Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Civ 5 Faerun, elementalists, Michelle 2016

Thanks for dropping by!

I think I’ve mentioned before that I’m a big Civilization fan. Well, I’ve been dipping my toe into the world of game mods lately, and I found a really fun one: A huge, sprawling Faerûn mod for Civ 5: Gods and Kings. The social policies have been replaced with Schools of Magic, and culture is now “Weave points,” so you advance in areas like Conjuration, Necromancy, or Evocation. There’s a separate Underdark map, and some powers like Menzoberranzan are naturally located there. You can build heroes like rangers, paladins, or specialist wizards. And many of the independent cities like Westgate, Iriaebor, or Luskan are naturally city-states. Oh, and the physical map is a spot-on rendition of most of Faerûn. It’s a ton of fun for a Realms fan. I’ve been playing as King Lhao of Tethyr. First thing I did, I turned on Calimshan and drove them off the planet. That seemed to go well, so I went after Amn next. The Tethyrian Empire now stretches from Baldur’s Gate to the Lake of Steam, and I have to say, I’m wondering if Waterdeep would be better off under my administration.
In the “What have I done for you lately” category, I’d like to announce that Axis & Allies Air Force Miniatures set 2, Bandits High, is now on sale. This is about the last thing I did for Wizards while I was on staff there. I managed to slip a few unexpected planes into the set list like the IAR-80 or the Ki-44 Tojo, and I came up with a fun tactical bombing option that adds a ton of new gameplay and flight construction strategies to the game. I really hope the game gets a third set, though—there are about ten more planes I think just *have* to be done to get to a reasonably complete set of WW2 fighters.

Gaming: I reluctantly stepped down from the DM chair in my Thursday night group after only a couple of months of running the game, simply because my current work schedule and after-hours writing schedule are making it hard to find a couple of hours a week for game prep. On some reflection, the group decided to return to a D&D 4th Edition game, this time set in Eberron. My character is an elementalist sorcerer—one of the Essentials-style character options introduced in Player’s Option: Heroes of Elemental Chaos. Basically, my fire sorcerer Halamar works a lot like a 3e-era warlock (or a firebender, if you prefer) throwing flame bolt after flame bolt. It’s the slayer-build for a spellcaster.
I became a big fan of the slayer and similar Essentials classes shortly after those books came out. While it’s true that you can’t easily amp up to meet a single intense challenge by, say, using all your daily powers in one encounter, you get pretty reliable damage downrange every round. One of the things I don’t like about the 4e game pre-Essentials is the fact that you have to design your turn each time your turn comes up, building it up out of your available mix of actions. The slayer, the hunter, the elementalist—they minimize the choices you make about the minute details of your action, and encourage you to spend more time concentrating on the “bigger picture” of a battle: Who am I attacking, and who’s attacking me. Building my turn out of actions and powers draws me out of immersion, but the Essentials-type classes mean I spend less time fiddling with the interface and more time enjoying the experience… or so I think, anyway.

Politics/Current Events: I think Michelle Obama is going to be the Democrat nominee for President in 2016. Things like the Ellen show appearance, the Jimmy Fallon appearance, the Academy Awards presentation… it’s starting to look a *lot* like a pre-campaign to me. Now consider the fact that Barack Obama’s presidential campaign organization has continued raising money nonstop even though the man presumably won the last election of his life back in November. (The campaign is now known as “Organizing for Action,” a 501 (c)(4) organization.) Who else are the Democrats going to run? Biden is a joke. John Kerry is apparently making some noise about trying it again. Hillary Clinton, the presumptive nominee, is facing an age question (she’ll be 69 on Election Day in 2016), and Benghazi might resurface as a difficult issue for her. Michelle Obama would slaughter the rest of that field in a Democrat primary.
She is, of course, largely unqualified for the position, having never held elective office. But I think that Barack Obama’s presidency illustrates the fact that America in the 21st century worships celebrity for its own sake. Her lack of a record would be a tremendous asset; like Obama did in 2008 and 2012, she could campaign on nothing but a slogan, revealing nothing about her intentions for governing. And that might be all she’d need to crush any Republican opponent. Who do the Republicans have that could beat her?

I’m kinda depressed by the prospect, because I am not an Obama fan. I think that the prospect of a 16-year Obama presidency is just awful, although I’m cheered a little by the thought that the Obama kids won’t be 35 by 2024 so we won’t make it 24 or 32 years in a row. Ultimately, I think it depends on what happens over the next 3-1/2 years. If the economy tanks, if the Mideast explodes, it will be tough to dissociate a Michelle Obama candidacy from the current administration’s part in those disasters. But in that case the Obamas might hand their wreckage to a hapless Republican in 2016, then have Michelle step in to save the day in 2020.
The Finer Things: Crooners. I don’t know how we acquired the taste, but when I sit down for dinner with the wife and our daughters, the IPod shuffle goes to Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Bobby Darin, Nat King Cole, Michael Buble, Etta James, etc., etc. Dinnertime in the Baker household sounds like you’re eating in a classy steakhouse. I never would have been caught dead listening to that sort of stuff when I was a teenager. Life is funny.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Master of Orion, guns, Yes

Hello there! Thanks for stopping by.

I think I should confront reality and accept the fact that this is really a once or twice a month blog, not a weekly blog. In the future, I think I might look at trying to transition to an honest-to-goodness author website, and make my blogging one of the features there. But for the next couple of months I’ve got plenty on my plate, so that’s a “when I get to it” kind of project.
Not much new to announce in the “What have I been up to?” category. I’ve been doing a lot of work on the Emerald Spire super-dungeon for Goblinworks and Paizo, mainly concentrating on getting the framing story for the dungeon put together and writing up the town of Fort Inevitable. I’m still working on comic books, and I still can’t say anything more than that yet. But as soon as I can, I’ll make sure to let you all know!

Gaming: You know, it’s been 10 years, and I’m still sore about Master of Orion 3.
Master of Orion 1 and 2 were great games. The combination of choosing research, designing ships to incorporate new technologies, and controlling those ships in simple tactical battles was just awesome. When Infogrames announced that they’d be publishing a MoO 3, well, I was giddy with excitement. Then Master of Orion 3 came out, and it was terrible.

Perhaps in its own rights MoO3 was a decent game. My problem was that it broke the franchise’s promise. You didn’t get to *drive* your ship designs in combat the way you could in Master of Orion 1 or 2. Instead combat was a much more “realistic” subgame where you now watched tiny dots like radar blips motor around in vast, empty star systems and do things you couldn’t control. Instead of 4-color comic-book ship designs and alien races, we got an impenetrable interface that looked cramped, lifeless, and colorless. Somehow the developers had convinced themselves that Master of Orion was a game about resource management and industrial production, and they built MoO3 as a game for people who didn’t like fun.
I think it all came down to “grognard capture.”

Grognard capture is a game industry idea that goes like this: Your most devoted and involved fans—the grognards—are the ones who communicate with the game designers; they want down-the-rabbithole increases in detail, complexity, and realism or simulation value; the game designers cater to the grognards, and they make a game only the grognards like. (The term grognard, by the way, refers to Napoleon’s Imperial Guard—old soldiers who complained a lot but were his most reliable troops.) Most people played Master of Orion 1 and 2 to build fleets of battleships and blow things up. The best MoO players played a game of industrial management to *produce* enormous, unstoppable fleets, and crushed all opposition beneath a relentless tide of production. Space battles were boring to them, since the battles were foregone conclusions and the battle system was ridiculously simple. Guess who the MoO 3 developers built their game for?
There are plenty of examples of grognard capture around, if you look for them: Star Fleet Battles, the Third Reich-World at War game system, even some elements of Magic: The Gathering (although Magic was smart enough to retarget new player acquisition with Magic 2010 and the subsequent yearly core sets). I would even argue that D&D suffers from grognard capture in places like, say, Forgotten Realms story material or character optimization.  Keeping your grognards a little happy is good business—these guys are the core of your customer base. Letting them drive development is probably not a good idea. Sure, they’ll grumble when you don’t fix things to their specifications. But it’s the nature of the grognard to complain, and soldier on.

Anyway, back to Master of Orion: I’m still holding out hope for a Master of Orion 4 someday that reverts to something closer to the gameplay of MoO 1 and 2. I know there are a zillion MoO clones available, but I just don’t have the patience to master interfaces and rules sets that I used to have.  If you know of one that I should try, well, I’m all ears.

Politics/Current Events: Nothing new this time, but I’ll elaborate a bit more on my Second Amendment views since I don’t think I was clear about that before.
First, I believe that all human beings have a “natural right” of self-defense. You are allowed to protect yourself, your family, and your property from injury or theft. The framers of the Constitution clearly recognized the existence of natural rights; even today, no one would argue that if you are being pummeled to death you must wait for authority to intervene, and aren’t allowed to throw a punch to save your own life. Likewise you can act to stop someone from beating your wife or child or parent to death, or even victims you don’t know.

In our modern world, guns are often necessary to exercise the natural right of self-defense. First, you may be accosted by a bad guy with a gun. But even if you aren’t, bad guys can inflict lethal injury or grave harm to you and yours without guns. Maybe if you’re a 6-foot, 200-pound man you feel you can defend yourself with your bare fists against most assaults. But if you’re a 5-2, 110-pound woman attacked by that 200-pound man, well, your right of self-defense doesn’t mean much without a weapon that doesn’t care about relative physical size and strength. As the saying goes: God created all men, but Colonel Colt made ‘em equal.
That leads me to believe that responsible gun ownership is protected by a right and principle even older and more sacrosanct than the Constitution itself.

Now, as for the Second Amendment: I think the “right to bear arms” means “the right to arm yourself just as the nation-state does.” Back in the 1780s, “arms” generally referred to flintlocks, swords, or cannons. An individual citizen could equip himself with weapons as deadly as those available to the soldiers of the day without much trouble. Today, that same reading implies that everyday citizens should be allowed to own machine guns, tanks, rocket launchers, fighter jets, or Aegis cruisers, if they can afford ‘em. But this is where that troublesome clause in the Second Amendment comes into play: “A well-regulated militia.” We have an armed militia of citizen-soldiers in this country, and they do indeed keep machine guns, tanks, and fighter jets. It’s the National Guard.
In short, I think the Second Amendment is about the right to organize local and state militias and arm them as regular armed forces. But I think the natural right of self-defense is what gives people who aren’t in the National Guard all the right they need to own firearms for personal protection. A government that tried to deprive its people of the means of self-defense would be acting out of all bounds. However, reasonable measures to regulate firearms are okay. I think we would all agree that there should be a minimum age for a concealed-carry permit, for example. Some regulations are clearly warranted—everything else in this debate is about wrangling over details.

The Finer Things: The second album I ever received when I started listening to music as a young teenager was the Yes Album. My uncle Jeff gave it to me because he was a fan and he thought it would be up my alley, and I’ve been a Yes fan for something like thirty years now. When I need to really put my head into a “fantasy world” space, I’m likely to put Close to the Edge or Relayer into my CD player and loop it for hours. In fact, I wrote the Last Mythal in pretty much this exact method. Anyway, Yes is touring this year, and their set list is simple: the Yes Album, Close to the Edge, and Going for the One, each song on each album played in order. I’m trying to talk my wife into going when they play in Seattle, but she isn’t having any of it.