Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Thrill of The Hunt

Reading through Hunter Planet is both a joy, and gives me the the odd feeling of being dislodged in time.

Hunter Planet, First Edition-1985
Front and Back Covers

That may have something to do with some of the background color in the game itself (more about that below), but moreover it's because, upon completely going over it, I remember why I love(d) this game, and why I think we felt it necessary to make changes to it way back when to make it work for us.

Some of the reason for this is us, that is, my friend who ran this at a local game convention, and I. We loved to tinker, especially with simpler, more rules-lite games. I still do. I find it a lot more enjoyable to add bits to a low crunch game than to need to cut whole chunks out of complex, heavy crunch game.

Another reason for the changes we made may have to do with Australian versus American sensibilities. I can't say for sure. I've only known one or two Australian nationals well as friends, and they were so American I didn't get a feel for any differences, or specifics of culture.

By contrast, as a bit of an Anglophile, I can easily identify the differences between British and American humor. I am an avid fan of British TV shows such as Red Dwarf, Are You Being Served, and Black Adder, as well as the brilliant work of the Monty Python comedy troupe. I get a good deal of the idiosyncrasies of British living.

Likewise, years of watching Anime, reading Manga, and spending time among Japanese people (friends, girlfriends, and co-workers) around my age have given me a fairly good idea of the particulars of their pop culture.

I think I might need to watch some Australian made TV shows, or movies. Are there any anyone would recommend? I concede to being woefully ignorant on the subject.

I suppose what I am saying is that my buddy, and I took Hunter Planet, and made it more American. Not with that particular idea in mind (I don't think), but I think we just trimmed here, and added there, and ended up with the 'U.S. Adaption of Hunter Planet' more so than actual Hunter Planet.

One of the interesting things I discovered reading Hunter Planet is that it shares an attitude (as well as some other features) with another game I love from roughly the same era, Teenagers from Outer Space. Not only do both games have rules-lite systems, great senses of humor, and the 'Aliens-Humans-Culture-Clash' vibe, but they both strongly advocate making up your own stuff.

Although 'these-rules-are-only-guidelines' has been part of RPG gaming since the very beginning (or close to it), Hunter Planet takes the time to point this fact out very clearer, and more than once. Considering the relatively short page count of the book (approximately 30 pages not counting the front, and back covers) it is interesting to note how much attention is paid to using your imagination, ad libbing, not adhering too strictly to the rules, and of course, downright cheating (highly recommended).

Without further adieu, lets get right to an actual review (or what passes for it on Barking Alien):

The Good

The core concept of this game is just plain fantastic. There is nothing else I can really say about it.

'Aliens on a Hunting Safari Vacation try to shoot the primitive, indigenous life forms of a world called 'Dirt'. The natives are stupid, savage, and dangerous. They think cell phones are cool, and watch golf. Seriously. Barbarians.'

What's not to love?

The game mechanics, while crunchier than I remember (only barely), are still incredibly simple.

The writing style is simultaneously humorous, personable, and a bit authoritative. Rules are referred to as 'Principles', such as The Principle of Landing, the Principle of Getting Beamed Up, and The Principle of Firing (How to shoot something). The author's voice is a commanding one, even when just telling you to have fun.

The game was made on a Macintosh Computer in 1985. It's on pale yellow paper. The fonts are wonky. These are features I tell you, features!

Lastly, there is a funny bit where David Bruggeman, creator of the game, is insinuated to be a time traveler from the distant future. He is first introduced in the games' background as a Cadet in the future, remarking how the game of Hunter Planet was found as an ancient relic, or some such, and written by a man with his very same name. While pondering this he experiences some sort of accident, and disappears.


The Bad

What is bad in the book, isn't really bad per se. It's more a question of, hmmm, how to put this...

Hunter Planet, at least this first edition book, is a book that was made by a guy with a great idea, in Victoria, Australia, on a Macintosh, in 1985.

It's clever, funny, and best of all, inspires all kinds of crazy ideas.

It is also oddly, if not poorly, organized, and lacks the slick, professional look of other games (even ones of the time).

But there is beauty in its rawness. There is a charm to its imperfections. It is great, and odd, and a little broken, and wonderful.

The Ugly

OK, so there is one bit about the game I find fault with. This is purely my opinion, and not a testament to anything truly ugly, or badwrong about Hunter Planet. This is simply my preference, and the reason, in retrospect, we made the changes we did oh those many years ago.

The game comes with a background to explain the universe the alien PCs are from. It has an interstellar government called the Federation of Planets, and has the people on Earth/Dirt, at some point, aware of the Federation's existence.

Furthermore, it describes a war at some point in the future in which the Earth is fully invaded by the FOPs (Humans refer to Federation of Planets citizens and military as FOPs). At some point following this, the universe is ruled by The Empire of Man, although I can not tell if that means the Humans won. It seems like they didn't, and yet 'Empire of MAN', so...

I found this background very confusing, and completely distracting to the main idea of the game.

I get that there needs to be some kind of government out there, some organization that sponsors and/or authorizes the Hunts, but I wish it had been much more vague. I don't think so much emphasis, or at least text, should have been devoted to it, and it's future history.

I would also prefer if the people of Dirt had very little idea of what was going on. Sure, there may be some secret Men-In-Black type group that has picked up some data over time, but it shouldn't be a commonly known thing. To put it another way, I'd prefer a Men-In-Black, X-Files, possibly even Close Encounters approach. The game's 'canon' (if you can call it that) implies it started that way, then gives you the diary of a Human freedom fighter fighting against the aliens.

Why? Aren't the PCs the aliens? Aren't they the 'good guys'? So much focus in the text regarding Humans holding out against the aliens really threw me off. I started to wonder who I am supposed to be routing for. When you create a game like this, it's best to have Terra Incognita, portray Whoomuns in a satirical light as bumbling Neanderthals to your 'far superior' advanced society, then show that the aliens have all the same flaws, and quirks.

That's my two credits.


In conclusion, I love that I have this, I can't wait to run it, and yes, I am going to modify the crap out of it when I finally do so. I want to add alien species abilities, more weird technology, a bit more info on the Hunting Tour company (not a lot though), and find a way to make the locals (us) dangerous because they don't know what's going on, not because they do.

Thank you once again David for sending me this.

The Hunt is on...

Barking Alien


  1. Ok, well the blog Elf maids and Octopi blog is by an Aussie. He has posted stuff about his long stairs dungeons games which is about a dungeon being found in outback Australia and Australian soldiers heading into it. He also posts reports about his outback roadwar games which are like Mad Max.

    Which brings me to my first movie suggestions - the Mad Max movies. Starring Mel Gibson they are set in the near future and are reasonably Australian looking. The first is the most close to being set in our time. I didn't even know it was a sci-fi movie when I watched it.

    (These are ordered roughly in order of most to least useful for you.)

    Tomorrow when the war began is about Australia being invaded. It is focused on a group of teens who are off camping and slowly realise something is up when they head back to civilisation. It might give you some good ideas about sneaking around and the Australian country and towns.

    Crocodile Dundee 1 and 2
    These are great because they show you a variety of the Australian bush, they show people with good bush skills (tracking, hiding, navigation), show a lot of Australian culture, have hunters in them (the hunters become the hunted!), and show how they could not know what was going on (alcohol!). They are also great movies.

    Some violent movies. These should give you some ideas about how the locals can be dangerous.
    Wolf Creek
    Horror movie set in the bush about a serial killer who kills backpackers. Supposed to be really scary, I have not watched it.
    Chopper (Eric Bana)
    Two Hands (Heath Ledger)
    A couple of crime dramas.
    Romper Stomper (Russel Crowe)
    Set in the city so shows you what urban fighting might be like. Shows gangs and improvised and other weapons.

    Some comedies. Fun to watch and will give you an idea about oru culture.
    The Dish (Sam Neill)
    This one especially because it is about Australian scientists at a tracking station in the country so these might be the kind of people who would stumble onto an alien spaceship landing and have to investigate it with the local country cop. Set at the time of the moon landing it is a real place and is still in use.
    The Castle
    A true Aussie bloke is going to have his house reclaimed to expand the airport and sets out to defend it in court.
    A guy has to play at the local lawn bowls club so he can keep the parking bays he is renting to his workmates in the city.

    Some Australiana
    Gallipoli (Mel Gibson)
    Defining battle for us. Created our ANZAC spirit. Award winning movie.
    Australia (Hugh Jackman, Nicole Kidman)
    Lots of cliches, which is great for you. Loads of outback colour and scenery.
    Ned Kelly
    Defining bushranger. Epitomises our rebelious spirit.
    Picnic at Hanging Rock
    A group of school children just disappear. Shows the mystery of the Australian bush.

    One last good one:
    Mystery Road
    This is a low budget movie about a cop trying to track down drugs in a country town. Set now, very Australian and it has a great gun battle which shows what kinds of weapons might be available and how a gun battle would go in Australia. It is nothing like an American gun battle. Watch this if you can.

    Other things you may want to look up on Wikipedia are:
    - Pine Gap.
    - Woomera test range.
    - Northern Command (and North-west mobile force, the Pilbara Rgt. and Far North Queensland Rgt.). These are reserve forces staffed by locals mostly. Operate away from cities.
    - Eureka rebellion. The flag for this is used like the old southerer flag in the United States. By the same type of people.

    This should give you enough to start with!


  2. Thanks for these jbeltman!

    Interestingly, most of these are not comedies, but I do get why you recommended them. A feel for Australia, and being Australian, is paramount it practically all them it seems. Awesome!

    A note on Paul Hogan, and Crocodile Dundee: Unlike the sketch comedy of 'The Paul Hogan Show', which I have seen, I was never sure of the nature of the humor in Crocodile Dundee. That is to say, was it a parody of Australian clichés for Australians (things that Australians would find funny), or was it made for an American audience?

  3. Well I was a kid at the time and I wasn't kept in the loop about their strategy...
    it seems like it was made for American audiences. They capitalised on Paul Hogan's popularity at the time and Australiana. There is a bit on wikipedia but this page from my local uni. has more:

    I didn't realise you wanted more comedies. Other ones are:
    - Strictly Ballroom.
    - Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.
    - The Nugget.
    - Kenny.
    - Muriel's Wedding.
    - The Man Who Sued God.
    - The Night We Called it a Day.
    - The Wog Boy.

    Now I am getting really hesitant suggesting stuff to you. So you know you are onto the good stuff that you just won't get.
    You could look up Kevin Bloody Wilson if you want. A real dirty and funny singer.

    If you really want some fun watch Housos. There are a bunch of episodes on Youtube and they made a couple of movies as well.
    M15+ probably! Kids don't watch this. :-)
    Here you can see them accepting their award for most outstanding light entertainment award last year.
    Note they were sitting down the back!
    Other series by these guys are Fat Pizza, Swift and Shift Couriers and Bogan Hunters.


  4. Lots and lots of excellent suggestions up there. I'd also add Walkabout -- which isn't really Australian but is set there and is a bit weird -- and The Rover -- which is Australian, is set there, and is also a bit weird. The latter reminds me a lot of the first Mad Max in terms of tone and setting.

    Neither is a comedy but I find that Australians tend not to have an off switch when it comes to humour so there's always a bit of a laugh to be had, even in the most dire of circumstances.