View from the Gutters

So a few months ago I was invited to join a comic book roundtable podcast called View from the Gutters:

View from the Gutters is a bi-weekly round-table discussion about comic books. In each episode we focus on one graphic novel or collected volume of a series. We review the week’s topic work (with frequent digressions to jabber about other comics and creators, discuss the state of the industry, or just bash on Geoff Johns for a while), and then each host nominates a new comic to discuss on the next episode. At the end of each podcast we vote to select which nominated work we’ll be talking about next time, so you can read along with us.

If you’re interested in that kind of thing, you can check it out at viewfromthegutters.com (or on iTunes). My first episode is number 7, which just went up tonight. In that episode we discuss Batman: Venom.

I found an interesting article linked on reddit:

“‘Instant Ambiguity Sauces’ – How NOT to make an uninteresting game seem more interesting”

He makes some interesting points, although perhaps not as universally true as he might suggest. To my reading his main point (which I agree with) is that fun in games is often related to the agency of the player to make meaningful choices. Rather than give the player meaningful choices, however, game developers give players non-meaningful choices which are obfuscated so as to seem meaningful. Your quick time events, and the like—things which present the illusion of agency, but lack real substance.

This actually meshes with a conversation I had with my father about 20 years ago. Growing up I played a lot of board games with my father and older brother, and I often found myself at odds with my dad about what to play. I favored Monopoly, which I thought I was relatively good at, while my father usually insisted that we play either Risk or Acquire, which I always lost.

At some point I asked him why he preferred those games, and what he said to me was that Monopoly was a game of chance. Your ability to make choices was limited because the primary mechanism of the game was rolling the dice, which was random. The games he preferred, although having their element of randomness, were won or lost by the choices you made and the tactics you employed. I seem to recall him mentioning games like Chess and Go at the time, having essentially no randomness to them. The reason I liked Monopoly compared to other games is that, being the youngest and having the worst strategy, randomness actually favored me.

That conversation has stuck with me for a long time, and I find myself even today ranking games by how random they are. Settlers of Catan, for example, is VERY random. You live and die by the dice. Dominion on the other hand is much less so. You do draw random cards from a deck, but the primary mechanic of the game is choosing which cards to add to your deck, so you have a degree of control over what cards are available to draw. It’s easy to flood your deck with useless cards, and prevent yourself from drawing good hands.

Now, not every game is about tactics and strategy. Execution is not always an obfuscation, as the author of the post I linked above states. However, I find the post interesting overall because I find that player agency is frequently overlooked in discussions of what makes a game work or not.

Legends of the Wulin

Short shout-out: about 6 years ago a Wuxia game called Weapons of the Gods was released, a tie-in with a Hong-Kong comic of the same title. The game was amazingly awesome, although it did suffer from a little “first-edition”-itis, and a few mechanics here or there that needed some work.

Unfortunately the game hasn’t had any updates or supplements for a while, and from what I understand the license for the Weapons of the Gods name/setting have been revoked. That’s okay, however, because some of the creators of WotG have created a new game–Legends of the Wulin–using a revised version of the game system and their own setting, and it will be available for pre-order on Wednesday (Dec. 15)!

Check it out — Legends of the Wulin Pre-Sale

Follow Up to Pathfinder MMO Announcement

A quick follow up to the Pathfinder MMO announcement, I recalled that the podcast Fear the Boot (a show I recommend on general principles, as their GMing advice largely mirrors my own) did an interview with Ryan Dancey a few months ago, wherein he talks about his thoughts on the state of the RPG industry and the development of MMOs. If you’re interested in what shape the Pathfinder MMO may take, that interview may be a good starting point.

Paizo announces Pathfinder MMO

Check it out.

Pathfinder Online’s journey is just beginning. We’ve started a brand-new company called Goblinworks to create the game. At the moment, it’s owned by myself, Ryan, Paizo, and Mark Kalmes. Mark is one of the top tech guys in the MMO field, and he’ll be Goblinworks’ Chief Technical Officer. (And we’re currently looking for additional investors to help us move forward with Pathfinder Online.)

Traditionally, projects like this are developed in secrecy, with information leaking out in whispers for months before a formal announcement. But we don’t want our loyal customers to find out about Pathfinder Online through rumored half-truths; we want you in on the ground floor.

A lot of big picture work has already been done on Pathfinder Online, and it’s going to be a bit different from your traditional fantasy MMO. It’s going to focus around the characters you create, in a world that will grow out of your interactions, developing the way you choose to develop it. It takes place in the River Kingdoms of Golarion, with our own Kingmaker Adventure Path providing some of the inspiration. There will be an overarching storyline, and dungeons aplenty to explore, but where Pathfinder Online is going to thrive is in the ability of each of you to leave your mark on the world. Do you want to build a castle that you own and control? Go for it. Want to start a town and rally folks to your banner? Do that. Do you want to ally with the neighboring villages to form a new nation—or perhaps wage war on them instead? The choice is yours. Want to become the most feared bandit in the River Kingdoms? The path is available. Want to become the greatest armorer that Golarion has ever seen? All it takes is hard work. If you can imagine doing something in the world of Golarion, we want you to be able to do that in Pathfinder Online.

The fun is just starting! Please use the discussion thread here on paizo.com to interact with Ryan, Mark, myself, and the rest of the Goblinworks crew as we start this new adventure. We’re going to be very interactive with you, the Pathfinder community, because we want this game to be YOURS. Stay tuned for blogs, trailers, and other teasers as we move forward. In true Paizo fashion, we will keep you guys in the loop, and listen to your feedback as we progress.

Things have come a long way since Akalabeth. Join me for the ride and help make Pathfinder Online the best MMORPG ever!

Lisa Stevens
CEO, Paizo Publishing
COO, Goblinworks