Monday, March 27, 2006

Thinking of Home...

So, the roundtable on home in games has really been nibbling away at the back of my mind. I'm trying to think of how you could make a game which feels like a nostalgic dream.

A lot of movies and series use this idea very powerfully. For example, Macross Plus opens with a scene where two boys and a girl are struggling to get a home-made bicycle-plane off the ground. The song ("Voices" is the name) is also a huge help. The end result is that the scene has the feeling of a nostalgic dream.

I've been trying to think: how could you do a game that feels like a nostalgic dream? The whole way through?

There are a lot of games which touch this idea. Ico and it's successful successor, Shadow of the Colossus are two examples. Even Animal Crossing is an example. But these games don't feel like dreams, they feel like games surrounded by a dream.

I think two things are required, just for a start: an absolute lack of dialogue and a very simple, abstracted game mechanic. Walking around is too concrete, to say nothing of doing battle or collecting carrots. The mechanic can't be too controlling, either: lack of dialogue and lack of concrete control both serve the same purpose.

Remember the last subtitled film you saw? Even if the subtitling was incredibly weird ("the caffiene stings my broken heart") the fact is that you aren't hearing the character say it. In English, the lines of dialogue can only be as good as they are. When they are in another language, they are as good as the reactions of the rest of the characters say they are.

If you have ever watched a good foreign movie without subtitling, you know what I mean. This manifests even more. The story is clear, even without any dialogue. In fact, it might even be better without the dialogue.

This same effect allows The Sims to endear themselves to some players: the Sims are saying exactly what you think they are saying, because all they are actually saying is gibberish.

The lack of concrete controls serves a similar purpose. If your controls are very subtle or organic, then you won't expect precision from the game. You can conceal the idiot logic that drives the game and therefore let the player be pleased with the result he has "caused".

The thing is, you can't use branching states for this. Players are simply too good. They recognize a branching state a million miles away.

So you'd actually need a drama engine. Driven by something totally insubstantial. Ideal in my mind would be the Revolution's controller. Less ideal would be the relative position of a mouse without a pointer reflecting it. Move this way to bring more of this emotion into the game, that way to bleed it out. From dream to nightmare and back, as you twitch your hand. Never controlling the fundamental processes of the game, but guiding them.

Toughie. It would need to be simple, but moderately long. I would prefer something with a tangible storyline that weaves into a romance plot, rather than a straight-up romance plot. Just as a basic example, you could turn the plot to Secret of Mana into a pretty good zero-dialogue nonconcrete-controls game.



Chaos! The New Guy Syndrome

Churn, and your game. And a long, rambling bleaaaaarrrrrgh.

There's a lot of data on how churn works. In a facility, in a company, in a nation. There's not a whole lot about how it works in a game... at least, not carefully printed up. But the data is there.

With a stable group of people, you can get away with incredible efficiencies through rules that have no need for enforcement. You can make tenuous rules that are followed because of the pressure holding the team together.

As you start acquiring churn, the surface tension is broken. The pressure which keeps the team cohesive disintigrates. The higher the churn, the less pressure naturally forms. The less pressure, the less shortcuts you can take. Tenuous rules are annihilated by the waves of new arrivals, whether they be new hires, immigrants, or new players.

Obviously, the situation are complex, and the same effect can be triggered by an "economic quake", shaking the population out of their cohesion and effectively (temporarily) making them into new hires. I can talk about countries, religions, and companies: all suffer from these effects. Tenuous rules that always worked before, but they work worse every day now.

But not all high-churn organizations have this chaotic, uncontrolled environment. Fraternaties and the military, for example. These have some of the highest churn rates possible, but most of the new recruits end up being very loyal to the organization. Sure, they cause trouble both inside and outside the organization - but they are proud to be in the organization.

Cults are even more effective.


The answer is obvious to anyone who's looked into the matter - or been through the matter. When you join a high-churn system that knows what it is doing, it takes over your life and - here's the kicker - bonds you to a team made primarily of other new, confused recruits.

When you join a high-churn system that doesn't know what it's doing, it just lets you waltz in. When you get there, you don't have any particular fondness for the organization, or any particular urge to waltz down the path they have prepared for you.

The high-pressure team-ups of the military don't make people follow tenuous rules. They just make people follow solid rules with vigor. A high-churn system which survives very long learns quickly to enforce all its rules, whether with force or with peer pressure. It drops the unenforceable ones and replaces them with useful variants.

Most countries haven't done this. Some countries, like the USA, started as immigrant countries and therefore did this quite well for several centuries. Of course, we've been putting in unenforceable rules for the past century or so, and it shows as our cohesion suffers. Please note: protestors, at least here in America, aren't showing a lack of cohesion. The lack of cohesion is manifest in the parasites in the system. The people who break and abuse rules without being stopped or punished.

Now, sticky politics aside, your game is a high-churn system. I mean, duh. Even in its stable late life, your game will have a higher level of churn than any company roster.

So... how can you survive?

By learning from the most successful high-churn systems.

I'm not going to talk about the rules. I've talked about them before, and this essay isn't exactly short even without those paragraphs. So, let's talk about the one other option which games don't use:

The "take over your life and bond you with a bunch of other newbs" approach.

The military, high-aggression religions, and cults all do this. And when they do this, it turns out powerfully. The new recruits are bonded not only to the organization directly, but to other people who they only know inside the organization (and, therefore, must stay in the organization to stay with them).

The problem is, of course, that it's the pressure cooker approach. Most players don't like being pressure cooked, and are likely to simply turn off the game. Plus, pressure cooking requires at least four straight hours. What percentage of players have that available?

Is there a low-pressure pressure cooker which can be turned on and off at will? How about just setting every new joiner up with the four people to join immediately before him and the four people to join immediately after him? As primary contacts?

I'm sure there are lots of solutions. Can anyone else think of any?

Friday, March 24, 2006

Evolution of a METEOR!

Self-centered post about a game I made.

METEOR! was the first LARP I wrote. I wrote it specifically to see how LARPs reacted. I took a bunch of eightiesish movie characters and rammed them into one game. People like Miyagi, Indiana Jones, Batman, Mr. T, and so on. Pretty much just wrote down their names, gave them some special abilities, and set up some basic plot things.

I ran it... and people loved it. They demanded I run it again. Then, again. Then, again. Now it has been run six times. It is almost certainly the LARP which has been run most frequently at WPI.

Personally, I hate it. The game is poorly designed and very GM-intensive. But the way it's designed, you can't simply add more GMs. So it's GM-intensive for no more than three GMs, and even that is pushing it. Which means that players spend a lot of time waiting and shouting, "GM! GM!"

More than that, the game is unbalanced and, due to the game mechanics, unbalanceable. It's a hideous mess.

It's popular for three reasons. First, it involves well-known icons. People already have emotional ties to these characters. This makes it very easy to get excited about playing them. Second, it has a lot of direct feedback as the GMs make shit up based on what you do. Lastly, I always run a "dead dog" where I explain what happened and people share stories. These three things contribute to a very emotionally "fun" game, even though the gameplay blows, half the game is waiting for a GM, and nobody has any useful directives or objectives.

In the first runs, there were only about five villains. This led to a rapid "shaking out" into good guys and bad guys. Both groups had some internal strife, but not much, because they were focused on defeating the other team. The nature of the game usually led to the realization that whoever gets a cool doodad first wins, so both teams go about exploring the "cool doodad" part of the game. Which is exceedingly GM intensive.

Because the villains almost always grouped into one giant team (occasionally with an outlier), this always led to one titanic battle at the end of the game. The villains, I found, rarely had nearly as much fun as the protagonists. They spent the whole game running and lurking.

For the most recent rewrite, I increased the number of villains from five to seven, and added five "gray" characters. Sure enough, the villains and non-villains mingled better. The villains were not forced to lurk nearly as much, and I think they had a better time.

However, because they did not team up into the monolithic "team evil", there was no single confrontation. Instead, the various plots went off every half-hour or so for the duration of the last two hours. While this pleased the villains, the heroes were left flat. There was a continuous rain of evil, and putting out fire after fire isn't made much fun by the rules. Also, when to end the game was difficult to decide, because there was no final confrontation. This fact was exacerbated by the high player count, which meant there were more teams and confusion.

(I think the other two GMs might think that the lack of a big confrontation is due to the "no GM communication" system I instituted, but I think that was relatively minor: it was the fact that there were functionally five different "team evils" that was the real problem.)

This isn't to say the game wasn't fun. The moon got blown up twice. William Shatner became Lord of Hell, and got summoned by the vampire trying to summon the Lord of Hell. David Bowie continually backstabbed the other villains to gain power, and there were montages all around. Batman and the Penguin had a combat scene unrivalled in Bat-fiction. Oh, and Chuck Norris was actually the guy from quantum leap in Chuck Norris' body. Fun times.

But I hate the design of this game, and I don't think I'll ever run it again. There are a lot of things to learn:

Team size is important. Monolithic sides tend to focus the game into a single cinematic encounter, but have to be carefully managed to keep them from (A) tipping the game balance too early or (B) being irritated or bored by the numerical dis/advantage. Diverse teams tend to be balanced (if you set them up right), but have a really shitty sense of pacing. (I plan to solve this with game mechanics in ASTEROID!)

Using readily recognizable icons is great, if you're a total biter like me. Not only does it provide you the writer with a powerful focus, but it gets players excited and provides them with a clear idea of what to play and how to play it. It's kind of unfortunate that it's borderline illegal, and certainly not publishable for profit.

The game physics allow for a number of absurd combos which win the game. :P

Lastly, METEOR! is a brutally fast-paced game. Any players who have a hard time keeping up the energy level and social aggression this kind of game calls for will tend to fall behind. Then they get dropped. I generally lose 3-4 players every game. They fall behind, stop having fun, and drop. Their situation is almost never really that bad: the rules don't allow for your situation to get that bad.

Hey, I said it was poorly designed. I wasn't freaking kidding.

ASTEROID! is going to be the video game version, if I ever design it. The plot is simple: SINISTAR has eaten most of the video-game worlds. You play a video game character - either a protagonist or a villain - to try to stop SINISTAR. And, of course, accomplish your goals.

Unlike METEOR!, ASTEROID! is (will be) about half LARP, half board game. Protagonists have three lives, antagonists have the ability to build lairs. Controlling who can enter what lairs, when, will allow me to manage the pacing of the game. A rigid rule set will radically reduce the need for a GM to handle common things like combat or leveling.

Of course, protagonist doesn't mean "good", it means "three lives". And antagonist doesn't mean "evil", it means "builds lairs".

I think it's going to be a bit like Lord of the Rings the Board Game combined with METEOR!. I think it's going to be fun. But, as I mentioned, I've barely touched it.

Anyhow, I'm exhausted. Definitely time for bed.


This week's escapist was a very welcome change from their normal fare.

An article on Rubacava brought us right back around to the round table on what "home" is. I jump up and down to note that his experience is just one more which seems to agree with the "orbit" theory of home. Right on, N. Evan van Zelfden! (And, as I'm sure you're heard, awesome name.)

An article on difficulty brings a long-ago post on how narrative games cause a decline in challenging gameplay into sharp effect. I could dig that post up, if anyone's interested.

Magic Words is a good essay on creating emotion and investment using illusion. In my opinion, we're to the stage where we can have actual results instead of illusionary ones, especially if we include a "home" for the players. Still, a good essay.

Honestly, I didn't find Warren Spector's "celebrity spotlight" to be very interesting. But, I bet a lot of people did, so I'm still going to count it as a solid essay. :)

So, hey, good issue, Escapist. Now, if only you could keep this level of content up...

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Can you tell who designed that game?

A self-centered post about fingerprints... and wackiness.

In any kind of art, an artist develops a style. This is true of programming, painting, pro-skating, poetry, and many other words that don't even start with a "p". It also includes game design. Not just computer games, but real-world games as well.

I have a very distinct style. However, your style is typically only partly by choice, and the rest by necessity. My style is the same.

My games are typically fairly wacky, have end-of-the-world end conditions, and a rather silly power curve. This isn't because those are things I am aiming for, or even particularly like. It's because of the choices I make.

Most of my games are very big on letting the players make the decisions. This is more than half illusion, as I've mentioned earlier, but leaving the particulars to them insures that (A), I don't have to waste dozens of hours thinking this stuff up and (B), the stuff they invent will be exactly the sort of thing that pleases them.

However, this means that my games are always studies in controlled chaos. All of the grubby little paw-prints that people recognize as "Craig-game" marks are, in fact, resulting from this source, not a personal predisposition towards destroying the planet with mutant cabbages. (I prefer hampsters, personally.)

My games have to be wacky because serious games have serious players. And in a chaotic situation, things go wrong. And serious players crack when things go wrong in ways they do not approve of. They storm out of the room, angry. So it's easiest to gently push players into wackiness, and when things go wrong, it's more comedy than tragedy.

Similarly, the power curve is because I leave character progression up to the players. This results in players trying to grab as much power as possible, as fast as possible. The inevitable cracks in the rule set almost always allow people with more power to leverage that power to gain more power, faster.

I've learned a lot about players and game systems by letting the two interact pretty much unrestricted. But, in the process, a fingerprint is established that most people associate with me. And, of course, I've grown used to it, and they ask for it, so it's almost impossible to do something significantly different.

As you do things, you will also become known for having a particular style. Chances are, you probably already have one. A "fingerprint". No matter how you try to plan it, only one piece of your fingerprint will be under your control. The rest... will be indistinguishable from luck. You get stuck with what you get stuck with.

It's possible to change the piece you've chosen. I have friends who change genres, change game types, struggle to get out of what they consider to be a rut. But the rest of the fingerprint? The parts they didn't choose? Those remain the same. And they tell a hell of a lot about who you are.

I expect, as indie game dev grows, we'll be seeing a lot more clear fingerprints. I'm looking forward to it. They are fascinating to interpret.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Livewire First Impressions

Semi-coherent quick thoughts on Livewire. It's late, I haven't slept much, pardon the fractured prose and poor flow.

So, Livewire (my low-intensity no-GM game) has been running for five days. It is running somewhat better than I expected. The problems I expected have been problems, the good things have been good, and the looming issues are still looming.

It is a very interesting study. I'll write about chaotic games needing to be wacky sometime soon, but this post will concentrate on how the game is running.

The game has about three very active players, four or five marginally active players, and another four or five passive players. That's about what I expected. The content varies widely. Some character samples: Raptor Einstein (and sidekick, Tyrannosaurus Norris), The Beyonder (Vorlon), 1000 Joes (lots of clones), the janitor, a number of shady businessmen, the space elves, a ninja catgirl, the Swedish Chef, a talking bear, Fantasmo! the ten year old mad scientist, and so on.

We have a wide variety of cards. Including sets such as "1000 years in the future" and "in your head". The most powerful game mechanic from my end of the woods seems to be previews, for reasons I'll explain soon. However, the "creating cards" mechanic is definitely pulling its weight, and we're seeing a steady rise in the number of plots. I don't know if awesomeness is doing anything, I forgot to ask.

The suction of this game is pretty light. As I explained earlier: games that run "hotter" tend to be better at sucking players in (for reasons I'll touch on in a moment). This game runs very cold: ten to twenty minutes a day, usually. Therefore, the suction is quite light. This means that the player base doesn't expand and, in fact, may very well shrink. There is a "descendent" rule I'll be including to try to reverse this, but nothing can change the fact that this game is a sluggish game.

This light suction means that players are less likely to invest energy and thought into the game, because there is less pressure (peer and personal) to do so. This, in turn, means the game will tend to be easier to "blow out" - plots fail to complete or, when completed, fail to spawn new plots. This is only a tendency, not a universal truth, but it does mean the game is more likely to simply dwindle into nothingness.

We'll see whether the pressure mechanics I've included are enough to keep it spinning.

Now: one thing is definitely true. The more time you invest in something, the more likely you are to follow through (and invest more time). Unfortunately, this is not as straight forward as that: the time invested dwindles over time. Let's say, 10% a day. If you have an "opportunity threshold" of 10, then you need to have at least 10 vested interest in playing in order to take the opportunity. In truth, the opportunity varies: people who live together will have a much lower opportunity threshold than people who see each other only once per week.

In most games, the investment is augmented by the GM pushing, but not in this case. Meaning that it's solely investment. So, if you have, say, 15 investment, then you have four or five days of downtime before you fall below the threshold. Four or five days to find an opportunity. That's not bad. When you participate in an opportunity, you gain more investment - probably one or two points, on the scale we're using. Maybe three or four. It really depends on how much you want to play - that's kind of a multiplier on time spent.

The problem is that the players who have higher opportunity thresholds also tend to have fewer opportunities, meaning that they are doubly screwed and tend to fall out of play pretty much instantly.

The way I tried to counteract that this time is by forcing people to spend some time creating their characters. Getting excited about your character, thinking up a "first season" plot arc, these are really just ways to raise your investment or, in the latter case, drop your opportunity threshold.

The problem is, this doesn't solve the actual, fundamental issue: people who play less are less likely to play. It's a social game, and there's an innate tendency to not bring it up if you haven't played in a while.

I don't know how to solve this, but previews come awfully close. If those background characters are given a very specific goal, they can work towards it. This lowers the opportunity threshold considerably, but doesn't change the continuous investment decay. Hmmmmm.

Another patchwork solution is the "descendant" idea: currently active players should try to recruit new players who live "in their world". IE, if you're playing a psi cop, you can bring in another psychic character. Maybe a psi-cop, maybe a blip, maybe a politician who hates psionics. Any way you play it, bringing in a character who has a shared portion of the universe binds those two players together.

This not only increases investment (you're making a character in an existing and, theoretically, cool environment), it also decreases specific opportunity thresholds (specifically, with your "parent" and his other "children"). This might also create interesting "pocket" phenomina, where a group of people primarily interacts with each other, not the game at large, except on rare circumstances. Personally, I think that would be really cool, and radically increase emotional investment when the pocket hit another pocket or the game at large.

Also, I'm worried that the plot may gutter out. I need to make it very specific that your characters are disposable. Well, maybe not disposable, but not permanent. Your characters are here to ride the plot arc until you can't figure out how to ride it any further, then to go down in a blaze of glory. I think the people in this game are likely to keep holding on to their played-out characters and wondering where all the fun went.

On the upside, it's a lot of fun to see people come up with mundane problems, and then try to solve them with the absurd powers that most of the other people have chosen. "I need to find a circus..." "Well, I can send my battle fleet out to find one!" "No, I can use the book of infinite knowledge to look one up!" (Of course, more powerful hooks have to be more irritating...)

Tuesday, March 21, 2006


Many of my readers are away at GDC, and I'm swamped with the upcoming Gaming Weekend preps. (Ugh. I'd forgotten how much work it was to rewrite a LARP.) Anyhow, I've been trying to limit my posts so that when they get back, they don't see a giant "8 new posts" and think, "errr, I'll just skip it."

However, I think it's important to write about nonlinearity. I'll probably write about it again, later. Because this essay is clumsy.

When you read a book or see a movie, you experience a story. This story is linear. The strength of games is that it does not have to be linear. All too often it is - but, did you notice? Most of the nonlinear or multiple-choice linear games which are released do very well. This seems to imply that people really like the freedom those games grant them.

But not everyone wants to design The Sims, or Animal Crossing, or Madden's Football 8.9824942498919919e^691795057. Many people want to have plots in their games.

The problem is that, when people design their game plots, they think linearly. "Then the player can fight Glamaramadingdong, the elf king!" "Then the player gets this new weapon!" "Now the player can fly a space ship!"

I suppose it's natural. Not only are our other forms of media naturally linear, our language itself is rigidly linear. But I think that if you break yourself of linear thinking, you'll be able to create worlds - both in a computer and in tabletop games - which are much more detailed and reactive than the simple linear story. These stories seem to really draw in the player. Much better than a nonreactive linear story does.

The way I do it is via "aji".

"Aji" is a go (wei'qi, baduk) term which roughly means "the potential remaining in a group of stones".

Go is, in essence, a very non-linear game... which makes it very suitable to study, if you're looking into how to make your games less linear. The basic play of go is that the players chase each other around the board. One will dominate, then often the other will dominate. Offense, defense, pushing, invading: these are the kinds of things you do in go, and they are the kinds of things you do in most plot-based games. All of these things are based on the aji of a group of stones.

If a group has bad aji, that means it is weak, or slow, or played out, or comitted, or unable to expand. If a group has good aji, it is primed to expand, or to support an attack, or it is light and fast, or it is in the right place such that future plays in the game will find themselves crippled or supported by this group's position. Functionally, a group of stones loses aji as you develop its position. When the position is light, only containing a few stones, it is at its most adaptable. Writing for a nonlinear story is the same way.

What I do, when developing a game, is fairly simple. I don't say, "Anne will attack the dread lord Bob." That would be playing out that group of stones without actually imprinting anything on the player's mind.

Instead, I'll set it up so that Anne is in a good position to attack the dread lord. Anne's presence - her abilities, her memories, her position, her emotional state - has good aji in the direction of dread lord Bob. It will then flow naturally that Anne will attack Bob. It doesn't even need to be written in. In fact, writing it in will reduce the aji - reduce the freedom and agency of the player.

Left alone, Anne will feel like she is doing what she should be doing, but she will not feel boxed in. She will feel like she is accomplishing her goals, not that her goals are being crammed down her throat. And if she chooses not to attack Bob (highly unlikely, if you're doing the aji right), no trouble: let the game continue on around her.

This is how a good LARP runs. You have players who have plot with other players. It doesn't say, "Carl: attack Diana on sight", it says, "Carl: Diana killed your mother." Let Carl decide what he's going to do about Diana. 99% of the time, it'll work out just fine. The other 1%, it will be so bizarre and interesting that there's no problem.

The solution that the player uses might be a little different from instance to instance. This Anne might power up for two weeks before attacking Bob. That Anne might immediately go fight Bob. But that's their prerogative. That's what makes the game interesting to them. That's their agency. That's what they can't do if the whole plot is spelled out for them, no aji remaining.

The basic problem with this is that, if you're doing it on the computer, it's rather difficult to allow the game to react to such a spread of possibilities. What if Anne doesn't ever attack Bob? Do you just have Bob sit around waiting? Do you have Bob keep conquering more and more land until he's defeated? Does Anne's companion Eustace whine bitterly about her dilly-dallying?

Maybe she wants to team up with Bob. This is her third time through the game, and she wants to be evil for a while. How is her aji for that?

How can a game possibly handle such complexity?

Well, I have a few ideas as to what algorithms to use, but in essence: nobody is entirely sure what the best way to do it is.

However, you can do it easily in a real-world game, and you can fake it easily in a computer game.

Don't tell your player what to do. Tell them why they should do it. That's essentially showing them what to do, rather than telling them. It's basic good writing, and anyone can use it.

Write with aji. Write potentials into your characters, not plot. Plot is for characters which are separate from the audience. Aji is for characters which the audience can affect. Show them the situation, but let them decide the moves.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Voice Actors, Context, and Contrast

Random thoughts on contrast and context and, of course, voice actors.

Out of a kind of morbid curiosity, I spent half an hour poking around the internet listening to voice actor demo snippets. I assume these things are what is supposed to get them hired, so I'm a little confused:

99% of them sound exactly the same. Oh, sure, there's small differences in the quality of the voice, and the diction varies from overmanaged to sloppy, but they are all trying for the exact same tone of voice.

They all want to be the same warm, strong voice. Some of the women go for undertones (or overtones, on rare occasions) of "sexy", but it's largely irrelevant. Any decent voice actor can inject "sexy" or remove "sexy" as they need to. Similarly, some of them do "warm, strong, and solemn" whereas others do "warm, strong, and painfully perky". Again, as a decent voice actor, "solemn" and "painfully perky" should both be pretty easy. Sexy, painfully perky, and solemn are the three easiest emotions to master. Even I can do them, although the sight of me being painfully perky would probably send my friends into convulsions.

The thing is, these voice actors are largely capable of doing a wide variety of voices. The guy who sounds like a Ford commercial can also do Bullwinkle, if you go to his portfolio page and look into his other reels. They don't all have to be the "commercial voice", either. They can do the more complex, difficult voices like "quietly amused", "subtly seething", and so forth. The overacting required for commercials makes all the voices the same. The individual qualities of the voice are lost. The breathy undertone, the razor edge, the delightful giggle. Washed out by the flourescent light of your plastic commercial voice.

They make this commercial voice their "front snippet", the one people browsing for voice actors listen to.

Now, you can just smile, shrug, and say, "most people looking for voice actors are looking for that commercial voice." But what you're doing, when you do that commercial voice, is turning your voice from a unique product into a commodity. All your voices sound the same. Listening to you, they won't be able to tell whether they would prefer you or the guy next to you, because you sound exactly the same. So they choose whoever's price is lowest.

Moreover, those people won't go trawling for voices. They'll post a job offer and let the VAs compete for it, allowing you to submit the perfect voice snippet for their job.

Even then, sounding like all the other applicants isn't going to get you the job.

Every voice has unique qualities to it. These qualities only come out in more subtle voice acting. Shouldn't you be highlighting your capabilities in comparison to others, rather than striving to be identical? Anyone who's made a commercial will be aware that almost anybody can do the "commercial voice". Shouldn't you make them realize that you are going to be good to work with, that you can inject their plastic commercial voice with the innate warmth/sultriness/power of your voice? You can't, but you could make them think you could by posting - get this! Posting a unique snippet instead of another clone.

This, of course, doesn't just apply to voice actors. Contrast and context are the two most important things in the world. Controlling them means you control the whole of the situation. By standing out, you catch the attention of others. If you can change what they think they're looking for, you convince them to choose you. The way to do this varies from application to application, but it all starts with contrast. If they don't notice you, they certainly can't choose you.


Friday, March 17, 2006

Home, home in the game...

I know the round table is over, but Ghosts in the Game snuck in a last-minute post that I really want to respond to.

You might remember my own post on the matter, which says that home is created by having the rest of the game orbit the home. Leave the home, return to the home, leave the home, return to the home. Physically (gameplay), socially, and/or emotionally.

Now, I'd like to explain why Evil Genius and Dungeon Keeper 2 accomplished this but the Sims didn't and, say, Starcraft didn't. I really did like all of these games for some definition of "like", but we're discussing only the sense of home they provide - or fail to provide.

Evil Genius and ilk essentially allow you to build a base to defend from whatever onslaught the enemy has in their plans. Both the Sims and Starcraft allow you to also build a "base" - but these bases don't feel like home at all, whereas Evil Genuis' style lairs tend to. Why?

Duncan says it's because the bases are defensive rather than either offensive or nothing-fensive.


I'm going to explain it in terms of my "orbit something long enough and it becomes your home" theory.

In the Sims, there is no orbiting. You are grounded. You are glued to the house. You cannot leave it. The Sims 2 recognized that this might be trouble, but its adventures to the mall or whatever didn't cut it. This is because, when you leave your home, it should be emotionally, socially, and physically - or at least two of the three. The Sims never varies at all in gameplay: the physical gameplay you get at a mall isn't any different than the stuff you get at home. Socially and emotionally, the variations are excruciatingly minor and pointless. So, you never really orbit anything in either Sims.

However, in Evil Genius and Dungeon Keeper 2, you have extensive orbiting. Most of the game is spent trying to get home. Every time you beat a level, you have to start over, building back towards that ideal state you hold in your mind. The physical and emotional play of the game vary hugely as each level progresses.

The assault at the end of each level is not actually the primary joy of these games. It is simply an anchor to give you a distinct feeling of what home should be. It directs you towards making a certain kind of home: a kind of home which you'll repeatedly refine and get closer to in each map. But that home isn't "home": it's the act of creating that home which is "home".

The idea is genius, and a perfect example of how to include home in a game without making it all fuzzy-wussy. Every level, you leave home and spend most of the rest of the level struggling to return to it... all without realizing that you are home, during the act of struggling to return to it.

Now, in Starcraft and similar games, you get a very different feeling - even though there's the same "rinse and repeat" cycle. Some very experienced (or dull) players will feel the same feeling of home when they build a specific layout of base that they know is best, but most players will never feel that. Why?

There's no orbiting. Remember: physical, emotional, social. There are differences between early game and endgame in Starcraft: emotional, physical, and social differences. But they are the difference between having fifty of something and having sixty of something.

In Dungeon Keeper 2, it's the difference between having negative fifty of something and fifty of something.

There's a smaller max, but it isn't the max that matters: it's the distance you travel. In Starcraft, you travel from tense to very tense and back to tense. In Dungeon Keeper 2 and Evil Genius, you travel from Laid Back to Amused to Tense to Amused to Very Tense and back to Laid Back. You constantly travel away from your home state of "building a home", and constantly travel back.

In this case, it's not the thing you've constructed that feels like home: it's the act of constructing it. You constantly return to that focus, and the emotional, social, and game-rule physical differences between that and the assault at the end of the level are immense.

I hope this is clear. And, Duncan, thanks for the insight. :)

Thursday, March 16, 2006


Well, the rules for the pre-alpha run of Livewire are now officially available:

Livewire, pre-alpha rules (10 pages, including quick-reference sheet)

I have to admit, I'm not at all sure this game will work. The problem is pressure. Games run best (in fact, games run only) when there is pressure to play them. There is very little pressure in this game, so I think it will fail.

The thing is, you can't just slap pressure into a game. Not every player responds well to pressure. And many more players will respond poorly to pressure unless it is specifically geared to them. But the players who don't need pressure still need a pressure-filled environment to be intrigued by... it's kind of a lose-lose situation. If you include pressure, you drive them away, if you don't include pressure, you let them drift away.

What I have done is created a "voluntary pressure" system... but I'm not sure it's going to be enough.

We'll find out, I suppose.

Comments are, as ever, appreciated. I did think about this game for quite a while, so if you think I missed something, chances are I thought of it and trimmed it, or that the game does address it in a way which does not need to be stated in the rules.

However, this is the pre-alpha ruleset, so... the rules might not be the clearest thing ever.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Who needs players? Who needs GMs?

Real-world game design theory

I've been thinking a lot recently about how to run a game taking the absolute minimum amount of my time. You see, I love running games, but more than that: I love seeing great games run. (Or hearing about them, or whatever.)

But I don't have any time for it now.

Most games take at least three hours per session more than the session itself, adding up to eight hours of your time per week, per game.

That's pretty hefty. Especially if, like me, you don't run most games. You run games that generally end in obsession for at least half your player base. I don't have that kind of time. I'm not convinced anyone does. It's the same problem that MMORPGs have: too many players, not enough team to create content.

Well, why can't we solve it the same way that MMORPGs can? Player-generated content?

At its gross level, there's an element of, "if they want to do that, they can run their own games". But that's simply not even in the same universe as what I'm trying to say. A game is more than just who runs it. It's the rules, the interactions, the inertia. I figure: why not make some rules, interactions, and inertia that can roll with only players?

My first attempt at this - Kung Fu the Card Game the RPG - worked middling. It had some brilliant moments. For example, I had said that the first three people to win would win the game. This was mostly to make people get off their asses and play, not to actually limit the number of winners. However, it was interpreted as a hard limit.

While I was away, they defeated one of the bosses, more or less forcing three people to win. However, they didn't want me to know, to keep me from ending the game. So they came up with an intricate scheme to not only keep me from finding out, but to keep everyone else from trying to fight the boss they had defeated. It was a brilliant play, and very much the sort of thing that, ideally, games will always produce. It was about seven players, working together with stunning precision and near-genius. Half my player base, united and playing without a GM.

That wasn't the only brilliant moment, or the only lesson to learn from. I learned a lot from that game, not least was that - duh - not every player wants the same thing from a game. Not only do players play at different speeds, but they also play different games.

The purpose of a tabletop sit-down game session is really to get everyone playing at the same speed. But I think a game can be created in which there is some kind of slack built in, or some kind of moderation of the passage of time. More accurately, I think I can figure out a way to guarantee player balance despite players playing different amounts of time. The only way to do this would be to have... heh... this is a bit difficult to describe.

This game would have to actually be three or four different games - for players with different interests. However, all players are present in all games. They are useful in all games. But they can only specialize in one game.

So, for example, if one of the games is a military game, one of the players might be a great general. The other players might be artists, or diplomats, or researchers - whatever. They aren't able to be good generals. But they can assist the general. They can upgrade, inspire, gather intelligence. They aren't "main characters" in this conflict - but they're playing a part.

In addition, even in-game, the games have to be... scoped... to allow for a weaker player to do things without being thrashed by someone who has played continuously. Without making the experienced player feel like he's wasted his time.

The conflicts need to echo through the game world. Automatically. Without a GM. If Anna conquers land somewhere, this doesn't echo just through the conquest game, it produces challenges and opportunities in all the other games as well. Masses of people running to escape, trying to get into other countries. The extermination of the cultural heritage of the conquered. The worries about expansionalist generals.

It has to do all this without requiring a GM, without requiring more than just index cards. No map, no chips, no exceedingly complex rules or tables.

So, strain your brain! I've got a few ideas, see if you can come up with some. Here's the requirements summary:

1) Game can be carried around in back pocket.
2) Game can be played without dice or other contraptions.
3) Game rewards long playing.
4) Less experienced players not made to face more experienced players directly except by choice.
5) Three or four very different play types to address different player types.
6) Resonance between different play types, echoes between game types.
7) Very minor GM intervention.
8) Much opportunity for player innovation and invention.

Sunday, March 12, 2006


I just noticed that 15% of my hits come from Google Images. I'm not sure how that's possible, given how rarely I post images. But I suppose I should really roll with the flow.

Here's some small portraits I drew for a testbed game I'll be releasing before the month is out. Technically, I had to learn to draw things that resized well (T2D pretty much auto-scales everything to whatever size it needs to be). Most of my earlier art used crisp, thin lines and sharp color, so it was a bit difficult to learn to let in the fuzz. This is the sort of thing I ended up with:

Time to draw? 30-45 minutes per face.



If you were playing a free game, how would these portraits (literally portraits: framed an all) strike you?

Saturday, March 11, 2006


Today, I'm going to bring you the truth about "organic" products. I, a scion of skepticism, will tell you all precisely what to think, based on my first-hand experiences.

My experience says very clearly:

Organic products taste better.

Usually, they're faster to market, treated less, and not bred to look good rather than taste good. This includes fruit, veggies, and, surprisingly, milk.

Just a helpful FYI. :)

Friday, March 10, 2006

Presenting, a Genius!

Every time someone asks me to do any kind of presentation, I try to seed the audience such that they pipe in with the right questions. This allows you to shorten your boring, noninteractive speech and get to the good part. It also makes sure that you look your best answering questions specifically targetted to your best side.

Often, you don't even have to tell these people what questions to ask: it's usually not hard to predict what they want to ask. So simply saying, "I want you to make sure there's some Q&A, so think of a question" will result in them eagerly asking exactly what you want them to ask. Is it "honest"? I dunno. It works.

You can even phrase your presentation with "hooks" that make the audience ask questions without ever even meeting them. I don't quite know how to do that, but I've seen it used. It lets good speakers adjust their content to the level of the audience.

I don't do much in the way of public speaking, and the only "seeding" I do here at my blog is a few friends who happened to accidentally stumble across it. I don't have to tell them what to say: their comments are insightful (or, at least, incisive) enough without guidance. But, I have used it more overtly a few times, and it does work.

Now, read Seth Godin's opinion.

Durrr... ya think I would have thought of that.

I wonder if this would work for blogs...

Homeward Bound

Corvus asks everyone to talk about the nature of home and how it dances (or fails to dance) with video games.

I'm not everyone, but I can talk.

In this case, I can talk a bit too much. In order to answer the questions of how homes can be put in games and what purpose they would serve, the essay has to address them sideways. First, I have to ask, "what is a home?" Then I can ask, "How do you make one?"

These two questions are really the same core concept, like saying, "What is two plus two?" and "how do I add two plus two?" Unfortunately, two questions leads to long essays, so I'm going to speed through this. Feel free to ask for clarification.

What Is Two Plus Two?

Everyone's definition of "home" is different, and I'm going to use one you've probably never heard before: A home is the center of your universe. Emotionally, physically, and socially. Distances are measured "from home". If distances are smaller, you're closer to home. If distances are larger, you're further from home.

"Let's get together: your place or mine?" "I don't act like this at home." "Work is so far away." "This is weird." (IE, things aren't like this at home.) There are countless examples, and this is in English. Many other languages are noticeably more home-centric.

It's almost self-evident. Almost a tautology. Home is where you spend a huge amount of your time, so therefore it's pretty much your "base state". Of course everything is measured from home: you spend most of your time there.

But it's more complex than that. Not all homes are good homes. Many people - even some with good homes - are eager to get away. With today's working schedule, the majority of corporate drones spend only a few hours a day awake and at home. And something can become your home after less than a week.

You even have more than one home, especially here in America. You have the home you grew up in, the home your parents now live in (often two or more different homes), and the home you currently live in. All of these are homes to some degree. All of them provide you with that feeling we're looking for. A feeling of relief, relaxation, and often of nostalgia.

It doesn't even have to be a home! You can feel that way about a skyline, a plaza, a pub, a sea breeze. Anything!

How? It has to do with simplification. It has to do with centers. Let me explain:

How Do We Add Two Plus Two?

The question is, how can we put these things in games... and do we want to?

All media has the same problem: homes are diverse. When it comes to including blood-pumping action, everyone has the same starting point: violence, explosions, blood. These are cues everyone shares. When it comes to romance, everyone in the same culture has more or less the same core cues. When it comes to honor, bravery, evil, corruption, peace - a culture shares enough of the same core concepts that you can put them in your movie, game, or book and people will feel what you want them to feel.

But here in America, we really suck at building homes. Not only are we unlikely to stay in the same neighborhood as our parents, our parents are unlikely to stay in the same neighborhood! American movies and games have a terrible sense of home, because everyone has a different shantyhouse built up around their highly unique past.

This isn't universal. Many non-American films have very strong feelings of home. "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" is one you're probably familiar with - the Greek have a very strong and unified sense of home in their culture. Most other nations do, actually, perhaps simply because they are smaller.

And, of course, many American films are built around a particular feeling of home. A home in the projects. An idealized suburban childhood. Home in New York. These serve a minority, however. Most people didn't live in New York, didn't live in the projects, and didn't have an idealized suburban childhood.

How can games, which are set in fantastic realms, possibly hope to do better?

The answer is not actually too complex:

Put a central point in the game. Center the game around it emotionally, socially, and physically. The player orbits it. The player bounces off of it. It will take some time, but in a few hours, the player will come to feel it is his home. If you can make the home remember him, this will be a much deeper, more powerful feeling.

You can do this without even having it exist! Simply continuing to relate the current situation to an imaginary "home" will do the same. For example, I remember a movie (was it Dark City?) which related everything to a billboard ad for a beach.

Some games do have a sense of home. The Sims didn't, in my opinion, for reasons too complex to post here. But Animal Crossing evidently does. It's got a center of the universe, and you regularly journey away from it and then come back to it. Beyond Good and Evil also had a home, although the home was nonadaptive so didn't pack as much punch as it could have.

Some games have homes, but no sense of home. Such as MMORPGs. This is because the home isn't the center of your universe. It's a doodad off to the side.

Just make your game have a center that you constantly bounce off of, and you'll have a sense of home. Most designers are loath to do this, because they're geared towards a shallow progression which should never double back. But your gameplay doesn't have to bounce and orbit: just your physical, emotional, and/or social experience.

It's not so hard!

Why would you want a sense of home?

In addition to the way it leads a player around when threatened, damaged, or destroyed, a home is useful for contrast. Something games don't have enough of. Everything is contrasted against the home.

Contrast is more important than you might think. Try taking your favorite game and redesigning it so that it orbits around a "home". You might be surprised at how much you like the outcome.

Remember: Physically, emotionally, and socially, homes provide a center. And centers provide a home.

Thursday, March 09, 2006


I wonder if people really are as stupid as advertisements make them feel?

I am a big proponent of nuclear energy. I like energy which produces no escaping dangerous waste, has a very high efficiency, low wear, and that can be supplied by one armored car rather than eight thousand frieghters.

Today, I saw an "ad" on the teeeeeveeeeeeeee. I don't own a TV, and the TV I have had for a little while doesn't get any channels except "XBox". I had, therefore, forgotten. Forgotten what it was like.

The ad was for nuclear energy. It was largely about frolicking children (and puppies, can't forget the puppies). It said, "Our children need lots of electricity, but they also need clean air. Nuclear energy doesn't pollute the air."

My god!

Okay, if I were against nuclear energy, this would do the exact opposite of what it intends. "It doesn't pollute the air, but it pollutes everything else" is a good snide comment. It's not true, but the commercial implies it is.

If I were for nuclear energy...

oh, wait, I am. I forgot for a minute, after watching this commercial.

Since I am for nuclear energy, I am screaming about how they skipped all the solid, positive benefits of nuclear power in favor of one little feature shared by roughly half the methods of creating power. Pretty clearly damning faint praise, like someone calling you "unique".

It makes me wonder whether the commercial is actually pro-nuclear power at all! If I was a conspiracy theorist, I would assume this is an inside job. Act like you're on our side, then destroy us with inept but "well-meaning" actions. That's how bad I think the commercial is.

Furthermore, the fact that they're advertising something you can't buy and can't influence means "snow job", whether for or against nuclear power. That should immediately set off your alarms - it does for me!

Now, if you're as stupid as the rest of the commercials think you are, this commercial might guide you an inch towards liking nuclear power. However, if you can tie your shoes, presumably this commercial makes you distrust nuclear power more than you did before you saw it.


You want a good nuclear power commercial? You show the inside of a facility (polished up). One of the new facilities. You talk about how it produces no exhaust save water - which is cleaner than the water you drink. You can talk about how much power - in terms of NYC-days - a chunk of material the size of your arm can produce. You talk about safety. You talk about efficiency. Put in your children and puppies.

Then you go over to a coal burner. Show smoke. Talk about what it does to your lungs. Show dirty truckload after dirty truckload of coal coming in. Say that each truckload can power NYC for - how long? A few minutes? As compared to the days you get from a cool, sleek bar of pure technology. Put in more children and puppies - cutely coughing and covering their noses.

If you're gonna do a snow job, do it right.

What do you think? Is this common? Is it actually pro-nuclear? Are there other poisonous commercials like it on the airwaves? Inquiring mind wants to know.

As a side note, I was walking along one day and saw a sign. It said, "Number of days accident free on this site: 0"

Heh heh... why wouldn't you just take it down for a few days?

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Swamping the System

I've been quiet recently because I'm programming a game. A lot.

However, before I start with today's programming (I've already done some art and algorithm design), I want to talk about swamping the system.

The world is full of systems. The IRS is a system. NASA is a system. College education is a system. The game I'm making is a system of systems.

These systems are built in a certain environment. They are built with a particular amount of resources in mind, a particular number of users, and a particular application.

Then the universe changes around them. In an attempt to adapt, they put patches on their system. They try to translate the new world back into something the old world's rules can handle. Sometimes this works okay: the IRS does okay for itself. Sometimes, it works poorly: NASA totally failed to adapt. Either way, the system gets steadily more and more bloated. In addition to actually being less directly applicable to the new environment, they would also actually be less efficient in their old environment.

The core assumptions you make when you design a system - any system - limit the ways in which the system can meaningfully expand. Robust core assumptions increase the time and money it takes to create the system around them, and even the most robust assumptions can't keep a system young and efficient for long. They just let you get old and creaky while still being useful.

There are only two ways to keep a system - any system, from a corporation to a cancer treatment - efficient.

One is to totally replace the system every chance you get. Create it from scratch. This is what we do with games: the game gets old, we make a new game.

The other is to have the vast majority of the system's internal workings be people instead of paper. Leaving a large amount of the system's operation up to individual discretion has definite flaws, but also has definite advantages. It blows the successes - and failures - way up in proportion. It allows an excellent cog to drive the whole engine at mach 3, but a bad cog will immediately crash it into a tree.

These are really the only two options. The patch-and-patch-and-patch method that we try to use ends in tears. Who is pleased with government spending? Not 1% of the population. Who is pleased with NASA? Nobody who knows much about them. Who is pleased with our social norms? Nobody I know.

The universe is continually changing. New environments constantly swamp the old systems. Trying to "adapt" is a flawed premise. Your system needs to be either re-invented or serve only to enhance your own choices, like a nice car. Even cars have to be replaced and reinvented, however.

So, don't try to "adapt" your system. Don't "adapt" your game ideas, don't "adapt" your social self, don't "adapt" your company. Reinvent. Reinvent lighter, trimmer, more agile. Burn all the paper, start from scratch. Drop the bad cogs, empower the good cogs.

It works for Google. It works for Dreamworks.

Theoretically, it should work for you.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Wheels Within Wheels

Raph has posted about layers of game elements. I have replied, he has replied, I have re-replied, and I suppose he's likely to re-re-reply.

There are four layers, according to Raph, and it seems to be a fine distinction:

Mechanics, variations, theme, and narrative.

These all reflect on each other, providing and restricting how the others can manifest. In a simple example, the nature of the gameplay in most FPS games means that melee weapons are essentially useless, which restricts your choices of theme and narrative. It can just as easily go in the opposite direction.

The thing is, these are all one thing:

Gameplay loops circling the mechanics.

Mechanics are the basic rules of interaction and "logic". You can shoot, you can run, you can stack bricks, whatever.

Exactly what shooting, running, and stacking you'll need to dance with is a question answered by his "variations" layer. Here, you might have to shoot lots of little, fast guys at long range. There, you might have to shotgun a melee demon.

These variations provide the many methods of interacting with gameplay to keep things interesting. Sometimes, the rules are simple. In Tetris, the variation is "one of these six blocks will come next, at random."

I think this is intrinsically tied to "theme". Your theme guides your gameplay variation so closely they might as well be thought of in the same breath. You don't put much sword-themed into a ranged FPS, because the variation doesn't exist. You put gun-themed things in, instead.

But what drives these variations? When you get sick of "one of six random blocks", how does the game keep your attention?

Why, it puts variations into the variations. It leads the theme around by the nose, thus producing hundreds of new variations. As you go from level to level in a game, more than just the aesthetics change. Maybe one level is more open, allowing for more sniper work. Another has more puzzles. A third is about platforming. Any and all of these are gameplay variations which are "allowed" by the narrative. By which I mean, knowing the narrative makes the players think, "oh, okay, that makes sense" instead of "why am I surfing down the side of a pyramid?"

There is often more than one kind of gameplay mechanic, and the various gameplay loops interact with the various mechanics in various ways. This is what keeps our attention. These variations.

Here's the real question: is there a layer above "narrative"?

Saturday, March 04, 2006

What's in a controller?

So, I don't own a DS, but I'd like to. I recently smuggled some time on someone else's DS to play an import called "Ouendan". In case you haven't heard about this game, you play ninja cheerleaders with punk haircuts. You cheer people on to hold their bladders, to run for mayor against a fro-lord, and to whip their slaves into building pyramids.

It plays "like DDR". IE, it's a rhythm-based game.

But, as everyone should know, when you change the input device, the whole game changes. Anyone who claims that Frequency is the same gameplay as Guitar Hero has never played the latter. And anyone who claims that the power of a touchscreen cannot add anything to games has never played "Ouendan".

There are no "arrows" - why would you need them? Instead, numbered icons appear on the screen, and you hit them at the right moment to get the points. Sounds pretty simple, right?

Except this isn't just clicka-clicka-click. This is a rhythm-based game with a an accompanying deep feeling of rhythm. When you hit a long row of quarter-notes, your stylus is hopping delightfully across the screen. You might run in straight lines, or in circles, or bounce all over the screen, or march in squares. There's also drags, where you keep your stylus on a rolling, bouncing ball. And spinners, and who knows what else.

You couldn't do this on the restrictions of a classic controller interface. Not without driving your players insane. But the full-freedom two-dimensional system allows you to do some astonishingly deep, subtle controls.

Now, with the understanding that going from limited, directional 1D to free, undirectional 2D makes a huge difference, how much of a difference do you think the Revolution's upgrade to free, directional 3D will make?

The correct answer is: "All the difference".

I can't wait! This and Spore. They're all I'm waiting for.

Your Doom Has Arrived!

Well, it's kind of rocky as I get towards the end of the movie. You would be rocky, too, having to review it in this detail. All the important lessons happen fairly early, so all that's left in the last five pages is spite.

I'll probably refine it someday. It's pretty freaking rough as it is.

Here's the pdf of Doom: The Movie: The Dissection, weighing in at a slim, trim seventeen pages. Read it while watching the movie, I say. Otherwise, I have no idea how you'll make it through all the endless pages.

If you want the 22 pages of notes I took, here's Doom: The Movie: The Original Dissection Notes.

Feel free to comment here if you manage to make it through the essay. It is chock-full of goodness, but it's also chock-full of stumbling and yelling. You get what you pay for, I guess.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Your Doom Approaches!

I have 22 pages of notes...

Let's see how much I can cut. Heh.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006


Partially to keep with my absurd history of vivisecting the Doom franchise, I'm tempted to dissect Doom: The Movie.

It would be extremely educational. See, the movie goes through all the motions of being a scary movie, but utterly fails to build much in the way of tension. In fact, there's some pretty cool ideas in there. Like the girl who gets her hand severed: bringing her back alive was very clever.

Dissecting the movie in detail could reveal some of the critical ways to build a terrifying story - the difference between the right way and the two-degrees-off way that Doom did it. So close... but still, failure.

The problem is, I would want to do it in detail. Commenting on literally every scene. Talking about everything from filmography to set design to tension control. In fact, ideally it would be a modified version of the movie with me sitting in, MST3K-style, and pausing it to point out interesting details. Of course, that won't work, but the text version would also end up being painfully long.

The question is simple: is anyone interested in reading such a thing?