Friday, October 28, 2011

Of the Ipad2 and Reading Blogs and Gaming PDFs

Two posts in two days?  Yep - I'm trying to get back on schedule. 

As I mentioned about a month ago, for my birthday this year (and also a combo anniversary present), my wife gave me an iPad2, which was a hugely unexpected gift.  To be honest, I was a little overwhelmed at the thought of it at the beginning, because I really didn’t know what I was supposed to “do” with it.

After playing around with it for a month or so, I can safely say that it’s a most awesome piece of technology and I’m glad that I have one.  In addition to being able to use it in a pinch for things like work presentations so that I don’t have to carry my huge 17” screen laptop with me, I’ve found that I’m using it a lot more to read things.  I’m not using it as an e-reader in the sense that I’m reading novels.  Instead, what I’ve been reading on it is primarily:

1)   Blog posts
2)   Old RPG PDFs
3)   Old Dragon Magazines

I’m going to deal with the first two briefly, and then move onto talking about Dragon, which is actually the main reason I started this post. 

I’ve been using the app called “Flipboard” to read people’s blog posts once my friend Loren’s fiancé, Mary, informed me that I could set up Flipboard to recognize my Google Reader account.  I love the freedom of being able to read the blogs that I follow without having to sit at my desk.  Plus, the format is just much more friendly to me.  I keep my iPad2 on my nightstand, so in the morning when I wake up while my wife is in the bathroom getting ready, I can buzz through a few blog entries.  I’m finding hat I’m actually reading a lot more blog entries in this fashion than I ever did on my laptop, which is cool because in addition to all of the cool ideas that are floating about the OSR blogosphere, there are also a bunch of other fun blogs that keep me up-to-date on comics, movies, and other geek stuff.

Regarding the PDFs, one of the things I really hate is reading PDFs on a computer screen, because for some insane reason, PDF publishers have never figured out that computer screens are landscape, and having a two-column format on a PDF means that I have to scroll all the way down to the bottom of the page to read, then scroll back up and start at the top again and read down.  That’s just a really poor user experience.  It’s like the assumption is that, if you buy the PDF, you’re just going to print it out to read it.  If I were going to do that, I’d just buy the print version.  And, if the publisher is PDF only and doesn’t have a print version, then they have no excuse for formatting their PDF only product as though it were a print product.  Why can’t they take advantage of the medium they’re using, and format their products in landscape, with a type of column formatting that doesn’t entail me having to continually scroll up and down to read the page? 

[Astute readers will note that I am the author of a PDF-only product, the Quintessential Aristocrat, that was, unfortunately, formatted as though it were a print product.  I was only the author of that particular book, not the publisher, so I had no control over the final layout.]

Anyway, what this brings me to is reading PDFs on the iPad2, which is a much better experience.  Since I can turn the iPad any direction I want, I can hold it upright and format the PDF page to fit within the screen so I don’t have to scroll up and down.  And, since it’s lightweight, I can comfortably hold it closer to my face to read the small type, unlike what I can do with a regular computer monitor or even laptop screen. 

So, what this brings me to is that, during the whole d20 era back in the early 2000s, I bought a lot of d20 PDFs – mostly class guides for all of the various classes as well as for new custom classes, but also books of spells (the Book of Eldritch Might was the first PDF product that I’d ever purchased), campaign settings, adventures, maps… you name it.  However, the one thing I didn’t really do was read a lot of these products, mostly because I got annoyed with the prospect of trying to read them when they weren’t really formatted to be read on the computer.  I’d skim them and maybe once in a great while, print out a page or two to read at my desk. 

I had also gone through when all of the old TSR products were available in PDF format (before Wizards unceremoniously took them all down) and bought a bunch of stuff that I’d never had a chance to pick up in print form. 

Now I find that I have a ton of reading material that’s going to keep me busy for a very long time.  I always love reading new game material, and while this stuff isn’t necessarily “new”, it’s kind of new to me since I never really had a chance to read it before. 

I’ll be posting about some of my favorites in the upcoming week. 

And that brings me to Dragon magazine, which is going to have to wait for its own blog post.  But, I’ve been rediscovering the magazine thanks to the Dragon Magazine Archive CD-ROM I have.  I started with the Strategic Review #1 and am reading the entire run.  I’m not reading every article in depth, but mostly just the ones that interest me or that look like they have some kind of historical significance.  I maintain that the best way to really understand the history of our hobby is to just sit down and read through a lot of these old issues of Dragon., especially the editorials.  There’s a lot of interesting stuff in there that I wasn’t aware of. 

As just a “teaser”, I had no idea that at one point, there were two separate magazines after the demise of The Strategic ReviewThe Dragon (which was billed as a magazine of science fiction and fantasy, and included a lot of fiction), and Little Wars (dedicated to strategic board games and military miniatures gaming, and which I don’t remember ever having heard of before).  They were later “combined” into The Dragon once it became clear that The Dragon was growing by leaps and bounds while Little Wars was stagnating. 

More to come…

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Batman: New and Old

I recently picked up the new DC Universe animated movie, "Batman: Year One", based on the old Frank Miller story that ran in issues 404 - 407 of Batman back in 1987. 

Since I, like most of you reading this blog, am an avowed geek, I started watching some of the "behind-the scenes" stuff, including an interesting interview between three generations of Batman comics writers and/or editors: Denny O'Neill, Dan Didio, and Scott Snyder.  One of the questions that the interviewer, Mike Uslan (the movie producer behind the 1989 Tim Burton "Batman" film as well as behind the more recently Christopher Nolan "Batman Begins") asks them is what(and when) was their first exposure to Batman, and why did he resonate with them so much?

I started thinking about this question as it relates to me personally - both for Batman specifically, but also comics in general.

My first exposure to Batman, as far as I can remember, would have been from the old Adam West TV show version, which was in syndication and aired in the coveted after-school time-slot on a local independent station when I was around 6 or 7 years old.  Of course, at that age, much like Scott Snyder mentioned during the interview, I didn't realize it was campy.  I didn't even know what "campy" meant at that age.  All I knew was I could watch Batman drive the Batmobile and punch villains in the face.  I thought it was great. 

At the same time, I would have been watching the adventures of Batman as part of the Superfriends on Saturday Morning Cartoons.  I had a poster of the Superfriends in my room - the incarnation of the team featuring the ridiculous Wendy, Marvin, and Wonder-Dog.  Once again, although I was old enough to realize that Wendy and Marvin were useless, I remember really getting into the stories with the rest of the Superfriends, particularly Batman. 

I also distinctly remember owning a 45-RPM combo storybook and record of Batman, which I had completely forgotten about until I started writing this.  I did a little research, and it turns out it was a story called "Stacked Cards" (click the link to listen to the story on YouTube).  The artwork for this book resembled some of the Neal Adams' stuff that had come out in the late 60's, and the story was extremely dark - one scene involves a dead security guard who has the signature Joker smile.  

One thing that's interesting is that all three of those versions of Batman are completely different incarnations, but as a kid, I didn't distinguish between them.  They were just "Batman."  I guess I just wasn't old enough to separate them in my mind.  I think it's one of the reasons that, as an adult, I can be okay with the newest animated incarnation of Batman on Cartoon Network's "Brave and the Bold."  It did bug me a little bit at first, since I'm a huge fan of the classic "Batman: The Animated Series" style of Batman, but given Batman's long history and different versions in the comics, TV, and movies, I think there's room for a more lighthearted look at the Caped Crusader. 

So that was my first exposure to Batman.   I can't really guarantee which one of the above three I saw/heard first, but the one that sticks out is the Adam West version, and I suspect that might have been the first.  

Interestingly, you'll notice that one that's missing from that list is the actual comic book version of Batman.  That's because I didn't really get into comics seriously until about 8-9 years later. 

Around the time I first became aware of Batman, I also became exposed to a lot of paragons of "geek culture" - Star Wars came out when I was 6 1/2, and after it became a huge success, the local independent TV station started airing reruns of classic "Star Trek", which was the first time I'd seen it.  About a year or so later, I saw my first Japanese anime in the form of "G-Force" (now referred to as "Battle of the Planets", but it was the same thing). 

And, around this time, right after Star Wars came out, Marvel  Comics did a six-issue adaptation of the movie and my mom bought them for me at the local grocery store (!) because she knew that I was just gaga over Star Wars.  Those were my first comic books.  After the six-issue movie adaptation ended, Marvel continued the series by making up their own stories since they had purchased the license from Lucasfilms.  I collected them up through issue #15, and then for some inexplicable reason, I stopped.  I really have no memory as to why. 

So, from that point (around 1978) until about 1985 or so, I didn't read any other comics.  It just wasn't my thing.  But then things changed with the Marvel Super-Heroes RPG from TSR came out.  They advertised the game like crazy in Dragon magazine, and I was one of those people who pretty much only played TSR role-playing games.  I really wanted that game, and mentioned it to my mom as a gift idea.  To "prepare" myself for playing the game, I thought it might be a good idea to get up-to-speed on the comics.  I dug out my old Star Wars comics and looked through the in-house ads for their other titles, featuring names of teams I'd never heard of, like the Invaders and the Defenders, and people like Namor the Sub-Mariner.  I tried to memorize the team rosters in the ads so I would know who everybody was once I got the MSH game.  And that Summer I went to a B Dalton's bookstore with my mom and she bought me my first comic book in over 8 years.  Sadly, it wasn't Batman - it was X-Men #197, which I bought because I had read somewhere that the first MSH adventure module was about the X-Men, and I didn't know anything about them.

From that point on, I ended up really getting into comics.  I was mainly a Marvel guy, solely based on my interest in the MSH game, but after a few years, I started to shift over to DC as nostalgia for the old Saturday Morning Cartoons and the Superfriends came to mind.  I specifically remember picking up Issue #404 of Batman because it advertised on the front that it was the first part of the four-part "Batman: Year One", and to me that seemed a good point to jump in and learn about the character.  Eventually I ended up collecting all of the Batman titles and trying to acquire back issues to read more about him.  And reading those stories, I started to really love the character again, and it's a fascination that continues to this day.  Batman is by far my favorite comic hero, and I think a lot of it has to do with all of the really cool and interesting ways that he's been portrayed in the media - not just the comics, but also the animated versions and the theatrical movies (okay... some of the theatrical versions).  Few other comic characters have received the same level of treatment as Batman, and I think it's helped solidify him in my mind as my favorite.

So, that's a glimpse into my first exposure to Batman, and also a little about how and why I ended up getting so into comics.  I'll write more about my current involvement (or, un-involvement) with comics in a later post.

What about you all?  When did you first become aware of Batman?

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Where Have I Been?

Yes, it's another "why isn't Martin posting more often" posts, just to keep you up-to-date. 

Here's what's been happening with me lately:

Personal: I had a birthday a few weeks ago, on 9/21.  I got to go out to a nice dinner with my wife the day before, and then had a nice dinner at home with my wife and daughter on the actual day.  Later on that week, I went out to dinner with two of my friends, and then had dinner with my family (including my mom and dad).  So, it was a lot of "having dinner" but most of them were accompanied by nice wines and cocktails, and of course with very excellent company.  I also received, as a gift from my wife, an iPad2, which is something I totally did not expect, as I had not really asked for one.  It's awesome because I can use it for work, to take to meetings where I have to present things, rather than lugging my laptop around, and it's got a most awesome benefit - I uploaded all of my gaming PDFs (including issues #1-#250 of Dragon magazine, from the Dragon Magazine CD-ROM Archive that I have) to Dropbox, and then put the Dropbox app on my iPad.  More on that below.

Work-wise: Well, after many months, my team and me at my ad agency, Always On Communications, landed two "official" clients.  One is a packaged goods food manufacturer that makes refrigerated pastas and pasta sauces as well as organic tofu entrees, salsas, and hummus.  I'm really excited to be working with them.  The other "client" is really a partnership with a creative agency who handles the creative duties for GoldMax and Yoshinoya, among others.  They needed someone to buy TV, radio, and out-of-home for these two clients, so we struck an arrangement with them.  I just completed the first TV buy for GoldMax today (it's awaiting approval), so if you live in Los Angeles, Atlanta, Chicago, or (soon) Tampa, and you see/hear an ad for GoldMax on TV, radio, or on an outdoor bulletin, you can thank me!  :)

All of this new work means that I've been extremely busy trying to get up-to-speed with all of these new accounts - learning the ropes, meeting the new clients, getting old files for back-up, and having to create plans and buys really quickly.  That's meant, of course, less time for blogging.

Game-wise: My last post was all about my most recent gaming.  Since then, I haven't actually been able to get together with my game groups, due to conflicting schedules, but we are scheduled for another game of Brian's "Andalusia II" campaign in a few weeks, and I'm trying to pin-down a date for my next "World of Samoth" game as well. 

Reading-wise: As I mentioned above, I've put all of my gaming PDFs on my Dropbox so I can access them from my iPad without having to actually download every single PDF to my iPad (and use up all the memory).  What's been most awesome is that I'm going back and reading really old issues of Dragon magazine, actually starting with the 7 issues of The Strategic Review and then continuing on to Dragon. It's been very enlightening, actually, since before I never really read any of the really old ones, even after I got my Dragon Magazine CD-ROM Archive back in the late 1990s or early 2000s or whenever it came out.  I'm going to be doing a whole post about reading them coming up.

What's Coming Up: I have the next installment of "My Time Working With Wizards of the Coast" planned, as well as some posts regarding the current state of comics, my updated current viewing and reading habits, and a more in-depth look at the most recent Savage Worlds game I played a few months ago.  Also, in the background, I've been working on a "secret RPG project" in my spare time (ha!) that I plan to release as a free PDF once it's finished.  I'll need to figure out art, maps, and all that kind of stuff because I suck at that kind of stuff. 

Stay tuned!
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