Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category


Infinity Corporation Sneak Preview

June 21, 2011

As I mentioned yesterday on Twitter, today is a sneak preview of the backstory behind the Infinity Corporation, the biotech company of Avarice Industries.

Fun Fact: If any of you were actually around to play my Alternate Reality Game, Wildfire Industries, you may remember that the Infinity Corporation was briefly teased at the end of the game as being an upcoming antagonist.  Now that we’re getting the roleplaying game up off the ground, I now have the chance to really flesh out the corporation and include it as a full blown company in the final game.

But, enough about that.  Onwards with our sneak peek!

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Revitalized, updated, and ready to rock

June 21, 2011

Look at that!  It’s a new theme! (A readable theme, even.)  It’s a new header!  It’s almost like it’s a new blog!

But it’s not.  You’re still stuck with me, whether you like it or not. 🙂  More stuff to come tomorrow… including a preview of the Infinity Corporation from Avarice Industries. 😀


Avarice Industries: Gameplay Reveal

April 1, 2011

Hello everyone!  As promised, tonight I’m revealing some of the core gameplay mechanics of my brand new pen and paper RPG, Avarice Industries!  I’m extremely excited to finally get to this point, so I hope what we’ve been working on for the last year and a half will excite you as much as it excites us!

As stated before, Avarice Industries is the ultimate business RPG.  We are taking business roleplaying to the next level with our brand new core roleplaying system, Seven Virtues.  This allows you to act out any scenario that might occur in the office with relative ease.

The Seven Virtues are the core stats of the system, and are used as both attributes and skills simultaneously.  Each one has a different function in various business activites, and they are:

— Collating: The ability to collate papers quickly.

— Interwebz: The ability to use the internet to find your email.

— Slacker: The ability to use Facebook to make minutes disappear.

— Bullshit: The ability to make crap up in meetings.

— Keurig-fu: The ability to bend coffee machines to your will.

— Scheduling: The ability to use your Outlook calendar to remember things.

— Agree:  The ability to agree with what someone else said.

Each of these statistics are rated on a level from 1 to 5, and become progressively harder to level up in.

In Avarice Industries, you’ll take on the role of a mid-level employee in a powerful international business.  It will be your job to complete… well… your job, other wise you’ll find a fate worst than death — being fired.

See, in Avarice Industries, we’ve done away with damage or hit points as well!  Our game uses the truly REVOLUTIONARY PINK SLIP SYSTEM! (TM) Each time you fail at a task, you’ll earn a pink slip.  Should you earn five or more pink slips in a game session, you’re fired and your character is out of the game!

Each session, you’ll be given various tasks by the GM — the General Manager.  It’s now up to you to figure out how you’re going to accomplish the task by combining two of your Virtues together.

So, without any further delay, let’s jump into an example of a REAL PLAY SESSION during one of our internal playtests.


GM Sera: All right, so you arrive on time for work at 9 AM sharp.  Everyone is already in their cubicles and at work.  What do you do?

Xavier: Steven Micshak, my character, sits down at his cubicle and opens up Outlook to check his email.

GM Sera: All right then!  So, to open your e-mail, you’ll have to roll Interwebz, multiplied by the square root of your score in Scheduling, divided by 10 because that’s how many fingers you have on your hands, rounded up.  This roll will simulate the dexterity required to push the keys on your keyboard with your fingers.

Xavier: So… ok… let me just perform the necessary math here…

((4 minutes later.))

Xavier: Ok, so I think I roll 1 die.

GM Sera: All right, 1d8 it is!  Roll it and try to get a 6 or more!

Xavier: *rolls dice* Oh, it seems I’ve gotten a 5.

GM Sera: OH NO!  It seems you’ve accidentally trashed your shortcut to your e-mail.  It takes you 15 minutes to get it back.  But it appears you’ve missed an important e-mail from your boss!  1 pink slip!

Xavier: Darn.  I was trying so hard to move my fingers across the keyboard.

GM Sera: Also, I’m assigning the debuff called “Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.”  It will penalize you with a -2 on your die rolls involving Interwebz and Scheduling.

Xavier: Well… how do I remove it?!

GM Sera: Go see a doctor, obviously, duh.

Xavier: But… but… this company doesn’t give me benefits.

GM Sera: Sucks to be you then!  Looks like you need to work for your appointments!

Xavier: So, well, what do I have to do next then?

GM Sera: Well, you need to assemble a report.  Your cube-mate has already printed 10 copies out for the board, and you have to put them together with the stapler.

Xavier: All right then!  Doesn’t seem so bad.  I’ll use my Collating with my Scheduling, so I can put them together and save time!

GM Sera: All right, so we’re making a Report Building check.  That means we’ll take your Collating, divide by your scheduling because you’re trying to save time, multiply by the exact thickness of the paper (which is .081), and subtract three dice because you’re not caffeinated enough.

Xavier: I… um… don’t think I have any dice.

GM Sera: Oh, well, you always get 1 die for a check!  1d8 it is!

Xavier: *rolls* Um… I rolled a 1.

GM Sera: Oh no!  Critical failure!  It seems like you’ve stapled two of your fingers together!  Blood is now running across your report, ruining them.

Xavier: Er… but I don’t have any insurance to help my fingers!

GM Sera: I would worry more about those reports if I were you.  Woah boy, are they stained!  That’s like… two more pink slips!


We hope you’ve enjoyed this first sneak peek at our brand new RPG!  We have much more to come, so enjoy the rest of your April 1st and we’ll see you soon!


Using gameplay mechanics to support/tell your story

December 17, 2010

Hey everyone!  It’s been a long time, I know, but I want to get writing again on my blog.  It’s been a long time since I’ve written some of my thoughts on gaming down on digital paper, and I miss it so very much!  So, here’s to hoping that I can at least write a post once a week here… I’d like to get back in the habit!

So, I thought for my first post back that I’d tackle a topic of conversation that I was recently discussing on Twitter — using gameplay mechanics to support a game’s story.  My good friend and Avarice Industries co-author Xavier Fox Shandi pointed me to a video on The Escapist that started this whole conversation.  The video in question, “Extra Credits,” discussed how a classic arcade game could use only mechanics to tell its story.  Apparently, modern game designers don’t think that mechanics could be used in such a way.  If you have time, go ahead and watch the video here.  I highly recommend it.

So, apparently, some game designers still understand the correlation here.  Game mechanics, when used properly, can tell a story or support a game’s story on their own.  I find it to be a shame that some game designers don’t understand this basic concept — your game design/mechanics are the core reason you’re playing a game in the first place.  If they can’t be expressive enough on their own, then your game is missing a key component of what makes gaming, well, gaming.

This can even be done with the most simplistic mechanics.  Let’s use a first-person shooter for our example, if we may.  Shooting someone else is a pretty simple mechanic, right?  Can’t tell a story with it, right?


Let’s imagine a game with barely any graphics, no voice acting, no sounds, no nothing.  You start hidden behind a barrier with a few other AI players.  You have a pistol and only a few clips to reload.  There’s more ammo available, but it’s out  to the side from the barrier, visible to your enemy.  Your enemy is a group of red-uniformed men.  They are firing at you and your squad.  The goal of the game is to take out as many of these other men without dying yourself.  As you play, the waves of enemies don’t become harder, but there’s more of them.  More of them are firing at you.  It becomes harder to pop out around the side of your barrier.  Your AI compatriots are dying.  Eventually, you die, because it becomes too much.

That was all game play mechanics, but many of you most likely pictured a soldier making a last stand against an impossible amount of enemies.  You know you can’t win, but you’re going to do everything in your power to stop the enemy.  Your AI soldiers are useful because they’re helping you stay alive against the impossible odds, and you know that when one dies that the game is going to become a lot more difficult.  This leads to you almost “caring” for your AI buddies.  You know you need to keep them alive because they’re keeping you alive.  I didn’t need to give you a script.  I didn’t need for you to have explosions in your ears.  I didn’t need for you to have fancy graphics.  You got what I was trying to tell you because the mechanics are evoking imagery.

In writing Avarice Industries (the game formerly known as Wildfire Industries), I’ve been trying to do the same thing with pen-and-paper RPG mechanics.  Sometimes when playing PnP RPGs there’s a bit of a disconnect between playing the game as a story and playing the game with stats.  There’s no reason the two can’t collide to create something beautiful, yet our PnP RPGs are very frequently all about “tell story to a certain point, demand a check, see how successful check is, repeat process.”

While Xavier and I haven’t eliminated that problem entirely, I would say that our system does evoke the main themes of the game in order to create a better experience.  Let me lay it down for you all.

— Avarice Industries eliminates skills and attributes in favor or the Seven Virtues of Industry — Wrath, Greed, Gluttony, Sloth, Envy, Pride, and Lust.  These “Seven Virtues” are both statistics and skills.  They each encompass a domain that executives may use to get important tasks done.  The unique portion of the system is that we allow players to tailor the description of their actions to the GM so they may roll stats they are proficient in.  Basically, if you describe an action well enough that it falls under your preferred virtue, the GM will let you use that virtue in the roll.  Our favorite example of this is searching.  An intelligent character might pick through a person’s belongings carefully, which would lead the GM to use the intelligence stat — Gluttony — in the player’s roll.  A beefy tank character might rip through the apartment, tearing things apart to find what he wants to find.  This would lead the GM to use the strength/warrior stat — Wrath.

— Our other core mechanic is a character’s Motivation.  Motivation is very much like energy/mana/action points in that you spend it to use your character’s special abilities, called Traits.  However, Motivation differs from those examples in two ways:  You can only replenish it with good roleplaying and Motivation can be spent to improve die rolls.

At any point in the game, you may use a point of Motivation to “nudge” a die up or down a number.  In our game you roll d8s for your skills, and you get a success for every d8 that rolls a 6 or above.  Motivation can be used to “repair” crappy rolls, potentially turning horrible outcomes into stunning successes.  We did this because we felt that it was a perfect mirror for how business works — if you want to invest in a roll and put forth all of your character’s energy to make this work, then it will work.  How many times have we played RPGs where that one critical roll is botched and it turns the entire game into crap?

However, Motivation is a resource that should not be squandered.  That is something else we’ve done on purpose.  Investing Motivation is like any business investment — it carries risk.  Do you want to use that Motivation now, on this roll that you don’t want to fail on but can?  Or do you want to save your Motivation for when your character encounters a life or death roll?

We’ve noticed that players with high Motivation are a bit more carefree when they play the game — they take risks with their rolls  and spend Motivation freely.  But as the Motivation pool drops, they begin to seriously consider their actions, and each roll of the dice becomes a grim task.  The lifesaving net slowly evaporates as the game is played, putting your character closer to failure and losing everything if you don’t invest properly.  That’s the story of business.

And that’s how you use mechanics to support your story.


A quick update, and some opinions on social gaming

April 14, 2010

Heh, someone wrote "Fuck this game" with Farmville farming plots

Hey everyone!  Wow, it’s been a while since I had some time to write for myself!  I’ve been busy busy busy with all of my stuff at Massively, so it’s good to be able to take a small breather for a second and write something up for you guys.

As some of you have noticed, I’m not posting as much on anymore.  No, it’s not because I’m not working as much — it’s because I got promoted!  I went from Contributing Editor to Full Time Editor which means I’m in a management position now, working under Mr. Editor-In-Chief Shawn Schuster.

I’m still going to be doing The Tattered Notebook and Anti-Aliased every week, but most of my influence will be behind the scenes, working with PR people, getting word of Massively out to social networks, speaking with our commenters, and helping to guide our content to fit our user base via opinion gathering and surveys.  If that sounds like a community manager, it’s because I’m effectively a community manager.  However, I edit the articles on the site as well, so I’m an Editing Community Manager! ^_^

Anyway, so that’s my small little update.  Let’s move onwards to the heart of this post — social gaming.

Social gaming has been popping up on a few websites that I love.  Common Sense Gamer, Cuppy’s site, and Spinksville have all recently weighed in on the whole “are social games really games” argument.  It’s a really interesting dialogue so far, but one that I think comes down to one statement.

I don’t think current social games exploit the power of the platform.

Farmville and a few of the more popular games aside, many social games are extremely shoddy pieces of creativity.  In fact, they aren’t exactly creative — more like wishing to cash in on a big boom.  I personally equate the “Rise of Social Gaming” with the Great Video Game Crash of 1983.  There’s an abundance of low-quality product being produced in a short amount of time, making it hard to see the true gems in the market.

This, of course, leads to gamers looking at social games in general and being generally unhappy with what this type of gaming has to offer.  If only 1 title out of 30 is a good game, then that means you’re getting 29 pissed off gamers who are quick to make stereotypes about the market as a whole.

Even Farmville, the “holy grail” of the social gaming scene right now, does not really push the genre or demonstrate what it could be capable of.  Farmville is the lowest common denominator of gaming — it will offer you a diversion and little else.  While I can easily say that a game like Echo Bazaar actually does the same thing as Farmville, Echo Bazaar presents more options, intuitive design that builds upon itself, and the writing is simply fantastic enough to warrant a play.  Echo Bazaar offers an interactive story while Farmville offers a fleeting diversion.  If I could offer one more metaphor, Farmville is the “one armed bandit” (slot machine) of gaming.  It’s only tangentially a game.  It’s more of a “pay for enjoyment” rather than “I enjoy so I feel like I want to pay.”

And that’s really the idea that I’d like to see all developers, social or not, get away from.  I want to pick up a game because it’s fun, not feel that I need to pay in order to have fun.  With social games, I want to sit down and enjoy myself with some fun strategy or farm building or whatever I’m doing.  (And don’t say farming isn’t fun, because I think all of us have been addicted to either SimFarm or Harvest Moon at one point or another.)  I don’t want to make two idiotic, not fun moves (like plant beans) and then be assaulted by all forms of “pay now to do more crap!”  No, that’s not fun.  Bad game developers.  Bad.  *gets out spray bottle*

Hopefully we’ll see more inventive uses of social gaming coming to the scene soon.  I have hopes for this style of game play (especially when I see an app like the iPhone’s MyTown, where you buy local properties and basically play monopoly in your own city as you walk around) so I’m going to certainly keep my eye on it.