Thursday, May 30, 2013

The Penny Arcade Heartbreaker Report

So, the Penny Arcade Report might have outed itself as not necessarily the best place to go for tabletop gaming news.

Yesterday an article by "Infinity", the author of The Future Belongs to Us, somewhat randomly appeared. Doing so on a larger site like PA implies the game is something people should watch out for, something they should know about. If one were to look at the press release on Tabletop Gaming News and interview at Initiative Tabletop, that impression would be reinforced. The reality is more of a marketing tactic. I don't know if it's the result of some marketing class, the publisher thinks it's a good idea, or something else but I do know it feels like they are puffing up and trying to look bigger than they are. We had it with Mykal Lakim's royal "we" and his posts about meetings and hiring people and planning a full game line before even having the first book out, and having a full staff of writers and editors. But why PAR wouldn't vet their guest columnists better kind of escapes me.

It comes off something like this. TFBTU isn't $19.95, is it?

Now I have nothing against Infinity personally. Anything he can do to try to get his name out there probably helps. But I think it's odd that PAR would tap him instead of Fred Hicks or someone similar for a column on keeping tabletop games "fluid". Instead, we get a cross between marketing and "Intro To Heartbreaker Logic 101". It makes it appear that the editor or content manager might not really know who is a big name in gaming, and figures anybody that can shove a POD book with a glossy cover in their face must be. We should probably count our blessings that it was Infinity and not Mykal Lakim that was offered the column.

Overall, the article doesn't tell its readers anything they don't already know. It tilts at windmills defeated 20 or more years ago and makes the author sound like someone who's never played anything other than d20 or Storyteller. Statements like this don't help either:
More powerful characters may be able to overcome this, but they are rolling 10, 15, 20 dice all the time which can get pretty ridiculous. You shouldn’t have to roll more and more dice as you become more powerful.
<Pedantic nit-picking hat>Exalted is one of the few games I can think of where this is the case and there are certainly many more dice pool systems where it isn't (Silhouette and Synergy spring to mind because I'm most familiar with them).</Pedantic nit-picking hat> What makes the statement even more out of place is that even if Exalted is the target, it's a completely different genre than TFBTU. The systems have very different goals, and in Exalted rolling buckets of dice is one of them. Either he doesn't have a good grasp on what forms dice pool systems can possibly take, he doesn't grasp how systems don't all have the same design goals, or it's hyperbole. Regardless any gamer with reasonably broad experience can identify the statement as being baloney.

The end result is the author comes off as either inexperienced or amateur and raises the question of why he would get the slot for the column instead of someone else. It damages PAR's credibility as an outlet for tabletop gaming news and makes me wonder if they're running paid-for articles.

Hey look, Penny Arcade might actually have something to say on this!
What goes over best for me (and doesn't immediately bring on the snark reflex) is when game designers are honest and forthright without any pretentiousness. I would liked to have seen an article about how an indie, small publisher brought TFBTU to market. What decisions were made during the process. Their own reservations, things they wish they could have done better. Instead of defensiveness and "Everyone who's played it says it's great! My mom even said 'That's nice, honey'!", open discussion of negative criticism. Most importantly an answer to why the cover art is pretty good quality (if questionable subject matter for anyone trying to sell to anyone other than teenage boys) but the interior art is really poor, and what decisions led to depicting an ostrich with bedroom eyes, Lando Calrissian fighting ninjas over a treasure chest and a Power Ranger riding a lion-themed golf cart (among many other things).

I never thought an ostrich could look so coy