Thoughts on Imagination

Off The Top of My Head

It may sound strange but the impending arrival of Doom 4 (and yes I’m calling it “Doom 4”) got me thinking about imagination in entertainment.

I spent years of my teenaged life bolted to a PC chair playing the Doom, Doom II, and Duke Nukem 3D.  It was the ultimate time waster and even though those games have “stories” or at least bits of text or set up between big chapters, one thing I always appreciated about them is how much time they gave the player to themselves.

Most of the time I played Doom I was running around blasting demons and crafting my own little narratives.  Maybe today I was some X-Men-style mutant on the run from monsters (this was in the midst of my biggest X-Men phase), tomorrow I’d be a trained assassin dropped into a hellish world and forced to survive.  Those games really gave you a chance to experience them in your own way.  A big open map, lots of things to shoot, but with definite goals broad enough to weave into your own little stories.  Before FarCry made it normal, Doom II provided a huge map with lots of ways to get around enemies and take them out.  Open world games now don’t feel the same, putting you in the character of a named person with a voice and a story arc.  They fill in the narrative for you as you play.  The closest I can think of to the kinds of experiences I had in the Doom era are Bethesda games and even they provide significant stories and characters, you just don’t have to interact with them and can spin your own fantasies a lot of the time if you’d like.

The more I think about it the more I find imagination is being taken from audiences, not just of games but of movies, and entertainment in general.

I noted in my lengthy Conan review that there is a lot in that film that isn’t handed to the viewer.  There are relationships, histories, and concepts that exist in the background for the viewer to decipher for themselves, allowing their own knowledge and imaginations to create their own stories or explanations.  Recently only Mad Max has done something similar.  But too often narratives are explicit, and I don’t mean “Warning Explicit Content” explicit.  I mean they spell things out and leave nothing for the audience to learn or assume; no gaps to fill in.  They show you something, say they’ve shown it, tell you why it’s important, and then tell you what they’ll do with it.

I can imagine Conan made today he’d find the sword in the crypt and either say “it’s a legendary blade!” or some wise man or witch would tell him later it’s the sword of some dead god, who was also his ancestor…and he was meant to have it because…reasons.  Instead of finding a mystical item, his physical reactions and his uses of it enhancing its mystique and value to the audience.

The same is true for video games of course.  Part of me wonders if the push toward hyper-realism in larger budget games is a reason for this.  Companies spend significant money trying to make characters and environments look impressive and want to force players to look upon these creations as much as possible.  Ben Yahtzee Croshaw has mentioned in the past how often this happens as game play is wrenched from our hands so we can experience something the developer wanted us to in exactly the way they wanted us to and negative this is to the overall experience.  After all it’s the subjective experience had by the audience that creates the legacy rather than the one the author has attempted to impose.

Even as much as I enjoyed Wolfenstein: A New Order and its story I did long for the days when I could just be a generic face holding a gun running through corridors, making it up as I go.

The story behind this image is as in depth as the players want it to be.

It’s one reason I enjoy tabletop games so much and one of the biggest aspects of my love for Warhammer gaming.  It’s noted in every GW rulebook “forging the narrative” is the most important part of any game you play and telling the story of the game is always tremendous fun.  It may look like a bunch of static models standing next to a little painted house, but that squad of Dark Angels is actually taking cover from traitor marine fire after their Rhino was immobilized.  That plastic plane isn’t awkwardly balanced on that resin wall, it crash landed there and disgorged a squad of angry, wounded Deathwing terminators to hold my faltering right flank.  None of that is happening of course but in the minds of the players it is happening.  It’s the same thing my sister and I used to do with my TMNT and dinosaur action figures; creating our own stories and adventures with little plastic avatars.

And that’s the power of imagination to me, and it’s something I just have a sense is being pulled from entertainment more and more as it becomes more “scripted” and more digital.  Less abstract and more “real.”  And the push toward only this form of entertainment might be stealing the chance for imaginations to blossom like they did for my generation.

I’ll leave it with this:

Final Fantasy VII was an amazing story and a fun game filled with memorable characters…and this was our hero:

We knew what Cloud looked like from the artwork, but for most of our experience this was our lead character and how we interacted with the world.  He, like my Warhammer models, represented the character with my own imagination filling in the gaps and remembering fierce battles and epic journeys of what was a polygon character in low-res world.

So I have to wonder…is this Cloud any better?

Will it make the game better now that he’s all shiny and “real”?  Will it make the story better?  I’m not such a Luddite that I believe advancements in technology and narratives aren’t important.  I just hope as we advance we don’t discard everything that worked, because it worked for a reason.  When you experience a piece of art or entertainment that is so scripted and meticulously created that it gives you everything you need to see and do you’re experiencing someone else’s vision, which is ok some of the time.  I just hope we are also still allowed to forge our own narratives and experience them our own way some of the time as well.

Building the New Gaming Room

As I mentioned in my Gaming Table post after discovering Warhammer 40k I developed a new love for table top gaming.

After finally getting to move to a new, bigger place, I decided to dedicate my second bedroom to my hobbies, one of the first and foremost being table top gaming.  With my new 6’x4′ table ready to go I put it in my smaller, auxiliary room and made what I think will be a great space for gaming! (And as I recently found out also a good place for building, painting, and going over rules!)

20140719_100117The room had a strange 45 degree angle, but the table fits in nicely with only one corner not really accessible.  It can easily seat six players I believe, and maybe eight if everyone crams in!  This shows a the old poster I had between the two curio cabinets (The one on the left is full of 40k armies, the one on the right is MOSTLY Warhammer Fantasy, though the bottom shelf is my little Blood Angels army.  The poster in the middle is an old Codex: Armageddon poster I got on eBay.  It features Ghazghkull Thraka and Commissar Yarrick in combat!

20140719_100127The two book cases at the bottom of the frame I’ve had since I was a kid.  One was my sister’s and one was mine.  My dad stripped and refinished them for me.  The posters here I got from a guy on eBay who I believe used to work in a Games Workshop store or retailer.  On the far left is a diagram of a Stompa (baneblade on the reverse) the diagrams of a Predator tank and Land Raider.  The one nearest is the great Chapters of the Adeptus Astartes and the ones above that came in White Dwarf Weekly during the 7th Edition launch.

20140719_100155The bookcases house all my Black Library fictions, audio dramas, old codexes, and magazines.  A BIT of room to spare.  That’s my Danish War Axe on the left.

20140726_211504I replaced the Codex: Armageddon poster (it moved to a wall left of this frame under a Dark Angels poster that features the cover of the 5th Edition Codex) with my Imperial Aquila flag.  The small poster under it is the famous Emperor confronting Horus.  I love the Burn In Designs painting and supplies station.  it’s been great for housing ALL modelling tools with my bigger stuff in the cart underneath.

20140719_100206Last but not least my gaming closet. These metal cubes are fantastic and are perfect for game storage as they easily fit MOST standard games and are sturdy enough to hold big box games on top.  My bits bin is right underneath Fortune and Glory and the Horus Heresy!

What kind of gaming space does everyone out there prefer to game in?

 

 

 

Building the New Gaming Table

After discovering the world of Warhammer 40k and later the proliferation of board games stemming from Wil Wheaton’s Table Top I have discovered a love for table top gaming as a hobby that greatly surpasses any other purely entertainment hobby I currently have.

Moving into a new place I shed the limitations of space and decided I wanted to have the proper environment to play all the games I love. To do so I needed a gaming table. And since I have yet to find enough money tree seeds or magic beans enough to buy one, I turned to making one as the next best thing with the added bonus of making it to my personal specs rather than finding one that’s “close enough.”

My own carpentry skills are minimal at best. My friend Mike and I once tried to make a smaller skateboard from a bigger one and created something that was somehow completely incapable to be placed in either the “skate” or “board” category. Mike said we wouldn’t even be able to make a 2×4. In his words we would end up with a “2×4-5-6.”

My dad however is quite skilled so I enlisted him to do a lot of the woodworking, with me there to support and guide design.

I originally wanted a large 4×6 table (standard games of 40k, big enough for full Arkham Horror) with pull-out player places and shelves underneath. The realities of moving a table that size quickly set in and I went with basic 4 legs, solid top, moulding on the edges. All in all it worked very well and after a coat of red chestnut stain, it has a nice antique furniture look to it:

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The top is sanded ply, light, strong, and surprisingly attractive.

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My dad’s design for the legs made them right angles that wedged into the corners of the table. This makes them very strong and prevents shaking or bowing as much as possible.

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The moulding on the top is actually crown or window moulding. It gives the table an attractive finished edge and provides a natural lip to prevent cards, board, or game pieces from sliding off and even a place to firmly hold a Realm of Battle should I ever buy one.

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The legs are bolted on with two decorative bolts each. This makes them removable so the table can fit through doors and down hallways.

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By forgoing shelving underneath it ended up being very spacious and it’s a comfortable 30” high.

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After all was said and done the cost was between 150-175 after stain and brushes. The largest single expense was the sanded ply, which was $49.99 the rest of the wood pieces being pretty inexpensive, especially seeing as how several of each were needed.

It was a great project and will hopefully be the home for many good gaming sessions to come!