Category Archives: Activities

That’s A Puzzlin’: Part 2

Puzzlin_2

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

Puzzlin_1

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:

P21

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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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/]

Divider

 

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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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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Hack / Slash

HackSlash

Just over a week ago, I hit the milestone of Thirty Years Old. Huh.

It’s kind of put me in an odd mental place. I’m supposed to be a grown-up now, right? I’m supposed to gotten to the point in life where I’ve nailed a secure job, become father to a loving family and stopped feeling like I’m still pretty lost in this whole Life™ business.

Oh well.

Perhaps I should be thankful that, instead of the tedium of a straightforward life, my life is still full of twists and turns and the opportunity for adventure. Maybe I should feel heartened that, even at this great age, I’m still a bit of a dreamer; one who still hasn’t given up on the dream of meeting someone new or falling into my ideal career or still having the time and energy to learn and have fun. I’ve never married, never had kids; (relatively) debt-free; still inquisitive, curious and open to new ideas; still just as passionate about the things I love as I ever was.

It’s just a sad twist of fate that, as I pass into my fourth decade on Starship: Earth, I still feel completely in limbo between being a child and being a grown-up. Since I’ve spent so long at University and living in student-type accommodation and hanging around with other University students/postgrads, I still feel very much like an adolescent; still working out where their calling is in life, and who it’s with. Yet, I’m now undeniably a thirtysomething now and that’s supposed to mean mortgage, childcare and family saloon until it’s all pallbearers and headstones. My age clearly denotes that should be a proper adult by now, with responsibility and a role to play in CamBot-5000’s ‘Big Society’; particularly in the light of The Lizard God’s re-election as leader of our great nation. I mean, It’s not like I’m not an actual grown-up (I feed myself, wash myself and clothe myself daily with only a minimal amount of difficulty), but it kind of feels like I’ve still got a lot of growing up still to do and a lot of things to discover about both myself and the world around me.

Because of my complex work and life situation, I’m still trapped (at least, in my head) in the wilderness between adolescence and proper adulthood; a no-man’s land between the two trenches sniping at me from either side. Mentally, this puts me in a tricky position – still feeling a connection to youth and naïvety because my friend group is – generally – slightly younger than me, and because the five or so years that I spent in the throes of PhD kind of sheltered me from the kind of ‘growing up’ that most people of my age have had to endure. I’m also well aware that my hobbies and interests still remain an anchor to ‘youth’; from my passion for gaming (console and tabletop) to my continuing aural commitment to musical genres that are typically seen as being primarily the domain of younger people.

Despite that, I feel proud to be a thirty year-old that still holds such fire for the things they’ve always believed in. I’ve been playing video and computer games for as long as I can remember, and I’ve never had a break from them being my biggest interest in life. Regardless of how I may feel about the state of the popular strand of video games (all Spunk Gargle Wee-Wee and Fee-Fuh), I still retain an intense passion for video gaming. It was, though, a bit of a shock when I realised that the game I’m currently ploughing through (the PlayStation hack ‘n’ slash-type thing set in a light-hearted gothic Hammer Horror-type world, MediEvil) is SEVENTEEN YEARS OLD; despite it feeling like the days of PlayStation action-adventure games were hardly any time ago at all.

Of course, I shouldn’t be too surprised, given that there are now two whole console generations separating the likes of MediEvil and the current PlayStation 4 roster, but perhaps it’s just a reminder at how many gaming years have passed without my brain really realising. I didn’t ever play MediEvil at the time of its release so I’m not drawing on any particular nostalgia shock, but more the fact that my years of hunching over mine and my friend’s PlayStations are still some of the years of gaming that I remember with most clarity. Before the PlayStation, I was predominantly a “PC” gamer – although, technically, I was an “Amiga” gamer since the Amiga-500+ was, technically, not a PC – but the PlayStation was my first proper console and hence there’s a special little patch of nostalgic warmth reserved in my heart for it and everything it brought forth. Either way, I felt like a bit of mindless, retro fun to counter the reality of adulthood and, hence, booted up some PlayStation nostalgia, and hence have recently lost myself in the hacky-slashy world of Gallowmere.

MediEvil is, in actual fact, pretty good. Sure, it’s no The Last of Us and time has hardly been kind to either the graphical fidelity or the game’s control system, but there’s charm enough to ward away the most intense criticism. It’s as close to Hallowe’en Town as one can get without infringing Tim Burton’s copyright on cartoonish, gothic horror; a brightly-coloured, trick-or-treat action-adventure game gone terrifyingly right. In many ways, I feel that MediEvil and ‘me’ share a lot in common: distinctly rough around the edges, difficult to control and bridging the gap between true horror and multi-coloured cartoon. Still, while we both continue to hack and slash away through unclear, blocky graphics with little in the way of instruction or tutorial, I’d like to think that I’ve aged marginally better than a seventeen year-old shiny disc.

[Zinar7]

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friday_011

F011

I’ve always said: celebrity deaths come in threes. Then again, so do the deaths of my treasured possessions, it seems.

The last week or two have mainly been spent trying to mend, or replace, pieces of electrical equipment that seem to have decided push up the daisies: first, my cellphone; then, bits of my car; and finally, my TV. I’m beginning to think that I have some sort of curse: a sort of Midas Touch that causes electrical equipment to expire by merely being in the same geographical location as me. Perhaps I’m made of magick.

[it’s worth pointing out at this juncture that my digital camera has also developed some sort of fault that I’ve not quite been able to get to the root of; which does mean that the ‘bad things come in threes’ rule has been shattered and that I may have actually broken the universe. If a gaping maw of inter-dimensional cataclysm has opened up near you, then I’m desperately sorry.]

While sorting out a new cellphone and repairs to Big Suze have been no great cause for festivity, this recent state of affairs has forced me to pick up a new TV to replace my old, enormous CRT monolith and finally join the world of High-Definition. I’m not usually one to crow about graphical fidelity or anything, but my, is it purdy. I’ve most recently been playing a lot of Need for Speed: Most Wanted (the PS3 one, although I still sort of maintain that the original one is better, if less pretty) and my goodness does it look good. Obviously, I’m a massive automotive nut and am “well into” motor racing and stuff so am already slightly aroused by the sight of attractive pieces of metal and carbon fibre moving at high speed, but NFS:MW it a delight to look at; with its lovely reflections and lens flare and sunset filtration and gorgeously cinematic, pre-race short films.

Oddly enough for an avid watcher of motor racing and things going fast and things, racing games have never, really, found a particularly special place in my heart: yet, I can’t really explain why. Somehow, the accurate racing simulations (Gran Turismo, Forza, Project Gotham Racing, etc.) have always felt too methodical and not enough like a game to me; requiring expenditure of countless hours in the digital garage, tweaking every last nut and bolt in order to shave hundredths-of-a-second off a lap time. Funnily enough, I adore stat-based /RPG elements in a story-based game with character development and adventurin’, but grow restlessly yawnsome when I’m forced to stare at too many stats and upgrades in other genres (strategy, simulation, etc.). My main motivation, when playing a video game, is still to have fun; whereas simulation games (be them racing, farming or goat simulators), for me, have always placed too many barriers in front of the important business of fun.

Need for Speed has always felt a little different, though; blending some aspects of the engine-tweaking upgradability with the sheer, foot-to-the-floor velocity of OutRun. The movement of Criterion Games developing many of the latter Need for Speeds (Hot Pursuit, Most Wanted and The Rivals) has meant that they’ve absorbed a lot of the features that Criterion previously introduced to Burnout; slow-mo, metal-bending crashes and friendship-ending revenge takedowns. Weirdly, then, NFS:MW feels like a public safety video highlighting the perils of street racing; with time slowing to render every smash, shunt and shimmer in a haunting ballet of wrangled metal. It’s been a genuine delight to take such a perverse amount of pleasure at watching digital cars crashing/breaking in high-definition, perhaps acting as some sort of poetic justice countering everything else that’s doing its best to self-destruct in my life.

In honesty, I’ve played a lot of Need for Speed: Most Wanted. I discovered some time ago that racing games were one of those rare instances where I can truly lose myself and forget, utterly about the outside world. Perhaps it’s something about focussing purely on whether the next apex is and how you can tread the very fine line between optimised speed and loss of control that stops the rest of my brain (the bit that constantly worries, questions and fears) from gaining any sort of traction [pun intended]. It’s not necessarily that I have any racing talent or skill (quite the opposite; I’m woefully – almost tediously – average when placed on a track), but more a mindset: I’m not the best at multi-tasking, so if I’m concentrating solely on getting ‘round the track in the most optimal time whilst attempting to keep pace with my competitors, then I can’t possibly be thinking about whether I’m wasting my life. [The delicious irony being that, if I’m spending my time playing video games, then I probably am wasting it to some extent.]

Still, with the long, cold Winter finally behind us and the Spring properly gaining traction, it’s relieving to know that that the motor racing season is once again underway and roaring through some of the world’s greatest arenas of asphalt and dirt. Formula One kicked off delightfully a couple of weekends ago and continues in Malaysia in the next few days; the World Touring Car Championship got started in Argentina a few weeks back, and the British Touring Car Championship kicks off at Brands Hatch next weekend. Formula One will always be my soulmate, but I’m aiming to do better at keeping up with both the WTCC and BTCC this year after losing track [pun sort of intended] of both at some point during the summer of last year. I’ll definitely be going to the BTCC at Thruxton for birthday-related shenanigans, and hopefully also the Formula E race that’ll be happening in London around Battersea Park. I’m still holding out a vague hope of being able to get to an F1 race abroad sometime during 2015, but it’s looking increasingly unlikely. Never say never, though.

But anyway, I’ve probably talked enough about shiny metallic things with wheels for the time being.

tl;dr: CARS.

[Zinar7]

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friday_010

F010

Of late, I’ve been worryingly addictive Britcom spiral. It’s probably Stewart Lee’s fault; it usually is.

As has been proved empirically, I could watch/listen to Stewart Lee doing stand-up comedy indefinitely until the end of time. Alarmingly, it’s gotten to the stage that just being in the same aura as Stew is enough to send me into the giggles – so in tune, am I, with the essence of the character of Stewart Lee and his many grumbles and gripes, that I can see his ‘take’ on the real world even when he’s not there. It’s observational comedy, but filtered through the kind of bitter, warped mind that engages with my own bitter, warped mind on a primordial level. For me, his material is progressive; it grows with age, like a Pink Floyd record that improves with every listen and reveals more facets of ‘funny’ in a way that – in Chris Morris’ own words in Stewart Lee’s Comedy Vehicle series three – “knowingly operates the levers that make people laugh [by using any means possible apart from actually saying anything funny].”`

Such is his grip on the very essence of what tickles my brain’s funny nerve, I think of it as a Good Thing™ that even passing reference to Stew’s material helps to brighten everyday life immeasurably; breaking me into giggles and making me – at least temporarily – forget the darker clouds in the world. To be fair, this very fact is probably why I deploy comedy/movie reference with a machine-gun frequency, since it helps me to make light of the world’s troubles and to briefly shine some sunlight into the gloomier corners. Just thinking about crisps, or toilet books, or visible otters makes normal life minutely more enjoyable, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I’m incredibly excited about that fact that, in January 2016, I’ll be seeing Stew for the third time; at the South Bank Centre for a special gig where he’ll perform – back to back – all six episodes of the upcoming (or, will be) Stewart Lee’s Comedy Vehicle series four. I still think that his Caffé Nero routine from If You Prefer a Milder Comedian, Please Ask for One is one of his best, helped by the genius audience engagement over the forged loyalty card.

Naturally, for every side of the coin there must be a counter-side; for every Stewart Lee, there must be a Richard Herring. For me, Richard Herring’s Leicester Square Theatre Podcast (or as all the cool kids are calling it, Ruh-Heh-Less-Tuh-Puh) has been a bit of a revelation; tapping into my utter comedy geekdom of hearing many of my Brit comedy heroes interviewed about whether they would prefer an armpit that dispensed suncream or a hand made of ham, and whether they’ve ever seen a bigfoot. Part of the attraction, for me, is hearing comedians just talking; not delivering material on purpose or trying too hard to be funny, just talking.

I’ve been genuinely charmed by the ongoing drama of the “who broke the cupboards in the Edinburgh Fringe 2002 flat?”; the story of how Stew once wanked off Richard with a 100-year old ventriloquist’s dummy; or Rich’s continuing descent into insanity through the medium of playing snooker against himself in his basement and recording it for the internet (Me1 vs. Me2 Snooker). Also, I PAID A POUND:

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Part of this Lee and Herring adventure was inspired by the discovery of magic of Fist of Fun; Rich and Stew’s first TV show from 1995. The characters of Richard Herring (“…and I am called Richard Herring”) and Stewart Lee (“No, not ‘ahh’ “) work so well, and so many more of my favourite Britcom heroes [Rebecca Front, Kevin Eldon, Al Murray, Peter Baynham, Alistair MacGowan] that it can hardly fail to impress. After having watched the entireity of Series One at a friends’ house over the course of a single evening, I found an almost mechanical response to order myself the box-set of both series before my brain had even registered that anything had happened. I’m yet to even plunder the delights of S2 given that I’ve been 100% absorbed in going back through S1, trying to catch all the background jokes and going through all of the “slow-mo” bits to harvest the comedy gold held within.

[ And while we’re on the topic of classic Britcom shows that I’m only just getting round to catching up with, I also watched recently – for the first time ever – Knowing Me, Knowing You with Alan Partridge. I’m not sure how I’ve really escaped watching it until now, given how much I’m in love with everything AGP has done since I’m Alan Partridge, but it’s reassuring to know that I’ve finally corrected this heinous error. ]

Thinking about it, despite my proclamation in the opening paragraph that everything is Stewart Lee’s fault, upon reflection I think that it’s probably Armando Iannucci that is to blame for most of my Britcom geekdom. With an absolutely flawless record, I adore everything that he’s worked on and everyone he’s worked with: Steve Coogan, Chris Morris, Lee & Herring, Jesse Armstrong, Graham Linehan; I’m Alan Partridge, The Thick of It, Time Trumpet, yada yada yada. He’s just an incredibly perceptive, switched-on satirist that seems to just be able to tap into pure comedy and write exceptionally funny situations and characters and surround himself with talented writers, actors and producers with a similar sense for funny. I’m still yet to catch up on his most recent project (Veep; weaving a The Thick of It-kind of comedy across the Atlantic into the Vice-President’s office of The White House), which extrapolates away from very British comedy and into the deep, dark wilds of the US, but I’m led to believe that it’s easily up to his dazzlingly high standards.

So yeah, you can blame Stewart Lee, Richard Herring and Armando Iannucci for my recent habit of breaking out into giggles at the slightest drop of a hat. But if comedy is an addiction, then you can keep your cold turkey; I’m sticking to the hard stuff.

[Zinar7]

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Boardcrafting +1

Boardcrafting

There’s going to be a bit of a change to the regular Friday Blog cycle, as I feel that I deserve a break from the routine; at least for a week. So, instead of a thousand or so words talking about something opinion-worthy, I’m going to catalogue one of my most recent creative endeavours – my homemade Munchkin Level Playing Field game board – and how one might make one, were one into creative print ‘n’ play board game projects or that sort of thing.

Munchkin has always sort of disturbed me because the essence of the game is to advance your procedurally-generated dungeon-raiding character from Level One to Level Ten (with the winner being the first player to reach Level 10 first), but no materials are supplied with the base game with which to count levels and players must instead use some random tokens, coins, or pen and paper to keep score. Steve Jackson Games does, however, manufacture playing boards and playing pieces that can be bought separately (or as a bundle in the ‘Munchkin Deluxe’ sets), but I thought that – instead of simply ordering them online – it’d be more fun to try and make my own. This post catalogues the process of trying to put them together.

So, what does this thing look like? Well, the finished article looks like this:

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To put it together, I started with a plain hardback (A5) notebook from PoundLand (The Theatre of Dreams™) , and removed the pages and the metal spine so that I had just the front and back covers; which I (temporarily) taped together with book-binding tape to hold it together. I then sketched out a series of boxes, one to ten, along which the playing pieces would move in order to track levels.

I took the idea of replicating the Munchkin Deluxe board because I liked the idea of the board representing the dungeon that the adventurers are questing through, observed as a top-down view of a winding castle, or something. This way, it’s easier to figure out who’s in the lead and hence whether you want to either hinder them or lend a hand in return for bonus loot.

The next process was to paint up the background areas (green for grass outside the keep), and grey for the castle’s rooms. I used acrylic paints and a regular brush, and I quite wanted it to look ‘rough’ and weathered somewhat so I used quite a lot of dry-brush techniques to “scrape” paint onto the board. When I was done, I outlined the walls with a black Sharpie and then a silver-finish Sharpie for the inner section of the walls.

Munchkin_8

I wanted to add some definition to the inner walls, so I added a stone brick pattern to the outside faces of the walls with a very fine marker, just for funsies. I painted up the starting box (1) and ending box (10) up in more bright colours to reflect “Victory”, and designated each room with the relevant level number.

Because I wanted the notebook to represent a fictional dungeon-quester’s notebook (perhaps akin to a character notebook from Dungeons and Dragons), I wanted to give it a fantasy/role-playing feel so I removed the book-binding tape and replaced it with old, worn yarn that I found in the shed. I cut lots of thin strips of it (about 10-15 cm in length) and then tied them in loops through the holes of the original notebook’s spine. As a final flourish, I decorated the front of the board with the words ‘Munchkin Adventurer’s Notebook’, comme ça:

 

Right, so that’s the board finished, but what do we use to count? Well, instead of buying a Bag O’ Munchkins, I turned instead to shrink plastic to make some ~7 cm pieces to insert into plastic stands to represent each player.

I scoured through a bunch of cards from the base Munchkin deck to find some interesting characters, scanned the cards in and blew them up before printing them to a scale that the character was around 12 cm in size. I used Shrinkies clear shrink plastic, traced the outline with a black Sharpie and then coloured in the relevant area with other Sharpie pens. I needed 6 (because Munchkin plays three to six players), so to be sure of not screwing up, I made nine pieces and cut them out; making sure not to leave too many ‘thin’ bits because I found that these tended to warp very badly when fired in the oven.

I set the oven to “grill” (PUNS.) and lined a baking tray with tin foil. Then, one by one, placed each sheet into the oven for a few minutes (until it goes all curly, shrinks down and flattens out again) before removing it and immediately pressing it under a heavy book in order to flatten out the piece. After touching them up a little bit with the markers where the ink slightly melted and smudged, they were placed in their plastic stands. Because one or two went badly wrong in the oven, and a couple ended up noticeably out of scale with the other playing pieces, I was left with six complete pieces: two male, two female and two monster-ish; which I put in stands, ready to play with 🙂

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I’m pretty pleased! I think they look rad, even if no-one else agrees with me. Plus, everything still fits in my base Munchkin box, et voila:

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So yeah, GO GO GADGET CREATIVITY.

[Zinar7]

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friday_009

F009

In my entry from last Friday, I qualified my thoughts on video games and gaming by explaining that I find the process of play to be fascinating.

It’s true, I do find the act of playing to be something that’s always an interesting process – partly due to some of the more obvious excursions that play allows (role-playing as some far-flung hero; making decisions or play-acting in a way that doesn’t affect anything meaningful in real life; etc.), but also because I really enjoy engaging with other people in a ‘play’ scenario. That’s not to say that I don’t enjoy socialising with people in a normal setting or just offhand – I mean that I find it very interesting to see what other people do when they’re engaged in something that doesn’t have proper consequences in real life; to see what choices they make and what strategies they employ in winning the game or tackling the problem at hand.

For me, his fascination has, most prominently, been propagated through my expanding passion for board- and tabletop gaming; the social aspect of which still properly brings me a whole fuckton of joy. I miss the good times of the PlayStation/PS2 and Nintendo 64/GameCube console generation(s) where, routinely, four people would come together to hammer out a few rounds of GoldenEye 007, Micro Machines V3 or Mario Kart: Double Dash!!. There are, of course, exceptions to the rule but multiplayer video games now overwhelmingly force players to be separated by a connection barrier rather than just a simply sharing a multitap and a beanbag in front of the TV. Part of this feeling is borne of nostalgia, but it’s mainly a frustration at how good things used to be and how the community of gaming friends crouched around a tiny CRT monitor looking at a tinier quadrant of screen felt far more connected and social than the gargantuan, exhaustive ‘community’ that online play now elevates.

Part of the reason that I’ve grown so attached to tabletop gaming, I think, is that it helps propagate a worthwhile social aspect of play that has (rather disappointingly) all but vanished from digital gaming. Sure, text and voice chat still exists in PC and console gaming and it’s easy to arrange your friends to be connected to you in a virtual space, but it’s not the same as being able to gloat theatrically and extensively in the face of a friend – sitting right next to you – who’s just been blown up by a Blue Shell right before they cross the finish line and pipping them to the post.

In short: Sharing the same, physical, social space with a bunch of close friends while engaging in the process of play is infinitely more entertaining than getting 360noscoped and being called a homosexual by a fourteen year-old you’ve never met on the other side of the world.

The rise of German-style “designer” board games can, partly, be interpreted as a reaction to the ebbing sense of ‘social’ play in modern video games. As consoles have gained online capabilities in the last 10/12 years, (online) gaming has transitioned video gaming away from the “family” environment (with a small group of people in your own living room) to engaging with vast servers of unknown, random nodes across a gargantuan network. While board games have always been a popular activity – before and after the invention of video games –  I have definitely noticed a trend in how designer board games have swelled in number over the last six or seven years and even begun to infiltrate shelf-space in more mainstream shops (i.e. those that aren’t specialist gaming stores) on the High Street. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that these trends tally up quite so well.

Naturally, there are likely a whole lot of other reasons why these trends exist and it’s unlikely to be so simple a correlation that one can say, without question, that the shift towards online multiplayer video gaming has stoked the fires of Euro-style board gaming. But I think that there’s definitely a pattern involved, and perhaps it’s one that’s associated with gamers becoming a little disillusioned with the state of modern, AAA video games and aching to rediscover a sense of community play that seems to be growing more absent with each console generation.

In parallel, I’ve noticed a growth in the establishment of more, local tabletop gaming groups, and the population of existing ones swelling in number as more people discover the hobby. From personal experience, the genetic make-up of most of these groups tends to be formed, predominantly, of blokes in their thirties and onwards; at least, among those that aren’t based at, or very near, University campuses and the like. I might be painting with some fairly broad brush-strokes here, but I often feel like quite a proportion serious board game hobbyists are, perhaps, the kind of people that used to play video games but, perhaps, have fallen out of favour with them in the last few years; turning to tabletop gaming as more of an alternative. Of course, I haven’t canvassed the opinions of many of the board gaming community as to whether this is a 100% accurate deduction, but I’d be willing to place some stake behind being at least partially on the money.

The fact of the matter is, I still get a major kick out of engaging with people while we’re playing together; be it in digital world, or in a physical space. That passion is something that is hard-wired into me; like breathing and walking. But, the biggest buzz still comes when I collect together people into the same geographic location to play, and any method of making that happen anywhere and everywhere  is all good in my book.

[Zinar7]

 

If you’re into board gaming and attractive ladies – or, more specifically, attractive ladies playing board games and writing about them in an amusing and intelligent way – then you should check out The Misery Farm: How to Win Games and Alienate Meeple [themiseryfarm.com] because it has all of that and more, and blogs about board game-type stuff way better than I ever could.

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