Archive for the ‘Caught My Attention’ Category
It’s been a while since I’ve done a Folks I Admire post. Today, I want to talk about Logan Bonner (who is sitting behind me right now, unaware I am composing this). He’s my officemate at Paizo,one of the half-dozen full-time editors here. I had the pleasure of working with him when he edited the Hit a Dude World Players’ Guide. And for the two years I’ve known him, he’s been someone I can call a good friend.
I respect the hell out of Logan’s creative capacity in game design and in visual design. He doesn’t do as much art as he does other things, but don’t let that fool you — guy’s a good artist. He’s prototyped some neat, well-themed board and roleplaying games. And if you haven’t checked out his Refuge in Audacity (which you should, and it’s free, though he deserves money), please do — it combines Synnibar absurdness, fully aware of itself, with some interesting theme mechanics that push that ridiculous play.
I don’t think he believes me when I call it genius. But it totally is. Try it for yourself.
Beyond that, though, he’s a genuinely kind, decent human being. He’s a reminder that perhaps we should not be dicks to one another, but with a sense of sarcastic and well-timed humor that makes him a awesome to be around.
I’m not the only one who respects the hell out of Logan. Some other friends in the creative community:
Logan’s one of those folks that I’m very fortunate to have enjoyed and admired his RPG work even before meeting him, and then later, getting to collaborate with him on Critical Hits. Refuge in Audacity is inspired madness and continues to draw interest, and I hold out hope that it will be turned into a deluxe, foil-covered volume some day. He has multiple game designs of his I have playtested that I hope become real releases next year. Also, he’s one of the few people who gets my Futureheads jokes.
Logan Bonner combines a thoughtful nature with a quick wit in a way I find astonishing and confounding. He’s always considerate, suggesting he’s taking the time to consider your feelings, but he’s so swift with support, enthusiasm, or a joke that it sort of frightens me to realize how fast his mind must work.
Logan writes. Logan edits. Logan designs. Logan draws, inks, and colors. Dammit, Logan does it all. One day that guy’ll be standing on the balcony of the house his skills built, and we’ll stand in the foyer raising our glasses and meaning it and he’ll still be all modest, with that straight-backed posture, making a well-timed callback to the night’s first gag and we’ll all laugh and remember that Logan hasn’t changed a bit—he’s still the mensch who does it all.
Logan has this intuitive sense of how tropes combine to form larger works that makes him a great improviser during RPG play. He develops compelling characters and challenges that blend essential touchstones with vivid details that help game worlds come alive in a flash—and he has the bravery to commit to the bit, whether it’s funny or sad. It’s just great fun to watch him work.
Was it Logan who introduced me to The Builders and the Butchers? I’m pretty sure it was. They’re in my headphones right now. Thanks for that, Logan.
Here’s to Logan Bonner. May he create more wondrous things. May he continue to remind us all to be better people.
I play a bunch of different iOS games, often while I’m outside enjoying my pipe. So when someone tells me about a new game that’s up my alley — logic or physics puzzles, games with RPG elements, and so on — I give ‘em a try. Here are a few short personal reactions to games I’ve been playing lately, inspired by my tweet yesterday asking for more iOS games and some people asking what I’ve played.
This game is still the high water mark for me, at least for games with asynchronous online play. But I have been for a bit now refusing 3- and 4-player games because they move too slowly in asynchronous time.
The way it’s integrated into Game Center seamlessly, its fantastic tutorial setup, pretty much everything about it is top-notch about it — except for not being able to tailor your online games the same way you can a local game and the overall weak AI. And even then, those aren’t serious crimes.
This is a new-to-me game, but was clearly a craze a bit ago. It hits my buttons as a short, parkour-ish game with a dirt-simple interface — one that I can play with one hand while smoking my pipe. It’s got just enough things going on to be worth playing from one game to the next, though at this point I’ve achieved nearly everything you can without insane amounts of playtime.
And that’s been making me thing about Skinner Box-style rewards. There were enough incremental rewards after a game or two that I kept playing, and those would change up game play enough to keep me going for the next bit.
Now I’m at the point where I’ve unlocked all of the extra stuff, and I can tweak my game play further, but the remaining achievements are bullshit ones (play X games or get X lifetime coins) or really, really fucking hard ones (get 10 & 20 of X upgrade in a single run). So I’m playing it as a casual “meh, kill some time” game rather than a game where I’m seeking to accomplish something, as I was doing with it earlier. Not that I begrudge that — all games have a lifespan, and sometimes they’re worth replying later (as I’m doing now with Dungeon Raid).
Also, the racism in the game is mildly amusing, in that the developers thought to incline that stuff. One of the unlockable characters is “Karma Lee, the fastest legs in the far east” wearing a kimono.
I tried this game for a bit, and I have to say it was frustrating — in that I almost liked it, but it kept feeling like there were one or two good game design decisions short of a really good game. I eventually deleted it, because I would play a game while smoking my pipe but be unable to focus on anything other than missed opportunities in the design.
I haven’t played this game in a bit, because I got pretty far in the achievements, but man this is an amazing game. It’s got the simplest interface of any game I’ve played — you’re a bird sliding around a hilly course, and you press on the screen to tuck your wings in. When you aren’t, your wings flap. They aren’t big wings, but it’s enough to where you can launch yourself up for air ona hill, and tuck your wings in to catch the downslope of another hill.
It’s gorgeous and loads of fun for something so simple.
I really wanted to like this, because many of my friends were playing it. But I deleted it after around a dozen games because the play experience was wholly unsatisfying.
The early moves feel meaningless, so there’s no sense of strategy. I won a couple times, lost others, but honestly couldn’t tell you where I ever went wrong — I don’t really enjoy non-random chaos in my games, and this is that. Along with that, I’m spoiled by other games that integrate game requests and rematches into the UI, so Letterpress making me deal with Game Center just seems lazy.
It’s unfortunate that I had to pay to unlock it in order to find out that I really don’t like it. But that’s how it goes sometimes.
Ticket to Ride
I like playing Ticket to Ride, but this medium doesn’t lend itself well to it. Ticket is a great game for sitting around and bullshitting, because your decision points on a given turn are short and simple. Taking that to an online, asynchronous space, and there’s so, so little to do each turn that the game loses context and meaning. Contrast with Carcassonne, where your individual turns have a sense of strategy and you have something to honestly think about and decide on with a given turn.
Having many of the “it’s my turn in Ticket now? Okay, I’ll…draw some cards. Whee.” experiences, I decided that I’ll just play against the AI. I like the game just fine, so I’m not looking to delete it, but the async play is pretty lacking.
I grabbed this, and subsequently never got into it. If you’re making a game that can only be played asynchronously, then my learning curve for the game increases significantly — I cannot learn at my own pace, but at the pace of those I’m playing online with. So this game falls in that weird category of “games some of my friends love that gets away with a crappy new-person UX.”
But then, I’m spoiled by Ascension, which did this right.
What games should I try?
I asked this on Twitter, and I’ll ask it here as well. If there’s an iOS game you think I should try (I have an iPad 1 & iPhone 4S), leave a comment and tell me why you dig it. Thanks!
Many of you are familiar with This Just In…From Gen Con, which is doing its crowdfunding campaign at the moment. For those who aren’t:
This Just In…From Gen Con! is a special podcast produced live at Gen Con Indy. Hosted in 2012 by Rich Rogers and Alex, Steph and Ed from the Yellow-Menace Podcast, they work hard to capture the excitement and mania that is Gen Con — both for listeners who can’t make it and for those who sync their MP3 players at the show!
But that’s just the beginning of the story. This Just In was an idea that Paul Tevis has back in 2008, and over IM, he asked me if I’d like to be the producer on it. His plan was to get corporate sponsorship, which he did by talking with the folks at DriveThruRPG. And the first year of This Just In…From Gen Con was born.
I worked my ass off that year. We did shows at 11am and 5pm, Gen Con Thursday through Sunday. (These days, we don’t do the 5pm show because of hall logistics, and that’s what a wrap-up show’s for anyway.)
Here was my daily life at Gen Con 2008:
10am: (When the Exhibit Hall opens) Look around for something to talk about in an hour. Possibly also wrangle a guest.
11am: Get to the conference room that was our makeshift studio. Hook up our equipment (in the first year, my Zoom H4; in later years, my Zoom H4N) by connecting one of the mixer board XLR outputs that normally went into one of the speakers in the room into my device instead. Explain the format to my guests, including the in unison “This Just In…From Gen Con!” bit and how they shouldn’t feel obligated to chime in. I showed the hand signals for things like “you’re too close to your mic” “you’re too far away from your mic” “you speak next” and “dear god please stop touching the table I can hear that in my headphones.” Then we’d prep the guests by making sure they had something to talk about, and asking if there was something for them to plug.
11:15: Typically by now, we’d start recording. Sometimes we’d have an audience as as many as six people! But, of course, the live audience wasn’t the point. We’d record for 15-20 minutes. (We used to shoot for 10-15, but didn’t work well having two guests and two hosts.)
11:45: By now, the recording’s in the can. Paul’s free to go off to do stuff, and my job was to go do the audio production. Unlike Master Plan and my other shows, I didn’t edit this one for content or flow. No time to. But processing it still too time, to take a live-ish recording and make it not suck. This is where SoundSoap was handy for any recorded hum, and Adobe Audition was great for doing hard limiting. (I really dislike Levelator. It makes crap audio. But it’s free, so I can see the appeal to other podcasters.) Then I stick the pre-recorded intros and outros on, mix down to an MP3, add the ID3 tags & artwork, and then…
12:05: Struggle to find a place to upload it. The press room’s Internet access was okay, sometimes. In later years, I would sometimes just pay for Internet in my hotel room, but we didn’t make enough off of TJI in those years to warrant throwing away $10.
12:30: If I was lucky, the show was up and announced by now. Time for lunch!
1pm: Socialize with people, maybe get a convention demo in, something that was actually me-time.
4pm: Everything I did at 10am, starting all over again. Sometimes I would have already seen something be now, and sometimes I was just spending a couple hours hanging out with friends I rarely see.
5pm: The second show of the day! See everything from 11am on.
6:30: If I was lucky, my TJI shifts for the day were over, and I was a free man. (Though, that didn’t mean much on Friday night, when I went and did the ENnies, so I could talk about it the next day.)
So…between 10am and 6:30pm, I got around three hours to myself. And that’s if everything went well. Sometimes I had to scramble to find a replacement guest. And the last year I did the show, I also worked the IPR booth at the same time, so I didn’t have any real free time that year (and that lead to a couple shows that were late, because Kevin had problems doing the audio production on my laptop.)
That’s why I believe that This Just In is worth funding. They’ve hit their goal, and are working on a stretch goal: at $2500, they’ll bring on my former arch-nemesis, Clyde Rhoer:
…we will be adding a new team member, and additional coverage of Gen Con 2012! Clyde Rhoer, host of the awesome Theory From the Closet podcast, and one of the best interviewers in the RPG podcasting scene will join our team at Gen Con 2012, and will record a series of four long-form, Theory From the Closet-style interviews at the con, one for each day of the show!
Speaking of Money
The first two years, we got $350 (if memory serves). Paul & I split that on the first year, and I kept it on the second as the only showrunner that year. The third year, I entertained the idea of doing crowdfunding, but then Sandstorm offered my $500 for the show (split with Kevin Weiser that year, as my co-host). Still, it never felt like it was really worth it, because Gen Con is so expensive and I was running around working during half the event rather than actually enjoying it, which is why I handed it to Rich Rogers and Daniel Perez last year.
And that’s when I had really decent equipment and software for the gig, and accepted the pre-Gen Con and post-Gen Con shows as unpaid work. So when I see the $1500 and the four people involved, I see Rich and company as being far smarter about it that I was in years past, especially when I was doing all the production on my own. (Which caused said burn-out.) After IndieGoGo’s cut, after any equipment or software expenses, they have enough to split amongst them to make the hell of making TJI happen worthwhile.
After all, going to Gen Con can easily cost you a grand…if you’re doing it on the cheap. So TJI isn’t a money-making enterprise — it never will be — but it’s a damned good thing to support.
This Friday, rather than telling you who I think you should follow, I’m going to tell you about three things I think you should check out:
Our Last Best Hope
Our Last Best Hope, which has just under two days before the Kickstarter closes, looks to be a take on the disaster movie genre in a Fiasco style. I’m sold. Are you?
Pulse Fudge Dice
This is a really cool Fudge/Fate dice model that I’m hoping sees the light of day. Will you fund it? If not, why do you hate freedom? (Okay, so this one isn’t a game itself, but hey, it’s cool.)
A bit ago, Daniel Solis posted this image on his blog, about an observation on RPG design from intent to play, which Luke Crane titled the Starvo Principle (after the guy who came up with this, John Stavropoulos):
I’m having a complex reaction to John Stavropoulos’ model, because I agree with the base ideas, but see it differently.
User Interface, not Tools
What John calls tools I see as the user interface, the things that the players directly contact with. But it’s not just character sheets, dice, etc. It’s also the text, post-layout. Not only because pages can be printed out in order to to be ad hoc cheat sheets, but also because layout is the tool by which a book cements certain key ideas into the minds of readers.
Which is to say that if rules are the (or an) implementation of intent, and text is the implementation of rules, then user interface is the implementation of text. Although that’s someone strange, because much of user interface is developed in concert with rules, and text is a product of merging the two.
Intent and Play Culture
Here’s where I have a really weird reaction. Intent is treated as a separate thing, and to me, intent is all over that chart, like jam on toast. What I would put in its place is play culture, or reaction to play culture. And our interface axioms start from there.
I’ve been big about discussing play culture over the years. The indie scene in its early days (and sometimes still today) was pretty bad at creating books that required an understanding of the designer’s play culture in order to successfully execute. Or, as my good friend Paul Tevis said about one indie game back in 2007, “The game isn’t in the book. It’s an oral tradition that happens to also have a book.”
Minimalism makes the assumption that the reader either is in or understands the play culture intended by the designer. That understanding is a context channel. It’s easy to unintentionally be deficient in explaining how your game works beyond it’s mechanics if you’re not used to explaining your play culture.
However, when your game is the result of your reactions to a play culture — usually when there’s something you really don’t like or doesn’t work for you in a certain mode — it becomes prudent to go beyond minimalism and explain said play culture. Which, to go back to John’s model, carry your intent all the way through the rules, text, and tools. I’ve had this experience working on Mythender, because the way the GM is suppose to act is a reaction to what people have called “epic” games in my play experience.
This is why I see intent not as the bottom rung but as a separate input to rules & text. Intent as expressed by mechanics & rules isn’t the same as intent as expressed by advice, which is in the realm of text. Which leads us to…
A Place for Advice
There is no clear place where advice or best practices hooks it. It doesn’t really hook directly into text, because it’s parallel to rules. It’s developed along the same time as rules, even if not yet clearly explained until a first draft is written. Some instances of advice live in the intent/play culture layer, yes, but not all of it. And because of the language used in the chart, rules are prioritized far over the idea of advice & best practices.
Unless you consider advice to be “rules” along with mechanics. Then cool. But many people don’t see that definition of rules. (I do, but I tend to have to explain such things assuming that a good portion of my audience doesn’t, thus this entire section.)
To phrase another way: the when & why of rules is as important to the interface as the how.
John Is In No Way Wrong
It may sound like I’m criticizing John, but that isn’t my intent (hah). John has gotten me to think about my own model, and in blogging about it, made some of those thoughts concrete. I invite you to do the same — I know some folks have around the internet.
John Stavropoulos is one of the sharpest guys I have ever had the pleasure of chatting and dining with. He could write papers on RPG scholarship, GM practices, group dynamics, all sorts of things. he’s achieved something pretty cool here (which Daniel has then turned into something somewhat larger, by applying a visual tool to John’s text).
So, what has it made you think about?
 Remember, I never talk about a product publicly unless I think there’s some merit to it, however flawed.
 Tomorrow’s blog post (which was actually written before this one was).
 Which is a great illustration of the top tiers of John’s model.