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.

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Ouya and London (No Relation)

You are so small! Is funny to me!

You are so small! Is funny to me!

I’ve been quietly watching the Ouya with growing respect.

The Ouya is a new console due out in about six months. Best described, it’s an attempt at a console revolution: free-to-play games, open source, no licensing needed for developers, hardware modifiability. It uses the Android 4.0 operating system, has a USB 2.0 port, ethernet and can allow for up to four wireless controllers.

Ouya got its start thanks to a promising Kickstarter campaign that brought in over $8.5 million in seed money from over 63,000 backers. So far, the list of confirmed games is somewhat small, but they still have six months to gather partners. They also have a few mentionable names thrown around, such as Square Enix’s Final Fantasy III (confirmed) and Minecraft (in discussion).

Ouya’s biggest selling point is it’s potential: the development creativity of the PC meets the accessibility of the living room console. You know those addictive flash games you play on Newgrounds? Imagine if you could play them on your television with up to four friends.

Skeptics are not wrong when they point to the long list of failed consoles, such as the Turbo Grafix-16 and 3DO as cause for concern. Ouya is competing with three major giants in Sony, Nintendo and Microsoft, and that’s not including the diverse and somewhat independent PC gamer types. But Ouya has time to get its act together before its release date in March of 2013.

No promises as to whether I’ll get it, but I’ll be watching.

Oh, and I’ll be heading to London in November.

P.S. I’ve got my fingers crossed that Valve Software will open up its free-game selection from Steam to Ouya. If nothing else, then just Team Fortress 2. Given Valve’s recent move to produce for Linux, it’s safe to assume that the eggheads at Valve are at least scratching their chin about it…

Final Fantasy VII Remake Explained

History repeats! But not for these guys...

History repeats! But not for these guys…

Both Kotaku and IGN have released stories about the shareholders meeting over at Square Enix. And the reasoning they provide as to why they haven’t created a remake actually makes perfect sense: They have yet to make a Final Fantasy better than VII financially and critically anyway. Although in all fairness, the most financially successful Final Fantasy was the first MMORPG, XI.

I had to add financially and critically. There’s always that guy who is quick to say, “FF7 was not my favorite,” as though their opinion obviously meant all the difference in the world.

So the gist of what we’re told is that if they do a FF7 remake before topping the game, then the Final Fantasy series is finished. That would be admitting that they cannot do any better than their crown jewel of the past. So until Square Enix is in a dire financial situation or they finally do come out with a title that tops FF7, it’s not going to happen.

I, however, have a slightly different theory as to why Square Enix doesn’t want to do it. Pride.

Hironobu Sakaguchi left the company Squaresoft in 2004, after the colossal bomb that was Final Fantasy: The Spirit Within. Although he did not direct a game since FFV, his creative touches were felt in the well remembered VI and VII (and several others). To not make a game better than those Sakaguchi helped to create is to admit that they will never be as successful as they once were.

And that’s not a message of weakness Square Enix would want to send.