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8:53 PM on 08.13.2014  

Wait for it... wait for it...


This puppy needs you to just pick up the ball so it can play some more and finally move on with its life. I know the feeling.

I just finished my 3rd†SolForge victory of the day. Yes, SolForge. Iím the only tablet card gamer in the world not playing Hearthstone. Iím just one of those assholes that has to be different, I guess.† And my Zombies deck is pretty damn competitive.

I kind of want to play another round Ė but the third victory payout, a couple grand worth of silver, is the last one for the day. If I play again, Iíll get maybe 50 silver, which is worth precisely nothing. And there are other things I could be doing with my time, so I quit. For today. Unless, if Iím really fiending, I can stay up until midnight, at which point the clock rolls over and I can fight for another three victories. More games this evening, at the expense of my ability to play during the day tomorrow.

The game, like the puppy's owner, is forcing me to experience delay.

Delay in this kind of electronic game is artificial. Itís not a loading screen getting in my way, itís not that it takes long to find a match. There is no performance-based obstruction to playing more. Yet the game is saying ďGo home buddy, youíve had enoughĒ at this specific point because that is how the game designers set it up. It is not dissimilar to the kinds of ďenergyĒ required to advance in other mobile games.


Why would a game designer set up walls to stop me from playing their game? There are a variety of reasons, and many of them are covered in Zoya Streetís latest short work, Delay: Paying Attention to Energy Mechanics.

Delay is a collection of interviews, musings, and incisive analysis of this specific facet of casual mobile games, and the way in which many of them intentionally attempt to gate your play experience in a way that may or may not be to your preference. It's written with academic crispness and clarity - Zoya is a self-described game historian working on a PhD - but the language is approachable and more layman-friendly than your average textbook, the kind of thing you might find on Gamasutra and dig into over your morning coffee.

For less than the price of that coffee, this is an excellent little meditation on a mechanic that has become nearly omnipresent in mobile entertainment, and I would recommend it if that were all it was. Even if you're not the sort to enjoy thinking about game design for its own sake, you still will likely find something in here that will impact the way you experience and think about your own favorite time-wasters. But there's more to it than that.



Delay isn't just a critical analysis of how to optimally soak the average tablet owner for an extra few dollars now and then. Zoya reaches past that, weaving threads of gender studies and self-examination into the mix. At the heart of it, he is looking at the system of Delay as a system of control - an external force that tries to regulate how you play your games. He is comparing that system to other forces of control in our lives - the forces that might tell us how to spend our time "correctly." The societal forces that tell us how to act, and how to think, and how to love. He is examining the ways in which the games we play reflect the ways in which we as individuals manage our needs and our drives. That's worth thinking about, whether you're a professional designer or whether you're just trying to unlock your fish pond in Hay Day.

You may agree or disagree with any number of the assertions he makes, but Delay will absolutely give you something to think about, and for that I cannot laud it enough. Academics have a habit of locking off serious studies, papers and critical theory behind a university library paywall. I am always happy to see someone bucking that trend. If you find that you enjoy this sort of thing enough to want to expand your personal library, head on over and learn a bit more.


I guess I just I really love the notion that a game historian is actually something that you can be these days. How can you not? It's like a kind of job that would only exist in a novel, but in this economy you gotta invent these jobs, no one's inventing them for you. I love that games actually have history worth recording, I love that people want to celebrate that history, I love thinking about the whys and wherefores of games as much as I like playing them. I used to have to wait to get into conversations about them, back before I lived in a world filled with fans, devs, and academics all finding and showcasing their favorite aspects of this hobby. Now, I can have that conversation almost any time I want. There's hardly any delay at all.

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12:56 AM on 08.06.2014  

Open World, Opener World, Openest World

So, raise your hand if any of the following terms remind you of a time in your life:
* Play by Post
* Chat RP
* MUD
* MUSH

Okay, I count a few hands upÖ and a few blank staresÖ and a bit of droolÖ right, then. Those of you who kind of glazed over are welcome to just go ahead and take a nap, or exit out the back, and have a lovely, practical, socially well-adjusted day.



Those of you who are still with me, hi! How you been? We have some stuff in common, probably.

Back when I was a Jr. High rugrat, my few friends and I spent all this time creating character ideas. Like, not for a game, not even with a plan in mind at first. Just for its own sake, because we liked inventing awesome heroes, mostly based on the format of those Marvel Universe superhero encyclopedias. In addition to the universes full of teams we created, we'd each base one character on ourselves. But when we had a field trip bus ride to kill, or it was a slow day at lunch or in study hall, then we'd have our GM "run us on an adventure."


fulldamage possesses the normal strength level for a creature his height, age, and build who engages in reluctant regular exercise

There were not really any rules to this thing, you understand. The character sheets were in our heads, and there weren't any dungeon maps. This was pure freeform. The GM came up with something to throw at us, we'd come up with a way to handle it. You'd think a bunch of kids would be just power-gaming - and we did, a little. But we also quickly learned to work with the GM to create actual drama, which was much more interesting. It got good. People's characters got killed, formed alliances, and underwent permanent changes and transfigurations in the course of these adventures. After the dust settled we'd write the results down in their character histories.

Eventually we started playing tabletop games. Years later I would get into online RP, which made me friends that have become a major part of my life in the real world. Bottom line, at the end of the day I have always been all about Making Some Shit Up with friends, and seeing where that might take us.

So maybe you could see why something like Storium would appeal.



In a way, having the freedom to come up with anything you want can indeed be a daunting limitation for a player. What if a good idea doesn't happen? What if you put something out there, and it sounds stupid and its embarrassing? What if everyone else sucks and makes it awkward? What if you get stuck?

Rules are what make a game, and near-total freedom can be paralyzing. It's not for everyone.

But if you like to write or even just like stories a lot, and if you've never tried collaborative writing before - I think you should give Storium a shot, for a number of reasons. Firstly, it works different muscles than you're used to. This is improv or freestyle, it requires you to just let go of the need to make a perfect masterpiece, and just riff with everyone else, as the spirit moves you. Sometimes it won't be great. And sometimes it will surprise you by being better than anything you would ever come up with on your own.


You can absolutely be as cool as this guy. I wouldn't shit you.

Secondly, it's good practice. Especially if you get a group going that works well together, because you'll want to dazzle them just as much as you want to BE dazzled by their ability, and each post is another opportunity to make that happen. Over time, you can get a lot of writing done this way, and the more you write, the better you get.

Thirdly - it's fun. That's the main thing.† Probably should have led with that. Cut me some slack. This is jazz, man.

You probably want to know a little more about how it works. Well, the mechanics are simple enough. You have a narrator, who runs the story, and a bunch of players. The narrator sets up scenes.† In each scene is one or more obstacles to overcome.†

Players take turns writing parts of the scene to describe what is happening with a focus on their character. There's no turn structure - you go whenever you feel moved to do so. Each character has a set of cards representing a set of character attributes - Strengths, Weaknesses, Nature, and Subplots among them. In order to actually overcome obstacles, a character has to play a card.† The cards form a limit on the amount of effective things that you can do to overcome the obstacle.

To be clear, there are no dice or randomness involved. The cards are there to represent plot devices; they can be anything. Maybe the obstacle you are trying to overcome is a Wall of Thorns, or maybe it is an Awkward Silence that has occurred after a moment of high drama. Maybe your best tool for the job is actually a personal weakness like Indigestion or Kleptomania. You can accumulate tools and strengths in a way that simulates leveling up, or maybe you're creating the tale of someone spinning increasingly out of control into failure. What you do and how you do it is entirely up to you and the narrator.



On a pure craft level, this is an elegant system in that it mimics the recipe for keeping a story on the rails. You need to have a character with a goal or desire, they need to face obstacles and overcome those obstacles with the tools at their disposal in order to resolve their need or their goal, and come away from the experience changed. That is the core of any story, and the fact that the mechanics require each player to focus on these things makes it harder to wander off on a tangent, and easier to end a scene in a way that actually feels solid.

It's not without weaknesses, and it's still in beta. For writers that already enjoy collaborating together, the rules may feel almost needless - it's possible to ignore quite a number of game mechanics if you're comfortable just writing together and trust each other's instincts. (The narrator is allowed to call for a revision of any submitted piece anyway, and everyone can discuss things in the Comments section that lives on every page; comments will send out an email alert to all players involved.) On the other hand, there seems to be some room for more competitive play - if you have a group that prefers to be a bit at odds with one another, creating gain for one player character at the expense of another player character, then you may want to take the rules and outcomes more seriously. But really it's all down to what the narrator decides to let you get away with - there's no automated system in place that can possibly prevent anyone from being hammy, or mean, or typing too much, or a hundred other annoying things.† It's up to you to make the magic work.

If you'd told me this sort of thing would ever be a popular concept, I would have given you my best skeptical face. But Storium has done really well for itself so far. The game is evolving, and there are a bunch of new features and preset worlds still coming online. Go investigate, and let me know what you think.

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7:21 PM on 07.27.2014  

I'd Move Mountains


After about an hour, a bed flew out of space and crashed into the mountain.

There wasn't really anything I could do about it. †I rotated the mountain back and forth, and clicked on the bed to no particular avail. †It's still just kind of sitting there, embedded into the mountainside at a weird angle, and seems like it will be there forever. †

There isn't much you can do about anything in Mountain. †It begins by asking you a series of questions about yourself, to which you must respond by drawing in answers (look, all that messing around in MS Paint is finally going to help you after all!). †No one knows what the game does with the answers. †Maybe nothing.



I'm calling it a game. I mean, you can argue about whether or not it is one. I like to think we've outgrown that discussion finally. Like, nothing says "insecure about my hobbies" like the need to formulate a thesis to justify them. Maybe we should call it an interactive meditation, or a digital snowglobe? Whatever revs your motor.†

Mountain is sort of like like an old bottle that someone discovered in a trunk in the attic, and you've bought it at a garage sale for a dollar, and you take it home and you discover that the top is permanently sealed on. †So you rattle it around a little bit, and you're sure you can see something in there but the glass is too scratched and tinted for you to be sure what it is, no matter which way you turn it. So you just end up putting it on a shelf, and every once in a while someone asks about it so you take it down and puzzle over it with them for a few minutes at a time. Otherwise it just sits there on the shelf, inviting you to think about it every once in a while.†

Have I just described a game? I suppose I haven't. But it's sold in the same places that you find games, and I use the same portion of my day to play with it that I would otherwise spend on games, and it shares some features with games, like being on a computer and responding to your keyboard and mouse inputs, and having sounds and graphics and whatnot, so let's call it a game and be done thinking about that part for now, eh?†



Every once in a while the mountain has a thought.†

These thoughts occur with little chiming sounds. Sometimes they repeat, as your own thoughts do. They're pensive thoughts, and sometimes even a little dark. The mountain sounds like it is trying to figure itself out by studying its surroundings, with minimal success. There may be a lesson in there for you. I don't know.

Word on the (virtual) street says it was made by the same person that made another not-a-game that is featured in the movie†Her, which is apparently about a man dating an OS that lives in his smartphone. If you like this sort of thing, thing being solitary mountains drifting alone while time passes, pondering the nature of existence, then you may also like that sort of thing, which is Spike Jonze.†



Some of the buttons on your computer will make something happen in the world of the Mountain's world, but not all of them, and the range of interaction feels pretty narrow after a few minutes, but who knows how many surprises are lurking in there? I don't want to spoil too much. Anyway, I'm not telling you how to spend your money. I thought it was worth a dollar, so that I can fire it up every once in a while and think about being a mountain. Maybe that's dumb. But what else are you going to spend a dollar on? Go on, try and come up with something. I'll wait. I'm pretty patient.

Maybe that's why I like†Mountain.

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5:55 PM on 05.20.2012  

Bootlegs and Bad Games - A Toast to Jackie Chan


So, Jackie Chan is retiring from action movies. It makes me a little sad, but at the same time - maybe itís about that time? I would certainly rather be hearing this news than finding out that heís gotten himself killed on a movie set during some incredible but ill-advised stunt involving a backflip off of a motorcycle in mid-air between two skyscrapers to deliver a flying kick to some other guy on a motorcycle while on fire.



Itís honestly perplexing to me that there has never really been a Jackie Chan game worthy of the name, to my knowledge. I wanted to do a bit of research on his impact in games and all the places that Jackie look-alikes show up, but I found out that Hardcore Gaming 101 is all over that already. Their article is like 8 pages long, and probably you should be reading that instead of this if you really want to learn something!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lomugUihsDk
Close your eyes and pretend that this is an embedded video! Well, don't CLOSE them, but...

I first learned about Jackie Chan back in 1993 or so - I think Armour of God and Twin Dragons were big at the time. Back in the days when videotapes existed, I used to help sell bootlegs at the monthly L.A. comic convention. It wasn't so easy to find japanese animation and HK flicks back then, especially subtitled. There were no torrents, no Toonami. People hadn't heard of Akira. There were anime clubs you could go to, to get introduced to things like Ranma films or Project A-ko, because there was nowhere local for a strapped college student to get ahold of that stuff.


Nowadays it is possible kids are actually a little bit TOO exposed to anime.

We'd get tapes that had clearly been recorded from public television, wavy lines, mediocre reception and all. Then someone would subtitle them (or in shadier instances, almost certainly snagged from a commercial laserdisc or someone's fansub - I won't lie, there was some hustle involved) - and then we'd copy manually on VCRs and hawk them at the con. It was my friend's deal, I just went for free lunch, free day at the con, and maybe 40 bucks for my time if business was solid. It was a bit of a time commitment, but I somehow managed to squeeze it in between all the Drunken Mastering, failing to have sex, and skipping class to play Mario Kart or Panzer Dragoon that otherwise kept me busy.


It was better quality than this. Usually.

We had this one copy of just Jackie Chan cuts of all the best stunts from all of his work - 2 hours of heads getting kicked in, in between ludicrous backflips and handsprings and wall runs, set mostly to a bunch of White Zombie and hardcore jams. This was some of my first exposure to the latest HK cinema, and it blew my mind. It was always one of the best sellers; I don't know how many times I watched that thing.

It's not an exaggeration to say that his influence changed the way our culture perceives and understands action. When you see an action sequence that doesn't make quick cuts, but actually just puts the camera at medium distance and lets you clearly observe the actors in motion, a lot of that came from the hundred-odd films this man put together. When you catch any reference to drunken master kung-fu, it comes back to Jackie's Drunken Master. And he never needed to be some kind of MMA hardass to do his thing - in any given situation, he'd rather make you laugh than make you bleed.



I will forever be in awe of Jackie Chan, who through training, dedication, and an unkillable sense of humor, has used the humble tools of his fists and a movie camera to elevate the level of wonder in the world by showing us things we would not have imagined were possible. The man moves through our waking world as though it were a video game - every surface available for him to navigate, every jump the precursor to a double jump. I feel like thereís more to say here, but this wonít be a timely post if I sit on it too long, and so Iíll make like the actor himself - drop it here, and move on to other things.

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11:15 PM on 04.15.2012  

JRPGs, if you please, or if you don't please.

Would it be weird if I said I donít go to games sites for gaming news coverage? Or does that just make me dumb? Basically, Iím trying to explain to you before I mention them, that I donít often visit Kotaku other than to read Kirk Hamiltonís game music articles and the occasional Ashcraft ďLife in JapanĒ piece.

That was such a terrible explanation. Seriously, so bad! I'm sorry for wasting your time, everyone!



Okay, thing is, somebody sent me the link to this one about JRPGs. And I found myself realizing I had a lot to say about them, because I wrote down what was intended to be just a brief little comment on my G+, but ended up going on for just forever. I get like that about JRPGs.

So, this is the article, for reference.

In a nutshell, itís a defense against a criticism that JRPGs are ďdead,Ē that theyíre all too repetitive or stagnant or whatever people say about games that donít get as much media attention.

The first thing that sprang to mind for me was, "repetitive" isn't itself a flaw if the core gameplay is fun. All kinds of fun stuff is repetitive. Swinging on a swingset is repetitive. Dancing is repetitive. Television is repetitive. Checkers is repetitive. Peggle is repetitive. Triple Town and Tetris are repetitive. Shooters are repetitive. But they're also addictive. When people say that a formula of gameplay is repetitive as a criticism, what are actually perceiving is the game's failure to keep them locked in a satisfactory engagement loop.


Sometimes repetition is awesome.

If the story payoffs are not getting the player emotionally invested, or the combat systems lack tactical nuance and opportunities for decision making, or the leveling system does not continuously feed the character fun new things to learn, or the game's camerawork, effects, and presentation fail to evolve in eye-catching ways over the course of the game, or - well, any number of potential problems! - then the gameplay is perceived as repetitive rather than addictive, because the player feels that they are receiving less and less reward while growing more and more adept. But these are design problems - not problems with the genre as a whole!

As a form, it has a lot of limits. The D&D roots are clear, jutting out from the surface of the genre at odd joints. It's mostly about using numbers to make bigger numbers, dressed up with swords and spells. There's not much more to it. But limits can be enabling; Final Fantasy IV and VI, along with Chrono Trigger, are examples of some of the magic that happened when Square developers mastered the available tech and then pushed its' limits - dueling airships, playing through opera sequences, multiple character POVs, stories spanning lifetimes, branching storylines, time travel, and so much more.


It seems intrinsically Japanese to me, this honing and polishing of a small and brilliant form of gamespace, re-iterating and recycling to seek perfection within well-defined limits. Contrast it with the West - sprawling, open-ended game vistas - stay in one form of gameplay just long enough to plant your flag, consider it conquered, and move on to new pastures and new ideas quickly, or consider yourself "stagnant."

If JRPGs have an primary weakness, to me, it is in the narrative - and a lot of people play these for the story! But to me, there's a point at which I just cannot take the constant retelling of the journey to adulthood - the immature young hero learning to be mature through strife and sacrifice, learning about love, learning about defeat, learning about firsts. It is actually perfect for the model of linear leveling progression that RPGs in general have at their heart - start weak, strive, get strong, overcome. As gamers themselves age, it becomes harder for them to identify with these themes. The adult world contains more nuance. What a lot of gamers reaching their 20s and 30s aren't realizing that it's not the games that are "stagnant," it's they who are growing up and seeking deeper understanding.

But the form is capable of that. Costume Quest and Penny Arcade Adventures are fully approachable, witty, and charming games built on those exact mechanics, but telling their own unique little stories. Parasite Eve takes you through a fight against your own mitochondria, who have shaped the human being since the dawn of time. SMT: Nocturne asks you to adopt an ethos - that of the solitary Ascetic, or the arbiter of Law, or the Chaotic force of growth and change - and to harness the demons and thoughtforms that align with your ethos, to prove out that thesis in demonic combat. The linked article contains many similar examples.


Also, this.

Geez, my examples are really dated, actually. Iím not even that expert on all of whatís out there. But 1) That still supports my point - even decades-old JRPGs showed some fairly astonishing and innovative concepts. And 2) Thatís actually why Iím going to quit yammering on like that guy on the night bus who insists on involving strangers in his largely monologic ongoing conversation about how heís constantly receiving mental messages via satellite from Mars telling him not to bite strangers, and ask people to educate me instead.

What is the real hotness in JRPGs? For all my defense of them, itís been a long time since I found one that I really enjoyed. I think itís fair to say Iím over the usual pastoral-green-adventure-land, kids-with-swords-fighting-dragons, good-triumphs-over-evil nonsense. Iím curious about whatís on the fringes of the genre now - the stranger, the more bizarre, the more unusual for a game, the better. I tend to prefer stuff I can find on PS3 or PC, and tend to prefer turn-based or ATB to ĎAction RPGs,í but I still want to know about JRPGs that really made you stop and think or impressed you, no matter what platform theyíre on. Anybody want to school me?

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7:46 PM on 04.08.2012  

10 Things You Didn't Know About fulldamage

Well, itís been a super-long time since I wrote anything here, right? But I love all of these 10 things blogs - kudos to bbain for getting that going! My subconscious firmly believes that you guys actually all resemble your avatar pictures, and that you spend most of your time fighting for space justice on the internet while piloting a hundred thousand tiny space vehicles that assemble into a gigantic Mr. Destructoid wardroid every time I visit this site.

And yet somehow, even after catching these glimpses into your real lives and the things that make you, well, YOU - my subconscious only feels even more justified in this belief. I was never able to win an argument with my subconscious, so let me dust off and clean up my space vehicle and get up in this mother.


1. I have been laser-enhanced.

I spent a good bit of my childhood with my nose buried in a book. This might be why no one noticed I was nearsighted until, like, 5th grade or so. Then I spent the rest of my jr. high and high school years wearing thick-rimmed glasses that, yes, were frequently held together by tape. I didnít get contacts until college, and from then on, the process of worrying about them, taking them out and re-inserting them, getting eyelashes caught in them, and all the other wonderful joys of contact lens wearers were mine to enjoy (by which I mean hate) for many, many years.

I eventually saved up to get PRK, which is like LASIK but hurts worse and can take days to recover from. I cannot shoot optic blasts, which I specifically requested, but I can now enjoy the privilege of being able to close my eyes whenever I want, for as long as I want, and not having to undergo some elaborate cleansing ritual when I decide to open them again. It sounds like a little thing, but itís amazing.

This is the type of thing that makes me want a good universal health care system. Everyone should be able to do things like, you know, SEE, regardless of their income level. Iíll pay taxes for it, whatever.


2. I'm of mixed race.

My momís Filipino, my Dadís black from Louisiana (with a good dash of spanish, french, and other stuff, probably). Itís not something I talk about much, but neither will you catch me ignoring issues of race. Regardless of whether theyíre aware of it or understand it, perception of race is something that affects everyone, all the time, in ways that are both subtle and obvious. Just because I donít say much about it, doesnít mean I donít think about it. But I'd way rather be talking about stuff that's actually, like, fun.

3. I'm trying to write more often.

I always want to get better at writing. Itís the one thing that I can claim to have above-average ability in; in all other areas, I try not to suck but neither am I exceptional.
I rant about all kinds of crap on G+: fulldamage

I am working on an experimental fiction project, here: Ehaema

On the latter, Iíll be writing one little piece every single weekday, for the next year. I just started it, and am a little over a month into the effort. Itís sort of a story, but also sort of not? I honestly donít know whether itís the kind of thing anyone would care to read, but itís mainly a practice thing for me to do daily, like working out - gets me into the habit of writing regularly, without getting hung up on details. So far, so good.


4. I have a cat.

Alley is a weird little cat that shuns most people in favor of hiding in corners and staring like a creepy witchís familiar. But she seems to adore me and we get along just fine. I have a piece that I keep meaning to write, about how she went to the hospital and almost died last year due to kidney complications. I was playing the Binding of Isaac at the time, and kept seeing parallels - about what itís like to be a little creature, trapped in a scary environment, at the mercy of forces beyond your control or comprehension. Maybe Iíll get around to it. Mostly Iím just happy she pulled through.

5. I am a lurker in all walks of life.

I like a lot of things that spawn subcultures - comics, books, games, sci fi and fantasy, punk rock, hip hop, gothic / electronic music - but I tend to drift along the outer periphery of all these scenes, rather than settling comfortably into one the way so many friend groups seem to do. Iím a little anti-social, so I donít make friends real easily - Iíve always kind of done my own thing, and Iím totally a space cadet who spends most of his time in his head - but life is in the connections you make, right? Maybe I should get ďde-lurkĒ tattooed on my forearm as a personal reminder to engage more often. Is that overkill?


6. I canít swim.

Dunno. Iím half Pacific Islander and half from a southern culture that historically relied heavily on fishing and sea trading - so Iíve got the genes of all kinds of water-loving people, but it doesnít help. I canít really tread water - I just go down. I even took swimming lessons as a kid, but all I ever got out of it was a mouthful of baby pool pee water and a sense of general inadequacy.

Every once in a while Iíll sneak into a pool and try to doggie paddle across the shallow end while no oneís looking, but to little avail. Itís fine. When the dolphins finally rise up to slaughter us all and dominate the planet, you swimmers are going to be the first victims, while I hide in my landlocked bunker and prepare a statement of fealty to our new aquatic overlords, so the jokeís on you, suckers.

7. I like karaoke.

Not the open mike onstage kind (though I have done some spoken word in my time), but I will totally rock out in a japanese style karaoke booth with whomever wants to go! I tend to pick old New Wave or gothy tracks because I can mostly hit the baritone range their male vocalists tend to be in, but my range isnít that good.

8. I wish I could support comic books better.

Man, comics are awesome. But in my advanced age, I really just canít hang with the monthlies any more - I follow my favorite writers/artists and pick up the trades instead. Retailers are suffering because of this, but I canít justify dropping 3 or 4 dollars on something Iíll have read in 5 minutes, and be stuck waiting until the next month for a little crumb of plot advancement. Iíd rather wait until a story is collected, and order it from Amazon or something, the way I do with books.

So comics retailers and publishers need to adapt to the increasing amount of people who are going to do it that way, but a lot of them are trying to figure out how to incentivize people to get single issues by adding content to them. I get why they want that, but I think itís a losing battle.


9. As a child, I profaned the blessed Sacrament at church

Iím not a churchgoer. I think about consciousness and spirituality a lot, mostly under the wing of philosophy (which was my major in school). And I love mythology, because I love stories. But my folks are Catholic, so I went to catholic school in 5th grade. I never paid attention when my mom brought me to church, so I didnít know why everyone was lining up to go the front to get some weird little paper cookie.

On my turn, I snatched one out of the priestís hand and carried it around nonchalantly for a long time before cautiously snacking on it later on. Protip: Catholics are weird about you doing this unless youíve participated in their whole First Communion rigamarole. I had to go talk to a nun with my parents later because eating Christ Cookies when youíre not supposed to apparently ruins EVERYTHING for EVERYONE.

Man, those things taste awful anyway. I distinctly remember some kid telling me they tasted like chocolate. They do no such thing. Catholics are messed up.

10. You cats rock my socks.
I actually hope this was something you knew already, but in case you didnít, there it is. I am always scarce around here, but I love knowing that Dtoid is here, full of awesome people and fans of all kinds of games, waiting for me to pull up a browser window and read all about not JUST games - but the life, culture, and people that love games too, and how theyíre affected by those games, and then go out to change the world just a little bit, by writing things or getting together or gaming together or just doing their thing - shit, all of it. It makes me happy even just to think about it, while Iím stuck in the middle of some onerous task or other. Seriously, thank you for that.


Hitler puppy commands you to enjoy this post, and the rest of your weekend.

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11:26 PM on 01.10.2012  

Dark Souls - A Little Bit of Faith



Itís when the silence sets in. Thatís how you know theyíre coming for you.

The world of Lordran is always quiet to begin with. Other than the hum of wind, the occasional crackling of a distant bonfire, and the quiet mutterings and growls of those few strange creatures that still cling to life in these vast abandoned ruins, there is precious little sound. But when even these few noises die down to a muted hush, so quiet you can hear your own heartbeat, it means only one thing. An invader wandering the cold Abyss between worlds has gained a foothold in your world. That invader is coming to kill you. You can always hear it, as long as you listen.

The second thing you hear will be the unmistakable sound of that spirit gaining coherence in your world, spawning into full reality nearby. It may only a be few seconds, or nearly a minute, but itís barely enough time to prepare.

And then I hear the spawning sound. A message banner rolls across the bottom of the screen. ďSpirit of Vengeance Manitoba87 has invaded.Ē

There are many types of invaders that can make their way into your world. This type, Spirits of Vengeance, belong to the Darkmoon Covenant - the karmic police of Lordran. When I was a much younger spectre, 20 or 30 soul levels ago, I belonged to the covenant of Forest Protectors. I wandered for many moonless nights in Darkroot Garden, hunting down intruders for their souls and the materials needed to forge my weapons. Many of them, as they fell, indicted me - wrote my name into the pages of the book of Sin, so that warriors of the Darkmoon might find me later and exact their vengeance. And I deserve it, of course. We all sin, and we all bear the cost. But so long as I am armed, and at full health, I refuse to die. The souls Iíve collected are my only means of getting stronger, my only means of escaping from this forsaken place. They will take them from me by putting the business end of a length of steel through me - or not at all.



My heart is pounding. Has been since the silence fell.

Iím on the third floor of the Library in the Dukeís Archives. Itís a precarious situation. Iíve never been this far into the Archives before. Invaders may be escaped by rushing into the boss area at the worldís end, but I donít know where that is, nor how far away. I donít know where the enemy is coming from. And Iím full of souls, tens of thousands of them gained from slaughtering my way out of Seath the Scalelessís gruesome prison tower. Souls that will end up in a bloodstain on the floor, in the middle of an armed mob of shamans and crystal warriors, if I am not careful. I stop moving, so that the clank of my plate-armored footstep canít give me away. I slot in my remaining Estus potions of healing, click through my few offensive options. I lurk in the shadows on the catwalk, and wait.

And then I see him from over the lip of the railing, scurrying across the bottom floor silently. Invading spectres make no sound.

My hands are shaking now.

I have one small advantage - control of the arena. There is only one way to get up to my level - via a rotating staircase that connects the second and third levels of catwalks. He can make it up to the second level, but he canít get up here unless I turn the staircase for him. But thereís no other way for me to get out. So I must face him. It still takes me several minutes to build up the courage.

None of us want to die. Not again.



I take a breath, and walk out onto the staircase, audible and clearly visible now. At the staircaseís midpoint landing is the lever that will rotate it 180 degrees, connecting it to the second level catwalk on the roomís opposite side. I pull the lever, and wait.

As expected, he is there at the foot of the staircase when it completes its rotation. An energy pattern of coldly flickering cobalt blue light in the shape of a man.

We stand there, regarding each other for at least five seconds. It would not have surprised me to see a tumbleweed roll past. This is a test of the opponentís character. Hungry, thuggish, inexperienced souls will come charging in immediately. When enough time has passed to established that neither of us is that type of warrior, then we bow simultaneously - he with a courtly sweep of the arm, me with a formal, from-the-waist eastern bow.

Then, just like in any samurai movie youíve seen, we charge.



He has a one-handed sword. I hold a Crescent Axe, a long-handled headsmanís blade. It is not a popular weapon, but it has better reach than any other axe, and delivers damage commensurate with the strength of my Faith. As we draw near, just before Iím inside the reach of his sword, I drop the axe and palm my talisman - the symbol of that faith. And as he draws back to swing, I take a knee and pray.

And the air erupts with the Wrath of the Gods.

My opponent is lightly armored. The force of the miracle scatters him to the foot of the stairs like leaves in the wind. And I make a mistake. In my nervousness, Iíve double-tapped the cast. Wrath erupts a second time, but it washes over my prone opponent harmlessly. Worse, it eats away a precious second of my time. As fast as I can, I heft the axe once more and bring it down in a brutal overhand chop, but itís too late. Heís recovered. Quick as a blink, he vaults to his feet, backflips twice, and goes sprinting down the catwalk in the other direction.

I run after him as fast as I can, but Iím in full paladin armor, bearing no charms or enchantments to lighten the load. He outpaces me easily. A smarter fighter than I would have pulled out a ranged weapon and fired at his back. This is my belated thought process as, barrelling down the hall, I see him turn back to face me with a halo of glowing spheres rising up around his head.



Crystal Soul Mass. Itís nothing to me. Charging forward still, I wait for the spheres to leave his orbit and come streaking towards me like small earthbound meteors. I dive forward in a roll, and they zip overhead, harmlessly. I have to think of them as harmless. Because if you stop, if you try to run, even if you just freeze and hold up your shield, then the first one will knock your shield aside, and the rest of them will rip you open and leave you broken on the floor.

Coming up from the roll, I leap forward to bring the axe overhead in a downward smash. He flinches aside just in time, but fails to get out of the way in time for my follow-up swing. I can hear the gasp through his teeth in the stillness of the Archives as my blade cuts through his armor once, twice. But again, Iíve been overeager. I barely caught him with the tip of my weapon; the third swing hits only air, and leaves me off balance. I have a moment to see him lean forward, to see the glimmer of a Pyromancerís Flame in his sword hand. And then the air around me combusts into a terrifying cloud of fire.

My faith protects me to some degree from direct magical damage -- but fire is an older, rawer form of magic. I try to swing the axe again, but the fire has ripped through my defense - I can only stagger, arms twisting in pain, withering in the deadly inferno as the air explodes again, and again.


With the last of my strength I throw myself into another roll, past him, tumbling until I can get clear. I have a second to myself, maybe less. Itís not enough, but in a haze of panic, I down a flask of Estus. My health bar, shrunk to a thumbnailís width, springs back to half-full.



A second later, and that Pyromancerís glove is at my back again, the air once more burning. But Iíve recovered just enough to take the hit without flinching. Pivoting, I level the axe into a wide horizontal sweep.

He sees it coming, and flips backwards, but his timing is off, and my range is good. I clip him as heís coming down on his feet. He panics, turns, and sprints a short distance before turning to regard me once again.

Weíre both torn up. At this mid-range distance, whoever flinches first loses. The sword re-appears in his hand. And just like in the samurai movies, it ends as it began. We charge.

Iím late on my swing; he gets clean past the axe. His sword tags me as he passes; the blade is enchanted with flame, and once again, I am burning. My health bar is a sliver.

Any second now, there will be a backstab. Iím wide open, and out of options. I donít think about alternatives; my fingers do the math for me. Reflexively, one last time, I drop the axe, take a knee, and pray for the air to fill with the sound of Godís Wrath.



Iím waiting for the backstab sound to happen. Waiting to see my avatar snap into that all-too-familiar shock animation as my opponentís weapon enters her back and explodes through her chest, lifting her clean off the ground in the process. Iíve already seen it as vividly as though it were real, when my ear finally registers the soft double-thump of my opponentís body hitting the ground knees-first, and the sighing whisper of his soul leaving this plane of existence.

Iím a scrub, when it comes to PvP. A humble vessel, who entreats greater powers to help him deal with the skilled, vicious, and deadly obstacles in his way, and hopes -- against all odds -- that somehow he will make it through each encounter alive. Hands still shaking, I had to put the controller down at that point, and reflect on what it is to have a little bit of Faith.

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10:31 PM on 09.21.2011  

PAX: "This should be fun. When do we leave?"


"This should be fun. When do we leave?" - Gogo the Mime

It's been about a month since PAX. I keep meaning to write something about it, when work isn't kicking my ass. Thus far, the ass kicking has been relentless.


They say they'll lay off the brass knuckles if I get all my spreadsheets done.

Also, I'm kind of lazy. And I didn't take any pictures, because I have the attention span of a flea with a mood disorder and a Red Bull problem.

But that doesn't mean I haven't been thinking about it.

The last time I went to Seattle was more than ten years ago; passed through it, I should say, rather than "went to." I was visiting a friend in Snoqualmie, and really didn't see much of Seattle other than that it seemed rainy and full of coffee shops and flannel and the spirits of long dead alien scouts from other worlds, hungry and in need of fresh, untarnished, virginal souls - which is pretty much what everyone expects Seattle to be. But convention time is different.

During PAX - well, I guess all I really saw was downtown. But because of the massive convention clustered right near its heart (like a cancerous growth, but very slightly less expensive), it really became something Other - like a city in a novel, full of weird and wonderful sights. You roll out of your bed in the morning, as early as you can stand, because awesome is happening right outside and you need to be part of it (and why can't waking up be filled with that feeling more often?).

You stumble towards coffee, and a bunch of N7 troops from the Normandy are lounging near the counter in fatigues and tank tops, ordering espressos and blearily trying to remember where they parked their ship. As you're chewing through your thing-that-was-a-pastry-once, you can see Mario outside posing for a picture with someone - no, wait, that's Ron Jeremy. Ron Jeremy in a Mario costume? Probably wouldn't be the first time. Maybe itís not Ron Jeremy. You're not quite awake enough to figure it out.


Give this man a mushroom. Right now.

As you trundle towards the convention center, the streets are teeming with Soul Collectors and Creepers and BlazBlue warriors and "sexy" Pikachus and a sad man in a yellow blanket who thinks he's Pac Man and may have diabetes. And so much more. It's like a forum exploded, and everyone is dressed as their avatar. It makes just walking around a heartlifting experience. It's beautiful.

Forums! Geez, I never go there, which is my own damn fault. I spend too much time on the internet to begin with. But did you know that the forums are filled with awesome, and that everyone in there is bombsauce? I met so many cool Dtoid forum people I don't even know where to begin. Jack Shadow and Hei, Diverse, GOBUN!, Fleet3000 and lady, Glitchy, the amazing Changston, Scion of Mogo, and many other rockstars whose names I cannot remember right now because BOOZE. Also met a handful of the many community leaders whose names you may not see that often if you're a front-pager only, but who do an amazing job of helping people have a good time, on the site and off - Tactix, Powerglove, and so many more. Also met the incomparable Elsa for a few minutes, which was an absolute treat, as well as the polite Mr. Kraid, sublime intern Ali D, Heiyu who is a hilarious friend of mine that needs to delurk - the list goes on.



All of these people are awesome, and are only one tiny piece of the Dtoid army which lurks in secret. Okay, they lurk in public. And they are actually kind of loud and sometimes wear funny hats and foam swords and are not actually that secret. My point is, they are all as awesome as you could possibly expect; hilarious and legit and straight up nerd-sexy, and the meetups at E&C and Pink, not to mention the Dtoid panels, absolutely made my damn show.

Want to know a secret? Every once in a while when there are no new texts from my friends or material in my RSS reader, I'll flip open the GroupMe app on my phone and look at the chat record of that weekend - hundreds of fellow Dtoiders greeting each other, meeting up to get food, get booze, find trouble to get into, and sometimes something or other about gaemz. For a second, if I'm stuck in a line or doing a really boring task, it's a breath of fresh air.



What is there to say about PAX?

I mean, most of it has been said already. Everyone who wasnít there is sick of hearing about it already, and everyone who was there - well, they were there, and the moment doesnít translate into words very easily.

Mostly, I think I want to set some of it down just for myself.

Because over the course of this year, there are going to be some bleak moments. Iíll end up stuck late at work, sleep-deprived and laboring away on something I donít care about. Or one of those foul moods will sneak up, the ones that convince me that nothingís worth doing, no oneís worth seeing, and that if the earth would just sink right back into the water before I have to put on my shoes and go out the front door, that would be the best of all possible outcomes.


Unless I had slick shoes, and didn't use the door. That'd be fucking awesome.

And when that grim breath passes, I remember all the things worth doing in this world, and the fact that I just found a new one, and that it happens every year like magic.

Eleven months to go. See you in 2012.

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11:55 PM on 07.20.2011  

Downloadables: A Hoard of the Game



Well, let's get this thing started. Thanks, everyone, for taking the time to visit - find a seat anywhere, it's a spacious cave and there's plenty of room down front. My name is fulldamage - thanks, hi, thanks - and I'd like to take a moment to talk to you a little bit today about a serious problem facing dragonkind. Something that impairs our ability to focus on long term goals, to develop ourselves, to grow as a species, and to contribute to life on this planet. Drakes and gentlewyrms, I'm here today to talk to you about hoarding, and how it is ruining us.

Now, just hold on a minute. I know what you're thinking. "Fulldamage, hoarding is what dragons do. It's just a part of how we behave! It's natural. We attack towns, we raze crops, we kidnap princesses, we slay knights, we fight each other, and we hoard gold. Forever. Look it up on wikipedia, it's just how we are! You can't change what you are." I know, believe me, I've heard it all before - I've thought the same things myself over the centuries! I'm not here today to tell you to apologize for that. These are great qualities - rightfully belonging to gorgeous beings at the top of the food chain such as ourselves. What I'm saying is this - there's a right way to go about things, and a wrong way. And if we don't go about things the right way, then as a species, we're simply not going to make it.


It's a problem.

Now, show of claws - who in here is a big fan of Gold? Yep, yeah - okay, you can put them down. That's about what I thought. Gold is a wonderful thing, and it comes from many places in the world - mostly from humans! You can get it from burning down their farms, burning down their towns, ransoming kidnapped princesses, ambushing royal caravans - it seems like it's everywhere, so who cares how much we collect, right? But I'm here to tell you today that gold, and the humans that create it, are a limited resource. If we hunt them to the point of extinction, then there's less gold in the world, and our sweet gold beds get less fluffy with each passing year. I need you to think about cultivating humans. If you want to succeed at the long game, you need to let them build up their towns and farms to a certain level before attacking them - they're much more valuable that way, and you'll save a lot time, which can be put to use napping and dreaming of sweet, sweet slaughter.


Why keep them in here? They make gold. GOLD, you understand.

I'm already hearing some grumbling in the back - settle down, you malcontents. I'm no peacemonger. Listen, what I'm talking about is a balancing act. You have to be an activist, you have to engage daily in the process of improvement. If you let them build too big, all of a sudden there are castles and wizard towers all over the map, taking potshots at you if you so much as stick your nose out of your lair. That's obviously a fatal situation. What I'm talking about is harvesting them sustainably. Let them build up to a sufficient level - and burn them down just as they become a threat. Or even better - show them fear. Cause just enough havoc to terrify them, without destroying their cities entirely - and when they rebuild, they will worship you, and deliver money right to your hoard without you having to so much as flap a wing, leaving you free to expand your control of the map and work on your long term goals. Think about it.

And you should have long term goals. For Ouroboros' sakes, you need to better yourselves. All dragons are blessed with innate strengths - flight speed, fire breath, carrying capacity, and armor. If you really want to run the map, you need to not only develop those skills, but develop them tactically. Because let's face it, the world is a small place, and we're competing with each other, not just the humans. You need to be able to take care of yourself and strategize for your long term gain. A maxed-out breath attack is handy, but not if other dragons are making it to all the gold deposits faster than you! Sneaking into other dragon's hoards to steal from them is a time-honored trick - but if you're not strong enough to carry out more than a couple clawfuls, then it's a total waste. You'll often find spells all over the map that will let you freeze targets, blast things across the length of the map, and more - but you need to focus on the ones that apply to your current situation, and you need to use them when the time is right.



Humans, again, are the same way - you need to use them tactically. Think about protecting towns and castles that are close to your enemies' lairs. If you can do this, eventually your opponent will be plagued with archers and magic bolts downing them prematurely, leaving you free to eat up their resources and build your powers.

My friends, there are at least thirty maps out there, all featuring human settlements in different locations and arrangements. There are thieves sneaking into your hoard from every which direction, who will zero your score multiplier and ruin your ability to meet your money making goals in a timely manner. There are princesses being carted around in flimsy conveyances, begging to be kidnapped. There are knights which come charging into your hoard after princesses. There are wizard towers guarding valuable gems, if you can dodge their devastating blasts. There are archers, there are massive giants, there are plunderable caravans, and most of all there are other dragons.



Dragons interfering with your tribute wagons, dragons decoying you into chasing princesses so they can steal from your hoard, dragons nabbing your powerups, dragons leading trains of knights in your direction, dragons ambushing or sniping you when you're in mid-raid and far from home. Managing each map requires an ability to react quickly, to strategize, to adapt, to make critical decisions between offense and avoidance, and to shift focus between short and long-term goals. It's frenetic, and it is challenging.

The lives of dragons span aeons, and the rise and fall of your entire empire can hinge on the events of what seems like 10 or 20 minutes. Fellow dragons, I challenge you to take an active part in managing this world of ours, in overcoming its obstacles, and in becoming the bravest, strongest, richest creatures this world has ever seen. With your help, I believe we can accomplish this goal, and accumulate hoards the size of which our ancestors could never have dreamed possible.

And if I catch any of you within seven leagues of my lair, I will straight-up murder you into ashes.

Thank you for your time. Be safe.
(with apologies to Big Sandwich)

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11:50 PM on 07.14.2011  

I've got your Intro Post, right here.



So uh, it occurs to me that I never really did the Introductory Post thing.

Hi! I'm fulldamage. I liek games. I write thangs.

I space out very easily, and occasionally space out during conversations, adding several lines to the conversation in my head and then jumping back in so no one really has any idea what I'm...

... yeah, and so that's why armadillos, right? Because they have leprosy in their toes.

Right? What?

If enough people went in on it with me, I think we could buy this house as a timeshare, and rule during the zombie apocalypse.

Games have been helping me get through life for practically as long as I can remember. The first computer game I recall playing was Dino-Warz on the TRS-80. The gameplay was kind of like thumb-wrestling with boxing gloves on, only less precise.



My first console was a ColecoVision. Venture was one of the games on it. Those green fuckers would appear out of nowhere with a fucked-up 8 bit serial killer noise if you stayed in any room too long. Venture was the first game that made me shriek out loud. I think I'm looking for a game that can still do that.

When we got an Apple IIe, I played a hell of a lot of Ultima IV. I don't think I ever won. The path of the Avatar is hard indeed. But goddamn if I didn't learn my way around spell reagents. What was in middle school, had two thumbs and knew what the hell nightshade, ginseng, and mandrake root were? This kid! (so ronery...)

My most-fondly-remembered console was the good old NES. I think we rented every game the video store had to offer. When I discovered that there was a 2nd quest in Zelda JUST AS LONG as the first quest with all-new dungeons, my mind was officially blown. Has any game done that, since? Why the hell not?


But... Second Quest! Where is it?

Final Fantasy I kept me and my brother sane during the summer that my mom decided that she'd snap and strangle us with a vacuum cleaner cord if she didn't send us to the grandparents' house for a few months. I've been fascinated with leveling, progression, and character/party builds ever since.

Final Fantasy 4 and 6, Secret of Mana, Chrono Trigger, Legend of the Mystical Ninja, and basically the SuperNES's entire catalog made high school bearable.

College was all about Diablo, Street Fighter Alpha, and Mario 64. Also, the internet had just started happening. The internet helped me make friends, and helped to balance out the realization that even though suddenly alcohol and parties were closer at hand than they'd ever been, I was still kind of socially retarded. I started writing more, online and off. The writing would eventually lead me to making friends that I'd stay in touch with, meet in real life, room with, and that have stuck with me to this day.

FFVII blew my mind. It was released the year I graduated. It showed me things I'd never realized games could be capable of. After I completed it, my own world map opened up. I got more into punk rock, and learned that a little bit of applied anger could help me to assert myself and find my Limit Breaks in the real world. I took an airship to London with a few hundred gil in my pocket and lived there for six months. Came back to L.A. and dipped into the rave scene a bit. My budget mostly went to beer and gas, but on my friend's Dreamcast we kept the Soul Calibur rocking at all hours. I never could pick a favorite - I was an Edge Master man.


A strong soul makes a strong warrior, not their choice of weapon.

I was an environmental canvasser for a little while, in a total hippie house. I wasn't a heavy gamer at that point in my life, but I had a busted old Playstation to play FFVIII on. It wasn't as good as VII, to me, but I respected the emotional struggles of the main characters. Squall gets lambasted for being "emo" these days, and he was surely cliche, but he stood out among heroes at the time - he had a sarcastic, wry, somewhat ironic character that I could sympathize with - as though he was legitimately pointing out the ridiculousness of this entire world that kept coming to him to solve its' problems and have lengthy emotional discussions. I learned to be a party leader. I made sure everyone made it to the club and back safely. Arguments got mediated. Passed-out kids got safely tucked into bed. They promoted me to field manager at work. I was crap at hitting quotas, but I knew how to get other people to hit theirs.

The millennium turned. I said the hell with it, and went road-tripping for like half a year. Lived in New York for three months. Actual games faded out of the picture for a while, but in my head, I was always leveling up, learning to deal with new challenges, adapting and surviving while I built up hit points.


With a trusty steed and some gas money, EVERYTHING is an open-world game.

Ran out of places to crash. Headed back towards CA. On the way, I wandered into high-level territory in New Orleans, and got the crap kicked out of me somewhere in the French Quarter. That was the first time I'd taken serious punches in a real, non-moshpit, physical altercation. I've taken and given a few more since then, but I definitely learned that keeping your wits ready is often more effective than keeping your fists ready. Level Up.

Stayed in the old hometown for almost a year. Took up doing some spoken word at a coffee shop, where I met some great, funny, talented people and improved at expressing myself. Kept writing. I also discovered both Chrono Cross and Persona 2 - Eternal Punishment during that time. And again, I had my horizons expanded. I learned that you could cross time itself to find a place to fit in, and if you weren't careful, you might discover that you were the bad guy in your own story. I learned that people are nowhere near as simple as they look - we all house a near-infinite number of different faces we show to different people, angelic and demonic and beautiful and ugly personalities all vying for attention, all mixing with each other and turning into new personalities as we meet each of life's challenges.


I found this, randomly, in a locked case at Sears. Never heard of it before. Insta-buy.

I moved to San Francisco. The Playstation 2 came out, as did the Xbox, and a golden era of amazing games started to bloom. I got back into them slowly, over the years. I wrote when I could, I got into trouble all the time, I met all kinds of crazy people - and eventually stumbled into being kind of a grown up, somehow, with my shit kind of together, and something like a career, and friends who like to write and create things with me now and then. And games - and the people who play them - have been along for the entire ride, helping me to make sense of this crazy world by working through it in little simulations, one piece at a time.


I'm at the top of my game right now.

I've hopped out of a plane before. I've been to the green and black sand beaches of Hawai'i. I once interviewed a guy who made angels in his living room out of mannequins and meathooks. I've fallen in and out of love. I've crashed cars. I'm older than I ever thought I was gonna be, and still too young to know what I'm doing. I'm not sure I really count as a grown-up, and I don't really have a plan, still! But at the end of the day, I know the things I like best are getting a sentence exactly right - and plunking down on the couch with a friend to play some games. (okay okay, I like whiskey and drunken makeouts too, but I'm trying to stay on topic.)

And Destructoid is full of game news and gamers and writing and ideas and crazy, and it doesn't have a stick up its' ass, and there are a lot of personalities, and you have adventures and express yourselves with righteous style, and I am a massive fan of all of those things. (I mean, I'm short, not really massive, but you know what I mean.) And that's why I'm here, and happy to meet all of you.



BECAUSE VIDEOGAMES, MOTHERFUCKER.

See you at PAX!

(also I am sorry my blog is naked, I'll fix it I swear)

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10:02 PM on 01.24.2010  

The Future: Game of Life



Youíre driving to work. (Yes, sadly this is in your future.) The SO calls (this may or may not be in your future) to remind you to pick up a quart of milk on your way home. The phone is actually built into your car, hands-free, with a mike in the steering wheel. She can send the address of the store, and the location will pop up on you carís GPS minimap along with an alarm that will ring you when you start your evening commute.

Just then some asshole cuts you off without signaling. You brake, and simultaneously hit the ďfuck you buddyĒ button, which is situated comfortably between the sunroof and cruise controls. The button lights up whenever your carís camera and proximity sensors detect that youíve been cut off. Itís doubly irritating because these same sensors in assholeís car should have informed him not to switch lanes, and he clearly ignored them for the sake of a 4 second time gain.

Once pressed, the button uploads to the auto makerís server, and outputs via a variety of third-party applications to your Facebook, Twitter, and Live accounts. Driverscores are displayed on Live, accessible to everyone on the network; your carís HUD informs you that this guy is a natural griefer, and your thumbs-down will be added to his growing list of poor reviews. Good driving, proper signaling, and sticking to the speed limit are all strategies for building a higher driverscore, which can result in bonuses and cheaper DMV fees.



The HUD system in your carís windshield can display other driversí names, driverscores, and statistics reactively, as the carís internal cameras track where your eye is focusing, and match it to the positional data of the surrounding vehicles. Moreover, when you turn on the ďassistanceĒ feature, then it will help to guide you to proper driving with proper incentives. Virtual pickups will appear in areas where you should go, granting you points for making your turns and lane changes in the right places Ė in addition, lights on the corresponding controls in your car will illuminate when a recommended maneuver occurs Ė the speedometer will show what the recommended speed is, and will grant you a bonus for maintaining it.



Operating from satellite data, the carís computer knows where you should position your car in order to reduce traffic congestion and accidents, and the better you react to its instructions, the more points you receive. Chaining together correct maneuvers and combos can enable you to unlock other incentives, like free smog checks or HUD skins Ė for those who want to drive to work in space, weaving in and out between lanes of gargoyles, dodging potholes that look like banana peels or green shells. As people tag more transitory features, like potholes and deep puddles, the data improves. It turns out all we needed to make people drive better is trophy support for our actual cars. Who knew?



Arriving at work, you breeze past the receptionist whose name and face you can never remember. It doesnít help that she changes them every week or so. A light web of holographic tattoos crisscrosses her face invisibly, projecting new temporary tribal designs or tweaking her features each time she updates her live Avatar and screenname. In the bigger cities, given names have fallen into the same layer of personal information as social security numbers Ė good for identification on forms, but when you actually refer to someone, you go by their current screen name if you want them to respond to you.



You reach your desk, and as you get in range of the webcam at your station, Outlook clicks to life. You have eight active quests (which at the turn of the century were still being called ďtasksĒ). You need to finish three of them today in order to keep your performance meter above 80%, which is what you need in order to score a bonus at the end of the quarter. If you finish five tasks, youíll score a combo bonus, which will net you a Starbucks gift card if you do it enough times. If you finish all tasks, youíll gain an experience level, which comes with the ability to add another active task to your queue, and one perk youíve been waiting for, the ability to delegate one additional task to someone else while still receiving a percentage of their completion credit. Youíre convinced that, given enough time, you can arrange this system so that you can level while doing whatever the hell you want. But enough musing; the clock is ticking, and itís time to get to work.

--

As game fans, we spend a lot of time thinking about games, playing them, talking about them, and comparing them Ė and with each passing year, more and more people pick up a controller or a mouse and keyboard to become gamers. But, if you look around, youíll see not only more games and more gamers, but more places where game technology is influencing how we live and behave. Game-like systems of incentivization are showing up all around us Ė and if youíve spent a lot of time gaming, youíll have a better natural understanding of how to make these systems work for you, now and in the future. But just be careful; if you donít stay on your toes and stay well-informed, youíre going to find these systems playing you, instead of the other way around.

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3:10 AM on 10.28.2009  

Nothing is sacred: Character stats


Encounter!

Fulldamage
STR 10
DEX 13
INT 11
WIS 9
CHA 8
CON 12
LCK 8

I love building RPG characters.

Hell, I'm one of those people who can take 20 - 30 minutes pondering my character name, before I even get to my initial stat arrangement. But figuring out whether to spec for speed or strength, wizardry or armor, stealth or personality - it's seriously a buzz to me. I'm not even a min-maxer -- I just need to get the character so that it matches the picture and/or origin story I've got in my head. For my imaginary character. Because I'm crazy in my brain.

But what's even crazier is how many of you immediately understand what you're looking at when you see a list like the one above -- and not because of tabletop games, where character attributes were born. You recognize what these stats are because they are in so damn many video games that it is almost impossible not to have encountered this type of system before. Because any time you slap the bullet point "RPG Elements" onto a game description, then suckers like me will give even the snooziest game a second glance. And this is why we need to move past them - not just for hopeless RPG addicts like myself, forsaken and damned beyond all hope of redemption or normal conversations. But for everyone, because we can do better.



Problem #1: The stepchild stats - Personality and Luck
How many times have you gone to a forum, looked up some information while thinking about a character build, and heard people saying the same things -- "Charisma is useless. With (x) spell or (y) amulet you can get anything you need from any conversation in the game. Luck doesn't do anything." Whether you're playing an action-RPG, an FPS-RPG, a straight up dungeon crawler, whatever it is, people are saying these things about that game right now. Sometimes they are dead-on correct, and sometimes they just don't understand the game system as well as they could (understandable, given that the actual mechanics in these games are often hidden way down in the basement, like adopted children after the social services worker leaves).

We don't need to get into all that, but the amount of conversation about it indicates that it is, in fact, an issue. This is because, for a beginning player, these types of stats represent a gamble. In nearly all games of this type, you absolutely can get to the end by hitting, shooting, or magicking opponents, and avoiding their attacks. Why, then, gamble on values like your personality or your luck, when it's not clear at the start how and when these things will help you? And when your choice guarantees that you will get hit harder and dodge less? And yet we keep seeing them, over and over. Wisdom is lucky enough to have clerical magic or spell resistance attached to it, otherwise it'd be in the basement with the other kids.



Problem #2: They limit what we can experience
I'm totally going to quote myself: "In nearly all games of this type, you absolutely can get to the end by hitting, shooting, or magicking opponents, and avoiding their attacks." Why? Because your character is valued by strength, agility, and magical ability. And because 9 times out of 10 you're playing a juvenile power fantasy about dominating your opponents and saving the world.

Understand, I'm not complaining about these types of games -- I play them, I love them. But you can see how sort of closed-off this cycle becomes. Why have we let Steve Jackson and Gary Gygax tell us that those values up there are, for all time, the way by which we rate game characters? Why are THOSE stats the only stats we really use?

Think about all of the other things that go into making up a real person. I know there's way more to you than the amount you can bench press, or how long you can jump rope, or how many books you've read. Why isn't Memory a stat? It's a very real aspect of you, it differs from person to person, and it governs how long you can retain skills, how many skills you can retain, how you react to the world around you because of your recollection of past events. What about Attention Span? Some people are really focused and can get very expert at what they work on, but suffer in other areas because of that focus. Some people seem to have no focus, but are in fact really excellent multitaskers and can do more things at once... they have "more menus open" at a time than your average person. What about balance? Some people would argue that balance is far more important than strength or speed when it comes winning a fight. Or there's creativity, which can let you see solutions and opportunities that no one else can see.

Now you can stretch the definition of any of our established stats to cover some of those situations. But I'm not criticizing the system for being bad - just overused. Take a moment to imagine a game where your character was defined by their growth in Memory, Focus, Balance, and Creativity. If you were to put that on a marketing bullet point, it would get my attention just as surely as "RPG Elements." Because it describes a type of character that I've never played before, a different type of experience. What else do you think could be used as a stat?



Problem #3: Marching in straight lines
So you have attribute points. And you want more points, because more points is better. And the more points you have, the more powerful you are, and the more points you can get, and so on and so forth. All very standard, easy to work with, makes sense on paper.

But people don't really work like that. You don't just get better and better at everything forever. Sometimes you stop working out in order to focus on class, and you get smarter but lose some tone. Sometimes you're good at martial arts, and then you quit training and get into music, and you develop a good ear but lose some of your reaction time. Sometimes you're good at drinking, and then all of a sudden you're that dude that keeps taking off his pants at parties and never remembers meeting you. Whatever, my point is, people change and develop in different directions, and it's not always straightforward.

Action<----------+---->Cleverness
Morality<-------+------->Sympathy
Practicality<-------------+->Inspiration
Bulk<----+---------->Flexibility

What if you had sliders, instead of raw points? In this type of system, you couldn't "accumulate" points, there is only a finite number to go around. But suppose your actions in the game caused those sliders to be in constant movement, adapting to the way you play the game. Suppose that you could unlock new skills and abilities based on the positions of those sliders in relation to each other? (Achieve High Cleverness, Medium Flexibility, and Neutral Morality to acquire "Steal", for example). Or what if you got new skills, HP or abilities based on how far you move a certain slider, to reward your changing potential.

That's just one possibility. I'm going to skip the other ones I thought of, because they involve graphs, and this is a wall of text already. My point is simply that there must be other ways to express character growth, and the more we explore them, the more we stand a chance of discovering new ideas and new types of gameplay. And I think we're all in favor of that!



In closing: RPG Stats, I'm really happy for you. And I'ma let you finish. But there's more out there waiting to be discovered, and we're going to have to learn to change up the game if we want to see it.

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