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 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. 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)


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.

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.