Archive for February, 2012
What is the purpose of the superpower we all know and love as “Flight”?
Since it tends to be a fast-moving power, at least at car speeds, it’s a power of mobility. And that, in comic book stories, is really about either the tale of the race (can you stop Lex Luthor in time!) or a way to go from one set piece to a radically different one.
And since often flight-enabled supers have flight-enabled foes, it allows for badass aerial fights, which is yet another great set piece.
So, if flight’s really about the ability for a comic writer & artist to vary set pieces, let’s look at who tends to have flight. Superman, of course. Wonder Woman in various forms. Green Lantern. Storm. So on and so forth.
These are high-status characters. To have flight is to say “I am free of gravity when others aren’t”, and puts you in an arena of physical conflict that few can reach. And it’s majestic & awe-inspiring; by being literally above mankind, you are figuratively above them. These characters are capital-H Heros, superbeings that do not hide from the world.
That leads me to think of the golden age-old question: Would you pick Flight or Invisibility?
Heads up, I always pick invisibility. I have practical thoughts about that. And of course, there are the “what about clothes?” or “how much can you carry when flying?” sub-questions, but I now realize those are irrelevant.
Invisibility is a much more street-level power. It’s a power to alter a situation in the moment, and in an underhanded way. Thus, invisibility is a low-status power. It’s the effect that muggers have in dark alleys, or that horrors have in other fiction. Unlike those with flight, these are superbeings whose very power is that of hiding.
So, the question really is: “If you were a superhero, would you be a high-status or low-status one?” Or “Would you be global or local?”, which is maybe how one would define high & low status in a comic world. And another way: “Would you be a source of inspiration & majesty or fear & dread?” (Note: the question isn’t about supervillains, who when they’re done right always produce fear & dread.)
Suddenly, I’m rethinking other powers in the light of status. There are probably some status-neutral ones, but man, now I’m seriously thinking about what it means to pick a power beyond what effects it has.
Because really, no one *needs* to fly in a comic book story. The writers can just have closer set pieces and make races against time local in scale. And no one *needs* invisibility to solve impossible situations, as the writers can change how that impossible situation is solved with a different power–ones that don’t tap into primal fears of the unseen. Powers don’t enable comic characters, they define them. So those powers really are, from a writing standpoint, about status in the world at large.
Rare weekend post! I’ll be on the Dot Con Fest Gaming Panel tomorrow, Sundary 26th, at noon Pacific Time. Hell, I’ll just quote the site, because it’s short:
Gaming Panel (12PM PST)
Sunday is all about games. The day starts out with a good old fashion convention panel run by gaming guru Logan Bonner featuring famous game designers and all around swell guys John Harper, Will Hindmarch, Ryan
Macklin, Stan!, and Steve Winter. Listen as they take questions and talk games, RPGS, and more games.
Watch it here: http://www.ustream.tv/user/dotconfest
Gaming with Logan (1:30PM PST)
Then in the afternoon Logan is going to be running a game of Refuge in Audacity. Come RPG with Logan.
I know I’m late to the party by posting this today, when there are already cool events going on. But if you’re reading this shortly after I’m posting it, you might also want to check out:
Nerds and Music featuring The Doubleclicks, Mike Phirman, and DJ REAL (5PM PST)
Watch it here: http://www.ustream.tv/user/dotconfest
Movie Night (8PM PST)
To end our main day of festives we are going to use the power of technology to come together and watch a terrible movie while collectively mocking it on twitter. The best tweets with will get retweeted by our twitteraccount. Plus, there will be bingo! Tonight’s movie, Desperado.
It should be noted that I’m a huge fan of horror games, and that I’m always working on one. Last night, I got to meet & talk with the fantastic Morgan Dempsey about horror movies & video games. We talked about The Orphanage, Alien, Aliens, Silent Hill, Fatal Frame 2, and others. One of the bits we talked about is how the camera work heightens tension & anxiety, challenges hope, and gives the viewer the sense of characters being watch. (Which, in good horror, makes us feel like we’re being watched.)
Role-playing games used to do this, and then some of the current fashions of gaming, particularly in indieland, went away from this. Namely:
- Die rolls should be out in the open
- Failure should be interesting and move the story forward
While those are fucking great ideas to put into most games, they inadvertently weaken the horror game. And I’m not talking about games that engage horror tropes without its themes, like Monsterhearts (which is not a slam against it, since it’s not emulating a horror story but a damaged supernatural teen romance one, and does it well), but an honest-to-fuck scary, anxious, terrifying game.
Let’s go back the camera work. That’s such a huge element of visual horror media, and it’s not something that RPGs can emulate well.
Or is it…
You remember the old-school trick of “roll notice” and saying nothing if people failed? That created the sense of “did we miss something?” and “are we about to get our faces eaten?” You ever watch how people react in those situations, where suddenly the tone of play changes because there is a sense of impeding doom?
That’s our version of camera work. So let’s unpack what’s similar.
Being watched isn’t just about the feeling of impending doom. It’s also the feeling of knowing you’re missing crucial, immediate information. In horror, camera placement that shows, say, the Alien stalking the humans shows you that the humans are missing that crucial information, and you so dearly want to tell them to run or turn the fuck around and fire. Or jarring camera placement that suggests stalking without revealing the stalker gives the viewer a sense that there’s information somewhere they can’t quite see, again achieving the same effect.
What’s important is that the viewer either knows or believes that there’s missing information. It’s not just that there is the lack, but that the lack is felt. It’s made tangible in our minds. That’s key. The dread of knowing that you don’t know, the loss of confidence — all those are hallmarks of horror.
This is why I love that Unknown Armies hides hit points. The idea of hiding notice rolls is also interesting (as long as it’s not a long mechanical beat). Hide all damage rolls, and rely on the GM to describe what that damage looks like — the unreliable narrator element can also play here.
By the players knowing that there is something going on but the information is not guaranteed, we can create a sense of being watched and truly dealing with the unknown. So my horror games will involve these elements — but new takes on them, to see if we can’t make them shine a bit more. It may not be what’s in fashion right now, but those are the right choices for the genre I cherish.
 Once Mythender’s done, I’ll pitch the Emerging Threats Unit game that I started to attempt as a Fate game some time ago. It’ll likely be its own system, and that’s why I keep tweeting about Delta Green stuff.
 At the time of this posting, there’re twelve hours left on its IndieGoGo campaign. Check it out!
 The horror game and the mystery game are kissing cousins, as they’re both when done well very tight information games. And that’s why some Call of Cthulhu games fall flat, because the information is already loose if you’re dealing with Mythos elements that everyone knows about.
 Though, I’m jumping onto a tangent here by talking about hidden damage rolls. Something for later.
There is a toxic side to the RPG world, as there is with all such worlds where money changes hands. Some publishers lie through their teeth, break their own terms, withhold payment, and use freelancers as scapegoats. It can get ugly, and right now I’m in the middle of that ugliness.
But if I’m not careful, I could let that make me bitter and hateful at the whole RPG world, and then walk away from making cool stuff with cool people. So instead I’m going to take a moment to congratulate the folks who worked on the Marvel RPG on their launch. A bunch of my friends have worked hard to make this game happen, and I’m proud of them. Rock on, gang!
(The real message here is that if we don’t make effort to celebrate the successes of others when we’re being kicked down, we risk becoming horrible people. And that you should check out Marvel.)
I had a reader email me with:
Hi! I have a suggestion for you to write about on your blog. How to recover from a negative review? [...] It hurt, especially since some very valid points were made.
This will happen if you make anything. I’ve written harsh criticism, and have received harsh criticism.
There are a few points, some ways of reacting that I’ve seen and some that I’ve done:
- You can leave the review alone. Don’t comment, don’t look, don’t link to it, just walk away.
- You can thank the reviewer for taking the time to review. That’s all. Just thank, say nothing else.
- You can engage with the reviewer on the points brought up. If you do this, start by thanking the reviewer.
The first one is easy, and with some particularly inflammatory reviews that’s best. If they linked to you, they’re helping your SEO ranking. You don’t have to return that favor.
The second one is a personal favorite for dealing with trolls, but it’s also good for just being charitable toward someone. And you look classy for it.
The third is dangerous ground. If the person on the other end is reasonable and respectful during the conversation, and you are as well, then it can be fruitful. But know that you’re not just conversing with that person, but any onlookers who may chime in. And they might not be respectful of the attempt at civil discourse. Sometimes great fruit bears from that, other times it’s a waste of your energy. Just be aware of that.
No matter what you do about it, once you can get some emotional distance away, look over the points. There may be wisdom there you can use in your next project or how you continue forward with this one. Sometimes it’s something you can correct now, and sometimes it’s just something you can do in future works.
Finally, if you can’t say something nice, don’t engage. Otherwise you look like a petty asshole, and you can’t delete your comments on someone else’s space. And fuck help you if that person has really strong SEO, where Google searches for your name lead to that negative review where you show your petty side. Because you’re not being nice for their benefit. You’ve being nice for yours.
I know I’m not the only person who has had to deal with this. Creator-types: any other tips to share?
 And received bullshit name-calling and ad hominem attacks, which is not criticism. Perhaps I’ll write on that later, but that’s not what this post is about.