August 17

10 tips on how to be a Lousy Game Master

  1. Treat your player’s characters like puppets. After all, they are only there to act out your grand vision and story.
  2. Delight in the death of your player’s characters. This leads to a reputation as being the killer GM, and that is a position of awe and respect.
  3. Throw monsters and villains at your players that seriously out power them. Let them know exactly who is in control! There is nothing like the look on a fresh half-elf ranger’s face when encountering Latharious, God-Emperor of the Liches.
  4. Accept real world bribes from players. Food, money, favors, weed… whatever they are willing to give in sacrifice for their character. If they don’t give enough, make their players suffer.
  5. Reward cross-talk with instant death. Preferably to only one of the people talking. Make sure you show favoritism!
  6. If your significant other is playing, make sure that they are given all of the lucky breaks and fortunate turns. If not, hit on all of the players that are attractive to you.
  7. Make sure to take every phone call, turn on the TV, and sneak off with your “special friend” during the game. Always remember the players are there for your pleasure!
  8. Hide your dice rolls. Consider the results to be suggestions. Randomly roll the dice, and pretend like it is something serious.
  9. Don’t bother investing in the game financially. Don’t provide food, figures, maps, a board, or even a table if you can help it.
  10. Be unprepared! Don’t bother anticipating your player’s actions, don’t take notes, heck, don’t even bother knowing the rules of the game! Make it up as you go along! It will add an air of mystery and suspense to your game.
March 5

EA did NOT kill Maxis

Maxis Logo. Copyright EA Games.
Maxis Logo. Copyright EA Games.

Well, the news hit the streets today.

Many long time gamers will be mourning the loss of Maxis, the nearly thirty year old game studio that brought us a slew of amazing games, such as SimCity, SimCity 2000, SimCity 64, SimCity 3000, SimCity 4, SimCity Social, SimEarth, SimAnt, SimLife, SimFarm, SimRefinery, SimTower, SimCopter
Streets of SimCity, SimHealth, SimIsle, SimTown, SimPark, SimGolf, SimTunes, SimSafari, Sim Theme Park, SimCoaster, SimGolf, SimAnimals, and other games that did not contain the word “Sim” in the title.

However, I will not be joining my fellow Maxis fans with pitchforks and burning torches at the castle gates of EA to demand a blood sacrifice for the death of EA, as I know that Maxis was poisoned long before EA got a hold of them. I even have a picture of the poison. Would you like to see? Here you are!

Simcity 1 Copyright Protection Sheet
Simcity Copyright Protection Sheet

This is the copyright protection sheet from the original SimCity game. Years before DRM, Maxis was paranoid about game piracy. Don’t get me wrong, they had a perfect right to be. In the late 1980s, early 1990s, although the spread of pirate copies of software was slower that now, it still existed. Heck, even I did it.

But the issue is that they focused so much on protecting their IP that they neglected their customers. Take a look at the sheet to the right. What do you see? Well, first, it says nothing about copyright protection. That’s because they never once said that is what it was.

A prompt would appear when you started the game, asking for the three symbols after the city name. If you did not enter them correctly, it gave you two more chances. After the third chance, the prompt would vanish, and the game would run, apparently normally. You would start building your city. Time would pass. and that is when the disasters would start.

Depending on how good a player you were, your city might end up a flooded tornado alley, a radioactive alien infested wasteland, or a flaming mass protest. And it would not stop. With midi sound effects, the descending buzz of disaster became nearly constant.

Cute, right? Sure, save for a few things.

First, the deception from the game not telling what the prompts were for left quite a few legal owners frustrated with burning cities they could not control, and their games ended up in yard sales. That was how I eventually got a legal copy.

Second, the dark red sheet, designed to make photocopying impossible, made reading it difficult and did not make photocopying it impossible, just more difficult. I played the pirated copy at the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis. Took us about a half hour to get a decent photocopy of the sheet, and, from that copy, a dozen more were made. We slipped one under each monitor.

Finally, the entire experience made it clear that it was the company versus the user, a feeling that continues to this day with most DRM. It may make piracy slightly more difficult, but at the same time, makes the pirate feel more like Robin Hood and less like a common thief.

Do you know why Minecraft sold millions of copies and has such a loyal fan base? They didn’t spend a lot of time worrying about DRM. Sure, they put in certain protections, but playing single player and one could play with a pirated copy indefinitely. But, I would be surprised if Notch did not read up on Singer Sewing Machines.

First, he offered upgrades and new versions for free to registered users. Pirating over and over again is difficult. Dropping the cash for the full version is more convenient. And the upgrades were actual upgrades, with new, fresh content that did not detract from previous content and expanded gameplay.

Second, he didn’t need to entice people with DLC; all he needed to do was make skinning your character dependent on being logged in, legally, to the Minecraft ID server.

Finally, there was humor in the game, and not in the developer making fun of forcing the player to enter in a silly code every time they wanted to play.

But the problems were deeper that just an attitude of distrust of the end user. Over the past few years, it was clear that Maxis, under the guidance of EA, was trying to combine the standard gaming business model of buy once and play with micropayment add ons traditionally found in free-to-play games. Take Sims 3 for example.

The base game currently retails for between $20 and $25 on Amazon. Not bad for a game… until you consider that it is six years old. The majority of other games of the same age retail for half the price, with a few exceptions.

But, it doesn’t stop there. There are a total of twenty expansions and add on packs, each retailing for $20. On Steam, you can get the whole kit and kaboodle for $384. You read that right. $384 for a game.

But wait! There’s still more! That does not include all of the stuff you can buy online! Not only can you buy additional content a piece at a time or in packs online from inside the game, the game actively encourages you to do so. Enter the editor, and a window pops up declaring how wonderful it would be if your family had something from the online store.

Now, I understand trying to make a profit off of something one has developed, but this is utterly shameless. Especially for a six year old game. And this is what killed Maxis. Sure, itmay have been pushed over the edge by EA, but it walked up to the cliff on its own.

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January 15

Funny arguments of the week

Crosseyed
Ever get the feeling that your opponent in a battle of wits is a little less than armed?

Some of you who know me personally know that I tend to like to argue. While, in my early life, this led to a lot of stress, tension, and headaches for my parents, as an adult, I eventually learned to channel my natural impulses to debate into a more constructive (or, at least, a bit less destructive) use on the Internet.

No, seriously. Arguing on the Internet is a good outlet for me. I found that I argue less with my wife and kids, less with my parents (well, unless it is online, but that is another issue), and less with my ex-wife.

Sometimes, it can be a bit humorous. For the past five years or so, I was an admin on a Facebook debate group about religion and atheism.

But, a few months ago, the group was deleted by Facebook for [reasons]. Oh well. At that point, I decided to try and wean myself off of the debates. I felt a sense of loss, sure, but I felt it was time. I had better things to do with my time, like working on my webcomic, Fred the Dot.

But, I missed it. Rather than get as deeply into it as I had been, I decided to limit myself. A group here, a debate there. Well, one area I started dipping my toe into was Youtube debate.

The first thing that comes to mind is the quote from Episode IV. A hive of scum and villainy. Even so, it has been oddly satisfying.

Recently, I got into a heated debate on a video regarding the portrayal of the LGBT community in games. It devolved into a discussion of how HIV spread. This individual was somehow convinced that HIV and other STIs were caused by (wait for it…) feces, and that anal sex was the cause of it, not just the transmission route. After he launched into insults and the like, I showed him an explanation of how one got HIV from the same website he had been using for his argument against homosexual men.

During the same series of discussions, I had people try to convince me that I worshiped Satan, that each generation could determine meanings for words at their discretion (to which I responded with current slang, and the person got pissed off because he thought I was using nonsense, made up words), and some of the stereotypical lame arguments against homosexuality. What I do with my private parts is none of your damn business (unless a being is involved that does not legally consent), and vice versa, and that is how I feel about everyone.

But, in the end, I realized that it is ultimately not satisfying. Imagine in a game that when you beat the final boss, the boss just stops moving and sits there. That is what it is like to argue online. So, no more. I’m moving on.

Currently in my Steam Library, I have 149 games. Some of them I have never even played. So, I will be playing and reviewing each and every one, one game a week, from now on, posting my progress here. I may even post videos. Who knows! We shall see. Super fun awesome game time!