• On Board Games, Video Game Hiatus, and Bookkeeping

    Wow, it has been waaaaaaay too long! I feel awful for trying so hard, and then seemingly abandoning everything. Life happens, you refocus, take time away from hobbies to fix the urgent stuff, and before you know it, you haven’t played a video game on your PC for something like a year. Ugh.

    Well, it is still going to be a while for me, because we decided to renovate the office, and my PC has not been plugged in for months. Guess it doesn’t matter too much, because the ol’ rig is getting on in years. My PC is nearly 9 years old, though my graphics card is only 8 or so!

    During my PC gaming hiatus, I have been trying to bring my board gaming hobby back to life. In fact, I often enjoy board games more, just because I enjoy the slow thoughtful play and the social interaction. Of course, to me board games and video games are in no way exclusive of one another, but I will certainly be moving toward more of the board and card games in the future. In fact, I think I may start putting more content up here of that type.

    Of course, gaming still does not get as much attention as I would like. This is because life, family, and work all seem to eat up a ton of my time. On top of my day job as an accountant for a private company, I am in the process of trying to get my own cloud-based bookkeeping company off the ground. And yes, you guessed it, my aim is to do bookkeeping for the gaming world. Primarily, I intend to focus on hobby game shops, board game cafes, board game pubs, and hobby game publishers. I really want to get immersed in that industry, because i find it fascinating. So, if you are interested or know anyone needing a little game shop bookkeeping help, send them my way.

  • Procedurally generated awesomeness

    Have you heard about No Man’s Sky? Currently in development at Hello Games, it is an exploration game involving space travel between colorful worlds. Players will be able to travel between and explore different planets, solar systems, and galaxies within an infinite universe. There will be countless creatures and terrains to discover and explore. The possibilities within this game are theoretically infinite.

    Sounds impossible, doesn’t it? Creating a space exploration game would traditionally involve imagining, coding, and designing every star, planet, creature, and everything in between. The possibilities within the game would be limited by the imagination, time, and budget of the development team. So, what makes No Man’s Sky different? Procedural generation. I’ll embed an IGN video interview with Sean Murray, Founder of Hello Games, in which he discusses the technology that makes this infinite universe possible. The short of it is that they have developed an algorithm that creates the universe using mathematics. Rather than creating each planet and creature individually, they have developed base assets that the game draws from and morphs into seemingly infinite variants.

    The possibilities of this excite me to no end. I recall my brother and me playing Star Trek: The Next Generation – A Final Unity on our Windows 95 PC back in the 90’s. That game gave the player free will in terms of what destinations to set for the Enterprise. However, these destinations had no gameplay behind them unless they were connected to the main story. I remember understanding then that it was limited by what the developers could program into the game and wondered at the possibility of going beyond this limitation.  I wanted so badly for each of those random new worlds to which I traveled to offer a new and unexpected adventures and alien races. It looks like twenty years later, No Man’s Sky is going to offer that!

    I am left wondering what else this means for the advancement of game design. Clearly, levels and worlds can be left to the system to generate according to the rules set. No Man’s Sky has even found a way to alter and mutate creature design so that artists do not have to design 1,000’s of individual creatures. Is it possible procedural generation (or a process like it) could advance to a point where designers provide even smaller building blocks (think atoms), and the system practically generates the art (according to the rules set, of course)? Even more of a challenge: could procedural generation move beyond level and creature design and revitalize the stories and AI we encounter in our games? That may be a “square peg in a round hole” -type of issue, so who knows what innovations in game design will bring. All I know is I am eager to see what comes and extremely excited to experience the seemingly endless possibilities of No Man’s Sky.

  • The RPG Complexity Conundrum

    I really enjoy playing a good RPG or MMORPG on my PC. I get so excited by the endless opportunities of leading a character that is all my own through a vast, open world as he or she growns in skill completing quests, side quests, and various other experiences. I am filled with intrigue and wonder as I explore new regions or discover loot. I feel accomplished when I help a hopeless NPC or overcome a powerful boss. I figuratively salivate over the immersion and complexity an RPG offers. Despite all this, I constantly find myself skipping over the RPGs in my game library.

    Role-playing games in the PC take a lot of time and involve a lot of complexity in order to incorporate such vast opportunities for story, exploration, and playing your own way. The player processes a lot of information, including the various interweaving story lines, related quests, item and skill interactions, UI navigation, and game controls.

    These complexities are what make RPGs so intriguing and inviting. At the same time, they seem to be what keeps me from playing or finishing most RPGs I have. When a game like this gets put down for any length of time, playing again requires a certain level of re-learning: remembering how to play, what your goals were, where you left off, and how everything intertwines at that moment.

    This turns out to be a barrier to playing or completing most RPGs. This is because I frequently play games in one or two hour sessions, which are sometimes days apart. This means I spend much of the session trying to recall how to play or where I was. Now, to some degree this is psychological. I worry too much about doing everything fluidly and following the same path I had planned previously. I played Fallout New Vegas last night for the first time in about a month and found myself worrying a great deal whether or not I had the correct equipment in use, or if I was following the proper quests in the correct order. I enjoyed it, but not as much as I should have.

    As I ponder through this, I realize it isn’t the time spent re-learning that bothers me, so much as the fact it seems more difficult to really get in to the story again and feel the way I did when I set it down. It is as if I, as the mind behind my character, have developed a form of amnesia, and what little time I have to play is spent trying to re-achieve the immersion. RPGs really get fun once they have built up the story and the immersion. The character creation, tutorials, and opening quests often accelerate this process, but getting that same ball rolling mid-game is another story. If there was a way to save my mental state, just as we save the game state, this wouldn’t be such a problem for me.

    I guess that leads me to the question: what do you do when you step away from an RPG with plans to return? Do you encounter the same issues I do, or do you have a way to overcome the gap and jump right into having immersive fun?

  • Hearthstone – delaying the victory

    I recently started playing Hearthstone and have really enjoyed it. I had avoided the game for quite some time because I used to get a little too obsessive about Magic: The Gathering, and really did not want to devote all my limited game time to it. However, when it came to mobile, I decided to give it a shot because then I could play it in those odd moments when I have 15 minutes to spare but I am not on my PC (or even home).

    I have really enjoyed playing the game. I will admit that I am not good, often losing more games than I win. However, it is all those losses that has led me to an interesting and curious observation. I noticed that my opponents often delay inflicting lethal damage. Often they will play some unnecessary spells and minions, or throw out some complex combo. This happens frequently enough that I am left wondering why.

    The “benefit of the doubt” answer is a situation I have experienced myself: they simply did not realize they had lethal on the board. I have had a couple instances in which I got too focused on the strategy and took a defensive maneuver before realizing the offensive kills shot was available. I have also miscounted the damage I had available. My funniest experience I to date is an opponent who clearly had the upper hand and had lethal damage in play, when including the hunter’s hero power. However, they spent all mana on new minions, leaving me with one health. On the next turn, I was able to buff my remaining minion to lethal and won the game. I really think this individual got too excited about what they had available, or miscounted mana.

    However, this seems to happen all too often to be nothing but simple mistakes. Take a match I just finished for instance. I did all I could, but had to end my turn in a checkmate situation. I had 7 life remaining with no taunt minions on the board. My opponent had an 8/8 and one other minion on the board. It was obvious one quick hit with the 8/8 would end the match, but my opponent instead hit with the other minion for 3 damage, cast a spell that damaged all minions, wiping away one from each side and leaving us each with one, and then cast Power Overwhelming on the 8/8 minion to hit me with 12 for a 8 damage overkill. So, why go to all the extra trouble? Was my opponent trying to fulfill a daily quest for spells cast or damage dealt? Or, were they trying to rub in the victory? While I don’t want to assume the worst, I would also note only about half of those that take these extra steps respond to my “Well Played” in kind.

    I may never know why other players prolong an obvious victory, but it certainly is a curious thing. I know the obvious way to avoid this is to just concede when the game is lost, but if it is a close match I like to stick it out for the tiny possibility they will screw up and fail to make the killing blow. Honestly, there is no harm done; the match takes an extra minute or two is all. More than anything, this is just a curious observation of a behavioral “meta” I have noticed in my short couple months in the game.