Toward a Sustainable Resource Escalation Game

An emerging form of games, born out of Minecraft and Dwarf Fortress, has occupied my thoughts lately. It doesn’t seem to have a name yet; it grew out of some Minecraft mods and had its seminal work in Factorio. It’s a cousin, or even sibling, to the idle/incremental game, but usually looks more like a management or survival sandbox game. You could call it a resource management and automation game, or a factory simulator, but I’ll use the term “resource escalation game,” because its primary features are:

  • resources to collect, usually from a world you must explore
  • crafting of resources into more complex or rich forms
  • structures for automation of the crafting, allowing you to take a higher-level conceptual view where you are concerned with the logistics of automation rather than foraging
  • and an escalation created by those resources, where your initial low-level needs become inconsequential and the pace of progression is governed primarily by what complexity of resources you have instead of a more abstract research system1
Continue reading Toward a Sustainable Resource Escalation Game
  1. Factorio gates a lot of things behind research, but research is driven by manufactured resources, not the more typical research-over-time approach seen in strategy games.

Your Only True Choice – Complicity in Unavoidable Tragedy

Complicity is the most important distinguishing feature of games.

Other media still requires your interaction. You choose the order in which to experience a series (broadcast or DVD order of Firefly? publication or chronological order of Narnia?), the way in which you experience a painting or sculpture (from a distance? different angles? different lighting?), or how you experience a play (what cast? what seat? do you read it first? do you watch it staged at all?).

Continue reading Your Only True Choice – Complicity in Unavoidable Tragedy

Actual Play Podcasts Do Not Portray Actual Play, Actually

Actual play podcasts are not what the name suggests. They’re a form of podcast that purportedly serializes a recording of a group playing a tabletop roleplaying game. The listener hears the dice rolls, the out-of-character discussions, and the social interaction that surrounds the in-character story being told at the table. The apparent appeal is the fun of hearing the “actual play” occurring when creating an interesting story.

But actual play podcasts are a lie.

Continue reading Actual Play Podcasts Do Not Portray Actual Play, Actually

Ludus Novus 030 – Transcendentalism, Gentrification, and the Procedural Rhetoric of Stardew Valley

What does Stardew Valley say about the world with the rules of its simulation, and how does it compare to another Transcendentalist game, Walden, a game?

Transcript: Transcript for this episode

If you like this episode, check out the other podcasts I’m involved in: Audacious Compassion, The Future Proof Podcast, and Tabletop Garden.

The Ludus Novus podcast is supported by my patrons. To help, please visit my Patreon.

The theme music is “A Foolish Game (Vox Harmony Adds)” by Snowflake, Admiral Bob, and Sackjo22, available on ccMixter under a ccby3.0 license.

REFERENCES
Barone, Eric. Stardew Valley. Chucklefish, 22 February 2016. https://stardewvalley.net/

Bogost, Ian. Persuasive Games: The Expressive Power of Videogames. MIT Press, 2010.

Brice, Mattie. “My First Year in Stardew Valley.” Alternate Ending, 29 April 2016. http://www.mattiebrice.com/my-first-year-in-stardew-valley/

Fullerton, Tracy et al. Walden: a game. USC Game Innovation Lab, 4 July 2017. https://www.waldengame.com/

La Flรจche, Gersande. “The gentleman farmer, labour and land: ecocritical possibilities in Stardew Valley.” Gersande’s Blog, 3 May 2016. https://gersande.com/blog/the-gentleman-farmer-labour-and-land-ecocriticial-possibilities-in-stardew-valley/

Keegan, Brett. “Stardew Valley, Sorge, and Martin Heidegger.” Backyard Philosophy, 27 March 2018. https://backyardphilosophy.com/2018/03/27/stardew-valley-sorge-and-martin-heidegger/

Olson, Dan. “The Stanley Parable, Dark Souls, and Intended Play.” Folding Ideas, 26 July 2017. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZHmivGmkjJw

Piel, Michael. “The Video Game Based on Thoreau’s ‘Walden’ Will Bring You Closer to Nature.” Motherboard, 25 October 2017. https://motherboard.vice.com/en_us/article/7x4vmz/video-game-based-on-thoreau-walden-will-bring-you-closer-to-nature

Schultz, Kathryn. “Pond scum: Henry David Thoreau’s moral myopia.” The New Yorker, 19 October 2015. https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/10/19/pond-scum

Thoreau, Henry D. Walden; or, Life in the woods. Ticknor and Fields, 9 August 1854.

Tabletop Garden: New RPG Podcast

I’ve started a new podcast! It’s called Tabletop Garden, and it’s an “actual play” show where a rotating cast plays tabletop roleplaying games and talks about them.

Tabletop Garden is an actual-play podcast where we collaborate on short, self-contained stories about interesting characters, and we do it with an agenda. Throughout each campaign we discuss values, techniques, and how to play with intention.

Our first pilot campaign uses Mechanical Oryx by Grant Howitt to tell a tale of looming violence in the solarpunk postapocalypse. During each campaign, episodes will release weekly. Check out the show at tabletop.garden.

Ludus Novus 029 – The Goalless Path of Bernband

What do people actually mean when they say “walking simulator?” Bernband by Tom van den Boogaart doesn’t even seem to have a goal. But then why do you keep playing it?

Bernband: https://gamejolt.com/games/bernband/34864
Bernband Remake Twitter: https://twitter.com/bernband

Youtube (MP3 below):

Transcript: Transcript for this episode

If you like this episode, check out the other podcasts I’m involved in: Audacious Compassion and The Future Proof Podcast

The Ludus Novus podcast is supported by my patrons. To help, please visit my Patreon.

The theme music is “A Foolish Game (Vox Harmony Adds)” by Snowflake, Admiral Bob, and Sackjo22, available on ccMixter under a ccby3.0 license.

REFERENCES
Ashe, Pat. “Walking Simulator Simulator.” Feral Vector, 2014. https://soundcloud.com/thepatashe/walking-simulator-simulator (Transcript on The Pat Ashe, 6 July 2014. https://web.archive.org/web/20141007075156/http://thepatashe.wordpress.com/2014/07/06/walking-simulator-simulator/ )

Barlow, Sam. Her Story. 2015. http://www.herstorygame.com/

The Fullbright Company. Gone Home. 2013. https://gonehome.game/

Goodwin, Joel. “Screw Your Walking Simulators.” Electron Dance, 16 July 2014. http://www.electrondance.com/screw-your-walking-simulators/

Juul, Jesper. “Without a goal”. In Tanya Krzywinska and Barry Atkins (eds):Videogame/Player/Text. Manchester University Press, 2007.
http://www.jesperjuul.net/text/withoutagoal/

Key, Ed and David Kanaga. Proteus. 2013. http://twistedtreegames.com/proteus/

Koster, Raph. A Theory of Fun for Game Design. 2nd ed., O’Reilly Media, 2013.

Nygren, Nicklas. Knytt. 2006. https://web.archive.org/web/20170509070555/http://nifflas.ni2.se/?page=Knytt

Schell, Jesse. The Art of Game Design: A Book of Lenses. 2nd ed., CRC Press, 2015.

van den Boogaart, Tom. Bernband. https://gamejolt.com/games/bernband/34864

Ludus Novus 028: Candyland: Game as Critical Lens

What is a “game?” It only matters in context. When we examine things as games to learn from them, what does that mean? Any useful definition of game used as a critical lens must encompass Soccer, Candy Land, Sim City, Doom, and Gone Home. But Candy Land doesn’t have any player choice. Is it just dancing?

I’ve tried something new with this episode. I’ve put together a video version, currently hosted on YouTube, with some nonessential visual aids. For now I intend to keep the show audio-first, but having it available via YouTube may make it more accessible and attract new listeners/viewers. If you’re seeing this on my website, the normal audio player is still below.

I’ve also put together a text transcript for the episode: Transcript for this episode

If you like this episode, check out the other podcasts I’m involved in: Audacious Compassion and The Future Proof Podcast

The Ludus Novus podcast is supported by my patrons. To help, please visit my Patreon.

The theme music is “A Foolish Game (Vox Harmony Adds)” by Snowflake, Admiral Bob, and Sackjo22, available on ccMixter under a ccby3.0 license.

Tracery Live Released

I love the work that Kate Compton and others have done with generative/procedural art. One thing I’ve missed, though, is the ability to just link to a quickly-made thing. Specifically, I’ve done things like specify the naming structure of alien species for a roleplaying game using Kate’s tool Tracery, but there’s no easy way I’ve found to just link to an arbitrary Tracery grammar without spinning up a server or making a Twitter bot or something similar.

So I made one.

Tracery Live is an open-source Tracery front-end that stores your JSON source code in a query string, so that you can load grammars without any back-end storage needed. It supports HTML and various other supportive techs. You can paste in an arbitrary Tracery grammar or edit it directly on the page. Here’s Tracery’s Night Vale example for a sample of a lengthier end result.

This really is, like many software projects, a bunch of techs slapped together: George Buckingham’s Node version of Compton’s Tracery library, Nicholas Jitkoff’s itty.bitty.site approach using Nathan Rugg’s JS implementation of the LZMA compression algorithm, and the is.gd URL shortener, glued together with the unnecessarily-bulky-for-this-purpose Ember.js framework and hosted on GitHub Pages. My thanks to everyone involved.

Check out Tracery Live on GitHub Pages.

If you have any feature requests or bug reports, let me know in the GitHub issues or in the comments.

Rosette Diceless Released

At Future Proof Games, we just released a tabletop/live-action roleplaying game called Rosette Diceless. For those who have followed me for a while, this is a distant descendant of my 2009 beta release, LORE. We’ve been playtesting it for a year or two, and we’re looking forward to hearing what other folks use it for.

As with the rest of Rosette, Rosette Diceless has an agenda: it is dedicated to a consensus-based, story-first, and improvisational approach. We believe that this creates the best social environment for creating and expressing stories that incorporate everyone’s creativity.

You can pick up a digital copy of Rosette Diceless on itch.io, Kindle, or DriveThruRPG. We’ll have a paperback print-on-demand version on DTRPG soon; if you get the digital version before then, send us a proof of purchase to info@futureproofgames.com and you can pick up the print-on-demand at the bundle price.

Check out Rosette Diceless on its website!

“The Majesty of Colors” Remastered and Released

In 2008, I made a game called “(I Fell in Love With) The Majesty of Colors.” It got played millions of times, won awards, and is still recognized by many people I run across randomly.

In 2016, in part as a response to the impending death of Adobe Flash, we at Future Proof Games announced “The Majesty of Colors Remastered”, a rebuild of the original game in Unity with enhancements. We estimated that it would take a few months.

Today, two years later, the game is finally released on five platforms: iPhone/iPad, Android, Windows, Mac, and Linux.

Buy The Majesty of Colors on the App Store Get it on Google Play Get it on itch.io

Every game release is scary for a different reason. One of the reasons I’m nervous about this one is that “The Majesty of Colors” is real short, and we’re asking money for it. Even on mobile. In the end, our estimate wasn’t far off; it took the two of us a few person-months of actual work, but that was spread over two years of working at day jobs. Even with the low price we’re asking, it will still take tens of thousands of sales to “break even,” making the game pay for itself. It’ll take even more to make a profit, supporting more steady work on future games and maybe even justifying further enhancements like extra interactions or (no promises!) more story.

We’re tentatively buoyed by the response to the game we’ve gotten so far today. Folks are excited, and we’ve gotten some press interest and are hopeful for more. But “The Majesty of Colors” is a work very close to my heart, and I’m still afraid that its time has entirely passed. We’ll see.

I’ve written this in various places over the last few days: thank you for dreaming with us.