Don’t Puke On The New Carpet

I recently participated in the 2015 Global Game Jam, the first video game jam that I’ve been to in a couple of years. Whenever I go to one of these events, I try to do something different or try to learn something new. I saw a let’s play video of Don’t Shit Your Pants recently, and I decided that I would set out to make a game like it, simply to figure out how it was coded.  This was also an opportunity to use the new UI tools that are part of Unity 4.6, something I haven’t touched yet myself. The result is this very immature game that, while I’m proud of the learning experience, I’m not so proud of the content. Still, it made me laugh and I hope it makes you laugh as well.

To run the game, download the zip file in the link below and unzip it’s contents. Double-click the exe file and select your settings. It can play fullscreen. Enjoy!

Download Don’t Puke On The New Carpet

LARPing And The Aesthetics Of Play

It’s almost late, but I’ve posted after two weeks of inactivity, as promised!

I’d like to talk about Aesthetics Of Play, and how they relate to LARPing. Aesthetics Of Play are essentially what makes a particular game fun for the player. In a paper at Northwestern University entitled “MDA: A Formal Approach to Game Design and Game Research,” the three authors describe eight different aesthetics of play: Sense Pleasure, Fantasy, Narrative, Challenge, Fellowship, Discovery, Expression, and Submission (or Abnegation, as some prefer to call it). Every game may have elements of all of these, but only a few are considered core to a game and why those that play a particular one fun. Killer Instinct does have a story and plot, but that’s not why a lot of people play that game, so Narrative isn’t a core aesthetic of said game.

With all of that said, how can each one be used in a LARP’s design? I’m going to go through all eight of these (and throw in a ninth one, as identified by Extra Credits, as it makes a lot of sense to put in) and look at how it can be used as a core aesthetic.

  1. Sense Pleasure

Sense pleasure as an aesthetic is one where your senses are stimulated: Sight, Sound, Smell, Touch, and Taste. Games you keep going back to for a great soundtrack or stunning visuals uses this as a Core Aesthetic.

LARPs can use this by setting the physical space in the right way: decorations which reflect the intended setting and genre, music and sound effects to reflect the theme. What would be interesting to see at a LARP is trying to manufacture certain scents within a set, such as the damp, musty smell of an old decrepit cabin in the woods, or the sensation of a slight touch along the skin when a ghost walks by or through a player, but the player never sees the NPC.

This aesthetic is usually not used as a Core Aesthetic in LARPs, often due to budget constraints. But it’d be interesting to see a one-off or perhaps annual LARP game try to achieve this.

  1. Fantasy

Fantasy is the ability to step into a role you can’t step into in real life. However, in many games, this role is chosen for you. In Call of Duty, you’re a soldier. In the GTA games, you’re a psychotic criminal.

While in many LARPs, Fantasy in surely core to a game, but often goes hand in hand with Expression. However, the games mechanics often set the limits of that expression. It’s not a bad thing, necessarily. It depends on the kind of LARP you’re trying to run.

  1. Narrative

Narrative is games as drama. This is what drama unfolds which the player witnesses, as opposed to the Fantasy they play through. Final Fantasy, Journey, and so on, all use Narrative as a Core Aesthetic.

LARPing is supposed to be interactive. You don’t passively watch events unfold passively. So this one is often passed over for Fantasy. Still, there are times where certain plotlines in many long-term LARP games may not interest your character, and you just want to sit back and watch the drama unfold.

  1. Challenge

This one is defined as an obstacle course of sorts. It’s a group of enemies in a module, or a puzzle. It’s a challenge where players must overcome in order to progress through the game.

In LARPs, this is often represented by groups of NPCs looking for a fight. Players have to use their skills, such as magic, or weapon skill abilities, to fight and take down the opposing NPCs. It’s pretty common. They can also be represented by logic puzzles, or even actual physical obstacle courses.

  1. Fellowship

This is working as a team to achieve a goal. Dungeons in World of Warcraft, team deathmatches in FPS games, and so forth.

This is often a vital Core Aesthetic in a LARP. Whether you’re playing a class-based or skillpoint-based game, often times you will need to rely on another character’s skill set to get you through things. Fighters need healers to keep them alive, mages need fighters to prevent others from killing them with ease, etc. If one person gets through an encounter meant for a group, you done goofed.

  1. Discovery

This is the act of discovering something new within a game. This can be discovery of a new land, or a new item that can be created, and so on.

While there is a bit of this in some LARPs, it’s not often used as a Core Aesthetic. Players who like to make things often like to find new things to make, whether it’s raiding a dungeon with big hero-types to find a new formula for a magic ritual, or discovering it on their own through experimentation. I’d like to see Discovery used more in LARPs.

  1. Expression

This is the ability for a player to express an aspect of themselves through the game. Character creation in games such as World of Warcraft or Skyrim are all forms of expression.

This is core to LARPs where the player creates their own character before they play their first game, and is used very often. I would even say that this it a defining feature of LARPs, and is a Core Aesthetic to all of them (or all of the ones I’ve played, at least).

  1. Abnegation

This is game as a pastime. This aesthetic is one where players play to just zone out and disconnect from everything. Skinner box games, or games that require grinding, are examples of Abnegation.

This one is often not intended as a Core Aesthetic in LARPs. Still, there are people who like to just role-play with their friends, and not participate in the plot. It’s just chilling out by a fire and just unwinding, which is still a valid way of enjoying a LARP.

  1. Dominance

This is the aesthetic that the Extra Credits added to their list if Aesthetics of Play. It’s the urge to show dominance over others. Call of Duty, PvP areas in World of Warcraft, even GTA Online uses it to some degree.

Naturally, all of these are examples of PvP, which I’ve already expressed my thoughts on. But despite my views on it, I still see it as a valid Aesthetic of Play that can be core to a LARP if the ones running it want it to be.

So what are the Core Aesthetics of any LARP? That’s a loaded question, as different LARPs over different things. Expression and Fantasy often go hand in hand to create role-play, however. And Fellowship often goes together with Challenge to create a group dynamic to overcome obstacles as a team. So those four are often the big ones in a LARP. If you can focus your mechanics to deliver the dynamics necessary to achieve those aesthetics, I think you’re on your way to creating a great LARPing experience for your players. But don’t forget that the other five are still valid, and experimenting with them is something that not a lot of people have really explored in a LARP.

I hope that you find this something to consider, as I’ve recently have been pondering.

See you in two weeks, max, folks!

Happy New Year and A Couple Of Interesting Links

Hello everyone, and Happy New Year! It’s been too long since I’ve posted here, and frankly, I’ve been very lax on posting things here in the first place. So I’m going to try to post at least once every two weeks with SOMETHING. For now, here are a few links to LARP-related articles that I found interesting.

First, an article about The Circle Of Jerk, a concept where only the oldest, most powerful characters get to have any fun, a situation I’m too familiar with, unfortunately.

The other is an essay regarding the lack of LARPs in Japan. A bit wordy, but interesting none the less.

I hope you like the articles, and I’ll be posting something of my own very soon.

Player Vs Player Needs Consent

In and of itself, I have no problems with Player vs Player in games. The idea of a “We Vs They” or “Everyone For Themselves” in games is certainly not new. Competitive games encourages sportsmanship, promotes teamwork, and can promote self-confidence, especially in physical sports.

When you enter into one of these games, you understand ahead of time what the rules are and the expectation that there are two or more teams competing against one another. The same goes for games such as League of Legends or Call of Duty (if you play it online) where it’s clear you’re going to be an a PvP situation.

Table Top RPGs and LARPs, however, do not have these built into their systems. There’s no PvP-only zones in a larp, and nothing saying you cannot attack or kill other players that are playing around you. This causes a problem with those that simply want to enjoy their LARP or Table-Top experience as presented to them by their Game Masters.

This is especially problematic when a person wants to play one of these games with the intention of doing a lot of Player vs Player. A person who does this is essentially saying “I’m going to have fun at someone else’s expense.” It shows a lack of empathy for other players, many of which bring the game world more to life with their character’s actions.

I personally find non-consentual PvP to be abhorrent. At best, it’s just rude. At its worst, it can completely ruin an event or evening for a player. I’ve seen many new players driven off from LARPing because of someone that simply wants to steal and kill everyone just because that’s how they get their jollies.

So, what to do? In the case of Table-Top RPGs, it should be discussed between the players and the Game Master as to what level of PvP is acceptable among the group. Once that is established, you can then move forward with the game with those parameters, and everyone will be comfortable playing at that setting.

For LARPs, it gets a bit trickier. LARPs are not as small or intimate as a D&D group. As a result, not everyone at a LARPing event will be familiar with one another’s comfort or views regarding PvP. Some, as I stated earlier, come in specifically to take out other players for fun.

A great technique I’ve learned from Elegy is the idea of talking to another player Out Of Game about the PvP you’d like to engage in. If they say no, then don’t do it. But if they do agree to it, with or without conditions, it’s all good! Why? Because now there’s consent involved.

A lot of great story can be developed and carried out between players that do this, and it can make an event even more immersive and exciting for everyone involved. In addition, because everyone involved consented to it, there’s no hard feelings at all, and everyone can still leave the game happy.

So talk to people you want to engage PvP with. No one will regret it, and it leaves your LARP or RPG game a better and more welcoming place.

A Review of Elegy: A Doompunk LARP

I recently went to Elegy for their second season finale event. I came to it knowing that I would either love it, or hate it. I had my reservations about going, mainly because I’ve had my ear to the ground regarding Elegy and on the surface it has both welcoming and unwelcoming voices. But I couldn’t be more wrong about the unwelcoming ones.

But lets get down to it. This is my review of Elegy: A Doompunk LARP!

(What the hell is Doompunk? Damned if I know.)

Genre and Narrative

Elegy is a Post-Apocalyptic LARP, which is a nice change of pace from the many of the other combat LARPs which are all Fantasy. This also allows an easy justification of NERF guns in the LARP, something very highly demanded by many LARPers.

The game takes place in a ruined Southern Ontario 200 years from today, called the Golden South. In this area, blocked off from the rest of the world by Rifts, giant fissures in the earth which spew forth radiation called simply “Rift Energy.” The survivors of the apocalypse have formed their own cultures which share the Golden south: The Imagos, religious farmers, Kinfolk, open and accepting of others out of both necessity and kindness, the Penitents, science-minded individuals bent on saving the world from the Rifts, Scraplanders, corporate-minded peoples of the world living in the last remaining city in the Golden South, Vanguard, no-nonsense survival of the fittest types, and the Wilder, who are not a true civilization perse, but individuals or groups who choose to live in the wildest areas of the land.

The game itself takes place primarily in a place called Bartertown, a shanty town where all the cultures meet primarily to trade with one another. Surprisingly all of the cultures consider it neutral ground and will fight shoulder to shoulder when Bartertown comes under attack. There’s PvP of course, but much of it is either negotiated OOG between the players involved, or doesn’t come to combat.

Rules

For a combat LARP, Elegy is very rules-lite. They are designed to intrude on immersion and role-play as little as possible. As a game designer, I’m a little jealous of them. Combat, for example, doesn’t have regular damage calls unless you’re using a special ability. Every hit does X amount of damage, (two damage for bullets, and one damage for everything else). This allows role-play while in combat.

Character progression is mind-numbingly slow, but the character creation process allows you to be at the top of your field right off the bat. So if you wanted to be a master surgeon or engineer, you can do that right away, but improving anything beyond what you start with will take many events. This is a great thing for those running the plot of the game, as they don’t have to write encounters for characters with specific levels of experience, or at least for now.

Mind you, there are some things I can point out that I didn’t like. The Grapple rules are a little muttled and it’s not clear what it can and cannot do, it’s limitations, etc. I don’t like the fact that when Resources expire, they are still in game and can be traded.

There’s also a list of Thoughtbender abilities (psychic powers) that need to be memorized by everyone, and though that list is much shorter than many other games, it can still be a bit daunting to have to remember all of it. As a result, you end up having to ask what things do, and for how long, which breaks both the flow of combat and the immersion.

Player Base

I’ll be honest here. I’ve had my ear to the ground with Elegy for a while and I’ve had mixed feelings about the people that play Elegy. Some seemed nice, while others seemed to post a lot of macho posturing bullshit and sarcastic, snarky things that made me want to avoid Elegy. The title of this review might have been “Elegy: It’s Underworld with Nerf Guns.”

However, this was not the case. Many of their players were very welcoming. Even in the pouring rain at night, as I arrived late to the game on Friday night, there were people that helped me with setting up my tent very quickly, and I’m very grateful for that. Even the people that I thought would be problematic to me turned out to be very nice, at least out of game.

Elegy is more than just another LARP. They’ve gone out of their way to make sure that people are not there just to be jerks to everyone else and try to win. There’s a community here that has respect for one another and expect everyone to behave like adults. In addition, they are very welcoming to new players, making sure that everyone, no matter how long they’ve played, can have fun and feel like they belong.

I did find a few problems, but they are pretty common ones at any LARP. There are some people that swing WAY too hard with their weapons. Another problem I found was that Killing Blows, which require a 5-count (a five second description of the killing strike, or at least a 5 second count) being counted way too fast. These things can be corrected though, and are not as bad as some other LARPs I’ve played in the past.

Other Stuff

Elegy places a great amount of emphasis on immersion and role-play, which is reflected in their rules, but also in their attitudes towards what happens in their game. Not every encounter or NPC is a combat one, though there are many of those still. Even though on the surface it looks like almost everyone is playing a stereotype of their cultures, every character does feel like a unique individual that goes beyond just being a Vanguard murder-hobo or Kinfolk nymphomaniac, which adds depth to the immersion and role-play.

The game itself is played on the Mythwood Campground in Grey County, Ontario. It’s a beautiful site, complete with a lake that is available for swimming (weather permitting). It is clothing optional, however, so keep that in mind.

The facilities do have showers on site, but mostly relies on outhouses for bathrooms. There is a heated cabin for many people, but space is limited and priority goes to those that need to be there for medical reasons. It’s also far away from Bartertown proper.

Elegy does have a food tent where warm food can be purchased, but they often run out of food to cook, so it would be best not to rely completely on it. Bring at least some of your own food just in case.

Overall, Elegy is a fantastic game, and offers a great post-apocalyptic experience and a thriving, welcoming community. I highly recommend checking it out for yourself when the next season starts next spring.

Links to both Elegy and Mythwood Campground can be found below:

Elegy: A Doompunk LARP

Mythwood Campground

I’m Taking It Back

With the whole GamerGate fiasco that’s been going down in recent months, the idea of “Gamers are dead” because everyone plays games now, whether it be on their phones on the subway, for hours on a PC, or anywhere in between, has come up. And I respectfully disagree with that statement.

The term Gamer is meant to be a term for a Games Enthusiast. Someone who not only plays games, but also reads and writes about them, blogs about them, subscribes to magazines (or used to before the internet was a thing), discuss them with other Games enthusiasts, and even make them on their own time. It isn’t just a thing to pass the time on the subway, it’s a major hobby that occupies a large majority of free time.

The logic of “Everyone is a gamer now, therefore no one is” doesn’t make sense to me. I wear clothing regularly like everyone else does, but that doesn’t make me a Fashionista, or Fashion Enthusiast. I eat food like everyone else, but that doesn’t make me a Foodie, or a Food Enthusiast. If I owned a car, I wouldn’t be a Gearhead, or Car Enthusiast, as a result.

Gamers are not dead. I haven’t lost my enthusiasm for playing and creating games. But some have, namely many female game developers and enthusiasts who have been the target of gross amounts of hate and misogyny simply for being female. Which is gross.

To me, it’s not that Gamers are dead, but instead that the term has been hijacked and twisted to mean something else entirely. The mainstream media often tries to depict Gamers as petty, apathetic, socially inept teenagers filled with angst and hate with no healthy outlet for their emotions, and therefore escape into games in order to cope. And because the loudest voices among Gamers are basically the petty, apathetic, and socially inept, that’s how the media labels ALL Gamers.

Except that we’re not.

Most Gamers actually want to see a large variety of different games, with different stories and perspectives. I’m craving variety right now, and I’m not getting it from the AAA publishers. The ever-growing indie games scene is where the variety is coming from right now, and that’s where you’re seeing all the variety. But somehow the ones causing all the noise and making all Gamers look bad think that variety means that their favourite games somehow disappear. I have something to tell you: Activision will still be making Call Of Duty over and over again for years to come. It’s not going to disappear because women want to make games about anything other than shooting brown people. Same goes for Battlefield, Gears Of War, and many other games you cling to.

The Gamers I know are a very welcoming bunch. They’ll accept you regardless of gender, skin colour, sexual preference, and so on. As long as you’re someone that isn’t largely negative and share the same passion for games, you’re welcomed with open arms.

And the ones that are spreading misogyny and hate, slut-shaming and harassing women in the games industry and within gamer culture? I’m going to say this as simply as I can.

You. Are. NOT. Gamers.

You may spend some of your time playing games, but you do not do anything other than that to express your enthusiasm for the hobby. You do not drive the direction of games in any way. You don’t add anything to the conversation beyond spreading hate. In fact, you spend more time discussing your hatred for people than you do discussing games themselves.

That is not enthusiasm for games. That’s enthusiasm for bigotry. You are BIGOTS, and that’s what you should be called. That’s your label now.

You do not represent me, or any Games Enthusiasts at large. The game developers and publishers are not siding with you. The games journalists are not siding with you. Even the culture you claim to be in does not side with you.

I’m taking back the term Gamer for myself and anyone that wants the term to become what it was, and always should have been: people who have a passion for games. Anyone that wants to exclude anyone else for that just for their sex, gender, sexual orientation, race, or whatever, can go away and bitch about it with the other Bigots.

I am a Gamer, always have been, and always will be. And if you’re more concerned with games than you are with making sure only certain people get to make or talk about them, you’re welcome to be one too.

P.S. If anyone wants to call me a Social Justice Warrior over this, can you do me a favour and call me a Social Justice Wizard instead? I like that character class better, and it gives me an excuse to get one of those Social Justice class pins.

Keep It To Ten Minutes

A friend of mine, someone I regularly collaborate with on various projects, posted this on his Facebook page. With his permission, I am re-posting it here because it makes a lot of sense.


 

WARNING! INCOMING RANT! If you don’t wanna read it, then don’t. And I’m not going to reply to anyone who can’t put logic first.

So, here’s the thing about abilities at LARPs that take a long time to use.

Crafting skills and “medical” healing (and a few other more game-specific abilities) classically take a very long time in LARPs to take effect. The reasons for this that I’ve heard are things like “It’s more realistic” and “It creates roleplay opportunity”.

Firstly, if you want realistic, a sword wound or gun shot can take MONTHS to heal fully with modern medical technology, let alone whatever medieval doctoring equipment is available in most LARPs. If someone in a game spends 6 hours going from 0 HP to full, or returning a broken limb to full usefulness, that is just as unrealistic as spending ten minutes to do the same.

Secondly, these things don’t “create” role-play opportunity. The role-play opportunity is there regardless of how many hours people spend banging foam hammers on a fake anvil or stitching someone up. The people are there, and they are role-players; if they want to role-play, they will do so regardless of whether or not they’re being forced into a mind-numbing chore to replenish in-game resources.

Those first two points serve to address the obvious flaws in the argument for such abilities to take a large amount of time, but don’t serve to promote the argument of why such abilities should take a short amount of time. That’s this next part.

See, when players have limits to their in-game resources, they will seek to replenish those resources whenever possible. As a result, players will always spend the time necessary to replenish those resources, whether or not they’re enjoying themselves in the process.

Now you might say, “Well, most people don’t enjoy the act of forging metal or stitching someone up,” which is largely true and not a small part of why most people don’t do it in real life. But this isn’t real life, it’s a game. And when people are playing a game, especially when they are PAYING MONEY to play a game, they want to enjoy themselves. They are paying their money in exchange for entertainment (World Of Warcraft not-withstanding).

So whenever you have a game mechanic that would cause most people to get bored and stop enjoying themselves, what you have is a bad game mechanic. It will make people not want to take part in that aspect of the game, which is especially problematic if they wanted to make or have made a character for the purpose of being in that aspect of the game.

You know what happens when LARPers get bored? They stop talking about stuff that’s going on in-game and start talking about stuff that’s going on in real life, which breaks immersion for everyone around and causes even more problems. You might say, “Well, if they’re LARPing, they should stay in character even if they’re bored,” to which I reply, “Then YOU should have a system that doesn’t encourage them to break character.”

If players get bored and break character because the plot isn’t engaging, that’s not something that can be fixed with the rules. But if they get bored and break character because your rules are forcing them to effectively remove themselves from actually playing the game in order to be allowed to keep playing later, you’ve got a problem with your rules that can be quickly and easily fixed.

This isn’t just a problem with resource restoration, though. LARPs also often have game effects such as spells or abilities that render another person unable to continue interacting with the game for large amounts of time, often an hour or more. Why bother making someone stand around for that long? Whether they’re frozen or imprisoned or whatever, what purpose does it serve to make the player (or even cast member) stand around and do nothing for a whole hour? All you’re doing is taking away someone else’s ability to enjoy the game.

After a certain point, such abilities stop “creating tension” and start taking away from the enjoyment of the poor saps forced to endure them. It’s one thing if you’re stuck in place for ten minutes; you can spend that time wondering if they’ll get you, maybe trying to plan an escape. Any longer, though, and all they’ll be thinking is “Man, I really just want to get back to playing. Or maybe go home.” An ability that takes someone else out of the game for half-an-hour or more may seem “powerful”, but it’s really just dickery.

Short answer? Don’t make any game mechanics that force someone out of play for more than ten minutes at a time. Even ten minutes can be pushing it for some people, but it’s not unreasonable to assume that most people of the role-play mindset can mime an action or stand around for ten minutes without losing focus.

Summary.

Any “role-play opportunities” that can occur within an hour can also start within ten minutes, and can be continued for as long as the people role-playing wish to continue. Instead of feeling forced, it’ll feel natural and immersive.

Any “realism” you feel you might be losing wasn’t really there to begin with. Ten minutes to heal someone up with stitches or forge a sword that never needs to be sharpened is just as unrealistic as an hour or two.

Removing a person from the game for more than ten minutes is likely to get them bored, and they are paying money to have fun. If you have rules that take people out of the game for more than ten minutes, you are being paid for a service that you are not rendering.

Healing. Crafting. Resource restoration. Removal effects. Ten minutes, tops. Otherwise, all you’re doing is wasting time.

End rant.