Cinderella Story– with horse archery!

Mount and Blade: Warbands released today, continues onward from humble beginnings into a major release that hopefully has the Elder Scrolls/Dragon Age/Gothic/Fable creators a little nervous as this tiny indy developer has shown HOW TO PROPERLY DO THIRD PERSON WEAPON COMBAT.  Need we say more?  Demo to level 7 but you know deep in your heart that you need the full version.

This is what it’s all about people:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V30tyaXv6EI

More replacements for HOMM 3

Anytime anything even remotely resembling Heroes of Might and Magic 3 is a whisper out the gas-bag of the game industry I pester my brother, let’s call him Mat and my other friend, let’s call him Steve, and embarrassingly enough, yet another friend, let’s deem him John, to TRY SOMETHING NEW as they have been playing HOMM3 whenever the mood hits them for countless years now.  While I see the kitsch value the graphics are far worse than HOMM2 and the gameplay is so tired it’s rumplestilskin’s ileus.  It’s impossible for me to believe that someone hasn’t done it better.  As the years go by and my recommendations are thoroughly ignored by all but John who briefly dabbled with Dominions 3 (granted it was still for probably over 100 hours), I start to think– fuck I still love Master of Orion 1 the best– is it possible that no one has captured whatever shit-magic these fallen friends see in HOMM3?  But I digress as this post is to chronicle yet another HOMM-like recommendation that will be completely ignored: Disciples 3: Renaissance.  On or near July 15th here is the conversation that will happen regarding this blog post:

Steve: remember that post Mute made about that Homm game? The one with the weird art?

John: mraak

Mat: No.

Steve: I thought about trying it but I just forgot and then when he asked about it we laughed at him.

Matt: yeah.

Up the ASL

I spent 30 minutes Wednesday night rearranging AT-43 army lists and setting out the minis as board game night was just two this week.  Yet, instead of the gorgeosity made pre-painted plastic and massive 3-d Space Hulk terrain boards (good job Mouth), my friend wandered around my basement perusing my collection of games until I opened a random drawer and said: “Hey, how about ASL?” half jokingly.  I winced when he said “OK!” without hesitation.  “ASL The premier game system of tactical-level World War II combat uniquely combines soundness of design with attention to detail and ease of play.”  The last part?  Really?  The last time I tried to play, we stopped after the first Defensive First Fire phase (i.e. about 10 minutes into the game for experienced players after set up) and my head was spinning.  While both of us that tried it that first time are hardcore miniature gamers and myself (embarrassingly) have played hundreds of hours of Close Combat from Microsoft, we just didn’t get it– not in the least.  The rulebook sat in my basement shitter for about a year and was perused here and there with still not even the gleam of understanding. Then it went back in the box for an undetermined length of time until last night when, hand in hand, were able to ditch the mental flaccidity and get straight up inside the ASL.

Adding a few beers, a general disregard for the minutia of the rules and just rocking through the phases allowed both of us to get the game-at least on a high level, without support weapons, using a scenario with low counter density, and making constant, probably game changing, rules mistakes.  What’s more, we were both able to see clearly why the game of ASL has survived for going on 2 decades: it’s fucking good.  The array of extremely painful choices you have to make during the game are astounding and even the most basic scenario we played gave us a deep colon of tactical depth to plum.  It basically starts with a few American squads in the middle of a town as the Germans advanced through the woods to the south, then reinforcements come on the battlefield,  squads run to wood buildings in the town and shoot at each other, then some run away and a few are eliminated. That’s it.  How could cardboard pieces on a piece of colored cardboard compare to something like Company of Heroes? I’ll tell you:  tension, almost ZERO down time (this is key) and a really elegant means of determining LOS and fire modifiers made a scenario that we had played in tons of different games since Saving Private Ryan came out uncannily compelling.  I’m not sure what it is, but I want to bend back the rulebook and get up inside the ASL again.

Crackdown 2 multiplayer sneak peek

Yeah, I really don’t like linking to IGN because they do their reviews without actually playing the games, but I’ll make an exception with the Crackdown 2 multiplayer sneak peak.  Now, Crackdown is one of those awesome not so great games.  That is, no one is going to call the original a great game, but it was good exceedingly fun just to run around an open world blowing shit up without all the GTA bullshit (people calling your cell constantly in game, actually having to drive cars: bleh)–it just had some rough edges and was a lot of the same all the way through.  The new one looks to be more of the same: good, not great, but real fun stuff.  Looking forward to it.

The end of the greatest blog in human history

I asked a friend many moons ago what the best web-navigation was and he immediately said: “A small picture of a hot chick that leads to a big picture of a hot chick.”  This is an eternal truth that I have used in client meetings, internal design reviews and user experience discussions ever since, going as far as asking a client: what is YOUR hot chick?  That said, there was one blog out there that I just stumbled across one afternoon that is the absolute essence of this statement: because that’s ALL it is.  After 5 years, the man responsible decided to call it quits, or, at least that’s what google translation tells me since it’s entirely in Japanese. Sad.

Some d&d..er Pathfinder

Not without some trepidation after a disasterous D&D session at a bachelor party in 2005 did I agree to a day long Pathfinder session for a buddy’s birthday.  Having only had the chance to play an RPG a few times, and with my majority exposure to version 3.0 being the excellent CRPG Temple of Elemental Evil, I said yes.   Since it was in the company of friends, food and beer, there was no question at all that it was fun, so I want to focus on a few things in the system that irked me a bit.  While the session was entertaining, it ratified some of my previous feelings that the D20 system has a very odd abstraction of combat that really isn’t very good when you get right down to it.

First is initiative.  Pathfinder’s initiative system makes zero changes from 3rd edition, 2nd edition and as far as I can remember uses the same initiative system as basic D&D.  Each character rolls a D20, adds some modifiers and take their attack turns in that order.  Regardless of the type of action the character takes, their initiative order does not change at any point during combat, regardless of ‘wounds’ and regardless of the action they took until a character or enemy is incapacitated.  Essentially, characters have 6 seconds to act in and order based on an arbitrary role at the beginning of combat.  That said, I failed to see the real advantage of going first.  Compared to other systems (I’m tempted to say ‘more modern systems’ here but will abstain) the initiative system has a frustrating lack of tactical depth.  In most RPG’s I’ve played or GM’ed since playing D&D as a kid,  a character’s speed and actions taken during their turn effect the next time they can act, how they are able to defend, etc.   While the initiative system in this version of D&D works, it has a distinct lack of allowing the player to make interesting choices.

Second beef is the single, massive spread of pips die roll to attack–i.e.: the basis for the entire D20 system.  In combat you make a couple choices, for example: whether to move attack/ attack move whether or not to use a feat, etc.  What it really boils down to are modifiers on a single die roll where each pip represents +/-5%.  If you roll high enough, you get to roll another die for damage.  If you roll low, your turn is over.  There are no attack rerolls, no way to expend power points or whatnotall to enhance your attack, and while the choice of feats to use can be somewhat interesting, it typically only increases or decreases the attack roll by 5-10%.  What’s more, your attack roll has nothing to do with anything your opponent did previously, and your opponent cannot react at all to your attack, whether it’s an (abstracted) flurry of fists or a massive haymaker with a halberd.

Third, and this is the big one for me, is the lack of narrative combat options: i.e.: stunting. During the session I kept wanting to blurt out some heroic, stylish, wuxia-infused description of a clever use of the scenery, my weapon or the opponent’s position to not only spice up the proceedings, but to gain some extra dice/pips to hit, etc. I realized during the session that I hadn’t played a game without some form of stunting, whether it was Werewolf, Exalted, Amber diceless or Feng Shui for a decade or so. I’ve been exposed so much to players always stunting everything that I had forgotten just how like a dry wind through a soulless city (like, say, Houston) narrative roleplaying combat was without it.

Years ago during a session of Feng Shui, an old school D&D player (who we will call Steve to protect the innocent) had real problems wrapping his head around the stunting system while fighting some mooks inside a fully stocked kitchen no less. After some frustrating attempts at stunting and goading from the other players he would simply say “Medium punch to no specific location.”    He eventually picked up the torch and can now stunt to consistently help other players to roll on the floor in laughter or state the softly spoken ‘badass’ compliment.  Yet, this phrase is the essence of my issue with the D20 system. Combat becomes an exercise of moving miniatures, adding up the bonuses and rolling one die representing an abstracted set of combat actions that take exactly six seconds. If you roll high you get to roll another die– and that’s it. While miniature-based, Pathfinder/D&D is just not good miniature combat (like say Confrontation), nor does it capture the narrative possibilities that exist for pen and paper RPGs. For me personally, stunting in combat is sine qua non. Without it, my Confrontation/Warhammer/Blood Bowl miniature game player brain takes over and it’s all about abusing scenery, wishing I had a lot more than just one little plastic figure to control and little quirks in the rules rather than a flowing narrative.