Goal: Gaming as Entertaining

Monday, 18. October 2010

One of my goals in starting this site was not to have something that talked purely about gaming.  There are a number of other websites out there that do a very good job at that (I’m finding more and more still as I shuffle though the community.)   I wanted something that worked on improving games at a conceptual level, something that also treated gaming as entertaining and how to improve from that level.  In addition I wanted a site that covered a wide variety of additional interests to which I could have the gaming articles as a bit of a “teaser” to get more interest into playing. 

While I’m at this (and before I started even) I read quite  a bit on post length.   Short posts index more frequently unless you’re just a virtuso of material, but on the other hand they punish you in the amount of time each person spends reading a page.  I’ve decided to work toward the former when possibly simple for the sake of brevity.  A quick, concise read to get the information is more useful than sinking time into it with the way people treat their time and attention span nowadays. 

I think in regards for my first goal that this has been a pretty good success; I feel I’ve been fairly effective in remaining in that niche although slightly less so recently.  Its going to be a constant battle not to fall into the typical web of “do x, y and z” posting.   I still need to get into doing more food posts along the entertaining line, but as I am not a natural cook (even though I do enjoy it.) this takes a good amount of work and research to produce something worthwhile.  Difficult to pull off while travelling although it can certainly produce some good ideas.

With regards to the second goal of pulling in a wide variety of interests, this is still a huge work in progress.  I have a number of odd ones that I write about and several others to work into as well.  Hopefully this can turn into somewhat of a time killer for entertainment purposes with somewhat of an offbeat feeling to it.  I’ve got a number of interviews I’ve been working on getting lined up, although I feel it’s something I need to wait on for the site to pull more traffic in order to make it better worth their time.  The delimas of catch 22′s of course.

Current other immediate projects in the bag are a newsletter and RSS updates via email, the latter I am hoping to have implemented by the end of the week.  I think given my resources to put into the project that it’s been a good start so far and I like to thank all my readers to making it what way.

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Mild Costuming

Friday, 15. October 2010

Typically costuming is a live action role play (Who are role playing) or society of creative anachronism thing (Who are attempting to stay in character.)  I believe we can use it outside of that however to add flavor and character without going to extremes.  This should prevent people from being too put off about it.  In addition, some of the items are quite useful outside of gaming as well so its hardly a wasted investment.

The first is simply to add a garment or to in order to set the mood while playing.  Simple pieces that have cross purposes for outside gaming are a good place to start.   The simplest ones that I can think of are hats and cloaks.  In a worst case scenario both are usable on Halloween at the very least, but on a more practical side they can easily be used elsewhere.  The key here is to look for something that is stylish without gross modification.  Swashbuckler type hats with the feather removed make a fairly handy and good looking fedora depending on how the hat is made.  Everyone (guys especially) should have a few fairly interesting hats since it seems the only thing in vogue nowadays is those stupid baseball hats.  Cloaks in addition to being very stylish easily double as a coat (their intended purpose) a blanket or a mat for picnics and the like.  I would recommend getting one that is closer to full round or 3/4 round for this purpose.  Another piece that comes to mind no so much for its versatility but simply because I would like to see the style come back is bracers.  They’re usually fairly cheap and are made in a large variety of styles.

The other option is to help enforce role play.  I’ve had generally good success with this, and I’ve heard most other people who have tried this have as well.  Typically it is done with hats as they’re the easiest to get on and off quickly.  The concept is when a player is wearing their hat any words that come out of their mouth are in character.  This makes it real easy to find out who is acting and when and generally simplifies the life of the storyteller.  Usually after a couple of creative missteps (“I say we rob the guy!” or  “Man, this guy is a dick!”) to NPC’s face they’ll be in character fairly stoutly with the hat on.  If your players are doing this, I suggest that a storyteller does this as well to maintain solidarity.

With a little investment you can easily have an item that is cross purpose and adds some nice flavor and mood to gaming.  I like to attempt to work off a model that investments are make life better outside of our hobbies as well and this is a good angle to work from.

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Troubleshooting Process

Thursday, 7. October 2010

Throughout our all of our lives problems or lesser and greater natures inevitably crop up. How we resolve these problems in large part determines our success in life. The logical process of troubleshooting is very useful both in life and in gaming to determine the real cause of failures, so is worth examining further in depth.

With any systems there is a line or web (in the case of more complicated situations.) of supporting systems. Its useful to look at some of these as a supporting chain in which any failure within it will produce an overall system failure. In addition, the first chain within any loop is the core supporting structure and even small deviance’s in this can cause cascading failures throughout the system.

Each failure within a supporting system causes a specific kind of result, which may or may not be shared by others within the system. These results have to be sifted through and tested to find the real root cause of the problem.
Read more

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Game Progression

Friday, 1. October 2010

One of the elements of a game that I always harp on is that I think flow is a quintessential element. Granted you still need to have story, players willing to role play… but really overcomplicated rules slow down game play and can really put a drag on having fun, especially once you get rules lawyers involved.

What do you do to keep games flowing quickly?

My typical methods involve..
1) Generalized notes on areas and characters for quick reference
2) Minimized additional rules
3) Avoid going into too much detail for beginners, letting them play and pick the game up as it goes.
4) Quick arbitration, detailed arguments can be heard after the game is done
and lastly
5) Favoring simple systems

Obviously the last point doesn’t work if you’re a tactical battle guy that enjoys playing with miniatures.

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Consumeables in RPG’s

Friday, 24. September 2010

Adventuring parties in any day and age tend to drag along a substantial amount of equipment. (Hikers just might be the modern day adventuring party now, hah!) The majority of all of this is easily taken care of with a list, carried, worn, stuck into a backpack and drug along. All of this weight is tallied up and if it’s not too much, they player in question can still move.

Most storytellers like to keep track of the essential items as well as major consumables. Damaged gear is always kept track of, as well as ammunition, and most of the time food and water. (At least it should be, starvation and dehydration makes for an interesting if not persistent enemy.) Of particular concern however is spell components, where a variety of weird items are used. Some of them are very mundane, going to the very rare.

I try to keep track of anything thats uncommon or reasonably expensive to the players in question. Likewise it’s generally carried in a pouch or some sort, so losing that can be just as damaging in the short term as losing a book.

What is your threshold and method for keeping track of these?

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Brutal Legend

Wednesday, 15. September 2010

I avoided this one initially because the reviews suggested that it was primarily an RTS, and that was something I really didn’t feel like struggling with at the time. As it turns out the RTS portions are only portions of the game, and are the multi player element. That and the fact that EA released it didn’t help much either. So at around $20 I figured it was safe to pickup for the collection. Wow, was I ever wrong in waiting as long as I did.

If you can merely tolerate any sort of heavy metal; this game is utterly amazing. If you really like the music it is all the better. Brutal Legend is really a full fledged tribute to the entire genre. The music is great and the entire world looks like it was ripped off of an album cover (And technically, it was.) The color, background and environmental effects are simply beautiful, as well as all the character models and animation.

Well technically not an RPG in purest sense of the word, Brutal contains a lot of upgradable elements for your main character and a good way of powering up. The majority of the main story takes place in between being on foot, and driving (Aka, the deuce or the “Druid plow”) with the occasional major battle located to break that up. The story is compelling and well played, easily making this a game where you can look over at the clock and several hours have gone by. There is a large variety of side missions available as well to break things up and are a very good opportunity to see all that the game really has to offer in terms of landscape. The main storyline of the game runs around 30 hours probably, a little on the short side if you’re not putting time into some side quests.

When you’re not running around in the main storyline, you’re directing your army’s against the enemy trying to tear down their stage before they get the better of yours. There is a wide variety of troops amongst the 3 armies of the game.. corresponding to classic metal, death metal and twisted metal appropriately. Your commander is fully able to get into the action and has a good variety of musical solos they they can use to direct the battle. Facemelter for instance, does exactly what it sounds like. The strategic depth is actually better that what I would’ve expected from a console game.

Brutal Legend is well put together and will leave you crying for more. Lets hope they either spend a lot of time to put together a very compelling sequel, or just let it stand alone in it’s glory. Anything less would be simply defacing all the hard work that made this game so excellent.

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Competing in the digital age

Friday, 10. September 2010

Most pen and paper games are very old school in that the primary media used to drive the rules and game itself is books.  Books are heavy, expensive to produce and often contain a tremendous amount of information as well as photographs to sift through.  This is hardly ideal when attempting to maintain efficient game flow.  Fortunately, there has been a slow turn towards using other media effectively as is pointed out over at Neogrognard.  The cards are a good solution but inevitably breaks down into using even more media than before, potentially adding additional complication.

Allow me to say before I go any further that I think the nostalgic feel is why people play these games instead of say, a Crpg. In that regard they need to retain the same object in hands feeling and social aspect while hopefully cutting down on the number of things to keep track of. 

As antiquated as books are there is a lot of good reasons to use them.. something that needs to be leveraged upon but not thought of as the be all end all.  For starters, the information is easily available.. if you’ve got the general location in the book memorized.  It’s also highly portable and relatively durable with the exception of taking a bath in soda or being chewed upon by the family pet.  In order to really capitalize on this games with more complicated rules systems need a condensed version that is easy to reference printable and/or purchasable for a low cost.  The maximum page count should be around 50, but less is better particular for the amount of data the storyteller has to manage.

Cards are a good step forward as well particularly if it’s something that needs to keep track of how abilities are managed.  They can be tapped as in Magic, or overturned and simply reset once the encounter or given time is over.  This greatly simplifies record keeping and turns the cards into a bit of a player sheet themselves.  I think its a good way of handling that if your rules are complicated enough to need them, but also think that simplifying away from using them is as much of an advantage as anything.

The handheld device market such as phones, blackberries and Ebook readers needs to be developed for the ease of distribution and use.  I see phones as being particularly useful from a standpoint of quick reference as well as being able to access character sheet information that constantly changes.  Stats, exp, hp and the like are especially useful rather than rubbing holes in paper over and over.  Being portable and attached to something important (who wants to leave without their phone nowadays) makes it that much harder to actually forget anything.  Any sort of online recoverable storage works in a similar fashion, one could always download the information should it get lost.

That all saidI think anything thats easy to keep track of and has a nice tangible aspect to it is good for gaming.  People like to feel something in their hands, even if its just a piece of paper.  It something that wears and shows character as the player ages.

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Wednesday, 8. September 2010

It would make sense that I take a brief break there, and then get absolutely killed at work first couple days back.  I got to a bit of thinking while I was at it though, mostly about what motivates us at hobbies.

There are a lot of reasons any of us do hobbies, mostly breaking down into some twisted passion of love despite the time and money invested into them.  I think the real core reason comes down to simple escapism; getting away from modern life in our own way for a while.   It’s the same reason video games and movies are so popular, reality can be denied if only for a little while.  Of course, if we could find a way to actually enjoy our passion and live I think most people would drop work in an instant.  I think that the work is really a major motivating factor, because most peoples lives particularly in the US really aren’t that bad. 

Of course, who can blame anyone at that point.  Modern work simply sucks for a lot of people… its a far cry from doing something that produces visible results for whose doing the work.  The setting also tends to be less than enjoyable, and the people we put up with in actual work even more so.  The increasing automation of work blocks more and more people out of what might be enjoyable employment on consistent basis.   I don’t consider repetitive manufacturing or the like enjoyable work, but not everyone is capable of or wants to sit at a desk all day.  If those people had land and the know how, they’d probably be farmers or something similar.

Pursing a passion as actual work though is scary.  There is usually little safety net, a minimal capitol investment, and a tremendous amount of time and effort involved.  So most of us enjoy our hobbies as simply that, an escape from a trap we call employment.

Any other thoughts on the matter?

(Mind you that I enjoy my current work, but I have been in the situation above before and found it less than fun.)

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Castlevania – Lords of Shadow

Thursday, 2. September 2010

Busy day, so here is a Castlevania trailer. Lets hope that the game is awesome… and that the trailer isn’t all the firepower it can muster.

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Defining games through combat balance and utility

Wednesday, 1. September 2010

We’ve all played games that have absolutely no balance of what classes or characters can do in combat. If the majority of what you do in a game is fight, you will absolutely hate such games if you’re always consistently underpowered. The real problem comes in though, when the characters are equally useless elsewhere, and the game fails to recognize it by describing such a character as weaker. We like to think of games as being somewhat balanced in characters being equivalent in some abstract sum of their abilities.

If what you’re truly working with is a tactical combat game, then everything has to be equal in some form in that arena. What characters lack in brute power need to be made up for in utility or perhaps durability, or mobility. MMO’s are notorious for this (Notice I didn’t say MMORPG, because the latter part is basically nonexistent.) because they’re glorified combat simulators, often in very, very slow motion. D&D is attempting to do that same thing as a holy grail, simply because that’s what the system represents. Bashing things in combat and taking loot. It’s no fun to be useless in such situation.

The lesson taken from that of course, is as mentioned above some sort of abstract balance is required. Balance = fun after all. That’s hardly the case though if it were, scales would be the majority of modern entertainment. Reality of course has no such qualms when it comes to balance. People vary wildly in both their abilities and the sum of their abilities and skills. We simply attempt to recognize talent when we see it, and along with it… lack of talent as well.

If anything coming up for such a formula is incredibly difficult, particularly when you factor in non-combat skills. Is stealth more powerful than medicine? It’s completely abstract. Well developed political and persuasive power is one of the strongest human forces on earth and yet is incredibly difficult to quantify on paper. The best that can be done is purely an abstraction. Pure balance is obviously not the answer.

Therefore what we really need to produce are interesting characters, interactions and situations. Players need to feel useful unless they are playing something that is intentionally useless. Good role playing and planning of situations by storytellers can easily make this happen. Drama is also required, with a lesser or greater extent depending on your style of play. If characters are truly weaker, simply recognize such a fact and work with it.

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