Here is a technical writing sample that I wrote. It encapsulates some of the work I did many years ago for the Windows Media Format SDK, but has all new writing. It demonstrates my ability to write overview material, procedural content, and code examples for a developer audience.
People often talk about “breaking” games. Most of the time, I think what they mean is that they have arrived at a process by which they can win against their particular playgroup (or groups). My board gaming is challenged by the fact that my family will play games with me as a way of spending time together, but none of them are particularly into games. This tends to suit my preference for playing new games regularly (which frustrates them, I’m afraid) because I don’t gain expertise in the games and thereby surpass them in an un-fun way.
But some games see a lot of play, and some of those I don’t seem able to lose. 7 Wonders is one of these. No matter what I do, I seem to do well compared to my family in this game. Last night I played a game of it with my brother, Todd, and Jenifer. I thought I would try monopolizing the gray resources early in the game and thereby get an income from the other two as they tried to stop me from getting a crushing monopoly on science (green) cards. Well, they didn’t try to stop me, so I ended up with an insane collection of science (three full sets of three, plus a couple more).
In our brief debrief, I asked why they didn’t stop me from getting all those easily chained cards. The answer was a little surprising to me. That level of competition is less interesting to them than to thinking positively about their own civilizations. It is more fun for them to more or less ignore my winning tableau and focus on making a satisfying tableau of their own. I feel like this is a case of a mismatch between theme and mechanics. The theme is about building up a civilization, but the game is all about drafting the best pick of limited resources while keeping a shrewd eye on what the other players are doing. It’s not a huge mismatch, but the ways in which a civilization are built are not modeled in the game one for one. Both of my opponents value constructive play over competitive play and destructive play. But in the thematic approach of the game’s designers, civilization isn’t about inward-facing constructive urges so much as it is about competition. So when I say a mismatch of theme and mechanics, it’s really a mismatch between player expectations for this particular group and the experience that is produced by the mechanics in play.
Like any well-conceived game, 7 Wonders models a certain experience of play to reinforce a position on its theme. I don’t know if the designers thought about it like this, but in order to play well, you have to play in a certain way (competitive play with attention paid to restricting limited resources from others). Following through on that way necessarily paints a picture of the rise of ancient civilizations where competition is highlighted.
Compare with the focus of Race for the Galaxy (also about civilization building, albeit far future) and you will see a huge difference in the play experience. RftG is all about the efficient use of internal resources, and finding the best way forward given random opportunities. Both games involve making the right choices from a limited set of tempting options, but in RftG competition is sidelined to a timer mechanism–you have to watch the others to adjust the pace of your development and to try to use their needs (read: action card selection) to your advantage. Playing RftG tells you that you never know what the universe is going to hand you, and that the most important thing is to be aware and make the best use of this things it does.
For a third look a the broad category of civilization games, take a peek at Smallworld (or its predecessor, Vinci). Smallworld has a completely different take on civilizations: each has its moments of glory and then a slow burn to decline, and the most successful players can time things right. One of the things that I most like about Smallworld is that protracted, direct competition is almost always detrimental to the aggressor. So choosing to go to war means reducing your short-term potential for scoring. Yet the game is rife with conflict. It reinforces a view that conflict is unavoidable, but that you should choose your battles with great care.
The more I think about games, the more I come back to core experiences. What does the game push you to do? It is all well to think about games in terms of mechanics. But the presence of a particular mechanic or procedure tells you very little about the core experience of the game. And a good experience is like a good literary theme, it makes a stand about something, leaving you to ponder it. Just as with literature (and other arts as well) some themes are not to the liking of some people. Consumer beware.
This is the first account of the Monsterhearts game that I’m playing once a month with Jamie Fristrom, Sev Trooskin-Zoller, and Erin Sara Beach-Garcia. It’s mostly a record for us to remember what the heck is going on between widely-spaced sessions, but it might be interesting to others (though, probably not—play reports are kind of like describing the details of your marathon run to someone who wasn’t there).
Sev graciously volunteered to MC for us, leaving three player characters. We’re all juniors in a fictionalized version of Concrete, WA (it’s a real place, look it up). Heading up toward the mountains in the middle of nowhere, with lots of trees and whatnot around. Our school is a commuter high school for the small towns in the surrounding area.
Logan, The Infernal (Jamie)
Logan is a nerd who discovered a “secret equation” on his computer that, it turns out, is something bad called the Emissary. Logan is a lonely kid, mostly ignored, not too much picked on. This one time, at the end of last year, Logan’s mom made him go to a school dance so he could “meet people”. He was miserable and alone, and Brooke danced with him. Since then, he’s been watching her, a little. He and Peter used to be besties when they were little, but Logan retreated into his nerdy pursuits at some point and they drifted apart.
Logan may or may not be bisexual. Or, rather, he probably is, but he hasn’t worked it all out yet.
Peter, The Werewolf (Erin Sara)
Peter is a tough kid who manages a level of popularity while still being a little removed from the popular kids. He hangs out with Tucker, the captain of the wrestling team (which is where the jocks are in absence of a football team) but isn’t on the team and seems to have some influence over him that we haven’t really figured out yet.
Last year, Peter was at an epic party out in the woods where everyone was wasted. He got bitten by a werewolf, but the memories weren’t all that clear. He’s slowly learning the extent of his abilities (or, if you prefer, curse). Peter and Logan were tight when they were kids, but they drifted apart as Logan began to withdraw into his nerdiness. Peter has been watching him, hoping that there was a way to get back what they once had. Recently, he drove Logan into “the city” (Bellingham) to get some computer parts or something, and Logan kind of owes him one for it.
Brooke, The Fae (Jay)
Brooke was born into a family that lived out in the middle of nowhere, even by the standards of concrete. Her parents were always at each other’s throats. When she was 10 she ran away into the woods and was “never found”. The parents soon split up and moved away. She was actually found by a full-blooded Fae who had chosen to live among mortals for reasons as yet unknown. Her adopted mother bestowed the gifts of the fae on her and they moved to Concrete together.
Brooke is on the volleyball team and is reasonably popular. There was that time last year when she danced with Logan at the Spring Fling to make the other girls stop laughing at him.
In no particular order.
Tom is into Brooke and sits right behind her in home room. She’s been nice to him, partly because she’s “nice to everybody,” and partly because he’s a good photographer, and is helping her get the school newspaper off the ground.
Apart from Logan, Jeff is the smartest kid in class. He’s well-rounded in his academics and is relatively cheerful. He is, at least in part, motivated to do well because he fears his abusive parents.
Bea’s dad is the go to pot dealer in town. She likes the money and what they can do with it, but tries not to think too hard about where it comes from. Very recently, she was walking on the train trestle with Tess and Mary. She was stoned and fooling around, and caused Mary to get caught and hit by a train.
Used to be friends with Bea, but blames her (rightly, it would seem) for Mary’s death. At least nominally friends with Brooke.
He’s a geek, but isn’t comfortable in the role. He’s nearsighted, but won’t wear his glasses, because he doesn’t want to look like a nerd.
Captain of the wrestling team. A douchebag.
Held back a year because last year she got pregnant and had an abortion. She likes to play video games.
Home room teacher. She was the prom queen at school a decade or more ago, and tries to continue in that mode. Plays favorites.
Brooke’s best friend. She’s into theater and, perhaps, “drama”.
Tucker’s #1 crony. Sheldon’s cousin. He’s not comfortable with how much control Peter has over his friends, and wants to be top dog himself.
Would be the football coach if there was a team. Uses P.E. as an excuse to indulge his gridiron fantasies. Trying to get Peter to be one the non-existent team, for which he holds practices and everything.
“Coach” Bartlett’s favorite suck-up.
The queen bee of the junior class. Dating Tucker. Not a nice person.
Jeff’s mom. Abused., but not all sunshine herself.
I facilitated an evening of Fiasco for five tables of four players each last night at the Center for Serious Play at UWB. It was a blast! I was kind of bummed to not be playing, but it was hilarious to run from table to table and overhear a variety of crazy scenes in progress.
I don’t know yet if I have any new converts to Story Games, but everyone seemed to heave a great time.
I have posted my mid-term video art project to the ‘Tubes:
Perhaps more for myself than anyone else, I’m going to keep track of my progress on “front burner” projects here every week on Sunday night.
This week was a little abnormal, being the first week of this site and the first week of a new quarter at school. I did get in a couple of hours of shop time working on the pot rack. I didn’t have anyone around to help me take some pictures in progress, but I did get a couple of shots between things and will post them sometime soon.
Nothing new on Kroul other than some mental sorting. And nothing whatsoever on Flash.
I did spend some time tinkering with Photoshop in anticipation of my Image and Imagination class. Also, I went out to take some pictures for that class today after a couple of frustrating days trying to find the right mirrors. I’ll post about that project in the next couple of days.
Now I’m looking forward to a week of adjusting to the new school workload and getting time in on my own projects. I can’t say that Skyrim is really helping, but I’m trying not to play it too much and to get other things done before I start.
That’s it for this week. Back in seven with the next report.