Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Reactions to Nintendo Direct Dec 18, 2013

  I gotta say that I am satisfied.  Before the usual hate starts to pile up over what we didn’t see, allow me to gush a little over what we did.

  This Nintendo Direct was touted as featuring 3DS and WiiU content going into the New Year.  Featured right out of the gate was a confirmation of my own idea, that Nintendo might need another Zelda to tide itself through the next year.  Hyrule Warriors (not final title) is a collaboration with Tecmo Koei and the Dynasty Warriors franchise, done over in Legend of Zelda characters.  Link’s art style has clearly been redone, complete with billowing cape and new face, but mixed into the enemy variety are the colorful bokoblins from Skyward Sword and King Dodongo, who was absent the Wii title but may well be recycled from The Ocarina of Time 3D remake.  This is a spin off, and the mechanics look to favour Dynasty Warriors over-the-top minion flinging action over puzzles and silly characters, but it looks to be exactly what Nintendo may need to buy itself time for Zelda WiiU, which they’ve so much as said this is not.  It was an excellent segment, as it commanded attention immediately, prominently pushed a game which happily skews towards the older edges of teen/younger edges of mature ratings, and contradicts the idea that Nintendo has no third party support left all in one fell stroke!  Great start Nintendo, but what impressed me was how Mr. Iwata and Mr. Fils-Aime kept up the rhythm!

  A regular favorite with this audience, Kirby returns with Kirby Triple Deluxe.  Little new was announced, but I spotted a few new ideas mixing through the main campaign.  Kirby comes with two extra modes, the already declared King Dedede’s Drum Dash rhythm game set to classic music, and The Strongest Power, a mode that makes the common ground with Smash Bros. pretty obvious. More impressive is the unabashed scene stealing that pulls stage concepts from memorable moments in Kirby’s franchise history, up to and including the return of Lololo and Lalala, Dedede interfering in the wrestling match stage (is he going to start throwing eggs again? 0.0), and the potential for still more. 

  Chibi Robo!  I thought we might never see you again!  Skip’s diminutive robot helper returns; Nintendo is clearly worried about profitability though, as his is a dedicated eShop game.  Chibi now takes over the 3DS camera and photographs real world objects to upload into his delightful fantasy world, which he then employs in his silly world to solve puzzles, satisfy the needs of his toy-box friends, and advance the plot.  I admit that parts of Mr. Iwata’s explanations were a little lost to me, but this game is already out in Japan, and I genuinely figured we might not see it!  Chibi Robo is coming to America (and Canada) soon, and anything that I can do to raise awareness of the little helper is worthwhile, in my humble opinion!  With Park Patrol DS sitting on my shelf, I think that there might be cause for a retro-review in the near future!

  Yoshi’s New Island for 3DS gets a launch window as well.  Takashi Tezuka is reprising the Director’s chair, which looks to be great for fans of the original on SNES.  Little new is revealed, other than the mechanics look to follow the original, the giant egg power is confirmed, and baby Mario makes his return.  The art style is certainly appealing.  I kind of wish I could know more, Nintendo, but if you are trying to sell it to me on the basis of the game’s pedigree, then you are off to a great start!  Given how little there is to reveal, I expect this one will slip the launch window, and appear sometime late in the year.
We got some new details for Pokébank and PokéTransporter, but most of this is a repeat.  30 Day Free trial is confirmed. 

  Donkey Kong: Tropical Freeze hits the WiiU February 21st, with four playable characters, and new powers, including a move that clears the screen of enemies when 100 bananas are collected.  A great looking, long anticipated game.  But ….?  But …. The game comes out close to Ubisoft’s Watch Dogs on WiiU!  Yeah, my dislike of DKCR is likely to decide this contest against Retro Studios. 

  Apparently Europe got a hint of Phoenix Wright vs. Professor Layton, and a launch date of March 28th.  I might be mad, but I’m still hedging on the last Ace Attorney, and a lot of Professor Layton games.  I can’t hide it, I’m feeling series fatigue, for both of them!  *Sigh*

  Reggie made a good natured effort to explain the SP drink DLC in Bravely Default: Flying Fairy.  Does this represent the pressure mounting on Nintendo to open up to new forms of monetization?  It certainly seems as though Square-Enix is showing remarkable (and uncommon these days) restraint. 

  More news for Sonic fans!  If you’ve already beaten the WiiU version, new DLC content arrives shortly, completely reworking Sonic into a Yarn Yoshi teaser.  The game is still in the spirit of Sonic; see the first game where Sonic is charged with rescuing woodland animals, well now replace those with bouncing eggs and Sonic is still Sonic!  The Yarn environment looks to have the same handcrafted appeal that complemented the reveal of Yarn Yoshi at E3.  This stands as a strange compromise for SEGA and Nintendo; is SEGA now advertising Nintendo games, or is Nintendo lending more mascots to promote SEGA games?  Either way, the WiiU version of Sonic: Lost World is looking more and more palatable while we wait for Yarn Yoshi.  No other details were revealed for Yarn Yoshi.

  Another game is revealed for Wii Sports: Club!  Golf will launch shortly, and includes new features such as showing the club head position on the WiiU Gamepad.  Another round of free trials for all of the sports is available. 

  NES Remix is a compilation of classic NES games, presented in the original sprite art but with new twists to the gameplay.  Examples given including Link (from Zelda 1), complete with utter inability to jump, climbing the scaffolding to challenge Donkey Kong, or Excite Bike running in the dark, with only a flood light to warn of incoming hazards. Ton of questions remain, like: Super Phillip Central lists the price at $14.99.   Is there a chance for DLC to augment it later?  It is apparently available today, so I suspect we will get some reviews for it sooner rather than later.   It is a great opportunity for Nintendo to capitalize on its older franchises.  Now I only have to decide if it would be worth $15 to get a package of content including Urban Champion

  Mr. Sakurai may want to Kirb his enthusiasm for the new Smash Bros reveal.  I like the idea of Rosalina joining Smash Bros, no problems there.  Her move set is clever, using Luma in a complex dance of attacks and fades that’s likely to make her a favorite among Princess brawlers.  Trouble is, the reveal focused on go-karts!  So is Kirby in Mario Kart 8?  He might be, as the ensuring Mario Kart 8 video certainly never showed Boo or the rest of the Bad Guy karters.  With the lower half of his body inside of a go kart, Kirby would be effectively a pink recolor of Boo anyway, but impressions (and unintended promises) should always be kept in check.  Also, I know that this is macabre, but it would be a fun addition to Mario Kart if you could wipe out and face plant as Kirby does in the video.  Excite Bike style, anyway, I don’t think anyone wants MK8 to be too grotesque!

  The Year of Luigi continues with Dr. Luigi.  Okay, so I was feeling like Luigi needed some extra screen time, but now it just feels like he is copying his brother looking for accolades.  Dr. Luigi changes the standard classic by injecting two pills at one time, almost like what most games do as an additional mode!  8p  Dr. Luigi introduces a few new elements, including the Brain Age version of Dr. Mario, but it kind of feels like the Year of Luigi should just end on a high(er) note.  Probably time to call it Luigi!  You’ll get another chance when the Nintendo calendar rolls over again in 30 or so years!  Disclaimer: Just because I am ribbing Luigi here doesn’t mean that I see no value in it, nor does it represent any sort of disinterest in purchasing the game.  It’s Dr. Mario reskined with Luigi and with Brain Age’s version, man!

  Also important to the Year of Luigi is the plastic figurine on offer at Club Nintendo.  You guys can’t see it, but I’m drooling, and not able to get it.  Anyone with 1500 coins to burn can have a nice looking diorama sent to their door, but I guess that I’ll have to settle for that Majora’s Mask original soundtrack that I have ordered as a platinum member.  If you’ve been saving up, you are unlikely to ever see anything rarer than this!

  All and all, I enjoyed this Nintendo Direct, as it showcased a lot of games coming soon.  The WiiU already has a great line up from 2013 to catch up on, and with this, it is shaping up to have some clever new games to show off compared to its rivals.

  Before more angry voices beat me to the punch, I do have a couple of fears, notably for apps (ironically) that showcase the value of the WiiU in the tablet market, and for inspiring more third party developers to not pull up stakes on the WiiU just yet.    

  This Nintendo Direct represents a great move forward in a well trodden direction, for good or for ill. 

Saturday, 14 December 2013

Nintendo's Challenge Moving the WiiU

  I've been following a good number of opinions about Nintendo's new console.  The WiiU is still doing poorly, and President Iwata is “unlikely” to meet his 9 million unit shipping target! Nintendo is now a publically traded corporation.  This means that they have taken money from investors and are obliged to pay a return on investment.

  The 3DS may yet keep Nintendo in the black for the whole year.  While this is laudable, and prove that Nintendo is far from finished, Investors will want to hear good firm plans for how the 3DS will be alleviated of this burden, especially as the portable is entering its third year on the market and will shortly need a replacement plan to keep up with surging competition (Nintendo works on a 5 year replacement plan and needs more than one year to design a new piece of hardware).

  The core gamer market is irretrievably lost at this point.  Nintendo has essentially lost the propaganda war, and those no longer paying attention will be so much harder to reach through the noise of the competition.  Even when the new consoles’ honeymoons end, Nintendo faces more competition from the Steam Machines by Valve, and persistent threats from both the PC and Tablet markets.  If Nintendo hopes to disrupt the market today and going forward, they need something a lot louder than their best on the WiiU!

  More vexing for me is the sense that Nintendo cannot yet capitalize on the WiiU’s biggest strength, the tablet controller.  The Gamepad could give Nintendo the ease of use and adaptability of a tablet to ride the incoming tablet wave, but each of those tablet makers have legions of app makers lined up to release their content on glutted markets.  Nintendo still has essentially none of that mindshare, and hence no apps to compete directly with the tablet market (It could do everything, if only…).  All of this is quite tragic, as the WiiU at a good bit of value at its current price, which is half the price of an iPad Air and already has gaming buttons. 

  So what could have gone so very wrong for Nintendo?  The whole internet is abuzz with speculation: formerly we all suspected that Nintendo did not advertise enough.  This holiday has proven that idea wrong, as a significant uptick in advertising has yielded only a little new momentum to the WiiU’s fortunes.  Some speculators now turn on the next likely target, Super Mario, as it is unquestionable that Super Mario 3D World is not moving units, nor machines.  Certainly we’ve been seeing a lot of the mascot plumber recently.  Is it possible that the mighty plumber has finally been over-exposed?

  Mario is so visible, that a wide swath of Nintendo’s spin-off properties are caught up in the net, from Luigi’s Mansion (because we all know that it is a Mario game, even if you can’t jump) to Donkey Kong (because we all know that it is exactly the same as a Mario game anyway; I’m trying to be funny-sarcastic here ;).  The problem going forward isn’t just the branding of the WiiU, which appears to be a touch of death for all Intellectual Properties that land on it, but the significant brand fatigue of Mario himself.  There is room for a vociferous debate here, I think, but in any case with all the following Mario games landing on the WiiU in about a year, the value of the Mario franchise may be at risk:

  A 2D Mario by EAD4 (New Super Mario Bros U)
  A 2D Luigi spinoff by EAD4 (New Super Luigi U)
  A 3D (ish) Mario game by EAD Tokyo (Super Mario 3D Land)
  A 2D Donkey Kong spinoff by Retro studios, that was essentially ready but was put off for February to avoid the crowded holiday market (Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze)
  A new Mario Kart by EAD Kyoto set to launch sometime in the New Year (Mario Kart 8)

  The harshest medicine may have the greatest truth behind it.  It is time to bench Mario, if only for a little while.  Maybe one more of his games at the most can be funded for 2014, and maybe one total for 2015.  In short, 2014 needs to be the “Year of Other Franchises.”

  Smash Bros could certainly be a banner product for such a marketing push, as few other companies do so much as Smash Bros to push their rich back catalog.  Nintendo has another powerful tool for pushing this idea, in its Virtual Console.  The service has several items on its fans’ wishlists, but Nintendo has a wealth of old names to trot out Earthbound-on-WiiU style to generate hype and attention throughout the year.

  As profitable as EAD4 has been with the New Super Mario Bros series, it might be time to shuffle them along to the next icon in the lineup.  Nintendo’s back catalog is so impressive, there must be some sort of hop and bop platformer somewhere in there that they can turn their talents to.  I might suggest Yoshi, but I already know of two Yoshi titles expected soon(ish), and I fear Yoshi may be another easily dismissed Mario-clone as Donkey Kong: Tropical Freeze.  If we really can’t find another IP, maybe they can take a turn at making a new one!

  It could be super weird for Nintendo of all companies, but perhaps this year advertising dollars are best spent correcting the erroneous impression about Nintendo’s Indie support.  Indies can always use a plug, and last year’s Nintendo of Europe indie trailer was a great way to pad the lineup and give the perfectly true impression that the WiiU has more going on than merely more Mario.  If you happen to have a WiiU already, the following is a short list of promising Indie titles to keep an eye on.

  We’re all pulling for you Nintendo, but it’s time to face facts.  Nintendo needs to expand its base of appeal, especially in the highly contested battleground that is home console gaming.  Mario is always an excellent start, but it is a mistake to rely on him alone.  It’s also not fair to other legitimately different franchises that they get caught up in a wave of anti-Mario anger, or that the company’s, and Mario’s future be put in jeopardy for it.  The last thing that I want to address is simply a contradiction in my words above:  I stress that this is a marketing fix, not a game design or priority change.

  Personally I would love some new IP from Nintendo, and have been enjoying all of the new IP for a while; I would like to take issue with the idea among fans that Nintendo never makes new IP.  This was true … since when? 

  A vast number of my games on my shelf are games from new or relatively new intellectual properties, either produced through Nintendo itself (ex. Picross 3D, Elite Beat Agents, Brain Age 2) or simply paid for by Nintendo as 2nd party games (Lego City Undercover, Geist, Excitebots: Trick Racing).  This is something of a trick question, as Nintendo has long been looking to reach out with other companies to better exploit either its own underused IP or otherwise promote others games exclusively to its system (ex. Bayonetta 2).  But nothing Nintendo does at any time shakes the impression that Nintendo only makes Mario games. 

  And that is the (suggested) fix for Nintendo: share the spotlight a little more evenly.  Granted, they want to give presence to their top grosser, but that idea is simply not working now.  The only thing to do is build the WiiU’s install base, and the most ludicrous and untrue claim ever, that it has no games beyond Mario, is the biggest challenge to its image.

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Miiverse, Live and On 3DS!

  So Miiverse has gone live!  Is it worth it?  Is it everything WiiU owners can claim that we’ve missing out on?

  So far it is hard to say.

  3DS Miiverse has no means to send out friend requests, so that has to suck!  We can follow our favorites, though, so there is that.

  One of the first communities that I signed up for is Miiverse Art Academy Sketchpad, which has communities growing around artwork from WiiU owners, and I can say for certain that the artwork is top notch.

  I wish there was an equal on the 3DS.  I have already purchased a DSiware product, Inchworm Animation.  It is heartening to know other versions coming for the 3DS, but there doesn’t seem to be any community for similar products, such as Colors3D

  Otherwise, the potential of Miiverse is certainly there.  The built in drawing app does in a pinch, and there are a great many Miiverse users posting lovely greetings to the new cadre of 3DS users.

  I have some complaints, as it seems the service has been presented as quite slow, but that reflects everything that I’ve been hearing about the WiiU for months.  Also, at this time, the eShop is not fully prepared, and I cannot access it to verify if my balance is still intact.  I have no WiiU balance to fret over, and only about $1.52 left anyway, but I’m not able to confirm that all is well until that detail changes.

  In any case, with my 3DS now online and my Nintendo Network established, I hope to be able to sprinkle a few proper screenshots through this blog a bit more regularly, and certainly better looking than the iPod pictures I’ve made do with until now.  Here’s hoping this service continues to grow stronger, and I’ll keep you posted on any updates.

  We now return you to the your regularly scheduled gloating about how the WiiU is doomed.  What, you want me to link it?  No!  It’s super easy to find due to its ubiquity.   

Monday, 9 December 2013

The Setting of Nexus

The Current Age

  The game is set in the age just before the coming of the New Gamemaster, Alex Williams.  Since he hasn't shown up yet, many of the conflicts in the comic are not yet set in motion; everything is set to tip.

  Nexus is the hold-out city on the plane where the Palace of Power once stood.  Its institutions stand, mostly because what preceded democracy here is a Creators-made monarchy.  There are no Creators anymore.

  The closest thing to a Creator left is Advance, a strange computer (recall the characterization of Gameboy in the Captain N cartoon), Advance is venerable, wise, and irreplaceable.  He has already completed the walls of Nexus, a defensive ring that holds the desert wasteland at bay.  He has also already left, for places unknown, or offline.  If anything should happen to that wall, the desert would expand through it, taking Nexus at last.

  Returning from the desert is extremely unlikely, but has been done.  Sprite explorers report that the desert is expanding, that pockets of space remain at its frontiers, but periodically disappear into the sand.  Navigating it is considered a near impossible skill check, TN 35 at the minimum once away from the walls of Nexus, as there are no stars, no magnetic north, no points of reference at all.  The “ghosts” of the desert are also out there, but they are hostile and incapable of corporeal interaction, except one; they can drain the life from travelers, and certainly talk as though they can take their bodies as their own.  Finally, insanely powerful monsters such as Zone Eaters (FFVI) are frequent occurrences, leading to a general sense that travel in the desert is a matter of utter foolhardiness.  Access to the desert is only made available by means of gates, the keys of which have already been lost in the desert by explorers unable to return.

  The Warp Zones are opening again; thousands of worlds are newly connected, some familiar, some never seen before.  All worlds take on general stylings we would associate with the 16 bit age of video games, and players are encouraged to make up backstories tied to wholly new, creatively designed worlds.  As such, DMs shouldn't feel any pressure to prevent Sega Genesis or Turbo Graphics 16 worlds from being used.  While familiar characters from those consoles are unknown in the Captain SNES comic, it is easy enough to cheat and impossible to enforce a SNES-only scope.

Through the Warp Zones - Backstory

  As for travel, Warp Zones aren't totally restricted, perhaps no more so than we restrict airlines.  There are nevertheless dangerous creatures beyond the Warp Zones, and exploring new worlds is a job for government agents:

  The following draws as much from Stargate SG-1 as from Captain SNES.  It is not spoken to in the comic, and can yet be contradicted.  For reference, this was written December 7th, 2013, and the comic has dragged on for more than 10 years already.

  A Warp Zone command is maintained on the authority of the President of Nexus (before the election and tax cuts of President Haggar).  The command is vested in General Pepper (Star Fox SNES version).  He recruits, trains, and dispatches teams through recently opened Warp Zones to see what there is beyond.  Player Characters are given to designing characters to participate in this program.

  While SG-1 can cherry pick the best and brightest service people and scientists of the USA, Nexus is not so lucky.  The general political climate is a mess, and is periodically turned upside-down by mutants, refugees, and the occasional High level RPG sprite or boss.  It is Nexus Police Department’s job to handle dangerous threats as a police force, and they are ultimately responsible to the average sprite on the street.  They can call in the Warp Zone Command to assist, but they will quickly lose the situation, to them!  

  Service in WZC is hard going.  Most citizens in Nexus respect the work done, and those who don’t often learn respect when another lost and confused newcomer washes up in their city.  Most citizens, and the Service sprites, also remember being that lost and confused newcomer.  As such, WZ teams need quick decision making and are usually trained as both diplomats and soldiers.  Any role-playing build can work, as long as it can be justified to the higher ups.  

  Morale is a perpetual problem, but WZ teams at least knows their duty.  Their job is the closest possible to the violence they know from their homes, and they get a stipend of extra lives and can requisition (Charisma check) more as needed. Where NPD frequently finds bringing too much force to encounters can complicate their jobs, WZ teams can bring the thunder, as long as there was no other way.  Yeah, there's no way Munchkin players would abuse that set up, is there? ;)

  Being equipped is a relative statement.  While the PCs can take powers and work to optimize their builds, and NPCs they meet from the duties are surely going to have their own dedicated powers as well.  The challenges that they face are totally unknown, and thus they tend to favour being as broadly prepared as possible.  Heavy encumbrance is frowned upon, but if you can make it work...

  WZC PCs can secure residences in Nexus, which invites interactions with the neighbors (for good or for ill) or take up residence on base.  Services (such as gear storage) on base are Spartan, hence there is a trade off.

  Sessions begin with a quick briefing, outlining the PCs goals through the Warp Zone, the world encountered and readings that may indicate challenges ahead.  The PCs then gear up and go through the Warp, arriving in the new world.  From there, the PCs are expected to check back in regularly, and return when the mission is completed, but are otherwise free to explore as needed.  Few missions are sent out for pure exploration (mainly because it is more work for the DM than it is value for the PCs).  

  So that should be enough to start... but not enough to run a memorable game session.  I'm at length now, so more will come later.

Saturday, 7 December 2013


  The setting is derived from the Captain N comics and cartoon from the late 1980s and early 90s, except that it isn’t.  JayDee is the author of the webcomic CaptainSNES, from whom most of the story is derived, except that this chapter happens before even his convoluted tale.

  First Age: 

  The Ultimate Warp Zone draws in Kevin Keene, the first Gamemaster, to save the world from rote, barely interesting danger.  JayDee writes the artificial ending, which kills Mother Brain (the only ending that would finally put an end to her sideshow villainy).  While no one misses Mother Brain, her death scatters her minions and advertises that sprites can now die, as in die with no hope of revival by means of extra lives, one shot one kill, dead.  The exact means of death, Omega Energy, is at this time a hazardous element that can be strictly controlled.


  Sprites have no maximum age, but can have aging penalties if programmed to have them (venerable age is considered a flaw; you can take it for an extra feat).

  The world is made of mostly independent game worlds loosely linked to a common hub, the Palace of Power (don’t get attached to it). 

  Omega Energy is introduced as a lethal game changer.  Violence before this is a comical, somewhat funny, and a means of solving problems without consequences.  Violence is common, though widely divided into RPG battles (taking turns in a semi-parallel world) and active battles which take place wherever belligerents happen to be.

  MB’s organization, such as it is, is done.  Characters associated with it, like Dr. Wiley, adapt with difficulty to the rest of society.  King Hippo is a wash-up, and Eggplant Wizard is an insufferable punning exile.

Even at this age, sprites choose voluntarily to leave their home worlds and move into the central plane near the Palace of Power.  They choose to make a city, and Kevin Keene shared the ideas of American democratic government which they work at to build their city.  Although far removed from harm, this Nexus city suffers growing pains: refugees, affordable housing, evil characters gravitating into safe jobs in the senate.  

  The Second Age: The Shadow King, the N-Forcers and the Coming of Sorrow.

  The Shadow King is a non-factor, a jerk that found out about Omega energy and tried to run a loose criminal organization based around blackmail and murder with it.  Good characters rallied to stop him, but couldn’t keep up.  As the victims counts increased, survivors of the victims strangely started turning the tables themselves, but not in a good way: they began to speak slowly, mournful for those they’ve lost, rambling about the parting of shadows, the lifting of veils from their eyes, the glimpses of truth.  They began tracking the Shadow King’s minions with unerring precision, and killing them outright, leaving ponderous holes in space filled, spilling out with Omega energy.  Sooner or later, the Shadow King’s numerous tricks to avoid capture or death started leaving larger and larger death counts, and higher death counts spread the mournful Touched farther and farther.  The N-Forcers is a group of NES themed heroes of unparalleled coolness, the best of the best.  They struggled in vain to find the Shadow King and bring him to justice, but gradually came to realize how directed, thoughtful, the Touched were in their wrath.  They came to understand that there was a Sovereign of Sorrow, beyond their reach.

  The Second Age ends predictably enough, as the Shadow King tries to buy time by capture Kevin Keene, and the Touched finally catch up to him.  With his death, the Sovereign herself is brought into existence, and then sets about the end of all existence.  Keene escapes back to the palace of power, and sends out the call for all the worlds’ heroes to rally for their best chance to stop the sovereign.  Many worlds never get a chance to show up, as the Sovereign goes on a rampage and wipes them out hopelessly.  The only world that stands up to this attack is the Mushroom Kingdom, though how Mario turned her aside is known only to him right now.  The final showdown is at the Palace of Power, which decimates it.  The entire world, save a small corner, is reduced to desert wasteland, and the flower of NES heroes together with Keene are destroyed, utterly.  Some survive, lucky characters who fell from the very sight of the Sovereign but benefited from not having the world destroyed out from under them.  A core of the N-Forcers did battle the Sovereign, but by claims they were all changed by the encounter.  Some are just bad-ass enough to carry that burden without becoming Touched.  Others succumbed, but later. 

  The Sovereign’s defeat (not death) comes at the hands of Kevin’s daughter through Lana, the Princess Hope Keene.  The exact significance isn’t known yet, but Hope is thought to have sacrificed herself to split the Sovereign into three JRPG approved ultimate evil artifacts (which may be people, we don’t know yet).  And with that, the Sovereign is done, and the people of Nexus are free to rebuild.  Not that the desert would let them.


  As a direct result, the world shifts from 8 bit to 16 bit.  Whole worlds are torn from existence, and warp zones everywhere disappear, stranding characters on the wrong sides, many without a clue whether their worlds have survived or not. 

  DMs aren't expected to be aware of every detail of the Sovereign, the Gamemaster, or the Touched, as they are mostly outside the scope of the game.  Their effects are to be counted, but putting numbers on a Touched to be defeated is just cruel, as most Touched seem to outright cheat!

  The heroes assembled at the Palace of Power are widely scattered, some just reawakening with events of the battle fogged.  Some have no business still being alive, others have survivor’s guilt.  The Palace of Power is a barren wasteland of perpetual night, haunted by the ghosts of that conflict.  Or perhaps some even earlier time, as these ghosts have no forms and zero idea who they were.

  There are Touched.  They are ubiquitous, and formerly healthy sprites are still becoming Touched.  Most distressingly, they still seem to appear in accordance with some loosely defined plan.  Though the Sovereign is defeated, it is common knowledge that she is only sleeping.  The greats of this age have mostly broken up, leading to speculation as to their roles as gatekeepers to the Sovereign of Sorrow’s three artefacts: The Shard of Tears, The Mask of Tragedy, and her body on the Lunarian Moon.

  We should probably discuss death: sprites “die” when exposed to Omega energy.  It is also possible to die when a sprite’s last life is expended, but this is not necessarily the same thing, more like “getting lost.”  Certain tricks can revive a 0-lifer, like transferring lives from someone who still has one (Super Mario World style).  Losing a life occurs when hit points are expended.  Omega energy death is very different; death occurs at full health and lives do not restore a sprite to the world of the living.  PCs are given a reflex saving throw against this kind of death; save or die, no retry!  As for how common Omega energy is, … aw, why not.  It is as common as kryptonite in a Superman comic!  You’re all fucked!

Friday, 6 December 2013

Building Characters to a Theme

I want to go further with character creation … but I’m not sure how. 

  Returning to the question from yesterday’s post – what is the difference between a Pit, Angelic themed sniper and a Exo-suited, high tech themed Samus sniper.  Weight class can factor, a little.  Moreover, I think “theme” is a much better descriptor.  In short, Player Characters are built according to theme. 

  Mario “Jumpman” might oscilate between being a plumber, carpenter, or Kingdom and Princess saver, but he is fundamentally a working man.  That’s what his ensemble says, and it’s the attitude in the back of his handlers at Nintendo when he throws himself into his work, whoop, whoo-hooing and yahooing all over the place like he loved dying frequently.

  Link is on theme a woodsy, fairy themed warrior.  With a ... mechanical hookshot.  Okay, some themes are stronger than others.  There is room for a theme to be delivered weaker than others, but PCs should be building, at least, a ten year old kid with a baseball bat coming to save the world, or matching parka mountaineers with ice powers.  It prompts clichés, true, but also provides a framework to challenge those clichés, and thus, the penalties for not following a theme (in attire, tools, power selection, etc) should be relatively light, more like not getting a boost than taking a penalty.

  Enforcing this is going to be problematic.  It has become a mechanic in Orbis Terrarum, for instance, as métier.  It certainly hasn’t had a chance to ship yet – it was only just funded.  But the gist of the mechanic appears to be that it places full discretion into the DM’s hands to reward good roleplaying (in their chosen character’s theme) with small bonuses.  It seems reasonable, but I like to spread responsibility around for a character dying.  A variant idea might poll the associate gamers at the table what they think of the subject’s theme.  Hmm… that might have the opposite effect, and cause everyone to become rote and uninteresting to appeal to the majority vote.
Maybe some guidelines can be written down, and then taken into playtesting.
1)      Themes reflect upbringing, origins, and faiths. 
a.      Example: Samus’ armor is Chozo.  She automatically inherits the conflicts the Chozo left behind (versus Metroids, Space Pirates?)  NPCs encountering her remember her theme, and when they last encountered it (if ever, the Hatchling, was after all, a hatchling!).  Social interactions are moved positively or negatively according to those previous interactions.
b.      Example II: Fox and Falco are clearly futuristic pilots.  Their costumes invoke the sense of flight suits.  Their headgear doubles as microphones, without compromising vision.  They act the part too, cocky and aggressive.  They have something to prove.
2)      Player Characters should have at least three themes, and they are recommended not to all agree or be compatible.
a.      Luigi’s themes include being an adventurer and ‘the scared one.’  Played effectively, he constantly pushes against his natural fear to keep up with his brother, torn by fears of being left behind, and of losing him.  Mario’s always too brash!  (Oh, shoot, I need a third, don’t I?)  Um … okay… I guess he’s got a troubling domestic taste, like for fine teas, soft fabrics and vacuuming.  Like Mario he is a hard worker, he just prefers safe, warm, housework is all!  No I swear that’s all, whatever you’ve heard of dresses!
b.      None of these themes have to come up in every situation, nor in most situations, but they speak to the character, and the kinds of things he or she enjoys, likes, and dislikes.  They can and should form a part of how the PCs react to danger and reward.
3)      Player characters are asked to defend their theme choices, but really only as an exercise to determine how this makes sense for the character who is from this world.
a.      Recall the Setting: Set in a town of game sprite characters mostly ripped from their own worlds and jumbled together. 
b.      There can be riotous disagreement with fellow characters in Nexus, but in their own world everything makes sense and is logical; the creators more or less made that be the truth.

c.      Characters should not be allowed to play cluelessly.  They are all connected, invested, in the city which took them in while clueless.  Nexus isn’t perfect, but it should rest as a centerpiece of just about any characters fragile mind, either to defend it or dominate it, or both.  PCs can and should make long term plans with Nexus at the center.  

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Classes and some Guidelines for Character Creation

  Okay, so that is the bare-bones progression, and how all characters are the same.  How are they different?  

  Start simple: let’s reduce some of Nintendo’s stable of heroes to archetypes and include them as “classes.”  For example, the sword and board warrior, the mechsuit sniper, the showy bounty hunter (Captain Falcon), the … um … angelic sniper?  That is two types of snipers; can they be assembled into a class?  They don’t really relate...

  More!  Keep ‘em coming!  The electric rodent – the super powered animal?  The speedy karate pilot (how do you make a character like Fox anyway?), the afterschool psychic.  I’m pretty sure Mutants and Masterminds can accomplish all of these character archetypes.  I notice also, that I’m slowly pushing to include all of the cast from Smash Bros…

  …Smash includes at most three “classes” that broadly define how characters relate and differ.  The lightweight class is swift and capable of dominating fights, typically by means of cheap shots.  The heavy class is better armored, and better equipped to go through attacks; how they should interact is that the heavies should be capable of knocking the lighter characters away.  Smash tends to drift a little from that goal, making heavies like Bowser, Dedede, and Gannon into significant challenges to play.  But I think we might be able to build around the same concept without problems.  That just leaves the medium class, Joe-average, who is light enough to move swiftly, but heavy enough to take the odd punch!

  …Hmm, okay, broad rule.  Any player can armor his character however much his build points allow.  Investing in armor grants damage reduction, which is huge in D20!  Trouble is, putting too much into armor pushes the player into heavy territory, and comes with penalties, such as initiative penalties, base land speed penalties, and perhaps even encumbrance (as defined in D20’s skills chapter).  If I put numbers to this:
All player characters begin character generation with Armor: 0 and Initiative: +5.

  As players add Armor (which is purchased with build points), that number is reduced from total Initiative.  Therefore Initiative is Initiative – Armor (for now).  This is a one-to-one point relationship. 

  It means that as players become better armored (ignoring up to 5 points of damage from every hit), they suffer penalties to Initiative (down to 0).  Armor does not protect from crushing damage (Bowser is using spikes to protect himself from back-jumping, which doesn’t work on the ventral side).  Tripping, disarming, and wrestling is resolved normally.

  Now, wait; weight class is figured to have a huge effect on wrestling matches!  Should a heavy also be, um, heavy, I mean hard to lift?  Seems reasonable.  How does the Lightweight also benefit then?  They tend to trade on skills dexterity and speed; they already have initiative bonuses, all else I would give them is a base land speed bonus. 

  Characters with less than 2 points of armor are considered lightweight.  They take no penalties on Dex checks.  Lightweight characters Base Land Speed: 40
  Characters with 4 to 7 points of armor are considered middleweight.  They take a -1 penalty on all Dex checks.  Middleweight characters Base Land Speed: 30
  Characters with more than 8 points of armor are considered heavyweight.  They take a -2 penalty on all Dex checks.  Heavyweight characters Base Land Speed: 20

  I want to keep Dex checks light, as Dexterity (manual, balance) is used for a lot of things, and we must remember the first rule of the dungeon: DON’T split up the party!  The penalty should only represent a subtle advantage for Lightweights to go places Heavies rightly fear, but Heavies should still be able to pull it off given plenty of time (taking 10) or with a reasonable margin of success under stress.  Of course this needs play testing, and maybe some token Google searching for Wrestling themed game systems. 

  The last thought to be addressed is the rogue’s backstab ability.  It is the wrong tactic.  I see what it is supposed to do, as in direct the rogue behind the enemy rather than have him confront the enemy.  Backstabbing as a special power that is paid for with Build Points is something that I don’t have a problem with.  But I don’t believe every lightweight should be built around it.  It is more or less totally off-theme for the Psychic rogue, for instance, who should be sneaking and telepathy-ing his enemies.  Everybody gets criticals.  You get a natural bonus to pull it off from behind, already in the rules. 

  Okay, I like some of this right now.  Three classes, defined by armor and consequently speed.  Right away there is room for some variety, at a very broad conceptual level, and that level is leading directly into Nintendo’s Smash Bros franchise, and is thus directly tied both to Nintendo and Mutants and Masterminds.  Good stuff, but it needs more refinement, more variety of builds!  More personality!  Next time!

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Making choices to build the stat system, magic system

  So the question follows: what mechanics could we employ in a pen & paper game that would preserve Nintendo’s sense of wonder. 

  One option is to make the powers operate like Power-ups in Super Mario, where the player is awarded powers from magical items.  AD&D already does this with its magic items system, which are handed out by the DM at logical points where they could be found.

  Magic items can become cheesy, building into combos with other powers, players, and enemies who are partially immune to the powers effects.  Super Mario keeps these effects in check by making the powers temporary, expendable.  In SMB3 and New SMB Wii, you can even stockpile items, but only use them one at a time.

  What does this mean for DMs controlling, guiding, or unfortunately railroading players through stories?  It changes very little.  If the DM provides the tools, and leaves it up to the players to determine when to use them, then chaotic interactions are kept down, and the PCs always have a means to control their fate. 

  Inventory, conversely, becomes a far better system to subject to rules.  PCs shouldn’t have infinite ability to gather and store items, but they probably should have the ability to find and collect unusual items.  Giving them this ability guarantees that they can surprise the DM from time to time, and usually come up with very entertaining stories of how they overcame opponents well above their normal, expected ability.

  Similarly, I am much less certain about the spell “Identify,” as it warns of consequences, usually flawlessly.  I believe that it should be in the game, but under far more stringent conditions than a first level spell.  After, what are appraise and bardic knowledge for anyway?

  A competing idea to the Super Mario power ups would be to make the powers permanent and build the levels around them, like any Zelda or Metroid.  The area can be littered with useful power-ups that just happen to do whatever the player needs to do at this time.

  While I like Zelda and Metroid just fine, this concept lends itself to railroading charges much more readily.  Consider the humble locked door.  The locked door is clearly there to make the players explore, searching for a key.  Why can’t I bend bars?  Why can’t I pick the lock?  The excuse that all locked doors are magical gets old fast, and doesn’t account for spells like Dispel Magic that will draw PCs to them like a magnet.

  Hmm… so far I am happy, but I sense a problem: if all power comes from the DM, then the PCs will complain that there is no sense of progression.  Games, mainly RPGs, have spoiled us into thinking that playing the game for a while should make us invulnerable to the monsters that threatened us when we were new.  The game design at least needs a care for how the players will see the illusion that the game is rewarding them for their hard work, rather than simply trying to kill them.

  A crucially important tool computer RPGs can use, that I don’t think I can rely on, is a strong narrative.  It is very hard to do without risk of railroading charges, and DMs come with all levels of abilities.  For a game that should really be billing itself on being fun, fast, and approachable, just like Nintendo games, we need a little more.

  What types of progression can we witness in games to serve as a model?  Leveling in Paper Mario is simplified to a choice at the time of Leveling of +5 hit points, +5 flower points, or +3 badge points.  You can increase armor and damage by means of specialty badges, but those come in competition with special moves for your limited badge points.  When I started this project last time a few months ago, I originally liked this idea, as it already comes in point form and should be easy enough to rebuild in a point-build system like Mutants and Masterminds.

  Other options, such as leveling in Pokémon, is presented as a random sample of stat growths, but is actually an intentionally cryptic system of EV stat boosts, all derived from your battle history with a Pokémon.  This is a weird idea, as it tries to hide the complexity so that the player knows more is going on than he can see, so he spends hours online arguing with friends over how that is done.  While Pokémon’s EVs have long ago been decoded, I sure don’t know enough about how it works to argue with everyone.  Open and transparent is easier to approach, and that seems to have more synergy with Nintendo and D20 anyway.

  A third option comes from the Mario and Luigi series (by Alphadream, founded by several former Square employees) builds characters by giving automatic stat boosts and allowing the Player to choose one stat or another to manually increase by a random increment.  Characters get minor stat boosts to keep them competitive and contributing.  This seems to be pretty standard, used in Fire Emblem, and most RPGs generally, seem to give only the slow stat growths; some PCs may want more agency or choice in how they level their character.  Alphadream then offers the player their manual boost.  Even if the player wasted this boost, her stats are still slowly going up, if only less optimized than other players.

  That seems like a good basis for progression.  Magic (the D20 open game system) gets replaced by powers, which are point bought.  As players accomplish missions or win battles, they are awarded experience.  When a player has sufficient experience to advance, he gets some randomly determined stat buffs, together with a buff to one stat of his/her choice.  He could also choose, at this moment, to gain or buff a power.  Advancement happens in ranks.  The DM chooses opposition set to the same level as the combined total of the players.  Any number of opponents can oppose the players, but the enemy Challenge rating has to add up to either the combined total of all players, or else one or two levels beyond the total, depending on how much challenge the DM believes the players can handle (that’s all text book D20).  Finally, Power-Ups work by default with all PCs, but with very few monsters.  They represent a general advantage players have over most monsters, with a few notable exceptions.

  And note to self: I need to design monsters that battle without power-ups.  Goombas are among the rare exceptions that use power-ups to equal the difference in powers.  We could possibly include Koopas there too (in the person of the Hammer Bros)!

  That looks like a good place to call it today!

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Change gears – AD&D and Nintendo

  So, recently I've been transitioning this blog into a review blog, but I`ve been handicapped by income, which isn't good right now.  In an effort to branch out more and seek original content readers may value, I going to revisit this old grind of mine.

  I’ve grown up on two tortuously opposite games that I’ve long desired to blend together in the most seamless way possible.  One is Nintendo; there shouldn't be any question about that bias.  The other is AD&D, a brilliant and highly adaptable game of tabletop roll-playing (as in dice rolling) that is supposed to ground friends role-playing (taking on a role).  It’s no secret that I favor Nintendo over its direct competitors, as its games perfect and polish an article of playable content to a brilliant shine.  Role Playing, however, is one of the most down and dirty of concepts ever conceived.  So why try to mix them.

  Both have common elements, such as sharing secrets with friends.  Nintendo games have forever given you the means to share secrets and show off.  Role playing is built around a group dynamic; secrets are shared within the group, and can become an important source of tension with the world at large.  Recently, Nintendo games have largely borrowed from tabletop, featuring local, in-house multiplayer games that enable groups of friends to collaborate, or compete, for the honors of saving their worlds.  Too many role playing games I’ve played in fall into stagnant roles, the fighter fights silently and with no social role, and the rogue player goes for coffee whenever undead show up.  One could do far worse than try to sand the edges off both ideas for a more unified experience.

  Otherwise, I admit it, I am absolutely smitten with the feeling of a quality Nintendo game, the sort that cannot be found in other games no matter who makes them.  It is immense hubris to assume that I could replicate it where Sony, Wayforward, and more lesser-worthies than can be counted have failed.  But I must try; even if I fail, it is another step on the path to designing my own style of writing.  Live in the shadow of your heroes, until you can eclipse them.  Where did I read that?

  So I have reasons why I should try.  But as hinted above, this is not my first attempt.  I’ve tried this before, mainly sticking to D20, and finding class based concepts mostly don’t work.  Classes suggest a future to player characters.  They are easy for newer players, as the player, when sufficiently experienced, only needs to decide whether to follow the class or open themselves up to another.  There are penalties, but they are quantified, they can be weighed.  They can even be optimized, the stuff of D20’s huge success.  Players believe that they can master the system.  This concept is huge, and it is shared with many of the Nintendo games I love.  I wanted the classes to stick around in some form, to preserve these very important game effects, but I don’t think that it will ever work now. 

  Nintendo characters do not progress in a linear, or in any way predictable manner.  One would never guess that Zelda 1 requires a ladder to cross rivers until you found it, and then the ridiculousness of the Goomba/Kuribo shoe in Super Mario Bros. 3 just becomes so much fun, so novel and silly, that you players just roll with it.  Knowing the progression curve in advance takes so much of the fun of discovery out of the game.  It also makes AD&D’s convoluted structure more manageable.

  While I generally quite like class systems to learning to play, I find that making this be a classless, point-build system may be better overall.  Well, hang on, maybe I’ll find another use for them further into the project.

  What is the point?  Players create their own video game characters – I know a good setting in the 16 bit era that could work for all game types, from JRPG bosses, to Puzzle Wizard, to 40 foot tall radioactive Qberts!  Heh, he he he heh!  Players are refugees of their own game worlds, and are invited to cook up a background that involves making their own dream 16 bit game (we can fudge a little for 32 bit, lots of people don’t remember that age perfectly anymore).  At this time, the setting I am thinking of has established roles for the SNES catalog, but there will be no DM restriction on Genesis ideas.  It just has to be something that sounds vaguely like the 90s.

  All worlds were created by the creators, but they are all gone now.  The PCs characters are themselves refugees out of one of their worlds.  Maybe the Warp Zones leading to their worlds are gone.  Maybe their whole worlds are gone.  Maybe they don’t know!  Nobody in this world is quite where they were designed to be.  President Haggar of Final Fight is leading a huddled and terrified mass of citizens to attempt to work together and build some semblance of order.  He strongly depends on his Vice President Wiley, who handles the technical stuff.

  Finally, we need a dungeon to explore, and the inspiration here comes from Star Gate.  The Warp Zones are reopening, for the first time in a long time!  With unknown threats, and way too many RPG bosses stumbling through the Warp Zones, they represent too much of a threat to ignore.  General Pepper organizes a brigade of volunteers to go through the gates and see what there is to see.  The city of Nexus is such a mess, and the desert beyond it so desperate, that many are the volunteers.

  That`ll do for today, as it defines the broad concept.  Over the next few days I think that more can be defined, hopefully pushing towards the minute-to-minute game play.  I really like this setting, though I can’t claim to own it (and I don’t think Nexus’ creator can claim much ownership either). Maybe I should invest some time to convert the named characters above to parodies – it is their jobs that are more important than their copyrighted names.  Anyway, more tomorrow!