Categories
Larp

Odyssey

I’ve been trying to write this post for a week. I wrote part of everything as a frothy public facebook post, but I wanted to line up my thoughts and put them down in a proper post for this. A thing for the ages.

I am immensely proud of being part of Odyssey. I am happy with my contribution to the game in a way that transcends my usual armour-plated self-deprecation. As front-facing as I am, I get more credit than I deserve for the work of the entire team.

Odyssey was a very opinionated game. Unapologetically gameist in design, with almost unbreachable class walls that dictated what skills you had and what areas of the game you could play. A hard-fought policy of never retconning player experience, rather changing our entire metaphysic to accommodate a screwup than undo the roleplay and stories around it. A written, understood metaphysic – in Powerpoint format as well – that we could reduce problems down to and attempt to keep consistency.

The lack of any character advancement, the ability to entirely respec your character class between any events, the impermanence of death (and, later, the ability to bring your dead characters back into the story), and beyond everything the belief that whatever the players did, we should react to that and continue the story, not try and drag it back to what we were planning.

I did none of that. I built some things on it, and I helped it appear in the field, but I did it standing on the shoulders of some giants of storytelling, of system design, of LARP theory.

In Mimir (now Online for exploration and the code open for use or contribution) I built some systems to help it run more smoothly, and running the ref-desk to put a friendly if lightly sarcastic public face on interactions with the universe in general. Save a few screwups, I think I did fairly well. My natural tendency to over-analyse decisions I’ve made is countered by the fact that few people are actually complaining about any of them.

I’ve heavy opinions about some of the things in Odyssey. There’s bits in the system I wouldn’t advise building on, there’s bits in the way the systems work backstage that I’d certainly recommend for the future, and somewhere there’s a long article about my opinions on running a ref-desk that I should finish. Plus, there’s the short article about using Excel to keep track of things in a live game.

Here is the short article about using Excel to keep track of things in a live game:

Don’t use Excel to keep track of things in a live game if more than one person needs to do so.

But right now I’m finding it a bit hard to let go, to be honest. The idea that there’s no more left to do on it – I’ll update dagon.church with stats and more briefs, but there’s no actual writing left – is a little alien to me. Plus, there’s been a tornado of froth about the event, and about the system, on my social streams pretty much non-stop since the week before the event happened. I’ve got one more froth meet booked to attend – Thursday in Birmingham – but after that I think I’ll take some steps back. I’ve got between two and four LARP events left this year – Empire in a couple of weeks, Slayers after that, then maybe some Empire player-run events.

I’ve got projects to pick up too. Larp.me could do with some attention, as could this site. I’ve got a couple of months if I want to rewrite NanoCountdown before November, and there’s this Trajectory system that’s looking more and more plausible to run. And a book to write.

Onwards and awaywards, then. Time to put Odyssey to bed and move on with the next thing.

Time Out.

(header image by Charlotte Moss)

nerd

Categories
Computer Games computing Python

Sorting Steam Screenshots

So Steam, by default, when asked to take a screenshot will merrily scatter them hither and yon across your hard-drive with unwarranted abandon. Specifically, it’ll put them in the app’s home directory. This isn’t great, because what with cloud-saves and game streaming, I tend to treat the hard-drive with my games on it as transient, and not backed up.

However, Steam also has developed a setting called “Save uncompressed screenshots”, and if you set that and a directory, it’ll put all your screenshots in one place! Hurrah!

Except now all your screenshots are called things like “306760_20160825142347_1.png”. Now, the bit before the underscore is a Steam app ID, so you can look up the game name and file things nicely into the right folders.

So here’s a python script to do that thing.

Categories
Computer Games

Obduction – Absolutely not Myst 6

I am a fan of the Myst series. I like their aesthetic – the desolate, long abandoned feel, the giant mechanics, the multivarious worlds – I like the sparse storytelling. I like the way the puzzles build on each other and make you feel like you’ve learnt rather than solved them.

The things that fade into memory are the absolute disrespect for the players time, the occasional falls to obscurity, and the bits where “sparse” falls away to “absent”.

Something about the initial world makes me watch out for roadrunners.
Something about the initial world makes me watch out for roadrunners.

In the first minute of Obduction you are teleported from somewhere in mid-america to a place that’s weird. Weird because it looks like a western set, weird because the western set appears to have a white picketed suburban house in it, and weird because beyond the recognisable it is a completely alien landscape. It’s a tribute to Obduction’s universe building that by the time you end this game, all this will make absolute sense, including how it happened and why the ground is that shape.

A carefully spoiler-avoidant pile of notes
A carefully spoiler-avoidant pile of notes

It’s a Myst game in all the important ways. The world has no other people in it – all interactions with humans are done using FMV, in a way that was amazing when Myst did it in 1993, adorably retro when Zork did it in 1999, and flat-out nostalgic when Obduction does it in 2016. It works fairly well when you are supposed to be looking at a recording or hologram, and shatters your suspension of disbelief if the person’s supposed to actually be there. Navigation is either by standard 1st person camera or click-to-move a-la Myst/Riven. Puzzles are solved by clicking things & buttons, and by shifting levers. They range from the simple, to the “That’s obvious because real world”, through to “That’s obvious because consistent universe” to ones that might fall into the last, but either I missed the example or it was cut. There are a few places where the game draws attention to something by movement so you pay attention to it and remember it later. I’ve got a notebook from the first time I played Myst which maps out and documents loads of codes, mazes and symboles I’ve seen, and the working for puzzles while I was solving them. A couple of decades later and the screenshot function of Steam replaces most of those, but my desk is littered with memo-block pages with the same purpose.

There’s a numbering system in one of the worlds that’s the biggest in-game example of this. The game teaches you it fairly early on, uses it for a couple of simple puzzles, but if you don’t entirely grok it, it’ll screw you over later on in the game. Partly solving this is a machine/teaching aide that will directly solve things in an early area, but there’s a point where you’re separated from it and need to use the number system to progress.

...revels a little in its crap FMV...
…revels a little in its crap FMV…

There are another couple of universe-shear points where the game-world changes because you advanced the quest, but there’s no in-game way for that thing to have moved, or that thing to suddenly work now, or in-game dialogue to tell you that you should check that place again. I imagine it’s due to puzzles cut for time – there are a couple of weird content-holes too – but it is annoying. I went through the game pretty much on release, so there weren’t any walkthroughs or guides around, but I did seek out Reddit & the Steam Forums when I got absolutely stuck for more than half an hour, and was fairly happy that all the times I did, the clues I got on the forums were things I would never have thought of doing.

Giant machines in their natural environment: A Myst-style game.
Giant machines in their natural environment: A Myst-style game.

There are a couple of puzzles of the annoying kind where having worked out what to do, it’s going to take another half hour to push all the pieces around, but once you’ve got the hang of how the cross-world puzzles work, they become enjoyable to solve. Like all Myst games, there are some points when you’re going to have to spend a while going the long way around, and while it’s not particularly respectful of the player’s time (no quick-travel here) it’s imperfect without being rage-inducing. Except one puzzle, where it’s horrid.

But it’s a Myst-style game, with all the production values (except in FMV) of a well-made 2016 game. I completed it without particularly hurrying in around 13 hours play, I’m entirely happy with the $25 I kickstarted it for. It has some beautiful environments; a well-observed, consistent world; and a sparse but engaging story. If you like this kind of thing, you’ll like this kind of thing.

Categories
Larp

Game On

In 9 weeks, 79 hours, it will all be over.

In 79 hours, this one will be over.

But in 34 hours, Odyssey 12 – The Golden Ram – will begin.

There are over 150 plot threads going out this event. That doesn’t include battles, continuing tensions, a metric fuckton of IC relationships and drama, over 200 player status effects, dozens of magical scrolls of fathomable power, fated artefacts of various levels of mystery and mayhem. It does include the largest shakeup of our central mechanics since we started, and a number of interesting ways to affect and effect the end of the world. It doesn’t include the things the players will think up that we’ll jump to react to, the swerves and tight cornering of steering a massive vehicle on a steep downhill slope.

That the final game is coming up is a distraction. A large looming distraction on the horizon, a terrifying responsibility to stick the landing of a years-long project. But tomorrow we have this game to run first, and this game to run well, so we have a landing to stick. A team of awesome, dedicated people who will go to incredible lengths to make this work the best we can.

Game on.

Categories
Larp

Mimir and the tyranny of things that just about work

So this is about LARP, but also about systems and process. Bare with me, it might get a bit long.

I had pretty much no interest in Odyssey when it started. My first introduction to it was when a group of friends was invited to a test of the combat system a year or so before Event 1, and since LARP Combat really isn’t my thing, I passed. I knew some friends were involved in writing story, but I hadn’t seen anything that wasn’t caught up in the arena stuff, and I was kind of wrapped up in my head a bit anyway. After E1, everyone I knew who played was frothing about this wonderful game, and everyone I knew who crewed was drinking heavily to forget. After some discussions with the latter about ways the game might go better next time I sent an email to PD saying I’d like to join the story team, and eventually became a ref instead.

At the second event, I spent friday evening wandering around the field in my brand new boots, and Saturday morning through to sunday afternoon unable to walk. I became desk-ref by invalid status, and started being the point of contact for story related questions that came to the ref desk. Over the next few events I started to make suggestions as well as ask questions for players, became a member of story team proper, got given a Head Ref title, and generally did my best for Odyssey.

The most annoying thing about the first few Odysseys was the Kudos tracker, which is the system the game uses to keep track of money sacrificed to the Gods and other worthy personages. From Event 2 though to around Event 5 it was a spreadsheet on a shared drive, and because the front desk needed to add things to it, and Story needed to add things to it and make calculations based off it, we were forever shouting at each other, because having it open in Excel or Libreoffice on one computer meant nobody else could write to it. Eventually, I decided this problem wasn’t one that would fix itself, and basically wrote a really simple PHP/MySQL app that did what the spreadsheet did, only with multiple users. This was the first version of Mimir, the Odyssey game management system. Next event I added a blogging platform, so every NPC in the game has a little blog where they write down what happened to them, so the story team can see what’s going on. Also it doubles as a notes area to keep track of “These characters did this thing” in a way that doesn’t result in a thousand tiny doc files stored locally on one of a dozen PCs.

There it lay for a couple of years. It worked well enough, and adding the next big thing to it would take ages, and I never got around to it.

Oh, but I wish I had.

For the first event last year I finally added the promised feature of “Blessings” – always with the scare quotes – that tracks special effects on any given player. From being blessed by Jupiter to strike down foes with thunderbolts, to the secret abilities of the Zodiac Council, to the curse of Dionysus on the guy who stole his drink; Blessings in Odyssey are one of the key interactions and effects that Story will give out.

And they were an absolute arse to maintain.

The first version of a system was an Excel workbook. One sheet was a table of blessings, the second a designed form where if you put the primary key of the blessing in a special place it would generate a pretty form you could print. This was single user, broke if you opened it in Libreoffice, and just about worked. For a couple of years it was another spreadsheet that was used as a data source by an access database that generated PDFs of blessings you could print, and that just about worked… and it all worked enough that there wasn’t really an impetus to replace the system, but enough that every interaction with the system (which was the same for Greater Mysteries – big spells – and Artifacts – Item information sheets) caused a slight uptick in everyone’s stress levels.

At Event 9 it all went to fuck.

A perfect storm of a series of mistargeted blessings going out that absolutely fucked up someone’s event, a block of blessings going entirely missing because they were using the wrong version of the spreadsheet and a set of lower-impact minor bad blessings that were just not game improving; joined forces with a period of time where the only laptop that could generate the blessings couldn’t be accessed… it just all fell over. For the remainder of the event blessings were not allowed out unless one of Me (Head Ref), Ian Andrews (Head of Story) or Si Brind (Lead Si Brind) had physically signed them. The event itself went well, all the players were happy (save the ones who got screwed over), but this needed to be fixed.

This is the problem with things that Just About Work, be they inherited processes or systems, applications or relationships with people. They’re not, none of them, going to one day get better. They’re either going to slowly grind to a halt, or they’re going to go off like a firework in someone’s face; and in this case the face was a player who didn’t even _nearly_ deserve it.

You'd be surprised by how many Greek blessings are for reasons of caprice. Or maybe not.
You’d be surprised by how many Greek blessings are for reasons of caprice. Or maybe not.

Over autumn I wrote some entity relationship diagrams, over winter I wrote some user interface, over spring I wrote the code to make the interface work and regretted using a home-built framework for it. By event 10 – first event 2015 – I had a system that could import the old spreadsheet and turn it into a modernish web interface with a three-point approvals system, print queue and (the bit that hurt the most) PDF generation of any player’s blessings on demand.

In an exceedingly complimentary post, Ian credits this addition with making last event go so smoothly from back-end side. I’m less convinced it was just – or even mostly – that, this is a really good team and it was working like oiled clockwork last season, but it almost certainly did help, and reduced stress levels a great deal, as well as prep time for next event.

I suspect the moral of this story is something like “There’s always time to create better tools” (there isn’t), or “The right tool in the right place and you can move the world with your thumb” (Which is, but finding “Right” is almost impossible). Mostly, I think it’s “Make better things, and things will be better”.

It’s also “Come to Odyssey”, but you knew that.

Anyway, source for Mimir will be released after the last event (it has some spoilers in it), though data won’t. The data will be used to make some pretty graphs to show, though.

Categories
Computer Games Gaming

The Park

‘Tis the season to be jump-scared, fa-lalalala, lala la la.

One of the possible ways to review this game is a content warning list, thus: Content warning for jump-scares, player-gaslighting, violence to children, dolls (dismembered), discussion of obsolete (and violent) treatments for mental health.

As someone who loves the world and stories set in The Secret World, the reveal of The Park – a single player experience set in the universe of that game – is something I am massively in favour of. The Park doesn’t need you to have played TSW to play it, though if you have done the mission set centred around the same park location in the game, the setup and some of the backstory will be familiar to you. (It’s not *necessary*, or even a plot point, to know that the park is built on a Indian Burial Ground and influenced by the Illuminati, but it does explain a lot). It’s a slow paced horror game, kind of, based around a woman – Laura – who has lost her child. The interactions in the world are move, toggle run, left click to interact, right click to shout for your son. Shouting – which gets more intense as the game gets on – results in a sonic clue as to which direction to aim for, and a visual bubble like a lens over the next interactive object. There’s no combat, no puzzles, and the closest thing to a failure state is three achievements (out of 14) that require specific action (finding an object, etc.) rather than following the game.

The story is interesting, and disturbing. It uses the medium well, but if you don’t like your pacing slow, your tension high, and your ability to shoot things limited to screenshots, it’s not going to be your thing.

It ends in a very dark place (probably. The ending isn’t… conclusive, but it’s not nice), and the journey to get there is winding, but it clocks in at between 70-90 minutes playtime. None of that’s filler, though. There’s no going back and forth with objects, no reloads for combat retries, no arbitrary game-over screens; it sets out to tell you a story though an interactive diorama, and it succeeds – in my opinion – very well.

There’s a long list of people I’d not recommend this game to – anyone who uses the word “walking simulator” as a pejorative; anyone who flinches at anything in the content warning – but if any of the above sounds like Your Thing, it’s about 8 quid for an experience that I’d recommend.

(Plus, anything that keeps Funcom afloat at the moment is good for my long term ability to play The Secret World…)

Buy The Park on SteamFind the lowest price for The Park on Is There Any Deal

Categories
Computer Games Gaming

The beginner’s guide, a review thing

The beginner’s guide is a game in the style of the author’s previous game (for which he was part of a team), The Stanley Parable. It’s similar in that the mechanics are you walk though and experience it more than you play it, the game is in the narrative.

It’s presented as a compilation of one-shot games by a developer named Coda, that Davey wants to present to the world.

The game is dark, and deep, and what you see at the bottom may depend on who is looking.

It is the dark mirror of the Stanley Parable, and exactly as explicable. I love that it exists. I love the game. I will now delete it from my hard-drive and never be tempted to launch it again.

The rest of this article contains spoilers, and you shouldn’t read beyond this unless you’re pretty sure you’re not going to play it by the above.

The dark mirror within

Towards the end, it becomes clear that by imposing his need for more games that *he* would enjoy, the narrator has driven his muse to stop producing games at all. In fact, Coda – the developer – begins to feel trapped in his own outlet, games he made for himself, for his own entertainment, for his own personal expression have been hijacked and analysed and then “fixed” by the narrator, and then the narrator – a fictionalised version of the game developer, Davey – has bundled them together for release in order to “encourage” or, to put a better way, pressurize Coda into developing more games for him, Davey. Coda becomes the only way Davey can look at himself, and placed high on that pedestal, cannot deal with being someone else’s idol.

“Davey”, in turn, uses Coda’s games – shops them around to friends, and eventually puts this up on Steam – to feel part of them, to feel like they were his in some way, and presents his public over-analysis of Coda’s game designs as depression, as shutting himself away, when it’s actually Davey’s appropriation of his games, and Davey’s own unresolved problems, that’s making it hard to produce. On Coda’s side there’s a lot in there about pressure, about having to explain everything as a psychological basis, about being in public, about opening yourself up for evaluation.

On Davey’s side there’s a lot about the need for external validation, and the escalating need for more. About the perils of relying on other people as perfect templates, and the pressure it puts on them and on you.

So it wasn’t a comfortable game for me to play. As the metanarrative became clear, the revealing of the narrator as antagonist, the clear metaphors of unsolvable puzzles and being held responsible for someone else’s happiness…

Plus, Coda and Davey are the same person, possibly. One interpretation is that it’s Davey before his games got popular (supported by something he wrote a little while after The Stanley Parable went supernova, and some other stuff). My personal theory is that the narrative of the game is of two people, but the reason for the game is that they’re both the same person, and I’m doing that thing, and I should stop.

Yeah, 1am on a sunday night wasn’t the best time for me and this game, it’s going to be a long player in the background of my head. My relationship with feedback’s never been especially healthy, and it’s been a bad few months for creative works for me in part due to that.

Categories
Computer Games Gaming Larp Piracy Inc Projects web development Work

Week 33 – Long Time Passing

That I now have to make a decision on whether weeks begin on Sunday or Monday for this is probably a bad sign. It’s Monday, anyway.

Work

My current contract is coming to an end, and with the company on a different footing to the last year, my position of emergency relief may be coming to an end. I kind of have to assume it is, anyway, so I’m looking for more different things. I’ve got an interview on Wednesday for a full time contract, which will be something of a novelty after working 3 days/week for the current one. Part of their interview process was this intensive logic-based Aptitude Test, and if I’d seen it coming I maybe wouldn’t even have applied. It’s the kind of mental-gymnastics “Could you get into Mensa” test that I’ve traditionally done really badly at – which means I panic, which means I do worse. I got the Face to Face interview before they sent me the test, though, and they haven’t cancelled that yet. Doing it on Wednesday put me on edge, though, which made a sudden explosion of drama in one of my corners of the internet hit a bit hard, so Thursday was crap, and then Friday, by dint of an astounding series of coincidences that built up into a *huge* pile of shit, was worse.

So it’s been a weird week, and this week isn’t looking much quieter.

Rest

LARP

The drama’s based around my “big” larps, those run by Profound Decisions that I help crew for, and was based around how well PD deal with abuse reports. To clarify: My role at Odyssey occasionally means dealing with the first part of these, in that I’m usually the first person people end up speaking to, but I’m under strict instructions – which I almost always follow – to directly redirect such complaints to non-volunteer staff (Sometimes the player doesn’t want to, sometimes other things get in the way). Paragraphs deleted here. I’m not getting into it.

Part of it is that I’m going to be running events, I hope, in the future; and I can’t see a clear path where I would have done it better or even particularly differently. The numbers are low enough that statistics become inferable to specific cases too easily, and I fundamentally disagree with last-action policies. That is, if you know someone is attempting to deal with anger issues, and you poke them with a stick so you can then point at them and say “This was going to happen anyway”, my sympathy is significantly less than if you poke them with a blunt stick and they bit your head of on spec. I don’t even begin to know where the answers are on events that happen out of the game that affect people’s ability to feel safe in the same tent/camp/field/county; and the line between asking people quietly to fall in line and publicly being seen to make a stand isn’t clear cut either.

It’s a hard problem, it’s a disservice to everyone – organisers, crew and players alike – to pretend there are heavy black lines around all of the areas (Yes, some actions are clearly bad), and the initial explosion of righteous “They’re being stupid”, “They’re being oblivious” didn’t help. The more nuanced discussions later were a lot better, but that was after the initial damage.

Pirates

I spent most of Saturday on PiracyInc, the long lost Pirates Game I’ve been working on for years. It’s currently an excuse to learn Node – I do a lot better at learning languages by building things in them – and rebuild the visual mechanics of the game as a Cookie-Clicker style percentage bar system, but backed onto something akin to an MMO engine. There’s almost certainly better ways to do almost everything I’m currently doing, but right now I have the basics working, and can now start putting meat onto the bones.

Lifestream

I’ve also been working on my personal data archiving project, Lifestream. Right now it’s drinking in data on a lot of things in my life, and storing them in a database. A lot of that’s reproduced as part of NicholasAvenell.com, but some of it is on two timeshifted accounts, Aquarions Of History, which reproduces my tumblr of four years ago in real time, and @timeshifted-aq, which does the same for my Twitter stream. The new updates for the Twitter side replace “@” with the unicode ? symbol, to avoid sending notifications to people for tweets 4 years ago. On the tumblr side, I’m using queueing to make the times slightly more accurate (Twitter doesn’t let you schedule tweets with the API, so they appear when the script runs, every 15 minutes)

Other

My iPhone 6S arrived on Friday, and I’ve been experimenting with it over the weekend. Battery life is a lot better than my (2 year old, >800× recharged) 5S was, Using it to navigate to a new place was – as expected – a large drain, as was being in a low-signal house for a while. Staying in the same place with low signal but wifi calling appears to have only lost 10% over the day, though, so it’s looking a lot better.

I’m looking at porting my Trello-based voice-mail system – Vox-ex-machina – from its current mess of hand-coded PHP into a nicer Node-based system, but that may come after Pirates gets a bit more love.

Play

Still playing AdVenture Capitalist. Can clearly give it up any time I want to.

Batman Arkham Knight

In an attempt to use my PS4 a bit more, I picked up Arkham Knight for it – also affected by the reports of the PC version being shoddy. I like the Arkham games a lot, they’re hands-down the best representation of the concept of Batman in video game form and the gadget-centric progression fits the model of the character really well. That said, Knight’s push bigger has lost focus somewhat. The explicit mission tracking is welcome, but the scope and repetition of some of the tasks aren’t doing so well. Primarily, the Batmobile is massively overused. I understand they want to fit all the things they wanted to do with it over the last couple of games, but the Batmobile as puzzle-solving device gets old quick, and the shooting-gallery of tanks is just frustrating. It would be better if there *wasn’t* a concept of clearing out the islands, because it makes the one-line notification of “oh, BTW, there’s another stack of tanks to beat” frustrating. AND THEY RESPAWN. One of the leading lights of the Arkham series’ vaulted combat system was that when you got into a fight, you could see there are twenty guys, and then you’d beat 20 guys, and you’d win. Here – and it’s not just in the batmobile sections, they do it in the hand-to-hand too – there’s a high chance of multiple waves, without telegraph, that means you can never tell how close to success you are. The number of special-combo-to-beat enemies appears to have gone up too, turning many fights into effectively quick-time events as the tutorial window pops up with “Press X-X-O-Meta-Bucky-Five to disarm quantum field generators” with the added bonus of having to abort halfway though as some other fucker throws a TV at you from off-screen.

So, while I’m enjoying Arkham a lot, it’s not without flaws. Most of the reasons why I’m enjoying it a lot are where they’ve improved the original concept, and most of the places where I’ve not is where they’ve stretched it.

They’re making me bored of the Batmobile, though, which is an achievement in itself.

Pillars of Eternity

With the new expansion released, I’m also retreading though Pillars of Eternity. I’d got though to Act 3 previously, but when I came back to it I had no idea where I was, so I’ve restarted as a Moon Godlike Chanter, going from the least original class/race combo in the series to something distinctly more interesting. The replay’s going fairly well, I’m remembering most of the major plot beats and getting slightly different results, but the game’s still got a problem with leading you into fights you can’t possibly win at your current state, which I’m hoping the expansion’s better at. Though since by the expansion the party will be at a significantly higher level, it may work out anyway.

 

 

 

Categories
Computer Games Larp PHP Projects

Week 27 – A Blunderbuss For House Hunting

Last couple of weeks have been a little hectic, and the next couple seem to continue this trend. So:

Work

Shifted to a new primary project at work for the first time in quite a while. Enjoying new challenges, and a more modern codebase to work from. My side of Skute has wound down a bit while others fan the spark a bit, which gives me a chance to plan the next bits for the API.

Play

Still going though SWTOR, mostly. I’ve not had a lot of playtime.

Rest

Moving House

We have the keys to the new flat, big move is this weekend. We moved a few dozen boxes yesterday (Thanks Dan & Jenny for being awesome). Between that and Odyssey, I’m mildly dead now.

Odyssey

I’m a head ref for Odyssey, and work closely with the Story team to help everything go smoothly, and one of the things that didn’t go smoothly last time was our “Blessings” system – the system by which we add reactionary special statuses to characters (Blessings from their Gods, Curses, Long term effects of magic spells, transformation into bloodless monsters, Roleplay effects, Extra hitpoints, everything). Previously we worked with a somewhat Heath-Robinson contraption built of Excel and Access-based PDF generation.

Previously, I built a system called Mimir, which tracks the kudos priests and other characters can earn with their gods. We’re a more narrative-based than stats-based game, so the numbers get fudged a lot, but it’s a decent guideline. It’s also got a fairly fully-featured blogging engine, which is for debriefs.

Screenshot from 2015-08-12 15-45-00_croppedMy last couple of weeks not-working time has been spent extending and expanding that a lot. Folding in an Autocomplete library that linked to the current list of active players and the Blessing system (complete with three-stage approval process and player-facing PDF generation), and then a general once-over on the design has swallowed a lot of my coding time.

When I built it originally a few years ago, I built it in PHP (because I wanted to be able to make quick changes on the fly during an event) using a custom lightweight microframework, and Idiorm/Paris as the database/ORM model. I’m slightly surprised how well that’s held up. I didn’t need to edit the framework at all for this major revision, and Idiorm & Paris worked really well for me. The frontend’s built in Bootstrap, which gives me style without much effort – though I do need to bite the bullet and shift up to v3 – and I’ll be releasing it as Open Source once Odyssey is over, alongside graphs and statistics generated from the actual dataset.

I should put up another post later on about how well Odyssey went, but now I should be getting ready for work.

(Header photo: A Greek Shield Wall, at Odyssey. Photo by Charlotte Moss for Profound Decisions)

Categories
Larp

Character Generation

I approach character generation with the tools of an A-Level drama student, the blueprints of a Narrativist, and the min-maxing skills of the average pot of superglue.

Generally, we start with a few anchor points. In today’s case, the starting point was that I’m playing Empire in the League, because I want an excuse to use some signature kit from a few characters back and that’s the nation it fits best in. Second, I’m playing Politics, because fighty isn’t really in my nature, and I know from experience that Tradey isn’t really my game. Third, I’ve got a group (The volume of “come, join us” when I mentioned I would be playing was gratifying), and it’s not a group of people I’ve played with a lot before. This means I can fall back into comfortable roles, to some extent, because I won’t be bouncing of the same people in the same ways.

So, Nation chosen, and group gives me a guide to which bits of the nation I can fall into. Next up, the name.

Generating Detail Marshall, a character I played at Maelstrom for a long while, started roughly the same way. I was joining an established group as a family member, which gave me a nation and some existing background guidance. I picked out a direction I was interested in – gunsmithing – and a name. For Detail, I picked up his full name first – James Marshall-Frauser – without realising how little the last bit fit the setting, as his “True” name, the one that unlocked his soul if spoken. Then I chopped off the end to make his True Name less discoverable, and gave him a nickname – Detail – then a shortened form – Det – then a backstory as to why he had it (James Marshall was his father, and Det had picked up “Attention to detail” after displaying a lack of it. A series of hilarious adventures exiled him from home and to the New World where Maelstrom took place). I added “Det” as a short form, but that didn’t last very long. It didn’t fit the character very well.

So what I’m looking for a name is three things, a common thing they are called, an optional clue to deep backstory, and a full “Mother shouts that this when angry” full name with as nice as possible flow of syllables.

Once we’ve got a name to hang things off, Drama Student mode kicks in. A few question/answer sessions not a million miles from this meme I did for Detail around 7 years ago give me a few hooks to hang the character off – Who would you never betray, what’s your best memory, who wouldn’t you piss on if they were on fire – to work out the basics of characterisation, level of the Utter Bastard scale, and D&D alignment, and we’re ready for first play. I prefer first play to be as non-canon as possible, since it’s still a rough sketch of character. For this, I may be using him for an upcoming non-mainline player event hosted by my new group, which fits perfectly.

Assuming I get the rest of the costume sorted within a week. Erk.