Friday, December 29, 2017
I just discovered this morning that my website at http://www.SolarEchoes.com was down. I called my webhosting and apparently their system migration late Novemeber messed it up, but I have no idea how long it's been down for. It's back up now, supposedly. Sorry for the inconvenience!
Thursday, December 28, 2017
A good friend of mine got Sony's PSVR at Christmas time, and last night we were finally able to get together online in virtual reality. We met in the game Arizona Sunshine, and it was surreal seeing his avatar standing there using his voice. We joked and talked as he figured out how to move around and manipulate items with his hands, and there were some funny moments when he tried to put a hat on his head—the hat first dropped in front of him to his feet, and when he tried again, he reached too far behind his head it dropped behind him. After adjusting to VR a bit more, we headed out into the desert canyon, shooting zombies together and scrounging for ammo by searching abandoned cars. Ammo was limited, and we found that it helped to call out which zombies we were targeting so we didn't both waste ammo shooting the same one full of holes. There were some scary moments when a large group of zombies started heading towards us, running from different directions. One even got up in my face as I scrambled to reload my gun, and my friend was unable to help because he was dealing with his own zombie horde. The scariest moment, though, was when we tried opening a car and it set off a car alarm—tons of zombies came running. We took shelter in a nearby sheriff's building, and left the door propped open slightly so we could shoot the zombies outside as they came near. After finally splattering the last zombie's head to pieces, my friend said he had to call it quits because he was getting nauseous from moving around in VR. It happened to me when I first started playing VR last year, so we agreed we'd do a little at a time as he developed his “VR Legs.” It takes a little practice, but now I'm running and jumping in VR with no nausea, staying in virtual reality worlds sometimes for 2 to 3 hours at a time! It was tons of fun hanging out in virtual reality with my friend, and I look forward to more social VR experiences in the future!
Wednesday, December 27, 2017
If family or friends are in town and you're trying to find things to do, why not try a game of Solar Echoes with them? Everything you need to play and jump right in is included in Operation: Flash Strike, a learn-by-play mission for beginners. My own father chose to play a flirty, female Reln character that conned the bad guys. Who will your relatives choose to be?
Friday, December 22, 2017
One thing technology has afforded us all is the ability to gather our own information, rather than have to absorb it through established “news” organizations. We now have the freedom to do our own research and we are exposed to more opinions than ever before. Has this made us more open-minded? It has at least given us the power to question what is told to us. The news media, a teacher, a parent, or a friend—no longer do any of them hold complete sway over us. There are countless opinions out there on the internet, and most of them are totally unfiltered. This can be a very good thing, but it can also be very dangerous to an undiscerning mind. Fake information, lies, and subversive ideology can send even the well-educated off in the wrong direction. “He seemed like such a nice guy...” and yet it is later discovered that the former nice guy was spending his time on websites with terrorist propaganda. Information can start or stop wars. Information can free or oppress. And we have the internet, a total wildscape of ideas. If not for access to information, though, a nation might be controlled by an oppressive government that tells them they are living better lives than anyone else in the world. George Orwell, Ayn Rand, Ray Bradbury, and many others have warned of information control, because it can alter and shape our psychology.
Thursday, December 21, 2017
Studies have shown that teens are actually feeling lonelier than ever, thanks to social media. Has it impacted their ability to relate to others in a more natural, face-to-face, personal way? When was the last time you saw a kid talking on the phone with one of their friends? Supposedly, only 10% of communication between people is from the actual content of their words—90% is from the tone of a person's voice and from body language. If that is accurate, then the 10% we're all communicating with online is an extremely poor method of relating to another person. How many times have you had to clarify something that you emailed or texted, and explaining it in person cleared up the misunderstanding? What happens, though, when people start to communicate this way more than by talking? What happens when families sit together but stare at their smartphones and ignore each other? Are we becoming less comfortable talking with people and more disconnected relationally? One teenager indicated to me he'd prefer to text someone and get to know them that way before having to talk much in person. Texting is quickly replacing normal conversation, and we're all communicating digitally more and more frequently. Maybe Elon Musk is right: we're already cyborgs!
Wednesday, December 20, 2017
Technology has also affected the way we make our decisions. With email, texting, and social media, it's easy to share a concern or dilemma with others, and we often find ourselves seeking feedback on possible choices before making a decision. Have we lost our sense of self a little among all the noise of our online acquaintances? Do we feel, perhaps, slightly less capable of making decisions when it's so much easier to just bounce things off those faceless others who are all too ready to share what they think we ought to do? With easy access to social media, we feel less accountable for our choices by relying on the feedback of others, but have we now become more dependent on others? And why are we even sharing the minutia of our lives with these online voices? Some have said that social media has created a generation that is more needy, where self-worth is sought online. Receiving a response to a post in social media becomes an affirming experience, and having a lot of followers begins to instill an over-inflated ego. When people are posting daily, mundane activities and sharing this information with friends and complete strangers, is it simply because of boredom, or is it fueled by a need to feel significant? How is this affecting people in the real world, socially?
Tuesday, December 19, 2017
Another way technology has changed us involves how it affects our courage. For example, I used to get worried when I had to travel frequently outside my home state. I often had to travel to places I'd never been, and with just a paper map and some instructions scribbled or printed on paper, I'd set out to places far from "civilization," meaning areas where I didn't see street lights, gas stations, or any population at all. Instead, there were endless expanses of open land, long, empty roads, and not a single car passing me for miles. Honestly, sometimes I was a little worried: what if my car breaks down or I run out of gas? Yet these days, if we have our smart phone with us and a good GPS app, we're quite willing to just drive off somewhere and go exploring. Help is only a phone call away, and we can always tell our GPS to take us home when we admit we've gotten a little lost! Also, we're letting our children go places alone a lot more freely, because it's easier to contact them with smartphones. For the really paranoid parents (or those of conniving teens!) there's always a smartphone GPS tracker to keep an eye on your kid's location at all times!
Monday, December 18, 2017
We all know it's true: technology changes the way we live. It also changes the way we think, but how much? Often it is said that the internet has caused us to have shorter attention spans, and when watching someone surf the net, that would seem to be a reasonable conclusion. Yet what might actually be true is that we are more capable of sorting, prioritizing, and absorbing information than we've ever been before. With smart phones and almost instant internet access wherever we go, we have become much more adept at analyzing and cross-referencing. As an example, I was Christmas shopping today and my phone was out, helping me check reviews and prices of the products I saw in stores. Ultimately, over half the gifts on my list became items I decided to buy online instead because of better prices or available inventory. Technology has enabled us to make more informed decisions, even when shopping!
Saturday, December 16, 2017
It's release day! An exciting new mission for scifi tabletop RPG gamers, Operation: Broken Citadel involves surviving a crumbling space station, squad combat, hacking, starship battles, and more. Available at RPGnow.com DriveThruRPG.com here:
Friday, December 15, 2017
1 more day until disaster strikes on a Union Guard space station. A few of the gamers that played this mission at the Chessiecon and Shorehammer conventions were given early release access with a discount to this mission, and several of them have already downloaded it for a first look. Special thanks goes out to everyone that helped beta-test this mission; you'll see that I've responded to your feedback and suggestions with some of the changes I made. I'm excited for this to be available to everyone, and I hope you all have lots of fun playing it with your friends! But, can you survive?
Thursday, December 14, 2017
Last summer I wrote Operation: Void Hunter as the first part of a larger story arc. The second part of the story arc, Operation: Broken Citadel, releases Saturday, and continues with some of the same themes and characters, but involves an entirely new set of challenges and events. I have banner ads that I run once in a while on RPGnow.com, and I decided to design the ad for Broken Citadel along the same lines as my design for Void Hunter—I like to show some of the major players involved in the story, without giving too much away. If you've played Void Hunter, you may recognize the feisty female character pictured in the Broken Citadel ad! I hope you like the artwork: there's a combination of art by John Fell, Sarah Carter, and me (my planets are getting better, I think?) Enjoy!
Wednesday, December 13, 2017
As I began writing the Broken Citadel mission, I quickly realized the need for a large space station map. Visualizing where they characters would move became increasingly difficult until I had a map to reference. Considering that the space station will be crumbling around the characters as they run through it to find a way out to safety, I also needed a way to better illustrate this visually to players. I came up with the idea of using map icons of the different disaster events that would happen around their characters. Electrical explosions, fire, falling objects, and even hull ruptures that sucked air and debris towards them and out into the vacuum of space were all events that the characters would face, so I made a variety of map icons for each. As characters move through the space station, the GM will roll to find out where these events will occur in close proximity to the team, sometimes even landing right on a character! These events create excitement and compel urgency towards getting off the space station; it's likely that more than a few of the characters will be injured as they traverse this dangerous environment!
Tuesday, December 12, 2017
"Suddenly you hear a deep, dull boom echoing from somewhere in the station and then feel a massive vibration ripple across the metal floor. Loud alarms begin to blare and red emergency lights flash. As you look down the hallway, you see panicked groups of agents and staff running in fear through the corridors."
Monday, December 11, 2017
Unless you've been off in a galaxy far, far away you are probably excited about the new Star Wars film, The Last Jedi, that releases this Friday! I'm planning to see it a week later when I'm finally on vacation, but in honor of this much-loved space opera, I've set the release date for a new Solar Echoes product on Saturday. If you like space operas, then this is a weekend to be excited about! Experience the next installment of the Star Wars saga in the theater, and if you're still in a space opera mood, team up with a group of friends playing alien agents and work together to survive a crumbling space station in Operation: Broken Citadel. Here's a quick description of the upcoming mission:
When the Union Guard space station Citadel suddenly suffers extreme damage, everyone is in a panic, rushing for escape pods and nearby starships. As you and your team struggle to survive the deadly catastrophe and escape with your lives, will you be able to save the one agent that might know what really happened? What choices will you make and who will you choose to save? While the station begins to break apart and its orbit gradually decays, your only chance of survival might be fleeing to the planet below--a planet that has long since been abandoned. What dangers will you face there, and can you last long enough for help to arrive? And where are all the other survivors?
Friday, December 8, 2017
After Saturday's missions, I led a discussion on Game Mastering and mission design, and there was a good crowd of interested gamers. I'm not much of a public speaker, but I think I was able to cover some helpful points and it was great to see everyone get into the discussion after I'd wrapped up my presentation. We bounced around with various topics, sharing our experiences and advice regarding topics such as handling unruly players and fudging die rolls to keep the game fun. After my talk, the convention organizer, Scott, led an entertaining and comical discussion about 8th edition, and though I'm unfamiliar with the Warhammer system, his sense of humor had everyone laughing so often that I wondered if he should consider a career in stand-up comedy. When Sunday arrived, the Armies on Parade entries were judged in various categories (most creative, best painted, etc.) and the now famous “Nutcrusher” tournament was underway. Meanwhile, I ran one last game for the convention with a couple new players and some of the team from Saturday's Void Hunter mission, continuing into the new sequel, Broken Citadel (funny highlight in second paragraph below.) Finally, the convention was wrapped up with a fun awards ceremony, complete with flashing lights, rock music, and a flamboyant costumed host, “Pimpcron,” handing out awards with his tiny son dressed in an oversized blazer. Shorehammer was an awesome convention!
Before I conclude, I wanted to thank TJ, a new player to Solar Echoes, for being a good sport! We were near the last half hour of the game, and though there were many moments worth sharing, the best was regarding TJ's unfortunate Chiraktis: when this insectoid agent left cover and stopped in an open area, he was gunned down by 3 elite Reln focus-firing on him using assault rifles. The others on the team wanted to rescue him but were wise not to leave cover. One of the players had a great idea, and fired his magnetic tether gun to try to attach it to something metal on the Chiraktis's belt to reel him back into cover so they could heal him. Unfortunately, that player rolled badly, so the magnetic tether attached to a thermal grenade on the Chiraktis's belt. The player decided to try reeling him in carefully anyway, but...he heard a small metal “plink” as the grenade pin was accidentally pulled out by the magnet. Poor Chiraktis! We were all laughing when we wondered what would happen to a Chiraktis in a fiery explosion, and imagined it might look something like a popping piece of popcorn. Thanks TJ, for being cool about the accidental demise of your Chiraktis! (We can clone him later, the UG has him on file ;)
Thursday, December 7, 2017
A few of my favorite memorable highlights from the missions I ran on Saturday will probably be stories the players remember well, too. One player had a very angry confrontation with a shady Krissethi “guide” who managed to escape his threatening grasp by using his “Dirty Fighting” technique, leaving the player's character speaking in soprano for a while. Later in the deadly forests on planet Sa'mesh, another player decided that he would ignore the advice of their guide to watch out for deadly parasitic fish in the river, believing that because his Omul character was a good swimmer, he could easily cross to the other side. That didn't go well for him, and if not for the quickness of that same guide, the unconscious Omul may have been beyond saving, floating away downstream in the fast river waters. One of my favorite moments was when the group saw an adorable, fluffy alien lifeform waddling comically by the shore. They were inclined to get closer, but one of them astutely decided to observe the guide's behavior first, and noticed her eyes were wide with fear and she was remaining absolutely still. The rest of the team quickly mimicked this behavior and thankfully survived the encounter as the cuddly creature eventually wandered away harmlessly. When they later encountered a monstrous lifeform that was truly beyond their capabilities, they wisely fled and were even able to perform a difficult computer hack under pressure when the creature cornered them, barely escaping in time to safety!
Wednesday, December 6, 2017
A video is up on Facebook at the Shorehammer convention site, where a gamedesigner describes the Solar Echoes game. Check it out:
Tuesday, December 5, 2017
Saturday seemed like the biggest day at Shorehammer to me, because there were three Highlander Games and a “Brutality Skirmish” Tournament in the early evening. The game tables were full, with Warhammer players hovering over the detailed war-torn terrain models, moving their armies carefully across the battlefields while measuring exact ranges and rolling dice to determine the fate of their troops. During all this, I ran Solar Echoes games in the other room with those that had free time—some that had finished their Warhammer games, others that were family members of the warriors in the other room, and some that were vendors that had some free time because everyone else was so involved in the massive battles being fought. I ran a demo mission for new players, and later, some old friends from last year and a few other new players joined me for Operation: Void Hunter. My plan was to run Void Hunter to prepare them for the new Operation: Broken Citadel mission I wanted to run on Sunday, a mission that is a continuation of the Void Hunter story. I had everyone level their characters up to level 3 so they could handle Void Hunter, and we had a lot of fun. There were some very memorable moments in this mission...
Monday, December 4, 2017
It was an epic weekend at the Shorehammer 2017 convention in Ocean City! I arrived Friday afternoon and groups of gamers were already there playing Warhammer at the tables filled with a massive selection of warzones. This year, there was twice the enrollment as last year, and the amazing amount of painted terrain and battlemats was impressive to see. It wasn't more than a few minutes after I'd set up for Solar Echoes in another room that I had interested players, and a couple gamers sat down to begin character creation almost immediately. We got a game going shortly after, and I had a small group of players going on their first mission as Union Guard agents. We had a ton of fun, and the team did an amazing job at achieving all of their mission objectives, scoring the most experience points possible for the Operation: Flash Strike mission, which is a free demo mission. I'll share more pictures of Shorehammer this week. Scott put together an awesome convention again this year—thanks for inviting me to be a part of it again!
Thursday, November 30, 2017
Tomorrow I head out to the Shorehammer Convention in Ocean City, Maryland! I'm very excited—last year's event was spectacular, and the convention organizer told me that this year's crowd is double last year's! The Warhammer crowd has some of the nicest gamers I've met and these guys are also extremely serious about their hobby. To call it a hobby is almost a disservice, because it's more like a dedicated passion: these guys put so much into the game and into their armies--their miniatures are painted with impressive detail and quality that must have taken weeks or even months to complete. I deleted about 100 photos from my phone just to make sure I have room this weekend to fill it up with Shorehammer pictures! The amazing battlemats, painted cities and terrain, and massive scenarios are incredible to see, with gamers marching their armies through them, measuring distances and rolling dice to determine their fates. I'm honored to have been invited to be a part of this awesomeness, and I hope that Solar Echoes will be a fun addition to the convention for those that are taking a break between tournaments!
Wednesday, November 29, 2017
I wanted to share a small piece of art I put together that gives a hint about what to expect from the upcoming mission, Operation: Broken Citadel. This adventure is about survival, because just about everything in the mission is threatening to kill you in some way, whether it's the environment or really hostile aliens! You'll have to think fast, too, because there's not much time to stand around and plan your strategies—if you don't keep moving, you're not going to make it. This might be one of the fastest-paced missions I've written so far, and if your team likes to stand around and debate, your group will quickly realize the importance of leadership and fast decision-making, with destruction raining down all around you. Broken Citadel is going to make you realize what kind of person you are in a panic: Fight? Or flight?
Tuesday, November 28, 2017
I'm back from last weekend's Chessiecon, and though the event was a little smaller than I remember from a couple years ago (where my table was full with players from 10am until 1am!) I still was able to run a few games, the biggest game going for a 7 hour marathon! I saw a couple familiar faces and a number of new players as well, some which jumped in for a couple hours and then were joined by others who wanted to try the game. As a result, the team fluctuated a little with characters changing (added a Chiraktis to the group, later lost a Krissethi, and then another Archaeloid joined), but the game still ran well and it was awesome trying out the new Broken Citadel mission. I was impressed with how the players handled the scenario, and they all worked together really well...but one of the Archaeloids on the team did make some questionable choices for a Union Guard officer (on the side of the law) that affected his character's “karma” negatively. It was all good, though, because everyone adjusted and there were a lot of laughs and tons of fun. One of my favorite moments in the mission was seeing how the group handled the crossing of an acidic lake, hopping from one island of crystallized magnesium sulfate to another while trying not to step in or fall into the acidic waters!
Monday, November 27, 2017
Friday, November 24, 2017
I hope everyone had a Happy Thanksgiving! I enjoyed some sushi instead of turkey this year, yum! Today is Black Friday, and there are some nice deals for Solar Echoes products going on at RPGnow.com, so if you're doing some online Christmas shopping, this is a good time to take advantage of the deals, from today through Monday. I'll be at Chessiecon this weekend, too, so I hope to see you there!
Wednesday, November 22, 2017
There were a few other factors I had to consider when writing Broken Citadel. Some were quickly and easily solved; a physics major pointed out the obvious problem with the GT Gun firing anything in space, saying that the explosive kinetic energy used to propel the magnet away from the gun would also—in zero gravity—propel the user in the opposite direction as well. I told him I'd already accounted for that and designed the gun to electromagnetically fire the magnet, like a mini rail-gun. Yet other issues were a bit more difficult to write into the mission. For instance, what happens when someone is exposed to the vacuum of space? We all think we know because of what Hollywood has shown us, but after a lot of research, I learned that NASA has a few strong theories based on a single incident of a man being exposed to the vacuum without a spacesuit. I have a sidebar in the mission that details what happens in game-related terms, and I also added that “your head does not explode, your blood does not suddenly boil, and your body does not freeze within seconds of exposure.” You'd die from lack of oxygen long before freezing or experiencing the effects of radiation. There were also other considerations in writing the Broken Citadel mission that involved things like fighting in zero gravity, falling when gravity is restored, damage from flying objects during the decompression of a hull breach, and more. Let's suffice it to say that the time you spend on a crumbling space station is inversely proportional to your chances of survival!
Tuesday, November 21, 2017
One detail that I'd like to share about the upcoming mission, Broken Citadel, is concerning a new item your characters might want to acquire. It is called the Magnetic Tether Gun, or MT Gun for short, and this contraption fires out a long cord with a powerful magnet attached to the end. The magnet can attach to the side of a metal object in space and the user can pull himself to the object. This is a vital safety tool for anyone that might find themselves drifting in space away from a starship or space station. Designing this tool and making it viable in Solar Echoes was not without its challenges. I did some research and discussed the implications of this device with several people that hold degrees in physics. One of the problems was the drifting speed of the user: any force vector greater than 50 lbs would detach the magnet. The user would remain attached to the tether until there is a force greater than 50 lbs perpendicular to the attach point, but if the force comes from an angle off the perpendicular, the vertical (perpendicular) force would be less. In short, it would take a greater off-angle force to break away. Though Solar Echoes is a “space opera,” I do try to keep with more “hard sci-fi” elements of realism if I can. However, I don't want players to end up arguing over minutia and scribbling out trigonometry equations instead of playing the game. I ended up explaining the physics quandaries by describing the gun as able to “sustain a pull of up to 50 lbs of weight in zero-g and if moving at a low relative speed.” Of course, the GM can always make a ruling based on circumstances without the need for complex calculations.
Monday, November 20, 2017
I've been busy writing the mission called Operation: Broken Citadel, and finished the first major part of the mission this weekend. I'm hoping to finish the rest of it before the Chessiecon this upcoming weekend, but it is crunch time, and with holiday and family obligations, it's hard to say if I'll achieve all my goals in time to release the mission publicly for sale. However, I am happy to say that the first part of the mission can be a stand-alone event, where players have to navigate the dangers of a failing space station and survive the many serious challenges of the scenario. I don't want to give anything away, because the scenario is the second part of a larger story, but I can tell you that there will be several types of danger to face: squad combat, players vs. the environment, and possible starship combat. The second half of the mission that I'm working on right now will have to remain a secret because of the plot content involved, but I will be trying it out with gamers at the upcoming Chessiecon Thanksgiving weekend. I'll be printing out a lot of full colored maps and icons this week to use, and I'll share photos of the event next week!
Friday, November 17, 2017
I've been playing a little Skyrim VR today after I picked up my copy from Gamestop, and it is really engaging and fun! It's amazing to look around you and see this huge open world, go anywhere you want, and interact with NPC's and enemies in person! I actually found myself reading my dialogue choices out loud when talking with the NPC's, because they felt like they were right there with me. I sat at a table and had a discussion with someone, and the talking felt totally natural, like I was right there. A little kid was telling me she was going to forge her own sword someday on daddy's forge, and I found myself saying, "Yeah, I bet you will!" The enemies are really cool up close, and some of them a bit unnerving, like the giant spiders. Seeing a dragon fly overhead is something indescribable--you have to experience it to truly understand the awe. Fighting with different weapons is a lot of fun, and I even found myself advancing on archers that were shooting at me, holding my shield up when they'd shoot, then rushing at them as far as I could while they loaded up another arrow. After I bashed them with my mace, I was able to pull the arrows out of my shield and put them into my own inventory! Using magic is really, realy empowering--I love hosing my enemies with fire or electricity!
So far, my only complaints are: 1) the direct movement speed can't be adjusted, so it's always rather fast for VR--though after 1+ hours I still don't have nausea. Stealth slows things down a lot, though. 2) the graphics are dated and of course, this is VR on the PS4 so they're not as high detail as you might hope to see on a PC version. 3) I knew this would be the case, but I can't see my character in any way--no mirrors, no 3rd person view...honestly, I don't know what the point of character design was because I'll probably never see my character again? Other than those complaints, though, this game is incredibly immersive, and I can't wait to get back to it, right now. Bye! :)
Thursday, November 16, 2017
VR options need to be made available to players, because not all of us get nauseous when moving. It really ruins the game for me (ie, destroys my suspension of disbelief) if I have to teleport around everywhere, and one big concern I had with the upcoming Skyrim VR is the tunnel-vision system they appeared to be using during free movement. I am thankful that the developers provided the option for both free movement and teleport so players can decide for themselves, and I recently learned that there is also the option to turn off the tunnel-vision system during free movement. Developers have read studies that nausea during VR free movement can be reduced by eliminating peripheral vision, so a shutter-like circle closes in on your vision during movement, reducing the visual area to a circle that expands and contracts as you move, blackening the peripheral areas of the screen like you're looking through the sight of a sniper rifle. I've played other VR games that have this, and not only is it irritating and constantly breaks immersion, it has the opposite of its intended effect—it makes me nauseous! I've acquired my “VR legs” by playing free movement games such as Arizona Sunshine, and they don't use the tunnel-vision system, but Bethesda Game Studios is doing the right thing by making all of these options so you can fine-tune what works to reduce nausea. I guess I'll find out what works best for me tomorrow...
Wednesday, November 15, 2017
VR games that are built from the ground up are usually much better than adaptations of existing games. Skyrim VR--which hits retail on Friday--looks like an exciting and immersive game, and I am looking forward to picking up my pre-ordered copy. I'm glad that Skyrim VR will be one of the first full-length VR games available, because so many of the existing games on the market are short experiences. However, I'm also not expecting Skyrim VR to fully showcase the potential of VR games—already, I've seen previews that show the old menu system is still in place and there are disembodied floating hands instead of a full-body avatar. There are a lot of missed opportunities here, especially for an RPG, which is the genre of game that I think can really make VR shine. Wouldn't it be cool to stand there during character creation and see yourself as a reptilian Argonian, looking into a mirror as you adjusted the features on your own face, turning your head to the right and left as you moved the slide bars to change your appearance? Imagine adjusting your height and seeing yourself lift away from the floor as you “grew” taller? Maybe it's just me, but character creation is my favorite part of any RPG, and doing it in a VR environment would be incredible!
Tuesday, November 14, 2017
Maybe it's because I love role-playing games, but I think it's incredibly fun to pretend I'm someone else in VR. Having a full-body avatar in a virtual environment helps me get much more “into character” than a pair of floating, disembodied hands. Let me play someone really tall, or short, or super-strong, or someone who can jump incredibly high or fly like a super hero (Megaton Rainfall, thank you!) One of Sony's “Playroom VR” games lets me be a cartoonish Godzilla-dinosaur, and it has a built in voice-changer that makes my laughs and growls sound like I just inhaled all the helium in a party balloon. What if RPG developers allowed me to not only make my own VR avatar, but change my voice to fit? I could be a gruff, muscular viking warrior with a low, rumbling voice, or a tall, thin, dextrous elf with a light-hearted and devious childish laugh. I'd like to see my avatar's appearance change with the equipment and clothing I acquire, so I can actually look down and see that new pair of boots or my shiny suit of chainmail armor. And what if I'm not even human, but an alien monster with tentacles and wings? I want to see it, and if you're not going to put virtual mirrors into your game, at least let me press a button and check out my cool alien character in 3rd person!
Monday, November 13, 2017
VR has been available for a couple years now, yet few game developers seem to be taking advantage of the potential of VR. The majority of VR games available seem to fall into one of two categories: games we've played before but now get a more VR-ish camera angle, or some variation of a first-person shooter (FPS.) Don't get me wrong, these games can be fun, but I often encounter elements of a VR game across different games that I wish would all be brought together to really take advantage of the potential. VR is a chance to be someone different and do things yourself, which usually requires a lot more skill and practice than button-mashing. There's something so satisfying about reaching over and virtually picking up, manipulating, and using an object in a game. Interactive and destructive environments that I can literally demolish or alter if I choose are something missing from most VR games so far. Developers, please make me feel like I'm able to interact with your game world instead of making me feel like your VR game just has an altered visual perspective and is only an on-rails version of something I've played countless iterations of before.
Friday, November 10, 2017
This November at Chessiecon and also early December at Shorehammer I'll be making 3D-printed Solar Echoes miniatures available for sale. Although they can always be ordered online through Shapeways.com--which prints and delivers the mini's to your doorstep—you can pick out your favorite alien character in person at the conventions. Depending on how sales go, I might make this a regular thing and print up more inventory to bring with me to future conventions. Right now, I have a limited supply that I'll be bringing with me as a trial run, so if you're interested in getting your hands on your own Solar Echoes mini, stop by Walt's Cards and Games at Chessiecon or see me at Shorehammer. For more information on these conventions, visit their websites at http://www.chessiecon.org/ and http://www.shorehammer.com/
Thursday, November 9, 2017
Although it isn't until the first weekend of December, I wanted to share that Solar Echoes is going back to Shorehammer, the Warhammer convention in Ocean City, Maryland! I've been asked to give a presentation again, and this year, instead of talking about Game Design, I'll be talking about Designing and Running Solar Echoes Missions. This talk will include all kinds of useful information for writing your own mission, figuring out gameplay balance, designing and acting out interesting characters, running combat, pacing the game, and more. Of course, I'll also be running games at Shorehammer, and players will get to try the new Operation: Broken Citadel. The convention was a ton of fun last year, with some of the nicest gamers around, so hopefully I'll see you there!
Wednesday, November 8, 2017
Another exciting development for Solar Echoes is artist John Fell has recently finished another project for me. I'm really looking forward to using this new artwork in a project I've been thinking about for a while now—a Solar Echoes video! This will involve John's character artwork, with text-conversation bubbles at the bottom while characters are shown in stills talking to each other. If you're unfamiliar, this classic style is commonly used in a lot of RPG video games, especially JRPG's (Japanese RPG's.) The recent project John finished was to add in various facial expressions to the existing character artwork, so now I can make each race (except the expressionless Omuls, of course) show emotions such as anger, sadness, happiness, frustration, and a few others. I'm looking forward to starting work on the video, and though you won't see it finished before November, know that it's underway!
Tuesday, November 7, 2017
Before Chessiecon and Operation: Broken Citadel at the end of the month, there are a few other things happening with Solar Echoes to watch for. I have been in contact with Wicked Gaming Studios, and they have a very talented professional miniature painter that usually specializes in painting Warhammer figures. The owner of the studio has agreed to paint 3D printed Solar Echoes miniatures, so I've already sent him a high-res miniature of the alien insect race, the Chiraktis! He is going to begin preliminary coloration plans this week, so as things progress, I'll be updating you with the photos he shares of his progress. I'm very excited to partner with Wicked Gaming Studios to see the amazing potential of a 3D-printed Solar Echoes figure! Check out some examples of miniature painting done at Wicked Gaming Studios:
Monday, November 6, 2017
Solar Echoes is officially 5 years old! Well, since release, it's actually 7 years old if I count the 2 years it took to design the game, establish Corefun Studios, LLC, get the Solar Echoes Trademark, etc. As you may have noticed last week, there's been a 40% off sale going on over at RPGnow.com to celebrate the 5th anniversary. However, it expires tomorrow, on the 7th! Other than the anniversary, though, what else is new with Solar Echoes? There are a lot of things brewing that I wanted to share with you, so lets begin! One thing that I mentioned in October is that I'm currently working on another new mission, called “Operation: Broken Citadel,” which is a sequel to “Operation: Void Hunter.” This mission will be a continuation of the Void Hunter story arc, but you can also play it as a stand-alone adventure if you prefer. My plan is to have it finished sometime around Thanksgiving—I'm going to run it for the first time ever at the Chessiecon Convention over Thanksgiving weekend, so if you'd like to be one of the first to try it, I'll see you there!
Friday, November 3, 2017
I'm glad that there are so many types of games out there to enjoy, and I often do play through linear-experience-type games, once. But when it really comes down to it, I like to feel that my skills are improving at something, too, or that I can be creative and play the game in a wide variety of ways. The types of games that inspire and reward me the most for the time I invest are the games I've sunk many hours into (Starcraft, Chess, Destiny, Overwatch, Diablo, Eye of Judgement, etc). Of course, developers take a risk when pursuing this type of game, because if the right balance isn't achieved, gamers might decide it's either too easy or too difficult. However, the rewards to both players and developers can also be immense, because this type of game is the most likely type to be a massive success for a long time. Just look at Blizzard's Starcraft, a world-wide hit for twenty years!
Thursday, November 2, 2017
In a sense, the reason people enjoy sports is the same reason people continue to play the same game. The same rules, same setting, and same "controls" provide a familiarity that inspires a focus on skill itself. How many times have you heard people claim to be good at a linear adventure game, like the amazing Uncharted video game series? I certainly enjoyed playing all of the Uncharted games--they were truly fun experiences--but after I solved one, the only incentive to play it again was to unlock certain trophies I missed or gain a few extra perks or weapons. The thing about linear games is that, after you complete them, you have to ask yourself if you really want to go through all that again, or try something new. The focus of those types of games is more the journey and story than the skill of the player, like an immersive movie. But how many of us watch the same movie over and over?
Wednesday, November 1, 2017
Another key factor in game replay value is variation. Some video game developers think that randomly generated environments will provide that, but often, this backfires because it prevents the gamer from developing specific skills. Variation that inspires replay is the kind that is the result of the gamer's choices and actions, such as in a game of chess. If the game feels that there are near infinite variations for the outcome of every action, it is very likely that gamers will continue to play the game because the experience differs every time. Real-time strategy (RTS) games like Starcraft are legendary and have even become popular e-sports because of the immense amount of variation possible with each game. First-person shooters (FPS) like Call of Duty or Destiny are also extremely successful, and these games involve a tremendous amount of player-inspired variation.
Tuesday, October 31, 2017
It's the 5th Anniversary of Solar Echoes! We're having a 1-week sale with 40% Off Everything, over at RPGnow.com. Thanks for 5 fun years so far with our 7 alien special forces agents going on exciting missions together across the universe!
40% Off All Solar Echoes Products at RPGnow.com
40% Off All Solar Echoes Products at RPGnow.com
There isn't exactly a magic formula for creating an addictive game, especially because people are all so different. Genre is one mitigating factor that prevents any one game from mobilizing the interest of all gamers. But when I think about some of the games I find myself playing a lot over a long span of time, I do think there are some key factors that increase replay value. One of these is simple: skill. A game that allows progress but requires skill to earn rewards or victories is going to keep players trying to improve. Most games require some amount of skill, but think about how many you've played that just about anyone with an average amount gaming savvy could solve. These games give you an experience you were part of, but didn't really require much of you. Often, we don't even bother to finish games like this because they start to feel like a chore and we don't feel we had much of an impact on the outcome.
Monday, October 30, 2017
What keeps you coming back to play the same game, over and over? These days, there are so many different games available, with brand new games releasing on a weekly basis. This feeds into our fast-paced, almost Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) lifestyles, where it's rare that anything can hold our interest for very long before we move on to the next thing. I have a backlog of games, some which I haven't tried yet and others I'd like to get back to, but of course it's hard to find the time. Yet there are a few games that I do keep returning to, over and over again, even at the expense of trying new games. What is it about these particular games that keeps me coming back for more?
Friday, October 27, 2017
If AI's like DeepMind AlphaGo are already seeing things in ways we can't comprehend, we may be too slow to recognize their true impact on our society until after they have been integrated into it. We will no doubt see some amazing things from AI's in our future, and because of that amazement, we might make the mistake of allowing AI to have too much influence over our lives. There could be a day where human decisions no longer impact our way of life, replaced by the reasoning of an AI considered to be far superior in intellect. The human race has gone down this path before, with rulers convincing their subjects that they are gods and their decrees are divine, with entire civilizations following blindly. Even in modern times, people look to the government and its leaders to solve all our problems for us, and allow them to make decisions we should be making for ourselves, such as how to raise our children or how many children to have (China). Throughout history, leaders and others working in the government have thought they are smarter and know what's better for people than the people themselves. Imagine a world where the dictates of an AI are what we follow not only because of a mandate, but because we simply can't comprehend its supposedly superior “intellect?” We're at a crucial turning point in history right now. What we decide about AI today will determine what AI will be able to decide for us tomorrow.
Thursday, October 26, 2017
An AI unhindered by human bias could also become a dangerous and horrifying monster. Concepts of "right" and "wrong" mean nothing to an AI, and morality is unlikely to be a consideration in any of its calculations. Even if such things are programmed in, a free-thinking AI may decide to override such considerations. As an example, Google has been working on self-driving cars. The AI program in your car might decide during a traffic accident that--to save the lives of several others--your life must be sacrificed for the greater good and therefore it steers your car in a way that avoids harming others but kills you in the process. More may have survived the accident overall, but you're dead. How many of you would willingly get in a car like this and trust your life to an AI? While we certainly don't want others to die because of us, our sense of self-preservation is a concept an AI might not consider or won't necessarily prioritize over other considerations.
Wednesday, October 25, 2017
Considering that the DeepMind AlphaGo AI is so unhindered by conventional thought and wisdom related to the game "Go," what does this entail for other instances of AI use in our world? There will likely be a mixture of results, good and bad. On one hand, we may see a Renaissance in technology and advancement in other areas as well. Things that politicians and elected officials have been unable to solve may suddenly have groundbreaking alternatives. For example, what if an AI was given the task of solving the healthcare problem or solving the mess with our tax code? It's possible that the AI could examine these situations and design groundbreaking alternatives, shattering our paradigms simply because it was unhindered by them and was able to reach conclusions we never could have thought of because of our societal biases. But, being unhindered by our way of thinking also opens up another, terrifying likelihood...
Tuesday, October 24, 2017
Several years ago Google's AI, known as DeepMind, learned to play the strategic game "Go" and beat the world champion Go player. The AI program called "AlphaGo" has since been playing against itself, developing moves and strategies that expert Go players are still trying to understand. The moves this AI has been making have been described as totally alien, as if knowledge from the far future has been dropped on earth, much of which is still being analyzed as experts are attempting to comprehend it. The AI is doing things that Go players have never done, even doing things that they thought were bad moves or mistakes yet turned out to be brilliant in the end. Sometimes even its opening moves are so confounding that players and analysts have given up trying to understand it--it's so bizarre and seemingly senseless. Yet the AI continues to win...
Monday, October 23, 2017
Artificial Intelligence is going to be a very big part of our future. There are very serious concerns about how we humans will handle and limit AI in our world, such as its use in the military and in other areas where human decision-making and morality is vital. However, the development of AI brings about other concerns and considerations. A danger and also a possible benefit to AI is that it is completely unbound by bias, traditions, expectations, and paradigms. AI is already thinking in ways that are alien to us and in some instances, beyond our comprehension. What are the implications for our future with such a radical shift in thinking?
Friday, October 20, 2017
There's still more to mention about the Arizona Sunshine VR game, and most of it is positive. I really liked being able to pick up and manipulate most objects in the environment. If there's an abandoned car, you can open each door and trunk to see if there's anything useful, like gun ammo or...tennis balls? Most objects in the game can be picked up and thrown, though other than grenades, I've not found much of a use for throwing a can of beans or a bottle of soda. One thing I really liked was the freedom to manipulate my environment; at one point in the game, a horde of zombies comes looking for me, and after dying to the horde a few times, I finally managed to survive them all by ducking inside a sheriff's office while leaving the door slightly ajar. From inside, I could pop the head of any zombie that wandered in front of the opening, especially those that decided to get curious and amble through the door. You can carry up to 4 firearms in your holsters, and you can attack with a gun in each hand-- reloading isn't hard unless you're panicked because you somehow ended up in the center of a zombie mosh pit. I've so far managed to deliver over 100 zombie headshots, but I will say that it can be a challenge because of the occasional glitchy occurrence brought on by holding your gun (controller) in front of your eye (which blocks the VR headset.) Still, it's possible, but in a frantic situation where you don't have time for precision, I recommend shooting out their legs. The game environment is rather expansive so far, and the variety of locals is keeping me intrigued—last night, I finally escaped the Lost Dutchman's mine. Let me say this: a single flashlight in a pitch-dark mine is the perfect recipe for zombie horror! Arizona Sunshine was on sale for $20, and I have really been enjoying my first free-roaming survival-shooter!
Thursday, October 19, 2017
I wasn't planning to get this game because: 1) I'm so sick of zombie games, 2) I'm tired of wave-shooters for VR, and 3) I grew up in Arizona and I hate the desert. Considering all that, I still liked this game, surprisingly. The reason I bought it was because I read that it has free movement, and I wanted to see if I could develop some “VR legs” in preparation for the free-roaming option in the upcoming Skyrim VR. Some VR games have made me sick because of the movement, so I've been worried I can't enjoy free-roaming VR. A lot of developers are opting for teleportation instead of free-roaming, but I really hate that choice and hope that it's only included as an option in VR games, not as a mandatory setting. Thankfully in Arizona Sunshine, you have both options, and I chose free-movement. I was happily surprised that it didn't bother me at all! I think the slower walking speed is what made a difference, because I did feel a little queasy after using the run buttons a few times. The way movement is handled in this game worked extremely well for me: when you press X on either move-controller, the direction you move that controller is the direction your character moves. For instance, if I want to strafe left, I can hold X on the controller and point my left hand to the left while aiming my gun with my right hand. To be honest, though, with so many zombies coming at me, I pointed behind me to step backwards a lot and eventually just turned around and ran, despite the slight VR nausea induced. Maybe it's because I have things on the “normal” difficulty setting, but this game should be called Arizona Sunshine: I Expect You to Die. More details tomorrow...
Wednesday, October 18, 2017
The second VR game I tried last week was Fated: The Silent Oath. This takes place in a cartoonesque but beautiful environment where you are a Norseman named Ulfer. You've been granted a second chance at life, but the deal with the gods was that you've lost your voice. This actually sets up an interesting mechanic where you can communicate with those around you by nodding or shaking your head—there's something about being directly involved in their dialogue that was really immersive. The game involved a number of different mini-games that were seamlessly incorporated into a very involving tale: follow people (it's slow enough free movement that I didn't get nauseous), go hunting with a bow and arrow, steer horses along a mountainside at high speed during an avalanche while being attacked by something chilling and gigantic, navigate caves and time your movements to avoid deadly traps and pitfalls, and even manipulate a few ancient puzzles to make progress. These games naturally dissolve into the narrative, and the beauty of the experience and the emotions of the characters you travel with are much deeper than you'd expect. More than a few moments in the game had me stopping to simply observe, and the crawl through a small tunnel infested with spiders will be quite unnerving for the arachnophobic and claustrophobic. The only downside to Fated was that it takes just 1 hour to play through, there isn't a lot of reply value, and isn't very challenging, but supposedly this is only the first chapter and there's more to come. For $5, the price was perfect.