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To Infinity…Or Maybe Not!

I’ve found that what I want to write about is predicated heavily by random confluences of events. I’ll have some thought come at me or present itself in multiple ways during a short period of time. It’ll get into my head and I’ll be compelled to write a post about it. For instance, most of my posts about theatre can be traced back to an experience with a couple clueless theatre patrons and a conversation about a week later with a few other theatrical technicians.

Recently, I’ve come across space travel a few times. The Doctor Who season premiere featured the Moon Landing in a particularly awesome and inspiring (to me, at least) way. Xkcd had a comic graphing the declining population of otherworldly travelers. And as I was idly re-watching old videos on The Escapist, I came across an episode of The Big Picture where Movie Bob laments the death of the space shuttle and the apparent death of caring about going into space.

All this got me thinking, how do we go from this:

“Do you know how many people are watching this live on the telly? Half a billion. And that’s nothing, because the human race will spread out among the stars—you just watch them fly. Billions and billions of them, for billions and billions of years. And every single one of them at some point in their lives will look back at this man taking that very first step and they will never ever forget it.”
The Doctor, about the Moon Landing, Day of the Moon

To this:

“The universe is probably littered with the one-planet graves of cultures which made the sensible economic decision that there’s no good reason to go into space–each discovered, studied, and remembered by the ones who made the irrational decision.”
-XKCD alt text, May 2, 2011

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The Workshop Process

If you’re familiar with the game Minecraft, feel free to jump below the cut right now. For everyone else, a quick background: Minecraft is an indie game that’s pretty unique even among indie games. For one, its art and play styles have already gained a huge amount of notice and praise both among gamers and the gaming press despite the fact that it’s still in beta. But that’s not what I’m interested in talking about today. What’s really got me interested is its development process.

Back in May of 2009, a guy named Markus Persson started developing Minecraft. Once he got the game to a rough, but playable state (known as an alpha), he made it available to the general public for €9.95, or about half of the cost of the finished product. This served two purposes. First, it generated revenue to help continue developing the game, and second, it gave him an army of alpha and beta testers. It’s not the path that video games, even independently created games, usually take. Open alphas are rare to the point of non-existence, and charging players to take part in beta testing is also deeply rare. I can’t think of a single title, either independent or out of a studio, that has tried this before.

So, how’s it worked out for him? Read the rest of this entry

Player Agency & the Social Contract

There’s a column on the Escapist that I’ve been following pretty much since it started appearing there: Check for Traps. The guy behind it, Alexander Macris, has some really neat ideas about running a game. I’m currently (very slowly) designing a campaign using a lot of his advice. There is one of his ideas, though, that I think may be a little more complex than he’s made it out to be.

This idea is his Agency Theory of Fun. Don’t worry, I won’t make you follow the link if you don’t want to. This theory is Macris’ answer to the prevailing opinion that the Gamemaster’s job is to make sure everyone has fun. He argues that many GMs are afraid to give their players real choices because, if things go poorly, it could ruin their players’ fun. But that has the unforeseen consequence of making none of the players’ choices matter, which isn’t fun.

In its place, he states the GM should prioritize their role as a judge, arbitrating the rules of the game fairly and consistently. By risking the various catastrophes a bad roll can cause, the players’ choices have meaning, and making meaningful choices leads to fun.

Frankly, this is the type of game I love to play in, but it isn’t for everyone. I’ve met some people who would absolutely hate this style of game. And there are reasons beyond fun maintenance why the other type of game gets run.
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