Monthly Archives: October 2013

The Great Australian Fantasy Story

A long time ago the Frontline Gamer asked me if there were any famous Australian comics.  It stumped me a little.  I’m sure that there are, but I couldn’t think of any that are famous enough for it to be well-known that they’re Australian.  Or for their Aussie-ness to be palpable, in the same way that Marvel and DC are classic Americana, or 2000AD and writers like Grant Morrison and Alan Moore are quintessentially British.  Tank Girl was set in Australia but it was a British book.

I thought about this some more and I have trouble coming up with any Australian fantasy or sci-fi, comic book or not, that fits these criteria.  Well, I can think of one: the film Mad Max.  It’s influential, it’s a classic, it’s unique, and it’s as Aussie as a post-apocalyptic Holden with spikes on it.

I’m no voracious reader of fantasy.  Most of it bores me, especially if it’s “book one of the whatever cycle” but I do like it on the rare occasions it’s original.  A quick check on Goodreads reveals that yes, there are a lot of fantasy and sci-fi books written by Aussies, but I have never heard of any of them except for Sophie Masson because she came from my town, and Obernewtyn, which is for kids.  In fact, a lot of them seem to be for Young Adults but then again all successful books are these days.  Most, if not all of them, are drawing on European fantasy, as evidenced by the cover art featuring green rolling hills, sorceresses on white horses, stone castles, you know the drill.

I can’t just observe something like this without wondering why.  I suspect that the great Australian fantasy novel is yet to be written because our writers are afraid of being authentic: it’s a recurring issue in the history of Australian art and literature.  We are afraid to venture far from Britain in our imaginations.  And inauthentic art divorced from its true context lacks power.  Imagine Judge Dredd, V for Vendetta or even Games Workshop’s Warhammer 40,000 game without Thatcher.  You can’t.

Or maybe it’s just because we are a young nation with only 26 million people and it just hasn’t happened yet?

I’d love to hear people’s thoughts,

James

Advertisements

Painting Miniatures: How Good Should We Try to Be?

Today I want to share some more thoughts along the lines of my previous two posts (here and here) about the way we judge quality in miniature painting.

It’s fair to say that for a while there, during the 5th edition of Warhammer 40,000, there was a bit of community pressure to play as though it were a professional contest.  This competitive way of playing is certainly in the culture of other games too: video games and Magic: the Gathering already have professional players.

The reason I bring this up is because I’m noticing a shift towards imitation professionalism in the painting side of the hobby now.  There is an excellent post here at The Society For Doing Things, laying out a method for avoiding the amateur blues.  But I think it’s also interesting that this problem has emerged at all as something people have to face in their hobby.

We all know that there are professional miniature painters, and they are artists like any other.  It is their job, probably at least part-time, and they are probably trained in fine art or design and supported by a community of other pros.  But at the same time we have the wider community of amateur painters, myself included, and probably you too if you are reading this.  And we are beginning to up our expectations of ourselves and other amateurs in light of the highly visible professional’s work.

I don’t know if this is inevitable, but I don’t think it’s reasonable.  The vast majority of painters (myself included) are not going to be able to produce a professional finish because we aren’t professionals; we simply don’t have the resources in time, knowledge and motivation.  So why do we try to learn professional techniques, and try to mimic their style?  Why do we run contests and judge one another and then just hand the prizes every time to people who can paint like Giraldez? What is going to happen when it becomes obvious that there are a few elite painters, and the rest of us finally admit that we can never match them?  Are most of us going to stop trying?

Possibly.  My only suggestion right now is not to stop trying.  But stop expecting that you’ll ever produce a professional finish without effectively being a professional.  More importantly, stop assuming that other amateurs can and want to be that good.  Aim to create works that you are happy with, and that reflect your own aesthetic sensibilities, within your limits.  Develop a style instead of trying to be the best.  Critique other’s style, not their technique (unless they ask of course).

One more thought: why is it that only certain parts of the hobby seem up for grabs by both amateurs and professionals, and other parts are only for the pros?  It’s a lot less common to meet people who sculpt models from scratch, or design their own games from the ground up, than it is people who are trying to be great painters or successful competitive players.  I don’t see why this is; none of these things seems inherently easier to master or more accessible than any of the others to me.

Comments welcomed,

James

Should Have Had a Better Plan

I’ve been having real trouble lately finishing a miniature I started.  This doesn’t happen to me often – I actually can’t remember the last time I didn’t finish a model within a few days of starting it.  I think it might be because I jumped straight in without a clear picture in my head.

Normally I don’t start painting a model until I’ve been struck by inspiration as to how I want the finished work to look.  This time I just saw a really nicely worn paintjob on a merry-go-round when I was with my son at the park and I took a photo.  It looked beautiful and I wanted to incorporate something similar into a miniature:

merry go round

The unlucky model who was next on my list to start thinking about was a Nomad Sin-Eater Observant for the game Infinity.  The Observance are a rebel Catholic sect so I thought he should have Catholic ecclesiastical colours like purple and red, but I also wanted to make his armour look like the photo above.  Orange and purple are dramatic together right?

In theory maybe.  I can’t get it to look how I want though and for the first time ever I’m pretty sure I’m going to strip him back and start again with a better-thought-out concept.  He just looks like he has an ugly purple coat and badly painted brown armour.  Why would his armour be orange anyway?  He has mimetism I guess and he’s a religious soldier, but he’s still a soldier. If his suit malfunctions he’s not going to want to be wearing hi-vis colours.

I need a break though, I’m starting to blame the model and that’s a bit silly.  I’m going to abandon him for now, take a breather and then work on my Malifaux Ronin, who I want to do in a sort of dusty style for use in Skulldred.  If anyone has seen the Japanese movie Sukiyaki Western Django, I’m planning a warband of crazy wild west samurai and oni-giants.  Maybe with a display base in case I never actually use them in a game, which is a definite possibility!

Till next time,

James

Finding New Ways

The first session of my new D&D campaign went really well.  In the past I’ve always set aside a whole afternoon and played into the night with beer and other refreshments on hand.  Everything was in-session: levelling up, buying equipment, everything.  The ability to do this has become a distant memory for me and my circle, so instead I took a firm hand and limited the game to two and a half hours.  Distribution of experience and skill-selection and other “downtime” activities now take place at home during the week for my partner, and in a weekly Skype meet for the other two players.

The session turned out to be perfectly timed, with the players getting through everything I had hoped they would in the time available.

My friend KyoheiZero acquitted himself very well, and seemed to grasp the principles of role-playing straight away.  And by principles I don’t mean the rules, I mean the unspoken social contracts and conceits that make the game wobbly if not everyone is committed to them.

I’m looking forward to continuing with this new style of play.  I’m pleased to be able to find new ways to play as my life grows and changes, instead of just letting my games become treasured memories and trappings of a former life stage, as so many friends have done.

All the best,

James

(Lack of) Creativity in the Games Industry

A little while ago GMort at the House of Paincakes blogged about the edition cycle of table top wargames.  This sent me spiralling off on a tangent in the comments section (as I am wont to do) about the lack of creativity in modern game design, and games design companies that are content to find new, easy ways to extend the life of their flagship games for years – or even decades – rather than, you know . . . do their job and design new games.

We all know that this is an issue in the video games industry, particularly the so-called ‘hardcore’ market where annualised franchises are the order of the day.  It’s also an issue where tabletop games are concerned.  The latter industry seems to reflect it’s younger sibling in this regard.

I was really, really pleased to read this piece today by Gabe Newell, managing director of Valve and my new hero.  It restores my faith that there are still actual creatives striving to actually create in the wasteland of sequels and undead husks that is modern gaming.

You know who is to blame though.  It’s us.  Every time one of us buys a game with a numeral after the name, or the latest edition of Warhammer, gaming gets a little bit more bland.

Discussion welcomed as always,

James