Eastercon Schedule

It’s that time of year again.

Eastercon, the British National SF convention runs from April 6-9 this year.

The provisional programme (PDF) has now been released, and it looks like it’s going to be a belter.

Here are the items I’m currently scheduled to be on:

Friday, 9pm – 10pm “Doctor Who: The Importance of Scheduling” (panel)
Doctor Who’s scheduling has varied over the years, from Saturday teatime to weeknight primetime. This year, for the first time since the new version launched, the season will premiere in the autumn. Is this a good or a bad thing?

Saturday, 11am – 12noon “How to set up a Theatre Company” (talk)
For the last year and a half or so I ran Red Table Theatre, a theatre company producing Children’s Theatre. We set up a new business model for Fringe Theatre, were the featured story on the front page of The Stage, got four and five star reviews for our productions, and made a profit. I’ll talk you through what we did right and wrong.

Saturday, 3pm – 5pm “Creativity Workshop” (talk and workshop)
For the first half I’ll be talking about creativity – how it works, and tips and tricks you can use to increase yours. Then in the second half, we’ll put them into practice and create a TV series.

Monday, 5pm – 6pm “Social Medial in SF” (panel)
Talking about both social media as portrayed in SF, and SF told through social media themselves.

There are a few tickets left, but it’s getting perilously close to selling out.

Do come up and say hello if you’re there.

Mass Effect 3: SPOILERS

So I’ve just finished ME3. For those of you that haven’t, be warned: This post will contain a lot of spoilers for the whole damn thing.

Let me re-iterate. SPOILERS ABOUND. Do not read further if you plan to play the game.

Last chance. SPOILERS.








Right. For the two of you that have finished the game (and the dozen or so who don’t intend to play), here’s the skinny:

The ending doesn’t work.

It not only doesn’t work a little. It doesn’t work a lot. In fact, it seems to go against everything we’ve established over the 90+ hours of gameplay that precede it.

I’m going to argue that this is deliberate. Bear with me.

So for the previous 90+ hours, the game has had one overarching theme. There are a couple of others, but this is the biggie:

Your decisions have consequences.

Again and again, you make choices which are reflected in what happens later. Very early in the first game, one of your squadmates dies. They will stay dead.

In the second game, a suicide mission is assembled. Odds are, most of your team won’t make it. Who dies is dependent on the decisions you take.

Throughout the series, there are callbacks to decisions that you made.

And then, after the beam hits you, there are almost no decisions except for one: do you destroy the Reapers (dooming yourself and most likely characters you care for), attempt to take control of them, or synthesize a new synthetic/organic leap to a higher plane of consciousness?

That’s a big choice. Right there. And all the gameplay up to this moment has allowed you to take time, think, ask questions. But this time round, the question is barely asked before you have to choose.

You don’t get a chance to even re-ask the question. Like, which option is blue and which red, again?

And when you move into position at one of the choice points – you can’t move away again. So you can’t almost-get-there, then change your mind.

And then whichever choice you make, all of the Mass Relays explode throughout the galaxy.

A choice which leads to exactly the same ending.
A choice which is no choice.

Now, it’s possible that the writers, after having spent so much care crafting a game with the theme of choice suddenly took that away from you for the final ten minutes of the game.

But that seems a trifle odd.

Let’s investigate further.

Throughout ME3, Commander Shepard has been haunted by bad dreams. A boy you were unable to save. You appear in a snowy forest, filled with whispering shadows, trying to chase down the child. But you can’t move properly. All of your actions are in slow motion. And there are no choices to make – if you try and run away, the child will re-appear in front of you.

In other words, the child that you couldn’t rescue, slow motion, and the lack of choice signify dreams.

After you are hit by the Reaper beam, you’re hurt. You fall unconscious. And when you come to:

You can only move in slow motion.
You can make no choice in your weapons – you simply have a pistol. With unlimited ammunition.

Making it to the conduit puts you in an area piled with bodies. (Why? What were they being used for? They just exist in that corridor… and nowhere else)

The Illusive Man is there before you. (How? How did one man sneak into London and make it through the Reapers?)

Admiral Anderson is there before you. (He even states over comms that he followed you up – but appears ahead of you.)

You meet something that claims to be the catalyst, the last piece of the puzzle. It looks like the child from your dreams.

It claims that it created the Reapers to stop synthetics from destroying organic life. A claim which makes no sense, as helpfully illustrated below.

So, to sum up:

The ending makes no sense given the text of the game.
The ending makes no sense given the themes of the game.
There are strong clues within the text that this is unreal.

Can we chase this down any further? After the game finishes, you get the following text:

“Commander Shepard has become a legend by ending the Reaper threat. Now you can continue to build that legend by further gameplay and DLC.”

Note that last: Further gameplay.

Now that I’m the God of all Reapers (option 1)? Seems unlikely.
Now that I’m living in a synthetic/organic higher plane (option 2)? Also unlikely.
Now that I’m dead (option 3)? Well, that didn’t stop me before… but I’m still calling a no on this.

So we know that Shepard’s story continues… but it can’t, in any of the available endings that we played.

In fact, we can’t even hit Resume Game to finish off those side-quests. All you get is a replay of the ending.

And then, let’s look at the post-credits scene. A man speaking to a child in a snowy forest (now, where have we seen a snowy forest before?).

“Tell me another story about the shepherd.”
“It’s getting late, but OK. One more story.”

To me, this leads to one inescapable conclusion:

That’s not the real ending. And was never intended to be.

David Warner reads The Just So Stories

So as you may recall, some time ago I produced a show called The Just So Stories, based on the classic book by Rudyard Kipling.

The Just So Stories was performed at the King’s Head Theatre, the Pleasance Theatre in both London and Edinburgh, and at the Trestle Theatre in St. Albans. It got some fine reviews, and I’m very proud of it.

What you might not be aware of is that we also made an audiobook of the show.

I’ve loved David Warner ever since I first saw his work, and I’m proud to say that he reads an audiobook of The Just So Stories, together with songs sung by the cast. The audiobook was produced by the lovely Neil Gardner and Simon Willey at Spokenworld Audio, and features the five Just So Stories and songs which were used in the production.

You can find out more and buy the audiobook for just £7.99+VAT from the Spokenworld website. If you want to have a listen beforehand before parting with your money, you can listen to a five-minute preview there too.

Suffice it to say I’m immensely happy with this.


Last night, 15,000 civilians tried to save the world from an alien invasion.

We failed.

If you’ve been following gaming news at all, you may be aware that Mass Effect 3 came out out in the US today. Here’s a trailer to bring you up to speed on the background for the game.

So a couple of weeks ago, this Twitter feed starts up.

Delayed Collider Now Online #AllianceNewsHeadline

— AllianceNewsNetwork (@AllianceNewsNet) February 21, 2012

It’s not obvious what it’s there for at first, but as time goes on, tweets like the following start to appear.

Buoys at batarian homeworld still down. Governor of Camala colony: “We know the Alliance has stealth vessels. This is obviously an attack.”

— AllianceNewsNetwork (@AllianceNewsNet) March 1, 2012

And then yesterday:

Thank you for bearing with us. Earth is currently experiencing a comm buoy outage.#solcomms

— AllianceNewsNetwork (@AllianceNewsNet) March 5, 2012

Emily Wong, a reporter and minor character from the first two games, is filing copy via a Quantum Entanglement Communicator. All of Earth’s comm buoys have gone down, you see, so she’s reduced to a text-only feed of only a hundred and forty characters.

Over the next few hours, in realtime, Emily livetweets the invasion of Earth. And she’s using the hashtag #solcomms.

A twitter hashtag is formed by adding a # followed by a word in your tweet. It’s then easy to pull any tweets out which have that hashtag in them, and display them all together.

Which means that anyone else on Twitter who wanted to tell their stories about the invasion could too.

I started following Emily’s story – the aliens had landed in Los Angeles and were destroying everything in their path. Then other people started joining in. Cities across the world, all under attack not because the writers at BioWare had demanded it be so, but because it was interesting and fun.

People started uploading photographs of the alien attacks. I even took a photo of one myself.

(You’ll notice the huge Mass Effect field from the alien starship as it fires its deadly main gun causing a flare that makes it look like a quick photoshop job. Look, I was there, all right? I know what I saw!)

We created our own stories last night. We took pieces of other people’s stories and made them our own. I exchanged tweets with people talking about the best places to try and escape from London. Someone tweeted that the last bridge across the Thames had been destroyed, and I built that into my own world.

I asked my (real-life) housemates if they wanted to try to run with me. Nick told me where he’d like to spend his last hour of life.

Housemates wouldn’t evac. Nick’s in the garden with gin and tonic, flames reflecting in his eyes. I don’t think he’ll even run. #solcomms

— Piers Beckley (@piersb) March 5, 2012

I tweeted about my run across the deserted streets to Brixton, and then built someone into my story – a biotic (someone with psychic powers) who saved my life, but then slipped in and out of consciousness. And I didn’t know how to treat her.

Except I-the-writer did. But I-the-character didn’t know the lore about biotics (when they use their powers, they exhaust their stores of energy, and need lots of energy intake quickly to avoid collapsing.)

Three of those… things… came at us. I’d managed to get her half-way out the rubble, and they just crawled from the ground. #solcomms.

— Piers Beckley (@piersb) March 5, 2012

I think they were human. Once. And she just picked them up and threw them against the wall with her mind. And they broke. #solcomms

— Piers Beckley (@piersb) March 5, 2012

She’s slipping in and out of consciousness. Whatever it was she did, it took it out of her. Anyone know anything about biotics? #solcomms

— Piers Beckley (@piersb) March 5, 2012

I’ve got a biotic who’s just saved my life three times over. And she needs something but I don’t know the fuck what it is. #solcomms.

— Piers Beckley (@piersb) March 5, 2012

And there’s no medi-gel and if I can’t figure out what she needs we’re both going to die here. And I don’t. Want. To. Die. #solcomms

— Piers Beckley (@piersb) March 5, 2012

And I-the-writer decided that unless someone was able to respond to my cries for help within 15 minutes, the monsters would come back and we’d both die there.

And I sat back, nervously, and waited.

And five minutes later, Heidi T Ewing (swiftly followed by several more people) saved my life.

@piersb Can you get her any food/IV nourishment? Hear biotics mess your system up. #solcomms

— Heidi T Ewing (@htewing) March 5, 2012

It was a visceral experience.

And it wasn’t just me. Thousands of people were telling their stories of the invasion, in real time, across the world. An improvisational drama with no guiding force other than the fact that we all knew the world in which we were playing, and the fact that many millions of people were going to die that day.

I saw stories of heroism, and of fear last night. All created in the moments they were told.

Emily Wong’s story came to an end too. To the best of my knowledge the only “official” character of the 15,000 or so playing, she used the only weapon she had left – the skyvan she was flying – to take down one of the invaders.

You want to see how a human dies? At ramming speed. #solcomms

— AllianceNewsNetwork (@AllianceNewsNet) March 6, 2012

Millions of people died last night.

We all killed them.

We sent aliens into their houses to kidnap them and impale them while they were still alive.

And this week, most of those responsible will fire up our new games, and take revenge for the destruction that we wrought.