Posts Tagged ‘Games’
Wednesday, September 5th, 2012
“Gypsies, tramps, and thieves; we’d hear it from the people of the town. They’d call us Gypsies, tramps, and thieves.” – Cher
Why work for a living, when you can just take what you need from someone else? Let them do all the hard work, then a quick snatch, and it’s yours.
Friend, let me tell you, thieving isn’t all it’s cut out to be. Stealing is hard work, usually harder than earning a living honestly. You live in fear of getting caught, knowing that the best you can expect is to go to prison. You might have your hand cut off. If you choose the wrong victim, even once, you might find yourself wearing a pair of cement overshoes on a very short boat ride.
The worst thing is, the pay sucks. You risk your life and freedom to nick a few items, then the fence gives you like one-tenth of what they’re worth. Seems like the more you steal, the farther you get behind on your protection payments. Let’s not even mention rent, food, or dames.
Crime just doesn’t pay…. the bills.
Steal-y Eyed Resolve
Dungeons & Dragons introduced fantasy gamers to another type of Thief. Borrowed from sources such as “the Gray Mouser” in Fritz Leiber’s Lankhmar stories, the D&D thief walks a narrow tightrope between being a hero or acting the scoundrel. Independent and skillful, but without the powerful spells of a magic user or the strong armor of a fighter, the thief operates outside of the dictates of society.
By nature amoral, a thief can still be a hero when his skills are needed. When evil people hide the evidence of their crimes behind locked doors, sometimes it takes a good set of lockpicks and a lot of skill to uncover it. When they plot in secret, lurking in the shadows may be the only way to find the truth. And, of course, less-cautious adventurers are in serious trouble if they lack a thief to find and disarm the traps in their way.
When we designed Quest for Glory, we had this sort of Thief in mind. Fighters would use the direct approach to solving problems, Magic Users could usually find a spell to help them out, but Thieves had to work a little harder. They only their subtlety and stealth to get by on. And their toolkits. And a few throwing daggers.
Not everyone agreed with our ideal. One of the original Hero’s Quest team members quit the team early because he refused to work on a game that glorified thieves. He did not believe anyone could “steal with honor.”
Maybe we should have used the more socially-acceptable term “rogue” from the start. A rogue, after all, isn’t necessarily a thief. Quest for Glory thieves occasionally indulge in questionable activities, but mostly they are heroes just as much as the fighters and magic users. They have important work to do, and they know it.
What’s In a Name?
You don’t see many thieves in games these days. Most games prefer the term “Rogue” (often misspelled as “rouge”, which makes me see red). A rogue is a loner, someone who refuses to follow the rules. Coincidentally, rogues in most role-playing games have abilities suspiciously similar to thieves and assassins – stealth, lockpicking, backstabbing, and even poison. They’re even pretty good at stealing things.
Our rogues aren’t like that… usually. They have the skills to solve problems in creative – and sometimes questionable – ways, but they are committed to using their abilities for good. If they happen to pick up a few baubles along the way, it’s only because they need money to keep up their equipment and support their important heroic activities.
One theme behind The School for Heroes is that anyone can be a hero. Warriors lead, Wizards teach, and Rogues work behind the scenes to do whatever needs to be done. Each has a chance to do heroic deeds. It isn’t the background, the training, or the personality that matters – It’s the commitment to being a hero.
But rogue heroes may have the hardest challenge of all. Regardless of the purity of their intentions, they may find themselves in jail as common thieves if they get careless or unlucky. They rarely get any respect, and their greatest deeds “must never be known.” Rogues have important, but thankless, jobs.
On the other hand, roguish behavior can be a lot of fun. You get to see places hidden to everyone else, get away with often naughty behavior, and you’re always living on the edge. Those are some of the reasons you will get the chance to be a Rogue in the first episode of Hero-U.
It’s all about U
Hero-U is all about interesting characters. We’ve gone away from the abstract “hero without a name” of the Quest for Glory games by giving each of our heroes a name, a unique background, and a distinctive personality. Shawn O’Conner, your rogue character in the first game, is no exception.
Shawn has had a difficult life. Living in poverty, he sees no choice but to become a thief. He’s quick and agile, but without training, and he quickly learns that theft is a really hard way to make an easy living.
Fortunately, there is another way at Hero U. Life may not be any easier there, but at least Shawn has a second chance of making something of his life. The bad news is that there are others who don’t want him to succeed at that chance. Not to mention that becoming a Hero is really, really hard work.
Thief, Rogue, or Hero? The choice is up to Shawn – and you.
Wednesday, August 15th, 2012
The Internet has dramatically changed the worlds of economics, finance, and work. Gamers are responsible for many of those changes, and everybody is a gamer now.
But this isn’t just a passive change. Gamers have real power. You have a voice that can no longer be ignored. It’s time to use your voice and make some changes.
Before the Internet – say up to twenty years ago – you had no power at all. Companies developed products they could sell to the “mass market”, generic products for generic people. They didn’t know who you were, and didn’t care about what you wanted.
Big corporations have high overhead. They don’t stay in business selling customized products one or two at a time. It’s cheaper to make a million identical widgets than 500,000 custom ones.
That’s why adventure games died back in the 90’s. Each game scene was hand-crafted, with custom art, animation, and sound. They cost too much to develop, and their sales didn’t justify the expense.
First-person shooters brought joy to the game publishers’ bookkeepers. The early ones had a lot of generic hallways and grungy backgrounds. Cheap to make, and they sold at least as many copies as adventure games. The fact that all the games looked, played, and felt alike didn’t seem to matter to the players… and it certainly didn’t matter to the publishers.
Adventure games died, the developers moved to farms, and nobody much seemed to care… except the players who missed games with depth, puzzles, and story.
Working the Web
“I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore!” – Network
Things started changing rapidly in the last decade. The Internet became the new mass media, and the Web is fundamentally different from newspapers, radio, and TV.
You don’t choose products the way you did twenty years ago. Back then, we all got our impressions from the same mass media. Now, with the Web, you decide which sites you want to visit and support. The Web lets you vote with your clicks for the products you prefer.
Not everyone wants to play the same games. A lot of gamers love first person shooters, and they still have plenty of new games to play every year – Good for them! But if you want something else, you need to look a little longer and push a little harder.
It’s time to tell the developers what you really want.
The Long Tail of the Law
Speaking up might not be enough by itself. Big publishers still want to make big profits, and most of them are still mired in 20th Century thinking. They still only care about the mythical mass market.
But there is another way, as companies like Amazon have shown us. The Web makes it almost as easy to list 100,000 titles as 1000, and it turns out that the total profit from 10’s of thousands of low-selling titles is as high as the total from the top 1000. This is the “Law of the Long Tail”, and it breaks the old mass-market rules.
Can a few thousand adventure or role-playing game fans convince a big company to make a ten million dollar game in their genre? Probably not. But there are other ways. The Long Tail applies to companies as well as products. Now, with the power of the Internet, thousands of small companies can prosper by making niche products to exploit the long tail of gamers.
Kickstart the Games You Want to Play
Making high-quality games is expensive and game publishers are risk-averse. In the mass-market economy, that meant that there was no place for originality and innovation. A game that doesn’t appeal to the masses – or the publisher’s idea of what would sell – would never get funded. Players who wanted to try something different were out of luck.
Crowd-funding web sites such as Kickstarter (www.kickstarter.com) and IndieGoGo (www.indiegogo.com) have opened the way to a new vision of game development.
The big studios are no longer the only ones in charge. Now the players help call the shots.
Here’s how Kickstarter works. First a company or individual comes up with a great idea for a product they would like to share with the world. They create a Kickstarter project, talk about their plans, and set a goal. They also create “pledge levels”, each with a reward, just as public TV stations ask for pledges to support their programming. The developers tell people about their project, and hope their fans will help spread the word.
Players like you visit the Kickstarter site and pledge to support it. This costs you nothing unless the campaign succeeds. At the end of the Kickstarter campaign, if the project has met the goal set by the developer, you pay the amount you pledged. After that, the developer is responsible for sending you your premium and making the product they promised.
Thanks to crowd-funding, a developer with a great game idea can appeal directly to you – the player. If you find a project that deserves support, you can “vote” for it by pledging as much or as little as you choose to pay. Your “votes” determine which games get made. How cool is that?
It’s your turn. You have the voice, and you have the power. It’s time to change the game!
Wednesday, April 14th, 2010
Last week I talked about “serious games” – games with a real-world purpose. I am a bit cynical about them. While games can teach useful lessons, a good game can also be addictive. Players escape into games because their real lives suck. They get feelings of control and success in the game world that they lack in the mundane world. Jane McGonigal suggests that we channel those positive feelings into real life accomplishments.
I have a different idea – If reality sucks, and games are more fun, change the rules! Make your life into a game, and find ways to make it a game you love to play.
Who Makes the Rules?
“Who makes the rules? Someone else.” – Oingo Boingo, “No Spill Blood”
Most of us think of gaming as, “Someone else made the rules. We play by them.” That seems obvious and sensible. But that’s no longer the only type of game. Role-playing games have a “game master” (GM) who has special privileges. The GM can interpret and even modify the rules. The GM and all of the players are responsible for using their imaginations to create original stories that go beyond the rules.
And that leads to a strange truth about role-playing games: The rules don’t really matter!
I have seen similar campaigns based on wildly different role-playing game systems. And I’ve seen wildly different scenarios within a single game system. It is the imaginations of the GM and the players that make a good or a bad game, not the rules they use.
Of course, that’s just gaming, not real life. Or is it?
Life Is a Role-Playing Game
“Life is a cabaret, old chum. Come to the cabaret!” – Liza Minnelli in Cabaret
Read some personal column ads and you’ll soon find the words, “No games.” Ok, so they don’t like Monopoly. Of course, what they really mean is, “Don’t play to win in a way that makes me lose.” Most people think of games as having a winner and a loser.
Role-playing games are different. The players win or lose together. The GM sets the scene, and puts challenges in front of the players, but is not “playing against” the other players. A good GM wants the players to succeed, but for the success to be challenging, memorable, and meaningful.
A good life should also be meaningful, challenging, and memorable. Coincidence? I think not! A life lived with creativity and passion is a lot like a good role-playing game. Instead of trying to use games to make our miserable lives better, why don’t we turn our lives into games? Maybe they already are.
What is a job? That is where you earn game currency to make investments and pay your expenses.
What are taxes? They are game penalties. You need to earn more game currency to pay for them.
What is school? School is training to help you gain levels and skill points.
What are relationships? They are cooperative mode game play; you join with other players to help all of you reach your goals.
What are regular tasks such as cooking, cleaning, paying bills, and filing? They are the daily quests you perform to support your character, build your reputation, and support your friends.
What are accomplishments? They are the Achievement System of life. You work hard to achieve goals that you give yourself or get from others. Sometimes you earn Achievement Points for doing them.
Who Is To Be Master?
“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.”
“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”
“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master – that’s all.”
Life is a game. But what kind of game is it? Is it one of those relationship “games” where someone always has to lose? Is it a game where someone else writes the rules, and we don’t like them very much, but we have to play by them? Or is it a role-playing game, where the rules don’t matter nearly as much as the creative stories we weave around them? In other words, who is to be the master?
If we treat our lives as part of a role-playing game, we can all have a lot more fun than we may have allowed ourselves in the past. We can also use some of what we know about game play to do better at playing the game of our lives. But first we have to decide who is the game master.
I’ve played in some fun role-playing campaigns where the players took turns being the game master. Each player took responsibility for a particular area. When the players moved into that area, the “owner” of that area became the game master for a few sessions. That was how Gygax, Arneson and friends played the “first fantasy campaign” that spawned Dungeons & Dragons.
Do you feel out of control in your life? Maybe you keep skipping your turn at being the game master. Or maybe you’ve put way too many “Skip a Turn” cards into your collectible life card deck. The funny thing is, most of us think that someone else decides who gets to be the game master, and who just plays. But nobody is making those decisions for us. In a role-playing game, a player gets to be the game master by saying, “I’ll be game master.” It works pretty much the same way in life.
A game master has a lot of responsibility, and it is hard work to run a game, but it is also amazingly rewarding. The GM has total freedom to create an experience for the other players. That, by the way, is the most important key to being a good GM – Your job is to help all of the players have fun. Fortunately, the GM is a player too. If you play the game right, life is better for all of you.
The rules do not make the game. They are just the context in which you define the experience of your life.
Guiding the Game
“The code is more ‘guidelines’ than what you’d call actual rules.” – Pirate Captain Barbossa in Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl
Lori and I have some guidelines we use for every game we design. For example:
1. The players must have fun. This is our #1 “rule” for every game.
2. Make choices clear, meaningful, and interesting.
3. Creating the game must be fun – We are playing a “game” too.
4. Don’t frustrate the player with dead-ends or stupid responses.
These all apply to a good life just as much as to good game design.
Who are your players? Remember, we aren’t “playing the game of life” right now – We’re creating it and being the game master. Your players are the people around you – your friends, family, co-workers, and fellow students. When you work out the rules for your game, make sure that the people around you will have fun and a chance to earn their own achievements. Fortunately, Rule 3 says that you get to have fun too. Just don’t do it at the expense of your other “players”.
Clear, meaningful, and interesting choices keep players involved in a game. They’re even more important in life. Invest in the quality of your life by consciously making choices. Think about your goals and how you can achieve them. Make a list of things you would like to accomplish, places you’d like to go, and experiences you would like to have. You probably make lists like this for work or school. Why not take the time to plan the things that really matter to you? You can let things just happen to you, or you can decide on what you want to do and take the time and effort to make it happen.
Dead-ends, stupid responses, and frustration are part of life. You will have times when you feel that the game is rigged and that the world is actively trying to keep you from your goals. But here’s where life has a big advantage over games – With the exception of a few laws of physics, the rules aren’t fixed. If you are frustrated in one place, go somewhere else. If one approach doesn’t work, try another. Games are limited to the imagination of the designer and the time constraints on the development team. Real life has no such restrictions; you are limited only by your own imagination.
There is one category of “dead ends and stupid responses” you should definitely design out of your “game of life.” That is the set you impose upon yourself. The stupidest dead-end response you can give yourself is, “I can’t do that.” Take the phrase “I can’t” out of your vocabulary. Practice saying instead, “That may be hard, but I’ll give it a try.” If something seems impossible, think about how you can make it possible. Break the hard problem down into smaller, less difficult, tasks. Or redefine it to something that meets the spirit of the original goal, but that you can find a way to achieve. But don’t give up on anything that you really care about.
If you try, but fail, that isn’t the time to quit; do more work and preparation, then try again. Players fail a lot in World of Warcraft, but they keep going back and trying again until they succeed. Life and games are both about conflict and resolution. If you run into an obstacle, look for the solution – You could destroy it, temporarily move it, go around it, find a way over it, dig under it, or use it to redefine the problem. If you haven’t tried at least three solutions, you’re giving up too easily.
“Life is a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.” – Forrest Gump
Being the Game Master of your life is hard work, but that just means you are overcoming challenges. Challenges are the key to making games fun and rewarding; you get a lot more achievement points for doing hard things than easy ones. And there’s more!
As both the GM and as one of the players, you get to create the tale of life’s adventure together. That collaboration means that a well-played life is always a mystery. Until you bite into each experience, you never know how it will taste. You may just find that some of those “impossible” goals will be fulfilled in ways you could never have guessed.
When you make your life into a role-playing game, and take on the responsibility of being the GM, you turn your life into a mysterious box of chocolates. Will you taste them, or settle for someone else’s empty wrappers? The choice is up to you.