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Random Thoughts of a Game Developer

Archive for the month “July, 2011”

Gaming and Gaming – We had it first, damnit!

I love video games. I’m not good at them or anything, but I’ve played them since I was a kid. M family’s first video game console was (if I plumb the depths of my memory from the late 70s/early 80s) a Super Pong console, although I couldn’t tell you on a bet the manufacturer. I dimly remember having a light gun… but I can’t come up with much else, even when pressed.

Atari 2600 mit Joystick

Atari 2600 Home Entertainment Console; Image via Wikipedia

We later had an Atari 2600, and that’s the console I remember best from early childhood. My whole family played; my Mom was fond of Super Breakout and Video Pinball. I don’t remember my Dad playing much, although that’s probably because of his work schedule. My favorite game early on was Adventure, but that was eventually supplanted by Dragonstomper and Escape from the Mind Master, a lovely game made possible by the Starpath Supercharger. The Supercharger was a gigantic cartridge  that connected to a audio cassette player to load the game. Apparently, the thing also expanded the memory and graphic capability of the  2600, which isn’t difficult to believe for anyone who played any of the long-loading but still awesome games.

Dragonstomper, in particular, appealed to me due to its similarity to the D&D games I was already enjoying. You played an adventurer who was on a quest to slay a dragon overlord. You collected items and gold, fought monsters (generally unimpressive ones, to be sure… I mean, being attacked by bugs, monkeys, and beetles wasn’t exactly tension-building), dodged traps, and eventually fought a massive pink dragon. Why was the dragon pink? I’m going to blame the 2600’s limited color palette, but I’m not sure that’s much of an excuse.

Dragonstomper and, to a lesser degree, Escape from the Mind Master were precursors. I have no way of knowing if the future creators of Dragon Quest or Final Fantasy ever played these games, but it doesn’t matter. The JRPG genre of game was soon all I wanted to play. I enjoyed platformers (especially Mega Man) and other games, too, but my fondest video game memories of my childhood make me think of dragon lords named Baramos, elemental fiends, and espers. I’ve always been especially attached to the Dragon Quest games, and out of them Dragon Quest 3 and Dragon Quest 4 shine the brightest. These games did a much better job than their American counterparts (Ultima not withstanding, although I disliked it for other reasons) of telling a story. Even today, the things I look for in my video games are story and the ability to improve my character(s) as I go along. I want good gameplay, too (which means the abysmal Final Fantasy 13, or as I like to call it Press A a lot and run down a corridor is straight out), but story is the main thing.

Switching gears, I was introduced to Dungeons & Dragons (in the original Red Box) when I was 8, and fell instantly in love. I’ve been a role-player ever since, and, as this site attests, have made ham-fisted attempts at making my own games. I’ve been doing that since I was, I think, 11.  I’ve played a laundry list of tabletop RPGs, and I’ve read and leared how to play several that I’ve never had the opportunity to try out.  I read rulebooks as casual reading, and I frequently keep one in the bathroom.  I try to keep up with the state of the industry (although I freely admit that I’m not very “with it” when it comes to indie games).   I love dice. I enjoy minis, although due to unsteady hands and a lack of patients for all things artistic within me, I tend to prefer the pre-painted ones. I dream of run

Dungeons & Dragons

Image by unloveablesteve via Flickr

ning a booth at Gen-con.

In short, when I started both hobbies, neither one was exactly what you’d call mainstream.  I do remember, however, that we tabletop role players called ourselves “gamers” long before the term referred to video gamers. We tabletop RPGers dealt with the idiotic cries of “concerned parents” and – moreso than video gamers have ever had to – persecution and outright slander/libel perpetrated by the religious right. Want proof? Here:

The first article is about as accurate as anything else put out by – which is to say not at all. There are not and have never been  specific ritual instructions in any Dungeons & Dragons manual. Saying that the creators went and consulted with an “Alexandrian tradition” witch who was also a Satanist is insulting to witches, satanists, D&D players, and the memory of Gary Gygax. It’s also phenomenally ignorant.

The second article talks about misconceptions concerning D&D players that apply to tabletop gamers and (to some extent) video gamers.

The third is a sad story, and I feel for the woman who wrote it. Suicide is a horrible thing, and I understand this mother’s need to understand what motivated her son to take his own life. That said, D&D is not a cult. It is not a religion, so that eliminates it from the definition provided in the article for cult, but even if it didn’t, D&D is still not a cult. It is not “extremist”, and it never makes any claims on being truth (in fact, it really only claims to be a shared imaginary experience, which is what it is). And – here’s the part I find most difficult to type – it did not kill this poor mother’s son.

At any rate, we tabletoppers have been the subject of the same idiocy. The primary difference is that Video Games have become much more mainstream than role playing games ever have been or ever will be, and so congress has gotten involved. Also, current and past Politicos in the U.S. Presidential administration seem to be of the belief that if they keep harping on video games, we U.S. citizens won’t notice what a craptastic job they’re doing.

I suppose that, if there is, in fact, a point to all this rambling it’s this: as a tabletop gamer and a video gamer, I can tell you that our hobbies aren’t that different. Both are associated with being anti-social despite being intensely social. Both are maligned by ignorant religious and political leaders. Both have had their day in court. Both are fun, both help forge friendship, and both have a interesting history that’s about the same length and has much in common.

We (meaning video and tabletop gamers) have a similar hobby. In fact, I can’t think of a single tabletoper who doesn’t enjoy video games. I can’t help but think that our mutual communities should be sharing things with each other, not the least of which is the name “Gamer”. So stop assuming that, when I say I’m a Gamer, I mean video games. I usually don’t, even though I play both. Let’s all come together and show the world that our hobby isn’t about being lonely, dysfunctional eff-tards.

We’re all Gamers together – but we tabletop gamers had the name first, dammit.

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Wiki Contemplation

So, I’ve considered – for quite some time now – using one of the following web sites:

And perhaps getting a membership with and appearing on this forum:

I’m curious as to if any of my readers has an opinion. I can’t help but think it would drive traffic to this site, and perhaps get me a little more feedback on what I’m doing than this site has managed to do.

Not that I don’t appreciate each and every comment that has appeared here. I do. The problem I’m running into is that I’m just not getting enough feedback, and I would like to get opinions from a wider audience. Also, additional web traffic through my blog would boost my self esteem…

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The New Reach: Tiers Mean More

My friend B pointed out that the flexibility of the Competence/Reach system as I had originally designed it is a flaw, not a strength. While it will probably appear as I described it as an optional rule, for general play it’s way too number-crunchy at high levels. If your group is into that, fine (hence the inclusion as a rule option), but I agree with B that, with most groups, this can lead to some very annoying game lag.

The problem is that, for the statistics-savvy player, this is a gold-mine for min-maxing. There’s nothing wrong with that… until it holds up game play as the player weighs the advantages of 5d20 vs. 10d10, or some other combination. To avoid this problem, we talked (B and I) for a while, and I came up with a solution that I think not only works, but helps to emphasize the Tiers of skill and simplifies the whole affair.

At Apprentice tier, Reaching means -5 to Competence, but you add in 1d10 (so an Apprentice with a Competence of 6 would roll 1d10+1 when reaching). At Journeyman tier, reaching means -10 to Competence, but adding in 2d10 (so if your Competence was 18, you would roll 2d10+8). At Expert tier, you reach with -15 to Skill, but add 3d10. At Master level, you gain the ability to choose any of the previous Reach modifiers (-5/+1d10, -10/+2d10, – 15/+3d10), or you can use -20/+4d10.

Grandmaster tier will most likely be an extension of the above  – you can choose -5/+1d10, -10/+2d10, -15/+3d10, -20/+4d10, or -25/+5d10.

Another idea I was toying with is to use different dice for different tiers – d6 for Apprentice, d8 for Journeyman, d10 for Expert, and d12 for Master/Grandmaster. With this method, a Apprentice could take a -5 to add a 1d6, a Journeyman could take a -10 to add a 2d8, and an Expert could take a -15 to add a 3d10. A Master could take the options of -5/+1d12, -10/+2d12, -15/+3d12, or -20/+4d12. The Grandmaster Tier would add a possible -25/5d12 to the mix. I’d prefer to have the Grandmaster use a d14, but that’s a pretty

A 14-sided die (by GameScience, also shows day...

Image via Wikipedia

uncommon die type (you can buy them here), and I don’t want people to have to go out and buy special dice just for my game.

Each version of the new system has its ups and downs. Most significantly, the second version makes getting to the next tier much more important. It also makes reaching at Apprentice level (and, to a lesser degree, Journeyman level) a dangerous thing to do.

I suppose I could split the difference. I could make Apprentice use d8, Journeyman and Expert use d10, and Master/Grandmaster use d12. Or, it could be Apprentice d8, Journeyman through Master d10, and Grandmaster d12…

Ouch. Braincramp…

In any case, the first option has the advantage of only needing a single type of die for the game. The different tiers are still important, but the difference between Apprentice and Journeyman is more subtle. Not much more, but a bit. I’m really not sure whether or not I want the tiers to be that significant.

What do you think?

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Been a While, Hasn’t it?

Been a While, Hasn’t it?.

Been a While, Hasn’t it?

Hello, Internet. It’s been a while.

What’s been going on, you say? We’ll just go with “a lot”.

My fiancee and I ran into some financial problems, and those were pretty distracting. I mean, everything’s looking up now, and our future seems fairly bright, but it got pretty hairy there for a while. No worries in the long run, though.

Beyond that, I’ve spent the last several days babysitting for a friend. There have been four extra kids around here, and while two of them aren’t too bad, the other ones are a frakkin’ handful. I’ve been exhausted at the end of every day. I’ve made almost no progress on game development, and mostly I sit around and do as little as possible when the kids are gone. I’m trying to figure out how the Mom has the energy to get up out of bed every morning. I won’t lie – I’m impressed.

In any case, before this babysitting gig, I managed to get going on a proper sourcebook for my Essence campaign setting and get the basic mechanics for an Essence game system. I thought that any readers I might still have would enjoy some of what I’ve been working on. I have a rather complete description of the Greathoof Equus race, complete with naming conventions and cultural notes. If that sounds interesting, the Excerpt can be found by clicking on “more…” below.

In the meantime, I’ve been working on basic mechanics for the Essence system. I’m stealing from the work I’ve done on several other systems, so if any of this sounds familiar, that’s the reason.

Basically, it’s a heavily Skill-based point-buy system. When making a character, you select a race, and then you get 100 Character Points, all of which are used to buy Skills. Those Skills are “tagged” with various Stats. For every 5 ranks in a Skill (this varies a bit per race), the Character gains +1 to all Stats that Skill is tagged with.

Skills are divided up into overall “tiers” of expertise: Apprentice, Journeyman, Expert, Master, and Grand Master. Each Tier has a separate cost structure – the higher your skill, the higher the CP cost per level.  Being at a higher tier allows you to win ties with lower tiers (so if an Apprentice and a Master both get the same result on a roll, the Master wins), among other benefits.

The Skills can be combined with any Stat bonus that’s appropriate to a situation. The total of the Stat used and the Skill is the Character’s Competence. You can let that number ride – relying on Competence alone – or you can Reach for something more.

To Reach, you convert some portion (usually all) of your Competence into dice. Which dice? That’s up to you. Each die added to the roll reduces your Competence by 1/2 the die’s maximum value. Say, for instance, you had a Competence for a check equal to 10. You could reach by adding a d6, lowering your Competence by 3. The result would be a roll of 1d6+7. You could also change the 10 to 1d20, 2d10, 1d10+5, 1d6+1d8+3, or however you like.

I’m thinking about restricting it to a single die type per roll, and perhaps only allowing you to Reach with your full bonus, or as much of it as you can with the type of die your using. So, with the 10 Competence from above, you could roll 5d4, 3d6+1, 2d8+2, 2d10, 1d12+4,   or 1d20. I’d be doing this to help keep things simple. I’ve thought of other ways to streamline it, but I don’t want to spend all day listing them. Basically, the system is setup so that, as long as you’re willing to take average results for your skill lever, you never have to roll dice. Of course, sometimes average just won’t do…

To continue, for every 10 CP spent on Skills, you gain 1 Trait point, which can be used to purchase Traits – analogous to Merits/Flaws, Advantages/Disadvantages, or even Feats from other game systems. This part is still pretty rough; the way it sounds, all Characters would start with 10 Trait points, since you get 100 points just for Skills; you don’t actually have to  spend all your CP during character generation, and it can be advisable to reserve a few for reasons I haven’t well defined yet (they’ll be equivalent to Action Points in other games/systems, but I need to hash out the details).

That’s the basics of Character Creation so far, along with partial mechanics.`So… that’s fun, right?

Read more…

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