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

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

It’s been a while

I’ve been caught up in a new project but I should be able to announce it soon. In the meantime, I’ve released a new ransom PDF, the goblin hulk and a new podcast, the RPPR Actual Play Podcast. Check them both out.

To add some meat to this post, check out a few scenario ideas  I pitched to Margret Weis Productions – one for Serenity, BSG and Supernatural. I wrote these back in late 2007 and never heard back from them. Enjoy!


Brainstorming Ideas v1

In this thread on the Something Awful Forums (I start posting on page 4), I’ve been throwing out random ideas for various RPGs. I thought I would collect all the ones I’ve written so far. Some good, some bad. Which ones do you like?

  • a post apocalytpic utopian community powered by zombies on treadmills
  • shrunken alligator’s head grants wishes but only Florida related wishes
  • alternate reality game that thousands of nerds play in world wide is in fact, not related to the latest NIN album, but is run by a few bored vampires. They embrace the first five people to solve the last puzzle.
  • The resurrection spell is a massive social controversy similar to abortion in America. Anti-life activists assassinate priests who raise adventurers from the dead.
  • Cthulhu mythos cultist embeds occult knowledge in fonts. The space between letters forms Aklo runes and when certain sentences are typed out in these fonts, they form spells that summon hungry monsters.
  • African militias weaponize dragons with great effect. A rebel group in Nigeria led by someone like Henry Okah takes over oil production and demand more favorable terms from the West.
  • New meaning to the word twink: in a D&D-style fantasy world, adventuring/dungeoneering is a sexual fetish for ultra rich old perverts. They outfit pretty young mercenaries and wizards to fetch rare artifacts from remote corners of the world – but all the magical items have scrying devices so the pervs can watch the adventurers hack oozes and squirm through tight corridors.
  • a few teenagers find a buried alien artifact – ipod sized supercomputer with self-replicating nano fabricators. The geek figures it out first and builds high tech battle armor for himself and his friends to fight crime and protect the world from evil aliens. Twist comes when the geek realizes there’s too much work for him and his friends. Recruits several hundred 4channers/Anon members and gives them an identical suit of battle armor. They set up a system of watches so that there’s always one on duty at all times. The world is now protected by anarchist geeks with alien hypertech but everyone thinks there is only one. Alternatively they fight scientologists who use Xenu derived alien tech to try and dominate the world – Anonymous geeks die in battle but there’s always more teens ready to fight and die for the lulz.
  • Meat packing companies frequently hire immigrants to work in the slaughterhouses as they can’t get citizens to work in the plants. One slaughterhouse hires a southeast Asian immigrant, from the tcho-tcho tribe. He does well at his new job and sends a letter to his tribe explaining he can get all of them jobs at the slaughterhouse. That’s when the tribal shaman and priest of Shub-Nigguruth decides to immigrate to America. Within months, the slaughterhouse becomes a hidden bastion of the cult, as they breed living cattle with horrific monsters and raise horrid undead guardians from grafted flesh sculptures of various creatures.