020: Sexy Blood for Pin Daddy

As our heroes navigate through an asteroid field of single-player RPGs they discuss Thousand Year Old Vampire, Unknown, and player difficulty settings.

Games discussed in this episode:

  • 05:22 One Thousand Year Old Vampire
  • 13:52 MAGfest
  • 14:46 Sailor Moon
  • 15:27 Betrayal at House on the Hill
  • 16:13 Unknown
  • 17:38 Pandemic
  • 19:55 Forbidden Desert
  • 23:02 Casting Shadows
  • 24:45 Elden Ring
  • 27:38 Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice
  • 28:36 Hades

Introductory Guy  

Welcome to design thinking games, a gaming and User Experience podcast. Card-carrying UXers, Tim Broadwater and Michael Schofield examined the player experience of board games, pen and paper role-playing games, live-action games, and video games. Play through the backlog on your podcatcher of choice. And on the web, at design thinking games.com.

Tim Broadwater  

I know that we had a question going on during COVID times. And it’s not always easy to go out to your local game shop and play, you know, board games or tabletop games with other people. Additionally, people are less hesitant to come over to your house and do a board game night. I think that’s changing, of course, with the times. But it begs the question that I think we asked each other: what is the player experience like for single-player role-playing games? And have either one of us played them before? And like, what are some really great examples of such? 

Michael Schofield  

This is a huge umbrella. You can talk about like the Witcher 3, as a single-player RPG, there are huge ones, Mass Effect, etc.   I’m kind of excluding those. And I’m kind of an I’m personally sort of interested in like the single-player tabletop RPG, like the rolling of dice, or the flipping of cards or something like that, where there’s no programmatic response and is more it has less in common with a witcher or an Elden ring, then it does a choose your own adventure style book where it’s self-directed, and it’s self-motivated. You have to have the will to take the next step. And it’s solo. It is Solitaire, right? I’m sure people know this game. I don’t know if Gen Z knows because they didn’t have to grow up with computers in which Solitaire and Minesweeper were the only games that were baked in on it. But you know, it’s the idea of burning time. 

Tim Broadwater  

I think that most games that come out are video games, right? Yeah. Are single-player. There’s just, that’s a market. And, and I know, we talked in previous episodes about, like, winner  Game of the Year, last year, which was it takes two which literally requires two players to play. And this episode is almost kind of, I think, on the flip side of that, it’s like, okay, if 90% of video games are, you know, single-player, Horizon Zero, Dawn, Ghosts of Tsushima. You know, Cyberpunk, whatever, there’s so many. Yeah, I want to focus on tabletop games that are that way. So. And I think that’s how we got to this kind of category. So I’m just gonna say, dazzle me with your wares. Show me what your example is?

Michael Schofield  

I have a couple because I’ve been playing these on my own. And one of the things I want to say in their defense is that you know, something like The Witcher or, like you said, Ghosts of Tsushima. I have teams of up to 100 or hundreds, like people who, throughout the product, either engineer or design or make the strategic decisions or write it. And it is ultimately a single-player end-user experience, but it is a service companies provide. And so I’ve been playing this our last episode talks a little bit about how amused and interested we are in this burgeoning small TTRPG creator community that’s coming up. And so I’ve been playing like a couple of games that I discovered through here, meaning that they were designed by one person for one person’s consumption. I’m just kind of like practicing this as an I’m coming into this with like an added respect for the art of this kind of design.

In the same way that a novel writer is an individual telling a story, and ultimately even if it is read by many people, it is experienced individually. So the game that like I’m having fun within, in a particular way, is this single-player … I don’t even know how to describe it. It’s like a single-player journaling RPG called One Thousand Year Old Vampire. The conceit is that you are telling the story as yourself of a vampire from just before you were brought into this dark world of immortality through history and into the modern age. What’s kind of compelling is that this is similar to choosing your own adventure in that it is really a game designed around a series of prompts. You roll some dice, and a random prompt emerges. You are pointed to a particular prompt. And that prompt gives you a situation that you then have to solve with the resources that your 1000-year-old vampire has on them, the various skills they have prepared at that moment, and the memories and situational awareness they have as part of that. And so what’s really cool is that as you progress, you know, you create your character, and you begin with several resources. It’s like five items that have real meaning to you, something like a locket that your loved one gave you to remember them by some other things.

Tim Broadwater  

What did you say was the name of this game? 

Michael Schofield  

It’s One Thousand Year Old Vampire.

Tim Broadwater  

it’s a tabletop board game, right?

Michael Schofield  

It’s a single-player RPG, right? There’s no board to it at all. It’s like a journal. I’m playing in a spreadsheet. Right. So this is a role-playing game that is like in my mind and using a spreadsheet. Specifically, I’m using an AirTable. It is effectively like a timeline. I don’t know if I’m selling this as well. Ultimately, what’s happening, like the actual artifact of play, is a timeline. You are crafting a history that tells the story of your vampire, from conception until death. And you can take this the journalistic approach, so like you respond to the prompt with like a novel, this is or not a novel, but like say, like 500 words, or something like that. And you ultimately use it like a writer’s prompt to craft. And that’s kind of how I’m playing it. But the idea is, ultimately, you’re telling a story, and the prompt comes up, that maybe you aren’t able to control your thirst, and you kill somebody you love: remove somebody from your contact list, and remove one skill, and remove one resource. And your resource and your skills and your contacts list. The people that you have are, again, they’re just like bullet points. You have five each, sometimes seven, sometimes three, or whatever. And you expand them as you go. And you gain new ones as you go as well. And the goal is that given the prompt you solve, you find your way through the prompt, or you respond and or you respond to that prompt or tell the story of that prompt using the resources you currently have on you. 

Tim Broadwater  

This game is like from 2019. It was on Kickstarter, it was successfully backed, and it’s been reviewed by a bunch of places like Shut Up and Sit Down, which is pretty awesome. And other places. 

Michael Schofield  

The story that emerges is unique. If you’re playing Vampire the Masquerade and you enjoy this kind of like Vampire tale, you can imagine that, Oh, like you’re a vampire of a certain stereotype or specifically a vampire, the masquerade, you are constrained by the rules of the game, and the clans that are provided, and your vampire has a certain life until it’s snuffed out by you know, the prince of the city or something like this. In this case, the only designation of like, what it is to be a vampire is that you have been transformed. And now you cannot die – yet, and you are consumed by this monstrous hunger. So whether or not you’re just like an immortal creature that must devour like others whole or you’re a vampire that drinks like sexy blood or something like that are really part of like the story you’re telling. Right?

Tim Broadwater  

Did you just say sexy blood?

Michael Schofield  

You know, when like, the stats, like bites down into the neck of the prostitute in 18th century New Orleans, and she goes, Oh, there’s like, like two lines of like blood. That’s sexy blood, sexy blood. 

Tim Broadwater  

The Clive Barker is very, you know, sexy blood, which is centuries of suffering. 

Michael Schofield  

Clive Barker doesn’t have sexy blood. He has the Midnight Meat Train. 

Tim Broadwater  

 The words that come from the Cenobites are always just like so much pain to show you. Yeah.

Michael Schofield  

It’s like you will know the delights of endless suffering. It’s like, all right, tell me more, Pin Daddy.

Tim Broadwater  

It’s amazing.

The game I’m thinking of is called Unknown. And it came out in 2016. Robert Cutter is the designer, and I think and I, I met him. And so let me give you some context there. That is before COVID. I went to attend mag fest and DC. Mag fest is a music and gaming festival. And so it is kind of famous that this is the CON for con-goers, not for big gaming industries. So. So it’s a music and gaming festival with musicians that compose music for video games come to it. It has tabletop board gaming, but it’s predominately video games. And they have like an entire area. For the length of the con, four or five days, there’s this arcade set up, and I mean arcade the size of a mall. And so you could there are so many games that you could just go at three in the morning and play like the Japanese arcade game Sailor Man, you know where you could go, they have a whole section where it says blank TVs. And so you can go just play Xbox games or Switch games or whatever because they have everything. So it’s a video game kind of conference with your music. Anyways, there was a section that was tabletop. There’s a whole tabletop section. And in the tabletop section, there was a guy just sitting there, and he was just giving demos of his games. And I sat down, and apparently, it was Robert cutter, the game designer. And he, you know, he kind of showed this game that the things that hit me immediately was that it looked like Betrayal at House on the Hill to where when you’re building out your map, you’re just adding tiles that are random.

You don’t know what you’re getting. And, and that the thing that also boggled me is he’s like, Hey, this is a one to six-player game. And I was like, What do you mean what? And he’s like, oh, yeah, you can. He’s like there are scenarios and stories that are sequential. And you can be a single-player and play it. You don’t have to have six players or four players. You can play it by yourself. And so there, as you probably know, there are very few tabletop board games that you can just solo right and so on. I was like, Okay, well, let me check this outdid the demo, I thought it was great, and I bought the game, you know, the game is unknown came out in 2016, you are among a group of survivors that were smart enough to hide underground When the war came to your city. While there are many people here, only a few of you have volunteered to venture out past the relative safety of your makeshift camp in the tunnels. So no one knows what’s out there. Staying Alive isn’t easy. Your team must explore or yourself. But when you’re playing it single-player, you control a team. Your team must explore the nearby tunnels in order to keep the base camp supplied. And so it’s kind of like a single-player game to multiplayer game, to where you are exploring outside of your bunker. And then what you’re looking for is food equipment, technology, and weapons. And so you’re just kind of scavenging, right like you’re a scavenger, like in this post-war post-apocalyptic time. And so. So imagine, like, you start on a tile that is like, Hey, here’s the base, and we have like, 20 people living here. Yeah, you have a team that you control to where there are people who are like, different classes can do different things, which is kind of, to me, it’s kind of like Pandemic to where it’s like, hey, this person can move more spaces, or this person can heal because their doctor, this person can fire weapons more effectively, because they used to be a hunter or soldier or a police officer, right. And so there are these ever-increasing difficulty scenarios that kind of happen. The first one is really like, hey, go out there. And just secure the bunker to make sure no one can get in. Right. And because of this war, there are mutants and like, people have been turned into like monsters and whatever. And so you’re, it’s kind of also kind of like

Where you, you need to get enough food to keep the people that you have at your home base alive. But then you also need weapons to defend yourself, and you need to set up barricades. And so it’s very much that kind of game. And it is really enjoyable. So if you wanted to imagine like if you played Betrayal at House on the Hill, like but it was just a single-player game, and you could tell everyone, and you’re controlling the monsters, the monsters have like a mutant that breaks into your, your tunnel and is trying to get to your bunker, like they have a set movement, they have a set attack, they do these things every round, right. And so you also are like, trying to get armor and food and equipment to survive. And there are also there’s like a mechanic system for it to where you can do each of them. Like, when you think of a video game, you’re like, Hey, I just want story mode. Or I just want normal, or I want hard or like epic hard are god mode or something like that. You have those in this game by just slightly tweaking the scenarios. You can alter the difficulty of the different scenarios you’re trying to complete. And so just doing the easy the first scenario on easy is challenging, because it’s kind of that the economy of moves and strategy that you know, kind of comes with like Forbidden Desert or Pandemic to where you’re like dude, I know these mutant dogs are about to break into you know, our bunker and they are going to kill the people there I need to set up a barricade, but I also need to get a weapon to defeat the mutant dogs and so it’s very along that line of Fallout post-apocalyptic, but then in the mechanics of Betrayal at House on the Hill with kind of action economy that comes in from like Pandemic. I know that sounds like a really weird hybrid, but um, it’s super cool. And then the board itself are like these tiles you lay down that are squares, but then the cards as well as it has a ton of like wooden tokens for Yeah, players and you know, that monsters and everything. So it’s actually really cool, and I wanted to buy it. But it’s actually rated really well like on Board Game Geek, and so I would highly suggest it to anyone who Hey, it’s if you want to dual purpose, like a game that you can play yourself that’s a role-playing game and see if you can get through the scenarios. But then you also want to be able to take that game and say, hey, I can. I also want to play this with three other people were five other people you can, so it has that level of adaptability.

The people who did Here to Slay and Unstable Unicorns, they have now a Kickstarter that’s out for from thing for a new game that comes out next year. It’s called Casting Shadows. It’s a new TableTop board game, and I’m gonna plug them because I love them. They have a really good game studio, and all their games are super fun. So if you ever played Happy Dinosaur, Unstable Unicorns, or Here to Slay. They’re all really good games, right? But what you’re seeing is adaptability. So it’s like, Hey, back, so you get the first the one through the four-player game. But if you do the next tier, you get the expansion, which makes it like six players. Yeah, and if you do the next tier, you get the DLC or like the additional content which adds this mechanic or this kind of thing. And so it makes me think of like video games right to where you have DLC and the add ons and you’re doing these things to do it but like board games are I’m now seeing increasingly have like all of these mechanics to add additional players to open it up or to add monsters or to add a whole different type of agency or mechanics. And so

Michael Schofield  

it occurred to me that there’s something about like the difficulty level of like a single-player RPG that correlates with I don’t know to say we would correlate with that being good, but I think it correlates with it being rated critically well, and like I’m only saying that because like as I as you talk and as and as I talk I’m you know Thousand Year Old Vampire has a cognitive load to it that is that exists. And yours has a likelihood of failure. You know that the game of the moment now there’s like a Geist of the moment now is Elden Ring, which is a single-player RPG, which is defying, which is defying the, I think the critical expectations, but I wonder if there’s something performative about Elden Ring. I imagine a certain crowd is into Elden Ring, not because the game itself would appeal to them on their own. As for me, I’ve chosen not to play it. A couple episodes ago, I had talked about really looking forward to it.

Tim Broadwater  

You talked about getting it for and checking it out looks really beautiful, you know?

Michael Schofield  

And, but like, I’ve decided from reviews that it’s not a game that I probably will enjoy. But I think about like the performative aspect, like when you’re watching, like, like an athlete do something. There’s something about the popularity of Elden ring as a social media as like for streamers, like Elden ring tick-tock is like a thing, of course, on twitch or whatever. And it’s because they’re trying to overcome these really difficult situations with a high chance of failure. And so like, you know, I think about like the the the player experience for a game like Elden Ring, but like, but like whatever any souls born, maybe any medium, something that has high failure potential. And like I can see that maybe you go to that because the dopamine hit of success is greater than like the punch in the gut of failure.

Tim Broadwater  

Because we’re right back to pinhead again. The epic suffering, the ages of suffering,

Michael Schofield  

Leviathan, the God of the Cenobites, probably is some sort of like an aquatic creature straight out of the minds of like, folks who design Elden Ring and…

Tim Broadwater  

It’s literally an Elden Ring cenobite who’s just like, You’ll never beat this game. Oh, it hurts so much. So, oh, you’re suffering. You know, it’s just like, did I know I hear what you’re saying. And I think like I take those games back. Same. I know we’ve talked about this before. But if the appeal is, I get beautiful in single-player and RPG. Okay, I get it; you know, I think a Breath of the Wild Horizon Zero Dawn Tsushima, I rage quit Dark Souls after an hour. I’m like, fuck this game. I’m never playing it again. And I really liked the story that was being sold to me about Sekuro: Shadows Die Twice, you’re a ninja who has his arm cut off, and you have this prosthetic arm that is like robotic and transformative and like turns into all these like Ninja cool Ninja weapons at first stars. It is so difficult. After four hours in the game, I was like, Screw this, and I took it right back to get store credit for like Gamestop, and so yeah, talking about those difficulty levels, right? Like when I play Horizon Zero Dawn, I’m like put it in story mode. Or when I did Mass Effect story mode. I don’t, I don’t wanna, I don’t want to like hate combat to the point where I’m not able to pursue proceed, right. And I think, you know, the default is, and this is kind of like what unknown does it does kind of what your typical game does, which is like, Oh, easy light mode. Increase the difficulty, or here’s like the god mode or like, insane, right? I don’t know, I know, we’ve talked about Hades before. Hades actually has a really cool way that’s not punishing and lets you do it. Every time you die, you get a 2% shield buff. And so once you’ve died 40 times, you’ve got an 80% shield buff. And so then, at some point, it’s like, dude, you’ve died 50 times playing this game. So we’re going to give you like a, like a shield buff to a certain point of damage. So I don’t feel like I have to; it doesn’t make me as the player feel like I have to put it into easy mode because I can’t hack it or I’m not good.

Michael Schofield  

You also don’t have to get good, you know?

Tim Broadwater  

Exactly. The game dynamically recognizes you’re having problems, and I’m going to apply this kind of buff to you that reduces the percentage of damage. Now I can turn that off if I want. I’m just like, well, I trust the game to know that I’m dying over and over again. So if it’s gonna give it to me, then I’m just gonna keep playing, and it and I can enjoy it.

Michael Schofield  

What was cool is that there is like a wealth of these single-player experiences too, you know, scratch an itch in whatever way you need.

Tim Broadwater  

I think a single-player thing is like, I need to adjust the difficulty for me because this is just me playing this and me enjoying it. Right? I’m not logging online to play Smash Brothers or Mario Kart. You know, when you play online with other people, there’s kind of an agreed-upon difficulty level and settings. Right? And so you’re not jumping into like Super Smash Brothers or Mario Kart or Fallout, Fallout, but um, Fall Guys, or like any other Dead by Daylight or any other online game, and you’re saying like, Hey, guys, let’s put it in easy mode. No, that doesn’t exist even most of the time because it’s like, the agreed-upon thing is that there is a set of difficulty and rules that this is how it happens. But when you’re playing single-player, it’s kind of like, Well, dude, I don’t enjoy this. So I want to make it easy. I want to stream, or maybe I do really enjoy it. And I want to put it on god mode too, like, make it so difficult. Yeah. And I think that comes down to, you know, the player preference, but between the Unknown game and the Thousand Year Old Vampire. I mean, I think those are. I think there are probably a lot of other single-player games out there. Single Player role-playing games that are tabletop-based or not video games that I’d like to like look at some more.

Michael Schofield  

Thank you for listening to design thinking games. Season two is an experience as we settle into this, and I hope that you’re enjoying it. And if you do, and it’s your thing. If you can star heart or favorite this episode on your podcatcher of choice, tell a friend. This helps shine the algorithm in our favor. If you would like to support us and the more monetary ways, you, of course, can join us on patreon.com/designthinkinggames, where you could get this very episode a whole week early with no ads. But if you indeed love the ads that you have made, You heard during this episode, and you want to buy one, we are incredibly cheap and affordable, and we really enjoy the kind of like putting these ads together, especially to help small creators like us grow with us. So consider buying an ad like us on Twitter and on TikTok. We’ve been posting @designthinkinggames. And I think you can see on my screen right now that I have this strange puzzle box that says Do not open until the end of the episode. I’m going to rub my thumb around the circle, and it clicks open Oh, no. Oh no, the lights are shining through the walls. What is that creature?

Tim Broadwater  

We’ll tear your soul apart? We have such sites to show you.

Michael Schofield  

At designthinkinggames.com

Introductory Guy  

Thank you for listening to the design Thinking games podcast. You only have so much time, and it means a lot you shared it with us to connect with your hosts, Michael or Tim. Visit Design Thinking games on tick-tock twitch, and Twitter DMs are open. You can also check out design thinking games.com where you can request topics, ask questions, or see what else is going on. Until next time, game on

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