Monthly Archives: June 2008

Character Sheets: An RPG Primer

A very old version of the Dungeons and Dragons character sheet.

I haven’t addressed roleplaying games directly on Ludus Novus much. At first glance, they don’t fit in with video games all that well, and several times I’ve used them as a contrast to video games. However, there’s a distinction that I can make that I think makes them seem less distant.

When people say “roleplaying game,” they are usually referring to a rules system, often combined with a setting. To be clear, I’m referring to “tabletop” or “LARP” roleplaying games here. Dungeons and Dragons. Cthulhu Live. Traveller. Each of these seems so much broader than, say, Half-Life 2. While HL2 only offers one storyline, D&D is limited only by the Game Master and players’ imaginations. However, I think that a better analogue for a video game would be a roleplaying campaign.

I’ve run my short “one-shot” campaign, “The Dead of Apartment 4C,” three times. Each time, a different set of players has run through roughly the same plotline, just like each person who plays Half-Life 2 experiences the same potential narrative. The campaign uses the Fudge system for its rules, and I as Game Master have been the referee. For Half-Life 2, the Source engine is its rule system, and the player’s computer or console is the referee. Roleplaying games and video games look a lot more similar when we match a video game title to a roleplaying campaign rather than a system.

After the break, I’ll do a quick runthrough of some of the RPG theory I’ve picked up.

Continue reading Character Sheets: An RPG Primer

Freedom Done Wrong

Jim Sterling over at Destructoid wrote a post the other day claiming that linear games provide pacing and structure that nonlinear “sandbox” games do not:

Indeed, if every game was a huge open world, you would soon find yourself growing bored, or at least overwhelmed as you struggle to find time in the day to explore sandbox after sandbox. After hours spent in the hustle and bustle of Liberty City or Tamriel, a game with clearer focus and a set beginning, middle and end can be just what the doctor ordered, providing some experiences that total freedom just can’t manage.

Sterling’s got a point: open games that allow for actual player agency over the path of the plot do tend to have inferior pacing and emotional impact when compared to games with a linear plot. However, Sterling falls into a common trap when it comes to game design: just because they tend to be inferior doesn’t mean they can’t manage to provide that pacing. Game designers just don’t pay enough attention to it. More after the jump.

Continue reading Freedom Done Wrong

Phyta: Games As Poetry

A dark vine climbs toward a dark sun, with a golden creature fleeing its approach.

In Episode 5, I discussed the difference between short form and long form video games and interactive fiction. I compared certain games to short stories and novels, but I didn’t discuss the third well-known form of artistic writing: poetry. A poem is a work of language where the properties of the language itself — rhythm, sound, and imagery — are as important (or more important) than the words’ literal meaning and the narrative content of the work.

When I think of “poetic” games, where the form is as important as the content, I think of Tetris. Tetris is a game with a very simple narrative: pieces are falling, and must be organized or else the game ends. The story isn’t very important. What stands out about Tetris is its feeling and gameplay: the imagery and form of the game. The excitement of the race against time, the satisfaction of clearing a row, and the imagery of building a wall and tearing one down, where any hole is a flaw.

Phyta,” by Abraham Parangi, is a poetic game.

Continue reading Phyta: Games As Poetry

TIGSource Procedural Generation Competition

The Independent Gaming Source recently finished the submission period for their Procedural Generation Competition. Contestants had about a month to begin and complete a game that created content on the fly, allowing players a different experience each time they played the game. Voting should start soon, but before then, I thought I’d highlight a few of the submissions (all free downloads or web games, of course). Click through to see a list of games I think you should check out, as well as a list of the awesomest game titles.

Continue reading TIGSource Procedural Generation Competition

Ludus Novus 011: Written in Blood

Ludus Novus
Ludus Novus
Ludus Novus 011: Written in Blood

In this podcast, I discuss the player-author contract. An interactive work sets up a trust between the player and the work’s author. This takes the form of a contract which, when violated, can cause the player to reject the work.

    The Player-Author Contract

  1. The work can be played by the player.

    • Violated by games which are unexpectedly incompatible with the player’s system.
  2. The entire work can be played by the player.

    • Violated by “game-breaking” bugs as in Battletoads and Pac-Man
  3. Through playing the work, the player can affect the progression of the work.

  4. The events in the work are governed by a set of rules.
    • Violated by some Choose Your Own Adventure games
  5. The rules of the work do not change without warning.

  6. Any player failure can be avoided by player actions.

    • Violated by really hard games.
    • Subverted by I Wanna Be The Guy and similar games and custom levels.
  7. The author provides some goal that the player can pursue.
    • Violated or subverted by Noctis.
  8. The player can evaluate progress toward a provided goal.
    • Let me know if you know a game that violates or subverts this!

Also see Without a Goal: On open and expressive games by Jesper Juul.

The music for this episode is “Broken (DURDEN version)” by DURDEN and featuring Trifonic & Amelia June, and is available under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 license.

Execution: Changing Games Forever

A nameless man, tied to a post, is visible through the scope of a gun.

A few weeks ago, Jesse Venbrux, creator of the previously-discussed Karoshi games, released a short interactive piece called “Execution.” Not really a game, “Execution” is a quick subversion of what video games typically are and a subtle comment on the thing that the form is currently obsessed with: killing.

The impact of the game will be stronger if you play it at least twice before clicking through to the rest of the discussion. It should take you about five minutes. I’ll wait.

Continue reading Execution: Changing Games Forever