How G.O.G. Rescued the Classic Forgotten Realms Computer Games

Thursday, August 27th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Pool of Radiance SSI Gold Box-smallLast year I signed up at GOG.com, the digital video game distribution platform, because they had great deals on classic RPGs. I’m not kidding — this site requires some serious self control. I got Starflight & Starflight 2 for just $2.99, Planescape: Torment for $3.99, Wizardry 6 & 7 for $2.99, and Baldur’s Gate for $3.99. Best of all, they did all the hard work of converting the games to run on modern versions of Windows, so I could stop fussing around with DOSBox and my Amiga emulator. GOG is owned by CD Projekt, a Polish company that also owns CD Projekt RED, the developer behind the popular Witcher games.

A few weeks ago I was delighted to discover they were now offering a package deal on my all-time favorite computer role playing games — SSI’s Pool of Radiance and its various sequels, the so-called Gold Box games. I bought a package of eight games for $9.99 (and I swear I’m going to play them soon. All of ‘em!) But I hadn’t realized the amazing story behind GOG’s new offering — that in order to secure these classic games, the company had to navigate a legal ownership maze to obtain the rights, before they could begin the hard work of converting them for modern platforms. Dan Griliopoulos at PC Gamer posted an excellent article yesterday exploring just what was involved:

With the trail running cold, GOG tracked down SSI’s original President and founder, Joel Billings. “As a huge fan of D&D he was willing to help walk us through a detailed history behind SSI mergers and narrow the search down to two potential candidates: Mattel, or Gores Technology Group (who had acquired The Learning Company). The latter was a hit. We had found the actual rights owners to the Forgotten Realms games, and after several more months of negotiations, they agreed to sell them to us outright.”

GOG managed to recover thirteen games this way. They are: the party-based RPG Pool of Radiance; its sequels Curse of the Azure Bonds, Secret of the Silver Blades and Pools of Darkness; C&C creators Westwood’s minigame RPG Hillsfar; the RPG construction kit Unlimited Adventures; Westwood’s first-person Eye of the Beholder Trilogy; the roguelike FPS Dungeon Hack; the two Savage Frontier games; and the Ultima Underworld-like Underdark exploration game Menzoberranzan.

Then they had the not-so-small matter of getting all thirteen running and bug-free for modern systems including Windows 10. Considering these were huge games — and not bug free in their release versions — that’s a massive task that the GOG team has been working on since April.

Read the complete article at PC Gamer — and check out the amazing and fast-growing library of old games at GOG.com.


Vintage Treasures: The Pocket Games of Task Force Games, Part One

Thursday, August 27th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Starfire Task Force Games-small Asteroid Zero-Four-small Valkenburg Castle-smaller

The Shiva Option-smallTask Force Games, based in Amarillo, Texas, was one of the very best board game companies in the business in the 80s, especially for science fiction fans. They published the majestic Federation & Empire (and its follow-up, Federation Commander), Kings Bounty, Godsfire, Battlewagon, Armor at Kursk, Musketeers, and the RPGs Crime Fighter, Prime Directive (based on Star Trek), and the glorious Heroes of Olympus — among many, many others — before the company was sold to Might & Magic developer New World Computing in 1988, and then went out of business.

Of course, who could afford big games like that? Not me, that’s for sure. But that’s okay, because Task Force Games was also a pioneer in the microgame market, with a line of truly stellar Pocket Games, starting with Starfire in 1979. Starfire was one of the most successful microgames ever released. It sold a zillion copies, went through six different editions, and is still being sold today by Starfire Design Studio. It was so popular it eventually inspired a series of novels by David Weber and Steve White, including the New York Times bestseller The Shiva Option.

Starfire wasn’t even the most popular Task Force pocket game. That honor belongs to the ubiquitous Star Fleet Battles. Everybody owned a copy of Star Fleet Battles in the 80s. I think it was required by law. I’d tell you how many editions of Star Fleet Battles exist, but no one truly knows. Academics around the world have gone insane, just trying to figure out how many editions of Star Fleet Battles there are. It’s like writiing your Ph.D. thesis on the Necronomicon.

Anyway, Task Force Games had a huge hit with their Pocket games line. Shipped in zip locks bags (eventually shrinkwrap), and priced at $3.95, the games were designed to be easy to learn and quick to play. All told they released twenty-two, all but three with science fiction or fantasy themes, including many that are still highly regarded today. The most successful, like Starfire, Star Fleet Battles, Armor at Kursk, and Swordquest, eventually graduated to  full-fledged boxed editions, but the zip-lock versions were fully playable (and a lot more portable).

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Camestros Felapton on The True History of the Great Puppy Kerfuffle of 2015

Tuesday, August 25th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

The True History of the Great Puppy Kerfuffle of 2015-smallIf you’re feeling a certain degree of Hugo controversy exhaustion, no one could blame you. The past few days have seen an explosion of debate and analysis, here and elsewhere, since the winners of the 2015 Hugo Awards were announced late Saturday night.

If you’re a little late to the party, or just not following events all that closely this year, the high volume of virtual high-fives and angry rebukes ricocheting around every corner of the genre is probably pretty confusing. Figuring it all out at this late date probably seems a little daunting. I would have agreed, until I stumbled across this summary of the entire affair by Camestros Felapton, “The True History of the Great Puppy Kerfuffle of 2015,” a marvel of compact narrative. I do believe it has captured virtually every event of importance in the whole affair, with the sole exception of Amal El-Mohtar’s June 2013 call to expel Theodore Beale from SFWA, which arguably triggered Vox Day’s two year scheme for revenge against the entire industry. Here’s Felapton’s intro:

This is literally a narrative as it is a story shown over time with a plot and complications but it is also a subjective mapping of headspace. It looks more serious than my map but the same caveats apply – it is how I perceive the kerfuffle and while it is made out of truthful bricks (I believe) the structure itself is a fabricated thing. Same warnings about false balance apply and also the timeline has the issue of stirring up old arguments.

Suggestions and corrections are welcome within the limit of not wanting to re-kerfuff old kerfuffles and certainly not wanting to re-open old wounds.

Major sources: Mike Glyer’s puppy round ups, Jim C Hines’s article “Puppies in Their Own Words”, The Hugo Awards blog, and the blogs of Larry Correia, Vox Day, Brad Torgersen and John C Wright.

See the thing in its mind-boggling entirety here.


Dear Puppy Nominees: Grow Up

Monday, August 24th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Starship Sofa Hugo-smallAs I predicted in my last post, there’s been no shortage of discussion regarding the Hugo Award ceremony Saturday night. From the non-Puppy contingent there’s been plenty of smug satisfaction and schadenfreude, and from from the Puppies there’s been the expected complaining about intolerance from the evil left, and dark threats about next year.

Sadly, I haven’t seen a lot of calls to come together now that the fireworks are (largely) over. Perhaps the met insightful comment I read (and I read a lot) came from author James Enge, who wrote:

Let me say this about the puppies — rabid, sad, or otherwise: they were right to act, to participate in something that mattered to them. Fandom was caught napping on the nominations, but not on the final voting. We should rise to the puppies’ challenge (and example) and participate in the nominations for next year’s ‪Hugos‬.

If you take the time to read though the various posts and comments from both sides (and I admit I stayed up very late Saturday night and Sunday morning, doing exactly that), you’ll find pretty much what you expect. Both sides talking past each other. A lot of hurt feelings, and a sense (probably accurate) that the other side isn’t listening. No wonder both sides are talking exclusively to their own small audience — they’re the only ones listening.

Only the most hardened Puppy kickers refuse to acknowledge that the Puppies have a point about the fiction they love being shoved aside for major awards. And for the most part, the puppies have (grudgingly) admitted that they could have fielded a better slate. I suppose that’s understanding, of a sort. So there’s that. Most of the grumpy talk in the past 48 hours hasn’t really bothered me.

With one exception. There’s one class of complaints that drives me absolutely batty, because it seems to me to arise from willful ignorance, an overabundance of pride, or raw, simple stupidity. And that’s the anguished cry from some Puppy nominees who didn’t win, and who put the blame squarely on the entire industry.

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Dear Puppies: Your Taste Sucks

Sunday, August 23rd, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Hugo Award Black GateThe winners of the 2015 Hugo Awards were announced Saturday evening at Sasquan, the 73rd World Science Fiction Convention in Spokane, Washington. As we’ve discussed here several times, the Hugo ballot was largely hijacked by the Rabid Puppies slate (and to a much lesser extent, by the Sad Puppies slate), which dictated roughly 70% of the final ballot.

The results are now in, and they mark a stinging repudiation of both the Rabid Puppies and Sad Puppies. Not a single Puppy-nominated work of fiction or non-fiction won, and the majority of Puppy-nominated works placed below “No Award.” In both of the short fiction categories in which the Puppies locked out all other nominees, the Hugo went to “No Award.” The complete list of winners follows.

Best NovelThe Three Body Problem by Cixin Liu, translated by Ken Liu (Tor Books)
Best Novella - No Award
Best Novelette – “The Day the World Turned Upside Down” by Thomas Olde Heuvelt (Lightspeed, April 2014)
Best Short Story – No Award
Best Related Work – No Award
Best Graphic StoryMs. Marvel Volume 1: No Normal (Marvel Comics)
Best Dramatic Presentation (Long Form)Guardians of the Galaxy
Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form)Orphan Black: “By Means Which Have Never Yet Been Tried”

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The mid-August Fantasy Magazine Rack

Thursday, August 20th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Beneath-Ceaseles-Skies-178-rack Beneath-Ceaseless-Skies-179-rack The-Dark-Issue-9-rack Swords-and-Sorcery-Magazine-July-2015-rack
Outposts-of-Beyond-July-2015-rack Science Fiction Classics 10-rack The-Digest-Enthusiast-2-rack The-Night-of-the-Salamander-rack

We’ve added no less than three magazines to our coverage in August, and a fine mix of new titles it is: Tyree Campbell’s space opera/magic opera Outposts of Beyond, pulp reprint zine Science Fiction Classics, and the splendid Digest Enthusiast, devoted to vintage and contemporary genre digest magazines. That brings the number of magazines we cover regularly up to 30, which should be more than enough to keep you busy.

Check out all the details on the magazines above by clicking on the each of the images. Our early August Fantasy Magazine Rack is here.

As we’ve mentioned before, all of these magazines are completely dependent on fans and readers to keep them alive. Many are marginal operations for whom a handful of subscriptions may mean the difference between life and death. Why not check one or two out, and try a sample issue? There are magazines here for every budget, from completely free to $12.95/issue. If you find something intriguing, I hope you’ll consider taking a chance on a subscription. I think you’ll find it’s money very well spent.

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538 Blog Reports Crowdfunding Is Driving A $196 Million Board Game Renaissance

Wednesday, August 19th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Exploding Kittens-smallNate Silver’s popular 538 blog, known mostly for astute political analysis, often takes a hard look at other industries, and yesterday Oliver Roeder examined the recent explosive growth in crowdfunding for board games. His examples include Conan (which we covered here,) Reaper Miniatures, Dwarven Forge, and the break-out hit Exploding Kittens, which exceeded its campaign goal in eight minutes and set a record for most backers in Kickstarter history, raising $8,782,571 from 219,382 backers.

Luke Crane is Kickstarter’s in-house board game expert and resident dungeon master. He sees Kickstarter as the latest in a series of board and card gaming milestones. Dungeons & Dragons, first published in 1974, crystallized role-play gaming. Magic: The Gathering, which debuted in 1993 and became a smash hit, spawned countless expansions and still boasts a competitive professional circuit. The Settlers of Catan, and its first English-language edition in 1996, gave many their first taste of German board gaming kultur. That game has sold over 15 million copies.

And then, in mid-2009, Kickstarter launched.

Since that debut, pledges to board and card game projects on the site have totaled $196 million, according to the company. Ninety-three percent of that money went to successful projects — those that reached their fundraising goal. For comparison, pledges to video game projects, including hardware and mobile games, have totaled $179 million. Of that, 85 percent went to ultimately successful projects. On Kickstarter, analog is beating digital.

Read the complete article here.


Conquer a Dark and Dangerous Galaxy in Forbidden Stars

Monday, August 17th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Forbidden Stars-small Last year I bought Warhammer 40,000: Conquest, Fantasy Flight’s two-player card game of interplanetary warfare in the Warhammer 40K universe, and enjoyed it quite a bit. But as much fun as it was, it wasn’t what I really wanted — a multi-player game of large scale strategic conflict in the stars.

So I was excited to discover today that Fantasy Flight has recently released Forbidden Stars, a competitive board game of interplanetary war set in the Warhammer 40,000 universe, and it looks to be exactly what I was hoping for. The base set features four iconic 40K factions: the loyalit Ultramarines Space Marines, Craft world Iyanden Elder, Evil Sunz Orks, and World Eaters Chaos Space Marines. Each faction has its own range of units and unique combat, event, and upgrade cards.

While I miss some of the other colorful factions in the 40K universe — such as Tyranids, Dark Eldar, and Tau — doubtless they will be included in later expansions.

The game uses the familiar moveable tile system, to give every conflict a unique scope and landscape (see the pic of the board below). The huge box comes packed with over 140 sculpted plastic pieces — always one of the delights of a Fantasy Flight game — and custom dice.

There was some concern in certain quarters that, following their acquisition by Asmodee last November, Fantasy Flight would lose some of its creative spark. That certainly doesn’t seem to be the case.

Fantasy Flight first dabbled with the Warhammer 40K license with a line of excellent role playing games, including Dark Heresy, Only War, and the superb Rogue Trader, one of the best space RPGs I’ve ever played. They have stopped producing supplements for the RPGs (and cleared out much of their back stock with a huge sale late last year), and have now turned their energies to board games. This is the third Warhammer 40K board game to be released by Fantasy Flight (the first two were Relic and Conquest), and this one seems by far the most ambitious.

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New Statesmen on the “Shockingly Offensive” 100 Best Fantasy and SF Novels

Saturday, August 15th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

A Spell for Chameleon-smallLiz Lutgendorff at New Statesmen read all 100 books on NPR’s list of the best science fiction and fantasy novels — a list that includes virtually every major title the genre has yet produced. And her response mirrors a complaint I hear over and over from young fantasy readers, and especially women — the classics of our genre have very little to offer readers seeking interesting and strong women characters.

There were also books that were outright misogynistic, like a A Spell for Chameleon where characters openly talk about not trusting women… The main plot of A Spell for Chameleon is that the main character, stupidly named Bink, has no magical talent…. Along the way, he meets Chameleon, who has the unenviable magic of being smart but ugly in one phase of the moon and beautiful but stupid in another. This inevitably leads to Bink liking her… Apparently for Bink, having someone compliant was more valuable than intelligence or independence, making Bink an utter creep…

Frankly, from my vantage in 2015, it was just plain weird to read books where there were hardly any women, no people of colour, no LGBT people. It seemed wholly unbelievable. I know what you could say: it’s science fiction and fantasy, believability isn’t one of the main criteria for such books. But it is relatively absurd that in the future people could discover faster-than-light travel, build massive empires and create artificial intelligences but somehow not crack gender equality or the space-faring glass ceiling.

The consequence of the lack of women and the obvious sexism is that the books became very much like one another. My book reviews contained more profanity and I became a much more harsh critic of the genres I most enjoyed reading. They were all the same story of white guys, going on an adventure.

I’m sure Ms. Lutgendorff’s comments will be hotly debated, but I think it’s foolish to ignore her gut reaction. Like it or not, the classics of an older generation are giving way to new novels, as they should. That’s what happens in a living genre. Read the complete article here.


The Top 50 Black Gate Posts in July

Saturday, August 15th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Sherlock Season 3While we wait impatiently for the next episode of the popular BBC series Sherlock, the best way to pass the time seems to be to talk about the show with other fans. Bob Byrne proved this with the #1 post at Black Gate in July, his July 13th article “The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes: Sherlock Season 3 – What Happened?”, in which he observes the negative fan reaction to the third season:

Season three (finally) arrived. Hoo-boy. Not only did I see, I observed. And for the first time, I saw and observed a notable amount of unhappiness with the show. And with the second episode, it was certain that a shift had occurred among the fan base. It continued through the third (season finale) episode.

A significant number of folks grumbled about season three. Where there had been very little unhappiness with the first six episodes, an entire contingent of fans did not like season three and it impacted their overall attitude towards the show…

I will state categorically that the excitement for season four is not nearly as great and certainly isn’t as universal as it was for prior seasons. Now, a bit of that could be due to the loooong delay (season four has now been pushed to 2017).

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