Black Mirror

Introduction

I had heard of Black Mirror quite a few times over the years, but despite having access to it via Netflix I never thought to check it out before. That changed awhile back when I decided to watch the San Junipero episode from Season 3. I had heard Black Mirror was an anthology, and while some episodes have connecting elements it could be watched in any order. Hearing just how good San Junipero was, I figured I could start there and if I liked it could then go back and start at the beginning.

Well, needless to say San Junipero was amazing! But, it was quite awhile before I actually sat down to begin watching the other episodes. In fact, it wasn’t until the release of Bandersnatch that finally gave me the needed kick in the butt. As there are quite a few episodes in total, I wanted to give my quick impression of each one. I’m also careful NOT to spoiler anything, because you REALLY need to go into this and experience it with no previous knowledge!

Individual quick reviews

  • The National Anthem – An obscene and over-the-top premise quickly sets the tone of what to expect from this show. But, a great ending does set things up…
  • Fifteen Million Merits – An interesting premise, but felt very claustrophobic and under-developed regarding the technology and plot relating to it. But I do have to give a shout-out to Daniel Kaluuya‘s performance, especially his monologue at the climax.
  • The Entire History of You – The first episode to wisely use futuristic technology, along with fantastic acting and realistic portrayals of relationships. This is the first episode to make me REALLY want more!
  • Be Right Back – The first of the more emotional episodes, this one isn’t quite as well-developed. I think the introduction of the android(?) was too soon and her adjustment too easy.
  • White Bear – One of the best episodes, the premise and ending will make you think and grimace simultaneously.
  • The Waldo Moment – Ugh. Definitely the weakest episode, and honestly shouldn’t have made the cut. Unfortunately nothing warrants mention.
  • White Christmas – A great “anthology within an anthology” episode, and the ending is fantastic. Also, Jon Hamm was incredible!
  • Nosedive – Another episode with an almost strange implementation of technology, I think it’s only because of Bryce Dallas Howards’ acting that this episode works as well as it does.
  • Playtest – This episode is my guilty pleasure pick. Taking technology and video games into account, there are some genuinely scary moments and a great setting! Also, Wyatt Russell shows an incredible range of emotions and behavior.
  • Shut Up and Dance – One of the least tech-featured episodes ends up being one of the most dramatic and intense of the series. Hard to watch, especially the ending, but it’s undeniably Black Mirror at its best.
  • San Junipero – Absolutely one of my best picks! A great story, unique way of showing the technology in a delayed manner, and both heartbreaking and uplifting acting.
  • Men Against Fire – This episode had an interesting premise and technology, but I don’t feel it was fully developed and was left underwhelmed.
  • Hated in the Nation – Basically a full movie, this had an outstanding story and technology! It takes a bit to get going, but thankfully due to various run-lengths of each episode this one was allowed space to breathe and grow organically.
  • USS Callister – A very ambitious episode with a stellar cast. Definitely one of my top picks!
  • Arkangel – This episode was too slow and I didn’t really care about the characters, as interesting as the technology was.
  • Crocodile – Wow! Very grim and dark. A great opening/beginning, and continues to spiral out of control from there. A stunning shooting location helps set the tone.
  • Hang the DJ – A very sweet episode, perhaps with a better ending than San Junipero. You can’t help but smile!
  • Metalhead – It was very interesting to see an episode entirely in black-and-white, I would love more in this style! A grim post-apocalyptic setting and shorter runtime made this one of the most intense episodes.
  • Black Museum – A very interesting “anthology within an anthology” episode, like Metalhead I would love to see more like this. Fantastic ending!
  • Bandersnatch – While not technically part of Season 5, Bandersnatch is labelled as a Black Mirror-related release. Not a normal episode or film, instead it’s characterized as a choose-your-own-adventure. It’s hard not to like the retro-inspired setting and tone, while the acting and pace of the story are both excellent. Your first viewing may take a long or short amount of time, but either way I guarantee you’ll go back at least once to try other things.

Conclusion

I’ve never really watched that much TV, past or present, cable or not. We’ve had Netflix for a number of years now, but the rare times it was used for TV shows were for old favorites. However, in the past few years Netflix has (co-)funded numerous series, usually modeled after the British style of fewer but longer-running episodes. We’ve slowly started to check these out, and Black Mirror certainly stands high in favor!

Website find: Cinephilia & Beyond

With a recent renewed interest in screenwriting I’ve been scouring the web for articles, reviews, etc. One of those sites with many interesting articles on screenwriting, particularly relating to the works of David Lynch, has been Cinephilia & Beyond. This site has numerous articles, not only related to screenwriting but also editing, cinematography, and more.

Game Engine Black Book: Doom

Back in March, I posted about Fabien’s Game Engine Black Book for Wolfenstein 3D. Besides a 2nd Edition of that book, Fabien has recently released the next book in the series, and on the 25th(!) anniversary of Doom’s release. The Game Engine Black Book for Doom follows the same format and layout, but it is a MUCH bigger book, with plenty more images as well as a larger section on the almost lubricous number of ports to consoles. In such a large book I only noticed a few errors as far as layout, spelling, etc. and I commend Fabien for tracking any issues both through a spreadsheet as well as GitHub.

Like the Wolfenstein 3D book, but to a larger degree, pretty much all of the code samples were completely foreign to me (although compared to games before and since Doom, there’s surprisingly little assembly here). Part of this is due to Doom’s larger codebase, therefor in most samples multiple if not dozens of lines are removed, but even if they were included it wouldn’t help me (if Fabien eventually covers Quake, I don’t know how much worse it could be then). I could understand most of the general concepts, but just like in my post for Wolfenstein 3D anyone without any previous 3D game programming experience would likely get more out of this book by first going over the basics with something else. I’m still trying to find something for myself, whether it uses C or something newer.

Overall I really liked reading this, despite how much of the specifics went over my head. It’s fun for me to learn more programming details, especially game-related. I would love to see more books like this, even for “simpler” 2D games, whether from the early days or even something found today, whether on PC, consoles, or even mobile! It may not encourage my own programming practice as much as something like Masters of Doom, but nevertheless I always enjoy learning more about anything related to id and their games!

New Eyes

Almost 2 years ago I briefly posted about Magic Dance’s newest release at the time, Vanishings. It should have been a full review, as that album ended up being an absolute monster due to the guitar work, vocals, and everything else. Needless to say my expectations for the next album, New Eyes, were unbelievably (and unfairly) high. It didn’t help any when the first song, When Nothing’s Real, was released on Youtube. That song easily matched anything off of Vanishings, and it set the tone for what I expected.

That ended up being a bit of a mis-step for Magic Dance, I think, because the next song released on Youtube, These Four Walls, was such a massive change. My initial listen left me confused and irritated. But, I gave it some time and came back, trying to listen to it as if it was the first time I’d ever be listening to Magic Dance. And you know what? I really liked it! Yeah it wasn’t as hard-hitting or left my heart pounding like When Nothing’s Real, but it was overall a damn good rock song. At that point I was hoping the rest of the album would follow in its steps.

The third song to be released on Youtube, and the last before the album’s release, was Never Go Back. This one was even softer than the previous two, more pop than rock. But, it did have those great rhythm guitars and vocals; it was still unmistakably Magic Dance. Having listened to these three songs quite a few times, I felt better prepared and anticipating the rest of the album.

New Eyes has ended up being a very solid release, but I consider it to have some growing pains. It’s clear founder Jon is taking Magic Dance in new directions, with now a full band working with him on both the album and live shows. I couldn’t say if this affected how he created these new songs, but I feel there have been some sacrifices as well as simplifying, whereas I wanted more and better vocal harmonies (go back and listen to Still Haunting Me; it still reigns supreme!) and some more intricate guitar playing and solos (I don’t think Tim Mackey got to contribute anywhere near as much on New Eyes, and I could tell). I’m happy to hear Jon continuing to write new music with a full band, but my hope is with more live shows by the time they make the next album they’ll push themselves a little more!

Apes Victorious

Introduction

One of Goblinoid Games’ recent releases, Apes Victorious, arrived with very little if any hinting or fanfare. As a one-man operation (although now often with additional writing by Tim Snider and even material from original Starships and Spacemen author Leonard H. Kanterman) Dan Proctor rarely promotes/updates his work on the now-bare GG website, let alone the blog and near-dead forums. Once the shining star of the OSR, so many others have risen in popularity and taken over where the founding OSR authors began. Is it worth taking a look or even purchasing this recent Goblinoid Games RPG, especially something in as niche in genre as intelligent apes?

Initial Impressions

In contrast to all previous releases, the first thing I immediately noticed about Apes Victorious is that it’s set in 6″x9″ rather than U.S. letter-sized. Moving to this size (and 1 column) will certainly make this easier to read on a tablet, though it does of course bump up the page-count.

Like most other recent GG releases this game is exclusively illustrated by Mark Allen; thankfully I haven’t tired of his work and think it works perfectly, though I would still love to see stuff from Peter Mullen and/or other (perhaps even new!) artists as well. I know artwork isn’t cheap; perhaps Dan and Mark have a great deal worked out, who knows. Sadly this is somewhat addressed in the game’s forward, where Dan notes this is the first game to come after Steve Zeiser’s death, and that he would have otherwise contributed artwork.

The title and header font is unique, if also a tad hard to read at a brief glance. The rest is the traditional B/X Souvenir, which is fine if a tad boring at this point. Tables are fairly easy to read, although they utilize a multiple-row highlighting/shading which still throws me off.

Introduction (Game)

Apes Victorious is a post-apocalyptic game. But unlike Mutant Future and so many other similar games in that genre, it doesn’t focus too much on radiation and doesn’t mention mutations, etc. A third world war devastated the planet and brought in a nuclear winter. The end of that winter brought about many changes, both to the planet itself and its inhabitants.

Humans were split at the onset of the nuclear winter: those who remained on the surface, and those who retreated underground and were safe within their constructed homes and shelters. These latter human evolved differently than their primal cousins, advancing in technology and even developing PSI powers. Meanwhile apes, gorillas, orangutans, etc. also evolved and have gained intelligence as they built their own settlements and societies, coming into conflict with both human groups.

Of course the planet has changed as well, much of it either still radiated from the nuclear winter or left as barren desert. Only small areas have regained plants and foliage, but where there is more water and plant life has seen animals and other features return in both familiar and unexpected ways.

The rest of the game’s introduction goes over RPG basics such as die rolls and terms used. Of course in this game the person running things is called Ape Master; ugh I’ll just stick to Gamemaster, thanks!

Characters

The basic Abilities (I still tend to call them Attributes) are the same as in other OSR games, with the addition of Psionic Potential (PSI). So far it seems pretty simple, then I look at the Ability dodifiers table; it’s not just the standard one column of -3 to +3 or such; there are five different columns/categories of modifiers for the range of Ability scores! Whyyyyyy?! At first I thought it negated the need for saving throws, but I looked ahead and nope those are still in the game. So that’s another table I’ve gotta bookmark and/or put on a GM screen to remember…

Apes Victorious has seven classes: Astronaut, Bonobo Agent (total nitpick but this should have been page-breaked), Chimpanzee Scholar, Gorilla Soldier, Humanoid, Orangutan Politician, and Underdweller. Like other OSR games there’s a Ability requirement for each class, as well as a 1E-like Ability adjustment. All but one class (Astronaut) also have a maximum level. After getting used to BRP RPGs and Stars Without Number Revised, it’s almost comical to see the tens if not hundreds of thousands of experience points needed to advance in levels.

Money and coins are expressed as simian copper, simian silver, and simian gold. Can you hear me roll my eyes? Just keep it copper pieces, etc. jeeeez. Of course if you’re an Astronaut you’ll have some equipment to start out with. Among the equipment available to purchase are guns, but personally I would exclude those kind of weapons, as they would likely have been used up, destroyed, etc. in a nuclear winter and associated “fallout” (not the literal nuclear kind).

Psi Powers

The PSI system seems pretty simple to run, but I personally wouldn’t use this in my game. At just 5 pages, this chapter might seem more like an afterthought or little add-on than an integral part of the rules/game.

Adventure Rules

Similar to any other OSR game, this chapter covers the rules to run the game, including combat. None of this section is new or different if you’re familiar with those kind of games.

Dangerous Evolution

Here we get a quite-small selection of creatures and opponents to use in the game. All but one stat-block is single-column (the other 2-column presumably to fit the artwork on the same page) and shows the same/normal stats as in any other OSR game (with the addition of PSI). A note at the end states that additional creatures can be brought in from any other Goblinoid Game product (there is a conversion section near the end of the book).

Ape Society

As the chapter name is self-explanatory, it covers ape governance, religion, science, and technology. This chapter will of course be more useful to those whose games will give most (if not all) attention to an ape-centered game, whereas my game would feature very little of this. It also assumes a caste system, with orangutans and bonobos rule over chimpanzees (still considered intelligent) and gorillas (presumed to be all brute strength and very little intelligent). While there may be a biological basis to some of those assumptions, I would again ignore most of that. What if I did want to play an intelligent gorilla?

The Underdwellers

Should 3 pages even be considered a separate chapter? Anyways, here we learn a little more about the humans that survived the nuclear winter underground as well as some example technologies that might be found/utilized by them.

The Ape Master

The last “actual” chapter of game rules, it’s also the most useful. It covers many things including running a game with a 1970s view, adventure themes and locations, ruins and artifacts that can be found there (including 2 very useful tables of random objects as well as random book subjects), along with tables for male and female ape names. The chapter concludes with an example outdoor/wilderness map.

Escape Ape Planet

Something I REALLY wish other Goblinoid Game products included, this is an introductory adventure. This is a nice small, quick adventure that can absolutely help out new players (and new GMs as well!) get a feel for what kind of game is possible with these rules.

Conclusion

The book ends with a Conversion chapter (covering Labyrinth Lord, Mutant Future, and Starships & Spacemen 2E), a character sheet (very plain and symbols are a tad annoying for double-digit numbers), and the OGL license. I must commend Dan for making the large majority of the book Open Content, including the example outdoor/wilderness map as well as the adventure!

This was a tough game to review. I’m a huge fan of Goblinoid Games; I still consider Labyrinth Lord the ground-breaking and pinnacle OSR game. I really like Tim Snider’s continued involvement; his material for Mutant Future and Cryptworld have been great and I think he helps encourage Dan to develop more material, as busy as he is in other aspects of his life. In this game I like the new 6″x9″ single-column layout, and Mark Allen’s artwork continues to be a perfect fit, as much as I miss Steve Zeiser and would love to see more varied material from others. The rule-set is pretty close to other OSR games, with a few little changes that I personally think are more annoying than innovative. I would need to have the right group to run and/or play this, and perhaps I need to brush up on my movies in this genre to generate a little more understanding and excitement.

Nevertheless, I’m glad to see new games from Goblinoid Games, and I do like seeing those that cover other genres besides the standard fantasy and sci-fi, and not just simply retroclones. I look forward to seeing what else comes down the pipeline!