dorchadas: (Pile of Dice)
I've been tinkering with RPGs again. Some people write fanfiction, some people draw fanart, and I come up with RPG homebrew. Even though I'm in three games right now--[personal profile] schoolpsychnerd's 7th Sea game, [livejournal.com profile] mutantur's Call of Cthulhu game, and my own Warlords of the Mushroom Kingdom game--and thus have no time for another one, I just enjoy game design. My latest burst of creativity was spurred on by finding Heretical Shadows, someone's fan supplement for using the Shadowrun system with fantasy settings. It's something I've always wanted to try, since there's already rules for fantasy races, magic, and spirits, it's skill-based instead of class-and-level based, and it uses my favorite dice mechanic (giant pools of dice). But it would be a bunch of work for a game that I'm not likely to run anytime soon, so I'm glad someone else did it.

I keep thinking about tweaking it more, but I should actually run Shadowrun for a while first to familiarize myself with the system. I did a lot of tinkering with Exalted, but I ran that game for years. And anyway, one of my players perks up every time I mention canon Shadowrun so that's probably next in the queue. And urban fantasy cyberpunk is a good departure from grim sword and sorcery.

At [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd's suggestion, we sat down and watched an episode of Chef's Table about Ivan Orkin, a Jewish New Yorker who ran a ramen restaurant in Japan. So now I want to move back to Japan, and I really want a bowl of ramen. Especially his ramen, with its noodles made in-house using toasted rye flour. He's right that it's very unlikely a Japanese person would have thought to do that, especially since they usually buy their noodles.

This also reminds me of the first time I saw salarymen ordering noodle refills and decided to do it myself. I spent a few minutes psyching myself up and formulating how to ask and eventually said something like すみません、もう麺を一皿お願いします ("Excuse me, may I have another plate of noodles?"), and the ramenyasan looked at me quizzically and said かえだま (kaedama), the specific word for that very thing. Emoji Smiling sweatdrop I did get my noodles, though.

And speaking of food:

Farmer's Market dinner )

Overcooked comes out on Switch tonight and we're probably going to buy it. Usually, if a game is multiplatform I buy it on PC for future-proofing reasons--I just recently played through a game from 1994 with no problems at all--but Overcooked is specifically local co-op only, and sitting on the couch next to [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd to play is more comfortable than both of us crowding around my computer. It's also about cooking, one of [personal profile] schoolpsychnerd's my treasured hobby. I'm looking forward to cooking together, on the back of two speeding trucks!
dorchadas: (JCDenton)
So I loaded up Twitter last night while I was reading in bed and among the cute Kirby pictures and journalists tweeting about how terrible the world is, I saw a trailer for a new movie:



It's not quite Shadowrun. It has elves and orcs in the modern world, but the cyberpunk dystopia element isn't really present. It's more urban fantasy, as keeps calling it. But I'm going to think of it as a Shadowrun-adjacent property until I'm proven wrong, and we're probably going to have a viewing party for it when it comes out.

My dentist's appointment was slightly more involved than I was expecting. I was told that I just needed new sealants at my last cleaning (at a different location), but the dentist said that I had very early cavities and could probably do with fillings, so to prevent future problems I got them filled. It was painless and took next to no time, but still a bit distressing that my previous dentist could have missed them.

Well, I switched dentists now, so hopefully it won't happen again.
dorchadas: (Terminator)
Return of the colons.

I had heard that "Dragonfall" was much better the original campaign (my thoughts about which you can read here), and they weren't really understating it. "Dead Man's Switch" suffered from too much thematic change, going from a local story about a friend who wants you to avenge his death to having to uncover a world-changing conspiracy to helping stop one of the greatest threats to the world. It's a bit like some of the Final Fantasy games with the constant escalation, and the problem with constant escalation is that everything later overshadows and devalues the human elements that are initially put in the forefront. When I'm fighting off ancient spirits who seek to corrupt and destroy all that is good, does one serial killer matter?

Also, the whole thing was a giant railroad.

That's not a problem in "Dragonfall." Sure, there's dragons, as you could probably tell from the name. But once the opening run goes down and the stage is set, the world opens up and you have a long-term goal and can choose your own ways to fulfill it. It's not entirely open world, because sometimes one mission has to be done before another mission can open up, but it's not a chain of missions that lead one into the other with no way to step off the trail and make your own choices.

The other great plot element is having a constant team. Monika, Dietrich, Blitz, Eiger, and Glory being persistent characters (within the limits of the engine, anyway, about which more in a bit) that you can interact with between missions makes you care about them a lot more than any of the disposable shadowrunner companions in "Dead Man's Switch." Sure, I always hired the drone rigger just because I liked having the extra target to soak up enemies' bullets, but I don't remember their name and the game didn't let me say anything to them at all. It's not like the struggle to earn the team's trust in "Dragonfall." Hell, Dietrich even grilled me on my character's backstory at one point, which had no mechanical effect but really made me feel like I was the new runner that the other team members were trying to fit into the existing social structure.

Also, much to my surprise and delight, choosing all the sycophantic nice guy dialogue choices often has other people assume you're putting up a front to ingratiate yourself with them, which admittedly is probably true from both an in-character and metagame perspective. Nice, puppy-petting philanthropists don't usually go into careers shooting other people in the face for money, after all.

The mechanical aspects were mostly the same. There hasn't been any upgrades to the way combat flows, though I personally discovered Overwatch about 75% of the way through the game and got really annoyed at myself for failing to notice it earlier (and if you missed it, it's the grey button on the right side of the weapons display). The campaign was built much better in terms of taking other people's skills into account, though. There were some times I was annoyed in "Dead Man's Switch" because my scrawny elf mage couldn't pass a strength check to pry something open even though I had a troll physical adept with me, or how I couldn't hack anything even if I brought a rigger. "Dragonfall" showed that this was just bad design, because there was a lot of "Decking 5: Hack door" / "Have your decker hack the door" dialogue choices that took into account that shadowrunners work in teams because they tend to be specialists and cover each other's weak points.

The equipment pacing wasn't that great, though. At least playing as a mage, I had just about everything I needed maybe 40% of the way through the game, and one of the major flaws that remains in the mechanical design that is every time you return to a previous area the game engine treats it as a new area that happens to look like the old one, and the same with the people. That means that it's impossible to persistantly upgrade your team members or even to give them more medkits or combat drugs, though maybe modders are working on that now. There's a way to carry dialogue choices and variables forward into new maps, so maybe character stats and inventory can be carried too? Having seen the breadth of mods out there, I wouldn't be surprised.

Also, you can save anywhere you want now. Even in the middle of a battle. So that's amazing.

It's still not as good an adaptation of Shadowrun tabletop as the Genesis game is, but that's an open-world RPG that came out in 1994 before anyone even knew what "open world" meant. Also, it has the best Shadowrun-style Matrix ever. But "Dragonfall" demonstrates that people willing to put in the time probably could make that style of campaign if they wanted to, and indeed they've been working on something similar for a while. If you haven't played Shadowrun: Returns, don't even bother with "Dead Man's Switch." Much like Neverwinter Nights' main campaign, it's more of just a tech demo for the game's capabilities. Play "Dragonfall" instead. You won't regret it.
dorchadas: (Pile of Dice)
Story time!

So, one of the first multi-session RPGs I was in was a Shadowrun 2nd Edition game in high school (with players I met through the Games Club I was in), which was also the first time I played Shadowrun and one part of what got me hooked on the game, the other parts being playing the Genesis game at [livejournal.com profile] uriany's house and seeing ads for Shadowrun in Dragon magazine. We only got through one run before the game fell apart, though, and now I'll recount to you why.

I played a mage, because it's me. I also played an elf because it's me, but that's much less relevant to the story. Anyway, I had bought the Tír na nÓg book previously and devoured it, and I was really taken with the different kind of magical traditions listed inside based on the old Irish social classes and the elements. If you've read that book, you're probably already shaking your head, but hey, I was 15, cut me some slack.

So mages are already an I-win button in Shadowrun just because of their versatility and the breadth of capabilities that spells can cover, and I played that up to the hilt. I took a couple combat spells, a telekinesis spell, a spell to control emotions, a spell called Chaotic World that makes people's senses go haywire (phantom sounds, visual hallucinations, etc.) as AoE crowd control, a healing spell, and some other stuff that's not relevant, and we went out on the mission.

I don't remember it that well, but I remember that we walked in to the front room with the receptionist, where my character proceeded to flirt with her and successfully gained access to the building (elf = Charisma bonus). We were stopped by a guard, but I used Control Emotions to allay his suspicions. When we ran into trouble and a squad of guards was summoned, I dropped a Chaotic World on top of the enemies to disorient them, then summoned a Spirit of the Great Fiery Firmament from a heating vent using my overpowered Tír na nÓg magical tradition powers. I don't think we even played out the combat, despite the presence of a street samurai in the group, since the GM realized they were totally outclassed.

I might have also used the telekinesis spell to steal something that we would otherwise have had to hack through, making the decker also superfluous, but I don't remember that clearly.

We went back and got the pay data, and the next mission involved transporting explosives somewhere. We went to the payload, and the street sam immediately threatened to detonate the bomb while we were all standing around it. We tried to negotiate for a few minutes, and then I used Control Emotions to calm him down so we could restrain him. The game fell apart shortly afterward.

I was confused at the time, but in hindsight it's obvious what the problem was even if it was handled in an incredibly passive-aggressive way because we were all 15. While some people like playing supporting characters, most people don't like being the sidekick, and even less do they like playing characters who are literally pointless. What we learned in that run was that the other characters in the game were just bullet-sponges for my super-mage who could solve any problem by himself. Sure, you could say that the GM should have stopped from casting that initial Control Emotions on the guard because waving my hands around and chanting is obvious, but I don't remember the circumstances clearly enough to know whether there were extenuating circumstances.

Some of this is just the wizard problem, hence my preference for casters to be "a pyromancer" or "a diviner" or "a skinchanger" or "an astromancer" instead of just "a wizard," but it also taught me a valuable lesson about properly spreading out areas of character competence and making sure there's at least one area where each character can shine. It's too bad I had to learn it through the implosion of a game.
dorchadas: (Terminator)
So, last night I beat Shadowrun Returns...or at least, I beat "Dead Man's Switch," the official campaign that shipped with the game. I still have the Berlin expansion coming that I'll get for free for backing the Kickstarter and there are various fan modules people are working on that I could play, but I'm going to let the game rest for a bit before I try any of those. Like Skyrim and New Vegas, I want to give some time to the modding communities to mature before I really dive in. I mean, look at this. Once that's done...

Anyway, it's pretty much exactly what they promised. Turn-based, old-school tactical combat, conversation trees, isometric views, the whole nine yards. There are a few things that seem conspicuous in their absence, like a stealth skill or any way to avoid notice, or how all weapons have infinite generic ammo and spells don't cause drain, or the inability to use NPC skills outside of scripted sequences (so that, for example, NPC deckers can't help you make decking conversation checks), but overall there's way more done right than not. Skill lists, weapons like the Ares Predator, Rugar Super Warhawk, and FN HAR, deckers jacking in, elves with mohawks, hiding behind cover, shooting guards in the knees, the works. It's great.

The visual design is good too, though I can't be sure how much of the classic cyberpunk aestheric is due to Shadowrun and how much is due to being set in Seattle where it rains all the time. :p There are neon signs, some in Japanese (because this is cyberpunk, so of course Japan is taking over the world), bits of trash, people standing around burning barrels, "Lone Star: We're Always Watching" advertisements, and the random tree with the Chinese lanterns on it and the glowing 夢 ("dreams") for the bit of beauty in the sprawl. The one thing I thought was odd was the character portraits. Orks and trolls were much less...well, orky and trolly as compared to the art in the tabletop game, and the elves had almost World of Warcraft-sized ears. Some of this is just the exaggeration necessary to make 3 cm-tall on-screen models visually distinct and the carry-over into the conversation portraits, true, but the orkiness isn't, and I missed it.

On the plot: Simply put, it's a love letter to fans of the tabletop game. It's set in 2054, so back during the chrome and pink mohawk era of Shadowrun design, and the main story starts out as an investigation into a dead friend's mysterious death and then spirals out to encompass a lot of the backstory. Spoilers within: Slot this, chummer )
It was like catnip injected direction into the nerd nostalgia centers of my brain.

The major problem I had with the campaign was with how linear it was. I was hoping that it would be closer to the Sega Shadowrun game, where you could beat it in an hour or so if you had infinite money, but you had to go on random runs to get the cash and build your rep and contacts. Instead, it was more like the SNES Shadowrun game, with a full plot and no real deviation from it. I've heard a rumor that the Berlin campaign might be more like the Sega version, though, which would be fantastic. The conversations all seemed like they were just funneling me in one direction, with my responses serving no purpose other than to provide some characterization to how my character talked (though I only played once, so I don't know if that's the case). And that's what conversations there were--most NPCs couldn't be talked to, and most areas had only a couple non-plot-critical items that could be interacted with.

A lot of this is pretty conditional, because I don't know if the linearity and lack of reactivity is an innate property of the game engine or if it's just what was in the campaign that shipped with it. Maybe someone will come out with a great mod that lets you make an entire team, run random missions, and run around an open world and talk to civilians and have them react to your missions. Based on the kinds of things I've seen in other games with mod tools, like my own Morrowind and Oblivion installs, I expect it'll only be a matter of time.

There is one thing that's hard-coded into the engine that might be a deal-breaker for people, though--there's no hard save system. There's a checkpoint system, and there's a way to roll back to previous checkpoints so you don't end up totally screwed because you misclicked once or took the wrong loadout to a mission, but if you get interrupted halfway between checkpoints and have to quit, you're out all your progress. Checkpoints seem to be spaced in between maps, but I don't know if that's a hardcoded limitation or if it's possible to add them after plot-critical moments even if the map stays the same.

As shipped, I'd give it ★★★★☆, but I highly suspect it'll get five stars in a few months once more content starts to come out for it. I spent a ton of money on it, and I don't regret it at all. Highly recommended, even if you're not a Shadowrun fan, and if you are, why aren't you playing this already?

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