blog posts

Lead & Gold – defending simplicity in game design

A few months ago, Rock Paper Shotgun had an open call for a new writer for their staff. To submit, you had to write a 500 word article. I didn’t get in but I figured I would get some use out of the article I did write for them.

We play games because they’re fun but describing it in objective terms is impossible, except to marketers of course. They want you to know that the game they hock is not only the best damn game ever made, they can prove it. Every new AAA title is couched in terms that they think quantify fun for us: number of levels, weapons, perks, achievements, classes, unlockables, skins, game modes and most importantly the number of hours you are meant to play it. Every new feature adds more play time, supposedly making the game not only more fun, but a sound investment.

Fun becomes a verifiable fact. You gain the unlockables through skill and determination and then show them off to others both in and out of the game.  The game design assumes that your ultimate goal is proving to the world that you’re the best. Becoming one of the elite players takes dozens of hours of at a minimum. To a certain degree, you have to play many of these games for at least 10 hours just to learn how to effectively play. Every class has its own tactics and each level has its own unique quirks. By the time you’ve invested enough time to learn the game; you might as well keep playing. You’d have to start over with a brand new game if you decided you didn’t like it. There’s just one problem with this model. It never bothers to question whether the game is fun moment by moment. Would you play the same game if there were no unlockables or perks to level up?

Lead and Gold is far more playable, entertaining and fun than Call of Duty: Black Ops.  Most would describe it as a third person Western themed TF2 knockoff. Four classes, each with one weapon and one special ability. You don’t play it to unlock anything or to master arcane strategies that require complex combinations of specific weapons and powers. Its simplicity is liberating. You only focus on the moment of play. My mind is clear of distracting side goals as I run and leap in the game. You don’t need to kill 10 enemies with a certain weapon or achieve a special personal objective to level up a perk. When I press the jump key, I almost feel the weightlessness of my character for a split second. It’s not quite joy but it’s definitely fun. The depth of the game comes from mastering the basic skills of shooting, dodging and outmaneuvering your enemies. The top players win because they are better at the game, not because they have superior weapons or perks.

This isn’t to say complexity is always a detriment to better game play. But good game play is hard to define or implement. Unlockables are much easier to design than a game that is always fun moment to moment. Complexity shouldn’t be a substitute for a game worth playing on its own merits.

blog posts Writing

Hello again – the blog lives

Hi, everyone, I’ve been working on promoting my book, Zombies of the World. However, I haven’t forgotten about this. I’m going to post some short pieces I’ve written for one reason or the other but have never seen the light of day. I’ll start with a list of NPCs usable in a modern post-apocalyptic world: a doctor, a scavenger and a warlord.

Jane Lamprecht

Age: 32

Skills: First year M.D. with extensive field experience.

Background: Jane was once a promising young doctor in her first year of residency, covering the ER in a city hospital. As society collapsed, Jane watched in personal horror as her family and life vanished almost instantly. She was cut off from her family and friends as government forces entered the hospital and began evacuating hospital personnel. Patients were left in their rooms, as the government could only take people with skills vital to the war effort. The vast majority of doctors and nurse complied, desperate to survive. Shocked by the callousness of the government and cowardice of the hospital staff, Jane refused to go and remained with the patients along with a few other staff members.

Eventually, Jane had to abandon the hospital when it ran out of supplies and the patients either recovered or died. Since then, she’s become a wandering healer, trading her skills for supplies and food. She remains idealistic and frequently helps those who can’t pay for her services. In fact, her idealism is her way of dealing with her stress and emotional pain. However, she will work for mercenary and military groups provided they do not mistreat refugees or commits atrocities. She is a capable surgeon when it comes to treating gun shots and shrapnel wounds and can either go into the field as a medic or teach medical skills to characters. She carries a pistol for self defense but will only use it as a last resort. She will never work for any group or character she considers evil and is willing to die for her beliefs.

Lately, she’s started having nightmares of her family dying horrifically in her arms. She may stop her aimless wandering and begin the search for her family in the next few months.

Appearance: A weathered woman of German descent, black hair with a few grey strands showing. She wears sensible clothing, with a webbed tactical vest stuffed with medical supplies and held together by judicious amounts of duct tape. She speaks bluntly to men with guns, never backing down with them but kindly to those in need.

blog posts

New review of Curriculum of Conspiracy

From Trolls in the Corner: 5/5.

blog posts

Road Trip, my second book, is available!

I am happy to announce the publication of my second book, Road Trip. It’s a tabletop RPG campaign for Monsters and Other Childish Things.  This is over 80,000 words of craziness and I am quite proud of it. Once con season is over, I plan to write a series of posts about the creation of Road Trip and its references and influences.

blog posts

My thoughts on engaging the listeners of RPPR

I’m on an email list for RPG podcasters. A few months ago, one of the podcasters conducted a survey of RPG podcast listeners to get a sense of what they thought. The results came back in recently. My podcast, RPPR, got a lot of positive comments and someone on the list asked why my listeners were so engaged with the podcast. I can’t read minds so I don’t know. All I can say is what I’ve done to engage listeners. Here’s an incomplete list of what I’ve done so far.

  • Our 4E D&D campaign, The New World, really boosted our popularity. We have 28 AP episodes posted so far (with quite a few more recorded) and some of the players have their own fan clubs. We’ve even created a series of PDF sourcebooks, freely downloadable on our site I financed them through the ransom model so I got to pay my hosting and equipment costs, which is nice. Listeners can not only listen to the campaign, they can follow the discussions in the comments and in the forums and read the PDFs to see how they can run their own New World campaign.
  • I outline each episode before we record it and I try to make sure we keep it on topic. I’ve gotten a lot of feedback from listeners who say they listen to RPPR because we keep it on topic, unlike podcast X or Y.
  • I encourage listeners to post comments on the site  and thankfully we get a lot of discussion on most episodes.
  • I like to experiment with podcasting and try new things – we started doing sporadic readings of terrible fanfiction stories as short comedy skits. Listeners either really love or really hate them but they are short so it’s easy for the people who aren’t fans to skip them.
  • The RPPR AP podcast (which is weekly) is a big success – some listeners really love it and now that all the APs are on a separate feed those who don’t care for it can ignore it. It’s a lot of extra work to set up, maintain and keep posting new episodes though. Also, I’m rather fortunate that the regular RPPR gaming crew is very verbose and witty – people like the side table chatter.
  • A few months ago I ran a 2 part horror game (merged both parts into 1 AP, 6 hours long) based on the creepypasta Candle Cove. It went viral when it was first posted, even reaching Boingboing. The AP got a huge response from our listeners. One listener said he listened to the 6 hour game straight from midnight to 6 AM because he was so enthralled it. I eventually emailed the Candle Cove author, webcomic artist Kris Straub, and told him about the game. He posted it on ichorfalls,com the original home for the story, – we got new listeners as a result and he got new fans of Candle Cove.
  • I take a very loose approach to editing – I basically never edit AP episodes for content. I only edit interviews to trim out dead space caused by interruptions in connection or whatever. I take a minimalist approach to editing episodes. I’ve never set a minimum or maximum show length. I don’t see why I should place artificial limitations on RPPR.
  • I redesigned the RPPR site in January, with new original art for the banner and I tried to make links to the forums and the New World setting page highly visible (well and our paypal donation button of course)
  • I’ve made some RPPR schwag – postcards that I hand out at cons and just recently buttons that I’ve mailed to some RPPR fans who asked for them.
  • I post links to the RPPR forums in the show notes and encourage listeners to post there. A friend familiar with PbP games recently expanded our forums to accommodate PbP games.
  • I try to stay positive in the show – complaining about stuff is fun but I prefer to talk about stuff that interests me rather than stuff that irritates or annoys me.
  • In RPPR shout-outs, I try to mention stuff that ISN’T super-popular – I want to shine a light on stuff not everyone knows about it rather than state “yes, Iron-Man is a neat movie”
  • I try to make our show notes informative so a person will understand what a given episode is about before he listens to it. I’ve seen a lot of podcasts that have extremely sparse show notes. A recent RPG podcast episode had this for show notes: “Topic: Player Narration, Comic Book Movies, Writing Inspirations” along with a list of what games or shows they talked about at given times in the show. I have no idea if I want to listen to that or not.

Read some of the comments from the survey below the fold.

blog posts

Listen to me talk about zombies

I was asked to be a guest on the Count Zee podcast to talk about zombies and so I did. Take a listen to hear me ramble about zombies for an hour.

blog posts

Kris Straub links to Candle Cove AP

I emailed Kris Straub (the guy who wrote Candle Cove and the artist behind starslip crisis and chainsaw suit) about the game I ran based on Candle Cove.

He posted a link to the game on his sites:

blog posts

Hey! I Found this thing.

I use Google Reader to follow a bunch of sites. I regularly share items from it, an eclectic mix of blog posts, web comics and articles.

I have a Youtube account where I favorite any remotely interesting video I find.

My Vimeo account has a few videos boomarked that aren’t on Yotube.

The picture is unrelated to this post.

blog posts

A review of RPPR

I appreciate being reviewed.

blog posts

Two new reviews of my work

I added a positive review of my first book, A Curriculum of Conspiracy and a good review of The Goblin Hulk, the second New World PDF to the portfolio section.