Sunday, October 30, 2011

Accumulation Games: The Self Inflicted Harm Model

I dunno, I think most readers would agree that if you keep eating a meal you like, for example, you'll get sick to death of it. Or if you keep wearing the same T-shirt, you'll get sick to death of it (thus the advice go on holiday with a T-shirt you don't mind throwing away latter).

So, what of the traditional online accumulation style game?

Well, lets say you even like killing the monsters. What happens when you kill them over and over and over again? Do you still actually like doing it?

I would actually pose that the regular gamer actually inflicts self harm on what they like, in order to kill 200 Dohikies so they can get a purple Wakamole. I mean, what's a more integral part of yourself - your skin or what you enjoy? I'd say the latter, yet we call someone cutting their skin with a box cutter self harm, don't we. What about when it's something even more personal?

Worse, this self harm -becomes- the game. It IS game play, to them. They will say that if people didn't need to do raid X to get purple item Y, then the vast majority of people wouldn't keep doing that raid. As if that's a bad thing. People playing things that they find fun has ceased to be the point, anymore. Only the expunging of enjoyable play remains. A flagellant.

"But we love accumulation!"

I think there are ways around it, design wise.

Here's an example - lets say the activity is killing a Dohiky. Okay, the structure is that if you kill one once, sure, it racks up one kill, but each day after, you automatically rack up another kill.

If you actually play and kill Dohikies, then very slowly the amount of automatic kills you get each day goes up to two. Then three, etc to some sort of cap.

This way, you can STOP before you get sick of it, and yet know that you haven't wasted your time playing so far. Because if you wait long enough, the automatic kills will add up to the total.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Table Top Game Design: Does your game generate situation at all?

I was looking over at 1KM1KT, at the small diceless game "Quick Play"

And I wanted to say something, but it felt like it'd be singling this game out when what I want to say applies to a ton of RPG's, old and new. Particularly in the traditional design. So I thought I'd post here and give a back link to the game instead, which kinda helps out the author.

Anyway, here's what I want to say:

This is me, and my comment goes against the grain of traditional RPG design. But basically rulesets remind me of if you described all the moves of chess, but you never told how to initially set up the board. Situation is the pivotal element, really, but there's no method for generating one. Feel free to say the big names like D&D do the same thing, because I'll agree, they don't help with setting either. But I don't think that's a great situation (though it drives their module sales - perhaps you could write modules for quick play?)

Oh, and another game there was Disparity,  which had a cool theme of massive seperation between the wealthy and the poor and you basically play the few who can possibly make some sort of difference, yet the only means to do so are essentially transgressive of law.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Table Top Design Idea: Total Party Kill Handler

I had a design idea for handling total party kills in an RPG.

Let's be frank, first up. When it comes down to the group all about to die, basically a dues ex is coming up. Often the GM will wave the little rule zero wand the book gives him and make all the bad go away. Prior to that, your characters getting beaten up is scary because you don't know what will happen. You can't be sure this GM is the sort of GM who will wave his wand that way. He might just leave you for the crows.

But once he waves his wand...bah, you now know! And when your party is getting beaten up next time, you'll know.

Okay, so lets take a slant on the traditional design (which technically makes it non traditional, but lets pretend it's stil trad!).

  • The GM notes the party progress and may assign one single fate point to them at any point PRIOR to a battle commencing (a battle being that initiative has been rolled). This assignment is based on the GM's judgement of the group and basically his whim (like the petty god he kinda is). The GM writes this down on a scrap of paper (this is important) but keeps it secret. The GM can also retract the fate point if he wishes, but again that has to be before battle begins.
  • The party cannot start play with a fate point. It can only be assigned (or retracted) by the GM mid session.
  • When a total party kill seems imminent, the GM rolls percentile in front of everyone. A result of 1-80% means a dues ex happens, interupting the battle and the party escapes (make something up as to how that happened!). A result of 81%-100% requires that the GM present his piece of paper with the fate point on it. If produced, a dues ex occurs (and the fate point is used up). If not, the battle continues, most likely to a TPK result (though how awesome is it if they somehow win despite not having favour with fate!?).

The buzz is that when the percentile are rolled, on a 1-80% you don't know if you would have been fine on 81%+ result or not. Unlike above where you begin to know if the GM will wave his wand or not, here you don't know if he would have.

The mechanic also stops the GM deciding in the moment of TPK whether he'll save you. He's likely to be incredibly biased towards doing so at that point. This means it's like an opt out system - at the time, he more has to choose to opt out of saving the group. While with this mechanic, you start play with no fate point and the GM has to opt in. Which he might forget to do, even, because your just not that spectacular. Remember, he has to produce a piece of paper with the fate point note. No, the GM is not allowed to cheat on this. A reminder: you wont be following these rules if you do something else orther than this procedure - if you try and assert you are were doing these rules when doing some other procedure, your in ugly denial.

I can imagine some people don't think that's terribly tough. "1-80% chance? Most of the time you'll live! Ha! We play much more dangerously than that! Our GM is fair and decides how it turns out!". Except I really wonder if that is more dangerous, or given the GM biases involved, considerably less dangerous? In that case, since the final arbiter is hidden in the GM's head, how do you know he's not just saving the group every time? Even the GM could deny to himself that's what he's doing, as the whole process is hidden in a bunch of fictional musings.

Atleast with this mechanic, if the GM didn't write down a fate point note and so can't produce one, that's emperical. Or if the GM quickly fabricates a fate point note, it's alot harder for him to deny to himself (and others) that this is cheating.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Interview with a one man MMO maker

Good interview giving the inside story of one guy who made the dead frontier mmo. Gives alot of hints and tips for anyone else trying. I think the really interesting part is that he'd made several single player versions of dead frontier (being paid for some, which is significant to development), which helped him nail down the game he wanted to make before he made it massive.

I think that's the key. Make a game that you would enjoy in a single player format and it WILL make a great mmo game!

And apparently the interview was held by the maker of Golemizer, which is also a one man MMO!

It's a really good feeling that individuals can decide their own fate on these things!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

[Gamma World 4E Solo Playtest] Dystopian

Going the solo test was interesting to begin with. See, trying to create some sort of story that either 'hooks in' players or can just be dropped, never to live, not even in bad fiction format, forever, is just an incredible exercise in creative whorism. I'm not attributing this to exclusively to GW, plenty of other games I own operate off the same principle - your supposed to make some compelling story, but if everyone just doesn't feel like it, well, in effect you may as well have just thrown your effort in the bin. And you know, that's fine - the texts in all of them basically tell you that's normal for how you treat your creative outlet. I guess perhaps this read comes to a head in my contact with Gamma World because it's actually succinctly written, while all the other books (rifts, blue planet, D&D 4E and lower, underground, hol, others I forget, etc) use obsfucation methods, primarily very large texts and hiding the tell tale signs in various semi random positions amidst mountains of text that suggest something else entirely. So it feels a bit bad to knock the book that is better written and more honest for it.

As a nod to the recent narrativist threads, what of the idea of not writing a story? "Just let it play out, man!" along with the well written article. It depends - to me, GW and the other books, they allow a dead character, devoid of any desire or hunger, to be brought into play (an exception to this is 'The Riddle Of Steel', I think). Drumming up players to do more just feels like tacking on some sort of TROS spiritual attributes onto it, but being in denial of that modification of the game. It definately wouldn't be just playing the game. I'm pretty damn sure that upon contact with the regular joe gamer, you will just get dead characters. Perhaps with non gamers you wouldn't, interestingly, but I suspect the structure would soon train them into dead characters. Probably from having their alive and fruitful character becoming dead, ironically, at some random moment and that really being a non moment in play due to structure. But anyway, that's my nod toward that idea. Any argument that it doesn't break down that way?

So anyway, it occured to me to skip that self flagellation process (one that feels like being a whore sitting in a window sill facing the street, there for taking or forgetting on whim) and simply play by myself, so instead of just looking at this thing I'd bought, I could actually, you know, play it. Sure, it's kind of an equivalent of masterbating, but a cheap thrill beats not only beats no thrill, it also beats beating yourself up for the hope of a grander thrill that may just not come.

And after a couple of encounters won (one PC), barely, I have this reluctance to play further. I really wonder if I have some instinctual grasp of the crap shoot and that comes out as reluctance to play further. Because the odds will eventually add up and kill me. There is no other mechanism that'll make anything else happen. And that'll be it. If it were a book you were reader, the character just gets pinched out and no eplilogue, nothing, the book just ends. How bizarre is that?

And I've kind of being trying to think of ways to get to level 10 or continue play and in as much, experience play.

But the reason I type this is because I suddenly thought I have experienced play. And it is utterly dystopian. All the bright and colourful monsters - do they make it some mario-esque fun land? No, they actually add to the dystopia. Are you going to find it fun dying to a wierd moving cactus that shoots spines at you? Unless as a person you heartily enjoy schadenfreude, the cartoonishness of the monsters adds horror instead of levity. The world is a cartoon and joke filled - and it's going to murder you just as much. Whats the difference between a scar faced man or a clown faced man murdering you - the latter makes more of a joke of your end. That reminds me of Hol as well - haha, the soddomy bikers! How funny is that idea! And yet if you play it out, is it funny when they are going to either kill you or incapacitate and rape you? There's like this family guy-eque humour in making them and thinking about them, but if you actually make fiction via playing the rules, how is that funny anymore?

So I was basically trying to dig through the bleak stone to find the seam of gold to follow in play. Until I realised that either the bleak stone is the seam is the fun of the game, or don't play it.

Now, you get alot of bullshit advice, just like in the other books I mention, where it's all about the fun and...what the hell does that mean? I'm guessing it involves stuff which, since it's advised in the text, is essentially in game stuff, but in terms of experiencing the system in play, it's advice to stop the players experiencing the system. Well, every time the GM thinks they don't seem to be having fun. It's classic 'stone soup' design, where the game insists its fun ... if you just add an ingrediant ... or two ... or three ... or a dozen. And after two dozen things your GM adds into the pot, isn't this game just freaking awesome!? Except it's the classic stone soup - it was just a pot of water that is vacant anything. What tastes good isn't the pot of water.

Except Gamma World isn't vacant. Revealed of it's stark core, just as much as drinking straight whiskey has its place, indeed you might want an evening of drinking straight whiskey and being in a world where joy and hope and sense of noble death are utterly, utterly blown away. No, I'm not being sarcastic. It's be a hell of a frightening ride to just feel the dead world and maybe beneficial for it. Beneficial if you don't go in expecting a mario fun land. If you've ever written fiction and no one gave a shit about it but you still did (and good on you), well play this and expect to make fiction that doesn't even care about itself. Zip, a critical, that PC is gone what.

There's a feeling in that. One that does not confirm your existing beliefs. One that does not comfort. GM, resist the temptation to put 'fun' first, and you might find another type of fun. One which requires nothing of you. One which might require a few stiff drinks to get over.

It depends though - I don't think that was the intention of the designers. So is it really playing the game to play it that way? Probably not. And yet when you get rid othe GM pulling the wool over your eyes every time you stop having fun, it is the truth of the game.

And where else would dystopia be, but beyond good intentions?

Handle with care.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

First some other stuff, then the video...

Speaking of zombies, I think the better storyline is that the virus is airborne, not just wound transfered. I'm just not sure the world would have much trouble mopping up zombies. But, if it's airborne and yet a small percentage of the population are resistant to it (they can only get infected by wounds), then you have the classic survivor scenario. Or perhaps whatever brings the infection hits large areas of the world with an airborne virus, but that disperses - which also allows

Oh, how quickly nightmare scenarios come to mind. I was watching a review of batman, arkham city last night on good game. The reviewer was really excited about the dark world of batman and...I thought, really that's a kind of hell for the actual character? It's a really aweful place for them. Ever watched Jason and the argonaughts, and wondered at the gods watching the plight of the mortals as mere entertainment? How could they just be so detached? Yet, here we are, getting off to the fantasy of a dark world. But Arkham City does sound a good game...

Now onto the video for prototype 2. I think the youtube comments cover what I wanted to say.

CupboardNinja: Wait, wait, wait, so you're telling me that you can either just button mash and be successful or use strategy and be successful? So why the hell would anybody use strategy? I can already tell this isn't going to work out.
 The responce

guppo26: Maybe because just buttonmashing isn't everyone's preferred way of playing. If you take on the strategical way, you have way more control over what exactly your character does, you have more choice in precise actions instead of just mashing everyone untill they're dead. Saying this will be a failure, when you don't even really know the details yet, and without thinking a bit further into it, is just sort-sighted.

What has happened? A generation who think strategy is a 'preference'? That strategy is something you just do when you feel like it, but if you don't feel like it, you don't.

Sorry, no. That's doing fancy moves for the sake of doing fancy moves, which is fine and everything.

Strategy is something where if you don't attempt it, you will just lose. Your hand has to be forced to it, for it to be strategy.

Monday, October 17, 2011

In an endless game, if you can die, everyone dies...

There's a new multiplayer persistent world game (correction: evolving persistent world) zombie game coming up. Here's the link.

I like the info dump being done in story format. Makes it more than a spreadsheet.

But the big thing is, the ability for a character to permanently die! Not to mention become zombiefied!

From the look of it, it sounds like you have to really, really lose bad to actually die.

But all the same, it's a striking move. I play the Finnish survivalist roguelike 'Unreal world' (as you can see here) and death - it really makes living more alive, if that makes sense? There's a hint of a legacy system, which sounds good - starting over exactly from scratch with no prior history just seems to cut off, when really people die and others go on to live off what they achieved while they live. This is a poignant part of stories as well.

But it seems it'll be on X-box only, so sucks to it all! Unless I buy an X-box...but their online stuff sounds sucky.

Still, if it's popular enough it'll find its way elsewhere...

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Is the word 'game' going through a slow hijack?

Recently someone tried to say the regular definition of 'game' is an entertaining activity or sport.

Of course feeding ducks or watching a sunset are entertaining activities as well. Thus they must be games.

I think for thousands of years the way people have (to not use a name yet) engaged certain activities is in a verses mode, where one of them is trying to beat the other. For millions of years we didn't have computers, only another person hungry to win.

It's really hard to imagine after millions of years of that, it's not atleast a small amount of evidence towards the word 'game' being primarily about winning/having win conditions.

But computers are entirely new on our cultural horizon. And computers...well, they can lose to you a million times, if you keep the supply of electrickery coming.

This really allows the developer to project a falsehood - have the program 'lose' to the player where if the developer were playing the opposition, he would attempt to win. And this falsehood can be extended until what is there is farcicle. Just a veneer of opposition.

Computers have made it really easy for people to think they are beating something of note, when really they are simply engaging some busy work the developer thought up. Thus allowing the slow hijack of 'game' into anything that makes money for the commercial, or anything thats artsy, for those craving artistic recognition but hiding it under the credibility of 'games'.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Yet another MMORPG 'Difficulty' post - Open Pandoras Toy Box...

I was reading a forum...let's not say where. And the person described coming across warhammer onlines first chaos side public quest. And that there was this greater demon and only two players, so they were just gunna die and he doesn't even...

You know, I think commercial mmorpgs will eventually click to never ever have the player die at allllllll. Wow is already shooting for this, from what I've read.

They'll just have them slump a little bit when their health is low (though there will be adverse forum reactions to this as well "Is my toon a looser or sumpting? Dis game makes meh play loosa! Bad gahm!"), but the health will never go any lower and perhaps you get a tiny, tiny bit less loot points (but this is never messaged - only careful scrutiny (the sort the competitive will actually give) would show this)).

And so the player will never have to be faced with their own inadequacies ever again (granted the inadequacy of not having bum on seat for a longer period is one of them), and so they wont then go on forums and put down the game. Because they instantly rationalise how it was the games fault and the game has a problem with it. Never them - it's always something else that's at fault. Which is bad press for the game, of course.

And maybe the commercial mmorpgs will eventually just click and quit trying to present a game and instead just present the toybox that so many really want, ala minecraft. Yup, I said it - "OMG, I feel token threat from monsters - hell, I just have to build a scale model of the starship enterprise to protect myself! That's totally playing to win and I winnar!". Yes, yes, you totally had a reason to build all that shit. No, it does look pretty and interesting. I just think the whole 'game' idea of it is bullshit. Call yourself sculptors and the respect that comes with that, instead of gamers (unless 'gamers' has just come to mean toybox playing people, in which case stay as you are...).