Aiakos Kickstarter sculpt

The result of the weekends endeavors at the painting table was another of the Warmachine tactics exclusive sculpts completed.



This one worked out really well, and was again a wonderful sculpt to paint up. The folks at Privateer did a great job with this series. Aiakos here was going to another member of  our gaming group, so painting a model that I know is going into someone else's collection usually motivates me to get to a higher than average standard. Pretty happy with how he turned out!

Next up is probably the Khador sculpt.

Kickstarter goodies ...

The exclusive Kickstarter sculpts from Privateer Press showed up on Friday. So given they are the two characters that I can use immediately I had to dive in and paint up the two Cygnar miniatures.



They turned out pretty well, and I'll probably take a bash at one of the other factions need weekend. Although I did cave in and get myself enough Trollbloods to start a small second army to go with the Hunters Grim, so I might get tempted to paint up some of those instead ... we shall see!


Earthlock: Festival of Magic

I've mentioned this one before, but the folks from Snow Castle are back in the middle of pitching their game on Kickstarter. You can find a new trailer over on You Tube that shows off the alpha build of the game (which I got to see at GDC last week, it's shaping up really nicely!)



Check out the campaign and you can find the details here over on Kickstarter.


I have a real soft spot for the JRPG stylings, and I'd love to see this one made, so if you are in the same boat, drop by and take a look at the game. 


The Hunters Grim

These guys were a set of miniatures that I have wanted to paint for a while. When I was first introduced to Warmachine and Hordes, these were one of the Hordes sets that really appealed to me. I think I might have a soft spot for trolls (I blame my years in Norway!), so these guys were a ton of fun to paint!


There are a lot of great details in this kit, and lots of gear and equipment to paint. They have such great character I simply had to paint them up. No idea if I will ever actually have a Trollbloods army, but for now this trio will probably sit on my desk at work for show. I was very pleased with how well they worked out, and think the final result is one of my better efforts!

Shattered Planet

My friends over at Kitfox games have launched their first game this week. Shattered planet is a science fiction game that finds you playing the role of a clone exploring strange alien worlds. Its a fun turn-based challenge that offers a kind of old school feeling with a try and try again mechanic (think an exploration based FTL type experience)



It's also a lovely looking title, and the team at Kitfox have nailed a really appealing aesthetic and style. You can try the game out for yourself, for free, on both Android and iTunes

Check it out!

Wild West Exodus

I've mentioned a couple of times over on Twitter a new table top game called Wild West Exodus (and been slightly spamming folks on gaming nights with pictures of games!). The folks at Outlaw Miniatures have created a kind of Steampunk / Sci-fi hybrid western game. Nuclear power rifles, Abe Lincoln with a shotgun-axe, Nicola Tesla in a dreadnought style walker, Thomas Edison using sound-waves to assault Billy the Kid and a cyborg Jesse James are just some of the wonders you'll find in the game.

Yes, it's totally insane, but all the more fun for it.

Game wise, it sits somewhere between Warmachine and Infinity, being skirmished based, but also pseudo 'real time', with alternating moves. It plays out at a good pace, and is full of intriguing tactical choices. My impression so far is that all the characters are incredibly powerful when their strengths are leveraged well, and the game then hinges on the tactics of targeting and order of play. There are a lot of good design choices that present the player with interesting choices. So far there has been very few 'lulls' in the games we have played, and stalemates seem unlikely.

As a designer I love to see those kind of choices being so consistently presented to the player. There are also some fun narrative scenarios in the rule-book that can spice up your gaming sessions. 

The game was launched on Kickstarter last year, but is now fully available and has a packed release schedule planned. You can find their website here for the lowdown.

The sculpts are really nice, and the quality of both the plastic and resin miniatures is very high. They are also a ton of fun to paint!








So if you are a tabletop fan and maybe out to experience a new game, this one is well worth checking out!

Flying Space Wolves!

These guys have been sitting on the painting table in various states of disrepair for some time, so I finally sat down last weekend to get them finished up.



I was really happy with how they came out. I'm not entirely sure they will ever be a useful, or rather, an efficient, use of points on the actual battlefield, but I just fell in love with trying to execute on the concept.



I liked the idea of a group of jump pack troops in motion, and combining the Blood Angel wings with the more aggressive sculpts of the Space Wolf models allowed me to create a much more dynamic set of poses. This was a case where the kitbashing came together well. Rounded things off with some interesting bases from the bits box, and everything ended up almost where I imagined it at the start. I was also very pleased with how well the faces worked, I often struggle to get the level of detail I'd like to with non-helmeted heads, but felt these guys worked out well.



Charge!


Trolls vs Vikings

Ok, I'm a little biased on this one as its coming from some of my ex-colleagues at Funcom. The folks over at Megapop in Oslo have launched their debut title - Trolls vs Vikings. They are a great bunch of folks, and put a lot of the proverbial blood, sweat, and tears, into creating the game (well, they swear there was no real blood involved!)

Taking inspiration from Plants vs Zombies it adds a wonderfully Norse flavor, with some engaging characters, a polished visual style, and some neat game-play twists. 

For me the trolls are the stars of the show. They each have their own character, and there is a fun sense of humor that permeates proceedings. It's light, kid friendly, but always fun. The addition of things like movable units and even 'boss' battles add to the formula in interesting ways that add a little depth.

Sure, this is definitely a variation on the theme, rather than anything ground breaking, but it plays incredibly smoothly. The difficulty also ramps up considerably as you replay the levels, and it moves from a relatively easy stroll, to a frantic, and fast paced, challenge.  

You can play a fair distance through without paying a dime, with later units requiring gold or a premium purchase.

So if you have a hankering for some free to play action with some playful trolls, make sure you check it out! 

Pretty awesome humble bundle ...

... the latest Indie humble bundle is probably one of the best since they started. It's veritably overflowing with top notch indie offerings, including two of my favorite games of last year in the form of The Swapper and Monaco. Throw in Giana Sisters, the excellent Guacamelee!, the mind bending Antichamber, and indie darling Fez among others and you owe it to yourself to get in one the action. 

Given it's also in a good cause, it really is a win-win!

You can find all the details here. There are only a few days to go before the end of this particular bundle, so make sure you don't miss the chance to check out some awesome games!

Short Story - Speed Date

It's Valentines Day so it seemed only fitting to present a story that takes a peek inside the scary world of love, life, moving on, and speed dating. 






Some non-gaming gaming Kickstarters

Not actual games this time, but three projects worth backing that have caught my eye this week on Kickstarter.

First up a project to allow disabled gamers access to a custom controller. A very worthy project. Gaming has such potential for empowering interactions and finding ways to include those who might otherwise be excluded is always worth exploring.



Then you've got a cool project looking to fund a project that wants to introduce children to the concepts of programming. Maybe not strictly speaking a games related project, but this kind of teaching tools of creation is something that I strongly believe helped shape my creative talents as a kid.



Lastly, and getting close to the end of their campaign is an effort to craft an interesting gaming documentary.


Go check them out!

I think ...

... wow, January flew by, must be having fun right?

... managed a surprisingly small amount of gaming this month. Mainly some arenas in Hearthstone, finishing up my replay of  Enslaved, and a tiny amount of time with the free games on PSN this month (primarily some button mashing stress release with the DMC reboot). Most time is being swallowed up by the stuff that comes with having moved to a new country (and an aside on that note, when the hell did beds become so expensive?), and keeping up with the projects on the painting table ...

... grabbed the first trade paperback collection of East of West. I was a little cautious, given the shared themes with The Sixth Gun (which is one of my favorite currently running books), but it's Jonathan Hickman and I pretty much have to read everything he puts out ...

... also keeping up with Brian Woods The Massive, which continues to be an interesting book. I'm still forgiving the thin central premise (I mean how long exactly are they going to keep looking for this ship?) because the world and the characters are so compelling. It's a dystopia chock full of shades of grey, just the type of worlds that I enjoy exploring ...

... I enjoyed reading / experiencing JJ Abrams foray into physical mysteries with S. It's very much a thing for people who want books to continue to be a thing. It's tactile, unique, and well worth picking up. The concept is a little odd, that two people are communicating through notes written to each other in the margins of a book, and slowly unfolding a mystery linked to the book itself. The book and the inserts are well put together, and the story does a fantastic job of hooking you, subtly seeding it's mysteries so that you want to read on ... 


A special one ...

This one was a special project to craft a gift for my wife's birthday. I'm incredibly lucky to have a wife who not only supports my painting, but likes the results and is just as geeky about it as I am. Last year I made the goblins for her at Valentines, so figured I'd make something interesting for her birthday this year ...

... this was the result!










My wife is always protecting me from all kinds of crap, so figured I'd visualize that in a unique way. The diorama worked out pretty well. I had a lot of fun making this one!


Starting out with some Cygnar ...

My new gaming group here in California plays a lot of Warmachine and Hordes. I'd had the bare bones of a Cygnar force lying around, as I do like the steampunk aesthetic of the games. The fact they are smaller, skirmish, type affairs also appealed. I'd just never had a good reason to go out and put together a working force for the game. Now that I do, I picked up a few more models and went about painting up a starting 35 point army. It's probably not the most optimal army just yet, but I've started out well so far ... they are also really fun to paint!









Think I might go for some cavalry next ... not sure ... as I'm just starting out there are *lots* of cool Warmachine models that look like they would be fun to paint. Will have to juggle with the Wild West Exodus stuff I already have ready for painting ... more on those soon!


2013 in Pictures

Another good year with the camera having done some fun exploring again, here are some of my favorites ...






































Here's to some more photo opportunities in 2014!

New Adventures and all that ...

So another year arrives ... 2014 ... a year that sounds like one I never imagined possible as a ten year old. It sounds like the future. In many ways it is. I mean, my wife drives a car that runs on electricity, starts with a button push, and has a computer aboard. I have things like an iPad. Ten year old me saw things like that on Star Trek, and was in wonder of them. Now if we could just hurry up and get working on those starships that would be great!  

We really do live in some pretty amazing times and I'll approach 2014 the same way I've approached every other year for the last decade or so.

A few people ask why I'm rarely, if ever, overtly negative, either here, or on Twitter, or when I speak at conferences and such. Do I not have any critiques? Is there not things I think need fixing? Are there not things that deserve to be castigated or derided until change is enacted? Probably, but I consciously choose not to direct my thoughts directly upon such flaws.

This is the real world, not a perfect one. Of course there are things that annoy me, or that I think could have been improved by this, or by that. Of course there are things that frustrate me, or that I know could be fixed with the exertion of a little elbow grease here or there. However I have found, with experience, that the best approach to life, for me at least, is to focus on the positives, and not dwell on the negative.

It's a philosophical thing to me. You can choose to focus on the negative and complain about the shortcomings of the things in your life. Many do, and I don't judge those that do. Their grievances are often valid. It's just that personally I file those kinds of things away in a constructive manner and learn what I need to learn from them, to me that's what any kind of a negative experience is for. It's to learn from, not to dwell over. It might just be teaching you a simple thing (don't eat at that place, the food is terrible) or it might be affording you a more valuable life lesson (I really should have tried to help that friend in crisis). Either way it's an experience, and the culmination of experiences, and in many ways how you react to them, is what defines your character.

Some people can stay sane and retain the ability to complain loudly and be critical. Like I said, not judging. Personally however I prefer to remember the positives, and celebrate what I enjoy, rather than focus on flaws.

So I certainly am remembering when a game isn't to my tastes, or when my favorite TV show has a poor episode. Furthermore if it's professionally interesting to me, I'll probably spend a little time figuring out why I had that reaction it. In fact much of your critical learning when it comes to your profession comes from that kind of an approach, whatever your profession may be (I'm just lucky my profession involves games and fun stuff :p). That analysis is what helps inform and improve your skills. 

There though, my feelings on those negative things end. Maybe I cut them off. I feel like its a conscious thing. We are all capable of getting more irate about the proverbial 'stuff', but I guess that, at a fundamental level, I simply don't feel there is much to gain from letting those negative experiences evolve into anger, or worse, any lingering long term resentment. 

I generally don't feel the need to tell the world about those flaws I perceived. In particular because it is all so often subjective too! My personal tastes being offended might not mean the thing in question is bad. There are always simply different tastes, and some great games, art, and movies that I dislike probably rank highly amongst the favorites of others.

Instead, when I share, I choose to share those positive attributes of an experience that I think others would benefit from experiencing themselves. Or the positive parts of one that I think are worthwhile mentioning. I'm not sure I ever consciously set out for that to be a thing, it just kind of happened naturally as I figure out how I engage with the internet and social media over the years.

Some people don't understand that, or think it's me giving in to some form of cautious political correctness or some such. It's not. It's just the way I choose to face the world (which after all can be fairly #%#ed up from time to time). It's a conscious thing, and I'm comfortable with it. 

We love things, and while our things might not always be perfect, I prefer to focus on the positive parts that excite me when sharing, and I love to see that in others. 

In a certain way this is also important to me. It also helps with creation, at least I have always felt these things were linked for me. That same approach lends itself to how I write, paint, or whatever I'm up to at any given time. It's a kind of creative confidence. When creating anything, you should know that someone, somewhere, will dislike some element of it (or even many elements of it :p), and that you will not make things that are perfect. These things are not 'bad' as long as you learn from them, do not not let them linger into negative emotions. You should simply use them as stepping stones to the next creative endeavor. 

Use those experiences to fuel new adventures.

The adventure is what it's all about!

Hopefully 2014 will include some new adventures for you all. 


The Best Bits of 2013 - Games

Rather than just serve up a neatly ranked list of best to worst, I'd rather just sum up some of my favorite games of the year in a few loose categories ...

The 'OMG that Ending!' Award ...



... is split between two of the big award season favorites. Bioshock Infinite and The Last of Us both had fantastic final acts that resonated well after you had forgotten the niggles you had with their actual game-play. I loved the world building and characters in both. These games revolved around their narratives and had good enough game-play to urge you along to their next moment. 


They both end strongly, with utterly memorable final scenes, for very different reasons. Bioshock Infinite goes for the Usual Suspects type reveal that leaves you speechless for a moment, while it dawns on you what was going on all along ... The Last of Us also solicits a gasp, but has much more of a Soprano's ending feel to it, which was not to everyone's tastes, but for me it worked perfectly. I'd rather not know ...

The 'I Wish I had More time to play them' Award ...

... goes to both Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch and Assassins Creed Black Flag. These are both great games, despite the odd flaw, that I didn't get the chance to finish.



The wonderful Studio Ghibli art in Ni no Kuni was quite simply exquisite, and while I had some quibbles with the combat system and the overall pacing, it was still one of the most memorable gaming experiences of the year.  



The latest installment of the Assassins Creed franchise again managed to correct some of the missteps of its immediate predecessor, which seems to be a theme for this series. It's a game you can get lost in for sure, and gets back to putting the game-play before the narrative paths where it belongs.

The 'They Don't Make Them Like This Anymore' Award ...

... is shared between the kickstarter funded Shadowrun Returns, and the surprisingly addictive Card Hunter.


Shadowrun Returns was decidedly old-school. It might mean it isn't to modern tastes, but it harked back to the golden age of RPGs for me, evoking the likes of Baldurs Gate, Fallout, and Planescape, in a very pleasing way. Some dubious design decisions aside (I'm looking at you save system!) it was also great to see a kickstarter project execute successfully. 



To be honest I am surprised that Card Hunter hasn't been mentioned in more end of year lists. It's a great little turn based game, and has a brilliantly polished style and interface. Playing on the cliches of Dungeons and Dragons and the table-top genre, it pokes fun at your beloved geeky memories and uses it to frame a really solid and deep turn based squad arena game.

The 'I Really Don't Know How to Categorise These' Award ...

Goes to Papers, Please and Device 6, which were both unexpectedly brilliant in their own eccentric ways.

 

Papers Please was the hardest game for me on this list. The pressure really ramps up as you progress through this dystopian paperwork simulator. It makes you face up to hard choices, and tells an interesting tale as it asks you to play 'spot the difference' against increasingly challenging time limits. It shouldn't work, but it does.


Device 6 is the only iOS game that really blew me away this year (although the first part of Republique came close, but I'll reserve judgement on that one until the game is complete). It's a truly unique experience, part interactive text adventure, part puzzler. It will not be for everyone, but once you get what it's trying to do and roll with it, the story draws you in, and has you wanting to solve that next chapter. It's a touch on the short side, I'd have loved more of it, but I'd recommend it to anyone willing to give it a go!

The 'Ones I had the most Fun with' Award ...

... could be interpreted as my favorites on this list, and maybe they are. These two are the games that I most fondly remembered when thinking of games this year. These are the ones that just made me smile the most and enjoy the time I spent playing them.


Steamworld Dig first appeared on the 3DS and then arrived on the PC at the tail end of the year, and both versions are great. Its a partly procedural platformer with a mining mechanic that makes you dig your own routes down through the mines. The game has an appealingly cute aesthetic, complete with a series of western stemapunk robots voiced with some suitably nonsensical sim-speak style language. 

Considering the game is largely procedural it flows remarkably well, and feels like a fully crafted platform title start to boss fight finish. Dig, mine gems, sell gems, upgrade abilities and manage resources to complete the progression dungeon type parts. Rinse and repeat. It rewards exploration and experimentation, and is firmly a system game that gives you tools and let's you have fun with them. 
  
Gunpoint was a title I had been watching since the very early demos. Made almost entirely by a single developer it's another systems game that gives you a tool set, and lets you explore the best ways to deploy them.



The 8-bit styling worked for the game, and the possibilities were never obscured by the art. It also had an absolutely wicked sense of humour ... at least in a very British tradition, so it made me smile at least once in every conversation.  I might have liked a little more of it, but I treasured every screen in the game.

It all felt a little old school, while being thoroughly modern in the openness of its game-play. Another one that is very easy to recommend.

The best bits of 2013 - Movies

Plenty of enjoyable trips to the movies this year, and with a single exception it wasn't the summer blockbusters that really did it for me this year. The Marvel movies continue to entertain, but they really seem like an ongoing serial at this stage rather than stand alone efforts. Iron Man 3 and Thor 2 were fun extensions of their franchises, but are definitely starting to feel like feature length TV episodes to me.

So what else caught my eye this year?

Rounding up the ones I liked ...



Warm Bodies was a fun way to start the year. Light, but full of heart, the pseudo romantic comedy with zombies was not exactly ground breaking in any way, but I'll remember it for the normality of zombie life moments.

I'm not usually a huge fan of biopics, but I enjoyed the story told in Rush. It serves to both demonstrate how much sport has changed since the 70's while demonstrating that human nature does not. Two compelling characters, and two great performances do them justice.  

I was always likely to be including The World's End on this list as Edgar Wright again uses his partners in crime to perfection. The end of their so-called 'Cornetto Trilogy' (after Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz) might go off the rails a little in places, and if it was trying to deliver a message, it all gets lost a bit in the ending, but it's bizarre and funny in the best traditions of British humour ... and has one of the best soundtracks of recent years for anyone of my age!

The One silly summer movie I couldn't resist ...

Guillermo Del Toro is one of my favorite directors, so the chances I wasn't going to like Pacific Rim were slim. Yes, its cheesy, but intentionally so. To me it's a love letter to the B movies and monster flicks that inspired it. It's pretty much robot's fighting monsters, but done with a heart, and an odd respect for a niche genre that maybe most didn't appreciate.  

In a weird way I liked the fact that it was a cheesy, predictable script, because that is what a move centered on giant mecha smashing heads with wanna-be Godzilla's needs to be. 

You aren't supposed to be taking it seriously.





The annual I could Watch Peter Jackson make Middle Earth Movies for eternity award goes, rather predictably, to Mr Jackson and his latest sojourn to Tolkien's fantasy world.


The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug was a damn fine middle chapter, and while the purists may be dismayed at Jackson's elongation of the story, and his additions, personally I find they work well, and make for interesting stories. Peter Jackson and his partner in everything Middle Earth, Fran Walsh, are by now very comfortable with how to integrate new elements and have them work. I loved that characters like Bard get flushed out, and that they can inject at least one strong female character into a book that was completely devoid of them. 

In all honesty I could watch these movies for years to come and be happy, they just do epic fantasy better than anything that has come before ... and Bilbo / Smaug being Watson / Holmes just rings all the pop culture bells in my head ...




My favorites of the year


  

In any other year these three would leave me content. This year there was another film though that simply blew me away, but more of that later. It did mean though that these three end up sharing the second placed podium as it were, all squeezing into my affections in ways that I am sure will linger past this year.

I am a huge fan of Neil Jordan's work, so that I loved Byzantium was not a surprise to me. Given the cynicism towards vampire movies, let alone one with a female teen lead, in the post Twilight world, I am also not surprised this one didn't garner much attention. It is so much more than that. A wonderfully understated performance from Saoirse Ronan, and an interesting script that places a premium on a personal tale at the expense of an epic sweep, makes for one of the best takes on the vampire genre in years.

I also do not hide my admiration for Joss Whedon, and his adaptation of Much Ado about Nothing was simply genius. Watching the usual Whedon alumni that you know and love, play out the original Shakespeare text, in black and white no less, works far, far better than it had any right to. Perfect casting throughout, from a magnetic Amy Acker as the lead, through to Nathan Fillion suiting Dogberry perfectly. Shakespeare done right!

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty sneaked in at the end of the year, and was wonderful. Maybe it's that I am an endless day dreamer, or that I am sucker for a little inspiration, but this one resonated with me immediately. The location shots in Iceland didn't hurt either. It makes for some gorgeous landscape eye candy ... and makes me wish I could ride a skateboard ... 


One movie though stands head and shoulders above everything else that got released this year. 

Gravity


Quite simply the best movie I watched this year. A fantastic achievement in movie-making, and a brilliant, taught, script brought to life by great performances. Everything about this experience was immersive and compelling. Technically the achievement is nothing short of stunning, just getting the movie made is a testament to putting the latest technology to good effect. What could have been an overloaded action flick in the wrong hands, is instead an intimate character study of someone under intense pressure, where the action sequences, as impressive as they are, are never allowed to take over.

A perfect combination of the art of cinema and the art of storytelling. 

Some Swiftclaws

Finished up some bikers to add to the growing ranks of my army of space vikings. These were kit-bashed a little with the grey hunter kit to give them some Space Wolf flair.



The three smaller bikes are the models from the 6th Edition Dark Millennium box. I didn't need them in their original Dark Angel form, so a few wolf icons and viola - some Swiftclaws.


Not sure whether they are worth the points in a game, but I build more for the fun of painting the army than effectiveness on the battlefield. 


Wasn't entirely happy with how these game out, but I did like the effects you can get with the new technical paint that Games Workshop released just before Christmas. They are great for doing quick rust and dirt effects.


Leaving the Space Wolves aside for a while next. Moving on to a Warmachine army, a small Cygnar battleforce, and the contents of a few of the new games I have received through Kickstarter, most notably the Steampunk Western game - Wild West Exodus. Looking forward to painting those up!


Because, Science Fiction ...


I wrote some words on writing and designing for Science Fiction games at the behest of the ever awesome @tanyaxshort, and you can now read the whole thing, with insights from a variety of other industry veterans on the same subject.

You can find the article, Round Table: The Technobabble Trap , over on Gamasutra.