Saturday, 16 January 2077

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Wednesday, 25 January 2023

Halo: Season 1

In the year 2552, the planet Madrigal is in open rebellion against the United Nations Space Command, discounting reports that other human worlds are fighting again alien invaders. However, the aliens, the Covenant, attack the planet and butcher the inhabitants of a small town. An elite unit of Spartan super-soldiers, Silver Team, arrives but uncovers a bigger mystery related to alien obelisks and the single survivor of the colony, Kwan Ha. A battle of wits and wills begins between the Covenant and the UNSC, with the commander of Silver Team, Master Chief Petty Officer John-117, proving to be unexpectedly important to what is to come.

It's been over twenty years since the Halo franchise first appeared and, even being charitable, it's fair to say that the series is long since past its peak. Naturally, this is the moment that a Halo TV show chooses to arrive, just as WarCraft and Assassin's Creed both received adaptations long after their moments of cultural dominance had passed, and as a result were met with indifferent shrugs.

The Halo TV show takes the route of being a prequel to the events of the video games, set even before the events of Halo: Reach, but it is also explicitly set in an alternate timeline to the games. Characters, ideas and factions are present who do not exist in the games, and most of the game characters, races and stories have been tweaked for their presentation on screen. Just about the only thing that hasn't been significantly redesigned is the hardware. Weapons, armour, aliens and spacecraft all arrive with very solid approximations of their appearances in the video games.

As with the games, the story focus on John-117 (The Wire's Pablo Schreiber), better known as Master Chief, a Spartan super-soldier who is one of Earth's best hopes in the war against the Covenant, an alliance of several alien races united by religion. Unlike the games, Master Chief is just one of an ensemble cast and we spend a lot of time with other characters: Dr. Halsey (Natascha McElhone), John's effective mentor and mother figure; Cortana (Jen Taylor), a newly-created artificial intelligence with loyalty issues; Soren-066 (Bokeem Woodbine), a former Spartan turned insurrectionist leader; Commander Keyes (Olive Gray), a UNSC officer and scientist; Kwan Ha (Yerin Ha), a rebel on the planet Madrigal; and Makee (Charlie Murphy), a human captured by the Covenant as a child and indoctrinated in their religion. We also spend a fair amount of time with the other members of Master Chief's Silver Team, particularly Kai-125 (Kate Kennedy).

The first season divides its story into several strands. In one, we learn more about the creation of the Spartan programme, particularly the way it inhibits the emotional development of the soldiers, and how Master Chief (and, later, Kai) deal with that revelation. There is some redundancy here - having two characters undergoing the same emotional journey is odd - but the actors handle the story well. Master Chief also learns more about his childhood and how he joined the Spartan programme. Dr. Halsey's dubious morality and willingness to overstep certain bounds to achieve her goals is present and correct from the video games, although this version of the character is a bit more obviously a bad 'un from the start, and her arc lacks nuance.

In a second strand we follow Kwan Ha's story as the last survivor of a massacre into becoming a potential rebel leader under Soren's tutelage. This story is competently executed, and both Woodbine and Burn Gorman as the villainous Vinsher Grath are having more fun than anyone else in the cast, but it's connection to the rest of the story and the setting feels thin. It's almost worthwhile for the final showdown with Grath, where Burn Gorman chews scenery with delicious aplomb.

In a third strand we follow the journey of Makee from Covenant stooge to discovering life among other humans. This story feels fairly random: the Covenant of the early games would never recruit or use a human to work for them (it would go against their entire religious ethos) and the feeling emerges that they had to give the Covenant a human representative to save on the CGI budget (the Covenant CGI is both excellent and fleeting) more than because there was a good story purpose for her existence. This is frustrating as Charlie Murphy gives a good performance (a lot of it in an nonexistent alien language), and deserves better material.

The season's pacing is uneven, dedicating entire episodes to some stories so entire sub-casts of characters don't appear, with even Master Chief sitting an episode out. To be fair, the games have also shown the Halo universe can survive without the big MC (the two Halo Wars games, Halo: Reach and Halo: ODST do without Master Chief as well), but given the main story focus here is on Master Chief's activities prior to the war for Reach, him sitting out a fair bit of the story is a bit of an odd choice. Having him spend most of the time he does appear without a helmet, even in extended action sequences, is an even odder one.

The thing is, all these choices could be borne if the end result was great, but instead it has to settle for being...kinda okay, I guess? The actors are all very solid, many of the ideas are fine (apart from the human Covenant member) and the show does have an ace up its sleeve with its action sequences, which are extremely well-handled. The battle sequences in the first and last episode genuinely feel like movie setpieces, and smaller action scenes throughout the rest of the series are decent. A bone-crunching internal conflict between Spartans genuinely sells the idea of these guys being human+ and you don't want to get in their way. These moments give us glimpses of a considerably better show that could have been created from the same ideas.

The show could have also tightened up its pacing a bit. There isn't really enough story to fill nine episodes and six to seven would have probably been better. There's also a lot of faffing around with ideas and elements that aren't very well handled, and for every change to the backstory and premise to make things more practical and affordable, there's another two or three that feel like change for change's sake. Even for a casual appreciator of the video games like myself rather than a deeply-invested megafan, a lot of these changes feel pointless.

The first season of the Halo TV show (***) ends up being okay. It's watchable, with some good performances and some outstanding action sequences. But the show is a bit flabby, the changes to the source material are mostly unnecessary and the show has that sheen of base-level, dull competence that a lot of modern TV shows have acquired. A second season could be a lot better, assuming they focus on the war for Reach and the search for the Halo itself. Right now, the show is okay but could do a lot better. The show is available to watch on Paramount+ worldwide.

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Thursday, 19 January 2023

New DUNGEONS & DRAGONS rules to use a Creative Commons to replace the Open Game Licence

In a remarkable turnabout, Wizards of the Coast have confirmed that the next edition of Dungeons & Dragons will move to a Creative Commons licence. This follows two weeks of turmoil following the leak of a more restrictive Open Game Licence 1.1 which threatened to revoke the previous OGL 1.0 (in operation since 2000) and had dramatic implications for the third-party D&D field, and could have put numerous companies out of business and forced others (even industry giants like Paizo) into costly legal action.

After initial non-apologies, Wizards of the Coast seemed to have been moved to swift face-saving action after a costly online campaign to boycott D&D products saw remarkable success, with reportedly over 40,000 subscriptions on online portal D&D Beyond cancelled, a number that continues to grow.

The new OGL 1.2 will be published under a Creative Commons licence, effectively moving the later ability to change or alter the OGL out of Wizards' hands. The new OGL will (apparently) be truly "irrevocable." Existing content published under 1.0a will not be impacted and can continue to be published. In addition, the new OGL 1.2 will remove the previously controversial clauses on royalty payments and financial reporting, and also will apply to the tabletop experience (real and virtual), suggesting that streamers and video games will no longer be impacted. 

However - and this remains a primary bone of contention - Wizards plan to continue "deauthorising" the OGL 1.0. No new content can be published under 1.0 once 1.2 is introduced. This will likely not mollify many of the critics, who will likely continue to push for attempts to deauthorise 1.0 to be abandoned. Wizards maintain that the 1.0 licence could theoretically allow third-party publishers to release "hateful content" that could damage the D&D brand and name.

In addition, Wizards note in their small print that they alone will be the sole arbiters of what is "hateful content" and by agreeing to use the OGL 1.2, licencees will lose the ability to contest that via any future legal action.

Although this is movement on Wizards' part, it does not seem to address some of the core concerns about the prior licence proposal, and the controversy will likely roll on.

Wednesday, 18 January 2023

Stephen Colbert to develop CHRONICLES OF AMBER TV series

American talk show host and fantasy uber-fan Stephen Colbert has agreed to produce an adaptation of Roger Zelazny's Chronicles of Amber fantasy novel series for television.


Colbert will executive produce the show with his Spartina production company. Skybound Entertainment and Vincent Newman Entertainment have been developing the project since 2016. At one point, Robert Kirkman (The Walking Dead) was in talks to join the project but those seemed to dry up.

There is no streamer or studio currently attached to the deal, although Colbert has a first-look deal with CBS, and Paramount+ is currently looking for new projects to help its aggressive growth plans.

The Amber sequence tells the story of the two "true worlds," Amber and Chaos, and the shadow worlds of parallel universes that lie between the two, including our Earth. The early books revolve around the adventures of Corwin, a Prince of Amber, whilst the later ones focus on his son Merlin, who is both a magician and a hacker.

The Chronicles of Amber has sold over 15 million copies since the first novel, Nine Princes in Amber, was published in 1970. Zelazny wrote ten novels in two five-book arcs for the series and was planning more at the time of his death in 1995. His estate later licensed another writer to publish a series of prequel novels, but these were received poorly by the fans.

The Amber saga is highly-rated by critics of science fiction and fantasy, and numbers George R.R. Martin amongst its fans. Martin saw Zelazny as a friend and something of a mentor after moving to the same town in the 1970s, but he will not be involved in this project due to his exclusivity contract with HBO (unless the show ends up at HBO, in which case I would assume GRRM would lend his expertise).

Tuesday, 17 January 2023

ELDER SCROLLS IV: OBLIVION remake targets a 2025 release date at the latest

Whilst The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim has been remastered for more platforms than you can shake a stick at, its 2006 forebear has gotten much less official love. However, Oblivion has been getting a major makeover thanks to a large collection of modders and fans who took it upon themselves to remake the entire game in Skyrim's engine, whilst also upgrading that engine considerably.

The result, the slightly-painfully-named Skyblivion (I would give Bethesda serious money if they give them permission to just call it "Oblivion Remade" or something), has been making serious progress for the last couple of years, with increasingly impressive dev diaries and YouTube videos exploring the rebuilt version of Tamriel's Imperial Province of Cyrodiil.

The team have now confirmed a 2025 release date. If that seems a bit far off given how much progress they've made recently, the team agrees and notes this is a worst-case scenario date and they don't get any more resources to help bring the game across the finish line. However, if they are able to recruit more people to help out, they might be able to shave some months off that and bring the game out in 2024 instead.

Skyblivion has ported the entirety of Oblivion into the upgraded engine, but the team have gone back and recreated almost all of the textures, models and effects in the game. Some of the geographic areas have been reworked and resized to make a bit more sense, and the city of Leyawiin has been almost completely redesigned in line with its original, more ambitious, concept art. The biggest change will be with the dungeons. Oblivion used very repetitive and simple dungeon designs, with even some dungeons being simple copy+pastes of others. Every dungeon in Skyblivion has been redesigned and many are now larger and more sprawling. The game will also use Skyrim's more balanced level-scaling system rather than Oblivion's deranged version, but will retain the original game's spellcrafting mechanics.

Skyblivion will launch by 2025 at the latest, and will require the player to have purchased copies of both Skyrim and Oblivion. Bethesda themselves are working on their brand new, space-based roleplaying game, Starfield, which should be out later this year. Bethesda are also in pre-production on The Elder Scrolls VI, but that is many years away.

Thursday, 12 January 2023

New MECHWARRIOR video game in development

Piranah Games are developing a new MechWarrior video game. The news, rumoured for some time, came out during an interview between Piranah Games President Russ Bullock and the NoGutsNoGalaxy podcast.


Piranah have worked on video game incarnations of the BattleTech franchise for the past decade, having released the multiplayer MechWarrior Online in 2012 and the singleplayer MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries in 2019. They also provided some support, including mech models, for the 2018 turn-based strategy game BattleTech from Harebrained Schemes.

The new game will be a single-player title with a co-op mode (similar to MechWarrior 5), and will not be an update or sequel to MechWarrior Online. Curiously, Bullock declined to refer to it as MechWarrior 6, and said the new game will be a stand-alone title aimed at PC, Xbox Series S/X and PlayStation 5.

Piranah also revealed that their current video game licence runs until 2025 and will require renewal after that point. If the licence is renewed, they want to make MechWarrior Online 2, using a superior engine and improved visuals.

The BattleTech tabletop miniatures game has enjoyed massive success in the last few years, becoming one of the biggest-selling SFF wargames. This has, in part, been propelled by strong (and long-lasting) sales of both BattleTech and MechWarrior 5. MechWarrior 5 has seen three expansions released: Heroes of the Inner Sphere (2021), Legend of the Kestrel Lancers (2021) and Call to Arms (2022). A fourth expansion, Rise of Rasalhague, will be released on 26 January.

More news on the new MechWarrior game will reportedly be released in the autumn.

Tuesday, 10 January 2023

Scott Lynch releases excerpt from a new Locke Lamora story

Scott Lynch has posted a rare update on his writing, including an excerpt from his next Gentleman Bastard project, the first of three novellas set after the events of The Republic of Thieves.

A 2012 mockup cover for two of the novellas

As reported last June, Lynch has decided to deliver three novellas before releasing the next full novel in the series, The Thorn of Emberlain (which itself exists as a full draft). The first of the novellas is now called More Than Fools Fill Graves, and will be followed by The Mad Baron's Mechanical Attic and The Choir of Knives (the latter two titles have been known for well over a decade by this point, although might still be subject to change).

The three novellas form a continuous but optional narrative, starting the moment The Republic of Thieves ends and continuing through to the start of The Thorn of Emberlain. The combined length of the three novellas will be around three-quarters of a typical Gentleman Bastard novel.

We don't have any kind of release schedule for the novellas and the following novel yet, but hopefully news on that will follow soon now that the first novella is both complete and titled up.

Tabletop RPG industry in uproar over leaked changes to the Open Game Licence

The tabletop RPG industry has endured a tumultuous week after io9 secured a copy of the proposed 1.1 revision of the Open Game Licence. Version 1.0 of the OGL, popularised by Dungeons & Dragons, has allowed third parties to create and monetise content for the game for almost a quarter of a century. The proposed changes could drive many content creators out of business.


The OGL was introduced when the 3rd Edition of D&D was released by Wizards of the Coast in 2000. Dungeons & Dragons had been created by Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson via the company TSR in 1974 (although both were gone from the company barely a dozen years later), but significant financial mismanagement and poor investments had driven the company deep into debt by 1997, with the company threatened with bankruptcy. D&D had also dropped in popularity massively, with games like the World of Darkness family (most famously, Vampire: The Masquerade) supplanting its market share. Wizards of the Coast, a relatively young company which had skyrocketed to success with its card game, Magic: The Gathering, bought TSR and D&D in 1998 and set about revising the game for a new generation.

The 3rd Edition of D&D was hugely popular and successful, and was credited with revitalising the entire TTRPG (tabletop roleplaying game) industry in the early 2000s. Many d20-branded games, using the OGL and rules compatible with D&D, were released to great success and entire companies were created to cash in on the phenomenon. Significant d20 games include the Babylon 5 and Judge Dredd licensed games and Wizards of the Coasts' own Star Wars line of RPGs. 

In 2008 the 4th Edition (4E) of D&D was released under a more restrictive licence, but a similar public outcry saw the OGL maintained. With the 4E rules proving very controversial, this allowed Paizo Publishing to release their own fantasy roleplaying game called Pathfinder, effectively using a fork of the 3E rules set. Vast numbers of Dungeons & Dragons players defected to playing Pathfinder instead. D&D lost significant market share, dropping behind first Pathfinder and then the Star Wars RPG to third place in the rankings.

In 2014, Wizards of the Coast released the 5th Edition of D&D, using a revamped and more popular rules set and returning to the OGL. The company was bolstered by the launch of Critical Role in 2015, a popular web series featuring a group of popular voice actors playing a D&D campaign on screen. In 2016, D&D featured heavily in the first season of the Netflix smash hit success Stranger Things. These factors drove D&D back to its traditional level of popularity and market dominance. Paizo released a 2nd Edition of Pathfinder in 2019 which has done well (and deviated further away from the D&D rules system), but not threatened to unseat D&D's position.

Wizards of the Coast has recently confirmed that the next iteration of D&D is in development. Code-named "One D&D," the new version of the game aims for backwards compatibility with 5E as well as having a less restrictive and more freeform rules system. However, the biggest change sounds like it will be to the Open Game Licence. Wizards and Hasbro will now take a cut of any RPG using the system that makes more than a certain amount of money per year, as well as automatically owning original ideas and creatures from products. More ominously, they are threatening to "deauthorise" anything published under the OGL 1.0 licence, theoretically impacting hundreds of products that are still on sale from dozens of companies.

These are not limited to just tabletop RPGs, but also products including video games such as Pathfinder: Kingmaker and Pathfinder: War of the Righteous by Owlcat Games and Solasta: Crown of the Magister from Tactical Adventures (although Tactical Adventures have indicated they have already been in conversation with Wizards of the Coast over the matter).

The blowback from the industry has been significant in the last few days, and it remains to be seen if Wizards will push forwards with their plans. Notably, they have already received legal pushback from lawyers pointing out that the OGL 1.0 was released as a non-revocable agreement, and Wizards' subsequent quarter-century of honouring that position makes it hard for them to backtrack on it now. However, the legal departments and resources of Wizards of the Coast and their owners Hasbro are formidable, to say the least.

This situation continues to unfold.

DUNGEONS & DRAGONS TV series greenlit for Paramount+

Dungeons & Dragons is getting its first live-action television series. Streamer Paramount+ has greenlit an eight-episode show from Rawson Marshall Thurber. Thurber will produce the show and write and direct the opening episode.

Thurber is best-known for his work in comedy, directing and writing Dodgeball (2004), Central Intelligence (2016) and Red Notice (2021). Red Notice was Netflix's biggest original movie and Thurber is currently developing two sequels to that film. He is also attached to a live-action Voltron feature film for Amazon.

This TV project is not related to Honour Among Thieves, the feature film starring Chris Pine which is set for release on 31 March this year. Nor is it related to a separate TV project being helmed by John Wick writer Derek Kolstadt, potentially involving signature Forgotten Realms character Drizzt Do'Urden.

The details of Thurber's project remain under wraps. It is not known which of the numerous D&D settings will be used for the series, or if it will use an original world or location.

Thursday, 5 January 2023

BATTLETECH reclaims its place as one of the biggest SFF wargames in the world

Venerable SF miniatures title BattleTech has reasserted its position as one of the most popular tabletop wargames around. Catalyst Game Studios have confirmed they have shipped over 9 million miniatures since relaunching the line back in 2015, most of that since they revamped the two core game box sets in 2018.


BattleTech started life in 1984 as a tabletop wargame created by Jordan Weisman and L. Ross Babock III for their company, FASA Corporation. The game was originally called BattleDroids and used mecha designs from various Japanese animated shows under licence, but legal brushes with George Lucas and the various American distributors of those shows (mainly Harmony Gold) saw them rename the game to BattleTech and redesign many of their mechs. The franchise was initially a cult success, but exploded in popularity at the end of the 1980s and through the 1990s thanks to a series of excellently-received video games, including MechWarrior 2 and MechCommander, and a millions-selling line of novels by authors including Michael Stackpole.

The franchise went through a lean period between 2001, when FASA effectively collapsed, and 2007 when Catalyst Games Labs picked up the licence. Since then, CGL has gradually guided the success to greater success. An influx of new fans came in with the superb 2018 turn-based strategy game BattleTech and its definitive Mercenary Collection repackaging. The 2019 real-time action game MechWarrior 5 was slower off the blocks due to bugs and a lack of early content, but has picked up steam tremendously thanks to a console release and no less than four major expansions, the latest of which is out this month, and increased rumours of a sequel. MechWarrior Online (2013), although showing its age, still has a healthy monthly player count.

BattleTech may also be benefitting from economics: the game revolves around the deployment of relatively small numbers of "lances," four-mech squads, which are far easier and far cheaper to collect and paint compared to, say, the equivalent Warhammer 40,000 armies. The BattleTech boxed sets are surprisingly cheap compared to competitors, and the sheer weight and backstory of the game's lore is impressive.

Catalyst confirm that they have sold over 160,000 copies of the BattleTech: A Game of Armored Combat core set and the Beginner Box "quickie" set since 2018. They have further expanded the game via Kickstarter-led products, like the Clan Invasion and Alpha Strike boxed sets, and will launch a new Mercenaries boxed set later this year.