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Archive for April, 2012

Game-Story-Art: A Gamer Survey for YOU

Heather Young, wife of web-personality-who-I-can’t-seem-to-stop-mentioning Shamus Young, has made a survey of sorts on her blog. She’s compiled a list of different reasons for why people play games, and she wants to know why YOU play games and what you think of her list.

She’s made the list in collaboration with her husband and with James Portnow of Extra Credits fame, and as people have commented she has edited and added extra entries to the list. So far it is as follows:

  • Escape
  • Story
  • Goal
  • God Complex
  • Aesthetics
  • Comfort
  • Achievement
  • Reflex
  • Explore
  • Compete
  • Social
  • Bonding
  • Risk
  • Zen
  • Self-expression
  • Craft
  • Optimization
  • Empowerment
  • Novelty
  • Fandom

Please, go read the post yourself to see what each one of those means.

I really like the list. It reminds me of that BrainHex thing I wrote about awhile back, but it’s considerably more subdivided.

I might as well copy and paste my own response:

I probably have enjoyed games for most of the reasons you’ve listed, but as for what makes me tick the most?

Well, my four general favorite genres are platformers, stealth games, shooters, and brawlers. I think the reason for all of these comes down to what some have called “kinesthetics” and others have called “game feel.”

I like platformers because I like the feeling of nimbly running and jumping across complex environments. I like stealth games because I like the feeling of quickly and cleverly backstabbing an unsuspecting guard. I like shooters because I like the feeling of running across the battlefield and blasting the enemies to smithereens, and I like brawlers because I like the feeling of bashing down (or slashing, or using whatever weapon the game gives me to down) a cavalcade of mooks. Above all, I love the feeling of being in fast, intense situations, and of being fast, smart, powerful and capable.

This is probably a combination of Aesthetics and Empowerment. Those two would probably be highest on the list for me, though Self-Expression would likely be third (I spend HOURS adjusting my characters’ cosmetics and sometimes make up backstories for them).

As for what I don’t like: Risk, as you’ve called it. I HATE when luck is deliberately made a deciding factor in what happens. When I lose, I want to know it was my fault so I can improve myself and do it right next time. If I die because the d20 landed on a 1, I’m going to feel cheated by the designers of the game.

Anyway, I’ve posted this here so that anybody who hasn’t already seen it can do so.I love these sorts of analysis and categorization systems. It’s not that I feel the need to classify myself; I just find it very fruitful to examine the inner workings of one’s own mind.

Post a comment over there and let her know what you think.


Crafting a Forum RPG Ruleset

I apologize for my posting schedule being rather unsteady lately. I’ve been preoccupied by various things as of late, one of which is an RPG ruleset I’ve been working on for a little forum that I won’t be linking to today.

It took me until now to realize that crafting a forum RPG ruleset might actually be a worthy topic of discussion on a gaming blog.

Activity has been down at this nonspecific forum lately, and I figured I’d do some sort of event to make people post again. And of course, this event would have to involve games, because remember who you’re talking to.

I’m sure I could probably just look up some forum RPG template online, but fuck that, I want to flex my creativity glands.

Anyway, the first thing I did was come up with some base stats. Every RPG has to have base stats, from D&D to Fallout to Diablo to Final Fantasy. You’ve got to cover the baselines for a character’s abilities to determine what they’re good at and what purpose they ought to serve.

I gathered the usual list: Strength, agility, intellegence, endurance, etc. Then I started to feel like I was ripping off of Fallout just a bit too much, so I decided I’d change up the names to give it a sense of newness.

After some fiddling with a thesaurus, I came up with stats corresponding with the letters ABCDEF: Aptitude (Intelligence), Brawn (Strength), Charm (Charisma), Discernment (Perception), Endurance (couldn’t think of another E-word) and Finesse (Agility). Strip the name changes away and this is precisely Fallout minus Luck, but whatever, at least it has the illusion of being original.

Then it was time to devise a combat system.

Messing with grids is fine in a tabletop setting, but in forums it can get very confusing. But I didn’t just want a scenario where anybody can attack anybody. I wanted some sense of spatial location so that the players could use strategic placement and teamwork.

I ultimately came up with a 1-dimensional line in which a limited number of party members (probably 3 or 4) can occupy one block. You can attack adjacent blocks with a melee weapon, and you can shoot two blocks away with a ranged weapon (or more, depending on what weapon type you have).

So if we were using D&D classes, a decent general setup would be this:

Like Fire Emblem, if everyone lined up in one row. Sort of?

Looks face-slappingly simple, I know. The idea is that it would become more complicated and more interesting once I introduced more elements.

Then it came time for the actual meat of the ordeal: the numbers. I had to come up with skills, weapons, attacks, special abilities, and numbers to account for all of those. And to make it more complicated, I decided early on that I wouldn’t restrict everything to classes like in D&D and so many others. I wanted a more freeform character creation system like the one in Fallout, where you can feel like your character is your own person with his own unique talents.

Eventually I ran into a few roadblocks that caused me to rethink the entire system.

1. This is a small forum consisting largely of non-gamers and casual gamers. A lot of them probably have never played a number-crunchy game like this, and would feel rather intimidated if I dropped this all on the table.

2. I don’t have experience with this sort of thing. The only tabletop game I’ve played is Dungeons & Dragons. (Well, two if you count editions 3.0 and 3.5 as different games.) Granted I’ve played quite a bit of it, but I’ve never DM’d a campaign, save for a few silly one-off sessions, much less created an entire ruleset on my own. Balancing a classless system is hell, especially when you’re only one guy who hasn’t made a game before. Best not to jump into the deep end with the sharks when you haven’t tried swimming yet.

3. A forum RPG consists of much more than combat. In fact, combat would most likely be a very small part of the actual campaign, which would largely consist of dialogue, exploration and problem-solving. Unlike most major video and computer RPGs which are mostly about murdering and looting, forum RPGs are much more about actual roleplaying. If I want my game to be any good, I should divert my focus away from the combat and toward, you know, everything else.

So I decided to drastically simplify the entire concept. I scrapped the combat system, took the ABCDEF base stats and ran with them. In the game I’m currently envisioning, all the dice-rolling is limited to those attributes. Each one functions like a skill in D&D, where you’ll roll a stat check whenever you try to solve a problem. Accomplishing tasks would result in leveling up the associated stats.

“I use Brawn to break the door down!” “I use Aptitude to hack the computer!” “I use Charm to take off her bra!” Etc.

This stone kills all three birds. There’s no number-crunching to tangle with, it’s easy for me to keep up with and manage, and it’s simple enough for non-gamers to jump in and play.

Then I realized that if a stat is only used when a player chooses to use it, Endurance and Discernment are rarely ever going to be used because those are very passive attributes. Endurance would be used to calculate hit points and environmental resistance, while Discernment would be used to see if the player managed to hear a distant noise or spot a creeping predator.

So I reduced the stats to ABCD: Aptitude, Brawn, Charm, and Deftness.

It was at this point that I realized my game no longer resembles Fallout so much as it does Echo Bazaar. I’m alright with this. Now I need to think of a name. And a setting, and a story, and characters.

Say, does any of this interest any of you? If not I’ll go back to complaining about old games.


Deus Ex: Invisible War

Hmm…

I think…

Well I didn’t…

Hm.

Would it be weird if I said I sort of enjoyed this game?

I didn’t enjoy it nearly as much as its predecessor, mind you. It doesn’t come anywhere close to standing up against that shining gem. I wouldn’t call it great. I don’t think I’d even call it good. But I had fun with it, sort of, sometimes.

Gameplay-wise, it’s alright, I guess. Stripping away the skill points and simplifying the augmentations basically just made it a somewhat clunky stealth shooter with some serious balance issues. I heard people complain that ammo is overly scarce, but I maxed out the melee augmentations and could tear everything apart with my mighty laser sword. The game threw in giant robots to make things harder, but there’s a certain augmentation that allows you to take control of machines by smacking them with whatever melee weapon you want, so they really only made the fights easier for me.

Still, though, it was kind of impressive to see what Ion Storm could do with the tiny map size limits that they had. Some of the levels actually feel kind of complex, about as much as some of the smaller areas of Deus Ex 1. And while the restrictions did mean that a lot of the exploration and combat was far less interesting than what we’d had before, the game still allowed me to roleplay a Jedi ninja hiding in shadows and stabbing guards with a lightsaber, so I have to at least give it credit for that.

However!

I already linked to the Errant Signal episode on Invisible War. Here, I’ll just put it down below.

I agree with a lot of his points, but there are two things he says at around the 13 minute mark I have to object to.

“One of the things the game manages to do …okay is the story.”

I disagree with that…

“Narrative was never one of Deus Ex’s strong suits, so the bar was never set that high.”

And I strenuously object to that.

MILD SPOILERS OF BOTH DEUS EX 1 AND INVISIBLE WAR AHEAD. READ AT YOUR OWN RISK.

There’s a sequence in Deus Ex 1 in which you accompany a young woman named Nicolette DuClare to search the abandoned mansion where she used to live. See, Nicolette is the daughter of Elizabeth DuClare, who was a leading member of the Illuminati. As a result, the mansion is absolutely filled with secret stashes, trap doors, and emergency levers and buttons. As you search the mansion Nicolette makes comments about her childhood, how she used to see strange men in suits all the time, how her mother was always on edge, etc.

It was basically a character study, a window view into the life of a child whose mother is involved in a global conspiracy. And it was fascinating. It really fleshed out both the character of Nicolette DuClare and the world she inhabited. And this is sort of indicative of the game as a whole; it’s huge and it has quite a large cast of major characters, and yet the world feels rich and all those major NPCs have depth and diversity.

In Deus Ex: Invisible War you meet Nicolette DuClare. She’s one of the leaders of the Illuminati now. She delivers some plot exposition and then sends you to your next quest objective.

That’s it.

There aren’t many characters in the game that actually feel fleshed out in any meaningful way. Once again, there’s quite a sizable list of them, but most of them seem like one-dimensional cardboard cutouts placed into the level to move the story forward. Some of them are written fairly well, but you never really get any time to know them. This, to me, was the most disappointing thing of all in Invisible War: It just doesn’t feel like a world filled with people in the same way its predecessor did.

I suppose you could blame this on the game itself being significantly smaller, but if you have a smaller game, give it less major NPCs so we can have the proper time to get to know them. That’s what Human Revolution did, and that game has some of the strongest, best developed characters I’ve seen in awhile.

Invisible War didn’t satisfy me, but like I said, the game did amuse me to a degree. Like a bag of chips. I really can’t bring myself to hate it, though I suspect that’s because I had such low expectations to begin with, but somehow it still ended up disappointing me.

I don’t know if I can ever look at Deus Ex again now that I have this stupid sequel in my memory. Can I really just pretend none of that stuff happened and that JC Helios instituted the Heliocracy and everything was lovely? Or is it not that simple?