Friday, 31 January 2014

Death of Integrity (Book Review)

As with the last book review this is posted in full on http://thefoundingfields.com/ and this is simply a preview. If you want to see it in full then please follow the link through to there.




The problem with Death of Integrity is that this should not have been hard to screw up. The idea of space marines purging a hulk of genestealers is a scenario as old as the setting and provides a wealth of opportunities. It can feature very straight forwards tales, concepts attempting to break new ground, character focused individual stories or just all out action fests. Combined with two contrasting chapters and the involvement of the Adeptus Mechanicus, there was the potential here to do something truly great. This is why it’s so baffling that what we got fell so short of the mark.

Following a battle against eldar corsairs, a large detachment of the Novamarines chapter are called by their allies, the Blood Drinkers, to assist in the destruction of a space hulk. The titular Death of Integrity, has been chased by the Blood Drinkers’ chapter master for years and is rapidly approaching a heavily populated Imperial system. With time against them, they seek to halt its path before the genestealers infesting the derelict can bring ruin to more worlds. However, something immeasurably dangerous and valuable lurks within, sought by a brilliant but ruthless servant of the Mechanicus…

Broken Age: Part 1 (Video Game)

Read the article in full on http://www.starburstmagazine.com/ this is simply a preview.



Just a couple of months shy of two years since being funded on Kickstarter, Broken Age has finally arrived. The masterwork of Tim Schafer of Psychonauts fame and Double Fine Productions, this is to be their glorious return to the point-and-click genre. Thankfully, Part 1 lives up to the hype.The story follows two characters, Vella and Shay, living very different lives but each seeking in their own way to break with tradition. Vella is living on a world ravaged by a monstrous creature which can only be tamed through human sacrifice and is considering how to end the cycle of human offerings once and for all. Shay meanwhile is told he is the last of his kind and his life is dictated by his spacecraft’s overbearing computer. Neither situation is quite as simple as it first seems.

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Sporadic Updates


Just a brief little announcement, over the next week or so expect to see a few sporadic updates. This is primarily due to job-searching and pursuing a number of opportunities, all of which seem to be emerging within the next week or so. In order to follow these while also keeping up with the usual efforts on other sites, not to mention sort out a number of issues with jobsearch, time will need to be devoted away from the blog.

Monday, 27 January 2014

Dark Heresy: Tattered Fates - Session 2 - New Objectives, New Problems


So last time we ended with the group, with barely any weapons between them and mostly in the nuddy, entering a vast room filled with caged beasts and guards. Also, and a subject of great interest, one particular item which was property of the Imperial Guard it seemed. However, that description does not fully convey the place. The room, closer to being a cavern of corroded metal, stretched out for meters in every direction, reeking of congealed blood, festering wounds and the acrid stench of iron. Dimly lit by a few hanging globes of light, suspended from the ceiling, illuminating the occasional guard moving between the cages of slavering beasts.

Despite Bardason suggesting we stealthily take down the armed figures one at a time, the others were more interested in sneaking about. It would take far too long to bring them all down, or even just to take the equipment from a few without arising suspicion before we could use it. Unfortunately we proved to be expectedly bad at this. As Cromwell attempted to sneak forwards, his piston driven legs struck the ground with the sound of hammer blows, immediately attracting a guard. Despite an effective concealment roll and Guilliman attempting to choke the man after rising up before him, we were almost caught right out of the starting gate. It was only thanks to Bardason somehow delivering a silent and unseen flying kick to the guard's head, and by extension Guilliman's face, that we went undetected.

With the usual ritual of rifling through his pockets and stealing anything of value, almost the exact same thing happened when we tried to approach the abattoir. This time with a hulking man was using a chain-axe on some meat, spotted Dwr's massive bulk trying to hide behind a few crates, and being jumped by both Guilliman and Cromwell. With that done, Dwr strolled into the nearby butcher's tent and the sound of necks being snapped resonated from within. Yes, the arbitrator the size of an ogryn was the most stealthy one of our group.

It was at this point the man who seemed to be the main villain promptly introduced himself. 

Hidden out of sight, Cromwell watched as an elevator at the far end of the room juddered down from above, only to have a jackal masked man storm out screaming in fury at some underlings. While seeing one nutjob get mad at a duo in blood smeared surgical robes was no concern of ours, he had something of interest which made us pause: 

"Damn your Warp blasted hides! What game does he play here, he brings an Inquisitor to mutilate and pry, and you did not see fit to inform me!?"

Being a villain he promptly kills the one who answers back, displaying some very nasty electrified lash coils. One moment the hapless butcher was standing there, in the next he's quietly sizzling chunks of meat on the ground. As jackal mask stormed away, the group realised we could not leave so swiftly. With an Inquisitor here, likely being tortured to death, it was our duty to try and rescue him if possible.

Being the most obvious place, thanks in part to the sound of chittering blades and circular saws, everyone headed for the pod. Almost immediately Dwr and Bardason were spotted, but this thankfully played into our hands. With Bardason having stopped to strip the guard we had taken out of his leathers, everyone thought he was a beast handler with an ogryn. Dwr was not amused. Bardason meanwhile opted to use this to their advantage and headed towards a guarded crane system.


Guilliman, keeping his mind on the task sneaked inside the pod only to be greeted by the stuff of nightmares. Splattered with the gore of xenos and human alike, a lone heretic stood administering to what was little more than a torso of a man. With his rosette nailed to his chest, libs removed entirely or reduced to bloodied stumps, the man was clearly barely alive, perhaps tortured for days on end. Being the pious man he was, Guilliman did the only thing any good Imperial devout would opt to do: Physically ripped the heretek limb from limb. Thankfully his screams were mistaken by those outside as those of the Inquisitor finally breaking. Also, probably because they were distracted by what happened next.

Managing to convince the guard at the cargo crane that he had been asked to check on it, and kept him busy by asking him to "guard the ogryn", Bardason clambered into the controls. The plan was to use it to drop crates on some of the assembled guards and deal with the rest. Being a savage from Fenris, he rolled a tech use test which ended up in the negatives, resulting him releasing all the crates.

With half the guards suddenly being squashed beneath falling cargo and another turned into a smear by the out of control crane, Bardason barely managed to avoid having the rest turn on them by yelling "Jim!? What the hell did you do!?" The unfortunate "Jim" promptly disappeared under a hail of fists as a fight broke out, which inevitably devoted into your average free-for-all.

With this having bought us a little time, Guilliman began speaking to the Inquisitor, who introduced himself as Nazru of Kalkala, of the Ordo Xenos. Likely in incredible pain and suffering horrific bloodloss, Nazru was able to provide us fragments of information he had uncovered. Helpfully he informed us that we were on the noble ruled world of Quaddis at the time of the Tattered Fates. Specifically in the city of Zicharth.

This was why the Beast House was here, to provide the entertainment, and partially the reason Nazru had come here. To investigate the presence of Markus Vulper, the heron masked man, but now stated that his original mission was meaningless. Unable to remain truly coherent, he managed to divulge that we should seek out the White Scholar, an associate of his who had gone into hiding, and that the time of the Great Conjunction was drawing close. With it some dark horror of the Haarlocks which could threaten all. Unable to get much more out of him, mainly thanks to Cromwell ripping his rosette from his body without warning, we fulfilled his final wishes by torching his corpse. 

Quickly racing out, trying to pass of Guilliman's obviously nude state as "Casual Fridays!" to the shocked guards still engaged in their brawl, we moved for the elevator. Two minutes later we were out, breaking out into some hidden exit from the elevator, and into the middle of a parade. Thankfully this was one occasion where our state was not a problem, with countless acts of hedonism and madness putting us to shame. If anything it was helping us blend in with the crowd.


To make this clear: The Time of the Tattered fates turned out to be when the planet full of nobles goes nuts and parties in a manner which makes the Roman Empire's greatest excesses look tame.

Without much resources on hand, we tried various methods to get some cash. Starting with ambushing people in back alleys, which succeed in Bardason and Cromwell attacking one another, and the much more successful efforts of Guilliman. Who, acting the madman, opted to start soothsaying for whoever would pay, putting a theatrical spin on things.
The only thing of true note during this time was when Bardason stumbled upon the corpses of a ,multitude of armed thugs, thoroughly eviscerated by something with claws. As he looted from the bodies (and really, did you expect anything less?) he heard a few onlookers murmuring things along the lines of "widower, i'm glad it didn't get me."

We regrouped and found the White Scholar not too long later hiding in an obscure library from the Beast House. After bringing him up to speed, he proved to be more than willing to help us in explaining certain information about where we were. Namely that the world was effectively off the radar, somewhat beyond the usual jurisdiction of even the Imperial Inquisition. This was largely thanks to Solomon Haarlock, the rogue trader having set up the world specifically for this reason. Having taken it in exchange for his services years when a crusade took the sector.

The Festival of Tattered Fates is during a time in which celebrates the Grand Conjunction, a solar eclipse, and the world being sold off. During this time, the world is cut off from the Imperium and seemingly the Warp itself somehow. During this moment of darkness, any and all laws are witheld and no crime committed will be punished. The bloodletting will be immense, likely linking into some Chaos ritual if jackal mask was here.

To get more information and get into the place where the Great Conjunction was celebrated, the Palace of Gabriel Chase, we would need greater help than just the Scholar. There were two leads we could follow: 
One was a creature which had been installed into the world by the Haarlocks to maintain order. A being known only as the Spider Bride, who brokered power from within the Acastan Folleys.
The other was Grist, a local mob boss who was vying for greater power within the city and held considerable influence.

Before we could get much further, the GM realised we had not completed our quota for wanton violence for this session. At the sound of a man crumpling behind us, the group turned to see a trio of figures in heron masks standing over the broken form of a servitor. They demanded the Scholar. We refused.

Cromwell promptly call-shotted the nearest man in the balls with his plasma pistol, and managed to get righteous fury. This went from just frying his nads, into burning him in half at the waist, killing him instantly. Bardason meanwhile charged the nearest one with his bare hands, trying to take at least one alive, repeatedly punching him in the head. Dwr did likewise to the last one, breaking his neck with Guilliman finishing him off.

Within one turn, the opposing side was dead. Now, time to get some damned answers from the Chaos worshiping filth.





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Sunday, 26 January 2014

Dark Heresy: Tattered Fates - Session 1 - Everything Goes Wrong


So after a very long break we're finally back with Dark Heresy again. After the rampage of last time in dealing with a rogue cardinal with the level of discretion and collateral damage only our group could be expected to cause, we were onto an actual campaign. For the first time as well, we were onto one which was (mostly) being taken from a book, with a few differences.

After arriving back at the Tricorn Palace and briefly re-enacting a scene from Hellsing to enter the Inquisitor's office, we arrived to find that he was missing. After reading a note stating to make themselves at home, Van Graff joined us via hologram. He had been called away to deal with other problems off-world, but informed us that our mission was to head to Locanthos and investigate the figure Seth the Voice. The only problem here would be finding transportation. Well, that and Cromwell. 


Determined to take advantage of Inquisitor Van Graff's absence, the tech priest was suddenly putting every effort he could into trying to retrieve booze from his cabinet. Knowing he had everything from some very expensive wines to the sort of stuff Bardason guzzled down by the barrel, Cromwell approached the cabinet and immediately received a shock. Apparently Van Graff knew the value of such substances, and as a result Cromwell almost lost one arm thanks to a void shield activating around the drinks the second he approached them. Having only grabbed the closest bottle, the one without the label, he had no idea if it consisted of the good stuff or the 41st millennium's equivalent of Toilet Duck. Just taking it for the moment, the group opted to quickly leave before they discovered what else he might have set up to protect the drinks. Suspicions ranged from high grade nerve gas to an elite Inquisitorial stormtrooper squad devoted to protecting the cabinet.


After very quickly stopping at the requisitions office within the fortress, shortly following GM Von Diego mocking us for not grabbing any weapons from Gunmetal, we soon arrived outside the space port. It's here we really saw the two sides of our group. 


As our psyker and arbitrator, Guilliman and Dwr, attempted to head for the departure office of the spaceport, Bardason drew up a sign. One which listed "LOOKING FOR ROGUE TRADER, WILL ACT AS ARMED MUSCLE" which he merrily held up like a hitchhiker. In less than a minute, he was promptly joined by Cromwell and a little after that Bardason was dragged off to the drunk tank. Less than an hour later he was released upon them realising he was not drunk, just extremely stupid. Cromwell meanwhile joined up with two women. Their bodies were found several days later.

Admittedly the other two didn't have too much luck, realising we are notably short of what was required for the cheapest craft heading there. They did receive a little more success upon stating "we're on a mission from the God-Emperor" and the captain of the craft, a small trading vessel, realising just how big Dwr's gun was. Managing to get the other two to join them minutes later, and boarded the craft. Settling in on a small cabin on the underdecks they prepared for a quiet arrival without too many problems, intending more for a stealthy approach rather than our usual nonsense.

They woke several days later, severely drugged and suffering from the after affects of tranquilisers. Their weapons were gone, Guilliman couldn't feel any connection to the warp, Cromwell and Bardason's bionics had been disabled and they were stark naked. Worse still, as they blearily got a sense of their surroundings, the group realised we were in a pit. One surrounded by spiked rings, with a lot of screaming people, panicking nearby. This unfortunately led one of our group trying to get answers, namely Cromwell. This was met with the expected results:

"Alright you lot, stop screaming and tell us where we are."

When this failed and they kept screaming, he promptly followed up that ingenious effort with:

"Don't make us come over there!"

While a few answered, also from the ship and saying their last memories were of sitting down to dinner, others were from entirely different vessels but did not recognise the place. The efforts to get answers from our captors by yelling "Oi! Heretics!" got no answer. Well, not the kind we wanted. Their response was to open up a number of gates and release the rancor a number of spindlemaws, vicious carnivores which were likely unstoppable in our current state.

Deciding to try and buy us some time, Bardason and eventually Dwr charged at several of the emerging monsters while trying to get the others to stay and fight. Despite being unarmed, this resulted in Bardason caving one's head in with his fists, Dwr no-selling it biting down on her arm and breaking its neck, and other inventive means. Notably dealing with one by choking it to death with the remains of one of the other dead creatures. Despite this, with more gates opening up and Guilliman's efforts to grab onto a very rusted ladder just out of reach, the duo were soon forced to fall back.

Eventually with Cromwell jumping and Guilliman on his shoulders, the psyker managed to grab onto the lowest rung of the ladder and drag it down. Racing to the top, the group, with no other survivors, kicking down the ladder towards the monsters to buy us a few moments. Racing towards the only door leading out of the pit's room, they slammed it shut behind them, locking the beasts inside. Before they did however, Guilliman spotted a lone figure with an elaborate heron mask covering his features, departing from an observational area overlooking the pit. 

The place beyond the pit proved to be little safer, apparently a decrepit mining facility filled with monsters, armed guards and the corpses of those who had come before. Worse still were other things. Chaos afflicted idols and daggers were found in one room, while shrieking winged creatures could be seen elsewhere. 
While the group had various forbidden knowledge talents covering everything from the Black Library to cult organizations, there was no cabal they knew of operating inside the Calixis sector. However, between the blood pits and the heron masked man, we were eventually able to piece together the identity of the organisation here: The Beast House. An outlawed group supplying gladiators and monsters to whatever noble could afford the price of their entertainment.

Unable to go in guns blazing as per usual, the group was forced to sneak about, hunting for what little equipment they could find. First a pair of armoured gauntlets and a laspistol taken from a long dead body, an Imperial Guard issue dagger, then a tool to reactivate some of Cromwell's better offensive capabilities. Nothing special, and with their best weapon being Cromwell's plasma pistol they weren't in any position to deal with any of the guards. As such when the group stumbled upon a small army of goons dealing with various caged monsters, they had to opt for something beyond blind murder for a change.

Somewhere between thirty to fifty heavily armed figures were moving the cages, with others besides them marching between them and a massive figure with a chain-axe carving up meat at a station close by. What soon drew their interest wasn't the various xenos creatures or weapons, but something of terran origin: An Imperial Guard survival pod in the middle of the massive ferrous cavern. One which had been set up and was clearly in operation.

Oh joy.




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Saturday, 25 January 2014

Horus Heresy: Scars (Book Review)

As with the last book review this is posted in full on http://thefoundingfields.com/ and this is simply a preview. If you want to see it in full then please follow the link through to there.





Those who frequent The Founding Fields will know that Bane of Kings and I covered the various ebook episodes of Scars as they were released. While the thoughts given there did cover a chapter by chapter analysis of the book and explored its best and worst elements, it feels only right to return to this one last time and give comments on the book as a whole. After all, the episodes did end up spoiling events from previous installments as it was necessary to talk about plot progression. Furthermore, every episode review ended in the same message: Wait for it to be released as a single work.

So, after all that how does Scars fare as a whole? It’s extremely hit and miss at times.

The Imperium of Man has been shattered by the betrayal of the Emperor’s prodigal son, with fully half the Imperial legions siding against the Emperor. As the Sons of Horus and their allies rampage through the galaxy, destroying all in their path and the loyalist legions attempt to regroup, one has yet to choose their side. Unaware of the civil war and having been beyond any contact for months, the entire White Scars legion finishes their task in annihilating Ork remnants at Ullanor. Trusted by few and known for his closeness with Horus and Magnus the Red, many are willing to write him off Jaghatai Khan as a traitor. Many within his legion, dissatisfied with their company, seek to ensure he joins the right side...

Thursday, 23 January 2014

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

The Banner Saga: Chapter 1 (Video Game Review)



Even while competing with the recent release of the first part of the much delayed Broken AgeThe Banner Saga is a Kickstarter title which has been gaining a great deal of attention lately. This has been primarily due to two reasons: The involvement of former Bioware employees with the game’s creation and because it looks to be promising new blood in the Tactical RPG genre. Early promos were promising meaningful story-changing choices as well as very harsh but not entirely unfair combat and that’s exactly what we got.

Set in a Norse inspired fantasy world after the death of the gods and a great war against a powerful foe, you play as a band of heroes attempting to survive. The alliance forged between the giant long-lived varl and humanity, forged in a war against a previous foe, endures but each is beset by troubles. Human settlements suffer from infighting and outside forces threatening their homes, while the varl know their time on the earth is limited. However, such troubles are soon to be completely eclipsed by something which threatens them both…

The game has been repeatedly described as “Game of Thrones meets [Insert Tactical RPG here]” and it’s not hard to see why. Even ignoring the Norse influences, presence of winter, an oncoming threat and the depressing nature of the world, characters and figures can easily die. You can make decisions which can backfire on you horribly and unlike other games of their kind you have to live with them. It’s a fascinating but very harsh world and everything reflects that.

Even ignoring the story for a moment, you have two things: You have a total of twenty-five potentially characters you can recruit, all of which can die and some even by your hand, and you also need to deal with keeping your forces fed and healed. The level of renown you have serves as both currency and your method of leveling up characters, so you’re stuck with choosing between improving your heroes or keeping everyone fed. It's not an easy choice at any time. Furthermore, wounds don’t stop being a problem the moment you exit a fight. Someone brought down low or badly mauled can’t just have a Phoenix Down thrown on them, and will need time to fully recover from their damage.

More interestingly, beyond just the resource management is the level of planning required when entering any battle. You’re left with a multitude of choices beyond just equipping X to character Y and choosing which class they are, such as Shieldbangers drawing away foes from more fragile forces. You have to consider how to combine them, how to implement them in the right way, but more importantly who needs to fight at what time. You can be left with decisions which have your characters fighting massive brutes on the enemy side so your soldiers don’t, or have them go after somewhat weaker mooks and live but your soldiers pay in a high body count. Such moments often come up in more story based events, but even on the battlefield there can be a multitude of ways you can be screwed over.

New enemies are introduced without much warning and sometimes little apparent difference from their contemporaries. At least until you realise the guy with the slightly different coloured armour can move double the distance you thought he could. Furthermore, you can end up being sandwiched between two forces, forced to choose which flank to attack and even some very unexpected changes which can come about at a moment’s notice. The system itself, while not dripping in ultra-complex manoeuvres and choices, is none the less extremely well thought out. It proves to be constantly satisfying and a challenge to anyone playing. There are few victories to be found here, no single game-breaking methods and even specialisations fail to really work. Taking all varl, all human or all one class choices will only work in specific situations and even the most advantageous of skills will not carry the whole battle for you

However, while a fantastic start to a promising new fantasy setting it is not without a few nagging issues. The combat system isn’t for everyone, but much of that will come down to personal choice. Not everyone will enjoy the challenges involved or the extreme caution required constantly, and that’s fine. The problems really begin to emerge when it comes to the story and choices.

The beginnings of the tale are somewhat abrupt, feeling as if you are being told far too much of the world’s history rather than seeing it. This might be fine, as it serves to quickly get you up to speed but it seems a little too much like an “as you know…” conversation. Furthermore, despite the interesting mythology surrounding the world in question, a little too much seems to be devoted to the characters. This works to some degree, and is understandable given the sheer number available, but with such an interesting premise introduced it can be frustrating so much time is spent focusing upon them over bigger things.

The few bigger aspects we do get feel as if they have been recycled. Just consider what the varl are (violent, temperamental figures with long lifespans, powerful physique and renowned combatants who brood over the state of their dying race) and try not to think of the krogan. It can often feel at times as if you have been here before. A nagging, irritating feeling which is a distraction even as you try to enjoy the new setting. Sticking with what works for some elements are understandable, perhaps even commendable given this new IP. However, the Bioware connection can hang over a few otherwise good story elements.

The choices meanwhile aren’t so forgivable a problem. Many seem to be based purely upon blind guesses, many negative results of which can easily bite you in the arse. All too often you can lose out on the opportunity to recruit someone because you didn’t opt for exactly the right choice, or worse still get someone suddenly killed outside of combat. It all too often feels as if you are making blind gambles rather than estimated guesses with little to allow you to make an estimated choice. It’s something which can make an already frustrating game worthy of rage quitting when choosing an option on a screen ends up with you losing renown, soldiers and a character after so carefully preserving all.

Still, with a great combat system, brilliant soundtrack and distinctive art style (rotoscoping!? brilliant!) it’s hard to hold its flaws too much against it. It has more teething problems than any critical failings and what works here holds up extremely well. Even when you do suffer problems with the choice system screwing you over, you’re going to want to see just what follows next in the tale. Perhaps even start again once it’s over to try and avoid the pitfalls from last time, giving some degree of replay value. An aspect which all too many story driven RPGs lack entirely.

Be wary of its problems, but give this one a shot if you like the look of it.


Monday, 20 January 2014

Origin: Spirits of the Past (Film Review)


There are ultimately two nicknames which can be given to Origin:

Avatar: The Anime Edition or The Poor Man's Princess Mononoke.

Take your pick, they're both accurate in their own way and convey the problems of the anime's story. It has brilliant visuals which try to make up for a very poor script and is the usual "nature vs. industry" morality play, with a heavy dose of "SCIENCE BAD!!!"

Set centuries into a post apocalyptic future, humanity and earth's ecosystem have been ruined by a conflict between themselves and bio-engineered sentient plants. Created to assist in colonising news worlds, the plants escaped confinement, murdering billions in the process, destroying the moon and bringing civilisation to its knees. 
In the plant overrun Neutral City which acts as a barrier between the sentient Forests and the technologically advanced nation of Ragna, ruled by the humans turned into upright walking plants, a remnant of the old world is found. A young woman frozen in cryogenic stasis who, when awakened, seeks to destroy the Forest and end the conflict for good...

I'm going to make this clear right out of the starting gate: The film is heavily weighted on the side of the Forest. While a few efforts are made to try and give some kind of balance, showing the Forest to be willing to kill and withhold water at a moment's notice, we're ultimately expected to side with it. Despite effectively holding a tyrannical grip over any humans under its control and willing to blackmail, kill and threaten millions at a moment's notice, the plot ultimately sides with them.

The script tries to trump up some message of "merging" with the plants, which ultimately comes down to all humans being turned into trees and abandoning all technology. Ragna is represented as effectively being a militaristic fascist state with walking tanks, and the humans merged with the Forest are seen as living perfect lives. With, of course, the added bonus of being turned into superhumans who can easily wreck tanks with their fists.

So yes, if you thought the na'vi were raging hypocrites who were only the heroes thanks to the director's love for them, you're not going to like this one. It's preachy, bias, nonsensical and with a message which ultimately undermines itself as the film goes by. The closing shot is of the cryo-girl dropping the MacGuffin, signifying her abandonment of all technology and dreams of restoring the old world. This flies in the face of Ragna only surviving thanks to said technology, and even the plant dominated Neutral City using machinery.
Origin manages to undermine itself so continually you could honestly create a drinking game based upon spotting these moments.

Still, a poor story can still be saved by great characters right? Yes, but you'll be lucky to find anything decent here. Even after watching this one twice over, along with going back to multiple scenes to check facts, I still couldn't remember anyone's name by the time it came to writing and had to visit IMDB.

The cryogenically frozen girl, Toola, has a painfully obvious arc and little character beyond it. While a handful of moments of her remembering the old world do begin to feel meaningful, she is such a cipher that they have nothing to work off of. There should truly be a great deal for her to go with, her entire world is gone, but all she manages to be is a messenger for the film's broken anti-technology message.
Agito, the boy who finds her, meanwhile is only memorable because by the third act nothing is a threat to him. Once he gains superpowers, he becomes unstoppable to the point where you might as well be repeatedly looking at your watch to check how long Origin has to go.
The others prove to be more or less what you expect, with Ragna's representatives either being depicted as generically villainous or woefully misguided in an effort to have the audience side with the genocidal Forests.

If there is one thing the film does get right, it does have great visuals. The ruined landscapes, designs of clothing and various locales are all beautifully depicted in their own way, despite some fairly conspicuous CGI. You'll be left with some great images and there is obvious talent on display, and elements of the characters do seem to be aping studio Ghibli designs quite often. Actually that likely sums up the film well: It's a soulless copy of a Ghibli production done by someone else.

If you've not gotten this by now, Origin is not a good film. There could have been something great here, but you'll probably just be left thinking "Why am I supposed to be wanting the murderous plants to win again?" or more likely "I've seen this done before and much better."
If you want a good version of this, go seek out NausicaƤ of the Valley of the Wind. Either the manga or the film will do. You'll get the same themes as here, but they're told in a way which won't leave you wanting to take a chainsaw to the nearest shrubbery.

Saturday, 18 January 2014

Mass Effect: Foundation (Comic Review)

As with the last book review this is posted in full on http://thefoundingfields.com/ and this is simply a preview. If you want to see it in full then please follow the link through to there.


Much like the previous Homeworlds series, Mass Effect Foundation serves as a look into the lives of characters prior to joining Commander Shepard in the games. Taking place either mere minutes before their introduction or even years before they were ever encountered, the comic gives some further insight into the lives of Wrex, Ashley, Kaiden and one or two surprise characters. While ultimately treated as an isolated episode or brief moment in the spotlight, every story is connected by an ongoing narrative. Specifically a duo of Cerberus agents who are examining the characters’ histories (or just running into them) and looking into the events behind Eden Prime. While this sounds effective, and it does give some insight into what Cerberus was doing when such a major threat emerged, the results are ultimately hit and miss. 

Before we even get into the story we need to talk about the art. While this is something usually left to a paragraph or so in the latter point of these reviews, the structuring and their quality vary considerably from page to page.

Thursday, 16 January 2014

Lords of the Fallen – Brand New Screenshots Released!

Read in full on http://paranerds.com/



Fans looking forwards to the upcoming dark fantasy RPG in the vein of Dark Souls were rewarded today with new screenshots displaying heroes and monsters battling one another. As part of a promotional effort by Deck 13 and CI Games, the two released depict figures engaged in duels against one another, both displaying some variety of equipment and the settings available to the players. The first is set in a open ruined courtyard between a human and a monstrous figure wielding a scimitar, the second a man with two daggers fighting a brute with a head on fire.

METAL GEAR RISING - REVENGEANCE (PS3)

Read the article in full on http://www.starburstmagazine.com/ this is simply a preview.



Ever since witnessing Cyborg Ninja painting hallways crimson with the blood of guards back in 1998, a good number of Metal Gear Solid fans have dreamed, “I wish we could be doing that!” Well, Kojima has answered that dream and it’s every bit as grossly entertaining as you’d think.

Several years following the events of Guns of the Patriots and the collapse of the war economy, Raiden is working as part of a security detail. When he and his comrades are attacked by remnants of old PMCs engaging in terrorism activities, Raiden goes after them and realises there are far more than just renegades at work here. Mostly though, this is an excuse to cut things up.

Saturday, 11 January 2014

5 Tips On Writing Tabletop Wargaming Lore


If you've seen any of the reviews of codex supplements up to now, you've probably noticed few to none are positive. Just about all are tinged with varying degrees of rage and frequently commented upon how a total disrespect for established canon, but also how the books were completely getting things wrong. In terms of overall approach, structure and implementation they were critical failures in every sense. 


Barring Codex: Black Legion, each of them was trying to be something besides a wargaming book and written by authors who were increasingly desperate to write novels. Not very good ones at that, with very skewed focuses, poor characterisation and moments of sheer stupidity. Overall the books were ignoring the most basic tenants of writing these codices. What's worse is that they were repeating the same mistakes many fans keep repeating with their own personal lore. The fact paid (supposed) professionals are continuing with these same errors is setting a very poor standard for writing lore for tabletop armies, whether they be for fanon or published in official books.

To answer these problems, here's a series of tips on writing for such armies. Ones which are primarily built off of the flaws found in Warhammer in recent years, but equally count for armybooks in any fictional setting which features organised groups of unnamed individuals in combat. 

This isn't a list asking for your to follow them all, but I ask that you please at least consider them if you're going to write about army lore. 
That done, let's begin.


5 - Research Everything Your Army Is Involved In



This is a critical one even some authors publishing books on shelves seem to be constantly failing at these days. It's a single rule which cannot be emphasised enough no matter the media, and no matter how large the fictional universe is: 
Research everything you are writing about.

The reason for this being a golden rule is simple: The more a writer understand something, the less likely they're going to make mistakes when it comes to building upon it. When it comes to making their own mark upon the factions involved and when it comes to the degree of freedom they have when writing about the universe. They'll start to see potential mistakes before they can happen and better yet, understand just how they can work to build upon what has come before. Plus it can make sure a writer does not run the risk of accidentally re-writing an entire army to be utterly out of character and a shallow parody of its previous self or wrecking decades of very well established lore.

What most authors attempt to do is bend the lore rather than break it. There are certain established facts and pillars which support the universe as a whole and factions which cannot be broken, but with other aspects which can be worked around. While there are certain definite points any work needs to adhere to, others can be justified through certain means or even have decisions which differentiate them from other forces. There is a degree of freedom available to the reader and plenty of lore to build off-of, but they need to know exactly what they are working with before they progress forwards.


The flip side of this is obviously picking out which non-canon sources and stories which need to be ignored entirely while writing, ensuring that a new author does not repeat their mistakes. These can be Black Library novels which contain many logical flaws, armybooks which do not resemble what they were in previous editions, or even simply short factoids and ideas which are not supported in any other part of the lore. Anyone writing needs to see which one needs to be used for constructing an army and which need to be ignored entirely.

For example, Wrath of Iron is recognised as being at least largely canon as it maintains many of the Iron Hands' themes and fits in with the novels, stories and articles. While it may have problems in some respects, it does depict the chapter's structures, ruthlessness and link with the Mechanicus accurately for the most part.
Supplement Codex: Clan Raukaan is an extraordinarily poor depiction the chapter. It ignores what made them unique and utterly contradicts major aspects of the lore which have been upheld for entire editions. Oh, and it manages to effectively render itself entirely non-canon by completely ignoring everything about the chapter which existed until now.

This might sound strange, but it's the difference between looking at CS Goto's Mantis Warriors (which featured, among other moments of insanity, entire devistator squads turning up armed with multilasers) and those written in the Badab War books (which featured the chapter actually performing the tactics they were known for). Or the difference between space marine craft like the Thunderhawk Gunship and the utterly lore-breaking Stormtalon.


- You Are Not Writing A Novel


This has been a primary problem with many books of late, where Games Workshop codices keep trying to include in-depth ongoing narratives mirroring novels and the like. While this might sound halfway decent initially, it causes a great many problems within books. It doesn't take long to see just why previous authors tried to avoid these trends.

The primary reason it causes so many problems is that what a person is writing will inevitably lead away from the army itself and towards a smaller focus. Instead of focusing upon the well established organisation of a military force, the book will become largely about a handful of named troops, usually the faction's special characters. This is problematic for a huge number of reasons, least of all the fact it cheapens the idea of the army actually being a military regiment or organisation. 

No matter how great the figures involved, the army as a whole cannot be represented by a handful of figures. Otherwise the author begins to destroy the idea of the army itself. It becomes less a force which is decorated with victories, earned as much by the faceless soldiers as those leading them, and instead becomes a series of known individuals and their cannon fodder. Along with more obvious problems (such as turning Codex: Sentinels of Terra into "Lysander and Friends, plus some Imperial Fists") it limits the entire book to a specific time-frame and becomes limited to one era of 40K history. Worse still, if this is an official book, having so many named characters and identified figures prevents players from having any degree of freedom when it comes to painting and customising models based upon the army.

Characters in these books should be used to give insight into the army, serving as symbols to what the force represents. They need to be an extension of the army, not the other way around, otherwise you end up making the army itself look unimportant and stunting any future growth. Even if there isn't a focus upon the characters, basing the army around a single story or detailed plotline can often severely stunt its future use or growth. Look at the Crimson Fists for example. Despite a long lauded history and a major part of 40K canon, very little with the army is ever done beyond their disaster on Rynn's World. That story was the only thing used to define them and overshadowed anything before or following that conflict.

When an army is being written about, it's best to give an outline of what they are like. Give a basic four or five hundred word description of what they are like, their general attitudes and best known aspects. Create a basis from which stories are made from, then build outwards from there. Create a brief origin giving them an established history, define the methods in which they recruit people or the tactics they are known to use. Detail some of their more famous battles and give a basic outline of their current leader. Do not fall into the mistake of trying to write an army as a novel from the get-go. Think about how they do things, do not place all emphasis upon what they have done.

3 - Think About Unique Aspects Before Implementing Them



Yeah, this is partially detailed by the first bit but it really needs its own section for reasons we're about to cover. The alternate title for this one was "common does not equate bad" as that's really what we're talking about here. Too many fanon made army lists immediately opt to break away entirely from something which often defines their entire faction purely because they can or because of misconceptions. That latter point might seem as if it was covered entirely by the last subject, but this is issue extends far beyond that. It requires its own section to really emphasise how carefully people need to think about what they are doing.

Now, to make this clear, this isn't shouting down any armies attempting to be specialists. Specialist regiments or forces are good ideas, give variety to the faction they are a part of and can open up new opportunities. The problem is that all too often being "normal" is seen as a drawback and specialists are the only desirable choice. Sometimes this is to the point of not making sense or failing to really be a viable army, often due to looking at a specialist force and then trying to take things a step further.

For example, the White Scars are a famed fast attack force which places heavy emphasis upon light vehicles which can act at great speed, with the majority of their heavy artillery coming from air support. Any troops are traditionally brought in via APCs or drop pods and slow moving units such as devistators or dreadnoughts are rarely seen or completely absent from the armies. While specialised, this still gives a well rounded force and a good selection of units to choose from when building up an army list despite the few units and options lost. It will still only appeal to certain players but it will none the less work.

In their efforts to make their forces stand out, player made forces will generally do something like, if they wish to take the same approach as the White Scars, build their army entirely around Land Speeders. Emphasise heavily upon a single type of unit or aspect of a chapter, then claim it is completely dominant rather than having the chapter following some single ideology. Just to use the above example, Land Speeders wouldn't make sense for a number of reasons: Their inability to take and hold areas, lack of general armour, insufficient firepower and lack of numbers would be the beginnings of problems for such a chapter. At this point it becomes less an army trait and more a form of enforced suicide.

This issue goes as much for the army's culture and traditions as much as their ways of war outlined here. There needs to be careful reasoning behind them and simply avoiding what is normal purely for the sake of it just causes the force to fall apart once you really look at their flaws. For example, the retconned idea of the Mentors chapter being isolationists completely undermines their entire basic concept and the specialty of the Soul Drinkers is rarely focused upon in their books.To contrast with this, the Excoriators' use of attrition tactics matches well with the reverence for wounds and battle damage, not to mention feels like an ideology a chapter on the borders of the Eye of Terror would have.

The real point of this whole section is this: If something works with a generic or standard army, simply don't change it to try and be different. A writer needs to think very carefully about each change they need to make, or new concept they want to introduce, and not be afraid to discard ideas that don't work while sticking with someone else's. It's better to stick with something which is widespread and works well, then tweak certain elements to give some character, than change things wholesale and get everything wrong.

2 - Opinionated Truth Hits Harder Than Solid Fact



One unfortunate aspect which has been abandoned entirely in far too many codices and fan works is the idea of opinionated accounts. Ones which have been written with obvious in-universe bias which makes them visibly somewhat unreliable as a source of information. 

Perhaps the best examples of this are found in Warhammer Fantasy, in the armybooks of the High Elves, Dark Elves and Dwarves. Previous editions featured in-universe texts recording very different versions of their conflicts and who the "guilty party" is each time. Along with giving a distinct flavour to the army and making for a much more immersive text, it allows for many potential problems to be avoided. Chief among these is the problems bias can bring to a work or the initial issues with introducing a new idea and more freedom for writing about an army. Allowing an author to embellish certain events or alter depictions a-la Rashomon means an author can do far more with the setting. Certain forces can be presented in an overly positive or negative light without it seeming as if the author is prone to severe favouritism.

To give an example of where this would have worked, Mat Ward's writings involving the Ultramarines or, well, just about any army he got his hands on would have been much more forgiving. Whereas previous authors had tried to leave some suggestion of authorial bias, he was trying to slam down ill-researched or badly written ideas as fact and it severely negatively effected his books as a result. On a similar note, more minor goofs such as Rob Cruddance getting the Iron Hands' symbols wrong in the following codex could have been put down to an error on a scribe's part. Not Games Workshop failing to research its own works for a major book.

While it certainly helps in giving the book a more genuine feel, and making it stand out a little more from the competition, these works do not always need to be written from an obvious perspective. The bias and potential for misinformation just needs to be made clear, at least enough for the reader to understand. 

My own warband, the Harbingers of Ruin, featured this with their disdain for Khorne Berserkers and frequent mentions of their failings coming from their own perspective rather than some universal fact. Just as they viewed that, they were blind to their own potential hypocrisies involving the Eightfold Path and use of psykers within their group. To give a more famous and official example, the Index Astartes brilliantly utilised this. It featured obvious biases in accounts with rival legions and even certain points to make it clear this was an in-universe record. Rather infamously, it was suggested that the entire Alpha Legion article was a complete fabrication by an agent of the legion intentionally altering certain facts.

At the end of the day, so long as a writer doesn't go overboard on this, they are offered a lot more freedom if they are writing at least semi-opinionated accounts and not fact. It allows for a great deal more understanding of the army, a vast amount more impact while describing their histories and accomplishments, and gives a lot more freedom when it comes to writing about the universe. An author might not be able to retcon the death of Ferrus Manus, but they might be able to include a belief within an Iron Hands successor (or a prophecy) that he may return one day.

1 - Failures Mean As Much As Victories



Above everything else, this is the one which needs to be understood the most: Defeats are not to be avoided entirely. While you are not encouraged to relentlessly smash your army to bits in every battle, a long stream of glorious victories without any casualties or suffering is dull. It will look like you are coddling the force or, worse still, believe them to be infinitely better than their counterparts. Losses do just as much to give character to an army as victories, but these need to be true losses. Not the sort which are erased too long afterwards or simply put down to being a draw, an actual failing on the part of the army.

Too many times these days authors writing new armies list nothing but their greatest accomplishments and nothing else. While there are exceptions to this, any actual defeats will usually either a part of their founding or serve purely to be overcome later on. There needs to be a proper balance between the level of victories and failings an army has achieved.

Just look at almost everything surrounding Damnos. Beyond what Nick Kyme wrote in his novels and the fifth edition rulebook, every event surrounding Damnos seemed to be angled in the Ultramarines' favour. In Mat Ward's Codex: Space Marines the conflict was written to greatly emphasis upon how well the Ultramarines were doing and seemed to be trying to overlook the fact they lost a world as much as possible. The world's loss could have been a meaningful conflict, showing the Ultramarines as not these overly invincible killing machines and heralding just how dark the coming days would be. Instead all that was wasted.

This isn't to say that the reverse isn't just as true. Two better known factions for this are the Imperial Fists and Sisters of Battle, both of who continually serve as sacrificial lambs to beef up a threat. What made these wrong is that these were being done without much reason and very few victories to balance them out. They were just being sent out to die continually because someone needed to be killed and they just became the go-to choices. There was nothing which expanded upon their lore which stemmed from their losses, nothing which built up character or even something which might change how they viewed the galaxy. These were pointless defeats.

Good defeats by comparison are those which are well written and have meaning to them. The Iron Cage was a rare example of a good Imperial Fist defeat (well, pyrrhic victory thanks to someone else anyway) as it established the reasons why the legions could not continue to work independently from one another. It heralded major change within the Imperial Fists and was one of the last major engagements between legions, showing just how badly Dorn had been affected by the Emperor's death. It was not done purely to make the Iron Warriors or Ultramarines look good by comparison or because the author hated them.

Similarly there was an event written into the Blood Angels' lore, the events of the Seventh Black Crusade, which served to build upon their army's character as well as that of Abaddon. It featured the chapter being driven to near extinction (which has to be the third or fourth time now) after heavy fighting against the Black Legion. At the same time though, it described the Blood Angels fighting and dying against insurmountable odds and concluded with a very interesting monument which says a lot about both sides:
"Whatever the truth of the matter, it is known that the Despoiler honoured Jorus once the war was over – perhaps in mockery, or perhaps with nothing but sincerity. After Mackan, thousands of Blood Angels corpses were desecrated, their gene-seed ruined beyond recovery. Of all the Chapter, only a handful of bodies were left undefiled: Reclusiarch Jorus and his Death Company, clad in their battered and broken black ceramite, seated in makeshift thrones made from the armour of those Black Legion warriors they had killed on that fateful night.

"

The point is that defeats mean just as much as victories, at least when handled well, and really are a requirement to creating a well rounded army background. A writer shouldn't feel as if they need to go overboard or throw their army to the dogs, but having a few outright losses is something which can work to the army's benefit. How well or how extreme they have to be really depends upon the writer in question though.



So those are five tips on writing tabletop wargaming lore. This was focused more upon how to write armies than lore as a whole, but they are the subject most commonly written about people and tend to make up a good ninety percent of Warhammer books. Well, those directly connected to the tabletop game anyway. These are not set in stone, they are just flaws which I have personally seen in fanon armies and canon ones alike, all of which continually reoccur from edition to edition. Take that however you will, but I hope those of you who took the time to read this found it beneficial.