madunkieg: The Fool from the tarot deck (Default)
My friend Rob Paterson has analyzed and created a breakdown of good storytelling here. Since games often incorporate stories, I'd like to show how it applies to good game design, and how even better characters can come from it. Let's look at Vincent Baker's Dogs in the Vineyard (DitV).

DitV is a very structured tabletop role-playing game about holy justice-bringers in the wild west. It's based loosely upon the Mormon religion, exaggerating the violence.The characters travel from town to town, rooting out and fighting heretics and demons. Effectively, DitV is a story about establishing and maintaining order (#8 on Reiss' list). This is the level that Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) operates at, too, although I suspect that D&D is more accumulating something (called "12. Saving" on Reiss' list) than creating order.

The thing that differentiates DitV from D&D is that,in DitV, the plot isn't the core question around which the story revolves. There's a struggle between ethics, as shown by the code of conduct developed by the players, and morality, as shown by the individual character. Is it okay to root out evil? To what degree will you punish sinners? The story is actually about self-actualization. The difficulty of creating a game around self-actualization is that it needs a certain amount of flexibility.

Premade scenarios, like those created for D&D, assume that characters have had certain encounters and those encounters resulted in certain conclusions (such as victory, or at least survival). DitV seeks to allow characters, and, by extension, their players, to explore those self-actualization questions without assuming any particular answer. In return, the gamemaster's job is to create scenarios that respond to and challenge the previous answers that each player character came up with.

Yes, this is all possible in D&D, but DitV focuses upon this morality/ethical struggle. The twist is that the code of conduct in DitV, the ethics, were designed collectively by the players and rewarded by the rules, while moral codes are handled individually and punished by the rules. Add onto this the usual individual desires and subplots. Because the story is about self-actualization, a good gamemaster can use those to artificially conflate desires with sin. After all, desires are individual, and DitV punishes individuality.

This layered approach to generating a meaningful story is a good one, but I wouldn't want to make it any more complex than this. Additional layers would just make it confusing.
madunkieg: The Fool from the tarot deck (Default)
I haven’t posted much about Metropole Luxury Coffin (MLC) because I’m redesigning the action resolution system. There are several requirements for the system, including:

- it needs to incorporate gambling, because I want to tie reputation into action resolution
- if I’m sticking with cards, the the hand sizes need to stay small (like texas hold’em poker)
- the system needs to give a slight advantage to teams, but not overwhelmingly so

Unfortunately, it’s this last requirement that throws off most gambling games. Most gambling games are either balanced (like poker), or very unbalanced in favor of the house (like roulette). It doesn’t work when there may be multiple sides that get that advantage.

There are a couple of optional bonuses that I’d like to work in, mutual failure and over-success. I’m planning on turning MLC into something of a comedy game, and it’s funnier if everything goes wrong.

So, having exhausted most gambling games, I’m looking for inspiration in other games. I know that RPGs tend to focus upon individuals, but I can adapt systems from both board and card games, too.
madunkieg: The Fool from the tarot deck (Default)
The local library where I’m volunteering has hired someone to run a board game design event. No, not me, but a designer that I respect for his ability to teach game design. I signed up for it, only to find out I was the only one to do so. That discovery inspired me to start a one-man crusade to promote the event.

Because the event isn't a competition, I plan on designing a game around what I refer to as the Carnival of Shadows (or Carnival for short). The Carnival will eventually be several small games based around the same fictional community. That community has the power to make their shadows come alive and move independently for a night. I wanted to remove the stigma of shadows and associate them with parties and fun. I plan on designing the first minigame at this event. I don’t know if it’s going to work or not, but we’ll find out!
madunkieg: The Fool from the tarot deck (Default)
No, the editor hasn't returned the most recent version of Storm of the Armadas (SotA) yet, but I've decided to change it enough that the new version will have to be edited, too. Fortunately, the changes will only affect certain sections of the game, so hopefully my editor won't be facing as much work.

This version includes a few changes to how the flip order is handled, eliminating the need for two-sided velocity counters. That comes at a cost, however, in that the counters have to be two-sided or you need twice as many counters. Not only that, but, while the flotilla counters will still have weapon arcs marked on them, those arcs won't be accompanied by the ship codes. I planned on inserting an image comparing the two, but it seems I first need to upload it somewhere else. Ah, the hazards of not having webspace.

The new version of SotA also cuts down on the number of ships in each flotilla, meaning a reduction in record keeping.

Overall, the game plays the same as before. These are just tweaks to the system.
madunkieg: The Fool from the tarot deck (Default)
I just got the most recent version of Storm of the Armadas back from my editor. Besides the usual raft of minor changes, he suggested that I do a major revision of the rules, maintaining that they're poorly organized. I can see his point, too. So...back to work. The game will need at least one more round of revision and editing. I hate that these delays are piling up, but I do believe that the game is getting noticeably better each time.
madunkieg: The Fool from the tarot deck (Default)
Well, I ran another playtest of Storm of the Armadas today, and found out the game works with me there. The scenarios need adjusting, but the game will be going back to the editor in just a few days.

The scenario I ran today was an intercept. This involves the forces coming at each other from odd angles. Victory could be achieved by getting your dreadnought off through the enemy's normal deployment zone. Alternatively, you could fight the incoming force. We didn't have time to finish the game, but I'm satisfied that it ran okay.

Keep an eye out for the beta test version soon.

Oh, and I figured out a lot about Metropole Luxury Coffin (MLC), mostly because someone's creating a videogame inspired by Thoreau's book set around Walden Pond. While the approach is the opposite to my own (nature vs. hotel), the struggles are similar. I'm going to see just how much I can adapt into MLC. I won't be able to adapt everything, and that's okay.
madunkieg: The Fool from the tarot deck (Default)
The concept of genres has many definitions, but I prefer this one:

A genre is a repeatable but open pattern of communication which is shaped by a combination of expectations held by many people and which may be catered to by others. A communication may simultaneously conform to many genres or different types of genres, such as thematic or functional.

Unfortunately, I can come up with genres that threaten even that definition. The term board games, for instance, is spoken of as a genre, but there's a difference. Board games are dominated by one material characteristic, the board. That differentiates them from card games, war games, and even role-playing games.

Is there such a thing as a material genre, or is this just another example of a functional genre? I've always assumed that a functional genre referred to the rules, but if pictures are interpretable as rhetoric (I'm using the academic interpretation of that word, not the common understanding), then it reasons that a board would be even easier to interpret as such.
madunkieg: The Fool from the tarot deck (Default)
I've presented many games at academic conferences. They're a great place to get feedback on more serious games, like Terribly Beautiful, for which the target audience is miniscule.

This time, however, I'm running Storm of the Armadas at Congress. It's still a small target audience (sci-fi wargaming grognards), but, when compared to previous games I've presented, it's positively massive. What's more, I've been testing the new version for a while, so I don't expect it to break, but that's always a possibility.

Sometime afterwards I'll be releasing the first beta version, without the artwork, stories or optional rules. The second beta will include the optional rules and replace the two-letter codes for the ships with icons.
madunkieg: The Fool from the tarot deck (Default)
I find running Apocalypse World (AW) to not be very fun. For a long time I puzzled over this, pointing out several flaws in the system, but the reality is, I miss rolling dice.

It doesn't matter if the rules use dice, cards, or something else, I like being responsible for not knowing what will happen next. I like feel of whatever the system uses to randomly determine outcomes for that moment before using them. Anticipation is a delicious feeling. Associating it with a tactile sensation only serves to heighten it. Accompany it with the rattling of the dice, or the sound of cards as they slide against each other, and I'm in heaven. Then, when the dice are rolled, or the cards are played, that anticipation instantly transforms into some other emotion, be it joy, sorrow or anger, as the results are determined.

It's that rush that fuels the gamist-style of play. Some games, such as poker, try to extend the anticipation. Poker even adds in chips to expand upon the audible element. Poker isn't a story game, but it is used as a resolution method in various games, such as Deadlands. This makes me wonder about four things:

1. Are games that use poker gamist, or at least hybrid?

2. Why don't more gamist RPGs use anticipation better?

3. How can I implement this into Metropole Luxury Coffin?

4. How does this random idea affect my dissertation?

EDIT: ...or not? I can't find a single gamist game that uses this anticipation/resolution combo. Now, I haven't gone over every game of the genre, but when you look at most of them you realize two things: the genre isn't that big and it isn't as well developed other genres, including narrativism.
madunkieg: The Fool from the tarot deck (Default)


After watching the video, I assembled some random pieces, a set of 4-sided dice, constructed a board out of coins and tried playing against myself. It's fun, but it'd be better if I played against someone else. Now, who should I recruit...

An Update

May. 6th, 2017 02:24 pm
madunkieg: The Fool from the tarot deck (Default)
This post is just to keep you up to date on where I am on my various projects:

Storm of the Armadas: revising the game after my last playtest

RPG: I've decided to avoid the heroes saving the universe concept, but I'm still deciding which of my other games to edit

Dissertation: Exploring the changing definition of the narrativist genre
madunkieg: The Fool from the tarot deck (Default)
Yes, you read that right.

After a year of complaining, I've finally realized that I need to finish my PhD. I'm All-But-Dissertation (ABD), which makes me a PhD Candidate. Because I no longer wish to enter academia, I can avoid all other pressures, such as publishing in academic journals and presenting at all the special conferences. Of course, I'll need to consult with professors and the ethics review committee because the focus and sampling method has shifted so much, but I'm ready to return.

Instead, I'm looking to become a children's librarian, which only requires a Masters degree. Children's librarians are pretty low on the totem pole of librarians, but that's been one of my dreams for over a decade. The PhD will help me in my pursuit of my other profession, game designer. The two professions, librarian and designer, complement and support each other, with the librarian providing the socialization and the designer giving me a chance to creatively solve problems.

It'll take me a few years to write my dissertation, and that paper will likely provide lots of material for blog posts.
madunkieg: The Fool from the tarot deck (Default)
In response to my previous post about the question if I should publish a role-playing game (RPG) first, the answer was a resounding yes. But there were additional details about what sort of game would work. It seems that these days people want big stories that let them escape their lives. Stories like Guardians of the Galaxy or Star Wars: Rogue One, which is understandable since our news media is filled with stories of Trump. Yes, the trend predates the Trump phenomenon, but you get the point.

Can I write a RPG about a big story? The market is full of big story RPGs. Perhaps the most recent and best of them is Apocalypse World (AW). I've played AW and several variants of it, and even own a few that I haven't played.

I don't like AW's conflict resolution rules because it promotes constant fighting. This type of play was the hallmark of Dungeons & Dragons. It's not that I find constant fighting abhorrent, it's just that I've gotten bored by it. The reason why I collect games that are Powered by the Apocalypse (PbtA) is because of how they integrate different secondary rules, such as factions, into the story, and the fantastic suggestions on how to run a game.

Back to the movies. You may have also noticed another thing held in common between the two movies I mentioned, the genre of space opera. PbtA games assign characters special powers, and some of these powers are flat-out weird. I'm surprised that no one else has thought to create a PbtA space opera game. Perhaps they have, and I just haven't heard of it.

So, the next question, should I create a PbtA space opera game, or create a new edition of Metropole Luxury Coffin (MLC)? An earlier edition of MLC is available for free at 1km1kt, but the new version will be more comedic.
madunkieg: The Fool from the tarot deck (Default)
I've been working hard on getting Storm of the Armadas (SotA) ready for playtesting, but it will be very difficult to publish. It has to incorporate so many different pieces: a rulebook, a box, counters, cards, and rulers. Not only that, but I've got to make and playtest the supplements, with all of their components, too. It's a daunting task, especially considering it's the first project I've published in years.

Meanwhile, I'm sitting on several role-playing game (RPG) projects. Yes, they still need a lot of editing and playtesting, but RPGs only require a rulebook. I could choose one of my past projects, such as a new edition of Metropole Luxury Coffin, or develop a new game. That way, when I release SotA I'll at least have learned something about fundraising, online sales, and creating a product for print-on-demand. The downside would be that I've got to raise some money soon to pay for the earlier fundraising effort, including a bit of artwork and editing.

I'd really like to read, or hear, your input, so either leave a comment below, e-mail, or call me.
madunkieg: The Fool from the tarot deck (Default)
I tend to watch a lot of Youtube videos. I'm subscribed to several Youtube channels. Of particular interest to me are those channels that demonstrate scientific experiments. One of them, Thunderf00t, is especially good at doing this. He constantly challenges other videos and the scientific claims they make, demonstrating why they're wrong through critical thinking, logic, experiments, measurements and math. This is how science works, through the constant challenging and revising of ideas. I don't agree with every claim he makes, especially ones about technology, because technology is always improving, but his channel is a good one to subscribe to.

Unfortunately, as soon as he starts talking about anything that's not scientific, all that reasoning goes out the window. He especially hates feminists and Anita Sarkeesian in particular. I don't agree with everything Anita says, either, but Thunderf00t's arguments aren't really arguments at all because they incorporate several of the logic errors he fights against with his science-related videos. There are better critiques of Anita Sarkeesian's work. You only need to do a web search for "critiques feminist frequency" to find them. Some of them even show where she gets things right, because critiques are not always negative.

And that's what I like about a well written, spoken or demonstrated critique, that it doesn't necessarily have to refute the original claim. In fact, a critique can support certain claims by showing how they are repeatable (another part of the scientific method) or can hold up under interrogation from another direction.

I once read, and I forget where I read this, that ideas should hold up on their own merits, not because of who said them. A good idea could come from a very disreputable source. Bad ideas come from otherwise reputable people. I know that life only offers us a certain amount of time, and reputation plays a big role in judging the source of ideas, but feel that sometimes reputation plays too big of a role. No one should be above questioning.
madunkieg: The Fool from the tarot deck (Default)
The online game design community I planned to study was originally based around The Forge. They established a series of role-playing game (RPG) subgenres, initially called: gamist, narrativist and simulationist (GNS). I developed a working definition of what a genre is, but I had no idea how to study genres. I've had to discover how to do that by reading the work of others.

Despite GNS being an important feature of my proposal, I actually failed to define how each subgenre differed from one another. For example, a narrativist RPG incorporates an open-ended question into both its play and its rules. Gamist RPGs were competitive, but they may or may not incorporate winners and losers. Simulationist RPGs were, well, they were complicated, so I'll leave that explanation for a future post.

Instead, I wanted to explore all the special types of rules which became commonplace within The Forge community and its diaspora, such as scenes or fruitful void. The exact definition of those terms varies a bit from designer to designer, giving me more topics for future posts.

Yes, I still plan to study these features, but I believe that the GNS subgenres caused certain rules to become more commonplace, while minimizing or eliminating other rules. Now that I'm no longer involved in the PhD program, I can also study the OSR genre, despite its origins being in another community.

More posts will follow as I figure out new things about this topic.
madunkieg: The Fool from the tarot deck (Default)
I consider Storm of the Armadas to be a playable game with a steep learning curve at the beginning. Maneuvering in space doesn't work like it does on a planet. I've tried creating movement rules that closely held to real physics, but abandoned them because they were too complex to run smoothly. Instead, I kept some aspects of space movement (no air to slow you down) and abandoned others (turning is based upon velocity, rather than a calculation involving thrust, mass, velocity, direction and gravity). But turning isn't the only place I chose playability over reality.

There is no stealth in space. Yes, I know it's being hotly debated, but, extending modern technology into the future, it is entirely likely that nothing within the solar system could escape detection for long. So, why did I include elite ships whith stealth capabilities? Their presence makes for a far better story. Furthermore, stealth in space would have some similarities to submarine warfare, such as the ability of a lone ship to hide better. There would be differences, too, such as the need to engage targeting in order to overcome ECM, thereby offering the target a moment to react.

Other unrealistic aspects of space combat include the shape of the flotillas, firing arcs, weapon ranges, and units interfering with each others' lines-of-sight. Heck, ships should each maneuver differently. All of these rules were inserted in order to shape certain tactics.

The result I was going for was something similar to the battles found in Tanaka's Legend of the Galactic Heroes. Those battles were based, however, on Napoleonic warfare, and I wanted to address some of the differences that space offered.

To update the list of inspirations, I completely forgotten that I had read Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game and am now reading other books in that series.
madunkieg: The Fool from the tarot deck (Default)
I'm a fan of the Ghost in the Shell (GitS) series. Not a superfan, but a fan nonetheless. Thus, I decided to go out and see the movie, despite poor reviews and claims of whitewashing. I can tell you that it earned those poor reviews. The costuming was fantastic, but the cgi was terrible. The movie wasn't whitewashed too much, but the plot was a lazy response to Blade Runner, declaring that memories don't matter. I find that laziness unforgivable.

Blade Runner explored how memories, especially long-term ones, influence our identity. Almost every time GitS had an opportunity to contemplate that issue, it was resolved with an violence, which is almost never a good sign. Let me show you how with a comparison between the 2016 American movie and the Japanese version from 1995.

Both featured a garbage truck driver who had false memories of a family implanted. He shows the other fellow a photograph that he claims is of his family, but actually isn't. He's made the ultimate patsy. The 1995 movie had him act as a proxy hacker of high level officials, running programs through the terminals along his route, but thinking he was doing something much more innocent. He's soon caught. The 1995 movie also left him alive, having to live with the realization that all his memories were replaced. You can empathize with him because he's a victim.

The 2016 version made him into a warrior with guns blazing away at the Major. Not only does this action not make sense given the memories he was given, but he got remotely taken over again during the interrogation and committed suicide despite having no reason to do so. Perhaps the 2016 version didn't want memories to matter, but why bring them up in the first place? I could go on for quite a while about this one sequence, but you get the gist of my argument. Those sorts of inconsistencies are what I hope to minimize in my own game designs.

As for the 1995 movie, violence was never used to resolve intellectual arguments. The same with Blade Runner. For that reason, and the boring nature of the action in this movie, I'd recommend skipping the 2016 version of Ghost in the Shell.
madunkieg: The Fool from the tarot deck (Default)
This is the new home of the blog for Mad Unkie Games. I used to use LiveJournal. You can still find my old entries there, but they inserted some rules about what I could and couldn't discuss and that just didn't sit well with me.

You can expect posts about game design, game theory, both mathematical and game studies and cultural notes. I also occasionally write about random topics and media that inspires me, whether it is by being good, or by being so bad that I think I could do better. Most of my ideas find their ways into games. Currently I'm working on two projects:

Storm of the Armadas: a tactical wargame about commanding massive, interplanetary fleets

Mercenary Companies: a tabletop role-playing game about a the day to day lives of a company of mercenaries

I used to be a PhD student, but I withdrew from the program before finishing my dissertation (a 200+ page essay). It was about an online community of game designers that defined several genres relating to role-playing games. I'm still discovering new things about that topic, and I'll probably post a bit about what I've figured out here. That said, because I'm still figuring things out, I may be wrong. Feel free to give feedback about this, or any of my ideas.
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