Computer games and me

This is me.

I’m a computer game addict.  Which is why I don’t play them any more.  I used to play games for hours on end and despite the lack of enjoyment, the tiredness, the headaches and the feeling of emptiness I felt after finished them, I would still come back for more.

Eventually, I decided that there were far more good things in my life that I should focus on – my wife, my friends, learning things and creating things of value.  They all contributed to a lasting feeling of happiness.  

It all started when I was very young and I was visiting my aunty and uncle, who had a computer.  This was a big thing for me at the time because the only other computer I had seen was my primary school’s one RM nimbus which could play the game Snake.

Naturally, there was always a big rush to use this amazing machine.

However, this tape based computer that my aunty and uncle owned could play this great game called Tachyon Fighter.  I’m no neuroscientist, but I can imagine that the game probably gave the biggest input of information I had ever had – the lights, the colours, the sounds, the need to win.  It was hypnotic and it gave me a great rush.

Every time I visited, I would spend most of my time in front of this computer, waiting for several minutes in the hope that the tape would work and load the game properly this time.  As time went on, the tape based computer was replaced by an Atari ST with floppy discs and a wider range of games with better graphics and more addictive gameplay.

Then came the day that they upgraded to an Apple Mac.  And I got the Atari.

I remember that within ten minutes, I had put a lead in a socket incorrectly and almost broken it.  However, it was fixed and that’s when my gameplaying started in earnest.

My uncle had collected all of the ST format magazines which I had read cover to cover before, but then I also got to play every game from the cover discs.  I played them all, spending thousands of hours perfecting my game playing skills.  Many school holidays would fly by in front of the little green desktop.  Sometimes, I would have a platform game day and sometimes I would have an RPG day.  I have a bit of an obsessive nature where I want to explore everything to its fullest extent and this made me a sucker for most computer games like the roguelike game Moria. 

I had the ST for about three years before it ran down and it was replaced for a really old second hand Atari cartridge console which had games with terrible graphics and simplistic gameplay before that also broke down and I received the Mac in 1999 when my uncle upgraded again.

This computer only had a couple of games, but that’s when there were plenty of games on the internet.  I played a game called Archmage and a cute little RPG called Dragon Court.  I was definitely showing signs of addictive behaviour.  I never had the internet in my home, so I would spend half an hour walking into town, just to use a library or internet cafe computer to play Dragon Court.  Then I would have to walk back.  I wasted money on an internet cafe if I couldn’t book a free library computer just so I could get access to my game accounts.

I never realised that I was addicted until my final year of university when I would stay up until two in the morning playing Command and Conquer, not realy enjoying it and going through the motions.  I had done this before with the game Civilization IV when I was a teenager but I could stay up all night once in a while and it didn’t affect me at school etc.  This was affecting my grades and social life at university.

It never got to the stage where I missed lectures or never came out of my room for days on end, but I could have done a lot better in all fields if I hadn’t been playing computer games.

NWN:  10% action,
90% trudging back and forth

After my degree, I started training as a teacher, which took up huge amounts of time.  However, I still played games.  I was now playing and creating maps for Battle for Wesnoth and trying to complete the adventure in Neverwinter Nights.

It was not until I moved in with my girlfriend (now my wife) and I was teaching as a job, that I realised that I had to prioritise my time.  I couldn’t do my job well if I was playing Neverwinter Nights for two hours a night, mostly involving level grinding and getting an item in one far corner of the city and transporting it to another far corner of the city in order to get to the next stage.

She didn’t mind the gaming but it
he went too far when he started
doing a poo at the console.

My girlfriend did not appreciate it either although she is too tolerant to go to extreme lengths.  I had to cut something out.  All I had to think about was how I felt after saving a game in Neverwinter Nights.  I would always think to myself ‘What have I got to show for this?  A file with some code in it, a headache and a feeling of tiredness.  This is no way to spend your free time.’

Computer games did nothing for me and I had other, more fulfilling things in my life.  After a few weeks without computer games, I felt much better and I’ve not wanted to go back.

I put hours of effort into
getting a picture on a screen.

I find computer games to be a waste of my life.  I sunk hours into controlling some graphics on a screen, desperate to see the consequences of my actions.

For the most part, I don’t remember feeling much satisfaction, I just felt a compulsion to ‘get through it’.

However, there was always another level (and if the game had a level editor then I would be on that for hours too), another way of winning, another challenge I could set myself and there were an infinite number of other games to play.

The only way that I would get out of this gaming habit was that if I just said no.

Originally, I intended this post to be an introduction to how certain computer games have given me material for gamebooks, but instead, it was an account of all the hours I wasted playing them when because I couldn’t get away from them.  However, I am glad that I wrote about it.

In future posts, I will write about specific computer games and what they have added to my gamebook writing and why gamebooks are better for me than computer games.

3 rules I had to be reminded of when writing Asuria

1)  Don’t annoy the player.

There’s a reason why this is number 1.  It doesn’t matter how clever you’re being, or how great you’re writing is.  It’s all for nothing if it annoys the player.  I had a section in Asuria where you get sucked into a maelstrom and pulled into a giant monster.  Now, throughout the book, I wanted to give an impression of hopelessness and that winning was impossible, so in this section, I offered two choices – row or swim.  however, both choices lead to you being sucked away.  There was no functional difference between them.  The reason I did this was to make the reader think that they had chosen the ‘wrong’ choice and make them feel like it was hopeless.  However, I then thought that if they went back, chose the other choice and realised that there was not difference, then they would have got annoyed.  So I got rid of that bit.

2)  If you need an item, make sure you have a chance to get it towards the point you need.

I’m referring to point 4 on the terrific article linked above.  I wanted Asuria to be a book where you did not have to complete a set path to win and it would be quite forgiving in terms of instant deaths.  So there is only 1 section where you need an item or die.  And when I wrote it, you had the chance to find 3 different items that would save you.  However, when I went back through it, I realised that these 3 items were all at the beginning of the book and that you could go through 2/3 of it with not chance of success only for you to die at the end.  It is for this reason that I included a new location towards the end with a new item to help (the bat amulet in case you’re wondering)

3)  If you give the player to leave, don’t just let it lead to an insta kill.

This is one thing Dave Morris, author of the Fantastic Heart of Ice, does not like about gamebooks, so when I realised that I had done it in Asuria, I immediately changed it.  I had two bits where you could leave Casporur and head back to Orlandes before you finish (one by land and one by sea) and they might be justifiable too (you might have found the simulacra you were looking for and you were charged with the safety of Orlandes, not Casporur after all).  However, since I din’t want this to happen, it was an instant death paragraph.  However, after the interview, I inserted a combat to both bits where the simulacra you fight warns you that you will be followed wherever you go as a not too subtle message to stick around.  After a warning like that, I feel absolved of guilt about anyone who ignores that warning and heads home anyway.

Armour rules in gamebooks

So if you play most Fighting Fantasy books, you usually get told htat you are wearing some leather armour when you start.  There you go, what more needs to be said about armour in gamebooks?

Ok, more I guess.  Armour seems to get an inconsistent approach in gamebooks, if it is not completely ignored.  I guess the writers are following the tenet that in a gamebook you do not want to create more rules or mechanics where necessary.  If a situation comes up rarely, then you should just assign a random die roll, give some common sense consequences and forget about it rather than trying to come up with a new rule.

Which is great until you realise that armour is not a situation that comes up rarely.

Now that I’m thinking (and writing) about it, it seems strange to me that a situation that comes up quite commonly does not actually get a clear rule for it.  In Fighting Fantasy, armour could add to your skill (leading to the question that since the rules say that you cannot go over your initial skill, does it do nothing if you are at your initial skill?), it could reduce damage in certain situations, it could increase your attack strength, it could reduce your opponent’s attack strength, it could reduce damage on a die roll, reduce damage for certain or reduce damage for certain, but wear out after x hits.

So armour does come up a lot, in any gamebook series that involves a system for determining combat at any rate.  So it does need a system.  Which one could we use?

Armour makes you harder to hit

Works quite well in Fabled Lands – you have to get over your opponent’s defence score with 2d6 + your combat score to hit them.  Defence is based on combat + rank + armour.  This is a good system as long as it is not too hard to hit people as it will lead to stalls.  Also makes logical sense that armour makes you harder to hit and damage.  Tin Man Games has an armour system which makes you harder to hit, but does not reduce damage.  Space Assassin has a system where armour makes you ahrder to hit, but every hit it absorbs makes it weaker.

Armour as damage reduction

it makes sense that armour reduces damage and that is find when you are dealing d12 damage a blow to an opponent and plate armour reduces it by 4, but when you do 2 damage with every hit, you have very little room to play with.  You can reduce 50% of the damage or 100% of the damage.  Not really an option.  It is possible in a system where you could lose a lot a hit points in one hit (Lone Wolf could have used this system, but decided to do something else).  Ways to get around this include a limited number of uses or damage reduction only occurs on a certain die roll.  Good ways around it with a bit more book keeping.

Armour as a skill or attack strength bonus

As long as the skill bonus applies, this makes sense.  If you are harder to damage, it will make combat easier and so you will be more likely to win.  A shield can be used offensively, which is another reason it can increase your attack strength.  Increasing skill is a little unrealistic – if you can’t go above your initial skill, then wearing armour has no effect (?).  If it can, then for some reason, armour makes you better at all the other things skill covers in Fighting Fantasy including jumping, sneaking and climbing.  Things that armour should hinder.

But a helmet is no use here :S

Armour that has a benefit in story

A more realistic approach, but one that requires more effort.  Your helmet prevents damage to the head, your shield blocks an arrow etc.  Adds a nice touch if you can be bothered to use it.

Armour as hit points

Used in Lone Wolf (combined with armour as Combat Skill increase).  A chain coat adds 4 to your endurance for example.  At first, I couldn’t see how that would make sense, but there is a reason to it.

If for example, you have 20 endurance points and you lose 10, you have lost 50% of your endurance.

If you wear armour that increases it by 5, and lose 10 endurance, you have lost 40% of your endurance.  The armour has not magically made you gain 5 points of endurance – it has reduced the damage you received by 10%.  Of course, there are flaws – it reduces damage from hunger and other things that it shouldn’t.  And also healing becomes less effective as it is restoring a smaller proportion of your endurance.  however, it is super simple and no more die rolling or maths is required beyond adding two numbers.

So there you are.  What’s your favourite armour system for gamebooks?

RPG – Sword Noir

I like Sword Noir – it is a combination of sword and sorcery and film noir (hence the name).  It is a system
where characters are good at what they do, but they cannot do everything and they do not become super human like high level DnD characters.  Characters have attributes and the game makes tests against them.  A character’s background, faculties and flaws gives bonuses and penalties to those tests.  All characters must have a background, some faculties and a flaw.  They can choose what these are and call them what they like, allowing some extra individuality to to characters.

Magic is present, but it carries a huge cost and will almost lead to madness and demonic possession (PCs might end up being NPCs).  This all fits in with the setting creed, which is broken down and explained in detail to show how Sword Noir adventures should work.  It shows that the system and setting of an adventure can be entwined to enhance the whole experience.  Magic is not just a set of tools, but something dangerous and corrupting, in keeping with the nihilistic nature of this world.  Characters are not ultra competent at everything, increasing the sense of danger.

  • Characters can be made up of more than just attributes 
  • It is better when the system and the setting are entwined.

Tunnels and Trolls RPG

What’s not to love about Tunnels and Trolls?

The game does not ignore this thing called balance.  Instead, it cheerfully pushes balance to the floor then kicks it in the nuts while it is down.  There is the DARO and TARO rules – if you roll a double with 2d6 or a triple with 3d6, you roll again and add them to the original roll.  Unless you roll a double or triple again, in which case you roll again and add both values to them and so on, leading to obscene values for stats.  On top of that non-human races can double certain stats.  And what’s more, it’s all dandy with Trollgod (Ken St Andre, the creator of Tunnels and Trolls).

Yes, it’s the game that spits in the face of logic in the name of enjoyment.  Who cares why there are dungeons full of gold and monsters scattered all over the place and that some people are mighty warrior, powerful wizard or all rounders who are quite good at both, or, if your stats are high enough, get to be the paragon class where you enjoy about 3/4 the benefits of warriors and 3/4 the benefits of wizards?  It’s fun!

And what adds to the fun is that the rules are not overly complex.  D6s only are needed (although you might need a few of them!), monsters generally do not need a ton of stats, but a single value called a monster rating which determines how much damage they deal and their hit points.  Stalls in combat are broken by a rule called spite damage.

In combat, you roll a certain number of d6s depending on your weapon, and add a number to that value.  The monster does the same.  The one who rolls the highest deals the difference in damage – any armour that the defender is wearing.  However, for every 6 anyone rolls, they also deal 1 point of damage ‘in spite of’ (hence the name spite damage) armour or who won, and this can really add up when you are rolling 10d6 for a weapon (which you might – I told you about lots of d6s).

Magic is pretty useful, using a points system to cast spells (in 7.5, you use WIZ points to cast spells) and the
spells are useful, despite having ‘comedy’ names.

And then there are the solos.  Tunnels and Trolls has tons of solos as it’s been doing them pretty much since it started.  I’ve written a few myself , so has Scott Malthouse and you can try some quick ones out here.  A lot of the older ones are quite deadly (Ed Jolley has put a lot of TnT posts in his blog and you can find them in the index here. Only one is highlighted yellow, meaning he beat it), but they are quite fun to read.    

And finally, another thing I love about Tunnels and Trolls is the aesthetic.  It hasn’t lost its old school charm.  I don’t know what it is, but I find the whole old school feel comforting.

Want to delve deeper into Tunnels and Trolls?

You can visit Trollhalla.

You can read the Zine for free.

There will be a new edition of Tunnels and Trolls out soon (it is probably out when you rad this).  Take a look!

Computer Games – Colossal Cave Adventure

Colossal Cave Adventure (shortened to Adventure on my Atari ST) was the first interactive fiction computer game I played.  According to Wikipedia, it was also the first adventure game to be written.

The premise was simple enough – you had to enter a colossal cave (based on the real life Mammoth Cave in Kentucky) and bring all of the treasure you find back to a small building outside.  You controlled your character by moving the around with the compass points and other commands such as ‘kill’, ‘feed’, ‘drop’, ‘get’  and ‘look’ amongst others.

I always enjoyed wandering around the Colossal cave and enjoying the strange and funny encounters.  It had everything – a pirate, a troll, a dragon, dwarves, a bear and much more.  I never won this game.  My highest score was something rubbish like 76/350.  The decisions were a little arbitrary and required trial and error and I never had the patience to try everything.  There were some good tricks that you needed to learn such as learning how to kill the dragon, transporting the vase back to your house safely and getting that elusive final point.  I didn’t find most of these things out until I read a walkththrough but the things I did find out I felt very smug about.

Colossal Cave has been an inspiration to other interactive fiction in various ways, not least the use of the phrase ‘Xyzzy‘.  There are even Xyzzy awards for interactive fiction.

The good thing about Colossal Cave now is that you can get it and play it for free in various ways and if you get stuck, you could find a walkthrough.  If you have an Android phone, you can get a Colossal Cave app for free.

You can play the Colossal Cave Adventure here

You can download Colossal Cave Adventure here.

You can buy a book about interactive fiction here.  The title, Twisty Little Passages, is another nod to a phrase from Colossal cave.