Saturday, July 30, 2011

Happy Birthday, Kate!

Kate Bush is 53 years young today.  In tribute to her the video of the week will feature material from each of her albums.  First up is her first hit single from 1978's The Kick Inside, Wuthering Heights:

Next is from '79's Lionheart, Wow(!).

Now we head to 1980 and Babooshka:

Kate shot a lot of videos where she used her dance experience to great effect, but it did not stop her from doing more conceptual stuff like Army Dreamers:

And now on to 1982 and The Dreaming, where things

At this point in her career Kate had become her own albums' sole producer.  Collaboration with Peter Gabriel had introduced her to the fairlight synthesizer, which she used extensively on this album.  She butted heads with record company execs and her desire to take time and experiment warred with booking studio time.  The result was an album that did not do well perhaps because it was too experimental, too much of a departure from her earlier work.  Deciding she was fed up with struggling for studio time, Kate spent time and money in creating one of her own.  What followed then was Hounds of Love/The Ninth Wave, an album where side A consisted of commercially accessible tracks, while the second side was very much a concept album.

Sadly, the man dancing with Kate in this video died just a few weeks ago:

This is to me Kate's greatest album, the high water mark of her career.  It was her most successful album and some of her best music videos were being made at this time.  See if you can recognize the father/professor in Cloudbusting:

The following year Kate released a greatest hits album, The Whole Story, it contained two new singles.  One was a remake of Wuthering Heights, the second was Experiment IV, guest starring a very young Hugh Laurie:

In '89 Kate produced another album full of new music.  By now it was obvious it was taking longer and longer for her to general new material.  Where before it only took one year, then two, there was a three year gap between The Dreaming and Hounds of Love.  Now we see a four year gap between Hounds and The Sensual World.  It gets worse.

The Sensual World was one of her most beautiful videos, but what rivals it with Love And Anger are the cameos.  We see two dancers who toured with her, her brother Paddy, and the most awesome Dave Gilmour, who had helped her early in her career.

Another four year gap brought us '93's The Red Shoes:

That is Miranda Richardson playing the heavy, with a cameo from Lindsey Kemp.

And now the drought began, the twelve year famine we Kate Bush fans suffered through.  Along the way she got herself pregnant, gave birth to her son Bertie.  In an interview years earlier Kate had said if she ever became a mother she would make her career second to that, something she stuck to.  But finally after twelve years we got Aeriel:

Most recently Kate has released a new album called The Director's Cut, a re-imagining of her earlier songs.  Honestly...I am not thrilled with it.  I realize that sometimes revisiting an earlier work is a good thing; her new vocal of Wuthering Heights is superior to the original.  But I gave this album a listen and, well...

Well, the album has received critical acclaim so I am very, very happy for Kate, and I am grateful for what has been for me twenty five years of joy.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Crazy Eight!

Hey, turns out I have an eighth follower.  Welcome!

Now I really feeling guilty about not finishing that article. If any of you are wondering why I haven't completed it, there are reasons.  The first is I am in mourning over the death of Amy Winehouse.

Hahahahahahahahahaha!  Okay, no seriously, I have good reasons for there being a delay other than the death a self destructive drug addict who refused to accept the help of those who loved and cared for her.  And yes, when I see the internet making fun of her demise I do not feel the least bit guilty when I laugh.

Now, seriously, I usually post stuff on Saturdays and this coming Saturday is July 30th.  For those of you wholly ignorant of my unhealthy obsessions, July 30th is Kate Bush's birthday.  And since I am doing the video of the week thing likely the the next new post will be devoted to The Greatest Female Vocalist Of Our Age.  Note that Kate is 52, has a child, a legacy any musical performer can be proud of and the respect of  her peers.  Winehouse, however, will be forever known as a sad, pathetic punchline.

Okay, okay, I'm through talking about Winehouse.  I think.

The other reason I have not been finishing the article is I have been concentrating on putting together a new game.  I had originally thought about running a Star Trek game, but I gave up on it for several reasons.  The first is I was having trouble with the whole Nova format that seems so popular with 'Trek GMs these days.  Someone suggested I join a fleet...

No.  Fucking.  Way.  I will play in a fleet if I absolutely must, but run a ship under someone else's thumb?  Dealing with the ridiculous politics?  Hell with that.

What ultimately killed it for me was what was going on in the 'Trek game I am in now (Exeter's GM seems like a pretty cool guy, btw.  If you are looking for a game to join I would seriously consider giving it a try.) and that is the player turnover.  It is not that it is a bad game, it is simply typical of many Star Trek games.  People are infamous for dropping out of 'Trek games, and it can be very frustrating.  I just did not want to deal with the hassle of hunting down enough players to run the game, then watch half of them fade away in a month.

So I decided to play it safe and go for a format that I am more comfortable with and has a built in bunch of players.  I am putting together a game taking place in the Vindicators universe, it will be magic-centric.  The plot is someone dies and a funeral is held for them, followed by a wake.  Various members of the magical community are in attendance and at this wake something happens.  Not quite sure what that something is, but it is the hook for the adventure. Perhaps his or her will is read and the PCs are given a quest, it will be something along those lines.  Right now I am spending a heckuva lot of time on creating background material for the game.

If you are wondering a bit about it, I have put together a tentative FAQ, I will probably be updating it more (for example, where inspirations are concerned, as much as I was underwhelmed by the whole White Wolf game system and worlds (It just felt so depressing; the bad, I cannot deny I thought some of the Mage stuff was neat.  And one of the writers quoted a Kate Bush song.  Can't be all bad.), and I have a ton of background I need to get finished before the game can be advertised.  The Six Families and The Elves need more depth, for example.  As it happens, I do have a new leader for the necrotic Graves Clan:

What do you think? ;)

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Song of the week

First of all, a welcome to my two new followers.  I will have a post up hopefully in a couple weeks.  In the mean time, here is your song of the week:

Sunday, July 17, 2011

John Carter

I am not wholly sold on it, but from what I have seen I am cautiously optimistic.  With Disney involved I can understand how our Warlord of Mars and his lady cannot be as (ahem) adult as I would have preferred, but barring that it looks like it might be good.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Song of the week

There are many, musical performers around that I am not a fan of, but nevertheless have produced a song or two I really like.  Case in point, Slipknot.  I have listened to their albums, heard their singles and for the most part I don't get it or them.

However, there is one song of theirs that I just love: Psychosocial.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Semper Fie!

If it seems as if I focus an undue amount of attention to Star Trek I think that it is because in the PBEM world they, X-Men and adult games (Which I will not touch on in this blog...despite the fact it would likely increase my readership considerably.) are the most common.  I think it probable that just about everyone who reads this blog is either in a Star Trek game or has played one in the past, or at the very least has read their fair share of 'Trek ads and seen the web sites.

What I would like to address today is the use of Marines in Star Trek games.  I don't get it.

No, seriously, I do not understand why or how Marines ever began to be used in Star Trek games.  As far as I can tell the only time Marines were ever mentioned was in a deleted scene from Star Trek VI when Colonel West proposed a rescue operation to rescue Kirk and McCoy, and later was revealed as being the Klingon in disguise who tried to assassinate the Federation President. Outside of that there is no canonical reference to Marines in the 'Trek universe. Even Ex Astris Scientia's Bernd Schneider, one of the web's foremost authorities on Star Trek, has stated Marines are false canon.

So why are Marines used at all?  First, let us look at modern USN vessels and the role Marines play on them now or had in the past.

Repelling boarders.  Marines are a ship's primary defense against incursions by enemy forces, they are the best armed, best trained fighters on board.  Their job is to provide security on board a vessel.  Just like security forces on board a Starfleet vessel, headed up by a Chief of Security.

Accompanying officers on offshore missions.  Whenever officers might enter dangerous areas they may be assigned a Marine contingent to act as a bodyguard...Just like security personnel often do on away missions.

Who could forget on...

Boarding operations.  Marines are often tasked with boarding a potentially hostile or dangerous vessel either in order to stage an assault or to mount rescue operations...just like we have seen away teams do in Star Trek going back to the days when they were called landing parties, and in all those cases there was not a single Marine in sight.

But what about Marine pilots?  You might ask.  Marines have fighter wings, don't they?  Yes, they do.  And it is true Marine pilots must undergo extensive training with the United States Navy at Pensacola   Marine fighters do not operate off of Navy warships.  You know who does fly aircraft off Navy vessels?  Navy pilots.  Shocking, I know.  All right, I freely admit there are Marines who fly off of USN vessels, but these are specialty ships, such as amphibious assault ships.  Anything a Marine can do in regards to piloting fighter craft a Naval pilot can do, and in regards to Star Trek the latter makes far more sense.

So why the obsession with Marines?  Is it a hatred of the color mustard? the holodeck with the bat'leth
I have given the matter some thought and I think I have some ideas why Marines have acquired such a love from a sad, misguided faction of Star Trek fans.

There is no doubt that save for Special Forces like Navy SEAL teams, or The Rangers or Green Berets, or Russian Spetnaz or British SAS (or a dozen or more other elite units from around the world),  the United States (and let us be fair, British) Marines hold a certain mystique.  Marines are largely considered by many to be an elite force in itself. And this bears out when you look at the way Marines are trained and what is expected of them.  Every Marine pilot, for example, is also trained as an infantry platoon commander.  Marine NCOs are expected to be able to act with greater autonomy than NCOs from other branches.

The thought of being part of such an extraordinary organization of men and women is doubtless attractive.  But when you add sci fi to Marines, well then...

Is there anyone more manly than Michael Biehn?  I don't think so.

...the awesome is turned up to eleven.  They are often portrayed as utter badasses, they look cool, carry cool weapons, kill lots of stuff.  This is especially true in Aliens where Space Marines were first introduced on the big screen.

But Aliens is not the only source.  Warhammer 40k has their own Space Marines, and while I am not a fan I cannot deny the artistic style of that world is stunning.  I mean really, take a look at this:

Do the amps have a twelve setting?  They do now.

These are just two examples.  This is a list of Space Marines in science fiction, it is a long list. An impressive list.  But you know what franchise is not on the list?  Star Trek.  If someone wants to play a Space Marine they can play Warhammer 40k, Traveler, or Wing Commander rather than polluting 'Trek with a livid green rash.

What is Star Trek about?  Sure, it is about Captain Kirk beating someone with double fists and tearing his shirt, or constructing a gun from bamboo.  It is about Worf whipping out a Bat'leth and carving some dude up.  It is about Benjamin Sisko being utterly badass just cooking up a batch of gumbo.  But it is equally about Scotty being a miracle worker, or Spock solving a problem logically.  It is about senior officers sitting around a poker table in a delightful moment of character interaction.  It is about political intrigue at a remote space station.  It is about exploring strange new worlds, seeking out new life forms, new civilizations.  DS9's Dominion War began something that we really did not need and that was a greater obsession with the military side of 'Trek.  And what made it sad was DS9 was just aping what was going on in Babylon 5, a better show overall*.  Just a note about B5: there were no Marines there, either.

But back to the subject at hand; Marines, and Star Trek PBEMs.  They are not necessary, people.  Never have been.  Star Trek games survived before the advent of Marines, they worked just fine.  Anyone who wanted to play a Marine could have played a security/tactical officer.  Anyone who wanted to fly a fighter craft could have played a Starfleet helmsman.  Marines are redundant in the 'Trek universe.  And here is another thing that bothers me.  Take a look at the rank insignia from The Original Series.  Now take a look at the rank insignia from The Motion Picture here and here.  Now here are the insignia from Star Treks II thru VI.  In each case the creators were attempting to create either insignia that were fairly generic easily adoptable by multiple alien cultures (And yes, I know, many Navies use stripes on the sleeves to denote rank, but they are still a generic form of rank designation which is widely recognized by numerous cultures, which is the point of using them) or unique to a sci-fi series.

Now here are the insignia from Next Generation:

In the first two examples the designers went for a look which was unique, the latter when they realized they needed to further expand on non-commissioned ranks they were inspired by modern military insignia.  I stress the words "inspired by" as there is still a unique style to these insignia.  Now take a look at the rank tabs widely used in Star Trek games for Marines:

Wow.  Talk about an utter lack of creativity.  These insignia are exactly the same used by the modern United States Marine Corps.  An Earth organization that was in existence three hundred years before Star Trek, Deep Space Nine.  Why would Starfleet use the insignia of a three hundred year old Earth military organization?  Remember when I mentioned the hatred of the color mustard?  Take a look at the color of the rank tabs: green.  In Star Trek the three colors double up: blue is Science and Medical.  Red is Command and Helm.  Mustard is Security/Tactical, and Engineering.  But hey, if you play a Marine not only are your rank tabs different from everyone else, but you get to wear your own special color as well.  How kewl is that?  That is just...immature.

In the end, the presence of Marines diminishes Star Trek games.  Are GMs who use Marines in their games bad people?  Are players who play them?  No, of course not.  But I would say the former are largely people desperate to fill their ships with players, the latter people who largely just do not get what Star Trek is.

*My opinion, of course.