Wednesday, February 28, 2007


All the stuff we think about is filtered through our perceptions and it quite often may have nothing to do with being rational. Take my last rant on turn based games verses real time click fest games. (See I can’t even describe the rant without my prejudices showing through). Some people would say that I’m irrationally biased against the newer style of games because of my enjoyment of the old games. You know what? They might be right – or at least it may be part of why I like turn based games better.

I talked with a friend the other day who illustrated the point perfectly. This friend who is facing a minor medial procedure told me about her nervousness with needles because of an experience she had as a child in a doctors office. The experience was a once in a life time type happening but because it did happen to her anytime that a situation in life comes up that resembles that childhood experience her filters interpret it as scary.

We all have filters. If we don’t accept that and learn what they are we are doomed to be ruled by our own filters.

I have a filter that I secretly fear that everyone I care about will leave me. It’s an irrational fear. It’s based on a real experience from my childhood when my mother passed away after a bout with cancer. It is silly to think that all my friends and loved ones will also just go away but the hidden three year old in my mind IS irrational and to him that irrational fear is no less real.

I’m a grown up now. (OK I know people who would disagree with that.) (OK some more, even sometimes I would disagree with that because I like being silly and childish sometimes.) But the point is that I’m capable of re-filtering my filters by consciously choosing to acknowledge them and then deal with them in the way that a child never could. I can rationally examine my relationships and conclude that people aren’t going to just abandon me and even if people do choose to move on it’s not my fault since everyone gets to make their own choices for themselves.

I think that is the only way to counter the way our brains will automatically perceive the world. We must consciously accept our biases and then choose to counter them or not.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007


For the last several weeks my desktop wallpaper is some artwork that was used in Fallout. I picked it because I have been wishing lately for a chance to play an old style turn based combat game. Something Coyote just said really made these thought crystallize for me today. I’m really not a fan of the current click-until-one-of-you-dies style of game play. I never enjoyed Diablo or any of its many, many, many clones. I’m talking about old style – X:COM, Jagged Alliance, Fallout style games. I really miss them.

I don’t know of any games that would scratch that particular psychic itch. David Moffat of has created a game called Omega Syndrome that may help. I almost installed my current copy the other day but decided to contact him about recent updates. He said he is about to release a final version really soon now so I’m waiting for him for now.

I also own the games mentioned above but I’m not desperate enough yet to figure out how to make them play on a current system since they are all fairly old games. I’m sure that I would be saddened to get them running only to realize how dated they look now. Even while enjoying them I’m sure I’d wish that someone would create a game with that style but using current production values.

I know I’m in the minority here. Obviously the clicky games are popular because they sell – and they must sell because people like them.

It’s enough to make me think: why don’t I like them when everyone else does?

I can think of some things that answer that. Clicky games don’t lend themselves to parties. Clicky games take away the repeated tactical puzzle element of combat. Clicky games seem to fast.

I enjoy putting together a group to explore the game world with. This may only be for nostalgic reasons but I remember one of my favorite parts of early RPG games was deciding which four characters I would create or take along with me as I entered the game. One aspect of the early Ultima games I loved was looking around for each of the familiar party members and getting them to join the group for one more crack at saving Britannia. One of the reasons that Ultima 7: Serpent Isle ranks so high on my favorite-o-meter is that early in the game an important member of your party is separated from you in a dramatic fashion and you spend a chunk of the game figuring out how to rescue him. I guess I’m just a grouper. And while that makes me sound very fish like I mean instead one that likes playing in a group even if the group is all imaginary friends.

Another aspect of the old style I like is the puzzle element. I spent hours working on the squaddies in X:COM trying to get the perfect blend of small arms, heavy arms and skills into one squad. I’d compare statistics and load outs between different squads and see which one worked best in what situation. Even with all that optimization there would come moments like when I’ve just come up against a new alien with some new capability and all my careful balancing work is now useless because three of the squaddies have just been brain-eaten and turned into bad guys and now I have a whole new tactical environment and need to figure out what to do next or I’m about to loose the mission. The thrill of puzzling out what to do and how to do it was satisfying. Clicky games seem to remove all of the tactical elements from combat instead replacing them with strategic choices of what do I equip my characters with before meeting up with the bad guys and clicking my mouse button as fast as I can. Strategic elements are fun – X:COM again displays that well between building and provisioning your bases all they way down to equipping your response teams but when combat begins I really want tactics to be important. Tactics are NOT: how well I can manipulate my mouse and keyboard but rather important choices in how I allocate the finite resources available to me and how I respond to the situation as I work through the mission. These are choices that do not lend themselves well to rapid clicking in a real time game – in fact they become silly in real time combat style games. Only in turn based games are you truly capable of implementing effective tactical solutions to evolving game play.

Now I have to admit that I haven’t played very many of the new style clicky games. I did play Diablo and I played Dungeon Siege. I didn’t really enjoy either one and never finished either. And I haven’t had much good to think about that style of game play since then. They felt to fast – to simple – to repetitive to remain interesting for long to me. Maybe there are new ones that have over come these problems and if there are I hope someone will let me know what they are.

Monday, February 19, 2007


I read a fun book over the last few days. It was called Finding Serenity. It is a compilation of essays about the short lived Joss Wheden show Firefly. The book was edited by Glenn Yeffeth and Jane Espenson although on my copy at least the cover only lists Jane Espenson.

I liked the show Firefly – it was clever and quirky and odd and seemed to fit me really well. I loved the characters even when I hated the characters because sometimes they drove me nuts. Kaylee was just the cutest engineer ever and Wash was hysterical and Shepherd Book was calm and mysterious and each character had something great going for them.

The real charm of the show for me was the way the characters interacted with each other. It wasn’t exactly a functional crew but they did manage to get by and they did so in a believable way. I loved the essential humanness of each character, they all had flaws and defects but they were also vibrant and good and caring too.

The essays in this book gave me pause to think about the show again. One of the things that struck me most about the essays was how many different positions people could take. One author applauded the show for creating such strong female characters while another ripped on the show for creating such weak female characters. I wasn’t sure for a while which show I had watched after reading those two essays. After consideration I think that both authors were right. It goes back to what I was saying before about humanness.

No person is strong at all times and in all ways – any more than someone is always weak. Each REAL person is a blend of good and bad, strong and weak, brave and cowardly, dumb and smart. That is one of the things that makes us all human – and I think essentially lovable. That is why the characters on this show were loveable. If they were always perfect there would be no opening to love them when they struggle with their problems or overcome a character flaw.

One of the other essays concerned the music of the show. I was surprised to see how much analysis this person was able to pull out of the soundtrack especially since I usually listen to soundtracks and try to find themes for particular characters or situations. Sometimes I get so involved in the music I miss parts of the show and have to mentally or physically rewind to catch the actual dialog. Sometimes the music is more fun than the actual show itself. In any case the essay on the music made me really think about what can be conveyed audibly and yet without words – the next time I catch an episode of Firefly I’m going to listen for these queues.

The highlight essay of the book was done by Jewel Staite in which she picks five memories from each episode to share. The most interesting thing about this essay is that either she was channeling her character Kaylee or she is truly a happy bubbly person since a feeling of that personality type came through very strongly. The memories she shared were almost invariably something that made her laugh out loud or something that she really liked about one of the other actors. She came across as a fun person in the essay much like her character comes across in the show.

In any case – the book was quite enjoyable to read. If you are looking for nostalgia hit from the show this would be a fun book to check out.

Friday, February 16, 2007


I didn’t know MSN would display my iTunes songs!

I use MSN Messenger for my contacts. It works pretty well and I’ve created groups for friend and work contacts. I’ve fiddled with the options and fonts and colors and I find it works for me pretty well. I have set up messenger windows so my friends show up in their own colored window. I know lots of people use Trillian or some other type of multi-service application but MSN has worked for me. Recently MSN has started a beta program where I can actually contact people using Yahoo messenger right through my MSN. I expect that more and more messenger clients will trend towards universal availability.

I also use iTunes. I love iTunes. I think it’s a killer app especially since I also have an iPod that I also love. For several months I didn’t have an iPod and it drove me nuts. I listen to it in the car and every once in a while when falling asleep. I am thrilled with the ability to have ALL my music with me in once convenient package. The Apple DRM model I’m not thrilled with especially with respect to the movies and TV shows available on their site. If I buy a video I don’t want to be restricted on where I’ll play it back so I will stick with DVDs as my purchases for now since they are easily converted to play on my iPod or computer or where ever I want to but the reverse is most definitely not true. That, though, is a thought for another day.

MSN Messenger has a spot for a personal message that you can type in that to share with all of your contacts. I love this idea as a method of customizing the experience and sharing how you are feeling right now. I love these but I really have a hard time when it comes to typing in my own. For a while I had “cuddly yet astringent”. This was from a comment that someone made to me that I enjoyed. I’ve tried movie quotes and song quotes but filling out that blank box is almost as hard as coming up with a name for a character for me. I usually just leave it blank.

MSN Messenger, like lots of IM clients has a “Show What I’m Listening To” button. I’ve seen it used before by people in my contact list. Their personal message would display the name of the song that was currently playing on their computer and the artist that is performing it. I always looked at that option while agonizing over what to put in my personal message space and wish it would work with my iTunes. HERE IS THE IMPORTANT PART: I never tried it – I just wished it would work for me. I made the assumption that it would not since I was using a Microsoft IM client and an Apple music player.

HERE IS THE POINT OF THE IMPORTANT PART: I was wrong. It totally works together. I never even tried and just moped about wishing it would work for me without finding out. I was astounded the other day when I turned it on and it worked. I didn’t have to tell it what my music player was or anything it just worked!

As a person I have a tendency to get stuck in a rut doing things one way and one way only. I am reasonably risk adverse and definitely a comfort seeker so doing things the usual way usually feels good to me.

The experience of MSN Messenger and iTunes just WORKING together when I never thought they would is a good lesson for me. Try things. It’s ok. Sometimes they will work and I’ll be pleased. Sometimes they won’t work and I won’t be any worse off than I was before. Sometimes it’s the little reminders that make the big differences.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007


I don’t mind being forced into a story. Usually. Let’s face it I’m playing a game because I like stories. I expect my games to have a story to tell and I don’t have a need to try and break out of the story somehow (like by trying to kill Lord British or slaughtering everyone in Cyrodiil which is the typical way people like to break out of stories in games) – I’d much rather enjoy the story.

The more “serious” the game the more I expect a good story. I was playing
Dungeons and Dragons Online the other night and we were observing how the doors to rooms would open just as soon as the last monster in the room was killed. Coyote was wondering what magical spell those doors were based on. I’m pretty sure that the spell would be Mordenkinens Plot Hammer. In a game like DDO which is essentially group whack-a-mole I don’t mind it. We’re just there to have a little fun together. I don’t expect much from the story or the world in an MMORPG. Other games particularly stand alone single player games I expect more from. Some stories are not enjoyable and that is annoying enough to break my suspension of disbelief and begin to resent the plot hammer. Another time is when it’s just do darn FAKE that I can’t take it anymore. These are mistakes in games where there is an expectation of quality story telling and a believable world.

Neverwinter Nights 2 is for the most part a fun game. I have mostly found the stand alone game to be plesant to play. Your milage may vary. I’ve had some gripes about being forced into a play style of “kill ‘em all and let Pelor sort them out” when I’d rather try some sneaking around or some sort of subtle approach to the game. And I have run into two bugs during my playing of the game (I’m currently in Act III – attempting to win the trust of the IronFist clan) but neither of them has been game stopping in any way although both were somewhat annoying.

TANGENT: The first was a looping cinematic scene that made fighting the actual battle that started immediately after the movie very difficult to do. Move two steps, start casting a spell, watch the movie again clicking on all the dialog options again, finish the spell, select another party member, watch the movie again clicking on all the dialog options again, open the inventory and select an item to use, try to target the item but….. watch the movie again clicking on all the same dialog options …again. Anyway, that was irritating but not critical.

LESS OF A TANGENT: The second bug was less odd. At one point I noticed I had a quest in my quest log I didn’t remember getting – and in fact the quest log told me to report back to someone because I’d found the mighty weapon it mentioned. Huh? I had no idea what it was talking about. I tracked down the person who had supposedly given me the quest and he went through a dialog tree that was apparently supposed to set that quest. The quest log stayed at the “return and report” message though. I eventually stumbled into an area with a big baddie and after defeating it I was treated to a little dialog that apparently was the weapon mentioned in the quest. Hurray! Ummmm except for one minor problem. It was the exact same weapon that I had JUST BOUGHT at the vendor right next to the guy who gave me the quest in the first place.

That’s right I went on a quest to obtain a holy weapon that I had just bought. Didn’t someone tell this guy there were two of them? Couldn’t he have said something like – go on this quest to get this holy weapon that is oddly just like the one in your hand right there because you are going to need at least one of them later? I mean really. *sigh*

Well the fact is that he couldn’t have done that because the story in NWN2 is on rails. The choices in NWN2 are limited to what companions you take with you (sometimes), what you equip your character with, and which few side quests there are that you do first. I had to go get the bad guy with the weapon in order to advance the story. It turns out that the weapon quest is a small value side quest for certain character classes. I was going to have that exact same fight in that exact same place and way - no matter what I did.

The other time the plot hammer really irks me in NWN2 is the out doors areas. Most of these areas look terrific and have a lot of character. However, after a while you begin to notice that the outdoors areas are all of two types – a big meadow surrounded by impenetrable barriers and narrow twisty trails surrounded by impenetrable barriers. I really enjoy exploring and every time I’m in an outdoor area in NWN2 I’m forcibly reminded how I can not. The indoors areas work very well in the game and have been one of the strengths of the game so far but almost every time I’m outside I feel irritated that I have to go here along this one particular little trail to get to where I’m going.

I am familiar enough with gaming and even some game development to see why the designers have created the game this way. It all comes down to the economics in the end – there has to be x amount of content and it has to fit together somehow and in between that there is tons of details like AI and world databases and spiffy effects so in all of that balancing it’s easy to make the choice of “ok the player can go here but not there because it’s easier for us to make it work that way”. I see that – and usually I’m forgiving of that. I’m willing to work with the designers because I bought the game to have fun. And it bugs me when something jars me out of the “fun zone” while I’m playing.

Looking back over this I think the whole point of the post was to say: Mordenkinens Plot Hammer. Oh well. Now I’ve said it twice so I should be good to go.

The moral of the story is: immersion is good in a game or any story telling device. And things that disrupt immersion are then, by definition, bad for the vehicle. Poorly wielded plot hammers will break immersion.


In case you were anxiously checking this site waiting for updates I’ll have to apologize to you. I have felt for most of this past year that it wasn’t a good idea to be writing here so what I have written has been private. I’m starting to see signs that things are changing for the better and I also have been a little itchy to write again. Writing is cathartic sometimes and fun sometimes and a really good way for me to find out what I’m thinking.

Anyway I expect to have more posts here soon.
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