Category Archives: RPGs

A New Home for World of Darkness

Together, we will create the industry’s most innovative games leveraging both online and offline systems.

-White Wolf president Mike Tinney, November 2006

The ongoing tale of CCP Games, White Wolf, and the World of Darkness IP.  A story as old as this blog.

Back in 2006, during the heady days of MMO glory, when every virtual world idea seemed like a good one, CCP bough White Wolf with the express desire of turning World of Darkness into an MMO.  We had heard that by 2009, during the growth years of EVE Online, that CCP was had a team actively working on that project.

World of Darkness

World of Darkness

And then fortunes changed.  There were layoffs in 2011 and again in 2013 that directly affected the team working on the project.

Then there was the mysterious asset derecognition in the company books in March of last year that later turned out to be World of Darkness.  Then, finally, in April of 2014, the 56 people still working on the project were let go and the project was officially terminated by CCP.

After that, some tales of the project leaked out to the press, with stories of hitting alpha a few times only to be rejected and a large amount of “borrowing” of assets from the WoD team to support other projects, especially EVE Online.

And that is where things were left.  It has been well over a year since we have heard anything substantial.  And then yesterday there was finally some news.  Paradox Interactive, the Swedish King of computer strategy games, is buying White Wolf from CCP.  On the Icelandic side of things, this unburdens CCP some and provides them with some additional cash in the bank.  But we already knew that they were concentrating on the EVE Online universe and related VR titles like Valkyrie and Gunjack.  (What fate awaits DUST 514 though, the only “not in space” game in the set?)

What Paradox will end up doing with White Wolf is less clear.  The phrase “…will pursue development opportunities across relevant categories of game…” is as open ended as one would expect at this stage of things.

Does that mean a World of Darkness MMO some day?  That still seems pretty doubtful to me.  The age of “MMO all the things!” has passed.  I am not sure “WoW with vampires!” would do any of us any credit. (And hopefully nobody is thinking “LoL with vampires!”  We’re past that too now, right?)

But we might get a decent computer RPG some day.  We shall see.

The press release from Paradox Interactive is below.  There was no press release from the CCP side of things, but then they cannot even seem to keep up with EVE Online expansions there.

Paradox Interactive Acquires White Wolf Publishing from CCP Games
New Paradox Subsidiary will Operate Independently and Manage All White Wolf Properties, Including World of Darkness and Vampire: The Masquerade

STOCKHOLM – Oct. 29, 2015 – Paradox Interactive, a global games developer and publisher, today announced the acquisition of White Wolf Publishing from CCP Games in an all-cash deal. Now a subsidiary of Paradox Interactive, White Wolf Publishing is a licensing business that owns and manages intellectual properties including World of Darkness, Vampire: The Masquerade and Werewolf: The Apocalypse. Led by CEO Tobias Sjögren, former EVP of Business Development at Paradox, White Wolf Publishing will operate as an independent entity with a dedicated team.

White Wolf Publishing has a long history of producing gaming universes that span mediums, including tabletop and collectible card games, PC games and books. Paradox Interactive acquired all of White Wolf’s brands, and its new subsidiary will pursue development opportunities across relevant categories of games under the White Wolf Publishing name.

“Like Paradox’s games, White Wolf’s properties have dedicated, passionate communities. While there are similarities in spirit, White Wolf’s IPs have very different themes than Paradox’s titles, and deserve their own brand and team,” said Fredrik Wester, CEO and President of Paradox Interactive. “We have great respect for White Wolf’s gaming worlds and see big opportunities for their expansion in the future under our new subsidiary.”

“Over the last 20 years, I’ve had the opportunity to work with beloved studios like DICE and Paradox on the business management side of games, and as a developer earlier in my career. I look forward to bringing my experience to bear as we pursue new ways to interact with White Wolf’s universes,” said Tobias Sjögren, CEO of White Wolf Publishing. “The White Wolf IPs are well suited for all kinds of media and we see great potential to expand them in the future.”

“At CCP, we have great admiration for the White Wolf brands and communities, and it was extremely important to us that the acquiring company share the same respect and understanding,” said Hilmar Veigar Pétursson, CEO of CCP Games. “With Paradox, we know we are leaving the brands in good hands.”

For more information about White Wolf Publishing, please visit www.whitewolf-publishing.com.

The Return of Tunnels & Trolls

The first 90 percent of the code accounts for the first 90 percent of the development time. The remaining 10 percent of the code accounts for the other 90 percent of the development time.

-Tom Cargill, The Ninety-Ninety Rule

While I know the pain of that in software development, I think it applies to most artistic endeavors as well… certainly any project with multiple people working together.

Back in March I did a run down of the Kickstarter projects I have supported over the years.  Not a huge list.  But one of the common threads on the list was projects running late.  Some of them were a little late… Defense Grid 2 missed their mark by a mere month, or almost no time at all in software development… while others were wandering onto the scene a year or so after being promised, such as Project Eternity and Planetary Annihilation.

But the champ for lateness looked to be Deluxe Tunnels & Trolls.  Promised “conservatively” in August of 2013, it was still off in the distance when I did that post.

But last night I received a note that the book was finally off to the printer.  So I still don’t have what I pitched in for yet.  But I did get a PDF copy of the rule book.

Deluxe Tunnels & Trolls

Deluxe Tunnels & Trolls

It is nice that I have the PDF.  I can look through it, see the updates and what art was carried over from older editions and what is new to this edition.  But it isn’t very satisfying.  RPG rules are meant to be in a physical book form so you can easily flip between pages or find a table in the back quickly, something no electronic book format has ever been able to come close to duplicating.  It is a physical thing, where you can just feel in your finger tips if you have gone back far enough through the pages.

But at least I know the creative work is done and there is just a printer in Arizona and some delivery time between me and the live physical copy.

The next item on the Kickstarter list I expect to see is A History of the Great Empires of EVE Online, which was due in May and which is alleged to be close to done, though we didn’t get an update in June and here it is July already.

Addendum: And this just in, “We spent all week correcting minor typos (and adding page 31). Please get the updated version now. Sorry for the inconvenience.”

Question of the Day from My Daughter…

On the way to drop her off at school yesterday morning she asked, “What is Dungeons and Dragons?”

There is a step back in time from her last set of questions.

How do you cover that topic in the five minutes left before I drop her off?

The question came back over dinner, as my wife watched our local Sharks lose to Detroit in the NHL playoffs. (One more game to decide the series.)

I started explaining it with World of Warcraft as my initial reference point, but that wasn’t going very well, except as a minor history lesson in game design and how we cannot escape from what Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson wrought almost 40 years ago.

Then I got out my 1978 Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Player’s Handbook, however that was not the best illustration either.  “Not user friendly” doesn’t even enter into it.  I’m not sure how we figured out how to play with those original books.

Actually, I recall a lot of improvising and “making it up as we went along.”  And then a good chunk of rule book lawyering when “making it up” didn’t go the way somebody liked.

While she was pondering the book (after being admonished to “Be careful! It is more than 30 years old!”) I went looking for my dice.  They are around here somewhere.  I’ll find them.

So I then handed her a copy of David Hargrave‘s The Howling Tower dungeon module, just so she could see maps and room descriptions.

My copy looks just like this!

She wanted to play “tonight!”

She was on her computer and printing out 4th edition character sheets.  Oy!

I can see patience is going to be an issue here.  I remember gaming sessions going late into the night and never leaving the Inn where we started off… or never even getting started off, there being enough rolling up and accounting to be done to get started.

Eventually I got her to let things go to the weekend, but the original AD&D might be a bit too arcane… for even me at this point.

I might have to go pick up a copy of the 4th edition Player’s Handbook, which should be interesting.  I hear the rules have been streamlined quite a bit.  I still think of 2nd edition as being “That new stuff.”  The whole d20 system came along nearly a decade after I last rolled my own saving throw.

Then again, maybe I should just get out my copy of Tunnels & Trolls.  That was always a bit easier to get your head around, and I only need to find a pile of standard, six sided dice.

Witty Ranter #8

I was again invited to join Adam, along with Craig from Voyages in Eternity, Brenden from Another Here, and Beau from Voyages of Vanguard for another lively podcast round table.

The topic was RP vs. XP: Role playing in MMOs, another huge savanna of a topic, which seems to be Adam’s specialty.

We quickly and cleanly dispatched the cliche pre-conception that role play means a bad British accent and a Shakespearean vocabulary. (After all, how would the British role play then… or would they be role playing all the time?)

Then Beau immediately torpedoed my own pre-conception, which was that role play requires interaction, and suggested that role play can be a solo endeavor, and that role play can be immersion in the game and its environment. (Read more on his own immersion project ideas here.)

We then went in to what MMOs could do to encourage role playing and found ourselves walking the line between making the game more life like and making the game accessible and convenient to those with limited time budgets.

The topic, of course, was far too much to take on in a single show of reasonable length, but quite a few ideas and experiences were brought up as part of the discussion.

Most of the show stayed in the domain of fantasy, though EVE Online did get mentioned a couple of times. (You can find EVE role players all over.)

What surprised me was that we managed to steer pretty clear of Star Wars Galaxies (mentioned once, and only in passing, if I recall right) despite it being an MMO with classes geared towards role play. (Anyone here an entertainer?)

It was a fun show, and Adam swore he would digest what we said and then come back at the topic on another show.

Witty Ranter is part of the omnipresent VirginWorlds Podcast Collective.

You can find episode #8 here or on iTunes.

If you like the show, take a moment and leave a review on iTunes.

D&D 4.0 and Used Books

I have mentioned before, and will no doubt mention again, that one of the perks of my job is that it is located less than a block from my favorite used book store.

It is my favorite because it is large, at least for a used book store in expensive Silicon Valley, clean, well organized, and they play baroque music.

The last is a book store must for me.

They have a very good science fiction and fantasy section.  I once estimated that they had over 14,000 paperbacks in that section alone, less than 5% of which were from the Tek War series. (They have a list of books they do not currently buy and William Shatner figures prominently on that list.)

They also have a couple of shelves of role playing games manuals.  I have actually picked up a few gems there, including some nice Forgotten Realms source books.  I cannot bring myself to buy any of the campaign modules, but the lore and geography of the setting still interests me.

The role playing games section is pretty active.  Books seem to come and go regularly, so I make a point of checking the section every time I go in.

Of course, there is a selection of titles that are not very active at all.  There are some Advanced Dungeons &Dragons 2.0 core books that seem to be glued to the shelves, and the two copies of the little-known EverQuest II role playing game seem to have set up a permanent home.

But other books, like any of the out-of-print FASA stuff, seem to come and go pretty regularly. Good for the store, it keeps them in business, which in turn gives me some place to talk a walk when I need to get out of the office for a while.

One set of books that has been rare on the shelves is any of the Dungeons & Dragons 3.0/3.5 source books.  I recall only seeing a single copy of the 3.0 players guide over the summer, and it did not sit on the shelf long. 

And then came Gencon 2007 and the Dungeons & Dragons 4.0 announcement from Wizards of the Coast.

Despite the fact that Wizards of the Coast is not planning to ship the D&D 4.0 Player’s Handbook until May of 2008, and the Monster Manual and Dungeon Master’s Guide until June and July respectively, there was some rather sudden movement on the book shelves in the role playing games section.

3.0/3.5 versions of the core game books started appearing on the shelves, peaking at over 20 copies a few weeks back.

My guess is that these came from people who no longer play, but who pay close enough attention to gaming to have heard about the 4.0 announcement and who felt that they had better sell now.

So the population of 3.0/3.5 books grew.

And then, like the receding tide, the population of those books diminished, eventually hitting an equilibrium at around 6 books on the shelf.

As I said, this section of the book store is pretty active and I think that I am just one of many people who catalog it on a regular basis, looking for gems.  I think some of the regulars spotted bargains in the selection.  The copies that were on the shelf were all in very good condition.  I even considered grabbing a pristine copy of the v3.5 Monster Manual that was there one day.  A few people obviously had the same idea.

I will have to watch and see how the stock on the shelf varies between now and next July.

Used Bookstore – Small World

About a block from where I work is a nice, big used book store. It must do a brisk business because over the years it has expanded and now actually occupies two full store fronts on the main street down town.

It is one of those places that I could spend a few hours when in the right mood. They have a huge science fiction and fantasy section. It is big enough that you run into what I call the “Tolkien or TekWar?” phenomena, when you run across more than a copy or two of a given title and have to wonder if this book was really good or really bad.

The other areas of the store are also well stocked. I could spend nearly as much time on the history aisle. They even have a software and software guides section that has a copy of the spiral bound EverQuest Atlas that SOE put out back when EverQuest was recently released. (I couldn’t bring myself to buy it, then or now.)

And, over in one corner they actually have a few shelves dedicated to games and gaming.

If you want one of the AD&D Second Edition books, including any of those very thin and hugely over priced “Complete Guide…” to the various classes, they have it.

There usually isn’t anything really cool in the gaming area. I have never, for example, seen a copy of the “Forgotten Realms Atlas” there, or any of the more interesting Forgotten Realms source material.

There were a couple of FASA BattleTech source books, which I felt tempted by, if only because the crew at Fear the Boot is always so enthusiastic about the game. But I let them pass. When left on my own, I accumulate books rapidly, but my office at our new house is one bookshelf down from our old place, so I have to resist buying too much stuff “just to have.” I just do not have the space. (I would have found the room if they had any of the FASA Star Trek books though.)

And then I picked up one on the shelf at random and opened it up. On the inside cover somebody had stuck an address label. An old address label. I recognized the address. It was literally 5 doors down from my grandparents house, where I spent most of my childhood.

The book was a first edition AD&D Players Guide. A book I have on my shelf at home. And here was a copy from a few doors away from a house I lived in at various points in my life, both when I was too young or poor to be out on my own and years later when my grandmother was too old to be living by herself.

I cannot for the life of me visualize who lived in that house, though I can picture it in my mind.

But gamers, we are everywhere. Even in your neighborhood.

The Forgotten Realms Atlas

I had enough of my books unpacked a few weeks back to come across my copy of The Atlas of Middle-Earth (1991 revision) by Karen Wynn Fonstad.  Playing Lord of the Rings Online made me want to dig through the atlas to get a feel again for how Middle-Earth, and especially Eriador, was laid out in the books.

After digging through it I decided to check on Amazon.com to see if there had been any revisions since my copy came out.

There appears to a similar book from the 1999 time frame, probably due to the movies, called The Atlas of Tolkien’s Middle-earth.  Like the version I own, it is also out of print now and the details on Amazon.com are sparse, so I cannot tell if there is any real difference between the two.

So I clicked on the author’s name to see what other books she had done.  It turns out she also did a book I had been eyeing some time back.  Again, out of print, The Forgotten Realms Atlas is something or a rarity.  Used copies of it often sell for more than the book retailed for new.

At that price range I had never quite been able to justify spending the money on a used copy.  But it just so happened that there was a used copy listed up on Amazon.com for $10.  It said it showed some wear but was in decent shape, so in a moment of geekiness, I ordered it.

It showed up two weeks back.  The condition of the book is actually pretty good and the content is up to the standards I expected.  The detail inside is up to the standards I had expected.  I spent a while just digging through it and remembering old games.

Of course, in the short term the atlas will end up on my bookshelf among circa 1979 AD&D copies of The Dungeon Master’s Guide, The Players Guide, and the Monster Manual as well as some of the David Hargrave books, my fifth edition copy of Tunnels and Trolls, the first RPG I ever actually played, and some other game references.

In the long term I live in hope that some day there will be an outdoors Forgotten Realms MMO.

Pen and Paper to MMO Ideas

Firing Squad put an interesting article up last week about pen and paper RPGs and which would make good transitions to the world of consol or PC games.  The article was triggered by their being invited to see a playable build of the game Shadowrun, based off of the RPG of the same name, at FASA Studios.

This idea always appeals to me because one of the drudgeries of pen and paper games is just the accounting and housekeeping, something a computer is perfect to take over.  My initial thought on reading the list was which of these games might make good starting points for MMOs.  I want to comment on the three games I am familiar with in their list.

GURPS

I am not sure this is a good idea for a computer game, MMO or not.  GURPS is a rule system framework for RPGs from Steve Jackson Games.  As has been seen with Dungeon and Dragons Online, following the rule system of a table top game is not necessarily a great idea in and of itself.  There ends up being changes required to a rule set to make a decent computer game.  Things that make sense to make a game playable in person, like combat going in turns or phases, end up being thrown out because on the computer the game can calculate simultaneous, continuous combat without much effort at all.

Still, perhaps as a model for a “create your own content” package for the PC it might find a place, ala NeverWinter Nights, if some of the GURPS content could be delivered along with it, although there is so much content I am not sure where to start.  As a skills (as opposed to class) based system, it might find its place.  I would probably buy it without a second thought if GURPS Discworld were available as content.

Paranoia

Initially I thought this was a great idea.  Mongoose Publishing’s Paranoia is a blast. I had a lot of fun playing this back in the day.  I still have books and modules for it on my bookshelf at home.

The problem is, this is a game where successfully finishing a mission can be completely beside the point.  The fun is in trying and failing in the most audacious, grandiose, and original way possible.  This is something that really requires a human running the game. 

Not only is a computer probably not flexible enough to run a good game of Paranoia, I am not sure a big enough audience would “get” the game.  I could just image an official game forum filled with complaints about how hard the missions are to complete and about the arbitrary, even capricious, nature of death in the game.

It would be a game with a legitimate claim on a death system with little or no penalty and everybody who played it would come away knowing the colors of the optical spectrum in the correct order. (Roy G. Biv)

Space 1889

I am only tangentially familiar with this game through a friend who played it, but it actually sounds like and interesting and unique setting that might work quite well as an MMO.  Now published by Heliograph, Space 1889 is set in an alternate Victorian Era where the then-current theories about physics, space, and the planets are all actually true.  Spaceflight is possible, the other planets are inhabited, and conflict abounds.

I think this would be a tremendous opportunity to create an MMO with its own unique style.  Also it might bring the word “Steampunk” into general usage.

Summary

The world of pen and paper RPGs is huge and there is a lot of content out there that could be successfully adapted to an MMO environment.  The key is content.  Rule systems, except as they influence content, are less important when you have a computer doing the detail work for you.

I will probably revisit this subject from time to time.  If you know of a pen and paper RPG that would make a good MMO, let me know.