Archive for the ‘Video Games’ Category

Ultima Forever

July 24, 2012

This thing is doing a closed beta. How have I not heard about this? Thanks Sword and Shield for letting me know!

Back in the day I played the heck out of Ultima Online. I loved the player housing, the depth of environmental and item interactions, and the zaniness of everyone being vulnerable. Then everyone filled up every server with houses, the resource hunting / crafting proved a bit boring, and they made a non-PVP world where everyone settled in boring safety.

I know the game isn’t probably going to be the perfect game for me and hit the sweet spot in every facet. But I’d like to see a continuation of UO’s legacy in skill- rather than class-based characters, full PVP all the time but with effective guards in town, all your carried loot drops when you die, extensive crafting that makes sense, player housing, boats and horses, and warring player-guilds.

I’d love to see improvements on that: more diverse crafting and resource collection, automated quests, a single “world instance” where everyone plays, carts, farming anywhere there’s dirt, undersea adventure, climbing / jumping / flying / swimming, a more robust NPC economy, a lot more dungeons, and cool interactive stuff going on in towns and dungeons.

But regardless I’ve got to try playing it. I’ll do the beta, play a free month if they offer, see what it’s like. Please don’t let it just be World of Diabloguild. The cool thing about Ultima in general (and here I’m speaking of Ultima Underworld and VI, VII, VIII) was player agency. You could do stuff, and affect stuff, even if it wasn’t a good idea. If I log in and it looks like I’m sliding around a static world and the only thing I can touch is a monster, I’ll be disappointed.

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Axe Beak = Chocobo

May 10, 2012

Psst.

Axe Beak

Chocobo

Axe Beaks are Chocobos, pass it on.

Strangely, it looks like FF9 has a monster called “Axe Beak” with a beak that is anything but axe-like.

This came up because I just had a Druid player grab one with Animal Friendship and he wanted to ride around on it. I said heck yeah even though the MM had no mount stats for it. Ended up being kind of a souped-up Medium Warhorse.

Fast Kids and Slow RPGs

February 16, 2012

Just watched a video at Tedx Rainier of Dmitri Christakis. His research argues that kids and mice who watch quick-changing TV stimulation during early life are likelier to have a hamstrung attention span. A 10% greater chance per daily hour of TV, in fact. He found frenetic media like Powerpuff Girls and baby Einstein was bad, violent programming (which shifts more rapidly) was twice as bad, but slower-paced programming like Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood had no increased risk of attention deficit.

He hypothesized this is why children act up: their early development prepared them for the world in which they would live, and geared them up for “frenetic animated violence”, but our world doesn’t actually have those things in it except in those media. That is, if you go to a farm, the pace is slow. The same goes for reading a book or painting a miniature. These kids would not enjoy those things because the stimulation level is too low.

Further, experiments with mice showed they were more active, learned or cared less about their environment, and engaged in dangerous behaviors more frequently.

I could say something glib about how player-characters were probably all raised on bad TV and that’s why they act like that in the town and dungeon.

Here’s what interests me from a D&D perspective: Dmitri placed the rise of baby TV viewing as beginning in the 70s. Which means D&D sprang up while these babies were being born. But the pace of TV wasn’t as unreletingly fast as it is now, which means the children born in the 70s and maybe even the early 80s probably missed the potential harm. It’s at that time we see the beginning rise of video games in the home as well (the NES in the late 1980s after the failure of the video game market).

D&D is a slow game. You have to wait for your turn. The spectacle is low: no flashing lights, few sound effects. It’s social, which means it moves at the speed of human communication. You have to do your own math!

Is it possible the market slip of wargames and tabletop RPGs (and board games, etc.) is not just because video gaming provides a superior spectacle (among other benefits)? Could it be that young people have been conditioned by early TV to prefer the higher stimulation levels found in video games and related media? Even fast-paced RPGs are still slow in comparison to any CRPG.

It’s a complicated topic. It would be too easy to grab this research and make a lot of hypotheses, and likewise too easy to shrug and ignore the research because it doesn’t jive with our biases. What I take from it is again probably a little too glib: Powerpuff Girls and similar shit will ruin your child’s life. Play with him instead, and watch good TV in moderation. Doesn’t every parent want to raise a successful child who will outcompete the scrubs in his age group? It’s like 4d6 drop lowest for stats.

Speaking of attention deficit, this post has been a lot of soapboxing so HERE SI JOESKYTAX !

Sage Excuses Table
(Roll on this table to determine why the sage you hired isn’t getting the job done)
1 – Doesn’t actually know much about the topic, just sounds good at a cocktail party.
2 – Never studied, had someone else do his homework.
3 – Keeps getting distracted by his gardening.
4 – Drunk all the time.
5 – Spends all his time (and your money!) on his lady-friends.
6 – Has the wrong reference texts.
7 – A colleague keeps spoiling his notes.
8 – He’s being extorted by the Thieve’s Guild (beatings, smashing up his library, etc)
9 – Too busy hunting down ravenous Bookworms in his library.
10 – Evangelists from the local temple chanting outside his windows keeps him up all night.
11 – Voices in his head.
12 – Forgetful – keeps misplacing his notes.
13 – A nypmh from the nearby forest sunbathes every morning and he has a nice view from his tower windows.
14 – His students bother him too much with their personal problems.
15 – Someone cursed his beard to grow back to full length every hour if shortened and he’s trying to stop it.
16 – Fumes from the local tannery waft through and knock him out regularly.
17 – Street youths have taken to throwing mud on his windows and he spends too much time cleaning it up.
18 – *opens curtains to a beautiful sunrise* How could I possibly be expected to do research on a day like this?
19 – Too busy playing Papers and Paychecks with his chums at the tavern.
20 – He was shockingly overstimulated as a child for experimental purposes and now he has runaway ADD.

Pool of Radiance etc.

December 29, 2011

I find myself thinking about the old SSI computer game Pool of Radiance. I stole several elements for my current 1E AD&D game, though not the main package. That is: the dungeon is the ruined city itself, separated by difficulty into quarters which connect with each other and with the outside. Then you have the overland map with scattered small dungeons which generally tie into the city adventure.

I like the setup, though I think it was developed mainly to accomodate the limited computing ability of the time. Separating the world into 16×16 (as I recall) blocks was 1988’s equivalent of using fog to disguise limited draw distances in 3D games.

The continuity of characters that you could port over to other Gold Box games like Curse of the Azure Bonds, then Secret of the Silver Blades, and ultimately Pools of Darkness was cool. Unfortunately you lose all your stuff every time :/ (I might be wrong on this regarding Pools of Darkness).

That said, the solid-ness and interactivity of 1990’s Eye of the Beholder is just timeless. While it has semi-realtime rather than turn-based combat and exploration, there is so much you can do with the persistent world and puzzles and stuff. I based version 2 of our Hirst Arts dungeon tiles on this game. The Eye of the Beholder sequels aren’t that hot, and games made with its engine were not much better than it. One, Dungeon Hack, was nice because it procedurally generated your dungeon randomly or by seed every game. Just one character in the party, though.

Then we have Ultima Underworld in 1992. Nice, actual 3D, lots of cool environmental opportunities, but we haven’t figured out that WASD+mouse is the definitive FPS control scheme. The engine was used for System Shock, which I love.

1998 saw Baldur’s Gate, which while pretty, eliminated 3D and most environmental interaction. I think it was a huge step back in gameplay in favor of eye candy. The engine produced Icewind Dale (superior to Baldur’s Gate I think) and Planescape: Torment (one of the best-written games I know of and the most creative of the BG engine).

Both Neverwinter Nights and Dungeon Siege were released in 2002. While NWN was easier to develop for and more fun to do multiplayer, and had more depth in general, DS was very pretty and technically had some excellent features like rolling area loading so there aren’t loading screens. In total I think NWN was very much in the vein of Pool of Radiance, while Dungeon Siege was more like Diablo (though not random or procedural, just the gameplay). In any case, a HUGE step up in graphics and as good or better gameplay than Baldur’s Gate.

Since then I haven’t played many new RPGs. A little NWN2 (SO SLOW AND BORING but I hear you just have to get past the first dozen hours and it starts getting good). Mostly I’ve been mining old games that I never got a chance to play.

Speaking of, I picked up an Avalon Hill copy of Wooden Ships and Iron Men at a thrift store yesterday for $4, which is pretty sweet. It has the rules, advanced sheet, two boards, almost all the counters. I might just send it along to someone else who needs spare counters because I see a nice version out there with stand-up ship figures. Do want. Not just for WS&IM, but because those counters would be cool for naval actions in D&D.

Exile: Escape from the Pit

May 12, 2011

Back in the day I played a shareware Spiderweb Software title called Exile: Escape from the Pit. Later the programmer made sequels, and even later he updated them all with better graphics and so forth. The name changed to Avernum instead of Exile. They’re substantially similar.

The game started with your party of criminals having just been exiled through a one-way portal to the depths of a cave system below the Empire. That Empire exiled anyone, really, including political dissidents and homosexuals, so it’s not like your characters needed to be actual criminals. Point is, you’re down in this cave and there’s no escape to the surface.

You arrive in a town that the exiles have built, one of many, on the eastern edge of this huge cavern. It’s basically an overland map. There are lakes and river systems, you can ride boats around, you can see wandering monsters coming from far away. It’s really a pretty decent game.

The setting interests me for D&D purposes. It works as a source material for Underworld adventure, not really for the flavor of the game which was actually sort of bland, but for the whole structure. It’s nice to see a finished, working frame and build from that.

From there, research deep cave systems and cave exploration. The danger and variety present in real-life caves are pretty astonishing. Incorporate those ideas into the Exile campaign. Come up with a few new Big Ideas that aren’t present in Exile and probably remove the one that was there. Map up the whole main cave system and add the towns and adventure sites. Note some side cave systems that connect to multiple places in the “overland” main cave. Detail the first town and the nearest few things, and work your way outward from there week to week as play continues.

I think because the game world is so well-bordered, even if not linear, it’s like playing on an archipelago of islands with harsh currents between that make travel among them difficult.

Dwarf Fortress Alignments

November 2, 2009

In D&D, alignment is a trait of your character that you use to help decide how he reacts. How he feels about things. A Good character will do good things. An Evil character will do evil things. Defining this simple split has been done only imperfectly by thousands of years of philosophers.
But now you’ve got D&D’s Chaos / Law axis as well.

In all, the system allows for nine separate alignment combinations. But these are often vague and similar to each other. And defining what each alignment axis means can be difficult. Instead, what if you chose or rolled character traits on a table?

Dwarf Fortress features characters who, rather than alignment, have a long list of personality traits.

These include Man vs. Man things like “finds helping others rewarding”, Man vs. Nature such as “is entirely adverse to risk and excitement”, and Man vs. Self such as “often feels discouraged”.

The full list of traits can be found at the wiki here.

Anyway, the sum of these, plus preferences in items, materials, and creatures, along with chosen faith and level of piety, becomes that character’s alignment.

Effectively, instead of a two-word alignment to act as a guide for behavior and feelings, you get a more complex character with a guideline for each type of decision he might need to make. Basically you get an alignment system with 30 axes instead of 2. Obviously this is too complex for normal play.

It may be worthwhile to note only those traits that fall outside the middle range, and weight the roll to give more results to the middle range. That way each character would have to note only 5-6 of the 30, assuming all the rest are “normal”.

I’m prepared to ignore forever the question of what constitutes a “normal” level of modesty 😉