News for CatTotW, HALLS, Pickett’s Castle, and Towers of Dream

Since I’m not on Twitter, I can’t really shill for myself very loudly and get any #RebuildInitiative love. But hey, I don’t necessarily have to take advantage of the fact that the bar to call oneself a game-dev has been set incredibly low; I actually AM a game developer, though only the eBook of City at the Top of the World with its sweet hyperlinking action allows me the obtuse claim to the title of video game developer.

I have HALLS (High Adventure Low Level System), which could use some polish, and I did write a B/X Halloween micro-module, as well as a surreal tower mini-module.

But where was I going with this? Oh, right. My exclusive term with Amazon is about to expire for City at the Top of the World. I’ll have a pdf version of City (one which reflects the print version) available at Drive Thru before the end of the month, which means I’ll also be able to have up some of my other gaming titles available there as well.

I’ll probably have some sort of update around the 22nd, at which point I can push all of that stuff live. I want to keep most of my game stuff free, but Drive-thru requires at least one for-pay item, and City at the Top of the World is something I feel comfortable charging for.

Truth about HALLS is that it probably needs a lot of work to make into a balanced system, but it has a few ideas I think that are worthwhile. Anyway, it will probably continue to be free in a pay what you want form. Β The main difference is, my stuff will all be in one spot instead of spread across years of posts here at Cirsova.

22 responses to “News for CatTotW, HALLS, Pickett’s Castle, and Towers of Dream

  1. Tell me about it. I never really meant for my design posts to be… whatever they became… but I probably have 2-3 books (of a “dialogue”) on the exploration of game design and related concepts.

    I think Jeffro put something on G+ this morning or yesterday about developing as a writer and writing across genres and types (I think he called it “getting better by not doing it,” lol) improving tone and style.

    Not sure where I was going with this.


    • You could always do what political commentators do and edit them into a collection of essays, pose on the cover with a knowing smirk and give it a snarky title. You could call it “Advanced War Gaming in a Post-Kissinger Era”, win some cross-over audience who, despite their confusion, will be forced to admit that there is nothing inherently inaccurate about your title.

      Also, Jeffro is someone who makes me wish sometimes that I used G+, as he’s got output all over the place. I still stand by my friendly-mocking of his fervor for orthodoxy, but he really is a pretty awesome dude who I’m glad to know.

      • I’ve been unable to update my blog reliably for such a long time now (I want to say that it was a relief at some point but it’s been nothing but stress for the last several months) that I’m sure I’m suffering some kind of mental blockage from the backlog of posts I badly need(ed) to write.

        I guess I hadn’t been fully aware of just how important a role blogging about the stuff I was working on played in working on the stuff. Once the domain transfer goes through (by the end of the week) I can at least get back to blogging about game design. Or something.

        I’ll probably freak out for a couple days, write a few angry rants, and settle back into a posting rhythm after a couple weeks.

        I made an effort some months back (it doesn’t even feel like this year), to catalog my posts on game design and organize them into a continuity, or at least a pattern. My process seems to work like Torrents — there’s a big picture that I receive in bits and I have to figure out where it all fits.


      • My new host might even be less problematic *hopeful* for you to visit / comment. Of course not completely understanding the problem means it might also potentially be worse (hopefully not).

        I’ve been tempted a few times to find a temporary spot to blog while I wait but I’ve had so much trouble consolidating my stuff in one place on the Internet I’d hate to have ONE MORE THING to cross-post.

        Porting all my Elric stuff from the NarutoFan forums to my blog feels like something someone else much have done for me — I remember a lot of work involved, but I don’t remember actually doing it.

        It’ll be a good thing to be able to post on my own blog again, I feel guilty coming over to yours and digressing all over the place. πŸ˜‰


      • Well, whatever problems I had on my end have since been resolved, and I think that my company may have backed off on their web filtration a bit, so I don’t see any problems.

        Also, you’re welcome to digress over here anytime!

      • I had an idea this morning about the emotional drive/impact of a story, inspired by this episode of Extra Credits (I think):

        My wife and I went to see “Big Hero 6” last night and while I enjoyed the film a great deal, it made me hurt a little to see how much more effective it (and Wreck-It Ralph) was as a STORY compared to Tangled and Frozen.

        Quick disclaimer — I loved Tangled when it came out (and I still like it), and loved Frozen when I saw it — but they’re disasters in terms of storytelling. I mean like, “who the hell is the protagonist?” disasters.

        Blah, blah, one small step for gender equality, blah, blah, one giant — look, there’s still lots of room to get better. Compare Tangled or Frozen to say — Lilo & Stitch — and you can almost imagine the stinging sensation Disney must have felt losing Chris Sanders to Dreamworks.

        Coming back to the “idea,” was a remark I made about “hero movies” this morning, which while erroneous and kind of short-sighted, got me thinking about the emotions that drive a story (film, game, or novel).

        I remarked that the theme of every hero story was “sacrifice” and that it was basically always about a man giving something up — usually his “innocence” or whatever — in exchange for something more important. And since sacrifice is such a universal theme, there’s no reason hero stories can’t just feature women as much as/instead of men.

        I mean, look at Alien — and that’s where I realized how stupid the remark was — I’d basically discounted most of fiction.

        I tried to find other “big themes” like sacrifice which were comparable when I realized that sacrifice is just a good element to include in storytelling — the protagonist gives up something to get something else.

        But sacrifice is an elementary part of storytelling, not an “emotion.” You feel the character’s loss, but you CARE because the protagonist made you feel already — which means there’s another emotion in play before “loss.”

        And I thought about grief.

        If you’re familiar with the Kubler-Ross model (of coping with grief), there are five stages or “faces” of grief — which is parodied more often played straight, in fiction. (I think The Simpsons is the most famous.)

        I had a ‘Psychology of Dying & Death’ class years back where we discussed this stuff in depth, but it basically works out that everyone handles grief differently, and these five were the most common — but more importantly, consistent — emotional responses in coping with death.

        Denial – Anger – Bargaining – Depression – Acceptance

        No one gets them in the same order, and the process doesn’t necessarily “end” with Acceptance. It’s better to think of it as your emotions all firing off at once because your psyche doesn’t know how to deal with the situation.

        The model has been expanded over the years to cover more than just “dying and death” scenarios and I can attest from my own experience that anxiety attacks are an awful lot like getting hit by 3-4 stages all at once.

        Grief (and coping with it) is such a powerful and omnipresent part of the human experience, that it may be responsible for some of out dumbest actions, via say, Loss Aversion. Simply put, Loss Aversion means the average person is motivated more to avoid loss than seek gains.

        (You can see how ‘sacrifice’ plays into this, teaching the audience that accepting a temporary setback is worth achieving a lasting goal.)

        So, where I’m going with this.

        “Courage,” is a virtue often seen in stories of heroism — carrying on “even when all hope is lost.” You could almost call courage the opposite of the ‘Depression’ stage of grief — and sure enough, the lowest point in a story about courage is when the hero appears to give up.

        My idea — which is admittedly still in larval form — is that the emotional drive/impact in a well-crafted story is in how its protagonist handles each phase or stage of grief, having already ‘mastered’ one of them.

        Stories about depression are problematic because depression often results in a lack of forward momentum — which will kill most stories — so it makes sense that a lot of stories (especially here in the “West”) are about Courage, with Depression being a much smaller factor.

        From the handful of stories I’ve seen from Europe, Depression is a thing featuring a LOT more prominently (at least by comparison), where heroic virtues are more often shown in the opposites of Anger, Bargaining, and such — heroes might be more peaceful/nonviolent, generous, etc.

        A hero might then for example, stand out in one particular area (let’s use Courage again) when confronted with situations that provoke him/her to Anger, Denial, Bargaining, and Acceptance — before the lowest point (Depression in this example) — and coming out on top in the end.

        The “grief” in a narrative is the protagonist’s very natural response to the conflicts raised within the story, and this idea follows with stories being at least partially a method of self-medicating human anxieties and trauma (as opposed to being entirely for say, entertainment).


      • I still need to see Big Hero 6. Sometimes I feel like one of the only people in the world who didn’t like Frozen; I thought it was a confusing mess (probably the result of numerous rewrites) that moralized in the wrong directions at the wrong times in the wrong ways (“Wait a minute, ‘Let it Go’ is the character’s abdication of personal responsibility, why is this everyone’s favorite song in the history of pop music? something’s wrong here!”) and the completely out of left field Face-Heel turn of the prince allowed the protagonist an easy out of the movie’s only significant moral dilemma.

        On the other hand, movies like Iron Giant or Dark Knight Returns make me cry at the end.

        I once heard it said that the best storytelling is inherently conservative in nature: Characters make choices and must face the consequences, good or ill, of their actions. Characters who get a ‘free pass’ for their screwups or who are rewarded or punished for no reason do not make for compelling reading/viewing. While it may be enjoyable now and then to watch Puncinello waltz his way from sin to sin only to pants the devil, the intellect usually demand more meat and severity & consequence are a big part of that.

        Also, for Kubler-Ross, I think there was a pretty good and memorable Ren & Stimpy that went through them, too. πŸ˜‰

      • Also, I think that Frozen missed out on a great sequel hook by making the prince a ‘villain-all-along’. The sequel could have shown how feelings of rejection and betrayal poisoned an otherwise decent fellow, and his arc is about realizing that it is unfair for his happiness to hinge entirely on the affections of one person while disregarding her personhood.

      • Also, not to dogpile with replies, but consider that the second half of Gilgamesh is the protagonist dealing with the 5 stages of grief.

      • There were enough things for me to like about Frozen. Character designs were kind of plain but I liked the colors. I like Idina Menzel and despite her character being basically — that one song — and nothing more than a plot device, that knock-off of Wicked elevated Frozen to at least a “ripped off a perfectly enjoyable musical” level.

        I like it for the exercise in analyzing poor storytelling practices — it’s been said you can learn more from mistakes than masterpieces — despite its anemic soundtrack, it felt more like a musical than many Disney films in recent memory — the better ones are usually musicals.

        I also appreciate the god-like magical power bestowed upon Elsa, if for no reason other than “because the plot demands it,” because despite the leakage being a driving point of the story (see plot device problem above), she also didn’t LOSE her power at the end of the film.

        Unlike. Tangled. *ahem*

        I appreciated the “twist” on the idea of true love breaking the curse being familial rather than romantic love — perhaps even in spite of Unfortunate Implications. Oh, so many implications. I also appreciate the significance Frozen had for the LGBT community — but again, implications

        Oh, but what a mess the movie is.

        I could go on for ages — I’ve been tempted at a few points to write a “fix fic” treatment of the story. I want to like it but it has so. Many. Problems.

        I almost like Frozen more for “the movie it could have been” than for what it actually was. But that’s like, an entire blog unto itself.


      • See, I would disagree with the musical aspect, because in most musicals, the songs exist to help move the narrative along while establishing the characters. In this, Beauty & the Beast is still probably the single best musical, animated or otherwise, ever made. In a lot of ways, Frozen felt like a compilation of pop-songs rather than the kind of songs you’d get with musicals. No Sondheim behind the helm here. Also, the density of songs was substantially higher than most disney movies, which I felt hampered the pacing, especially in the first half.

        As for the Implications, I feel like they may have been overstated by those who may have wanted to leverage the most popular movie in the history of forever for agendas. Wasn’t Alex Jones the first person to say “It’s about the gays, look at this 0:07 clip in which the guy points to his family and there is no obvious mother!”?

        I understand that Elsa did have a lot of appeal to the LGBT community, and if she was a symbol that helped LGBT individuals, awesome, but I think it requires more than a little cherrypicking to give her more than the shallowest parallel leitmotif of ‘coming out’.

        Sure she was “born that way” and couldn’t stop having magical powers, but homosexuality represents less of an existential threat than having out of control mutant powers. It’s the same reason that the X-men metaphor for racial equality falls apart; I cannot, as an ethnic minority, blow up white people with my mind. πŸ˜›

        Since Frozen is an adaptation of a public domain story, there’s no stopping you from doing a legit fan fix.

      • I might have set the bar pretty low for the “musicals” part. I think if you drop the trolls from the movie, you’re left with like — 3-5 songs, and it really needed like, another 2-3 at least — 1 for the finale, and 1-2 plot-relevant ones that would have to be written from scratch.

        Minimum. But the ‘musical’ bit was probably my weakest point. πŸ˜‰

        As for implications, it’s totally there in the marketing. Elsa and Anna are making eyes at each other in so many posters… holding hands and locking elbows… the body language looks all wrong for sisters. :/

        I think the last argument I can make, and I mean… we’re on the same side, I don’t want to defend the film, I just liked it… is “shallow” isn’t the same as “nonexistent.” I get the lack of existential threats posed by “nonstandard sexuality” but fiction explores concepts through metaphor all the time.

        Even weak or shallow metaphors. Or really conservative and maybe even boring metaphors. <_<

        It occurs to me that I did do a "campaign treatment" of Frozen that I called "Heart of Winter," which notably made — Olaf — the villain (a hypothetically sympathetic one). I can email it to you, you might get a kick out of it.

        I also added assassins, a regent, revolutionaries, and a climactic battle at the center of a labyrinth of ice — of course it's intended as an outline for a D&D campaign, for a group of adventurers. Lol.


      • Yeah. It might feed into a creeper fan element with a bit more intent than Disney higher ups might want to admit. The problem with making Frozen an LGBT metaphor is that it makes the moral of the movie be “You can be gay without being a fag, so keep that shit under control. People don’t hate you for what you are, you just need to understand that they don’t want you spreading your gay-ice all over them.”

        And yes, I would love to see Heart of Winter!

      • Lol, so like… parallel to the conversation we’re having here, I was skimming Jeffro’s excerpts from your transcription of Geordie Tate’s interview.

        I wanted to mention it but not really discuss it.

        Crazy shit, man. Crazy shit.


      • I think the worst argument I got into over Frozen amounted to the other person saying, “I like this movie because I identified very strongly with the people and the circumstances, and it helped me reconcile with my sister.” And my argument was, “I’m sorry your life sucked, I’m glad you reconciled with your sister, and Frozen’s story is still poorly crafted.”


      • It reminds me of the time I almost lost a friend because I was so insistent than the Rohirim light cavalry charging a line of orcish heavy spearmen and causing them to route was bull.

      • Or when Ursula K. LeGuin admitted that she felt bad for crapping on the anime adaptation of Earthsea because of how many people were so touched by the movie and had a deep emotional connection with it, even though she felt that it was a muddled mess that only vaguely resembled her books.

        When people have a deep emotional connection to something, it’s not helpful to try to make reasonable critiques, as they may take it as personal attacks.

    • Also, I think what may need to be done with HALLS is to re-write it in a way that is more compatible with Holmes Basic and do more with the XP-as-point-buy system.

      • HALLS sounds familiar, I’m sure I’ve read about it on your blog. Is that your product name or is it derived from something else? (I feel stupid asking if that’s what your ongoing campaign is using.)


      • It was the OSR game I wrote that covers 4 levels worth of characters. My problem with it, I think, is that I cram too much XP into those 4 levels, and leveling would be hella tedious. Really, I need to rewrite it in such a way that you max out after a month or two of play and then play as new characters. make it useful for short campaigns.

        What I’m using for Alfheim is B/X, but some of the tonal rules from Holmes regarding how magic is handled. Now that we don’t have an arcane caster in teh party anymore, it’s not come into play as much, but the group is very thankful that Clerical Spell Scrolls exist in the ruleset I’m using.

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