Transmetropolitan

transmet1Transmetropolitan is a comic series written by Warren Ellis that ran sixty issues from 1997 to 2002. I own the complete run but had never finished reading it, I’d stopped at issue 45. No idea why really except that I’m easily distracted, and yes that means I have twelve year old comics in my reading backlog.

Anyway, given my habit of acquiring stuff, it’s ironic that I found I was missing issue 58 when I was putting my comic list together for my resolution project. I’ve no idea if I just never bought it and maybe I misplaced it. Nevertheless, I can’t have a one issue hole in the series, so I headed off to Ebay to see if I could find a copy. Surprisingly I found three copies, all of them for under $5 plus shipping. More irony that my resolution to consume more and buy less turned into an excuse to buy something.

It took me a few days of leaving the stack of comics on my deck before I finally picked the series back up, but once I did I was immediately hooked again and read through all fifteen issues in two nights. Even after all this time the conflict and characters came back to me quickly. If you haven’t read it I recommend picking up the trade paperbacks, its themes of government corruption and the duties of journalism are even more applicable now than they were twelve years ago.

Books and Board Games

Books

I’m up to 10 books read for the year so far, which puts me 3 ahead of schedule for my GoodReads goal of 50 and leaves me with 152 (I moved a few books from the wishlist over and added a few shorts, so the math doesn’t match up with my last progress post). Looking at a big number like that, 10 books read doesn’t seem like a big deal except I’ve finished two series in those ten, Lindsay Buroker’s excellent Emperor’s Edge series and Glen Cook’s wonderful Garrett P.I. series, which actually makes it feel like a lot of progress.

Board Games

I bought Pathfinder ACG last October and wasn’t really impressed with my first two plays. My first game I made the mistake of playing solo using only one character, which really limits game play. I also made the mistake of using Ezren (a human wizard) and one of the first cards he encountered was a barrier requiring a strength check which was impossible for him. My second game was with a buddy where we each ran one character, and that was quite a bit more fun, but it wasn’t until I recently got the game out again and played with four characters that it was really fun.

The other game that’s been sitting on my shelf for a long time which I finally got out is Thunderstone Advance. This was fun but very difficult at least for the card draws I was getting. I need to play some more but right now Pathfinder is keeping my interest much more.

Before my recent resurgence of interest in Pathfinder, I’d been playing either Marvel Legendary for the Online League I’ve been participating in on BoardGameGeek or Sentinels of the Multiverse.

Other Stuff

I’ve unfortunately done very little with my comics or movies lists, I’m still working on training myself to switch back and forth between my different goals for the year. Multitasking like that is not something I’ve ever been good at. I’m much more of a serial obsessive, where I go on a month-long kick of just reading or just playing games.

I have been playing some MMOs a bit more regularly though. Star Trek Online has been a nearly daily thing. I’ve been making sure to at least hop in long enough to do the daily for the Anniversary ship. While I prefer the old way where you just have to finish a mission, I do understand that it makes more sense for Cryptic to entice people to logon more regularly. At least the Q daily missions are quick so it’s a pretty painless grind.

I’ve also picked Neverwinter back up, it was surprisingly easy to pick back up where I left off.  This is one of those games that I don’t think I stopped playing for any particular reason other than I got distracted by something else. I started back up both because of that and because the Multiplaying group is having a weekly Wednesday night game. In typical fashion though I’ve not actually joined in on a Wednesday night yet.

Despite getting back into two MMOs, I still don’t feel like I’m really back into the genre and I’m ambivalent at best about the new games that are supposed to release this year.

List Resolution Progress

Over the last ten days I’ve been working on my lists resolution, so far I have lists of books, comics, movies, gamebooks, and video games. My goal is to complete each of these lists, except the book list, by the end of December. That one’s just too big to finish, but if I can get through the first 50 to 75 titles I’ll be happy. I’m going to have a busy year. 

Books

The book list is far and away the biggest one. I’ve got everything from my to read shelves in my office, my to read list on GoodReads, unread stuff from my Kindle, and a few ebooks that were in my Dropbox which I’d forgotten about. I ended up with 233 titles to read.

That’s a ridiculous number and I was having trouble prioritizing it, so I ended up moving 62 books off of the to read list to a wishlist. These were books I’d put on my to read list but hadn’t bought in either paper or bits form. This helped reduce the amount of books to sort through and even better it’s given me a place to put books that Mogsy reviews which I’m interested in without expanding my to read list any further.  Still, 171 is a lot of books. I removed a couple of titles that I’d already read before and bought because I’d originally read a library copy. A few more were removed because they were reference and self-help books that I don’t need. That only got me down to 156 unfortunately, which is a lot but it’s better than 233.

For prioritizing, I put any series that I haven’t caught up at the top.  Glen Cook’s Garrett P.I. series, Lindsay Buroker’s Emperor’s Edge series, and Patricia Briggs’ Mercy Thompson books. There’s a few books from C.J. Cherryh’s Invader series I haven’t read yet and probably should be higher, but I tried to mix in graphics novels and one shot books between all of the series to keep from getting burnt out. I’m still not completely happy with the order for the list, but I decided I needed to stop fiddling with it since I can always adjust it as I go.

Comics

My comics list is far less crazy, although technically there’s overlap with the book list since that’s where I put the graphic novels. I have 51- and while typing that I realized I forgot about my Comixology and Dark Horse accounts. So actually I have 84 unread comics. There’s about two dozen trades included in that number which I should probably move over to my book list but for now I’ve settled with sorting them to the bottom of my comics list.

Gamebooks

I have 39 unread gamebooks, with Tin Man Games’ Gamebook Adventures and Joe Dever’s Lone Wolf accounting for more than half of the list. I have two that I recently got from Kickstarter projects that I’ve put at the top, since I’d like to do reviews of them: Maelorum and Holdfast. After those two, I need to finish Trial of the Clone and Judge Dredd: Countdown Sec 106, then the Destiny Quest series (before Michael Ward get’s the third one out), then I’m going to focus on the GA series followed by LW, then Fighting Fantasy, Fabled Lands, and some Tunnels and Trolls solitaire RPG modules.

Like my book list, I don’t think I’ll get through all of my game books this year, but if I can get through the Kickstarters, Destiny Quests, and Gamebook Adventures then I’ll be happy.

Movies and TV

Compared to the others, well everything is small compared to my book list, this is a tiny one. This list is kind of hard to count because of the TV series on it. Should the first two seasons of the remastered Star Trek: The Next Generation count as one entry or two or should I count each episode?

Regardless, I have six movies I need to catch up on first: Amazing Spider-Man, The Wolverine, Dark Knight Rises, Iron Man 2, Iron Man 3, and X-men First Class. After that will be the last episode of Eureka, Batman: Gotham Knight, and then I’m going to start my Blu Ray TV rewatches. I’m planning to watch the entire Farscape series plus the Peacekeeper Wars, then the remastered Next Gen seasons, then Enterprise, and lastly Firefly.

Video Games

I tried to keep my video game list as short as possible since my primary goal is to get through more books this year, so this list of mostly of games to finish. On my Xbox 360 that means finishing up Batman Arkham Origins which I got for Christmas and am about 40% done with and then going back Mass Effect 3 and finally finishing the last three DLC’s. For PC, I need to finish Shadowrun Returns (hopefully before the Berlin expansion comes out) and then the two recent Kickstarter games Banner Saga and Broken Age. After that I want to finish Game of Dwarves and then start XCOM: Enemy Unknown.

For 2014

Games

Of the MMO releases planned for 2014, Elder Scrolls Online is the only one that I’m planning to buy and play at launch. I expect to have fun for a few months before moving on to something else. I’ll be extremely surprised if I’m still playing by December. I’ve had very little interest in Wild Star so far and don’t plan to get it, although I can’t guarantee I won’t get swept up in the excitement when it releases.

Outside of MMOs, it’s looking like a crowdfunding year for me. Star Citizen, Shadowrun Online, the expansion for Shadowrun Returns, Broken Age, Banner Saga, Massive Chalice, and Planetary Annihilation. I’ve backed all of these games some of which are releasing and others are still being developed, but it’s been fun watching the process for each of these games.

Resolutions

Unlike the last two years, I’m not making any resolutions or setting any goals related to blogging. I’m sure when I have something to say or share that I’ll get the itch to post, and I’d rather approach it that way than trying to set it up as a second job. The only writing goals I’m setting for myself this year are my plans to do an outline and first pass edit of A Wizard’s Life in March. I want to see how that goes before I decide anything else.

Besides from MarchEditingMonth, my resolution for 2014 is to make lists. 

I read nine books last year. Nine. That’s embarrassing to me. I have thought of myself a reader since I was eight years old, so it was a shock when that email arrived from GoodReads congratulating me on finishing nine books. This made me realize that I’m very good at acquiring content but not at actually consuming it.

I have a set of bookshelves that is full of books to read, and I have two more stacks on the floor plus stuff on my Kindle. I have movies I got for Christmas in 2012 that I still haven’t watched, not to mention the ones I got this year. I have backlogs of comic books, game books, Xbox games, and Steam games. I have half a dozen starship models that need to be assembled and painted. I still haven’t watched the series finale of Eureka or the Farscape Peacekeeper Wars movie.

So I’ve started making lists so that I can see just how much stuff I have and more importantly I can start to prioritize it. Unless I learn to speed read or stop time, there’s no way I’ll be able to read everything sitting on my shelves, but I can pick fifty books and make a dent in it. I can certainly catch up on a dozen TV shows and movies. My video game backlog doesn’t bother me nearly as much, but I’m going to make a list anyway and make sure that finally finishing the Mass Effect 3 DLC is near the top.

While looking up last year’s resolutions post, I was surprised that I made a similar lists resolution in relation to finishing games and writing projects. So apparently I had zero follow through on that. Still, I think this year will be different because of the habits and tricks I picked up during November’s successful NaNoWriMo run. I’m using my phone to block out time daily and set nagging reminders to stay on track. It’s not exactly the same as having the social pressure, but making lists of books to read and movies to watch isn’t as difficult either.

Looking Back at 2013

What a weird year 2013 has been. I started the year looking forward to several MMOs none of which lasted. City of Stream imploded, Defiance and Neverwinter both fizzled for me, and Elder Scrolls Online didn’t release. Defiance turned out to be the least social MMO I’ve ever played, and add to that the bugginess of the interface after launch, and I lost interest after the first month or two. I’m still not sure why Neverwinter didn’t click for me, I was very excited for the game and really enjoyed the demo I played, but somehow I shifted from mostly playing to mostly doing offline crafting to not doing anything. This year was also the first time I didn’t buy the Lord of the Rings Online expansion, and even now I’ve not logged in to try out the class changes that came along with Helm’s Deep. I just didn’t have that moment of nostalgia this time around like I did when Isengard was being released.

Star Trek Online was the only MMO I played regularly this year, and I think that this past year was probably STO’s best year to date. Romulans have always been one of my least favorite non-Federation factions, so when Cryptic announced their expansion plan at the beginning of the year I was ambivalent. I did get excited though after I got a change to try some of the new Romulan content on Tribble. Cryptic really hit a home run with the mission content for Romulan characters and the upgraded tutorial missions for the Klingons, so much so that updating the Federation tutorial became a priority. I was very surprised that Cryptic had decided to add a new faction but allowing them to ally with either the Federation of Empire allowed people to play as Romulans without further splintering the PvP community, as well as fitting with existing canon. Then in the second half of the year with the Season 8 update and the incredible visuals of getting to fly my ship inside a Dyson Sphere. I’ve enjoyed the space adventure zone much more than the ground zone of New Romulus, and I’ve especially enjoyed the more streamlined and far grindy Dyson reputation. I’m hoping that Season 9 includes a redesign of the other reputations along the same lines.

Besides STO my other main game this year has been modded Minecraft. I started with the Direwolf20 pack from Feed the Beast but eventually moved on to making my own mod pack in order to stay on the most current releases of Minecraft and mods as possible. I haven’t tried yet, but I don’t think I’ll ever be able to enjoy playing standard Minecraft again. I enjoy designing and building automated systems too much, and exploring the different magic systems, alternate dimensions, and building with a wider array of cosmetic blocks than vanilla Minecraft provides. Minecraft has always been a favorite game of mine, but generally I’d always get to a point where I was bored with a map and move on to something else. Having mods available changes that. Minecraft is always changing now as mods add new features or new mods become available, there’s always something to try, and starting over in a new world also means a chance to make big changes to which mods I’m using.

This year I’ve also added board/card gaming to my collection of hobbies. After going to GenCon and picking up Firefly, I realized that there were board games out there that would play well solo as well as in a group. Since October I’ve been spending a lot of time on BoardGameGeek and started collecting some games. Ironically, I’m playing board games now much the way I play MMOs. Solo. So far, in addition to Firefly I’ve picked up Space Hulk Death Angel, Lord of the Rings: The Card Game, Thunderstone, Marvel Legendary, and Pathfinder the Adventure Card Game.

My proudest achievement this year though has to be finally winning National Novel Writing Month. Not only has it motivated me to spend March doing a first revision but it’s heavily influenced my plans and resolutions for 2014.

NaNoWriMo Won!

2013-Winner-Vertical-BannerAfter two failed attempts, one serious and one not so serious, I’ve finally won November! Of course anyone who’s stopped by already knows from the NaNoWriMo widget on the right. Ironically it’s taken me until the end of December to actually write about it, some things never change.

I learned a few things this year. First I’m actually capable of focusing on and finishing a novel, which is something I wasn’t entirely sure I could do. I managed it this year by setting a reminder on my phone and basically blocking out 9 to 11 pm every night to write. No books or games until I’d gotten to my 1667 word goal for the evening. I also helped myself out by starting at 12:01 am on November first and getting a few hundred words in early so that when I sat down that night I could take it a little easy and still finish ahead by more than 300 words. The first week went very well especially the first few days where I got ahead by 1788 words, it felt pretty good knowing I could take a whole day off and still be on track. Instead, I ended up using up that buffer a little bit at a time during the second week which was by far the toughest for me of the month.

Hanging in during the rough week two was the first time creative writing ever felt like work to me. I found myself checking my word count after every sentence and taking too frequent breaks to research things like quarterstaves and ferrules. I got through it though motivated in large part by watching Belghast and Mogsy zip through their word counts.

The second two weeks were easier although not easy. I realized at some point that writing was a lot like backpacking. An overnight backpacking trip is fun before you start out and after you reach the top of the mountain, but the in between part can be pretty painful, which is of course why reaching the top feels so good. Writing is very much the same, some nights it was tediously painful trying to follow one word with another, but then I’d get to a level patch or hit a peak and the words would tumble out as fast as I could type them. I also got surprised a few times by things my characters did, which was a novel (pun intended) experience and absolutely fun to have happen.

So I finished a day early on the 29th with 50,029 words. Even better I managed to beat my daily 1667 word goal for 23 out of 30 days. The next big question is of course what do I do with it now?

I’ve been thinking about it over December, we’ll pretend that’s why I left the writeup for the 31st. Originally I was thinking I’d just leave it as background and exploratory writing for the setting I’ve been working in. But I’ve changed my mind on that. I found out during November that I was much more productive if I had a rough outline of where the story should go next. I didn’t always follow the outline, but it did always make the evening’s writing easier. If nothing else I think it would just get my mental gears shifted and warmed up a few hours early.

So instead of dropping it or just using it to help fill out the setting, in March I’m going to take it and make an outline of the current draft and then spend a few weeks editing it to see how it can be improved. I know there’s a lot that needs to be done, the framing story linking the individual flashbacks together is very thin and doesn’t really have a resolution to it. Some of the flashbacks need to be fleshed out a bit more as well and there’s one that has a lot of exposition in it that needs to be trimmed out. Still, if nothing else, it will be good practice for me for picking up my unfinished NaNoWriMo draft from 2010, which is something I actually would eventually like to publish.

Third Time’s the Charm?

It’s November, which means National Novel Writing Month.

I’ve tried twice now in 2009 and 2010. In 2009 I didn’t really approach it seriously. I started late, had no idea what I was going to write, and didn’t dedicate much time to it. I think that was around when Arkham Asylum came out and I spent my free time playing that instead. In 2010, I decided I was going to make a serious attempt and did much better, but still only finished about halfway to the goal. I skipped the next two years. It felt stupid to start another new story when I still had a half written one that I kept planning to get back to sometime.

This year I’m giving it another try. I wanted to join in the social experience and I decided what I could do was write another story set in the Pellia setting I developed during my 2010 attempt. It would be a way to flesh out the world some more and give me a chance to try an re-establish some good writing habits, possibly even get me to pick up the writing on The Unlucky Thief after November’s insanity has passed.

So I’m writing A Wizard’s Life. I have it planned out as an aging wizard telling his grandson about his life in five short stories, hopefully totalling 50,000 words. I’m hoping breaking it up into smaller individual stories will help me with plotting.

To hit 50,000 words in a month, I have to get roughly 1,667 down per day. I managed 1,998 on the 1st so I’m feeling pretty good at the start.

Firefly the Game

Firefly BoxMade by Gale Force 9Firefly the Game let’s you return to the ‘Verse to “Find a Crew, Find a Job, Keep Flying.”

What’s in the Box

Let’s talk about the physical bits first. There are a lot of parts. A lot. Starting with cards there are two decks for events while flying (forty cards each), one for Alliance space and one for Border space. There are five decks for contacts to pickup jobs, and five decks for supply planets where you can hire crew and buy gear and ship upgrades (25 cards for each deck). There’s a deck of forty “Aim to Misbehave” cards for use with completing illegal jobs. There’s a small deck of eleven setup cards with ship captains and starting equipment, and there are six oversized an oversized story cards with game goals. That’s two decks for setup and 13 for use while playing. Besides cards, there are also tokens for passengers/fugitives, cargo/contraband, crew morale, parts, fuel, warrants/goals, and a dinosaur marker to pass around to whoever’s turn it is. There’s also money in four credit denominations: $100, $500, $1000, and $2000. There are four ship cards, four ship models, an Alliance cruiser model, a Reaver model, a dinosaur token, and finally the game board itself.

It is a lot of stuff to get out of the box and get set up. Generally it’s been taking me between 15 and 20 minutes to get from opening the box to starting my first turn.

Full four player game setup.

Full four player game setup.

Despite how much stuff comes with the game it is extremely well made. The cards, money, and tokens are all printed on heavy stock. It looks and feels very durable. The art on everything is straight from the TV show and includes quotes to add context. I wanted to specifically highlight the money as it is gorgeously detailed with vibrant colors. As a fan of the show, the game is so well made that I would’ve been happy just as a collector.

Alliance Cruiser Firefly and Reaver Cutter
Alliance Cruiser, Firefly Class, and Reaver Cutter

Gorgeous Credits
Gorgeous Credits

The rulebook is eighteen pages, full color, and includes more photos and quotes from the show. The directions are decent although like any game I ran into some details I wasn’t sure of when I sat down to play. GF9 has been super communicative though and has been answering questions on the Firefly forum at Board Game Geek and has published an FAQ on the site for the game (you can also read the rulebook online).

Travel the 'Verse!

Flying a Firefly

I’ve play four times so far since I picked up the game from GenCon. Three times solo and once with a friend.

My first solo session that game was everything I wanted as a Firefly fan, but when I think solely about the actual game play it’s just a standard pick up and deliver game. So probably not worth getting if you’re not a Firefly geek and already own similar type games.

My first group session was more fun, although it felt a little too short to me. Partly that was because my friend and I were using a newbie friendly Story Card GF9 had on their site [link] which was intended for only an hour session instead of the normal two, and partly because I played the same way in that game as I did in my first solo. Taking legal shipping and transport jobs.

I had a much better time on my third play session (and my fourth). I used the same solo card as the first time but instead of trying to win by finishing 20 turns with $15,000 credits I decided to try the goal where you win by getting solid with all five contacts, meaning you’ve successfully finished a job for each one. Because of this I had to work for Niska and Badger, both if whom I’d been avoiding since all of Niska’s and most of Badger’s missions a free illegal. Doing these jobs required passing challenges from the Misbehaving deck, and that’s really where the fun part of the game is.

Taking legal jobs makes for a pretty basic logistics game. Finding the shortest route, trying to optimize by picking up multiple jobs starting close to one another with destinations along a consistent path. Playing this way you don’t really need much crew outside of a pilot and mechanic in order to avoid Reavers. The illegal jobs however require more planning as you need to try and find crew and equipment to cover all of the different possible challenges that will come up. This means hitting certain planets known for equipment or crew of a certain type, and balancing those expenses against the payouts for the jobs. Hiring crew also means keeping track of if any of them are wanted by the Alliance, and making sure contraband and fugitives are in your stash in case of a customs check. Knowing which crew are moral and handling morale if doing an immoral job. Plus, illegal jobs also pay a lot better. Seriously.

Mal Inara Misbehaving

Mal armed with a Pistol & Inara Misbehaving on a Job

Recommendation

If you are a fan of the TV series and like board games, buy it. GF9 did an incredible job translating the experience of being a Firefly captain to a board game. It’s well worth the $50. By the way, there are no references to the events of Serenity which is a major plus in my opinion.

If you aren’t a fan of the show it really depends on what games you already own and enjoy. As a pure delivery game it is pretty shallow until you get into the illegal jobs. If you’re interested in the outlaw side of the fame, I think there’s enough there to keep the game interesting even ignoring the theme. You’re still missing out on a major part of the experience though.

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. 0-8-4

The second episode was better than the first. The various team members were all able to develop a little bit, and more importantly the team as a whole started to develop.

The most interesting thing to me about the episode was starting to understand the role Coulson is going to play in the series. He is arguably the star of the series, he is certainly the big draw for fans of the Marvel movies. I had assumed that in a S.H.I.E.L.D based series he would take more of a central role, but it seems like his role here is largely the same as it was in the movies. He is a midground character. He adds some humor and exposition and keeps the plot moving forward. Even though he’s quite capable, he voluntarily takes a secondary role in order to help his team find its legs.

 

 

**** Spoilers ****

My only complaints with the episode are the bit with Sky at the end and the Fury cameo after the credits.

While I’m glad that the Rising Tide subplot wasn’t dropped, but it felt a little cliched to me. I’m giving the writers the benefit of the doubt, until I see otherwise, but I’m hoping we don’t end up seeing the usual betrayal and change of heart scenes. I also hope this isn’t a subplot that’s drawn out over multiple seasons.

The Fury cameo really didn’t seem to fit in the episode at all. While it was cool to have Samuel Jackson make an appearance, the scene itself didn’t really add anything and the fish tank bit was goofy.

Joss and S.H.I.E.L.D.

I was reading the Entertainment Weekly interview of Joss Whedon while waiting on my wife to go to bed so I could have the TV and was reminded several times why I love his work so much, for example:

Is there anything from your previous TV experiences where you’re like, “Now I know this, therefore I’m doing it this way”?

Well, don’t work for Fox.

There’s more to that answer of course, but I had to stop laughing before I could read the rest of it.

As for the pilot episode of SHIELD, I loved it. It was everything I was hoping for. An interesting ensemble cast, some great cameos from both the Avenger’s movie and previous Whedon shows, and good dialog. I wasn’t quite sure what the special effects were going to be like given it’s a weekly TV series, but they were better than I expected and more numerous as well. Of course maybe they blew half their FX budget on the pilot but I really doubt that.

I’m really looking forward to watching the different characters develop during the next few episodes. One of the weak points of having an ensemble cast and less than 60 minutes of air time is you can’t develop all of them at once. The pilot focused on Sky, which makes the most sense since she’s an outsider so there’s a built-in reason to explain things to the audience.