Tuesday, 6 December 2016

RIP Peter Vaughan

Veteran British actor Peter Vaughan has passed away at the age of 93.

Peter Vaughan was born in 1923 in Shropshire. He fought in the Second World War, and after the conflict ended took up stage acting. He made his screen debut in 1959.

Vaughan was best-known to British audiences for his numerous character actor roles in comedy and drama, including memorable turns on Porridge and Citizen Smith and a 1990s resurgence in roles in Chancer, Our Friends in the North and the film The Remains of the Day.

However, he won a new legion of fans appreciators with his role as Maester Aemon in HBO's Game of Thrones. He appeared in the first five seasons before his character passed away at the end of Season 5.

Vaughan was a stalwart actor of British stage and screen for almost sixty years, with an impressive emotional range and ability. He will be sorely missed.

Monday, 5 December 2016

MECHWARRIOR 5 announced

Piranah Games have announced MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries, a new addition to the venerable battlemech combat game series.

The new game begins in 3015 AD and is set during the Third Succession War. Players will control massive battlemechs in a branching single-player campaign, along with robust multiplayer options. Previous MechWarrior games - the first was released in 1989 - have been critically acclaimed, particularly the second and fourth games, for their mixture of action and tactical planning. Piranha previously planned a reboot of the series in 2008 before it transformed into MechWarrior Online, a free-to-play game that has had a mixed critical response.

Jordan Weisman, the original co-creator of the BattleTech and MechWarrior games, is working on his own turn-based strategy game, BattleTech, for release in 2017.

Sunday, 4 December 2016

Netflix confirm release dates for Season 2 of SENSE8

Netflix have confirmed the release dates for Season 2 of Sense8.

Season 1 of Sense8 consisted of 12 episodes released on 5 June 2015. Season 2 will again consist of 12 hours, but the release pattern will be different. The first 2 episodes will be released as a two-hour event TV movie - a "Christmas special" - on 23 December this year. The remaining 10 episodes will then be released on 5 May.

Lana Wachowski and J. Michael Straczynski have written the second season (Lily Wachowski has taken the second season off, but may return for a third), with Wachowski, Tom Twyker and Dan Glass returning to direct.

Friday, 2 December 2016

More castmembers announced for STAR TREK: DISCOVERY

CBS has announced two more actors for their new Star Trek TV series, Discovery.

Doug Jones will play Lt. Saru, a Starfleet officer from an alien race not before seen in the franchise. The actor has a history of working with Guillermo Del Toro, having appeared as Abe Sapien in Hellboy and Hellboy II, the Pale Man and the Faun in Pan's Labyrinth and Lady Sharpe in Crimson Peak. He also played the Silver Surfer in Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer and was the leader of the Gentlemen in the classic Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode Hush.

Anthony Rapp will play Lt. Stamets, a Starfleet scientist specialising in biology and fungi. Rapp is a Broadway actor best-known for his role in Rent. On TV he has guest-starred in The X-Files, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit and The Knick, whilst on film he has appeared in Twister and A Beautiful Mind.

CBS confirmed last week that Michelle Yeoh had been cast as the captain of the USS Shenzhou, which will play an important recurring role in the story. The series itself will focus on a Lt. Commander serving on the USS Discovery, about ten years prior to events of the original Star Trek series.

CBS hopes to announce the casting of that lead character shortly. Star Trek: Discovery is currently scheduled to begin airing in May 2017 on CBS and on Netflix around the world the day after.

Thursday, 1 December 2016


The world of Terratus has fallen under the heel of the Overlord Kyros. For four centuries the armies of Kyros have spread across the known world, conquering territory after territory, until only the southern landmass know as the Tiers remains contested. Two of Kyros's armies, the Disfavoured under the command of Graven Ashe, Archon of War, and the Scarlet Chrous led by the insane mage Voices of Nerat, Archon of Secrets, are tasked with crushing the latest rebellion in the Tiers and securing the region. But their mutual rivalry and hatred is threatening to spill into open civil war. A Fatebinder is sent to adjudicate the dispute and help bring an end to the dissent against Kyros's Peace.

Tyranny is the latest computer roleplaying game from Obsidian. Both under their current name and their former incarnation as Black Isle, they have created many of the greatest CRPGs ever made: Icewind Dale, Planescape: Torment, Fallout 1 and 2, Fallout: New Vegas, Knights of the Old Republic II, Neverwinter Nights II and the recent South Park: Stick of Truth and Pillars of Eternity. Tyranny uses the same engine as Pillars of Eternity and players of the latter game will immediately find themselves at home. However, Obsidian have updated and refined their engine and interface, making Tyranny in many ways the superior game.

The central conceit of Tyranny is that the bad guys have won. The Dark Lord has conquered the world, the great heroes have died and all that is left is the mopping-up. This is when problems arise, as with no real enemies left to fight the forces of evil are showing signs of turning on one another. It's your job - as the Fatebinder - to keep this from happening. Well, if you choose. Tyranny has a lot of focus on choice and consequence, and if you wish you can plunge both factions into war for your own advantage, side with the native rebels against Kyros's will, or try to conquer the region yourself. The game has a lot of choice, with different consequences for those choices. This gives the game a lot of replayability.

The game plays like Pillars of Eternity, Baldur's Gate or many of the other great isometric RPGs. Controlling things from above, you assemble a party of four (from a total of seven possible characters) and have to complete a lot of quests. Some of these quests are quite linear, but many are lengthy and open-ended, with lots of different options on how to proceed. Depending on your decisions, entire areas of the world map may be closed off, unvisited until your next play-through, and different characters will live and die by your word. There is a lot of combat in Tyranny, which is undertaken in a similar, real-time-with-pause format to Pillars of Eternity and the old Infinity Engine games.Combat is more enjoyable than in Pillars, with meatier and more interesting builds and options available. There is also an impressively sophisticated spell-creation system, as well as the ability to develop several different strongholds, allowing you to build your own power base.

The game is imaginative and well-written. Although traditional in structure, the world is more primitive than many fantasy ones, being on the cusp of the bronze and iron ages rather than the standard cod-medieval level of technology. The game is deeply concerned with the nature of evil and it's surprising how quickly players who usually choose the "Good" or "Paragon" options in games will start justifying execution, massacres and mass starvation as long as it's for "the greater good". The insidious nature of evil and corruption is something that Tyranny handles extremely well, with a lot of nuance.

The writing is of a high standard and characterisation is particularly strong: the once-honourable, now-ruthless general Graven Ashe, the crazed Voices of Nerat and your companions characters are all strongly delineated characters with interesting backstories and their own, sometimes contradictory motivations. This is easily the best cast of characters assembled for a CRPG in many years.

There are some negatives. The version of the Unity Engine that Obsidian is using doesn't allow for very large maps, so both outdoor areas and dungeons are made up of interlocking, relatively small areas, far smaller than even the eighteen-year-old Infinity Engine is capable of. This feels slightly restrictive and unnecessary. There's also quite lengthy load times which, given the relative simplicity of the game's design and graphics, feels totally unwarranted. Some people may also find the game's 20-hour playing time a bit on the short side, especially compared to Pillars of Eternity's 40+. However, Pillars outstayed its welcome for far too long and Tyranny has enormous amounts of replayability, which favours a shorter running time. Finally, the game ends rather abruptly and almost anti-climatically, with a rather obvious sequel hook built into the finale. That's not so much of a problem, since I'd welcome spending more time in this world, but players looking for a more contained and definitively-resolved storyline won't really find that here.

Tyranny (****½) is a well-written, excellently-characterised and highly enjoyable roleplaying game. Its graphics are not cutting edge, but often wonderfully-designed, and the soundtrack is excellent. Most importantly, Tyranny genuinely manages to tell a morally-conflicted story and provides multiple interesting ways of resolving each problem. It's one of the better CRPGs of recent years and is well worth a look, despite a modest length and an open ending. The game is available now on PC.

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Creator of HAMILTON working on NAME OF THE WIND TV series, movie and...stage show?

Lin-Manuel Miranda has gained recent fame as the creator, writer, songwriter and star of hit Broadway musical Hamilton, based on the life of Alexander Hamilton, one of the Founding Fathers of the United States. His next project will be epic fantasy, with him tapped to work on on Lionsgate's multimedia Kingkiller Chronicle project.

Lionsgate bought the film, TV and video game rights to Patrick Rothfuss's fantasy trilogy, The Kingkiller Chronicle, a year ago. Their plan was to directly adapt the novels as a trilogy of movies, as well as using a TV show to explode side-stories and characters. Apparently they are also considering a stage show based on the trilogy.

Lindsey Beer is writing the script for the first movie, based on The Name of the Wind, and Miranda has been hired to write original songs and work on the soundtrack. Those familiar with the novels will now that the main character Kvothe is an accomplished musician and songwriter, so this is a surprisingly good match. Rothfuss will also be working on the film and TV show as a producer, with Miranda likely to serve as a musical director on the TV project as well.

The Kingkiller Chronicle consists of the novels The Name of the Wind (2007) and The Wise Man's Fear (2011). Together they have sold over 10 million copies, making Rothfuss the biggest-selling debut fantasy author of the century so far. The much-delayed third volume, The Doors of Stone, is expected in 2018. Rothfuss's writing will next be seen in the video game Torment: Tides of Numenera, due early next year from inXile Entertainment.

Monday, 28 November 2016

New maps of Osten Ard

Hodder & Stoughton have released the new maps which will adorn the UK editions of The Heart of What Was Lost, as well as their cover art and that of the new editions of Memory, Sorrow and Thorn they will be releasing shortly.

The Heart of What Was Lost will be published on 3 January 2017. It is a short (150-page) novel set between the end of To Green Angel Tower proper and the epilogue set several years later.

Presumably these maps will also appear in The Witchwood Crown, the first novel in The Last King of Osten Ard, which will be published on 4 April 2017. A much longer novel (650+ pages), The Witchwood Crown picks up the story of King Simon thirty years after the events of Memory, Sorrow and Thorn.

Teaser poster and release date for ALIEN: COVENANT unveiled

20th Century Fox has released a teaser poster for Alien: Covenant, as well as confirming a new release date. The new movie, which will bridge Prometheus with the original Alien, will be released on 19 May.

Ridley Scott has directed the new film, which started life as a direct sequel to Prometheus before metamorphosing in development into a "proper" Aliens movie.

Michael Fassbender reprises his role as android David, with Noomi Rapace returning as Elizabeth Shaw. Guy Pearce is also expected to reappear as Peter Weyland (presumably in flashbacks or recordings). New actors include Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup and Danny McBride.

The new movie will involve a human colony ship arriving on a planet where the only inhabitant is the android David, from Prometheus. According to some reports, the planet may be the homeworld of the Engineers and will involve both the traditional xenomorph and a new type of alien creature, the neomorph, which may be what results when a facehugger impregnates an Engineer.

Sunday, 27 November 2016

Dunk & Egg heading back to comics

Dunk & Egg, the stars of George R.R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire prequel novella series, are heading back to comics. Bantam Books will release a graphic novel version of the third story, The Mystery Knight, next year.

Dunk and Egg's adventures start eighty-nine years before the events of A Game of Thrones, during the reign of King Daeron II Targaryen. Dunk is a hedge knight who is reluctantly drawn into the orbit of the Targaryen royal family when a royal prince, "Egg", is given to him as a squire. They travel the Seven Kingdoms, with Egg's true identity kept a secret, getting involved in various scrapes. The first two novellas, The Hedge Knight and The Sworn Sword, are both available as graphic novels.

I worked on The Sworn Sword adaptation in a minor capacity, detailing geographic and location descriptions to help the artist.

Mike S. Miller is returning to provide the artwork for the new adaptation, which will be released on 4 July 2017.

Those looking for the prose version of The Mystery Knight can find it, along with its two forebears, in A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms. George R.R. Martin has two more stories in the planning stages, with the working titles The She-Wolves and The Village Hero, but will not work on either until The Winds of Winter is completed.

Over at Atlas of Ice and Fire, I'm just about to reach the same time period in the cartographic history of the Seven Kingdoms.

Show Me a Hero

1988. The city of Yonkers has defied a federal court order to build two hundred units of public housing to meet its growing shortage of living space, and these new homes should be built in different areas of the city to encourage desegregation of the black and white communities. Judge Leonard Sand decrees that the city will be fined until it goes bankrupt if it does not comply. Incoming mayor Nick Wasicsko, the youngest mayor of a major city in the United States, initially opposes the move but, when it is upheld by the Supreme Court, moves to enact the order to his political cost.

The premise of Show Me a Hero is not immediately gripping: a six-part drama series about urban planning and house building? But then you hear it is being written by David Simon, the creator of Homicide: Life on the Street and The Wire, and one of his co-writers from The Wire, William F. Zorzi, and immediately it becomes interesting.

As anyone who's seen The Wire, The Corner, Generation Kill or Treme can attest, Simon is fascinated by the intersection of communities, politics and social engineering, how decisions made in a city hall council chamber on a wet Wednesday afternoon can affect the life of a single mother and her kids struggling to make ends meet (or a soldier in Iraq or a policeman in Baltimore). There is a cynical viewpoint in the United States (and the UK for that matter) that politics doesn't matter, that everyone is corrupt, and no-one can do anything to change anything, but Simon doesn't have any truck with that. As Mayor Carcetti's story arc in The Wire shows (based loosely on several real-life Baltimore mayors), people can make a difference, if the system allows them.

Show Me a Hero, based on Lisa Belkin's 1999 book, uses the housing crisis as a lens to examine community relations in an American city. Architect and urban planner Oscar Newman argued that by pushing everyone from one community - in this case the African American community - into one tiny area defined by tower blocks with lots of hidden places where crime could take place, like stairwells and inner courtyards, it created a breeding ground for poverty and violence to the detriment of the entire community. His argument was that by splintering the social housing amongst the middle and higher-class districts, and making it nice enough to fit in with the area, then this would benefit the residents and lead to a safer environment, a "defensible space" as he called it. Newman's theories are widely accepted today, but in the late 1980s they were radical and controversial, and Yonkers reluctantly agreed to allow him to use their crisis to carry out an experiment.

This resulted in bitter opposition from white middle-class residents who had concluded that their new black neighbours would bring crime and violence with them, because that's what happened in the existing places. Some people genuinely believed this simply happened whilst others were overt in their racism. More interesting were those who successfully made an effort to welcome their new neighbours, integrate them into their communities and make new friends.

The story, which could be dull in the wrong hands, is told from both the bottom-up and top-down. At the top we have Nick Wasicsko, played with incredible sincerity and ease by Oscar Isaac (Poe Dameron in the new Star Wars movies). Wasicsko is a young rising star of the Democrats, witty and charismatic, an ex-cop with a yearning desire to do good which occasionally conflits with his burning political ambitions, which extend to Congress and maybe beyond. Wasicsko is forced into a difficult but inevitable decision which destroys his career, despite its moral justice, and he struggles with the decision afterwards. Carle Quevedo plays his wife, Nay, who is supportive but also intolerant as his self-pity starts to take over. Winona Ryder (continuing her career resurgence, also seen in Stranger Things) gives a tremendous performance as Vinni Restiano, a political ally of Wasicsko. The best actor in the piece, however, is the magnificent Alfred Molina, who is both almost unrecognisable and tremendously passionate in the role of Wasicsko's arch-nemesis, Hank Spallone. There are also strong turns from Jon Bernthal (The Walking Dead, Daredevil, The Punisher) as a civil rights attorney and Jim Belushi (the 1980s) as Angelo Martinelli.

At the other end of the spectrum we have four struggling African-American women: Norma O'Neal (LaTanya Richardson Jackson), a strong-minded, middle-aged carer who is losing her sight; Doreen Henderson (Natalie Paul), a single mother who falls into drug use but, helped by her family, overcomes it; Carmen Febles (Ilfenesh Hadera), a hard-working Dominican immigrant trying to raise her kids on a tiny paycheck; and Billie Rowan (Dominique Fishback), a teenager who falls in with a criminal and makes some bad decisions. It's these women, all played superbly, who stand in for a wider part of the community and whose lives are directly impacted by the decisions made in city hall.

Most interestingly, because they are all too often forgotten, we also have characters from the middle class, most notably the excellent Catherine Keener as Mary Dorman, who initially bitterly opposes the new houses for fear of it ruining the neighbourhood, but then becomes concerned about the growing racism of some of her like-minded citizens and decides to make things better by helping the new arrivals integrate, befriending them in the process.

Show Me a Hero unfolds at a steady, resolved pace, perhaps occasionally too leisurely, backed up by a soundtrack of contemporary artists (with Bruce Springsteen high in the mix). A lot of the action unfolds in town planning meetings and angry city hall exchanges, mixed in with vignettes from the lives of those hoping to escape their crime-blighted tower blocks and the increasingly complex life of Wacisko, who struggles to balance his desire to do the right thing with not destroying his political career. Simon and Zorzi bring the same skill they had juggling multiple, complex and at times seemingly disconnected storylines in The Wire before bringing everything together sharply. As before, "all the pieces matter".

Show Me a Hero (****½) is beautifully-written, well-acted by everyone involved and makes fascinating points about city planning, community-building, politics and society without ever getting preachy or trite. It's David Simon doing what he does best and few other writers even attempt to do: telling the real story of people trying to survive. It is available now in the UK (DVD, Blu-Ray) and USA (DVD, Blu-Ray).