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Saul Tigh is a dickhead!

Just wanted to get that out of the way. After sitting through both the mini-series and the first season, and now having watched the first two episodes of season two, I have decided that I really don’t like Tigh.

Which, to me, is a testament to how well written, directed and acted the reimagined Battlestar Galactica is. This series does what several other shows struggle to do. There is the in depth character drama, the dealing with a post-apocalyptic storyline, the allegorical comparisons to the War on Terror and the overall gritty realism of the show.

I am in love.

Now I know that most of you are already fans of this critically acclaimed show, so I am pretty much preaching to the converted. But I have been enjoying re-watching this much of the series in anticipation of watching season 2.0, that I had to share my thoughts.

Considering the tone of the last season of Roswell, it has been interesting to note that BSG utilises a lot of the same style and tone that Roswell’s third season used. Not surprising, Ron Moore worked on both series and was a very strong influence in the latter part of Roswell’s run.

BSG is superior to Roswell due to what appears to be a synergy of creative talents who all “get” what the reimagining’s feel should be, and have succeeded in making a very consistent tone.

The scripting is at times cheesy, but the performances manage to raise it to a solid level.

Most importantly, this show manages to make the audience sympathise with some of the oddest characters. For example, very few of the BSG’s villains are outright unsympathetic. Six and Boomer are both essentially deadly cylon agents, and yet they are sympathetic and almost likeable. All the Six models have shown a desire to be loved and wanted, Boomer suffers because she is unaware of her true nature and then battles with it when it is revealed.

This is brilliant casting and directing.

All in all, I love this show. Can’t wait to see what happens next! 😀

Love and Huggles

Conan

Currently Reading: Like the River Flows
Currently Playing: Exalted: Nexus of the Sun; Orpheus: Shades of Gray
Mood: Getting down with Galactica!

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It has proven to be quite a week for gaming, this week. I’ve been following an interesting debate on RPGnet regarding GNS theory being considered elitist, and some very interesting points have been made during the course of the discussion.

One of the key things to come out of the discussion was that GNS theory and its successor Big Model theory aren’t intrinsically elitist, but that there have been proponents of the theories who have used them in a fairly elitist manner.

This was an interesting observation, given the general vitriol and flamebait that discussing Forge-based theory tends to generate. The debate has actually been pretty level headed, with the various people managing to keep things pretty civil.

For me the upshot of the discussion has been that most people in the industry and hobby tend to see GNS and Big Model as poorly constructed theories. The blunt reality is that the methodology used to construct the theories, and the ensuing essays discussing them have been poorly planned and constructed – a view that I have held for some time now.

I’ve had a mixed opinion on game theory – for a while I was rabidly anti-theory because I found that many of the essayists from Forge (who were the more prominent theorists of the time) produced sloppy theories based around obscure terminology and a tendancy to borrow terminology from other disciplines without using the proper definitions.

All in all, it came across to me as a group of people who were thinking about gaming, but not using proper critical thinking skills in the process. Rather they used poor argumentation and their approach to any criticism was a near evangelical denial of rebuttals.

This has changed somewhat over the last year and a bit. Part of it has been through watching Luke’s changing views on gaming. (See Gametime in the blog links) While I don’t share some of his insights – I think he is allowing himself to be drawn into some flawed approaches to gaming, I am seeing how parts of his exploration has led him to finding a better way of articulating what it is that he is looking for in a game.

So I find the goal of gaming theory to be an admirable one – to create a common framework to discuss our hobby and what it is capable of. The problem is that for this to be truly effective on a broader scale, it needs proper research and a solid methodology to back up the theory.

This is where the current discussion has made interesting revelations. Ryan Dancey’s research into the hobby produced a much better model of how to look at the various people in the hobby and how to approach game design.

Consider the Wizards of the Coast research into roleplaying

Now compare how this methodology looks next to GNS. While the WoTC study no doubt gets some things incorrect – there is some debate about Dancey’s assertion of a perfect 22% in each of the four quandrants – the methodology is sound, and the argument both valid and well constructed.

I recently wrote a bit of a rant against GNS, I still remain unconvinced regarding it’s reliability, applicability and validity. As pointed out in the RPGnet discussion, much of GNS and Big Model theory misuses common social science terminology, twisting the meaning to suit the theory, and even sometimes missing the meaning altogether. (My personal bugbear being the abusive use of Social Contract without any material or definition of what the theory means by using that term, because the implied “contract” is nothing like an actual social contract as laid out in social philosophy, sociology, psychology or political theory.)

It has been suggested by such influential writers on the hobby and Robin Laws and John Wick that there is a schism due to hit the indie game market, brought about by the methodologies instigated by the Forge theorists. It is becoming more and more apparent that the GNS model has, as an influence on the greater hobby, been very little – contrary to what many indie gamers would like to believe.

This predicted schism within the indie market has already begun, with the formation of such groups as Gamecraft, started by one of my favourite modern gaming theorists, Levi in conjunction with TonyLB – the creator of Capes, of all things.

Gamecraft’s approach is much closer to how I envisage game theory being used. It aims to be practical, open, clear and focused on actual results. The methodology is improved on and building towards gentler discoveries. The key thing is that it isn’t buying into a single theory and trying to prove it, but rather looks at the actual craft of gaming and game design.

If I had the time and patience I would possibly go into research myself on the topic. But there are some good minds out there aiming to bring positive developments to the hobby. Some of these people cut their teeth in the Forge when it was developing theory, but they are now moving into more productive areas.

The last couple of years saw a boom in the indie market as far as products produced, but that bubble is about to burst. The greater industry has not stood up and listened – it has developed at its own pace, and with more non-GNS focused indie businesses entering the market, the Forge and GNS are likely to become footnotes in the industry.

The problem that the indie industry faces is one of longevity. Most indie games are short lived wonders – popular for a while, but ultimately not as widely played or used as the more traditional games. Look at products like Wushu and PTA – people play them from time to time, but they are not the preferred games for a majority of hobbyists.

This is not to denigrate such games – some indie games have done some very cool and interesting things that give me reason to pause and consider how I can improve my more traditional games. They are fun to play occassionally, and they have some cool structures.

But they have been built on a theory that argues one should focus a game on a single axis. WoTC’s theory argues that a well-designed and successful game uses more than one axis in its design. Consider Promethean – it is built on a mix of indie and traditional design ethics, and as such is a lot more successful than, say, Capes or Primetime Adventures.

It isn’t merely because it is produced by White Wolf – remember, White Wolf was once an indie game design company – rather, it is because White Wolf’s staff know how to produce quality products.

The same goes for WoTC. While I’m not a big d20 fan, I have come to realise that I *do* like it. I bought d20 Modern, and Dark*Matter and I love them. Sure it is a clunky set of rules, but there is something about them that I also like. The same goes for D&D.

I don’t think I’m particularly unique in this respect. I’m beginning to better understand why these games are successful and why people end up going back to them. Why Shadowrun 4e is so good. And why an indie game like Wild Talents can be so popular. Because all these traditional games have much more to offer in the long run…

Love and Huggles

Conan

Currently Reading: Eberron
Currently Playing: Exalted: Nexus of the Sun; Orpheus: Shades of Gray
Mood: Taking on gaming theory!

This is it, I’ve finished watching the entirety of Roswell. Wow. What a series.

I think the first thing that comes to mind is that Roswell really manages to stand out above a lot of its contempories. This is a show that manages to mix a lot of humour, self-parody and realism to create a show that has a very distinctive feel of its own.

I would definitely classify the third season as the best in the series. Where the second season tried too hard to become more like Buffy and Angel, season three sets up its own tone and feel, and does a stand out job of it too.

Something that truly impresses me is how much the series successfully refers back to previous seasons – things that you noticed very early on in the previous seasons eventually come back in the third season, sometimes in very unexpected ways.

The tone of the series takes on a much more realistic and gritty tone. This isn’t the angsty sixth season of Buffy nor the campy noir of Angel – Roswell manages to mix the tone to feel more realistic. Happy couples fight, families don’t just work things out at the end of an episode, some issues have taken an entire three seasons to be resolved.

Furthermore, old mistakes have continuing consequences that are slowly resolved – we see all the characters change and grow over the course of this series. By the final episode, not one character is unchanged. But not only that, the changes are fully believeable and solid – sold by the performances of a truly talented ensemble cast.

There are many stand-out episodes in Season Three, my favourite is possibly “I married an Alien” where the episode flips between a sitcom alternate reality version of Roswell in the theme of Bewitched, and the harsher real world. Much like Buffy’s musical episode, this is an experimental story. Unlike Buffy, it does a much better job at showing the stark differences between real life and that of a sitcom.

I initially wasn’t sure how to feel about the last episode. While some storylines are tied up, some things are left unfinished, and other new issues arise. Yet the ending feels very satisfying. What later struck me was just how much this show has tried to be hyper-real. Before many of the hyper-realistic shows of today, Roswell remains true to real life when dealing with the characters’ emotions and decisions. (For the most part, there are some questionable episodes…) The series ends just like real life – the story isn’t over, it’s just reached the point where we can part company with the characters.

Having said that, there is plenty left open for a spin-off or a return to Roswell – which I like. It keeps the illusion of realism for that fact.

Over the course of the series I have grown to really like the characters. To the point that I would be hard pressed to name a favourite. I love them all for each of their little quirks and personality traits.

If you haven’t yet started looking for this show – DO IT! Roswell is one of the best shows I’ve seen in a long time. It may not have the polish and cool of Dead Like Me (Which I still rate higher as a show) but it has a real heart that has made me keen to watch it again at some point. Just so that I can revisit those very cool characters and their lives…

Love and Huggles

Conan

Currently Reading: Hordes Primal
Currently Playing: Exalted: Nexus of the Sun; Orpheus: Shades of Gray
Mood: Sleepy, but good.

So I’m continuing my viewing of the complete series of Roswell. To recap, for those who don’t know the basic set up, Roswell is set (unsurprisingly) in the town of Roswell, New Mexico where aliens are rumoured to have landed in the 1940s.

Using the rumoured alien spaceship crash as inspiration, Roswell tells the story of three orphans who are revealed to be Alien/Human hybrids, brought to Earth for some unfathomable reason.

The first season really focused on the relationships of the various characters. A sort of Dawson’s Creek meets X-files via Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Most episodes dealt with slowly revealing the mystery surrounding Max, Isobel and Michael – why they were brought to Earth and why they were hidden away in a pod chamber until they “hatched.”

Season two changed gears (apparently due to pressure from the executives at WB) and focused more on the sci-fi elements.

Oddly, this is where Roswell stumbles as a series. The characters, and actors playing them, are cool and interesting. When the series focuses on character episodes, Roswell’s strength as a series shines. These are not your typical two-dimensional people – like in Smallville – or cheesy stereotypes, like in Buffy.

No, Roswell’s characters have a lot of interesting depth and background. Most of all, the series keeps the characters consistent from episode to episode. (Although there are the occasional continuity flaws from the props department and camera crew – one episode is glaringly obvious for this…)

I think that’s what I really like about Roswell. The characters have been built up and developed – even the more minor roles. When one of the main crew dies unexpectedly, it carries a lot of weight for the show. Furthermore, there are some stand-out performances from ALL the main cast over the course of this season. I really believed in the characters emotions, and the cast manage to really sell you on the whole premise – even in the shockingly lame story arc involving an alien infestation.

In some ways Season Two feels a bit like Babylon 5 Season 4. A lot happens, and is all crammed into one Season when it could have been stretched out over two or three.

One big issue of this is that certain episodes work better than others and one was placed out of sequence because the executives thought that the clue in the episode would be lost unless it was placed directly before the finale where the hint reaches fruition.

It’s a shame really – because the episode happens chronologically out of order during a very very tense arc in the Season.

However it all comes together in a very cool finale that left the series open for a third season, while still wrapping up most of the loose ends from Season One.

Oddly the best episodes were the least science fiction based. Firstly there is the Christmas episode, where we get to learn a lot more about the various characters – and although it has a schmaltzy “miracle” sequence, I actually liked it for that. The pain and emotions were very well done by the cast who clearly set out to have fun with the episode. The other great episode was the Las Vegas one, where the gang go off to gamble away money.

Another great character episode that tells us more about everyone’s motivations. Unfortunately one of the characters ends up being changed later in the season – although it is worth noting that if you go back to the first time the character shows up, everything still remains consistent from a bigger picture point of view. Which is actually cool – because you get sucked in by that character’s lies as much as everyone else.

With one more season to go, I’m hoping that everything comes to a satisfactory conclusion. I’m not sure I’d be happy if they just drop the storyline about the revolution on the alien’s homeworld – there needs to be a satisfactory resolution to that other than “we stay on Earth and let them sort it out…”

Only time will tell…

Love and Huggles

Conan

Currently Reading: Burning Empires
Currently Playing: Exalted: Nexus of the Sun; Orpheus: Shades of Gray
Mood: Feeling good!

While I have been watching a lot of Roswell recently, I have been intermittently been watching this likeable little series alongside it.

Dead Like Me is the story of George Lass, a young eighteen year-old virgin whose outlook on life is about as disaffected and cynical as it can possibly get. Her mother is a negative control freak, her father is having an affair, and her little sister, Reggie, is a little strange.

Then, as if to show that the universe has a sense of humour, George is killed rather spectacularly by a toilet seat that falls from the Russian Mir Spacestation. That’s when things get really weird.

George discovers that she has been chosen to become a Reaper, a collector of souls – to help the dead pass on to the next plane of existence. Once she has reaped an unstated number of souls, she will then be able to pass on herself.

But she isn’t a ghost, that wouldn’t be interesting television after all – no, she has a living body (of sorts) and is undead. She has an illusionary alter-ego that people see instead of her true face.

Dead Like Me is pure gold. It is a slick production, simply presented and beautifully acted. It has a morbidly funny sense of humour and is really a show about life as seen from the place of someone who is dead. It never preaches, but makes some profound observations about life and the universe. All the while delivered in a beautifully dead-pan humour. From the collapse of George’s family to the eventual growth of George as a Reaper – this show is just brilliant.

Very rarely does a show manage to make me laugh out loud when watching it on my own – but Dead Like Me manages to do so every episode!

So do yourself a favour – check it out! Best yet, the series is self-contained. There is a second season, and I”m keen to see it, but the first season manages to close while leaving things open for potentially more stories.

Also- keep an eye out for Jewel “Kaylee” Saite as a death groupie goth girl! 😀

Love and Huggles

Conan

Currently Reading: Burning Empires
Currently Playing: Exalted: Nexus of the Sun; Orpheus: Shades of Gray
Mood: See post below! 🙂

Finally back to more Reviews! I have a lot of shows to discuss, and this is just the beginning.
So having finished working through all the anime in my collection at the moment, I was casting about for a new show to watch. As many long time readers of this blog know, I have a soft spot for those late 90s early 00s teen-adult shows like Smallville.
Roswell had been teasing me from the shelves of several video stores for months, but the shocking $99 per season price kept me from committing to the series. Finally the price has dropped to a very reasonable $NZ 169 for all three seasons.
So after a little budgetting, I picked up the full series and have just finished watching Season One.

Strangely Familiar and yet so New…

The first thing that struck me about Roswell was how much it reminded me of Smallville. The Pilot episode kind of covers similar ground – even though Roswell precedes Smallville by several years. Mysterious kid with strange powers, pines after the cutest girl in school, is a bit of an outsider… all that stuff.

What Roswell does differently is that it tries to deal with teen angst in a more realistic way. Smallville has an annoying habit of keeping things at status quo. Roswell has a definite “get over it” quality to the show. Problems arise, and characters try to move on to solutions. There is still the teen angst “you just don’t understand me!” However, this is resolved and dealt with.
The characters learn from the events they are in and communicate with each other. Max reveals his powers to Liz and tries to deal with the consequences. Liz doesn’t wait around for Max to get his shit together when she realises he loves her – they talk about their feelings and admit them to each other. None of Clark’s wimping out on Lana.
Roswell isn’t about will-they-wont-they, it’s about how will they manage to keep together when the world is trying to keep them apart. Best of all, Max and Liz have allies who want to see them together, and do things to help them get over their teenage foolishness.
I love this show for it’s ballsy nature. Death, sex, child abuse – like Smallville it covers a lot of teen issues, but actually makes them relevant. Best of all it often turns cliches on their head. For example, we are initially treated to an X-Files type government conspiracy – but as the series progresses the show reveals that just because a faction within the government is the enemy, that doesn’t mean all the American government is evil.
I like this recognisation that individual people make bad decisions and can be cruel – but this should not be equated to all the people involved with the organisation. An interesting approach for a conspiracy based show.
The balance of normal soap style drama combined with science-fiction elements makes for a very compelling show that manages to be a bit more engaging than Smallville.
I rate this show. Check it out sometime! 🙂

Love and Huggles

Conan

Currently Reading: Wild Talents
Currently Playing: Exalted: Nexus of the Sun; Orpheus: Shades of Gray
Mood: Bright and Perky!

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