classic podcastery

On Chance, Old RPG’s, and Writing Prompts

Is the long, empty trader’s route between Calpimede and Freischutz fraught with piracy? A hidden star-station which flies no flag?

Why did the Navy set up a base in the asteroid belt of Igerna, at the bottleneck between Huma and the twin planets of Jachin and Boaz?

Who gets assigned to the distant scout station above Fontarabia?

Oh, space adventure. I love you so.

World-building should serve the narrative… or does a well-built world prompt new stories? Much of the history and technology of the world in my podcast has been developed over the various stories I have set therein, but whenever my characters set out for somewhere new, I stall a little. What’s it like over there? Why?

Enter Traveller. I grew up in the height of the “D&D causes suicide/satanism” witch hunt — and in New England, no less — so, my exposure to classic tabletop RPG’s is limited (I’m doing my best to catch up, I promise). Lev Grossman‘s The Magician King makes a reference to an old sci-fi game in a way no self-respecting geek with internet access could resist. And, wouldn’t you know it, the 1983 starter box is available for free right now (and, to all appearances, legally).

I grab it and read the core rules for my own non-writing enjoyment, including the extensive map and world creation section. All based on die rolls.

Now, randomness is a major element in this fictional world. It powers interstellar flight. It [REDACTED FOR SPOILER]. Characters obsess over it. It’s a thing. And here, lain out before me in all its non-OCR-scanned PDF glory, is a method to make a detailed sector map using chance. Magnificent.

So I get to rolling. Oh sure. I could use an online tool. But what fun would that be?


I am now in possession of a map of the sector into which Zeno and friends (and enemies, mostly) are about to jump. And where will they make their rendezvous with the smugglers of the Ghost Parade? In the short-cut space between Guelph and ringed Cestus? Over the undefended water world of Celion?

Each hex has a story, and the borders between as well. Naturally, the majority of the ruleset doesn’t apply to my world, but that’s not what I’m looking for. I just want something to elicit some conflict, some history. Some story.

I’m not saying it’s the best method — but it’s sure helped me flesh things out.


25th Anniversary Playthrough classic final fantasy

Final Fantasy III

What have I been doing for the last few weeks, you ask? Why, re-playing the DS remake of FF3.

Now, I don’t know how much of it comes from the fact that this is a remake, but it seems that by the time 3 came around, the developers were hitting their stride. A nice, big world full of fun stuff to kill do, actual named characters, and a wildly replayable job system.

Once again, we have the old-school several hour final dungeon where if you die on the last boss, you lose several hours of gameplay. Lame.

From a plot standpoint, we’re looking at the same old “save the four crystals” thing, but it’s early yet. Considering how most games if this era had plots which consisted of simply getting higher numbers, we can’t complain.

Oh, and there’s a Scholar job. Know stuff, and KILL BADDIES WITH BOOKS. I am, perhaps unsurprisingly, a fan.


25th Anniversary Playthrough classic final fantasy retrogaming review

Final Fantasy II

Is this really a Final Fantasy game?

Sure, we’re introduced to such FF staples as Cid, chocobos, and dragoons, but where’s the confusing plot? Where’s the XP system? A very different feel from the first.

And then there’s the trick ending. Last night I spent altogether too much time running the the final double-dungeon only to find that defeating the undead emperor is impossible. I’m doing 200 damage a turn and he’s healing in the thousands with a move that both heals him and one-shots one of my guys.

Over to gamefaqs for some guidance, only to find that a sword which is otherwise completely useless is pretty much the only thing that can kill him. No indication given in-game that you’re supposed to hold on to this thing. Jeepers.

I whomped every baddie on my way to the boss, so grinding wasn’t the problem. So, what were the devs going for here? Keep every weapon, then try them one at a time as you die over and over again without being able to save. Or switch weapons midfight. Is that really the experience they wanted the player to have?

So, yeah, I watched the end on youtube. Screw that nonsense.

This game is grinder’s delight. Any character can learn anything you want — just keep ’em using axes, for example, and they’ll get good at axes. Since I was going for a plot play-through, this forced me to focus my guys on specific skills early on so they could keep doing damage at higher levels. But, if you like a lot of flexibility to customize your guys, you could make some fun combos.

On to III!


The Illusion of Chomp

I cannot, nay, will not get enough of this video.


Guy Applies for Bills Asst Coach — with Gaming Resume

One of the PostersImage by Pete Zarria via Flickr

Gaming yields skills.  Teamwork, problem solving, negotiation, leadership, tenacity.   You know this.  I know this.  But do the Buffalo Bills know it? 

I guess we’re going to find out.  This guy submitted a very professional resume and cover letter for the Bills assistant head coach position.  A few of my favorite qualifications:

  • Call of Duty 2: Modern Warfare – Instituted various team building exercises that resulted in avoiding Epic Fails.
  • Madden 94-09 — Responsible for in-game play-calling and execution, including the proper time to call an audible and when to “reverse the play”.
  • Tecmo Bowl — Rushed 4,897,611 yards during the pre-season  with Bo Jackson.

If this dude doesn’t get the job, it will be a severe setback in the movement for gamer’s rights. 

The post is a must-read, so get over there and check it.   And if his site doesn’t start selling 8-bit 716 t-shirts, I will be sorely disappointed.

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Super Star Trek — There’s an App for That

I am not alone in my interest in the archaic text-based space strategy game Super Star Trek.  Recent months have given us an iPhone version

Is the iPhone ushering in a new generation of homegrown games?  The direct-to-download PC market doesn’t seem to be breaking any records, but perhaps the portability and general fun of Apple’s money-printing machine is providing garage game developers with a new outlet.

Find reviews here and here.

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Five Question Friday: David Cumbo, Cinematic Layout Artist at Insomniac

In this latest installment, we get enjoy the musings of one Mr. David Cumbo.  David currently works for Insomniac as a cinematic layout artist (aka “cutscene guy”). 

#1 — You’ve been working in the VG industry for a while now (Ratchet and Clank, Resistance, etc.).  What piece are you most proud of?

-I worked on Ratchet: Future 1 and 2, and Resistance 2.  Of those, I think we did the best work on Ratchet Future 2, which is good since it’s the last game we did.  The quality of the work produced was higher and the story was more cohesive.

#2 — How does directing a cut-scene cinematic compare with directing a movie?  

-Game cinematics are made through a variety of means.  Most typically, they use game assets rather than custom models.  Often, the game models are up-res’d to accommodate close-ups and various cinematic needs.  We’re limited in many ways compared to film production.  We need to work within the confines of the game engine and its custom cinematic tools.  In addition, all assets to be animated need some degree of rigging to allow the engine to recognize their movement.  We need to think creatively to get around all these limitations.  Maybe we want a close up but the model is too low-res so we need to figure out a different shot.  Our cinematics are frequently located in spaces shared with gameplay.  Since fun gameplay is our highest priority, we may need to make different choices in the scenes.  In film, temporary adjustments can be made to get the shot working and then moved back.  Other than the aforementioned limitations, the creative nature of making a movie is identical to animated film production.

#3 — What game are you most jealous of not getting to work on?  Why?

-Insomniac made Spyro the Dragon.  I think I would’ve enjoyed that one.  Don’t know why, I just think the characters are cool and a good story can be set in that world.  I remember digging the original game in high-school.

#4 — What old game deserves a reboot?

-Of Insomniac’s?  I suppose Resistance is a sort of advancement of Disruptor, but I think the sci-fi world in that game is interesting and could use a modern lift.  Of course, Spyro was awesome.  But hey, as far as my favorite lost series?  Day of the TentacleEarthworm JimJet Force Gemini

#5 — What are you playing now?

-To be honest, I don’t play an awful lot of games outside of work since I have to sit at a computer screen all day 😉  BUT, I have recently been playing Banjo-Kazooie: N & B.  That game is amazingly creative.  I’ve always been a huge Rare fan.  The game allows you to beat its challenges in many different ways by constructing your own vehicles to tackle them from different directions.  It’s like playing Mario, but instead of figuring out what they want you to do, you think about what has to be done and make your own way of doing it.  It really is impressive how much depth they put in the vehicle creation interface.  One of the bravest and most underrated games in the industry today.  The last game I finished was Haunting Ground on the PS2.  Lots of fun.  I love that type of twisted story and I’m fascinated by games that put you in a powerless role rather than trying to make you feel like a BADASS all the time.  Before that, Silent Hill Shattered Memories, which, other than Silent Hill 2, has the best story I’ve ever experienced in a game.  It was beautiful.

Thanks David!  And keep us posted on your latest!

classic final fantasy

Sarto Sunday: Final Fantasy XIII Jewelry Et Alia

I’m not really a jewelry guy, but if I win the Square-Enix members Final Fantasy XIII Stylish Sweepstakes, I might consider it.

In the cold of winter, a sweater vest is tempting.  And why not an SMB sweater vest?

And can anyone explain to me why I don’t own a pair of RIVER RAID MITTENS?!?!


PS3 Demos = Holiday Cheer

 Christmas Eve Eve is the time for friends, and yesterday my PS3 showed itself to be exactly that friend in need.  How to entertain the friend who prefers classic games?  The Namco Museum Essentials demo for some Galaga action .  Two-year-old obsessed with cars?  The Gran Turismo 5 time trial demo and lots of crashing into walls.  Group of tired friends looking to relax away from holiday madness?  The ultimate chill that is Flower.  Now if I can convince the family it’s OK to play Beatles Rock Band on Christmas proper, I’ll be in good shape.


Casual is the New Classic

What if a flash game had been made in the 80’s?

I’ve been tooling around with Double Edged, a nice-looking, simple flash game over on Nitrome. It’s pretty much just head right and slash at the baddies; very reminiscent of the old 8-bit games, as so many casual games are. I can’t help but wonder, though, what would this game have been like if it were released for the NES?

No Way, No How, No Saving

After sliding the big gray plastic Double Edged cartridge into the NES, the lucky player would have been given three lives and quite possibly a limited number of what us classic gamers remember as “continues”. If you wanted to beat this badboy, you better have slated a whole afternoon and better not ever make a mistake. Or maybe you would get some unintelligible passcode which your brother would write down for you. You know, the kid whose “A”s and “E”s look exactly the same.

Oh yeah. This shouldn’t be problem at all.

Now, Double Edged has twelve levels, or more correctly three levels and twelve save points. Short, I grant you. Just remember that Castlevania had six.

The graphics would be much closer to awful

Is this the face that launched a thousand titles?

Pixel art has come a long way since Kid Icarus. Just playing as a character made out of more than nine little squares was a life-altering event. And shading? Utterly jaw-dropping.

Here in Double Edged, not only do we enjoy well-crafted sprites and scenery, but we even get to enjoy multiple levels of moving background! And the characters have shadows!

The mountains move! Devilry!

You’ll take 2 axes, and you’ll like it

How’d you get up there?

Whoa, wait. You want to press up and move FARTHER AWAY? You are blowing my mind.

In NES land, you will go left, right, or nowhere at all. Better find a way to jump that box, because there’s no going around it.

“Well, I’m stumped. You win, Joker.”

A Few Points

For reasons that make little sense, the already-limited screen would have a points counter on it, hovering above you, as untouchable and judgmental as St. Peter. You know, so you could take a polaroid of your highest score and show it to your buddy Jay next time he came over. At least now you can shoot for an online leaderboard.

Yep, it just keeps ticking away up there. Kinda creeps me out.

That music will be stuck in your head for a very, very long time.

Red X, you are beauty.

So, somewhere along the line somebody figured out that not everybody likes chiptune? Being able to shut the damn music off is one of the better game developments in recent history. Sure, I like synthetic stylings as much as the next guy, but hearing the same eight bars on a loop as you repeatedly get killed by the same boss is just rubbing 8-bit salt in the wounds.

Now how much would you pay?

Minimum wage in the eighties was $3.35. NES games were fifty bucks. is free. It’s a wonderful time to be alive.