Wednesday, March 29, 2006

I am 3d6

Today I picked up a copy of the I Am 8 Bit book, from the art show of the same name. The artists have taken imagery from old school video games and reimagined them. When these images are transferred from video game sprites to art, a curious thing happens: it strongly emphasizes just how bizarre they really are. In Super Mario Bros., Mario has to confront walking mushrooms (goombas), floating blocks that may or may not contain prizes, bullets with angry faces, and so on. When you're playing an NES game you're not likely to question these things, but when you look at it in the form of a painting, it suddenly takes on a bizarre, surreal cast. Video games have since moved more towards realism, but a lot of the great, both now and back then, have some profoundly strance concepts behind their simple, addictive gameplay. Pac-Man, Q*bert and Dig-Dug -- which also feature prominently in the book -- are at least as strange Super Mario Bros., and the same could be said for Katamari Damacy.

In board and card games there seems to be a spectrum that runs between simuation and abstraction. On one end there's stuff like the old Avalon-Hill wargames, while at the other end there's (for example) Cheapass Games' Brawl, which presents itself as a fighting card game but is mostly about matching colors. I think video games can be looked at in terms of this spectrum too, even within a given genre (Gran Turismo and Mario Kart are two very different racing games, for example).

But what about roleplaying games? The kind of abstraction I've been talking about mostly comes about as a result of making creative use of the medium itself; a game like Super Mario Bros. probably wouldn't have come about on a game console more powerful than the NES, with sprites limited to a certain size and a definite need for reusable scenery and enemies. In D&D the basic combat mechanic is based around the abstractions inherent in how its hit points and ACs work, and this in a very combat-oriented game ("kill things and take their stuff"). The intent there I suppose was to streamline things -- having all the dodging and weaving implied means that a single d20 roll can resolve whether or not an attack hits well enough to do damage, which is overall pretty nice.

A newer and IMO more interesting example of this is in Eiyuu Sentai Seigiranger (from the TRPG Super Session Daikyouen RPG anthology I ordered from Japan). Since it's based on sentai shows it naturally includes "mooks" (the equivalent of Power Rangers' Putty Patrollers), but they're called "dicemen" and each has a six-sided die for a face that actually shows how many HP they have left. This is overall pretty silly (it helps that Seigiranger is pretty tongue-in-cheek) and it shoves the game mechanic directly into the continuum of the game's shared world, and yet at the same time it's a stroke of genius. The game uses playing cards for action resolution, and the dicemen transform the six-siders into a combination prop and play aid.

I'm not saying it's an inherently better approach, but I wonder what it would be like to specifically try to build off of the medium of roleplaying games to the point where realism/plausibility with regard to other media is diminised. Granted, it's probably in the nature of RPGs that this is hard to pull off well, owing to the medium's general attitude towards story, but the possibilities are intriguing.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Catgirl: The Mewoing

Yet another RPG idea. On there's a threat titled "Photoshop a game that doesn't (or shouldn't) exist," and before long anime stuff started filtering into the thread, like Exalted: Kawaii Edition, and that was followed by covers for theoretical fatsplats, starting with The Catgirls. It helps that I have a thing for catgirls, but anyway I almost immediately started having ideas for an actual RPG, with a bit of White Wolf flavor.

So, a modern-day occulty setting; the catgirls are among those who secretly defend the world against beings that would steal the very power of existence (I've been watching Shakugan no Shana), but like every White Wolf protagonist group they have many other enemies. There are humans who want to keep them as pets, other breeds of kemonomimi who hold grudges against the catgirls, and more besides.

I'd probably use Fudge yet again, but purposely structuring things very much like a WW game, with castes and/or breeds and something analogous to Exalted's Charms (but less numerous and simpler), and maybe even WW-style health levels for damage. Castes would define a character's role and charms just like in Exalted, and Breeds (or somesuch) would explain the circumstances of a character's birth, much like in Werewolf: The Apocalypse (born a catgirl to human parents, was originally a cat, a transformed human, etc.).

I should mention there's now an unofficial Fudge Forum, still kind of small (about 70+ members), but pretty active so far. I never quite got the hang of mailing lists (though the people are supposedly working on a forum-style interface for the Fudge ML), so this is a good thing for me. Amongst other things, Bill Coffin mentioned that he's interested in Fudge, and also that he likes the idea of going back to being able to do an RPG in 64 pages or so. If I actually do a Catgirl RPG (still don't know what to call it yet), I think keeping it short would be a Good Thing.

Oh yeah, and on someone posted Snakes On A Plane: The Roleplaying Game. You knew it had to happen.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Untitled RPG Idea

I had another idea for an RPG today, though I doubt I'll work on it any time soon, if ever. I don't know what the title would be, but the subtitle would be along the likes of "The Dystopian Ass-Kicking RPG." The idea is that the game is set up like a movie along the lines of The Matrix, Equilibrium, Ultraviolet, V For Vendetta, and probably a good number of others I can't think of right now. The world is screwed up, and the player characters are bad-ass warriors fighting to fix it. Some assorted ideas, any of which could be tossed or mutated:
  • Have the game be geared towards having a single player, whose character is The One.
  • Something to make it worth the players' while to get into weird philosophical stuff.
  • Make motivations (Violet's lost daughter, V's revenge, Neo's love for Trinity, etc.) play a substantial role in the game mechanics.
  • Do something to encourage battles that come off as works of art. One of the coolest parts of V for Vendetta was the "Dagger-Time" fight, and almost the entire appeal of Ultraviolet was in the way they set up the fight scenes*. Play with colors, shapes, settings, debris, forms of combat, clothing for the hero, etc., etc.
  • Play with stakes. Let players make sacrifices and get rewards (e.g., you get X bonus dice for this fight, but your character will definitely die gloriously at the end of it).
  • It'd probably wind up stealing lots of ideas from Wushu and There Is No Spoon.
  • And while we're at it, possibly Dogs in the Vineyard, notably the Button Men-esque action resolution system. RPGs need to pay more attention to other tabletop games in general anyway.
  • The object of the game, of course, is ultimately for the heroe(s) to figure out who they are and what powers they have and then go and kick the big boss' ass, whether that happens to be the leader of the dystopia or one of its best henchmen (paging Agent Smith). That's when the game ends (apart from a brief epilogue), though sequels are possible.
Sometimes I have too much inspiration for my own good. ^_^;

*Ultraviolet may have been substantially better before the studio decided to cut out about 22 minutes of footage against the director's wishes. And people wonder why Alan Moore hates Hollywood. I'm keeping my fingers crossed for a director's cut. (P.S.: Samuel L. Jackson sez: "We got muthafuckin' snakes yo!")

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Halo: The Covenant War, Update Again

I was putting off H:tCW, but I got back into it. At the moment it's mostly a matter of working out the standard mechanics for stuff like autofire and vehicles. If I can get more done I might even be posting up the untested version to my website soonish.

I haven't really started working on it seriously, but I'm also planning to put together some kind of rules for doing a game in the vein of Red Vs Blue, with the PCs standing around being incredibly bored and making lots of pop culture references. I'm thinking there'll be something or other to do with each character having a different source of sanity (or whatever passes for such); for Simmons it'd be ass-kissing, for Church it's be selfishness, and so on.

I also got a wacky idea from Galaxy Angel. It'd be a sort of follow-up to my memorable Star Sorcerer campaign, except the PCs would be actors who starred in a TV drama based on the exploits of the PCs from the original campaign.

Monday, March 06, 2006

[In-Character] Truth & Justice, Episode 5

Today we won. It doesn't feel like it, but we won. I would gain nothing from killing Pinnacle, but knowing that he somehow escaped is gnawing at me.

It was a strange day, with a lot of waiting. Apparently Raz does comprehend the idea that swimming is best learned by starting in the shallow end of the pool rather than the depths of the ocean, because when I went to the training room he actually explained things. Which means yesterday he must've been testing me. For what I can't say. His heart is (mostly) in the right place, but he's infuriating sometimes.

Going shopping before a super battle is a surreal experience. Sam went to a toy store for a massive squirt gun, while Jack wanted to go to a hardware store. Raz managed to get himself kicked out, and apparently decided to "punish" the store manager for not wanting to sell a chainsaw to an unstable-looking 16-year-old by stealing his wallet. Irony abounds, and I was too amused to get angry. Dynamo stayed as far away from the superhero aisle in the toy store as he could without letting it be obvious.

We lured Pinnacle out to a car lot near where he'd wanted us to come. His skill was... unreal. I just couldn't touch him, and Raz didn't fare any better. (Raz seems to have a hard time with the idea that someone in the world could be more skilled than him). Dynamo managed to score a good hit, but still not enough to really faze Pinnacle. It was a combined effort--Jack teleported Pinnacle into a half-crushed car, and Raz and I combined our efforts to stomp on it from above--that brought the confrontation (I hesitate to call it a "battle") to an abrupt end. Still, there was absolutely no sign of Pinnacle, and no reason to believe he isn't still alive. His cloned soldiers vanished in front of our eyes, and the only thing left in the warehouse was a laptop whose contents were sealed away with military-grade encryption. He knows us a little too well--he might even have surveillance capability matching or exceeding our access to street and satellite cameras--and he's still at large. The only good thing here is that for the moment he's more interested in us than he is in hurting innocents, but then he knows that's something he can leverage against us.

And another thing: I need a new motorcycle. It hadn't occurred to me that the Mega-Rider armor weighing over 500 pounds means my bike can't possibly support it. If I was operating out of Tokyo I might be able to lay my hands on dad's old Fenrir II, but for the moment I'm out of luck. The armor's weight has been reduced with its recently modified form, but not nearly enough to ride an ordinary dirt bike. And besides, especially for superheroing, that kind of horsepower could actually come in handy. And don't get me started about the new Fenrir VIII.

I'm not sure if I should, but I want to call home, to see if mom is okay. There could be some kind of trap set for me already, but what choice do I have, really? Maybe there's a way to use the resources at our HQ to make a call untraceable...

[OOC: I can't help but be reminded of the closing number from Once More, With Feeling: "The battle's done and we kind of won / So we sound our victory cheer. / Where do we go from here?"]