Saturday, July 21, 2012

Updates and ponies!

Wow, what an exciting time to be me. Not only have I defeated Baron VonDoom's plan to invade the world from his Moon Fortress, solved the case of the Jade Claw, and aided in the defense of the Frost Academy against the dread Eater-Queen Acheron...but, most importantly, I've found that the second season of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic is on Netflix insta-que.

Clearly, this is the most important part of my week, and I should devote an entire blog post about it.

MLP:FIM (or just MLP from here on out) is actually a really really good show. I won't say it's the best show ever (Babylon 5) or a perfect show (Firefly) or even a super revolutionary show (The Original Star Trek). Hell, it's not even the best animated show ever...that is a tossup between Batman Beyond, Cowboy Bebop and Captain Simian and the Space Monkies.

...okay, we all know it's Captain Simian. Seriously, how can you go wrong with a children's cartoon show that stars Jerry Doyle (Michael Garibaldi, Babylon 5), Michal Dorn (Worf, Star Trek TNG), Maurice LaMarsh (Almost every single worthwhile animated TV show ever) and Malcolm McDowell.

Yes, Alex DeLarge voices a cybernetic rhesus monkey whose primary mode of attack is to launch his disembodied brain out of his head. And then it strangles you. With the spinal column.

And the jokes were amazing. Seriously, they had an entire episode that was an Alien parody. And a really well done, funny, witty alien parody.

Such a great show. Should have lasted 5 seasons, not 1.

...what was I talking about? Ponies? OH RIGHT!

What I'm trying to say is that I'm not being hyperbolic here. MLP is liked by many people because it is a good show. Which is, in and of itself, an interesting thing. Not that MLP is good - anything can be good, for gods sake, one of my favorite shows has a guy whose head looks like a Japanese war-fan and talks like a very drunk member of EuroTrash - but rather peoples REACTIONS to it being good.

See, there is this really insidious cultural artifact in our country (our country being the United States of America, the only country that matters) wherein a boys story is for everyone. Indiana Jones, Star Wars, most of Pixar's work, these are all archetypal boy stories. Manly men doing manly things. There's something for everyone!

But if you do something for "girls", it becomes a freaking memetic ghetto: Princesses? That's girl stuff. One is implicitly inclusive, the other is explicitly exclusive and both are alliteratively awful (at least to me). There is no real reason why stories about princesses and pastel colored ponies and friendship and magic should be exclusive to girls. All that such a story requires is quality.

The saying goes that a good comedian can make reading the phone book funny?

(It's true, just make Christopher Walken do it!)

Well, the same is true of writing: A good writer can make any idea appealing. It is all about execution and skill and craft. And, well, MLP takes the IDEA of Equestria - a magical land where three distinct forms of ponies live in harmony, where they tend to the land using magic, where baby dragons are used as walking I-phones and a sun-goddess alicorn rules for thousands of years due to her ability to raise and lower the sun on a whim - and totally SELLS THE HELL OUT OF IT.

It just takes thought. I mean, it's easy to go, "Well, girls like dresses. Make a character who likes dresses. BOOM. DONE! Lets snort cocaine off the breasts of a hooker!"

(I imagine all TV writers to be the corporate guys from RoboCop. It makes watching the latest inane soap opera make way more sense.)

But the hard thing to do is to take a character and actually make her liking dresses (and fashion) not just believable but also interesting to people who, normally, would never be interested in dresses at all. That requires thinking of clever and interesting character notes, possibly writing a catchy song and top notch animation and voice action. It requires good writing and good craft, in the same way that making an archeologist who punches nazis interesting requires good writing and good craft.

Apply this level of good writing to each of the characters, the world, and the plots, and you have a show that doesn't just escape the girls-only-ghetto, but it blows down the walls. Maybe we'll have a generation of men who have realized that princesses are things worth being interested in...and a generation of writers who won't dismiss "girl stuff" as things you can just phone in on the way to a dump-truck of blow.


Me, I'm optimistic.

Till then, if you've seen an airship that's on fire and contains the soul-devouring army of immortal, psychopathic killers, me!

No reason. Just...uh...

Where did I put my Legacy Blade...

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Why we need more Aberrant

I love roleplaying games. For those who don't know, a roleplaying game (or RPG) is a game where you take on the persona of someone more exciting, sexy and awesome than you. You then guide your persona through adventures orchestrated by your "Game-Master", who plays the other characters, handles the rules, arbitrates differences, and describes the world.

It is group storytelling at its finest, with the storytelling mediated by rules and random chance (via dice rolling) so that everything has a structure and flow that just a group of people making shit up couldn't quite manage.

The grand-daddy RPG is Dungeons and Dragons (though it rarely involves either, oddly enough) but there are many others: Eclipse Phase, Pathfinder, Exalted, Star Wars the RPG, Mutants and Masterminds, just to name a few.

But my favorite RPG of all time is a child of the 1990s.


Aberrant takes place in the (then) future year of 2008. In 1998, an exploding satellite called the Galateia spreads radioactive materials in the upper atmosphere of the Earth, and immediately afterwards, human beings with astounding powers explode onto the scene: Dubbed Homo Sapiens Novus, these meta-humans have a special gland in their brain that let them subconsciously manipulate quantum forces to produce various effects.

So, if a nova (as they were soon called) has a subconscious desire, their brains would literally change themselves and the world around them to fulfill it. A latent nova could be in a car crash, have their gland (called a node) "erupt" into full power...and suddenly be super tough. Or be able to teleport. Or have mastery of magnet!

(Maybe two people got that. Everyone else is just going to call it a typo.)

You might go, "pff, that's not special. That's just like X-Men, but with some quantum handwavium."

And yes, there IS an organization that trains novas to fight for the betterment of humanity. And yes, there is a nova who preaches a credo of nova supremacy and he has an organization of vaguely terrorist novas who bash things up and get into scrums with novas working for the other guys.

But that's where Aberrant gets awesome.

Firstly, the "good guy" organization is Project Utopia: A UN backed regulatory and training organization who is primarily an environmental cleanup and  peacekeeping force. They're more famous for cleaning up after disasters and fixing that hole in the Ozone Layer. And, more importantly, only 20-30% of novas actually work for them, and those that do work for them due to the paycheck and chance at marketing deals. Because novas are basically just people: They're not superheros.

They don't wear masks (most of them at least), they don't have flashy code names (unless they want to sell more records at Quantum Boom, or get that serialized comic book that every money savvy nova wants) and they don't all have a uniform desire to either save the world...or destroy it.

Novas with super-strength don't have a new villain to fight every week. Instead, they usually work a day job: Construction, demolitions, or if they can fly, freight trafficking. Novas who can survive anything that life throws at them have found more work exploring the Challenger Deepness than surviving blasts from Dr. Evilos Ray of Doom-Laser. Of course, those with more violent temperament find flamboyant wrestlers with the eXtreme Warfare Federation, or if they're a few steps more psychotic, as superpowered mercenaries called Elites.

And to add a cherry ontop, Aberrant takes an angle I hadn't seen done very often: That if someone could shoot webs out of their wrists, or fly, or do anything a comic book superhero could do...well, they'd be famous as SHIT. In Aberrant, there is a channel called N!: Thing a combination of TMZ and E! and focused purely on superpowered individuals who can melt tanks with their eyelasers and you've got a good idea of N!. There are nova popstars, nova gay rights activists (or in Tommy Orgy's case, a combination of the two), nova Muslims, Mormons,  Wicca and Buddhists.

It's a great system, a great world, and it is all around great.

But here is one problem.

Aberrant is dead.

It lasted into the year 2000, but was discontinued due to disinterest and poor sales. People just weren't into superheroes at the time. Which is a huge shame, as the game had even more potential that hadn't quite been reached.

But now, it is 2012. RPGs seem to be doing better than ever, with the popularity of Pathfinder, D&D 4th ed...even indi-games like Eclipse Phase are doing better than expected. The company that makes Aberrant - White Wolf - is still in business, mostly by making World of Darkness and Exalted (both fine games, mind you).

And we've just had a huge EXPLOSION of superhero popularity. Bale's Batman movies, the Avengers and every movie that lead up to it, the new Spiderman, superheroes dominate this cinematic landscape. And hell, the last X-Men movie was pretty much the best X-Men movie EVER MADE.

The time is right for Aberrant.

They may not be superheroes...

But they damn well deserve another chance in the spotlight.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Technicolor Ponies

In celebration of it being Friday, I present to you...ponies.

I don't really have anything to add beyond this is amazing.