Monday, 24 November 2014

Soundtrack Mini Review – ‘300’ by Tyler Bates


‘300’ is a cracking comic-book movie that gives us a heavily stylised and fantastical version of the Spartan stand against the Persians at Thermopylae.

The mood of the film is both slow and daunting, interspersed with moments of intense action, and the music reacts to these beats well. The choral music, which you hear in the trailer, is powerful and really drives the mood. However, the more ethereal singing and the inclusion of heavy guitar riffs kind of works in the film but sounds out of place when listening to the soundtrack as music on it’s own.

All in all it’s a great soundtrack; Tyler Bates really captures the mood of the film. Maybe not so much the era, but considering that this is a fantasy version of a second-hand story of a legend, that’s perfectly understandable.

Saturday, 22 November 2014

Review - New Space Frontiers: Venturing into Earth Orbit and Beyond

By Piers Bizony

Published by Zenith Press

When I’m working on new projects, when I’m looking for ideas for my writing, I often turn to all kinds of sources for inspiration, from TV shows to books to movies to the internet. It was great, then, to not only get my hands on a book that’s filled to the brim with some incredibly inspirational images covering the early days of spaceflight to the future of manned and unmanned exploration, but also containing a lot of small and enlightening facts that even I, a follower of space programs worldwide, didn’t realise.

‘Get ready to experience the excitement of adventure with New Space Frontiers. Through gorgeous photography and engaging writing, noted space and science author Piers Bizony speculates beyond just today's hardware and explores what might be possible for the next generation.’

Chapter 1, ‘Escape From Planet Earth, covers the hardware we are and can be using to get vehicles into low Earth orbit. It details different ways to get into and back from orbit, from the existing vehicles to ones in preparation, and the images on show are excellent, especially one visually stunning photograph of a Soyuz night recovery mission.

Chapter 2, ‘Almost Space Flight’, gives us a look at the sub-orbital vehicles in development and, even though it does sometimes read like a promotional brochure for the firms taking part in the research, there are, once again, some great images on show.

Chapter 3, ‘Islands In The Sky’, entices us with the possibility of orbital habitations, space stations where humans could live, work and even raise families. From the small cramped ISS to the huge visions of wheeled cities in space – peppered with images from science fiction as well as the visions of conceptual artists – it’s inspirational stuff.

Chapter 4, ‘Destination Moon’, talks about future journeys to our closest celestial body and even establishing a base or colony there. There are some great images of Moonbases, again from science fiction as well as actual concept renderings, and the next generation Moon vehicles are incredibly fascinating.

Chapter 5, ‘Interplanetary Adventures’, throws us beyond Earth orbit and talks about exploring the other planets of our solar system and the challenges such a thing creates. Again, there’s a wealth of wonderful images in this chapter that inspire and make your mind whirl with the possibilities and the logistics of it all.

Finally, Chapter 6, ‘Across The Gulf Of Stars’, takes us even further, beyond our solar system and to the nearest stars via telescopes, nuclear-powered robot probes and even possible manned missions to the potential worlds that surround us. Much of this is purely speculative, of course, although much of the science is hard and, once again, the wonderful images make it all very possible.

Piers Bizony gives us an excellent journey through the next actual and possible steps of space exploration and gives us both the practical and fantastical. The reality of existing space programs and the technology they use blends with the conceptual and then the almost unbelievable, so when reading this you feel like everything is reachable and the stars are closer than you think.

There are a few issues; there are some errors in the type and the layout breaks up the text so it sometimes feels that sentences are left hanging and incomplete, only to be picked up on a page or two later. This is a little jarring and when the text is filling your head with ideas, to have yourself yanked out of the narrative flow is disorientating and ruins the impact slightly.

The images are gorgeous. The full colour glossy pages gives us some amazingly detailed photographs, paintings and renderings and I found myself wishing the pages were a little larger so that I could see more detail. This brings me on to another issue I had with the book and that’s the landscape presentation; I’m not a fan as I find books like that a little clumsy in my hands, but that’s a personal thing and does not detract from the book at all.

New Space Frontiers is a great book and it’s filled with some amazing images that you will no doubt find inspirational on many levels. Piers Bizony’s writing is functional and he explains things well and, typos and layout aside, it’s a good read.

If you want to learn more about the near future of space exploration, then I can recommend this tome quite easily. It’s a fascinating look at the past, present and future of our journey into space.

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Review: The Art of Assassin's Creed - Unity

Author: Paul Davies
Published by Titan Books

Review by Richard Williams

*WARNING: Contains spoilers for the game*

Assassin's Creed Unity has come under a lot of flack for a number of reasons. Thankfully I have the pleasure of reviewing not the game but this outstanding collection of concept art. Those who have bought previous books in this series will be pleased to find that Titan Books have kept to their tried, tested and outstanding format and have produced yet other concept art book where the emphasis is on art, rather than design. I feel that this is an important point to make. Concept art is experiencing something of a heyday and is now a thing worth collecting in its own right. However, due to the reason for its existence, concept art, however artistic it may be, is functional and intended to be useful to developers later on. As such it is typically a collection of usable things, people out of context and places for the sake of testing the lighting. The art books of Assassin's Creed are a bold exception to this rule and you will be hard pressed to find concept art where so much is done in a painterly style and where page after page of work wouldn't look out of place framed on a gallery wall.

However that does not mean that this is all you'll find here. Of course there is plenty of design work but I did notice there was strangely nothing of the gear, weapons and equipment. This will displease quite a few people, I'm sure, although it took me several goes looking through this book before it dawned on me that it was under-represented.

Firstly there is an impressive amount of character design, almost fifty pages of it, with each drawing as pleasing to look at as the next. The outfits are rich in detail and the faces tell the life story of the characters who wear them. I would complain that there is hardly any exploration of the design process (early stages through to production pieces) but with so much on show it would frankly just sound ungrateful. A completionist (to borrow a word from gaming) would mind the missing work but a fan of art would merely enjoy the really nice work on show, much of it full page. Character design has always been one of Assassin's Creed's strongest elements in the art books and I can honestly say that I think Unity showcases their best work.

Other than character design the rest is almost entirely locations. This might not please everyone such as the people who want a catalogue of everything that had to be designed for the game (much as the artbook for Thief provided) and considering this is a book of concept art it isn't an unfair gripe. Had the artwork in this book been less to shout about I might have felt myself cheated too. But there are few games where the location design work is so majestic. The colours are rich and vibrant and the detail is stunning. Just as the artists capture the luxury, elegance and grandeur of Parisian high society they are no less inspired in their depiction of the poverty and desperation of the poorer districts with gritty, overcrowded streets and a dour and darker colour palette.

Due to the new capabilities of the next-gen consoles AC: Unity features a lot more game time indoors exploring the great buildings of Paris such as Notre Dame, the Louvre and the Tuileries Palace. Subsequently we are treated to the designs for those interiors and it's the kind of artwork that leaves you feeling a little worse off about your own house. Not since I was a little boy have I found myself looking through a book saying 'want' quite so much.

An interesting surprise (and the forewarned spoiler) is the art showing Paris in different time periods. The game does not stay settled in revolutionary Paris but also takes place across 'memories' of the French capital during the second world war, the medieval period as well as what is known as 'La Belle Epoch'. These sections are small, given that they are only a smaller part of the game, but provide some of the best art in the book. Fans of the games have often said 'they should set the game in ...... period' and it is nice to see such things through the prism of Assassin's Creed. Who hasn't thought of setting the Assassins against the Nazis. Seems the creators finally gave in to what the fans wanted, even if only a little bit.

There is not much writing accompanying the art but what there is is interesting and to the point. It also credits the artists and lets them explain in their own words what they were trying to convey and I think that this is an area that Titan Books does really well. There is so much that the designers have to take into account when they make these games that I think we, as gamers and art lovers, take for granted and reading about the many little points of consideration that needs to be taken into account gives me a much better appreciation for the work they do.

The book itself is very nice to look at and will fit nicely with other books in the series. I suppose one day there will be no more Assassin's Creed books and when that day comes there will be a special collectors edition bringing all the books together in one boxed set priced at a princely sum. Canny art lovers will spare themselves some pennies and buy the books now.

So to sum up; This is a big beautiful book which brings revolutionary Paris to life, filled with incredible art work (much of which is shown off to best effect across a two page spread), with succinct and interesting commentary from the artists. Yes, there are some things missing from this book, most noticeably the weapons and equipment, and I hope that in future this will be included as I know a lot of people really like to see it. However I don't see how anyone can claim to be a collector of concept art and not own this book.

- Richard Williams

Saturday, 15 November 2014

And now for a word from...

The first of the regular Autocratik vidblogs takes a look at the size of tabletop roleplaying books. Remember the days when RPG books were small? How could this be employed with new RPGs?


This is an insight into upcoming episodes and the companion series - Roll Your Own Life.

Take some time to subscribe, and comment. Let me know what you'd like to see in future episodes? Unboxing videos? Gameplay? Reviews? The creative process of game design? Get on over and leave a message.

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Sunday, 9 November 2014

Review - Empire of the Wolf (Graphic Novel)

Written by Michael Kogge
Art by Dan Parsons, David Rabbitte and Marshall Dillon
Published by Alterna Comics

‘During the Roman conquest of Britain, a werewolf’s bite re-ignites the legendary feud between the wolf-brothers Romulus and Remus. This curse of the full moon pits two centurions against each other in an epic battle of werewolves, placing not only the life of the woman they both love in mortal peril, but also the fate of Roman Empire itself. Empire of the Wolf is the saga that reveals the myth behind the history of ancient Rome.’

This is possibly one of the best things you could ever put in front of me – I have a very healthy interest in Roman history and I have an even healthier interest in the supernatural and the folklore that comes with it, so to drop a graphic novel on my desk that involves the Roman Empire and werewolves is going to not only grab my attention, it’s going to make me drop everything I’m doing and dive in head-first.

Empire of the Wolf is a graphic novel that collects Michael Kogge’s four-issue run of the same name. We like Michael Kogge – he gave us lots of Star Wars Insider stuff and, more importantly to me, he also gave us some Star Wars roleplaying game goodness, from the West End Games days right up to the present incarnation. In fact, his association with Star Wars is lengthy and varied, so it was interesting to see what he was going to throw at us with this new creation.

Now, I’m not fussed about the direction supernatural lore takes as I see every interpretation of it in books, movies and TV shows as a different take on a similar theme. I also don’t take umbrage with small changes to Roman history as long as it’s telling a compelling story – I love the movie ‘Gladiator’ even though it’s about as historically inaccurate as you can get - so stepping into this graphic novel was both exciting and intriguing. What would Kogge do with both these angles?

What he does is weave a story about two centurions in Britannia in the middle of the first century AD, Canisius Sarcipio, an ex-gladiator who won his freedom, and Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus, the nephew of the Emperor Claudius. They are fighting against a tribe who defy them and put up a bloody fight but it is their leader, Caradog, wielder of the Moonblade, who is their greatest threat and not only does this man pull them into the dark magics of his kind, he bestows on them a legacy that they will take to Rome, and perhaps beyond. It doesn’t help that they are both after the attentions of a woman back in the Eternal City, Lavinia, a Virgin of Vesta. Although the men have fought hard together and consider themselves brothers in arms, there is already a division between them that indicates that there is trouble to come.

IR-EmpireWolf-02
Kogge’s writing is detailed and captures a great sense of the time period. There’s a gravitas to it that lends little to no time to merriment so you’re continually plunged into a dark, brooding tale of mystery and despair, with powerful stabs of violence and intrigue. It’s a good read and there’s plenty of text to sink your teeth into. The story is complex so Kogge uses a narrative style, with boxouts for description and information that‘s written in a flowing dramatic style. It’s necessary as it helps to set scenes and draw you into the world he has created. The dialogue is good but sometimes feels a little flowery, like an attempt to recreate dialogue from classic Roman epic movies, but that actually works in the story’s favour, in some respects, as it’s how we as the audience have come to expect these people to speak thanks to those every same films. It’s a great story, nonetheless, and it’s holds the attention all the way through and doesn’t really give you any reason to put it down for long periods of time.

I can’t say that the Roman setting is completely accurate; an image of what appears to be the Flavian Amphitheatre (the Coliseum) on one page is telling as the structure wasn’t built until after this story’s time. This isn’t an issue, to be fair, and if I were reading a novel that had stated ‘This is what happened in the Empire!’ then it would have grated, but we’re talking about a story involving werewolves and ancient magic, here, so it hardly matters. Nitpicking over things like this, things that do not directly affect the story as a whole, is pretty futile and it really is that; nitpicking.

The art is by Dan Parsons (books 1 and 2) and David Rabbitte (books 3 and 4) and, while it did throw me a little bit as the artwork changes mid-story, it’s of a high standard and really well lettered and coloured. It captures the feel of the period well and certainly sets the atmosphere for the story. It’s dynamic when it needs to be and delightfully gory when necessary. There are times when dimensions get a little skewed or the proportions of a body may seem more than a little out, but both artists do a great job of depicting the action. There’s very little to criticise with the artwork although I did notice that while the Roman costumes are very well done and look the part, some of the people of Britannia were dressed a little too ‘high-fantasy’ for my liking, with sexy slits down the dress for the leg to appear or what appeared to be a 60s go-go skirt, but in tartan. The scenes in Britannia are set in the cold of winter, but it seems to be fine for the ladies to be wandering around with very little on. It’s a design choice and I can respect that, and I suppose that helps illustrate the divide between the reality of the Empire and the perceived fantasy of the northern borders. Regardless of that, the artwork is really very well done.

Empire of the Wolf takes the classic werewolf story, the history and birth of Rome and the grandeur of a Roman Epic and creates a well-realised and entertaining story that fans of both the period and the supernatural will enjoy. I’m a lover of both and I enjoyed the book, so I have no problems recommending this.

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Review - D&D 5th Edition Monster Manual

Published by Wizards of the Coast
Monster Manual

I quite like monster manuals. I like the fact that you can have, at your fingertips, everything you need to challenge players with some pretty nifty encounters. It’s good if you’ve got something planned, great if you need a quick off-the-cuff monster to have a bit of a fight with, and excellent when the monsters slot neatly into the campaign and you don’t have to do too much work on their stats or abilities. Yes, monster manuals take a lot of work out of the Dungeon Master’s design process and games are lot better off with them involved.

I like my lists of beasties to be concise, easy to use, adaptable to the campaign I’m running and illustrated. Thankfully, the D&D 5th Edition Monster Manual ticks all those boxes for me.

THE BOOK

This hardback book uses the same cover layout of the other books – which, and I hate to say it, I’m not a fan of – but it’s the interior where it shines. The front cover illustration of a somewhat anti-social Beholder is a great piece of art and quite dynamic but, once again, I don’t think it’s the best image to help sell a book like this. Once again, as I did with the Player’s Handbook, I’m looking to the interior illustrations and I find a cracking picture of a dragon on the first glossy page that would have looked great. I’m fully aware that this is personal preference and doesn’t really make an impact on the contents of the manual, but – and I hate to use the phrase – where books like this are concerned beauty really is in the eye of the beholder, and the cover doesn’t really strike me as an inspirational choice.

The book gets to the meat of the manual pretty much straight away. The introduction is short and sweet and gives you everything you need to get stuck in with just a few pages of pointers and advice on how to use the book and what all the statistics mean. It talks about monsters, where they dwell, which ones to use and when, the different types of adversary and how things like alignment, armour class, skills and special traits work, and anything else pertinent to the stat block including actions and equipment. Old hands with manuals will pretty much know what to expect from this book and will no doubt dive in with a cruel smile, but newcomers will find this introduction very helpful. It’s not that much of a chore to get through, either, as it’s just six pages of text and is easy to understand.

Then the book begins in earnest. The monsters are laid out in alphabetical order from the get-go, so there’s no sections of creature types and if you want it, you can just page-flip for it without having to go to a certain section beforehand. Not only this, but there’s a really handy alphabetical index at the back so you can get to your chosen beastie in seconds. The new D&D 5th Edition game plays much quicker than the previous editions so this doesn’t slow down the action at all, especially if you suddenly need to get hold of a creature you didn’t prepare for. That makes referencing the book easy and quick, which is something I like in my games as I tend to strip back a bit on rules so that I can keep the action fast and flowing. This book allows me to keep that speed going.

After the long list of monsters we get to three appendices; a collection of miscellaneous creatures, again all in alphabetical order, so that you can get hold of some more mundane, and not so mundane, smaller creatures. Then there’s a pretty good NPC appendix which, I’ll be honest, I wish was a bit more detailed and longer as there are some good characters in here, from an acolyte to a gladiator to a spy and people in between. They’re very handy if you need a quick NPC and you can use the stat blocks for a variety of different characters, not just the ones listed. In some of my games, my players sometimes take an interest in NPCs that I had no intention of lasting more than a few moments or minutes in my adventure, so if they do take an interest for whatever reason it’s great to have stat blocks like this handy in case the NPC ends up doing much more than even I bargained for. Players are unpredictable like that. The final appendix is the full index that, of course, is invaluable in a book such as this.

CONCLUSION

This is an impressive book; it’s easy to use, quick to reference, has some cracking creatures in there, some new ones as well the old favourites, and – most importantly for me – it’s fully illustrated throughout. This is important for me because I’m the kind of DM, as I mentioned earlier, who likes to keep the action flowing. Unless I’ve prepared a creature and I have a definite idea of how it looks and acts, I much prefer to be able to hold the book up and point at the monsters and say ‘This is it’. Depending on the monster you’ve chosen you get a much better reaction from the players when they actually see the adversary than when you try to describe it to them, and just saying ‘it’s a Manticore’ is a little flat. The illustrations, all of high quality and full colour on glossy pages, do for you what a page of written description can’t. A picture really is worth a thousand words.

The D&D 5th Edition Monster Manual is easy to use, doesn’t beat around the bush and is designed to be as user friendly as possible. The stat blocks are clear and concise, special abilities are well described and there’s enough background information for you to flesh out a variant or two. There are longer entries for the more dynamic monsters, such as Beholders and Dragons, but ever monster gets a fair crack at the Balor’s whip. In fact, on top of everything else, this book is also a great read. There’s some good stuff in here that’ll help you come up with your own adventures based around the creatures themselves.

I’ve been impressed by D&D 5th up to yet and this book only enforces my opinion of this new edition. It’s invaluable as you really will need it to get the most out of the Player’s Handbook and the game at large, but it’s a solid product on it’s own merits.

Now… let me see… page 100… oh, yes – he’ll do for my next encounter. Mu-hahahahah!!

Monday, 3 November 2014

Exclusive Preview - The 13th Age Soundtrack

James Semple has been writing music for Pelgrane Press for a while now. I got a lot of use and gave a lot of love to his previous compositions for Ashen Stars ('All We Have Forgotten') and Night's Black Agents ('Dust and Mirrors'), but he's been working on a soundtrack that I'm really excited about - music for the 13th Age roleplaying game.

The tracks that I've heard, two of which I'll be sharing with you here, are incredible and promise to add a lot of depth to your campaign.

I caught up with James a few days ago to find out a bit more about the score, and asked him about how he was approaching the source material and the sound he wanted to create, and about the creation process between him and the game's creators.

'The entire team was hugely inspired by the source material. We would also work closely with Rob Heinsoo about our ideas and get his feedback and input. This was absolutely invaluable in terms of really capturing the right spirit for the game and imbuing the music with authenticity. The tracks were surprisingly varied conjuring many different moods and often using eclectic instrumentation. The Dragon Empire is full of wondrous locations that immediately get the creative juices flowing. You think "I have a GREAT idea for this place" and then run into the studio and start writing! Once we'd written and orchestrated the music we then employed live soloists to really help bring this all to life!'

I've also got a couple of tracks to share today. The first is the main theme, and I asked James about what he was looking for in the music.




'So the very first thing I created for this suite was the main 13th Age theme. Although it's ostensibly a fantasy theme for me this all about adventure! I wanted a rousing, swashbuckling theme that just gave that timeless quality of excitement and heroism! I wanted players to hear it and think "yeah I want to go and adventure in THAT world!"'

The second track was 'Dreams of a Lost Age', and I asked James about how he developed this particular track.



'At the other end of the spectrum, Dreams of a Lost Age was the last thing I wrote for the suite. I wanted this to feel like a kind of plaintive Elven lullaby that harkens back to their ancient realms, now lost beneath the seas. I wrote this specifically for the fantastic violinist, Eos Chater, and it was wonderful to hear her sublime playing on this piece. This is a real personal favourite of mine and a last minute addition to the suite.'

The 13th Age score is shaping up to be an invaluable addition to any gamer's collection, and I for one am more than excited about it. It's released very soon, so keep your eyes and ears open on the run up to Christmas.

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Exclusive Review - Letters to Lovecraft

Edited by Jesse Bullington

Published by Stone Skin Press

‘Like cultists poring over a forbidden tome, 18 modern masters of horror have gathered to engage with Lovecraft’s famous essay, 'Supernatural Horror in Literature'. Rather than responding with articles of their own, these authors have written new short stories inspired by Lovecraft's treatise, offering their own whispers to the darkness. They tell of monsters and madmen, of our strange past and our weirder future, of terrors stalking the winter woods, the broiling desert, and eeriest of all, our bustling cities, our family homes.’

I’m a Lovecraft fan. I was introduced to his work through the tabletop roleplaying game ‘Call of Cthulhu’ way back in the 1980s, and I got into his work soon after. I’m a huge fan of his Mythos, especially because it doesn’t directly deal with the physical, blood-spattered type of horror that seems to permeate popular culture these days. It’s horrific in the sense that it utilises the fear of the unknown and that sense of hopelessness that gives you the chills, as if everything is out of your control and that reality isn’t what it seems. That’s what makes his work appeal to me; Lovecraft never needed to talk about flailing entrails, torture or screaming cheerleaders being dragged to a very visual fate. He hinted at what was in the darkness, which was terrifying in itself, so on those occasions when the monsters are revealed the terror is multiplied.

Lovecraft wrote essays about the nature of horror and that’s what this book hooks on to. Eighteen authors have all taken snippets from Lovecraft’s essays and created their own short stories based on these quotes. Although not all are typically Lovecraftian they do latch on to that sense of terror and fear that can only really be felt when you do not fully understand what it is that you are terrified of.

I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect from the stories but once I got past the opening two stories, ‘Past Reno’ and ‘Only Unity Saves The Damned’, I got a feel as to what the book was going to offer; a lot of psychological horror. In fact, the second story ‘Only Unity Saves The Damned’ by Nadia Bulkin, which is my favourite story in the collection, captures that perfectly and intertwines what I‘d call and almost Edgar Allen Poe (which is strange, as the book is Lovecraft-inspired) feeling of darkness with modern day found-footage mockumentaries and video hoaxes. It’s a wonderful - if wonderful is the right word - tale of being trapped in a small town and the dispossessed trying to carve their own sense of identity. If I had to choose a story that captures the mood and atmosphere the anthology was going for then I’d have to say that this was it. The final two pages still make me shudder, truth be told.

‘The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.’

This is incredibly true and as one of Lovecraft’s most famous quotes it permeates every one of the stories in this collection, regardless of the part of the essay that the author chose.

The book has an informative introduction by editor Jesse Bullington talking about Lovecraft’s legacy, his less-than-acceptable views on the world, his legacy and how it is perceived today and his essay ‘Supernatural Horror In Literature’, the work from which the authors selected their passages and wrote their stories. I’m sure that reading his essays would cast more light on the themes and drives of the stories but each entry has an introduction that details the selected passage and a short note from the author explaining why they chose that particular piece and how they used it to mould their story. This is more than enough to be going on with and gives you all the framework you need to understand and appreciate the work.

Letters to Lovecraft is a very good book. There isn’t really a bad story in the collection though they do vary in quality – I can’t say that I really disliked any of the chosen stories – and while some of the stories might not link directly to the Mythos it’s not the cosmic horrors that exploded from Lovecraft’s mind that are the driving force behind these stories, but the theme of unknown horror that he tried to explain in his essay. To that end, each of the authors have contributed excellent stories and it’s more than worth the attention of both Lovecraft and general horror fans

Letters to Lovecraft is available on the 1st December 2014 and is recommended reading on these cold, lonely winter nights.

Saturday, 1 November 2014

Review - The Art of Alien: Isolation

Author: Andy McVittie
Published by Titan Books

'The Art of Alien: Isolation is a high-end art book featuring over 300 images from the latest game in the critically and commercially acclaimed Alien franchise. Taking players back to the survival horror atmosphere of the first film, Alien: Isolation features Amanda Ripley as the hero trying to survive on a wrecked space station. This book is the ultimate gallery of the game, a must-have for any fan.'

One of the great things about being an Alien fan back in the day was that we got a great publication to sink our teeth into called ‘The Book Of Alien’, which gave us an amazing look behind the scenes of the film but, more importantly, we got to see the initial designs of the movie, from spacesuits to spaceships, from eggs to aliens, from couches to corridors. This was a great way to get involved in the Alien universe and experience the design process in general.

Because of three decades of exposure to the Alien movie, as well as the three sequels, I was pretty nervous about the Alien: Isolation game, especially after the disaster that was Aliens: Colonial Marines. I got this book before playing the game and, after reading the amount of care and attention that had gone into the design of the adventure and the almost reverent attitude to the design and feel of the 1970s movie, I was somewhat uplifted and finally gave in and got excited about the game. I’ve played it since… but that’s another review.

The hardback book has a very atmospheric cover and looks great, but the choice of landscape is a bit clunky in my hands and not my favourite format. The artwork throughout is a divide between sketching, painting and rendering but what stands out is the number of straightforward drawn art there is. Usually, art books about video games are filled to the brim with renderings and digital art and that can get a little frustrating because art books, in my mind, should be about the designs leading up to the finished product.

That’s what I loved about a lot of the movie art books I own, so why should computer game books be any different? Fortunately, this book harks back to the days of ‘The Book Of Alien’, in which we do get to see much of the designs of the characters, tools and the setting. They even show them against the inspiration the designers took from original film images, from movie stills to drawings, so you can see what they were trying to achieve.

Still, let’s not forget that this is 2014 and we’re talking about a computer game here – there’s still a lot of rendering, especially with the starship design section, but even here it’s great to see the ships in all their glory. I know I’m being biased, and they’re all nice designs, but they still don’t match the Nostromo and it was nice to see the deckplans included. The bulk of setting material, though, belongs to the Sevastopol Station, and this is simply glorious and really captures the mood and atmosphere of the original film. The mix of recognisable designs and new takes on the original lo-fi sci-fi designs is incredible and it’s great to flip through the pages and absorb all of this detail. It’s great because you get to spend plenty of time poring over the images, unlike in the game where you spend all your time fearing what’s behind the next door, or around the next corner. There‘s no time for sightseeing in the game so it’s great to revel in the setting in the book.

I think what struck me the most about this book is the fact that the designers, from the original artists to the devs to the renderers, all seemed to have a clear visual goal in their heads; this is based on a 1970s movie, so the look, feel and tech will be 1970s. The design approach is wonderful and not only captures the analog science fiction atmosphere that I love so much - with the clunky buttons, CRT screens and bitty graphics – it creates a tangible world that looks and feels almost real, and any gamer can tell you that when a game world absorbs you, sucks you into the reality that it’s created in such a way that you have a tangible emotional reaction to it, well… that’s half the game’s job done. It no doubt hits me harder being the Alien fan that I am but the world presented in this book really is that well defined.

The Art of Alien: Isolation is a really good book. I’m not overly fond of the landscape format and, truth be told, I’d have liked a lot more text talking to the designers and artists, but there’s enough here to keep me satisfied. I like to draw and I’m no professional artist, so I like my art books to be inspirational and informative. I’m sure there’s a hell of a lot more original pencil and ink art they could have shared, and I’d have paid extra for a larger book to fit all that in, but what we get here is an excellent and informative book that not only gives you some background to the game but also makes the Alien universe much deeper and richer.

That’s a hell of a thing to achieve for an ‘Art Of’ book, let alone the game itself.

Preview - D&D Attack Wing

So, I popped into my local Titan Games today and saw this little beauty laid out on their gaming table. It's the new tactical miniatures game from Wizkids 'D&D Attack Wing', and it follows on from their hugely successful 'Star Trek: Attack Wing', which in itself follows on from 'X-Wing Miniatures Game' from Fantasy Flight Games.

That's a pretty good pedigree.

'D&D Attack Wing is a Dungeons & Dragons tactical flight and ground combat miniatures game, featuring pre-painted dragons, siege weaponry, and troops from the Dungeons & Dragons Forgotten Realms®   universe.

Utilizing the FlightPath™ maneuver system, command your army in epic aerial and ground combat & customize your army with spells, equipment, weapons, special abilities and more!'

It looked and played really well, and considering the additional releases the game has on the way I think it's going to be a cracking game that'll allow the fantasy fans to get in on the fun of the starship combat game, except they'll have ground units to play with, too!

The models were nice, not groundbreaking, but for you modelers out there it's possible to paint them up if you so wish. They're pretty good and serve the game well. The box itself is hefty and you get everything you need for three players, so you get your money's worth. The system is pretty good but I'll need more play time to get the full feel of it, but you can download the quickstart from the Wizkids website if you want to have a look at what they've done with the rules.

Sorry about the rubbish in-game pictures - that'll teach me to leave the house without my camera.