Posts Tagged “games”
Apr 15, 2020
Why not take the story literally?
Judging from what I have seen on Youtube, most people seem to be taking the events in the game at face value. And maybe that’s what the developers intended! However, taking the story literally rubs me the wrong way for the following reasons:
- Dreams are clearly really important in this story
- Blurring/confusing reality and fantasy is a recurring theme
- If the bits about her being a janitor’s assistant and the “office scene” at the end are irrelevant, why are they there? Writing and programming that kind of stuff is hard
Even if everything here is wrong, it’s how it makes sense to me! Finally, note that I haven’t played Alan Wake or Quantum Break so I might not be on board with some assumptions or world-building or whatever.
Summary / Thesis
Jesse is the janitor’s assistant and most of the events in the game don’t happen, or at least don’t happen as they are shown in the game. She is fantasizing about those things happening to her and lives a pretty mundane life.
However, see the “synchronicity” note below.
Something awful happened in Ordinary
Whether or not most/all adults disappeared is not clear (maybe only her parents and older acquaintances?). It has nothing to do with supernatural elements, though.
Traumatised, she starts believing in conspiracy theories
- From a psychiatrist session recording: the psychiatrist says that there was an industrial accident in Ordinary, and Jesse replies “No. It wasn’t an accident. It was a cover up. The government knows about it.”
- America Overnight, the radio show you can find in-game mentions this event, and clearly boosts conspiracy theories. Jesse could have been a listener of that show.
She enters a mental hospital
She is forced into a mental hospital and has problems telling apart truth from fiction. Evidence:
- From a psychiatrist interview recording: “You know that we cannot let you go before you’re well. And that begins by understanding what’s real and what’s imagined.”
- From a psychiatrist interview recording: “As a child, did you ever fantasize about worlds inside pictures. You know, stepping into a painting, into a hidden world, escaping and finding adventures there?”
- From a psychiatrist interview recording: “You have mentioned a few times that there’s a piece of you missing. It’s natural that you feel that way. Your brother and your parents are dead.” Jesse: “No. Dylan’s not dead.”
- Jesse: “I was eleven years old the first time I saw behind the poster. They told me I’d imagined it”
- The motel is described as a “place of power”… but Jesse also says that it’s just her imagination (when the music video in the third room).
When she is out, she looks for a job
At some point she goes somewhere (the FBC? does it even exist? maybe it’s the FBI? Arish says that is protects American “from foreign threats”) to look for a janitor’s assistant job. Evidence:
- When she meets Ahti, he says “There you are. You come for the job. ‘Janitor’s assistant’“
- Late in the game, when returning to the janitor’s office, she says “I suppose THE janitor’s assistant does need proper janitor attire”, and she gets a new “Janitor’s Assistant” outfit
- The janitor assigns her tasks like “fighting the mold” (cleaning) and taking care of the plants
- She’s the one that actually solves everything around the office, why would she be the director?
She gets the job but struggles a bit
She struggles because she feels she doesn’t do her job properly. She is criticised/bullied by Emily Pope. Evidence:
- In the office scene, Emily Pope says “There’s the new girl. Standing around daydreaming when she should be getting work done. Who the hell does she think she is? The Director?”
She fantasizes with having lots of power
Under the everyday pressure, she starts fantasizing about having power, “becoming the director”, and possibly having power over and/or being respected by Emily. Evidence:
- The fact that the Object of Power that starts it all is a “projector” maybe it’s a metaphor with projecting our needs/fears
- Close to the end, Dylan says “My sister had this dream. A bad dream. And the whole world was dreaming with her. She’d convinced herself that she was awake. She’s always been stubborn. I knew I had to end her dream. I had to wake her up.”
- Upon finding the director dead, Jesse picks up the weapon and this definition is shown: “Objects of power can cause, or be the result of, AWEs (Altered World Events) intrusions upon the perceived reality”. Before that, nothing supernatural has happened yet.
The whole game is an epic version of what she’s doing
The whole game is her projection/fantasy of being powerful, and she imagines an epic version of herself doing an epic version of cleaning, taking care of the plants, improving at her job, etc. She never becomes the director of anything, but she believes that fantasy. Evidence:
- The Clog gets “anthropomorphised” as Mr. Clog. Ahti even says “My old enemy, the Clog, is blocking the pipes”
- In the “What a Mess: Even More Mold” mission, she says “Let’s get cleaning, she said, cocking her gun”
- Instead of Emily Pope and others ordering her around, Jesse is “the director” and is “taking care of things” and she just gets information about what has to be done.
- The sitting, flying hiss people are office workers in the office scene! There is a connection between the real office workers and the hiss creatures.
The fantasy could have bled into reality
It’s possible that most of the game really did happen like that, because her fantasies became reality through an extreme version of Carl Jung’s theory of synchronicity, mentioned in the game.
These bits are not necessary for the above to make sense, and are less solid than the rest.
When does the switch between reality and fantasy happen?
When Jesse takes the lift at the start of the game (she goes to an interview), the scene cuts to show the credits. Afterwards she arrives somewhere with a lift, and it’s when she goes to the Director’s office and the supernatural things start to happen. Do those two things even happen the same day? Why would the janitor’s assistant have an interview with the Director?
Even less solid, mostly fun to think about: when she arrives in the lift, there is an alarm and you can read on some screens that the building is on lockdown and that there is an “HRA emergency”. What if that means something entirely mundane, like “Health Risk Assessment” and it’s actually some problem in the building that forces them to quarantine? A health issue would explain the obsession with the mold.
He is dead, or maybe never existed, or maybe it’s another personality of her:
- From Dylan’s dreams: “In the dream, I was alone. It was just me. I was the only child. A girl. My name was Jesse Dylan Faden.”
- From Dylan’s dreams: “You’ve always been here, the only child”
- From a psychiatrist interview recording: “You have mentioned a few times that there’s a piece of you missing. It’s natural that you feel that way. Your brother and your parents are dead.” Jesse: “No. Dylan’s not dead.”
It might be another personality, or maybe the player?
- From “Ordinary AWE: Stage 4.a”: Dylan says that “Jesse said we should call her Polaris. It’s because she was doing stars at school”
- At the beginning, when presumably talking about Polaris: “I forget, ‘it’s all in my head’. There’s no you, right?”
- From Dylan’s dreams: “Polaris is using you. The bureau is using you. You are a puppet.”
- In a psychiatrist interview recording, Polaris is referred to as an imaginary friend from her childhood.
Nov 23, 2019
Some weeks ago I had a very good discussion stemming from a question I asked on the Mastodon instance tabletop.social: “Can anyone give examples of traditional RPGs that aren’t about adventure and/or investigation?”. I had that question in mind because I wanted to test a theory I had, which I will expand on in this post.
Traditional tabletop RPGs are, in general, about adventure and/or investigation, and thus severely limited as a storytelling medium. In contrast, GM-less games make it much, much easier to explore different kinds of stories.
Not to say other kinds of stories aren’t possible in traditional games, but these games make it explicitly harder to tell these other stories and in practice almost no one does.
What are “traditional games”?
For the sake of this discussion, “traditional games” means games that have a narrator and that focus on solving the “simulation” part of the game, as opposed to the story itself. The latter is typically done by defining characters in terms of a set of skills and/or characteristics.
Also note that many games don’t fit into either of these categories: FATE, Powered by the Apocalypse games, Forged in the Dark games, Dread, etc. In those you get a mixed bag, even inside a given category, e.g. I’d argue that Blades in the Dark is very much about adventures, but Quietus (another Forged in the Dark game) is about melancholy horror, which focuses on the character backstories and feelings.
I can think of three arguments to support the thesis above:
- Statistics: most traditional games are about some kind of adventure and/or investigation. When I asked, there were very, very few games in the replies that I considered exceptions, and we were actively looking for them! Some of the suggestions were adventures, just not violent. This cannot be a coincidence.
- The focus on the simulation encourages framing the story as a set of challenges, mostly of a nature that can be seen from the outside (physical or knowledge), as opposed to internal character struggles.
- The strong biases against metagaming, for keeping secrets, and for having relatively large number of players nudge the game and the story towards discovery of some kind (adventure or investigation) because there’s this dynamic in which the narrator “knows” the world and the answers, and the players are trying to uncover that world.
I believe that the last two create a strong bias towards adventure and/or investigation in the same way that videogames have a bias towards violence).
What is “adventure”?
Intuitively, I mean any story that would belong into the “adventure” genre in a film or a novel. But specifically, I’d like to point out that stories that aren’t about adventures are not stories without adversity. They are not boring stories about trivial tasks we do everyday. Most novels, and probably most films, are not really about adventure, and they do have adversity, and they are not about trivial things!
Examples of GM-less games
Now, the argument might be difficult to understand without a list of games with non-adventure themes, so here is a list of GM-less games I find interesting thematically and that show a bit better the diversity of stories (1) we can tell with storytelling games, and (2) are typically not covered by traditional RPGs:
- Ribbon Drive: self-discovery and learning to live in the present.
- Dialect: how an isolated community breaks down and gets swallowed into another, bigger community; the isolated community is defined through the language they used.
- Fiasco: ordinary people with powerful ambition and poor impulse control; think the typical Coen Brothers comedy.
- Breaking the Ice: how two people get to know each other, start dating, and maybe stay a couple.
- The Skeletons: undead soldiers slowly discovering who they were, but forced to protect a tomb for centuries.
- The poison of suspicion (free! written by me): forgiveness and what makes life worth living, told through the eyes of a person dying, and the person who poisons them.
- The 5 whys (free! written by me): how disasters sometimes are a chain of coincidences and/or small mistakes.
It doesn’t have to be important for you, and that’s ok! I just think of story games as a medium to tell stories, and it saddens me that a medium with so much potential is used so little. There are so many stories that are worth telling, why limit ourselves to “group of people going on adventures” and “group of people unraveling a mystery”?
Now, I know that many people play these games to disconnect from reality and they only want them to be fun. That’s fine! I’m just talking from the point of view of considering these games a storytelling medium.
One of my pet peeves is the apparent insistence by some people to consider traditional RPGs as storytelling games, but then resisting the idea that we should expect these games to actively help you in shaping a story. If a game just solves some “world simulation”, and expects you to do all the storytelling work… how is that a “storytelling game”? The game itself (ie. the rules) is not helping you create a story!
Thanks for reading so far. If you’re interested in this topic you might want to read a series of articles called D&D: Chasing the Dragon exploring a very similar topic.
Sep 14, 2019
Recently a friend mentioned that there’s an official RPG guide for some TV show. He was asking for suggestions for an alternative system to play in that world because he didn’t like the suggested system (Cypher). Mostly jokingly, I “strongly” suggested he created a custom GM-less story game for it.
Although I wasn’t really serious, that made me think about why that was genuinely my first reaction. It also made me think about what exactly I like about my idea of “story games”, and what I dislike about more traditional systems like Cypher. This post is a way to try to order my ideas, and give my friend a better response than Twitter could ever deliver.
First of all, you have to take into account that I care about the story part of role-playing games, and not very much at all about the game part. Second, I don’t really have a stable group, and I strongly prefer one-shots to any sort of campaign: I’m usually more interested in a focused story than in following what happens to a cast of characters over time.
System does matter
Ron Edwards, of (among others) Sorcerer fame, said that “System Does Matter”. Although Ron Edwards doesn’t get into that, the fact that the rules aren’t neutral implies that they make a difference in how the game feels, the kind of things you tend to do, the parts you tend to focus on, and which kinds of stories you tend to tell with it. For example: no matter how traditional it is, Call of Cthulhu would feel very different to play if it didn’t have a sanity rating. Fewer characters would run away from the monsters, and the stereotype of the game would be “fighting Lovecraftian monsters” instead of “going insane or dying”.
At a higher level, one could say that traditional systems that focus on skills and the minutae of simulating every small action encourage stories about challenges (eg. D&D, Call of Cthulhu, OSR games), whereas systems that think in terms of drama and scenes encourage stories following whichever flavour or genre the system is designed for (eg. Dread generates horror stories with mounting tension; Night Witches generates stories about constant stress, death, and the grind of war). And yes, I realise there are many games that are somewhere in between or have elements of both!
“But you can tell stories with any game!”
That is correct! However, if the system doesn’t help you at all, and in fact encourages you and your players to focus on other things, why use it to tell stories? Also, one could argue that if the rules don’t support the drama/storytelling, then that’s not a very good medium to tell stories. And note that I’m specifically not arguing that it makes it a bad game, just that it’s not very helpful for the storytelling part of it. For a (much) longer discussion about this point, read the excellent D&D: Chasing the Dragon (but make sure you read the whole thing, as the ending puts some things in context; I found myself agreeing with a lot more after reading the last part).
Another thing I like about many narrative games is that they don’t need a “scenario” decided beforehand to play: in many of these games, you generate the story collaboratively, as you play. So in many cases the system doesn’t only help you keep the drama in focus, but even generate the story itself!
“But I don’t need help telling a story”
It could very well be, but you’re doing more work than you could be doing if you had a system that supported the style of story you want to tell. Also, I have the impression that lots of people who think that, tend to tell stories about some kind of “adventure” a group of people have… and there are so many other exciting stories to tell!
“But they’re limited!”
This is a critique I have read several times: that narrative games, because they are focused in one genre/mood, are “limited” because you cannot tell any kind of story with a given game. I don’t understand why that would be a bad thing: if you care about the story, usually a narrative game for that specific mood or genre will work better than doing the narrative heavy-lifting yourself. So why wouldn’t you use a narrative game adapted to the kind of mood you want to play? It feels to me like complaining that you cannot tell an action story with the principles of horror films. Of course you can’t! The point is to use whichever principles work for the genre and mood you want for your story, instead of you trying to find some principles that work for every genre, or you doing all the heavy lifting. Besides, indie narrative games are usually very simple and easy to learn right before playing, so they don’t really need nearly as much investment as most traditional games.
The idea of using a single system for any story you want to tell seems a bit ridiculous to me. But if you insist, you can have something very close to that by playing PbtA (Powered by the Apocalypse) games, ie. games based on the excellent Apocalypse World. It’s still a game for every mood or genre you want to play, but the games have very similar principles and mechanics, so they’re trivial to pick up if you know other PbtA 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.
Feb 19, 2015
Imagine if someone who had never watched films thought all films were like Fast & Furious. Or if someone who had never listened to music thought all music was like One Direction. Or the same with videogames and Call of Duty. This is similar to what happens to Role-Playing Games (from now on, “RPGs”).
You see, RPGs don’t have to be a dorky, silly power fantasy (disclaimer: I’m a Dungeons & Dragons hater). They are story-based games that can be used in different ways, a bit like videogames: telling a story, light social fun, cooperative problem-solving, etc. They have many different genres (horror, fantasy, detectives, thriller, science-fiction, …) and as many ways to interpret those genres as films do.
Tiny bit of history
Modern RPGs started in 1974 with Dungeons & Dragons, in the context of wargames and other boardgames. Its author greatly downplayed the “play-acting” and story telling elements, and indeed most old-school RPGs are not very story-centric, but more rule- or goal-centric. However, some later games, like Vampire or Trail of Cthulhu, gave much more importance to the stories. In fact, there are more and more story-driven games, including many recent RPGs that explore different mechanics, like not using dice or not having a central narrator, or themes and genres not usually associated with RPGs, like love or sex.
How they work
Now, how do you actually play? It’s sort of what an improvised radio drama could be: you have one narrator and several “actors” (the players) playing the protagonists. Some important differences are that (a) the “actors” (players) don’t have written parts, and instead decide, as the story develops, what their characters do; and (b) all non-protagonist characters are played by the narrator. When there are conflicts (eg. a character searches a room for clues and for whatever reason it’s not clear they will find it), dice are usually used to decide the outcome.
In detail, an RPG session starts with the players getting familiar with their characters (assuming they’re playing with new characters; it’s a bit like actors preparing a role, but only for a minute or two), and the narrator describing the initial setup or conflict. Once the initial scene is described, the players talk and decide what their characters do. The narrator then describes the outcome and the players can decide what to do next. And so on.
This has some interesting properties: first, the narrator does not have a full, linear story ready to tell, but instead has to work with events, characters, locations and scenes, adapting all this to what the players decide to do; second, no one knows how the story will develop or end, including the narrator itself! This opens the possibility of telling the same story to different groups of players, because it will be different every time.
RPGs can be used as a storytelling medium. A bit like videogames, they can be used both for interactive storytelling, or simply for the fun or the challenge. As examples of different genres and possibilities, I’ll close with a short list of “alternative” RPGs:
Dread - Horror game about centred on tension and, well, dread. It’s played without dice, using a Jenga game instead. If a player knocks over the tower, his/her character is removed from the story (dies, becomes insane, …).
Universalis - Storytelling game in which all players are narrators. There’s no story to tell beforehand, the story is created collaboratively.
Breaking the Ice - “A game about love, for two”. It tells the story of the three first dates of a couple, and at the end of the game it’s decided whether or not the couple stayed together. Again, like in Universalis, both players are narrators and build the story while playing. This book is part of an RPG trilogy about love.
Fiasco - Another RPG without narrator in which you tell Coen-brothers-style stories that end up pretty bad for the characters.
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!