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December 31, 2003

NYE '03

Morning all! Thirty-first of December, Twenty Oh-Three, and I'm spending the morning mowing the lawn and making sure it's ready to receive guests - assuming any turn up, of course, as I've heard neither hide nor hair from anyone.

Just a reminder: if you plan to come along, please give us a call or e-mail to let us know. You'll need to BYO nibblies and beverages (alcoholic or otherwise).

To everyone who won't be turning up, whether you already have plans to go to (or host) an NYE bash or whether you're just going to spend a quiet night in (frankly, we can't blame you), all our best wishes and may it be a great night for you!

December 27, 2003

For Your Attention

In the post-Christmas period, I'd like to draw the attention of me readership to a few things:


  • Firstly, as you all know, New Year’s Eve is coming up. I know that a few of you are planning shindigs at various spots, and considering the hosts, they're going to be bitchin'. Unfortunately, due to work commitments, Vickie and I can't make them. However, we will be holding an open-door New Year's party at our joint for anyone who'd like to come along. It's going to be BYO nibblies and beverages (alcoholic or otherwise), as we're a little strapped post-Christmas, and it's probably going to be small and comfortable, with the option of watching the fireworks on TV (spotty reception and all) at midnight. If you'd like to spend a comfortable, (comparatively) quiet evening with friends, please give us a call or e-mail.

  • With many thanks to Michael Z in Canberra, I have my hands on the Scifi Re-Imagined Mini-Series of Battlestar Galactica.Vickie and I have seen it, and we reckon it kicks serious arse. SimLauren suggested organising a Viewing Day sometime soon; it'll mean connecting my PC to our TV screen, but I'd like to do it. Is anyone interested? (And does anyone have a cable that connects a standard stereo headphone jack to the red/white audio ports on a TV?)

  • Still on the get-togethers topic, but moving from physical to virtual, I'd like to direct your attention to an MSN forum known as Jake’s Bar. Vickie is a moderator there, and as we've grown dissatisfied with a lot of other forums we've spent time on (they've gone from social chat to political bitching), we want to give Jake's a kick-start. We need more regulars, though, so if you have an MSN Passport, please wander over, sign in and say hello!

  • And finally tonight, I'd like to suggest that those of a PC gaming bent check out a little game called Star Chamber. It's this odd, addictive hybrid of turn-based strategy and collectible card game. Not only is this 10MB download really good, but it's also entirely free - although that only gives you some sample star-maps and card decks for five of the major races. If you want to seriously get into it (which I'm not yet), you're looking at buying virtual starters and boosters, which are still much cheaper than most collectible card games on the market today. Even so, the sample stuff really gives you a good taste of how the game works, and you can probably play with those for a while. If you download it, give me a hoy, and we can organise a few games (it's strictly two-player).

Post-Christmas Ramble

Hello everyone! There�s nothing I particularly want to focus this post on, so I�m going to ramble between a few topics. I hope you don�t mind � and speaking of hopes, I also hope you all had a Merry and Safe Christmas.

Presents-wise, I�d like to say a big thank-you to my Vickie, who picked out a great pair of sunglasses for me (I�ll supply a photo when I�m looking a bit better), to Mum & Dad, Trish, Nan and Aunt Heather for the shirts (all of which not only fit but look very natty), to my Mum and Dad for the Borders vouchers (How the hell am I going to spend them all?), to Grandma for the cash (which was retroactively spent on our digital camera), to Dan & Lesley for the hamper-ful of goodies, and to Dan & Gav for the Battlestar Galactica Original Series DVD Boxed Set (you bastards). Dan also chucked me a copy of Rainbow Six 3: Raven Shield, which I�ve been told Boots and Gav also have, so that gives us something we can all play online! (Once I finish the training�) Thank you also to everyone who sent us a Christmas card, whether physical or e-card. We're very glad you thought of us, and it really is the thought that counts!

Taronga Zoo was lovely, if hot, on Christmas Day, although we managed to tour the place surprisingly quickly. It probably helped that we�d been there a few times before during the year, plus there were renovations for the new elephant enclosure and a caf� plaza, which meant that several enclosures simply weren�t there. We got to see the two new lion cubs dozing with their Dad, while Mum looked on regally, but unfortunately the tiger cubs were hiding. Vickie�s adopted kids, the dingoes, were also crashed out for the afternoon. (You'd think they'd be more active for their sponsors, but there you have it.)

Today, we had SimLauren & Jason over for the afternoon. We treated them to pizza, and Vickie and Lauren traded jewellery beads and drooled over online catalogues while Jason and I talked RPGs. Jason has had a 7th Sea game running for a long while, and some of the things he implemented for it in terms of character creation and plotting were very funky; the way he tells it, he's been able to incorporate a sensibility of legend into his character backgrounds and plot development. I showed him an idea I had for an octaNe con game, which I think he was either impressed with or scared by; the man keeps his cards close to his chest, so it�s hard to tell.

We were thinking of going to see Return of the King today, but we think the queues for it are going to be hellish. As I have the whole week off work, we�ve decided to leave it until later. Dan & Lesley are going to catch a session on Monday night, so we�re babysitting Emily & Gabrielle; we traded a couple of sittings for Dan & Lesley�s three-drawer filing cabinet, which has already made our lives much easier.

December 25, 2003

Merry Xmas Everybody

While we were in the UK, I read a newspaper article which mentioned that you couldn't avoid knowing that Christmas was coming up as all the radio stations started playing Slade's "Merry Xmas Everybody".

I don't know why - call me what you will, even a tasteless twerp - but that's what I've always missed about English Christmases.

That aside, it's 8 AM, it's a bright, sunny day, and Vickie and I were up at midnight last night opening our prezzies. (We have a good excuse; we thought we'd be busy making food this morning for our trip to the zoo, and I'd just picked Vickie up from work.)

So a Merry Christmas to all of you! Here's hoping your day is fun and relaxing.

December 23, 2003

Enforced Early Holiday

So I overslept this morning. My fault; I assumed the alarm was working when I hadn't even switched it back on after yesterday morning (in my defense, the little Alarm On light was indeed on). I got up, got myself sorted and got out of the house at half past eight. I dropped off some presents and cards on the way to the station, and arrived at twenty to nine, five minutes before the next train was due to arrive. And waited.

And waited.

And waited.

And all of a sudden, at around five minutes to nine, this announcement comes over the PA; there's a rail strike on, and no more trains will be running until three.

Vickie's going to work tonight, so I can't take the car (not that I'd particularly want to), and I was due to start annual leave tomorrow anyway. So, looks like I'm on holidays as of today!

Which is good, as we have some shopping to do and prezzies to deliver.

December 21, 2003

Cleaning Keyboards

Afternoon, everyone. It's been a fairly busy morning this morning, especially after a late night last night watching Wonder Boys (great movie, by the way - get it on DVD if you haven't already). Vickie and I took her keys off her keyboard and I cleaned out all the toast crumbs stuck below the keys, and cleaned the keys themselves, while Vickie got stuck into the garden. After the keyboard was re-assembled, I helped out in the garden by sawing off a dead branch of our apricot tree.

Vickie and I have decided that we'll see Harry Potter today and catch Die Another Day, well, another day - the other day in question being tomorrow.

I'm going to buy some case fans for our PCs today. I also want to try out some system tweaks in the latest issue of Australian Personal Computer out of curiosity - maybe I'll squeeze an extra frame per second or a few more 3D Mark points out of it. Not that I've even installed 3D Mark since the last upgrade...

Crimson Skies: First Ever Battle Report!

Brought to you by Coopers Pale Ale and Kettle Chips

Hi everyone. As you know, Boots, Gav, Dan and I have been playing some Crimson Skies lately. I went on hiatus for a while when Vickie and I went to the UK, but I’m slowly getting back into the swing of things – very slowly, if last night’s battle with Dan is any indication.

Vickie took an extra shift to fill in for an absentee last night, so I called Dan to see what he was up to. He popped around with beer and chips; I set up the table and decided to log the battle properly, photo-record and all. (Boots and Gav have taken photos of previous battles, but as they don’t have websites, they’ve not yet done anything with them.)

After some discussion, we decided that a 400-point battle would allow both of us to use all of our Squadron regulars, plus the Ace plane and the Fate abilities of the Ace figure, without dropping anyone down an experience level. The breakdown was as follows:

Dan: The Red Skull Legion


  • 50: Jonathan ‘Genghis’ Kahn

  • 96: Jonathan ‘Genghis’ Kahn’s Kestrel

  • 74: Harry ‘Lucky’ Kenyon’s Kestrel

  • 72: Luthor ‘Pry-Bar’ Prymon’s Kestrel

  • 48: Henrietta ‘Hettyhawk’ Corbett’s Peacemaker

  • 52: Rafael ‘Fencer’ Herrera’s Peacemaker

  • Total: 392

Rob: The Fortune Hunters


  • 50: Maria Sanchez

  • 85: Maria Sanchez’ Vampire

  • 74: ‘Big John’ Washington’s Vampire

  • 72: ‘Brooklyn’ Betty Charles’ Vampire

  • 50: Ellen Sue ‘Tex’ Ryder’s Devastator

  • 50: Robert ‘Buck’ Deere’s Devastator

  • Total: 381

With evenly matched squadrons like those, you’d expect a fairly even slug-out of a match. Well, although the planes balance on points, it’s a shame the players don’t quite, as you’ll see.

Set-Up
Dan got the high-roll for set-up, and opted to spread his planes in a neat line. I spread my forces out in an attempt to pick and focus on targets. Here’s how it looked:

The Set-Up Phase

Turn 1
Dan won the roll for initiative. Speeds were set, and to do something different (and maybe win an early kill), I set my planes’ speeds to 5. This meant over-revving my two Vampires, and although Big John made his Piloting roll, Brooklyn managed to roll snake eyes. I had taken the first click of damage before anyone had even moved. Of course, no one was in range, and as a consequence of me using my Cruise cards on my Vampires, I rather sillily used right-turn Glide cards on my Devastators, leaving Sanchez with a right-hand Bracket.

Dan had set all his planes to 4 and 3, but the only eventful happening there was the label on the underside of Hettyhawk’s base (the one with the experience table on it) falling off.

End of Turn 1

Turn 2
I won initiative this turn, and kept it for the rest of the game. I don’t think it worked out particularly well for me, but I didn’t exactly help the situation either.
On 5s, I managed to get Tex into Hettyhawk’s rear arc, but even with four dice of Armour Piercing (misses are re-rolled) I only scored one Click of damage. One measly Click! The down-side was a collision between Big John and (I believe) Pry-Bar, but I think we both managed to emerge unscathed.

It looked as though Dan might have scored the first kill of the game on fours, but there was some confusion as to the modifiers applied to Genghis’ shot at Brooklyn with Ceramic-Coated Magnesium. Brooklyn took six Clicks, but was thankfully still in the fight.

End of Turn 2

Turn 3
This was where it all started to come apart for me. Maybe it was the humidity, maybe it was because I’d been feeling tired all day, but I managed to make a couple of spectacular and stupid mistakes that probably cost me the game.

On fives, Genghis managed to line up five dice of Ceramic Coated Magnesium against Buck – and with nine Clicks, finished off the softening-up Dan’s other planes had done in Turn 2. Needless to say, Buck didn’t make it out of his cockpit alive. Some nifty manoeuvring on Dan’s part brought nearly all his arcs to bear on my planes, and mucho tenderising was done. We had another collision in fives, between Tex and Pry-Bar, and I think Tex walked away with a Click while Pry-Bar was undamaged.

Fours saw the dopey error from heck. You can see it on the end-of-turn picture. See how Maria Sanchez is down the bottom of the picture, pointing North-West? She was pointing at the exact spot Lucky Kenyon was at the beginning of the turn – except Dan had set Lucky’s speed to four as well, so I wound up aiming at nothing. I realised my mistake barely a second after I put my Glide navigation card by Maria and nodded to Dan to place his cards. At the very least, none of his planes had a shot at Maria.

By the end of the turn, I’d managed to lose Brooklyn, and although I’d done some damage, all of Dan’s planes were still airborne.

End of Turn 3

Turn 4
Well, this was pretty much it. In this turn, Dan pureed Tex and Big John, whilst inflicting a few clicks on Maria. I managed to get my own back, though; with the use of one of Maria’s Fate points, I managed a seven-die attack of Ceramic Coated Magnesium on Lucky, who took ten Clicks of damage. Still, with a four-on-one ratio and a Vickie to pick up from work in a quarter of an hour, I graciously signalled defeat at the end of the turn.

End of Turn 4

Score
I don’t think Dan, Gav, Boots or I have ever scored a game of Crimson Skies before (at least, not in games amongst ourselves), so I was keen to see how we had done. When I totalled the points – all of our losses were direct kills by the other player, not due to engine stress or collisions – I had 233 while Dan walked away with a final score of 760.

Old Comments

Never mind sweetie...at least you could use the towel to dry your tears.

Btw, this is a nice presentation.Very pro.

Vickie.

Posted by: Vickie at December 21, 2003 12:45 PM

This is great! now, if only Gav and I (who also have some piccies to turn into something hopefully this polished) will get of our behinds, we may have some more battle reports!

Posted by: Boots at December 21, 2003 08:47 PM

Admittedly most of my pics didn't turn out as great, but I'd love to do something along these lines.

And Rob, you did mention you had all that extra space...

Posted by: Gav at December 21, 2003 10:24 PM

Heh heh! Yeah, I do - but I think there's a good chance that Vickie and I might use a lot of it up by ourselves.

Do you have web space of your own, or are you just sharing EvilHayama's connection? And if it;s the latter, why not get in touch with Marcus about some hosting space of your own?

Posted by: IMAGinES at December 22, 2003 09:12 AM

Yep, I'm sharing Jake's connection.

I just may do that about the webspace, but I'd prefer to have something to do with it first, not just incredibly biased reviews of CD's by bands on-one else has heard of.

Posted by: Gav at December 22, 2003 01:13 PM

December 20, 2003

Kostya and the Tree

As promised, here are a couple of photos of our new (toy) dog, Kostya.

Kostya by the Tree
Kostya Himself

Isn't he cute? :-D

Oh, yeah, about the camera: It's a Fujifilm FinePix A205s. It's only a two megapixel job, but considering the piccies above, we're well please with the results we get from it.

December 19, 2003

Example of Play

So in the News & Musings before last, I was rabbiting on about InSpectres. But what's it like to play?

Well, I don't think there are any examples of play outside of the rulebook, but there's a very funky one for another game by the same man, octaNe, written by a con GM. octaNe has a whole different premise to InSpectres; rather than ghost-busting, it's meant to crecreate this whole tripped-out, B-movie, Elvis Meets Snake Plissken On Route 66 crazyness flavour (also known as Psychotronic). But the story is still a good example of the sort of general mayhem that can occur in InSpectres, when roleplayers finally realise they can direct the plot.

It's called From Shangri-LA to Lost Vegas in 3.4 Seconds.

(Warning: Game was played whilst moderately intoxicated. Some inappropriate language.)

Read. Fear. Experience the burning urge to play it yourself.

Shopping and Food (Not Food Shopping)

Hi everyone! After a few days of random stuff, I thought I was high time we caught up on some news.

Well, thankfully things weren’t too out of order on Sunday after the party. We’d taken a look at the food situation earlier that morning (before we went to bed) and realised that we had heaps left over, so much so that a lot of it would spoil before we had any hope of having it for lunches and dinners. Mid-day Sunday, we hit upon an idea – invite some friends over to help us finish it off.

After making a few phone calls, we decided to spend the afternoon in Chatswood, doing some Christmas shopping. I picked up my comics, Vickie picked up some more beads, we browsed through the BaySwiss store for some crockery and incense, and we made a venture into Toys ‘R’ Us to get something for Vickie’s grand-sons in Brisbane, Troy and Jake. While we were there, Vickie set eyes on a near-life-size plush boxer pup and fell in love immediately. When she told me she couldn’t afford him, I took him from her, pulled out my credit card and said, “Merry Christmas, darling!”

In a conversation with the people ahead of us at the checkout, we decided on the name “Kostya”. Right now, he has pride of place, sitting beside our Christmas tree. I’ll have to take a photo with our digital camera and put it up on the site tonight.

Oh, yes, the digital camera! We managed to wangle Boots into coming over and eating our food (not that that’s really a hard sell with Boots, but anyway). As we were in the area, we told him we’d pick him up after work – and then decided to go in and have a browse ourselves. As a result, we walked away with a new 2 Megapixel Fuji digital camera and some handy accessories, and Boots was able to give us a quite affordable price on the lot. It’ll come in handy when we dash off to Cairns in January.

So anyway, we had Boots, SimLauren and Jason over for food on Sunday night. We pulled out the salad, the rest of the turkey and some left-over pastries (provided by Mum & Dad the night before). Jason and Lauren forgot to bring the leftover won ton from Saturday night back with them, but that wasn't a big deal; we had plenty anyway.

I also sat them down to watch Equilibrium, which I reckon they all liked. Afterwards, we were all discussing the ideas of Utopias and Dystopias and the ideas presented in the film, and Boots had the idea that he and I ought to do movie reviews. If I remember his idea correctly, he’d be the belligerent, vehement one, while I’d get to be all calm, rational and reasonable. Tempting little thought, that. I think he was talking about something web-based, and I’ve had a few ideas around that; maybe with a new Movable Type blog with us as authors and using Categories (which we’d post under) for the movie titles. Either that, or doing it as a “daily” thing. Anyway, Boots is coming over here again tonight, so we might hash it out a little more then.

Maybe he’s trying this as a back-door way of getting me involved with his film club…

After all that talk about invitations for Christmas Day, Vickie and I finally remembered last night what we’d actually planned several weeks ago for Christmas: Pack a picnic basket and go to Taronga Zoo. We’ve not taken advantage of Vickie’s Zoo parenthood since I gave it to her for her birthday in early October, so we’re going to actually have a Christmas out.

December 16, 2003

Probably the most evil thing I've ever read.

I was doing a little research for octaNe, see, and I came across this review of the '67 SF (?) movie, Mars Needs Women. I couldn't help but laugh all the way through it. It's like Bill Bryson doing a movie review.

Old Comments

Ye gods, the man must be a glutton for punishment! He must have seen it at least twice to get all the details down.

Thank heavens I don't get to see B grade junk anymore...though it used to be nice back when the movie theatres gave you two films and a newsreel for less than it costs to see one A grade movie today.

On second thoughts...Bring back the Saturday morning kids movie show!

Where are you Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers?

Vickie.

Posted by: Vickie at December 16, 2003 02:25 PM

Heh heh! Flash Gordon wound up a Defender of the Earth with Mandrake the Magician, Lothar and the Phantom.

And as for Buck Rogers - Gil Gerard. The less said the better.

Posted by: IMAGinES at December 16, 2003 04:11 PM

Gil Gerard?
He was still in nappies when I used to go to Saturday morning pictures! I saw the "real" thing in the serials they used to show. We used to wait on tenterhooks all week to see the next instalment.

Vickie.

Posted by: Vickie at December 17, 2003 12:20 AM

octaNe: Map of the Former United States

Here's a little something I was tinkering with in my spare time yesterday. It's a prototype map of octaNe's Former United States. It has all the game detail, but I'd like to put other things in, like major highways. At the very least, Route 66 needs to be on there.

Update (19 December 03): I've revised and re-uploaded the map in .GIF format. The city names are easier to read, and I've added a new font for the map's title.

Old Comments

Love the updated map. It's so much clearer (and neater) than the original.

Love,
Vickie.

Posted by: Vickie at December 19, 2003 09:26 AM

December 15, 2003

It Looks Like The CGI Cat Actually Works...

I was going to put up a news post about the capture of Saddam Hussein last night - Vickie stayed up and watched the full live webcast of the conference - but I reckon it's old news by now.

Instead, I'd just like to direct your attention to the latest trailer on QuickTime, for a movie about a fat marmalade cat, and just say that although I didn't think a live action/CGI movie would work, the end result is surprisingly good...

December 14, 2003

Alcatraz

Yesterday, while we were getting ready for the party, Vickie told me that Vinne Jones, star of Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Snatch and Bacardi's latest ads, has got himself into trouble on an air flight. Although it may not be applicable in Jones' case, I started thinking about how stars often get off with lighter sentences than others convicted on similar charges. Part of it, I think, is that at the very least, you can't put a celebrity into a regular jail; they'd be victims of punishment far more severe than the sentence they should have received. Half the time, I understand that logic.

I had the idea of building a "celebrity prison" this morning, although (a) the idea's probably been thought of (and tried) before, and (b) building a new facility just for wayward stars seems a bit much.

Then it hit me. The perfect solution to the problem.

Re-open Alcatraz.

Think about it. Alcatraz is the perfect place. It's a tourist venue as is. You might be able to bring a copule of wings back up to modern operating status with less money than it would take to build a whole new prison (after all, it has to be safe for tourists right now). And you don't need to troop the tourists through the active wings; all you need to do is rotate the prisoners from one wing to another, and people will gladly pay to see where Michael Jackson was just recently staying. "Oh yes, ma'am, he's still here, just not where the public can see him. Not that you'd want to..."

Admittedly, it won't do much for Jones, as it's an English case, but still, it's a good idea, right?

Right?

Pre-Christmas Party '03

Good morning everyone! The party last night went well. I think it actually wound up being more pleasant than it would have been with more guests - not that we didn't miss the people who couldn't make it, but it's just one of those things.

Lauren and co. were actually the first to turn up, a fact that surprised Lauren greatly; she's never first to a party. She even offered to go and come back later! Still, she can relax with the satisfaction that she turned up over an hour after the start time. We said it was a bring-a-plate party, but Lauren and Jason (Lauren's squeeze) came with plate, pan and ingredients; although Vickie had been busy in the kitchen before, making salads and cooking turkey (she figured on making some food just in case no-one bought a plate; I think she just wanted to cook), but Lauren and Jason simply took over, making lots of won ton and a bread-and-cheese concoction called a trencher.

With L and J was Christian, a fellow gamer I think I'd met previously at a con somewhere. He was a quiet bloke, but a good guy. I introduced the three of them to octaNe (yes, I weakened and bought the whole thing on Friday), and it seems that it's just what they've been looking for. They asked whether I'd even run a game later on, but by the time things wound down enough to give it a go, I was too tired to try and GM the darned thing. So we played a game of Chez Geek instead. Which was good. Dan won.

Speaking of Dan, he, Lesley and the kids were next to show up. They brought Thai fish cakes and dip, not to mention some champagne and some James Squire India Pale Ale. Our Christmas tree immediately became the centre of attention for the kids, Emily and Gabrielle, who were pretty good all evening!
Mum and Dad were next to arrive, with a bottle of 1994 Cowra Estate Shiraz Cab Sav. Vickie tried some, and she was very impressed. I didn't have any myself, but instead I enjoyed the couple of plates of pastries that they brought. Things were pleasantly social with them, although Dad was getting pretty strident about the situation with the nurses at one point (he?s with the association).

Finally, our mate John Osterberg arrived, and bribed the host with a bottle of '98 Chandon that's going to stay on our wine rack for a special occasion (like maybe Christmas). I was showing Lauren Tron 2.0 at one point, and John liked the look of it so much that I fired it up for him and he sat down to give it a play-through! He?s not got a fast PC at home ? which reminds me, Mum and Dad bought themselves a new PC for home, a nice fast Dell with a 2.8 GHz processor (and a flat screen). They don't know what they want to do with the old one yet, which I think is a 1.5GHz Pentium? I wonder if John would be interested? Or Lauren, for that matter?

We?d already had two invitations to people's places for Christmas (Dan & Lesley, Mum & Dad), and by the time the party was over, we had another from Lauren. Sheesh! Can't we have one, just one, nice, quiet Christmas to ourselves at home?

The answer, I think, is no.

So, as this is the third Christmas we?ve spent going out to spend time with people, here?s our plan for Christmas 2004, and we're getting in nice and early: we're staying home. All you people can come over here. Just remember - we invited you first.

Actually, what's everyone doing for New Year's this year? We're going to be spending it at home, especially as Vickie has to work on New Year's Eve (which means it's not going to be a big raging party, just a get-together; I don't want Vickie getting home from work at ten to midnight to be bowled off her feet).

Anyway, things went nice and smoothly, and pretty much finished up at about two this morning, and after putting the dishwasher on, I crashed; Vickie stayed up until quarter to three to clean the non-dishwashable crystal and the cooking crockery (silly lass wouldn't leave it for me to do in the morning), not to mention re-organising the fridge; we had so much food left over that we could easily host another party with it. (Problem is, a lot of it won't keep until Christmas.) The lesson we?ve learned from this is: the next time we invite Lauren to a "bring-a-plate" party, we simply let her do all the catering.

The only problem with that plan is: What will Vickie, who loves to cook for parties, do?

December 12, 2003

Manners

I'm going to be letting off some steam here on behalf of both Vickie and I.

Nigh on two weeks ago, we sent an invitation out for a Christmas party at our place this coming Saturday. Start time (5PM) and contact details were clearly spelled out in the invitation, as was "RSVP ASAP".

In that time, we've had a handful of the invitees actually bother to get back to us; even if the answer was "we can't make it", we would have appreciated it early. Instead, we've had to follow up with an e-mail and, a couple of days ago, even call a few people. Sheesh, guys, don't you know "ASAP" stands for "As Soon As Possible"?

Including those we nagged, I think we've only had responses from about half the people we invited, and in total, I think we have four invitees (plus partners where applicable) who are actually turning up. One or two have said they'll see if they can maybe make it, as they have other things on, and if they do deign to turn up, they'll be late - like near midnight. Near midnight - for a party that starts at 5PM?

If this were the only party where we've had to badger our invitees, just so we can have the basic courtesy of replies to our invitations, we probably wouldn't be so shirty, except that this has happened the last few times we've tried to organise a party. Frankly, we're getting sick and tired of being so far down on people's lists that replying to an invitation from us, let alone bothering to organise their schedules so that they can give us a definite "yes" or "no", is too much like hard work.

There are much better ways to flatter people.

December 10, 2003

This just needs to be shared...

"At this point, one of the players got The Look. I will, forever, call it The octaNe Look. I'd seen this guy play through some of the most bizarre Changeling, Gurps and Cthulhu campaigns we could manage. I'm talking, traversing forests of dildos, heat seeking baguettes, goblin scone launchers, turnips, kobolds, Elvis as the chief deity of the Orcs, Snow Golem Lawn Gnomes, some seriously weird stuff. But monkeys in a blimp demanding his gas, dropping onto the back of his bike and pummeling him on the head... it was too much. He got The octaNe Look, the one that says "My brain has been replaced by a little squeaking pig." This scene proved what I have come to call the Jared Theorem - Anything Can Be Improved With The Addition Of Monkeys."
- From The Party, an octaNe adventure rundown.

I'm seriously thinking of getting this game. I mean, it's only $13 for the PDF.

After Christmas, though.

December 09, 2003

I Think I Finally Get It

As you folks know, I’ve been thinking about the negative reaction that the long-standing fan-base of the original Battlestar Galactica has had to the approach Ron D. Moore has taken in re-imagining the show for the SciFi Channel. I’ve never quite understood the emotional attachment that the old-time fans have to the show, flaws and all, nor their oft-rabid insistence that any approach to Galactica should at the very least retain the look and feel of the original, if not be a continuation of the original series.

Over the past few days, I’ve been reading reviews on the new Galactica by both the press and the fandom. The press reports are split roughly fifty-fifty, while most of fandom is negative. Still, those reviews paved the way for a new perspective on the fans’ viewpoint. I gained this perspective by comparing what’s happening with Galactica right now to what happened but a few years ago with Galactica’s cinematic contemporary (and legal opponent): Star Wars.

If you’ve read my review of Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones, you’ll know why I’m not the fondest of people when it comes to George Lucas’ own re-imagining. It’s as though he forgot or neglected what made the Original Trilogy fun. Instead of the larger-than-life personalities of Luke, Han and Leia, we got the formidable-yet-distant Qui-Gon Obi-Wan and Padmé (who had a little too much quiet in the quiet charisma stakes when she wasn’t being Queen, and not enough nobility when she was) and the conflicted teen Anakin. Don’t get me wrong, Qui-Gon has a soft spot in my heart forever for that piece of dialogue in response to Anakin’s assertion in Phantom Menace that no-one can kill a Jedi: “I wish that were so.” But it’s the exception that proves the rule; the Original Trilogy was littered with little character moments like that when the three leads interacted.

Rather than spreading the child-like antics (that would rope the kids in) around amongst a great number of “face-less” creatures like the Ewoks (let’s face it, even adults have a soft spot for teddy-bears, and don’t you dare try to tell me otherwise, you liars), he concentrated them into two characters, Jar-Jar Binks and the young Anakin Skywalker, whom adult audiences found extremely annoying as a result (adults usually don’t have soft-spots for weird-looking fish-guys and pre-teens, especially pre-teens who pull off the incredible with accidental ease). He seemed to be attempting a character drama in the midst of a space opera whilst still trying to pander to the inevitable child audience, whilst forgetting that it’s the larger-than-life characters – which seldom have faults – whom audiences become infatuated with.

Ron Moore’s mission statement for the Galactica mini-series spells out a similar approach; “portray(ing) human beings as flawed”, of “bringing realism to science fiction”. The criticisms of wooden and unheroic performances and a show that lacks heart that have been levelled against the new mini-series by the fans and that negative 50% of the press reviews ring quite similar to those levelled against the Star Wars Prequels.

Here’s the thing, though. I can talk about what I see as flaws in George Lucas’ prequels until the cows come home; so can other fans of the Original Trilogy and the generally ambivalent film critics. But, in a time when fun summer-film SF like Terminator 3 and Hulk draws mediocre-to-bad box-office with its larger than life characters, it’s the Prequel Star Wars Trilogy that consistently draws massive crowds, even taking into account its immensely popular brand name (you’d think Terminator 3 would have done better than it did were brand recognition all that was needed). It looks as though George Lucas was on to something after all; his flawed, awkward and distant characters are just what modern audiences are willing to see (and see again), even if fans of the Original Trilogy is left feeling alienated.

Let’s face it: times, and the tastes of the silent, non-hardcore viewer base, change. If the ongoing success of the Star Wars Prequels is any indication, Ron Moore may well be right in his assertion that the broader viewer base may, to paraphrase, be ready for a bigger meal than popcorn. The original Galactica fan base, spread as it is across the US and overseas, just isn’t big enough to make a commercial success of a TV series or motion picture feature (which has to succeed in the US market before it can go international) if no one but the fans came to watch.

This is why I still think that the vocal Galactica fan community is holding a little too tight to their beloved show; they’re holding it so close to them that they can’t see past it. They can’t see that, even though the original show rated well, the non-fan audience has gone and changed in the intervening twenty-five years. But I can understand that clinging a little better than before. I think I finally understand what the old-time Galactica fans mean when they say that those who pan the original Galactica just don’t “get it”.

I just don’t think that what the fans “get”, no matter how much I myself may understand and even enjoy it, will be commercially successful nowadays. That sense of innocent fun that categorised both the Original Star Wars Trilogy and the original Battlestar Galactica just doesn’t cut it any more.

A Brief Moment of Fame...

The transcript of the Ron D. Moore chat over on SciFi has gone up. If you scroll down a ways, you can see the brief question asked by my humble self.

But if you're going to follow that link, why not read the whole thing? It's pretty informative.

Equilibrium

It’s some time in the near future. The survivors of a third World War believe that the human race won’t survive a fourth, and have taken drastic steps to ensure it doesn’t happen. Deciding that the root of all conflict and war is human emotion, they have created out of the ashes a new nation – Libria – whose citizens are required to inject doses of an emotion-suppressant called Prozium every day. Enforcing the edicts of Libria’s leader, Father (Sean Pertwee), is a new arm of the law, the Grammaton Cleric, tasked with hunting down and executing “sense offenders”.

Cleric John Preston (Christian Bale) is the best of the order; able to know an offender is feeling almost before the offender does. Within the first five minutes of the film, he employs his order’s dual-pistol-wielding martial art, the Gun Katas, to spectacular and deadly effect, dispatching an entire room of armed sense offenders quickly and efficiently. When his own partner, Partridge (Sean Bean), is caught concealing a book of poetry, it’s Preston himself who pulls the trigger.

The morning after Partridge’s death, Preston accidentally drops his dose of Prozium, and when the nearest depot is unavailable, he skips his dose. His burgeoning feelings are fanned by a recently arrested, aggressively emotional sense-offender, Mary O’Brien (Emily Watson), and he begins to doubt his mission, so much so that he stays off the Prozium. Unfortunately, Preston’s new partner, Brandt (Taye Diggs), is keen to advance his career, even if it means uncovering Preston’s sense crime, and when Preston accepts an assignment from the head of the Cleric, DuPont (Angus MacFadyen) to infiltrate the underground resistance to Libria, he faces his most difficult challenge yet: bringing down the Tetragrammaton and destroying the very society that created him…

From its conception to its execution, Equilibrium is a hybrid: from genre (action, science fiction, Dystopian drama) to casting (British, American) to production detail (American crew, German locations). It’s an ambitious and unique film: ambitious in that it attempts to straddle three genres, and unique in that it’s largely successful in its attempt. It’s director Kurt Wimmer’s sophomore film (his directorial debut being the little-known One Tough Bastard); Wimmer is mainly known for writing the screenplays for the (dodgy) film adaptation of Michael Crichton’s SF novel Sphere and the re-make of The Thomas Crown Affair. Wimmer also wrote the screenplay, which borrows liberally from such genre fiction as 1984 and Fahrenheit 451, but wraps it up in such a glossy, action-packed shell that you won’t really mind. Let it be said that there are some plot-holes, one of which potentially wrecks the plot, but this film was carrying me along so well that I only noticed it afterward, and when it was pointed out to me. Quite surprisingly, the plot also refuses to buy into some of American cinema’s usual story contrivances (and I can’t say more for fear of spoiling a plot point or two).

Despite Christian Bale sharing billing with Taye Diggs and Emily Watson, it’s really Christian’s film, with easily twice the screen time of his co-stars. Christian gives a strong, consistent and near-flawless performance, keeping pace with the emotional transformations during the film. Diggs (whom I loved in Chicago, even though he had a minor role) and Watson are both capable in their parts, and after seeing her as the (comparatively) reserved yet no less intense Elise in Gosford Park, it’s a very effective contrast to see her as the fiery Mary O’Brien here. (It’s interesting to note that, in a film seemingly dominated by English cast, the two top-billed English cast members, Bale and Watson, have American accents.) It's also worth noting that Sean Bean nearly steals Bale's thunder, even though he's out of the film within a quarter of an hour.

But Equilibrium is advertised and billed as an action film, and in that regard it succeeds quite soundly. It has drawn comparisons with The Matrix, and will probably do so even more now that Reloaded and Revolutions (especially as Keanu Reeves' priestly garb in those two films is similar to Equilibrium’s Cleric uniforms), but such comparisons are somewhat unfair. Equilibrium is obviously a lower-budget film, but excels in its limitations; while The Matrix indulged with its computer-driven “bullet-time” slow-mo and frozen pans in order to dazzle the viewer, Equilibrium keeps its computerised effects out of the fight scenes, using slow motion sparingly and mostly to heighten the action’s emotional subtext (only one of the film’s “oh wow” moments is slowed down). The speed of the action is almost comparable to the smooth choreography of Hong Kong action flicks, and the Gun Katas (created whole cloth by Wimmer himself) succeed in their goal of bringing a fresh take to the “two hands, two guns” cliché. You’ve never quite seen gunplay like this before (the opening gunfight and its stroboscopic presentation is jaw-dropping, especially when you realise that it's not a digitally-driven effect), and as the one who demonstrates them the most, Bale gives the Gun Katas and swordplay in the film a fantastic efficient grace (it’s unfortunate, though, that one of the more spectacular manoeuvres is performed by his stunt double).

Although Equilibrium has a brain, it’s not a particularly thought-provoking film, due to its tripartite nature: it's dark, and brings a new idea or two to the genre of Dystopian fiction, but it's too busy supplying action to really explore its concepts; the Gun Katas bring a new spin to the action, which is fantastic, but it's compressed to allow time for plot and character development; its plot and characters are intelligent and compelling, but the film's unrelenting Dystopian darkness can be off-putting to those looking for casual entertainment.

Even so, it’s an entertaining film, carried both by the action and the empathy we feel for the at-first unfeeling Preston; a result of the strength of Christian Bale's excellent physical and acting performances. Although Equilibrium isn’t more than the sum of its parts, it’s quite equal to them.

Although it never saw theatrical release in Australia, your Video Ezy should carry rental copies (as of this review, our local branch had some in New Release). With any luck, it’ll be released to retail some time soon. Perhaps befitting Equilibrium's low-budget status (it was given the bare minimum promotion in the States for fear of turning a European money-maker into an American money-loser), the DVD isn't an extravaganza of special features. There’s the obligatory trailer and TV spots; the making-of, Finding Equilibrium, is barely five minutes long; the section on the Gun Katas consists of a handful of CGI images of various Kata positions (apparently culled from the gunkatta.com fan website), and the Jump to Fight system seems a decorative redundancy, considering that it’s a selection deeper into the menu system than the Scene Selection function (and behind a confusing "Are you ready to enter the Underground?" yes/no switch that needlessly and counter-intuitively divides the special features into two sections).

On the other hand, although neither of the two commentary tracks (one by Kurt Wimmer and another with Wimmer and producer Lucas Foster) feature any of the cast, the latter manages to be informative and hilarious; Kurt and Lucas not only get on well but also playfully trade barbs with each other.

An interesting side-note which is probably irrelevant to many, the Region 2 copy I bought in England sticks in exactly the same place on both my and Dan’s all-region players. It’s not entirely fatal, and can be fast-forwarded past, but it’s a jarring flaw. I’ve yet to try a local (Region 4) copy.

The Religion of Environmentalism

I went, I read, I thought "Oof."

Granted, the author is Michael Crichton, who has been known to be alarmist in the past. But I think it's worthwhile reading nonetheless.

Old Comments

Thanks for posting this link darling.
It was a pleasure to read such a well written article. I think he raised some very relevant points.

Survival has always been man's strongest urge and I'm afraid we've grown remarkably soft. We tend to think survival belongs on 'reality TV'instead of being our ultimate aim.

I'd very much like to meet Mr.Crichton and have a long discussion with him on the subject.

Considering Environmentalisam as a 'religion' was new to me,but then, anything that has spawned so many fanatics is worthy of the name. It's also a wonderfully controversial football, bound to be kicked around the political arena as long as it holds enough globally warmed air to keep it bouyant.

Human beings will continue to accept half truths and damned lies until the cows come home...it's easier than having to actually think for themselves.

I believe in husbanding the environment. It's the only world we have and if we don't look after it, we may be forced to use our non-existant survival skills to ensure that mankind makes it through. To me this is a fact and not some dogma that I've been force fed by the media and those who stand to profit from 'saving' us from ourselves.

Vickie.

Posted by: Vickie at December 10, 2003 12:48 AM

December 08, 2003

InSpectres Is Upgraded: v2.5!

InSpectres, that crazy, free-style game of ghost-hunting and corporate shenanigans, has gone and upgraded itself to version 2.5 - the same great mechanics you know and love, but with rules clarifications, a fab new layout and (gasp) art! The groovy thing is, if you've already shelled out for InSpectres 2.0, the upgrade to 2.5 is absolutely FREE!

And if you've not shelled out for InSpectres yet... well, what the hell are you waiting for? Especially you Australian gamers - with the rising dollar, it's even cheaper than when I bought it! In fact, as of this writing, the PDF will only set you back $13.60! So get your credit cards out! Support the indie RPG scene (and have a bloody good laugh while you do)! Surprise the heck out of your friends next session with the most fun they've had playing an RPG!

December 07, 2003

Got My Stuff Back

I finally managed to catch up with Boots for about ten minutes yesterday. In between not doing particularly much (we decided we'd clam up and stay home this weekend, even to the extent of turning down an invitation to "do something" from Dan), I dropped over Boots' place on Saturday evening to pick up my Xbox and Crimson Skies minis (I imagine Dan will be wanting to drop over ASAP). Boots was, unfortunately, a little too busy to actually play the thing, but he reckons his brother had a blast, so as long as someone got some entertainment value out of it in our absence. In the meantime, I've loaned him the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen graphic novel I picked up in the UK. It's quite different to the movie, in plot and overall tone (very quirky, to say the least; as written, it wouldn't have made a commercial film at all).

This morning, I fired up MechAssault and tried to get through that mission where I've been stuck for several months ("Thor on the Rocks"), and to my surprise, completed it in one hit. Buoyed by my surprising success, I decided to give the next mission a go, but got clobbered, so I think I'll leave that one for a few months as well.

In between, I'm re-playing the first few missions of Homeworld2. It's a tricky game to master, all right, but I think I'm finally getting the hang of fleet management (maybe). I also started to have crash problems when loading up games, but thankfully, the latest Catalyst driver set from ATi seems to have fixed them.

GameSpot is offering a one-month trial of Sony's PlanetSide Massively Multiplayer Online First Person Shooter, and I downloaded the client via Telstra's GameArena servers (so it doesn't count toward our monthly limit). I've done a little fossicking around, but the (albeit limited) experience thus far has been rather underwhelming. Of the three servers, the lowest ping is Europe, and even then the response time runs in the three and four hundreds.

Yesterday, I wound up spending about an hour on the SciFi.com chat rooms, to get in on a guest chat with Ron Moore, writer for Star Trek: The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine, and the man who set the creative direction for, and wrote the first draft script of, SciFi Channel's Battlestar Galactica remake (final writing credit is shared with Christopher Eric James). It was an interesting chat, if not too informative, and I managed to get a question or two in. What was really good was that Ron actually stuck around after the half-hour moderated chat wound up.

What no-one asked him - and I'm kicking myself for not thinking of this - was where he stands on the schism that threatens to divide the new mini-series: whether Katee Sackhoff's dog should be cast as the new Muffit (the robot dog in the old Galactica). Edward James Olmos, the new Commander Adama, is all for it. Executive producer David Eick is against it. Whither standeth Moore? I have no idea, and that's why I'm kicking myself for not having thought to ask.

The Galactica 2003 website - sort of the core of fandom on the new series (and supposely home to some who've been committing unsanctioned mischief in its name) has been listing some of the positive and negative reviews on the new show, and from what I've seen of it (via the web-based, behind-the-scenes documentaries and stuff) I can understand both sides of the good/bad argument. I still want to see it for myself, though. Pierre, are you still okay to tape it? Parts 1 and 2 are back-to-back from 7 PM (Eastern, I think) on Tuesday the Ninth.

I keep fiddling with my new BSG rant, but it's become more a means of clarifying my thinking and less (in my opinion) of publishable editorial. Then again, I think I'm just procrastinating myself out of actually writing something out.

Christmas is coming up, and I'm looking forward to ten days of raw present shopping mania after I get paid. I still have to figure out what to get some people.

December 05, 2003

So maybe they're not lying about the volume...

Ever wonder why the commercials are always louder than the TV shows in between? Ever wonder why the TV stations deny they turn the volume up for the ads?

From the SciFi Channel's Feedback FAQ:

Why are commercials so LOUD?
Compression. Advertisers use compression so that everything in a commercial is about at the same (loud) audio level, close to the maximum allowable levels. This way, you can still hear their pitch even if you get up to go the kitchen or bathroom. SCI FI does not turn up the volume on these commercials — they're just recorded and mixed that way. Most of our shows, however, are not in an audio-compressed format so they generally have a wider dynamic range than the ads. Since we can't go back and add compression to our shows, the ads tend to sound a lot louder than the programming.

That I didn't know... Still, one wonders why they can't then turn the volume down.

December 03, 2003

They Just Can't Get Enough...

... of our Mandi, it seems! Earlier today, we got an updated e-mail from a friend saying that Mandi's departure date was moved forward from after Christmas to mid-December. An hour ago, I got an SMS from Mandi, saying that the date had come forward again; this time to a week from now!

I called Vickie (she's at work), who'd just got off the phone with Mandi - it turns out that her employers-to-be couldn't get her on the originally promised flights, so they kept looking for earlier bookings.

If this keeps up, tomorrow Mandi will have already left two weeks ago...

December 02, 2003

Bon Voyage and Best Wishes!

As everyone on the IMAGinewS list already knows, our loony friend Mandi has gone and scored herself a new job as an administrator - in, of all places, Beijing. She departs our fair nation just after Christmas, and will be returning sometime around the end of next year. We wish her the best of success and bags of fun!

December 01, 2003

Just when you thought it was safe to go back near your PC...

No, it's not him.

It's his nephew.

Cordial Relations

You'll remember I mentioned the Two-Brained Cylon from cylon.org in recent postings. Turns out we've struck up some correspondance, and he actually asked whether I'd be interested in writing about a science fiction TV show for the Cylon Alliance web site. They specialise in information on 20+ year old SF in TV, film and other media. They don't pull any punches when discussing how silly it got at times (well, except when it comes to the original Battlestar Galactica), and contributing to that would be interesting.

Of course, I've warned him what a procrastinator I can be when it comes to these sorts of projects (as my Black Talon players can attest), but I've asked him to send along the list of SF shows that need writing up and see if any jump out at me.