Watching Josie and the Pussycats

I’m not entirely sure why I’m doing this, but man, this is a treasure! I’m liveblogging, so this might be disjointed…

The movie first shows you an absolute inanely hyped boy band that has to die when they figure out some nefarious plan from their record company representative played by Alan Cummings.

How do they die? Plane crash. How does Alan Cummings order it? „Take the chevy to the levy“

We then get introduced to the titular girl band and learn that they don’t have any audience at all, but they are obviously cool, full of rock’n’roll and generally loveable. Also some interpersonal tension and we get to know the handsome but clueless love interest.

Then we realize how full of product placement the movie is. Like, two brands a second full. I think there is no shot that doesn’t feature an obnoxiously obvious brand logo. Apparently this ties in to aforementioned nefarious plan, but right now, we don’t know how. But an emo girl gets annoying enough that Alan has to order her kidnapping: „smells like teen spirit“…

A short 4th-wall break later the band is hired. (After a short gaffe by Alan which hasn’t memed at all: He says he’s so proud to meet all the Pussyhats) Everyone and the annoying hanger-on girl gets on a plane to New York. Why her? Because she’s in the comic, she tells us.

Finally we learn what the evil plan is: The Mixmaster 6000 adds in a bunch of subliminal messages to get kids buy lots of stuff. Evil. Genius. MTVs Behind the Music just exists to explain the downfall of those bands that don’t play ball…

A week later they are #1 on the billboard charts and the band will get a biopic, starring Drew Barrymore. Everything is peachy — or is it?

(also: It’s funny to see how many of the internet brands prominently displayed in the movie are defunct now. Everything non-internet is still relevant though)

Then the ditzy band girl ignores the creepy warning about the music and we cut to the romantic confusion between Josie and the loveable but dumb love interest. The sexual tension immediately gets defused by Alan Cummings bursting in and sweeping Josie away to some gala.

At the big party the girls get suspicious and the evil record label owner and Alan cumming plot murder and do dramatic evil laughs. But they can’t kill the whole band, because they have already ordered a gazillion electronic mind control pussycat ears

(also, there’s even advertising inside a frigging giant fishtank. Evian water, if you need to know.)

The murder plot is underway while love interest tries to get a gig and Josie soaks in a bathtub after being pressured into compliance by Alan Cummings. It gets foiled by „if I weren’t a key player in this nefarious plot to brainwash americas youth, we could totally date“, cued by ditzy bandgirl smashing some brains in.

But woe! The bathtub soak came with listening to brainwash-music, so Josie is now convinced that she doesn’t need the band, so DRAMA!

The band is broken up, Josie is slave to the brainwashing CD and who knows if friendship will ever prevail?

Ah, she is running, and then she falls, the CD stops and she finds the magical bus pass of friendship and ominous music shows us that things will get better!

Only that now the other two girls are gone, „like a flock of seagulls!“

To the studio to inspect the CD! And lo and behold, they find the hidden message, voiced by Mr. Moviephone. The plot is uncovered and what happens now? (they actually played the dramatic dun-dun-DUHN! jingle for this!)

Some blackmail about fiery car-death, Josie agrees to play the concert that will brainwash the masses. But not before some heart-to-heart friendship talk that hopefully will make things everything up. Shot while Mel and Bel are in a car that is slowly revolving on some presentation platter.

AND HERE’S THE TWIST!

The boyband from the movies beginning is NOT DEAD AND SAVES THE DAY! They landed the plane just fine, but they got beat up by Metallica fans, which is why they kept being missing.

Ok, they don’t save the day, but they were a good diversion and now we have a cat fight and can watch Rosario Dawson beat up Alan Cummings.

Josie is clever and tricks the evil record label lady into smashing the brainwashing machine.

Turns out, the actual evil plan was to brainwash everyone into loving evil record label lady, and to hide her lisp. And this is the moment where Alan Cummungs recognizes her as Lisping Lisa and reveals himself to be Whiteass Wally, so the two former high school losers admit their faults and love to each other. IS THIS THE TOTAL HAPPY END?

The government that wanted in on this shuts down the whole thing and arrests the bad persons because it turns out, subliminal messages work better in movies!

And then we do get the big final concert. Will the band actually rock, or was it all smoke and mirrors? (spoiler: No, everyone still loves them, after a short tense moment where the audience just stares wordlessly, now that the mind control headsets are off)

And then we get the inevitable love confession between Josie and Love Interest. They kiss, but Bel has to remind them that they are actually in the middle of a song and should shelve it for later…

And that’s it. Yes, you want to wach this movie. It is stupid, but fun.

Von Hunden und (Wer-)Wölfen

Letztes Wochenende verbrachte ich (mal wieder) in Bielefeld um ausgiebig dem Hobby zu fröhnen.

Das schöne daran ist, dass ich immer wieder Systeme spielen kann, die ich vorher noch nur vom Hörensagen kannte. Dieses Jahr war das Dogs in the Vineyard.

Von Hunden…

Für diejenigen, die es nicht kennen: DitV ist eines der ersten Spiele die „Indie“-Rollenspiel bekannt gemacht haben. Man spielt die „Hunde im Garten des Herrn“, also Laienprediger eines Fantasy-Mormonismus in einem fiktiven alten Westen, die in die verstreuten Städte reiten um dort die Sünder zu erkennen.

DitV kommt mit einem verflixt effektivem Mechanismus um stetig eskalierende Konflikte abzubilden, und wurde dafür stets gerühmt.

Nach dem Spiel letztes Wochenende kann ich dem nur zustimmen: Schon die Erschaffung der eigenen Personnage führt die Spieler in die Welt ein, verknüpft sie mit dieser und gibt allen am Tisch ein Gefühl darüber, was ihre Rolle sein wird. Zusätzlich gibt es eine Art „Abschlussprüfung“, die jede Personnage durchläuft und die gleichzeitig den zentralen Konfliktmechanismus erläutert und erfahrbar macht.

Besagter Mechanismus ist im Grunde sehr simpel: Attribute, Eigenschaften, Beziehungen und Gegenstände bilden einen Würfelpool. Dieser wird geworfen und dann geht das Bieten, Mithalten und Erhöhen los, bis jemand nicht mehr mithalten kann oder will. Wenn man für diese Aktionen mehr als zwei Würfel benötigt, gibt es sogenannten Fallout — Schaden, den man auf jeden Fall am Ende würfelt.

In Abhängigkeit davon, wie sehr der Konflikt eskaliert ist, sind diese Schadenswürfel vier- bis zehnseitig. Eine Eskalation will man also im Allgemeinen sehr gerne vermeiden — allerdings kann man so unter Umständen eine ganze Menge Würfel mehr in seinen Pool bekommen…

Das Ganze lief dann im Spiel überraschend flüssig und interessant ab. Die Regeln formen einerseits sehr schön das Narrativ, erlauben aber auch ein sehr taktisches Spiel. Da DitV genau diesen Mechanismus zum zentralen Element des Spiels erhebt, ihn wunderbar in seine Umgebung einbettet und damit genau die Sorte Spaß erzielt, die es erzeugen will und bewirbt, ist es ein hervorragendes Beispiel für ein gelungenes „modernes Rollenspiel“.

Dass die Runde dann auch noch mit hochkarätigen Profi-Rollenspielern besetzt war, tat dann sein übriges. Ich war begeistert.

…Werwölfen…

Ebenso begeistert war ich von der Monsterhearts Runde, die wir dann später am gleichen Abend hatten. Aus rein organisatorischen Gründen (Karsten hatte nur die vorherige Version dabei), spielten wir leider nicht die zweite Edition. Das ist am Rande schade, mich hätte nämlich durchaus interessiert, wie sich die Überarbeitungen im Spiel auswirken, tat aber dem grandiosen Spaß keinerlei Abbruch.

Interessant an dieser Runde war, dass es keinerlei externe Bedrohung gab. Stattdessen machten die Charaktere (Vampir, Werwölfin, ein Infernaler und eine Fae und ein Sterblicher) sich das Leben gegenseitig schwer.

Ich selbst habe das erste Mal versucht, den Sterblichen zu spielen. Das ist ein Playbook, das ohne eigene Macht auskommt — sich dafür aber hervorragend eignet, immer mehr Drama in das Leben der anderen Figuren zu bringen. Allerdings war das kaum notwendig, waren die anderen Spieler doch ebenso aktiv, genau das zu tun.

Denn als One-Shot ist Monsterhearts ein wahres Drama-Monster. Ich habe noch keine Runde erlebt, in der nicht alle Anwesenden beschlossen haben, ihre Charaktere wie ein gestohlenes Auto durch das Szenario zu steuern: Ohne Rücksicht auf etwaigen Blechschaden oder sonstige Verluste. Cheerleader wurden ausgesaugt, Polizisten in der Luft zerrissen, Handyvideos mit dem Hashtag #bitchfight an die ganze Schule weitergeleitet, und am Ende überlebte nur der Vampir den Showdown.

…und der Post in der Postapokalypse

Wenn ich derzeit viele Nerds treffe, zwinge ich denen eigentlich immer ein Testspiel Mail Order Apocalypse auf. So auch letztes Wochenende. Dabei kann ich verkünden, dass das jetzt schon die zweite Testrunde in Folge war, nach der ich nichts mehr am Spiel verändert habe. Offensichtlich ist das Spiel jetzt soweit gereift, dass es in sich stimmig ist und funktioniert.

Auch die Zufallsbegegnungen und Ortsbeschreibungen helfen ungemein. Ich recycle ja momentan immer Varianten des Zugraub-Szenarios, mische dabei aber stets Orte und Begegnungen aus den Tabellen hinein, und die Ergebnisse sind immer interessant und für die Spieler die Welt um ein vielfaches bunter.

Die Spieler haben sich schnell untereinander vernetzt, ihre Ausrüstung in interessanter Weise benutzt und sind sehr zu meiner Freunde am Ende doch dem Twist des Szenarios aufgesessen, und schmieden nun Rachepläne gegen die Techno-Mönche…

Alles in allem, wieder einmal ein wunderbares Spielewochenende.

Fitness and me

I’m your prototypical nerd, sports never came easy to me. Over my childhood and youth, various teachers and trainers tried to change that, but I was content being unsporty and reading books.

Thankfully, my metabolism and various eating and movement habits formed in my youth prevented me from gaining too much weight. As a resuilt, I am still overall slim and have retained some minimum level of physical fitness so I can take the stairs if I need to.

But I am also in my mid-forties and work a desk job. There aren’t enough trained muscles to keep my back healthy. Some parts of me go slightly flabby and I carry more than a bit of superfluous around my mid-section. All of this gets even more noticeable due to the lack of muscles being trained to keep everything straight.

All this, and the drive to LGN (Look Good Naked), kept nagging at me in intervals to adopt a sporty habit. I tried a lot of things: Gym memberships, running, martial arts, biking, pilates, using an ergometer at home. Alas, nothing really stuck for more than a month. Sports is just so damn boring, and often also frustrating. I don’t get any sense of achievement except of being exhausted and sweaty.

I realize that for a lot of people that state of exhaustion is what they perceive as achievement and that they get satisfaction from it, but I never made that connection. I’m just miserable from it.

Then, earlier this year I discovered Virtual Reality as a fitness motivator. First Beat Saber, and then BoxVR, which turned out to be even better for this purpose. The basic game is simple: Blobs fly at you and you have to hit them with your fist at the right time. The blobs come in at various heights and you have to hit them at different angles. Occasionally some obstacles appear, forcing you to duck out of the way.

There’s music and a highscore, all the trappings of a videogame, so the whole thing doesn’t get pegged into the mental space of a „workout“, but, well, a videogame.

But make no mistake: For the average un-fit nerd, this is very much a workout! On average, I burn about 400 calories within a 30 minutes session. That rivals running a treadmill in HIIT or joining a vigorous spin class.

The great news: I have been doing this for nearly every weekday for a few months now. There was a break in the routine when my PSVR headset broke down. Eventually I replaced it with an Oculus Quest, which rids me of all the cables and thus gives me more flexibility in terms of location and time.

Two weeks ago, I added Guided Tai Chi to my routine. I make no assumption that this is anything like real Tai Chi, and the girlfriend says that the end result looks rather amusing instead of elegant. But it is surprisingly relaxing and taxing at the same time: You stand in a simulated landscape that is quite beautiful to look at. Then there are two translucent spheres dancing slowly through the air in front of you, while you try to follow them with your hands. The end result sort of resembles Tai Chi.

And it is effective: Keeping the arms stretched out in front of you, and moving them in precise and slow movements is surprisingly taxing. After 10 to 15 minutes the arms start to ache a bit, and I feel the muscles holding my spine.

So this is my routine now: When I get up in the morning, I don the VR goggles and first do 15 to 20 minutes of sort-of Tai Chi, then another 30 of sort-of boxing. This has become an actual habit, which is a new thing for me and sports.

I don’t follow it completely on weekends when I occasionally sleep in, but for weekdays, this is set. And I start to notice the effects too. Nothing outrageous, but a bit more tone to the upper body and arms, a bit more stamina.

So, if you’re as nerdy and unsporty as me, you might want to look at getting into VR. It works for me, and the technology has matured enough to be really simple to use and setup.

Mail Order Apocalypse — Design Diaries

I can’t quite believe it, but it’s been one and a half years since I started writing my own RPG, Mail Order Apocalypse.

On the upside, it is mostly done by now. What is left is a lot of editing and layout, both things that will mostly be done by people better at these things than me. Looking back to the past 18 something months made me realise quite a few things though:

  1. Commissioning artwork for your prospective new game is a neat thing to kick yourself in the butt and get going, but it is no cure all. I commissioned mine from Alex Mayo — that man is a pleasure to work with.
  2. MOA started out as a „powered by the Apocalypse“ game. I wrote a all the basic moves and a lot of the class-specific ones, but eventually hit a dead end. My main problem was that I had nifty ideas for a „Desperation“ status, which never quite came together.
  3. So, when Paolo Greco mentioned Into the Odd to me, I got me a copy (thanks Harald!) and things immediately clicked. This is the simple basis I was looking for.
  4. Simple“ means that MOA is a great pick up game. A new character is made within a few minutes and the rules are super easy to grasp.
  5. Providing simple stats and a randomized but eclectic starting equipment also means, that players have just a handful of things to grab on to when starting the game. But these things are evocative and inspiring. Every player I had so far did something interesting with the starting equipment within the first hour.
  6. The loot and encounter tables started out as an exercise of coming up with „silly, but believable“ stuff. But in the end, they have constantly created a set of loot that felt rewarding enough and also inspired players to, again, do something interesting with it.
  7. One leftover from the games PbtA roots are found with the referee instructions. Adhering to them ensures that the game coasts along the fine line of forcing the survivors to constantly do something, but never made them succumb to desperation.

I look forward to finishing this, and who knows, maybe more than a handful of people will buy it.