Saturday, March 31, 2012

Dwarf Fortress Tutorial

I've published my Dwarf Fortress tutorial to this site. Right now it takes you through the setup and early game. 

I tried to keep it as simple as possible. Comments are enabled for people to complain if they get lost, intimidated, or otherwise annoyed. 

I deliberately did not include steps on how to use tilesets with the game. Your mileage may vary, but there are plenty of tutorials that use tilesets.

I plan to update later with more information about mid-to-late game. 

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Dear Esther

A series of questions and answers about Dear Esther:

What makes you finish your first “round”?
The simple joy of walking around a beautiful landscape. The slight mystery of the island. The music. The view.

What makes you start a second round?
For me - I did not realize the island could be explored thoroughly in a single pass. I thought I missed some places.

For others - Discussing the island turns the player into an unreliable narrator; “I heard X” is not true for other players, which prompts a replay to prove one person right and ultimately prove them both wrong.

In particular, “I saw a ghost”, “I saw a car”, “I heard no one died in the accident” all made me replay the game.

What makes you start a third round?
Realizing there is a very large script with a huge amount of variation. Realizing the repeated symbols across the island change. Starting to dig into where symbols are repeated and why. Letting the island inhabit your brain, to the point where you start feeling sympathy for the boredom and endless repetition to which the protagonist sometimes refers as you start at the lighthouse again.

What makes the game compelling to replay?
Realizing it’s a ten-minute investment to play a single chapter over. Not being afraid of encountering endless, pointless combat or searching for that one last collectible that eludes you.
Here is the first choice in Dear Esther.

Do you take the high road, or do you take the low road?

If you are unfamiliar with the game, your question is probably, “Why does it matter?” The joy of this game is that it doesn’t matter. There is no “left for loot” rule, no minimap to consult, no collectibles, no change in difficulty, not even a time limit. You could walk down to the beach, come back up, and walk along the cliff.

The game asks, “What do you want to see today, right now? The cliff or the beach?” I choose the cliff almost every time. I like being up high and looking at the water below. You might choose the beach in order to hear the waves and look at the scrawlings in the sand. There is no “correct” answer, no metagame. There is only your personal preference. When you take a walk, do you go on the high road or the low road?

How come when we talk about 8-bit systems, we talk about the beauty that comes out of working within constraints (four sound channels, eight colors, 16x16 pixel sprites), but when we talk about playing a game, the game becomes worthless if there isn’t a branching ending, different styles of play, or high scores? Isn’t the act of playing a game also an act of creation? When we start a new Settlers of Catan board, we proceed to tell the story of that board--the person who immediately gets a monopoly on wheat, the three players who start too close to each other, and so on. When we start a new season in Madden ‘12, we tell the story of our franchise team. Maybe you’re playing the underdogs as they climb their way to the top, or the established veterans who falter in your unworthy hands.  We get invested in outcomes, we curse and scream when we are betrayed, and we laugh and gloat when we succeed. These are things we create when we play, so if it’s still an act of creation to play, why is it that games aren’t allowed to be constrained?

Some people might not enjoy constrained games, but people hate RPGs and sports games and board games. We don’t allow them to redefine those things as “not a game”.

Sunday, March 11, 2012


Okay, hi! That was enough of a diversion. Let’s talk about video games again.

I'm juggling several different games, which makes it difficult to carve out time to write a detailed blog post for each one.

Shin Megami Tensai: Devil Survivor 2 - SMT:DS2 is a great strategy RPG, a great jRPG, and a great monster-collecting RPG. It's also a bit grind-heavy, but that makes it ideal for short bursts of play on my bus ride into work. You can spend twenty minutes grinding and ten minutes rearranging teams and skills, then close the lid of the DS and head into work. On the way back, you can spend ten minutes taking care of plot events and another twenty minutes fighting, then close the lid and head home.

Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning - Well, here's the deal. The Editor, as a hardcore Bioware fan, gets first dibs on Mass Effect 3. I, trying to avoid spoilers, lock myself in the next room and play through games I wouldn't otherwise play. So far, I've skipped through most of the plot of KoA, but the conflict between the immortal Fae and the mortal...other people, seems unique enough. Movement is fast and fluid, and combat feels pretty crunchy (on Corvus' exhortations, I've picked up some chakrams and I enjoy their weird rhythm). I don't feel particularly constrained by the class system, unlike Skyrim. Right now, I do feel a little rushed through some areas--again, unlike Skyrim, wherein I felt quite comfortable taking my time to do shit. I'm not sure if it's my mindset (FINISH MASS EFFECT SO WE CAN DISCUSS GARRUS-SEX, KATY) or if it's some property of the game.

Star Wars Online: The Old Republic - At the release of Cataclysm, The Editor persuaded me to give WoW a try. We played for about two months, I hit level 65, and then I quit after reaching The Outlands. The first twenty levels of WoW felt great--levels popped frequently (almost too frequently, although I understand that was intentionally tweaked to get players to the endgame faster), crafting was rewarding, and in general I Got It. I started playing SWOTOR with a friend and I'm just about to hit the 2 month mark. Again, the first twenty levels felt great. On top of that, I loved my giant yellow Twi'lek Jedi Knight, her yellow lightsabers, and her slightly sassy take on the Light Side. The mission structures really contrasted WoW's goofy plot, which is now patched together across several different expansions. However, the honeymoon is starting to wear off. I hate paying $15 to maintain an account that I only play for 6 hours a month. Crafting is prohibitively expensive for my level, so I have to let the interesting parallelization of crafts grinding lay dormant while I build up cash. As fun as the plot is for my main Jedi, I can't bear the thought of going through Dromund Kaas again with my Sith alts. That said, I heard a rumor that the next content patch will have new lightsaber colors, and as a hardcore Star Wars nerd, I'm not sure I can resist giving my Twi'lek a yellow/purple lightsaber set.

Dwarf Fortress - New release, new excuse for me to pick up one of my favorite games again. This time, I wrote a beginner's tutorial since the Wiki's tutorial is nigh-unreadable to me, and doesn't flow through the game in a way that's useful to a first-timer. The tutorial is currently being playtested by random DF first-timers. Once I get enough feedback, I'll release it on this blog.

Dear Esther - I find this game a great blend between very relaxing and very emotional. I want to write a ton about it. I will soon. For now, I'll just say that very few games ask little enough of me that revisiting them is not a chore, and very few games reward me so much for deciding to revisit them.