Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Game Mileage Varies By Age (part 2)

Don't get me wrong, I like a good challenge in my games. I suppose one of my biggest complaints, though, is a game that doesn't make my objectives clear and causes me to wander around aimlessly, dealing with random encounters that feel purposeless because I don't know where I'm going. I also don't like games that I can put hours and hours into, but because of randomized rewards, I might not gain anything useful to advance in the game. Yet games like this that require “grind” seem to appeal to the younger generation, and I catch myself about to judge them when I recall how much more time I had back when I was that age. Long, empty summers with no job, no family to take care of and nothing to do meant a lot of time to kill--what better way to pass time than to pound away at a game and feel like I'm accomplishing something through brute force? It can be immensely gratifying, somehow, but these days, not so much.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Game Mileage Varies By Age (part 1)

There are all types of gamers, but one way to categorize them is by age. Games mean different things to each of us at the various stages of our lives. I remember when my friends and I used to gather around a table to play Dungeons and Dragons, back in elementary and middle school. Once high school began, there wasn't as much time for getting together with friends, but we still managed once in a while. However, video games became something I could do on my own more spontaneously. The types of games I spent my time on varied, though, mostly because of my limited budget as a teenager. I remember dedicating myself to solving a single game, working on it for months and months, practicing all the patterns and tricks to get through a game that I finally was able to solve—Ghosts 'n Goblins. I solved the game because I didn't have the money to buy any others, so I got the most mileage I could out of it. Today, I often move on to a different game before solving it. Buying a new one isn't as much of an issue, and I have less free time to devote to a game that is punishingly difficult. If I don't feel like I'm progressing, I feel like I'm wasting my time and since I have so little of that, I switch to something different.

Friday, February 24, 2017

NASA Discovers 7 Earth-sized Exoplanets!

You may have heard about the recently announced NASA discovery of 7 earth-sized worlds orbiting an ultra-cool dwarf star. The system is called TRAPPIST-1, named after the Transiting Planets and Planetesimals Small Telescope (TRAPPIST) in Chile, and is 40 light years away from earth. To give you a small idea of how far that is, if there are aliens in the TRAPPIST-1 system, they are just now receiving our TV broadcasts from 1970. Still, this system is considered relatively close to us, and scientists are excitedly trying to determine if any of the planets have an atmosphere or water on the surface. An interesting feature of the system is that the planets are thought to be tidally locked with their sun—meaning that one side of the planet is always facing the sun, producing a permanent daytime side and a permanent night-time side. Coincidentally, the Reln planet of Sardos in the Solar Echoes universe is also tidally locked with its sun, and its influence upon Reln life is significant. Imagine what it would be like to live in such a place!

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Drop your weapon!

Every once in a rare while, players interpret something in the rules differently than intended. The game last weekend involves such an example. In the equipment section, the “Flash Freeze Grenade” description stated that the grenade “freezes everything in the blast radius.” An obvious, literal interpretation of that description is the assumption that everything is frozen in place, including targeted enemies, although this was not the intended design of the grenade—it was simply meant to do cold damage. I've since updated the Player's Guide with a new description, which now states, “the grenade covers an area with a wave of extreme cold.” I still played out the player's interpretation, though, which led to comical effect: a smuggler was aiming a pistol at the characters, but got hit with a flash freeze grenade. I allowed it to freeze him in place, and the characters all shouted, “Drop your weapon!” He tried to say between frozen, clenched teeth, “I can't!” but they couldn't hear him, and decided to shoot him anyway! Clearly, from nearby security camera footage, he had refused to drop his weapon!

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Dreamation Battle Report, part 3

Yesterday, we left our indomitable hero clutching the hood of the smuggler's skimcar, racing away from the warehouse at high speed. Zack, the undaunted human agent, declared, “I'm pulling out my machine-gun and I'm aiming at the engine!” The smuggler saw this and reacted by slamming on the brakes, sending Zack flying through the air about 30 yards. Before hitting the ground and suffering painful injuries, Zack still managed to fire his gun at the smuggler's car, damaging it but missing the engine and the smuggler. As he landed upon the hard asphalt, now critically injured from the grenade and the crushing fall, Zack heard the smuggler revving the engine threateningly. The smuggler then opened fire on Zack with the mounted rotary cannon on his car. Zack somehow managed to roll aside fast enough to avoid the bullets, and as the car sped towards him, he used his last bit of strength to stand up. The car was about to crush him but he used his Reaction to sidestep away just in time, declaring, “I'm shooting him through the window as he drives by!” Unfortunately, the penalties from his critical injuries prevented Zack from hitting the escaping smuggler, but the rest of his team had already piled into two cars and were racing after him. Zack called angrily over the com unit, “Guys, come pick me up, I can barely stand here!”

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Dreamation Battle Report, part 2

I don't care, I'm doing it!” This statement was something that the player of the human character on the team was heard to say several times, and the other players knew better than to try to dissuade him—he was fiercely determined to see his plans through, every time. When a smuggler ran to his car to escape the firefight, the human character, Zack, ran to the car as well, trying to hop in the passenger side with the smuggler. A contested skill check resulted in the smuggler managing to lock the doors just in time. Undaunted, Zack decided to “slap an EMP/Flash grenade on the windshield of the car,” despite my warnings that he, too, would be in the blast radius. “I don't care, I'm doing it!” he said emphatically, then ducked down on the side of the car. The smuggler made a skill check in Reaction to seeing the grenade placed on his windshield, and activated the windshield wipers, which quickly knocked the grenade right into Zack's lap. This might have been the end of our hero, but he reacted by Diving for Cover—onto the hood of the car! The grenade went off, damaging both him and the car, and the next round, the smuggler floored it and the car sped away at high speed—with Zack clutching the hood! Find out what happens next, tomorrow!

New Miniature Available!

I finally got the 3D prints from Shapeways, and they turned out great! I've now made the Reln Voidrunner available online at Shapeways, check out the different materials and how cool it looks! 

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Dreamation Convention this weekend, and new battlemap!

I'm heading out to another convention tomorrow, and this is one I've never attended before, called the Dreamation convention in Morristown, NJ. I have scheduled to run 4 Solar Echoes demo's, 4 hours each, so it should be a lot of fun with lots of new role-playing gamers! One of the things I did this week is work on preparing a few maps for some of the environments the missions take place in. An example is from the Seeds of Chaos mission, where the players need to stop some hackers hiding out in an elementary school room during the summer. It was struggling to make the map interesting until I decided to try to use lighting and shadows. The final result is pretty cool, and it definitely sets up the foreboding atmosphere of a gang of dangerous hackers huddling around a computer. I can't wait to see how players handle this situation tactically!

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Telling a story through games (part 3/3)

Another example of telling a story through an RPG is the short mission included in the Explorer's Guide to Sa'mesh. Questions about cloning are explored in the story, and players will experience a future where cloning is legal. But what happens when illegal cloning operations are conducted and cloning laws are violated? How will violators bypass the laws, and what are the repercussions upon genetics if they succeed? An RPG game is ultimately a story told by the players after beyond dropped into a setting and plot, and what one group experiences and gets out of the game might be different than what another group experiences, depending on the choices they make. In the end, though, I think RPG's produce very memorable experiences because they involve player choices. This personalizes the story in ways that other games can't, because in those games, rather than shape the narrative, players are usually just along for the ride. That doesn't mean good stories aren't told through other genres, but for me, at least, the most lasting and fond memories are formed through the experiences I had some control in shaping.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Happy Valentine's Day Everyone!

Telling a story through games (part 2/3)

Story-telling through a scifi RPG provides the opportunity to deal with themes that are just starting to emerge as real issues in reality. For instance, the mission "The Seeds of Chaos" deals with questions regarding robots in society. How safe are they? What happens if they malfunction or are hacked? What kind of ripple effect will that incident have upon public confidence in the use of robots, or upon the industries that rely on them? These and many other questions surface through the story, and my hope is that it excites players and perhaps causes then to consider these issues as they slowly become relevant in our society. I've always seen science fiction as a warning: look where you're heading, because if things continue as they are, you might just end up stuck with this future!

Monday, February 13, 2017

Telling a story through games (part 1/3)

Games can easily be considered as a conglomeration of various art forms. In the case of video games, art, music, and creative writing are all involved in the final product. Table top role-playing games (RPG) are similar--though usually without music--but the main focus of these games is the story telling. Whether it's the GM running the game or the players acting out their characters, the experience of an RPG is very story-driven. Game groups differ, of course, and some are more interested in combat than others, but the RPG genre at its core revolves around experiencing a story. This is why the RPG genre provides me with endless excitement and creative fuel. I've played RPG's most of my life, ever since I was first gifted the basic set for Dungeons and Dragons back in 1980. Most of the video games I own and have played the most are RPG's: I snatch then up almost as fast as they are released, usually resulting in disappointment when there's an RPG sale later and I realize I already own just about everything offered on discount. When I started Solar Echoes, much of the drive behind it for me was that I love writing stories, and the sci-fi RPG was the perfect platform for it. All of the setting and character info aside (though writing all that was extremely fun) the actual missions are where I feel I can really start to tell a story. I see the Solar Echoes universe as a framework upon which to hang stories that are often related to events in our own reality.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Getting Over the Post-product Release Blues...

Since I released the Explorer's Guide to Sa'mesh on Tuesday, I've been trying to figure out what project to focus on next. Next weekend, from the February 17-19, I'll be in New Jersey at the Dreamation convention, running Solar Echoes games, so I've decided to get a few more full-color battlemaps ready for the games. I thought about the different missions I usually run, and of course, Gun Runners from the Starter Kit is the best beginner mission. I already have some great maps for that, including a “fog of war” map option that makes sneaking around in the air-ducts a lot of fun. One short mission I have that needed a better map, though, is the “Novaburn Raid,” taken from the Novaburn Character Pack. In this mission, your team needs to raid an apartment where a group of hackers are operating. That little apartment can prove quite difficult to effectively breach and clear, with all kinds of corners, side rooms, and dangerous angles to consider when going up against the heavily-armed hacker gang. I just finished the full-color version of the map today, complete with lighting (so you or the criminals can hide in those shadows—watch out!) If you haven't purchased the $2 Novaburn Character Pack, it includes the Novaburn Raid mission, new pre-generated characters of each alien race for your team, map icons featuring the art of Sarah Carter, and now, the new full-color battlemap! If you downloaded the Pack before, you can update your download and enjoy the new map for free!

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Post-product Release Blues 2

So I received the .stl file yesterday from 3D sculpting artist, Charles Oines, and I rushed upstairs to my 3D printer to get started. Keep in mind, my 3D printer is a Flash Forge, which is good with basic stuff but not great with detail. Plus, I think I need to play with the heat settings, because currently, you can see the layers when it prints. Anyway, I got my first Reln Voidrunner printed out--there's something that's so cool about bringing an image you've conceptualized to life and to actually hold it in your hand! This print is very low detail, but I've already uploaded the file to Shapeways and ordered copies in several different materials. As soon as those arrive, I'll post those pictures on Shapeways and make the product available. I'm soooo tempted to try to have them make this for me in stainless steel, wouldn't that be cool? They have options for silver, brass, bronze, and gold even, but it's expensive, so I probably won't make it available in those materials unless someone really wants a platinum Voidrunner. Enjoy the picture, and rest assured, far greater detailed prints are coming soon!

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Post-product Release Blues

What does a product designer do after his product is complete and it has been released out into the wild to survive on its own? Yesterday the Explorer's Guide to Sa'mesh went live on RPGnow.com, and I've done all the marketing for it that I know how to do. As sales are coming in, I find myself wondering something I haven't thought for weeks because I was so focused on the Guide...I'm asking myself, “What's next?” I could take a break, but it's not in my nature—I can't wait to get started on a new project! Interestingly enough, another project that was being worked on simultaneously is about to come to a close, though most of the work has been on the artist's side, with me advising on tweaks here and there. That project is the new 3D sculpt for the Reln Voidrunner starship, and I literally just received an email with the final image from 3D-artist Charles Oines. I've pasted the original artwork from Jay Darnell that this design is based on in the upper left, so you can make comparisons. Isn't it cool?! I can't wait to try printing this on my 3D printer, plus uploading and ordering my own copy from Shapeways!

Friday, February 3, 2017

The Art of GMing (5/5)

Overall balance is one of the toughest things to maintain as a GM when running a game. A good GM is able to keep the group of players under control and on task while still being flexible enough to keep things fun. Rigidly insisting on railroading players to behave a certain way can disrupt the fun and flow of a game session, but allowing too much flexibility can cause chaos to emerge. Rules exist in a game to provide a common agreement and structure among players, but a good GM knows how to manage things to keep the game exciting—if a particular scenario or action requires too many die rolls and calculations, a GM might decide to average things out or otherwise tweak details to keep the game moving. A critical situation that would unfairly kill all the players' characters should be adjusted secretly by the GM to still give them a challenge, but allow them the possibility of victory. After all, a GM is a story-teller, and he should want his players to walk away from the game with a great story to tell of their experiences together. For more GM tips, tricks, and resources, check out the Solar Echoes Mission Controller's Guide!

Thursday, February 2, 2017

The Art of GMing (4/5)

Similar to a movie director, a good GM needs to have good actors to sell the players on the story. But a GM must BE all of the actors, otherwise known as NPC's (non-player characters) in a role-playing game. Some RPG's can be played more combat-heavy, while others as more of a narrative, dynamic story-telling experience. It really depends on the game and what the players seem to prefer. But a GM needs to be able to create intriguing NPC characters by acting out and describing then to the players. This provides an immersive experience, where players willingly "suspend disbelief," something we all do when watching a movie. I've seen some players get so involved in the acting that they'll jump out of their chairs and act out their own characters in response to the way I'm acting out my NPC's! Often, a published adventure or mission has dialogue text for the GM to read to the characters, but this can be enhanced by embellishing the words with personality. Is the NPC a bully? A proud person of high status that looks down at the characters he's talking with? Or maybe he's a sniveling, treacherous con-artist, looking for any angle he can find? Preparing a different persona for each NPC really helps enhance the experience for players, and I've often found that players reacted so well to certain NPC's, I brought the memorable characters back in later episodes during the campaign.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

The Art of GMing (3/5)

Preparation is a must, but a good GM also needs to be able to lead. The GM is in charge of conducting the game, which, like a movie director or orchestral conductor, means that he calls the shots. Doing this without coming across as a dictator can be a challenge, so the GM needs to make sure the players still have the freedom to express themselves so they can enjoy the game. But player discussions can sometimes stray too far from the game and disrupt the experience, so a GM has to know how to manage things and know when to jump in and get everyone back to the game events. The GM also needs to manage arguments over rules, and do so in a way that seems fair to everyone. A movie director who can't manage his actors and keep them on task will never finish the movie, and a GM who can't manage and guide his players to stay involved in the game might end up losing frustrated players. If players just don't seem to be interested in the game, it could be the players, the game, the GM, or a combination of these reasons. The GM might need to adjust his gaming style for each group of players he works with. With all the Solar Echoes demo's I've run at conventions, every gaming group I've played with has been a different dynamic, and it's a fun challenge to see if I can adjust to each group in a way that can keep the experience fun for every type of player!