|1st Level Barbarian|
|5th Level Fighter|
|1st Level Barbarian|
|5th Level Fighter|
|Good art and components enhance the play|
1. Freshness: Good design borrows; great design steals. All design builds on designs of the past, but great design has something that feels entirely new. Dominion caught a lot of attention because it was the first game to successfully turn deck building into a game all by itself.
2. Intrigue: A game needs a mystery to solve or a puzzle to work out. This is inherent in strategy games, but present in other games as well. Trivia games are still wildly popular because people love the sensation of figuring something out.
3. Variety: There’s an ancient Chinese proverb I just made up that says a monkey can shave a drunkard 10 times before it’s no longer funny. Games lose their luster if you see the same stuff every time. Magic the Gathering, king of collectible card games, offers near limitless variety.
4. Elegance: I don’t mean it dances well and looks pretty in a dress, though bonus points if it does. Elegance in design is about using a little to do a lot. Great depth in a simple to understand package. It takes 10 minutes to learn the rules of Chess and a lifetime to master it.
5. Fun: Like the old line about pornography, fun is hard to define but you know it when you see it. Fun is personal. It’s the spark that makes you smile. Despite a rather dull and uninteresting set of rules, Monopoly has survived the ages because it taps in to the fun of being rich.
So there they are, the 5 factors of cool. You’ll note they make a snappy pneumonic acronym FIVE F. True, I had to use the slightly “dude that’s awesome” surfer term of “freshness” to make it happen, but “originality” would have made the acronym FIVE O and I am not the game police. These are the categories I will be using to tell you about games in the future and whether or not those games measure up to something worth playing. Let me know what ya think.
Next time on Cool Factor 5: The game 7 Wonders and how it holds up to the Five Factors.
But no more! I have found a moment to myself. I am re-launching this blog with a brand new approach. Henceforth, this blog will be a place for three things.
1. Reviewing Games: This is not new to the blog but I will be having a more standard format by which I judge games.
2. Displaying new and exciting things about the games I’m designing: I’ll share bits about the games I’m working on and the occasional freebees of alternate or additional rules for games you might be playing.
3. Game theory and game design concepts: I’m sure you’ve got games you like, but do you know what exactly makes you like them? By better understanding the inner workings of games, it can be easier to pick out ones you’ll like or create fun house rules to improve the games you already own.
I’ll give details on each of those soon. I’ve got updates on games I’ve played and games I’m working on designing. So here it is, the new blog, the new look, and the new approach. Let me know what you think!
Next time on Cool Factor 5: The 5 Factors of Cool. The standards by which I judge all games, the ones I play and the ones I design.
Originally, for my greatest disappointments in gaming I was going to tackle D&D 4th Edition. However, my good friend Randy at Growing Up Gamers beat me to the punch. So, I will say just these few words on it.
4th edition D&D strips away just about everything that encourages role-playing and storytelling. It reverts years of D&D evolution back to something much closer to its roots as a miniatures battle game with the thin veneer of story. If all you want from D&D is a vehicle for playing classic fantasy archetypes who dungeon delve and hack up monsters, then I think 4th edition will serve you just fine. However, if you’re love of D&D stems from the love of experiencing heroic stories with unique characters where battles occur (but are not the entire point) then the 4th edition rules will lend you no assistance. True, intriguing stories and wonderful characters can be invented with no rules help at all. That doesn’t give Wizard of the Coast (makers of D&D 4th edition) a pass for removing all the customizable flourishes and non-combat abilities of class and character that helped D&D stories come vibrantly to life.
And Now…Final Fantasy
The original Final Fantasy was actually little more than a D&D adventure. The classes, the monsters, the spells and even some of the items were ripped straight from the pages of Advanced Dungeons and Dragons. In the years that followed, Final Fantasy grew past its D&D roots to find its own voice and its own wonderful style. It then went on to lose its damn mind and exchanged its soul (and its gameplay) all in the name of pretty graphics.
It’s Hallowed Roots
As the Final Fantasy games continued, the series became known for its wonderful characters, interesting stories, and vibrant worlds. The actual gameplay was beloved by many for its sense of exploration, enjoyable character advancement, and epic scale. The story path was amazing, but off the story path you could find hidden spells, new creatures to summon, powerful weapons and helpful accessories. The only real complaint most fans of the series would volley is that at some point the combat in Final Fantasy became repetitive and was reduced to little more than mashing a single button to make everyone attack, win, and grind up a few more levels before a big boss fight.
The Beginning of the End
The hints of Final Fantasy’s doom came even during its peak days on the Playstation. Final Fantasy 7 had long, unskippable summon spells that were incredible to watch the first time and tedious to endure the 20th time you wanted to cast you powerful spell. With the move to Playstation 2, Square released Final Fantasy X…that last good Final Fantasy ever made. With X, there was a big sign that the series was going off the rails. It was the first time where you had no overworld map to explore and when you finally got your own airship, it was nothing more than a map where you could pick points to warp to and check out.
Check Points On The Way To Fail
From Final Fantasy X you’ve got a series of terrible mistakes.
Final Fantasy the Spirits Within: Cutscene hubris leads the company to release a theatrical length cutscene that is devoid of anything resembling Final Fantasy, but sure does look pretty.
Final Fantasy X -2: Harping their first ever direct sequel, Square releases a game that has nothing to do with its beloved predecessor. It has a nearly linear, mission based structure with dress-up Barbie outfits as the main form of customization.
Final Fantasy XII: Square decides to solve the tedious, button mashing combat by letting the player do tedious combat that requires no thinking or button pressing at all. The game still has some sense of exploration, but once again the overworld is absent and there is no real airship.
Final Fantasy XIII – The Big Fail
All of Final Fantasy’s blundering attempts to find a way to update its style and stay cool, culminated in an epic fail called Final Fantasy XIII. Final Fantasy XIII does accomplish one amazing feat. It makes the combat fun again. Which is good, because combat is all you will be doing. Gone is the exploration. Gone is any semblance of interesting treasure or locales. Instead, the game consists of running down a narrow corridor with no real twists or turns and fighting monsters. Then you fight a boss and watch a cutscene or two. Rinse and repeat for 30 hours of game. I hear it opens up eventually, but that's about 30 hours too late for me.
Final Fantasy has fallen from one of my favorite RPG series, to one of my least favorite RPG's of all time. Sadly, I can only hope that Square Enix can find a way to get Final Fantasy back on track...or at least give it a proper burial.
Attack or Defend
Please leave a comment with your own complaints or defense of Final Fantasy or 4th ed D&D. Or feel free to share some of you own great disappointments in gaming. Maybe a good cry will help us all feel better.
Fable III presents the player with an obnoxious dilemma. You are a new king. The kingdom has been ravaged by a tyrant. There is a terrible threat that will soon wipe out the whole kingdom unless you raise enough money to raise an army to save everyone. Unfortunately, the kingdom has been overtaxed, overworked, and pushed to the brink. There is great need for help from the government. If you offer this help, you are doing the right thing, the people will love you, but the coffers run dry. The people will flourish right up to the point that they are wiped out from this foreign threat. Ignore social programs, raise the tax, and let the people suffer and you collect a lot of money. Ultimately this money will save the majority of the people even though they will hate you and hate their life. At that point, what have you really saved anyways?
Real Morality Isn’t Binary
The solution to these types of funding problems, to me, is a progressive tax system. The wealthy pay a lot and the poor pay little to none. The wealthy can afford to pay a lot of taxes and still live in giant mansions and the poor can’t afford to pay anything because they have other needs…like food and maybe, god forbid, a night out for themselves once in awhile. Not being able to provide basic needs for your family is a legitimate concern. You’ve got a right to complain. Not being able to afford that second summer home on the beach is not a legitimate concern. You’ve got the right to go cry to your mama and snuggle a teddy bear until you learn to act like a socially responsible adult.
Fable III doesn’t really have the nuance to cover a progressive tax system. It’s morality is binary (or close to it). You raise the taxes or you lower them. You make children work in a factory or pay a lot of money to make them a school.
The Fable III Solution
The one thing that Fable III does allow you to do is to contribute personal money (your hero’s in game money not real world funds) to the kingdom. From this, I devised a tax system that seemed decent and fair. I lowered taxes across the board. Then I bought a lot of businesses and a few large homes. On the stall vendors that sold food and other necessities, I lowered the prices to the point where I gained no profit. On the luxury places like weapons shops, pubs, and ridiculously sized mansions, I raised the price to the max. To my mind, this means that the poor have more money and can easily afford the necessities and the well-off will be paying more to enjoy those finer things in life.
The Fantasy and The Reality
In game terms, I’m earning over 100,000 gold from my businesses every 5 minutes of game time (respectable but still not JP Morgan kind of profits). I’m then dumping the money into the kingdom coffers to pay for every last restoration project imaginable. So far, the kingdom is improving and I have every expectation that I will have plenty of money to avert disaster. In the real world a senate full of Republicans recently held up healthcare and equal rights legislation to ensure a continued tax breaks for the wealthiest 5%. Fable III’s system is a fun fantasy indeed.
1. Wish For the Board Game Industry
I wish you would produce a rockin’ awesome adventure board game. Not a decent adventure board game. Not a kinda fun adventure board game. A rock-fricken-awesome adventure board game. Thus far you have let me down for many a year. What I want is simple. I want fun characters that improve, neat loot, somewhat strategic gameplay, interactions that are more than just combat, and I’d like it to play in an hour or less. Okay, maybe not so simple…but seriously. Get on it.
2. Wish For the Video Game Industry
I wish you would figure out the next big thing. It’s not Xbox Kinect. It’s not Sony Move. It’s not another console launch. Maybe it’s 3DS, but I kind of doubt it. 2010 had some very good games, but nothing that I was just dying to play. Please make something totally new, something good and then hype it like Moses on a mountaintop. I just want to be more excited about video games in 2011 than I was in 2010. Surprise me…but like in a good way for a change.
3. Wish For Myself In Gaming
Julian, I wish you would design and playtest 3 games. I know you worked hard on Cool Factor 5 but haven’t playtested it yet so I’ll even count that one if you get on it soon. That’s like only 2 ½ games to design and playtest. It doesn’t even matter how good they are. Good is nice, but finished and playtested is better at this point. It’s okay Julian. I know you can do it. Quit making excuses and make time instead.