Chrissy Amphlett, R.I.P.

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One of the loudest, most powerful concerts I ever saw as an 80s teenager was The Divinyls. A fantastic band, great songs and some of the best melodic guitar breaks in Australian music history—but most of all, a lead singer with a charisma and talent that blew everyone away. As a kid, growing up on Kate Bush and New Wave bands, at first Chrissy Amphlett scared and confused me, with her strange jerky moves, her eyes hidden behind that low fringe, the pout, and the weird juxtaposition of schoolgirl outfit and blatantly grown-up, aggressive sexuality (something that had a particularly strong effect when I was in school myself, I can tell you). But she absolutely fuckin’ rocked in a way that changed all the rules. RIP, Chrissy.


Petty Gods

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Petty GodsI posted a while back about the OSR, or (‘Old School Renaissance’), the revival of interest in late ’70s/early ’80s Dungeons & Dragons and other early roleplaying games. Inspired by the efforts of small publishers, and after reading James Maliszewski’s Grognardia blog, I contacted Maliszewski in October 2012 and offered to do the layout for a free community project he had worked on since November 2010: Petty Gods. Inspired by an old Judge’s Guild publication called Unknown Gods (and an idea by Blair Fitzpatrick of Planet Algol), Maliszewski had gathered together an impressive number of article submissions and illustrations. All he needed was a reliable graphic designer.

Well, I spent a serious chunk of time laying out the 150 pages or so of text, images and tables, in an attempt to get the project out the door as soon as possible. All was going swimmingly until Maliszewski suddenly dropped out of contact. With everyone.

Just about everyone in the OSR knows this story; Maliszewski experienced a personal tragedy and shut down all communication with the people he was collaborating with on various projects. Which personally was nothing more than a bit frustrating, but for many others there remained the matter of a Kickstarter project called Dwimmermount, almost 50K in funds, and a lot of unfulfilled promises.

Several months have passed and most of these responsibilities have been taken off Maliszewski’s hands, who still hasn’t commented publically. I sympathise with how he has been affected by events in his personal life and wish him a better future. The Dwimmermount project has been kept alive by Autarch (his business partner in the Kickstarter campaign) who has doggedly acted with maturity and integrity.

Anyway, back to Petty Gods. I heard not a thing, and thought the project was dead and my weeks of work wasted. And then the other day I stumbled across a blog called Gorgonmilk, where a fellow had got sick of waiting years for the book and decided to kick it off again afresh. At first I was taken aback and somewhat peeved, especially after he didn’t want to just finish what I’d done and make it available—and why should he, since no one had even known I had been working on it. But it turned out that Greg Gorgonmilk has far loftier ambitions—coupled with an infectious enthusiasm for the OSR and a generous and positive nature. So instead he suggested I finish off the existing book, make it available as Original Petty Gods (OPG), while he continued with the bigger Expanded Petty Gods (XPG), a project, I’m happy to say, which is getting bigger by the day and already has names such as Michael Moorcock and Gene Wolfe on board. Go for it Gorgonmilk!

So, after another day’s work giving it a rough polish, that, as they say, is that, and if you’re interested, you now know the whole story. After two and a half years, you can finally get your hands on the ‘original’ version of Petty Gods and all the talented authors and artists who contributed to it for free finally get to see their work out in public. Let me know what you think!


Happy International Tabletop Day!

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Tabletop DayYes folks, it’s the first International Tabletop Day. After the big success of Wil Wheaton’s series of Tabletop videos, in which he gathers his famous-among-pop-culture-geeks friends to play tabletop games, Felicia Day’s Geek & Sundry network has bestowed upon this humble day of 30th March the title of International Tabletop Day. that means getting together and playing board, card and miniatures games with your friends at your local game shop, coffee shop, pub (never mind the half-plastered old guys who come over and ask you what you’re doing every ten minutes) or home.

Tabletop games have been taking off all over the world in the last few years, and Tabletop has done a lot in just a few months to increase the profile of this kind of fun, sociable, face-to-face gaming. It’s great to see it go even further with this promotional day.

Of course, big fan of boardgames though I am, we have houseguests right now who don’t play boardgames and have little kids who would destroy my beautiful expensive games if they were allowed within a spit’s distance of them—so no gaming for me today. But I’ll be making up for it in spades next weekend when my best gaming buddy comes to stay for a few days. There will be gaming, oh yes …

And talking about gaming, I have a big gaming-related project in the works that I think will excite and interest visitors to this blog. Keep your dice ready and your eyes peeled …


The Creative Cloud is the Future My Arse

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Shantanu Narayen, the CEO of that most contemptuous of monopolies, Adobe Software, had a press conference in Australia yesterday where he totally ignored repeated questions about Adobe price gouging in Australia. In one instance, it will cost you $1,400 more to buy Adobe software than in the United States, so in fact it would actually be cheaper to fly there to buy it (and, as one commentator cheekily pointed out, you’d get Frequent Flyer points as well).

Watch either of the two videos below and see this idiot—who is being paid millions of dollars a year remember—squirm like an uncomfortable schoolchild up on stage during Assembly, as he ignores legitimate questions about pricing and instead repeatedly parrots the schtick his minders have told him to say: “the Creative Cloud is the future of creative.” Until his local lackey has to rescue him of course.

Well bugger off Mr Narayen. It’s not the future of my creative, nor is forcing people into a subscription model for your outdated, clunky, bloated, badly designed software the future of anyone’s creative. As far as I can see, everyone who uses Adobe software is just itching for a viable alternative to come along, and when that leaner, meaner, faster, smarter company does appear, we’ll all be jumping ship faster than you can stammer out “the Creative Cloud is the future of creative” for the hundredth time at the retreating backs of your once-loyal customers.

What a nobhead.

YouTube link | SMH.com.au article


Bashing Games Workshop

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Games Workshop—the company gamers love to hate. Is it the worldwide success, the relentless corporate mindset, the short-sighted business practices or the eye-watering prices? It’s everything; and yet Games Workshop still sells plastic and (self-proclaimed) ‘finecast’ figures and over-priced books hand over fist all over the world.

But maybe, finally, Games Workshop has jumped the proverbial shark. Because no matter how ridiculous the prices get, no matter how many times their lawyers strong-arm their fans and distributors, and no matter how many times they re-release the same old rules in shiny new clothes, the figures have usually been pretty damn good. The Games Workshop Warhammer (fantasy) and Warhammer 40,000 (sci-fi) universes have decades of development behind them, and are distinctive and imaginative. So when I got the latest issue of White Dwarf, I was pretty shocked by the new Chaos figures they’ve just released.

But hold on—why do I get White Dwarf magazine, when it’s just a glossy advertisement for GW products that I don’t even buy? Well, it’s kind of a habit that won’t go away, and my girlfriend is kind enough to tack a subscription for me on the end of every Christmas present pile. And it’s an enjoyable bit of eye candy, despite the endless gushing self-congratulatory hyperbole about their own products that quickly becomes tiresome. With a few gaps here and there in the late 200s-early 300s, I’ve got almost every issue since #1 back in 1977 (for some bizarre reason they’re no longer numbered, but the last one is getting up to #400).

Anyway, back to the shark-jumping. The latest fanfare is for a bunch of Chaos Warriors for the Warhammer Fantasy Battle game. And these are by far the worst figures I have seen Games Workshop produce for quite some time. I don’t know who is approving these things, but they are nowhere near the standard that such a market-leading miniatures company should be churning out. Let’s have a look shall we? (Click all of the following images to see larger versions.)

GW Chaos

What? What’s happened to the dynamic poses, the realistic detail, the gritty fantasy? What we have now is something a lot closer to the following—the image on the left recently posted by someone on a Warhammer forum that I think perfectly captures the feel of the new Chaos chariot, and the image on the right, the figures that GW was making for the Heroquest game twenty-four years ago in 1989:

GW Toys

The same thick, chunky shapes, the same static, lifeless poses, the same cartoony, kiddy feel. Now, to further elucidate my point, here’s a quick look at what some other miniatures companies are producing these days. These from the Dark Age game:

Dark Age

And these from Privateer Press:

Privateer Press

Compared to these characterful, inspiring miniatures, the GW efforts are looking more and more like something you’d buy in K-Mart, or bundled with a Happy Meal. Then again, maybe that’s the direction the company suits are targeting.

Let’s hope this is just a minor aberration and GW stop making such clunky-looking figures. While I no longer buy their product, it’s a shame to see the quality level deteriorate to this degree—especially when the prices are so outrageous. Because despite everything that’s made them a target of mockery, I still have a small soft spot for the company that loomed so large in my early years as a gamer.


Taking Rights Out Of Copyright

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Copyright

It's been a while since I had a good rant!

As a graphic designer, I certainly understand and appreciate the need for copyright. But when you instigate a copyright system that patently doesn’t work, then ensure that it’s not implemented consistently, and then impose draconian penalties that inconvenience and abuse customers who are doing the right thing, then it’s time to have a good hard look at the system.

Yep, I’m talking about movies. Who hasn’t had their blood boil at being forced to watch an semi-abusive advertisement about copyright violation on a DVD that you paid good money for? Or driven mad by code systems that don’t let you play a movie that an overseas seller happily sold you? The system is a mess, and while copyright abusers happily continue to churn out cheap knock-offs in their millions, the innocent consumer is demonized and inconvenienced.

My current DVD/Blu-ray player is, ostensibly, a universal player. That is, it will play a disc from any world region. The hilarious thing is, this functionality is made as difficult as possible for the user to access. You have to hit a button on the remote and enter a secret four digit code; then a hidden menu appears from which you can change the region code. I mean, for frak’s sake, what is this, a secret decoder ring club for teenage boys? I had to discover this hidden functionality, of course, on the internet, to which I was directed by a representative of the manufacturer on the phone; the entire process felt like a whispered drug deal in the corner of some dingy bar.

Of course, the region resets to the default all the time, so I’m continually forced to do this ridiculous dance every time I play discs I’ve legally purchased from the US or the UK or Australia or whatever. Of course, the studios are happy for you to buy the discs, they just don’t want to make it all easy for you to play them; and when you do, you’ll probably be subject to some non-skippable, high volume abuse about how pirating discs is a crime on a par with murdering old ladies.

Thankfully, things are, at the speed of your average glacier, changing. I’ve noticed a few recent discs have ads that have finally changed tack, actually thanking the viewer for doing the right thing. Well it only took them about ten years to wake up to that bit of basic psychology.

In the meantime, go to any southeast Asian country and you can pick up pirated DVDs by the bucketful. Not that I would, as the quality is almost without fail utterly crap, but the point for the studios is, stop zeroing in on the soft targets and hit the people who are actually causing the problem. Or better yet, accept the fact that copyright abuse is a fact of life, and figure it into your multi-million dollar profit margins.

What annoys me is the stupidity of the entire approach; because the bottom line is, if people can get content, and play content easily, they will happily pay for it. Make it difficult, expensive, or just plain impossible, and those convenient illegal methods start to look a hell of a lot more enticing.

Don’t even get me started on the fact that AppleTV doesn’t make TV shows available for rental or purchase in NZ because SkyTV have locked down the local distribution deals. Or that you have to re-download all your iOS apps when you move to another country. We’re all happily paying for content that isn’t actually ours, and is subject to a ridiculous multiplicity of out-of-date national copyright laws that have hardly woken up to the fact that there is an internet, let alone been flexible enough to accommodate it.

I’m sure one day society will look back on the growing pains of the international content delivery system and laugh at the poor chumps who had to put up with them. Unfortunately, I realize more and more each day that ours is the generation that must endure the early, faltering steps of the digital revolution. Probably just as I shuffle off this mortal coil it will all start working properly…


The Hobbit at Home

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The Hobbit

JoJo and I hopped over Cook Strait to Wellington—an easy half hour flight—for a couple of nights to see The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey at the best place you can see it in Australasia: The Embassy Theatre, where it had its world premiere. It’s the first time we’ve been there together, and Welly did us proud by turning on two days of absolutely atrocious wet and windy weather—but then, Wellington without wind is like Gandalf without his beard!

Now that we live ‘in the country’, it’s a strange experience going back to a busy city: fun, but something I am very, very glad to experience occasionally as a treat rather than all the time. Wellington is just big enough to be interesting, and just small enough to not be stressful and difficult, though the damn wind can start doing your head in after a while.

Grordborts

Apart from the film, we packed in a good dose of shopping—mostly for books—and several exhibitions: the Gamemasters videogame and Angels & Aristocrats exhibitions at the excellent Te Papa Museum of New Zealand, and the small but perfectly formed Dr. Grordborts exhibition, featuring the amazing artwork of Weta conceptual designer Greg Broadmore.

So how was The Hobbit? Well, for a start I couldn’t be more impressed with The Embassy Theatre, a gorgeous 1920s cinema with beautiful wood and marble fittings, one of the largest screens in the southern hemisphere, and the only place in Australasia fitted out with a new Dolby 360º Atmos sound system (for which The Hobbit’s sound is mixed). With premiere seats (leather seats in the centre of the theatre, name-plated with stars from The Lord of the Rings—I highly recommend G26 and G27, Hugo Weaving and Liv Tyler) and a glass of wine in hand, we were set to see the film the way Peter Jackson surely intended.

We weren’t disappointed. Of course, the high definition 48fps is somewhat jarring at first; so realistic and detailed that even the 3D image seems a bit flat and almost TV-like. But I found myself realising that my brain was just being confronted with something that it had hitherto not identified as ‘the look of film’, so had tried to shoehorn it into the definition of TV instead. Of course, it’s completely different from both, and it wasn’t long before I was so immersed in the film that I forgot the somewhat strange feel. And by the end, during one of the climactic scenes, I suddenly realised that this looked absolutely frickin’ amazing, even groundbreaking.

We’re definitely in a transition period, and I suppose it won’t be long before films of our generation look like the fuzzy images of the 70s and 80s. What amazes me is how the brain’s visual cortex adapts when confronted with things like higher frame rates and three dimensional film images. It tries first to fit it into its established frames of reference—and eventually, if you can let go a bit, it comes to terms with the fact it is being presented with something new and accepts it.

Anyway, this is how I interpreted the experience and I found it fascinating. The film itself delivered all the spectacle you no doubt expect. I think the unique atmosphere of the book is somewhat lost in all the bombastic action scenes, but this is a film, not a book, and as such is just the Peter Jackson-styled adaptation to be enjoyed on its own terms. It’s great fun. The interior of Erebor and the dragon hoard, in particular, was just how I imagined it.

My life is very different since I first saw The Lord of the Rings, and I was quite affected by scenes of the beautiful scenery of The Shire, realising that I now lived in the country where it was filmed.

A perfect evening was capped off by a couple of glasses of Pegasus Bay Bel Canto Riesling (our favourite NZ wine at the moment), calamari, olives and a cheese board at the bar downstairs: The Black Sparrow.

We plan to repeat the entire experience next year for The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug!


5 Questions About Tékumel

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PeterHappy new year, dear Headless Hollow readers!

I start the new year with a link to a new article about me—yes, me, me, it’s all about me—it’s my blog after all, what did you expect? The folks over at the Tékumel Foundation have posted a short article asking me five questions about my involvement with Professor Barker’s wonderful creation, the world of Tékumel. Check it out!

If all this talk of something called Tékumel is a foreign language to you, then settle back and visit tekumel.com, the website I created back in 1997. If you’re a fan of world-building a la Tolkien, then you’ll find this uniquely non-Western take on imaginative fantasy to be right up your alley. And yes, he invented his own languages … Professor Barker sadly passed away last year, but his creation lives on, carefully managed by the aforementioned Foundation, and there are many plans to release old and new Tékumel material to the world. Hopefully this amazing work will begin to reach the wider audience it deserves.


Merry Xmas Thingy

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Xmas 2010

It’s that time of year again, so allow me to wish anyone who happens to come across this blog happiness, health, and fulfillment.

And remember, the best thing you can do to increase goodwill and harmony on this planet is to make sure your dog isn’t barking its head off when you leave the house and driving your poor neighbours insane. Thankyou!


Here We Go Again

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