Rutskarn’s GMinations: The Lich

By Rutskarn
on Jun 21, 2016
Filed under:
Tabletop Games

187 comments

I know I said no posts from me this week, but I stole some time to write this. Regular posts still resuming Sunday.

EDIT: Sorry to drop a bunch of replies then bounce, but I’ll be out again until Sunday. I’ll read everyone else then.

There’s no greater moment in a roleplaying game than when players are surprised by something that makes complete sense–especially if the surprising part is that it makes complete sense. Players who aren’t totally bloody-minded are normally willing to politely ignore monsters with asinine ecologies, cities with no obvious food source, or magic items tailor-made for adventures, so when you reveal that the ecology does make sense, that the city’s food source is weird and unexpected but totally logical, or reveal the magic item’s quaint intended usage, the result is something between respect and relief and amusement that things were thought through after all. Every time players discover that some part of their fantastical world is more logical and organized than they’d given it credit for, their faith in the quality of the GMing, strength of the worldbuilding, and reach of the GM’s imagination surge forward. They’re more inclined to think themselves about how the game fits together–they’re more inclined to think about what NPCs would do, about how the gameworld will react, than plan in mechanical and metagame terms. It’s an all-around Martha Stewart Good Thing.

This companion series to my GMinars is all about those moments. I’ll take features of a standard fantasy roleplaying setting that players expect, and don’t expect a lot of logic out of, and I’ll examine interesting or uncommon logical reinterpretations.

This week we’re going to talk about one of my favorite antagonists–the Lich.

Continue reading »

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This Dumb Industry: Real Time With Pause

By Shamus
on Jun 21, 2016
Filed under:
Column

164 comments

Oh boy, it’s a new turn-based strategy game! I love when…

Oh. It’s a real time strategy game. With pause. Well, let’s give it a try. I’ve said before that I dislike RTWP, and not just because it makes for an ugly acronym. To illustrate why, let’s play a few hours of the latest RTWP strategy game “Strawman Keep”, a 4X game all about building a fantasy empire with wizards and dragons and orcs and such. Maybe there’s a dash of steampunk tech for flavor? I dunno. Use your imagination.

(Since Strawman Keep doesn’t actually exist, I’m going to throw in some screenshots from Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri, a classic of the 4X genre. I played several hours of it as part of writing this column, and was reminded of just how good it was.)

Continue reading »

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Diecast#155: E3 2016 Wrap-Up, Mirrors Edge, Stellaris

By Shamus
on Jun 20, 2016
Filed under:
Diecast

161 comments

Last week we did a Livestream of the E3 press conferences. I don’t know when those will show up on YouTube, but until then here we are talking about what we saw and what we thought about it.


Direct download (MP3)
Direct download (ogg Vorbis)
Podcast RSS feed.

Direct link to this episode.

Hosts: Josh, Shamus, Campster.

Episode edited by Mindie.

Show notes: Continue reading »


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Shamus Plays LOTRO #17: Along Came a Spider

By Shamus
on Jun 19, 2016
Filed under:
Shamus Plays

8 comments

This post originally ran during the 3rd anniversary of Lord of the Rings Online. At the time, there was a bash going on in-game. (The “festival of dipshits” splash image at the top of this post is made from the celebratory splash screen they used during that event.) To give you a sense of how old this series is: The game just turned 9 this past April.

Anyway, this is a good time to remind you that I really love Turbine and I’m really grateful they put so much love into this game. They worked hard to make WoW gameplay gel with LOTR. I know I make fun of the game here, but they’ve got a robust game with a healthy and friendly userbase. They’re a talented bunch, even if they do have some disturbing anti-bear aggression issues they need to work out.

You have a spider problem? What a coincidence! I also have a spider problem! MY PROBLEM IS THAT EVERYONE KEEPS ASKING ME TO SOLVE THEIR SPIDER PROBLEMS!

You have a spider problem? What a coincidence! I also have a spider problem! MY PROBLEM IS THAT EVERYONE KEEPS ASKING ME TO SOLVE THEIR SPIDER PROBLEMS!

Otho Broadbelt has a spider problem. He was delivering a cart of mushrooms when his cart was suddenly “boiling over with spiders” from out of his bags. He figures he must have accidentally picked up some spider eggs along with the mushrooms. He ran away from the cart, leaving his goods behind. He wants me to recover them.

He warns me that there are likely spiders all over the place, and that I should be careful.

Clearly I should not take this job. He’s even warning me up front that I’m going to have to fight a lot of spiders. The last guy promised one bear and I got twenty. If I do this I’ll probably find the cart is guarded by infinity spiders.

But! The cart itself is on the way to the next town. It wont hurt to just look for it on the way. Off I go.

Continue reading »

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Rutskarn’s GMinars: Your Questions, Your Answers

By Rutskarn
on Jun 18, 2016
Filed under:
Tabletop Games

41 comments

I’ll be at a family reunion this week, sans computer, and chances are excellent I’ll have no opportunity to post anything till next Sunday. Here’s a spoiler for Battlespire to tide you over: The game gets weirder. This is very probably the strangest videogame I’ve ever played; the fact that its spider-lech comes from the nominal creators of Preston Garvey, an NPC who could be mistaken for a grudgingly-inserted Kickstarter backer, is more tickling than it really should be.

Now–as far as the GMinar series goes, I’m opening the floor for some reader participation.

First, I’m looking for your questions. If anything about these posts has been unclear or insufficient, if you’re looking for advice on a specific topic, or if you just want to know my position on some aspect of tabletop gaming or GMing, please post your questions below.

For the GMs in the audience, I’ve got some questions of my own:

  1. When did your players, in completely breaking your world or storyline, make it a hundred times better?
  2. What’s the worst GMing judgment call you ever made? What made it suck?
  3. What’s your proudest moment of GMing?
  4. How has GMing affected how you approach the game as a player?
  5. What do you wish more GMs would do and why?

I’ll cover all of your questions, plus my own, once I get back. I mean, after I load up Battlespire and indulge my passion for taking bags full of bags out of other bags. I’m only human.

See you next week!

-Ruts

 

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Fallout 4 EP9: Jump!

By Shamus
on Jun 17, 2016
Filed under:
Spoiler Warning

145 comments


Link (YouTube)

This episode touches on the New Vegas vs. Fallout 3 debate, which isn’t really a debate at all. Or at least, it shouldn’t be.

The Fallout 3 story was infantile, the characters were paper-thin, and the setting made no sense, but it was a pretty good open-world funhouse ride of murder and mayhem. In contrast, New Vegas was an actual roleplaying game, where your character could make decisions, meet characters that had their own motivations and reasons to exist, and interact with factions built around ideas. The game set a mood, told a number of stories, and and gave you a great deal of agency. On the downside, the “roam around and find a dungeon full of monsters with a treasure chest at the end” thing was kind of gone. The game was more focused on the main story and less interested in freelance mayhem.

The moment you exit the vault in Fallout 3 you can strike out on your own, looking for adventure. Try that with New Vegas and you’ll probably meet something that will kill you in two hits. There’s not a lot out there to discover through roaming. It’s best to stick to the intended path, because that’s where the content is.

I hate how this is always framed as an either / or kind of deal. The argument always begins with a premise with you can’t please one group of fans without alienating the other. As if adding one vibrant, coherent character to the game requires you to cut two dungeons somewhere else. As if coming up with a discernible theme and a proper motivation for the main character means you have to shrink the world map. As if giving us agency in the story means the game feel needs to be shitty and the weapons need to be unbalanced.

But Fallout 3 fans don’t hate good stories and New Vegas Fans don’t hate viscerally satisfying combat. Just because you prefer one doesn’t mean you scorn the other, and we could all be winners if we could get both things in the same game. And I don’t think that’s an unreasonable thing to ask for. You could fix the story-based problems of Fallout 4 without spending any extra moneyWell, a better writer might cost more than a poor writer, but the difference between the two is trivial when considered in context of the whole budget.. The game doesn’t need more dialog. It doesn’t need more cutscenes. It doesn’t need more characters. It just requires that the existing dialog and cutscenes fit into some kind of coherent whole. That’s not “easy”, but it’s also not an unreasonable thing to expect when a company is spending this much money on a AAA game.

Sadly, I imagine the problems have less to do with budget and more to do with company culture. And I have no idea how you fix that.

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Fallout 4 EP8: Chekov’s Engine

By Shamus
on Jun 16, 2016
Filed under:
Spoiler Warning

232 comments


Link (YouTube)

200 years of mowing down feral Ghouls and there are still feral Ghouls left. 200 years of scavenging and there’s stuff valuable stuff in every box. 200 years of scavving for food and there’s still prewar food left. 200 years of living in ruins and nobody’s swept the floor or cleaned out this obviously N-Day skeleton. 200 years of constant raiding, warring, and territory dispute-ing, and there are still parked cars that can go nuclear from a single stray bullet. 200 years and people are still using bottlecaps as currency. 200 years and there are still unopened bottles of Nuka-Cola, even though they’re delicious, full of sugar, and their lid is made of literally money. 200 years of constant gunfire and there are still millions of bullets left. 200 years and none of these village-sized communities has grown large enough to form governments or tried to form some kind of coherent society. 200 years and nobody looted any of these sets of power armor or fusion cores. 200 years and there is still a bin of unspoiled, un-eaten melons in the Super Duper Mart, which is somehow both thoroughly looted yet still ripe with valuables and filled with feral ghouls. 200 years and there are still intact prewar comic books, clothing, radios, couches, light bulbs, life-saving medicine, cigarettes, produce, magnetic tapes, working terminals, un-hacked terminals, un-scavenged robots, un-cracked safes, un-detonated mines, and un-picked locks. 200 years of Gamebryo Engine games and nobody’s fixed the bug where the game stalls forever at a loading screen. 200 years of me bitching about these same ridiculous problems and yet somehow people still read my blog.

A Hundred!A Hundred!2012232 COMMENTS? What are you people talking about?!?



Final Fantasy X Part 2: More Like… ZanarCAN’T

By Shamus
on Jun 16, 2016
Filed under:
FFX

102 comments

Final Fantasy X begins in the technological wonderland of Zanarkand. Tidus is a star Blitzball player. He’s famous enough that he’s got fans who want autographs, which implies some sort of pro-league position. The game doesn’t explain how it works, and we’re not here long enough to find out, but we do get the sense that this guy is a big deal.

Now Leaving Zanarkand

Not only does Tidus live in the shadow of his father, he has to walk below his father`s looming billboard on his way to work.

Not only does Tidus live in the shadow of his father, he has to walk below his father`s looming billboard on his way to work.

On his way to the gameHe walks there on what looks like a highway, but there aren’t any cars and everyone else is also on foot. I wonder how transport works in this world?, he passes a hologram billboard of Jecht. The voice-over explains that this guy was a superstar Blitzball player before he vanished ten years ago. Tidus makes a comment that indicates this guy is his dad.

Everyone in this story talks to Tidus about “Your Father”, but Tidus himself always calls him, “My old man”. I strongly suspect this is a bit of Japanese language getting lost or warped in translation. I imagine Tidus is using a really informal (perhaps disrespectful?) word for father, and “old man” is the closest thing we have in English. But “old man” isn’t necessarily disrespectful and it has a rural vibe I’m sure isn’t intendedPossibly also a gender vibe. I haven’t heard “old man” used often in reference to someone’s father, but in every case it’s always been a female. I’m not sure if that means anything or if it’s just a fluke.. I’m not faulting the translator. This is probably as close as you can get.

We’re treated to a CGI cutscene of the Blitzball game. Even 15 years after release, these scenes still look really good. And I don’t just mean graphically. This scene shows how much time and effort Square Enix has poured into mastering the use of this style of short-form cinema.

There are a lot of details in here that exist not because the scene demands it, but because the artists apparently love pushing themselves. There is a lot of really advancedFor the day water physics, lighting effects, reflective surfaces, and other time-consuming rendering challenges. The shots zoom in close so we can see the drops of water on someone’s face and the texture of someone’s clothing, and then the camera pulls back to show us the entire city. We have motion-captured people, light refraction, non-Newtonian liquid surfacesThe animation of the Sin hurricane. and dense crowds. And all of this work was put into a single location that isn’t going to appear in any later CGI scenes. This showcase of technical and artistic effort feels almost decadent.

Continue reading »

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Fallout 4 EP7: What Does THIS Mean?

By Shamus
on Jun 15, 2016
Filed under:
Spoiler Warning

156 comments


Link (YouTube)

The synth paranoia is great for illustrating the frustrations with the dialog system. The game creates a conversation seemingly engineered to make you curious about some piece of information, and then it gives you several dialog prompts that pointedly refuse to let you ask about it. It’s an interesting way to camouflage the holes in the story: You can sort of imagine there’s this grand tale of paranoia and treachery going on around you, if only your idiot character had the wit to ask about it. It sweeps all of the problems with the story into one location.

Why do you think your brother is a synth? How common are synths? How long has this been going on? When I kill synths, I always find synth parts on their body… can you detect that stuff? Do you even know ab out it? Have you ever conclusively proven someone is a synth? How do you know the Institute is behind all this. Given how they operate, how does anyone know the Institute exists in the first place?

In this conversation (the one in this episode, I mean) a whole community is working on this psych profile test supposedly designed to detect synths because they’re too subtle to detect by other means. But then elsewhere you’ll find people who are willing to murder loved ones over suspicion of being a synth. And they’re right! Which would be fine, except you’re not allowed to ask them what tipped them off.

On one hand, it’s better than Fallout 3. In Fallout 3, the plot told you water was a problem but the characters in the story never gave any sign that this was the case. At least in Fallout 4, when the game claims synths are a problem the behavior of the characters supports this premise. It’s still a dumb story about nothing where nobody ever has a coherent goal or motivation, but at least the writer has mastered the art of putting the premise of the story into the actual story. And as much as I rant about the game, I really do appreciate it. It would be so much worse if you spent the whole game fighting against a synth invasion that was never depicted.

Shaun who?

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Ruts vs. Battlespire CH12: Get Me Out of Here

By Rutskarn
on Jun 14, 2016
Filed under:
Lets Play

57 comments

I don’t think anyone will contest that our adventure, a whitewater at the best of times, has taken on a particularly lurid and tawdry character. Under the circumstances I thought it’d be nice for us all to clear our heads and settle in with a quiet verse. This piece is inspired by my struggle for survival and meaning. It’s called “A Man Tested.”

 

He was a moth in an empty house

His wings strove and shuddered, hungry for fresh winds

Black, feather-fringed and proud

A humble shell that burned for flame

 

Anyway, I fucked a spider daedra.

Continue reading »

20201757 comments. It's getting crowded in here.



Diecast #154: Mirrors Edge, Doom, Overwatch

By Shamus
on Jun 14, 2016
Filed under:
Diecast

92 comments

Fun story: We opened up the show with a cracking intro. It was one of those weeks where everyone had a joke ready and the whole thing was effortlessly fun.

So naturally after five minutes my computer locked up and we lost the recording. What you hear in this show is us awkwardly trying to remember and recapture the jokes. This has happened before, and it’s always stilted and disappointing the second time around.


Direct download (MP3)
Direct download (ogg Vorbis)
Podcast RSS feed.

Direct link to this episode.

Hosts: Josh, Shamus, Campster, Jarenth, Mumbles.

Episode edited by Rachel.

Show Notes:
Continue reading »

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E3 2016 Day 0: Playstation

By Shamus
on Jun 13, 2016
Filed under:
Video Games

35 comments

Let’s see what Playstation has for us:

God of War: Okay. That was really beautiful and interesting.

Days Gone:Nothing about gameplay. Just a very “Last of Us” looking cinematic setup. We don’t even know what kind of apocalypse this is.

The Last Guardian: Finally gets a release date?

Horizon Zero Dawn: Yup. Still looks amazing.

Detroit Become Human: David Cage’s next ambitious disappointment.

Resident Evil VII: Spent the whole demo looking like an old-school Silent Hill game with slow pacing and psychological tricks. But then it drops the Resident Evil name on us and we’re suddenly confused.

Batman Arkham VR: No footage. Just a name drop.

Final Fantasy XV VR: So I guess EVERYTHING is VR now?

Call of Duty Infinite Warfare: It looked fun when it was Rogue Squadron but then it Was Call of Duty.

Death Stranding: Ooookay. Literally nobody knew what to make of this. Look for the trailer on YouTube, because I’m terrified to try and sum it up.

Days Gone: Actual gameplay! And… I don’t like it. It looks WAY too scripted. It has the “guess what the game designer is thinking for this action set-piece” thing going on. It’s a game where you’re a movie stuntman who isn’t allowed to read the script. The zombies flow in and you need to move to the next thing that will slow them down. Sure, it’s all about creatively using the environment, but the game designer is the one doing the creating. The player is just enacting the script. I don’t know, maybe the final game will be less scripted.

That’s it for our E3 coverage this year. Tomorrow we return to our normal posting schedule, including the Diecast. Thank you for bearing with us.


201535 comments. Hurry up and add yours before it becomes passé.




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