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Month: July 2008

That Batman Movie

We finally caught it over this last weekend. I guess a lot of other people did too, since it’s hit 300 million bucks already. I am eagerly waiting to find out if it has the sort of legs that’ll get it into the top five ever domestic, although I suspect it won’t.

Somewhat surprisingly, it didn’t blow me away. I enjoyed it, but it didn’t overwhelm me. Great acting, excellent plot and theme — I thought the whole balance of duty and public personae was superb, and it echoed through both good guys and bad guys. The early Scarecrow appearance was ideal.

Still and all, the movie needed to be half an hour shorter. I’m not sure what you’d cut — you could lose the foreign travel and edit out the cell phone moral dilemma, but you’d still have a movie that feels somewhat overstuffed. I’ve heard a lot of people call the movie relentless, and it was, and I liked that. I just think it would have been tighter with a couple fewer beats in the Joker’s plan.

Nobody’s ever accused Christopher Nolan of being insufficiently intricate, I suppose.

Second, the fight scenes were muddy. I have a sudden fear that I’m getting too old here, except I recall liking the fight scenes in the last Bond movie, so — crap. Yeah, I’m getting old. Well, the fight scenes were still muddy. Batman’s sonar vision did not help this in the least. Nolan’s not known as an action director, obviously, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but he ought to get someone to give him a hand with the fight scenes next time. In all fairness, the car chase was pretty great.

So as not to give the impression that I didn’t like the movie…

Really good acting all around; probably the best I’ve ever seen in a superhero movie. I loved that it wasn’t Batman’s movie — it was about Commissioner Gordon, the Joker, and Harvey Dent. All three of those guys were great. Particularly Gary Oldman. I wish it had been more Rachel Dawes’ movie, but even so, Maggie Gyllenhaal kicks Katie Holmes’ ass.

Batman really doesn’t make a lot of choices during the movie, and the one choice he does make is predicted and subverted by the Joker. That’s practically a theme — Harvey Dent takes Batman’s choices away from him, the Joker does it a few times, and so on. Thus, the aforementioned trio has to drive the movie, and they’re really good at it.

Also, Heath Ledger’s performance is about as scary-good as people are saying; emphasis on scary. The movie’s worth it just for that.

Starman Omnibus

The Starman Omnibus is awesome. Probably less awesome if you’re not a fan. DC’s going to do six volumes, which are slated to include every issue of Starman plus all the related material (e.g., the Shade miniseries and so on).

The art’s still gorgeous, if less surprising than it was at the time of publication. Beautiful art deco cityscapes, excellent use of shadow and darkness. Tony Harris was so good. It benefits from the high quality of the hardcover’s paper, too.

And there’s nothing wrong with the story. James Robinson notes in the afterword that he was after the sort of weirdness/superhero fusion that early Vertigo had, before the editoral dictate to separate Vertigo from mainstream DC. He nailed it. The additional dollop of DC continuity fetish that he brought to the table probably wasn’t strictly speaking necessary, but I’m not sure it hurts.

Five more volumes to come, at around 18-20 comic book issues per volume. Not too bad. I’m hearing DC is doing omnibus-style volumes for other books as well; good call.

Pecha Kucha Challenge

Pecha Kucha is a presentation style invented as a framework for architects and designers to present new ideas without going on all night about them. You get 20 slides, and each slide stays on screen for 20 seconds, timed. This gives you 6 minutes and 40 seconds to convey your idea.

That’s cool. Now the challenge: can you teach your RPG (or your favorite RPG) via Pecha Kucha? Hm, not that I’ve ever been to StoryGames Boston, but that might be the right locale for something like this.

iPhone eBooks

eBooks on the iPhone are pretty obvious; I’ve been keeping an eye out for a good reader. Here’s the first cut: Stanza (App Store link).

The key is being able to download your own books, which Stanza allows. Grab Stanza Desktop and load your books into there, then select Enable Sharing from the Tools menu and fire up the iPhone Stanza app. Shared Books -> Books on Macintosh displays the list of currently open books in Stanza Desktop. Select the ones you want, and there you go.

(Helpful hint: go back to the Mac to tell Stanza Desktop that it’s OK for the iPhone to connect. I couldn’t figure out why the iPhone app was hanging at first.)

Stanza Desktop supports a nice list of file types, including Open eBook, Kindle, Mobipocket, HTML, PDF, LIT, PalmDoc, RTF, and Word. It does not support Sony Reader or PDF files. Good enough for my purposes but not perfect.

The iPhone UI could use a little polish but it’s very functional. I’m happy for the nonce. The apps are currently free; the web site says the Desktop will cost something once it’s out of beta.

White Wolf Validates Us

From the WW LJ:

Another idea that’s coming up evolved in a similar way. As I’m writing this, first drafts have already started trickling in for the tentatively-titled New Wave Requiem, which is a historical book for playing Vampire in 1980s America — think of it as Requiem for Rome meets Miami Vice. It all started as a joke between myself, Joe, Russell and matt about taking cheesy 80s vampire movies and making them into SASs. I tried to put the idea aside, but it kept gnawing at me for weeks. Finally, I wrote up a very rough outline for it, and gave copies of it to everyone involved, as well as Rich for his perspective. There was a lot of side conversations about focus and logistics and how it would look and read, but I never once heard “That idea will never work.” It’s not a new idea (it’ll technically be the fourth historical Vampire book we’ve done), but it’s a different kind of “historical book,” and absolutely an idea that would never have flown as a traditional hardcover release. It’s another experiment, another step away from what’s safe and solid for us, and I’m excited as hell to see how it turns out.

You don’t have to sell me! Actually, thinking back on it, I’m betting I was at least partially inspired by Eddy’s inspiration, since I recall him mentioning his 80s vampire stuff way way back. It’s a pretty solid way to run a Vampire game.

I’m stoked to pick this up.

Making Pogs

This isn’t my technique; I’m stealing it from John Harper’s posts on Story Games. But it’s cool.

What you do is this. Buy the following items:

  • Mod Podge. This is the glue and the finishing surface. The gloss version is working for me but you may want matte.
  • Bag of circular cut outs. “Cut outs” is craft jargon for “little piece of wood.” You want the 1″ diameter version.
  • 1″ paper punch. That one is cool because it’s easy to see what you’re punching — other models are top-down, so you have to contort a bit.
  • Little dinky foam brushes. For the Mod Podge. I hear you can use cotton swabs for this too, but I’m a geek, so I like specific tools.

You can get all this stuff at a craft store locally, which is faster than Amazon, plus no shipping charges.

OK. Now print out some pretty pictures on (preferably) your color printer. Use Photoshop or Gimp or Preview or MS Paint or whatever to resize the graphics down to around 1″ big. Save paper; print a bunch of them on one sheet. They’re 1″ big, so you have plenty of room. Copy and paste for multiple kobolds. I’m thinking I’m going to add initials to my kobolds to distinguish the soldiers from the minons and so on. You don’t need to use cardstock or anything.

Punch out the circles with the paper punch. This is way satisfying.

Splortch some Mod Podge on the surface of a cut out. Use a brush so your fingers don’t get sticky. You can use a fair bit — it doesn’t seem to need to be a thin layer. Medium, maybe. Splortch splortch. Stick the paper circle to the cut out; smooth it out so there are no bubbles. Splortch.

Wait a few minutes for it to dry. You’re supposed to wait like an hour or so, I guess. I get impatient. I also sort of bend the edge of the paper down to match the bevel of the cut out.

Splortch some more Mod Podge on top of the paper. Use the foam brush to smooth and thin it out. It’s gonna seal the paper in, make it less delicate, and in theory make it look like the paper and cutout are one. Mod Podge seems to be really prone to textures; the foam brush appears to be key here to keep it smooth and, you know, glossy.

Let it dry more.

If you’re very ambitious, print out duplicate pictures with a red tinge to them, and stick those to the other side of the cut out so you can flip it over when it’s bloodied. This seems like a lot of work for something you could do with a red poker chip, though.

N.B.: real crafts people call this decoupage. When you go to the crafts store, you’re gonna see a bunch of wooden boxes and random objects next to the cut outs (which is a good way to find the cut outs, actually). Those are for the same purpose. I find myself tempted to do a decoupage box for dice and such like, with a lot of Larry Elmore art glued on.

Megadungeon Mapping

If I’m going to draw maps, I want them to be old school maps. Black lines, graph paper, no shadows, no textures. You can pretend this is because I am unartistic if you like; you will be correct in large part. Still.

Just about nothing does good old style maps. Dundjinni is really oriented towards neat battlemaps. RPG Map Maker is unpolished and is a paint program rather than a draw program. Map Tools is nice but is also more of a paint program, I think.

So OmniGraffle. You can set up a nice old school graph grid and you can include that grid when printing or exporting images. Snap to grid is easy. If you do everything as lines, it’s not too hard to add a hole in a wall. I figured out how to do round rooms. Caverns and river lines may be hard, but I’ll cross that obstacle when I come to it.


I begin to have a sneaking suspicion that my tabletop gaming inclinations are back. In full force.

The old school D&D guys (you know, the people playing first edition AD&D or blue box D&D or whatever) are way into the megadungeon concept these days. Big massive dungeons with dozens of levels and hundreds of rooms that can contain an entire campaign. Or multiple campaigns.

And when I say “way into,” what I mean is 30 page threads about dungeon mapping and design considerations. I’m talking an entire forum dedicated to megadungeons. There’s some serious thought going into this stuff — people theorizing, diagramming dungeon layout to determine the linearity or lack thereof of a dungeon, so on and so forth.

Plus maps! Hardcore.

I am reminded that when I was sketching out Tarnished Brass in my mind, I was trying to come up with a rationale for a dungeon crawl, although it promptly got all political on me. 4e makes a better system for a dungeon crawl than Reign, though.

Those inclinations I mentioned earlier seem to be very retro at the moment. Although neo-retro. I keep wanting to take old school gaming and put fins on it so it can go faster.

RPG Toolkit Meme

Unexpected, but here it is.

What follows is a list of RPGs which, in my limited and human judgment, are frequently used as (or maybe just recommended as) rules toolkits: i.e., the mechanics are used or tweaked to run games in genres or settings other than those presented in the rulebook. For some games, like GURPS, that’s sort of a gimmie.

If you like a system, but you just use it for the setting(s) it was written for, italicize it. If you like a system and it’s one of your go-to tools for running games in random settings, bold it. If you like the game world but don’t care much about the system, leave it alone — you wanna identify the systems that you can practically teach from memory.

Copy to your own blog and repeat as desired. If there’s a game you’d bold that isn’t listed, add it. (I like Unknown Armies a ton, but it’s not one of my generic systems, so I wouldn’t add it.)