Last night I had the pleasure of going to see a screening of Stardust, the film adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s novel of the same name.

Really, I went into this not expecting much. I’d never read the book and only had a vague idea of the story as being in the fantasy genre. Something about stars being alive, one falling to earth, and a witch who wants to eat the star’s heart to stay young forever.

I would put this film on par with The Princess Bride. Adventure, romance, fighting, chases, and most of all… fun. From the get go Stardust is an enjoyably fun film full of action and unexpected laughs, love and villainy. It was just, simply put, a good movie.

Most absolutely I would recommend seeing this film. It was good enough that I might even go see it again at the theater. Two big huge thumbs up.

I have a new addiction and is it’s name.

It is really interesting to see questions people ask. It is also fun to think up questions you wonder about.

I’m hooked.

And I’ve already created my own metagame out of the site: creating questions that invent unique entires for the word cloud. If you want to play, you can’t just completely go out in left field, you have to ask a real question. Example: I asked a question that revolves around the movie Tremors, so I created a keyword/keyphrase of underground monsters. I would have gone for the gusto and said “underground God damned monsters”, but I don’t know the site’s policy on dirty words.

If you get there from here, add me as a friend.

Wii`ve made a full 360

So, yesterday morning, after breakfast at IHOP, before getting gas for the car, the wife and I swung through Target to see what was what.

The new Xbox 360 Elite was due out, and they happened to have one. Just one. They also had eight Nintendo Wii’s (left from the 20 they’d had just an hour before). In full financial abandon, we bought both.

This should be fun…

Storm Front

The Sci-Fi Channel series The Dresden Files piqued my interest, so I picked up the first couple of books in the series by Jim Butcher and read Storm Front, the first one.

I love the TV show. Its fun, sometimes funny, with a bit of magic and darkness. The book is about the same, though as always with works taken from page to screen (big or small), it is only “about” the same. There are differences, but not so much so that it hurts either.

If you don’t know what The Dresden Files is, its about a man named Harry Dresden and he is a wizard. This isn’t your Harry Potter type wizardry, it is definitely not aimed at kids. Dresden lives in a world where magic exists, but its sort of a secret. Not the magic itself, but the White Council that presides over it all and tries to keep people from using the darker magics. Harry comes from a powerful line of wizards, all of whom are dead. From the show we know that Harry’s dad was killed by his uncle, and that Harry ultimately killed his uncle (in self defence). None of that is in this first book, not clearly anyway. There are hints that his family line might not be the cleanest around, and there is a judgement for murder against him currently held in check. Harry even narrates that he killed a man with black magic and that is why he is reluctant to tread in those waters again.

As it stands, Harry consults for the police as a “psychic” on weird cases as well as doing his own brand of private eye work. The book almost drips with old noir style storytelling, and in part that is what makes it so good. There is evil in the world, and if good is going to win its only going to do so by the skin of its teeth and by the barest of threads, and never emerge unscathed.

With the first book down, I’m really looking forward to the rest of the series, so I whole-heartedly recommend Storm Front. Of course, I don’t like to read series books back to back, so number two of The Dresden Files will have to wait until I’m done with the new Hellboy book.

You Suck: A Love Story

I just finished reading Christopher Moore’s latest book, You Suck: A Love Story, which is a sequel to a previous book of his called Bloodsucking Fiends.

As expected its full of moderately crazy characters who do all sorts of funny and weird things, not the least of which here is being a vampire. I’m not going to go into alot of detail, but like all of Moore’s books, its a fun read, and in my opinion worth the money and the time.

Removing Barriers

The wife and I have been discussing the future of our gaming. First and foremost has been the question of where to continue our gaming. Do we want to move to console gaming or stick with PCs? It is not an easy question, and of course we can not afford to do both.

The main pro on our pros and cons list for sticking with PCs is MMOs. As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, my interest in the existing games is waning. While talking things over with the wife, I came to the realization that the biggest hurdle for us in most games is the fact that we have to play together if we want to play together. Did that make sense?

See, sometimes I have to work and the wife wants to play, but if she plays with her main character and this happens too many days in a row, she will out-level me (unless we are at max level) and now I will need to play catch up in order for us to play together and both of us have fun. The key being both of us having fun… being too low is never fun, swinging weapons and casting and not affecting much, neither is being too high, swatting away monsters without fear of losing. City of Heroes solved that; halfway at first with side kicking, and then the rest of the way later with Mentoring. It’s not a perfect system, but it worked well enough that when we were playing CoH, the wife and I never had to worry much about who leveled when. Of course, as I have said a few times in this blog, we stopped playing CoH when the graphics engine upgrade for CoV was just enough to force us to turn the details down just enough to make the game unappealing.

The alternative in most games is for us to play a secondary character when we can not play together, but personally, I think this causes more problems than it solves. What happens when I have been having a blast with my secondary for five days and now when the wife wants to play I still would rather play my second? It also serves to hinder a player/character relationship. If my best friend is on, I would rather see him and him see me than for me to have to look for one of his seven characters and him to keep an eye out for my five. It is a further disconnect from how real life works. Not that I am saying I want to emulate life 100%… holding a job and paying a mortgage in game as well as real life would be frustrating.

What is the solution?

My thoughts would be to begin designing any system with either a sidekick/mentor construct in mind, or with an eye on removing or reducing playability gaps between players. I am going to try to focus on the playability gaps…

First step, remove the direct link between player level and player power. Still have experience points in a game, earned when fighting or questing or crafting or anywhere the game can determine you have completed some defined task and reward you for it. Have levels with some mathematical formula for determining experience needed to level. 100 exp for level 1 (because everyone starts at level 0), 300 for 2, 600 for 3, 1200 for 4… until you reach some point where you just say “every level beyond X takes Y experience” where X could be 50 and Y could be 10,000,000 or something. No level cap. If someone wants to grind to level 999,999,999 so be it, if that is what they enjoy. But, you do not want to entirely remove player level’s ability to affect player power, because then people who like grinding will complain that grinding is pointless, so with every level you earn a “skill point”. And since experience is rewarded for more than combat, it would be possible for a crafting minded player to still be able to grind out those 999,999,999 levels by making swords instead of using, if they were so inclined. Once this link is severed, there is no reason not to allow players of any level to play together in groups.

Skill points are the second step. You can earn them with leveling. We will also allow people to earn them with training, similar to the way EVE Online skill training works, you select a skill to train the “next point” in and the point takes time, both in and out of game, with two major changes. One, allow people to train more than one skill at a time. The way that would work is, say a skill takes 1 hour to train, and you have 5 of those types of skills, so, in EVE Online world, you would have to log in (or still be logged in) each hour to switch skills. We would let someone select all 5 skills and in five hours they would all go up one point. Time of training times number of skills in training equals length of time for point. Oh, and training stops if your account expires, but will start again the moment the account is made active again picking up right where it left off. Now, if you are training a skill and then level and buy the skill you have been training, the time you have spent training will be applied to the next point. So, say you have that 1 hour skill training for 30 minutes, and then buy the point. The next point of the skill, which normally would have taken 2 hours to train, will now show only 1 and a half hours remaining. Two, unlike EVE, if training completes and there is no change made by the user, training will continue into the next point of the skill(s) selected. So, yes, conceivably, someone could start a character, set all skills to train and then not log in for a year and return with a fairly well decked out level 0 character. If they really want to pay for a game for a year and not play, more power to them.

So, what are the skills? Well, skills would allow you to use items or perform tasks, there can and will be huge hierarchy trees of skills, special and advanced skills that must be quested or learned from a master (maybe even allow that master to be another player). But how important will they be? This will vary… some skills would have to be proprietary, meaning you have to have the skill (and possibly even of a certain level) to use or do something. Other skills would be “untrained” skills, for example, in a fantasy setting wielding a sword could be an untrained skill, meaning that everyone can swing a sword, but gaining levels in swordplay and other advance skills will make your character “better” at sword use by affecting calculations (perhaps each level of skill gives you a +1 bonus to some section of the “to hit” formula that allows you to be more accurate) or by opening special moves (the use and timing of which can translate into “player skill” allowing players who practice with their combat to become more effective so that they might be able to trump the numerical calculated predictability of standard “auto-attack” combat). Of course, skills are not all combat related… there can and would be crafting, social, and other skill trees.

Back to the leveling… with the multitude of ways to gain experience, do we need to worry about power leveling? No, because, honestly, who cares? If a player wishes to become the “apprentice” to a local tailor and grind out eleventy billion hats so that he can gain a bunch of skill points, why not? If someone wants to “squire” for a powerful knight assisting him in combat while the knight does most of the real fighting work, why not? You could even encourage power leveling through an apprentice/master (or sidekick/mentor) system! While the squire is fighting with the knight, any skills he has set for training (you know, the timed training, not level based earning) that the knight uses he will get a training bonus, very small at first but growing larger the more a skill is used. So, while the knight and squire are out grinding experience killing monsters, eventually the squire would ratchet up to a double (or even triple) training rate, and he would be cranking out the combat skills at twice (or thrice) the normal rate, as long as they remained grouped (so yes, the bonus would be lost between gaming sessions, but we would give it like a 15 or 30 minute cool down window to account for temporary loss of connection).

But what about classes, you might be asking… especially since I wrote a post a while back about staying with classes, and another on my version of a class system. I still think players should have to pick starting attributes, and I think they should still have to pick a class, for lack of a better term, and award them with a bonus to certain skills when it comes to training. And I would even still do that by grouping the skills into sets and having the players rank the sets. And yes, I would still allow players to change their set rankings later in game (through quest or something). Would this allow players to game the system? Sure. They could rank combat the highest and train combat, then change ranks to merchant skills and train crafting. But, to me, it would not matter… no matter what system you come up with, some players will learn how to game it, how to maximize the systems to minimize risk and time and effort, because it is what they like to do. It’s on the shoulders of the designer to make game play and the world a compelling enough distraction that it keeps the player’s focus off the mechanics and off the desire to game it.


Avast! Yarrr! Yes, it is once again Talk Like A Pirate Day. And yes, I have installed the annoying Pirate Speech plugin for WordPress, so suffer!

I’ve already managed to make it through one meeting this morning saying things like “Aye” and using as much pirate speech as I can, but luckily there aren’t many meetings scheduled today.

So, enjoy the day, talk like a pirate, and have fun.

Non-MMO Gaming

A while back, some friends and I started up some old fashioned pen & paper gaming. It started out with an AD&D (original rules) campaign, and has since turned into a rotating two campaign (two different DMs) 3.5 ruleset playday.

I had forgotten how fun face-to-face gaming can be.

Its refreshing to know that content won’t be broken (or “working as intended”), and there will be no farming or camping, unless we want to grow some crops or tell stories around the camp fire. There will be no lists, no looking for a group, no raid attendance or DKP. There will be no spam of Chuck Norris jokes (though jokes and puns are numerous around the gaming table), and one begging people to join his guild that plans to do end game raiding and be the most uber guild ever in under a month if people will just join he’s offering a gold for every person to sign his guild charter come on!

The feats of our characters are limited only by our imaginations, the will of the DM, and the luck of the dice. Death is a real threat and not a feature of the game mechanics. Losing is losing, not thirty seconds of downtime.

Currently, in the first of our games, I play a fighter. The band of adventurers I’ve fallen in with consist of a ranger, a paladin, a cleric, and two scouts *cough*rogues*cough*. Well, one scout. Last session, one of the scouts was turned into pasty goo by a giant. In the land we find ourselves in, I have taken over a garrison outpost of the local lord. We reclaimed it from the evil that had infested it and have now restocked and restaffed it to help hold against the wilds of the forest. Unlike most MMO games, or even single player games, here I feel like a hero. While trying to retake the outpost, we’d gotten inside and an army came to take it back from us. Suddenly the tables had turned, and while we had stealthily fought our way inside, now we had to repell invaders. Most armies of foot soldier are made up of level 0, or at best level 1, fighters. I was level 5. I also had a potion we’d recovered on an earlier adventure that could make me invulnerable to non-magic weapons for a short time. Long enough though to drop to the outside and wade into the army while my friends supported from the walls with bow and crossbow. Damn, that felt good.

In our second game, well, we haven’t gone too far, but I’m a mage this time, a sorcerer of dragon blood. I expect no less joy from these adventures.

I suppose one of the better parts is the limited nature of the game. Everyone who plays honestly wants to play. There is roleplay, not sissy “thee” and “thou” garbage, but people actually playing roles… the rogues are sneaky, I command armies, the paladin does the right thing even when it may not be the best thing. The game has no end, so there is no end game. There is no level rush, or gear to get. The game just is.

Oh yeah… I had forgotten how much fun this could be.

Love Monkey

While the show Love Monkey was on, I praised it. I dug the show and its stars, I even dug the music they put on it. It was a fun quirky show that I just could not get enough of. I found out that it was based on a book by the same name, so after the show got canned, I saw the book in the bookstore and decided to pick it up.

A while back I reviewed “On The Road” by Jack Kerouac. Basically, I thought it sucked. Sadly, I feel pretty much the same about Love Monkey. The TV show was great, but this book is… its rambling diatribe on things that just aren’t particularly funny to anyone but the author.

In the show, Tom Farrell worked in the music industry, had a tight group of friends, and was smitten by a woman he worked with. In the book, Tom works for a tabloid, has a loose group of acquaintences, and is completely obsessed with a woman who works for the same tabloid but rarely actually sees.

Much like my trip through “On The Road” gave me a few personal insights and new outlooks, “Love Monkey” gave me a dozen of laughs. At 368 pages, a dozen of laughs is pitiful. This book just… it… I… ah… jeez, I’m drawing a blank and I just keep coming back to “sucks”.