Author Archives: zinar7

Reich of the Living Dead: Part Two

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Last week, I kicked off a delightful yuletide journey to separate the undead from the FUNdead of the current crop of Nazi Zombie movies with the opening statement: Reich of the Living Dead: Part One.

Naturally, there are more movies to cover in the future and (no doubt) more entries to spring forth in future but, to wrap up this festive miracle, I hereby lay forth the concluding, second part of this mini pop-culture quest.

Merry Christmas, one and all!

 

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Outpost [2008, Steve Barker]

Outpost DVD

My goodness, Outpost certainly makes you crave a bit of colour on your screen.

Predominantly painted in the dreary hues of bunker grey, mud brown and camouflage green, Outpost sets out to bring a little bit of grit to Nazi zombie genre; propelling a group of mercenaries – escorting a stoic and chiselled British spelunker – towards an abandoned East European bunker-like outpost in search of…something (to be determined). When the unsubtly-multinational team stumble across a whole host of paranormal hooley blowing around them, it soon appears that the site was once an SS military research facility attempting to bend space, time and immortality. Well, bugger.

This premise kicks off a rather military-flavoured action-horror crusade, pinning man vs. immortal in a way which manages to keep things deeply mystical and shrouded rather than explosive or, say, interesting. Whilst the cinematography, acting and dialogue is of a high quality, there is an undoubted vacuum of charismata in both pro- and antagonists: indeed, the biggest villain – the chilling Brigadeführer Götz – is woefully underutilised and painfully lifeless. But hey, maybe that’s the point.

Whilst, in the main, Outpost does manage to avoid treading on the same old Nazi zombie tropes, it falls over in its rather rigid adherence to the action-movie header without ever fully embracing the obvious paranormal parallels; culminating in a growingly tedious siege-style set-piece polished off with a hammy finale. Indeed, it goes to show that once you drain all of the colour out of an engaging concept and paint over it with camouflage gear, butch mercenaries and 9 mm rounds, what’s left is something just a bit dreary.

Something that not even Tyres (Michael Smiley) from Spaced can brighten up.

 

Frankenstein’s Army [2013, Richard Raaphorst]

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Frankenstein’s Army, on the other hand, is spectacular.

Emerging from the rubble of director Richard Raaphorst’s previous project, Worst Case Scenario, comes a full-blown 80-minute found-footage film which gives even Dead Snow a run for its money as my favourite film on this entire list. Taking the concept of Nazi occult experimentation to its natural conclusion, the premise sees a Soviet reconnaissance team going deep into the Eastern Front to discover an undead legion of previously-human robotic Nazi homunculi with a whole manner of afflictions: scythes for hands, iron maidens for heads and giant pincers for hands, it’s all here.Wow.

Naturally, this leads to a whole bunch of rip-roaring action as the Russian team lurch from one dangerous situation to the next; each time, ramping up the dread as the peril escalates. The film’s style and theme is a perfect fit for the “found-footage” genre, and the cinematography is superbly worked to bring out the best in the style: indeed, Frankenstein’s Army represents probably my favourite of the sub-genre; rivalling even [.REC] for vision and technique. The quality of acting and dialogue also matches the high-quality of visuals, and both creature- and set-design is absolutely top-notch.

There’s a super amount of ‘vision’ on display here, and a wonderful amount of joy in seeing a director left to build a fascinating and creative world without much in the way of creative restraint. Either way, and by a long shot, it’s the only movie I’ll watch this year that features a lumbering Nazi zombie with a rotating aeroplane propeller as a face. So that’s nice.

 

Zombie Lake [1981, Jean Rollin]

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And from the sublime, we go to the ridiculous.

A little like the cursed body of water which forms its main backdrop, Zombie Lake truly scrapes the bottom of the Nazi zombie barrel. Sure, you’ve got to expect that anything emerging from the soft-focus nightmare of European cinema in the late 70s/early 80s hardly going to have dated well, but it’s almost as if they were trying to make it ostensibly sleazy.

Zombie Lake (also: Le Lac des Morts Vivants; this one’s French, innit) circulates around a damned lake which harbours a legion of undead Wehrmacht with a penchant for kidnapping young girls who skinny-dip in the lake; in one case, even a whole female basketball team. Bizarrely, salvation lies in a 10-year old girl, a demonic ceremony, and a flamethrower; naturally. While it purports to be a horror film drawing on the Nazi zombie schtick, there are times when it’s hard to diagnose it from softcore pornography: it starts off immediately with full-frontal nudity and lapses into it with alarming regularity.

Out of all the movies that I have persevered through whilst on this quest so far, this has been by far the biggest struggle. The acting is contagiously hammy, the plot mind-bogglingly clunky, and there’s an unbelievable amount of lingering, padding shots that equally lurch from one scene to another as if the film-cutter was attacking the cutting-room floor with a handful of secateurs. It tries to straddle the diverse pillars arthouse and grindhouse, but manages to fall catastrophically into the chasm in between; make sure you bring your crampons, because it’ll be a slippery journey.

 

 Werewolves of the Third Reich [2017, Andrew Jones]

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Ok, so I’ve bent the rules a little. But hey, werewolves are pretty much just hairier zombies, right?

Werewolves of the Third Reich (WotTR) emerged out of the fog during a visit to a local brick ‘n’ mortar entertainment store, and I took a punt. The premise is this: Josef Mengele – the notorious ‘Angel of Death’ who conducted a series of human experiments at Auschwitz – has, by some nefarious means (comprising an overlong and extremely over-acted interrogation scene between a German scientist and a couple of highly-camp SS officers), acquired a serum allowing the fusion of genetic material to create monstrous beasts. Thus, at a generic Nazi scientific facility called “Camp 7”, the plan, naturally, is to construct an invulnerable Nazi-Chimera supervillain from wolf and man (supernaturally).

Yet, bizarrely, WotTR reaches to reach almost two-thirds of its run-time before anything materialises: in which time we’ve stampeded through three chapters of padded-out exposition, an Adolf Hitler with Parkinson’s Disease and the least convincing swastika flag that I’ve ever seen on screen. When the aforementioned werewolves werewolf does turn up (to imply ‘plural’ would be gross misrepresentation), there’s literally no momentum behind the film; a vacuum of plot, punchlines and peril. It’s low-budget, but fails to live up to even the lowest expectations and provides little in the way of hook to draw the viewer in.

Still, there is some entertainment to be had from the top-quality German dialogue that appears that it was translated word-by-word using Google Translate; I guess one has to enjoy the kleine dinge, eh?

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So, that brings things (as well as 2018) to something of a close. Sure, I’ve managed to pack in two, bumper posts just as the curtain falls on the year, but I’ve only just begun to scratch the surface of the genre; there’s still plenty of ground to cover.

With that in mind, you have my word that this journey will continue into 2019; until then, Happy New Year!

[Zinar7]

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Reich of the Living Dead: Part One

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Friends of mine will know that I’ve long harboured a passion for a certain sub-genre of horror movie: the Nazi zombie movie.

Quite where this guilty pleasure arose from, I have no idea; I’m certainly no fascist or hold any love for the Nazi Party or their political views. Maybe it’s just that mashing “zombies” and “Nazis” together is like evil x evil (evil squared) and makes for a right treat for those insatiable gorehounds like me for whom regular zombies are just a little…tame.

Anyway, the last decade has seen a meteoric rise in the number of movies hoping to capitalise on the bandwagon, so it seemed like as good a time as any to give them all a run for their money and see how they hold up. Hence, over two parts, I will review the main players in the franchise and give you my low-down of what’s undead and what’s FUNdead.

Hey, it’s Christmas, right?

 

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Dead Snow [2009, Tommy Wirkola]

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This is it. The undisputed king.

Dead Snow sets the gold standard for all Nazi zombie movies everywhere and, arguably (alongside Outpost, which will be covered in Part II next week), ushered in the recent slew of movies that is the focus of this pop-culture study. It’s everything that all others aspire to be, and the benchmark against which all are rated.

But it’s with good reason, because it achieves a level of cinematic quality both equalled by the calibre of both script and special effects. What first appears to be just another generic “bunch of friends go to a cabin in the mountains and spooky shit starts happening” soon emerges into an innovative action-zomedy that’s propelled by a solid setup: during World War II, a group of Einsatzgruppen (SS) found themselves hounded into the Norwegian mountains by local resistance townsfolk, where they were expected to perish. However, perish they didn’t; instead, straddling both life and death deep beneath the snow until awoken from their apparent slumber by Martin and friends, who semi-accidentally disturb a horde of Nazi treasure located under the floorboards of their rented cabin. Cue awakening of Standartenführer Herzog and his death squad in an undead limbo state à la Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl, until all of the Nazi gold can be returned to its restful state.

The action is also superbly-choreographed, and balances action, comedy and tension to perfection whilst the blissful-white snow presents the perfect backdrop for buckets of blood to be sprayed across the mountain. Rarely is it the case that a silly, low-budget B-movie hits all the right notes at all the right times but, in the case of Død Snø, the stars align majestically.

What a film.

 

Nazi Zombie Death Tales [2012, Eaves/Higgins/Ronald]

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Where Dead Snow was blessed with an actual film crew and a suitable budget to boot, not all horror movies are quite so fortunate. Naturally, though, the Nazi zombie myth is one which attracts all comers to the B-movie bandwagon; hence, even low-budget independent film-makers seek to plunder its gory depths. In that spirit Nazi Zombie Death Tales (also known as Angry Nazi Zombies; also known as Battlefield Death Tales) presents three separate half-hour stories, glued together with a bit of sticky tape and a heck of a lot of goodwill:

Medal of Horror is the pick of the bunch, with some genuinely impressive cinematic vision clearly crunched into a miniscule budget and available cast. It also features the best writing and direction of the trio, along with both the most convincing storyline as well as the most entertaining (and featuring the lion’s share of the Nazi zombies indicated by the film’s title) in a light-hearted B-movie action brawler. If you’re a Nazi zombie nut, fill ‘yer boots here; ‘cause it only heads downhill.

Harriet’s War escalates to full-on ghost story; featuring a spunky paranormal investigator sleuthing some ponderous swastika-related brutalities in a sleepy country village in middle England. Despite a drop in cinematic vision compared to the first instalment, it rips along at a pace and with some well-written dialogue and creepy narrative; delivering a Nazi-demon tale that’s reasonably fulfilling and (almost) well-rounded despite some flaws.

After the first two acts, Devils of the Blitz is, alas, the weak child. For starters, it misses the Nazi zombie mark by eine landmeile; managing only a poorly-realised devil-monster that neither feels convincing nor a valid threat. The background story is disappointingly one-dimensional and the cast and script are, alas, decidedly amateur; yielding a final tale that both drags incessantly but also barely makes up the numbers. Furthermore, if it weren’t for its WWII blitz setting, there’s no way that it would sit alongside the other tales; as it is, it simply provides a disappointing dessert to an otherwise satisfying three-course Nazi zombie supper.

As a result, Nazi Zombie Death Tales remains something of a mixed bag. Certainly not the runt of the litter, but merely a footnote in the annals of the Nazizomnicon.

 

Devils of War [2013, Eli Dorsey]

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On the whole, the current crop of Nazi zombie movies take place in the modern day, with the WW2 undead reanimated 60 years after their original demise. Devils of War, however, bucks the trend to adopt a period 1944 setting to play background to a tale of SS experimentation into the occult and transformation of German soldiers into berserking, red-eyed demons. But, while there’s a solid premise behind the B-movie schtick, the result is a little underwhelming.

A rogue SS unit (named the Hande der Mammons and led by a female officer who was clearly cast based on her rank on the “buxomness” scale rather than the one describing “acting talent”), are holed up in a bunker behind the lines, stealing young girls from the Polish countryside and reading Latin scripture in terrible accents. Four US soldiers meeting the ISO-standard A-Team Formula (the “Old” one, the “Black” one, the “Suave” one and the “Mad” one) are sent in to investigate and report back; in the process stumbling from one action montage to the next, glued together with the thinnest coating of narrative imaginable.

Said action sequences are somewhat slow and elongated but, for what it’s worth, are fairly high in tension and nicely-choreographed, framed & directed. However, what these ultimately manage to mask is the absolutely atrocious story and dialogue which comes to the fore during the breaks and is so utterly devoid of any actual drama, tension or humour that it’s an ongoing battle to remain alert. Devils of War’s biggest enemy, then is pacing. With a little more care applied to the lulls, the bangs could be even more spectacular; but, as it is, they’re simply brief flashes of excitement in an otherwise dreary campaign. Yawn.

 

War of the Dead [2011, Marko Mäkilaakso]

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Following the shambled efforts of Devils of War in pasting a supernatural zombie-horror onto a WW2 action movie, War of the Dead shows you how you do it properly. Although the narrative premise is kept to a subtle minimum (there is one there; you just need to dig for it a bit), it doesn’t rely on the over-used trope of Nazi occult experimentation to propel the movie through; merely hinting at it whilst maintaining a strong focus on the well-delivered dialogue, action sequences and photography.

A company of Finnish soldiers, led by Captain Stone of the US Army, embark on a black ops mission toward a bunker behind Russian enemy lines, only to soon find themselves overrun by fast-running zombies and oppressive enemy forces. Following a swift escape by small, but dwindling group, the film focuses on their allegiance with a Russian enemy-cum-ally and their efforts to escape the terror which, alas, only bring them closer to the source of the hordes.

What takes over a tight 76 minutes is a relatively well-storied horror action thriller, with a bold and well-paced script matched by high-quality photography that certainly asymptotes toward the meteoric production values of much bigger-budget productions. What keeps it on the rails is a level of restraint to avoid overambitious; constraining the action and pace to manageable levels, and resisting the urge to to drift into cringeworthy, ill-advised comedy. War of the Dead does well to avoid the near-constant lean of WW2 movies to retain an unsubtle Nazi “baddie” as the prime antagonist; in the process, maintaining a focus on the monstrous without resorting to cartoonish Nazi tropes. It’s not quite up there to topple Dead Snow, but it makes a damned good stab at it.

(damned, get it?)

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Anyway, with that, I shall leave things for now. But watch this space; for, next week, shall come to conclusion to this mini-adventure with Part Two of this Nazi zombie fun-quest.

See you next week!

[Zinar7]

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That’s A Puzzlin’: Part 2

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In my entry last week [That’s A Puzzlin’: Part I], I chronicled a little about the curious puzzle-box that Pete and I put together for a holiday I took with a two handfuls of friends at an impromptu board games retreat out in Devon last month.

In that post, I covered the first three of the five puzzles which made up the quest; so it seems only fair to document the final two, and apply some closure to what it all led to. Let’s find out:

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Puzzle #4: Rings

The purpose of Puzzle #2 (Lovecraft) was, in essence, to lead the player’s brains to think about using the Study as a hint mechanism for future clues involving books. Pete had always wanted to put in book cipher as one of the puzzles; so, having pre-prepped a candidate book with which to hide a cipher in the form of coordinates to specific page numbers, lines and words, we dropped the envelope containing Puzzle #4 on the hallway calendar on Friday evening.

I’d already hidden a copy of J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit on the bookshelf in the study when I placed the Lovecraft code within Puzzle #2, so all the players had to do for this one was to interpret the riddle and hunt for a copy of the book – which they dutifully did after a minor amount of head-scratching. Then, using the three-number combinations, they would then need to construct a sentence (to be even more accurate, a question) using the specified coordinates; likely using a bit of trial-and-error to work out what the number combinations meant before stumbling on the correct structure: [PAGE NUMBER] [LINE NUMBER] [WORD NUMBER].

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Doing so would, eventually, translate the following trivia question, giving the solution to Puzzle #4 (and on which we had banked on our player’s Lord of the Rings knowledge to come up with the correct answer; an assumption which stuck):

HOW
MANY
RINGS
OF
POWER
WERE
GIVEN
TO
MEN
?

The answer, of course, is nine; giving the directional combination (←↑) corresponding the runic ‘H’ symbol on the original “combination lock clue page”.

Now, I haven’t (yet) explained the importance of this so, before I introduce the fifth (and final) puzzle of the game, I’ll briefly go into the meaning of it all.

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Early on, Pete and I had identified that, if we dropped the various directional combinations in order across the weekend, it wouldn’t be impossible for a brute-force method (of trying all of the combinations for the last code) to bear fruit once four-fifths of the code had been ‘unlocked’. To counter this, we aimed to drip-feed the combination parts not in order, such that the risk of brute-force entry would be minimised. To add an extra layer of puzzling to the game, the players would be given clues which associated with five directional combinations (associated with five symbols) which then would then need to work out what was linked with what.

The symbols for each would be hinted at in the form of small markings on each of the initial clue envelopes containing each puzzle: Puzzle #1 (Jigsaw) had a rudimentary London Underground symbol; Puzzle #2 (Lovecraft) was a love-heart for obvious reasons; Puzzle #3 (Pigpen) had a ‘#X’ representing the two pigpen keys; Puzzle #5 (Limes) had a five-pointed star for reasons that will be revealed in the next section; but Puzzle #4 (Rings) had a runic ‘D’ because this is the symbol which is drawn on Tolkien’s map in The Hobbit marking the secret door on the Lonely Mountain. When placed all together, they would lead to a string of directions to be entered into the padlock, eventually releasing the goodies within.

Puzzle #5: Limes

The fifth, and final puzzle, drew experience from a meme that has been orbiting our circle of friends for many years: the meme of hiding limes in each other’s houses.

This tradition kind of started at the annual party at Dan’s house (“OckFest”) whereby limes would be hidden in bizarre places in Dan’s kitchen, intending them to be uncovered while performing unrelated tasks; for example: finding a lime in the box of Crunchy Nut Corn Flakes when pouring out the morning cereal; discovering a lime hidden inside the tube of kitchen roll when reaching to mop up a spillage; hearing a lime fall out of a hollowed-out French baguette when beginning to make a sandwich.

Without wishing to blow one another’s trumpets too heavily, Pete and I are professionals when it comes to the international sport of Lime-Hiding. It was inevitable that we would initiate this tradition at The Winter Games 2017, but I forget which of us had the genius of incorporating it into the Puzzle Box game. Either way, the task for the players would be to figure out how many limes were hidden in a particular room, and then to use that number as the final directional combination.

The initial clue was provided in riddle form:

How many of I
Are plucked from the tree
And made into pie
You’ll find that’s the key

See? It’s a pun. KEY LIME PIE. Like, a key to a box that’s also a hint for the players to try and find some limes somewhere.

On each lime, we drew a five-pointed star and a number specified in Roman numerals: however, the trick was that the limes would not be numbered consecutively. Overall, four limes would be hidden, with numbers I, II, IV and VI; the twist being that, if the players simply entered ‘six limes’ as the solution, they would be incorrect. Y’see, we had circled the ‘I’ in “How many of I”, indicating that the players should not – in fact – be counting the number of limes, but instead the number of ‘i’s in the numerals written on the limes; equaling five, yielding the directional combination (↓↑).

Furthermore, the missing numerals (III and V) were simply a red herring designed to make the players hunt even harder. Yes; I know I’m a meanie.

Because our original plan to hide limes in the kitchen became untenable because of the sheer people traffic that would be present in the kitchen at any one time, we were forced to change tack to hide limes in the games room annex where it was much easier to steal away time to distribute some fruit about the place. Hence, to do this, and while deployed at #TheWinterGames, I hastily mocked up an additional sheet of paper giving a hint towards the players looking in the games room by scribbling “Want to play a game?” and including it in the envelope right before deployment.

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However, due to a simple lack of properly thinking through the implications of that phrase, we kind of didn’t realise that that’s also a quote from the movie Saw, spoken by the main antogonist, ‘Jigsaw’; causing everyone to suddenly barrel down the hallway into the Dining Room (where Puzzle #1 [Jigsaw]) was still set up, frantically searching for an answer. Secondly, everyone appeared to miss the “key lime pie” solution to the clue and instead immediately leapt to the solution of “four-and-twenty blackbirds”; since, like limes, these are also a Thing™ which can be found in a tree but also baked into a pie, according to the nursery rhyme. In retrospect, it was actually a little satisfying to have the players burrow down the wrong rabbit-hole in search of this unintentional red herring [let’s call this “Winter Games Puzzle Box Stroke of Luck #2”] but, at the time, it was immensely stressful to have to watch them struggle down a futile path and yet not be able to interfere, lest I give the game away.

However, some gentle nudging highlighted that the solution was in fact ‘limes’; at which point, several reconnaissance groups were despatched to the various rooms of the house to hunt for round, green objects. After a short while, one of the search  parties returned with four limes, and fairly swiftly cottoned on the Roman Numerals code; arriving at the answer of ‘five’.

So, our players now had everything they needed to open the box; and open the box, they did. Also: I’d love to say that I’d planned to paint the box green to match the limes, but that was simply happy coincidence.

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Puzzle #Z: Endgame

So, with great expectation and encircled by a perimeter of excited (if still confused) faces, one plucky adventurer keyed in the winning combination (↓↑↓↓↑↓←↓→←↓←↑), undid the chains and, with mild trepidation, lifted the lid of the confusing green box.

Inside was a map.

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A map of the house, with an ‘X’ marked on in big, black pen. (Which Pete and I had to scribble in on location, after we’d figured out a good place to hide the prize).

The ‘X’ on the map led the participants out to the back garden where, under the cover of darkness in the late hours of the previous night, I had wrapped the final prize booty in an old carrier bag under stone lawn roller in the approximate location of the ‘X’ marking. Following a brief period of scurrying and scouting, the booty was located by a tall, loud Spaniard and brought inside to the metaphorical sound of bugle-horns heralding the arrival of a monarch returning from a crusade.

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And so, with the ‘pop-thmph’ of the cork ejaculating from the bottle and reverberating off the living room’s wall, the adventure was over; the puzzle was solved. I’ll be honest: it was a heck of a lot of fun putting it all together and I adored the act of thinking to think laterally to come up with mysteries and conundrums that would (hopefully) confuse, but enthuse, an odd assortment of my friends.

Undoubtedly, there will be another #TheWinterGames; where Pete and I join forces to do something like this again remains to be seen. Perhaps it’d be not quite as fun if the players knew who was doing it all, but perhaps that would give us even more scope to add complexity given that – in event of them getting “stuck” – they’d be able to ask for help. I don’t know, we’ll have to see what the future brings.

Either way, it’s been mighty enjoyable recapping and documenting what happened in a wonderful house a month or so ago; and I hope it has been for you, too. Godspeed, puzzlers.

[Zinar7]

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That’s a Puzzlin’: Part 1

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Almost a month ago now, myself and thirteen other board game fanatics whisked ourselves into the wilderness a house in rural Devon to spend five days (#TheWinterGames) playing board games, chilling out and having a good time.

With the above in mind, and knowing that our cohabitants were the type(s) of people to appreciate a good mystery, my friend Pete and I hatched a plan to make a series of puzzles; beginning with a simple box locked with a directional padlock and a series of cryptic clues, that would entertain throughout the weekend.

Our initial aims of this endeavour were as follows:

  1. Make an interesting puzzle-box, treasure-hunt thing to amuse people during #TheWinterGames
  2. Have a series of puzzles, each yielding a number with which to punch into a combination lock; roughly one per day
  3. Have something interesting/rewarding to find once all the puzzles have been solved and the box has been opened

To complete the above three objectives, we proceeded to put together a spiffy wooden box, some chain and a wonderful combination lock (that you unlock using a combination of directions and which looks enthusiastically like the D-pad from a video game controller) which would serve as the booty for a treasure hunt-slash-escape room-style puzzle that would blossom over the long weekend.

After sourcing a plain, pine wood box and decorating it colourfully using some bright green ink, we had a serviceable lockbox that would mysteriously appear after everyone had arrived for the weekend and, hopefully, prove sufficiently interesting to pique their curiosity. For all of the puzzle materials (letters, envelopes, etc.) I wanted to give it an ‘aged’ feel to it to sort-of imply that it was all spooky and mysterious and done by some sort of benevolent ghost, so went to great efforts to tea-stain and crinkle the paper to make them look like aged manuscripts, and used a fountain pen (and my best joined-up, slanty-posh handwriting) to make it look old and not easily identifiable as mine. It worked.

We came up with five puzzles in total, each one of which would yield a directional code which, when all put together, would each lead to a letter or number; equating to a two- or three-digit combination of UP-DOWN-LEFT-RIGHT directions when cross-referenced on a cheat sheet (see above). Discovering the complete code and entering it into the padlock would, eventually, unlock the box and reveal its clandestine contents; but not before the previous five puzzles had been solved.

Thus, at circa 1800 on Wednesday night, the lockbox (and first clue) was deposited in the study. Game on.

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Puzzle #1: Jigsaw

We’d always wanted to include a jigsaw puzzle in the remit, but had some initial difficulties in figuring out how to make it lead to a single number for input into a combination lock.

While visiting family over the Christmas holidays, I stumbled upon a jigsaw puzzle of the classic (modern) London Underground map in my parents’ games cabinet and hatched an idea to have the players identify a single station on it to find the solution. The plan was to leave out a piece showing Camden Road, and then for the players to look that up on a sheet to get the right code; see below. So far, so good.

 

Except: in my eagerness to make the puzzle not quite as time-consuming as it could be, I went through the jigsaw bag removing all the blank white pieces of the jigsaw, so that only the map itself was there, and two things happened:

  1. I accidentally took out some parts of the map itself, including the whole of Leicester Square station, and
  2. When writing the list of stations with associated letters/symbols, I kind of forgot to write Camden Road, because I’m an idiot.

However, because (1) and (2) happened at the same time [let’s call this “Winter Games Puzzle Box Stroke of Luck #1”], we could change the first solution to be “Liverpool Street” (giving an ‘R’ and therefore ↓↑↓) and pretend that it was always supposed to be like that. So, taking great effort to be VERY QUIET INDEED, we snuck downstairs very early on Thursday morning while everyone was still sleeping and re-programmed the lock suck that the new code made sense. Thanks to good fortune that no-one walked in at the wrong time to find us fiddling around, I think we got away with it. Bingo.

Puzzle #2: Lovecraft

We’d kind of figured that it made sense to put the most time-intensive puzzle (the jigsaw) at the beginning, just in case it took longer than expected for the players to finish it; from which point we could drip-feed the following, smaller, puzzles which would be less mandraulic to solve. In reality, we needn’t have worried at all, because the keen-fingers badgers had smashed it out before the end of the first night.

So, with that in mind, the next puzzle was dropped mid-morning on Thursday, where an envelope bearing a love-heart was left on the mantelpiece of the sitting room. In contrast to the speed at which the jigsaw was complete, the envelope sat above a wooden love-heart dangling in the fireplace and which NO-ONE SPOTTED for TWO WHOLE HOURS, despite Pete even setting up a Nerf gun target range trying to pew-pew at the dangling heart immediately below it.

When it was finally discoverd, the players found a riddle, in French, thus:

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Dans le Salle de Dessin,
La clé que vous trouverez,
Ou l’Ombre Jette,
Dans le Métier d’Amour

Loosely translated (I used Google Translate, so don’t judge me), this says:

In the Drawing-Room,
The key you will find,
Where the Shadow is Cast
In the Craft of Love

Earlier that morning (whilst also re-programming the padlock code), I’d planted a copy of H.P. Lovecraft’s The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories on the bookshelf in the Study, in amongst a bunch of other books belonging to the house. In essence, the clue aimed to lead the players to the drawing-room, and find where a shadow is cast in the Craft of Love – i.e., find a Lovecraft book on the shelf and turn to the chapter for The Shadow Over Innsmouth; one of the most famous Lovecraft stories and which we banked on at least some of the players knowing.

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After some brain-racking and some book-searching, the players eventually deciphered the clue and found the book; identifying a little ‘26’ mark at the bottom of the first page of The Shadow Over Innsmouth and giving them the direction key ↓←↓. With that, Puzzle #2 was complete.

Puzzle #3: Pigpen

I always wanted to weave in a traditional cipher into the puzzle series, and Pete liked the idea of having an “X Marks The Spot”-type puzzle with a treasure hunt inside the house, so we opted to combine the two:

Having found the blueprints for the house on the interwebs, we tried to figure out a clever place to hide something and lead to with a map. Realising that the Study and the Apple Store bedroom were identical and size and shape, this seemed a logical place to roughly sketch a room and get players to figure out a) which one it is, and b) to search inside it for the next clue.

The clue they had to find was a small, square envelope on which a “#X” was drawn on the front, matching one on the map sketch. Once found, they would open it to find a pigpen alphabet key, and a series of symbols which they must decode. The “clever” bit [note: author’s inverted commas] was making the code upside-down, meaning that the players would have to rotate the code by 180 degrees and then translate it, else it would not make sense if translated directly. To hint at this, I drew a little rotate-y arrow and a line, which had the added bonus of players thinking that they had to translate the code’s mirrored reflection instead of rotating it by π radians. I love red herrings.

Anyway; translate it correctly, and the players would reveal the solution:

X M A R K S T H E S P O T

giving ‘X’ (←↓) as the solution, and Puzzle #3 complete.

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And with that, and because I’m all out of words for one week, I will leave the second half of the story ’til Part 2, which I’ll post in a weeks’ time. All that’s left to say is: good puzzlin’, y’all.

[Zinar7]

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Sinister Sevens: Best Records of 2016

records2016

Well, Twenty-Sixteen is almost at an end. In lieu of the formal run-down of all the yearly comings-and-goings that I’ve elaborated in previous years, what lies beneath is a quick review of my seven favourite musical cuts from the past twelve months; crafted with aching love for all of the superb musicians that have made my ears so, so happy during 2016.

Without further ado, let’s crack on.

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1. Alcest – Kodama

Make no bones about it, Kodama is the most magnificent thing to have graced my ears during 2016. In its concise forty-two minutes’ length, Alcest construct an almighty portrait from the most dark and earthy of component noises; but one that is built from such a beautiful, dark-scaped presence that gently caresses both brain, heart and soul. Layer-upon-layer of delicious blackgazing post-metal weaves throughout Alcest’s almighty sonic diorama; riddled through with blistering melodies amongst crushing dischord. Alcest have always walked the tightrope between harmony and rage, but the mix reaches such a superlatively-honed crescendo on Kodama that the effect is truly staggering.

Undoubtedly, this is the record that spent the longest on my stereo of all, the one that’s almost melded with my mind, such is the level of connection that I feel with it.  It’s become a guide through the drifting hours of sleep; companion through the dark bearing a flame of enlightenment; and is deafeningly, delightfully, endearingly brilliant on every conceivable plane. Majestic.

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2. If These Trees Could Talk – The Bones of a Dying World

2016 was, despite all the politics- and celebrity death-based disappointments, a spectacular year for the genre of post-rock. With high-profile releases from many of the genre’s big-hitters (cf. 65daysofstatic, MONO, Explosions in the Sky), us music nerds have had a veritable banquet to feast upon; balancing out, at least partially, the loss of such a genre-defining band as Maybeshewill in April of 2016. At the head of the pack, Trees’ spectacular The Bones of a Dying World is a progressive masterpiece; the sort of which still continues to reveal bright new facets of its crushing, post-metal soundscape.

It’s light in times of light, heavy in times of heavy; the whole spectrum glistening in the burning fire of Trees’ particular prism of post-rock, and it’s a flame that goes from strength to strength with every subsequent release. Bask in its warm, sultry glow and absorb its rays of grandeur with every fibre of your being.

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3. Blink-182 – California

Following the departure of Tom DeLonge from the Blink stable (and replacement in a live capacity by Matt Skiba from Alkaline Trio, who would later join the band full-time), few would have predicted that the yoke of this dissolution would later bear Blink’s weightiest work in years. California harks back to a classic age of the band not seen for fifteen years; colliding sweet, high-octane pop-punk melodies with that evergreen Blink-182 lyrical cheek that’s backed up with some genuinely remarkable songwriting.

In truth, this is the best thing that Blink-182 have produced since Enema of the State, and the arrival of fresh blood appears to have genuinely reinvigorated the formula and given new lease of life; unshackled by the tight bounds that “musical differences” previously fettered. The result is an absolute punk-rock riot, so sit back and drink it in.

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4. Metallica – Hardwired…to Self-Destruct

It’s a testament to the quality of the preceding three entries in this list that Hardwired… isn’t at the head of my end-of-year rundown. The first (proper) Metallica double-album ever, and clocking in at almost eighty-minutes in length, one is truly spoiled by the sheer amount of metal that’s housed within its gatefold prison that demands to be set free. Death Magnetic hinted at the re-affirmed power of Metallica at their peak, but yet – some thirty-odd years into their career – they continue to evolve and age in the most graceful way possible.

Lead singles ‘Hardwired’ and ‘Moth Into Flame’ battered into the psyche at first contact, but the other eight cuts on Hardwired… hark with equal venom upon the eardrum. Sure, they’ll never reach their 80s apex of Kill/Lightning/Master/Justice, but if Messrs. Hetfield, Hammett, Ulrich and Trujillo are still capable of producing work that’s almost asymptotic to that Golden Age, then you can be sure that the world of heavy metal is in pretty fine fettle, indeed.


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5. Russian Circles – Guidance

Russian Circles are an enigma. They’re desperately, desperately heavy and yet do not feel at all out of place among the more ‘twinkly’ end of the post-rock/metal spectrum because they don’t sound at all heavy. Such is the craft that goes into an instrumental Circles record, it feels like everything is all part of the plan; an atmospheric soundtrack to a journey that just happens to be made of doom-like guitar chords and brutal drum-beats.

Where previous album Memorial melded this approach with an almost orchestral, operatic feel, it almost feels like Guidance experiments with the twin masters of Light and Dark; wafting soft, dulcet acoustics over you before wiping you out with a majestic tidal-wall of sound. Rarely can music feel both wild and tamed at the same time, but Guidance perfectly treads the tightrope between domestication and rage, like a lion wearing slippers: it treads lightly when it wants, but can unleash an unholy racket when (and if) it truly wants to.

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6. Prophets of Rage – The Party’s Over EP

In terms of so-called “super”-groups, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more exciting fit than Prophets of Rage – burning bright from the ashes of Rage Against the Machine/Audioslave, with the three (non-Zack de la Rocha) quarters of Rage pooling resources with the primary components of Public Enemy and Cypress Hill, it’s a perfect fit for a revival of Rage’s definitive breed of rap-rock. Landing their The Party’s Over EP alongside a flurry of live shows, it delivers one new song (‘The Party’s Over’) along with retoolings of the component band-members’ previous work: ‘Prophets of Rage’ as a studio cover and live recordings of ‘Killing in the Name’, ‘Shut ‘em Down’ and ‘No Sleep ‘til Cleveland’.

While the formula doesn’t deviate from the Rage style we know and love, it’s still a wonderful feeling to know that there’s something new to spin on the stereo for the rest time in sixteen years. Arguably, there’s still a Zack-shaped hole in the proceedings, but the new (and expanded) vocal line-up rises to the challenge and raises the game. This EP might just be the starter, but it whets the appetite for what’ll undoubtedly be a stonking main course. Let’s tuck in.

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7. MONO – Requiem for Hell

Of all of the members of post-rock royalty, MONO are undoubtedly one of the revered greats and, quite rightly, weigh in with a spectacular weight of expectation that comes with every new release. And yet, they never fail to deliver, because Requiem for Hell is, itself, a spectacular career-defining demonstration of MONO at their most crushing. Rarely does sound truly feel like it is made of matter and form, but Requiem for Hell builds up to noises that have such heft to them that it can scarcely be believed that it’s not made of the tectonic plates of the universe clashing and rubbing asunder.

The centrepiece is a seventeen-minute title track, undulating with such force and veracity that the momentous turbulence that culminates is a truly spellbinding spectacle for the ears that almost bypasses the aural nerve-endings and penetrates the brain intravenously. Have you ever felt like music was directly probing into your head and moving all of the levers that controls all of your emotions? Yep, that’s what listening to MONO feels like.

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Of course, it’s not been a year full of celebration, as we’ve lost a complete plethora of musical talents; Bowie [RIP], Maybeshewill, Funeral For a Friend, Prince [RIP] and Chairlift pulling the heart-strings the greatest within my world. Then again, there were also cracking new albums by the following that, while they didn’t meet my top-seven list, still deserve a mention: Deftones, Blaqk Audio, Thrice, Weezer, Tiger Army, 65daysofstatic, Jambinai, Eldamar, Justice, Show Me a Dinosaur, Ineferens, Biffy Clyro, The Lounge Kittens, Chairlift, Three Trapped Tigers; the list goes on.

Anyway, Twenty-Sixteen is at an end. Here’s to Twemty-Seventeen; you gorgeous beast, you.

[Zinar7]

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My Life in Music: Datastacks 0.2

Datastacks2

About sixteen months ago, I opened this series of blogs with an uncomfortably-geeky look at my music collection and extraction of a whole bunch of statistics on a whole bunch of inconsequential data.

It’s been long enough now that it’s time for an update, so let’s begin with a brief breakdown of what my music collection currently consists of:

Datastacks-2_Type.png

Unsurprisingly, standard long-play albums make up the vast majority of my collection (93.7%); not a shock. Of the remaining 6.3%, though, two-thirds are EPs or collections of B-sides and rarities, while the remaining third consists of ‘Greatest Hits’ collections or live-recorded albums. In many ways, and in this age of digital interfaces and the ability to release small collections of new material online or through mechanisms like Bandcamp, it’s arguable that the humble EP is going extinct; though the meteoric rise of vinyl in the last few years might be its saving grace.

Still, I’m minorly proud of my collection of 576 long-play albums, so let’s investigate what’s changed in my collection since my last blog. The most interesting findings lie in the genre breakdown of my CD collection since March of last year:

Datastacks-2_Genre.png

In general, the proportions remain fairly the same: my most favourite genres grow whilst the lesser ones continue to trickle on. There’s been a slow expansion in both my flavour for “Steampunk” (mainly due to finally acquiring the entire Steam Powered Giraffe back-catalogue as well as the smashing new record by The Men That Will Not Be Blamed For Nothing last year) and, more recently, black metal coming with growing respect for the genre. Equally, I’ve seen my interests decline in the likes of thrash metal, power metal and metalcore but become no less intense; it seems that my taste continue to evolve rather than undergo full-scale revolution.

Plotting these growths on a logarithmic scale (comparing the new additions to my collection with the genre counts as of 19/03/2015), one can see the fourfold increase in “Steampunk” records on my shelf but also observe the fairly consistent growth in genres across the board. I’ve always been aware that my musical taste is eccentrically-broad (who else can boast a music collection that features both Cradle of Filth and Ke$ha; Fleetwood Mac and Mr. Bungle?), but it’s reassuring that the trend continues.

Datastacks-2_Genre-2.png

The notable gains on the swing-o-meter come under the category labelled “Indie”, and there’s a fine reason why: “Indie”, at least in this little project, has come to classify anything that can’t – for particular reasons – be described as full-on “Rock”, but is something lighter; more atmospheric; or ‘different’. In the last couple of years, I’ve absorbed more and more interest in the genre of post-rock (c.f. Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Sigur Ros, 65daysofstatic, God is an Astronaut et al.) and fuelled by a rampant voyage of discovery at festivals like ArcTanGent.

On this second iteration of Datastacks, it’s high time to devolve the “Indie” category a little further and delve into the numbers. Whilst ‘indie’ might, these days, have only grazing reference to the truly “independent” music scene, it’s come to mean catchment to a lot more than simply one musical style; much in the way that “rock” encompasses a thousand sub-genres. So, let’s have a look to see what that means in terms of my collection:

Datastacks-2_Indie.png

Unsurprisingly, my ever-expanding collection of post-rock makes up most of the category; particularly emphasised with a raft of spectacular albums released in 2015 and 2016 by the likes of Explosions in the Sky (The Wilderness), Three Trapped Tigers (Silent Earthling), God is an Astronaut (Helios/Erebus) and Godspeed You! Black Emperor (Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress).

Of the remains, post-punk (in this study, meaning the likes of Killing Joke, Hüsker Dü and The Cure) hoovers up what isn’t what I’d call the more ‘traditional’ indie fayre (Death Cab for Cutie, Chairlift, KT Tunstall, Snow Patrol), whilst the couple of entries tentatively labelled “swing” are delivered by the mighty Dresden Dolls.

So, there you go. Naturally, I’ll retroactively modify the genre split for the next Datastacks, so I can properly track how my tastes are evolving. I’d apologise for being such a massive maths/music nerd, but we both know that I’m by no means ashamed at all. So, nyer.

Anyway, let’s take a look at how the geographical split has divvied up in the last sixteen months:

Datastacks-2_Country

No spectacular changes, but there’s some interesting mini-growths: Canada and Sweden showing particular, short spurts for no pre-arranged reason; and new entries coming from Luxembourg and Ireland thanks to my interests in post-/math-rock stalwarts Mutiny on the Bounty and And So I Watch You From Afar. I’d expected Norway to be surging ahead, given the sheer amount of Norwegian black metal I’ve been getting down my ears in the last few months, but maybe the charts haven’t fully caught up with things quite yet. Hopefully the withdrawal of the UK from the European Union won’t affect (too much) the trickle of European rock/metal into the United Kingdom; even if it will negatively influence my access to cheap metal records from the continent. *grumble grumble*

That being said, it’s minorly interesting that the advances of homegrown artists in my collection almost matches the progress of US bands; again, through no particular alignment but reflecting, perhaps, efforts to fill back-catalogue gaps in my collection for the likes of Bowie, Muse, [spunge], Cradle of Filth and Funeral For A Friend. Not surprisingly, the NATO countries still dominate my collection, as evidenced by PIE CHARTS: clearly, were NATO to deploy heavy metal-based warfighters towards invasion of the rest of the world, then it’s likely that they would annihilate the opposition.

[FYI, the non-NATO countries reflected here are Finland, Japan, Australia, Ireland and Sweden, who I’m sure would all put up a good fight.]

Datastacks-2_Country-4

Upon moving flat, I recently took the opportunity to bolster my music shelving with a few more bookcases and fully alphabeticised my collection by artist name; something I’d been meaning to do for a long time but had never gotten around to. Anyway, beyond the satisfaction of filing everything neatly onto the shelves, the exercise also highlighted some interesting facts about the alphabet.

For clarity, bands are sorted by name (any “The” bands, e.g. The Birthday Massacare, are sorted by the next word in their time) and solo artists are sorted by surname. Let’s take a look:

Datastacks-2_Initial

Clearly, I own a buttload of ‘A’ artists, which owes a lot to AFI but also to the likes of Alkaline Trio, Alice in Chains, Amen, American Hi-Fi, Akercocke, Avenged Sevenfold, Audioslave, Alestorm, yada yada yada. I do wonder whether bands are inherently more likely to choose monickers which are closer to the head of the alphabet for the sakes of prominence in record stores; something that’s far more a study in sociology than I’ll attempt to address here.

Curiously, I haven’t bought a single record by any artist beginning with ‘J’ in the last sixteen months; and only a single album each to the ‘E’ and ‘Q’ categories. In the positive side, though, there’s finally a tally in the ‘Z’ column thanks to the wonderful new self-titled album by Zoax, so let’s continue to watch the progress with interest.

And on that bombshell, I’ll leave things until the next time. Boo-yah.

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[Zinar7]

 

 

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Positively Charged

PositivelyCharged

Being positive all the time is hard, y’know?

Life throws all bunch of challenges at you, and you’re expected to stay positive in outlook through all of it; that old adage: dance like no-one’s watching; love like you’ve never been hurt before.

But thinking – and feeling – positive, even in the face of continuing disappointment and crushed hopes, is kind of difficult. It takes an awful amount of strength to keep picking yourself up and dusting yourself off after every, daily setback or failed enterprise and to keep marching on to claim the dream that you have in your <head/heart>. Each knock to your confidence makes you question: why do things so rarely ever work out?

The most recent months have not, in all honesty, been particularly easy for me: things have rarely conspired to go my way, or to shed an arc of light upon some sort of bright glow at the end of the tunnel indicating that things might not always be like this. I know that I’m not the most unfortunate soul out there, and that there are quite literally billions of poorer, far more deserving people out there than me, but that doesn’t diminish that things – for me – are still what could be described as “less than ideal”.

Yes, I am what I would probably describe as “painfully single”. Beneath my cold, obsidian carapace lies a deeply warm heart, and I wish that there were someone else to share it. Now, I’m not suggesting that I’ve been alone the longest time nor that I’m the only single 30-year old person; but that doesn’t resolve the inward struggle that feels like everyone else is Living the Dream™ while I’m left feeling stagnant and still on the launch pad. Keeping the fire alive that you’ll be taking off soon (and that the perfect co-pilot is out there, somewhere) is tough. My journey through single life has been kind of an uncharted one, full of rocky chasms and perilous rope bridges. It’s been made evermore frustrating given that almost everyone else I know has managed to figure it all out by now and returned home for tea ‘n’ medals, whilst I’m still out in the jungle. Clearly, for probably more reasons than my brain would like to boil it down to, I’ve not found the person that’s right for me and vice versa.

And you know what? That’s not my fault. We are all just particles of chaotic matter; drawn together by mere gravity and our own feelings and desires. There’s no great plan; no right that each of us have to happiness. Having faith that ‘everything will work out in the end’ is like having faith in some watchful deity; a faith that the story that each of us are playing out will conclude with the words “…happily ever after.” In truth, there is no set path through the petrified forest of human existence and all we can do is try to survive the things that are trying to kill us or drag us into the darkness to be consumed. The brief patches of clearing where light chances to shine through are simply a chaotic anomaly that brings temporary respite from the shadows.

The frequency of light for all of us is, of course, random; we have no right to bask in the warm photons of love and affection, but when you’re struggling through the woods feeling cold and shadowed and alone, that’s of little comfort. We are all unique and complex and beautiful: using the perceived “successes” of others (or those portrayed in the Hollywood fairytale machine) as a benchmark for our own quest is not a monstrously constructive method of pushing forward in life, because all it does it is force you to conclude that it’s something personal rather than circumstantial misfortune. Matters of the heart are so complex and difficult because they rely on matters of another person’s heart, too. In many ways, that’s what makes them so special; when the matters lock together and coalesce to pull together as one chemical bond. When such an elemental connection is not forthcoming, though, it’s easy to think that everyone else is part of some elaborate conspiracy; as if they’ve all, purposefully and collectively, conspired to deny you dating or romantic success as part of some world-reaching Grand Plan.

There is no Plan. It’s just bad luck; misfortune, whatever you want to call it. Things just haven’t happened yet, but they will, because that’s how randomness and chaos. You don’t, necessarily, need to have faith that everything “will work out in the end”; you just need to have faith that this won’t last forever. What needs to be borne in mind is that – sooner or later – luck will change; the unpredictable winds of chemistry will blow in the perfect direction to change circumstances for the better. It may sound weird, but I can take comfort from the fact that my own local minimum is because of the nature of chaotic particle motion and not because I’m inherently broken or defective nor because of some joy-obstruction cosmic deity; it’s just that chaos hasn’t yet created the perfect conditions under which my particular story will thrive.

Weirdly, ‘luck’ can act a lot like an attractive, pseudo-magnetic material: once a little bit of it starts clinging to you, then you feel like you’re attracting a whole bunch more of it. Once you start ignoring the fact that there’s no mystical force governing ‘luck’, you start to realise that its chaotic nature is merely governed by how you approach the world. Give the world a bit of a wink ‘n’ smile, and you’re well on the way towards letting some good things happen. It’s the corniest line in the bible of corny lines, but the only way to properly survive the hyper-cyclone of bullshit that Life™ throws at you is to just purse your lips and whistle; that’s the key. In the meantime, the best way to deal with bad luck is to say “fuck you, bad luck”, walk out of the door with your chin up and a smile on your face, and get on with your day.

So yeah, fuck misfortune; I’m approaching the world with a beaming smile and, sooner or later, I’ll stumble upon the right thing. In the words of a great thinker: “The only thing that matters is just following your heart, and eventually you’ll finally get it right.

[Zinar7]

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Close Encounters

CloseEncounters

DISCLAIMER: What is documented in this article represents a summary of all that transpired at the recent Little Woooden Houses presents Watch the Skies! (which took place on 06/06/15 in Aston Tirrold, Oxfordshire [UK]); told from the perspective of one of the Alien players.

It is published in the form of a semi-fictional battle report; hoping to provide some entertainment as well as semi-accurate documentary of what transpired up on the Aliens’ balcony.

If you are planning on playing the megagame of Watch the Skies! at any point in the future, then I would recommend refraining from reading this – and any related posts –, as it is possible that some clues as to the (clandestine) operation of the Aliens may be inadvertently revealed through the telling of this fictional short story.

Otherwise, I hope you enjoy this semi-fictional account of LWHpWTS! and all that it brought. Godspeed!

Intercepted communications, bound for Zeta Reticuli.

Intercepted communications, bound for Zeta Reticuli.

 

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PRAISE ZETA RECULI

To: Great Minds [Alpha], [Beta] and [Gamma]
From: Commander <xx.zx/A2>, Alien Conclave One.

Dear Great Minds,

The programme of Earth Crisis Intervention [ECI] was initiated, as planned, on the first diurnal cycle of the Earth year 2020. Expeditionary ships from Moon bases Alpha and Beta, consisting of abduction agents and a number of decoy (hologram) shuttles, were despatched to Earth Targets 1-4 (“Angola”, “Antartica”, “Arabia” and “Australia”) and to establish a greater understanding of the local flora, fauna and intelligent life on Earth.

Our agents were instructed to limit operations to isolated areas of Earth, and to ensure the safe return of any life samples following the preliminary (intrusive) physical examinations. These endeavours were proceeded on the basis that our incursion would be broadly unopposed, and that the relative scale of the landing target countries would allow our teams a greater opportunity to land unnoticed at their target destinations of scientific interest. Henceforth, extraction units were despatched to major landmasses in Earth’s southern hemisphere for collection of plant and animalian DNA for delivery to our Earth Research Laboratories on Moon bases Alpha & Beta.

As soon as our scout ships were deployed, a high level of resistance was encountered from a number of the observed Earth divisions of Gene Splice XII bipeds [designated ‘Humans’], with multiple military factions responding with airborne interceptors and movement of ground troops. Many of these interceptions were successful in eliminating, or rallying, our – peaceful – expeditionary force; however, a small number of extraction units were successful in their mission, and landing successfully in their target areas. A number of life samples and rare Earth metals were extracted and transported to Moon Base Alpha for scientific study, as well as a small quantity of rare Human artefacts and technologies which were despatched by hyper-shuttle to the Great Library on Zeta Reticuli for Cultural Curation.

Captured Human foodstuffs, revealing liittle or no nutritional value for Reticulan needs.

Captured Human foodstuffs, revealing liittle or no nutritional value for Reticulan needs.

From the outset of the programme, it was universally agreed by all nine Reticulan Select Commanders that our command structure should form one, single, unified mind-unit aimed at locating efficient resolution to the Earth Crisis. In the spirit of true Reticulan values of peacefulness, pacifism and co-operative thinking, Conclaves One to Three formed coalition of expertise; effectively deploying our great Reticulan power of Mind-Meld.

The initial phase of the initiative was pre-planned to be a two-forked strategy of “passive offense”: firstly, to instil an effective operation mild terror and panic among the Human herds such that they would descend to outright madness among themselves; supported by B) a programme of capture of Human and animal DNA to progress with our primary ‘solution’ to “The Earth Crisis”: that of genetically engineering (“geneering”) the human populace towards pacifism and calm.

Our early phase of the conquest focussed on extraction of DNA samples from mammalian subjects that were returned, unharmed, back to Earth. Research programmes on all three bases (Moon bases Alpha and Beta, and the primary Cydonia base on Mars) were steered towards projects associated with eradicating the virus-like Human genomes responsible for destruction and betrayment, and instilling civility and compassion to their pre-developed minds. An additional, secondary, scientific programme of sample return and delivery of exploitative Earth materials to Zeta Reticuli, which appeared to show considerable success in further understanding the nature of the Earth rock and its current occupants.

It became clear, though, that Humanity was intensely suspicious of our activities; being inherently paranoid about sightings of our ships at various airspace incursions across the Sphere. Before it was possible to capture Human communication equipment and relay broadcasts of our non-threatening activities in Earth airspace, acute hostility against our presence (both in orbit and on ground) was experienced. The Select Commanders of the Earth Crisis force were deeply saddened to have our fears (of Humanity being a mistrustful and traitorous society, hell-bent on turning to violence at unnerving rapidity) proved so distressingly correct.

Following the hostile first contact experienced in the preliminary phase of the initiative, our commanders were forced to maintain a DEEP-Thinking (Direct Extrasensory Engagement Procedure) communication panel throughout the Initiative in order to effectively utilise our species’ superior grasp of collective consciousness. Efforts were made to demonstrate our peaceful presence on Earth – from our gifts of traditional Reticulan food cubes to the nation of “Japan” (which, we understand, shows great similarity to their energy source known as “Soo-Shee”), to our repeated communications to almost all nations throughout the period encouraging peaceful operations.

Reticulan food cubes, presented as gifts to the combined Human nations.

Reticulan food cubes, presented as gifts to the combined Human nations.

As our primary geneering mission demanded constant supply of abduction subjects and/or DNA samples, our Select Conclave Commanders came to agreement to sacrifice minor aspects of our advanced Reticulan technology and resources (including the highly-sought after Red Mercury) with select Earth colonies, in order to establish a routine supply of prime Human samples for our geneering research programmes. While these tradings were not explicitly sanctioned by the Great Minds before departure of the ECI force from Zeta Reticuli, the Select Commanders arrived at unanimous decision to commence communications with key Human elements; the aim, to encourage Reticulan values of pacifism and agreement through direct engagement with certain members of the Earth conglomerate.

Private communications were transmitted to a number of host colonies; however, it became apparent that our transmissions were being intercepted by one or more nations and either undelivered; or delivered to their recipients in modified form, portraying us to have different intentions for Earth. For these actions we suspect the nation of “Japan”, who appeared to demonstrate considerable enmity to our sub-galactic intrusion.

The Select Commanders observed intense mistrust from the combined Earth colonies regarding our visible actions of civility; suspecting, instead, a programme of subterfuge distracting from a militarised coup of their blue planet. However, targeted communication and infiltration of a number of minority nations showed a considerable success; particularly in the famine-filled landmass of “Africa”. Efforts to develop a local Reticulan facility on Earth were assisted by the political and military leaders of the inter-oceanic colony of “Madagascar”, where our infiltration agents had observed significant success over the preceding Earth demi-year.

Following our preliminary expedition to Southern Hemisphere landing sites, our research on animalian samples revealed breakthroughs in the DNA geneering required to make Earth life flourish; a science that was delivered to the puppeteered political leaders of “Madagascar” as a gesture of goodwill in return for building a permanent station within their territory. A series of Infiltration agents aided in convincing dissentive voices and quashing political resistance. Our efforts in this vein were prosperous, and an underground Infiltration facility and landing zone was put into operation, from which Agents were deployed across the territory of “Africa” using their modified sub-orbital personal shuttles to infiltrate neighbouring colonies.

Human resistance was intense across both the “Africa” and “South America” landmasses.

With a fully-operational scientific research facility functioning at 100% capacity, the primary goals of PHASE ONE of the Earth Crisis Initiative were considered finalised and preparations for PHASE TWO were swiftly assembled among the Select Commanders.  The Humans appeared confused by our interest in “Madagascar”; being unaware that a peaceful ground station and scientific facility had been constructed and, instead, assuming a far more aggressive incursion. Spies from all primary Earth nations were despatched to investigate our operations there, although our cloaking technologies and convincing puppeteering of local officials of “Madagascar” succeeded (with a success rate of 83.71%) in directing attention from our geneering research activities on the island.

However, a number of Human spies – dressed in the traditional Reticulan clothing of black-and-red robes, grey overwear and breathing-masks – were able to bypass our grunt security and access the facility; in the process, conducting minor sabotage operations and theft of key Reticulan technology. All guard units responsible for the breach of security were immediately transported back to the primary Cydonia ECI headquarters on Mars for re-instruction and “re-deployment”, and all electronic and physical weaknesses were re-assigned with doubled security measures. Despite this, the attacks continued.

To further promote our image of peace, and to display of our advancements in science such that the Humans may be convinced of our non-threatening envoy, our PR divisions devised a convincing promotional montage of the prosperity now inherent across “Madagascar”. In tandem with an Infiltration raid on the streets of “Paris” (in which an elite strike agent succeeded in obtaining temporary acquisition of the media barracks of Reuters/Global News Network in the primary conurbation of the “France” territory of the Northern Hemisphere), a moving picture transmission was broadcast globally; depicting “Madagascar” as a rich, famine-free nation of prospering fauna, Humanitarian aid and hoverbikes. The Humans appeared to show considerable interest in Reticulan hoverbike technology from both a scientific and commercial interest, and intense radio chatter was intercepted which discussed ravenous Human excitement at obtaining such fantastic science.

However, the Human condition is one of suspicion and mistrust (escalating to outright betrayal) and it was, at this time, that extreme hostility was experienced arising from the slanderous nation of “France”; perhaps, in response to our operations within their garlic-smelling colony. Military forces from “France” appeared extremely interested in our activities, leading the charge to intercept any and all of our landing or transport craft, whatever their mission; peaceful or otherwise. Other forces in the Northern Earth hemisphere also displayed considerable aggression towards the presence of our ships in Earthian airspace, despite our efforts to limit extraction activities to Earth territories far from the jurisdiction of the G8 Conclave of Nations. As we understand it, the Humans became suspicious that we were building an Ark for extraction of their endangered, or protected wildlife within the “Madagascar” facility.

A Human impression of the so-called "Grey Ark" being constructed by Reticulan operatives on "Madagascar".

A Human impression of the so-called “Grey Ark” being constructed by Reticulan operatives on “Madagascar”. [http://maronski.deviantart.com/]

Early in PHASE TWO of the ECI, a full-scale invasion of our “Madagascar” base was processed by a united Human coalition; led, we are to believe, by military units belonging to this, so-called, “France”. Our facility was breached from multiple entry-points, converging on our main research facility with the apparent aim of halting our scientific geneering of “Madagascar”-based fauna and animal life. During the breach, the Human forces were successful in disabling our escape ships, as well as effectively destroying our nutritional supplies and Reticulan culture-chambers. The last communication we received from the Local Commander before transmissions ceased was a single-line radio message, repeated over and over: “Of course. Of course. Of course.” We mourn for the demise of the brave Reticulan operators who perished during the assault.

With an apparently-united Human front leaving us decimated upon the planet’s surface, we were forced to re-evaluate our position regarding the Earth Crisis. In the face of advanced hostility towards our presence (despite no hostile manoeuvres on our part – it is believed that inter-nation conflicts and espionage were incorrectly attributed to our presence rather than subterfuge on behalf of the treacherous nations of the “United States”, “France” and “Japan”), a simultaneous strategy of terror and extraction was defined and motioned by the Select Commanders. Simultaneously, consultation of Great Mind Alpha was initiated in the second half of the programme: reinforcement troops were despatched from Zeta Reticuli by unanimous agreement among the Great Minds, on the basis that our initial efforts to tackle the Earth Crisis were showing significant signs of success, despite some resistance.

Evidence seized of Human attempts to reverse-engineer Reticulan propulsive technology.

Evidence seized of Human attempts to reverse-engineer Reticulan propulsive technology.

Reinforcement units were deployed, at great cost to our remaining stocks of Resource Discs, across a number of sites in the Northern Hemisphere. Psy-Ops teams were positioned in target metropoli in partnership with infiltration and espionage using our elite agents, deploying a range of psychotropic drugs and steroids to directly influence the minds of the population. Coincidentally, and unbeknownst to us, the Humans had partially agreed a ceasefire with respect to landing craft, in response to our global radio broadcast expressing our deep disappointment at the outright conflict aimed at us in the preceding Earth Quarter-Year. Our terror attacks were extremely successful in significantly elevating the level of Global Terror to unprecedented levels; our aim, to spread mistrust among the primary Northern Hemisphere factions and to generate inter-nation conflict such that their focus would remain internal to the Earth solar system, and not on the broad expanses of peace and political civility existing in the Reticulan Galactic Sphere.

During the terror strikes, a successful threat operation of the “United Kingdom” helped to inspired a national panic which succeeded in psychologically damaging the moral fibre of the populace – our terror agents planted convincing seeds of doubt in the leading minds of the nation; alluding to Extra-Terrestrial eggs being lain across the countryside, waiting to ‘hatch’ and deliver physical and chemical harm to the terrafirm. Furthermore, a Human female spy from the “United States” conclave was intercepted and smuggled to Moon base Beta aboard a Heavy Shuttle to be questioned and probed by the combined Select Commanders stationed at Beta. Such an asset was interpreted as a significant resource for facilitating Human-Reticulan discussions, as well as an opportunity to progress our geneering technologies focussed on creating Hyper-Pacifistic Human sleeper drones using our high-Reticulan science of biotechnological implantation.

Not wishing to openly reveal the existence of our species to the Human populace, information about our existence among the sentient Earth lifeforms was kept tightly-controlled. Instead, our policy was one of coercion: to covertly instil our vision of peace such that it would be assimilated by the unified inhabitants of Earth. However, despite our initial Paris incursion and continuing Infiltration attempts, it appears that efforts to position puppeteer agents within the GNN – to subvert and scatter the Human populace through their exposure to disturbing and incorrect factual information – showed limited, long-term success.

However, during a broadband global announcement broadcast, the “United States” colony formally acknowledged the existence of [our] Extra-Terrestrial activities on Earth; rather unsettlingly referring to the entire Reticulan species as “The Gray Menace” and alluding to our existence as hostile enemies.

Mass-produced, hard-copy communications produced by the Humans, formally acknowledging Reticulan presence on Earth.

Mass-produced, hard-copy communications produced by the Humans, formally acknowledging Reticulan presence on Earth.

Such outright discussion appeared to unite the Humans more strongly together against us, and our efforts to pierce the coalition displayed outright failure. In response, a Mind-Meld between the Select Commanders resulted in unanimous decision to focus on one key nation of the G8 conclave who had shown minimal hostility to our presence: that of the “Brazil” colony. In the psyche of the democratic heads of the “Brazil” conclave, we found a vision of Earth close to that of true Reticulan ideals; demonstrating a sense of Universe-wide peacefulness and cooperation that appeared absent from hostile, splintered and conflict-focussed attitude of the other primary Earth factions. Initial efforts at establishing a private communication channels were positive, and an effective dialogue was constructed which would eventually show significant results.

Whilst direct alliance with any individual Humans (or governmental Human sects) was not condoned directly by the Great Minds during the initial ECI planning committee, the infrastructure heading the “Brazil” regime demonstrated sufficient enmity towards all species (both Human and Reticulan; along with the myriad other lifeforms existent on Planet Earth) that the Select Commanders elected to covertly encourage its primary leaders further towards Reticulan ideals, such that these attitudes may spread throughout the rest of homo sapiens. Our primary mission, in this respect, was to establish a routine supply of Human and animalian test subjects to ensure the success of the Geneering solution to the Earth Crisis: all of which would, of course, be returned unharmed (aside from some minor genetic and biotechnological enhancements) back to Earth soil.

Reticulan shuttle operations observed over  "Europe", as observed by Human picture-box.

Reticulan shuttle operations observed over “Europe”, as observed by Human picture-box.

The governmental conclave of “Brazil” demonstrated acceptable Reticulan principles throughout in the exchange, which concluded an with agreement for continual delivery of four-limbed Earth beasts to be Moon bases Alpha and Beta, to fuel our Gene Splice XII research programmes (although, it was necessary to disguise these programmes from the Humans; instead, convincing them that our research was associated with ‘Bovine Enhancement’ to solve the dual Human problems of famine and climate change. In exchange for this resource supply, an agreement to enhance key units of the “Brazil” military column with biotechnological implants was delivered upon which, unbeknownst to the Humans, would not enhance their battle abilities but – instead – accelerate the units’ personalities towards that of pacifism and diplomacy. Our perception of “Brazil” as a pseudo-Reticulan ally on Earth eventually escalated to a successful diplomatic meeting on Moon Base Alpha, where the Lead Minister of the “Brazil” faction was provided with a guided tour (making sure not to reveal our more sensitive research facilities and barracks) of our so-called “Bovine Analysis and Research Facility” [BARF].

It must be emphasised that our entanglements with Human subjects were, at all times, maintained with a stoic Reticulan vision. Any concerns of the united Great Minds that our involvement in Earth’s matters was in any way reflective of a softening of the Select Commanders’ Reticulan principles, or of Human sympathisation, should be resisted.

In spite of the great work of the “Brazil” initiative in undermining the Human genetic leanings towards conflict and treachery, attempts at creating disorder among the united Earth factions were nullified by the continued resistance experienced in the Northern Half-Sphere. With unanimous approval of the Great Minds, the Great Reticulan Orbital Mind-Laser (which was deployed with such efficiency in our last campaign on Threxil IV) was despatched with immediacy from the Cydonia Mars base and placed in a highly-elliptical diurnal orbit around Earth. At 0100 (local time) over the densely-populated landmass known as “Europe”, the Laser was activated; targeting a number of key metropolis in the nations designated “Spain”, “Italy” and “Germany” and instilled a vast disorder among the local populace. Reports of extreme psychological unease were intercepted from a variety of these conclaves where intense, riotous panic was observed due to terror of a perceived insectoid plague. Minor unrest was seen to spread to neighbouring nations, adding to a rise in Global Terror and minor tension among the major states in the upper half-sphere.

Humans discuss global conflict matters. Discussing global conflict matters requires huge stocks of biscuits, apparently.

Humans discuss global conflict matters. Discussing global conflict matters requires biscuits, apparently.

At this time, the genetic modifications imposed on the captured agent from the “United States” were finalised, and our efforts to geneer a perfect Hyper-Pacifist agent were completed to the satisfaction requirements of our science personnel. The operative was returned to a Human ambassador from the “Brazil” conclave during a diplomatic exchange on the Earth landmass of “Antartica” under the illusion that the operative had undergone considerable, invasive biotechnological enhancement to improve battle capabilities. To exploit this progress towards Gene Space XII Hyper-Pacifism subjects, a programme of pacifistic-branch Human breeding (using a two samples acquired from the “Brazil” initiative) was commenced which, it was hoped, would allow more control of the populace via highly-geneered, rapid-growth Human sleeper agents deployed among key personnel. While this particular project did not see full completion during the extent of the ECI campaign, the Great Minds should regard the significant advance[s] in this field as an encouraging preliminary experiment which would likely form a strong core of any future engagement with the Humans of Earth.

In the face of the pre-planned withdrawal of ECI units and the Select Commanders in Earth year 2023 should a resolution to the Earth crisis not be found, efforts in all areas were escalated in order to conclude the campaign in our favour. With continuing difficulties in completing our goals according to spread of terror and/or infiltration of local governments (the ‘Terror’ and ‘Puppeteer’ Policies), our final opportunity for a timely resolution was to divert all resources towards the Gene Splice XII project and enact the ‘Geneering’ Policy; genetically modifying the entire Human populace towards more peaceful enterprises than petty conflict and treachery, and reducing their capabilities (and desires) towards exploring the rest of Galactic Space.

Poor-quality image transmitted to Conclave One from "Russia", identifying the captured Commander.

Poor-quality image transmitted to Conclave One from “Russia”, revealing identity of the captured Commander unit from Moon base Alpha.

All research facilities were programmed to operate at maximum capacity, using the remaining supply of gene samples and those subsidiary specimens collected from the cooperative “Brazil” science conclave. However, it was during a penultimate incursion into Earth airspace (as part of a targeted specimen harvest led by elite infiltration commanders) that a Light Shuttle was downed in an isolated area of the Northern Hemisphere – of the Human designation “Siberia” – and the head agent (itself, one of the Select Commanders who personally undertook escort with the team) received into custody by military officials from the “Russia” territory. Communications, offering a trade for the intercepted Commander in return for resources and intelligence, were received in Radio Frequency form (and arising, our defence analysts were able to verify, from the ice-crusted colony designated “Moscow”) with immediacy and displaying a convincing promise of honour.

With the prospect of full withdrawal of all Reticulan units from the Earth system within the remaining Earth quarter-year should a secure resolution to the Earth Crisis not be enacted, the remaining Select Commanders were unanimous agreement to extract all remaining Reticulan operatives from Earth space, leaving no Reticulan behind. As such, a full exchange was initiated with the “Russia” leadership, and all seized units were immediately escorted to Moon base Alpha). With the sacrifice of significant Resource Points diverted to the re-patriation of our captured Select Commander, operational efficiency of our research facilities was compromised. It was discovered, during the final cycle preceding the end of the campaign, that our remaining key research projects (focussing on both bovine and Human subjects) had become infected with the harmful effects of a reactor leak. The results of all projects were lost, scuppering our remaining hopes to ensure the completion of the Gene Splice XII programme within the timeframe of the campaign.

Despite the eventual failure of the Geneering Policy in solving the Earth Crisis, the Select Commanders wish to commend the crucial efforts of the Reticulan Science Facility for the valuable genetic research on Earth-based lifeforms which, while not bringing an explicit solution to the Human problem, have vastly improved our species’ understanding of the Human condition and lay down the basis for future endeavours enacted by the Great Minds and the Larger Reticulan Council. Whilst the ECI task force displayed an honourable failure in bringing a resolution to the Earth Crisis, the Select Commanders wish to emphasise the success of the experiment in validating the need for interference in the matters of Humanity; especially from the perspective of Galactic peace and civility.

Puny humans gather to listen to another strategic report regarding the current global situation. Look at their miserable, puny faces.

Puny humans gather to listen to another strategic report regarding the current global situation. Look at their miserable, puny faces.

As Reticulan units prepared to withdraw from Earth and tactically destroy all operational compounds on Mars and Earth’s Moon, Humanity demonstrated the exact behaviour we had feared: with the final military and political resolution phase of our incursion in Earth’s skies, “China” and the “United States” progressed to outright conflict with our terrestrial allies; using heavy, atomic missile systems to terraform much of the “Brazil” territory. Almost in tandem, it was discovered that the Select Commander recovered from the deceitful “Russia” organisation had been, akin to our own -technological developments, been modified at a genetic level; making him a bio-organic weapon levelled directly at infecting our Moon base Alpha and obliterating one-third of our ECI defence force.

Our greatest fears were proved distressingly correct: Humanity is not yet ready to join the Galactic Alliance and it is, with significant displeasure and regret, that we must report the full withdrawal of all Reticulan ground- and air-units following unsuccessful resolution to the Earth crisis. Humanity is a corrosive bight that will, if unchecked, infect Galactic Space with its primitive attitudes to conflict, order and civilisation.

As this transmission reaches you, all Reticulan ships are in transit to Zeta Reticuli for debrief, decontamination and decommission of the Earth Crisis Initiative. We must prepare for invasion: it may take Humanity two Earth-years or two-hundred, but make no mistake; they will come, and – even in the face of unrelenting civility – they will destroy. All we can hope is that, before that time, they destroy each other first.

Be ever watchful.

Until our next meeting, ALL HAIL THE GREAT MINDS.

[xx.zx/A2]

Let us return to the stars. There is nothing for us here. [http://magicland70.deviantart.com/]

Let us return to the stars. There is nothing for us here.
[http://magicland70.deviantart.com/]

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All in all, I had an awesome time at Little Wooden Houses presents Watch the Skies!. In terms of running a full-scale, all-day event, the combined efforts of Mac and Charlie (as well as the rest of the ‘control’ team and helpers behind-the-scenes) were monumental: both deserve a massive, massive, round of applause.

The game itself was unique, engaging and – most importantly – a whole bunch of fun. Without the passion of the LWH organisation team, as well as all the Human and Alien players, it wouldn’t have felt anywhere near as enjoyable as it did so, in reality, everyone deserves a mega round of applause. *claps*

Here’s a short timelapse I made of the game’s setup and first couple of turns, as observed from Aliens’ balcony. Well done to everyone!

Also, following here are a bunch of other reports of the day from the perspectives of Game Control, a GNN journalist and the Russia Minister of Defence, respectively. Hopefully, with this (in retrospect, ill-advised) undertaking to orbit a fictional narrative around the happenings of the Little Wooden Houses game of Watch the Skies!, I can add in some minor way to the overwhelmingly positive experiences of the day; and perhaps raise a chuckle along the way. With that, I must now sign off.

Watch the skies, always.

[Zinar7]

 

[Additional Reports] ~

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Crystal Chronicles

CrystalChronicles

I’m going on a quest.

A quest to play through all of the Final Fantasy main series, in order.

All of them. In order.

Why? Well, for a start, I’ve only really, properly played Final Fantasy VII, VIII and X (even if I have dabbled in III and IX along the way). For a person that claims JRPG to be their almost-favourite genre, that’s sort of embarrassing. So yeah, recently, I booted up my copy of Final Fantasy (the PlayStation port of the SNES version) to prepare my four Warriors of Light for my opening assault on the series. I’m calling this quest #FinalOdyssey, which – hopefully – will last longer than my New Year’s resolution to play more point-and-click adventure games (which kind of didn’t really happen, did it?­). Also, it gives me a perfect excuse to listen to a whole bunch of The Black Mages material, which is never a bad thing.

The Final Fantasy series is often seen as one of those untouchable, unquestionable serieseses, but is it entirely justified? It’s certainly not without its flaws, and (perhaps with respect with the most recent iterations of the series) there are far more qualified rivals that populate the JRPG arena these days: the likes of Xenoblade Chronicles, Persona/Shin Megami Tensei and the Tales series leap to mind. In fact, on reflection, I’ve played more Dragon Quest [aka. Dragon Warrior; FF’s long-term rival and now sibling in the Square-Enix catalogue) games than I have actual, proper Final Fantasy games. Final Fantasy VII still remains probably my favourite game of all time, though, and – graphical niggles aside – it still holds up in both storyline and gameplay in spite of its eighteen-year frame.

So, seeing as I’ve only touched the series at certain, key tangents, it makes sense for me to properly appreciate everything Final Fantasy; beginning with the main series, I-XIII. Of course, now that the ‘no sequels’ rule has been well and truly broken, this means that I’ve fourteen (I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII, VIII, IX, X, X-2, XII, XIII, XIII-2, XIII-3: Lightning Returns) games to play before I die or the world comes to a premature end [whichever arrives first]. Also, there’s also a bunch of the FF spinoffs to look at – the Crystal Chronicles series, in particular, is vastly underrated and (perhaps) deserving of a more favourable appraisal – and, maybe, I’ll get round to them afterwards.

I’m not particularly in a rush to marathon my way through all of the main FF series in a row; more that I’ll play one, take a break, play another, etc.  Fr’instance, I’ve just started hammering through The Bureau: X-Com Declassified in preparation for similar things going on at Watch the Skies! on the weekend (and which I alluded to in last week’s Friday blog), so there’s that. But yeah, games.

XCOM

So, what else have I been playing?

Well, I recently got very, very excited about Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective, which is a semi-board game (hey, it’s got a BoardGameGeek listing so it counts) based upon 1-8 people playing as members of the “Baker Street Irregulars” to solve ten fictional cases. It’s more of an interactive novel than a board game, not least because there’s no ‘board’ as such; just a casebook, an address directory and a map of Holmes’ London. And you know what? It’s awesome fun.

Each case begins with an introduction and background to the crime – usually a murder, with some starting information and a few (obvious) leads to chase up. Then, as a group, players follow leads by deciding on a relevant location to investigate or witness to question; look up their location in the directory, and turn to the relevant casebook page to follow up the lead (which may give extra clues, confirm a suspect’s alibi, or provide no information at all). The team continue following leads, gathering data and evidence, until they have enough to report back to Holmes with a ‘confirmed’ suspect and answers to the CHECKSUM question that Holmes will pose.

Of course, at heart, it’s a deductive game; but one that’s unlike any other game I’ve ever played. It’s got more in common with a Choose Your Own Adventure book; except you’re not limited to the options of “Turn to Page 45 / Turn to Page 32” but have almost complete freedom to follow up any lead at any time and to draw your own conclusions (perhaps, in the process, accusing the wrong suspect). To draw video game analogies, where the likes of Choose Your Own… are like on-rails shooters, Consulting Detective is like a fully-3D FPS. It’s most fun with a group of 5-6 participants, and is presented in the form of a ‘story’ – following a lead in the casebook reveals a story that must be read out to the other investigators; which may be helpful, may reveal nothing new, or which may send you on a merry trail yielding nothing revolutionary at the end.

Moriarty

Despite the sheer amount that I’m enjoying it, I am a little apprehensive that there will, at some point, come a time when we run out of cases to play. On that day, I will be a bit sad.

Oh well, not to worry; because someone is already working on a Cthulhu-themed version of Consulting Detective, by the name of Arkham Investigator. And it looks badass. You can get the first two cases as Print-n-Play versions already, but it looks like there might eventually be 8 cases, and also that the game might get a proper, printed release at some point. Either way, go and check it out because why the hell wouldn’t you.

[While we’re on the subject, how awesome would a Commander Vimes: Watch Detective be? Whilst I was poking around the internet for Consulting Detective­-alike games, I stumbled across {mistery.io} and I’m rather tempted to make a few Discworld stories, just for my own amusement.]

Anyway, so yeah; that’s what I’ve been up to. What have you been playing recently?

[Zinar7]

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Grey Matters

GreyMatters In a little over a week’s time, on Saturday 6th June, I’ll be part of a terrifyingly efficient extra-terrestrial mission of <REDACTED> to colonise/diplomatise/annexe/annihilate [*delete as applicable] Earth, on behalf of Alien Conclave One. I’ll be doing this from the comfort of a comfy-ish chair in a mezzanine balcony overlooking a small village hall in South Oxfordshire. Yes, you heard that right. I’ll be participating in a thing called “Little Wooden Houses presents Watch the Skies!”, and Watch The Skies! is what is known as a megagame. WTS_1 Watch the Skies! (hereafter WTS!) is a megagame designed by Megagame Makers, and playable by 50-60 people who’re involved in defending Earth from an invasive alien threat; taking place over the course of ~8 real-time hours, and three in-game years (2020 to 2022). Now, I’m not expecting anyone to really know what that actually means, so I’ll explain: a megagame is part-board game, part- role-playing game, part- live-action role-play event that takes place over the course of the best part of a day, and involves upwards of fifty people engaging together in a gigantic, united struggle and/or storyline with multiple, overlapping game elements and having a good time. For this game, the Little Wooden Houses people are running their own edition of WTS!: on one side, there’ll be 40 or so Human players, divided up into teams of four representing the major nations of Earth (the US, Russia, Great Britain, China, etc.), as well as players representing ‘neutral’ organisations like Earth’s media; all working together to counter the alien threat, while at the same time trying to meet their own, secret national objectives and further their own ends. On the other side, a semi-united Alien front is made up of three Alien teams (“conclaves”) that have their own, mysterious plans for Earth which may involve peace, abduction, obliteration; or all of the above. I’m going to be one of the Aliens perched up in the mezzanine gallery overlooking the main game area in our village hall global conflict-space, and I’m super excited about it. AliensGuy The ‘game’, in essence, is therefore formed of [Human] players role-playing as diplomatic leaders, military strategists and scientific researchers (each team has a Head of State, a Foreign Minister, a Chief of Defence and a Chief of Science) and carrying out their own tasks/agendas whilst, along the way, global strategy is played out a bit like a board game; uncovering the ‘fun’ through Human players work out how to deal with the diplomatic situation of Extra-Terrestrials making contact with Earth. As of last week, players’ roles and nations have all been designated (and their pre-game preparation packs sent out), so it’s encouraged that Human players get into the spirit of the game and dress up as their national stereotypes and fully role-play as their governmental roles. The Human teams must learn about the Alien’s movements, establish communication channels and defend Earth’s airspace if necessary; perhaps, in the process, stealing (or bartering for) Alien technology to sell to big corporations, improve defences or bolster Earth’s offensive capabilities. The Humans will, of course, also need to deal with the standard terrestrial crises and inter-nation conflicts which might get in the way of all of this “Alien” business. Along the way, other national & international crises will be introduced by Game Control (made up of Mac and Charlie; the resident heads of Little Wooden Houses) to make things extra difficult, and the Global News Network will be publishing reports of the ongoing events which may, or may not, be accurate. TrustNoOne Part of the fun of being an Alien is in trying to make the game interesting for the Human players; to follow the general direction set out by Game Control, but also to act like completely non-terrestrial entities that will be utterly non-human in their actions and agenda. How the Alien teams actually work is something that is kept secret from the Human teams and, indeed, even from us until the day of the actual event. Megagame Makers have held two, official UK events for Watch the Skies!; both unique in terms of the participating players and with unique storyline. For Little Wooden Houses’ edition of WTS!, Charlie has tweaked the plot and sequence of events to ensure that there’s no advantage for anyone participating that may have played the game previously or elsewhere. What’s going to be interesting for me being an Alien member (and hence more a part of the game than a “player” of it), is in watching the united Human front to see what they do when we throw a bunch of problems their way:

Will they unite together to effectively null the Aliens’ military power through capture of the primary Alien leaders and theft of key Alien technology? Will they reject the Aliens’ peaceful approaches and unleash their Doomsday weapons to annihilate the orbital craft? Will the United Nations break up over disagreements regarding the Aliens’ true intentions, causing World War III and destruction of the Earth whilst the Aliens merely spectate from orbit without getting involved? Will Aliens infiltrate Earth’s major positions of government and bring into action an international decree to give cats equal rights to humans, eventually leading to the Feline Republic overthrowing the British government and passing a ban on dogs?

We shall see. If this sounds genuinely interesting, I recommend watching the video put together by Shut Up And Sit Down during Watch the Skies!’ debut event (May 2014). Furthermore, The Independent recently did a neat article on the recent Watch the Skies! 2 game  held in London in March 2015. [FYI, Shut Up and Sit Down’s video from Watch the Skies! 2 can be found here: (http://www.shutupandsitdown.com/blog/post/susd-play-watch-skies-2-pt-1/)%5D

Of course, I’m writing about LWH’ WTS! here now, because I fully intend to run a debrief after the event and blog about how it all worked out and what happened (without giving away any information about the motives or operation of the Alien teams). From the perspective of someone that intensely enjoys the prospect of observing how a bunch of my friends will choose to respond to extra-terrestrial contact and/or aggression, I’m well excited. Watch the skies, because they’re watching you. [Zinar7]

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