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Blow off the dust, knock off the rust…

TWO YEARS!!! TWO FUCKING YEARS!!!

The official mascot of Ghoulish Bunny Studios... Stitches.

The official mascot of Ghoulish Bunny Studios… Stitches.

I know I have been busy, but damn… that is inexcusable. So what the hell have I been doing besides this blog thing? First up, I meant to restart this earlier in the year, but I have been in the process of starting a new business with the lovely Diana Levin. Our new business is named Ghoulish Bunny Studios and it is amazing to see it come together after much blood and sweat. I have been transferring much of Diana’s artwork over to the new site along with doing some of the blog posts for it. I am proud of what we are creating and I can’t wait to share the future collaborations that we are working on.

Fangs for the memories!

Fangs for the memories HHN!

Second, I did Hollywood Horror Nights at Universal two years in a row. It was a blast to do it and I met some amazing people, which made me a little sad I didn’t do it this year (but I had to focus on getting the new business up and running). I played Tucker in the queue line for the Insidious maze two years ago which was fun as I got to improv quite a bit and mess with the crowd. Last year I was a vampire in the Dracula advertis… I mean maze; awesome make up and scaring the shit out of people, what is there not to love.

But as I said, that is no excuse. So while this post is a bit short it is mainly to knock the rust off and get back into the groove of things. I am on a mission to post more often and try to promote the blog better than I did last time (you know, get that readership up to you know ten people… goals man, ya gotta have goals). So I shall go dig through my old notes and dislodge some thoughts from my noggin in order to form me next blog.

And seriously, you won’t have to wait two years for it… I mean it… stop laughing.

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Role Playing Games or Satan’s Trap for Nerds…

I am back from the dead, somewhat worse for wear, but I have found the time to make my grand return to my ramblings. I had a few ideas to blog about, but after reading too much depressing news (I am so fucking tired of the gridlock shit), I decided to write about something I enjoy… RPGs or for the less geeky… role playing games.

I doodled on the original cover myself.

I doodled on the original cover myself.

I started out young, with ye olde Dungeons and Dragons when I was a wee lad back in the late ’70s and early ’80s (yes, I am an old man now… so get off my lawn you kids). I had a blast, the adventures were grand, imagining myself as a heroic warrior battling to save the village or princess from said orcs or dragon. I would look at all the amazing artwork that were in the books, which helped me become more appreciative of art at a young age.

My brother also got a copy of Gamma World, which I still love looking at the old artwork til this day. I recently found the old box for it (flatten into a pie from other shit being stacked upon it), and one of the fun things I forgot about it was the included blank hex map of the United States. This was a great idea to me… giving the game master a cool way to customize the world, one that is just theirs. Such a simple idea that breeds creativity.

Then came the next big leap… (cue grandiose music) Advance Dungeons and Dragons. I jumped in ready for the fun and adventure and I was overwhelmed. It took me a bit to get into the groove and a bit of tweaking the rules to suit me. (For the record, I always have and always will hate THAC0.) I found the rules too overbearing at times, I did not enjoy the system…but the manuals were awesome and who did not love the original Monster Manual cover art?

The best cover ever!

The best cover ever!

As I got older though I was playing less and less, I even gave the AD&D 2nd edition a whirl. I was not impressed with the changes that seemed to take out the variety of ways to play. No half orcs or assassins? No devils or demons? Why? Because of Jack Chick’s little comic and the religious nutjobs? Fucking grow up! So I decided to give up on Dungeons and Dragons and for the most part RPGs.

I became a collector of game systems… Top Secret, Ghostbusters, Toon, Twilight 2000, Paranoia, Car Wars, Rifts (great setting, horrible mechanics… just had to get that in) and many, many others. I tried a game or two of them but I never found many people where I lived that wanted to venture too far from the safe confines of Dungeons and Dragons.

So for quite a few years I was out of the pen and paper game. I was playing my video game versions, but I still missed the freedom of the P&P versions. So finally after many, many many, I mean it, many moons, I tried D&D again… this time in the 3.5 version. Luckily I was with a good group and I had a fun time, though I noticed the rules allowed too much munchkin playing. It was all about leveling up to get then next cool ability or skill, kill every thing and take all the gold. And the rules… rules for everything, it slowed down play more than ever (not to mention the 8,000 pages of skills to choose from).

So I dabbled a bit more, even tried D&D 4th edition rules. The less said the better about this putrid edition.

So onward I started to explore other rule systems, ORE was an interesting one, but not my shot of tequila. Then I found a system I quite enjoyed… All Flesh Must Be Eaten (AFMBE from here on out). To be completely honest, as I have gotten older I have gotten a bit darker. I am not a fan of everyone living, the possibility of death must be constantly present. AFMBE fit this perfectly and I loved the ability to drop the system into any type of game genre within limits or time period… the universality of it was what I enjoyed most. But the system is a bit crunchy at times and involved too much book keeping for me personally so I drifted around a bit more; always on the look out for an interesting system.

Twisted fun for all... especially for me!!!

Twisted fun for all… especially for me!!!

Before I get to my current game system of choice at this time, let me tell you of my favorite one shot system. It is Fiasco, this game is fucking amazing. You can play the same play set multiple times and it will be different every time. A game is done in a couple of hours and it may be the most appropriately named game ever. Even with every person on the same page, it will eventually all go to shit and everyone will turn on each other like a vicious dog. The intensity of the scenes can either bring the greatest joy or most humbling defeat to one’s ego, which means of course I love this game. While purist may argue that it is not a true RPG but more of a storytelling game, I say this to them… YOU ARE PLAYING A ROLE, HENCE ROLE PLAYING!!!

Now we are to the current leg of my RPG journey, which has come to the port of Fate Core and the lighter version, Fate Accelerated Edition (FAE from here on out). It is a plug in universal system that works with any genre or setting, I mean ANY genre or setting, with basically no tweaking of the rules. You can play as the classic fantasy sword and sorcery setting or you can be talking utensils trying to escape from a restaurant. It is that versatile. How does it achieve this you may ask? Well for starters it throws out standards such as attributes (you know… strength, intelligence, dexterity, etc.) and is more skewed towards narrative role playing.

The Gorilla is awesome!!!

The Gorilla is awesome!!!

I will be the first to admit that not all went well when I first started playing this game system… to quote many martial arts movies, you must unlearn what you have learned. My groups first couple of games were painful at times with flashes of brilliance. Those bits of brilliance kept us coming back to try a bit more and each time we enjoyed it more. (Yes, we are sluts like that.) I was hooked, there was no turning back, the freedom that the system allowed and encouraged were exhilarating… I love this system. Seriously, try Fate Core and FAE… it is that good. I am still learning and experimenting with the tweaking of all the bells and whistles, but I must say this may be my favorite system of all time.

The last game I ran was using the FAE system (which is great for quick one shots on the fly type games) were at the last minute I decided to switch the genre. I was originally going to do a Supernatural based horror game, then switched to a Warhammer 40k based setting with tinges of Cthulhu. We used this game as a one shot to get use to the Fate style rule system a bit more and it was a rousing success. Started out a bit space marine generic, but then by the end transitioned into a full blown paranoid mutiny. I was honestly on the ground for two minutes laughing as the players discussed whether their own people were trying to kill them. (I am known for running twisted campaigns, but I really want to see these guys live… they were that entertaining.)  In the end, their own paranoia caused their demise, which is a story for another time. This one shot was done without any prep work or tweaking of the rules, a testament of the adaptability of the Fate system.

I do hope to tell some more stories of my role playing adventures, especially of the insanity of the ones from Fiasco and Fate Core… really go check them out. I have also been using both systems writing tools for stories and scripts as they are more about creating narratives than mechanically leveling up. So to Fate Core and Fiasco I thank you for rekindling my love for RPGs.

Til the next time, don’t turn your back on a one legged hooker…

–Shawn

Still alive, just busy as hell…

Seriously, I am here, working on a few longer blogs, but I am in a flux of many things. If there were only more hours in the day I would still be fucked, as I have many things on my plate.

Dapper Cthulhu by Diana Levin

Dapper Cthulhu by Diana Levin

Biggest one was moving into a new apartment and I am still organizing everything and cleaning it all up. Plus I started a new job (sure it only goes through October, but a paycheck is a paycheck) and it is a fun one, but has lots of late hours. I am still working on my scripts, polishing them up and digging through old ones that need to be rewritten. Finally to top it off, I am messing around with the Fate Core system with friends into making a setting that we may be bringing forth if we can get it all smoothed out sometime early next year.

And Halloween season is upon us, my favorite time of the year (back off Christmas, I saw you putting your shit in Target already), so I need to go shopping for some kick ass decorations to hang in the new place.

So thank you all who has decided to follow my tiny ass blog, I promise I am working on some things, and I will have some new posts coming up in the next few days.

Til next time, may Cthulhu never dress nicer than you… shit, too late.

–Shawn

Start of the Halloween Season at Scare L.A.

Don't hug them, they tend to get a bit stabby. Horror Bunnies by Diana Levin

Don’t hug them, they tend to get a bit stabby.
Horror Bunnies by Diana Levin

Horror… really a funny sounding word if you think about it (seriously, say it five times in a row fast), and meant to convey disturbing things to frighten someone. For such a funny sounding thing, I do love it so; movies, books, comics, games, art… all of it, I want to see it in all its blood splattered goodness. Now with Halloween Season beginning to gear up, time for me to get busy seeing what is out there.

scarelasmallThe start of the season of all things horror is upon us and I cannot wait for all the decorations, special effects, and costumes to fill the aisles of all the stores. (Back off Christmas, you already killed Thanksgiving, you keep encroaching on Halloween, I’ll cut you.) The season starts off tomorrow for me as me and my girlfriend (Diana of Diana Levin Art, The Shameless Plug) go to sell her art and jewelry at Scare L.A. this fine weekend. As we were setting up, I got to wander a bit amongst the bloodied torsos, decapitated heads, demons, evil clowns, and delightful killers. I had time to look at the event program for the workshops and panels they are going to have… definitely heaven for gorehounds and fright freaks everywhere.

I just love the look she gives. Love Hurts by Diana Levin

I just love the look she gives.
Love Hurts by Diana Levin

The artwork you see on this blog has been done by my girlfriend (Diana Levin Art, The Shameless Plug Part II) except for the Scare L.A. logo, and she tends to do creepy yet cute art as she describes it. I also think for every cute art piece she does, she balances it out by doing two or three creepy/horror art works. She is inspired by the darker side of fairy tales and such, plus living with me as I watch every horror movie, good or bad, probably has a slight influence on that. What can I say… I love the horror.

We have done horror and Halloween conventions before and we are excited to be doing this one so close to home. We are hoping for a successful weekend with lots of people coming by, so if you live in the Los Angeles area come out and enjoy the fun. I just have to make sure I don’t blow all the profits Diana makes on that cool zombie mask I am eyeballing.

Til next time, The Thing will always beat the zombie penguins… always.

–Shawn

I love Dark Souls… no really, I do…

preparetodiefunny

One of the funnier print ads for the game.

Dark Souls… this is a game I just love, and it was not an easy love at first. But in the end, this game won me over with its brand of tough love, making me work through the game with only a tiny bit of help from the internet forums. (OK, maybe more than a tiny bit.) My last post ended with a bit about Dark Souls and I decided to elaborate on it a bit.

First off, I love hard games, always have, always will. But they have to be fair in their cruelty; no cheap hits, invisible enemies, or dumb ass flying levels with electrified fences. I played Castlevania, Contra, Metal Gear, and others with glee, always having a sense of accomplishment when I finished those games. But the days like that were long gone, and the new era of games came in… more open worlds, not as straight forward, easy to get lost as you wander around exploring. Metal Gear Solid, Grand Theft Auto 3, Devil May Cry, and Resident Evil… loved them, the marriage of gameplay and storytelling was so cool. I was excited about the direction games were going and I couldn’t wait to see what was next.

Well, the games got bigger, more elaborate, more cut scenes, quick time events, dialogue trees, choices galore; which I loved… at first. The newer Metal Gear Solid games, Fallout 3, new Grand Theft Auto games… don’t get me wrong, great games and design, but I just wasn’t into them anymore. First NPCs would just tell you where to go (take a left at the tree, go 63 paces, and you will find the Pebble of Supreme Ant Might, bring it here and I will tell you where to find the boss who has taken your love), mini maps that showed too much, maps that would put big markers where to go next, then finally the damn arrows/compass/glowing path on the ground to follow so you don’t get lost. I understand why the developers did it, the worlds they had created had became so large, it was too easy to lost and never find your way around.

As these worlds became larger and took as developers would say, 500+ hours of gameplay to explore; I grew into adulthood, got a job, and my time had to be managed a bit more. Gone were the days of spending all my time to complete a game and see everything it had to offer. Now I know people will say that I should be happy then, more bang for my buck, and be done bitching about it. Problem is, while I loved Fallout 3 at first (I love post apocalyptic themes, Road Warrior rules!), I became bored with it after about 70 hours. Monsters were easy to beat, there was no real threat of death, I could just go back to my nearest save if something went wrong, and I completely forgot that my main mission at first was to find Liam Neeson to soothe my character’s daddy issues, or something like that.

I must destroy the dragon born.

I must destroy the dragon born.

The last super open world game I gave a try was Skyrim… I am not a fan. I mean a huge dragon breathes fire on you and you laugh it off and continue to hack/slash your way as if nothing happen? Fucking boring. And don’t give me that shit about, well I see that mountain over there in the distance? I can walk all the way over to it and climb to the top of it. Was there anything of importance on top of said peak? Um, No. Then why the fuck would I want to walk a hundred miles and climb a large ass mountain if it does not move the plot along of the game? I wouldn’t truth be told, if something does not develop the character you are playing, introduce a new story element or character, then it should not be in the game. It is all just fat, useless subplots and nonsensical areas to explore, all just to pad a game’s playing time to make it seem more than it is. I was feeling like adventure games were becoming the soulless, bloated Hollywood movies I despise.

Then I played Dark Souls… I was not ready for it. I died often and quickly, usually by a lowly hollow that would gladly gut me as I forgot to put up my shield to meet his attack. I was frustrated, my warrior was weak, his moves limited, I did not know where to go (Why won’t that guy at the bonfire tell me where to go? He just keeps telling me I am probably going to just die.), what do you mean I can fall off the ledge of the path I was walking on!?! That’s it, fuck this game, I am out of here.

I want your skin for a new face.

I want your skin for a new face.

But I kept coming back to it, something kept bringing me back to try just one more time. First I learned that my moveset wasn’t so limited, it was actually quite varied; I had to fight smarter, as any enemy would capitalize on one of my mistakes. That was the first thing that got me, the enemies weren’t really overpowered, I just had to be patient and smart on the way I fought. No more charging head first without a care in the world, I would approach each room with caution, believing whatever laid in the dark would rend me limb from limb. I loved the gameplay, and as I practiced I became quite good at killing the creatures that stood before me. That was the beauty of the gameplay, the fact that even as I got more powerful, a few lowly hollows could give me fits if I played poorly.

After I actually learned the flow of combat, I was able to start to appreciate the world of Dark Souls more fully. Those ramblings of the man by the bonfire or the crazy undead merchant were filled with clues if you listened. I wasn’t beaten over the head with useless dialogue or subjected to endless hours of cut scenes. The NPCs were real characters with their own goals or problems and I was just a visitor in their story. They weren’t waiting around to give me a mission, they had their own shit to do whether I was there to help or not.  Neither were they indestructible nor necessary to finish the game, as you could fight and kill them, even the merchants and blacksmiths (though their wares were very helpful in finishing the game).  Almost every item description gave a bit more insight into the lore of the world, but left enough unsaid allowing me to fill them in with my own theories. Go on the forums of Dark Souls and you will see tons of posts on how players interpret the back story of Dark Souls. Most of them are plausible, from the hints you are given in the game; allowing the gamer to make the world they are playing in more personal.

The game is quite large and open, but not enough that I would wander needlessly or completely lose my way. See that big mountain over there in the distance with nothing on it? Fuck going there, I want to go to those creepy ruins poking out of that forest over there, much more interesting. There was no map or arrows pointing the way for me to go; I had to go forth with what little information I had gleaned from my adventure. Almost every direction I went moved the plot along and seemed vital to the game, even if not needed (the descent down that damn tree to Ash Lake for example). The developers had cut away most of the fat and had left a lean, mean game, ready to hook you in before tearing you apart.

Sssshhhh... be very, very quiet... I am hunting noobs.

Sssshhhh… be very, very quiet… I am hunting noobs.

That is just the single player aspect too, as Dark Souls has an ingenious co-op, not so co-op multiplayer mode. If you are connected online and having trouble with a particular area, then munch on a bit of humanity, become human, and look for a white symbol on the ground to summon someone to help you.  But the catch is now you are open to be invaded by some of the less friendly players, looking to kill you for fun and profit. Never have I been so paranoid than when I saw the INVADED BY words come up on my screen, I became jumpy, waiting for this red glowing menace to jump out and kill me with one blow. I LOVED IT… never has a game made online play so seamless with the single player campaign.

Sure not every part of Dark Souls is rosy or perfect… frame rate in Blighttown, those fucking invisible bridges in the Crystal Cave, and the lag that could become an annoyance with online battles; those are minor quibbles in what is a great game. This is a game that challenges you, inspires your imagination, and gives you a sense of accomplishment when you complete it. This may be one of the most satisfying games that I have ever owned.

As I side note, I did get to play a demo of Dark Souls II at San Diego Comic Con and I can’t wait for March 2014 to get here for it was glorious. But I do not want From Software to rush the game… I want them to take their time to make a game that is just as amazing and memorable as the first Dark Souls (just don’t take too long please).

Til next time, skipping down an escalator while drunk may be detrimental to your health…

–Shawn

Fueling the imagination…

I love to create… whether it be a script, short story, or even a poem. I can list off a laundry list of books, comics, RPGs, and such that have inspired me. Those are for another time, for I want to talk about a great influence on my ability to build a world, the wonderful invention called the video game.

I remember being a young lad in the early ’80s, roaming the arcades with a pocket full of quarters looking to play some games; Robotron: 2084, Joust, Ghost ‘n Goblins were some particular favorites of mine. (I could do a huge list of favorite games, but then it would be a bit of a boring read.) The one thing about most of these games from this time period is that they either had no story at all or such a bare bones one, that it’s plot could fit on a matchbook. Now before people start reaming me… but Shawn, they only had like all of a 96k of memory… I know that, that is not what I am talking about though. I never had the problem with the lack of story, because I would make one up for the game myself or build upon the minuscule story provided.

joust-poster

Really, give me the money Hollywood.
Joust Poster by Williams Electronics 1982.

I use to sit down, imagine stories, draw (badly) comics of my favorite games; I would give elaborate back stories to these simplistic, pixelated creatures that captured my attention. One of my favorite games was Joust… I love it not only for the game play, but also for it’s bat shit insanity. The evil Bounders, Hunters, and fearsome Shadow Lords fly on vultures, looking to conquer the kingdom of floating (in some cases unstable) floating rocks. Opposing these minions of doom are two brave and fearless knights on their mighty birds of prey… the ostrich and stork?!? (Now I admit, not quite as cool as vultures, but hey, they were thinking outside of the box on this one.) Then should you slay your enemy, he shall drop a large egg, upon given enough time shall hatch into a full grown knight with a lance. Should you meander too long in your quest, a terribly drawn pterodactyl shall arrive to eat you. (Give me $200 million dollars and Johnny Depp… come on Hollywood, I’ll even let you put Michael Bay on as an executive producer.)

Now me being me, I tended to make up stories for the bad guys more often than not, they were just cooler to me, but there was was one that garnered the most attention from me: the dreaded Lava Troll. Once the bridge was burned away, if one was to fly too close to the lava, the disembodied hand of the troll would reach up, grab the bird by the legs and attempt to drag them to a fiery death. There was no story for him, but he fascinated me; he was a mysterious, murderous, elusive monster that I wanted to know more about. I had no need to be force fed his story or what he looked like beyond the hand that appeared above the lava. I let my mind fill in the blanks, made the story of how the troll came to live in the lava pits, I made him a truly horrifying monster in my imagination, one that even terrified the mighty Shadow Lords.

Needless to say I often give credit to early video games for helping foster my imagination. But as games evolved, more memory was available, and programmers weren’t so limited; I saw a change in the way I imagined the world I was playing in at that time. Before I start, let me say I do love a lot of the new games out now, I really do, there are amazing games, beautifully crafted and fully realized worlds. And there is my problem, the world is so fully realized, I don’t have to imagine a story for the characters or the places I am exploring. The story wasn’t personal anymore, my character had a name and story forced down my throat through enough excessive exposition to fill the next George R.R. Martin novel (come on George, I am waiting for The Winds of Winter). The creators tell you everything about the world and where to go, so that you do not miss a single glorious thing that they have programmed… why thank you Kardon wandering knight of the Wounded Walrus, would you like to help me? I need you to go to a rocky island in the Lagoon of Doom and pick up the Dandelion of Yellowishness that only grows there, so that I can make a soup that will prevent the Mushroom people from eating you. The coordinates are 55 degrees north by 112 degrees west… check your mini map for the big blue triangle to show you where this forgotten, forbidden island is located. If that is too hard, then follow this glowing green arrow trail to your final destination. Okay, maybe it is not that extreme, but you get the point; no exploring, no need to imagine what may await you. Plus all these prompts showing you where to go, kind of takes you out of the game and the story and don’t even get me started about cut scenes (for a while I swear ratio of cut scenes to actual game play time was about 3 to 1). But I shall not get side tracked on that issue right now, I shall save it for a different time.

There goes another controller. Dark Souls by From Software

There goes another controller.
Dark Souls by From Software

I believe I have over analyzed this one a bit, and it is far from being my final say on the subject. But to summarize, I believe that video games are a great way to develop people’s imaginations, if they are allowed to create their own back story in the world the developers have created. And believe it or not, I am not talking about just the older, barely there story games of yonder years. In fact my favorite game at the moment that lets me create characters and fuel my imagination by creating back stories for them is the amazing Dark Souls. (Seriously, the game is awesome, at least when I am not tempted to throw my controller against the wall.) My thoughts on that game will be in a future blog post.

Til next time, tequila is a great substitute for apple juice.

–Shawn

Damn you Wil Wheaton!!!!

Wil WheatonI was content Mr. Wil Wheaton. I had my video games and internet connection, talking to people over a set of headphones and rage quitting when necessary by throwing a controller and shutting off my Xbox. Sitting in the darkness, with the TV the only source of light, secured that the voices in my headphones had my back. But no, Wil, you had to put on that damn youtube video series TableTop. Suddenly turning on the lights, inviting people over to my place to play games and have fun sounded like a good idea. Now I have to clean up my place, put food in the fridge, and play the gracious host. Plus the only way to rage quit on a board game is to flip over the table, which by the way makes a mess (also you makes you look like an asshole).

For that I say thank you, I forgot how much fun it is to actually play games in a room where you can see everyone’s face, though I can’t give sole credit to Wil. I do have my group of friends that got back into tabletop gaming before me, namely Dave. Every time I go to Dave’s house I see more and more board games, the man is addicted I tell you. He embraces his geekdom with glee, never false about it, always ready to talk about the new game he read or heard about. Dave and I attempt to get together with our friends to game when we can, have a few drinks, eat some food that may or not be fit for human consumption (looking at you cheddar, jalapeno, bacon pizza). Unfortunately we can’t get together as much as we like, as life gets in the way of this simple enjoyment at times.

The reasons I love these game nights, are that they give me a release from the stresses of life, they allow me to blow off some steam in a creative way with friends. Sure not all games go smoothly, especially when trying out a new game, and sometimes harsh words can be said (John and Hank), but mostly good times had by all. We brainstorm ideas  for screenplays while we play, catch up on things we have done, movies we saw… all while face to face without being to the whims of our cell phones or internet connections.

I forgot how much I love the camaraderie and competitiveness that gaming sessions bring out in everyone involved.  So for that I thank you Wil Wheaton, for helping me rekindle my love of tabletop gaming. But for the fact of how much money I am now spending on these games… DAMN YOU WIL WHEATON!!!!!

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