Thursday, December 31, 2015

Resourceful? (part 4)

Resourcefulness also indicates a character's knowledge about a situation that others would not normally have. It assumes that the character has heard about that particular situation in some previous instance, and that he has suddenly remembered the information. Characters might not otherwise know the location of a secret shipyard, or where a particular pirate gang might attack from, but with resourcefulness, a character may have somehow heard about these things before, which might help the characters find what they are looking for, or even avoid being surprised. Resourcefulness can be very useful in the wilderness as well, because a player with this skill will be more likely to find useful materials or be able to substitute tools for tasks that normally require specific items. Some talents related to the resourcefulness skill include: Ingenious Crafter, Sense of Direction, and Trader's Eye.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Resourceful? (part 3)

Another use of the resourcefulness skill can occur during dialogue encounters. While one of the characters on the team might be talented in persuasion attempts, other players can use resourcefulness checks to find useful information about the target. Success might result in the discovery of information about him online that could then be fed to the persuasion-expert on the team, which often results in a bonus to his persuasion attempts. Resourcefulness might also turn up useful tips about what keywords the target might be looking to hear. In one particular mission, a successful resourcefulness check against the target will reveal that he's only interested in two topics—knowing this is something only a resourceful character can determine. In another instance, a successful check will reveal that the confusing hand motions of a silent prisoner is actually military sign language to indicate there are listening devices nearby and the characters are being monitored.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Resourceful? (part 2)

I've seen players use resourcefulness in a number of interesting situations, and this skill allows players to contribute when they might otherwise find their character momentarily side-lined (which is something we really designed Solar Echoes to avoid—we want all players involved throughout the game!) As an example, in a car chase, the most active characters are the pilot and the gunner. Characters may use personal weapons if the pilot manages to close the range on their target, but at long range, some characters might literally feel like back-seat drivers. However, with the resourcefulness skill, I've seen characters in this situation pull out their micro-personal computers and access road maps for better driving options, or coordinate driving strategies with agents in other cars. One player once had the idea to find the municipal traffic control station, and with a successful resourcefulness check, he succeeded in locating it online. A successful hack later (involving the other characters in the back seat) resulted in control of the traffic lights. Needless to say, that team was able to stop their target from escaping, much more easily!

Monday, December 28, 2015

Resourceful? (part 1)

If you've ever watched “Burn Notice,” the character of Michael Westen is an ingenious burned spy who creatively overcomes many obstacles and situations through his resourcefulness. In all honesty, my entire reasoning for the Resourcefulness skill in Solar Echoes was because of Michael Westen—I wanted the players to be able to do the kind of stuff he did. The skill at first seems to be very general and open-ended. However, when players invest a rank in this skill, they will find it to be quite useful on any mission. At its core, resourcefulness is the ability to use what you have on hand or to gain insight into a situation beyond what common sense would normally avail. Behind the scenes, though, this skill gives the MC (Mission Controller—the GM in Solar Echoes) an opportunity to drop hints to the players through a game mechanic. If the team seems unsure of how to proceed, the MC can simply ask a player with ranks in the skill to make a resourcefulness check (the MC can set the difficulty to match the situation.) If the player succeeds, the MC can then give helpful hints. “You notice...” or “There seems to be...” are examples of ways to drop the hints in-game. However, the use of this skill doesn't end there...

Thursday, December 24, 2015

The Star Wars Effect (part 4)

In 2013 at USC, both Steven Spielberg and George Lucas voiced their prediction: the film industry will soon implode. They foresee a huge change in the movie-theater experience, with higher-priced tickets ($50 or more), and only the biggest blockbuster movies drawing in crowds. Considering my own attitude about movie-going, I'll have to admit that I agree with their predictions. Star Wars may look like something spurring a massive revival in theater attendance, but it may actually be the death knell of the movie industry we used to know. Perhaps our culture has shifted away from the theater experience, just as digital caused us all to migrate away from renting Blockbuster Videos. It's easy to imagine a future where the more thoughtful movies are only available to us online or for purchase on blu-rays/DVD's. Going to the theater will be reserved for the kind of family-event that only a movie like Star Wars can manage. When I saw Star Wars this weekend, a number of audience members were dressed up as iconic Star Wars characters, including young children, with many of them wielding toy lightsabers and some even wearing stormtrooper or darth vader helmets. This is the kind of movie that will draw all of us out of our homes to see at the theater, and we'll not only be happy to do it, we'll be ecstatic! I'm probably going to go see it again!

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

The Star Wars Effect (part 3)

Hollywood used to hate Star Wars, considering it to be a franchise machine used to sell toys as much as tickets. Better movies with more substance, Hollywood moguls insisted, were not receiving their proper attention when competing with big-budget blockbusters like Star Wars. These blockbusters were considered forgettable, without critical acclaim, while the smaller, lesser-known films were those that were awarded impressive nominations, though these decorated films rarely seemed to find a very larger audience. This isn't a problem for us, though, considering that we usually prefer watching the more thoughtful films at home, paying only a couple dollars to see them. I feel this way myself—why spend $25-$30 dollars to see a drama that I could just wait a few months to rent online? There's no hurry, it's not like everyone is going to be talking about it. I'm only willing to go through the inconvenience of watching a movie in the theater if it's an experience that the theater will enhance—I don't need amazing theater surround sound, 3D projection, and a giant IMAX screen to watch a thoughtful drama, but I do want those features for a movie with lots of action and special effects. This shift in attitude towards movies is one that may affect the industry in a big way...

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

The Star Wars Effect (part 2)

The times have changed—people are not going to movie theaters as often as they used to, and for good reason: why worry about arrival time and parking, pay exorbitant ticket and food prices, subject yourself to countless adds and trailers, struggle to find a good seat and not have to deal with other audience members, all when you can enjoy a movie on your big-screen HD TV with a surround sound system in the comfort of your own home? You can always pause if you have to get up and go to the bathroom or prepare more popcorn, you can relax with your family and friends on a nice couch, and you can enjoy a pizza, hamburger, or even a steak dinner if you choose. True, we'll probably spend far more on our entertainment systems than we would spend going to 100's of movies in the theater, but the fact is, it's about convenience. Let's face it—going to the movie theater can be a chore, and seeing blockbusters like Star Wars on opening weekend are sometimes the only reason any of us would go through the previously mentioned ordeal. I'll be honest, I can't remember the last time I was in the theater. Star Wars got me there, though, so the unease in Hollywood is definitely warranted. What kind of future is the movie industry facing?

Monday, December 21, 2015

The Star Wars Effect (part 1)

Don't worry, none of the posts this week will contain any spoilers for those of you that haven't yet had the chance to see the new Star Wars movie. This week, I'll be discussing the overall effect that Star Wars has on the movie industry. This last weekend, Star Wars opened and broke the previous record for opening weekend ticket sales, grossing $238 million—the biggest North American debut of all time! The previous opening record was “Jurassic World,” which opened with $208.8 million this last summer. With such an impressive beginning, why are some in Hollywood viewing the Star Wars phenomenon as a gigantic tsunami that will wash away, or at least dampen, the appreciation of other films? From Hollywood's perspective, they've seen this happen before with Star Wars, back when its first iterations were released. However, the movie-going climate has changed a lot since the late 70's and early 80's. How will the Star Wars juggernaut affect the future of movie-going in our time?

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Character Profile (part 4)

The Erwani on team Novaburn, Seshayan Hawsrilla, became convinced by military recruiters that he could pay his way through medical school by joining the military. Seshayan became quite despondent, however, when the military stationed him on a remote moon colony with very few opportunities for medical advancement. Seshayan was very angry that the military had lied to him, but another Erwani recruit, Eenthashuul, convinced him to try to make the best of the next three years and learn other skills during his service. Seshayan took his advice and began to thrive in his role in anti-terrorist operations where he learned to use cyberweapons—remote drones that could attack enemies from a distance. After excelling at battlefield combat and rescue operations where his medical skills became crucial to his team's survival, Eenthashuul revealed that he had ties to the Union Guard, and recommended Seshayan for service. Seshayan seized the opportunity. The talents he has learned in the military and UG are reflected in his profile: Patch Together, Combat Medic, and Sidestep. Seshayan uses a Prowl Blade cyberweapon, a Net-Gun, and an Erwani Thorn Pistol with poisoned thorn bullets, in addition to carrying a G-pulse grenade and an EMP/Flash Grenade.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Character Profile (part 3)

Another interesting character on team Novaburn is Ithek'ch'kar, a Chiraktis warrior drone that failed to follow the Queen's orders. Ithek had once worked for a wealthy Krissethi as a highly paid investor, but when the order from the Hive came down for him to assassinate his boss, Ithek chose not to. He knew the consequences of his disobedience—it was only a matter of time before the Queen sent “collectors” to have him removed from society, but he hoped that somehow his lifestyle could continue without notice. When two new Chiraktis were suddenly hired at his boss's firm, Ithek knew it was time to run, but the two assassins showed up at his apartment before he could escape. Ithek managed to kill them both, accepting the truth that he would always have to live life on the run. The Union Guard placed him in their employ under witness protection, and Ithek is happy to serve his protectors. However, he still looks over his shoulder frequently, knowing that the Queen will not forget. Ithek is trained in the martial arts and has the Snapping Thrust, Bullrush, and Strike the Weak Point talents. His spike gauntlets are always equipped, and he carries a Phoenix Pistol, a Toxic Marauder (he stole it from one of the assassins), a GA-2 mini grenade and a Chiraktis stink bomb.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Character Profile (part 2)

Today's character profile is the Krissethi sniper from team Novaburn, Kushan Sarukth. Kushan went to a planet on a hunting expedition with his three brothers, but met with disaster when a predator caught and began mauling his brothers. Kushan tried killing it from his sniping perch, but the creature wouldn't go down, so he used his three remaining bullets to end his brothers' suffering. After Kushan returned home to explain the tragedy, his father immediately flew him back to the planet, insisting he should never let a target escape alive, especially one that had killed a fellow hunter. His father told him to kill the creature or die trying. Kushan did finally track it down, and realized he had already wounded it so severely that he probably could have killed it with the bullets he had used on his brothers instead. Returning home, Kushan was hailed as a hero for killing the predator, but he felt deep shame and resolved to never turn his back on his team. This backstory is reflected in Kushan's talent choices, which include: Conceal Location, Keen Observer, and Patterned Timing. He carries with him an R-44 sniper rifle, a Krissethi dark laser pistol, a stealth blade, a bola, tear gas and a smoke grenades.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Character Profile (part 1)

This week I'll be looking at a few characters from the Novaburn Character Pack, starting with Cora Westfall, the human female on the team. Cora grew up on the frontier—a colony world that she longed to escape. During her time there, she learned to fire a gun at an early age, and also became quite skilled using her father's whip, though she has a scar on her neck to prove that she was not an immediate prodigy. She quickly learned that her beauty was both a curse and an advantage over others, and found that she could manipulate most men to get what she wanted. This backstory is reflected in Cora's talent choices, which include: Thrust Kick, Convincing Lie, and Dirty Fighting. She wears spiked boots, carries with her a defender revolver, and is ready to use her monofilament whip when things get up- close and serious. She also carries a G-pulse grenade to knock down her foes, in addition to a smoke grenade if she needs to make a quick escape when things aren't going her way.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Sci-Fi's Big Comeback (part 5)

A very influential factor in the success of sci-fi has been the large advance seen in movie-making technology. If you can imagine it, these days, it can be done with the right special-effects equipment and crew. We are seeing a new age in movie-making, where the limitless storytelling once thought only possible in novels is now being made a visual reality through special-effects on the big screen. Even independent movie shorts released on the internet have impressive quality, proving that the cheaper and more available effects technology becomes, the more the entire movie-making industry is propelled forward. Sci-fi TV series in recent years have far more impressive special effects and higher production values than big-budget sci-fi movies did only a couple decades ago. We are seeing a new age in sci-fi, where hi-quality digital films can be privately made, stored, and edited without the need for expensive, specialized editing equipment—we can do it all at home, on a single computer, and then put it online for anyone to see! Sci-fi is truly in a period of Renaissance!

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Sci-Fi's Big Comeback (part 4)

Another possible factor in the rise of sci-fi popularity is how it reflects contemporary society. Some of the sci-fi stories told in the 70's and 80's are now no longer fiction, so it is no wonder that we sometimes find ourselves intrigued by a sci-fi writer's vision of the future—maybe the author is right? Other reasons behind the genre's popularity surge include our fascination with technology, our concerns about the future, and a renewed interest in space travel and the universe beyond our own solar system. It is also notable that we are seeing the genre influence our reality—high-tech devices from sci-fi movies and TV shows have inspired people to create those very devices! Re-usable rockets performing vertical landings sounds like an idea conceived in a Jules Verne novel, but Space X has recently achieved this, bringing a visionary's idea into reality. Sci-fi is becoming a part of our every-day lives, and we are within reach of achieving commercial visits to space, or even a colony on Mars. These all seemed like impossibilities only a generation ago.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Sci-Fi's Big Comeback (part 3)

Reliance on CG special effects, as Ridley Scott observed, produced weak storylines, but directors have learned to supplement strong storylines with necessary effects rather than to try to write a story around the effects. I remember when I took a film class back in high school; I purchased my own steadicam for a hand-held camera, and my next movie was almost entirely filmed using long, smooth tracking shots. I over-used the device because I was so enamored with it, just like special effects in science fiction have over-saturated the genre and solid story-telling has, in the past, taken a back seat. In recent years, however, strong, compelling stories have drawn audiences that previously did not consider sci-fi as a worthwhile genre. Neil Blomkamp's “District 9” shattered many assumptions about sci-fi, and paved the way for other filmmakers wanting to make strong statements through the sci-fi genre.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Sci-Fi's Big Comeback (part 2)

With Disney's acquisition of George Lucas's LucasFilm Ltd., we are going to be seeing a lot more of the Star Wars universe in the future. With the new J.J. Abrams movie on the way in December, it's clear that Disney intends to bring the space opera to the forefront and to recapture the imaginations of this generation and those to follow. Hollywood obviously believes in sci-fi now, but what changed? When questioned about the recent trend in sci-fi, Screenwriter Alex Garland stated, “[The sci-fi genre] pushes itself.” Perhaps this answer best describes the explosion of the appreciation for a genre once considered a risk and a joke. Filmmakers are challenging themselves and taking risks with new ideas, inspired by the success of other films. The overall quality of storytelling is improving as well, especially now that we're all far less impressed with CG than we were back with the first Jurassic Park or Terminator 2. Those movies were both well-done, and both had interesting story-lines and well-developed characters. However, as CG special effects became more affordable and easier to do over the years, they very nearly destroyed the sci-fi genre itself...

Monday, December 7, 2015

Sci-Fi's Big Comeback (part 1)

Less than a decade ago, the director of Blade Runner and Alien, Ridley Scott, said “sci-fi films are as dead as westerns.” However, in recent years, many of Hollywood's top-earning films have been science fiction. Sci-fi TV watchers have also been growing in number, with 41.4 million in 2008 and 47.58 million in 2013. When sci-fi used to be a niche audience, movies like Star Wars, E.T., and the Matrix proved that there were big profits to be made through this genre. But it wasn't until the last decade that sci-fi blockbusters began to outnumber other genres. Movies like The Hunger Games, Transformers, Independence Day, Avatar, and the recent Jurassic World each grossed at least $300 million, some of them (Avatar and Jurassic World) more than doubling that amount! Yet Ridley Scott was so convinced that science fiction is dead, saying, "There's nothing original. We've seen it all before. Been there. Done it.” He also claimed that, “There is an overreliance on special effects as well as weak storylines.” Why do you think sci-fi has become so successful lately? This week, we'll consider that question...

Friday, December 4, 2015

Chessiecon Battle Reports (part 5)

There are many other stories across the 4 missions that were played this weekend, so I'll share just a few other highlights. One character decided to work on making her own doorway (in two different places) using her energy blade to cut through an apartment wall. An Erwani character managed to stay out of harms way behind cover while taking out several enemies with her cyberweapon—a remote sentry drone. After seeing them used against the team, one character later purchased a canister of razor nanites, using them to great effect against enemies in the next mission. A Krissethi character succeeded at a persuasion check to intimidate with a single die roll of a 6 (with no skill ranks) when the other characters with skill ranks in persuasion failed. One character used his cybertech skills to jam the sensors of a smuggler's starship while another was able to fly in their blind spot, allowing for a stealthy boarding procedure. An Erwani used her remote Disarming Orb to not only magnetically suck a shotgun out of an enemy's hands, but also used it to deliver a weapon to a distant team member. A player used a helpful NPC to throw a bola and entangle the spinning treads of a threatening robot, knocking it prone. There were many, many more notable moments this weekend—if you were there at Chessiecon and remember a favorite moment, please mention it here!

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Chessiecon Battle Reports (part 4)

In a different scenario (a mission called “The Seeds of Chaos”), other players were on a mission to discover the reason behind a robot rampage at a shopping mall. The team quickly dispatched the first few robots, but when they faced two at once, things became much more serious. One of the robots—a malfunctioning maintenance drone--sprayed the team with oil. The three team members that were covered with oil had to make athletics checks each time they tried to move, often failing the checks and slipping to fall prone. Meanwhile, one of the characters noticed the robot was lighting up a welding torch. They panicked, and frantically tried to get out of the oil puddle. Even though they managed to escape the puddle, the trail of oil left by their movements caught fire as well, and two of the three oil-covered characters caught fire. The third managed to jump, ending the oil trail to escape the raging fire. If not for the assistance of other team members, the two burning characters might not have survived! Thankfully, a nearby mall fountain provided enough water to help douse the fire, and the team was able to eventually destroy the deadly robots.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Chessiecon Battle Reports (part 3)

Two of the smuggler gang managed to get into a skimcar that was not yet damaged, and as they prepared to escape, one of the team threw an EMP flash grenade into the cab of the car through a broken windshield. The grenade landed in the passenger's lap and exploded, seriously injuring the driver and knocking the passenger unconscious. The driver, however, still managed to drive away, despite being wounded and driving the now-damaged vehicle. It took a little longer for the team to chase after him, though, as they worked on apprehending one of targets while they tied up the others. A few moments later, the team got into one of the damaged cars and tried to catch up, but they had lost sight of the skimcar. Using the resourcefulness skill, they managed to get online remotely and access satellite information to find out where the skimcar was, and by using traffic reports and shortcuts, the team caught up with the desperate smuggler. Impressively, though, the team's driver decided to avoid using weapons to avoid injuring civilians in the surrounding traffic, until his team managed to pull in close to the smuggler's vehicle. It wasn't long before the team had sufficiently damaged his engine by gunfire, and the smuggler was easily captured after his skimcar came to a crashing halt!

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Chessiecon Battle Reports (part 2)

After destroying the security robot, the team realized that they no longer had the element of surprise against the smugglers meeting inside the warehouse. So, they piled into their squad car and drove up to the large, steel garage door and fired the mounted rotary canon on their vehicle. The door was weakened and full of bullet-holes, so the team then proceeded to ram their squad car through the door. They successfully broke through, but were surprised when they rammed into the cars inside that were parked, just beyond the door. They were also surprised by the smugglers, who had all taken cover positions behind crates in the warehouse and aimed at the door. The smugglers fired at the UG team and shot the front passengers through the windows of their squad car, nearly killing both of them. The team members in the back seat jumped out of the car and ran for cover on either side of the broken garage door, and a firefight ensued. Thankfully, the team was able to survive this encounter, and they inadvertently wrecked two of the three cars with their ramming stunt, but the battle didn't end there...

Monday, November 30, 2015

Chessiecon Battle Reports (part 1)

This past weekend, Solar Echoes was at Chessiecon running demo's in the gameroom. We had quite a number of players, and from the time we arrived until we left, there was never a shortage of gamers at the table. This week, I'll share some of the highlights from the fun and creative players, starting today with the opening to the first mission of the weekend, Gun Runners. The team of Union Guard operatives arrived at the warehouse and it wasn't long before one of them detected a robot security drone walking on patrol. One of the team—a Reln specializing in wordplay—was detected by the robot and was warned to leave. The Reln managed to confuse the robot momentarily by displaying his UG badge and stated that he was authorized to pass. While the rest of the team got into position, the robot finally resolved its confusion and insisted the Reln leave the area. The team quickly learned the advantage of focus fire in Solar Echoes—everyone aimed at the unsuspecting robot and fired, gaining a +2 to hit because at least 3 people were targeting it. Everyone hit, and the combined damage of their weapons blew the robot into smoldering, metallic pieces. Unfortunately, their stealthy approach was now lost, and the smugglers inside the warehouse knew they were there. How did the team decide to proceed? For today, I'll just say that it could be called the “direct” approach. Find out more tomorrow!

Friday, November 27, 2015

Is Tech Accelerating? (part 5)

Ultimately, it is true that we live in exciting times, where new i-phones and other trendy tech devices emerge on an almost yearly basis. Yet history may show that our era might actually be a slowing in advancement. Our innovation-driven societies may have lost sight of the bigger picture, and that is, how have we advanced economically on the world stage? Have living conditions improved overall? Has production increased? Are fewer people starving and is there less disease to contend with? The periods of technological advancement that are truly landmarks in history are those periods where cultures have risen above their previous state and entered into a new age entirely. The true test of technological advancement in a society is not how many new technologies have emerged, but if these new technologies have significantly impacted and improved a society. Right now, for this generation, the jury is still out.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Is Tech Accelerating? (part 4)

Another question to ask is whether our technological advancement is achieving its full potential. If not, what factors might be negatively influencing this potential? Government intervention through regulations, the resistance of technological implementation by unions concerned about job loss, and even the re-purposing of technology towards areas in which it will not flourish or come to full fruition—all of these contribute to the slowing of advancement. Other concerns involve the length of time it takes for technology to move into our culture, and this can be affected in a number of ways. Consider the time it sometimes takes technology to move from early adopters to mainstream use, or the time required to build particular infrastructure to support new technology (for example, car charging stations are still not prevalent in the U.S.) How is one to accurately measure the rate of technological advancement, especially when all these and other factors are considered?

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Is Tech Accelerating? (part 3)

Productivity, energy usage, and a number of other factors can all be approached as a means of measurement when considering the rate of technological advancement. Yet even these yield less than quantifiable results because of the countless variables present in each. Productivity, for example, might be measured by examining prices, the result of supply and demand. However, supply and demand are influenced by an amalgam of changing variables among a complex assortment of different industries that fluctuate wildly in production levels. Another approach to measuring technological advancement is to measure processing power, but this, too, is flawed—while it is certainly more quantifiable in itself, it can only be used to measure growth in certain areas, such as information technology. Processing power has little relation with other technologies, and cannot be accurately used to determine increases in productivity throughout the world.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Is Tech Accelerating? (part 2)

Is the rate of technological change actually getting faster? It certainly seems so, from the perspective of a consumer, but notable economists seem to believe the opposite. They think that we have exhausted most of the easier technological advances and that genuinely new breakthroughs will take much more work, and much longer, to be developed. Technological change is actually very difficult to measure, as it requires a wide range of factors to be considered. When we think of technological change, we are obviously biased by the present and it is difficult to accurately assess all the changes that have happened along the way. Each type of change is different as well. In the late 1800's we experienced a mechanical revolution, but this is obviously a very different technological change from the information (IT) change we have experienced in recent years. Another difficult factor to measure involves the implications of an advancement. A new discovery may not be fully implemented or be practical until other discoveries are made that allow everything to come together into a larger, practical change. However, economists have devised approaches towards discerning our rate of advancement...

Monday, November 23, 2015

Is Tech Accelerating? (part 1)

We live in an age where technology is advancing so quickly, it's almost impossible to keep up with the latest tech unless you have money to burn, and even then, every few months you'll be discarding previous devices. I'm sure you must feel it too—things seem to be advancing faster than you remember in years past. A new computer falls behind the curve in a year or two, and within five years, you'll almost need to rebuild or replace the entire thing if you want to upgrade to current technology. I used to custom design my computers, but it quickly reached the point that I often had to switch out to a new motherboard because newer components simply wouldn't interface anymore. Gaming consoles (Sony's Playstations and Microsoft's Xboxes) have a predicted life of 6 to 8 years before a new version is released –this is a rather long lifespan when considering that within a year, newer and more advanced models of smartphones and computers are on the market. But is technology really advancing at an exponential rate?

Friday, November 20, 2015

Hopkins Mission Control (part 5)

Another aspect of MC'ing a Solar Echoes mission is being sensitive to the dynamics of the players themselves. If a player seems frustrated that nothing he is attempting is working (whether it is because of bad rolls or his ideas are outside the mission “box”), the MC should find ways to allow him some success. Even if his roll was a little low, sometimes it's ok to give him a win if it means that the game will move forward and the players will have fun. The rules exist to govern the game so that players don't expect that they can remotely hack an entire space-station by interfacing with a cleaning droid. There will always be things the players think of that are not in the mission and that totally catch the MC by surprise. In those cases, the MC needs to quickly think up a reasonable level of difficulty and let the player make an attempt at his idea. The role of the MC is to spin a great story, present challenges that the players feel they just barely managed to overcome by their choices and skills, involve all players as a team, and keep the momentum/pacing of the entire experience moving forward. Being an MC is a bit like directing a movie, and it is demanding work, but from what I saw last Friday night, the MC at the Hopkins HPPRPG club has a great start!

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Hopkins Mission Control (part 4)

Another difficult MC situation is if the players are headed entirely the wrong way with a mission—Derelict is designed for the players to end up on an alien planet, but if the players are doing things that would prevent that, there are two options for the MC: railroad the players there anyway, or completely improv the rest of the mission. Railroading is looked down upon if the players are feeling like they have no choice, but if an MC cleverly creates circumstances that are the result of the players' actions, the players will have little clue that they've been guided along a certain story arc. The key is, the players need to feel like they are writing the story. Ultimately, in my opinion, the mission itself is a set of guidelines and scenarios that inform the MC and can be assembled however he or she thinks would create the most exciting experience for the players. The Hopkins MC managed to adjust to the innovative choices of her players, and through a few subtle nudges that I don't think the players even detected, she was able to keep them on the story path by presenting them with options related to their decisions. In the end, players have the most fun when they have exciting stories to tell based on their characters' choices.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Hopkins Mission Control (part 3)

Solar Echoes is a very team-focused game, so if a team splits up, it not only hurts the groups to be separate (gaps appear in necessary skills among members, and there's of course strength in numbers), but it also slows the gameplay for some of the players. As an MC, one of the top priorities should be to keep the game moving and for all players to be actively involved, but when members split up, it is understandable that some players may grow bored while waiting for their group's “turn.” Another concern in gameplay is when one player isn't engaged because his particular skillset might not seem relevant to the situation. For example, last week this particular group had a Reln specialized in persuasive/dialogue skills. I was worried that, in a mission that involves mostly combat until the end, this player would feel as if his character didn't matter. Although this player was not present for the Derelict mission, if he had been, it would have been up to the MC to find ways to challenge him that might be outside the mission text. Thinking back on Friday's game, there were several dialogue opportunities that could have been expounded upon, had he been there. However, it is also important to remember that a player should be encouraged to develop several skillsets for his character. A “one-trick-pony” often has a hard time contributing to a team except in those moments when his specialty can shine.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Hopkins Mission Control (part 2)

It's usually a very bad idea to split up the team, but when investigating a mysterious, derelict starship floating through space, it was a good plan to have someone stay behind on their own ship when the rest of the team boarded. When enemies attempted to seize the team's ship, there was at least one person to resist, and oh did he resist! Even when things were looking bleak, he managed to scuttle his own ship by setting fire to the engine room to prevent the pirates from easily commandeering his starship. He jumped into an escape pod and jettisoned himself toward the surface of an alien planet below, hoping that his team could somehow catch up to the escape pod and rescue him. The MC made sure to give the other players an opening to follow their teammate while the pirates were busy trying to put out the fire. After landing on the alien planet (which, by the way, had an atmosphere comprised of CO2 and Argon), the team put on space suits and began a search for their missing teammate. Thankfully, he had some creative ideas of his own to signal his whereabouts, and the team was eventually re-united!

Monday, November 16, 2015

Hopkins Mission Control (part 1)

This past Friday, I was again invited to the Johns Hopkins University's role playing club (HPPRPG), but this time I was there on an advisory basis only—one of the club members was ready to try her hand at running a mission for the group. This intrepid Mission Controller (MC is the name we give to GM's in Solar Echoes) was conducting a very difficult mission called “Derelict.” The Hopkins players were methodical and creative, moving “off-script” more than a few times. This might have posed a significant challenge for a new MC, but she quickly adjusted and came up with creative options for everyone. One of the important things to always keep in mind when running a Solar Echoes mission is that you want the players to drive the story with their choices, and if this doesn't entirely align with the events detailed in the mission, improvise! This week, I'll touch on a few examples and share some tips for effective MC'ing.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Battle Report: Johns Hopkins (part 5)

Ironically, the Reln diplomat had not invested any skills in terrestrial vehicle piloting when he'd built his character—the only one that had was the stealthy Reln, and he was busy finishing a gun battle against the remaining criminals. That didn't mean the Reln couldn't drive, but it meant any contested skill checks would usually go in favor of the character with skill ranks invested in driving. The car chase ensued, and road obstacles, traffic, and even a pedestrian kept both drivers on their toes. The Chiraktis in the car attempted to fire at the fleeing criminal's vehicle, shooting EMP nets. The criminal responded by releasing a cluster of magnetic caltrops, which the Reln was unfortunately unable to pilot around. The caltrops were sucked up into the skimcar's anti-grav drive, and it was only a matter of time before it would fail—a 6-sided die would have to be rolled each round, and a roll of 1 meant that the car would crash into the pavement as the anti-grav system failed.

However, the Reln was able to get their car into close range of the criminal's skimcar, allowing the Chiraktis to target a specific system on the vehicle with the EMP net. She fired and hit her mark—the enemy's antigrav drive. Now, he too must roll a 6-sided die each round. Meanwhile, the stealthy Reln caught up to the group in another skimcar, and he tried to ram the criminal from the side. He missed, and narrowly avoided plowing into the car of his teammates! After circling around to follow them and try to catch up, a slow driver up ahead became an obstacle each car had to avoid. The first two did, but the stealthy Reln with the rank in piloting failed, slamming into the car of an elderly driver. However, luck was still on the team's side, because the very next round, the criminal rolled a 1 for his anti-grav check. It failed and slammed into the ground at speed, crashing into a horrible mess. The renegade Omul was easily apprehended, and the team succeeded at their mission!

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Battle Report: Johns Hopkins (part 4)

The group followed the lead they had discovered while hacking the mall computers, and found themselves outside an elementary school, closed for summer. Apparently, criminals were using the school as a base of operations. When the team of agents located suspicious vehicles at the back of the school, they prepared to enter through the back door, while the Reln-diplomat scaled the building, ran across the roof, and lowered himself to the front of the building. As the Chiraktis and the stealthy Reln entered the building and heard angry voices in a nearby classroom, the Reln diplomat decided to break the front windows with his knife as a distraction, only to discover the windows were made of shatter-proof glass. Frustrated that his plan had not worked, the Reln tried again, this time with a gun. Although only tiny holes appeared in the glass, the gunshot was loud enough to alert the criminals inside. Unfortunately the timing of this was not quite perfect and the element of surprise was lost as the criminals were slightly forewarned just before the other two bust the door open. A fight ensued, and almost all of the criminals were defeated except an Omul that managed to escape and get to his skimcar. If not for the foresight of the Reln diplomat, he would have escaped successfully, but the Reln had closed the metal gate at the school parking lot. It only slowed the Omul down for 1 round as he attacked it with the chain gun on his car and then rammed through it, but that 1 round was just enough time for the Reln to get his car going and to pick up the Chiraktis that was in close pursuit.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Battle Report: Johns Hopkins (part 3)

The mall robots were service-oriented drones programmed to prepare and serve food, do maintenance work, sell cosmetics, and clean the floor, in addition to a number of security drones. The team faced a variety of robots in combat, but some of my favorite moments include the Chiraktis character being blinded by a pheromone spray used by the cosmetic robot—she stumbled around randomly while hoping to avoid the violent robot that was seeking to introduce her to other chemical products. At one point, the Reln sniper failed to notice a maintenance drone behind him, and he was sprayed with a large spurt of oil. The Reln struggled to escape, but the oil was so slick he could not get back on his feet. When he saw that the robot was about to ignite the oil with its propane torch, the Reln pulled a blanket out of his backpack, dropped it in front of him, and kicked off a nearby wall to slide across the floor, just as the flame caught the oil. The flame continued after him on the oil track left by the blanket, but the Reln thankfully made a leap, just in time, into a nearby fountain! Meanwhile, the Reln-diplomat was busy with a rogue cleaning-bot, and when the aggressive robot aimed its vacuum gun as it prepared to fire trash at high velocity, the quick-thinking Reln shoved his shock-baton into the opening. The vacuum exploded, destroying the robot, but unfortunately, the Reln's shock-baton was demolished as well. At least he was still alive!

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Battle Report: Johns Hopkins (part 2)

The team was joined by a mall security guard as soon as they entered the mall. The panicking shoppers had cleared out of the mall at this point and the security guard, a large Archaeloid, did his best to help out the agents in their investigation, though it did take a little intimidation from one of the Reln to “encourage” the Archaeloid to cough up the whole story. The diplomat-Reln actually spoke a little Archaeloid, but unfortunately failed his check to speak in the foreign language (he needed a few more ranks for 100% fluency). Otherwise, it would have been much easier to get all the details from the Archaeloid initially. The team was able to gather some important intel and successfully hacked into the computers at the mall's security terminal. What they learned there would present them with two mission options, and this particular team of agents chose a more direct approach than I've seen with other groups in the past. Meanwhile, they still had the matter of the malfunctioning mall robots to deal with, and they needed to try to damage one just enough so that they could hack into it and copy the corrupted AI—a feat much harder than it sounds!

Monday, November 9, 2015

Battle Report: Johns Hopkins (part 1)

The Johns Hopkins University has a number of clubs, and this last week I was invited to run a Solar Echoes demo with the Hopkins Pencil and Paper Role Playing Group (HPPRPG). Some of the group had already designed their own characters, and were ready to jump into their first mission, while others observed. For the most part, the team of characters covered all skill areas, including a Reln focused on languages and the persuasive arts, another Reln with hacking and stealth (the group's sniper), and a Chiraktis worker focused on Biotech and Engineering. When their mission assignment was given to them by their Operations Sergeant, the agents learned that they had to investigate the cause of a robot rampage at a local shopping mall. This week, I'll be highlighting some of the most memorable (and comical) moments of the mission—the players succeeded at their mission, though there were definitely some challenges they met along the way! Stay tuned this week for more...

Friday, November 6, 2015

Strange and Confusing Alien Customs (part 5)

Omuls don't understand private ownership very well, and have been called thieves and kleptomaniacs when they are quite used to “borrowing” and “sharing” others' “possessions.” Also, don't show up on time when invited to an Omul's home—if you show up early or on time, you are considered greedy or over-eager. The Omul concept of time is very subjective, which is part of the reason Omuls often have difficulty holding down a job because they often show up an hour or two late. They don't want to seem desperate for money! Another Omul cultural oddity is their extreme lack of tact—they consider all points of view, no matter how seemingly offensive, as totally acceptable, and are known for their bluntness in social situations. To an Omul, there would be absolutely nothing wrong with pointing out the large, inflamed zit growing on your nose. Why would you take that personally?

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Strange and Confusing Alien Customs (part 4)

Archaeloids consider it rude for others to be able to see what you're eating. Granted, they have many long tentacles covering their mouths while they are chewing on something, but humans that chew with their mouths open and Omuls that, well, can't exactly hide the food floating in their cytoplasm are generally considered to be without manners by Archaeloid standards. Archaeloids are also quite formal in social situations, greeting each-other with slow bows and approaching with measured steps. This often leads to the misconception that they are slow-moving creatures (even though they are a little slower than some of the other races!) Archaeloids consider fast, casual movements as disrespectful and suggestive of impatience. Another cultural consideration to keep in mind is that colors mean a great deal to Archaeloids, which use the shifting coloration of their skin to communicate emotion. Because red is associated with rage and anger, it is a very bad idea to wear the color red to any event with Archaeloids present. Sending red roses—considered as “flowers of death”--will greatly alarm and offend Archaeloids for the perceived death threat and Erwani for the morbid act of sending a butchered corpse as a gift.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Strange and Confusing Alien Customs (part 3)

Don't expect salt from a “salt-shaker” in a Chiraktis home or restaurant. Chiraktis put sugar on everything, and I mean, everything they eat. They even carry packets of sugar around with them, because they consider the food of other races far too bland. Like Omuls, Chiraktis also tend to be rather blunt and direct, though they are not very conversational in general so often their brevity is somewhat excused when compared with the Omul tendency to ramble tactlessly. Chiraktis do not “beat around the bush” as many others are accustomed to in conversation, primarily because they are always focused on being efficient in communication. Regarding the Erwani plant-race, the way you treat your plants at home can become a great offense. If you haven't watered your plants for a while, or if you haven't positioned them in a place where they can receive optimal sunlight, Erwani will find your care of their “kin” quite offensive, and you may be faced with a long tirade about how adoption screening procedures should exist for those that seek to raise a plant. “Gifts” of plants or flowers are associated with death in Erwani culture, and flower-shops are considered “butcheries.” If you send flowers to a grieving Erwani, you will have just made things much worse. Don't expect any thank-you cards!

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Strange and Confusing Alien Customs (part 2)

Reln are known for their acute hearing sensitivity, so it is unsurprising that they are bothered by things that the rest of us barely notice. Ticking clocks, humming electronics, loud music, and elaborate “surround sound” entertainment systems all drive the Reln into a high state of annoyance. Infant toys that make any kind of music or sound are considered the worst gifts to bring to Reln baby showers, and non-digital clocks of any kind will be quickly re-gifted by Reln to another alien race—clocks are considered the “fruit cake” of Reln gifts. Another race, the reptilian Krissethi, are somewhat infamous for their “misunderstandings” about the small pets of other races. To a Krissethi, seeing a small animal on a leash or in a cage is no different than keeping seafood alive for freshness in an aquarium. Even though it isn't uncommon to see headlines in the news about the outrage against yet another Krissethi for devouring someone's small pet, Krissethi continue to make these supposed “mistakes.” Public opinion is beginning to form against the Krissethi in these matters, with some people outright stating that, until there is a law, Krissethi seem quite comfortable with continuing this offensive behavior. It has become common knowledge: if you own a small pet, don't invite any Krissethi to your home, even for a short visit!

Monday, November 2, 2015

Strange and Confusing Alien Customs (part 1)

If you've ever traveled to a foreign country, or have been around someone long enough from a foreign country, you're bound to come across at least a few customs that seem odd to you. As an American, you may at first be put-off by someone who enters your house and immediately proceeds to remove his shoes. From an American perspective, most of us are probably thinking, “Gross! I don't want to smell your feet, put those shoes back on!” Yet in other cultures, it is considered rude to walk through a clean house with the dirty shoes you've worn all over the place, including upon the floors of dirty public bathrooms, so why would you want those same shoes treading upon your the clean floors of your home? Another tradition I encountered that struck me as a little odd was when a Korean friend brought me a housewarming gift of toilet paper and laundry detergent. I didn't know quite what to say, and acted appreciative, but later learned that Koreans consider the bubbles produced by detergent as good luck, and back when Korea was a poor, toilet paper and detergent were considered pricey items. These cultural differences are minor, though, compared to some of the more extreme traditions of the aliens in Solar Echoes. Imagine what a different culture from another planet would be like, and then add on top of that the various physiological differences and requirements of an alien species. This week, we'll discuss what you might be able to expect if one of these aliens comes to visit you at home!

Friday, October 30, 2015

The Genesis of Aliens (part 5)

The seventh race in the Solar Echoes universe is, of course, human. We felt the same way you probably do about this—humans aren't all that exciting. Yet when asking ourselves which creature on earth is most likely to venture forth and explore the cosmos, it is undoubtedly the human. Already, we have landed on the moon, built a space station, and we may someday soon put a man on Mars. It is in our nature to explore and reach out to the stars. In Solar Echoes, the humans are the ancestors of pioneers that set out in a convoy of large colony ships seeking new planets for humans to settle. In designing the human race, we focused on their flexibility and adaptability, making them the race that can take on any role and perform that role well. While some races are not entirely suited for some roles (such as an Erwani trying to be a melee fighter—they can do it, but their strength will never reach that of an Archaeloid), humans can compete at anything because of a little more flexibility with their attribute scores. Due to the long journey through space of their ancestors, the humans of Solar Echoes are survivors, pioneers, and natural space pilots. The other races all agree—humans are a long list of contradictions, but they are not to be underestimated!

Thursday, October 29, 2015

The Genesis of Aliens (part 4)

Another factor that we considered when developing the Solar Echoes alien races is competitiveness and the ability to spread one's kind. I wanted a plant-like race in Solar Echoes, and though we make no attempt to explain how a plant can develop intelligence, the Erwani became our sentient race of plants. Plants are quite capable of spreading their kind across vast distances through spores, seed pods, and other means, so the idea of plants in space didn't seem too far-fetched. Plants thrive on CO2, so an alien race that could live in an environment toxic to other races was very appealing. Plus, there was a cool opportunity for an almost symbiotic relationship with Erwani and other, oxygen-breathing aliens on starships and space stations. Another race that was decided upon because of its competitive nature, resilience, and ability to spread is the reptilian Krissethi. The dinosaurs once dominated almost all ecosystems on Earth, and if not for the cataclysmic event that resulted in their extinction, these reptiles may still rule the Earth, and might have developed greater intelligence than the reptiles on Earth today. Maybe the reptiles managed to flourish somewhere else out there, on another planet? Reptiles reproduce in large numbers, they are resilient, and they often compete to the top of the food chain. It's not a stretch to imagine reptiles doing well somewhere else in the universe!

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The Genesis of Aliens (part 3)

Intelligence was another parameter we used to help us decide which creatures on earth might have a space-born counterpart. The Archaeloid was designed not only because I wanted a marine-based alien, but because of the octopus, one of the most intelligent animals in the ocean. An octopus can learn, process complex information, make use of tools to solve problems, exhibit emotions, and even possess a distinct personality. The Archaeloids aren't the smartest of the Solar Echoes races, but they managed to develop their own technology and culture, and are able to focus and compete at intellectual tasks as well as most of the other races. The Omul, which is basically a giant amoeba, is the most bizarre of our races, but it was an easy choice for me because I had already written a sci-fi story in high school about man-sized alien amoebas invading our planet and taking over. Amoebas are unusually intelligent, capable of gathering and processing information, in addition to having a sense of self-awareness. They are also great survivors, and are the third simplest organism on Earth. It seemed an obvious choice that this hardy, intelligent creature might have an inter-stellar cousin somewhere!

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

The Genesis of Aliens (part 2)

Insects are some of the most resilient creatures on this planet. Spiders and roaches can be found in almost any climate, and have even been able to adapt to unusual environments such as the arctic regions. Insects manage to expand their population to just about any corner of the earth, so it made sense that insects would somehow manage to do the same in space. The structured “society” of ants really inspired the idea behind the Chiraktis—a race of mantis-like insects that, in some ways, resemble an insect centaur, like the man-horse combination in Greek mythology. We figured that if insects are going to advance, they need to be able to manipulate and design tools, so we gave them hands. Another Solar Echoes alien based on survivability and adaptation is the Reln, which is somewhat modeled after a bat. Bats are found in most corners of the world and are considered one of the most successful mammals on Earth. The mysterious, humanoid Reln live on the harshest planet of all the Solar Echoes races, and they have a tendency to live underground to avoid the radiation of their resonance-locked sun. This, their appearance, and their natural echolocation ability all reflect the bat-like inspiration in their design.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Halloween Sale at RPGNow!

The Genesis of Aliens (part 1)

One of the most exciting aspects of developing Solar Echoes was designing the alien races that players would be able to play as their characters. A lot of decisions weighed into the design of each alien race, but the key to each one was hinged upon the question, “What are some of the most resilient creatures on earth that could adapt to life in space?” We're not saying that the Solar Echoes aliens came from earth, but we looked at the universe and thought about what types of creatures would be able to flourish throughout the cosmos. Another question we tried to keep in mind was intelligence—what creatures on earth display something that might be considered as beyond animal intelligence? We also considered creatures based on other unique qualities, such as their ability to spread their kind. If life exists somewhere else in the universe, it might not look entirely “alien” to us, after all. This week, we'll take a closer look at the inspiration for each of the Solar Echoes aliens.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Alien Rumors (part 5)

Despite all the excitement that the mystery at KIC 8462852 has spawned, we need only look at our tendency over the years to let our imaginations run wild. How many images of Mars have excited people hoping to find aliens? The Mars rat/iguana, rocks that look like a monk or cloaked figure, and even the alien “toltec” face in the rock formations. We're almost as good at imagining images in Mars rocks as we are at seeing them in our own planet's clouds. Considering that the presence of water on Mars and Europa makes it slightly more possible that some kind of organism might exist beyond earth, we still have found no evidence beyond the water itself and our own biased assumptions that water is necessary for life. As long as scientists and astronomers keep their findings based on actual data and not on their imagination, the cause for excitement is genuine. Just what is it out there, on KIC 8462852, that is randomly blocking the light of that sun?

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Alien Rumors (part 4)

Yet, if there are gigantic alien starships or space stations, the same factors that have caused astronomers to rule out natural causes also apply to the alien megastructure theory. If something is absorbing 20 percent of a star's light, that energy should be re-radiated as infrared wavelengths, plus, the structure is going to get really, really hot. So far, no extra infrared wavelengths have been detected. If the object was a giant Death-Star space-station, it should also have a consistent orbit causing the periodic dips in light as it passed in front of the star. At least my theory about a massive fleet of alien starships passes that test, right? Ultimately, the only way we can get closer to the answer is by repeated observations over a longer span of time, possibly using other telescopes to generate a cross-reference for collected data. Radio telescopes at SETI will also be used to listen for alien broadcasts that might be made from the star system. It's exciting that we may finally have somewhere specific to start looking, and listening, for extra-terrestrial life!

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Alien Rumors (part 3)

One proposed theory to explain the erratic and significant dimming of KIC 8462852 is that a comet broke up around the star. The frozen remains would expand into giant clouds that could, for a short time, block out the light. However, this would cause dust to scatter near the star and produce excessive infra-red radiation, something easily detected from earth. However, no such radiation has been detected. One astronomer, Jason Wright, has proposed the theory that, though aliens should be the last hypothesis to consider, “this looked like something an alien civilization would build.” The term “alien megastructure” has seen lots of Google searches since the announcement, and theories range wide and far. Personally, I think the idea of an alien space station seems a bit far-fetched, considering that even the Death Star in Star Wars was no where as big as this object would have to be. Perhaps it's a fleet of alien starships, engaging in a gigantic inter-stellar battle?

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Alien Rumors (part 2)

The dimming of KIC 8462852 is significant for two reasons. First, other stars have seen drops in light emittance by 1 or 2 percent at most. However, KIC 8462852 has dimmed by up to 20 percent. Secondly, unlike a planet obscuring light from a star at regular intervals because of its orbit, the dimmings occurred randomly during the 1600 days Kepler monitored the star. Near the 800th day of monitoring, the star's light dropped by 15 percent, but near the 1500th day, there was an odd disturbance that caused a drop of 20 percent of the emitted light. A drop that significant would mean the object passing in front of the star would have to be almost half the star's diameter! Considering that KIC 8462852 is 1.5 times larger than our own sun, and that the largest planet in our solar system (Jupiter) is only 1/10th the size of our sun, can you imagine how huge the planet would have to be? Astronomers are concluding that the object could not be a planet.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Alien Rumors (part 1)

Last week, NASA's Kepler telescope was focused on KIC 8462852, a star about 1500 light years away from Earth. What interested astronomers was the strange pattern of dimming that they noticed when looking at the star. Natural causes have apparently been ruled out (see link below if you want the technical details—and I DO mean technical!), so astronomers are beginning to consider another possibility. Could the dimming patterns be the result of an alien presence? A little history first: the Kepler space telescope was directed for use, starting in 2009, in a project to find planets by looking for a small dip in light caused by a planet passing in front of a star. So far, the project has been extremely successful, with 150,000 stars being monitored and thousands of new planets being added to the roster. However, none of the monitored stars have exhibited the dramatic amount of dimming that KIC 8462852 has evidenced...

Natural causes ruled out:

Friday, October 16, 2015

Single Multiplayer Video Games (part 5)

Developers need to consider all types of players, and when on a budget, it's understandably difficult to accommodate each type. Personally, I think it is a poor decision to exclude single-player offerings from any video game. From a business perspective, it seems questionable as to whether excluding single-players will justify avoiding the financial investment in developing a single-player campaign. In other words, if only 30% of the players that buy the game are completing the single-player campaign, would sales to that 30% compensate for the investment in the development of the single-player portion of the game? My concern is that, if developers continue on this path, the current drive towards multiplayer-only content may alienate those of us who aren't interested in the online social aspect of video games. However, maybe the developers are right—perhaps I'm part of a continually dwindling minority of gamers that prefers the solo experience. What do you think?

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Single Multiplayer Video Games (part 4)

My interest in Destiny faded partly because of the game, but partly because I really didn't feel like talking while playing the game. Destiny, however, is a different design from the typical multiplayer game—it is designed, in a way, much like Solar Echoes—it almost requires the presence of others on a team in order for game goals to be achievable. Considering that I played Destiny often with others online for about 8 months, the developers definitely did something right with their game design to get me to be a social player online. But Destiny had a single-player campaign as well, and I certainly spent a lot of time enjoying it alone. I think it is unfortunate, though, that some developers (like EA) are trying to force multiplayer by removing single-player entirely. It's important to incentivize players of all types. The developers of Destiny (Bungie) were wise in their approach—they offered up a great single-player experience that got me hooked enough that I was willing to stay around for the multiplayer offering. If the game had been multiplayer-only, I seriously doubt I would have given it much of a chance.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Single Multiplayer Video Games (part 3)

I'll be the first to admit—I'm not a social online video-gamer. Obviously with Solar Echoes, I quite enjoy social gaming when it comes to tabletop RPG's, but when I sit down on my couch at night after a hard day at work, I really don't want to interact with anyone. However, I quite enjoy playing multiiplayer video games when I have friends or family to sit on the couch with for a game. Lately, though, it has been nearly impossible to find what are called “local” multiplayer games—everything is shifting towards online play. I understand this to a degree—I played “Destiny” last fall and spring quite a bit, and made a few online “friends” through the experience. However, the approach to Destiny was a bit different than most multiplayer games out there, as it was designed to require cooperation after a certain stage in the game, while most multiplayer games are designed to support a number of players competing for similar goals.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Single Multiplayer Video Games (part 2)

From what I've been hearing, there is not a single-player campaign in the upcoming Star Wars Batthefront game. In the past, it has been a tradition for online, multiplayer-shooters to include single-player campaigns, and some developers have even linked the single-player portion with the online portion by awarding players with special items that can only be earned in the campaign. Yet, despite these incentives, data has shown that players rarely finish the campaigns and spend most of their time in online mode (they must not be paying any attention to my gaming habits!) Sony and Microsoft both have a rewards system with game trophies or achievements that reflect certain in-game accomplishments. These awards are intended not only for player bragging rights, but to serve as tracking mechanisms by which game companies can see just how much people are playing their game, and what they are achieving in it. Data for single-player campaign completion is miserably low, so it's hard to blame publishers like EA for deciding to leave the campaign out. Instead, they spend all their development time and money on multiplayer.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Single Multiplayer Video Games (part 1)

With the upcoming release of EA's Star Wars Battlefront in November, there has been a lot of excitement about the game. This last week, EA hosted a free beta for video gamers to try the new game, and though I didn't get involved, I've been reading a number of reactions. Some of what I've read has brought up some interesting questions about the future of multiplayer video games and how we're playing them. Games are increasingly becoming more social experiences, and even Sony's PS4 has a “share” button to broadcast gameplay (or even hand off the gameplay to an online friend!) A number of factors are pointing big game developers like EA in a particular direction, and though their decisions seem to be unpopular with a lot of people, the data doesn't lie...

Friday, October 9, 2015

Krissethi vs. Archaeloid Combat (part 5)

The next round begins with the movement phase, and to stand up again, the Krissethi must spend his entire movement to get back on his feet. Realizing the Archaeloid can get to him, the Krissethi uses 1 Stamina point to Sprint, which allows a character to double-move. He uses his second move afforded by the Sprint to run his full movement of 5 squares, running away to stand behind a crate, hoping to gain cover against future gunfire. Meanwhile, the Archaeloid has run to where the Krissethi dropped prone, and sees the Krissethi sprinting away. The Archaeloid also decides to spend 1 Stamina point to Sprint, and he runs his full movement of 4 squares—just enough to put him right next to the Krissethi trying to hide behind the crate. Archaeloid's are brutal foes, especially in melee fights, so it is looking like things are about to go very badly for the Krissethi. But the Krissethi has a few surprises and tricks up his sleeve, so it's really hard to say how this is going to go. The entire battle has already been recorded on a warehouse security camera, so find out who wins the fight in this video:

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Krissethi vs. Archaeloid Combat (part 4)

To pick up where we left off yesterday, we're still waiting to find out who succeeded and who failed in the gunfire exchange. The Krissethi dove for cover and is prone on the floor—that dive through the air gave him a +1 against Ranged Dodge, which was just enough to avoid the Archaeloid's attack with the Urban Warrior—the bullet whizzed past the Krissethi and punctured a metal crate behind him. However, because the Krissethi had spent his movement phase aiming, his +1 to attack essentially negated the +1 to Ranged Dodge the Archaeloid gained from the Sidestep talent, and the thorn bullet successfully hit the Archaeloid. Erwani Thorn pistols do 3 points of damage, and the Archaeloid has natural armor of 2, which is basically damage resistance. Only 1 point of damage goes through, so the Archaeloid is just Lightly Wounded. However, 1 point of damage was all the Krissethi needed for his bullet to deliver the Jitters poison into the Archaeloid's nervous system. In 1 more round, the poison will take effect and the Archaeloid will suffer -1 to all of his skills for the next 2 hours!

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Krissethi vs. Archaeloid Combat (part 3)

The Krissethi decides to spend his Movement phase aiming at the Archaeloid to give him a +1 bonus to hit the heavily-armored alien. The Archaeloid walks forward, not seeing the Krissethi at first, but when he finishes his movement, the Krissethi is in his line of sight to the right. During the Action phase, both attack simultaneously—there is no turn order in Solar Echoes because all attacks resolve together. The Krissethi fires his Erwani thorn pistol, a weapon preferred by assassins because of its ability to deliver toxins to the target. At the same time, the Archaeloid fires his Urban Warrior pistol at the Krissethi, who is now in full view. The Krissethi uses his Reaction, which may interrupt any move or action but may only be used once per round. The Krissethi's reaction is to Dive for Cover, which gives him a +1 bonus to his Ranged Dodge as he dives for an adjacent square, the only downside being that he ends up prone in that square. The Archaeloid also uses his Reaction, but he has a slightly better version of Dive for Cover—a talent he selected called Sidestep. The Archaeloid also moves one square and gains a +1 bonus to Ranged Dodge, but he stays on his feet instead of ending up prone. Find out tomorrow who gets hit by an attack and who manages to dodge!