Obsessive character sheeting

So I was alone and bored of creating perfect characters. Tired of flipping through the rule books, I returned to my other hobby: playing video games.

At this point in my young life, I was also mildly fascinated with notepads. Small booklets, large A4 sized pads, lined pages, blank pages, thick pages, recycled paper. I was itching to write something on a piece of paper.

And I started “documenting” my games.

[Warning: What follows are some drawn out descriptions of games long past. You may or may not be interested in the relevance. Read on at your own risk.]

There was this platform game called Mappy Kids. You took the form of a mouse travelling through the levels, acquiring cash. Your goal was to acquire enough cash to buy stuff, to build a house, so you could win the heart of the female rodent of your dreams.

Your main form of attack was the kick. The power ups altered your kick. The normal kick sent an enemy straight horizontally away from you. A lightning kick sent an enemy flying away in a zig zag manner, bouncing from the bottom to the top of the screen. The loop-de-loop kick sent the enemy rolling in a wide circle.

Well, the kicks were fascinating, but they really came into play when you’re in 2 player mode. In 2 player mode, both of you compete to build that dream house. When you kicked an enemy into the other player, the other player would lose a stash of cash. If you’re quick, you could grab that stash. The various power kicks made it hard to avoid the enemy, who’s flying in a certain pattern. The fun multiplied when the other player, when timed correctly, kicked the kicked enemy again, sending the enemy flying back towards you.

What’s this got to do with character sheets? And programming? Well, I started jotting down notes on the power ups. And health bars. And the cash value. And items bought. To do this, I needed to understand the game play, not just as a gamer, but as a programmer. The programmer in me started translating game elements of that mouse I was controlling into representable code elements, namely variables. Not so much on game/code logic. I didn’t know about programming or even have a computer back then.

And I started on a rampage to turn every game into representable character sheets, even action games. Do you remember Super Mario Brothers 3 (which incidentally started me on the path of self-learning Japanese)? The game had the novel concept of storing power ups. Stars (for invincibility), feathers (for that tail for whacking), flowers (for that fireball throwing ability) and others. There wasn’t much to document, just power ups and the level you were at and stuff.

Then there was “Hitler’s Revenge”, based on the Chinese game book manual I have (yes, I still have some of those game manuals). It’s titled “Bionic Commando” in America due to it’s controversial name.

I played the version in the earlier parts of the above video (click through to the post if you can’t view it in your feed reader). The main mechanism of play is the hook. You use it to hook onto something, usually as a means of moving from one place to another. I’ll let the video show you what I mean.

There were others. I managed to distill the game elements onto paper. I learnt to store game statistics. How do I store this item? How do I know if the character has that power in the game?

As I tried my hand at game development, I asked myself questions such as, “Do I use words, or numbers to represent them?” or “Should I use int or byte?”

With a little more data (such as game progress), a character sheet is basically the game data. What do you need to keep track of when the player saves? The character sheet. When the player wants to resume game play, just load the character sheet. Because it contains everything you need to continue the game.