Sunday, April 10, 2011

Changing how we assign RPG points

Y'know what? I like RPGs (Role-Playing Games, to the uninitiated). A lot.

But I like to own my character -- assigning points, building my version of a fighter (brawler/heavy/tank), rogue (thief/ninja), mage (wizard/warlock/enchantress), ranger (Legolas-want-to-be), etc.

And auto points assignment? Puh-lease. I've suffered that when playing in a party with noobs, or in game designs that freeze the game any time any person in the party stops to assign -- or even look at -- their own stats.

Assigning RPG points drives me mad, because I want the benefits and customization of explicit skills assignment, but it interrupts the game. And, yeah, it's worse when I'm in a multiplayer game, and we're all of the same mindset.

How do we assign stat points without disrupting the flow of combat, action, or story in RPGs?

My solution? Allow retroactive assignment of RPG points.

Simply put, you wouldn't be required to assign points until you get to a break point, but once you do (and once you assign the points), you get the benefits of those skills assignments retroactively to the point(s) when you earned them. Sure, you won't get things like "Attack + 10" as far as doing damage to baddies, but maybe you will get multipliers, etc.

Think about it, you're tooling through the dungeons of Azeroth (or Dr. Doom's Latverian castle, or the Morlock Tunnels), going from battle to battle, and you don't have to stop. You don't interrupt the story, you don't get caught in the "Battle. Grind. Stats management. Battle. Grind." loop. You don't tee off your party members by interrupting their game.

Not to say this isn't potentially wicked hard to implement. Maintaining the count of unassigned points isn't bad, but holding onto which permutations of level ups for previously completed scenarios would take bit of work. But it's certainly doable, with the caveat that the scope of which past events are or aren't allowed retro skills assignment is communicated and intuitive to the player. (Under the hood, there's probably a difference between how you handle checkpoint (snapshot) versus save (write-to-disc) data.)

Game designers could even couch any trade-offs in a "late skills assignment tax" (but, y'know, renamed to  something trope-appropriate).

This also creates opportunities for some cool design gimmicks.

Think about caching up your points, and then blowing things up in a single skills assignment binge fest, jumping 2, 3 or (madness!) 5 levels at once. And maybe there's a genre-appropriate "instant replay" mechanic, that will go back and play splashes of "big moments" that benefit from the skills assignment (that barmaid you chatted up in the King and Queen Tavern? You just got some more information, because of your +10 charisma allocation. (I betcha the All-Seeing Eye of Agamotto could pull off this orcs and elves version of the "play-of -the-day".)

Heck, designers could create special features in hubs that make the leveling up that much more integrated to the mechanics of the game, and that much more meaningful and memorable.

Oh, and hey, I'm not saying you only do retro assignments to solve my frustration with points assignment. You still need to fix the bad, in-the-moment stats management problems, too. Don't freeze out other players while I'm checking my stats (even if I'm hosting).

Even if it's in the heat of battle, don't freeze me out from assigning my stats. Give me a "pay now or pay later" choice. Much like the jerk who takes all the loot from his party, if I choose to duck out of battle, let that impact the rest of my team when they need my help, so they can get on my case later. Give me an "Edifying Cloak of Invisibility" as I duck off into a cowardly corner to selfishly level myself up. Or, add a positive gimmick, like a "Cocoon of Character Enhancement" (can you tell I'm not a high-fantasy writer?) that protects me as I level my character, but attracts enemies who will attack my shell, weakening it, until it shatters, and they can kill me more quickly in my vulnerable state. This would add an urgency to the stats assignment, and a tactical element for team play -- I could attract a bunch of baddies (as long as I have skills points to assign), taking the heat off of my party, and they could launch an AoE attack on them (one that doesn't have friendly fire impacts, por favor; or maybe it does; Hmm ...).

So, who agrees this might solve some of this stats management headaches and game-flow interruption?

Or am I the only one who things about these things?

(By the way, the font I used to make the top graphic is "BADABOOM", from those ridiculously top-knotch guys.)

Monday, April 04, 2011

My so-called (MORE connected gamer) life

As an update to this post about connecting my gaming experiences (and connection gaps), I think I may have solved some of the gaps, and decided I don't want to fill one particular one.

Where we left off:
  1. All new blog posts auto-publish notice to Twitter and Facebook (done)
  2. Select blog posts (my acting and gaming blogs) auto-publish notice to LinkedIn (done)
  3. Xbox Live activity is automatically posted to Twitter and Facebook (partial)
  4. Select Facebook game activities post to Twitter (this is right out)
(First for #5, even though I figured out how to do it, I've decided I don't want to post my Facebook game activities to Twitter. Most of my time in those games at this point is industry research, would likely be noise to my non-Facebook following Twitter followers, and the recursive problem the Facebook-to-Twitter-to-Facebook pipe could cause -- while interesting -- is not something to which I should probably subject either set of followers.)

For #3, "partial" meant my Xbox Live activity and Facebook connectivity was limited to my Xbox Live Friends list that had also done the on-console and in-Facebook integration -- an overlap of maybe six, out of my dozens of Xbox / Facebook "friends".

So, that created this picture (the Xbox / Facebook app is orange, because it does what it's supposed to do -- just not as much as I'd like it to do):
The connected social media gamer: Gappage.


The site's headed up by Dennis Fong (former pro-gamer "Thresh", and the guy behind such things as and gaming social site; and RealNetworks/Rhapsody Ranah Edelin; and former eBayer Dave Swenson ('member me Dave? 'Member?).

Anywho, with a bit of tweaking and some recent upgrades that made it usable for my particular needs,'s slotted into the gaps I needed filled.

By creating a account, and giving it my Xbox Gamertag (just the handle, not the account or login info), raptr was able to pipe my "now playing" and Xbox Achievements info to Twitter and/or Facebook (since I have that info available as "public" in the Xbox console privacy settings).

And it lets me post some other value-add information with those two bits of data -- like notification when I pass an Xbox friend with my Achievements, and a published daily summary of what I've played in a given day.

It also lets me customize some of the messaging, so my "I'm playing" notice reads, "I'm playing [gamename]. If it's got multiplayer, let's play ..."

(Sadly, it doesn't let me customize my Achievements comparison note, so no, "I just passed aancsiid with Left 4 Dead Achievements! Face!")

So, to avoid too too much noise to my outer circle, I use Raptr's sharing configuration to pipe the "I'm playing" message to Twitter (which auto-pipes to Facebook, since I have XBL friends on both services), and pipe the Achievements, daily game summaries, and braggadocio only to Facebook (via Facebook Connect), under the assumption my Facebook crew is more of an inner circle (at least compared to the Twitterverse), and may care more, and/or are less likely to tell me if they don't.

All of that looks like this:
The connected social media gamer: With goodness.
(And for Facebook connect, there's an option to not broadcast status of Facebook games, which my connections probably appreciate.)

So, all that's got some niftage by itself, but Raptr enables quite a bit more.

By downloading and installing the Raptr desktop client, I can have it do the same things for my Steam games it does for Xbox titles -- with no extra work or configuration. (That same client will enable the same kinds of things for World of Warcraft character status and Sony PSN Trophies.)

The client can do other things like serve as a Trillian-lightish IM client, and keep tabs on your various game connections and whether they're online. To be honest (and no disrespect meant), I could care less about that particular functionality -- but maybe that will change if I can get comfortable with a better understanding of how they handle and protect things like my Windows Live ID and password. (Besides, it's kind of onerous to set up.)

So, for completeness, here's how everything looks with Steam added in the mix:
The connected social media gamer: With added Steam-y goodness.

Right. So I've probably beat this to death.

But like I said in the original post, "I'm all about planned setup with minimal follow on work (work smart to avoid working hard, when possible)".

Plus, I got to make yet more Visio charts. So ... win?

Hrm ... up next ... maybe phone integration? Ve shall see....