Thursday, October 27, 2016

Oculus Review- Ah yes here it is!

Oculus, to me, is barely a game. I do not think it deserves the shackle of ‘game’. Oculus is a writing exercise placed into RPG terms. In the exercise you play an unnamed character using a vague instrument- the oculus, to look up an infinity of worlds through the eyes of what the game calls a familiar, with a character sheet to fill out as you see the person’s attributes.

One looks through these eyes until your interest wains (the seeing and the interest are the parameters of the oculus instrument). The ‘player’/writer is to write down everything they see into their notes. The seeing is generated by the lens of the oculus which is a set of two tables of random descriptions. Roll a d20, look on the table (entitled ‘Focus), get a word, and start writing. If one needs clarification you can roll again and look at the second table (called Lens). The words are preferably vague like ‘Conspire’ or ‘Ancient’ giving the playing writer (or is it writing player?) the freedom to go where they wish without being tied down to only one genre.

So where is the RPG part, so far it sounds like writing. The familiar has a character sheet with abilities ranging from +4 to +1 (much like Risus). In a resolution action (pick a lock, defeat an enemy, climb a wall) a d20 is rolled against a favorable to alarming table (much like FUDGE) and the result is placed into the unfolding story.

But what takes oculus from the world of simple writing exercise to a surreal experience is the transcendence points- where the oculus viewing follows the writing player into their reality. When the oculus closes and the game is over, the player walks away. But if the player thinks of the experience, of the viewing, if something reminds them of the game-play, you add a point to the transcendence bank. These can then be used to ‘fudge’ the familiar’s dice rolls in a critical situation when the viewer returns to the Oculus. This made me carry around the oculus as a journal and be in constant communication with my familiar. And at times, he needed it.
It is a remarkably simple system that works wonderfully. The Oculus pulls the writing player into a universe. The rules themselves suspend reality completely (well at least for me, my brain is always looking for ways of suspending reality). Best of all, the writing never suffers, never is cut by the need of rolling dice or referring to a rule. The writing player could go pages and pages with one word, or just two, the dice forgotten until a resolution wall is hit- which is rare.

 All in all, I go to my Oculus when I feel blocked or when I can’t think of what to play, or get bogged down in a system’s rules.


There is a fine line for me between writing and role-playing. Somewhere along the line, a line that stretched to the 1980’s, the two got strangely confused. I use the process of dice, dice-writing, to recreate, well, mimic, the act of throwing dice and seeing what the hell happens.

I have spent some time trying to find a game that recreates a company of (fantasy) characters as they progress through a dungeon. The major problem is the wish for writing gets in the way of rolling, or the rolling gets in the way of the writing. There is little or no breaks that allow you to write, or figure out where to roll, or oddly what to write. I want to play or I want to roll and the things get confused in the mix.

Writer as role-player is nothing easy. A psychotic break between the game master and player must occur for the rolling dice to turn into ink. I think the key is a system that does not allow the entire picture to be revealed all at once, the curtain of mystery must hold up until the last possible moment. That where the thrill of the dice come in, waiting anxiously with a pen in one hand and a die in the other.

There are two games that allow the player to breath, to freeze and let the ink flow while still holding that curtain of mystery. They are:

Oculus and Four Against Darkness

Scrawling for Thirty Days

I think this year I am once again scrawling for thirty days over at Nanowrimo. I am thinking of entering a thirty day dungeon of the mind. A dungeon crawl into my own brain using a curious tool- The Oculus, a solo rpg engine which creates prompts for observations by an operator.

I have no idea where these adventures will lead, who I look at or anything of the sort. Me, just thinking. I hit National Novel-Writing Month three times and hit the mark twice. Somehow having a child appeared to have killed my thoughts for a whole month.

What I am wondering is if I should post the entries in here. But the moment I write that it is one of those ideas that seem stupid half way out of your mouth. Though, still, would anyone read that nonsense Kerouac crap?

Here is the instrument I plan on using to guide me. I think I have a review of it somewhere or the other.

Oculus Trifold

Saturday, October 8, 2016

DF: Where my week went.

I had planned to write amazing award-winning reviews of two (yes two!) games that struck my solo-rpg fancy, both Four Against Darkness (an amazing solo game and dungeon generator- where one thinks why had no one thought of this before) and the stunning tarot solo game ‘Dungeon Solitaire’ were on the list.

Then I discovered Dwarf Fortress, and all hope was lost into the embers of time. In my life now, time has literally burned before my eyes. It is an Oblivion level game (appropriately entitled because when you start playing an Oblivion level game that is exactly what your life becomes-an oblivion. When the actual Oblivion came out, I came home from teaching at 3:30, started playing, realized I had to pee- and the clock informed me it was 10:30 at night). DF as the fanatical fandom abreviates it, is a game that will not only eat your life, stump your mind, but tear your heart out. The game is a kamikaze rogue-like, like Fallout Shelter you play until everything goes to crap. To that end, the game’s theme is “Losing is Fun!”- No kidding! It has a learning curve of a small nuclear-powered space-capable warhead. The graphics are mid-1990’s at best, with various tile sets, that, like a drop of sugar in skim-milk, or a flower on the prison cell’s window sill, make it a bit more bearable.

But when you turn on that game and press the create a world command, you are opening the book of Genesis, hitting the key to bang the big bang, seeding a universe in your computer (and the cooling fans in my cpu can attest to the aforementioned). In that stroke, a world is born filled with myth, color and emotion. Topography rises and kingdoms engrave their history onto your hard disk. With that in mind I understand fully why it does not have ‘hard’ graphics like, say, Skyrim. Quite frankly, it can’t. It would be like giving graphics to a spiral of a galaxy. Any machine would explode.

My twelve dwarves live in a universe with a full complexity of society, art, fashion, emotion, hopes, dreams, furniture, armor, refuse, and beds- where blades of grass are brewed in a still. It is a monster of a game that hides laughing behind Nethack graphics- where only a select few look behind the facade and discover that it is full of stars. You can check just about any rogue/sandbox game out there, from Gnomoria to Minecraft, they have all been inspired or (dare I say) started by it. And according to all those decimal numbers after the name, it is still in beta. If it ever goes to full release, a 1, I think the thing will become self-aware. Sky-net will be an omniscient, RPG gamer, with a thirst for universe-accounting that kills you not with robots but an entire fantasy universe. Yes, Sky-net the dungeon master!

So I invite any procrastinator, any person with a deadline, anyone that is behind a secure cubicle and has a spreadsheet cover behind it, by all means burn this thing into your computer.

Thus abandon hope all ye who expected me to post in any play-by-post games or game reviews. If you are reading this and you are character in my fiction, enjoy the limbo, it may be a while.

Or at least until I figure out how to make a column of stairs!