create a compelling, incredible world just begging for exploration & play. Here’s just a sample of some of the work that’s already been made public about Salt in Wounds:

  

Now, with your help, I want to take my mishmash of ideas, player options, lore & creatures and turn it into a proper series of books & supplements that will inspire your Pathfinder, 5th Edition, and other gaming for years.

 

Egg’s thoughts:

 

Salt in Wounds. Any city with a title for a name (like King of Prussia, Pennsylvania) screams out, “Visit me!” more than, say, one of the early titles of my home city, Marthasville [Note – Marthasville, where Superman and Batman get on like chocolate and peanut butter.] Title alone states this is an engaging product. J M Perkins has a fully realized city with enough real estate to share some pretty views with the public. The reward – design one of the 13 main families in the city for both D&D 5e as well as Pathfinder – has curb appeal. This reward could lead to a dynasty write up, information about their home, magic items, and NPCs. Lots of potential to show your RPG writing skills.

Salt in Wounds. I spy a Tarrasque.

Salt in Wounds. I spy a Tarrasque.

 

On the other hand, by the time I noticed this one all of the rewards were gone. Fiddlesticks. I believe the individuals that chose this one picked a great vanity press option. I cannot wait to see the results.

 

Their vanity press rewards:

 

“Pledge $250 or more

Binder-Lord

 

You rule Salt in Wounds, and you get everything listed above, three additional pieces of Sway, and design considerations (see text below for more information).

 

INCLUDES

  • Name the Harpoon Release Command Word
  • Help Design a Meridian House
  • Swag x 6

 

Limited to only 11 (there are 13 Aristocratic Meridian Houses, and two Binder-Lordships have already been claimed by patrons) you get all the above rewards + an *additional* 3 pieces of Swag (for a total of 6 pieces of Swag) and you get design considerations for your chosen Meridian House, invitation to an exclusive design session hangout, and you select the legendary ‘command word’ of your house’s immoveable harpoon. Legal possession of this command word grants Binder-Lords their authority within the city of Salt in Wounds and can be used to actually free the Tarrasque.”

 

* * *

 

Closing thoughts:

 

The Dread House offers the chance to add Chaosium’s Call of Cthulhu to my list of vanity projects. Sold. Salt in Wounds lives up to its name because it looks amazing but all of the writing rewards are spoken for. Regardless of my salted wound, I think both of these projects are going to be fun. I’m looking forward to seeing how they progress.

 

* * *

 

Egg Embry, Wanna-lancer

 

Egg Embry wrote comic book short stories, edited comic book series, wrote and drew a webcomic, and contributed to comic book journalism across the 2000s. Now, he buys the opportunity to write for a variety of tabletop role-playing games in the tradition of vanity press. His purchases have been published by:

 

Sasquatch Game Studio’s Primeval Thule for 5e (2015) available at DriveThruRPG.com

Vanity Press: What Kickstarter RPG Rewards Are Available? – Embers of the Forgotten Kingdom and Manastorm

My journey from tabletop role-playing game wanna-lancer to freelancer involves buying into the right projects (chronicled here). To build my vanity press resume, I review a number Kickstarters. Here’s a few standout projects with vanity press options.

* * *

Manastorm – A Pathfinder-Compatible Campaign Setting by Terran Empire Publishing

Kickstarter campaign ends on Wednesday, October 26th, 2016 at 9:06 EDT in the evening.

Manastorm's Zula Pyromancer

Manastorm’s Zula Pyromancer

Their pitch:

“Manastorm is a new campaign setting set on a planet located in the Milky Way galaxy. Shin’ar is a world of high magic and epic fantasy!

What is Manastorm?

Manastorm is the inaugural product offering from Terran Empire Publishing. It is a new Pathfinder Compatible campaign setting featuring 16 new playable races – each with their own hybrid class – and 6 new prestige classes.

The planet of Shin’ar boasts 10 expansive regions to explore, from dust- choked ruins to far off enclaves guarded by logic driven automatons.

Manastorm introduces players to the Manasphere, a bubble of radiation that surrounds the planet, given off by mana crystals found deep within the planet’s interior. The Manasphere allows those who can tap into it’s unlimited power to fuel fantastic feats of magic and wonder. Players will be able to create new magical items from mana crystals that allow the user to cast stored spells on themselves or others, as well as allow spellcasters to renew spent spell slots. Players must be warned though, the overuse of mana crystals can result in Mana Poisoning, and eventual death and rising as a Mana Zombie.

Manastorm's Kalarin Rogue

Manastorm’s Kalarin Rogue

The planet suffers from events known as Lunar Quickenings. The Dri-jen moon, the smallest of the planet’s two moons, has an erratic orbit. When it moves close enough to the planet, the moon causes all mana crystal deposits within the planet to react wildly. Bursts of raw mana saturate the Manasphere and cause fluctuations in its behavior. During these times, portals to unknown planets and planes of existence spontaneously open all over the world, depositing countless people and creatures on Shin’ar.

The vast majority of the peoples encountered on Shin’ar are not native to the planet. Many races have migrated to the world during Lunar Quickenings and found themselves stranded when the event ended. Portals to others dimensions or planets can only function during Lunar Quickenings. The Manasphere does not allow the opening of gates or portals outside of Lunar Quickenings, and it has a way to punish those who try to circumvent this. These events last for an indeterminate amount of time. Some have come and gone in the span of a few years, while some can last over a millennium.

Lunar Quickenings allow GMs and players to include all kinds of “homebrew” races and monsters. While Manastorm will offer more than enough to begin to play wonderful and exciting adventures and campaigns, the Lunar Quickenings make it so anything and everything can be encountered on Shin’ar. Terran Empire will also be hosting competitions to include new races and monsters from fans into future products.

History has been disrupted multiple times by these Lunar Quickenings, often with the release of demonic entities and other fearsome creatures, some of which could not find their way back home before their portals of origin were closed. Here is where our story begins: a Lunar Quickening has raged on for the past 38 years, only recently ending and leaving the world to recover once more.”

Egg’s thoughts:

This patchwork world is purpose built to seamlessly port your homebrew Pathfinder lands/creatures into. Add to that, this third party Pathfinder campaign setting feels ready-made to upvert for Paizo’s upcoming Starfinder system/setting (2017), it is like you’re getting two products in one. While not written in their pitch, this setting recalls the best of DC comics’ Adam Strange and his Zeta-Beam trips from Earth to save the planet Rann. For me, Manastorm screams unabashed sword and jetpack barbarian-fi!

John McGuire, American Novelist

John McGuire, Novelist, Moleman Bent on Conquering the Surface World, Amazing Role-player

Their vanity press rewards offer a little extra vanity, not only do you get to write an NPC for their product line, but for $35 more they’ll draw the NPC. I’m likely to request a character modeled on great American novelist, John McGuire.

Their vanity press rewards:

Pledge $90 or more
Most Learned

Reward – Full color hardcover book of Manastorm: World of Shin’ar; Credit in our “Special Thanks” section; Terran Empire game token; Hand drawn “Thank You” card; Poster Map of Shin’ar, PDF (Full) of Manastorm: World of Shin’ar, World of Shin’ar Book of Maps (softcover), PDF of World of Shin’ar Book of Maps, Terran Empire Bookmark, Create a NPC

***Special – Most Learned Backers will be given the opportunity to create a NPC to be used in future Manastorm products and Adventure Paths!***

INCLUDES

  • Manastorm: World of Shin’ar (Hardcover)
  • Terran Empire Game Token
  • Hand drawn “Thank You” card
  • Map of Shin’ar (Poster)
  • PDF of Manastorm: World of Shin’ar (Full)
  • World of Shin’ar Book of Maps (Softcover)
  • PDF of World of Shin’ar Book of Maps
  • Terran Empire Bookmark
Pathfinder

Pathfinder, the logo

* * *

$125 or more
Elder Sage

Reward – Same as Most Learned plus more!

***Backers at this level will also get a small color portrait of their character created and a Limited Edition Art of Shin’ar book!***

***Portrait will be delivered after delivery of book, completion and acceptance of NPC created.***

INCLUDES

  • Manastorm: World of Shin’ar (Hardcover)
  • Terran Empire Game Token
  • Hand drawn “Thank You” card
  • Map of Shin’ar (Poster)
  • PDF of Manastorm: World of Shin’ar (Full)
  • World of Shin’ar Book of Maps (Softcover)
  • PDF of World of Shin’ar Book of Maps
  • Terran Empire Bookmark
  • Art of Shin’ar (Limited Edition Softcover)
  • Portrait of NPC

* * *

Embers of the Forgotten Kingdom by Metal Weave Games

Kickstarter campaign ends on Sunday, October 23rd, 2016 at 9:00 EDT in the evening.

Their pitch:

Lady Ceidwen of the Embers of the Forgotten Kingdom

Lady Ceidwen of the Embers of the Forgotten Kingdom

Discover the forsaken. A systemless, soulsian-inspired book of NPCs and creatures to take your games into dark new worlds.

All backers, who receive a PDF or more, will receive two free PDF statbooks of their system of choice.

Any additional statbook will be a $5 add-on.

Systems so far supported: D&D 5th Edition, Pathfinder, Shadow of the Demon Lord, OSR/AD&D, Cypher System, Dungeon World, FATE, Savage Worlds & 13th Age.

Embers is a systemless art and lore book designed to inspire GMs and players, much like the Baby Bestiary was. However, instead of adorable creatures, we have a line-up of dark fantasy characters and creatures to invade your games.

Egg’s thoughts:

A systemless offering, this product requires AAA writing to stand next to its epic-level artwork. The art is the selling point for this project. Based on its quality, I believe that the final product will look exceptional. If you’re writing for it, you’ve got to rise to breathtaking prose to go next to these portraits.

Their vanity press rewards:

Art from Embers of the Forgotten Kingdom

Art from Embers of the Forgotten Kingdom

Pledge $400 or more
Forlorn Lord

INCLUDES

  • Name in backer credits
  • PDF of Embers
  • Print of Embers
  • Create a surviving character with us

* * *

Pledge $400 or more
Forlorn Beast

INCLUDES

  • Name in backer credits
  • PDF of Embers
  • Print of Embers
  • Create a surviving creature with us

 * * *

 Closing thoughts:

Each project brings interesting art options. I am intrigued by both. Getting a chance to design within Pathfinder for Manastorm would expand my work into a system beyond 5e (albeit a related system). Going systemless will remove the “crutch” of rules all together and require a focus on creativity to match the art of the Embers of the Forgotten Kingdom.

I pledged Manastorm. Getting to design a character to appear in a third party Pathfinder product, with a hoped-for conversion to the upcoming Starfinder, AND getting original art in the deal, it’s a winner and the right choice for lil’ Egg Embry.

***

Egg Embry, Wanna-lancer

Egg Embry wrote comic book short stories, edited comic book series, wrote and drew a webcomic, and contributed to comic book journalism across the 2000s. Now, he buys the opportunity to write for a variety of tabletop role-playing games in the tradition of vanity press. His purchases have been published by:

Sasquatch Game Studio’s Primeval Thule for 5e (2015) available at DriveThruRPG.com

Vanity Press: What Kickstarter RPG Rewards Are Available? – Slaughter at Splinterfang Gorge & Luminous Echo

My goal? To write tabletop role-playing games professionally.
My plan? To pledge for RPG Kickstarters that let me write as a reward.
My reality? I pay-to-play to build my resume.

So far, I discussed my contribution – monetary and writing-wise – to the Kickstarter for Sasquatch Game Studio’s 5e campaign setting on Kickstarter Reward Level: Vanity Press – Primeval Thule. If my path inspires you to do the same – buy writing credits – then here are some of the RPG vanity press rewards currently on Kickstarter.

* * *

Luminous Echo (D&D 5E, Anima, Pathfinder compatible) by Project Lux

Wen-M art for Luminous Echo (D&D 5E, Anima, Pathfinder compatible)

Wen-M art for Luminous Echo (D&D 5E, Anima, Pathfinder compatible)

Kickstarter campaign ends on Friday, September 30th, 2016 at 11:07 EDT in the morning.

Their pitch:

“Luminous Echo is a world containing ten years’ worth of lore, characters, artifacts, and amazing weapons by world renowned artist Wen-M.

One world, forever divided into two realms. The Dream World, a realm of magic, immortality, and mysteries. Mhodica, a realm of solid matter, stone, and certainties. For as long as either realm could remember, they were precious little more than myth to each other.    

Though once stories of witches, wizards, ghosts and goblins were considered nothing more than stories to frighten small children, the age of certainty is coming to an end. A darkness is stirring which threatens to shatter the equilibrium of the two realms forever.

The only way to avert this catastrophe is for the people of Mhodica to accept the existence of magic, and for the people of the Dream World to accept that the world of Mhodica exists for something more than their own amusement.

Luminous Echo is half art book showcasing the work of Wen-M and half an outline of the world, as well as many characters, weapons, stories, and places.

They set the stage for those who purchase the book to create a variety of adventures in the RPG system of their choosing.”

Egg’s thoughts:

Why would you want to be in this book? It’s so pretty! So, so pretty! You will be happy with the words but even happier with the art! A huge incentive to pledge for their vanity press option is that Wen-M, this project’s artist, will draw a picture of what you write about and you get to keep the sketch.

Need another perk? It will be available for D&D 5e, Pathfinder, and Anima gaming systems. More systems = more exposure.

More Wen-M art for Luminous Echo (D&D 5E, Anima, Pathfinder compatible)

More Wen-M art for Luminous Echo (D&D 5E, Anima, Pathfinder compatible)

Their vanity press rewards:

Pledge $350 CAD or more
ABOUT $271 USD
Custom Designed Weapon

You will receive all rewards in the “Signed Book and All Printouts” tier + custom designed weapon in full color with short story in the book, with the signed original sketch from Wen-M.

INCLUDES

  • Your name in the credits
  • Digital Sketchbook
  • PDF book
  • Hardcover Book – Signed
  • All 11″ x 17″ Prints – Signed
  • Your custom designed weapon in the book
  • Original sketch of your custom designed weapon – Signed

* * *

Pledge $750 CAD or more
ABOUT $580 USD
Custom Designed Creature

You will receive all rewards in the “Signed Book and All Printouts” tier + custom designed creature in full color with short story in the book, with the signed original sketch from Wen-M.

 INCLUDES

  • Your name in the credits
  • Digital Sketchbook
  • PDF book
  • Hardcover Book – Signed
  • All 11″ x 17″ Prints – Signed
  • Your custom designed creature in the book
  • Original sketch of your custom designed creature – Signed

* * *

Pledge $1,600 CAD or more
ABOUT $1,238 USD
Custom Designed Hero

You will receive all rewards in the “Signed Book and All Printouts” tier + custom designed hero in full color with short story in the book, with the signed original sketch from Wen-M.

 INCLUDES

  • Your name in the credits
  • Digital Sketchbook
  • PDF book
  • Hardcover Book – Signed
  • All 11″ x 17″ Prints – Signed
  • Your custom designed hero in the book
  • Original sketch of your custom designed hero – Signed

* * *

Pledge $5,000 CAD or more
ABOUT $3,868 USD
Custom Designed Clan/Family

You will receive all rewards in the “Signed Book and All Printouts” tier Build your landmark in the setting with this custom designed clan with a Clan Emblem of your design, and up to 5 characters with their stories in the book!

INCLUDES

  • Your name in the credits
  • Digital Sketchbook
  • PDF book
  • Hardcover Book – Signed
  • All 11″ x 17″ Prints – Signed
  • Your custom designed Clan/Family in the book
  • Original sketches of your custom designed clan/family – Signed

* * *

Slaughter at Splinterfang Gorge (5e, Pathfinder) 01

Slaughter at Splinterfang Gorge (5e, Pathfinder)

Slaughter at Splinterfang Gorge (5e, Pathfinder) by TPK Games

Kickstarter campaign ends on Sunday, September 25th, 2016 at 5:11 EDT in the morning.

Their pitch:

Author William “Mindflayer” Tucker (Kenzer and Co.), brings his brand of danger to TPK Games in the form of two great adventures.

Two Dark Fantasy Adventures, Two Great Systems, Just in Time for Halloween!

We are looking for your support to help us publish two great dark fantasy 64-page adventures for the Pathfinder and 5e Dungeons & Dragons games. We love both systems and will be dual-statting the adventures so no matter which is your favorite, we’ll have you covered. Your investment will help us bring more art and layout to the project.

It is well known that Total Party Kill Games brings the pain on dark fantasy adventures, so you won’t be disappointed in either of these new titles.

More art from Slaughter at Splinterfang Gorge (5e, Pathfinder)

More art from Slaughter at Splinterfang Gorge (5e, Pathfinder)

Egg’s thoughts:

Two modules for D&D 5e and Pathfinder. The main one is all sorts of bugbear goodness! Can’t go wrong with bugbears!

(Bugbears, they look NOTHING like the name implies… NOTHING!)

This Kickstarter campaign does not have a vanity press option. However, it does have four print advertisement pages. The reward offers ad space for your gaming-related project. With four days to go, they had all four print ad pages left so I took a chance and contacted Brian Berg (Slaughter at’s co-creator). I asked if I could take one of those four print pages for $100 and, instead of submitting an ad, submit a monster or magic item or whatever would fit into their module. He said yes. That made my day!

Their vanity press reward (technically none so please read the section above and reach out to TPK Games before deciding to pledge the $100 level expecting to write something):

$100 or more
Print Advertiser

We’ll place your PRINT AD in our adventure books. This advertisement must be gaming related. We reserve the right to refund your money and not run your ad based on content.

* * *

Closing thoughts:

Both of these projects are going to be fun. I’ve already pledged for Slaughter at Splinterfang Gorge and will document what comes of the pledge in the months to come. Review them both with a thought toward your name on the credit’s page.

* * *

Egg Embry, Wanna-lancer

Egg Embry wrote comic book short stories, edited comic book series, wrote and drew a webcomic, and contributed to comic book journalism across the 2000s. Now, he buys the opportunity to write for a variety of tabletop role-playing games in the tradition of vanity press. His purchases have been published by:

Sasquatch Game Studio’s Primeval Thule for 5e (2015) available at DriveThruRPG.com

Kickstarter RPG Reward Level: Vanity Press – Primeval Thule

“Can I buy enough RPG writing credits to springboard from vanity press to a paid freelancer?”

Since my first game of D&D with J Edward Neill, I’ve seen tabletop role-playing games as an opportunity to tell stories professionally.

Jeremy Neill. Honest.

J Edward Neill was my first DM. Honest.

However, it’s not a profession that I pursued. I plead “responsibilities” – day job of nearing two decades, kids, over a decade into my mortgage, excessive comic book and TV consumption, you know the chorus to this song. I have not made time to create, to move from wanna-lancer to freelancer.

In 2015, that changed.

Certain projects on Kickstarter let you purchase the opportunity to submit content to their publication. The barebones of the idea looks like:

  • A publisher pitches a product on Kickstarter.com selling rewards to crowdfund it
  • I pick the reward that lets me write for their product
  • I pay, I write, they edit, they print, I rejoice

The writing is nothing too intensive, nothing that eats time. An adventure hook, a NPC, a location seed, a monster, or a magic item, just a few hundred words – my words, my name in the credits. This is my journey to freelancer and it starts with selecting the Kickstarter Reward Level: Vanity Press.

 

-=-=-=-=-=-=-

 

Primeval Thule 5e by Sasquatch Game Studio

Primeval Thule is a Conan versus Cthulhu inspired campaign setting for Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition. Created by Richard Baker, David Noonan, and Stephen Schubert of Sasquatch Game Studio, they have written for D&D 3e, 4e, and – their most relevant product to this Kickstarter – Princes of the Apocalypse for 5e.

Interested in a free sample of Primeval Thule? Try Primeval Thule Traveler’s Guide to get a taste of their world.

For most gamers, the high-concept description, creator’s bibliographies, and setting sample decided their level of interest in backing this Kickstarter. For me, it was the $250 Dungeoneer Reward:

PrimevalThule5eCover

The cover to Primeval Thule for 5e

  • Hardcover and PDF versions of the Primeval Thule 5e Campaign Setting – $49.95 / $19.95
  • A large pullout map and PDF of the Thule continental map – Cost bundled with the book
  • A GM’s screen – $25
  • A large pullout map of the city, Quodeth – Cost bundled with the GM screen
  • Six player reference cards and PDFs – Cost bundled with the GM screen
  • A PDF of Primeval Thule 5e GM Companion – $7.95
  • A PDF of Primeval Thule 5e Players Companion – $7.95
  • A PDF of Primeval Thule 5e Red Chains adventure – $2.95
  • A PDF of Primeval Thule 5e Watchers of Meng adventure – $2.95
  • A PDF of Primeval Thule 5e Secrets of the Moon Door adventure – $2.95
  • A PDF of Primeval Thule 5e Night of the Yellow Moon adventure – $3.99
  • A PDF of Primeval Thule 5e The Lost Tower of Viondor adventure – $3.99
  • Total MSRP – $127.63

All great offerings but the sentences that opened lil’ Egg Embry’s wallet were:

  • “[Y]ou’ll be invited to name a dungeon, ruin, or adventure locale and provide a brief background or description which will serve as the basis for our development of that site. (The copyright to the name and description you provide will be held by Sasquatch Game Studio, LLC. We reserve the right to reject and/or applaud inappropriate, vulgar, or unsuitable suggestions.)”
  • Vanity press upcharge – $122.37
PrimevalThule5ePg126

This image from Primeval Thule page 126 pops for me!

Their reward – pay-to-play or, for my situation in the era of credit cards, swipe-to-write – fit my time budget and my love of D&D. Combined with Thule’s barbarian-nightmare setting, their first-rate production values, and, top of my Christmas wish list, my words and name in print, I saw a path to freelancing with Primevel Thule as the first step.

 

-=-=-=-=-=-=-

 

The Mammoth Graveyard.

There is a valley where mammoths go to die. Centuries of their ivory wealth litters the ground in testament to its consecrated importance. Overlooking those graves is a primordial, decaying fortress built onto a godly-proportioned mammoth’s skull and ribs. The ruins whisper of lost treasures, violence, a dead god, and a plea to escape. But no one does…

 

-=-=-=-=-=-=-

 

Sasquatch edited my submission, elevating it to Robert E. Howard-lite, and printed it as a sidebar within their 5e edition of Primeval Thule Campaign Setting. The process was effortless – pay, write then submit while professionals handle the editing. The books have been delivered, read, and greatly enjoyed. Vanity press RPG writer’s credit number one complete! On to number two…

PrimevalThule5ePg228

Thulean Cyclops from page 228

 

-=-=-=-=-=-=-

 

Kickstarter information:

Primeval Thule: 5e Campaign Setting by Sasquatch Game Studio LLC
Raised: $52,811 starting July 16th, 2015

Primeval Thule: Pathfinder, 13th Age, and 4e Campaign Settings by Sasquatch Game Studio LLC
Raised: $75,232 starting July 2nd, 2013

 

***

 

Egg Embry, Wanna-lancer

Egg Embry wrote comic book short stories, edited comic book series, wrote and drew a webcomic, and contributed to comic book journalism across the 2000s. Now, he buys the opportunity to write for a variety of tabletop role-playing games in the tradition of vanity press. His purchases have been published by:

 

  • Sasquatch Game Studio’s Primeval Thule for 5e (2015) available at DriveThruRPG.com

The Top Three Video Games of Every Decade

Ok. So. Let’s get this started.

First, a few disclaimers:

1. This list doesn’t include sports games, indie titles, fighting games, or sandbox games. And it’s not because I don’t love those kinds of games (a few favorites are Limbo, Inside, Killer Instinct, Crackdown, and Tecmo Bowl) but more because I’m focusing on the big guns. The literal game-changers. The kinds of games one can sit with in a dark room and lose oneself for days.

2. Also, this list represents my personal favorites. These might not always align with popular opinion…I get it. Rather, these are the games I grew up with and love as part of my life experience. In other words, don’t get butthurt if you don’t see Madden 7,000, Halo, or Grand Theft Auto on here. These games are all cool in their own right, but didn’t impact me as much.

Enough.

Here are my top three video games for each decade, starting with the 70’s.

*

1970’s

In 1978, I was just two years old. I didn’t have a game system. My only real exposure to the medium was during my dad’s trips to the local tavern, during which he’d plunk me down beside him while he played Asteroids. So…in other words…I played these games a decade after they came out, which serves only to illustrate just how awesome they were and still are.

Combat

 

Combat (1977)

Combat was one of the first games I ever handled. Featuring two-person, head-to-head matchups between tanks and planes, this bad boy was awesome. I consumed 100’s of hours with friends and family blasting and getting blasted to smithereens. After everyone else got tired of the action, I’d sit down by myself and practice shooting from angles and while moving. My dedication to Combat was a sure sign of an addiction soon to come.

*

Breakout2600

 

Breakout (1976)

Beautiful simplicity is how I describe Breakout. You’re a paddle hitting a ball and blowing up bricks. Much like other games at the time, the difficulty was ever rising. The ball moved faster…your paddle got smaller. This game was hard in a way modern games don’t really embrace anymore. You were going to lose. It was only a matter of time.

*

adventure

 

Adventure (1979)

Not just among my faves from the 70’s, but definitely an all-time favorite, Adventure was pretty much the industry’s first attempt at building a role-playing game. You’re a dot, and your only mission is to return the holy grail to the golden castle. Only trouble is, the dragons are after you. Somehow, as a little kid, this game terrified and enthralled me. I must’ve played it a thousand times. And again, unlike modern games, victory was not assured. If the dragons get you, it’s game over.

*

1980’s

The 80’s for me were a fun, fun time. I had three game systems: Intellivision (with the little slip-on gamepad covers) an Atari 2600, and the original NES console. For a kid growing up in a place where winter reigned for 5-6 months a year, video games were key to my not becoming a career criminal. I’m kidding….mostly.

Tarmin

 

Treasure of Tarmin (1983)

Without a doubt, ToT was my most beloved game on the old school Intellivision. It was difficult, engrossing, and scary (to an eight-year old.) The theme was more complex than 70’s games, but still direct. You’re a guy in a vast labyrinth looking for a fabled treasure. An army of monsters and traps lies in your way. You will die…a lot (much like a retro Dark Souls.) The scariest part of the game still resonates with me. I remember the noises the monsters would make when they cornered you. Played in the dark, it was enough to capture my imagination for many years to come.

*

legend-of-zelda__banner-auto-cropping

 

The Legend of Zelda (1986)

Do I really have to tell you how awesome the original Zelda is? In an era of arcade style clones, Zelda broke away from the pack. As one of the first games allowing players to save games (without a clunky, 30-digit password) it broke every mold. I can still remember sitting in my dark bedroom during winter. Everyone else was asleep. I didn’t have a game guide or a map. I played Zelda hardcore…and still do sometimes.

*

metroid-4

Metroid (1986)

1986 was a good year for games, and a great year for a game geek like me. When Metroid came out, the first I glimpsed of it was at a friend’s house. He let me play it for all of fifteen minutes before (justifiably) taking his controller back. I was hooked. Completely and utterly.  The only hard part: I didn’t get to play it again until a year later. And then, after I stepped into Samus’s boots, I didn’t play anything else for months.

*

1990’s

The 90’s were a strange time for me. I skipped several years of game-playing entirely, but also spent months at a time locked in my room at night, playing until my head hurt. The raw brilliance of the 80’s was over, and a new era of polished titles hit the market. Moreover, I hooked up my first PC computer, which opened up an entirely new world of entertainment for me (and the rest of the world) to consume.

Civ

 

Sid Meier’s Civilization (1991)

In 1991, I got my first real job. I was in lawncare in the deep south, which meant days and days of grinding away at grass in 95+ temperatures. I loved it. But what I loved more is that before each workday began, I drove to my coworker’s house and played a few hours of Civilization while waiting for the rest of the crew to show up. If you’ve played Civ, you know about the addiction. One more turn, people. Just…one…more…turn.

*

Baldurs

 

Baldur’s Gate (1998)

This was the first game I played on my very own PC. As a diehard role-playing guy (dungeon mastering inspired my epic fantasy book series) Baldur’s Gate put into pixels everything I needed. Build a party, gather weapons, master spells, and go forth to battle a powerful evil. I mean c’mon…who didn’t love this game? Right?

*

Diablo

 

Diablo (1996)

It’s true Diablo came out before Baldur’s Gate, and also true I didn’t discover it until nearly the turn of the century. But ohhhhh, when I sat down to play it for the first time… The dark themes and unbelievably good music sold me immediately. It was creepy. It was engrossing. And truthfully, it was one of the first action games allowing players to win using such a vast variety of tactics. I always played as a wizard…because I like dying a lot apparently.

*

2000’s

By the time Y2K rolled around, video games had become mainstream. Everyone I knew had at least one system. It was no longer something only nerds did in their basements. It was a part of daily life, a stress reliever far more powerful than regular television. I was extra lucky in that I had a girlfriend willing to let me play for hours every day (before shoving me aside and taking the controller for herself.) In other words, the 2000’s were a beautiful time.

beyond-good-and-evil-hd-7

 

Beyond Good and Evil (2003)

Before playing it, I had no idea games could be this absurdly fun. I’d always played top-down isometric games or standard platformers, but this game took a newer, crazier, more beautiful take on things. If you’ve never played BG&E, you owe it to yourself to pick up the remastered version. I honestly can’t even remember the complete plot (because it was pretty out there) but I can definitely recall how much fun I had playing it.

*

Half Life 2

Half-Life 2 (2004)

When I picked this game up (as part of the Orange Box) I’d never before touched the Half-Life universe. But by the time I was done fighting headcrabs, using grav-guns, and scaling giant alien towers, I’d played it through three times without touching any other game. Half-Life took storytelling to a new level. It was also serious in a way other games hadn’t quite mastered yet, embracing its dark, futuristic subject matter without the need for laughs. Just writing about it makes me want to go back and play it again…because seriously it’s still better than most modern titles.

*

Dragon Age Origins

Dragon Age Origins (2009)

I didn’t care about the two sequels. I never minded the kooky combat controls. I liked the original Dragon Age so much, I wanted it to last forever. Maybe it’s because I’ve always wanted to date a girl like Morrigan (ha) or because Alistair is pretty much every doofus I’ve ever befriended. Whatever. I’d never before had a game make me agonize over which dialogue option to choose.  And I’m not sure I ever will again.

*

 The 2010’s

Is that what we call ’em? The 2010’s? Hell if I know. What I can say is that the modern era is the greatest time ever to be a gamer. Retro games, indie titles, and unbelievably realistic graphics are all a thing now. It’s true games are getting a bit ridiculous to pay for ($60 for a typical modern title) but it’s the price we pay for quality. And usually…it’s worth every penny. Also note, it’s possible or even probable that new games will come out before 2020 that are good enough to make this list. Technically that means this part of the list is 2010-2016…and therefore somewhat incomplete. Probably. Maybe.

mass-effect-3-159380

Mass Effect 3 (2012)

Let’s forget about the kickass action. Let’s pay no attention to the amazing cutscenes. Let’s not even discuss the unreal amount of customization. ME3 is all about decisions…decisions. With one slip of dialogue, your characters can be lost or changed forever. Which in a way makes this the ultimate thinker’s game. Who gets to live? Who gets to die? I loved the entire Mass Effect series. It probably helped to inspire this novella. And it definitely pulled me into the story without any resistance on my part.  I hear there’s a new Mass Effect coming out someday soon. I’m there.

*

witcher3

The Witcher III – Wild Hunt (2015)

It’s true I’ve gushed over The Witcher before. What can I say? It’s probably my favorite game of all time. Heartstopping action. Smokin’ good graphics. An absolutely killer story. I’m not gonna apologize for all the superlatives. The tale of Geralt, Siri, and the world-swallowing war they fall into is among the best in gaming history. I liked games like The Elder Scrolls, Fallout, and Far Cry, but really they don’t even sniff the same league as The Witcher.

*

Doom 2016

Doom (2016)

Twenty years ago, I remember the original Doom. I played it after high school. I played it during high school. I got fired from a job for playing it. I lost countless hours death-matching friends and even girlfriends. And now in 2016, the heavens have opened and delivered unto me a gift I’ll not soon forget. Doom 2016 is fast-paced to the extreme, gory to the max, and fun as HELL. It taps into all the retro glory of the original while bringing a whole new level of intensity to the mix. I mean…have you fired the BFG yet? Have you?? Please…make more Doom games like this. Thanks.

*

Honorable mentions:

Utopia (1981)

Burgertime (yes seriously) (1982)

Super Mario Bros (1985)

Metroid Prime (2002)

Halo 2 (2004)

Zelda – Twilight Princess (2006) Gamecube version

Crackdown (2007)

Deus Ex – Human Revolution (2011)

And many, many more…

*

Test your own video game knowledge right here.

For a different brand of entertainment, try this.

J Edward Neill

 

Star Wars : My Thoughts Before We Wake

featuring art by the late great Ralph McQuarrie

Star-Wars-Concept-Art-New-Hope3

I’m writing this from the past.

All the way back on Tuesday, December 15, 2015.

Because today, Friday, December 18, is a big day. For me. For a lot of us. I wanted to write this post ahead of time. Before today. Before it happens. Before we see it. Before the Awakening. Before the results of all this hype and hope and speculation and excitement are known. Will we be disappointed today? Will we be thrilled? Will our prayers be answered? I don’t know and for the purposes of this post, I don’t want to know.

So I’m writing this from the past. star_wars_r2d2_c-3po_ralph_mcquarrie_desktop_1920x1080_hd-wallpaper-1054461

Last night (for me, here in the past), The Force Awakens had its premiere at the Mann’s Chinese Theater in Hollywood. Which means that people have seen it. A large group of people, a lot of them famous, a lot of them on Twitter. And, while I trust that none of them are going to run and tweet “Oh my God! Han Solo is just Dexter Jettster wearing a Mission Impossible Mask!”, I have deleted Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and any other social media app off my phone; deleted the bookmarks in Google Chrome. From Monday until Saturday, I am in as much of a media blackout as is possible in this day and age.

Because I don’t want to know.

I’m not a spoiler-phobe. I actually find that trend more than a little annoying, as I wrote about a while ago HERE. Do I want to know the story? The surprises? The ending? Fuck no. But mostly, I don’t want to know what people think about the movie. I don’t want to read Kevin Smith tweeting “HOLY SHIT STAR WARS IS SO GOOD!” or Patton Oswalt saying “Bad news guys…”. I don’t want to know what the critics have to say. Not a single fucking one. Not because I don’t like critics, but because I have no interest in what other people think about the movie.

I only care about what I think about it.

Two reasons for this:

1. There are at most a dozen people in this world whose opinions on film I actually respect. Who I can talk movies with in a way that satisfies me. Whose praise or condemnation of a film can actually sway my desire to see it. Does this make me a snob? Fuck yes. I embrace being a snob. I don’t care what most people think because I think I know better. It’s an ugly truth about me but a truth all the same. I feel that way about all movies; with Star Wars I feel it tenfold.

2. Knowing the general consensus on a film’s quality undoubtedly taints your experience in watching it for the first time. If the praise is effusive, often times you are disappointed by what you see because it was merely “good”, not “amazing” as every keeps saying. For me, I call this the Something About Mary effect. Conversely, if the word on the film is bad, if people are ripping it, if the cursed Rotten Tomatoes (boy do I hate Rotten Tomatoes) rating is low, you go into it expecting bad and you look for the bad. All you can see is the bad. And you don’t want to feel like an idiot for liking something that everyone else hates. Or you can go the other way. You’ve heard the film is bad, you go see it, enjoy it, and think “That was much better than everyone is saying. I don’t get it.” That happened with me on The Dark Knight Rises. The word wasn’t great on it but when I saw it I enjoyed it. Looking back, I realize those low expectations inflated my opinion of the film. I bought it on blu-ray the day it came out and haven’t been able to watch it all the way through even once. I find it mediocre and disappointing.

star-wars-mcquarrie3I don’t want to walk into the theater today with that baggage.

I’m bringing in enough with me as it is.

Because, well…

I love Star Wars more than you.

Since I don’t know who you are, dear reader, it’s understandable if you find that statement laughable.

But I love Star Wars more than you because Star Wars is my thing.

And it has been since 1980.

When I was four years old, my parents let me stay up to watch the network television debut of Star Wars. It was hosted by Billy Dee Williams (which is how I know it was around 1980), from a badly mocked-up version of what I would later learn was the Mos Eisley cantina. (Did you know it was owned by a Wookiee named Chalmun? Of course you didn’t. No reason you should. But I do. Because Star Wars is my thing.)

Like so many people, the first time seeing George Lucas’s Star Wars changed my life. I was never the same after that. I had, at the age of four, fallen truly, madly, and deeply in love.

I obviously don’t remember every detail of that night, but I remember enough. I remember the opening shot of the Blockade Runner (the Tantive IV) and the Star Destroyer (the Devastator) coming over the top of the screen and thinking the child’s equivalent of “holy shit!”. Being terrified of Darth Vader. I remember the cantina, obviously. Ben cutting off Ponda Baba’s arm. Meeting Han Solo. Seeing the Falcon for the first time. I have very strong memories of the trash compactor and, after that, the image that probably stuck most in my mind: Luke and Leia swinging across the chasm in the Death Star. Of course, the getaway fight with the TIE Fighters was amazing (“Don’t get cocky!”).

But what left an indelible impression on me was the final assault on the Death Star, later known as the Battle of Yavin. It enraptured me in a way I had never experienced. Starting with the scene in the briefing room where they break down the plan (I have this thing. Don’t know what it is, but my favorite scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark is when Indy uses the chalkboard to explain to the guys, one of them the actor that played Jek Porkins in A New Hope, how the Staff of Ra worked. Don’t know why that is.) and then of course the visuals, the action. It was so damn exciting and tense. I had no idea what was going to happen next. I had seen very few movies, so it never occurred to me that of course the hero was going to save the day. I was four. I didn’t know that it was an automatic thing in movies like this. I was terrified for Luke every step of the way. He’s just a kid from a farm! This is so dangerous! How is he going to make it out alive?

mcquarrie-xwing-concept

Ships crash. People die. Darth Vader starts mowing down Y-Wings in his funky looking fighter (TIE Advanced x1). It was all too much.

Then Luke switched off his targeting computer.

I stopped breathing.

Then, it happened. The moment that brings me chills every time I think about it, let alone see it. Seriously. Right now, seeing it in my head, I’m getting that feeling.

Just when it looked like Vader was going to shoot Luke down. Just when the Rebellion was about to be blown to oblivion, a miracle happened.

“Yahoo!”

The Falcon came down out of the sun and saved the day.

yahoo

They came back! Han and Chewie came back! If you were an adult, you probably knew it would happen. Because that’s how movies work. The cynical loner always grows a heart and comes back to help. But as a child? I had no idea it was coming.

And when it did, I felt it for the first time.

The jolt. The shiver. The surge.

For all I knew, at that moment, 35 years ago, it was The Force Itself.

That feeling, you know? The potent injection of emotion that seems to shoot up your spine when you see, hear, read something that just hits you in a place you never knew you had. It’s the white soldiers cheering “give ‘em Hell!” to the 54th Massachusetts as they leave to die attacking Fort Wagner. It’s a brave vampire slayer leaping to her death to save both her sister and the world (“She saved the world. A lot.”). It’s the “Ode to Joy”, when that damn chorus comes in and the bliss crackles like electricity under your skin.

I was paralyzed with… I don’t know what that feeling is. It’s a cocktail of emotions, universally known but undefined. Just that… rush. That feeling.

It was the first time I had felt it.

It was riding my first roller coaster.

It was losing my virginity.

Drinking my first beer.

I have George Lucas to thank for that. And I thank him, as all fans should, for giving us this gift.

I also wanted more.

star_wars_movies_atat_ralph_mcquarrie_fan_art_1280x800_wallpaper_wallpaper_2560x1600_www-wallpaperswa-comThe first Star Wars trilogy was an enormous hit. Millions and millions of people are fans of the films. Made Lucas a brand of his own, the most successful independent filmmaker in history. The original trilogy is beloved the whole world over. Especially The Empire Strikes Back, nearly universally considered the best of the films.

But my love affair didn’t stop in 1983 when Return of the Jedi was released. I didn’t think “Well, that cool thing is over. On to the next thing.”

I was in love. I still wanted more.

And to get more, I had to dive deeper. And there wasn’t a whole lot there.

I’ve seen the two pretty-awful Ewoks TV movies more than a dozen times each. Why? Because they were Star Wars. Same with the “Droids” and “Ewoks” cartoons. I read the seven available Star Wars spin-off novels, including the very enjoyable Han Solo and Lando Calrissian series. I read the lackluster Marvel comics.

But between 1983 and 1991, it was slim pickings for a kid who wanted more of his favorite thing.

But in ’91, a novel was published. Timothy Zahn’s Heir to the Empire. It took place 5 years after Episode VI and heir-to-the-empire-coverstarred all of the original characters, and introduced a few new ones, including one of the great Star Wars villains (hell, characters) of all time. Soon after, in the world of comic books, Dark Horse got the Star Wars license and released “Dark Empire”, which took place a year after Heir to the Empire. It was a bleak story about Emperor Palpatine rising from the dead to take one last stab at conquering the galaxy.

With those two pieces of fiction, the entity that would eventually be called the Expanded Universe was born. It would live and grow for almost a quarter of a century.

And I experienced all of it. Every novel. Every comic book. Every video game. Every role-playing game. Every encyclopedia. Star Wars became much more than three movies for me.

Even through the Special Editions and the Prequels, the Expanded Universe thrived. The novels and comics kept coming. Some were great. Some sucked. Most were in the middle somewhere. But the Star Wars galaxy continued to grow outside of the movies. In the case of the prequels, it often times eclipsed it in terms of quality. When 2005 was over, and Revenge of the Sith had come and gone, Star Wars wasn’t over for me like it was for so many others. I hadn’t abandoned it because of the quality of the prequels. Because to me it was so much more than six films. The movies were the most important aspect, sure, but I enjoyed the prequel era. While Lucas’s movies were bad (at times horrible), with several great moments, they spawned so many interesting stories between the cracks. In comics. And fiction. And in the spectacular “Clone Wars” television show.

I can imagine losing faith in Star Wars if all you know is the films. I don’t begrudge anyone for being done with the franchise after the prequels. Nor do I blame people for hopping back on in hopes that The Force Awakens is awesome. Please, come back to Star Wars. But also understand that some of us never left. Not out of blind loyalty, but because we’re fans. Not fans of the Star Wars movies; fans of Star Wars as a whole, the entire multi-media giant it has grown into.

MCQ-dagobah

Now George Lucas is out. Disney, Kathleen Kennedy, Lawrence Kasdan, and J.J. Abrams are in. The Force Awakens takes place 30 years after Return of the Jedi.Everyone is excited to see what things are like, what’s happened, what’s going, three decades after the death of the Emperor and Darth Vader. So am I. Except, I’ve already seen it. The novels hit “30 years later” a long time ago. In the (now defunct) Expanded Universe, a lot happened in those years. Weddings. Births. Deaths. New villains. New heroes. Wars. Adventures. Tragedies. Triumphs. A fully fleshed-out timeline that has been built upon that first wonderful Timothy Zahn novel.

None of this has any bearing on The Force Awakens. This is a new timeline. A new vision. One that only includes the films and animated TV shows as “canon”. And I’ve come to terms with that. It’s fine. It’s all make-believe bullshit anyway. But it will be impossible for me to not bring all that (fictional) history with me. That knowledge is in my DNA. It’s part of what makes me me.

J.J. Abrams is without a doubt a Star Wars fan. But, if I had to guess, not the same type of Star Wars fan as I am. He loves Star Wars and I think he is going to make a film that represents it well. Except, his Star Wars is not my Star Wars. My Star Wars galaxy is so much bigger than most people’s. The question is really going to be, for me, is “is what J.J. loves about Star Wars the same thing I love about Star Wars?”. Maybe, but maybe not.

RMQ-CarkoonSkiff

What do I want this new movie to be?

I want it to be a good story.

I want it to feel like Star Wars.

I want the Kurosawa screen wipes between scenes instead of dissolves and cuts.

I want Harrison, Mark, and Carrie to be Han, Luke, and Leia.

I want Rey and Finn and Poe to be great characters that I will enjoy watching carry on the saga.

I want it to feel old and new.

I want someone to say “I have a bad feeling about this.”

I want John Williams to make me bawl like a baby.

I want it to pay homage to George but not be an homage to George. There’s a difference. Ask Bryan Singer.

I want Kylo Ren to be badass.

I want Captain Phasma to be badass-er.

I want it to be its own movie but also earn the title “Episode VII” and feel like part of the greater saga.

I want it to be good.

I want it to be great.

I want to love it.

ralph-mcquarrie-star-wars-original-artwork-concept-lucas-films-9

What do I not want?

I do not want Luke Skywalker to be evil.

That is the one thing that could turn me off of Star Wars for a very long time. Make me lose faith in the new regime. I think it would betray the original films, the films that everyone behind The Force Awakens say they are trying to do right by.

“Where’s Luke?” has been the refrain as the hero of episodes IV through VI has been absent from the poster, the trailers, the TV spots, and the toys. “Where is Luke?!?”

There could be many reasons why they haven’t shown Luke Skywalker in any of the promo material. Maybe he’s not in it that much. Maybe he’s only in scenes that are later in the film and they don’t want to spoil anything. Maybe his entrance into the movie is so motherfucking Orson-Welles-in-The-Third-Man-awesome that they want to hold onto it. Make us wait for it. Because when I see Mark Hamill playing Luke Skywalker, 32 years after he did it last, I’m going to cry. The quality of his reveal will determine whether I just get misty-eyed or curl up into a sobbing ball on the floor of the theater. I want his entrance to floor me. I want to feel like a kid again.

He could also be a bad guy. That would be a legitimate reason not to reveal him until we see the film, as some have speculated. I really hope that’s not true.

Because I don’t know what I’d do. They would have to do it REALLY well to keep me watching.

They could have Jar-Jar and Wickett talk about midichlorians for two hours and I’d still be there for Episode VIII. But making Luke the bad guy…?

Let’s hope not. MCQ-emperor

As this posts, 1:20 pm, EST, I am sitting down with my father and brother at the Regal Cinemas Atlantic Station theater in downtown Atlanta to watch The Force Awakens in IMAX 3D. The last time I saw a Star Wars film in the theater with these two people that I love: 1983. So that, in itself, will be special.

If you are reading this within two and a half hours of me posting it, I am currently sitting in a darkened theater with an appropriately StarWarsian mix of hope and fear. I don’t need this movie to be good. If it’s not, I’ll still be a Star Wars fan tomorrow. I’ll be sad Star Wars fan, sure, for a while, but I’m not walking away. When my baseball team has a bad game, a bad season, even a bad decade, I don’t stop wearing their caps. I don’t stop rooting for them, watching their games, going to see them when they come to town. And even if the last year was horrible, I still start the next season with hope that they’ll get it right this time.

I feel the same way about Star Wars. In all of pop culture, there is nothing that is nearer to my heart. That’s why I wanted to write this before seeing the film. To express my undying love. No matter what I am experiencing at this very moment, I will be a Star Wars fan tomorrow.

As for my opinions on The Force Awakens, I will express them. On Saturday I will be recording another episode of the NEEDLESS THINGS podcast where we will have a round table discussion about the film. The episode will be available online soon after the film comes out, if you really want to hear me talk about it. I’m sure I’ll have one or two or five hundred things to say.

I may even let the other panelists talk. If I’m feeling generous.

Thank you, George.

Good luck, J.J.

It’s time. You psyched? I’m psyched.

Let’s do it. Here we go.

Punch it, Chewie.

jump

May the Force Be with You,

Chad J. Shonk
December 15, 2015

My Top 7 Video Games of the Modern Era

A billion years ago, I hurled up a list of my Top 6 Video Games of all time.

 It’s time to expand on that idea. Refresh it. Modernize it.

Since the birth of my son, my availability to play games has been seriously reduced. As in, it’s fallen off a cliff. I used to be an addict, throw giant Halo parties, and stay up way past everyone’s bedtime. But now when I add in writing and painting, I’m limited to about 3.5 minutes of Xbox time every other night.

Even so…

I manage to squeeze a little in.

Here are my top 7 games from the last five or so years. These aren’t my favorites of all time, but they’re pretty damn awesome. After writing a few thousand words, slathering up a new canvas, or pounding down a few drinks, I reward myself with these. They’re like little electronic elixirs. They’re delicious.

 

PVZ

 

#7 – Plants versus Zombies (The original)

Don’t judge me. I know it’s a kids’ game. I get that it’s easy, cute, and totally contrary to the super-grim stuff I usually like. Despite all this, PvZ had me hooked within 3 seconds of meeting Crazy Dave. If Walking Dead had pea-shooters and potato mines, I might watch it. Nah…prolly not.

 

 

Halo

#6 – Halo – The Master Chief Collection

Normally I’d never consider a shooter for a top game. I liked Borderlands and Gears of War and all, but only as time-killers. Halo is somehow different. What I really love about the entire series is the story, the smoothness, and the ability to kill get killed by my friends for hours on end while pounding whiskey. And now that they bundled all the games into one giant package (which an awesome friend gave me as a gift) I’m hooked again.

 

Shadow Complex

#5 – Shadow Complex

For the uninitiated, Shadow Complex is an old school side-scroller set in the near future. It’s a splash of Metroid, a dash of Contra, and a tiny droplet of Mega Man. It’s too short a game to be considered higher than spot #5, but it’s still awesome for what it is. Quick, dirty fun. You get to blow stuff up and use your brain at the same time. Hard to beat a puzzle game that includes rocket launchers.

 

Half Life

 

#4 –  The entire Half-Life series (On the Orange Box)

Ok. So I know I said I didn’t much care about shooters. You got me there. But Half-Life is more than a shooter. It’s got the best (and most tragically human) story. It’s got a physics engine rivaling super-modern games. And it’s got headcrabs. I mean…who doesn’t want a game with headcrabs? And giant, skyscraping robots? And a protagonist who uses a fucking crowbar? Half-life = #winning

Limbo

#3 – Limbo

If Limbo were a full 10-15 hour experience, it might take top honors. The first time I saw the spider, I shat myself. The game only lasted a few hours (if that) but I must’ve died 4,000 times. It’s all so bloody perfect. Limbo has the atmosphere, the puzzles, and the perfectly-paced action to keep a dude like me hypnotized. It actually helped inspire a few of my paintings, including this one.

Thief

# 2 – Thief 4

I might get killed for this one. Back in 2004, I fell in love with Eidos’ Thief, Deadly Shadows. The game’s whole mythology hooked me. So when the newest Thief came out, I gobbled it up. Well: The game was buggy, easy to get lost & confused in, and sometimes unfair. Didn’t bother me a bit. Thief retained the shadowy atmosphere of the original game. I got to steal gold from assholes. I got to swoop down from rooftops and maul unsuspecting guards. If they still cried out, ‘Taffer!’ right before dying, I might’ve bumped this game to #1. And the real catch: I couldn’t even finish it. My Xbox crashed and deleted my save data before the end. One day I’ll return to it. One day.

 

untitled

#1. The Witcher III – Wild Hunt

In the history of ranking video games, this decision is easiest of all. The Witcher III is the perfect game. It has a sprawling landscape that feels even huger than Skyrim. It has deadly, precise combat. It has magic, alchemy, and character customization unrivaled in the business. It’s got a killer soundtrack, beautiful graphics, and a storyline that feels like an entire trilogy of really good movies. I wish I had more time to drown in this game. It’s as good as anything I’ve ever played…or am likely to play in the future. If you like RPG’s, get it. If you like video games at all…get it.

Honorable Mentions:

Mass Effect 3 (Like playing a great sci-fi movie)

Doom 3

Portal (The cake is a lie)

Games Everyone Else Loves that Bore Me to Tears:

Dragon Age Inquisition (The first one was the only good one)

Minecraft (They made tedium into a game)

Grand Theft # 5,000,000, Assassin’s Creed # 700, and Maddon 3016 (Yawn)

 * * *

So. You say you like video games? Test your knowledge with this quiz.

J Edward Neill

The Legion of Lego

It’s my kid’s birthday next week.

He’ll be 4. Pretty much the best age ever.

In his honor, I thought I’d share some of the weird, wacky Lego dudes he’s constructed over the last year.

See, he and I have this game. It goes a little like this:

  • I buy a Lego set and spend an hour or two building it
  • He immediately disassembles it and builds something different
  • I drink to drown my Lego sorrows

I joke…mostly. Seriously, I love building Legos with him. His imagination is up for anything, anytime. And sometimes (meaning all the time) the crazy blend of superheroes/villains/random dudes he creates cracks me up. He knows it makes me laugh, and so he does it every chance he gets.

 I present to you:

G Man’s Top 10 Super Villain Random Anti-Heroes

Lego 2

Super Sauron Riddler with Flame Pants and Coffee. He’s full of caffeine and ready to conquer Middle Krypton.

photo 3

It’s the eagle from Lord of the Rings. As ridden by Princess Uni-Kitty. If I’m Sam and Frodo suffering on the slopes of Mount Doom, I’m pissed if this is my rescue squad.

photo 2

Gandalf. Wearing stormtrooper armor. With a batarang in hand. Standing on the top of Barad Dur. In other words, this is how Sauron was REALLY defeated.

 

photo 6

Instead of ‘when pigs fly,’ G Man decided he’d change the saying to ‘when Minecraft skeletons ride Nazgul horses.’ Same thing, really.

photo 7

I’m pretty sure I dated this girl. Robot. Thin. Carried a longbow. Nice hair. I can’t remember why we broke up.

 

photo 4

Anyone remember that movie/Sat Night Live sketch, The Coneheads? Ok, so G Man’s never seen either. Whatever. Imagine you’re a shrink and this dude’s sitting on YOUR couch…

photo 5

Some random guy with a Sauron hat lording over a parapalegic zombie with sweet hair. With a bullhorn. And a shovel. No other kid has ever created this scene. I’m sure of it.

photo 1

So when the Flash died, he got into the stock market big time. That’s in the comics, right?

 

photo 8

When I asked G Man what this scene was all about, he said, “They’re eating fish for dinner.” I’m thinking, ‘Does Gollum really have the biceps to carry that sword?’

 

Lego 1

Lord Business kicking Vetruvius off the counter. (The kid never really approved of Lord Business NOT winning in The Lego Movie.)

Somebody buy the G Man some green Creeper Legos.

He’s got some terrifying ideas for ’em.

Seriously.

J Edward Neill

 Check out my Coffee Table Philosophy series here

Surprise Book Release – 101 Questions for Women

Surprise!

Book III in the Coffee Table Philosophy series is here!

The most challenging entry yet in the Coffee Table Philosophy series, 101 Questions for Women picks up right where its predecessors left off. Designed with women in mind, but consumable by everyone, it’s the perfect companion book for small get-togethers, huge parties, and quiet nights under the stars.

Once you taste one Question, you’ll want to devour them all.
For 10 preview Questions, click here.

101 Questions for Women

Available now in softcover format and for Kindles galaxy-wide.

Front Cover 101 Questions for Women

Just one book left in the series…

…101 Questions for Darkness

J Edward Neill

Dragon Age: Inquisition

When I pre-ordered Alien Isolation over the summer I made the mistake of having my teenage daughter by my side. I was lured by forces beyond my control to also pre-order Dragon Age: Inquisition. At the time, I told my daughter this would be a Christmas present. Then the game released and Tumblr began regaling me with screencaps. There was no hope from that point forward. The game case is still going to be wrapped and put under the tree, but we’ve been playing the game since Thanksgiving. According to my daughter, I’m the best mother in the world.

One of the best things about this game has to be the character creation engine. The possibilities are endless. So instead of giving away all the game secrets, I thought I’d share my character Aeira. I’ll be in The Hinterlands if you need me.

Alien Isolation

Alien Isolation Xenomorph

You had to know this was coming…. This is the video game I’ve been waiting for, for a long, long time. I pre-ordered Alien: Isolation sometime over the summer–months ago. I’ve never pre-ordered a game. The only thing I wish I had now was a bigger flat screen TV!

 And yes, I recorded this opening of the game myself! I was grinning like a 10 year old at Christmas.

Xenomorph by Amanda MakepeaceIf you don’t already know, I am obsessed with H.R. Giger’s Xenomorph. I’ve been enamored with the monster ever since I saw Alien on TV when I was around 11 years old. The film terrified me but the creature was such an amazing work of art I found even at that age I couldn’t look away. By the time I was 13, I was also reading the comics and drawing Xenomorphs straight from the pages. There are many things I’ve drawn and thrown away as a young artist, but these were not one.

So yeah. I’ve been waiting for this game. I’ve been waiting for video game graphics to reach the level needed for a quality game, made by people who know what an Alien game should be. And let’s face it, you could almost say this game was made for me. The main character, Ellen Ripley’s daughter, is named Amanda.

Amanda Ripley

Alien Isolation - 2 DiscsBecause of some turmoil going on his my house at the moment, I didn’t pick up the game the day it released in stores. I picked it up over the weekend but still didn’t have a chance to play till yesterday. I didn’t mind waiting. My family comes first and the game wasn’t going anywhere, though I should have at least installed it over the weekend!

Alien Isolation is two discs and took longer to install than I imagined it would. If you own an Xbox 360 you can probably guess what happened next… There was an update to install too.

Ugh…

Once that finished I had to download my add-on content. One, Crew Expendable, comes with the game. The second, Last Survivor, was a bonus I received from GameStop for pre-ordering the game.

The game was worth the wait. It doesn’t take long to live up to its name. You begin the game as part of a team to investigate the discovery of the Nostromo’s flight recorder. Before Amanda and the others even board the trading station Sevastopol, she is separated from them. Alone. Isolated.

I haven’t even seen an alien yet and it’s had my heart pumping.

Alien Isolation

That’s all I’ll say for now. I don’t want to ruin the game for anyone who plans to buy/play. But if you’re interested in reading a more detailed review, that includes insane GIFs of the various ways the alien will kill you, take a look at this Alien Isolation review from Kotaku.

This is Amanda, geek obsessed artist, signing off.

CO-OP Gaming: The Best Way To Game, Part Deux

So wow, that week turned into a month…..

🙂

And what an eventful month it’s been.

But back to my top two co-op vidya’ games.

3. Halo: Combat Evolved/ XBOX/ Release Date: November 15th, 2001

I’m going to spoil something for you: my last two spots are going to be FPS’s.

Sorry to all the FPS naysayers. I’m by no means a hardcore Call of Duty, or Battlefield aficionado.

So you can breathe a collective sigh of relief that this list isn’t going to head in either of those directions.

Storming the digital beaches of Normandy, or running through the streets of a war torn urban metropolis just doesn’t do it for me.  Never had much fun playing those types of games.

But give me a horde of religious fanatic aliens, and oh yeah, fun times all around.

Not saying that the Space Marine trope hasn’t been done to death, but that’s another discussion for another day.

Halo: Combat Evolved

 

Let me take you back. Back to a somewhat simpler time. The year was 2001. I’d just started college, and my weekends were sometimes spent hanging with my best pal, Phillip.

Phillip was (and I think still is) a straight up, hardcore gamer. Not just a dude who loved playing games hour, upon hour’s on end. This was a guy who truly appreciated video games. He loved gaming. All aspects of the art form.

Some of my most fun times talking video games, and just playing them were spent with the ‘ole Phil-meister.

Dude if you read this: HIT ME UP!!!!!

But I digress. Phillip had gotten the new fangled XBOX, and this little game,  that was soon to become a decade spanning monster of a franchise, Halo: Combat Evolved.

So, in my little world, the FPS genre only included the classic N64 Golden Eye 007 and Wolfenstein.

 

Hang Time (And I'm Not Talking About the mid- 90's Teen Comedy)

Hang Time (And I’m Not Talking About the mid- 90’s Teen Comedy)

My mind was blown open to high h^%* with the galaxy spanning adventure of Master Chief and company.

This was the first time that I saw the XBOX pushed to its impressive limits. Of course we now live in an age where PS4 and XBOX One would blow such a system out of the water, but for its time the XBOX was the shiznit.

With the aide of Phillip, I found myself running across impressive snow draped alien  vistas, battling hulking behemoth’s known as Hunters in frantic close quarter combat, and driving like a bat out of hell on a Warthog as the world went to crap around us.

As with most of the titles on this list, late nights were constantly spent trying to beat this game, and fun times were always had. Even now there are parts from this game that I can still remember, and for a guy whose played a lot of video games in his 32 years on this world, that’s saying a lot.

14 ammo rounds until certain death......

14 ammo rounds until certain death……

But what sticks with me the most is teaming up, and kicking some alien butt, via split screen shenanigan’s. Sure, we’d flip the Warthog over a cliff, or accidentally lob a grenade or two at each other mistakenly.

But after laughing our butts off, and respawning, Phillip and I were ready to push back the tides of the Covenant and the Flood.

Fun times indeed.

Honorable Mentions: Halo: Reach, Halo: ODST, Halo: 2-4

 

 

1. Left 4 Dead/ Left 4 Dead 2/ XBOX/ L4D: October 17, 2008, L4D2: November 17, 2009

Gotta get this out of the way first: I love zombies.

World War Z, the novel, is a must read. The original Night of The Living Dead is a classic piece of barrier breaking genre film making. When people talk about the Holy Trilogy of films, I lean more towards the Romero side of flicks, rather than the Lucas camp.

The Walking Dead (comic series). Return of The Living Dead. Ash. Dead Alive. House of The Dead (as crappy as the flick was). 28 Days Later (and I know they’re not “traditional zombies”, but that movie is a great addition to the zombie movie genre). Capcom’s “Resident Evil”.

And the Left 4 Dead series.

Numero Uno

Numero Uno

 

Numero Dos

Numero Dos

 

I can wax on all day and night about how much I love these two games. About how they rank up there with some of the greatest video games I’ve ever played.

My ride.....

My ride…..

But I know I’ve only got so much space on this blog, so I’ll try to keep it succinct.

Basic premise of the L4D franchise: you’re grouped with three other survivors of a zombie outbreak, and are placed in various scenarios where you have to fight your way through endless hordes of zombies, and other infected creatures.

The game is a FPS which, at least for me, only intensifies the feeling of dread and anxiety which permeates both these games. There will always be countless instances where a swarm of zombies will run at you at top speed (sorry for all you Boyle zombie haters, these ain’t the shuffling ghouls), unless you can dispatch them in enough time with dwindling ammo.

The environments in this game also set a creepy mood, ranging from an nighttime abandoned hospital, to the sunlit French Quarter avenues of New Orleans fame.

Teamwork is essential to this game. Teamwork. Teamwork. Teamwork.

.....or die crew.

…..or die crew.

Now, of course you can just blow your way through each level, with no strategy, just picking off zombies, Tanks, Hunters, Smokers, and Witches.

::Shivers:: Don’t even get me started on the Witches.

But in my opinion, to truly appreciate this game, it should be played with three other folks, with some sort of a plan in mind. Definitely, don’t become one of those ultra tight butt folks who treat the game as if it’s a real life or death mission.

 

Run.

Run.

Have fun with it, but just try to have something of a plan.

Case in point: on the last level of the aforementioned hospital stage, your final fight for survival takes place on the roof of the building. You head here to await rescue from a helicopter, but in the interim, you have to fight the living dead. Final showdown and whatnot.

 

Before the zombies began attacking us, we wound up stocking up on ammo, setting up gas cans as booby traps, and placing ourselves in such a fashion that we could deal out the most damage to the monsters.

Fun times. 🙂

The calvary's on its way.....

The calvary’s on its way…..

Overall this is a must have for any fan of zombies. Even if you don’t play video games, this is the game that should force you to learn how to play.

Imagine having an opportunity to recreate some of your most favorite tense filled, survival moments from any of the Romero flicks, and you have the Left 4 Dead franchise.

There were times in this game where I literally jumped in my seat, while either playing online, or playing on a LAN gaming session with three other friends.

Rumors abound about a third game being worked on by Valve. Here’s hoping it kicks as much butt as the first two installments.

Both games (along with a crapton of DLC/ downloadable content) can be found pretty much in any brick and mortar gaming store, and on Steam.

Honorable Mentions: Game of The Year Editions/ L4D & L4D2

So that’s it for me. If ya can, please drop a line or two in the comments section about your own favorite co-op games. And if you’re ever on XBOX Live and want to run some rounds, hit me up.

 

Playing Magic Again

Life at the moment is out of control, hectic, a mad dash–busy. I’m preparing for my first Dragon Con Art Show, and hopefully many more to come, as well as being a mother and looking after a new kitten. Hence, this isn’t going to be much of a post. I just wanted to let everyone know I’m playing Magic the Gathering again, and kicking ass. I haven’t played the popular card game in about 17 years–that’s another story. My younger brother brought a ton of cards over the house this past weekend and asked if I wanted to play. I lost the first game, but I won the remaining three. In the final, game I demolished him. We had a great time and I remembered how much I love playing Magic. Thanks, little brother!

Roleplaying for fun and profit

It’s not a secret, not really. I wasn’t embarrassed… not exactly. Much in the way that many things I have done in my life which fall under the heading of “geeky” or “nerdy”. Before the days when telling people about comic books was shunned.

I mean, I keep hearing about how the nerds won. As if it was for the very soul of the world. That they’ve done what we all predicted would happen when that first “nerd” started messing around with the family computer. They have overthrown their jock-overlords and have claimed the top of the mountain.

Rise up in the cafeteria and stab them with your plastic forks!

Rise up in the cafeteria and stab them with your plastic forks!

Throughout middle school, through high school and college and for some time afterwards I role-played. And I think it has made me a better writer.

How’s that? Well, let’s see.

Character Creation – One of the biggest things in role-playing is that initial character creation. Maybe you are trying to balance out the team that already exists, or maybe you’ve had the nugget of an idea swimming in your head for the last few weeks and now you get to try it out. Sure there is the rolling of dice for your stats, and you would love to roll well to get them higher. But the character is something more than just numbers. There is a history there. A personality that you want to play with and figure out. Sometimes it is tropes, the disgraced knight, the reclusive wizard, the thief who walks the line between good and evil.

But the best characters are those ones who begin to mold themselves as you play them. As your Game Master puts you through the paces on an adventure. As the other players begin to speak with you character… a true personality emerges that you could have never expected… not 100%.

In writing, at least for me, I’ve found it is much the same. I may have the barest idea of how a character will react to something, but time and time again, when that moment comes something crazy happens.

The character surprises me. In the same way that those characters I role-played needed to act a certain way a month after I created them, so too does the written character need to be true to themselves. In fact, I sometimes learn more about them in that moment than I did in any of the moments previous to it (and then I have to go back and tweak a couple of things to help seed that “turn” or “moment”).

ddi_characterbuilder

World building – A lot of times this is the domain of the Game Master, but a good player can help develop the world in lots of different ways. Through their personal histories: maybe your uncle is a local lord (what is he the lord of? are you in line for his property? would someone want you dead to get their hands on it?), perhaps your best friend died in a conflict across the great sea (was it a conflict or a war? is this the first volley or the last? ), or maybe the village you came from was burned to the ground (who did it? why? are they still coming?).

I’ve heard that writing for comic books is a lot like playing with someone else’s toy box: you want to leave it with more toys than it started with. A good Game Master will take these toys from you and weave them into their world, creating more cohesion, and more stakes for the players.

Heroes – Most of the time I have played the hero (or one of the heroes) of the story. And in that I push the villains as hard as I can. I want to escape their death traps, foil their master plan, and save the maiden. But if I’m paying attention, I can see the obstacles that the Game Master is throwing in my way. You see, it is his job to not quite let me win… at least not for a while. Small victories will keep you going until that final big battle.

In my writing it is the same way. My job as the writer is to figure out what my character wants to achieve and then put as many obstacles in the way of them succeeding in their goals. In overcoming those setbacks, I learn more and more about how my characters think and feel and maybe even what it might take to completely break them.

Villains – I’ve played a couple of villains through the years. And it is fun. It  is fun to mess with the other players and sometimes even catch the Game Master off guard with a line of play. Mostly I’ve found that while sometimes the Game Master isn’t looking to flat-out kill your character, another player who is opposing you has no such qualms. That’s where fast thinking comes in handy. But it is also the point where you can fill a villain with more traits than just “he’s evil”.

Not that there is anything wrong with that!

dice

The End – I’ve played in epic novel length campaigns. They have that feel of a good book series where the heroes get a victory towards the end of the book, only to have something else happen which will propel the series forward for book 2 and 3 and 4. So I can identify where a good breaking point for a chapter, a section, and even the end of the book should be. It is a more subtle thing, but I believe it is there all the same.

Plus it never hurts to end something so that later you can get those heroes out of the mothballs and send them on their one final adventure. Everyone likes a last ride story, right?

Sadly, the closest I come to role-playing these days are playing Dragon’s Age (waiting for the next one!), but I take those old sessions to heart. What might have been cool and what moments might have caused groans. Either way I continue to sift through my memories to see if there is more buried treasure somewhere in there.

I’d like to think there is tons.

***

John McGuire

John McGuire is the author of the supernatural thriller The Dark That Follows, the steampunk comic The Gilded Age, and the novella There’s Something About Mac through the Amazon Kindle Worlds program. He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com.

The Dark That Follows is now available in print here or on Amazon!

 

CO-OP Gaming: The Best Way To Game

First, let’s get the business out of the way.

If you want to read some quality comic books head here and here.

I’m kind of biased, but I think they’re the bee’s knees. 🙂

So, I’m here tonight (or this morning, considering what side of the world you’re on) to talk video games with ya.

Specifically co-op games.

A lot of people love playing sports games, role playing games, third person action-adventure games, first person shooters (FPS), and the lists go on and on. A little mustached plumber and his brother have pretty much cornered the market in most of the above categories, though I haven’t seen Mario busting a cap FPS style in a goomba’s butt.

That’d be awesome to watch.

Mario brings sunshine. And pain.

Mario brings sunshine.
And pain.

I’m getting sidetracked.

Co-op games.

Jason Rybka of About.com defines co-operative games as “a game in which two or more players team up to achieve a specific goal, playing side by side, either via LAN, split-screen, or via the Internet. More specifically, co-op is a multiplayer game play type. The literal translation is co-operative. Co-op games are widely popular and are increasingly becoming an included game play option in many games.”

Robert Jeffrey’s definition of co-operative games: games which allow you and a group of friends to collectively kick the butt’s of hordes of zombies/ super villains/ stereotypical y cheesy 80’s-90’s street toughs, while having a fun time.

The idea of teaming up in person with a group of friends, random strangers at an arcade (ahhhh, those were the days), or via online gaming, is a fun one for me. I understand the single player experience. I get it. Heck, I even love the competitive aspect of an FPS or fighting game. I’ve spent countless hours getting my butt handed to me in epic Halo death matches, and Marvel vs. Capcom bouts.

But to me, planning, and strategizing with a group of guys and gals to complete a game can lead to some extraordinary gaming experiences.

Special Co-Op Handshake. All the cool kids do it.

Special Co-Op Handshake. All the cool kids do it.

I don’t consider myself an expert gamer at all, just a guy who likes to have a good time with a wireless controller.

Wow, that didn’t sound right at all.

Um… well as I think of a way to clean up that creepy statement, read ahead and check out the first two entries on my list of my four favorite co-op games/ gaming experiences.

4. Streets of Rage 2/ Sega Genesis/ Release Date: December 20, 1992

The cover of this game says it all.

The cover of this game says it all.

After my brother and I got our NES system, the next game console that we received a few years later was the Sega Genesis. The mighty, mighty, SEGA! Note: you’ve got to yell SEGA like that guy from the commercials.

The system of Sonic. Altered Beast. Toe Jam and Earl. Sewer Shark (actually that was the Sega CD).

And Streets of Rage 2.

Oh hellz yeah.

Streets of Rage 2 was the shiznit. Sure there had been Double Dragon before, and other such brawlers. But for me the Streets of Rage series was something special. Was it the stylish R&B, electronica/techno laced soundtrack (that I can still nod my head to even now)? Was it the aforementioned stereotypical multi-ethnic street gangs with dumb names? Or was it the fact that each game in the series had a plot which sounded like a bad Steven Seagal movie?

It might’ve been all of the above. Who knows?  But what stood out to me (and I’m sure my brother can agree with this) was the awesome butt whooping’s that you could lay down.

First off, every fighter in this sequel (Axel Stone, Blaze Fielding, Eddie “Skate” Hunter, and Max Thunder”) KICKS-MAJOR-ASS. And has an awesome name.

Choose wisely......

Choose wisely……

Whether it’s Axel knuckling up on some punks, Blaze kicking butt oh-so gracefully with skull crushing kicks, or Max Thunder using his hulking frame to tear through the baddies, you got to button mash to your hearts content.

And don’t think I’ve forgotten about Skate. My homey Skate.

Skate sizing up the competition.

Skate sizing up the competition.

This dude was fighting on roller blades.

ROLLER BLADES.

Skate doing what he does best: knocking dudes out.

Skate doing what he does best: knocking dudes out.

I know I turned into an 11 year old with that statement, but hear me out.

This was a kid, a black kid who was kicking butt to save his kidnapped brother. And in an industry where a lot of heroic characters of color weren’t in great abundance, this was awesome for my brother and me to see.

Skate could pull off awesome moves like jumping onto the back of a thug, and commence to dropping blow’s like small anvils on their heads. He had this fantastic special move where he’d flail his arms like a madman, while hurtling towards the bad guys on his roller blades.

Blaze was always my personal favorite in the series, but Skate came a close second.

I'll admit, she was my video game crush. Don't judge me.

I’ll admit, she was my video game crush. Don’t judge me.

So we would spend countless hours beating up various baddies in the hopes of defeating Mr.  X, and saving the day. Whether it was avoiding motorcycle riding grenade tossing Mad Max rejects, or fighting evil kick boxers, my brother and I enjoyed fun times with cracking skulls and taking names.

So definitely, if you’re in the mood to team up with another friend, to just knuckle up and beat some bad guy butts, you can find the title on XBOX Live Arcade, and Steam.

Go with the dynamic duo of Blaze and Skate and you won’t be disappointed.

Honorable Mentions: Street Team: The Video Game, Battle Toads, Double Dragon, Golden Axe, Castle Crashers, XMEN Arcade, TMNT Arcade

3. Marvel Ultimate Alliance/ Xbox 360/ Release Date: October 24, 2006

Remember as a kid when you use to team up with your neighborhood friends, choose a superhero, and kick all sorts of imaginary bad guy butt? Remember how awesome it felt to strap a towel around your neck, jump from tree’s, do fake karate, and shoot imaginary laser’s from your fists?

Awesome, right?

Fast forward a number of years, and now you can do that from the comfort of your couch, sans towel wrapped around your neck.

Okay, maybe you still wear the towel.

Hey, if Linus can rock it for as long as he has, so can you.

Enter stage left, Marvel Ultimate Alliance. Alliance allows you to choose from an impressive lineup of Marvel heroes and heroines, including such stand out characters as Spiderman, Blade, Captain America, Wolverine (as if that dude doesn’t get enough screen time already), Ms. Marvel, Mister Fantastic, Colossus, Luke Cage, Doctor Strange, Thor, Storm, and the list goes on, and on, and on.

Notice Blade in the top right trying to look cool as a cucumber.  A half human/ half vampire cucumber.

Notice Blade in the top right trying to look cool as a cucumber.
A half human/ half vampire cucumber.

You want the Fantastic Four? You got ‘em.

You want an X-MEN themed team? You got ‘em.

You want the mighty, bi-coastal Avengers? You-got-em.

Sweet Christmas! That's a lot of characters!

Sweet Christmas! That’s a lot of characters!

With a host of baddies to fight, and levels potmarked with Easter Eggs which die hard Marvel fans can appreciate, this game is a beauty to behold.

The fighting system is excellent, and as you gain more experience your abilities grow in awe inspiring fashion. Being able to do team combos is an added plus, and gets you wanting to reenact scenes from “The Avengers”.

Spidey and company going buck wild.

Spidey and company going buck wild.

Don’t even get me started on the awesomesauce that is “alternate costumes”.

So many Storm's.......

So many Storm’s…….

Myself and a group of friends pretty much waded through this game over a series of weeks, XBOX controllers in hand, staying up to the wee hours of the night. A personal favorite of mine is Storm (going back to the X-MEN Legends days, another title you should give a shot for the PS2). This goddess of weather tornadoed and chain lightning’ed her way through Dr. Doom, Ultron, the Winter Soilder and a host of other evil-doers.

You can more than likely find a copy of this with most online video game retailers (Amazon.com), or used video game retailers.

Honorable Mentions: XMEN Legends, XMEN Legends: Rise of Apocalypse, Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2

Gonna stop here for the evening as my eyelids are steadily drooping.  I’ll drop my last two favorite co-op titles your way next week. Thanks for following me down my video gaming memory lane.

John’s Top Six Video Games of All Time

If all of your friends jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge would you do it?

If all of your friends wrote articles about their favorite video games, would you complete the series?

For completeness sake you can see Jeremy’s list, Amanda’s list, and Chad’s list. Compare and contrast to this one, whatever you want.

There was a guy who lived down the street from me when I was about 11 or 12. While I was stuck playing Space Invaders for the ten thousandth time, he had a Nintendo. No matter how much I pleaded going into Christmas that year my parents wouldn’t budge. I had an Atari and we had a computer. My Dad in particular couldn’t figure out why I’d want a game system when a computer could play games and other things. Luckily my buddy would let me come over after school, and from about 3 until around 6 when it was time to go home we’d do one of two things: play basketball or play Nintendo. Typically we’d play outside when the weather was nice and when it rained we’d move inside and play Super Mario or Contra or even Duck Hunt. There were more than a few afternoons where I wished for storms so that I could play. Anything was an upgrade over what I had. Here were games with better graphics and story lines. Heck, you could beat these games… there was no “beating” Joust, things just got faster and harder.

I think it was the following Christmas that the Nintendo came… oh, happy days.

But when I look back to those early days I’m not sure a list of 6 is even fair. There were so many games that I spent hours upon hours playing and reading old issues of Nintendo Power to try and gain even a slight edge. But far be it from me to buck the trend.

 

Tempest (Arcade Version)

tempest

Yes, it doesn’t look like all that much, but when you’re 8 it is amazing!

My first “favorite game” was one that I played at the local arcades early on. Instead of a joystick you had a dial that you’d spin and slam your hand on the firing button as fast as you possibly could hoping to hit all the alien/insects/whatever the heck they were from crawling up the Doctor Who style hyperspace tunnel.

At least, that’s how I like to remember the game. I believe it was more my memory of the game, than the actual game play itself, but for many years I’d look specifically for this game whenever I entered an arcade.

 

WCW/NWO Revenge

2409917-box_wcwnwor

I’ll admit it. I like wrestling. Back in the 80’s the best part about Saturday afternoons was the fact that one of the local stations literally played wrestling shows all day. Guys I’ve never heard of and guys everyone has heard of. These were the days of the WWF and then everyone else who were “stuck” in the regional organizations. Flash-forward to the late 90s and wrestling was going through a second golden age. Those wrestlers from the 80s that we all recognized were beginning to clash with the newer generation. And possibly the biggest storyline throughout that decade was the NWO vs. WCW feud. It turned the fan-favorite Hulk Hogan into a villain, something the ten year old me would have never thought possible, and the teenage me thought was amazing. This game really set itself up perfectly by captializing on that feud, splitting your characters into their NWO or Wolfpack or WCW.

But the reason that I list it among my favorite games is that it was the first wrestling game I had ever played that used a “Grapple” system. Where in older games it sometimes came down to who could hit buttons faster than the other guy, this game encouraged you to perform moves after the characters locked up. For some reason this made it feel more like skill was involved. It really introduced a strategy that future wrestling games have seemed to abandon to go back to the “push buttons and hope” techniques.

I’ve played wrestling games since this one, but this is the last one I would pop in just for the hell of it and run a match… that’s how good the controls were.

 

Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem

Eternal_Darkness_by_professortorcoolguy

True enough!

The single scariest game I have ever played.

Many a night I would turn off all of the lights in our town house and play this weird Lovecraftian adventure through time. You see, you’ve inherited the family house, which would be great if it wasn’t right on top of some kind of other-worldly portal. You would move around the house looking for clues about the overall plot and read about these ancestors who’d also had the misfortune of ending up in the Old One’s crossfire.

But the best part of the game was the Insanity Meter. As you took damage or weird stuff happened, your meter would increase. At first you might just hear strange noises coming through the TV. Maybe a baby cries in the distance… but you know that it is just a game. And then you open a door to look in a room you’ve looked in 10 times already and a dead body is waiting for you.

Yet, all of that was child’s play for how the game played you. My favorite moment, that moment when I knew that this might be one of the greatest games I’ve ever played, was when, in mid-mission the screen turned black and a few words came up on the screen asking you to buy the full version of the game. As I say there, staring at the screen… thinking I’d somehow gotten a defective game, things flipped back to normal and you were back in the game.

They’d gotten me.

Eternal-Darkness-pic-9

If they ever do an Eternal Darkness 2, I will be buying that game at midnight and taking the next day off… that’s how good that game is.

 

Madden

madden-covers_00s

To be fair I can’t narrow this one down to a particular version. I’ve been playing some form of Madden football games for the better part of 2 decades. Now, I must admit, even though it is the best football game available (and the only one with the NFL license so that you can play with your favorite teams and players), I don’t buy every release. Typically I buy the new one every other year, as things (improvements) don’t change that much year to year. To me, this is the only football game worth bothering with (well, since Techmo Bowl back in the day, I guess). Upon releasing the latest one from its plastic prison, I launch directly into franchise mode with the Miami Dolphins and rack up Super Bowl victories until I grow tired and move on. But like a warm blanket, whenever I get the itch to play, it’s there, my franchise waiting to go into year 5 or something.

 

Rock Band

Rock_band_cover

Hey, I can be Eddie Vedder if I want to be!

This might be the greatest party game ever invented (apologies to Mario Kart) (I’m including the full gambit of Rock Band Games in here because of their song export feature).

For those that have played the game, I think they get it. Those who haven’t, I can see how it would be an odd thing to want to play karaoke with somebody holding plastic guitars and someone else banging on plastic drums. And yes, it is odd. I’d probably be one of the first to crap on the idea had I not gotten hooked on Guitar Hero first. Somehow it just works.

And then there is the the soundtrack. Without a solid soundtrack of songs everyone will know, the game wouldn’t have worked. But they even provided a work-around when you got tired of Dani California for the tenth time with downloadable tracks so that you could customize your experience. You like more heavy stuff? Go and spend a few more dollars on those songs. Want Pearl Jam’s Ten album in its entirety (yes please!)? The only bad thing about the game is that this whole genre of games seems to have died out… no new songs are being converted. Still, there are plenty of songs out there to get, so odds are this is a very small problem to have.

I still remember the very first night I bought the full band pack (a birthday present) we brought it over to some friend’s house who were going to have us over for game night. I might have felt bad about hijacking the event, but since everyone seemed to love it – I’ll count that one as a win. Recently Courtney and I broke out the plastic instruments for a comeback tour. Any game that my wife actually gets excited about playing is worthy of my list.

 

Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag

AC-Black Flag

Yo ho ho, and a sword in your gullet!

Assassin’s Creed with pirates. Need I say more?

Yes? Ok, let me just say that when I finish a game and am immediately looking for something more to download, more missions, more anything it is either that the game was waaaay too short or the game ruled. Having just finished Black Flag, this one falls into the later category. I skipped a couple of installments on the way, but tying the franchise into the Golden Age of Piracy not only made complete sense, the fact that captaining the ship didn’t feel like a minor bit of the game, but actually was integral to multiple pieces of the plot, made it almost feel like two games in 1.

The overall story line seems to be getting closer and closer to revealing what’s exactly going on, which is cool as well, as the story outside of the stuff in the past (this makes sense if you have ever played any of the games) does a decent job of feeding you just enough information to have your brain work overtime.

Honorable Mentions: Dragon’s Age, Final Fantasy 1, Dragon Warrior 1, RBI Baseball, Batman: Arkham City, Castlevania 1-3, Zelda (all sorts), Frogger, Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, NCAA Basketball 2k8, Super Mario 3, F Zero, and numerous others I’m sure I’m forgetting.

 

***

John McGuire

John McGuire is the author of the supernatural thriller The Dark That Follows, the steampunk comic The Gilded Age, and the novella There’s Something About Mac through the Amazon Kindle Worlds program.

His second novel, Hollow Empire, is now complete. The first episode is now FREE!

He also has a short story in the Beyond the Gate anthology, which is free on most platforms!

And has two shorts in the Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows anthology! Check it out!

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com.

Chad’s Top Six Video Games of All Time

last2

Fine. If Jeremy and Amanda want to list their favorite video games of all time, I guess I’ll get in on it too. Like a lot of people my age, my first gaming system was an Atari 2600. After that, we actually got an Atari 5200, then a Nintendo Entertainment System. After that, I stopped with console gaming for a long time. Not that I stopped playing games; I just played them on my PC.

It wasn’t until I was in the market for a blu-ray player that I broke down and bought another console, the PS3, which got me back into gaming on a fairly regular basis, for better and worse.

I have mixed feelings about games. They are surely one of this era’s greatest entertainments, and the sales numbers surely show that. They’re not ‘just for kids’ anymore and have reached heights that me as a kid playing “Lode Runner” on my dad’s Apple II could have never imagined. But I’m also not sure about the validity of them as an art form. To me, art expresses a vision by its creator(s) and games are by nature interactive, meaning that everyone’s experience is different. Also, and this is the big one, games are tremendous time suck. You want to experience time travel? Pop in Skyrim or Tetris or even a Lego game and BAM! before you know it you’re in the future. They are not good for productivity and I have to watch myself when it comes to buying and playing games. I often use them as a reward for finishing a chapter or something. Because I could spend all day every day playing them. They’re like Vegas except you can play in your underwear or less.

Note: I in general don’t like shooters (especially online – ugh), fighting games, racers, platformers, or puzzle games. There are exceptions to all of these, of course, but my tastes lean towards RPGs, Strategy World-Builders, and the newer narrative-driven games. That said, here are six of my favorites. Not in any kind of order. Just games that mean the most to me, the ones I had the most fun playing, the ones that stick with me.

STAR WARS: TIE FIGHTER (LucasArts, 1994)

133291163511TIE-Fighter-Entry-14-Screenshot

Being a giant Star Wars nerd, there are inevitably two Star Wars games on my list. Don’t get my wrong. There have been tons of horrible games made from the franchise, but there have also been a handful of brilliant ones. The first on my list is TIE Fighter. I can’t even explain how exciting the release of 1993’s X-Wing was for me. I think the last Star Wars game I had played was The Empire Strikes Back on my Atari. By then I had played Flight Simulator and arcade-y flying games like Afterburner, but X-Wing put me in the cockpit of one of the series’ most iconic ships, sent me on missions for the good of the Rebel Alliance, and let me blow the Empire to hell what felt like (at the time) a very realistic simulation. It couldn’t get any better, but then it did. TIE Fighter took the same mechanics of X-Wing, improved upon them, and let you be… the bad guy! And not Darth Vader or the Emperor or anything like that. Just a simple TIE Fighter pilot, doing this job fighting against what he thinks are the violent rebels trying to take down his government. The gameplay was better than X-Wing and the combination of twitch-based combat and resource management (deciding whether to put your power in your engines, guns, or shields, if you were lucky enough to be in an advanced model that had shields) made and exciting experience that felt decidedly Star Wars. There would be a couple more games in the series, and they were good, but the premise wasn’t visited again until the Jump to Lightspeed expansion for the Star Wars: Galaxies MMO, which was a good space combat game that got overlooked due to its parent game’s major problems. I hope EA (who I think has Star Wars now) revisits something like the X-Wing/TIE Fighter series again, because I would love to get behind the stick of a TIE Interceptor once more, this time in full 1080p with 7.1 Surround. Or, even better, with the Oculus Rift!

THE CIVILIZATION SERIES (Various Publishers, 1991-2013)

Civ5_BoxCivilization-V-review-1

I love world-building, resource managing, so-called “God” games. From Populus to the first SimCity to Simpsons Tapped Out on my iPad, I just can’t get enough. The pinnacle of this genre has always been Sid Meier’s Civilization series. Starting off with a single city, the goal is to explore a giant map peopled with other nations, expand your borders through conquest or other means, evolve technologically, feed your citizens, fight wars, and build monuments. With multiple ways to win, every game is different and so fun and addicting. Being able to play as (now with Civ V) dozens upon dozens of historical figures, with each civilization having different strengths and weaknesses, is just the ticket for a history nerd like me who prefers turn-based gameplay to twitch, both because I enjoy having time to think out my strategy and because I my hand-eye sucks. Civilization V, the latest version, with its two amazing expansion packs, is the most-played game in my Steam catalog. I don’t play it every day, but, when I do play it, it ends up being for days. Warning: this game will cause you to ignore your loved ones and you will suffer from the curse of “just…one…more…turn…”.

STAR WARS: KNIGHTS OF THE OLD REPUBLIC (LucasArts, 2003)

kotorboxkotor-ipad610

The other Star Wars game on this list is hardly a controversial call. Widely regarded as one of the best games ever, I can’t disagree. Made by Bioware, the folks that would later bring us the amazing Mass Effect series, KOTOR (as it is commonly called) manages to be a perfect RPG and a great Star Wars game at the same time. By setting it in the way-way-way distant past, thousands of years before the movies, the game developers were able to create a world and story completely unique, one where they didn’t have to worry about stepping on mainstream Star Wars continuity, while still keeping a very Star Wars feel. This game also gave you the ability to make choices, to decide whether you were going to end up as a Jedi or a Sith based on your actions. It felt revolutionary at the time and Bioware would later perfect this with Mass Effect, where your choices not only affected your character but the entire game world. (Thinking about it, I should just mark this spot “Bioware” because I love their games so much.) A must-play game that I think you can still get on Steam. It may seem a little dated now, like all games do after a while, but it is an exciting and deep game that presents you a galaxy far far away that is both familiar and refreshingly new.

MVP BASEBALL 2005 (EA Sports, 2005)

B0006SL92O.01.LZZZZZZZ925208_20050301_screen002

My favorite sports are: 1) Baseball. 2) Baseball. 3) Baseball. 4) Football. 5) Baseball. MVP 05 from EA Sports was the last MLB game they ever put out for the PC. This was important to me because, at the time, I only gamed on my computer. When they announced they wouldn’t be making any more, I was devastated, but soon I was introduced to the world of PC modding. Modding is where people out in the world create new content for existing PC games. This can only be done on PC games because consoles are very insular creatures and their creators don’t want you messing with their insides. But with MVP 05, a great game with a deep franchise mode (I played 20 seasons with my Cincinnati Reds), the modding community allowed you to update the rosters every year, even if EA did not. They improved the graphics as time went on, to try to keep up with more modern games. In fact, nearly a decade after its release, there is still a very healthy modding community for MVP 05. Right now, you can download rosters for the upcoming season, as well as updated uniform designs and stadiums. The MLB: The Show games are great baseball sims, with amazing graphics and animations, but they still aren’t MVP to me. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but it is and will always be my favorite sports game. I haven’t played it in a while, but I still have my save file in case I want to pick it back up and play season #21. One day I will.

ELDER SCROLLS V: SKYRIM (Bethesda Game Studios, 2011)

615804_191497_frontskyrim-j

Not much to be said about Skyrim. Dragon Warrior. Baldur’s Gate. Fallout. Grand Theft Auto. Final Fantasy. Half-Life. They were all leading up to this, perfecting the pieces that Bethesda would combine into the ultimate (so far) open-world RPG. I have gone out of my way to NOT count how many hours I have pumped into Skyrim because I’m afraid it would make me sad. It’s just… you feel like you can do ANYTHING in this game. You can play for a hundred hours and not see everything. I like the main story, I like the side quests, but mostly I just like walking around, seeing what trouble I can get into. There’s nothing like walking through the woods and coming upon some bandits fighting a bear, knowing that this is not a scripted event but something that just happened, and sitting back until one falls so you can swoop in and take out the other. It’s this “real world” aspect of Skyrim that appeals to so many people. The countless books you can find and read. The deep, deep history and mythology. The detail. It’s not perfect but I think it shows where RPGs can go (can’t wait for The Witcher III, which, for the first time, is going to be completely open-world) and I for one can’t wait for them to get there. I may even play the Elder Scrolls MMO, although I’m not sure. Not really my scene. But if that’s going to be my only chance to return to that wonderful fantasy world, then I might not have a choice.

THE LAST OF US (Naughty Dog / Sony, 2013)

652686_301617_frontThe-Last-of-Us_new-5

I know this game is super-super new but it can’t be denied. Just can’t. Naughty Dog has been making great games for a while now, with their previous peak being the amazing Uncharted 2, but with The Last of Us they’ve charted (pun intended I guess) whole new ground. I’m not going to talk too much about this game because it is still out there, and viable, and DLC is still coming out, but I will say this: it’s the first game that ever made me cry. The story of grizzled Joel and his surrogate daughter Ellie is a moving and harrowing adventure that you will never forget. Yes, it’s a violent game, sometimes to its detriment, but the characters and the story are so well drawn against a bleak as hell backdrop. And, unlike the also wonderful Bioshock: Infinite, I feel the action in the game, all the killing Joel must do, feels… necessary. I buy it. One knock against Nathan Drake in the Uncharted series is that he is our “hero”, yet the actions pieces deem it necessary for him to kill hundreds of men along his adventure. Same with the new (and surprisingly good) Tomb Raider game. But in The Last of Us, I never felt like I was shooting just for shooting’s sake. These two characters were struggling to survive and every shot fired, every shiv shoved into the neck of a monster, felt necessary to me. I don’t want to get to much into it, like I said. Just play it. It’s the greatest narrative game every made, a perfect send-off for this last generation of gaming consoles. But, be warned, when you see the giraffes, have some tissue ready. You’re going to need it.

******

walking-dead-video-game-650x365

Coming up fast on this list is TellTale Games’ Walking Dead series of adventure games. The use of choice in those simple point-and-click episodes is highly effective and instantly engaging. The only reason it’s not on this list is because it is still going on (I’m about to start episode 2 of Season 2). Also, TellTale is working on a Game of Thrones game in the same mold and, if it’s up to snuff with The Walking Dead, it may be the greatest thing of all things and all time.

HONORABLE MENTIONS: Tetris, Uncharted 2, TMNT: The Arcade Game, Assassin’s Creed 2/Brotherhood/4 , The Legend of Zelda, Yar’s Revenge, Tempest, Metroid, Metroid Prime, Red Dead Redemption, GTA 3, Vice City & 5, Goldeneye, Final Fantasy, Limbo, Shadow of the Colossus, Age of Empires, Star Wars: Battlefront II, Star Wars: Dark Forces, Dragon Warrior, The Mass Effect Trilogy, Bioshock, Bioshock: Infinite, The X-Com series, Mike Tyson’s PunchOut, AfterBurner (Arcade Version), Baldur’s Gate II, The Witcher 1 & 2, and Ducktales.

Amanda’s Top Six Video Games of All Time

Skyrim Aurora

I’ve never been what you’d call a gamer, but I’ve been playing video games since the days of Atari, back before Nintendo shook up the market. I have my favorites, but I’m not obsessed. This week marked my 38th birthday and I’m still playing games when I have the time (Steam and Xbox360). After reading J Edward‘s post on his Top 6 Video Games, I felt compelled to take a walk down memory lane with my own top six list. The games on my list are those that turned me into a follower, buying up version after version.

Wizardry for NES

#6 Wizardry

Have you ever played a game that annoyed you so much you became obsessed with it’s annihilation? For reasons I cannot fully fathom I played this game until our system kicked the bucket. It had a tendency to freeze up right in the middle of my progress too, but I kept playing.

After the NES left us, I went on to play Wizardry on our computer. MS-DOS. The days of Wizardry are long gone, but there’s a newish game on Steam that has the feel of the old dungeon crawlers but with updated graphics–The Legend of Grimrock. Yes, I play it too.

 


Knights of the Old Republic#5 Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic

I do have a soft spot for games where your character’s evolution is guided by the choices you make in game. But let’s be honest, I have a soft spot for Star Wars in general. Star Wars was a massive influence on my childhood. I don’t think I knew any other girls with as many Star Wars toys as I had. I’ve been replaying this game on Steam, but I’ve also played other Star Wars games on the first Xbox and the Xbox 360. I’m currently in the middle of The Force Unleashed II.


Doom#4 Doom

I’ve been playing Doom since the days of DOS. I’m sure someone introduced me to the game, but the memory escapes me. This was (and is) a game I can play for hours. I’ve played Doom, Doom 2, Final Doom, Doom 64, Doom 3 and now I own Doom 3 BFG Edition for Xbox 360 (includes Doom and Doom 2). For some it might be embarrassing, but I have zero issue revealing that I also played mobile editions of the game. Yeah. I love this game.

There’s been some rumors/announcements about a Doom 4, but I have yet to see any promotional material from id Software. Before anyone asks, no I haven’t played Rage but it’s on my wishlist.


Resident Evil 5#3 Resident Evil

Here’s another game I’ve been playing for ages. I can’t even recall which game I started with (before Resident Evil 4) but I can tell you how unbelievably terrified I was of this game. I’ve always been a horror fan, but this game took it to a new level. Mindless zombies are one thing, but zombies with wits, biological experiments, monsters, abominations… You can’t reload your gun fast enough.

 


Skyrim Nightingale Armor#2 Skyrim

Skyrim made it to my top list, partly because I’m an Elder Scrolls fan and partly just for the amazing beauty of the world. I agree with J Edward on the characters (Too epic not to be included, but damn so many of its characters for being cardboard.) but I just don’t care. I still laugh when I hear the sweetroll comment or the arrow in the knee comment, because all I can focus on is the amazing scenery. The auroras alone. Wow. Riding my horse across the Giant lands. Slaying dragons.

Dovah Kiin!

It also doesn’t hurt that Skyim is inspired by the Vikings. My character is a Nord named Brynn. My daughter, playing the Dark Elf Alythrae, thinks that’s boring.


Zelda#1 Zelda

On this, J Edward and I are on the same page. I have played every single incarnation of this game, even the Gameboy and DS versions. All, except Zelda: A Link Between Worlds. My daughter is playing it first on her 2DS. Without a doubt, Twilight Princess was extraordinary but The Ocarina of Time for Nintendo 64 will always have a special place in my heart.

Before the Nintendo 64 version (1998) we had Link’s Awakening in 1993 (Gameboy) and A Link to the Past in 1991 (Super Nintendo). When I first saw The Ocarina of Time I was dumbfounded by the leap in graphics and storytelling. It blew my mind. No other Zelda game has done that. Yes, Twilight Princess was beautiful–but expected.

Honorable Mentions and Forthcoming:

All of the Lego games. They are just too much fun. I especially love the Star Wars collection.

Tomb Raider — the newest game by Square Enix. I’ve only played this game a bit. It’s my daughter’s game and I’ve watched her play it from start to finish. Amazing! Another extraordinary achievement. You feel as if you’re part of the game. Stunning graphics and story.

Alien Isolation — This game isn’t out yet, but I have a feeling it will make this list a year from now. I’ve been waiting my entire life for an Alien game of this caliber. I’m so excited!! I’ve been having everyone watch the trailer….

And the character’s name is Amanda. This game was made for me.

My Top Six Video Games of All Time

 

Skulltula

This week’s skull…the most abused creeper of all time.

I’m in my man-cave at 11-something PM. It’s raining outside. Save for the streetlamp’s flicker beyond my window and the low-key illumination of my laptop, the world is dark. I’m happy to be alone. Ecstatic, actually. If I can squeeze in about 700% more of this kind of time, I’ll die a happy man.

So then. Like video games? Me too. They’re a passion of mine, and although I seldom play them anymore, I’ll always reserve a special place in my chest cavity for them. Anyone who’s ever been in love with video games knows there are two types available for consumption. Foremost, you’ve got games that are just that: games. You blast or hack your way through this or that horde, sort colored baubles to win imaginary prizes, collect coins and 1-ups, or just generally bust the laws of physics for fun. While these kinds of games provide an excellent way of murdering several days/weeks/months of your life, they’re not the type of game I’m talking about today.

What am I talking about? The second type. The games that aren’t just games, but mood-setters, sensory-devourers, mind-benders, and experiences. A long, long time ago, I blogged a related piece  – http://tesseraguild.com/was-only-a-matter-of-time/  but this time, I’m goin’ balls deep. I’m throwing my top six games out there. These are the pixels most palatable to my grim, grey state of mind. Subconciously, I’ve no doubt that playing these six remapped entire swaths of my brain.

So let’s get started:

2263102-diablo_head

 

 

 

#6 – Diablo (The original)

Playing Diablo for me isn’t the same as it is for other folks. Sure, I get a mild kick out of the treasure hoarding, demon slaying, and level upping, but for me Diablo is all about the mood and the music. Before I ever knew I liked to write, I’d sit in the dark at my paleolithic IBM 486 and play it until my eyes hurt. I’d wander ancient ruins with the game’s masterful 12-string guitar soundtrack thrumming in the background, the pixellated rain clattering atop dead men’s roofs. Hell, in recent weeks I’ve hunted down some of the music from the original game. If I ever move into a video game city, I’ll probably pick Tristram. It’s always cloudy there, and the mood suitable for my state of mind.

Metroid Prime

 

 

#5 – Metroid Prime

To be fair, I feel any of the Metroid games (sans the one that really sucked) fit this niche. I’ll go with Prime because if I go too far back I’ll confound the ‘what the hell is a NES?‘ crowd. Metroid for me was always more than a simple space opera. I never cared that the protagonist was a girl, nor that the villains were bland and underdeveloped. What I liked (and love) about the game is its atmosphere. One hero. Alone. Creepy music. Creepier monsters. There’s something elegant about the game’s fusion of far-out science with primeval alien mythology. I’ve always thought the game might’ve made a great movie, maybe even a killer novel. Hmmmm…

Deus Ex

 

 

 #4 – Deus Ex – Human Revolution

When I first picked up Deus Ex, I figured it’d fall in line with most other games. There’d be some cool moments, some blah, blah shooting, and a few dramatic cut scenes. I was wrong. In many instances, Deus Ex walks the line between game and art. Forget how tense and fun the action is. It’s like Blade-Runner blended  with Seven. It’s the not-too-distant future, rain-riddled and fraught with ‘What would I do if this happened to me?‘ moments. It’s fun + gorgeous to look at + elegantly dark. I. Love. It.

Witcher

 

 

#3 – The Witcher – Assassins of Kings

As far as games in the genre I prefer to muddle in, Witcher might be the best of them. The story (pariah accused of regicide) is pulled off better than in most movies. The love affairs, the rivalries, and the this-could-actually-happen feel as powerful as any fantasy novel. Heroes should be likeable and hateable. Love interests should be worthy of our affection and able to beat our asses. Villains should have believable reasons for hating the world. The Witcher has it all. If I didn’t have a three-year old kid, I’d buy the new Xbox and play the sequel.

Shadow_of_the_Colossus

 

 

 

 #2 – Shadow of the Colossus

Never played it? Unacceptable. Set aside three rainy days and get ‘er done. If you’re not interested in video games, buy it for your girl/guyfriend and watch them play it. Yes, really. Shadow of the Colossus is not the game you think it is.  On the surface, it looks like a dude fighting huge monsters to save the world, his woman, his dog…whatever. It’s not that game. In playing Shadow of the Colossus, you’ll find out what it means to be misguided. You’re the bad guy, and you don’t even know it. You’re a murderer, a destroyer of beautiful art, a sociopath, a monster. What’s the matter with you anyway?

Zelda

 

 

 

#1 – Zelda – Twilight Princess

As if you didn’t see this coming. Those who know me will roll their eyes and say, ‘Well that was obvious.’ Now, as far as atmosphere, I’ll admit most of the Zelda series doesn’t measure up to the Witchers and Metroids of the world. The music is good, but not soul-stunning. The graphics are neat, but not particularly immersive. Why then have I put Twilight Princess at #1? It’s easy. You’ve got a beautiful world worthy of saving (Hyrule), a familiar, likeable, and best of all silent hero to save it, and a dread-inspiring evil to overcome. Twilight Princess beats the other Zelda games by virtue of its edge, its willingness to embrace adult themes, and most of all, the presence of a villain you knew was coming, but likely spent the whole game asking, ‘Where is my arch-rival? I need that guy, else life is incomplete.’

Honorable mentions:

Doom – Grim atmosphere. Pinky demons. What else do you need?

Portal – Was pissed about not getting cake…

Skyrim – Too epic not to be included, but damn so many of its characters for being cardboard.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I think I’ll indulge my inner geek. I found my old Gamecube in a closet last weekend. Time to visit an old, old friend.

* * *

And if you think you know video games, take this 114 question quiz. If you score 60 or higher, you’ve got skills.

J Edward Neill