Friday, March 30, 2012

Retro Review: Count of Monte Cristo

Ever since getting the Kindle, I've been reading a bunch of classics since anything written before 1920 is free. I figured a good place to start would be with the book that was the basis for my second favorite movie of all time, Count of Monte Cristo.

If you don't know the plot, I'll try to summarize it without ruining anything. Edmond Dantes is a sailor just about to marry the woman of his dreams and become captain of the ship he's been sailing on for years when he is betrayed by men jealous of his good fortunes. He is sent to a prison where he meets a fellow prisoner who tells him of a fortune hidden on the island of Monte Cristo. Eventually Edmond escapes, retrieves the fortune, and uses it to give himself a new name and identity and get revenge on the people who ruined his life.

The book, movie, and anime (Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo) all share this general story. What's really interesting is all the differences between the three versions. The book is easily the most complex of all three. There are four men on whom Edmond wants revenge and one man who Edmond needs to repay for trying to help him while he was imprisoned. Edmond uses each man's interests to get revenge (he bankrupts the banker, tarnishes the name of the politician, etc). He also uses their children against their parents, which becomes really interesting when the son of the man he tries to help falls in love with the daughter of one of the men he has declared revenge on.

The movie is understandably simplified in many ways. One of the conspirators that got Edmond sent to prison in the book is not in the movie. The methods of revenge are very simplified. There are significantly less children and wives in the movie, so less people to complicate the plot. I truly respect everyone involved in making this movie since despite so much simplification, the plot is very clear and nothing is ruined by what isn't in the movie. It remains my second favorite movie of all time.

The anime is very interesting because the main plot stays much truer to the book, but the setting is a heck of a lot more sci-fi. The Count of Monte Cristo is a space vampire, his cohorts are aliens, there are spaceships (obviously), and yet there are horses, stage coaches, and sword fights. Oh, the sword fights take place in giant robotic suits of armor.

The thing I find the most interesting about all of them is a recurring theme that is different in each one. In the book, Edmond sees himself as an avenger of God's. So everything he does is righteous in his eyes (which of course gets challenged a few times). In the movie, Edmond feels God has abandoned him and so has no problem with getting revenge by any means. In the anime, (it's hard to explain without spoiling something crucial, so bear with me) Edmond seeks revenge because he must feel strong emotions (like hate) or he will die.

I highly recommend the book or movie. The anime is interesting and worth watching, but it's a little too weird and there are some animation styles that bothered me a little too much. It does have giant robot suits of armor, though...I'd also recommend the TV show Revenge, which is the closest to a modern day equivalent that we have.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Viewing Life Through Alignment Grids

I don't know if it's because I just started playing my very first D&D game a few weeks ago or if I saw a bunch of versions of alignment charts posted on Facebook, but I have started to view many shows and movies lately trying to figure out what D&D alignment grid characters belong to.

If you don't know what a D&D alignment grid is, it is a 3x3 grid that classifies characters' behavior and attitudes. Essentially, it dictates how a character will react in any given situation. The table looks like this:

Lawful GoodNeutral GoodChaotic Good
Lawful NeutralNeutralChaotic Neutral
Lawful EvilNeutral EvilChaotic Evil

Growing up with D&D computer games, I got used to these terms, but never really understood them in great detail. Although, the first one I remember where it really affected anything was Planescape Torment because your alignment could change based on your actions. The more I play games with moral choices, the more I notice patterns of mine. I almost always play as a character that will save as many lives as possible, but then rob everyone blind if they let me. I'm still not really sure where that puts me. Other than the robbing, I definitely play Neutral Good because I won't blindly obey the law if it means harming innocents. But if I'm robbing you blind so I can buy better equipment to fight larger monsters and save more towns, that's still Good...right?

But besides the introspection, I've also noticed I've been making similar observations while watching Star Trek: The Next Generation and Bleach. I haven't tried to classify everyone, but there are definitely some characters that I keep focusing on. For example, I argue Captain Picard is Lawful Neutral. There have been a number of episodes where he chooses not to aid people because it would break the Prime Directive. Dr. Pulaski is Chaotic Good since aiding people comes above all else. I'm still trying to figure out what Kenpachi would be. All he cares about is fighting the strongest person, nothing else matters. I feel like that's some form of evil, but I'm not sure if it's Lawful or Neutral...

What alignments are your characters? What alignment are you?

Just for fun, here are some alignment charts:

Monday, March 26, 2012

Game Design: Unforeseen Lessons

For the past year, I've been working on creating my own board game with the hopes of starting my own company. When I started this process, I didn't realize just how many random skills are required to take a board game idea through to a prototype.

You start with an idea (whether a clever gameplay mechanic, a great theme/story for the game, or a set of personal goals to build a game around) and have to flesh it out with a game design document. The more detailed you can be in this document, the better you'll be able to answer questions for all the special cases that players will inevitably discover. This document will also help flesh out how the game will actually play, what systems/parts/player interactions there are and how they will all work together. This document will most likely be in a constant state of flux as you develop the game since something that sounds good on paper may not actually be fun to play.

Once you know how your game will work, you'll have to start building the components that make up the game. Assuming you have already fleshed out all the various components needed for the game, you're going to have to figure out how to get or make all those components so you can actually build the game. For counters, tokens, pawns, or other random game pieces, I like to go to Michael's and get bags of small wooden items (stars, circles, button plugs, etc.) or get mosaic tiles. If you want to go a little more professional, Fantasy Flight Games has some good sources for tokens, plastic or wooden.

Chances are good that you have a custom board, tiles, or cards that you need for your game. I use an open-source program called Inkscape to design the sizes of my components, what information goes on them, and what art goes on them. If you're a graphic designer or artist, then finding the art will be easy! Otherwise, you can scour the internet for images to use. Make sure that you have permission to use the images if you plan on keeping this art past the prototype stage. I like to use a filter in Inkscape on all the images I use so all the pieces have a consistent look them. If you don't want to have art in the game for prototyping, you don't need to , but it will be much easier to get people interested in playing your game if it looks nice and at least semi-professional.

Once you've got all the images/designs for the components of your game, you'll have to organize them all so you can print them, and then get ready for some arts and crafts! At the very minimum, you're going to have to cut what you printed into all the separate parts. If you want your board and tiles to feel closer to professional quality, I like to use illustration board from Michael's. It's thick enough to feel sturdy, but still easy enough to cut and fold. However, since that won't fit in a printer (at least not my printer), you're going to have to somehow stick your printed designs on to that board. So that means glue, tape, or sticker paper.

I'm still learning how to build a better prototype and will keep refining my methods to save on time and money costs, but when I started this, I definitely didn't think most of my time would be trying to just build a single prototype to play. And once the game is solidified, I need to get final art, then get a professional prototype built, test it repeatedly, and then start trying to actually sell the game. I've got a long way to go...