Sunday, November 25, 2012

"Man Vs The World" live after invading Toronto!

Man Vs The World is now live and available for download at the game's website!!!

I'm also happy to announce that "Man Vs The World" was selected as one of 18 games to be showcased at the Toronto After Dark Film Festival which happened during the month of October!

Friday, June 29, 2012

"Man Vs The World" nearing release!

2nd Trailer for MAN VS THE WORLD!!!


Mike's Plumbing and Tile: Media Arts Division is at it again this year.  "Man VS The World" is very close to being released for everyone to download this summer for free.  The guys have put together a new trailer to wet your appetite though!  Keep checking out the game's website too for when we finally do get a download out for you all!


Sunday, May 6, 2012

D&D White-boxing Part 5

Continuing with my series of posts analyzing and boxing out some recent D&D encounters I ran, I give you encounter 5:  The Church.

Encounter 5 – The Church

After defeating the ghostly knight in the stables I inform the players that night is about to fall.  Knowing from rumors that most of the attacks from undead have been at night, the adventurers begin to search for a suitable place to bunker down for the night.  The party ventures out to the courtyard.  As they mull about trying to decide where to go I have the large undead umber hulk emerge out of the ground which I mentioned back in Encounter 3.

The party already weary from the ambush on the bridge, battling the knight, and seeing the size of the umber hulk, decide to run and hide in the church.  As soon as the players enter the church they “feel” safer.   The umber hulk surprisingly does not try to break through the door, and instead wanders off again.  The curse seems to be held at bay once inside this church, as if something is protecting this holy ground.

Designer Note:  The church is initially meant to be a safe haven for the players.  Later in the campaign a significant event will occur within the church (to be covered in a later entry), but for now it serves as a “home base”.   If the party lacks a holy/cleric/religious type of character, the entire campaign will prove to be much more difficult.  To compensate for this, the DM can populate the church with plenty of consumables to help combat various undead: potions, scrolls, holy water, etc.  I try to constantly remind players to make use of consumables, rather than horde/forget them as players sometimes tend to do.  The encounters are designed with consumables in mind.  Using them will make things go much more smoothly, while opting to horde them might be what causes a defeat.

Upon entering the church, the players see the same hooded ghostly figure toward the front pews of the church.  The figure floats over to the pedestal and central dias.  It appears to briefly write something on a book atop the pedestal, then floats away and vanishes.

Investigating the book will reveal a riddle/clue.
Justice of the Lord
Instrument of the Smith
Needle of the Knight
Rain of the Archer

Exploring further around the church will reveal an altar in the apse with religious runes that read “Lay down your arms and pay respect to those that have laid down their lives.”  Nothing happens when the players put their weapons on the altar.  However placing the spear looted from the ghostly knight causes it to glow briefly.

Investigating the Abbots former study in the back right of the church nets the players some back-story and history to the castle’s former occupants.  The players discover that the abbot ran the church and was increasingly at odds with the lord who resided in the keep.  The lord often displayed an evil streak in his nature.  The abbot’s journal speaks of how the lord and castle were cursed by a powerful witch, whom the lord had sentenced to hang unjustly.  There are also notes in the last pages of the abbot’s journal that talk about his correspondence with the castle’s smith and magician about how to trap the cursed lord within his keep.  A rune stone is mentioned, a key of sorts, to be kept by one of the “watchers” while another “watcher” holds a map to the keyhole.

Investigating the bell tower, the party will find a friendly yet very grumpy and forgetful gargoyle (gargoyle essentially has amnesia to some degree).  The gargoyle complains about how boring his life is sitting up on the bell tower watching nothing happen.  He thinks he was told to give something to someone, but he can’t remember what or who.  He complains about his master who always told him what to do.  He also complains about pigeons, and his 3 older brothers that always pick on him.  The gargoyle always remains very cryptic and even evasive at times, sometimes only answering questions once they’ve been asked multiple times.  If the players correctly guess that this gargoyle is one of the “watchers”, the gargoyle eventually grants them the rune stone mentioned above.

What follows is the full flavor text description of the church that was read to the players upon entering the church.

Three large arched wooden doors grant entrance to this decaying Gothic church. Above them, still intact, sits a dimmed stained glass window of a holy knight. To the left and right of the center door sit two small fountains of water. Religion Check (15) - Upon further inspection you are quite confident this water still possesses holy properties. The doors open with a groan of years of neglect and abandonment.

Inside you look up to the vaulted ceiling to discover that large portions of the roof have collapsed into the main chamber, allowing glimpses of the cursed sky outside. Yet somehow you feel safe. The curse hanging over the rest of the castle does not seem to hold as much sway here, as if something is barely holding it back.  Access to the bell tower lies immediately to the left of the entrance.

The church is laid out in the shape of a cross. The three doors correspond to three aisles with two rows of pews in between them. More stained glass windows line the walls each depicting a different knight or paladin. Their unblinking eyes stare down at you as your feet crunch on leaves and debris disturbing the silence. The pews are in disarray, broken, and weathered where they’ve been exposed to the elements via the open ceiling.

A raised dais at the center crossing of the church has a stone lectern at the center. Atop it sits an aged book with the holy symbol of the church emblazoned on its cover. To the left and right of the dais are the large transept alcoves. Large windows at the end of both, shine light down onto the central dais. The right alcove contains a small office of the former abbot, while the left contains a small private chapel.

Behind the dais is the altar and apse of the church. A half dome grandly frames the altar with holy artistry painted on the dome’s underside, though the paintings are often chipped or peeling, making the full image difficult to make out. More windows ring the apse, allowing hazy light to fall upon a large stone altar.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

D&D White-boxing Part 4

Continuing my series of recent posts analyzing and white-boxing recent D&D encounters, I give you encounter 4 – The Stables.  I switched things up a bit and did this white-box in the Unreal Engine rather than 3DS Max.  I'm a little bit rusty, but this small encounter was a good way to brush up.
Encounter 4 – The Stables

So we left off last time with the group entering the castle gates and exploring the main courtyard.  You’ll remember from the last entry, that the courtyard is the central hub of my campaign.  Most of the main points of interest are accessible from the courtyard, and I give the players free reign as to where they want to explore first.  As such, I’ll be tackling blog entries in the order my group tackled the encounters for the sake of story continuity.  My group chose to immediately check the stables to the left of the castle gate.
The stables is a long and simple structure.  A large open entrance to the stables is located on the left end of the building.  Inside are a row of horse stalls along the wall, above is a loft accessible from a ladder toward the back of the stable.  As the players enter, I allow them all to make a listen check.  If any player succeeds, they hear the faint sound of galloping approaching the castle.  Two members of my party succeeded and turned around to investigate.
The sound of galloping stops and they see a knight walk through the castle gate and turn to approach the party.  The knight looks normal from a distance, and the heroes attempt to engage in conversation.  The knight does not answer and continues to approach.  Naturally suspicious the heroes ready their weapons and demand the knight identify himself.
As the knight gets closer, the party can make out details.  What they thought was a majestic shield with the emblem of a lion has morphed into a grotesque serpent-like monster.  The armor that appeared shiny and polished from afar now appears charred and black.  And finally the knight’s eyes are empty of life and glowing red.
By the time the players realized the threat, the knight is right next to them and still approaching the stables.  One player stood his ground blocking the knight’s path.  The knight’s body fades and shimmers a bit, and walks right through the player and into the stables, sapping health away from the player touched.
The party attacks, but most of their attacks miss as if the the knight is not solid.  The knight simply continues walking into the stables and down the aisle of stalls toward the very back.  He enters the last stall with the heroes chasing behind, and vanishes.  He reappears at the entrance to the stables atop a ghostly horse and a wicked looking spear.  The knight charges down the aisle at the party in a ghostly blur!
Designer  Note:  I designed this encounter to stress to the players the importance of avoiding the strengths of the opponent, while pouncing on the weaknesses.  The players don’t know quite yet, but soon find out that the knight is extremely difficult to hit while moving.  While moving the knight is more ghost-like, while standing still the knight is more corporeal.  In addition the heroes need to avoid being charged and trampled by the horse.  Players can strategically position themselves in the stalls to provide some protection, or an agile character would race up the ladder to the loft above.  The turning point of the battle is of course when the heroes realize they need to kill the horse first.  Killing the horse means the knight must fight on foot, lowering his mobility, and thus making him much easier to attack.
The heroes eat a few nasty attacks before dismounting the knight from his horse.  Once on foot, the party slowly whittles away at his health.  Though still difficult to hit, the fight is much more manageable with the knight on foot.  The ghostly knight is eventually slain, turns to dust, and leaves behind his armor, shield, and spear.  The armor is again shiny, the shield bright with a lion emblem, and the spear polished yet still translucent, obviously magical in nature (and an important quest item).  Within the stables the players also find plenty of torches, lanterns, spears, and helmets should they wish to loot any.
Did the battle work as intended?  Only barely.  I made the mistake of giving the horse far too little health.  The knight only got off one charge on horseback before the party ranger buried a quiver full of arrows into the horse.  Most of the players took advantage of the stalls for cover at first, but only had to do so for a couple rounds before the ranger had dismounted the knight.  Nobody took advantage of the safety of the loft.  The players learned fairly quickly that normal weapons were less effective than magical forms of damage against this opponent.  Fire arrows and magic from the wizard ended the battle soon after.  If I had to do the encounter again I would give the horse more health, or give the knight a teleport ability so that he could teleport away to ready another charge easily.  Another option might have been to give the horse some armor on the front of its body, requiring the players to flank the horse and attack it from behind.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

D&D White-boxing Part 3

Continuing with my D&D encounter analysis and white-boxing series of blog posts, I give you the 3rd encounter space!
Encounter 3 – Castle Courtyard and Overall Layout

The story picks up again where we left off before.  Our rogue atop the castle gate tower has seen a ghostly figure in the courtyard, which then disappeared into the church.  The drawbridge has been lowered, and the party can enter the gates into the castle courtyard.

Design Note:  At this point I let the campaign open up for the players.  There are multiple points of interest once inside the castle walls.  I allow the players to determine amongst themselves where to explore first.  Many players may want to follow the ghostly figure into the church, but this choice is not forced upon the player.

Inside the castle walls the players can see the majority of the layout.  To the left of the gate is a stable.  To the right of the gate is a small yet charming hut.  The church looms on the right side as well.  The back right appears to be a barracks.  The left side looks to be a smithy.  And finally toward the back of the courtyard is the main keep with a high tower jutting from the top.  A few spots allow stair access to the walls that enclose everything.   In the middle of the courtyard is a statue of a man in armor with a large 2 handed sword.  What look like large mole hills are scattered around the open ground of the courtyard.

Design Note:  The mole hills are a hint to the player that a large burrowing creature must occasionally appear in the courtyard.  Using the castle walls or being fairly quiet will allow the players to avoid any danger of awakening it.  At any point though the DM has a card up his sleeve to throw at the players.  The monster I used was an Undead Umber Hulk, though any large slow moving creature would suffice.  I personally used the Umber Hulk as a way to force the players from one building to another, specifically to chase the players into the church for the first time.
Design Note:  The Hulk can also be fought.  It will be a significant challenge without some of the weapons found throughout the castle, so the players get to judge when they feel like confronting the Hulk.  In terms of combat, the courtyard is large, allowing for lots of kiting.  Particularly the players can kite in a circle around the central statue.  If done right the players should always be able to out distance the Hulk and whittle it down with missile weapons or magic.  The only question being does the party have the right damage types to bypass the typical undead damage reduction.  Any religious member of the party will recognize a fountain of holy water by the church door that can help tremendously in taking down the Hulk.

Does the encounter work?  For the most part, yes.  The courtyard is the central hub for all other encounters in the game.  The players immediately get a visual sense of where everything is, and the openness allows them to explore any point of interest they wish, and to some extent, in any order they wish.  I used the Undead Hulk as a means to push the players into the church for the first time when I felt the story needed to be advanced.  When the players finally felt comfortable with confronting the Hulk they did well to slowly whittle it down, though almost no kitting was done.  Instead my group brute force tanked the Hulk with a stone skin spell on the party tank, an acceptable solution.

At some point the players need to visit the Church, as this will further the story along, but I allowed my party to explore a bit first.  My group decided to check out the stables first upon entering the courtyard, which I’ll be covering in the next blog post!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

D&D White-boxing part 2

In my last blog post I began a series in which I will be analyzing and white-boxing some recent D&D encounters I DM’d with a group of friends.  Below is my write up for the second encounter accompanied by some visuals of the white-boxed layout.

Encounter 2 – Castle Bridge Ambush

So we rejoin our adventuring party after they part ways with the master illusionist/trickster gnome.  The party makes their way through the forest to the abandoned castle and church.  They discover that the castle and church are actually located on a sizable island in the middle of a slow moving river that cuts through the forest.  The church appears very old, and was most likely built as a safe haven for weary travelers on the nearby trade road.  The castle appears to have sprung up around the church later, as the area became a more strategic point for warring armies.

The castle certainly looks abandoned and in extreme disrepair.  A bridge extends halfway across the river and a drawbridge, currently down, extends the rest of the way to the island.  The castle gate is broken and lies open.  Two towers frame the gate.  I let the players know that the area feels and looks cursed.  Plants look withered, the water unclean, and the sky unnaturally gloomy.

Cautiously the players tie their horses up on the river bank and begin to venture across the bridge.  As they reach the midway point, the drawbridge begins to rise up!  Two archers appear on the castle towers, and whirling around the party finds that three more bandits with two vicious looking dogs have appeared out of the woods cutting off any possible escape back across the bridge.  The ambush is on!

Design Note:  This challenge is the party’s first real test in combat.  The enemies are actually not meant to be a true challenge for a party of level 7 characters, but I use this encounter as a measuring stick for tweaking the difficulty of future encounters.  This encounter specifically will ask the players to deal with multiple opponents, ranged opponents that they can’t reach easily, and lack of movement/hiding options.  I would have allowed any quick thinking player to jump to the rising drawbridge and gain access to the archers on the towers easily.  Any player with a warhorse would have an excellent opportunity to charge back across the bridge at the bandits and dogs, though my group did not.
After dealing with the ambush the players had to then find a way to lower the drawbridge back down, a simple task for any rogue or fighter to swim across and climb the tower, gaining access to the drawbridge crank.  Once that player reached the top of the tower however, they discover that one of the archers is not dead, and a one on one battle ensues.  Throughout the group fighting and one on one fight the players are told that the bandits seem unnaturally savage and reckless, with pale skin, bloodshot eyes, and never speaking, only yelling and growling.  They appear cursed.

Did this encounter work?  Yes.  For one it taught my players to scout a bit more, to be more cautious, as any player requesting to scout around the bridge a bit would have noticed footprints that were not their own, warning them of an ambush.  The encounter also taught the players that having a ranged attack option of some kind is important, as only one party member had bought himself a bow, and thus was the only one capable of dealing with the archers on the tower.  Granted this player was a ranger and was able to handle the challenge with ease.  Meanwhile the rest of the party made short work of the enemies on the bank.  One player even got creative and knocked his opponents into the river.  

The one on one fight atop the tower proved a good test for the party rogue, providing one of those moments when an individual can shine.  The rogue also gets a good look at the castle/church layout from atop the tower (to be white-boxed in the next blog post).  They catch a glimpse of the next story hook, a hooded ghostly figure is staring at the player from below in the castle courtyard.  Then the figure floats off toward the church and right through the closed church doors!

Next time I’ll be doing a layout of the main courtyard and surrounding buildings!  Stay tuned!

Saturday, April 14, 2012

D&D Encounter Whiteboxing!

Greetings.  I’ve been busy testing away at Microsoft Game Studios for almost a year now.  With my contract soon coming to a close I’ve started up the job hunt in full force.  I’ve been feeling the need to do some more personal work in various 3D programs to help round out my portfolio.  Therefore, to start off, I plan to do some white-boxing of a few encounters I recently ran for a D&D group as a DM.

I’ll give you some back-story on the campaign first.  The campaign was short and sweet, meant to be a self-contained module that could serve as a branching off point for future sessions if the players were enjoying themselves.  Our group ran through the campaign in 3 nights, but more experienced D&D groups could probably burn through it in 2 nights.  The campaign was run in 3.5 rule-set  with 4 level  7 player characters. 
I focused pretty heavily on creating some interesting tactical battles in the environments without making it seem like the environments were crafted for this purpose.  The majority of the campaign took place in an abandoned castle and church, and I didn’t want the level designs to feel crafted.  I wanted encounter layout to feel natural in the setting, yet still provide interesting combat choices.

With that said I’ll be working on white-boxing each encounter space, and I will do some storytelling  of how my particular group tackled each encounter, accompanied by an analysis of whether the encounter worked as intended or not.  Without further ado, I give you the first encounter!  This encounter had very little actual combat, so the encounter space was very simple as you can see from the images.  However, below is the whole set up for my campaign with some design notes on why I started things off the way I did.
Encounter 1: Getting the Band Together : Forest Clearing

Every D&D campaign begins with the issue of: “How do the players meet each other and what hooks them in such a way that they decide to work together toward a common goal?”  I kept things fairly simple yet mysterious in my session.  I gave each player a copy of a letter, signed by an anonymous writer, summoning them to the edge of a forest at midnight on a certain date.

Once our players gathered at the forest and made awkward introductions, a small nonthreatening ball of light approaches them coming from the forest.  It stops by the group, pauses, and then begins to float back into the forest.  Naturally the players follow to investigate, though some are wary of a trap.  The light always travels at a decent pace, waiting for the group if need be.

Design Note: I used this part of the campaign to gauge my players.  Are they heavy role-players?  Will they make elaborate introductions to the other players?  Who is curious in nature and follows the light?  Who is suspicious in nature and prepares for a trap?

The light eventually leads them into the center of a simple yet large forest clearing, and then winks out.  The players are left puzzled for a bit.  Why are they here?  What’s going on?

Design Note:  Naturally at this point the suspicious players, or sometimes the more seasoned D&D players, suspect a trap.  They’re exposed in the middle of a clearing, at night, with miles of forest around them on all sides.  As a DM, I get to see which players go on high alert, which players take charge about what to do next, and which players barely have a care in the world and decide to just sit about.

Before the players take any serious action they start to hear heavy thuds and crashing in the distance.  The ground begins to shake with each thud as it gets closer and closer.  Not sure what is about to happen, some players hide, others draw weapons.  Then, giving the players a bit of comical shock, I had a naked gnome burst into the clearing screaming for his life!  The gnome sprints through the clearing screaming at everyone to run or they’ll die!  Meanwhile the thundering gets dangerously closer and closer.

Design Note:  This is a “fight or flee” moment against unknown odds for the players.  Something is chasing the gnome, but they don't know what.  The DM gets to see who stands their ground and who does not.  Does the group act as one, or do they split up in an emergency.  All of this is useful info for the DM later in the campaign.

My group immediately split.  Two ran with the gnome and two stood their ground in the clearing.  The gnome, seeing that only two had followed him, stops and insists everyone run back to save the two players in the clearing or none of them stand a chance!  Thus everyone ends up back at the clearing just as an enormous giant emerges on the other side, trees snapping under it like twigs. 

I let the players get the first volley of attacks, only to make it quite clear that their weapons are useless against this foe.  The giant laughs at their attacks.  In return the giant nearly kills the team’s main fighter with one hammer swing!  But wait!  The gnome rushes in and begins casting multiple spells, as protective shields spring up, and magical missiles fly from every finger into the giant's chest.  The naked gnome is not what he seems!

The players rally around the gnome and launch everything they have at the giant!  Yet still the attacks only cause the giant to stumble a step back… and the gnome begins to show signs of fatigue.  The players hear more thundering to the left and right and soon two more giants burst into the clearing.  The players are now in panic mode.  Chaos ensues as every player sees their teammates get squished, torn apart, or eaten alive in gruesome fashion!

But suddenly the giants shimmer and disappear!  Everyone in the group is alive in one piece, and the naked gnome is suddenly clothed....laughing hysterically rolling on the ground.  The players meet their first NPC, a master illusionist named Jove.  Jove just so happens to be the a master prankster as well.  The players soon find that Jove is the one who sent each of them the letter, summoning them to the forest.

Once the gnome finally regains his composure, and apologizes halfheartedly for the prank, he enlightens the heroes as to why he has brought them together.  He needs them to investigate an abandoned castle and church that rests in this forest.  Jove senses that an old friend’s spirit is not at peace in this castle, an Abbot that ran the church years ago.   Recent reports from travelers or the lack thereof, warn of undead horrors from the castle roaming the woods at night.  The hero’s are tasked with investigating the castle and church, laying the Abbot’s spirit to rest, and ridding the castle of any threats so that trade and travelers may use the forest roads again.  Before leaving to attend more urgent matters, Jove supplies the group with some tools/supplies to fight various undead threats, and a map to the abandoned castle.

Did this encounter work?  For the most part yes.  I ran this encounter very “on the fly” because I was not sure how players would react to what I was throwing at them.  I had to adapt in a few places, notably when the party split up, I had to find a way to get the group back together.  I also was not expecting to see the players attempt to stand their ground once the giant was in view, but they did.  I learned which players enjoyed roleplay, and which wanted to see action.  I learned which players will flee to fight another day, and which will fight to the death.  And the anger they showed at a DM killing off all their characters in the first encounter turned to amusement and laughter when they discovered they had been tricked by a gnome.  This encounter was also very short, sweet, and can be tacked onto the end of a group character creation process, if desired.