Category: Games

I write about games! I write a LOT about games! Everything I do about games is here, in this tab, in some way.

How To Be: ME GRIMLOCK (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 authoritive 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, last year we did a bunch of characters who could be seen as fitting the genre of a combative adventurer reasonably well, and maybe it’s time to try some stuff that’s a bit more weird. With that in mind, let us reach wide, with our tiny, tiny arms, and look at ME GRIMLOCK!

 

CoX: Lifts

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.


The conventional vision of the hard suits is that they’re hardware that makes everything else easier. Which, yes, technically, true; they can do things like manage gravity extenders or hard-light impact gauntlets. A hardsuit lets a normal human operate on the level of a superhero.

The problem is the suits themselves are heavy hard suits. They’re only doing so much of the work – to pilot one at peak efficiency, you have to be an extremely accomplished athlete, fit and extremely strong. And you can take the training and the parts, and strike out without them to much of the same effect.

When people first meet the ex-Hardsuit pilot – the hard-body hard-head Lita Kinamo – the question ‘What’s she like?’ is asked. The answer’s always the same: She lifts. Continue reading

Game Pile: Tinderblox and Kittin

Hey, do you like Jenga?

Jenga’s a pretty solid game. I mean, it’s going on fifty years old, it’s simple, it’s really cheap because every company can make their own version easily. It’s one of those games you’ll see in a dollar store as some company makes their own version of it. Jenga is definitely a success and I think it’s reasonable to say, if you like having a board game collection, it’s a good idea to have a Jenga-like game there.

I don’t own Jenga. And now, I don’t think I’m going to.

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4e: The Paladin’s Plight

Pacing is important in games. It’s a lesson that can be difficult to learn without trial and error, and when your game is big and playtesting sessions are slow and about lots of varied choices it’s entirely possible that you have a pacing problem that only a small number of people are ever going to notice.

In 4e D&D, the Paladin was one of those characters with a rough pacing problem. If you build one, now, using any of the major building tools available, you’re going to see that when you hit level 2, you have to pick one of the utility powers available at that level and

Woo.

It is a spicy one.

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Speed Week: Goblin Bakery Game

Well, now, it’s been a week since Speed Week.

How did GAMES MADE QUICK go for me?

First of all, my intention was to do a lot of the documenting of the process on twitter. That was a good idea, and normally, that would work out fine for me. Live editing on Twitter is a pretty easy thing to do when I’m doing stuff like playing around with card face designs. It’s been a nice feature of how twitter can handle me pasting visual information from a graphic tool, or I can screencap lists of text or diagrams.

Thing is, this time, I brought this idea up with Fox. Fox is a person, and she lives in the same house as me, and not on twitter. Which meant that when I did set this time to do work on this game idea, it was a conversation between two people, in a room, back and forth and not in text on twitter. What resulted, then, was not the same thing as a normal twitter thread. Big deal, bit of a bummer.

Instead, we talked about the game as we walked the dog, or when there was downtime during Games Done Quick itself. We did still set limits – We’d have one conversation a day, and that was all there was to it, I wasn’t going to try and stretch it out. I also didn’t do a lot of work on the last two days. Those days were busy for me. That’s okay! With that in mind, how far along did the game get?

First of all, here’s the twitter thread I did.

What we did come up with was a game about goblins raiding a bakery. The game’s tone is light, and sweet, but also chaotic and slightly incompetent. Goblins are meant to be kind of clueless and dumb but in a very sweet and greedy way.

The player goal is to steal a number of cakes from the bakery. You do this by picking up a cake and passing it to the goblin behind you. The cakes are represented by cards, which have a ‘need’ on them to represent how many dice are stacked on them. Complex, tall, teetering cakes need a stack of dice on them to represent concentration and effort from the goblin moving them around.

Players will be rolling dice in real time. Players can control any given goblin as they roll their dice – trying to roll dice that they can stack up, with a specific rule on each card, to make the dice lock in place. Each goblin has a number they also need to roll – in sum – with the cake they’re holding, to pass it along.

The game has a really physical manner, and part of how it’s physical, is that the timer is going to be a piece of music. I spoke to some friends about how to do that, and the piece of music known as Powerhouse served as my general thinking. You have a bucket chain of idiot goblins in a bakery, trying to take cakes off the counter, then pass them along.

The deck of cakes has a number on the back of each card, and that card is the ‘lock’ number. Any dice that’s showing the lock number can’t be picked up and rolled – at least until another Goblin uses a hand to shake their goblin friend.

This gives a basic run-down of how the mechanics work. This is the information I’d use to make a prototype set of rules – some cards in a word document table, a page or two of rules, then share it on Itch to see if anyone wants to playtest it.

This is how small games can get made. It only takes a few conversations, a few exchanges, to get an idea into a prototypeable space. Write down the ideas you have, when you can, and you’ll find you do more work than you think.

Game Pile: Wingspan

I am not going to be able to tell you anything comprehensive about Wingspan. This game was a phenomenon when it launched, it was so successful it spawned conspiracy theories and it defined the conversation about games, their distribution, kickstarter and things like ‘elasticity’. There is no reason, in particular, to want my opinion of Wingspan, per se.

I liked it a lot.

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Fuzzy Games

In his review of Eclipse: Second Dawn for the Galaxy Review, Quinton Smith of Shut Up & Sit Down used the term fuzziness to refer to the way that this enormous, complicated game overwhelmed your ability to predict outcomes from all the possible interactions. When talking about it, he was explaining the way that this game, which is deliberately daunting, creates an ambiguity between what you can commit to doing and what the game will do in response.

Now what makes it somewhat remarkable in the case of this game is that it seems to do this with mostly open information – players have their own tableaus and their own clearly marked scores and crystals and ship designs, with the only real ambiguity being the results that are going to come out of dice when they’re rolled.

This is not a particularly new idea in game design at all, but it is a fun launching point to talk about because one of the things that Big Box: Expensive Miniature Cardboard Pachinko Machine has going for it is lots of open information, which isn’t typical. What Quinns describes as fuzziness is something I look at in my (in progress) PhD thesis, under the descriptive title of Entanglement.

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3.5 Memories – The Cleric Archer

It’s by no means a secret that 3.5 D&D’s balance was off in some ways that made ‘good’ and ‘best’ categories of things a little unintuitive, like how the best stealth-based character was a wizard, or the best speed-based character was the wizard, or the best big, strong melee character who smacked things with a sword was a wizard.

Hm.

If you ever got asked, houwever, about ‘best’ builds, there were always a handful of builds that stood apart because they had unique combination of effects. There was the Supermount, for example, or the Wildshape Ranger, builds that were renowned for having access to something that set them apart from things of their type. And, especially since Legolas was in the popular media at the time, there was often a question about how to make the best archer. There were plenty of archery feats, and it seemed for once, this was a challenge the fighter was perfectly suited to address – the excessive strength of the Barbarian’s rages wouldn’t necessarily apply, and sneak attack for a rogue was harder to get, so perhaps, perhaps, with a host of feats available, surely the best character to take them would finally be the Fighter?

Nope.

It was the cleric.

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Does the Audience Play?

Back in June 2019, Some Guy on Twitter, going by the name Rob Wesley, shared screenshots from this article on Rolling Stone, about how Rob Thomas and Carlos Santana came together to make the song Smooth. What Wesley shared in the thread is a section where the narration outlines the way that Rob Thomas was playing Silent Hill and how that was important to Santana’s relationship with him – that their friendship during the songwriting of the song Smooth was marked by long stretches of Rob Thomas playing Silent Hill games while Santana got stoned and told him what to do.

This led to an interesting conversation. The question, as I posited it to my partner, is this: Was Carlos Santana playing a videogame?

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Game Pile: Katana Zero

For this game, I thought rather than just put my thoughts out there about the game (I didn’t like it until I suddenly really liked it, it has an interesting vision of the future as experientially procedural, it’s cyberpunk as hell), I should take this opportunity to bring forward Corey, who has thoughts on games where perception, world experience, and communication are important.

And that is, by the way, pretty much all of them.

Anyway, so we talked for twenty minutes or so about Katana Zero and how it metaphorises hyperfocus.

If you’d like a full-sized version of that thumbnail, here:

You should go check out Corey, on Twitter, and encourage him to get a website or blog of his own to talk about stuff in a way that isn’t Heck Birdsite.

Speed Week: Game Development Sprints

During any given week, I have a Ke$ha moment, where I wake up in the morning to work on the ph-diddy. Every day I need to work on a large project, that I will still be working on at the end of the year, and every day I make sure I do something on it, even if it’s not amazing. This means I divide my day, every day, into chunks of time with goals to meet between various bits. I try to make sure I have lunch every day, for example.

This week, in AGDQ, I want to dedicate one block of time, each day, to live tweeting developing a game.I had a whole plan, because there’s normally a game jam, called GAMES MADE QUICK. This year, though, the point is to not make a game. It wants to be a take it easy game jam, with the idea that you make something. A level, an asset, a rulebook, a revision, something like that.

I was planning on doing this anyway, but with that in mind I’m going to do some dedicated, focused experiments in using an hour at a time on game development. One hour at a time – a goal that I have to do the play with the project, but put it down when I’m not.

Here are some rules, up front:

  • I pick a start time and tweet that start with
  • If I then fritter away the time in that hour doing nothing, or get interrupted, that’s it, RIP that time.
  • I can work on existing game ideas or projects and that’s okay
  • I can use that hour to do breakdowns of mechanics or things in another game I want to do something with
  • One hour later I summarise what I did or looked at or experimented with.

Now, you might have seen some of this already (hi, future!). I don’t know how well I’m doing. It’s possible life has gotten in the way or these projects, but if we have, that’s a problem that we can accept and move on. This is a game jam that wants to be taken easily. What have we gotten up to? I don’t know, the Jam hasn’t started yet, I’m not doing anything until tomorrow, which is yesterday, because time is fake.

There are currently three game projects I am thinking I want to look at for these sprints, though, which I am writing down now so I can come back to this draft later:

  • I have the cards and decks for the card game Die Rich done. What I don’t have is that game’s rulebook written. Worst, despite knowing that game pretty well when I started developing it, I’ve kind of forgotten bits, meaning I have to go back in time and try to reverse-engineer the way my own game design works.
  • I want to make an upgrade to the game Burning Daylight, a game I love heaps but which I feel I rushed through because I was done with developing it. That’s super frustrating to deal with when the game has this powerful character to it I’m excited by.
  • I have a few ideas for microgames, particularly a dice builder game (a competitive one and a cooperative one) and a worker placement game. I kind of like the idea of making a real-time dice roller that forces a sense of speed on players, here in speed week.

If you want to track my progress, and check out my daily sessions, this link will show me talking about it on twitter.

AGDQ 2021

Well now friends if you’ve been checking your clocks you’ll realise that it is Awesome Games Done Quick, a week-long speedrunning event, making this honorary Speed Week, a high holy week for Speedrunning community afficionados. How do you know this is Speed Week? Well, thanks to Game Pile and Story Pile, two of this week’s posts won’t be about speed at all, meaning we’re going to glitch through this 7 day period in only five days.

Don’t know what Speedrunning is? Okay, I got you covered. A demon with two tongues tore a hole through my mirror to feast on the illusion of me in the surface, and while she was here, she left behind this FAQ about Speedrunning that you can check out to get up to speed on it if you’re not already there. With that in mind, and with the spirit of the week underway, let’s get you a real quick summary on why I like Speedrunning and what experience it might scratch for you.

I used to try to follow cricket, because it was a subject to talk about with my dad and because we were, at the time, setting competitive records and I say ‘we’ like it was me who had the determination and skill and drive to play for Australia like the arsehole antagonist character in The Parable of Glen McGrath’s Haircut but the important thing is that there was a time when I tried to track cricket, and what about that I found interesting was watching a thing that had been seen as the best ever get steadily and steadily more and more impressive. I was watching a number go up and all I needed to follow for that was to occasionally check in on a sport which took five days to finish one game and where the majority of the time was taken up with literally nothing happening.

Watching competitive sports is a thing that we can derive pleasure from, and if you’ve ever seen some of that  as being captivating but can’t connect to the pace or the style of game, speedrunning is a lot like that kind of competitive communal game experience. The things being shown in the game matter just as much as if it’s a leather ball or a havok engine crate, and because speedruns events are about introducing an audience who aren’t necessarily informed, it’s a perfect time to get to see and learn the rules of a lot of different types of speedrun.

Just like with more conventional sports, there’s demonstrations of remarkable skill, including things like being able to map complex processes blindfolded, competitive forms where two people have to try and execute a run racing one another, performances where players are explicitly disrupted and deprived of foreknowledge, performances that are even automated to show an absolute limit on difficulty. Some runs are short, and fast, and messy, and about being as skilled as possible at executing every skill in the game in a potentially random list, and some are about perfect operational execution of a long-term plan. Some are about forcing the game to let you roll a dice so you can try and roll three sixes in a row – there’s a Diablo speedrun where the world record is an hour and the Tool Assisted Speedrun with perfect luck is twelve minutes. Some are personality driven, some are technical, and some are about waiting for something terrible to go wrong.

Speedruns have a lot of different types, they are fun and cool and they are a genre of content, not a particular form. This event is a perfect time for you to want to check the genre out. People will be talking about it, they will be tweeting and they will be sharing the experience on discords. You can totally find people to hang out with now to watch these events and learn about them now. Where am I going to be doing it? I’m going to be tweeting about it, so you can see my thoughts there.

What am I looking out for? Well, as of right now, here’s some stuff on the schedule I’m looking at because I think it’ll be interesting.  As always, check your schedule here and everything that’s already been run in the past twenty hours is, uh… off the schedule.

Here, then are some games and runs I’m looking forward to:

Sonic Mania. As this goes up, Sonic Mania is in three and a half hours, being run by the Scottish runner Argick. Argick is an active runner in the European Speedrun Assembly, and even when I don’t watch his runs (Fox watches them all) I am always happy to hear them. Argick is funny and charming and runs his mouth at a million miles a minute playing Sonics ranging from the good (Mania) to the very bad (the phone version of 4).

I fuckin’ love Argick runs. Please don’t be a milkshake duck.

Dishonored 2. This is going to be on at lunchtime for me, which is great, I like to watch it then. It’s a half hour run and it’s of a game with a lot of fun movement, but also tends to be done in-bounds. At any%, I don’t know, it might have all gotten a bit weird. We’ll have to see!

Diablo 3 (Cooperative run). An hour and a half is a great duration for a speedrun in my opinion, it means you have enough time to get involved in the texture of the game, you can learn the rules for how it’s going to work and the runners have time to establish a presence. And cooperative runs tend to come with two people explaining things, and Diablo games are really wildly random. This is a run where ‘perfect’ is almost impossible, so you’re going to see players playing really well for a prolonged period.

Metroid Prime, 100%. This is a two hour run which is an FPS game where you have to correctly remember to scan every single thing in the world. Lots of proper execution of move-and-shoot mechanics and extremely thorough exploring the world!

Carrion. This game rules and the speedrun for it looks a lot like ‘just playing the game,’ with only a few moments of wiggling skips to avoid entire chunks of the game.

Golden Sun. I’m not going to catch this run while it’s live, it’s four hours long starting at midnight my time, but JRPGs are typically good for settle-in and enjoy the style kind of game. Odds are good you’ll learn some interesting ways to exploit the way a game’s combat mechanics and movement mechanics work, but not watch the game turn into a pile of spaghetti.

Yoshi’s Island 100%. This game rules, the 100% speedrun is full of all these really impressive high-velocity perfect executions on a really refined route through a complicated game. Really good game, the speedrun makes the game even more impressive.

Alwa’s Legacy. This is a retro style throwback game, it’s very short, and it looks charming and the run is only 15 minutes. This is the kind of game where if you go play it yourself you’ll have to take a few hours to get good enough to finish and route it fast – and that makes the 15 minutes even more impressive.

Majora’s Mask: Speedrunning science has done things to this run. This is a game that looks extremely like the kind of thing that you’d hear made up in a school playground. At this point this game is breakable with the most preposterously deep level of code malarkey, and that means that watching this game get broken is an insight into how games work on a level that looks legitimately like magic.

Super Mario Sunshine: Great game, great run. This run is largely made up of points where you have to just play the game really well, but then spends time skipping exploring and wandering.

Beat Saber: This isn’t going to be a ‘speed run’ per se, but it’s going to be a performance of a rhythm game. It’s going to be seeing a hard game, played the best possible way – a sort of ‘perfect mode’ of the natural play.

TASBot plays Freedom Planet. Freedom Planet is a sonic-like game, TASbot is a robot that can give perfect inputs, this run will let you see how completely robots with perfect luck can transform the ways games can be treated as behaving.

Pokemon Blue: Catch’Em’All. Now I don’t know how well this category will do, because I don’t know if it’s going to allow for arbitary code execution. If it does, it’s a little less cool than I thought, but if it doesn’t, it’s going to be about watching someone route a very efficient map all across the world, retrieving weird things in weird orders and using the best of speedrunning science to do it.

That’s the stuff that I know I’m looking forward to in this AGDQ! Hopefully, if you look at the schedule, you’ll see some runs that similarly excite you. This is such a fun event, I hope you check it out.

 

 

 

 

Oh and hey, this whole thing is a charity stream? And it raises like a million dollars for good causes multiple times a year?

Game Pile: What Left In 2020?

Hypothetically, you could run a list of all the Game Pile Articles and know everything I’ve covered, already.

Which I do.

The original purpose of the Game Pile was to serve as a direct accounting of every game I played from my at the time unmanageably large Steam collection. I didn’t look at that collection for years, and now, over the starting on eight years of this blog, I have been using the Game Pile as a category to talk about games, and things, and things about games, and using games to talk about things. Part of getting this pile under control was playing a lot of them, and part of it was building familiarity with Steam’s tools.

I have a category I put games in when I’m done with them: ‘Completed.’ At the moment, on Steam, I have 324 games outside of that category, and 434 games in that category, meaning that in the context of Steam, I have more than half completed my Game Pile. It has obviously grown in this time, and I’m sure it will grow a little by the time the Steam Winter sale ends. This isn’t accounting for my Itch collections, or the physical boardgames that are also sometimes included, or just random flash games or folk games I talk about too.

Still, the Steam list is a large volume of things, and at the end of each year, I do run through some games and look at the stuff I moved to the Completed category that I haven’t written about, and have in fact, committed to not bothering to write about.

I haven’t done any full-blown revisits yet. I used to do ‘Deeper in the Pile,’ back when I was interested in parleying this blog into a journalism job. The idea was that the Game Pile posts would be entertaining reviews, then the Deeper in the Pile posts would examine things in the game in greater depth. Sometimes I use a remastered edition as an excuse to go back on a game, but otherwise, it’s pretty much that if I didn’t talk about a game and moved it into completed, there was a reason.

Well, it’s the end of the year (oh no, writing forward into the future revealed) and I’m tired, so let’s talk about some games that weren’t interesting enough to merit a full article. As with all of these, though, once I put the thoughts out there, I may come around to a new idea and realise that hey, no, here’s an academic concept or a game design idea I can totally use, and they’ll get pulled out of storage. Who knows!

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How To Be: The Covers Of 2020

It has now been a full year of How To Be. These articles are fun to make, they’re interesting to play around with, and I have more of them ready to go, so I fully expect to keep doing them. What I do think, though, from all of those articles I’ve made this year, I was frustrated to find that Twitter and Jetpack, two of the ways I promote this blog, don’t present my hilarious book covers in the thumbnails consistently. That means it’s possible that you might not see these book covers and may not have gone looking for them.

Also, since it’s December, and I am tired and you are tired and everyone is tired, how about I show off this year’s How To Be covers, and let you check them out now, as some long-form throwback reading of the rest of the blog.

Yeah?

Yeah.

Yeah.

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Game Pile: Best Of Game Pile 2020

Obviously, of all the articles I wrote this year in the Game Pile, they are all good. You should read all of them. Still, there are some that stand out as I think super cuts of the kinds of writing I like to do. Rather than just reiterate the entire category, because I trust you to be able to press navigation buttons, here are some highlights that may make it easier for you to find some stuff to read.

First of all there are some Game Piles that deserved special mention because they were about games I really enjoyed. It’s hard sometimes to write about great games because my typical methods for game analysis is to nag at something the game does that’s interesting, and I feel that lens is best set to give games that didn’t get attention the first time around a shot.

Still, there are a handful of games where I was just flummoxed by how great they were, and so the writing was about writing around them, or about their interface, or about the experiences of watching other people play them. For those, check out my articles on Lanterns, Spaceshipped, and Purrlock Holmes.

Halloween Forever was one of my game videos this year, and the game itself kicks ass and it was a good avenue to talk about something weird from my childhood that is, in a way, super weird. The thing about this one that I love in hindsight is just how charming the game was, and how, when I played it, I just had a simple thread of something weird to talk about. I played it, then recorded the audio, then stitched them together. It was a really great little gem to find in the Black Lives Matter Itch bundle.

I also got to use this year as a chance to talk about the Ur-Quan from Star Control 2. That’s something I want to do more of, with the Game Pile being a platform for some in-depth examinations of game lore of games I really love.

Volume, I learned about this year. I mean I bought it years ago and got around to playing it now and holy crap this game got to be really timely considering. It’s such an excellent stealth game, it deserves special attention. It has such wonderful voice acting, great characters, and also it’s about actual corporate fascism and stagnation of upward mobility.

There was and an expansion to a card game I love, Star Realms Frontiers. This was a really interesting one because I committed to buying all the expansions for the phone game – because hey, I knew I loved Frontiers – and then came to realise that I had hit the wall on how much Star Realms I wanted. Frontiers is great, get it and the base game, it’ll do you fine – but the rest? Just get them on the phone game, and let it handle storing them.

So yeah, there’s a bonus review: Star Realms? Two great box products… the rest probably just a great app.

There are some articles where I think they serve as examples of things that are deeply important to the conversation about games. One example is my article about Overwhelm. That article is about a game that just whips ass, which is great, then it brought in a friend’s advice about how players relate to games, and then it got to show how good its accessibility tools are when you actually use them to make the game more accessible. It was a valuable lesson to me about how I approach games, and how I let my ego waste my time.

I also had a bit of a weird thing with Metroidvania games this year, of open world exploration games that keep you engaged and build on your skillset, where I tried Hollow Knight, but simply didn’t get attached enough to the game to finish what, the third, or fourth boss? Which was a shame, and I thought at first I had just lost something of myself that works for Metroidvanias.

Then I played Carrion.

Carrion was excellent. I at first thought I wasn’t going to even play it, because everyone I knew had already played it, I had limited time and energy, and like, what am I going to say that beats Cass’ oh no now they’re going to eat meeee post over on Polygon?

Then my sister Rachel told me to play it, and I played it and I kept playing it, and I went to bed at 5 am and I woke up and played it and then I put it down and wrote one of my favourite articles about the way this game encourages you to relate your body to the world of it, and the philosophy of meat.

There’s a special mention in all of this of Ai: The Somnium Files, which also followed a pattern for this year where a friend asked me to play it. It was particularly important in this case, though, because she wanted to talk to someone about it, and was stymied by her problem with the extreme level of content warning problems it had. I checked it out, thought ‘oh a visual novel? don’t expect to like that,’ but I could see a chance to play it, so I played it.

And I loved it.

I loved it so much that I redid my schedule to play the game and make a video about it and promote it. I loved it so much that I made fan merchandise of the characters. I loved it so much that there’s someone who uses a character from it as their twitter avatar and it just makes me more inclined to check that they’re doing okay which is patently silly.

It isn’t a game I’m going to replay a lot, because it’s very good about making sure you get most of the content on one thorough play through. But it’s such a good game I’m going to recommend it, and look to games by the same people for the same kind of wonderful experiences.

Decemberween 2020: Gra! Gra! Gra!

Hey, remember this cool lady?

This is Cae! Cae is my friend. Cae has been my friend for, like, actual literal years now. And this year, Cae has had a pretty wild successful shift in her life, in that she’s… now… a modestly successful Vtuber attached to a notable and successful indie game?

Which is wild.

This is (a shot of) Gra. Gra has a longer name, that I cannot remember and do not trust me to romanise properly into English. Gra is a snapjaw, a type of trash mob from the game Caves of Qud. Now, Gra exists in part because turns out that if you’re a queer woman on the internet, showing yourself is going to attract you terrible people, and that means Gra serves a degree of defensive protectiveness. That is a noble and worthwhile thing Gra does.

But you know what else Gra is?

Gra is an amazing performative tool.

Gra is a fluid, immensely flexible and spontaneously creative form of puppet that Cae can make interact with the game, with the screen she’s in front of and also with … just… whatever random bits of emoji, graphics, anything that can be slapped on a screen or a layer in front or behind of Gra.

And Cae plays Gra. Gra is a character and refers to her ‘voice actor.’ In fact, I’m actually kind of unsure if Gra uses she/her pronouns just because Gra is so distinctly a separate character to Cae, her actor, and that’s really interesting. Because she’s live performance, a character played to play another game. And that’s really fucking interesting.

Oh and check her out on Twitch.

Game Pile: Destiny 2

Hey, it’s another Game Pile video!

This is another conversation video; sharing with Positronic Woman, Rachel S, about her game of choice, Destiny 2. Due to copyright reasons and not wanting this interrupted with ads, I went with the simpler ‘bunch of wallpapers footage’ than using Destiny 2 ad footage.

If you’d like to check out Rachel on Twitter, she’s @PositronicWoman.

 

Decemberween: The Exploring Series

Earlier this year I got some thoughts out there about how communal writing on an internet platform is a type of Videogame (nyah Miri), and used as my example the horror wiki, The SCP Wiki. This involved doing a bunch of research into the platform, which I didn’t do by just mashing the random or top ranked buttons – I went to TVTropes (which can be a bit dire) and checked out Youtube. Some of those Youtube sources I find extremely unpleasant, and won’t link for various reasons, but I did find this pleasantly straightforward, relatively clear explainer series, the SCP Universe Explored.

It isn’t by any means a perfect listen; the topics the channel focuses on are sometimes those I find the most boring, like pataphysics or the Oroborous Cycle and X-men-a-like canons. But it still does cover a breadth of topics, and does a reasonably decent job bringing together posts that reference the same ideas without requiring you to do a spiderweb hunt through the whole wiki.

It’s pretty weird that youtube has people on it whose whole contribution to the format is essentially podcasts made up of simplified reading of a free wiki service, but here we are.

If you want a way to check out the SCP universe in a fairly broad way, this channel does a good job at being a podcast covering the topics.

Game Pile: Skribbl

Last year when I spoke about games in Da Ween, I talked about games that could be played in a group, or a family environment, in ways that didn’t need you to spend much money, and also could last for a few minutes more before some stupid asshole said ‘let’s play Cards Against Humanity.

Nowadays, there’s a good chance that you’re going to be doing your family gathering over discord or god help you, Zoom (augh). If that’s the case, then you might want to look into some game you can play, in a shared space that doesn’t require people to install games, or manage network settings, or click on ‘join’ and wait a lobby and we all know how long it can be to wait for Grandma to decide what her draft bans are on the way to the Rift.

Still, there’s a game you can play, on the internet, with your family, and if someone disengages or isn’t interested and you have other people still paying attention it won’t hold things up long.

This is a free game you can play in your browser, with your friends. At its core, it is a pictionary-style game, where you can draw with your tablet, your mouse, or your phone or whatever, and draw a picture, or guess at what someone else is drawing.

I’ve talked in the past about drawing games, and how they’re communication games? How the core of what you’re doing is trying to understand someone. With skribbl, the game you’re playting incentivises you to guess correctly quickly, so there’s a reason to want to engage people,  but also, rounds are fast, so that if you’re struggling with guessing, there’s a push to start guessing together. You’ll see other people’s guesses, too, and, Wheel-of-Fortune style, you get some text to fill in so you know the size of the word, or breaks in the word, that you’re gunning for.

It’s a great little game, it’s free, it’s convenient.

 

Decemberween: Erik!

So far Erik has been a feature of two other Decemberweens. The first time, it was talking about a Blades in the Dark hack that explored the chance to tell stories like we used to RP in the Secret World, just with fewer nazis. More recently, it was about the upcoming project Brinkwood, Blood of Tyrants, a Blades in the Dark hack that had potential to expand up to a full blown game expansion that was coming to kickstarter soon.

Then it came to kickstarter.

This year, Brinkwood earned $70,000 on kickstarter.

I interviewed Erik during this time, and gave the article the now-in-hindsight bad-for-SEO ‘An Interview About The Vampires‘ where Erik was able to discuss not just the game, but deeper themes and why the game was meant to feel the way it did.

I don’t have a lot to say at this point, I just wanted to underscore that Erik spent basically two years making a game and kicked the living shit out of his goals during a pandemic and then immediately looked for ways to make that kickstarter benefit as many comrades as he could.

Go check out the playtest kit for Brinkwood, it’s good stuff.

Game Pile: Homecoming Issue 27

Hey, this December, I’m going to try and make sure that I talk a little bit about games that you don’t necessarily need a lot of money to play. I liked how I did some folk games last year and I thought this year, since social distancing is a thing, that it was worth my while pointing out some ways you can have fun, online, and ideally socially.

This is obviously not the easiest thing in the world, but the good news for me at least is that just in the tail end of November, City of Heroes: Homecoming launched a whole new issue, ‘Issue 27’ and that makes it a great time to talk about that, and how to get involved if you want to.

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Slurpuff

Competitive Pokemon is a wild place. Typically, competitive environments that aren’t made with an oversight body – like Smash and Pokemon – wind up developing clouds of house rules. In competitive Pokemon, a common and popular format is to comply with the Smogon University rules and guides.

Smogon has a few top-down rules that tend to apply to all layers of the game – some rules designed to keep the games finished in a timely fashion, some rules designed to ensure there’s a diversity of teams. One idea that they have is the notion of a tier system, where – broadly – Pokemon are divided up into groups that represent how commonly they are played when they’re available. What this means is that there’s one small group of the most powerful pokemon that muscle out all sorts of other options, then a larger group under that of the pokemon that are good when that small group are removed, and so on and so on. The tier system mostly cares about usage, but not entirely.

When Pokemon prove to be so powerful in one tier that they distort the game, but they don’t have a natural space in the tier above them, what results is a ban. This sometimes gets referred to ‘being kicked upstairs,’ because the pokemon is almost always still valid in higher tiers.

There’s a lot of competing effects that make a Pokemon good, and the game is such a complicated set of different, competing systems that it can sometimes seem a little hard to work it out. Particularly, if you look at the ban list of the lower tiers, you see some weird things that show up. First, you’ll see some Pokemon down in low tiers that are treated as very important by the game – Guzzlord, for example, has a lot of high stats and it’s in a special category called a Ultra Beast. Guzzlord’s slow speed and lack of type defense, though, means that in the lowest tiers of play, it’s still not good, and taking it to higher tiers will probably not be successful either.

It is in this space, astonishingly, that Slurpuff lives.

Slurpuff is not an impressive Pokemon. It is a little blob of a thing. It’s 51.9% round, if that statistic matters to you. It is at best a little dessert of a Pokemon, something in the same family as Vanniluxe, a pokemon primarily known for being complained about, because it looks like ice cream.

And in one of the lowest tiers of Smogon competitive, NeverUsed, Slurpuff is banned, for being too powerful.

It’s a combination of factors, but the main interaction is between Belly Drum, a Sitrus Berry, and Unburden. This is a move, a passive ability, and a held item. In sequence:

  • Belly Drum amps your attack stat to the maximum, but cuts your health in half
  • A Sitrus Berry, when your health is half or less, gives you a quarter of your health back, once, then it’s consumed
  • Unburden when you lose your item, doubles your speed.

This means on your first turn with a Slurpuff, you take whatever hit your opponent can deal out (because Slurpuff is pretty slow), Belly Drum, then the berry kicks in and heals you for about a quarter of your life. Often this belly drum will be fired off without losing any health first, because opponents will often have to trade their lead to something that can deal with Slurpuff. Then, with your berry eaten, the Slurpuff’s speed is now twice as high, all for one game action. Now, your Slurpuff can just… smash the living hell out of almost everything down in NeverUsed, because it’s faster than them and can KO them in often a single hit.

That’s pretty much it; there’s more to it, other concerns that Slurpuff’s type and the tier makes it hard to deal with in other ways, but that’s your basic combo.

And it’s kinda neat that Slurpuff of all things is super dangerous and needs to be dealt with.

Here’s the better thing though. In the specialist format Little Cup, where all Pokemon are level 5 and only unevolved Pokemon are allowed, Slurpuff’s prevolved form, Swirlix, which is even sillier looking, and even more of an inoffensive little sweetbun, is also banned.

Because it can do all the same things.


Also, Happy Birthday, Angus. I know, it’s a bit early, but scheduling.

MTG: Norin’s Impromptu Cream (Get Better Title)

Back in the day of Time Spiral-through-Shadowmoor standard, there was a deck I played in the casual room, and almost kinda thought about writing an article about, but I stopped writing for StarCityGames due to work concerns, and it never wound up happening. I think? Probably not. Ben Bleiwess would know better and I doubt he cares any way.

Here, lemme show you the three weird things that go on in this deck.

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CoX: Heartbeep!

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, and hopefully interesting.


Dot is a bright, funloving, extremely geeky young lady, who’s prone to odd stutters and occasional lapses in conversation. This is because while she is a geeky young lady with a bright personality, she’s also a superpowered Clockwork drone from Praetoria that was handled through a variety of somewhat dubious projects on her arrival.

It’s not that she’s ‘really’ a robot. It’s not that she’s ‘disguised’ as a girl.

She’s a cute girl.

And she’s a robot.

And Dot has decided the kind of cute girl she wants to be is also a crime-fighting superhero robot.

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How To Be: Wolf Queen Nailah (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 authoritive 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.

And this month, before we talk about our subject, though I mean she’s in the subject of the blog post that you just clicked on so I mean what are we going to cover, suddenly a swerve and it’s going to be about trotting out pairs of characters that can be Bert and Ernie from Sesame Street. But see, this marks our twelfth How To Be, and it also marks the first year of this feature. It’s fun! I’ve enjoyed doing that!

And because variety is important to me, we’re going back to Fire Emblem. And maybe, being you’re one of my friends, you might be thinking that yes! I’m going to bring up ya girl Edelgard, who is… very, very similar to Hilda.

No, we’re talking about Nailah, from Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn. And we’re talking about her because she’s cool, and she can do interesting things, and most importantly, because Fox likes her. I started with one of Fox’s favourite franchises, and then with a character she kinda didn’t like one way or the other? Terrible form on my part.

Let’s look at a Wolf Queen.

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Wallet Game Worker Placement

Earlier this year, Perennial Clever Cloggs Button Shy put out a competition to make an 18-card Wallet game that wanted to be a worker placement game. That is, a game where placing a ‘worker’ gives you an effect, and it deprives other players of that effect. So if I put my worker on the 3 Pineapples square, and you wanted 3 Pineapples, you have to find some other place for your Pineapple needs.

Don’t know why Pineapples. Maybe it’s just a funny word. Or maybe lots of worker placement games are colonialist.

Anyway, so I thought about how I might do this without a large, standardised board, and how to do that with a tiny number of cards.  Here’s what I came up with.

The game is divided into four basic parts: your worker card, which can be set to represent four different types of worker, depending on its orientation. Each worker card is split into two halves, and each side is different. So depending on orientation, the card could be A, B, C or D. There’s your four worker choices.

The resources can be shuffled up and arranged however based on each game. Maybe it’s turf or territory, or network nodes, or even a yearbook photo page, meant to represent social connections in, like, I don’t know, Mermaid Prom. Resources can be flipped up or flipped down, to create ways to deplete resources, or transform them. There’s room for them to vary.

Each player gets to place their worker card at one of the two sides of the board, 90 degrees from one another. They get everything in the line they choose, except, the card they have in common.

This gives you resources or opportunities to do special things, which I’m not sure how to track. You can make it so a resource card may have something as potent as ‘win the game’ on it – so you’re trying to jockey things into position where you can force your opponent to pick things you’re not.

What you do with the resources could be like Mana from MTG, where the resources go away at the end of turn, so each turn you’re trying to make a particular combination, to buy a card in the market, or enable something. You add cards from the deck to the marketplace as they go away.

This is the idea. You’re probably aiming to acquire some cards from the Marketplace, and you’re doing it by manipulating the resources with a small number of worker options.

Game idea intrigues me. I may give it a shot if I get a theme I like.

Skub (in Tabletop)

There’s this idea from The Perry Bible Fellowship, which is one of those comics we talk about in the context of ‘one of the good webcomics.’ It is also responsible for the origin point of one of the most widespread neologisms in internet culture today (‘weeb’), but lesser known is the term Skub.

Skub typically is used in gamer circles to refer to something people fight about, often extensively, which does not matter, and does not have serious impact. It’s an idea that clearly picked up in tabletop conversations because we are a ridiculous people who will have extremely heated arguments that attempt to prove our own emotional states as factually correct rather than be willing to openly admit and respect our needs, or to respectfully handle conversations about ideas that aren’t themselves necessarily an attack. It’s tricky stuff, but we make up for it with years on end of extensive, pointless, preposterous fucking fighting over bullshit that doesn’t matter, which we then bikeshed super hard.

Thing is, in tabletop gaming, there’s a lot of stuff that’s player decisions or preference that we tend to try and cook into ‘right’ and ‘wrong.’ This can get super complicated, because it’s hard to tease out where some of these arguments have boundaries.

For example, Dungeons & Dragons is the largest corporate driven TTRPG in the world, and has been pretty much forever, and it is as a wing of Hasbro, part of a complex interconnected set of brands and franchises, some of which have been sketchy at best and some of which are having to do a lot of work to try and make good on deeply vile histories, like Monopoly. There’s an entire wing of how Hasbro wants to be a good corporate citizen which is itself, a big conversation that has an assumption in it that such a thing is possible. Then you can go one step above it, like how Dungeons & Dragons is itself an ecosystem all of its own, and whether things like encouraging others to create for it is an act of control or an attempt to address a power imbalance.  There’s a whole conversation there about whether or not it’s possible for Dungeons & Dragons to be capable of good agency given a poisoned root. These are all big and complicated conversations and some of them only work with spherical gamers in a zero-G environment.

But then you keep going down the line and you get into conversations that are definitely definitely skub, but which are being treated with the same tools and academic rigor as if the solution to racism is in the shape of a dice. What can exacerbate this is the work of people who are working hard to create in these spaces, where it’s not hard at all to, thanks to time spent working on critical tools, bring to bear long sentences that translate to what I enjoy is factually correct and what I don’t enjoy is wrong.

Personally, there’s a lot of skubby opinions that I like a lot to talk about, because if I know your flavour of skub, the stuff that matters to you that doesn’t matter in general, I know you better.

Anyway, I don’t like completely unstructured character building. Not my flavour of skub.

Dinosaur Deck Deconstructor

Been thinking about a game that is cooperative, reading-light and kid-approachable.

Okay, so here are some things about games with little kids. Hands are hard to manage. They have hands of a particular size, literally, and that means being able to fan cards can be challenging.

Here’s the idea.

The game is built around a single central deck. This is probably loaded and slugged.

Each turn, you flip some cards off the top of the deck. This represents the natural movement of the dinosaurs in the game. They appear, they move around, they interact with each other. Mixed in with this are cards that represent problems, or dinosaurs separated from their groups, or with groups that are too large. The idea is that the dinosaurs have natural relationships to one another, and you want to make sure the populations are stable for long-term growth before you leave – which means things like ensuring herding animals are close to one another, and hunting animals aren’t sharing too much space.

I’m seeing it as a little bit Tetris-y. The cards as laid out interact with one another – some dinosaurs scare other dinosaurs in their row, some make space for others, some add cards to the space, some problems limit the cards in a space. And they slid up, tetris style, to get a horizontal and veritcale space.

What each player does then, on their turn is either take on one of the problem cards, that now imposes some limit or restriction on them until they solve it, or they pick up a tool or use some ability that lets them manipulate the dinosaur cards. So you may be able to guide some gentle dinosaurs with just your basic abilities like food and water, but you may need like safety equipment to guide a big ole T-rex.

There’s one ‘big’ problem that has multiple cards to it – you need to be able to handle that big problem, and that means that you need players to develop and build up solutions to problems over time. That might be the ‘final’ problem of the game, the thing that you need to beat to win, or the timer that runs the game out. The timer could be a season – when enough cards have been cycled through, you change the season and after a full year you’re out of time.

There’s a challenge when you make cooperative games, because you need to make sure that it’s not possible for one player to make a decision for everyone. You need each player to have information that’s exclusive to them, without it being too difficult a load of information. You need there to be unreliable parts too, so play patterns vary.

And that’s where the problem kicks in.

The easiest way to do this is hidden information. Players getting to make choices based on knowing things other players don’t. And the problem is there, hiding information is harder for little kids.

As far as size goes? Not sure. This game could be a great big indulgent 120 card game, but it could also be a much more modest 54-73 kinda game, like Dark Signs or Burning Daylight.

I’ll think about it.