Tag Archive for idea

The Strangers

11 out of 13 nots
for being actually scary instead of just bloody shocking

The creepiest line in the film is spoiled in the trailer, and yet is no less effective when delivered.  One of the victims asks of their tormentors, “Why are you doing this to us?” and one of the masked people responds, “Because you were home.”

The idea that simply answering your door at four in the morning could be the trigger for some psycho to kill you is… unlikely, yet scary.

I’m not going to spoil any of the film, because it was truly scary in a way that most recent “horror films” are not.  Most recent films just try to shock you with blood and violence and torture.  So, go see this film, and be ready for a few good jumps.

Burnout Paradise

I have my Criterion Elite license, which means I have won every race, unlocked every car and ruled every road.  I have 350 out of 350 on the Freeburn Challenges.  I have all the achievements you can get without having a camera (and if I ever find a spare $40 laying around, I’ll get those too).  And now I’m spending my time chillin’ helping out other folks on their challenges or looking for races, so I think its fair to say I’ve seen the entire game… so here are my thoughts.

Overall, this is a fantastic addition to the Burnout series of games.  If you like the older Burnout games or like racing games, definitely think about picking this up.  It is worth it.  But instead of looking at the game as a whole, lets take a moment and look at a bunch of the design choices of the game, or missing features, and rate those either as a Pro (good idea) or a Con (bad idea). Read more

Form versus Function

One thing that has always bugged me about MMORPGs is that in order to play the game, mechanically, to its peak, I must relinquish control of certain aspects of my character.

As far as spells, skills, talents, etc are concerned, that I don’t mind because those are the mechanics of the game. If getting skill X makes me better at dealing damage than skill Y and I have chosen my role to be damage dealer, there is no choice. I pick X. Picking Y would be self defeating. Sure, the idea of Y might be cooler than X, but mechanically, to maximize the efficiency of the game, I have to pick X.

To a degree, the same goes for items… except often times the best items don’t look the best. Ask any WoW player if he enjoys the water cooler shoulder pads of some of the highest level loot and you’ll get a mixed response… on the look. When it comes to the math, you can’t argue, much like skills, item X is better than item Y for reason Z. Period. The math doesn’t lie. The problem comes in that the axe you got a couple of weeks ago has the really cool look, and it is dripping fire, and the new one that just dropped, which is mathematically better than the axe that drips fire, just looks like a typical hand axe, one that doesn’t drip fire. Or perhaps you have this wicked cloak with a pattern of a bat on it, and you like bats, but now you are presented with a cloak that is much better statistically but is has a pink butterfly on it… ick.

For that reason, I fully support any design that allows for the separation of form and function. Recently I’ve been fooling around with EverQuest II and I just hit level 20 which opened up a second “paper doll” (i.e. – slots for items) that was just for the visible look. That way, the robe I had that I really liked the look of for my monk I can keep wearing for the appearance, but I can slip on the chest straps in my normal equipment spot for the stats. This is a concept that should be implemented into every single game that uses gear as progression… stat!

Thinking on this concept though, and knowing that I love it, I wanted to be sure I had considered all the possible “down sides” to it, and my thoughts on how to deal with them. So, let’s go…

1. PvP.

Problem: In Player versus Player combat, the fact that certain gear has a specific visual look can be an asset to sizing up your opponents. If he’s got on the water cooler shoulder pads and the unique dark blue chest plate from that super elite raid dungeon, chances are the guy is going to be decked out in awesome raid gear, so you’ll need to approach him differently, more carefully, than you would some poor schmoe in head to toe rags from random outdoor adventuring.

Solution: Gear from raid zones (or as PvP rewards) generally has designated “tiers”. In fact, World of Warcraft openly supports this idea of tiered suits, especially in rewarding players with bonus stats and effects for wearing pieces from the same tier. I’d suggest supporting this idea from day one, even at the lowest level. Design all gear to be handled in tiers, and then provide next to a character’s name (both floating and on player listing pages) they tier average of all their gear. If a player has 14 slots for gear and currently the game has 200 tiers of gear, a player with a tier average of 200 would be fully decked in the best gear possible. Of course, players could try to “cheat” by equipping lower tier gear, for example dropping a tier 1 piece of just in, say, the ring slot would drop a 200 tier player down to 186 (200 * 13 + 1 = 2601 / 14 = 185.78…, round up), but in doing so, he’d be robbing himself of an entire slot worth of stats. While this might be an odd concept at first, I think it would fairly rapidly become second nature to players. Games could even help out by providing the number for the current max tier rank, so you’d see a player as 191/200 or 185/200 as a quick judge of their gear.

2. Nudity.

Problem: Sometimes the problem isn’t just the look of a piece of equipment, but that you don’t want to see anything in a particular slot at all, and if you allow people to turn off the visible graphic for slots, you are going to end up with “naked” characters running around.

Solution: While I would support some form of “disabling” visibility on slots for most locations (gloves, boots, helmet, etc), I cannot think of any reason I would support disabling the visibility of the chest and pants slots on a character, and I would be perfectly happy leaving those two slots as forcing a graphic, either from the equipped stat item or from the visibility override item. If a player really wants to be “naked” back to the fully unequipped graphics of a new character, they’ll have to have nothing equipped, at least in those two slots. Besides, as far as I am aware, Age of Conan is the only game I’ve heard of that is going to have any real nudity anyway, most games already don’t allow true nudity.

And that’s it… I tried really hard to think of a 3rd problem with separating the form and the function of items, and I even feel number 2 there is a stretch. If anyone else thinks of a reason not to divide form from function, or any other problems, please, let me know. I’d love to discuss it.

To me though, it seems almost like a no brainer, especially to extend the accessibility of any game to role players and women. And I’m not being sexist there… its from experience, almost every woman I know who has played an MMO, one of the first things they want to know is how to turn the camera and see how they look. Women, in general, care more about how they look than men do, even in a game.

The Signal

Normally, Wednesdays are reserved for zombie posts. But this week, I’m co-opting the Wednesday slot for a guy I know, one AJ Bowen.

AJ is an actor, and he’s from the Atlanta area. A couple of years ago, he and a bunch of other people made a horror film for about $50,000. Last year, they took that film to Sundance, where it was immediately picked up by Magnolia Pictures. And when I say immediately, I mean that talk started before the movie finished and, I may be wrong here, it sold that night. This movie is called The Signal.

I got to see it at a film festival in Atlanta last year, and then again at Dragon*Con, and then a third time at a screening a couple months ago around Christmas. Each and every time I’ve seen it, I have enjoyed it. And that’s not loyalty talking, The Signal is genuinely a good horror film.

As with other reviewers who have seen it, there are moments, few and short but they exist, where the low budget nature of the film comes through, but mostly the film just comes across as well made, with some scenes actually falling into the “disturbingly real looking” category, which in my book is exactly what you want from a good horror film.

The setting of the film is that a signal is coming through electronics and it is driving people crazy, acting out on their impulses and urges to deadly effect. I say that is the setting and not the story because it really is, its the backdrop on which the real story happens. The real story is about a girl, her husband, and her boyfriend. The story is told in three parts, each from the point of view of a different character: the girl, her husband, and her boyfriend.

The Signal is not gross out torture porn, like the Saw movies or Hostel. Instead it is a well crafted story with elements of and rooted in horror. If you like horror films, I highly recommend that you find a theater playing this one on its currently limited release.

And no, before you ask, they did not steal the idea from Stephen King, the movie was filmed before his book Cell even came out, and they aren’t the same in any event beyond sharing a basic idea: a signal through technology drives people crazy.

The Unintended Take Away

In the business world, be it advertising, marketing or any facet of business, the “take away” is what sticks with you when a meeting, product, or whatever is done.  With advertising and marketing, the take away they usually want the consumer to have is “I want that”, or better yet “I need that”, though sometimes they just want you to leave with “That’s a good product or company.”  While the immediate punch might be dealt with humor, they want you to remember the product and not the joke, unless the joke reminds you directly and fondly of the product.

I’ve always been a fan of the unintended take away.  This is usually some idea that either they didn’t think of or even one that they expressly did not want to show, but wound up embedding it in the audience’s minds anyway.

Take a look at these two commercials for Liberty Mutual:

Now, the idea they want you to take away from this is that Liberty Mutual looks out for people and is a good company.  They aren’t selling you anything in particular, but they are trying to sell you the brand, the general positive attitude toward the business practices of the company.

The other night, the wife and I saw the second commercial and the conversation went like this:

Her: I especially like how the end is the beginning, like time travel.
Me: Yeah.
Her: Its as if doing good deeds…
Me: … get you trapped in a Groundhog Day time loop?
Her: Yeah.
Me: Better stop doing good deeds then.
Her: Maybe that’s why people are mean to each other, fear of getting caught in a time loop.

The unintended take away.

Yeah, we are weird people.

Gods in Games

One element that seems to follow around many fantasy genre MMOs is the idea of putting the lore’s gods in the game as defeatable content.  Largely, when this happens, it leads to my arguments of why I feel raiding is stupid.  Its not that I think the act of raiding or the existence of raid content is stupid, I just feel that often times it is done poorly.  I always love beating up on EverQuest at times like these… so lets continue the trend.  In the Planes of Power expansion, they put in a long series of flags with a lore to back up the players storming the planes, the homes of the gods, and killing them.  You fight and kill pretty much all the gods on the EQ Pantheon, and at the end of the story ***Spoiler!*** one of the surviving gods makes time go backwards to before you went through the Plane of Time and killed off all the gods for good.  Actually, not too bad of a story, and if this were a fantasy novel, that’d be a fairly nifty end to a series.

The problem, of course, is that EverQuest didn’t end.  There have been more expansions and more mudflation, and now you can defeat the god of fire with a single group.  There are insignificant monsters in the new worlds that put the gods to shame.

Wait… what?

Exactly.  The biggest hurdle with putting gods into your game as defeatable content is that, unless it really is the end of your game, your gods will become trivial content in the future.

In my opinion, the gods, and the true homes of the gods, should never exist in the game world.  Your players should, at best, fight the creations of gods, avatars of the gods imbued with power, but distinct from the gods themselves.  If you feel that you must absolutely put the gods in your games, consider making them nigh unkillable.

Real Guitar Hero

As much as I love playing Rock Band and potentially playing Guitar Hero (when they stop being dicks and let me use the Rock Band Guitar), I’ve been toying with real guitars for much longer.  Its a love/hate relationship.  I love the idea of playing the guitar, but I hate the idea of spending a lot of time at it.  I can play a few songs, and my fingers know where they are supposed to go for most of the chords even if they don’t always find the exact position without me looking down at the fretboard, but overall I’m never really disappointed in myself because I know my lack of ability comes from my lack of dedication.

That just might change, though…

I present to you, dear readers, Guitar Rising.


A Party of One

Of late I have been fooling around in Guild Wars. I’ve long been interested in the game because of its “no monthly fee” design, and because of a little idea called “henchmen”.

All throughout my table top gaming days, whenever we needed a class, skill, or knowledge that the player characters did not possess, we would head on down to the local bars, adventurer guilds, docks or slave markets to find what we needed. So when getting into MMOs, at first, the idea that I needed to group with other people for everything was strange. Standing around waiting to find a healer because we needed one seemed like a waste of time. I eventually got over it and made friends and tried to make sure I always had a group. But increasingly over the last half dozen or so years, perhaps because I’m turning into the grouchy old man yelling at the kids to stay off his lawn, I’m just not as inclined as I used to be to put up with the Internet toddlers who like to “pwn” and “lol” and “zorz” their way through conversations. So, playing World of Warcraft, City of Heroes and Villains, Lord of the Rings Online, I would group with the people I already knew and maybe the occasional non-infantile gamer I ran across. But more often than not, I would solo.

I’m still soloing in Guild Wars (my wife injured her hand and hasn’t been much for gaming this month), but when I’m about to leave town and hit the quests, I’ll snag myself a couple or three henchmen. Just as in my table top games, these people aren’t the brightest bulbs in the pack. I play a mage, and so I’ll load up with a fighter, a ranger and a healer, and they do exactly as their class suggests. The fighter charges in and fights, the ranger stands back and shoots, and the healer heals. In fact, that’s all they do. The fighter will stand and fight until he dies, he doesn’t run. The ranger shoots, at any range. And the healer heals, if a monster hits her, she runs around like a chicken with its head cut off until the threat is over. I’ve heard there are better henchmen, but I’m only level 7 and my henchmen are level 3, plus I only own the original Prophesies game, none of the expansions, so either I haven’t gotten to the better ones yet, or I am incapable of getting to them.

Overall though, I’m liking the whole henchmen system. They don’t replace good players, but they sure beat crappy players. I would love to see something like this implemented in other games. Imagine City of Heroes with “henchmen” style sidekicks, allowing you to change up the game a little while still playing alone if you wanted.

I’d love to hear other people’s opinions and experiences. What do you think about NPC pets and henchmen in games?

A Book a Week

Some people are a little crazy… other people are freakin’ nuts! This time Kevin may be falling into the latter.

The idea is to read 52 books in 52 weeks, a book a week for a year. And you know, its not really that the idea is all that outlandish. I mean, when I was riding downtown every work day and spending two or three hours on the bus between home and work and back again, I was probably on that pace. Of course, I work from home now pretty much nine days out of ten, and reading time has been given over to sleep and game time. But maybe I need something like this to give me a gentle kick in the butt.

I won’t start now though. I’ll wait until January and start the year fresh. Likely I’m also going to choose to do 26 books in 52 weeks, a book every two weeks, because I know that unless I throw in some hundred pagers like the Hitchhiker’s Guide, I’m not likely to do it. And I know myself too well. If I fall behind a few weeks, I’ll give up.

So, January 1st, I’ll start my new reading regiment. We’ll see how it works out.

Crafting and Mini-games

I could swear I’ve posted about using mini-games for tradeskills before, but damned if I can’t find it. Not here, not on blogs I frequent, not on message boards I visit.

In any event, what I’ve posted before is that I don’t agree with either extreme. World of Warcraft’s click and create method is just so lifeless, no skill required at all. Then there are games like EQ2 which required you to “battle” your crafting every single time (no idea if this has changed, but that’s how it was when I last played).

What I think I would love to see is a system where a mini-game is used to set a “quality” bar, or several to set several bars, and then click and create to actually craft the items. Expertise in the mini-game would equate to better crafting, but once set you wouldn’t have to play over and over just to make items if you are happy with the items you are making.

Anyway, not going in to much depth here, just a broad stroke idea… thoughts?