Ok! I keep putting off digging into this in favor of other things, but I finally found a moment that felt like a good time to catch up. This is going to be a fair number of words, so I hope you don’t mind if I end up doing more than one post. I like where this is going! I’m saying that now, because I have a tendency to come on a bit strong when I critique, but I really do like what you’re doing and it has me quite excited and my brain’s a-buzzing with ideas.
I’ll start with Loyalty
Can you give orders to a PC with no Loyalty? It seems odd that your ability to deny a position of authority is a limited resource.
I think the move works even though it’s complicated. If Apocalypse World can have two moves that are essentially the same just to provide different questions for reading people and reading situations, ME: TAWH can have one move with variable stats. That said, my temptation is always to simplify where possible. I’m also not sold on Dig In. I like the idea, but given the specific way Dig In works, I’m not sold. Act Under Fire has a much more universal 7-9 than Dig In does. I really like Dig In’s 7-9, but I’m not sure it’s very satisfying to fail to dig in, or partially succeed to Dig In in this circumstance–and that’s an important part of the *World system. Success at cost and Failure is always just as interesting.
As for the new ideas in your second post: Not liking this much at all. Giving XP provides much better incentive than giving loyalty . Effectively, loyalty is a currency you can use to resist orders. Which you get by following orders. Well, if I want to disobey orders, I’m not really being incentivize to obey by being told I can more effectively disobey in the future, am I? Or for that matter by being told I can more capably give orders to you in the future (if I’ve got it backwards)? The flow goes like this:
Sorry about the poor quality. Point being, its a bit complicated either way, but that complication is hopefully masked by satisfying payoff and a satisfying connection to the rest of the game. With loyalty generated by the move itself, though, it feels too self-contained for how complicated it is. I might be misreading exactly who can spend the loyalty gained this way (as I’ve alluded to), but just in case I’ve thought about it both ways and I still don’t like it.
Support Your Team
I love the move, but the name doesn’t quite make sense. You’re biting the bullet, trading their danger for your own. It’s a great move, and it belongs here–but it’s not really “Support Your Team.” Maybe “Draw Fire” or “Take the Hit” or “Bite the Bullet” or … any number of more accurate names.
As to the +1 forward, I’m iffy just as you say you are in the post. It’s based on the team not being hassled actively–but what exactly does that mean would happen if they were neither supported nor hassled actively? How does the relative benefit of this move play into other moves and deciding when a thing is a move versus something that just happens? I think if nothing else, this move needs a different initiation than “when you dedicate your efforts to aiding your team.” You can do that without being anywhere near them! To work otherwise as written, I feel it needs to clearly relate to taking attention off of the rest of the team, and possibly even be more specific than “your team.” What if various players/characters are doing various things against various threats in various places? I love the core theme and mechanic of the move, but I don’t see the larger picture–and this is a basic move so the larger picture is really important. This move needs to be triggered better.
One final word on this move: you say the “implication” is that you’re not trying to decimate the enemy or keep yourself safe. The later is clear to me from the move as written. The former is not. Something to consider.
Bold Aggression leaves me a bit confused. A 7-9 seems better for the enemy than it is for you, and that isn’t often appropriate in a Basic Move. Escalate their threat above and beyond? That sounds like a hard move!
The 10+ is also a bit odd. I like the idea, but “put yourself in a spot in the process” is a bit … narratively awkward? If you completely put your foes in their place, what ways can you be put in a spot? I can think of quite a few, but it’s tricky to think of things that are a) directly relevant to the move being made and b) just as threatening while enemies are completely in their place and c) tweakable to different kinds of situations. There’s getting trapped … but that won’t always make sense without feeling a little too contrived.
Last, a question: if the assumption is that you’re plinking away at each other, that means the default shooting action is simply harm-for-harm as established, right? I’m trying to get a feel for the balance of power here. Clearly, you can make foes as tough or weak as you like so it’s quite adjustable. Conceptually, though, harm-for-harm is very lethal. In AW, you have a lot of ways to inflict harm that aren’t harm-for-harm, as well as to avoid harm. Even “look through crosshairs” and harm-for-npcs guidelines aside, AW characters are tough as nails; add those two elements in and you’re all badass forces of nature. Harm-for-harm, alone, is quite lethal though. Is this move supposed to preserve that relative lethality, give players an equalizer to reduce that lethality, or what? As a player, I think I’d hesitate to take this over harm-for-harm or Support Your Team (letting the team attack while I lay down cover fire, for example). It sounds scary.
I like Dig In and it partially answers my questions about Lethality. Combat IS lethal, but you can keep your head down very effectively meaning it’s only as lethal as you are impatient/inExperienced. I have a tactics question though: obviously poking your head up to take potshots at the enemy isn’t staying focused on your own safety. But assuming you aren’t under a veritable hail of gunfire it might be focusing on your own safety to take a shot at the guy coming around the corner you’re tucked behind or similar. How do you imagine that sort of thing working? What happens when an enemy advances without advantage on your entrenched position, and you’re focused on personal safety? I like Dig In just fine, and my questions about it come more from it’s surroundings in than from the move out.
Enact a Crazy Plan
I like the list idea less than the Savyhead-like “you’re there with what you need” thing. In some ways Q&A feels more like planning, but at the same time, being given information doesn’t feel as much like planning as just straight-up establishing. On the third hand, neither evokes the feeling of quad-to-the-wall bravery and hijinks the name implies. This is the problem I ran into while trying to write a similar move from my Sprawl hack I was working on until I found the lovely The Sprawl–it’s hard to capture the spirit of coming up with a Crazy Ivan in a move. It’s usually just better to let the players try to pull off a crazy plan more naturally. Here’s what the Sprawl does instead:
When you attempt to gain a tactical advantage over an opponent, through advanced planning, careful positioning, or clever manoeuvring, roll+Mind. On a 10+ hold 3. On a 7-9, hold 1. You may spend 1hold per roll for:
• Inflict +1 harm.
• Take -1 harm.
• Receive +1 forward.
• Receive +AP forward (see Weapon Tags in Chapter 7: Assets).
Having a plan gives you a bonus! Is it a crazy plan? Maybe! Does it work? Maybe not! But just by having an attempt to gain tactical advantage in a way the MC deems appropriately attempty, they get a bonus. This increases both the number of cool tactical things players do and stupid, nutty “so crazy it’s gotta work” things they do. Either way it’s a win for the table and the players.
Playbook moves for the Soldier:
Here’s the plan: When you plan a Mission, everyone to whom you assign a task takes +1 ongoing while they act on that task according to the plan. Anyone who rolls a miss or goes off the plan loses their bonus for that mission. If you get paid, mark experience.
I love it when a plan comes together: At the start of a mission, roll+Edge. 10+ hold 3, 7-9 hold 1. During the mission, spend hold 1 for 1 for the following effects:
• You have that piece of gear that you need, right now.
• You appear in a scene where you are needed, right now.
On a miss, hold 1 anyway, but your opponent has predicted your every move. The MC will hold this over your head until the worst possible moment.
I Love It When A Plan Comes Together is a lot like your sketch of Enact A Crazy Plan, but nicely limited. It doesn’t let you prepare too generically. It sets guidelines. Whatever such guidelines make sense for your move, make sure to have them. This makes the move less paralyzing, makes it feel less overpowered, and makes players feel more “clever” when they use it. All of these are important.
“Here’s The Plan” is a rock solid leadership move that worked out beautifully in play. It created this lovely tension between getting a string of +1s by following the plan and doing what you really wanted to do given changing circumstances. It also had this lovely psychological effect whereby losing the +1 by failing a roll in the execution of the plan usually caused players to decide that the plan had gone to shit and it was time to just wing it and to crazy stuff or bail. Lys and her player would be annoyed, of course, but the easy response was “it’s not like I get +1 anymore.” Also that Xanatos Gambit on-a-miss clause? Sexy stuff. Love it.
Survey a New Planet
I like the Survey a New Planet move. Simple in play, but with a cool switcheroo on a miss. Giving players constrained control over the setting is always nice, because it’s not as intimidating as the MC’s job but it’s just as rewarding and produces nice results because players are often a lot better at this sort of thing than they realize.
Not a lot to say, since these are very rough sketches, but I like them for what they are. An idea for Turians, though:
Turians are Disciplined, Hierarchical/United and Imposing. Everyone knows what they’re capable of. They’re respected. They have one of the more powerful militaries in the galaxy, they’re physically imposing, and they tend to stick together–Turians are expected to fall in line but in turn, they protect their own. Especially since they’re also one of three/four council races, all of that means badassery of the individual aside you want to be extra careful when you fuck with a Turian.
Whew! Hope that’s helpful.
So. I think I understand why people were upset about the ending. But benefiting from the extended cut and a general disinvestment with the Reaper side of the plot in general, I didn’t find it overly grating. After reading spoilers I’m confused as hell as to why Leviathan isn’t part of the main game, quality aside as I haven’t played it and don’t intend to.
I chose the left-hand path. It made the most sense. It felt like the choice I had the most right to make, and while it was a great personal sacrifice, it felt fulfilling. I can see why people would have been let down by the non-extended cut version where basically everything goes to shit in what is functionally the same way no matter what you choose. Being prepared for the final fight felt like it mattered, and after a perusal of the wiki to see how the other two endings would have panned out and how EMS factored into it … I think that feeling was accurate.
I think this Kotaku article put one thing I felt really well.
The larger problem for the ending, though, is that it leans on the series’ least interesting theme, and even then disregards everything that the games have conveyed on the subject.
I’m not sure I agree that the organic/synthetic thing is the least interesting theme in the series, but it’s not in my top two either. The article goes on to say:
After all, the genuine synthetic intelligences present throughout the series have generally not been inimical to organic life. The robotic Geth, although initially presented as aggressive foes, are later shown to have been the victims of preemptive attacks by the Quarians. Even the ones that joined the Reapers in the first game did so out of a desire for self-advancement, not out of intrinsic malice towards organics. The other true AI the series presents is EDI, whose voluntary aid repeatedly proves crucial in helping Shepard’s missions succeed, and who might even be in love with Joker. Though the game undercuts itself by almost always placing synthetic lifeforms on the business end of Shepard’s gun, in dialog and plot the synthetics are neutral, or even allies.
This expresses one of my major disconnects with the second game. After coming to an understanding of who and what they Geth were … they continued to show up as enemies even with Legion in tow, long after the Omega relay jump and the events on-board the Geth satellite thereafter. This sort of inconsistency could have been smoothed over with explanation, commentary, or some efforts to emotionally disinvest me from the Geth. As it was, I felt my new investment in them was being betrayed because the context of their presence had changed and I was expected to behave the same way as before. One thing I appreciated so much about the absolute insanity of The Citadel (DLC) is that it was unabashed. It had moments of poignancy and moments of joking. Some of both fell flat, but I don’t think it ever goofed becasue it took itself too seriously or misunderstood elements of pacing. When things were inconsistent in the DLC, it was because the game very decisively set consistency aside.
While it relied on some tired “lampshade but keep on trucking” humor, it had many more isntances of genuine self-subversion and parody. Perhaps I’m reading it completely wrong, but the use of paragon/renegade interrupts for a menial slog of a task when hanging out with James Vega in the apartment was both both cute and elegant; you could stop just by taking too long and missing the prompt, and you still would have gotten the joke. But if you keep going to the end … the payoff isn’t some big hilarious joke. Just … the normal response you’d expect following the in-fiction activity. Which in turn both makes the scene feel more authentic and has a little layer of meta-commentary about the Paragon/Renegade system embedded in it. That kind of slick, dual-purpose design was found throughout. The Citadel DLC and it made me quite happy.
It was refreshing to know that the dev team understands why their games keep going haywire at the end, and that they can make fun of their mistakes without compromising their pride for their successes.. It’s disappointing that they weren’t able to commute that into tightening up the endings to Mass Effect 1 and 3, sorting out the thematic and tonal heart of Mass Effect 3, smoothing gaps between gameplay and fiction in Mass Effect 2, and avoiding their most grevious plot contrivances (really, not a shred of self-awareness about using the SAME space-thing as two different space mac-guffins in two different games in the trilogy?).
All in all, it’s been a good ride. The best. By rights I should have cried in a few places I didn’t … but there was just something missing. And that’s enough to make me disappointed even as I heartily commend the team for a damn spectacular trilogy, and keep Martin Shepard and company close to my heart.
I was going to end there, but I realized I have an excellent excuse now to shoehorn one of the best parts of The Citadel LDC meaningfully into the shoe I cobbled in the preceeding paragraphs:
Mass Effect 3 is a compelling ride so far. I haven’t finished it, but I love it. There are some things that just don’t quite come together, and while this is not surprising, it’s unusually disappointing to be hit with awkward dialog and non-sequitor character reactions when so much is so beautifully executed. I’m so invested in these characters, cliched and housed in Sci-fi channel level plot as they may be. As with almost all Bioware games I’ve played, the core of each character is superbly captured in the line-by-line writing and the relationships between characters (romantic ones with the PC aside) are also superbly realized and nuanced (and the plot is bonkers as shit). Characters in Mass Effect are visually compelling and voice acted superbly, too, which helps to no end. The zany, crappy plot I can forgive here more than elsewhere because I’m used to Sci-fi this unbelievable; the emotional ups and downs are delivered well once you allow for the rules of this haphazard fiction, because I care that the characters care–I don’t need any other excuse to care, really, unless something as fictionally awful as the final boss fight in ME2 happens. That about sums up where I’m approaching Mass Effect from overall and now onwards to the heart of the matter: love in mass effect and how it’s worked out so far.
A Tomb Raider Review
Tomb Raider is an odd game for me. It very much comes out of the CoD generation of games with it’s efforts to ape films, the splashes of water and blood onto the third person camera lens from time to time, the regenerating health system, the familiar “rpg elements”: simple weapon upgrade system, XP and simple character upgrades. I’m by no means a proponent of the Old School or Bust crowd finding plenty of tediousness in a lot of older titles, but I’m not a particularly big fan of the generic, soupy, sloppy feel than most of these shiny, cinematic games have and I hate that they feel like they play themselves. I’m fond of linear games, adventure games, IF games and a host of other sub-genres that limit player agency but I simply don’t enjoy the way these “new school” games do it. I did, however, enjoy Tomb Raider. Let’s look at why.
By way of RPS, I’ve been introduced to a Project: Awakened, which on the surface looks like one of my top five futuristic dream games. It’s a super-powered affair in which you create a character with any sort of power combo you want from the palette of abilities the developers create. You then go through what sounds like a semi-open world single-player campaign as your custom-tailored, super-powered badass.
The catch being that I don’t think it can possibly work. A single-player campaign that accommodates arbitrary power combinations in a balanced way while still allowing each combination to feel unique? Challenges with multiple paths that feel adequate for the staggering tactical possibilities this game brings to bear? It’s possible … but not with $500,000 via Kickstarter.
There’s been a substantial gap in my recent posts due to school, but I intend to post a few reviews here over the next couple of weeks. I’ll be learning how to play Dota 2, digesting six months of Roleplaying Games in blog form, and discussing game design.
That’s always the plan, though, isn’t it? We’ll see what happens.
In the meantime, Happy New Year. May 2013 bring you many games.
P.S. A temporary message to the folks at Google+. I would very much like to have my name (Gwathdring) accepted. I recently set up an account and supposedly proving ownership of accounts to which your name is attached is helpful in smoothing the name acceptance process. To that end, here is a link to my Google+ account.
I don’t know how much of your service is automated, but if you scroll down to the bottom of this page, you’ll find the name Gwathdring associated with this blog and it is in the signature of every post. I’ve also directed you to my profile on Rock Paper Shotgun.
You can only expect so much “established” identity from individuals who do not have large social networks in the first place. I do not have a very large social network and thus can only substantiate my identity so far. I’ve gone by Gwathdring for a number of years and I have done so in public spaces on the Internet. Gwathdring is not a made up character I pretend to be, but I name I go by in many communities across the web. I’m not using it to hide anything or make myself difficult to find. Quite simply, I’m most interested in being found by the people who know me as Gwathdring; I have other ways to communicate with people who know me by other names and there really isn’t much overlap in those communities. According to the literal wording of your policy, this should be perfectly sufficient. If your policy is mis-worded, and this isn’t good enough for you because it is not my full legal name and there is no documentation associated with it, than I’m simply not interested in your web service.
While I’m posting things from this week’s Sunday Papers:
If there is a reason that people find my games to be memorable, it is that they have grace. Just a little bit. It’s why people are moved by The Fabulous Screech or inspired by The Infinite Ocean. Alphaland is all about a moment of grace, and it is the central theme of Arcadia, too. And if there is a way out of the Museum of Broken Memories, it is through grace.
Even Traitor, my most mechanics-heavy game, works primarily because it remembers that revolutions, as ugly and inelegant as they are, are deeply related to grace, because grace is itself a revolution against the meaninglessness of the world.
This isn’t how we’re supposed to talk about game design, and I’m sure someone is going to come along in a moment to tell me I’m pompous and pretentious. Seriousness is frightening, after all, when it’s not used to confirm the simplistic cynicism that fuels the adolescent egos that make up so much of the internet.
–Jonas Kyratzes (<— go ahead and read the rest)
I appreciate the sincerity of it. I particularly appreciate the assertion that allowing emotional seriousness to enter into the discussion does not make one pretentious simply because others choose to read less emotional content into the medium of games.
Whether or not grace is the word for everyone, surely most gamers can recognize the feeling of transcendence and attachment in their favorite games and can appreciate a design style that puts that genre of sensations above bullet-point features or the much-touted “fun.” In particular, I think this is a nice antidote to the idea I’ve encountered often in gaming forums–that story doesn’t matter or shouldn’t be the focus of a game. But grace can live almost entirely in the tone and narrative of a game such as Bastion rather than in the mechanics of play. If we value grace, then, we cannot dismiss gaming narratives as tacked-on remnants of older mediums.
It also highlights something that makes getting into AAA games rather difficult for me. So many of them seem to be designed from two ends–the artistic side and the acronym side–that eventually meet in the middle somewhere. “It will be an FPS that has [specific features] that tells the tale of [what-have-you] in the land of [some place].” This is not necessarily the wrong way to design a game, but it often lends itself to asynchronous experiences where the story being told doesn’t match up with the buttons being pressed. This is especially disenchanting when both pieces feel incredibly well designed yet conflict with one-another.
All that said, I have to quibble: “But authors don’t spend all day talking about verbs and adjectives [...] .”
Many do, in my experience. In particular the one’s seeking this grace Kryatzes speaks of. I agree with the general sentiment about how the games industry is more rigid and robotic and feature-oriented than other creative industries, but I think grace usually requires a good deal of mechanical effort and “engineering” as Kryatzes called it. There are always artists who run on raw inspiration, but those who run on honed craft are no less likely to have this quality of grace in their work.
But that’s just a quibble. Go read it if you haven’t followed the link already. It’s an elegantly written idea, if nothing else; and I think quite a bit else.
Edit: Seems there wasn’t meant to be a dichotomy set up between the engineering and the artistry of games in this article. Which is a tad confusing, as it certainly reads like there is supposed to be one. But we have it from the horse’s mouth and so I formally retract my quibbling and replace it with mild confusion.
As I am attempting to enter the discussion about establishing a gaming lexicon, this recent link from the Sunday Papers over on Rock Paper Shotgun seems appropriate. This Gamasutra article tackles game-related discussions of “fun” and the language of those discussions.
It’s a bit of a mess from a writer’s standpoint, but it establishes a number of important ideas in the name of clarifying game-related discussions and provides some rather useful links for myself and anyone interested in the subject. Some of the stuff I’ve found through this article is going to make an appearance further down the line, I should think, though probably not in the impending second part of my mechanics piece.