Posts Tagged “games”
Apr 14, 2019
On March 25th a Norwegian game jam for role-playing games started. It’s called R.I.S.K. (Rollespill.infos Intensive Spillskaper-Konkurranse) and it has been going on for several years now. The idea is that you have two weeks to design a role-playing game and make a decent PDF out of it. At the beginning of the jam they give you five words, and you have to use at least one of them in your game. This is to avoid that you start designing the game beforehand. I thought it could be a nice challenge, so I went for it.
The five words
The five words for this year’s jam were:
- Feiring (celebration)
- Hemmelighet (secret)
- Søke (to search)
- Vår (spring, as in the season, or our)
- Gift (poison, or married)
The one that caught my attention was the last (interpreted as “poison”), but I also used “secret”. The end result was “Mistankens gift” (“The poison of suspicion”), a game about life and forgiveness.
Concept of the game
The game has two main characters: a person who has been poisoned and is probably going to die, and the person who poisoned the first. It’s a game for two players, and each player will take the role of one of these two characters. The game is a succession of scenes, alternating between the poisoner and the victim. The victim’s scenes are meant to illustrate what made the victim’s life worth living, while the poisoner’s scenes are meant to illustrate negative sides of the victim the poisoner uses to justify what they did. The character sheet has questions that can be used as inspiration to come up with the scenes (things like “What did the victim always put before other people?” for the poisoner, and things like “Who would be heartbroken if you died?” for the victim).
I started writing notes with ideas for mechanics and game concept from the beginning of the jam, and soon I came up with some mechanics I liked (I think maybe Wednesday or Thursday?):
- Each player has two sets of dice. The first set is called scene dice, and the other opposition dice. Each set of dice has a 1d4, 1d6, 1d8, and 1d10.
- Before each scene, the player who is about to narrate it (the active player) will announce what the scene is going to be about. Then the active player chooses a dice from the scene dice, and the other player one from the opposition dice. If the active player rolls the same or higher, the scene will go as planned (highlighting the good sides of the victim, if the active player plays the victim, or highlighting the bad sides of the victim, otherwise) and the active player wins as many points as their own die showed. If the other player rolls higher, the scene will have to have some contrast or shadow of doubt, and the active player doesn’t earn any points.
- At the end of the game both players compare their points to a number between 10 and 15 called fate number, chosen by the poisoner player at the beginning and kept secret throughout the game. If the victim reached the number, the victim will survive. If the poisoner reached the number, the poisoner will be forgiven, either by themselves, or by the victim. Once the fate of both is known, both players agree on an epilogue.
The idea was to create some tension between the goals of the two players. Also, I really like the two layers of contrasts or conflicting points of view in the game:
- Both players are essentially presenting the same character (the victim) in very different lights.
- When they “lose” a scene, the players have to add a conflicting point of view of idea into the scene: poisoners will admit or realise that the victim wasn’t as evil or deserving of death than they wanted to believe, or victims will realise that their lives weren’t as good and positive as they wanted to believe.
The final PDF
To write the rules themselves I used LibreOffice, and to design the character sheet I used Inkscape. I put everything together using pdftk, and used illustrations from the British Library Flickr account, and I’m fairly happy with the final result.
I’m really happy that I participated, regardless of the outcome. I have played the game a couple of times (to playtest it) and I thought it was pretty enjoyable! The feel is fairly close to how I imagined it would be. I have several ideas about how it could be improved, but I’m not sure I’ll have the focus to do so. Time will tell. In any case, it’s perfectly playable as it is, and I thought it was fun both to design it and to play it.
If you want to try it out, you can download the game from its homepage. You need a second player, a printout of the character sheet (also available as the last page in the rules themselves), at least one die of each type (4-, 6-, 8-, and 10-sided dice), and something to write with. It takes about one hour to play so it’s not a big time investment.
Edit: If you’re interested in seeing the initial design notes, including all the ideas that didn’t make it into the game, and the false starts, you can have a look at them: page 1, page 2, page 3, page 4.
Aug 13, 2018
If you have been following this blog for a long time, you might know that I’m a big fan of the suffragettes, the English radical suffragists led by Emmeline Pankhurst. I’m also obsessed with role-playing games, stories in general, and I like designing and making. You don’t have to be a genius to guess that I have made a story game about the suffragettes! It’s the first game I ever make.
The game is called Deeds, not Words, after their motto, and it’s a simple game for three players. It doesn’t need a narrator or Game Master, and it needs no preparation. It should last for 2-3 hours.
The idea behind it is to create three characters (three suffragettes) and come up with scenes of their daily life, or their work as activists for the women’s suffrage. The story is divided into 12 chapters in which the characters train and become better at different things, bond with each other, and fight against their opponents: the police, unjust laws, organisations that oppose the women’s suffrage, etc.
The game focuses on balance (the fight for women’s suffrage consisted of physical confrontations, stunts to outsmart the police with diversions and disguises, and effective communication; all this is reflected in the game) and collaboration. The mechanics should probably work well with any kind of activist group, but my version focuses on the suffragettes.
You can download Deeds, not Words from my story game website Hardcore Narrativist. And if you need any inspiration or want to learn more about the suffragettes, I recommend the excellent, freely available documentary No Man Shall Protect Us.
Jun 25, 2018
Last Sunday I went to Arcon, a gaming convention in Oslo. There are many types of games being played, but I only care about story games. This year I didn’t win the scenario award, but I had a lot of fun! I had three different sessions, all the same day:
- A demo of Black Wolf, my rules to play in dark fantasy settings.
- A game of Ribbon Drive.
- A game set in Michael Moorcock’s Young Kingdoms, using the Black Wolf rules and my scenario “Ilmioran Dream”.
For the first one no one had signed up so I assumed no one would come. However, I showed up and waited for a bit, and a person came! We had a very nice conversation about the system, design decisions, and he gave me a couple of ideas. So, much better than I expected.
The second one went pretty well, too. Six people came so we split into two tables. As one of the attendees had played before, we decided to be one in each table so I didn’t have to check the other one from time to time. That means that I got to play, not just “facilitate” the game!
The third one was the long session (5 hours). It was narrating “Ilmioran Dream”, a scenario I had written about racism and power plays, using the Black Wolf rules. Only three players ended up playing (out of four characters in the story) but it was really fun! I think the players liked both the story and the system, so I cannot complain.
All in all, a very intense and fun day.
Oct 5, 2017
Inspired by similar articles I have read, I decided to give my two cents on writing scenarios for role-playing games. While I’m far from being an expert in the matter, let alone a half-decent writer, I have written several scenarios that seem to have clicked with some people. These are my principles when writing story-centric scenarios (beware spoilers of most of my scenarios, don’t read if you intend to play them!):
Remember the story is not linear: don’t write as if you were writing a short story. In a way, writing a scenario is writing down your (obsessively detailed) research for a short story. Focus on the mood, possible scenes, characters, general plot, and clues, and improvise the story from there. Example: Gone Girls has a list of characters and possible scenes and locations, but no order is implied, or even that all scenes will happen. Characters are described with their goals and knowledge, and several possible endings are described for reference.
Have a theme/topic for the story: something like family, prejudices, the cost of freedom, or loyalty. A story theme will help you focus while writing, and it will give the scenario a certain consistency. It will also give you ideas for possible scenes or for plot elements, when used literally or metaphorically. And don’t worry if you think the players won’t catch the metaphors: they still give the scenario a certain feel and focus. Example: Suffragettes is about class warfare from a feminist point of view. One of the metaphors is that the protagonists are fighting the patriarchy. And thus, the antagonists are middle- to high-class people who worship a deity they call “Father”, based on Father Dagon.
Know the important NPCs well enough: you should know how your NPCs (non-player characters; anyone who isn’t the protagonists) will react to different situations. It helps to write down a couple of likely situations. Example: Suffragettes (page 5) has a relatively in-depth description of what Florence knows and how she will react in different situations.
Make/get maps of the most important locations: they are handy for consistency, especially if it’s possible there will be an action scene in them. Example: The Cultists has a full map of the prison, even if the players are very unlikely to see it all.
Make a timeline of events: if there are certain things that will happen regardless of what the characters do, make a timeline. Example: Gone Girls has a timeline of events both leading to the beginning of the story, and happening as the story develops.
Treat the scenario as resources and ideas when improvising: in the end, you will have to make up a bunch of the stuff on the spot, and also it’s satisfying to change or make up new elements to adapt the story to whatever the players found interesting, or to incorporate ideas the players give you as the story develops. Example: once, when telling Gone Girls, the idea of making Edward Clarke invincible came up, along with the idea of making him being able to manipulate opponents to the extent of making them kill themselves. This was never part of the original story but made sense that one time and made the ending more dramatic.
Show, don’t tell! Instead of telling the players about certain important things (eg. some character is a racist, some character is lazy, a room is a mess), setup a situation to make that point. Not only is more memorable, but it gives nuance and extra information. Saying “Tom is lazy” is generic and vague, but seeing how Tom still has boxes from when he moved in, a mess of cables all over the floor, and a pile of dirty dishes in the sink, says just how lazy he is, and in which situations. Example: in Suffragettes (page 9), Elise Samson is not simply described as “poor” or “homeless”. Instead, there’s a short sequence in which this is explained through a situation.
And that’s it! I hope you find this list useful. As a bonus tip, if you are writing horror (interactive or not) I recommend you read my summary of the book “Writing Monsters”, and maybe read the actual book, too.
Jun 20, 2016
Around two months ago I started a new pet project. As always, I built it partly to solve a problem, and partly to learn some new language or technology. The problem I wanted to solve was showing images and maps to players when playing table-top role-playing games (and, while at it, manage my music from the same place). The language and technology were TypeScript and to a lesser extent ES2015. As always, I learned some things I didn’t quite expect or plan, like HTML drag-and-drop, Riot, a bit more Flexbox, and some more canvas image processing. The result is the first public version of Lyre, my program to help storytellers integrate music and images into their stories (especially useful for semi-improvised or interactive stories).
But the reason for this post is to talk a little bit about the technology. I admit that I haven’t really studied TypeScript thoroughly (I mostly learned bits and pieces while programming), but I think I like it to the point that it might become my front-end language of choice when I cannot use ClojureScript or similar.
Apart from enums, you can create union types that eg. are as simple as a choice between two strings, like type Mode = “off” “on”.
- Interfaces can be used to specify the properties, not just methods, that should be available in an object. Among other things, it’s possible to specify that an object should have certain specified properties plus any number of extra properties as long as their values are of a given type.
For actual editing I’m of course using Emacs, in this case with TIDE. Although the refactoring capabilities are very limited, the rest worked quite well and I’m very happy with it.
The other bigger thing I learned was Riot. Which, sadly, I didn’t like as much: I found it very confusing at times (what does this point to in the templates? it seems to depend on the nesting level of the ifs or loops), ended up with lots of rebinding of methods so they could be safely passed around in templates, and generally felt that I spent too much time fighting with it rather than writing my application. Now, some of these problems might have been caused by Riot-TS and not Riot itself, but still the experience wasn’t that great and I don’t expect to use it again in the future. Again, bear in mind that I mostly tried to learn on the go, so maybe I was doing everything wrong :-)
In conclusion, I love these projects because I end up with something useful and because I always learn a bunch of things. In this case in particular, I even learned a language that positively surprised me, even if I’m not a big fan of static typing. Again, if you want to have a look at the result, you can learn about Lyre and download the code from GitHub.
Nov 12, 2009
When I mentioned that I wanted an “open” portable gaming console that played PSP games, Enrique mentioned the Dingoo. Not that it actually plays PSP games, but it’s indeed an “open” console, cheap and with a number of “extras”. So I wondered if playing PSP games was so important for me. Not that it wouldn’t be awesome playing God of War, Katamari Damacy, Patapon, LocoRoco or Echochrome on the train/plane, but the main point was having games, music and the possibility of watching films on a portable device. After a couple of weeks pondering, I decided “screw Sony” and ordered the Dingoo.
So, what does the Dingoo have to offer? Well, it’s a nice and small portable gaming console that apart from games, it plays music, video and radio, and has a simple picture viewer and a basic plain text reader (with features like bookmarking). On the gaming side, it has its own game format (it comes loaded with around 30 games) and emulators for quite a bunch of different machines, so you can play games from NES, Super NES, Neo Geo, Mega Drive, Game Boy Advance, and the arcade machines CPS1 and CPS2. I don’t have words to say how awesome that is. The Dingoo has an internal memory of 4Gib and supports one external MiniSD card, so you have more than enough space for a lot of games, some music and even a couple of films.
In general, I have to say that both the emulation and the video playing works very well. A handful of games can’t be played (they crash or behave funny) and other games can be played but are too slow/annoying to play (e.g. Super Mario World for Super NES), but in general there aren’t any problems. I have a couple of minor complaints though:
I find some of the button conventions confusing (e.g. for menu navigation). It doesn’t help that different consoles have different conventions on which buttons to use for which actions.
The Mega Drive emulator doesn’t seem to support the
.binformat, which is slightly annoying.
There are a lot of video formats supported (the console comes with several sample videos), but the first video I tried to copy and watch wasn’t recognised :-( I hope that won’t happen often.
All in all, I think it’s a great console and it’s quite cheap, so I’m very happy I bought it. If you’re curious about how it looks and works, have a look at this video review:
Dec 14, 2008
I never liked Opera Widgets too much. I tried them a couple of years ago, but I never saw the point. I even tried the games, but they performed so ridiculously poorly that I just gave up. What did I need them for?
Around one year ago, however, I found the first useful widget, a kind of simple “monitor” for the Continuous Integration server run for some project. It was really simple and actually useful (basically, a big window that is either green or red). Shortly after, someone pointed me at a “random lolcat” widget (best widget ever, I say; unfortunately is not public), so I started to wonder if I was wrong and widgets were maybe useful after all.
Since then, I have found another widget that I find very handy, the Twitter widget, and I even realised that the performance problems were something of the past, so I could consider trying a couple of games. And, alas, it turns out that there are at least two games worth trying: Bubbles and my favourite, Ninja Ropes Extreme.
So give them a try, you might be surprised :-)
Nov 16, 2008
I have to say I’m impressed with Opera Mini. It’s a very good product that not only is innovative, but also is damn hard to get working decently in a plethora of ill-designed, ill-implemented, crashing-and-burning-at-any-error, incompatible phones. But somehow these guys bring the Internet to everyone that has a mobile phone that supports Java (a pretty low requirement these days)… and that lives in a country where mobile phone operators don’t charge your ass for connecting to the Internet of course (and then again, Opera Mini heavily compresses the pages so you only download a fraction of the original).
And the experience, taking into account the limited interface, is pretty good. And they add features and improvements in every release (namely, they brought back “skins”, added notes to the list of supported Link data types, and probably other things I haven’t noticed). What else can I say?
The other day I wanted to go and buy some board game. I had gone to BoardGameGeek (awesome website BTW) and had made a list of the games that looked interesting. So I go to the shop, and of course most of them weren’t there… but there was some other game that looked interesting but I hadn’t seen before: Primordial Soup. Having Opera Mini in my phone, I could very easily check the rating and some basic information for that game, which helped me decide if I should buy it. Not only that, but thanks to Link I had the list of games I wanted to buy in my bookmarks (I had added them from my Desktop computer), so I could even compare the ratings for that game and the ones I wanted to buy to start with. How awesome is that?
Go Opera Mini team!
Apr 3, 2008
It’s kind of funny. I created a twitter account many months ago. I never really used it, because I guess I didn’t see the point or something. During all that time, several people started “following” me (in twitter jargon), even if I had no content at all, nor plans to add any.
Just today and yesterday, three people added me, so I got kind of curious, and decided to login and have a look. I made a comment just today, about me finding it funny that so many people started “following” me, and someone replied. So I started “following” other people, and reading, and I have made a couple of more comments since. I’m not really sure I’m going to use it everyday, but now I have installed a really handy Opera widget for twitter, so this might be “the start of a beautiful friendship”.
Alas, not just twitter, but I also started using eBay (and, to a certain extent, PayPal) this week. Why? Because I have been trying to find one of the greatest PlayStation 2 games ever made, Ico. It’s quite hard to get in a shop nowadays, even second hand, because it’s an old game that wasn’t very successful when it was released. Now it’s a kind of cult game that you’re better off finding in eBay or similar, hence my sudden interest in using eBay:
Note that most of that is actually while being played, not videos. It looks like a film because it doesn’t have a HUD.
I have to say that the eBay experience was satisfactory: it was really easy to find what I wanted, it was easy to bid (special mention to the automatic bidding system, which I didn’t know, that renders the old bid monkeys kind of obsolete), and I won the item, yay! For the maximum money I wanted to pay, but still. I did have a couple of really weird problems with PayPal when paying for it, but it finally worked.
Another thing that just happened to me today is that I realised (stupid me) that Skandiabanken works like a charm in Opera. It was my fault for being so nazi with the cookies.
Finally, although not a website, I’m really amazed by the new Opera Mini 4.1 beta. These guys have managed to make a really awesome browser that works in any crappy mobile phone (and that means working around stupid limitations and bugs of tons of different models). Kudos to them!