Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Movies from Video Games

Reading an article in the latest Gameinformer magazine about the poor record of movies that derive from games, my reaction was "that's not surprising." Games aren't a good storytelling medium, which makes a successful movie less likely to derive from a game. In essence you have to make up the story for the movie because there isn't much of one in the game--the game is more a setting than a story. Video gamers, when they say a game has a really good story, are comparing to other games, not to novels or even movies (stories in novels tend to be better than stories in film, I think--there's more "time" to develop the story). Games put the player "in" the story (ideally, though often not in practice), while movies have the viewer passively consume the story. Comics, on the other hand, ARE a storytelling medium, somewhere between novels and movies. The reader has more work to do in a comic than the viewer does in a movie, but less work to do than in a novel. While we're finally getting some excellent movies deriving from comics--it's taken a *long* time--we're much less likely to get very good movies deriving from video games.

Which hasn't stopped Hasbro from greenlighting tentpole movies for Monopoly (Ridley Scott?!) and Battleship, among others. But those are non-video games that don't pretend to tell much of a story, so I think everyone will accept that the studio has made up a story to fit the brand's vague setting. For video game movies there are the fanboys who want the movie to be "just like the game", and that's not going to work well owing to differences in the media. No movie can possibly be "just like Battleship", so "no problemo."

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Having fun with a new game

Nowadays I often design games for other people to play, that I'm not so keen on playing myself. This is something that separates some experienced designers from novices, as novices usually only design the game(s) they would like to play. I tend to like games with some depth of strategy that might take several hours to play. I studied games to become a better player. I am not a fan of heavily complex rules, but neither do I naturally gravitate to simple games. Yet the market very much trends toward shorter, simpler games. And the market reflects "the cult of the new", as people don't expect to play a game more than a few times before they move on to another.

In particular, I tend to design more "filler" games and short games than I might play. Some I enjoy playing pretty well, some I'm not so keen on.

But there is one game amongst the new ones that I really enjoy playing solo or with others, though I'm not sure how marketable it is--not because people won't like PLAYing it, but it's a question of whether you can get people to BUY the game.

The game originated after a publisher talked about presenting Dragon Rage (which is in process of being republished from 1982) as an introductory hex wargame. This caused me to think about designing another introductory hex wargame, but this time with a science fiction rather than fantasy theme.

The standard scenario is brothers of a king who has died in suspicious circumstances, each proclaiming the other brother(s) to be a patricide. It's generally a two player game, but can be played in this version by more than two.

The ships set up face down, one at a time, then are revealed as they fight or move faster than one hex (revealed to prove that they can). So there's a considerable element of "fog of war". Normal forces vary with scenario, 15-25 inch-square pieces (with numbers usually going down as the game progresses). Each player has a prince and a non-movable asteroid stronghold. If either is lost, he loses the game. The prince gives a morale bonus in battle, but may have to expose himself to danger to do so.

The "board" is modular 5 by 5 large-hex sections with varying "terrain" which fit together in a great many ways ("geomorphic"). There's a separate 8" by 11" battle board for the battles, which usually involve fewer than five ships but have seen as many as 32 in one battle--nearly the entire forces during a two-player game. Combat uses the venerable "Valley of the Four Winds" method, a two-dice roll to hit, all or nothing, with defender firing first and then alternating individual ship firing (if you die before you shoot, you don't shoot). Better ships have better chances to hit, and better defense modifiers. Ships also have a range and a speed (strategic and tactical the same). Some can go into galactic dust clouds/nebulae, some cannot.

What's continued my interest in solo play is creating scenarios for the game. I have the "rebels vs. the empire" scenario (no, no Deathstar), the "Barbarians" scenario (light ships coming in uncoordinated bunches from the galactic rim), the "Annihilators" scenario (huge death-dealing machines that burn off planets), and the "Wormhole Invaders" scenario (aliens suddenly issue from Black Holes!). Most of these have a smaller version (two 5 by 5 hex boards) and a larger (four boards).

It's also interesting to watch people play, especially those who aren't used to board wargames. There's a tendency for players to sit around doing nothing, which is OK *if* they have the preponderance of economic value. It is not just a battle game, it is a war, so there is an economy, and if you control more of the valuable areas, you're likely to win in the long run.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Fundamental differences, video games and tabletop games

The two most fundamental differences--which are still differences of degree, not kind--between video games and non-electronic games are

1) it is much easier to provide a semblance of opposition with a computer than with non-electronic means, hence video games are traditionally for one player against the computer (interactive puzzles), and non-electronic games are traditionally for two or more players in opposition

2) for video games, up to a point of complexity, no one has to read the rules. For even the simplest non-electronic games, someone must read and understand the rules. (For toys, no one needs to read the rules, because there are no rules or objectives, just objects to play with. The mass non-electronic market is often called the "toy and game" market because the ideal is a very simple game with minimal rules, or an actual toy.)

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Skewed surveys

So many surveys are crippled. I've downloaded some summary results for a survey arranged by http://www.gamesindustry.com/company/542/service/1762
The results are interesting, but woefully misleading because they repeatedly quote percentage of population playing games, yet limit their "population" in two ways. The first isn't unreasonable--at least 8 years old. The second is entirely unreasonable--they only count people who have Internet access. Insofar as many forms of video games do not require Internet access, why this limitation? To make the numbers sound more impressive?

Lest you say, "everyone has Internet access", NOT EVEN CLOSE. Many many people don't even own a computer, many because they don't want to, some because they can't afford it (yes, even now when computers are so much cheaper). Some of these people may play games on phones or on friends' computers/consoles, yet why they're excluded entirely is beyond me. This also skews the comparative results of this international survey, as I'm supposing the percentage of people who have Internet access varies somewhat from country to country.

So the results are interesting for comparative purposes, but the overall percentages are mostly useless.