Browsing the blog archives for January, 2007

Mike Mearls Solves My Problems

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RPGs

I’ve been musing about starting up my campaign again lately using the Iron Heroes ruleset — Iron Heroes solves the major issue I had last time I was running the campaign, namely, Magic. I’m not a big fan of high-magic D&D at all, but the core D&D rules don’t allow you to run anything else. Magic, of course, is intertwined with all kinds of other bad ideas, like Alignment, and it all becomes so complicated that it’s not even worth dealing with, in my opinion.

Iron Heroes, of course, is a system and pseudosetting where all of the characters are expected to function fully without the aid of hundreds of magical doodads or spellcasters constantly slinging about reality-altering effects.

Of course, since nothing I do is ever “easy” I’ve taken from thinking about Magic as a problem issue to thinking about Skills and player control over narrative. I really like the idea of The Pool to give players a sort of arbitrary resource that they can hedge to shape and change the game. I’ve been thinking about how to incorporate this sort of mechanic into D20 without completely throwing off my players. The natural inclination here is to give the players a certain number of D20 rolls per game session — But that wouldn’t really work, at least not with combat in the mix.

So lets throw out combat. Players can make all the attack rolls and whatnot that they desire — Lets face it, this is the core of D&D, so I don’t want to mess too much with that. However, things like my favorite least-favorite skill in D&D “Use Rope” or skills whose only use is out of combat (e.g. Diplomacy) could be done away with entirely and replaced with a Pool-like mechanic using D20 rolls instead of D6 rolls.

I got around to looking over at Mike Mearls’ LiveJournal and what do I see? An idea on how to really trim down D&D’s skills.

Ditch all skills that can be used untrained.

Everything that doesn’t match a remaining skill is now an attribute check. Cut every class’s skill ranks in half. When you buy a skill, you buy the right to make checks using its relevant attribute. Don’t keep track of ranks. You get access to a new skill at levels 5, 10, 15, and 20.

An attribute check is d20 + the relevant ability score (not the modifier; the entire score).

DCs range from 10 to 30 for most tasks, with 5 point increments. The (DC – the ability score + 1) times 5 is the chance of success. Some checks are opposed, just as per the rules now.

Everything else is up to the DM.

My thinking behind this is that a skill system is only as interesting as the players and DM want to make it. Adding more rules to the D&D skill system, such as for stunts, doesn’t make it more interesting. It just bloats the system. These rules allow a DM and players to find their own level of importance for skills.

These rules don’t tell you what you can do with them. They just provide a framework for doing stuff.

Probably will still need to devise my own system, but it’s a good starting point, I think.

Foreshadowing

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Administrativa, Art, Miscellaneous

NewYear1

So yesterday I was going to upload the high-resolution version of the Unreal Tournament 3 trailer when I checked in and noticed that I hadn’t uploaded anything at all to WordPress this year. I could’ve gone into the innards of WordPress and made all the requisite directories and whatnot to hold uploads, but I figured I’ve been putting off uploading these images for about a month now and I may as well clear them out of my queue.

NewYear2

Now that I’m thinking about it, I’ll probably try to update my WordPress install tomorrow. Lets hope it goes smoothly.

Unreal Tournament 3

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Games, Unreal Tournament

The rumor-mill has been working overtime this morning since today is the day of a big Midway-Epic press event where presumably they will be showcasing UT2007. Via Epic Forums:

Epic and Midway will show a playable version of UT2007.
There will also be:
– new screenshots
– a new treiler
– new information about gametypes
– and a mega surprise which is top secret

Journalists of the biggest media companys will be there.
So wait for previews in game magazines…

So the big rumor as of right now is that the “top secret / mega surprise” is that Epic is dropping the 2007 and instead renaming the title Unreal Tournament 3. I’m excited if this is the case, it means they’re finally dropping the asinine sports-themed title and connecting the game with the original Unreal Tournament. Not to mention “Unreal Tournament 3,” and especially the acronymal “UT3” flows off the tongue so much better than “Unreal Tournament Two-Thousand-and-Seven” or “UTTwoKayThree.”

Update: It’s official, UT2007 is now UT3. It’s also coming to the XBox360, which is probably both a blessing and a curse — Let’s just hope Epic doesn’t forget that the real staying power of UT is due to the PC community investing time and effort making content to keep UT fresh for years.

We also get a new trailer. Kind of short, and really hard to tell what’s going on in the second half, but looking hopeful…

Update 2: High definition version of the trailer. It’s about 20MB and hosted locally. You’ll need something capable of playing WMV files (Try VLC media player if on a non-Windows machine).

Some More Media

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Games, Miscellaneous

Just reposting a couple of items I ran across today,

From the Sci-Fi channel

The Japanese animation company Production I.G. has acquired the rights from publisher Kodansha to sell the animated SF film Ghost in the Shell for a live-action remake, Variety reported.

Kodansha published the Ghost in the Shell manga by Masamune Shirow in 1989. Production I.G. then made it into a cult hit animated feature in 1995.

The animation company also produced the Ghost in the Shell feature follow-up Innocence and the animated TV series Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, both of which have been widely distributed beyond Japan.

I’m kind of intrigued but I also think that this is a “major” mistake. Mostly I’m just curious to see what they’d do with Matoko in a live-action situation.

In World of Warcraft related news, The Burning Crusade finally came out about two weeks ago. I’m not a World of Warcraft player, or even fan, really, but I am pretty interested in the Warcraft storyline. I’ve been pretty interested in what’s supposed to happen in the Warcraft universe after Warcraft 3: The Frozen Throne.

Via Zen of Design I find this link to a cool machinima made using World of Warcraft

I guess I’m on a Warcraft theme, so some other Warcraft-related links:

Hobbs, a NSFW but hilarious audio recording found via MMODIG.
This college-newspaper article on Gold-Farming and Gold-Digging in World of Warcraft.

I also noticed that Steven has actually chosen to buy a manga in his latest order… And above that he links to Pixy’s pictures taken of the Crest/Banner of the Stars manga. One of the things that I really like about manga as opposed to anime is that, given that manga doesn’t require huge numbers of frames, the art can really be quite spectacular. The typical anime art-style — That is to say, bland but attractive characters who are typically only identifiable through hair coloration/styling and clothing — doesn’t necessarily apply in manga*. And that’s a very good thing.

*Love Hina and kindred not included.

People Don’t Know What They Want

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Games, Guild Wars, Unreal Tournament

It’s an inevitable fact of life when it comes to videogames and particularly videogame forums — People don’t know what they want. Or, rather, people know what they want in the short term, but don’t have a clear enough mental picture of what they do like and want to foresee the consequences of their current desires in the long term.

I bring up the subject mostly in relation to the latest batch of testing that’s been going on in Guild Wars: Nightfall this past weekend (January 19th – 21st), but it’s pretty applicable to other games and ultimately any situation where direct feedback arises. For anyone who’s interested and familiar with Guild Wars, the game updates can be seen over here — However, the exact specifics aren’t all that interesting and probably seem like a mishmash of numbers and words for someone who doesn’t play Guild Wars at a high level.

Now to elaborate a bit on this situation here — Guild Wars, at least in the Player vs. Player sense, has a couple of different layers to it. The first and most obvious is “Balance” — A nebulous and hard-to-pin-down concept if there ever was one. The other major factor in Player vs. Player play is referred to as “Metagame.” The metagame is essentially a loose collection of ideas about the game which players have which influence play choices. For example, if a highly ranked Guild runs a certain specific “build” it’s highly likely that lesser players will copy the build. If it’s effective and successful for lesser skilled players it will probably become pretty popular. At that point the build will probably become stagnant — Dogmatic and uncreative players will require everyone in their party to follow this build to the letter. This eventually is broken when alternative, but related builds are introduced. The other side of this metagame development are people that refuse to run an effective build because it’s popular, or people who plan their builds specifically around countering another build.

In any case, since the release of Guild Wars there have been a huge number of complaints about this strategy or that. Some of them are legitimate, others are just posts by people who feel entitled to win and get upset when they don’t. And, naturally, the introduction of two new classes and something like 200 new skills necessarily disrupts the known Metagame. So this weekend ArenaNet rolled out a huge number of changes [temporarily] to try out some of the balance effects. And while the large majority of the changes were positive, there’s a lot of major downtweaks to important skills. I don’t want to really get into the specifics here, particularly because I felt like I haven’t had my playstyle hit by any of the major changes, but observing the reactions of other players is always kind of surreal.

Across the major Guild Wars fansites, people cry out for continued “nerfings” of this or that skill in order to rectify their perceived balance issues. This reminds me far too much of what happened to the Unreal franchise with UT2003. The elite level players decided virtually every weapon was too strong, so virtually every weapon in the UT2003/4 takes ages to kill anyone. In other words, it’s boring. The only real exception is the Shock Rifle, and damned if people aren’t pushing for the Shock Rifle to be downtweaked into oblivion for UT2007.

Guild Wars already has less dynamic, attrition-based play than I would like. Downtweak some of the major damage-spiking powers too much and the entire balance of the game between pressure and spiking can be thrown off. And while everyone could congratulate themselves on bringing balance to the game, chances are that with too much meddling we’ll end up with a game that’s just so boring to play that no one will — I’ll take unbalanced over that any day.

Serial Experiments Lain

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Anime, Culture, Visual

Possibly spoiler-ish musings below.

So last night I finished watching Serial Experiments Lain. My reactions are alternately,

“Wow.”

and

“What?”

I’m still not sure I understand what happened. If anything happened. The show reminds me a lot of Ghost in the Shell, not merely for the fact that both deal with science fiction ideas of identity/being and the internet, but also in that both seem to tell stories with a similar sort of incoherency. Ghost in the Shell is more of a Matrix-like blend of philosophy and action, whereas Lain reminds me more (to be kind of generous) of, say, the Sixth Sense, but a lot of the narrative techniques seem pretty similar.

Or maybe they’re only similar in that they are frequently incomprehensible to me. Any given Ghost in the Shell plot is going to try, if it can, to have a twist. Maybe everything you see is fake, an elaborate illusion conjured up by the Major. Maybe the person the Major is after isn’t the real culprit or, even better, doesn’t exist at all. Maybe a character we think we know is actually someone else, an action we see turned out to have happened an entirely different way, or some other trickery. Lain pulls from the same stock, but instead of eventually culminating in some [usually somewhat anti-climactic] reveal, it keeps pulling and pulling and pulling.

It must have the most complex plot I’ve ever seen in a story. But, that said, since it’s so huge, so incomprehensible, I don’t get the feeling of fulfillment when everything falls into place — Because not everything has fallen into place. In fact I only have the sketchiest idea of “what happened” and am mentally just not even bothering to try to string the other ninety percent of the anime into my conception of it. Maybe one of these days I’ll get around to watching it again, but I don’t know. I’m not one to really watch things repeatedly and I am kind of daunted by the idea of watching the series again with a mind to “Get” it. That’s not to say I found it difficult to watch the first time through, but a second time watching it would be purposeful and thus open itself up to becoming difficult.

I’m kind of happy with where it’s residing mentally right now. Basically, floating around free-form inside my head, not as some coherent whole but as bits and pieces — Fragments and associations that pop into existence and then disappear. It’s like the mental process of eating a meal, moving from experience to experience, enjoying the richness of each without appealing to a systematizing process of ordering and establishing hierarchies.

Maybe I’ll write about this more again later.

Omissions: Link Roundup, part 2

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Miscellaneous

Following up with some more links here…

A new episode of the Unreal Tournament Podcast was released. Probably not worth your time unless you’re a regular UT2004 player, the latest episode is an interview with the creator of ArenaMaster/Team ArenaMaster gametypes — The most popular gametypes in UT2004 aside from Onslaught — and the creator of the 3SPN / PeerPressure community. A lot of the things he says make a lot of sense and bode well for his future endeavors.

I actually ran across this series of PoynterOnline “Writing Tools” back when I was attempting NaNoWriMo — But recently I came across this one and decided I may as well link to them here. There’s over fifty articles here, each covering a basic sort of writing technique. Poynter seems to be geared towards journalistic writing, but these techniques are a great resource no matter what kind of writing you may be doing. The first article in the series is here.

Strangely enough, I had been meaning to link to Flash Tower Defense here, but that’s kind of a moot point given my previous post. In another weird coincidence I was also meaning to link to this article on the Worst Videogame Endings Ever. I’m guessing from Shamus’ reaction Neverwinter Nights 2 might place up there for him. Personally, I’m kind of surprised that there’s not, say, Galaga or World of Warcraft on this list. You know, since they don’t even pretend to try for closure. I suppose that lack of an ending might not qualify for the “Worst Ending” category.

Speaking of unending games, I ran across this neat little idea here: Passively Multiplayer [Online] Gaming. The real trick here is finding incentives that work, but I suppose completely arbitrary numerical values tend to work fine in most games…

Lastly Treasure Tables has put a pair of really good posts up in the past week. The first is on religion in your campaign, the second is on fear checks. Definitely read the comments on these ones.

Flash Element TD

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Games, Miscellaneous

Shamus linked up to this Flash Element Tower Defense game. I actually had been meaning to mention this game in a post over the weekend, but didn’t get around to doing so.

What an addicting little game. I’ve played it a couple of times now and still haven’t managed to beat the last level. My main strategy at the moment revolves around trying to bank as much as possible and maximizing my damage output / gold expenditure by upgrading as much as possible.

My basic strategy so far is to buy an arrow tower, upgrade it, and then buy another one around level five. At level seven I sell off my Arrow Towers and use my wood to purchase Fire, then buy a Fire Tower. I can upgrade the fire tower and that’s the only tower I need until around level 20 (25?). I purchase the Interest Upgrade at level 14 and 21, and then at 28 I purchase the Water Research so I can build Water Towers. I build maybe one or two more Fire Towers (and upgrade) them to handle the remaining waves up to 33. At 33 I build a Water Tower or two to slow down the boss.

After that I haven’t really developed a very clear idea of what I need to do. Particularly the 30,000 HP enemies — I just don’t have enough gold to spend. It’s kind of confusing to me considering my entire strategy throughout the first thirty or so waves involves spending as little gold as I possibly can. I suppose what I ought to really do is figure out the Damage / Gold cost for all towers and upgrades and figure out the best strategy. Another thing I could do if I were compulsive is figure out the best placement — Shamus thinks that the middle is a honeypot, but I’m not really convinced it is — Logically the area with the most tiles of coverage is the best placement, and that seems to be the middle. Splash damage on Fire Towers does encourage clustering of creeps, though, and the creep clustering is weakest in the center…

The only things that have been giving me trouble in waves 1-30 are the bosses, which are actually an update that wasn’t in the original version … Bosses seem geared towards attempting to make the Earth Towers useful, but they really don’t. Fire Towers are pretty much the ultimate towers due to high damage, ability to hit air and land, and splash. Even a single boss monster, which presumably Earth Towers would be better at taking out, can usually be gotten on the second lap using Fire Towers. The addition of the “Purchase More Lives” button really downplays the impact of bosses — I could go easily from 1-30 without losing a single life if not for bosses. Past that, I’ve just got too much cash for a mere 40 gold to worry me.

There are apparently a couple of videos on YouTube of this game being played… This character named mo0h has a video up demonstrating a Cannon Tower strategy, as well as an unupgraded Fire Tower strategy.

I have no idea how this guy managed to get through the air levels with this all-cannon strategy…

One thing that is kind of disappointing, given that I used to play Elemental Tower Defense on Warcraft III all the time, is that the structure of this Flash game completely restricts your placement options. For this to be a real Tower Defense you would be able to build anywhere you wanted, but creeps would destroy your towers if it completely blocked them from continuing along their path. This also brings back the real threat of air units — You can make the most elaborate maze of towers imaginable to maximize the time creeps spend navigating the map area, but air units will fly right past your towers. Air waves are truly something you need to plan for, when that’s the case. And, well, as far as I can recall splash damage doesn’t work against air units in Warcraft III, so you couldn’t just stockpile on the Fire Towers as you can in this Flash game.

I guess I could go play Warcraft III though if I wanted the real deal.

Omissions: A Link RoundUp

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Art, Culture, Miscellaneous, Visual

There’s a number of things I’ve been meaning to link to here over the past week or so, but haven’t gotten around to doing. Here are a couple:

Michael Blowhard, as always, is churning out amazing links and essays with ease:

Here he links to an essay by Richard Curtis about the publishing industry and print-on-demand technology. I find it particularly interesting because I know someone who has successfully used Lulu.com, one of the premier self-publishing outfits who use print-on-demand technology, and am thinking about pickup up a copy of his book. (Not to mention the future applications in self-publishing for my own writing!)

Michael’s got a posting called Private Pleasure, Public Vulgarity about a broad swath of cultural issues. The comments are a great read as well.

Perhaps related, perhaps unrelated to the above-mentioned posting are some of Michael’s thoughts on the New York Times Book Review section and its attitude toward “popular” writing. Part 2 is here, part 3 is here.

As always Michael seems to tread a fine line between populism (e.g. wanting the NYTBR to at least acknowledge the existence of popular literature) and elitism (e.g. condemning the pornification of much of popular culture) — It’s a line I find myself pretty darn sympathetic to, though naturally Michael does it with far more style and brain-stirring breezy musing than I can manage. In the past Michael has mentioned of of the abstract “themes” of his blog is the idea that the “Our Elites have turned against us” (paraphrasing) — And in that sense I can see a sort of unity between these seemingly at-odds positions. Namely in these disparate realms of society, the elite book-publishing crowd has created a hermetically sealed little world where nothing exists except for books, whereas elites of various stripes have completely made a mess of our popular culture, destroying social mores and turning everything that should be private into an inescapable commercial push.

*

Some other links from 2Blowhards:
David Chute writes about Children of Men. Children of Men has been getting some good reviews from some trusted sources, so I’m hoping I’ll get a chance to go see it sometime this weekend or next week. I’m still bitter that the last movie I wanted to see, The Fountain, was out of theaters by the time I managed to put aside some time to see it. Anyway, concerning David’s writing on Children of Men: The political angle of the movie is undoubtedly predictable and banal. I haven’t even seen the movie yet and I could already see it coming. It’s almost inevitable given the state of our current art elite, political correctness, the demands of the story and general cultural attitudes. I’m still planning on seeing it, though.


The Invisible Hand writes about brutalist architecture
. Good riddance to Boston’s City Hall. One reference I think is particularly apt here is to that of the Emperor’s new clothes — So much of modern art seems to be a play of experts with rigid minds prevailing over common sense or basic instinctual understanding of beauty — I’m just glad to do my part in tearing down that edifice.

*Note: Asterisk indicates that my internet connection failed at this point while I was writing this post. I was going to comment on some more stuff but was limited to only the tabs I had opened at that point in time. I’ll probably follow up in a day or so with some more things. It figures, that my internet connectivity goes out the first time in a week that I really sit down to write anything at all.