Thursday, December 31, 2015

Resourceful? (part 4)

Resourcefulness also indicates a character's knowledge about a situation that others would not normally have. It assumes that the character has heard about that particular situation in some previous instance, and that he has suddenly remembered the information. Characters might not otherwise know the location of a secret shipyard, or where a particular pirate gang might attack from, but with resourcefulness, a character may have somehow heard about these things before, which might help the characters find what they are looking for, or even avoid being surprised. Resourcefulness can be very useful in the wilderness as well, because a player with this skill will be more likely to find useful materials or be able to substitute tools for tasks that normally require specific items. Some talents related to the resourcefulness skill include: Ingenious Crafter, Sense of Direction, and Trader's Eye.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Resourceful? (part 3)

Another use of the resourcefulness skill can occur during dialogue encounters. While one of the characters on the team might be talented in persuasion attempts, other players can use resourcefulness checks to find useful information about the target. Success might result in the discovery of information about him online that could then be fed to the persuasion-expert on the team, which often results in a bonus to his persuasion attempts. Resourcefulness might also turn up useful tips about what keywords the target might be looking to hear. In one particular mission, a successful resourcefulness check against the target will reveal that he's only interested in two topics—knowing this is something only a resourceful character can determine. In another instance, a successful check will reveal that the confusing hand motions of a silent prisoner is actually military sign language to indicate there are listening devices nearby and the characters are being monitored.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Resourceful? (part 2)

I've seen players use resourcefulness in a number of interesting situations, and this skill allows players to contribute when they might otherwise find their character momentarily side-lined (which is something we really designed Solar Echoes to avoid—we want all players involved throughout the game!) As an example, in a car chase, the most active characters are the pilot and the gunner. Characters may use personal weapons if the pilot manages to close the range on their target, but at long range, some characters might literally feel like back-seat drivers. However, with the resourcefulness skill, I've seen characters in this situation pull out their micro-personal computers and access road maps for better driving options, or coordinate driving strategies with agents in other cars. One player once had the idea to find the municipal traffic control station, and with a successful resourcefulness check, he succeeded in locating it online. A successful hack later (involving the other characters in the back seat) resulted in control of the traffic lights. Needless to say, that team was able to stop their target from escaping, much more easily!

Monday, December 28, 2015

Resourceful? (part 1)

If you've ever watched “Burn Notice,” the character of Michael Westen is an ingenious burned spy who creatively overcomes many obstacles and situations through his resourcefulness. In all honesty, my entire reasoning for the Resourcefulness skill in Solar Echoes was because of Michael Westen—I wanted the players to be able to do the kind of stuff he did. The skill at first seems to be very general and open-ended. However, when players invest a rank in this skill, they will find it to be quite useful on any mission. At its core, resourcefulness is the ability to use what you have on hand or to gain insight into a situation beyond what common sense would normally avail. Behind the scenes, though, this skill gives the MC (Mission Controller—the GM in Solar Echoes) an opportunity to drop hints to the players through a game mechanic. If the team seems unsure of how to proceed, the MC can simply ask a player with ranks in the skill to make a resourcefulness check (the MC can set the difficulty to match the situation.) If the player succeeds, the MC can then give helpful hints. “You notice...” or “There seems to be...” are examples of ways to drop the hints in-game. However, the use of this skill doesn't end there...

Thursday, December 24, 2015

The Star Wars Effect (part 4)

In 2013 at USC, both Steven Spielberg and George Lucas voiced their prediction: the film industry will soon implode. They foresee a huge change in the movie-theater experience, with higher-priced tickets ($50 or more), and only the biggest blockbuster movies drawing in crowds. Considering my own attitude about movie-going, I'll have to admit that I agree with their predictions. Star Wars may look like something spurring a massive revival in theater attendance, but it may actually be the death knell of the movie industry we used to know. Perhaps our culture has shifted away from the theater experience, just as digital caused us all to migrate away from renting Blockbuster Videos. It's easy to imagine a future where the more thoughtful movies are only available to us online or for purchase on blu-rays/DVD's. Going to the theater will be reserved for the kind of family-event that only a movie like Star Wars can manage. When I saw Star Wars this weekend, a number of audience members were dressed up as iconic Star Wars characters, including young children, with many of them wielding toy lightsabers and some even wearing stormtrooper or darth vader helmets. This is the kind of movie that will draw all of us out of our homes to see at the theater, and we'll not only be happy to do it, we'll be ecstatic! I'm probably going to go see it again!

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

The Star Wars Effect (part 3)

Hollywood used to hate Star Wars, considering it to be a franchise machine used to sell toys as much as tickets. Better movies with more substance, Hollywood moguls insisted, were not receiving their proper attention when competing with big-budget blockbusters like Star Wars. These blockbusters were considered forgettable, without critical acclaim, while the smaller, lesser-known films were those that were awarded impressive nominations, though these decorated films rarely seemed to find a very larger audience. This isn't a problem for us, though, considering that we usually prefer watching the more thoughtful films at home, paying only a couple dollars to see them. I feel this way myself—why spend $25-$30 dollars to see a drama that I could just wait a few months to rent online? There's no hurry, it's not like everyone is going to be talking about it. I'm only willing to go through the inconvenience of watching a movie in the theater if it's an experience that the theater will enhance—I don't need amazing theater surround sound, 3D projection, and a giant IMAX screen to watch a thoughtful drama, but I do want those features for a movie with lots of action and special effects. This shift in attitude towards movies is one that may affect the industry in a big way...

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

The Star Wars Effect (part 2)

The times have changed—people are not going to movie theaters as often as they used to, and for good reason: why worry about arrival time and parking, pay exorbitant ticket and food prices, subject yourself to countless adds and trailers, struggle to find a good seat and not have to deal with other audience members, all when you can enjoy a movie on your big-screen HD TV with a surround sound system in the comfort of your own home? You can always pause if you have to get up and go to the bathroom or prepare more popcorn, you can relax with your family and friends on a nice couch, and you can enjoy a pizza, hamburger, or even a steak dinner if you choose. True, we'll probably spend far more on our entertainment systems than we would spend going to 100's of movies in the theater, but the fact is, it's about convenience. Let's face it—going to the movie theater can be a chore, and seeing blockbusters like Star Wars on opening weekend are sometimes the only reason any of us would go through the previously mentioned ordeal. I'll be honest, I can't remember the last time I was in the theater. Star Wars got me there, though, so the unease in Hollywood is definitely warranted. What kind of future is the movie industry facing?

Monday, December 21, 2015

The Star Wars Effect (part 1)

Don't worry, none of the posts this week will contain any spoilers for those of you that haven't yet had the chance to see the new Star Wars movie. This week, I'll be discussing the overall effect that Star Wars has on the movie industry. This last weekend, Star Wars opened and broke the previous record for opening weekend ticket sales, grossing $238 million—the biggest North American debut of all time! The previous opening record was “Jurassic World,” which opened with $208.8 million this last summer. With such an impressive beginning, why are some in Hollywood viewing the Star Wars phenomenon as a gigantic tsunami that will wash away, or at least dampen, the appreciation of other films? From Hollywood's perspective, they've seen this happen before with Star Wars, back when its first iterations were released. However, the movie-going climate has changed a lot since the late 70's and early 80's. How will the Star Wars juggernaut affect the future of movie-going in our time?

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Character Profile (part 4)

The Erwani on team Novaburn, Seshayan Hawsrilla, became convinced by military recruiters that he could pay his way through medical school by joining the military. Seshayan became quite despondent, however, when the military stationed him on a remote moon colony with very few opportunities for medical advancement. Seshayan was very angry that the military had lied to him, but another Erwani recruit, Eenthashuul, convinced him to try to make the best of the next three years and learn other skills during his service. Seshayan took his advice and began to thrive in his role in anti-terrorist operations where he learned to use cyberweapons—remote drones that could attack enemies from a distance. After excelling at battlefield combat and rescue operations where his medical skills became crucial to his team's survival, Eenthashuul revealed that he had ties to the Union Guard, and recommended Seshayan for service. Seshayan seized the opportunity. The talents he has learned in the military and UG are reflected in his profile: Patch Together, Combat Medic, and Sidestep. Seshayan uses a Prowl Blade cyberweapon, a Net-Gun, and an Erwani Thorn Pistol with poisoned thorn bullets, in addition to carrying a G-pulse grenade and an EMP/Flash Grenade.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Character Profile (part 3)

Another interesting character on team Novaburn is Ithek'ch'kar, a Chiraktis warrior drone that failed to follow the Queen's orders. Ithek had once worked for a wealthy Krissethi as a highly paid investor, but when the order from the Hive came down for him to assassinate his boss, Ithek chose not to. He knew the consequences of his disobedience—it was only a matter of time before the Queen sent “collectors” to have him removed from society, but he hoped that somehow his lifestyle could continue without notice. When two new Chiraktis were suddenly hired at his boss's firm, Ithek knew it was time to run, but the two assassins showed up at his apartment before he could escape. Ithek managed to kill them both, accepting the truth that he would always have to live life on the run. The Union Guard placed him in their employ under witness protection, and Ithek is happy to serve his protectors. However, he still looks over his shoulder frequently, knowing that the Queen will not forget. Ithek is trained in the martial arts and has the Snapping Thrust, Bullrush, and Strike the Weak Point talents. His spike gauntlets are always equipped, and he carries a Phoenix Pistol, a Toxic Marauder (he stole it from one of the assassins), a GA-2 mini grenade and a Chiraktis stink bomb.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Character Profile (part 2)

Today's character profile is the Krissethi sniper from team Novaburn, Kushan Sarukth. Kushan went to a planet on a hunting expedition with his three brothers, but met with disaster when a predator caught and began mauling his brothers. Kushan tried killing it from his sniping perch, but the creature wouldn't go down, so he used his three remaining bullets to end his brothers' suffering. After Kushan returned home to explain the tragedy, his father immediately flew him back to the planet, insisting he should never let a target escape alive, especially one that had killed a fellow hunter. His father told him to kill the creature or die trying. Kushan did finally track it down, and realized he had already wounded it so severely that he probably could have killed it with the bullets he had used on his brothers instead. Returning home, Kushan was hailed as a hero for killing the predator, but he felt deep shame and resolved to never turn his back on his team. This backstory is reflected in Kushan's talent choices, which include: Conceal Location, Keen Observer, and Patterned Timing. He carries with him an R-44 sniper rifle, a Krissethi dark laser pistol, a stealth blade, a bola, tear gas and a smoke grenades.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Character Profile (part 1)

This week I'll be looking at a few characters from the Novaburn Character Pack, starting with Cora Westfall, the human female on the team. Cora grew up on the frontier—a colony world that she longed to escape. During her time there, she learned to fire a gun at an early age, and also became quite skilled using her father's whip, though she has a scar on her neck to prove that she was not an immediate prodigy. She quickly learned that her beauty was both a curse and an advantage over others, and found that she could manipulate most men to get what she wanted. This backstory is reflected in Cora's talent choices, which include: Thrust Kick, Convincing Lie, and Dirty Fighting. She wears spiked boots, carries with her a defender revolver, and is ready to use her monofilament whip when things get up- close and serious. She also carries a G-pulse grenade to knock down her foes, in addition to a smoke grenade if she needs to make a quick escape when things aren't going her way.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Sci-Fi's Big Comeback (part 5)

A very influential factor in the success of sci-fi has been the large advance seen in movie-making technology. If you can imagine it, these days, it can be done with the right special-effects equipment and crew. We are seeing a new age in movie-making, where the limitless storytelling once thought only possible in novels is now being made a visual reality through special-effects on the big screen. Even independent movie shorts released on the internet have impressive quality, proving that the cheaper and more available effects technology becomes, the more the entire movie-making industry is propelled forward. Sci-fi TV series in recent years have far more impressive special effects and higher production values than big-budget sci-fi movies did only a couple decades ago. We are seeing a new age in sci-fi, where hi-quality digital films can be privately made, stored, and edited without the need for expensive, specialized editing equipment—we can do it all at home, on a single computer, and then put it online for anyone to see! Sci-fi is truly in a period of Renaissance!

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Sci-Fi's Big Comeback (part 4)

Another possible factor in the rise of sci-fi popularity is how it reflects contemporary society. Some of the sci-fi stories told in the 70's and 80's are now no longer fiction, so it is no wonder that we sometimes find ourselves intrigued by a sci-fi writer's vision of the future—maybe the author is right? Other reasons behind the genre's popularity surge include our fascination with technology, our concerns about the future, and a renewed interest in space travel and the universe beyond our own solar system. It is also notable that we are seeing the genre influence our reality—high-tech devices from sci-fi movies and TV shows have inspired people to create those very devices! Re-usable rockets performing vertical landings sounds like an idea conceived in a Jules Verne novel, but Space X has recently achieved this, bringing a visionary's idea into reality. Sci-fi is becoming a part of our every-day lives, and we are within reach of achieving commercial visits to space, or even a colony on Mars. These all seemed like impossibilities only a generation ago.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Sci-Fi's Big Comeback (part 3)

Reliance on CG special effects, as Ridley Scott observed, produced weak storylines, but directors have learned to supplement strong storylines with necessary effects rather than to try to write a story around the effects. I remember when I took a film class back in high school; I purchased my own steadicam for a hand-held camera, and my next movie was almost entirely filmed using long, smooth tracking shots. I over-used the device because I was so enamored with it, just like special effects in science fiction have over-saturated the genre and solid story-telling has, in the past, taken a back seat. In recent years, however, strong, compelling stories have drawn audiences that previously did not consider sci-fi as a worthwhile genre. Neil Blomkamp's “District 9” shattered many assumptions about sci-fi, and paved the way for other filmmakers wanting to make strong statements through the sci-fi genre.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Sci-Fi's Big Comeback (part 2)

With Disney's acquisition of George Lucas's LucasFilm Ltd., we are going to be seeing a lot more of the Star Wars universe in the future. With the new J.J. Abrams movie on the way in December, it's clear that Disney intends to bring the space opera to the forefront and to recapture the imaginations of this generation and those to follow. Hollywood obviously believes in sci-fi now, but what changed? When questioned about the recent trend in sci-fi, Screenwriter Alex Garland stated, “[The sci-fi genre] pushes itself.” Perhaps this answer best describes the explosion of the appreciation for a genre once considered a risk and a joke. Filmmakers are challenging themselves and taking risks with new ideas, inspired by the success of other films. The overall quality of storytelling is improving as well, especially now that we're all far less impressed with CG than we were back with the first Jurassic Park or Terminator 2. Those movies were both well-done, and both had interesting story-lines and well-developed characters. However, as CG special effects became more affordable and easier to do over the years, they very nearly destroyed the sci-fi genre itself...

Monday, December 7, 2015

Sci-Fi's Big Comeback (part 1)

Less than a decade ago, the director of Blade Runner and Alien, Ridley Scott, said “sci-fi films are as dead as westerns.” However, in recent years, many of Hollywood's top-earning films have been science fiction. Sci-fi TV watchers have also been growing in number, with 41.4 million in 2008 and 47.58 million in 2013. When sci-fi used to be a niche audience, movies like Star Wars, E.T., and the Matrix proved that there were big profits to be made through this genre. But it wasn't until the last decade that sci-fi blockbusters began to outnumber other genres. Movies like The Hunger Games, Transformers, Independence Day, Avatar, and the recent Jurassic World each grossed at least $300 million, some of them (Avatar and Jurassic World) more than doubling that amount! Yet Ridley Scott was so convinced that science fiction is dead, saying, "There's nothing original. We've seen it all before. Been there. Done it.” He also claimed that, “There is an overreliance on special effects as well as weak storylines.” Why do you think sci-fi has become so successful lately? This week, we'll consider that question...

Friday, December 4, 2015

Chessiecon Battle Reports (part 5)

There are many other stories across the 4 missions that were played this weekend, so I'll share just a few other highlights. One character decided to work on making her own doorway (in two different places) using her energy blade to cut through an apartment wall. An Erwani character managed to stay out of harms way behind cover while taking out several enemies with her cyberweapon—a remote sentry drone. After seeing them used against the team, one character later purchased a canister of razor nanites, using them to great effect against enemies in the next mission. A Krissethi character succeeded at a persuasion check to intimidate with a single die roll of a 6 (with no skill ranks) when the other characters with skill ranks in persuasion failed. One character used his cybertech skills to jam the sensors of a smuggler's starship while another was able to fly in their blind spot, allowing for a stealthy boarding procedure. An Erwani used her remote Disarming Orb to not only magnetically suck a shotgun out of an enemy's hands, but also used it to deliver a weapon to a distant team member. A player used a helpful NPC to throw a bola and entangle the spinning treads of a threatening robot, knocking it prone. There were many, many more notable moments this weekend—if you were there at Chessiecon and remember a favorite moment, please mention it here!

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Chessiecon Battle Reports (part 4)

In a different scenario (a mission called “The Seeds of Chaos”), other players were on a mission to discover the reason behind a robot rampage at a shopping mall. The team quickly dispatched the first few robots, but when they faced two at once, things became much more serious. One of the robots—a malfunctioning maintenance drone--sprayed the team with oil. The three team members that were covered with oil had to make athletics checks each time they tried to move, often failing the checks and slipping to fall prone. Meanwhile, one of the characters noticed the robot was lighting up a welding torch. They panicked, and frantically tried to get out of the oil puddle. Even though they managed to escape the puddle, the trail of oil left by their movements caught fire as well, and two of the three oil-covered characters caught fire. The third managed to jump, ending the oil trail to escape the raging fire. If not for the assistance of other team members, the two burning characters might not have survived! Thankfully, a nearby mall fountain provided enough water to help douse the fire, and the team was able to eventually destroy the deadly robots.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Chessiecon Battle Reports (part 3)

Two of the smuggler gang managed to get into a skimcar that was not yet damaged, and as they prepared to escape, one of the team threw an EMP flash grenade into the cab of the car through a broken windshield. The grenade landed in the passenger's lap and exploded, seriously injuring the driver and knocking the passenger unconscious. The driver, however, still managed to drive away, despite being wounded and driving the now-damaged vehicle. It took a little longer for the team to chase after him, though, as they worked on apprehending one of targets while they tied up the others. A few moments later, the team got into one of the damaged cars and tried to catch up, but they had lost sight of the skimcar. Using the resourcefulness skill, they managed to get online remotely and access satellite information to find out where the skimcar was, and by using traffic reports and shortcuts, the team caught up with the desperate smuggler. Impressively, though, the team's driver decided to avoid using weapons to avoid injuring civilians in the surrounding traffic, until his team managed to pull in close to the smuggler's vehicle. It wasn't long before the team had sufficiently damaged his engine by gunfire, and the smuggler was easily captured after his skimcar came to a crashing halt!

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Chessiecon Battle Reports (part 2)

After destroying the security robot, the team realized that they no longer had the element of surprise against the smugglers meeting inside the warehouse. So, they piled into their squad car and drove up to the large, steel garage door and fired the mounted rotary canon on their vehicle. The door was weakened and full of bullet-holes, so the team then proceeded to ram their squad car through the door. They successfully broke through, but were surprised when they rammed into the cars inside that were parked, just beyond the door. They were also surprised by the smugglers, who had all taken cover positions behind crates in the warehouse and aimed at the door. The smugglers fired at the UG team and shot the front passengers through the windows of their squad car, nearly killing both of them. The team members in the back seat jumped out of the car and ran for cover on either side of the broken garage door, and a firefight ensued. Thankfully, the team was able to survive this encounter, and they inadvertently wrecked two of the three cars with their ramming stunt, but the battle didn't end there...