Renegades, Assemble!

Ok, so that didn’t come out quite right.captain-battletech

Or did it?

SO, THIS IS BASICALLY THE STORY OF THE LAST YEAR. OF GAMING. FOR ME.

It all began after GenCon 2016. Wait. Not really.

It all began when I saw Harebrained Schemes was crowdfunding a new computer game based on the Battletech tabletop game, in conjunction with Catalyst Game Labs and Battletech creator Jordan Wiseman.tech-readout-3025

Ok. Ok. It REALLY all started when I saw a 3025 Technical Readout for the Battletech Tabletop Strategy game in a comic shop in Idaho Falls, Idaho, tagging along with my dad as he made his weekly run to pick up the new issues, circa 1992.

Battletech: Giant stompy robot war machines piloted by humans locked in an ongoing struggle for dominance of the galaxy. When you’re a 12-year-old kid who’s been fed a strong diet of comic books, TransFormers, GI Joe, Star Wars, Star Trek, and Monty Python, I ask you: What’s not to love?battletech3rdboxset

I saved my yard-mowing money until I could afford the basic boxed set of the game, and thus was an addiction born. I began playing the game with anyone who had the patience to read through the basic ‘quick’ simplified rulebook. I painted my miniature plastic BattleMechs with my mom’s acrylic craft paint. I saved for and purchased more books, more miniatures, and as friends fell away from the game, I even relieved them of their neglected troops.

I should say at this point that Battletech, like most of the things that hold my creative imagination and attention, is so much more than just the battlefield combat, and the competition of out-thinking and out-fighting your opponent. There’s LORE. There is a HUGE story involved. It’s the story of a humanity that spread out among the stars, but even with the interstellar distances involved in a galaxy-spanning human society, the universal stories of Greed, Ambition, Bravery, Cowardice, Valor, Skullduggery, Hope, Desperation, and all the crap Shakespeare and Michael Stackpole wrote about have continued to shape the human experience. . . on worlds as yet unexplored and in the depths of SPACE. It’s great stuff.

And then, like many others have before me, I discovered sports, the fine arts, and girls. School provided so much extra- and co-curricular activity, I’m amazed looking back that I had time to sleep. As a result, the disciplined warriors of House Kurita and my mercenary band of roughnecks collected dust in a cardboard box. But, every once in a while, I would flip through the Battletech Compendium of rules, just to make sure I hadn’t forgotten anything. The years passed: college, Chicago, grad school, Tacoma, working, marriage, kids.

After a while, I got back into tabletop games. My parents moved nearby and I reclaimed my old gaming gear from the basement. I thought to myself, “Maybe when I have time, I should get back into Battletech. Man, I used to love that game.”mwo-grasshopper

A couple more years passed, but what was no longer out-of-sight was also no longer out-of-mind. I started looking online at Catalyst Game Labs’ website dedicated to what has become “Classic” Battletech. (Nothing is quite the same after something you loved as a young person becomes “Classic”. Classic Rock, for instance. When did R.E.M. and U2 become classic rock? But, I digress.) Once again, the itch to sit in that command couch, strap on my neurohelmet, and pilot my 70 ton instrument of battlefield dominance to victory was as overwhelming as that February day in that comic book shop I can’t remember the name of so long ago.

I never really thought I’d get as close as I have to living that particular dream.

You see a year ago, a Seattle-area game developer, Harebrained Schemes, Kickstarted the aforementioned Battletech computer game. It would be a turn-based, third-person, top-down strategy combat game, with all the flavor and many of the mechanical aspects of the Battletech tabletop game (but, like, with 3d ‘Mechs and terrain, and environmental effects, awesome lighting, sweet weapon animations, voice acting, an open-ended single-player campaign mode as well as a PvP gameplay aspect as well).hbs-logo

I totally backed the heck out of it when time came to crowdfund the production of the game. (If I’ve piqued your interest, and you’re interested in backing the game yourself, just follow this link.)

Six months later, Em and I were invited to GenCon Indianapolis, where I knew there would be a chance to play a super-early build of the game at the Harebrained Schemes booth in the exhibition hall. I played the heck out of that demo, too, and came away super impressed and, well, wanting way more.hyperrpg-logo

Also at GenCon, I made a brief connection with Zac Eubank of Hyper Rabbit Power Go!, which is a Twitch channel. (More on Twitch here) Not only is HyperRPG a Twitch channel, but they’re affiliated with Harebrained Schemes and producing a weekly broadcast of a hybridized Roleplaying and Tabletop Battletech series, played on a large scale gameboard with huge, 3D-printed Battlemech ‘mini’atures. The name of the show? “Death From Above”. Cool. Super cool.dfa-logo

So, there I was, at GenCon with Zombie Orpheus Entertainment as a ‘booth dude’, and I thought to myself, “Hey, I should make sure and get Zac’s card and see if I can make some kind of connection between these two companies because they’re both in the Seattle area and in the same sort of entertainment biz and maybe we can bring them some of our audience and we can get some more exposure for ZOE. . . everybody wins?”

EVERYBODY WINS. YOU WIN . . . and YOU WIN!

I handed off Zac’s card to Ben Dobyns and he handed off the networking to Chris Ode, who thought it would be a super good idea to leverage all the improv comedy talent in the ZOE stable to help create content for HyperRPG. And thus, history was made, and a rag-tag collection of actors became the Renegades of Death From Above.dfa-banner-ad-hyperrpg

As a way to introduce us to the HyperRPG audience, and give the original cast of “DFA” a break (They’d been at it every Friday for five months.), the kind people at Hyper RPG put us right into their prime Friday 6pm spot, and I was so graciously asked by the one and only Chris Ode (chosen by the top brass to be the gamemaster for this little circus of improv and Battletech) to be the first “Bad Guy,” of this interim series. I would get to be the first obstacle to the other characters’ goals, the first speedbump on their path to success . . . or maybe I’d end up killing them all off in the game.

One of the interesting aspects of this episodic ‘game’ show is that when a player’s character is killed in the game, that actor is done. Finito. Not asked to return. So, if you want to come back and play again, there are some significant stakes to the survival of your character.

I was called on to play a tough bounty hunter character who is after the price on the head of our plucky hero (played with some drunken elán by Christian Doyle), and Chris thought it would be fun if he had some kind of dialect. I remember trying a few out on him over the phone, and somehow we settled on Russian. That was basically my brief for the evening, with a couple plot bits thrown in for good measure. Not only did I get to create a fun character, but hey, my character survived! And I didn’t kill off any of my opponents, so, in the game, and after the combat was over, our characters all decided to go out for drinks together to celebrate living to fight another day.

Another of the more interesting parts of this experience was discovering the community that this show had generated. Wow, are they a great bunch of people! They were so welcoming and really seemed to enjoy what we brought to the gaming table and into the room as these new characters came together in this established show.

To elaborate: the followers of this show are able to chat online with each other while watching the show, and this chat is essentially part of the action (and through contributing $$ to the channel during the program, they can affect the course of the game).  They chat with each other and comment on the action in a way that the audience of an improv show can’t. It was entirely novel to me, and the richness of the interaction was something I was totally unprepared for. During performance, there’s no way to really keep track of what they’re commenting on, but it was possible to see what they enjoyed/liked/didn’t like so much when I watched the Video On Demand of the episode with the Chat visible. It was easy to see that this was truly a remarkable group that was really enjoying our work (play).

To top it all off, the audience enjoyed me enough as the Russian from space, the good people of HyperRPG and ZOE invited me back! I got to play in four of the eight episodes of the “DFA: Renegades” run, and I had an absolute blast as the Space Russian Bounty Hunter: Nikolai Sokolov. It was such a pleasure to work with both the ZOE and HyperRPG teams, and I really hope I get to do it again!

And THAT’s the story of how I got to play Battletech in front of the ENTIRE INTERNET.

(Want to check it out? The episodes of “Death From Above: Renegades” are available on YouTube and for Twitch subscribers (VOD streaming with chat visibility) at the HyperRPG Twitch channel.)

New post? Where?!?

boba-fett-where

Yes, friends. The time has come for me to blather more regularly into the abyss of the Internet. I’ll be posting more, and soon!

Topics include:
-What’s been happening since August. (Oof. Do you really want to go there, Matt??)
-Nerdy stuff.
-Good literature I should probably read.
-Dad stuff.
-Theatre stuff, the lack thereof, and the reasons why.

Stay tuned? Stay tuned.

A love letter to Taproot, on its 40th season:

Dear Taproot Theatre,

I know this imperfectly conveys my feelings about you, but I’m hoping there is grace enough to take my incomplete thoughts and perfect them in your mind. In the words of someone far more eloquent: “You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you”.

-Matt

Today I had the great pleasure of seeing a matinee performance of the musical Big Fish at Taproot Theatre as part of their 40th season as a theatre company. As a milestone, it’s astounding, and as a work of theatre, Big Fish is a terrific piece with some standout performances, and the cast, crew, directors and designers all deserve the accolades due them.

The continued lines of relationship in our lives, parent to child, form the backbone of Big Fish’s story of self-discovery. How we tell that story to those closest to us shapes those lines of relationship, and gives us a wonderful gift of perspective.

And it’s at times like anniversaries, milestones, that perspective seems to come more easily, personally and publicly.

Taproot has meant many things to many people, and like most robust theatre organizations, has left its own unique stamp on its audience, and the greater theatre community in Seattle. I have had the distinct honor of joining with Taproot in their mission to bring stories to their audience that “brighten the spirit, engage the mind and deepen the understanding of the world around us ” as a cast member in several Taproot productions.

In my time working as part of Taproot’s company, I’ve seen amazing things happen on stage, in rehearsal, and in people’s lives offstage. I know most actors have, regardless of what theatre they’re working in. Actors, by and large, are a sensitive breed of people. We notice things, listen closely, read between the lines of voice and movement.

Producing theatre can be extremely hard. Emotional risk and vulnerability is an essential part of the journey we as performers take with an audience. An audience which sometimes might not want to come along with us. Time with family and friends is forsaken as we prepare for performance. Sacrifices are made in the hope that the end result, the experience for the audience, will allow something new to be born in their minds and hearts. And after all that, we fail in our goals at least as often as we succeed.

An element of faith is involved in this work. And maybe it’s not religious faith. To quote Stoppard: “It’s a mystery.” Maybe it’s the faith we can have in each other, that we’ll be supported by our colleagues and friends. That if we fail, we all fail together, and that if we succeed, everyone is responsible for that success.

I have always felt that kind of support working at Taproot. I have always believed that my work was valued and that I was an integral part of creating something that would bring a group of people together and open their minds and hearts to something new. I am so proud of my friends and colleagues at Taproot, and I wish them success as they continue to pursue their mission to “inspire imagination, conversation, and hope.”

GenCon 2016!

I had a fantastic time at Gen Con 2016 in Indianapolis! I met many friends new and not-so new, played some games, checked out an awesome super-pre-alpha demo of Battletech @ Harebrained Schemes’ booth, rep’d Zombie Orpheus Entertainment in the exhibitor’s hall and about town, and promoted the heck out of what’s coming!

“What’s coming?” I hear you ask? Web-Series! New and exciting opportunities and partnerships! Check back for more!

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“Time Stands Still” at Harlequin Productions

Time Stands Still Banner Harlequin 2015

Friends! I’m onstage again! In “Time Stands Still” with Harlequin Productions in Olympia, WA. We’re only in our first week of performances, so there are plenty of opportunities to catch a show.

We have a tremendous story on our hands, by master playwright and Pulitzer prize winner, Donald Margulies. I’m extremely proud of our work, and I hope to share it with you. Click the banner above to be taken to Harlequin’s website for performance information and online tickets.

See you after the show!

Exit 133- It’s almost uncanny.

ali-seatac-commuteExit 133- It’s about Tacoma. And while I’m not primarily a Tacoma blogger, I think my recent dip into home interests makes my sharing this applicable:

Exit 133 – Finding the right Job/Housing Balance for Tacoma

While it starts primarily rooted in the economics currently at work in Pierce county, the above article really strikes at what’s going on in Tacoma: do we want to be a bedroom community for Seattle, or can we stand out in our own way, and be a unique urban center?

I think it directly resonates in our Arts community, as well. Discuss?

Stealing from KC

Steve Jobs (may he rest in peace) loved to quote Pablo Picasso: “Good artists copy; Great artists steal.”

picasso_the_owl

Now, whether or not that’s what Picasso actually said, or even further, what he actually meant, I can’t be bothered to wrangle. However, I came upon an article online in American Theatre magazine about a theatre that has rooted its identity in its community, and found a way to support artists within that community to do outstanding work FOR that community.

You can find the article here.

Go ahead. I’ll wait until you’re done reading it.

No GO AHEAD. It’s short.

You’re done already?

Quick reader.

Okay: I have some thoughts.

First of all, I think that collective decision making can yield great benefits for a company, and in this case, community. Embedding the theatre in the fabric of the community, not just in its decision making (composing the board of half community members) but by fostering local talent almost exclusively gives a unique sense of ownership. Their partnerships with local business, individuals, non-profits, schools, and city government sink their roots deep into where they’ve been planted, and have allowed them to grow and bloom.

There is no dedicated artistic leadership other than the company members. No artistic director, administrative staff, or theatrical home. Many of their works are produced in ‘found spaces’ in the greater KC area. One of the major complaints I’ve heard, and one of the major hurdles I’ve understood to creating a theatre company, is that there has to be a ‘boss’, there have to be staff members, there has to be expense and overhead to keep the lights on in a building that the theatre needs to own or rent. KCAT has found a way around that. Community partnerships allow it to find space when needed. It allows its artists, dedicated to a consensus model of decision-making, to pull the artistic strings needed to select a season of theatrical works, uses committees to do the work of a dedicated staff, while also giving them the flexibility and autonomy to continue their work of making theatre (acting, directing, designing, etc.).

A theatre grounded in it’s community is something Tacoma could get behind. So many of my fellow Tacoma residents are fiercely loyal to their community: the people and places that make Tacoma a place we choose to live. A theatre that’s as loyal to them might just be something worth supporting.