BLOG: Abandoned Spring

    I’ve had a lot of projects to work on lately, but I’m finally getting back to a point where I can do things like writing, watch movies, play games, and other recreations. Finally got the place fully furnished, set up a savvy office, started going to the gym regularly, and started a new tabletop game–Alien RPG, (check out the review I’ve posted) that a few friends and I play weekly. I feel like I’ve grown a lot in the past few months; I feel like I could do anything I put my mind to now. Haven’t felt this way in a long time.
Last month I got the new Alien novel by Alex White, Alien: Into Charybdis, and it was a spectacular yet daunting trip through the darkest corners of the galaxy. White has always been an excellent story-teller and writer, and they do not disappoint with this story that touches on several story elements of our social canon (ex: racism, nationalism, sexism) and extends the Alien mythos. The writing style in and of itself is very neurotic; the narrator will usually speak in the way the character in the scene speaks, leading to very compelling narration. If you like the Alien series, check this one out–but only after you read Alien: Cold Forge, the prequel to the aforementioned book by the same author.

    I sincerely hope he doesn’t read this, but my boss is leaving to work at another company and I’m really upset about it. He’s definitely the best and most inspiring boss I’ve had, and he really helped me when he noticed what I was going through last year. The argument that I wouldn’t be here without him could be made. I’ll be able to make it without him there, but it’s going to really suck. Maybe a sign of things to come? *Quietly updates resume*
I’ve had this happen a lot and it’s strange. The “good boss,” usually the lead/general manager is great to work with and I like the job; then out of nowhere, they leave and the job starts to suck. And getting a new boss is stressful alone, so this doesn’t help. This reason alone is why I quit at least four jobs throughout my life. Lucky for me, I have a good living situation now and two college degrees so I don’t have to stress that much.
I can’t wait for Summer. I have a feeling this is going to be an interesting year.

REVIEW: Alien RPG by Free League

Last year Free League, a Swedish gaming company, released the official Alien RPG tabletop game based on the hit cinematic universe published by 21st Century Fox. I bought the Player’s Manual and Starter’s Set on the month of release accordingly as the Alien movies encompass some of my favorite films of all time. There was a lot to go over–the full manual being over 500 pages, but I finally got a firm grasp on the game, how it’s supposed to be played, and how it can be fun. 

I was able to get a few of my friends to play while I played as the Game Mother or GM. The game is quite literally and figuratively a sci-fi adaptation of D&D-like gameplay that can be neurotic at times, focusing on creating tension between players by means of dramatics and forcing players to make difficult decisions. While flummoxing the players with horrors of the great unknown and otherworldly mysticism–we found this game to be exceptionally loyal to the series and lore, while also encouraging us to expand on the universe and riff from the movies. At times, what we got was something akin to another glorious day in the ‘corps. After all, these shake-n’-bake colonies have a substantial dollar value to motivate the characters whether they’re a Colonial Marshal for the Colonial Marine Corps, a roughneck working as a space trucker, or a Company Agent for a major conglomerate (ex: Weyland-Yutani) that has a peculiar interest in what goes on at the edges of the galaxy.

How it works:

    Much like its contemporaries (D&D, Pathfinder, Starfinder, Warhammer…), players assume the role of a character they’ve built from the ground up or premade characters can be assigned or chosen. The game can be played in two modes: Cinematic play and Campaign play. Cinematic gameplay will mainly use premade characters to play out scenarios filled with several tropes from the Alien universe to make the crew feel right at home. These scenarios can be finished in 1-3 two-hour sessions and typically have a crew of 3-5 players with one person acting as the GM. Campaign play is more relatable to the long Dungeons & Dragons stories that encourage players to explore a world and even accomplish major goals. A lot of creative liberties are taken in campaign play, but thankfully Free League has provided tons of resources and details about the universe (in the Player’s Manual) to establish what we know is out there, and what may lie in the darkness. This also establishes rules and guidelines to play out any type of scenario you can dream up.
    When comparing Alien RPG to other tabletops, you’ll notice the characters have no levels. Characters are able to get experience points (XP), but the XP is used to buy/strengthen stats rather than accumulating for a “level up” that strengthens several stats. Also, there is no mana obviously. In its place is a different element to mitigate: stress. Players are required to manage their stress, so as to not panic in terrifying situations. Too much stress leads to an unstable character that will be a liability to the rest of the crew. Lastly, another major difference is the usage of only six-sided dice–two sets of ten six-sided dice, or 2*10d6 to those that are hip. The Starter’s Set comes with the unique base dice and stress dice needed to play, so I recommend starting there.

The Good:

    One of my favorite aspects of this game is that it is extremely neurotic and focuses heavily on characters’ personal agendas and the psychological warfare that ensues until conflict boils over, burning through several layers of the ship’s hull. Because of this, the players are forced to actually role play and make real decisions that will affect themselves and others. Too often we are presented with RPG’s that present players with characters and worlds that require no interaction to play the game and achieve an end-goal. 

This begs the question:  Why play an RPG if there’s no need in playing the role of your character? With so much freedom of creativity in games today, why wouldn’t you want to?

    Alien is one of the most neglected franchises because of the many directors the series has gone through; there is very little direction in the official canon. So instead of Ridley Scott bogarting the rights to all of the Alien lore, getting very little done–the Alien canon is now (generally) established and decentralized thanks to this game. Now we have an encyclopedia and atlas to navigate and expand on the lore. Alien is getting its long overdue attention.
    In the age of the COVID pandemic, mask mandates, and long lines for vaccines, we all need something to do in our downtime. I’ve learned over the past year or so that tabletop games are a great catalyst for interacting with friends. Apps like Zoom and Discord are all that’s really needed, along with some character sheets and maps to share. One of our players eventually emulated the sessions to Roll20, a website made specifically for playing tabletop games virtually. Essentially, we found solace in role-playing a sci-fi super-pandemic in the midst of a real-life pandemic.

 The Bad:

    The issue of having a wildly niche audience is all too familiar when it comes to finding tabletop gamers–this game is made ultimately for people who are tabletop gamers and also are Alien fans. There’s not a lot of overlap so finding players can be difficult. Luckily the comradary found playing with fellow fans of the series makes it all worthwhile.
    After a survey with our players, one issue in all of the feedback was the difficulty adapting to a game wherein the gameplay and actions are too open-ended. The players were all familiar with RPG tabletop gameplay but they noted that this game was hard to adjust to. Most said they would have approached many situations differently if they knew they were able to avoid or reveal and deterrence. For instance, doing mobility checks to traverse different routes or move silently would have helped when Jordan’s character got face-hugged because Andrew let his character rifle, very loudly, through a bunch of desks in a dark room. There is a silver lining in this feedback though. Every player we played with really liked the aspect of a game that is so narrative driven, and I agree. It’s a fun yet nerve-wracking trip through the Alien universe.

Final Thoughts:

    The Alien RPG is fun because it offers players seemingly infinite options to overcome any problem. Narrative driven stories are made to cause conflict and stress for both the characters in-game and the players in the real world. The game does have a steep learning curve in the beginning but after a play session or two we were all confident in our roles. Ben was even so confident he made his android character do an impressive jump kick to knock a Neomorph out of the airlock. It was awesome.
    If you’re looking for a perfect rendition of the Alien universe into a tabletop game, this is it. It can be just as fun as D&D in the right setting–perhaps even more fun. I can’t lie to you about your chances of survival but. . . you have my sympathies. 

Pokemon: Let’s Go! review

In the past five years or so, we’ve seen lots of remakes and remasters in both movies and video games. With nostalgia being the popular drive for content creation, Nintendo has jumped on the bandwagon with Pokemon: Let’s Go Eevee/Pikachu as their pseudo-remake of Pokemon Red/Blue. I say “pseudo” because this game is very close to being a full-on remake, but there are several changes and additions that lead to a “passing of the torch” feeling from this game. Since gaming has significantly advanced in both technology and narrative since the late 90’s, so let’s go aboard the nostalgia train and see the improvements made with Pokemon: Let’s Go! 

    Players of the original Pokemon games on Gameboy will feel right at home in this nostalgia-driven adventure through the Kanto Region. The original titles weren’t very impressive visually and were loaded with glitches (some to exploit,) but we all quickly caught onto the hype and why this franchise is popular. With this new installment, the hype is still there, and all the same memorable pokemon and characters are present.   

Bearing this in mind, I was impressed to see people and places reimagined in 3D with much more to interact with. Familiar songs from the original are also remade to match the updated look. There is a significant degree of attention to detail in the reimagined world. For instance, the protagonist will kneel when speaking with children. However, this is the Nintendo Switch we’re talking about. The game looks good enough overall, but it looks like it could run on GameCube or a smartphone. They’re not really breaking new ground with these graphics, but it doesn’t detract from the fun. 

    Catching pokemon is similar to how Pokemon GO works now, which I think is actually a good idea. It was always frustrating to have to weaken a pokemon to near-faint, hoping you don’t knock it out. The new method simply focuses on throwing the pokeballs and lure. You’ll be rewarded with better aim and timing with additional XP for all the pokemon in your party at that time. 

    You also get a companion depending on which game you have, Pikachu or Eevee. I went with Eevee, because I never caught on to the Pikachu fandom. Also, Eevee is a cool companion but instead of saying it’s name, it just screams “BOYYY!” or something like “BOYYYO PE!” It’s really off-putting because it sounds like a ravenous K-Pop fan. 

    Strangely though all the other pokemons’ cries are a higher quality version of their Gameboy counterparts. This seems a bit lazy considering that we know pokemon like Chansey, Charmander, and Squirtle simply cry out their own name; where’s the consistency?

    One of my favorite changes made was the shift in how the Hidden Machines (HM’s) are used. This time around, you won’t be required to use a pokemon to use HM abilities. Instead, your companion will do the technique for you. It’s kind of weird to have a Pikachu or Eevee fly you around town, but don’t question it, this is more convenient. Also, TM’s can be used multiple times, making it much easier to distribute those moves you sought out. This helps with the elite trainers in the end-game that show up after beating Pokemon League the first time. 

    Pokemon Let’s Go is an interesting stroll through the ever expanding pokemon universe, but when I went into this game I thought I was going to like it more than I actually did. Overall, it took me 18 hours of playtime to complete the game, and I enjoyed myself most of the way through. This is a cool remake, but it is lacking in many areas. Recently, Nintendo announced they would be doing something with the “Let’s Go” series, so hopefully more improvements will be made that make the games more appealing. And finally, with a price tag of 60 USD, the same price as Mario Odyssey and the FF7 Remake, Pokemon Let’s Go leaves much to be desired. It’s a good game, not a great game, and I recommend waiting until the price drops or it’s on sale. 

-Derek Coleman