Modern Backyard Classics

The higher focus on active video games like DDR and Wii Sports make me happy that today's young gamer is experiencing something I never did at their age: exercise.

That's why I was delighted to see Brian Crecente's Backyard Adaptations Of Video Game Classics, a series of outdoors, active interpretations of classics like Pac-Man and Frogger. The one that really caught my interest was Katamari StickWithMe, which has many of the physical, group-coordination, and team-agnostic elements that I enjoy running in social games like Survive DC.

So with that in mind (and with a little egging on by Crecente himself), I decided to design a couple Backyard Adaptations, myself. As with any active game, be sure to be careful where and how you're playing - if someone gets hurt, everybody loses!

Tagsassin's Creed

Objective: Tag your target and get back to a safe hiding spot before they catch you!

Need: At least two players, and anyplace that has a lot of hiding spots. A hiding spot is anyplace between two similar objects within arm's reach - between two trees, two bookshelves, two swings, etc.

To Win: Catch the Tagsassin when he tags you.

Inspiration: Assassin's Creed

  1. Pick a player to start as the Tagsassin.
  2. Everybody else goes to a hiding spot and "blends in."

  1. At a hiding spot, you can "blend in" by taking a pose like the two items you're hiding between - if you're between two rocks, you might curl up like a rock; if you're between two trees, you might stand up straight with your arms out like a tree.
  2. The Tagsassin sneaks up on someone who is hidden and tags them, then tries to run to a different hiding spot and "blend in."
  3. Whoever is tagged must try to catch the Tagsassin before he blends in and hides again.
  4. If you catch the Tagsassin, you win, and can pick a new hiding space to begin again.
  5. If the Tagsassin gets away, you are the new Tagsassin, and must pick a new player to tag.

Prince of Playground

Objective: Take turns jumping, climbing, and balancing your way along a path without touching the ground.

Need: A playground or other suitable series of large objects for climbing and balancing, like tree stumps, logs, large rocks, sturdy furniture, etc.

To Win: Successfully travel from the start to the finish without touching the ground, or successfully catch someone who falls to the ground.

Inspiration: Prince of Persia

  1. Each player takes turns playing as either the jumper or the catcher. If there is only one player, they are the jumper.
  2. Players pick a Start (where jumpers will begin) and a Finish (where jumpers will try to reach without touching the ground.)
  3. The catcher waits on the ground near the starting point, and the jumpers get in position at the Start.

  1. The jumper tries to travel from Start to Finish without touching the ground - jumping over gaps, balancing on beams, climbing on monkey bars, etc.
  2. A catcher isn't allowed to interfere with a jumper unless they're touching the ground (or about to hit the ground).
  3. If a jumper touches the ground, they have to run back to the Start before a catcher tags them. If they make it back to the Start, they can begin again from there.
  4. If a catcher tags a jumper who's touched the ground, that jumper becomes a catcher.
  5. If a jumper reaches the Finish without touching the ground, they win.
  6. If the jumpers are all caught by the catcher, the catchers win.
  7. Play again, taking turns as jumper and catcher!

Mutant in the Middle

Objective: Toss a water balloon between the vault dwellers without letting the supermutant get it.

Need: At least two friends, and some water balloons (full, but not too full!).

To Win: Keep the water balloon from breaking for as long as you can!

Inspiration: Fallout 3

  1. Pick two or more players to be the survivors for the first round.
  2. Pick one or more players to be the supermutants for the first round.
  3. One of the vault dwellers gets a water balloon (the "Pure Water") to start.

  1. Survivors cannot stand closer to each other than 5 feet.
  2. Supermutants can move wherever they want, but cannot touch survivors.
  3. Survivors take turns tossing the Pure Water to each other. They cannot hold the Pure Water for longer than 10 seconds.
  4. Supermutants try to catch or burst the Pure Water.
  5. If a supermutant catches or bursts the Pure Water, they win and can be a survivor in the next round.
  6. If the Pure Water bursts when a survivor throws or catches it, without a supermutant touching it, then all of the survivors swap with all of the supermutants for the next round.
  7. Keep playing until you're out of water balloons, until you're thoroughly soaked, or until nuclear armageddon!


Inside the Vault

Shameless self-promotion time! My Inside the Vault profile is now up at Bethblog!

Come see my views on how to get into games, feature bloat, and the core requirements of every game designer:

“Designer” is a very vague term, and every company defines it differently. The only part of the job description that every company seems to agree on is that designers have two vital tasks:

1) Making sure the player has an enjoyable experience while playing the game.

2) Disagreeing with other designers about how to do #1.


Personal Stories in Games

Among my friends, we have a saying, "Any game can be a roleplaying game."

We all love games that tell a good story. But as we play, we're making our own personal story in the game. And sometimes, our favorite game stories are the ones we tell ourselves.

Monopoly: Racecars, Romance, and Revenge

From Final Fantasy to Wii Sports to Monopoly, a creative player can always spin their own tale about the game they're playing and the way they're playing it, even if it has no effect on the game itself.

"My Monopoly character is Remington R. Racecar, a quick-witted, impulsive drag-racer who made his fortune betting on his own races. When his career was killed by a mysterious engine fire, he thought the world of high finances would be a safer game. He was dead wrong..."

Humans look for connections and narratives, so we tend to weave stories even out of random data. And if we weave those stories while we play, they start influencing our choices in the game, letting us reinforce those stories with our actions, and giving us new ideas to incorporate into our own ever-growing narratives.

Perhaps Remington's risk-taking lifestyle means you're more inclined to pick up risky properties, or maybe his familiarity with engines makes him particularly interested in the railroads? Or maybe you'll turn your attention to a rival player, Shawn Scottydog, the sinister manipulator who sabotaged Remy's car, trying to get revenge for some other past misdeed - perhaps because of their rivalry for the affections of the beautiful Julia Thimbleworthy?

Primary and Secondary Stories

Of course, this story isn't supported by the game. It exists outside of the game world, and it falls apart if the other players don't play along. If the player with the scotty dog refuses, you can't point at any part of the game and say it's canon. And you always have to bend your personal story around the real mechanical events that occur in the game.

If you lose all of your money, you can claim you blew it on bad bets, or lost it through Scottydog's nefarious schemes, but you can't just deny it and keep playing. The game's story is primary, and your personal story is secondary.

One place where this difference is especially clear is in MMOs. In World of Warcraft, the primary story generally revolves around you being one of hundreds of heroes engaged in an epic war on all fronts, fulfilling quests for your allies across the world, and gaining power, ranking, and increasingly shiny equipment.

But go on any roleplaying server, and you'll find thousands of different, mutually-exclusive personal, secondary stories - complicated backstories of all kinds, guilds full of stories that have no tangible representation in the game, need not be accepted by uninvolved players, and which may not even make any sense at all.

That's the heart of roleplaying in action, and it allows players to tell themselves the stories they want to hear.

The Importance of Playing Along

Even if your story is world-class, the player will always have a closer connection to their personal story, because it's the one they wrote for themselves. If story is important to your game, you want to give the player a lot of ways to make their personal story appear onscreen. You want the player's secondary story to reinforce the game's primary story.

Obviously, this is most common in the most story-intensive genre: roleplaying games. This is why good roleplaying games give you a variety of options, from character builds and equipment to cosmetic appearance and dialogue options with minimal impact on the game, even the smallest bit of player-controlled choice allows them to put their secondary story onto the game, and to weave it around the primary story.

Done right, it can make for new stories that stick with players for years to come, even when they think they know everything there is to know about the game.

A Personal Story from the Wasteland

In closing, I'd like to share my favorite personal story, which came to me when I was playing a late-beta copy of Fallout 3. Warning, there are spoilers below for anyone who hasn't gone through the main quest!

Obviously, I know exactly what's going on behind the scenes with the AIs and events (mostly...), but sometimes everything comes together and feels so alive that I forget the cogs running behind the screen.

My favorite time that happened was right after I rescued Dad from Tranquility Lane, as we were traveling back across the length of the map to Rivet City. Sure, I could have fast-traveled, but I had spent weeks, months searching for him, and I wasn't about to skip some father-son time.

We had just had a major argument about his genius plan of abandoning me underground, living a lie, and we had moved into the "quiet sulking" period of the trip as we rounded a corner to see a trio of raiders attacking a scavenger and his pack brahmin.

Dad must have been looking for a way to vent his anger as he rushed one of them with has bare fists, and I tried to draw the other two off of the scavenger by spraying them with my assault rifle. Any concerns about Dad's safety disappeared as he laid out the raider with a killer right hook. He grabbed the raider's rifle and joined in my attack.

We dropped the remaining raiders in a hurry, but apparently the scavenger thought we were enemies as well, and time seemed to slow down as I saw him pull out a missile launcher. Fearing even Dad couldn't survive that blast, I aimed three shots for the scav's hand, disarming him quickly.

Seeing he was outmatched, the scav ran and began cowering behind a rock. As he begged for mercy, Dad walked up to him and put a bullet in his head. In the wasteland, mercy is rarer than water.

I stood, stunned, as I realized that Dad had only stopped a man who had meant to murder us, but my thoughts were interrupted by a ferocious bellow. The scavenger's brahmin remained, and its mad eyes rolled our way as it began to charge at me --

Only to be stopped as Dad fired a missile into its meaty hide.

I blinked gore out of my eyes as my father-turned-murderer put away the commandeered launcher. He sighed heavily, but all he said was, "I didn't want to have to do that."

That was the first moment where I really saw Dad, not as the genial doctor who mended stubbed toes in the lie that was Vault 101, but as the grizzled survivor whose attempts to save mankind had forced him to fight and kill in order to survive and pursue his noble goals.

A lifetime of dusty resentment drained away as I realized he hadn't abandoned me underground - he had put his life's work on hold, just to find a safe home where I wouldn't have to grow up to become the sort of man he had.


And now for some politics!

Somewhat unrelated from my normal game-talk, but this rant has been eating at me for a few days, now.

You may have seen people up in arms about the fact that Obama has asked conservative Evangelical mega-pastor Rick Warren to give the invocation at the inauguration. Large swaths of the left have expressed outrage that Obama has "betrayed" them by inviting a preacher who is anti gay-rights. Even very intelligent and respectable people like Rachel Maddow and John Hodgman have expressed the same disappointment at Obama's choice.

But these people are only paying attention to half of the story. They're ignoring a thousand things they agree with, just to get angry at one thing they don't. The thing that everyone seems to be forgetting is that Warren is only one of the two pastors officiating at the inauguration.

The pastor giving the benediction is Reverend Joseph Lowery: a man whose support for gay marriage and civil rights in general is unquestionable and steadfast. He is a man so firmly progressive that he would drive the conservative right into fits of apoplexy if he were even in the same room as Bush - and in fact, he did exactly that, at Coretta Scott King’s funeral. He is, in so many ways, the polar opposite of Warren, while being as fiery as Reverend Wright -- with none of the crazy.

And yet, everyone ignores Lowery’s presence there, and acts as if Warren is the only one attending. People who should know better are getting whipped into a fury because Obama dares to have representatives from both sides of the spectrum at the beginning of a presidency where he promised to govern for all of America’s citizens.

Diplomacy means interacting with people we find distasteful and trying to convince them to change, not shutting them out and trying to pretend they aren’t real. We’ve had eight years of a president who ignored people he didn’t agree with, and we’ve fought like crazy to change that. Are we really going to throw a tantrum when we finally get the change we want?


East and West

At the risk of Two interesting pieces of info about Japan's response to Fallout 3:

First: the highly respected game review magazine, Famitsu, gave FO3 a 38/40, as high a rating as they've ever given to a non-Japanese game - the only other Western game to get a 38/40 was a little thing called Oblivion. So, open-world RPGs have definitely hit on something that deeply appeals to the Japanese market (or at least its respected critics).

Second: Square Enix, with its near-domination of the Japanese market, has recently been interested in expanding further into the western market: showing interest in acquiring Eidos, and trying to make games with western stylings, like The Last Remnant. But there may be some confusion as they try to figure out what makes Western RPGs appealing.
The tremendous success of Fallout 3 seems to have made a particularly profound impact on [Square Enix art director Yusuke] Naora. "When we make a game that sells two million copies, that's always seemed like a tremendous success for us," he says. "But now we hear about Fallout 3 selling four million in just a few weeks, and it really surprises us. This is a game that doesn't even look like what we in Japan consider an 'RPG,' yet it's incredibly popular."

"Until about a year ago, we'd never even heard the term 'J-RPG' to distinguish our RPGs from Western games," he admits. Now he seems determined to sort out the defining differences between the two schools of RPG design. Does it mean stronger female characters? A first-person perspective? More realism?

With great respect to my colleague, I feel he's looking at the wrong things for what I consider the fundamental difference between JRPGs and Western RPGs, which is simply this: player agency versus scripted progression.

The classic JRPG (any Final Fantasy being the prime example) is all about progressing through the story that the developers have made for you, while the classic WRPG (let's say, Fallout 1) is all about making your own way through a world of possibilities. JRPGs are usually much more tightly planned and polished compared to WRPGs' occasional confusion and bugs (particularly because open worlds are much harder to playtest), but WRPGs are forgiven those flaws because they allow the player to invest themselves more fully in the world and their characters' decisions, rather than presenting you with a single pre-set story as is all-too common in JRPGs.

It's a basic case of the design tension between the designer controlling the experience and letting the player control the experience, with Japanese and American RPGs taking strong stands on either side. How much of this is a difference in a game's influences? Could you argue that JRPGs try to present anime with the player as the protagonist, while WRPGs try to present a tabletop game with the player as the head of the party? Or is it a more intrinsic difference between tightly structured and organized Japanese culture and the more reckless and free American attitude?



In just under 12 hours, my baby is heading out into the world. Like all proud parents, I'm a little nervous about his first steps, and I'll be carefully watching his progress in the big world. But unlike (most) other parents, I'll be partying and watching as people line up around the block to take a piece of him.

Best Buy is doing midnight launch events for Fallout 3 all around the nation, and we're having a big event at the 1200 Rockville Pike, MD Best Buy!

I'll be showing up around 9ish, to begin tailgating and generally celebrating like a fool. Hope to see you!


Some friends and I have organized a game of McGonigal and Bogost's brilliant "benevolent assassination" game, Cruel 2 B Kind, to be played on the National Mall in DC, on Saturday, October 18th, from 2-4pm.

For those who don't know of it: Cruel 2 B Kind is "a game of benevolent assassination" - basically, you sneak up on other people you think are playing and use one of your three weapons on them. Except your "weapons" are things that are benevolent to the average person: complimenting their shoes, for example, or welcoming them to the city.

If your target isn't playing the game, they're pleased, if a little confused. If they are playing, they join your team, and you go looking for other targets. Repeat across the national mall, while stalking and hiding from other potential players on the national mall, around the Hirshhorn, in the Smithsonian sculpture garden, and so forth. By the end of it, players ahve coalesced into two huge teams that are too big to hide from each other, and one massive, apocalyptic benevolence occurs.

Then we all go out drinking together and generally having fun and meeting new folks.

This is with Tom Lotze and the rest of the same group of folks that put together the very popular "Survive DC" game a few months ago, so we're expecting a similar turnout - in the order of 100 - 200 players. It'll be massive and massively fun.

Sign up on the website or at the Facebook page, and show up ready to play on Saturday, October 18th.