Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Cold Night, Warm Glow

As the warmth of the Christmas holiday fades and we march on towards the cold heart of winter, I am reminded of one of my favorite wintertime activities: playing a video game all night long.

As the winter chill settles in, some people might look forward to reading a good book, curled up next to a fire with a cup of warm cocoa. Nice I suppose. Others eagerly anticipate the opportunity to strap boards to their feet and see how fast they can fly down a mountain without hitting trees. Exciting, I’m sure.

For me, the best way to pass the long winter hours is to find a good, long video game and get lost within its digital world for hours on end. True this is something I might enjoy at any time of the year, but there’s something truly comforting about the warm glow of a screen, the bright colors of a fantastical world, and the raw excitement of lands beyond, that really rids the winter chill from my bones.

What's The Best Wintertime Game?
As I pondered this question, I realized it had a relatively simple answer: role-playing games. Role-playing games usually provide long hours of play in fun fantastical worlds. Question answered. Done. Goodnight, folks!

But then, will just any old role-playing game due to stave off the winter doldrums? With RPGs being so diverse lately, what exactly is it about RPGs that really makes playing them pass the wintertime to well? I concluded that games which entertain me for long winter hours need three important components.

A Beautiful World
Fallout 3 was a fun game, but it wasn’t perfectly suited to my wintertime desires. Its post-apocalyptic setting managed to be interesting often, but beautiful rarely. Now this winter I find myself uninterested in diving into Fallout New Vegas. Maybe I’ll it try out this spring. After the Christmas lights come down, the winter landscape can be pretty bleak here in the Northwest. Snow is a rare beauty. Most of the time its wet, dirty, and gray. I need a game that has a vibrant world, bursting with color that gives me a nice mental vacation from the gray and brown blah I will be seeing outside my door for the next few months.

Here is where Final Fantasy XIII has utterly failed me. It has wonderful, vibrant landscapes…that I entirely ignore. They are a wholly unconvincing mask dressing up the endless corridor that I am forced to run down in that game. To get really lost in a game world and to feel the chill of a January night fade from my perceptions, I need to have a world to explore. I need uncharted paths, interesting sights and rewards lurking around unmarked corners. This way I can ignore, for a bit, the drear outside my door and pretend to be somewhere else for while.

Clarity and Distraction
This one is harder to pin down. It's sort of an unknowable quality I will attempt to describe. To sustain long hours of play and keep me completely engaged, a game has to have the right rhythm. It has to suck me in right at the start, push me into a grand adventure, and then quickly open up and distract me from the quest in a delightful way.

I need areas to explore, but I always want to be clear exactly where I need to go once I’m ready to push forward with the story and see someplace new. I don’t want to be forced to ignore the main quest. I don’t want the whole story to shove off onto some random tangent. I want something fun and interesting in the world to invite me to go play, explore, and ignore the grand concerns of the main quest for awhile without making me feel bad that I’m holding off on saving the universe from its terrible plight.

Then I want that main quest to call back to me. To be reminding that there was an interesting question I needed to answer. To be assured that once I’ve exhausted my interest in my current whereabouts, all I need do is tackle the next main quest (which I should be able to find and accomplish with relative ease) and I will be greeted with a new area and new delights to see.

The Old Fav: Dragon Quest VIII
So which game do I rate the best for getting me through the winter months? The current reigning champion is Dragon Quest VIII. I opened up for exploration right from the start while having the simple goal of “get to that cave over there.” It had a ton of different areas, beautiful landscapes and funny characters. Mind you, I’m biased. It also the magical effect of distracting and calming my newborn daughter. For over 100 wintry hours it helped me forget my stress, have a break from fussing, and just enjoy a grand adventure.

The Current Hope: Fable III
Fable III. Colorful world, places to explore, funny characters and for once I’m going in with no crazy expectations. I haven’t seen any hype for the game. I don’t know what new feature of the game Peter Molyneux has said will change the face of gaming as we know it; so he has no power to disappoint me. The game’s designer possesses a legendary habit of overhyping his good games so that they couldn’t possibly meet anyone’s expectations. The first two Fables were both brilliant and disappointing. Still, my hope springs eternal and there’s not much else out these days for the RPG fan hoping to find a world of fun and beauty.

Oh Ye Seekers…
…of warmth and magic on a cold, winter’s night, leave a comment and let me know if there’s something you’ve played or are playing that staves off the frosty chill. Even if it’s not an RPG, I would love to know what games ease away the hours and keep you smiling through the long nights and freezing weather. Also, please check out our friends at Growing Up Games for their perspective on a game that’s fun to play for hours.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Spirit of Cooperative Games

In the spirit of the holiday season I wanted to approach the subject of cooperative games. Specifically, I wanted to talk about my favorite cooperative game. One stark realization came up, however, as I continued to ponder the issue of which co-op games I liked. It occurred to me that though I have enjoyed playing co-op games from time to time, they are actually kind of terrible.

Do I Even Like These Games?
Stating that co-op games suck seems strange to me because there are co-op games that I like. I like Lord of the Rings, Ghost Stories, Shadows Over Camelot, and even Castle Ravenloft a little bit. There are other fun co-op games as well, but do I actually like these games? Do I really? Actually, what I like is to play together with my friends, where we are all working together on the same side to solve problems and have fun. I love this so much, that I am willing to play mediocre and bad board games simply because they facilitate this basic experience. They don’t facilitate it all that well, but it’s better than nothing and better than jigsaw puzzles. Jigsaw puzzles are boring.

Why Co-op Board Games Suck So Badly
The basic problem with any co-op board game is that it’s trying to use basic rules to create a manufactured opponent for the players. The game’s trying to simulate a real opponent like the bad guys in video games. Video game programmers can use thousands of lines of code all hidden from the player to make the bad guys react as though they were real opponents working against you. The illusion works pretty well.

A board game demands that the operational code for the forces of darkness be up front (because the players are going to have to track it themselves) and relatively simple (because the players are incapable of making thousands of computations per minute like a computer). This usually means you end up with a stupid opponent who is granted enough unfair advantages to make things challenging. Randomly occurring problems are thrown in to make the idiot less predictable. There is no illusion. The bad guys are just a set of game mechanics that are made obvious to everyone.

The Tried And True Solution
The classic solution to this co-op dilemma is to have one player actually take on the role of the antagonist. The game is entirely cooperative for everyone except for the one player who is in charge of presenting a challenge for the players and sometimes even actively trying to defeat them. This is how role-playing games like D&D handle it. This also how it is handled in Descent, Betrayal At The House On The Hill, Last Night On Earth, and lots of other games. It works well. It lets most of the players work together and presents them with a real thinking opponent. These games are more fun their purely co-op counterparts because they present the players with strategic challenges, not just stacked odds and random events. Of course, the problem is that they still aren’t entirely cooperative. Someone has to be the odd one out and at least one player is going to lose the game.

The Co-op That I Love
This is one area where video games just do it better. Co-op video games are generally better experiences than co-op board games. If I am entirely honest, I would say my favorite co-op game at the moment is Super Mario Bros Wii. It’s incredibly fun for four players to run around, bash into each other, help out, get in the way, grab power-ups, ride Yoshi, and gang up on the poor Koopa Kids. The levels are quick and entertaining to watch. It’s easy to have a large group of people just trade of play between levels. Super Mario Bros Wii has provided some of the best times I’ve had playing a game cooperatively with friends.

If I had to pick a board game, I’d cheat and pick Betrayal At The House On The Hill. This game starts out cooperatively, but at some point a random event forces one player to become the bad guy. One of about 50 scenarios is revealed and the players find out mid-game the plot of the story and which one of them is going to play the villain. Being the traitor can be a delightful bit of mayhem and the game moves fast enough that you really don’t get too upset if you lose. Betrayal has serious style and enough variety that it’s never the same story twice in a row. It’s a bit of cheat to call it co-op because one player ends up the bad guy, but it’s close enough to count in my book.

Keeping The Dream Alive
Just because video games handle the mechanics of cooperative gaming better than board games doesn’t mean I don’t still like co-op board games. There’s a magic to sitting around a table with friends that video games just don’t capture. Someday, perhaps, someone will find a way to make a board game that’s entirely cooperative, but still presents players with an interesting and adaptive challenge. Until then, I will continue to play and enjoy all the muddled missteps and honorable attempts. Despite their flaws, they remain entertaining because they are built upon an irrefutable truth: it is good to play together.

Happy Holidays everyone! This will be my last post until after Christmas. Please feel free to leave comments about your own co-op experiences. For a different take on the best cooperative games, check out our friends at Growing Up Gamers.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Top 5 Games I Want To Play With My Kids

As a gamer dad, there is a long list of games that I love to play that I am looking forward to playing with my kids when they are old enough. Of course, there’s no telling for sure my kids will end up loving games as much as I do, but a dad can hope. So far my daughter seems to love games. Operation, Connect 4, Memory, Guess Who, and Candy Land are among her current favorites. I enjoy playing these games with her, but I also look forward to the day we can both enjoy games with a little complexity. Here’s my top 5.

1.Dungeons and Dragons
This one I might actually be able to do sometime soon. My daughter has a very active imagination and you can run a simple game of D&D where the players don’t have to worry all that much about the rules. I love roleplaying games and I hope that my daughter will love them as well. She loves making up stories and playing pretend so it doesn’t seem like too much of a stretch.

2. Cards
A repeat from my top 5 cheap games to play. Card games are a family tradition for me. If my daughter grows up without knowing how to shuffle cards, how to take a trick, or what a trump card means then I will have been a failure as a father. I’m not sure what game to start her out on though. War is probably the easiest game to introduce a kid to cards, but it has the slight problem of being an awful game that’s incredibly boring. I didn’t even like it as kid. If anyone out there knows a great card game for a 5 year old that isn’t War, please let me know in the comments.

3. Cooperative Video Games
This one is almost entirely selfish. Games like Super Mario Bros Wii, Castle Crashers, or even teamed up Smash Bros against the computer are lot of fun. However, I rarely ever play video games when friends are over. I am hopeful, however, that if my daughter likes video games enough, I will have a partner in crime that I can play Co-op games with. I have fond memories of playing basketball with my dad and other sports. For my turn at parenting, I would like to pass on my love of video games and look back on memories of many a monster defeated together.

4. Settlers of Catan
Now those of you paying attention to both blogs may note that over at Growing Up Gamers, Katie, who is my daughters age, has already played and reviewed Settlers of Catan. I have not yet tried to play Settlers with my daughter, but from playing other games with her I do not think she has enough focus for it yet. Settlers of Catan is one of the few games I can consistently get my wife to play and I am looking forward to introducing it to my daughter soon. A game we can play as a family together (and not one that we just play for my daughter) would be a wonderful thing indeed.

5. Pokemon
The card game, the video games, you name it. I am excited that my daughter seems to be getting into Pokemon. I have never played a Pokemon game. It’s not something I would ever try on my own. However, I’ve always thought they were kinda cool. This is the game I am probably most excited to try with her when she’s ready. Right now she’s definitely into Pokemon. If that continues, it will be fun to try out games that are both new and exciting to my daughter and to me. Part of the fun of being a parent is being able to get goofy and excited about things you want to like but are clearly for kids. The idea of having little monsters as pets that you get to train to fight is awesome, but Pokemon has always been a little cutesy for me. Seeing the little monsters through my daughters eyes, I am excited to let myself act like a little kid again…if only for the length of a few games.

I hope you enjoyed the list. Please comment and share the games you are hoping to play with your kids or stories of games you’ve already played with your kids. Also, please check out Growing Up Gamers and their Top 5 list.

A comprehensive survey of two online blogs (mine and theirs) has revealed that D&D is the #1 game people hope to play with their children.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Top 5 Cheap Games

This post will be entirely about board games. Video game prices can fluctuate widely depending on how you get a hold of them. There are thousands of freeware video games out there and if you're looking for them, 1up.com has an annually updated 101 free games on the web that you should check out.
Still, now that they are no longer printing Cheap Ass games anymore, what's a game to do for a bit of new fun when the budget is low. Here are my top 5 Cheap Games in no particular order. (In other words, they are my five favorite but #1 isn't necessarily my most favoritist one the bunch.)

1. Werewolf
Cost: Free
Players: 9 or more
Werewolf is a party game where a couple of players are werewolves eating the villagers and the rest of the people are villagers trying to lynch werewolves to stay alive. It is a game of deception and fun that I have played for many hours of enjoyment. One of these days I will do a write up of my version of the rules. Until then, here's a printable free set that looked alright.

2. The Great Dalmuti
Cost: $15
Players: 4-8 (but 6-8 is best).

The Great Dalmuti is a card game. The deck has 1 card of value 1, 2 cards of value 2, 3 cards of value 3 all they way up to 12 cards of value 12. Lower numbers beat higher numbers. All the cards are dealt out and players try to empty their hands. Each round plays until every person but one has emptied their hand. The first person to go out is the Dalmuti. The Dalmuti gets to pick the best chair in the room to sit in, gets a few bonus cards, and gets to act like a pompous ass and ask people to get him or her drinks. The person who didn't go out is the Greater Peon (or piss boy as we like to call it sometimes). This person has to shuffle cards, give good cards away and possibly run some errands for the Dalmuti. Round after round, people keep playing, status' change, people move to new chairs and go again. Its a simple mechanic that can go on for hours if people can let themselves have a little fun with it.

3. Mancala
Cost: Free (Though you can buy an actual board for $10-20
Players: 2

Mancala is an ancient and classic board game. They sell sets of it all over the place and they are usually pretty cheap. That said, I once made a Mancala board for free in less than 10 minutes by digging 12 holes in the dirt and gathering 40 little gravel sized rocks. Mancala is a game where players pick up stones from a bin and redistribute them around in a circle, capturing 1 stone every time they get to put one in there scoring bin. The person with the most stones at the end wins. There are few more rules than that, but overall it is very simple, highly strategic, and fairly entertaining even after multiple play throughs.

4. Magic The Gathering
Cost: About $20
Players: 2+

Now this one probably sounds crazy. As a collectible card game, Magic can cost you hundred and hundreds of dollars over the course of a year if you try to buy a fair chunk of cards from each new set. So why call this a cheap game? Well, your personal lack of self-restraint isn't the issue here. We're just talking how much it costs to actually start having some fun. Magic has a Deck Builders Toolkit for around $20 that will easily let you build a couple of decks and start playing. There are Duels of the Plainswalker sets for about $25 that will give you some really decently matched decks to play. Also, there are many game stores that will sell single commons for around $.o5 a piece and I've seen lands from $.01 to around $.10. So 24 land ($2.40) and 46 hand picked commons ($2.30) means that for around $20 you could easily build 4 decks to play with your friends. They won't be the most powerful decks ever but they will probably be evenly matched and still fun to play. Magic the Gathering can become an expensive habit if you're not careful. However, it's still incredibly cheap to jump in and play one of the best games ever made.

5. Cards
Cost: $1 (you can be pay more, but most dollar stores carry a deck)
Players: Highly variable depending on the game.

This may seem ridiculous to mention, but I think many gamers overlook it when searching for something new to play. A standard deck of playing cards is the greatest piece of gaming equipment ever invented. It has access to thousands of games. Way more than any Playstation or Xbox. The rules for most cards games can be easily found online and there is a large variety of different types of card games to try. My personal favorite card games are: Hearts, Oh Hell, 500, Poker, Red/Black, and Bullshit.

Please leaves a comment and let me know what cheap games you love to play. My friends at Growing Up Gamers should be posting on this topic as well if you want to check out their perspective.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Playing The Game Your Way

One of my favorite things to do in any kind of game is to find my own way to play it. In board games, this usually comes in the form of a house rule or an unspoken code of etiquette. In video games this usually involves finding a bug, an exploit or just deciding to achieve goals not stated in the game.

Why Bend The Rules?
Finding new ways to play a game not only keeps the game feeling fresh, it's empowering. There is a real sense of accomplishment when you design a house rule that makes a game more fun or find an exploit that makes a difficult section of a game much easier. In video games, choosing a goal for yourself can also be a way to add challenge without getting frustrated.

For Example, Mario Games
When playing any of the 3D Mario games, I usually challenge myself to see where I can triple jump or long jump to without hopping along the guided path. It makes the game harder, but more satisfying when I beat a level. If it ever gets too frustrating, I can simply stop playing that way. The game isn't making things hard on me, I am. As a result, I tend to train myself to make difficult jumps early on when it's easier. It has the added effect of making the harder levels towards the end not such a daunting challenge.

Final Fantasy Tactics Multiplayer
This was one of my all time favorite instances of changing a game and playing it the way my friends and I wanted to play. The original Final Fantasy Tactics for the Playstation was not a multiplayer game. While some Final Fantasy games allowed a second player to sort of lamely control a character or two in battle with a second controller, FF Tactics did not even include this option. However, FF Tactics did have turn based, tactical battle system where you controlled 5 characters at once (a main character and then 4 other random class based characters).

The most fun I've ever had playing that game was playing it 4 player with my friends. We each decided on one of the random characters in the party to be "ours." We passed the controller around so that we could each make a move for our character. When it came time to level up, we each leveled up our character how we saw fit. We coordinated our classes to compliment each other. We discussed group tactics on the battlefield. We decided by committee what the main character should do and how he should develop. It was an incredibly satisfying way to play and more effective than playing by myself. When I played the game the first time by myself, I barely beat the last boss after a long and grueling battle. When we we played as a group we beat the last boss before he actually got to hit any of us.

A Noble Pursuit
I think there is often a reluctance to start making house rules to board games and modern video games are getting better and better at leading players down a set path. It's important to remember that no one that designed the game you are playing was thinking about you and your friends. The designers don't know you. If a game you like has a few rules that just grate on your nerves a bit, change the rules. If a video game you are playing gets a bit stale, see what you can think of to spice it up or challenge yourself. You know what you enjoy, the designers were just guessing at it. Try out your ideas and your friends ideas to add some fun to a game. Games can be more fun for everyone when you take a chance, and play your own way.

Feel free to share house rules and game tweaks you have enjoyed. And check out my friends at Growing Up Gamers as they discuss an intricate twist on Magic the Gathering that sounds like lots of fun.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Great RPG Settings: Mage the Ascension

In yet another partner blog with Growing Up Gamers, we are discussing our favorite role-playing game settings. It took me awhile to mill it over, but Mage the Ascension ekes out the win.

What Is Mage?

Mage uses the storyteller system from White Wolf games and its setting is a part of their World of Darkness. It takes place in the modern world but in a version of our world where werewolves, vampires, fairy folk, and mages exist in the shadows just beyond the perception of most normal people. White Wolf, the company that made Mage, also made Vampire the Masquerade, Werewolf the Apocalypse, and Changeling the subtitle I don't remember right now. Presumably all of these fantastical creatures exist in the same world, but the games were independent enough that you usually played Mage without really dealing with all the other crazy critters.

Who Do You Play?
Basically, in Mage, you play an awakened person. You were a regular Joe or Jane walking around living a life when suddenly you awakened into a world much different than you knew. In this world, you discovered you could shape reality through force of will alone. However, when you push reality to its limits, there are forces that push back. One is the Technocracy. A super technological shadow government type of organization that wants to shape reality around the demands of technology. The Technocracy is basically a super-evil, fantastical big brother conspiracy.

The other force that pushes back is reality itself. The sleepers (that's what the game calls people who aren't awakened...sort of like Muggles for you Harry Potter fans) have a certain view of reality. Mages can make slight alteration to that reality without causing too much trouble. However, when they make big changes, the combined consciousness of the sleepers pushes back in the form of paradox that can undo the mages effects and undo the mage as well if he is not careful.

Mage Makes Magic Fun
Part of what makes Mage so fun is that there are no set spells. You put points into different ways you can alter reality. You might be able to alter the patterns of life or manipulate time or the forces of nature for example. However, instead of casting a polymorph spell or a fireball, you the player describe the effect you are trying to create and then roll dice to see if it worked. It allows for a truly magical feeling of freedom and creativity as you get to decide exactly how you would like to alter the reality around you.

Fantastical Reality Is The Best of Both Worlds
The greatest reason I love mage is that it presents a fantastical modern reality that's fun to play with. Fantastical reality settings are rich and entertaining because they can draw from all the bountiful detail that the real world provides, but then color over the worlds more common parts with a veneer of magic and phantasm. Fantastical realities have become very popular lately. Harry Potter, Lost, Charmed, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Heroes are all examples of popular movies or shows that layered fantasy or sci-fi on top of the regular modern world.

When playing mage, I have the most fun when I take pieces of the real world and weave them into my character's crazy story. For example, it is true that right before they made it big, the bassist for the grudge band Alice in Chains left the band due to creative differences. The last time I played, I played that bassist. In my version, he didn't leave the band because of creative differences. He left because he had awakened as a mage and used hit musical talents to go fight evil beyond the ken of normal men.

For another exciting setting to play around with, check out Growing Up Gamers take on the fantastical world of the Iron Kingdoms!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Favorite Board Game Mechanic: Negotiation

In another topic shared between myself and the fine folk at Growing Up Gamers, I am tackling the subject of favorite board game mechanic. The problem is, a good game is more than the sum of it's mechanical parts and no single mechanic really stands out as better than another. It just takes so much more than one specific mechanic to make a board game good, and just because a particular kind of rule works for one game does not mean that it will work in other games.

So where does that leave me answering this question? It leaves me with negotiation.

What is Negotiation?
Call it bluffing, negotiation, table talk, whatever you will. It's not precisely a game mechanic. Most games that have negotiation don't have a rule that says "and now you negotiate." At best they might call it something else like trading or allying. However, in some games a players ability to talk and negotiate with other players is a very important part of the game. These moments don't happen by accident.

Games Can Encourage or Hinder Negotiation
Even though negotiation is rarely stated directly in the rules, games has ways of providing opportunities for table talk to have an important impact on the game. It occurs in Monopoly when people trade properties and sometimes when they have to pay rent. It occurs in war games when one player begins to attack another. It occurs in Settlers of Catan when people trade resources, move the robber, and even when they build roads. Games encourage negotiation when they do one of two things. First, if a game makes players need something from their fellow players to be successful, players will negotiate. Second, if a player can choose attack or hinder one but not all of his or her opponents, players will negotiate. That second one is particularly key. Two player battle games almost never have negotiation and battle games with three or more players often have negotiation. Take Magic the Gathering for example.

Magic the Gathering...for example

If you are playing Magic one on one, there is no reason to negotiate. Your goal is to defeat your opponent and your opponent's goal is to defeat you. You will each choose the moves that you think will put you in as little risk as possible while hurting your opponent as much as possible.

When playing magic with 3 or more players, negotiation is required. You still need to defeat everyone else, but no one person is strong enough to take on all of the other players at the same time. Part of your strategy must be to convince your opponents to attack each other once in a while. You opponents, in turn, have an incentive to consider what you say because they need to convince you to attack someone besides them. In essence, though only one player can win, all players need the help of their opponents to actually be successful in the game.

Why Negotiation Is So Good
This is what I like about negotiation. It steps outside of the strict rules of the game and encourages players to get creative...and conniving. It encourages social interaction and can be very empowering for the players that are successful at it. Furthermore, it's a skill that works the same way across all games that have it. While most games have strategies that are particular to the specific mechanics of the game, building a good argument is pretty much the same no matter where you are doing it.

A game can be very good without allowing much negotiation. Dominion, for example, is a game that I love that goes out of its way to avoid negotiation. Still, the moments in a game where you get the needed resources, ward off impending danger, or steer your way toward victory through little more than wit and charisma alone are some of my favorite moments in gaming.

For fun discussion of good game mechanics, check out Growing Up Gamers for another take on the topic.

Friday, December 10, 2010

A Sister Blog Joins the Cause

My family of friends over at the Newnham household have started their own blog about games called Growing Up Gamers. A fun blog where their entire family will share differnet perspectives on gaming. To encourage us all to actually write and produce content, we are challenging each other to write on similar topics on similar days. Blog entries that have a counterpart in their blog I will mark with a (GUG) and try to include a link to their post. Today is the first shared topic and the topic is…Awesome Video Game Moment. Enjoy.

Awesome Video Game Moment: Deus Ex

The Game
Deus Ex is a first person shooter/RPG set in a dystopian cyberpunk future. You play an agent that works for a fairly shady government agency. There are lots of story choices in the game primarily revolving around whether you want to be a good little agent and follow orders or whether you’d rather ultimately go against your current employer’s seemingly immoral objectives.

The Moment
Your character is in an airplane hangar talking to a suspected terrorist who knows something about your brother. Your partner shows up and demands that you kill the man on the spot. The man is badly hurt but continues to talk and your partner continues to tell you to kill him. The only options the game is really indicating are that you can wait for your partner to finish him off or kill the guy yourself. I didn’t like either option. In a fit of frustration at the bloodthirsty AI partner, I decided to shoot my partner instead. I didn’t expect the game to even register this action. If it did, I assumed it would just have her make an irritated remark about watching where I shoot. Instead, she promptly dropped dead. I had spared the dying man enough time to finish his story and got to learn something more about my brother.

The Awesome
I loved this moment because it was the first time (and really one of the few times ever) that I felt like I went off the game’s script, but the designers let me do it anyway. Clearly I wasn’t actually off script. It wasn’t a bug in the game. The designers had clearly programmed the possibility of her getting shot in that moment. In fact, it’s a bit of trickery because if you try to kill her at any other point she does just make an annoyed response about watching where you fire. However, in this moment, I was fully engaged and believing that I had just made a real choice. Not selected an option that the game had given me, but a true, from the gut choice and the game world had reacted appropriately. It was also the first time a game really let me decide to keep or remove a character from the story line.

Getting The Moment Back
I think this is a type of moment that lots of games should strive to achieve. It’s tempting to let the player know explicitly every option that is available. The fear, of course, is that if you don’t, a large portion of players may never even see certain content. Still, it is worth endeavoring to achieve at least a few moments in your game where real, meaningful story options are available even though the game doesn’t list them clearly amongst your options. If a game manages to get players to choose these unlisted options, it means the designers have succeeded in something really wonderful. They made the player just feel that the course of action was the right thing to do. The design of the game was elegant enough to trick the player restrained to the rules of the game world into believing they were actually in a world where they possessed true freedom of choice.

GUG Perspective --> Check out our friends at Growing Up Gamers who tackle this topic with more of a personal, family touch. Please share you thoughts and comments on both blogs.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Civilization Revolution: A Very Late Review

Civilization Revolution (or Civ Rev) is one of the best strategy video games I have ever played. It has been out for a couple of years now I believe and it is available for the Xbox, PS3 and the Nintendo DS. Like civilization games before it, Civ Rev has the player pick a civilization and raise that civilization out of ancient times all the way to the modern era. Unlike other Civilization games, Civ Rev lets you do it in a matter of a few hours.

Even though I have owned Civ Rev since it came out, I still play it from time to time. Every match has exploration, combat, city development, tech development and randomized terrain to keep things interesting. There are sixteen different civilizations each with their own special powers and iconic leader. In addition to adding variety, this allows for some very amusing situations. I particularly enjoy the notion of playing as “ancient” Americans,and I absolutely love it every time Gandhi informs me that my civilization must be destroyed.

Civ Rev strikes the perfect balance between depth and approachability. On the lowest difficulty, a novice player can be successful on the very first match and get a good feel for the game. However, Civ Rev has enough variety that I have enjoyed playing it for hundreds of hours. My only real gripe with the game is that while it offers you four ways to win (Domination, Cultural, Scientific, or Economic) I have found a single strategy that seems to work the absolute best regardless of which way I want to win. This is a small complaint, however, since it still took me many hours of play to devise my strategy and still requires skill and thought to implement it successfully.

For anyone that’s a fan of strategy games or just enjoys games that you build and explore, I highly recommend you pick up Civilization Revolution. It’s one of the best games available on any console.

**SPOILERS** MY Civ Rev Strategy **SPOILERS**
I highly recommend that you DON’T read this section unless you’ve played Civ Rev for awhile and are just looking for some advice on how to win on the higher difficulties. If you haven’t played much Civ Rev yet, this won’t make any sense and might ruin the fun of early exploration and discovery with the game. Try to find your own strategies first. Then, if you get frustrated, try this. This what I do to win Civ Rev. (Please note, I don’t play online competitive. This is strictly a method for defeating the computer at any difficulty level).

At The Start
Put both workers on production until you have made 2 Warriors. This will take 5 turns. Then put both workers on food. Do not ever take them off food again for the rest of the game. Population is the most important asset to a city and you want it to grow steadily for the entire game.

What to do with your Warriors
Explore. Always offer to be peaceful with other civilizations. Your goal is to get a feel for the land around you and pick up enough bonuses from Barbarians and villages that you get an early game advantage. Hopefully, you will also get at least 100 gold from exploration so that you get a free settler.

Early City Growth
As your city gains population, always put each new worker on sea square to earn tech (not gold). Do not put anyone on production after you have your initial warriors. Only put workers on production once all of the tech earning squares are filled.

Early Tech
Tech is the key to winning the game. You need to get ahead in tech and stay ahead so that you can earn the very helpful bonuses that come with discovering teach first. Using this strategy you will lose out on being the first to build some of the early tech. That’s okay. However, you want to be gaining those bonuses by the 3rd or 4th tier at the latest.

Your early goal is to get to Mathematics first. Mathematics gives you Catapults and these will be the best attacking units in the game for the majority of the game.

The First Kill
If you have a lot of space to yourself, you can avoid this for quite a while. However, if you have a nearby neighbor, you need to kill them as soon as you get catapults. As soon as you’ve got a Catapult Army (3 Catapults joined together) walk them towards your nearest enemy. Make sure you guard them with a defensive army. Destroy the enemy cities and wipe them off the board (or at least clear them well out of your area). Now put some defensive units at some good choke points to section off your area and stop fighting.

The Continuing Tech Strategy
There are a variety of ways to get to all sorts of tech, but here are the main teach to go grab.
· Literacy: Gives science bonus for being there first and you will need courthouses to do well.
· Engineering: Gives +1 bonus to production in each city for first discovery
· Invention: Gives a free great person for first discovery and Leonardo’s Workshop is key.
· Steam Power: Good for exploration, finding Atlantis, and Naval Support for invasions.
· Railroad: Gives +2 production in each city for first discovery. Very Helpful.
· Combustion: Tanks are one of the two best units in the game and very fast.
· Automobile: Artillery Units are the other best unit in the game. Guard them with tanks.

Tech To Avoid
Do not bother getting the following tech.
· Bronze and Iron Working: Pick up Bronze Working on the cheap later in the game if you need defensive units and you haven’t gotten to something better yet. Iron Working and Legionnaires are for chumps like the computer. Use Catapults.
· Ceremonial Burial and Religion: Temples are really important later but this tech will automatically back fill once you get to a certain point. You don’t really need Temples early on.
· Currency and Banking: Not needed early on and you will earn these for free once you get your money to certain levels which you will accomplish by being a mad tech building fool who gets bonus money after researching tech.
· Navigation: Wait for Steam Power.
· Feudalism: Knights are for chumps. They are just slightly more mobile Catapults that cost more.
· Everything on the Upper 5 Tiers that isn’t Mentioned Above: Your goal is to get to Combustion and Automobile. Everything else is a useless distraction.

And Now For The Win
If you’ve been making smart moves and staying ahead in tech growth, your Tanks and Artillery will pretty much destroy anything your enemies can muster. If Leonardo’s Workshop is still available, build it now to upgrade your catapults into artillery. (Actually, preferably, you’re your construction of this wonder so that it complete just a few turns after you’ve discovered automobile technology. Additionally, you should have really good production from Iron Mines and production bonuses from getting Engineering and Railroads.

Now you get to make a decision. You can slog across the board and wipe everyone out, or you can post tank/artillery combos at strategic defensive points.

For a domination, obviously you choose the first option and you go kill everyone. It won’t take long at this point. Your artillery units will easily destroy even groups of Riflemen.

If you don’t want a domination victory, you just use the artillery units to defend against any army foolish enough to approach and use your superior production to build the things you need for different victory types.

For tech, You should already be the tech lead so you can just keep plugging away and win the tech victory.

For culture, start building temples and wonders. The Magna Carta and Shakespeare’s theatre are some important Wonders to get. You will quickly begin to attract great people and flip nearby cities.

For economic victory, keep your main city or two plugging away at tech. Every time you discover a new tech it will also give you some money from whatever science production wasn’t needed for the tech. Switch every other city to gold production. Build markets and banks and watch the money roll in.

Final Notes
Here are few other important details.

Cities: Build exactly 2. Your initial city, and the one you get with your free Settler (which you receive for earning 100 gold). That’s it. That’s all you need. You’ll get a few more cities to play with from your initial Catapult rampage as well.

Government: Democracy. This isn’t even a discussion. All other governments give a cute, kinda helpful, bonus. However, +50% science/gold production is the absolute best bonus to be had. Period.

Troop Building: I build 2 warriors. Then I build a catapult army or two and defensive armies to back them up. Then I will build 1 or 2 tank armies when they become available and use Leonardo’s Workshop to upgrade my Catapult armies into 2 Artillery Armies. If often don’t build any more troops than that. I get 1 free Cruiser as bonus for being first to Steam Power and 1 free Battleship from being the first to Steel tech. I don’t ever build a galley though it’s fun when you get one for free from a Barbarian village.

Troop Abilities: Give troops Blitz whenever you can. If that’s not an option, give them Infiltration or March. If you have to choose between Guerrilla or Medic, curse the game for giving you useless choices. Defensive unit abilities aren’t that important. If you are using your Catapults and Artillery correctly, you should rarely need to defend.

And that's about it. Full production to two warriors then full workers to population. Each new worker to goes to tech. Head as fast as you can towards Combustion and Automobile making sure you are first to Engineering and Railroad along the way. Then decide how you want to win. It can seem pretty straight forward once you get familiar with this strategy, but the computer will usually present you with enough surprises and curve balls to make it interesting. The main challenge comes from avoiding combat until you get your catapults up and running. I hope this advice helps any players who still struggle to win a victory on Deity level difficulty.

Delay Of Goal Due Weather

A quick update. While Cool Factor 5 is pretty close to being ready for a playtest, I am pushing back my own deadline by one week. Some people I would like to be a part of the playtest were a little busy this week and I’ve been under the weather all week.

Next weekend is my birthday weekend and I will playtest my game them.

Monday, November 22, 2010

When Games Are Just Too Gamey

This is the issue I have with many role-playing games. To me, a role-playing game is supposed let you get a bit lost in a fun story and take part in its creation by playing a character. However, two many times a game that’s supposed to draw you in like this, fails to do so because it just has to keep reminding you that it’s a game. There are two main ways that role-playing games do this.

Clunky Mechanics

When you’re in the middle of a fast paced action scene most role-playing games want to resolve things round by round, step by step with a multitude of rules that cover a great many things that can happen at each step. This can give players a lot of control but it can also become so unwieldy that players no longer feel like they are in a daring combat. Instead they feel like they are waiting in line for their turn at the fun.

Game Language

To play a role-playing game you have to describe what your character is doing and the game master has to describe how the world reacts to that. However, there are game mechanics driving all of the outcomes and inevitably players and game masters start having conversations like this:

GM: “You need to roll 14 to succeed.”

Player: “Does my +2 terrain modifier apply to the role?”

GM: “When is it supposed to apply?”

Player: "In Urban environments. We’re in a town right?"

GM: “Yeah but this is more rural than urban. It’s not a very big town.”

Player: “Okay, I got a 13. I guess I failed.”

And so on. Pretty exciting scene, eh? This could be right in the middle of a combat with a horde of orcs bearing down on the players, but the conversation sure doesn’t make it sound like much is going on. True the players and GM could jazz it up by talking at length about the swing of a sword or the deep wound it lands, but the rules don't encourage that conversation. They encourage talking about numbers.

Cool Factor 5 Attempted Solutions

For the game I’m designing, I’m attempting to address these problems. My hope is to create streamlined rules where players can accomplish cool actions without getting bogged down by clunky rules. To this end, I am trying to institute a simultaneous round where everyone goes at once. I'm also speeding up resolution by making it a standard difficulty to hit most of the time.

I'm also working on game language. The Cool Factor 5 RPG is about light-hearted, fluffy, action-packed fun. I want to build it with language that reflects that. Difficulties that need to be rolled can be expressed as Kinda Cool, Pretty Cool, Very Cool, and Extremely Cool. This means, roll 5, 10, 15, or 20. Players can use different skills in different styles. The styles are Awesome, Chill and Slick for being energetic, thoughtful or tricky. When a player makes a roll they are seeing how cool they can be at that moment. So instead of asking the player to make a skill check against a difficulty class 15 and the player replying “I rolled a 17” it can sounds something like this:

GM: You need to make an Awesome Gun check to be Pretty Cool. (Player rolls) How Cool were you?

Player: “Wow, that shot was Very Cool!”

It may sound ridiculous, but the games supposed to be silly and fun. The hope is that by allowing players to use this kind of language to convey game information it will help reinforce the fun theme and avoid game conversations that sound like reading of a technical manual.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Rock Band 3 and Four Loko

I'm running behind on my blog posts this week so I decided that at 3:30 in the morning after arriving home still possibly inebriated from a can of four loco and having played Rock Band 3 for nearly 5 hours straight would be the perfect time to post. Here...we...go.

Four Loko
This is a fricken 24 ounce can of 12% alcohol that comes in various flavors and includes a gracious amount of caffeine. So it'll get you messed up and keep you energized all at the same time. Apparently the FDA has ruled that it needs to be taken off the market because it they feel it is targeting kids (or so my drunken buddies have informed me). It does have a fruit punch flavor so I can see the argument...on the other hand I've heard that flavor is awful so maybe it would deter kids from alcohol. I don't know. I had the lemonade and it's kind of like a Mike's Hard Lemonade with an extra kick in the ass. It was a friend's 30th birthday or I would not have downed the stuff. I'm not sure why the demands of a friend turning 30 at midnight on a work night are important to follow...but indisputably they are.

Rock Band 3
See...I'm on topic. This is about a game, too. Rock Band 3 is awesome (if you like the Rock Band series anyways). I know it's got a super expensive keyboard option and a super expensive pro-guitar option. It's unfortunate that these cost so much fricken money. However, even without these, Rock Band 3 is worth your money if you like to rock out with your friends. The adjustments are subtle but many and they all increase the fun of just getting together with friends to rock out. Here's a short list:
  • No Fail mode is a standard setting you can put on and still unlock achievements
  • After pausing, the game will back up a little bit to help you get back on track.
  • You can unlock achievements in multi-player mode
  • The individual instrument difficulties are displayed on the same screen that you are selecting difficulty on
  • You can add/drop a person mid-song
  • You can add/drop an instrument without backing out to the menu
  • You can change difficulty mid-song

That may not seem like much but basically it means that you can finally play Rock Band as a pure party game, adjusting anything you need as you go along and getting full credit for playing together. This, in my opinion, is the pinnacle of party/music games.

Still being up at 4AM on a work night when you get up at 7AM

This is a bad idea. I will regret it tomorrow. However, on occasion, it is important to do. It reminds you that your friends are more important than one good day at work. Besides, if you can't endure one night's worth of bad decisions what's this life coming to anyway. Or so says my stupid, semi-drunken brain.

Monday, November 15, 2010

What is a Role-Playing Game

Ah nah son, are we really tackling this one? Daaaaamn.

A classic question answered by many role-playing games (RPG’s) the world over. An RPG is about the only game I know that feels the need to constantly explain to new people the very nature of its own existence. Talk about a board game, card game, or video game and people get what you’re talking about. But an RPG apparently still needs to be explained despite the fact that Dungeons and Dragons has been around for over 30 years. I’m working on an RPG right now so here’s my stab at it.

Have you heard of video games?
Yes? Great. It’s like that. Well it’s like a non-electronic version of that. Instead of a computer program deciding how the world works, you have a person telling you how the world works. Instead of graphics on a television or monitor, you’ve got the limits of your imagination and an occasional visual aid. Role-playing games are about a group of friends getting together to go off an adventure. One person runs the game and decides what the story is, where it takes place, and the basic direction of the plot. The rest of the people are players. Each player has one character. Together, with a few game rules, they try navigate the challenges of the story and direct where the story will truly go by making decisions for their characters.

Why not just play a video game?
Do ya like freedom? Yeah, me too. No matter what you've see in sci-fi movies, they will NEVER make a computer system that is as limitless as the human imagination. Played World of Warcraft? I hear it’s a great game. Now when you've fought a big boss in WOW, have you ever lured him out of his dungeon onto a battlefield that’s more advantageous for you? Have you ever negotiated with the boss and asked him if there was deal that could be made instead of fighting? Did you ever herd hundreds of chickens at the boss to distract him? How about just slapping him with a fish to see what he would do or bash down the walls of his dungeon with your giant war machine? You may have done some of these things, but I doubt they were all options for every boss in the game.

In a table-top RPG, there are rules to determine how well something works, but nothing dictates what you can and cannot try. You will never tap a button and get the same response from a random person you are talking to in the world. The game master remembers what you’ve said, so everyone you speak to has something new to say…every time!

Faster Sequels
Designing adventures can take a lot of time. Sometimes it takes me 8-10 hours to design an adventure I’m going to run. However, I hear it can take like even longer…like years even for some game designers to design a whole sequel to their video game. In the time you spent waiting for a new video game to come out or the next WOW patch to be released, you could have possibly spent hundreds of hours playing brand new adventures in your favorite table-top RPG (provided you and your friends had the time to get together).

Game Together & Surprise Each Other
The best thing about RPG’s is that with so many players pouring their personalities and imaginations into the game, anything can happen. Surprises can lay around every turn. The more effort the players put in to making the game interesting, the more fun they get out of it. With such a creative, collaborative effort, there is no other game with all the possibility and fun of an RPG.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Ze Frank: Spastic Spirit of Creation

So I made reference to Ze (pronounced “ZAY”) Frank on yesterday’s post and I decided that I should do one full post just on him. He’s that awesome. He’s also partially the inspiration for me to do this blog. His 1 year long video blog called The Show was amazing both in its regularity and quality of content.

Why Play With Ze?
Well sports racers, what’s incredible about Ze Frank’s work is that most of it is unpolished, completely spastic, and filled with life. Ze doesn't seem to be bothered by a need to overly refine a good idea; he’s got 10 more things he needs to try. While this means that the web toys, music and art that he creates are often rough around the edges, they are also raw, pure and wonderful. Sometimes his work is just plain silly (nothing wrong with that), but it also connects people across the world in really beautiful ways. He seems to me to be a true artist in that he’s always creating something new and expressing something unique.

Ze Exposé
I highly recommend you check out his work. Good for a laugh, good for a smile, and very inspirational. There’s lots to play around with on his website http://www.zefrank.com/ and his latest TED talk (that’s Technology, Entertainment, Design) is well worth watching:

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Bustin' Out of Wonderland

“I give myself very good advice, but I very seldom follow it.” – Alice, Disney's Alice in Wonderland.

November is National Novel Writing Month. The requirement, as a I understand it, is to write at least a 50,000 word novel starting on November 1st and getting it done by November 30th. The goal is not to write the next great masterpiece in literature. The goal, simply put, is to take on an enormous creative task and actually produce a finished work. A complete story.

Brain Crack
Now, I don’t have much interest in writing a novel. My passion is game design. However, the noble goal of producing a finished work is something to admire and aspire towards. I have drawers, boxes, and computer files littered with once great ideas that almost got finished. Ideas are cheap. Anyone can have an idea at any time. Execution is everything. While something is just an idea, it’s a cool concept with endless possibility.

The web artist/comedian/toymaker Ze Frank refers to this phenomenon as brain crack in one of his amazing video blogs: http://www.zefrank.com/theshow/archives/2006/07/071106.html.
Basically while you’ve got an idea, it’s pure possibility with none of the problems of actual design to bog it down. It’s easy pat yourself on the back just for having it.

Half-Baked Still Ain't Dinner!
A partially finished idea isn’t much better. It’s all the possibility of an idea with the parts you “just knew were going to be cool” figured out just enough to seem real without actually being useful. It feels slightly closer to being a reality, BUT you still can’t do anything with it. You didn’t tackle the tough challenges, make the difficult decisions, and you didn’t form it into something useable.

In game design, forming something useable is incredibly important. Playtesting, ultimately, is what makes a good idea become a great game. To playtest something, you’ve got have a finished product. It doesn’t have to be complete with everything you wished it would have. It just has to have a start, a finish, and rules to make it into some kind of playable game (even if it’s not quite yet the game you want it to be.)

Man Up! (Or Woman Up! …as the case might be)
Now, I’m like Alice in the quote above. I often give myself great advice, but following it is not always easy. As Morpheus from the Matrix would say, “There’s a difference between knowing the path, and walking the path.” Very Buddhist of him. That’s what I love about the idea of National Novel Writing Month. No excuses. No worrying about quality. Just man up, woman up, grab whatcha got and get something done. I see no reason why this kind of healthy, slap in the face challenge has to be limited to writing novels in November. It does, however, need to be limited to a short time frame.

My Challenge
I have been kicking around an idea for a role-play game using a system I call Cool Factor 5 (name sound familiar?). It’s been a partially done idea for some time now. On the first weekend in December, I am going to playtest it. Hopefully it’s awesome. It may suck. But it WILL be done enough to play. Throughout the month I will post a few bits and blurbs about what the game is and why I think it’s such a “great idea.” The challenge is to do this with no excuses about time and energy. I’m starting a new class today. My work is coming into its busiest time. I’m trying to produce a play for my daughter’s preschool and it needs some organizational work done this month. I can’t slack off on any of that. However, I will find the time to get this game done.

Your Challenge
You! Yes, you there! My quite possibly non-existent readers! If you are reading this, I challenge you to join me. Join me now even if you are reading this in February 2015. The stars are in alignment, your horoscope looks good, and fate is holding your hand. Pick something you’ve been telling yourself would be a good idea. Something that takes some effort. It can be building something, organizing something, or just about any kind of creation that suits you.

Right now, give yourself a deadline approximately 30 days out and GET IT DONE! Hold yourself accountable to it. Post your declaration in the comments of this blog and then post back when you’ve completed your masterpiece/project that was good enough to call done. Even if it sucks, you will be many times more awesome than someone who just keeps patting themselves on the back for a good idea left not done.

Let's Do This Thing
Wonderland is a great place to visit, but not a great place to live. Most people living there are quite mad you know. Bust out! Make something real and just possibly spectacular. Because I don’t want any of us to be addicted to brain crack.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Enslaved: Odyssey to the West - Review

Why I Wanted To Play It

In a Fall season filled with video games that can’t muster more than mild interest from me, I was playing game demos on the Xbox and hoping to happen upon something fun and different. Enslaved is what I found. The demo was fun, dramatic and ended with an interesting beginning. Your muscle-bound character escapes from a slave ship as its crashing into New York City. The escape is a daring mix of jumping and climbing along the exterior of the ship as it crashes through tall buildings. You fight some robots with a fun energy staff and make it to the outside hull of an escape pod just as it blasts off into the city. New York is obviously abandoned and has overgrown into some post-apocalyptic jungle.

You land in the jungle and are knocked unconscious only to awaken and find out you’ve been enslaved anyway. A young girl has hacked a slave helmet and put it on you. Somehow the game actually makes you pity her. She has enslaved you, but promises to free you as soon as you’ve safely escorted her to her home village safe and sound. If she dies, the slave helmet will automatically kill you. An unusual way to pair up a team, but it had me wanting more.

How I Got It
I was strapped for cash but excited about playing a new game I’d never really heard about. Just as I was trying to figure out what games I could sell to get Enslaved...weird...a beacon of hope shined from a Redbox at Albertsons. Redbox had never offered games before but there it was: Enslaved the video game for $2 per night. Fate, it seemed, would have me play this game. I rented it immediately.

How it went
Fate would also thank me kindly not for making a full purchase. I beat the game in 3 nights, and I do not feel the need to go back and play it again. However, I do not spend time, effort and two extra nights to beat crappy games.

What Thrilled Me
Enslaved was fun and entirely worth a rental. The game’s big successes are in its story and its ability to deliver some really big scenes. The characters are fun and their relationships are different than you’ve seen in most stories. The game has an enjoyable take on life after an apocalypse and the ending is very satisfying. You will find yourself fighting gigantic robots and climbing on enormous structures as they move, shake, and fall apart. There a huge bosses to fight, levels that are fun to climb around, and a girl that’s worth having as your AI partner.
This is probably the games greatest triumph: the inclusion of an AI partner that you come to appreciate rather than despise. Despite the fact that you must escort the girl to her village, this game is never an escort mission. Though she is put in peril a few times throughout the game, I never had to restart the game because I failed to protect her. The game smartly gives your companion useful powers that make her an appreciable addition to the journey. She is responsible for your upgrades, scan enemies for weaknesses, and is a wiz with technology in ways your character could never comprehend.

What Chilled Me
While the game’s got a hell of a start and satisfying end, that chewy middle part starts to taste a little bland. The game begins to get a bit formulaic as it goes on. You’ll climb, jump, help the girl get to an important area, and repeat. There will be new types of robots and new types of bosses but the overall design remains the same. The levels are vibrant and varied in their aesthetic, but they are a shallow mask over level design that remains fundamentally the same from start to finish. The game is entirely a linear path and what you do in the first few levels will be much the same as what you do for the entire game.

Furthermore, the game commits a few video game deadly sins. There are occasionally parts that become frustratingly hard or unclear as to what you need to do. You never go too far back when you die, but you will find yourself watching short, unskippable cut scenes multiple times. Finally, I encountered a glitch on one of the later levels that made me reload and replay about 10 minutes of the game.

And How It All Turned Out
None of the problems with Enslaved were frustrating enough to make me stop playing. I was always excited to see the next bit of story and explore the next new landscape. I genuinely enjoyed the combat and the platforming through most of the levels. Nonetheless, I was glad to finally reach the end. The game did not have me begging for more. Enslaved doesn’t quite warrant a purchase, but for a one time thrill ride, Enslaved is well worth a rental.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Who The Hell Am I?

Well one idea straight out the window. I had intended to start posting my fabulous new blog posts all last week and that...didn't happen. I may have to revise my expectations. 5 posts per week might be very unreasonable. I won't got lower than three though. Still I'm going to give it a real try this week. I've got one post ready to go and ideas for several more. This post, however, is the last preparation post I want to do. In case your curious about the person who is writing this blog.

I've been debating how much of my actual information to share, but I think you want to know something about the person whose work you read. You want some idea on where they are coming from.

My name is Julian Leiberan-Titus. I'm a child of the 80's (Teen Age Mutant Ninja Turtles were awesome!), a teenager of the 90's (even I knew grudge sucked), a college kid of the 00's and towards the end of 2010 I find myself about to turn 31. I'm displeased with my job and studying to get my Masters Degree in Secondary Education to become a high school Social Studies teacher (though I am consistently doubting myself these days). I'm happily married and have been with my wife for over a decade (though only married for 7 years). We have a 5 year old daughter and another child on the way (don't know the gender yet). So I'm a happy husband, a proud father, a dissatisfied worker, and still trying to figure out what I want to be when I grow up.

Code Names Are Cool
I thought about just going by an online handle. Somewhere along the line, despite how awesome the movie Hackers is, code names on the net became a little uncool. People seem to want to have genuine interaction and its just not as geniune to be reading the writing of Dragmorian as it is to be reading the writing of Julian.

Still, the net is about being what you want to be and Dragmorian is the code name I've been rockin' since AOL days back in 1995. An online handle is about a persona you want to be even if it's not quite what you really are.

What I truly want to be is a game designer. Card games, board games, video games, you name it. I want to design it. This is where my greatest passion lies. I've designed many many games about half way. It's damn tough to finish with a game you're satisfied with. Still I go on trying. I don't know if it will lead me anywhere, but I love to write and I love to design. I can't help myself. This blog is about trying to build me into the habit of producing a finished product that people can see and interact with. I need that out and I need to build that habit. Cuz I can also be way too lazy. I don't like my job but I could work it for quite some time if I don't force myself to stop it and really try for something else.

Help, I'm trapped in nutshell.
Well that's enough to sum up where I'm coming from. Hopefully it gives you some context for what you're about to read. Some that stuff may sound glum, but overall I love life. It's crazy, exciting and you never know what's coming next. I'm exciting to try out something new and I hope you'll have fun reading it.

A Final Note On Language and Behavior
I was torn on what language level to use on the blog and I've decided to go with "whatever's good enough for cable TV is good enough for me." So probably no F-bombs (or very few) but other slang and cuss words will be used as appropriate. Never to insult anyone kind enough to be leaving comments on my blog, however. Even hateful comments. If you do respond or reply to anything on this blog, I ask that you conduct yourself with good manners and try to say something interesting and useful rather than just derrogatory. Thanks.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Rule Of Cool

Okay, lets jump right in. I've decided to start a blog. Something entirely new to me. This week is all set up and starting next Monday...it's on baby!

Tomorrow or the next I'll talk about who the hell I am (on the off-chance it matters) but today's first post is all about hopes, dreams and what I'm telling myself I'm going to accomplish.

Why the hell is this blog called Cool Factor 5?

Well take your pick...

1. Cool Factor 5 is a role-playing game system I'm currently designing

2. I intend to post 5 days a week (I'm taking my weekends.)

3. The are 5 different categories of topics I intend to cover (see below)

4. I thought the name sounded fricken awesome

5. There are exactly 5 ways to skin a cat, and if you say there are more you're a damn liar!

What's Cool To Talk About?

I intend to cover 5 different areas of interest:
1. Politics/Philosophy: I like to wax philosophical and talk political trash now and then.
2. Games: Role-playing, table top, video, computer, portable, party, you name it. I love games. I will try to review games now and then or just talk about the gaming industry in general.
3. Entertainment: Wide category for thoughts on movies, television, and whatever else amuses.
4. Design: I am a game designer and writer by passion...though not by trade at the moment. I will talk about anything to do with design that I think you might find fascinating.
5. Grab Bag: I will talk about anything random and silly that crawls into my brain and refuses to let go like a Martian Mind Slug. Cheap you say? A 5th category that can basically be whatever I want? Cheating? Uh..yep. You are correct.
What the #$%! did you say?
Language is still a bit of a conundrum for me. It's my blog and I'd like to write how I think and sometimes I think some very foul mouthed things. That said, it'd be nice to point to my blog professionally once in a while if I actually manage to write something...oh I don't know...good. In which case I would much rather have language that remains casual but still professional enough.
I'll make up my mind by weeks end because I'd like to be relatively consistent.
And what now?
And now we end this first post. That's it. The rule of cool. Here at Cool Factor 5 we'll talk about cool things in a cool way and I hope you'll join in with some cool comments. This is my New Years Resolution that I am making on October 27th because every time I wait for Jan 1 it NEVER seems to work! So why wait for failure when you can do it today?! From now (well Monday Nov 1 really) until October 31, 2011 I will be posting 5 days per week. After one year, we'll see if it's worth continuing.
In devoting myself to writing about the things I love, I hope to make them even more a part of my life...and yours. Good luck to us all (but mostly me. After all, if this doesn't work there's a whole Internet out there to entertain you).