The Art of Metal Gear Solid I-IV coming in 2018

The other day Dark Horse announced that it will be publishing The Art of Metal Gear Solid I-IV. The 800 page volume of Yoji Shinkawa’s iconic artwork will be available on May 8, 2018. You can pre-order the volume on Amazon here. From Dualshockers:

This definitive collection of Yoji Shinkawa’s work contains 800 pages of concept and key art for characters, weapons, and vehicles from Metal Gear SolidMetal Gear Solid 2: Sons of the PatriotsMetal Gear Solid 3: Snake EaterMetal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots, and Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker.

Although Dark Horse Comics’ version of The Art of Metal Gear Solid I-IV has been translated into English, it’s important to note that the Japanese handwriting on the images included have been left intact.

I have the original books for Metal Gear Solid, Metal Gear Solid 2, and Metal Gear Solid V. There beautiful, but I note that many write ups claim that the books are not in English; this is not true. As you can see from my post about the Art of Metal Gear Solid 2, you can still get these promotional books for a rather steep price and read most of them, too.

The list price for the Art of Metal Gear Solid I-IV is $79.99, but at the time of this writing it’s currently 40% off.

Essays on Adventure Modules

Ever wonder what game designers think of their favorite modules? Then you should read Our Favorite Adventure Modules And What We Learned From Them. These essays were Kickstarter updates for How to Write Adventures that Don’t Suck. Several contributors to that book wrote about their favorite modules. Goodman Games collected them into an ebook as a stretch goal reward. The essays celebrate old favorites while demonstrating sources of inspiration for game designers. I’ve read all the essays over and noted a few that resonated with me. I’ll talk about that below. As an added bonus I’ve provided links to the selected modules and author profiles.

The Adventure Modules

There are sixteen essays total, most no longer than two pages. I appreciate the brevity considering the heft of HTWADMTDS. It ends up being a good primer on a lot of the classic modules of D&D and AD&D. I’ve never heard of some of these before. Here’s a list of a few discussed. Click the titles if you’re interested in poking through these modules.

There were some other shout outs to non-D&D sources as well.

The Essays

Two essays stood out to me. First, “The Solitaire Adventure That Changed My Life” by Lester Smith. I had the experience that Smith describes but in reverse. I was the DM who had to “wing it” with a bare bones adventure. It led to one of the more memorable adventures I ran with my old group. An issue of Dungeon had come in. I remember the cover art showed a man dying because a woman poisoned him. It was probably more fleshed out in the magazine (it was). But before I could read it, most of my group stopped by after school. We decided we wanted to play D&D. Since I was the regular DM of the group… So I skimmed the issue and put something together while the guys rolled out characters. We had a lot of fun as they investigated a manor haunted by this musician’s vengeful ghost.

The second essay relevant to me was “The First Campaign” by Kevin Melka. D&D like many other “hardcore” hobbies has a bit of an on-boarding problem for new players. Old D&D, in the days before the ubiquitous Internet, in particular, was confusing for people new to it all. I’m not talking about the rules per se; I mean what adventures to play and buy.

Product Confusion

What was the difference between D&D and AD&D and AD&D2e? What about different role playing systems altogether? Could you buy a box set, like say Rod of Seven Parts, and play a game of D&D with your buddies like you could a board game? Or did you have to buy all those $20+ companion books to go along with it?

Not a lot of information was available in those days. If you were like me and you had no local gaming store, who could we go to? (We had plenty of comic book stores and plenty of toy model stores around. But those owners always made it quite clear they were not interested in D&D. Or kids asking about it.). So my friends and I figured it out as best we could, and we still had a lot of fun with what we did come up with. When I got to college and meet some gamers, I noted how much more they knew about the game. Heck, they knew more about and the ecosystems of RPGs in general. I had no idea how to run real campaigns for instance. So Melka’s piece hit home for me.

The links to the essays are below. They were project updates on Kickstarter so scroll past the blather to get to the good stuff.

  1. A Bit About Tsojcanth: My Favorite Module, With A Caveat
  2. Markessa and the Madman: the Secret of the Slaver’s Stockade
  3. Castlemania
  4. Falling in love in the Desert
  5. Me against Nosnra
  6. My Favorite Published Adventure: The Sample Dungeon
  7. We Did the Mash
  8. The Caverns of Thracia
  9. The First Campaign
  10. The Solitaire Adventure that Changed My Life
  11. Playtesting a Legend
  12. The Random Dungeon Generator
  13. My Favorite Adventures
  14. My All Timey Favoritest Adventure Ever
  15. The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh
  16. A blast from the past

Use for a Game Designer

I’ve dabbled in game design for over a decade now and have run a few campaigns via email over the last few years. Reading this book has been useful for getting others’ perspectives on game design. We all know our strengths and weaknesses as GMs. It’s good practice to play to strengths rather than compensate for weaknesses. In my case I’m pretty terrible at traps and puzzles. But still, I like to see what’s out there. I’m already interested in picking up The Caverns of Thracia to get a taste of the level design. And I do tend to make funhouse dungeons like Castle Amber. There’s a lot for me to learn and grow as a designer. I’ll talk about that more next week when I go over HTWAMTDS in more detail.

You can get a copy of How To Write Adventure Modules That Don’t Suck herefor $7.

Appendix N

I’ve been working on a new D&D campaign setting and the release of Appendix N could not have been more timely. If you’ve been following Jeffro’s series on the Castalia House blog, then you know what it’s about. A critical review of all the books and works listed in old AD&D manual. I’m about 30% of the way through and I can already highly recommend it to anyone who’s interested in D&D and speculative fiction.

One year later: Kangaroo Notebook and Metal Gear Solid 2

This is the first year anniversary of Usualjay Plays Games. If you look over the archives you’ll probably note a dearth of updates over the last seven months or so. Lots of drafts and post stubs but nothing that ended up worthy of being added to the ether of the internet. C’est la vie. But I had the one year birthday of this blog planned out in advance. So in honor of the Metal Gear Solid 2 meta that caused me to start this in the first place, I started reading the book that purportedly served as one of the inspirations for the game: Kangaroo Notebook, the last novel by surrealist Japanese author Kobo Abe.

I knew from what I had read about the game’s development that only some imagery from the 1993 book made it into the final game; particularly the vampire stuff. In fact there’s another work – City of Glass by Paul Auster – which had even more direct impact on the fluff of the game (setting, character names, etc). But I’ve been curious to see what’s in the novel that may have gotten Hideo Kojima’s creative gears turning for Meta Gear Solid 2. Sons of Liberty did end up as one of the most ambitiously bizarre games made in the last 15 years. It’s kind of a mystery, really. One would think, given the runaway success of the first game in 1998, that MGS2 should have been a fairly straight forward example of cash-in mega sequel. In terms of hype, sales, and money it certainly was. But, that story. Controversial back then and something of a punchline today (Trolljima), it gave us the infamous character swap, featured a dense and at times incoherent narrative, and nearly all of its connecting arc points with the first game were either cursory or unsatisfying, to say the least. It was compounded by the fact that the gameplay itself was superb, and it was a technical achievement for its time, just it’s all wrapped up and weaved into a profoundly weird story. You couldn’t have one without the other. It all leaves you with a slightly uncomfortable feeling of “what the hell..” which, ironically, is the last line of dialogue in the game. Any hints to what shaped the creative process behind the story would be nice.

Hence, a Kangaroo Notebook reading.

I’m not that familiar with Japanese literature, I think I’ve read only two or three Japanese books before and they certainly were not in Mr. Abe’s wheelhouse. So this is something of a new critical literacy exercise for me. That said, I’m only about 30 pages into it so far and it does give one a similar feeling to that breathless, down-the-rabbit-hole sensation that permeates Metal Gear Solid 2. The antagonist wakes up one day to radishes growing on his shins, and when he seeks help from a dermatologist, he ends up on a gurney rolling down the street, his destination subtlety marked down as “hell.” It’s a breezy read thus far and I hope to finish it this weekend, at which point I’ll share some thoughts.

With regard to the actual game, my PS3 has been in mothballs for some months now, but it may be time to get it hooked up to a TV again and give Sons of Liberty another playthrough. With a respectful nod to confirmation bias, I’ll be looking for any narrative similarities between the book and the game.

Thoughts on Of Dice and Men

Today I finished reading Of Dice and Men by David M. Ewalt, Level-Fifteen Cleric (stated as level-twelve in the book). As you may have seen previously I wasn’t impressed from what I read in the early chapters. I’m sad to say that my initial opinion did not improve greatly as I read though it. I suspect I may be judging Mr. Ewalt unfairly thanks to the bad impression he made in the Introduction, but I tried mightily not to let it affect my judgement. If the first taste is bad, it’s usually not a good idea to keep at it, expecting it to get better.  But sometimes I just keep on trying like a fool.

Of Dice and Men is a very uneven work. The good aspects are the end notes which reference some more in-depth books on the history of fantasy gaming and TSR. The history sections are also interesting to read, in which Ewalt summarizes much of the rather byzantine history of the development of the early Dungeons & Dragons games. On the whole the book is easy to read, which is good because the bad parts are insufferable. These parts include lengthy recaps of his on-going main campaign with his friends. Worse still, the all too self-conscious nerd in the author bleeds through into the narrative even at times when he’s not suspecting. It’s particularly painful to read about his foray in LARPing and his first time writing a campaign as Dungeon Master. I would have found these chapter to be slightly more enjoyable had the author not displayed an overdeveloped sense of self-importance (which is just his defense mechanism I’m sure. He spends enough time talking about it, by the way).

I’m also dubious that so much of the intriguing history of TSR, from its rise and decline to its eventual purchase by Wizards of the Coast in the 90s would be relegated to a few pages in the book. The author claims that that material appears on the companion website, which few people will probably ever read. Mr. Ewalt was probably aware of that; hence why much of the space is spent recounting the author’s main campaign game as a kind of lengthy shout out to his play group. I would have much preferred to see this material cut back in favor of talking about the development of the game and the community around it. But again, given the air of desperate self-importance which permeates the text, I suppose I shouldn’t have expected that the game world would take center stage exclusively.

Ultimately I lean toward the cynical side with Of Dice and Men. No doubt Ewalt loves the game and did a bunch of homework on it. I just wish he spent more time telling the story of Dungeons & Dragons and the people who play it (as advertised) ather than treating us to the fantasy gaming world according to a Forbes writer. The book is clearly aimed at people who know very little about Dungeons & Dragons (as if the stand offish Intro and the geek celebrity one liners on the back cover wasn’t a big clue). It feels more like a cash-in on pop geek culture rather than a genuine effort to celebrate the D&D culture, or what remains of it, that is.

Final score: 3/10. I can see people who are generally clueless about Dungeons & Dragons perhaps enjoying this book. Though Mr. Ewalt does the culture little justice with his painfully self-aware snark. Those who play D&D regularly (and have for a long time) may either be warily amused or strongly put off by this personal memoir masquerading as hip geek journalism.



A Dungeons & Dragons Passive Aggressive Casualcore Tome

I started reading Of Dice and Men by David M. Ewalt which seems like a very strange book. It purports to be part memoir and part historical-narrative-journalism. Fine so far.  A cursory overview shows that there’s a rundown of the development history of Dungeons & Dragons. The book jacket claims that even the most hardcore players would learn something from this history, which I find somewhat unbelievable but we’ll see. The other part is about the” people who play it,” which I assume means Mr. Ewalt has something to say about the culture or at least the group of gamers who play pen & paper games. That he’s a “Level Fifteen Cleric” is proudly displayed in parentheses under his name on the front cover. The back cover is full of blubs by an impressive roster of pro nerds: John Carmack, Felicia Day, David X Cohen, etc.  My interest was piqued, until I read this right in the introduction, where he addresses to the “hardcore” audience:

“[A]t various points in this tome I quote specific elements of the Dungeons & Dragons rules, including game mechanics, spell effects, and monster descriptions. Unless otherwise noted, those citations refer to version 3.5 of the D&D rules. I default to those books because they’re what I use with my friends and I like them. Gamers who wish to argue the superiority of their own favored edition are advised to write a letter detailing their position, put it in an envelope, and then stick it where the Sunburst spell don’t shine….

…IN short, read this like you’d play in a friendly campaign. Don’t be a rules lawyer, and don’t argue with the DM.”

Now I’ve been a DM in campaigns back in the early 90s with friends, and again starting last year I ran a PBEM Dungeons & Dragons game for close to a year using the antiquated (dare I say broken as all hell)  AD&D2e ruleset. It worked for that particular game environment and I’d be happy to share the details with anybody curious. I’ve also dabbled in less formal roleplaying games on Twitter and in forum and chatroom games 10 years ago.  If you’ve ever played a pen & paper game in your life – or have a modicum of common sense – you know that nerds love to argue points of superiority, especially over their treasured hobbies. Those are fighting words on the third paragraph of the first page. I suspect he knows that, hence his appeal in the last sentence, sage advice found in the DM Guides: don’t worry about the details and don’t argue with (read: criticize) me.  At this point I don’t know if he’s trying to be funny with that. I hope he is, especially if I’m going to spend a few more hours reading this “tome.”  Either way, I chuckled at that.

By the way, you would think he would get his class right on page 4:

“I am not a wizard, but I play one every Tuesday night. To be nerdy about it – and trust me, there is no other way to approach this – I am a divine spell caster, a lawful neutral twelfth-level cleric. In the world of Dungeons & Dragons, that makes me a pretty major badass.”

Three pages in this and there are some alarms starting to go off already. Come on Mister Ewalt, do you want me to take your book seriously or not? I can’t tell.  And weren’t you level 15 when I looked at the cover? You’re one of those players who exaggerates their level and party importance, aren’t you.

Sorry, casual game. Right.

STFU Solid Snake (?)

I’ve been thumbing through a book called How to Play a Video Game by Pippin Barr and given my recent monomania with the first two Metal Gear Solid games I was interested to see if they were mentioned at all. Turns out they were, though I wasn’t overly encouraged by what I read. Here’s the first passage I found that refers to Snake. The context of the chapter is the nature of video game characters, aka your avatar:

This raises another question: Who are the two of you together? By now you and your avatar officially have a relationship…So how do you see the relationship? When I take control of Gordon Freeman, for instance, I often think of him as a kind of ‘tool’ that I use to play the game…A friend of mine, in contrast, holds Freeman as his all-time favorite avatar precisely because Freeman doesn’t speak and cannot be directly seen, and so doesn’t interfere with his ability to role-play in the game. He feels strongly that he can be Gordon Freeman in an intimate way precisely because Freeman doesn’t spoil the illusion by saying something stupid, as so many other avatars are wont to do. ‘It’s easy to forget what a sin is in the middle of a battlefield,’ says Solid Snake of Metal Gear Solid. Thanks for that, Snake. Now be quiet.

As Solid Snake illustrates, sometimes our relationship to an avatar just does not work.

Or, as the passage illustrates, sometimes the player doesn’t understand the type of game he’s playing. It’s a strange quote to take issue with, and out of context, considering it’s a pivotal moment in the development of Solid Snake’s character and his relationship to Meryl Silverbaugh. But even if you accept Barr’s premise that your avatar in a video game, the player character, is just a way for you to enter the game world, it’s unfair to compare Gordon Freeman and Solid Snake as avatars. They’re two very different characters in two very different games. Metal Gear Solid is very much a narrative-driven game and the emphasis is on Snake’s interpretation of events. That much should be obvious to anyone who sits through the opening cinematic. All of the game characters are chatty and Snake is a talkative guy to be sure. There’s plenty of cringe worthy dialog in Metal Gear. But this conversation, which is 8 minutes long by the way, takes place after the first boss fight and there’s been plenty of narration up to that point. In other words you’re well into it by the time Snake says “something stupid” so you should have an inkling as to what Metal Gear Solid is all about. Really, the part where Snake is demonstrating his tenuous grip to his own humanity while trying to mentor his friend’s kin so she doesn’t get herself killed  – that’s where you want him to shut his mouth and let you play the damn game?

I’ll hold off judging Dr. Barr’s book until I’ve had a chance to give it a close reading, but I suspect a more accurate title may have been “How I Prefer to Play a Video Game.”