Goodbye, Dave

April 9, 2009

I heard that it was finally confirmed today that Dave Arneson, co-creator of Dungeons and Dragons, passed away, after I heard a couple false alarms yesterday. I can’t really stress enough how much of an impact his creation had on the face of gaming today.

Can you imagine a world where RPGs were never developed? There are so many games and franchises that would have been lost to us, and so many other games that drew influence from RPGs wouldn’t be around.

GDC Day One

March 26, 2009

After a couple weeks preparing for and then taking midterms, I finally have spring break. Of which more than half will be spent at Game Developers Conference. This ought to be a good opportunity. I’m exhausted, but I managed to meet a ton of great people and find some really interesting opportunities. And of course, swag.

If you’re checking this blog out because of my business card or resume, I’d just like to say thanks for taking a look!

Maid RPG Proofreading

March 11, 2009

As some of you might know, I’ve been doing the proofreading for a quirky tabletop roleplaying game called Maid RPG, a parody of the recent trend in anime/manga to jam maids into goddamn everything.

For those of you who didn’t know… well, now you know. If you’re curious about how I got into it, I first heard about it on 4chan’s Traditional Games board, and learned that Ewen Cluney was having it localized and brought over to the West. The name suddenly clicked with me. I used to read his homebrew RPGs all the time, and I think I played a game he ran at a convention once. This made me pretty happy, so I preordered a copy of the book, and when it was mentioned they were looking for proofreaders, I volunteered. A good time later, and the first errata page is finally out.

You can find it at the official Maid RPG site over in the Resources section.

I’ll also be helping to playtest another game, Tenra Bansho Zero when a playable version is out, and I’ll be proofreading another RPG from them in a few months, this time for pay. I volunteered to proofread TBZ for free too, but I haven’t heard anything back there. I learned quite a bit about proofreading and generally paying close attention to details in general, and after discovering how to mark up PDFs, I could probably do it way faster when I get the next proofread.

Of course, I probably can’t toss such a weird RPG out there without saying what I think of it. There were a couple big draws for me in this game. One draw is Ewen’s involvement. Another is that it’s the first is that it’s the first Japanese role-playing game to be officially translated into English, which made me curious about their tabletop game design. Tenra Bansho Zero was supposed to be the first, but it was decided that they’d push Maid out first for the experience. I learned that their games don’t tend towards long campaigns, and they usually don’t touch dice that aren’t d6s.

Lastly, the game just looked totally unlike any game I’d touched before except Paranoia. Character creation is decided entirely by the roll of the dice, though you can reroll stuff you don’t like except for core stats. There’s only a single resolution mechanic in the game, covering anything from fist fights to trying to defuse (or detonate) a bomb. There are also random events in the game to have your player characters deal with. What this means is that you don’t even need to prepare a scenario to run a game of it. Introduce the characters, do the setup, then introduce a random event. When that’s over, or even when it isn’t, introduce another situation for the characters to deal with, and keep doing it until bored or until the in-game day finishes. I hear you can play a game in as little as 15 minutes, though I haven’t put it to the test. I’ve run a few games, and it’s pretty great fun. I’m also working on my own scenario for the game. I’ve been making a little progress each day, and when it’s done, I’ll submit it to the mailing list and maybe put it up here.

In any case, the next printing of the book is on its way, and with it, my proofreading corrections and my name in the credits right there in the back.

OWLBEARS 2 Design Notes

March 7, 2009

This all started when I was shown the original Owlbears game. I thought it was a hilarious read, and wished that it would exist in some kind of playable form that wasn’t likely to end up with someone getting hurt. Preferably something suited to IRC, my preferred roleplaying environment. I had a concept for a regular RPG version of the game, one that had things like initiative and enemies lists and gear with stats and all that jazz. That all got pushed to the back of my mind, and in retrospect, it would have ruined the spirit of the game.

Later, I decided it might not be such a bad idea to try to create a version of the game for pbp play for the SA Traditional Games Discussion design contest. I knew I wanted the game to focus on narration, since that’s one of the big strengths of pbp. I also wanted it to run without requiring a central authority figure to approve actions or posts, so I decided that the GM wouldn’t have to approve of every action.

At this point, I was thinking of the resolution mechanic, and how to make it more transparent to avoid breaking the game’s flavor. I’m not sure why, but those weird sound-words struck me as a perfect thing to count up, and 9 year olds make that kind of noise all the time. I chose to limit the sound-words (I’m too sleepy to remember how to spell what it’s actually called, though I know how to pronounce it) in order to keep people from spamming the same word over and over, and considered allowing people to re-use words based on how many words were in the post and how many posts had passed since they were used. FOr example, if you used BIFF POW KA-BLAM in one post, you couldn’t use any of those words for three more posts.

I ended up nixing that rule when I realized I didn’t want to bog the game down in too much more system, and I didn’t think it would add anything that the game really needed. I had an idea for an encounter-crafting system too, where the game would have a list of adjectives like “Big” or “Angry” or “Elite Squad of” or “A million”, each of which would add a number of POWS (my working mechanical term for the sound-words) to the encounter. I stopped going this route when I realized that there wasn’t a whole lot of reason to make an encounter more powerful, and it added a weird meta-game where you had to restrict the encounters to a specific list. Since the game has no GM, the players would have to make the encounters themselves, and it lost its point really quickly.

There was also a point in conception where I considered writing THE OWLBEARS as a 1980s saturday morning cartoon show styled game, but after some talk with friends, we decided that it would have been death to the tone, and those shows were too focused on morals to really keep the tone. 9 year olds want to beat up bad guys, sure, but often in a hyperviolent and silly way that you wondn’t see on TV. They might want to tear a ninja in half, but tearing aninja in half wouldn’t kill himor anything, it’d just beat them up.

I’m tired, this is all I have to share for my notes now. Might have more later. A good chunk of the design process was cutting away ideas that I felt wouldn’t significantly contribute to the game, that I believed would just take up rules space without making the game any more fun to play.

OWLBEARS 2 Draft 1

March 3, 2009

Concept

Hey everyone. I’ve whipped up this simple and silly RPG for your enjoyment. It’s based off another RPG I saw that was purely a game of make believe, and I liked the concept and attitude, so I’ve decided to turn it into an actual game with mechanics. Even if you don’t play it, I hope you at least have fun reading through this look at fantasy literature through the eyes of a 9 year old with ADD and a worn copy of The Hobbit.

Special thanks to: Stuart Robins? I assume this is the creator of the original concept and game. If you’re reading this, sorry I couldn’t figure out how to contact you.
The original Owlbears can be found at: http://www.1km1kt.net/rpg/owlbears

Introduction

Owlbears 2 is an awesome game for cool kids in which you are an owlbear, a killer beast that’s HALF OWL and HALF BEAR. You get all the powers of both, and maybe more! Flight and super strength are at your wingfingerclawtips.

This game is about action. Owlbears don’t sit around and drink tea and talk. They fly around and blow stuff up and rip ninjas in half, and it’s really really really cool.

Don’t tell your mom about this game or she might take it away.

The World

There’s a valley with hobbits and a forest with elves and a mountain with dwarves and an evil place with orcs and an evil wizard. There’s a forest of tree people and a UFO with aliens too. And some more stuff, and it’s all cooler than a treehouse!

Character Creation

Pick a cool name like CRUSHKILL or POWERBOMB.

If you really want, pick a bear type and an owl type. Like if you’re an owlbear that’s part arctic owl and part polar bear, you could be an arctic polar owlbear or something. And you could shoot freeze lasers out of your eyes!

Finally, get a weapon or gadget or power or something. Every owlbear starts out with bear claws and wings and an owl beak and super strength. And punching and kicking. But you get something special in addition to that, but just one thing. Like a machine gun, or a laser sword, or the power to shoot freeze
lasers out of your eyes.

Adventures

Owlbears are cool because they are half owl and half bear. But they are also cool because they do cool stuff, like have spaceship races and beating up aliens. Someone suggests some kinda situation. Maybe ghosts with laserbeams show up, or pirates with swordlegs instead of peglegs. And they’d have guns for hands.

Doing Stuff

Owlbears are awesome and they fight all the time. Owlbear adventures involve stuff like punching orcs and ripping ninjas in half and blowing up AN ENTIRE ARMY OF WIZARDS. Or the sneaky bearowls.

A SQUAD OF ALIENS WITH LASER AXES SHOWS UP! Anyone else would be dead meat, but you’re an OWLBEAR. You take out your ROCKET LAUNCHER and start blasting them! FWOOSH! KABOOM! BLAMMO! DOOSH! That’s four big sound-words, or onosomething. Even sounds that aren’t actual fighting count, since it’s still really neat, like, shotguns are super powerful because of that sound it makes between shots, you know, that ka-CHACK sound. That ought to be enough to take them down, right?

WRONG! They have laser-axes! It’s not like some stupid weak old laser sword. Everyone has those. You gotta hit them like, ten times before they die. Actually, more than that. You want it to be big and noisy, so maybe you gotta hit ’em five times for everyone that’s playing.  And guess what? You’re not allowed to use the same words on them in the same fight again because it’d be boring. Everyone gets to take a turn if you’re all fighting the same thing, though, so they don’t go down until everyone’s done something, unless someone’s taking too long. And you don’t get to switch weapons and fight with something else with different noises right away, because you already had your turn.  And you can’t take someone else’s words either. If you come up with the noisiest and most sounds, you are the COOLEST. But only if you use noises that make sense, okay? If someone says one of your noises doesn’t sound right, and nobody disagrees with them, then that word doesn’t count! And don’t try dumb stuff like try to say that “BOOM” and “BOOOOOOOOOM” are two different words.

And they don’t drop until EVERYONE’S had a turn, even if the bad guys got hit enough to take them down. So it’s fair for everyone and we don’t get crybabies, isn’t that right, Timmy?

Owlbears shouldn’t just make noises though. Owlbears DO stuff. Say what you’re doing, and get really detailed and vivid and cool about it. Which of these is cooler?

“Bloodspear kicks the ninja over and over. KER-POW! BONK! WHAM! CRAAAASH!”

“Bloodspear smashes his foot into the ninja’s nuts! KER-POW! Then he tackles the ninja and pushes him against a wall and head-butts him! BONK! And then the wall breaks open and there’s a BILLION DOLLARS behind it! So Bloodspear takes it. THen he body-slams the ninja into a solid gold statue of himself, because the people who made this room knew that Bloodspear was coming, because he’s so awesome and everyone loves him and he shows up in like, all the ancient prophecies, all of them, and even the new prophecies, so they made this solid gold statue! Of Bloodspear! WHAM!”

That first guy got more noise in, yeah? But the second guy was clearly better and more cool.

Being Cool

Speaking of cool, after every fight, figure out who the coolest is. My dad says we live in America so we have to vote. If nobody feels like voting, it’s whoever got the most noises in. If there’s a tie, everyone who tied wins, but you can’t vote for yourself because that’s dumb. Whoever gets to be the coolest gets a new tool or gadget. So you can get a new awesome power, like having a gun, or a car, or a staff, except there are swords on the ends, and the entire center part is one big sword.

Moving On

Now, someone else gets to come up with a cool situation, like a necromancer builds a giant fake owlbear robot that shoots exploding feather missiles. Then everyone takes it on. And whoever the coolest is gets a new thing. After everyone comes up with a cool story and everyone beats it, then everyone votes on what the coolest situation was. Whoever made up the coolest one gets one more power. Then you check to see if any of you are cool enough to have five or more special powers or items. If you do, YOU ARE SO COOL YOU GET TO BE THE KING OF THE OWLBEARS. Tell everyone how awesome your coronation is. If five is too many or too little, you guys can change it or something, but do it before the game starts, okay?

Then the episode ends and the credits roll, and you can start the next game with new Owlbears if you want, but the Owlbear King has to come up with a new Owlbear. He gets to come up with the first situation of the next episode, though.

Examples: Owlbears

Powerfist is an owlbear that has a cyborg eye because he was cool enough to get one. He has a big fat six shooter with an axe attached to the end, and he uses his cyborg eye to aim it, and he has a belt made of bullets. And skulls. No, wait. Bullets that are skulls. The gun shoots out skulls.

Blackskull is an even cooler owlbear. He has super sharp claws, and an airplane. It’s an F-14 bomber, and it flies at mach infinity, and drops those bombs that make an awesome whistling noise while it’s falling down. And the plane has a sword at the tip, so he can fly around and swordfight with the plane. And he doesn’t ride on the inside of the plane, he stands on the wing, because I think that’d be really cool.

Red Lightning Washington is an owlbear that’s also the King of America, and he’ll be King of Owlbears soon too. And he’s a ninja village chief! He wears an American flag as a ninja outfit and he flips out and karate chops people. He has a sword that’s as tall as a skyscraper, and every time he kills someone with it, he leaves them on it like a shishkebab. He is a master of the way of the ninja.

Rocket Billy is an owlbear that is a living rocket. He has super speed, and he can light his farts to go even faster. And he has a red Cadillac, and he can light its farts to go EVEN FASTER!

Examples: Situations

You guys are fighting a bunch of aliens and they have big space ships, okay? And the space ships are flying saucers and they glow green, and they shoot lasers and machine guns. And the aliens have axes. Laser axes. They’re axes made of lasers. And they shoot lasers. Or they can swing the axe and there’ll be a big green shockwave and it’ll fly out and cut peoples’ heads off. They’re all illegal and here to take over the world so they can take our jobs like mom’s always talking about.

There’s an evil wizard named Deathgore, and he raised an army of undead orcs with wings to try to take over the world. They also have a space ship, and it’s chained to the ground, and they’re going to use the space ship to launch the world into the sun unless the king gives him a million dollars.

All of a sudden, Nelson’s mom shows up and tells the Owlbears that they can’t go on adventures anymore, and that’s dumb.

Difficulty and Gaming

February 25, 2009

There’s a trend in gaming I’m sure everyone’s aware of. Games that are made today are for the most part easier than they were long ago. They also take much more time to play through, but I’ll save that for another day. I have a number of friends divided on this issue, and I have to admit I don’t feel I stand firmly on one side of the fence.

Most video games are conceptual descendants of early arcade games, which had more to do with carnival games than say, basketball or Monopoly. It was not like a board game where you purchased it, then that was the end of the monetary stream. Arcade cabinets are expensive, even today. You had to plunk in a quarter and play it, and you better not play it for too long, because you’re not the only one with quarters. A game back then had to do two things to succeed. They had to be fun, and they had to keep players coming back to put their quarters in. To run a profitable game, you had to run a game to beat the player, so that they would have to put in a quarter for another play, or they would stand down and someone else could walk up with their quarter.

Home video games started off borrowing a lot from arcade games. I don’t feel this was uncreative. This was the context of the time, and the only electronic game framework people knew. It was a big part of the draw of home gaming, too. It was like having an arcade in your house at an affordable price. You had your limited lives, your high scores, your high scores, and your difficulty.

Time passed, other concepts became absorbed into games, and we arrived in today’s market. High scores for the most part are a thing of the past, because focus has shifted from beating a score to beating a game. “Lives” are often missing, because many games let you retry an area if you die an unlimited number of times, and even if you run out, a Game Over usually involves retrying the level or reloading a saved game instead of replaying the entire game from the beginning again.

Now we get to the main point. A game no longer has to be difficult in order to ensure its profitability. It doesn’t have to defeat the player frequently in order to survive. Developers could feel free to make games that kill the main character less often, or even games where the main character cannot be killed at all and the game is literally impossible to lose. In other words, making a game difficult has gone from a matter of survival to a matter of entertainment. Is it fun to play a game that you have to struggle with?

Honestly, it’s a matter of personal preference. Everyone is an individual with different tastes. The discussion is over, everyone gets what they want, we can all go home now.

Well, no. It’s more complicated than that, and this wouldn’t be much of a design blog if my very first article ended like that, would it?

A game needs some degree of difficulty, and every single designer has to make this choice at some point. In fact, every designer has to make this choice at every single step where the player has to overcome an obstacle, whether they’re aware of it or not. There’s going to be a degree of difficult in anything the player does. If it’s the sort of game where the player’s avatar has to jump over a pit, there are all kinds of difficulty decisions to make. Is this a large pit? A small pit? Is it a deep pit that will instantly kill the player character if they fall into it? Maybe it’s a pit they can just jump back out of if they fall. Or they’ll have to climb back out with the help of other platforms. Maybe there will be enemies in there. Or a single boss-level enemy. Maybe the pit is actually a shortcut and allows the player to skip a harder section of the level.

Every design decision carries some degree of difficulty and challenge, and the trick is figuring out how much to apply and at what points. You need to find your target audience and find out what they’re willing to deal with as well as what drives them. Maybe they’re someone who just plays to explore and wants to see the story advance. Maybe they’re someone who grew up in a time when games were not only difficult, but the difficulty was a bullet point on the back of the box.

That’s enough about difficulty for now. I’ll likely touch on the subject again soon.

10 Games This Post Made Me Think Of:
Lego Star Wars
Battletoads
Pac-Man
Tetris
God Hand
Mega Man 9
King’s Quest V
Grim Fandango
Full Throttle
Nethack

Welcome to Pol’s Voice

February 24, 2009

I’m transferring my few posts from my old blog over to here.  This is where I’ll be posting my thoughts on game design as well as games I’ve designed myself.