Running Dresden

The room was empty except for one person when we walked in.  I had a bag full of the special FUDGE dice, the two Dresden Files RPG rulebooks and a folder of pre-generated characters and cheat sheets.  I was stressed and nervous and felt ill-prepared.  I’d had the PDFs for a few months, since I’d volunteered to do this, and while I’d read them idly, I didn’t get far until I got the books, a little over a week before my time to run.

I still hadn’t read all the rules, but I got the basics. I got Fate Points, I got the tree, and I knew what the characters were about.  I mostly got Aspects.   A character in FATE 3.0, which Dresedn Files is based on, is made of four basic parts: Skills, Powers and Stunts, a Stress Track, and Aspect.  Skills are what you think they are — they’re what you roll on to do stuff.  Powers and stunts are special things your character can do.   In terms of D&D Skill are like skills, as well as your ability to attack.  Powers and stunts are like class abilities: turning undead, or casting spells.   Aspects are like feats, feats you can name. Sort of.

The lone person in the room was sitting at my table. I talked to him a bit, he had FUDGE dice already, and a copy of the game.  “This is my Dresden game this weekend,” he said. “They were all sold out, but I had a friend give me her ticket.”  He brandished it happily.  He was from Columbus, which was good — I’d set the game there, and was worried no one at the table would get those pieces. Still, the nerves in my stomach roiled a bit, he had more experience with this game than I had.  You could say I had the aspect Sressed-Out Improviser.

A few more people showed up, and I gave folks a few minutes to settle out. A couple of other people hung around, looking for another game, and wound up leaving. I had four of six people, so I passed out characters.  Someone from Michigan actually took my Storytelling Were-Wolverine (this was her high concept, the thing she is.  Harry Dresden himself is Wizard Private-Eye).  It’s also one of her aspects.

Aspects define your character, the good and the bad.  A good aspect is a double edged sword, which allows you to do something, but can also compel you to do something.  The Were-Wolverine has the aspect Scent of a Story.  What does that mean? The player could tap it to add to her ability to track by scent.  It could be used to improver her Investigation score to help her find out something that might be newsworthy (or that she thinks might be, anyway).  It could be used by the GM to compel her to look into a story.

It costs fate points to use your aspects like this, and you get fate points for compels. It’s an incentive to have aspects which can be creatively used for and against you.  It’s a game mechanic that gives incentive to making interesting characters, and thinking imaginatively.

We got into a combat, avoiding some Zombies by directly attacking the cultists doing the drumming. Most of my campaign was cribbed from the books — I didn’t want to venture far from the source material, I saw this almost as a demo of the system and what it could do as much as it was a fun role-playing event. Two more people showed up, one who had mismanaged his tickets, and another who was trying to find a Dresden game and failing.  I let them join, probably outside of con policy, but I really wanted all the characters in play.

They were reading their aspects, which are fairly broad statements, and the short two-three sentence stories I gave them to justify them, and taking them interesting places.  They asked me questions about their characters’ situations and personality (not just their stats) and I responded with how I saw it — it was up to them to breath some life into it.  I was surprised and thrilled that they did.

“Okay, that guy now has an aspect on him,” I said, not sure I was doing this right. “Say… knocked down.

“Sweet!” says another of them. “I’m going to use that to kick him.”

“Wait,” says another of the players. “How does that work?” I explained briefly to him how players can manipulate the environment via stunts, and others via maneuvers to place aspects on them, that can then be used.  “And this is something that’s beneficial for us to do?”  Vigorous nodding around the table, and he nodded once, and got a look in his eye.

Later, playing his character to a T, he placed the completely useless Iron Balls in His Pants aspect on a Toad Demon (I told you I didn’t stray far from the books, right?), thinking he was a fairy.  His character, Coyote’s Catspaw didn’t really understand where his power came from or what was going on.  He’s an Emissary of Power, Coyote’s power in particular, but is totally a pawn being kept in the dark.  I don’t know why, that didn’t seem important yet.

We didn’t use a lot of scene aspects or compels, and I was loose on making them pay for tags.  They needed the Fate points in the end to make use of the aspects on the badguy, in order to both beat him — and to avoid being beaten too soundly by him.

This is true to the Dresden Files universe: they took a beating, but still won.  They won not by overpowering the enemy, but out maneuvering him.  The game mechanics supported that style, and it works well.  I had a great time doing this, and look forward to playing Dresden again.

My Week In Gaming: June 14, 2010

I began my week still having Nier, Blur, and Red Dead Redemption. Nier got moved up the Gamefly list, and Blur is on it waiting for Tam’s approval/desire for it.  I’ll play it when she gets it, but I’m not feeling pressed to play it; it’s not like I’ll do any of the online races, anyway.  Travis suggested that I play RDR until I got the lasso, so I gave it one more shot, and got to the lasso mission, but got to frustrated to complete it.  I pulled it off the Gamefly list; I’m not sure what my deal is, but missions that early in the game shouldn’t be so hard — I have to assume I’m missing something, but at this point, it’s probably “caring about this game.”

The good news was that Demon’s Souls was coming from Gamefly.  I played this around the time it came out, and had real difficulty with it — something I now understand was made more difficult by there being “black soul” weekend events when I had it. When I played this on Thursday, it was substantially easier, aided by a different class (Royalty, this time) and an almost incredible amount of healing drops.  I finally finished off the first boss, and am getting into the meat of the game.

I guess it befuddles me a bit, Demon’s Souls has a reputation for being incredibly hard, picky and punishing, and I’m not only doing well, I’m enjoying the game. RDR does not have anything like that reputation, and I find it stupid and frustrating.  I’m not sure why this is; certainly I wasn’t invested in RDR’s story, but DS doesn’t really supply a story to be invested in (beyond my own narrative, of course).  Certainly there’s overall less different options in DS, so I’ve focused on what I have in front of me, and have a general idea of what is available (if not entirely possible) to do next.  Some part of me still wants to play RDR to answer that conundrum, but, well, maybe some other time.

Kongregate has a few games that caught my attention this week. Necronator is a sort of 16-bit game about a necromancer out to destroy a fantasy world. It’s by Toge Productions, who also did Infectionator, a similar game about destroying the world with zombies.

My favorite flash-game developer, jmbt02, put out  a new game this week, as well.  I did a little happy dance when I found out, although this isn’t one of my favorites of his, his games seem to be regularly high quality.  I followed his blog, so I wouldn’t miss this sort of thing again.

I also spent a bit of time playing The Enchanted Cave, a sort-of rogue-like rpg.  Much like Demon’s Souls you lose all progress when you die, and can leave (dropping all normal equipment). There are ways to progress, and I think I’ve got the strategy down now.  The other game that kind of intrigued me was Castle Wars 2, a game very much like the card game from Might and Magic VII.

As you can see, there’s a real problem for flash game developers, as I found four enjoyable games in a week. Getting noticed is hard, and while Kongregate has some tools for that (it’s how I found these games), I imagine there’s a lot that is good and is missed.   Of course, this was a particularly good week for this, too.

Given that Fantasy RPGs were the theme for the week and weekend, I returned to Dragon Age: Origins, this time to play a violent warrior.  I was reminded of one of my favorite D&D fighters, a character who didn’t want to be still. She always just wanted to go on to the next thing, and be pointed at the next batch of monsters to kill, or door to knock down.  I created her to take a break from the more intense story and characterization of GMing, and she was simple and a blast to play.  My City Elf Warrior is much the same, and it made the clichéd City Elf origin story much more fun to play. Particularly when I got to the king.  (Of course, I k new I didn’t have to make nice with someone who was just going to die, anyway, too).

The big focus for my weekend was tabletop roleplaying.  I’m getting the Dresden Files RPG books soon, and I need to pound out an adventure and more characters over the next two weeks, as I’m running it at origins on the 26th.  This weekend was also the Columbus D&D Meetup, and I’m running a game there. I’ll write more about that later, but overall the adventure was fun to run, and I think everyone enjoyed it. It was a bit short, I admit, but, again,  that’s what Girl and I want, and worked for our players.

Of course, I spent a good amount of time playing Dungeons and Dragons Online this week. We had a couple of good days playing our low-levels.  I really enjoy these particular quests, when it doesn’t feel so overwhelming and where we feel competent and successful. Of course, it could also be that our complement works better, since we have most of the roles covered (Fighter/Cleric and Rogue/Wizard).  It’ll be interesting as we get a few more levels and take on some more difficult dungeons.

I had a good run with Tam in Puzzle Pirates, as well. One issue with Puzzle Pirates is that there’s very little you can do on your own or with a small group.  That means that until you join a steady crew (which requires being a more steady player than I am, I think), you are always risking joining a group that has overshot their ability or who has interpersonal problems.

Tam and I got planked (kicked off the ship) during a battle we were winning, because someone’s little brother had a fit of pique. So we headed out to do something a else, perhaps a bit easier.. “I want to win,” I told her, so we joined something easy.  And did very well with a smaller group, and even made pretty decent cash.  Hopefully we’ll play again one night this week.

Heavy Rain is on its way from Gamefly as I write this, and I guess we’ll see how long I keep that one. I don’t have high hopes, but again, it’s a game I feel I should at least try before passing on it.

The Three Modes of Interacting

To continue the experiential analysis, I wanted to recap the three modes of interacting as laid out by Norman in Emotional Design. Most people are familiar with his work in The Design of Everyday Things (or Psychology of, depending on where it was published). In Everyday Things, Norman complained about things that were overdesigned, or designed in a way that kept them from being easy to use, or apparent to use.  In fact, he often goes overboard and suggests that only utilitarian design matters, and that things which win aesthetic awards are actually bad in some way.

In Emotional Design he backs away from this, and talks a bit more holistically about design.  We interact with objects three different ways, Normal says.   To illustrate it, he talks about the many tea pots that he has.  One is a beautiful object, and is just aesthetically pleasing; it is nice to look at, but not practical for making tea, this appeals to us in the visceral mode, emotionally and aesthetically. Another is totally impractical for making tea at all, as the spout is on the wrong side of the tea pot — this is the illustration that is normally on the cover of Everyday Thingsyet this is an important tea pot, it has a story and invokes conversation and thought: we interact with it in the reflective mode, by thinking about it and telling the story..  A third tea pot is the one he actually uses to make tea — it’s nothing special, but it works for it’s purpose: this tea pot is for the behavioral mode, used so often we don’t even think about it.

Ultimately, Everyday Things is about design for the behavioral mind.  It’s about controls that disappear in use, because we no longer think about them.  It’s the part and kind of object we rarely talk about, because they are not by nature beautiful, and their ease of use means they add nothing to the story, by virtue of disappearing.  All three kinds of design are important to video games, but behavioral has been developed quite a bit, in large part because of Norman’s own work.  Everyday Things is considered required reading for the game designer. (Interestingly, Emotional Design has a whole chapter on Game and Human Interface Design.)

To recap what I wrote previously, the visceral/emotional mind of Normal maps to the experiential mind Kahneman talks about at TED.  That mind is the eternal now, with about a 3s life-window.  It’s the mind that senses, and responds immediately, often through emotional reactions.  The reflective mind is the storytelling mind.  It’s the part that remembers, analyzes, processes and tells you the story about what happened.  These two minds aren’t really separate, they influence each other, back and forth, as the story of who you are provided by your reflexive minds, tells you (to some extent) how to react to the now.  How you react (and how you feel about how you react) affects your story.

One thing that Norman points out in Emotional Design is that many things which we value as experiences are not actually viscerally pleasing at first.  He talks about coffee (or any food with a bitter flavor).  These are acquired tastes, and ones which we have to work to acquire.  The visceral mind doesn’t like these things at first, but can be trained to like them by the reflexive mind.  We build up a picture of ourselves as someone who drinks coffee, and someone who likes coffee, and we come to like it. It’s who we are, and we value coffee all the more because it was difficult to come to like it.

I, personally, remember going through this process as a pre-teen and teenager, gradually learning to drink my coffee “the way Dad does”, as a way to be like him, and to be ‘adult.’  Now, as an adult, I use much more cream than then (Dad drank his coffee black), and I probably use more sugar, but I’m a coffee drinker now, and so it’s okay that I changed how I drink my coffee, since I acquired that taste.

This has a lot of implications for games.  You’ve got people of all ages and skill levels, some of whom want to acquire the taste of certain kinds of games.  Certain parts of games appeal to the visceral mind, and certain parts don’t.  Some games are strongly reflexive games (RPGs and Farmville come to mind), some strongly visceral (Flower? Tetris? Or perhaps Tetris i’s more behavioral).  Games, unique to media, use all three modes of interacting, and offer both kinds of experience.  We need to think about this if we want to offer experiences beyond just ‘fun’ (and even if we want to make sure that we offer fun).

First Impressions: White Knight Chronicles

I suspect that if White Knight Chronicles hadn’t been a huge JRPG, it would have been a half hour, or one-evening game at most.  But it isn’t, and that more or less gave it a buffer for me. It’s a comfortable genre, and it seemed that it was going to do some interesting things.

Of course, typical of JRPGs, this couldn’t be a half hour game because it takes that long to get to anything.  I accept that, though, it goes with the territory.  I was surprised that a good chunk of that time was spent making an avatar.  Pleasantly surprised, even.

The character editor that let me create an avatar with, perhaps, more options than Oblivion or Fallout.  I messed around with it for a bit, got something I was reasonably happy with. I could have spent a lot more time with it, tweaking and messing, but I chose not to (and to be fair, it gives you the option to change it alter.)  Fifteen minutes or so, and  Zhenette was entered out onto the world.

Then the story started, and I, or rather my avatar, wasn’t in it.

The story is about some guy who works for a weird looking dude who runs a winery.  The boss guy is upset with the Wine Delivery Dude, needs him to do something ASAP, and oh, take the new girl with you.  Oh, yeah that’s me. I nod and smile, or rather my Avatar does.  That’s really all she does.

We do the first mission, which is predictably simple, travel across a low level monster-filled wilderness, wind up being late anyway, coming back at dark.  We’re joined by a useless guest and Unrequited-Love Girl Then we’re attacked by a ridiculously large monster, which we (being buff wine-making delivery people) dispatch with apparent ease. (Well nobody died or anything, anyway).  All of this, of course, interspersed with cutscenes and stuff that’s going on back at the palace.

When we do get there, the bad guys had done bad things, including destroying part of the town and killing the king.  Wine Delivery Dude saves the Princess (who he met when he was younger) and runs off with her, while my avatar and Unrequited-Love Girl are separated from them by a burning pillar.

I should say at this point, that combat is semi-active.  Position appears to matter, but doesn’t really, except perhaps for area spells, and that’s more luck than anything else. You can control any character, and I chose to control my avatar for most of that.  Zhenette is usually a mage, as I’ve said before, so I had a bunch of spells.  I set wine delivery dude up as a swordsman, and when we got unrequited love girl, I made her a healer.  Each of them runs on their own, while we all fight, using a very basic “all out” or “conserve mana” type setup.  (Nothing like, say, Final Fantasy 12 or Dragon Age:Origin’s tactical setups.)

This works fairly well for a while, but after most movies, Wine Delivery Dude is set as the main character, so I had to switch back to MY avatar. After the split up, I’ve got him in my party and only him, and the princess as a (useless) guest.  He’s built totally wrong to be on his own, with no healing or magic, and no customization so, I have to spend time figuring him out, while he was just on automatic before.

Still, the Princess and Dude fight through a dungeon, and then he gets a big eponymous superpower, that makes him boss-sized, and he fights and wins against the boss. So far I’m okay, we’re really still in tutorial land, and things have just gotten bad.

The princess gets kidnapped and taken to another castle. An Old Grumpy Mentor shows up and Wine Delivery Dude plan to set out on your quest, taking along Unrequited-Love Girl, and oh yeah, Silent Chick Who Happens To Be There (aka: your avatar).

If you follow the story from then on, you’re avatar is there at the end of every cutscene, standing there and saying nothing while everyone else talks. Of course what everyone else says is kind of stupid, especially as we’re running around.  Wine Delivery Dude complains we’re not going the right way; Unrequited-Love Girl complains that it’s hot in the desert; and Old Grumpy Mentor tells them to shut up and get moving, we don’t have time for this shit.

I decided then, to do a quest. They opened up and I could join the adventurer’s guild and go do something else. And here’s where White Knight Chronicles steps out of it’s cliche and off a cliff.  I went in to do a quest, and was suddenly alone.  This time, at least, I was my Avatar, but by then, even more skewed to being a mage, and certianly not to being alone.  Oh, the deal is quests are designed to be multiplayer. For extra bonus annoying points, they are also timed.

There’s a lot geared in the game to the multiplayer content. Quests, your town which you can waste spend gold on, I suspect there’s going to be real money stuff you can buy too.  I died a lot doing my quest, which I was under powered for by myself.  I’m much higher level now, but  since the surprise end bosses are to giant ones, I don’t know how I’ll manage with two. I could barely stand up long enough to fight the first time.

I still wasn’t completly discouraged at this point.  I hadn’t gotten to crafting yet, and that’s about the point that you’ve got most of the tools you need to play a JRPG (technically, you usually go everywhere, then get a ship to allow you to travel faster, and then it opens up, but crafting is a good place to define the cut).  The quest to get crafting was ridiculous.

Not silly or funny, although I suspect that was the intent.  You deliver a love message to someone who turns out to be a monster, only to return (with a response letter, mind) to discover that the person you were acting on behalf of was married. Someone in your party knew this, and didn’t mention it.  You then get roped into the lie because you need a pass to go out the other gate of the city.  Yeah, a pass.

In other words, a totally contrived plot door makes me run through one of the more stupid (and from where I sit, kidn of offensive) plots.  Oh, and the Don (the very large guy who sent the letter) knows how to meld items together to make new ones.  Okay.  He has shops everywhere, and now (for a fee) you can use them.  Why did I go through this, again?  I saved, quit the game, and popped the disc out and ranted to Tam while I stuffed it back into it’s GameFly envelope.

I realize that there are people who work hard at making these games. They spend hours and hours doing writing, coding, deisgn, 3D modelling, voice acting, rendering and all that. This quest probably took a team two or three weeks — or more — to write and do (it was a small one, but still).  Did no one look up and say, “This is stupid. And not funny?”  I kind of feel sad for those people who worked so hard on something so very stupid.

There are good ideas in here. I like having a customizable avatar! I don’t like being supernumerary in every way (to the point that i’m not longer controlling my Avatar, which is a freaking misnomer.) Online co-op play is good (not as good as couch co-op, but yay!.  Having it be a separate thing entirely from the game, but embedded within the game? Not so good.

I’m actually kind of angry with it, but then I don’t like lying (particularly in the space of relationships).  The heteronormative cheating crap gets on my nerves a lot.  But even allowing for my own strong bias, the whole things was silly and contrived.  I’m done with my rant now, and the game is in the mail.

So, like a few other games, this first impression is almost certainly also a last impression.

Disarray

Well, I did spend two hours of my weekend working on the Klik-n-Play Pirate Kart, but when I finally sat down to do it, I discovered that I’d saved none of my refactored map code.  On one hand, that code was confusing and not very good, on the other hand, it was nearly done.  Well, the new code is much better, but took me an hour and a half to put together, most of it spent tracking down a stupid error.

Most of my code errors these days come from syntax errors, and a few come from overall logic errors.  A very very few come from not understanding something about a new library. The former are caught by Chrome’s developer panel, the logic errors are pretty obvious: things where a character moves left instead of right (this actually happened).   The latter error can be really hard to fathom, as it’s something not in my code, per se, but in my understanding. I couldn’t get a graphic to display, and didn’t understand I hadn’t callled startGame() yet. Which is required by the library.

Otherwise it just quietly does nothing, exactly like I told it to.   And that’s a minor example of coding under a timeline.  I was going to come back to it, but I wound up working on some other things, and generally feeling kind of stupid about it. I’ll work on the game (I think it’s an interesting, if not revolutionary idea), but I was annoyed, and my computer is acting up according to plan.

I think, above all, that’s what’s bugging me today.  We’ve been money tight since January (and isn’t everyone a little tight around Christmas?), so I haven’t bought the copy of win7 to replace my release candidate. My computer will shut itself down sometime tonight.  While I have more than one computer, and beyond PC Games, there’s not much I use it for, it still has the power to make me grumpy.  We’re going to try to buy the OS next payday (which isn’t far, since I get paid weekly).  Still it made me not want to sit at my computer and do things like program games.

Feh, I say. Feh!

I did get my DresdenFiles RPG Origin’s game sent off to the proper folks.  I got my linux machine back online (it used to run this blog, but no longer).  I have some gaming plans for that, but they’re still working out.  I need a really long USB cord to run from that PC to my couch — anyone know how long a USB can be before degrading?

I’m a bit rambly this morning, I know.  I played a bit of Overlord II this weekend, and got White Knight Chronicles from GameFly.  I’m still formulating my thoughts about this one, but expect a First Impressions post soon. Borderlands, hopefully, will be here later this week; Girl and I are going to try out the co-op modes on this one.  Hopefully they’ll work well on the couch.

I’m feeling that bit of winter blah today.  It snowed again this weekend, but this week i’ll be warm enough for that stuff to start melting, and I’ll get a bit of color back in my world.   That probably explains the tone of my post today.  I owe you a self-indulgent character diary from Friday, so maybe I’ll do a couple of those this week.

I’m feeling the need to tell stories.

Sucker Punch

It was a fairly interesting moment in a game without too many interesting moments:

I’d just managed to get Cole and Trish back together by being particularly good. She respected me, we were getting back together “after this is all over.” Then the villain decides to ramp things up, and make them much more personal. You run around town saving people, barely making it to the next choice, but you have to do it, he’s got Trish held captive, and is going to kill her if you don’t.

You finally catch up to him, and he’s set up two bombs. One has six doctors, the other has Trish. The game flashes up it’s overdone/overdramatic dual choice: save Trish and be evil, save the doctors and be good. (Trish is a medical professional, so it’s not like saving her is strictly Evil, but this game seems to equate Evil with selfishness.)

The choice was easy for me, as Trish would want me to save the doctors, and at that point I felt that I cared more about what she thought of me than having her.   She is, effectively, the good moral compass for your character.  How well this works is questionable, as some of my later research implies that she’s not well liked or established. My playthrough latched onto her, perhaps because I identified with her grief and anger, and saw it as a natural process. Miss that though, and she’s capricious and annoying.

Happy with the movie that played after saving the doctors, and getting absolution from Trish, I continued on the game.  Last night, I finished it.  The in-game movie ending describes how the villain had killed Trish in order to make you a better hero made sense, but it had my mind working a bit.  That might not have happened, right? I might have saved Trish?

That interested the programmer in me, so I did a bit of research both on the two endings (good vs evil) and on the different ways the Trish Vs Doctors mission works out.  The developers of the game set up a Magician’s Choice with this mission.

For those not familiar with it, it’s a card force technique where you change what you do based on the choice of the audience assistant.  If you have two cards, one in your left and one on your right, and you want to be certain that the assisatant gets the one in your right, you have them pick a card.  If they pick the left hand card you say, “Okay, I’ll keep the one you picked,” and hand them the right card.  If they pick the right card, you just hand it to them, “Here’s the card you picked!”

This is a great trick when everyone knows what the card is except for the assistant, and if you do it well and quickly enough, it looks like the assistant picked the card, when instead you’ve guided them to it all along.

With the Trish vs Doctors mission, if you pick the Doctors, Trish is on the other building, and dies.  If you pick Trish, then the woman on Trish’s building is a fake, and Trish is on the building with the Doctors, and dies.  This is against the simulationist in me, and we can argue about how the villain knows which you’ll pick, but the truth is, the story makes sense either way, but not both ways.

I’d have never realized it, if they hadn’t mentioned it in the endgame movie, and I consequently wondered if there were other versions of the movie.  So very few of your decisions affected the game that I was surprised that they would change that bit of movie for more than one possibility.  If they had modified things more, I might have bought it, but as it was, I didn’t see it.  Maybe I’m a victim of my on analyzing here, but maybe it’s a poor technique overall.

Ultimately, I’m not sure why there are so many stupid choices.  Evil here is selfish and apathetic, not actively bad (based on the choices I was given).  I would say it was also brutal, but even good was brutal in this game, if only so that good can survive.  The choice mechanic is the weakest thing in this game — and the fact that it can be replayed as an opposing alignment also undercuts the Trish vs Doctors mission by showing their hand a bit too clearly.

Infamous is a decent game, a good game but not a great one. I’m glad to have played it, but I don’t think it’ll make it’s mark on me beyond how not to do a morality system.  It’s not that morality systems are inherently bad, but I can think of a better way to manage one in this game that would have been more satisfying.

I guess that’s a worthwhile take-away if nothing else.

Quiet or Technical

So this week, I’m either going to be quiet or technical. I do have some things to write about inFamous, but I’m focusing on coding htis week. So, I’ll either be quiet, or writing code gobbledygook. (So, for some of you, technical is essentially quiet. Or you wish it were;)

Well the 371-in-1 Klik’n’Play event at Glorious Trainwrecks looms kind of close. I’m not as far along as I want to be, honestly, but a decent map and tile class will be good enough, I think. I’ve settled on jQuery and a game library written for it, called gameQuery. The latter seems to mostly handle animations (which I’m not using a great deal, but any Tile class I use should be able to handle it). The other issue is that jQuery isn’t very object oriented (like Prototype and Dojo, which I’ve also worked with). That’s not a problem, but I’ve been doing OO programming for so long, it’s hard not to think in those ways.

One thing I’m thinking about is Map tiles. Normally you’d mange it with a flyweight pattern, and load a tile image that would be split up in tile-sized bits, and used to build your map. One image is one internet connection, and you only have the image one place, except when it’s being drawn. This is a pretty good pattern and a standard way of writing a map, but I got to thinking about it — browsers already do this. So long as the graphic url is the same, it pulls it from cache or downloads it once from the internet. Let’s not over do things and do what the browser is going to do already.

So I’m not going to worry about loading and drawing graphics. I’ll just set the URL on any of the map tiles, and keep a buffer around the map so it scrolls prettily. And part of this shortcutting is that I have a week or so, and I don’t want to dawdle over the right way to do something, I just want to get it done. If it’s successful, I’ll fix it later. If it’s not, then the time wasn’t wasted.

OTOH, and since I’m second-guessing myself like crazy, having these as canvas objects means I can do cheap color animation, and that sort of thing, by redrawing the graphics. So I dunno. Maybe there’s an easy way to duplicate dom entries in jQuery, so that so long as it looks like an image, I can use it as a tile. Too bad almost no one supports animated pngs ;)

Of course, part of the issue i’m having is graphics themselves. I shouldn’t be worrying about it, but I am. I need some basic stuff, and I can’t draw–nor am I going to have time to draw. I just need to commit to the idea that my games are going to be about polygons doing polygonal things in a polygonal world. Dangit!

So, now i’m working on the classic map game that I always write to do this: concentration. There’s a sample out there, and I’m liberally copying, but hey I’m learning. As always, you can access these (and read all of the code, of course) at my games website.

Chelon’s Diary Part 2: Ostagar and Wilds

The ongoing diary of Chelon, Mage and Grey Warden. Start at the beginning.

Duncan proved to be a good, and understanding, travelling companion. The trip from the Circle Tower to Ostagar was not a quick one, and I quickly had to learn many things that I’d never had to bother with inside the tower. How to make a campfire (aided somewhat by my elemental magics) as well as how to catch and cook game, and how to set up a tent. Thankfully, Duncan had some idea what sort of person he was getting, and he assured me my skills as a mage would more than balance any lack of fieldcraft.

About the Grey Wardens he said little, except for their mission. How fighting darkspawn was accomplished, or why Grey Wardens were more adept at it he was loathe to comment. He obviously kept his own council well, and I respected that. His mind reminded me of the First Enchanters, cagey and devious. But where Irving had been focused inward, to the Circle and Chantry, Duncan’s mind was focused like an arrow on the destruction of the darkspawn and protection of Ferelden, and all the lands of world.

I found some comfort in this familiarity. If I was trading one master for another, perhaps one with more focus would be better. Duncan would take care of his people, I knew, if only because they were weapons against his primary enemy.

During our journey to Ostagar, Duncan kept his own counsel. We did discuss the role of the Grey Wardens, but only in general terms, and not the particular details.  He did teach me a great deal about basic fieldcraft, and had a certain amount of patience for me, as I’ve lived inside the tower all my life, and had little practical knowledge of the outside world.

Upon arrival at Ostagar, I met the King! I was amazed at his personableness, although it was obvious he held the Grey Wardens in high esteem.  This, I felt was a good thing.  I would be joining them, and what better leader to aspire to than the King himself? Duncan was reticent, and concerned that there was more at stake than the King believed, but I could hear the care with which he picked his words.  I hope to learn from him in this, as diplomacy seems to be one of the Grey Wardens’ more common tasks.

Duncan gave me leave to the camp and I wandered a bit until I found Alistair, who was having a hard time with a Circle Mage.  I watched bemused, then we talked for a bit. He was ex-Templar, and therefore ex-Chantry.  He didn’t seem to care that much about the Chantry or their beliefs, though, which relieved me a bit.  I wasn’t sure I liked him, but he was a Grey Warden, and my guide.

We gathered up the other candidates, and got our task from Duncan.  We had to gather some materials from the Wilds, and find some old contracts.  I was also looking for some herbs, both for my own potion making, and for one of the dogs which was suffering from a darkspawn attack.

I hadn’t thought much about the darkspawn through this process. They were our enemy as Wardens, but I’d never seen one.  Chantry legend is that they were created by ancient Mages, which is as good a theory as any, I guess. Maybe I could learn more through my work with the Wardens.  I still didn’t believe the gift of magic was really a curse.

Our mission was essentially successful, although when we arrived at the magical preserved and sealedchest, we found it magically looted and gone.  At that point someone who may or may not have been a “Witch of the Wilds” showed up.  Alistair and the other two compatriots seemed pretty concerned about who she might be.  I spent most of my time trying to figure out how her top stayed on.  The remainder of that time I spent ogling the parts her top didn’t cover.  I know, not very Grey Warden of me.  For once I regretted such a sheltered life.  Certainly Circle Mages never wore anything quite like that.

She took us back to her mother’s place, and the guys all freaked out over the woman, someone named Flemeth.  I should have probably paid more attention.  I certainly know how to concentrate and focus better than I did at that moment.  Flemeth finally asked me what I thought of everything, and I just told her I didn’t know, because, honestly, I hadn’t been paying attention.  She seemed to think this was really wise, and that made me let out a breath I didn’t know I was holding.

We took our documents and made our leave.  We had things to do back at camp, and Grey Wardens to become.  I don’t know what this thing is that Duncan wants to do, but I’ll write about that the next time, as well as what we plan to do for the defense of Ostragar

I’d hoped to get past Ostagar with this post, but I’m still introducing things, and developing Chelon. Next week I should catch up and pass my current play point. Which means I can play again this weekend, this time taking freaking notes.

First Impressions: inFAMOUS

The PS3 game inFAMOUS was one of three angry-man open-world games that came out about the same time. The other two, Prototype, and Red Faction: Guerrilla were also available on the Xbox 360, so I played them months ago.  Prototype was a 30 minute game, although I gave it a few hours of play.  Red Faction: Guerrilla got a couple of nights — I did clear the first area — before it’s story and boring missions made me give it up.  The failure of those two games meant I didn’t pick up inFAMOUS for my PS3 soon after getting it, which was a mistake.

I did the same thing a long time ago, my friend Jason and I planned to see several underwater horror movies.  We went to see Leviathan and Deep Star Six both of which were craptacular movies that had Jason apologizing for even suggesting them. When The Abyss came out, we’d both had enough and skipped it entirely.  On the other hand, it meant that the first time I saw The Abyss it was the extended director’s cut, which had a much clearer ending.  Still, it’s the one I’d see in the theaters if I had to do it over.

While the horrors of Leviathan and Deep Star Six were pretty obvious compared to The Abyss, I’m struggling with what makes inFAMOUS different.  I know that I want to play and finish it.  I can only list a couple of things that really annoy me about it, but I can’t list anything that’s particularly amazing about it.  I suspect that that’s the main issue at work here:  it isn’t a great game, but it is a good, solid game.

In Infamous (I’m dropping the ridiculous spelling now) you play as Cole, someone who survives a horrible accident.  You later learn that he was duped into creating the explosion that also gave him powers based on electricity.  He lives in Empire City, a metropolis which is both isolated form the the outside by a quarantine enforced by the military, but also the three islands are separated from each other.

Play involves a mix of fighting using your electricity powers, and climbing buildings, and running around rooftops.  The parkour here is less fluid than Assassin’s Creed, since you have to perform the various jumps and drops yourself, instead of just entering a climbing mode and pressing up or forward. It’s much easier than, Mirror’s Edge as Cole sticks to everything a bit too well (the first of my complaints) and is therefore much less precise, and more forgiving.  You aren’t plummeting to your death here, ever, but you might lose some progress because the stickiness over- or under- applies.

There are main and side missions, items to collect (which, I discovered show up on your radar only after over ~10 hours of playing). The characters you interact with, friends, allies and enemies talk to you on your cell phone (or in your head), giving you story as you’re moving around the open world.

There is also a binary morality system.  This would be my second, and larger complaint.   In fact, it was someone’s post on Infamous that provided part of the spark for the Transgression posts.  The argument of that poster (I have, unfortunately, lost the link) is that by giving the player specifically good and evil choices, the game condones the choices and reduces the fun of being bad (since it’s accepted).  Obviously, I disagree, since there is a larger (and in-game) world that provides for this kind of feedback.

I’m not going to talk a lot about Infamous in terms of transgression yet, as I’ve not even tried the evil options yet.  Certainly being good in the game doesn’t feel like a transgression, despite the fact I’m someone I won’t ever be.  That’s certainly not where the fun comes from, and in fact, I think Infamous would have been a much better game without the morality system altogether.  Give us a character with wants and needs (he has these, and they seem out of line of being evil), and let us follow that.  It’s obvious to me from the Assassin’s Creed games that you can have an open world game with an essentially linear plot and have it work.

Part of what does make Infamous work, however, is that Cole is uniquely suited to his environment.  The modern world is filled with electricity, and it both powers, heals, and sustains Cole. One of the challenges he has to deal with is the power being turned off, and losing that lifeline that he’s used to. The game then turns the fixing of that into a chance to give him more powers, as well as a mini tutorial on how to use the new power.  I’m well over 2/3 of the way through the game and I don’t have all the powers yet.  This seems appropriate to me (but then I didn’t see AC2 as one long tutorial, either.)

In fact, this game uses a very Zelda-like structure, minus ‘dungeons’. Go into a new ‘dark’ area, bring back the electricity, do story and side missions there, and then move on to the next area. You return when you’ve opened up some new types of missions, until the area is complete — something that is also optional.

The combat is a combination of first and third person, mainly because so much of it is ranged.  That’s the hardest part for me, and I died more often in Infamous than I did in the same amount of time in Bayonetta. Dying doesn’t have a huge penalty, merely setting you back to a nearby clinic, or the start of a mission (or for longer missions, a mission checkpoint).  Mission failure is treated like dying, so I rarely felt I was being punished by the game (there were a couple of larger monster fights that took some time to figure out how to defeat them, which resulted in repeated deaths).

I’m close to the end of this game, so I’ll be keeping it until I’m done, I think, a few more days.  Then I suspect I’ll have more to say about it, and transgression. Probably next week sometime.

First Impressions: Bayonetta

Bayonetta made the rounds of the blogs when it came out, largely because of it’s hyper-sexuality, and the fact it’s from the same creative mind that made the Devil May Cry franchise.  Most of what I read was focused around the design of the titular character, Bayonetta.  Some of what I read cast her in a mode of empowerment, others criticized her for being designed for the male gaze.

I played the game for about 6-8 hours total, and got through three chapters. I’m not very good at these sorts of games, with huge combo lists.  My favorite combo is usually press the attack button three times, then press it three times again.  I was doing a bit more with Bayonetta, including dodging (which I do only slightly more rarely than blocking). In fact, it’s possible that with time I could come to be good at Bayonetta, instead of being passable at it.  It’s actually kind of fun.

She moves with a bit of ease and grace, and except for some times where there are invisible walls (you can’t jump on or over awnings, for instance) she moves well and quickly.  Death largely affects scores and trophies, and as I already knew I was bad at the game, I accepted that I was going to get bad trophies.  Yet, there were some sections that I did very well on, so I think there’s a chance for competence here for me.  In fact, if the other game I got from the GBox last week hadn’t captured me so completely, I’d have kept playing Bayonetta.

No discussion of the game can really ignore the sexuality of it, however.  While I think the game would be generally fun if you were playing stick figures, it’s been dressed in extreme sexuality, from the main two female characters’ body and motion designs, to even the bartender of “The Gates of Hell” (who is of a male sexual type that I find pleasing, something that rarely occurs in games.)

She’s certainly built like a runway model, and the game constantly accentuates her sexuality.  The cut scenes show her spread-legged flying into the camera.  Sometimes she seems very aware of the camera, looking into it, and winking.  Health potions (and a constant prop)  are lollipops, which she sensual licks while shooting guns from her super-high-heeled boots and so on.

In combat against larger foes, she can do special “climax” moves which essentially remove her clothing (which was only her hair in the first place).  The hair turns into a giant dragon and gobbles them up, but the camera pans in such a way that you can usually see a naked Bayonetta (stratgically covered by spinning hair) while her dragon-hair devours the angel in question.

These bits of tease are only part of Bayonetta’s sexual display, however.  These are the parts that feel typical for a video game.  They are the cleavage and ass-shots that poor games inundate us with.  If this were all to Bayonetta, then it’d just be a derivative game, like Bullet Witch. Instead, the character is way more sexual than just her design.

In the opening movie (which comes just after a basic tutorial section), Bayonetta takes on several angels before you get a chance to control her again.  It’s a fairly long movie, and I sat watching it, kind of entranced by it. At one point there’s a long sequence of her, legs spread wide, guns at her hips, blazing, as she lands on the face of one of the angels, basically smothering him with her sex (after all it is only hair between her lips and his.)

The angels at this point (and as far as I’ve gotten) are all male, or monstrous.  A few have cherubic faces, but are still grotesque with the remainder of their bodies being masculine or monster.   The other male characters in the game are a fat comic relief character, a buff good-looking demon, and a womanizing man who saw Bayonetta arrive and (I think) kill his father.

The only other female character is built on almost the same model as Bayonetta, except she wears actual clothes, and is a blonde.  She has the same exact equipment, down to shoe-mounted guns, and has the same basic powers.  They seem to be dark/light reflections of each other but it’s questionable which is dark and which light.

In fact, the moves that Bayonetta takes, and the camera angles she has been given are ones that are more likely to occur in pornography or, perhaps, sexploitation movies. She’s not unconcerned with being seen as sexual, she embraces it as part of her power.  I want to say that this was intentional and idealistic choice, but I suspect it’s there to make the typical 18-35 male gamer a bit uncomfortable.

Bayonetta doesn’t read to me as a sexy woman, but rather a sexual one, and that’s a bit different.  That she is, also, physically sexy (by some definitions), occludes this a bit.  She is as sexually confident as she is in her fighting skills, without feeling sexually predatory (which is what we usually get with a sexual woman in videogames).

I don’t know what this means in terms of art or sexism.  I feel pretty unqualified to say one way or the other. It’s a game that exudes sex, and we like that here at the Cult.  Also, unlike most sexy games, it’s actually fun to play.  That it also includes witches and sexy-librarian glasses is just a bonus.

Edit, update 2/17 1:40

For a different look, The Border House also wrote an impressions post on Bayonetta today. http://borderhouseblog.com/?p=1468  They are probably more qualified than I am to talk about sexism, and I can’t say I completely disagree with anything they said. I think our interpretations of it’s purpose are different (I’m not convinced that straight males are going to consistently like her aggressive sexuality, but I’m not one of those, either.)

For a different look, The Border House also wrote an impressions post on Bayonetta today.   They are probably more qualified than I am to talk about sexism, and I can’t say I completely disagree with anything they said. I think our interpretations of it’s purpose are different (I’m not convinced that straight males are going to be comfortable with her aggressive sexuality, although I do think the game is aimed at them. But I’m not one of those, either, so I’m not sure about that..)