Friday, February 26, 2010

Random Thought: The Japanese and (American) Football

In a bout of insomnia, I began to ponder the Japanese love of, of all things, baseball.  I won't begrudge them the game, but football, to me, makes so much more sense.  Consider how in anime, as well as Japanese culture in general, the Japanese people display a love of the following:
  • Convoluted, Complex Tactics: Hardly an anime goes by without some awesome fight during which either the hero or villain does something awesome or unexpected, and either he or some outside commenter stops to explain the implications and repercussions of just how cool those tactics really were.
  • Big Guys Slamming Into One Another: Mecha, Sumo and Godzilla movies all have one thing in common: It's all about really big guys grappling and brawling with one another.  Japan loves primal struggles pitting strength against strength, will against will.
  • Awesome Costumes: Preferably with wacky helmets and crazy shoulder pads.
  • Hawt Mascot Chicks: What male-oriented anime would be complete without some sexy female character flaunting her beauty and exhorting the hero to victory.  Why, some people even refer to such characters as "the cheerleader."
Obviously, football is very much about these things, and yet, when the Japanese go to pick an American sport to be fascinated by, they pick baseball.  The only reason I can think of: Japan borrowed alot of western ideas during the early 20th century, when they were coming out of isolation.  For example, the "big eyes, small mouth" style of anime drawing actually descends from early American animation (for example, Betty Boop), and baseball was much bigger in America then.  Football didn't really start to sweep America until the second half of the twentieth century, after the 1958 NFL championship game, at which point Japan was happily doing its own thing.

Still, seems like they'd be a great match, two great flavors that go great together.  I figure it would only take one obsessive otaku anime artist to popularize the game in Japan.

And guess what?  I was right.  One quick search later, I've discovered Eyeshield 21, a relatively new anime about American football that's really managed to put the sport on the map.  Who knows, maybe it'll eclipse baseball in Japan the way it's taken over the states too.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Werewolf: the F***ed-over [Past Lives]

So, during a monster discussion on, the inestimable Jon Chung pointed out that Werewolves actually rank pretty low on the combat totem pole.  For his part, he mostly meant that other creatures lack the absurd flexibility of supernaturals like Mages, Changelings or Geists.  Nobody can really compete with a mage's ability to kill you from half-way across the world, for example.

Still, Matt McFarland, White-Wolf developer, pointed out that in his games, he's often found Werewolves to be "too weak," and Armory Reloaded contains some options to fix that (the one I like the most is the 9-again for strength rolls in Gauru form).

After I posted my thoughts on why Werewolves were too weak, another poster suggested that you buff Gauru form 1 attribute dot per rank of Primal Urge.  While I think this is interesting, it gave me an idea.

In oWoD, Werewolves could have Past Lives.  In Rage, this Past Lives manifested as actual characters, and your character was the embodiment of this great hero.  I liked that idea, and thought it was a shame that it never actually worked that way in the game.

But what if it could?  At Gnosis 3, 5 and 7 (I believe), Mages gain access to "Legacies."  Werewolves have Lodges (which suck), but what if they also had access to a Past Life?  You define your character's past life, and he has a skill requirement, and a weakness associated with him, like a Ban.  When you hit Primal Urge 3, you can take this past life: If the required skill is at five, you raise that skill to 6. Furthermore, the Past Life has Attributes associated with it: that attribute is increased by +1 for either the near-man or near-wolf form (also defined by the past life), and +2 for the Gauru form.

I think that might be a way to give that guy's special little rule some serious flavor.  What do you think?

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Slaughter City: the Dark Bond

I mentioned before that my players are splitting up far too often.  I'd like to encourage them to stay together, rather than brutally enforcing it via metagaming.  I could ask them to stick together, but I'd rather it "made sense" and that it was a tempting option, either to avoid sticks or gain carrots.

Talking with Roomie gave me an idea.  What if the coterie bond between the characters went deeper than expected (or perhaps this is normal among all coteries): When a vampire in a coterie awakens, he has within his twisted soul a faint measure of power and love for his fellow members.  Thus, once per day, he may pass on this bond in the form of a bonus.  To do so requires touch, or at least being in sight or hearing range, and this bonus must be applied immediately to a roll. You cannot "save it up."

I was thinking the bonus would be a rote action: you can reroll any and all failed dice on a particular roll.  This is sort of like "giving a player joss" from WotG, except it requires you to actually be there.  This means if you're going into a dangerous or important situation, it's useful to bring your coterie mates along "just in case," since they can directly lend you support via the dark bond.

What do you guys think?  The bonus too strong?  "Once per session per player" too weak?  Lemme know

Monday, February 8, 2010

Software maintenance and RPG Design

So, interesting thing we learned in class today.  As a software engineer, you learn to develop software, but as a help desk worker, you learn to maintain it.  The instructor stated that while ICT education might suggest to you that development is the more expensive of the two processes, in fact, maintenance is the more expensive of the two.  Over the lifetime of a particular piece of software, approximately 30% of all money spent on it will occur during the development phase, and 70% of it will take place over the rest of its life, adapting it to new users, new systems, fixing bugs, smoothing wrinkles and keeping it up to date.  As a result, if you want to save money on a program, the best place to invest is the development phase, as spending 10% more during development to save 10% during the mainanence phase results in a net drop in the total cost of the software.

This instantly brought to my mind the importance of good RPG design.  RPGs resemble software in that they are tools used by an end user, rather than complete products you merely "activate" and enjoy the results of, like you might with a TV or a computer game.  A GM must interpret the rules he's been given, and he must adapt it to the needs of his group, much as a corporation must figure out how best to implement a computer program, and adapt it to their needs.

The fans of broken, sub-par RPG games often defend their system of choice by crying that, with a little love, you can fix any flaw.  The same can be said of any software program too.  You don't need an autosave function, or automatic updates, or security features.  If your program crashes your computer once an hour, well, with a little love, you can work around it.  On the other hand, this costs money and time, and if you had spent a little more money and time during the development cycle, you would save alot more during the actual use of the program.

Thus it is with RPGs.  Time and money factor into RPG enjoyment just as they do any application, though time more than money, and a bad RPG costs more time to work out the kinks than a good RPG, and thus, in a given time-budget, a good RPG allows a GM to spend more of his time worrying about how to make the adventure fun rather than how to make the adventure work.  A little investment up front saves alot of time in the long run.

Slaughter City Session 2 After Action Report

At Cassandra's request, we had another game, one earlier in the month than normal, and it might be our last for awhile (though on the other hand, I'm tempted to slip in just one more session here in about three weeks.  Tempted.  Readers: Don't take that as gospel), and overall, I think it went really well.  I designed some interesting hooks and played out the consequences for various stories, and some players chose some very interesting solutions, resulting in, among other things, and daylight fight for our heroic cop (which earned him back all of his Willpower. How could it not?)

There were a few flaws, the greatest of which was pacing.  Despite me telling the players to be there two hours early, we still started two hours late.  My god.  Of course, the real problem was a broken computer and a sick player who ended up oversleeping alot.  So this wasn't a situation I can or should really blame on someone.  It was just a bad roll of the dice.  However, I tried to force players to choose between situations "You can do this or you can do that, but not both," and they ended up splitting up and going in all possible directions.  Almost no scene included two players together except for the very final scene and the very first scene.  As a result, the game involved alot of waiting for everyone.  They didn't seem to mind, but I did.  The game is more interesting, as Walter loves to point out, when you can interrupt someone else's story and get involved.

So I need some way to encourage the players to remain together. I can just tell them to do so, and they probably will (as they did in the first session), but it might be nice to come up with some reason, like some danger lurking on the streets that grows greater whenever they are alone.  The bad guys are coming to know the players' faces.  Maybe they could start stalking the players and ambushing them when they find them alone.  This makes separating a calculated risk, rather than a mandated "do not do!" from on high.

Byler, Shawn and Roomie had a blast, and no surprise, they had the lions share of the game planning.  I don't like it, though.  Not that they got to game, but that Dave and Cass hardly did.  Part of this comes from their exhaustion.  Cass even fell asleep during the game, but eagerly woke to play, suggesting that her sleepiness did not stem from boredom.  Even so, I had hardly anything planned for them.  Dave tends to play best when he gets to be a killing monster, but he isn't active, he doesn't pursue people unless people first pursue him.  I might need to change that, and I have a few ideas how I might (For that matter, I had an element I wanted to hit him with, and forgot). 

Cass is a bigger problem.  Stray has no background, no details, no personality.  Or, rather, she does, but Cass won't tell me about it, presumably because it is "unfinished" yet, and she's nervous about it (and possibly also because it's still in flux).  Worse, she hides from the world, which inevitably results in her sitting around petting her pets, which is fun in real life, but crap in a game.  She wants to play the outsider looking in, but to do so, she must look in.  It's not enough to simply be the hermit on the outskirts of the city, cleaning your nails and picking your nose.  If she is falling asleep from boredom, I think I know why.

I need to find a way to drag Stray kicking and screaming into a human society she can't possibly deal with, so she can angst over boys she cannot have, so she can watch people laughing and talking that she cannot be friends with, so she knows which wicked people to stalk, and with desolate people to secretly help.  I need to draw her into Fairmount, where she can meet all the interesting people and one cat.  I'm just worried if I kick her out of her comfort zone, she'll resent me for it, or that it'll disrupt the background/story she's trying to create.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Mass Effect 2: I headshot a god!

In under a week, I've finished Mass Effect 2.  It's been awhile since I've played a game so religiously.  Even now, I want to go back in, explore the game some more, but I have other things I really need to be doing.

Mass Effect 2 has been so changed, it's hardly the same game, mechanically speaking.  Bioware called it a "true shooter RPG," and I really see what they mean.  No longer can I just walk out into the battlefield and just shoot stuff till it dies.  Now I need to use cover, watch my corners, and aim my shots at specific locations for extra damage.  Gameplay moves swiftly and smoothly.  The flow of play no longer stops just because you found a new bit of gear, or because you leveled mid-mission.  You have less powers, but they're vastly more useful and come up far more often.  My Infiltrator felt like an Infiltrator, rather than a Soldier/Engineer like he did in ME 1.  He stealths up, ghosts around his enemies, and takes a head shot (I got the Head Hunter achievement by mission 2, I think).

Which isn't to say we've lost the "RPG" part of this shooter RPG.  There's so many choices, so much flow to the game, that like Dragon Age, I found myself "playing the character."  There's so much continuity that it almost doesn't feel like a different game.  It feels like an expansion of the old game.  If I wanted to make a new ME2 character, I would start with ME 1, play through it, and then load up ME 2 and continue.  This fact really reassured me, really reminded me that I'm playing the sequel to the previous.

And the ending... utterly epic.  I'm used to playing games where they show you the trailer, and that's 90% of everything awesome about the game.  Bioware has a habit of showing you a neat trailer that amounts to the first mission or two, and then unfurling the truly awesome stuff later.  It's kind of a sketchy marketing strategy, but I really appreciate it, as it saves the best for last.  The game is spectacularly awesome from beginning to end.

I have only two complaints.  First, I miss the Mako and the ability to actually run around on planets. I know alot of people complained about that, and it's alot of development for a very small part of the game, but I loved looking at alien skylines and discovering yet another strange world to poke around on.  It reminded me of those old Starflight games.  My other complaint: ME 2 is too much of a good thing.  I skipped more than half of it, I'm sure.  There were so many side missions that I eventually skipped them and just raced for the ending.  Hardly a complaint, I'm sure.

I initially played this assuming I would need every NPC available. Now I wonder if it's about having the right mix.  I lost three NPCs, and it wasn't clear why some survived and not others.  The final mission reminds me of both Virmire, and Princess Maker in the sense that there's so many variables going in that it's hard to figure out what will happen.  So, there's alot to explore in this game.  Alot.  Talk about replay value...
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