Monthly Archives: February 2022

Prototype 22.02 — RA-Nime

Every month of 2022, I am trying, as part of both my PhD project and my all-purpose general game development, develop if not a whole game for game development, a project start, such that I can make playtest prototypes. This is a sort of report of the process throughout the month.

What game did I try to make this month?

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4e: Knightly Order Themes

Obviously, writing on this blog is not really fair. Some days you get 500 words about me being sad and sometimes you get 3000 words about Violet Evergarden. These things are fungible. Typically speaking, any given blog post is ‘what I could write, on that day,’ and where it fits into the schedule.

What I want you to appreciate is that this article is absolutely beastly by these standards, and I fully expect you to not read it. I would normally have split an article this big up over several days and maybe gone in depth over it, but I know the score: I know that this is going to include a giant chunk of rules and text that people are going to skim and formatting it so it looked good took several days. What’s more, it’s about a game system you don’t necessarily even play. Giving you four days of The Knights Week (even though I like this stuff a lot) would be four blank days. Instead I’m giving the small number of you into this a bumper presentation, and here are my bullet point pieces of advice:

  • 4e Themes are right now are either very weak or very boring
  • These themes are made to enable different kinds of characters in the same organisation
  • Make your designs bold and minimise piles of clauses
  • Make them so they encourage players to make situations where those abilities are useful happens

I’ve talked in the past about the four Church Knights of the Eresh Protectorates in Cobrin’Seil, which are really knightly orders connected to one set of city-states with a shared cultural ideology, and their related religious orders. They’re tied together by highways, and those highways allow the flow of a language and a trade and that’s how the continent of Bidestra even has a language of ‘common’ – it’s the language of traders on the Highway.

These knightly orders are organisations players can belong to. They also are not singular in their purpose; as with most military-social infrastructure, they do a lot of things. Lethenites might be bookish knights on horseback serving as a sort of hospitaler, but they might also just be combat-capable battle librarians roaming around trying to find a book to SCP-style contain. I want players to have options when they try to integrate into the world.

Image from Eorzea Collection

When presenting players with a player option, it’s important to make it so that theme increases options, rather than decreases them. If you present a mechanical choice that’s too good, you’ve made every alternative bad; if you present a choice that’s too weak, you’ve made it so you might as well never have presented it.

When I made the knightly orders, then, I didn’t want to tie them to a particular class, but I did want them to represent a decently large chunk of mechanical investment and improve over time. The best option I could think of here was a combination of a background (to represent just having done any work with them) and a theme. There’s a long-form article on the problems in themes in me somewhere, but for now: there are basically five decent themes and two really good ones.

My aim was to add themes to the game that gave player interesting heroic-tier advantages, didn’t clog the game with lots of specific conditionals, and enabled you to play ‘knightly’ characters with abilities that felt appropriate to the characters of their orders. To achieve this, I gave each of the four knightly orders two diferent themes, which were all meant to enable different kinds of characters.

Bear in mind, under this fold there is an enormous chunk (around seven thousand words) of game lore and rules text and it’s presented not as a popular blog article, but rather, as game rule information. This is also going to include some potentially challenging formatting as I learn tables. If you want to see it broken up into sections, or in a easy searchable databse, it should be going up on Square Fireballs at some point.

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What Are You Trying To Feel?

Making games involves a lot of consideration about how players feel, as they engage with your game. When a player is playing a game like Doom, there’s a desire for some tension, but also for a feeling of excitement; you want to push players to feel like they can achieve things, and for their fear to be at odds with their sense of invulnerability. If a player thinks they’re able to defeat things, they’ll approach the frustration of the game with a proactive attitude, but if they’re afraid of dying, they’ll also be making threat assessment very quickly. Turn based Doom is a whole thing (DoomRL), but that timing and resource management becomes very different, and that game maintains its tension in the unreliability of turn-based math combat.

Anyway, while we’re talking about smooches in smooch month, and the smoochiest of games, Doom, let’s talk about how in smoochy games you want to maintain that tension to give people feelings.

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How To Be: Akane Tendo (in 4e D&D)

In How To Be we’re going to look at a variety of characters from Not D&D and conceptualise how you might go about making a version of that character in the form of D&D that matters on this blog, D&D 4th Edition. Our guidelines are as follows:

  • This is going to be a brief rundown of ways to make a character that ‘feels’ like the source character
  • This isn’t meant to be comprehensive or authoritative but as a creative exercise
  • While not every character can work immediately out of the box, the aim is to make sure they have a character ‘feel’ as soon as possible
  • The character has to have the ‘feeling’ of the character by at least midway through Heroic

When building characters in 4th Edition it’s worth remembering that there are a lot of different ways to do the same basic thing. This isn’t going to be comprehensive, or even particularly fleshed out, and instead give you some places to start when you want to make something.

Another thing to remember is that 4e characters tend to be more about collected interactions of groups of things – it’s not that you get a build with specific rules about what you have to take, and when, and why, like you’re lockpicking your way through a design in the hopes of getting an overlap eventually. Character building is about packages, not programs, and we’ll talk about some packages and reference them going forwards.

You know it’s not an intentional thing, but it seems that in the month of February, How To Be returns to the world of Ranma 1/2. Ah, what a wonderful world, the world where we have characters who fight with brooms or teleport or turn into gods and throw lightning bolts. Who are we going to visit here, in this mysterious world of creative martial arts?

Oh wait it’s in the subject you clicked on to go read this.

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Story Pile: Wotakoi: Love Is Hard for Otaku (?!)

Wait, didn’t we do this a fortnight ago?


Yes we did.

Because this series is that good.

See, I saw the opening to Wotakoi on Youtube. I went: Oh that’s really cute and the premise is fun. I should check this out. And then we cough watched the anime. I was smitten with it, I found it exciting and interesting, and started quoting things from it back and forth with Fox, and eventually got to the point where I was sharing bits of it with friends on Discord and eventually calling Hirotaka the one good gamer boy. I may have even tried a t-shirt design. Do you know how rare it is for me to shell out for volumes of manga? The last one I got was Monster, and before that? Ranma 1/2.

This is a really good manga.

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I’m Not A Fan Of It Takes Two

You may have seen a game being played on streams this past year called It Takes Two. And if you think about my blog extensively — why — you may have thought ‘ah, I bet that’s going to be one of Talen’s Smooch Month games. It is, after all, a game about a relationship, its maintenance and it’s not just about the start of a relationship, plus it looks interesting and you know, yeah, that’s probably going to show up, right?

I mean that’s what I thought, and I have a reason to pay attention to my blog.

It was on my radar, and I wasn’t going to watch Lets Plays or anything like that, and just play it with Fox. You know, that’d be great, a convenient way to play the game with someone who I have a relationship and we could talk about stuff and it’d be great. Nice, easy article to make.

She, however, did watch lets plays.

And then she talked to me about it.

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Gettin’ Smoochy In Athkatla

Once upon a time, we had romances in videogames, and they were dreadful, and we liked them that way. But before we had the first introduction of videogames and romance in the form of Mass Effect 2 there were earlier, stranger, proto-texts, particularly this strange game built around ‘reading’ and ‘dungeons and dragons’ called Baldur’s Gate 2. This game had everything and by that I mean it had an engine that could do a lot of text prompts, and therefore, it wound up featuring almost everything you could imagine a non-typing text parser doing, attempted in its big wonky interface of the infinity engine.

And that included smoochin‘.

But you know what, nobody, nobody on the whole internet ever, has ever written down whether or not these romances were good. What’s more, when I wrote about Baldur’s Gate 2 many moons ago, I mentioned offhandedly some details about the romances but never really touched on what they were like, in the game itself, as game content. That’s a real oversight on my part! When a game like this, a classic has something like that in it, surely it’s prime to look at in Smooch Month. So let’s, shall we?

Content Warning: Sexual assault, abandonment, misogyny.

What? That content warning? Uh, well. Well. I uh.

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Game Pile: Unpacking

Chances are good that you already know about Unpacking. If you’re one of my friends who reads this blog, then you have already played it, probably finished it, probably loved it. It’s clever and it’s innovative and it’s sonorous and it’s beautiful and it’s satisfying and all of those good words and that’s why I don’t really need to talk about this game as a game like I’ve finished it or anything.

I haven’t mind you.

Anyway, lovely, zen, meditative, innovative, creative etcetera, you can get a copy here and honestly, you should think about it because I really enjoyed this game (and I really did, even if I didn’t finish the game), but more than that, I enjoyed the way my friends feel about this game, and I especially enjoy a moment when people playing the game hit that bit in the game, and come to twitter to complain about it. It’s great!

I’m not planning on spoiling anything about the game (unless your standard for ‘spoiler’ is galactically sensitive), but if what you really want is the question ‘did Talen enjoy this game?’ Yeah, I did, but not enough to engage with all of it.

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Sticker: Tama Go-Ju!

This joke is far too niche, but if you (‘ju’) are an egg (‘tamago’) who had a realisation reading Ranma 1/2, then I have made a sticker for you. Just you.

Here’s the design:

And here’s how it looks on a hat:

I don’t think of Smooch Month as ‘Ranma month’ but this is the inspiration that struck and this is the result. Enjoy this eggy joke that I won’t wear myself. I made something for you! And the cheapest way for you to get it is to buy stickers, over on Redbubble!

Tales Of Love and Fire: Half-Orcs in Cobrin’Seil

Where do half-orcs come from?

Well that’s not a hard question, not really. The answer is they come from orcs, and humans. And that’s all the narrative requires for you to get a half orc. One or more orcs, one or more humans, and the whole thing sorts itself out. Orcs, and humans have worked out the systems for it and they’re largely self-regulating.

But that’s not really the question, not really. The question is where do half-orc characters come from, and subsequently, how do half-orc characters feel about the world they’re in?

Let’s talk about Half-Orcs, and about Orcs, and about Cobrin’Seil, and about the stories people tell one another about the things they don’t know.

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Story Pile: Flip That Romance

Wew lord, buckle the fuckle uple. I grabbed Fox and we watched all of a Hallmark movie, Flip That Romance, because, you know, it’s smooch month, so let’s watch a smoochy movie. Right?


If you want the quick summary, this movie is awful and talking about it for forty minutes with Fox was extremely funny. But for the full experience, here’s the audio!

MTG: Partner Problems

Look, partner as a mechanic is kind of a problem. Setting aside jokes from Melissa Detora about ‘hating the partner mechanic,’ Partner, as presented at first in Commander 2016, is a mechanic that put its foot forward in a bad way. This isn’t unheard of; Devotion’s first appearance was as the mechanic Chroma back in Shadowmoor, and when Wizards returned to that, they managed to absolutely smash it out of the park. Heck, Partner, after its first appearance, has come back twice, and each time it’s been really good.

I like Partner a lot – it’s a way to represent a story between two characters, it’s a way to examine common ground between mechanics, and it’s a way, crucially in smooch month, to represent kinds of relationships that a game about combat and conflict and faeries doesn’t often have room to show.

Let’s talk about Partner, then.

WOTC Employees: This article is entirely about about unsolicited game designs, with example cards.

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Cox: Nightsun

Time to time, I write up an explication of characters I’ve played in RPGs or made for my own purpose.  This is an exercise in character building and creative writing.

Hey, what’s the weird tradition YOUR family has?

For Mika, his family follow an obscure religion, the Zantedeschian faith. It’s a pretty sweet gig, with lots of flower festivals, feasts, and gift-giving ceremonies, body positivty, and apparently, the goddess has all these cool heroic stories. He even had a position at the family temple, of a Knight – which again, meant things like attending the festivals.

And when Mika was kidnapped by the council to serve as a host for a gestating Nictus, though, the Nictus that tried to consume him found that that faith wasn’t in nothing.

You know what will give your faith strength? When your god’s power flows through you and shreds the soul of the thing that tried to destroy you.

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Shipping Lanes in Ranma 1/2

Oh hey Talen’s talking about Ranma 1/2 everyone is it February is it smooch month oh wait it is and oh yeah he is and you don’t get to control my decisions, Dad. Anyway, what else do you want out of me in smooch month? We’ve talked about how it’s hard, we’ve looked at game mechanics, we’ve even busted out a visual novel (that’s all Mass Effect is and you know it), and now we’re onto me bellyaching about Ranma Fandom Beefs that could now be my adult children if I wasn’t a Millenial who spent too much time buying avocado toast and sexting to ever get a real job and a family.

Anyway, let’s talk about the weird shipping of Ranma 1/2.

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3e: Knowing What Love Is

Back in 3rd edition D&D part of the worldbuilding was done through Gods. Rather than give every single god a particular unique mechanic as was the trend in second edition (the rarely-spoken-of-on-this-blog 2e, for fear Lorraine Williams will sue me, on the internet), this was handled by creating a set of tools available for every god,and that god gave you a handful of them.

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The Twin Consorts Ain’t The Twin Consorts No More

Around September 2021, World of Warcraft deployed a set of unnannounced changes to a variety of seemingly inconsequential things in the game. This included a change of the icon for a mount called the Big Love Rocket to look less like a penis and more like the actual mount, which, for all that it was a pink rocket didn’t actually look like a rounded dildo. A number of artworks in-game were changed, like little decals of ladies with their boobs out were turned into things like a ladies without her boobs out, and a bowl of fruit.

Amongst these changes was two raid bosses from Mists of Pandaria, a 2012 expansion to the game. They were renamed from the Twin Consorts, and are now known as the Twin Empyreans.

These changes, which occurred in the wake of the shocking news of the State of California’s lawsuit against Blizzard, were received by the audience in a serious, and composed manner.

I am of course, understating, for comedic effect.

People got mad. Most of those people who got mad were silly, and sucked. And I don’t want to just straight up rip the Evitel and Taliesen video on the subject, which is a shame, because their joke about Prince Phillip was really funny, but instead I want to talk about how you name things in games and what that implies.

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Story Pile: Wotakoi: Love Is Hard for Otaku

Smoochy anime undeniably focuses on a narrow age range. I think of the vast majority of anime I’ve watched with a ‘romantic’ theme tends towards the romantic interaction between ‘the traditional’ anime protagonists, which usually means a pair of 14 year olds. There are of course, exceptions, but by volume, you’re going to see the Default, and that means that you usually see fourteen year olds.

This is not the way of all things, of course. If we cast our minds back to the works of Rumiko Takahashi, creator of Ranma 1/2 (oh no, is this going to happen all this month again?), she did a long-running slow-boil romantic comedy story called Maison Ikkoku. Basically, as long as there’s been rom-com anime, there’s been rom-com anime about adults.

And this is one of them.

And it’s really good.

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You might have the very reasonable position that I, as a person, and a game critic, and, like, many other things, have a very negative opinion on Life Is Strange. This is possibly due to me referring to it in other times and places as, say, for example:

A fucking bear trap of a story, a game that sold itself on satisfying an audience so often ignored, and then punished them for wanting to play it

And I’m not wrong. Life Is Strange is a story where your two ultimate ends are either letting almost everyone you know die and then making you feel bad for doing it, or letting a young adult woman die in a hate crime because ‘she should.’ I have written many words about Life Is Strange and how mad I am at it, how I feel that it is Queer Art whose author is Not Queer, with a punitive end to a narrative that does not merit it unless you view enjoying being queer as a sin.

I hate Life Is Strange.

But hate is but love disappointed.

I wouldn’t hate Life Is Strange if I didn’t want it to be better than it is.

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Asset Brainstorm #3 — AuCrowne Expressions

As a matter of practice, it’s important to me that I keep demonstrating different ways to engage with games. Making games is a practice, and when you can look at game assets and consider ways to apply them, you’ll begin to see how much of game design is stuff you can do. Therefore, on this blog I’m making it a project to regularly grab some game assets I couldn’t make myself, that are made for game designers to work with, and see what ideas they inspire.

It’s a new month and that means it’s time to look at this again with a sneaky secret oh hey what if this winds up being part of the actual project this month followup, eh?

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Game Pile: Mass Effect’s Romances

When you make things on the internet, for the public consumption of an audience, it affects your brain.

I have not replayed many games since starting this blog. The original purpose of the Game Pile was to get through a very large collection of games (which is now more than half complete, even with new games added to it), which meant there was a measure of tour guide speediness to it. A game got played, and I moved on. Games that took a long time had to be sandwiched between playthroughs of other, much smaller and faster games, because I Had To Make Progress On The Pile. This I think served to make games that were long that I ‘had’ to finish more frustrating, and soured me on those games. Large games didn’t tend to get large articles, and I usually found myself working on overviews or general impressions, or, perhaps, asking the question ‘is this worth it?’

Consider Mass Effect, a trilogy of big beefy games like this. My memory is that the first is a tedious slog, the second a much faster, more tightly focused experience I enjoyed a lot more, and the third is bound up in the question of ‘is the ending any good?’

It’s something of a disservice to these big games, though not one I feel bad about at all, where whole chunks of the game get to carry the conversation (here) while other chunks of the game just skate on by. I don’t think that I dedicated much time at all to talking about the romances in all of Mass Effect, despite those being such an enormously important part of the game, and you know, the centre of a ridiculous firestorm from the equally stupid time of 2008.

So I made a list.

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MTG: January 2022’s Custom Cards

January’s gone, and with it a full collection of custom Magic: The Gathering cards. Want to see what got posted to reddit and twitter in January, and what was the theme? Well, here’s the whole set, below the fold!

Warning: Wizards employees, this post contains primarily custom magic cards.

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Smooch Month 2022!

Hey, welcome to Smooch Month!

I am not a person given to watch romance movies. Well, no, I am, I think of all sorts of movies as romance movies, because romantic really refers to a sort of simplified emotional language of a media form where the feelings of the moment are what’s meant to make sense and the coincidence or importance of those things in a real space are unimportant and oh my god I am just the most boring guy in the world to talk to when what I really mean is I don’t watch the movies that get filed under ‘romantic’ by the almighty sorting system of Netflix. And since I don’t do it often, I don’t think about them often and that means I have a less well-rounded space for my media diet. And that means that I can run the risk of being someone who has firm opinions about genres I don’t have anything to do with and that means I’m not just boring, I’m an arsehole.

Operating on this principle, then, I try to stake out some time in the year to watch… y’know. Some media that lives in this space. Some stuff that’s smoochy. I chuck it into February, so it gets to be a nice themed month, and then I get to expand my horizons. It becomes part of the game space too – I can make a demand of myself to play around with other genres I don’t deal with much.

Now this does become a wee bit barrel-scrapey. I don’t play a lot of smoochy games, and that’s because, well, most of them are terrible and, as a boy I tend to get positioned, in smoochy games, as one of the worst humans who is expected to also get to kiss a girl by the end. It’s not comfortable.

But this month! This time for sure!

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