Tuesday, August 14, 2012

VG Talk #14 Short and Sweet


Video Game Discussion

It feels like it was only yesterday that we all wanted our games to be long spiraling epics and the amount of time you could invest in the game was one of the bigger selling points. Legend of Zelda games have always been incredible but they were also praised because they allowed you to sink tons of hours into them before even touching the sidequests. The same goes for the Final Fantasy series. Remember when Final Fantasy 7 was on three separate discs and everyone freaked out at how amazing that was? You were getting your money's worth and a great experience to go with it.

Then we had to obtain steady jobs, attempt regular social lives, and possibly grow up (that's debatable). Now we barely have time for those kinds of games. There's a reason the "save" function was invented. We might have to leave at any moment and we want to be able to come back to where we left off. We used to be able to get through a 40+ hour game in a weekend but now it could take us months if we don't schedule in a couple of hours of game time each night. Worse yet, we might only be able to play on our days off. *shudders at the thought*

That's not even mentioning any games that are grind heavy. We have learned to despise a heavy grind because it's pointless repetition to get to our end goal. It's unnecessary time wasted and we're busier now than ever. We're mad as hell and we're not going to take it any more! Except for all the times that we do but that's not the point.

A new breed of games has been emerging and I'm a huge fan of this direction. Games like Portal 2, Journey, Limbo, and Dear Esther are all actually rather short. This used to be an insult in the gaming community except now it's a blessing. Each one of these titles deserves your time and each of them has also managed to push game innovation on top of being a stellar experience packed into a tiny package.

Let me clarify and say that I don't want every single game to dare be this short. I want variety and it's something we're seeing more of in the game industry. There are plenty of times where I want a game that takes more than a few sit-downs to get through but I'm also a fan of these short games that don't suck up all of my time to experience something fulfilling.

It's also crucial to note that some games aren't allowed to be too short. The Darkness 2 came out and was overall enjoyed by many except for the fact that it ended way too soon. The only complaint about Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword was that it cut out most of the exploration the series is known for which also cut down the game time rather severely. As you can see, it's going to depend on the type of game and the narrative.

Rather than this just coming across as a short article where I'm praising a few games, the point I'm trying to get at is this: game length has always been neglected as an aspect of game design. Some games do worse than neglect it and ignore the concept entirely during the design process. Hopefully designers will work toward fine-tuning the experience depending on what the game wants from the player and what the player is going to expect from the game.

What are your thoughts? Does game length matter to you? Do you prefer the variety of short and long games we are starting to see or do you have a preference? What are your favorite games that happened to be short experiences?

This is Kylak signing out before I take up too much of your time.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Reverse Dungeoneering #21 Putting Away the Tech for D&D

One of the few exceptions to this article.

Improving your D&D experience. For Dungeons and Dragons Players and DMs.

This isn't the first time this topic has been mentioned (here's the first: Speeding up Combat of 4th Edition) but it's the first time it will get its own article so that's something right? I suggested previously that one of the best things you can do for your campaigns is to put away the technology. Those computers, laptops, cell phones, and maybe you have an N-Gage to be ironic or something, are actually standing in your way. Today I'm going to expand on why.

I imagine there are plenty of Dungeon Masters that use a device for .pdf files or a handy app or whatever. Tech devices are a handy way to store info and access it rather easily so the logic line would normally dictate that it's a better way to play D&D except I've never seen this be the case. We're not only going to look at how it grinds the game to a snail's pace or the horror stories that come up way more often than they should but the single biggest reason you shouldn't bring tech to the table as well as some alternatives to tech or even books for that matter.

A Snail's Game
Common scenario #256: You need to look up a rule, the stats of a monster, the particular wording on a spell/power/whatever. What do you do? If your answer is to look it up in the middle of the game then you need to reconsider. You're going to have to pull the file up, wait for it to load, get to the exact page, find and read the section you were looking for, make sure the group has the info as well, then translate that to the game and get the ball back to rolling. Even if you manage to do this in half a minute, you're causing a lot of damage to the game. Every second wasted is wasted for everyone at the table (not just you which means it's multiplied). You aren't in a vacuum. Let's not even go into the fact that the second you break from the game to look something up, that forces everyone else to find something to preoccupy themselves with which wastes even more time and then has the chance to spiral out of control into just a "hang-out" night where very little D&D is actually played.

The actual math formula:
X = Every second you waste.
Y= The time wasted due to distractions that are caused by "leaving" the game to look this info up.
Z = The time it takes to get the game rolling full speed again.
G = The number of people in the group.
T = Total time.

(X * G) + (Y * G) + (Z * G) = T

Plug in half a minute for X, two minutes for Y, a minute for Z, five people for G, and you'll get this:
(30*5) + (120*5) + (60*5) = 1050 seconds. That's over 17 minutes wasted for the group and that's punching in very polite numbers. I've been with dozens upon dozens of entirely different groups and the numbers are rarely this kind.

Then you have to ask yourself: what else could I possibly need tech for? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. Any "useful" app can be replaced with pencil and paper and be done just as fast (if not faster). Any info that you might want to look up can be looked up AFTER your session is over.

Unreliable Tech
Common Scenario #576: Device has to load, is running low on battery power, there are no outlets, it needs an update, the lighting isn't good for the screen, or any other number of issues that could and will come up when working with an electronic device. What do you do? The answer is you can't do anything. You've relied on the technology and now you're at the mercy of it.

I heard of a group that the DM literally saw that there were no outlets and said, "I guess we aren't having D&D tonight." That should NEVER happen. I've also seen people bring their laptops to keep track of their character sheet, powers, items, and spells which means they have to scroll through multiple word document/adobe acrobat pages and read through all of that text to figure out what they're doing next. That's a terrible waste of time.

No machine is perfect and even in an ideal scenario where info loads almost instantly and you know exactly where every file is and how to open it faster than I can finish typing this sentence, you're still doing the equivalent of page turning and that's just going right back to the earlier formula I handed you. Books and tech are for before and after the game. Not during.

The Biggest Factor
Common scenario #1: You take a moment away from the game and it pulls everyone out of the actual game you were playing in the first place.
Say it with me everyone: Immersion!

Immersion is crucial in a D&D campaign and every time you use technology in the middle of a session, a dragon loses its wings. Using that tech takes you out of the game completely and every other person at the table with you. In a mere instant, everyone is no longer thinking about the campaign or what their character should or was doing and instead they're thinking about the device that's being used or what to do while you're on that device or it gives way to breaking out inside jokes or out-of-game talk. In my experiences, sticking to pencil and paper never seems to have this effect but the second someone whips out a cell phone to use an app or looks at a monitor to check info in a .pdf file it's all lost. The players go from being in character and ready to adventure in a fantasy realm to being brought back to the real world and no longer playing the game.

Have you ever had a game night where everyone slipped into their character's shoes, they took pauses to make decisions because they were invested in their characters and fellow adventurers, the stakes were actually high, they roleplayed out scenarios you never expected to happen, the combat was intense as everyone was making the decision they would naturally take rather than staring at spell or power lists, and people couldn't stop talking about how great that session's events were afterwards as they retold them like they were from a book? You'll never get to that point if you keep killing the immersion factor. That's what immersion is capable of.

The bottom line: don't kill the immersion because you think it will "just take a few seconds to look this up really quick".

Alternatives
There are so many alternatives to using books, tech, or anything else that could become a distraction.

For Dungeon Masters:
- If you're going to need any stats for monsters, items, or anything, have it written or printed out before hand. Worst case scenario, just have color tabs in the Monster Manual so that you can look the pages and stats up as quickly as possible without wasting time.

- Maps for combat should be made ahead of time. Each map can hide underneath the first so that you can simply pull off the first layer and keep playing.

- Have a sheet solely for the purpose of keeping track of initiatives and status effects. Keep this on the table for all eyes to see.

For D&D Players:
-Try sticking to just a character sheet. Look for custom character sheets online because the official ones seem to have a strange layout that makes it take longer to find info than should be necessary.

- If you're playing 4th edition then make your own power cards (or purchase the actual product). It's so much easier to keep track of your abilities if they are physically right in front of you. The best part is, if you use your Daily or an Encounter power, then you can just flip the card over and keep track of what you have left.

That should cover everything. If you're just looking for more tips to speed up your game then I recommend the link at the top. If you need a more specific answer on how to avoid tech then simply leave a comment or email me.

This is Kylak signing out and hoping you do the same when you're at the table.

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