Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Are Shooters and Sims better RPGs than WoW?

Chuck Wendig (@ChuckWendig on Twitter) recently wrote an article, "The 12-Year-Old English Kid Who Carried Us To Victory" ( http://bit.ly/afk1Aa ), that indirectly supports my belief that multiplayer First Person Shooters and Flight Sims provide just as much, if not more opportunity for role-playing than MMORPGs like World of Warcraft.

Like is says in my Bio, I’ve been a tabletop RPG gamer for almost 30 years. I’ve been a PC gamer for almost that long. Hell, I remember playing pong when it first came out on that 3000 lb. table-like thing that cost about a gajillion dollars. As such, my first multiplayer experience in the modern PC gamer sense of the word was playing Falcon 3.0 ( http://tinyurl.com/2f6b66w ) back in 1991, with two PCs in separate rooms hooked up via a crossover cable . We shot each other down in “instant action” a few times, but we found ourselves lost for hours playing the campaign missions co-op, not even realizing that sometime during the session we’d slipped into fighter pilot wingman personas. Unfortunately, the pots I’d smoken that night eventually got to me. I lined up my sights with his tail, and gave my spacebar a quick, single tap. My guns went, and I quote, “Digga.”

My friend veered off screaming, “Bogey Bogey Bogey! I’m under fire! Break Right And Engage!”

We flew around looking for the Phantom Bogey for a while, and I was laughing my THC-addled ass off so hard I almost peed. I had to do it as quietly as possible though, because my buddy was in the next room, so what came out of me sounded more like wheezing than laughing. By the time my buddy decided that we’d lost the bogey, I’d stopped laughing and we got back into formation. Then...

Digga. WheezeWHEEZEwheezewheezeWHEEZE....

... we were off looking for the Phantom Bogey again. Cursing, wheezing, flying, rolling, turning, diving. We did an even more thorough search this time, going grid square by grid square, but eventually my buddy signaled the all clear, and we got back into formation.

Digga. WheezeWHEEZEwheezewheezeWHEEZE....

“Holy crap... are you SHOOTING me!?!”


“For the love a... flaps stuck, rudder’s busted, landing gear won’t deploy. Gonna try and land this puppy anyway.”

And you know what? The magnificent bastard did. I know because I watched him belly land “that puppy” as I flew upside down into the tower at about Mach 2.

Now while I may have lost mindset and shot friendlies occasionally, I always remembered the immersive role-playing experience I got when playing Falcon 3.0 with my buddy. I tried to recapture it, unsuccessfully, until a little game called X-wing versus Tie Fighter: Balance of Power, and the time me and a bunch of buddies took out a Super Star Destroyer ( http://tinyurl.com/27qe8h4 ).

We’d been talking about getting together and trying it for a week beforehand. We joked around, and even gave each other call signs to go by while in game, although we ended up just going by squadron call signs like Green 5, Gold 3, etc., ala “A New Hope”. On the day-of, we spent the time it took to set up the largest LAN party my experienced LAN party buddy had seen up until that point (it was my first LAN party), and back in those days it was a pain to get everything working. When it was all finally up and running smoothly, our anticipation was palpable. I was Gold 2, a part of the b-wing bomber squadron tasked with taking out the Super Star Destroyer’s shield generators, and wingman to Gold Leader. Gold leader was the role we gave to a buddy we’d called “Coop” since junior high.

When we came out of hyperspace, we could see the Super Star Destroyer in the distance. Some of us started goofing around on the mics (my first experience with voice comms in a PC game, ala what would one day become the Sidewinder voice comms program), and Rogue Leader (played by a buddy of ours who was a little older than us, awesome at the game, and who was an actual Air Force navigation officer) piped up in a calm but authoritative voice:

“Cut the chatter gentlemen, orders in 2.”

Holy shit. My mindset slammed into place, and I WAS Gold 2. I could tell everyone else felt that same chill running down their spine as the thrill of it all washed over them, because the radio became silent as death.

Get ready to make your run Gold squadron. A-wing Rogues with me on space superiority, Green squadron X-wings are on bomber detail. Wait for my order, then break and attack. Squadron leaders copy?”

“Copy that Rogue Leader”

“Copy that Rogue Leader”

When the order was given to break and attack, we were like a well oiled machine. Rogue, flying the fast A-wings hit them first, followed by Green Squadron’s X-wings. Being in the slower B-wings, I began seeing green and red blaster bolts, and the telltale reddish orange blooms as unshielded Tie Fighters were exploding from Rogue and Green squadron’s withering fire. My mindset was firmly in place, but what made the whole experience hit home was what happened on our run at the first shield generator.

Coop’s plan was to fly in as fast and low as possible along the Super Star Destroyer’s hull, and pull up when we were close to the shield generator on the right side, and hit it with torpedo fire. This plan would have been awesome against living gunners firing massive, slow moving turbolasers, but against an insta-targeting computer bot bristling with guns this plan wasn’t so good. Our shields were being peeled faster than bananas at an ice cream stand. And that’s when it happened...

“Guys, my shields are gone! We gotta.... AIIIEEEEEEEEEEE” ***BOOM***....

An explosion to my 10 o’clock, and Coop is cut off mid-scream by a strategically muted mic. Silence again over the comms until Green 3 (My buddy Brian) exclaimed:

“Shit... we lost Coop.”

At that moment, everyone got that chill again, and we actually felt a tug at the ol’ heart strings. We also thought what Coop did was really cool, and we all made the decision unanimously, in unspoken man-telepathy ( http://tinyurl.com/2cbq8xj ), that if the time came, we’d die like that ourselves. Though lady victory favoured us with her smile that day, the cost in computer sprites was high, allowing many of us to die in style. I myself died destroying the second generator in a kamikaze attack.

Since the advent of the high-speed interwebs, I’ve occasionally been able to find these immersive role-playing experiences again. Notably, in Tachyon: The Fringe Base Wars, Delta Force: Land Warrior, Mechwarrior 4, and even more often now in the new popular co-op games like Left 4 Dead, Borderlands, and most recently (for me) in Left 4 Dead 2 realism mode.

I’ve tried 3rd person sprite driven grinding games like WoW, but I wasn’t able to suspend disbelief like I can with first person shooters or sims. I wasn’t able to LOSE myself in the character like I’m able to do during tabletop role-playing or LARPing.

If any of you like to role-play while playing FPSs or sims on computer and would like to play with ol' Doc, my Steam ID is Black_Doc_McGurk. If you have some other kind of online play account and you’d still like to play games with me online, you can direct message me or mention to me in Twitter (@DocDraconis), or send me an e-mail by viewing my profile on the right, and clicking the "Contact" link.


Monday, September 6, 2010

The way I roll...

I'm a regular visitor to Will Wheaton's blog. My article today is basically a cop-out because again, life happened when I wasn't expecting it. It's nothing more than a transcript of a reply to one of his articles. In the article in question, he sounded down because tabletop role-playing wasn't feeling like it used to. I figured I'd try to cheer him up (and others who may feel the same way) and let him know that it can still feel the same as it did way back when we were 12:

Hey Will,

You and I are the same age, and I remember playing every edition but fourth (going to try it very soon though), and most of the other RPGs that were around then. I also remember that time as a golden age of imagination.

Over the years, I spent most of my gaming time as DM/GM/Storyteller/etc. The one thing I kept in mind was that no matter how many charts and tables, and how much calculus was needed to compute the results of an action, my job was to create an immersive story with engaging characters, well improv'd dialogue, voice acting, and even mood lighting.

I steered away from minis and maps to help my players visualise during combat, and to force me to visualise right along with them and describe things in a way where they could "see" what was going on in their mind's eye.

This has worked wonders for me over the years, and I've never lost that magical feeling of being whisked away to strange and wonderful places when I play, and my players (whomever they are at the time) seem to come right along with me.

It's been harder to find the time to game being a husband and a father of 3 young children (no more 72 hour sessions I'm afraid) , but I still ensure I make time to unwind, to escape from my worldly duties and responsibilities, and dive into magical places that I hope to share with my kids one day.

I hope you find this kind of game again, if you haven't already. May all of your hits be crits.

The article in question can be found on Will's +6 blog of amazingness (indredosity? uncanness?): http://tinyurl.com/ykm9wgw

Can't believe I haven't embedded a link to his blog before now. *facepalm*

Now to figure out how to do that...


Saturday, September 4, 2010

For @Tarpo and My Dad

Almost every post after today's is going to be PG-13 gaming-related humour, and I'll be posting on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday night. Today, however, is for my Twitter friend @Tarpo, and my dad.

@Tarpo lost his dad recently, and asked if it gets any easier.

It does man, it honestly does. Weeks of crying will turn into days, and days into moments. These moments will probably happen throughout the rest of your life, but it's in these moments that those lost are closest. Talk to them. My moment was on my dad's birthday two days ago, and today, on the anniversary of his death.

It was a year ago today I was standing over my father in emergency, saying goodbye and reassuring him that I'd take good care of his grandkids. It's been a year since I lost my dad.

Two days ago it was his birthday. I went to his gravesite to visit him, and let him know that things are going pretty good, and promise him I'd visit my sister's grave for him every year on his birthday.

A year ago since you died, and your thirty-seven year old former soldier of a son still cried like a five year old watching his daddy fly away to a conference. A year ago, and tears still fall as I type.

My dad was worried about me when he died. It was still up in the air as to whether my own life would be cut short, and even if I lived, it was a pretty sure thing at that time that my job was going to be out-sourced and my family and I would be in dire straits. Things are much better now, but my dad died worrying. It is this one fact I've kept in my head as I've coalesced from the ashes of 2009.

I'm smarter dad. Stronger. I'm striving to be the elder you did your best to train me to be. Your training's paying off. You don't have to worry.

The one lesson my dad's life taught me: if you don't love what you're doing, it's not worth doing. I have a considerable amount of business acumen and my new line of business looks like it's going to make me a positively disgusting amount of money, but it's not what I truly love to do. Once it's up and running I'm going to train Danielle to take over the reins and hand over the daily operations of that business to her, because that's what she would love to do.

I listened dad. I took care of necessities before doing my artsy-fartsy stuff, but I'm still going to end up doing what I love.

I told Danielle that any proceeds from the new line of business that aren't needed for its health and expansion, or to provide a worry-free lifestyle for the family, are going to go toward supporting my love of writing and  game design. As someone who wants to see me happy (and who has started to love tabletop gaming herself), she enthusiastically agreed.

Goodbye dad. I'm doing what I love, but I'm still making enough money for my family to live comfortably. I'm going to try to make a noise loud enough so you can hear me, so you won't worry anymore. See you next year.