Tag Archives: RPG

The End of the World: Zombie Apocalypse

Change of pace!

I think I want to run a game, but I haven’t figured out what yet, since nobody wants to play 1st Edition AD&D. A while back, I got the first in the End of the World series on a whim, knowing it would be a series, and that their hook (aside from multiple scenarios per book, each such book centered around a different theme) is a game system that allows you to play yourself, just as the world is beginning to end. In this case, due to one flavor or another of zombie apocalypse.

So, the system? Is a little overly complex, for my taste. And okay, a careful reading of the previous paragraph makes me sound like I’m high, but the fact is, familiarity and nostalgia forgive a lot of complexity. But much more importantly than that is whether your simple, elegant system is successful at being simple and elegant. This one might be, if I’m comparing it to a game from 35 years ago where every rule is an edge case, but I’m comparing it to a homebrew system I stole from Ken Kofman like 20 years ago, and by those standards, this one is pretty hacky. So, y’know. (Also, I’m a lot pickier about rulesets these days, when nostalgia isn’t a factor.)

The far more important part of the book, therefore, was the 75% that followed the rules, in which five apocalyptic scenarios were explored. Each section has the player POV description, a description of what’s really going on, multiple plothook ideas, NPC/monster stats, a timeline of the apocalypse from minute one to year three or four, and then a post apocalypse section for roleplaying into the world that exists beyond the end of our world.

These? Were mostly good. I think there was only one scenario whose genesis and result I liked both of, but that doesn’t mean it would be impossible, or even especially hard, to mix and match. For reasons of potential game spoilers, I won’t go into what their scenarios actually are, but there were definitely some pretty good ideas scattered throughout the thing. Enough to make me want to buy more books in the series, if I can ever find them used. I doubt I’d run another zombie game? My only really successful GM experience was from one, so it’s probably better to try something different.

But I do love me a good apocalypse, so.

Dead Island

I bought kind of a zombie console MMO last year, but then never played it because I was under the impression that it needed a lot of players instead of just me. I later discovered over Labor Day weekend that not only can it played single-player, but it’s also kind of hilariously over the top, what with the zombie rap song and the dozens of bikini zombie models to choose from and the significant number of decapitations and head-crushings and weapon modifications available. I guess what I’m saying is it’s just pleasant to swing a burning baseball bat at a charging zombie and watch it burst into flames.

As for the storyline, it turned out to be a lot broader and a little deeper than expected. Broader in that zomg, so many sidequests, none of which even involved requests to bring back… well, okay, that’s not true, there were totally collection quests, but they at least had no bearing on advancing any plots or changing any characters. Those folks never got tired of their cans of food no matter how many I provided. But anyway, the rest, in which the mysteriously immune people wander the island in search of ways to save everyone and untangle the mystery of where these zombies are coming from and why they can drown? It’s interesting enough to go on with, and I eventually cared about one or two characters.

But mainly it’s those super fun collectible, buildable zombie-splattering toys.

Mass Effect 2

Remember when Shepard, um… yeah, okay, neither do I. I know she did something to learn about the history of the Protheans and the present of the Reapers, and repelled an initial foray into “the destruction of life as we know it”, but that’s about all I remember. Because I played Mass Effect way too long ago. To give you an idea of how long ago, I didn’t finish playing Mass Effect 2[1] until after the majority of people I know who like video games had finished Mass Effect 3.

But I did. And it turns out that knowing why the Citadel was attacked and what that means to the next few years of “life as we know it” isn’t so relevant when compared to politics, especially if new players in the galaxy (called by people who are watching history The Collectors because of their habit of gathering up entire populations and leaving through a mass effect relay nobody else has ever returned from in recorded history) kill you before people get a chance to decide if they consider you a hero for sure or not. Although martyrdom is nice for the hero image, don’t get me wrong.

But it’s cool, because Shepard is back a couple of years later (you can’t keep a good hero down apparently, especially when she has the financial backing of her biggest political enemy behind her) to figure out what happened to her and what is about to happen to everyone else, with new allies at her side (and a selection of the best old allies, including Tali, without whom the galaxy basically seems not worth inhabiting). If you liked the first game, you’ll like this one. If you didn’t like the first game, it is either a) because you are a bad person or b) because you hated the inventory system. That has been fixed, and all that is left to worry about is the exploration of uninhabited planets, which is not bad per se as long as you don’t give yourself the mistaken impression that you should ever explore them in advance beyond your needs. Because there are way more planets rich in resources than you will ever need to probe.

And if there are unexplored planets that have plot relevance but are not announced except by looking for them? That is a fault of the designer, not the reviewer.

[1] Technically, I still haven’t finished, as there are monetary DLC that seem worthwhile. But it feels close enough for review work.

Mass Effect

One sign of an extremely good video game is that it would be almost easier to describe it as a movie and leave out the game elements entirely. Well, okay, that may not be true. But if the reason you want to leave out the game elements is that they were so seamless and non-intrusive that you only very occasionally even felt like you were playing something instead of watching it and influencing the outcome, that would be good. It would also be a good sign if your father, no stranger to games even if he’s not the gamer type, were to ask you after watching the last 15 or 20 minutes of the game to clarify that it was in fact a game, and not a movie.

And looking at it like that, Mass Effect is an exceptional game. Short centuries from today, humanity has spread out into the solar system only to discover relics of an extinct race that had observed our solar system 50,000 years ago and left behind technology we were quickly able to make use of. Now the mass effect drives have unlocked the galaxy for rapid exploration. And of course, we are not alone in the discovery, nor are we the first. And so, at a moment when humans are accepted as an important member of the galactic community but are clamoring for a chance to be more involved in the governing and policy-making of that community, opportunity arises in the form of Saren, a Council agent gone rogue who has just unleashed a rain of death upon a human colony and garden world in the form of his AI allies, the Geth. Now, the principle character of the game, Commander Shepard, must marshal diverse resources to hunt down Saren while unraveling the mystery behind his motivations and goals. At the very least, humanity’s position in galactic affairs is at stake for years to come. And it’s always possible that the stakes could be higher still.

Mass Effect is an RPG, in the style of Baldur’s Gate or Knights of the Old Republic, not Final Fantasy. That is, created with conscious effort to be reminiscent of tabletop RPGs, if they were played by one player instead of several. In the general course of events, I can only get so much enjoyment out of those games, because the micromanagement gets in the way of the pure joy of playing. And sure enough, the inventory system is an exercise in frustration, both because of the limit on how many things can be kept and because of the horrible ordering system. This kind of thing results in the games taking ages to complete if I ever do, and any justified sense of accomplishment comes tainted by the lack of consistent gameplay over a short period of time. That is, these games take me months or years to complete because I get bored of all the between-time work I have to do, so I play something else for a while instead.

Except, contrary to expectations, I’m about to proclaim joy instead of hardship. The majority of the game was put together explicitly to minimize these kinds of micromanagements, even if the inventory part failed. Instead of pausing and selecting enemies for combat, everything is played out in real time with a third person movement and cover system reminiscent of Gears of War that simultaneously allows growing character skills to matter while providing direct control over the flow of combat. The dialog system was primarily about setting the tone of your character; not what does she say, which is for the most part scripted (though there certainly are important choices scattered throughout the game), but how does she say it: with an eye toward politics and goodwill? Strictly official to get the job done, irrespective of the opinions in his head? Or with a giant chip on her shoulder, trying to cut through the pointless bureaucracy? And there are more tones, of course. So, my point is this: RPGs in general are only so entertaining to me, but Mass Effect was spectacular. Even the simple brilliance of Portal has such a different focus as to make them non-comparable. If it wasn’t for BioShock, Mass Effect would unquestionably have been my favorite game this year. (I really need to finish BioShock. Like, a lot.)

Final Fantasy

Over the past several months, I’ve played Final Fantasy (with intentions to play the other ones, eventually) as my tiny-TV-in-bed time-waster of choice. The amazing part is that I actually got around to finishing it, just last night. Well, it’s not that amazing. I am a jobless bum with no real prospects, since my marketable skills have been eroded over the past three years of getting paid a king’s ransom not to use them.

…but it’s possible that this is not about that. Um. Where was I? Right, the game. I’ve been reading 8-bit Theater for lo these many years, and once I realized they were re-releasing the game, I got it in my head to play as the characters from the comic. Then, I played it for a while. Then, I didn’t. Then, after I got unenjobbed, I returned to it, and after a quick walkthrough to remind me of the dungeon I was in the middle of, I got back to plugging away at it. It is mindless, but certainly entertaining. Even with cleaned up translations of the spells and people’s speech patterns, it still makes barely a lick of sense. But at the end of the day, the world was saved, so that’s pretty cool.

Also: unlike any other Final Fantasy game (well, that I know of; I admit that my knowledge in this regard is limited), there are no chocobos. This alone makes it the most awesome thing ever for the whole of the minute or two that you’ve spent reading just now, not to mention the minute or ten I’ve spent typing. I mean, just imagine it. A world with no chocobos! It would be fairly breathtaking, but luckily we are blessed by other video games who have never heard of such a beast, on even the quietest winds of rumor. But if we weren’t, man. People would be lining up to play this game over and over again, just to avoid that terrible fate.

Or, maybe it’s just me with the chocobo aversion.