Revisiting The Guild of Echo Transit

For another visit to my idea factory – well, really more like conceits or hooks, because none of them are fully formed – I’m hitting the Guild and continuing the trend of music and existing IP turning into something weird. This one has a lot of similarities to “Serenity Spec Ops,” but they were originally published eight months apart, so it probably wasn’t noticeable when it was first presented.

Originally presented 29 Jun 2010

Okay, so here’s the latest brainstorm, courtesy of the Crystal Method’s Vegas album, but more specifically supported by “Keep Hope Alive,” the awesome tune that intro’d Chow Yun Fat in the fun but ultimately forgettable Replacement Killers. That movie remains a go-to movie for me because it has Mr. Chow, it has Mira Sorvino being all hot and action-y, and it tries to bring John Woo’s Gun-fu to North America along with Mr. Chow. It’s a fun movie, it just isn’t a great movie.

In any case, on the way to work this morning and I’m on the bus, listening to tunes. As has happened so often in the past, that leads to the plotting out of a movie and even a couple of scenes.

The elevator pitch? The cast of the Guild as a team of extra-terrestrial technology recovery specialists called Echo Transit 1.

You need more details before you decide to invest in this movie/mini-series/TV series? Why certainly.

Echo Transit 1—or ET1 . . . yeah, stupid I know, but it amuses me—is part of MAGENTA, set up when MAJESTIC went rogue back in the 1980s. MAJESTIC had all the cool alien artefacts, and MAGENTA was tasked with recovering them. Protocols are now in place to have a MAGENTA recovery team as first responders to any alien incursion anywhere in the world. Most of MAJESTIC has been . . . removed, but some are still around, and they may be aligned with sinister outside influences—possibly alien, possibly not.

That’s all background.

The movie would start with an explosion near a small village in Russia’s back-and-beyond. The villagers who to investigate are vaporized. Cue Echo Transit 1.

During the credits, the team is shown being assembled. Felicia Day plays “Alfa,” the team leader, and an ex-spook for an unnamed agency. She is having a coffee on a patio somewhere in the Mediterranean when she gets the call on her smartphone. She drops some money and goes. When she puts her wallet back in her purse/bag/whatever, we see the weapon with which she travels. It looks like a pistol, but not. Oh yeah, that’s some alien tech happening.

Then we are in a Buddhist or Buddhist-like temple. We are watching “Kilo” meditate. Kilo is played by Jeff Lewis. He is one the team medic and operations man—kind of an executive officer for Alfa. He likes to make sure nobody gets up after going down, so he carries a Desert Eagle .50 autoloader. He gets his activation message and we pan back to see he is somewhere very, very mountainous and a chopper is en route to pick him up.

Next we have Sandeep Parikh playing “Tango.” We see him teaching a young woman some advanced martial arts in a gym. The young woman happens to be “Charlie,” played by Amy Okuda. Tango is the team’s—you guessed it—martial arts expert while Charlie is the weapons specialist. She’s into suppressive fire, so she tends to use two H&K MP7s. They both get the message at the same time, both excuse themselves, then, after reading their respective messages, kind of look at each other like “Hey, wait a minute . . .” There’s a pull back to show that the gym they are using is somewhere inside an underground bunker in a mountain—maybe the Cheyenne Mountain facility?

Finally we are in a university classroom talking very high-level, incomprehensible quantum biology stuff about possible exo-systems existing beyond our planet. The lecturer is quite young. He is also a fucking genius. This is “Victor,” played by Vincent Caso. He’s the team’s xeno-biology expert and general tech-head. He gets the call, ends the class, gathers up his stuff, and is met by two suited, sunglass-wearing goons, who escort him out to the chopper.

But wait, doesn’t that leave one member? Yes it does.

The credits are done, and we are now at a Russian command and control facility. A junior officer indicates that the Russian platoon sent to put things in order at the “incident site” has disappeared. The flag officer to whom he is reporting tells him that the Russian Space Forces now has command of the location. He accepts this without question. As he leaves, the flag officer tells her aide to ready a contact team, and to have satellites survey the area. There is some discussion about the time this will take, but the flag officer is adamant. She goes to her office, picks up her smartphone, and indicates that the Russian contact team has been delayed, and that she will need exfil at the agreed upon location.

This is Ruby, a deep cover operative for Magenta, and she is played by Robin Thorsen.

Where does it go from here? Picture the first act: ET1 getting into position, figuring out that this is an extra-dimensional incursion (apparently this kind of thing happens). What’s more, something survived the transposition, and it’s dangerous.

Act two would be the team hunting down the baddie. They are up against the clock because the Russian contact team is due. Since the team isn’t exactly supposed to be there, this is a problem. Perhaps as big a problem as the extra-dimensional, weaponized sentient the team is tracking.

Act three is the big bash up, as the team realizes this is the first step in a possible invasion. Yes, MAJESTIC is involved, those bastards. Worse yet, there’s more than one of those dimensional thingees running around, and they can subvert regular people, turning them into scaries—are zombies still cool? Should we use werewovles?

Okay, so I can write this script for you, and my prices are very reasonable.

Oh, and the pilot of the Ghost—an uber-futuristic stealth VTOL aircraft? They call him Hawkes, and he’s played by Wil Wheaton.

Oh yeah.

Seriously, wouldn’t you totally love to see this movie? Even as a SyFy original?

Who is the Crystal Method?

What is the Guild?

Where have I done this before?

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Return to Red Gross

Continuing along with my blatant theft of ideas and or casts, this one is just more of a conceit than an adaptation. It’s also much more of a scene with some attached ideas than a more fully fledged concept, however ideas aren’t what’s valuable, it’s the expression of them, so if this sounds cool, take it for your game or your fiction and make it your own. That’s how this works.

You also might notice the trend of music leading me down interesting mental paths. I’m very cool with that.

Originally published 16 Jan 2010.

So, listening to music again on the way to work. I started out with a great episode from the BBC’s Thinking Allowed about the concept of the working class, income disparities and self-identification. It was very, very good and very interesting. I’m going to go back to it. But I realized about two minutes into it that my brain was not in the right place.

So I put on music.

My brain was in that place.

I was listening to Metric’s recent album Fantasies. While the thoughts started coming on Satellite Mind, it overflowed into the album “Grow Up and Blow Away” (Two awesome tracks from that are “On the Sly” and “Soft Rock Star”).

Now, this is probably based a lot on the Warren Ellis and Cully Hamner comic Red (which is in the planning stages of becoming a motion picture [2016 Note: the movie came out in Sep 2010]). It’s basically the story of an assassin happily living in retirement (though haunted by the actions he undertook on behalf of his country). A political appointee to the CIA decides he needs to be removed because if anyone found out, it would be scandal.

I don’t think Mr. Ellis likes politicians.

Anyway, since the character in the comic is the best at what he does (and what he does isn’t very nice), he is able to survive the assassination attempt. He then calls in to his handlers that he is going “Red”–active. And then the shit really gets crazy.

I really like the concept of the person who has paid his/her due not being allowed to rest, and the extremes to which they may be pushed. There is also an aspect of divine retribution in the comic that is very satisfying.

So, in my head, I started to imagine a movie. The story is of an agent named John (not sure of a last name–I was thinking possibly Callow or Caiaphas). He’s now retired (though still relatively young), and the opening is of him making breakfast, enjoying it with his wife and daughter. Then, a cell phone starts ringing. Everyone stops. The daughter is confused. The wife is obviously worried. John is somewhere between annoyed and fearful. He goes to a drawer that has lots of odds and ends, old papers and such, and pulls out the cell phone. He answers.

“This is Six.”

On the other end we hear: “Status active. In motion.” The line goes dead.

John stares at the phone for a moment, then shoves it in his pocket. He looks at his wife, and she knows what this means. His daughter doesn’t.

“I have to go to work,” he tells her.

“But you work from home,” she says.

“Not any more.”

He gives his kid and his wife a kiss, the one with his wife lingering–a good-bye, and the opening montage starts.

With the credits rolling, he’s in some kind of vault. He puts on body armour under his shirt and suit. He straps on a few guns and knives, loads an SMG into a book bag or leather briefcase. We see him emerge from his garage, suit on, briefcase on his shoulder. He smiles and waves to his family, but the smile is forced.

He works for an unnamed branch of the foreign service. In my thoughts, this was Foreign Affairs in Canada. I envisioned the montage following him to work. Taking a bus into Ottawa, along Sussex, to the Lester B Pearson building. He enters, has the proper ID to swipe himself through security, descends some stairs to a single, secure elevator. When it stops, he goes to a guarded door. He puts his hand in some kind of scanner, his eye up to another, and breathes into a third. The door opens and he is through.

The operations centre is kind of run down. This is high tech with lots of monitors and communications equipment, but this isn’t NORAD. This is small. John’s boss approaches him.

John is pissed. “I’m out.”

The boss is good-natured but firm. “You are never out. You were requested.”

“Fuck them. I did my time. I’m out. Let them do the fucking job for once.”

Turns out, there’s a powerful minister that called him in on this. The minister’s got a grudge. He’s using his influence to fuck with John.

There is a second story intertwined with this one. A Muslim male, Ismail, who had helped facilitate some terrorism in the 1990s, is being released from prison after serving his time. He’s changed. He’s denounced violence as a political means. He’s a convert to nonviolent resistance. He’s a convert to the rule of law.

The problem is that no one believes him–not the police, not the intelligence services, and not the people he used to run with. He wants to be left alone, to start a life, to start making amends, but that doesn’t look like it is going to happen.

Now, I’m hazy on the macguffin and the villain of the piece. I know that John and Ismail end up working together and end up validating each other. I hope John returns to his family in the end, though I can see him possibly dying. Maybe both of them do. Nah, they both survive. There is poetic justice for the dicks of the story and final justice for the real baddies. John disappears with his family, the final shot is them somewhere green and lush rolling hills–maybe Scotland or Ireland.

Does Ismail find his small dream? Does he get to have a family and some peace? I think that’s only fair. Since these stories need some kind of love interest, maybe he finds his. Maybe she is the macguffin–a witness or someone who knows something who must be protected, but who is unwilling to reveal that secret until Ismail convinces her.

Hmmm, that might work.

And, as usual, this has been cast.

John is played by Paul Gross, whom I consider something of a national treasure in Canada. I mean, forget Due South (though that was fun), look at Slings and Arrows, look at Men With Brooms (it wasn’t that bad), and look at Passchendaele.

As for Ismail, I’m torn between two actors I’ve cast in something else. Faran Tahir made a huge impact with a very small role in Star Trek. He’s got the gravitas, for certain. Saïd Taghmaoui, though, has been consistently good through those roles in which I’ve seen him. I don’t know, I guess see who is available and interested.

That’s after, of course, someone bankrolls the film. How about $30 mil? I can write the script for low six figures!

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Return to Serenity Spec Ops

As mentioned elsewhere, other commitments are keeping me away from posting much, but I don’t want to leave you guys in a lurch. I did a bunch of posts with movie ideas based on existing properties or with the casts of other shows, so I think I’ll share those. Here’s the first, with the cast from Firefly.

Enjoy!

Originally posted 29 Oct 2009

So, I finally get time to write some blog posts, then I forget to post them. That happens when one is writing a post at 7 Am and posting it at 9 PM.

In any case, on my walk in to work today, I switched from listening to podcasts to listening to tunage. Sometimes the desire just hits me. Usually it lights a match on something creative, even if it is not something I could pursue.

Today, while listening to the Crystal Method’s “Legion of Boom,” I came up with a movie conceit. It’s not really an idea and it’s not really a concept, hence: conceit.

Make a modern action/adventure movie with the cast of Firefly/Serenity.

In this movie, the cast would be members of an elite black ops team. Their handler would be only known as the Badger. In thinking about the roles for the group, I got stuck on Adam Baldwin and Alan Tudyk. The reason is that I would want to play with roles, give them something different than what they played in Firefly. However, Adam and Alan do their respective roles so damn well, it would suck to lose out on that.

What I have come up with so far, plot wise, is that there is an abandoned science city near Tura, Siberia. Something has happened there. Something very, very bad. The Russians are deciding what to do about it, and it looks like they’ll maybe nuke it from orbit (just to be sure). An unidentified, high-ranking US official takes a meeting with the Badger to activate the black ops team. The team inserts secretly using a stealth aircraft (on which the Serenity name and symbol would be seen!) to investigate. Much badness ensues–I’m thinking werewolves or maybe zombies. Something shootable.

Really original plot, eh? Yeah, like I said, more a conceit than anything else.

Of the characters I already considered, Nathan Fillion would be playing Captain Ray Malcolm, the team’s leader. Morena Baccarin as Sarah, the linguist and second in command. Adam Baldwin would be Sev Janus, a man of uncertain origins, a rough-houser and a psychic. That’s right, a psychic. Jayne gets to play River. Adam Tudyk would be Hobbes, a deadly assassin with a motor-mouth (think a sane and relatively moral Deadpool). Gina Torres would be Zoe Washington, a sniper.

The Badger would be played, of course, by Mark Sheppard. We’d have to get Christina Hendricks in there somewhere.

That’s as far as I got before getting to work. I think it’s kind of a fun exercise, even though it won’t amount to anything. Maybe I can salvage the idea for a kind of modern day dungeon crawl.

The first scene in the movie would look something like this:

1. Interior Bland Office Space type Office
The office is very cluttered and rather small. Papers and books everywhere. The BADGER sits behind the desk. Standing in front of him is the un-named OFFICIAL.

OFFICIAL
There’s a situation we need handled.

BADGER
Yeah. Tura. I know. Nasty business that. We aren’t going to leave it to the Russians? Their territory and all.

OFFICIAL
Listen, Mr. . . . Badger?

BADGER taps the name plate on the desk, facing the official. It reads “R. BADGER”

OFFICIAL
Fine. Mr. Badger. Intel indicates the Russians are going to clean sweep the area. All evidence will be gone. We need to know what was happening there.

BADGER
I doubt it’s a moral imperative, but I’m up for Queen & Country and all that. You give us this mission, and we own it. Your boss told you that, right?

OFFICIAL
You’re a gun, Mr. Badger. We point and pull the trigger. What the bullet does after that is a matter of physics.

BADGER
Well put. You were listening at the briefing. Fine. We’ll take it. Expect the report in 48 hours.

OFFICIAL
In 48 hours, that area is going to be a radioactive cinder.

BADGER
And we’ll all be home and snug in our beds, no one the wiser. Good day.

The OFFICIAL stands looking at BADGER for a moment, then turns and leaves. BADGER sips at his coffee for a moment. He takes the nameplate and tosses it in his bag. He rises, takes his bag and leaves the office.

2. Interior Cubicle Farm type space, just outside office door
BADGER slides the name plate (which reads CRISIS MANAGEMENT CONSULTANT) off the door. Underneath is another name plate (Tom Winchester, Senior Analyst). Two men rise from desks at the cubicles just beyond the office.  These are MALCOLM and JANUS.

BADGER
You get all that?

JANUS
(nods) Like an open book.

BADGER
Are we getting fucked over again?

JANUS
Absolutely.

MALCOLM
We’re in the wrong line of work.

BADGER
Only if you’re making plans for retirement.

 

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Rewind

Disclaimer: This is part of a round robin review process, meaning that a bunch of designers got together and agreed to review each other’s games. I don’t know if the author of Rewind will be reviewing my game or not, but he might. In any case, I will be reviewing four other games between now and August.

Rewind is a solo or single-player game written by Todd Zircher that is basically Edge of Tomorrow (or Groundhog Day, . . . the author includes a bunch of other inspirations I didn’t know). As soon as I started reading, I twigged on the possibilities due to it pretty much being Edge of Tomorrow the RPG, and that – as you might guess by some other articles I’ve written elsewhere – got me interested.

This is also a very simple game. The rules themselves are basically covered in seven pages, and that includes some examples. Given that the rules are so short, you can imagine this is a very abstract game. The conflict resolution system is not unlike that for Apocalypse World, but without the specifics – there are no playbooks or moves.

The “timeline” mapping mechanic is straight-forward and elegant. The author does a good job of explaining it, but also provides an example of play at the back of the rules in case a reader needed more clarity. Again, as the author explains this mechanic, my mind is imprinting it on Edge of Tomorrow, and it works very well.

Is there a drawback to this game? I mean, not for me. There are those who might want an ever-so-slightly more robust system, but I really don’t think that’s needed. The example provided at the end makes me think this would work for what I would want and would work really well.

It is a single or solo game, so if there are more than two people involved, that third person will have an issue. I mean, I think one could hack this, but as the author writes, if you have more than one character who can trigger “rewinds” things can get confusing.

To me, this would work really well as a backup game for small groups. Only two people available? Cool, let’s go through a noir version of this. It’s open-ended enough that with some oracles (a few are included in the rules) even re-using a starting point can lead to different games, however the set-up for a new adventure can be really quick, so no prep is really needed.

This is a great little game – and I say little because the PDF is all of 14 pages, not as any dig. It provides a great framework for the specific kind of story it wants to tell, and everything else has been shed. That’s a design style I can get behind.

I give Rewind 4.5 time loops out of 5. There are a few editing errors and I think the text could be somewhat clearer in its presentation. Were I to rate this in value for money – it’s free – it would be 5 out of 5. Definite recommendation.

You can find Rewind here and visit Todd Zircher’s Rewind page here.

You can find my opinion of Edge of Tomorrow here.

You can find a bunch of thoughts on Edge of Tomorrow and gaming here.

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Emperors of Rome

I’m not only an intermittent podcast host, I’m also a regular listener to podcasts. I actually don’t listen to many gaming podcasts – I find that when I’m not getting my fill of gaming, I listen to them a lot more – but still follow some political and history podcasts.

One of my favourites right now is Emperors of Rome. This should come as no surprise, considering my love for the sadly completed History of Rome (though Mike Duncan’s Revolutions is just as amazing). I actually get excited each time I see a new episode in my feed. This is not only filled with fantastic information about the emperors and their places in history, the two hosts are very personable with great interplay. I’m going to be very, very sad when we run out of emperors to discuss.

If you like history podcasts, you need to give this one a try. Granted, my love of Roman history probably bumps this up a bit, but I think if you try it, you’ll agree this is one of the best.

I give Emperors of Rome 4.75 deifications out of 5. This is a fantastic podcast on Roman emperors, which is both enjoyable and informative.

You can find Emperors of Rome on iTunes, where you can also find History of Rome and Revolutions.

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How I Messed Up Nefertiti Overdrive

Just after I put out the Quickstart rules for Nefertiti Overdrive, I had a discussion with a respected game designer regarding the characters. He was very unhappy with what he saw as an exclusion of Africa in a game set in Africa. The cast of characters included an Italian, a Greek, a Central Asian, and an Asian and only two from Africa – a Kushite/Sudanese and an Egyptian. At the time, I decided to change the Amazon in a Numdian/Berber, but argued for keeping the Asian character, given that the concept of Jet Li in Ancient Egypt was the idea kernel that sprouted into the story. And as for the Etruscan and the Spartan – well, I argued, Egypt was a Mediterranean culture rather than an African one.

That was a pretty stupid argument. It’s on par with insisting on a misogynistic medieval fantasy setting because that’s what history was like, while at the same time including magic and dragons. By the time Nefertiti Overdrive was released, not only was the Amazon a Numidian but the Monk had become the Misfit and was Ethiopian. While I kept the Etruscan and the Spartan – I’m sorry, but I can’t tear myself away from the image of those two iconic cultures in Ancient Egypt – I included the Bantu (a Sub-Saharan culture) and the Mercenary (from ancient Carthage) which could be used as alternatives and fit the same role.

Some might argue that I should have stuck to my initial vision, that I only changed what little I did in order to meet an “agenda.” They would be wrong. I actually don’t feel that I changed it enough, and honestly struggled with keeping the Etruscan and the Spartan – the historical argument being honestly empty and unimportant. If I could go back and re-commission all the art, I would do so and remove the Etruscan and Spartan. I could maybe include them as part of a series of iconic warriors from other cultures around the world statted for Nefertiti Overdrive.

The only agenda I am meeting is my sense of what I should have done. That’s personal. Another individual offered up an argument, and the more I think of it, the more I feel he had the right of it. I have heard others argue against his position, and I am not moved. The agenda that feeds this post is the same agenda that created Nefertiti Overdrive – what I want.

In deciding to use Egypt, I also decided to use Africa and the baggage that goes along with that. While I might be able to decouple that baggage in my own mind, it still exists, and only if I do not care for the perceptions and desires of others can I ignore it. What is sad is that I did ignore much of it. I had an opportunity to shape a game with much more African content. The more I think about the argument – and I do, regularly, especially as I consider embarking on a Korean-inspired second-world setting – the more I feel my compromise was actually a failure.

How would Nefertiti Overdrive have been impacted with the Bantu and Mercenary in place of the Etruscan and the Spartan? I don’t believe it would have been. Sure, the images of the Etruscan in a-historical Principate period legionary armour and the Spartan with his iconic helmet likely got some people excited. I’m pretty sure action images of the Bantu and the Mercenary would have worked just as well. I don’t think many have supported Nefertiti Overdrive because of the two Mediterranean characters.

Would anyone argue that I should remove this from sale, given the real weaknesses I see in it now? Probably. I haven’t heard that yet. I’m not going to do that, mostly because of all the work I and others put into it. I really do love this game, as much as I feel I missed a great opportunity.

So, this is one long mea culpa. I fucked up. It’s out there for all to see. I’ll try to do better next time, if there is a next time.

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Meandering Around the Map

Originally published 20 April 2010

I used to try to be a “seat of my pants” writer. I would start with an idea, and move forward. Sometimes I knew the ending, sometimes I didn’t, but I just wrote until I couldn’t write any longer.

I will admit I did a fair amount of writing like that. The thing is, I didn’t finish much. That which I did finish, failed to satisfy. I wrote mostly long fiction, so I guess—in a way—it is understandable that so little was actually completed. Still, this also applied to my short fiction.

If you will excuse the digression, I am not—primarily—a short fiction author. That is because I am not—primarily—a short fiction reader. In my experience, one writes what one would like to read. For me, that’s long format fiction. I got into short fiction because that’s one way to “break through.” I intended to get some short fiction under the belt, then get my agent, then publish my novels.

Of course, then I stopped being prolific, and here we are.

Digression complete. Back to the topic at hand.

I learned that I needed a roadmap. I needed to plot out even my short fiction. I had to know how I was getting from A to B. I’m not saying every writer needs this, but I did.

It got my short fiction published.

Every short story that I have sold was plotted out from the beginning. Every story I am working on now is plotted out. That does not mean they end up as intended.

Characters can take control of a story. Events in the story can change. While writing, I sometimes realize that a planned event or character action doesn’t really work, and by changing it, I change the story. None of this matters. Because I have the roadmap. I can make detours and still stay on course.

None of the four stories I have sold (three now published, one coming soon!) match their original plan. They all changed—sometimes drastically. The setting of Flotsam (basically a floating suburb of wrecks and scavenged material held together by ropes and chains) from “Flotsam Jewel”—published in the now defunct Forgotten Worlds—was a later addition. It changed a lot of the story, but just the details. For “A Pound of Dead Flesh,” published in Black Gate, the main villain changed, and this totally changed the climax of the story.

I need a roadmap to begin journey. I still do a lot of “seat of my pants” writing, but having a map helps me to “stay on target.” Porkins would be proud.

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