Monthly Archives: September 2008

The Surreality of Games

Yesterday, Richard Terrell at Critical-Gaming posted about the genius of slowdown. In the post, he discusses the slowing down some games display in complex scenes due to hardware limitations. Terrell writes:

The benefits for the slower gameplay are the same as with bullet time. When the game is slowed down, the player has additional time to process and analyze the game. But unlike bullet time, the amount of slowdown that occurs is directly proportional to the amount of in game “chaos” on screen. Like the smart slow-mo from Perfect Dark that activates when two players in a multiplayer match move within a certain proximity of each other, slowdown makes the game time relative to action and position.

Slowdown like Terrell describes was far more common on older consoles of the SNES era or earlier. Typically, when a large number of enemies or other sprites were on the screen at once, the game itself would slow down as the console churned to keep up with the graphics. Examples are the slowdown that occurred in some Zelda games when healing fairies filled the screen with a ring of hearts, or the lag that happened in early Megaman games when there were more than a handful of enemies and projectiles visible. As Terrell points out, these slowdowns aren’t just unintended errors. They connect the player to the medium, in a similar way to the oddities in Mark Z. Danielewski’s book House of Leaves connect its readers to the medium of the book.

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Ludus Novus 014: From Side to Side

Ludus Novus
Ludus Novus
Ludus Novus 014: From Side to Side

The classic Super Mario Bros. Let’s take a look at its influence and its gameplay.


The music for this episode is “Lullaby Set” by Shira Kammen, and is available under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 license.

Why Should Digital Game Designers Care About Tabletop Roleplaying?

I’ve made a few posts lately about tabletop roleplaying games. Many digital-games-focused folks may not be very interested in such things, since they seem so different from digital games. As I’ve said before, tabletop roleplaying games are a synchronous form of digital games. Why does that matter?

Simple. Imagine the perfect video game engine.

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Boss Fights: Frustration and The Two Thrones

Ah, the boss. Since 1975, games with combat have punctuated their gameplay with fights against characters that are bigger, meaner, tougher, or just cleverer than the average enemy. Zelda, most shmups, and Mega Man/Rock Man are well-known for bossy goodness. At its best, the boss fight can be a test of the player’s skill and a climax for each section of gameplay, bringing all of the aspects of the game together in one mano-a-mano battle. At its worst, the boss fight brings the fun crashing down as you scream at your computer screen.

I’ve been playing Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones on GameTap. I loved Sands of Time, and I’m eagerly anticipating concluding the trilogy. Sands was a masterpiece, we can pretend Warrior Within didn’t happen, and Thrones is all-too-happy to maintain our delusion. But there was one moment in Thrones that set my hands twitching and my blood pressure rising.

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Morbus 2 – Rescuing the Orc Princess

It’s time for the second adventure episode of my D&D 4th Edition game, Morbus. In this episode, the party’s travels through the forest are interrupted by a plea from an orc chieftain to rescue his daughter from a group of bandits!

This adventure is designed for four 2nd-level characters, and should provide them with half of a level’s experience, or take them to third level if you double experience as I do. Note that because I double experience, this adventure contains a full level’s worth of treasure. GMs using this adventure will want to adjust accordingly. The full adventure is after the break.

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Benmergui’s Three Views of Love

A screenshot from 'I Wish I Were the Moon' of a man on the moon and a woman looking up at him from a boat.Daniel Benmergui, the creator of “Night Raveler and the Heartbroken Uruguayans“, has been releasing three games, one a week, for three weeks. They were created for an event called Sense of Wonder Night at the Tokyo Game Show, and they each deal with a similar mechanic of moving or duplicating things in the game world to change the game’s situation.

One of the things I love about Benmergui’s recent games is that he deals with themes that are underexplored in most digital games: namely, love. “I Wish I Were the Moon” is based on a story by Italo Calvino, and relies on the player shifting elements around to affect a tragic and bizarre love triangle. “The Trials” actually has you taking Polaroids of game elements to create duplicates and solve several puzzles, including one that puts me strongly in mind of “Raveler.” Finally, “Storyteller” has the player rearranging the position of characters in three periods of time, to affect the final outcome: who lives, who dies, and who loves whom.

Check these games out. They’re short, they’re cute, and they’re very clever.

TIGSource Bootleg Demakes Competition

The Independent Gaming Source recently finished the submission period for their Bootleg Demakes Competition. Contestants had to “demake” a well-known game as if it were illegally ported to a more primitive system by shady bootleg developers. There were a lot of great or promising games turned into less graphically great games – Mirror’s Edge, Homeworld, Team Fortress 2, and Shadow of the Colossus all got treatments, for example. A few of the submissions, however, stood out to my own personal tastes as notable, like a Lovecraftian Katamari Damacy and a Tetris RPG. Click through for the list.

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Ludus Novus 013: Over the Next Hill

Ludus Novus
Ludus Novus
Ludus Novus 013: Over the Next Hill

In this podcast, I talk about exploration games. Exploration games, as I categorize them, are games with an open world that offer an array of paths at any one time. They’re awesome because they appeal to players’ curiosity and completionism, and they help deal with player frustration.


The music for this episode is “Space Doggity” by Jonathan Coulton, and is available under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 license.

Alternatives to Failure

Scott Martin over at Gnome Stew posted yesterday about failure in tabletop roleplaying games. Or rather, the alternatives to simple failure. There’s any number of reasons why players of an RPG might fail: bad die rolls, bad choices, or simple failure to turn the right direction at an intersection. But often, failure is a bad thing for everyone.

Character failure isn’t always a bad thing– if you step back from your character’s eyes and think of the game as a story, you might even root for your character’s failure at times. Failure can show adversity…, create sympathy…, feel right…, provide material for character introspection, and more. But when you get to the climax of the story, it sucks when the dice come up ones and you’re just a sidekick and someone else laps up the glory.

This is a problem in tabletop RPGs and in digital games. Does the game master or developer/game engine just allow the Total Party Kill, even if the fate of the world is at stake? If the player misses her chance to find a vital clue, is she out of luck? Martin lists an array of possibilities, and they’re equally applicable to digital games as to tabletop RPGs. I’ll discuss how digital games can deal with failure after the break.

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