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Archive for January, 2010

Better writers than I have pontificated extensively about PvP in games, but I can’t help but echo Brian “Psychochild” Green’s comment on this recent post from the Elder Game writers:

Community Friendliness: Size Matters

Psychochild rightly notes that the social environment in his venerable Meridian 59 MMO is driven to toxicity by the guild-based PvP design.

Contrast that with the original “Horde vs. Alliance” design of World of Warcraft, and how it has changed over the years.  Sometimes it seems that everyone is happy to be fighting the Big Bad of the series, even if it means ignoring the old “Us vs. Them” mentality for a new “Us and Them, ’til Undead Destruction do us part”.  Sure, that plays havoc with the lore, but it does make for a somewhat less contentious social atmosphere for the game, with players united against the computer controlled bad guys.  That’s probably no accident, and probably good design.

I really do think that game design can have a significant effect on the population of a game, and that a deep focus on PvP and “Us vs. Them” will naturally be more toxic.  I also think that’s unhealthy.

Interestingly, as anyone who follows politics might note, “a house divided against itself cannot stand“.  It’s always interesting to me when political debate is less about the Big Bad of economic or social situations, and more about name calling and hyperbolic caricaturing of the Other guys.  Interesting, and sad.

So why do game devs persist in using such design mentality?  Certainly the Soldier vs. Demo campaign stirred up by Valve for their Team Fortress 2 game caused a considerable stir in the fandom.  It’s even lampshaded by the Valve guys at one point, with the Soldier noting that he doesn’t even know what the special weapon is that he gets if his team wins, but he WANTS it because it’s either him or the Demoman, and obviously, HE can’t have it.  (I read this somewhere, but now I can’t find a citation… my search-fu is weak today.)

One almost has to wonder what might be behind the contentious curtain.  In the TF2 case, probably nothing, and it’s just a self-aware clever PR stunt.  Does factional warfare make games more interesting than they have any right to be?  Did WoW benefit from the distractions of “Us vs. Them” when the daily gameplay was so… repetitive?  Did Warhammer Online bank too much on it, only to falter when it didn’t have enough to carry the game?  Is Darkfall (or any other heavy PvP game) worth playing?  (The answer on that last one probably depends on whether or not you like Counterstrike or TF2, methinketh.  There is a clear PvP mindset that you need for those games.)

Oh, and Allods Online makes me sad.  I’ll just echo Randomessa on this one.  I mean, I did already point out what I wanted out of my own ship… and that’s just not it. It sounds like it’ll be great for the “forced group” “us vs. them” crowd… that’s just not me.

And, perhaps most importantly, what exactly do the Democrats and Republicans want us paying attention to… and why?  Could they be obfuscating anything really vital?  Is the media doing their job at actually finding the truth?  Could there perhaps be something more important than endless namecalling and gamesmanship, shallow “debates” and partisan hackery?

…nah.

I have games to play.  Flonne keeps telling me that Angels, Demons and Humans should get past prejudice, after all, and I’d hate to disappoint her.  Us and Them need to go storm heaven.

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I’ve written a few times now about Allods Online, and even posted a handful of screenshots.  It’s a beautiful game, full of interesting sights.  The lore of a world split into chunks, floating on the magic Astral (aetheric space with pretty blue cloudy strands of… stuff), populated by survivors of the world-shattering cataclysm, provides for some fun visual elements.  The verticality of the sights can be a bit… dizzying, though.  (So Ysharros, consider yourself warned…)

(As before, I’m hiding all the pretty pictures behind a More link to keep from killing anyone visiting the front page with a dialup internet connection.  If you’re direct linking to this, well… sorry, but it may take a little while to load.  As before, each picture is actually a link to a bigger version, if you’re looking for a closer look.)

(more…)

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I’ve seen this pop up in a few places, and figured it might interest some of you.

DriveThruRPG is offering a package of PDF downloads for various RPGs as a way to generate funds for Haitians dealing with the aftermath of a devastating earthquake.

If you’re a cold hearted capitalist, this is a fantastic deal to get some good source material for tabletop RPG play.  Take advantage of the situation, you big meanie.

If you’re one of those soft-hearted bleeding heart carebear nice guys, the money they are taking in for this promotion goes to help people who need it.  You selfless prig.  (Oh, and they are donating to that unwashed bunch of hippes, the Doctors Without Borders.  Internationalist dogooders.)

So, for $20 you can champion your cause, whether it’s selfish capitalization of tumultuous times, or trying to help people when all you have is a checkbook.

Who said gamers only want to kill things?

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What is a game, exactly?

There are a lot of different types of games, to be sure, but to my eye, the heart of what makes a game is the possibility of making choices.  Games are differentiated from passive entertainment like TV or film by allowing the end user to have some input that changes the experience.  Exactly how much control devs give to the player can vary wildly, but giving the user choices is important.  Of course, when you give the end user the ability to make choices, they may make mistakes.

I’ve come to believe that mistakes are what make a lot of games tick.  Part of this is the notion that experimentation and punishment-light mistakes are a significant part of how I define “play”.  Mistakes are part of learning, and if learning itself is fun, it’s usually because those mistakes aren’t backbreaking.  Take chances, get dirty, make mistakes!

I’ve been experimenting with board and card game design for a while now.  I’m close to having two more PDF games for download, like I presented Alpha Hex.  (I’d love it if I could make a bit of money on the side with these, but since I’m a rookie designer, I’d be pleased with feedback.)  Card and board games tend to be Player vs. Player, while video games tend to be Player vs. Environment.  Sure, there are the occasional cooperative PvE-like board games like Pandemic or Lord of the Rings, and there are many PvP video games like Street Fighter or Counter Strike, but I’m just talking in generalities.

The PvP in Tic-Tac-Toe is trivial.  The game can always be played to a draw with two sufficiently competent players.  (The level of competency is low, as well.)  PvP in Rock-Paper-Scissors is mechanically trivial, though there is a layer of “yomi” when it comes to the psychological games played between players.  PvP in Othello is a bit more mechanically involved, as well as strategically and tactically varied.  Go and Chess are a step further than that.

In most PvP scenarios, games between equally competent players tend to come down to mistakes.  Perfect execution in Tic-Tac-Toe means you always get a draw.  A player with better mastery of mind games will do better in Rock-Paper-Scissors.  Perfect execution of  a strategy in Go or Chess is a different thing, though, since the opponent has more opportunity to throw a wrench in the works.  More choices for each player tends to provide greater strategic and tactical depth, largely by giving players more opportunities to make mistakes.  Savvy players will capitalize on opponent mistakes while avoiding making any of their own.

In these more complex games, player choices tend to have multiple effects.  A knight in Chess, for example, can be used to “fork” an opponent, forcing them into choosing between two (or more!) pieces threatened by the knight.  If one of those pieces happens to be the king, the other piece must be sacrificed (or the knight captured).  In other words, players can use pieces that have multipronged influence to force decisions on opponents.  Force enough of those decisions without making too many yourself, and you can break an opponent.

To a lesser degree, that’s exactly how you can win Tic-Tac-Toe, by creating a choice for an opponent; block here or there… but if both are winning positions, the opponent cannot win since they don’t get two turns in a row.  Connect Four is a step beyond, extending the grid and allowing for more opportunity to force bad decisions.  Chess and Go do a similar thing, just with much more effective pieces and a tendency to need to think more than one or two moves ahead.  Greater piece and rule complexity allow for increased depth.

OK, so none of this is exactly rocket science.  It’s Game Design 101 kind of stuff.  This is just the sort of thing I find myself thinking about when I try to distill my own game designs.  I want to make games that are relatively simple to play, but with tactical or strategic depth, not unlike Go or Othello.  The game mechanics are simple enough, but thanks to large decision trees and yomi layers of move-countermove, tactics and strategy have plenty of room to breathe and develop.

On one hand, we have “games” like Candyland, where the entire game is decided by the initial state of the shuffled cards.  Players make no significant decisions, they just go through the motions.  The “game” is an exercise in foregone conclusions, and players are just seeing what will happen, their biggest decisions being when to turn over the inevitable card, or when to simply quit.  (OK, they could also choose to cheat, but that’s not quite what I’m getting at here.)

On another hand, we have “games” like Roulette, where the player makes two initial choices (what number to bet on and how much to bet), and random chance does the rest.  Slot machines are even worse.

These really aren’t games in my mind, but I’m not sure what to call them.  Still, people “play” them, and somehow derive fun.  Perhaps, like Avatar‘s popularity despite a weak “story”, the fun is derived from the window dressing and the experience.  Would a 3D holographic Candyland sell?  Perhaps it’s all about the payoff or the achievement, where the ends somehow determine that the means were fun.  Or maybe it’s all about the payoff, and the “game” is just something to suffer through.

On another hand, games like Rock-Paper-Scissors are all about the mind games.  David Sirlin’s Yomi card game digs even deeper into the yomi layers.  The actual conflict resolution is less about the very deterministic mechanics (Paper can never beat Scissors), and more about the player choices, especially since every player can choose rock, paper or scissors at any time.  These games can be very satisfying if you find fun in outguessing another player.

Tangentially, PvP in class-based MMOs tend in this direction, albeit more simplistically.  Rogues beat Mages who beat Warriors who beat Rogues.  There are some ways to alleviate this rigid dynamic (panic buttons like Ice Block for a Mage, Spell Reflection for a Warrior and so on), but for the most part, we’re back in RPS territory.  Pokemon is similar, just with an extended dependency/elemental heirarchy.

I tend to find this sort of rigid design less than satisfactory.  Sure, it might feel great to always beat on the class that you are inherently superior to, but it stinks to lose continually to a class inherently superior to yours.  This is one reason why I keep asking for more flexibility in MMO combat (BBB has a great article up on this philosophy), even allowing every player to shift to their own Rock, Paper or Scissors at any given moment.  To me, that’s more interesting game design, and far more satisfying to pull a victory out of, since it hinges on my choices in the moment, not an irrevocable class choice I made a long time ago.  I don’t like approaching a RPS game if I’m stuck being Scissors.

On yet another hand, there are the relatively simple two player games that tend to give one or the other player an advantage simply by the way they are designed.  Chess gives a slight edge to White, but a game like Y or Hex might have an even stronger advantage for the first player.  (Alpha Hex, strangely, gives a fairly strong advantage to the second player.  That’s the natural result of the capture-countercapture nature of the game.)  There are even games that, given perfect execution of a “determined” winning strategy, do not allow one of the players to win.  Ever.  Sometimes a draw isn’t even possible.

These games are where mistakes are especially important.  Perfect execution of an invincible strategy makes for a tedious “game” for the player who isn’t going to win.  The strategy-stealing argument suggests that the losing player cannot “steal” the winning strategy as long as the winner maintains the strategy.  The best they can hope for is a draw, if the game even allows that.  The game could effectively be declared finished when the initial turn order is decided; it’s all just going through the motions at that point.

Unless the winner-to-be makes a mistake.

This sort of strong bias for one player or the other can be a handicap mechanic for players of widely diverse skill levels, but it’s not much fun for players who both know the strategies and who can execute them perfectly.  That’s where a number of fudge factors come into play.

Increasing the opportunities to make mistakes by increasing the number of decisions to make is one way to fudge this bias.  That’s effectively how Chess evens the playing field.  Some games hide information, like Stratego, forcing players to make decisions with imperfect knowledge, effectively playing the odds and trying to outguess the opponent.  Many games use a random element, whether it’s shuffled cards, dice rolls, variable goals or even just each player holding cards only they can see (until played, anyway).  Whatever the case, these fudge factors allow mistakes (or force them!), thereby disrupting the formation of a perfect strategy.  The lack of perfect information is a benefit to these efforts to make the game more interesting by inviting mistakes.

Alpha Hex does give the second player an advantage (which messes with the psychology of gamers, since it’s usually the first player with an advantage), but the fudge factors of an unknown opponent hand (which cards they are holding, which may be magnified when you’re playing with random cards rather than sticking to a purely monoelemental deck)  and the ability to play any given card in six different orientations (more choices) help alleviate the bias. The optional elemental rule (especially if randomized) throws another variable into the mix.  The also-optional chain rule makes the game very swingy, but gives the opportunity to make up for past mistakes (or even lets players use fake “mistakes” to manipulate the opponent into making their own mistakes… more yomi gaming, there).

Also, the first player can control the pace of the game.  A timid player going first might start in the corner, but that gives the second player an advantage.  An aggressive player starting on an edge or in the middle will start in a cell that has an even number of cells around it, setting up a sort of “game within a game”.  (If the board were only ever 7 cells in a circular pattern, the first player playing in the middle would have a very strong advantage.  If the first player can manage to win this minigame before filling out the board’s other 5 cells, they can come closer to parity.)  Even so, the game tends to be decided in a few key points, rather than at any point in the match.  The first play is crucial, the 7-cell minigame is important (even if it means you build differently from the seven cell circle), and the transition from the 7-cell to the “endgame” can be a backbreaker.

This is why I’ve toyed with different board geometry, with more cells in different shapes.  I want to disrupt the formation of a perfect strategy, in an effort to make player choice crucial to the game.  I want to give the players more chances to make mistakes (and make correct decisions).  Alpha Hex isn’t a perfect game, but it’s been fun to design and to play.  I hope others have fun with it as well, and mistakes are a big part of that.  (So if you’re interested at all in a hex-based card game with shades of Triple Triad, please download the Alpha Hex Paper Beta!  I’d really appreciate some feedback on it, too.)

Mistakes are important in game design, too, which is why testing is such a huge component of polishing a game.  Mistakes can provide critical feedback, whether it’s for the player or the designer.  This is also why it’s important to learn from mistakes, rather than just blithely go on making the same ones over and over.  We are guaranteed to make mistakes, since we’re not omniscient.  We simply have to learn from them as we try to develop our own perfect strategy.  (Interestingly, it’s the designer’s job to prevent perfect strategies, at least with some games.)

That said, I’ll admit that if I do manage to devise a perfect strategy for a game, I almost immediately lose interest in it.  A solved puzzle just isn’t as much fun.  Likewise, “solved” PvP, if dominant or perfect strategies exist, just isn’t all that fun to play, at least not for me.  It’s just going through the motions, convincing myself that I’m having fun doing the same thing over and over.  The interesting part is that I get tired of it whether I’m winning or losing.

Perhaps variety really is the spice of life, and making mistakes is a part of that.  It’s certainly key to making a game interesting in my book.

It should be noted that I’m talking about mistakes that can be learned from, not a Random Number Generator forcing mechanical “mistakes”, thereby destroying any sense of control and progress.  It’s a crucial difference; I don’t mind mistakes that I make and learn from, but I can’t stand mistakes that the game makes then forces me to live with the consequences.  I love game design that makes all mistakes hinge on the player choices… because those are the ones I learn the most from and have the most fun playing.

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Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days is a great little game.  Disgaea DS has also been a blast.  I’ve clocked 45 or so hours in the former, and 200 or so in the latter.  The “main story” of the former took about 30 hours to go through (chasing all side quests), and the “main story” of the latter took about 20 hours (doing some side dungeoneering).  I find I keep playing both well past the story’s end, albeit for different reasons.

The core gameplay of KH:358/2 is all about missions.  These are bite-sized chunks of the standard KH gameplay, an action-platformer-RPG… thing.  Missions range from recon to target hunting to simple baddie smashing (complete with small baddies, medium-sized baddies and Big Bad Boss baddies).  None of it is too taxing, but several missions require good timing, quick reflexes and/or knowledge of the terrain.

The core gameplay of Disgaea DS is all about tactical turn-based combat in closed square-grid arenas.  Players build up a cast of characters and field combat teams to take down a range of weird enemies.  Cutscenes tell a story between fights.  The ability to revisit missions and an optional Item World dungeon system provides combat on demand to earn more experience, money and items.  None of the tactics are all that demanding, but there are several that provide a more puzzle-like experience, rather than a simple tactical brawl.

The “post-game” is fairly different between the two.

In KH, I’m replaying missions to explore early missions with new abilities, chase tokens and treasures, or even play with alternate characters.  (Some are fantastic, some are awful.)  The core gameplay really doesn’t change much in the endgame, though, and the missions are exactly the same, only your approach changes.  The ends are the same, in other words, but the means change (fairly minimally).  I’m still chasing achievements and better loot, not new ways of playing the game.  (OK, OK, I can still unlock Sora as a playable character, but that’s not much, since he will play much like Roxas anyway.)

In Disgaea, I’m playing through the storyline again (yay for “New Game +” mechanics!) to see a different ending, but I spend most of my time in the Item World.  Item World levels are procedurally generated, and often a great playground for the geopanel system.  Every level I go to in the Item World is different.  The team I have is pretty static by now, but the stage that I’m playing on changes constantly.  I’m constantly tinkering with new content thanks to the procedural floor generator.  Sure, the ultimate end goal is always the same (defeat all foes or sneak to the exit), but the path through each level is different.  The ends are still the same, then, but the means change considerably more than they do in KH.

This is the difference between 200 and 45 hours logged.  I’ll play each more, I’m sure, but in the end, I spend a lot more time playing through the procedural content in Disgaea DS than I do playing through static content in KH.  To be fair, procedural content only works in certain formats.  The lovingly crafted beautiful 3D worlds in KH don’t lend themselves well to procedural content generation.  The procedural content in Disgaea DS is tile-based, with some larger multitile structures, but certainly nothing as carefully presented as KH worlds.

So, if there is a balance between pretty graphics and playability via content generation, I find that I fall squarely in the camp of gameplay.  I’m more interested in means than ends, at least when I’m playing games.

It’s not too surprising that I feel much the same way about MMOs.  To be sure, the content generation there will naturally be more in line with the KH model, being in 3D and requiring more assets.  I’m still most interested in varied, dynamic, interesting gameplay, rather than chasing loot through the same dungeons.  Raiders have told me that the dynamics of a group can provide some of that, so I can see myself dungeoneering a little while learning a dungeon, but once it’s on farm status, just going through the motions for better loot or arbitrary Achievements does nothing for me.

No, I want a living, dynamic world that I can influence and mold.  I want to color outside the lines, ignoring the ends.  I’d be content tinkering with the means, because once I get to the end, that’s all that you have to keep me in your game.

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Tip ‘o the shanter to Ysharros over at Stylish Corpse:

Pricing Models: Pay What You Want

Crayon Physics is currently on sale, using the same sort of “pay what you want” method that World of Goo did a while back for their birthday.  It worked out pretty well for the WoG guys.  Here’s hoping it works for  Crayon Physics.

The sale ends Friday the 15th of January, though, so if you want this excellent game, get over there and buy it!

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My wife and I went to James Cameron’s Avatar for her birthday recently.  I just had a couple of things to mention about it:

  1. My wife liked it.  She really liked the 3D aspect; it reminded her of the fun of experiencing 3D movies as a kid in Disneyland.  She’d like to visit Pandora, albeit via an Avatar, perhaps, for safety’s sake.
  2. tvtropes has plenty to say about it.
  3. I consider it to be Art, but don’t think highly of it as a film.  I still like it.

Let me expand on 3 a little.

I really like what they did with the visuals of the movie.  The 3D was good when it wasn’t broken, since it was more atmospheric and spatial than a mere gimmick.  The art direction is solid, with consistent visual appeal.  The world is lush and interesting.  The characters are actually my favorite part, because they feel plausible.  The animation and characterization is excellent; they don’t feel animated, they feel alive.

Compare the characters to those in the Final Fantasy: the Spirits Within movie.  The difference in static appearance isn’t much (stills from either film read pretty well compared to each other), but the Avatar characters move more plausibly, complete with imbalances, personality and body language.  I’m not sure whether this is a leap in motion capture or animation technique and technology (or just more money thrown at an issue), but there is a marked difference between Jake Sully’s Big Blue and Aki Ross.  Dodging the Uncanny Valley by using not-quite-human characters also probably helped significantly.  Either way, this is why I tend to stress that animation itself is more important to selling the sense of life than high resolution textures and 3D glasses.  The Disney animators tend to believe similarly.

Pandora, the movie’s fictional world out thataway somewhere in Plot Space, looks like it could be a real place.  It’s interesting and pretty.  The floating mountains are especially awesome in my eyes, though the biophosphorous neon jungle might be more appealing to some.  I can only imagine that an IMAX viewing of the show would be rather exhilarating, especially in the flight scenes.

So… it’s all very pretty.  The story is almost paint-by-the-numbers, though, and it really clashed for me.  It’s been compared to Dances With Wolves, albeit with blue body paint and technogeek body swapping (the titular “avatar” technology).  I could certainly nitpick a LOT of things in the film, but it’s not really worth it.  It’s not a bad story, exactly, but it’s nothing all that spectacular, innovative or interesting.

Then again, one might wonder if the market really wants innovation?

I had a similar reaction to Cameron’s Titanic, actually.  It was pretty, and the visuals of the boat sinking were spectacularly crafted.  The story, though… cut it out, and I might like the film as a whole.  It would have made a great documentary or historic dramatization, sans DiCraprio and the naked chick.  (Is it terrible of me to find it funny that Global Warming nut DiCaprio effectively froze to death in that film?)

Similarly, Avatar would have been a great artistic tech demo (Picasso’s early Cubism could be considered a tech demo, and it’s considered Art), or even a fantastic game, sans the caricature story and almost-romance with blue almost-naked almost-people.  It’s not a terrible film, and it’s a pretty good “experience”.  It looks really good.

I guess that’s enough to make money, though.  Why do we even care about innovation, again?

I mean, there’s got to be something more importan… ooh, sparkly blue thingy!!!


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…what a ship is, what the Black Pearl really is… is freedom…

Jack Sparrow

Allods Online is a polished, well crafted MMO.  I dearly wish it would have taken a page from Puzzle Pirates, though.

One of the key points that differentiates Allods Online from most modern MMOs is the Astral and Astral Ships.  Players build ships that they can sail the Astral with, flitting between Allods (landmasses in the Astral aether), exploring PvE and PvP content.  The core mechanics of cooperative PvE and “open sea” PvP (making piracy viable, since players have to “port” with their treasure chests before laying proper claim to them) are very similar to Puzzle Pirates.  I’d say they make a lot of sense in any game where you have ships and islands or rough analogies.  EVE also comes to mind, though I’m not sure how well the concepts track there.

The part that I wish Allods Online would take from Puzzle Pirates is the wide range of ships, all the way from soloable Sloops (with NPC assistants) to Grand Frigates that can have 150 or more players aboard.  (Multiship PvP is also great in PP, with each “weight class” of ship having a use, given maneuverability, crew and firepower.)  Sloops are cheap enough for players to acquire one pretty quickly (depending on player skill and crew support), and players can be out sailing the ocean on their own ship far before what might be considered the “endgame”, easily within a couple of weeks for all but the most casual and incompetent of players.  There is a ship for nearly any group size, and a couple that fill similar niches, changing the combat tactics rather than the group size.

There are other things about PP that would make Allods Online more interesting, like the ability for crew conglomerates (flags) to own islands, the ability to make a living as a merchant (shipping, buying and selling goods between islands), the Black Ship to prevent ganking, and the dual currency system with blind auction currency exchange, but what really stands out to me is the ships.

I want my own ship in Allods Online, and I want to be able to solo it, and to take it out with a few close friends if I so choose. It’s no accident that I’ve grouped more in PP than any other MMO combined.  It’s easy to do, it’s easy to solo, and it’s easy to transition between the two via NPC swabbies, even midsession.  The bad guys are controlled by a dynamic spawn system that adjusts the PvE to your current ship’s staffing.  It’s painless and fun to be up and running, playing the shipboard games, solo or with others, very quickly, and changes midstride don’t wreck the whole journey.

Beyond game mechanics, though, there is a personal connection that you can have with ships.  I have a handful of ships in PP, and my most cherished game possessions are on one particular ship that cannot be sunk (you can sink ships, but only in arenas where you have to click through a confirmation to get to), decorated with the finest stuff that I’ve found in the game.  I’ve renamed the ship, painted it, and stocked it with trinkets and doodads that are irreplaceable.  It’s like private housing and a gameplay vehicle all in one, and I’m inordinately fond of it.  It is my home in Puzzle Pirates, more than a crew, more than an island, more than a server.

I want that connection to the Allods Online game world, a beautiful, imaginative place that I want to explore in glorious 3D.

That the current proposed implementation of ships in AO is based in the endgame and forced grouping (ships require a handful of players to function) makes me sad.  I still heartily recommend the game for its varied classes, great art direction, interesting lore, great business model, good combat and overall polish.  Apparently, you can customize your own ship in AO, a decision I do applaud and consider wise.  I don’t dislike the game at all.

I just wish that I could find the same connection with it that I have with PP, a connection firmly rooted in the freedom to own and sail my own ship, whenever I please, with whomever I please, even if it’s just barely-competent NPCs.  Allods Online looks to be shaping up to be a good or even great game.  It just can’t be my home the same way Puzzle Pirates is.

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I don’t think I’ll try for the trifecta of internet taboos this time.  I’ll save the religious stuff for Easter.  Politics and economics are intertwined, though, and unfortunately, considerably more important than some of the other articles I have simmering on the burner.

Karl Denninger has some new articles up that I’d like to highlight.

First, his obligatory “Year in Review” sort of post.  Lots of data with a side order of vitriol.  This will be an interesting year, what with the 2010 elections firing people up (or not, as the case may be).  Apologies to those of you who don’t care about U.S. politics.  I’m actually not a fan of politics, as it happens (politicians bother me), but events on that stage have a nasty tendency to affect the stuff I am a fan of, so it’s good to at least be aware of what is afoot.

Where We Are, Where We’re Headed (2010)

Then there’s this gem that not only roasts the mainstream media, but also serves as a nice reminder of the math behind housing and why we’re still not in a Happy Place economically.  Calling Geithner and Obama to task is icing on the cake.  (Don’t worry, he has blasted Bush as well.  Economic concerns are nonpartisan; both parties are part of the problem.)

The Mainstream Media Wakes Up (HAMP)

And if you’re a fan of the Time Man of the Year, dear old Ben Bernanke, Denninger has this to say of some of his recent comments:

Fed Bubble Blowing:  A Study of Denial

Denninger is a wee bit more… fiesty… than I might be, but he’s keyed into the financial markets, and considering the smoldering problems in that sector of the economy (that affect all of us), it’s been instructive for me to see what he’s concerned about.

The Christmas Eve shenanigans were interesting, too:

Fraudie/Phoney-What Does Treasury Know

When the legislation makes efforts to pass something while citizens are busy, it throws up a few red flags in my mind.  Similarly, when they say “this must pass NOW, or the world will end”, it bothers me, whether it’s about Climate Change, TARP or Health Care Reform.  I can’t help but think of hucksters telling me to “Buy Now, this deal will never be this good again!”, when almost inevitably, a little bit of homework and a bit of patience shows it to be the fraudulent sales pitch it really is.  Why is it that we offer politicians any more respect than cable TV sales channel pitchmen?  In my mind, both are modern day snake oil salesmen, only differentiated by the actual effect they can have on the population at large.

Speaking of snake oil, though:

The True Intent of Health “Reform”

“Global Warming” SCAM -Hack/Leak FLASH

Interesting stuff.

I know, I know, I usually talk about game design and happy shiny fluffy stuff.  Thing is, if societal acrimony increases while the economy burns as our leaders fiddle about with things best left alone, and we really do step into a Greater Depression, complete with political and societal upheaval, the New Happy Shiny might be more Big Brother Soylent Green than endless navel gazing in the MMO genre.  Jack Thompson isn’t the only “political” figure that stands in opposition to gaming utopia.

So… yeah.  That’s my New Year’s “Coming up Next” post.

Please pay attention to things that really are more important than games.  Don’t take my word for what is going on, don’t take Denninger’s word, don’t drink the Hannity or Huffington Kool-Aid.  Don’t trust government propaganda.  As Thomas Jefferson recommended:  Question With Boldness (OK, OK, there’s a hint of religion in the full quote, so I did get in the whole trifecta…)

Question everything, and don’t stop until you have the truth.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled Questioning of Game Design.  (See, the philosophy works there, too!)

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