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Same as usual, lots of weird-ass games - Many a mickle maks a muckle

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December 19th, 2002


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05:46 am - Same as usual, lots of weird-ass games
Watched a Lord of the Rings movie tonight. No, not The Two Towers - the family hired the video of Fellowship of the Ring as a reminder of the plot of the first one, specifically the elf-related departures from the books, before going to see The Two Towers at the cinema at some point in the near future - tomorrow afternoon, while the kids are still at school, if tickets remain available. Very different experience watching it on the small screen and it lost more of its appeal than I thought it would. Still, it should mean that we hit the ground running for The Two Towers.

The movie did make me idly consider what it would be like to have a mullet as a haircut, which is a thought that I can't recall crossing my mind before and which I suspect may never seriously cross my mind again. I suspect that long hair tends to suit those with straight hair rather better than those with naturally curly hair. Advice from hair gurus welcome.

From fascinating fantasy to failing fantasy. The length of discourse concerning Raven is decreasing day by day as the show gets less and less interesting, which is probably about right. Today was "games on Deep Loch" day. Game one: a swimming race which inspired the first fast-forward of the series. Contestants were wearing wetsuits, sensibly enough, and I suspect flotation devices may also have been involved. Today's second game: step along the floating polystyrene stepping stones without falling in before jumping through a golden ring at the end. (The twist was that there were two possible routes: one had five stones, close to each other; the other had three stones, far apart. Everyone picked the five-close-stones option, so we couldn't judge the two routes' relative difficulty.)

Game three: a return to yesterday's spell-out-the-letters-to-the-riddle-answer game, but with a couple of extra lines of riddle supplied. The new lines of riddle seemed fairly spurious to me, but impressively a contestant managed to figure it out and there was quite a nice, uplifting little chord progression as the player spelt out the correct answer. (The interesting thing here is that this game might be solved the first time it's played or it might remain unsolved for several days, which would seem to imply some flexibility in the format. We shall see what happens tomorrow, er, tomorrow.) Game four: oddly enough, it's The Way Of The Warrior. The contestant who was in clear last place tried, failed (knocked off by the shields) and was eliminated through having fewest lives left.

It's becoming very clear that the show is on a terribly tight budget. Most costs in making a TV show can be attributed to either equipment or labour; the low spend on equipment is evident and the credits list only includes 21 names, which is on the low side. (By comparison, the very nicely-produced new version of Treasure Hunt credits 41 people and three companies, though that's a show where expense is seldom spared.) Low-budget shows aren't necessarily bad, but they need to make up the shortfall with good ideas, where this show is again on a tight budget. The parlour pastime of "devising games for The Crystal Maze" may well have found its new incarnation here, irrespective of whether Raven ever earns a second series or not. (Can't see any particularly good reasons why it should, but maybe it's a stealth hit with the kids which I haven't heard about.)

Your comments about day two were very interesting. The theme of the show is causing problems. Piecing together what we know, nominally, the Raven has called the young warriors together for a tournament where the champion will be rewarded with their heart's desire - actual prize details not specified, but I'm secretly hoping it turns out to be something wildly extemperaneous like a portable DVD player. This gives the Raven a free hand to test whatever skills he decides he wants to test. There are lots of spurious mentions of attributes desirable for a warrior, so we can discern a rites-of-passage earning-your-spurs theme. I suppose thoughts of further challenges might consider the sorts of pre-basic-training escapades that typical fantasy soldiers might encourage their children to participate in, but I fear that thoughts along those lines are unlikely to generate examples which might be considered virtuous behaviour.

(Incidentally, Raven drinking game coming soon, especially if it looks like watching the show inebriated would stave off the tedium.)

Now, as far as I know, nobody has yet tried to do a similar sort of rites-of-passage show where contestants are hypothetically aspiring to be wizards rather than warriors. Lest we forget, Knightmare was originally themed around "earning your spurs" by way of retrieving the cup etc. I fear it might be a difficult theme to sell because thoughts of encouraging kids to do magic are unlikely to go down well in a Christian country. Alternatively, I don't suppose going down the old D&D route of "trainee clerics" or "trainee druids" instead of "trainee wizards" would be any more palatable. On the other hand, we haven't had sufficiently serious complaints about "encouraging the occult" with Harry Potter and there have been a few other similar "wizard school"-type dramas over the years (the rather nasty cartoon rip-off UBOS - Ultimate Book Of Spells, plus the The Worst Witch franchise and so forth) and I don't think the basic concept is completely unsaleable for British TV - or is the difference between "characters in a drama" and "ordinary kids playing a game show" too large?

The pertinent question would be whether it would be more interesting to watch kids do the sorts of things that they might do in a "wizard school" scenario than it is to watch them do the sorts of things that they might do in a "warrior school" scenario. Potentially, it could be. One very major obstacle though is that magic generally doesn't need to follow the laws of science and common sense, which makes the cause-and-effect in the show very hard to establish - and shows which don't have a well-defined principle of "cause and effect" tend to be confusing rather than interesting viewing.

Quick example: potions class with a grouchy teacher (host) whose name might coincidentally happen to have similarities to the word "snake". The teacher barks out a complicated potion recipe and we watch the students follow it. The students then give the potions they have concocted to a fellow student (housemate, effectively a teammate) to try. If they have brewed it correctly then the desired effect occurs; if they have brewed it incorrectly then we apply miscellaneous special effect #47 to said teammate (I dunno, graphically shrink their head to one-tenth its normal size or something). Would it be possible to convey the concept of "the potionmaker did this error which is why the potion didn't work" to an audience of young children, to an audience who have much emotional and rational development to do, to a deaf audience or to a blind audience? I'm not sure. Yet there is so much adventure and misadventure, so much malarky, so much - well - jiggery-pokery that the students might get up to in such a setting that the concept has got a lot of possibilities.

I dunno. Perhaps this might not turn out to be a real game show, but a piece of fan fiction instead. There's something to it, though.

Let's change the subject. There was a really fascinating poll - at least, fascinating if you're me - about British people's sporting support preferences recently. In short British people care about their athletes doing well much more than any other sport. Football comes second, swimming third, rugby eighth, cricket ninth. Motor racing doesn't make the top ten. Wow.

Definitely not what I would have expected at all. I'd have thought that football would be clear #1. Even though many people have strong club loyalty, I'd have thought that they'd all get behind the En-ger-land (or Scot-er, er-land, etc.) football team for internationals, and the TV audiences bear this out. (It's not as strongly the case as you'd expect, though. I know one scouser who supports Liverpool so devotedly and scientifically that when England played Germany he shouted for Germany on the grounds that their team had more Liverpool players than England's team did.) Perhaps it means that cricket and rugby really are quite small sports in modern-day Britain after all and the sports pages shouldn't be so upset about how badly our teams do. (Or, conversely, take so much pride in the England rugby team's current hot streak.)

Now the survey makes it clear that it was conducted not long after the Commonwealth Games, which will have biased things. It's interesting to see swimming and gymnastics so high on the list; hopefully it's not too simplistic to declare that to be the influence of the women responding to the poll, to point out that women can be sports fans too and that their sporting opinions and sporting fandom counts just as much as the men's. However, I perceive that the ordering would be rather different in terms of which sports fandoms have most time, effort and money spent on them. It's a crude question, but suppose England can do well in either cricket or swimming but not both. If England do well at cricket, then 10% of the male population will be deliriously happy and the rest of the country roughly neutral. If England do well at swimming, then 5% of the male population and 25% of the female population will be reasonably pleased, the rest of the country roughly neutral. If you had the choice as to which of the two situations to implement, which would you choose?

The government has an organisation called uk sport to consider such issues, not least with thoughts of distribution of funding in mind. It was they who commissioned the survey; you can see their page of conclusions on it, or, much better still, the report itself (PDF, about half a megabyte). Some fascinating graphs, not least the ones which identify trends among which sports are highest-performing with certain groups of people. For instance, far more young than old care about success in basketball and motor sport; far more old than young care about success in golf, modern pentathlon and trampolining. The professionals and managers (yer ABC1s in adspeak - rich folk) care much more than the rest (yer plebiscite) about sailing, trampolining, golf, rowing and motor sport, whereas the C2DEs care much more than the ABC1s about wrestling, weight lifting, judo and - er - archery. All this assumes that you think the ABC1/C2DE distinction is a useful one, which is another flame war in itself. (Other shock conclusions include that women care about equestrianism more than men, the Welsh care about rugby and that it's only really the English who care about cricket. I perceive an absence of excreta, Sherlock.)

The most worrying sign is that people were shown the UK's performances in the medals table at the last three Olympics: 12th in Barcelona '92, 36th in Atlanta '96 and 10th in Sydney '00. (Pipe down, ye smug Americans.) 25% of punters then "reasonably expect" the GB and NI team to come in the top five of Athens '04, 68% at least the top ten and 87% at least the top fifteen - with the "don't know"s outnumbering the "do know, but outside the top 15"s by 11% to 2%. Oh dear. I fear considerable national disappointment in two years' time.

A really interesting report - well, I thought so - not least because it has some good data from past iterations of the survey to compare against. The question "Which sports' top athletes do you think lottery funding should most be directed towards?" shows some interesting shifts over time; swimming is a big gainer, tennis and football the big losers - the survey points out the public may perceive that they have enough money in them already. Alas, the concept of the National Lottery funding chessplayers did not seem to trouble the scorer.

Fuzzy Heroes does what it says in the name. Imagine, if you will, the classic miniature lead soldiers war game but replace the miniature lead soldiers with soft toys. FH is a sourcebook about deducing your toys' stats from their physical attributes, working out some combat rules and so forth. It's quite as light-hearted as it sounds. Whisper it, but the combat system it produces is not all that interesting - unless your scenario is very cleverly constructed, the battles within have a tendency to be all-pile-on heaps in the centre of your gameboard.

The Middlesbrough Gamers Club, while mostly featuring collectible card games, has most of its members having at least passing familiarity with Games Workshop's Warhammer range. For at least three Christmases, we've run a big Fuzzy Heroes battle instead of the serious miniature war games instead. This year we had 35 cuddly toys and very nearly 35 players, average age about 14. I am shaking my head, because it was just as much carnage as it sounds. I co-ran the game - effectively teaching the players how to resolve combats themselves, working out initiative and just trying to keep some general sort of order about whose turn it was to move next. Last year, after the game, I said "Next year, we're running two separate smaller games of this". This year, I said the same thing again and this time I mean it. With 30+ players, we managed to get through six whole rounds in about 90-120 minutes. Young kids never take too well to waiting 15-30 minutes between turns; as many of the toys left the combat through their owners getting bored as they did from running out of energy points and, ahem, falling asleep. Naturally, no toy ever dies in Fuzzy Heroes.

It can't have been a total disaster, though, as people always sort of look forward to it as a bit of Christmas-party surreality. One of the kids even came up to me at the end of the game and said that we should do a Fuzzy Heroes campaign, with characters going up levels and getting more powerful and so forth. Effectively, we should live-action role-play our cuddly toys live-action role-playing. If you wanted to get reeeeeaaaaallly into this and if you had a fantastic collection of soft toys then you could probably do something pretty damn spectacular here; the "Fuzzy Sooper Heroes" rules supplement adds chivalry and superheroics, turning it into a campaign-based role-playing system. What might be fun - albeit borderline racist fun - would be to have the cuddly toys on one side and the lead miniatures on the other as inherently evil forces of sharp metallic non-fuzziness, but unfortunately there are some serious scale mismatches involved unless we're prepared to have even a tiny teddy being Godzilla.

This is the point at which I start to have serious concerns about overidentification and taking the game too seriously, particularly at the age and maturity of most of the players. When your PC gets dismembered in a RPG, it's all part of the game, but when someone to whom you cuddle up every night fails you then that's something a little different. (Even the prospect of your favourite little teddy bear facing a big plush dragon with horns and spiky teeth might well get a bit scary, to say nothing of the legion of cuddly Cthulhu, including what is apparently a "Cthulhu Woobie". Riiiiight.) Definitely requires a certain sort of headspace and attitude. Perhaps I ought to tell him "Good idea, you run the game and I'll play in it..."

I do enjoy Fuzzy Heroes, but more for the concept and for thinking about what might be possible and how off-the-wall an idea it is than for the game itself. I normally get to play the game (as opposed to GM'ing it) once a year at the ManorCon games convention. This year, the GM changed it from a "beat everyone else up" game into a "push everyone else off the board" game, more akin to the Royal Rumble than anything else. It worked quite well, considering.

No, I am not interested in considering a Fuzzy Heroes/Harry Potter/Raven crossover. That would be silly.
Current Mood: tiredtired
Current Music: video game remix mp3s (some of them were jazz, eek!)

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Comments:


[User Picture]
From:huskyteer
Date:December 19th, 2002 01:27 pm (UTC)

Fuzzy Heroes

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I have a three-foot plush Simba. Think what he could wreak on the gameboard!
[User Picture]
From:jiggery_pokery
Date:December 19th, 2002 01:37 pm (UTC)

Re: Fuzzy Heroes

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The game was designed with toys about 4"-2' tall in mind (everything over about 2' tall gets pretty generic) but I don't suppose it would be impossible to fiddle about with things and do a game at, what, something like 1:3 or 1:4 scale. (For instance, my largest panda is about 2'6", 2'9" or thereabouts, and we had a big soft brown teddy taking part on Tuesday which came in at a little over that height. The misbehaving blighter would hardly sit up.)

It would probably be more interesting to have a much larger gameboard for the much larger creatures, that's all. Even two such large creatures on an 8'x4' board, let alone a 6'x3' bed, is starting to resemble a fist-fight in a telephone box. There's also a logistical problem in that it's easy to carry small toys around, but large ones necessitate cars and things like that.

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