Category Archives: Gamer/Geek Culture

Could There Ever be Another 40k? Part II – Rick Priestley and Gates of Antares

Last week the D6 Generation podcast had a very interesting interview with Rick Priestley.  They had a problem with their soundboard just before the show so the audio quality is not perfect, but it’s still easily listenable.  They must have been gutted for that to happen when they were talking to the grandfather of fantasy wargaming; their show is normally very professional sounding!

Anyway, I’ve never met Rick or heard him interviewed before, and I really enjoyed it.  He talked quite a bit about how he came to write Warhammer and WH40k, and he had a few slightly and sadly critical remarks about how Games Workshop had managed his creation, both background-wise and in terms of rules.

I’m bringing this up because it relates to my previous post Could There Ever be Another 40k?, which sparked one of my favourite discussions on this blog so far.  It was pretty clear within about fifteen minutes of the interview that Rick Priestley, while he presents himself with typical English understatement, was born to design games and has most of a working lifetime of experience doing so.  In other words, he’s a natural talent who also really knows what he’s doing.

So what, in Rick’s mind, did he actually do that made Warhammer 40,00 so successful?  Two things: firstly, he deliberately tried to make a universe with infinite potential, and secondly, he married occult elements to science fiction.  Now the second one is I think relative to time and place.  If you were going to make a game now that really blew people’s minds, you would do something else like, say . . . well, if I knew that I wouldn’t be sitting here like a sucker writing this blog.  I’d be designing the next 40k.

But the first one is important.  In the interview Rick mentions that he was disappointed by the way the 40k universe was perpetuated.  Unlike a lot of people on the internet, he wasn’t talking about it never moving forward in narrative.  Personally I think that’s totally unimportant, and in fact I think the background for a successful game needs to move slowly, if at all.  What you need is breadth, not motion.  No, he was sad that they had shrunk it.  The universe he designed was intended to be large enough to let players do whatever the hell they wanted.  Over time though, it has become restricted to the one galaxy, and the one (oh sorry, two) eras, and the factions available in the books are all that there are.  Maybe not theoretically, but practically.  The way Rick intended it the Orks, the Eldar, and all the rest were just some species among many possible ones, there to sort of kick-start the universe.

But what happened was that the GW higher-ups interwove the background too much between the existing factions for change to really be possible, and closed off the wilder elements that wouldn’t fit comfortably.  So now, as Rick put it, there is no sense of time and space in the 40k universe.  Every faction is everywhere at once, fighting each other, and it doesn’t really seem as though anyone else is around.  It might as well be the Warhammer Old World, with the Orks, Necrons, Imperium and the rest as races on the one planet, unable to leave.

The focus has contracted, so instead of a universe that can grow, it only gets smaller with each new book.  We start to get endless sub-divisions of the existing factions, and re-iterations and fleshings-out of minor factions mentioned in past books.  There is a strict historical timeline to be adhered to that is reproduced in nearly every codex.  Everything must be canonical.

This is how 40k is now.  But this is not what made it dynamic and attractive in the beginning.  It has ossified.  And the thing is, very few other games (OK, none) have even been attempted with the openness and scope of the original 40k background.  Every single sci-fi wargame I know of follows the tried and tested formula of several more or less imaginatively sketched factions locked in a violent stalemate, and leave it at that.  The reason I suggested that Infinity was different in my previous post is because it is all about beginnings.  Nothing has really happened yet, and if they’re smart, nothing really will but it will always feel like it could.

Now this open-ness that marked the original 40k is something I personally like, and it’s a hallmark of Rick’s design.  I’ve been thinking of picking up Fanticide for example because it will allow me to buy a bunch of samurai models and maybe throw in some samurai rabbits and invent my own working, legal faction.  Because you can do that with Fanticide.

What all of this is leading to is that Rick is working on another game, and it’s one that he has put a great deal of thought into in terms of background and modernized game play.  It’s called Beyond the Gates of Antares.  I won’t tell you any more as the D6G team manage to get a detailed run-down from Rick in the interview.  So check it out.  It was on Kickstarter but was cancelled a few days ago, the team stating that they were going to produce it via other means.

Incidentally, Rick had a few interesting things to say about companies on Kickstarter.  Beyond the Gates of Antares was aiming for £300,00 which seems like a lot, but they were trying to use Kickstarter to fund the game from scratch and start a company as well.  Apparently each green of a miniature from a sculptor or piece of concept art takes months and costs around a thousand bucks, so when these companies like Fantasy Flight or CMON jump on Kickstarter and reveal greens and art week by week as people pledge, it’s because they already have all that stuff ready.  They are not really using the Kickstarter to fund the game, they are using the Kickstarter to pre-sell a bunch of copies of the game.  Which is not entirely in the spirit of the thing I think.  For a good read on this issue from a blogger who predicted that Gates of Antares would fail and why, read this.

Anyway, I am very curious as to how this will turn out.  Rick Priestley is a bit of a hero of mine, as I’m sure he is for many of us, and I wonder if his crazy no-holds-barred visionary design style could ever be the source of another industry behemoth.  If there ever could be another 40k, maybe he’s the man to do it.  Certainly he has the boldness and the experience, and he’s done it before, right?

We’ll have to wait and see if anything comes of this I suppose.  Do you think Rick could do it again, or do you think it was mostly luck and good management that made 40k what it is?  Or something else?

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Confessions of a Hipster Gamer

imagesThis used to be a post where I lamented the growing popularity of Infinity and complained about it possibly becoming the game of choice for people I’d rather not play with.  I have since deleted the article.  It was written in the weeks just before I wound up the blog, I was in a very bitter place when I wrote it, and I like to think – I hope – that it wasn’t like me at all.  I have always tried to have a positive voice in my blogging about gaming because games are supposed to be positive things.

So you’ve been spared the pessimistic rant.  Instead I’d like to say a couple of things:

First of all, Infinity is a great game and I wish the people at Corvus Belli all the success in the world.  I would be more than happy if the game really took off.  Genuinely.  I apologize for the uncharitable and unnecessary opinion I expressed earlier.  If for some reason you haven’t heard of Infinity and you like the sound of a quality anime-themed skirmish miniatures game then look no further.

Secondly, who am I to judge anyone?  I barely have time to play anyway, am unlikely to ever play anyone unpleasant, and even if I do so what?  We all have to deal with jerks in life at various times and places, and sometimes we even are those jerks.  Why should I expect gaming be any different?

So that’s it.  I’ve also deleted the comments, so sorry to all the people who took the time to respond to my er . . . poisonous whinge.

I kept the picture of the hipster hobbits because I think it’s funny.

Have a good one,

– James


Games Workshop Claims Rights to the Term ‘Space Marine’

…world slaps forehead.

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Some of you might have heard this already, but here’s a link to an article sticking up for a science fiction writer who has had her book removed from Amazon in response to a request from Games Workshop.  Because it has the words ‘Space Marine’ in the title.

That’s right, good old GW have decided to expand their muscle tactics beyond the small world of hobby games and miniatures and have started telling sci-fi writers that they can’t use those two famous words.  I’ll be interested to see how this pans out – bullying garage miniature sculptors is one thing, telling authors (many of whom presumably have publishers much bigger than GW) that they can’t say ‘space marine’ is a whole other kettle of fish.

As one of my mates said: “why don’t those asshats just fucking trademark ‘war’ and ‘future’ while they’re at it?”

Another internet commentator pointed out that in the US, the Unites States Marine Corps owns the rights to the term ‘marine’, and that they do in fact have actual, real-life marines trained for space.  So good luck prosecuting that one GW, you monumental basket case of blundering, flailing evilness.

You know, really nothing they do surprises me any more.  I don’t know why I bother even paying attention.   It’s fascinating, I guess…?


Army Sharing: the Way of the Future?

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This somewhat sensational title refers to something I’ve been thinking about lately.  Frontline Gamer has been worried for a while about an up-coming crisis in the way our hobby grows, and I think I’ve come up with some food for thought on that score.  This is going to be a long one, I’ll warn you now – I decided against splitting it up into parts because who knows when I’d finish it, if ever?  Here is the gist, in case you aren’t in the mood for reading the whole thing:

The way we collect and play in the miniature wargames hobby is traditionally focused on individual army ownership.  I collect the miniatures I want, I build them, paint them, and meet you to play against your miniatures.  But there are a lot of problems with this way of doing things.  Some people only enjoy some parts of the hobby.  Others may have more time than money, or vice versa, and the ordinary way of doing things is very demanding in a lot of ways.

Imagine a club where no-one in particular owns the armies.  Each member pays a fee, and the grown-ups with more money than time buy the models they want to use or see.  They are then stored at the homes of whoever wants to store them, or at some central location.  The folks who love painting, the teenagers and the students with more time than money paint the models, and people simply arrange which armies they want to use on any particular game night.  No-one has to have a house full of stuff if they don’t want to, and there’s nothing stopping or forcing you from participating (or not) in any way you like (or don’t like).  If like many keen gamers you love to buy, convert, and paint armies, instead of sticking them in your shed or selling each one off to fund your next one you simply donate it to your local club.

Sound strange?  Maybe even crazy?  Allow me to explain a bit more. Continue reading


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.


Sexism in Gaming Art: Final Words

After weeks of discussion with people online and in real life (yes, I am more than a disembodied text-machine), I think I’ve finally solidified where I stand on the issue of sexist art – models, characters and illustrations – in gaming and in fantasy in general.  Hopefully I can express myself well, and this can be my last word on the subject for now. Continue reading


The Other Sexy Models

Today’s bit was inspired by the soon-to-be-notorious discussion on Sinsynn’s Sexy Models post, and the general discussion in the community at the moment on this topic (see this excellent post at Tentakel).  The post that you’re reading now replaces one I had half-written on the subject of sexist – as opposed to sexy – models.

First some background though.  In real life I mostly work on research in ethics and moral philosophy, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that I think humans should be excellent to one another, and that we have the potential to change things and to make the world and ourselves better.  There wouldn’t be much point studying ethics if you don’t believe that we have choices.  I also think the easiest way to find out how someone wants to be treated is to ask them.

I’m not opposed to sexy models personally, though I do think many of them are obviously pornographic and should therefore be treated as porn, not as art.  However, the attitude that male gamers are somehow qualified to judge what female gamers should and should not be offended by – well, I was going to say it “upsets me” – but that’s too strong a word.  I don’t easily upset.  Let’s just say it made me want to write a post of my own.

This is one of my favourite models ever, Justine the Demon Hunter. I own it but haven’t painted it yet. She looks sexy, heroic and feminine, and is wearing full plate and a hood. It can be done.

Continue reading


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