The Flash – My theory as to who is in the iron mask…

As crazy as it sounds – I think these things are all related!

This week the Flash totally redeemed last week’s quasi-controlled-cluster-fu*k and delivered one of their best episodes.  This set the stage for two more speedsters – Wally and Jessie; and gave us some good classic Zoom villain moments.  I also think there was a lot more going on…

We got the see Barry’s dad – which I don’t think was a fluke.  These writers are comic book guys, they don’t just have scenes for no reason.  He’s been absent this season, but he’s back, and we learned his mother’s maiden name was Garrick.  Significant?  Yes.   Hear me out…I think I’ve pieced together the secret of the man in the mask!

My theory is that the man that Zoom is keeping in the iron mask is actually the real Jay Garrick – which will be Barry’s father from an alternate Earth.  Think about it.  Zoom has only hinted at who is there but refuses to tell Barry.  Why hide it?  Why even hold a prisoner unless he is of some use to you?  Barry’s dad has a link to the name.  This Jay wouldn’t necessarily be Barry’s dad per se, but at least the actor playing him.   Most likely it woulds be a version of Barry’s dad from Earth 2, who we haven’t seen yet.  I like to think that the writers still want to give us the doughboy-helmet-wearing Jay Garrick; merely with a different actor playing him – in this case John Wesley Shipp.  My theory is that when they do crack open that mask, we will see Shipp in the role of Jay Garrick.

The writers have already have demonstrated a fondness for the original Flash TV series, bringing back Mark Hamill as the Trickster – twice.  The producers and writers are pretty good at playing up to the comic book fan base.

Best of all, we as Flash fans would get to see the 1980’s Flash recast in a role as the Golden Age Flash.  Not only that, we will probably get one of those awesome villain scenes with Zoom holding (essentially) Barry’s dad by the scruff of neck, threatening the hero.   Otherwise, why would Zoom keep a prisoner if not as an ace up his sleeve to hold the Flash in check.

Frankly, I hope the writer’s do go down this path.  One, it’s cool.  Two, it’s a treat for those of us that remember John Wesley Shipp playing the role of a Flash, even if it is the Golden Age speedster.

Alright pundits, tear this theory apart!

 

It has never been a better time to be a geek

TL and the dragon
Perhaps you’d like a squeaky ball to play with?

It hit me last night as I watched Game of Thrones and Silicon Valley, that this is the best time in mankind’s history for geeks.  Those of us dubbed nerds or dorks in high school have had to wait almost five decades for us to be the cool kids.  Even Hollywood is crashing the White House Press awards now.  For once, we rule.

First off, there’s a ton of entertainment out there for us – and it’s good stuff.  Supergirl, the Flash, GoT, Silicon Valley, Daredevil, The Walking Dead, Doctor Who, Big Bang Theory, Agents of Shield…and that’s just on TV.  Starting in December of last year we will get two Star Wars movies, a Star Trek film, Batman v. Superman (ugh!), Marvel Civil War, Doctor Strange, Suicide Squad, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.  Hollywood and the world has learned that the things we were mocked for as children are big bucks.  Putting out a superhero or Star Wars movie is like printing money at this point.

Moreover our tastes are being accepted by the masses.  I have to admit, it was kind of cool when it was just us geeks watching and reading this stuff.  Now that the cool kids are into it, it does take a little bit away from it.  At the same time, we get to say, “we were here first!” and not risk getting a swirly.

I can honestly remember having to hide my comic books at school to dodge ridicule and the random (and painful) Purple Nurple.   For years it was hard to find tee-shirts with geek culture on them.  You were hard pressed to find a Superman shirt.  Now freaking Under Armour makes athletic super hero gear.  Most of my wardrobe consists of super hero and TV shirts (much to my wife’s patient chagrin.)  I was in the gym the other day and saw two other guys wearing Captain America shirts – one even complimented mine.  If it was 1979 I would have gotten an Indian Burn for daring to show up with that kind of shirt on.

This Thursday I’m taking my hot wife to see Captain America Civil War and I know in line there will be dozens of kids decked out in the latest gear.  There will be some in costume too.  My wife, she will try and pretend none of this is happening.  Deep down she knows she actually ended up marrying one of the cool kids.  It just took decades for that to be known.  (Actually she would kill at the chance to purge my wardrobe and make me purchase “adult appropriate” clothing…but I digress.)

Geek culture has never been so popular and accepted – for which I am thankful.  Because it is so mainstream, the quality of the entertainment is fantastic too.  As I dive into writing a new BattleTech novel, I realize that we dorks are now the ones pulling the strings on entertainment and culture.  We are setting the tone and pace of what is in and what isn’t.

It’s a good time to be alive and geek!

 

Book Review – Storm Front – Alternate History

Storm Front
Not your typical “Nazi’s win WWII” alternate history – which is refreshing on its own. 

Storm Front (Book I of the Twilight of the Gods) is set in 1985 in a world where Germany was not destroyed as a result of WWII.  I phrased that carefully.  This isn’t your typical alternate history fare, where Germany won the war.  Yes, they defeated Russia and France, but they entered a Cold War era with Britain and the US.  On the whole, that makes for a fascinating set of perspectives of what life would be like in 1985 in the Reich.

Many books in the genre use war as the tapestry to tell the story.  Storm Front doesn’t do that, not directly anyway. There’s a war, in South Africa, a mirror to the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan, but we are not sucked into it as part of the storytelling – something I was surprised by (in a positive way).  Storm Front takes a higher road, going along the route of Man in a High Castle.

Ultimately this is the story of characters who become unlikely catalysts in a revolution.  The analogy to Poland is interesting but the differences are only on the surface.  Author Christopher Nuttall isn’t afraid to draw connections to real world events but often takes them in his own creative direction.  Some of the characters are intricate in terms of their motivations – which I like.

This was my first taste of his writing and I have to admit, I’m going to dive into the second book when it comes out.  He plays homage to Harry Turtledove in the book, which seemed a little corny while at the same time was perfectly acceptable.  Even as a historian, I struggle with the the German ranks, but his only other choice was to do a Hogan’s Heroes approach to the dialogue and that would have sucked.  Kudos for making the right call Mr. Nuttall.

What was nice was that this first book had a logical ending point – without leaving me hanging without some degree of closure on key plot lines.  At the same time Nuttall has done a great job of setting up the next book in the series.

I give Storm Front 4.5 stars…not your typical fare for alternate history, which gives it some refreshing appeal.

Review of Bombs Away – Harry Turtledove – Alternate History

BA2

I was intrigued with the premise of this alternate history novel.  In the Korea War, General MacArthur convinces President Truman to allow him to use nuclear bombs against the Chinese surging into the Korean peninsula.  I knew one thing, the Godfather of the genre, Harry Turtledove, was going to take us on a ride.

BA
“Harry, I have an idea.  Let’s toast a few hundred thousand Chinese…”

It is a neat period of history and Turtledove’s twist of history was going to be a good combination I felt and I wasn’t let down.  The Russians respond to the use of nuclear weapons by using some of their own.  Rather than a horrific holocaust in a blinding few minutes, this is a bomber war and both sides sparingly use their weapons of mass destruction.  It is a slow, almost ponderous and grinding war of attrition – one that is entirely plausible.

Turtledove has his usual ensemble of characters to tell us the story, right down to his traditional Jewish character.  When it comes to Turtledove, this is expected and somewhat anticipated.  The book felt like a well worn glove that fit on my hand just right.

I had no idea that this was the first book of a series, which I have to admit, left me a little bit hanging.  So you’re not left with a strong conclusion in this book, instead you’re left set up for the next book in the series.  That was a little bit disappointing but that was the only thing I didn’t enjoy.

This book is old-school Turtledove at his best.  The characters really stand out and the plot takes us on a very intricate war.  The battle of Fulda Gap, which we all anticipated in the 1980’s, is fascinating in the 1950’s.  I love T34’s tangling with contemporary American armor.

I give this book a five out of five stars.  I devoured it in a weekend and now have to twiddle my thumbs until the next book comes out in April.

Review – Germanica – Robert Conroy’s Alternate History

Germanica
What if the war continued after Hitler’s death?

We lost Robert Conroy a while back and his voice in the alternate history genre is missed.  The story concept is fairly intriguing – what if Germany fell back to the mythical Alpine Redoubt (Germanica) in WWII rather than surrender.  On its own, that is interesting.  You have the last bits of the Third Reich hunkering down and waging a war of attrition against the Allies, which is a good premise to build off of.  It is a good piece of alternate history, not stunningly great, but not bad.

This is an ensemble story with a cast of characters to give you a lot of perspective as to the conflict.  We have a seasoned officer, a grizzled sergeant, a pilot turned OSS spy, a holocaust survivor and a few others designed to round out views of this extended war.  There’s a few that stand out.  The military characters were the strongest of the mix.  You find yourself unsympathetic to the grizzled German troopers that are fleeing into Germanica which I think is a missed opportunity.

In this history, Joseph Goebbels leads the rag-tag remains of the Germany military into the alpine state dubbed Germanica.  With him are the German scientists working on the atomic bomb, because everyone writing an alternate history on Germany can’t resist the concept of a Nazi A-Bomb.  Fortunately Conroy doesn’t fall back on this as his key lever to the plot.  In fact, I found his insertion of it rather refreshing since other authors have covered this ground already.

President Truman struggles with an America that is weary of the war which is just what the Germans are hoping for.  I found that less-than-plausible, though Conroy introduces some throwaway characters to justify it.  The Swiss are less-than-neutral in this effort, indirectly aiding the Nazi’s.

The only main supporting player I struggled with was Dulles, the spymaster of the OSS in Switzerland.  I wrote about the OSS in my book, Lost Eagles.  Having researched Dulles at the National Archives II, I can say the way he was portrayed, personally staging missions, just didn’t seem right.

The ending was okay, but it could have been a much more powerful with the proper set-up.  I found myself wanting something more dramatic at the end, payout for my reading.

Germanica is a good read.  It’s not Conroy’s best, but it was incredibly pleasing to finally pick this book up and devour it.  It served to remind me just how much we’ve lost in the alternate writing community of authors.  I give it three-and-a-half stars out of five.  A solid read – worth adding to your list.

BattleTech Article in SciFiNow

IMG_0917
The cover of the new issue…

The latest issue of SciFiNow has an article on the BattleTech franchise…one that I wrote.  I like the piece but that’s me. When you work on something like this it is challenging, there’s a LOT that make up the IP (Intellectual Property) of BattleTech.

The editor wanted a Top Ten products list.  That was challenging since BattleTech crosses multiple mediums.  What I did to help narrow this down was to use social media, Facebook, to let actual fans make suggestions.  I ended up with a list of 23 potentials, and I took it upon myself to narrow that list down to the Top Ten.

btech
Mmm…BattleMechs…

I also did the Top Ten novels/series.  Also not an easy task.  This one I relied more on my own gut feel than anything else.

What was really fun was reengaging with folks like Sam Lewis for quotes.  I forgot how much I enjoyed Sam over the years.

I’m sure this will spawn debate and ridicule – but in the end, it’s good for the game to get it back out there in a major magazine.  It was published in the UK last month and is just now available in the US (so far I’ve only found it at Barnes and Noble bookstores).  I suggest picking it up!

Case Study – The Demise of Alien Dungeon (and All Quiet on the Martian Front)

All Quiet
Three Legged Stompy Fun

Back in May of 2013 Alien Dungeon launched a Kickstarter to fund a new miniatures game, All Quiet on the Martian Front – aka AQotMF.  This was a miniatures game of the Martian invasion of the world, ala H. G. Wells, with a hint of steampunk.  Taking place prior to WWI in the mundane world, the Kickstarter was a big success, receiving over $300,000.00 of the $50k target goal. The rules for the game were written by Rick Priestley, a seasoned game writer.  There was a lot of promise here.  Prototypes of the miniatures appeared in the Kickstarter leading us to all believe that the company had laid out all of the groundwork to be successful.

My Martians

They delivered product too, albeit many months late.  Some of the products, like some the big land battleships were not delivered, and other product was cancelled outright – with offers of gift certificates for replacement products.  These were issued two months prior to the company’s ultimate demise.

And now, Alien Dungeon is off-line, apparently out of business.

So what happened?

In reality, I don’t know.  I can surmise what happened though, based on my decades of experience in the gaming industry.  The company has become a case study in how business models can fail.  First and foremost the game itself was relatively good.  There was strong evidence that it had not been fully thought through however.  Some of the game mechanics didn’t work well.  New units were introduced but not included in the initial game rules, indicating that they had not considered the future growth of the product.  There were a lot of pages of addendum on the company’s now defunct web site just to try and prop up the product line.

There was a lack of organized play.  I know a few companies out there that survive without organized play, but it helps sustain a product.  At GenCon there were a few games of AQotMF, but darned few.  I couldn’t find any games at local hobby shops.  This was usually a sign that the game was not being supported well in the hobby shops – which was the case.  Even their presence at GenCon was sketchy at best.

The company struggled with the production of the miniatures, which led to months of delay in getting the product out.  Even when we did get them, they had flaws that should have been caught in the production process.  Assembling the minis often required finding a PDF of the vague instructions online and even then they didn’t got together well.

There were hints early on of problems as well.  We were promised a PDF of the rules, along with the hardcover rules sets.  Getting these out is useful because it allows gaming groups to pull in new players.  Ernie told me, “You have no idea how hard it is to create a PDF.”  Seriously.  It’s actually pretty simple. I started to get the impression that this was a one-man operation.  Two and a half years later and we still don’t have the PDF of the rules – and likely never will.

There was no advertising for the game that I ever saw either.  Advertising gets your product out there for new gamers.  Word of mouth alone rarely works.  Alien Dungeon didn’t seem interested in promoting its game line strongly.

I spoke with the owner of the company, Ernie, at GenCon.  His frustrations, as expressed to me, were with the ungrateful gamers.  When I pointed out how late the product was, and some of the flaws, he reacted with, “I communicate more than most companies do.”  So we, as the gamers, were the problem?  I came away thinking, “It’s just a matter of time.”  Ernie seemed downright agitated when I spoke with him. Shouldn’t he be interested in what someone with decades in the business has to say?  I’ve been involved with eight different gaming systems, from GDW to FASA etc.  I know a little bit about the industry.  I tried to explain to him some of the work that needed to be done to the rules, tweaks really, and got, “The rules stand as is.”  The face of the company was an angry man, never a good sign.

Ernie assured me that he had experience in the toy business, which was what he was concentrating on, i.e. the miniature kits.  At the time that didn’t resonate with me, but now it does.  The toy business isn’t the game industry.

When some of the big miniatures were released, Alien Dungeon admitted they had dramatically underestimated the cost of them.  This is Business 101 stuff, and they failed at it.  Combined with the delays on the other miniatures and you got the sense that this was a small operation with little experience in gaming.

When Alien Dungeon started handing out gift certificates for late products, it was a sign that the products were never coming.  The company kicked off another new Kickstarter for a fantasy game which failed horribly.  A few weeks later, they closed their doors.

I’ve come to see Kickstarters as great ways to get gamers into a new game system, but they can’t be your sole means of funding a game system or building your player-base.  You have to be prepared to produce the game with your own funding.  The Kickstarter should be the means of getting your game into player’s hands to generate some good buzz.  The age of relying on Kickstarter alone to fund your company start-up for gaming is fading and fading fast.

Kickstarters are great for getting a core group of people into your game but you have to view it as a starting point.  It’s not enough to run demo games at conventions to spur interest.  You need a mix of game related fiction, sourcebooks, miniatures, and support it with in-store gaming.  In other words, you have to have a pipeline of products.  Alien Dungeon got caught in a vicious cycle of trying to get their products out that were promised in the Kickstarter.  They had an erratic growth pattern.

The sad part of this is that AQotMF is actually a pretty good game system at its core. It needs some work with the rules, but it has great potential.  Now, however, the remaining fan base has been left with no communication, no product info, no pipeline, and no hope.  Hopefully someone will pick this product line up and dust it off, but it may already be too late as fans are beginning to shed their inventory.  What is interesting is that a number of individuals have begun to reproduce knock-off products on Shapeways.com (a 3D printing website), allowing players to continue to expand their armies, albeit at a cost.

When players start a new game system, they are investing.  You have to treat them like investors.  You have to establish a solid product line, a pipeline of exciting stuff, and encourage them to play the game (and in turn, suck in new players in the process.)

Who knows, maybe Alien Dungeon will reopen its doors.  Anything is possible…but in reality, they have already done a lot of damage to the IP and to the fan base.