Website find: Lessons from the Screenplay

When my interest in screenwriting flows rather than ebbs, I always try to seek out new resources online, whether it’s articles, discussion forums, and even Youtube channels. One of the latter that I’ve kept my eye on is Lessons from the Screenplay, created by Michael Tucker. I must note up-front that these aren’t hardcore, depth-of-the-ocean analysis videos, but nevertheless it’s fun to watch as some of my favorite movies are analyzed and I learn new terms related to the structure and creation of these movies, primarily from a script/writing point of view.

Resident Evil 7

Introduction

The last Resident Evil game I played was 4 on the Wii. It had quite a different atmosphere than the previous games, with an over-the-shoulder view and a much more action-oriented style (although when I played Code Veronica on the Dreamcast I remember running around with dual Uzis, so maybe it’s been moving in that direction for a long time…). I heard the same criticisms for 5 and 6, ramping up the action and gun-play and all but leaving tension and atmosphere behind.

The Demo

Then came the Resident Evil 7 demo. I didn’t play it at first, but watched Markiplier run through it. I was pleasantly surprised, as this certainly wasn’t any Resident Evil game I had seen since the remake of the first one on the Gamecube. The tension, atmosphere, everything was ramped up, and I was certain that every time he rounded a corner that would be the end. The ending of the fairly short demo left me with so many questions and wanting more, so Capcom definitely succeeded in what a good demo should do.

The Full Game

When the full game was released I was eager to watch Markiplier play through it. I was happy to see the beginning of the game did keep quite a bit from the demo, but also changed up just enough to keep people on their toes.

You play the game as Ethan Winters. His wife, Mia, has been missing for 3 years; one day he gets a strange video message from her, ultimately warning him to not try to come after her. Doing exactly the opposite, Ethan travels to Louisiana to find out what happened. Ethan pulls up to a property behind a locked gate, and he must sneak around to get inside. Even starting from here the atmosphere is already filled with tension and dread. Moving closer to the house there are dead cows and birds, the former often found butchered and tied together with saw blades and more in strange sculptures. Entering the house (and luckily remembering a flashlight), it looks decrepit and abandoned. Making his way to the basement, Ethan finds Mia, who is frantic about escaping immediately. While going back upstairs, Mia suddenly becomes violent and apparently possessed, attacking Ethan and forcing him to defend himself, ultimately killing Mia.

Before long we learn a little bit more about this family and the home they occupy. Navigating and learning the layout is very important to Ethan’s survival, as there are monsters along with the seemingly immortal family members roaming the premises.

As Ethan makes his way through the house, and later an older house and a barn among other locations, he finds better weapons and more items, some of which can be combined to create other items. This crafting system is luckily on the simpler side, akin to the one found in Alien Isolation.

Eventually Ethan finds his way to a crashed tanker ship, which he discovers was carrying Mia and a young girl, Eveline, who escaped the crashed ship and made their way to the Baker family. Ethan must utilize the lab equipment in a nearby salt mine to devise a way to ultimately kill Eveline, which is the ultimate final fight of the game. Teasing its connection to the other games in the series, Ethan is rescued by Chris Redfield and an Umbrella-branded helicopter.

Changes and Evolution

As noted previously, the Resident Evil franchise had been veering further and further into the action genre, shedding its survival roots as well as its incredible atmosphere. This most recent game turned that all around, although it is still a unique entry in the series.

The first notable change is the first-person perspective, which was something that even the next Silent Hill game was potentially going to use. I think this is something that should have been used many games ago, as it forces the player into the game and really helps push the “illusion” of being there. I can understand the earliest games used third-person perspective due to technological limits, especially as those games were console-exclusive.

The next thing I noticed is the enemies, which besides not having traditional zombies were quite unique, along with the fact is that in general there weren’t that many of them. As each game came out there seemed to be more and more enemies crammed into each area, which becomes almost numbing to any dread or horror. In this game, with having far fewer enemies the player has to rely on listening for any cues, which of course helps draw him or her more into the game. Most of the enemies were fairly easy to kill or avoid, but of course with rare amounts of ammo around it can still present a legitimate danger.

One thing that I was thrilled to see this game keep was the unique and even quite strange keys and the locked doors that were all around the house. Some may have groaned and rolled their eyes at this, but I think it’s cool to roam a house/mansion/etc. and encounter strange locked doors. It makes me really curious about what in the world is behind it, and knowing that somewhere else was the key or other method to access that area, which could be a small single room or could be an entirely new hallway and number of rooms.

Conclusion

Overall I was really happy with the direction this game took, the immersive visuals, lighting, and sound design that all helped sell an incredibly dreadful and at points downright scary environment, something I hadn’t experienced ┬ásince the re-made first game on the Gamecube. Of course the next game is already in development, and I’m really intrigued to see what it does. I would love to see something like the mansion in the first game, and/or another different and unique location with plenty of things and areas to explore along with something really terrifying lurking and roaming the halls, eager to kill and maim the player.

Ticket to Ride

Along with planning additional posts on card games I figured it was time to finally start writing about board games. Like many others, my interest in them was renewed with the Geek & Sundry Youtube series TableTop. I had nearly forgotten about all the board games I had played with family and friends growing up, and how they fell to the wayside with life and video/computer games.

When getting back into board games, or playing one for the first time, it can be hard to pick a game that’s easy to learn while offering plenty of replay value. Sure, there’s the old stand-by’s like checkers, chess, Clue, Monopoly, etc. but in the past decade a huge number of new games have come out, and I hope to eventually cover a good number of them. One of the best games to start with is Ticket to Ride.

In this game, 2-5 players take turn drawing cards and laying down train routes across a map. The length of your route will affect how many points you get, and there are some extremely long routes that can be made. Each route is worth a number of points, which is added up and the player moves their piece around the edge of the board. But watch out! Not only can another player block your planned route (unless there’s a parallel track that you can claim before another player does), but you also have Destination Ticket cards, which have pre-determined routes that you need to build before the end of the game (which is when a player has 2 or fewer train pieces), otherwise those points will be subtracted from your score.

It’s easy to recommend Ticket to Ride. It has a simple learning curve, yet there’s plenty of strategy. The large number of routes, along with completely new maps/boards available, means this game can and should have a permanent spot in your collection, no matter how large or small that may be.

Blueholme Journeymanne Rules

Introduction

Three years ago I (briefly) reviewed the Blueholme Prentice Rules, a retroclone of the Holmes D&D Basic game. Since that time Michael Thomas worked on expanding his game to cover additional levels, and now the Journeymanne rules have been released. While I did help proof-read this game, it’s been quite awhile since I’ve looked at it, so I’ll be looking at this with fairly fresh eyes.

Initial Impressions

First thing of course is the cover, with artwork by Jean-Francois Beaulieu, is fantastic. I do think the title could be a bit larger, but overall this is one of my favorite OSR covers. Flipping through the book, the first thing that stands out to me is the plain San-serif font. I’m not a fan of it (even 1E’s San-serif font was far cleaner), and it’s blocky and pixelated. The headers and sub-headers should have been different fonts, and there’s not much spacing. I’m also not a fan of the tables; they should have alternating colors or such to make them easier to read, and they blend in to the surrounding text too easily.

But in contrast to all of that, it’s easy to see that the artwork Kickstarter paid off enormously! Instead of the sparse wood-block style of the Prentice rules, here we have a wide variety of artists on display. There’s very few images that fall short or look out of place, and several are among my favorite OSR/RPG pieces I’ve ever seen!

Introduction (Book)

Like pretty much any OSR RPG this game opens with a (rather short) story, and then goes over what each chapter covers. I do like how there’s a section for what “level” means in certain contexts, as at least for this game there are 5 different uses/meanings for that word. Very confusing for those new to these kind of games! Next is a short section on rounding and multiplying, which as far as I know is unique to this OSR RPG; the multiplying part was confusing to me and took a number of reads, but hopefully that’s just me! Finally are notes on winners and losers, and how the rules should be read/applied; these two sections make excellent points and I commend Michael for including them.

Characters

Alright, time to dive in and create a Blueholme character! Coming from any other OSR RPG you’ll likely won’t see anything really different, but one thing I noticed immediately is there’s no section of races (termed species here) to choose from. Instead, Blueholme follows Mythras and the like by stating that almost any creature could be played as a character, as long as it fits the game desired by the referee and other players (also, on page 11 is a class hit dice adjustment table depending on the creature chosen).

We have the 4 traditional classes, and unlike Labyrinth Lord the cleric does NOT get a spell at first level, which was the norm for B/X D&D. Where Blueholme does follow Labyrinth Lord is the amount of XP needed to reach a level, as it ends with 1 rather than 0. Interestingly, there’s one place where Blueholme follows Basic Fantasy RPG: thief skills, as they all use d100 rather than the traditional d6 for hear noise. I personally prefer this, or using 2d6 like in Sine Nomine’s games. In other words, consistency.

This game does have alignment, and I’m likely to use it as in other games, i.e. not at all. Finally this chapter ends with equipment and transportation. What I noticed immediately was that there’s no damage listings for the weapons; flipping ahead to page 56 shows that all weapons deal 1d6. Huh; I know variable damage was an optional rule in many older D&D editions, but I’m so used to it now that it throws me off when I don’t see it, and I really do prefer variable damage, even so far as different damage vs. Large creatures.

Spells

This is a standard section comparable to other OSR RPGs. I only bothered to write this short section to again commend the variety and amount of artwork this game has, it’s spectacular!

Adventures

Here we start to get into the meat of the game. I like that it denotes three different types of locales: the realm, wilderness, and underworld. Next it goes over time and turns, rounds, etc. For whatever strange reason in this game there is both the normal turn (10 minutes) as well as a combat turn (100 seconds?!), accounting for 10 10-second turns.

The rest of the chapter covers travel and obstacles in the underworld and wilderness, and then life in the realm and related construction costs, retainers and hirelings, etc. I do think this chapter is far better organized than most other OSR games, as it includes the city/realm portion in the player-facing sections/rules rather than split off to near the end of the book.

Encounters

This chapter starts off with some handy encounter tables, including variable chances in certain types of terrain. There are also encounters for while in the realm, and even broken down by class of the adversary. This is something I haven’t seen in any other OSR game, and it’s a potentially interesting variant.

This game does have the rule for reactions, which many other games either have as an option or not at all. I think it’s a handy rule to use, as it can be a little more realistic as well as potentially avoiding a combat encounter that could kill one or more PCs. Like Blueholme Prentice and Holmes D&D this game uses Dexterity to determine initiative rather than a random die roll. While it’s one less thing to worry about, I prefer to add a little variety with the die roll, and still use DEX bonuses/penalties to modify it. As this game uses descending armor class, we can’t forget those attack tables/matrices! While I prefer ascending armor class, I have no problem with descending either.

This chapter ends with two short (I mean really short, like a half-page each) combat examples and the saving throw tables.

Creatures

The first page of this chapter goes over using creatures as PCs; there’s a lot that may have to be adjusted. While most if not all of it makes sense to me, it is gonna slow down character generation, so be sure to have a session 0 for your game to get through all of it!

One little thing that I don’t like is that there’s no spacing between a creature’s name and its stat-block; it’s right below it. The stat-blocks are pretty much the same as any other OSR game, but it’s odd that the XP line is in the middle rather than at the end.

Like the Spells chapter this one also as a good amount of great artwork! Unfortunately before I know it I’m at the end of the chapter. While I haven’t counted out how many entries there are compared to other OSR games, there’s no doubt this is one of the shortest ones I’ve seen. Some of that is due to some of the entries being combined, such as the lycanthropes. But that also means a very shortened description block that doesn’t give any details to the different variants (not that I want a half to whole page on each, but I mean really). I’m sure if I went through and compared I’d find several of my favorites missing.

Treasure

In this game treasure is noted by a number from 1 to 20, rather than roman numerals in Labyrinth Lord and letters in Basic Fantasy RPG. I’m not picky on any system, although Labyrinth Lord’s bugs me for some reason. ANYWAYS, the table is otherwise the same, with certain categories having a percentage chance. Looking at the individual tables, it sure seems like this game has more than its fair share of treasure, possibly as much as in Iron Falcon. This chapter ends with a note on creating magical items, which is something that although in pretty much every OSR game I just don’t agree with. Magical items should be left mysterious, unknown, and beyond even the most powerful character’s capabilities of creating.

Campaigns

Finally is the obligatory chapter with advice for the GM, which I find is a bit lacking in most OSR games. Whether it’s because they’re strictly following the spartan pre-1E D&D games, relying on additional supplements, etc. to fill that role, or they just blindly shrug with the usual “just use your imagination kid!” attitude, I just think pretty much all OSR games could fill in far more detail.

Does this game do that? Well almost a page goes over designing an adventure, while almost two pages covers designing the underworld (i.e. the dungeon layout). The next page or so covers the wilderness and realm, and that’s definitely not enough material and detail. The final two pages gives some generic GM advice and optional rules.

Overall this chapter is painfully short, as this games has chosen to follow the other OSR games and blindly copy their predecessors rather than make an effort to add on even just a little bit more of what we’ve learned through time, experience, and trial-and-error.

Conclusion

With all of that being said, do I recommend this game if I had read it on its own and no other OSR games, and then compared to what must be dozens of other retroclones and such now available? There’s a unique feel and aspect to this game, being one of the rare few (or perhaps the only) games to model itself after the Holmes D&D game. Of course for this expanded game Michael had to postulate what Holmes would have included and written, but I can’t fault that any more than those who have tried to make a “AD&D 2E if Gygax had sole control” game.

If Holmes D&D has a special place in your gamer heart, then you’ll definitely want to check this game out. Going simply by look/design/layout, it’s a bit on the plain side, but with a generous amount of artwork that mostly leans on the fantastic side. It may not have been a pioneer like many of the other OSR games, but I think it can more than hold its own beside them.

The Blueholme Journeymanne PDF can be purchased on DriveThruRPG, and a hard copy from Lulu (softcover | hardcover).

Website find: NewRetroWave

I first came across NewRetroWave’s YouTube channel years ago, likely while searching for Dynatron and/or Perturbator music/videos. They already had a wide variety of music within the synthwave/outrun/etc. genres, and they are still adding new music all the time! A nice addition is their occasional full-album streams, as it’s a nice way to preview something if it’s not on Bandcamp or such. If you enjoy this kind of music, or would like to see if you might like it, this is probably the best channel to find out!