Friday, February 27, 2009

X Saves the World

Heard author Jeff Gordinier read from his book "X Saves the World" last night at the University of Pennsylvania.
I'm not one to gush, but this amazing book changed the way I view my world. For years, I've wondered why I felt so out of place and alienated from people younger and older than myself. I felt trapped in my job and my life, bothered by this nagging urge to escape. After reading Gordinier's book, it was as if someone threw a switch and everything started making sense.
My generation has been uncomfortable with admitting they are a generation. For the people born between 1965 and 1980, our early lives were defined by coming of age in the 1980s and the pop culture that surrounded us. Our Baby Boomer parents believed they were the generation that changed everything, that made the largest social impact and advanced America politically and culturally. They embodied this free-wheeling, free-spirit zeitgeist of the 1960s, of "power to the people" which inevitably gave way to the 1980s ethos "the one who dies with the most toys wins."
Generation X rejected the Baby Boomer's selfish groupthink and turned inward toward self-reflection and even self-loathing. There were no leaders of Generation X, no dynamic movements or force to get behind. All we had was a distrust of authority, corporations and the media.
Gordinier's book examines not only the ridiculousness of the Baby Boomer, but of the generation that came after Generation X: the Millennials, who are infused with technology and a sense of mandatory conformism that would make any Xer cringe.
If the Baby Boomers are the past, stubbornly clinging on to the limelight, the Millennials are the Baby Boomer's second act; a generation of texting, bubblegum pop-listening consumers gladly paying money for the right brand of jeans and the hottest and latest thing.
Such things bother the stoic Gen Xers, who incline towards the cynical and satirical. X Saves the World explores the Xer culture of the 1990s, from Nirvana's breakthrough album "Nevermind", to the films "Slacker", "Pulp Fiction" and "Office Space", and why we're the last generation to think creating art and doing what we want is preferable to just making money and amassing status symbols.
Yet Gen Xers, for all their talk of being ignored, have revolutionized media, from the creation of Google and YouTube, to the satirical newspaper The Onion, to comedians John Stewart and Stephen Colbert. Unlike the Boomers, whose revolutions were highly-publicized media events and rallies where everyone could partake, the Gen Xers, very quietly and without fanfare, constructed their own stealth revolution against stupidity and conformity.
It was very fun reading and Q&A session, where Gordinier answered questions and explained the ideas in the book.

Saturday, February 21, 2009


My favorite local game/comic shop now carries Brawndo - The Thirst Mutilator, a product tie-in from the 2006 movie Idiocracy. For those who don't know, Idiocracy is from Mike Judge, the fertile mind of Beavis and Butt-head and King of the Hill. The satirical dark comedy depicts life in a future America where everyone has devolved into stupidity. Ruled by corporations, the entire society spends its time consuming, having sex or watching TV. So it's kind of like southern New Jersey.
One of the key products is an energy drink called Brawndo - The Thirst Mutilator, which the population both drinks and uses to water their plants.
The real Brawndo is a carbonated, sickening sweet green liquid. The first week the all of the cans in the store sold out.
Behold the power of movie generated product tie-ins!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Lost Oasis

The first published adventure for Ravaged Earth was released on today - Amazing Exploits #1: Quest for the Lost Oasis.

Here's the official ad copy:

Amazing Exploits is Reality Blurs' brand new adventure line for Ravaged Earth!

Within the pages of Quest for the Lost Oasis, your heroes will journey through the desert sands in their quest for the mythical City of Birds. This adventure includes 6 brand new archetypes fully detailed and illustrated, ranging from the Bedouin Nomad to the Daredevil Playboy, so your group can jump in immediately. All you need is your copy of Ravaged Earth, Savage Worlds, and your gang for play.

My fedora is off to Reality Blurs for the excellent job on this one. Adam Shaw's artwork was excellent, Sean Preston's layout crisp and the color cover extremely evocative.
From the design standpoint, it was fun to write and research. I read about the fabled lost oasis of Zerzura when I researched Cairo. Many nobles, military men and explorers searched for Zerzura in the 1920s and 1930s, lured by fanciful tales of treasure and beautiful whitewashed buildings. It wasn't until the novel The English Patient that Zerzura was resurrected again.
Now I'm a journalist by trade, so I'm no stranger to research. With all of my adventures, I conduct intensive background research into the subject I'm going to write about, even if it's a paper and pencil game. I believe if you give players a meaty story, they'll feel part of the world and immerse themselves in it. With Quest for the Lost Oasis, I made the hunt for Zerzura and the search for real-life explorer Laszlo Almasy the central goal. Along the way, the heroes meet a grizzled British renegade, Bedouin nomads, Fascist Italian soldiers and undead guardians.
Plotting adventures is the toughest part in the design process. You start with all of this rich historic research but need to fit it in the appropriate places and give the players enough action sequences and combats to let them shine. It's a tough balancing act to pull off but when you do, it works. I've been on game design panels at conventions and the one thing the industry panelists tell you is never lead characters by the hand. Quest for the Lost Oasis works as an adventure because the heroes are traveling to a location. They're in control of their own destinies. It's up to them to find Zerzura and uncover its secrets.
Reality Blurs will release additional Amazing Exploits for Ravaged Earth. The second Amazing Exploits got a green light this week with permission to make it slightly longer than Quest for the Lost Oasis. I can't reveal what it will be, but it's one adventure I've been chomping at the bit to write for years, and I'll finally get the chance.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

High School Reunion version 1.5

Had a second get-together with friends from high school, this time at PJ Whelihan's Pub in Cherry Hill. It was really great seeing everyone again. Last year's 20th reunion was such a blast that we decided to do it again, albeit on a smaller scale. Beer was imbibed, recollections exchanged and good times had. I can't believe it's been over 20 years since we were thrown together, surviving high school one class at a time. I know this sounds hackneyed and trite, but those were truly the best days of my life. Say what you want about the 1980s - for me it was teen angst mingled with free-wheeling, carefree fun, with some inappropriate sexual innuendoes thrown in at lunchtime.
I hope we'll have more of these mini reunions in the future. I enjoy talking to my classmates and discovering what they've been up to.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Leave Phelps Alone

Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps was photographed smoking a bong.
Really, who cares?
Of course there's the outrage and hang-wringing and teeth-gnashing and the pathetic gurgling from upset housefraus who worry that America's golden boy went bad and that the hero of the Beijing Olympics has fallen.
Phelps apologized through a statement: "I engaged in behavior which was regrettable and demonstrated bad judgment. I'm 23 years old and despite the success I've had in the pool, I acted in a youthful and inappropriate way, not in a manner people have come to expect from me. For this, I am sorry. I promise my fans and the public it will not happen again."
Mike, chill out. It's not our fault and you shouldn't be apologizing. It was just marijuana. It wasn't like you were snorting cocaine off Boy George's butt crack. There's nothing wrong with smoking a little marijuana. Hell, the Beatles did it and if the wacky weed is good enough for the group that released "A Day in the Life," then it's good enough for you.
What I don't get is this need to apologize for being photographed with a bong in your hand. It's better than being photographed with a horse's cock in your hand. I mean, seriously. What's the big deal?
You're 23, Mike. That's what 23 year olds do. They experiment. They kick back and have fun. Just because you're an Olympic phenomenon and championship athlete with enough product endorsements to choke an elephant, does that mean you stop acting your age? Does it mean you transform into this corporate automaton who avoids pleasure and smiles for the cameras like a well-groomed mannequin?
Why are successful athletes compelled to discard the shackles of mortality and become living gods, impervious to mistakes or the whims of human cravings? And why does the public demand athletes act this way, calling them heroes and champions and role-models? It's like designing a false prophet and propping them up because you need something to believe in.
Why do we idolize athletes or really anybody, including actors and celebrities? And why isn't the public forgiving when these plastic heroes fall from grace?
I wish things had been different for Michael Phelps. I wished he was photographed smoking an even bigger bong and banging Tila Tequila, Lindsay Lohan and her lesbian girlfriend. That'll show those puritanical reactionaries who inflate someone up to hero status and then vivisect them when something goes awry.
Phelps should capitalize on this latest incident. The photo on the box of Wheaties depicting Phelps with the bong might be a start. Maybe he can teach a generation of squeaky clean Millenniums who grew up with Barney the Dinosaur and conservative conformist attitudes to discover the miracle of marijuana. Maybe the kids won't be so cheery and lame if they're lying on a beanbag chair, baked out of their minds and listening to Pink Floyd's "Dark Side of the Moon."
Maybe they'll experience new vistas, new perceptions.
One can only hope that hysterical Americans move on to another plastic hero and leave Mike Phelps alone to wallow in the self-generated pity party caused by his inability to act in a rigid, gloomy fashion that his corporate masters demand of him.