Free Sorcery! For Android

screenYolari just mentioned that Steve Jackson’s “Sorcery!”, which released as a mobile app for Android a few months ago, is currently FREE on, available instantly.

This game has a truly old school lineage. It doesn’t get more old school than print. I enjoyed the books when I was a kid.

This kitty does not have Android at the moment. She has made up her mind to get a sweet Samsung tablet, but is waiting for the new “Android L” in November, which will offer significant graphics upgrades and presumably hardware support for shadows and things that make me happy as an artist and designer. I do want to support tablets with my video game.

So during the last month or so (or four if you include development of art assets), I’ve transitioned fully to game developer status from player status. I’m hips-deep in my HTML5/CSS3/Canvas/Javascript online RPG project, featuring my own art and fantasy writing.

This has been a fascinating process. I’m constantly reviewing and pondering all of the ideas and concepts I’ve ever had about CRPG design. I’m thinking about all of the criticism I’ve leveled at various titles, and thinking of how to do it right. I could launch into an exegesis on my ideas, but I’m just too busy!

Here is the top of my design principles list:

  • Smiling Jack. You’ve got a friend.
  • Make the story personal.
  • Make the text interactive, not passive.
  • Convincing interplanar travel. i.e. Alice.
  • Romance with LGBT inclusivity.

Most games today fail at all of these things. You meet people, listen to their problems, and then do things for them. Elder Scrolls is the lone outlier that skirts the fringes of this short list. It almost makes it on each score, but in my opinion still falls shorter than it could have even in comparision to the single player titles.

So far this is a solo effort using my passing interdisciplinary skills, but I’m happy to maybe have Yolari online for some combat coding. The thought of a Kickstarter is a pipe dream, but just thinking of it as a reality allows one to glimpse the amount of pressure this puts on an Indie team or individual like Phil Fish.

Sometimes one wonders, when a questionable or wonky MMO design decision is made, if the devs actually play their own game. No. I think no. Too much to do. Tick tock. Here is a screenshot of my interface in process. I have functional dialog, location movement, core databases and basic code at this point.

Am I taking this too seriously? No. This is really just a student exercise and proving ground. It’s just that I’m really enjoying it and doing well for the moment, more so than I imagined.

I’ve gained two levels so far in LotRO. When I hit 5/5, level 100, I can go back to Elder Scrolls Online. This is the incentive I’m holding out for myself.

LotRO: Update 14: Paths of the Dead

horseLotRO’s Paths of the Dead update released earlier this week, and I was in the hospital emergency room at the time, which is darkly poetic. I had surgery to remove my kidney stone Monday night, and I’m currently recuperating in bed.

I’m no longer in severe pain, although I still have post-operative risks. I have some scary nagging mysterious aches that make the typical LotRO Community lambasting of this update look self-entitled and wretched.

Despite my differences with LotRO, it’s a source of fun and enjoyment, something to look forward to in life after being anesthetized, when you cease to exist completely from this earth for an hour or two, so gone that you don’t even realize that you’re gone.

The LotRO producer letter’s existence, on the other hand, is appreciated. I’ve always like Aaron Campbell. I’m impressed by the LI change.

Wildstar seems to have an achievement-based evolution of its legendary items, and it’s impressive that the Turbine guys are stepping up to the challenge, allowing legacy unlocks based on content you complete (implied from the dev post snippet that was posted on LotRO Community).

This long-requested revamp is well worth putting effort into over another level cap increase if Turbine can milk the system in the press. LI’s are a big reason people leave.

On the other hand, the essence system defrays the step forward by creating another thing that seems to need grinding and slotting, despite Sapience’s well-constructed pre-emptive attempt at panic control in the patch notes.

I agree with starting the Beorning at level one. They should be rare. Blizzard started Death Knights at 55 with overpowered gear, and they remain today one of the most-played classes in World of Warcraft. I hope no one wants the Beorning to be like that. You have to buy it, and then earn it. I like it.

The implementation of global chat is excellent, and so is increased friends list. The content also looks interesting, although based on early screenshots in the LotRO forums, it looked a little rushed and hodgepodge, without so much of the highly refined cultural aesthetic of the Rohan art.

I’m looking forward to checking out this update. I would also like to get back to Elder Scrolls for another go, supporting a solid MMO with a subscription model.

I might try Shadowrun Returns today in bed, based on Yolari’s recommendation. It depends on whether I can play left-handed. Otherwise I’m enjoying episodes of BBC’s Sherlock on Netflix with Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman (Bilbo from The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, etc.)

So if you’re walking the Paths of the Dead today or this weekend, don’t forget to take a moment to appreciate how alive and healthy you are. Jeepers, maybe even go for a long elven walk among the trees outside to celebrate.

Ubisoft Cans Female Assassin Plans

Sarah Leboeuf for The Escapist reported last week on Ubisoft’s announcement that they had planned until recently to have a female playable assassin in Assassin’s Creed: Unity, but according to technical director James Therien, they canned her because:

“A female character means that you have to redo a lot of animation, a lot of costumes [inaudible]. It would have doubled the work on those things.”

This is an absurd statement from the Ubisoft representative. Once again, the press is calling out dev b.s., and that’s excellent. To quote Leboeuf:

“But let’s pretend for a second that the “it’s too hard” excuse wasn’t total bullshit. So what? That’s your problem, publishers; it’s time to do your jobs. Include women characters in your budget. Allocate resources to bring these characters to life. Just make it happen. By saying it’s too much work to put women in games, what you’re actually saying is women aren’t worth the effort, and that feels really, really shitty.”

Shitty. I wouldn’t normally use this word, especially with hyperbolic double adverbs before it, but maybe it’s le mot juste and worth a kitty signal boost.

For further reading, Robert Rath did a radically erudite supportive write-up on the historical case for a female French assassin. However, it seems more appropriate to focus on the case of why this really happened, which is always money.

Are female characters really still not saleable in video games? Supposedly Lara Croft barely pulled her weight in profit in the last Tomb Raider installment, but she made it eventually. It also bears noting that for games with a worldwide distribution, we are running into social mores that are far more traditional and male chauvinist than the U.S. and Europe gaming establishment.

Due to no female lead, I’ve never purchased an Assassin’s Creed game, but that just changed. I bought Assassin’s Creed: Liberation (the only installment offering a female protagonist, which quietly released this last January on PC and consoles via a sketchy PS Vita port) for 40% off today on Steam.

This is despite a disappointingly poor review from PC Gamer, in which the reviewer states:

Trouble is, donning alternative outfits just isn’t appealing. Who honestly wants to wear filthy rags or a frilly pink dress in an Assassin’s Creed game?

Fuck you, Ben Griffin. I do.

The above-mentioned Tomb Raider is also on sale today for a record low $4.99 on Steam, so if you haven’t yet, please take time to support female player characters in video games.

Elder Scrolls: A Hearty Alchemy


I’m two weeks into Elder Scrolls online, and I’m having fun. Some of my opinions haven’t changed since beta: beautiful scenery, average story, and profitable, although they’ve postponed console releases until next winter.

The public verdict on ESO seems to be that it does nothing better than any other MMO, but it’s a solid, enjoyable package. I agree, and all of the bugs I saw in beta are gone.

My beta report said caveat emptor, but now it’s two kitty thumbs up. Jump in at a discount. I want to talk a little about the game writing, combat, Fallout, Dragon Age, and this and that.

ESO: Combat Is Better When–

You play a Templar. Why? Because with spells and a weapon, you have two resource pools to strategize and use (stamina with weapon, magicka with spells.)

I can’t imagine playing ESO as a one-pool class after playing my Templar. There’s no going back. The game is also a perfect challenge for me so far. Mages and Dragon Knights look like they have it too easy.

I’m trying to play my Templar like a LotRO Captain. Support, off tanking and healing. We’ll see how that goes. I was happy to find out there are oodles of theoretical skill points. You aren’t as restricted as I’d feared.

You can craft like a gnome on crack if that’s your brand of gaming hat.

Elder Scrolls: Writing Weaknesses

I often harp about my Smiling Jack concept (borrowed from Vampire: Bloodlines, maybe the best example I’ve ever seen). When you get into the game, you have a smiling, sympathetic friend who shows you the ropes, not just pop-up tutorials to follow.

Elder Scrolls Online doubles up and gives you two interesting friends: the Prophet and Lyris Titanborn, notably voiced by Michael Gambon and Jennifer Hale.

The problem is that you find no emotional connection or camaraderie with them. It’s very cold, and the story isn’t about your character. Neither one of these people give the impression of caring about me, although the stakes are high and dramatic. I can say that.

In fact, the last mini-dungeon story episode was about Lyris Titanborn and her experiences and past. Well, what about my past? Where is my soul and all that? It’s off track.

And then, on a particular low-level questline in Morrowind, the NPCs make a big deal about you being a great hero, a saviour. It just seemed off-key and unbelievable to me at level 8 or 9.

The issue with limited writing is the voice-overs. There just isn’t enough forested real estate (dialogue “trees”) to say everything or have a real dialogue with real conversational choices like in Vampire: Bloodlines, and meanwhile the voices of Hale and Gambon aren’t empathetic. So.

Idea: Make Two Versions Of MMOs!

MMO devs of the world, here’s an idea for you: write your MMO in text first, and then boil down the text into voice over synopses, and give players a choice.

Players can play the unedited director’s cut, or they can play the Hollywood version.

Why not? The writers write a long version in the first place. It’s called the second draft. Then everything is edited and cut several times over for voice. Just delineate a boundary where everything goes into the text.

The effort will half pay for itself in saved bandwidth if you offer separate downloads. Writers will be happy dancing if they are worth their salt. Players will exchange lore back and forth, lore that will seem special.

Elder Scrolls: So What’s Next?

I have no idea. Due to a ridiculous persisting bug, beta players are denied forum write access. That includes this kitty, so here is my furry finger. (Yes, you can file a ticket, whatever.) I’ll say this.

The game needs more classes desperately, more than Neverwinter did. Four classes is not enough.

A better auction solution is still needed. Everyone agrees the guild stores are horrible. It can’t even be a girly bargain-bin delving game without properly functioning search features. Geez.

Fallout Online?

Where is Fallout at the moment? Bethesda gained the rights to a Fallout MMO from Interplay a few years ago. After all of the resources and investment Zenimax (Bethesda’s parent company) is putting into Elder Scrolls on PC and the next gen consoles, it would seem foolish not to use that experience to push forward and leverage a post-apocalyptic Fallout campaign.

I’m hoping to hear something about this at next year’s E3. What about this year’s E3? Oh, was there one? I almost didn’t notice.

Class Dependency In MMOs

Mark Kern wrote an article last week for MMORPG, and I thought it was horrible. The thesis is that MMO classes are being homogenized and class dependencies are being quashed for soloability, but really for profit.

The author argues that “it’s worth it to invest R&D in this area.”

Really? R&D? He talks about MMOs being effectively single player these days. This is an example of vaguely false exaggerations made for the sake of writing out a controversial article.

What’s killing class dependencies isn’t soloability and homogenization per se through self-heals, aggro management, personal CC, and general survivability. It’s dumbing down, reducing the need for skill, and giving players only 6 skills to use at a time. That forces all of the other stuff out the window.

It isn’t necessary to “strip away a lot of the identity and customization and role that the class used to offer.” You can have both like in LotRO, except no. Apparently we can’t handle that, certainly not on our couches with console controllers.

Unless you want to argue ESO has class dependencies because tanks and healers are needed, then dumbing down is my final answer. You say chicken, I claim egg.

Dragon Age: Inquisition Angry Joe Interview

Angry Joe posted an interview today with the producer of DA:Inquisition. I’m excited for this game.

The game will give you a combat choice this time. Choices are the future, we players can only hope. You can play top-down tactical like in DA:Origins with better camera controls, or go with actiony combat like in DA2.

DA:Inquisition will have an epic story, but also a big breach in the sky with demons pouring out. You take the good with the bad when it comes to sky rifts and cliches.

You’ll be managing the resources of your organization, which I’ve never been into in a single player RPG. It’s hard to feel like any of that gathering and building makes any difference when the game is going to end in a few hours.

Managing a keep-like housing facility in an MMO? Purr. Now that’s something I’d like to see, and I’m keeping my eye on Blizzard’s Draenor expansion for that.

Leliana plays a big part in Dragon Age:Inquisition! Yay. I’m not super thrilled with her new look, but we can ease into that topic later in our relationship. You know how it goes.

In related news, David Gaider, lead writer for Dragon Age, last month affirmed Bioware’s commitment to supporting LGBTQ characters and romances.

So duck and roll, I might vomit a rainbow. I’m feeling better. I think. Thanks for reading. Have a cookie and five gold kitty stars if you got this far. Happy gaming.

gold stars

Weekly Wyrm ~ June 7, 2014

This week I worked on my web-based RPG interface, and I re-visited the LotRO forums.

The LotRO forums feel like a planet of geeks after being conquered by Sith Lords–drained of life and populated mostly by ernest toadies, disguised trolls, intelligent but impotent pontificators, young innocents, and Pollyannas without jobs.

Elder Scrolls vs. LotRO

Until today, I was torn between boosting up my second LotRO account for boxing and going to Elder Scrolls Online. Both efforts seemed entertaining but not for long. I know in LotRO I can only keep one character because of store prices and LI grinds.

So I picked up ESO tonight for $30 at Gamestop, and it includes the Explorer Pack unlock. Soon there will be a new dark elf in town. I haven’t truly played a dark elf since Neverwinter, the original Neverwinter by Bioware, Cryptic having done f***ed up in Angry Joe’s terminology.

In ESO, the dark elf women look a bit angry and militant, but that’s realistic. I can live with it. I might try going to the wood elf side, but Morrowind is calling me. I listened to my fave Jeremy Soule Morrowind tracks every day last week.

His music is a relief from my pain issues. The good news is that I now have Valium.

World Of Darkness

Since I’m behind on my Massively reading, it took a TAGN article to raise my trimmed eyebrows at the woes of this dead, putrefying MMO.

The failure of the effort is justly dragged through the mud, and I feel for every old White Wolf fan and employee who was strung along, frustrated, and crashed wholly along with the mismanaged corporate bus.

Dungeons And Dragons

Escapist reported this week on a new Dungeons And Dragons starter edition. Apparently it’s $20 for two books and some dice, which is reasonable. They could have been more bare bones about it, but if there isn’t immediate short term profit, apparently it isn’t worth doing.

It’s fantastic that kids are still playing this game and learning to worship dark goddesses and demons. The young man below has devoted his eternal soul to Sekhmet, an excellent choice.

This picture is reblogged from the Soviet Hot Tub Party blog.

This looks like the back patio of the Metropolitan in New York, but I don’t know. Document your infernal sources, people! Unless, of course, you illegally imported most of your collection.

Fight on, happy gaming to all.

sekhmet statue image


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