Archive for September, 2007

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The Gauntlet Has Been Thrown

September 30, 2007

On the way back from a get-together a little get-together, one of my friends and I got into an argument. It started innocently enough. The conversation started when this friend mentioned that he has named his car, and from there it moved to the names of computers. The names featured were all impressively nerdly, and I began to feel as if I needed to step up and prove myself on this account, as I do not have a name for my computer. So I decided to name my Xbox 360 Kara Thrace, and said so.

Well my friend couldn’t let this challenge go unanswered. He informed me that he looked up some demonology on Wikipedia so that he could name his Pokemon after the demons of hell.

I countered with the revelation that I had just joined the campus D&D club. He parried easily by telling me that he is a former GM.

I had to withdraw and regroup. Someday I will beat him, I swear it.

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See? I’m Not The Only One Who Thinks So.

September 28, 2007

A few days ago, I pointed out the obvious- that John Stossel is an enormous douchebag. Well now I’ve found that I am not the only one who has noticed this.

Good show, sir, good show!

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Restrictive Design Standards = Vast Fields of Opportunity

September 27, 2007

The developer commentary included with Team Fortress 2 has one interesting segment on a conundrum they faced while designing the Spy class. They wanted players on the Spy’s team to be able to identify them as friendlies, and they wanted to do this without adding another 2D element to the HUD. The solution they came up with was inspired: have the Spy put on a paper mask with a picture of the class he’s masquerading as on it. The lesson here was that holding one’s self to a strict design standard can force innovation by removing the easy way out. It is said that restriction’s are an artist’s best friend, and their Spy solution is a textbook example.

I think this is a great concept, but it should be pushed farther. So how about making a game of a certain genre that is known for primarily revolving around a certain kind of play mechanic, and then refusing to use that mechanic at all? This would force the developers to come up with new ways for the player to interact with the game and their environment, which would create new styles of gameplay and inject a big fat slug of innovation into the games industry. The play mechanics that would be developed to fill the sudden vacuum could later be refined and applied to other games all over, potentially opening up entirely new genres and game types.

And the most overused type of gameplay is combat. When a developer doesn’t know what else to do, they hand the player a gun, put them in a room full of monsters and let them fight it out. This is true of several genres, almost by definition, but it doesn’t have to be. How about an RPG with no combat whatsoever?

With no combat to balance, development resources could be focused elsewhere, such as dialog and writing, and here’s where an idea really grabbed me: make a game that only has 8 or so NPCs, but each of them has a thousands and thousands of lines to dialog. Instead of making a whole lot of little NPC interactions, focus on a very few but very big and deep and complex NPC interactions, with hundreds, or even thousands of permutations.

And to give players more control over how their half of the conversation plays out, perhaps they could be given two option categories they must pick from during each round of dialog. One category might be answer content, with options such as “yes,” “no,” “I don’t know,” etc, and the other category could be a tone of expression, such as sneering, humble, proud, direct, and so on. Different NPCs would not only react to what the player said, but how he/she said it. And this would be true of every dialog option in the game.

With the current techniques involved with writing NPC dialog, this is probably an unworkable goal. So of course new techniques would be developed to meet this challenge. For instance, maybe the developer could create a special AI to aid in this process, one that has a set of preferences and then looks at the player’s current state, the player’s past actions, the state of the game world, any story flags that might be relevant, and so on, and then chooses the line of from a list of responses that best fits the context of the conversation. Or maybe an AI wouldn’t be much help, and the solution would just be an improved method of scripting conversations. In any case, the main goal would be to move beyond simple dialog trees, and more towards a simulation of a real conversation.

If every answer had a real and immediate effect on how the rest of the game played out, the replayability of this game would be astounding. This quality could be enhanced further by deliberately writing the script so that you could only get part of the story during a single play-through. A single play-through would contain enough information for the story to make sense, perhaps, but the NPCs could be set at odds with each other so that to get all the information an NPC could provide he/she would have to earn one NPC’s trust at the expense of another’s. A player would never be able to get everybody to tell the whole story in a single game. And of course the ending would change depending on the player’s interactions with all of the NPCs, so even if a player decided to stick close to NPC X during two different play-throughs, the ending might still be different depending on how the player treats NPCs Y and Z.

This is just one of the ideas that came to me while pondering VALVe’s example of how a commitment to design principles yields big results. I have more, which I may post about later. The daydreams this will be running around in my head for months, I can already tell.

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It’s D&D!

September 25, 2007

So apparently there is a D&D club here at UCSC this year. I was on the lookout for the anime club, but couldn’t find them, so I checked out the Dungeon Association. Now I’ve wanted to get into tabletop RPGs for a while now, but every time I tried I just couldn’t find a group. I mentioned this to the club orgainizers and they said that solving that problem was exactly what the club was for. So game on! I finally get to finish by Geek Certification, having done anime, video games, and now tabletop RPGs.

They even ran a little sample game right there at the booth, which was pretty fun until the second half of our party showed up. I got the feeling that they were “regulars” and they were also not inclined to take the game seriously at all. And by that, I don’t mean that I wanted them to be super in character jerk-offs or vicious rules lawyers, or people who take it so seriously that they forget to have fun. What I mean is that they weren’t approaching the game on it’s own level; they insisted on being above it, coolly dismissive of any notion that they might treat this world of make believe as being even remotely important, even for just a quarter of an hour.

The bard couldn’t have a conversation or answer a question without blasting a power chord on his lute to accompany his hair metal band-esq answer, and the monk did backflips and hand stands just because he could while throwing shuriken at anything and everything for no reason at all. Spot check? Listen check? That’s for wimps. Just attack whatever you’re curious about to see if it does anything. A mysterious mutant blob jumps out and attacks one of our party members, but we notice it has bits of what appear to be chocolate in it; the bard and monk both decide that this clearly means it should be eaten. Every time I tried to engage with the game, one of these two players would subvert my efforts and shut them down by engaging in some ridiculous jerk ass behavior, the kind that in any internally self-consistent world would kill a person before they were experienced enough to even be considered level 1.

So, I don’t want to play with these two guys. I am hoping that enough people show up that I can be in a different group. They seemed to have enough people sign up that I should have no problem with that. We shall see how this plays out. It should be fun.

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Quick! Somebody Coin This Term!

September 24, 2007

Every so often during my eternal slog across the Internet, I come across a delightful sort of post or article which brings into perfect focus for me a concept which up until that moment I did not even recognize as a force in my life, despite being vaguely aware that something was going on. Often this takes the form of explaining the idea behind a concept whose effects I had been struggling to understand and quantify.

And this is one such gem.

I think there’s an idea here without a clear term to point to it: ideologies that require or encourage a kind of willful ignorance. Those can be cured, but only by breaking with the ideology.

Frex, a lot of economic determinists (Marxists and neoclassical economists) seem to have the idea that they don’t need to know much about the world to understand it, because their economic models give them the fundamental insights.

It’s just like feeling the cool water of clarity poured onto your brain, isn’t it?

Now all we (by which I mean you) need to do is come up with a name for this kind of ideology, so that I can steal it and take credit for it.

The first one that comes to my mind is a combination of the ancient Greek terms for enemy or adversary with the words for knowledge or detail, but I don’t speak ancient Greek so I can’t do that one.

Maybe “detailaphobic”?

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Settling In

September 24, 2007

So it’s move in time here at UCSC, and everybody is scrambling to get their ducks in a row before classes start. There are always plenty of orientations and town hall meetings to go to, but I’ve decided to blow them off. I’m a rebel that way.

I’m in one of the super mega awesome Stevenson apartments this year. My room is nice, but narrow. The bed is oriented so that the head is against the left wall and the foot is against the right wall. And I mean against both walls. It is too narrow to spin the bed into facing another direction. I can pull it back twoards the door, or push it back against the wall, but that’s as much control over it as I have. I’m waiting for somebody from maintenance to come over and help me disassemble it and reposition it how I want. Also, my light burned out, so my options for illumination are sketchy at best.

My roommates are all pretty nice, but I won’t say much about them.

My big concern right now is that I’m not sure I’ll be able to have both my computer and my TV in my room. Maybe that will be healthy for me, but I really don’t want to have to worry about missing a Daily Show or Battlestar Galactica because somebody else was hogging the tube.

Oh well. It’s a room, and it’s all mine.

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Very Rigorous Maritime Engineering Standards

September 23, 2007

Brilliant. Simply brilliant. This Aussie satire clip is played so straight and dry that it took me a while to figure out that it wasn’t real. Go watch it now.

EDIT: Because I’m an idiot, I forgot to spell check the title of this post. Look at the URL for a cheap laugh.