In the midst of the Steam January sale, I spotted a gem that I’d been keeping my eye on, waiting for the day it hit the sale rack. Planet Coaster is an exciting, roller coaster/theme park simulation game. I had been dithering over whether to buy it or not, I absolutely loved Theme Park back in the day, so this was exciting to say the least.
Cosplay has been a passion area in my life for quite some time, from gushing over cosplay pictures online to meeting cosplayers at conventions and expressing my compliments to them in person.
Before this experience; I had only done one cosplay. A Team Magma Grunt from Pokémon Ruby, Sapphire & Emerald. A fairly simple design with minimal bells and whistles attached. So, the next phase from this is obviously going for a busty gyaru type character, right?
Join me in this adventure of new experiences, mildly annoying struggles, and pant-soiling excitement – as I put together a cosplay of Junko Enoshima from Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc
Twitch.tv; the name evokes the image of men and women sitting in front of their screen playing video games for their audience. Yet since last year, when people decided they would spend a night watching a man compose and play melodies on his piano, or even a weekend reliving the magic that was Bob Ross, the “Creative” tag for streams has been growing in popularity.
The continuation of our guest post from Ed Brown of last week which has had to be split into two parts, in which Ed explores Marvels major story-arc, the Secret Empire. We left mid-discussion about Captain America switching sides to H.Y.D.R.A and the fact that it put a lot of people off…
You’re a man with a shield, enhanced strength and agility, and some of your friends can fly real fast, have strength vastly surpassing your own, and have a nasty tendency to do things like beating Tony Stark into a coma while walking away completely scot-free. While he’s wearing Hulkbuster armour. Yeah. That happened.
So of course, you need a plan. And at the very start of Secret Empire, you get to see one exceptionally hastily constructed plot point that freezes New York and its population of crimefighters out of the equation, and one more carefully developed plot point that walls of Earth from outside influence while most of the galactic-powered characters are up in space. Inhumans are corralled into a prison in their own ‘city’ of New Attilan, and Mutants are expelled from the USA and forced into an independent province on the west coast. There’s more to all of that, which was explained in individual books, but the set-up, in all honesty, was compelling. (more…)
The title does seem a bit generic, so I’ll clarify.
When I’m talking about a ‘multiplayer (with friends)’ game, I’m talking about a game that can be played as a single player game quite easily — It’s designed in such a way that one person can progress normally. But the design is also in place to make the experience infinitely enhanced with the addition of your friends playing with you, either as allies, enemies or neutral parties (Read: Potential backstabbers).
So how about starting with a game where a friend can go through all three of those positions?
Sid Meier’s Civilization V (or Civ 5 for short) is a 4X strategy game1 where the end goal is “to build a civilisation that will stand the test of time”. You do this through various means — Researching new technology, developing your culture to build social policies and, when it comes to it, nuking the ever loving hell out of anyone who wrongs you.
Playing Civ 5 with friends is an interesting experience, to say the least. You can act amicable at first, sharing embassies, helping each other out through simple trade and maybe killing some barbarians, with the threats being only very vague and passive-aggressive in nature…
…then you’ve declared war on every AI player and your friend, just so you can say you’re at war with everyone.
Those are just the two far points of the spectrum of evil deeds during multiplayer in Civ 5 — You’ve also got imposing taxes on your friends to use your borders, or giving salt after a brutal war to, well, rub salt in the wound and — possibly the most brutal act your friends can commit — of nuking your capital city into the dirt when you’re playing as Venice, so that the only city you have left standing is a little city state that has nothing in it.
Salty? Me? No.
As much as I’d like to ramble on about when you get backstabbed by an ally, even during all-out war, I still have this element of joy flowing through me. Thinking about what move my friend will make next; what soldiers may be coming out from behind the frontlines; are the frontlines just a ploy to distract me? Combining that with all the previously mentioned elements, Civ 5 is a multiplayer game that can consume literal hours with a group of good people.
And now, to give my editor flashbacks.
Ahh… only a few people are going to get that, and that makes me happy.
Terraria should be familiar to quite a few people reading this, due to its similarities to Minecraft and how both games shared a good amount of popularity during 2011.
The advantages of Terraria come in the form of more of a set structure, with more armour tiers to advance through, biomes becoming harder as the game progresses and an incredibly diverse selection of boss fights.
As someone who has spent a small time…
…playing Terraria, I can vouch that the game has a veritable gold mine of possibilities for multiplayer.
Of course you can progress normally by gathering materials and building a large castle, all to slowly carve your way up to the Moon Lord, the Cthulhu inspired final boss.
However there are also options for PvP modes, with plenty of maps available online to download for these purposes, alongside inventory/character editors so all your friends are as powerful as each other, regardless of whether you use a mage, fighter or ranger build.
A random game to play in multiplayer that I made up involves mining. You get a Spelunker Potion (which reveals ores and treasures with a glow for a brief time), a Teleportation Potion (which teleports the player character randomly once around the map) and a high level pickaxe/drill.
The objective? Mine as much as you can before the Spelunker potion runs out. The person with the most ores and treasure wins. Simple, yet surprisingly competitive.
With the previous two games, the amount of players in a single session can go up to sixteen and even higher. The next game is a bit smaller by contrast, on a scale as grand as the starry sky.
Being one of the more obscure multiplayer titles to pick, Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Sky, is a JRPG developed by Level-5 and released for the Nintendo DS. The game follows the classic four person party composed of different classes with different abilities, going through a large open world completing quests, delving into dungeons and battling giant spear wielding cucumbers.
The difference here is that the four-person party doesn’t have to be party members recruited at a tavern. They can be your friends in local multiplayer (recruiting these at a tavern is optional).
DQ:IX handled multiplayer through a drop-in, drop-out system. In the main hub tavern of the game, there is a portal which you use to start connection with nearby DS systems, either opening your world to other players or trying to find the world of your friends.
This system is downright amazing — and honestly I believe it’s the best way to play the game, even during the campaign.
Sure, it is possible to soft sequence break your own world, by going into a friends world with more towns open and buying the better equipment there.
But that ignores how ridiculously fun and satisfying it can get exploring the world as an actual party; the conversation you share in real life being the snarky comments actual adventurers would have in the face of monsters.
Martial Artist, Armamentalist, Luminary and a healer character from that persons own party made up my band of adventurers, meeting up on the weekends to take on the harder bosses…
…only to take up a lot of turn time using an attack with a pointlessly long animation, which, at the end of the day, didn’t even do that much better damage than a regular attack.
That’s been my summary of a few multiplayer games I’ve enjoyed over my life. I’ll admit, I don’t play these with other people much these days, so a lot of my thoughts and ideas are from pure memory.
But that’s the point of playing games with your friends; creating the memories that last.
Be it sitting in a living room, making sure not to move too far away so the DS infrared connection doesn’t break, sitting in bed as suggesting Terraria as a game night idea goes horribly wrong, even to the people who prefer tabletop, gathered round a table playing Magic and D&D for hours on end.
We’re all geeks here, building a community around these sorts of things is why we’re here.
Thanks for reading, this was a good article to write because it reminded me of a lot of good times in my life, if you’re one of those people who I shared that time with, thank you. Got any multiplayer stories you’d like to tell? Or maybe you’ve got a game in mind which is just perfect for this kind of multiplayer? Let us know in the comments below, or over on Facebook, Twitter, or Reddit.
A small disclaimer before I start this review. I don’t have a huge beast of a machine, in fact I awkwardly run a Mac and an old(ish) one at that. It has an Intel HD 3000 video card built in and is definitely not built for running intensive games. Saying that, I was quite surprised at Dungeons II and how it ran, of course I had to turn everything down to low but it ran. First of all some vital statistics.
When you were little did you ever get really upset if you were expecting something and it didn’t happen? I did. My level of expectation has been one of the harder things I have had to get a hold of in adult life and I’m not quite there yet but I know just how much better I am. I bet you’re wondering what has this got to do with GeekOut? Well I can remember one such situation about the breakup of the Bullfrog team as they were consumed by EA and then Dungeon Keeper 3 got shelved. Ever since then I have always wanted that game to happen and I know that whatever they may of made back in the day may not of lived up to my expectations.
Technology and the way games are published and made is very different today from how it was 30 years ago. You could say the same for any other industry, however the games industry I think has moved way faster than any other. Recently there has been a resurgence of games programmed by very small teams or a single developer with the re-birth of the indie scene. This may have something to do with the fact that computers are a much more consumable commodity and of course owe a little something to distribution services and easy ways to pay, like Steam. Thirty years ago these people were dubbed bedroom coders and I need you to imagine yourself back this far. Put yourself back in the year 1985 and in the mind of the then 18 year old, sole developer and self confessed college drop-out heralding from Taunton named Clive Townsend.
His hands trembled as he notched yet another arrow to his bow. Cowering behind a great rock column, he counted out his remaining flights in the dim light of the cave. Not enough. Behind him, the beast let out another gout of flame from its mighty jaws. The heat singed the hairs on the back of his neck, but the fiery breath was wild and untargeted, a burst of fury more than an attack.
He could see the bleeding, broken forms of his friends on the rocky ground. The once-proud warlock now lying shattered under a stalactite. The fighter, burnt by flames, groaning as he rocked in and out of consciousness. The gnome, buried under rock, struggling to breathe. The archer and the wizard, both trembling, frozen by the icy breath of one of the beast’s many heads. He was the last one left.
Of course, he could always run. There was nothing between him and the exit, nothing stopping him from beating a retreat. But then his dying friends would have no hope of survival. Worse than that, the beast would be able to escape into the settlement above. No. He had to stay and fight. He was the last line of defence, and he’d be damned if he left his post at a time like this.
His whole body shaking, sweat and tears mingling with the grit on his face, jolts of pain running through him from a dozen wounds, he spun around. And with those trembling hands he drew the bowstring back, stared into the eyes of the creature and with gritted teeth let loose his arrow…
What makes a combat encounter feel epic? Not just a fun game, not just a well-run session, but a truly awe-inspiring fight that you will end up remembering for years to come even though it happened with inch-high figures on a tabletop. It’s a question that all GMs should ask themselves at some point, as it’s the key to creating fantastic gaming sessions.
I’ve been a GM for nearly nine years, and creating memorable combat encounters was one of the last skills I developed. I think a lot of other GMs probably feel the same way. I’ve seen (and run) so many combats that immediately degenerate into a meaningless slog as the party cut down enemy after enemy in a way that can feel more like a chore than a game.
It took me a little while to work out the key to making combat genuinely epic, and the solution didn’t come from D&D or Savage Worlds or any other roleplaying game. In fact, it came from my experience as a martial artist. While sparring and rolling dice are completely different in many ways, they are similar enough that a nerd like me can learn from them.
See, the first question you have to ask when tackling this question is: “What do my players want?” The answer will depend on the type of game you’re playing, but in general the answer is success. This comes in many forms throughout a game, but we’re only going to look at it regarding combat.
When fighting enemies, the way players experience success is pretty obvious. They succeed when the bad guys are dead, imprisoned, have run away or are otherwise defeated. So far, so simple. The problem is, after a while victory becomes a given. As your players defeat dozens of villains, it loses its impact.
This occurred to me when I was talking to a friend about a recent martial arts session. I had been dumped on my head and mildly concussed by one of the bigger guys in the gym in practice. I realised that I only ever told stories about me getting hurt in some way.
I’ve told people about the time I got choked unconscious, the time I got face-locked so hard it tore an inch-long gash in my bottom lip, the time a guy bit me and the time all the capillaries in my eyes burst. Those are the memorable fights I’ve been in. I rarely ever talk about the sparring sessions I succeeded at, because those don’t make as good stories.
So why is that? I think it’s because there’s a common factor in each one of those sparring mishaps: I succeeded despite them. The guy that bit me? I arm-locked him until he stopped. When I got dumped on my head, I kept holding on to my opponent and ended up securing a choke. Sometimes it’s as simple as the fact that I came back onto the mats after getting knocked out.
So, let’s get back to RPGs. How can all those little mishaps help your combat encounters? Well, I’ve started structuring mine in a similar way. If I have a session I want my players to remember, one with heightened drama and a feeling of epicness, I need to make sure they succeed despite the odds.
That’s really important. The best stories in the world are about heroes who overcome challenges they shouldn’t be able to get past. That’s basically the entire plot of Die Hard, and if you don’t think that’s one of the greatest stories ever told then you are a negative influence that I don’t need in my life.
I think this is where the stereotype of the GM who wants their party to die comes from. Well, actually I think it comes from bad GMs who want their party to die, but bear with me. Nobody competent actually wants their players to lose, but they want them to come close. Because when they’re inches away from total failure and succeed anyway, the feeling is fantastic.
So one key to epic combat is to ramp up the difficulty. You can do this in a number of ways. D&D is built around a kind of ‘war of attrition’ model, where difficulty comes from fighting lots of battles without the chance to rest and wearing the players down. Other games work better with single, more powerful boss monsters.
It’s worth being prepared to change the difficulty on the fly. If it looks like your party is going to tear through your boss without breaking a sweat, double its hit points. Or have it summon some other bad guys to help it. Alternatively, if the villain is knocking the stuffing out of the players then you’ll want to power them down a bit.
It’s not always easy to get the balance right. For the most epic struggles, you’ll want the entire party to get close to death, but you never want to lose more than one or two at most. Ideally, everyone will pull through. The only way to get better at this particular aspect is to play around with difficulty levels and keep experimenting.
But wait! There’s more. You see, great combats have another element to them besides the difficulty: a narrative. There should be a story to them, which is not the same as there being a story to the campaign.
For example, let’s say your plot has an evil warlord terrorising the land. Your party fights their way up to the castle and corners him on the roof. There’s your campaign plot – it’s why your players are there, fighting this particular person. But it’s not enough. There needs to be a separate narrative within the combat itself.
Let’s return to my martial arts experience. Remember the guy that bit me? There’s a story there: the opponent who wouldn’t play by the rules, but succumbed to courage and purity of heart. When I was dumped on my head but hung on anyway, that’s the classic narrative of brute force versus thoughtful technique.
I’m embellishing these of course – and making myself look like way more of a badass than I actually am – but you can see how there are themes to the fights themselves that are different from the plot. In an RPG, you have a lot of options to add a narrative to your combats.
In the example above with the warlord, you could have him destroy parts of the castle in a frenzied attempt to stop the players. He could try to run and have the players chase him down a secret passage full of traps. He could drink a Dr-Jekyll-esque potion and become a wild beast with the strength of ten men.
It’s not enough just to fight a villain if you really want the combat to be epic. I opened this article with a story from a recent session I ran, which I thought illustrated nicely how this works. In addition to the fact that the party was left with just one person standing (who succeeded in slaying the beast, by the way), there was also a good narrative running through it.
In this case it was that of the fearsome beast from beneath the ground trying to escape to wreak havoc on the surface. It’s a very simple story, but it transforms the combat from a simple fight into a last stand against a force of destruction.
There’s a lot more to creating truly memorable combats, and there is a lot you can learn about things like enemy types, use of scenery, open spaces vs choke points and other aspects of this part of GM-ing. But at it’s heart, the best fights are the ones you can tell stories about later. And the best stories are about overcoming the odds.
This article is a guest contribution by Joe Boyd. We’d like to extend our thanks to Joe for this brilliant article. The subject interested both of us GeekOut guys big time and when we read what he’d produced, we knew we wanted to share this with you all. Let us know what you think in the comments below, or over on Facebook and Twitter. If you’d like to get involved as a guest blogger, why not contact us?