I have followed the progress of artist Jeffrey Moy on Video Game Gals for the last few years at Comic-Con. An artist within the video game industry, Moy has worked on Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast, Marvel Ultimate Alliance, and X-Men Legends as well as comics properties like DC’s Legionaires and usually has a table in Artists’ Alley at Comic-Con. Currently he is working on a Star Trek/Legion of Superheroes crossover for IDW and DC as well as VGG. My interest in Moy’s work though was always based on the introspection he shows in his Sketch Games sketchbooks and his process of creation, based more on my interest in comic book creation than anything to do with gaming. However at Comic Con 2012 Moy had the sequential art with him for the first Video Game Gals graphic novel and I sensed some gamer roots in his panels. The project is rapidly nearing fruition and Moy has taken it to Kickstarter to get the book made.
The heroines of Video Game Gals are just that, video game gals, women who play video games, but in Moy’s setting games are closer to a virtual reality, slightly reminiscent of Star Trek’s holodeck mixed with the world of Tron. As he explains in the original Sketch Games, “As each character enters a realm, they download a “skin”, which contains information on their mission as well as how they will appear in the game.” What caught my eye this year was that they are playing in a fantasy setting reminiscent of Dungeons & Dragons or Gauntlet. While Moy has played Dungeons & Dragons, he describes himself as more of a board gamer and plays such modern classics as Settlers of Catan, Ticket to Ride, and the Battle Star Galactica board game. The D&D influences in VGG can be seen in a beholder-like creature and a gelatinous cube or slime engulfing a hapless male adventurer.
Uninked Penciled Layout from Page 21 of Video Game Gals
Moy’s Kickstarter campaign ends August 19 with a goal of $25,000. We recorded a video interview on July 13 at Comic-Con about his Kickstarter campaign, Video Game Gals, and Moy’s gaming background amidst a lot of background noise.
Kickstarter Ashcan cover and Video Game Girls page art copyright Jeffrey Moy, used with permission.
Written by Wired contributor Brad King and CNET’s John Borland, Dungeons and Dreamers: The Rise of Computer Game Culture From Geek to Chic traces the development of computer gaming from Dave Arneson’s and Gary Gygax’s tabletop Dungeons and Dragons up until 2003, when Dungeons and Dreamers was published. The majority of the book focuses on Ultima-creator Richard Garriot, followed by attention to John Romero and Eric Carmack of id software responsible for such hits as Wolfenstein 3D, DOOM, and Quake. When not focused on these three gaming gods, the authors take a look into the world of the orginal MUD (Multi User Dungeon) developed in Britain by Richard Bartle, foray into Will Wright’s Sims titles, explore LAN parties and the rise of professional gaming, and touch upon computer video game violence. Almost everything else is left out of the book. There is no Monkey Island, no reference to Sid Meier’s Civilization, nor mention of King’s Quest or X-Wing, much less Oregon Trail. Almost absent are any real time strategy titles like Warcraft I or II, Starcraft, Total Annihilation, and Command and Conquer. Everquest is mentioned multiple times, but its creators are absent from the authors’ narrative. Meanwhile World of Warcraft was still in development and released a year later. Missing too is any explanation of how computer game culture has actually gone from geek to chic, as well as a close look at what actually constitutes computer game culture. For example, there is nothing about l33t speak, energy drinks like Bawls, or Penny Arcade, to name three of the more visible aspects of computer game culture already in existence in 2003. To pick up where King and Borland leave off with Dungeons and Dreamers, I suggest Peter Ludlow’s and Mark Wallace’s Second Life Herald, which follows the story of Will Wright and his Sims Online and explores the rise of Second Life, as well as details griefing a bit more than Dungeons and Dreamers. However I actually read King’s and Borland’s book more to see what it has to say about tabletop gaming, but even there I found it slightly missing the mark.
Namely, to Brad King and John Borland, Dungeons and Dragons is a “paper game”. I have never heard of an RPG referred to as a “paper game” in over 20 years of playing. I would actually think someone was referring to the Paper Mario game possibly, but knowing what they were writing about, I could easily stretch it out to a pen and paper game, which I’ve certainly heard of before. Otherwise the authors are fairly succinct. D&D was hugely influential to almost all early computer game programmers and the authors begin the book with the fateful second meeting of Dave Arneson and Gary Gygax at Gygax’s house in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin in 1972 and the first heady game of what would become Dungeons & Dragons. As Dave Arneson describes the origins of D&D, “We were having a tremendous amount of fun, but we figured we were crazy, we had no inkling that this would turn out to be something so big.” King and Borland go on to substantiate the influence of D&D on programmers and just how influential the game was.
From King and Borland we learn that among Dungeons & Dragon’s earlier players was Richard Garriott who first played D&D at Oklahoma University at a computer programming summer camp in 1977. The son of NASA astronaut Owen Garriott, he would go on to write the Ultima series of games. I literally got goosebumps when the authors described his first meeting with his fellow summer campers, when one of them says “You must be from Britain, so we’ll call you British.” If you’ve never played an Ultima game, Lord British is the head of the realm and plays a huge role in the series. He pretty much is Ultima and is only surpassed in importance in the series by the player-controlled Avatar and frequent companion Iolo. King and Borland reveal that Garriott also developed his Lord British persona in Society for Creative Anachronism events in Austin, a passion which he shared with another gamer turned SCAdian named Steve Jackson. While Jackson went on to create and publish OGRE, Illuminati, Car Wars, and GURPS with his namesake Steve Jackson Games, he never got into video gaming because as Jackson is quoted as saying in the book, “I have always been very interested in the computer game world, but through bad decisions, bad luck, or both, I never got very far into it.”
The D&D players who did get into computer games included Willie Crowther with his Colossal Cave, Richard Bartle who developed the original MUD, and some of the creators of Zork with King and Borland tracing the lineage of these text-based games over the internet-forerunner ARPAnet in the 1970s. In terms of first person shooters, King and Borland tap gaming superstar John Romero and the subdued Eric Carmack. Quake was originally a character in one of the “long-running, epic” D&D campaigns that Carmack GM’d, but few other details of his tabletop past are provided. The authors note that increasingly for modern gamers, a shared history of playing D&D is not as typical as it once was, with the “new” generation of gamers in 2003 “knowing only the modern, complex digital game worlds”. Aside from these few references to RPGs, Dungeons and Dreamers has little else to do with tabletop games, but is well worth reading if you are a video game player and want to understand your hobby’s roots or if you’re an academic and want an introduction to the rise of computer gaming. Originally published by McGraw-Hill/Osborne, Dungeons and Dreamers is now out of print. The authors appear to be planning a second edition of the book to commemorate its 10th anniversary and more information can be found at dungeonsanddreamers.com.
Game industry leader Wizards of the Coast’s main focus at the 2012 Comic-Con was its release of the trading card game Kaijudo. The card game goes hand in hand with the Kaijudo: Rise of the Duel Masters animated children’s show viewable on The Hub TV network. At the booth, visitors could get their picture taken with one of the cartoon’s characters, try out the online versions of Kaijudo, and play a demo of the game using one of the already-released BattleDecks. As a reward for trying the demo, WotC gave out 9-card Dojo Edition booster packs of the cards, which will go on sale to the general public at gaming outlets on July 24. Wizards will be following up the July Dojo Edition release with a broader release at mass market retailers like Target in September.
Kaijudo is based on the Duel Masters TCG released by Wizards of the Coast in 2004, but discontinued domestically in 2006. Meanwhile Duel Masters has remained popular in Asia, particularly Japan. Comic-Con had a Kaijudo panel, “The Making of Kaijudo“, focusing on the animated series with voice actors Scott Wolf, David Sobolov, and Ryan Miller attending among others. While I skipped it, I did play through two demos of the game and interviewed the Senior Brand Manager of Kaijudo, Kierin Chase, about the game’s development and immediate future.
I also recorded my second Comic-Con demo of Kaijudo, playing against a friendly (and ruthless) Wizards of the Coast employee:
Initial Thoughts on Kaijudo
Cute Kaijudo: Squeaky
Despite its Duel Masters roots, Kaijudo is a separate brand and is being treated as a new product line by Wizards of the Coast, one that has been in development for over two years. Hasbro, which owns WotC, has put a lot of resources behind Kaijudo, most importantly the well-received children’s show. Will Kaijudo be the next big thing for Wizards? I don’t know, but they’re certainly positioning themselves for a hit. For players who missed the starting eras of Magic: The Gathering, Pokemon or Yu-Gi-Oh, I think it can be daunting to get involved as a gamer, especially if you want to play competitively. There are so many cards to learn and/or acquire to be able to play effectively. At present there are only two sets of Kaijudo with the full set of 43 available in the $20 BattleDeck and 55 more cards with the release of the Dojo Edition. Also by having the electronic version of the game available from the start (or even before the main launch), Wizards of the Coast has another way of involving players and educating them on gameplay. No one wants the embarrassment of struggling with a game’s rules or coming off as too much of a newb and playing the computer version online can alleviate that. At the same time, is Kaijudo a truly fresh gaming experience? How many more collectible card games do we need where we summon monsters to battle? Magic: TG, Pokemon, Digimon, and Yu-Gi-Oh all have the same basic game premise. To me there is little novelty in Kaijudo. I am also indifferent to the game’s setting and artwork, but that might change after I watch the Kaijudo television show. No, for me, what sells the game is its low cost of entry and the actual gameplay.
For me, with limited experience playing TCGs/CCGs, Kaijudo is a cross between Magic: The Gathering and Pokémon. I have only played Pokémon a few times and the game seemed fairly simplistic; I have much more experience playing Magic in the early ’90s. While there are five colors in Kaijudo, there isn’t Life to keep track of; instead the game uses five Shields represented by regular game cards. Likewise while you do tap mana to summon its creatures, Kaijudo’s power-generation comes from regular cards and not special lands. Instead of attack and defense stats on creatures, there’s only one stat for power and it almost always comes in multiples of 1,000 (one card does have a power of 5500). Wizards of the Coast have boiled down a lot of M:TG concepts and made them very accessible to beginners. I wouldn’t call it Magic Lite, but Magic players will almost instantly grasp Kaijudo’s mechanics. Those unfamiliar with Magic: TG should still have an easy time picking up Kaijudo’s basic concepts. Gameplay is fast, but that could change with blocker-heavy decks. By not allowing creatures to block unless they have the special ability to do so, Kaijudo has a more aggressive tone than Magic. One thing that I absolutely love about Kaijudo is that even when you are losing by having your shields taken out, you still get something in return because the broken shield cards go to your hand.
The Kaijudo Dojo Edition and Battle Decks
At Comic-Con I asked my wife and brother-in-law to also try the game. Asked is putting it nicely. I begged and then harangued them until they had both completed their own demo and then was surprised to find that they had not enjoyed the game as much as I had. Most of this was due to their shared opponent who was not a WotC employee, but a CCG fan who told my brother-in-law, “I could have beaten you sooner, but I enjoy toying with my prey.” The know-it-all also confided to my brother-in-law that he did not want to embarrass him in front of my wife, as though this was any consolation or made him any less annoying than he was. For their troubles, I was able to get two more Dojo Edition booster packs. The 55-card set is divided into 11 cards for each Nation or color.
Inspired by my own enjoyable experiences with Kaijudo, I also picked up a Battle Deck from a local comic book store. Wizards of the Coast was not selling any product at Comic-Con, but had opened a pop-up Magic store in the Gaslamp District, which adjoins the San Diego Convention Center. At only $20, the Battle Deck boxes are quite appealing, giving two players each a deck of 40 cards, a playing mat, and a special code for the online versions of the game. The rules are teeny tiny and by that I don’t mean tons of small print, but instead clear and concise rules that govern most of the game’s interactions.
Here I open my 4th Dojo Edition booster pack, briefly thumb through my 36 cards, and open the Tatsurion-Razorkinder Battle Deck and take a look inside. I love the magnetic cases with their full artwork inside and out (and so did my wife):
From the Battle Deck I received two online promotional codes and got one in each of my boosters. The next step was obviously to try out the online experience of Kaijudo at kajudo.com. Several hours of play later while videos compressed and uploaded, I am still not tired of Kaijudo, though I will leave my thoughts on the online experience for another day. In the meantime please feel free to add me so that I can duel a human opponent: VictoryEvader0330.
One great find I made at this year’s Comic Con was Creatures of Legend: Coloring with Arty by Krisztianna. Its pages are populated with pairings of an adult mythical creature with a baby version all drawn in a cute/kawaii fashion with large eyes and happy expressions. The creatures range from the more typical wyverns, dragons, and gryphons to the more bizarre flyons and wolpertingers. Flyons are lions with wings and wolpertingers, which hail from Germany, are winged, antlered rabbits. Krisztianna gives a paragraph blurb on the page opposite the line art along with three details: Friendly to Humans?, Most Famous Trait, and Land It Was Most Seen.
Author and illustrator Kristztianna confirmed that photocopies for personal use are allowed, so there is no need to color in the book directly. However at only $6 a copy for 22 creature pages to color, if you find yourself needing to color in the book or your children each want a copy, Creatures of Legend is quite affordable to use directly, or even to buy one copy to keep pristine and the other to color in.
Creatures of Legend is pretty much a must-have for hardcore gamer parents who want their children to be able to distinguish between hippocamps and hippogryphs. The illustrations will appeal to My Little Pony fans as well, featuring the hippocamps, unicorns, winged unicorns, and pegasi, as well as Spike-like dragons, wyverns, and winged serpents. If I ran a more child-friendly game geared towards cuteness instead of death and destruction, I would probably photocopy its art to illustrate the friendly kraken or itsumade the PCs would encounter. At only $6 it makes for an inexpensive gift or token of appreciation, or could even be used to partially occupy younger children during LARP preparations or an RPG session, while still fostering an interest in fantasy. It would also make a great gift to give to enrich a classroom’s library with its introductions to several cultures’ mythic creatures.
A Two-Page Sample Featuring China’s Ki’Rin from Creatures of Legend
Krisztianna also has expressed interest in seeing what artists, young or old, do with Creatures of Legend and has asked that fans tag their uploaded scans of colored creatures with her name, Krisztianna, so she and her followers can enjoy the colorists’ creativity. Future coloring books in the With Arty series will likely appear on witharty.com.
Click to See All 22!
The 22 creatures it includes are: the giant turtle akupara, cat-like basilisks, dragons, feathered serpents, gargoyles, gryphons, hippocamps, hippographys, hydras, the Japanese lion-headed birds itsumade, ki’rin, kraken, Loch Ness monsters (done as plesiosaurs), pegasus, phoenix, sea monsters (limbless sea serpents), unicorns, winged unicorns, the uber-cute wolpertingers, and wyverns, as well as the chimaera. Rather than being a creature with the head of a goat, dragon, and lion, Krisztianna’s chimaera is a goat-headed fish.
While at Comic Con 2012, I took the opportunity to get Kirby Krackle’s new live CD, Live in Seattle. Recorded in their home town at KrackleFest in March this year, the new album could serve as a wonderful introduction to the talented song-writing duo of Kyle Stevens and Jim Demonakos. The album features some of the best numbers off of their three previous studio albums including the Green Lantern-themed “Ring Capacity”, the Fallout great “Vault 101”, and “Great Lakes Avengers”, inspired by Marvel’s weak-link team. Adam Warrock guests on “Roll Over” and “Booty Do Math” and there’s a cover of “Take on Me”, all for only $10. While many other nerd rock bands only excel lyrically, Kirby Krackle is one of the few acts in the wizard or nerd rock genre I’ve heard that successfully blend incisive lyrics with catchy tunes.
Having seen frontman Kyle Stevens perform twice here in Las Vegas at the Vegas Valley Comic Book Festival, the new live album perfectly captures Kirby Krackle’s energy. The band is working on a fourth studio album and already has “Web-Slinger/Hope-Bringer” available for download on iTunes. If you like nerdy music about comics, video games, conventions, and zombies, I suggest Kirby Krackle’s first and second albums in addition to the new live album. Live in Seattle would almost be a greatest hits album except “Marvelous Girls” and “Zombie Apocalypse” from the band’s self-titled debut album are missing.
At Comic Con Kirby Krackle and MC Frontalot opened for director-comedian Kevin Smith on Friday night. I caught up with Kyle Stevens on Sunday and recorded a brief interview about the band’s plans for the future, his own background in D&D, and some of his favorite nerdcore and nerd rock acts.
Combat Con 2012 started off slow, but by the end of the night had heated up quite literally. While registration opened at 8:00 AM on Friday, the only events until 5:00 PM were the special Master Classes in additional weapon techniques requiring a fee ranging from $75-150 for the two-hour sessions. Instead of shelling out for one of those, I spent much of the afternoon meeting some of the other friendly attendees, vendors, and coordinators whom I will be writing about soon. One of them was Chad Light, seen here portraying the historical Spaniard Don Pedro Menéndez de Avilés. Light is a returning student to Combat Con and would later attend one of Anthony De Longis’s whip classes, having attended the class last year and having had watched the whipmaster’s DVD over 30 times. Last year though Light was nursing a broken collarbone from a horse fall and couldn’t make full use of De Longis’s class. Light later confirmed that this session with the master immediately corrected several nuances he hadn’t been able to master. More on Light and Pedro Menéndez de Avilés to follow.
Combat Con 2012 Announcements and Be Here Now Charity Campaign
Combat Con 2012 Friday Night Crowd Listening Attentively
At 5:00 a film about bartitsu began, but all of the classes started at 5:30. I chose “From Real Combat to Stage Combat” along with roughly two dozen people. Co-taught by Matt Richardson, Paul MacDonald, and Bob Goodwin, the class was very hands-on and saw its students paired off and beating the crap out of each other in cinematic and theatrical fashion. Once it was over, I made my way to the Vendors’ Hall where Combat Con organizer Jared Kirby gave a speech and introduced his staff and the guest panelists and instructors. Kirby also announced several changes to the program. Knife-thrower Jack Dagger will not be able to make it to the convention and nor will Battle of the Nations. With their departures from the programming schedule, Kirby announced that more “X Classes” had been added, including “The Dancing and Dueling Connection”, “Medieval Sword and Buckler”, “Developing Fencing Fundamentals for Gaming”, and “Gigante’s Use of the False Edge”. Several of these X Classes were blocked out in the schedule, but the actual topics and instructors were TBD up until Kirby’s speech.
Last year Combat Con raised approximately $2,000 for the Michael J. Fox Parkinson’s Foundation and Combat Con repeated the charitable-focus again this year. For 2012 the charity is the Be Here Now Kickstarter campaign, which has already successfully met its $200,000 funding goal. Additional funds though will be used to help retain creative freedom for the documentary by Lillibet Foster. Star Wars stuntman Kyle Rowling introduced the campaign which is in honor of his close friend Andy Whitfield, star of Starz’s Spartacus: Blood and Sand. Whitfield passed away in 2011 after a battle with cancer, documented in Be Here Now; Rowling had worked with him in the first episode of Spartacus as his on-screen friend and fellow Thracian, Drenis. Various vendors contributed items for the auction which eventually raised over $2,500 for the Be Here Now campaign.
Meet and Mingle, Maxwell Alexander Drake, and Combat Con Gaming
With the start of the auction the Meet and Mingle period had begun with many vendors open for business and Wester Martial Artists meeting old friends and making introductions to new ones. I took the opportunity to catch up with fantasy author Maxwell Alexander Drake whom I’ll also be seeing again at Comic Con and Gen Con this summer.
The picture of gaming at Combat Con also came into sharper focus on Friday. About eight tables were set up in the corner of the Vendors’ Hall for gaming sponsored by Avatar Comics and Games, located here in Las Vegas. While some players were already taking advantage of the space for open gaming, Avatar will be running demos in the area throughout the weekend featuring games like Flames of War, Brushfire, and Dystopian Wars. Avatar also has a small selection of games available for sale.
Flaming End to the Evening
At 10:30 an announcement was made and most of us left in the Vendors’ Hall made our way downstairs to the Tuscany Suites parking lot where we were entertained by flaming whips and swords by Duel at Dusk Productions. Though they kept a safe distance and there were no incidents of a steampunk fan or classical fencer catching on fire, the heat from the weapons was very real. They used Coleman fuel and also brought out Sun and Moon Wheel weapons as well, but I didn’t catch the flaming butterfly swords which came out later on video.
Saturday promises to be a very full day at what is turning out to be an extremely enjoyable and fascinating convention.