October 29th, 2010 — games
I’ve always been something of a Star Wars fan, but my son’s love of the stories has been very infectious. So, it’s been little wonder that we have anticipated Force Unleashed II. The first one was fun, though hardly great. Yet, as I read about TFU 2 and all the complaints about how short it is, I can’t help but think back to Jedi Knight – Dark Forces II. It was by no means a great game because it had some problems with level designs and some of the linearity. Still, it was very enjoyable, and some puzzles were challenging.
It’s amazing to me that given this is a sequel, why did they not produce a better game when they had so much existing framework and resources. Part of it is that I see they have lost their way on what made their earlier attempts so good.
First, the original trilogy had likable characters who had a friendship that we liked. But they also were part of a good story of the underdog, of the ‘little’ people who stand up and win. Dark Forces II isn’t so light hearted, but it’s still a story of a likable, sympathetic character. But with the prequel trilogy and TFU, we have stories of much more unlikable characters. And whereas Jedi powers were impressive, they weren’t godlike as they have now become in TFU 2 [whereas the light saber now seems weaker, requiring 3-5 strokes to kill a storm trooper].
Star Wars isn’t a great story . . . but it is great fun. And that fun, coupled with characters that we could recognize and like, made it memorable. The Star Wars franchise has lost that sense of fun amidst the darkness. Admittedly, the current animated Clone Wars series tries to create some friendship and fun with Obi Wan and Anakin [and Ahsoka], but we know where it’s headed. In fact, with the more likable characters, like Shaak Tii and even Ahsoka, it’s hard to invest much in them because we know their inevitable fates.
I think what’s missing is the hope, the fun, the parts of life that actually get us through the darkness. Maybe the current writers think that message is too immature for them. I don’t know. But they need to stop wallowing in these dark characters and stories. Giving us a game in which we focus on new, more destructive ways of killing people is not fun. After all, in parts of the Clone Wars, like the animated series, we’re supposed to like them. In Karen Traviss‘s novels, I think we’re very sympathetic to them as creatures that are treated like disposable droids. So, it’s easy to question this mass murder spree in the TFU 2 and to feel that our avatar is little different from Darth Vader.
When you think about it, the game title itself is a bit ominous–force unleashed. It appeals to a desire for power, allowing us the guilty pleasure of having all the power of the dark side. Gaming’s version of the Milgram Experiment, if you will.
Oh, and I have not bought TFU 2, and I doubt that I will.
July 9th, 2010 — games
Badly needing a break from work Wednesday night, I asked the kids if they wanted to play another adventure from the Star Wars game that we started. They bolted from the computer, ‘yes!’
I told them the name of the story [Building a Better Dreadnaught], which obviously gave away what was going on in the game. Grace exchanged Ahsoka for a much more powerful Aayla Secura. Overall, this was more of a role-playing adventure session with no combat. I was trying to teach them while in game about what they could do, so I was giving them a few hints, like searching places. They tended to focus on talking to characters as the main means of getting info, as opposed to looking for themselves. They are still trying to gain their confidence and to look at alternatives rather than the first idea that comes to them. Again, I feel that I was trying to get them to talk with each other and agree on a plan, not arbitrarily but for good reasons.
Also, I had a planned story around their undercover attempt, which would fail. But the kids had the dice rolling their way all evening. So, I was scurrying for a plan when Gage provided me a great opportunity.
I thought this session was too talky for them, but, no, they assured me that they really liked the game. They wanted to play more and looked forward to the next one.
The game starts on the Nelvaan snowy plains. Secura and Fisto are wearing the uniforms of the assassins to try to get into the separatists’ base on Nelvaan. I tell that their assignment is to 1] find out what’s happening on Nelvaan and 2] find out where the separatists are building their weapon.
The kids have the Delta Squad clones and Captain Rex with them. I ask them to place their characters and ask them to think what clones, if any, are going with Secura and Fisto and where the others are. At first they wanted to take 3 clones with them into the base, but I mentioned that the Separatists might not want all of them and kill them except for one. The kids talk and decide to take only Sev. The others are in cover further away and track Secura and Fisto. They approach a cave they think is the base and indeed see a T1 loading crates onto a small ship with two commando droids, a chameleon droid, a separatist commando, and a Techno Union Warrior.
Sep commando – ‘Halt! Who approaches? Take another step, and you’re dead where you stand!’
Secura – ‘We are the assassins!’
commando – ‘What assassins? What are you talking about?’
Fisto – ‘We were hired to kill Lem Garon. And we were told to come here.’
commando – ‘Urm. Hold on.’ [summons droid to guard and then leaves for the cave. He returns moments later with General Loathsom.]
Loathsom – ‘What assassins . . . are you?’ [speaks in a halting gutteral, aggressive voice]
Fisto – ‘We killed Lem Garon as hired. Our comm device was damaged in the fight–’
Loathsom – ‘Fight? What . . . . assassins get in a fire fight . . . on Coruscant?’
Secura – ‘There were two Jedi with him.’
Loathsom – ‘And you . . . escaped from the . . . Jedi?’ [His tone is very incredulous.]
Fisto – ‘Yes. I mean, no, we killed them?’
Loathsom – ‘You killed . . . Jedi? You two? Impossible!’ [He orders more droids.]
Fisto – ‘Yes, but we snuck up on them and hit them with grenades.’ [I ask Gage to roll for persuasion. I set Loathsom's doubt very high at 19. Gage rolls a 20.]
Loathsom – ‘That is . . . interesting. Who is the clone?’
Secura – ‘A prisoner.’
Loathsom – ‘Kill him. We need . . . no prisoners.’
Fisto – ‘But he’s a member of the famous Delta Squad. We could possibly get valuable information.’ [Again, I ask them to roll, and Gage throws another high, 19. I'm wishing he could throw my d20 at games.]
Loathsom – ‘Well . . . then, you are . . . in time. We have loaded . . . and are leaving. Your next assignment . . . awaits.’
[We switch maps to a ship interior. Sev is put into a detention chamber and the assassins are told to rest for the journey to Concordia. The NPCs go to assigned stations to pilot the ship, check the engine, guard the prisoner, and man the one canon onboard.
Gage then talks aloud, to both me and Grace, proposing two options--1. Try to take over the ship by throwing the droids in the air locks, or 2. explore the ship for clues. Grace wants to fight, but I remind them of their objectives. Secura and Fisto decide to split up and to look for information.]
Secura [approaching the commando at the reactors] – ‘Can you tell me what’s going on here?’
commando – ‘What? We’re going to Concordia? Do you know how to stabilize reactor cores? If not, you need to leave this area.’ [Secura leaves.]
Fisto – ‘T1, I need to know what were you doing on Nelvaan?’
T1 droid – ‘Sir, all procedural routines are accessible in my data logs. Please refer to the T1 version 683 user manual for access to those logs and any other functions. This T1 unit has completed its routine and is shutting down for hibernation until the ship arrives at Concordia.’
Secura [going to the Techno Union Warrior/scientist, who took something from the crates and is working in the small workshop on the ship] – ‘What are you doing? Can you tell me what is going on?’
warrior – ‘What? Why are you asking such questions, assassin? You have your job and I have mine. You do not look smart enough to put a slave bolt on a droid.’
[Secura leaves and heads for the bridge, going directly to Loathsom. Meanwhile, Fisto addresses the commando who is now in the hangar.]
Fisto – ‘So, we are headed to Concordia? Can you tell me what is the crates?’
commando – ‘You assassins ask a lot of questions.’
Fisto – ‘We can’t be too careful. Besides, I do not trust Loathsom?’
commando – ‘What?! What are you saying?’
Fisto – ‘I’m only saying that I do not–’
commando – ‘You had better be careful what you say. Why are you suspicious? You are a hired assassin anyway.’ [He puts his hand on his blaster.]
Fisto – ‘I am only saying that I do not think killing Lem was wise. We should have –’
commando – ‘ah, I see. A separatist general want-to-be. We all question sometimes what we do, but these generals have a bigger picture. They know things you and I do not. Stay in your place and keep a low profile.’ [He walks away, still somewhat suspicious but needing sleep.]
Secura appears on the bridge.
Loathsom – ‘What are . . . you doing . . . here?!’
Secura – ‘I wondered if you could tell me–’
Loathsom ‘Tell you nothing!!’ [His anger is intense. Gage then Grace, 'Leave! He's getting mad!' Grace isn't quite picking up on the verbal cues as I thought she might. But at Gage's urging, she leaves and then heads to the cannon manned by a droid. She takes the droid and throws it in the shaft. I stop her and explain that if she really wants to do that, I'll be forced to react. She retracts the action and goes back to the rest area where the Techno Union Warrior is asleep.
She picks up on it and goes to the area where he was working. I ask to roll for all three work areas, and she, too, has the god of dice with her. She finds nothing at the first two stations but at third, the display shows the following message that I give them on a slip of paper:
Gholyhu wr Pdod Ydglwk rq Guxfnhqzhoo
Gage immediately sees it for what it is and begins to work on breaking the code. He tries a couple of Caesar codes but they are wrong. I then tell them to hang onto the message. They might find a clue later. But they still fret about solving it.
The ship then lands and we use a third map. I ask what has happened to the other clones. They say that they have followed at a great distance and are on the other side of the planet, where they are monitoring.
When Secura and Fisto exit the ship, I position a host of powerful characters, including Durge
, to discourage a possible fight . . . for now, at least.]
Durge – ‘Loathsom! Finally you are here . . . I want off this moon before I can no longer resist killing all the Mandalorians here. You brought the slave circuits?’
Loathsom – ‘Yes. We were able to use Nelvaan’s low gravity and extreme cold to remove traces of the Hive Virus.’
Fisto – ‘Hive Virus?’
Loathsom – ‘Yes . . . it can drive one . . . insane in a few hours.’
Durge – Who are you?’
Loathsom – ‘Oh, these are . . . the assassins we sent after . . . that talkative Lem Garon. You should like them . . . Durge. They killed 2 Jedi.’
Durge – ‘You two? Jedi killers?!’ [I ask Grace to roll . . . and their luck is with them still because she gets a 17 with a +5 bonus. I might have to rethink my checks and saves.]
Secura – ‘The Jedi did not see us and we threw grenades that killed them both?’
Durge – ‘Tell me you were not so scared that you forgot to get their light sabers!’
Secura – ‘We did not have time . . . others were coming.’
Durge – ‘Well, then, it is good to have more than 1 Jedi hunter in this tin pile of an army’ [He laughs and Secura, Loathsom, and Fisto laugh too, where it then becomes a silly laughter.] ‘And what is this clone trooper? Why is he not dead?’
Secura – ‘We thought that he might be questioned, to reveal more of the Republic’s strategy and plans.’
Durge – ‘Highly unlikely. I have questioned clones before, and they are too well trained to succumb to threats and torture.’
Fisto – ‘But what if we infect him with the Hive Virus and send him back?’
Loathsom – ‘Durge, I believe we have found someone cunning enough to match you!’
Durge – ‘That is a good idea . . . we could leave a small group here while we leave with the slave circuits. Then attract a republic ship.’
Fisto – ‘On second thought, that might not work.’
Durge – ‘No, it is good. In fact, you two assassins will stay here with the droids.’
At this point, I stop the adventure. I really wasn’t sure where to go with the adventure for a while. I expected their undercover attempt to fail, but they had those 3 very high rolls that prevented their discovery. The plan was to imprison them all and then have Delta Squad report their capture, leading to another adventure in which two more Jedi join Delta Squad to free the prisoners. But Fisto’s idea was a good opportunity.
However, Gage is very anxious. He wants me to play on their side, but I explain that I will take care of things. He starts talking about a very complex plan for the next time, but I remind him of Durge’s idea–to leave a small group behind. And I point out that their group already includes 3 very powerful characters in Rex, Fisto, and Secura. He then sees where I’m going and he relaxes until he remembers the coded message. ‘How are we going to solve it?’ I tell him that there’s still more to come and they might find a clue for solving it . . . if they pay attention and remember to look around.
July 6th, 2010 — games
Even though my son and I have enjoyed playing Star Wars miniatures, I’ve wanted to adapt for it a while, to make it more like an rpg. Now, you might ask, why not play a straight-up rpg?
- We have a lot of star wars minis, not to mention some 10 maps. Many of these characters aren’t very useful in a normal Star Wars mini game, but in an rpg, they become very useful.
- The Clone Wars offers very good, strong female characters that my daughter likes.
- The Star Wars universe, especially the Clone Wars, is really quite rich in existing characters, plots, and intrigues. It provides both ready-made resources as well as room for creative ideas.
- The kids know these characters and can play them while adding their own touches. We don’t have to spend gobs of time creating characters and stats.
- Though lacking the subtlety of d20 RPGs, adapting minis allows for simple but flavorful checks and rolls. The story and the interaction are the most important parts of playing while the checks add some element of chance but do not dominate the game.
- My kids love stories and role playing, so giving them the chance to interact in the game in ways other than fighting is a sure success.
I’ll briefly describe what I did to adapt the game and then describe our first session.
Adapting the minis game
I explained to the kids that they could talk to each other, could interact with anything that was logically on the map or on fallen characters, and could take whatever action they wanted as long as it wasn’t impossible or unreasonable. For example, the kids wanted to immediately leave for a planet and started pulling characters to include in their ship, but I reminded them that they couldn’t simply recruit without going through the proper channels, which was the Jedi Council in this case.
Star Wars minis have only basic numerical traits–hit points, attack, defense, and damage. I broke down skills into basic types: physical feats, computer hacks/repairs, stealth/tracking, dialogue/persuasion, demolition/traps. Anyone could roll a d20. To figure bonuses, I used the characters’ attack bonus but only if it made sense for the character to have that bonus. For example, Sev is a sniper and would have stealth or tracking abilities. Fixer, on the other hand, would have computer hacking, repairs, and trap bonuses. Jedi always get dialogue/persuasion bonuses. To make it work, I found that using 1/2 the attack bonus worked well. For example, if Ahsoka was trying to convince a character to talk, she would get a +5 persuasion bonus on her roll–her attack bonus is 9, so half of that is 4.5 which I round up. If a clone trooper tried to persuade, he would get no bonus. [Yeah, there's threaten, but I consider that different and would use it, if the kids called out that specific action.]
Death and dying are a little tricky. Normally in minis, a character who loses all his or her hit points is removed from the game. I adjusted this somewhat but only for major and secondary characters–once they lost all their hit points, they were unconscious. If their surviving party members won or even retreated, the fallen character lived to fight another day. Fallen characters cannot be revived during a battle, however. But I think I need some way to allow the players to render an NPC unconscious, particularly a grunt who might give up information. I think a simple option is to allow them to say they are shooting to maim or stun, not kill, before an attack.
Other than this, I stayed with the standard rules for Star Wars minis. [Unfortunately, Wizards of the Coast no longer has the Star Wars license, and they have removed the minis products and downloads from their site, so I have no active link for the rules. The closest that I have found is this Word doc at the Kansas City Star Wars Minis site. You can still find starter sets and boosters on Amazon for decent prices.]
The result? So far, it’s working wonderfully. It’s fairly easy to get up and running, and the kids really wanted to keep playing it today in our first session. I may tweak it, but I think it’s a great intro to tabletop RPGs without getting bogged down in the details that put off young kids who just want to play. In fact, after we finish our little campaign, I might create something like it to use with my son’s friends. I love the idea of a house full of kids playing some tabletop games, especially if they played together when they’re older.
For those who don’t want to read the following, I really enjoyed when my daughter suggested taking the uniforms of the would-be assassins and pretending to be them to go to the next planet. I wasn’t expecting that at all and it forced me to rethink the next adventure somewhat. It was exactly the sort of thing, though, that I was hoping for, the bit of creative thinking.
As we put up the game, my wife says, ‘You’re making up a story for them? They are really enjoying that.’ Even my 87-year-old mother watched and listened for a while.
Indeed, as we played, we had a time quite unlike any that we’ve had playing any other game. It’s that experience in which we sort of let go of parent-child-sibling roles and interacted with each other as gamers. We didn’t forget those familial roles, but, for an hour, they were less important than the ones we played. I’ve played a lot of video and other board games with my kids but none of them were like this experience. And I think the reason is that the face-to-face gaming had something to do with it, a lack of a screen. But I think it was as much the fact the kids had only a few rules but lots of room for creativity. When my kids play games like Lego Batman, for example, they enjoy just running around and doing their own thing. I’m reluctant to call this minis RPG adventure a sandbox. It was much closer to an improvisational performance. I don’t want to exaggerate what we did, but it was different than games that I’ve played with my kids in the past, except maybe when they were very small and we’d play with figures in some ad hoc adventure and conversation.
But gone were the typical frustrations of computer gaming, of trying to deal with awkward controls, bad cameras, and poorly implemented cooperative action. I can’t tell the number of times someone gets upset about the other going a different direction. There was none of that frustration. Similarly, my daughter normally hates playing the minis because it’s all about moving and combat. But she likes the characters and will occasionally play with them, acting out some scene on the coffee table. This time, she was into the game. More importantly, she had a couple of really big moments that made her feel good and gave her a reason to brag.
I’m no Wil Wheaton, but here it goes. To set it up, my daughter is 8 years old, and my son turns 11 in a month. My son and I had been talking about playing some miniatures for a while. We were at my mother’s with a subset of the minis when I had the idea for a story, something to get both kids to play. I spent the night before thinking through the details of the intro part and the first adventure, collecting my cast of characters, choosing the maps, and figuring out the locations of key characters and objects on the maps.
Continue reading →
November 27th, 2009 — ds games
Surprising my kids with new DS games, I read the reviews and picked up Star Wars Battlefront – Elite Squadron. I’ve bought games that have been C games on metacritic but that I have immensely enjoyed, finding more to them than reviewers gave credit for. I’ve now played Elite Squadron for a couple hours, and overall, this isn’t a bad game, but it’s not very challenging, which results in repetition.
When you run into a room, you have to typically clear out the droids. With the auto-aim, you have to do little more than press B because the target automatically switches to another droid as soon as you kill the current target. So far, I’ve no need to use cover or to use the exploding tanks. Part of the problem is that hits do little damage. I’ve dropped grenades on myself and continued to fight, even while getting shot. So, I’ve been able to run into the middle of a bunch of droids and kill them while suffering little damage. But if you want to play it safe, you can slowly enter a room and as soon as you see a droid, start shooting. (Yep, you can shoot off-screen droids.)
And the game has no challenges for key objectives. For example, to open a game, press X at the very obvious terminal. Or press X to set the ship to self-destruct. I’ll take Jedi Alliance‘s puzzles or even Republic Heroes unlocking sequences over this “roll over and surrender” approach. (The problem with Jedi Alliance was that some puzzles had very unclear instructions but were easy after you knew what to do.) I realize Battlefront is an action series, but this isn’t the typical Battlefront game.
The racing sequences are also far too easy. For example, after setting a ship to self-destruct, you have to race back to your ship before the timer ends. I ran, expecting more droids or obstacles. Nothing that interesting. You just run. It’s ridiculously easy. Even with obstacles and droid attacks, the bike racing section was pretty easy as well. Again, Jedi Alliance had more challenging race levels.
As a result, the game has little to slow you down or make you think. And it’s a shame because this could have been better fairly easily–take more damage from hits, don’t give unlimited ammo for most weapons (like, give us a reason to use grenades), add some puzzles. Or design better levels that aren’t the usual room that you clear and move on to clear another room. Hidden areas? Give us reason to use cover or to cycle through all our weapons.
I played the multiplayer only slightly, to get a taste. But I played with bots as I have no friends. But the difference was night and day. 3-5 hits, and my character died, unlike the campaign. I had to use cover and grenades, again, unlike the campaign. Even with the bots, this felt like a different game, closer to Battlefront (though still not there yet). I know multiplayer can be more difficult because you respawn. But there’s no reason that the campaign couldn’t have at least some levels like this–levels where you have to fight through multiple, powerful enemies. Event he boss levels that I have played so far in the campaign weren’t as difficult as the multiplayer.
I’ll continue to play the game, in part to see where the story goes but also to see if it improves. (I actually find the space fights the most entertaining type of level so far, partly because I’ve also been terrible at flight games so there’s a little challenge in that respect.)
Now, my son enjoys the game, but he’s a Star Wars junkie.
May 26th, 2009 — games
A while back, I mentioned that my had created a board game for his third-grame math project, which he called Attack on Ilum. This is the game manual that he had to write with a sketch of the board design. He created the board from foam board and drew the grid, drawing and coloring the objects. We didn’t get time to really playtest the game, but I think on the whole, he has a pretty good idea. I thought the game squares should have smaller and more, but he wanted the larger squares [4 inches x 4 inches] so that the game didn’t last too long. The two boards are then glued back-to-back to make one game board.
He had some trouble coming up with pieces but ended up using foam board again.
I had to guide him along, to keep the game’s focus simple, and used the exacto knife to cut the foam board. But the majority is his work.
If you’re interested, feel free to download, create your own board and pieces, and play with kids. According to my son, the game is designed for ages 8 and older, and I think the math aspect is educational, a good way to practice fast calculations and memorization.
Projects like this are good because they work in different kinds of thinking. He spent time researching what planets to use and coming up with a plot of his own, as a kind of backstory. I’m thinking of suggesting we do a similar project over the summer, but focused on a different subject, like history or science. It’s a good way to practice planning long projects as smaller tasks. But it’s a game, which makes it fun.
May 11th, 2009 — games
photo by apesara
For something different, some board games talk.
First, my son has to make a math board game for class, and we talked through it on Friday. I tried to guide as little as possible, but I had to keep pushing about the simplicity of design and goals. He’s not quite done, but I think he came up with an excellent game that has some variety and strategy to it. He’s halfway through drafting the rules, and he just laid out the basic board design. I’m very anxious to see what he comes up with for the final product, and I’ll definitely post the results here. I think he has something that we’ll be playing on family game night.
What was fun, too, was talking to him about basic board games and gameplay–race, random and luck, territory building, combat, etc. I didn’t inundate him, but I took the kinds of games he’d played and generalized from the specifics, to find out what he liked best and to encourage him to have both the subject and the type that he enjoyed. It’s definitely a fun exercise to do with kids, of encouraging them to create anything really.
Second, a couple of weeks ago, my son and I got back into miniatures gaming. I’m not sure what started it exactly–but I ended up getting more Star Wars miniatures and more maps, which helped greatly with the variety. When we tried to play last year, my son liked the idea of the game but not so much the game itself. But, as I’ve been explaining the new figures and their abilities, he has been more and more interested. Perhaps my mistake before was that I tried to simplify the game and stuck to only using the base attributes, ignoring the special abilities.
So, on Saturday, we sat down to a full game. In the recent purchases, we picked up the current uber piece–General Obi Wan Kenobi, whose abilities make him nearly very difficult to defeat. But, from one of the ‘blind’ booster expansions, we also got a very rare Captain Rex, who, in some ways, is even more devastating than Kenobi. But my explaining these characters just didn’t register with my son, but when he saw the two of them tear through my droid army, he nearly forgot about his other 8 characters and focused on three characters, finding their strengths and advantages and then using them to defeat my squad quickly.
The problem was that, when my Dooku piece managed to take Kenobi down to half health, my son had that panic and wanted to stop playing, like when some lose the queen in chess. It was very, very late [about 11 pm], so we stopped. But he understood that he was still in an excellent position and wanted to play again. We had a family day on Sunday for Mother’s Day and never started a new game. [We actually stayed up talking in the bed about the game and about Star Wars, how the troopers could work together. We decided to play through a scenario the next time so that we could have more of a story to act out.]
I could see that both his enjoyment and feel for the game had improved over time, just because of his maturation as a 9-year-old. Will we go to a tournament or a game night? Probably not for a while because I’m not sure how many kids his age play this game. [In fact, I've noticed that few of his friends and classmates play even battle card games, like Pokemon or the newer, popular Bakugan.]
I also think that simplifying can also take out the interest and even the creativity of some games. My intention might have been good, but I didn’t realize how much the complexity added to the interest in the game, thinking it would be too much for him. Part of that comes from the assumption that games are learned, first, in the abstract and in explanations. But just jumping in and dealing with the complexity can sometimes be the best way to learn.
October 12th, 2008 — games
Gamers who enjoy RPGs have several games to entertain themselves with, and I am still wrestling with The Witcher: Enhanced, Fallout 3, and Fable 2. I think I’ll end up playing Fable 2 first for a couple of reasons: 1. I put down a deposit on it at Gamespot so that I could get the Fable Pub Games for free [a waste of time], and 2. my brother is getting it as well so we’ll try the multiplayer as soon as it’s ready, whether at release or shortly afterwards in a patch. There’s actually a third reason–I think I’ll be so engrossed with Fallout 3 that I won’t be able to play Fable 2. [And speaking of gross, I have to admit the exploding heads in the Fallout 3 trailers somewhat put me off. I hope we can dial down the gore.]
Plus, as I mentioned before, my son and I have picked up Star Wars Miniatures again, which we’re really enjoying. We’re now printing custom maps, and we’re creating our own scenarios, which I’m encouraging him to come up with. He’s understanding the idea of creating a goal and having obstacles, the basics for any story or real-life problem solving. We’re also creating our own characters with the generic minis, like the clone troopers and droids. We’ve watched the clone wars animated series, and one thing they’ve been doing there is to develop personalities in those seemingly un-individual characters. The droids have humor and some personality, and as Yoda pointed out in a recent episode, clones are not identical.
For example, I have a droid character called ‘Klink’ who is not really into being a soldier and does what he can to avoid battle, including destroying himself. But there a technological karma at work, so he always gets reincarnated as a soldier droid. But having his character in play introduces a wildcard, a piece that might not follow orders or that might throw itself in the line of fire. Sure, it’s a way to sabotage my own game, but it also makes the game less serious and provides a little wonder of ‘what’s he going to do this time.’ Part of this goes back to my time on Everquest when it seemed that making mistakes, like getting lost or killed, was a part of being in a team and made it more fun and interesting. And my son is developing a character who thinks he isn’t a clone but is the original, which I’m interested in seeing where he takes the character.
Sometimes, there’s a fine line between being involved with your kids’ interests and abetting their obsessions.
October 1st, 2008 — books
A couple of days ago, I made a passing reference to the Force Unleashed novel. Trying to find similar books that my son might like [who likes the clones Episode II but not in Episode III], I came across this handy list of Star Wars books, broken down by a timeline. It made finding a book like Star Wars: Republic Commando: Hard Contact much easier, which fits in with his favorite part of that universe.
My wife and I were talking a while back about kids books in general, how much richer they seem to be now. We were both readers as kids, but the pickings always seemed a little thin. Maybe it’s deceptive appearances, but it certainly seems that kids, pre-teens especially, have a lot more available to them that isn’t kiddie but isn’t for adults.
I’m definitely curious to see where his interests go. As a parent, I see my job as finding what he likes and trying to feed that interest. For a while my son just wanted humorous books, so I directed him to books like M.T. Anderson’s Whales on Stilts and Terry Pratchett’s Only You Can Save Mankind. The balance is to encourage new directions without forcing my ideas on him. [And while I've never been stingy about spending money on books for the kids, I'm glad that we have a pretty decent public library within walking distance.]
My daughter at 6 years old is now reading, so I’m anxious to see where her reading takes her.
On another tangential note, I was intrigued by a discussion at school about wants and needs where games were considered a ‘want’ while books were considered a ‘need.’ I was curious about the assumed value of reading itself, without the need to qualify.