Swap Pet Sounds for a Companionable Silence

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Swap pet sounds for a companionable silence I hate agreeing with this writer, but this time she’s 100% correct! (A stressed-out dog barks its head off as I write)

Fourteen and counting …


Sweating Mac

Sweating Mac
[click image to enlarge]

My company, Universal Head, is 14 years old today. In commemoration of this event I looked through my archives to dig out a really old design.

This is the ‘Sweating Mac’, an illustration I did way back in 1989, and one of the first illustrations I did just after learning how to use Adobe Illustrator 88 (as it was called back then). As primitive as it looks today, this got me a lecture spot on a big Desktop Publishing Conference at the time, which was pretty exciting for a designer fresh out of college. Not many people were doing illustration work with computers yet, so this was pretty revolutionary stuff.
Here’s to the next 14 years! If you’re interested, the Universal Head site is here.

Gary Gygax, 1938-2008


Many people of my generation are no doubt mourning the passing of an icon from their teenage years, Gary Gygax, co-creator of Dungeons & Dragons, who died this morning, aged 69.

Gygax didn’t create the famous role-playing game on his own–Dave Arneson helped develop the original miniatures wargaming rules Chainmail into the role-playing game we’d recognise today, back in 1974—but his contributions and dedication to the game qualify him as the most popularly recognised ‘father of D&D’.

This could be a curse as well as a blessing, since he copped a lot of flack back in the 80s when psycho Christian groups decided that D&D was responsible for everything from teen suicide and murder to witchcraft. As a teenager I even wrote a long and passionate letter defending the game to the Sixty Minutes programme after they ran a ridiculously misinformed and sensationalised segment about D&D.

As I said then, and I still believe now, playing D&D was a fantastic and enriching experience for any teenager. I’m convinced that being the ‘Game Master’—creating maps, designing character sheets, planning games–put me on the road to be a graphic designer. I shared a lot of great times with friends with whom I’m still close today, and we can still laugh about classic moments that happened during our old games. We adventured in haunted dungeons, foiled smuggler’s plots, fought hordes of ratmen, wandered across post-apocalyptic wastelands, exchanged laser fire on distant worlds, fled from victorian-era ghosts and followed the trail of Lovecraftian cultists. Sure, it was a little tricky juggling the geekiness of role-playing games with being relatively cool, going to parties and getting girlfriends, but I drummed in a band, so that helped.

Though we used to dream about computer versions of our favourite game, I feel like kids now are missing out on all of the wonders their imaginations can conjure. Swordplay with beasties in lifelike computer-generated worlds is all very well, but it can’t beat the totally immersive experience of a good roleplaying game session, which can go way beyond combat to the most complex and involved plots and personalities.

As a matter of fact, we’re planning a game (using the Warhammer Fantasy Roleplaying 2nd Edition system) in a few weeks, for the first time in many years. We may have all entered our forties, but we still have healthy imaginations, and it’s not too difficult for the players to take on their old characters–Lucidius Lavarar, the dissolute and outrageously dressed charlatan and raconteur; Robert Lacy d’Aghuilam duCourt, the arrogant Elven noble and professional duellist; Fatuus Fitzue, the tatty journeyman wizard. Hilarious situations will ensue, vicious combat against horrific foes will be joined, mysteries will be unravelled, and no doubt the world will be saved from the clutches of chaos (again).

We’ll be sure to toast Gary Gygax when we start playing.

Boing Boing interview and video.

LA TImes obituary.

Get yer hair cut!


For the last few years I’ve been regularly getting my hair cut at a tiny barber shop on King Street in Newtown. There’s a lot of things I like about this little place. There are only three chairs, and just enough room to squeeze behind them, and you don’t come here for anything fancy in the haircutting department. Still, it’s best to come on a weekday as there’s usually a queue milling about on the pavement on the weekends.

I get an ‘extra zero’, which is about as short as you can get without having your head shaved with a razor. (Why extra zero? Wasn’t just zero enough?) I like the fact that I’ve been going for about three years, and none of the guys there have asked me my name, or told me theirs. They’ll always ask “how are you?” when you come in, and give you a friendly goodbye when you leave, when I always say “thanks guys, see you next time”. If you feel like having a chat that’s fine, you can talk about the weather or what you did on the weekend or how busy work is at the moment; but if you feel like sitting there and not saying a word that’s just fine too.

Not only do I get my extra zero cut, but they always use a cut-throat razor to go around the ears and the back of the neck afterwards, and sometimes I even get a bit of a head rub. But it’s always a fast, professional, no-nonsense operation, and my hair is cut and I’m out the door, feeling freshly shorn again, in no time flat.

They’ve never tried to get to know me, or give me a little credit card to join their ‘barber club’ so I can get a dollar off after ten cuts, or sent me an email newsletter, or had a ten percent off day. I just go there, get my haircut properly, and pay them $10. I will therefore continue to go there, get my haircut, and pay them $10 (hell, they can even put it up to $12 eventually, though just giving them a ten buck bill is easier), every few weeks until the proverbial cows come home. Probably literally as I will have moved to the country by then.

Personally I think modern marketing gurus could learn a thing or two from this little barber shop.

Boardgame Design: Traders of Carthage



Box cover
[click image to enlarge]

Some of my visitors may have realised by now I like to play the odd boardgame, and I’ve had the opportunity to do a bit of boardgame design here and there too. While I do the occasional print job, a lot of my professional design these days is web-based, so it’s satisfying to create something ‘real’ for a change–especially something that people will play and enjoy now and in the future.

The artwork for a small game called Traders of Carthage just went off to the printers, and I’m looking forward to its release as it’s the first game for which I’ve designed all of the graphics from scratch. ToC is by Susumu Kawasaki and will be published by Z-Man Games. Here’s a sneak peek at some of the graphics.

The most interesting thing about boardgame design is fulfilling two objectives: one, to make the game look good, look interesting and enjoyable to play, and to enhance the game’s theme to make the experience as immersive as possible; and two, to design the game graphics in such a way that the game mechanics work as effectively as possible. The challenge is to succeed in designing something that not only looks good, but works. Hold on, my company motto is ‘Design That Works’…

Card back

Card back
[click image to enlarge]

Above you can see the box cover design. ToC is a small game, and I wanted to create something rich in texture, precious looking, and something that evoked the ancient period. Above all, a game that I would love to own and be eager to add to my collection. The logo was developed from the fonts Post Antiqua and JSL Ancient. The main motif is an electrum coin from Carthage, a bold symbol that is echoed throughout the game components.

The card backs feature the coin on a rich textured background, with a small logo top and bottom. Though some feel that black borders on cards wear more than white, I prefer the impact of the strong black border, and if the printing quality is good, wear shouldn’t be a problem.

Card, sample

Sample card
[click image to enlarge]

Here’s a sample card: the green ‘wine’ trading card with a value of two (there are four different card types: red/fabric, blue/gems, yellow/wheat and green/wine–each come in values of 2, 3 and 5). Simple 3D work, both my own and developments of commercial models, features on the cards; carefully textured and post-processed in Photoshop to avoid the ‘computer’ look.

Note also the ‘storage’ icons, which are terracotta storage jars. Storage icons enable players to preserve their goods from the depredations of pirates. Despite the detail and texture, the card is designed for clear and quick recognition no matter which way up it rests on the table.


[click image to enlarge]

Apart from some tokens and a detailed twelve page rulebook chock full of examples (for which I indulged myself and bought a lovely, and very appropriate, new serif typeface, Epic by Typetrust), the last element was the small board. On the left side of the board is a bright, colourful map of the Mediterranean featuring the spaces your trading ships travel between Alexandria and Carthage; on the right are spaces for the card and card discard piles, plus indicators for the row of Farm and Market cards that are placed next to the board. The illustrations used on the cards are grouped together to form the Market illustration.

Traders of Carthage reads like a fun little game, and I hope my design makes the experience a little bit more interesting and enjoyable. I’m looking forward to finally playing it! The game is scheduled to be released in the (northern hemisphere’s) Spring.

PS: Acknowledgements to Mike Doyle’s excellent blog, which inspired me to feature some of my game design.

Film review: Beowulf 3D



You don’t go into the latest 3D animation spectacular with very high expectations for scriptwriting and direction, but I must say I was pleasantly surprised with Beowulf. While for the most part it’s the usual CGI bluff and bluster, there are a few moments here actually that make an emotional impact, and perhaps remind us that we really are in the early days when it comes to this kind of film-making, and that anything may happen yet. For the first time I could see that fully motion-captured acting and animation really does have potential.

The first surprise was a lovely long, long pull-back from the Danish mead hall that is the centre of the action back into the countryside. Not only is the shot almost meditative in its length, but the director was smart enough to let the sound design do the work without cluttering up the atmosphere with music–the result is a truly stunning shot.
There are a few other moments nearly as good, but most of Beowulf is taken up with rollicking violent action, and it’s hard not to think that 10th century storytellers of the original Old English epic poem might have approved, before generations of tweed-coated bespectacled Oxford linguistic professors made it all worthy and boring. This is the kind of special effects bash that would have gone down well around the fire after a hard day’s pillaging.

Of course, writers Neil Gaiman and Roger Avary and director Robert Zemeckis have their way with the original poem and add several plotlines and motivations. The story is simple, with a cautionary edge that makes it a little interesting, and the famous Grendel is written as a sympathetic murdering psychotic monster instead of just a murdering psychotic monster. The film certainly feels more like a modern graphic novel that a timeless epic classic, which perhaps is a lost opportunity, but understandable.

The actors do a good job with their motion-capture work, though Windstone’s tough-guy London accent can get grating, especially when mixed with the hodge-podge of other accents that echo about this Danish melieu. Angelina Jolie is suitably seductive as Grendel’s mother, Anthony Hopkins has a great time playing the sodden King Hrothgar, and John Malkovitch, as usual, plays John Malkovich.

Despite exploring adult themes, the animation is hilariously coy in order to get the film’s PG-13 rating, often with the result of jarring you out of suspended disbelief. The convenient placing of mugs and candlesticks when Beowulf fights naked is unintentionally hilarious, and Grendel’s mother seducing Beowulf when she doesn’t even seem to have nipples, let alone working genitalia, takes the sexual tension right out of the whole exercise. It’s a shame they had to pander to the censors in this way.

On the whole however, I found Beowulf a fun ride. Make sure you see it in 3D for all the diving-straight-into-the-camera fun. You even get a bit of good scriptwriting and direction thrown in among all the action.

Three-and-a-half severed limbs out of five.

8 Things You Didn’t Want to Know About Me


A quick shuffle back through my records reveals the somewhat shameful truth–only about thirty blog entries during the whole of 2007. I’d be amazed if I had any readers at all beyond a few friends, though I do know a few boardgamers drop by now and then to download my game reference sheets.

I really do have to pick up the pace a bit, because I do enjoy having a blog. It just gets relegated to the bottom of the ‘to do’ pile too often. I’ve been planning to change my blogging system for a while so that may give me the impetus to jazz things up a little round here.

Anyway, let’s kick off the year. Pat included me in one of these ‘viral meme’ things (who comes up with these wanky names?). I have no idea what the point is (actually, maybe I’ll pick up some new readers …), but here goes …

The Rules:

  • Each player starts with eight random facts/habits about themselves
  • People who are tagged need to write a post on their own blog (about their eight things) and post these rules
  • At the end of your blog, you need to choose eight people to get tagged and list their names
  • Don’t forget to leave them a comment telling them they’re tagged, and to read your blog

So here goes, eight things you didn’t know about me:

  1. I’ve played the drums in bands for about 25 years, and only gave it up as a relatively regular activity recently. Back when I was about 16 my friends started playing music and I wanted to join in, but I couldn’t be bothered learning music. I can’t remember if a tendency to bash things in time started before then, but drumming was a natural choice. I tried getting lessons a few times but the teachers would always try to get me to start from scratch, which was annoying after I’d be playing live for a few years and considered myself a pretty good drummer. Don’t ask me to play a decent paradiddle though, I’m technically crap.
  2. I still occasionally enjoy listening to prog rock bands like Yes, early Genesis and even Rush. Deeply unfashionable, but I love the complexity, the pretentiousness, and the fact that sometimes they really hit an incredible emotional high note. Listen to the end of ‘And You and I’ on the live Yes album Yessongs, or the last bit of ‘Supper’s Ready’ by Genesis if you don’t know what I mean. A more innocent musical age.
  3. Every Tuesday night my girlfriend and I cook fish fingers, mashed potatoes and broccoli and sit down to watch Time Team. We even have a little song about this particular ritual.
  4. I have a mild Indiana Jones obsession. My 40th birthday party was themed around it. When I went to Egypt I quietly imagined I was Indiana Jones when I entered tombs in the Valley of the Kings. Needless to say, I’m really hoping they don’t stuff up the fourth film.
  5. I write a letter to myself every ten years, something I started doing when I was 12 after reading one of L.M. Montgomery’s ‘Emily’ books. I just opened the one from myself at 32 to myself at 42, and am currently wondering what the hell I’m going to say to myself at 52.
  6. I keep trying, but I just can’t bring myself to like olives.
  7. The older I get, the more I want to move away from everyone and just go live in the country with the love of my life and not have to deal with annoying people, traffic jams, selfishness and corporate and commercial bullshit. Does everyone get like this?
  8. I’m terrible at watching ads and shutting up. I can’t help commenting on the absurdity of every one. Similarly, I tend to point out misplaced apostrophes on signage, bad kerning and inappropriate typographical choices, and advertising photography clichés. I imagine it can be very annoying for people around me.

There you go, now you can go forth into your day with a little bit more knowledge about Headless Hollow. Lucky you!

Now, your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to spread this somewhat benign virus. I’m talking to you Reverend, Atlas Cerise, Steelbuddha–hold on, I don’t read eight other blogs! Who has the time?

I’ve Always Hated Facebook


And this makes me hate it even more.

Happy Pagan Winter Festival!


Have a good one, Headless Hollow readers (all four or so of you)! May 2008 be a year of unfettered happiness, intellectual stimulation, creative satisfaction, unconditional love and personal fulfillment for you all! My fervent hope for a year in which the world enjoys a bit more tolerance, freedom, equality and understanding than it did in the last 200,000.

And don’t forget your Armour of God kids!

Watch the pink dots go round the circle

1 comment

Now focus on the cross in the middle. Soon the green dot (!) will eat up all the pink dots and they will disappear (!!). Go back to looking at the pink dots.

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