You just can’t go back…

Sometimes I wish I could re-create the fun my young friends and I had back in 1978, starting with the ‘basic set’ (pictured at right). Maybe I’m looking at the past with rose-colored glasses, but it seems as though we were less jaded that the players I encounter (or the player I have become) today.

One of the most obvious changes seems to be in the number of options and choices available to the players in preparing a character to play. Here I guess I’ll start to sound like the old Dana Carvey curmudgeon who wheezes about walking barefoot fifteen miles to school in the snow each day, uphill both ways, “and we liked it,” but I actually find myself nostalgic for the very basic and simple ‘cookie cutter’ characters and classes in the original D&D. One started character creation by rolling dice to determine your strength, intelligence, wisdom, etc., and then, based on what you rolled, you chose a character class. One could adjust your scores in very minor ways: you could swap two points of intelligence for one point of strength if you were a fighter, etc., but one usually ended up with characters whose average ability score was 8 to 10.

My memory of those games is that as players, our pleasure in the game was much more immediate and less abstract — what we as players decided to do or not do seemed to have more bearing on events than anything written on our character sheets. There seemed to be less ‘rules lawyering’ because there were fewer rules to lawyer with. Instead of resolving all actions through balanced universal d20 mechanics with things like ‘roll a dice to notice’ or ‘roll a dice to listen’ or ‘roll a dice to use your engineering knowledge,’ we would talk about what we wanted to do. “I want to look under the bed and behind the dresser” instead of “I roll a search check.”

I’m thinking about these things because recently a friend of mine, who was running a session of a newer RPG told me that the last time they met “he had the worst session ever.” I don’t honestly think that a different set of rules would have helped or hindered (the problems were probably more a set of abrasive personalities rubbing each other the wrong way), but our conversation about what went wrong at the session made me want to think about what goes wrong or right when we sit down and play (I was not at this horrible session, BTW).


HANDS OFF MY JUNK!

Suddenly, some Americans are very angry. Some of the same people who didn’t make a peep when we went to war in Iraq under false (or wrong) pretenses, who stayed quiet when the Administration and FEMA sat on their hands as the floodwaters inundated New Orleans during Katrina, who didn’t say anything when treason was swept under the carpet in the Valerie Plame/Joe Wilson affair, who remained silent as foreign nationals were imprisoned and tortured without evidence or charge by the US and her allies, who did not protest when the definition of the word “torture” was rewritten for the convenience of politicians, who said nothing through the warrantless wiretaps and email scans, who did not protest when George W. Bush called the Constitution “just a piece of paper”… these people are finally outraged and have declared that they “will not take it anymore.”

What is the reason for their anger? New airline security regulations in the US that require scanners that can see through people’s clothes just went into effect. So when you stand in front of the scanner, some underpaid TSA guy or gal will see an outline of your penis.

I don’t believe that most of what we (the US) did in response to the terrorist attacks on 9-11 made us safer — but I don’t know whether to laugh or cry when I hear how much fuss some people are making about this. I don’t believe that having a TSA employee look at the outline of my naked body will really make my flight any safer… but, in the scheme of things, I don’t understand why the new scanners outrage some folks when everything else that has come before it (that represents real abuse) has gone unmentioned. If I go to a gym and take a shower, strangers can see my penis. What is the big deal?

I believe that this is manufactured outrage that has more to do with wanting to embarass the current administration than anything else. I come to that conclusion because the TSA was created and it’s mission defined under the previous administration. It is all just political theatre and the outrage is all about 9 years too late.


Good Press! Game Developer Magazine

Just a quick note to wish everyone a happy holiday and mention that I just had an illustration published in Game Developer Magazine.

Game Developer Magazine is an industry publication for people who create video games, so you probably won’t find it on the shelf at your local news stand. A big thanks to Brandon Sheffield and Jeff Fleming of GD Magazine for the chance to have my work appear in your magazine — consider me ready to draw whatever you need in the future!


If you lie to me, why would I trust you?

The envelope at the right arrived in my mailbox today. At first glance, it looked like a 1099 of a w-2 form. Since some of the companies I do freelance work for send me 1099s, I normally keep an eye out for them and stash them away for tax time. The big ‘2009’ in the upper right makes it look like a tax document dealing with the year 2009. I also lost my job this year and had to claim unemployment, so all sorts of ‘official’ documents requiring my response end up in my mail.

I ripped open the envelope and discovered that I had been selected for special financing on a new car by a local Ford dealership. I felt that the sender had intentionally tried to make the envelope look like ‘official government correspondence’ and left off the return address in order to increase my chances of opening it (as opposed to printing “We want to sell you a car!” or something similar on the envelope, which , admittedly, would have resulted in the envelope and contents going right into the recycle bin).

As far as sales pitches go, though, this one seems really flawed. The sender attempted to deceive me about the envelope’s contents in order to get me to open it, and, once I had opened it, wanted me to come in and buy a car. I understand that the real goal of the car dealership is to make money by selling cars, but isn’t gaining the trust of the customer important in the process? The thought that immediately occurred to me, once I opened the envelope, was, “Geez, this person lied to me to get me to open this envelope (true, in the scheme of things, a pretty unimportant lie)… and now they want me to trust them to give me a good deal on a car?”

As I tossed the letter into the bin, though, I began to wonder if such a pitch did work… after all, this isn’t the first time I have received a letter that looked like something important and turned out to be a sales pitch (my favorite was one that was printed up to look like a refund check from the IRS… and when you opened the envelope you saw that they were offering you a loan or something). Part of me thinks that deceiving people into listening to you long enough to hear your sales pitch is an asshole thing to do, yet, amazingly, it must work because I keep getting these letters.

Maybe the true ‘seller’ is a breed apart — he or she is someone who can lie to your face to get you to open the envelope, and, once you have opened the envelope, then unashamedly switch tactics and try to get you to buy whatever they are selling, even though I think my reaction should be, “Hey, you just lied to me! Shut the fuck up and leave me alone, you slimeball!” The ‘effective salesperson’ is perhaps someone who is not encumbered by the same degree of shame that the rest of us are handicapped with.


Atomic Knights!

I finally got my copy of the reprints of “Atomic Knights” comics in the mail… and I can’t wait to sit down and crack it open.

The series originally ran in DC’s “Strange Adventures” in the years 1960-1964; a little before my time. It is apparently not to be confused with another comic called “The Atomic Knight” that I know nothing about (maybe “The Atomic Knight” is about a bookworm who got superpowers by suffering a paper cut from a radiated copy of “Ivanhoe”).

The comic is set in post-nuclear holocaust America in the year 1986 (yeah, I know… but in 1960 the threat of a nuclear war on any given day was a possibility people thought about, so, in context, it works). There are all sorts of weird radiated mutants running around and a few scraps of humanity struggle to survive. “The Atomic Knights” are a collection of do-gooders seeking to keep civilization alive and help the other survivors. I guess they may have raided a museum for suits of medieval armor… and the armor apparently protects them from radiation (ah, the optimism of the 1960s). Others, like the evil Black Baron, are hoarding food and attempting to set themselves up as rulers. The “Atomic Knights” also ride around on giant dalmatians and battle foes that are animal, vegetable, mineral and extraterrestrial. What fun!

I had never heard of “The Atomic Knights” until recently, and never would have if not for the internets. Thank you, Al Gore for bringing me “The Atomic Knights!”


The Human Centipede (film review)

Every once in a while you see a movie that is so awful you want to stop watching, but a weird kind of fascination, the same kind of fascination that makes you want to look at traffic accidents, keeps your eyes on the screen. “The Human Centipede” is such a film.

This film got 5.1 stars (out of 10) on IMDB… which is my opinion is about 4.1 stars too many. The real problem with the movie is that it is so stupid. Unfortunately, it’s not stupid enough to be funny, or interesting, or campy or even noteworthy — it’s just stupid.

The film starts off bu introducing us to a German doctor, Dr. Heiter, in his car by the side of the road. The actor who plays Heiter looks like what one might get if one mixed equal parts Christopher Walken and Klaus Kinski. Dr. Heiter is sitting in his Mercedes by the side of the road looking at a picture of three dogs (who are standing in a row; each dog appears to have his snout in the ass on the dog ahead of him, but, hey, they are dogs, they sniff each other’s butts all of the time, right?). Dr. Heiter looks sad and crazy. A semi pulls up behind him and the truck driver gets out to go take a shit in the bushes. Dr. Heiter follows him with a rifle (later we find out that the rifle fires tranquilizer darts).

Cut to two American girls in a hotel, gabbing with a third girl on the phone. They announce that they are going out to a club in hopes of meeting up with a boy one of them met earlier. One of them is getting directions from the concierge on the room phone and it becomes clear that she is not the sharpest knife in the block.

In the next scene, the girls are driving around, lost in the woods and they get a flat tire. An old, bald, fat and disgusting guy who is driving around at night in his undershirt smoking and looking for people to harass comes up and sexually harasses them in German, but they don’t understand until they look up “ficken (fucking)” in their German/English dictionary. They ignore him and he drives away. They decide to walk through the woods at night in their mini-skirts and high heels. It starts to rain and, after getting lost and having their mascara run down their cheeks, they see a light in the distance. They run up and bang on the door. The door opens, and, hello! It’s Herr Doktor Walken, err, Heiter!

Heiter is really weird and rude but they come in and he promises to call the rental car company for them. Heiter has a house that is a DWELL reader’s wet dream with lots of wood and white but has a large painting of Siamese twin fetuses on the wall. While pretending to call the car service, Heiter puts two pills in two glasses of water and gives them to the girls. The ditzy girl falls asleep as the other girl realizes they have been drugged and tries (and fails) to get away. She passes out and Heiter is triumphant.

Cut to a room in Heiter’s basement. The girls awaken and discover that they are tied to beds in a hospital-like room. The Dutch truck driver from the beginning of the film is tied to a bed as well. Doctor Heiter announces that the two girls are a “match” but the truck driver is not a match and uses a syringe full of drugs to kill him. He his later shown burying the body in his garden. Nearby is a gravestone marked, “My beloved 3 dog.” They show that gravestone several times… along with the creepy art in Heiter’s house that all seems to deal with Siamese twins.

Heiter goes out with his tranquilizer gun and returns with a Japanese man. Everyone other than Heiter is freaked out and screaming about what a rotten fuck Heiter is. Using overhead transparencies that look as if they were drawn by a 12 year old, Heiter explains that he was the foremost surgeon specialized in separating Siamese twins, but he has retired from that and now wants to create a living work of art. He explains that he joined three dogs together, ass to mouth, to form one long creature… but it died (hence the grave) and now he wants to replicate the experiment with three humans. He will start by cutting the tendons in their knees (so they can’t stand) and removing the teeth and lips from the second and third person and the anuses from the first and second person. He will then sew them all together, forming a creature with a single intestinal tract: “the human centipede.” And, yes, that drawing on the right, with “food goes in here and poop comes out there” is really what Heiter shows them to explain how it will work. As the evil and totally fucked-up Heiter is administering anesthesia, the one slightly less stupid American girl gets away. Heiter chases her around and she sneaks back downstairs and gets her friend. As she is trying to drag her unconscious friend to safety, Heiter nails her with the tranquilizer gun.

Then there is a montage of Heiter pulling out teeth and slitting buttocks and knees. Eventually they wake up and are disturbed to discover that Doktor Heiter has succeeded in making them into a ‘human centipede,’ but, instead of being terrifying, it just looks silly. All three actors are wearing bandages on their knees and bandages that look like diapers and each actor’s head is bandaged to the ass of the actor in front of them. I just looks stupid and fake. I hope the actors were not farting in each other’s faces during the filming.

At this point there is still about half an hour left and we get to see Heiter training his centipede to crawl around and fetch the newspaper. At one point, the Japanese man apologizes because he has to shit and he can’t hold it in because Heiter removed his sphincter… so, apologizing in Japanese, he shits in the mouth of the woman who is sewed to his ass and she can’t help but shit in the mouth of the woman who is sewed to her ass… and, ladies and gentlemen, we have just arrived at this film’s big moment. Yep. This film exists to give the director a “plausible” reason to have people being forced to shit in other people’s mouths. Fortunately, we don’t really have to see anyone eating shit… the actors just grimace and make gagging noises as Heiter crows, “Feed her, yes… feed her!” Did I mention that at some point Heiter donned jack boots and picked up a riding crop? The director, Tom Six of Holland, is a master story teller (that was me being sarcastic).

There’s more (including a visit by two of the most incompetent detectives in Germany), but I think you get the point. I would tell you not to watch it, but at this point, if you have read this far, you are probably saying to yourself, “It can’t really be as stupid as he says it is; I must see for myself…” Go ahead. Watch it. But afterward you will want those 92 minutes of life back.

Let me say in advance, “I told you so.”


Atomic Knights!

I finally got my copy of the reprints of “Atomic Knights” comics in the mail… and I can’t wait to sit down and crack it open.

The series originally ran in DC’s “Strange Adventures” in the years 1960-1964; a little before my time. It is apparently not to be confused with another comic called “The Atomic Knight” that I know nothing about (maybe “The Atomic Knight” is about a bookworm who got superpowers by suffering a paper cut from a radiated copy of “Ivanhoe”).

The comic is set in post-nuclear holocaust America in the year 1986 (yeah, I know… but in 1960 the threat of a nuclear war on any given day was a possibility people thought about, so, in context, it works). There are all sorts of weird radiated mutants running around and a few scraps of humanity struggle to survive. “The Atomic Knights” are a collection of do-gooders seeking to keep civilization alive and help the other survivors. I guess they may have raided a museum for suits of medieval armor… and the armor apparently protects them from radiation (ah, the optimism of the 1960s). Others, like the evil Black Baron, are hoarding food and attempting to set themselves up as rulers. The “Atomic Knights” also ride around on giant dalmatians and battle foes that are animal, vegetable, mineral and extraterrestrial. What fun!

I had never heard of “The Atomic Knights” until recently, and never would have if not for the internets. Thank you, Al Gore for bringing me “The Atomic Knights!”