After The Climax

bort.rose.150I recently finished reading a book that had a good thirty or more pages after the climactic fight scene.  It shook out the ramifications of the fight over a few encounters on a couple different days and let you know the status of all the people involved who had survived and even gave a hint at the direction future books might take without actually dangling a cliffhanger on the reader.  Movies are often like this too.  The climax hits and then you get anywhere from five to twenty minutes of tying up the story and letting you know what the climax means to the world this story has inhabited.

Games aren’t often like that.  Many games practically end with the climax.  Boss monster dies, “You win!!” flashes on the screen and the credits roll.  Other times, games slide in a movie ending, a pre-rendered cut scene that ties up the story and maybe lets you know what the climax means to the world the game took place in.  But that is sort of a cop-out.  That isn’t really a game ending, its a movie ending tacked on to a game.

This months Round Table tasks us…

How can the denouement be incorporated into gameplay? In literary forms, it is most often the events that take place after the plot’s climax that form your lasting opinion of the story. A well constructed denouement acts almost as a payoff, where protagonists and antagonists alike realize and adjust to the consequences of their actions. Serial media often ignored the denouement in favor of the cliffhanger, in order to entice viewers to return. Television has further diluted the denouement by turning it into a quick resolution that tidily fits into the time after the final commercial break.

But the denouement is most neglected in video games where it is often relegated to a short congratulatory cut scene, or at most–a slide show of consequences. This month’s topic challenges you to explore how the denouement can be expressed as gameplay.

So, how can the denouement be expressed through game play?

The simplest answer is just to continue the game mechanics into an interactive version of the cut scene.  If the game included NPCs throughout that you would talk to or exchange items with, continue that.  After the fight, put the player back in the game and make them take the sword they took off the demon lord back to the town and see it destroyed (try, of course, to avoid cramming in another boss battle or cliffhanger by making a town elder or someone grab the sword and fight you or run off with it).

A slight twist on that is to leave the actual end of the game up to the player.  Maybe during the game several people expressed interest in the sword, either for destroying or using, and let the player take it to whom he thinks deserves it most, let them pick the ending they want to see.  After the final boss battle, let the player go finish up some quests or other elements that give them story pieces concerning their actions and the other characters in the game world.

Marvel: Ultimate Alliance did this in a way.  The game could be completed without actually winning every level and side quest, and one level in particular required you to choose between two characters which one to save.  While the end of the game was nothing more than a series of cut scenes, it was a series that was built on the actions you did or did not take throughout the game.  The denouement of the game changed depending on the player’s performance.  The only failure here is that during the playing of the game, the player has no idea that this denouement will happen, they just play through so the choices they make don’t have the weight they might because the player isn’t really aware those choices are going to matter.

In the future, I’d love to see more games go at least as far as Marvel: Ultimate Alliance, but would really love it to see them go further and let me explore and control the end of the game a bit more.  The worst thing I think that could happen is to have a single player game climax and then roll into an MMO where you’ll meet up with other players who experienced the same single player game, where each of you was the hero and fought alone against the same bad guy boss.  That, in my opinion, would just render the entire single player game story irrelevant.  I suppose that’s why I tend to dislike most MMO tutorials.

Worth Fighting For

One of the things that bothered me a lot while playing World of Warcraft is that most people really just didn’t care.  If you got too many monsters in the same fight, or an elite was just too strong, many people just gave up, took the death and came back.  The penalty for losing was so soft that no one minded, and in fact many relied on it to test the waters.  ”Hey, let’s try this! What’s the worst that can happen? Lose a couple minutes and a little money on repairs?”  It added an element of fearlessness to the game, which had its own merit, but in the long run as you come to count on that losing doesn’t hurt, winning doesn’t feel as awesome.  Winning is just something that happens.  Winning, in World of Warcraft, is inevitable.

Meanwhile, back in the dark ages of 3D MMORPGs, death could easily cost you a couple of days worth of experience points if you couldn’t get a cleric to resurrect you.  In some ways, this was bad because people were less likely to try things unless they were pretty sure they had a good shot at winning.  However, a charismatic enough leader could convince just about any group to try anything once.  ”I know we don’t have a cleric, but I’ve grouped with this druid before, and we have an enchanter to slow, we’ll be fine!”  That was the basis of some of my most memorable moments in the game.  Five monks and a druid as a group in Old Sebilis, ranger tank in the Plane of Storms, and so on.  But the greatest effect of a stiff death penalty was the will to survive.  If a pull went bad, or a wandering monster joined in your already iffy fight, not one person ever said, “Hey, let’s just die and come back in a couple minutes.”  Instead, the chat window would immediately be filled with chatter about who was tanking what, or what mob was going to get pulled away and rooted, or which mob to focus on as various forms of crowd control were tried.  My memories of EverQuest are filled with moments of healers being out of mana while the group is surrounded by five monsters all mesmerized and the enchanter ensuring us they could hold it while I yelled at the group, “No one touch ANYTHING until the cleric says he’s ready!” and people making sacrifices, “I’ll off tank this, but I can’t last more than a minute or two, if you don’t finish by then, I’ll be dead but I wish you luck with the add.”  I fought many fights where bad agro killed the cleric and the rest of the group fought tooth and nail to stay standing as long as they could.  Failure hurt, but snatching victory from the jaws of defeat felt incredible.

Many people will tell you that harsh death penalties are a thing of the past and that today’s players wouldn’t stand for it, and they are right.  The people who would never play EQ who have flocked to WoW aren’t looking for that sort of risk, just a few odd minutes or hours of entertainment.  But to me, that sort of investment in a game is what I’m looking for.  I want a game worth fighting for.

Combat Pacing

One discussion that comes up from time to time when talking about game design for MMOs is about combat pacing.  That is, how long should a fight last, and how “active” should the player be?  In fact, just last week a thread about this showed up on the forums over at Nerfbat.

Because I’m more interested in group play and social interactions, obviously my stance is to make fights longer and reduce the need for button pushing.  I’m extremely fond of the old EverQuest design where fights were counted in minutes and players often had between 3 and 10 seconds between actions.  In my opinion, this allowed for more tactical play, allowing you to see what was happening and consider your response as opposed to faster games where you tend to approach the fight with a plan and execute it, the individual fight lasting 30 seconds or less (excluding boss and raid encounters, which are obviously tuned to large groups and to last longer).

I also like slow combat because currently, unless you are playing exclusively with friends and using voice chat on a Ventrilo server or similar service, social interactions have to occur through the same keyboard that controls game play.  If you are hitting a key to perform a combat action every 1 to 2 seconds, that doesn’t give you much opportunity to chat.  The more “intense” the combat, the more “quiet” the game gets, and you have to practically stop playing the game in order to be social.

Anyway, those are my thoughts, also expressed in the thread.  If you want to join in the discussion, I encourage you to sign up at the Nerfbat forums and do so.

Fight me!

Another in a long line of web pages diversion from productivity is My Brute.  You create a little gladiator, and then you send him to fight.  Three times a day, and you can enter tournaments.  And you control absolutely nothing.  You pick the opponent and that’s it, sit back and enjoy the carnage.

So, come, fight me and be my pupil, then take on other brutes in single combat.

An Ebbing in the Tide

A while back, I posted about my efforts to stop junk mail. In January even, I posted here about how I was still getting junk. And even though I can’t seem to win the fight against direct mailings for local businesses, the war is go well on other fronts.

In particular, the fight against credit card offers is going extremely well. In my first post on the subject, I provided a link to a site from the credit card offers themselves. This, perhaps in conjunction with other efforts, have actually resulted in a near complete stop of credit card solicitation.

I say “near complete stop” because the companies I already have credit cards with do occasionally send offers for different cards they represent, or sometimes offers to my wife if she isn’t listed on my card with them. While still undesirable, this is at least tolerable, since it is, at most, one a month in total. I will make an effort to stop this as well, but its no longer high on my list.

Some of the other junk does appear to have stopped. At least once a week I will go to the mailbox and find nothing there, sometimes even twice a week. And the days of my mailbox being jammed to overflowing with catalogs and coupons appear to be over.  To make further inroads against junk, I’ve signed up for GreenDimes, which has gotten very positive reviews from people I know in regards to how it helps stop mailers, especially those nasty “Resident” addressed ones.

All in all, I’m much happier not getting all that junk.  However, the United States Postal Service isn’t happy about it.  My brother forwarded me a link to a Washington Post article which in part is about how the USPS actually relies on the revenue generated by junk mail in order to keep running, and how as an employer of millions of Americans, the USPS (and by association, the junk mail) plays an important role in the economy.

Personally, I’d rather see them reform the USPS system rather than continuing to try to justify the support of the glut of junk mail being sent. 

Alliance: 60

And Silithus was as good as I expected it to be. Lorilai gonged 60 and a few moments later Ishiro did as well.

Then I spent the rest of the night telling people that “No, I don’t want to join your raiding guild.” Do these people just sit around doing a /who on level 60 priests? Some of them were even kind enough to inform me that if I was interested I would need to respec as a Holy Priest. Hmm… lemme think about it… No.

Seriously, it was really irritating and it probably is not going to stop.

The night was very cool other than that, and was a perfect example of why I love these games. There is this quest chain in Silithus, Noggle has been poisoned and the person helping him needs to find a cure. So first we go get samples of certain spiders and scorpions. No luck. So we try some other spiders and scorpions. Ah-ha! He’s cured, but in all his confusion of running away from a nest of scorpions he stumbled into he’s lost his pack and would like it back. It turns out there is also a wanted poster for proof of the defeat of Deathclasp, a scorpion who has been doing alot of killing. So, Lori and Ishiro head down to Bronzebeard’s camp (we’d been there before) and looked around for this nest of scorpions. When we find them we also find Deathclasp. So, we prepare for battle… charge in… and everything is going well, until it goes horribly wrong and both of our spirits are wisked away to the graveyard. Hmm… new plan. See, Deathclasp is a level 60 elite, and he’s got a 58 guard and a 57 guard. And at this point we are still level 59. Having been messing around in Winterspring before coming to Silithus, we both have mechanical yetis. I blew mine in the previous fight when things started to go wrong thinking the extra damage might help out. It didn’t, and its going to be a while for it to refresh. But Lori has her yeti, and I have my mechanical dragonling (yay engineering!). Last time, we foolishly tried to fight Deathclasp first because I forgot the basic rule: If the elite is a caster and the guards are not, kill the caster, but if the elite is not a caster, kill the guards first. Essentially, casters always have less hit points, and a caster elite will tear you up with spells and mostly you can ignore non-elite guards for a little until you finish. An elite warrior, however, is just going to take too long to kill, so the tank should get aggro, kill the guards, then fight the elite. And with a yeti and a dragonling, the second time we were easily victorious. Booyah.

I love single group and duo play, because its extremely dynamic, often chaotic (unless you are methodically pulling single mobs and snoozing away the exp), and almost always satisfying. And the paladin/shadowpriest combo that I’ve seen a number of people shun works very well for us. Other things might work better, but so what? And then to have this brilliant night of duoing sullied by the spam of guild invitations looking for heal-bot number X to raid Molten Core… ugh. Even worse was having to hear back the responces when I would tell them “No, I don’t plan on doing any raiding. Single group and PvP are what I’m into.” Genius replies like “LOL” and “No raiding? What’s the point of playing then?” and “Loozer”, and lets not forget “U just ding? Wait a week and gimme tell when u bored. U change mind.” Whatever…

The Rising and City of the Dead

For Christmas this year I asked for a bunch of zombie books and superhero books, and I got some. One of the zombie books I got was The Rising by Brian Keene. Its your traditional “zombies are overrunning everything” story that you see in movies all the time. Or at least so it appears… In this book zombies aren’t the mindless corpses seeking flesh and stumbling around of Night of the Living Dead. They’re not even the beastial “Brains!” zombies of Return of the Living Dead. These are closer to the deadites of the Evil Dead movies (1, 2 and Army of Darkness). They work together, they talk, they plan. They fire guns and drive cars. But they still have only one goal… kill everyone.

The book starts with Jim Thurmond, locked away in the fall out shelter he built in his back yard for Y2K. Jim decides he’s going to head outside and try to get away when his cell phone rings and just before the battery dies he hears his son, who lives with Jim’s ex-wife, plead for help, saying that he’s hiding in the attic, mommy is sick, and Rick (the stepfather) is a monster. This sets Jim off on a journey that takes him from West Virginia to New Jersey to save his son.

Jim isn’t the only character we meet. There is Martin, a reverend, who meets up with Jim fairly early. Frankie, a junky whore, whose trying to survive the living dead and kicking heroine cold turkey. And Baker, a scientist who might just be partly responsible for the whole damn thing. There are a number of other points of view, some very brief, to fill out the tale, and Mr. Keene weave the stories together beautifully (if rather depressingly), and keeps you at the edge of your seat wondering what could possibly happen next.

The book was so good, I ran out and picked up the second (and final) book, City Of The Dead , because I just had to know how it ended.

Now, I’m going to go into alot more detail, so I’ll warn you… ** Spoilers Ahead!! **
Continue reading The Rising and City of the Dead

Player vs Player

I did my first PvP in World of Warcraft tonight, and I must say that in the space of thirty minutes I was both impressed and very underwhelmed. It started off fine… I had just logged in to do some bank management in Ironforge when I saw the call that Southshore was under attack. I figured, why not go try some PvP? So I hopped a griffin and was on my way.

When I arrived, Southshore was indeed under attack. About three groups of Horde, most level 60, were fighting with about two groups of Alliance. Now, I’m only level 45, but as a priest, I can do my best to stay out of the fight and heal people, so I asked for a group, got one, and started doing my job. We finally began killing some of the Horde (the guards helped a little), and had a moment where the town was safe. As a war party, we headed for the Tauren Mill, the source of the Horde in the area.

On the way, we clashed with some of their reinforcements, and their dead got their resurrections and came back our way instead of continuing at Southshore. We fought at the tower, the Horde with three groups still, but Alliance had swelled up to almost four groups. We won the skirmish and continued on to the Mill.

At the Mill we had one good fight, then some of the Horde left… four groups of Alliance were now pounding on one group of Horde… then no Horde players at all. It was here that PvP started to suck. Alliance just has so many people that we outnumbered them, and they gave up. We sat and killed guards for a while hoping more would show… they never did.

I did get a taste of what good PvP can be. Hopefully there will be more battlefields in my future…

Evolution

It looks like they are at it again… Evolution versus Creation. Although now, the creation side of the debate has come up with the theory of ‘Intelligent Design’ which is basically Evolution except that its not random, God planned it this way. I shrug when I think of this fight, because to me there just doesn’t seem to be much place for an arguement. I mean, if the religion side were asking only that evolution not be taught as a random series of lucky genetic combinations and focus only on the scientific evidence of DNA relations between species that indicate an evolving path, that’d be fine. But they always seem to want to take that extra step and make the schools teach God.

Its hypocritical… they say Evolution teaching is against their and their children’s beliefs, but they want to replace them with teachings that will be against other parents and children’s beliefs. The class is science, its about what you can prove and what you can theorize from what you can prove. We can prove DNA similarities between species. We can theorize an evolutionary path. Done. Why ask the schools to speculate on the nature of God? We can’t “prove” that God exists, nor do we have proven facts that point toward God as a theory. God is speculation. God is faith.

Plus, this is elementary school, middle school and high school. And if they are going to teach God, then I demand they teach all the other religions too. By the time we are done, public education will look like a comparative study of theologies. And really, I wonder if these people fighting evolution would like the school to teach other religions… I doubt it.

The Truth Isn’t Out There

We’ve all heard the stories, now its time to hear the truth.

Time and again, stories like this one grace the world’s newspapers. Dolphins selflessly saving people from danger, often from sharks.

It’s all a ruse. Dolphins want safety for humans about as much as the sharks want to eat them. Each of these so-called “rescues” is in fact a failed attempt to capture a human.

These dolphin terrorists seek nothing more than to kidnap unsuspecting people to use them as bargaining chips in their fight against the oppression of zoos and marine biology centers.

How is it that these sharks find people anyway? The dolphins tell them. And do these dolphins ever notify the authorities? They do not. Instead they swim, circling the victims until one of our many Navy or Coast Guard security vessels happens upon them. Then its all squeeks and cute tricks to buy time for an escape and to confuse their captives.

People “saved” by dolphins unanimously agree that they were in fact rescued by the dolphins, completely unaware of the reality, the gravity of their situation. They continue on with their lives regailing stories about the dolphins, and spreading the propaganda of their kindness.

Recently though, scientists have cracked the code of the dolphin speech. Their plans are clear: to obtain and hold human captives to exchange them for the release of their brothers and sisters languishing in captivity.

Make no mistake people of America… Dolphins hate freedom.

Page 1 of 212