Vorl in Antares

The free, Antares 2 SF, tabletop wargame Rick and I maintain has recently had a real boost in the release of the long-awaited Vorl, designed by the talented sculpture Joey Pruitt. The species is very different and plays differently to the humans in that setting. What’s great is that these continue and help set the tone for the future of the game in that they are released in free, 3D-print-ready format (.stls and, due to the kind efforts of Jon Harrington, pre-supported, 3-up, Chitubox format).

The digest post for the Vorl and associated articles can be found here on the website for the game, the Antares Nexus (also on WordPress).

The release of the Vorl is something we’ve wanted for a while as the Vorl Ordo are a major faction in the Antares universe, having about a fifth of the total number of Antarean gates under their control (see the map: there are more gates around the equator than at higher/lower latitudes). They have also been an enemy of panhumans for many ages, such enmity driven much more by a biological necessity than a random hatred – such motivations generally being important in Antares.

We’ve had players release other .stls already – a couple of transports and a few smaller pieces (see here), but this release fills in a gap in the figures available that was there from the beginning of the game. It would be nice to see more free .stls released, and we may have a few lined up, but just the release of a core species that fleshes out a hole in the universe’s backstory really is a delight (they are wonderful sculpts, too!).

A new state of affairs

There’s been a lot happening in the last six months. In the same week I was referred for quick-response cancer assessment, I was told I would be made redundant, along with other people from my workplace, and that the games line I was working on would be wound up. Interesting times!

But things aren’t all black. I’ve had interviews for other jobs, and one is in the pipeline (though redundancy pay has been used up!). Rick Priestley and I (see the Nexus About page) discussed continuing the wargames rules with a new edition outside Warlord Games. Rick also persuaded Warlord to shift the production of existing items in the line to their sister company, Skytrex, so the game would not go into hibernation.

So, Antares 2 was born. Warlor allowed me to work on it whilst I worked out my notice, then Rick and I released it in a free, downloadable format that was designed to be easy to maintain. I also created a new WordPress-based, wiki-like website for the 2nd edition (see What’s New in V2) with free, downloadable army lists and a lot of new material – as well as revamped versions of the existing articles.

Whilst Skytrex is not producing new items apart from those already in the pipeline (a scurrilous reprobatee called Dirag and new versions of the Isorian phase troopers – to be released in July), there is an opportunity: 3D printing and .stls. Whilst Rick and I are not using this as a commercial concern, the prevalence of 3D printers amongst the hobby community has meant we’ve been able to allow players to produce their own 3D prints for items that don’t exist: the free, downloadable .stls mean we can let players print their own…

This is fantastic. The Vorl have been a major presence in the Antares universe since it was launched, but have never been released. We got in touch with Joey Pruitt, a designer in the states, who is an Anatres fan and has already produced some interesting insects. He designed us some excellent Vorl – and very strange they are, too. In fact, so strange, have a look at these speed-painted by Ruben Lopez Catalan. For Rick and I it’s a wonderful sight, one that is likely to give Antares 2 a boost, but it’s also a step along a new paradigm, one in which games are free, models are what players want (some players still prefer plastic or metal, and that’s fine – it’s easier to produce some in those formats, too).

Of course, I now have to design and test the Vorl army list. But it’s all good fun and we’ll just have to see how this new adventure goes!

Vorl speed-painted by Ruben Lopez Catalan

Dronescourge Pre-Order

Yes, it’s absolutely a relief to see a supplement finally out on pre-order. I mentioned The Taking of TOR 563Cover - The Dronescourge Returns recently, but that was just a fiction lead-up to my latest book, a supplement for the ‘Beyond the Gates of Antares’ game by Warlord Games – The Dronescourge Returns.

To say ‘my’ is a bit of misnomer. Whilst the design, writing, testing was by or organised by me, the production of a full-colour book like this needs loads of graphic artists, painters, and quite technical proof readers. It is agroup effort, and the design studio did a great job on the interiors as well as coming up for the look of the dangerous drone race at the core of the narrative: the Virai Dronescourge. Some of the work they did can be seen in the snapshot below.

If you’re interested in the models, then the first starter force (a swarm) is already up on the Warlord’s site: the Starter Swarm. There is a huge amount of background information about them already on the Antares Nexus knowledge base, with more to come (I know, I wrote it).

Another book release. It’s a huge releif to be back on the writing road, again.

The Taking of TOR 563 Serial

I’ve been quiet on here, but it’s simply because I’ve been busy. There’s a number of serialised novellettes coming out to support the release of the supplement I wrote, The Dronescourge Returns.

The first of these episodic tales is ‘The Taking of TOR563’ and is published on the Warlord Games Antares Nexus, right here: https://www.gatesofantares.com/taking-tor-563-part-i/.

There’s a lot more to do – hope you enjoy!

Review: Broadcast

Broadcast by Liam Brown

What if…

It seems that all much speculative fiction starts with such a thought, twisting or exagerating a trend or exploring something new to see how it develops under stress. Sure, such an approach may assume a path straight down Suvin’s novum and into the realm of cognitive estrangement but, nonetheless, it is a very strong place to start.

Broadcast_High Res CoverAnd that’s what Liam Brown does in Broadcast. Social media is endemic, and not just in the West. We have Facaebook, YouTube, podcasts, instagram, twitter… I could go on. In each different twist on social media we have stars – some YouTube stars drawing millions of views whenever they push a new video on the web. But beneath it all we sometimes onder why: what it is about a ridiculous or purely mundane episode is that draws so many… What is it about the regular selfies and everyday shots that draws the advertising… And why do so many want their life online, exposed to all?

But, what if it all became easier? What if a YouTube star didn’t have to set up a camera, didn’t have to compose a post, didn’t have to, well, do anything for their thoughts, life, memories and impressions to be available for all to see. What if that social feed was plugged straight into the star’s brain, what would happen?

This is what Liam Brown explores. His hero, David, is a selfish, vain, self-obsessed vblogger and social media star who does everything for the next fix. He is funded by advertisers – not jus tthrough onlinie evenue but by being contacted by them to air his products online. And he is even having an autobiography ghost-written.

That’s all so normal, the now. But then David is given an opportunity by a hi-tech internet company: “Allow us to implant a chip that will analyse the blood flow and activity in your brain – just like an fMRI. Let’s see what it can do. Let’s see if it can analyse your thoughts and turn them into a permanent vblog? It’s a simple operation.”

Liam Brown 5Okay, there’s a bit of disbelief we have to accept, right there, that the monitoring operation can be so simple. But it’s a necessary suspension as Brown is not really interested in the technical side of things raher than an exploraiton of the effects of being online, every second of every day…

Hold on. Every second? Yes. Even his dreams are broadcast – though some have to be censored. And with every thought comes problems: how often do we use social niceties, ‘white lies’ to not hurt someones feelings. “Sure, Mum, it’s a lovely pair of knitted socks.” [Trans: Oh no, not another pair of scratchy, ill-fitting garbage.] Except, of course, Mum is looking at the app that’s plugged into your new, live, social media feed and she can see exactly what you think.

Mum’s one thing, but what about your previous advertisers? You can’t lie about their products – indeed, they start suing David for airing his true thoughts about what he consumes. We reliase that he was chosen simply because of his self-centred ordinariness. Friends disappear as fast as his fame grows and soon he is the loneliest, unhappiest, yet biggest, star on Earth.

And then the trouble starts.

I don’t like David as he is exactly as described – but then, we’re not supposed to. Even his ghostwriter betrays him, sickened by his emptiness. And when things go wrong, we’ve no idea if it’s BigCorp getting in the act – they start feeding images from sponsors back into his brain from advertisers – or if he is becoming delusional.

Liam Brown uses the situation to rather neatly explore and explain the emptiness of life lived – broadcast – through the lens of social media. His approach to doing so is effective, easily understood, using in-character arguments to present the discussion. David hardly seems to understand, though, and is unable to fully appreciate what is happening to him: how much is his thoughts? How much the advertisers? How much the corporate feed into him prompting his own tangled emotions to levy reward or pain onto himself?

Reality inevitably takes a backseat. And even at the end, when he seems to suffer the psychosis be all expect (not really a spoiler), even we are unsure what is real any more, let alone the star trapped in the exposure of his own mind, open for us all to see.

Highly recommended: great fun for anyone who reads and writes blogs, and perhaps thought-provoking for those of us who consume the new, virtual society.

And don’t worry about the terrorist sheep.

Freeborn and Family

Another novelette has been released in the saga of Batu and Baray in the Beyond the Gates of Antares universe. This time, we discover how Batu got his terrifying drone and how the cloud of bionanocytes he carries – and fears – was awakened, as well as why he is considered such a threat to the Isorian Senatex.

Freeborn And Family Cover SThe novellete is called Freeborn and Family and is in PDF format accessible from this overview page. If it’s difficult to see, it can be downloaded directly from the Warlord Games website.

I’ve also built a Kindle .mobi format file that can be downloaded to a kindle directly or emailed to your amazon kindle account from your your own, approved emailed address.

Batu and Baray’s adventures started in The Claiming of Shamasai, continued in the Open Signal anthology and on the Beyond the Gates of Antares website (coming soon: to be assigned). Other stories include the series in Plaguespore, set in the timei between Shamasai and Family.