Open Season

December 14, 2013

Sometimes, and I’m sure it shows, I start a post with an idea and then just ramble for a while.  In this case, I started mentally writing this post, and I realized something funny.  The inspiration for this post was something very positive, but as I worked through how I could develop the idea into an article, I realized I was being incredibly negative.  Oh well.  Maybe, I’ll think of something positive to say in the end.

The inspiration for this post is also probably a double to the gap between left and center.  I was watching Open Court.  Open Court is a show on the NBA Channel.  In recent years, I’ve been much more into the NBA than I was since around the time Jordan retired.  LeBron going to Miami was overblown controversy, but the impact competitively was fascinating.  Oklahoma City as the young lions to the, outside of LeBron, aged Miami Heat.  Etc.  Then, Lin-sanity.  I still don’t think people realize how unreal Lin-sanity was.  A game of the Knicks against the Lakers was billed as “Jeremy Lin versus the Los Angeles Lakers … and Kobe Bryant” (also Lin vs. Bryant).

Getting totally sidetracked.  Open Court is probably my favorite show on television.  Would it be so if there were more episodes?  Maybe not.  Maybe it would get repetitive.  And, there was at least one episode that was pretty tiresome.

To get to how this has anything to do with gaming, I started thinking about why I enjoy the show so much.

Experts

To begin the process of getting this to gaming, where many sports talk shows have sportswriters or radio personalities or whatever who certainly know far more about sports than I do, the style is all about generating controversy.  First Take is so painful I can hardly stand it, at least unless they have a guest replacement to stop the incessant hot air of the two stars.  Mike & Mike is sometimes fine and often irritating.  SVP & Russillo is so, so much better than either of those.  And, as some are aware, I quite like Around the Horn and Pardon the Interruption.

But, it’s all about meaningless stories that often have nothing to do with sports and tons to do with celebrity.  Baseball Tonight is the sort of sports show that should exist, as it gets into things that actually matter in sports, like statistics.  Diva wide receiver doing situps in a driveway or someone saying something stupid is not relevant to the play of the games, except for how the media badgers everyone on teams about a single player until it becomes a “major distraction” that wouldn’t have existed if not for the media who is theoretically tasked with “reporting the news, not making the news”.

The Open Court crew, outside of Ernie Johnson, are former professional players.  In a number of cases, very recent former players.  They all hail from the Jordan forward era of NBA, so I (at least) know much of what they are talking about when they talk about players and teams from when they played.  Not just former players, but you get Hall of Famers, guys with a bunch of championship rings, guys who will be in the Hall of Fame, players who were the best on their teams.

In the world of gaming, though, you get people who think they know what they are talking about and don’t.  Maybe that’s me at times.  I’ve been on a lot of forums for a good variety of CCGs and a few RPGs.

The Conan d20 forum, after the game was no longer being produced, got hijacked by someone who couldn’t even do basic math.  Those who have been on that forum in recent years know precisely who I’m talking about as, at a certain point, he became the uberposter.  He didn’t just chime in on threads, he had to start thread after thread displaying a lack of knowledge about the game and a desire to play a different game.  His analysis involved such brilliance as thinking the average on a d6 is 3.  The idea that the average of a d10 + a d8 did not add up to 9, like he thought, seemed to escape him.  I had been on the forum for years before him, within like a year, he had blown by me in posts.  Now, maybe that’s just enthusiasm for some people.  I usually find the people who post a ton in a short amount of time are less interested in meaningful discussion and more interested in hearing themselves talk.  Hopefully, this gets me some street cred for crotchety old man-ness.

Congenial

The format of the show is congenial.  It’s part analysis and part slice of life.  It’s not about hyping some idiotic controversy or nontroversy.  It’s not arguing for the sake of arguing.  Sometimes, the guys take shots at each other, but it’s making fun of each other in fairly harmless ways.  And, while plenty of talking heads make fun of themselves, the stories of these guys are real, not faked up “look at how Felix I am” or whatever (the Odd Couple reference very well may have flown over a number of readers, certainly not expecting foreign readers to get this).

Much like the radio shows and other talk shows, gaming discussion tends towards disagreement for the sake of disagreement, rather than getting to actual issues.  Sure, it varies immensely.  But, people love to miss the point or flat out ignore what someone else has said.  Now, I do jump the gun, myself, at times, and fail to read what someone else wrote carefully – something that annoys me immensely when others do it to me.  I really like the forums that make it easy to preview what you are going to post.  I’m not at all clear why vekn.net lacks preview functionality (as far as I can tell).

Real

It’s real.  When it comes to basketball, it’s behind the scenes.  They talk about what a party-goer Dennis Scott was or how much people overate.  They talk about flaws in players’ games because they aren’t playing against those players anymore.  They offer up stories from their playing days, from their college days, and sometimes some stories from growing up.  The “first date” segment on one episode might not have been my cup of tea, as I’m not into people being embarrassed, but it was actually interesting from a societal standpoint, as you have a bunch of rich athletes talking about when they were not rich or when they were tall athletes in high school and how that was different from what viewers likely go through.

While some of the adoration of other players may be hyperbole, you get the sense that they really do see Jordan as a god, LeBron and Shaq as unstoppable freaks.  You get interesting comments about how badass some players who aren’t as famous as those were, especially at certain skills, like “handles”.  I keep thinking of a segment when Isiah Thomas, new to the NBA Channel crew, called out Steve Kerr, when Steve was talking about Jordan.  Steve was talking about Jordan after he came back from retirement number one.  He was talking about how Jordan was struggling and trying to get back into play shape after his baseball vacation and said something like “one night he’d give you 50 and the next night …” and Isiah was like “Wait, one night he’d give you 50!  So his bad night was less than 50 …”  That was hilarious to the guys because 30 is considered a big deal, and everyone was laughing at how Steve’s teammate’s bad night was not giving you 50.

Gaming discussions are often lacking in real.  Yes, plenty of times you get anecdotes or IME posts.  You also get tons of supposition, conjecture, guessing.  Like many people, I think I know it all.  At some point, I did take a step back and realize that I don’t have the credentials of CCG world champions, the games’ designers, and the like.  While it’s possible I know more about a game than those folks, it’s very possible I don’t, at least not for a given topic.  Sure, there are plenty of people who know more about a CCG than a world champion, but how do you know they know more?  What evidence supports the idea that random poster knows more than top player?  What they say, especially factoring in track record, of course.  But, who tracks those sorts of things?

Very, very often, one sees game discussions around theory, rather than supportable facts or even just experience.

Experience

Uh, I guess this is really the same idea as “Experts” above.  Sue my lack of coherency.

Local play experiences may very well mean diddly-squat.  Even just players who play in crossregional metagames, which is a term I’ve only used for CCGs but could also apply to RPGs, know far more about how a game really works than those who play in their little small pond.  This was frustrating to me, especially with Babylon 5.  I traveled some for the B5 CCG, far more than for V:TES.  But, many players didn’t travel much.  The metagames were very different, with only certain events seeing a crossregional metagame that spoke to what really worked.  I even introduced the half-joking, half-awesome TH Rating (Turku-Helsinki Rating for how those two regional metagames differed so much) for B5, to point out that people were talking about different games.

The worst offender in my mind if maybe not in reality was the Wheel of Time forums.  I don’t even remember where I used to post for the WoT CCG – I think they are gone, but maybe they still exist.  I’m not talking about Precedence Publishing Yahoogroups but actual website forums.  I have my emails to Yahoogroups (as long as my AOL file cabinet survives).  WoT had a big problem when it came to analysis in that hardly anyone actually played the game.  B5, V:TES, L5R RPG, even Conan RPG saw experienced players among the posters.  With WoT, you had a number of useless posters simply because they always played against the same people (actually, probably in a number of cases, replace people with person – not many WoT players) with the same decks.  Hell, I almost always played against just two other players, with the rare tournament seeing one to three more.

So, maybe I was full of it, too, though I could point out the game’s timing rules came from our playtest group and we had created the last World Championship deck long before it became that and wrote it off as crap because we knew how to beat it, where people unfamiliar with it didn’t and, um, lost.  But, there was a second major problem with WoT.  Unlike B5, V:TES, even probably Tomb Raider, and certainly CCGs like Magic, few people (players) actually had Mr. Suitcase collections for WoT.  My lasting memory of the WoT forums was someone posting something about how “Who even has 3 copies of recruitable Rahvin [ultrarare]?” and my thinking “This guy is a moron.  Hey, moron.  I have three copies in both my Light and Dark decks.”  Thinking, not writing, for the obvious reason that being a dick in forums does not help the analytical discussion I crave.  But, then, posting from ignorance, such as not having enough copies of a card to play a particular deck, is also not helpful.

Sure, everyone is going to post on a subject in which they lack the experience.  Niche CCG playtesting is full of people spouting off without actually playing the cards or the decks that use the playtest cards.  Then, not every RPG character build is possible for someone to have experienced, nor every monster/enemy fought, or whatever.  I’ve tried to rein in my spouting off on CCGs, I should probably learn and cut down on it with RPGs.  It’s not that no one should ever post on things they are unfamiliar with.  It’s more that the attitude should be more about learning and questioning, rather than stating.

Another fascinating thing in Open Court is when the players turn to other players and ask them questions, like what it was like to play with someone not there or play against someone not there.  Talking heads get paid for opinions, but that’s the difference – this show isn’t just about opinions, it’s about talking about the game.

I tune out a lot of people’s gaming anecdotes, well, actually, I should say I tune out a lot of their RPG anecdotes.  CCG anecdotes, because CCGs are far more objective and CCGs are competitive, are vastly more interesting to read.  Then, there’s the aspect of respecting the speaker.  I respect the Open Court crew.  When I know a poster on a forum, I might respect him or her.  Most posters I don’t know, so I just dismiss them, unless they have cred in the game – see comments about World Champions and designers having more inherent cred.

So, what’s a positive takeaway from my ripping on game forum posters?  Maybe that the style of threads I should involve myself in should be less confrontational and more just talking about the game.  Maybe realizing that every poster is an actual person and not just a crackpot who doesn’t know how to do math and might have something useful to contribute.  Or, not.  Hard to say.


Doctoring Things Up

November 26, 2013

Sometimes, I can’t let commenting upon other things go.

Spoilers, sweetie.

Bartender

Bartender

So, 50th anniversary of Doctor Who.  Amazing difference in how the show is doing now and how it was doing from, say, mid 80’s to the 2005 reboot.  List some of the more notable Pros and Cons.

Cons

1.  Christopher Eccleston

His absence as a real participant was glaring.  I can see not being thrilled with your time on a show, and Tom Baker bailed on the Five Doctors (nice to see some make up for that), but when you signed on for the role, for a show with an immense history and a known fanbase, one would think you would recognize being part of something beyond yourself.

When I first watched the episode, I just kept thinking “Why am I only seeing two of the reboot Doctors, when there are only three?”  This wasn’t The Two Doctors, wasn’t even The Three Doctors or The Five Doctors.  This was the 50th anniversary of a TV show going on the air.  I know those happen all of the time, but …

2.  No More

No more with the “No More”.  I realize it’s a device and gets used all the way through.  It was just cheesy … without being gratuitously blasted in English!?!  While there’s an element of suspension of disbelief to where you can pretend everything was being translated from Gallifreyan or you could even say the message was in English so that both the Daleks and Time Lords, who know English, could read it, it was so, so cheesy.  It took me out of the immersion.

3.  Gratuitous Special Effects

I’m not a special effects person, which, as an old Doctor Who fan, makes sense.  The giant space battle and planetary assault really didn’t impact me in any way, feeling more like an episode of Battlestar Galactica or some such.  The 3d painting stuff may have looked cool on a big screen or in, um, 3d, but, on my TV, it just looked okay.  Not to say I have any problem with the last, just a note.

No, the episode started off with one of the more annoying bits when it had the “special”, if maybe not so special, effect of showing images of London.  “Look at what an important TV show we are!  We can fly around the real London!”  I understand doing these sorts of things, and maybe not being British meant it meant less to me, but all I could think is “This is taking precious time away from stuff I want to see with kind of stale physical comedy.”  If it happened in the middle or end of the show, might have felt something.  Happening in the beginning, it just screamed gratuitous and was also moronic that UNIT would just assume the TARDIS was lying around, nevermind that UNIT didn’t even need the TARDIS to get the Doctor to show up.

Then, in line with some other commentators, Gallifreyans just aren’t that impressive technologically, are they?  Yes, not everyone on Gallifrey is a Time Lord.  But, apparently the race that manages time and is among the most advanced in the universe just runs around in costumes and gets laser/blaster shot at.  Sure, showing advanced technology is a pain.  There are budget constraints.  But, also, you want the audience to relate to what’s going on.  And, yes, Gallifrey has always had silly looking people and silly looking technology, maybe one of the reasons it’s not used more often.  But, I’m kind of tired of the lack of majesty in the setting.  The End of Time didn’t help, either, and I saw that again recently.

4.  Elizabeth

I thought it wasn’t all bad, but it sure was distracting and not in the way that it could have been (finding some gorgeous actress where you wished you could be in 1562).  I didn’t hate the Elizabeth stuff.  It was also wrapped around some of the more enjoyable parts.  I’m sure the casting was intentional, to go for greater comedic effect.

5.  Few Cameos

I watched the minisodes of The Last Day and the Five(ish) Doctors.  Seems like more cameos could have been done.  I probably missed somebody in the background, but where’s the best companion of them all?  Where’s (a functioning) K-9?

6.  UNIT

UNIT may have been frequently inept – watch the Pertwee stuff for how often the Brigadier looked like a goof, but it generated some cool back in the day because it actually got to do things.  Every time UNIT shows up these days, it never seems to do anything that matters.

Pros

1.  John Hurt

The show is so different now.  It became romantic, it became companion focused, I have a hard time remembering meaningful aliens on an alien planet during the reboot run.  To be all about flirty-wirty, had to cast younger actors as Doctors.  While you could see Pertwee or T. Baker make moves on certain companions and Davison was the original “let’s try someone the companions might dig”, I miss the idea of a Doctor who isn’t constantly having companions fall in love with him.

Hurt’s performance wasn’t perfect.  “For God’s sake” was another instance of taking me out of immersion, and the head slap thing was so undignified, but the voice and look helped so much with reminding that the Doctor is more than just some physical comedy frat boy.  I didn’t watch much of Hartnell’s stuff, but the contrasts when you had The Three Doctors was great.  And, so was War Doctor ripping on the boys.

The weaponization of the sonic screwdriver just has gotten so ridiculous.  Doctor Who has always been hypocritical, where the hippie Doctor preaches peace and love and then has the enemy blow themselves up or have the companions/single-serial-expendables blow the enemy up.  … I loved Sylvester McCoy’s comment in the Explaining Doctor Who thing about “or have the companion blow them up.”  But, the screwdriver has become a gun.  Also, way overused.

Also ripping on the way they talk, with their “catchphrase” styles and babytalk, was appreciated.

2.  Multiple Doctors

While sad that every Doctor from 4 on is still alive and we get so few in this special, it’s always fun putting Doctors together as they get to do their schticks and rip on each other’s schticks.  But, beyond that, you realize there’s a gravitas to the idea of someone who lives multiple lives and can draw upon knowledge from past and future to solve problems as well as physically team up to do things no one else can do.  Gee, it’s just like Moorcock’s Eternal Champion and how they sometimes pop up to help each other.  I just love the concept, apparently.

3.  Tom

Tom got a chance to come back and make up some for the Five Doctors.  I didn’t nerdgasm like a lot of others did – I didn’t even recognize the voice immediately, even though Tom is my Doctor.  If any old show Doctor, though, having Tom get play was the best possibility.

4.  Billie Piper

I neither love Billie nor hate Billie.  I was not that much of a fan of Rose.  I liked the character more when she was no longer a regular.  I just thought her character and her acting worked well.

Bottom Line

I enjoyed it.  It wasn’t great.  It wasn’t drivel.  It was somewhere in between with some nice moments and some missed opportunities.

So, how can I make this about gaming?

Gaming

Obviously, I could speak to trying to run a Doctor Who campaign and how I have a hard time seeing how to do that.  I’m not even clear on how to do a one-shot well as there will be too many players and someone playing the Doctor has a rough role to play.

No, my first thought after seeing the episode when it came to gaming was “missed opportunities”.  This sort of special should be all about giving the fans what they have always wanted, about doing the things you can’t do in a normal episode.

How often do RPGs give the players what they want?

Seemingly, not that often.  At least, in my experience, not that often in campaign play.  I find that convention one-shots far more often fit the genre, the conventions of the genre, the style, the core elements of whatever game you signed up for.  Now, sure, I’ve also played in a Supernatural game where I was a voodoo priest sucking on an angel, but many campaigns are based on something that the players have expectations for.  Star Wars should be space opera with big dramatic scenes.  Lord of the Rings or Wheel of Time should not be “You are walking down the road and fight stuff on the road.  The End.”  I know my experience with the latter was that, my recollection of my time playing Middle Earth was pretty close.

Mostly, these days, I’m playing L5R.  The thing about L5R is that it isn’t just one thing, though I’m very much to the HoR style of play.  So, you can have mismatched expectations.  Or, you can have unclear expectations.

But, I’m getting off track.  It’s not so much mismatched expectations on the overall campaign, as I’ve talked about that before.  What I’m trying to get at is mismatched expectations in the details.  To keep using L5R as an example, though I hope it’s clear that it’s an issue with all RPG play, someone who built a good duelist doesn’t want to have a dueling opportunity ripped away, something I was almost shocked by in a HoR3 mod.  Someone into the culture wants to linger on the poetry or the clothes or the whatever.  Some of us like romance (I know, weird, and icky) and don’t want relationship possibilities glossed over.

Often, I have a hard time seeing things from the players’ side when I GM, which is kind of weird, but my mind is just in a different space.  And, often, I’m not completely sure what to give the players more of, even though I should be able to figure it out.  I don’t want to miss the opportunities to have the players mark out.

But, do I have the will to do better?