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marcmagus: (Magus sprite)
Wednesday, July 21st, 2010 03:15 pm

[I clearly need some kind of an @ icon.]

As I just commented to my previous post, Legerdemain's food clock, like so many of its clever design features, has a really annoying misfeature which I consider poor design. While nearly every sort of civilization has a general store [my term for the store type] which can generate food, the random shop content algorithm combined with the increased potential inventory as you get into higher-level areas [like in so many games you get better available equipment in shops as you progress...here it seems to be done by moving the cap on the list you generate each tile's contents from] has annoying results.

Specifically, general stores outside the first town in the game have a pretty good chance of only having specialty food which is both expensive and not actually useful as nutrition. I recently had to walk back from the main city (where I'd saved) to earlier towns just to avoid starvation. Only to discover tons of horseflesh rations (basic food) in the city's general store upon my return.

Also, a thought from my Crawl experience that should be heeded by all developers of RLs, other tile-based games, or really any game where it applies. In Crawl when you're targetting a ranged attack such as a fired arrow or a projectile-type spell the path it will take is explicitly shown to you while targetting. This means you can see if you're going to hit the wrong target on the way. Given that the paths of lines cutting across grids are often really nonintuitive, and that these sorts of effects are often unforgiving about what happens if you hit something before your intended target, this is really important. [Don't ask me how many times I've died to a misaimed Web in Legerdemain.] Ideally, if there are multiple paths that are reasonably close to the same thing the more forgiving one should be selected instead of the least forgiving one, but barring that you should at the very least be able to see what's going to happen. I don't want to go sit in a corner practicing ray angles until I divine the game's algorithm so I can then figure out if I can aim something the way I want...learning it so I can position myself would still improve my play if you want to give the "you should learn" argument.

Also, and I can't remember if Crawl does this or not, but if your game features area-effect spells with fixed shapes (e.g. 2-radius circle), please give me a feature that shows the overlay of the shape. Especially if those shapes change with increasing skill. I really shouldn't die because I became better at casting Bios spells so I caught myself in my own web when it increased to a 3-circle. If you want to be really slick, allow casters to scale their explosions down from the maximum based on their current skill. I shouldn't have to wonder if advancing Bios is really a good idea given that I spend a lot of time in twisty passages where it's really hard to target a projectile-to-explosion 3-circle (a 1-circle is much easier to target in those circumstances just because you don't have to send it as far to not include yourself).

OTOH, as I've learned from looking at both Crawl and Legerdemain, spells which have to traverse an unobstructed path before their area effect are frustrating to use in a really interesting way involving the tactics of combat, especially when there are a bunch of opponents around. Especially if catching yourself in your own spell is bad. But it needs to be interesting in a gameplay way, not in a "I died because the UI hides information my character should know" way.

marcmagus: Me playing cribbage in regency attire (Default)
Monday, July 19th, 2010 12:03 pm

So in addition to playing and thinking about Legerdemain and thinking about the game I might someday write inspired by it, today I went and read Gender Politics Taste Like Chicken over at Choice of Games Blog. [Did I mention them before? They make some really interesting games, and they're putting some good effort into thinking about the effect of the gender stereotypes they write into their games and how they can be responsible about it. Interesting games, too.]

They're currently thinking about how to write a good game driven by "an Austenesque romance within a Tudoresque court intrigue" in a world that has real gender equality and is accepting of same-sex relationships. It's interesting to see how much of the default assumptions stop working if that world is to be believable, and I'm really interested to see what they've come up with to provide the appropriate tensions.

It also got me thinking about that theoretical epic Rogue-like I might write that I was talking about last post. An interesting feature of Rogue-likes is that the player is traditionally represented by an @. It's the perfect blank protagonist, onto whom you can project pretty much any appearance you want.

So I was thinking, what if I don't ask the player to select a gender for their character at all? And what if I do then go ahead and write a game which has hooks for potential romance plots with some variety of characters within the game that you meet, and either give them a variety of genders or leave their genders also unspecified.

Would this work to create an interesting space for those who wanted to see it that way, or would it just fail in a male-normative hetero-normative assumption? Could that be combated with some sort of author's note?

Would it work better if the player were asked to specify a gender (with more than two options) which then proceeded to have no gameplay effect whatsoever, including no effect on the potential romance plots?

[Is it actually possible and desirable to try to write this character-driven a plot into a fantasy quest game of the type I'm considering? Don't answer that. I think it at least merits further thought.]

I don't really have any answers, although I'm hoping my thoughts will coalesce on this in time. Thoughts and discussion would be highly welcome; I expect a lot of my friends are likely to have valuable insight here.

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marcmagus: Ten the hard way (dice)
Sunday, September 20th, 2009 12:37 am

"That's the only problem with War, you have to deal out all the cards."

This overheard from people in my living room. My immediate thought, probably unsurprisingly to anybody reading this, was, "No, it's not."

For starters, no you don't. Long, long before I would have ever considered myself a gamer, before I had two digits in my age in years, I was capable of reliably splitting a deck of cards into two equal parts by the simple expedient of cutting it roughly in half and smoothing the two piles until they were the same height. Certainly reliably enough for the purpose of playing War not for money.1 Just shuffle the deck a few times until you're satisfied any clumping of the high cards is due more to chance than the previous state of the deck, cut it in half, smooth it, and offer the two halves to your opponent to select one.

Aside from having to deal out the cards not even being a problem with War, the game has plenty of more significant problems. Well, maybe just one. It has no meaningful decisions. In fact, it has no decisions at all. It's a "game" only in the sense that it's an entertainment2 to pass the time.

I recognize that people can gain enjoyment from games without meaningful decisions, although at the moment I find it hard to think why. My first criterion for a game to be worth playing is that the player must be presented with opportunities to make decisions, and those decisions must affect the outcome of the game. This eliminates War and Candyland, and Snakes and Ladders, all of which are ultimately a matter of playing the game "cut for high card" multiple times. In the case of War, it's "cut for high" in a drunkard's walk with a cliff at either end. In the case of the others, it's actually "roll a die and add its value to your total, first to 100 wins".

The only decision you have in War, however, [other than whether to cheat] is whether to play at all. While it does eventually result in a victor, my first thought on hearing the question, "Do you want to play War?" is to hear Joshua's voice, "Would you like to play a game?"


1. War would make a curious choice of games upon which to gamble simply because it takes so long to reach a resolution, but I respect that sometimes that might be desirable. But if you're not playing it for money [or some other reward], can you really take it seriously enough to worry about one player starting with a couple cards' advantage? This is War we're talking about here.

2. If you find such an activity entertaining.

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marcmagus: Me playing cribbage in regency attire (Default)
Friday, July 3rd, 2009 01:59 am

Last weekend I decided I'd like to play Icehouse more often than once a year at Origins. Ideally, I'd like to get a local group together to play regularly (say for about an hour about once a month?). It might be kind of neat to do so outdoors in summer if the weather's nice, but that's not required.

Would people be interested in a regular but not too frequent meet-up for this? Could possibly turn it into part of a slightly longer pyramid-games themed event.

[Also, quick brag, eked out the last finalist medallion in the IIT this year. I'd been really hoping (but not expecting) to get one of those.]

marcmagus: Me playing cribbage in regency attire (Default)
Wednesday, July 4th, 2007 06:21 am

I'm off to Origins. I'm not taking the work laptop, and my current plan is to be offline except possibly to check in for my return flight. I return Sunday night

Those of you who'll be there, I look forward to seeing you. Everybody else, I'll miss you.