Monday, June 30, 2014

Post-Go Play Northwest Post

Souleye and his VVVVVV soundtrack redone by FamilyJules7x? Count me in, forever. This is a really kickass album.

Hey there! Everything was amazing. The three best days in gaming. I love you all, Go Players. Sorry that I couldn't see the few people who were held up by sickness or timing - I hope to catch up with you soon! This includes Gary M, Johnzo, Jess, Ogre, and anyone else I couldn't see this weekend.

This weekend was a lot of work. I'm not a social person, and dense interaction is a really draining experience, but after a relatively solitary first-year experience at GPNW I try to push myself to my social limits now. Decided to step it up this year by not just spending my time with people the whole time but by trying to reach out and meet all the new people I didn't know, especially those who looked on their own or like new first-years. This meant a lot of "Hey, I don't think we've met, I'm Max, what's you name?" and "Do you want some company?" and "So what've you been playing?" and if you know me, stuff like that is basically my weak spot. But it payed off, and at least one of the people I introduced myself to I ended up hanging out with most of the weekend. New friends!

But you're reading here to figure out what I played, right? Let's break it down.

Robert ran Monsterhearts on Friday. Friday feels really far away - Jeremy Tidwell played with us, but I don't remember the last player's name (which I still feels quite ashamed about)! I was a Mortal, and the others were a Cuckoo and a Selkie. I was in love with the Cuckoo, and he was truly sociopathic. It was awful for all the characters. Oddly enough, each character came to the end of their arc by the end of the session - the Selkie got her pelt at the very end and was scared off of land living and turned away from humans entirely, I finally went through enough to break free of the Cuckoo, and the Cuckoo found out who his father was: completely ordinary, and he was left with no answers for all his hatred and manipulation. I liked the Mortal - I'll definitely play one again.

Saturday morning was Spirits of the Wild. SotW is Orion Canning's Game Chef game, which was a game only in the loosest of terms. It took the form of a video, showing words that were spraypainted onto a tunnel wall with glow-in-the-dark paint, which is really really cool but not a great means of communicating how to play. I played with Matthew Sullivan-Barrett, Julia, Karen, and of course Orion.
We did a lot of conversation about how to interpret that as a game, and came up with each starting with a phrase of our existing understanding of the Dark Future and then went around the con building (which was a five floor tower, which is an awesome environment for this sort of thing) taping up drawings of our current understanding of things trying to communicate them with no words at all. Others find them and try to interpret them in light of their own understanding of the Dark Future, and then try to communicate that new understanding through more pictures. We don't know which pictures are from who, or how old any given picture might be, so it made it pretty interesting. I got really into the cave painting-esque style of things. Common motifs were gender disharmony, transformation into monstrousness, bleeding hearts, and clocks. We then all met and shared what we came up with as our understanding of what happened. It was really interesting to see that we all came up with different things that definitely held elements of each others' initial understandings and elements, but were definitely unique depending on which drawings we actually noticed and in what order we found them.

On Saturday afternoon I ran Avatar World: The Red Mountain with a full roster. I'd made a silly mistake coming to the con - I carried my materials from my last game, but had forgotten to refresh them. As such, I had characters written on four of the sheets and no Earthbender. I also was missing the Red Mountain insert for the Waterbender though that wasn't a huge deal. I erased the old characters and didn't have any trouble with it in-game, thankfully.
The game was really good. It was also really long. Using The Red Mountain cuts down on the time issue and it still ran 4 and a half hours in a 4 hour slot. It was me running it, Joe on the Airbender, Andy on the Warrior, Kingston on the Monk, and Jay on the Aristocrat, all of which worked admirably. I had a couple of notes I made during the story's climb up the Red Mountain, surprise confrontation with a dethroned Sel, and final conflict with the Spirit Parasite Teres.
1) Harm on PCs is in the firing line. It's simply boring compared to Tags. On the other hand, Harm offers a degree of protection that narrative harm doesn't - I simply cannot kill you until I burn through all that Harm. I've not made a decision, but PC Harm is on the chopping block and the axe is in my hand.
2) This game is NOT meant for PvP, but that's absolutely what happened. I knew if I played it enough it would happen eventually, but now I know what it looks like. The imbalance between Tags and Harm is a concern, as is the extreme power of Commit Open Violence's Tags.
Kingston made mention of the possibility of requiring a certain number of Tags before something can be declared "out of the fight" but I've resisted that intentionally. It's bookkeeping, and some things really can be handled that fast. I may give players a buffer though, or maybe even an escape clause to death in the vein of Monsterhearts' going Darkest Self to avoid death.
3) Commit Open Violence's options are getting retooled. I had the seed of how to fix it and Jay solidified it, this one's a done deal. The "Deal little harm" option, which makes no sense anyway, is now "You don't impose a Tag," which also resolves a complication in the wording of the main text.
4) Joe played the Airbender a lot like a show Airbender! This sounds awesome until one discovers that the other players wound up on a slightly more serious tact because of the way the Red Mountain is set up. I'm not picking on Joe - "like the show" should be an entirely legitimate way to play an Airbender and I gave no prefacing of the tone of The Red Mountain (as I hadn't noticed it). Instead it showed me something necessary: I need to write a much sillier set of quickstart letters for a second premise that is more like the show's tone. Having both would give me a much better handling of the spectrum of ways an Avatar game could go. I don't have my seed yet, but I know I need one, and am excited to figure out what I'll be doing.

I should also mention that I'll be doing a new draft of the whole document sometime soon. Want to do some rewrites. Avatar World is getting up there!

Saturday evening I was able to be a part of a game of Anima Prime! Drew (aka Gray Pawn) was running, and our player crew was Kingston, Joe, Mike, Reagan, Tom (of Role Playing Public Radio fame) and myself. It was in Drew's setting for Anima Prime, the Ember Core, and it was really cool. It was a basic scenario called Until Death, inspired by the FFX wedding scene (which is entirely expected given Christian's love of FFX), and we were all super awesome. I was EVO, a bioaugmentation experiment subject who was used as a guinea pig for basically all new types of biomods, so when I finally broke free I quested to destroy the Helix Corporation for it. When I finally leapt into battle I'd already built up a bunch of strike dice, so when I hurtled into the doctor in charge of my experiments I shredded him to death in a single action. It was crazy. As I was the only player who'd played before I got to make my own character instead of using a mostly-completed pregen (because Drew only had 5).
Anime Prime is easily one of my favorite games. You may not get a ton of stuff done in a single session, but every single action makes you feel like you're this amazingly awesome hero.

Sunday morning I was going to skip out to go get breakfast but instead got into an ad-hoc game of Planarch Codex run by Jackson and played with Orion, Hanna(h?), and Daniel Wood. It was a really cool thing even though we basically did some roleplayed chargen and ran out of time. It was a great experience, even if there was no real rolling. I'd totally play again.

In the afternoon I played Finding Haven with Manu (it was his Game Chef game last year). I wanted to play this last year so am glad I could this year. Manu ran it for me, Julia, and Joe. We were earthbound rebels against the Demosians whose leader had been captured and taken for interrogation and Thought Therapy Re-Education. We rescued him and felt like awesome heroes doing it.
The system took some adapting to, but definitely worked. We had some feedback for modification, and all around it felt very productive and enjoyable. And since I did voice work for his Game Chef game this year (Cry of the Wilders) I got a shirt!

The last slot was Dungeon World, run by Drew. I hadn't known what I was going to do and was standing waiting for the Donut to begin when Drew pops by, asks if I'm doing anything, and when I tell him no immediately co-ops me into the game. I'm glad he did, because it was hilarious. Drew was running, and players were me, Kingston, Jay, John Powell, and John's nephew Warren. We played with original playbooks, Inverse World playbooks, and Grim World playbooks simultaneously. I'd never even seen the Grim World playbooks before! I played the Walker from Inverse World. It was definitely a bit broken, as Jay had warned the table, but I tried not to abuse it and it was really fun. The other playbooks were a Wizard, a Druid, a Channeler, and a Mecha.
It was funny how many references were stuffed into the Inverse World ones. I'm very glad Warren and his Mecha playbook both got my Gurren Lagann references. I did, however, have to check around the table if anyone knew the reference Irina was making for the Walker - they didn't, and neither did I, so that worked. I didn't want to be Croft or Ezio because that makes images in people's heads. I know now that Irina is either Irina Spalko for the Indiana Jones reference or Irina Mikitenko, a German Olympic runner and one of the best runners in the world. I was appalled that neither "Nathan" nor "Drake" was on the name list though.
The gonzo meter was kinda tipping in the entire time. That's to be expected of Sunday-03 though. So much giggly laughter.

 And those were the games I played! I think I'll mention my food though - when I'm travelling, and specifically when I'm staying somewhere that is not home, I try and go to places that I haven't done before or are local specialties or are new experiences for me. I had three not-cafteria meals, and they were all great and new.
I had Vostok Russian Dumplings as dinner on Saturday with Kingston and Joe and Jay and Andy. I've never had Russian dumplings before, they were really good actually! Thank you Andy for taking us there.
I had a burger at The Lost Lake in the middle of Pride-chaos at midnight on Saturday with Avery and Jay and Joe. Thanks to Evan for pointing us there!
I had a burger at the Luna Park Cafe with Andy and Drew and Joe and Jay (I guess I ate with Jay and Joe lot!). Thank you very much Jay for suggesting it!

Thank you everyone for my best Go Play yet! I'm excited by all the excitement I felt for Avatar World and for the next time I can see you all. I'll be at PAX, and am considering both Dragonflight and GeekGirlCon (GGC is complicated - that's my birthday weekend). If anyone knows what's happening with Technicolor Dreams this year I'd love to know.

Later y'all.
End Recording,

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Pre-Go Play Northwest Post

If you live in Seattle and still have a free couch this weekend, I would love it if you would contact me!

Gurren Lagann was absurd and just kept topping itself. I thought I was gonna abandon after Kamina died, but no, it somehow kept escalating in the right way. Unlike Kill la Kill, Gainax actually managed to hold onto the escalation through the end without it becoming gibberish.

Anyway, I'm gonna be at Go Play NW over the weekend! If you don't know what that is, it's a story game convention in Seattle. It was my first ever convention two years ago and is still my favorite. I hope to see you there!

What will I be bringing? Well, I WILL be running Avatar World once - twice if there's demand, but once is the plan. It doesn't have a day set but I have two interested people already so jump on it quick if you're interested!
I will NOT have Shining Void on hand.
I will also have enough supplies to run one game of Monsterhearts, but I'm more interested in playing than running that.
Other than that, I have only one plan: I'll be playing in Robert and Orion's game of Letting Go hopefully.

I'm really looking forward to seeing everyone. Later folks!

End Recording,

Thursday, June 19, 2014

The Shining Void: Release Version 0.1

It's here! After a lot of work, The Shining Void is ready for release. What once was a fragment of an idea as Mass Effect Hack, in existence just to bandy ideas about with some other Mass Effect hackers, is now a full game. The Mass Effect name has been worn off, though still referenced, and the game is larger in scope than Avatar World. Now, it's not quite as fine as AvW yet, but that's the next step: what The Shining Void needs now is a playtest.
What is my final goal? Payed release. Having a pdf I can sell would be beyond awesome. That's still a ways off though.

This release has every element of the game except for the equivalent of an ApW Fronts system. Much of it, however, is still pretty subpar. In the push to this release, I forced myself to write some things that I wasn't 100% on just so I could get to the release, so not everything's perfect. The layout of the supplemental sheets is particularly iffy to me; there's a large block of space on the speciesbooks, the speciesbooks aren't capable of being folded in half well, and the basic moves sheet is incredibly cramped.
Oh, a note: The gray bars on the playbooks are art placeholders. I'll get to art eventually, but it's a lot of work.

Well, no point dithering about any longer. Here's the link!

The Shining Void v0.1 Zipped Archive

The Shining Void v0.1 Separate Files

If you have any comments, or especially if you play it, I really want to hear about it! I see comments here, I'm on Twitter as @Logbook_Project, and you can find me on the Story Games forums as horn_head_o (check out the "Hacking Mass Effect/Apocalypse World" thread and the "[The Shining Void] Apocalypse World / Mass Effect Hack Version 0.1 Release" thread).

Enjoy, tell your friends!

End Recording,

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Pixel Art: Mayan Statue

I haven't played Child of Light, but I kinda want to. It has a surprisingly indie-esque look to it for a Ubisoft game, reminds me of LIMBO and Braid (among others) in its imagery.

So I did go do a bit of pixel art after mentioning it last time! And after seeing someone on Pixeljoint remaking an old piece of there's and jalonso mentioning how it's always a great exercise to do every couple years, I decided to do just that.

That is old! 8 years old, to be precise. One of the first pieces I felt particularly proud of. It was made as part of the Pixelation palette challenge. It's, uh, pretty bad in retrospect. No real depth, forms are all messed up, and the lightsource isn't exactly consistent. But very intensive.

This is when I remade it in 2009, three years later, which is still five years old. It is much better! These piece still stands up pretty decently. The top is all confusing-like, and the perspective on the tiles is ridiculous, and I was working with figuring out dithering at the time so it's pretty overdithered, but it looks appealing still.

Now it's the present. I've learned a lot! This time I didn't want to replicate it precisely like in the past, I just wanted to capture some essence. I did want to lock down the palette still though. I don't know how great of a decision that was, as it's one of the two major things holding back my piece. Let's just take a look at the final piece!
Among other things, I blew it up! Bigger size was one of the first things I wanted to do with the remake. Ultimately it leaves it feeling a bit empty. I might do a little more working on it to fill int he gaps or something. It's just a huge space, and I'm not used to working in such room. Plus it's been a while since I've pixelled independently. I'm proud of the statue, and the figure is fine (though he doesn't have hair pretty much so I didn't have to bother with character design).
Is it perfect? Hell no. It's wide and empty and there's large flat expanses. However, it was a very good experimentation for returning to some pixel art, and specifically for a key technique I've wanted to practice that I learned about during my time off, mostly during my pixel lesson-writing. That technique is pixel clusters!

This isn't a full lesson or anything, but I wanted to show a couple bits from the process to show how I was constructing stuff.

Most importantly, here's the palette set aside.
I have six colors to work with. Black (SIGH), dark purple, light purple, dark green, light green, and yellow. This is a sub-optimal palette to be forced into working with; solid black sucks, hence why I ignored it entirely in the 2009 rendition, there's not enough contrast between the purples, and the bright yellow is hard to drop in. On the other hand, the green's have great contrast, and the low saturation on the light purple lets it take on a role of buffer if I need it to. I really wish that black wasn't pure though.
This was step one! It, uh, was literally doodling over a grey canvas with red pencil, plotting out general areas. It's a mess. Don't worry about it.
And then I cemented it with color blocking. I eventually dropped the vines toward the end. I couldn't get the curves to look good and was tired of working. They may return to fill some of the empty space if I revise.
This is technically three separate steps compiled into one image - I composed the three colors separately. These formed the basic shapes that I built on to define the whole image. Purple came first, then yellow, then gray.
And here's the only mid-progress shot I had saved. I had it as a spare layer because I duplicated it before trying something - I think it was about the highlight ridge between the eyes, and it worked out.

Now let's take a look at my clusters! Specifically, the shaping of each color individually. This didn't comply with that challenge on Pixelation to try to only use clusters and have no lone pixels, but I kept it in mind that I wanted to avoid stray pixels. The main exception was when I wanted to anti-alias, but I also had a good deal of stray stuff that I used to add a little visual interest to the large expanses of grass and space, as well as to detail the little bits of grass and stars that would catch light.
Ignore the little tabs in the top right - those were from my palette and I forgot to remove them when I saved these. The main goal with my clustering was to be able to define shapes and regions with not only space, but with negative space - keeping both parts formed out of clean lines. With black, two of the best places are the torch inside the flame and the thin outlining around the top of the state and grassy ledge. Both clearly define what's happening, while leaving room for the other colors to augment, even though the outline is only the AA and not made of solid clustering. On the other hand, the figure gets cut up by removing the other colors - some gentle AA could help reclaim some of the edges. Also, this one makes it quite obvious how not-round the moon is.

This one's great the whole way around. Like everywhere. The curves on the statue aren't perfect, especially on the teeth, but are generally pretty clean!

And this one's just even better. I don't think I have anything wrong with this.

This is just both purples on the same image. It does a really good job of showing how the statue is defined by a clear shadow plane and the figure is constructed out of rim lighting.

Here's where things start to get messy. The upper region of the statue and the grass are fine, but the mouth area on the statue relied on green for anti-aliasing, which doesn't look great as clustering.

The light green starts to define the flame itself and the highlights on the statue. I like how the negative shapes from the grass can shape the figure and the statue's shadow side.

On dark so you can actually see it. The flame takes shape, the grass around the figure still implies its shape, and a lot of the front of the statue can be inferred purely from the highlights.

And here's the brights, all put together. All in all less clearly-composed than the shadows, but I still like it.

In general, I think I can be satisfied with my understanding of the positive and negative clusters and how to define forms with both of them instead of just the positive ones. Definitely might come back and do even more to the piece, but for now I'm happy with it as a warming-up exercise.

End Recording,

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Mass Effect Hack: Hurdles on the Track


I owe y'all some explanation. I've had one post in the past month. I've completely let things slip. But I'm going to make excuses!
The beginning of May was a time of a bit of progress on things, but not enough to post. I should have come up with something anyway. Then came the week before finals, where I had a billion things to do, including writing a huge-ass paper (but not the sort that would be enjoyable to read here, sadly). I also had multiple presentations. Then it was finals week and you can forgive me for being busy.
Since classes ended, like literally two days after, I started working for my dad re-siding the house. I hate construction work, especially when I'm getting paid not that much. But it's exhausting work, seven days a week, so I've just felt too off to write. I feel super guilty, especially about missing Sunday Songs repeatedly even though I don't have any music in mind that I want to share a ton. I think I'm gonna put Sunday Songs on hold for a while, build up for a month-long event again.
I really just want to get a draft of MEHack up, then do a revision and expansion of AvW (along with completing the subplaybooks). Thinkin' I might do a little pixel art again, and maybe talk about movies or games or anime or something.

So here's a thing about how I've been finishing the first draft: I've been actually writing the game and laying out the PDF at the same time. This has had a few effects. First and foremost, it means that when I get to a section, I need to write it it, I can't just leave blanks. It pressures me into actually finishing things. It also keeps me from second-guessing, as it's hard to go back and change things. If I doubt something I of course am noting it down (as I will undoubtedly re-lay out everything another time anyway), but for right now it keeps me looking forward. It also keeps me from lapsing into writing in my design-note notation. That style is helpful for initial stuff, but when I use it without thinking of how it goes in a document I overlook things.

However, given this workflow, I still hit hurdles as I push to a first draft. Let's look at a few of those.
First issue was the organization / flow. I ended up with a similar early section to Avatar World, where I start with the idea of an RPG, the idea of the genre, and the game's classifications (GM'd, 4-5 participants, etc). I jump into a follow-along-as-you-start walkthrough of getting a game started, explaining the basics: the conversation and moves, the Basic Moves, rolebooks/speciesbooks, the cosmetic decisions, the stats, moves, introductions, relationships, and the Ship's Log. After this brief intro,, I jump into the playbooks themselves in book form (not playsheet form, though the two are similar). Third I'll be adding the MC stuff in brief (the job, the principles, the moves,I'll do Threats stuff later I think), then the book goes into full detail on the mechanics, suggestions / notes and all.
The main hurdle is that I decided to put the Playbook/MC stuff before the explanation stuff - after I'd already written the explanation stuff. I'm now treading on thin ice with all the layout holding together.

Writing the intro stuff was easy - this is like the fourth version of the "how do ApW games work" speech I've haad to write, I like how I say it. Unfortunately, I didn't exactly have all the mechanics in place when I started. I spent a couple days re-writing the Ship mechanics AGAIN, but I FINALLY think I got it right. Took me long enough.

Writing explanatory stuff for each of the mechanics wasn't too bad either! Took time, but I understood all my mechanics, even the ship stuff.

Then I backed up and started writing in the playbooks, and that's when things get more annoying. I started on the Rolebooks, in alphabetical order of course, so first was the Academic. I had to write Origins, and the Relationship prompts, but the moves were already written.
For the Agent, I needed moves as well as origins and relationships, which nobody had when I started.
Looking at it visibly, I decided it would be best to keep the Agent with only three moves total, with Agency given automatically and starting without choices. This bugs me a bit cuz it doesn't give you options off the bat, but there's options in Agency, it's a strong move, and it's very powerful fictionally, and it's got precedent; after all ApW has the Chopper and Hardholder who don't even get move choices, and DW doesn't give you move choices at all at first level, and you'll have a choice from your Speciesbook anyway so Agents don't start the same.
Getting to the Leader was a bit tricky. I ended up doing the same thing with Mission as I did with Agency. I'm not 100% on what I chose, but oh well.
The Loner is where I'm at right now, and it's a huge bitch. I've found two major issues that I'm still grappling with.
1) The Loner's broadness. The loner is an extremely popular concept in movies and games, and as such has a huge range of potential abilities, making it hard to nail down an iconic set of actions.
2) The Loner's connections. The Loner is an important archetype to the game, but at the same time represents a bit of a paradox to the sort of game I'd like to see played. The story of the game revolves around a team, and the heart of storygames is the interaction of player characters. So a character whose gimmick is that they don't like interacting is troublesome. My intention is to not reduce their amount of starting relationships, or to give them moves that favor such antisocial behavior. I intend to tilt the moves to encourage pursuing independent behavior when with the team.
My brother brought up a good point, that the people who choose to play The Loner likely WANT to exhibit that kind of antisocial behavior, which is a bit of a flaw. Similarly, it makes fictional sense that a Loner would have less connections to the other players, but I don't want to actually cut them off from an easy way to integrate with others. But since MEHack, as an ApW-powered game, is a fiction-first game, should I lighten my design intentions there to better adhere to the fictional concept of the archetype? Am I as designer as bound by fiction-first as players and MCs are? For now, I'm just gonna run with it as I please.

I dread getting to the Rebel, who will be a huge mess to develop. The Veteran is mostly complete already. The Speciesbooks are almost entirely incomplete, but have strong concepts so I just need to be mechanically clever or something. The MC stuff will need explanations, but I have the basics down. And those are the things I have left! We'll see if there's other hurdles.

Oh yeah, and there's one big problem. Mass Effect Hack is a really stupid name for a real project. It's conveniently descriptive, but not very evocative, fun, or memorable. I'm just coming up totally dry. Something reflecting the cooperative, mission-based play, or the grand-scale sci-fi in a diverse society. I'm fond of the word Stars for it.
Actually, sitting here typing this post and seeing if I haven't come up with any ideas, I thought about how maybe Among Darkening Stars could work. The phrase isn't copyrighted, it implies danger or evil in the galaxy that PCs would be going up against, it clearly indicates the sci-fi nature of the game, and it is an excellent descriptor of the tone of Mass Effect's story, with people, then colonies, then whole regions going dark and silent as the Reapers worked.
How does anyone else feel about Among Darkening Stars? Cuz I like it I think!

End Recording,