Archive for Gaming

Minecraft 360

I bought Minecraft on the PC early on. I played through a lot of the alpha and beta phases, and even quite a bit after release. And still, I always felt like it needed one more update, one more thing to make it a really great game. This weekend, I sat down and tried to find a game for the wife and I to play cooperatively. There really aren’t a lot of games like that. But as I was flipping through the list of games on my Xbox 360, I saw the Minecraft trial I’d downloaded a while back but had never played. She was a fan of the game too, so I loaded it up to see what it was like.

Perfect.

Minecraft 360The 360 version of Minecraft has the one thing that the PC version lacks: recipes. Yes, when playing on your PC you can Alt+Tab to a browser or use a second computer to pull up a wiki and learn everything, but in the 360 version all the recipes are there, and you don’t even have to put the items in the right location to “figure out” the item to craft, you just select the recipe and if you have all the needed items on you, you press A/Green and the item is crafted.

Better still, the wife and I can play together in split screen mode, which makes finding each other when we are lost a thousand times easier than having to turn my back on my own screen while looking at hers. Instead, I just glance down at the lower half of the screen.

Currently, I’m building a mine, digging deep looking for ore. She’s building additions to our home. What started as “Honey, do you want a little fishing shack?” turned into “Look at this cylindrical great room surrounded by aquarium!” “Where is my fishing shack?” “I’ll put a dock off the roof or something…”

Our original home is an upside-down pyramid. You know, you build a little shelter, and then it gets blown up once or twice and you decide to just dig out all the ground beneath it and have a floating house with a bridge to it. Then you want a second floor for more stuff, so you build up, but bigger than the floor below (also because the lip prevents spiders from climbing over the wall). And then the floor about that is even bigger, and so on.

Since I have more shooter skills than she does, every morning I go kill the creepers, which I’m finding to be very fun.

All in all though, I’m finding the experience of playing Minecraft on the 360 to be superior to the PC in just about every way. A big piece of that is the 360 version doesn’t randomly crash and lock up like it does on our PCs. The 360 version just works.

If you are on the 360 and have Minecraft and you want to play around together, my gamertag is Jhaer.

True Creation of Character

Dig through this blog and you will find a number of posts where I talk about the things that I think would make for a better MMO. These days I’m not playing (m)any MMOs, so I don’t pontificate about them anymore. But recently I got to thinking of an idea that just won’t get out of my head, so I’m going to put it down here in hopes to solidify it and keep it from nagging me.

City of Heroes - Character Creator

Kung-Fu Super Hero

One of my favorite parts of MMOs is character creation. Right now, most of you, probably nearly all of you, have an image in your mind that matches this screen shot. Selecting skin tones and body part shapes and clothing options. Admittedly, this stuff can be very cool. I absolutely adored the City of Heroes character creator. I probably built a hundred characters that I never actually played, because the idea of them was more grande than playing them would be, especially since I already had a few characters to play – and ultimately, once you start playing and you’ve picked your class, primary and secondary powers, characters play the same no matter what they look like. Still, a robust creator is a lot of fun and can ignite further character developments.

Which leads me to the other half of character creation, and the part that I end up liking more, when it works. As a role player, I love filling out the nooks and crannies of my character. Their back story, their hopes and dreams, and their personality. It is one of the reasons that I still hold the original EverQuest in just high regard. That game rarely ever tried to tell me who my character was, it was always left up to me. Since leveling was kill based and not quest based, I got to pick and choose which quests to do because they are what my character would do. This is completely opposite of what many people seem to desire in games: a constant barrage of “things to do”.

In EverQuest, I got to decide if I wanted to help the citizens of Qeynos with their problems. In World of Warcraft and other games, if I choose not to help the locals, not to do quests, I might as well stop playing because leveling my character without those quests is painfully slow.

Of course, dig through the posts here and you’ll see I actually advocate doing away with levels. Another thing I advocate is the design of EVE Online, because of the dichotomy of its character/skill system. In theory, it is a classless, skill based system. You get books to learn new skills, any skill you have the prerequisites for, and then you choose to learn it. (If you don’t know, EVE is a time based advancement system. You tell the game you want to learn a skill and it tells you how long. When it’s done, you pick another skill. You can do anything you want while training happens, nothing you do effects the speed.) However, in practice, EVE is a class based game. While any character can have any skill, once you leave port in a ship the only skills that matter are the ones that apply to the ship you are flying and the modules you have loaded in it. If you have level 5 in cannons and level 1 in missiles, when flying a ship with only missiles on it your cannons skill is unimportant.

The thing I like most about this design, and why I would like to see it implemented in a fantasy setting, is that it takes class choice out of the initial character creation. At the point you are making your first character, you don’t know anything about the class you are picking beyond the couple of paragraphs that the developers give you. Well, if you’ve played other MMOs, you probably can pick up on the tank/damage/healer elements of classes, which give you a leg up on the new players. And of course, the truth is, most classes play much differently at level 1 than they do at level 50 and beyond. I like skill based equipment limited design because it allows me to choose my role in the game as late as possible, and if I decide I don’t like being a tanking warrior, I can just switch and become a damage dealing light healer without having to abandon my whole character. I just get new skills and put on new gear. (And in a design without level based power curves, I could be useful in my new role immediately rather than having to power-level back up to join my friends.)

This got me to thinking. I want freedom, as much as I can get. But in my evolving design I still had new players making choices from limited sets before getting into game.

So, imagine this…

You log into the game and you hit “Create New Character”. You are then given a map of the world with the starting cities highlighted. Selecting a city takes you to a page (or pages) of the history of that city, a description of the land, the typical lives of the NPCs there (common professions, etc). You pick a story you like, this takes you to a more detailed description of the city, largely focusing on the factions within it. These descriptions leave out words like “good” and “evil” but instead rely on giving descriptions of the beliefs of these factions and their role in the history of this city. You have to choose a faction to align yourself with. Once you do, you are taken to the “character creator” where you get to pick the look of your character. On this screen is your character, in silhouette to start. Behind it is a representative selection of NPCs in the city you have chosen. Directly behind you and surrounding you are members of your chosen faction, and at the edges are members of the other factions. You aren’t limited in color palettes or textures based on any of your decisions so far, but the crowd around you gives you an idea of the world you will start in. You can choose to make yourself look like your chosen faction, or perhaps like one of the opposing factions – maybe you are a traitor! Or you can make yourself look entirely different from anything shown to you, a true outsider.

Now we get to the crux of my latest brain bothering idea. On this screen, there are a series of checkboxes and dropdowns and sliders and color selectors, all the familiar tools from every other character creator you’ve seen, but there are some differences. For instance, there is a dropdown called “Pronoun” from which you can choose “he”, “she” or “it” (or any additional pronouns we can come up with). This dropdown selects your character’s gender identity – notice, it doesn’t choose gender – and determines how NPCs and canned emotes will address you. Other checkboxes exist for “Breasts” and “External Genitals” (or something, it needs a better term). Checking those boxes will enable your character to have those items, no restrictions. Yes, you can have a penis, or breasts, or both, or neither! And all of them will have the appropriate sliding adjusters for shapes and sizes. There could even be an option for having only one breast, left or right – your choice. Are there other options? Any “normal” option that exists, like facial hair or tattoos or scars, would be available to everyone without limit.

Despite knowing that in such a system I would pretty much always choose to create standard built males, but that’s largely because I tend to create myself in games (No joke. Meet up with me in any game and if there is the ability to make a bald white goatee-wearing male that’s what I’ll look like. Meet up with me in real life and you’ll see I’m a bald white goatee-wearing male. I like to project me into other worlds rather than to become someone else. I want to meet other people, not be other people.), this idea that enables people to make any combination they want just seems awesome to me. Oddly enough, it’s because of, not in spite of, my predilection for making myself in games, because I want everyone to be able to do that, even if in real life they are a bearded man with breasts who identifies as asexual.

After building the look of the character, they would finally be taken to the skills area, where they would choose their initial skills. I wouldn’t want there to be classes, but I would want there to be sets of templates illustrating skills that would work well together and why, probably encompassing the traditional game roles for MMOs, with, of course, a Custom option where the player could pick their own initial skills from a list of all skills.

Essentially, I want to put as many decisions as possible into the hands of the players. And I want, as much as can be, those decisions to be informed decisions, and anywhere a player has to make a choices that may be considered less than properly informed I want them to be able to easily change them later without having to start all over again from scratch. I want them to choose what they play and how they play it.

Alright, I guess that’s enough out of me for today. Hopefully this all made sense.

Rebuild: Kingston Falls – Day 4

Rebuild LogoJason’s eyes snapped open. It was dark. Not just because it was night, but he had closed himself up in one of the offices of the police station. It probably had belonged to someone nobody liked since it had no windows, but it was where he spent his nights inside the wall.

He put his hand to his chest. His heart was pounding. He could feel his whole body jitter like he was rushing on adrenaline. Jason waited in the dark and listened.

Nothing.

Jason took a couple of deep breaths and was just beginning to relax when he heard something. It was a thump, like something had fallen over. It was followed by a scream and by gunshots.

He pulled open to door to let some light in and then quickly found his gun on the floor. Jason pulled his baseball cap onto his head and stepped out into the police station.

“They’re inside,” he heard someone yelling. It was Candy, up on the roof.

“From where?” Superman was up there with her. So was Walker.

Tom and Eric were pressed up against the glass of a window on the West side of the building, looking out.

“The wall is down,” Eric said.

“Fuck this!” Tom turned from the window. He locked eyes with Jason for a moment. “Come on, E. Let’s get.”

Jason held up a hand. “Where are you going?”

“The fuck away from here.”

“We can fight them back.”

Tom walked out of the room toward where he and Eric kept their stuff. “The wall is down,” Eric repeated.

“So we put it back up.”

Eric turned to face Jason. His eyes were hollow. “No. You don’t get it.” He said everything very slowly. “The wall is down. Not just part of it, but lots of parts of it.”

“Where is everyone?”

“Some of them are fighting.” Gunshots sounded to back up the words. “Some of them have run.”

“And you?”

Eric bit his lip. Tom ran out of the other room with two backpacks and threw one at Eric. It landed at his feet. “We are leaving, Eric.”

Eric glanced back and forth between Tom and Jason a couple of times.

“Fine. Stay.” Tom left the police station through the front door.

Jason watched Eric as he watched Tom leave, then slowly rotated his head back to Jason. “Get on the roof. It’s safer up there.”

The two of them quickly made their way to the ladder that lead up to the roof access. As he climbed Jason thought to himself, “This is good. Ladder, not stairs, those things can’t get up a ladder.” They scrambled out onto the roof where Candy, Walker and Superman all had rifles and were taking shots at the zombies milling about on the grounds below.

They all watched as Tom, backpack on his back, threaded between the shamblers, reached a section of wall that was fairly clear, then climbed over it.

Jason waited a minute, but no one made any attempt to fill him in. Finally he asked, “What the hell is going on?”

Superman spoke up first. “Gray dropped the south wall.”

“What?!”

“He signaled over something about checking the wall for weakness, and about an hour later, the whole damn thing fell over.”

“Crazy sonofabitch did it on purpose,” Walker barked.

“We don’t know that.”

“Supes, you are an optimist to the end, huh?”

Jason waved them both off. “Where is everyone else?”

Candy put down her rifle. She hadn’t been firing it, so Jason assumed it was empty anyway. “Bruce, Johnny and the new girl, they got an early start and went over the wall.”

“Which way?”

She pointed South, toward the down wall and horde beginning to pour through the opening.

“Shit. Kane?”

“He was with Gray.”

Jason paced along the perimeter of the roof.

Eric said, “What do we do now?”

“I’m partial to getting back on the road.” Walker was nodding agreement with Superman.

Jason took off his cap and ran his fingers over his scalp. “I guess we don’t have much choice. The five of us aren’t going to clear this and fix the wall.” Candy picked her rifle back up and put on a brave face. Eric burst into tears. “We go downstairs, gather what food we can, and then we leave.”

Superman looked out over the field of fire in front of him. “I suggest we follow Tom’s trail. Looks the most clear.”

The five of them filed down the ladder and quickly gathered a few supplies. Jason went back to his room for his jacket and a few other personal items, a folding knife, an ax handle, and a picture of his wife. He lingered on the photo for a moment, running his fingers over the creases, before slipping it into the front pocket of his jeans.

He headed back out to the front doors of the police station where everyone else was waiting. There was a backpack on the floor at Candy’s feet. Jason picked it up and slung it across his back. “What am I carrying?”

“Some canned goods, a little jerky, some other odds and ends.”

Jason nodded and then looked around at the others. “We ready to go?”

Everyone looked at him but no one gave any answer, but only because they didn’t want to say it. They had only secured this place for four days, but it had been a wonderful change from the constant moving. No one wanted to lose this, but Jason looked out the front doors and could see human shapes swaying with slow steps and knew it was already gone.

“Let’s go.”

Superman and Walker pushed the doors open with their rifles up. “Don’t fire unless you have to,” Walker cautioned. “We need to conserve bullets, plus avoid the sound.”

Jason stepped out between them and headed toward the section of wall that Tom had scaled. Superman followed a step behind, then Eric, then Candy, with Walker bringing up the rear. The line of them walked quickly but kept from breaking into a jog, keeping their distance from the zombies, winding around them and toward the wall.

One by one they went over the wall. Everyone waited in silence on the other side. Jason looked around for signs of Tom but didn’t see any. He saw a scattering of zombies, most of them now shambling toward them. As quick as he could, Jason evaluated the streets. “We’ll go North, around the apartment building I checked out and then head West out of the city.”

Candy looked off to the West. “Back the way we came in?”

“I figured we know those streets a little better.” He didn’t wait for people to agree and started for the apartment building. Before, he had approached the building in the day and been inside it through the night. At night, it loomed ominously. It was probably still largely empty, but the shadow it cast in the moonlight was unsettling.

Jason rounded the corner of the building and bumped into a zombie. It fell to the ground and immediately started trying to get up. Another hand grasped for him and he stepped out of its reach. A chorus of groans rose up. His vision was filled with a crowd of undead that spanned the four lane street.

It happened faster than he expected. The crowd began to surge toward him, toward the corner of the building. He kept taking steps back, though back was now North, and before he could do anything about it, the horde of zombies was between him and the rest of the group.

Walker rushed forward, he and Superman began firing off shots. Candy had her own rifle in hand using it like a club. Eric turned and ran back for the wall.

Jason started swinging his ax handle, but he kept having to give up more ground. The others were backing up too. The gap between them was getting wider.

“Run,” he shouted. “Head West! Get out of the town! I’ll try to circle around and meet you!”

“Meet at the station,” Candy yelled.

“The station,” Jason confirmed. At the edge of town, before it gave way to farmland, there was a radio station the group had spent a night in on their way in. He watched as the other three turned and broke into a run, around the other side of the apartment building to head West.

Another zombie shuffled close to Jason and he cracked it between the eyes with his ax handle. It staggered backwards but didn’t fall. He turned and ran North.

At every intersection and alley, he tried to make his way West but the path was always blocked by more of the undead. Eventually he gave up trying, settled into a comfortable jogging pace, and just headed North out of town. He spent a night in a farmhouse, and as he made a longer loop around the outskirts of the town another night in the back room of a gas station. It took three days for him to get to the radio station on foot. He stood a hundred yards away and watched as zombies shambled in and out of its wide open doors.

Kingston Falls had failed. The number of undead there seemed to be multiplying and Jason had lost the entire group. He hung his head and started walking the road away from the town. Jason’s hand went to his front pocket and felt that the photo was still there.

“I know. I promised. I’m not going to give up. I’ll find them. I’ll find more. I’ll find somewhere else and start again. I’ll survive. I promise.”

Rebuild - Day 4


So, why the abrupt end? Well, it turns out that even though Rebuild says it’s connecting to a server and saving your game, it’s apparently saving the game in your browser cache. Sometimes, websites, like gmail, do updates and because of stuff in your cache the sites crash, so you have to clear out your cache. Had I known my game was saved there, I’d have tried to figure out a way to clear the rest of the cache and preserve it, but I didn’t know, so I wiped the cache clean and with it Kingston Falls.

I hoped that perhaps the generation of your town at the start was based on the name of your town and the name of your leader, and that I could recreate the game by using the same in both, but it doesn’t work like that. Every attempt to recreate the game resulted in a new town and new people. Of course, I could have created a new town and just lied, kept playing and you, the readers, would have never known. But I would have known. I was left with only one option: wipe the slate clean. But, I didn’t want it to be a bloodbath. In the world of random name generation, it’s possible when I start my next town – and I will be starting another town once my anger has subsided – that the same names might just pop up. This might not be the last we see of everyone.

Anyway, I’ll probably take a couple of weeks off from this and then come back to it. I really want to finish a Nightmare play-through of Rebuild, because I’m itching to play Rebuild 2.

Rebuild: Kingston Falls – Day 3

Rebuild LogoTom and Eric were repacking the bags again. After the sun had come up, the two of them had gone down to the basement again and found another cache of canned goods. The haul back to camp would be heavy and slow, but the food was worth it. John Walker could hear them discussing the placement of items on the bags and how best to pack them as he passed by the open front door on his path around the house.

John looked behind him just in time to see the dog they’d found disappear around the corner of the house in the opposite direction. He was tired. Sleeping outside the wall had put him back into the alert mode he’d hoped he was done with when they settled down. Four hours sleep just wasn’t enough, but it was all he could manage. He stopped his patrol and leaned up against the porch of the house.

His canteen was nearly empty, and he finished it off in just a couple swallows. Just as he was beginning to relax he heard barking coming from the back of the house. John dropped the empty canteen and pulled his weapon to the ready. He started careful steps around the building.

The barking continued, mixed in with a few snarls and just as he stepped into view of the back yard it was replaced with yelping. Training and instinct took over as he saw the dog being pulled apart by two zombies, John fired a single shot into the dog, ending its suffering. He put another two rounds into the zombies, one in the chest and one in the arm.

“Get your shit together now,” he yelled. “We are leaving!” John fired another two rounds and the zombies dropped to the ground from the impact, but now he could see several others shambling in from the neighboring street and the two he’d shot were moving again.

He glanced at the motionless form of the dog and then turned back to the front of the house. Tom and Eric were coming out the front door with their backpacks on. John slung his M-16 over his shoulder and held out his hands. Eric tossed a duffel bag to him.

“What’s up? Where’s the dog?”

“Dead.” Tom and Eric exchanged glances. “Move. Now.” John was already heading back toward the wall and the other two men had to jog to catch up. Their pace would easily keep them ahead of the zeds.

The three of them got back to the wall and scrambled over it. Tom started removing his pack. “Keep it on,” John told him. “We should get this stuff over to the station right away.”

John could see everyone else was already back from their duties from the crowd gathered around the rear of the police station. He did a quick head count, adding in Gray who they’d seen where they’d come over the wall and would stay there until he was relieved, and came up with one extra. Jason must have found a new addition.

Eric walked right into the center of the group and dumped his pack. People began to grab things from it. “Don’t take more than you need,” he cautioned them. “This stuff has to last.”

Jason was already handing out new orders. Most of them had been following him so long that they didn’t question he was in change anymore.

“Everyone, this is Chastity. She’ll be with us from here on out.” There was a mumbling of introductions, some waving and a couple of handshakes. “Bruce, I’d like her to work with you and Johnny Ng. We need to know more about what’s around here, and I’m going to leave it to you to run the scouting team.”

“Aye aye.” Bruce nodded to Johnny and motioned to Chastity and the three of them moved out of the circle and off to the side to discuss amongst themselves.

“Walker,” Jason continued. John snapped to attention. “I know you just got back, but we need you and Tom and Eric to head to the building we found Chastity in. She didn’t have much of her own, but she admitted to hunkering down and now searching the building.”

John nodded. Eric and Tom walked back over to join him.

“I’d also like you to check the church next door to the building. We can see if well from the wall, and it’s empty and safe, so it shouldn’t be too difficult.”

John nodded again.

“Everyone else is on the walls,” Jason finished. The group broke up and people began to wander off toward rest and eating. Jason headed straight to John and called out for Mr. Kane to join them.

Kane wasn’t a soldier anymore. He’d been Army once, but retired. Now he wore a cowboy hat and a six-gun on his hip.

“John, how was the situation at the,” Jason seemed lost for a word, and finally stammered out, “farm?”

“It’s clear of food, but it has a zombie problem.”

“That’s what Gray said too. Well, that’s what he signaled to Candy anyway.” He turned to Mr. Kane. “I think if we could secure that, we could use it, but we need to clear it first. You up for a hunt?”

Kane tipped his hat back and spit tobacco out the side of his mouth, really playing up the cowboy. “I reckon I could do that.” He smiled.

“Well, alright,” Jason said. “Thanks, John.” Then he and Kane walked off toward the south end of camp.

Everyone was gone except for John and Tom and Eric. Tom knelt down to the duffel at John’s feet and began going through it. Eric and John headed for a nearby picnic table.

“I guess,” Eric started, “I can take the church. You and Tom can take the apartment building?” John nodded. They sat together silently for a moment, Eric staring at the table while John watched the clouds float by in the air.

Tom joined them and placed a six-pack of beer on the table. “Drink up, gents. Tomorrow we go back outside the wall.”

The three of them cracked open a beer each and shared uneasy smiles. “I hope Kane kills all those motherfuckers,” John said between sips. “Motherfuckers killed my dog.”

“Without whom,” Eric added, “those zombies might have gotten us surrounded.”

“To the dog,” Tom toasted. “Whose name we didn’t know, but is in a better place than this.”

The three of them finished the toast. Then they finished the beers.

Rebuild - Day 3

Show them your O face

I’ve been turning it over in my mind since I heard about it. SOE is adding a new thing to EverQuest 2 that allows you to have your facial expressions – as in the face you are making as you are playing – implanted onto your character, in real-time.

First off, I cannot recall the last time I ever really looked at the face of a character in an MMO while I was playing. Largely this is because every game has gone third person, and with the camera pulled back to get a tactical view of the game the opportunity to even see faces, much less the expression on them, is extremely small.

Second, while I think facial expressions might have a place in role play, most MMOs have forsaken role play for game play so much that you have to essentially stop playing the game to talk to other players. The only people doing any serious role play are the ones sitting in town, not playing the game.

The SOE O FaceAnd that second point brings me to the one subset of players who will likely make the most use of a technology like this: ERP. If you don’t know what that is, it’s Erotic Role Play. Perhaps you’ve stumbled across it before, maybe wandering into a random empty building in town or through some little played alley (for WoW players, Iron Forge is full of “empty” buildings, and the tunnel the tram uses to go back and forth to Stormwind is one of those “alleys”). Or maybe you’ve been slapped in the face with it (for WoW players, go onto pretty much any of the RP servers, create a human character in Stormwind, and then run down the road to Goldshire – or as some people call it: Pornshire). The simple fact is that beyond a person taking screenshots of themselves in various poses to post on Facebook and other places, the people who will get the most use from facial expressions are the people who sit really really close to each other talking in hushed tones.

Does EQ2 really need this? No, not really. It’s a neat toy, but isn’t going to add very much to the game. But now that it exists and can be in the design of a future MMO in the early stages (for example, EverQuest Next, coming from SOE), perhaps it could be very cool.

That said, the guys over at Second Life are probably already looking into licensing this technology. Now there is a game that would get a ton of use out of the ability to show the world your O face.

Rebuild: Kingston Falls – Day 2

Rebuild LogoBruce found a hole in the fence that surrounded the warehouse and carefully slipped through it. The building loomed dark and ominous, so he started his search by walking the perimeter. Deliberate steps avoiding kicking anything or stepping on anything, his head constantly turning left and right scanning from the warehouse to the street outside the fence. It was clear. Every step and the longer it stayed clear just amped up his internal tension. By the time he got back to the hole in the fence he was practically jumping out of his skin.

Turning toward the building, his palms started to sweat. Bruce had not brought with him any sort of weapon. It was a little stupid, but then without a weapon he wouldn’t be tempted to try to stand and fight. Flight back to the safety of the compound was the real goal.

All the doors to the warehouse were open. There was no light inside save for where the sun shone through. He took the three steps up to the nearest open door slowly and peered inside.

It was an empty shell. Probably abandoned long before the zombies came. There were shadows in places, but none so dark he couldn’t see into them. Once inside and his eyes adjusted slightly, the building wasn’t nearly as foreboding as it had appeared from outside. There were no zombies here. No other survivors either. And no supplies of any sort. Not an entirely wasted trip, however, since he now knew there was nothing here.

Bruce stopped being careful and jogged back to the fence, slipped through the hole and ran back to the wall. He scrambled over the top of the wall and dropped to the ground, safe. All the tension flowed out of his body and he collapsed back against the wall.

“Find anything,” a voice called from above. Bruce looked up and shielded his eyes from the sun to see the shape of Candy standing on the edge of the police station roof.

“Nope. Just an empty warehouse.” He got up and dusted himself off.

“The way you shot over the top of the wall, I thought maybe you were being chased.” He could hear the smile in her voice.

“Just excited to get back inside. Johnny back yet?”

“Superman said that Gray flashed some Morse code using a hand mirror. The kid was back inside, found some people who might join us if our illustrious leader goes over to pay them a visit.”

“Is the hospital safe?”

“No idea. You’ll have to ask the kid yourself.”

“The others?”

“Jason said he might have to stay the night to win over any new recruits. And the scavengers want to be thorough, so they’ll be outside tonight too.”

Bruce nodded. “Thanks, Candy. Good lookin’ out.”

“It’s my job now.” With that she vanished back away from the edge.

Bruce headed into the station and found a spot to sit down. He broke out the granola bar he hadn’t eaten for lunch and nibbled at it. After a short while, Johnny walked in and pulled up a chair.

“So, now what?”

“I suppose,” Bruce said between nibbles, “we get a good night’s sleep, then head out to scout more tomorrow. How was the hospital?”

“Clear, mostly.” Johnny picked up a small bag of chips, tore it open and started eating. “There are some zombies locked in rooms, maybe some wandering the upper floors, but it’s safe enough. There are a few people living in there. Didn’t try to convince them to come back with me though.”

“No?”

“Yeah. I don’t like talking to gun barrels.”

“Right.”

“So, tomorrow?”

“I want to go take a look at the neighborhood to the north-east. You mind checking out the trailer park to the south-west?”

“I guess not. I supposed this is my job now.”

Bruce smiled and sighed, “At least until we come up with something better.”

They both laughed, just a little, and then wandered off to find places to sleep.

In the morning, everyone met up for breakfast, ate in silence, and then went back to their duties. Johnny strolled off toward the trailers, and Bruce ambled off toward the houses.

Rebuild - Day 2

Enough With The Secrets

I can’t say that I have any insider knowledge, because I don’t, but in light of the recent events surrounding 38 Studios and their Project Copernicus (no links, just Google it) I figured I’d throw up a post about a tangential topic.

Want to know how not to generate true excitement for the game you are developing? Give out no details of the world or game, no videos, no screen shots, nothing, but keep saying, “We are building a really great game and world and we can’t wait for you to see it!”

If you can’t wait… don’t!

When Green Monster Games first announced they were beginning work on an MMO and started hiring people, I was excited. Then they changed their name to 38 Studios and hired more people. They announced they were working with Todd McFarland and R.A. Salvatore somewhere in there, and I was excited. And then… nothing. For years the only thing we heard was “We are building a really great game and world and we can’t wait for you to see it!”

And now we probably never will.

Every game, every developer, I think believes they have something special and awesome that they have to keep a secret, to protect it from being stolen or to save it for that shocking unveiling. The problem is, if it goes on too long, you end up with only the rabid fanboys still interested and the casual observers move on to companies who actually do more than say “We are building a really great game and world and we can’t wait for you to see it!”

Maybe 38 didn’t have anything to show? I doubt it… the video that came out in the last week and the screen shots that have trickled out, and the comments by former employees saying things like “When I left the office today for the last time, our servers were still up, running the whole world with tens of thousands of NPCs going about their business. I choose to believe that they’ll be there, remembering us forever.” I think they had plenty to show, but, for whatever reason, they didn’t.

Now we just have to wonder, if they’d been less secretive, if they’d shown more progress, could they have attracted investors and saved the game?

To everyone who used to be a part of 38, I’m sorry this happened and wish you the best in your future endeavors.

Rebuild: Kingston Falls – Day 1

Rebuild LogoRebuild is a game by Sarah Northway. It’s best described as a survival sim and it’s done in the after action report style. Meaning you assign people to tasks that have chances of success or failure, then when you are done the game calculates the results and gives them back to you. In Rebuild, each turn is a day. But enough about that… this game is about zombies, and the story goes like this:

It all started in Holland…

The media called it the Dutch Flu, and connected it to some kind of weird tulip eating cult. The Netherlands used to export a quarter of the world’s tomatoes and cucumbers, but that wasn’t all. They were exporting the undead. Armageddon.

During that first year, survivors banded together to fend off the zombies, always staying on the movie and never looking back. But we’re not going to run any more. We’re putting out feet down here and we’re going to reclaim this place in the name of Humanity. Today… we begin to rebuild.

But I’m not just here to tell you about a nifty game. I’m a writer… I’m here to tell you a story. So what follows in this post, and for the rest of this series, is a narrative of the plight of Kingston Falls, a 10×10 city in Rebuild on the Nightmare difficulty level.


Jason watched as Bruce Collins secured the last piece of the fence. Jason had convinced them to stop running, to try to make a safe place to fight back against the shambling husks. And it began in a police station and then spread to two small neighborhoods and a field they were already working to grow food in.

“You know,” Bruce said, “running was a lot safer than this.”

“Sure. But it also kept us on edge all the time. Perhaps behind a secure fence we can relax a little.”

“Relaxing gets you dead.”

“I did say ‘a little’.” Jason turned and headed back toward the police station. Bruce trailed behind him. Along the way they ran into others, everyone heading toward the meeting Jason had called. Inside, they all took seats and sat silently for a while.

“Who’s on the wall?”

Jason didn’t see who asked it, but he ticked off the names aloud anyway. “Gray, Candy and Superman.” The soldier already had that nickname when Jason had met him, but he’d seen enough action out of the man to know the guy deserved it. Lately he’d taken to watch duty. They called it ‘sitting the wall’ but in reality they were on roof tops. Superman was up on the police station now, along with Candy. Gray was out on one of the houses, which was just as well since the scientist’s talking to himself made everyone a little uneasy. They were all a little stressed and tired, run down, but Gray might just be full-blown crazy.

The room fell to silence again. Ever since the decision had been made to stand some ground, the whole group had been looking to Jason for orders. “Eric,” he said at last, “you and Tom, grab some sacks and see if you can scrounge up some more food from that other field just south of the wall. Take Private Walker with you.” The three of them nodded. “Bruce, if you’re up to it, I want you to go outside the fence, north-west, and check out the warehouse we can see from the roof.”

“Aye aye.” Bruce tapped his fingers to his brow in salute.

“Cut that out.” Bruce smirked back at Jason. “Johnny, you know this town, right?”

Johnny was a skinny kid. He’d probably be in high school if not for the end of the world. “Yeah.”

“You know the hospital to the south-east at all?”

“I’ve been there once. A long time ago.”

“Well, I’d like you to go check the place out and see what you can find. Eventually I want to move the fence to include it. A lot of that equipment could be useful.” Johnny gave a half nod and hung his head. It was clear to everyone that he didn’t want to go outside. “That just leaves me and Private Kane. We’ll be looking in on the apartment building to the north. I think I saw some people in there.”

“Might be zeds,” Kane blurted out.

“That’s why you are going with me. You and that M-16.” Kane smiled from ear to ear. “Anyone got anything else to add? No? Well then, everyone has a job to do, so let’s do it.”

Rebuild - Day 1

Copernicus

It took nearly defaulting on a loan, missing a payroll, and all of it being dragged into the press, but we finally get a peek into 38 Studio’s Project Copernicus. It certainly looks pretty. Let’s just hope the game play makes all this fuss worthwhile. In the meantime, perhaps this is just the beginning trickle of the coming flood of information about the secretive upcoming MMO.

Man vs Wife: Dungeon!

Man vs WifeDungeon!, originally released by TSR, simulates some of the aspects of Dungeons & Dragons. You play a character and roam through a dungeon killing monsters for treasure. It came out in 1975, a year after D&D, and has been revised several times. There is yet another version coming out in October, but the copy I own is the 1989 version called “New Dungeon” because it revamped the classes.

Dungeon! - The Box

It's a little on the nose... Dungeon... Dragon... subtle this is not.

In the basic version we play first, everyone is a warrior. (Wife: I want to be the female.) Fine, I’ll be… uh.. the dwarf, I guess. They both look like dwarves, which is funny because Dwarf is one of the advanced classes. Whatever. Warriors get to move up to 5 spaces each turn. (Wife: We don’t roll?) Not according to the box rules, but there are house rules where you roll to move. (Wife: Then what are the dice for?) I’ll get to that. Back to the moving. You can go up to 5 spaces, but if you enter a room you have to stop and fight and end your turn, even if it’s less than 5 spaces. If you want to go through a secret door, the dashed lines (Wife: I was just about to ask that.), you have to roll a die. Warriors open secret doors on a 1 or a 2. If you fail, your turn ends. If you fail three times, on the fourth you automatically find the secret door and can go through it. (Wife: That’s nice.) Yeah, a reward for just wasting three entire turns doing nothing.

When it comes to combat, monster cards have six numbers on them, and warriors use the red one. You roll both dice and try to get equal to or higher than the number. (Wife: What are the other numbers for?) The other classes and spells. If you beat a monster in a room, you get a treasure of the appropriate level. If you beat a monster in a chamber, you get no treasure. (Wife: Poor chamber monsters.) The board is laid out with rooms of six different levels of difficulty, with the higher levels getting the best treasures.

There are special treasures too. Secret Door cards let you walk through secret doors without rolling. ESP Medallions let you see monsters before you decide to fight them. Crystal Balls let you look at the monster and treasure of any room on the board. And Magic Swords give you a bonus to fighting. (Wife: How much?) There are four +1 swords and one +2 sword. (Wife: Do they stack?) No.

Under the basic rules, warriors need 30,000 gold worth of treasure to win. You have to adventure out, defeat monsters, collect treasures and return to the Main Staircase. First one to do that wins. When you play with more people, you get in each other’s way a lot, which drags out the game. With just two of us, she runs for the level 1 rooms and I head for level 4. (Wife: What?) See, I’ve played this game before (Wife: Cheater!) and I know that while it’s easy to fight level 1 and 2 monsters, many of whom need a 3 or even a 2 – you can’t roll less than 2 on two dice – to defeat, there is a disproportionate jump in difficulty from level 4 to level 5 in that level 5 is much harder than level 4, and level 4 is still statistically favorable to win while earning more valuable treasures. (Wife: Cheater! Cheater!) I know. I take a pretty quick lead, but I forgot two things. First, getting a secret door card is much easier in the lower level rooms, as is a magic sword. Second, if you go down the wrong hall to level 4, you end up having to detour through level 5 or take the long way around. (Wife: You went the wrong way?) I went the wrong way.

So, she racks up a pile of treasure, with Secret Door cards and magic swords, and while I have a pile of money I step into a level 5 room that’s too difficult. According to the rules, when you don’t kill a monster on the first attack, another player rolls for the monster and then you consult the damage table to see what the monster does to you. The results range from the monster missing and nothing happening, to dropping treasure, to being killed. (Wife: Are you dead?) She rolls a 3, so I’m not dead, but I have to drop half of my treasure and return to the Main Staircase. She’s now winning. (Wife: I’m winning!) And basically I’m screwed. My choices are to either go back to where I lost and try to reclaim my treasure and hope the next couple rooms give me enough to win, or take the loss and head for the easier rooms. The problem with the second option is that she’s been clearing out, and will continue to clear out, those rooms, so it’s a long wasted run to finally get something worthwhile. I decide to go get my stuff. (Wife: Revenge!) Revenge!

She wins. (Wife: I win!)

Having played out the basic game rather quickly, I propose we play again. Advanced this time. (Wife: You are just trying to steal my victory.) No, really, we should just play another variant. (Wife: Advanced is too complicated.) You could play a warrior again. (Wife: And you would play what?) A wizard. (Wife: Why?) Just to be different. (Wife: No, really, why?) I like wizards. (Wife: I’m not playing if you don’t tell me.) I put on my robe and hat. (Wife: Just tell me!) Fine! Because with spells you can defeat level 6 monsters really easy. (Wife: Cheater!) Whatever. We’ll both play warriors again, but we’ll clear the dungeon entirely and the winner is the one with the most treasure at the end. (Wife: Better.)

I’m not going to bore you with the details, because it was a very long game, but she won. (Wife: I win!) I avoided my earlier mistakes, but I just lost out on luck. She ended the game with literally all the Magic Swords (Wife: That don’t stack! Lame!) and most of the other special treasure cards. I didn’t get a Secret Door card until we were pushing into level 5. I also want to avoid the details because this game got really ugly. Remember that rule about having another player roll for the monsters? I recommend instead allowing the player to roll for their own damage. It’ll prevent players from being angry at other players and instead be angry at the dice. Nothing makes you hate another player quite as much as them rolling a 2 and you having to drop ALL your treasure and return to the Main Staircase. (Wife: Yeah! Screw that!) Honestly, we could have played the game a little more cutthroat, but tended to let the other get their own treasure back rather than go steal it after it was dropped.

I’m curious if the new version coming out this fall will have better or different rules. No matter what, if we ever play this again (Wife: Never!) it will be after a bunch of research on house rules that help the game be more fun.

Despite my lack of winning, I still like Dungeon! Though I fully admit that part of it is nostalgia. Back in the day (Wife: Here we go…) some of my gaming groups would use the board and modified rules along with real D&D characters. It was easier than drawing out a random dungeon map. We would just toss down the board, pick a chamber to be the entrance and start exploring. In my opinion, the game is worth owning for that alone.

Anyway…

Man, 0. Wife, 7.

(Wife: I…) Just don’t.