TRON: Legacy, The Evolution of Technlogy

How things have changed.

No, they have evolved.

We hear about technological revolutions every other second and in see it in every other screen; computer, movie or television.

But nothing has really changed, just improved.

A lot.

Proof of that comes in the way of a movie trailer for the new movie TRON: Legacy. Or should I say, sequel. The original TRON came at a time of true technological revolution. The computer had invaded our homes, our offices. Coin-op video games were all the rage. Millions of kids dropped hundreds of millions of coins and played for hours on end while listening to music in their earphones from Walkmans. And the internet lurked in the connections between college mainframes, office networks and dedicated services run by kids from their own home machines or monolithic companies trying to carve their own sprite filled embryonic universes out of the metaverse that would become the World Wide Web.

TRON showed us a world inside a computer (two decades before the Matrix), which a sleek design reminiscent of the future-perfect ideals of the 1930s,50s and early 60s .  The computer graphics of the time which strained the power of the then mightiest supercomputers came through in monochrome straight lines and jagged mathematical surfaces.  The plot revolved in and around concepts such as cyberspace and computer viruses that would only become common place 10 to 15 years later.

Today we still use desktops (even if they changed from IBM Clones, to XT/AT Clones, to DOS Clones, To Intel Machines). We still listen to music though portable devices (flash memory drives instead of magnetic audio tape). We still play video games, not in vast arcades, but as the movie predicted, online and we spend billions of dollars in $15, $30 and even $70 increments. The fundamental concepts remain. Kevin Flynn would recognize the world we live in. I was born in the days of Pong and the Atari 2600, now I have no problem picking up a 360 wireless controller, hooking up to Xbox Live and playing any games, including hundreds of so called retro-games that once flickered in Flynn’s arcade screens so many years ago.

And even Master Control came to being, as a ubiquitous Disc Operating System, pre-loaded into 90% of all machines on the planet.

We call it Windows.

But that is a story for another day.

One more thing, the studio that gave us TRON (and it wasn’t a big seller back then) also gave us Pixar.

Chew on that for a second.

On top you saw the before, now it is time to show you the after.

—End of Line—

Advertisements

My Game Review: Munchkin The Card Game

The online Urban Dictionary defines Munchkin as:

3) The most annoying roleplayers you’ll ever have to deal with, who characteristically max out their stats, mostly without reprecations (sp?), play to mindlessly kill anything in their paths and boss the rest of your players around, and get as many dots or levels as possible. Most don’t really develop their characters’ personalities.

It also defines the theme of the game of the same name. The goal of the game is to reach level 10 by any means (both foul and fair), as befits its namesake. The game comes with two stacks of cards: Doors and Treasures. The players start with four cards (two of each) and play in a clockwise sequence from whomever rolled the highest number. Then game starts:

1. Pick a Door Card: If it’s a monster you must fight it or run away. You win if your total score (Level + Item bonuses) exceeds the creatures level. If you loose or choose not to fight the monster then you must run away. You successfully run away on a roll of 5-6 on a d6.  Failure means that Bad Stuff happens to you (each monster has a short description on the bottom telling you what that is). Success means you gain a level (or more if the monster says so) and you take it’s treasure.

2. Look for Trouble: If there was no monster, but you have a monster you can play it then, so you can fight it and try to gain levels and treasure.

3. Loot the room: If you successfully defeated a monster then you get to draw a number of treasure card from the Treasure card pile. You can play then right there or save them.

Fighting monsters is not the only way to gain levels. For every 1,000gp worth of equipment you sell (discard) you gain a level, and other cards give you level raises. The thing is that you can only win (reach level 10) by killing a monster or (if they are clerics) by a card called Divine Intervention.

Races and Classes come from the Door pack, and players can choose to be any class or race (and even have more than one with the right card). It may seem like winning this game is easy, but other players can ruin your game by boosting enemies, throwing down curses, stealing treasures or backstabing (last two abilities belong to the thief). Also you can draw curses from the stack which can wipe out your items or even take you down back to the lowest average level among the players. Cooperation is also encourage by the promise of sharing loot (only the player that drew a monster can gain a level) and in the case of Elves, by assisting other players in combat (only one player can assist another, but everyone else can dump on them if they want).

The cards are illustrated by John Kovalic (of Dork Tower fame, well fame among the RPG playing set that is) and are rife with gamer humor such as: Duck of Doom (curse), Lawyer (monster, won’t attack thieves out of professional courtesy), Gazebo (monster), Sex Change (curse), Pantyhose Of Power (+3 item not usable by Fighters) and many others. It is a fast paced game for 2-6 players and with a galaxy of expansions and sets (Munkchin in Space, Superheroes, Horror and Pirates) it won’t get boring anytime soon.

——

And no for some more gamer induced humor I present The Gamers:

Axioms of Video Game Design

Today’s games come in shiny disc packing gigabytes of fancy graphics, great music and complex graphic engines made to be played in the latest high end consoles and PCs.  And guess what? Most of them suck! They do. You spend upwards of $60 (U.S.) and in a day or so you are selling them back to the retailer for half the price.

Why? How come? What’s going on here?

Well, the problem is that many game designers forget or ignore the basic axioms of video game design. They are so wrapped up on their wide palette of shades or how well the new physics engine simulates a body reacting to an explosion that they ignore basic game play. Which brings me to my Axioms of Video Game Design:

  • Game play is the thing: Yes, good, solid, basic game play. In fact, everything below this bullet point is about game play and the game experience.  I don’t care how many compressed terrabytes of data you devoted to leaves in the fairy forest of fire, if the game play sucks, your game sucks, and I’ll be asking for my money back.
  • Easy to learn, hard to master: From the time of the one lever+red button joystick susccesful video games have followed this formula. I should not have to spend fiver hours reading a manual just to know how to start the game. All tittles now have in game tutorials, so make the most it. I know that my controller has about ten different buttons, I shouldn’t have to use them all just to walk from Point A to Point B. I do expect that as I master the controls and the environment, the game challenge adjust accordingly. And please no cheap tricks like needing to reload a sequence 200 times in order to get lucky just once so I can finish the game, or stripping me of my hyper-space arsenal (and cash) mid way through the game when I’m facing a horde of enemies that are far tougher than the ones at the begging when I only had a crowbar.  In other words, I turn on the machine, grab the controller and start playing, just that simple. Oh, for god’s sake, do playtest the controller’s map, I’m playing a first person shooter, not Twist, ya twit!
  • Save anywhere, at any time: Save Points? Really? At this stage of the game? Come on! I’m playing a game on a machine with a 300Gb+ hard drive and game etched on a Blue-Ray DVD. Remind me again why are we still doing the save point thing? I wouldn’t mind it so much if there was a mission save feature or quick save button, that way I don’t walk/run/ride back from the last save point to the beginning of the mission or have to do the whole thing over again because I failed to pick up that small note under the table that no one would know about unless they had a game guide on their lap.
  • Getting my money’s worth: I paid good money for this game, I expect to get said money’s worth. That means that I expect somewhere between 3o-120 hours of game time. Yeah, you heard me! At around $60+ (U.S. +tax) I should have at least one a full hour of game time for every $2 spent on your product. Either reduce the price to match overall game time or give me my money back! And again, no cheap tricks, like excessive travel times between locations, or unwanted detours or scenarios that have to be rebooted again and again, just to eat up time. I want ACTUAL game play, not long frustrating hours of bullshit! Which leads me to my next bullet point.
  • Solid single player experience: “But it has great multiplayer!” Yeah, so what! Unless the game is specifically made as a multplayer game (MMORPGs for example) I don’t want to hear about. I want my solo campaign to stand on it’s own. Multiplayer is just something people tack on the game. And believe me, there are so only many times I can play capture the flag or deathmacth, been doing that since DOOM. A great multiplayer certainly gives depth to a game, I don’t deny that. But if that is all there is, then market it as a multiplayer/online game. Besides I find that if the single player experience is weak, then overall the game is weak, regardless of how many people you cram in a map on Xbox live.
  • Stick to a core game mechanic: Sure, sandbox games are all the rage, but that doesn’t mean your game has to be one, especially when you pretend it’s a sandbox game but is so heavily scripted that if the player goes outside the lines, it’s instant death/game over. Layering game elements from different genres is fine, as long as they don’t disrupt game flow. I shouldn’t have to go from shooting zombies on the head to a coin collecting mini-game and then have to pilot a fighter plane. I’m sure it sounded great on the conference room, but in real life, not so much.
  • Easy on the cinematics:  Yes, I do have an N-envy-dia 54000 game card that can display a bazillion colors per dot on a 50ft. flat screen. Hooray for me! Explain to me (again) why I spent five hours of my life looking at cut-scenes or quicktime events? This is not a James Cameron movie, this is a game, and I want to play it! Sure, I can understand that you spent six months of your live (and a broken marriage with alimony to go with it) on getting the perfect shine of the darker than black hair on the hero’s love interest just right for that one cut scene. I understand, but I don’t give damn! There is a difference between pretty cut scenes and actual game play. Learn it, love it and good luck with wife #2.
  • Sequelitis: Oh, so your last game was a run away success? Good for you! But you know what, that was back in 1992, this is 2010, would you mind changing things up a little? Please? I know that you want to go with what works. Makes perfect sense, and in the case of say, GTA, it worked. For awhile anyway. But the guys from Rockstar knew when they could not longer stretch a game any further and rebooted the whole thing. Also if I, as the player, I’m supposed to be playing the same character from the last game, why do I have to start at level 1 again, unknown, unloved, and broke? SSI did the whole character porting thing back in the 80’s with their gold box D&D games. I would think that with massive hard drives, online servers and game cards (those are still around?) it shouldn’t be much of a problem to just keep my character, right?
  • Nail the ending: Don’t get nailed by the ending. You have plenty of space, and a huge budget, why don’t you hire competent writer’s to write a full, comprehensive storyline from beginning to end? You gave my 30+ hours, why is it that you sucked the life out of the game in the last five seconds? I play games, in part, because I want to know what happens next (just for the same reason read books), a stupid, bland or nonsensical ending just ruins it. So dial back on the graphics budget and hire a half decent writer, please?
  • Don’t over promise: I know you spent hours of your life developing this one game. Is that Wife #3 on the line? But enough with the endless sneak peaks, developer trailers and the like. More likely than not, either you’re going scare away potential costumers who don’t like or understand how complex the development process is or you’re going to over promise and disappoint when you fail to deliver.
  • KISS: Above all else, Keep It Simple, Stupid! Start small and build from there. All gimmicks and hardware are useless if your basic game play sucks.

In fact, the popularity of retro gaming, online flash games and such platforms as Nintendo’s Wii and DS show that good game play, married with a solid story line and simple to use control scheme does will sell games. It’s just that simple. And it wouldn’t kill you to run your game through a video game cliche checklist before ship it out, just in case.

——-

Check out my writing blog for the details of the 1k Words BlogFest, starting on February 22nd.

——

On Basilisk Station-A Review

On Basilisk Station is the first novel in David Weber’s Honor Harrignton series. I dove right in after finishing Elantris. This is military sci-fi with a strong flavor of Horatio Hornblower (the similarity to C.S. Forrester character is not accidental). It has a strong combination of modern military fiction while crafting a universe with a nice mix of hard sci-fi and technobable that enables for the kind of manuvers and combat not seen since the age of sail.  The pace is quick, if not downright brutal and the tension (and stakes) remains high through out the story.

Weber writes with a strong self-assured voice that allows the reader to accept the technical parts of the story with ease.  You don’t get reams of world building exposition until the very end, and by that time you are so deep into the story, it hardly deters you from finishing it. He also uses the third person omniscient POV which  comes up as a bit jumpy for someone who (like me)i s used to either 1st person or 3rd person close. It also means that there are few surprises, but Weber doesn’t hang his narrative on ephemeral twists instead concentrating on outcomes.

You also can’t help but feel passionately about most of the cast, which explodes exponentially as the story goes. It can be a bit bewildering to be confronted with so many characters, but the action still rotates around Honor and her crew for the most part, so it is not much of a problem. In fact it reminded me off my days reading techno-thrillers with their mirad of characters.

Two things that bug me a little about this otherwise excellent book; the fast cut away from one scene to the next and the ways the “natives” are treated.  With so many characters to juggle and an omniscient 3rd person POV the action seems to bounce from one situation to the next with a bit of choppiness which can be confusing.

As for the aliens (Medusans/Stilties) Weber avoids most of the sci-fi cliches surrounding alien species such as the rubber forehead aliens, the humanoid alien or sentient animal species, we don’t see any part of the story though their eyes which smacks a bit of cultural imperialism. Then again, the human characters either treat the Medusans as primitives to be condescendingly protected from outside influence (in the noble savage kind of way) or as a resources to be exploited. Then again this might be more of a reflection of the human characters (however well meaning) than the aliens themselves. It also mirror current and past attitudes (especially during the 17th-early 20th century) by Imperial/Western governments about aborigines societies, so it may not be a total loss. Having said that, the only other alien in the books, Nimitz (Honor’s treecat or in this case Honor is Nimitz human) gets far more attention than the Medusans, probably because of its close relationship with the main character.

Overall, this is a well written, tightly crafted and fast paced book. A must for any fan of military science fiction.

The End and the Beginning of Time

We have ourselves a new doctor, the 11th in the series. I have to say that I a “new” Doctor Who fan, having only watched (although I was aware off) the 2oth century Doctors. But to be honest, it is a good thing that I didn’t watch any of them before Eccleston took the role. I was not prejudiced by the dodgy FX and 80’s cheesy lines, not that the new series don’t have that mind you I simply wasn’t prejudiced by what came before. So I took the appearance of the Cybermen with glee, was impressed by the Daleks and hooked on Rose hotness (yes, she is hot, live with it!).

Eccleston was good, Tenant was better.

So much better. I like the grit and determination that both showed, but a dark shadow loomed over the 10th Doctor and Tenant pulled it off without a hitch. Plus the romantic involvements felt more organic, especially with Rose. He also played well with Donna whom I grew to love (and miss).

But that time has passed. A new decade demands a new Doctor and a new companion (a hot one too by the looks of it and yes she is ginger which makes her even hotter!).

So good luck to the 11th Doctor and a chance to catch up to a year’s worth of “specials” I haven’t seen yet.

Twisting the Tale

I may have aborted my NaNo attempt but I haven’t given up on the story just yet. Recently I had a problem with a scene, it just felt flat and unexpired until I made changed in the POV-character (using Close-Third Person for this story). Instead of telling the story from the original character point of view I switched perspective. Suddenly the sense of tension returned and with it the energy the scene demanded. It also let the scene ending in such a way that it raised the stakes, which is always a good thing.

Such a simple thing, yet it made all the difference.

And since it is the season, and I am in the mood, here is some Holiday cheer curtesy of the Trans-Siberian Orchestra:

Things I learned about RPGs over the years.

 

I’ve learned a few rules…why are you looking me like that? Okay, rules is a bit strong, if not inaccurate. Maybe lessons I picked up? Working suggestions? Useful bullet points? Whatever! Here is a list of things I sort of remember from my many years of playing RPGs and mastering a few (just a tad). In no particular order (other than the one given, like you really care either way)

1. Every gamer is a min-maxer: Each and every ONE OF THEM. Even the scrawny kid in the corner who is waiting for his thespian moment. Oh, woe it be to the Master who goes anywhere his one combo, stat or item he has hanged his characters hopes and fears on. Somebody called the waaaaaambulance please! Also known as “all players all whiny little children”.

Oh, a mirror, for me? Thank you! And don’t get me started on the munchkins . Yes, I have that mirror right here. Why do you ask?

2. Strip all publish adventures of treasure: Every single copper piece, +1 sword or other form of treasure must go. Then carefully build the treasure with all the misery love of a pre-Xmas Eve Ebenezer Scrooge. It is the only way to avoid Monty Hauling , which invariably leads to a dead campaign because the PC ascended to godhood by the end of the first encounter, or you drop a red dragon on their heads which leads to a TPK (Total Party Kill for you noobs!)

3. Don’t mess with the established monsters: Sure you can fiddle with them a little, but go too far and you will NEVER live down that one time, fifteen years ago when you decided to drop a “special” on them. Never…EVER!

4. When you utter the words, “Hey aren’t you playing X?” or “Here I have an NPC ready for you”, or “How about playing Y race cause I really need one in my game”, it translates in the players mind thus (Cue Admiral Akbar voice) “IT’S A TRAP!”

5. The Rule of Inverse Book Rule Carry: Lets say your current system has, oh I don’t know, 10 books so far (it’s just a number, yes I know they have like 30 out, or 177, just go with it, okay!). If you bring all 10, by the end of the night you will discover that you brought 9 to many. Bring only one and, of course, you brought 9 too few. Never fails.

6. The Inverse Square Rule of GM Loving/Slavish Detail: The more you time you spend on something, a weapon, an NPC or a map (or some such) the less likely the Players will care about it, react to it or bother to use it. However they will spend hours try to gang-bang the no name wench behind the bar, then once she gets knocked up they will want you to research (i.e. make shit up on the spot) the whole courtship/marriage ritual/ceremony whatever of the Old Kingdom of Aerdy just so they can slap a ring on the bitch and then leave her and her unborn child behind to loot another dungeon.

7. “You all meet at the local inn.” It’s old, cliched, kind of stupid and boring. It also FUCKING WORKS!

8. Ask for a character background, you may get a paragraph if you’re lucky. Ignore the player that handed you a freaking bible of a backstory and they will go on, and on, and on, and….yeah…..

9. As the GM is the master of time and space, which means if you give 3 days for the PCs to recover, hop across the planes, save their uber-wizard friend from the Pit of Hell and be back to face down the Apocalypse and the PCs say, “Not going to happen Bob”. Don’t be surprised if they didn’t also rescue Dorothy from Oz and reversed Global Warming while they were at it.

10. Celebrate PC ingenuity: If they found a cool way to kill your uber-monster of the week, reward them, don’t whine about how it was too easy. Also clever and unexpected solutions to problems (in and out of combat) are what players live for, so don’t be a spoil sport about it.

11. Oh and a final note, NO CLUE IS OBVIOUS FOR THE CLUELESS: What is obvious to you is not obvious to your players, remember rule #6.