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Weekend ends, but the sun still rises tomorrow

January 30, 2012 Leave a comment

I’m in the midst of birthing an idea. It’s so unusual to experience one so rich in it’s details that I felt compelled to blog about it, like a proud father. Anyone familiar with the torturous writing and atrocity that I inflict upon the writ language should just leave now, but an inner glee champions a funny truth – there’s but one reader here, and that’s me. So why apologize?

The idea I feel myself stitching together is born of a crash course in media tonight. About how we now use technology to augment our memories, to create a kind of eternal long-term storage. About how players demand never ending (and free) content. How the free to play model is destroying close communities, or evolving them to something new. The sheer brilliance of seth godin, Ted, and the inescapable diversions over at IGN. Everything from post-labor economies to kittens in minecraft. Soak in the universe and let the brain figure it all out.

A strange musing at one point in the day today to build up a content oriented title where the content was fused by a timer. That is, the world shifted in time and was elastic to respond to players. And then, I began to realize something: we use our digital devices to store ourselves for later retrieval. Photos, movies, content. Experiences that define our prismatic identities. That’s the kind of experiment I need to invoke: one where the player engages in an activity that creates an artifact that can be consumed in a later time to create a specific reaction.

I’m pondering a few prior projects, some that were very close to this idea that I long since abandoned. I need to return to these ideas, mix them up more, but also drastically simplify and shorten the complete time to market. Is there anything that fits within these broad parameters that can be tackled by one person, in their free time — of which is in drastically short supply? A positive affirmation is often not enough for the drooling savagery of the truth.

Yet, I still wrestle internally with the fiery demon; although I think water can be tossed upon it. That we leverage the digital real to store our experiences and the shock claim is that we no longer remember; it is a certain truth that any experience we undergo for a second time is one that takes a priority position in our conscious. At least for a short time. A world filled with a narrative of fictional accounts is likely no different than one without, in the long view of time.

There’s surely a way to strike deep within the frontiers of the surreal mind of our prismatic identity via the fine waters of a strange interaction, to sail along the great sea of the infinite and at a moment’s touch. I’ll continue to search this frontier and this truth, with the meek tools available to me, until either I turn weary of the activity or something easier calls for my attention. It would be nice to solve this, to find a way to reach into the mass of the pools of thought, and cast forth the possibilities of all that can and all that is. So, just maybe.

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Categories: Musings

The humble tabletop laboratory

January 29, 2012 Leave a comment

What’s a GM to do when players have these real life commitments and the GM misses the raid call for the MMO at the same time? Ponder the ponderings, for his own benefit. Thankfully, this blog has a readership of one, and after some deliberation about that situation I came to realize this is a net boon. I’m not quite, as they say, unleashed, but I do find that I’m able to force myself to try and articulate ideas in the public sphere outside the jargon of my shorthand. What the fuck? Well, means I think about things a bit differently when I write them out in wordpress.

The pondering of the moment goes to my prior thought on the next experiment. The idea here is that there is an automated way to recreate a small aspect of the tabletop experience, to automate the player in some capacity that I could still get a “fix” in over the weekend. As someone who likes to torture logic like a bendy straw in a hurricane, I found myself asking what it was that really happened in the tabletop. When the likes of nerdkind gather around the handcrafted, wooden table to throw down the dice, what’s really going on there?

After a few hours of thinking about this, I arrived at the decision that the GM sits at the table to command reactions. Not in all games and I don’t really care about other GMs. It just isn’t relevant to the topic. To me, when players gather at the table, the moment is about reactions. Every second of the game is held up in it. This is why electronic dice rollers are a serious impediment. How many times have I seen an excited player push the chair back, the entire play group lean forward, as dice are shaken with a tiger-like ferocity before tossed onto the table. “Holy shit, we did it!”

The GM’s core job is to create those moments. To build them requires a bit of masterwork, it’s an artform all it’s own. Where traditional storytelling fails is that, aside from some dude standing there and gesturing all about like he lost his way from the bar, in a properly run tabletop the player is an invested part of the story–in fact, the player IS the story. Since our prismatic identity is formed through memories and memories are stitched stories of perceived events, the humble tabletop is a powerful psychological force.

It’s probably why competing social structures hate it so much–one could argue that it’s overly effective.

Returning to the topic of automating players the nearest I could come up with in terms of a sketch is something that somewhat looks like the sims. That’s a game of reactions too. Do I see myself setting up a Cleverbot and a sims-like experience at the table and attempting a session? No. Although I did think about it.

It’s the scale of that reaction. I’m thinking that immersion is just that, too. What’s immersion? Aside from a total mindfreak with your little campaign world, it’s about pushing yourself into a class of reactions. This is why video game players often excel at real life activities after doing them in a video game for months on end. It’s immersive. it’s a training sim. It’s a reaction!

I’m torturing grammar, words and probably the only reader out there for this blog-oh wait, that’s me!

Anyhow, the intersection of story and the reaction of a person is interesting. The chain-reaction is something I’m thinking is key to the success of a well-run tabletop game. It’s like fostering a spirited communication in the corporate boardroom. Sure, poking the hornet’s nest is dangerous, but by God sometimes good things happen. The world can take a break from doom and gloom long enough to cast a ray of light, right?

So there a GM is, engaged in a communication with his players. The players are reacting verbally, but physically too and building off one another. Some reactions may piss off some players and at other times there is a group hug. The GM takes down notes, builds up ever more elaborate trickery, scenes, and the like and pushes the players in just the right way for the players to experience the story first-hand, in real time. What story? Theirs. Why is that key? Because games are about learning. Experiencing the story of the player’s character creates an endless opportunity to learn about this character that they imagined – likes, dislikes and capabilities.

Therefore, an automation attempt would be fruitless unless someone figures out a way to make software care about the story that’s being told. Software wouldn’t care-it wouldn’t switch itself to CAPITAL LETTERS BECAUSE THAT GNOLL IS ABOUT TO EAT OFF THE ARM. You could code it to have an emotional state and you could randomize reactions, but to create code that can build upon itself to grow with the story? Not happening anytime soon.

This doesn’t mean some aspect of a tabletop couldn’t make it over to software, hell there’s this whole industry built up around aspects. It’s just the important part, the true part of what makes tabletop work, isn’t possible to port with current technology. Tomorrow? Maybe.

Categories: Musings

Drafting a plan for Experiment K

January 29, 2012 Leave a comment

 

Well, quite unexpected but a number of different reasons pushed our game night out a day and possibly out to next weekend. This isn’t an unusual problem. So this is my resolution for Experiment K-I’m going to build something that solves the problem, or try to, of when players call the night off. To the notebooks I go, in search of a sketch that might just work.

 

Categories: Musings

Inevitable end of this blog, Any Post Now

January 24, 2012 Leave a comment

This blog is likely to reach an┬áinevitable end at any moment now. I say that based on the sheer volume of search results that I’ve peeled apart now over the last two days and the end game for the multitude of sites that are, really, just like this one. If I didn’t know better (and I don’t, because as I’ve stated before, I’m not the smartest guy in the room here), I’d say this statement that blogging is dead and everyone is on social now might be onto something.┬áI know I’ve had folks ask me to just do twitter, to you know, cut the crap of my posts down to 140 characters of meandering.

Still, I don’t see social as principally a useful vehicle for the organized sharing of information. It’s more like going to the pool hall. That, and like blogging at large, it’s banned by just about every major corporation I’ve been in over the last five years or so. That’s probably had more of an influence than anything.

It could also be that maybe blogs just don’t have their place in the sun any more. I only started this one up to organize some thoughts about the campaign I’m running. So, I’ll continue using this as a tool for that purpose until I feel that it isn’t doing the job. I’ve sort of hijacked the original purpose of the blog to have some musings about higher ordered game conversations, but that’s just for my own benefit. There’s no reason I couldn’t resort back to a notebook for it. Seems like just the act of writing all this crap out clears my mind to think about some things I don’t normally think about. As an example, that I missed the memo that blogging is dead.

This is a sentiment that many, many bloggers appear to be sharing though – the sentiment that web 2.0 cannibalized bloggers. Now everyone has shortened the expression of their lives to 140 characters and automatic updates. I suppose that’s to be expected, but it seems like that kind of makes one missing something in the whole deal.

I almost bought into this post that blogging wasn’t and isn’t dead, since it was done here this month. Except the number of comments are telling (at the time of this writing that would be zero). So, yeah, I can probably safely write about whatever the flip I want because, well, no one is going to read this. That’s a bonus. On the other side, it also means the clock is ticking before I shut this blog down. Nifty.

Categories: Musings

Musing 03

January 24, 2012 Leave a comment

The perceived quiet death of character blogs and websites is quite interesting to me. Real life people have lost literally months, potentially years, to the alternative reality of roleplay with their chosen avatar.

It makes sense to me that GMs naturally extend out to blogging. It sort of goes with the psychology. In the game we share information and make $%^& up. Blogging is a natural extension of that. Players have a completely different psychological investment, one that arguably goes deeper and yet, curiously, does not express itself in the same way. I’ve spoken to folks who have had pen and paper characters that they remember in far greater detail, despite not having played them in years, than those same people can recall members of their own family.

Some neat late night questions brood here.

Categories: Musings

Smarter People Than Me

January 23, 2012 Leave a comment

My post on Musing 02? Here’s a take — it’s immersion, speaketh the legend Raph Koster.

Perhaps, most interestingly, is the sheer application of these same concepts to the real world. What happens when we finally unify that theory of everything that predicts how to maximize life? Reboot?

Still, factors on the mind. Included in this is a theory that part of the game is the GM involved in the act of discovery of the world themselves as part and parcel of the nature of the game. No maps, no prepwork, everything on the spot and ad-hoc. Every failed utterance a massive consequence. Still, sounds fun. Kind of a “hey, yeah, I’m controlling your universe but I’m exploring it with you at the same time” type of idea.

Categories: Musings

Musing 02

January 23, 2012 Leave a comment

The random thought that crossed my feeble little mind invokes a question that I’m sure I’m just not smart enough to tackle. The ladies at Flavor Text have smart things to say about story, which is where I’m sort of going with this post. Their essential point HERE is that the MMOG is still young, the structure of the art form is evolving release to release, and we don’t know where it’s going. I think that summarizes pretty well what I’ve been reading on the ‘net. Yeah, it’s different. That’s the phrase I here. Followed by: “Begone cave dweller!”

I’ve put in my share of maxing out characters in an MMO, enough to have some room to say what that end game is like. I found some dead neurons this weekend along the way in playing a pen and paper game that made me realize that, “Oh hey, I remember when video games aspired to this.” To an extent it is story. It seems like there’s a finite playspace for an MMO that inherently makes every character the same as every other. A feature, I think, of a world-state that is inflexible. Every rogue I start out with will go through the exact same set of quests, or nearly so, and the number of times I killed Fippy Darkpaw is in such large number that it makes me ponder the situation. Our prismatic identities are defined by who we encounter and what we do and if we all encounter the same thing, then that makes every character effectively the same. I’m pretty sure on this count and I’m using Pac-Man as my example.

In that iconic game, players play as a chomping pizza box gobbling up what looks like glowing dots of some illicit substance scattered about a rat like maze. Each game begins in round 1, and while you can avoid the ghosts, or even eat them, your character is confined by the rules of the space. At the end of the stage? You’re still a chomping pizza box. I think the modern MMOG is really the same thing. You can try to decouple from the rules, but there’s not much you can do.

Grumpy old man (GM) here playing a pen and paper game with some players. The players chose to avoid the heart of the canned adventure, bypassing even the clever puzzle I wrote earlier and choosing instead to attempt to navigate the forest in search of some random thing that they only know about. Suddenly, we were collectively in this new territory where the books only mattered enough to keep encounters running while the game became ad-hoc in a game world that really doesn’t exist yet because even the GM hasn’t really prepared anything beyond some broad, high level sketches. And any future adventurers that come down that particular path? Well, there’s no certainty. It could be that the entire forest is burned down. Doing that in the current incarnation of a MMOG would cost a large fortune.

In a pen and paper it’s just four words: Forest has burnt down. Now everything any former player might know about the area is suspect. Entire settlements are wiped from the map. Bad guys might be good guys. How that changes the equations.

Then I think about the nature of gaming and the Theory of Fun, and think it’s really about learning, but to an extent it’s optimization too. Especially in gear collection games. You’re optimizing for the best gear possible based on your available resources – story be damned. In a pen and paper game, it can be that depending on who is running the campaign. But, more interestingly, it’s about the identity of your character. If you choose to blow up Waterdeep, well, more power to you. What’s next?

 

Categories: Musings