Browsing the blog archives for September, 2007

Campaign Ideas: Star-Crossed

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Games, RPGs, Tabletop

This is a fairly simple idea, but it’s modular enough that you could work it into a variety of contexts. The major downside to this idea is that you’ve got less flexibility in dealing with character turnover, and so for that reason it probably wouldn’t work all that well in a gritty campaign, or one which people attend irregularly.

The idea is that each player character was born under a specific star sign, a sign under which few are ever born. This designates them as people who have great destinies. In game terms, you may also wish to expand this idea further to say that their special attunement to the stars grants them an increased affinity for magic. You could then use this as a possible explanation of how PCs could be readily healed and resurrected, but important NPCs, such as kings, may not be able to be. The explanation should facilitate creating a game world where dramatic actions have consequence on the game world, but which don’t overly penalize players.

As a campaign, once you have set forth that the players are all bound to this same destiny, you have a plethora of ways to get them together for a story. I suggest that you create an NPC character, an astrologer/astronomer, who has sent a summons to each character. When they arrive, the characters will be informed of the common bond between all of them.

At this point, with the characters assembled and, bound, however tenously, you can easily begin any adventure you like. There are a couple of ideas which I believe may work better than a standard-issue “Clear out the nearby goblin village” sorts of quests, though.

-The player characters are only part of the group that was sent a summons. There remain several individuals who did not manage to heed the astrologer’s call. The PCs are instructed to seek out these few remaining individuals. The conflict here would be that someone else has learned of these individuals’ special destinies and has been hunting them down and killing them. The villain himself could be one of these individuals, who has realized that only others born under this star sign may have the potential to stop his plans.
-The player characters have learned of their destiny, but must complete a ritual to complete their attunement to the stars. In order to do this, they must undertake a quest. This particular possibility would not pit the players against a specific enemy, but rather against a series of trials. Ideally, this line would focus on building the bonds of trust between characters as they face the obstacles.
-The astrologer may have nefarious plans, and is attempting to subvert the PCs into doing his will by posing as a mentor-type character. The PCs may be instructed to carry out various plans, but hints should be dropped that not all is as it seems.

Solid Suggestions for RPGs

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Games, RPGs

Yesterday I looked at the pitfalls of abstract (and moving) goalposts when talking about great RPGs. But I want to riff off of that previous post to be a little more constructive about what I think can lead to a great RPG.

I said: “I just don’t know why they’re RPGs, what that is, or what makes them great other than being really enjoyable experiences.” Lets ignore the issue of what an “RPG” is. Enjoyable experiences — I don’t know why I find certain activities in games more enjoyable than others, but I do. I have a solid set of preferences when it comes to games, a set of things that I enjoy more than other things. If you want to go about building an RPG that some people will consider great, then you need to look at the sorts of experiences people enjoy.

It goes without saying that you probably want: An amazing storyline, superb writing, memorable characters, a world whose mood fits that of your storyline, and music that will convey and evoke the emotions of your game. Lets just say that these are some of the most important aspects of a game, but I’m skipping over that. Any one of these elements can make or break a game on its own, but I want to talk a bit about gameplay.

Chances are, if there’s a game that’s considered great by a group of people then it’s gameplay is hitting multiple areas of enjoyment for people. So looking at games that are already considered great is an excellent starting point. You might also want to use Bartle’s taxonomy of four player types as a guideline for targeting player groups. Simply listening to what players want is probably your single greatest resource in making a great game.

It’s not quite as simple as that, though. The trick is sifting through the dreck of “What I want because it will benefit my character in this specific circumstance,” and “What I want because it would be kewl!” to find out ways that you can create new gameplay that hits the areas of enjoyment you’re targeting. And then you’ve got to look two steps forward to see how this gameplay element will affect your game, what it can interact with, and how that interaction will affect your game.

Easier said than done, that’s for sure. But if you’re an RPG fan or seasoned developer, if you’ve got a good sense of what your target players want, then you can probably innovate in some really clever ways. Make no mistake: Even though doing research into player types, targeting the desires of specific player types, and expanding on those desires may seem systematic, when it comes time to actually create your game, it’s all art. A game that is considered great is going to innovate in multiple areas and it’s going to do things in a way that might not be expected, but is internally consistent. There’s no way to quantify what’s going to make it great, you just need that fortuitous note of doing all the right things in the right way at the right time — But with a smart research and design process you may be able to narrow things down enough that you can greatly increase your chances of that happening.

Of RPGs and Knowledge

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Games

Rampant Coyote posed a question which Shamus then picked up, “What makes a [computer] RPG great?”

I responded in Shamus’ comments with something to the effect of, “We can’t know.” — Yeah, a cop out, but a true one.

A lot of the other responses seem to be geared towards, “I want a world with real choices.” Although I tend to enjoy freestyle games like that, the more open-ended the game the weaker the story usually ends up being. That, to me, tends to make me lose interest. For example, I loved Fallout, but I’ll never finish it. Same with Baldur’s Gate. These games are too long, and their main storyline is too removed from the actual play of the game for me to be able to see them through.

I was also on the phone for about an hour today with one of my acquaintances, a guy who pretty much lives and breathes computerized RPGs. Although this guy is primarily a player, he also envisions himself as a designer/developer/programmer. When I posed the question to him he responded with how he was using ELIZA scripts to modify NPC behavior in Neverwinter Nights to create truly dynamic NPCs. Though I’m more than a little bit skeptical of treating ELIZA as anything more than the facade of intelligence, the approach has merit in at least creating the illusion of dynamism in NPCs.

From that point he started telling me about how he wants to simulate internal states, likes and dislikes, and all this other material relating to NPCs — This is done with The Sims, so is not impossible, nor is it a bad idea. Then we got on about how a game should process speech, and NPCs should react to your speech as if you were actually talking to them. And then we got on the subject of NPCs reacting to speech they aren’t programmed to be aware of, like talking about a “revolver” in a game world where that technology doesn’t exist. It was posited that NPCs wouldn’t have knowledge of that device, but that in a truly great RPG you could assemble the parts in the proper way to create a revolver, or draw one, or any number of things, and teach NPCs what revolvers are.

In other words, we need NPCs with internally defined personalities, with a robust method of generating language, a spectacular text-to-speech interface with an all-encompassing dictionary, a dynamic intelligence for NPCs, and physical laws of the game world defined down to the molecular level (or below). This is the danger I see in thinking greatness is necessarily an aspect of “choice.” Where does that end? By this sort of understanding, there have been no great RPGs. In fact, the term RPG might as well be replaced by “alternate life simulator.”

Although the category of RPG is vague and problematic enough to begin with, we shouldn’t keep moving the goalposts until the term essentially requires the creation of an alternate universe. Though we might make it there eventually, with truly sentient AI and lifelike visuals using a completely transparent interface, I wouldn’t expect that in the next twenty years. The programming obstacles are pretty great in a number of areas, and the art-asset creation time itself will be huge (though, theoretically, we may have the computers creating the art assets in the future, or at least doing the heavy lifting). For the time being there are some great games being made — I just don’t know why they’re RPGs, what that is, or what makes them great other than being really enjoyable experiences.

Ignore the ensuing epistemological crisis.

Unreal Tournament 3 Dev Chat

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Games, Unreal Tournament

Yesterday the folks at BeyondUnreal held a development chat with some guys from Epic games on Unreal Tournament 3. I wasn’t able to attend but I did enjoy reading the chat. The game sounds like it is shaping up pretty well, with Epic indicating on many occasions that they’re looking to return the Unreal Tournament series to a more traditional feel, with deadlier weapons and less acrobatics than Unreal Tournament 2003: The Travesty. The developers also mentioned they’re paying closer attention to scale, which sounds promising for preventing the midget-syndrome prevalent in 2003/4. All-in-all a nice and refreshing change of pace from reading hype-filled magazine articles to hearing down-to-earth talk from the developers.

Read the log here. (Big thanks to KriLL3 for logging this!)

End of Andromeda, Part 2

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Culture, Visual

Spoilers Alert.

Continue Reading »

Dadaist Comics

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Culture, Visual

Fark ran a story about a guy who forced himself to read all the comics in the newspaper every day for two weeks — The article itself was trash (“How bad was it,” you ask? It claimed that Doonesbury was funny.) but the Fark comments thread it spawned is genius. I was literally laughing out loud for a good five minutes at some of the comics posted there. They even convinced me Garfield is a good strip.

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Related: Here’s a Garfield Comics Randomizer, which takes 3 panels from three different comics. This thing is absolutely genius.

End of Andromeda

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Culture, Visual

A long, long time ago I mentioned I was going to start up watching Andromeda, the Sci Fi series with Kevin Sorbo. As I write this, I’m one episode away from finally finishing the series.

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It’s kind of strange because I don’t know what’s coming. After five years, the series has to come to a point, and to a resolution. And where can it go? The possibilities seem so endless that this series could end up being pretty good overall, or a big disappointment.

If there’s anything that can be said for this series is that it’s uneven. Most of the time it’s average fare, but occasionally it really shines. In fact, two of its episodes are probably the best televised sci fi I’ve ever seen. On other occasions, it’s virtually unwatchable, and nearly physically painful to watch.

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My biggest feeling is how much potential this story has, if it were told without the constraints of typical network TV fare. There’s just too much filler in each season for me to recommend watching the whole thing to anyone else. Furthermore, a lot of the pacing between shows is done pretty poorly — arcs that are set up that seem like they should last for an entire season are resolved in an episode, arcs that seem like they should be resolved in a few episodes are stretched out over a season. This story really cries out to me for a retelling — But I think I’m too attached to the actors (especially Keith Hamilton Cobb, Lexa Doig, Lisa Ryder, and Laura Bertram) to accept anyone else in their parts. Maybe in the future, when fully digitized actors are most cost-effective, it’d be feasible to do something like that.

Any way, I need to decide when I want to watch this last episode. In some ways, the potentiality of what could be is far more sublime than what is.

Campaign Ideas: Shipwrecked

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Games, RPGs, Tabletop

Basic introductory campaign idea designed to introduce players to the setting, establish the group without relying on “You all show up at a tavern” tropes.

Types: Semi-Travelogue, Fish out of Water

Scene 1: Fight scene. This scene establishes a villain/antagonist for the characters by immediately pitting them up against the antagonist and/or some of his henchmen. Premise for this fight is that the antagonist is trying to retrieve X, where X is an item or components of an item.

Scene 2: Flashback to the initial party meeting, which is on a ship. Each character has been hired by the Captain, and their mission to deliver X to [some location or NPC] is explained.

Scene 3: A storm strikes, and the ship is under attack by [pirates / mercenaries / unknown]. A battle ensues and the ship is wrecked.

Scene 4: The characters wake up on the shores of [some location on the same landmass where they were headed]. The majority of the crew seems to be lost and only the PCs are fit for travel, so they head on to finish their mission.

-After roughly another scene or two, the PCs should be ‘caught up’ in narrative time with Scene 1, after which they continue onward in ‘real time.’
-Subsequent scenes introduce the characters to the setting [mood/themes] and set up different factions of antagonists / allies. Since all characters are from a different location, play up customs and other elements that may seem strange to the PCs (and also to the players).
-By the end of the mission the PCs should have forged a bond with at least one faction, which will offer them some sort of ongoing relationship at the end of the initial scenario and possibly serve as the basis for further scenarios.

More UT3 Images

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Games, Unreal Tournament

Kind of burnt out on posting lots of UT3 material, as there’s a glut of it now that the game release is drawing ever nearer, some time in November last I heard, but I was pretty impressed with some of the scenery in these pics so I figured I’d toss them up here.

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A minor aside: This article claims Halo 3 will have 11/12 multiplayer maps. What the heck? How can someone think roughly ten multiplayer maps is an acceptable number? UT3 is going to have something like 40 and even that seems pretty skimpy considering you’ve got Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, Capture the Flag, Vehicle Capture the Flag, and Warfare, and maybe even more gamemodes.