Thursday, December 29, 2011

Christmas is for Children

OK, before all the angry comments start, I’m talking about Secular Christmas here, which I celebrate even as a non-Christian.  I stand by the title of the post, though.  While Christmas with the family is great, it really is for children.  When my sister and I were in college, we would come home to spend the holidays with our family, but it really was just another visit.  On Christmas Day during those years, everyone would roll out of bed whenever they wanted.  We would eat breakfast and wait for other relatives (mainly my grandfather) to show up before we would even consider opening presents.  Now I got some great gifts, don’t get me wrong, but there wasn’t that sense of wonder or excitement.

Now that I’m a father, I see how Christmas really should be.  My three year old got us up early and was completely blown away that Santa had been there while we were asleep.  Every new present was a new high for her (and they all had to get opened before food was even considered).  To quote my favorite Christmas special of all time (The Life & Adventures of Santa Claus), “In all this world, there is nothing so beautiful as a happy child.”  Christmas morning is the most perfect illustration for this and without it, it’s really just another day.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

(happy adjective) (winter holiday)

Since I am from a mixed religious household, I will wish you the PC “Happy Holidays” rather than another greeting this year.  I wish you all happiness & health in the coming year.

"So have a Merry Christmas, a Happy Chanukah, a Krazy Kwanzaa, a Tip Top Tet, and a solemn, dignified Ramadan. Now, over to my god, our sponsors." - Krusty the Clown

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Solo Gameplay

One of the things I like over at The RPG Corner is his feature on the Solo Great Pendragon Campaign he runs for his wife, Des.  This isn’t just because I’m a Pendragon nut (which I am), but also because of the way David writes up the sessions as a story.  I used to do that WAY back when I ran my Play By E-Mail Star Wars game*, but it wasn’t anything like this.  (It did have its moments, though.  Especially when the one astromech played a prank on the Jedi and had the laundry tie-dye his robes.)  Great job, Sir Larkins!

In any case, this recently got me thinking on the topic of solo gameplay, either one player & one GM or playing board games, like Silent Running, solitaire.  This really isn’t something that I have any experience with, since if I’m gaming on my own it will be with video games.  Even if I’m with one or two other people, I will tend to play a board game rather than run an RPG.  I think it’s because that I have always had at least 3 players in an RPG all my life.  It strikes me, though, that a game like that would be quite cinematic.  The world actually would revolve around that one character, the lead of the movie/tv series, and all the stories would bend themselves to that character’s life.

Due to time constraints, and other forms of entertainment that I know I enjoy, I don’t think I’ll be trying this kind of gaming any time soon, but I am interested in how prevalent this is.  What kind of experiences have you had with this?

* Believe it or not, the website for that game is still up.  Check it out:

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Star Wars: The Old Republic

Over the Thanksgiving weekend I had the chance to Beta Test the upcoming Star WarsMMO.  Being the casual player that I am, and that I had family obligations, I was only able to devote a few hours to playing the game.  (Please also note that the notes I received while downloading the software stated that they were waving the NDA portion of the testing agreement, so I am not breaking any confidences with this post.)  As someone who has played his share of MMO’s (World or Warcraft, Champions Online, City ofHeroes, DC Universe Online and Star Trek Online) I feel that I have a good background to judge what I saw, even if this isn’t the final product.  Overall I have to say that I was not impressed.
Don’t get me wrong, the game play is nice and I could see myself playing the game in the future (the far future if they don’t go Free to Play) but it’s nothing spectacular.  Now I realize that I didn’t get to the space combat part, etc, but what I saw planet side was basically WoW.  You have your character classes, each with their special abilities.  You have to go to a trainer to get the new abilities.  There are Taxi’s that you discover that can take you from place to place, for a price.  I could go on and on.  Even the interface wasn’t all that different than just about any other MMO on the market (with the exception of DCU, since that had to be modified for the PS3).  Nothing gave me any sense of “This is new and different!”

In fact, there is one major thing that I thought was a mistake in the game, and that is the cut scenes.  I know that the developers are trying to make it feel like you are in the Star Wars universe, so that you don’t have to read every quest, but it doesn’t work.  First off, I had to watch a 5 minute set-up video before I could create a character, which I hope you’ll be able to skip in the final product.  Then I created a character and had to watch another 2+ minute cut scene where I had to choose my responses to questions.  So I get my mission, do it and come back to, you guessed it, a cut scene where I have to give responses.  I must have spent a third to half my time watching these scenes.  I even let the developers know how annoying it was in one of the surveys, saying “if I wanted to watch Star Wars, I’d put in the DVD.”

So, we have mediocre game play along with annoying cut scenes and, to top it all off, it’s not Free to Play.  Yes, it’s a new game and they need to earn their money.  I get that.  But then give me something I want to pay for, not Star Wars Galaxies with less original game play and better graphics.  This just isn’t a game I can see paying $15 a month for, especially since there are better/more interesting games that are at least free for an introductory period.  Personally, I would recommend holding off on this one until either the video cut scenes are made optional and/or it goes Free to Play.  That is, unless you are George Lucas’s Bitch.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Cooperative Board Games

In the past few years I have been introduced to the world of cooperative board games (thanks, Zeke!).  For those of you that don’t know what these are, they are essentially a paradigm shift away from the standard American games like Monopoly, Sorry, etc., or even European games like Formula De.  Here the objective isn’t to win, it’s to not lose.  Games like ShadowsOver Camelot, Yggdrasil, Lord of the Rings and Battlestar Galactica, just to name a few, pit all of the players against the game instead of each other, forcing them to team up to outlast the game.  The form that this opposition takes varies from game to game, but it all boils down to “Prevent this from happening, or you lose.”

Many of these games involve players strategizing between themselves, but there are a few that don’t allow it and that is because they add Traitors to the mix.  Battlestar Galactica and Shadows Over Camelot are the two that standout in my mind for this, which adds another level of depth to the way the game is played.  In these cases you have players that are secretly trying to make you lose the game and if they are found out, they join the enemy and can really work you over.  This isn’t something that I’ve experienced in gaming, but it is definitely there in literature (Mordred anyone?), and it adds quite the level of paranoia to playing.

All in all, I find these games to be much more satisfying than the board games I grew up with.  I’m not sure why this is, unless it has to do with my gaming background.  It is rather reminiscent of a group of adventurers taking on a large challenge, which is not necessarily balanced with their abilities, and overcoming it through a group effort.  If you haven’t tried a game like this, I would highly recommend finding someone that knows how to play one of these games and asking them to teach it to you.  It’s a fairly difficult thing to pick up on your own the first time.