Tuesday, August 20, 2013

In the darkness of Dishonored

I put some time in to Dishonored over the last couple of weeks.  While not an MMO (or even multi-player), it has the sort of compelling story-line I enjoy.  It is somewhat darker than I like, but the world had a gritty reality to it that hooked me.  In my opinion, the backdrop was more interesting than the actual story.  The story is an un-original "avenge the murdered Empress and save the young princess" cliche.  Which is too bad as the whole rest of the game is one of the most original I've played.  I actually put off buying this title for months because of the dull premise.  I'm glad Steam finally had it up for $10!

The backdrop is a sort of steampunk world based on whale oil.  The city of Dunwall is on a harbor where one can frequently see the whaling ships come in with their still living harvest held suspended over the deck.  Technology is a blend of what looks like whale oil diesel and Tesla-inspired electrical fields.  Dunwall is suffering a massive plague, flooding, and internal corruption.  There isn't much hope in this story.  The game starts with the Empress of Dunwall murdered in front of you and her daughter.  The rest of the game is bringing those responsible to justice and rescuing the princess and here is where Dishonored shows a bit of uniqueness.

While many games have different outcomes based on decisions, in Dishonored the story alters based on body count.  If you work your way through the game murdering anyone and everyone in your path to ultimately eliminate a major target, then the game plays along a path of "high chaos" and the already dark story gets darker.  There will be more rats, more plague victims, and NPC's mutter darker phrases in your presence.  Alternatively, you can choose to knock opponents out or avoid them completely to achieve a "low chaos" victory.  The epilogue for each is different while the quests on the way are exactly the same.  The variation is subtle, but well done.  It isn't a radical story shift in either case.  In the end the bad guys are dealt with and the princess restored.  Still, I was left wondering what happened to Dunwall.  The epilogue hand waves over it, but I wanted more.  I wanted to see such a dark place become brighter.  I wanted to see more positive impact of my actions instead of merely avoiding the worst outcomes.  Justice never quite seems to be served.  Any story that can make me wish for such things has in my definition become worthy of recommendation.  It's a good journey with some interesting questions.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Interface Zero: Upgrade

In order to keep the creative mind active, I've started working more frequently on tabletop gaming and story building.  I use these sorts of things a muse to keep my mind in a particular world where stories happen.  My latest tool for this is Interface Zero; a campaign setting for either d20 Modern or Savage Worlds.  Since I've been keeping my eye on SW for a while now, I figured I'd give the system a shot.

IZ is a cyberpunk setting which attracts me as I see cyberpunk as a step in to transhumanism.  Transhumanism has less "humanity is in decay" and more "humanity is evolving and adapting".  So let's chat about Interface Zero and Savage Worlds.

SW is (in my experience) a step between the utter simplicity of True20 and the more common complexity of D&D 3/4 ed.  There are no levels, but rather "Advances" where you qualify for an upgrade to a stat, skill, or power.  This allows for great character flexibility.  The fundamental mechanic is based on the love of dice.  Traits like Strength are assigned a die type like d4, d6, d8, d10, and d12.  When making Strength checks the player rolls the die type they bought for Strength.  Most target numbers are just 4 so using a d12 makes such checks pretty easy while having only a d4 makes it harder.  When you roll the max on your die type, it "explodes" allowing you to roll it again and add the new roll to the first.  Thus you can pull off incredible acts of success.  Every time you beat a target roll by 4 points it counts as a "raise" with some bonus effect like extra damage or maximal effect.  Raises can stack so beat a number by 8 points and get two raises.  Everything works on this mechanic.

Damage to characters is handled by a wound system where by if your personal toughness and armor are exceeded by the damage dealt then you are shaken and/or wounded.  Incur three wounds and you are incapacitated.  Combats are short once one side gains an advantage.  For its simplicity, SW still contains a lot of nuance that can make every encounter different (players, read the damn rules).

Interface Zero is the setting on top of the system.  David Jarvis of Gun Metal Games (www.gunmetalgames.com) has fronted this system and scored 7 "raises" on his Kickstarter campaign to fund the second edition printing.  He landed $84,000 in funding for a $10,000 project.  The new beta versions of the setting are just starting to roll out and they look pretty darn cool.  Unlike more "traditional" cyberpunk, IZ pierces space to introduce colonies and space stations.  It also has "gollemechs" and of course augmented and virtual realities.  I've been daydreaming this world for about 5 years so it is fun to see some game mechanics behind so I can actually play in this world.  See you in my own universe...