alexxkay: (Default)
An idea occurred to me the other night, which I am not currently in a position to use, so I release it freely to the world. It is suitable for RPG campaigns in a fantasy or historical milieu which have been going for a while and perhaps need something different to shake up the players.

The party encounters a group of small children (mixed genders and ages) who dress and talk strangely, and who seem to know the party members. These kids are the protagonists of a Magical Adventure story, in the mode of Edward Eager or E. Nesbit. By means of some magical McGuffin, the kids have been transported here to meet their favorite Heroes, in the midst of one of their greatest adventures!

The kids should all have distinct personalities. These don’t need to be (and arguably shouldn’t be) terribly complex, just enough to keep them distinct, and possibly provide extra conflict. Possibilities include but are not limited to: the Brat, the Responsible One, the Shy One, the Worrywart, the Skeptic (who doesn’t believe this is happening), the Boy who thinks Girls Are Icky, the Girl who CAN SO do anything a Boy can, the Snitch, the Gushing Fan…

The kids, of course, know all the players’ characters intimately, potentially including significant secrets, almost certainly including details of their futures. The older children probably have some notion about paradoxes which will incline them not to talk about such things too much, but the GM should totally use this opportunity for foreshadowing and/or awkward reveals. Of course, while the kids have read all the way to the end of the “book”, that’s not to say that the book was necessarily accurate…

Naturally, the kids will get in trouble, and the players will have to rescue them. Possibly repeatedly. (If your players are the sort who are too callous to rescue hapless children, make sure to spring this subplot on them in a circumstance where powerful NPCs will pressure/force them into it.)

Depending on how meta the GM wants to get, the “book” which the kids have been transported into (and which the players inhabit as their own reality) may be classified as History or Fiction. Depending on the past behavior of the players, it may be appropriate to classify them as favorite Villains instead of Heroes.

The magical McGuffin which brought the kids here may perhaps be a McGuffin which the player characters either own, are seeking to own, or are seeking to destroy – though at a later point in the McGuffin’s own timeline. Even if none of these seem to apply, the kids should certainly possess a few artifacts of a much higher Tech Level (or magical equivalent) then are prevalent in the campaign. Not necessarily things which adventurers would typically find useful, just interesting and/or hilarious. (And if the players DO come up with some devastatingly powerful use for such a thing, let them get away with it once or twice, but remember that there are no batteries or repair shops that will let them use it indefinitely.)
alexxkay: (Bar Harbor)
This is a really hard game for me to write about, on many levels.

It’s a small budget independent game, but takes as its subject matter AAA game development. This is perhaps unsurprising, as about two thirds of the creative team were powerhouses on the Bioshock franchise.

I’d been looking forward to it for some time on that basis, but by the time it came out, I was terminally unemployed and broke :( However, a friend of mine recently gifted me a copy, so now I have (mostly) played it.

The main meat of the game involves wandering around in the side an unfinished game world, trying to fix (or sabotage) it, while the developers bicker and fail to accomplish much, like a particularly dysfunctional pantheon of gods. It’s delightfully meta-. Most of the story content is ABOUT the nature of story content in an interactive medium. Similarly, most of the gameplay requires the player to actively engage in thinking about how gameplay systems interact. Playing this main portion of the game felt a lot like being a QA tester again, reminding me how much fun I had when I first entered the industry.

The writing and voice work are both very good. Those not in the industry might be inclined to think that the satire was a little over-the-top. I have to say, not really. Compressed, maybe; you experience, in the course of a handful of hours, a range of craziness more typical of an industry year. But the extremes of what happens are all too accurate.

There were parts of the game that seems to speak DIRECTLY to my personal experience. Though I think they probably weren’t drawn from literal shared experiences, as these patterns recur across the industry. I felt similarly when reading Austin Grossman’s recent novel, _You_, based partly on his early years at Looking Glass. Several scenarios in that book were eerily familiar, despite the fact that Austin and I had completely non-overlapping time at LG.

I made it to (what felt like) the final segment of the game, but couldn’t actually bring myself to finish it. (Spoilers.) In this section, the player is dropped into what amounts to a simplified game editor, and tasked by one of the characters with building a small level and populating it with gameplay. I interacted with the editor for a little while, and then was suddenly hit with an overpowering emotional reaction. “I’m working on a gameplay design task, with no clear mandate of what I’m supposed to accomplish, and which will eventually be evaluated by standards I have no control over. I’m in HELL! AGAIN!” Just a horrible, visceral flashback to the worst periods of working with Ken Levine. Quit to desktop.

I’m reasonably sure that the game devs did not INTEND to spur that reaction. I can hardly be considered a typical audience member in this regard. But I’m unlikely to pick it up again anytime soon.

That said, I do strongly recommend the first three quarters or so of the game to anyone who is interested in the ins and outs of game development.
alexxkay: (Bar Harbor)
A Civ-like game, but with a rather different focus, and a Message in the mechanics.

Mechanics of Production and Combat are present, but greatly simplified. Exploration and (peaceful) Expansion are NOT present. By the time the player gets here, all the good places to put cities have already been occupied. Research is not an issue, at least in the initial version.

The major focus of the game (both in theme and mechanics) is on Culture (with a sideline in Diplomacy, as that's strongly related). Military conquest is relatively straightforward, assuming greatly superior force. And the player will start the game with sufficient military force to easily conquer some of his immediate neighbors right away. The really interesting part is not the war itself, but the decisions that build to the war, and those in its immediate aftermath.

After you conquer an enemy city, you are given three choices: Genocide, Enslave, or Assimilate. Genocide is the simple way to take all their territory and physical infrastructure, but has the critical failing that you lose the potential population growth. Given the timescale of this game, population growth through breeding is a minimal factor at best; you really want to get conquered people working for you. The simple way to do THAT, is to Enslave. Slave workers, however, are not very efficient, and you also need to allocate a significant amount of your military to police functions, to keep the slaves in line. To get the FULL benefit of your increased population, you need to Assimilate them as citizens. This has its own difficulties, of course.

Most of the player’s actions outside of conquest consist of shaping the Culture of your civilization. Your Culture will have opinions, possibly strong ones, about Genocide versus Slavery versus Assimilation. They will have all sorts of other opinions as well, which may initially seem largely pointless, but which help define your cultural identity.

In the build up to a Conquest, one of the most crucial points is how your cultural identity compares with that of the target city. If you move your own Culture away from theirs, and paint them as completely barbaric, that gives your own soldiers bonus strength in combat, but makes it almost impossible to Assimilate the target afterwards. Conversely, if you try to make your culture similar to the target’s, your soldiers will be less enthusiastic about fighting, but Assimilation is far more possible, and will go more smoothly, afterwards.

Ultimately, the winning player is likely to be the one who has the largest definition of “us”, the most all-encompassing cultural identity. Though their soldiers are actually the least efficient, this is more than compensated for by the number and productivity of their workers.

My design goal is to demonstrate interactively both how demonizing the Other is an attractive short-term political strategy, and how EMBRACING the Other outperforms it in the long term.
alexxkay: (Bar Harbor)
Talking with [ profile] rickthefightguy recently, he mentioned why he had stopped playing Vampire: The Masquerade LARPs. It was after the second time that he had built up a character with a great deal of power, both in terms of combat and politics, had started arguing that The Masquerade was a stupid idea which be abandoned, and had that character summarily killed by an extremely powerful NPC. Sensing the pattern, he declined to go through it again.

Now, on one level, it’s obvious why that happened. When a player attempts to undermine one of the very foundations of the game world, the GMs HAVE to stop that from succeeding. And The Masquerade IS one of the foundational points of the game; its presence in the title is no accident. It marks a genre distinction, between Secret History and Alternate History. In a Secret History setting, if you’re willing to suspend your disbelief enough, you can just barely believe that the details of the setting might actually be true. By contrast, an Alternate History setting is obviously and irrevocably not the world we are living in. A Secret History can become an Alternate History, but it’s a very significant one-way change. An author might be willing to make that change for a setting of his (Charles Stross has done so twice so far), but GMs who are running a licensed setting are going to be understandably reluctant to make such a large and fundamental change to that setting. Even if they were willing in theory, making such a change is a LOT of work, for both GMs AND players.

Of course, all that is a Doyle-ist explanation, and I far prefer Watsonian ones whenever possible. So I started considering possible solutions from that angle.

The Masquerade IS, on the face of it, a pretty stupid political idea. It carries very high costs for very arguable benefits. But what if it WASN’T a political idea at all, what if it was an existential one? Not prescriptive, but descriptive? Posit a world where the Rules of Reality (a superset of the laws of physics) prevent vampires, werewolves, etc. from being acknowledged by society.

I have read a number of time travel stories where, when you try to change history, you can make small local changes, but the timestream “cancels them out” with a series of what would normally be considered low probability events. This is just a science-fiction gloss on one of the classic conceptions of Fate, or how one has to pay the appropriate “price” in a magical bargain. Technically, you can avoid fated outcome X, but that will just result in outcome Y, which is much worse. A really skilled sorcerer, who has anticipated many of the possible outcomes, might avoid X, Y, and even Z – but that just leads to an Omega which is nigh-apocalyptic.

So, imagine that that is what The Masquerade is designed to avoid. Before it was established, there may have been incidents where powerful vampire clans attempted to reach some sort of stable political arrangement with humanity at large, only to have those clans entirely wiped out by mysterious accidents. Maybe not just clans, but one or more entire mythological SPECIES. As soon as this pattern is understood, there is a strong incentive to create political structures that will prevent anything like it from happening again. The rank-and-file wouldn’t even have to understand the true reasons for The Masquerade, as long as they scrupulously followed the rules. (It occurs to me, I’ve just invented a Secret History of a Secret History. Yay, recursion!)

In a world like this, when a character like Rick’s started getting too powerful and threatening The Masquerade, instead of killing him outright, some of the clan elders would quietly take him aside and tell him what was really going on. In most such cases, the troublemaker would cease to cause trouble. (I’ve been rereading H.P. Lovecraft, and a very similar situation occurs in “The Shadow Over Innsmouth”. When the US military does a lot of violent, top-secret stuff in the vicinity of Innsmouth, at first, a bunch of newspaper reporters are very inquisitive about it. They are quietly told at least a piece of what’s really going on, and why they shouldn’t write about it, and they mostly shut up.)

As a further thought experiment, how might the Rules of Reality have come to exist in such a way? I’ve come up with one model, though doubtless there are others possible. Consider a universe that begins much like many primitive creation myths: at first there is formless chaos, but eventually gods coalesce out of it. The first generation of gods don’t do much except (perhaps accidentally) create the second generation of gods, which promptly overthrow and/or kill the first generation, and start building the physical universe out of their remains. This early version of the universe contains mankind, but is still pretty chaotic and “magical”. One God can declare something about reality and make it true, but another God can easily come along and declare something else, or even the opposite.

Eventually, more generations of gods happen, getting more sophisticated over time. As these gods gradually form more complex and stable societies among themselves, they begin to realize that a universe where the nature of reality is in constant flux is “bad for business”. The majority faction of the gods decide to impose a consistent Physics on the universe (possibly some time during the Roman Empire). But, though they are a majority, there exists enough powerful dissent that compromises must be made. Certain entities (e.g. vampires) which do not actually obey the laws of Physics are allowed to be “grandfathered” in – with restrictions. They are only allowed to exist on the fringes; if their presence became known, it would be a threat to Physics, which is not permitted.

Maybe what happens to a sufficiently determined vampire who avoids the vampire legal system and attempts to go public, is that he discovers, much to his surprise, that he is NOT a vampire, but an ordinary human being except for some broken brain chemistry that has driven him insane…
alexxkay: (Bar Harbor)
"At approximately 10:15 Sunday morning, unknown terrorists broke into Agency Headquarters in Chicago and stole the files for Operation Albatross. This is a black day for The Agency..."

But it's a great day for game development! Shane and I have finally gotten the game to the point where the bad guys can carry out an Evil Plot from start to finish. It still needs work, but the fundamentals are there. A little more polish this week, and then we start work on letting a player actually investigate the Evil Plot...
alexxkay: (Bar Harbor)
So, this game that I’m working on. Like all game projects, it's evolving rapidly, but the basic shape seems to have stabilized enough to be worth sharing. And if what we ship turns out completely different, then this will make an interesting historical document :-)

Current working title is COVERT. It is inspired by an old Sid Meier game called Covert Action ( Covert Action was a James Bond fantasy with a structure similar to another classic Sid Meier title, Pirates!; lots of minigames which all tie together into a world map and a core fantasy You travel the world, hunting down international criminals and thwarting their evil plots. I *loved* Covert Action, but it tanked in the market. Sid Meier (a clever guy) believes that the reason it tanked was because the different modes of play fought against each other (more details may be found in that Wikipedia article). That seemed plausible to me, but it also seemed like something that would be relatively simple to fix, by simply paring down one of the game's halves. Add a modern (non-RSI-inducing) interface, and you've got the core of a great design.

Of course, once I *start* making improvements, I can't stop, and we've already moved significantly away from that original idea. Instead of "paring down" the "action" aspect, we're removing it entirely. There will still be modular bits of interaction, but they'll all be (essentially) turn-based.

Perhaps more significantly, we're moving strongly away from the "James Bond" aspect. While we are still, at base, a story about exaggeratedly romantic international crime fighting, we're taking on some of the more problematic aspects of the "thriller" fantasy and making them part of the gameplay. You don't have to outgun the baddies, you have to gather enough legally admissible evidence to prosecute them. Well, you *can* have (turn-based) shootouts, or even use torture -- but there will be consequences both short and long-term. The more violent you are, the more violent the world you inhabit becomes. Enemies are more likely to use deadly force against you. And in between missions, your family life will eventually be stained by the darkness in your soul.

Paying off that last sentence is going to be *extremely* challenging, but I have some ideas I think will work. But before we can test them out, we have to finish building the core gameplay, which will take a while yet...
alexxkay: (Bar Harbor)
Yeah, gender issues in gaming has been on my mind a lot in the last few years. Lots of voices out there calling for improvement, and pointing out that we don't *have* to be as sexist as we (regrettably) usually are. Case in point: Saints Row IV. If you're only a little bit familiar with the Saints Row series, a mayhem simulator which started life as a Grand Theft Auto copycat, you might expect me to be about to lambaste the latest installment for being a typically misogynistic mess. And you'd be wrong.

Saints Row IV is getting lots of great (and well-deserved) reviews, the tone of which can be summed up as "Gloriously dumb". But this SR4 is *not* the sort of dumb made by dumb people, or the sort of so-bad-it's-funny dumb; no, this is well-crafted dumbness, made with deliberate care by extremely smart people. It's the sort of dumb that takes many tired videogame conventions and turns them on their head, with never-ending (if silly) meta-commentary, and turning gameplay limitations into advantages by being clever about how their deliberately silly fiction is crafted.

And one of the ways that craftsmanship is on display is that this game, while being full of over-the-top violence and crude sexual humor -- actually manages to avoid being sexist. I mean, it's not 100% perfect, but it's *way* ahead of the pack on this.

It starts with the player character. There's a wide variety of customization options. You can be male or female, and there's even a slider for "sex appeal" that adjusts the size of your package/breasts. You can choose from a wide variety of voices, male and female, and of several (implied) racial backgrounds. There's a vast array of clothing available, in a wide variety of fashions and gender-coding. Crucially, the game is almost completely agnostic to your choices in this regard. Male, female, transsexual, transgendered -- mix and match as much as you please. The game insists that the protagonist is an Awesome Badass with a long history of violence, but everything about their sex life is up to the player.

You can "romance" certain NPCs (in a system that is a hilarious parody of how Bioware games handle such matters). Again, the game doesn't care which gender you are presenting when you do it, you'll get the same results. When you ask Pierce for some casual sex, he'll reply "I don't normally swing that why, but what the hell," regardless of what gender you are presenting at the moment.

Perhaps more significantly, they manage to avoid some classic trope traps, but discussing those is a bit spoiler-y, so have a cut:Read more... )
alexxkay: (Bar Harbor)
I've been playing a *lot* of Xenoblade Chronicles lately. I'm over 80 hours in, and nowhere near the end yet. It's almost as big as an MMO, despite being a solidly single-player game. Great combat, unique world-building, good story and voice-acting. Solidly recommended if you're into JRPGs at all.

[For more details on all of this, Tom Chick has written extensively about the game on Quarter To Three.]

One topic he didn't particularly address in his many posts, was how the game treats gender issues. Which turns out to be somewhat complicated, and an interesting example of how differing departments can affect the final game in varied ways.

Game Mechanics:
You get your first female party member pretty early, and will get more as the game progresses. They never reach 50% of the party, but by the end of the game, you'll have 3 out of 7. All of them are valuable in combat, and with just as much utility and versatility as the males. There's a bit of traditional gender-role-ing going on in the fact that all of the best healing and ranged skills are to be found with the women, but none of the women are limited to such roles.
Grade: B

No blatant sexism in the world. While the majority of important leaders you meet are male, there is significant female representation in the power structure, and no one treats that as a bad or unusual thing. The female "heir to the empire" character does have palace intriguers plotting against her, but not because she's a girl. Woman are not solely defined by their relationships to me (though that is a big part of characterization for most of them).

The story loses points by featuring a prominent "fridging" incident early on, where the hero's girlfriend is killed in order to motivate his quest for revenge. They do eventually subvert that trope, and move towards a more progressive theme of "Reconciliation With Other", but given the pace of the game, you're left with the problematic themes for a few dozen hours, so I gotta count it as points off.
Grade B-

Ugh. As is all-too-traditional, the "armor" for female characters is far more concerned with showing skin than with any for of protection. There's a little bit of beefcake on display with some of the men, but it's not even close to equal. While the Imperial Princess gets strong writing, she walks with a perky little sway in her butt that makes her look like flirtatious even in the most serious of dramatic moments. Even the race of "mechanical people" that gets introduced late in the game are strongly gendered and highly sexualized. One prominent "mechanical" NPC not only has armor that leaves most of her large breasts exposed, but there clearly was extra effort involved to make those breasts *jiggle* when she walks.
Grade: F

So it's an interesting case, parts of the development team seem to have at least partial sensitivity to gender issues, and be making an honest effort to not be regressive, but their work gets badly undercut by less-enlightened parts of the team.
alexxkay: (Bar Harbor)
I finished The Walking Dead last night. I *meant* to only play for an hour, but found myself quite unable to stop playing when my timer went off. Luckily, the final episode was a bit on the short side, so I only stayed up late by about another half hour.

I had an idea of where I thought the game would go. I wasn't completely wrong, but the writers turned out to be much cleverer than I had given them credit for. The ending was brilliant, shocking, and simultaneously life-affirming and tragic. They paid off a lot more of the long-term consequences of player choice than I thought they would, and they *nailed* their themes perfectly. I cried. Admittedly, I'm a well-known sentimental softy, but still: actual tears.

A few final observations:
This game should forever put to rest the notion that "moral choice" systems in games should be tied to gameplay rewards. They are *so* much more rewarding taken on their own terms, without game-mechanical rewards like gear that is only usable if you are sufficiently "good" or "evil".

This game has earned a really high mark of respect that I don't recall encountering before. *No one* wants this experience spoiled. I am immersed in videogame culture both on-line and physically at work, and even though lots of people discuss this game, they are always very... elliptical, as if the specific details are actually sacred.
alexxkay: (Bar Harbor)
Writing in the middle of the night to exorcise my demons. Or zombies, as the case maybe. My brain is over-full from The Walking Dead videogame. So I may as well write about it.

This is a game based on The Walking Dead comic book, but following an entirely different cast of characters. While I had some fundamental problems with the comic book, it wasn't clear that they would apply to this game, and the game received rave reviews, so I figured it was worth checking out.

TWD is, for want of a better descriptor, a point-and-click adventure game. That's what Telltale Games started making when they were founded, years ago. But they have been gradually pushing on the limits of the form, and are approaching something new and cool. TWD does feature some 'puzzles', but they are far less emphasized than is standard for adventure games, and also the weakest part of the experience. Instead, the game focuses on narrative and direct interaction.

A brief media studies digression: Postmodernism in general, and postmodern horror in particular, has had a fascination with audience complicity going back at least to Bertolt Brecht. These stories like to call attention to the function of the audience *as* audience. If they didn't *want* to be entertained by these horrors, the horrors would not exist, so the audience is in some sense morally culpable for what happens.

TWD manages a similar effect *without* the postmodernism. Because you control the protagonist's actions, you are automatically complicit, without necessarily being reminded that you are "audience" and removing your immersion in the story. As a game designer myself, I am still aware of how tightly they are controlling the story, but the fact that they require you to actively drive the action forward is still surprisingly powerful.

One early example is when the protagonist/player is confronted with a trapped-but-animate zombie that needs to be searched, and therefore needs to be rendered inanimate. This zombie was, in life, an important person to the protagonist, and now he has to 'kill' them. He has a blunt object, and the game provides a cursor that you can -- *must* -- place over the zombie's head and press the mouse button to swing. Four. Separate. Times. From a strict UI design perspective, this is meaningless busywork, involving no player choice, and no interesting challenge. But it is nonetheless emotionally *hard* to keep pressing that button, and the camera angles and animations while you do so tell their own story in miniature. It's a microcosm of the whole game, right there. I should note that they only use this technique where it will be emotionally impactful. If the characters decide to leave their safe-house and sneak through the sewer system for half a mile to reach the next important plot location, the game just cuts directly from leaving the safe-house to them coming out of the sewer. But if you have to sneak up slowly on something, you'll be pushing the 'forward' button every step of the way.

The game contains many interactive dialogue scenes. The writing and voice-acting is top-notch. The animations are impressive, though they still aren't quite out of the Uncanny Valley. When presented with a dialogue choice, you are usually on a timer, and if you don't act fairly quickly, you'll just say nothing. Which is sometimes exactly what you *want* to say. This is one of the only games I can recall that understands the value of negative space in dialogue -- how silence is sometimes the most powerful line there is. The choices you make in the dialogue only rarely affect the broad outcome of events, but can have a large effect on what the other characters think of you -- and what you think of yourself. The game is rife with no-win scenarios where you struggle to choose which is the least horrible alternative.

With a name like "The Walking Dead", you might think that this was a zombie game. Only sort of. Yes, there has been a zombie apocalypse, but that's setting, not theme. In fact, this game is an example of a genre that is becoming more common as the average age of game designers goes up: this is a story about parenthood. Very early on, the protagonist comes across a small girl named Clementine, and bonds with her as they save each other's life. She becomes his surrogate child, and is the emotional focus of the game. You not only want to protect her (difficult in and of itself), but you want to set a good example for her. This makes the aforementioned no-win decisions even more emotionally devastating than they would be on their own.

Those difficult decisions are a big part of why I am up in the middle of the night. My conscious mind is aware of how constrained the choices in the game actually are, and is furthermore committed to owning those choices I make, even the ones I kinda regret after the heat of the moment has passed. But my *subconscious*, sleeping mind is another story. *That* part of my brain doesn't understand the no-win scenario, and has been endlessly replaying, doing a brute-force search of the possibility space in order to find some outcome that is less awful than what I did experience. Not that it *can*, because my subconscious is a really lousy storyteller. So, sleep, but not very restful.

I haven't yet finished the game. There are five episodes, each running between 2-3 hours, and earlier tonight I finished episode 4. One could theoretically play the whole game in one sitting, but I think it actually benefits from being drawn out, so I've been playing it an hour or so at a a time intermittently for the last few weeks. Theoretically, they could still fumble the ending, but I don't believe they will. In fact, given what happened in the penultimate episode, I'm pretty sure I know how this story ends, though I don't yet know exactly how I'll get there. But I'm definitely going to walk that road.

Highest Recommendation.
alexxkay: (Bar Harbor)
Tom Chick writes insightfully about some of the competing goals of game UI: When bad interfaces do good things


Feb. 4th, 2013 10:20 am
alexxkay: (Bar Harbor)
I've been reading a biography of Orson Welles, and, as sometimes happens when I read about a particularly interesting person, I am inspired to partially describe them in terms of a new GURPS trait. In this case, the following Disadvantage.

Spendthrift (-10 points)

You have a strong tendency to spend beyond your means, and have perpetually bad cash flow. This is treated as a combination of Enemies (creditors) and Reputation (Investors only; bad loan risk). Like other kinds of Enemies, the cost can be modified by frequency of appearance. Regardless of what frequency you choose, any time you become publically know to gain significant wealth, any nearby Creditors will automatically appear. Hence, people with this Disadvantage frequently move away from their Creditors. Spendthrifts also may engage in stealth while traveling to regions with known Creditors.

Note that Spendthrift is completely independent of Wealth level. You can still (indeed, are expected to) continue to maintain a standard of living commensurate with your current Wealth. Your Reputation does not prevent you from getting credit from hotels, tailors, etc, so a lack of ready cash is only a minor impediment to you. Also, the Reputation aspect is not a total bar to getting new loans from Investors, just a difficulty. A Spendthrift with high Charisma or social skills may overcome the negative modifiers. You can gain or lose Wealth levels while being a Spendthrift; this just changes the scope of Creditors who consider it worth pursuing you.

Cost can also be modified by consequences. Basic cost assumes that successful 'attacks' by Creditors will result in confiscation of money, or garnishing of future income. This may be extended to relatively small punishments (say, a public flogging) or additional fines. If there is serious risk of major injury, death, or imprisonment from Creditors, then double the cost.
alexxkay: (Bar Harbor)
There's a game that I've been playing lately on the Xbox 360. It's a good game, once you get started -- but getting started takes way more effort than it should. Here are the steps, *not* counting the time spent in the XBox-xpecific parts of the process:

* Game executable starts running.
* Attract video automatically loads, taking several seconds. Once it has loaded, you can press Start to cancel out of it.
* "Press Start" screen loads, taking a few more seconds before it will actually register you pressing Start.
* Main Menu comes up. "New Game" is always selected. If you want to "Load game", you have to scroll down one, then press A.
* You now must select a storage device and press A. In my configuration, the default is correct, so I just need to press A.
* Now you select a specific Save Game to load. Again, I just have to press A.
* A prompt comes up "Confirm Load?" "No" is selected, so you have to scroll to "Yes", then press A.
* A screen comes up explaining the autosave icon. You need to press A to dismiss it.
* Finally, after *9* button presses, actual gameplay starts to load. Although, in this game, the initial gameplay is always a space that is not much more than a 3-d navigable menu in which you can select what mission you want to play next...
alexxkay: (Default)
Bioshock Infinite itself is still a ways away, but there's now a pre-order incentive minigame available, called "Industrial Revolution". I did the vast bulk of the game design on it, and am very happy that people finally get a chance to play it!
alexxkay: (Default)
Keeping up with the garden is a lot of work. If I'm diligent and thorough, about half the fruit actually reaches ripeness. No amount of care can save more than that from fatal imperfections due to circumstances beyond my control. Fruit that looked perfect at first glance may reveal nasty chunks of rot when looked at more closely in a second pass. It's frustrating, but something you just have to live with.

Feels a lot like building game systems. Or probably any creative endeavor. People enjoy the sweetness, but they don't usually realize how much ended up in the compost heap.
alexxkay: (Default)
I just finished playing Dear Esther. It's available on Steam for $9.99 and well worth it. Highly recommended.

I say 'playing', though it isn't a game in any conventional sense. It's an interactive narrative experience that, for me, lasted about two hours (though I am likely to revisit it again). I knew very little about it going in, mostly just what I've said already, plus the fact that it had generated a *lot* of writing by the sorts of writers I respect. Sensing that here was a rare opportunity to experience a unique thing relatively unspoiled, I actively avoided finding out more about it. It would probably have been OK if I had, but I did enjoy going in blank.

If, like many of my colleagues, you *design* interactive narrative experiences (whether attached to more conventional gameplay or not), this is worthy of careful study. Dear Esther contains a lot of masterful design work, on multiple levels. But again, I think you're better off going in without preconceptions about what they are. If you're the sort of person who studies this stuff, you'll recognize them on your own. *Highest* recommendation for students of the form.
alexxkay: (Default)
I posted detailed notes about this talk when I got back from GDC, but I just found out that the full video is on-line, and I *highly* recommend watching it. Even if you're not a gamer, this has lots to say about, well, being a human being.

“Train: or How I dumped Electricity And Learned to Love Design”

(If it doesn't load the first time, try again later. Really.)
alexxkay: (Default)
The notes from one of the better talks I saw at GDC are now up online. PDF of a Powerpoint, but worth reading despite that, if you have any interest in game balance. Design in Detail: Changing the Time Between Shots for the Sniper Rifle from 0.5 to 0.7 Seconds for Halo 3

Also want to signal-boost a cool retrospective article about an scarily surreal Action Half-Life mod: The 5 a.m.. Good writing about a unique experience.
alexxkay: (Default)
If you read only one of these posts, this is the one I recommend. Hands-down the most interesting thing at the show.

Train (or How I Dumped Electricity and Learned to Love Design)
Speaker/s: Brenda Brathwaite (Slide)
Day / Time / Location: Saturday 9:00-10:00 Room 133, North Hall
Track / Format: Game Design / Lecture
Description: Two years ago, after playing a run of games that both looked and played the same, digital game designer Brenda Brathwaite shut off her computer and consoles and began to consume dozens of non-digital games from all over the world. Soon, she returned to her native paper prototyping and eventually started work upon a series of six intentionally non-digital 'gallery games' each designed to explore a difficult topic. The result of this trek proved incredibly eye-opening and rewarding for her as a designer and culminated in the highest praise for a game she had ever received. In this lecture, Brathwaite talks about the design process of her series the Mechanic is the Message and specifically the award-winning game Train, and shares what she learned from our brothers and sisters in that other medium when she cut the cord, became incredibly inspired, and learned to love design.

Alexx's notes )


alexxkay: (Default)
Alexx Kay

June 2017

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