Saturday, February 23, 2013

Bwogosphere, The Game

I don't consider myself a hardcore gamer, I'm more a casual player whose wife beats him easily at Super Mario (seriously... it's bad). Despite this, I've spent more than the average amount of time thinking up and designing my perfect game. Often this is just a synthesis of games or game elements that I know already exist with a little bit of originality and preference thrown in, though some games are great as they are - if you're content with that (and I'm usually not). I really like some side-scrollers and I think they're more fun to play in general than most of these open-world ultra-three-dimensional pieces of eye candy we're becoming used to, but they have their limitations too. Here's some of my ideal games. If they don't exist, please make them. If they do, please buy them for me.

Survivor Earth: This is basically a mish-mash of concepts I've come to love over the past few decades. Imagine, for once, the aliens are the good guys. They show up on the scene in the near-future and offer to take any humans willing to leave to a brand new planet, free from pollution/crime/country music (they're not big on rap either but they like all the other kinds) in giant transport ships. People can choose to remain behind, and some folks might not be invited because of... whatever. Fill in the blank. Maybe there's a faction of alien-haters in the mix. Fast forward about one hundred years. Humanity is alive and thriving on Earth 2.0 while the remnants (but we won't call them that because good grief is that word becoming cliche) find themselves in a precarious existence. The aliens have learned about reality television and have setup broadcast stations on Earth to record the exploits of those still alive and kicking. Some humans ignore this, content to live in the communities that have developed and safe from the new dangers that they face. What dangers? Things like mutant scorpions and giant spiders and tyrannosaurus rexes and hunter-killer androids. They'll mostly be left alone though, because no one really wants to watch that. Those who enlist as members of the Cast are given a set of basic supplies (like a simple uniform and a not-a-Pipboy) and followed 24/7 like Hunger Games (but way better because I thought of this idea in high school). Players would be allowed to roam free, collecting all manner of things (weapons, ammo, vehicle parts and schematics, armor, genetic mutations, cybernetic augmentations, etc.), and fighting all the aforementioned baddies. Gaining XP by dispatching foes, finding secrets, exploring locations, and all the normal things is recorded only instead of leveling-up you'd be offered a mission. These would be called Episodes. Defend the settlement, collect nine T-Rex teeth, race not-Optimus to the other side of the island while it's raining cats and dogs and missiles - whatever. The XP is called Fame and you cash it in at broadcast stations or via your not-a-Pipboy for all those lovely upgrades we talked about. The setting is loosely post-apocalyptic in the sense that there aren't very many folks around and those that are tend to be agricultural (or raider jerks) using way-outdated technology and run-down machinery from a hundred years ago. Cities would be overgrown with undergrowth - that sort of thing. I image saber-toothed cats roaming the wooded areas too. You get the picture. I suppose it's like a hybrid of Fallout, Just Cause, and Mechwarrior (because there will absolutely be schematics for those) with a hint of I Am Legend (with the alternate ending because it's way better than the stupid one they used) and Hunger Games - but all relatively tongue-in-cheek. The more I play Just Cause 2, the more I realize the plot is just an excuse to sell the game - it's really about driving/flying/running around blowing things up and collecting insane amounts of dozens of categories of boxes of things to be able to unlock and upgrade more things to drive/fly/shoot. Which is just about perfect, because the game world is amazingly huge. I'd want weather and a day/night cycle of course, with things like wind and sunlight affecting different things (maybe you can built a hang-glider or find solar panels, for instance). I enjoy RPGs but I think attaching statistics to too many things would ruin the experience, so maybe have a health bar that can be increased, a charge for your cybernetics (if/when you get them), maybe a power bar for mutations, and a carrying capacity. Everything else would be modular so you'd be able to achieve the normal array of perks simply by upgrading. I think we'd say that your not-a-Pipboy utilizes pocket dimensions to store your things on-demand but you can always increase its size. There could be some vehicles laying around still that could be drive-able if repaired, or you can buy/steal/borrow one from someone else still around, or you can find some schematics and search for parts for custom ones. And I think that's huge - you should be able to customize modular vehicles and weapons in a vast number of ways. I want an airship and I want to be able to make a scoped rocket launcher that shoots aluminum cans full of gasoline, but I want them to be the result of a ton of hard work when I was using a broken bicycle and rusted pipe to get around and fight dinosaurs with. Include some sort of specified zones for Episodes where themes can be explored - a zombie city, those things from Tremors, Medieval zone, etc. The goal, if there needs to be one, would be simple: gain a certain amount of Fame.

If we go the online route, I think I'd allow each world to be a server for about a hundred people (something the size of Just Cause 2's island chain would be about right). The goal would be to reach a certain amount of Fame in a set amount of time, or whoever can get the most in that time, measured in real-time. You could set an Episode to allow players a full week of real-time to accrue a thousand Fame points, or you could just make it so that whoever gets the most in an hour wins. What do they win (besides bragging rights)? I think the server would record a player's victories and allow them certain perks on the server like a multiplier for Fame (to represent a returning Cast) or Fast Travel Tokens or something. Having the singleplayer feature is fine too, since all this would be recorded on your Resume where all your stats can be published for all your real-life friends to ogle at, but sometimes you need a buddy to take down those cyber-raptors, you know? PvP would be set per server, and I think you'd just get a percentage of that players current Fame as a reward.

Castlevania: Symphony of the Night: Seriously, this game rocked. I wish I still had it.

With Brightest of (I also like the title Dramacalypse) Greens,

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Elder Bwogs Online (Elder Scrolls Online Thoughts)

I know they released some beta keys and a rockin' trailer a while ago, but I want to take a few minutes to talk about what the Elder Scrolls Online experience should - and shouldn't - be. I haven't played the beta nor have I looked up footage because I don't think it matters much, things change a lot this early on and I wouldn't hold anything specific against Bethesda right now. These are more like my general thoughts on how it should be done.

1) Character creation should continue to be ultra-detailed. The biggest argument against having thirty sliders for your eyebrows is that players don't need that much control over their character's appearance - but that's why you have the random option and a couple presets. Your argument is invalid. They've done a fairly good job lately in facial features and skin tones, so let's add body types to the mix. Some good body tattoos, scars, a couple different height and weight options (not just big and muscular or slightly bigger and still muscular). Maybe even something completely outlandish for premium members, like dwemer prosthesis! Consider barber shops too, where we can re-choose our hair and beard designs when we get bored of them.

2) Bring back all the armor slots. I've mentioned this previously but it bears repeating: I want to wear twenty different pieces of armor, rings, and pants and I see no reason why I can't be allowed to. If my character has ten fingers I should be able to wear more than one ring. I want separate pauldrons and gauntlets and boots, not three pieces of pre-assembled vault sui...ahem, I mean armor.

3) Consider backpacks. It's something I think most games that use encumbrance leave out, but I think it's a cool addition. You get your normal carrying weight for sure, but then you can buy and equip a number of packs that allow further storage and organization. It adds to the roleplaying experience and it makes your character look more like an explorer or gatherer or what have you. And you can carry more loot!

4) Bring back languages. There were a number of different languages in Daggerfall and I think now's an opportunity to bring them back. Maybe not on every server, or maybe it's a toggle thing, but it'd be neat if you could publish your chat in a couple different languages, or at the very least have there be artifacts or books that would only display in your (real-life) native language if your character had the skill. It allows for folks to roleplay scholars and explorers in a much more valuable light. The lore has a lot of examples where magic-users and scholars hire mercenaries to accompany them into some dungeon to find some legendary dingus. It'd be neat if players could replicate this experience by teaming up with each other like that.

5) Forget about fast travel, use Mark and Recall. Morrowind lacked fast travel and had, instead, scrolls like Divine Intervention and potions of Mark and Recall. There were also silt striders, which were sort of a poor man's taxi. Fast travel has no place in an Elder Scrolls game. These folks are spending a lot of time in crafting an amazing landscape and you're paying to see it - so get out there and see it! The lore includes its own methods of transportation and teleportation, so use that stuff instead. Make it party-based too - a Recall spell that works on the whole party, not just the caster.

6) Give us journals. If Minecraft can do it, so can ESO. Let players write their own notes in the default journal or mission log. Sometimes the wording is weird (remember Morrowind - trying to follow directions in the journal? Ugh!) or just hard to understand specifically, and for those of us who like to roleplay our roleplaying games it just adds that fun little feature. Go the extra mile and make them able to be exported to a blog and you've got yourself an awesome niche component.

7) Kick up the crafting gimmick. Skyrim allows some limited crafting and such but as a singleplayer experience it's of limited value (except roleplaying, of course). With thousands of other players out there - keep crafting and give it even more features, like special appearances (jagged blades, mace heads that look like famous faces, etc.) and colors.

8) Use classes. Here's the thing about classes - no one should be able to do everything ever in any game, that's why we get more than one slot for characters. I know there will be complaints though, so let's compromise: you can play up to level 10 without declaring a class, at which point you can opt to choose from among a selection of at several classes (not just the three archetypal ones!) or continue to vanilla it up. The restrictions would be for things like making specialty armor, using high-level spells, wielding high-level weapons, access to some guild stores/quests, etc. It's not that you're punished for not choosing a class as much as you're rewarded for doing so.

9) Climbing should be a skill. Daggerfall had it and that was a long time ago - can't you just bring it back? I know things are different physics/engine-wise but there are ways around it. Use the Climb skill on ropes, which can be thrown with a grapple or shot with an arrow. See that spot on the roof? Buy a rope, toss it up there, and then pull yourself up. The skill determines how long you're able to stay on the rope and how fast you travel along it (like Shadow of the Colossus' little meter), so better skill means you can get to farther places. Have different lengths or rope, maybe some different grapples, and even some specialty equipment (like for lateral crossings, and pulleys for party members that can't climb well, and spikes/pitons/harnesses to be able to throw another rope up from half-way up the rock face/temple wall. In a pinch, discard all that and give us Scorpio's hookshot glove from Just Cause, dwemer parachutes sold separately.

10) Don't give us useless items. Bolts of cloth should be craftable into clothes or tents (or parachutes and gliders!), spoons can be melted down for iron ingots, wooden bowls can be worn as armor... well, you get my point. There's this horrible trend where players just take everything not bolted down to sell to the nearest pawnshop - you'll never get rid of that. But when that's pretty much the only realistic solution to what to do with the default tea set your house comes with (other than leave it alone because it looks nice...), what else should you expect?

There are more and maybe I'll post them later, but this is a huge step for the Elder Scrolls series and one that folks have been waiting for going back a long time - let's not make a WoW clone, mmkay?

With Brightest of (Glass Armor) Greens,

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Bwarship Troopers (Starship Troopers Book Review)

I just finished reading Starship Troopers the other night and I thought I'd bwog a bit on it. The first thing to do is forget the film that came out in 1997 - it has almost nothing to do with the book. Other than a couple names and one event... sort of... they could be entirely different stories. Rather, they are entirely different stories.


We follow Johnnie Rico in a first-person past-tense narrative as he recounts his journey from high school graduation through Military Infantry boot camp and service during a time of war. The war itself involves more than just Humans and Bugs (as the book cover would lead you to believe) but the other participant is such a minor player that it really doesn't matter too much - the Bugs are the Bad Guys here. I don't mind saying the ending was anti-climactic (I suppose there are other titles in the series but I'm not interested in them at all) and that my favorite parts were actually during non-combat moments. Everyone born in the Federation (read: Earth or its outlying territories) has to earn citizenship, if and when they want it, after turning eighteen. The benefits of this seem to really only be that a citizen can vote and some of the best dialogues in the book actually deal with topics like freedom, responsibility of a citizen, and why the form of government currently practiced by the Federation is superior to all others before it (and once again we have mention of the world falling to pieces as a result of our horrible twentieth-century policies... a common theme in science-fiction I'm discovering). I don't agree with everything that the author puts forth - or at least the conclusions he draws - but it was really thick stuff and wonderful to think through. There's the military stories and then it ends with a bug hunt that, I guess, is slightly more important than any other before it.


The movie is a sort of tongue-in-cheek parody of itself and I think the book is too, in ways respective to their media. The film is inter-cut with obvious propaganda advertisements to "join up" and that glorify life in the service while we see very clearly that it's bloody and far more people die (horribly) than you'd believe from the commercials. At the end you finally see the main characters featured in a commercial, which lends itself to a sense of hypocrisy that you're not certain the heroes even recognize - you'd expect them to be more honest about losing friends and such. There's far less emphasis on specific friends for Johnnie in the book but the sense of camaraderie is still present in full and lots of people die from his platoon. Where the film uses commercials to bring the propaganda element to the forefront I think the book uses the actual characters - they really do believe what they're saying. Most of the superior officers/non-coms have a part in illustrating the virtues of the Federation in one way or the other but it's not that different from our present-day situation. They're still engaged in a war without assured victory, there's still political corruption - or at least hypocrisy (represented by the inside looks we get at what happens when Johnnie is eaves-dropping on a conversation between to superiors) - and lots of people are still dying needlessly for an uncertain goal under orders from an unseen but all-powerful Authority. The book is itself its own propaganda commercial, and I think the anti-climactic ending is appropriate only in this sense. Sort of a "It's a Military Infantry thing, you wouldn't understand," conclusion, which fits because, well, I'm not.

I'd recommend the book for the thinking and not so much for the action. There's a lot left unexplained - like just about all the technology, how the bugs use weapons and spaceships (unlike in the film, where the problem is equally awkward to explain), or any policies that don't directly relate to serving... like if there even are any, or who started the Bug War and why. There's a lot of jargon related to military hierarchy and formations too, which further alienates the reader and adds to the feeling that we just couldn't possibly understand what it's like for Johnnie, even though he's telling us in his own words. There's some interesting things mentioned peripherally to the main plot too, like the prevalence of hypnosis and a sort of accepted sexism where women make the best pilots and everyone knows it but you can't ever see a girl except under rare and specific circumstances. What we really see, then, is a way of life that is touted as superior to all others while it's actually exactly the same - those "up top" use coercion in all its forms to convince the "sheeple" that signing up is not required and only for those who have a real sense of civic responsibility (i.e. those who aren't wimps) but rewarded with an ambiguously quantifiable prize in order to prolong a war against an Other that we may or may not be winning and which we may or may have not started where only strict obedience to your superiors will guarantee victory and no one soldier should be afraid to die for his comrades.

Sounds somehow familiar...

With Brightest of (Intergalactic Planetary, Planetary Intergalactic) Greens,