Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 came out last week, and it was fantastic! I waited eight days to post this, hoping that most people who visit this blog would have already seen the movie by now. If you haven’t, don’t worry: there be no spoilers here!
If you’re one of those people who thought it didn’t live up to the hype, let me ask you: what could have? GotG v1 was so good, how could anything that follows it live up to the expectations that followed? But I argue that Vol. 2 did live up to the hype, and here are my 5 spoiler-free reasons why:
#5: Expanding the MCU
I won’t go into specifics, but the Guardians franchise are setting up the cosmic cast of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) quite well. There were a few after credits scenes that I’m looking forward to seeing fleshed out after Infinity War wraps up.
#4: The Jokes
If you thought GotG v1 was funny, you might die from laughing at v2 (or walk away with abs, for sure). The movie was wall-to-wall jokes, and none of them fell flat. James Gunn is proving himself a director who knows comedy.
#3: The Stakes
Last time, the Guardians protected a planet from a would-be destroyer, who also had his sights on the rest of the galaxy –– but anything beyond Nova wasn’t an imminent threat. In v2, the threat is most imminent and almost destroys the galaxy in one fell swoop. If the Guardians weren’t there, Earth, and the rest of the Milky Way, would have died out in 2014 (the year the movie takes place). The stakes are definitely high!
#2: The Drama
The “family” of Guardians carry on their misfit nature right from the beginning. They seem to be holding together by a thread, yet show the kind of compassion that only a true family shows. And there’s plenty of conflict among them. They haven’t changed the team dynamic from v1, which is probably the best move they could have made.
#1: Relatable Heroes
Before Guardians, I was getting bored with the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Some of the characters in the greater MCU have become just a bit too dark for my tastes –– and, personally, I’m done with hero vs. hero scenes. Guardians not only knocks it out of the park with the morally questionable villains that feel like they’ve got real reasons for doing what they do, but the heroes…the heroes!
I’ve never seen such a collection of heroes that relate to the common person as well as the Guardians do. Star Lord is my spirit animal, growing up without a father and dreaming up the awesome men that father could be (I also relate to the superhuman charisma he’s got, but you knew that already). But beyond my personal experience, parental abuse, autism…this movie makes misfits like all of us Terrans feel like we could be Guardians of the freaking galaxy!
Those of you who follow me on social media know that I’ve been working with Paul Mitchener to create the Perpetual Motion Engine gaming system. And The Age of Anarchy is the setting we’ve chosen to release the game.
What is The Perpetual Motion Engine?
PME is a labor of love that has been underway for several years now. If you’ve read my blog for awhile, you know I love to tinker with gaming systems. That’s because what I want to play (what I really want to play) isn’t out there.
I didn’t make a game that was like the games I enjoy playing. I created the game I want to play because it doesn’t exist yet.
Here are the high points:
Consequence-based: Winning or losing ignites the story by forcing a relevant consequence (win and get what you want, lose and something bad happens).
GM Rolling is Optional: You can play it like Numenera or Apocalypse World, or you can have the GM roll. The rules for each are baked right into the system.
Rolling is Simple: 2d6 or 1d6 + your modifier. That’s it. That’s all you need.
Damage is Numerical: Consequences are not aspects, as they are in Fate Core. They are story occurrences, which could mean a dishing out of numerical damage.
The PCs are Heroes, but Not The Heroes: This one is big, so I’ll delve into it a bit further in the next section.
If the PCs are not the heroes, then who is? The Patron, that’s who.
In PME, a Patron can be a cause, a person, an organization…pretty much anything a group of player characters can devote themselves to. And that’s the goal: to see your Patron’s goal realized. So the PCs are the heroes, the Patron’s heroes.
A business can’t build itself. A city can’t save itself from supervillains. A cause needs activists to spread the word. And an impoverished noble can’t rise to greater power without loyal followers.
The Patron-based part of PME is truly my favorite. It opens up so many options for gameplay.
GM’s don’t have to convince players to get involved in an adventure; the Patron has a need, and the PCs were created to help.
When a player character “dies,” the GM can decide that the Patron takes a hit to their status instead (or the player can choose to martyr their character for the Patron’s good).
And, best of all, the entire table creates the Patron and decides their Issues. And when it’s time to take on a new mission for the Patron, the players decide which Issue they want to solve for their Patron (usually, it’s the one that’s about to become a consequence for the Patron, but it doesn’t have to be).
PME is truly a shared storytelling experience, but with rules (though not a lot of them).
Enter the Age of Anarchy
So why Norman England? Because when I brought the idea of a Patron mechanic to Paul Mitchener, he said that historical RPGs are not as prevalent as they should be and that The Anarchy is uniquely set for us to explore building a noble lord or lady with the Patron mechanic.
If you want to know more about The Age of Anarchy game specifically, check out our Kickstarter. Supporting that will allow me to create a wider variety of games with PME (I can’t wait to bring it to a superhero setting).
Have you already read the draft of Age of Anarchy? What did you think?
Believe it or not, and probably unlike others in this industry, game design wasn’t my first choice for creative outlets; I sort of fell into it. In fact, it wasn’t even on the radar until a few months before I launched the Jadepunk Kickstarter. And after that Kickstarter happened, I fell into the gaming industry…hard.
I’ve always been a game hacker, whether it was Mutants and Masterminds, GURPS, or Fate Core; whatever I’m playing tends to get a warped around my preferences. The reason is simple: no one was making the games I wanted to play.
What I Actually Wanted to Do
This can be found on the Fate website somewhere, but I only looked into game design to find someone to make a game based on my fiction. I didn’t think I was capable of making a game because the task seemed so…professional (I had no idea that indie games even existed back in 2012).
What I’ve always wanted to do, since I was 10, was be the next Marvel Studios. My first love is comic book writing. But when Marvel and DC closed their open submissions back in ’09, I felt like I needed a different route to break into comics. Maybe if I published a novel, which must be easier than breaking into the Big 2 (yeah, right!), then I could have my agent pitch me to Marvel. But then I got hold of self-publishing, moved down that route, and overplanned the release of a book that didn’t even exist yet (remember those posts about letting perfect be the enemy of great?).
I still had the plan on using books to break into comics even after the Fate Core Kickstarter, but then I impressed so many people with my Fate articles and Fate Core Star Wars implementation, that it just seemed like launching a Kickstarter for one of my fictional settings was the thing to do.
But then Jadepunk was so well received, and I was just slammed by thinking that this is what I do now. I’m a game designer. And really, that felt odd. I’m a helluva game hacker, but gaming theory…I took a game design 101 during my time at the Art Institute. But I’m a systems guy. All my life, I’ve taken martial arts systems apart, figured out how they worked in relation to their why, then put them back together, often with some pretty great results. For me, game design is another exercise in this process.
But, with all the self-reflection I’ve been doing in my most recent posts, I believe I have begun to pick myself up from my hard fall into this industry.
Gaming is a Part of What I Do
I’m not about to leave the industry behind. I have come to enjoy playing with systems and, the best part, interacting with other gamers that I would never have met were it not for my launching Jadepunk. But I think I know where gaming belongs in my life.
That post I made on settings vs. systems last week hinted at it, but I was exploring the concept for myself (you all just got to read along with my internal monolog). Releasing a systemless setting gives me the starting point for all kinds of things: system conversion documents, supplements to explore the fictional worlds, and (the best part for me) an ability to easily bridge out into all kinds of fiction (prose, scripts, even poems, if the muse descends). Sure, I could do that with a game/system combination, but then I would feel beholden to the fanbase of the system, kind of like how I’ve been with Jadepunk and the Fate community. But while Fate is bigger than Jadepunk, Jadepunk is also bigger than Fate. I’ve got more stories to tell with that setting and several others.
So I’m going to continue making games (especially those I’ve promised to continue producing for, like Jadepunk), but I’m going to be shifting a large part of my activities toward my true passion: fiction.
Have you ever “fallen” into something that you really enjoyed, but knew that it really should have been your side gig?
With the dozens upon dozens of ongoing monthly comic book titles that have been canceled in recent years, it’s a wonder why the Big 2 still pursue that as a business model for new titles (old titles have the staying power of time behind them, so they’re exempt from this rant).
Here’s my trouble with releasing an ongoing series before the market has been primed: it’s hype. Period. They want to hype something that’s going to “last forever, so get on it in issue #1.” It’s BS.
I get wanting to release a new title to expand your listing on Comixology (or bookstore shelves…if those still exist by the time you read this). But this practice demonstrates short-term thinking on the part of the executives and creative directors. “Get the numbers up this quarter, we’ll worry about next year when it comes around. Besides, we’ve got 14 big crossover events ready to launch between now and then, anyway. Ka-ching!”
N0w, you know me. I don’t like to complain about a problem unless I can provide a solution. Fortunately, I come from an era (the 90’s) that saw a fairly stable Big 2, while many other companies struggled to maintain ongoing titles beyond their flagships (like the Big 2 right now).
Embrace the Mini-Series
Remember those 3-9 issue story arcs that used to be used to test the viability of a new line? They’re still around, but the lines they produce don’t seem to have any staying power.
Here are a few titles that did it right.
That last one is of special note. Anyone remember Fathom when it first released?
At the time, it felt like Fathom broke the mold. A new series, from the late and great Michael Turner, that was never meant to be an ongoing series.
In fact, all of these were marketed as a limited series. You know what they all share? Damn compelling stories! Did they sell super well? I honestly have no idea. But that’s shallow thinking. Here’s why.
They Created Loyalty
There’s a saying in marketing that it’s better to go deep (long-term thinking) than wide (short-term thinking). The difference is in how you treat your customer. Deep thinking engages with them one-on-one (or as close to it as possible), recognizing that they (not your Wizard Mag. or Facebook CPM ads) are the ones who will grow your brand by talking about it. Wide thinking is the “get a billion people to see your Twitter post” marketing scams. Without the deep connection, the people looking are not going to convert long-term, they just want to see the immediate spectacle – and have been given no personal reason to stick around.
Here’s what those mini-series did:
When Marvel saw that Gambit was a hit with fans, this solidified their loyalty within the X-verse. People (like me) tuned into X-comics that heavily featured Gambit. But, he wasn’t as big a hit as Wolverine, and thus didn’t deserve an ongoing title. But his mini-series scratched an itch with fans (brand loyalty) and helped enrich and already slammin’ ongoing title (X-Men,Vol. 2).
Some people today fail to see Gambits appeal. But, let’s be honest, most of his more recent mini-series are pretty terrible in comparison to him taking on the Assassin’s Guild in New Orleans. (Maybe some of the new generation should look a little further back on Comixology to learn why Gambit is so beloved by so many. YMMV, though, as all of this is subjective.)
Personally, I credit Deadpool’s current popularity all the way back to this title. Before this title, he was a token ninja with a healing factor. He also wasn’t anywhere near as insane as he’s portrayed now. He was someone who couldn’t die, and so looked at life as something to laugh at. (I like both versions, really, but it’s important to note where he came from.)
After this mini-series, we started seeing more and more Deadpool in our comics, but it was still some time before he got his own ongoing title. But in that decade or so between, Marvel was building incredible brand loyalty for the character, starting with this mini-series.
The Fathom Lines
The first Fathom series (1-9) established a comic line, with multiple spin-offs, that is still going strong to this day (often in mini-series format). Hell, this one is potentially the best of the bunch because it launched an entire comics imprint (Aspen Comics), named for the main character of the Fathom comic.
And that brand allowed a truly incredible 4-part mini-series, Fathom: Dawn of War, to become a deserved hit. It’s my belief that Dawn of War wouldn’t have achieved the reception that it did if it wasn’t for Fathom‘s success. And Kiara, the star of Dawn of War, has gone on to lead multiple titles of her own since that time.
What Do You Think?
Should comics, and comic franchises in general (movies, TV, etc.), start being more responsible with how they market their comics? Should we see an “ongoing” series restart from the same title so many times (how many #1’s has Marvel put out this year)?
In fact, should the TV properties do the same? Agents of SHIELD, The Flash, Arrow, and Supergirl are all going pretty strong (deserved of the “ongoing” title). But while Daredevil was groundbreaking, the second season was less so – it felt to me like two mini-series (Punisher’s origin and Elektra’s origin; awesome as they were) smashed together. I would have preferred to have them as their own standalone mini-series shows (with Daredevil co-starring). This one is less cut and dry, however, as a movie could be seen as a “mini-series” of a kind, and Netflix is a more complicated animal than comics and appointment TV.
Anyway, I’ve beat this horse enough. What are your thoughts on the matter?
There are a lot of cool gaming mechanics out there. I mean, a lot! But many games (like Jadepunk, admittedly) were built on the complicated rubrics of other games. This overcomplication, I believe, has resulted in the kind of mechanical bloat that we see in some big name games that require 500 pages, or multiple books, to cover it all. I think it’s time to get back to basics.
In my anecdotal experience, I’ve seen games spring from two places: tabletop wargaming and group storytelling. I’m not going to go into the “story vs. simulation” argument because I think nothing could be more pointless than to argue over how we define fun.
My Perfect Game
Subjective as hell, I know.
As I grow older, and find that I enjoy differentiating between spinning a good yarn and playing some HeroClix, my RPG tendencies lean toward any game that doesn’t require a grid or other tabletop implement – give me character sheets and dice, and I’m good to go. Going “back to basics” means (to me) to head back to a bunch of people getting together to tell a story; but when I (Captain America) decides that a fellow player (Iron Man) needs to have his armor knocked off his face, the other player may not like that, and we need to figure out who gets what. Enter mechanics.
The absolute basic mechanic (and I would argue that this is true even in wargaming) is this 20 word game design:
Player tells the table what they want. GM tells the table what they want. Highest roller gets what they want.
Imagine we’re telling a story and I, as Cap’s player, say that I punch Iron Man’s, your character, lights out. You’d be like No! My armor…is crap compared to my vibranium shield, I retort. Who’s right? Roll your armor against my shield and let’s settle this once and for all.
But that means the armor and the shield need stats; I hear you saying. I answer with am emphatic YES. Give them stats.
And my fighting ability? Sure. Throw that in there. Oh, but now we have two stats, how do they stack? See how this complication thing works? From dice to item stats to skills…next we’ll be talking Cap’s enhanced attributes vs. Iron Man’s toughness and strength. It can be never-ending with this crap. And that’s so damn cool and so damn annoying.
Where Should the Complication End?
That’s as subjective as the kind of games you like to play. And I know that sounds sort of anti-climactic for someone who usually approaches this sort of thing with a voice of authority (which is totally fake, by the way), but that’s how it is.
Think of this as a manifesto of how I intend to approach my future designs: getting back to basics, which I define as the above 20 word game mechanic.
New Years is upon us, and that means resolutions. Most years, I wait until after Christmas to review the previous year and consider the trajectory of the next, but last night I found a six-year-old notebook. What was in it? Goals. But, more than that, goals that I have not yet achieved, still pursue, and shouldn’t take more than a season to reach. Talk about a lack of discipline.
And can you believe that the first line of the notebook said this:
Now, what was written after that was actually pretty correct: …you just have to do it. Discipline is built through action. The more you do something, the more disciplined you’ll become in keeping with the habit. The only secret to success in the pursuit of discipline is progressive overload (that’s a weightlifting term for starting small and slowly increasing the load until you are achieving epic lifts).
I could lie and say I didn’t know that six years ago, but starting small isn’t sexy enough; screw Steve Rogers or Bucky Barnes, I want to be Captain America today! So, naturally, this goal was something that didn’t get achieved…
I mean, it’s an ambitious (and ambiguous) goal, but it’s not like I didn’t spend most of my life in just that condition. I knew how to get back to it. Patience and discipline, neither of which I had.
One goal I did pursue, in fits and starts, is…
But the sustained effort required to make a living with my writing was not there. And in the last two years, especially, it’s been all over the place.
So what am I going to do about it in 2017?
I’m going to be patient; I’m going to be disciplined. I’m going to start small (yes, those are 5 lb. weights on the literary bar), and I’m going to be patient and keep thinking about the long game.
My goals for 2017 are to: get my business back on track (getting Jadepunk, Shadowcraft, and PME getting regular launch dates and my marketing infrastructure established), publish an Intrepid Story every quarter, hit my fitness and martial arts goals (which I won’t post here, because boring to read about if you’re not into that), and document my progress (if I’m successful, then a record of how I did it could be beneficial to others in the future).
Some of those goals require funding that I don’t currently have (but that I do have lined up in January), others require help that I need to procure, but most of them require that I get off my ass and start, but start small.
Intrepid City 0:1 JUSTICE By Ryan M. Danks Aaron Adams sprinted down the alley, police sirens at his back. He shifted the semi-automatic pistol into his left hand and pulled the door to the chop shop open. “C’mon,” Aaron called behind him. Mal’s breath came hard as he ran through the door. Inside the garage, he… Continue reading Intrepid Stories: Justice