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Jeff's Gameblog
Friday, 9 July 2004

Topic: Video Games
My wife ran to the store after my daughter went to bed, so like any redblooded gamer I broke out the porn, er I mean I broke out the videogames. Yeah, that's it. I got out both my gamesticks. These are joysticks that have some simple videogames hardwired into them. They plug right into your TV's AV ports, no console or nothin' required. One of my gamesticks plays old Namco coin-op games (Pac-Man, Rally-X, Galaxian, Dig Dug, and Bosconian) the other one plays 5 SpongeBob SquarePants themed games. I figured I'd do a quick run-thru of each game on both sticks before my wife got home. I started with the first game on the SpongeBob stick, entitled SpongeBob's Bubble Pop. I never got to the other games. Bubble Pop really got me hooked. By the time my wife got home I had continued my first game of it like 4 times. SpongeBob's Bubble Pop is based upon the old videogame Breakout, which I've encountered as an Atari cartridge but may have been a coin-op for all I know. A ball bounces around the screen and you have to destroy objects with it. BubblePop expands this basic formula by adding power-ups (like you might see in topscroller shoot-em-ups) and terrain (bumpers, critters, etc). Good game.

Posted by jrients at 9:32 PM CDT
Updated: Friday, 9 July 2004 9:36 PM CDT
Bummer, man.
Topic: RPGs
They upgraded the filter at work and RPG.net is now on the blocked list. Well, at least chessvariants.com is still okay.

Posted by jrients at 1:32 PM CDT
Announcing The Commercial Chess Variant Preservation Society
Topic: Chess Variants
Tishai (and the infantile storyline which accompanies it) was developed by James Ernest and John Bollinger while the two were in grade school. It was published as Cheapass Game #10 in 1997 and died the terrible slow death a chess variant deserves.
The above quote was written by James Ernest, the mad genius behind CheapAss Games. Obviously as a variantist himself Mr. Ernest is not attacking the concept of creating or playing chess variants. I think the point he is making is that chess variants are not a commercially viable product. Writing the rules of Tishai was not the sin, at least by Mr. Ernest's lights, the sin was publishing them with the goal of making money.

Commercial chess variants, like most other commercial gaming ventures, do not make money. I admit the possibility that [your favorite variant] may one day replace orthodox Chess as the worldwide abstract strategy game of choice, but I doubt that such a process will be an overnight money making sensation. Hell, you might as well try to dislodge Dungeons & Dragons as the leader in the roleplaying game hobby. During the months sometimes in 90's when TSR was on the verge of bankruptcy and they stopped printing new products D&D was only barely outsold by White Wolf. And D&D doesn't have nearly the fanbase or historical momentum of chess.

Where am I going with this? I'm not trying to discourage anyone from writing or even publishing chess variants. Instead, I think we should take the cold hard fact of the nonviability of commercial variants and run with it. The Chess Variants Pages has a fair number of external links to commercial variants. I think maybe the best ideas in these commercial variants need to be gleaned from theses sites and record on the CV Pages main site. Otherwise, when these variants fail as products they could very well also evaporate as ideas. Just because someone can't make a buck off of selling a variant set doesn't mean that the rules of the variant are bad. I'm certain that the commercial variants have plenty to contribute to the CV community. We need to preserve these ideas so that they survive the collapse of the business venture associated with them.

Posted by jrients at 10:29 AM CDT
Thursday, 8 July 2004
Fell off the wagon today.
Topic: Collecting Games
I allowed myself to be egged on by a nostalgic thread on RPG.net, resulting in me surfing over to eBay and bidding on a copy of Arms Law. If that wasn't bad enough, I then clicked "view seller's other items" and bid on a copy of one of Hogshead's (the old Hogshead) New Line rpgs. I'm only out about ten bucks if I win both auctions, but I'm still kicking myself for this moment of weakness. I suppose harping on myself won't do much good. I just need to try harder tomorrow.

Posted by jrients at 9:24 PM CDT
Updated: Saturday, 10 July 2004 9:11 AM CDT
An idea from a dream
The Agent is getting to old for this. He can't judo chop quite like he used to or shoot quite as straight. He's still lean and good-looking, but the scars and the grey hair keep telling him to retire. Unfortunately, he's too loyal to his boss at the Agency. And with command of a dozen languages, intimate knowledge of a dozen world hotspots, and friendly contact around the globe, the Agent is just too good an asset to let walk away.

The Kid is way too young to be in the middle of this stuff. But when a computer genius hacks the Agency mainframe and posts an impressive resume to the director's computer something had to be done. The Kid things we're playing a game here, so someone had to be assigned as a handler.

They fight crime!

In my dream the Agent was a friendly guy, tall and lanky, with a penchant for grey suits and striped ties. He liked sushi and motorcycles. The Kid was one of those nerdy little preteen towheads with thickframed glasses.

Posted by jrients at 10:04 AM CDT
Daddy's little gamer.
Ain't she a cutie?
Here's a picture taken at my folks house. My sister and I were playing Carcassonne when my daughter Elizabeth pulled herself up onto a chair and started playing with the tiles. Too cute! My sis reached for a handy camera and snapped this picture.

Posted by jrients at 9:17 AM CDT
Wednesday, 7 July 2004

Topic: Books
I swung by the library tonight and picked up Word Freak, a tale of one journalists voyage through the world of hardcore competitive Scrabble. I'm only up to about Page 20 and I'm amused by the similarities to my own gaming circles. It seems human nature is the same no matter what fringe hobby you wander into. The Scrabble community has its own mix of nerds, social rejects, weird genii, and basically normal people with a slightly quirky hobby.

One startling difference is the way that it's so easy to tell the casual player from the hardcore Scrabblite. The casual players are drawn from the world of ordinary tabletop diversions. Scrabble, after all, is firmly wedged in the popular conscience as a family game. Lotsa regular folks play it. Since D&D is a less mainstream of a game, it's sometimes hard to see the forest for the trees. It's easy to assume that because someone plays D&D that they are a hardcore gaming machine. The fact of the matter is that much evidence can be found to support the notion that most folks play D&D with the same casual commitment that other people play Scrabble or Monopoly. It took me a long time to realize that I was a member of the hardcore enthusiasts. It didn't occur to me until very recently that I have always measured myself against the standards set by the the people most devoted to the hobby. Here I am with a mile long list of dubious gaming credentials and I still chide myself for being a lightweight. It took the first couple of chapters of Word Freak to help me understand just how deep I am into this hobby.

Talk about a lack of friggin' perspective! Just the fact that I GM moves me up a notch on the Geek-O-Meter. Heck, I could just about build another version of the Gamer Purity Test by rattling off the points of contact shared by my life and the hobby. Let's list just a few items, shall we?
    I've had subscriptions to three different gaming publications.
    I was an RPGA member back before free membership.
    I've attended 5 or 6 different game conventions, most more than once.
    I've GM'ed at a con, more times than I can remember.
    I've played in D&D tournaments.
    Heck, I've written two D&D tournaments.
    I've played more incarnations of D&D than I can keep track of.
    I've owned literally hundreds of games. Still own many.
    I've been a playtester.
    I've submitted an article to Dragon for publication. (The fact that it was rejected as "too wild an idea" but basically the same article got published a few years later still burns me.)
    I've been published in an APAzine.
    I'm active on various RPG internet forums.
    I maintain a gaming-related website.
    I write daily in a blog devoted primarily to gaming.
    I have a room in my house set aside for my hobby.
    Etc, etc.

Despite all this evidence, I still usually think of myself as a young punk in the hobby. I guess this comes from two big sources. First of all, I hang out with a fair number of grognards whose pedigrees are even longer and more colorful than my own. I'm so deep into the subculture that someone who played Chainmail with Uncle Gary back in '73 looks worthy of emulation. Secondly, I consider being a published and respected RPG author to be really damn cool. Since I'm such a hack GM and lazy writer I pretty much consider being a published RPG author an unattainable goal. Yet it's still there. That, to certain extant, keeps me humble.

Posted by jrients at 9:26 PM CDT

Topic: Books
Cyborg Commando books 2 and 3
Over lunch today I finished The Ultimate Prize, book 3 of the Cyborg Commando trilogy. I hate to come down hard on the authors, but man this stuff was pretty dang bland. For the most part it didn't really go anywhere. In this book we finally get a close up look at the Master, the evil alien overlord directing the xenoborg invasion, but he never interacts with the heroes. No lightsabre duel, no taunting heroic prisoners, nothing. The growth ray used on the insects doesn't really accomplish much, as the giant insects don't accomplish much of anything. The only good thing about The Ultimate Prize was the look at life for the refugees trying to survive while wandering the alien infested midwest. Parts of that were genuinely heartwrenching. Still, on a scale of one to ten, I give this trilogy a solid kick to the jimmy.

Posted by jrients at 3:06 PM CDT
Updated: Wednesday, 7 July 2004 3:08 PM CDT
The Mystery of the Fourth Templar
Topic: Books
Bleh. Looks like Tripod ate another blog entry. Every time some like this happens I wonder if I shouldn't look for another free blog host. Google owns a blog site, right?

Called my local library today. They're holding their copy of Stefan Fatsis's Word Freak, a look into the world of competitive Scrabble. I'm interested in taking a peeking into another gamer subculture.

The nice librarian also initiated a interlibrary loan booksearch for two other books I'm interested in. The first is the omnibus edition of Storm Constantine's Wraeththu trilogy. If I'm seriously considering paying real currency for the Wraeththu rpg (should it ever see commercial release), then I ought to take a shot at reading the background material.

The other book I'm hoping to get my hands on is D.B. Pritchards's Encyclopedia of Chess Variants, the most comprehensive book on the subject. I'm hoping to find info on something called "Valentine's Chess", which I know nothing about save that one of the pieces is called the templar. I want to do a little article for the Chess Variants pages outlining the history of alternate chess pieces designated by the word templar. The Cv pages has two such variants, Pete Leyva's Palace Revolution and Jack Cheiky's Geodesic Chess. I've found another chess templar, described by George Jellis in his article Theory of Moves. Frank Truelove's list of fairy pieces seems to indicate that a fourth templar can be found in Pritchard's Encyclopdia under Valentine's Ch[ess]. The three known templars are all different pieces, though they are united in the fact that, as befitting a templar, they are all a knight with an additional move of some sort. Valentine's templar is an enigma.

Posted by jrients at 1:25 PM CDT

Topic: RPGs
There's a great thread developing on the RPG.net forums discussing games with good social mechanics. I have often thought it would kick mucho ass to play a game with a set of social mechanics as intricate and exciting as its combat system. One idea put forth (notable examples of which include HeroQuest and Universalis) is to have the same engine drive both social and combat mechanics. I'm not convinced that this method is the best solution, but I see it as an interesting step in the development of games with meaty social subsystems.

Posted by jrients at 11:05 AM CDT

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