Archive for April, 2011

Neopets

Posted: April 29, 2011 in 3.5 Hearts, Uncategorized

I remember when Neopets first came out…Me and my friends played for hours. Back when it was owned by some obscure british company no one had ever heard of, and it was only a website to boot. Well, now Neopets is owned by Nickelodeon. The other thing I clearly remember from my childhood is that Neopets didn’t use to have nearly as many banner ads as it does now. And there definitely weren’t Neopets toys and video games all over the place. But well, that’s how times change, I suppose.

So here’s the basic idea of how this works. You have a pet of some kind and you have to take care of it, feeding it and the like. In order to buy things for your pet, you have to get neopoints. You can get neopoints by playing games. Pretty simple, right? The games themselves are pretty good too. I particularly like Maths Nightmare, Evil Fuzzles from Beyond the Stars and Destruct-o-Match. Don’t forget that you can buy toys for your pet and read them books and fun things like that.

Downsides…you knew there had to be some. Advertisements. The entire site is swimming in them. Everywhere you look, they’re trying to sell you something. To make matters worse, they’ve added Neocash. Its basically a new currency that can get you special things, but you have to buy the currency with real money. That’s right. Real money.

See how I’m cropping the images down? Yeah…there’s more ads on the side of the main page. Remember, this site is for kids. There are message boards here that are automatically censored, and if you set your age as under a certain age, you can’t even talk on them. But there are ads everywhere the eye can see. I have a lot of issues with advertising in games for kids.

I will admit, playing Neopets is still fun, even years after I made my first account. Things have certainly changed, including a lot more security to try and avoid scamming, but not all of it is bad and some, like that security, is quite good. The quality of the games has also improved greatly. I wish there was a way to block out all the ads, but I understand enough how making a profit through a website works to know that they won’t be going anywhere.

Neopets is about 13 years old and over all, I’d say its worth at least trying out. Its changed a lot since my fond old memories of it, but its still fun. Go sign up! Teddy_Woof could use some friends. I suppose I should give Neopets a rating now, shouldn’t I? I award Neopets with 3.5 out of 5 hearts. Its fun and has some really nice games, but the advertising and the Neocash and everything leave me with a sour taste in my mouth.

Girls In Games: The Future

Posted: April 27, 2011 in Uncategorized
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I ranted, and I rambled. I know it, you know it. The fact that my gender is no longer relegated to the kitchen is something I am rather passionate about. But I feel that I should just comment on the other side, the forward thinking minds who bring us new characters and new game concepts that don’t involve weddings, kitchens, dresses or make-up. I mentioned that Lara Croft has typically been something of a sex symbol. And well, you know it to be true.

Lets face it, that is one fine archeologist. Lady Croft was and is the subject of more teenage fantasies than I can even begin to name. And while that will never change, the face of the Tomb Raider will. Square Enix has released the art for their new Tomb Raider reboot and wow. The intention with this one was to make Lara less of a sex symbol and more of a survivor. One of the things that they talked about is the addition of damage to the character and the character’s attire (in the addition of mud and patches, not rips) over the course of the game. And even more than that, Lara looks much more like the fighter that she has always been. This is the first time that I have looked at a Tomb Raider game and said “Yup, she could break me by looking at me funny.” Normally, I looked at her and think something more like “Huh…I wonder if her lower back can support those?” By no means does this mean that Lara is no longer the beautiful woman she was before, oh no, she is still a very very attractive Tomb Raider. But now she also looks like the strong, capable fighter, and like the kind of person who has been to all the places and done all the things that Lara Croft has done.


This is what I want more of in the world. More games where the female lead is strong and beautiful, not just sexy to sell the game. Lara is strong, smart, capable and attractive and putting her in dirty clothes, making her chest a realistic size and making her clothes be reasonable for someone likely to be in at least one gun fight in the next 24 hours does nothing to change the essence of who she is or to make her any less attractive. Square Enix, I approve, but then, what less could I expect from the people who brought us FFX2, the only Final Fantasy, and really the only RPG I can think of with an entirely female party. Even if the outfits did follow the anime laws for female armor. (and no, I swear this wasn’t an excuse to throw a picture with Rikku in it at the bottom of the post)

Games for Girls?

Posted: April 25, 2011 in Uncategorized

I promise I’ll get back to the normal reviews and things soon, but today at least, I need to rant about a pet peeve of mine. This was spurred on today by an ad on the side of my Facebook profile. It had a shiny blue egg as the picture and said “Join your friends to nurture a baby dragon and watch it grow into an adult.” Okay, fine, sure. Sounds like a pretty lame game, by my standards, but to each their own. But then I spotted the title of this ad. “Women love this game!” Uh…hrm…So there’s my problem with this. These people are assuming that just because I’m female, I have this overwhelming compulsion to raise and nurture things and that doing this in any format is going to provide me with gratification.

Here’s another example. http://www.girlsgogames.com/ Lets take a look at some of their games. Match Match Wedding? Hair Mania 2? White Bride Dress Up? And who could forget the entire series of Sara’s Cooking Class games? Now I understand the historical reasons for boys playing with toy soldiers and girls getting dolls as well as the next history buff, but this is the year 2011, folks. Girls don’t have to be trained from birth to raise babies anymore. And more to the point, why are they making slow paced, happy and colorful and painfully easy games for girls? Are they trying to imply that we’re not as good at games as boys are? That’s certainly the way it comes across to me. There are entire companies out there who exist for the soul purpose of making these story based, low action games with artsy graphics for girls assuming that that’s what an entire gender wants to play.

Why not make a combat game with a strong female lead? Or how about a medical game? Pretty much any of the classic game types could be rendered very nicely with a strong female lead and turned into an empowering game instead of having them play games that basically tell girls to care about their wedding, their hair, their clothes and going in the kitchen to make me a sandwich. There are certainly some games out there doing it right. I have very strong memories of playing Metroid Prime 2 and coming across a journal entry written by one of the space marines on this planet. It talks about how the guys in her unit mock her for wanting to be a soldier but she knows she can do it because of Samus Aran, the character I was playing. Not only does the Metroid series have a strong female lead, but she’s usually working by herself and only in two of the games do you even have someone giving you orders. And then they do things like that and you actually see Samus as the hero figure she is for the women in the game world and it translates out nicely into the real world. Why don’t more games have this?

Are you gonna tell her to go in the kitchen and make you a sandwich?

When I was a kid, I loved comic books. I still do, really. But the point is, when I was a kid, my hero was Wonder Woman. I wanted to be just like her and fight evil (although, I wanted pants). I loved the idea of Themyscira, the island of the Amazons. A land with a queen and a tribe full of warrior women, with no men among them. What the video game industry needs is its own Wonder Woman. Someone like Samus, but more obviously female and less well…I love Lara Croft, but she’s a sex symbol, not a hero. I heard rumors of a new design for her that was slightly less sexed up. That might just do it.

On Being a Designer

Posted: April 20, 2011 in Uncategorized

Designing video games. It sounds like the dream job, doesn’t it? Sounds like the sort of job where you spend hours playing games and don’t do much else, right? Wrong. Being a game designer is hard work requiring knowledge of storytelling, design theory, art and programming. A basic skill you can use to determine if you’d enjoy game designing is to start by making modifications to existing games. Unreal Tournament, for example, has an editor you can use to create new levels with little programming knowledge. It does however, require some patience. You can’t assume that you’re going to sit down at any editor, Unreal or Warcraft 3 or even RPG maker, and churn out the next Defense of the Ancients. It doesn’t work that way. You have to put in the time and the effort, not just in creating your game but also in designing it before the actually development period begins.

Here’s the part that surprises most people. Did you know that in order to do the technical part of game development, you have to be just as good a programmer if not better than many CS majors out there? Games are high end on the technological scale, and extremely intensive on the hardware. Its up to you as the developer to make sure that your code is as efficient as humanly possible and make sure that everything is being done in the best possible way so that the maximum number of people can play your game. The more awesome your graphics are, the more important this becomes. The same goes for the intelligence of your NPCs.

So, you want to do art, do you? Do you know how to 3D model? How about rigging a model to animate it? So you want to do 2D games. Alright. How well can you draw? Do you know how to animate 2D? And you don’t even want to see  the price tag on some of this software. But never fear! There are trial versions, student versions and freeware programs that you can use to learn the basics.

I think that everyone should try their hand at least once to designing a game, be it board, card or video. The basic idea of telling a story that other people can be a part of and of setting up puzzles and challenges is a very interesting mental exercise. Even if you just make a little game with squares of various colors moving around, or you set up the art without any code, but you know what you want the missing pieces to be, it is completely worth the time you put into it.

Gah! Schoolwork!

Posted: April 13, 2011 in Uncategorized

So…there wasn’t a post on Monday and there isn’t really a post today…hopefully Friday…so much homework. So…much…homework…

Roleplaying Games: Past, Present and Future

Posted: April 8, 2011 in Uncategorized
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The basic idea of pretending to be someone else, somewhere else is a concept so natural to the human mind that its the kind of play most children develop on their own. How many games of Cowboys and Indians or other kinds of play-pretend do you think happen in the average elementary school on a given day? The answer is a lot. Have you ever stopped to consider the fact that play-pretend that most children play is simply a rules-light roleplaying game? Think about it for a minute. You take on the role of another person, lets say the Sheriff for an example. Even if you don’t choose for the Sheriff of this town to have a different name than you do, you have taken on this different persona and perspective. Depending on the group of kids playing, the Sheriff probably also gets power in the game, in that they can say when someone is being a bad guy.

Now take this basic idea and expand it. It naturally leads to more structured play in the form of rules and perhaps having one person tell the core of the story while the other players explore it. Taking this approach, you can see the evolution from the basic idea of children playing pretend either with them taking on roles or their toys taking on roles to live action role playing games or table top roleplaying games, such as Dungeons and Dragons. Historically speaking, the root of Dungeons and Dragons can be seen in chess and its derivatives. In 1780, a chess variation was created as a war game to teach pages in the Dukedom of Brunswick. Later, in the early 1800s, staff officers in the Prussian military were playing a war game that involved dice rolls for randomization and sometimes had judges to make decisions when there were decisions that neither the players nor the dice could make. It was these kinds of war training games that evolved into the sorts of wargames that many people play today, such as Heroscape and Warhammer, and also into the root game for Dungeons and Dragons, called Chainmail. It is from this base that tabletop roleplaying was derived.

The jump from tabletops to what is known as a CRPG or computer roleplaying game wasn’t a difficult jump to make. In the early days of the computer, many of the people doing development were also the kinds of people who played these sorts of games. It was natural that early text adventures would take the form of a simple roleplaying game. While perhaps the earliest didn’t have the sorts of freedom that you could have in a tabletop or live action game, it was a start. Soon after this appeared the MUD (multi user dungeon). These games relied on the Internet or early inter-computer connections to allow multiple players to interact with each other and with the game. With the advent of graphical interfaces, single player roleplaying games with much more freedom and customization began to appear and eventually the MMORPG (massive multiplayer online roleplaying game) appeared on the scene.  These games then brought many people in who previously had no interest in the concept of a roleplaying game.

The present state of the genre is astounding. Tabletop roleplaying games have branched off in more directions that I can number, from the very simple and almost video game like Dungeons and Dragons 4th edition, to the completely open source Fudge, or the modern fantasy of White Wolf or Marvel Superheroes. At the same time, live action roleplaying is slowly becoming, if not widely played, widely recognized. CRPGs are giving the player more and more control, more and more choices. Just look at the Fable series. They have a system for determining how the player is behaving and use this to determine the morality of the character. They give the player all kinds of choices, including the ability to be evil. They also allow you to marry other characters, and as of the most recent version, the other characters take the initiative periodically.

The future. Its hard to predict where roleplaying is going to go from here, but I’m going to give it a try. With studies showing how important play-pretend is for children, and people trying to find fun forms of exercise, people may begin turning to live action combat games. If you take some of the science fiction novels as a basis, someday we can expect special parks with holographic monsters. Think the Holo-deck from Star Trek, but on a bigger scale and outdoors. CRPGs are getting extremely close to having the kind of freedom that a tabletop can have, and at the same are increasing the realism of the non-player characters. Its exciting looking forward and thinking and maybe someday I’ll be able to sit down at my computer to play an MMORPG and not be able to tell the players from the non-player characters, well, at least until the players start speaking in chat speak.

Are there things you expect in the future?  Is there something you would love to see in your roleplaying games in the future? Is there something in science fiction that you’re really hoping will come to pass?

On Being a Good Player

Posted: April 6, 2011 in Uncategorized
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So one of your friends is planning on running a tabletop game and you’re going to play. Are you prepared? Here’s a handy dandy guide to being a good player and all the things that you should know.

First off: What system is your GM planning on using? Do you know it? Is it related to a system you know? Have you never seen it before in your life? Its your responsibility as a player to make sure that you have at least read through the basic player section of the rules for any system you haven’t played in before. If you have time, don’t just read the rules, make sure you understand at the very least, the rules that apply to you. If you’re going to be playing a ranger in a 4th ed D&D game and you’ve only ever played Mage: The Ascension, you should probably at least understand the system for powers and probably also healing surges. Understanding the basics of the rules and being able to read your character sheet are the two most basic things that a player can be able to do that will put you on the path to being a good player. Its amazing just how much a game can be slowed down by players who are asking which dice they need to roll and not knowing how their own powers or items work.

So you can read a character sheet and you know what dice you need, but can you make your character? While this isn’t a mainstay of good player etiquette, it is just a good thing to be able to do. Now, it depends largely on the system in question, but it isn’t unreasonable to expect you as a player to read the section on character creation and try to familiarize yourself with it. Character creation by and large isn’t terribly difficult if you just take the steps available in the player section of the rules.

So now you have a character. Does your character play nice with the game you’re going to play in? If your GM has a major NPC who is a 7 year old demi-divine cleric of Heironeous and your character is a Black Guard of Hextor, turns out that probably won’t work. It might be fun but will it be fun for everyone? That’s the question. If all the players are trying to destroy the cleric, then maybe. Although, I have to admit, that would be an odd game. A bunch of skilled adventurer types trying to take out a 7 year old? Anyway. Wow, now I can’t get the image of a bunch of adult adventurers trying to beat up a 7 year old out of my head. Moving on. So, playing nicely with the other players is important, but at the same time, don’t sacrifice character traits just to play along. Remember that the goal is for everyone to have fun. This doesn’t mean you should come up with something like I hate magic so I’m going to kill all mages, it means that maybe you consider magic to be the coward’s way out. Maybe you’re a pacifist and choose not to carry weapons. This is a perfectly reasonable character concept, so long as you’re careful about how you interact with the other characters. Its really up to you to make sure that you and the rest of the party can have fun together. If your idea of fun is wild PVP and the GM is cool with it, then sure, but make sure that everyone it having fun.

I figure I should write out some very simple rules. Lets call it the Code of the Gamer.

1. I will attend game sessions. If I cannot attend, I will inform the GM.

2. I will come to game prepared to play. This means I will have my character sheet and dice and anything else I need to play, including a knowledge of my character.

3. I will not only be physically at game, but also mentally. I came to session to play the table top and will not play another game during this one.

4. I will strive to ensure that not only am I having fun, but so are the other players and the GM.

5. My GM is a person and I will treat them as such.

6. Leave real life drama at the door and don’t let it interfere with the game.

These rules are extremely simple, but startlingly important. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve watch games crumble into dust because a player never told people they wouldn’t be at session. Envision a couple people sitting around a table, dice lying unused with their character sheets. One person is playing Angry Birds on their phone, the GM is sitting dejectedly behind their screen and the other person is idly reading through the player’s handbook. “Anyone know if Bob is coming?” “I think so…” “He didn’t say he wasn’t.” “Lets give him 5 minutes.” 5 minutes later the discussion starts again. Does anyone know if the mysterious Bob will be attending? Did he have the right day? Does he even care? By not telling anyone that he wasn’t coming, Bob could possibly kill the game and ruin everyone else’s fun.

You might think its enough to be there and do things on your turn, but its not. I know a lot of GMs who have a no laptop or smart phone policy during their games. While not strictly one of them, I can understand. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve looked over at someone’s computer during a game and discovered they were playing a game. I understand the allure of digital character sheets and virtual dice, but it isn’t fair to your DM and to the other players to not be paying your full attention to the game.

Remember that the GM is a person. I know its hard to understand in this modern age of video games and even the ability to run a tabletop from around the world, but despite all that your GM is not a perl script (unless they are, in which case I want a copy of your code). If your GM gives you an instruction like the start of game or that something isn’t allowed in their game, listen to them. If your GM is inexperienced, help them and don’t use the fact that they don’t know the rules as well to your advantage. And here’s the really important part: if your GM and you disagree about something, anything, give yourself about a minute to rationally argue your case. After that point, if the GM hasn’t changed their mind, do what they say and ask about it after session. Above all else, this is just a game and nothing truly terrible is going to come of it if your character dies in the game. Your paladin can fall, your character could die, your wizard could lose their magic. It doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things, and your GM is probably doing it for a reason.

I said this in the article about being a GM and I’m going to say it again, the rules can all be simplified down to “Don’t be a dick”. As long as everyone is striving to have fun together and play nice like good people who passed kindergarten, then the game will be a success. If you’re going to do something and you think that maybe you might make someone angry, upset, annoyed or just not have fun, then think long and hard about what you’re considering doing.