Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Alan Wake, pt.1: Overview

I journeyed through Alan Wake over the weekend and jotted notes down about it. Before getting into them, my overall impressions: the game was alright.

Alan Wake was a good-looking game that never quite gripped me. Its core mechanic (remove shadows with a flashlight before shooting a baddie) was interesting, but the game lingered on it too long without expanding what it had to offer. Add a meh story, and it was a bit of a grind to play through, but it was fun to analyze, and there were a few moments that came together well, and were worth mentioning.

Looking at my notes, I'm hovering around the following topics: Never Fear, Voiceover Smarts, and Miscellaneous.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Aftermath

My first couples D&D was fun. It may have gone well, but I'm pretty critical of my own performance, so I can't be sure. Folks said they had fun, but the true test will be when I invite them back. I had two points on my agenda: one, run through a quick bout of combat to get them familiar with rules, and two, use that knowledge to build characters for our next session. We only got through point one!

Having played quite a bit, I think I forgot what it's like to be unfamiliar with the combat concepts and the plentiful options and rules for each character. When I play board games, I hate it when friends walk me through the rules because I learn better diving in and asking questions, so I took a similar approach to combat, assuming I could explain concepts as we go and get them familiar with the rules that way. I hope it just takes awhile to get the hang of things. Turns were slow and there were plenty of questions, but by the end of the game I felt like everyone had a perfectly good grasp of the basics, and were using the jargon just fine. They might still feel a bit disoriented, but things should be a snap, especially when they go through the character creation process and are intimately familiar with the build choices they've made.

The guys happened to pick support roles, so the girls got most of the action in combat. They handled it really well, but I think they preferred the stuff leading up to it more. I set up a simple scenario of a woman claiming kobolds stole her child and killed her husband. The party investigated and fought a bunch of the little dragonkin to save the child.

The whole night was strange to play out, though, because I put all of my preparation energy into building characters. I was excited to roll out an exercise where folks list various cartoons, TV, and films, and we brainstorm ways to warp them into campaign ideas and vote on them as a group. For example, if you write down Super Mario Bros. for inspiration, it might be about the king of a Dragonborn nation kidnapping your princess, and your group going on a quest through eight different nations to get her back.

There were some things I've never done before that went off really well. I folded 10 small strips of paper and on the bottoms of each, added numbers 1-5 on 5 of them, and had the players draw symbols on the other 5. To track initiative, the folded strips were draped over the DM's screen (the numbers represented the monsters). It blocks some of my charts, but tracking initiative is really plain and easy to reorder. I also liked handing the folded papers to the players to mark damage on them, since I found I often forgot to track it myself. I'm a little too spacey tracking things behind the screen, and need to work on that.

And I already have thoughts about changes after our first combat, but maybe they're premature. First, I think I need to have Jen next to me since the group is comprised of two couples and Jen, and she might have felt a little left out not having a nearby rules-buddy, since I was behind the DM's screen. Second, I really like the idea of giving someone a +1 attack roll token whenever they target and fail to hit anything in a round. It's such a bummer to do nothing in a turn. Third, I gave everyone folders, and I might paste some the various action charts on them to help them remember what kind of options they have. Maybe that will help.

I hope they're willing to come back. For another pot-luck dinner if nothing else; I have some damned good cooks in my group!

Friday, August 27, 2010

Wish Me Luck

Tomorrow is the big D&D day. I've picked up lots of interesting suggestions from the onlines, made my own monsters in Adventure Tools (and printed them on 3x5s), made a handy reference card format for player stats (also on 3x5), picked out the right miniatures, printed plenty of handouts, wrote up step-by-step rules for character creation, prepared background options to help build the right campaign, prepared digestible rules reference cards, and drew a fancy looking landscape on my battlemat (since the first encounter is just to teach combat basics). All in the hope it might be fun enough to come back for more. We'll see.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Suggestions...

I need another short game, like Machinarium to tide me over, I think. Anyone have suggestions?

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Cycle

I wonder how the waxing and waning of my gaming compares to others'. There are times when I play obsessively, completing games in rapid succession, and other times when nothing motivates me to turn on my game systems, regardless of the hype. Cramming happens in the Fall, I suppose, but games were more spread out past Fall, continuing into the early part of this year. And my pace slows significantly after months of cramming. This year, my gaming lust seemed to dip after finishing Mass Effect 2, even though there are some really interesting-looking titles staring at me, like Alan Wake and Red Dead. I'm just glad I played through Galaxy 2, Heavy Rain, and Machinarium.

On a side note, I also wonder how all of the games pushed from last Fall into this year did, and how publishers interpreted the results. Will there be a wider spread this Fall, and games going into 2011, or do all the publishers regret not coming out at Christmas?

Maybe I need to wax and wane -- to play obsessively then break for awhile -- and having a nice spread of games all year round would just leave more things untried.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Go Figures

I promise things will get videogamey again, but D&D is on the brain. Wizards of the Coast have put out various sets of miniatures over the years so you can visualize your characters and the creatures the game pits against you. I've bought some, but not many because I hate that they're randomized. They add a lot to the game, so it kind of infuriates me that you can't just buy the minis you need for a particular adventure. Looking into the reasons why, it sounds like painted minis are more costly, and selling singles in problematic, and there is also the concern of which minis local game stores keep in stock. I wonder if they could release them unpainted, in big sets based on a level range, in a big plastic bag that makes my inner-child drool.

But since that doesn't exist, I was looking into other ways to accurately represent monsters on the board. Paper or cardboard cutouts was an option, but they seem to flimsy and fiddly. Punching out monster portraits and pasting them onto washers was a possibility, but it didn't seem as convenient for larger enemies, especially since square bases seem better for large figures. Pasting it onto chipboard was another idea, but again, finding the perfect bits seemed like a pain, and I started asking myself, do I really want to have an arts and crafts session before every game?

An interesting compromise popped up with these Litko Paper Counter Stands. They are all nicely conformed to mini size standards, but let you print out square enemy portraits and just slip them in for your adventure that night. Jen was nice enough to pick them up as an early birthday gift. I hope I like them!

Monday, August 23, 2010

Nervous Hand

The reason I asked about role-playing last week is because I'm nervous about running a D&D game for friends that have never played the game before. I love pen-and-paper RPGs and figured running a game was a great way to get more play time in. Since scheduling the lives of adults is painful decided to invite two couples and make it a couples night. Couples are easier to schedule, right?

But all of my experience is with playing the game, not running it. I want to share my love for the game with other people but a good pen-and-paper RPG is often only as good as the person running it. At least some of them are as nervous as I am...

Friday, August 20, 2010

Two Birds...

I didn't update yesterday, so I owe everyone two posts. This conflicts, however, with my desire to get back to work. Taking the easy way out, I'll share two videos you may have already seen, but inspired me this morning. The first is a pop up office (short), and the second, a piece about a sculptor and his hypnotic, kinetic sculptures that provoked a lot of thought about human interests and creativity and the purpose of art. For those participating in comments, I also updated my replies. Please accept my humble offerings, and have a nice weekend. :-)

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Machinarium Ends

Machinarium was actually a quick playthrough, and simple and straightforward enough to make it hard to write about. I wondered beforehand if there were any twists or surprises to its construction since I had heard a lot of good things about it, but it really is a straight-forward point-and-click adventure game. Like other adventure games, it suffers from occasional progression solutions that are incongruent or obscure. But also, like my favorite adventure games, it has a great soul, lovingly crafted with 2D art and animation to capture a specific mood. It never stoked deep questions playing through it, but it was a genuinely unique experience I'm glad I added to my gaming history, and for a steal of a price ($5) to boot.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Role Call

Pen and paper role-playing games have been a formative part of my design brain. In high school (or was it Jr. High?) I made my own RPG called Half-Breed, which could be embarrassingly described as a game about furries, where users could mix any two animal types into humanoid body and playing your own bestial superhero. It was fun, though a blatant rip-off of the Marvel game system (with the fantastic ranking names and all).

Some of my fondest days were spent playing MERP (Middle-Earth Role-Playing) for hours on end, and my best friend Joe was an amazing referee, spinning awesome tales of high adventure that had us meeting Balrogs and Dragons without it ever seeming cheesy or out of place. We ran for our lives and weaved stories unique to our group, that I'm sure all of us could recall in some capacity to this day.

It was also a way to store memories. Joe and I cataloged ~250 superheroes of our own invention using the DC Heroes system for posterity before I went off to college.

And I would just collect source books and read them just because I was so intrigued by the worlds designers made and the rules that made any game possible within them. This was especially true of Shadowrun, a game I bought most sourcebooks for, but never played.

Nowadays it's D&D, just because it seems the most convenient, and I don't have as much time. But for the past year or so, I've been playing the game with friends from the games industry, generating new stories and memories together. There really is something magical about the fact that the game is social, purely a product of your imagination, rulesy enough for an obsessive compulsive to enjoy purely as a game, and utterly unique to whoever you game with.

Does anyone else reading this do the RPG?

Monday, August 16, 2010

Ikea Character Creator

Over the weekend I returned from Ikea with a dining table and 6 chairs (all of which fit in my awesome little Fit!) and spent a good part of my Sunday (and today) toiling away at furniture assembly. I wonder how much of Ikea's success that can be attributed to putting my furniture together, since it makes me bond and invest in its success before I even use it. It reminds me of character creation in RPGs, where regardless of how inconsequential the customization is, it makes me start with some connection to my character when the game begins, where I otherwise may not be at all.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Machinarium Starts

I decided to wind up Machinarium tonight, and I'm pleasantly unsurprised by its charm (it looked so from afar). It definitely has that stop-and-go adventure game thing going on, but nothing that breaks immersion, and the attention to detail is fantastic. I look forward to my next session with it.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Tron Bike!

This is, I hope the dumbest blog post I write. Yesterday, I walked around the house after letting one go, noting the smelly tail I was dragging all over the house, when I realized that I was just like a Tron bike!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Anime Grumps

Writing about Miyazaki made me think about anime grumps. It frustrates me when I try to bring up Miyazaki with other people only to have it cast under the wide umbrella of "anime" and immediately disregarded, because Miyazaki movies aren't like that other stuff.

Wait... that other stuff? Am I an anime grump?

Truthfully, my hit rate with anime has been low. I try to go in with an open mind and often enjoy a setting or premise, but get turned off by plot holes and character moments that were never earned.

But I may just be an entertainment grump. I have the same complaints about the vast majority of western entertainment, and it takes a trusted opinion to have confidence in recommendations from any medium. It rubs me the wrong way when someone insists that all anime is bad despite my low hit rate, not just because there are gems, but because I doubt the hit rate of their entertainment is much different.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Miyazaki

I was just looking in the mirror at my Totoro t-shirt and thinking about how much I love Miyazaki movies. Part of it is the sheer creativity of the worlds -- the nature spirit in Mononoke the Yubaba's minions and the visitors to her bathhouse in Spirited Away, or the giant ohmu crawling rapidly across spore deserts in Nausicaa. Part of it is the rules of the worlds -- kodama marking the health of a forest, the of stealing Jihiro's name, or the world absorbing and purifying toxins deep within its surface. Part of it is the characters -- that the symbol of civilization was as sympathetic in the war (building a home for the lepers) as Mononoke and the wolves were in protecting their natural home, or seeing a warm side to Yubaba through her sister (even as Yubaba threatens to eat Jihiro's parents), or the deadly ohmu being helpless victims of rage. But perhaps my favorite thing is that most of his movies are family films without being condescending to anyone.

By and large, I feel like modern family films consist of childish humor for kids and adult innuendo for mom and dad. The formula entertains often enough, but it never feels authentic when an audience is targets two separate audiences, throwing them bits of meat every other line.

Perhaps it's just easier that way, but I wish more family films took their cues from Miyazaki because the world is a place with real consequences. Kids see families separate, friends leave, and parents die. They get hurt and bleed and meet untrustworthy people. It's Jihiro trying to grip a dragon and feed it medicine as it thrashes injured body on the floor and stains the walls with its blood, or Nausicaa unpinning a skewered ohmu hoping to calm the incoming swarm, or losing May in the night when she gets lost trying to help her mother. What makes difficult experiences accessible to everyone is seeing them through the eyes of a child. Children are glued to the screen because the emotions of someone like them are genuine and the world seems as dangerous and intriguing as their own, and adults are glued to the screen because they remember what it was like to view the world that way.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Tourneys

A couple months ago I decided to jump into Super Street Fighter IV and pick up a new character, and I was having enough fun that I wanted to get back into the local scene. I find it difficult to be content with "average" skill at a game like Street Fighter, so I wanted the input and advice of the stronger local players (who are competitive at Evo) to help me step up my game. But whenever I do, I quickly ram right into the inevitable truth that being that good is a time commitment I'm just not willing to make.

This time it was at a local tournament. It was fun, but they set up monitors with virtually no lag, and the difference in timing was so disruptive that none of the combos I spent two months perfecting were of any use, and made my mostly average game was reduced to a big pile of pointless. Not only do I need more practice, but I apparently need a lagless monitor to practice on, too. Instead, the game and TE Fightstick go back to the shelf to collect dust, until I miss the thrill of the fight, and another iteration of the game rears its tempting head.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Oh Shinji...

You have a way with my heart. The new Vanquish trailer got my blood pumping. I don't know whether the end game will be as entertaining, but I'm always in the market for some yummy kinesthetics.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

One of the things...

I miss about having an office building is the drive in-between. It's like a little reset button; a primer that lets you switch from the "work" brain to the "home" brain. A couple of gracious outstanding offers exist for me to camp during the day, but I keep thinking they're too far from home. I wonder if I should change that tune.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Re: Career Night

I enjoyed my little stint at Career Night. One of the kids reminded me of a younger version of myself. He had made his own pen and paper RPG, liked to do "world-building," and had lots of unfinished comics in his binders (I guess we vary on that point; I drew a lot of figures but rarely actually created legitimate comics).

For the most part, I think they wanted to mine me for something interesting they could take back to their friends. That is, if I could tell them something top secret about the next Call of Duty, or if I had worked on something mind-blowing that the whole world loves.

The most surprising thing was how well their attention was held when I, on a whim, decided to walk them through some pretty dense design theory. I walked them through some shortcomings I see in multiplayer games and a different way to approach multiplayer experiences, and they actually seemed to be fairly engaged through the whole process. Go passion.

That was the only real "life advice" I tried to give. "Do things that drive your passion. Even if you end up in a dumpster, you'll be happy doing something that fills your soul." I should stay away from the dumpster advice next time, maybe.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Career Night

Tonight I get to talk to kids about comics and games, and how I got to where I am (wherever that might be!). I can yap, so it shouldn't be uninteresting. I just wonder if any of them are genuinely intrigued by the idea of a career in games the way I was as a kid, or if they just hope that I know someone who worked on StarCraft 2, or can give them the scoop on the next Call of Duty. They probably all want to be testers. If only they knew...

Monday, August 2, 2010

Mr. Forgetty Pants

I keep nearly forgetting updates, lately. Wazzupwitmahead? So, like a bad (good?) substitute teacher, I submit the following video that you've probably already seen, and that I don't understand, but it seems like it's cool.