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    For all too many folks currently, as it would appear to myself at least, then not enough people tend to 'credit' what this person had accomplished, and it isn't truly their fault about it all. Still, to help them become more better educated on the matter, then here that is now!  

  • Sing it Possum.

  • Like, cosmic, man!”

     

    The many-splendoured universe that is digitial gaming is terra incognita to me I must confess. I mean, I’ve played video games hundreds and hundreds of times: across different platforms- arcade games, Spectrum games, PC games, console games, social network games; in genres too numerous to mention, but which barely amount to a representative sample of what digital gaming is and has been. All those games, and all I know about the single most important new gaming medium of our age is the depth of my woeful ignorance.

  • Breathing heavily, Graeme held his Claymore aloft and screamed, “T’ME, BERETS! T’ME, HIGHLANDERS! It’s time t’run them off!” He rushed to engage a figure that separated itself from the shadows.  He was not fast enough.

    The Shock Trooper raised its P1000 handgun and fired. Graeme’s battle cry was cut short as the bullet entered his chest, causing him to stumble to his knees.  The Highlander, using his Claymore as a crutch, tried to stand. A staccato burst of a TSW4000reverberated in the night, its muzzle flare giving away its controller’s position. The shells cut Graeme to ribbons.

    Despite the raging firefight surrounding him, Malakai closed his eyes and stood motionless. Millicent’s pained scream reached his covered ears over the din.

    “NO!!!”

    The Shock Troopers moved in, edging towards the Highlander’s body, laying down suppressive fire from their sidearms. With little stopping power, the bullets failed to penetrate the armor covering the Blood Berets. The Berets returned fire, killing three of the troopers, including the one carrying the machine gun. Shaken by the loss of their support weapon, the two remaining Shock Troopers retreated back the way they came and disappeared from sight. Millicent, with tears blurring her vision, fired her Invader at the now withdrawing Machinators, doing little to harm them. When they were gone, she threw down her weapon and ran to Graeme’s corpse. His blood stained her gloved hands and armor as she cradled him in her lap, tears diluted the blood spatters on the eternally slumbering face of her lover.

    “Sergeant?”

    Millicent turned to seeMalakai approach her and stop a short distance away. His armored body was outlined by the lights coming from the house, making him look completely sinister.

    “Ailín,” she whimpered, rocking Graeme back and forth.

    “We are not done here, Sergeant Rowley,” Malakai said, pointing to the fleeing Cybertronic soldiers. “As long as they taint this asteroid, it will not be over.” He stared down at her through opaque lenses, noting her face showed the strains of age, but was still beautiful. That face turned from sadness to anger as the Inquisitor’s words sunk in.

    “Squad, to me,” Millicent ordered and they complied. Her second in command approached and handed her her discarded Invader.  She reloaded the weapon with skilled precision and then turned her attention to Malakai. “I will do my best to purge the filth, Your Grace.” There was a long pause before he responded.

    “I have every confidence in your abilities,” Malakai replied. Millicent nodded, motioning for her men to move out. With a heavy heart, Malakai turned and walked back to the manor, knowing all too well that his Mother was going to be crushed by what he already knew.

     

    At their dropship, Sergeant Michaels a quickly typed a message into the communication’s system and sent it to the BLACK ICE, the cruiser that effected their transport to the asteroid.

    STRIKE TEAM ENIGMA REPORTING. 

    MISSION STATUS: PRIMARY OBJECTIVE – COMPLETE.

                                SECONDARY OBJECTIVE – NOT COMPLETE.

    INSUFFICIENT RESOURCES TO FULFILL BOTH OBJECTIVES. REQUEST PICKUP.

    Michaels waited patiently for the response. The Machinators, along with his sole remaining squad member, were patrolling the forest near the craft. It wasn’t long until the response came:

    CV BLACK ICE RESPONDING. 

    REQUEST DENIED. SECONDARY OBJECTIVE NOT ACHIEVED. DAMAGE TO VESSEL MOUNTING FROM INDTERDICTING IMPERIAL VESSELS. MISSION ABORTED.

    NEW ORDER - STRIKE TEAM ENIGMA: SCATTER.

    Michaels flinched at the terse answer, but still replied.

    ACKNOWLEDGED.  

  • Inquisitor Majoris Malakai reclined in the leather seats of the F.A. Sterling, his helmeted head resting on his gloved palm, while through the helmet’s opaque lenses he watched the terraformed landscape of the Fergan Clan’s asteroid slide swiftly by.  Dotted on the lush fields surrounding the winding road was the clan’s lifeblood: cattle.

    “We are almost to the manor, Inquisitor Majoris,” his driver said, as the car drove underneath the Fergan Arch bracketing the road.

    “Good.  This visit will be short,” Malakai’s voice sounded resonant and distant because of his helmet.  “Be ready to leave at a moment’s notice.  Once I am finished my work here, I am going to have to leave quickly.”

    “Yes, Inquisitor Majoris.”

    The Sterling purred to a stop outside of the Fergan Clan manor house.  The clan’s home was a large and sprawling estate, mostly reserved for raising cattle, but still had a good bit left over for the humans and their dwellings.  The night fled from the warm, inviting light that glimmered from the open bay windows.  The sounds of boisterous conversation and laughter floated lazily out to the Inquisitor’s car.  Malakai stared at the house with apprehension, which was unheard of in an Inquisitor, much less a Majoris.

    “Your Grace?”

    Malakai’s turned his head slightly to glance at his driver.  The man’s name was Willoughby, who came from a well to do family that was affiliated with the Fergans.  He wasn’t blood, but he was a Fergan, and as loyal as they came.  The Inquisitor sighed ruefully.  “Yes, yes,” he muttered as he opened the passenger door, much to the chagrin of his driver.  Willoughby hurriedly tried to get out of the sedan so he could formally open his passenger’s door, but Malakai held up his hand to stop him.

    “It is quite all right, Willoughby.  I think I can handle this myself,” Malakai said as he got out of the car and shut the door behind him.  With a heavy heart, he walked up the steps to the front door and struck the knocker, which was in the form of the clan’s crest: the black bull.  There were quiet sounds of movement coming through the thick oak door, and after a pause, it opened.

    A short, rotund woman with hair the color of dried straw stood at the threshold.  Malakai was at least a head and a half taller than she.  Her grey eyes were large with shock at the commanding figure that stood on her doorstep.  Her eyes scanned the Inquisitor from the ichthys-style helmet that covered his head, to the black, double leveled shoulder pads, to the crimson and black raiment he wore, down to his large black boots.  Once she looked him over, she returned her gaze to his covered face.

    “Lady EimhearFergan,” Malakai intoned to his hostess, nodding his head in acknowledgement.

    “Ach, take tha’ thing offer ye napper so’s aye kin see ye proper,” Lady Fergan said with her eyes welling up with tears of joy and a broad smile spreading across her face.  Reluctantly, Malakai did so and placed the helmet into the waiting hands of Dónal, the butler.   With a whoop of happiness, Lady Fergan charged Malakai, wrapped her arms around his broad trunk, and rocked him forcibly back and forth.  “Oh, Ailín!  Aye never thought ye make it!” 

    Malakai rolled his eyes and looked heavenward.  “It is ‘Malakai’, Ma. As in, ‘Inquisitor Majoris Malakai,” he said, kneeling down so he could look into her eyes.  Tears began to crease down the sides of her aged face and her wrinkled hands took his face in their grasp.

    “Ye wil always be Ailín to me,” she responded warmly and then hugged him tightly to her.  For all her eighty years, and even after he heard the Calling of the Cardinal, she still considered him her baby.  “Happy Cardinalmas, m’son.”

    Every year, the Fergan Clan, as with most Light fearing cathedral goers, would hold a celebration on the birth date of the founding Cardinal, Durand the First.  Usually, the celebrations would last for days but Malakai knew he would not be there long enough to enjoy the festivities.

  • “Happy Cardinalmas, Ma,” Malakai replied to her warmly. Her head still buried in his chest, Eimhear did not see the melancholy expression on her son’s face. She squeezed him tightly one last time and released him, wiping away her stray tears.

    “Ev’ryone is ‘ere. Millicent, too.” Lady Fergan gave a sideways glance to her son as they walked to the drawing room. Outwardly, he showed no response to the information. Inwardly, his stomach lurched. His Ma always knew what buttons to push.

    “I’m sure my brother Graeme will be pleased,” Malakai replied coolly. Raucous voices filtered out of the drawing room, muffled by the thick wood paneling. Just as his mother prepared to open the double doors, a cheer erupted. She turned to her son, eyebrows arched, but said nothing as she opened the doors.

    The room was near capacity with party guests. Half of them wore the dress uniform of the Blood Berets, with their signature beret nestled under their right shoulder epaulet. The other half were from the Highlander Clan Warriors, another Imperial Special Force. Their look was more functional, less decorative. All of them were surrounding a couple locked in a long, passionate kiss underneath a 1,000 Cardinal’s Crown attached to the threshold that led to the manor’s rear ball room.  It was a common tradition during Cardinalmas to kiss your beloved under one for good luck and prosperity for the coming year.

    The couple was his brother and Millicent Rowley, a member of another attached family to the clan. His brother wore the trappings of a highly decorated hero of the Highlanders, while Millicent wore the dress uniform of a Blood Beret sergeant. As the partygoers observed the new arrivals, the cheering died down almost immediately; some of the Berets crossed themselves upon sight of Malakai.

    Millicent and Graeme, noticing the change in the atmosphere, broke their kiss and looked in the direction of the entrance. 

    Malakai discovered that their expressions were unchanged from the last time he caught them together, so many years ago.

    “Graeme? Are ye down 'ere?” Ailín called down the hallway leading  to his and his brother’s rooms. Revisor Malcom is about t'leave.” No answer.

    He was about to look elsewhere when he heard muffled noises coming from his brother’s bedroom. At first, he wasn’t sure if he did indeed hear anything. Then, after a moment, he heard an indistinct conversation resume. Slowly, he walked to his brother’s closed door.

     “Graeme?”

    More muffled voices, speaking quickly.

    Ailín tried the door to his brother’s room, it was unlocked. He opened it, saying, “Graeme, why didn’t ye - ?”

    The sentence died in his throat. His brother’s four poster bed was opposite the door. Graeme was sitting on the bed, stark naked, trying to pull up his pants. He looked at his intruding brother and blanched.

    Millicent was also there, under the warm covers of his brother’s bed. Her face blushed with embarrassment; she bit her lower lip apprehensively.

    “Did ye ever hear o' knockin'?” Graeme grumbled. His admonishment of his brother soon faded when he saw the incensed expression on Ailín’s face.

    “How dare ye?” Ailín hissed through clenched teeth. His eyes went from Graeme to Millicent, then back to Graeme. The color faded from his brother’s cheeks.

    “Wait, ye n' Millie? Ailín, Aye swear aye didn’ know!” Graeme sprang from his bed and approached his brother in a reconciliatory manner.

    Ailín’s fist swung out and connected squarely with his brother’s left cheek, sending him sprawling across the room. Millicent squealed at the sudden violence and rushed to Graeme’s side, nakedness be damned.

    “Save it,” Ailín said to his prone sibling. After a long, disdainful look at the couple, he turned on his heel and walked out of Graeme’s room, slamming the door behind him.

    Millicent and Graeme broke their embrace with a mien of guilt. As Millicent straightened her uniform, Graeme walked towards his brother and bowed respectfully. As he stood up, Malakai noted the hard look on his brother’s face.

    “Inquisitor Majoris,” Graeme greeted his brother.

    “Major Fergan,” Malakai formally replied in kind. He glanced about the room, acknowledging that everyone kept quiet, or if they did speak, spoke in hushed whispers.  He raised his hands in an entreating gesture.

    “Don't dampen the festivities on my account, everyone. Besides, it has been many a year since this Inquisitor tasted a round of the clan's finest stout!” Malakai intoned as he grabbed a full glass off a passing tray and held it as a toast. “To the Cardinal.” The guests raised their glasses high.

    “To the CARDINAL!” the Highlanders bellowed, Graeme included. They easily drowned out the Berets' cheer. Malakai brought the glass to his lips and downed it in one motion, wincing at the taste. The reason for his interval from the clan's porter was not because of his vow, but because the brew tasted hideous to him. A Fergan all his life, and couldn't stomach their beer. To him, bull’s urine tasted better, knowing that unpleasant fact to a dare made by Graeme himself when they were kids.

    Graeme watched his brother’s expression with guarded amusement. “Now tha’ ye have taken off th’ robe, aye need ye t’put it back on fer a wee bit,” he said as he watched Malakai wipe his mouth with his hand. “Aye need t’ask a favor.”

    Malakai’s eyes glanced sideways to his mother. She held her feelings plainly on her face. Worry covered it.   He set his glass down on a nearby table. “Very well, what is it?” he replied.

    “Let’s talk about this in private,” Graeme replied.

    “As you wish,” Malakai said, motioning for the exit to an adjacent drawing room.

  • Malakai entered the room first, taking in the sight and smell of it. It was where he and his brother used to play. They would imagine that they were Trenchers of the 32nd Battalion fighting off the hordes of Legionnaires issuing forth from Saladin's citadel like a foul river. Little had changed in the time since he left to join the Brotherhood. His dead grandfather's portrait that hung over the fireplace mantle was replaced with that of his father, who died in the Gideon Offensive on Mercury. When he got the news, he was still a Missionary with the Second Directorate. Not long after that, it was discovered by one of his tutors that he had the gift of using the Art. That gift allowed him to train as an Inquisitor and was his path out of the Mission.

    “Canna believe tha' Da's been gone nigh fifteen years,” Graeme said, closing the door behind him. He walked over to the bar and picked up the brandy decanter. “Somethin' ta wash away th' taste?”

    “You read my mind, Graeme,” Malakai replied, turning to his brother. Graeme poured two glasses and joined Malakai in the center of the room, handing him a glass. They both stood there, staring at each other without a word.  Neither one knew where to begin, but Graeme tried first.

    “T'ye health, brother,” Graeme said, holding up his glass. He noticed Malakai swallow hard as he raised his glass in kind.

    “To yours,” Malakai softly replied and they both drank. Once finished, both of them fell into an uncomfortable silence.

    “Well, Graeme, what is it that you wish of me?” Malakai asked sternly. Graeme's face twisted into a grimace and some of the color faded from his cheeks.

    “Aye was thinkin', “ Graeme stammered, “o' askin' Millie t'marry me. Aye plan on askin' her t'night.” He gulped visibly as he watched his brother's passive face for any reaction. “My request is tha' aye would like ye t'officiate th' ceremony, Ailín.”

    Malakai's jaw tightened, but he said nothing.

    “Are ye gunna keep me in suspense?” Graeme asked at his brother's silence. Malakai sighed.

    “No.”

    “Well? What's ye answer?” his brother expectantly asked.

    “No ismy answer, Graeme,” Malakai calmly said.

    Anger darkened Graeme’s face like a spreading eclipse. “Twenty years. It’s been twenty years, n’ye still carry a grudge. Unbelievable.”

    “No, I do not,” Malakai replied as he walked past his brother and set down his glass on an end table. He then moved to the large bay windows that overlooked the front of the manor, his eyes scanning the firmament.

    “Really? Then what’s ye reason not to?” Graeme retorted to his brother’s back. Malakai said nothing in return.  “Ye wouldn’t –“ Graeme started to say more, but Malakai cut him off.

    “I still would have said no, even if Ma asked me,” he interrupted, his eyes still scanning the heavens. At long last, he found the bright contrail of light. It streaked across the night sky and then stopped and disappeared . A few moments later, the light streak appeared once more and vanished into the horizon. After it was gone, another contrail much smaller than the first, dimly lit the darkness at the point where the original initially disappeared.

    The small line of light sailed towards the manor house, passing high overhead and out of Malakai’s sight.

    Graeme’s anger at his brother soon gave way to puzzlement. “How did ye - ?” was all he got out to his brother’s abrupt response. Malakai held up a raised index finger, requesting him to wait. Then Malakai pointed to an intercom speaker mounted near the door.

    As if on cue, the speaker crackled into life.

    “Major Fergan, Inquisitor Majoris Malakai? This is Sergeant Mills. We have received a call from the clan’s spaceport. They just received an urgent message from the captain of the HSSVenture. TheVenturedetected a ship emerging from the rift. The captain positively identified the ship as Cybertronic. He also confirmed a drop ship was launched from the enemy vessel. TheVentureis planning on giving chase, but wanted to notify the ground what was happening and to prepare. Major Fergan, shall we put the house guard on alert?”

    “Aye, get –“

    “That will not be necessary, Sergeant. Have the guard sequester our family in the holdout bunker until I give the all clear.

    There was a momentary pause over the intercom. “Ye- Yes, Your Grace,” the sergeant replied before the intercom fell silent. Graeme turned on his brother angrily.

    “What gives ye th' right t'make th' order???” Graeme hissed. “Aye kin take care o' th' family wit'out runnin' off like ye did.”

    “There are two reasons, dear brother,” Malakai said, fixing his blue eyes coldly on Graeme. “I am an Inquisitor Majoris. With the heretical bastards of Cybertronic on our rear doorstep, it means that I have authority to deal with this Legion attack on behalf of the Brotherhood. Second, I'm the eldest, Graeme. Brotherhood or no, I am the man of the house while I am here or did you forget that?”

    Graeme averted his eyes, scowling at the rebuke. He only looked at his brother when Malakai approached and placed his hands on his shoulders.

    “Did your men come prepared?” Malakai asked, with a half smile. “Or, are we going to fight this fight with cocktail forks?”

    Graeme huffed. “O' course. Chief Haig brought his squad fully loaded fer bear. Millie's men brought theirs, too.”

    Malakai's smile broadened. “Then let's give them a taste of Fergan wrath.”

  • When the party attendants heard of the plan to repel Cybertronic, they wasted no time in getting ready. Armor was put on, assault weapons were loaded, and faces filled earlier with levity became grim. Malakai returned the closed helmet to his head and slipped his right arm through the straps that attached his AC-40 to its usual spot underneath his forearm. All of them walked out to the rear grounds and waited.

    In the distance, the Imperial soldiers heard the whining of servomotors and felt faint impact tremors under their feet. As time went on, both sensations became more pronounced.

    Malakai strode away from the group of huddled soldiers, towards the direction of the disturbance, and stopped a good distance from them. He gripped the handle of his AC-40 and stood stock still, waiting. He tried using the Art, but could not focus fast enough to use it before the enemy appeared.

    Out of the darkness it came, lurching with jerky steps into Malakai’s sight a mere ten meters from his position. The thing towered over the Inquisitor by a good two meters. It was one of Cybertronic’s abominable war machines, an Eradicator Deathdroid.

    “Chicken walker!!” Malakai heard someone exclaim.

    The Blood Berets wasted no time into moving into position. Once the droid was spotted, they peppered it with fire from their Invaders. The battle droid ignored the bullets striking its egg shaped body as if they were nothing more than raindrops. A burst of fire from Millicent’s Invader cut across the droid’s glowing right eye, putting it out. The glow returned moments later.

    Graeme ran to his brother’s side, pausing momentarily to yell orders over his comm. “Chief Haig, get Madison up ‘ere with th’ Charger n’ have th’ rest o’ th’ squad support him. Berets! Ye canna hit anything from the back seats! Move in, ye lollies, or do ye need me t’hold yer hand?” He then raised his Claymore and hurtled towards the Eradicator.

    As ordered, Private Madison rushed after Major Fergan. Once he had the droid in his sights, he braced the sixteen barreled Gatling gun against his hip and squeezed the trigger. The gun roared into life as a staggering fusillade was brought against the mechanical monster. However, the private was too eager to please the Major, as his shots missed the mark due to inadequate bracing. The rest of the Highlanders moved into a support position as they were told. The Blood Berets moved their firing line closer to the droid and emptied their weapons at it. Again, their attacks were mostly ignored, bouncing off the heavily armored body. Twice, the fire from the Berets caused the Eradicator to lurch before righting itself.

    Suddenly, a caricature of a human form emerged from the darkness, bearing a shield in one hand and a sword in the other. It was a Machinator, a cheap battlefield construct. It methodically moved to Madison, whose attention was fixed on the Eradicator, and stabbed the private through his side, sending the heated blade through the human’s lung and heart. The Charger slipped to the ground, with the Highlander following suit. Without pause, the construct withdrew its sword and attacked Corporal Dunnings. This time, its quarry was prepared and the Machinator’s weapon was turned away by the Highlander’s Punisher sword.

    Another Machinator charged from the shadows and attacked both Chief Haig and Corporal Dunnings. The Cybertronic blade sliced through both Highlanders as if they were mere saplings. Haig’s body sagged without its right arm, while Dunnings’ entrails stained the ground. The last Highlander alive backed away from the carnage. He was prepared to turn and run when a searing pain bit into the center of his back.  There was a twisting sensation and the Highlander died shortly afterwards.

    Malakai focused his mind, using the Art of Mentalism to harden his skin to the strength of steel. Enemy fire struck him several times, only to ricochet off his invulnerable body. He twisted, took aim at one of the Machinators, and squeezed the thumb trigger to his AC-40. Tracer fire lit up the darkness. But with preternatural speed, the Machinator brought up its shield and blocked the rounds heading for its head.

    Meanwhile, the Eradicator turned towards Graeme, leveled its right arm at him, and a gout of flames rushed out. Graeme dove out of the way, rolled forward, and sprang up again even closer to the droid. Again, the flamer nightmarishly lit up the gloom. This time, the inferno caught the Highlander in its hungry grasp. Malakai watched impassively, even though he could hear Millicent scream his brother’s name.

    From out of the conflagration, a figure shot out, still running full tilt at the Eradicator. His body was untouched by the flames, but he quickly discarded the heavy cloak that was still being consumed by them. “It’ll take a lot more o’ that t’kill me!” Graeme bellowed as he closed with his inhuman opponent. 

    His Claymore raised, Graeme brought it down on the Eradicator’s left leg in a two handed chop. Sparks flew as the sword was deflected by the polycarbonate armor. The droid backed up, lowering its body to spot its foe. What it got for its troubles was a Claymore piercing its egg shaped body, severing several systems regulating its balance. The droid tottered drunkenly, swinging its flamethrower to bear. Graeme ducked underneath it and then turned, bringing his Claymore down on the lightly armored elbow joint. In a shower of sparks, the severed Magmascorcher fell away from the droid’s body. Before it could recover, Graeme pressed his advantage, swinging his sword again. He sliced through the Eradicator’s right knee joint, sending the bulky droid plummeting to the earth. Smoke billowed out from the seams of its body, its glowing eyes went dark.

  • I recently moved to a new city for a job.  My girlfriend just left for a two-week vacation.  I'm in the middle of a four-day weekend.  I'd been wearing my housecoat all day and had just eaten a dozen chocolate-chip cookies for supper while watching re-runs of Tenacious D on HBO on Demand.   Good god, I'm bored. 

    Wait, I know!  It's been two months since I cracked open a board game...  I should solo a game of Arkham Horror!  And, great idea upon great idea, I should take notes and write up my first deliciously witty session report!  (Never mind the fact that I can't tell a story for shit.)

     So that was my stupid idea last night.  I'm not going to follow through with my session report.  I gave up on that idea during the game.  Instead, here's a session report about a guy who's too lazy and unimaginative to write a session report.

    --------------------------------------------------------

     The players: Kate Winthrop, the sexy scientist, and Darrell Simmons, the sexy photographer.  Shub-Niggurath, the sexy floating red mouths, has come to make their lives considerably more difficult. 

    So, setup, I grab the investigators' items.  Ho, ho!!  Darrell has drawn a Press Pass.  How perfect!  This story is writing itself!  And... some dynamite.  Uhh... I'll figure out how to spin that later.

     At this point, I still have no idea how I'm supposed to go about writing one of these things.   From what perspective should a session report be told?  Kate's?  Darrell's?  Shub's?

    I draw the first Mythos card to get this lonely party started for reals: "Headline: Help Wanted."  The newspaper is offering a retainer to the first investigator to take the time during an interdimensional crisis to gain secondary employment.  Awesome!  Now Kate and Darrell are both working for the paper.  I can write this sucker from the perspective of the editor!  I watched about 20 minutes of Spider-Man 3 between episodes of D, so I can channel that J Jonah vibe.  This shit is too easy!

     *two rounds later, both investigators lose their retainers in the upkeep phase*

     Fuck!

     *two rounds later*

    At this point, I look back at my notes to see the phrase "nothing interesting happens" about a half-dozen times already.  I mean, there wasstuff happening -- like Darrell diving  off a bridge to avoid some drunk college douches in a Model T, or Kate buying a motorcycle out of a stranger's car trunk (?) -- but I didn't want to have to tie everythingtogether.  I wanted a tight, concise story (you know, the exact opposite of what I'm doing now).  I was having trouble deciding what was worth using and what was superfluous.

     *twenty rounds later*

    All right, lots of tangible stuff for a clever storyteller to weave a tale with now!

    The  Southside Strangler struck, eventually killing three of my allies.  On the same Mythos card, a Maniac was added to the board, who Kate later killed without use of a weapon.  (Note: I'll have to write that one as by strangulation since everyone loves such ironic twists.)  Later on, a Zombie appears where the Maniac was previously killed.  Perfect!  It can be the Strangler risen from the dead!  Kate kills the Zombie without a weapon.  (Note: I'll have to write that one as by strangul... wait, how do you kill a zombie without a weapon?)  Kate was later arrested for impersonating a customer at Ye Olde Magick Shoppe.  (Good thing she wasn't caught choking a man to death in the streets in front of the police station earlier on or her fine might have been greater than $2.)

     Meanwhile, Darrell's  collecting clues with his press pass (wait, wasn't this prick fired like five minutes into the game?) and sealing open gates like a motherfucker.  He also bought a .45 Automatic, which I think was the only weapon either of them had throughout the game, apart from Darrell's dynamite he started with, that I guess his employer at the newspaper must have supplied him with:

      "Simmons!  We need some shots of that floaty mouth thing for the front page!  But it's pretty hairy out there.  Better take this."

    "Dynamite?"

    "Yeah, to keep you safe."

    "To keep me safe? You're giving me fucking dynamite to keep me safe?"

    "Yeah, and if you want to keep pocketing that $2 retainer, you'll go and get me those shots!  If you don't think you can handle it, there's plenty of sexy scientists in this town who would kill -- literally strangle a man -- for $2.  In fact, "Help Wanted"... that'll be our first headline!"

    Apart from that, Darrell's journey was relatively uneventful, despite the fact that he was the only one doing anything actually directed towards winning the bloody game.  So I could write a slightly intriguing story about Kate doing much ado about nothing, or I could write a slightly dull story about Dynamite Darrell's other-wordly adventures.  Either option sounded like a lot of work on my part, and I had enough work ahead of me putting this mammoth fucker of a game back in the box at 1:00 AM when I was finished.

     At about this time, I realized I didn't have it in me to be a session reporter and I stopped taking notes.  Too bad, really, because what a fucking ending!  Shub finally devoured Kate, defeating me with just one doom token left on the track!  (She had a great combination of spells by this point that gave her a strong attack without costing her sanity.) 

    A satisfying end to a great game, and an abrupt end to a meandering blog entry.

  • Snapshots from JMcL63's lands of adventure

     
  • Done down by dastardly Donald's devious duplicity!

    Snapshots from JMcL63's lands of adventure
    • We get our first game of Battlestar Galactica: the Board  Game.
    • I give it the full RD/KA! treatment.
    • And some other stuff.
    ;)
  • The fickle finger of fate

    •  The Cylon menace rears its ugly head for the 2nd time.
    • We get our Crimson Skies factions sorted for our upcoming campaign.
    ;)
  • Meanwhile...

    • C3i, Combat Commander, completism and contentment
      • C3i is GMT's house magazine, published by Rodger MacGowan, whose work I first encountered on the covers of Squad Leader and Panzer Blitz, to name 2 notable examples.
    ;)

  • Here's the kind of really sad story you can hear sometimes from novice designers.  At one of the game design/game publishing seminars at GenCon, right at the end, someone raised his hand and said he and a group of friends had been working on a game for seven years, and it was a great game, and they had spent over seven years and a million dollars developing it including paying Marvel comic artists to do the art; and how could he get to talk to Fantasy Flight Games about it?  The three panelists were taken aback – if I wrote in contemporary style I would say they were "stunned" – and said nothing for a moment.  Because there's really nothing to say.  These “designers” were in cloud-cuckoo land to spend so much time and money, and their game very likely wasn't particularly good, either.

    Finally James Ernest said "when you talk to Fantasy Flight I wouldn't mention the million dollars".  (Because it would mark them as clueless noobs.)  And it turned out that much of the million dollars was a calculation of how much the developers would have paid themselves if they had paid themselves anything.  But those Marvel artists must've cost a lot of money.  Yet anyone who knows anything about the tabletop publishing business knows that the manufacturer provides the art and the designer should use clipart for the prototypes, even if it's copyrighted (fair use), rather than spend money on art.  And that virtually no game is so good as to earn a million dollars for the developers, so you shouldn't be spending a million dollars.  Yet they had done so little research that they had no idea how to approach Fantasy Flight, and while that is very far from easy to achieve, the basic steps are well-known.

    The session then ended and no more was said publicly.  But this is the kind of sad story one hears occasionally from stars-in-their-eyes "game designers".  They've done little or no research, they think their game's great because it's their game (and they probably designed it for themselves, not for other people), and they evidently think there's a lot of money in tabletop game design.  One can only shake one's head.  (And yes, I realize that it's just barely possible that they do have a great game but the odds are astronomically against it.)

    So at that moment I started to write down "Most important cautions for novice game designers ".  And after further thought, here they are.

    You won't be very good to start with.  Practice makes perfect.  When someone begins a creative endeavor they are very rarely good at it to begin with.  Nowadays so much that's involved in so many professions is hidden away or occurs in someone's mind that young people get the notion that it's easy simply because they don't see it happening.  No, there is no Easy Button.  So be prepared to throw way or give away much of your early work.

    You need to design and complete games.  Publishers don't want to buy ideas, they want to buy complete games.  It is extraordinarily rare for someone to have an original idea, that is, one that no one else has had.  An idea may be original to you but that doesn't mean a lot of other people have not also thought of it.  And may well have used it in a game years ago.  As a result, ideas are seen as worthless by publishers.

    Don't spend much money on making a prototype.  In particular, don't pay anybody for art, don't pay a lot for high-quality printing or fancy boxes, don't pay an "agent", don't pay an "evaluator".  Many prototypes don't even have a box, they are in some kind of pouch or wallet (especially considering that it's pretty hard to reduce a large board to box size, the board is often separate).  Really slick prototypes tend to put publishers off because they're afraid the designer has put so much time into the prettiness of the prototype that they've been reluctant to change it!

    With modern computer software and printers you can produce a nice-looking prototype quite cheaply.  I discuss software and other points about making prototypes in my "Game Design" book if you need more information. Ask you local library to get a copy.

    The 4 P's.  When you deal with publishers be professional, polite, punctual, and persistent.  And be friendly.  But remember that publishers are busy people who have hundreds of designers wanting to show them prototypes.  If you stand out because you're a butthead you're not going to get anywhere.

    Playtest, playtest, playtest.  Be sure to playtest your game with a wide variety of players.  Don't rely on your family to tell you whether it's a good game or not.

    You will never be finished with a game.  You'll just reach the point of diminishing marginal returns or the time it takes to make an improvement is just not worth the value of the improvement.  Even if your game is published, there will be things you may want to do in a second edition should that ever occur.

    Real designers work on many games at the same time.  But there are cases where someone designed one game that proved to be so good that they are independently wealthy (for example Blokus).  If you're working on just one game however. it probably won't be published; good luck.

    Designing a game is a form of work.  My favorite game is a game of designing games, but there are still times when I really wish I could just think of the prototype I wanted and it would appear before me, or when I get tired of tweaking rules the umpteenth time.  Shoving cards in the card sleeves, painstakingly drawing boards or pieces, is rarely enjoyable but it is necessary.

    It's even tougher in the video game industry because you almost never get to make the game you want to make, you have to make someone else's game or work with someone else's idea.  On the other hand there are many more people making a living as game designers in the video game industry than in the tabletop game industry.

    Design a game, not a story.  Stories can be important in some kinds of games, but people play a game because of the gameplay, not because of the story.

    Read.  Read articles, read blog posts, read books, about game design.  Quite apart from the many books on video game design, which admittedly often have little immediately practical advice for tabletop designers, there are books that cover tabletop game design specifically.  One objective of a book is to convey the experience of the writer to the reader so that the reader doesn't have to go through the "school of hard knocks".  And nowadays no one wants to take hard knocks.

    Game Design: How to Create Video and Tabletop Games, Start to Finish.  L. Pulsipher.
    This is my book, and because my publisher sells a lot of books to libraries you may be able to persuade your local library to buy it if you don't want to buy it (and if they don't have it already).

    Tabletop Analog Game Design.  This is a freely downloadable book of contributions that vary widely in their approach.

    Complete Kobold Guide to Game Design.  A quite small $10 book of contributions about game design. Contemporary Perspectives on Game Design and Design Elements of Contemporary Strategy Games
    by George Phillies and Tom Vasel.  There are other books that specifically discuss tabletop game and toy licensing and marketing, as opposed to game design:
    The Game Inventor's Guidebook: How to Invent and Sell Board Games, Card Games, Role-Playing Games, & Everything in Between! by Brian Tinsman.

    Paid to Play: The Business of Game Designby Keith Meyers.


    See also my "Student Illusions About Being a Game Designer"  May 7, 09  http://gamecareerguide.com/features/701/student_illusions_about_being_a_.php

    Just realized I missed a big one:

    Do not worry about someone “stealing” your game!  Your “great idea” likely isn’t great at all, and game designers have their own ideas.  Moreover it’s a small industry, the word gets around rapidly.  And if you don’t want to tell anyone about your great idea for fear of theft, how can anyone (especially publishers) begin to evaluate it? 
    A sure sign of a clueless noob “designer” is one who has patented his game.  At $3,000-$10,000 the patent costs more than the game is likely to make if it’s published!  And patents cost much more in legal fees if you want to try to enforce one.  Copyright is as much protection as you can expect, and copyright is free and immediate, though if you want to sue someone about copyright you’ll have had to register it, which does cost money ($35?).

  • “You can’t wire this the way you did.”

    This was the guy doing the inspection on the robot that my kid’s team had brought for competition this past Saturday.  I’ve been watching the thread entitled The Games That Shaped Us and I have an overwhelming candidate for my entry, but this thing with that guy happened before I got a chance to write it up, and now I have such a big honking example that I have to use it and don’t want to put 2000 words into a forum post.

    It was turning out to be one hell of a morning, with our robot already failing inspection once for being too wide.  We had run this bot in a prior competition and it passed, but the box at this competition (your bot has to fit inside an 18x18x18 inch cube) was apparently smaller, perhaps more correct.  We had passed the other 25 categories and returned after removing the piece that made us too wide, but they had lost our paperwork.  So we were forced to reinspect from scratch, and the second guy didn’t like our wiring.  His complaint was that we “split the wiring after our main switch but prior to it entering the first control block.”  You now understand the nature of the problem as much as I do, which is not at all, but there it was.  The guy on our team that did the wiring was right there and when I looked at him he was confused and pissed.  He said that it was not only legal, and that it was “best practice, the way you taught us in the wiring training course," which he had taken from the organization throwing the event.  The judge indicated he didn’t care, that it wasn’t legal, and that it needed to change.

    I spent a lot of years actively managing Dungeon Masters.  Most are good guys, but some are just dicks that take shit a little too seriously.  Some feel their ego is on the line if they don't screw you.  I spent a couple of decades avoiding DMs that said they liked DMing, an early sign of possible trouble.  Not a fast rule of course, but in general I wanted the guy that complained he’s already DM’d recently and wanted to play.  Players make the best DMs.  But when a player guy isn’t available you end up with a DM that thinks killing a character should be a minimum measure of their success in the job.  That’s when the people skills need to kick in, and when you start finding ways to make things work in your favor.

    Sparky our wiring guy apparently has not developed that skill, and I could see “this is such bullshit” forming on his lips.  (Sparky doesn’t suffer bullshit well.)  So I stepped in pretty quickly.  I tried to look coachly, and asked the judge if there is a rule specifically addressing the situation, or if this was something that he had latitude to rule on case by case.  Appealing one is very different from the other and his response was “it’s in the rules.”  So Sparky, the other coach and I all turned to converse between us on what we wanted to do.  We were likely out for the day if we needed to change it.  This would take an hour to do and required parts we would have to scrounge from other teams.  The games would be running by then.

    But then something happened.  We weren’t three words into the discussion when the judge added one minor adjustment to his prior sentence – “the rules don’t say you can split it like that.”

    Poor man, he didn’t know I’m a dick about such things.  Heck, I’ve written articles about such things.  But he was still the judge and had kill-a-character level of power over our team, so there was a need for careful maneuvering to get things to fall our way, and Sparky still had “this is such bullshit” hot on the deck ready for launch.  So I turned back to him with a question on the academic point on he had just presented, in order to set a precedence on what suddenly appeared to be a crap call.  “Do the rules for this competition rule things in, or rule things out?”  This is a big difference.  When he clarified his prior statement, he indicated he was unsure of what he had said.  He tipped his hand, not wanting to be caught saying something incorrect.  So now the rule book was in play, and he was on the hook to convince us that he had made a correct ruling.  Should have kept his mouth shut.

    As luck would have it one of the other kids on the team had taken liberty to pull a rule book out and was looking for the page that talked about wiring issues.  One page, short and simple.  Robotics encourages innovative thinking so they don’t want to be too restrictive.  There were six or seven concepts considered verboten for safety reasons, but none of them were in the neighborhood of our splitter.  The rules didn’t say anything about it, and they didn’t say anything about a huge amount of other things that presumably were fine as well, because they violate no rules.  That’s how rule books work after all.

    Of course DMs are funny critters as you all know.  If you corner them they dig in their heels and show their teeth, and a DM can give out a nasty bite.  What’s more getting on the wrong side of a DM in a small group can have repercussions for years, and back when I played you had to meet other players the old-fashioned way – by actually meeting them.  (Advanced Dungeons & Dragons was only a couple of years old and people didn’t admit all that loudly to playing it because of rumors that people died playing it, in steam tunnels that for some reason are under every town.  I don’t even know what a steam tunnel is, but everyone knew about the kid that died playing Dungeons & Dragons in a steam tunnel.  I guess they brought a table and chairs down there with them.)  So as often as not the best option was to ask a rules question instead of telling the DM he sucked.  A DM trying to explain a crap call that a) doesn’t meet the rules, or b) can’t actually happen according to physics, is kind of over a soft barrel, and most likely will moderate his stance a bit to not look stupid.  Often this is enough to bring relief to their dickishness. 

    So in order to make sure our correction to the rules violation would fully address the problem, I asked him to show me the rule that we were in trouble with, rulebook gently laid into his hands.  There was nothing there.  “Oh, I remember” he said, “it was in the forums.”  He meant the Internet forums where teams can ask questions and there are official answers.  They usually address “rules of the road” issues on the game you’re playing, because it changes every year.  These are things that can be addressed by the running of the robot in real time, not a design change, and are reviewed prior to match.  “You mean the Internet forums?” I asked, because let’s face it, saying that you read something on the Internet is about as weighty as saying you heard it on an infomercial.  “How recently?” I added.  I put a curious tone on my questions, but I was pressing the point and I can’t imagine he didn’t understand the implications.  Boiled down, I was asking if we were breaking a rule or not, and if we were I wanted to see it.  He pulled out a three-ring binder three inches thick with 500 pages in it, apparently a printout of the forums though I didn’t ask.

    You can debate all you like about the merits of a rule book that doesn’t contain all the rules, and as far as I’m concerned clarifications for competition programs where the teams have $40,000 budgets need to be codified somehow some way, and there should have been an official set of rules announced in advance that apply to the specific event at hand.  This is what errata are for – a concise list of official changes.  This seems pretty reasonable.  It’s not how it works currently in robotics, and that put the judge in a tough position.  His answer was what I had expected he would do – he gave us an Interim Pass because our wiring imparted no tactical benefit to us, but we would need to address it if we advanced to the next level of competition at a later date.  We were wrong, but we were in.  That was a solid piece of common ground that I was more than happy to stand on.  The other coach and the team lead wanted to bitch about it more, but we walked away and had that conversation in the far corner of the room.  Embarrassing or piling on a DM does you no favors now, and just invites trouble for later.

    As it turned out we had to swing back around for our final sticker after software inspection and field inspection, and when we did they couldn’t find our inspection sheet again!  When they looked harder they pulled our original paperwork.  The guy that pulled it said, “hey, it says here that you didn’t pass the dimensions requirement” and he dropped their saggy-ass box on top of our bot and declared us too TALL this time!  He was failing us again!  My DM-management skills were tapped out at this point.  Bad-cop-bad-cop looked pretty damn reasonable, so I let the other coach pop off on him.  “Your box sags in the middle!  You can see with your eyes that it’s not 18 inches tall in the middle!”  Our bot’s tallest point just happened to be in its middle, at 17.75 inches.  The plexi box was quite old and quite clearly bowed in the middle the better part of half an inch.

     The judge’s response – “the other teams didn’t have a problem.” 

    Engineers all, it was clear that none of these guys had taken a class in rhetoric.

    “This is such bullshit.”  Sparky finally got his line in.

    “Are we within the limits of the rules or not?” I asked.  I had a tape measure with me due to our prior woes and I pulled it out.  The other coach threw “I don’t care about your box, I care about the height of the bot, and I care about the rules.  You can use our tape measure if you like, but we’ve already been measured twice.  Unless this thing is growing, we’re legal.”

    Given that inspections were running 45 minutes late the guy seemed a little more open to suggestion than most.  He signed the sheet, and we finally got to move on to competition.

                    S.

  • Sagrilarius put some interesting questions in his blog " The Culture of Gaming, and Vice Versa" last week. I was struck especially by one point he made, in that "western" society doesn't accept hierarchical games. " Games with binding contracts or hierarchical player roles are simply unheard of in the genre, not because they aren't fundamentally sound, but because they simply don't occur to the usual suspects that drive boardgaming's technological progress. Not just a eurogame thing, this a western game thing." Not to leave my thought in the comments section, I put them up here.

    The comment may strike true for boardgames (although "the Great Dalmuti " springs to mind as the obvious exception) and there are some but is patently untrue if you look at other forms of gaming. In games with many players there is the opportunity for both hierarchical and 'contractual' relationships.

    If you look at the mass player games occuring online, the hierarchical (and diplomatic) aspects are very clear, with structures like guilds, corporations, alliances and clans. In these structures some players take leading roles, whether formally or informally. Another aspect is specialisation of character types and team balance.

    Another form of gaming which is inherently hierarchical is megagaming , games which involved 25 players and more. Player are grouped in hierarchies of teams, which in turn are hierarchical. In "The Last War ", a two day game about the latter half of WWII, about 150 players were grouped into 35 political or military teams , ranging for example from Roosevelt's cabinet through the Joint Chiefs of Staff to theater headquarters.

    In both types of games players seem to happily accept the different roles, some relishing in the opportunity to exert leadership, others preferring to stay out of the limelight. Some people take pride in the team effort.

    Of course, problems do occur when arguments start. Because this is only a game, and not real life, the extent to which players accept formal authority is limited. And even though there are limits to formal authority in real life (think of Guderian pushing on to the Channel Coast in May 1940, despite orders to halt), the options to punish players for disloyalty and insubordination in games are much less. On the other hand there is greater opportunity for players to excel on merrit, charisma, setting the example or by taking the lead.

    I think the lack of hierarchy in boardgames has more to do with the format of a small group of players that need about an even chance of winning, than with cultural traits. Interestingly, informal hierarchy also works with semi-cooperative boardgames, especially if connected to special powers connected to certain offices, like in Republic of Rome and Battlestar Galactica.

    So while there is a cultural propensity in the west for egalitarianism, it is not absolute, and it would be very interesting to see comparative studies of gaming culture, just like is being done for business culture (where for example the German business culture is more hierarchical than the Dutch). Do Chinese MMRPG player groups have different forms of organisations than Americans, or British?



  • A major objective of any game designer should be to avoid inflicting unnecessary frustration on the player(s).  In video games in particular it’s easy to find reviews that criticize the user interface for being difficult or fiddly or confusing.  But even manual games have interfaces.

    Sometimes we can find good advice in disciplines that are not part of the game industry.  One of these is the Website design industry.  The World Wide Web is particularly susceptible to some of the kinds of problems that can bedevil video game interfaces.  Web users tend to spend very little time on a particular page and are unwilling to expend effort to find information or to read the information they find.  Typical advice is to write half as much as you normally would and to use bullet points rather than narrative, because that’s the way most Web users read things.

    And Web users as a group tend to be technologically inept.  They are poor at searching, frequently giving up if their first search doesn’t work, and rarely going to the second page of search results. (http://www.useit.com/alertbox/search-skills.html .) In one test Jakob Nielsen found that “only 76% of users who expressed a desire to run a Google search were successful. In other words, 1/4 of users who wanted to use Google couldn't do so. (Instead, they either completely failed to get to any search engine or ended up running their query on a different search engine — usually whatever type-in field happened to be at hand.) “  (http://www.useit.com/alertbox/designer-user-differences.html ).  For most anyone reading this, this would be very easy, but we’re not a group representative of Web users as a whole.
    This is the caliber of people who are playing social networking games on Facebook.  Facebook is a great blessing to the video game industry because it enables technologically inept people to play video games.  Just as many people struggle to do a specific search at a specific search engine, many people struggle to do much of anything on the Web, but many have learned to use Facebook.  Apparently for many people Facebook IS the Web, as far as they’re concerned, and they rarely do anything on the Web outside of Facebook.

    Nielsen is the guru of Web usability, and his Website (http://www.useit.com/alertbox/) has provided biweekly articles about usability for many years.  I think that anyone who designs video games should read many of these articles, nor will it hurt people who design tabletop games even though problems with the user interface are less common on the tabletop.

    I’ve seen people who claim to know a lot about Web design praise Websites that are hard to figure out but pretty.  Pretty may be important for certain audiences, up to a point, but not for many purposes and rarely for serious purposes.  The same can be said for game interfaces. There are also lots of Web designers who don’t test their sites, and that works about as well as game designers who don’t test their games – wretchedly.  Nielsen’s objective is to serve his market of people doing business on the Web, where a site that’s difficult to use can literally cost millions of dollars of business.  His major thrust for Web usability is that you have to test your sites regularly with the intended audience while developing them, and he devotes many of his articles to discussing how he tests and also discussing his test results in terms of preferences for different age groups.  As with the games one of the most important things is to understand who your audience is.
    Nielsen has written more or less scholarly books about Web usability, but I first recommend a small book by Steve Krug titled “Don’t Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability”.  Of course Krug doesn’t mean no thinking at all from the user, he means don’t make people think about how they’re acquiring their information, don’t make them make decisions that could interfere with finding and consuming the information they’re looking for.  Once they find what they’re looking for, if they want to think about that, fine. (Warning: the book predates “Web 2.0", so the examples are seen as dated, by some.  But much of the point of “don’t make me think” is “don’t fool around with extraneous displays of cuteness”, a common failing of contemporary Web sites.)  I’ve not read his more recent book about testing, “Rocket Surgery Made Easy: The Do-It-Yourself Guide to Finding and Fixing Usability Problems”.  A look at Nielsen’s own Web site, which is very utilitarian but very easy to use, is instructive in itself.  Krug’s site (http://www.sensible.com/) is not quite as utilitarian, but still simple and straightforward.  (Keep the audience in mind, in both cases.)

    Let me interject here, I don’t use the word “intuitive” because it has become meaningless, a sloppy replacement for the word “easy”.  If anything is intuitive on computers it’s because people are familiar with the task from other software.  There is nothing particularly natural about how humans work with computers.  The natural way would be that we would talk to the computer as though it were a human and it would understand, but we’re not there yet.  Another natural method is that we would think at the computer and it would know what we wanted to do, and that’s even further away.

    When you think about it, games should be as easy to use as the Web needs to be.  The player should not have to think about anything except the actual decisions and challenges of the game.  They shouldn’t have to think about how to make their avatar move, they shouldn’t have to think about how to shoot, they shouldn’t have to think about keeping track of information such as the turn number.  The game should make this so easy that they don’t need to think about it.

    “Don’t make me think” isn’t quite the same as K.I.S.S. - “Keep It Simple, Simon” - as you can have a complex game that nevertheless doesn’t make the user think about how to manipulate it and tell it what to do (e.g. chess).  K.I.S.S is akin to my favorite maxim about game design, "A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away."  (Antoine de Saint-Exupery)

    Some games that require a lot of thought for success, chess-like games or “strategy games”, may require more thought in areas other than the actual gameplay because the game itself is more complex.  Yet chess itself is an example of a complex strategy game with a very simple interface.

  • [Revised from my blog post at http://pulsiphergamedesign.blogspot.com/2013/11/on-horns-of-dilemma.html . ]

     

    In the following I’ll be using quotes gleaned from online discussions, from players and a well-known designer.  These are all personal observations, of course, and anecdotal evidence.  We simply don’t have the “scientific” evidence about games to “prove” any particular point of view.  You’ll have to examine your own experience to make an evaluation.

     

    As usual, I try to consider video and tabletop games rather than focus on just one or the other.  The major divide in game design isn’t video and tabletop, it’s the nature of the opposition, from human opposition at one end to simple programmed opposition at the other, with some of the more sophisticated computer opponents in the gray area between, not nearly as good as a good human opponent, but perhaps having a semblance of intelligence though not sentience.

     

     

     

    A while ago I read a preview of the video game XCOM:Enemy Unknown, now released and not to be confused with its successor Declassified.  I was struck by how often the author talked about “hard choices”, struck because this is what games (beyond family/party games) traditionally have involved, yet are rarely present in a great many contemporary video games, and many tabletop games.  Traditionally, a game designer wanted to put the players of a game “on the horns of a dilemma”, trying to decide between two or more things the player wants to do when he can only do one. 

     

    Even in family games there were occasional difficult choices to be made although the players often weren’t bothered whether they made the correct choice or not.  This may be one way of differentiating family/party games from more serious games.  That is, adult players of family/party games rarely take the game, or themselves as players, seriously.   Children often take them more seriously than the adults. 

     

    Diablo III is a poster boy for video games where there are no hard choices, where in the long run your choices don’t matter at all.  It’s institutionalized in the game in such things as the selection and use of skills.  You do not have to make decisions that matter when choosing which skills to use, because you can always change combinations.  This is touted as providing greater variety, which it does, but once again it means that what the player decides *doesn’t really matter*.  There are no consequences for poor choices, just a “do again” akin to guess-and-check (which used to be known as “trial and error”, but the meaning of the latter is changing).  It is no long consequence-based gaming, it has become reward-based gaming.

     

    In general, in Diablo III it doesn’t really matter anytime what a player does, he’ll succeed in the end.

     

    "I know if I invest X amount of time into D3 I will beat it with no learning curve and nothing really gained from the experience other than over hyped cinematics and the bragging rights to sell things to my peers on an auction house.

     

    I know this for a fact. There is no skill set or learning curve required for D3 except point, click and equip the best weapon set for my class that I own. I can die millions of times and as long as I am willing to keep clicking, I will triumph eventually. D2 had challenges/elements throughout its design that made it more unwieldy but immensely more fun. All of those points were removed from the latest version of the game to accommodate a wider audience."   (John Karnay)

     

    World of Warcraft is much the same.  Game designer Brenda Romero:

     

    "I play World of Warcraft a fair bit, but I don't really worry too much, because I know if I kill myself the very worst thing that's going to happen is I'll have to run a zillion miles back to my body.

     

    I am way more careful in Minecraft . . . when there's a fear of loss, your success means more to you."

     

    This is not confined to video games.  Another aspect of these changes was reflected in the comments on a blog post that "weeped for newbs", lamenting that even secret doors seem to be regarded as a "dirty GM trick" in 4th edition D&D.  http://shirosrpg.blogspot.com/2011/12/i-weep-for-newbs.html#comment-form

     

    4th edition is WoW-ified, it doesn't ask the players to think much, it's really hard to screw up and die.  A comment on the post finally made me realize that the fundamental point of RPGs has changed between 1st and 4th edition.  In 1st edition you wanted to overcome the thrill of fear.  The referee's job was to scare the snot out of you, usually by threatening your character with death, sometimes by threatening to take or destroy your stuff, though his or her job definitely was NOT to actually kill you.  2nd edition was similar.  3rd edition (which one person called "fantasy Squad Leader") became a contest to find rules that enabled you to construct a one-man army (OMA), and then the game was about you showing off the super-duper-ness of your one-man army.  Your OMA was too tough to be scared.  Where in 1st edition most of those unearned advantages would not even be allowed, they had become the main reason for playing 3rd.  In 4th edition it has gone further, essentially you're rewarded for participation.

     

    In this respect many video and role-playing games are becoming pure entertainment, without any element of frustration or obstacle.

     

    In traditional games the consequence of making the wrong choices, or sometimes simply being unlucky, was that you lost the game (or at least were more likely to lose).  In video game “entertainments” you can’t lose; if you fail or die you simply come back and continue as before, whether this is built into the game as is often the case now (respawning) or whether you go back to your saved games.  Nor can you lose in tabletop RPGs, if the referee chooses so.

     

    I said in my book Game Design: How to Create Video and Tabletop Games, Start to Finish that I thought video and tabletop games are converging, but sometimes I'm not so sure when I look at games like Farmville on one hand, and worse, the all-rewards-all-the-time games like Diablo III and many others, where anything that interferes with getting direct pleasure is regarded as a "fail".

     

    Yet many Eurostyle board games lean toward removing the sting or frustration of failure by removing direct conflict or direct interaction from the game.  In the extreme I call this a “contest”, where several people are attempting to achieve the same thing without significantly affecting one another, and whoever achieves it first wins.  Virtually any activity can be turned into a contest if it involves time or something else that’s measurable, such as who can get an arrow closest to the bull’s-eye, or who can type the most words in five minutes.  Many Olympics style sports are actually contests rather than games.  Some races are contests, for example most swimming races; others involve blocking an opponent which is an aspect of a game rather than a contest. 

     

    The heart of this point of view is that games (as opposed to puzzles) require a semblance of intelligent opposition that can affect other players, and in contests there is no by-rule way to affect other players.  Yes, you can ALWAYS have a chance to affect another person psychologically, for example going out fast in a middle distance swimming race to try to spook your opponent; but the rules don't cover or facilitate this.

     

    A game of hard decisions requires the player to use his brain, but that seems to be going out of fashion.  For example, Clay Johnson talked about how his son plays video games:

     

    "What I often observe though is that he 'cheats' to play through his games. By that I mean that he starts the game, and after a few rounds gets stuck. Instead of using his brain to try different strategies he simply looks up a guide on the net where there are countless free walkthrough guides for nearly every game out there.

     

    To me, this seems like it turns a puzzle into a basic clerical task, but he thrives on it !? Can this response by the users be the basic reason for 'dumbing down' games?"

     

    This reminds me of contemporary programming students - usually those who aren't interested in becoming professional programmers - who guess at solutions rather than reason them out.  But instead of guessing or figuring it out, Johnson's son looks it up.

     

     

    I like to say that at age 15 I "retired" from playing chess, because it had become too much like work.  Chess is a "game" (extraordinarily difficult puzzle, really) where there's always a correct, best move, and that combined with the vast weight of the chess literature, put me off.  Now, "too much like work" has changed meaning.  For a great many players, a game that requires *any*hard decisions is "too much like work."

     

     

    With a lack of hard decisions, gameplay depth (which is largely about hard decisions) is also absent or in short supply in most contemporary games.  In fact, when gamers say "depth" nowadays they often mean *variety*.  Variety is replacing gameplay depth as a goal for game design.

     

     

    It's important to most western gamers that games are "fair".  But I think the definition of fair has changed for video gamers.  Where it used to imply that you got what you deserved, that you had to *earn*something, now it means "fair" in the way my young niece used to use it.  She'd say "that's not fair", but she meant, "that's not what I want, I'm not getting what I want".  Now video game players expect a game to give them what they want, when they want it, period.

     

    The rise of free-to-play games has encourages reward-based gaming, because you have to engage and retain a lot of players in order to have enough paying players to make the game profitable.  There are F2P games that emphasize skill and consequent, such as League of Legends and DOTA2, but these are exceptions to the general rule.  Notice also that the opposition in those games is human, not computer.

     

     

    I'm not saying this trend away from the "horns of a dilemma" is bad, I'm saying this is what it is, and game designers have to recognize it, even if they design for a niche that prefers old-fashioned, consequence-based gaming - the niche that likes XCOM: Enemy Unknown

  •  

    http://youtu.be/tZV8GGP5sio

     

    Slides from this screencast:

     

    Interesting Decisions

    versus

    Wish Fulfillment

    Dr. Lewis Pulsipher

    Pulsiphergames.com

    Courses.PulsipherGames.Com

     

    Another way to look at game design

    Insofar as game design is much about thinking…

    Dividing/categorizing what game design is about can be fruitful

    So we can look at games as:

    Those with human opposition vs those without

    All math, about people, or about stories

    Linear vs “open world”

    Mind control vs players make own story

    Games vs puzzles

    The system and the psychological

    Talent vs technique

     

    This time it’s: games as a series of choices  versus games as wish fulfillment

    Sid Meier’s classic definition of a game as “a series of interesting choices” versus

    Games as wish-fulfillment, as “an experience” (role-play)

    AAA video games have enabled the second method

    Traditional board and card games lack ways to make something that “feels real” for the player

     

    Wish-fulfillment can still have choice

    But in many cases, to implement wish-fulfillment the designer/writer eliminates the larger choices in order to guide a story to a conclusion

    As in, say, Mass Effect 3?

    Role-playing games such as Dungeons & Dragons provide the bridge between the two

    You can play it either way

    Some RP game systems encourage one or the other

     

    Is one way “better?”

    No

    “Interesting choices” is the traditional game

    “Experiences” is the “new” game

    (And puzzles are something else again)

    I’ll confess I’m mostly in the choices camp

    Yet in D&D I tended to play the game as though it was me in there, not as an actor, so in that respect it was an “experience”

     

    What kind of games do YOU want to make?