Classic RPGs Panel at PAX

Hey, all! If you're going to PAX Prime next month, I'll be on a panel there.

The panel is "CLASSIC RPGs FOREVER!" (yes, in all caps, apparently), and it'll be on Sunday, August 30th at 11 AM in the Sasquatch Theater.

We'll be talking about resurrecting subgenres of classic RPGs that were once thought dead. I'll be joining veteran game developers Annie Mitsoda, Josh Sawyer, Mitch Gitelman, and Swen Vincke, with Penny Arcade's Jeff Kalles moderating.

I'm super excited and super terrified. This will be the first time I've ever been on a panel (or even seen a panel, or gone to PAX, or gone to any convention of any kind). It'll be awesome to talk games with a bunch of developers I admire, but yeah, combine a thousand unknowns with enormous crowds with nigh-clinical introversion and you get something that's even scarier than what I already do all day.

But hey, I'll manage. I always do.

So if you're going to be at PAX, let me know! It's possible I might be able to do something about that information without crawling under my bed in terror.*

* That's a joke. My bed is a mattress on the floor. I can't crawl under there without straining something.**

** Unless I crawl under the bed at my hotel. Hm, there's an idea....

Q: Big Pot Cooking Recipes?

Erik says:
You're a foster father of 10. Got any good big pot cooking recipes to share?

Actually, I do! Here are two of my favorites (my kids like them too, as it turns out).

Note that, as far as I'm concerned, cooking is essentially magic. So these numbers aren't exact (as evidenced by the ranges below). I usually try different amounts of things each time until I figure out what feels right. Tasting as you go also helps.


CASHEW CHICKEN (ไก่ผัดเม็ดมะม่วง)
Roast 1 1/4 cup of cashew nuts and 1 1/4 cup of chopped green onions (actually, I tend to fry these in oil nowadays, but you can do what you want). When they're nice and brown, take them out and set them aside.

In 2-3 Tbsp. of oil, fry 1 cup of dried chilis. When they get dark, take them out and set them aside. (IMPORTANT: Take them out before they start smoking, lest you fill your house with face-melting, eye-scalding chili smoke. My children hate me for the times I've done this. They still won't let me forget it.)

In the chili-infused oil, fry a bunch of garlic until it's brown, then add all of this stuff:
1 kg of chicken
1 green bell pepper
2 onions
1-2 big carrots
5 Tbsp. soy sauce
5 Tbsp. oyster sauce
5 tsp. sugar

Cook that for a few minutes, then add 1 cup of chicken broth. Cook it some more until it's done (see? magic).

Turn off the heat, and add the cashew nuts, green onions, and the fried chilis (the latter is optional -- most of my kids complain when I leave these in, so now I just put them in a separate dish for the spice-immune teenager).

Serve it on rice (we make 7-8 cups for our family). Feeds at least 12 people.


YELLOW CURRY (แกงกะหรี่)
I loved this stuff as a kid. It's even better now that I live in a country where the spices are native.

If you can get yellow (or Indian) curry paste, then use some of that with an appropriate amount of coconut milk (it'll probably say on the package what proportions to use).

If not, here's how I made my own curry sauce:
3-5 Tbsp yellow (or Indian) curry powder (sadly, if you can't get this, I don't think I can help you)
Lots of garlic (I put in like 10 cloves)
1-2 Tbsp red chili pepper
2-3 Tbsp ginger
2-3 tsp salt
1500 mL coconut milk


Pretty much just mix that in a pot, then throw this stuff in:
1.5 kg of chicken (or whatever meat you want, really)
4 big potatoes
2 big carrots
2 onions

Bring it to a boil, and then leave it on low heat for like 30-60 minutes. Serve it on rice (we make 7-8 cups for our family). Serves at least 12 people.


Anyone else have any good big pot cooking recipes to share? I only cook like four things. It wouldn't hurt to discover other options.

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Got a question? Ask me anything.


Q: Which is harder, game writing with a team or solo-writing novels?

I actually got this question on Twitter, but I thought it deserved more than 140 characters. Although if you're into the tl/dr version then here you go.

So which is harder? Writing a game or a novel? Writing solo or on a team?

Game vs. Novel
First, you should know that I've never written for a non-Torment game, and Torment has lots (and lots and lots) of words. It's entirely possible there are games for which writing is a piece of cake. I wouldn't know what that's like.

What's difficult about game writing is the lack of control. In a novel, the characters do exactly what I tell them to (my characters do, anyway). But in a game, the player can do anything he wants (within the rules of the game). So a character I intended to be major might die before he gets a single line, and the writing has to handle both options equally well. So a dialogue that would be 150 words in a novel becomes an enormous branching, interlocking tree.

Novel writing has its own challenges, of course. For one thing, it's more than just dialogue. A lot more. A Torment game has more descriptive prose than most, but it still doesn't come close to what you need in a novel. The novelist has to let the reader into the protagonist's head, to feel what she's feeling. In a game, that's done for you -- the player's already in their own head -- but in a novel, that connection is a lot of work.

(As an example of how much work... By far, the biggest critique note on my Ninjas novel was, "Not enough description and emotion." It took me two months to revise that critique away, increasing the size of the novel by more than ten percent -- 10,000 new words almost exclusively adding description and emotion!)

Solo vs. Team
The best part of working on a team is that I don't have to write all the words. Torment has several writers working part- and full-time, so most mornings I wake up to finished conversations that I never wrote. It's like having an infestation of word fairies!

The hard part of working on a team is trying to agree on everything. We have strict conventions and pipelines to get everything to an equivalent level of quality with minimum fuss. When I'm in a writing role, I need to follow those conventions and get the approval of (usually) at least two other leads.

Even in my role as a lead, there are sometimes disagreements on how we should handle certain things -- anything from what the jargon of a town should be to the voice of a player companion to whether we should use one dash or two in place of an em-dash. Fortunately, we have a pretty great team, with a high level of professionalism and a low ego average, so even difficult decisions are rarely Difficult.

And really, the decision-making as a team is a lot of the fun. When I'm writing a novel, I have to make my own decisions, second guess myself, and be my harshest critic. My novel has no awesome story meetings with people I enjoy and respect (it's just me). And it is really, really hard to be objective about anything you make yourself.

Which do I like better? I like them both. A LOT. Honestly, if I had to choose only one of them, I'd probably rebel and just keep trying to do everything.

Oh wait, that's what I'm doing.

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Got a question? Ask me anything.



How you can be part of a cybermob and not know it

Cybermobbing is getting ridiculous. I mean the entire spectrum here: public shaming, online bullying, harassment, and the general dickery that goes on all over the internet everyday.

The existence of this crap is not news (well, actually it is, like every single day). But it's often assumed that the people engaging in these activities are sociopaths, sadists, and trolls -- people who get high off wrecking other people, or who just have no conception of empathy at all. To be fair, parts of these mobs are exactly that.

But this post is about you, and how even the most innocent, well-meaning person can get caught up in mobbing someone and wrecking their day, if not their life.

An author recently posted the gif below, saying simply, "I don't claim to know s--t about soccer, but I know this women vs. dudes gif amuses me."

video


His point -- the point of the gif -- is that women athletes can be just as badass and worthy of celebration as men, if not more. Not really a point worth arguing against (unless you got a thing against badass women, I guess?).

The responses he got, though. Last time I checked, almost 50% of them pointed out that the woman in the gif is a rugby player, not a footballer.

They're not wrong. And that's not harassment nor bullying, and so far as I know the author in question was over it before I even had these thoughts. Most of the people correcting him even went out of their way to support his point (though there were a few who thought the mistake meant his argument was invalid which is... a different point, I guess). Taken individually, none of the comments would be a big deal, but when you get 20 replies like that, it can wear on you, literally.

It seems innocent. Each individual is thinking, "I have an opinion that he should know." But the recipient is thinking, "Dear God, MAKE IT STOP."

My point? Think before you post. You are not the only person to have the thought that you had, and you are likely not the only person to express it. Think, and then think again, and then maybe check to see if anyone has said the same thing before you do.

Too much work? Then don't post. Nothing bad will happen if you don't correct that person. But bad things become more likely each time you do.

"But I'm not correcting them. I'm really upset about what they did!" That's fine. There are things you can do, but being a dick shouldn't be one of them.

Social media is real life, guys. The people on the other end of those data packets are real people, and the words you type hit exactly the same as if you said them to their face.

The internet is a powerful thing. We are the ones who determine whether that's good or bad.

Q: A couple of TTON details vs. Pillars of Eternity

Alessandro Gambino has two questions today:
a couple of questions that arose directly from my playthrough of Pillars of Eternity.

First question:  As far I remember, in Torment we will have separate inventory screens for each character, won't we? And if so, any hope you guys are reconsidering this part of the GUI?

I'm not sure where I might have mentioned separate inventory screens. If I did, it was either very early in design or else a mistake. Our inventory design is based on Pillars of Eternity's -- partially because we had just gotten their codebase at that time (so we could see how they were doing things) and partially because a single inventory screen for the entire party is just a good idea.

Additionally, as you mentioned in the full text of your question, Alessandro, TTON's weapon sets will be representative, so a single weapon can be used in multiple weapon sets. See this update for more info on that.

My second question: in a another KS update you wrote (quote): "For us, a “puzzle” isn’t an attempt to divine the will of the designer, but rather an obstacle with multiple solutions involving various Difficult Tasks and their applicable Effort and skills".

Does this mean that Torment won't have any puzzle/problem with not-so-obvious solution? Which is to say: Will the puzzle-solving elements of the original game be dropped in favor of the effort management of the new one (please don't do that. If you are not 100% convinced, I can send you my boxed copies of all Quest for Glory games, as a reminder of how you can have puzzles that feel like real puzzles even if they can be solved in multiple ways according to your character skills :D)?

I can see how your concern might arise from my quote. Rest assured that PST is our primary example in terms of how conversations are designed. "Puzzles" in TTON will take many forms. Simple ones might require one of a couple of Difficult Tasks, but many more will require you to talk to people and pay attention to your surroundings (or at the very least, they will be made much easier by doing so).

What we won't do is, for example, require the player to decipher an elaborate and unique sequence of actions to collect an item they don't even know they need. We also don't want the player to get stuck because they missed some foozle or failed the wrong Task. We are trying to emulate a tabletop RPG session more than a graphic adventure, and that means doing the best we can to anticipate what things players will want to try, and implementing what might happen for each one.

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Got a question? Ask me anything.


Q: What's your favorite part of the writing process?

Trevor asks:
What's your favorite part of the writing process?

My favorite part is the part where I make money, followed closely by the part where people tell me how awesome my writing is.

Is that... is that not what you meant?

So, in terms of actually creating the story, I prefer planning, by far. I'm a notorious, obsessive, ridiculously detailed planner (which is perhaps why I make a decent game design lead). I like to outline my stories down to each chapter's beats and cliffhangers, if I can.

I'm also a big fan of revision, but only after I get critiques and after I've recovered from the bone chilling soul-death that comes with them.

Not a fan of the soul-death.

Or drafting. I hate drafting. In fact, given a choice between drafting and soul-death, I'd take soul-death every time. At least it means I'm staring at a finished story instead of that unholy blinking cursor of oblivion, mocking me while it sits there and does nothing...

You know, it's a wonder I like writing at all.

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Got a question? Ask me anything!


Q: How do you have time for everything?

Trevor asks a very pertinent question:
How do you have time for everything? 
Seriously, I see that you have 10 kids, work remotely on an anticipated game, and write, among other daily challenges I'm sure. Was there ever a point when you wanted to let go of any of these passions? Do you ever worry that you can't devote enough time to each of them?
Do I ever worry I can't devote enough time to everything? Constantly. How do I make sure that doesn't happen?

I have no idea.

Well, that's not strictly true. I have some idea of how I pull this off, but I'm so notoriously bad at everything below that it's a miracle I get anything done. For what it's worth, here are the things that help me run my life:
  • Priorities. My family comes first, then paying work (98% of which is Torment), then my own writing projects (i.e. those that are currently unpaid but will hopefully be paid later), then boring things like fixing stuff around the house and watching Fast and Furious 7. When one priority threatens the happiness of another, they get cut off in reverse priority order... which is why nothing ever gets fixed around here.
  • Knowing my limits. I'm pretty terrible at this one usually, but occasionally I will have bursts of genius, like when I signed on to Torment with a 25-30 hour/week commitment instead of fulltime (although that usually turns into 30-35, and even more during crunches, but commitments! Yay!).
  • Schedules. This is easier when the kids are in school (which they're not now, oi). I try to do Torment work from 7-12 in the morning, then lunch, then write for 1-2 hours, then pick up kids from school, then spend time with kids, then usually more Torment work, then spend time with my wife, then pass out. And somewhere in there I get on Twitter and play chess. No, I don't know how that works either.
  • Very little TV. We don't have Netflix or Hulu out here, and we try very hard not to pirate anything. That leaves Crunchyroll, Legend of Korra DVDs, and our collection of Friends episodes. (We actually have more than that, but we rarely get to watch anything as it airs, making Twitter a constant spoilerfest).

Have I ever wanted to let go of something? Yes and no. I certainly enjoy the financial freedom InXile has given me (especially when we needed it most), but part of me thinks I'd be okay with having time to focus on just my writing and family again. (Then the other part of me starts shouting, "Hey, remember how hardly anybody paid us for our own writing?!").

Giving up writing is also an option, but I don't know if I could give it up completely. I've been writing my own stories in some form since I was seven. For now, I'm content to just take it slow.

Obviously my family is not on the table. They're what I do everything else for.

I've already given up a lot of things to make this work: blogging regularly, keeping up with Naruto, any kind of serious board game design, most movies and computer games that I can't enjoy with my kids... These are costs I'm willing to pay in exchange for creating cool things and raising awesome children.

And if my other commitments become too much, I'll cut those too. Until then, I'll just keep trying to live three dreams at once (four, if you count sleep... which I do).

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Got a question? Ask me anything!