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The island: (adventure seed)

From the prow of your ship you see the island come into view. At first it is nothing but a glint on the horizon, then a shining sphere.. a ...

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Microtransactions are destroying my love of video games.

Microtransactions are destroying my love of video games.
(kind of a bonus post not related to the rest of the blog. I'm not going to announce this one around, so if you are reading this, Thank you.)

I am a gamer of that original gamer generation. I'm 38, I remember playing pinball and Pac man in the arcade. I owned an Atari 2600, even Pong was part of my early years.
I did not have every system through the years mostly for financial reasons, but once I had my own cash I have had the systems I have wanted and played the games I have wanted to play. So that's a solid 20 + years of steady plying.

However this also puts me in a group where games are still just games.
To some of the the younger gaming generation games are the movies, the competition, and the culture. Halo is their star wars, call of duty is there Monday night NFL, and they seem to be willing to spend cash to get ahead.

Here is my gripe:
It used to be that when you bought a game you got whatever was on the disk and that's it, every one had to go through the same steps to unlock whatever was there.
Companies now have options.
They can
Add newer better things to the game and charge you for them, post release.
Make a thing much easier to get via micro-transaction than it will be in game.

Lets look a Battlefield 4,
Battle-packs contain weapon and gadgets and are rewarded for ranking up in multilayer or may be purchased. Some players will choose to rank up and unlock the packs however others will just buy them and have all the stuff right out of the gate. Giving a level 3 soldier who purchased his stuff with real money a marked advantage over a player who is ranking up. Add to this that every incarnation of the game has had an increasingly slower rank up mechanic and int becomes pretty tempting to buy battle-packs. In years past they have waited a while then let people buy all the weapons for a class as one unlock, usually regular players would have 90% of the unlocks already so it never really offended me.
This is different, it will unbalance the game, particularly as they add more items to the game via DLC.

About DLC.
If something is new content DLC is a good thing, and I am willing to pay for it.
What gears of war did last years was to make things that were already on the disk pay for “DLC.”
I strongly disagree with this, I paid for that disk and the content on it.
According to http://www.vgchartz.com/game/70765/gears-of-war-judgment/ Gears OW judgment sold 1.75 million units at $60 bucks a pop.. I'm no math wiz but that is a good amount of money. Don't lock things on the disk.
This is the game company telling you yet again that when you buy a game you are simply buying a plastic wafer you don't really own any rights of use to any thing else, IE the information on the disk is still theirs to manipulate any way they please even after you purchase it. This does not sit well with me.

Grand Theft Auto V has a system for buying in game cash with real money, I doubt this will unbalance the game. It might be an issue on multi player but considering GTA open multilayer is really just an invite for gamers to come and troll each other like a bunch of A-holes. Who cares. What bothers me is a company that just broke every sales record for a game and who were the sole generator of a third of the whole  gaming industry's sales at release. (Making some 800 million in 24 hours.) They still feel the need to milk a bit more out of some kid who really wants that one fast car to win street races and who is stupid enough to drop real money to get it.

My last and most striking example form a personal perspective is NBA2k14.
A sports game
Built around online competition.
It has a mode called my team, which is basically a card collecting game where you build a team.
Your initial team is woeful and you can spend points to buy better players.
You earn points by beating teams in season mode, or beating other players teams online.
You earn 250 points for a win.
Many of the good players cost in the thousands.

Two days after the game came out I tried my team online and got smoked by a guy who had a team full of “gold” level players. I would have to put in hundreds of hours of gameplay to earn enough in game points to buy an all star team like I faced. It killed the mode for me. Dead.
The trend extends to other modes of play. They have stretched out the price to improve your "my player" even further than last year. Maxing out one stat casts between 7 thousand and 16 thousand depending on the stat. You get around 200 points per average game, 400 points if you do really well. A game takes about 30 minutes, figure it out. They have made it much easier to spend $10 bucks for 50 thousand points. Thanks 2K.

Let me finally conclude.
I like games, and if you make a free to play game like Team Fortress 2 and want to charge for hats and guns, go for it.
However if the game is based around competition (BF4, COD, NBA2k14) and a company decides to stack the playing field towards gamers willing to spend real money for virtual advantage. I'm not cool with it, it spoils the experience.

Also charging me extra for content that is already part of the game I just bought, feels slimy.

$60 for a game, then extra money for a season pass, even more cash for DLC, then the price of online gaming service like Ps-plus or Xbox gold, and finally not being able to buy a used game and go online unless I buy an access code for another fee. (This I understand the game company has to make something off used games.)
I am paying like three or four times Just to enjoy a game with friend.

It seems to me like it is getting out of hand.

This I think is part of why board games and RPG's are seeing a resurgence amongst 30 somethings. A good number of long time gamers are getting disenfranchised and are looking to new outlets for social fun.
I hope the trending growth of face to face gaming at least continues.
As for me and video games, I'm not sure I can keep contributing to an industry I feel has been taking unnecessary advantage of it's base.

Some links to more articles about the subject.
Not all of these articles agree with my point of view, but that's how it should be.

Friday, October 25, 2013

The Limb, The Comments, and the Thanks..

This might be a bit too much.
I tend to go limb climbing when I write games. I climb way the heck out there on the limb and then start sawing behind myself.
So when I look at my latest project I start to wonder, where I am on the limb.
So far I started out with a blind bidding game, and then moved to a game that starts with narration and moves to a kind of skill based risk vs. reward bidding mechanic. I’m still not sure exactly how well it will work in play (you never really know until you play test anyway.)
One of the best ways to judge how far out on the limb you have climbed is from feedback and luckily I have been getting some.
So on the blog and in G+ comments I got asked a couple of questions.
First from:  Robert Bondoni off of G+
“What do you think the true goal is with the system? Is it to get players to interact more?”
I posted an answer but I’m not sure I nailed it really well. When I re re-read it my answer sounded kind of pretentious and that’s not really how I wanted it to come off.
So for a better answer I will say that if I had a design document for the game I’m working on now the first sentence would be.
Players, characters, setting and GM bound together and rewarded by a system of interactive narration.
The second phrase would read.
“Characters and setting provided growth opportunities through a risk vs. reward based system of interactive narration.”
That still sounds kind of pretentious, however they are the exact two sentences I have at the top of my scratch.txt file that I quick type things into when I’m at work.
Whenever I have an idea and I’m not sure if it fits I look back at those two statements and if the idea does not fit I file into the “it’s a good idea it’s just not good for this game” folder.
And from: Venger Satanis from the Blogg
“I think you could take that idea and influence established RPGs just as easily as you could create a new RPG around your "more roleplaying, less rolling dice" design. Why not write a D&Desque adventure with backstories for NPCs that allows for GM narration more than combat or skill checks?”
I just thought that was a great comment, and that I should share it for folks who don’t like looking back to older posts.
 He is right; I think a lot of Gm’s do this. Heck I run a very, VERY loose style of AD&D when I run it. I would say most of the game is simply us spinning a yarn, with the occasional “Please make a wisdom check.”  To tell the truth we are really playing our own version of D&D (doesn’t everyone?)  We could merrily go about out business playing like that forever, and honestly we probably will.
The only thing I really offer by working on this new game is a system that directly rewards players for narrative input and risk;  past that my game is just one more ”heartbreaker” RPG in sea of great game ideas flying around the web.
Thank you to everyone who has been reading the blog.
Lately I have been getting more “hits” than usual, and I sincerely appreciate it.
I hate working in a vacuum and knowing that a few people are following along provides a lot of motivation for me to keep plugging away at my ideas.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Rewards (There Can Be Only One)

Rewards…“There Can Be Only One”… kind of.
For me, there is only one reward in RPG’s and it’s not experience points and it’s not gold.
In my opinion the true reward when playing an RPG is the opportunity to build and effect an interaction between friends while building a story.
Yowwza! That’s Meta gaming weirdo talk there…
However even back in the  beginning when the player got experience for slaying monsters and taking loot, the loot and the exp were only in game elements that were measures of how much the –players had effected the story.
Kill a scrawny Kobold for 5 experiences you there’s arguably not much world impact from the loss of that poor Kobold. (A butterfly flaps its wings in china; a kobold dies in Aleria, cause and effect.)
On the other side of the coin if ye old player characters offed a dragon, they were rewarded with a hefty number of experience points and a mountain of gold. (HUZZZAAAAHHH!)  The reward being presented as a measure of how hard the monster is, but in my view could also be seen as a measure of how much effect having killed a dragon would have on a campaign.  (Did the players quest to find the dragon? Had the dragon torched a few local towns? Did a king hire the party to kill the beast? Are the characters now local heroes?  That’s all story impact, revolving around the dragon that’s now a trophy handing in your keep)
Allot different than killing a Kobold that happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
So moving into a new RPG, I think about rewards I think a lot about how the system can embrace that one reward that to me really counts, the ability of the player to affect the story, moment to moment.
System, system, system.
(Stick with me here this going to get bumpy, we have unfinished roads ahead)
So what I am trying to build is an economy of words.
 An economy of words where in 90% of the game play is narration, and only when the GM and players come to some form of Impasse does the resolution mechanic kick in. Once the resolution system is started it is done in stages.
 Stage 1 is called a PASS and the players and GM try to talk through the impasse, using pointed questions, with the players earning “Chips” for solid input.
 The chips go into a party pool if the impasse can be cleared up during the PASS. 
The success of a Pass is left to GM fiat, so the GM has to comfortable setting up an impasse and seeing it get narrated away. This would not be a great game for GM’s who love to craft clever encounters and then ramrod poor players face first into them.
If things are still not clear the second stage is a TEST, where in the players get to play dice Vs a Difficulty number, it during a TEST where the switch up happens.
During a test everyone’s played die is set to its highest value, and if the player wants to add something to the scene narrative they can but they must dial the die back one. (I.e. a Six becomes a five; a five becomes a four and so on.) For this they gain another chip, but they also increase the risk of lowering their dice too much and failing the TEST once the difficulty number is revealed. Note the dice are never rolled they are simply dialed back using an active choice from the player to give up some chance of success to buy more narrative input.
In effect they players get more input into the narrative and more in game currency (chips) for the price of higher risk.  

Note that the player also has full controll over success and failure, the player can choose to just not dial back his die at all, and he will succeed the TEST. However he will do so without taking any risk, without narating as much into the scene and basicly leaving it to the GM. HE can also dial his die way back , earn maximum chips, have maximum input, take a ton of risk and prety much gaurentee his own failure. Sometimes in a story it is better or at least more interesting to fail, some of the best stories come out of failure, alot of learning comes from mistakes. .

A TEST will never be a purely profitable for the players as getting things done via narration during a PASS.
The system makes narration, when viewed from the point of player reward and input, the optimal way to get things done.
A bit about the chips, I like using chips as counters, love it actually. In this system earned chips would all go into a party pool to be spent during the game for narrative effects and getting lost dice back, and at the end of the game they can be split amongst players and used to add details to the characters. The party pool aspect is very much like the Phase-Abandon game our group already plays, and has worked fantastically over the years. The party pool has several times caused players to waffle painfully about spending chips or leaving them to benefit the group latter.
So this is where my design head is at, I continue to sketch (literally) out a new campaign setting that I think will engage the people I play with.
Hopefully I will have more detail to post soon.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Setting and Design, hand in hand knife fighting.

Setting and Design, hand in hand knife fighting.

I am going to write something now that might be just about unheard of in the world of amateur, Indy, internet RPG game designers. (what are we again?) I may cast aspersions on myself that I might not be able to shake.
I am not really that well read.
There I said it.
I don't make a habit of reading a ton of fantasy or science fiction. I’m a biography and real history guy, and even then I am not a page devouring bookworm.
Sure I have read the obvious stuff, J.R.R.T., Shannara, Amber, Fritz Leiber, but that’s about it.
So when I start talking about setting, I’m seriously not some kind of expert.

With that preamble in place, I will say I know what I like when I play RPG's. Now that I have settled into that spot in everyone's mind that was once occupied by their crazy uncle who would eat anything and yell, “I don't know if it's good, but dang, I LIKE IT!”

As much as I like universal or setting agnostic game design, I have started to look at it as a bit of a dodge. So as I move into working on a new game, I also start thinking should I tie it to a new setting or work into mining a bit more out of my old tried and true fantasy setting.

The benefit of using an established setting is familiarity, we have been running games in the same fantasy setting since high school for crud’s sake. Which brings me to the one thing I really love in any book or setting. A feeling of history. I like the idea that if the players are exploring some ruin some where, that there is a story behind it. The ruins are there for a reason and are not just some pile of stones sitting there acting simply as a place for an orc to hide. Using a setting that has been played in for a while helps take care of that. When I put a statue of a long past hero in a town square, chances are someone played that hero a few years ago. For a lot of reasons I find that concept of history great.

The issue with using my established setting is that it's very vanilla fantasy. There are not many hooks to hang an interesting mechanic on, and frankly I can think of at least three or four games that depending on the style of game someone wants to run, do vanilla fantasy better than any thing I can write. (Dungeon World, Legends of Anglerre , Dungeon Crawl Classics, all jump to mind)

Working on a new Setting gives a designer another set of problems and advantages.
Fist of all setting work is very time consuming, intricate, and sometimes difficult. If you write a game and a setting that the game is built for you're doubling your work load. I can't overstate this. I don't know if I have time for it. However a fresh setting allows a designer the opportunity to weave the mechanics of the game into the story and the flavor of the setting. I have been using it as an example a lot lately but the Amber RPG, is a great marriage of Setting and game. I think the system really emulates the constant jockeying, competition, and interpersonal dynamics of the Princes and Princes of Amber extremely well. The system does not stand as well if ported to another setting.

It seems to me that setting and design go hand in hand nth each other, but not in a civil waltz. More like they are tied together in a constant knife fight. System constantly trying to pump life into the setting while not getting buried by it. And setting constantly trying to buoy the system and give it plenty of fuel to burn, while not being lost behind a veil of system related flotsam.
I just have to decide what approach will let my game design survive the knife fight, old reliable foundations, or new custom built framework?

Right now I am leaning toward working on a new setting also. If for no other reason than t keep things fresh. My friends and gaming group have recently developed some interest in the Steam punk aesthetic and that might be an interesting area to explore. For myself, I have been mulling over the idea of cultures being interconnected in the distant past then cut off for one reason or another to develop on their own. I would like to explore the concept in a setting.

Until next -Mark.

Friday, October 18, 2013

The Gm's not rolling for that, and looking beyond Combat.. (Brain dummping)

The Gm’s not rolling for that and looking beyond combat:
So far so good:
I have started the mental gym work that will eventually lead me to a playable Role playing game. Part of that mental gym work was getting straight two things that seem simple yet will inform the rest of my design moving forward.
First, once it is done, I will likely GM this sucker more than anyone else. And I don’t want to roll dice.
This came to me after reading a blog by Wil Hutton found here: http://rivetgeek.blogspot.com/2013/10/i-dont-fudge-die-rolls.html
I see his point. I might even take it a step forward. I have GM’ed enough games and fudged enough die rolls to make the story flow better that I now see the hypocrisy of it.
I am not a killer GM, I am not out to off party members. In my view if I often fudge rolls to make things go well for the players, when someone’s character does get killed than I am directly responsible for it because I did not choose to fudge the roll. In other words in my opinion if I fudge the rolls I might as well not use the system, the game is simply working against me, and I against it.

My thought is that if I can build a system out of questions and the bidding system, as a game I can avoid having to roll dice to decide things and keep the narrative flowing more freely.
For example: (using a fantasy example even though I have no idea what setting if any I want to work with yet … so far to go.)
Player A is negotiating with a street vendor over the price of an interesting pendant.
Player A: “I approach the vendor, and try to look like I know what I’m looking at, commenting on the craftsmanship and fine materials used in his goods, once I get to the pendant I ask him for a price.”
GM:  “Mustan the jeweler looks you up and down adjusts his floppy hat and looks over the pendant. He grunts, 120 crowns..It is a rare piece.”
Normally in other games I might call for a charisma check or roll both the player and the NPC’s barter skill.
With my current project I would rather see the GM ask a few questions.
Player A: “Good Mustan that seems a bit much, surly we can find a better price?”
GM: “Mustan Pockets the pendant, and tips his head forward apparently going back to whatever business he was about before you arrived,” he seems pretty set on his price, how are you approaching him?
Player:  My warrior Gustov is a big imposing man, I don’t want to bully this street vendor, but I do want to lean over him and try to look as imposing as possible. Gustov says, “Now see here my good man I will give you 100 crowns for the pendant, I am not used to playing games, let us do business.”
The player now pushes forward three tokens in a bid to Force the scene in his direction.
It would now be directly up though the game to decide if that is enough of a bid to say the vendor Mustan.
The nice thing about something like this is that it is transparent. The players and the GM know that it is a decision, of the GM weather a bid is enough to get the job done, or not enough or even too much pressure. The game has the job of balancing out… (How much does Mustan want to sell the pendant, how prone is he to intimidation? Does Gustov have a reputation of any kind? Does Mustan need something in return? Does he know the pendant is actually a key to a safe once thought lost at sea? )
The Gm is free to balance all these things for Mustan and take the bid or reject it, and he is certainly not going to be captive to a die roll.
For the players the transparency will work for them, in that they will know the GM is playing a character not playing to the roll, so if Mustan acts like he has ulterior motives the players can be pretty sure he has ulterior motives and  can dig in a bit more.
The second realization I had is that I absolutely have to look past combat when working on this game.
Any system I work out for moving narration and resolution of conflict has to be for everything. If I base my resolution system on if Warrior A can hit Ork X with his Halberd. I’m going to be in trouble fast. The kind of game I am thinking about will require a light hand, and getting mentally wrapped up in the intricacies of a combat scene will only make reaching my goals more difficult.
I very much want the players to be able to describe their actions, and resolve their actions very conversationally, without the break of, “What do I have to roll for that?”  I want that to hold true for combat and any other action equally. In my mind, “How are you approaching the vendor Mustan about the pendant? “ Should have the same mechanical weight as, “In what way are you going to overcome the Ogres thick natural hide?” and neither should slow the game to a plod.
Well that’s my design ramble for today.
I recognize that right now this is more of a pile of thoughts than any kind of real sytem; I have a lot of work to-do before I really have anything of substance for this game but at least now I feel I am finally getting  on track.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

B.P.G.D. side effects might include....

I would like to talk about a horrible and fictional illness that afflicts me and I am sure at least one or two other people in the world.
B.P.G.D or (Blah-puh-ggud) better known as ( Bi Polar gamers’ disorder)
Let me explain, unlike true Bi, Polar disorder or any true non-fictional disorder this is not serious, life threatening or found in the DSM-V. This makes sense considering I made it up.
It is however annoying to me and I’m sure those around me.
B.P.G.D. is effectively a cyclical disorder, where in every few months the victim, just stops being motivated to game, run games write games etc. (usually accompanied by notions of , no time of this waste of my time, dark thoughts about Cuthulu and video games) The down months are followed by a period of, “HOLY SHIT I HAD THIS GREAT IDEA …OR FIVE!”  These periods can last weeks or months but they definitely cycle.
Right now I am in a down month, I want so bad to work on a new RPG idea I had a few weeks back but right now I’m just not motivated, or interested. The switch is effectively off.
I have no idea why.
So in an effort to get the wheel turning again I’m going to list out everything that I had floating in my head for this  new RPG  in no order.
Setting stuff, system stuff all mixed together, dogs and cat living under one roof, chaos, blood for the blood god, hot dogs, and everything.
Here we go. (In no order)
Bidding system for action resolution.
How much risk are you willing to take to get an action done? What is the resource?
Narrative actions,  use narration to lower action difficulty
Characters as collections of skills and connections, not stats and numbers.
Diesel punk world with floating sky islands?
A world not completely mapped , by any one?
Mustaches, tweed, bomber jackets, for queen and country?
American mythos, things that exist in modern legends?
Talking out actions rather than moving into system, only using the system at impasses.
Not GM’less
Not one shot (just not my cup of ale)
Players having a main character and two or three background NPC’s to use also.
A system of framing games that is tailored to how we actually play, in short episodes.
Goals like phase to move character growth along.
A town without dance’n!?...  JUMP BACK!
Automatically interesting characters.
Has to be a game I would want to play or run.
Co-op character creation amongst the group, no man is an island!

That is all I have right now. Well that and a file on my thumb drive at home called “New RPG” with about twelve lines typed out.
I guess I am hoping someone will comment with a neat observation, or something on that list will get me fired up again.  
B.P.G.D. is not a real illness, but it is real to me, I loose interest in pretty much everything  on a regular schedule, and it makes me a difficult , bastard. This time I am going to take a shot at trying to break the cycle, and perhaps finally finish something…. I think…