Tagged: gaming

Late Tuesday night, a man responsible for the joy of millions passed from the world. For the second time in just over a year, the gaming world lost a titan, an innovator, and a parent. Dave Arneson, co-creator of Dungeons & Dragons, died peacefully among his family and friends at the age of 61.

Along with Gygax, who preceded him both into the world and out of it, Arneson revolutionized games and gaming as a hobby. Most everyone I know has spent more hours chucking funny dice or playing computer games based on RPG concepts than they have engaged in any other leisure activity. I myself have played roleplaying games (tabletop and computer-driven) for more than 20 years, and hope to play for twice that yet. I’ve seen the hobby go from obscure niche geek endeavor to massive popularity (complete with cartoon!), back to social pariah status, and yet again into the mainstream, this time hopefully to stay for a while. I’m glad Dave got to see it too. I never had a chance to meet the man, as I did Gygax, but by all accounts he was unfailingly kind, friendly, and appreciative of the players that made gaming what it is today. I can’t speak for anybody but myself, but I owe Arneson and Gygax a greater debt than I can ever adequately express, much less repay. In a memorial thread on an RPG forum I frequent, I spotted the quote used for a title above, and can think of no better tribute to the legacy Arneson has left behind.

The kings are dead. Long live the kings.

Pro-tip: If you’re going to trash the new Watchmen downloadable game, it would behoove you not to look like a jackass by critiquing the voice-over actors as “…some guy who sounds like a teenage Christian Bale/Dark Knight fan” (Rorschach) and the “whiny kid doing Nite Owl’s voice,” given that both those roles in the game are voiced by the actors playing said characters in the major motion picture. Tool.

In your rush to maintain your “edgy” cred by trouncing the title (which has some obvious flaws from the short time I spent with the demo), you decided to see how many cool analogies you could make in criticizing it, and made yourself look like an idiot. Ten seconds on IMDB.com would’ve perhaps saved you the embarassment, and you could’ve stuck to more valid critiques (game length, price point, repetitiveness).

P.S.: Complaining that the game only gave you two characters to choose from, when it has been known since the game was announced that the game would only feature two characters? This also makes you look like a tool.

UPDATE: Apparently, I wasn’t the only one to find problems with the analysis, as the original has already been edited to soften the voice-acting critiques and acknowledge the actors were not, in fact “teenagers” or “whiny kids.”

Figures.

Seven days away from my first decent vacation since May, a full 10 days off, and I wake up this morning to this:

RRoD

I guess I won’t be getting caught up on games after all. At least I’ll get some reading done.

I hate my fucking luck (or lack thereof) some days.

While the title is not exactly surprising news to anybody that’s spent any time with Green Ronin’s various and sundry gaming products, this isn’t about GR or their excellent product line.

Pramas’ LJ entry for the day is a stroke of sheer, mad-cap, game-loving genius, and I must find a way (or several ways) to execute similar events of my own as soon as possible.

Short form, for those that don’t read the linked post: a gaming pentathlon, with a variety of game types (board, card, minis, RPG, etc) constructed around a common theme. Players would compete in each round, exhibiting skill/mastery/whatever in a wide variety of game play styles and game types. It’s similar in some ways to Penny Arcade’s PAX Omegathon video game contests, with more of a focus on analog gaming. I think it’s a fantastic notion, and something that any group of sufficiently geeky friends could make a day of.

I’m wondering if Marvel: Ultimate Alliance + HeroClix + ??? + ??? + classic Marvel Super Heroes would work, and if I could sell it to my gaming group as an all-day Saturday or Sunday thing. With X-Men/Spider-Man/Iron Man movies running on TV throughout the day for theme, and stacks of comics around for reading by those who are eliminated from a game early. 🙂

For fear of letting myself get too far past the “weekly” resolution deadline, I’m here. Getting my ass handed to me at work (again), but here. Couple of quick things:

Item the first: Pelgrane Press is trying to kill me. New Call of Cthulhu RPG, with a rules set by Robin Laws (same set from his forthcoming Esoterrorists RPG, which also looks excellent). Despite developing the game engine, Laws is not himself writing the book. Oh, no. That might be resistable, especially given that I’ll probably already own Esoterrorists. No. They went to 11. The new Call of Cthulhu RPG will be penned by the Grand Vizier of High Weirdness, Ken Hite. This is doom to my disposable income in a tidy package. I buy Hite supplements for games I don’t play (and never intend to play). Hite is like unto a whacko conspiracy theory esoterica-spouting GOD to me. I must own it. Also, they’re conducing a survey to get folks’ ideas/impressions on CoC prior to writing this new book. If you’ve got an opinion, throw it here.

Item the second: As I’ve been drawn away from my keyboard for over an hour since I typed up item the first, there will be no item the second today.

Need help. Send ninjas. Or pirates. Both, preferrably.

Lester who?

Over this past summer, Chuck Klosterman ignited something of a powder keg with a column for Esquire on the lack of game critics (as distinct from game reviewers) in the media today, despite the self-evident (to Klosterman and myself and quite a few others, I’d imagine) cultural significance of games and the gaming industry. This seemed to get quite a few games “journalists” around the web in a tizzy, because they interpreted Klosterman’s speculative curiosity as some sort of gauntlet tossed to their feet. The unfortunate facet of this entire affair, however, is that both Klosterman and his detractors in the game journalism community have excellent points that need to be addressed. Klosterman displays a certain hopelessly optimistic naivete regarding the acceptance of games as a potent cultural force, but rightly calls into question the credibility of most of the current game media.

To address C.K.’s first major question (to wit: why is there no Lester Bangs in games journalism?) is simplicity itself, and I’m surprised a guy as close to my age as Klosterman is doesn’t know the answer without asking. There is no Lester Bangs in games journalism because until a few years ago, gaming was still essentially written off as a hobby of the hopelessly geeky…a male-dominated pasttime that attracted those who had absolutely no social skills and couldn’t find girls to spend their weekends with, and therefore huddled before the glow of the TV pretending to be badass soldiers or fighter pilots or wizards or whatever. The male-dominated thing is still true, which is a shame, but at least now one can admit in casual conversation that one owns an Xbox and enjoys the occasional round of Halo or Dynasty Warriors without being written off as a complete loser. To put it more concisely, Lester Bangs wouldn’t have been Lester Bangs if the only people that listened to rock and roll were social pariahs among their own age group.

As to the larger issue of the suspiciously absent game critics, I think the problem is still the relative infancy of gaming as a socially accepted hobby and a valid mode of narrative and artistic expression. The nature of video games as a “mixed medium” make critical approaches difficult, given that most existing critics have been trained in only one of the various modes that would be helpful. There exist very few scholars who can move equally conversantly between narrative criticism, music criticism, and film criticism, all of which fields contain part of the requisite toolset to really approach games critically. Add to this the fact that those few scholars that do possess all the skill sets are unlikely to be gamers (at least at this point in time), and the problem is compounded nigh hopelessly. All of these issues still fail to address that there’s also some necessity for said critic to be able to approach the game as a game and speak critically on that level as well, adding game theory to the rich mix of critical skills necessary to take up the task. Oh, and a dash of history wouldn’t hurt either, as it would be helpful to understand a given game’s place in its genre, the reputation and common themes/tropes of the development studio, and any and all technical innovation driven by either the code or its control scheme (i.e., the platform upon which the game is played).

There are folks that certainly possess the necessary knowledge to at least take a shot at fulfilling Klosterman’s noted void, though perhaps not as thoroughly as Klosterman would like. It isn’t necessary for a game critic to be some hyperintellectual academic with a pedigree in three forms of criticism as well as a deep understanding of game theory and history. Hell, Lester Bangs was no Ph.D. Bangs got by with a talent for the written word and a deep and abiding passion for music. His knowledge of rock and roll was unrivaled among his peers, and he seemed to grasp almost intuitively the geneological evolutions of style, sound, and subgenre. There are certainly committed gamers who have that kind of knowledge and can fluently discuss the virtues of Square’s RPG titles prior to and following their merger with Enix, shifting quickly to the evolution of the FPS from Wolfenstein 3D to F.E.A.R., and round the convo out talking about the trials and tribulations of Atari and Nolan Bushnell. Many of these folks are writing on the game industry as we speak, but they lack something Bangs had in abundance: unabashedness.

Coming off a childhood and adolescence heavy with mockery towards their chosen hobby, the current crop of games reporters have adopted an irony-laced and deeply self-deprecating approach to their subject matter, undercutting their own enthusiasm and credibility with pages and pages of snark and affected attitude in order to push themselves to the proper ironic distance from gaming itself. This attempt to drum up some level of hipster street cred prevents, I think, anybody from taking them seriously as either journalists or critics. The alternative mode for gaming journalists is that of unabashed and unapologetic fanboy, which is only slightly less grating than the faux cool of the aforementioned set. This level of enthusiasm also creates its own problems of credibility, particularly when it comes to reviews and review scores, as the gaming sites make accomodations to remain in the good graces of the game industry itself. The various review sites are rich with examples of games that got marks that seem, at least to a goodly number of those that played the games, completely out of line. Even worse are reviews that bemoan problems with particular title that, if one actually plays the game beyond the twenty-minute mark, entirely disappear — betraying the fact that a good many of these games get only the most cursory of examination before final judgement is passed, erroneous as it might be.

So what will it take for there to be a Lester Bangs of game journalism? A handful of factors seem to come into play. First, we need just a bit more time to pass from the days when game-playing was purely the provence of the pocket-protector set. Then, we need either a cultural shift in the corporate game environment to become more open with their process and their products, or alternatively for a seriously influential taste-making publication to arise in the games field. The current magazines and websites are considered too often as merely the mouthpieces for corporate press releases — as a result, it’s hard to take their writers’ statements as seriously authoritative. The ones that aren’t suspected of being corporate shills or selling review scores are too packed full of bullshit faux self-loathing and mockery of their target audience (and themselves) to be read as serious criticism. Finally, we need a writer to take up Klosterman’s challenge, one that possesses the knowledge of games and the critical eye and ear to evaluate the artistic presentation necessary to really dig deep into a game’s success or failure as a work of narrative, art, and game design — who can also sling verbiage around with the same reckless abandon and sheer prose stylistics that made Bangs so much fun to read.

No sweat. I’m sure someone will get right on that.

The origins of role-playing are, at least according to most sources, pretty much equal parts miniatures wargaming and fantasy fiction. The impact of a handful of books on the design of original Dungeons & Dragons remains obvious even in the latest edition of the rules some 30 years later, from the Vancian-inspired “fire-and-forget” magic system to the common races (half-elves and hobb…I mean “halflings” being things I’ve only encountered in Tolkien and D&D, just to name a couple).

Despite these literary origins, many of the character options available to players are poorly represented in those handful of texts, and the huge body of fantasy literature published in the intervening 30 years provides a much more fertile field to search for inspiration. To that end, at the prompting of a couple of my players/co-DMs (thanks, fellas), I’m throwing a few reading lists together that I think are great sources of character inspiration for prospective players (or DMs looking for something to help them get a handle on a tricky NPC).

I’ll be the first to admit that not all of these picks are absolutely tops in the genre fiction field as far as overall quality goes…I’m more interested in well-defined and interesting characters, even if the plot never quite came together or if some of the other characters in a given book were a little flat or uninteresting. I’ve also, as a matter of principle, tried to avoid actual game-derived fiction, as it only serves to reinforce (in most cases) the stereotypes about different character types that the game takes as fundamental assumptions. I’m also not about to suggest the list is even vaguely comprehensive — it’s driven by the vagaries of my own reading and my somewhat shoddy memory. Anybody reading (all three of you) should feel free to throw your $.02 in the comments, and maybe I’ll nick some new reading material myself. So, all disclaimers aside and without further ado…

So you want to play a barbarian?
1. Conan: The easiest place to start, and the one most folks will think of first, is Conan. In fairness, there’s some quality barbarian goodness to be had in some of those stories, so I guess it passes the sniff test for our purposes. Howard certainly presents a barbarian that isn’t a) a moron or 2) entirely one-dimensional. It just almost feels like a cliché for me to even recommend it.

2. Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser: Heavy emphasis on the Fafhrd here. While a thief by trade, the burly northman is another nice example of a non-stupid barbarian. I’ve never really understood that whole archetype, honestly. Where did it come from? Conan’s no dummy, and neither is Fafhrd, but both are warriors that rely on enormous brute strength and come from “primitive” (read “non-urban”) backgrounds.

3. Belgariad: We’ll come back to these books again, no doubt. While the storytelling gets a bit repetitive in the Eddings’ corpus, character has always struck me as a strong point in all of their works. The Belgariad gives us yet another complex barbarian in the form of Barak, a literal interpretation of the Norse “berserker” in his transformations. Again, not an idiot, though he’s a bit more prone to boneheaded moves and the “let’s just smash it all” school of strategy and tactics.

So you want to play a bard?
1. Poetry: Seriously. Even if you hate it. It stocks the brain with the odd bit of poesy that can infiltrate your character’s vocabulary to good results, used sparingly. It also gets you thinking descriptively, and a convincing bard should be able to throw a little off-the-cuff flowery description around now and again. “Period” poetry would be good, though the language differences might be a little jarring and would sound forced at most gaming tables. I’d recommend against modern stuff and the tendencies towards blank verse — for this purpose, go find some good flowery rhyming Romantic poets (Wordsworth or Coleridge) or even some of the more formal Victorians (Tennyson’s good for this).

2. Spellsinger: Alan Dean Foster’s series is great for the music-as-magic motif, and the central character’s modern origins make his mindset easy to associate with for readers. And really, I’d rather have a player with a bard character that spouted appropriate (if anachronistic) song lyrics than one who never mentioned music except to announce his intention to activate a class feature.

3. The Little Country: My wife swears by this one for the bard players out there, and from what little I’ve gathered (having not had the chance to read it entirely), it certainly sounds like just the ticket. Fey, music-as-power, art-as-magic…

So you want to play a cleric?
This is a tough one…so much rides on the particular setting in play, not to mention the particular deity (if there’s a broad pantheon). To that end, I can merely recommend some things that feature religion as a major factor to the characters and their development.

1. Dune: Paul Atreides is a messianic figure, so the religious issue is pretty obvious. While the book is science fiction, it still gives a strong central character that is in many ways a religious leader, and Paul’s wrestles with the burden of being a religious leader as well as a political figure and leader of an army.

2. The Elenium: Eddings again. While the Pandion Knights are closer to paladins, a few are far enough over on the clergy end of the spectrum to be useful to players of clerics as well. Sparhawk himself is a little too much the soldier to really qualify, but his supporting cast work nicely.

3. Mythology: Bulfinch or Edith Hamilton. Look at your chosen patron deity/pantheon, and find some similar myths to use for raw material. After all, Pelor isn’t too far removed from Ra or Apollo in theory. Look for the common threads that run through Sun God myths and away you go. If you’re feeling like some homework, dig around in Joseph Campbell’s collected works a bit, too.

It’s not much, but it’s a start. Future installments will cover the rest of the core classes, and then maybe move on to more general character archetypes (the Merchant, the Soldier, the Scholar…that sort of thing). If I think of additional selections, I may throw them in a future installment, or I may just put ’em in comments. Please do the same, as I need more stuff to read.

found via Warren Ellis

BBC story about recently discovered space-spy suit.

So, for the sake of argument, let’s say NASA didn’t can this program. Justifications are left as an exercise to the reader, though I find some possibility in tweaking the historical response to the war in Vietnam. Should the government have conceded its futility earlier and refocused efforts on fighting the Red Threat via increased space surveillance and intelligence operations, the jump to actually putting the MOL in orbit is actually quite small.

Done and done. Orbiting MOL. Hooray. Now, for some gaming goodness (one-shot only, really, as the confines of such a place would limit one’s entertaining options, I would think). Put a handful of characters on this orbital platform, far from home. Schedule some solar flares to dork up their communication systems Earthside. And then add one broken transmission indicating that one of the crewmen is believed to be a Soviet spy, with just enough static that the identity of said spy remains a mystery.

Now hurl some technical difficulties at the station that require things like spacewalks and EVA.

Whether or not you, as the gamemaster, actually stipulate which character is the spy or leave it to the players to hash out interactively in-game is an issue best handled on a case by case basis. This will in large part depend on what sort of players one has, and whether or not your typical game leaves that much narrative control in their hands.