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I’ve been looking at recent updates for mods in Morrowind and Skyrim and believe it’s time to go back to try some out. Of course, every time I go through this days long process of searching for updates and exploring what’s new I find I still have the same questions on my mind?

1. How can I make the existing experiences in Skyrim more dynamic and consequential?

I always have trouble with this. I’ve talked about this quite a bit, and my problem with Skyrim is that I don’t get many choices about how things get done. I really can do anything because I’m the dragonborn OO-RAH but it’s boring to me. I need more differences than the order or location that radiant quests get to me. I need to have choices with consquences that leave room for chaotic interactions when they start adding up. The most interesting thing I’ve done is add loads of creatures and NPCs to the game (breaking the immersion) to get interesting interactions when groups slam into each other.

2. How can I make my interactions more personal and meaningful – like Morrowind or beyond Morrowind?

Morrowind is my standard for how I interact with NPCs. They know about local things and global things, you can ask them about potentially anything and get anywheres to a large paragraph to a one liner. Skyrim and Oblivion did away with this for voice acting, which has really harmed the storytelling and immersive aspects of the game and turned it to an action game. I need deeper interactions with choices and chances to explore characters and events.

As well, I never get to express my characters personality in the game. You would figure the Dragonborn for a bumbling schmuck based off of the vanilla responses. Is my dragonborn power hungry? Are they righteous? Are they aggressive, hotheaded or a gentle soul? I want to be able to express those things.

3. How can I play in a way I’ve never played before?

It’s hard to keep coming up with new ways to play in this kind of game once you understand most of the skills center around you playing with items or slashing or magic-ing things until they fall over. I need to find mods to present new situations and extend the game more towards a thinking and feeling person’s game.

What you need to do in mods nowadays Skyrim is cheap, lonely,and rough:

Skyrim is in the middle of a civil war. People are dieing, resources are getting spent or stolen, income from other provinces is tight to nonexistent, and the Empire in general has just gone through 200 years of Pure Suckage. You can’t be pumping more NPCs, more money, more animals, more spells and stuff into the game! As well, most of Skyrim’s population are inside cities or fortifications, and I am sure there shouldn’t be as many as there often are in my modded up games.

NPCs need to be voiced, featuring lots of options and conditions and responses. They should be people, where people usually have a natural bit of give and take. NPCs are people, too.

Quality over quantity.

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I think it’s been several weeks since I’ve mentioned how I’ve gotten into roll20 in order to play Shadowrun, and I thought I should take some time to update the blog and talk about my experience so far:

The first few weeks were difficult – getting online groups together currently takes a long time to coordinate and run. My group runs on a Saturday night, with small messages being passed over the week. Many people that apply to join groups don’t really have much to say, so I found myself increasing the requirements and formalizing and adding structure to the application process to my game.

After two weeks I had a group forming. About 3 weeks into the actual group, we’ve only just begun the meat of the adventure, with one person dropping out due to family obligations. I find myself going back to recruiting.

On the application side – my only problem right now is that players and GM don’t have easy way to look at the table area, the story they may have written, and character sheets at the same time. While being able to roll from the character sheet is very useful, it’s clear the implementation is currently immature and often breaks the flow of the game.

Referring to Shadowrun rules is difficult and also breaks the flow of the game, but I blame this on Catalyst and Topps more than the folks at roll20. 5th Edition materials are quite expensive right now and are not justified at their price in terms of quality or ease of use. I would like to refer to my previous post about “Book Gaming” for advice on what needs to be done to move the genre forward and make these games easier.

In other news, a lot has been going on with me and I haven’t had time to write or do much, so I’m mostly focused on being very busy or chilling out for a while.

I’m still waiting for a nice coupon for a 5th Edition book.

Rebranding Pen and Paper Gaming

We all have the same image of the Pen and Paper roleplaying group – 4-5 nerds with bags of dice and some character sheets sitting at the biggest table they have and talking about stat bonuses or acting out fantasies.

The thing is – that hasn’t been like that since I stopped playing 15 years ago.

15 years ago, the world wide web was brand new – new materials came out of Dragon Magazine or something we bought from one our now long-gone hobby shops. Things have most certainly changed. Many of us dropped off the face of the earth because we couldn’t find groups or maintain the hobby.

The internet and gaming have shifted to new markets of people playing games with new and more immediate formats.Why play a lofty, hard-to-organize and sell PnP RPG when easy and accessible MMORPGs are a click away FOR FREE?

Let’s face it – PnP RPGs have never been popular, and I’d say they’ve failed to grasp the new gamer market and practical RPG groups face extinction. The format is difficult to enter, difficult to maintain, and requires sets of skills that aren’t easily gotten.

Without question – the core of the problem is the books. We need the books, the books are expensive, and we don’t get to use them much. On top of that, they carry an incentive to be pirated and it’s tough to make a profit on them because of that on top of the logistic challenge of getting people together to enjoy even a single book. People need the books, so they steal them. People need the books, so they don’t play. They also don’t have that kind of time.

What we need to do is look at the core of the activity and build around it – the essence of the Tabletop RPG is a group of people working together to solve problems and act socially as a team to weave stories. That is what this is about. There’s already plenty of games that do this in some way, and they are popular. Some are as – if not more – complicated than some PnP games!

I have some good news, though. There is a partial failure of the RPG industry to grasp and use technology. The industry can still turn things around. They just have to do it. Here’s how:

Pen and paper is not how we should brand this genre anymore. Writing and calculating things on paper is something I did as a 15-year-old. It wasn’t a big deal, but we all knew that combat processes were bogging down our games, and while games have tried hard to streamline processes inside their games, they’ve mostly ignored new technology and how we use it.

What we should do – is rebrand Pen and Paper Gaming as Book Gaming.

You game from the book as normal, but use the tools a modern person would use to play. The books will just have to be better products.

While we’re at it – we should design products to use the new technologies we have. Online platforms like roll20.net are a great way for people to handle the logistics of gathering people for a game – creating enormous reach for players while providing a platform to automate or streamline mechanics in a game and let them flow smoothly. Applications and tools found online provide excellent companions to games. Why hasn’t the industry caught on? For certain, it’s caught on for PDF distribution of its products (even in preview PDFs), but that’s not enough.

What I see in the future is the purchase of a book that comes with extra stuff – 4-5 codes that are invites for online platforms or applications to get players informed and speed along the game’s logistic problems. Perhaps part of a social network so players can gather and organize quickly. These extra tools that we invent for ourselves become part of the products themselves. We leave paper behind and move to our phones, our tablets, or our computers while we play at a real or virtual table. Paper will still be around for those of us that are still partially Analog, but the format moves forward into modern times – reducing piracy, increasing participation and avoiding extinction.

Another potential benefit for game designers – online resources can be easily added to and updated. While I’d love a coupon for a new Shadowrun 5th Edition book that is well organized and well-edited, I’d much prefer it to be correct and well-edited the first time. I’d like access to some kind of online item catalogs or reference materials. What we need here are better products and new companion services.

I really think that the PnP genre is a desirable format in a world that now demands instant gratification, usually at the cost of depth. It also strongly follows the Board Game genre. While board games are usually more self-contained but carry sufficient depth with high structure, PnP games are all sandbox games that rely on creativity and social participation. Social networks and Software applications are going to be critical to reaching new and existing audiences. After solving these problems, the last barrier to playing is controlling cost of entry.

I’d love to play these games like I did years ago, but much like years ago – it’s hard to gather and organize a group of interested people, get everyone the same resources, and maintain that group and hold people’s interest.

Hello all! It’s been a furious two weeks of reading, research, and writing.

I’ve registered on roll20.net, which offers a decent online platform for roleplaying games. It doesn’t have all the features I need, but I’m making it work.

As I’ve been pouring over existing material for Shadowrun, I’ve been thinking that it needs active support from fans to succeed. That’s something I can contribute to.

  • Android and iOS applications.
  • Converting Shadowrun 4th Edition materials (2072 to 2075? some stuff should still be around)
  • Creating player-made materials (all these companies in the 4th edition corporate guide and no full product lines?)
  • Modifications to existing apps (Shadowrun Returns, roll20, fantasygrounds application mods)

I think I can fit somewhere in this. I think Shadowrun is famous for its shopping, so I think the second bullet will be a start. Writing a netbook. It’s a lot of time and energy, though. I don’t know if it’s worth it, since I’m kind of in a rather low place in life right now.

It’s just something to think about, but I think I’m content trying my best with the several easy-to-read guides I’m making for new players and getting new people into Pen and Paper gaming (Although…I think it’s time we called it something else…more on this later?)

So uhhh…Shadowrun.

My continued unemployment, the associated isolation due to not having any money to go or do anything, and the stress of considering the quickly approaching end of my debt grace period has gotten me into Shadowrun.

I’ve written so much introductory material for new players I’ll be publishing it here as soon as I refine and edit it.

I want to introduce people to pen and paper gaming, and it means I have to rebrand it a bit – challenge people’s perception of it, fold it into the things they already are into. In some ways, I have to bring it into the information age and utilize tools that allow easy organization of new groups and flow of play.

So yes, I’m putting this on my resume as an accomplishment because the challenge of what I want to accomplish is very real to me.

Stay tuned for informative Shadowrun stuff to appear on the blog as side pages.

I’ve been playing the Metal Gear Solid HD collection and have completed Sons of Liberty. Moving onwards to Metal Gear Solid 3, I noticed I could play the MSX ports of Metal Gear 1 and 2.

Something stuck out to me with Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake’s (1990 MSX ported to PS3) opening:

This game takes place during a fictional 1999 amidst a serious energy crunch. Solid Snake is dispatched to rescue a scientist.

The opening credits capture a tense, dangerous and mysterious feeling as the player sees computerized charts, data, and schematics of the Metal Gear D, a bipedal tank capable of launching experimental nuclear warheads. Metal Gear’s central themes have always included Nuclear proliferation and the nature and effects of warfare, and as I watch the opening to this game and look back on the games I’ve played in the series – whose stories have grown tremendously over 25 years – I think: “This game could be remade and still retain a lot of its own character”.

The opening builds tension for the player – they are heading into a secret, dangerous, and huge mission to secure the OILIX formula and find something much larger to accomplish before leaving.

The later Metal gear games take on incredible issues involving war and the effects of war and spans several decades of lore.  A remake of  Metal Gear 2 and its predecessor would have to capture the same thematic elements of the current franchise, mesh with the canonical story as well as the plot of the original games,  and create the atmosphere of an energy-crunched world looking for a bandage to a huge petroleum problem (OILIX).

Solid Snake, coming off of the Outer Heaven mission in the first game, invades a rogue state that has captured itself a stockpile of nuclear weapons, and is secretly working on a new Metal Gear. He then infiltrates Zanzibarland to retrieve a kidnapped scientist and discovers the reason for the kidnapping – A new Metal Gear is being created.

The remake could proceed faithfully in this fashion, but I’d like to point out a few things that could mark some serious improvements:

The game features a plot that is still relevant but slightly forgotten in today’s international issues and conflicts, as well as brings up the loss of life and family associated with Outer Heaven’s destruction. A remake could continue in the vain of Metal Gear Solid 3, 4 and the upcoming MGS5 (which presumably takes place before Metal Gear 1) to be emotionally evocative and engaging and pull the player into a world of scarcity, war, and violence that is far away from their immediate experience.

As well, the last few games in the Metal Gear franchise have had players fight quite a few Metal Gears without fully appreciating even a single Metal Gear’s capability. A remake would have to make Solid Snake’s mission felt by the player – Metal Gear is dangerous for a reason. Nuclear weapons are extraordinarily dangerous on a catastrophic level that is actually difficult to fully understand, even compared to the scales of violence and war that are discussed and shown in the franchise. Creating a game and story where the player is shocked, disgusted, and most of all – scared – of Metal Gear will be key to the game’s success.

I think that, if Kojima ever chooses to remake the first two games in the franchise – these are things that should be kept in mind and achieved.

So – You want to make a game?

Games are hard.

There’s two views around here about software in general – that software is engineered or it’s crafted. I’m a “software is crafted” person. It requires writing and revision on such a constant level that you can’t compared it to other engineering projects like a bridge or house. The bridge HAS to be built right. The house doesn’t suddenly change to plans that involve no right angles. The videogame *does*, however.

A lot of the time, the game you make doesn’t become the game you originally had in mind. This is okay and not okay, because it challenges your ideas and planning, as well as your clarity of Vision when you conceive of the game in the beginning.

So – you wanna make a videogame. Great. I’m sure that idea in your head is ready to go, so write it down, and ask yourself these questions:

1. What are my three big things? My three things this game is ABOUT. What is your game about? The themes, primary goals. Goals are so important to processes and creative efforts it’s crazy.

2. What is the experience I’m trying to bring to the player?

3. How big do I want this game to be?

Those are all good starter questions. If you answer #1 and #2, you will have an idea of how big #3 will be and plan accordingly. Start answering those questions!

After that – you may want to get right to implementing mechanics and stuff, but I’m going to drag you back to goals. What do you want to accomplish? Give your ideas and vision time to hone themselves and mature through…TIME.

Yes, TIME. Take time to think about it. Real thinking takes time, and it’s laborious and fragile, so get out of your normal space and go think someplace else  about the things you are doing. Remember, software is crafted, and not thinking about the pieces of game that need to be programmed is a sentence to a lot of unneeded revisions, bug hunting and squashing, and getting mired in poor design.

Poor design is a disaster waiting to happen – you will be going along, doing your thing, making your game, when you run into an impasse. A huge concrete wall that says : “You totally can’t do that, and now it doesn’t work”. This is a sign you need to redesign something. You can’t avoid a redesign by any means but experience and understanding and knowledge. You just have to get those things. It’s okay, games are hard.

From here, I could give tips about problems you may end up encountering, but I’ve said everything you need to do already! Establish goals, take time to think about every part, record your steps or thoughts and revise them as you work or get feedback. Step by step, you will complete the project.

 

I really regret not following Pantheon: Rise of The Fallen with the zeal of the passionate MMO Gamer than I once was years ago.

…because it looks like a complete train wreck and a total scam!

I had talked about this in another post, and to summarize what I thought, I had said that Pantheon’s lack of transparency, concrete and substantial materials from inside the project and organization would make the entire thing look like a scam or a doomed project of an incorporated company just trying to keep itself paid.

Well, I was sadly way more right than I wanted to be.

The Kickstarter failed, the company is dragging development along without much proof any development actually happened, and I’m hearing the most laughable things about the development team’s efforts in silencing both legitimate and inflamed criticism about development and the status of the (nil)game, as well as the financial and compensatory practices of the company. Moderators and volunteers that left out of disgust claim the internal drama and panic over at the official forums is a train wreck. I agree!

From a forum poster called Frenzic who was a moderator and contributor to the project community:

It gets better. This project has been collecting forum subs for months now at the tune of over 2000 per month. Brad said that he would pay people out of the funds that came in, yet very few actually got any money. The ones that did are the biggest of the ass kissers, the ones that didn’t are those that had questions about the funds or the project. Even the guys that got paid were only paid a day’s work at best. This is a small scale of what happened to the last set of devs… Sigh, history repeats so quickly.

Another round of crowdfunding is being started. I am going to be plain about this, this time:

Do not give Brad McQuaid or his companies any money.

Other goodies I’ve dug up:

We all know that Brad paid himself from VRI $45,000 for 5 months work in advance. This is common knowledge and was posted both on this site and on the official Pantheon Facebook page. This makes it canon.

That is $9000/month. Based on what Salim told K-TAM Radio this was likely done in March. This would mean the months from April to August Brad is not getting any money at all from the project as he has already been paid.

There is more stuff like this, with sources definitely above rumor-status. In short: Appalling.

You do not go hat-in-hand to people you consider third rate investors and unaccountable to, ask them for free money, and then fail you make yourself accountable to anyone by turning around and then paying yourself for doing nothing. You just don’t do that. If you gave money to this man or this company – you should feel he broke a law and defrauded you of money. Simple as that.

If you give money to Visionary Realms, INC after reading this blog entry, you are a fool.

This company and project are, in short, a scam. I had held the hope, even as critical and skeptical as I was when I began discussing this game on this blog, that McQuaid had learned and grown since the Disaster that was Vanguard. That somehow, he had surrounded himself with smart, capable people that could run a business and successfully develop something, and had something to show us after years of what we would have hoped to have been drug counseling, soul searching, self-improvement, and writing.

It really does look like he’s done none of that. I’m very disappointed. I feel very let down.

This is comically, scandalously bad. The project is producing essentially nothing, the company is paying itself to do nothing, and its investors should feel cheated, the incorporated status of the company investigated and dealt with for possible fraud, and this Vaporware game laughed into the history books where it belongs. The person that chose to create and champion this project just paid himself and Peaced Out, scraping a few dollars here and there along with him with rumors following that he’s trying to take back money he gave out for compensation here and there.

Pathetic. Shameful. Sad. Tragic.

I am finished discussing Project Pantheon on this blog outside of mocking it. I am passionate about the kind of game that it claimed to be, but I am also now passionate about projects being run well by people.  I am now 31 years old. (I turned 31 just last night, Happy Birthday me!) I’m tired of wasting my time on something like this, feeling instead I should just detach myself and move on. Well, that’s where I am, now.

Pantheon? You’re done with me. Get out of my office. Don’t ask me for a reference.

My next blog post will more than likely be more about project management or development, if not about E3 and upcoming games I want to see and games I want to play recently. Enough of discussing incompetent, thieving, and unproductive companies. This blog is about games, let’s get to it!

The day began cool and overcast – a sure sign of rain at some point in the day. I took an amazing friend and my mother with me to my university very early to obtain easy parking. Another good friend would be on their way soon enough.

I arrived and showed them around. My mother didn’t know much about my school or what I did there or how I managed to do any of it, but as the first person in my family to graduate with a college degree, it was expected that the last ten years of where I had been or how any of it is done would be hard to explain. The amazing friend had flown thousands of miles to meet me for the first time and hopefully not the last. The ceremony was at hand.

I have been working towards the degree I was about to have conferred upon me for 10 years. I had endured countless hardships, setbacks, and crises, but today it all came to fruition.

I eventually separated to take my place and gather some time for myself alone to think about what was about to take place. I would be standing for over an hour.

I spoke with another graduating candidate on and off about courses and other things. The drizzle had begun, and ponchos were distributed. I had seen some somewhat familiar faces from around campus, but not being close enough with them, I found it difficult to join them in the merriment they were experiencing as more and more robed students made their way to their positions.

Students around me furiously took pictures, video, and made calls and texts to each other, even during the walk into the stadium and during ceremony. Over a decade older and without many friends at the university – I was more interested in the solemn feeling of ceremony; the acknowledgement I worked hard for was serious and long-fought. We marched in two groups – hardly able to avoid stopping because of people spontaneously hugging to take pictures and make phone calls. For such educated people I wondered how we were so unable to form two single-file lines.

Slowly, I marched into the wide view of the stadium and into my seats. The largeness of the affair was awe-inspiring. Surrounded by very excited candidates, I stood solemnly, ready to get this done. The drizzle had ended, but the air was primed for rain very soon.

Many words were said by rather important people. I was reminded of how thankful I was, and fought with myself from breaking down – slowly being overwhelmed by the emotions running through me. Ten hard fought years. Finally. This was it. I was going to be free at last. It wasn’t for nothing, and so many times I thought it really was or would be.

Eventually, each college within our university was asked to rise, and mine was called. The large constituency rose up – hungry and eager to be acknowledged – and let out a roar and yell that sounded like a war-hungry host ready to devour and trample everyone on the field in order to leave the field alive with their degrees. It wasn’t only hand waving and hat waving, or mere hooting and hollering. Our fists were in the air – our defiant fists and roaring voices; grasping invisible heads of the savage beasts we wrestled with and decapitated – invisible blood running down our arms and faces and onto our regalia. We had fought with a beast and had slain it, and were prepared for another.

If we had been asked to kill the other colleges in order to graduate right there, I think we might have.

The ceremony ended and the rain we expected finally began. Floods of people began easing out of the stadium, seeking shelter wherever there was a door to a building where they could meet up with friends and family.  The rain continued on, but the warmth of the car and a ride home with my flattened mind with its swirling mixture of emotions was comforting as I proceeded into some festivities.

After a great meal and some good talk with my two friends, I finally made it home after festivities. I closed the door to my room, thanked everyone online and cried. I couldn’t hold in my own feelings anymore. I couldn’t believe it, but it was over, and I did it.

Today was, without a doubt, one of the best days of my life. I had finally made it, and acknowledged with the triumph I had accomplished. I write this blog post for myself, who needed a cathartic moment for myself in writing. This blog is as much a record of my progress at my university as it is my place to discuss my thoughts and ideas with games, gaming, and software. I hope this really is the turning point of my life, which will just be amazing in the best ways from here on out.

Graduation is near!

Barring any sort of major surprises or disasters, I’ll be graduating next week. I’d have spent 10 years on this journey with numerous disasters and constant hardship at my back. I will have a degree in Technological Systems Management.

I’m ready to say a few things about it – quite a bit. I’m ready to shake things up in a company. I’m ready to get amazing things built. I’m ready to organize and build a new life for myself to get out of poverty and start enjoying life. There’s a lot in my way, but I’d like to hope that this is where my life really turns around and becomes amazing in a way other people’s lives won’t be.

As for myself, here’s what I’ve been up to lately:

I’ve been programming on and off and getting some more insights about maintaining software, getting user feedback, and acting on it. It’s interesting how, even if you convey your intentions and vision well, people may not share it for your product – no wonder games are built and marketed so “safe”.

I’ve also learned a lot first hand about Agility. Your vision isn’t always right or fun, you need users to check your work and see if it’s functional for them and to challenge your ideas so you can refine them and see where they are weak, where they don’t fit your mission and vision and adjust. Sometimes they don’t have to like what comes of it, but you’ve created a better product.

I’ve also been playing games lately. I’ve gotten into SMITE, which the latest piece of Hi-Rez shovelware- it’s fun though, and faster paced than DOTA, which I can appreciate nowadays, since DOTA is looking like a game more for college students with many hours of time on their hands to develop their games and be involved with the game.

I’d love to talk about this topic later, actually. It’s been on my mind a lot in the past year or so. I’ve talked with people about it lately – and I think as we get older and find ourselves on the other side of a gamer’s experience, we are confronted with choices and situations that we need to do something with. More about it later…

I’ve picked up a few other new games for myself, including tinkering with Skyrim again. Of course, it doesn’t last long before I’m bored of it, but I’ve talked about that plenty.