I’m fighting the dragon

A few days ago I stumbled upon a small game that immediately grabbed my attention; “Fight the Dragon”.
It’s a fairly simplistic hack’n’slash game drawing heavily on the influences of Diablo and Gauntlet.

What seperates this from the massive heap of Diablo-clones is the way levels are handled. You see, each level (excpet for eight or ten made by the developers) are generated by other players. The game iself is fun enough, and I can easily see myself wasting hours on it, but the REAL draw for me is the ACK: Adventure Creation Kit.

The first part of my very first adventure.

The first part of my very first adventure.

The tools for creating adventures are really simple to learn. It only took me about ten minutes to familiarize myself with how to do what. It’s also really FUN to do it, as you see an immediate result. It kind of reminds me of a dumbed down 3D version of RPG Maker.

Placing enemies and decorations.

Placing enemies and decorations.

The RPG potential is fairly low, though, mainly limited to combat and button/pressure plate puzzles. At least for the time being. The game is still in Early access, and the developers are adding stuff on an almost daily basis. Hopefully they’ll eventually add more than one NPC that can do nothing but talk.
You are also limited in the size of the adventures you can create. This is beacause each adventure is intended to be played in 10-20 minutes. This also keep the system resources down. And, the developers have said they are working on a campaign system where you can create a set of linked adventures, so I don’t feel this is a big problem at all.

Playtesting my dungeon.

Playtesting my dungeon.

Despite these shortcomings I absolutely LOVE this game!
It’s simple, it’s quick and it gives a real feeling of achievement when you see your creation in play. And the best part is that you at any time can access the stats for your level and see how many people have completed it, how many have died, how it’s rated and many other stats.

My completed adventure.

My completed adventure.

I’m having a great time trying out the ACK and user generated levels, and look forward with anticipation to what future will bring to this little pearl of a game.

Children and creativity

A little while ago I wrote about HeroKids and the “Mines of Martek” scenario that I had prepared, and just a few days after I had a chance to run it, not just once but twice. I’ve just been too busy to write about it before now. I had a run here at home with my son and stepson (age 6 and 10), and once at my kindergarten where I had four players (age 4 and 5) with a lot of spectators.

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What’s interresting about both of these sessions is how creative the players turned out to be. They came up with solutions I know I wouldn’t have thought of. Just listen…

The first game was at home with my boys. They had delved into the mine and whacked the head of a few bats before they came to the wrecked rope bridge. Immediately the oldest asked if there were any loose boards lying around. “No, not that you can see” I replied. So he went a bit back and tried to pry the planks beneath the minecart tracks. He failed a Strength test so I said “Sorry, they are just too well set in the ground”. He lit up and said “Hey, I just remembered! On the map there was a pickaxe at the entrance. I use that to pry loose some planks.”
So I let him do it automatically, wondering what he was up to.

Back at the bridge, with several planks in his arm, he started laying them down across the bridge, perpendicular to the few boards already fixed to the rope, making a small “path” across the bridge.
Well played, young sir. :)

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The other session, at the kindergarten was a fun one. All the kids had a grand time, even the ones watching it (they occationally piped in with suggestions, though, not managing to stay only as observers).

The players had chosen the following characters and given them names as well. The Rapunzel-like ranger with the long hair was strangely enough called Hest (which is the norwegian word for horse), the healer was named Rikki, the male sorceror (with flames) was named Enre, and the fourth character was the female sorceror (with the frost whip) was named Rapunzel, oddly enough.

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The first stroke of brilliance came when they entered the chamber with the man stuck in the hole. One of the players had looted the rope from the entrance, but did they think of that? No way, that’s too conventional for kids. Instead one shouted out “Hest’s got long hair. Let’s drop it down and we can haul him up with it!”
And that’s exactly what they did. Hest dropped the braid down, while the other three pulled and heaved on it to pull up the poor man that had broken his leg when he fell in (the reason I used for him not climbing up himself when one of the kids asked).

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The second bright idea also came at the bridge, just as it did at home. One player tried jumping over, from plank to plank, but fell into the water below where he driftet along into the past chamber.

That’s when one of them said “Hey, Rapunzel can freeze the bats. Perhaps she can do the same to the water?”
I was struck dumb!
Such a simple solution, yet I’m pretty sure most adults would have though of this combat-ability only in terms of combat, not outside of it. I made the player of Rapunzel do a Magic test at difficulty 5 to see if she made it, and wouldn’t you know it… The stream froze solid. They walked dryshod over and hoisted each other up the small rise on the other side, and they were across.

All in all the kids had a grand time. We had to break up when they entered the next room because it was time for lunch, but I took a few pictures of the character placements so we could continue later. Which we did, and they managed to go out scratched but victorious.

There’s nothing wrong with the images.
I’ve blurred out the faces of the kids from the kindergarten for privacy reasons.

Crafting my own fate and experiences

Lately I’ve been reading up on two different roleplaying systems that both use some sort of markers to be handed out to players; The Fate Core system uses Fate Points, and Numenera hands out XP markers. These can then be turned in by the players for benefits during the game.

Both games suggest using glass beads, poker chits, special cards you can buy, or something similiar to represent Fate Points or XP. I have some glass beads, and have tried using them in play but they tend to make a rather annoying “clink” sound when struck against each other, and players just can’t stop playing with them. I can only imagine this being more annoying with poker chits. And I’m too cheap to buy decks of cards for such a simple thing. So I decided to make my own…

Using Photoshop I quickly created two simple “cards”, one for Fate Points and one for XP. It was a really simple process to copy them and then print ut a few sheets.

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I then cut them out carefully. I didn’t bother rounding the edges just yet.

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I then used a stick of glue and glued two pieces together, back to back. Then I used the scissors again to round off the edges. As a final touch I used a black marker along the edge of each card to make sure no white shone through.

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Next step is the easiest; Laminating the cards.

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And finally, after cutting them out, they are done!

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I’ve made these cards with XP on one side and FATE on the other so I can use the same cards in both games, but if you want to make your own there’s nothing stopping you from from creating cards with FATE or XP on both sides.

In case you’re interrested in making your own, I’ve uploaded the sheet of cards here: Fate Point and XP cards
Rightclick and select “Save as…” to download

Hero Kids

I’m a nerd. A huge nerd, actually.
I started playing roleplaying games when I was 9, and I’m still doing so despite fast approaching the big four oh. Not as much as before, mainly due to time constraints. It’s hard trying to balance time between work, time with the kids, time with the significant other and time for games and hobbies. I’ve tried to come up with some RPG system that would be simple enough that my kids at 10 and 6 would be able to understand them. Heck, I’ve even tried to create a system myself, from scratch. But nothing has really fit the bill well enough…

Until I found a game about a month ago…
I came over a game called Hero Kids, spesifically aimed at kids from 4 to 10. I read through the rules and immediately thought “Hey, this might actually work!” And so I printed out the character sheets and the initial adventure called “Basement o’ Rats”.

All you need in one bag.

All you need in one bag.

I gathered together a few dice, and some glass beads in red and blue to use as health and potion markers, and then off we went.

Ready for play.

Ready for play.

The first game I played with just my youngest one, age 6. He’s pretty easy to distract so I was rather curious about how it would turn out. It went beyond my wildest expectations: He was very focused and extremely eager to see what would come next. He was a little confused about how many dice to roll when, but this was easily remedied by me constantly reminding him of it.

Extreme concentration over every little roll of the dice.

Extreme concentration over every little roll of the dice.

The game was a huge success, and he was so proud of having defeated the rat king.
And then came the two weeks before christmas, with loads of things to do and too little time to play. It wasn’t until after christmas eve that we had the time to try again, this time with both boys.
We ran the same adventure since my oldest hadn’t tried it, but I changed around a few details and read a few other descriptions. Huge success once more!

I’ve now printed out another adventure, “Mines of Martek”, and have just finished my prep-work.
The first thing to do was to cut out the stands for the enemies in the adventure. I first print them out, then glue them to a slightly stiff cardboard. I then give them a quick wash of watercolor, just to add a little life.

Preparing the enemies.

Preparing the enemies.

I then cut them out and glude them together into stands. I use red cardboard for enemies and green for player characters, just so I can sort them apart quicker. I’ve also noticed that they tend to fall over rather easily, so I’ve started using my hotglue gun to glue a clear glass bead into the stands for more stability. It also feels better to the touch to have a tiny bit more heft than pure paper.

Green for friendly, red for enemy.

Green for friendly, red for enemy.

Each enemy also has a character sheet with all the stats on them. Just as I did with the character sheets, I cut them out and laminated them. In hidsight I should probably have colored them first for that extra “Oomph”, but whatever… Perhaps another time.
I’ve also printed out the “Equipment” expansion and started laminating them as well. This game is so simple that it doesn’t really have a way for the characters to progress and be more powerful, but this can be somewhat mitigated by giving out equiment and items as reward, thus boosting the characters that way. And having them laminated maskes it that much easier to just hand over and not worry about it being torn to pieces or getting wet.

Monsters and loot!

Monsters and loot!

I’ve printed out the maps in full size (A4 / Letter) and trimmed away the edges. That way they fit flust into each other and I can simply place them on the table, edge to edge and you get a complete map. But that’s not all…
I’ve also gome over the maps with my trusty ProMarker set and added some color to the details, like brown for woodwork and blue for water. Makes for a more interesting and lively map, and doesn’t really take that long to do.

Maps and adventure.

Maps and adventure.

The adventure itself I’ve printed out with two pages to a sheet of paper, then cut out and stapled into a little book. Quick way to flip through it, doesn’t take much space, and saves on the ink too.

So, now everything is ready for another dungeondelve, this one a little longer and harder than the last one. I also intend to ramp up the description and roleplaying aspect a bit, as well as giving them more options for what they might want to do. It’s an ongoing process, but I’m going to slooooowly turn them more and more away from pure combat and rollplaying to more storydriven things and roleplaying. It’ll take time, but I’m patient.

I’m hoping to play this tomorrow or sunday, perhaps even invite one of the kid’s friends over to join them. The more the merrier. ^_^

Awsomenauts – Is it really awsome?

The past two days I’ve spent a few hours playing a game called Awsomenauts. At first glance it looks like a gorgeous platformer, much in the style if MegaMan. It really has that oldschool feel and aesthetics to it, though with higher resolution. ;)

But it’s not what it looks like. It’s a MOBA in disguise!

The name of this guy is Norwegian and mean “I’m eating laughing”.

MOBA? What’s that? It’s an acronym meaning Multiplayer Online Battle Arena, and has a large following. There’s several MOBA games out there right now, the most popular being League of Legends, Heroes of Newerth, DOTA2 and the upcomming Smite. But what IS a MOBA?
Putting it short, its an online game where two teams fight over a map, tying to reach the enemy camp and destroy their base. Along the way they have to fight through various fortifications (usually called turrets) and weak minions hellbent on attacking anything they find to the death. Each map usually have several routes to the enemy base (called lanes).
At the beginning of a battle each player choses a character with a special set of skills, and throughout the fight they have the option of spending resources they gain on upgrades, making them more and more powerful as the battle progresses. Usually you’ll want to avoid dying, both because you’ll be out of the fray for a while, but also because the enemy team will get resources to boost themselves by whackin’ yo ass!

It might be a game or two before you’ll see this message. ;D

Phew! Now with that out of the way, let’s talk a little about Awsomenauts…
As I said, it’s a MOBA in disguise as a platformer. You form up two teams of 3 players each try to get across the map to destroy the enemy drill.
Why a drill? There’s some backstory about how in the future some made-up mineral called Solar is really valuable blah-blah-blah so the teams fight each other for it, and to kill the oposite teams ability to dig for it. Truth be told, it’s really not important for the gameplay at all and sounds really silly if you try to take it seriously. But it works, because the game is full of silly anyway. ^_^

When you start the game for the first time you’re treated with a short “story” and a tutorial match that let you understand the basics of the game. It’s nothing spectacular, but it get the job done. Once through that you’re mostly on your own.
On the main meny you have the option of playing online matches where you select the abilities and gear for your character, quick matches where you’re dumped into the fray with minimal customizability, local splitscreen with a friend or practice matches agains AI-controlled bots.

An all too familiar message…

First advice… Do a practice match or two first. It really let you get to know each character, and serves as a good warm-up session because, let’s face it, bot AI can never be quite as good or unpredictable as a human mind. That doesn’t mean it’s a cakewalk, but it IS a little easier than the online battles.
And while they are called practice battles they give you just as much XP as the online battles, letting you level up and unlock new stuff.

XP? Unlock?
Yup, after each battle you gain experience points. More if you win, but even the losing team get a little piece of the cake. As you gain levels you unlock various things; New characters, new options for the characters, new arenas to fight on.

Better swag == Bigger boom!

When you start out you only have access to three characters, but you don’t have to play more than 2 or 3 battles before a new one is unlocked. At this time there’s 8 available characters, each with vastly different abilities and options. Then a match is started you select the character you want (be quick though, or your teammates might select it before you do), then you customize your build.
You’ll get 90 seconds to select which items will be available to purchace during the game. That’s an important distinction; What you select here is NOT what you will HAVE in the game when you start, it’s what will be available for purchace!
Each character have one regular attack, and two special attacks that must be bought in the store. Each of the three attacks can be upgraded during the battle by spending Solar (which you get by killing things), and enhance the attacks by dealing more damage, healing yourself, creating bigger BOOMs and various other enhancements.

GeronimoooooOOOO!

As the battle start you’re stuffed into a dropshop and hurled down into the arena. Along the way down you can steer right and left, trying to pick of blocks of Solar that for some reason seem to hover in the air, allowing you to buy more goodies.
The first thing you’ll pass on the way into the arena is the aforementioned shop. Just hit the attack button and you’re in business (you start with a small supply, allowing you to buy a special attack or two). Next you’ll pass your team’s drill (don’t let the enemy kill this one), and it’s off to the mayhem!

The game can be played both using various setups of keyboard/mouse, and with a gamepad. I’ve hooked up my PS3 controller and it works like a dream. They keyboard controls were decent enough, but a controller really make the gameplay more intuitive. Might be because the game was initially created for consoles?

Just guessing, but the stats here are probably Kills/Death, Droids killed, Turrets killed. No idea what the green bares are for.

Once you start into the arena itself things start to happen faster than you manages to grasp.
One of your turrets is under attack so you go there to shoot the droid attacking it just to realize an enemy player was there too, hiding inside some bushes, and as you attack him you realize it’s a decoy and he’s really BEHIND you in stealth, backstabbing you for massive attacks, so you’ll retreat to behind your turret heading for the shop to heal, when another enemy player jumps right in front of you and you are both too stunned to react for a second, then just as you activate seldestruct to blow yourself (but more importantly HIM) up to smithereens he pulls out a holographic bull that rams you backward right into the chameleon guy you run away from, thus blowing HIM to pieces instead, only to suddenly be whacked to death by the mostly harmless critters that litter the place and that you aggroed because of the explosion.

Sounds confusing? It is. But more importantly, it’s FUN! A whole buttload of fun!
I’ve gotten a little better after some matches, finding some combination of abilities that work better than others, and tried out several different characters. So far I’m best at using Clunk, the giant robot that shoot missiles and can selfdestruct for a massive area attack. A really fun character to play is Leon Chameleon, a froglike little assassin that can stealth behind enemies and can use his frog-tongue to reel enemies in. I really suck at playing him (he’s a real glass cannon), but he’s fun.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden (Leon) Chameleon.

The arenas themselves are large enough to actually demand a little strategy and teamwork to win, but not so large it’s a chore to go from one space to another. And each arena has it’s own little gimmick that makes it stand out from the others. There’s only three different ones so far, but with the promise of more in the future I can see a heckload of fun to be had here. :)

The only negative I have about the game is that you have to drop down in the drop-ship each time you die, and that there’s no list of all abilities that you can peruse in peace except when starting a battle (which gives you a limited time to do so). The last part can be somewhat excused by having sites like Awsomenauts Wiki, but it would be nice to have it ingame on the main menu as well.

That darn yeller cowboy dun gone an’ blown up mah drill, dagnabbit!

I’ve played a few MOBAs, League of Legends the one I’ve spent most time in, and can honestly say I’ve never had as much unadulterated fun and excitement as I’ve had in Awsomenauts. It’s pure action, mayhem and chaos from the first go, and only ramps up from there!

So to answer the question in the title:
Awsomenauts is AWSOME!

GW2 – The second beta

Last weekend I was able to participate in the 2nd Beta Weekend Event (BWE) that ArenaNet hosted for their Guild Wars 2 game. I didn’t get to play as much as I had wanted due to family matters, but at least I managed to put in a few hours. And much like last time I had a blast, enjoying the game immensely.

Our characters remained untouched from last beta event, so I decided to give my human Necromancer some love and went into the world of Tyria on a quest to right all that was wrong.

During the last BWE I didn’t touch much upon the personal stories, so I wanted to remedy that. I had chosen “noble” as my characters upbringing, so I set out on a mission to rescue a friend that was kidnapped for ransom by bandits and proceeded onward to some court intreague, treachery and a trial by combat.

What surprised me (in a very positive way) is that you at times are asked to make a desicion about which direction you want the story to progress. This should drastically increase the replayablilty for all us altoholics out there. The story was well told and fairly entertaining, but I suspect I’ve only started to scratch the surface of what’s to come.

After fooling a bit around with the stories I decided to go out and explore a bit. You know, just see what’s new? This ended up being a much longer trip than I had anticipated because I kept getting distracted by fun and interresting things along the way, which can only be viewed as a positive thing. :)

At one time I was at a logging camp down by a lake when I suddenly had to go AFK. I parked my character on some logs floating a little while off the shore, just in case something were to happen. And it did…
While I was away a band of Skritts (rat-men thingies) had attacked and taken over the logging camp. When I returned to my computer I was down to half health because two Skritt were standing on the shore using me as target practice. I quickly dove into the water and regrouped, returning shortly after to help clear up the camp and drive the vermin away.

Another fun thing I did, at level 8, was to head into places I had no business being. I stubled upon areas with enemies 3-4 levels above me. I hadn’t intended to play there, just take a little look around, but suddenly a band of other players showed up and started an escort quest. I decided to tag along and do whatever damage I could, and DAMN we were having a good time.
We were constantly harrassed by hordes of enemies, and I decided to attack at a distance with my staff, which is mainly an Area of Effect weapon, dealing nasty conditions like poison and weakness to multiple monsters while the other players laid down the hurt on them.

One of the things I love about the game is the way loot is divided: Quite simply, it isn’t. Everyone participating get loot if it drops. No random roll or taking turns to loot. Much simpler and fairer to everyone involved. Because of this I managed to fill up my bags several times over, and gathered quite a few coins as well. Thank goodness I had learned that you could right-click crafting materials and deposit them directly to your bank from wherever you are, otherwise I’d have had to throw away loads of stash.

Good thing I got all that stuff too. After a few events, some discoverings and heartquests I rounded level 11 and earned my first trait point. I spent about a minute not realizing I had to buy an instruction-book from a vendor to unlock the first tier of traits. A quicktravel and 30 seconds later I had purchased the book for the whooping sum of 10 silver, leaving me with just a single measly copper piece.
But it was worth it… That single point I had earned improved my Power (damage dealt) by 10%, and condition duration by a second or two. Sweetness. I tested it out against a few enemies, and just a single point have a noticable effect.

But I didn’t just play my Necromancer. I wanted to give the Ranger a second try since it was such a disappointment in the first BWE. I made a new hunter and did a few events and quests, and while I wasn’t exactly wow’ed it was a much better experience than last time. The pet behaved much more intuitively, and didn’t die just by being looked at. I had to revive him occationally, but not nearly as much as last time.
I didn’t play much with the Ranger as there were other things I wanted to do as well. I did remember to rename the bear, though. My son-in-law (9 years old) wanted me to name him Ole Brumm (the norwegian name for Winnie the Pooh), so that’s what he came to be known as.

I gave Engineer a new once-over as well, making a new one, Charr this time. He was fun to play and had some really interresting tricks up his sleve, even at low levels, but I found him to be way too squishy despite having medium armor. I dodged and kited as well as I could, but no matter how I played I kept on hovering at death’s door, visiting the Downed state more often than I like.

During the Charr tutorial bit you enter a crypt and beat a huge stone statue. Once through the tutorial you can return there to gain a skill point. Problem is, the enemies down there are some kind of slimes that spawn very quickly… And they’re level 10. At level 4 I decided to check out what was down there, and thankfully there were three other players there at the right level that wanted the skill point as well, so I tagged along behind them.

About 1 in 10 of my shots did any damage, the rest just scorined glancing blows, but I had fun anyway. It became a small game in and off itself to see how well I could dodge away and drag the slimes into another player instead of me, thus saving my sorry bacon. I only entered Downed once, but didn’t die, and got the skillpoint. I had to wait till level 5 to use it, at which point I learned how to drop down a gun turret to help me shoot at my foes.

The last character I played was a norn Warrior. I had tried a warrior before, but only briefly. This time I spent a little more time trying to understand the different skills. I’ve absolutely fallen in love with the skills you get from both the 2-handed hammer and the rifle. The hammer let me pound out some truly amazing damage, as well as dealing loads of attacks that deal damage over an area. The rifle on the other hand is a truly amazing single-target ranged weapon. Particularly the adrenaline skills for those weapons are awsome!

I wanted to give WvW another shot, so I dropped in and was sorely disappointed. Our server had utterly steamrolled the other two servers into oblivion, and had taken over EVERYTHING except one single supplycamp on the blue home map. I spent a little over 30 minutes looking around for something fun to do, with no luck. When every keep is at max supply, all monsters are friendly and there’s no enemies in sight… Well, it was pretty dull. Let’s hope we get more competition when the game releases.

So far I’ve talked about what I did in the game, but not the game itself. There’s been some heavy changes to the game, and most noticably to the servers. If you read my last BWE impression you might recall me calling it a lag-fest. Not so anymore. While I wouldn’t call the game lag-free it was a DRASTICALLY better experience this time around. I could play with 10-20 other people without the game chopping and stopping, and the main cities were a smooth experience as well as gorgeous to look at. Since the first BWE they’ve really optimized the game, and it shows. Kudos!
The downside is that you get more fog in the distance when you slide the graphical settings lower, but that’s a fair tradeoff in my eyes.

If anything, this weekend has whetted my appetite for the game even more. I want it, and I want it NOW!

I did a D’oh!

Last night ArenaNet hosted a few hour long stress test of their Guild Wars 2 servers, inviting as many as possible to log on and try to crash the servers. I did just that for a little while, though I didn’t have time to participate in the whole event.

While putzing around, trying out the Guardian and Thief class, I noticed something weird; While I did things I kept hearing sounds from a PvP battle overlayed over what happened around me. Even during character creation I could hear the boom of trebuchets firing and characters yelling out commands.
At one time, while killing some birds, I suddenly heard some tavern music and false singing. What the heck?

So, once I was done playing I decided to hop onto the official forums and tell them of this annoying bug… When it suddenly occured to me that I still could hear the noise of battle. Um… What? I had shut down the game, so where did it come from?


That’s when I realized…
I had the guildwarsinformer.com site up, and during beta events they tend to stream gameplay via twitch.tv on their frontpage. Before playing I had put that thing on pause to prevent it from annoying me… Seems that when one part of the stream ends another begin autoplaying, completely overriding any mute orders you’ve set. Bloody annoying, and extremely n00b of me.  >_<