Category Archives: General


MMOs – Progression or Progress?

Spinks writes a farewell to Blizzard’s publicly cancelled, unreleased MMO “Titan”. She mentions a bunch of the reasons Titan failed to see light, but the most interesting anecdote is that the biggest successor to World of Warcraft might be Minecraft.

Now we all know that Minecraft is not an MMO in large part because it is not “massive”. One could also argue the persistence of things is in question.  However, I think Spinks makes the best implicit point.

The MMO design space people should be exploring should be more like Minecraft than World of Warcraft. Continue reading

Tips for Introverts

Many of our readers are introverts. In broader conversations about our lives as gamers, a question often comes up: “How do I even talk to people?”

Personally, I have found that the answer differs if you are a PC or a console gamer, and I don’t think we can really attribute that to the kind of person who plays on different platforms, if there is such a thing (and many play both). If you are a PC gamer, the answer is usually to walk right up to someone and press E. Right-click can also work. For console gamers, that will usually be the A button.

You’re welcome.

: Zubon

Variability and Time Investment

Love Letter is a fun game. In my first game, I was eliminated before my first turn, and in just over half the rounds I have played, I have been knocked out before my second turn. In most games, I would not tolerate that degree of lack of player control, but the game creates a low level of investment in each round of play that makes it acceptable.

Hands of Love Letter are quick. A full four-player round takes a few minutes at most. If you are knocked out, oh well, watch how this round goes and you will be back in the game shortly. Sometimes not having a fair chance is fine when you get lots of chances that come quickly; slot machines rely on that perception (although those never give you a fair chance, so the whole gameplay there is “slowly losing” with some steps backwards on the path to bankruptcy).

In Love Letter, poor luck is constrained rather than cumulative. Many games give you many chances, but if you get a bad start, you will never catch up. Lots of classic card games like Poker are very good at this: unless you are playing no-limit, your luck in one hand has almost no effect on your chances in the next hand. How many “strategy” games have you seen decided (90+% probability) in the first quarter of the game when one person has an amazing turn while another has the worst possible luck for 15 seconds?

The cumulative effect is not making you suffer through the rest of the game because of a bad bit of luck. You should never “suffer through” your entertainment. I am usually enthusiastic about Eurogames’ rarely knocking out players before the end, but if the outcome is (90+%) known and you are just going through the motions for another hour, that is a wasted hour. Finish it so we can play another game. Keeping everyone in until the end is only a virtue if they have a chance at the end; surrender in the face of certain loss is honorable, not rage quitting.

And finally, Love Letter advertises that luck and guessing are involved. It does not pretend to be a strategy game while having its outcome determined by luck of the draw. It is surprising how much players can control the outcome despite the luck of the draw.

: Zubon

“From the Makers of”

Should we care about that title and who can usefully claim it?

Some argue that Sturgeon’s Revelation applies within creators’ works, not between creators. That is, if someone wrote one really good book, odds are that s/he will still only write one really good book; authors who are good authors rather than people who wrote a good book would be the 10% of Sturgeon’s 10%. And indeed, we see many successful things that lead to disappointing follow-ups. But most of us seem to apply the heuristic that the creators of something we like will probably create other things we like. Arkham Asylum was good, Arkham City was great.

But then there was Arkham Origins, which took some good from Arkham City and mixed in manure. “Your manuscript is both good and original; but the part that is good is not original, and the part that is original is not good.” Well, we blame that on having a different development team. But if you played Diablo II, there is a good chance you played Diablo III, which is a sequel from the same company but with an almost (?) complete turnover of key staff. Torchlight II might have had a better claim to being the sequel to Diablo II.

Let’s assume you place some weight on “from the makers of”; I cannot imagine all those movie trailers would use the phrase if no one did. Who should you care about? It was a running joke a few years back that developers were hiring janitors from Blizzard and slapping “from the makers of World of Warcraft!” on their homepages. Every company has turnover, and I don’t know if the people left are the ones who made the good parts of the game or the bad ones. I don’t know if the big name at the top really is a visionary leader or just happened to have the good luck of having a team member with a great idea. Recognizing great ideas is a skill, but once you’re successful, it’s easy to start thinking all your ideas are great ideas.

Some names I’ll trust, like Sid Meier. Development companies and series are increasingly losing my trust because [insert your favorite hated sequel here]. In our MMO world, you have the disconnect between the original developers and live team, such that the game you bought and the game two years later can be rather surprisingly different for the same game on the same engine.

Even if I were to never pre-order a title again and rely on reviews

: Zubon

Quick Review: PixelJunk Eden

Enjoyable but cannot decide whether it wants to be stressful or relaxing.

This is not a new game, but I acquired it in a recent Humble Bundle and have played a bit. It is a simple game with few commands. You fling a little “grimp” around plants, opening more plants by defeating enemies to send out pollen, working your way towards a prize in the sky.

The main draw of the game is the soothing atmosphere. The music is light techno/trance. The graphics are abstract and colorful. You are swinging around plants, exploring and enjoying your little musical garden. It is soothing and pleasant.

The game changes when the timer starts to matter. I did not see anything that mentioned the timer in the lower-left corner, but that is what the little bars are. They count down. There are plenty of chances to refill it, but it is difficult to relax with a time limit, making it at best pointless and generally contrary to what I found best about the game. Levels also start adding enemies to attack you and make you start your climb through the plants over.

Entertaining but undercuts its own merits. I could also evaluate its merits as a challenge game rather than a relaxation game, but I do not see why I would.

: Zubon


One thing I may not have expressed well about Gen Con is the size of the event. There were 56,614 people there. That is people, not triple-counting people who attend several days, and it probably does not include the people who showed up but were not officially attending the conference. Origins felt like a large event at 12,902 attendees; quadruple that. I heard folks spreading the rumor that the event was going to spread into the stadium next door next year, as it has already filled a convention center and spread into nearby hotels, which is a nice idea, but Gen Con would nearly be a sell-out crowd for the stadium and that would be just to pack people in seats watching something. As you might imagine, gaming takes up a bit more space than watching a game.

As Adam Smith explains, The division of labour is limited by the extent of the market, which is to say, you get more niches when you have more people. Games at Gen Con have editions listed for each, in case you insist on D&D 3.0 not 3.5 or refuse to play the revised version of Betrayal at House on the Hill. The vendors can similarly serve narrow markets, such as the booth that did green screen photo shoots for cosplayers to give them exciting, customizable backdrops. A popular game might have an entire floor, and the anime area was larger than some anime conventions.

It’s kind of a big deal. If it repeats this year’s growth, attendance will break 60,000 next year and 70,000 the next. There must be some limit to how big the event can get, but they do not seem to have found it yet.

: Zubon

Writer’s Juice

There’s some bit of finite energy required by blogging. Unfortunately, it is the same juice used to write elsewhere, whether it be at work or in other arenas. I find that if I am active in say a G+ community or a forum, I write less elsewhere. If I write up a solo RPG session, I write less elsewhere. Note that this is not a function of time. It’s more like a function of will.

There’s so much to write about too. The Guild Wars 2 community seems frustrated with ArenaNet’s communication, but then my mid-season view of the Living World story is aces. Windborne got a small update. Chuubo’s Marvelous Wish-Granting Engine just got released in beautiful PDF form. I roleplay with my young daughters every other weekend or so as well, which has opened my eyes to a whole new world.

Then, I also live less than half-hour’s drive from Ferguson. So, I got that going for me.

As always, Zubon and other blogger around the ‘sphere are doing fantastic work. I just felt like I needed to write a note that was like “I’m still here in some form.” I am hoping now that school is started, and things are getting regularly scheduled, I too will find time to manage my juice.


Second Order Preferences

A first order preference is what you want or like. You want pie. A second order preference is your preference about your preferences. You also want to lose weight, so you do not want to want pie. You can keep going to higher orders, where you might run into ambivalence as you miss being interested in something, so you neither want nor want to want it but you kind of want to want to want. Don’t go too deep down that rabbit hole.

I frequently find myself wanting to like things more than I like them. “This is my kind of thing. I should like this. Why don’t I like this?” It’s like I have some misguided loyalty to “my type,” even though I know a thousand details can make it not work. I tend to commit and stick with things, which is good when something goes through a bad patch but bad when it parks in the bad patch and starts digging a hole.

I’m past wanting to play any MMOs, but I still faintly want to want to play because I want to like them. I miss the original ideal of virtual worlds. I love the gameplay of League of Legends, but the community is still highly problematic, so I want to enjoy the game more than I actually enjoy it. Ingress is interesting in the abstract but mostly tedious when I play it more than casually.

I’m not sure of my higher order preferences. I recognize that having a disparity between first and second order is a problem, so I do not want to want to want to play, but I have a certain wistfulness and I am going to cut that thought off there because that way madness lies.

: Zubon

Taking Joy

Because nerds like us are allowed to be unironically enthusiastic about stuff. … Nerds are allowed to love stuff, like jump-up-and-down-in-the-chair-can’t-control-yourself-love it. Hank, when people call people nerds, mostly what they are saying is, ‘You like stuff’, which is just not a good insult at all, like ‘You are too enthusiastic about the miracle of human consciousness’.
John Green

This has been my first con season, and I must say the best part is seeing so many people having so much fun. Gen Con has about it an aura of enthusiasm. Card games? Here is a tournament with hundreds of tables going at once, and that is not the only one, and over there is the entire hall devoted to them. Next to it are areas devoted to board games, from championships to “learn to play” sessions. The dueling successors to Dungeons and Dragons are there, with a large area for the launch of D&D 5th Edition and most of a floor for Pathfinder; just walking by the Pathfinder gaming area was an experience, with themed rooms, groups forming and shouting that they need one more, and generally an air that these people really are going to slay an army of dragons and save the world.

I have really enjoyed the costumes, but I think “outfits” make me happier. That is, there are many costumed characters, but even more people are dressed up without being a particular character. There are more hats and corsets than I see the rest of the year. There are Victorian and steampunk bits, from formal dresses to someone who just felt like wearing goggles. There are more utility kilts than I expected even given that these are gamers. Hair colors stretch far beyond the normal human range, and that was before I ventured into the anime area. People are here to play, and being playful is good. Your steampunk goggles and bronze rocket pack get admiring looks, not confused stares and laughs. The weirdos are the Colts fans who arrived in their thousands for the game last night; why wear a blue and white jersey when you could have a fez and/or chainmail?

: Zubon

Smullyan on Enjoying

He does indeed sift and sort, but he does not know that he is “sifting and sorting.” He is much like a dog who is offered a dish containing a mixture of good foods and bad foods. He spits out the bad foods and eats up the good foods. The doggie does not complain nor criticize the bad foods; he is far too busy enjoying himself hunting out the good foods. And so after the meal is over, if someone asked him how he enjoyed his dinner, the doggie would say, “Delicious! I found so many good foods!” (By contrast, [the grinder] would say, “Horrible! Most of the food was bad! I had a hell of a time finding enough good food to make a meal”)
— Raymond Smullyan, This Book Needs No Title