Short Story – Stand Up! Invincible Arcalibur!

This was a difficult story to begin writing, because I had so many ideas for it and it was so difficult to condense them into a piece of short fiction. Initially there were going to be a whole squadron of pilots and it was going to be a fun caper about some soldiers trying to throw a surprise party for their captain – elements of Full Metal Panic and Patlabor perhaps. The protagonist was going to be a slightly too serious bridge officer called Hitomi, and it was going to be a farce. The problem was I couldn’t write a caper story as funny as Butch Minds the Baby and I couldn’t hit a suitably easygoing tone without it seeming smug.

Then I decided I quite liked some of the supporting cast more, and there was going to be a Super Robot Wars-esque story about the pilots alone, with the brash, Excellen Browning-like character constantly annoying her wingman. That didn’t go anywhere either.

Then I hit on the characters I really liked from the original idea – a well-meaning but slightly intimidating ace pilot, and a very nervous copilot. I downplayed the initial plan for heartwarming cuteness and focused more on a genre parody drawing on Godannar, Gunbuster and similar super-robot stories. The narrative voice ended up more akin to The Stainless Steel Rat, and this was the result. Also included is a picture, drawn by a sadly anonymous artist, of the two main characters of the story – its style, very muscular and pin-up like, somewhat informed the tone.

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Tabletop Game Review – Robotech RPG Tactics

  

Photos and terrain courtesy of Adam Isherwood at Iron Forest Games, models my own.

The much-delayed Kickstarter-funded wargame Robotech RPG Tactics has finally begun to be delivered within Europe, and as my copy has arrived I have had the opportunity to play two limited-scale games of it. These are sufficient to form general opinions about the rules design – although more detailed examination of unit selection and faction play-style is currently impossible as many of the more interesting and different units are not currently available. Overall, as a wargame attempting to recreate the combat style of Robotech/SDF Macross – a translation of theme into mechanics – it works well. Using a system of named pilots adding thematic abilities to stock units like X-Wing forces can be given more flavour, while the weapon system rules emphasising mass missile attacks and divided, inaccurate fire versus enemies concentrating to bring one hero down creates a strong aesthetic element to mechanical design.

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The Disquieting “Yatterman Night”

Yatterman Night is a curious series, a reimagining or sequel of an archetypal children’s television program that tries to bring it “up to date” with political themes and an often more “mature” tone. At first sight, read literally, it is effectively a philosophical or thematic “next step” for an audience who perhaps watched Yatterman as children and are now teenagers looking for something more morally in-depth. Yatterman, as Night continually restates, is about two heroes and a mechanical dog fighting a group of thieves who are dumb, violent, avaricious and lewd. Good wins, evil is defeated, and that is that. Yatterman‘s evil archetypes are so iconic in their lack of threat they are the model for countless subsequent sympathetic or comic villains – Pokemon‘s Team Rocket, Nadia‘s Grandis Gang, Wario and Waluigi from the Mario games – any set of villains involving a stylish lady, a fat idiot and a thin scheming man, of which there are many.

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Trying to Understand Build Fighters Try



It has taken quite some time for me to properly work out why I dislike Gundam Build Fighters Try in comparison to the original first series; for much of the series’ run time I was unsure if the weaknesses I was identifying within it were based on misremembering the merits of the original. After all, both series embodied similar tropes – that of a naturally talented character helping out technically proficient but less skilful teammates in pursuit of the grand prize of a wargaming tournament. Both protagonists fielded powerful units with over-the-top weapons to face dramatic opponents, so complaining about the way in which fights were resolved by means of a finishing-move judiciously deployed seemed inaccurate. Eventually though I realised the problems with Try were as much with its ethos – its whole attitude behind the game-selling message front and centre – and its characterisation as anything else.

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A Narrative Battle Report – Beyond the Gates of Antares [4 Order Dice, Beta Rules]

Today, at Iron Forest Games in Benfleet, I played a game using the playtest rules of Beyond the Gates of Antares by Warlord games, using two starter forces (Algoryn and C3) against each other.

Antares is based on the Bolt Action rules, with a number of changes to reflect its science-fiction theme.

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“Don’t Cling to me Desperately” – Anemone as Eureka Seven’s Tragic Newtype

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Episode 43 of Eureka Seven significantly advances the main, alien-contact plot in its scenes of Renton and Eureka on an unusual beach. They have travelled to the Promised Land, as expected, and face new challenges even with Norb’s clues about its identity. The viewer learns, in time, about Earth’s role in this setting (and the difference in perspective from which the characters view it) – yet what is more interesting by far, beyond the actual main plot, is the subtle building up to a subplot for Dominic and Anemone and how the revelations this offers about Dewey and Holland reflect on what Renton and Eureka are seeing. It is one of the points in Eureka Seven, much like the Ray and Charles subplot, where it deftly redefines and arguably surpasses its roots in Gundam. Eureka Seven is indebted to the Gundam franchise, yet – much like the similarly referential and reverential Rahxephon has its uneasy relationship with Evangelion – it is at its most fascinating when it diverges from it.

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Short Story – The Usual, for Two

I am not quite sure where this story came from. My other short stories have been clear responses to things that have had some impact on me as a writer – my fantasy writing evoking Shonagon and Pliny, my robot-stories drawing on Infinity and Aim for the Top and more.

This aesthetically, I suppose, most evokes Michiko and Hatchin and Black Lagoon, set as it is in some unreal, loosely-defined setting somewhere between South America and Asia. I know I wanted to try and, in descriptive terms, evoke the fantastic opening to Under the Volcano by Lowry even if there is nothing of Lowry’s novel specifically in it save a description of a possibly South American tourist town.

I do know it was easy to write. Once I began describing Cana Luz filling out this image of a fictional settlement between a town and a city, somewhere in the midst of postwar reconstruction, it was very easy to visualise. The decadent, narcissistic Governor was a similarly easy character to visualise. At one point she – and her conversation-partner – were going to have defined names. They didn’t make it into the final writing.

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Video Game Review – Evolve (Version Reviewed: PS4)

Note: This gameplay video was recorded by me, using the PS4’s Share function.

Note: This review is written based on a review copy sent by Matt Roche at 2k Games, reproduced from D PAD Magazine by arrangement with the magazine.

Evolve is an almost purely multiplayer asymmetric first-person shooter featuring big-game hunters versus kaiju-esque creatures, and a game which shows significant potential let down by awkward design features which add little to the play experience. As it stands, Evolve is quite different to the usual multiplayer-centric shooter and so its reliance on the usual mechanical choices of pseudo-RPG progression feel outdated and inappropriate to the theme and structure. Left 4 Dead, the game which in many ways Evolve owes a debt to, dispensed with this trope and had a fixed cast of characters which did not level up, or unlock abilities – as a result, all players were put on a level playing-field, and it was easy to enter a game, know exactly what was happening and simply play.

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Narai-Kanai’s Darkest Hour – Rahxephon Episode 23

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Episode 23 of Rahxephon is a very, in many ways, typical episode of mecha anime and yet as a result, for this point in the series, a very atypical episode of Rahxephon. As a result, it is disarming, and poignant, and a very strange counterpoint to the crushing anticlimax of the previous two-part story about Makoto’s failure to implement his plan. It closes off a character’s arc in truly heroic style, yet constantly undermines the aesthetic expectations of the audience to make it less simplistically hot-blooded. Furthermore, it hints at tragic ironies but never makes them clear, not spelling out how one character’s doubt and inaction could have prevented another’s tragedy and leaving the doubt in the viewer’s mind of whether or not what happened could have – or should have – been prevented.

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Short Story: What Happened

This latest short story continues in the science-fiction theme of Episode 48, but rather than being a look at the big-hero antics of super-robots takes a look at the “real robot” – the military-SF subgenre of mecha anime where the technology is less spectacular and more everyday, where the machines are not standins for superheroes and all that associates with them but tools of war.

At the same time it is heavily, heavily inspired by the wargame Infinity, currently in its third edition – a cyberpunk, real-robot wargame about high-technology superpower conflicts. A key part of Infinity is its mechanics for electronic warfare – something immensely useful in pure game-mechanics terms as a way of gaining action advantage and mitigating threat, but something which if considered from a setting perspective is possibly more terrifying a prospect than the firepower carried by most soldiers. This is not, specifically, Infinity fiction. I do not know enough about the setting to write something I would be prepared to claim as such. Instead it is my response to Infinity, and to its inspirations Ghost in the Shell, and Patlabor, and Appleseed and more.

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