GenCon: Day Two

The second day was considerably less busy than the first.

Panel: Freelancing for Fun and Profit

Hosted by the “teach truck-drivers the art of cussing like a sailor” John Adamus, and cohosted by Brianna Reid. It ended up being a 2-hour panel, which I was not expecting, but the general information was pretty good. Some standard stuff like “don’t do unpaid work, ever” but they did have some specific advice for people who had questions. For example, one guy asked what he should say to people when offering his services considering his talent set is rather diverse. Answer: context of the event matters… but go nuts on your business card.

Just as with the panels the previous day, some grimaces were had by the hosts when someone asked how applicable the advice is to videogames. The resounding answer seems to be that “there is no money in videogames” insofar as freelancers/writers are concerned. I mean, it’s pretty bad when someone who entirely makes a living as a freelancer tells you that the videogame industry is all unpredictable work.

Also: the general payment rule for writing is 1-2 cents/word, creating logos should be $300, and websites should be anywhere from $1000 to $15,000 depending on the scope. Don’t work for “exposure” and don’t work for points. If anyone gives you lip, just repeat “fuck you, pay me.” …and that was basically that entire panel.

Concert: the Doubleclicks

Not much to say here; you either like these girls or you don’t. Personally, I enjoyed the songs and I have to give mad props to the lead singer for her stage presence and audience interaction.

Terrible Idea: Friday Night Live

Holy fucking shit, you guys. This was literally the worst thing I have ever sat through. Bad on us for not really researching the thing ahead of time – we kinda thought it would be similar to Saturday Night Live – but we could not be more horribly wrong. It was basically medieval comedy songs by people with zero sense of humor and/or musical talent. We snuck out after about 45 minutes (of the 2 hour show).

Other

We ended up playing some card games at the end of the night, but I think I’m going to save my impressions of them for a separate post.

GenCon: Day One

As might be expected, the general con experience might almost be too much for me.

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10am rush.

The cosplay runs the gamut between legitimately intriguing to hilariously bad, but I can’t bring myself to document much of any of it. Because first of all, I don’t think a normal picture would be all that interesting to look at. But, second, I’m not actually that bad mannered to surreptitiously take the infinitely more interesting photos.

Panel: Game Writing 101

So this panel was actually extremely interesting given the people on it: Thomas Reid (P&P games), Christine Thompson (writer and lore person for Star Trek Online), and Maxwell Drake (writer for EverQuest Next). [edit: Matt Forbeck was also there] There was no particular agenda for the panel; the people up there just took questions from the audience.

Highlight of the panel? Maxwell came out and said EQNext wouldn’t be done for another 2 years. Not sure if that is “official” or just his impression of things, but EQN having a 2016 release kinda pushes the entire thing out beyond even my limited Kickstarter time horizon. Maxwell also mentioned that SOE is pouring more money into EQN than they have for any other game (probably not news), but he also mentioned that the SOE marketing department really doesn’t respect writing in general. Apparently he releases a story a month on the EQN lore and it’s buried deep on the website without any fanfare.

So I suppose if you want to read some more about EQN, then check it out here.

Panel: Running a Successful Kickstarter

Once again, I probably should have been more excited about this panel than I actually was, given the people on it. I didn’t catch their names specifically, but one of the guys did Zombicide and Chaos Ball (edit: David Preti), one did Dwarven Forge (edit: Jeff Martin?), a third was maybe the CEO of Cheap-Ass Games (edit: James Ernest), and I didn’t catch what the fourth guy did.

The number one piece of advice was basically to do US-only shipping, if you have to do any shipping at all. The reason is that shipping costs can be variable, some European countries are taxed pretty heavily, and you might not even know how much you’re shipping if you run “exploding tiers” in your Kickstarter, e.g. the stretch goals that gives all backers above a certain level more goodies once a stretch goal is reached. Since the panel was mostly focused on board games, there would always be some level of shipping product, but you always have to be careful regardless.

There were some additional points, but that’s enough for now.

GenCon: Day Zero Point Five

“I’d love to go to Pax South, but Monster Jam is that same weekend.”

Met the ex-Invictus crew. It’s always kinda comical and cliche, but it’s also comforting when you see these people and they almost exactly look like their WoW characters. Or at least act like them. Which I suppose isn’t all that impressive in the abstract, but whatever.

I can already tell that Gen Con is going to be a little painful though. While I enjoy my anime/Manga seasoned with a healthy dose of drama, angst, and weirdness, the awkwardness I have experienced thus far just from standing in line picking up tickets is physically painful. Like, holy Jesus, it’s sometimes difficult to tell if someone is cosplaying or if they dress like that all the time. And the random snippets of conversations! “My genes allow me to pick out child molesters.” Yeah, okay, buddy.

While I was surprised at the people I have seen thus far – they skew to the upper ranges of age, BMI, and neck hair ranges – I suppose I shouldn’t be. Who else has the money to spend ~$80 for gaming convention tickets, and then turn around and drop +$600 on hotel and other accomodations? A bunch of twentysomethings? …okay, so about half of this ex-Invictus group is around 25, but the point still stands.

Welp, all that’s left is to get some sleep, keep the hand sanitizer handy, and plow through this thing.

GenCon: Day Zero

As mentioned in previous episodes, I shall be attending Gen Con in approximately… a few dozen hours. Indianapolis is only a few hours drive away, so it’s mainly a question of which city’s rush-hour traffic I want to be sitting in. The ideal would be none of them, but I also would prefer getting to the hotel sometime before 8pm.

Although it is much too late at this point, I kinda wish I printed off some In An Age business cards. Because networking. Or something.

I have eight events I’m scheduled to see, and roughly $20 in generic tickets to spend around the show. If you have been to a Gen Con before and have some recommendations, I am all ears. Otherwise you can fully expect a meandering and completely irreverent (daily?) report about board and card games I am unlikely to ever purchase.

Sometimes I Really Hate Bioware

So hey, there is another sale on Origin right now – pretty much the entire EA catalog (all six games) is reduced by 50% or more. Know what isn’t reduced in price though? Goddamn Mass Effect DLC:

For god's sake, Bioware, get your shit together.

For god’s sake, Bioware, get your shit together.

That’s right, you can buy the entire Mass Effect franchise for $15. If you want to get all the canon DLC though, that will be an additional $64. For a 2+ year old game. For DLC that has never been on sale.

At this point I can no longer tell if Bioware is just stupid, or evil, or what. Is the nefarious plan to rope in new players at the $15 price-point and then squeeze the $64 out of the few who become super-enamored with the game? Or is the marketing department asleep at the wheel (or fired) and they just never got around to running the numbers on having a Bioware point sale? Or, you know, migrating from the goddamn ridiculous point system like every other game company?

I suppose the good news is that Casey Hudson, project director for KOTOR and the entire Mass Effect series, left Bioware last week. While I still have some sour grapes (more like sour raisins at this point) over the ME3 ending debacle, the fleshed-out endings went a long way in regaining my trust. I do not idolize content creators as a rule – individual works are the only thing that deserves respect – but this move makes it more likely that Bioware will be left with games I won’t be compelled to play, thereby making it easier to both hate them and not give them money simultaneously.

But seriously, Bioware, put that goddamn Mass Effect DLC on sale and I will buy it.

Micro Review: Usagi Drop (manga)

Usagi Drop

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Usagi Drop is a straight-forward, endearing, and deeply compelling slice-of-life manga. It follows the travails of a 30-year old man named Daikichi whom notices a 6-year old girl wandering around his grandfather’s funeral. After asking family members, it appears that the girl, Rin, is actually his grandfather’s illegitimate daughter by an unknown mother, whom has all but abandoned Rin. As the relatives discuss putting Rin in foster care, Daikichi decides (almost on a whim) to take care of Rin himself.

As I mentioned above, this manga is slice-of-life and mainly focuses on the sort everyday considerations a 30-year old bachelor has to make in the context of raising a child. However, the scenes and scenarios presented are not being done solely for comedic effect or to evoke sympathy for Daikichi’s lost carefree lifestyle. Rather they are all the sort of mundane miracles of parenthood and self-discovery. And for any person interested in Japanese culture, Usagi Drop becomes an exceedingly intimate glimpse into everyday life over there (or at least an example thereof).

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It is actually difficult for me to express exactly how amazing I feel Usagi Drop is. Perhaps it is because I am also a 30-year old bachelor without children that I identify so well with the primary character. But I feel like there is an undercurrent of brilliance to this manga that simply needs to be experienced. There is an inherent progression to the relationships amongst the characters, and as they grow up, you feel yourself grow up with them. I really cannot describe it any better than that.

Simply put, if you ever find yourself in need of an example of a manga to prove to someone that these aren’t all simply childish (or perverted) comic books, Usagi Drop is one that you should immediately feel comfortable offering.

Japan Travel Tips

I have successfully returned from my Japan vacation. Before returning to your normal programming – which will be interrupted with GenCon coverage soon enough – I figured I would go ahead and collate a few of my travel tips. I am not some travel guru by any means, but nevertheless these are some bullet points I wish I knew ahead of time:

  • Technology is a lie. Don’t think that just because it’s 2014 that you will just be able to sail through the ridiculously convoluted air travel process. Despite “checking in” online weeks before the flight, I was specifically called out of line over the intercom (both leaving and returning) so they could verify my credit card; I’m not sure if this was just an American Express thing or what, but it could have been easily resolved by “checking in” at the front desk.
  • Don’t rely on your smart phone. Related to the above, the airlines emailed me a boarding pass that was basically one of those QR Codes. Easy, right? Wrong. Sure, my phone was all charged up, but I didn’t anticipate the QR Code to go all 404 and not load in the airport. Thanks, Gmail.
  • Google is pretty good at airplane tickets though. In addition to Kayak, Priceline, and whatever other plane ticket aggregate site you use, load up google.com/flights. If your vacation planning is a little flexible, the calendar feature will show you how to save literally hundreds of dollars by booking the flight for Tuesday instead of Monday (etc).
  • Pick an aisle seat. You know how everyone always picks top bunk for ridiculous reasons whereas bottom bunk is objectively superior? Window seats are the top bunks of airplanes. Unless you want to ask a stranger permission to get out of your seat half a dozen times (even to just stretch your legs), pick the aisle. Besides, everyone is going to be closing the windows two hours into that 12+ hour flight anyway.
  • The JR Pass might not be worth it. In a nation of highly advanced rail technology such that a large percentage of the population doesn’t even feel the need to own cars, how could an unlimited rail pass not be worth it? Well, pretty easily, actually. I didn’t research my routes correctly (friend I stayed with lived near Tokyo Metro, not a JR line) and I ended up having to purchase roughly $60 worth of train tickets out of pocket. Although I got “free” bullet train tickets to Kyoto, a round-trip would have been $260. So even if all my train needs were covered, it still wouldn’t have added up to the 14-day pass price of $464. A second round-trip somewhere in there would have saved me money, but my point is that you likely will already know how many bullet trains you will be needing to take.
  • Holy Jesus are Japanese summers hot. If you are an average American living North of the Mason-Dixon line, you might only be aware of the biological process known as “sweating” from an academic standpoint. In the summer months in Japan, the process is more akin to weeping. From every pore. I recommend packing a suitcase full of moisture-wicking clothing (such as a Stillsuit), or failing that, clothes you feel comfortable swimming in all the time.
  • Buy your Ghibli Museum tickets before your airplane tickets. Otherwise, you ain’t going there.
  • Everything is at least $10. Just accept it.
  • Paper towels have yet to be invented in Japan. Seriously, you aren’t going to find any; even napkins, which exist only in fast food restaurants, are more like tissue paper than anything else. Incidentally, this means that you will need to bring your own towel to public restrooms if you intend to wash your hands and not dry them on your pants.

And that, my friends, is that.

Asocial and Antisocial

There was an interesting blue post a few days ago explaining why Blizzard had yet to embrace the GW2-esque open-tap philosophy:

The main reason we don’t embrace a fully open-tap world is that we feel that those mechanics are asocial. To be fair, that is certainly better than antisocial – no question there, and antisocial experiences usually reflect spawning and mechanics that we need to adjust. However, while a world in which everyone runs around damaging things a few times (or however much is needed to qualify for credit) may be one in which you don’t feel bad about other players being around, at some point it also makes those players nearly indistinguishable from NPCs or bots with decent AI. You don’t need to talk, or ask if someone has room in their group or would like to join yours. You just attack a few times, and then move on.

The blue dev (Watcher in this case) went on to assert that they “commonly” saw transient groups forming for daily quests, and perhaps some of those groups became less transient over time. And to an extent, I even agree that games like GW2 might have inadvertently crossed some line wherein other players are simply irrelevant when questing (as opposed to registering as something to think about).

At the same time… are we playing the same game? Even as far back as Wrath, there was basically no interaction between me and the random strangers who were competing with me for spawns. Any time that I did buckle down for blind social interaction, the majority of the outcomes were A) waiting around for them to get back from being AFK, and/or B) them being barely pulling their weight, and/or C) them trying to wheetle me into doing more of their daily quests for them. Indeed, that whole awkward parting scenario is generally why I avoided any stranger contact that I could.

I suppose that I am not exactly the sort of player that Watcher was talking about or even want to socially engineer. After all, not only am I naturally asocial, but I was already a part of a guild that wasn’t recruiting, so there really was no upside to stranger interaction. Given the generally accepted churn rates of 5% per month, eventually there are going to be hundreds of thousands of new players cycling in every year, and getting them into guilds and such is paramount.

Hmm. I gotta say though, I feel that the WoW-style tagging system is archaic and antisocial at this point; Wildstar tried to split the baby and ended up with two halves of a baby too. Going forward into 2014 with an assumption that players are going to just accidentally stumble into good relationships is kinda ridiculous. How often is someone going to pick up an MMO blind without any friends from either real life or friends they met in other games? Perhaps the idea is that you can recruit from the pile of random people killing quest mobs in daily hubs? The whole thing just feels kinda sketchy considering it is a linchpin in the entire social game design edifice.

There is something to be said for needing a reason to need other players to ensure social interaction takes place. In other words, dependency (or perhaps more charitably: profit) is the impetus to take that first step towards interaction. There is also something to be said that if you have to force social interaction between two parties that otherwise would prefer not to be bothered, perhaps you should reexamine what it is you are doing in the first place and to what end.

Shouldn’t it be enough that an impromptu group gets quests done faster? It is not even as though you are punishing the solo player as it is undermining the very thing you set out to foster in the first place, e.g. social interaction. By default, all non-party members are detriments to one’s gameplay. That does not encourage me to group with them, that encourages me to endure them or move to a less busy corner of the world. If I wanted to make more friends, I would make more friends regardless of whether or not we had to expressly group together to get quest credit.

Arkham Horror

I have played two games of Arkham Horror in the past few days, and the experience has been interesting.

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Yes, that is a door.

The first thing I learned was, yes, “Arkham” is a Lovecraftian reference that Batman utilized for Arkham Asylum. The second thing I learned is that the game is definitely in the Axis & Allies level of board game setup. Well, maybe not that long, but it still requires a dozen or so stacks of cards and such.

I do like how physical the game feels. For example, each character gets X number of dollars, and said money is represented by little rectangular pieces. Characters have their own sort of character “sheet,” but they also have cardboard character pieces that are placed on the board standing up; monsters have the same sort of thing.

The gameplay flow is… kind weird. The premise of the game is to basically close gates (to other dimensions) before the Eldar God wakes up. Alternatively, you can try and shoot the Eldar God in the face, generally with predictable results. Having played twice and looked through the various cards/abilities, I was struck with a sense that the game is remarkably balanced – nearly every system in the game has an “Eldar God wakes up” failsafe built in. On the other hand, the second game I played ended up with the Big Bad waking up on like turn 6. We actually ended up beating said god through unique circumstances – the Lurker Beyond the Threshold and a crowbar/carbine combo was da real MVP – but it was a close thing, with 2 of the 4 characters being devoured.

As I was saying though, the gameplay decisions end up being a bit weird. Outside of a few character abilities there are very few ways of regenerating health and sanity. The success system is basically rolling 5-6 on a standard six-sided die, so the odds are generally that each encounter with leave you bleeding a bit. This means that most characters can’t undergo more than two encounters before having to make pit stops in either the hospital or Asylum to recharge, and since closing gates requires you to get hit with special “other world” encounters (which can be anything, but could be nasty monsters), most of the time it feels like there is never enough time to do anything.

Which is a good thing, I suppose, when you are trying to simulate the urgency of people running around stopping an Eldar God from awakening. Still, I kinda felt like that it put an absurd dependence on A) the characters you picked to play as at the beginning (we did a shuffle,  deal 3, pick 1 deal), and B) what random items you were dealt. Everyone have a weapon? Awesome. Everyone get some bullshit tomes? Welp, maybe it’s worth starting over.

Beyond all that, I can see it being a good game to play with a group of friends, if you all have 2-4 hours to kill. One of the best aspects of the game is that it is entirely cooperative, which I think is fairly unique in terms of board games. Getting straight-up devoured isn’t even Game Over either, as there are rules for you grabbing a new Investigator to play as, assuming the game isn’t over via Eldar God thrashing yet. There are numerous expansions to the game, including literal expansions to the game board, so between that and the games themselves not lasting long (in terms of not using all the card text) the sense of the unknown is preserved pretty well.

On a final note, this is absolutely one of those games that I feel could be 100% digitized with little lost. I mean, I supposed by definition most board games could be digitized with little lost, but at least here with Arkham Horror there isn’t much interaction with the vast majority of the cards in a vast majority of the decks, such that a computer spitting out outcomes wouldn’t remove much of anything. And even if everything but direct player interaction was removed, the game itself would still take an hour or two.

So… yeah. Arkham Horror. Played it in Japan, and now I might see if there are any open spots at GenCon.

No Further Explanation Necessary

So, I have been playing through Eador: Masters of the Broken World recently a month or so ago. While sitting through the opening cinematic describing the fight between immortal Masters over control of floating islands, I had a particularly strong negative reaction once it started to specify that these Masters were in reality fighting the forces of Chaos by bringing Order to the blah blah blah.

Why explain the narrative any further? Immortal god-like beings fighting over possession of floating islands is more than enough. That’s pretty cool! The fighting Chaos with Order bit? Not so much.

See this? THIS is good.

See this? THIS is good.

I’m a narrative guy – I love stories, lore, and world-building. But between a half-assed story and a no-assed story, it’s much better to go with no-ass every time. Own your wacky premise!

Nobody is sitting around getting excited about stopping the forces of evil for the millionth time just because… evil. Keep your cliche, overarching theme if you must, but just don’t try explain it right away. If I’m not interested in becoming a more powerful god by capturing floating islands in goddamn space, facing the forces of Chaos isn’t going to move the needle either.