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.


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.

There’s a situation we need handled.

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

Listen, Mr. . . . Badger?

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

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.

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?

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

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

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

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.

You get all that?

(nods) Like an open book.

Are we getting fucked over again?


We’re in the wrong line of work.

Only if you’re making plans for retirement.


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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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Terminator: Genisys

Last night my wife and I compromised and it was a huge mistake.

She had selected some possible movies, and all of them were dramas. I was tired – had a scare with my dad who lives 6 hours away last week, and once I had mopped that up I had one of the worst Fridays at work in memory – so I didn’t want to use my brain. I had a collection of Chinese and Korean historic actioners, none of which had been well-reviewed.

We compromised on Terminator: Genisys.

The horror. The horror.

My wife, who has much more charged for this than I, nodded off a couple of times. I got up to get a drink, make some popcorn, and didn’t pause the movie. These two are basically equal. I don’t think I could fall asleep with a movie on if I wanted, no matter its quality, but I also always pause when I have to leave a movie for a moment.

So, yeah, not so good.

The plot was convoluted. The acting was acceptable but not exceptional. The action was mediocre. There was way too much idiot plot going on – story only works if all participants are idiots.

Redeeming? I like the idea of re-booting the franchise by using its very crux – time travel. How can anything be truly resolved if people and flesh-encased machines can travel back further and further.

Can you imagine Terminator in occupied France? Victorian Terminator? Just its use in this movie was great. I give high points for originality.

I think how the looped in Schwarzenegger’s age was done well, but I think that necessity led to much of the convoluted storyline.

And that’s it. There was nothing else I can really cheer for. Sure, it had Lee Byung-hun in it, but for too short a period and once again as a villain. This makes me sad, because he was the lead in my favourite Korean gangster movie, A Bittersweet Life, and I would love to see him get more of a chance in a Hollywood movie. I know that’s expecting too much, but a guy can dream.

So, I’m going to give Terminator Genisys 2 exploding projectiles of mediocrity out of 5. The plot was convoluted, the action unimpressive, and the writing lacked any real spark. Someday, somebody might do something interesting again with the franchise. This isn’t that day.

You can read more about Terminator Genisys at Wikipedia and IMDB.

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I don’t think I will ever be blasé about signing books.

At Breakout Con – which, by the way, was a blast, and will be an intended destination in con season 2016 – I signed some books for a couple of people. I felt kind of embarrassed, in my Canadian self-effacing way, but also immensely proud. Someone wanted me to sign one of my creations, as though that added to its value.

And I wanted to include a cool comment, which I am worried I overdid. Because I like nothing better than second-guessing my decisions.

This kind of sound funny considering I included an extra tier in my Nefertiti Overdrive Kickstarter for signed copies of the book. It didn’t prove popular but certainly more popular than I expected. I had created a fair number of tiers and went looking for advice from my peers. The signed copy tier was one that got a fair amount of support, so I left it in. I’m glad I did.

I mean, honestly, who doesn’t want their work to be appreciated? And I can’t imagine a bigger compliment than asking a creator to sign a book.

So thanks for the ego boosts, Alexander and Rob. It was a great cap to a great weekend.

You can find out more about Breakout Con here.

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