So I've been dealing with a broken keyboard and heading back to school, but now that my laptop is once again fully functional and I've gotten back into the routine, I'm heading back to work. Top on my priority list is finishing off The Last Band's Advanced Player's Guide, which has suffered somewhat due to focuses on different things. I've also been working on a number of other things, which I'll talk about more shortly. The APG will probably be less flashy than planned; it'll probably be formatted and nice, but otherwise super-duper simple in terms of lacking art and being rather short, but the exercise in expanding a super simple game system to incorporate less simple game elements hsould be good.
As I usually do, I'm going to have to delay the release of The Last Band's advanced player guide again because I still don't have it done and polished, but I've got a few other teasers to put out there, so you won't be going home empty-handed this time.
First, Project Drop Bears got a real name: The Somalia Incident. It will be a prequel to Orchestra (pre-everything-going-boom) and will probably have similar mechanics, but focuses on light armored combat with fusion-powered powered armor suits. It describes the lead up to the eventual political situations surrounding the Cataclysm. In addition, you'll get a glimpse at the timeline of events leading up to The Somalia Incident below. The timeline below isn't quite ready for print-it'd be hard to guarantee it print right as it is and it wouldn't flow well with the second timeline page. There's a downloadable one at half the resolution of my master version (because it was having issues with going online) below, which comes to a whopping 6 megabytes. The font, for those interested, is Victor by Fumare.
Second, Aduelle has come along nicely. Unfortunately, I have some graphic design stuff to do in order to show the combat trees, and they're looking at being heavily altered before the next preview, but you can get a simple unformatted PDF of what I have so far below.
Goals for next month:
Actually finish The Last Band's Advanced Players Guide. For the most part I'm stuck at converting the game to use the same mechanics but different methodology, which may require a good chunk of rule modification to allow players to, for example, dodge shots. I've got some things in mind, but haven't really stress tested them yet. In addition, art and typesetting. I've got some really good elements, in my opinion, but I need some stuff for the cover, probably will need to expand my public domain font library, and more.
Add a good chunk to Aduelle, finish up family trees, start on mechanics, add a couple new kingdoms (I have them in concept but haven't written a ton on them yet). The current release is also too depressing, because magic in Aduelle is on occasion pretty Faustian. In addition, balance and test combat. I've decided move from using an arbitrary "posturing" pool to a cool-down chain-hit based system, where you still work your way through a tree but the methods for doing so are based on whether or not your move is available at the time of using.
Make a companion timeline to catch The Somalia Incident up to its actual date.
So here's my idea for how to test educational video games' efficiency and efficacy: a scientifically set up test of performance.
At the beginning of the test period (which should be done with k-12 or early college students during a break in classes) each of the subjects in the experiment takes a test to determine performance. The results are recorded and kept for comparison to results at the end of the test. These subjects have already been split into nine groups; based on the type of learning experience they will have and the amount of time they will get with the interactive learning platform provided.
There are a few things to notice about all the different learning experiences: all record the players' score, displaying it to them and observers, and track various other metrics; all have the same graphical style and methods of interacting with the test itself; and all are taken on a computer using a mouse to direct feedback, though the third also integrates simple keyboard feedback to control the player's character in action segments.
The first three groups take a simple interactive digital test with feedback; they take it for either a single half-hour session, a hour and a half meeting, or three hour and a half blocks over the course of the week for two weeks. At the end of the two weeks they take another test.
The second three groups run through an interactive storybook with six rather long divergent storylines revolving around a central protagonist. Each of these storylines will run them through a short narrative after they make their selection, show what was right or wrong about their answer, and provide them with multiple possible options. Players can either attempt to play the storylines through to completion, or play a new one each session, though only the highest duration group is likely to finish more than two story lines.
The third cluster of groups will run through the interactive storybook, but in addition to the short narrative (and partially replacing it), a series of simple games is played. For example, the player would make their choice as in the second cluster, but instead of merely reading about the unfolding events they get to take the role of the central protagonist in the story and play a series of simple games; for instance, the player may be fighting a fearsome dragon as a cartoon-styled knight; they would use certain buttons to position themselves on certain spaces in the scene, and one to leap vertically with a sword in an attempt to take down the dragon threatening the populace. These games attempt to move the players through quickly to the next test question and to the narrative that follows, lasting about fifteen or twenty seconds each with a five-second warm-up.
At the end of the two weeks of testing, the subjects take another test to determine performance changes, and these tests are compared to the first tests of each subject. The various gathered feedback and metrics are analyzed to determine the best way to set up the learning experience, should it be proven effective.
I'm not an expert in this field, as anyone who's ever read my work would know, but I've got some advice for people who are writing for games, both video and tabletop, though primarily tabletop games.
Consider both the system and narrative impacts of a description when putting it into the game, whether as a tooltip in a video game or a blurb about something in a tabletop game. Don't include references to something there's no system support for.
For instance, I saw a description of speed on a tooltip in a game which stated that "Speed makes attacks more frequent.". In terms of narrative, this is totally true and makes sense, but the system didn't give another attack regardless of how much speed a person had; they just got to move first. So a description like "Characters with a high speed land their attacks first." would resolve this confusion by providing a narrative. However, the game it came from had a JRPG-styled combat system, so it would be inaccurate to state "Characters with a high speed move faster.", since there is no movement to be had in the game's system, though it would work fine in the narrative sense.
Be sure to close up prepositional phrases and generally make sure a sentence is complete with appropriate nouns and pronouns; assuming a player will look at something a certain way can be a major mistake. This is especially important on the tabletop, where the system's play comes directly from the text.
A quick example would be "Boosting attack improves damage.". This is not, in and of itself, wrong. However, it would be better to write the description as "An increased attack score raises a character's damage output." or a similar appropriate phrase, just because the previous one leaves a couple things undefined; "improves" does not necessarily refer to a larger amount; "damage" can refer to incoming or outgoing, though this should be clearly outgoing by context; boosting is almost always associated with a positive change but can be rather vague. It can also help to include the added noun for "character" just to provide the implied noun and make the sentence entirely unambiguous.
Include an example. This can be difficult for a tooltip in a video game (though a UI designer could probably figure out some neat ways to put in a sub-tooltip containing an example without making the normal one bloated and take up half a screen), but there is no excuse for not including one in a tabletop game. This doesn't necessarily have to be highlighted in bold text screaming "EXAMPLE! EXAMPLE! EXAMPLE!" but you can include them stealthily; remember that when writing a tabletop game everything should serve both as narrative and system mechanic.
The following is an excerpt from the section on religion and cosmology in my upcoming game Adventures in Aduelle:
are chosen mortal servants of Jutil who are given astronomical
amounts of power, with the caveat of Jutil altering their
consciousness to prevent self-interest from interfering with their duties. The exact power and form of each Ascendant varies,
though most Ascendants are capable of conjuring a form of their
mortal selves and all are immortal. Ascendants are capable, unlike
Jutil, of leaving and entering the world of Aduelle at will, either
residing with Jutil in a realm outside the known universe or
returning to a different point within Aduelle. Individual Ascendants
cannot be destroyed by Jutil without the destruction of all
Ascendants, a rare example of something that seems to cause issues for
Jutil's plans for Aduelle.
In doing this, I tried to do several things; Aduelle's mechanics are still unfinished, and Ascendants are powerful enough they don't really fit within the mechanical system, so there's no rules for actually encountering an Ascendant face-to-face like there will probably be in the finished version.
First, I stress the power of Jutil; if he can create powerful beings he must himself be powerful or have a way of reaching great power, which is important because Jutil's basically the monotheistic deity (but not sole powerful cosmological figure) of Aduelle. I also make it so that Ascendants lack a certain degree of free-will and have a clear purpose outside of rooting on certain mortals or others, meaning that players cannot patronize one Ascendant and gain access to a powerful ally without adhering to Jutil's codes. There are exceptions to this rule, but this also means that a player cannot become an Ascendant within the rules of Adventures in Aduelle (or if they can, it carries restrictions normal adventurers would lack). I point out that Ascendants maintain their individuality as well, make them capable of miraculous abilities of teleportation and true immortality not possible by magic, make them relatively stable, and create a difficulty within the game that explains why rogue Ascendants are not necessarily destroyed as soon as they rebel. However, the first paragraph is not an example, it's a declaration; and it is vague for a number of reason.
Following that, I give an example of a historical figure who is now an Ascendant; Azet was the founder of Azekal and the Eternal Empire way back after the Shattering (which is also touched on, but takes place several hundred years before the setting of Adventures in Aduelle, which is itself a couple decades after Constructs of Azazael). I give a brief history for those who haven't read the biography of Azet to explain some of his achievements, and the reasons for his motivations; then I give his typical behavior-he helps his followers when they contact him, and ensures that the nations he established remain in the state he left them (no pun intended). I then give some information to tell anyone running the game how an encounter with Azet may play out; and end it by pointing out that he is not a rogue Ascendant and he can intervene in the affairs of supplicants to Jutil.
The reasons for this are simple; not only does it hopefully serve to create a more rich and engaging world for the reader to enjoy, but it also provides guidelines for other Ascendants, who basically form a pantheon similar to the gods of Greek mythology.
So as you can see, my attempt at giving an example was pretty subtle as far as examples go, but it's the narrative equivalent of providing equations and running through simulated dice rolls in video games or tabletop games, and it's the sort of thing that is crucially important to me explaining what's going on there.
However, don't get too cocky when writing a mechanical example; they're a lot more simple but there's still a lot of pitfalls to avoid.
First, be sure you cover extreme situations as well as the normal ones; if there's some special rule in play occasionally that could be vague, cover it. Personally, I think it's good to have an example for every rule and possible success/failure outcome.
For instance, if your game includes a rule for grazing blows that barely succeeded, and your section on doing damage just contains the following example, you could have a very real problem.
Example: Mark sings his sword at Luke, rolling a 11. The difficulty to hit Luke is 10, so Luke gets a nasty gash from Mark's swing, taking such and so much damage.
There's nothing wrong with this example, but if it's the only way we get an insight into combat, we're going to question how it works. There's two ways to do this; you can add another example, or amend your example with a new rule.
Example: Luke retaliates at Mark with a dagger, hoping to meet the difficulty of 8 to hit Mark. Luke's dice come up as exactly 8, so Luke hits, but only does half of such and so much damage to Mark.
The additional example works if the rule is written far from the original rule or if it's an optional rule, but I'd recommend attaching a quick follow-up to the original example. This is better more because while if there's a a ton of examples the game will make a lot more sense, but if every other line is an example it is more tempting to assume you understand the rules and skip them; merging the two examples into one can be a little less clear, but unless you've got a good running narrative with the examples (Degenesis did this well, its examples almost formed a pseudo-narrative, and I've seen games that do basically a normal play session as an example, which works well also) they tend to be skipped after the fifteenth or so example in a section.
Example: Mark sings his sword at Luke, rolling a 11. The difficulty to hit Luke is 10, so Luke gets a nasty gash from Mark's swing, taking such and so much damage. If Mark's roll had been 10, he would have only done half of that damage to Luke, resulting in half of such and so much damage.
Note that this rule includes halving, so I'd make the damage (if possible) be a number that shows off whatever system is method to round the number in that case.
Note that these sorts of examples probably wouldn't be included within a video game, except in a tutorial, manual, or help section, but the general rules apply. In addition, it is important to make sure that the rules are clearly stated as well as the examples; being good at writing one is not an excuse for omitting another.
I've had troubles getting a good, high-quality supplement for The Last Band finished, so even though I said I thought it would be done before June to some people it probably won't get finished until midway through June because I'm making it a little more ambitious than I planned and it's required a lot more work than it would have as I first pictured it.
I'll be honest. I think American foreign policy right now is more than a little bit flaky. We no longer act in the interest of our citizens. Mind you, I'm all for the international community getting the best mutually beneficial outcome, but I really am disappointed in how things have gone recently. I'm not typically that into politics; I hate it with a vengeance, but quite frankly I'm appalled by what the US has been doing.
We have "allies" who sentence people who aid us to a life in prison. We still send them money. I'm speaking, of course, of Pakistan and the Doctor Afridi case, where someone who helped us was sentenced to treason. We've pulled $33 million in funding from Pakistan. We're giving them $7.5 billion over the next five years. Why? We're ignoring our own interests, and we're giving money to someone who gets decried by leading people in both parties. If we think we're buying allies, we're mistaken; lucre has no interest beyond the short term, and people aren't likely to remember a dollar in their pocket from five years ago if there's an ideological or political reason to swap sides.
Quite frankly, I'd appreciate if people stopped being flakes. We know there are people who don't like us. They probably will never like us on principle. It's time to stop apologizing and bribing people into doing what we want, and start having a spine again. If someone has a problem with us, we should confront them with our position and listen to theirs, and try to reach an appropriate outcome, not just toss some money at them. It's inefficient, insulting to us and to our "allies", and quite frankly it doesn't work. I'm not suggesting gunboat diplomacy, but it surely seems like we could stand to stop retreating from every challenger or trying to buy them to our side.
Similarly, I think we've seen sanctions pretty much do nothing. I have yet to hear of any historical record for a nation that opposed another suddenly start loving it on account of having sanctions levied, and unless you're closing down all the roads and laying siege to all the urban areas like in the medieval era you won't get any real impact. I don't think we should go to war with people, but we have to stop pretending that cutting people off from trade with us will keep them from doing things that could hurt us.
I probably won't be making friends of too many of my future co-workers with this post, since I'm getting a degree in secondary education, but I support the voucher system. Why?
The former Swedish Minister of Education Per Unckel once said: "Education is so important that you can’t just leave it to one producer.". I went to a public high school, and I wouldn't change it; the things I got there are just too valuable for me to give up to go elsewhere. But at the same time, I know that people have a legitimate gripe with some of the public schools out there; and every time I've heard of teacher misconduct it seems to be revolving around a public school and not a private or charter school. Look at the recent Hunter Rogers case, and you'll see that some parents pretty clearly won't want their kids in their local public school for a number of reasons, such as a district being ill-funded (or poorly managed) or their knowledge of individuals who can't do their job within the school itself. Throw in the fact that a lot of parents don't like what their kids will hear at public school, and you've got several reasons not to send your kid, of varying degrees of legitimacy.
And don't get me wrong here, I'm planning on teaching at a public school, not a charter school. But I still want vouchers. Because I've been to schools I wasn't supposed to go to; I was home schooled for a year and then went to private school, and I've seen the difference that high-quality pedagogy makes. Being in a classroom with sixteen students instead of one with thirty or more meant that I got to have hands-on focus with my teachers; almost every student at my private elementary school fed into the honors program at any high school they went to. I recognize there's a stereotype against home schooling and really small private schools, but I still have a lot of friends and acquaintances who come from that background and none of them fall below the average mean level of performance.
Quite frankly, I think that the voucher system could be invaluable if for no other reason than forcing schools to step it up a bit. I'm up to the challenge, and I think it's only fair to allow students to go whenever.
Ok, this title is a little bit misleading, because I never really planned on buying Diablo 3. I'm a fan of the genre, but I prefer to have my hack-and-slashes deep like Baldur's Gate, Neverwinter Nights, or a good old roguelike. Also, the content is often a little iffy, and I bought Starcraft 2 and didn't exactly fall in love with Blizzard from it, and I'm not sold on a new game from them (also, I never played the originals).
But the real reason I'm categorically excluded from playing it is the DRM. Here's why: A while back I bought a game on OnLive. I enjoy OnLive, and don't mind using their service. However, recently I've been experiencing lag spikes where I go for well over a second without game-playable levels of connection. This means that if I were playing my OnLive games, I'd be streaming them and I'd have issues due to my temporary disconnection. I don't mind this for OnLive, but I paid less for my games on there than I would elsewhere (they hooked me with a $1 sale, which is pretty good for the AAA-grade game I got). Also, I've been playing on a laptop, and before I figured out how to optimize it for gaming, it was kinda iffy. Also, saving hard-drive space was nice.
Diablo 3, on the other hand, seems to install all of its game data to the player's computer (though I'm not familiar with its method, but I doubt Blizzard streams it). What I can tolerate in OnLive's service is intolerable in something that's eating up several gigabytes of my hard drive, burning through my GPU, and taxing my CPU and RAM. It's glorified DRM, and it's just not cool in the slightest. This is part of the reason I'm an "indie" gamer increasingly; I prefer a game that I can put on my hard drive and know how it's going to handle. I mean, I'm not a fan of DRM, but I acknowledge that it's legitimate, even if I feel it's useless compared to increasingly sophisticated pirates. Streaming all the play data for a single-player game? What if I want to cheat at my games, becoming a demigod striding through the battlefield watching my foes fall before my avatar's mighty onslaught? What if I wanted to modify the game to play it as a space opera, western, or cyberpunk adventure?
I'm not stating that my games have to be built with cheats and mod compatibility, but look at Skyrim and see how successful it is. My purchase of it relied on the fact that I knew I could change stuff I didn't like about it, or install tweaks others made to make it more interesting. Blizzard, I'm not going to buy your game if I can't root around in the data files to try to see how stuff ticks and try to give myself a new shiny without you revoking my license or change a couple bytes of memory to make myself a fearsome warrior. It's not a matter of whether or not I would, it's a matter of principle. If I'm buying a game, I want to have it run on my computer; I'll buy Avernum before I buy Diablo any time, and not just because I prefer the former's in-depth gameplay and charming setting and graphics. I'll buy something that's the whole package, not merely a client to connect to a server.
Today I discovered that one of my really old laptops was not broken, as I originally suspected. This led to much rejoicing (it "died" unexpectedly when it just quit working out of the blue), and me digging through to find a lot of old stuff.
So basically if I'm even less productive than usual, it's probably because I'm digging through old files for a bit. On the upside, I've found several old games I've written/made/whatever-you-call-it that may see the light of day again, after some quick fixes. Most everything I wrote back then strikes me as hilariously awful (this if from my high school days), but I may convert some of the half-finished stuff into finished stuff.
Also, I've discovered that writing really is an art that can be practiced, or else there's no way I could have ever gotten good at it. I've also discovered my old webcomic, as it were, though it's also really, really bad.
I'm really, really, really glad that I didn't publish any of that stuff with my name on it.
I'm a novice graphic designer and a tabletop game amateur writer/reviewer. As such, I come across a lot of samples of work, and I get to see a lot of what people do, and I've got some pretty big pet peeves when it comes to typesetting. Here's my advice on how to avoid making blunders when releasing a game.
I love when people include images in their game, it's wonderful. However, sometimes it just detracts from the feel of the piece. There's a few things I see that really draw away from their intentions.
Modern digital printing and PDF files allow a great versatility in images, including images with transparency. If you have a background that's colored, and an image with a white background box, cut off the white background box with a program like Photoshop or the GIMP, or get someone to do it for you. If this is too difficult, put it in a bordered frame so that your image doesn't directly drop off into the background. If this is also too difficult, at least convert the file to PNG and blur around the edges so that it smoothly fades off, rather than just being a sharp line. Ideally, if you have to include an image you should make it either feel like part of the text (see Eclipse Phase or its free Quick Start Guide for great examples of this) as an exposition, or you should make it be an obvious inclusion (i.e. paper edges like on Polaroid projects, preferably written on) in such a way that it fits into the text (Outbreak: Undead does this chillingly well, and The Last Band Advanced Player's Guide should contain examples of this concept with text).
It helps if your font is legible. I'm guilty of occasionally overlooking this, since I have a pretty good time with most fonts, but you definitely want to get a couple other people to take a look at the fonts before you publish. I ran into some trouble with this with The Last Band for Game Chef 2012, so you can see an example of what not to do.
Use a creative font. I'm not talking about being super duper crazy, but if you're using a setting appropriate font your game will be that much more immersive. For instance, when writing stuff for Aduelle I use Timeless for the body text since its difference from normal Times New Roman which I would otherwise have used creates a slight sense of mystery, and the very eye-catching Optimus Princeps for the title. I use Aquilline Two for anything "handwritten", both to give notes more credibility, though its legibility is a slight hit. All of these fonts are by Manfred Klein, which are free to use for any purpose with the clause that you're supposed to donate some profits you make through commercial use, meaning that I'm in no way in danger of violating the licensing even if I forget to credit him. Optimus Princeps is also what I've been using for my new logo (see the bottom of the sidebar).
Backgrounds are a great way to engage your reader. I remember Eclipse Phase the first time I read it, and its background is basically the graphic design equivalent of Paradise. It works well, and flows great. Plus, it's really cool and engaging without detracting from the text. I can read Eclipse Phase on my old e-ink Kindle without zooming in, meaning that I can read a full document sized page on the significantly smaller paperback-style display. That's how well it's formatted. This is because it does something smart, and puts the beautiful elements of the background in places that don't interfere with text. It also is setting appropriate, going for a information-overload style to go with the sci-fi transhumanism of the game, without becoming so busy as to detract from the text.
It's okay to include additional side-information, but delineate it or your reader is going to get confused pretty quickly. I can't remember what I was reading, but there was something where the sidebars were just offset by a small border and I missed that border and got caught up on a sidebar before reading the appropriate part of the page. Make sidebars have their own background, or a pretty noticeable border with a dedicated heading (Eclipse Phase, again, does this pretty well).
Tables of contents and indexing are nice. While you can use PDF bookmarks if you're going 100% digital, less adept users may not know how to use them, and even I, despite using them left and right on all sorts of things, still go for an end-book index. I've made a tutorial on how to do this in Scribus, and the way it works is that you can basically link to the page and even the specific part of the page if your PDF editor supports it (Scribus is how I make my PDF's, it's free and open source and will do this pretty simply). Index a ton of stuff, if you haven't indexed something on each page you'd better have full page art on those pages. The only exception I'd say that you should make for this is when you've got either a small team and don't have the time and resources before publishing, or you only have a very short book (10 or fewer pages).
If you mention something that's in another book, e.g. a supplement you wrote, be sure to include a reference to the book and page if you think there's any chance whatsoever of someone wanting to look it up. I've had to look through a couple books to try to find stats for a specific mentioned critter in one supplement, and even with PDF searching I had to resort to a character creator for the same game which has a great and accurate index of books and page numbers to find it, since it was in the last place I would have looked. Don't do that. If you really, really, don't want to do this, include necessary information in a sidebar.