My Kind of Party

Just got back from a party at Andrew Hickman’s house wherein I played Pictionary, Scrabble, and Captionary. It was awesome.

For Pictionary, we wrote the words for the other team. Somehow, “dickfore” made its way in there. Weird! Also, “tempest” is a hard word.

Captionary was a hit. We played it twice with about 15 people. I have tons of filled papers for my bathroom wall. 🙂 A selection of captions:

  • The parachuter team unsuccessfully killed mega-Jesus, but a UFO accidentally crashed into him, saving the world.
  • Lions, tigers, and bears, oh my! But mostly tigers…
  • Defend yourself against Jehovah’s Witches.
  • The 3 French maids yelled at the children for cutting off the Asian boys’ legs and eating them.
  • A placid night at the strip club took a rowdy turn when the birthday sperm showed up.

Diplomacy Party!

Sometimes I have an idea so good, I blow my own mind. This is a tale of one of those ideas.

Well, not so much a tale. But a short story.

So, you all know the board game Diplomacy, right? Right? Good. I played it a few times in high school, but the problem with the game is that you can never get seven people in the same room for seven hours. It just is beyond human organizational skill, not to mention the patience of the players. For the past four years or so, I’ve been half-heartedly trying to get a game together.

Well, now it’s time to get serious. My birthday is coming up, and I figure that where the pure persuasive power of my golden voice didn’t work, guilt will.

Hence, the Dress-up Diplomacy Birthday Bash. My birthday party will be a game of diplomacy, played by six of my close friends and me. Furthermore, we will all be sporting costumes related to our country in-game. Any time period. If this isn’t the best idea ever, I don’t want to know what is.

Captionary

There’s a fun parlor game that my friends like to play from time to time. I call it Captionary (although, apparently it is commonly known as Eat Poop You Cat).

Everyone sits in a rough circle and is given the long half of a sheet of paper and a pen. Start by having everyone write a sentence or phrase at the top of the paper. When done, pass the paper clockwise.

When you are given your neighbor’s phrase, draw a picture that represents it and fold the paper back so that only your new picture is visible. Pass this paper clockwise.

The person to your left, without knowing the phrase you drew, writes a new caption for your picture, folds the paper back so only his or her caption is visible, and passes clockwise. And so on.

End when there is no more space, and preferably on a phrase. Pass the papers around so everyone can see what weird mutations occurred. It’s like written Telephone and becomes a nice cooperative framework in which to be clever.

Give Me Pong

I think of the era of the NES and SNES as the Golden Age of Gaming. Also, I was then at my most impressionable. Coincidence!

Bias aside, I do believe that gaming these days sucks: games are just too complicated. I appreciate an anti-aliased breast responding in real-time to its environment as much as the next guy, but I think developers are spending way too much energy on looks. The burgeoning processing power of consoles forces developers to compete in an arms race of dazzle, requiring huge amounts of art and coding to make pretty things appear on the screen.

Back in the day, one dude in a basement could make a game, and often did. Now, it takes a team and budget similar to a Hollywood blockbuster with all the same implications. A game can no longer take a chance. I recently heard a British filmmaker on NPR celebrate the British film industry for its low budgets. He was allowed to explore more niche concepts and take more creative opportunities because of a smaller investment.

Gone are the puzzle games, the detective games, the sim games, the Japanese games. Now we have sports, racing games, Square Enix RPGs, movie spinoffs, and shooters. Game production costs too much to risk a road less traveled. Since games are rarely one person’s brainchild anymore, they also tend to lack a certain flair. Games created by committee are a bit bland.

I really like Nintendo’s stance on this: growth can be found in providing a better experience, not a better FPS count. Coincidentally, their Game Boy system is the best counter to the trend I cite above. Games can still be created with a nominal staff and don’t have nearly so many expectations. I see more risks being taken and more creativity in the Game Boy market than the consoles’. Especially with the DS’s wireless and touch screen. Kirby: Canvas Curse sounds fantastic. Wario Ware was innovative but simple. Take a simple concept, make it intuitive, and base a cool game around it. The lower the barrier to development, the more and quirkier games we see.

One of the problems is the push to make everything 3D. So many sequels to old classics have been redone in 3D to modernize them. Side scrollers are great! Sprites also good! Castlevania: Symphony of the Night was amazing because the developers didn’t stray from its side-scrolling roots. If you really must make something 3D, look to Viewtiful Joe and do a 3D side scroller. Don’t give us all the accompanying control and camera headaches that plague most 3D games but rarely offer gameplay benefits. Not to mention how much more complicated it is to code a 3D game versus a 2D one. I’d buy a pixelated, 1D game for the GameCube if it had good gameplay.

Do Not Use Prolong with Chronos

When I was in high school and thinking about creating a web site, I vowed that my future web site would be useful. I looked at sites with flaming gifs and little characters walking across the page and knew that wasn’t for me. I wanted a web site that contained information useful to someone, like a web color hex code chart or something. So, here is that bit of knowledge that justifies mterry.name’s existence.

In the amazing game Cosmic Encounter, there are various alien powers. My friends made their own copy of the Mayfair version of the game with cardboard and such, but could not find for the life of them this one alien power’s text. That alien power is Prolong. Here it is, apparently the only copy of this information on the Internet:

Prolong

You have the power to protract. When you are a main player, if both players reveal Attack Cards you may call “extend.” You and your opponent must then play and reveal an additional Attack Card. You may continue to call extend as long as both main players can play Attack Cards. All Attack Cards played add to the challenge total. You may stop extending at any time. When the extension stops, challenge results are determined. Kickers multiply the value of the Attack Card that they are played with during the extension. Card-related powers (Chosen, Gambler, Laser, Mutant, Oracle, Visionary, etc.) are applied to each card played during the extension. All cards played are discarded. Players cannot draw new hands during the extension.

History: Possessed of an overdeveloped sense of pride coupled with a love of battle, the Prolongs are rarely willing to admit defeat or claim victory. Their Cosmic adversaries dread confrontation with the Prolong because even a minor skirmish is often drawn out into a long and exhausting battle.

Do not use with Chronos.

The Game That Wouldn’t Die

The campers at Cybercamp are given a lot of down time to play on the computers. Naturally, this is mostly spent playing various games. This last week, there was a smattering of recent titles like Jedi Academy and Call of Duty with one notable exception.

I was floored to see how heavily StarCraft was played. Every day, they would get an eight-player game or two going. This game is half as old as they are; they must have been playing it ever since they knew how.

StarCraft has amazing tenacity. It has to be frustrating as a game developer to still have to compete with games from 1998, let alone your contemporaries. The game is still being patched, for goodness sake. I was in EB earlier today and saw boxed copies of the original StarCraft for sale! The game is still played by the entire population of South Korea. One of the campers showed me this mod for Warcraft III whose goal was to perfectly emulate StarCraft.

I don’t understand this. I like StarCraft too, but I’d like to think it’s not humanity’s last word on games. Surely we can do better. I know I’m looking forward to the new Frogger games

Hydlide Review

I would label myself as somewhat of a masochistic gamer. Repetitive tasks are my forte, and I am apparently one of the few people on the planet that likes Irritating Stick. I say this in the interest of full disclosure, for I write today to tell you of a much-maligned game that I like.

I loved Hydlide as soon as I started to play it. The plot itself is non-existent and the gameplay is certainly overly difficult and misleading. But that is par for the course with NES games. Back in those days, spikes were spikes and you had better have a subscription to Nintendo Power if you ever wanted to get out of Marklork’s Dungeon of Hidden Walls.

What really separates Hydlide from the pack is its interface. The game is a simplistic RPG. Its beauty lies in its extreme simplicity. There were no menus at all (except a view-only inventory window when you pressed SELECT and a small system menu when you press START) and no screen switches. The upper left of the screen was reserved for the game area, a top-down view, and the rest is your health, experience, and spells. Everything is displayed at once.

If you want to attack, you simply walk into an enemy. What else are going to do with a zombie, after all? Shake its hand? You can hold the A button to strengthen your attack or B to defend from enemies walking into you. Press both together and you cast a spell. All items you pick up by walking into them and use by walking into whatever they unlock or activate.

This is a welcome relief from other games of the era that complicated matters to an excessive degree in the name of interactivity (Ultima games, anyone?). No need to obfuscate the fact that I’m on a fetch-quest or let me use an item when it makes no sense. Abstracting away the traditional trappings of an RPG and getting at the pure gameplay is what makes Hydlide so appealing.

The game also had save states before we knew what they were. You could save the game anytime, and it would save all the game’s state: your exact tile and health and everything (well… until you turned off the game). Which is good, because the game is nigh-impossible.

Hydlide is admittedly almost as hard as Battletoads, but it does have an innovative interface. That’s got to count for something.

EB And Shelves

EB is crazy. In our local mall, there is an EB into which Dave and I ritualistically hop whenever we’re down there. We never buy anything or intend to, but it can be fun looking.

Anyway, the weird thing is that the shelf space is constantly in flux. Every time we go in there, the games, CDs, and equipment have all played musical chairs. Every time. Now, either they constantly do testing that determines each week’s best hope of tapping into the Zeitgeist or they do testing that says keeping your customers confused is the new black.

Forget customers even. What about the poor employees that have to both move everything every week and also know where everything is? Maybe that’s the plan: the best way to have employees know every inch of the store is to make them take it apart and put it back together again.

Not Pr0n

Yesterday, I found this neat puzzle site. It features a sequence of increasingly difficult open-ended puzzles, sometimes requiring word games or clever investigations. Unfortunately, the game is also designed to require some common Windows utilities, so Linux/Mac users will have to be slightly more resourceful.

Nevertheless, it is a pretty fun series of brain teasers. I’m on puzzle 20 right now, stalled waiting to get access to a Windows box. If you get stuck, there are some helpful official hints in the forums.

Mafia

I just came back from a farewell bash at Nick’s where we played a game we like called Mafia. After several games of this, we think we have some strategies.

First off, the game is very hard for the civilians to win, at least in our play group. Maybe we play badly or we have too many mafia. Since mafia have perfect information, our strategies are mostly about helping the civilians out.

  • People that are generally quiet are bad for the game. Mafia players are trying to manipulate the conversations in a favorable direction and civilians are trying to notice the manipulations. That is the only real information civilians have (outside of the one civilian detective). Therefore, everybody that is actually interested in advancing the game wants to talk and use talk to discover information. Killing silent people helps fuel the fire of the game. This has the unfortunate side effect of punishing shy people. Shyness obviously should be taken into account, but all other things being equal, silent people are bad.

  • If you are the detective, it is a good idea to ask about the person on your left or right, and then if they are a civilian too, tell them you are the detective. This will create a civilian bloc. Of course, a mobster can do this and just lie.

    Update: Here’s what you do. People hold up a number of fingers during the detective phase. If the detective uncovers a civilian next to him or her, he or she taps the civilian and discretely holds up the same number of fingers during the day. That way, the civilian knows that the detective was the one with their eyes open during the detective phase.

  • The detective should “go nuclear” and share their findings, admitting to being the detective. Obviously, they are sacrificing themselves, since the mafia will slit their throat that night. But in the meantime, you will have possibly outed a mafia member, which is great. A mafia member could also claim to be the detective, but that would be suicide once one of the two is killed. However, on the last round (the round in which the civilians must pick a mafia member or lose), there are no consequences, so don’t trust people claiming to be detectives. As soon as the detective knows the identity of a mafia member, he or she should cash out.

  • Finally, in the first few rounds, due to probability and mafia manipulation, the townspeople will likely be accusing civilians. If the play group starts to seriously settle on some accusees, the civilians might want to switch modes and start accusing anyone but these accusees. Again, there is chance for mafia meta-manipulation by accusing themselves, but that is a risky play.