Tuesday, 5 March 2019

VHS ATE MY BRAIN – 5TH ANNIVERSARY AND NEW EDITION NEWS

Wow... already? VHS Ate My Brain, which was my 7th book and which also spawned the column in Scream Magazine (which I wrote for a year before leaving – it continues with a different hack at the keyboard), is now five years old. I never once thought that my little book about mad old films on an obsolete format would last this long, but it still sells and I still get the occasional message from across the globe in which another like-minded individual shares memories of their wasted video youth.

This is massively humbling, so thank you from the bottom of my cynical, blackened heart.

The VHS Ate My Brain book has become something of a calling card for me. It's by far my most successful self-published book, to the extent that I really wish I'd had the foresight – and the budget – to give it the edit that it deserved. Reviews often mentioned typos, and I don't blame them.

Back when I was writing it in 2012-2013 I figured it would be my own little keepsake of the scene I'd found myself in. The VHS collectors I was in touch with at the time were almost exclusively in the US, and I felt isolated by that and wanted to stale my claim to a bit of the hobby for myself. I threw it together and put it our there.

I quickly discovered that it wouldn't just be a thing for me to have and file away. It took off, and my inbox was quickly filled with messages and questions. The book's popularity was helped massively by the wonderful cover by Josh Schafer of Lunchmeat, which made it both stick out and look way more professional than I was capable of doing myself. I'm hugely grateful to the book and the VHS community.

Which brings me to some 5th anniversary news.

Work is well underway on a revised edition of VHS Ate My Brain. A brand new chapter is complete and has been added to the text, and the text is being revised in full. A few things are being moved around and the layout is being tweaked, plus additional photos missing from the original version will be included. This revised edition will feature a new cover, as Josh's amazing artwork was for the original and I figure he's way too famous and busy now for another. Plus I'm broke. Sigh. VHS Ate My Brain: Revised Edition will get an official release date soon. Thanks for everything, tapeheads!

Wednesday, 30 January 2019

The Weturn of the Wii?

A few months ago, I bought our two young sons a second hand Wii console and some games, with the intention of getting them used to the controls, gestures and concepts of games with wireless controllers before we eventually upgrade them to a Nintendo Switch. The waiting period has been unintentionally extended, as they are both having a blast with the Wii and the stack of games I've picked up. Some games are the typical Wii novelty titles full of mini games, while others star branded characters like Sonic, Mario, Lego Batman, Transformers, Ben 10 and the like.

My wife and I have had a ton of fun reacquainting ourselves with old songs on the Just Dance games, and our bank balance hasn't been harmed by the console or the games, as I picked the console up for £18 from CEX, with the Wii games I bought priced from 50p to £5. The prohibitively expensive prices of Nintendo Swicth games have kept us checking CEX shelves and charity shops for cheap Wii games to maintain the family interest, and during this time I've noticed that we're not alone.

The price of second hand Wii consoles has risen recently (I've seen them selling for £25-£30 for the console and one controller in some electronics/second hand stores), and some games are currently selling for £15-£18 used! It appears that we're not the only family that has bought an older console for the kids (yes, and us) to enjoy, as interest in gaming fun at prices that are manageable in these times of Austerity and national uncertainty. Families with young children, a mortgage, a car and all of the costs that go with those things can't risk spending upwards of £50 for a single game that may not be any good. We want some fun, but it has to be within a price range that won't stop us eating for a week, y'know?

Wii games may be dated by current standards, but they are fresh enough to maintain the interest and don't yet look as old-school as the 16 bit games I play while bathing in nostalgia for my Megadrive days. In addition, the consoles available second hand work fine, even after a decade or so of use, and with so many games available for very little outlay (or games like Super Mario Wii for around £15 – which is still manageable), it's understandable that a reliable old favourite like the Wii may make something of a resurgence.

What made me think about this? It was seeing the ads for the most recent Just Dance before Christmas. This was advertised as being available for the Nintendo Switch, and also the Wii! After all this time, a new Wii gamegetting a release is of note as it shows that people do still use them, and it also shows that games companies are aware that not everyone will have access to the latest console. It makes business sense to have a version available that families can pick up without a massive outlay for a new console. I think that with the Wii, Nintendo hit on something that was so iconic and game-changing (as it were) that whatever followed it wouldn't have quite the same cultural impact.

The Nintendo Switch is fantastic, but I'd say it's yet to reach the same heights as the Wii. I'm reminded of Blu Ray coming along, and while it wiped out HDDVD, regular old DVDs still hang on for dear life as the newer format didn't change the physical disc concept, and also came with a higher price tag for players. It's not a case of 'if it ain't broken, don't fix it', more a case of 'If it ain't broken, we can't afford to upgrade for the hell of it'. So grab your controller and wave it at that screen like it's 2008 all over again.

Saturday, 26 January 2019

Kill Team: This Means War!

So, recently I took my freshly built and painted Drukhari Wyches Kill Team over to Warhammer World to play against my good friend Kei and his Adeptus Mechanicus team. It was a lot of fun, even though Kei annihilated my Wyches very quickly indeed, which tells me I need a bit more thought in terms of their tactics and using their skills to their fullest. Of course, this also meant that I would need to take brutal revenge as soon as possible.

Thus I've bought a Deathwatch Kill Team and after an evening of building fun am ready to get painting. Where the Drukhari are about stealth and speed on the table, I think what I need to overcome the followers of the Omnissiah is some brute force and heavy weaponry.

I mean, technically they'd be on the same side, but I'm sure a scenario can be concocted where they can face each other. The set is a joy to build, offering a lot of options in terms of weaponry and characters as well as a wide range of moulded chapter pauldrons.

The option that I'm most excited about is the Black Shield model, which is going to look stunning once painted. The idea of an Adeptus Astartes who has left his chapter behind and has gone into self imposed exile is fascinating, and offers a lot of scope in terms of character.

Another thing I appreciate about this set is the leftover parts, of which there are many, meaning I have the chance for some Deathwatch conversions soon as well. This is a great set, and I'm looking forward to kicking Kei's backside with it next time we hot a Warhammer World table.

Tuesday, 8 January 2019

Femforce 186 - A Personal Milestone

I've been writing stories for AC Comics' Femforce title since the middle of 2015, and in that time have scripted team stories as well as solo adventures for Stardust, She-Cat, Ms Victory, Tara, Nightveil and my own creation Violet Shadow. It's been an amazing experience so far, with the advice of Mark and Stephanie Heike making the stories the best they could be for the long-running superhero title. This is a comic I read as a teenager and is entwined throughout my life.

In issue 68 in 1993 I had a letter published which mentioned a comic shop I wound up working in for nine years, and while my comic collection fluctuated between then and becoming a writer as an adult (initially a music journalist and film critic with some fiction for fun), the Femforce comics from my teenage years always remained with me. The characters are perfect archetypes of the classic superhero blueprints, and that has always been appealing to me as a fan.

When I had my first script picked up in 2015 ('The Rage of Traxis') I had no idea that I would continue to write story after story for the team, and also no idea just how much I would develop under the guidance of the Heikes.

Femforce issue 186 will be something of a milestone for me as it is the first issue where I have written the main lead story, namely 'March of the Etherium', which introduces brand new adversaries who may well prove to be too powerful to stop. We shall see how they do when the story concludes with its second part soon after!

Knowing there'll be a Femforce comic book with an Andrew Hawnt story at the helm is a delight and an honour, and I can't wait for the next adventure. Incidentally, now is the perfect time to discover my Femforce work as the current Femforce issue 184 features no less than five of my stories across the issue. So what are some of the things I have learned to develop leading up to this point?

- An understanding of movement in comics panels

- Moving a story along using dialogue, thoughts and captions as well as action

- Making sure artists clearly know who is in each panel

- Ensuring that characters don't act in a manner which contradicts their established personalities

- Showing that superhero characters are still people with thoughts and emotions beneath their masks

- How to set stories up and focus on the pace and plot

- Ending stories with a desired atmosphere, be it uplifting, shocking or poignant

There's a lot more, but it's late and I have pages to do. I just wanted to say what a pleasure it is to get to do this, to enjoy the playground that AC have been building since the 1980s. Here's to many more stories to come.

Tuesday, 1 January 2019

I Was A Game Snob

Hello 2019! Happy new year and all that. I thought I'd start as I mean to go on and write about something I love - tabletop gaming. It wasn't always that way, though... 

The big hobby interests in my life are by far Warhammer 40,000, Warhammer Age of Sigmar, Magic the Gathering and the various things that go hand in hand with those. It wasn't always the case though. For a long time I was a total game snob.

After my early teenage Warhammer days and the MTG phase in my early twenties at the start of the 2000s, I turned away from the things that brought me so much pleasure and fell into the enticingly glamorous embrace of being a musician and DJ.

Gone were my video gaming days when I unplugged my trusty old Sega Mega drive for the last time. Gone were my days being thrilled by tabletop games like Space Hulk, Warhammer 40,000, Space Marine and the like. Gone were the times spent tapping lands and sending cards to do battle against other decks. The thing was, I didn't just stop playing – I actively started to deride what I'd loved. Looking at that period now, I understand that I did that as a defence mechanism as I could no longer afford to indulge in hobbies that cost money or time.

I poured myself into being in bands and buying music to add to my DJ case and told myself I was happy, when I was anything but that. The tumultuous personal events of those years made me bitter and insular, actively shunning pretty much anything involving genuine social interaction. I told myself I didn't want to, when in reality I did and I just couldn't.


At the time I was running a scummy yet expensive home on a paltry wage and felt trapped in a cycle of things being constantly out of my reach. Once the music career went wrong (bands broken and friendships lost or damaged for years to follow), my appreciation for fun stuff returned but the urge to join in didn't. Several years of struggling had left their mark on me.

Eventually, once I'd become a writer and music journalist those things could be pushed aside again as I was busy, but again this wasn't fulfilling. After I left music journalism in 2016 due to family commitments and a day job, I edged back towards my old hobbies one at a time, starting with comics and cult films.

Those served me well, but now I was a dad I wanted something more interactive in order to reclaim some of that enjoyment that I'd denied myself for so long. I saw the snob I'd become, looking down my nose at huge, expansive industries loved by millions, and there came a day where the negativity dropped away and everything came flooding back.

Here I am now, delving ever deeper into Games Workshop lore and games I loved and games I missed and brand new games, playing Magic the Gathering with my sons and other players in person and online, visiting Warhammer World on a regular basis and also relishing retro video games all over again.

What have I learned? I've learned that fun is really, really important to being happy. It's easy to lose yourself in the pace and stresses of life, but there still needs to be some fun along the way. I'm glad I realised that, as I'm having the time of my life. Right now, I'm game for anything.

==

So yeah, let's get busy, shall we 2019? I have a lot of work to do, and I hope I can offer plenty of fun content soon for you... and for the Emperor!

Sunday, 23 December 2018

Warhammer 40,000 Battle Report: The Blightorum Scourge Part 1

The past couple of weeks have been somewhat hectic at Castle Hawnt, which has left little time for big games with the kids, although several small scale skirmishes have taken place and these have been able to push our family game narrative forward. Here begins a series of reports from the battlefield, as lived by Adeptus Astartes of the Ironwing, Salamander and Ultramarine chapters.

Relay At Virilus VI 
Battle report by Lieutenant Talis of the Ironwing Space Marines 

Following on from the battle at the stronghold on Garilan IX where we stood beside our Ultramarine brothers against a Death Guard force, the squad had returned to our rely outpost on the otherwise barren Virilus VI. The Plague Marines, which held dangerous teleportation tech, had used a wave of Poxwalkers as well as their pestilent weapons against us to reduce our numbers.

The addition of an Ork warband complicated matters, but ultimately the Death Guard were annihilated by Brother Joseph, who detonated the unstable tech's core. We returned with our number lessened, but we made sure that the gene seed was collected so that their essence may be added to future battle brothers. 

While most had since returned to our orbiting ship for treatment or to assist with equipment repairs, brother Larin and I remained at our outpost to complete the exit. We gathered munitions and other supplies from the Munitorum armoured containers beside the main structure of the outpost in order to load them onto the next transport the Captain would send for us. We had two hours until the transport would make landfall, so we worked quickly.

Little did we know that a reconnaissance party of three Death Guard had hidden from our auspexes by covering themselves in plague flies. Clearly their teleportation tech had not all been ruined in the blast that had ended our previous battle. They revealed themselves with a hail of heavy Bolter fire, some of which detonated an ammunition crate and almost blew us apart. The battle was swift and brutal. There were no tactics at play here – just a sudden violent drive towards extermination.

These filth-ridden nightmares must have been sent to cleanse the outpost completely and take it for themselves, but they clearly hadn't counted on us. I freed a barrage of Bolter shells at them while Larian rushed to the nearest container, swiftly climbing atop it and training one of the roof-mounted Storm Bolters on the plague marines.

One, a pus-oozing horror whose face bulged out in fleshy lines between the cracks in his helm and whose stomach hung from the torso like some stinking, bloated growth, was shredded into filthy meat and tarnished ceramite. I wounded the others, but their pestilent forms repaired themselves before my eyes.

They fired again, Larin taking a shell to the shoulder. Thankfully his armour held strong, if blackened and dented by the impact. We conferred over the vox and rent open a munitions crate. Soon the space between us and them was filled with active frag grenades and krak grenades. S the first detonated, the others followed in a violent chain reaction that blew the three Death Guard apart like so much spoiled meat. We incinerated the corpses and completed our preparations.

As a small troop carrier arrived for us and we loaded it up, we passed on a message to be sent to the nearest other battle brothers. The dark forces of Nurgle were in the vicinity. Before we arrived back on board our chapter's ship, we had heard from squads fighting for two revered chapters – the Salamanders and the Ultramarines.

I wager we may need their assistance soon.

Sunday, 16 December 2018

Warhammer 40,000 – Indulging in Aeldari


In my early days of gaming, my favourite alien races were the Genestealers/Tyranids and the Eldar. These two offered different ends of the spectrum in terms of foes for my Space Marines and the other forces of the Imperium that I'd filled shelf after shelf with. With the Tyranids there's the relentless hunger for violence the myriad clawed beasts thrive on, while the Eldar offered a regal, mysterious species rich in history and blessed with extremely striking designs.

Now I'm well and truly back in the game(s), my interest in Eldar – now Aeldari – has returned. I love their aesthetic, their quiet majesty and truly alien customs. Their miniatures are exquisite, offering a lot of scope for different styles and colour schemes, and the current plastic kits are way more detailed and practical than the metal ones I originally had.

Also, along with the Eldar came an interest in the Dark Eldar, or Drukhari. These mean, vicious fighters are the perfect embodiment of lean and nasty alien adversaries, and that's immensely cool. Their ships, such as the Razorwing or the Venom, have a beautifully angular design that not only looks amazing on the table, they also really evoke an otherworldly sense of cool.

Indulging in Aeldari and Drukhari is adding yet another layer of enjoyment for me, and I do suggest branching out from the tried and tested old favourites as a new army is always fun to paint and even more fun to get to know. Adding another dimension to the hobby can only serve to enrich the experience.

I'm having an absolute blast with this universe and would love more people to discover for themselves what a positive thing it is. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go and choose some crazy loud hair colours for my Drukhari Kill Team ;)

Friday, 14 December 2018

Magic The Gathering - Deck Building Zen

When a buddy at a local gaming store heard I'd found my MTG mojo again while showing my 6 year old son how to play, he passed us a huge bag of cards to explore. That was an awesome gesture and we're hugely grateful, as not only can my son check out more of this glorious game, but I can revisit cards and combos that I'd long since forgotten in the 15 years or so since I played a lot.

While I'm teaching my little dude the rules, I constructed some single colour decks that were big on creatures, sorcery cards and Instants but light on artefacts, dual lands and enchantments, just until he gets the hang of the basics before I add the next layer of complexity for him.

Something I've rediscovered during these sessions is just how relaxing the art of deck building can be. Getting the right balance of card types and combos is a remarkably Zen thing to do, and I've got a lot of pleasure just from this, even before any cards hit the table!

For anyone who needs some pointers on this activity, there are some great instructional videos out there. Here's one I enjoyed from the Geek and Sundry crew: