Ronin Beat Randomization

After having the chance to mess with it on computer, I'm not particularly happy with the randomness of Ronin Beat. On an actual tabletop where the players are rolling the die I'm willing to stand by the d10 roll, but not in the computer where it makes everything a crap shoot.

What I'm thinking is that I'll change to a numeric damage output, but keep the health pips as is. The way that would work is that each person/enemy would have a max damage, if they take under three quarters of that in one hit, it's a glance, over three quarters it's a gash, and over the max it's a down. This would also segway into the introduction of levels, as those would have to determine how hard you could hit, and be hit.

Unless I get feedback to the effect that people are completely enamored with the random factor, I'm going ahead with that change.

Some Portraits - WIP

Some rough portrait sketches for Ronin Beat.


Early Playtesting - Ronin Beat

This link from Rapid Share is only good for 10 downloads, but that would be half my total visitors so I doubt anyone will actually run into much trouble getting the file.

So what is this? It's the combat system that I worked on while my computer was down, with a few minor changes.

At the moment I don't have any levels or anything in it... in fact I don't have any art assets either. Still you can get in and see the math go to work. As is kind of necessary with the play testing phase, I need more than just any bugs you dig up, I need thoughts, opinions and heaven forbid... ideas!

I'll be putting more work into this for the next little bit, but I'd definitely prefer some sort of point of reference for what really needs work.

The question that rests like a gun to the head of the MMO industry.

What do you do if the perceived value of content reaches zero?

Value is a purely subjective measure, a comparative measure as to what is most worth your dollar. We have two measures of value, the natural and most common measure, and the more objective measure. The first is a comparison of what we pay for similar things, the second is what else we could be getting for that same amount of money.

MMOs as they stand are largely a content delivery mechanism. Their numerical and mathematical base being also the core of their user interaction means that their game play is rarely a content generator, such as you would see most aptly in Force Unleashed for example. What this means is that the player base requires a constant stream of new content, which with a maximum efficiency team should be produced in roughly O(n) time. O(n) time means O(n) pay checks, and while hiring more people would allow you to produce more content, you can't hire more people to produce the same amount of content faster until you are dealing with overarching story plots that can actually be subdivided into lesser partitions.

What all this means is, your product's intrinsic value is tied to the content delivered. The cost of content has a flat bottom, where each equivalent sized package of content costs a certain minimum to create which cannot be reduced. Thereby any equivalently "sized" game must cost at least the minimum cost of the associated content to create, with the game's engine, design, and core game play programming being added on top.

Ironically, although the quality of content often scales the cost of generation upwards, for professional level work, people generally pay roughly the same amount for any equivalently "sized" package of content regardless of quality. The monetary gain usually being manifested in number of purchases, rather than quality of purchases.

The baseline price for MMO content has been $15 for a while now. However, with the proliferation of non-flat rate business models, and the rise of user generated content being passed from a purely hobbyist vantage to a business model in itself, the baseline perceived value of content is approaching $0. It is important to note, however, that it is not the perceived value of any particular "package" of content that is approaching 0, it is the perceived value of content as a whole. Also, more than any particular business approaching any particular model, it is rather that the sheer amount of content available is so overwhelming, that content is losing all value associated with rarity. Having access to content of almost any sort is easy and free with the current climate of the internet.

My personal answer:
Much like novels, we will grow and adapt as consumers and businesses will, of course, fill in the voids. But in the mean time, some of the best in the industry will probably find themselves replaced by small operations that weren't even on their radar. Likely, launching without full content will become even more of a death knell than it is now, as it will be assumed that the game has full content and only the quality would set it apart as a worth while purchase.

But there are deeper aspects to this as well that don't fit very well within the current market overview. For instance, the very model of an MMO as a content delivery system will have to be reworked, at the very least it will become incumbent on them to act as content generation systems. User generated content as we generally refer to it probably will not be at the core of this, instead it will more likely be emergent rule sets designed to evolve alongside the players.

At least that's my $.02.


Page 1


Patience Rewarded

I've been having a hard time focusing lately, especially on the whole job hunt. You see if I had a job, I'd probably want to move out of my parent's house, and if I were to move out of my parent's house, I'd transition. My parent's are rather hard line Mormons, so as much as I love them, I've always thought that once I transitioned, I wouldn't be able to see them and talk to them anymore.

Today, my mother told me that even if I transitioned, I'd still be welcome to visit them, and to keep in touch.

I can't... I don't think I can say what this means... shit I think I'm going to cry. Anyways, just, have a great day everyone. Be happy, and don't sweat the small stuff, yeah.

The Lich

Mortals. Need I say more to expose your pathetic arrogance. I suppose I must, then, as you seem not appeased. You who draw your swords in my home, before my hearth, and in my humble hall of friendship. Rambling on about justice, about sanctity, and above all of life.

What do mortals know of life, so thoroughly is your lives entrenched in death. You call this magic of yours the magic of life, and yet all you do is delay an inevitable end. You cling to the feel of your skin and the tautness of your muscles, measuring life in ones ability to maintain that hollow shell. For all your healing, for all your "life", your fate remains inescapable.

But not mine. No I, with this magic you claim to be the magic of "death", have attained life beyond the flesh and sinew. For a thousand years and a thousand seasons more has my life continued, and with the grace of justice and the gods will continue for thousands more. And yet you, who fear death with all your puny existence seek to lecture me on life.

A desacrator, an unholy abomination with no respect for the "sanctity" of this so called life, you say. In what are you so sanctified, according to whom do your gods torment you so. I, the defiler? What a claim to lay before me, you who should be declared murderers. You who damn an entire race to an inevitable and preventable demise, all for the sake of your sanctity, for your useless piety, for your false gods. Strike me then, if you remain so certain of the justice in your hearts, but be forewarned. The Lady of justice, blind though she may be, lay behind my blade, and in this very hall around me, crying out for the destruction of your sorry, rotten souls.

I was thinking lately about good bad guys, and especially bad guys that could really be identified with. The concept of a lich giving the mortal heroes a lecture on life and death just sort of came to mind tonight as I was trying to get to sleep. Hopefully with it out of my mind and down on paper I can actually get some sleep.


Something Positive

I feel like writing something positive, so I'm going to give a short review of Suikoden V.

If you like JRPG game play and love amazing writing, you'll find this game fucking awesome beyond all reason.

If you hate JRPG game play and love amazing writing, It'll still be fucking awesome beyond all reason, you'll just be too far into a frothing rage about turn based wizardry style combat to notice.

If you hate JRPG game play and hate amazing writing... I just feel sorry for you.

There you go, a happy note by my standards.

Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning | Preview Weekend 1 & 2, Open Beta, Levels 1-21

I've had some distance now to try and look back at my days in WAR objectively. I don't claim to be critiquing the whole game, just the first twenty levels or so, before the leveling pace dropped off enough to halt my apparent progression. This is to be a critique of the game, so if you're looking for fuzzy bunnies and rainbows... why are you even reading a post about WAR?

There were a few things that WAR did that set it well ahead of the curve. The first, and probably least obvious, is that each stat had a dual function. This didn't entirely prevent dump stats, nor create a viable mechanism for balanced characters, but it was a step in the right direction. Second to that is combat capable, if not overpowered, healers. It's really a shame that the player base fell into pointless bickering and shortsighted complaints of players not doing their job. It would have been an entirely different game, in many ways, if the player base had instead solidified behind their healers making them the comparative rock stars of the game, rather than the tank as is usual of cooperative dungeon play.

Despite their having excellent stylistic feel for their environments, WAR, ironically, lacks much sense of warfare beyond a few exceptions, all in PvE. Warfare is governed by a few simple rules, it's the effort to place out a significant force of trained and equipped personnel into an enemy territory to take and hold points of logistical and tactical importance, or the same but in defense of your own territory. Skirmishing experts, like the elves, seemed to make sense, with their prolific use of ambushes and attacks along the flanks... but pretty much every other army seemed to be of the opinion that throwing out warriors one at a time would somehow turn the tide of battle against an organized foe. In fact, if not for the player's godlike status, and the AI's relative stupidity, every battle the player engages in should result in their side's complete and utter defeat. What makes this a true failing of the game is that it spawns from a war game, even if a particularly tactical one.

Before I move on, the only ways to fix that particular failing is to implement a system of logistics. WAR was remarkably lacking on the logistical front, with severe limits on crafting, but also without any significant sinks to encourage organization. While an organized war band may be more effective, a disorganized war band doesn't really face any significant challenges so long as it can outnumber it's opponents, and they are also disorganized. With the proliferation of pick-up war bands and general disinterest in open RvR this was hardly an uncommon feat. This would often cause the teeter totter effect where one side would be forced back into their static defenses, but then gain so much power from their defenses as to then wear down the opponents morale and allow them to safely wait out a shift in numbers. In a more logistical system, each side would have to make other considerations, for example would it really be of any worth to wait outside an opponents camp and be worn down, when moving your lines of defense back to the strategically important points would allow for greater tactical flexibility, but also allow you to maintain a larger overall force and better defenses. Likewise, would it be wise to fall back to in-place defenses if you were then to consume the logistical advantage that would allow you to attack. Much like in real warfare, logistical considerations add a significant amount of planning and down time, but they also add weight and decrease the uncanny nature that surrounds wanton skirmish warfare.

The classes in WAR rarely seem to scale well. Their specialties and usefulness seems to undergo mercurial shifts from bracket to bracket, or even level to level. Back lines dps becomes front lines dps, becomes crowd control, then finally shifts back to dps. A front line healer goes from healing/buffing for the front line, to becoming a veritable tank in itself, to a slightly longer lasting front line dps, to a back line healer. None of this would be so significant if a player could choose to stop leveling and settle in a bracket they feel comfortable with, but instead it's inevitable that a character will go through all of those permutations, and possibly even more in the twenty levels I hadn't had a chance to investigate. Overall, these strange twists serve to punish a player for leveling, as they find out that the role they have spent the last 8-10 levels learning to play is suddenly no longer viable, or is simply so much less effective that they are forced from being on top of their game to being on the bottom of their game.

I'm not going to get into a debate on the good and bad points of a mud inherited loot based system. I'm sure there are plenty of those out there, somewhere. I will simply say that WAR does, as it must, suffer from all the problems inherent in such a system. Likewise it does, as it must, benefit from all the advantages of such a system.

To close the "bad" points segment, I'd like to briefly touch on Richard Bartle's comment, "I've already played Warhammer, it was called World of Warcraft". I'm sure I've already publicly stated that in general I agree with him, but it's worth repeating. WAR and WoW are incredibly similar games, with most of the differences being in the fine detailing. It isn't even so much comparable to saying that a pair of chairs are alike, so much as saying a pair of finely crafted Victorian rocking chairs are alike. Sure to someone who spends all day in one and then moves to the other, or to a true connoisseur, they seem very different, but to most sane outside observers... their both finely crafted Victorian rocking chairs, and it isn't really that important which one you find yourself sitting in, if any at all. (After all rocking chairs may not be your thing.) But also to add my own thoughts on it, the problem I see is that the two are uncomfortably similar in a fashion which tells me many decisions were made because "it's an MMO, that's just how it's done." This can be seen in the UI, the skills set-up, and the dungeon system. There have been many good examples of how to break from all of those, some of them would have worked especially well with their flavor of game and setting. For instance a Guild Wars style mission system, balanced more around war bands, would have been a better selection than their limited dungeons in most cases. It would have allowed them to fill in the story better, as well as allowed the players to interact more with the iconic armies of the game, such as bloodthirsters, war bosses, and steam tanks.

Finally, I can't talk about WAR without bringing up the public quest system. It is one of those sublime systems that keeps the player wondering why anyone hadn't done it before. While I'll admit the balancing on some needed some work, there was a certain charm to either pre-arranging a group for them, or just picking up a group of random stragglers to complete one. Their level design and placing of them was also generally quite good, both space efficient and relatively intuitive.


I hear

Every day I hear it. Whispered on the streets in daylight, and screamed in the alleyways when no one is thought to be around, but I still hear it. Sometimes as thin as a still voice in a crowded room, other times as loud as the echoing crash of a waterfall, but all the same I hear it.

People, humans, crying out as if with one accord for a hero to save them. A savior to bring them peace, to turn back the tides of darkness all around. The cry for freedom, and light, as they cling desperately to their final ray of futile hope. And now, even my dreams, I hear it.

Of course, I can make only one reply... bring it on.

- Abbadon, Daughter of Raphael, Lord of the Pit, Defender and Champion of the Dark Host


I had a long post planned, but I'm feeling a written out at the moment. So here's the gist.

Why are the games industry/community en masse such snobs about games? Why is Will Wright the only designer who seems to be allowed to say out loud that he wants to make a toy? And why is simply creating a virtual environment to play with a toy never quite enough for the people who make games about toys?


Finishing up the list

Just found this today, and loved it... but anyways, I think I'll wrap up the explanations behind the List that I started over in it's comments section.

The Dark Knight:
I spend a lot of time thinking about how to properly live my life. I believe in pacifism, and honesty pretty much to a fault. The Dark Knight was a good examination of the ways in which the world doesn't always function in the ideal, and the question faced when, as they say, "the truth isn't good enough." It's given me a great deal of food for thought, and allowed me to have some reference for various issues that my personal philosophies face.

The Prestige:
Beyond being just good entertainment, I'm constantly brought back to the argument as to what is true magic. Is it being able to fool everyone completely, to have a trick that is completely impenetrable. Or is the look on their faces when they are confronted by "magic". I face this own conundrum when I want to design a game, is it the depth of simulation and immersion that I aim for, or the fun factor and childlike wonderment. Much like The Prestige, I don't really have an answer... yet.

How to Save a Life - The Fray:
For the first time in my life, I felt some real empathy with how my parents must have felt in having to deal with me as a child and teenager. I heard the song when I was about 17 I think, so it really sort of mellowed me out for a bit.

Toxicity - System of a Down:
Don't have a good explanation for this one. I was playing the end of the game Oni with song on repeat, so the two kind of merge together. But the image of a "toxic city" is kind of burned into my mind, though I tend to equate the toxicity with certain people not with any literal toxins.

Adam's Song - Blink 182:
Listening to this while suicidally depressed actually helped me. Mainly because I kept thinking that "Adam" should tell his mom it's not her fault himself... which would require him being alive. Getting that third person perspective on it really helped me to not go through with anything.

Define Normal - Julie Anne Peters:
A, the first book I ever read that had a clinically depressed person who just slept all day. B, The first time I encountered literature that actually made me feel that being different was okay.

Keeping You A Secret - Julie Anne Peters:
I wound up picking this up at the library on a whim... best whim ever. The book follows the life a high school girl as she discovers for herself that she is gay, and then being outed before she can come out, and getting kicked out of her house... It's kind of cathartic, but then I later found most lesbian literature about that time of life usually is. Of course, I found this before I came out, and it's always sort of... well it's kind of like this strange ray of hope that at least you're not alone.

Luna - Julie Anne Peters:
I'm not really very much at all like Luna, but it's definitely the only fiction book I've read that actually deals with Gender Identity Disphoria in a realistic manner. Partially because it deals with the past, the fact that it isn't a new issue that pops up after puberty but rather something that you deal with for your entire life.

Something About Us - Daft Punk
Love... never had it, but I like to think it's out there. Of course, I've been avoiding it too, never seemed like the right time... if you listen to the song I think why that's important will make a bit more sense.

I think I'll cover the games in another post. But If anyone reading this still has my Birth Prototype, I think you'll see the direct effect of Mass Effect, Mechwarrior 2 and Escape Velocity.


What I did last night.

After it was clear my computer wasn't turning back on, I decided to distract myself by creating an RPG system.

So far I have this:
A character is represented by ten pips, in four categories and two statistics. An example of the basic balanced character would be...
Death: 0 (there is always only one pip in death)
Down: 0
Gash: 000
Glance: 00000
Offense: 0 (A bonus to your roll when attacking.)
Defense: 0 (A penalty to your attacker's role.)
Your sword is more than just a possession of your character. It is considered to have it's own soul. Finding a sword whose soul is compatible to your own is the mark of a swordsman. Any character not apprentice level, must name their sword at character creation.

The setting was a human colony on a distant planet, Meris, that had adopted a form of Bushido as official law. The players would take the role of Ronin in that world. A Ronin is a masterless Samurai, so you could easily work characters from mercenaries to bounty hunters, to warriors who basically work as legal "champions" for those who can't afford full time Samurai. Ronin tend to be cut off from the rest of society, making each other often times the only thing they really have to count on.
Ronin are not gender restrictive, men, women, and those not classified are all among their number. If they are taken under the auspices of a master, to serve as their warrior or general they are allowed to wear a short sword and are considered proper Samurai. The reasons for being masterless are as numerous as the Ronin themselves, some being punished, others having run away in shame, while still others having chosen the freedom of a masterless life. It also isn't uncommon for them to have been field commanders whose leaders were defeated in engagements far away from their command.
The traditional katana is still the main sword in use among the Samurai and Ronin, but a new breed of sword with a microfine edge is becoming more common. The microfine requires specialized equipment to be sharpened, and is therefore less common among Ronin who live most of their lives on the roadways. The major advantage of a microfine is it's ability to simply ignore armor, as there are no metals hard enough to prevent it's cutting them.

Combat is always a squaring away of two participants, if the numbers are uneven one side has to have someone sit out until a member of their side loses. You need a d20 per person and at least one d10 at the table. All rolls are simultaneous, and the effects of both rolls are carried out, meaning it is very possible for opponents to simultaneously kill each other.

The roll to hit is 1d20+your offense-target's defense: 1-15 = dodged, 16-19 = hit, 20+ = a hit that will gash instead of glance, and a natural 20 is an automatic down.
The roll for damage is 1d10: 0 = instant kill, 1 = down, 2-4 = gash, 5-9 = glancing blow
1 gash = -1 offense and defense
1 down = -5 offense and -5 defense, and if all down pips are full the battle ends. If there are no other opponents to occupy the winners time, they then have the choice of killing or sparing the loser.
When all the pips of one damage type are gone, a hit is automatically considered the next more damaging type. i.e. glances become gashes, gashes become downs, downs become kills.
Strange Sword: If you attack using any sword besides the one you named, you take a -2 offense penalty.
Sheathed: You may attack with a sheathed sword, which can only cause glancing blows and downs instead of gashes and insta-kills respectively.
Out of duel: If you and your opponent are not in combat i.e. you don't have your swords drawn, you take a -2 offense penalty when attacking.

Balanced build is: 1/1/3/5/0/0
Juggernaut build is: 1/2/4/3/1/-1
Nimble build is: 1/1/2/6/-1/1
No other builds planned at this time.
Armor can have a maximum of 2 points per item, chest, legs, hands, head, feet. An armor point is considered +1 glance pip, -1 defense, due to it's tendency to slow the wearer down. 4 points add an addition gash pip.

Every level(? don't have the leveling system totally worked out...) people select an ability, so far I have written down:
Dual Wielding: (requires a second katana to be in your possession) -1 offense, an additional attack is taken every other round with a Strange Sword penalty.
-Sheath Wielding: (requires Dual Wielding) An extra attack every other round in place of dual wielding. Sheathed, Strange Sword. Must be declared at the beginning of combat.
-Second Sword: (requires Dual Wielding and a second katana to be in your possession) You are allowed to name a generic katana, or to communicate with the soul of an already named katana in your possession. While using this katana as either your main or dual wielded sword you do not suffer from Strange Sword. This does not remove the native penalty for dual wielding.
Fast: +1 offense
Lithe: +1 defense
Counter: If an opponent rolls below 5 you automatically hit. Is possible for both opponents to use simultaneously.
Tough: +1 glance pip
Determined: (requires tough) +1 gash pip
Determinator: (requires determined) +1 down pip
Draw cut: You don't take an Out of Duel penalty when attacking.
Alert: You gain +2 defense when attacked Out of Duel.
Gambler: Call a number before you roll the d10 and state whether it should be a down or a kill, if you chose the correct number, it will kill/down the opponent. If you call the wrong number, your opponent gets an extra attack on you even if the roll would kill them. Will kill even when attacking with a sheath.
Light Armor Expert: You take no defense penalty when wearing 2 or less points of armor.
Medium Armor Expert: You take 3 less points of defense penalty when wearing 4-6 points of armor.
Heavy Armor Expert: Your defense penalty is halved when wearing 8 or more points of armor.

So far, I don't know what I'll use for levels, but I do have titles.
Apprentice: An apprentice does not begin with a named sword. Can only become a swordsman by RPing a situation in which they discover a sword with a compatible soul. It is suggested that GMs and players agree before hand on the scene, and should be used as an award for good playing or as the primary goal of an all apprentice storyline.
Swordsman: Begins with a named sword. Can be selected at character creation unless the GM explicitly states otherwise.
Sword Master: The legend goes that a swordmaster is one whose sword has tasted the death of a hundred swordsmen or that of a previous Sword Master. GMs should decide for themselves how this should be interpreted, and work it into their campaign as an event for a player they consider worthy.
Master Kuron: A title passed down between sword masters who are considered the greatest in the Cronin area. It can only be taken by an outsider by killing the current Master. It can be taken by any student of the master, of any rank, who can best him in a duel.
Master Shin: Same as the title Master Kuron, but for the Neo Shinjuku region.
Master Ken: A warrior considered the master of all things sword. Is generally given to a wandering master who holds no connection to the Neo Shinjuku or Cronin regions, but is considered to be at least on par with the masters from those regions.
Master Bushido: The title given to the head judge of a nation. Also a sarcastic means of telling someone they are too uptight and too exacting in the letters of the law.

My Powersupply is kaputz

After some creative outside fan usage, my power supply has finally overheated for the last time. The 600w monster was the only one in the entire house compatible with my rig, so, for the moment, my gaming rig is officially bricked.

I'm writing this on what used to be my secondary computer, I had lent to my parents, who are now lending it back. GeForce 3, 1.5 ghz, and 512ram... down from my 8800, dual core, and about 4 gigs of ram. Truth be told though, it's not playing Crysis on high that I'm really going to miss for the next little bit. No, it'll be the absence of my music and video collections.


Of Love and Loss

Jen leaned back, in her chair attempting to rub some focus back into her eyes. A quick glance at the clock showed it was morning already, though the light filtering in through the lone window in the back of the lab had been hinting of it for hours. Deciding that their staff must be ready by now, she picked up the phone and began dialing the hospital noted on the record she was viewing.

It had been twelve days, no thirteen now, since the incident at the hospital in Maine. The notes from her presentation were still here, scattered over the table under the current pile of personal files related to people reported missing from the hospital. Three of the nine had already been investigated thoroughly, one third of the work down, and only six more files to bore herself to death combing through.

A nurse finally answered the phone, politely directing her call to the records office. Cyan flavored screens appeared soundlessly in front of her eyes, ready for her to transpose the results into a text file to be stored in the implant. It would have been much more convenient to do this through the mesh, but most private records were stored offline. After a few moments of painfully tedious identity and authorization checks, she managed to gain access to the file she needed.

"Uh huh... and they were how long?" A few quick seconds of transposing passed, a crisp and easy to read paragraph forming naturally. "Thank you very much, Bridgette, I'll be sure your superiors know I received only your highest cooperation." With that the phone hit the hook and she sailed towards the door, barely even thinking to grab an energy drink on the way out.

* * *

It wasn't a dingy house, by any means, but something about it seemed remarkably uncared for. A thin layer of dust was beginning to collect on the outside surfaces, and what could be seen of the interior didn't seem terribly welcoming. The Arizona sun was still high in the sky, slowly burning through Jen's clothes until she moved just to mitigate the heat of the cloth.

The man behind the screen was looking over her identification with a sort of grim resignation rather than any sort of suspicion. Finally he opened the screen and let her in, leading the way through the small house as though walking down the aisle of a funeral.

"I figured someone like you'd be by. I mean... I'm not stupid, I know it aint normal. Still, I kinda figured I'd have more time. He's all I've got at this point." The man gave her a forlorn look out of his right eye. The left was only slightly open, and some mix of pink and white where the seven inch long scars passed over it. "If you're wondering about the scar, it's not like he meant to do it. I mean he was upset and he did what came natural, that's just how it all goes."

Jen cooed to the baby softly as she picked him up. "He'll be well taken care of, I'll promise you that."

The man sat down in a nearby chair and simply stared at the now empty crib. His mind was obviously far away, she couldn't help but wonder if it was thinking of what might have been if his wife had decided against staying with his mother-in-law in Maine for that weekend. The dead look in his eyes reminded her of that day she spent starring in the mirror after being told over the phone about her wife's cancer. The thoughts that had sifted through her mind, and the thought of facing that again after she died. With a shudder she took the child and left.

* * *

A Delta Force colonel sucked on a stick of nicotine gum while his plane began it's long trek home across the Atlantic.

Maxine woke up, deeply entwined with the pitch black stranger whose pheromones had summoned her the night before. The changes underwent during her challenge hadn't reverted back, and now she was even more confused... and very hungry.

A terminally ill woman in Peru stared out an open window, wondering about the work that had so suddenly wrapped itself around her wife's life.

And time marched on.


Some musical fun.

Sakura - Smiles Davis

Okay, now that I have the soulful and deeply edifying, even if you can't understand what they're saying, song out of the way...

The Gaye Pirate Song - The Bizzand

A great song, but try not to be drinking anything while listening to it or you'll probably choke yourself to death laughing.

SMT: Persona 3

Let me make this clear, Persona 3 is the single most brilliantly designed game I have ever played. The only games that I could even be convinced to dethrone it with, are the other Shin Megami Tensei games, since I haven't had the pleasure of playing them yet. Before I go on though, note the word I used, brilliant. I didn't say it was the most original, most novel, most beautiful, most popular, etc...

It's brilliant in it's subtlety, and the seemingly effortless grace with which it destroys the biggest problems in game design. By and large, games have the subtlety of a fireworks show followed by a Slayer concert. Loud, obnoxious, in your face, are practically watch words of the entire industry from top to bottom. Time is always measured in milliseconds (literally in many modding tool sets), story is an excuse of varying thinness to shoot/stab something, and choices are generally some amalgam of "our way or your fucked" and "I choose the blue door... both of them". Persona on the other hand is quiet, confidant, and capable.

There has been a constant argument as to how story and game play should interact. Generally the Eastern ideal is strict separation, while the Western ideal is to take personal realistic control of the story. One is generally too light for the palette, the other faces the problem that most fictional heroes are actually pants on head retarded/crazy and nobody would ever do the things they do especially if it is just a game. Persona approaches the problem by having a strictly defined set of rules in the game section, then begins to tie in your performance to choices made in the story section. Even better, if you choose to get involved in the side stories, it gives you a means to circumvent the rules in the game section. According to the rules of persona fusion, you cannot fuse together a persona of a higher level than your character's those are the rules. However by exploring the stories of minor side characters you form social links. These links give a persona of their archetype a huge experience bonus when fused, allowing the persona to level up, beyond the level of the main character.

This is hugely effected by the property of choice since you have to choose which friends to form and support those links with. Persona takes a diametrically opposed view to the Western ideals of choice, i.e. where the player is given the impression they can change the direction of the story, but have no options in how they experience the story. In Persona, the main storyline will advance as written, without deviation from the script, but you choose how you will experience it and in many ways who your character really is. You have some dialogue options, but more importantly, you will decide how you approach the game, where, and with whom you spend your time in-game.

I'll come back to choice in a moment, but first I need to talk about time. Playing Persona beginning to end takes a pretty damn long time, but that isn't even what makes it so important. In Persona, time flows in a relatively fluid fashion. playtime is packaged into days and sub packaged into times of day, most days are school days as well taking up the morning and afternoon in most cases. After school however, you have the chance to decide on a variety of destinations and characters to spend your time with, but this takes up a certain package of time. I'm not going to go into the various activities and exactly how they overlap or interact, but suffice it to say you can't do all things in one day. Not only that, but you can't do all things, or meet all people on all days. Learning how to manage your time between the dungeon crawling segments, the story segments, your school performance and getting to know the side characters you particularly care about is actually a daunting task at times. And even more than that, your time is quite literally limited, you only have about a year of in-game time to do whatever it is your going to do. The game also doesn't seem to imply that it's going to give you a freebie and let you suddenly win if you failed to prepare in all that time, each monthly encounter being a significant enough step up in strength to remind you that you probably could have been training more.

And there in lies the real choices the game presents. While you can't stop the game from moving to it's inexorable conclusion, you can choose how well well you "live" up to that point. The addition of status ailments that can utterly destroy your ability to play the dungeon crawl well and prevent you from exploring the story as you wish for failing to get sleep also means you can't just cut rest from the schedule to make it all fit. So every in-game day you face a wide array of choices that you know will effect your experience not only now but also far into the future across any number of individual play sessions.

Also there is a certain elegant balance to the system. Unlike many games where there is no appreciable penalty for gaming the system, in Persona you have to literally force yourself to cut out well written segments of side story in order to min/max your "build's" social links. Even more so, once skipped a player can't experience content again without starting from the beginning or some similar save point, meaning they can't actively choose to min/max their character and experience all the content at the same time, it's one or the other. This ties back into choice, since every choice comes with a reward, but every choice also comes with a penalty. It's perfectly normal to make a choice in Persona and wonder if an alternative choice might have been a wiser use of your time, and it's also perfectly normal to be happy you made the choice you did, because otherwise you might have missed out on what you just experienced.

Final word, brilliant in the way that a great work of art is. It'll be held up as an example of greatness long after myself and everyone reading this is six feet under. Though it's hit or miss whether it will ever be "main stream".

P.S. This is not a review in the usual sense. I'm not trying to inform a consumer as to whether or not they should go out and buy the game. The purpose is to point out great game design, so that other designers can learn from the brilliance I see in their work.


Visual Metaphor

I was watching The Hulk, season 2 episode 1, today and saw one of the best visual metaphors I've ever seen. There was a young boy playing in the waves with a frisbee, and he was trying to push the waves back out to sea with his little frisbee.

If there hasn't been a time I've felt like that in recent history, well I'd be surprised. Of course, I'm generally somewhat more frustrated and less enjoying the play time than the child in the surf. Some days it feels like the ocean just keeps pushing in, and I just keep pushing back. There is something important I want to keep it away from, I know that, but sometimes I don't know what.

My dreams have been changing lately, each one is somewhat stranger, more terrifying in it's own way. I... I'm not going to go into them.

I've still got a project to occupy my time, and I'm off job hunting again. I'm presently bank account free, so no monthly charges of any sort for me. Gonna enjoy netflix on the 360 while it lasts.


Media that has changed my life in some way.

Blade Runner
Pieta - Haruno Nanane
Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory
V for Vendetta
Ender's Shadow - Orson Scott Card
Blame! - Tsutomu Nihei
Superman Returns
The Dark Knight
The Prestige
How to Save a Life - The Fray
Toxicity - System of A Down
Adam's Song - Blink 182
Define Normal - Julie Anne Peters
Keeping You a Secret - Julie Anne Peters
Luna - Julie Anne Peters
Something About Us - Daft Punk
Mass Effect
Mechwarrior 2
Seven Kingdoms 2
Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri
Escape Velocity


Q & A : Open

Haven't done one of these in a while. I don't have any great ideas for where to take this one, so I'll leave it open. Any burning questions out there?

How to fix travel time blahs

How to fix MMO travel time blahs in one easy sentence.

Steal Left4Dead's AI director.