Keyboard Geniuses is our weekly glance at a few intriguing, witty, or otherwise notable posts from the Gameological discussion threads. Comments have been excerpted and edited here for grammar, length, and/or clarity. You can follow the links to see the full threads.
There’s No Such Thing As Free Parking
This week we learned that Hasbro, after deciding it would be cool to have people on the Internet add a word to the Scrabble dictionary, is now asking Monopoly fans to submit their favorite house rules on Hasbro’s Facebook page. The most popular house rule will be added as an unofficial option in the Monopoly rulebook. Alas, the most common house rules—skipping the property auctions, awarding tax proceeds when a player lands on “Free Parking”—tend to just make the game more of a slog. Conversely, Gameological readers suggested some fun house rules that—well, some of them kept the game a slog, but they’re more thoughtful than the Free Parking jackpot idea. First up is Eat_Up_Martha:
A friend and I once decided to play “socialist” Monopoly by offering incentives to purchase unclaimed properties at discounted rates, stalling inflation on rent, and reserving “Free Parking” money to be reinvested in building hotels or “renovations” (i.e. upgrading to larger hotels). It, uh, definitely didn’t feel very competitive and lasted twice as long as a normal game.
And PhilWal had an idea that, frankly, I’m surprised someone at Hasbro hasn’t already shoehorned into Monopoly:
Just do what all video games do: Add zombies.
After either 20 turns, or once all properties are in play, the zombies set off from Go, moving one space per round of turns. If, as a group, four or more doubles are rolled in a round of turns, the space currently occupied by zombies gets destroyed, and can no longer generate money. If a player lands on the space occupied by zombies, they either lose all their money and/or get infected, passing the infection to any other players they share a space with. The game ends with the last survivor winning or when the zombies get back to Go.
Fartin Van Buren and company added some tabletop role-playing game complexity to their games:
In college, I lived with a group of RPG and board game nerds. We came up with all kinds of complicated rules to make Monopoly fun.
For a while we tried rolling [a 20-sided die minus a 4-sided die] for movement, so you moved anywhere between -3 to 16 spaces. Backward movement was fun, but it was too linear. So we switched to a 10 percent chance to move the half amount you rolled backward. If you did that on the first turn, you could buy Boardwalk and pass Go immediately!
When you landed on Chance or Community Chest, roll percentile dice and consult our special table of random events. They included Hurricane (everyone has to repair their houses) or everyone has to give money to the owners of the utilities. All kinds of ridiculous stuff.
Secret monopolies were my favorite of our rules. You write down three properties at the start of the game and don’t reveal them. If you own all three, you treat it like a monopoly, even if they’re different colors. That made trades more interesting.
We also tried creating characters with special abilities, like the Thug who could mug people or the Cop who couldn’t go to jail. They weren’t balanced, and we only played with them once or twice.
Unfortunately, we had more fun coming up with new rules than we did actually playing the game.
During our discussion of Thief on this month’s Digest, John Teti talked about how annoying it was to hear the same dialogue over and over again while slinking through the city. John’s bigger issue was the game’s seeming inability to avoid playing something he’d heard in the last few minutes, but stakkalee tried to figure out less expensive ways developers could amass giant collections of written and voice-acted dialogue.
John brings up something that has always bugged me, the limited amount of “real” dialogue in open-world games. If you spend any time exploring in an open world, you’ll invariably hear the same dialogue a bunch of times—we all remember the jokes about Skyrim and “taking an arrow to the knee,” and one of the big complaints about Arkham City was the limited (and unimaginative) repetition of the word “bitch.” There are countless other examples. I understand the limitations that cause this problem—sound files take up space (not a lot, but still) and developers don’t want to break the bank paying their voice actors, but the result can be pretty jarring when you’ve heard the same dialogue for the 20th time. I think the only solution is to use speech synthesis technology in place of voice actors, but as we heard from the Computer in this Digital Digest, there’s still a choppiness to computer-generated speech that makes its artificiality obvious. I know this is simply a technological limitation that will be resolved sometime down the road, but that resolution will come with its own unacceptable trade-offs, namely less work for voice actors. I wish there was some other way to fix this problem, but I can’t think of anything. It’ll be just another example of a computer being able to do a job that was previously held by a person.
But Needlehacksaw is skeptical about this computer voice revolution:
If there is one thing I have learned from observing video games for about 15 years now, it’s that betting on technical solutions for difficult problems rarely works, or at the very least, those solutions usually come much, much later than my naive, jetpack-propelled hopes for the future used to be.
It will be a long, long time until synthesized voices achieve a convincing emulation of human acting, but there are other solutions to this problem, some more elegant than others. One thing that disappeared with the mid-tier studios is the idea that you don’t have to have every line of dialogue fully voiced. Heck, if you give people the option to fast-forward through dialogue, most will do so anyway. So just rely on text, even though it’s highly out of fashion in blockbuster game development at the moment and considered a sign of weakness. (I really hope that all those Kickstarter project that once would have been big, but now seem to be a bit niche, like Wasteland 2, Pillars Of Eternity, or the new Torment, might change the mind of at least some people.)
You can have subtitled gibberish, like in The Sims or Animal Crossing, which can get away with being repetitive and probably even synthetic (in parts). You can do it a cute way (like so many JRPGs) or in a sophisticated one (like Outcast back in the day, which was so impossibly ahead of a time that would never come). Or you can just have a huge open world, populated by very few people who would want to talk to you, like the Dark Souls games, which are building an incredible atmosphere with that sort of negative space.
I’m sure that creative people who are not slavishly bound to the “rules” (doing so might as well be a trend anyway) of big-budget game development and the elusive quality of “realism” might come up with different, even better solutions. Throwing money at something or betting on one day being able to brute force a solution with bigger processor power is rarely a viable solution.
Commenting on an article about the alternate-history German ’60s pop of the new Wolfenstein game, PugsMalone linked to and quoted an interesting YouTube video about a real-life Nazi scheme that capitalized on musical trends:
This reminds me of Charlie And His Orchestra. Here’s a quote from the description of the YouTube video below:
“In the 1930s, The National Socialists had a love/hate relationship with swing music. They outlawed it in their homefront, throwing it into the category of ‘degenerate’ art. But at the same time, they employed it in the service of the fatherland. Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s propaganda minister, assembled a fairly competent swing band called Charlie And His Orchestra to perform Nazified versions of the jazz hits of the day. Led by an English-speaking German, Karl Schwedler, Charlie And His Orchestra broadcast on the medium-wave and shortwave bands throughout the 1930s to Canada, the US, and Britain. The idea was to lure the masses in with the irresistible tonic of swing music and then slyly work in the anti-Jewish, American, and British lyrics after the second or third verse. The broadcasts of Charlie And His Orchestra were not available in the Fatherland proper, but that only enhanced their legend, and they picked up an underground following in Germany as well.”
The video, which includes full recordings of several Nazified swing songs, is worth a listen, and if you’re looking for more details on the band and its members, Smithsonianmag.com has an interesting article on the subject. (It’s where that photo of the band seen above comes from.)
That does it for another week in Gameological. As always, thanks for reading and commenting. We’ll see you next week!