Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Alpha Omega Stub

Things have been in-flux in my world. My latest cushy work assignment has made it all but impossible to Role-Play Online for the past year, which is frustrating because I spent the last 4 years cultivating the contacts to do online play because I was unable to game at home. Now I've got the ability to play at home but it took me a while to understand this and develop a player base that was interested. It looks like I have that now so I'm going to attempt a real-world game very soon.

And it's going to be a new one. Alpha Omega.

Alpha Omega excites me. That's the highest praise I can probably give any RPG. Every time I look through the books I get ideas, and I want to unleash them. Not game them out - but blast them forth like gushing pornstar.

Yes. Dwell on that mental image for a second. My gift to you. You're welcome.

Early on I was quite critical of Alpha Omega's dice mechanic (to put it mildly), and I've yet to test it in play but my opinion has lightened somewhat. It's got good probability curves, a nice even scale of capability and the only point it really slows things down is in Character Creation where you're having to reference the dice to the trait rating and write it on the character sheet.

That's just the start of what I like. It's also got a lot of little rules that I wrote myself for Hardkore (rolling multiple skills stands out) that I considered rather innovative when I did them. The fact that they're doing the same things means were on the same page in a lot of ways. I've made several characters as well and I'm really pleased with how each of the different species has a distinct feel but also a lot of diverse options and isn't shoehorned into any single approach. Not even Exalted has this degree of diversity available. For all of Exalted's infinite options most of the classes or castes or aspects have only one or 2 viable builds.

The difference between Exalted and Alpha Omega's diversity comes from it's power and capability structure. Exalted has effectively 4 traits that offer variance to the character. Attributes, Abilities, Backgrounds and Charms. In most cases Abilities (or Attributes) derive charms, and pretty much everyone gets those 4 things in roughly similar amounts across the board.

Alpha Omega on the other hand has Core Qualities, Abilities, Genetic Deviations (2 kinds), Skills, State Shifting, Weilding (3 kinds), and Augmentations (3 kinds). Not every species is able to take all the different options. In fact no species is able to take all of everything. It's these availabilities and inavailabilities that give each species class a unique feel while allowing tons and tons of customization. This allows me and my players to really go nuts on building a concept that we want to make with a lot of leeway to do so, but still enough guidelines that we're not feeling overwhelmed. Character Creation is still pretty daunting at first, and one issue I have is that there isn't much in the way of guidelines regarding what an amateur, professional and master would have for a rating in a given skill. However after playing under a few GM's who forced me to justify every faucet of my character's education regarding his knowledge base to my intense frustration; I think I'm just gonna go with this and simply not care. It's a game after-all.

As for the 2nd book, The Encountered, I find I'm having to stifle tittering like a schoolgirl every time I open it up. The Encountered does a fantastic job of taking existing Tropes from other sources, (Zombies that Shamble, Mutagenic Diseased folks from I AM LEGEND, Imps...) that immediately resonate but have a unique twist. Then there are the truly unique creatures that make me wonder if I can get some of the shit the developers were smoking at the time. They're often bizarre but not implausible and that's the holy grail of game monsters to me.

Anyhow, I'm still ongoing and haven't played anything yet. I'm sure there will be issues I'll have, but so far the impressions are quite positive.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Modern Pop Culture Myths

As the 2000's is coming to a close I'm starting to think of what trends and myths were prevelant this decade. I spent my high school years in the 90's, and graduated in 2000 and the thought of 90's music being like the 60's and 70's music I'd hear in my childhood fills me with the kind of dread that you get when the hot-new coworker assesses your musical taste with the words; "I think my dad listens to that stuff.

So I'm starting to reflect on what popular modern myths were in the 90's and this decade (still not sure if it should be called the "00's"), and potentially what's coming up post-2010. In the 90's the big upcoming game publisher was White Wolf and they succeeded by having an almost-uncanny grasp of what crazy myths gamers wanted to explore. They got in with the Anne Rice crowd with Vampire the Masquerade and built a great line of games off of it. Werewolf succeeded because they made the focus on environmentalism and stemming corporate exploitation of the planet when that was big news (before "carbon" became evil, and climate change became the catch-word for environmental sensationalism).

But Mage was a truly special case. The 90's was home to the rise of new-age paganism and people began wondering if there really was something to all that. It had mystique and offered interesting alternatives to the comparatively stale religions the previous generations. Alongside that there was some speculation that "virtual reality" would be the next big thing. These two concepts combined with a bit of "Men in Black" conspiracy theory gave rise to the Mage mythos and then was amplified into a brilliant corona when The Matrix came out.

I think we all have certain Movies, shows or pop culture offerings that we identify with to the point that in a small way they define our preferences for years to come. The Matrix was one of those for me. But more than that it was proof that back then White Wolf had an almost uncanny understanding of what was the new thing was going to be culturally. I don't think they have that understanding to the same extent today, and it makes me wonder who does?

Certain games capture the undertones of what a culture is interested in. In the 80's I'd say it was Cyberpunk, in the 90's Vampire and Mage were in there, now what is it? War in the Middle East? In many ways I think that Call of Duty Modern Warfare is so successful right now because it offers a bit of narrative closure to the events of the last decade. After 9/11 a lot of us honestly expected another attack to occur at some point... but none really came, the world did not fall apart and the Iraq war seemed like directionless flailing in response to the 2001 attacks. CoD Modern Warfare and MW2 offered a look at the concept of terrorism and war in a scenario that felt more justified than it did in reality, at least it seems that way in retrospect.

Lately I think there is once again a surge of interest in ergonomics, competition between mobile computing platforms like the iphone have all but replaced the CPU processor wars of yesteryear. More and more people want new and innovative ways to interface with technology which I believe will renew interest in cybernetics. Where virtual reality was the interest of the last decade, the prevalence of MMO's have made that notion common and it's lost the mystique. Now the mythical question is as we improve interfacing with our mobile gadgets and enhance our ability to network and assimilate information what will happen?

A friend of mine once gave his take on the whole 2012 furor. He speculated that we're becoming so interconnected and gathering information so much faster than before that at some point there may be a shift in our collective consciousness. I know that we definitely live in exponential times. Networks that previously took over a decade to develop are now exploding to a billion users within only one or two years.

I'm sure the results of these changes will end up being far more mundane-seeming than the speculation is right now, but that's the point isn't it? Because the myth is always more compelling than the reality.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

On Morality, Piracy and Sticking it to the Man

DISCLAIMER - This isn't a legal debate but a moral one. The laws are defined by people more powerful than me. When I'm in a position to do something about the laws I'll start making those debates.

Admittedly I have been known to pirate certain things, some of them I feel a small twinge of guilt in doing so, some I feel no guilt whatsoever, and in a few cases I feel my actions are not only warranted but I feel an obligation to encourage others to do the same. I wanted to touch on a bit of this to help work out my feelings on supply, demand and creation.

Music - Since the advent of itunes I have almost stopped pirating music altogether. I can buy songs I like on an individual basis, it's quick and easy for me to support artists I like, and I can download a song at work to listen to on my ipod on my way home. I've heard (but not verified) that artists get a bit better percentage for their works from apple which makes me more inclined to want to use that as well.

I generally hate the RIAA and how it was exploiting recording artists and generally diminishing music as an art form by favoring engineered beats that are designed to get stuck in your head. This arguement has it's flaws I realize but it's an opinion, not a fact. I also didn't care to pay $20.00 for a CD which I only liked 2 songs on. itunes has fixed that, so I no longer have the inclination or feel morally obligated to pirate music.

PDFs - The only PDF's I actively use are RPG PDF's, and admittedly when I pirate these I do feel a bit guilty for doing so. I do a few things to assuage this guilt though. Games that I actually want to play or end up playing will enevitably be bought in dead-tree form by me, and games that I'm enthusiastically involved in I'll usually buy the PDF on the day it's released and then order the dead tree from the bookstore when it becomes available. I don't complain about this, however companies that offer some way for me to get a PDF as a bonus for purchasing a book have my gratitude.
Most PDF's I do actually pirate are games that I just want to peruse, like leafing through one on a bookshelf. Not justification I know, but I feel that perhaps it's a bit better that the book got out there a bit because otherwise I'd have never taken that look.

Warhammer - This is a subset of RPG's that deserves special mention because I feel morally obligated to pirate the shit out of their miniatures. I have a friend who casts silicone molds and though some of the finer warhammer miniatures aren't castable, there's a lot of stuff that is. If he actually had the capability to mold an entire army-line of miniatures I would probably start playing Warhammer again just for the satisfaction of knowing that I was screwing them in my own small way. They over-priced their product long ago, and frankly I find their business model offensive. Given the lack of a viable way to pirate their stuff, I'm more than happy to boycott them, even while living within a block of probably one of the best venues for playing Warhammer in the northern hemisphere.

Movies - I go to the theatre, I buy movies on Blu Ray when they're available, and DVD if they're truly exceptional, and would support them more if more blu ray titles were available where I live, regrettably they're not. TV shows I feel should be legitimized on the torrents complete with advertising. They're easily trackable so ad revenue is simple to get. It's not my fault that the studios aren't capitalizing on this opportunity.

Programs - I don't pirate computer games anymore. Steam makes them quite accessible. Certain microsoft products like older versions of Office seem justified for piracy (older versions of lots of things really). There is still a small black pit of hatred in my heart for antivirus software that I would pirate if I could... but that's an excercise in futility. If you own a PC you have to pay for antivirus, anything less and you're asking to be screwed.
Adobe is another one of those special exceptions. While their creative suite software is extremely expensive, I can't say if it's overpriced or not, I know that I can't afford it, but I like to use it. A slight moral justification is that the pirated versions are teaching me how to use their products which may eventually lead to me buying a legitimate copy. Acrobat however I feel very strongly that EVERYONE should pirate! I really like interactive PDF's for character sheets, but without Acrobat Pro, interactive sheets can't be saved with their changes which is a deliberate withold of functionality that I just cannot forgive. If Adobe included the ability to save interactive PDFs in their reader, my stance would change.

Most of my opinions are independent of quality of product or my opinion of the business ethics of the company. They're strictly based on if I think the product is available easily and for a fair price. Apple I know has some very harsh mandates on it's employees and it's ipod app approval process is bordering on despicable but I will continue to give them my money because they offer a product that meets my expectations for a reasonable price and make it accessible easily.

Lastly, from a moral standpoint copyright infringement is not theft. Theft is taking something from someone so that they don't have it anymore. Copyright infringement takes nothing from anyone and in 90% of the scenarios where the product was pirated, I would have never have payed for that product anyways and of that remaining 10% probably 5% was simply me demoing the product before buying, so it is a very rare case where I've actually deprived any creator of cash they would have otherwise gotten.

I'm interested in hearing what other people's personal stances are on the whole issue. Some of my friends are content creators out there and are trying to make a living doing so, they're people I wouldn't want to hurt by depriving them of cash or creating holes in their business model. There are also questions of availability. If pirated content is easier to obtain than legitimate, isn't that a case of poor market availability?