Monthly Archives: September 2022

Game Pile: Son of Xenon

There are, officially, six Space Quest videogames, released in order from 1986 to 1995. They follow the adventures of Roger Wilco, a hapless janitor whose adventures started on the Arcada, a science vessel transporting a super-science doohickey that could be turned into a weapon, where everyone was killed but Roger, who avoided certain doom because he was sleeping in the closet. Each game ramped up the stakes and adjusted the setting a little, with Roger going on a series of adventures that were mostly about trying to survive extremely hostile situations in which he’d been flung by the machinations of someone else, or in some cases, great coincidence.

Mostly the Space Quest games were defined by a particular sense of humour, which in some cases doesn’t age great (of the six games, fully three of them pass before there’s a single woman character who says anything), and a gameplay system that’s much more about being a very ordinary person trying to construct solutions to things because of your limited expertise.

But the technology of full-time professionals in 1985 has long since passed into the skillset of the hobbyist, and so the Space Quest franchise, which has been dormant so long the company responsible for it has been dead for years, is mostly continued by fan games.

Like this one, Son of Xenon.

Son of Xenon is a 16-colour, 320-200 pixel resolution Space Quest fan game that is, ostensibly, about Roger Wilco before he became the janitor of the Arcada, before the sun of Xenon was dying, before the Star Generator was ever made. If you want to check out Son Of Xenon before I go on about it, here’s a link. It’s pretty good. I got stuck at a few points, but it didn’t feel nearly as unfair as the genre normally is, and you’ll probably get through it in a few hours on your own.

No spoilers after the fold, but rather, a consideration of Roger Wilco, and his place in gaming, and why we get fangames like Son of Xenon.

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Prototype 22.09 — Lane Chase

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 I started with this month was this:

This little Y unit that creates, in a player space, and in the process created lanes.

I didn’t get much time to work on this prototype this month. Honestly, I didn’t really get any time — this project hit a wall early on because this month had other demands. I’m embarrassed by it but I’m also just admitting it. This month has to marking crushes and a pressure point on the non-fun bits of the PhD (you know, all the paperwork that is meant to build off this design).

But still, this idea yielded some thoughts.

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How To Be: Lalo Salamanca (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.

There’s a real challenge in translating anime characters to other forms of media, and that’s why once again, we go back to the most successful anime of the last five years, which had its grand conclusion just last month. Yes, people love Better Call Saul, and Breaking Bad and then maybe they’ll mention El Camino and maaaybe they’ll mention Slippin’ Jimmy, but no matter how you enjoy it, we all know one of the greatest anime villains of all time stands tall, possibly while murmuring the name Werner… Ziegler…

It’s Lalo!

Spoilers but kinda? For Season 4 and onward of Better Call Saul.

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Input/Output Problems

Last night, at one in the morning, I gave myself permission to close the blog without contributing an article to the hopper. Now, it’s the next morning, at one thirty, and I’m debating if I do that again. I don’t like going two days without contributing anything, and part of what leads to that is the feeling that all I have to do is something and that’s a start.

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Remembering The Queen

When I was about eight years old, my older cousin excitedly showed me the little .wav file he had of an excerpt from a Pop Song, which he had reversed in windows sound editor. When played, it made a little weird yelp which he informed me was the phrase “It’s Fun to Smoke Marijuana.” This was proof of the danger of that kind of music.

The excerpt was a snippet of Another One Bites The Dust.

Queen - Another One Bites The Dust (Live)
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4e: Deploying Monster Types

Hey, have we already spoken about the monster system in 4th Ed D&D?

Back in 3rd edition, D&D used what we called the ‘challenge rating’ system, a system that treated each monster as a sort of amorphous blob with a generic personality and the option to pick its own feats and do a lot of possible things. It was a system that I’ve talked about somewhat negatively.

But people say that 4e D&D was ‘only good for tactical combat,’ which I don’t agree with, but I can understand the feeling when you consider it was the first time that it made the combat system kinda work (and obligatory ‘ew there were math problems in the first monster manual’ yep, and they found them and addressed it, thanks).

Part of how it worked was that rather than treat monsters as if they were all generic spots on a continuum, monsters were balanced based on general formulas of things they could do and ways they could be represented, and part of that was recognising that some types of monster were best suited to particular types of role.

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Story Pile: The Owl House, Again, Part 1

When I first wrote about The Owl House it was a simplified article mostly trying to grapple with one of those great trends of the Online Age. That is, a show came out, and it was enjoyed, and then it got stamped with the Good Representation Label because it was Diverse and I, eternally cynical, went to check that out… and once I had confirmed this wasn’t people being very excited about things that we’re pretty sure this counts, I was overwhelmed with the sudden ennui that it’s 2020 and we finally got an uncomplicated yes-actually-these-characters-are-gay moment from a Disney show.

That was all I was comfortable talking about, and that’s all I did, because The Owl House as a show was, at the point I watched it, teetering on an edge.

See, if you had the Disney Channel, a cable channel, the second season was available to watch back in June 2021. But if you were like me, in Australia, it wasn’t going to come to Disney+ until April 2022. That meant that while you or your best friend or the tumblrphones may know how the narrative of The Owl House spun out, and whether or not it was a story full of promise that bombed out hard because the people making it weren’t given time or space or opportunity to do a good job, or it wound up being another of these amazing animated series we’re getting these days.

But now I have seen it, and y’know what? The Owl House kicks ass.

Spoiler Warning: No gloves, no promises, I’m going to talk about things in this series and I don’t care about footing around it. This is going to be an article about a series I like and a bunch of the stuff in it I like and I’m not going to avoid spoilers. Have you watched The Owl House? No? Well, you should go watch it! It’s great!

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MTG: The Force Check

In Magic: The Gathering‘s oldest formats, Legacy and Vintage, one of the most important spells that exists is a card printed originally all the way back in Alliances from 1996, Force Of Will. What the card does is pretty simple; it counters a spell, but it costs one point of life and a blue card out of your hand to do it, and, crucially, no mana.

I’m going to say some nice things about Force of Will here, but I want to make sure you understand I don’t think that the card’s a good thing. It’s more that, like the many diseases of Montgomery Burns, older formats have enough broken nonsense going on in enough broken ways that Force of Will fills an important part in the ecosystem. It’s one of those funny things about big enough games that grow over time; the mistakes sometimes can cancel each other out.

It’s also a namesake for an effect (multiple other cards are called ‘force of’ something to represent they can be cast for free), and the phenomenon known as a Force Check.

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3.5: The Archivist

Hey kid, wanna read some dirty books?

Original Art by Julie Dillon

D&D is a game of nerds, and therefore there is always some degree to which it will reflect the vision of the kinds of nerds that made it. By default, there is an idea of power that lends itself towards the obvious, with mighty barbarians and fighty fighters plunging onwards into the fray, but it almost seems too obvious that a game that for thirty years was seen as the domain of the kind of dorks who boasted about their test scores just so happened to land the majority of the powerhouse play options in the lap of the characters visually represented by being physically unathletic and carrying a big book everywhere.

In a game full of busted stuff, it’s well known that in D&D 3.5 the most busted stuff comes from the host known as the ‘full spellcasters’ – characters whose power derives directly from their spellcasting as the primary thing they do, and who get nine levels of casting spread out over seventeen levels, eighteen if you suck and pick a sorcerer. And amongst those, the typical top tier are the Wizard, the Cleric, and the Druid.

The Archivist is the rare example of a character class presented in the 3.5 D&D expansions books that manages to not just exist alongside those three, but in a way, exceed them.

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Eberron and the Dawn of Magepunk

When you give a thing a name, you give it a life.

Eberron is a Dungeons and Dragons setting that first launched in July 2004, for Dungeons & Dragons 3.5, and much ink has been spilled about it, not the least of which is in their official books. It’s a great setting, and it has a bunch of fun things put in it, including shapeshifting genderqueer cuties and mechanised robot people, and oh yeah, an entire country that’s got cursed fog rolling through it. Eberron is a fun setting and I like it.

Eberron is also the first time I ever encountered the word Magepunk.

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CoX: The 49th

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.

Nearly ten feet of solid, ice-cold, star-hot Canadian battle goddess, the woman known as The 49th remembers a world almost like, but not quite like, the one she’s in. Where she’s from, Canada was the dominant empire of the North Americas, not the USA. Where she’s from, humans tapped the power of stars to create champions. And where she’s from, things were a lot more polite and liberal on some topics.

In the event she knows as the Great Collapse, her world is gone – not only that, but it seems it never existed. A portal incident that has echoes throughout time. Still, she survived it, endured it – and now she’s here, on her own, building in her own time and space in this familiar-but-not-quite world.

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Story Pile: My Dress Up Darling

There is a purity to slice-of-life, teenage romance anime. There’s an existing schedule, a default now, and a pre-existing set of tools for communicating our basics about characters. A boy may have one friend, three friends, heaps of friends, or no friends; a girl may stand out or blend in, and all the existing structures of hobbies, clubs, and fandom signifiers let the story put them in a context you can easily understand. Meeting these characters is quick, and the demands on their lives are similarly low-stakes, meaning that these stories can focus wholeheartedly on two characters and how they feel about one another, as expressed by them doing some kind of special shared interest. It’s a way the author can talk about something that they love, and show you a pair of characters growing, understanding, and coming to love one another while a host of other complicated questions sort themselves out.

This focus on the characters and their feelings and emotional states mean that this is an avenue to tell stories that are sweet and wholesome in a way that stories that need to invest in more adult concerns can struggle to examine. The day to day is simplified, and it means that big feelings can become focal to your life, the way love can feel like it stretches from horizon to horizon, when your day is all quietly ensnared in these first, uncertain expressions of vast feelings.

Such is the story of My Dress Up Darling, a breathtakingly sweet and joyful anime about two kids learning about one another’s needs, wants, interests and boundaries.

Lords I write that and then I have to write the content warning I do. Oh well, nothing for it but to do it.

Content warning — this series is horny. This series is fantastically and extraordinarily horny. It’s horny in the way of teenagers who find each hot horny, especially when one of those characters is into horny videogames. It’s an ecchi series, and however you want to reckon with that, you should know it ahead of time. Particularly, episodes 2 and 6 are perhaps watched best with a finger on the fast forward button if you’re uncomfortable with it but still want to see the rest of the series.

And a spoiler warning. I’m going to mention some stuff that shows up in this series. Nothing super major, and I don’t think it’ll diminish your enjoyment of the series, because this is a series much more about feelings of a moment than the surprise of them.

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Bill Of Elf, Part 2

Yesterday I talked about the world building I have explaining the basic foundation of elves in the setting, and in the process, described a set of different ‘elves’ that players have access to for building their own characters. But that was more a sort of top-down cladistic vision of them. What are those elves like, what does it mean to be a member of those elven cultures? How do they view one another and what kind of characters do they allow?

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Bill Of Elf, Part 1

I’ve written about elves in Cobrin’Seil, but it was writing that was largely about addressing them as an origin. What I wanted to address is the question of why elves can make half-elves, when they’re not quite like half-orcs. I even established there that elves are less a heritage and more a group of heritages, all drawing from the same singular space.

Of course, the language around this is complicated. After all, I call these things elves, but one of those types of elf is called elves. And I’m not doing this in the vein of Moon Elves and Sun Elves and Sand Elves and Dust Elves and Song Elves and Wood Elves and Winged Elves and I only had to make up one of those. But the general fantasy of ‘elf’ is something players love, but also it means a lot of different things. The distribution of ‘elves’ is a whole question unto itself, and I kind of needed to decide what I wanted them to do and what character fantasies are enabled.

Plus, that creates a question of how the world relates to the idea of the Elves, and well…

That’s a world building question.

Art by Randy Vargas
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Game Pile: Exalted, The Infernals, and Dreadful Favourites

Back in 2019 I wrote a pair of articles about Exalted, and The Infernals and the challenges of grappling with a book I don’t recommend but still has in it stuff I like in an interesting, vibrant, wild setting. Apparently 3e Exalted is now ending and a new game is being made in its wake, so what better time than to complain about books that are sixteen years old?

Exalted the Infernals and Dreadful Favourites

If you wanna see the thumbnail, here it is:

Switch Stances Update

Yeah I know I gave you the main post on this a week ago. I’m still thinking about it. Mainly I got thinking about how once you have the combinatorics done, this game creates a huge number of unique game pieces with only a small number of pieces.

Okay, so the game is basically a trick taker; you’re all playing skateboarders hanging out at the skate park, and you have multiple areas you can chain tricks from. This means you can use weak cards to try and build combinations nobody else can match or exceed, and you can try and goad people into trying tricks that they can’t do yet. Particularly, everyone has a unique deck of cards, with each card showing two suits. When I was working on prospective designs I belted out a draft and hated it and then, today, spent some time working on a draft I don’t hate.

Here are some examples of what the cards ‘should’ look like – each of these being from a different player’s deck:

There’s some strategic depth here created by knowing that your options are not the same as your opponent’s. See, here, if you’re the second player, you can use your F4 as an A to bait another player’s best D card. They have to follow suit, so if you’re willing to give up a 4 in F, you can get rid of an opponent’s 6 in D, and know that they won’t likely be able to oppose your own 6 later.

These cards are however, really simple once I realised I was overthinking things. Each card is made up of three simple parts:

Note that the rotational divider is entirely aesthetic, if I was feeling really fancy I could leave it out, but I like it. I’m not good at skateboard aesthetics.

Anyway, all of this is just standin filler components; the suits should probably not be letters, and if I was a more authentic skateboarding fan rather than a fan of it as a hypothetical, I could imagine each of those suits representing a common move that can be used to chain into more, complicated moves. The card art is also a filler piece, gained from a DuckDuckGo image search.

See, thing with this, the thing that lingers in my mind and why I kinda wonder about finding an artist who can breathe another layer of depth into this, is because with this handful of components I’ve managed to solve eighty cards in this game’s design. And once I have that suddenly proxying it up and practicing with it looks more simple, more feasible.

Cool Tapes

I was born in an age when television was pumped into your house via some variety of tube. This is why the box of a TV was so large – it had to contain the bottle that filled up with television over the course of the day, and the screen you watched it on was the ‘bottom’ of it. You watched it when it was on — and that meant there were times of day, when, well, it didn’t matter what you wanted to watch, the TV was only offering news, news, and also, news. Channel 10 was at least kind enough to put the news on at 5 PM (First at 5) so the ‘news’ slot could be replaced by the Simpsons reruns.

But at some point in my youth, back when I was a youths, we acquired a Beta recorder, then, quickly, a VHS recorder, that let us record dad’s Murphy Brown episodes while he was away at Bible Study and we wanted to watch… I… you know, I don’t know. But we watched something.

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Story Pile: Dark Winds

I watched all of Longmire. It’s not a good show. Honestly it’s dreadful. It’s basically a cowboy sad dad feels story about a really terrible local sheriff who’s got the low-key racism of ‘well I can’t fix that, but everyone needs to be polite and nice.’ But I watched all of it because it had a fascinating b-plot that showed up from time to time of the Rez, an Indian Reservation that got to exist in a really interesting juridstictional space. And then I watched Fargo, which was a really good show but which mostly held me in the second season with this Native American character. And then I watched Letterkenny and Shoresy which both have elements of Rez politics and I found that interesting and then I found out that there was an actual crime thriller series set on a Reservation and built around that same tension between different police forces and


Of course I had to check it out, right?

Content warning: Look, not only am I not a member of the marginalised group this series represents and is about, but I’m also not even from the right country. This is entirely a vision of a cultural space that I have only ever experienced as media, presented to me by American eyes, and therefore, stuff that is acceptable and distributable under the existing power dynamic. You may well just not want to hear a white boy from Australia going ‘wow, I thought this was cool.’

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Asset Brainstorm #9 — Moba Lanes

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.

This time I don’t have art assets to look at. Reiner Knizier has said that when you work on games, you start with an aesthetic, a mechanic, or a device – and in this case I’ve been thinking about a device for some time. I’m not sure where I saw it, but I’ve been thinking about MOBA games for a long time. A long time ago, a friend of mine and I were toying with the idea of a management game about running an eSports team, and that meant spending time thinking about… well, MOBAs.

Anyway, here’s a diagram.

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Game Pile: City of Heroes Homecoming, Page 4

Oh snap, what’s that? That MMO everyone is always talking about with the cool looking characters, that’s free to play up to level 50 and beyond, has gotten a recent update?

That’s right, mother-havers and non-mother-havers, it’s another City of Heroes Homecoming Page, a content update for the sweatiest of weirdoes!

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An User’s Guide To The Fifty* States* Of America America

Late 2021 I provided the invaluable public service of explaining to Americans exactly just how basic they are, categorically, what with the way that they seem interested in arguing with strangers about how funny they’re not. During this time I received three categories of feedback, which started at ‘this is funny,’ moving on to ‘I would like to argue with this joke,’ and finally, most notably, landing at ‘please can an online service turn this sprawling list of over a hundred tweets into something reasonably readable to me.’

Reader, I am that service.

Presenting now in largely unchanged form, but with some typos fixed and some new ones added just to keep you on your toes, a blog-readable version of work I’ve already done, in the form of an Australian provides An User’s Guide To The Fifty* States* Of America America.

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