Wednesday, 30 July 2014

5 Changes 7th Edition Codex: Space Wolves Needs

After a very long break we're finally getting back to these lists. With proof that the Space Wolves will soon be getting a number of updated units and rumours that Codex: Grey Knights is following close behind (believe me, i'm going to have a field day with that one) it seemed time to really get going again. Unfortunately this is a bit of a difficult one.

Unlike most of the others, I do not have that much experience with the Space Wolves as a chapter. While I have personally kept up with the lore, I have not played or played against Space Wolf lists that frequently, so there is very little I can personally say about changes they need on the tabletop. Reading the book over and over again only brings so much understanding in my case, so there's a chance that a point might miss some vital problem or mislabel something. As such this is going to instead focus upon their lore and what changes that needs.

So, without further ado, here's the top five changes Codex: Space Wolves needs.

5. On The Edge Of Annihilation

One point which has always seemed odd about Fenris is its location. Along with Medusa, Cadia and a number of other worlds, the home of the Space Wolves is extremely close by to the Eye of Terror. However, whereas the Iron Hands are suggested to have fortified their homeworld's entire system, and the Cadians have enough resources to make Abaddon reconsider a direct assault more than once, Fenris is alone. It might be a Death World, one so deadly that it has kaiju sized sea-monsters, but no more so than others Chaos has successfully invaded and corrupted. Of the three major times Fenris has been attacked, two have come from the Imperium and another was during early M32. 

So the question is, why has Chaos never attempted to never launch a full blown assault against the world?

Abaddon would have much to gain from launching an attack or even a full blown Blood Crusade against them. After all, they're a massive First Founding chapter with far more astartes than a traditional chapter and a higher recruitment rate than most. They also have a controlled genetic flaw which does give them a major edge in a number of situations, a vast number of relic weapons, and are the only chapter with Leman Russ' gene-seed. Given how frequently they've responded to threats from the Traitor Legions and thrown a spanner in the works of whatever plan Chaos has in store for the Imperium, you'd think a major Chaos power would want them gone.

Given how Perturabo was able to attack Medusa and Magnus previously assaulted Fenris, it seems extremely unlikely a large Warband or fledgling leader would attempt to take down the world. Perhaps consisting of the tens of thousands of marines, all seeking glory and all seeking the blood of Russ' sons. In the face of that it's difficult to see how the Space Wolves might survive an assault. It's even more surprising that there's no big story explored where Chaos has attempted to bring the world to ruin.

Even accepting such an approach might be suicidal or extremely difficult thanks to Fenris' nature, it would surely be the target of multiple Chaotic cults. The earliest novel featuring Ragnar Blackmane featured a Thousand Sons plot to corrupt the planet, mentioning that there had been previous attempts before this, but the lore never really makes use of this. The idea of how they are constantly under threat never seems to be in full focus nor the state of constant vigilance they need to remain in with their planet so close to the heart of humanity's traitorous forces in the universe.

If the codex wants to flesh things out further it could focus upon this. Present times when Chaos has tried and failed to launch massive invasions against Fenris or how the Space Wolves have prevented them nearing the world through prior planning. Perhaps also how scouts among their number keep track of tribes or teach them to recognise the signs of Chaos among their number, preventing cults from arising upon the untamed world. It would be a nice area for the lore to focus upon and problems for it to fully address at long last, not to mention opening up possibly story opportunities throughout the chapter's long, lauded history.

4. Former Executioners

Since the time of the Great Crusade, many chapters underwent changes. Along with fragmenting into smaller forces in accordance with the Codex Astartes, many had to suffer from the losses of the forefathers, dramatic genetic failings, corruption from within and new threats. Compare the Iron Hands or Blood Angels today with those of the past and there is a dramatic difference, but none more so than the Space Wolves.

Originally deemed the Emperor's executioners, the chapter was tasked with doing the unthinkable and being unleashed against other legions who turned from the Imperium. They were a dark element in a brighter galaxy at that time, tasked with performing necessary evils so that the Imperium might survive. Even in comparison to the likes of the World Eaters or Night Lords they were suggested to perform horrific acts of savagery, and that many elements of their nature were more of a facade. 

Skip forwards to M41 and they have effectively become the complete antithesis of their previous role within the Imperium and most basic attitudes. Rather than using it as a facade, the chapter seems to embrace many elements of its more bombastic viking nature and rather than performing necessary evils, they are one of the few chapters fighting for the common man.

This has come about thanks primarily to the writings of Dan Abnett and Chris Wraight, and the revelations made during the Horus Heresy series. However, as a result of this the current codex does not knowledge this new information nor the apparent change the chapter underwent over the last ten thousand years. We saw the beginnings of this in Battle of the Fang and some sections of Scars which openly stated that the galaxy, and the chapter, were both changing. However, there has been no effort to produce real reasons as to why this truly happened or what provoked such a shift in behaviour.

The codex could easily bring up stories or events over the past ten thousand years which resulted in this. Even without inventing new ones, cataclysms such as the Age of Apostasy took place where the common man was crushed beneath heels of an insane tyrant and the inquisition has purged entire planets for merely knowing of Chaos' true form. It would be easy to show the Space Wolves reacting to such events (especially the former, due to the very direct role the played in bringing down one Ecclesiarchy tyrant) and becoming more focused upon something the Imperium once held dear, only to ignore it in its descent into becoming a dystopian nightmare. The very fact Bjorn still lives, telling tales of the times before the Heresy would add reasons as to why this might happen, reminding them of what the Emperor had once truly desired and what the goals of the legions had been.

Most importantly however, it would be a rare opportunity to truly focus upon the Imperium's ten thousand year history. It would allow the book to bring up various points over several thousand years which helped to bring about this change, one step at a time and truly give a more in-depth focus upon the setting rather than just the very end of M41. That last part in particular has been a failing of a great many codices, as it fails to truly bring about a sense of how ancient the Imperium is and prevent the book being focused upon the tales of just a few living figures.

3. More Heroic Sagas, Less Heroes

A major problem which is at the core of every codex produced in the last few years is that there are far too many characters. As a whole Warhammer 40,000 has been pushing for a much more hero focused gameplay, with names characters and HQ choices coming first, then the rest of the army coming second. Big flashy units are pushed along with characters who can punch Land Raiders to death, and common troops choices and a focus upon the army as a whole is effectively gone.

The Space Wolves in particular are problematic in this regard with a grand total of eight named characters making up their number. While some are thankfully not reserved for the HQ slot, this is an obscene amount for any army and it only goes to show just how extreme this problem has become. Many stories and events are far more about these characters than the army in question and far too often they seem to valve them over the army's long history or legendary wars in the past. It also offers players less of an opportunity to individually craft their own force and customize it for their own needs, and things will only become worse if more characters are given.

If anything I would personally wish for the book to scale back in the sheer volume of characters it utilises, or at the very least do not add any more to this number, and instead focus upon sagas. Like so many other space marine chapter, the Space Wolves have countless long and ancient tales they can call upon, and it would be entirely in character for them to recite them at a drinking table. The codex could feature this in small fragments or areas if not as entire pages, with warriors recounting conflicts of millennia past. Perhaps those who originally fought in the Battle of the Fang against Magnus the Red, or those who returned from the Deathwatch with new tales of combating against xenos threats, perhaps even just stories of meeting other armies.

These elements would help to give a better impression that the chapter is a living, breathing organisation filled with warriors just as notable and driven as the heroes which lead it. It would allow the book to really give an idea to new players that they can give their own heroes with their own stories rather than just using Blackmane or Grimnar, and focus more upon their history. As with the previous example, these need not be tales from the End Times or even M41 at all but from years past. Again helping to flesh out the chapter's history and making them feel more like a long established army.

2. The Balance Of Parody With Seriousness

One thing which made Codex: Space Wolves stand out from all of its contemporaries was its willingness to poke fun at itself. A rarity in modern Warhammer, the book did not present every event with complete seriousness and was capable of going back and forth between black humour and dramatic storytelling. While some fans did have problems with this, I personally believe it was a definite strength of the book. 

Whereas Codex: Blood Angels and Codex: Grey Knights presented the events so ridiculous that they would be laughed off of, Phil Kelley showed self awareness. He knew when to play things up as jokes and when to pass off the more overly hammy moments by working with the chapter's more barbaric elements and reputation as elite violent drunkards. As such, while people rightfully balked at the Grey Knights murdering Sororitas because reasons, they were not so unhappy when Lucas the Trickster had one heart replaced with a vortex grenade.

Even ignoring the fact those two examples of codices were so bad it would be generous to call them amateurish, it helped to offer far more emotional variety than other works. While serious storytelling has a place in Warhammer, it's hard not to realise that even the best of codices like Codex: Tau Empire and Codex: Imperial Knights were lacking in emotional range. They seemed to be afraid to even begin joking about themselves or offering anything beyond showing their armies as invincible and depicting events with the utmost seriousness. Without anything else to break up such moments, these books can become monotonous unless extremely well written and often it can seem like the authors have forgotten that Warhammer was once a dark parody setting. By keeping element of humour, Codex: Space Wolves pays tribute to earlier incarnations without ignoring or contradicting the modern depiction of the setting.

The chief problem was that the book often veered towards parody a little too often with these elements, making it hard to see just where the humour stopped and the serious moments started. One notable example was the events on the Iron Isles, where Iron Priests were so consumed by their work they failed to notice thousands of kraken-spawn descending upon them. The end result of this was Arjac Rockfist defending the entire island more or less single-handedly, and this feat earning him his position within the chapter.  It's so over the top that, despite supposedly being a more serious moment in the book, the humour seems to bleed over and effect it.

There are numerous cases throughout the book where this keeps seeming to happen. For example, the book tries to bar them from certain units by claiming the chapter is afraid to fly and pushes certain conflicts with the Ecclesiarchy are presented in a darkly humourous light despite serious impact. On the one had it is good that there is a degree of blurring between the two themes to prevent the book feeling like it's jumping from one theme to the next. On the other however, it feels as if it's leaning too hard towards humour and the next edition needs to clear this up. Definitely have some areas where the two themes meet, but they should make it have a much clearer divide and not allow one to overshadow the other in such events.

1. Less Wolf, More Viking

This is without a doubt the biggest failing of the entire codex. Above all else, the key thing the writers got completely wrong was their focus on which element to follow of the Space Wolves, ultimately favouring the more fantastical one than the warrior aspect. Rather than making them more like Vikings or Norse warriors, Phil Kelley was completely focused here upon the Wulfen and werewolf aspects of the Space Wolves. This isn't saying that their genetic curse should be overlooked, but you only need to skim through the codex to see the serious problems here.

In a massive change from prior editions, we now suddenly have space marines riding giant wolves into combat, usually at the behest of Wolf Lords, all the while fighting with Wolf weapons and at the side of the Wolf Guard. The word is littered throughout the entire book with iconography, model details and points all being designed to incorporate wolves however possible. Even by the standards of Warhammer this is cheesy beyond belief and it really detracts from the book, making it feel far too cartoonish and cheesy. The same problem would go on to plague many other chapters (notably the aforementioned Blood Angels and Grey Knights) but it's visibly at its worst here and it just makes the book feel dumber with this choice.

Novels and other works seem to have recognised this, abandoning many of this book's terms and using more traditional Norse terminology in its place. Wolf Lords for example are just called Jarls, the Wolf names of iconic weapons are frequently dropped and many of the more wolfy aspects (such as helmets and the rear head of thunder hammers) are neither mentioned nor depicted. This makes the army feel far more genuine as a warrior race and actually fits in better with the setting thanks to its more feudal style. 

Were the next group of writers to spend time looking at the many novels, from William King to Chris Wraight, and see how they are depicted as more Beowulf than Underworld, then the book would see a definite step up in quality. Well, that and if they opt to remove "claw" from half the squads of young initiates. that's really all that needs to be done here, just change up some of the terminology and stop making them ride giant wolves into combat. Well, that and rename/completely re-write Canis Wolfborn without half of his more erogenous elements.

So those are the top five changes the next Codex: Space Wolves needs. There are definitely more points which could be made, but these are the core ones which would ultimately improve the book. So long as the quality doesn't decline in other elements while they are improving these, the next edition's book ought to be a decent release.

Many of you likely have your own thoughts and opinions on this subject. Perhaps your own preferred changes to the lore or even just a stance against the army in general. As ever, please feel free to leave them in the comments. I would be interested in hear them.

Sunday, 27 July 2014

The BBC Explains - Three Minutes Of Condescension And Bias

One of the biggest problems which video games face outside gaming communities is the adamant refusal to see them as a legitimate media. We've seen this many times before, between being scapegoated for killings to being openly mocked by critics of other "legitimate" forms of media. Now it's happened again, this time with the BBC putting a negative spin on and e-sports. The video covering the subject lasts only three-and-a-half minutes and does contain a few relevant points of information, but on the whole it does a very bad job at truly informing the public about what the scene is like. Or, for that matter, even doing so in an unbiased manner.

Just to start with, the video really does very little to truly explain the e-sports scene as it tries to outline exactly what Twitch is. It never so much as stops and outright explains "Okay, here his how this works and here is what it is" on any kind of basic level to really introduce audiences to the idea of them. When you truly sit down and analyse it, the video spends more time trying to dodge truly detailed explanations and instead puts up a facade of doing so with interviews and statistics. It expresses how lucrative the business is, yes, but the actual information presented pales when you compare it to a short response video like this one

Compare the first minute of each (once they start on the subject matter) and the difference in how informative they are is staggering. The BBC fails to draw parallels which could make unfamiliar viewers appreciate the scene, fails to presents non-gameplay related showsas having degree of professionalism, and fails to even offer a wide variety of examples to support its points in terms of shows, games or the figures involved. The bare basic facts and information is fine at first glance and it seems to be covering all the basics, but when you really start to analyse what is being said and how it is bring presented, the failings of the BBC's video becomes apparent. By the one-minute-thirty-second mark, the only thing the video has really established is that Twitch is big and, streaming draws in a lot of people; then backs this with a few basic statistics which can be found at the top of Twitch's wikipedia page.

This is to say nothing of the general attitude and language involved. Most articles generally go for far more subtle methods of trying to push the viewer into following a certain opinion, whereas here's the condescending attitude is clear from the very start. It talks down to people involved in Twtich and e-sports, uses example figures which do not show the scene in the best light, and does all but outright insult anyone who is actively a part of the scene. Well, actually that one's not entirely true. The gaming community as a whole is slapped across the face from the very start as the segment opens with this line:

"Who would want to watch teenagers just clicking away, playing their video games, all night?"

This really sets the tone for the whole piece and sadly it's not just an introduction supposed to grab attention only to quickly be discarded. The language involved goes the extra mile to find ways to downplay any official status e-sports might have or any kind of legitimacy. While the terms "big business" and mentions of the scale of Twitch are brought up several times, this is only on the financial and popular side of things. 

The journalist covering constantly refers to all those involved as "young" "teenagers" and at no point tries to present any adult involvement in the scene. It really stops just short of calling all those involved children. The only active streamer they interview is a student himself, who constantly stumbles over his words and speaks over a blurry pixelated webcam, and it tries to force a low opinion of the subject on the viewer; almost presenting this form of gaming as little more than a fad or something similar to an online social network. Even when he does move onto the more established tournament scene and competitive gaming, he describes it only as "semi-professional" as a sport and the tone of his voice tries to enforce how astounding the numbers and money it draws in are. This starts from earlier in the video, but the sentiment is clear - It's trying to push the idea of how ridiculous the scene supposedly is and rob it of any serious standing.

Video games as a whole are often put into low regard, viewed as toys rather than something comparable with film, music or television, and it serves as a media scapegoat whenever needed. We have seen this many times over with the constant arguments over whether video games are a legitimate art form, being barred from tackling subject matter which film, television and music can happily approach (2010's Medal of Honour comes to mind) and countless over occasions. Now a major news network spends time to actually look into a core part of gaming, poorly represents it, and takes the time to undermine e-sports while it's at it.

The reason I brought up this brief analysis was to really emphasise just how badly this report failed in basic research and properly covering video games. Despite Totalbiscuit's claim that this would be "preaching to the choir", a number of threads discussing this video put down the negative impact to that single opening line. Usually with members trying to claim it's otherwise informative and well done, such as here, and it's just that the introduction put things in a bad light. I am no professional on this subject, and there are people who could bring up far more failings about the report, but even to me this is a near slanderous failing on the part of the BBC.

What makes this truly disappointing is that we have seen far more even handed and less bias articles in the past. Just compare the BBC article to this one, which treats the subject with far more respect and better explains its benefits to the general public. The BBC should be ashamed that they let their standards slip on this subject so badly and that they could produce a work which seems more at home with Fox News than anywhere else. If we are going to see any major pushes to help improve this medium, such shoddy and disgracefully researched work should not be tolerated in any way.

Resistance (Book Review)

Serving as a sequel to Turbulence, Resistance explores what follows when the world faces a growing number of meta-humans who are a law unto themselves. Set in 2020, a decade after a flight of passengers gained superpowers thanks to a random occurrence, the world has dramatically changed. Many superheroes are celebrities but humanity itself is losing ambition, seemingly resigned to be lorded over by super-beings. However, someone is killing off these meta-humans one by one, and they have a plan…

Saturday, 26 July 2014

Fallen London (Browser Based Video Game Review)

Current opinion among many critics of gaming that story should never come before gameplay when it comes to this medium. Emphasis should always focus upon how the player can directly affect a story play straight into video game's greatest advantage over television and film: It's interactivity. Here however we may have one of the rare releases which defies that rule, yet dies it well enough for it not to harm the title.

As a whole, Fallen London is an extremely strange kind of game to try and pin into any genre. Its gameplay is minimal, coming down to choices or statistics, progression can be limited at times and on occasions you can find yourself farming quests for basic loot and experience. Yet despite that it manages to remain thoroughly engaging the entire way through, offering you the chance to carve out your own story and backs it up with darkly humourous writing, great choices and a fantastical world.

Having sunk down into the mythological underworld thanks to an infernal deal, now located between the surface and Hell, London now resides in the land of the semi-dead. Much of the city lies in ruin, stalked by humans, the walking dead, strange humanoid cephalopods and living men made of clay. However, for as much danger and insanity lurks among these streets, there are opportunities to be made by those with ambition. Especially those ready to break out of the gigantic prison built into the stalactite hanging far above the city...

Little of Fallen London itself is truly explained outright. There are no real documents or guides you'll stumble upon, delivering masses upon masses of exposition detailing what the entirety of the city is like, and in many respect this is the game's biggest advantage. By leaving the player largely in the dark, there is a sense of real exploration behind the game as you go through each storylet (read: quest), reading and trying to understand more of the world. This is hardly a fruitless effort either, with many storylets providing more answers as time goes by, revealing problems with racial treatment, the truth behind the clay men and dark elements of London's past. Points such as the idea that the British Empire once made an ill-fated effort to invade Hell can be found if you look in the right places, but it's only by befriending or speaking with the right people you learn more.

Normally this lack of answers would be a death knell for any title, but what truly helps Fallen London in this regard is the strength of its writing. Dialogue heavy and thick with visual illustrations and descriptions, the world is like a dark, twisted version of Ankh Morpork. All the humour, all the insanity, all the problems of a cultural melting pot of multiple races are there, but with an often dark twist and subject matter which seems more at home with Lovecraft mythos than Discworld. Obviously this means it's ill suited to those who place mechanics over story, especially those who play World of Warcraft by skipping quest information, but you find that out very early on.

The game supports this great writing with a surprising amount of choice and just the right degree of progression. From the start, the player can pursue a number of different careers and job opportunities to help make a living. Each has its own benefits, detriments, but most importantly its own new storylet and plotlines to see. These range from basic starting jobs such as hunting rats and plagues of flying pests, to hanging around in bars to help improve your persuasive skills. The more time you spend on each, the more storylets can appear, and many do offer long running narrative opportunities. Two personal examples I ended up enjoying immensely were becoming involved in an effort of a police constable to help bring down a local crime lord, and the efforts to help a clay man being mistreated by his employers. These weren't over in a few hours either, you come back every day or so only to find more mail and information updating on these storylets and choose how to react accordingly.

Gaining further access to storylets or letters and other areas of London comes down to your stats and the amount of cash you have, which help to unlock more opportunities. In the latter case it's usually down to buying personal items or new lodgings (many of which have their own unique nightly narrative threads) while the former are what you'd expect for this kind of game. Each has a number and a level you grind out or boost with new items. The higher the number, the easier certain tasks become and the more opportunities become available to you. These are divided up into Watchful, Shadowy, Dangerous and Persuasive, each benefiting certain story-lines at certain points. 

You can likely guess which each one will be required at each location with the likes of Watchmaker's Hill requiring Dangerous tests quite frequently, but storylets will still throw you the odd curve-ball now and then. You can be going along Spite, acing every Shadowy test, only to stumble a far more satisfying choice which requires a Persuasive stat. Each storylets tends to branch out quite dramatically from its original thread, and it's quite rare to find one which offers purely one choice or way to accomplish a certain task. However, failing these tests are hardly without consequences. Each can end up with you carrying a negative modifier, a stat which complicates matters, or badly wounding you in some way. While some can work in your favour by unlocking certain storylets, others will grind you down and eventually kill you. Yeah, with this being the underworld death isn't quite so terrible but it's still a royal pain in the behind.

Grinding out these stats takes time and it's only by gradually progressing through storylets and narrative plotlines that you can really advance at all. While there are a handful of ways to truly farm the right kind of experience you want, they're hard to really find and far from accessible at first. By the time you do get to them properly, they'll only be useful for so long, giving you a limited advancement with each action. The same goes for money, which is constantly going to be in short supply.
Actions which could be better spent pursuing more challenging and interesting storylets. The action points system itself takes time to recharge, only storing up to twenty actions at a time and taking several minutes to recharge each point. This slows down progress but it forces players to really think about what they want and means that progression is slow but steady. You can see yourself still advancing continuously if not rushing through everything, and it helps to solve the common endgame problem in any online title.

With the game itself being free, Fallen London does have a few more options available for paying customers. While it's nothing extensive, some of the more intriguing storylets or outcomes are locked unless you have bought a certain amount of Nex, a resource which occasionally replaces actions points. This is the only area in which the game seems to have problems. On the one hand these show up extremely rarely, sometimes seemingly at random on some storylets. It's also one of the few things you pay for in the game beyond some consumable items to build up a few more action points. On the other hand however, storylets give you no real indication or warning when one might show up, so you could be caught off-guard or be more inclined to make a knee-jerk decision to purchase Nex if you stumble upon a choice. Especially when you can't stop or going somewhere else on the site will force you to start that specific section of a storylets all over again.

There's so much more that could really be gone into here but the bottom line is this: If you're feeling nostalgic for the sort of pathways and narrative which used to be offered by text based games, this is the one for you. It should be treated far more like a lengthy novel than an actual game. Rather than going on a gameplay binge for hours at a time, this is a game you would pick up for half an hour to an hour per day, when action points are full. It's less a game which has problems so much as a one which will appeal to a niche audience of people with the right mindset. If you like the aesthetic or the idea behind the game, definitely give this one a look, It's free after all. However, if you're after something with far more action and real gameplay, look for something else; though good luck finding any other game which allows you to hunt down a golem Jack the Ripper, after making underhand deals with the denizens of hell.

Thursday, 24 July 2014

WAAAGH! Ghazghkull: Part 3 - Writing A Living Legend, Building His Horde (A Warhammer 40,000 Codex Supplement Review)

If you're looking for part two, you can find it here.

Easily the biggest problem with Codex: WAAAGH! Ghazghkull's lore is its focus on one individual, Ghazghkull Mag Uruk Thraka himself. Along with furthering the problem of encouraging herohammer tendencies and removing any opportunity for a player to really leave their own mark on an army, the chief issue is that it boils down an entire force to one person. While generals, commanders and leaders are generally the most famous figures in war, they do not make up an entire army in of themselves. They need elite troops, forces at their command, and over time they will be replaced as much as the grunts, meaning that focusing so heavily upon a single figure can limit an army's focus to a single time period. 

Now, as discussed before, orks are a potential exception to this. After all, every WAAAGH! is formed out of a mass of boyz following one figure out of respect or sheer cult of personality, with no real history or founding to work off of. However, even in this regard the book falls short due to how it treats Ghazghkull and fails to properly emphasise his role as a legendary figure. It gives the ork plenty of accomplishments, certainly, but at the same time the lore tells them in such a matter-a-fact way that it lacks true impact. Everything is delivered bluntly, is so focused upon Ghazghkull himself with no sense of mystery nor real connection to his foes. What's more is that there was really no sense of immersion.

This isn't a unique problem either, and it comes down to a few things which Games Workshop has been progressively losing over the years when it comes to their storytelling in rulebooks. One of these was specifically brought up in the review of Codex: Farsight Enclaves as it could have single-handedly saved the entire book: Opinionated account. Rather than wrecking the entire Tau Empire and reducing the Aun to a poor, mustache twirling substitute of the Emperor, half of Farsight's knowledge could have been presented as obvious opinion. Entire passages could have been written by Fire Warriors under his command or Farsight himself, accounting for what they had personally seen and give a degree of doubt to their accuracy along with a more personal touch. 

The same thing could have been done here to beef up Ghazghkull's legendary status. Rather than bluntly hammering in how awesome Ghazghkull is with direct statements, the supplement could have used accounts from the orks or even descriptions of moments in battles. Prior armybooks in Fantasy in particular used this to great advantage, especially with the likes of the Dwarfs. It added far more flavour than simply telling the reader the information and helped to build up a picture of the kind of forces they were dealing with, making the army stand out more. The original Codex: Necrons, and even some elements of the SPESS TOMB KINGZ, both used this to a degree with other forces viewing the army and building up how they were viewed on the battlefield. This just needed to be directed towards on figure and there were some easy ways to do it.

The foremost among these would be having specific orks be used as viewpoint figures retelling certain events from the conflicts he was in. Some directly, with a few paragraphs or a page of dialogue from them speaking about Ghazghkull like some mythical figure, while the standard text could use a little uncertainty. Opening up a few bits with an almost Conan like introduction would help set the theme of the book and better bring across the idea of Ghazghkull's importance, as would adding a few elements of uncertainty, throwing in legends or tales about him viewed by others. This helps to build up the feeling the book is speaking about some fabled immortal warrior, some legend, rather than just a good commander, as it adds an element of myth to his events. After all, Ghazghkull is supposed to be the chosen of Mork and Gork, so this would fit right in with how he was originally presented.

What's more is that Games Workshop even uses these elements itself in its more successful books. Cypher - Lord of the Fallen (and yes, we will get around to covering it some day) used this to great effect, as did Codex: Legion of the Damned, adding elements of uncertainty and sense of legend behind them through certain impossible tasks. This can only be done so many times of course, but with the chosen warrior of two relatively major Warp entities, Ghazghkull desperately needed this. This wouldn't be any kind of excuse to skimp on details, but it would allow the book to take an approach to really emphasis upon his nature as a barbarian king guided by actual gods.

Even beyond this however, the codex should have focused more upon the enemy and his interactions with them. Now, Ghazghkull is hardly the most complex of characters but there is more than enough for a good writer to use for a good story. He has figures who have followed him since the beginning,to the point of effectively having a loyal cadre of warriors with him since the beginning, an arch foe and even a sidekick. No, really, look up Makari at some point, a gretchin who used to serve as the ork's bana wava and had the Second Edition's equivalent of a 2+ invulnerable save. This was enough for any starter element and make the Wars for Armageddon all the more interesting and find ways to show Ghazghkull in the sort of light the codex really needs. Even if it were just to focus upon Ghazghkull fighting Yarrick alone, that might have actually been enough here. Previous reviews have criticised rivalries having a sort of tunnel vision but, given how well established their particular one is, spending sections of the book developing this would only offer what fans would want.

With the codex skimming over all of that, it really left little to Ghazghkull's actual character. Really the only thing he had going for him was a love of war and the occasional painful messages from Gork and Mork to keep him going. That might have been enough for a side character, but an entire book? There needs to be more elements of substance or to have Ghazghkull play somewhat more of a background role in the book's stories.

Now, this is just the problems we have with presenting Ghazghkull himself. There's still the issue that this entire supplement codex, a book supposed to cover an entire army, is stuck focusing upon Ghazghkull himself. The sad thing though is that the approach it was going for could have worked just as well when it came down to the horde if it had just taken a slightly different approach. Just for starters, the book could feature Ghazghkull's influence by passing on a mentality or the orks following his approach in war. 

As mentioned previously, many of the more successful orks by the end of M41 were repeatedly depicted as having grown in power and adapted well to Imperial tactics. They were not those they had fought during the Horus Heresy, nor even a few thousand years ago, now they were a vastly greater threat than ever before. Ghazghkull's ingenuity and his ability to completely alter the battlefield with his tactics was brought up as something exclusive to him, a definite mistake, so why not correct that. 
Have the ork warbands following the Warboss not be micromanaged by Ghazghkull or so utterly reliant upon his leadership, but instead be inspired by him. Have them shaped by his ways of war or the teachings of those who followed him (the small number of Warbosses he left to command the WAAAGH! as his lieutenants) but then build upon it themselves. Have them take his ideas, then put a new spin on them and the army itself by having them embrace his teachings but not be utterly reliant upon his presence to remain combat effective.

We have seen this in plenty of other armies and it's worked just as well, the Codex Astartes and the primarchs being the most obvious examples. Guilliman, Dorn and Khan no longer lead their scions but that did not mean the astartes instantly abandoned their teachings the moment they left. Nor were they utterly limited to them, with some abandoning certain aspects of the Codex and other chapters diverging entirely from their parent chapter to follow their own path. The same thing could easily be done here, with ork warbands being influenced by his ideas and developing because of them. Some doing far more to learn from their past foes, others attempting far more unexpected tactics, perhaps even mimicking Imperial tactics like those from Rynn's World and the Blood Axes do.

This move would still make Ghazghkull's influence clear, his genius and power evident to any readers, but it make the book actually about an army. More importantly, it would also offer players far more of a chance to put their own spin on things, perhaps working with certain ideas or established structures. This was actually present to a point (namely the various divisions and units it presented a-la Codex: Black Legion) but whereas that felt added on rather than truly integrated, this would be an opportunity to fully integrate the idea into the codex.

This is really what the book needed more than anything else, to just take what it had, go further, and push to integrate more ideas from past works. With them, at the very least this might have offered some truly great lore rather than something unremarkable at best.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

The Damnation of Pythos (Horus Heresy Book Review)

Of all the legions in the Horus Heresy series, the ones who keep getting the short end of the stick are the Iron Hands. With its legionaries often stuck playing second fiddle to a book’s true protagonists, with no character study of Ferrus Manus in sight, and even the Death Guard having been offered more time in the limelight of late. This book is the one which finally corrects that, and it was well worth the wait despite the lack of Ferrus. However, what makes this one truly interesting is its focus upon aspect all too often overlooked in Warhammer. A genre which is key to the franchise but is far too often brushed aside in many tales: Horror.

Set in the aftermath of the Drop Site Massacre, the book follows the surviving astartes of the Shattered Legions. Having been scattered to the winds and reduced to guerrilla tactics, few survived the great betrayal and they now fight in the name of retribution. However, the scars of that nightmare conflict remain fresh and the Iron Hands of the Veritas Ferrum find their hatred directed as much at their fellow survivors from the Salamanders and Raven Guard as their arch foes. However, as they enter the Pandorax system, none among them truly realise that true damnation them on the world of Pythos…

Monday, 21 July 2014

5 Reasons The Fantastic Four Should Stick Around

As Marvel and Fox continue to butt heads over their licences and treatment of their heroes, rumours are abound of what steps Marvel will take to damage the new film reboot’s success. With more and more news emerging suggesting that director Josh Trank is not even paying lip service to the very comics his film is based upon, even thematically opposing their very nature, it has been suggested that Marvel may put the title on hiatus. Some suggest that they may even go further than this, killing off their Ultimate incarnation to try and ruin Fox’s box office income.

While the degree of truth behind this is debatable to say the least, both companies have taken steps to harm the other’s films. After all, Quicksilver was a last second addition to Days of Future Past, replacing the previously planned Juggernaut and potentially causing problems for Age of Ultron. Still, if Marvel were to cancel the comic or even kill off the team, what would the universe lose? What do the team offer and what do they do better than any other hero in Marvel’s vast setting?

Here’s five points covering just what they offer, and why more people should be reading about them.

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Kenobi (Book Review)

Much like Angel of Fire, Kenobi is a book which becomes infinitely more entertaining once you realise what the author is attempting. Taking stylistic elements and genre conventions of Wild West tales, Miller shows elements of the universe in a very different light. While Star Wars tales have always retained certain basic elements of the Wild West, especially in scoundrels like Han Solo and Tatooine itself, the novel wholeheartedly embraces it. 

Set only a short time following the events of Revenge of the Sith, the novel’s opening sees Kenobi returning to Tatooine with Luke. Handing over the infant to his aunt and uncle, the Jedi then attempts to enter exile far off, isolated from all others. However, after so many years in service to justice, the Jedi can hardly ignore calls for help. Especially when lives are at stake.

Friday, 18 July 2014

Josh Trank's Fantastic Four - Adaptation or Betrayal?

Welp, this was interesting. This might be judging a work a little early, but given the uproar surrounding this superhero team of late, this is something which I feel needs to be discussed. The new reboot of the cinematic Fantastic Four has been an ongoing parade of betrayal and news which has only led fans to continually damn the film even before trailers have hit cinema. Every bit of news has only served to show that the director seemingly has no respect for the comics, or is willing to even follow basic elements of the team. This has only gotten worse with every interview, leak and news which has followed, which has made it seem as if this will be Fantastic Four in name only. Well, not even that actually. Apparently they might not even have the name.

Let's just run through this - Johnny Storm undergoes a race change.
Not necessarily bad, they had a good actor for him, and it would mostly reflect badly if Marvel opted to pull another Nick Fury Jr. in the comics.

Then comes the news that they will be teenagers.
Not a good angle to go for given what happened with the Ultimate Fantastic Four, but it might work.

Then there's the news that the group will not be called the Fantastic Four at all, and they might not even wear the costumes. 
In the interests of fairness they didn't wear the costumes for a few issues, but not even having the team name? Even Blade kept the character's name.

Then comes the further news that the group will be treated as superheroes with disabilities they need to cope with. 
Okay, this was the Thing's shtick occasionally but all of them? No.

Finally, we have an interview which states the following: Director Josh Trank considers the actors being familiar with the characters to not be a necessity. He is aiming for a found footage approach, ultimate realism and a gritty angle.
Oh dear.

This isn't even the Fantastic Four by this point. This has effectively abandoned everything tonally consistent with the comics, many basic elements and even their most recognisable traits. The Fantastic Four were known for their high adventure style science fiction tales with fun, a family dynamic and aiming for the less grounded approach of other tales. They're the ones who frequently fight Skrulls, invaders from alternate dimensions, Celestials and even introduced Galactus. This? This reads less like Trank was interested in doing the team and more like he desperately wanted to make an X-Men film, but had to make do with other heroes.

Now, this article isn't going to be a rant so much as an examination of the positives and negatives of this. This has obviously broken away from just about all elements of the comics, but is it truly bad? What's more, what is the wider implications of this?

Now, to be completely fair, no Marvel film has been totally accurate to any comic. Many serve as a distillation of elements from various stories, arcs and ideas throughout their long history. This has usually worked out for the best, retaining certain plot elements while leaving everything free for the director to put their own mark on the film. The Avengers is a key example of this, as the Avengers were formed while fighting Loki in Earth's defence, but other elements such as the cosmic cube tesseract device were added along with S.H.I.E.L.D.

This ability to veer away from what was originally told has largely befitted the cinematic universe. It allows directors to play to their greatest strengths, leave their own mark on each film and trim out the elements better suited to a comic book format than a cinematic experience. For example Kenneth Branagh's Thor was wildly different from many of the comics, with Loki being less of an overtly maniacal figure, a different variant of humour than what was usually on display in the comics and new characters were added. It was a very different spin on the tale, but it wasn't inherently bad in any way despite these changes, and allowing the director to do his own thing obviously helped it.

To give an even older example of this, James Bond is an entire franchise built upon adaptation and changes. Each one has had its own different themes, approaches and degree of cheese or realism. Even the famous Sean Connery era was a massive change from the novels, which were far more gritter, hard-line and brutal in his approach. He was more like Sharpe than a suave, charming and cool agent armed with countless wonderful toys provided by Q. In fact, in many respects audiences didn't see a "true" James Bond adaptation until Timothy Dalton's sadly short lived tenure brought many of those elements to the forefront of his character. Despite that, every incarnation was visibly still Bond and quite recognisable no matter the actor playing him.

A TV example would be Doctor Who as well. Each and every Doctor has had a wildly different personality, often working as an opposite extreme of the last one and quite frequently changing everything. If you run down the line of original actors even just in the classic series, you can see each was wildly different from the last. Jon Pertwee was the total opposite of Patrick Troughton, Tom Baker's wild eyed eccentric was completely alien to the more subdued and human Peter Davidson. Even basic elements such as the TARDIS design, his relation with his enemies or universe evolved from one story to the next due to countless different writers being onboard. Things dramatically change, but each one is the Doctor despite writers being free to put their own spin on the previous tales.

What's more is that Trank's film distancing itself from the comic has saved it from one big problem. A previous criticism on this website was that comics could easily prove to be an ideas junkyard for Hollywood rather than a medium in its own right. Many decades old and famous storylines were being taken for the bigger films, and hammered out so the cinematic universe could make more cash, with the comics losing their identity or relevance as a result. By avoiding directly adapting Galactus' arrival or other big tales, the film its running the risk of overshadowing famous stories and allows each interpretation to stand on its own.

Unfortunately, Trank adds to this problem as much as he solves it. He might not be openly using the storylines and ideas of other authors, strip mining concepts from the absolute best plots from decades of stories, but he's ignoring everything about the comic. Again, the comic book Fantastic Four themselves are a high adventure science fiction group with a family bond, who exist in a bright colourful world. The Fantastic Four here are not even recognisable as the Four beyond their names and, perhaps, their powers. Their treatment, approach and very story ideas completely oppose the direction the comic have always gone in, showing them no respect and betraying the team's identity. This above all is the biggest problem, as it's one director taking a licence from someone else, and then completely altering it beyond all recognition. 

Say what you will about James Bond, Doctor Who and everything else, but every adaptation always showed some awareness and respect for what came before. Even when it changed things dramatically, the very core of its characters and basic ideas were till in place. It's the same thing I have personally argued about canon: Most of it is malleable, can be changed and altered to suit a story, but there are certain pillars. Certain basic established facts and characterisations which help make that universe what it is. A good adaptation will respect this, but a bad one will utterly bulldoze right through them, and destroy a work's identity. The end result is a complete bastardisation of what it should have been, mauled and barely recognisable to fans or even the public.

Sadly this is only the basic elements of this problem, and should this be a success it will lead to something far worse. It will send a message to filmmakers: That they don't need to respect the comics or the established fandoms in any way. That they can treat Marvel licences and ideas as a junkyard of basic ideas and do whatever the hell they want with it. 

While Marvel studios itself might be able to defend its licences, there are plenty of character IPs it does not directly control, and even ones beyond that. Warner Bros repeatedly screwed with its films, supposedly driving Green Lantern into the ground when executives hijacked the film. Even in that case they did not go so far as to completely change his power-set. Hellboy was almost changed completely from the comics, and only proved to be successful thanks to Guillermo Del Toro being such a massive fan of the character. Superheroes are a big thing right now, so this would be a sign to bigger studios that they wouldn't need to bother with negotiating with the creator or even resemble it. They get to do whatever the hell they want, but still have the chance to use a well known name.

It's still early days of course, but this is truly damn worrying. If they manage to turn this around, if they manage to make this somehow work, then fine. However, given the team involved and all which has been freely stated so far, it sounds like a recipe for a complete betrayal of the fans. One so bad that Marvel itself is supposedly ready to kill off the Ultimate Fantastic Four and retire the 616 team for the moment.

Still, this is just my own personal opinions on this. Whether you're a fan of the team or just a reader in general i'd like to hear what others think on this. Please leave your own thoughts in the comments below if you have thoughts of your own.

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Female Thor And Fan Shaming

If you've been keeping track of news from Marvel recently you'll know that Thor is about to undergo some unusual changes. Specifically that Thor, one of Marvel's big three heroes, is about to be changed into a woman. 

There have been mixed messages as to whether this is a new character or Thor himself undergoing this change thanks to comments from Marvel itself and new writer Jason Aaron. In an article on Marvel's website announcing this change, it was stated that "No longer is the classic Thunder God able to hold the mighty hammer, Mj√∂lnir, and a brand new female hero will emerge worthy of the name THOR." However, the article itself soon moved on to state that "This is not She-Thor. This is not Lady Thor. This is not Thorita. This is THOR. This is the THOR of the Marvel Universe." More importantly, it suggests that this is a permanent change rather than something temporary.

Now, to be completely honest I could personally go either way on this. 

I don't read Marvel as a rule anymore thanks to the company going to the other extreme of DC Comics and allowing authors to apparently run rampant without any oversight or ruling; the works of Mark Millar, Brian Bendis and Jason Aaron himself all come to mind as examples of how bad this is. As such this seems like it could be an author tangent steamrolling all prior characterisation and trying to make what he thinks the character should be like (we saw this previously with his irrational hatred of Scott Summers). Well, that or a blatant publicity stunt, which is equally likely. 

What's more is that I am personally very worried that if it does prove to be a new Thor replacing the old one, it will be Angela. A character from Spawn who was moved into the Marvel universe due to Neil Gaiman winning a legal battle with Tod McFarlane to own the character. 
Since then Marvel has desperately been trying to deeply integrate her completely into the universe. First by lumbering her on the Guardians of the Galaxy, then shoving her into the Thor mythos and trying to make her popular by aping cinematic universe's Loki's basic elements in reverse. AKA she was Thor's sister, taken by the tenth realm during a war with Asgard as a child, provoking Odin to sever all connections with it. This might be interesting were it not for the fact that she has all the depth and complexity of the early 90s x-treme character that she is. Seriously, pre-Fabian Nicieza Cable has more interesting character traits than her, and all he did is scowl.

On the other hand though, we have seen Thor undergo a lot of changes over the years. Some for worse some for better, but they have usually been quite interesting. A lot of the more bold ones such as JMS' run did prove to be a move for the better, as have a lot of ones in recent years. What's more is that we've seen many different incarnations from being King of Asgard to a frog at one point, and other characters have been briefly gender-swapped in the series (Loki for those interested, depicted right). 

What's more is that Thor has been fully replaced by other characters like Beta Ray Bill and Thunderstrike for a time in his own comic. In both those cases neither was entirely bad and it was at least interesting to read. In addition to this we have also seen plenty of decent characters wielding Mjolnir from Captain America to Storm, Lady Sif and even Superman at one point. If it proves to be written well and Aaron has a good plan behind this, there's no reason to stop him.

So yeah, so far as I am concerned this could go either way in terms of quality. However, this isn't the problem here. The problem is how supporters of this comic have been treating fans of Thor and trying to shame them. I'll be very blunt here and just give the most obvious example. In his coverage of this development, writer Devin Faraci gave an extremely short excuse for this and then followed it up with this statement: "anyone complaining about this change is either a) ignorant of the character history (and thus sort of in no position to complain) or b) a misogynist."

Cue facepalming.

I'd like to say that this was an isolated incident, but it's an attitude i've seen on forums and plenty of places. It's the sort of thing which turns any debate into "You oppose Thor being turned into a woman, thus you hate all women you lowlife scum!" Not only is this insulting to fans of the character, but it's an incredibly cheap ploy. People who use this are attempting to brush over any possible alternatives which have not been covered, and are wielding this accusation as a cudgel to try and shame them into shutting up. It's things like this as to why feminism is so often derided or not taken seriously within many science fiction groups, or is treated with animosity. It's brought up so often, used against so many elements to try and justify someone's opinion rather than push for actual equality, that others stop taking it seriously.

Now, let's just be clear here: if someone's argument is based purely upon the character being a woman it might be a relevant accusation to make. It's definitely a relevant one to make if they show open hostility or dislike to female characters in general, using slanderous terms. Beyond that though, there are a hell of a lot of reasons why fans of Thor might object to this change which are entirely relevant.

The first one is if this is Thor being turned into a woman. Now, despite coming from a largely patriarchal society, Thor has never shown any misogynistic traits when he's been written properly. He treats Sif as an equal, when he got into a major argument with Firebird over immortality (The Kang Dynasty) he was arguing less about her gender and more about thinking of things in the long run because he will outlive everyone. He also didn't treat Loki any differently as a woman. 
So, while all these websites are making a big thing about a macho character being turned into a female, why is it needed? Unless Aaron resorts to big time character assassination, it's not going to turn Thor into learning some lesson or anything, as he's pretty much treating everyone equally as it is. There are no obvious reasons in support of this, and the way people argue really makes it seem like an arbitrary change to try and please feminists or female readers. I'm not saying that the case, though it is certainly a big publicity stunt, but that's how it can appear.

Then there is the second one, with Thor himself being replaced by another character. Now, as mentioned before other figures have taken over from Thor in the past and it has resulted in interesting developments. Yet this isn't offering fans something they might want, like Lady Sif taking up Mjolnir, a possible redemption story for Amora or even pulling an interesting twist like bringing back Tess Black. Perhaps this could even offer Brunnhilde some much deserved focus and respect. 
Instead we supposedly have this new character coming out of the blue and just up and replacing Thor entirely, and this is being praised as an improvement. Not because of any great potential like a legendary writer like Neil Gaiman or Alan Moore behind this, but because she has a different gender. It's this last point which is being focused upon the most, and it's with this that it's receiving the most praise. As if bumping off a male character and replacing him with someone with the opposite gender is immediately an improvement and a step towards equality.

Furthermore, this new Thor is just up and kicking the out old out of his new comic and outright replacing him. So it's not only the fact that a new character is being added to the mythos. There's also the fact that this one is effectively wiping out a decades old established character and throwing him away as if he's not needed any more. As if the fans still invested in him and reading his comic don't matter and don't have any right to complain when their favourite hero is up and replaced without any reason.

All of this is also without getting into some extremely problematic suggestions (one piece of art) that Thor is suddenly unworthy of wielding Mjolnir and only female Thor can do so. If it's a gender change which immediately allows the thunder god to pick it up again, it's insulting beyond reason. Putting morality and dignity not down to individual actions, but because a person has a different chromosome. If it's a new character doing this, that's even worse. It's insulting to Thor himself and is forcing him to suddenly become unworthy purely to make way for someone else, despite carrying the hammer for decades and proving himself worthy countless times over.

I'm sorry, but random accusations of sexism do not immediately render all arguments against this null and void. Anyone who doesn't like a long and lauded character being shoved to one side in favour of an alternative with breasts do have legitimate ground to stand on. The same would go for any character. If Captain Marvel, Jenny Sparks or Wonder Woman were unceremoniously removed, purely to have a male version of them take their place, trying to claim the original's fans are misandrists would not fly.

Again: This isn't some argument against the comic. This is pointing out that yelling anyone who objects either doesn't know what they are talking or are misogynists is crass and simply disrespectful. If they want to argue in favour of this new version of Thor, they should be able to do so without throwing about blind jabs insulting any who do not agree with them.

Though, whatever the quality of the upcoming comic, i'm expecting to see this panel a lot more often on forums after it is released:

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Glitchspace (Video Game Review)

Serving more as a proof of concept at this time than anything else, Glitchspace proves to be a uniquely intriguing combination of elements. Puzzle games are far from rare in this day and age, fewer still which feature the protagonist carrying a gun-like item in a stark white environment thanks to Portal, but then you start to see just what makes it stand out so much. Combining together first person platforming with mathematical equations and logic tasks, it sounds on the surface like a fairly generic release. Then you get into exactly how it handles these elements. Rather than a single game, the entirety of Glitchspace plays out as if it were two separate titles, one hidden inside the other, and occasionally intersecting at specific points.

The Wolf Among Us - Episode 5 - Cry Wolf (Video Game Review)

Closing out the events of The Wolf Among Us, Episode 5 sees Bigby finally face to face with the Crooked Man, mastermind behind the game’s events. How Bigby will approach this foe is yet unknown but with so much of Fabletown under his thumb, neither he nor his associates are likely to go quietly.