Tuesday, April 16, 2024

I saved the timeline!

One of the other participants in the game jam I joined produced a Game Boy adventure called OuttaTime. You can try it yourself in your browser here: https://jhample.itch.io/outta-time.

It’s a short game—only two levels—but given the jam was only a month long, that’s still quite an accomplishment. I finally completed the second level and this the game this morning:

The story line is that the Time Crystal has been shattered into six fragments, which you must reunite. Each level is split into two half levels, one half a dinosaur-infested past and the other a high-tech future. A simple press of the B button slides you between the two half levels. The trick is that the two half levels are similar but not identical, requiring carefully timed B presses where you jump in the past and land in the future or vice versa. Very cool.

My biggest concern with the game is the same problem I have playing any platformer on my phone: I have been unable to get used to virtual controls on the screen. The lack of the tactility of physical buttons throws me off.

Thursday, April 11, 2024

Bro! Beowulf!

At last year’s Philly Zine Fest I bumped into a cool Temple University faculty member who recommended Maria Dahvana Headley’s newish (2020) translation of Beowulf to me. I had heard that she was a bit of a troublemaker, so I was already inclined toward checking out her take on ol' Bee Wolf at some point. Then my friend dropped this on me:

“She renders the initial Hwæt as 'bro!'”*

Sold, my dude, sold.

So here are my favorite lines from Headley’s version.

Old grudges recrudesce.

Bro, fate can fuck you up.

Any season is a season for blood, if you look at it in the right light.

not living, but living on in legend.

…through perilous passageways, places off-map, paths too slender for company, where sea monsters sang and cliffs called for suicides.

Meanwhile, Beowulf gave zero shits.

Living has killed us all.

Both he and his enemy had seen the edge of existence, tripped and fallen over it.

bro, nobody changes God’s mind.

now they were custodians of the bloody mud. [referring to the winners of a battle.]

He was our man, but every man dies.

*How to convey the proper tone and meaning of the first word of the poem, Hwæt, is a long-running problem among translators and adapters. Seamus Heaney's otherwise much-admired version stumbles out of the gate with a bloodless "So.", while Roy Liuzza's more scholarly translation manages to be both unimaginative yet strong with "Listen!" Tolkien opts for "Lo!", which I quite like. In grad school I vigorously argued for "Yo!" But since everything I know about the Anglo-Saxon language fits neatly into a single lecture suitable for undergrads, no one listened. Headley goes all-in with her choice of "bro!", turning the bleak landscape of Dark Ages Scandahoovia into a romping ground for braggy jocks.

Dennis Mize's Beowulf & Grendel (Ral 01-189) figured into my Beowulf slide deck back when I taught this stuff on the regular. The parallel poses helped me make the case that in some ways the two characters are apposite as well as opposite.


Tuesday, April 09, 2024

a pretty clever alternative to 3d printing

In the Star Fleet Battles facebook group there's a guy named Larry who has been using a laser cutter to make pretty decent looking flat minis. Dig it:

The hexagons are custom bases, presumably the two will be connected by some sort of dowel rod.

Jim Stevenson's Starship Schematics Database ought to be chock full of image files that could be used for this sort of thing.

And of course you could do flat upright D&D figures this way, rotating the view to the front or side rather than top. You'd just need good black and white art.

Sunday, April 07, 2024

I tap my BFG 9000

So the other day I stumbled across a paper in arXive called "Magic: The Gathering is Turing Complete." I don't know enough about either MtG or computer science to get more than 11% of the gist of the piece, but some of you might be interested in the cards needed to turn a game of Magic into a Turing Machine:

Of course, if you can use MtG as a Turing Machine, that leads me to ask the obvious question: Can you run Doom on it?

Wednesday, April 03, 2024

Opaque Mechanics

There are plenty of times when transparent mechanics are good for roleplaying games. For example, I generally like to give the dice chances for any escapade not encompassed by the rules. I also usually prefer single die throws over bunches of dice for a lot of resolutions mechanics because there are plenty of players who find it difficult and/or tiresome to estimate their chances of rolling a 14 or lower on 4d8 or whatever. Mechanical transparency is one of the key virtues of many universal resolution systems. (But not all such systems. James Bond 007 from Victory Games has a pretty robust universal mechanic but it baffled my high school rpg group.)

But I think that opaque mechanics have their uses as well. The other day I was re-reading White Box, a perfectly serviceable little retroclone that I briefly reviewed here. One of the mechanics I can’t make my mind up about is the default single saving throw mechanic. On the one hand, I generally believe that simpler is better where basic resolution mechanics are concerned. On the other hand, saving throws are one of those places where a little mechanical opacity adds to the frisson of the game.

There have been plenty of times when a situation calls for a saving throw and I say something super explicit like “44 points of fire damage, save versus breath weapon for half.” But other times, when I want to ratchet up the tension for an extra beat or when I am just feeling ornery, I say “I need you to make a saving throw.”  The inevitable response is “versus what?!?”, often as the player scans their charsheet to see what category they save best against. A single save system tidily eliminates that extra moment of terror in the face of the unknown; the momentary opacity of the mechanic serves my agenda of making the players fear for the lives of their precious PCs.

I think this issue is why, after all these years, I still prefer Dave Hargrave’s Arduin critical charts over later, arguably better crit charts. Dream Weaver Dave’s disordered charts flummox players who ask “Is high or low good?” before rolling on it. Additionally, the results are sometimes nonsensical, like the preposterously high chance of slicing off someone’s butt cheek. I don’t want a more organized, more realistic crit chart, as this semi-broken old junk from the dawn of the hobby does a superior job scaring the bejesus out of the players.

PS: You really want to scare some players via mechanical opacity? Put hit points in a black box. Track HP and damage secretly and only vaguely describe how wounded the PC feels.

Sunday, March 31, 2024

Enter Era Four

There's a newly-formed gaming/education group at work and they recently hosted a game jam on itch.io. Although the organizers of the jam were mostly interested in video games, board games were also accepted. So I made a science fiction strategy boardgame thingy for 6-16 players and a referee.  Assuming it works as intended, it ought to make a decent convention game for cons with 4 or 5 hour slots.

You can download the board, components, and rules here.