Karaya Rocks – Team of One Edition

I got this message on Facebook from Karaya, detailing how she swapped out her three levels of Rogue for Sorceror levels. (We’re talking DDO here) She’s Sorceror 11 now:

So I lesser reincarnated Karaya today. She has Dominate Person now, along with a plethora of other new tricks.

We did the Ruined Halls in Kundarak as a test run of my new powers. And by “we”, I mean Anvil, Bearded Devil, Hobgoblin Cleric, Hobgoblin Infiltrator, Trogolodyte Warlock and me. Quite the pickup group, no?

Last night she described to us a bit of how she sets up her hotkeys. For example “Tab targeting” isn’t on the Tab key any more, but on the numeric keypad. I assume other powers are nearby as well, moved from the QWERTY number keys to the numeric keypad, so that one hand can drive and the other can target and cast.

Overheard In Tolly’s Car Coming Home From Lunch

Toldain: You know, Karaya posted on my Facebook wall today, saying “OpenTTD is so dumb. Why do I keep playing it???? Damn you, Tolly!!!” I responded. “Yes, it is dumb. And very engaging. Bwahaha!”

SpawnOfTolly2 (aka Jaliera): You would think by now that you would have learned to use your Enchanter powers only for good…

[I just discovered that you can download height maps of Europe, Africa, the UK, or the Continental US to play (build trains, and roads, and airports and stuff) on. Also a bunch of alternate AIs. Abandon all hope.]

An Elf’s Best Friend

Recently, Michael Abbot of Brainy Gamer posted that “Games Aren’t Clocks”.

The thesis is:

The primary function of a clock is to tell time. We may admire its appearance or the intricacy of its inner-workings, but the moment it ceases to function, its value diminishes for most of us. What good is a clock that can’t tell time?

What is the primary function of a video game?

He decries criticism of video games based solely on gameplay:

I say it’s time to let go of our preoccupation with gameplay as the primary criterion upon which to evaluate a game’s merits. It’s time to stop fetishizing mechanics as the defining aspect of game design. Designers must be free to arrange their priorities as they wish – and, increasingly, they are. Critics, too, must be nimble and open-minded enough to consider gameplay as one among many other useful criteria on which to judge a game’s quality and aspirations.

I can’t say that I can endorse this. More later.

In response, Dennis Scimeca of Punching Snakes retorts, “Games ARE Clocks”. After bemoaning the state of terminology for games, and quickly touring the breadth of video games (going from art games like Jason Rohrer’s Passage, to The Sims, he concludes:

Where I agree with Abbott absolutely is in our need to view games holistically. Mechanics are not the end-all of appreciating video games, but asking critics to divorce such a defining characteristic from our appraisal of the medium seems untenable to me. The better course of action is to help identify and define new genres and forms for creators to work in which are similar to, but different than, video games, such that said creators have the choice to focus on design aspects they are interested or skilled in, without the burden of also having to deal with the aspects they aren’t.

Yeah, I’m pretty much there. Kate Cox, of Your Critic is in Another Castle, adds to the discussion with the observation that failure (and success) is an important, maybe even essential component of what makes a video game.

At its most basic, a game is something playable. Whether it’s got a story or not, no matter the genre, system, or type, a game is something that requires player input. You, the consumer, are in some way integral to this experience. Whether you push one button or speak a word into a microphone, whether you wave your arms at a motion sensor or deliberately hold still when you could act — a game requires you to contribute. That’s the sum total of the agreement on our current definition of “gaming,” and really that’s quite a low bar. Small wonder, then, that we keep looping through these arguments.
We don’t just have a win / lose dichotomy anymore. We do have completion and backlog; we have sandbox and short story. But every title I can think of — every title I’ve ever played and a thousand more I haven’t — has either a failure state or a success metric, and some have both. Our metrics aren’t necessarily competitive, and they might be imposed by the player rather than intrinsically by the game. There are little successes and big ones, game-ending failures and completely surmountable ones, but every pixellated problem I’ve ever pounced on has at least one or the other.

I can’t really disagree. But the clock metaphor is all wrong. You wind up a clock and then never touch it. Well, you used to. Now you just put the batteries in. Or plug it in. Maybe you adjust the time every once in a while, or you have to set the clock when there’s been a power outage, say, from a big hurricane that blew through. Just as a random example.

No, video games aren’t clocks. A video game that worked like a clock would be boring. Clocks are useful, but they aren’t exactly engaging or exciting, or interactive. There is certainly clock failure. (See above hurricane mention).

No, video games are dogs. And I mean that in a good way. Dogs are always happy to see you. Dogs, at least your dog, is more interested in you than anyone else on the planet, including your spouse. A dog will gaze deep into your eyes with the question, “What are we going to do now?”

I often play fetch with a pit bull named Doughnut. She’s adorable and she likes me. I take the chewed up tennis ball and I tease her with it. I might throw it high in the air or against the fence or just a bounce on the ground. I might try to fake her out and she might go for it or not (there’s the failure, Kate!). She has her own agenda, but it’s always in response to me. (Dougnut might not read this blog, but her master does. Hi Doughnut!)

Yes, that’s what’s important about a video game – there’s space in the game for me. The experience reacts to what I, the player do. Not always in a good, or desired way, but it reacts. When gameplay components seem to players to be afterthoughts, or poorly developed, the message to players is: You don’t matter. Your choices and/or skill aren’t important. This computer program is a vehicle for me to demonstrate my awesomeness to you, so bow down!

Understandably, players don’t respond well to this. How would you like it if your dog suddenly started acting like a cat? And the snootiest, haughtiest cat around, to boot.

(Once upon a time, our neighbors had a cat that was the most dog-like cat I’ve ever seen. She would fetch and had that same “what are we going to do now?” gaze that dogs do. But I digress.)

Games are not something you watch, they are something you participate in. If that participation seems an afterthought, a little pushback is understandable, maybe even in order.

A Whole New Kind of Gamification

The problem of determining the exact structure of a certain protein of the Mason-Pfizer monkey virus (M-PMV) has eluded scientists for 10 years. We know the chemical formula for such proteins, but not their shape. M-PMV, which is closely related to HIV, and produces AIDS in monkeys, produces its proteins in a big block, like most viruses. It then cuts them apart into usable components with a protein called a protease. Proteases are built like scissors, having two parts that are joined together. If we could figure out what the halves looked like before they joined together, we could come up with ways to prevent them from joining, and thus shut down the virus’ operations completely.

However, scientists have bee working on this problem for 10 years with no success. Complex computer programs and tons of computing resource couldn’t crack it. Until Firas Khatib, a researcher at the University of Washington (Go Dogs!) took the problem to the players of a protein folding game called Foldit.

The Foldit players had no such problems. They came up with several answers, one of which was almost close to perfect. In a few days, Khatib had refined their solution to deduce the protein’s final structure, and he has already spotted features that could make attractive targets for new drugs.

Foldit is a game, full-stop. It’s a massively multiplayer game, but not a roleplaying one. Collaboration is possible, and there are message boards and wikis about it.

I feel that the best approach to “intelligent” tasks is that of human-machine partnership. Foldit is a computer program that doesn’t solve protein folding at all, but instead reduces it to a task a human being can easily comprehend and fiddle with. Many of the players of Foldit have no technical background at all. The operations on proteins have names like “tweak” and “shake”.

Furthermore, by having lots of teams work on the problem, when some of them go down a bad path, it doesn’t sink the whole project. They just get pwned by other teams, learn from it and move on.

Phritz sent this to me, but the quote is from Ed Yong’s blog at discover.com, which I highly recommend

What Has Tolly Been Up To Lately – Doh! Edition

Somehow in my roundup of gaming yesterday I neglected to mention something I’ve been fooling around with – Golemizer. This little game was made by Dave Toulouse. In it you play a mad scientist who makes golems to do things for him – things like mining and killing other golems for fun and profit. You can build houses and furniture and grow (and cut down) trees and plants and flowers.

Also, there are zombies. You can make zombies. You can kill zombies. You can set 100 zombies loose in your basement (which you’ve built) and rock out to “Zombie Jamboree”.

I first heard about Golemizer on Psychochild’s blog. When I had a meetup with him last month he mentioned it again along with it’s creator. I had started an account some months ago but then literally forgot the name of the game, so I couldn’t log in.
Also, something was shiny. But Brian mentioned it and I thought, with a toss of my fabulous red hair, “Oh, I must get back to that and play with it a bit more.”

So I’ve been fooling around with it a bit, building golems and transistors. There is a consistent playerbase, but it isn’t a large one. It’s kind of an economic/crafting focused game, though there is fighting. I’ve had trouble finding stuff that will sell on the market, despite prices that seem low. I think there isn’t a lot of volume.

Dave is launching a new game, called “Star Corsairs”. He writes about it here, with some good business advice as well. I’ve played a little of Star Corsairs, too, and it seems like it has some potential.

So, I’m a bad, bad elf for forgetting that. Dave has accomplished some amazing things, and built some fun games.

What Has Tolly Been Up To Lately?

Posting has been sparse, but gaming hasn’t. I thought I’d give a quick once-over of the gaming I’ve been doing.

  • I’ve been playing a little City of Heroes on Mrs. Darkwater’s account. I kind of don’t want to start a paid account when they are so close to launching a FTP feature. I have made two characters. One is a ninja named Kenji, who is a 15th century Ninja brought forward in time by the Nakamura family to battle a grave threat to humanity. Natural based katana user, with the defense/speed powers, and he’s a good guy.

    The other is a mage who uses Domination powers and has fabulous red hair. Figuring out his name is an exercise left to the reader. This has been fun, since the control aspects are a kind of gameplay I like. Fighting multiple opponents this way is a lot like juggling.

  • I’ve continued to play DDO. Most recently, this Monday, Phritz, Lobilya, Karaya and I ran through Stromvaulds Mine and Stormreach Outpost. Phritz, Karaya and I did it several months ago with different characters. This run was a lot easier, even though we completely forgot how to deal with the final encounter of Stormreach Outpost. So there was a wipe thingie there, but we figured it out and rebounded victoriously. I love this sort of thing, as I’ve said before. Lobilya (aka Mrs. Darkwater) finally unlocked the Drow race on her account, and she’s now working on leveling one up. Or maybe two. Even Spawn of Tolly 2 is getting back into DDO after a long hiatus.
  • I’m finally giving Civ V a rest. I managed to win a game on Immortal difficulty and a duel map. I was the Ottomans, my opponent was Catherine. We each had our own continent. I used the Ottoman’s ability to recruit barbarian ships to build a navy that gained absolute sea mastery, and then managed to take Catherine’s capital for the win. I love Janissaries.

    I tried several times to win a game with Rameses that focused on building wonders more than killing everyone. I did not find this to be possible. I’m taking a break from this now.

  • Instead I downloaded from Steam the Sid Meier Track Pack, consisting of Railroads, Railroad Tycoon II Platinum, and RR Tycoon III. I’ve started in on Railroads and it’s a whale of a good time. I love watching the trains run all over the place. Just today I found out about a game called OpenTTD (based on Transport Tycoon Deluxe). That game looks dangerous.
  • There’s been the usual assortment of tabletop RPG. Game systems include 4e, 3.5, Pathfinder (a new purchase for us) and Hero Systems.

It’s pretty clear that it’s going to continue to be difficult for me to play much Eve Online, despite how much I like it. As an economic building/trading/selling game, it has no equal. But it requires a lot of time in predictable chunks, and my time does not seem to come in predictable chunks.