I am genuinely surprised by the number of nerds that seem to take the blue shell from Mario Kart personally. It’s a catch-up mechanic in a game designed to be playable by four year olds. Like, you can genuinely find people having angry arguments about it as ‘the socialist blue shell’ and even some enterprising gamer types trying to categorise leftist politics as ‘blue shell politics.’
Anyway, they’re idiots and they don’t like losing to the blue shell, so they can The Mad, The. Don’t worry about it, it’s German.
The Bletchley Circle is a 2012 miniseries and subsequent pair of spinoff pairs about a group of women who worked in an official capacity for the codebreaking wing of the intelligence service during World War 2, and the subsequent and overwhelming bore their lives turned into once the Crown had a reason to stop treating them like bloody smart experts.
After World War 2 there was this thing called the Official Secrets act, which was ostensibly exactly that; it was legislation that made every person involved in secret work obligated to maintain that secret, and in order to maintain that, anyone who was involved in sharing that secret if it was ever discovered was also liable for punishment. The punishments were pretty severe, which meant there were people who worked in codebreaking whose partners never learned what they did at all, a thing that seems kinda badass until you remember just how much of the labour of the time during the war was being done by marginalised people, and this subsequent official secrets act was an actual and material hindrance on people using that independence they learned during the war to shape their life after it. Kind of hard to show you ran an ammunition factory for two years if you can’t mention the ammunition factory.
Anyway, the women know a thing about each other that only they know, including their intellects and experiences with difficult problems and noticing patterns in human behaviour, and so, they start a book club.
In How To Be we’re going to look at a variety of characters from Not D&D and conceptualise how you might go about making a version of that character in the form of D&D that matters on this blog, D&D 4th Edition. Our guidelines are as follows:
This is going to be a brief rundown of ways to make a character that ‘feels’ like the source character
This isn’t meant to be comprehensive or authoritive but as a creative exercise
While not every character can work immediately out of the box, the aim is to make sure they have a character ‘feel’ as soon as possible
The character has to have the ‘feeling’ of the character by at least midway through Heroic
When building characters in 4th Edition it’s worth remembering that there are a lot of different ways to do the same basic thing. This isn’t going to be comprehensive, or even particularly fleshed out, and instead give you some places to start when you want to make something.
Another thing to remember is that 4e characters tend to be more about collected interactions of groups of things – it’s not that you get a build with specific rules about what you have to take, and when, and why, like you’re lockpicking your way through a design in the hopes of getting an overlap eventually. Character building is about packages, not programs, and we’ll talk about some packages and reference them going forwards.
You know, last year we did a bunch of characters who could be seen as fitting the genre of a combative adventurer reasonably well, and maybe it’s time to try some stuff that’s a bit more weird. With that in mind, let us reach wide, with our tiny, tiny arms, and look at ME GRIMLOCK!
Time to time, I write up an explication of characters I’ve played in RPGs or made for my own purpose. This is an exercise in character building and creative writing.
The conventional vision of the hard suits is that they’re hardware that makes everything else easier. Which, yes, technically, true; they can do things like manage gravity extenders or hard-light impact gauntlets. A hardsuit lets a normal human operate on the level of a superhero.
The problem is the suits themselves are heavy hard suits. They’re only doing so much of the work – to pilot one at peak efficiency, you have to be an extremely accomplished athlete, fit and extremely strong. And you can take the training and the parts, and strike out without them to much of the same effect.
When people first meet the ex-Hardsuit pilot – the hard-body hard-head Lita Kinamo – the question ‘What’s she like?’ is asked. The answer’s always the same: She lifts. Continue reading →
Jenga’s a pretty solid game. I mean, it’s going on fifty years old, it’s simple, it’s really cheap because every company can make their own version easily. It’s one of those games you’ll see in a dollar store as some company makes their own version of it. Jenga is definitely a success and I think it’s reasonable to say, if you like having a board game collection, it’s a good idea to have a Jenga-like game there.
I don’t own Jenga. And now, I don’t think I’m going to.
I talk from time to time about voting systems, because they’re useful for game design and also because they’re uh, part of how we interact with our entire political system, and there’s a bunch of countries that do a terrible job of it, which shouldn’t really be how it goes, but voting is a cousin of math, and it was written about by French people, and if there’s one thing American political culture absolutely cannot abide, it’s a good idea from France. Here in Australia we use a voting system you might know as an instant runoff system, or a ranked voting system. This system is strictly better than the American system, and if you want to argue that, you are wrong, but.
Pacing is important in games. It’s a lesson that can be difficult to learn without trial and error, and when your game is big and playtesting sessions are slow and about lots of varied choices it’s entirely possible that you have a pacing problem that only a small number of people are ever going to notice.
In 4e D&D, the Paladin was one of those characters with a rough pacing problem. If you build one, now, using any of the major building tools available, you’re going to see that when you hit level 2, you have to pick one of the utility powers available at that level and
Star Trek Discovery wrapped its third season a few days ago, and thanks to properly licensing the thing, here in Australia I was able to watch it nearly on schedule, waiting only a day or two to legally watch it on the legal service I legally pay for, which
First of all, my intention was to do a lot of the documenting of the process on twitter. That was a good idea, and normally, that would work out fine for me. Live editing on Twitter is a pretty easy thing to do when I’m doing stuff like playing around with card face designs. It’s been a nice feature of how twitter can handle me pasting visual information from a graphic tool, or I can screencap lists of text or diagrams.
Thing is, this time, I brought this idea up with Fox. Fox is a person, and she lives in the same house as me, and not on twitter. Which meant that when I did set this time to do work on this game idea, it was a conversation between two people, in a room, back and forth and not in text on twitter. What resulted, then, was not the same thing as a normal twitter thread. Big deal, bit of a bummer.
Instead, we talked about the game as we walked the dog, or when there was downtime during Games Done Quick itself. We did still set limits – We’d have one conversation a day, and that was all there was to it, I wasn’t going to try and stretch it out. I also didn’t do a lot of work on the last two days. Those days were busy for me. That’s okay! With that in mind, how far along did the game get?
What we did come up with was a game about goblins raiding a bakery. The game’s tone is light, and sweet, but also chaotic and slightly incompetent. Goblins are meant to be kind of clueless and dumb but in a very sweet and greedy way.
The player goal is to steal a number of cakes from the bakery. You do this by picking up a cake and passing it to the goblin behind you. The cakes are represented by cards, which have a ‘need’ on them to represent how many dice are stacked on them. Complex, tall, teetering cakes need a stack of dice on them to represent concentration and effort from the goblin moving them around.
Players will be rolling dice in real time. Players can control any given goblin as they roll their dice – trying to roll dice that they can stack up, with a specific rule on each card, to make the dice lock in place. Each goblin has a number they also need to roll – in sum – with the cake they’re holding, to pass it along.
The game has a really physical manner, and part of how it’s physical, is that the timer is going to be a piece of music. I spoke to some friends about how to do that, and the piece of music known as Powerhouse served as my general thinking. You have a bucket chain of idiot goblins in a bakery, trying to take cakes off the counter, then pass them along.
The deck of cakes has a number on the back of each card, and that card is the ‘lock’ number. Any dice that’s showing the lock number can’t be picked up and rolled – at least until another Goblin uses a hand to shake their goblin friend.
This gives a basic run-down of how the mechanics work. This is the information I’d use to make a prototype set of rules – some cards in a word document table, a page or two of rules, then share it on Itch to see if anyone wants to playtest it.
This is how small games can get made. It only takes a few conversations, a few exchanges, to get an idea into a prototypeable space. Write down the ideas you have, when you can, and you’ll find you do more work than you think.
WOTC Employees: This article does not include unsolicited game designs. This article does discuss hypothetical opportunities for cards or mechanics, but no specific card designs, presented as graphical information.
I am not going to be able to tell you anything comprehensive about Wingspan. This game was a phenomenon when it launched, it was so successful it spawned conspiracy theories and it defined the conversation about games, their distribution, kickstarter and things like ‘elasticity’. There is no reason, in particular, to want my opinion of Wingspan, per se.
In his review of Eclipse: Second Dawn for the Galaxy Review, Quinton Smith of Shut Up & Sit Down used the term fuzziness to refer to the way that this enormous, complicated game overwhelmed your ability to predict outcomes from all the possible interactions. When talking about it, he was explaining the way that this game, which is deliberately daunting, creates an ambiguity between what you can commit to doing and what the game will do in response.
Now what makes it somewhat remarkable in the case of this game is that it seems to do this with mostly open information – players have their own tableaus and their own clearly marked scores and crystals and ship designs, with the only real ambiguity being the results that are going to come out of dice when they’re rolled.
This is not a particularly new idea in game design at all, but it is a fun launching point to talk about because one of the things that Big Box: Expensive Miniature Cardboard Pachinko Machine has going for it is lots of open information, which isn’t typical. What Quinns describes as fuzziness is something I look at in my (in progress) PhD thesis, under the descriptive title of Entanglement.
You know that old phrase ‘practice makes perfect?’ It’s one of those little aphorisms that’s so common that we tend not to examine it. Typically it’s trite, and at worst, actively inhibits the conversation, something that makes it seem like the person who says it isn’t really paying attention.
It’s by no means a secret that 3.5 D&D’s balance was off in some ways that made ‘good’ and ‘best’ categories of things a little unintuitive, like how the best stealth-based character was a wizard, or the best speed-based character was the wizard, or the best big, strong melee character who smacked things with a sword was a wizard.
If you ever got asked, houwever, about ‘best’ builds, there were always a handful of builds that stood apart because they had unique combination of effects. There was the Supermount, for example, or the Wildshape Ranger, builds that were renowned for having access to something that set them apart from things of their type. And, especially since Legolas was in the popular media at the time, there was often a question about how to make the best archer. There were plenty of archery feats, and it seemed for once, this was a challenge the fighter was perfectly suited to address – the excessive strength of the Barbarian’s rages wouldn’t necessarily apply, and sneak attack for a rogue was harder to get, so perhaps, perhaps, with a host of feats available, surely the best character to take them would finally be the Fighter?
I guess up front there’s a sort of standard outlay of nerd stuff that I need to lay out here, because it’s never enough to just talk about a movie. On the one hand I find the task a little tiresome like there are some movies that get special disclaimers and clauses because heaven forfend I don’t show appropriate deference to a movie and be deemed as having, I don’t know, ‘wrong’ opinions? Because how can I say ‘I don’t want to watch Joker’ if I haven’t seen it?
Anyway, I suppose out of the box, some token criticism for this movie; there’s a line I think that didn’t quite land.
Back in June 2019, Some Guy on Twitter, going by the name Rob Wesley, shared screenshots from this article on Rolling Stone, about how Rob Thomas and Carlos Santana came together to make the song Smooth. What Wesley shared in the thread is a section where the narration outlines the way that Rob Thomas was playing Silent Hill and how that was important to Santana’s relationship with him – that their friendship during the songwriting of the song Smooth was marked by long stretches of Rob Thomas playing Silent Hill games while Santana got stoned and told him what to do.
This led to an interesting conversation. The question, as I posited it to my partner, is this: Was Carlos Santana playing a videogame?
Ever noticed that there are a bunch of super speedster characters who are just total buttholes?
This isn’t a hard rule by any means – I don’t mean to say ‘characters who have super speed are all bastards.’ If nothing else, that’d be a pretty sweeping statement. It was something I noticed on City of Heroes that it was really common for people, when freed from existing canons, to make their own take on the super-speedster, seemed to pretty reliably make them, well, jerks.
At the time I thought this was just a byproduct of the somewhat insular reference pool of the community I was in. Like, the fact I couldn’t name in my entire RP circle, someone who had played a ‘Power Girl-type character’ but I could name multiple people who made anthropomorphic bats, and that the bats were all jerks, maybe painted to me that my environment was jerk-dense.
Thing is, when I went to revisit the topic, I found that it wasn’t that all speedsters are jerks… it’s that prominent speedsters were jerks. I did a quick sweep of a list of speed characters, and found that there was a pretty consistent trend that media that featured a speedster would often present that speedster as an asshole, and there was seemingly a stock episode in the 90s where a character would get super speed, be a total asshole with it, then abandon it, because they don’t want to be assholes. Because learning to not be an asshole with super speed is hard?
“But okay,” you may say, “Is this setting up a listicle,” and I thought about it.
For this game, I thought rather than just put my thoughts out there about the game (I didn’t like it until I suddenly really liked it, it has an interesting vision of the future as experientially procedural, it’s cyberpunk as hell), I should take this opportunity to bring forward Corey, who has thoughts on games where perception, world experience, and communication are important.
And that is, by the way, pretty much all of them.
Anyway, so we talked for twenty minutes or so about Katana Zero and how it metaphorises hyperfocus.
If you’d like a full-sized version of that thumbnail, here:
You should go check out Corey, on Twitter, and encourage him to get a website or blog of his own to talk about stuff in a way that isn’t Heck Birdsite.
If you know this character already, you know that there is one specific voice to use when writing about him. You might also know it is exceptionally annoying to write that way, and it’s even more annoying to read. It’s even the voice that the entire article about him is written about on the Transformers Wiki, which is so irritating to read that I have summarily given up on knowing anything true about the character and will not fact check anything I have to say here.
So here is the Generation 1 transformer, Blurrtimus ‘David’ The Jones.
David is a transformer created for the Transformers Movie, back in 198something. There was this push for the movie to serve as this dividing line between old Transformers, which played up the disguise, infiltration, secret angle of the Transformers characters, to the new generation of Transformers, who were going to be more of a ‘weird world space-faring’ story, where every new episode took the characters to a new oddball planet or meeting a new oddball alien. This was in part to open up different kind of transforming robot designs and maybe free up the previous generation’s reliance on wheeled vehicles, and it shows in the way characters like Kuppimus Kup and Miss ‘Sir Not Getting A Toy This Generation’ Arcee have vehicle modes that are kind of not like what you’d consider a vehicle, more ‘sci fi space ship’ than ‘could be parked at a Blockbuster.’
This movie also got a bit of a push where the characters presented for it were created with a bit more whole thought than the TV series? Characters were sort of approached all at once, and given clear affects and styles and character voices for the voice actors to establish. These aren’t complex characters – it’s pretty much just each character had a single gimmick that they could build out later (and never did). So, you have Rodimus Jr, whose gimmick was ‘is young’ and then you had Ultra Magnus whose gimmick was ‘is boring’ and then you had Arcee, whose gimmick was ‘is a girl’ and Springer whose gimmick was ‘probably meant to be Rodimus Jr.’
Now, David here, aka Blurr, is a Transformer whose bit is that he’s fast.
The way they handled Blurr in the movie was to have him talk very quickly, with a voice artist renowned for talking fast. That’s John Moschitta Jr. aka ‘Motormouth John,’ whose wikipedia page is easy to read, Telatraan-1, who has been responsible for a lot of voice acting in other roles. If you saw an ad for Micro Machines, or something like FedEx that had a super fast voiceover? That was this guy.
Blurr is meant to be fast, but if you look at him in the movie and subsequent series, they never do anything with that. Because, the most interesting thing about this is how we represent the affect of being fast, compared to the practical reality of being fast.
Like, the fastest way to answer the question ‘are you ready’ is ‘yes.’ And instead, Blurr would answer a question with dozens and dozens of words, and he would be shown moving at the same speed as other characters with a blurring outline. And that was good enough for me, as a kid, to look at Blurr and think ‘oh hey, I guess he’s really fast.’
But what does really fast mean?
Blurr showed up again, voiced again by Motormouth John, in Transformers Animated
Which is the best Transformers,
Where he once again was verbose, but also he had things to say. Original Blurr was a character who had nothing to say, but said it a lot; but then in a later iteration he had the same affect, doing very clear, very quick, descriptions of the entire plot up until now. It’s interesting, too, because the character was also treated as if he was very fast, and him being fast was treated this way to both update late viewers on the plot, and to convey extremely complicated scenarios and solutions.
If you have a fast character, consider why you need them to be fast, and ways to use that fastness.
Okay, there, now, how do you end an article like this?
During any given week, I have a Ke$ha moment, where I wake up in the morning to work on the ph-diddy. Every day I need to work on a large project, that I will still be working on at the end of the year, and every day I make sure I do something on it, even if it’s not amazing. This means I divide my day, every day, into chunks of time with goals to meet between various bits. I try to make sure I have lunch every day, for example.
This week, in AGDQ, I want to dedicate one block of time, each day, to live tweeting developing a game.I had a whole plan, because there’s normally a game jam, called GAMES MADE QUICK. This year, though, the point is to not make a game. It wants to be a take it easy game jam, with the idea that you make something. A level, an asset, a rulebook, a revision, something like that.
I was planning on doing this anyway, but with that in mind I’m going to do some dedicated, focused experiments in using an hour at a time on game development. One hour at a time – a goal that I have to do the play with the project, but put it down when I’m not.
Here are some rules, up front:
I pick a start time and tweet that start with
If I then fritter away the time in that hour doing nothing, or get interrupted, that’s it, RIP that time.
I can work on existing game ideas or projects and that’s okay
I can use that hour to do breakdowns of mechanics or things in another game I want to do something with
One hour later I summarise what I did or looked at or experimented with.
Now, you might have seen some of this already (hi, future!). I don’t know how well I’m doing. It’s possible life has gotten in the way or these projects, but if we have, that’s a problem that we can accept and move on. This is a game jam that wants to be taken easily. What have we gotten up to? I don’t know, the Jam hasn’t started yet, I’m not doing anything until tomorrow, which is yesterday, because time is fake.
There are currently three game projects I am thinking I want to look at for these sprints, though, which I am writing down now so I can come back to this draft later:
I have the cards and decks for the card game Die Rich done. What I don’t have is that game’s rulebook written. Worst, despite knowing that game pretty well when I started developing it, I’ve kind of forgotten bits, meaning I have to go back in time and try to reverse-engineer the way my own game design works.
I want to make an upgrade to the game Burning Daylight, a game I love heaps but which I feel I rushed through because I was done with developing it. That’s super frustrating to deal with when the game has this powerful character to it I’m excited by.
I have a few ideas for microgames, particularly a dice builder game (a competitive one and a cooperative one) and a worker placement game. I kind of like the idea of making a real-time dice roller that forces a sense of speed on players, here in speed week.
Well now friends if you’ve been checking your clocks you’ll realise that it is Awesome Games Done Quick, a week-long speedrunning event, making this honorary Speed Week, a high holy week for Speedrunning community afficionados. How do you know this is Speed Week? Well, thanks to Game Pile and Story Pile, two of this week’s posts won’t be about speed at all, meaning we’re going to glitch through this 7 day period in only five days.
I used to try to follow cricket, because it was a subject to talk about with my dad and because we were, at the time, setting competitive records and I say ‘we’ like it was me who had the determination and skill and drive to play for Australia like the arsehole antagonist character in The Parable of Glen McGrath’s Haircut but the important thing is that there was a time when I tried to track cricket, and what about that I found interesting was watching a thing that had been seen as the best ever get steadily and steadily more and more impressive. I was watching a number go up and all I needed to follow for that was to occasionally check in on a sport which took five days to finish one game and where the majority of the time was taken up with literally nothing happening.
Watching competitive sports is a thing that we can derive pleasure from, and if you’ve ever seen some of that as being captivating but can’t connect to the pace or the style of game, speedrunning is a lot like that kind of competitive communal game experience. The things being shown in the game matter just as much as if it’s a leather ball or a havok engine crate, and because speedruns events are about introducing an audience who aren’t necessarily informed, it’s a perfect time to get to see and learn the rules of a lot of different types of speedrun.
Just like with more conventional sports, there’s demonstrations of remarkable skill, including things like being able to map complex processes blindfolded, competitive forms where two people have to try and execute a run racing one another, performances where players are explicitly disrupted and deprived of foreknowledge, performances that are even automated to show an absolute limit on difficulty. Some runs are short, and fast, and messy, and about being as skilled as possible at executing every skill in the game in a potentially random list, and some are about perfect operational execution of a long-term plan. Some are about forcing the game to let you roll a dice so you can try and roll three sixes in a row – there’s a Diablo speedrun where the world record is an hour and the Tool Assisted Speedrun with perfect luck is twelve minutes. Some are personality driven, some are technical, and some are about waiting for something terrible to go wrong.
Speedruns have a lot of different types, they are fun and cool and they are a genre of content, not a particular form. This event is a perfect time for you to want to check the genre out. People will be talking about it, they will be tweeting and they will be sharing the experience on discords. You can totally find people to hang out with now to watch these events and learn about them now. Where am I going to be doing it? I’m going to be tweeting about it, so you can see my thoughts there.
What am I looking out for? Well, as of right now, here’s some stuff on the schedule I’m looking at because I think it’ll be interesting. As always, check your schedule here and everything that’s already been run in the past twenty hours is, uh… off the schedule.
Here, then are some games and runs I’m looking forward to:
Sonic Mania. As this goes up, Sonic Mania is in three and a half hours, being run by the Scottish runner Argick. Argick is an active runner in the European Speedrun Assembly, and even when I don’t watch his runs (Fox watches them all) I am always happy to hear them. Argick is funny and charming and runs his mouth at a million miles a minute playing Sonics ranging from the good (Mania) to the very bad (the phone version of 4).
I fuckin’ love Argick runs. Please don’t be a milkshake duck.
Dishonored 2. This is going to be on at lunchtime for me, which is great, I like to watch it then. It’s a half hour run and it’s of a game with a lot of fun movement, but also tends to be done in-bounds. At any%, I don’t know, it might have all gotten a bit weird. We’ll have to see!
Diablo 3 (Cooperative run). An hour and a half is a great duration for a speedrun in my opinion, it means you have enough time to get involved in the texture of the game, you can learn the rules for how it’s going to work and the runners have time to establish a presence. And cooperative runs tend to come with two people explaining things, and Diablo games are really wildly random. This is a run where ‘perfect’ is almost impossible, so you’re going to see players playing really well for a prolonged period.
Metroid Prime, 100%. This is a two hour run which is an FPS game where you have to correctly remember to scan every single thing in the world. Lots of proper execution of move-and-shoot mechanics and extremely thorough exploring the world!
Carrion. This game rules and the speedrun for it looks a lot like ‘just playing the game,’ with only a few moments of wiggling skips to avoid entire chunks of the game.
Golden Sun. I’m not going to catch this run while it’s live, it’s four hours long starting at midnight my time, but JRPGs are typically good for settle-in and enjoy the style kind of game. Odds are good you’ll learn some interesting ways to exploit the way a game’s combat mechanics and movement mechanics work, but not watch the game turn into a pile of spaghetti.
Yoshi’s Island 100%. This game rules, the 100% speedrun is full of all these really impressive high-velocity perfect executions on a really refined route through a complicated game. Really good game, the speedrun makes the game even more impressive.
Alwa’s Legacy. This is a retro style throwback game, it’s very short, and it looks charming and the run is only 15 minutes. This is the kind of game where if you go play it yourself you’ll have to take a few hours to get good enough to finish and route it fast – and that makes the 15 minutes even more impressive.
Majora’s Mask: Speedrunning science has done things to this run. This is a game that looks extremely like the kind of thing that you’d hear made up in a school playground. At this point this game is breakable with the most preposterously deep level of code malarkey, and that means that watching this game get broken is an insight into how games work on a level that looks legitimately like magic.
Super Mario Sunshine: Great game, great run. This run is largely made up of points where you have to just play the game really well, but then spends time skipping exploring and wandering.
Beat Saber: This isn’t going to be a ‘speed run’ per se, but it’s going to be a performance of a rhythm game. It’s going to be seeing a hard game, played the best possible way – a sort of ‘perfect mode’ of the natural play.
TASBot plays Freedom Planet. Freedom Planet is a sonic-like game, TASbot is a robot that can give perfect inputs, this run will let you see how completely robots with perfect luck can transform the ways games can be treated as behaving.
Pokemon Blue: Catch’Em’All. Now I don’t know how well this category will do, because I don’t know if it’s going to allow for arbitary code execution. If it does, it’s a little less cool than I thought, but if it doesn’t, it’s going to be about watching someone route a very efficient map all across the world, retrieving weird things in weird orders and using the best of speedrunning science to do it.
That’s the stuff that I know I’m looking forward to in this AGDQ! Hopefully, if you look at the schedule, you’ll see some runs that similarly excite you. This is such a fun event, I hope you check it out.
Oh and hey, this whole thing is a charity stream? And it raises like a million dollars for good causes multiple times a year?
The end of year is a time when media production gets busy, and that means it’s a time when media makers get busy making backlogs of media to try and spend some time relaxing. I mean unless you don’t do Christmas, but even if you don’t do Christmas, you’ll probably still have some reduced attention and time. What steps up to fill that void in easy content lands is the listicle, and that’s why you’ll often get year-ender list gluts. If you work in media, that’ll often be things like a top ten of the year, or the month-long top hundred, or, often, a top ten and bottom ten.
I dedicate my Decembers to Da Ween, Yo, and that means that I try to make sure my December has a really positive, sweet, easy tone. No big heavy analysese, no takedowns, no ‘wow, this sucks!’ and that also means if I vent some fun spite, nobody misses it because of I dunno, turkey comas or whatever we blame our suddenly not being Extremely Online.
I watched, or started watching, a lot of stuff in 2020 that could have been a Story Pile. In a lot of cases, I did not write about them, This is because for a number of them, they were boring or annoying and I did not enjoy them.
Let’s look then, at the worst things I spent my time watching in 2020.
Hey, uh, some of the 2020 plans got a bit weird didn’t they? Phew! Good thing that all of those things are exactly over and now it’s 2021, all the problems that 2020 had are over because we tore the tab off a new calendar.
First up, there are theme months; months when I’ll try to use the theme to focus topics. This means that you’re less likely to get a lot of stuff on this topic all the time. This is going to break down as follows:
February is SMOOCH MONTH
April is TALEN MONTH
June is PRIDE MONTH
August is TRICKS MONTH
October is DREAD MONTH
December is DECEMBERWEEN
I also plan on producing content in the following forms, each week:
Every Friday is a Game Pile
Every Monday is a Story Pile
You may think: Hang on, these don’t show up on those dates. Yeah, because you live in America. These are Friday and Monday, my time. So nyeh.
Let’s talk about types of topics though. Each of these articles types are going to be ‘lightly capped’ at one post a month. This is to enforce a degree of variety and make sure each of these things have room to breathe.
One Magic The Gathering article a month. With the rate of releases of MTG content, I prefer to make sure that my posts on this matter aren’t trying to keep up with the ‘proper’ pace, but instead be pieces that take my ways of playing Magic seriously.
One 4th Edition D&D Themed Article. There’s still lots in 4e D&D that deserves some attention. I know I have a thing about forced movement and smart targeting coming up on this one.
One 3.5th Edition D&D Themed Article. The awkward ugly cousin of 4th edition, I still have a lot of fondness for dumb things it could do and ways we can do better than what it asks of us.
One How To Be post. These are fun breakdowns of how to approach a character and I try to build them in blocks so the middle section of ‘how do I get at the mechanical core of this idea with the tools I’ve got’ is readable for anyone.
One T-Shirt design post.
Now, on to game design and posts about that.
Originally the plan for game making for me was a new thing each month. This meant that each month needed to fit in playtesting and graphic design and printing and prototyping and that worked out okay when I was primarily a student doing Honours, and had some blocks of free time and reason to hang around at the university doing random pickup games with strangers. Since then I’ve had an experience I don’t want to repeat, where someone comes to my table at a convention and asks me about the games I’ve made, and I have to introduce them, in a tiny window, to thirty games.
The notion that face-to-face sales and personal play is important made me feel that more time on fewer games was a way to go. Having a new thing at a convention means you have a conversation, but you don’t have a big backlog to go over. I had low-key the idea that I would try and make at most, two games per convention in 2020; that a single new game to launch at an event was a better idea than having to explain twelve different games to someone who hadn’t seen me in a year.
This meant in game development terms I had four major events in mind: CanCon, Comic-Gong, MOAB, and SMASH! We know there won’t be a CanCon this year, so that’s out, which is a bummer, and the odds are good even if the pandemic dies down and conventions come back, it’s exceedingly unlikely we’ll have those same cons springing up, out of nowhere, this year, at the same size as they would have been. This has put game development on hold, which
Yeah, that’s been a bit of a thing.
I do seek to present some more pieces on examining game ideas and structural ideas I’ve been working on on this blog. I find this kind of stuff really exciting and interesting, and being able to go back over the games I’ve explained later results in moments of ‘ohhhh wait, that’s how I should do it!’ I do want to keep doing posts like that. This year, I don’t know how those gaming events are going to happen, and so, I’m going to operate on the assumption that they’re not, but that I do want the tools to be available. I’m going to spend this time I’m working on building apparatus to make a game making process, documented and clearly explained in about three months.
Hypothetically, you could run a list of all the Game Pile Articles and know everything I’ve covered, already.
Which I do.
The original purpose of the Game Pile was to serve as a direct accounting of every game I played from my at the time unmanageably large Steam collection. I didn’t look at that collection for years, and now, over the starting on eight years of this blog, I have been using the Game Pile as a category to talk about games, and things, and things about games, and using games to talk about things. Part of getting this pile under control was playing a lot of them, and part of it was building familiarity with Steam’s tools.
I have a category I put games in when I’m done with them: ‘Completed.’ At the moment, on Steam, I have 324 games outside of that category, and 434 games in that category, meaning that in the context of Steam, I have more than half completed my Game Pile. It has obviously grown in this time, and I’m sure it will grow a little by the time the Steam Winter sale ends. This isn’t accounting for my Itch collections, or the physical boardgames that are also sometimes included, or just random flash games or folk games I talk about too.
Still, the Steam list is a large volume of things, and at the end of each year, I do run through some games and look at the stuff I moved to the Completed category that I haven’t written about, and have in fact, committed to not bothering to write about.
I haven’t done any full-blown revisits yet. I used to do ‘Deeper in the Pile,’ back when I was interested in parleying this blog into a journalism job. The idea was that the Game Pile posts would be entertaining reviews, then the Deeper in the Pile posts would examine things in the game in greater depth. Sometimes I use a remastered edition as an excuse to go back on a game, but otherwise, it’s pretty much that if I didn’t talk about a game and moved it into completed, there was a reason.
Well, it’s the end of the year (oh no, writing forward into the future revealed) and I’m tired, so let’s talk about some games that weren’t interesting enough to merit a full article. As with all of these, though, once I put the thoughts out there, I may come around to a new idea and realise that hey, no, here’s an academic concept or a game design idea I can totally use, and they’ll get pulled out of storage. Who knows!
Obviously, a normal wrapup each month is ‘hey, here’s the best stuff I did this month.’ Except I didn’t do the normal kind of article this month – it was largely easily-accessible media that you can check out during this month, praise for my friends, and at least one embarrassing story where I look like a cowardly dipshit.
Each year, I look at this chart now and I have a weird moment. Like, hey, this is cool. This is a long, dedicated, protracted practice. This year the schedule has at times gone up to 60 and down to 16. Given the year, that seems pretty reasonable. The average blog post is 913 words, and I get about 100 views a day. I’m at the point where WordPress Dot Com is offering me ways to monetise the blog.
If you haven’t noticed, this year I’ve done more writing about running tabletop games in general and more about D&D in specific. I try to limit myself to two posts about D&D a month – my current method for doing it is to pull a book from each edition out of my bookshelf at random and see what the book reminds me of, and then share those thoughts.
This was a rough year for The Greatest Game or whatever. Lots of bannings and the delays on schedules, cards being kicked out for being racist, an entire mechanic getting rebalanced because it was too strong, lots of problems. Still, I wasn’t playing in those spaces so I didn’t really follow that, and instead focused on custom card design this year.
Despite the great wheel turning slow, and the PhD crawling along, I have still found some time to talk about game development, and some of those posts made it into the top of the heap, or I had a personal reason to want to put them forward.
There’s not really a good term for these, is there? There’s a bunch of posts I’ve written about emotional issues and about the way we look at our lives. Often these are about queer culture, and about the way we live as queer people. I don’t have a ton of experience with the things we consider ‘queer culture’ – so instead I make do with looking at how we relate to media, and how that media relates to my queerness, and maybe your queerness.
And it turns out that queer folk have slightly weird life experience that relates to odd social behaviours, too! And thinking about that sometimes gets blog posts made.
Then, when all those other categories are covered, what else do we have going on this year? Well, here’s stuff that got decent hits, sorted for the ones that I personally think are the most interesting.
As for what we’re going to do in the coming year…? Well, check that out tomorrow. Thanks for reading this year, thanks for being part of my year, and I hope I’ve made this year at least a little bit better. For you. This year. Year.
I did not know, until this year, that ‘Cover Youtube’ was a thing. I was vaguely aware that ‘original gaming music’ youtube was a thing, thanks to Miracle of Sound, who I found from the Escapist, and boy, isn’t that a rollercoaster.
Anyway, this year I’ve been enjoying discovering the music of a couple of different Youtube creators. Particularly, this year I found The Stupendium:
The Stupendium apparently considers himself a animator primarily, and like, well, great to have this as a side gig.
I also learned about Annapantsu:
Who in turn got me to check out Cami-Cat;
Where I learned that she also worked with the Stupendium on one of my favourite songs of his:
And also had me checking out Caleb Hyles and Jonathan Young;
And then I learned that these all also intersect with the work of Christina Vee;
Who I also know as a Sailor Moon voice actress, and oh, yeah, also, this:
There is also the work of Calliope Mori, but I’ve only really liked one of her songs, but I have enjoyed seeing bits of her working on music as a vtuber.
So yeah! There’s some stuff I listened to and liked this year! Check them out, subscribe to them and if you can, buy their music or tip them on ko-fi/patreon or whatever if you like their stuff.
Hermitcraft is a thing I kind of discovered, properly, last year. I found some random videos, thought they were interesting, started watching to put it all in context, and I even recommended Mumbo Jumbo and Grian as wholesome sources of good content for people who wanted to connect to kids who are into minecraft and didn’t necessarily have any chance of, you know, throwing out slurs or encouraging genocides like other Big Name Youtube Minecrafters.
As with all such things, after I sampled the main stream, I got over them and moved on to the really cool underground stuff. Now, part of this is that Mumbo Jumbo and Grian have audiences of literally millions of fans and those fans, together, are kind of, uh, enthusiastic children at best, and sometimes, hooting donguses the rest of the time. The great news about Hermitcraft is that when you have twenty four active players reacting to one another, you can have samples of the world and the experiences of it, without necessarily needing to focus on the four or five most popular ones.
Here then are some of my favourite Hermits, who are all under half a million subscribers!
Tinfoil Chef has had a heck of a year. He lost a bunch of weight, but it was because he lost a foot and a piece of his leg as well. TFC started the year living somewhere rural and isolated.
Check him out if you want to watch step-by-step, trial-and-error chill versions of Minecraft videos. How to build things, the kind of person who leaves in his mistakes and explains his process.
Joe Hills. Joe Hills does a lot of long streams. He’s fond of puns and poetry, so you can tune in to him and listen to some of that kind of thing. Two things about Joe: First, he interacts with Zombie Cleo a lot (and she’s great). Second, this season of Hermitcraft, Joe has set himself the rule that he will not use Diamonds. That results in some interesting behaviour.
Zedaph is in my opinion, the Moon Knight of the Hermits. It’s not that he doesn’t get involved in other people’s stuff, per se, but it tends to be more discrete things, like a lava bucket challenge with Tango (who isn’t being covered here, but he’s probably my favourite millionaire league subscriber hermit, wait, no, Etho is a millionaire now never mind this diversion is unnecessary). Zedaph is working on one large project, making a single cave that’s full of weird, interesting contraptions and devices that do interesting stuff.
Watch Zedaph if you like goofy British comedy. Lots of Goodies-league style comedic attitudes.
Stressmonster is… a lot.
Look, I like Stressmonster, I really do. I don’t tend to watch her videos regularly; I am more likely to see something odd that happened in another video, then go back and watch four or five episodes of Stressmonster back to back. I do it that way because she’s very high energy, but she also has a schedule that gets interrupted by life a lot.
Stress is honestly a really cool Youtuber, in that she has done and tried a lot of things, which, unfortunately, have not succeeded as much as Hermitcraft. But it’s great to see the different things she’s tried and if you can, throw her a subscribe to see what she tries next.
XBCrafted. Extremely oldschool as far as Hermitcraft goes, he’s been around for a long time. He’s doing a big project too, much like Zedaph is, where he’s building a post-apocalyptic district. One thing I like that he does is perching a camera account, and just watching himself as he putters around building something, out of bits and pieces. If you like the sort of slow, meditative crafting of Minecraft and seeing how it looks when people make.
Oh holy heeeeck, it’s Zombie Cleeeeooo I love Cleeoooo she has a great sense of humour, she has an amazing affect, she works on all sorts of projects with armour stands. In Hermitcraft they run a data pack that adds all sorts of in-game-doable stuff with armour stands, by using special commands through a book. It’s really cool, and Cleo is doing these amazing things to work on them to make a zoo. She’s very funny, I love what she builds, and she’s got a very sensible, teacherly kind of timing.
Oh and she got all the Hermits to slaughter one another this season early on.
Hypno! Hypno is one of the earliest Hermits to return, and I really like how his videos don’t tend to intersect with The Big Names. Hypno is engaged in the hermitcraft space, he’s talking with friends like Beef and XB and Cleo, but you’re not going to see him roping in on the latest Great Big Event that’s going on between the Big Name Subscriber folks that are happening over there.
Hypno is also patient in a way that other bigger names aren’t. One of his projects in this season was to build a little island home – and when he found that island wasn’t properly lining up with the biome he filled it in and rebuilt the entire island. That’s really cool!
FalseSymmetry! You probably see her in other Hermit videos a fair bit because she has the strange reputation of being a PVP Battle godddess, which also, based on this season… seems to be true? She’s just very good at competitive Minecraft, and I don’t know how to explain that, or what that means? But she’s also doing a lot of big builds and the kind of farm design that isn’t elaborate redstone contraptions and is much more about making big objects that do their job properly. She does great stuff, you should check it out.
For this year’s Story Pile articles, there’s a lot of rich reading to do. Turns out that this was the year of I Had A Lot of Free Time To Watch Long Things And A Reason To Keep Myself Distracted, so instead of wasting a month on Hannibal or Longmire or American Horror Story I watched things that were interesting and then wrote about it.
Here then is a reader’s guide to some of 2020’s best Story Pile article, whether they be because the work is good and interesting and I want you to check it out, or because the work is absolutely buttcloaks and I want you to join in with me in feeling pain about these things existing.
First of all I did an in depth watch of Star Trek: Deep Space 9 (parts one, two, three and bonus memes), which seems to be heralded as one of the best Trek series ever. The more time that passes, the more I look back on what held in my memory, the more convinced I am that it isn’t very good at all; it was novel, it was doing a kind of storytelling Trek couldn’t do much of at the time, and there were great ideas in it, but the show’s ambitions were failed by its executions. I do think it has probably one of my favourite episodes of any Star Trek ever – In the Pale Moonlight is great, and then immediately I think of four or five other really great episodes, which makes me doubt.
It was really enjoyable and it had some great ideas and great episodes. It’s just hard to get over the ways it was bad, because they were pervasive and permeating.
I also finally tackled the Fullmetal Alchemist franchise, something I’d been on-and-off promising myself I’d do for a few years now. The series is big and it’s sprawling and it’s made up of four ‘equal’ components (though that’s not counting the games): the manga, the first anime, the second anime and the live action movie. This one was a little harder to really nail down – fact is, the worst of them is the movie and it’s still going to fill two hours… fine.
I enjoyed Crazy Rich Asians, and my article on it is as much about that excellent sequence of Mahjong playing in the last act. I thought Douglas was an unexpected and excellent gem of a comedy show by a wonderful comedian, Hannah Gadsby. I also went over the ‘horror’ series Black Spot, which was about the intense and beautiful horror that came from an environment that feels to me completely alien.
There were some Story Piles that were just things I loved and wanted to talk about. Sort of raw enthusiasm, boiling away in me for sharing these stories or movies or series or characters or just good stuff so you could enjoy it during this time of Things Not Being Great. In that space, there’s John Wick 3: Para Bellum, Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts, Lower Decks, Logan Lucky, andOcean’s 8. Just stuff I liked, with simple, no-nonsense articles explaining what I liked about them or why they were interesting. Sadly, my Durarara!! article has lost its fight with copyright robots that mean the music no longer shows up between the paragraphs. Tragic.
I also finally wrote a long form piece on Bleach, a series I still love and kind of feel I want to return to to explain interesting ideas in it, perhaps in the same way I did with the Fullmetal franchise. I also wrote about the Hatsune Miku phenomenon with Odds And Ends.
I watched The Thing for the first time this year and would you believe it, that movie? It’s really good. So was The Big Short, which mostly was me wondering: How many of the same actors are about to go unpunished?
Then there are the articles that are focused on things that I thought were real bad but where the articles were satisfying or fun to write. I didn’t do a lot of that this year, though! It may surprise you to realise it, but I’ve tried to keep pretty positive, even if there are a few Story Piles about throwing something bad into the sea.
Of this, there’s of course my article on Tall Girl, which was terrible. There was my article about Tomb Raider, a movie sneering at the idea of it ever being good. But the absolute crowning jewel of my ‘holy shit, oh no’ kind of articles this year had to be my piece on The Sonic The Hedgehog Movie (But Not Really), which is of course, about the 1990s kung-fu anti-drugs ad, Sidekicks, and the awful millionaires involved in its production.
It has now been a full year of How To Be. These articles are fun to make, they’re interesting to play around with, and I have more of them ready to go, so I fully expect to keep doing them. What I do think, though, from all of those articles I’ve made this year, I was frustrated to find that Twitter and Jetpack, two of the ways I promote this blog, don’t present my hilarious book covers in the thumbnails consistently. That means it’s possible that you might not see these book covers and may not have gone looking for them.
Also, since it’s December, and I am tired and you are tired and everyone is tired, how about I show off this year’s How To Be covers, and let you check them out now, as some long-form throwback reading of the rest of the blog.