My ConQuesT 49 Schedule

I am pleased to announce that I’ll be appearing as a panelist at ConQuesT 49, Kansas City’s longest-running science fiction convention, sponsored by the Kansas City Science Fiction & Fantasy Society, which is being held at the Sheraton Crown Center on Memorial Day Weekend.

My panel schedule is as follows:

• Friday 6 PM: Those Damned Dirty Apes: Fifty Years of Planet of the Apes
• Saturday 11 AM: From Game to Novel: The art of the tie-in book
• Saturday 6 PM: Birth of the Graphic Novel: Dark Knight Returns, Watchmen, and Maus
• Sunday 11 AM: Dr. Who: The Legacy of Stephen Moffat
• Sunday 1 PM: Star Trek Showdown 2018: The Captains!

So, there I’ll be, on Memorial Day Weekend, being a Professional Nerd and talking about Nerd Stuff. Come see me!
 
 

A Long-Overdue Update on FAR WEST

(These public updates are from Kickstarter, but I’ll be copying them here for my own records.)

Long time, I know.

I had promised myself that I wouldn’t be doing an update until I had a major delivery ready… that the incremental “I’m still working” updates didn’t tell anybody anything new – and wouldn’t convince folks who don’t believe that’s the case. So, doing them seemed like a waste of time. Plus, being completely honest, dealing with the minority of hyper-critical voices had led me to view those updates with growing anxiety. I wrestle with depression & anxiety quite a bit – so I made the choice to avoid a source of it.

However, a twitter discussion with a backer has convinced me otherwise – you folks deserve to know what’s going on. So here we are. I’ll just cut to the chase:

What’s been going on?

I’ve been completely redesigning FAR WEST, from top to bottom.

I’m sure that a lot of you are now utterly convinced that I’m crazy. Maybe so.

Allow me to explain.

Last summer, a friend of mine died. An industry colleague, a guy I’d known for decades, who I’d first met when I was living in Atlanta in the late 80s. More pursuant to this update, however – he was one of the folks who’d stepped up to help me get FAR WEST completed.

He died suddenly – no indication of ill health. There one minute, then gone.

My first reaction, to my shame, was to worry about what this meant for FAR WEST.

Yeah. I felt pretty awful for thinking like that. Still do.

But then, I found myself dwelling on the fact that he was gone so suddenly, with so many plans left unfulfilled. Not just his helping me – he had a bunch of things he was doing, which now would never be done. He was just gone. You know that I’ve had my own brushes with mortality – most recently in 2014. I kept thinking about that. I went into a pretty major depression.

One of the things that I realized during this period was that I wasn’t happy with FAR WEST. I kept coming back to the idea that it was so late, that the delays had been so long… and I asked myself: When you finally release it, will you be proud of it? Will you feel that it was worth the time that it took?

The answer was no.

I tried to avoid looking at that answer. At this point in the process, I couldn’t face that answer, really. If the answer really was “no, I’m not proud of it – I don’t actually like what I’ve got here” – then what the hell was the next step? I felt as though I was committed, at this point.

I had long talks about this with my wife, Laura, and my partner at Adamant Entertainment, Eric Trautmann, and both of them ended up saying variations of the same thing (paraphrasing here): “It’s already late. Make it something you ARE proud of.”

So I decided to do just that.

Now, don’t get me wrong – I love the setting. A testament to how much I love the world we’ve created here is that I still get excited about it, even after all the anxiety & negative shit that has floated around the delays, etc.

I even love some of the rules design I’ve come up with. But overall, I wasn’t happy with the system. It wasn’t feeling right in play. And I couldn’t get it to where I was satisfied. When I did come up with something that felt right, it would inevitably break some other part of the system. Frustration mounted.

Talking with Eric, he cut through the chaos (he’s really good at that) by asking me “well, what game had more of the feel you’re trying to hit?” And I said the old Star Wars game from West End. (And I wasn’t just stroking Eric’s ego there – he was the Creative Director for Star Wars at West End back in the day – but we’d been talking about the system in discussions on a different project, so it was a common frame of reference.)

Which led to a three-word solution:

Well, why not?

The original system of Star Wars, West End’s D6, is also available as Open Content, a framework in which I was already working. I know how the underlying math works, so I was able to take the rules elements that I was really happy with from the existing FAR WEST design, and port them over for use with D6. And the game plays faster and more cinematically – which is EXACTLY what I was hoping for.

So that’s what’s been happening, since around September of last year. And all of a sudden, I was happy with what I was producing. So that part has worked!

Anyway – this is getting long. I should probably switch to a simple Q&A summary:

When are we going to see this?
I am planning on giving you a completed manuscript (and we’re talking the whole thing, not just the rules) in July – although possibly earlier. (I’m actually shooting for close to my birthday in mid-June, if I can manage it).

What happens next?
That’s when I turn the manuscript over to Eric for layout. Yes, you read that right – I’m not insisting on doing everything myself. The layout will be largely the same as the existing one (I like the look of it), but I’m handing it off to an actual graphic design professional, who actually knows his stuff, so it will happen a HELLUVA lot faster. Eric designs all of Adamant’s other stuff, and he’s also the graphic designer for comics like LAZARUS, BLACK MAGICK, ATOMIC ROBO graphic novels, etc. (You can read more about his work here: https://www.erictrautmann.us ) Once layout is done, we go to press (and yes, I still have partners helping with that), and you get the full PDF, and then the book.

What can you tell us about the new system?
We’re calling it “D6 PLUS” – the base framework is the Open Content D6 system from West End, which we think are a rock-solid set of rules for fast, cinematic style play. To that framework, we’re adding additional elements (the “Plus” part), drawing from more modern, “story-game” styles of play (as an example, the Spirit & Aspects system from the first version of FAR WEST).

But I liked the system we had!
I’m glad to hear that – and if there’s enough interest, we might go ahead and eventually complete that version, as an alternate rules set. There is also potential for licensed versions using other rules systems as well, down the road, which some folks have already spoken with us about.

How can we see it or play it sooner?
If you want to get a chance to look over the rules, run a few sessions, etc., before the delivery of the full manuscript in the summer, drop me a line at gms@adamantentertainment.com, and I’ll send the rules portion out to you later this month. (It won’t have the setting or game mastering tools, but the rules will be there, enough to create characters and run sessions.) Obviously, this offer is only open to Kickstarter backers and pre-order customers, despite this update being made public.

What about updates? Are you going to go silent again?
No, I’m not. I’m committing myself to updating you weekly on what I’ve been doing. Those updates will be public – posted here, and over at my blog (http://gmskarka.com). The day of the week will vary – it depends on my work load that week, stuff going on in my life, etc. But you’ll be hearing from me once a week from now until we’re done.

OK – this thing is already 1200 words long, which is WAY longer than I intended. I’m going to get back to work.

I’m available to answer any questions you have – the absolute best ways to contact me are via email at gms@adamantentertainment.com, via Twitter at @gmskarka or via Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/gmskarka . Those are the methods which I will reliably see, get notification, and be able to respond to the quickest.

As always, I remain forever thankful to you. Thank you for sticking around through my dark days, and believing in me. I can’t wait to show you what you’ve helped to create.

Gareth-Michael Skarka
Lawrence, KS
May 1, 2018

Friday Music

Another week, another edition of your mixtape of the internet, Friday Music! Maybe someday soon I’ll be able to create some non-FM content for this blog, but as busy as I’ve been, that probably won’t be for another few weeks.

The image at left is the cover to our first track, from the Los Angeles based group BRÅVES. To quote their website: “Take three musicians. Conceal their countenances from the general public. Create pop music without an image. Roll it out through a series of beautiful, albeit unnerving videos. Circumvent the political, pandering bullshit associated with most record labels. Shock the system. Rinse. Repeat.” The video for this track features actor Matthew Lillard and disability rights activist Dr. Victor S. Pineda, dancing with each other on a featureless soundstage, challenging the social mores of how we interact with disabled people. Even before I saw the video, though, something in the sound of the song brought tears to my eyes, no joke. BRÅVES – “Catch Me.”

Speaking of “groups that alter the spelling of their commonly-occurring name so it’s more easily searchable”, Scottish synthpop band CHVRCHES have a new album coming out in May, and this is the first single, with guest vocals by Matt Berninger of The National. A group I love, with guest vocals from another group I love? Yes, please. CHVRCHES – “My Enemy.”

Been listening a lot recently to the late Japanese downtempo/low-fi producer Nujabes (pronounced new-ja-bess, by the by). He died in a car accident in 2010, and I absolutely adore his work, combinations of boom-bap hip-hop beats riding forward in the mix, over washed-out low-fi jazz and RnB samples, all hisses & pops. He’s probably best known over here for scoring the 2004-2005 anime series SAMURAI CHAMPLOO (the follow-up to COWBOY BEBOP from director Shinichirō Watanabe) . This is the closing credits track from the show, featuring Japanese reggae & RnB vocalist MINMI. The title means “Song of the Seasons.” Nujabes – “Shiki No Uta (feat. MINMI).”

Sticking with the downtempo vibe for a moment, Clearside is the nom de guerre of L.A. producer and mixer Bryan Dych, who uses big retro analog synths over downtempo beats, producing a sound inspired by 90s Big Beat electronica, which is right up my alley. Clearside – “Cop Drama.”

I have to admit that I’m loving the fact that a lot of my favorite musical genres are experiencing retro revivals. For example, this L.A. based group (hmm… I’m detecting a theme here), Kitten, produces absolutely spot-on late-70s/early-80s post-punk New Wave. The vocals of the lead singer, Chloe Chaidez, really makes me think of Patty Smyth from Scandal. Good stuff: Kitten – “I Did It.”

Of course, with retro revivals come new releases from older groups. I helped to crowdfund this one, from Dave Wakeling (from The Beat and General Public), who is recording under the “English Beat” name the band used in the US. The album, Here We Go Love, will be out in a couple of months, but the first single is now getting radio play in the UK. It’s a slice of socially-conscious ska, but I have to admit that I miss the interplay of Wakeling’s voice with Ranking Roger (who has his own version of The Beat, touring the UK & Europe) — The English Beat’s new toaster, King Schascha, isn’t really used to much effect on this single, though, so we’ll see. The English Beat – “How Can You Stand There?!”

Stewart Copeland has put together a group of friends into a “hey, let’s record some shit” effort which some media are trying pin “Supergroup” onto, but really just sounds like some friends having fun. The group, Gizmodrome, is comprised of Copeland (The Police), Level 42 bassist Mark King, Italian keyboardist Vittorio Cosma, and guitarist Adrian Belew (King Crimson, Talking Heads, Frank Zappa, etc.). The album is fun, and definitely has the sound of the tracks that Copeland wrote and sang for the Police (On Any Other Day, for example). Gizmodrome – “Zombies In The Mall.”

So there you go, kids. Hope you’ve enjoyed this! See ya in 7.