I've been playing Fallout 4 for a while, at this point, and I feel like I can say I've gotten a decent amount of milage out of it. I put about 40-something hours into it, largely dicking around, and, well, it's certainly a Fallout game. Everything that the Fallout 3+ franchise has been, has been too - with the addition of making buildings.

I really am thinking about what the game allows you to do - it expands the level cap out forever, but also hides a lot of rudimentary community building tools behind the Perk system which means that you're always choosing between being better at playing the game and being allowed to access the game. I've been a little disappointed by the lack of access to certain kinds of building materials - no glass, no windows, no metal grating - and the difficulty of accessing good places to build. Like, there are some good locations, and a lot of miserable, uninteresting locations which really makes me wonder why they're there.

So, I find myself trying to build a really cool base of operations and I'm really hampered by all of these invisible rules - tiles don't match up, it's difficult to build foundations and/or stair that connect to where you want floors to go, I can't tell at a glance who's assigned to what, or what has someone assigned, workshop management is a huge chore, moving food between settlements is a trial, land management is difficult, growing space is incredibly scarce, and so on. I devoted myself back to the grind, and the game stopped letting me save my files. I fixed/worked around that and the game ended up crashing and told me to update it.

I was just like, man, forget this for now. I'll come back to it with a much more reasonable focus, and hopefully after there have been some patches and DLC that include new building material. What I'm really hoping for is that this kind of community-building, world-building approach catches on even more with future games, whether it's this model or another one.
atolnon: (Default)
( Jun. 19th, 2014 02:38 pm)
I finished playing through the Mass Effect series kind of a while ago. There's a lot going on in the series, and it's long, so between the varied gameplay mechanics, the general romance options that are pretty important to people, the overall plot, the much-derided ending, ect, et al, I didn't know what to focus on and kind of gave up commenting until shit settled like sediment and I could get an idea of what I wanted to say about what.

But really, what always happens is that the moment gets lost and I'm left holding a much vaguer, more generalized attitude about the game more suitable for a somewhat gauzy press-release statement than critical commentary. I've got the time, though, and I don't want to totally just flake on it, so I figured I'd go ahead and spit something out, considering that it's been over a week since I've posted anything here.

First, the trilogy is pretty huge. 1 and 2 are fairly quick, though I have to admit that I landed on literally every planet that Mass Effect 1 would let me land on. Three was probably about as long as 1 and 2 put together with the DLC, especially the ending and the Citadel DLC. I missed free DLC for ME1 and regret it. I think that I got the Kasumi DLC and Katie got the Leviathan, From the Ashes, ending, and Citadel DLC for ME3 and Lair of the Shadow Broker for ME2. The fact that some of it is free now is great. The content is really good, but if I had just purchased the trilogy instead of having them on the shelf for literally as long as I've been here, I'd probably feel pretty frustrated at having to pay anything extra for important content.

Through the whole play through, I couldn't really imagine wanting to play Renegade and I'm pretty indifferent to most romance options presented in most games that I play. ME is one of those games where if you go about it correctly, you can almost always have your cake and eat it, too, so there's nothing that I think I'd really feel I have to go back to the game to experience. The gameplay is consistently good across the series, and really smooth in 3, so that I could pretty easily see going back to the games for the gameplay aspect, to play different DLC and spotlight different characters in my party while playing a different class and making slightly different decisions for funsies. Even after I'm done playing it, I have absolutely no qualms about keeping it on my shelf. The world building is likewise pretty top-notch (even though the beginning of ME1 is awkward and almost a little nonsensical).

Like I said, though, it tends to be pretty long. In reading terms, it's like tackling a few Iain Banks novels in a row. Certainly possible, and even enjoyable, but if you have a huge gaming, literary, and movie queue, it can be kind of hard to justify going back to a 160+ hour series. But if you dig RPGs and science fiction, I feel like it's something you'd do well to aim for at least once.
atolnon: (Default)
( Jun. 8th, 2014 09:42 am)
So, my friend The Jenna had an extra copy of To the Moon that she got from a Humble Indie Bundle a little while ago, and she passed it along to me. I kind of accepted it sight unseen because nobody else seemed interested and I was like, hey, free game. I played it for a little while before I Google'd it and discovered that it won a shitload of awards.

Let's see, actually. It was made in RPG Maker XP and, no shit, won Best indie RPG of 2011. Its reviews are generally excellent. It beat Portal 2, Catherine, and Xenoblade Chronicles for Best Story. It was nominated for significantly more.

Look, I played it. It took like, 3 hours. It was okay. It was only okay because it was so short, really. It wasn't great. It wasn't even especially good. It wasn't even really a game. The only way it was similar to an RPG is that it was made using RPG Maker. If the dialogue was written into a book, nobody would read it. To compare it to Portal 2 is an embarrassment.

Best Story? Really? Man, have you guys ever read any books at all? In 2011, is this the game that we all looked at and decided was going to represent the peak of our video game storytelling capacities for that year?

It was more like an interactive novella, and in that regards it served to pass a little time in a kind of unremarkable way. I'm not really hating on the game. I guess I'm hating on the player. 
atolnon: (Default)
( Jun. 7th, 2014 10:25 am)
I'm pretty much doing some clean up, today. This entry is going to look a lot like a list of things I've kind of wrapped up already and a little bit of my very next steps in what I'm planning in the next few days. I've put off really digging into new gaming mechanics for about a week since there's not much that needs to be done right away - the projects have been on hiatus for probably about a year since I was kind of hoping to compare my notes to Exalted 3 realty - so I figured they could wait just a little longer while I wrapped up some stuff that needed doing around here.

There's a lot of stuff that needs doing with our yard to get it to where we'll want it to be. We're basically starting in at ground zero now, after the work I've done on the front and back. When Katie got the house several years ago, nobody really mentioned how much of a problem some of this stuff was gonna be. 'Decorative' creeping vines in a plot in the front, crabgrass in the decorative rock beds near untended bushes in the front, pokeberry vines that come up every year in the back. The last shed foundation is a wreck, and had a lot of wooden debris. Sticks, yeah, but also old gardening beds and stuff. We've been out there daily cutting back pokeberry to nothing, tearing up the roots, removing debris, cutting back, bagging, and then digging up vines to create space for flowers, and using a little from our marginal spending money to build a few small gardening plots which are working fairly well.

Probably the only success we'll see in terms of gardening is some good herb growth, especially cilantro, sage, and mint, and some very nice looking bean plants. The tomato plants look okay, but I don't know how we'll they'll do in the long term. They look much better than when we first purchased them, though. I'm only planning one more planter box this year, and that's around the apple tree in back, and it's only to contain mulch and earth, so as the tree gradually gets larger, the box will probably eventually come down. However, everything after that will be set for the next step again in yardscaping plans.

Everything is in from me in regards to applying for grad school at SIUE. I feel pretty hopeful about it, but I'm going to call them on Tuesday when I'm off to see what they've received and if I need to do anything else. I'm trying to make projections, but the data is still pretty nonexistent, so I have very little idea what to expect from this situation in the long term. At this point, I'm not even really what you'd call hopeful or anxious. I'm just in 'wait and see' mode.

I just finished Mass Effect 3, by the way, which brings me to the end of a huge gaming cycle. Of the three games, I think Mass Effect 2 was probably the best executed of the lot, but there's enough going on with the entirety of the series that it probably deserves a few different posts to break down my thoughts on different aspects of what was going on, from the ending, to the mandatory DLC/multiplayer, romance options, mechanical differences between games, et al. I finished a really small indie game called 'To the Moon' last night, which was a gift from Jenna, and I guess that might get a post. I'm tackling 'Godel, Escher, Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid' in earnest, which doesn't come naturally to me, but I'm at about 180 pages in of, like 700.

I'm still waiting for Exalted 3 to come out. I'm dying to run a game for our group out here, because I haven't really played a good game in... well, over a year. Getting Mikey, Frank, and The J-Man around a table for some dice rolling sounds pretty good, but it's really going to depend on scheduling and interest. In terms of other gaming projects, you'll no doubt here about that, too.
atolnon: (Default)
( Jan. 11th, 2014 01:23 pm)
Hey. I haven't been around for a while. I scrolled down pretty briefly to see what's been going on since I last posted, but I haven't really read any of the postings just yet. I'm eager to be getting around to it. I was on a few days ago, but only very briefly; I'd been thinking about posting but I came up dry when I sat down. I have a little while before work and I don't feel like starting up Silent Hill 4 just at the moment, so I'm hoping I feel up to it when I get back. I'll probably force myself to relax and try to get into it for maybe a half hour or so.

I've been trying to do several things at once, with a limited amount of success. Some of that stuff is coming together really well and some of it is lagging behind. I've had a website that's been up for quite a while and like a lot of personal sites, it's suffered from a lack up updates. It's got some of my old projects and some projects I worked with Brent a little on. It's not anything special, but I'm kind of starting to use it as a personal portal to work I'm doing that's stored somewhere on the web. Because of Google's document integration and stuff like that, it's easy to just transcribe a lot of my stuff to a place on the internet and access it from there. I guess what I'm saying is that even though it's a public site (and you can access stuff I'm doing there, which may or may not be interesting to you), it's largely something I'm using to keep myself organized.

https://sites.google.com/site/thanatos02us/ - There. That's where it's at. I'm leery at going through the effort to write code that makes an effective private website on my own domain until I really am adding a decent amount of content and links to the page, so Google sites it remains. I am extremely aware of how little work has been done on it, but that doesn't bother me. If I do something I'm proud of, it'll be linked there. Pathfinder wikis are probably going to be linked to from there. I have very limited physical space, but I've come to realize that I have an almost infinite amount of space on the internet that's even free. But just like a physical shelf and desktop, I have to organize it or I'll lose it and never find it again.

Pathfinder. I really want to run this game. Most of my friends have been very good at getting back to me. I live with one. One person had technical issues receiving my mail that we never adequately troubleshot, but we did find an acceptable workaround. One guy just never responded. I like him but if I can't reach him, I'm gonna drop him. I'll organize our meetup separately. That's nothing personal, but scheduling is tough enough. If I can't get people together even once, I'm not going to mess around with a gaming Wiki. First thing's really first on this. I've done a lot of work on the game in terms of planning, but I'm not going to start writing a dungeon without people to play in it.  
Now that's i've got something on my stomach, and I'm dressed and showered, I'm in better shape to make sense of my earlier observations. This is really sketchy, and it's not that it'll come to any particular use per say, but it's been a little while since I posted anything, anyhow so here it goes.

Earlier last week, I was playing Civilization 4, which you're more or less forced to do as an enigmatic, faceless, immortal dictator-for-life and was, as is my wont, sending excess troops into the hungry maw of a new world (aka, basically a woodchipper) far away from the lands they were born (aka, built) in, in order to suborn independant but unrelated civilizations (aka, barbarian nation states) and fold them into my empire so that I can achieve global domination through control of most of the world's landmasses. I turned to Katie and said, "You know, this would be a really horrific thing that I'm doing, if this were real."

But it's not real. In Civilization, you're playing a game, you're not really building a civilization. You're trying to win. I mean, you win by building the most successful Civilization at one of several victory conditions, so you need to wipe all the civilizations off the map, or send someone to Alpha Centauri, or generate a ridiculously successful culture rating, or control a huge swath of the landmass. It's not enough to create a series of successful civilizations, you actually have to win. In real life, I don't care if we send someone to Mars first or if China does, I'm just excited someone got to Mars. But someone cares. Someone important cares. Because it's about claiming resources for our nation-state. Even if that's true, we acknowledge (when we're doing a little better as a culture) that no matter what we do to other people, we're doing it to other people. So when we exploit people, we know, somehow, that we're exploiting them. A lot of times, it's in the name of Empire, but these days, it's in the name of the almighty Dollar.

I'd say, we're not something to be played. We are not a game. But we are. We are a game.

There would always be people who are content to drive the actions of others in order to win. Sometimes, it's for glory or nationalism, but these days it's for the consolidation of capital. The people at the top - the very, very top, are wealthy beyond the dreams of anyone living in the 99% and even most of the 1%. Most of the wealthy in the 1% is not in the hands of the majority of that 1%, but in the hands of 1% of that, still.

I mean, at the level these people are playing at, Mitt Romney's millions are a joke. It's not just their personal fortunes they're playing with; when you're operating at that high a level, it's all numbers. It's difficult to do anything productive. Do you think these guys work? No way, man. But the glitch in the system is that it's almost impossible to stop your money from making more money automatically. There are people they've never met, working diligently all hours of the day and night to make that happen. It's an accident. They may not even be aware of what they're doing.

But that makes their actions very little different from those of a deranged sociopath trying to accumulate more numbers because they need the most. The only goal is to make more numbers. The results of those actions are never seen. Do you think that third-world despots ever interact with the desperately poor they've created? No man, they're insulated from that.

So, I thought, "Man alive. The biggest difference between Grand Theft Auto and Civilization, in theme, is scale."

I want to talk about future plans, I suppose, but there's stuff I've been musing on and I want to see what it looks like when it gets written out as an idea in print, so I've been thinking about civilization building games. Namely, the Civilization series. I bought Civ 4 pretty recently, because I don't really treat myself often and Civ's a game with a lot of milage built into it. So I put about 24 hours into it over the last week, burnt myself out on it for a while, and it's idling for now.

In the meantime, I was playing a marathon-length game before and I hit that point in the game where I loaded up a bunch of ships with soldiers and a Settler and sent it overseas to colonize the new continent.

Civ 4 has Barbarians, just like the civs before it did, and unlike in 2, they can found cities before you ever land. They don't branch out, they're little city states, and if they take over your city, sometimes they'll sack it and sometimes they'll run it. All the barbarian states are the same color - black - and they don't seem to fight one another, and they're usually a technology level equal or a level lower to you. Declaring war is all  you can do with them, but they're named after real cultures, so you might end up fighting a war of attrition with a place like Polynesia, Ananazi, Cherokee, or Gaul. (The entry for Barbarian in Civ 4 on the Wikia says, "Barbarians cannot be bargained with or appeased: they must be destroyed - before they destroy you!")

I was sitting in my chair and, of course I was going to sack the cities because they kept sending troops to raze my township. (Wisely, really, since my plan was to take over the whole continent and, later, the whole globe.) There was no negotiating with them, and nobody gets mad when you raze a barbarian civilization from the globe because that's what you're expected to do. They can build no alliances and they have no representation. Man alive, colonization at work, eh?

I'm not like... mad about it or anything. Civ is a lot of fun, but there are methods of playing that are really good for winning the game that are terrible in real life. But there's nothing that you gain from being a nicer ruler, and there's no person to talk to about it, you govern in a vacuum.

Does it say anything about me personally that I play this game? Not much more than it would if I played Grand Theft Auto and shot someone in the pursuit of a mission, except that I'm a person who is playing that game. (IE, I don't consider it so disgusting that I've stopped, or anything.) There are also technological limitations to consider, plus I could just... not engage 'barbarian' cities, though they will continue to attack me. However, the creators of the game thought it was fine to create non-autonomous nation states that can act as a threat for a player, and chose to give those non-historical actors (for the intents and purposes of this game) names from real cultures. It doesn't mean the creators of the game are terrible, or anything, just that it doesn't read especially well from that perspective.
I feel like I've been talking too much, recently, and crowding everyone else out on LiveJournal - I don't know how talkative the rest of your friends are, though. But, well, I've been brainstorming for future games and working towards the one that I've got going now. The one I'm running I keep putting off, but it's on the to-do list and I can't actually start anything new that's fun without knocking that thing down for good, so it's inevitable.

The project names are obviously just me screwing around before I come up with real campaign names. I've wanted to run games for a group for a while, partially because the pressure from multiple people is cumulative and gets me off my ass and partially because I miss multiple person collaboration at a table (real or virtual). Deep Thought is the city-wide D&D game, and the deal with that is simply that the idea is too much fun for me not to try to tackle at all. Uneasy Sunrise is my hopeful plans for an Exalted game, which may end up being run over Skype.

I got an email from the Kickstarter for the Exalted 3e project that, even though the schedule shows Exalted being released in October, it's not likely to actually happen because the Charms still need work. I'm willing to wait for a good book. The problem with Exalted is that I have only the meanest idea of where I'm going on that. I have some Infernals in the works, and that's going to be iffy because there isn't going to be an Infernals book and I'm going to need to see how much legwork I'll need to do with the support offered to me right out of the box. I have some Wyld Hunt ideas, some ronin Dragon-Blooded, and some home-brew stuff that I've never seen support for in earlier editions that I've already mentioned. (I had e-mailed the Exalted team about that just before and just after the news about 3rd Ed and new Exalt types, and none of them are what I had proposed either, which means that I may or may not get an e-mail in the far future. But probably not.) My project notes for Exalted is literally just a list of things that could be in a game. I could always run 2.5...

Deep Thought is a lot of work. I have no idea at all when something like that is going to be ready for prime time. I don't think I've said much about it here - I haven't talked about my love and hard work with D&D from 2nd Ed. on up until now for quite a long time. If anything, surely I just dropped it out here as a vague idea and went on my way, but plenty of my friends have heard all about it in person. The idea that someone has stumbled onto a mega-dungeon is not a new one, but I've never been much for simple dungeons-for-dungeons sake.

I had, for a long time, been interested in this idea of a D&D game that held to the rules really scrupulously. Like, on how to find new spells or research them, use of downtime, encumberance and movement rates, spell components, stuff like that. I don't think I've ever played a game - even a one shot - where we used all those rules. Back in the past, they always seemed like a headache. My friends don't even particularly care for rules in a general sort of way and D&D has always been at the root of that. But I found them interesting; how much does the play experience change when you're using this stuff? What if there's an actual dungeon-like thing, or you're in the field for an extended amount of time?

So I wondered, what if, instead of a normal dungeon, the characters are raiding a ruined, now-mostly-underground arcology? The prizes dredged up aren't just gold and gems (which would still weigh plenty) but trinkets and items long forgotten. Ancient bottles of intact wine, books and journals - not items of power but items of scholarly worth, art objects and old pottery, children's toys and weapons both mundane and bearing unusual enchantments? How much do you keep for yourself and how much do you try to sell and find a buyer for? Which of this stuff is actually priceless and which of it is just old junk? Instead of traps, there are environmental issues that are trap-like (and also, sometimes, still traps) - weak ground, rock falls, dangerous walls, unseen pits that go stories.

The PCs would come from different parts of the kingdom - the little town on the edge of the empire becomes a boom town, like if there were a gold rush. The PCs get in early and rent rooms, but gradually come to be almost like minor nobility. Crime comes to the town. Claim jumpers wait outside the entrance for exhausted arcology raiders to come up for air. People from home send aid or ask for money. There's a civil war brewing in the capitol. The game would be patterned around four different seasons, as they plan their expedition - planning and laying in supplies, actual raiding, finding buyers and determining worth (dealing with the town's issues), and dealing with circumstances from home.

I'll probably be moving to Pathfinder to run that one, though, providing I can get it off the ground. 
So, I'd looked into the G-M Chronicle and so far I've liked what I've seen, but it's probably going to call for fairly in-depth commentary. Not only does the PC I'm making today get the rules update treatment (to see what it's like to convert from the old system to the new, if one chooses to do that), but I'll probably want to comment a little on almost all the changes. This might be a good time to de-friend me for a little while if you haven't been okay with this.

Read more... )
I've really picked up my pace here, because I'm tired of my WoD Core book floating around my living room at all hours of the day even after I've read it. I still have to get through God-Machine Chronicle and post it here before I can check the WIR off the to-do list because I'm a masochist, I guess, or maybe because I'm a stickler for my own incredibly arbitrary rules. The upside is that it's a rules update and it's only about a hundred pages so, since I'm going to try to hit the high notes on this one, hopefully I won't drag it on forever. I'll start in on that at roughly the time I make my character and hit any notes I missed that I meant to talk about on my first go round. For everyone who's not reading this, though, I'm sorry for spamming your wall; I mean well. At least every thing else today goes... under the cut.

This is the end, my friend. Of this book, anyhow. )
Remember, kids. It's boring-ass rules and not boring ass-rules. That's a totally different game. For those that don't know me really well, now is pretty much where I usually start regretting that I started this. We're past my scant commentary on gaming fiction and atmosphere and into the mechanics, the exceptions to normal rules, weapons charts, grappling rules, and all the rest. I'm gonna keep chugging through this, though, because there's some interesting stuff here; put on some tea and read under the cut.

Read more... )
I don't think this'll be as long as some of the previous Chapters, since a lot of what we talk about when we talk about Attributes relates to Skills.

Under the cut.  )

Okay, I've spent enough time here. I've got work later and I have stuff I want to accomplish before I have to go in. I'll probably do this and God-Machine and probably call it quits on WIRs, though. I don't think this is helping any of you in particular and I'm not really big on the format, but I've been trying to finish stuff I start out to do so I'll at least wrap this up properly.

I got to see Pacific Rim last night. It was pretty good!
So, I managed to get through Chapters 2 and 3 and finally found time to write on them. These are basically obligatory chapters describing, in detail, what's going on with the character sheet. Because it's a dice pool system, you actually need to explain how you combine one with the other, in two separate chapters, and have it make sense rather than having an extremely dry but even-more-straightforward list of where character stats create derived values ala Dungeons & Dragons. (This latter bit being confusing in a different way to deeply grok, but easier to use in the event that you just have all the derived values written down before you start.)

Chapter 2 : Just check out those... Attributes!

I liked the art on the chapter intro and I liked the story. It set a tone pretty well but, once again, it has absolutely nothing to do with the chapter so, in the greater scheme of things, I felt it was somewhat wasted space. Could'a left it blank. OR, actually, just take all the pages you used and take the best of those beginning of chapter prompts, and write one last end-of-book longer fiction piece. Oh well.

Both chapters have a pretty similar format, in that they explain what attributes and skills are, how they're used in a dice pool system, and go through each one individually. I'm not going to do that, I'm just going to hit a brief overview of my system thoughts and point out anything that specifically comes to mind as noteable.

One of the things that I like had major ramifications for the gameline, which is the 3x3 chart of Mental, Physical, Social and Power, Finesse, Resistance. There are things that don't have certain traits, like ghosts and spirits, which just end up using Power, Finesse, Resistance though I don't think I've ever seen anything just use a Mental, Social, Physical. The 3x3 gives you a good shorthand for what you need to be rolling in abstract dice-pool situations. The writer also explains the 1-5 dot scale pretty well.

2's average and 1's below average while 3, 4, and 5 are above average to astounding. Attributes can go well above 5 if needed, but the lowest they can get is 0 in really unusual situations and generally inept behavior or capacities are typical modeled through Flaws or non-standard Merits. The unspoken implication for this is just that it's not really useful or interesting to get really detailed at how abysmal someone is at something. Attributes from 1 to 2 do just fine in modelling that spectrum.

Each Attribute (and Skills are demonstrated the same way) are modelled identically. There's the Attribute or Skills name and a really short fictional blurb involving the characters of either Martin, Becky, or Josh demonstrating the Attribute in action by example. You get a short explanation of what it is and how, if needed, it's different from other Attributes. Each one is given an explanation of a botch rolled on a chance die, a normal failure, a standard success, and exception successes, then each one is given an example of how equipment can be used to make a roll more likely to succeed and situations where rolling is more difficult (represented by bonus dice and dice subtracted from the dice pools).

On several pages, there's art that I consider to be stylish and evocative of the mood as presented in the chapter fiction, and all of the art pertains directly to the text in the book which is something I really appreciate since it gives an overall sense of mood; it helps present a unified experience that I rarely get from a gaming book.

One of the things that I noticed is that things that tend to go wrong in a dramatic failure aren't what I would call 'tame', but normal examples of failure in high-stakes environments. However, a dramatic failure only occurs when you're rolling a chance die (reduced to 0 dice on a dice pool roll), and then only if you roll a 1 on that die. You're really only going to be rolling a chance die when the situation is so abysmal that your negative modifiers from your situation are higher than your whole dice pool, which is attribute + skill + equipment - situational modifiers. And then, it's only one in ten times you'll botch the situation. The dramatic failures range from inconvenient to almost catastrophically bad, but there's a surprising amount of word count directed at an event that's generally going to be so unlikely as to basically never occur.

The only time I can really see this happening is in a generally low-point game where the ST really doubles down on making characters roll for a majority of situations and the character is placed in a situation that they have few, if any skill points in or it's a life or death situation and the character can't simply opt out. I think that I may have had someone roll a chance dice exactly once, and literally nothing came of it. (A 2-9 standard failure result.) That tends to imply that, even at fairly low experience levels, you're usually better off shooting for the brass ring than not shooting at all, ie, the game rewards playing it rather than trying to sit things out, if you're looking at the RAW.

I could talk about equipment modifiers, but that's better left for our next section to put it in the proper context.

I'm not going to talk about WoD Classic much, here, but both noticing things and rolling initiative used to be actual skills you'd have to specially designate to put points in, but abilities like Defense ratings (actively derived and listed on the character sheet), Health, resisting mental effects, reaction to surprise, and the above are functionally derived wholly from your Attributes. It used to be that a new player could try to build someone competent in combat and totally not realize that Awareness was critical for your basic initiative for combat, and that you could absolutely build a character who could fail to notice a barn in an empty field if you didn't take dump points in the right skill. In WoD, these are no longer skills you can totally avoid by accident (and which eat up precious scant skill points), but something you'll tend to have between 2 (minimum, if you're really unhappy) and 10 points in. (Though I imagine that between the small-medium-large attribute spread you have to take, you're more likely to roll between 4-5 dice.) I find this to be very satisfactory now that I think about it, though it used to bother me because I was always asking people to make Wits+Awareness rolls or whatever to react to combat or to notice shit.

Okay, I'm going to do Chapter 3 later and tag this in a bit. It's taking me longer than I expected. 
I did the reading yesterday, and I'm the kind of guy who refers to notes rather than jots the notes down on the computer as I'm reading. This is largely because it's really difficult to read a game book and type at the same time. My desk doesn't currently allow it. So, it's WIR once-removed. Let me talk about the book and format for a moment. I'll put it under the cut, because it's gonna be large.

WIR Chapter One )
I've been meaning to finish Persona 1 since I just had the Playstation 1 disk and was dating Violet seriously. I don't mean that I've been meaning to start Persona. I mean that I've been meaning to finish my playthrough. I've started twice. It's not that great a game. I  have it. I'm slogging through it now. I'm getting fairly close. I suppose I've clocked about 30-40 hours off and on over the last year or two. I guess there's probably about 30 to go. It doesn't take up time in a normal, meaningful way; I play it when I'm sipping coffee and scrolling down tumblr or when I'm checking RPG.net to see if they have anything to say about WoD or Exalted (and that's about it, these days). I play it when I'm sitting on the toilet. Or I did. With the end approaching, I designate time, as if for a chore. It's on a list.

Persona's an interesting game that spawned an increasingly successful franchise almost despite itself. The characterization presented in the first game is weak, the graphics are uninspired (it's a fairly early Playstation title, so that's no surprise), and the plot is perfunctory - mostly a setup for random monster battles and dungeons that appear to be designed at random. The combats were initially weirdly balanced to the point that they appeared buggy. It was re-made as a PSP title with cleaned up graphics, fairly impressive video scenes, and cleaned up mechanics. It's a legacy title; it's what you buy to fill out your collection with the re-made Persona : IS and EP, which are significantly more worthwhile from a player's perspective. I'm slogging through the game to have beaten the entire collection (hopefully, at some point) and almost out of what I would consider respect for the series. But why respect, of all things?

Persona offered something that other games didn't offer and at a level of complexity that its future titles would not bother to model. It was one of the few games where it wasn't just possible to communicate with your enemies (simple as their AIs inevitably were), and not just expected, but mandatory. Talking to enemies convincingly renders their spell card unto you. When you have their spell card, you can either mash it up with another monster's spell card in order to create better personas (basically a spirit grafted to a character which renders bonuses, some weaknesses, higher stats, and a bevy of powers you can swap in and out) or, as long as you carry it and don't fuse it, they act as a get out of jail free card during fights. The monster you have a card for shows up, you talk to it and show it your card, and it recognizes your contract with it, then leaves - effectively allowing you to skip the fight.

Summoning new persona for new powers is complicated, involving a large chart full of signs for good matches, poor matches, normal and strange matches. There are a list of mythical beats and characters a mile long, each associated with one of the Major Arcana of the tarot. The personas have levels and improve with use, and at a max level you can trade them in for difficult to find items.

You can buy guns, bullets, melee weapons, and a whole set of armor (greaves, boots, helmets, and body pieces, and they're all expensive), spell items, healing items. You can gamble in a casino where you play the games your character sits at. People at diners will help you remember your objectives in the story. Your last two characters are recruited manually from a list of secret characters. There's an entire side quest that takes over from the main quest that you can undertake without ever touching the normal quest, with a totally different plot and character.

Basically, there's very little plot - it's the video game equivalent of a complicated RPG dungeon grind. People misunderstand what Persona is about - game one is hardly about the plot at all. It's literally a mashup of a ton of complicated, intermeshing mechanics where the goal of the game is actually to grind at a furious pace, building the biggest, most badass team you can while taking these brand-new, never seen before mechanics for a trial run. Once I realized the purpose - that the game is basically a huge Excel spreadsheet with graphics for people with a special brand of obsessive-compulsive focus, it made perfect sense to me. It's fun, just not the kind of fun you find in gaming much, anymore. It's practically a dead format that would have made much more sense on a PC during the early days of computer gaming.

It's close to both Persona 2 titles in how it plays where Persona 2 games are much more sophisticated in terms of plot and smoother mechanically (though they remain huge, intense grinds) and almost totally divorced from Personas 3 and 4. I find it to be a very interesting phenomenon.

Now. We're going to need to get to the grocery store, today and hopefully we'll manage to even see Pacific Rim. (I've heard good things from most people, I've heard reports that it was bad from friends of friends, but I'm ignoring that.) The upcoming days menu looks like steamed asparagus with poached egg and grated espresso-rind cheese served with either herbed roasted potatoes or buttered sweet corn, garlic hummus with rough-chopped parsley and roasted onions and pita chips, chicken and wild rice soup with parsley or kale, salad with tomato and half a turkey sandwich, and rajma masala served over jasmine rice.

I'm excited to let you know how the movie was. I also totally have to make it to the library. My books are a day over due.
Additionally, I'm killing time doing yard work until Katie gets home. Our mower is broken, so I'm literally weed whacking my overgrown backyard into submission foot by bloody foot. Wish me luck.
atolnon: (Default)
( Jul. 12th, 2013 09:20 am)
The book I'm reading right now is called "The Making of a Counter Culture : Reflections on the Technocratic Society and Its Youthful Opposition" by Theodore Roszak. Initially published in 1968, I'm reading a revised volume for a pretty specific purpose. My initial thoughts were to read something about the formation of counter cultures prior to 1980, or when cyberpunk took off. The book's a series of essays, going in fairly different directions, so it's not worth it to me right now to do any kind of summary, but I guess what I'll say for now is that it's marginally helpful in terms of thinking about my original goal (cyberpunk) and more interesting as a broad spectrum discussion of counter culture formations in the early 70's. I mean, it's due back to the library in 10 days, so I probably need to wrap it up, though.

Kay did get a job, by the way, just not the one we were thinking about before. The sure-thing is a minimum wage position as a stocker at the grocery store, which Katie was primarily interested in because it's not sedentary. Katie's interviewing for another position at US Bank on Tuesday, though, and that's kind of the one we're hoping for because it pays a real, living wage. We're literally down to our last couple of bucks (I get paid today, so I'm not immediately concerned), but if we didn't have this good news coming down the pipe, we'd be really incredibly stressed. As it is, we're just regular poor person stressed.

So, there's this game that's just called A Dark Room. If you google it, it comes right up; you don't have to download it. You just go to the page and you're already playing. It's delightfully simple to start playing and surprisingly soothing, while being just a little bit creepy. It reminds me of the old Commodore 64 games I played when I was younger (I'm really dating myself, here), like a cross between Wasteland and Roguelike map adventures.

The premise is really simple. You're in a dark room with a dying fire, and as you stoke it two things happen - a helpful stranger comes in from the cold and you realize you're out of wood. What follows is basically a tutorial; you quickly learn to build traps for game and expand your reach with the assistance of your new friend before striking out into a dying, post-apocalyptic world. There's a fun twist at the end, as well.

The writing is terse and moody, adding to what I would call a surprisingly well-created atmosphere. The game itself is quite short and saves automatically, though if you clear you cache, you'll have to begin again.

Games like A Dark Room add to the ever-growing list of games that are probably a little too small even to be considered 'indie'. Many are created by individuals using very basic tools bent to the ends of creating simple but atmospheric games which are short, but surprisingly sophisticated in their taste. Games like ".flow" are pretty representative of this, and are almost always free. (Some end up being a few dollars, at most.) They come at a time when huge games on expensive consoles are more entrenched in our cultural dialogue then ever. To me, it's almost like an act of rebellious creative expression that these games have come out. In the past, games were created by individuals and very small teams because the gaming industry was amazingly tiny. They were low-fi, but their expression was based on those individuals. This is an interesting return to that gaming ethos. I'm not saying that people should hang up their consoles and gaming rigs, but I would definitely give these games some time.

Edit : Also, I'm tempted to have someone print and bind my copy of God Machine updates. I hate reading pdfs, which is the only reason I haven't gotten to it besides an incredibly superficial overview. I'll either be talking about counter culture essays or doing the WIR thing pretty soon, I just haven't picked a book. 
atolnon: (Default)
( Feb. 27th, 2013 08:54 pm)
I've been wanting to run a game for a group for a while now, but I really haven't had the time. I don't really know if more time is going to open up in the future (though I imagine it would almost have to), and besides, I really don't know what to run, but I still think about it from time to time.

I don't really want to run anything where I'd feel like I want to kludge too many mechanics together to repair a game engine. There are certain games with aspects I'm very fond of that I really couldn't run without tweaking - Kindred of the East, for example, really can be problematic. All the classic WoD games run on a game engine you pretty much had to be there for when it was created to enjoy (especially if you were just playing WoD or never actually paid attention to the rules at all in the first place). Some were brilliant settings with terrible mechanics. (The beautiful Engel, which was badly translated to d20 during the boom without really any attention to mechanical rigor at all.) Some are just fucking difficult to run at all. (Wraith.)

Several years ago, I stopped buying new game lines. I already have a shitload of books, and I wanted to run or play the games I had to justify my old purchases. I've already played a lot of D&D, Ascension, and Exalted. I've run straight WoD, Changeling, and Mage : the Awakening. If I ran a game, I don't know what it would be, at this point. What, to my mind, is ready to be run that I own and haven't played yet? Maybe Vampire : the Dark Ages or Wraith. I don't know that I'm really prepared to run either of those games, to be honest. I wasn't 100% happy with how I did my Changeling and Awakening games, and I could always justify a new purchase with a new game plan...
One of our friends from the Homestuck events Katie's been running turned 21, and I had to work (boo) in the evening, so I wasn't able to go. Kay was, though, and seemed to have a great time, and that's always pleasant. Since I'm pretty much toast after getting off work at 9 PM, and I've already done most of the stuff I expect to do in a day, I figured I'd stop by the store on the way home and picked up rail bourbon and soda. Most of my night was spent drinking bourbon highballs and listening to loud music, but there's always a little time to sneak on the internet and embarrass yourself a little bit. The temptation is difficult to resist!

So, the hangover's over even before noon works its way around due to good hydration, and I'm mostly just sitting around waiting for Kay to get back. My schedule for the next week is less demanding then the one leading up to Frank's wedding, but it still involves a gaming session sandwiched in between my two most demanding work days. (That would be Wednesday and Thursday, which are going to be even worse than usual. There's really no getting around it, since people are getting their tax returns in, there's a huge, several week long sales event, and incredibly heavy furniture is flying out of the store almost faster than we can truck it in.) I've come to grips with the fact that for as long as the sales event is going on, I'm gonna be physically wiped out. I can't stress enough, though, that it's better emotionally than being unemployed or even my last gig. Other Ops members in the warehouse assert strongly that there are head-games and stress aplenty, and I'm sure they're right, but I'm not sure if it's on the same level as what I was dealing with before. 

I've been continuing my read through of everything we've got physically at the house. I'm still on Foucault's Pendulum, which has started to pick up. Eco is a talented writer, but the reading is much denser than a lot of other stuff I've picked up in the past. I had finished Guide to the Traditions (which just made me want a copy of Guide to the Technocracy to pair it with), and wasn't in the mood for more dense reading this morning with the hangover, so I picked up the dharma book for the Bone Flowers from KotE. KotE has always had issues with exoticism, and I think that a post-colonialist reading of the core game book and its splats would probably be really interesting, but we already know, in a broad way, the kinds of issues the line had. Stephen Lee Sheppard over at RPG.net has long espoused that the Bone Flowers book is rubbish and, while I did purchase and enjoy the Devil Tiger book at his prompting, I still like the Bone Flower book quite a lot. 

I don't really know if it's worthwhile to really discuss the gaming books on here, but despite my pseudo hiatus (which is really more me being unconcerned about not posting than it is actively cutting back), I feel like I probably will - just somewhat sporadically.
My dad picked up Dark Souls for me around Christmas, which was really thoughtful of him because I haven't really bought anything like that for myself in well over a year, now and the last game we got as a household was Mass Effect 3 way back when it actually came out, and that was for Kay. Since Christmas, then, hardly a day has passed that I haven't played for at least an hour or so, and I've got some brief thoughts about it. These really aren't organized in any way, but I think that the game itself is pretty noteworthy, so here's what I've noticed.

When I first started playing, I was messing around with character creation, and I ended up opting for a female character model this time. There really isn't anything sexualizing about the armor in Dark Souls, and I really appreciate that. A character's sex is often impossible to even determine, and Inanna is currently swathed in un-sexy, badass plain chain links. 

The scale of the game is somewhat epic. Fighting more than one monster at a time is almost always dangerous, no matter how powerful you are, many monsters are downright huge, and both combats and environments are frequently precarious. The scale of the levels is huge, and they developers specifically worked on making levels with large differences of vertical height that you can see. The result is surprisingly immersive, and often visually impressive.

Equipment sticks with you a long time. Upgrading is often expensive, and differences of equipment are often differences of type rather than quality. Aside from occasional named pieces (which you will often forgo in exchange for your current weapon), you don't start with a longsword and then find another longsword that's simply better than the one you have. There are few merchants or smiths. They will sell you equipment, but it's a matter of availability - it's not qualitatively better or worse than the occasional drops from enemies (who tend to drop equipment that they personally wear, so their equipment value is predicated on what kind of enemy they actually are).

Dark Souls is 'hard'. I put it in quotes because the game can be technically difficult and bosses are especially tough, but the term 'Nintendo hard' is pretty applicable. Leveling up makes things easier, but problems are usually approachable as puzzles or patterns to recognize and solve. It's possible to lose what you've gained, but it's not that difficult to retrieve it. You will occasionally have to back track or re-do effort, but progress save points aren't unreasonably rare. Basically, yes, Dark Souls can be difficult, but it's not really that difficult.

It does remind me a little of a really old school Dungeons and Dragons game. The levels can be dangerous, there's a story but it's not constantly launched at you from every angle, it's fairly lonely - it's clear you're in a little inhabited and perilous area in a larger world, and the environment is a character. There's a depth of lore that's hidden from you, but comes out in the few characters you meet and item descriptions. Dark Souls is not a pandering game, but what it gives you is interesting and, to me, quite fun. I've spent about 55 hours on it so far - that's the difficulty speaking and the fact that the game feels very large, and I'm not given all that much direction on what I need to be doing or what all these zones on the map are for. There's a lot of exploration and doubling back, but the game is pretty enough that I rarely am bothered by it.

I might talk about it more if I feel like there's anything else to say. I unreservedly recommend it if what I said sounds attractive to you.   
My personal life is going pretty well, but it doesn't make for an interesting read. I went to a party last night and didn't get hammered, so that's good. We left at about midnight-ish, probably getting out just a little before whatever was going to turn pear-shaped did so. There's a party tonight. There's a get together tomorrow to see if I want to join a role-playing group nearby, followed by a party. I'm probably going to duck out of that one. It's in St Louis, where I just was. Literally in the exact same spot, with the exact same people. Parties aren't even my thing, really. I'm over-saturated. Just, like, give me a breather. It sounds rad, I wish I had the energy and gas money, but at this point, I'm out. I've got family stuff all that upcoming week, and that shit just kills me. Family shit, man. Damn.

So, I'm obviously at home. I'm rehashing my stupid homebrew Exalted notes, you know? I've got some ideas for Fair Folk, Dragon Kings, Abyssals... stuff. I've got Lunars, Terrestrials, Solars, and Sidereals. At some point, I know that I've got to working on some very concrete rules shit, or it's all just note taking. 

If you're interested in the design direction I'm taking for this fan project, it's under the cut.
I'm drawing heavily from the newer WoD core. )


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