Posts Tagged ‘MMORPG’

My Complete and Utter Vampire: the Masquerade and World of Darkness Bibliography

September 28, 2015 13 comments


It was about this time in 1990 that I first heard about the game that would become Vampire: the Masquerade. Having seen the writing on the wall for RPGs at Games Workshop, I was planning to leave, so I was looking around for freelance work. Ken Rolston put me in touch with a young game designer called Mark Rein-Hagen, and we had a series of transatlantic phone conversations about his idea for a game where all the players would be vampires.

This was a revolutionary concept at the time, and very much in tune with the 90s zeigeist. A new wave of Goth and Gothpunk was starting up. Though I wasn’t a part of it – I preferred Rainbow and Pink Floyd to the Sisters of Mercy – I had been weaned on Hammer horror before graduating to Augustin Calmet and Montague Summers, and I knew quite a bit about vampires. I was commissioned to write an introduction for the core rulebook, and I also got to see and comment on early drafts of the rules.

My introduction – framed as a letter from Dracula to Mina Harker after the events of Stoker’s novel – was popular, and it was reprinted in various places over the following years. I worked as a writer and editor on almost every release during the game’s first couple of years, and I attended my first GenCon in 1991 as a guest of White Wolf publishing. In addition to working on Vampire, I wrote introductions for both editions of Wraith. My last job for White Wolf was co-writing the second edition of A World of Darkness: Mummy with James Estes, with whom I shared an office at a multimedia startup at the time. It got very good reviews, and when White Wolf released Mummy: the Resurrection as a full game, Jim and I received a “based on” credit.

Vampire was always the flagship brand of the World of Darkness, going on to spawn a disappointing TV series titled Kindred: the Embraced and World of Darkness Online, an ambitious MMORPG that failed to set the world on fire. Initially billed as “a storytelling game of personal horror,” the original game ended up glossing over the psychological aspects of surviving as a vampire and focused instead on vampire society and politics. Its post-punk take on the children of the night can be said to have inspired movies like the Underworld series and TV series like True Blood and The Vampire Diaries, as well as a lot of urban fantasy fiction. It was also one of the first tabletop RPGs to have a significant appeal for female gamers. I look back on it with great affection.

Wraith: the Oblivion, second edition (1998) – introduction Buy it here
Mummy, Second Edition (1997) – co-author Buy it here
Book of the Kindred (1996) – contributor (reprint)
Clanbook: Assamite (1995) – author
Wraith: the Oblivion, first edition (1994) – introduction Buy it here
Vampire Storyteller’s Screen (1993) – insert booklet
A World of Darkness (1992) – contributor: Britain Buy it here
The Succubus Club (1991) – contributor: “Annabelle’s Party” Buy it here
Chicago by Night (1991) – editor Buy it here
The Storyteller’s Handbook (1992) – contributor Buy it here
The Players’ Guide (1991) – contributor Buy it here
Vampire: the Masquerade (1991) – introduction Buy it here

“Bloodlines,” Adventures Unlimited #6, Summer 1996
“Purgatory,” White Wolf Magazine #28, Aug/Sept 1991 Buy it here

Also on this Blog
All posts tagged “White Wolf”

Other Bibliography Posts

My Complete and Utter Warhammer Bibliography (Warhammer, WFRP, HeroQuest, AHQ)

My Complete and Utter Warhammer 40,000 Bibliography (WH40K, Adeptus Titanicus/Epic Scale)

My Complete and Utter Cthulhu Bibliography

My Complete and Utter D&D/AD&D/d20 Bibliography

My Complete and Utter GURPS Bibliography

My Complete and Utter Fighting Fantasy and Gamebook Bibliography

My Complete and Utter Colonial Gothic Bibliography

My Complete and Utter Dark Future Bibliography

My Complete and Utter Video Gameography

My Complete and Utter Bibliography: The Rest of the RPGs

My Complete and Utter Bibliography: Odds and Ends


E3 2012: Triple-A Dinosaurs and Indie Mammals

June 9, 2012 4 comments

I didn’t go to E3, but I’ve been reading a lot of the recaps on Gamasutra and elsewhere, and they paint an interesting picture.

More than one commentator thinks that the show is out of touch with reality. AAA games are being marketed, according to one writer, through “unabashed pandering to the lowest common denominator” – which is to say, killshots and boobs. Regardless of the gameplay in this years triple-A offerings, detailed killshots and bountiful cleavage are the marketing bullet points. This shows very clearly how the AAA studios see their core market. More tellingly, perhaps, it also reflects their opinion of their customers, which seems anything but complimentary.

A lot of the real creativity right now seems to be coming from the indie developers, with small budgets and big ideas. It seems to be a law of nature that when a certain budget threshold is crossed, fear overcomes everything else and a deep creative conservatism kicks in. The result is me-too products (“We need to mitigate risk by sticking to tried and true formulae”) whose only innovations are brighter colors, more detailed kill animations – and more boobs.

Does this reflect the true state of the industry? I doubt it. Heck, I sincerely hope not. E3 is out of touch with reality, says at least one industry figure. At best, the blood-and-boobs obsession reflects what the marketing folks are thinking, rather than what the developers are dreaming. Given the recession, sales are shaky, and I guess a lot of marketers are fighting over the safe, reliable core market: a market that, according to Gamasutra’s Kris Graft, marketers see as “Bloodthirsty, sex-starved teen males who’ll high-five at a headshot and a free T-shirt.”

Thanks a lot, AAA developers. It’s nice to know that you hold gamers in such high regard.

But while the dinosaurs are roaring and stomping, I think the real story is down among the mammals: the indie developers whose low budgets give them more creative freedom. Arkedo co-founder Camille Guermonprez likes the analogy as much as I do: he said “When you’re small you move faster, so when the situation is changing, you better be some kind of high-running little lemur than a big dinosaur, because you’re going to get a tree on your head, otherwise.”

E3 is big and expensive, and no indie developer has anything like the cash needed to get noticed in that bright, noisy jungle. But that doesn’t mean they’re not important. Angry Birds has made ridiculous amounts of money, and there’s a huge scramble for the mobile and handheld market right now.

At last year’s GDC, Nintento chief Satoru Iwata urged game developers to ignore smartphones. I wrote about it in one of the earliest entries on this blog. This year, Sony Worldwide Studios president Shuhei Yoshida said that small games and indie developers are vital. He didn’t rush to embrace smartphones, though, because Sony is pushing the Playstation Vita. Sony is still trying to be in the device business and the games business at the same time, facing itself with the same dilemma that prompted Iwata-san to rail against smartphones.

We’ll see how that works out for Sony: meanwhile Nintendo’s Eshop is averaging a mighty 4.7 lifetime (so far) sales per customer in the 3DS games category. I’d love to see how that stacks up against iOS and Android apps, but I haven’t been able to find any corresponding figures. Let’s just say it seems on the low side to me. But then, if you ring-fence your apps and your device together, you’re denying youself any additional app sales that might come from ports to other devices. With device sales, it’s trickier to judge: do people really buy a device because it’s the only way to play a certain game? That used to be the case in the days of the Console Wars, but today I’m less certain.

So there we have it. E3: full of sound and fury as always, but apparently signifying little more than a depressing race to the bottom as far as marketing is concerned. Meanwhile, the mammals are busily harvesting nuts and berries from the iOS and Android bushes, and not worrying about comets. A couple of dinosaurs have gotten smart enough to harvest nuts and berries, but they insist on designing, building, and marketing their own bushes that grow nuts and berries only they can eat.

Okay, enough. I know when I’m straining a metaphor. But you get the idea.

As snapshots of the industry go, the above may not be that accurate. It’s just what I gleaned from reading various articles that themselves were condensed through the lenses of the reports who wrote them. But it’s a picture, of sorts, and if anyone out there has a different view, then hey – write a comment and set me straight.

Farming and Grinding

A BBC news story about gold farming in MMORPGs (now worth a reported $3bn to countries like China and Vietnam) prompted a Facebook discussion. Is gold farming a slightly surreal indictment of our short-attention-span culture, that prompts many players to sub-contract out the parts of the game they don’t enjoy playing for themselves? Or is it indicative of a design flaw that forces players to spend time doing things that are no fun in order to get to the parts of the game that are?

I had it in mind to blog on this issue at greater length, but Darrell Hardy has beaten me to it. And check out the rest of his blog while you’re over there. The man talks a great deal of sense, and does so very readably.

Ten Things I’ve Learned About Localization Editing

March 11, 2011 6 comments

I have worked as a localization editor on a half-dozen or so projects ranging from an MMORPG being imported from Asia to mobile phone games whose code and initial text were developed in eastern Europe. Here are a few things these projects have taught me, both as a writer/editor and as a freelancer.


1. Know What You’re Getting Into

Or more specifically, how much you’re getting into. The client may quote you a number of entries, but the number of entries is only a very rough guide to the amount of work required. Quite apart from the amount of editing the text requires, the number of entries gives you no real idea of the starting word count. Depending on the platform an entry may be as short as 2-3 words or as long as a half-dozen paragraphs.

There’s nothing wrong with being paid by the entry, so long as you know how many words there are in the average entry – if you don’t, you could be letting yourself in for a lot more work than you expect, and a lot more than you quoted for. Always get a word count when you can – or better still, sign a non-disclosure agreement and look at the work before you agree a price. If neither of these is possible, negotiate an hourly rate.


2. Learn to Love Excel

This kind of task is almost always done in Excel rather than Word. Excel is not the friendliest environment for text editing, but it does support automated uploading of text to the game program, and that is why producers prefer it for this purpose.

For reasons that will be made clear later, there is no way around this. Excel – learn it, love it, live with it. The alternative – if there is one – may be some home-brewed text management system, and they are usually far less friendly even than Excel.


3. Establish Word and Character Length Limits

Before starting work, ask the client if there are any limitations on the number of words (or, more usually, the number of characters, including spaces and punctuation) in an entry or type of entry. In general, the smaller the screen on the target platform, the more likely it is that character count will be an issue.

Once you know the maximum character length for an entry, here is a neat trick that will have Excel monitor the character count for you:

  1. Enter the maximum number of characters in a cell to the right of the edited text.
  2. In the next column, enter “=LEN(A1)” where A1 is the cell with the edited text. This column will display the actual character count for the text in cell A1.
  3. In the next column, enter “=IF(B1-C1>0; “OK”; “Too long”)” where B1 is the cell displaying the maximum character count from step 1 and C1 is the cell displaying the actual character count from step 2. This cell will now display “OK” or “Too long” according to the number of characters in cell A1, so you can see at a glance whether you are within the limit.
  4. You can copy these three cells into the entire column and Excel will automatically update row numbers as required.


4. Beware of Codes and Macros

Some of the original text may include codes for paragraph breaks, special characters, fonts, and so forth. Always get a list from the client to avoid deleting them by mistake, so that you can enter them correctly in the edited text, and so you can spot errors. The client may tell you not to worry about this, but you should. Original text may also include macros of various sorts, which will be attached to the spreadsheet cells in which the text appears and will not normally be visible. These can be lost if, for example, you copy the text into Word for editing and then copy it back into Excel.


5. Show Your Work

Unless the client insists otherwise (which may be because of macros) use a new column for the edited/rewritten text, so that the original and edited text can be examined side by side. This will help the client in the event that your editing turns out to be based on a misinterpretation of the meaning of the original. Original text can sometimes be ambiguous. If this is not possible, highlight the cells in which you have changed text by using a different background or text color.


6. Edit, Don’t Write

The product is already made, and the story is set. No matter how much you think you could improve the story, do not rewrite to change story elements, as this can cause problems. Just fix up the text. But see below.


7. Look for Cultural References

A game that is imported from overseas will probably use metaphors from its language and culture of origin, and these may be literally translated. There will almost certainly be other cultural references, included knowingly or otherwise. Here are a couple of examples:

A game developed in Asia may refer to rice cakes instead of rations; this is easy to fix, provided you check it with the client first. There could be art or other ramifications to changing the word without telling anyone.

A game from Russia may have tough guys calling other characters “darling” regardless of gender. This does not imply anything about the speaker’s sexuality, because terms of endearment are often used ironically in the Russian vernacular; instead, it implies a put-down. The phrase will have to be changed for an American audience, to something less ironic and more directly insulting.

If you are lucky (and the text is clean) most of what you don’t understand in the original text will be some kind of cultural reference. Ask at the outset whether you will have access to the overseas writers and/or a locally-based speaker of the original language, so you can clear up any questions or problems quickly.


8. Eschew Exuberant Punctuation

In Asia, particularly, it is common to use multiple sentence ending punctuation marks, especially question marks and exclamation points, to convey emphasis. The text can look like a written version of the archetypal screaming Japanese game show host, and this may not be the desired tone for the game. Check with the client first, but as a rule only use single sentence end punctuation and convey emphasis through word choice and sentence construction.


9. Typos are a Universal Language

At the start of the project, get a definitive list of character, place, and creature names from the client. There is no guarantee that they will be spelled consistently in the original text. If in doubt, query. A dargon may be a mis-spelled dragon, or it may be a completely different creature.


10. Clear Name Changes in Advance

Sometimes a name will have to be changed, either because it is too similar to another name in the game (like the dragon and dargon example above), or because it has a sound or meaning in English that is laughable or runs counter to the game’s intended tone in some other way (for example, a spell that conjures a scalding explosion of steam may be called Wet Bang in the original text). Be aware, too, that the original text may be the work of multiple translators, each with their own way of rendering names into English. The Dark Wood and the Forest of Gloom could be the same place.

Always run suggested changes by the client before making them in the text, as the original names may be tied to art and code entities and those links may be broken if the change goes unnoticed. Also, you may not be the only editor on the job – especially if it is an MMORPG with tens of thousands of lines of text – in which case the client will need to juggle the input of multiple contract editors. The sooner you get your suggestion in, the more likely it is to be the one that sticks.