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I tried setting up a Numenera play by post game once, and quickly found myself confounded by the options in the face of established examples of what Numenera is capable of. My scenario involved nothing more than a hand-wavey reason to put the players up against a criminal syndicate, which in retrospect seems lame, and a waste of the expanse of what Numenera provides. In fact, I was recently playing the soon-to-be-released Numenera: Tides of Torment on the PC when I realized that I am simply not equipped to do the Numenera world justice.
Case in point: This screenshot.
Click for the horrifying description
If you’ve ever read anything by Clive Barker or China Mieville, then the LEVEL of this kind of weirdness is par for the course. To me, it both makes my skin crawl and gives me gooseflesh because of the sheer level of malevolence and creativity involved in pushing well past the barriers of the kind of thing high fantasy would employ to tackle such a scenario. This is some other-world level stuff right here: one part mystical, one part horror, and one big part psychological. It takes the conceit of the world and employs it in ways that are projecting at an angle that can’t be measured by traditional geometry, and it hurts my head. I am in awe of the creativity in this one panel simply because I know such a system would never have occurred to me. I don’t know if I’m too practiced in the ways of high fantasy, too old to get my mind kick-started to think this far outside the box, or if I’m just nowhere near as creative as I’d always assumed I was. I suspect it’s at least a little from each column, and that makes me sad.
The Cypher System is one of a new breed of “anti-D&D” systems that have been cropping up over the past few years, where the rules call for fewer numbers, less dice, and more free-form roleplaying. For many, it’s difficult to wrap one’s head around, but I continue to really want to try. Problem is, I don’t know that I could ever do the system justice, certainly not on the level that Tides of Torment is offering. That is what makes me sad: it’s a great system with actual, limitless potential, and here’s me…wasting it.
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[Bonus points for whoever can tell me where the title is from. Extra bonus points for admitting this publicly]
I has ragrets. I am not a big screenshot taker. In the days of my youth it never really occurred to me to save pictures of games or to record video, but in my defense back in My Day taking a screenshot was a painful affair. If the game itself didn’t support it, you needed an external app to handle it, and there weren’t that many (FRAPS and…). If a game did support in-game screenshots, it was usually followed by a session of “where the hell does this game store images on my hard drive?” Even when taking screens became a lot easier I still managed to avoid having a record of my gaming history, because at that point, I really just blame old age. You know how when you’re in the middle of something and you’re concentrating on it so when you finally get a breather and look up and, like, hours have passed, you’re hungry, and need to pee? It’s like that, except in addition to all those things, I smacked my forehead for not having taken any screenshots.
A brief discussion on Twitter with Sers Dusty and Belghast made me realize how many screenshots I don’t have. This makes me sad on a personal level because all of the time I’ve spent in-game and what do I have to show for it? About as much as I’d have had I not spent all that time in-game. On the other hand, as a soloist, most of my screenshots would be of mundane things like landscapes and NPC conversations, and not memory provoking images of my time spent doing events with friends. More importantly, though, I’m missing a record of all of the games I’ve played, but which are no longer with us.
I’ve tried to get better at taking screenshots, though. Back when it first launched, Forge’s biggest draw for me was that it could take a screenshot of whatever you were playing. Then they went all Brittany Spears circa 2007 with their streaming to Twitch and dropped that cool feature, only having brought it back in a weaker form just recently. I now use Greenshot, a desktop app which allows for full screen or regional capture but also uploads to Google Photo where I archive all of my pictures.
Last night I went through what images I have from semi-recent forays and organized them into folders because my dumping ground directory was just that — a massive pile of unorganized images. I sorted the images by game, leaving me with a more profound sense of loss in seeing how few folders there are, and how few images per folder there are. Even now, a lot of screenshots in those folders are on-demand captures of funny dialog, attractive landscapes, or regions of the screen that I used to send to other people to explain something about the game, or to use in a blog post.
Th-th-th-that’s all folks!
Looking at Greenshot, though, I realized that I should re-work the filename pattern to auto-sort the images into their own folders. This way, I won’t have to remember to sort them all into the appropriate bins and will have everything nicely organized for when I want access to those images. The key, of course, will be to remember to take those screenshots, because no amount of organization will be worthwhile if there’s nothing to organize.
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Being an MMO veteran, I’ve completed far more quests in game than I can remember. In fact, I’m kind of amazed at how few I do remember. There’s one in Vanguard: Saga of Heroes that had me kidnap NPCs for a mage’s experiments, only to find myself disposing of the bodies over the edge of a bridge. I remember that because it actually disturbed me. A lot of times, quests I do remember have more to do with the fact that I did them with other people than they do with the fact that the quest was memorable.
I blame the lack of creativity in how quests are offered. We’re still fed the line that in any MMO, the “game doesn’t start until the end-game”, which still annoys me. Not only does it belittle the work that developers and designers do on The Game That Precedes The End Game, but it’s basically telling you that all of the time you spend prior to the end game — basically, all that questin’ — is just busy work.
Now, this is a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy: Do we know that questing is busy work because we’re told in veiled terms that none of it really matters, or do we decide that questing doesn’t matter because, well, it’s so poorly done? I don’t know that I’ve ever met anyone who was totally gung-ho to receive yet another quest to “kill X number of Y” and bring the NPC quest giver “Z number of widgets”. These fetch quests seem to make up the bread and butter of a lot of MMOs to the point where the trope of “kill ten rats” is practically canon. We do these quests because they give us cash and loot and XP, and in theme park games, these quests are the people-mover that pushes us through the game world. We tolerate questing because, well, we don’t really have much of a choice, do we? We need to level up to reach the Promised Land of endgame content, and the easiest way to do this is to speed through quests.
A fact which is not lost on the ESO designers…
It’s sad that the genre which offers the largest mass of gameplay opportunity relies on these one-off tasks given to us on behalf of lazy-ass NPCs. I think one of the reasons why I am so involved with The Elder Scrolls Online is because it tends to mask its presentation of boring quest tropes by stringing them together in epic quest chains. I’ve noticed that accepting one quest from an NPC on the side of the road can lead to infiltrating an occupied fortress, seeking a set of documents that outline the invader’s plans, retrieving an artifact that turns out to be the enemy leader’s weakness, and the confronting the enemy leader for the final showdown. Written like this, I’m sure there’s a lot of examples of how other games offer similar arcs, but ESO presents these steps in an almost unbroken chain. There’s not a lot of running back to a stationary NPC to get the next step, as ESO‘s technology allows for updating NPC position and even zone composition (i.e. enemies are removed from a besieged village after you run them out of town) at certain stages of the arc.
#SorryNotSorry, other MMOs
The result, then, is that ESO presents more of a story over time than most MMOs because the story tends to follow the player rather than force the player to return to anchor points over and over. You can not only see the results of your actions in the world (and are sometimes called out by voiced NPCs who recognize you for your deeds), but the quests tend to fall in line one after another until the arc is complete. Many other games simply send you out with a clutch full of jobs, leading players to min-max their time and energy to get as many of them done as possible before revisiting their quest-givers to turn them in.
I am very much enjoying the ESO method of questing, although I’m a little irked that there’s no native way to ensure that I’ve completed everything a zone has to offer. Even though the quest steps fall into place, I still need to make sure I pick up the starter mission. Considering that a lot of ESO‘s quests are given by NPCs who are scattered all over the landscape, it’s difficult to know if everything has been discovered.
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Not sure if he’s talking to me, or that loaf of bread