Saturday, April 25, 2015

Penny Dreadful

Yesterday, I got my hands on the first season of “Penny Dreadful.” Today, I started watching the episodes and simply couldn’t stop until I had seen all eight of them. They were even better, because they didn’t feel or look like your average ‘turn of the century’ series done at the moment. There’s series like “Ripper Street” which are great on their own, but especially that one never really caught me. “Penny Dreadful” does a lot of things in a different way and that is what makes it so great.

Years ago, when “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” came out (the movie which put Sean Connery off acting), there was a good base to it, but the realisation was bad. The comic series it’s based on, also called “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” and done by Alan Moore, is a very good, very tight, and very well structured series. It introduces characters well. It gives the characters a good background and a believable set of traits. It makes the story run well and it takes its time. Which is precisely where the movie failed - badly. Fact is, if you want to bring together a group of characters from several novels (or other backgrounds), you need time to bring them all together. You can’t do a total of three or so minutes for every character as they do in the movie. But you can do a total of almost one episode per character in a series, which is what “Penny Dreadful” does.
During the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, a lot of horror stories were written and published, usually in the form of a penny dreadful, a weekly or monthly magazine filled with stories, cheap, printed like a newspaper, available for everyone. They in turn inspired authors to write more of that type, to take those scares to the ‘better’ market. “Dracula” and “Frankenstein” and “The Mysterious Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” bring together the three most important pieces of what Stephen King called the ‘Tarot’ of horror in his book “Danse Macabre.” The vampire, the creature, and the werewolf (because that is, deep down, what the story of Dr. Jekyll and his other self comes down to). Even though the series holds back on the werewolf for a long time, it brings together all three of the archetypes, including the demonic as well.
Then there’s the topic of life, of elongating life. It shows, of course, with Dr. Frankenstein, but also with the vampires (ever-lasting existence), with Dorian Grey (and his deal with the devil to stay young), and with Brona (who is on the verge of death and doesn’t want to die).
“Penny Dreadful” takes it slow with all those topics. It paces itself very well. We are introduced to the characters, to their stories, to their backgrounds. We are introduced to Victorian London (filmed in Dublin), to Victorian society with all its facets (including the dirties sides). We are pushed bit by bit into things, learning slowly what is going on actually.
The ending(s) of the story is(are) surprising enough, proving the old proverb of being careful of what you wish for (to Lord Malcolm). Things get turned upside down in the end, cards get shuffled, fates get dealt anew for most characters. The series leaves us hanging with very important questions: does Isabella desire to be normal, to be rid of everything dark about her? And if she does not, will she become what fate has chosen her to be? But there are similar questions attached to the other characters. What will become of Victor and his first ‘son?’ What will become of Ethan, now that he has shown his dark side in England? What will the master do, now that his bargaining chip is gone? (One question which bothered me during most of the series is where the hell the vampire masters get those masses of slaves from. Another was why all of those develop white hair, especially why all of the woman grow long, flowing, pure-white locks.)

I really enjoyed watching the first season of “Penny Dreadful” and I’m now looking forward to season two which has already been confirmed. I will also watch the episodes again at my leisure. The series is a rare gem and deserves to be treasured.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Thoughts about the RPG Maker and some unusual games

After my rant last night, I have a more relaxed and positive post here. It’s about the RPG Maker, a tool for making your own old-school, old-console RPGs. I’ve owned and used the RPG Maker (in various versions) for several years now, having fun with it and, most of the time, getting caught up in figuring out aspects of a new project instead of finishing it.

While you can really make a professional game with the tool (check Amaranth Games for a lot of those), it’s actually cheap enough for a non-professional to buy and easy enough for a non-professional to use. You paint your maps with tiles, add a few events with pre-defined commands (which are pretty straight-forward), and export the whole thing as an installation file you can share with whomever you want. You can add your own tiles (there’s free ones as well as sets to buy in the shop), your own music, your own characters (the ACE, the newest version, even has a character generator), and your own scripts to make the game do something different.
And this is where this post actually starts for me. You can’t just make RPGs with the RPG Maker (although you can surely make those and they can be a lot of fun), you can also make other games, if you can script. I can’t, but I can appreciate those who can.

Three of those other games will feature in this post, two I wrote about before and one I never mentioned so far.
The first one is “Madame Extravaganza’s Monster Emporium” by John Wizard Games. It’s a monster-gathering game of sorts. It has turn-based battles like a regular RPG Maker game, but you buy your monsters from Madame Extravaganza and earn money by going into randomly-generated dungeons and fighting your way through normal monsters and one boss per dungeon. After you won the boss fight, you get rewards (you can also find stuff in the dungeons). There’s different types with different monsters which unlock as you level up (so will your monsters). You can customize your monsters by choosing which attacks they will use and you can exchange members of your group whenever you’re in the town and not in a dungeon (if you have more than 3 monsters, of course). I admit I haven’t finished this game, because I just can’t get two of the orbs I need to unlock the last area and I just can’t get some of the special rooms in the dungeons I need to spot all monsters (you need to fight a monster and defeat it once before you can buy it). That’s the downside of Madame Extravaganza.
The second one is “Our Love Will Grow,” also by John Wizard Games. It’s a game like “Harvest Moon” or “Animal Crossing.” You have your own farm, you start growing crops, you get new seeds in a while, you also can pick stuff in the forest, keep animals (cows, sheep, chicken, bees, and a dog), mine for stones, iron, silver, gold, and gemstones, and find the love of our life. There’s regular parties in town where you can meet several different women whom you can woo. If you manage to get one of them to marry you, you can even have a child. This, of course, requires a top-kept farm and a big farmhouse instead of the small hovel you start with. I haven’t finished that one, either, but I did a lot of farming and I had a lot of fun with it so far. And one of those days, I will get all I need to propose to the girl of my character’s dreams and they will have a kid and live happily forever after on their farm.
The last game is “Fortune’s Tavern” by Michael Flynn (available on Steam). It’s not an RPG and it has some aspects from both games I already mentioned. Like “Madame Extravaganza,” it offers various pets for you to raise and keep. They accompany you into the forest behind the tavern, where you go working on quests (usually ‘find this’ or ‘find out about that’). Your main job, however, is to run and to renovate the tavern itself, so you get more guests and make more money and can do even more for the tavern. There’s three fractions you can cater to, there’s different additional buildings you can rebuild and put to use. On the whole, you can do a lot of stuff in the game and they just added a DLC where you can take over the job of Mayor for the nearby town of Fortune, as well.

All three games are a lot of fun and not the usual RPGs you might expect. And they show that with the ability to use the right scripting language, you can make a lot of different things with a relatively cheap and mundane tool.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Easier than getting a law passed

Okay, I had decided after my burnout that I didn’t want to get annoyed about things again that easily, but after quite some recent stuff about people denying services of various kinds to others based on their race/gender/sexual orientation, I have something to say about the topic myself.

If you have a problem with serving a person in your job because said person is, according to your eyes or to that personal belief system of yours, the wrong race/gender/sexual orientation or whatever, there is a much easier solution than passing laws: Don’t work in a service job. Yes, it is that easy.

If you take a job in service, no matter whether as a cashier, a pharmacist, a doctor (technically, doctors and nurses also work in service, since they provide health service), a pizza baker, or something else, you will have to be ready to serve everyone - as long as they are ready to uphold their part of the deal and hand you money for it. It doesn’t matter what your religious book or your preacher or your conscience has to say about it. If your conscience tells you to absolutely not do it again, then get another job, one where you don’t have to do that again.

And if you consider yourself a Christian, you might want to read all of your holy book one of these days, not just the part that justifies your prejudices. It’s going to take a while, especially if you read all of it, Old and New Testament. You might be shocked by the content especially of the New Testament. You see, this guy called Jesus whom you believe in, he had a strange way of seeing things. In essence, he only wanted people to do one thing: be nice to others. He sided with the poorest, with the outcasts of society. And he said there was only one rule to follow: love others like you love yourself (or, in some cases of extreme self-loathing, perhaps a little more than yourself).

The same, by the way, goes for the religious organisations operating public places over here in Germany, like kindergartens, schools, or hospitals. Stop looking down on people who you think have done the wrong thing. Stop choosing your employees merely by their religious belief and their marital status (nobody who got divorced and remarried is allowed to work in a Roman-Catholic kindergarten, school, or hospital). You want to serve society? You want to actually get people to listen to what you say? You want your slice of the cake? Then act like a responsible part of society and accept its reality. Divorce is reality, religious freedom is reality. Deal with it!

You don’t need to make laws to allow people to discriminate against others based on their personal belief. What you need, is to make laws to forbid people to discriminate against others for whatever reason (religious belief, race, gender, sexual orientation, whatever).

Thursday, April 02, 2015

Digital Dress-Up Dolls

I admit I loved playing with paper dolls as a kid. I loved dressing them and making new dresses from paper (although my creations definitely left something to be desired). I’ve not thought about them for a long time, though, ever since my dolls went the way of everything made of paper and ripped. But today I stumbled over a nice website dedicated to all those little Flash games out there which are basically digital paper dolls. I spent a very funny afternoon making several different types of those dolls. Some of them I will show here, so it’s going to be a picture heavy post this time.

The Dandy Maker was my original link to the site, shared by a Steampunk group on Facebook. I only made two Dandies there so far and only took a snapshot of one, so here he is:

 Same time period (roughly), but opposite gender is the Victorian Butterfly. I made three of them, one very regular, one more Steampunk-ish, and one rather dressed for bed than for society.

The doll I made most use of so far was X-Girl, which allows you to create a female comic character. I made nine of them already and I’m not going to share them all here.

Another doll I had a lot of fun with was Princess of Doom. I made two princesses so far, unfortunately, you can’t put them more into the centre of the picture, perhaps I should cut them out and post them again.

There are lots of other dress-up dolls on that site, including most interesting time periods, a lot of TV-series, movies, books, and games, and a lot of fantasy stuff. Give it a go, if you enjoy playing around with such dolls.