The history of edutainment is actually really interesting because of how many people got involved in it at various points. In our limited discussion a few weeks ago, we mentioned a few of the “highlights” that we could think of, but there’s so much more to see when you look into it. Perhaps what Jimmy Maher’s article points out the most to me was that I had actually played a great many of these games. My father was an early adopter of computers and computer games; it should come to no surprise that he would later earn his graduate degree in Educational Technology.
Maher does an excellent job of describing the history in a way that felt very personal to me, having lived through the era. As a young person growing up in the 1980s and 1990s, I distinctly remember regularly going to the “computer lab” on campus to use educational software. Of course, most of the software we were allowed to use was of the uninspired educational variety. Stuff like the original Math Blaster or Reader Rabbit focused more on the educational component, essentially replacing the classroom facilitator with a soulless computer. But, as it ends up, I got lucky because of a chance to experience some of the more engaging educational titles that my father would regularly bring home, games from the likes of Spinnaker Software, which felt more like entertainment and less like a relatively boring math lesson.
One thing that stands out in Maher’s summation of edutainment software is that two of the most notable, recognizable, and arguably beloved edutainment titles, Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? and Oregon Trail, are not regarded as particularly educational by most education professionals. That’s sort of amazing and probably says something about the field of edutainment: the most memorable, most popular edutainment titles are not actually good edutainment.
I suppose this would almost qualify as a “News Blast,” but it fit really well into the discussion of entertainment products that are educational. Dan and I did not really speak much to tabletop games as being educational, but it’s actually not uncommon at all. What is most interesting about this is that this board game is being utilized to both educate children about the menstrual cycle and also to make them more comfortable talking about it.
I don’t intend to dwell too long on this article or the game presented in it. But as an avid tabletop gamer, I can appreciate implementing board games for educational purposes. It’s not often that I play a tabletop game and learn important elements of biology, physiology, or anatomy. If anything, my experience has been that tabletop games punch their hardest in the educational category in matters of history. One of the more popular board games around, a Cold War simulator known as Twilight Struggle, features a rulebook that describes the historical events featured on every card of the game. The fact that I learned practically everything I know about Operation Paperclip and the Cambridge Five from this board game says something about the educational elements of tabletop gaming.
WEEK IN GEEK: Andrew bides his time until Civilization VI releases by playing a bunch of Blizzard games while Dan swims through the lush animation and Old Norse world of Thunder Lotus Games’ Jotun.
NEWS BLAST – UPDATE – METAL GEAR SURVIVE:Metal Gear series creator and famous non-employee of Konami, Hideo Kojima, boldly said that he has nothing to do with Konami’s upcoming Metal Gear Solid V spinoff, Metal Gear Survive, on stage at this years Tokyo Game Show. Konami retaliated by releasing approximately fifteen minutes of co-op gameplay to a rather tepid response.
LEGACY CHARACTERS 2.0: Building off of the previous conversations about “legacy characters”––superhero mantles that can be passed from person to person rather than being locked to a single identity––in Episode 09 and, tangentially, in Episode 104, Dan and Andrew return to the topic now that the world has a new Superman––officially New Super-Man––and recent Legacy turns with Wolverine and the use of a Legacy character in Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD: Ghost Rider v3.0, Robby Reyes. So, there’s lots of stuff to talk about.
That the comics industry works through strange machinations puts the whole situation mildly. It’s an industry perpetually flailing for readers and sales, but its movies are making more money than any other adapted medium in history. Combined with all of the crossovers and events that “The Big Two” (Marvel Comics and DC Comics) push––and the associated bumps and crashes in sales––there is no doubt that there is something funky about how the comics industry works, but it also that blame has been mercurial, shifting scapegoats depending on the ails of the current generation: people aren’t reading comics anymore because of video games; people are waiting for the trade paperback collections instead of buying individual issues; the movies and tv shows are more accessible and modern than the books; print versus digital distribution, etc.
The problem this has caused shows that the blame-shifting that moves the industry has done its job rather well, getting the industry to blame itself rather than looking for a deeper seed. This Outhousers (what a name) article does a fine job at pointing the finger away from general culture (which does have its share of culpability, just not nearly as much as we apparently want to foist upon it) and toward the one constant in the last, at least, thirty years of the industry: a monopolized distribution system.
Diamond Comic Distributors is the only distributor for the Big Two as well as the other top-tier publishers such as Image, Dark Horse, Oni, etc. While that in itself is not inherently bad, a look at its practices and demands upon the publishers (and creators) reveals a rotten core tethering together the ever-changing problems from which the industry suffers.
It’s a bold statement, but also not much of a surprise––as an independent comicker, if you want to get any ground in comic stores around the country, you must meet the demands of Diamond, and their barrier to entry is unreasonably high. Some of it comes across as honest gatekeeping, which is fine to a point; you want only good comics to make it to stores, but it also puts an extreme burden on pretty much any independent creator unless you have found word-of-mouth/viral success through the internet. Even then, it’s still best to pitch to a publisher and have them deal with the distribution.
The Outhousers article shines a bright light on the issue, but being an independent blog in its own right, I wonder how much change it can actually inspire. I’ll just do my part, then, and keep the conversation going.
For all of the video games that land onto store shelves or on the front page of an online retailer, it’s astounding to see how many games are out there right now. From what I have come to understand, mostly from listening to gaming podcasts that have interviewed developers (to having interned for a startup developer myself back in the late nineties/early aughts), what astounds even more is how many games don’t get made, despite going into production.
Development is shut down all of the time with apparently little cause given, in many cases. Luke Winkie’s article presents a fascinating case study into one example of this, through the lens of a developer who worked on the nearly-finished Infinite Crisis, a MOBA featuring all of DC Comics’ major characters, before it was shut down.
I argue that the saddest part of a game getting shut down mostly has to do with the ache of possibility, that a game with promise won’t ever see the light of day. What’s heartwarming, though, is that an unreleased game seems to have little effect on a developer’s resume, often because it’s not the developer’s fault that a game got pulled. It usually has to do with business decisions from investors and the like, people gauging the market and finding it unfit for whatever they had already pumped thousands or millions of dollars into.
What this tangentially touches upon is another heated conversation in the gaming world right now, one about the poor working conditions afforded to people who work in the industry. If there is a bright spot, it could be that despite all the other issues you have to face as a game developer––working within strict budgets, big teams, time crunches (and long hours), aggregate review scores, etc.––working for years on a game that never gets released doesn’t damage your possibilities to continue working in the industry at all. In fact, the bigger the “failure,” the better it could be for you.
Due to technical difficulties, only a Shortcast can be brought to you this week, but D. Bethel and Andrew Asplund have packed as much content into a single serving as humanly possible with a Week in Geek!
WEEK IN GEEK: Andrew plays the remaster/reboot/sequel to the classic PC Civ-in-Space game, Master of Orion, while Dan sets his nostalgia aside and watches with great skepticism Starz’s Ash vs. Evil Dead.
If you have any thoughts about the topics discussed this week, leave them as a comment at forallintents.net. Be sure to join the official Facebook and Google+ pages. To help out the show, please leave a review on the iTunes store to help spread the word to new potential listeners.
And, for what it’s worth, here is the closest that could be found of Bruce Campbell with John Barrowman at a convention, courtesy of Bruce Campbell’s Twitter:
Also, to check out D. Bethel’s newest collection of his webcomic, Long John, head over to longjohncomic.com or go directly to the Etsy store.
For all intents and purposes, that was a Shortcast recap.
On Friday, September 9, Fantasy Flight Games (FFG) made a somewhat surprising announcement on their website. The licensing agreement that allowed for games like Blood Bowl: Team Manager, Talisman (4th Edition, Revised), and Chaos in the Old World would end: “Beginning February 28th, 2017, Fantasy Flight Games will no longer offer for sale any games in conjunction with Games Workshop[.]” There were not a lot of details provided, although it was clear that FFG would not be supporting or selling any of those games after the drop-dead date of February 28th.
License agreements ending is nothing new in any entertainment industry. Just like Marvel and Capcom ended their license relationship a few years ago, this kind of thing happens with some regularity. In tabletop gaming, Star Wars has had role-playing games developed by West End Games, Wizards of the Coast, and Fantasy Flight Games all because the license moved between different companies. Of course, every time the creative license switches over, people who like the now extinct product have to accept that they will not get any more of that version of the content. Just like Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 was the final Marvel vs. Capcom game, the Fantasy Flight Games/Games Workshop titles just met their future’s end.
What is interesting about this is how Games Workshop has been pushing the licensing business quite heavily in the past year. They were recently spotted at 2016’s Licensing Expo in Las Vegas trying to push all of their brands into video games, entertainment, and more. (And, yes. Licensing Expo is a real thing, apparently.) Earlier this year, they announced that they had made more income than expected from licensing agreements. If anything, it would seem that the FFG/GW license relationship had been good for everybody.
Of course, that assumes that the end of the relationship is on the part of Games Workshop. Since the original license agreement was created, the industry has changed. Back in August 2011, Fantasy Flight Games announced that it had acquired the license to the Star Wars universe from LucasFilm Ltd. That license was renewed in 2015 and expanded to include new content. In November 2014, Fantasy Flight Games merged with the Asmodee Group, creating one of the largest tabletop gaming companies in the United States (excepting Hasbro and its subsidiaries, of course). It may very well be that Fantasy Flight Games no longer sought to pay the licensing fees Games Workshop expected. When you consider that this is the company that has licenses to Lord of the Rings and Star Wars, the Games Workshop line of games seems relatively unimpressive in comparison.
Whatever the reason for the separation, one thing is certain: fans of the Fantasy Flight line of Games Workshop licensed games have until February 2017 to get ahold of them before they will start to become difficult to find.
WEEK IN GEEK: Andrew checks out PAX West while D. Bethel plays the mobile puzzle games, 1010! and Street Fighter Puzzle Spirits.
THAT’S EDUTAINMENT: Inspired by Japanese: The Game card game Andrew saw at PAX West, Dan and Andrew talk about games made with education in mind. Games like Oregon Trail and Where in the X is Carmen San Diego? are classic examples of educational games done right––fun games that make a cultural impact. So, the question they ponder is: Where are the educational games now? Or has that format morphed into other media?
Leave your thoughts as a comment at forallintents.net. Be sure to join the official Facebook and Google+ pages. Also, to help spread the world of the show, please leave a review on the iTunes store.
For all intents and purposes, that was an episode recap.
-“Stayin’ in Black” by Wax Audio
-“Teach Your Children” by Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young
-“You Was Wrong” by Freddie King
WEEK IN GEEK: Andrew watches a classic Doctor Who stories, sequels of each other, in the Fifth Doctor adventures “Kinda” and “Snakedance,” while Dan watches two episodes featured in Amazon.com’s sitcom “Pilot Season”: The Tick and Jean-Claude Van Johnson.
NERD AUTEURS: Starting with the reveal trailer at this year’s Gamescom for Konami’s surprise, Metal Gear Survive, Dan and Andrew discuss the impact of public-facing creators of popular nerd franchises and what happens when they leave those properties. What should be expected? How important are the creators? What about the creators’ next projects?
Andrew is going to be at PAX West this weekend, check him out as helps out with gameplay demos of the card game, Yukon Salon, on Friday 9/02. He will also be helping to run the Watch the Skies Child’s Play benefit game, put on by Seattle Megagames, on Saturday 9/03.
On Thursday, September 8th, from 5-9pm, D. Bethel will be an exhibitor at Crocker-Con. This is a nerd culture convention held at Sacramento’s Crocker Art Museum and costs $10 to get in or free if you’re a member of the museum. There are also student discount admissions available with proper identification. Dan will be premiering (and selling) Long John, Volume 2 at the event, and friend of the show, Josh Tobey, will be sharing the table, selling prints of his paintings.
Leave your thoughts about this week’s topics as comments at forallintents.net. Be sure to follow the show at its official Facebook and Google+ pages. To help the show, please leave a review on the iTunes store.
For all intents and purposes, that was an episode recap.
-“Stayin’ in Black” by Wax Audio
-“Can’t Find My Way Home” by Blind Faith
-“Noble Farewell/Finale” by Mel Brooks & John Morris, perf. Hollywood Studio Symphony Orchestra (from Blazing Saddles)
While not about a particular aspect of nerd culture, Frankenfield’s article finds a thread strung through most aspects of geekdom: a legitimate choice between independent and “mainstream” products. In most nerdy and geeky venues, these exist side-by-side––I think of the gaming scene (specifically video gaming; Andrew will have to answer for the tabletop angle) where venues as amalgamated as Steam as well as the more hierarchical PSN or XBox Live give independent products prime real estate in an effort to get both triple-A and the snarkily titled “triple-I” titles on players’ screens. For all the drama that has surrounded video games press in the last few years, it has acted to level the playing field, not through any particular agenda as much as finding good indie games and wanting to share. For all nerdy avenues, Kickstarter and other crowd-sourced funding platforms have been key in getting independent products more mainstream attention, even if it never officially achieves that status.
More than ever, the line between “independent” and “mainstream” is blurring, and I think it’s a good time to ask some simple, problem-posing questions: how and why? I think the second question is easier to answer than the first. The divide is closing because traditional “mainstream” products have become less satisfying over time. Perhaps that’s the wrong word; mainstream products have become predictable and staid even though they still rake in profit. But we see this most popularly, I think, with television (though an argument could be made for any nerd media right now). Even though the major networks are still the ratings kings and producing the most popular content, the revered content is made outside of those avenues, the top producers of which are probably HBO and AMC, currently. It was them, and networks like them, that pioneered the “new golden age of television” in which we now find ourselves. NBC, CBS, and ABC are not the trailblazers here, even if they are the “winners” using outdated metrics.
As for the “how”, that is an answer that produces the most consternation and danger as this movement progresses. The nice thing about the mainstream system is that it provides traditional and, for the most part, proven processes for bringing projects to life. The problem is that, over time, the process became corrupted by brown-nosing who-you-knows with impenetrable baselines for entry. The rise of the independents, as Frankenfield illustrates, took advantage of new media and presented new content on its own terms, letting the audience find it, even if that audience was niche. The problem with this is––and I saw this all the time in webcomics––that, arguably, the independent road to success can only be travelled once. Again, with webcomics, the success of strips like Penny Arcade or PvP or Axe Cop led to unwarranted (and unproven) codification of paths to success and many eager creators became wrapped in false righteousness when their duplication of Penny Arcade‘s arc didn’t provide the same results for them.
With new media––specifically, internet-based media––it seems that roads to success are made out of sand and are erased as soon as they are coursed. It makes “success” a much more malleable phrase for independents than a mainstream product ever could find. It’s why maintaining a self-sufficient comic through ads, Kickstarter campaigns, and regular Patreon contributions could be seen as more of a success than the new Ghostbusters, even though its gross revenue is approaching $220 million dollars (I’m this fully cognizant of the fact that those returns are less than the production budget and marketing budget combined, but there was also Zoolander 2; check those numbers). Whether it’s in the black or not, people still paid $220 million dollars to go see it, which is impressive from an indie standpoint, but to many it’s a mainstream failure, whereas in the context of self-sustaining webcomics we could mean an amount that simply covers hosting costs. If anything, its this relative definition of success that’s going to be making the biggest marks on pop culture in the future, and Frankenfield points to specific examples of this––Louis C.K. and Chance the Rapper––to get this point across.
It’s no secret that I hold Marvel’s persecuted mutants close to my heart, and to that extent, I cherish the filmic versions a bit more dear than many MCU properties if only because of my nostalgic tie to them (while wholly acknowledging that Marvel makes better movies, on the whole). That being said, I have long felt that it would be a mistake for the X-Men and their associated titles to move from Fox to Marvel Studios. To be frank, I was hoping to write an article about it, but Kyle Anderson at Nerdist hit that nail before I did.
I echo Anderson’s point wholeheartedly that the X-Men work best when mutants are the only super-powered people on the planet. I realize this only really exists in the context of the movies as they have been wholly integrated into the Marvel Comics universe since their inception, but as an easily digestible metaphor that can make the largest impact, it’s a context that is much more effective than if they had to interact with super-soldiers and aliens (though X-Men: Apocalypse got a bit close to that mark and, according to Bryan Singer, is a direction he wants to go in the future).
But, referring to what guest Elijah Kaine said during our Shortcast, there currently is room in popular culture for more than one continuity. Naturally, we all assumed it would be a stark line between Marvel and DC because that’s how it exists in the print world. However, we aren’t seeing an effort really coagulating on the DC/Warner Bros. side of things despite their best efforts and it’s also smart to think of things existing more broadly. We have the MCU, we have the Arrow-verse, and we have the X-Men continuity, among others. It’s a much more nuanced and multi-faceted world we live in than, perhaps, we want, but I think, overall, it is better for it.
NOTE: Kyle Anderson is the co-host of a podcast I’ve talked about before––Doctor Who: The Writer’s Room––in which he and Erik Stadnik talk about the writers from classic Doctor Who (1963-1989). They provide incredibly in-depth critical analysis of scripts and their writers that, I would argue, makes it essential listening if you are a fan. This may also make me a bit biased toward Kyle Anderson’s argument, though I didn’t realize he was the author until after I had read the piece.
and, in a slightly different interpretation of the column’s title, here is a video that is “Worth a Look”:
WEEK IN GEEK: Andrew dives into the Doctor Who audio drama archive through the use of the Big Finish app while Dan listens to classic Doctor Who while hurrying to finish his new Long John book.
WHO’S THAT GIRL?: With the rumor that actress Zendaya has been possibly cast as Mary Jane Watson in the upcoming Spider-Man: Homecoming film, Dan and Andrew discuss the history and thought behind controversial casting and the difference between what is necessary for a character and what is traditional for a character.
I recently mentioned that I had been watching Geek & Sundry’s Titansgrave: The Ashes of Valkana. Besides being a very well produced “watch people play RPGs” show, it’s also a very good illustration of the Fantasy AGE role-playing game system. What I find really impressive about that the Fantasy AGE RPG did not exist until Titansgrave. As I mentioned in the podcast, the game was based heavily on the Dragon AGE RPG published by Green Ronin Publishing, which was (of course) based on the very popular video game by Bioware. I did not spend a lot of time talking about what Fantasy AGE brings to the table during the podcast. Instead, I thought I would take a moment and do that here.
Although there have always been other rule sets distinct from Dungeons & Dragons, including those of Palladium Books and Steve Jackson’s GURPS, it is safe to say that various versions of D&D have always dominated the market. This began to change in 2001, and the proliferation of RPG systems has become sort of a defining aspect of this era of tabletop role-playing. The creation of the “Open Game License” created the widely accepted notion that it was okay for third parties to develop content for existing RPG systems. Some companies even started flirting with the idea of developing their own derivative rule systems for gaming. The alledged “fall of D&D” with the release of D&D Fourth Edition and the resulting “Edition Wars” opened the door even farther. Suddenly, companies like Paizo, Goodman Games, and Green Ronin were able to penetrate the market and find their own space.
The Stunts of Fantasy AGE
After watching the entire season of Titansgrave, what I took away from the Fantasy AGE system was that it brought something new and different to the table. What I really liked was the stunt system. Using similar mechanics as the Dragon AGE RPG, it inserts opportunities for the spectacular into every die roll. D&D players are familiar with the idea of “critical successes,” in which the player rolls a 20 on the 20-sided die which results in a novel effect. Fantasy AGE kind of captures that feeling with “stunts,” in which any time doubles are rolled (out of three dice), the player gets “stunt points” to spend on cool things. When you consider that nearly 45% of all rolls of three six sided dice contain at least two matching dice, this means that the prospect of using stunt points can happen with some regularity. Suddenly, it starts to feel like your player characters can do awesome stuff like you see on the cover of every RPG rulebook. That’s a neat feeling that nearly every combat-heavy tabletop RPG has tried to address for years.
The Characters of Fantasy AGE
How the players build their characters is always a fundamental part of any tabletop role-playing game. In part due to its basis on the originalDragon Age: Origins, Fantasy AGE take a slightly different approach to characters and classes than your typical tabletop RPG. Although it is a class-based system, it draws that spectrum down to only three: Warrior, Rogue, and Mage. However, these basic classes get differentiated by abilities, specializations, and other options. For those who watched Titansgrave, it’s worth mentioning that Aankia and Kiliel were both rogues, but that isn’t immediately apparent to the viewer. As somebody who has sat at a table of Dungeons & Dragons and felt like the two fighters at the table were only distinguishable on the basis of the players, it’s nice to see a system that tries to create mechanical distinctions between different characters.
One thing I’ve seen when poking around Fantasy AGE-themed webpages is the ease with which players are adding their own content to the character system. New types of magic, new specializations, and other character options add further depth to the game. I’ve even see one online game master adapt the original Dragon Age RPG system into a Star Wars game. It appears that the relatively straightforward specialization system allows people to throw together a new variant that further expands the depth of field.
The Flexibility of Fantasy AGE
One of my greatest weaknesses as a tabletop RPG player is that I am never content with existing settings as provided. More often than not, I decide that the setting is too restrictive or somehow doesn’t meet my interests. Generally, this means I’ve always been attracted to “generic” role-playing game systems. Of course, as I get older, I learn to disregard things that I don’t like, but I still retain a soft spot for games designed to give you serious freedom of setting. And Fantasy AGE does that.
If it’s not clear, the Fantasy AGE presented in the rulebook is a generic fantasy setting. Sword and sorcery stuff, mostly. Titansgrave, on the other hand, is different. It’s that weird “sci-fi meets fantasy” Thundarr the Barbarian thing. Beyond that, the Fantasy AGE rulebook provides guidance on black powder weapons, providing the mechanical underpinnings of an Age of Sail game. At the end of the day, the game provides some basic rules for interaction, battle, and other gameplay and then lets the player’s imagination do the driving.
Bringing Something New to the Genre
I haven’t played Fantasy AGE yet, so everything I’m saying should probably be taken with a grain of salt. But, having played a lot of different tabletop RPG systems, I really like that this one brought something new to the table. It comes across as very free-form, allowing players to do what they want to do, while still providing something with a little bit of weight. Character options are wide and flexible while still giving players interesting development choices to make. Stunts give players a way to do cool and interesting things besides just “roll to hit.” I’m excited to try throwing the game into my normal rotation of tabletop RPG systems.