Posts about the general culture of Gaming and Gamers.

So night before last I joined a few other game designers in the Los Angeles area to see about setting up a sort of Game Play and Design group. The results were very positive. The five of us are going to meet regularly, playing lots of different games with an eye for breaking them apart and seeing how the pieces work together. We'll be doing the same with our own designs. I'm very much looking forward to this, especially the understanding that play is inextricably connected to design and vice-versa; there is such a temptation to design in a vacuum, making "the perfect game" and then having people play it. No such nonsense here! We get to use a little tool called empiricism, perhaps you've heard of it.

We start in on the game-breaking next week -- I am so jazzed.

Battlestar Galactica is back for season three. I say this as literally and precisely as possible: this is the best television show I have ever seen. If you are not watching it, find a way to do so. It's on Fridays on Sci Fi Channel. The miniseries-pilot and both prior seasons are available on DVD, but the seasons are the genius bits. Genius, and directly applicable to gaming.

This is why BSG rocks the genre world: every episode, and I mean every episode, picks a couple characters and the issue or conflict that most applies to them, and proceeds to stomp on it, applying excrutiating pressure on it, then adds more pressure, and then more pressure. It starts this process before the opening credits roll. There is no downtime in BSG, there are no throwaway scenes. Every minute of every scene serves the purpose of the episode as a whole, forcing the characters to explore every corner of their humanity, no matter how recessed, dark, forgotten, or difficult. The result is some of the most beautiful and powerful expressions of what it is to be human that I have ever seen.

I was talking with a coworker yesterday about BSG, which she hasn't gotten to see, and she compared my capsule description of why it's so good (above) with the X-Files. Now, I never got into the X-Files, mostly because it didn't do what I described above. From my perspective, each episode of the X-Files presented the main characters with a situation to which the characters found a way to personally relate, there was some creepiness and bad camera angles, and then they resolved the situation by reinstating cultural norms (you're a bad man for doing X). The X-Files' slogan was "The Truth Is Out There" and indeed, the focus of the show was consistently out there and not, as in BSG, in here, in the hearts and souls of the characters.

I didn't go looking at the NerdNYC page for the longest time because I pretty much knew this would happen: I'd want to replicate it here.

NerdSoCal -- would it work? We aren't as concentrated as NYC (I'm thinking LA + OC), we don't have convenient subway access, but we do have lots of nearby colleges, lots of young, well, nerds with time+income+desire to socialize/movie-go/game...

Whereas NerdNYC's Gotham Gaming Guild rents unused studio space to game in, we've got a climate that will let us just use parks, or maybe use community center rooms.

There's a couple Forgies out here on the Left Coast: Jesse Burneko, Jay Silmenume, myself. Ian Noble isn't a Forgie, but he's an RPGnet kiddie, and he's out here. Hell, Wick and Jared are based out of Santa Monica.

So tempting... so potentially time-sucky... so tempting...

Addendum: I would so be using Vanilla instead of phpbb. Drool.

Exercise: find a word that will work when you put it in every blank in the paragraphs below:

_____ is something people do because it's fun. _____ is best with other people, preferably people you know, love, and trust. Because such powerful issues as identity, emotion, and self-worth are involved, _____ can be liberating, terrifying, abusive, and glorious, depending on how you do it. However, if _____ isn't fun, you're probably doing something wrong.

_____ is primarily a creative endeavor, but some people have been doing it the same exact way for their entire lives.

Some people like to do _____ one way, while other people like to do it in other ways. Some sad people think that there is only one way to do _____ and that any other way is wrong. They will defend their version of _____ and attack others' versions for long periods of time.

Similarly, the things that one person likes about _____ may not be the same things that another person likes about _____. It's a good idea to talk about _____ before starting to do it with that person to prevent embarassing and discouraging failures to enjoy yourselves.

Keeping these simple facts in mind will help you make _____ a powerful and worthwhile part of your life!

Thank you, Chris Chinn

Sean Fannon is shining a thousand-watt smile over at the Forge talking about his great new idea of indie press games getting to consumers via the all-important step of retail outlets. And I'm thinking to myself, "When is the last time I went to a local game store?" and I seriously can't remember. The second question, "When was the last time I actually bought something from the local game store?" is even deeper back in my murky memory. Blue Rose, I think? Like, over a year ago?

(I occasionally go to Borders and flip through the new World of Darkness stuff, because it amuses my curiousity to see how exactly they're butchering their own games and selling them again as new product, but as I've no interest in buying or playing any of it, I don't count this as the same activity as really going to the game store. It's more like watching the monkeys at the zoo.)

Admittedly, I'm not playing as much as I'd like, but that's due to factors other than the proximity of a game store (I think -- maybe I'm deficient in my exposure to FLGS rays). I've only rarely met gamers at a store that I later played with (although for a year or so in Santa Barbara there was a disturbing trend of finding people I already knew at the game store). So maybe I'm not the best person to be saying this, but I'm wondering whether the retail outlet is really that important to the larger gamer culture any more.

Used to be (they tell me) that the local game store served as a sort of nexus of gamers. They ran demos, they had a corkboard with current games, you met people browsing the racks, right? Gamers met gamers at game stores. Game stores were also the primary distribution point of new games for the gamer market. They had the catalog from Alliance, they knew what was coming out, and most importantly, they had the books to sell.

So there's lots of talk about Immersion both on Sin Aesthetics and at Eliot Wilen's Journal. Normally, I like to think of myself as this nice, open-minded gamer who enjoys just about any facet of the hobby, not tied down to any particular CA or technique or what-have-you, but I simply can't wrap my head around the appeal of Immersion.

Now, I think I "get" Immersion -- being in your character's head, thinking as your character, declaring actions as your character would make them, and generally enjoying the experience of being in that headspace. (Good so far?) Not reaching outside of the character to affect the character, staying in Actor Stance (Still good?). Taking in what the other players at the table give you, responding and reacting to it, and spitting out that reaction (Leaping off track yet?).

Now, I can understand the sort of be-someone-else sort of feel to that, but it seems to me that pursuing that feeling necessarily abandons the possibility of taking fuller control of what happens to the character (as opposed to what the character does). No Author or Director Stance for you. No Scene Framing. No supplying yourself with the beyond-your-character "Ammo" to get what you want out of play. No strategizing on a narrative level, just on an experiential level. To me it seems like deciding that you really like potatoes, and not eating the rest of Christmas dinner.

I'm assuming that I've totally screwed up my characterization by this point -- what have I missed? Or are all those extra-character techniques and powers either not necessary or not desirable? If those extra-character techniques and powers aren't desirable, are you relying on another player (probably a GM) to supply you with pokes, prods, resources, and bangs?

There's a lot of talk in the gamer blogosphere about replicating Firefly in a roleplaying game. I loved the show, I'm looking forward to Serenity, but... I'm really skeptical of the allure of playing it. Now, mind, I've only seen half the series (the other half is sitting there on my shelf, but I must play WoW six hours a day), so maybe the entire dynamic of the television show changes or something, but from what I've seen in Jaynestown and Our Dear Mrs Reynolds, the appeal of Firefly is the characters themselves, not the setting.

The setting is... not bland, but it is generic. Archetypal. It is the lovechild of Westerns and Space Opera. It's... not exactly complex. Further, I can't see any instance of play that would game in the same places that the series went. What is there left to do on Hodgson's World (planet in Jaynestown)? Why go back to... whatever planet had the plague in Train Job? The series' primary characters have already been there, done their thing, and left. If the PCs showed up, all they get is sloppy seconds. Any actual play would require the creation of new planets and new settings. Perhaps you keep the Firefly-designation ship, but... that's not much of a setting in and of itself, is it?

It's the characters that make the show shine. It's Mal and his past, it's Inara and her desires and restrictions, it's the Shepherd and his questionable past. Unless you plan on playing the characters themselves, you're not playing Firefly. Playing the characters themselves I will admit is an option, maybe even a viable one, but I don't think that's what people are after.

Of course, I've never seen the point in playing in the Star Wars universe concurrent to the movies, either (KOTOR has shown me the light of playing in other eras). The story that you want to emulate is about the characters -- if you take out the characters, how can you still say you're emulating that story?

Over at Yog Shoggoth's Dice, Brand responded to a challenge from me on how a games company could publish non-Illusionist games and not go bankrupt. The conversation developed from there to begin just touching on the outskirts of marketing issues the likes of which gaming tends to avoid. These are the issues that I had written that post about but Blogger ate.

At present, the 'Generic RPG Marketing Model' goes thusly: Core Book (sometimes Player Book and GM Book) which generates the majority of the revenue, and Supplements which do much worse, but keep the game 'alive' and the Core Book selling. This is as seen in White Wolf, 7th Sea, GURPS, Rifts, et cetera, with a few elaborations (World of Darkness now has two hardcover player books necessary to play). The Generic model tends to assume play will go for years; the supplements are designed to keep the line going for years. Players buy supplements, encourage their friends in the playgroup to buy their own copies of core books, and even replace their original copy of the core book. There is also the 'Indie RPG Marketing Model' which goes thusly: BOOK! The Indie model defaults to play lasting a couple months; these games tend to be more focused and also tend to generate stories that actually end.

The company (or individual) creating the game, if they have any hope to support themselves on the affair (which is another matter entirely; I should post about the RPG Cottage Industry sometime), need people to keep buying books. They don't actually need people to use the books; they don't even need people to play the game (I have a number of games I've never played; you?). They need people buying books now, and more importantly, they need people buying books next quarter, too.

So to switch tracks, I just put the other project into Playtesting. The other project is a card game by the name of Dynasty, in which the players control a ruling house of nobles and use warfare, scandal, and marriage to build a Dynasty that will someday ascend to the Imperial Throne (and win the game). One of the things that intrigues me about the game is that is generates its own setting, and does so differently in each game. To whit:

There are Noble cards, Land cards, Title cards (and Action cards, which don't really bear on this discussion). Nobles have first names on the card, and you put a family name chip on top to make their full name. So the "Phillipe" card with the "Montego" chip becomes "Phillipe Montego". Nobles typically survive about five turns, which is maybe a quarter of a full game -- you play through generations -- and the deck gets reshuffled, so the Phillipe card may resurface later. He may be in some other player's hand, or in yours, he may get another family chip (this is Phillipe Ettinbourge) or he may not (this is Phillipe Montego II). He is, however, a different guy who has the same first name and the same characteristics as the first iteration (in Phillipe's case, a tendancy to lose his wife). But a different guy.

Your nobles accrue Lands and Titles. The Lands are divided into a couple regions, with a few extra Lands unconnected to any specific region. The Lands have little flavor texts on them, and their game-effects imply some character to the specific area. There are Faithful or Infidel lands, Seaside and Landlocked lands, and so on, but they're all part of the Empire. But there is no map of the Empire. There is no established relationship between the Antilla Highlands and the Biblon Plateau. Are they next to eachother? Are they miles and miles distant?

You know why I started this blog?

Originally, I started on Blogger so I could comment in other people's blogs, because they're not thoughtful enough to post in a LiveJournal where I already have an account.

Then, when I got up, I decided to move what had become my design blog over onto my own site. It started, however, so that I could comment.

That's how it spreads, man. It's viral, just like zombies.