Ego Check with The Id DM – Felix Mak

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Felix “Fenom” Mak

My guest for Episode 4 of Ego Check with The Id DM is Felix Mak, software engineer for Vicious Syndicate, which provides detailed data reports on competitive play in Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft. Mr. Mak is also a Legend-ranked Hearthstone player and we spent approximately an hour together discussing many aspects of Hearthstone. He describes his role with Vicious Syndicate and how the Data Reaper Report has developed since it’s first installment in May 2016. He speaks about myths that have been debunked about Hearthstone through the Vicious Syndicate data reports, and describes his routine as a player seeking to become a professional. Mr. Mak provides some foundational tips for Hearthstone players, we talk about the Mean Streets of Gadgetzan expansion and how it may shift the meta going forward.

Enjoy the fourth episode of Ego Check with The Id DM! And please subscribe to the podcast at one of the links below:

You can also listen to the show right here:

 

Take a look at my previous Hearthstone content, and please consider leaving a review on iTunes and help spread the word about the show. My plan is to release new episodes the 1st and 3rd Tuesday of each month. The next episode will post on December 20th, 2016.

If you are interested in coming on the show for an interview, or would like to become a sponsor, contact me to make arrangements.

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The Slow Regard of Silent Things and Bringing Anxiety to Vibrant Life

slow-regard-coverAs I read through Patrick Rothfuss’ The Slow Regard of Silent Things, I found myself thinking about many of the patients that I have worked with over the years in my role as a psychologist. Some of those individuals I have seen in an office setting, and others I have met in their homes. The patients have ranged in ages, shapes, and sizes – and they all presented with unique mental health concerns. I remembered many of them while reading through the thoughts, behaviors, and emotions of Auri – a character that brilliantly illustrates and humanizes the qualities and struggles of those coping with anxieties, compulsions, and symptoms along the autism spectrum.

I also thought of my personal mental health challenges while reading.

If I taught a class in psychology, then I would have students read and process the material. As it stands, I encourage everyone to read the book – even if you haven’t read The Name of the Wind or The Wise Man’s Fear. Those books provide some context for Auri’s story, but they are not required reading to benefit from the content in The Slow Regard of Silent Things that struck me on such a personal level.

Mental health, and by extension mental illness, is unfortunately stigmatized. Going to a therapist is viewed by too many as a sign of weakness. I discovered at age 16 that I wanted to be a counselor, and I was fortunate enough to start down that path early in college and never really look back. I have also been in therapy as a patient at times in my life and consistently during the past two years, primarily getting assistance with symptoms of anxiety.

Anxiety about life. Anxiety about death.

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Ego Check with The Id DM – Teos Abadia

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Teos Abadia

My guest for Episode 3 of Ego Check with The Id DM is Teos Abadia, writer for companies such as Wizards of the Coast and Kobold Press. Mr. Abadia is very active in the Dungeons & Dragons community, and you might be more familiar with his Twitter handle, @Alphastream. He has been adding comments to my articles on the blog since 2011, and has been a wonderful source of support over the years. I’m proud to have him on the show!

We spent a great hour talking about publishing original content for roleplaying game companies and what it is like to be heavily involved in the Organized Play movement for Wizards of the Coast. We devoted the second half of the podcast to a discussion on diversity in RPGs including where the industry has come from and where it can go in the future. Our conversation took place about one week before the election, and some of it seems to foreshadow the results. For example, while getting into a question, I voiced the following:

It certainly seems over time it’s becoming more diverse and that’s a wonderful thing. I think with that it brings some challenges – and you could even connect this to political factors going on in our country right now. As there’s more diversity, there’s a segment of the population that was rather enjoying the status quo and privilege that was there with what was happening before, and now things are changing – and people don’t like change sometime so that’s bad.

If I could go back and edit myself, I would succinctly say, “When you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression.” That’s a quote that has been going around a lot these days. I am considering writing a personal post about the election, but I may just keep things to myself; I need to think on it more. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy Mr. Abadia and I discussing diversity in RPGs.

He also shares some tips for writers and designers looking to improve their work, and we close out the show by briefly reviewing our favorite Pearl Jam songs. Because Pearl Jam is the best of all things!

Enjoy the third episode of Ego Check with The Id DM! And please subscribe to the podcast at one of the links below:

You can also listen to the show right here:

Please consider leaving a review on iTunes and help spread the word about the show. My plan is to release new episodes the 1st and 3rd Tuesday of each month. The next episode will post on December 6th, 2016.

If you are interested in coming on the show for an interview, or would like to become a sponsor, contact me to make arrangements.

Posted in DM Advice, Ego Check, Podcast | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Ego Check with The Id DM – Chris Bourassa

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Chris Bourassa, busy researching his next game, Brightest Beachhead.

My guest for Episode 2 of Ego Check with The Id DM is Chris Bourassa, Co-Owner of Red Hook Studios and Creative for Darkest Dungeon. If you have not played Darkest Dungeon yet, then please read through my review from earlier in the year; it is a fantastic game! There are many unique features of the game, with the most noticeable being the Stress mechanic, which increases mental strain whenever your heroes face more challenges. It introduces more decision-making into the typical RPG grind, and inspired me to create similar rules for Dungeons & Dragons.

Mr. Bourassa spoke with me about his sources of inspiration for Darkest Dungeon, and the realities of the lifestyle of an independent game developer. He shared the trials of the long hours in making the game, the joys of its successful launch, and the daunting task of mustering the resources to start over on a new project. For example, here is an excerpt from the interview:

I was wondering how do you stay eager for the next project when you’ve poured so much of your heart and soul into this child of a game. As a creator, how do you regroup and take a deep breath to decide what’s next?

I’m glad you commented on that. It takes time to be honest with you. We shipped in January of this year but the game wasn’t really done with – like the Town Event stuff until later in the Spring. So we shipped, but then we had to go right back to work – so it was really over the summer that the team got a bit of distance and some perspective on the work. And the port was fairly involved as well, but by that point we kind of had some head space. And I think just loving it – you kind of well up with ideas given time so certainly when the Town Event patch went live I didn’t have anything left in the tank at that point.

But you give it a bit of time and some space and suddenly I’m coming up with ideas again. I think there’s a lot that we want to do with it. It just sort of naturally bubbles up, I guess. I don’t know if anything I ever do will be as well-received as this. There’s no way to know, but we all just worked as hard as we could and I think I just want to do that again. Maybe not to the same exhaustive level with the financial pressure and all the rest of it really crushing down on me, but I enjoy working hard. And I have to have a certain amount of confidence that we can make a Better Call Saul to a Breaking Bad. As long as the follow-up is it’s own animal, and isn’t trying to live completely in the shadow of the first one, then I think you’ve got a chance at making a second great impression. But there’s no way to really tell. So there’s always that uncertainly. I don’t think we’ve ever felt comfortable . . .

. . . You never know – the shifting landscape of Steam is a crazy marketplace so we’ve never sat back, crossed our arms, nodded sternly and said, “Hey, we got this dialed in.” Hopefully, that humility  will serve us well as we move on to the next project.

Many thanks to Mr. Bourassa for appearing on the podcast!

Enjoy the second episode of Ego Check with The Id DM! And please subscribe to the podcast at one of the links below:

You can also listen to the show right here:

Please consider leaving a review on iTunes and help spread the word about the show. My plan is to release new episodes the 1st and 3rd Tuesday of each month. The next episode will post on November 15, 2016.

If you are interested in coming on the show for an interview, or would like to become a sponsor, contact me to make arrangements.

 

 

 

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Ego Check with The Id DM – Mike Shea

As detailed in an earlier post to launch my Patreon campaign, I plan to create additional content beyond the articles that appear on the blog. One format for new content is an interview podcast series, Ego Check with The Id DM. I have been conducting interviews with members of the gaming community through email for the past five years, and I wanted to move the interviews to a podcast format. I now have equipment and software to adequately record, edit, store, and host the audio files, which is exciting. My plan to speak with guests on a range of topics while mixing in discussion about psychological elements of gaming, and to post new episodes on the 1st and 3rd Tuesday of each month.

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Now this is podcasting!

That’s right, I referenced a quote by young Anakin Skywalker.

Deal with it!

Episode 1 – Shea’s Rebellion

My first guest is Mike Shea, also known as Sly Flourish. Mike was gracious enough to sit down with me for the first episode of the podcast, and we enjoyed a sprawling conversation about mindfulness and roleplaying games. Mike shared his insights about the journey from roleplaying-game fan to freelance writer for companies such as Wizards of the Coast. He also offered tips for running more-effective RPG sessions and breaking in to the RPG industry as a writer and designer.

Enjoy the first episode of Ego Check with The Id DM! And please subscribe to the podcast at one of the links below:

You can also listen to the show right here:

Leave a (positive) review on iTunes and help spread the word about the show. My plan is to release new episodes the 1st and 3rd Tuesday of each month – so 24 episodes each year.

If you are interested in coming on the show for an interview, or would like to become a sponsor, contact me to make arrangements.

 

 

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Fudge As I Say, Not As I Fudge

One interesting dynamic of games such as Dungeons & Dragons is that only one player at the table is allowed to break rules in ways that are not available to the other players. The Dungeon Master (DM) is allowed, if not downright encouraged, to cheat.

Perhaps cheating is too strong of a word – as I imagine many of you react strongly to reading it. How does a DM cheat during the game? First, the DM can change the details of non-playable characters (NPCs) or entire adventure plot points on-the-fly in service of any number of motivations such as streamlining the story, highlighting the abilities of a specific player character (PC), or pacing as a session nears conclusion. Second, the DM can modify monster abilities, hit points, and statistics to tinker with the level of tension in combat. Third, the DM can fudge rolls to produce desired results. While the first two DM actions may not even qualify as cheating, since making things up is “the very essence of the game,” the third seems to fall more firmly in that category.

For example, two sessions ago in our current campaign, the players were attacked by a number of ghouls while exploring a dungeon. As the DM, I rolled the attacks for the ghouls and missed with three of the four during the first two rounds of combat. When I did hit, the players easily saved against the paralysis effect. Meanwhile, the party was hitting quite well and the combat was not terribly interesting. During the third round, I had to roll the ghoul attacks again, and I had at least two options available to me:

  1. Roll as normal and take the result, regardless of the outcome. A hit is a hit, and a miss is a miss.
  2. Adjust the result of the roll to suit my desires for the flow of the session.

Below I talk about the option I selected, and why. In addition, I discuss my motivations for bending or breaking rules during a session, and what it means for the game that I’m allowed to do this while other players are not. In other words, I address why I sometimes cheat!

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Ego Check: Michael Peiffert, Creative Director of Out There

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Michael Peiffert

The primary purpose of this article is to publish my interview with Michael Peiffert, Founder and Creative Director of Mi-Clos Studio, which released Out There in 2014. Before diving into the interview, I need to provide some background as to how I came about communicating with Mr. Peiffert in the first place. Like many others this summer, I got caught up in the hype that proceeded the release of No Man’s Sky. The game seemed to offer the promise of endless exploration and adventure, and media outlets that were allowed early access fueled the speculation:

  • IGN – “Survival really is the beating heart of this gorgeous, enigmatic beast. Only time will tell if my 20th or 200th hours with No Man’s Sky will hold a similar sense of driving purpose, but my first two most certainly did, and that’s a good start.”
  • Ars Technica – “In a world of AAA sequels and franchises, passion-driven projects like No Man’s Sky are rare gems—and as silly as it sounds, Murray made a believer out of me.”
  • Polygon – “Many game developers will earnestly tell you that their creations defy categorization, and Hello Games’ Sean Murray is no different. He stresses that although this game clearly involves space combat, exploration and resource gathering, it’s not really about any of those things individually.”

A review by The Guardian summed up the challenges of a game that reaches the heights of expectation achieved by No Man’s Sky:

Two-and-a-half years ago, the team at Hello Games presented their concept for a practically infinite procedurally generated galaxy, and since then they’ve been suffering the consequences of that pitch’s success, faced with the task of creating a real game that would somehow measure up to thousands of different imagined ones.

Once the game was released, the reviews from the same media outlets were not as kind while others praised the attempted scope of No Man’s Sky:

  • IGN – “The promise of limitless exploration ended up working against it when I lost faith that it had any more meaningful things to show me no matter how far I traveled. This ambitious game reached for the stars, but its reach exceeded its grasp by light years.”
  • Ars Technica – “Its voxel-based, procedurally generated engine is an incredible template for more systems, content, and performance tweaks. Until then, the game’s title is true: this isn’t yet a sky any man (or woman) should bother claiming.”
  • Polygon – “Hello Games has built a set of tools that is amazing and unprecedented, something that could absolutely change the way huge games are made if placed in the right hands. But these powerful universe creation algorithms have been grafted onto a game that is, beyond its initial hours, so light on imagination.”
  • Trusted Reviews – “Sean Murray and Hello Games’ vision of creating a vast universe on a scale unseen in video games has no doubt been achieved, and will certainly provide everyone who plays it with something unique.”
  • GameSpot – “However, there’s an intriguing narrative that contextualizes your in-game actions, making for a fascinating experience that ultimately trumps issues that appear early on.”
  • Game Informer – “In its finest moments, No Man’s Sky is a sublime exploration of the infinitude of space, the beauty and variation of nature, and a quiet contemplation on loneliness… However, No Man’s Sky rarely reaches beyond its vibrant world-building efforts to provide satisfying gameplay and story.”

As I started to read the reviews of No Man’s Sky, the first though that came to my mind was, “This game sounds incredibly similar to Out There.” I even tweeted about this the day the game was released:

And again after playing the game for an hour or two that first night:

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Ship inventory slots are devoted to technology and minerals/elements. Just like No Man’s Sky.

I first played Out There after a dungeoneering-minded friend gifted me a copy on iOS in 2014. It was around the time I was also playing FTL so I was in a space frame of mind! He actually wrote the following, “I should apologize for that game I gave you. It is good and fun, but also frustrating!” Out There starts the player lost in space with the goal of reaching a far-off destination. The player immediately has to gather resources to survive while upgrading his or her ship and moving from planet to planet to get closer to the destination. It is a punishing game, where failure is commonplace; yet the game endeared itself to me and kept me coming back like the more recent roguelike title, Darkest Dungeon. For the record, I’ve yet to reach the final destination. I once got close after upgrading to an enormous ship – only to have something break and run out of oxygen.

Heartbreaking!

The lack of recognition Out There garnered for No Man’s Sky mirroring it so closely was simply stunning to me. No Man’s Sky was fueled by hype and speculation around simple questions like, “What do you do in this game?” And yet you would be hard-pressed even two months after the game’s release to find many articles referencing Out There while discussing No Man’s Sky. I will save you the trouble of Googling yourself:

  • PC Games Network – No Man’s Sky PC Review (Bravo to them for having it in their review!)
  • Pop Matters – The Vast Indifference of ‘No Man’s Sky’
  • Digital Trends – 8 Great Games Like No Man’s Sky
  • Kill Screen – Disappointed in No Man’s Sky? Here Are 10 Cheap Alternates

An article by Euro Gamer that discussed similar games to No Man’s Sky even left Out There off their list! Why was this connection between the games not being addressed?

I first assumed this oversight was because a member of the development team from Out There was involved in No Man’s Sky in some capacity. Not being able to discover if their was a link between the development team of the two games, I started to research the development of Out There. I contacted the creator of Out There, Michael Peiffert. He continues to operate Mi-Clos Studio, which is based in France.

What follows is an interview that took place over the course of several weeks as Mr. Peiffert was busy traveling across the world to gaming conventions. He shared his candid thoughts on the numerous similarities No Man’s Sky shares with his game, Out There, and his frustration with the press for failing to cover the topic, “If indie developers start to rip themselves off and the press thinks it’s OK, then our industry is doomed.” Please take a moment to read the interview with Michael Peiffert and consider the possible ramifications and following questions.

  • What does it mean if the creative team behind No Man’s Sky knowingly borrowed/plagiarized multiple gameplay elements from Out There – and profited heavily from it?
  • Were traditional media outlets that preview and review games oblivious to the similarities to Out There – or did they choose to ignore them? Which of those alternatives is worse?
  • How much responsibility do gaming journalists have for cutting through the hype of a game like No Man’s Sky to give players an accurate sense of what a game is – and is not?
  • Games copy features all the time, though where is the line between inspiration and plagiarism?
  • Why were the creators of No Man’s Sky in hiding until a recent patch update?

I contacted Sean Murray and Hello Games numerous time for comment while writing this article and conducting the interview with Mr. Peiffert. I contacted them both through Twitter and email on multiple occasions, and have yet to receive a reply. I remain willing to communicate with them for an interview to discuss these issues. I am genuinely curious about these questions. If no one else is going to inquire about how Out There influenced No Man’s Sky, then I will continue with my efforts. Until I get a response, here is the full interview with Mr. Peiffert.

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