Welcome to the Playpen, our space for ferrety banter and whimsical snippets of things that aren't quite long enough for articles (although they might be) but that caught your eye anyway.

at 20:55 on 04-04-2012, valse de la lune
What does everyone think of this SFsignal piece?

I didn't realize reviewers were supposed to be unpaid marketers.
at 20:36 on 04-04-2012, James D
The SNES action RPG version was pretty cool, though, at least when I was a teenager. Of course, at the time, I didn't know what cyberpunk really was and had never heard of cultural appropriation. If you're interested in the setting you could emulate it easily.
at 17:56 on 04-04-2012, Arthur B
The Kickstarter du jour is for a proper Shadowrun CRPG (as opposed to the hilariously botched FPS that Microsoft put out.

I'm ambivalent about it. I always thought that Shadowrun's mashup of fantasy and cyberpunk ended up missing the point of both genres (cyberpunk particularly), and I thought the World of Darkness, despite not being very good at horror, did a better job at scratching the "criminal hijinks in an urban environment which happens to include magic and monsters" itch. Plus some of the cultural appropriation in there was just painful.

On the other hand if the Kickstarter gets past the finish line comfortably then I might kick in just to get the game cheap when it comes out.
at 09:45 on 03-04-2012, Shim

Okay, if anyone else is going to click the Molyjam link, make sure to disable your script-blockers beforehand, so the website is only painful instead of agonisingly nauseating...
at 00:42 on 03-04-2012, Dan H
On the subject of really terrible game ideas, have people checked out Molyjam.

It is probably indicative of something, I think, that some of the most innovative game design ideas I've seen in a while have come out of a game jam inspired by tweets from a parody twitter account.

I've so far played The Spandex Parable and The Shadowlands Prophesy.
at 23:27 on 02-04-2012, Arthur B
A problem with the Kickstarter funding model: there's no way to pay money to ensure that a particularly awful idea doesn't happen.
at 04:20 on 02-04-2012, Wardog
Awww, The Hunger Games with beaniebabies... Kind of perfect, actually.
at 15:51 on 01-04-2012, Wardog
Tell me about it. I'd probably pay about that much to avoid having to go to a party with a bunch of game developers...
at 16:24 on 31-03-2012, valse de la lune
From the Wasteland 2 KS page:

11 BACKERS • Limited Reward (5 of 16 remaining)

8 BACKERS • Limited Reward (7 of 15 remaining)

And I thought the 100 people who pledged $1000 or more were, uhm, generous.
at 20:58 on 30-03-2012, Dan H
Oh dear. I just watched the Being Human season finale, and it was one of the worst offenders on the use of prophecy in a fantasy/sci-fi story I have ever seen.

We vaguely lost track of Being Human midway through season two but that does sound particularly stupid. The only thing worse than rigid adherence to stupid genre tropes is rigid adherence to stupid genre tropes that *thinks* it's deconstructing the tropes to which it is in fact rigidly adhering.
at 19:32 on 30-03-2012, Arthur B
For those who've been following the Wasteland 2 kickstarter, a new goal has been set: if the kickstarter hits $2.1 million, Obsidian Entertainment will come in to help make the game, effectively putting the Black Isle band back together.
at 17:57 on 30-03-2012, Andy G
Oh dear. I just watched the Being Human season finale, and it was one of the worst offenders on the use of prophecy in a fantasy/sci-fi story I have ever seen.
Basically, there is a prophecy that the newborn child that the heroes are looking after is the saviour for humanity who they have to protect from the vampires. But it turns out that the complete prophecy actually says that the child has to die for humanity to survive, otherwise humanity will be complacent waiting for their saviour and the vampires will win. The main character agonises about killing the baby, but then heroically decides to blow up herself, the baby and the villains so that humanity can survive. Because, you know, prophecy.
at 12:36 on 30-03-2012, Ibmiller
To be upfront, I really don't enjoy the Hunger Games series or concept that much - they're readable, but not terribly engaging to me. So I actually enjoyed the film more than the book, primarily because they moved away from the not-terribly-believable first-person-present-tense narrative. I think the weaknesses of the ending are simply things they didn't mess with from the book (especially in this post-Potter age of slavish fidelity - and oh, how it hurts me to say that, since I adore fidelity).

I do agree that the Hunger aspect of the books is rather absent (particularly in the nicely well-fed look of all the leads - the director seems to think that making everything desaturated and gray makes it sufficiently grim) - but to me, the worldbuilding aspect is one of the least satisfying elements of the series, so I wasn't too bothered.

Somewhat irrelevant, but I was quite pleased with the music - especially after the last two scores I've heard from James Newton Howard (Green Lantern and Green Hornet), which were both on the awful side of mediocre.
at 12:15 on 30-03-2012, Arthur B
@Shimmin: Much obliged, but the Genevieve Warhams stuff post-Drachenfels sapped me of my enthusiasm for the character. :)
at 11:54 on 30-03-2012, Shim
@Arthur: if you're interested in a quick look, my copy's up for grabs.
at 11:43 on 30-03-2012, Arthur B
One of my gripes with the book was that Newman had set up this “vampire taint” theme with the book, with vampirism bringing madness, animalistic traits and a strange disease; and then broke it completely with the bloodlines thing, which seems to exist only so that Genevieve can avoid having any of those unappealing disadvantages.

Which is particularly odd because in the Warhams stories about her she's regularly wrestling with primal urges.

Other thoughts:

- Newman also did the "Genevieve is tangentially involved in the hunt for a serial killer in a bustling metropolis" thing in Beasts In Velvet, one of the Warhams novels featuring her (see review here).

- Newman also attempted to shoehorn a quasi-tolerated vampire subculture into a society which it really, really didn't fit into in his Warhams books - I know Warhammer Fantasy canon has evolved since then but even back in the day the idea of there being a pub which is a hub for the undead community in Altdorf which the Altdorf authorities are vaguely aware of but do nothing about was absurd and didn't fit the premises of the setting at all. Genevieve as a vampire who is just about considered acceptable in polite society due to obvious heroism in the past was a stretch but just about worked, injecting an entire community of the undead into the Imperial capital who exist as an open secret is barmy on the level of having an Ork Embassy on Earth in the 40K universe.

Basically it seems Newman is very very interested in writing novels about a world where vampires are an accepted part of society but isn't interested in doing the worldbuilding required to have that be the case from time immemorial - which I think you need if you want the opposition to the vampires to be as feeble as it is in his lesser Warhams stories (that being everything which isn't Drachenfels, which is great) and as it sounds like it is in Anno Dracula.
at 11:30 on 30-03-2012, Shim
@Alasdair: fair enough, I think it’s partly a matter of just completely different literary preferences. I haven’t actually read that much Warhams or Newman myself but I happen to have read about three of his Warhams books.

Genevieve actually originates in Newman’s Warhammer fiction, but he’s apparently started writing her into other series too. One of my gripes with the book was that Newman had set up this “vampire taint” theme with the book, with vampirism bringing madness, animalistic traits and a strange disease; and then broke it completely with the bloodlines thing, which seems to exist only so that Genevieve can avoid having any of those unappealing disadvantages. Dracula (and everyone else) has a nasty, corrupt Eastern European bloodline with all those problems, whereas Genevieve has a nice, clean bloodline from a French vampire that has no problems of any kind whatsoever, and indeed very few disadvantages. So she can be young, beautiful, strong, wise, clever, healthy and also immortal and powerful. I had no problem with Genevieve in the Warhams books, I just thought she was clumsily shoehorned in here.

Now to be fair I was expecting a somewhat tongue-in-cheek adventure story tied into vampire literature and with a Victorian novel feel. In my defence, that was based on the book’s premise and its blurb. As it turned out, it doesn’t really read much like a vampire novel to me, and the city didn’t feel much like Victorian London to me, even Dickensian dark gritty London; it just felt like a Warhammer city dressed up as London.

I have to say I found the portrayal of how vampirism was accepted deeply unconvincing, which was part of the problem. I really couldn’t see Victorian society, with all its firebrands and moralising, placidly accepting vampirism in such a short time and with so few problems. Newman explains it by having all the objectors killed or locked away, but that just moves the problem aside – why did they accept the sudden dictatorship and oppression by foreign soldiers? I don’t buy the upper classes accepting the vampires at all, let alone going for vampirism – they had their own ideological and religious views. And especially not if they’re going to make the place all squalid and disgusting. Similarly the sudden imposition of impaling as a punishment – no.

Jack Seward, as you say, was all right. The detective bloke was not especially interesting and I couldn’t see any reason why Gene would go for him (which seems to be a pattern in Gene stories).

Also for some reason it really cheesed me off that he mischaracterised Raffles :) No way would he join an evil cabal, let alone go vamp.
at 04:58 on 30-03-2012, Melissa G.
I thought they rather missed some opportunities.

I very much agree with this. My roommate is still bemoaning the fact that they never pulled out to give us a full shot of Katniss' dress, and that is just a small example of how ball was dropped a bit on visual things.

I haven't yet read the books so I suspect a lot of my enjoyment came from the exposure to the story. I do think though that the movie being able to move away from a first person narrative was likely helpful.
at 02:49 on 30-03-2012, Alasdair Czyrnyj
Oh all the things I ever thought I'd see paired together in fan art...this wasn't one of them.

(Don't worry, it's clean, just...unexpected.)
at 00:09 on 30-03-2012, Andy G
Leaping back ages to what Melissa said, but I have now seen the Hunger Games movie ... and had a rather cliched "not as good as the book" reaction. Generally decent, but I thought they rather missed some opportunities. I thought what worked very well on film was how they were able to literally recreate the reality TV aspect, and how they used the TV commentators rather than clunky voicovers to replace the first-person narration of the book. But especially towards the end, this aspect almost completely vanished and there was a less clear sense than in the book of the way that the characters' performance to an audience mattered (we had been *told* it mattered early on, but it was never really *shown*). And it would have been nice to have had more reality TV-style countdowns of how many players were left in the game. So it seemed like the film wasn't entirely playing to its potential strengths. Also, for a film called the Hunger Games, I thought they could have done a little bit more to bring out the survival aspect of things - nobody ever seemed to be particularly struggling with shelter, food or water, which were all very visceral in the book.
at 23:24 on 29-03-2012, Alasdair Czyrnyj
@Shimmin: I don't think I could get a full review up (mainly becuase I'm trying to start some other projects right now), but I can summarize what I liked briefly.

This is actually the first book by Newman I've read, so I naturally came to it without any experience of his Warhammer work. Just on its own, I liked how it sketched out a social transformation that none of the parties entirely comprehend or are able to control (i.e. the dissemination of vampirism into the general British public) as well as how deeply uncomfortable the relationship between vampires and humans can get in a civilized context. Common themes, true, but Newman manages to elevate them to squirm-inducing levels at points, which is what you want in a story where the antagonists are symbols of corruption.

I also rather liked most of the characters. I didn't mind Genévieve, and I felt she did keep the vampires as a whole from being completely irredeemable. I kind of wish we'd got more time with dorky journaliste extraordinaire Kate Reed, but hopefully the next book will take care of that. I was also rather taken with Jack Seward, who Newman turned into a horrific serial killer but managed to built into such a self-tortured ball of misery that I was hoping he would die just so he could finally be free of all the pain. (I also thought it was rather clever that Newman managed to slyly suggest that even organizing a vampire-hunting posse is a pretty fucked-up thing to do if you live in a world where vampires supposedly don't exist.) Also, I was disappointed that Mina Harker only made a cameo, but then I suppose everyone else was. Finally, I loved Lord Ruthvern's Byronic bitchery, and I was disappointed that the cop Mackenzie was killed, since I sorely wanted him and Kostaki to team up and become PIs or something.

As for the ending, to reiterate I don't read Warhammer, and most of my own reading tends to shy away from hyperbole and grand guginol, so my reaction to
eveything that goes on in the chapter was something along the lines of "Holy fuck, Dracula is filming Caligula in Buckingham Palace!

Now I did have some problems. The plot is ostensibly about finding Jack the Ripper, but it is rather unfocused, there seem to be more unconscious timeskips in the narrative than I'm comfortable with, and the ending seemed too pat for my taste. The references didn't bother me that much, but only because I was already familiar with the ones that were really important. Overall, I thought it was fun, and I'm definitely getting The Bloody Red Baron, though I'm probably going to stop after finishing it.
at 22:35 on 29-03-2012, Arthur B
I honestly find pomo metafictional references to be pretty much the weakest tool in Newman's kit, which is a shame because he's more or less addicted to using them.
at 22:18 on 29-03-2012, Shim
@Alasdair: really? I bought the sequel purely on the strength of the premise (Biggles vs. Dracula), then decided I should read Anno Dracula first, and... well, honestly I didn't think much of it. It's just far too much like his Warhammer fiction for me (specifically Beasts in Velvet), and also far too in love with Genevieve. The last chapter had at least one cool moment but could have been transplanted directly into a Slaaneshi brothel scene. I read it through to see what'd happen, but it's not something I'd recommend, and both books are now in my Oxfam pile. Would you feel like writing a review? I'd be interested to see what it did for you.
at 22:01 on 29-03-2012, Alasdair Czyrnyj
In unrelated news, I just finished Kim Newman's Anno Dracula. It was awesome. In fact, I'd say it's the only "what if vampires were real"/pomo metafictional reference party novel you'll ever need. (Mind you, I say this before having read Brian Stableford's The Empire of Fear which deals entirely in the former, so this opinion may be revised.)

And that final chapter...holy fuck.