This past Saturday I had the pleasure (read ‘sheer terror’) to have my first board game design, “Specimen”, put through a blind playtest. What exactly is a blind playtest, you ask? A blind playtest is where the players play the game using just the rule book. There is no instruction from an experienced player. This type of playtest is actually a critical step on the path to releasing the game. Since I’m not planning on sending myself along with every copy of the game to teach people how to play, making sure that the rules are complete and make sense with minimal confusion is a really good idea. I should point out that I have never written an instruction manual before this, so while everything in it makes sense to me, to others, probably not so much.

Thanks to Eric Van Tassel (“Specimen’s” plucky Science Officer Franklin), we had two very experienced gamers arrive at Stately Cullom Manor at 11:30 AM. After brief introductions and a tour of my fanboy abode, I sat Alex Hunt and Jonathon Hagedorn down at the table with the board, several piles of counters, cards, dice and two copies of the rules and let them have at it. The three of us agreed that I wouldn’t tell them anything and they wouldn’t ask me any questions unless they were completely flummoxed.

Here is where the ‘pleasure’ began in earnest (mostly in my living room, but definitely earnest too). Alex and Jonathon began by reading the rule book cover to cover. Both were armed with post-it notes and pens and very quickly (Like page freaking one!) they began to make notes. It’s quite an experience to watch something you’ve spent basically the last three years of your life working on being picked apart and being powerless to intervene. It’s all for the greater good (the greater good), I kept telling myself. The game will only get better with this. So I sucked it up and went with it. I decided to try and distract myself from the vivisection going on at the table by watching the blu-ray of “The Thing” (the new version, not the Carpenter one.)

By the time the film came to its happy, upbeat conclusion, Jonathon and Alex were well into actually playing the game. Now I got the pleasure of hearing little snippets of their conversation as they confer on game play and rules. “I believe that attempting to damage the ship costs 2 action points, right?” and things like that. Of course, it seems to me that the only bits of the conversation that I can make out clearly are ones that indicate that my rule-writing skills hover somewhere between ‘awful’ and ‘second grader.’ I’m fairly certain that not once did I catch the phrase “This is brilliant. Whoever wrote it is clearly a genius and should be standing in some sort of sun-god robes on a pyramid with a thousand naked women screaming and throwing little pickles at him” (Why am I the only one who has that dream?).

As this torture rolled on, I became convinced that at any moment the guys were going to announce that the rules are a mess, the game is a failure and my sense of home decor is questionable at best.

Fortunately the whole affair ends quite well. They both enjoyed the game. The rules as I wrote them are serviceable.  Jonathon and Alex both put forth a lot of good suggestions for improvement and a few GREAT ones. Several sections can be combined. Several should be expanded. And several new ones should be added.

So, I think that we’ve passed that step. Or at least, didn’t trip and break our freaking necks on it. I’m now in the process of implementing their suggestions, and hope to have a new draft of the rules soon.

After that, I guess I’ll take a serious look at my home decor…

‘Course, what do I know?

You can check out all the past blogs and reviews at the Bloodwork blog on toxicbag.com.

TOTAL RECALL

August 16, 2012

Rating System: 0 – 5 Bubbly Head Deaths with Zero being the lowest and five being the highest.

Directed by Len Wiesman

The Review

Total Recall, which I will simply refer to as TR, is a remake of the 1990 Schwarzenegger action flick. This is another attempt to bring Phillip K. Dick‘s classic 1966 short story We Can Remember It for You Wholesale to the big screen. Sci-Fi fandom owes a lot to Phillip K. Dick. In addition to this story he also gave us Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep (which became Blade Runner) and Minority Report. This version is closer to the Dick story (at least this time it’s set entirely on Earth) than the 1990 version, but its still not very close.

TR is set in a standard dystopian sci-fi world. In the near future, the earth has been virtually destroyed by a chemical war. The only habitable places left are The United Federation (England) and the Colony (Australia.) The two places are connected by a gigantic underground train that travels straight through the Earth’s core. I laughed out loud when I read that bit of exposition, since I’m pretty sure that the pressure and temperature at the Earth’s core would be a little bit too extreme for train travel. But it was a movie, so I went with it. There’s a rebellion of sorts going on, with a small group of terrorists blowing up stuff to strike at the heartless United Federation and its evil President Cohaagen (Bryan Cranston).

The story concerns Douglas Quaid (Colin Farrell,) a man who lives a fairly mundane life. He works at an android assembly plant in the Colony all day and at night goes home to his wife Lori (Kate Beckinsale)in a shoebox of an apartment.  Doug is a troubled guy. He keeps having recurring dreams of escaping from some sort of prison with a hottie resistance fighter named Melina (Jessica Biel.) I must confess that I too have recurring dreams of Jessica Biel, so it’s entirely possible that I might also be some sort of super spy.

Doug feels that his life is missing something, so he visits Rekal Incorporated, a company that offers implanted memories.  After perusing the menu, he decides to have a secret agent memory implanted. As the procedure is starting, McClane (John Cho) detects some other planted memories already in Doug’s head. Convinced that he is a Government agent, McClane halts the procedure and wants him thrown out. Suddenly the building is filled with Soldiers. The Rekal staff is gunned down, leaving just Quaid. In a blink of an eye, he kills every soldier in the room and escapes. Returning home he finds that his entire life is actually a fake memory that has been implanted in his head. Even his wife Lori is not what she seems. She is actually another government agent that has been assigned to be his wife. Following her orders, she then tries to kill him and forces him to flee.

The rest of the film shows Quaid on the run desperately trying to discover exactly who he is. Along the way he meets up with the real Melina and finds out that he has a cell phone implanted in his hand. There’s a really cool Hover car chase, lots of gun play and explosions aplenty as the plot begins to unfold. I particularly love bits where Quaid gets a message from his old self. The idea of watching yourself say and act like a complete stranger is compelling and a little bit creepy. The age old question of “am I a good person deep down, or am I rotten” is one we can all relate to. And of course, you have to be prepared for the answer, no matter how ugly it may be. I always go back to a line form Minority Report (another Dick story, as mentioned earlier) when Gideon tells Anderton “Careful Chief, you go digging up the past, all you get is dirty.”

One of the ideas from the original story that I really love is the question of what’s real and what isn’t.  Dick had fun playing with the reader on whether Quail (the name of his main character) is really a spy or it’s just the implanted memories. TR tries to explore that concept, but it’s very overhanded and clumsy. I also love the idea of Quaid trying to discover who he really is. That journey of discovery has plenty of ore to mine. Farrell is a good enough actor to handle it, but the script pretty much pushes all of the “Who am I, and am I gonna like me when I find out” stuff aside and concentrates on the large CGI booms.

Overall TR was pretty good. The film makers didn’t really do any cinematic trailblazing. But they cover the old familiar sci-fi ground well. The gem of this film for me is Kate Beckinsale. Most people know her from the awesomely bad Underworld franchise. I think she’s actually a pretty good actor, and she shows it here. She takes a standard villain part and makes it fun. The screen lights up every time she’s on it and she’s physical enough that you believe that she could kill you in multiple ways.

GAME INSPIRATIONS FROM THE MOVIE

Shadow Run seems to be a perfect fit for this setting, although a modern day Call of Cthulhu would work just as well. You could have two character sheets for each character that has had their memories altered. Then you can spring the new sheet with the ‘real’ character at just the right moment. If your players are up for it, they can have a lot of fun playing a different version of themselves. When you add in just the right amount of swat teams, firefights, and huge government conspiracies, you’ve got yourself an enjoyable evening of gaming!

There were a couple of nods to the original Schwartz version. The traveling women at the security check-in “Two Weeks!” makes a fun appearance and Quaid has a quick throw away line “I always wanted to go to Mars” when he is at Rekall. But that one could also be a nod to the actual Dick story as well. All of the crowd shots of the Colony brought to mind the scenes of LA 2019 from Blade Runner.

‘Course, what do I know?

You can check out this review as well as all the others at the Bloodwork blog on toxicbag.com.

My New Addiction

August 7, 2012

I’m smiling because it’s not my blood…

I have a confession to make. I am a faux-trailer maker. There, I said it. I admit it. What exactly is a faux-trailer maker, you ask? It’s a person who makes trailers for movies that don’t technically exist. And I’m one of them. I know, weird, right? What kind of a weirdo would spend the time, effort, and money to make a trailer for a movie that was never made?

This kind, I guess…

Anyway, it all started back in April when Joe and I released the “Ghost in the Graveyard” soundtrack. I got the crazy idea to cut together a trailer for the imaginary film that the soundtrack was written for. I thought it could allow the customer to hear the music used in a horror setting.  Sooo, we called up an actor friend and put together a shot list and off we went. We shot the trailer, nobody got hurt (despite the bloody wound seen in the trailer!) and I had a blast.

I thought that it would be a one-time thing. I was just experimenting, you know, pushing my boundries. But I enjoyed the feeling. After we finished, I started to miss it. Then in May we did our big photo shoot for our new board game “Specimen.” I saw my chance. As we were running through our setups for the new card images, I had Joe shoot some video clips of our cast looking scared and what not. We’re currently putting the finishing touches on the trailer. The photo up above is me working on some state-of-the-art special effects for it. We should get it posted real soon.

So that will be two trailers and counting. I know, I know, I should stop. This can’t be healthy for me. If anybody knows about any support groups out there, please forward me the contact information. But I got to tell you, it’s so much fun, I don’t think I can stop. And I’m not sure I want too.

Gotta go, I just had a cool idea for a trailer for “The Girl with the Dagon Tattoo” project. It will be epic.

‘Course, what do I know?
-Editors note. Steve is currently ‘resting’ in the Miskatonic Home for Wayward Trailer Makers. He is making excellent progress and hopes to be rejoin society and enjoy watching real movies, and the trailers that advertise them very soon.