Archive for December, 2009

What we're playing: Osmos

A game is a closed, formal system that engages players in structured conflict and resolves in an unequal outcome.

Tracy Fullerton, Chris Swain, and Steven Hoffman

Ask ten game designers what a game is, and you’ll likely hear ten definitions.  But if there’s a game that embodies this one, it’s Osmos, a downloadable indie game in which you control one cell-like mote among many drifting in a Petri-dish-like environment.

The mechanics of the game are simple: a mote moves by ejecting a bit of its mass as a smaller mote behind it, and when two motes come into contact, the larger begins to absorb the smaller.  The combination of these mechanics creates some fun situations.  Two of my favorites:

  • When fleeing from a larger mote, your ejected material will often end up making it a bigger threat in the process.
  • When you make a course correction near a wall, you can sometimes reabsorb ejected motes as they rebound.

I can’t think of a recent game that better fits the definition of Fullerton et al.: the bounded environment and strict conservation of mass embody a closed, formal system, while absorption-by-contact is a quintessentially unequal outcome of a structured conflict.

I don’t want to give the impression that Osmos is more academic experiment than actual entertainment, though.  It’s also a viscerally enjoyable game, with evocative graphics and a soothing ambient soundtrack.  I’m not sure it’ll have a lot of replay value, but Hemisphere Games is offering it for download for the price of a movie ticket, which strikes me as a good deal.

When we first started exploring Google Wave, we thought the opportunities for using it as a mechanism for playing role playing games were excellent. We hope Wave will evolve to be a far better mechanism for friends capturing the tabletop experience than its play-by-email and play-by-post counterparts.

One of the things that caught our eye right away was the ability to write graphical mini-apps, or “gadgets”, for Wave. So we set our gnomes to work on building us a dice-rolling gadget to enhance the play-by-wave experience. Bones was what they came back with, wily creatures.

How do you use it?

Well, firstly we expect you to have a Google Wave account already.  Otherwise, a gadget doesn’t really do you much good, does it?  (If you don’t have one, drop us a line, we can probably hook you up.  That’s how much we love you.)  Once you’ve passed the account hurdle, point your browser to the unfortunate URL!w%252BWUlLr7ZkBAE .

This is our beauteous gadget! If you click “Install”, it will add our gadget to your edit bar.  In other words, it puts a wee d20 icon in your wave toolbar, which drops an instance of the Bones gadget into the blip you’re editing whenever you click on it. If you can’t see the d20 icon, try clicking on the “…” at the right edge of the toolbar; it’s probably off the edge of the screen.

Congratulations, you can now place a copy of Bones in your wave!  By clicking on the up arrow three times above the 6 sided dice I’m setting up 3d6, peep it:

From here there’s a few different things you can do. You can select up to 10 dice to roll, add a modifier to the final result, and choose whether you want the dice pictures to be small or large. If you’re rolling the dice yourself, you can go ahead and click “ROLL” to share your results with the rest of the folks on the wave. If you want someone else to roll, just click “Done” when you’re finished setting up the dice, and anyone in the wave will be able to roll them.  Like so:

Most of all, have fun! We hope this will help make your role playing feel a little more like being there. If you have any ideas or suggestions for us, never hesitate to let us know.

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