Sunday, June 08, 2008

War! Huh! What Is It Good For?

At Uni I had the ooportunity to see Edwin Starr play that song live. Awesome.

Anyway, I cannot escape the feeling that the battlelines are being drawn for a war in the roleplaying world. Since it's escalation a few years ago the war has pretty much gone cold but over the last few months the embers have been having a wind blown across them and it is about to go Hot! Hot! Hot!

I am, of course, refering to the hoary old chestnut of Trad vs Indie.

I first noticed the rumblings of something when a number of [4e] AWESOME! threads began appearing on Story Games. Not the place you would normally associate love of the Great White Trad Game Monolith but on closer analysis, yes. The reception that Red Box Hack got at SG was monumental and RBH is, under the bonnet, a distillation of the basic concepts of D&D. At the same time on and uk roleplayers there have been some quite vitriolic threads about people 'not getting' story games/indie games but these threads seem to have taken the debate back a few years.

In some of them, attributes have been prescribed to indie gamers - they only like parlour games, they cannot do proper roleplaying, they can't handle rules, they need tools to help them handle relationships in games etc. Self-publishers are being questioned almost as meglomaniacs, setting themselves above the norm. The games are derided as a pile of low quality junk, not worthy of a 'proper' gamers attention. Pretentious twaddle to be ignored.

To be fair, the indie gamers have taken, this time, a rather silent stance. I haven't read a huge amount of vitriol in the other direction - although there has been in the past. There's nothing much you can do in the face of such an uprising of popular indignation except shut up and sit it out. Anything else would be an exercise in futility. However, never let it be said that the Indie Games crowd cannot entertain themselves. There have been at least a couple of occassions where the question has been asked - guys? why all the sudden 4e love? That's like, you know, the enemy? The thing we don't do? (OK, I'm dramatising that a little, but there is a definite 4e luv-backlash raising it's head)

I see a direct correlation between the release of 4e and this rise in indy/trad tensions. On the one hand you have a group of gamers who, maybe, see their treasured way of gaming under threat from these hippy loons and their insane mechanics and lack of range rules. As more and more designers seek to include 'indie ideas' in their games and industry types keep mentioning that the indie games areas are the place to see the new hawtness, then things could be a little uncomfortable. When one notable trad defender described the playtest of Dr Who as 'the frontline in the war against the Forgites' he wasn't that far off! 4e gives the trad gamers their fortress - its bringing the fucking Death Star of Gaming into the field against the indie pop guns. So much attention being lavished on 4e, it has to be 'Advantage Trad' right?

And on the other hand you have the indie gamers really digging some of the changes in 4e. It is being cited for having some of the best GMing advice ever put to paper, for having a number of mechanics that really aid cinematic play, for being a truly focussed piece of design. Or are the indie crowd trying a little too hard? Do the cool kids just want to come home again and stop the war? Like teenage rebels, eventually everyone has to get a sensible haircut, wear a suit and get a job - return to the mainstream. Could it be that? I doubt it, but its worth mentioning!

Of course, the entire 'debate' is a piece of internet driven bollocks. What one group or another does to have fun at their gaming table is absolutely no-one elses business but their own. And who the hell thinks they have the right to tell someone else whether the way they play is right or wrong? Its a totally false dichotomy. Gaming isn't Trad vs Indie - it's Trad AND Indie and everything inbetween. Still, if I find any juicy outbreaks, in my best Kate Adie impersonation I'll be your Trad-Indie War Correspondent!

Saturday, June 07, 2008

A Tale of Two New Games

In something of a period of gaming renewal, I have two new systems on the horizon at the moment and both seem to be sharing some of the same traits.

The first is Age of Conan, a new MMO which has taken the place of WoW on my PC. AoC boasts better graphics, superior gameplay, an excellent boost to the start-game and a whole world of new stuff to explore and powers to master.

The second is D&D 4e, a 'new' rpg which will be taking its place at our gaming table. 4e boasts a better experience, superior gameplay, characters who are potent from 1st level (and they are!) and a whole new world of stuff for us to explore and powers to master.

See what I've done there?

Actually seeing the two games, they have had rather similar receptions. Controversial in their inception, lauded as the next big thing, overhyped by fans desperate for a change, positioned as revolutionary by zealots and derided as terrible by nay-sayers.

The truth, as always, is probably somewhere in the middle. AoC is a good game but it is still quite buggy and has pitiful support meaning that some 'features' are being claimed as bugs and some bugs are being claimed as features. No-one knows quite whats what. In the end its going to be a game that is going to have to grow up quite quickly to reach the levels of acceptance that will sustain it. D&D 4e offers many of the same challenges - its familiar on the outside, but under the bonnet it has some radical differences which mean that theres a lot of learning to be done. It's so different from 3e that in many ways it isn't a case of conversion - its more a case of learning a new game. That could well upset many people.

In the end though, we shouldn't lose sight of the fact that these games are fun and fun comes from embracing differences as well as the warm acceptance of the familiar. Personally, I'm enjoying the new gameplay of AoC and the learning challenges that it brings - and I am wet with excitement about giving 4e a run out in the very near future.

Change is good.