Monday, April 30, 2012

Played Lately: Pinball Arcade

  • I don't have any special connection to pinball machines. I've never been very good at them and never taken the time to try. But I am fascinated with people trying to recreate the arcade experience. That's why I wanted Microsoft's Game Room to succeed. And that's why I skipped Pinball FX but bought Pinball Arcade instead.

  • The first night with the game, I decided to try out several of the tables. I started with the famous Theatre of Magic, a complicated, intricately designed table. From there I went to Tales of the Arabian Nights, a crazy table along the same lines. I ended the night with an older machine, Black Hole, that has a clearer playfield, but with a crazy second minitable under the main playfield. I didn't set any high scores, but enjoy myself. I skipped the last table, Ripley's Believe It Or Not! because I wanted to save it for a later date.

  • The second night, I focused entire on Tales of the Arabian Night. I played that table at least ten times, some times doing better and some times much worse. I learned a couple things about it. First, it is just as complicated to play as it looks. Maybe more so. I started to figure out how one event might lead to another, but it will take much longer to learn everything. Second, the flippers feel a little weird to me. I suspect this has to do with a comment about the poor flipper physics, like it gave me permission to question it, but there it is. It felt like flippers struck the ball almost randomly. Third, I can see why someone my get obsessed with pinball.

  • Sure, you can knock the ball around a bit, but you really need to practice to get any good at the game. It's obvious that the game expects you to hit balls at various targets on command. When you spend the whole time mashing the triggers just to keep the ball in play, you can't expect to be any good at it. It will take time, patience, and a lot of practice to master, which as I've said before is in short supply for me.

  • You say I haven't actually written that blog post yet? I guess you'd better stay tuned...

© 2012 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Random Shots: Telling A Story

  • If you looked only at the works of Bioware, Square-Enix, Irrational, and the like, you might suspect that storytelling in games is little different from movies or books. There might me slight variations from player to player, but the narrative is received from the developer and unfolded by the player through their actions. Many theme park MMOs use these same techniques. These are fine for what they do, but these are the stories that fire everyone's imaginations. The best gaming stories come from systems based games. Instead of following a narrative path, these games let you interact with a system and the story arises from those interactions.

  • I started pondering systems based narrative while listening to the recent Three Moves Ahead podcast about Crusader Kings 2. The panelists' tales of the rise and fall of dynasties and the crazy interactions between characters and between nations inspired my imagination. From there, a link on the 3MA forum led me to a Let's Play archive retelling a playthrough of one dynasty through four of Paradox's games. That, of course, reminded me of other stories I've read for EVE Online, Dwarf Fortress, and others. The examples never really stop.

  • The biggest problem with most of these games is their density. If you read stories about the game and decided to try for yourself, you would invariably run into a brick wall of arcane interfaces, obtuse tutorials, and inscrutable systems. These games are their own worst enemy. People learn about them and want to try them, but the learning curve is so steep that it drives them away.

  • It doesn't have to be like this. The age old genre of 4X games learned a long time ago that you could attract a wide audience if the systems were open but easy to manipulate. Everyone has a story about one crazy game of Civilization that they played. For myself, I don't think it has ever been better then Master of Orion. MoO could generate epic stories that unfolded over the course of several hours, all determined by my decisions.

  • And let's not forget the biggest systems-based storytelling game of all time: The Sims. Their interfaces are always easy to read, the information is clear, and goals are easy to set. But underneath that, the system interactions were incredibly complex. It's just that EA hid all of that from you, only showing you want you really needed to accomplish your goals. Can you imagine if strategy games were as easy to learn as The Sims?

© 2012 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Random Shots: Games, Now And Later

  • After the Mass Effect 3 fiasco, I've had a terrible time getting back into video games. All I can bring myself to play is Solitaire Blitz and Zuma Blitz. Not to knock Popcap because they make addicting games. And their Energy system for means that I don't binge on them for too long. But that's not real gaming.

  • I did try SSX again the other night. The World Tour mode is just about the worst experience. I fail and fail at each run several times, get constantly reminded that I can chicken out and skip the event if its too hard, before finally just getting to the end, only to move on to the next peak before I have a chance to master the current one. If it weren't for the unlockables, I would probably skip this mode entirely. As it is, I'm wondering if how long it would take to purposefully skip my way to the end of the mode.

  • I also downloaded Skullgirls based on all of the talk going on around that game. I watched videos of fights. I even spent time reading move lists at Shoryuken. Upon starting up the tutorial, I immediately knew I was in over my head. The game certainly tells you what you should be doing and even explains why. But I can't get my fingers to reliable reproduce the moves it asks for. On a lark, I tried out the story mode on what they refer to as Sleepwalk difficulty. That's Very Easy to you and me. This was not very easy. And it definitely was not a sleepwalk. I could not even beat the first fight.

  • While I flounder around, trying to figure out what to play, any number of games pile up in my backlog. Why haven't I gone back to Psychonauts? Panzer Corps has gone unplayed for too long. And I never gave Unity of Command a fair try. Everyone has been talking up Legend of Grimrock for a few days now, but I can't justify the purchase with all of these other games that I could be playing. And that doesn't even take into account any MMOs, free-to-play or subscription, that I want to revisit.

  • There will be a time when I fall back into the arms a game that I will obsess over. Unfortunately, that is not today.

© 2012 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

News Filter: Mass Effect 3 Extended Cut

  • We're taking a little break from Unexplored Worlds week because I can't let this go by without comment. Blue Kae sent me a message this morning alerting me to today's news. Bioware announced that they will be releasing a free DLC pack this summer called Mass Effect 3: Extended Cut. The DLC is intended to expand the game with new cinematics that do more to explain the events.

  • According to the FAQ, Bioware isn't adding or changing anything. They are just clarifying and expanding on what is already there. They are staying firmly committed to the ending that they intended, but want to give more explanation and closure to the fans.

  • Okay, fine.

  • I and many others have gone to great lengths to explain why the game does not have a narratively satisfying ending. The main problem with the Retake Mass Effect 3 movement is that so many people want something different from the ending, whether it is closure, or the oppotunity for heroism, or (like myself) narrative consistency. There is no way Bioware can make everyone happy. This announcement shows which group they decided to address.

  • As Blue Kae and I were chatting, he asked if this DLC could help change my mind about the ending. I don't know if it will or not, but I intend to go into it with an open mind. I'm not willing to give up on Mass Effect just yet.

© 2012 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Unexplored Worlds: The Dagger Of Sacrifice

  • The dagger is a long, dual edged blade of blackened steel forged by a Reki blacksmith. The crossguard is a simple oval struck from the same metal. The hilt is ash wood wrapped in sweat soaked leather. The weapon feels lighter than other similar blade, but this is due to the nature of the metal instead of any enchantment.

  • The Dagger of Sacrifice earned its name, and gained its special properties, because of the auspicious circumstances where it first drew blood. The dagger was first owned by a Reki trade official named Kavius. A hard working individual with a stressful goverment appointment, he had little time for his family. Upon returning home early one evening, he discovered his wife, Puliunous, in the arms of another. Kavius was so overcome with grief that he drew the dagger and plunged it into his own abdomen.

  • As he waited to die, kneeling on the ground before his spouse, a well of anger bobbled up within him. Finally, he was so enraged that he withdrew the dagger from his stomach, stood, and slew his horrified wife and her paramour. The screams drew the attention of others who, coming to investigate, were killed as well. The city watch was eventually called. Kavius killed several of them as well before he eventually die from blood loss from his self inflicted wound. The dagger was taken up by one of the surviving guards, Tacoatian, who discovered the abilities of the dagger in his own way.

  • The wielder of the dagger can use it to stab themselves. If this occurs, roll for damage as normal. For as long as the blade is wet with blood and the wound stays open, the dagger inflicts additional damage to any enemies equal to the amount of damage that was self inflicted. Any medical or magical treatment of the wound cancels this bonus. Wiping the blade clean or letting the blood dry will also cancel the damage bonus.

  • Unexplored Worlds is my attempt to design an RPG campaign in the open. Since I have not rolled a d20 in anger in many years, this is my way to keep playing without actually playing. All posts are written to be system-agnostic, so please use whatever keeps your interest in your own games. Just let me know how it goes!

© 2012 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Unexplored Worlds: The Ring Of Consequences Avoided

  • The Ring of Consequences Avoided is a unadorned, wide gold band. The only markings on the ring are the scratches and gouges on the surface that indicate rough wear over many years. The only thing the distinguishes this ring physically is that it holds onto the wearer's body heat for much longer than is natural, staying warm for up to two days after being removed.

  • The ring was one of several originally forged on commission by the Order of St. Gersteline and given to the officers of its army. This particular ring was given to Knight-Commander Absophar and was in his possession until he died. The ring did not evince any enchantment until it was stolen from his tomb.

  • When worn on the right hand, the ring displays no unusual properties. When placed on the left hand it grants the wearer invisibility until the ring is removed again. Usually.

  • The first time the ring is worn, it remembers how long the wearer was invisible and the effect is dispelled then the ring is removed. The next time the ring is used, the ring will compare how long the wearer was invisible to the prior use. If the new time is longer, the effect is dispelled and ring remembers this new duration. If the new time is shorter, the wearer stays invisible for as long as the prior use plus an additional fifteen minutes. This sets the new duration as well.

  • The practical upshot is the the ring requires the user to remain invisible for longer and longer each time it is used. There are rumors that past owners have disappeared from the world entirely due to overuse of the ring.

  • Unexplored Worlds is my attempt to design an RPG campaign in the open. Since I have not rolled a d20 in anger in many years, this is my way to keep playing without actually playing. All posts are written to be system-agnostic, so please use whatever keeps your interest in your own games. Just let me know how it goes!

© 2012 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Unexplored Worlds: Level Three - The Upper Caverns

  • Welcome to day one of Unexplored Worlds Week here at Bullet Points. All week long I will be posting a related series of articles about the Battle of the Mushrooms, an encounter on the third level of the Tomb of the Steel Emperor megadungeon. Each day, I will add a new piece to the puzzle. Enjoy!

  • The Upper Caverns is the first level of natural caves beneath the initial, man-made warrens. Averaging 100' below the surface, this level is the highest that subterranean creatures will be found. Although such encounters will still be rare, adventures need to be wary of creatures forced to flee from predators in their lower habitats or demons from the deep seeking new hunting grounds.

  • On average, these caverns are larger than the rooms above, both in breadth and height. There are very few regular walls except for the cells where mentally afflicted dwarves were held in centuries past. The natural light funnels that illumiated the first two levels where not sunk this far, so adventures must carry a light source or use magical means to seeing in the dark. From somewhere beyond the edges of the dungeon, a gentle wind blows through the caverns, generally from west to east, refreshing the air in these levels. Arrows on the map indicate wind direction throughout the level.

  • The highlight features of the Upper Caverns include the serene Singing Pools, the grisly Asylum, the scorching Abyssal Vents, the glacially paced Battle of the Mushrooms, and the confounding maze of the Accidental Menagerie. Wandering creatures are more common here and more varied because few, except for the albino Elu, have made a encampment here. Even with few lairs to raid, there is still plenty of treasure to be recovered by enterprising adventurers.

  • Although several caverns are described as part of the dungeon, both the Upper and Lower Caverns extend far beyond the confines of these maps. Game Masters are encouraged to expand these levels as they and the players see fit to explore. There is much more to see under the world than what is presented here.

  • Unexplored Worlds is my attempt to design an RPG campaign in the open. Since I have not rolled a d20 in anger in many years, this is my way to keep playing without actually playing. All posts are written to be system-agnostic, so please use whatever keeps your interest in your own games. Just let me know how it goes!

© 2012 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.