Pen, Paper, Processing

A lot of the earliest pencil and paper roleplaying games have tended to ease their formulas to provide the right mix of complexity with ease. A lot of basic math is applied to calculate certain values, which are then the basis of desired values for an act of chance, the results of which are reflected for better or worse in the game.

“But many game fans out there enjoy the depth of skill-based adventuring, not just action.”

The appeal of these roleplaying games has always been the sense of legitimate adventure confined more by the scopes of human imagination than the limited scopes of a digitally designed world. Combine this with a sense of social interaction these games require and you have a fun and flexible product to be shared with friends.

The computer and especially the smart phone have opened up new possibilities of complex skill-based calculations, story telling and dungeon creation. This ease of use often comes at a cost, as many of the worlds created in larger titles have been the signature of someone else’s vision.

The ordinary dungeon master in his room often has access to some tools for creating his own world, such as dungeon designers and map building applications. But to apply one’s pure, artistic mark to the creation using these tools is overshadowed by the visions of the artists who created them in the first place.

There’s no real solution to this. The difficulty here is art and science versus engineering. The artists focus on creating something, the sciences on discovery. But the engineer is bound by these visions, working within the confines of what is available. These dungeon builders and systems are tools for game engineering, and they are useful if not necessary. But creating original art is much more challenging, and there is no real way to formulize it.

It requires a vision that the machine isn’t able to provide, at least at the moment.

“Exploring things is a form of very vast, unrealized gambling.”

Going back to my original point, I’ve noticed that people enjoy these complexities of game rules. Forums are awash with break downs of how the math of Diablo II worked. Some fans grumble at the lost RPG elements found in Mass Effect, taken away and replaced with a simplified system combat and no real adventure elements outside of where a conversation can take you. Discussion of the value of skills and stats in the Fallout series is a major consideration.

Simple and accessible is certainly nice. But many game fans out there enjoy the depth of skill-based adventuring, not just action. Fighting and violence is not going anywhere. But the explorative nature of alternatives can breath a lot of addictive elements into a game, as a result of discovery.

Why is this? Probably because exploring things is a form of very vast, unrealized gambling. Maybe hacking that terminal will give you easy access to your goal, or bring security down on your head. Perhaps there’s nothing in that cave, or a mountain of treasure. When you open that door, you have no idea what’s behind it. Maybe it’s an army of guards. Maybe it’s the princess. Maybe it’s One-Eyed Willy’s rich stuff. Maybe it’s a rolling boulder. Who knows? Absolutely no one, until you find out.

For a while, that’s the direction that games were evolving. Sometimes we’re still moving in that direction, or at least toying with the concept. But I have a vision to create a world of infinitely renewable adventures. Where there’s always a story oriented goal, another door to open, a mountain to be climbed. No attempt at it has satisfied me thus far. Call me mad, but I know it can, and will, be done.

Level Up, Snake Plissken!

It was so rewarding yesterday, and again this morning, to use the 40 pound weights. I have never performed a bicep curl with one and to do so now is an indication of how much my body has grown since I was a pale skeleton back in high school. What can I say? Ding!

Also, found a nice compilation of music for body building.

Alright, so onto the thought of the day: Escape from New York meets Fallout. Hilarity and a great game ensue. Yeah, some say it was kind of done with The Pitt expansion. But that’s not enough for me, and I’ll explain some of my different ideas in a moment.

Defining 'bad ass' in the 80s.

Defining 'bad ass' since the 80s.

If you’ve never seen Kurt Russell as Snake Plissken, then I just don’t have anything to say. But the fact is that Snake Plissken not only defined what was awesome in the 80s, he became an inspiration for another character who goes by the name of Snake.

What kind of story would it have? Let’s say that the countries of Europe have managed to contact the Enclave or N.C.R. and are trying to set up a meeting. But the current president has been kidnapped and has access to technology that they were expecting to help them rebuild. Taking a line from Van Buren, they turn to the Prisoner to assist them. They throw in the bomb collar, but the prisoner can find a way to get rid of it on island to prolong his stay. And life.

So what exactly would I do to set it apart? Well, aside from the amazing hardcore mode in Fallout: New Vegas, I would add:

  1. You can be attacked while sleeping.
    Surprise! You find a sleeping bag or a spot for sleeping and crash for a few hours only to wake up attacked by a cannibal raiding party. These attacks can also be deterred with explosive mines and traps (which wake you up) or the ‘Light Sleeper’ perk which gets you up and in the action.
  2. Fast travel requires a vehicle.
    You can get a cabby or the ‘Driver’ perk if the cabby has had an unfortunate accident of which you had nothing to do with. You murderer.
  3. Escape from New York style weapons, perks and armor.
    Silenced uzi with a scope. Stylish shin guards. Molotov cocktails and crossbows. ‘Bad Ass Rep’ perk, which automatically gets you ‘in’ with a lot of people, instead of  ‘Lady Killer.’ I could day dream about this all day, but no one is paying me to do it. Yet.
  4. Escape from New York inspired gangs.
    Not just the Duke, a-number one. Cannibals, drug users, crazies. Again, I could go on.
  5. Vast ending options.
    Save the president? Maybe. Take him prisoner of your own if you get rid of your bomb collar? I like that idea. Escape the island on your own? Also viable.
  6. Urban environment.
    No more waste crawling. Tons of apartments and stores. Sewer and metro system. A single, but entire, city.

I could dig it. Problem is it needs to be bigger and badder than anything before. I mean huge. I might throw in additional ideas. Or maybe I’ll try to come up with a mod of my own so people can play my vision. I might even do away with the idea of ‘safe houses’ to get people to focus on survival instead of hoarding. Hoarding is fun but the survival aspect was one of the reasons I like the frustrating Dead Money add on. You take what you need and move on.

I’ll think about it some.

Space Marine

Expect a few oil tankers worth of blood.

Expect a few oil tankers worth of blood.

For some time now, THQ has been teasing and teasing Warhammer fans with the chance to step into the shoes of a Space Marine. We’ve seen all manner of trailers, talk and ideas spun about what we’re going to get. But this month, Games Workshop fans finally got a reward for their faith.

The game is good. Not perfect, but damn good.

Let’s start with what we see. The game is a marvel, the characters detailed and amazing to behold. There are these tiny details, ranging from the streaming purity seals to the variety of armor components. The scars across their faces and especially Captain Titus, whose hair is parted by a nice scalp wound. Part of me wants to point out that there seem to be a general lack of facial expressions before I remind myself that Space Marines, being the perfect soldiers, are effectively psychopaths. Why they would need to smile is not even worth asking.

The levels are huge, but are completely dominated with Imperial iconography. THQ has gone above and beyond to truly and fully bring the intellectual property of Games Workshop to the home screen. They’ve done this very well before in the Dawn of War series and even when viewing the world from the eyes of a single Astartes, they do not stop.

Speaking of levels, I noticed two flaws. The first is technical and the problem is probably unique only to my situation. My experience with the game comes from Windows XP SP3 on a solid machine. Compared to the other platform options, which include XBox 360, Playstation 3 and Windows 7 PCs, this is well on the lower end. Every time the screen shakes considerably, a black skeleton of the architecture can be seen. I doubt others will experience this.

The second problem is the lack of choices. I am a PC gamer, my time on the console is behind me. Many of the games I play, like Fallout, tend to spoil me with the options and choices of destinations being at my discretion. To its credit, Space Marine does a bang up job of guiding the player to the next objective by pointing them out. You do not spend an hour looking for some switch to activate a bridge, like you did in the second stage of the original Halo. Yes, I still remember that. But it doesn’t give you any paths to choose from. I’m sure fans will rise to Space Marine‘s defense regarding this, but I think even they will agree they would like to see such choices in future installments.

"Come, join us. We have tacos." ... My, only weakness...

"Come, join Chaos. We have tacos."

The game play is solid, successfully combining hack and slash melee action with cool and composed gun battles. Many a times I’ve charged into the fray, before pulling back to pop the heads of a few Ork Shoota Boyz with my Stalker pattern Bolter. I was very worried about the game folding into a pattern of wash, rinse and repeat, but the weapon and enemy varieties have avoided that boring problem. Though I was glad to finally see Chaos when they popped up.

Speaking of Chaos, I have to apologize to my readers. My earlier insinuation of Chaos being the Iron Warriors was wrong. I was misled by the color scheme and emblem designs, but the Chaos Space Marines belong to some unusual chapter called the Chosen of Nemeroth. It was my fault for spreading misinformation.

Anyway, besides fighting the other object is simply staying alive. The first survival metric is against your armor’s power rating, and the second is your health. Armor recovers on its own if you stay out of combat. Health doesn’t in single player. Captain Titus recovers health by either unleashing fury or delivering executions. Executions are amazing to watch, but you’re very vulnerable while performing them. In multiplayer, players recover their health as they do their shields, but it takes a little longer.

The single player game has enough content to merit at least a replay. Beside the list of achievements and challenges to attempt, there are also servo-skulls scattered through the stages to find and collect. The medium difficult has thus far proven challenging enough, but I will want to try my hand at the hard setting.

But the multiplayer is where it’s at. THQ knew exactly how to rope players in with an addictive, reward based leveling system. There are 41 levels to earn, and perks and equipment are unlocked as you do so. These perks can start to give significant benefits to players. For new guys, this can be discouraging, but THQ thought ahead. When you die, you can “copy the loadout” of the guy who killed you for a single life when you respawn. This lets you fight on equal terms for much of the game if you desire.

Overall, Space Marine is a great game for the casual player or violent action junkie, but more importantly is what the fans have been waiting for. It may seem greedy to ask for more but if I didn’t, THQ could very well rest their laurels. Still, the game is an evolutionary step of what I’ve been wanting to see for a very, very long time…