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  links for 2007-08-29  
Posted 2007-08-29 by Tony Walsh
  ‘Dungeons and Dragons’ Tabletop Goes Digital  
Posted 2007-08-21 by Tony Walsh
I first started playing the legendary tabletop role-playing game Dungeons and Dragons around 1980 with my grade-school friends, so it's with a veteran's eye I've watched the game morph over the years and through its various editions. Although I haven't been following D&D closely, my understanding is that the game has been "dumbed down" in recent years in order to lower the barrier to participation. In the last year or so, it seems to have returned to its roots as little more than a miniatures-based battle game.

Earlier this month the 4th Edition of D&D was announced, including D&D Insider, an internet-based platform for the game allowing players to connect remotely. Today, technology developer Vivox (about which I've previously written) announced it will be bringing voice communication to D&D Insider. So much for the venerable tabletop.

Maybe I'm wallowing in nostalgia, but the best role-playing game experiences usually involve face-to-face participation. I ran a 3 year-long D&D campaign using Neverwinter Nights a few years ago, and while the digital environment is great for bringing people together from all parts of the world, it lacks the visceral quality that tabletop and live-action gaming is drenched in. Scenes painted by the human imagination trump the best computer graphics any day of the week.
  First Impressions: ‘Shadowrun’ (Xbox 360)  
Posted 2007-07-05 by Tony Walsh
Sadly, I'm old enough to remember when the original Shadowrun tabletop role-playing game was first published back in 1989. I had no interest in a Tolkien/Gibson mashup then, and wouldn't have given the Xbox 360 version a chance if Xbox Canada's PR company hadn't sent me a review copy. So, lucky reader, you get my first impressions of the game based on about 4 hours of intensive play.

I was expecting a story-based single-player shooter with token multi-player modes available, but Shadowrun is simply a multi-player shooter wrapped in the same goofy premise as the original RPG. The game borrows a bit from some of the best shooters in history (think Counter-Strike, Tribes, and Unreal Tournament) as well as throws in interesting game play options with its unique technology- and magic-based character abilities.

Continue reading: First Impressions: ‘Shadowrun’ (Xbox 360)
  Are Computer Games Really That Different From Non-Digital games?  
Posted 2007-06-25 by Tony Walsh
Michaël Samyn of Tale of Tales (maker of The Endless Forest) lists ten differences between computer games and traditional ones. How well do computer games and traditional ones contrast? It depends on your definition of "traditional."

I always enjoy reading the Tale of Tales blog, even if I rarely agree completely with the team's strong opinions. Given today's post, I think a tighter definition of "traditional" is needed--Samyn doesn't seem to have considered tabletop role playing games, but says in the comments section of the blog that all non-digital games are considered "traditional." Although I use the term "traditional" to refer to non-digital games, I feel it would be useful to break this down into subcategories "classic" (e.g. Chess, Mah Jong, Solitaire) and "contemporary" (e.g. Dungeons & Dragons, Warhammer 40k, Magic: The Gathering, LARPs, ARGs). Faced with contemporary, rather than classic non-digital games, computer games aren't as unique as Samyn argues.

Continue reading: Are Computer Games Really That Different From Non-Digital games?
  Games for Lunch, Breakfast  
Posted 2007-06-07 by Tony Walsh
Kyle Orland has set great expectations for regular game criticism with his new blog, Games for Lunch. One game, one lunch-hour, one review per day. Orland's "playlog" (plog?) attempts to determine if a game's worth playing after an hour, a fair enough pursuit. If a game can't grab a player in 60 minutes, is it worth playing? In my experience, not usually.

If you're the type to skip lunch, I recommend games for breakfast. Or rather, I would recommend games for breakfast if they didn't come printed on Pop Tarts. Kellog's and Hasbro teamed up last year to provide over 200 edible Trivial Pursuit questions for distribution through the Pop Tart platform. Brings new meaning to tabletop games when one can eat the playing pieces, doesn't it? Given the shelf-life of "food" such as Pop Tarts, I reckon you'll be able to enjoy edible Trivial Pursuit for decades to come.
  I Wish I’d Had a ‘Knightmare’  
Posted 2007-06-05 by Tony Walsh
Mr. Hon directed my short-attention-span to Knightmare, a mixed-reality TV game show celebrating its 20th anniversary this September. Aimed at and starring kids, Knightmare covered terrain well-trodden by infamous role playing game Dungeons & Dragons.

Game play was quite unique (as described by the Wikipedia). A team of kids were split into a group of guides and a single dungeoneer. The dungeoneer wore a vision-obscuring helmet, and was shown via an in-studio TV screen to the guides. Superimposed on a fantasy background, the dungeoneer relied on remote guidance to get through the adventure safely. I found the game idea really clever, with obvious links to tabletop and computer games--apparently game books and a board game were spun off from the show, making this an early cross-media experience.

I might be the only person in North America who's never seen the show, but in case you're similarly Knightmare-challenged, YouTube's got a mess of badly-compressed TV clips for review.
  Microsoft Tabletop Surfaces  
Posted 2007-05-30 by Tony Walsh
Microsoft Tabletop Surfaces
Microsoft has unveiled "Surface," a tabletop computer with multi-user touch-screen interface. Surface's slick site shows various uses for the device, which appears to be able to discern the touch of a finger from a paintbrush or from a mobile phone.

I think touch-based interfaces are pretty useful, but instead of looking at the big picture, glancing ahead towards a resurgence in tabletop gaming, I'm going to focus on the banal: Who wants to wipe this thing down every 15 minutes? Seriously. Surface is demonstrated as a smart replacement for a table. Think about the last time you were in your local coffee shop--did you spend a lot of time pawing at the table with your cheese-danish-coated fingers? Of course not.

At this point, I'm confident that Surface will in fact be coated at all times with a patina of human goo, much like I predict the Apple iPhone will be swathed in a bath of ear-wax. Other annoyances will include sore necks and backs due to reaching for the far end of the table, and cracked Surfaces due to dropping pitchers of beer on top.

Practicalities aside, the technology looks amazing, doesn't it?
  ‘Talisman’ Board Game Gets Digital Edition  
Posted 2007-04-16 by Tony Walsh
Capcom has announced that it will be bringing the vintage fantasy board game Talisman to the Xbox Live Arcade, PlayStation Network, and PC platforms this winter. Originally published by Games Workshop in 1983, "the magical quest game" was a tabletop staple in the nerd-packs I used to run in. Although I recall the game fondly, it's one of those board games--like Monopoly--that the leading player has no obligation to complete, thereby dragging out play as long as the rest of the players can stomach it. Now in its fourth edition under the imprint of Black Industries, I'm hoping Talisman's been revised for the best.

The video game version promises a fully 3D environment (naturally), 1-4 player support, dynamic camera angles (a no-brainer), up to 25 characters from the Talisman universe (each with unique features), voice chat, and... downloadable game expansions and microcontent. The original game seemed to spawn an inordinate number of expansion packs, and I see the digital version isn't much different--except in this case, I'm sure you'll pay more for less.
  ‘Ultimate Game Table’ Up For Auction  
Posted 2006-11-14 by Tony Walsh
The Ultimate Game Table is finally up for auction after being born in Daniel Davis' lair five years ago. Last I heard, it had eaten three D&D players, four Champions newbies and one Vampire Storyteller, but that could all be just rumour. The heavy-duty construct seats six gamers and comes equipped with enough features to make the mightiest Dungeon Master kneel in awe. Integrated subwoofers and lighting, steel message-orbs, secret compartments... even reading this post about the Ultimate Game Table will cause you to lose 1d6 Sanity Points.
  Game Design Exercises  
Posted 2006-11-14 by Tony Walsh
I've been teaching a course on Game Culture & Design for George Brown College in Toronto since last January, and am in the midst of conducting some hands-on workshops with the students. We're building game mechanics and rules systems playable on the tabletop. In my experience, there's no better foundation for digital game design than developing tabletop prototypes--if it works on paper, it'll probably work on the screen. Tabletop design forces designers to simplify concepts and mechanics to the human-readable, human-executable level, which makes the game's innards easy to understand, tweak, and rebuild.

I thought I'd summarize a few of the exercises I've been subjecting the students to recently. Feel free to add your thoughts or suggestions in the comments section.

Continue reading: Game Design Exercises
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