Thursday, 17 November 2016

Never Settle (in game design)

Greetings friends!

Today I wanted to take a moment to talk to you about a few observations of mine regarding game design on the tabletop and my own rule about how and when a rule should exist.

This rule is simple, that every rule should conform to Occam's Razor, and have a narrative explanation.
- Note, this is about a rule, not a core game mechanic, those are different. With those, the most narrative driven and razor sliced rule would be eliminating dice or cards and have models actually do what they're supposed to do. But that is either not possible, or impractical.

Let's look at 2 examples of this from my beloved First Law: Override. Firstly, Hackers and Exo Suits. The former are the super characters of your Force who are almost always the stars of the show who win you the game, but are physically weak to compensate for the super human actions they can perform. The latter, a huge powered suit with the best armour, the best melee weapons, and an arguably best ranged gun. But these two are like oil and water.

They don't mix.

Why?

Well the meta reason is because of balance. You give a hacker an ExoSuit and they become unstoppable. They became unfun.

So out comes the razor and a rule is made to say they can't use them.

But where's the narrative?

That's simple: wetware.

Hackers have a neuronet in their brain that allows them to connect to their hacking deck, and an exo suit moves and reacts thanks to connecting to the user's brain. The two if put together would cause the hacker's wet ware to short circuit and would fry their brain.

Simple! An element of balance retained, and a narrative reason as to why!

Next up: Link-Bots and combat.

A link bot is Override's version of Infinity Remotes, or Malifaux Totems. They are physical extensions of the Hacker's deck, while being hard to kill and fast. But when they had the ability to melee and shoot, they were again unfun and to balance had to cost more in points making them unwieldily for their intended purpose.
Out came the razor, and then it was made that they couldn't be active in any combat (can still be hit or shot, but can do it back) why? Where's the narrative for this?

Again this was simple: First Law Programming! These babies are hard wired to be unable to hurt people!

Straight away we have two rules which were created to maintain the presence of 2 cool pieces of equipment, but keep the balance of the game, all the while having an understandable explanation beyond simply 'balance' or 'reasons'.

***

Now you may be wondering why I have brought this up? What possible motivation could ol' Loxley have for talking about this, his fundamental principal in game design?

Simple, and the reason is the most common reason why I bring up anything... because someone has ground my gears!

In this case we are talking Steamforged Games(SFG).

So a number of days ago SFG put out an announcement about their upcoming game Dark Souls the board game which included the following rule change:
Player Death
If any member of a party dies, the ENTIRE party is transported back to the Bonfire to rest, and a Spark is consumed. You still refill and regain everything and all Encounters reset.
sounds pretty simple, but does this comply with the narrative razor ideology?

This rule is pretty simple, and it is a valid way of dealing with player death, but where is the narrative? Under what circumstance would cause an entire party to reset and respawn because a single player died?

I have queried with others who agree with this rule as to why, the reasons given are 3 fold.

1). It's like the video game where when the host dies, all 'summoned' players are kicked from the encounter.

2). It was implemented to stop people suicide running, where they would front load their attacks to put out damage and after they are killed, the rest of the party mops up the boss.

3). SFG are professional game designers, therefore I trust them.

Let me give you my take on those 3 points:

1). Yes it is like what happens in the video game when a host dies, but what about when a summoned player dies? Nothing happens, the fight carries on leaving the host and the remaining summons to deal with the boss. Therefore to argue it is 'just like' the game, it is equally valid to argue it is 'not like' the game.

2). We are assuming that either this tactic is a problem, or that the numbers are fixed.
A). Is this actually a problem? People say that the reward for playing Dark Souls is the feeling of achievement when you down a boss. If that feeling is lost due to 'gaming' the system, then surely the only people loosing out are the players? And therefore in future games they will be less likely to do this tactic as they will be getting diminishing returns on their reward.
B). If it is a problem, then that would suggest that actually the numbers are wrong, that front loading your damage is too effective, or that the boss has too little health. To balance this, you don't remove the possibility of it being a tactic, but you make the tactic less viable by making damage output over a long fight better, with spike damage being lower, or stack on more HP to the boss meaning that even if they do this tactic, then the boss will still have too much health left for the 1 or 2 surviving characters to down it.

Notice, I am not adding additional rules, I am suggesting you balance the existing rules of the game. This is how you use the razor for game design. It also follows a narrative in that the players are not being magically transported away for reasons.

3). Just because SFG have made Guild Ball and are an established company, does not mean they are perfect at creating rules. I can name countless games by even more countless companies who have been in business for decades, and yet their rules are not infallible. Blindly trusting that they will produce the perfect ruleset is why we have problems with certain fans of certain Workshop based Games companies which results in frankly untested and terrible rulesets.

In short, what we are looking at here is a game defining rule, which if followed to the letter results in situations that don't make sense, pull the players out of the experience, remove tension while encouraging defeatist attitudes, and is frankly a lazy rule to compensate for a problem that in all fairness will sort itself out in time.

And anyway, if people want to play the game on 'EZ-MOAD' what's wrong with that? Especially when the videogame itself has such a thing by allowing you to summon other players to kill bosses for you!

Anyway, long rant over. Stay safe and be excellent to each other!

- Your friendly neighbourhood Doctor Loxley

Monday, 7 November 2016

Moonstone - Last Couple of Days

Greetings friends!

My what a rush the past few weeks have been, but the end is in sight!
In just a couple more days time, our (Goblin King Games) Kickstarter will be coming to an end, and we will all be letting out a massive sigh of relief after trying to promote the game, write guest blogs, do interviews (both written and audio), push via twitter, Facebook, and message boards, while also answering questions received.
- And that is on top of our 9-5 jobs and families.


But then no one sensible ever said that running a Kickstarter was easy.


But what an amazing trip it has been! We've unlocked all our stretch goals including an alternative head for Doug (above) and even the Queen of the Fae, a venerable goddess of her people (below).


But we're not done yet!!

With just a few days to go, we still want to push forward, knowing that for ever pound we get we can pump that revenue back into making the game as great as possible including even more art for the deluxe rulebook, and even having the capital to take this onwards onto retail.

Oh yes, before you know it, this game will be filling up stock space at your own Friendly Local Games Store!

But we still need your money in order to reach these goals as soon as possible! It will happen, but with your money we can do so all the more sooner!

So tell me, have you backed?
Yes? Thank you!
No? We'll get your wallet out, hop onto Kickstarter and do so!

Seriously, currently this game is all abuzz, with people literally across the world, in China, Thailand, Germany, USA, Australia, Russia, and of course our little island of the UK all pledging and taking part in test games to see what they think of the rules and providing feedback.

I told you earlier this year that Moonstone was the future of Character Driven Skirmish games, and I meant it!
Let me tell you, the game is quite literally the future of Character Driven Skirmish games!
- Richi, New Fairbank News 25/11/2015

So you do not want to miss out on your chances to be in on this on the ground floor!

Until next time, stay safe, and be excellent to each other!

- Your friendly neighbourhood Doctor Loxley

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Moonstone the game now on Kickstarter!

Greetings friends!

So it's been a while since my last real post, but I can assure you that things in Chez-Lox have not been quiet and idle!

Oh noes! I've been busy behind the scenes with something you may have heard about...

Remember that little game that I talked about at the end of last year? A certain, future of character driven skirmish games?

Well all that hard work is coming to a peak, as right now:
Moonstone the game is live on Kickstarter!


https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1138228733/moonstone-fantasy-skirmish-game

Check it out! We got Goblin Pug Riders, We have Fancyhats and Flintlocks. We have Shabbaroons! Thwap! You can blow up a whole troupe with that puppy! We got harpoons! Sharp sticks!

If you haven't guessed, I am so excited for this project!

At the time of writing we are at 65% funded, and I am really hoping we can push forward, break our funding goal and move on to start grabbing those stretch goals!


I mean, seriously! Who wouldn't want these Faeries in their Dominion? These in particular are models which you can't find anywhere else, there is pretty much nothing like them out in the world of miniature gaming!

Throw in fantastic rules and you have one hell of an awesome game!

If you are curious, the campaign only went live yesterday on 17th October, and I am hoping to cover how it progresses right here on New Fairbank News!

So until next time, stay safe and be excellent to each other!

- Your friendly neighbourhood Doctor Loxley

Thursday, 13 October 2016

Like GLaDOS, I'm still alive!

Greetings friends!

It's been quite a while since my last post, quite some time indeed!

But I wanted to take a quick moment and tell you all that it's not for nought, and that your usual Chez Lox experience should return shortly.

I'm sure you are mostly familiar with the work I have been doing for Goblin King Games, and as such almost all of my 'composing and writing' time has been filled up writing for that.

Next Monday sees the launch of the Moonstone Kickstarter (full game) and I hope to bring you some lovely juicy bits throughout that.

Until then, stay safe, and be excellent to each other!

- Your friendly neighbourhood Doctor Loxley

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

The Definition of 'Difficulty' (Dark Souls vs Overwatch)

Greetings friends,

So the past number of months had been most interesting for me. I had played (and completed) my first Dark Souls game, and I'd also played (and had my ass handed to me) Overwatch.


For those interested, it was the latter which got me thinking about this article, and I've dwelled on writing it ever since until now when I knew it was time to finally press PUBLISH.

What struck me at the time, was how different these games treat their representation of difficulty.

The Dark Souls franchise is renowned as being the hardest franchise of games to play. Those who have played the games claim they are the 'hardest' games ever made. I remember on one episode of the popular UK daytime TV show Judge Rinder, they even had a legal case about it, with one person claiming that the original Dark Souls was harder than optioning a good three year degree (note: he wasn't the one doing the degree). Players state repeatedly that the game is never forgiving. You either Git Gud or give up.

Overwatch however is the latest game by Blizzard Entertainment, an online team based PvP shooter. Unlike Dark Souls there are no boss battles, no move scripts to learn, and no mantra about 'just doing a little better every time'. Instead you have something else: other players.
- NB: Yes I know that Dark Souls has PvP invaders, but that is only one part of the game.

When I first started playing Overwatch on launch day, as I stated in a previous post, my ass got handed to me. Everyone else seemed to be elite pro-players, while I sucked balls.

It was an interesting experience, especially after having completed Dark Souls 3 just a few days before.

What I learned was just his the different games handled difficulty:

Dark Souls uses scripting. It has the same enemies in the same locations, who do the same number of moves, the only differences being the order they may do them, however often that order can be dictated by you the player (as I found with the Ancient Wyvern who I killed without running the gauntlet, but instead causing him to follow a movement/fire breath combo that always allowed me to move out of harm). The difficulty is that a lot of these monsters can kill you with one hit, or if they can cause you to run out of stamina or make you stumble, will beat on you without you being able to stop them. The aim of the game is learning how to stop them doing that.

Overwatch, and with it, any other multiplayer PvP game, uses something very different: the almost random nature of other people. Unlike a super hard scripted combat, instead you never know what the opponent is going to do, because just like you they have free will and can change their mind. Plus they can practice, have better frame rate, and better teamwork/synergy.

It's interesting to me, because while you can still learn, it is very different. You can learn what you as a player are capable with certain classes. You can also learn what other players are capable of doing with classes, but you can not learn what they will do and when. It's just not possible.

So what does this really mean?

Is someone who is a master at Overwatch a better player than a master at Dark Souls?

No.

That's just silly.

All they are is a master at their game (assuming in this example the other master is not as good as them in that specific game. If they happen to be a master of both, then frankly they're just a dick. And yes I am jealous).

This got me thinking, are really any games directly comparable? What about tabletop? Or is this tied directly to video games?

Honestly, I would say it applies to them all. You may be a fantastic Warhammer player, but that doesn't mean you'll be good at Infinity. Yes there are certain talents and skills which translate over, but it is not a given.

Neil Gaiman once quoted Gene Wolf about learning to write a novel; "you never learn how to write a novel, you only learn to write the novel you're on". As true as this may be for writing, it also appears to me to be true of gaming, that you can never learn to be a master of gaming, but only the game you are currently playing.


- Your friendly neighbourhood Doctor Loxley

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

#7FaveGames a thought piece

Greetings friends!

So yesterday I decided to take part in the current event going around on Twitter, the #7FaveGames tag, being sure to include my wonderful wife, and mutual friend in it:



As the day progressed I saw more people take part in this mini trend, and I started noticing a few things.

I decided to do a little research, and clicked the #tag to see what others have chosen. What I found was very interesting.

Firstly, certain games were very popular and common, The Last of Us, and Overwatch being two I noticed the most, the former being to the degree that a notable number even listed that one game 7 times, as if it was the only one worthy of mention.

***

I have been told by a lot of people that I overthink a lot of things, and I am certain that this is one of those times. But I got thinking:
Just what qualifies as a fave game?
I realised that in my head, I had created three categories:

1). 7 Best Games. Games which no matter how old they are, you will still happily play them now. Time has proven to you that they are not a passing fancy.

2). 7 Best Memories of Games. Games which you haven't played in likely ages, but have extremely good memories of.

3). 7 Games You Currently Love. You are really enjoying these games at the moment, and like a childhood summer, you want it to never end.

I realised that I answered as 1). That I looked at games I have played so much, and how many years later their age hasn't done them a disservice. Let me break it down for you:

SNATCHER - A game I played on the Sega CD as a child. I would say I have a lot of nostalgia about this game, but as a personal rule, I dig it out every 3 years and play it through. This is a game which I know I could play it today and would be exactly as I remember. To me it has everything in it, and is probably the best game ever made.

Psychonauts - Another game I play very regularly. It's graphics are cartoony and almost ageless as a result, but it's voice acting and great imagination means I can, and do, regularly replay this game which is roughly 10 years old.

Quake 4 - My go to game. Again we're looking at roughly a decade old release, but whenever I want to play a shooter purely to feel like a Grunt, this is my go to. I probably play this in it's entirety at least once a year.

Life is Strange - This shouldn't fit into my rules. It's too new. Time hasn't proven if it will stand up. However it's emotional impact was so huge, I couldn't not.

DMC - Devil May Cry - Quite literally the greatest action platform game I've played. Again, I replay this semi regularly, and at roughly 3 years old, it's on it's way to proving itself.

Deus Ex: Human Revolution - As with DMC, I have played this game over and over, and it always is enjoyable, and at a year older than DMC, it's seriously on its way to proving it's placement.

The Secret World - Been playing this for a good 3+ years as with the recent above games. In time will it continue to be what I would say is currently the best MMO out there? I don't know, but I hope so.

***

Why did I chose to go this route, and not the one that so many others did about the games with the best memories?

The answer is simple. Because memories lie.

We wash over the bad parts, focusing only on the good. Graphics are often crisper and more vivid. Controls are smoother. Gameplay is more fun.

If I had completed this list about 2 years ago, I would have included the Legacy of Kane games in the list. The story was one of my favourites, and I remembered how I loved to play each one from start to finish.
- Then 2 years ago I re-bought them on Steam and tried to replay them all.

Ouch.

The controls were almost unusable by today's standards, the graphics which had once tried to look bright and smooth, we're now dull and blocky. The only saving grace was the quality voice acting.

I always say that you can never go back, and I mostly stand by this. So often going back and playing the older games you have such fond memories of, reveals those memories to be rose-tinted nonsense. Where playing it now makes you realise how much more enjoyable the modern standard is.

But I do not think you 'shouldn't' go back.

Quite the contrary. You shouldn't not play older games out of fear that you will ruin your old memorises. After all, to me, the idea of memories that you can't challenge for fear they won't stand up to scrutiny are pale ones indeed. You need to test and scrutinise them. You have to revisit old games and pit them against new ones.

Some you will find are just as enjoyable now as they were back then, and those are memories that you should hold onto. Others you will find were based on little more than youthful ignorance and pure rose-tinting, and really why hold onto those memories, when you can acknowledge that you enjoyed the game at the time, but know that playing it now is no longer fun.

***

Lastly, the lists about current games being played, yes I'm looking at you Overwatch.

To those who want to include these games from the last 6 months, maybe even 1 year. Sure you may be loving the game now, but what about in another 6 months, 1 year, 6 years, 10 years? Will you still think it is one of the best games? Or will it just be something that you played a lot of for a few months and then dropped, never to play again?

I'm sure some games out currently will fall into the former, but I have a terrible feeling, considering how fickle many of us gamers are, that most will be the latter.

***

I need to also say, before I finish for the day, there are a number of other games that I also wanted to include in my list but just couldn't push them before the other 7.

StarCraft

Prototype

DeadSpace

Mirror's Edge

Oddworld - Stranger's Wrath

World of Warcraft

Aliens: Colonial Marines

System Shock 2

Resident Evil 6

Audiosurf

Hunter: The Reckoning - Redeemer

Aliens vs Predator (2010)

Condemned: Criminal Origins

FEAR 2: Project Origin

Outlast

Enslaved: Odyssey to the West

Heavy Rain

Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth

Unreal Tournament

Mortal Kombat 3

Portal

Diablo

Star Wars: The Force Unleashed

Dragon Age: Origins

Mass Effect 2

Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War 2

.hack//INFECTION

Omikron: The Nomad Soul

These are in no particular order, and while I would love to go into further detail I am afraid the list is far too long to do so.

Know only that I think each and every one of these games are fantastic, and already are passing the test of time.

If any of these are games you have yet to play, then I urge you to seek them out and try them.

But sadly I am now out of time. Until next time, stay safe, and be excellent to each other!

- Your friendly neighbourhood Doctor Loxley

Thursday, 4 August 2016

The Anatomy of a Monster

Greetings friends,

Today I wanted to take a moment to share with you a little bit about my past, who I am, and something that very much helped shape me in being the person I am today.

Now the reason for this post is that I have just finished listening to the audiobook of Darkly Dreaming Dexter by Jeff Lindsay on Audible.


This is actually my second time around with this book, the first time bring reading it in paperback.

It occurred to me that this book and the TV show adaptation, holds a very special place in my heart, and sharing this with you, the reader, would be a good thing.

I remember as a child, adolescent, and young adult, people often asked me who I found inspirational. Who was my hero. I always answered the same way:
No one. I don't have a hero.
The reason for this was quite simple. I never read, saw, or met anyone who I felt I could properly relate to. Therefore I was unable to find their struggle particularly inspiring.

Then, around the late noughties (say; 2009) I saw the first series of the tv show Dexter, and shortly afterwards read the book.

Within the confines of these 60 minute shows, and pages of a paperback, I found a character who I found inspiring.

I am of course referring to the lead character, Dexter Morgan.

Now, to those in the know, this might seem a little strange. The lead character is a serial killer. A learned psychopath, who goes around killing people. Bad people, yes, but killing people none the less. And of course this is something that civilised society very much frowns on.

So why would I find his character such an inspiration?

Could it be that your Friendly Neighbourhood , Doctor Loxley is also a back alley slasher?

Of course not!

But in this character I saw a little bit of myself. Something that I had never seen or read before.

You see, the reason the lead character does what he does, is down to him trying to satiate the driving force of something inside him. Another side to his personality that he calls The Dark Passenger.

This was something I could relate to very well.

For a very long time, I always knew that there was a part of me which was what society would consider a-typical. As a small child I could not relate to other children. I found it amusing to see them in pain, and when they cried, I was indifferent. It didn't mean anything to me.

For years I used to believe that Empathy was something that didn't exist. I heard people talking about it, and I thought it was all a cosmic joke. That no one felt it, because after all, if I didn't feel it, why would anyone else?

This was my dark passenger, or as I came to see it, my Monster.

It wasn't until my later teens that I began to learn how to fake it. To observe how people acted, to learn what those actions and reactions meant, and to say and do what was considered the 'right' thing in response.

It's why I learned quite soon afterwards that I had a bit of a gift as a therapist. The words coming out of people's mouths were often different, but the inclination, the body language, the tones were often similar, and therefore I was able to access my back catalogue of learned responses and reactions to try and help them.

My motivations were almost always selfish. After all, if I could help people, then they would want me around, and in turn my need to not feel alone would be filled. My Monster became a tools could use to feel better about myself.

Others saw this as altruistic. They thought I was helping them for their sake, so that they would feel better. To my knowledge, very few, if any, knew that my motives were purely selfish, and that they feeling better was just a byproduct of feeding my Monster.

Time went on, and I grew more as a person. I met my wife to be, and found that I was able to genuinely care for another person. Yes the list was now only two. But that is still double what it was.

But I was still very much unhappy with my monster.

I felt that it held me back. It reminded me almost daily that I was not like other people. That certain things they seemed to understand and grasp almost intuitively, seemed completely alien to me. Like someone from another country speaking their foreign language. I acknowledged the words were there, but they didn't mean anything to me.

Then I saw this show, and read this book.

Here was a character who had their own monster. One that they felt the world would be repulsed by if they saw it, so they hid it away. Resigned it to the deepest recesses of their lizard brain, while taking it out to feed when necessarily.

This character, this man, was in a situation I felt relatable.

What more. He didn't seem unhappy by it, or ashamed. He had come to terms with his monster, and had accepted it for what it was.

For someone like me, that was inspirational.

***

Of course, time went on, the TV show reached it's conclusion, and I saw the truth of the situation. While the end of the show seemed out of character, it was written, so it was.

The character I saw as an inspiration was a lie. He claimed one thing, to hold certain values as ultimately important, and necessary to be followed, but the moment he was forced to take responsibility for his actions, to actually openly accept his monster, he couldn't.

In that moment, I saw that I had outgrown this character. That the inspiration he had given me had dwindled and left. That I had become more than he was.

I had learned a lot of things in the years of watching and reading.

Namely that I was not alone. That we all have monsters, they just take different forms. That our monsters do not need to be our weaknesses, but can be our strengths.

I didn't need to be ashamed of my monster, and those around me, an immediate family of three now (including me), and even some people outside my family, namely a couple of very select friends, did not only accept the public me, but also the real me. Monster and all.

That those who did recoil at the idea of my monster, were not scared of my monster. They were scared of their own.

***

So now, if someone was to ask me who I found inspirational, who was my hero. My answer would once again be:
No one. I don't have a hero.
And you know what? I'm ok with that.

- Your friendly neighbourhood Doctor Loxley