Working on Rites of the Blood while taking a break at our local LARP. Because I don’t have enough Vampire around me.
It’s been a while, so let me recap: “What I Learned” essays are not game reviews in the traditional sense. Rather, I talk about what I learned as a designer from playing the game in question. Sometimes I learn awesome things from terrible games, and sometimes games I love don’t actually give me any new insights.
This past weekend, I played Spec Ops: The Line….
Wait, before I start. This essay will not just “contain spoilers” as we mere mortals understand it — I will ruin the entire game for you. I will spoil this game like five-month old milk. Here be spoilers. Spoiler alert. Seriously, I’m going to talk about the end of this fucking game, a lot. If you haven’t played it, just know that it is not a typical shooter, and the narrative is worth the six or so hours it’ll take to get through it. Come back when you’re done. I’ll be here.
(Oh, and avoid the comments, too. Spoilers there as well, most likely.)
Another peer review of one of Matt Forbeck’s 12 for 12 trilogies. This time, it’s “Shotguns & Sorcery,” Matt’s noir-esque fantasy world. As always, full disclosure: I’ve traded drinks and emails with Matt, and I was a backer for the Kickstarter to fund these. Also, like his last trilogy, while the first book stands largely on its own, the three books are pretty heavily connected, so I’ll review them as a collection.
The main character is Max Gibson, a retired adventurer/mage who is down on his luck. He and his former group of treasure hunters landed the big score and called it quits ten years ago. Since then, he’s lost touch with most of his friends, and broken it off with the love of his life. And that’s all before he’s called in to investigate the murder of the entire family of one of his best friends.
The entire setup is “Chandler meets Tolkien,” and I was in love with the premise of a hard-bitten investigator in a fantasy noir world. And the first book is a lot like that. But then, around book two, the story starts to slide into a more traditional fantasy tale, and by the time you’re into End Times in Dragon City, it’s a full-on fantasy adventure.
At first, this bugged me. I am a fan of noir, even if it’s hazily defined, and I felt like I wasn’t getting what I wanted. And yet, the series’ tone reminded me a fair bit of Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files novels which also use noir detective trappings to tell a more traditional fantasy tale (albeit a modern fantasy one in Butcher’s case). Once I wrapped my head around the fact that Matt was using noir as set dressing and not as a plot structure, I got over my concerns and enjoyed the mad race to the end of everything. Plus, Matt does something with his fantasy that I don’t see much these days — he keeps it concise, and that gets a lot of points with me in these days of 800-page doorstops.
You can get all three books from Matt’s site, including a free short story if you’re not sure about the tone.
In March, I was struggling with some lingering mental baggage. Since my uncle’s death last year, I’ve had an increasingly weird relationship with alcohol: primarily, that part of me felt like I shouldn’t be okay with it, but I still was. I haven’t overindulged in over a year, and the couple of times someone tried to pressure me into doing so I reacted… poorly. A few conversations caused me to realize what was bothering me — in a family of alcoholics, how could I honestly say I wasn’t one?
So I took five weeks off. I didn’t tell anyone, because I didn’t want people to react differently around me — this is about learning something about myself. I made it long enough to cover a convention and a LARP (usually times when I drink), as well as a couple of work milestones (which are often celebrated with alcohol).
The result? Aside from a couple of idle moments when I thought “A beer might be nice,” I barely noticed the time. In fact, originally I was only going to do it for four weeks, but I extended it to five half-way through because I wanted to see if I could. Yesterday, I had one beer while I was playing video games.
It may seem ludicrous, but this was something I needed to know. I had to prove to myself that when I say alcohol is a part of my life and I consume it in moderation, that I really meant that and wasn’t trying to fool myself. There are also health benefits (I actually got the idea from some coworkers who often take a month off from alcohol to cleanse their systems), and that tied into my decision, but really this was more for my mental health.
At 221b Con, I was on a panel to discuss Elementary, and a few things came out of that discussion that tie into my original post on the topic. So, consider this an addendum.
It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these, but I have a few backlogged. For those new to my blog, “Peer Reviews” are reviews of products that friends of mine have worked on, because I am lucky to have a lot of talented friends. As usual for my Peer Reviews, full disclosure: I have shared drinks and emails with Matt Forbeck in the past. I purchased these books with my own money.
Matt Forbeck’s Brave New World (so called to avoid confusion with any other properties entitled “Brave New World” and not at all due to Matt’s ego) is a trilogy of superhero novels based on a roleplaying game Matt developed back in the late 90s. I actually have no prior experience with the game, so I came into them cold. While the first novel stands relatively well on its own, the story really takes place across all three books, so I’ll be reviewing them as a unit (collectively “the story”).
Last weekend I went to 221b Con, a first-year Sherlock Holmes convention in the Atlanta area. It was my first Sherlock Holmes-only convention, and the first one where I didn’t know a single person there (aside from a nodding acquaintance with one of the organizers through a mutual friend). I was signed up to be on four different panels. And I was a little terrified of the prospect.
It turned out to be a fantastic experience.
Unsurprisingly, the con was just as much about BBC Sherlock as it was about the original canon. What was interesting was that there was already a strong Elementary presence, and indeed even some more remote pastiches such as The Great Mouse Detective had a following there. Further, there wasn’t much siloing of the subfandoms — time and again I would hear of old Sherlockians watching Elementary or Sherlock fans rabidly devouring the original canon. One of my favorite moments was a cosplayer of Sherlock Irene Adler dominating a cosplayer of Elementary Sherlock for a picture. It was a sincere love of all versions of the Great Detective, which I immensely enjoyed.