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February 26, 2009

A Brief Hierarchy of Lolcats

Filed under: Uncategorized — inky @ 8:48 pm

February 20, 2009

Emerald City Confidential

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , — inky @ 8:30 pm

I saw Emerald City Confidential on Jay is Games and hey, adventure game, so I grabbed the demo. Obviously you can only judge so much about a game from an hour of play, but a couple points:

  • I am generally in favor of genre mash-ups and this is pretty good. But so are there any mash-ups that take genres and lighten them? Or is it always noiring it up?
  • I realize that conversations in adventure games are basically always the illusion of choice, that nothing you pick from a conversation menu makes any difference in the flow of the game. But isn’t it kind of rubbing it in to have the first menu in the game have three choices, of which two say “oh, you can’t actually do that”, and then the third pushes the plot along .. to a point at which you do the first choice you weren’t allowed to do before.
  • Glinda the Good Witch is supposed to look exactly like Sarah Palin, right? Can she see the Kingdom of Ix from her house?
  • Like I said, I am in favor of the story and setting, but it is weird to me that all the people you run into in the game are existing Oz folks. Like, yeah, you want to see your favorite characters, but the whole essence of noir is the faceless, uncaring city — how does all the crime and smuggling go on when everybody knows everybody else? (It is within the realm of possibility that the whole society is an unstable construct maintained only by Ozma’s abuse of the wishing belt, but if so, I didn’t play far enough to tell)
  • The protagonist seems like a really incompetent detective, but I can’t tell if that’s on purpose or not. Like, she brings all her evidence with her to confront the bad guy at the old warehouse, then is surprised when he steals it. Or she confronts this smuggler saying “HEY I KNOW YOU’RE A SMUGGLER” and then tries repeatedly to get him to admit it.
  • The art is pretty decent for an indie game, but what the heck is with the sound? Or maybe it was just on my setup that it cut out every fifth word.
  • You can tell this is a casual game because it gives you achievements all the time for doing stuff you were going to do anyway.

So, ok, overall I wasn’t thrilled enough to buy the game, but I can see someone doing so if they’re mostly a story person and not a game design person.

February 17, 2009

The danger line

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , — inky @ 7:01 pm

1. Man, it sure is a pain to write this in language X
2. Maybe I could write a prototype just to get the bugs worked out
3. I’ll do it in language Y, that’ll be easier
4. Hey, this is way better than the thing I was working on before
5. I wonder how hard it would be to do all my development in language Y and automatically translate to X?

February 15, 2009

All in on the Busted Flush

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , — inky @ 4:09 pm

Recently I finished one of those casual reading projects I had, reading the entire Travis McGee series, by John D. MacDonald. I picked up the first one a couple years ago on Christopher Tate’s recommendation. I tagged it as “fine, would read again” but not good enough to make serious effort to find more. Then I stumbled on the second one a year or so ago, and now here I am some months later finishing the last, number twenty-one.

The Travis McGee series is sort of a triangulation between two other series I’m fond of, James Bond and Fletch (and, incidentally, neither of these two are particularly like their movie adaptations, so if that’s your main experience with them, pretend you don’t have any). Like Fletch, Travis McGee is a wise-cracking dude who does well with the ladies because he likes them (novels-Bond does well with the ladies because he dislikes them), and like Fletch the books generally have lots of authorial musing about modern society (and like Fletch’s author, MacDonald hates liberals and hippies). But the Travis McGee books have more action and death than the Fletch books, and they’re also like the Bond books in that the exotic scenery is part of the appeal of the books (even if some of the time the scenery is just exotic because MacDonald is giving us Florida like we haven’t seen it before). Stakes-wise the McGee books end up in between the two sources: they’re usually bigger than a single murder, but smaller than a conspiracy to hold the world hostage — say, they might be about a drug-smuggling operation or corporate embezzlement.

Anyway, so twenty-one books is a hell of a lot. This is about as much as the Fletch and Bond series combined, and when you write that many, some grinding becomes inevitable. Like, ok, we accept as readers that the main protagonist is never going to settle down in a stable relationship. But there’s only so many ways as an author you can sabotage that — killing the leading ladies off, giving them amnesia, having them fall in love with somebody else, getting new jobs out of state, getting psychologically traumatized, and so on. Eventually you’re sort of covering your eyes as soon as things start looking happy because it’s only a matter of time. Very occasionally they survive this book, but that’s even worse, because they’re bound to bite it by chapter three in the next book.

This in turn leads to some weirdness in how McGee’s character is presented. Like, he loves and loses a lot of women, and he kills a lot of people, usually because of the loving or the losing. So how world-weary are you supposed to write him, as an author? Like somebody who’s seen a dozen of his true loves die and killed twice or three times as many “bad guys”, or like somebody who the average reader can relate to? MacDonald even wants to have a character arc, in some books. Yeah, it’s always “McGee is depressed by the state of the world and thinking about giving up, but then realizes there’s still something worth fighting for”, but still, it’s hard to figure out to write that when it’s the sixth time and you’re thinking McGee should have really made up his mind for good on the question by now.

The effect of this is to give some meta-storyline for the series, but it’s a pretty grim one. If you read through all the books, what you end up with is the story of a guy being ground down by time. Yeah, the books are full of temporary recoveries, but if you plot the thing, the overall trend is inevitably downward. This is weird because the books are full of McGee helping people, saving people, and fixing things; and yet he never seems to get anything permanent out of it. I guess this is just dramatic convention to let you run the whole series — if you made new permanent relationships each book, after twenty books your series would be a boat hull entirely covered in barnacles — but it gives the whole thing a depressing tinge.

I guess I shouldn’t make it sound like McGee carries nothing from book to book. He has a good and amusing friend who appears extensively in the latter two-thirds of the series, and occasionally we’ll get guest appearances from people from earlier books (most notably in the last book). And I shouldn’t make it sound like I didn’t like the books, because I did. It’s just, geez, at some point you have to start feeling sorry for the character, subject to all this suffering purely for our amusement. Maybe MacDonald should have ended the series earlier and given him some peace.

If you want to start reading the series, the first (The Deep Blue Goodbye) is a perfectly fine place to start. Other good ones include The Quick Red Fox (good love interest, despite its heavy-handed ending), A Deadly Shade of Gold (the most Bond-y of the series), and The Girl in the Plain Brown Wrapper (just overall very solid). Oh, and did I mention MacDonald also had to come up with twenty-one titles with a different color in each? ’cause he did.

February 14, 2009

My sources say yes

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , — inky @ 11:32 am

Going by the principle that anything with dice you can build an rpg around (with fuzzy dice, for instance, you could play a rousing game of Desert Bus), how about using a Magic 8-Ball as a resolution mechanic?

Looking at the standard 8-ball answers, they have a couple useful properties. One is that you succeed about half the time, which is nice, and another is that some portion of the non-succeeding time it’s not a failure either (“Ask again later”). In addition, although they break down roughly into 10 successes, 5 failures, and 5 neutrals, the actual wording is different enough you could do some amusing arguing about them with the GM, or throw in some “yes, but” and “no, but” partial successes/failures. Like “Yes – definitely” is clearly a total success, whereas “You may rely on it” means you get the intent of what you asked for, but the other person can throw in a little something extra. The neutrals could mean a variety of things depending on the situation: a tie, or the situation changes such that the contest is no longer important, or even a cue to cut dramatically to another player’s scene and ask again about this one later.

I’m not sure how you’d handle skills in this system. Perhaps something new where skills define how much you can attempt to resolve and the mechanic tells you whether you get it or not. Like, a novice fighter can ask the 8-ball “do I wound the orc with my sword?” and if it says no, well, then, I guess not (though you could perhaps still stun the orc or something). But the expert is allowed to ask “do I behead this entire legion of orcs with one sweep of my broadsword?” and if it says no, then they have to fall back on some more minor effect, but they have more room for a partial success: “I guess not, but I can do it in a few sweeps, it just takes longer” or “I guess not, but I do behead half the orcs”

And, of course, the major advantage of using the magic 8-ball for an rpg is that arbitrating divination spells becomes extremely easy.

February 10, 2009

A python mud client

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , — inky @ 11:52 pm

As one of those random things, I wrote 90% of a tinyfugue replacement in python. Naturally the unfinished 10% has all the interesting stuff, but if for some reason you were writing one I guess this’d be useful as a base. It’s also possibly useful if you’re interested in wide-character curses support for python; included is a module that patches the existing curses module to support wide characters (even if you compile with ncursesw, the existing python curses module doesn’t call the wide functions, so it doesn’t actually support wide characters). Anyway, for posterity, here is the pyclient source (“a better name” is one of the things in the unfinished 10%).

Making titles mean something

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , — inky @ 8:23 pm

One of the memorable things about earlier versions of D&D is that every level has an associated title — first-level wizards are Prestidigitators, fifth-level fighters are Swashbucklers, third-level assassins are Waghalters (not really all that intimidating). But with the exception of “name level”, when you top out the title system and (in 1e, at least) can build a stronghold and start accumulating followers, none of the titles mean anything: just because you’re a Swashbuckler doesn’t mean you’re actually swashbuckly in any way.

So why not fix that? Earlier editions don’t have much of a skill system, so you generally end up using ability or skill checks if someone wants to do something. Well, take that, and then if the character’s doing something related to their title, give them a +4 to the roll: fifth-level Swashbucklers get a bonus if they’re trying to make the ladies swoon or disarm a troop of guardsmen,  but once they hit sixth level and become a Myrmidon, then they get bonuses for bodyguarding and military formations.

Note that this plays well with the old-school tradition of characters dying frequently and starting off again at first level: now there’s actually a reason for you to want a second-level magic user around even though the rest of the party is fifth level, because the second-level guy is an expert Evoker and that might be just what you need. This also helps compensate some for weak fighters, another common complaint: they’ve got titles like Hero and Champion that can be applied to a lot of different situations.

This is pretty simple but I imagine there are a lot of other interesting things you could do with level titles. I haven’t even mentioned cleric titles, for instance, which clearly imply steady advancement up a religious hierarchy and the wealth and power and politics that leads to..

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