Could there ever be another 40K?

The Emperor of Mankind, Rogue Trader era

I read an article recently on Bell of Lost Souls that really got me thinking.  The original is here.

As a relatively old bastard myself, I have similar pre-GW memories, only mine were more Steve Jackson’s Car Wars than Battletech.  I did play Battletech briefly.  I remember being really paranoid my mechs would overheat all the time and so I tricked them out with bazillions of heat sinks.

Anyway, we’ve all heard this sort of thing before (although not usually so eloquently).  The Warhammer 40,000 universe has changed.  At the beginning it was mad, and satirical, and hyper-masculine and violent but at least self-aware.  I particularly like when he says “In the early days of 40K, people still understood that Judge Dredd wasn’t an action hero, he was a parody.”  That says it all really.

Now the hyper-masculinity is po-faced and serious (sorry, I mean “grimdark”) and the Orks are, I think, the only real link to the old spirit.  Which is why aspects of them seem a little out of place and annoying to some gamers I talk to today.  Even the current Orks though are darker, more serious incarnations of their former selves.  As someone in the comments on the coxcomb piece said, GW today goes for suspension of disbelief over satire.  Which in my opinion is foolish given that the very premise they are putting forward, that advanced futuristic empires fly halfway across the galaxy in giant space churches to get out and hit each other with chainsaws (to paraphrase Something Awful’s Zack) is ridiculous.

So all this got me thinking.  The original 40k universe was explosively protean and shattered sci-fi wargaming (maybe even wargaming in general) with its energy and insanity.  It was informed by politically satirical British fantasy and comics, among other things.  What would a similar game be like today?  Could it even happen?  I don’t think it has happened since.  As great as many of today’s competitors are, they are all playing firmly by the established rules compared to the boldness of Rogue Trader in its time.

Tetsuo is a pretty good metaphor for the chaotic creativity of late 20th century anime

I think about fifteen or twenty years ago, a similar game could have emerged inspired by anime.  This is because in the late 80s/early 90s, Japanese anime experienced a creative boom wherein the creators made whatever they hell they wanted, unrestricted by genre and convention.  Creativity was the aim.  It was seen as the hallmark of the medium, what separated it from ordinary film.  I’m talking about the era of Akira, Ghost in the Shell, Neon Genesis, Fist of the North Star, Urotsukidoji and Ninja Scroll.

Unfortunately it’s generally agreed that that era has passed, and anime and gaming in Japan has now firmly established and solidified into clones and re-hashes.  The opportunity is gone to capture the energy.  Sure, Infinity and Anima Tactics are inspired by anime, but it’s modern anime, not the nutso stuff I listed above.

I actually think Infinity is the most exciting game there is right now.  It is inspired by anime but not just anime.  Like the writers of Rogue Trader, the writers of Infinity take their influences where they can get them and mash them up expertly.  That said though, it still seems a little pale and bloodless somehow.

I can’t honestly think of any exciting movement in fantasy or sci-fi today where the hallmark is pure punk creativity.  We seem to me to be in one of those lull periods, where we’re all plodding along and the last great beacon of creative inspiration in wargaming (40k) is fading, a totalitarian shadow of its former self.  It’s almost an eerie echo of the story of the Imperium of Man.

The internet is flooded with fan fiction.  Japan is insular and content to repeat sequels and licenses.  The Brits have China Mieville I suppose but he’s so dense and self-satisfied.  Could there ever be another Rogue Trader?  I doubt it.  Even if a creative movement emerged, there’s no guarantee it could be successfully harnessed into a game again.

Am I wrong?  Someone please tell me I’m wrong.

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29 responses to “Could there ever be another 40K?

  • Martin (@firebroadside)

    Excellent article! I’m very much of the same mind as you, although I think Infinity is a lot more colourfull and… “bloody” than it seems at first glance, it’s just not as in your face as the old Rogue Trader.

    Anyway, the information age we live in has brought us a lot of things and it has allowed a lot of creative minds to get together to come up with really cool stuff. But it also allows anyone to experience anything so everything conforms into a kind of lowest common denominator (just look at anime, like you’re saying). Sedition Wars look awesome, but does it look fresh and new? Not in the slightest.

    I think one of the most interesting persons in sci-fi today is Neill Blomkamp. He has a vision that is different from the mainstream and he has the skill to really make it work. Whedon’s Firefly was also something new and could have been a start of many great things if Fox hadn’t killed it.

    When it comes to gaming I agree that there’s rarely any new games that come out that really feel new and fresh. They might be good games with cool minis, but it’s concepts we’ve seen before. I think Infinity is unique together with perhaps Heavy Gear and the more obscure spaceship combat games like Attack Vector Tactical.

    Tabletop roleplaying games have had a couple of really exciting years with a lot of smaller ‘indie’ RPGs being published. Stuff like Lady Blackbird, Apocalypse World, Technoir, Fiasco, Hollowpoint as well as FATE and Burning Wheel. Many of them have really felt fresh and like they bring something new to the table, and now you can see how the large mainstream games are starting to incorporate “indie ideas” into themselves. I’d love to see something similar when it comes to miniature wargaming.

    Well, some thoughts off the top of my head anyway. 🙂

  • sonsoftaurus

    I think that it could happen, just not terribly likely at any given moment. 40K on its own didn’t come up with anything really original, but it combined so much so well. If something else can take some old and some recent and combine it in a compelling package, it could do well. Create a compelling post-apoc Hunger Games/vampires/zombies/etc/etc/etc setting with entertaining gameplay and good figures and it could take off. The other stuff GW has done so well was develop the background and release it as such, even though most of the early stuff was pretty lame. Take the basics, have good writers develop it, and have the resources to come out with a good setting, with books, shows, comics, video games, etc. for that IP, AND have a game/miniatures for it, and it could work. The challengers these days seem to be focusing on the game and figures, when they might need to really first build a good challenge to the Horus Heresy and Dawn of War. Hard to do, takes a lot of money and time.

  • Von

    I think you’re on shaky ground when you talk about fan fiction. Sure, the worst of it’s just half-baked continuity porn or slathering shipper gibberish, but the best of it’s reclaiming and rewriting its source material in the same sort of way GW did. The problem is that the best of it is coming out of media fandoms rather than gamer-culture – the fan fiction produced in-house, as it were, isn’t doing the best with the act of fanficcing that can be done. Doubtless there are exceptions, but many of those have been plugging along for years without going anywhere and are still too closely shackled to one source.

    I’d bring up the potential of steampunk (sorry, ‘Full Metal Fantasy’) and Warmachine if I didn’t think it was being wasted on a millimetre-pinching tournament crowd that seem to have colonised the game over the last few years…

  • Von

    It occurs to me that that comment about Warmachine could do with more expanding. What you have in the Iron Kingdoms is, in essence, a world that has the shapes and textures of the Cold War, but draws in a more Edwardian/Czarist aesthetic on top of that, rests THAT on a base of redrawn fantasy tropes (I still think the work they did on ‘civilising’ trolls and goblins for the original D&D incarnation of the world is superb), and then lashes it through with the sort of crazed cartoon sensibility that the original Prime offered.

    When I started playing WM I loved it because there were rules for big stompy robots doing things that I imagined big stompy robots should do, rather than just generic ‘make an attack’ business a la 40K – ‘jacks had rules for doing what I’d always imagined Dreadnoughts doing and actually getting to implement that on the table and having it play differently from a normal attack was, not to put too fine a point on it, ace.

    I think, somewhere along the way, it’s gotten bogged down in an increasingly pedantic and bloated style of rules writing; very accurate, but also very reliant on reading -every- word and implementing -every- stage of -every- process. It’s pretty much watertight, a few oddities from the sheer size of it notwithstanding, but somehow it feels slightly less inspiring and slightly more ponderous to play. The game is so much effort that the emergent narrative of playing it is often lost by players too busy trying to make sure they’ve Done That Bit Right.

    See also: that stonking great battle report I wrote up a while back. I should do another of those multiplayer narrative events sometime, maybe…

  • Barking Agatha

    I think it’s just the state of youth culture in general. Our generation has refused to let go of it, and since we’re now the adults it has become the mainstream. Thirty-five year olds share the same games, music, comics and fashions with fifteen year olds. I’ve actually had a teenager tell me that Twisted Sister is cool. Twisted Sister, I ask you! It’s as if teenage me had told my mum that I liked Herman’s Hermits.

    Kids today just don’t have their own voice. And it’s our fault, we drank the well dry.

  • James S

    Wow, all these comments are really interesting, thanks everyone for taking the time!

    @Martin, thanks, and your response was really good too! We seem to share a lot of the same ideas. Your analysis of how the info age has created a lowest common denominator is one I agree with – it’s something I’ve thought myself on occasion.

    I’ll have to check out Blomkamp, I’ve never heard of him.

    With regard to Infinity, I’m actually looking at my brand new rule book today and after reading some of the complete background I now agree with you! There are a lot of good ideas in there, that really capture the imagination. Perhaps we are seeing the Japanese creative wave from 20 years ago, having slowly filtered through western pop culture, now being re-imagined by Europeans? Of course nothing is ever totally new, but there is definitely a sense of newness and creativity about the game.

  • James S

    @sonsoftaurus, I think you’re totally right about how 40k became what it is, and that a new 40k needs to compete with IP more than models and rules. That’s not exactly what I meant though. I meant a new game that shakes everything up as much as Rogue Trader did.

    What I’m talking about – what the early 40k had – was inspiration from bold new (at the time) and unusual sci-fi and fantasy. I know you were probably just pulling things out of the air to make a point, but let’s look at some of your examples:

    Zombies were bold and new 50 years ago in the 1960s, when Romero basically invented them. Now they are a standard trope. They used to be a parody of thoughtless consumerism, and now people thoughtlessly consume zombie media.

    Vampires are very tired at the moment. I think the culture in general needs a break from them soon.

    Post apocalypse literature has been around since after world war II and Mad Max was made about the same time as Rogue Trader.

    A game made today of those elements would be a game made up of tried and true things that are really popular right now in geek culture, which is what everyone does already. As Martin said, that’s exactly what Sedition Wars is. Good game with great models? Probably. Interesting and bold? Nope.

    A modern equivalent of Rogue Trader would have to have no zombies, no colonial/space marines, no apocalypse, no vampires, no steampunk. In other words, something like Infinity.

    Mass Effect is another super-popular sci-fi franchise that seems original because it has none of those.

  • James S

    @Von, good to hear from you as always. Fair enough about fan fiction. I’m not sure exactly what I meant when I mentioned it – definitely not that it was all crap. Perhaps just that IPs have been democratized by the net, and so we are getting a sort of endless navel-gazing. I believe you that there is some great stuff though.

    Steampunk… I’m going to have to say I don’t think it’s the original thing a lot of people think it is. Seems to me the aesthetic was created largely in Japan during the creative boom, with Miyazaki’s earlier work (Nausicaa for example), stuff like Wings of Honneamise and even Ninja Scroll. Not to mention Moorcock (Una Persson and Bastable) and Sterling’s Difference Engine. That places it around the same time as cyberpunk. It just took a while to catch on in the west, but I really don’t think it’s a bold contemporary creative wave. That’s why I said to sonsoftaurus that a modern equivalent of Rogue Trader would not include it.

  • James S

    @Barking Agatha, I think that’s very insightful. I’m a 34 year old man with a son, so really I should have no right to be cool. But people in our generation never let go of our adolescence, so as you said, we’ve taken the voice of youth away from them. Kids seem to like the same stuff we do. It’s almost like a giant street gang, with adult geek leaders grooming geek children.

    My only hope is that youthful rebellion will re-assert itself with twice as much force for being repressed, and there’ll be a glorious creative explosion.

    Rogue Trader was basically young idiots saying a big fuck you to what had come before. It seems as though games companies today just don’t have that punk ethos that was so prevalent in the UK in the 80s.

    Mike McVey has a kickstarter with nearly a million dollars behind it, and he’s making a game that is giving people what they already like in one neat package. There’s nothing wrong with that, I mean obviously the idea is “hey, everyone likes zombies and the Alien franchise, let’s have them!” But that’s not what the early GW people were doing. They seem to have been thinking (in the sense that they were thinking at all) “let’s make a game that would shock my old man!”

    People don’t want to do that today, because everyone’s old man is still cool, and pretty hard to shock. And I’m as much to blame as anyone.

  • James S

    @Von, I’ve just been thinking perhaps I was a bit ungenerous to the Iron Kingdoms. There is definitely more to the setting than a steampunk aesthetic, as you said. The Cold War analogy and the civilizing of Tolkien’s racist ciphers are awesome, and the Blood-Bowl-esque giant robot smash is always fun.

    I do think though that the steampunk aesthetic is the most tired thing about the IK.

  • Von

    @James – agreed. Steam-powered stuff does have an inherent charm to it (and at the risk of sounding like a massive hipster, it did so long before Abney Park were a glint in goth culture’s eye), but it’s probably a good thing Hordes came out when it did and injected some big stompy monsters to give us something else to look at (as well as introducing some nice crossover aesthetics like the whole Roman/samurai thing the Skorne have going on, or the Trollbloods’ ‘Native American football hooligans’ shtick).

    Also, when people make a game that’s deliberately gauged to shock, they all too often come out with juvenile crap like Spinespur. No thank you. I don’t want to see another 40K either, ‘teh grimdark’ is well and truly played out now. I think I want to see an inherently optimistic fantasy setting that isn’t tottering on the brink of apocalypse or perversely fascinated with its own grubbiness. Y’know, a dynamic and progressive world where some halfway clever thought experiments can happen. I’m not talking Disney-like cheerfulness, it can be a world-as-is job, but without that overemphasis on misery and grottiness that I see around the place on a monotonously regular basis. A world, basically, where tomorrow is by and large better than today.

    That might give the tired old genre horse a bit of vim and vigour, anyway.

  • Von

    @Barking Agatha – You’re onto something there. For all that I love RPGs I’m tired, bone-tired, of four hundred page rulebooks detailing how to use your imagination accurately and in extraordinary detail, and I swear blind that those books aren’t being aimed at fifteen-year-olds. That’s how old I was when I first sat down to run an RPG and I distinctly remember not giving a flying damn about how the rulebook said things worked because I was too busy making stuff up. It’s not just that the grognards and man-children can’t put things down, it’s that they insist on turning them into something serious and po-faced and, well, ‘more grown-up’.

    Bugger that. There’s nothing inherently grown-up about spending your Sunday evenings pretending to be an elf. You can pretend to be an elf for cheap laughs, for high drama, or for anything in between, but pretending it’s something that requires a four-page application form to participate in is a sadder kind of pretension than anything non-RPGers might accuse us of.

    That said, I don’t think it’s -just- the manchildren’s fault. What you’re describing is in many respects the postmodern condition (oh, god, here we go): the failure of the modernist project to provide us with any apparatus to handle modernity, other than a half-articulate, referential cry at how horrible it all is. That’s what we’re still doing – beachcombing our past trying to find something, -anything-, that we can strap together into a raft and sail into the future.

  • sinsynn

    Damn, James. Really good post.
    I gotta say, I’m pretty sure I don’t want another 40k.
    It’s more than a game, now. It’s a juggernaut. The game itself is only one aspect of it now, and it’s….not really that great, in my opinion.
    I actually have to say I prefer games that are a little smaller in scope, more focused.
    The 40k universe is so broad now it encompasses like, everything. Every single sci-i and fantasy trope in existence has be subsumed by 40k, and regurgitated with a GW spin.

    I gotta agree with you about Infinity. I really think Corvus Belli is onto something. Something really cool.

  • David Stillberg

    Christ on a tricycle, that Schafer article was good. I’d glossed over it when it was posted on BoLS – thanks for pointing it out!

    Anyhow. I’ve wallowed in all your good arguments for a couple of hours now, and found I have nothing to add. Nothing but this: Since genre entertainment have become mainstream, geek culture has been hi-jacked by corporate group-think. I’m simplifying a bit, but bear with me. We’re big business now. Businesses play it safe. This explains why something as imaginative and horrific as Lovecraft’s mythos feels stagnant and over-used.

    I think if there’s to be a creative renaissance in the geek culture, it needs to be founded in realism. Think Game of Thrones, or The Mongoliad. Fantasy and sci fi have become so commonplace and full of tropes that historic facts seem more fantastic in comparison. It may be as simple as going back to what originally inspired those that inspire us.

    Mix that up with a neat punk attitude, and maybe we can leave something for future generations to feel nostalgic over.

  • James S

    @Von, hmmm, optimistic fantasy? But how will people know it’s genre fiction if it isn’t dark and gritty? 😉

    I really, really like that idea. That’s why Star Trek is so great and will continue to have appeal for generations: it is a rare science fiction setting that portrays humanity with hope instead of pessimism. The Federation is more enlightened than us, not less. Maybe we are ready for a bit of utopia?

    By the way Abney Park: not a fan at all. I much prefer Beats Antique, they are actually good music that sounds like steampunk without being explicitly about moustaches and zeppelins.

  • James S

    @sinsynn, thanks buddy. I agree, I’ve written heaps before about how I too prefer smaller games.

    “Juggernaut” is a good word to describe 40k as well. The actual game is definitely the weakest aspect of it, and maybe that’s because nothing could live up to the collected nostalgia of ten thousand generally intelligent and over-analytical grown-ups? I mean the game isn’t bad, they clearly put a lot of work into it and it can be very cinematic if you play it flexibly and forget about meta-games and listhammer and all that. It’s just old, and has to support such an enormous framework of pop-culture, like you said. No wonder it appears a bit thin.

    Infinity is great. Have you got your rulebook yet? It’s the first time since I can’t remember when that I’ve been excited about the background of a game. Anyone who likes skirmish games and doesn’t hate cyberpunk would do well to give it a look. I even liked them on facebook, which I’ve never done with a TT game before.

  • James S

    @David Stillberg, wow, I think you are bang on target with the realism comment. I’ve been reading this massive 600 page history of the English Civil War to avoid working on a paper, and I just keep thinking how much deeper and more fascinating it is than fiction.

    Sorry to keep harping on about Infinity, but one of the things I like about it is that I know it’s meant to be us. My Yu Jing soldiers are real Chinese and Japanese people, just a few hundred years in the future. And it is, unlike 40k, pure science fiction, not science fantasy. There are no demons, or psychic powers, or magic, unless they are natural abilities of alien species. Everything is believable as an evolution of our current tech.

    Thanks for your comment, as always. By the way, I’ve been getting some referrals to my blog from a forum in some Scandinavian language. They’re talking about my Eldar dreadnought. I’m dying to know what they’re saying, could you have a look for me? Maybe it’s Swedish.

    Here’s the link: http://www.powerfist.dk/forum/index.php?topic=58695.msg754458%3Bboardseen

  • sinsynn

    Gosh darnit, I had a buncha people tell me that I should wait on the Infinity rulebook, because there was a new one coming, any day now…..
    *checks watch*
    Yeah, that was 6 months ago…..
    Sigh…unsure of what I’ll do now. You’ve got me very curious.
    Dammit, man…I wanna read dat fluff!

    I’ll admit to being a big ol’ anime fan. I blame my stepson- when he was 15, he lied about his age to take a job in the West Village, here in NYC.
    Why would a (more or less) care-free teenager do such a thing?
    My guess is the anime store he was hanging around in figured if he wouldn’t go away, they might as well put a broom in his hand.
    I think he made a grand total of 32 cents during his tenure there (two years, then the owner moved the shop to Queens). Most of his pay was in DVD’s.
    His first week’s pay came in the form of the Neon Genesis collection, which he pestered me into watching…..Yeah, the rest is history.

    Infinity’s design aesthetic is virtually an unfair marketing tactic to mini gamers who enjoy anime- which is like, a LOT of us, I’m sure.
    I hate to say stuffs like this, since I’m a jaded, elitist blogger type o’ guy (lolz), but Infinity is…exciting to me.

    Also- I sort of agree with you about ‘modern’ anime being formulaic and maybe a lil’ tired for the most part. Certain studios churn out increasingly similar titles at such a rapid pace that actual GOOD stuffs might slip in under the radar.
    (I’m thinking like…Funmation and Gonzo)
    There’s still cool stuffs, though.
    I’m sure you’ve seen FLCL- that’s not that old. Neither is Elfen Lied, and that’s definitely one of my top 5, maybe 3.
    Holy crap Elfen Lied is da awesome.

    I’ll always love Cowboy Bebop, and Samurai Champloo (the latter was pretty recent).
    I’m currently laughing at Desert Punk- I actually watch the intro every time (we all know how overdone anime title sequences are, and how awful the music usually is, right?), cuz it’s ridiculously silly, and it’s live action.

    FYI- Elfen Lied has the greatest title sequence, ever:

    Winner- most haunting music, ever, and it will stick with you for life once you’ve seen the series.

    I guess one could say there’s nothing really ‘new’ out there, but there’s a lot of potential mining to be done in the field of anime for a clever TT game maker. Corvus Belli seems to be doing a pretty good job of it.

    …Am I the only one who likes the Nomad Catgirl medic?
    o_0
    Come on, Corvus Belli, give me a punk girl who uses a bass guitar as a weapon, cracking cats over the head with it….
    🙂
    …then maybe a TAG could replace the dude who got wacked…
    😀

  • David Stillberg

    @James: It’s a Danish message board, but it’s close enough to Swedish for me to understand 🙂 The first lad linking the Wraithlord is offering it as a good example of Eldar that aren’t polished and clean. The other guy then says he wants a change from his Death Guard, so he’s going to go with polished. But he likes your model, he thinks it’s great how it’s looking pissed off after stepping in something 🙂

    I’ve been eyeing Infinity for a while, too. The local scene, however, is nonexistent. How are the rules? I’ve only tried reading them once, but couldn’t get my head around it all without practical application. There seems to be very much going on in just the basic rules …

  • James S

    @sinsynn, there’s definitely some good modern anime. I haven’t seen FLCL actually, it wasn’t on in Australia and I only have so much time. I really enjoyed Code Geass, and Death Note was a cool concept but for some reason I lost interest.

    Isn’t Elfin Lied horribly violent and disturbing? That’s what I heard, which is why I’ve avoided it so far. For some reason the older I get the less I enjoy seeing horrible things happen to characters. More empathy I guess. Cheers for the video though, it looks intriguing.

    I read a book called Japanamerica, about how Japanese pop culture is dominating the west, in spite of the Japanese who seem to have no idea how to harness it. It had chapters about the wildly creative days of Japanese anime and gaming, and how they stuffed it all up because the companies lack vision and don’t care about markets outside Japan. I recommend it, it was a great read.

    As for Infinity, do it up! When I got back into 40k I impulsively jumped in at the end of 4th with no idea the edition was about to change, and when it did, meh, I just sold my 4th ed. book to a local second-hand bookstore.

    The fluff is mad, maybe I should do a quick series giving my run-down of it? Everyone is so obsessed with rules, I’ve never seen a proper run-down of the Infinity background and it really deserves it.

  • James S

    Heh, thanks David. I thought even if it wasn’t Swedish it might be one of those deals where the Norse languages are related enough for you to get the idea. Is it fine to say Norse?

    The local Infinity scene is pretty thin here too. I’m going to have to do it myself I reckon. The rules do seem kind of complicated, but I think that’s just because they’re unfamiliar. They’re certainly no harder than AD&D 1st edition and I understood that when I was 13!

    By the way, I just realized I really showed my age before. I called a wraithlord an “Eldar Dreadnought” lol!

  • Martin (@firebroadside)

    @James S – You don’t know Blomlamp? Hmm… what if I said District 9?? (and if not run out and get it. The best sci-fi in recent memory! Well, that and Moon by Duncan Jones). FLCL is actually good. Worth a watch!

    The Infinity rules are actually not that hard once you get past that they’re simply very different to what we’re used to. The basic resolution mechanic is indeed quite elegant and applies to pretty much all the rolls in the game.
    However, there are a large number of special skills and equipment to keep track of that can feel like a bit of a daunting task when you start out. Judicious use of the Intinity Army app and the Infinity Wiki is highly recommended, rather than trying to find it in the actual book.

    Also, you’re bang on about doing some kind of background primer for Infinity! Yes, the rules are great, but so is the background. Easy to forget when the rules are available to download for free.

    @SinSyn – No new rulebook on the horizon I’m afraid. There’s a campaign book being released/revealed soon (probably on August 3rd) which will bring a lot of new stuff into the game like proper scenarios and some kind of experience system. Maybe that’s what you heard about? Infinity is definitely exciting! But you already know what I think of it. 🙂

    @David Stillberg – There is an Infinity scene in Stockholm actually! It’s just a lot more fractured than 40k or warmachine. I’ve been playing with a couple of friends for the past year and have had lots of fun with it. There’s an active Infinity community playing at Alphaspel now and then as well (although I rarely play with “strangers” myself). If you’re interested I’d be happy to introduce you to the game. You can have a look at my stuff over at firebroadside.blogspot.com.

    Now, to try and return to the actual topic! So much good stuff in the comments as well so I won’t try to bother address any specific person.

    Infinity is fresh because of the aesthetics and the more optimistic (the EI notwithstanding), hard(ish) sci-fi that we haven’t seen in many years. Mass Effect is another excellent example of this. While the second and third games fell prey to the mainstream groupthink (thanks David) and became much more “gritty” and “dark” the first one really felt fresh and I loved it to bits! The visuals, the story and the music came together to create something new. Lovely! While I enjoyed the sequals as well (the gameplay is vastly improved in any case!) they seem to have been made to fit the expected mold in a way that the first one wasn’t. I think Bioware took a chance with it and pretty much let the designers run with it, but when it became a great success and money became an increasingly large factor (and EA popped up) they felt the need to bow to that lowest common denominator again. Hrmm..

    Anyway I find myself feeling a lot more engaged when reading hard sci-fi stories that would have felt stale in the eighties and nineties. I guess it’s the age old cycle that has made yet another revolution and the fantastical grimdark that was a great change of pace from the hard sci-fi that was popular during the sixties and seventies is now itself feeling stale. I remember reading Joe Haldeman’s Forever War last year and even though it’s 30+ years old it felt a lot more fresh than the majority of modern sci-fi I’ve consumed for a long time.

    I’m probably on the extreme end of the spectrum, but these days I think kilometer long stardestroyers with turbolaser batteries aren’t nearly as exciting as a near future reaction mass drive spaceship that needs to calculate orbital trajectories and worry about heat buildup. Like I said, I’m an extremist (High Frontier is one of my favourite board games!) but I think sci-fi culture could do with a bit of realism and optimism right now.

    And less space marines.

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  • sinsynn

    Yeah, James…Elfen Lied is ultra-violent and disturbing. And really, really heart-wrenching and sad.
    That doesn’t stop it from being really awesome.

  • James S

    @sinsynn, in that case I’ll just have to take a teaspoon of cement, harden up, and watch it!

  • James S

    @Martin, oh District 9! Yeah I’ve seen that. I thought the bit at the end when he gets in the mecha and the prawns help him made me really “get” Tau and Kroot for the first time. It looked awesome.

    I think you have a really good point. These things go in cycles. After all, none of this is really important in the end is it, it’s all just entertainment. Which means it gets stale, changes gear, and then continues along until it gets stale again.

  • corbeau77

    Would love to see a run down of the fluff of Infinity, I’m all about the fluff lol. What I’ve read about Infinity so far has made it the only other sci-fi game that has me interested in trying it. All the other stuff out there seems a bit “meh” from a fluff veiwpoint, in my opinion at least.

  • James S

    @corbeau77, glad you asked. I’m working on it right now…

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