Hackademia!

This is a term I heard for the first time today, and I was really lucky I heard it being said by someone I like and respect or I fear there’d have been a row. There’s this ugly impulse to hack- prefix everything, in the same way that Rush Limbaugh once coined ‘slacktivist’ and now a bunch of well-intentioned millenial dorks he was making fun of think that they’re addressing a real thing.

The notion was introduced to me by Olly Thorn, from PhilosophyTube, where he forwards the pretty simple thesis that in response to an increase in UK tuition fees, he’s putting his degree on Youtube, for free. This is a revolutionary feeling, but don’t get it too twisted – a university isn’t just here to tell you things. If that was the case, a library would do the same job, and if that was all a library did, you could get the same thing from a few specific old books. There’s a lot more to university than just the reading material!

Still it put me in mind of the question, what am I doing here? What am I trying to do here?

I don’t think I’m giving you, the reader, a University education. I’m not short-circuiting the very nature of all things educational. But what I do think I’m doing, what I’m trying to do, is provide a connection between academia and the media stuff I care about. Because I like game books and I like board games and I like the little failed CCGs and the board games we all made with paper and pen and didn’t get off the ground. I don’t think those things are beneath consideration, and I also don’t think academia is without value, which is a pair of propositions that sometimes feels a bit weird.

In videogames, there’s this sort of noisome harrumphing about how there isn’t a meaningful discourse about games, and there are some websites doing that, but my experiences writing for websites trying to offer same just pushed me back towards the same ingredients-list game conversation, and the websites doing This Kind Of Thing don’t seem to be answering my (admittedly rare) calls.

What that means is this blog is sort of one part writing praxis – that is to say, me taking my theories about creativity and human interface, and acting on them – and one part making a thing I want to see in the world. The features may rotate in and out – I mean, the Magic: The Gathering articles are getting a bit afield from the original idea of just ‘whatever deck I’m playing this week’ – but the general premise remains.

I want my blog to be a place to you can look to for advice on creating things, but also for my degree, digital media studies, brought to bear on stuff you care about in a way you understand. I want to use my tools to entertain and engage and encourage.

Does that make me a hackademic? I dunno. Maybe. It sounds like a cool title and maybe that’s a bit cooler than I deserve. But I know I’m doing this in an effort to interest and engage you. If I’m not appealing to an audience, I’m not doing what I want.

Your Worst Fan

I’ve spoken in the past, about an old TISM song, Play Mistral For Me. For those unfamiliar, the lines of the chorus are

Each man kills the thing he loves
A fisherman caught in his own net
It’s frightening but you deserve
The audience that you get.

It’s meant to be a haunting meditation (like they’d call it that) on the idea that if you’re destined for an audience, your audience’s actions are part of your destiny. It’s something that I’ve mused about lately as I watch students talk about their takes, and as the world increasingly spins around people who have let’s say a not great take on the meaningful metaphors of works like The Matrix and Fight Club.

Spoilers for some movies I feel comfortable assuming you’d have seen by now or don’t care about ever seeing them unspoilered. Continue reading

Preferences As Weakness

If someone is using your preferences to attack you, then they’re just being an asshole. If they’re using media you like as a way to belittle and hurt people in general, they’re being an asshole. If they’re pursuing you to make you answer for something you like, they’re being an asshole. Continue reading

Game Pile: Elder Evil

Part of the challenge in finding horror topics for this month has been finding game related things that I found actually legitimately horrifying. Things that I found creepy, things that I found that were capable of giving me that prickle on the skin, rather than just wearing the trappings of the horrific. There are lots of horrifying videogames, lots of games that want to be horrifying, but so few of them really make me feel it.

Let me show you then, the book that heralded the end of the world for 3.5 D&D, and went out with a howl.

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Shirt Highlight: Eat Trash, Live Free!

Australia and America both have a life form that we mostly recognise for its presence in garbage. One of them is the trash panda, and another is the bin chicken. And with that in mind, I celebrated these creatures that exist in our damaged world refusing to end.

You can get these shirt designs on Redbubble (Raccoon and Ibis) and on Teepublic (Raccoon and Ibis).

Iron Fist Cancellation

I was planning on doing a Story Pile about Iron Fist season 2, talking about the problems it has, the reasons it doesn’t work, the reasons I hate it (Danny sucks) and all that.

Then I got the news, today, just out of the blue, after one week of being live on Netflix, that Season 3 of Iron Fist has been cancelled.

I don’t know how to feel about this in its entirety. Like, I was unhappy with the series, but it was a hate that came with a want for a good version of the thing. I wanted an Iron Fist series that was good. When Iron Fist season 1 was bad, I wanted the badness to inform season 2, and when season 2, I had it in me to hope that season 3 could be good, or at least interesting as a failure instead of the black hole of suck that season 2 wound up being.

And then, today, the abrupt news that Marvel and Netflix have decided to just kill Iron Fist season 3.

I mean, it wasn’t going to be good. The people who made Season 1 made a bad thing and the people who made Season 2 with fewer excuses for it being bad. Now I’m wondering if it’d be worth my time to even commentate on the series as a media object itself, or if it’s more of a closed circle. Is there a meaningful autopsy there? Is there a sincere, reasonable purpose to dismantling the terribleness of Iron Fist season 2? Would it be interesting, or edifying?

I’m not sure.

But it is pretty weird to sit back, watch a show on Netflix, say ‘this is garbage’ and then have the voice from on high agree with me.

Solitaire, The Coded Cardboard

I think a lot about single player games.

I think about them a lot because it’s kind of the main way I have had to play board games most of my life. I didn’t have friends growing up. My sister and I weren’t on the same level – she could see different means to how games like Monopoly worked, and I never got the impression playing games with me was fun for her. This meant that I played a lot of solo ‘board’ games, sort of.

You know Solitaire? That game that we use as an example of a minimally interesting sort of videogame? I played it a lot growing up. I had a desk, I had a deck of cards from a Go-Lo, and I sat and actually played Solitaire, and Freecell, and I learned how those games worked from watching them work on a computer. I had to translate their rules. To this day I don’t know if Solitaire has some secret hidden rule to prevent broken arrest states.

Neither of these games has an ‘AI’ to them, but they’re solitaire games that present resistance. Solitaire itself is a bit like picking a big lock, constructed out of a bunch of parts that have no reason to care about how they were arranged previously. Solitaire is… interesting in that regard. It wasn’t made to make that lock – the game, the structure of it – is part of how that lock comes together. The rules impose on the pieces and create the puzzle. That is, the game is a code that creates the play.

I’ve sometimes murred about coding cardboard. What I find interesting is how do we make games like this, that are interesting solo experiences, where the play can be satisfying, and then, can we make that design space interesting to interface with? Solitaire’s metaphor is sorting your deck of cards, so what other stories can we impose on these complex locks?

And what can we do to make that fiction interesting as we work on it?

MTG: Halloween Commanders, Part One

This started out, at first, as an attempt to make a Halloweeny Commander deck. Then it became an examination of two Halloweeny Commanders side-by-side. Then four. Then six. Then I realised that I have no business trying to make decks for all these, certainly not in a month.

So instead: let’s look at some commanders and grade them by their Halloweenyness.

Continue reading

Failing (Early, Often, Paradoxically)

I normally sit down to write something for this blog after I’ve gotten my day’s PhD work done. Today, that work was almost entirely smothered under work for marking, because marking is important, and when I do try and write without some burning need already in place, I tend to survey three things:

  • My incoming directory
  • My twitter feed
  • My bullet journal

Today, all three of those things are blank, because my day has gone away in a cloud of trying to mark a lot of students’ work in a timely, respectful fashion while still organising all the normal operations of the day like feeding and walking the dog. It’s been a rough one, and that means I haven’t actually done one of the things I’m finding I enjoy, and that’s readings.

One of the books I just finished reading is Jesper Juul’s the Art of Failure, which I’m sure I’ve mentioned elsewhere in the blog by this time. It’s a really neat book, pretty short and breezy and doesn’t require a lot of specialised knowledge. Juul is pretty good at that. You could probably knock it over in an afternoon if you weren’t taking notes on everything.

In it, Juul talks about the paradox of games. He suggests that games are things we fail at, usually, and we don’t seek out failure, but we do seek out games, despite the fact we’ll fail at them. By contrast, the students I’m dealing with are examining the design side of things with the principle of fail early, fail often.

I see the word ‘fail’ a lot.

Juul’s position is interesting, as I sit up late and muse on it, because it presents a very binary view not just of human experience, but of human consciousness. That is, that humans are a single perspective agent, which has singular motivations and good, clean judgment. Some parts of us don’t believe we’ll fail. Some parts of us want to fail, to get falsifiable information. Some parts of us want to fail because we’re curious. Some parts of us are constantly redefining failure as we play.

This isn’t really addressing Juul. It’s more musing on what the book doesn’t do.

And not doing something is not the same thing as failing.

Just like how today, I didn’t read any books for my PhD. That doesn’t mean I failed my PhD today. I hope.

Game Pile: Werewolf

You wake up one morning and find tragedy has struck. A member of the village, someone you know, a family member perhaps, is dead, laying spread out guts and all in the town square. The savagery and the ferocity of it, coupled with the signs of a struggle point to one horrible cause.

Werewolves.

There’s a werewolf in town – at least one.

And now, you have to do what you can to stop it killing again.

You don’t know who you can trust. You know you’re okay. So you point fingers. You watch who reacts. You demand people explain themselves, justify themselves, watch who aligns quickly, or not quickly enough. There’s arguments. Rage. Recrimination. Indignation. In the end, the whole village pick someone, and string them up, hanging them by the town square.

And then, in the night, the werewolves rouse, and claim another victim.

Continue reading

Koans as Games

Kōan are a type of Zen story or riddle designed to make a practictioner reconsider their knowledge of Zen, or demonstrate their existing grasp of the study. They range in complexity and length, from some classic phrases like If you see the Buddha, kill him and What is the sound of one hand clapping, but they get positively enormous by comparison, becoming like little stories with multiple parts that all combine together to form their own conflicts.

The thing is, and you could probably see this coming from me, the boy who cried game, but I think that zen koan might be a wonderful example of what I think of as a zero-materiality game.

My thesis is building around the idea I established in my honours thesis, the idea that you can look at games on three non-related axes; their confrontation, their abstraction and their materiality. Now it’s easy to find games with lots of materiality, like big elaborate escape rooms that need you to pay attention to the entire room, and it’s sometimes easy to point between two similar games as to which introduces more material elements (D&D versus Magic: The Gathering, for example).

One thing I’m interested in is when you take any of these elements to an extreme; what does a game with no abstraction look like? What does a game with as much abstraction as we can conceive of look like? As confrontation models change, you move away from direct confrontation to races to competition for resources to simultaneous play to cooperation and so on, but materiality… materiality has interesting extremes. I used to think that how to host a murder was a good example of low materiality, but even those are designed to be played in a space with other people and the ability to position yourself in relationship to other people, and the room, and so on, all play into how that game plays. Also sometimes there are props. Anyway the point is, as I tried to erode the idea of materiality more and more, I came upon kōan.

A practitioner might not think of kōan as games, but I’m not one to tell them how to Buddhism and they don’t to tell me how to games. The kōan is a sort of almost unsolvable puzzle that is meant to imply by its engagement that it will unlock or enlighten you, or there is a way to view it that will make the rest of it make sense, and as you come to understand kōan – not solve – doing so will make other kōan make more sense, and then you can return to older kōan with newer knowledge and suddenly they’ll make sense in a different way, but you still reached this higher level of understanding after understanding them in a different way like some kind of conceptual-spiritual scaffolding. The whole process is a form of play – and indeed, that the mind keeps returning to the kōan is a sign of how engaging they can be.

The kōan is a puzzle, which requires no material mass, but does require you to engage with it. And in so doing, you are given a way and a place to play, and their interrelationships transform one another.

Also, in amongst these, I wanted to provide a link to Ted’s favourite kōan, the wild fox kōan.

Story Pile: Jennifer’s Body

hoo boy.

If you don’t remember this movie, I don’t blame you. The marketing for it sort of oriented itself around the selling point that Megan Fox is hot, and She makes out with Amanda Seyfried in this movie. The trailer even seemed to dedicate quite a bit of time to showing off that sequence, which had about it the waft of a movie that was trying very hard to make its 15 racy seconds feel like 30. A transgressive, raunchy, highschool-aimed horror movie, Jennifer’s Body showed up just long enough to make everyone I know roll their eyes and go ugh about it as they went on to talk about how horribly exploitive it probably was.

The thing that nobody seemed to know at the time was that Jennifer’s Body wasn’t a Species-style exploitative horror film with nothing going on, it was a Frankenstein-style exploitative horror film with nothing going on. By that, I mean that this movie is basically the mediocre bits of three other movies that were killed, stitched together into something that resembles a whole. Continue reading

Christopher Hitchens Was Just Good At Being A Dick

Christopher Hitchens was a journalist and writer and also wealthy middle-class son of working class parents, who was renowned in his early days for bombastic iconoclasm, and in his later years for a sort of later-life renovation in the name of the New Atheism movement. He was renowned for the latter stage of his life, up until his death, for his part as one of the ‘four horsemen,’ a group of prominent intellectuals who openly and aggressively challenged Christian Hegemony in the culture.

Now those horsemen include were four dudes: Dan Dennett, a philosopher who’s done some interesting ad valuable stuff, but also some really racist stuff seemingly without realising it, Richard Dawkins, probably the most scientifically important modern racist grandpa, Sam Harris, who’s spent the intervening years showing what a racist doofus he is – Wow, there’s a lot of racism going free. Don’t worry, Harris is also clueless about philosophy, humanities, art and ethics, a real renaissance doofus.

Anyway, the point is, you had four guys who had varying degrees of intellectual importance and accomplishment, and one of them was Hitchens, a man who has kind of become an idealised icon of That Kind Of Atheist On The Internet.

there are way, way too many thumbnails like this

My relationship to Hitchens as a historical entity is a bit complicated. Because some of his work was very robust, very competent – his reporting on places like Belfast and Beiruit, for example – and he was good at economising with words, he definitely seemed good. There were issues where Hitchens and I definitely agreed – he was genuinely adamant about the Elgin Marbles, for example. Yet at the same time, he didn’t bring any illumination to any of the issues he examined as a journalist that other journalists couldn’t do. The dude wrote about experiences very well, but the filter of his experiencse was overwhelmingly himself, and you learned of him through that work.

And really, the thing that Hitchens did well, did best, was be mean to someone.

It’s part of why he’s such an affecting performer. He’d turn up at Creationist Debate events, and make the creationist in question look like a stupid dick, and he’d tell fascists to get lost, and he’d do it well, but when you cook down his positions, most of his most intelligent insights were quotes. Most of his best interpretations are of very obvious, basic ideas – England does not own Greece’s history and it was bad to destroy the Bamiyan Buddhas. These aren’t actually challenging paths, these aren’t things that require the work of excelling journalism to put into meaningful context.

What Hitchens did well, and what made him feel so bad to watch when he turned that skill towards people who a moral conscience or broader context could appreciate did not deserve it, was be mean to people.

And that’s why we loved him, in the New Atheist community. We liked him, because he was mean to the people we wanted to be mean to and he was better at it than we were.

It’s sad in hindsight. Because it means Hitchens is hard to appreciate for his excellent ability to wield words, when you realise that often behind that skill there was not an excellent and incisive mind, but an emotionally satisfying cruelty.

A good journalist would consider the value of public debates on articles of faith. Would notice the way that it wasn’t valuable to negotiate with unreasoning conspiracy. Would appreciate what he couldn’t argue people out of when they’d never argued themselves into it.

But he didn’t.

He was just mean.

Real good at it, too.

MTG: Pet Cards XVI, Khans Block

The best block of modern MTG history is the block with the single biggest structural mistake in it and it’s a structural mistake because there is basically no meaningful way to have course-corrected or changed it. Making this mistake was 100% reasonable in the way that Magic sets are crafted and in a way it’s good that the structure that bound Khans and ruined Tarkir died here. It was doomed before Tarkir was made, but it seems fitting perhaps that a design dragon – the needs of small sets to serve larger ones – was slain in the lands of Tarkir.

What I’m talking about is that Khans of Tarkir is, without a doubt, one of the best sets of modern Magic. It is one of the best worlds, and its cultures represent something we both haven’t had much of and were finally able to put conception to. In most faction sets, the factions include a few duds – most people can appreciate an element of a faction or two, but most people who like the MTG factions will like one or two of them. Tarkir howerver put this on its ass because all the factions are cool, and have something about them to recommend (except the Sultai, who make up for their moral and narrative failings with grotesque power). Tarkir was great and it was cool and it had this interesting post-apocalyptic feel thanks to the absence of Dragons, but it didn’t hurt for them. Without dragons, the game had to make do with other big things that crashed through defensive lines.

Then, the fiction told us, we went back in time (a bad sign) and changed things to bring back dragons. Which could have been cool, but it meant all those noble, interesting, exciting khans we met, and grew attached to were now all losers subservient to a bunch of dragons, who were also now emblematic of the death of The Thing We Liked.

How were Wizards to know that we’d love their Khans? How were they to know we’d like Khans way better than their dragons that sucked? Dragons are consistantly some of the highest-polling cards in the game!

Continue reading

Term: Semi-Co-Op Games

Okay, remember cooperative games? Well, semi-co-op games work around that space. They have the basic setup of a cooperative game, but there’s something in the game, some player’s behaviour, that keeps it from being purely cooperative. Usually this means there’s a player who is secretly working against the actions of other players, but sometimes it can mean that there’s just the suspicion of such a thing.

There’s a really different affect to a semi-cooperative game. Semi-co-op games aren’t like ‘cooperative games, but,’ because suspicion tends to become a huge part of the game. It’s less about how to complete the cooperative challenge, and much more about how you can use your actions to either obscure your intentions, or to entice other players to take actions that would evoke their identity.

Utility

Semi co-op structures are really good at fighting quarterbacking (as described in the cooperative term). They’re also really good for representing a fairly robust, classical narrative – people work together, then there’s a sudden disruption where someone gets revealed to not be a part of the solution. There’s also just the fear of that. Sometimes players will avoid making optimal communication just because they might be dealing with a traitor in a game that might not have one active.

The other type of semi-co-op can be one with one player an open adversary to the other players. This opposition means you can give the game an oppositional force that has to make decisions, like a Dungeonmaster or Game Master role.

Another, third way to do semi-co-op is to have players form cooperative units. Imagine a game where two players work together on their own small project, at a time, then each of those projects compete to see what they can do.

Limitations

The problems present in cooperative game design tend to be coded out of semi-co-op. With at least one player adding an element of confrontation, it becomes easier for difficulty to adjust to players’ behaviours. When a game’s opposition is primarily a hard-coded system (like a scenario, or cards, or combinations of those cards) it can make opposition feel a bit blunt and thoughtless. If a player is the one opposing you, they add a different feeling to that experience…

… buuuut then you have to basically make two games at once. Semi co-op games have to have design space set out for the oppositional player and this can often get out of hand. It’s part of the design load, where you need to create content for both forms of contribution.

Examples

Betrayal at the House on the Hill, Dead of Winter, the non-co-op expansions to Pandemic.

Game Pile: Mysterium

Board games are, for me, mostly, an element of a loaf. Friends are around, we have board games, test and see what people are into and then we go for it. Sometimes my board games go into a bag and travel with me to my parents’ place and they don’t get played and that’s okay. Usually ‘board games’ mean playing a few different games in one spot. Very few games I own really qualify as the kind of thing it’s worth making into any kind of event.

I have one that can, though.

And it’s one of the best games of its type to get you into playing board games.

Continue reading

Voice Acting Is Bad, As We Do It

This is more a personal beef but it is one that I feel connects to problems with videogames in general.

Voice acting, in videogames, is usually handled in a representative way. That is, a character has a line of dialogue, and the voice actor directly expresses that line of dialogue. This means the voice actor is trying to represent that line of dialogue ‘right.’ To do that, the voice actor needs to understand what the ‘right’ version of that dialogue is. To do that, they need to be able to put that line into context, and to do that they need someone who can interpret for them every possible version of that line, based on all available context of the game.

This is obviously not very easy.

The work of a director is then to both understand the game’s fiction on a deep level and how that interacts with the game’s play experience. They then have to be able to rely on what they’re talking about remaining unchanged, so they probably need to start work once the rest of the game’s fiction has been decided upon. They also need some degree of creative control to ensure that if a voice actor can’t deliver a line, or if the fiction has some potential failure state where things don’t make sense, the voice actors aren’t stuck trying to do something they can’t. That means the fiction has to have some flexibility.

Also, voice acting needs to work without pauses but also without crosstalk. Naturalistic dialogue has more problems the more you pause between sounds, which means that for the director’s sake, they probably need all the voice actors at once so they can deliver dialogue around one another easily and make sure lines flow smoothly into one another.

Then for that to work you’re probably going to need a lot of time, time for breaks for actors to recharge, then you’ll also probably want some concealer booths so actors can properly emote based on surprises and none of this is how it gets done. Obviously. You can’t wait until the entire production of a game is done to get voice acting done. As part of the game’s fiction it might get done in the later stages, but you’re just not going to get this kind of outlay and planning for the voice acting, which is largely seen as ‘unimportant’ as a component of the narrative.

The other thing is, all of this is in service of one, representative version of the narrative voice. Doing this removes ambiguity you get with textual dialogue, which may be nice if you want your message to be extremely explicit, but it also runs contrary to the scope of the kind of storytelling you normally get in games. Games tend to run dozens of hours, with a fiction where timing is remarkably difficult to connect to the play experience, so you can’t exactly treat them like movies (David Cage), and because the timing is handled by the player, you can’t treat them like TV Series, either.

Oh, and the inclusion of voice acting makes it so changing dialogue at any point becomes expensive. Star Wars: The Old Republic, being fully voice acted, has to pay for voice acting for expansions, which is hideously pricey compared to the way expansions are meant to go (ie, much cheaper than the original production). Oh, and everything multiplies for each region you intend to release your game in.

None of this is to say that Voice Acting Is Bad. It’s just right now, the way we do voice acting is bad, and the only reason we get to have games voice acted the way we do tends to tie into whether or not voice actors are being underpaid and overworked for what they do, and then blamed for failures of the system around them.

Personally, I think one of the best options for conveying the tone and atmosphere of a line without necessarily relying on a single perfect representation of the dialogue by a voice actor is when you reduce an actual dialogue to vocables, like Midna uses. This kind of non-voice-voice is used throughout Legend of Zelda games (except Breath of the Wild) and it’s really good for allowing the actor to convey a tone without needing them to perfectly frame their dialogue.

It’s also cheaper and allows for ambiguous interpretation of dialogue in a way that’s more akin to books than to movies, but that’s my preference and I understand not every storyteller wants to do that.

Still, textual ambiguity is one of the best friends a writer can have when the director of the total experience might be running around putting buckets on people’s heads and stealing all the cheese.

September Wrapup!

September. Another working month, which is nice, but also the month where my PhD Action Progress Report or APR was due. This is a big scary document that opens with HAVE YOU FAILED THIS YEAR? and kinda gets rougher from there. Also, I’ve been doing some lecture appearances at uni, which is pretty cool!

This month, only one video got made – and well, I made it in August. It was about the comedy special Nanette and the limits of media forms.

As I write this, in September, I haven’t done much video editing at all, which worries me a bit. I have a big thing planned, but thanks to a schedule thing for October, I don’t know if it’ll go up until November. If you liked Meaningless Heterotopia, this one is more in that vein – longer form.

I do kind of want to do more Lets Plays with commentary, so you might see one of them, with a solo commentary track rather than necessarily doing it with Fox again. Not that I don’t love Fox to pieces, it’s just easier to do things on my own, and I really liked my Commander Keen video.

What game got made in September?

Well, as of writing this, it’s The Pipesm’n Conspiracy, and it is flying its way to Canadia to become part of the grand festival of comedy and charity that is DESERT BUS 2018 OH MY GOD I DID THE THING. And the rest of the month has been nervously fretting for it to arrive.

The September shirt is Voregoisie, Because the Rich are Made of Meat. In black and white.

Phd Organisation Update

Okay, so!

I’m doing scholarly work. Academic work. Well, I’m working on doing that kind of work, I don’t know how good a job I’m doing. One thing I was doing was putting notes from that work here, on my blog. I still  believe that it’s important to be able to explain my ideas in my natural voice, and don’t worry – I’m still going to be producing stuff, on this blog, with that same perspective. If it’s a matter of writing about (say) a videogame referring to the Jesper Juul book I read recently, that’ll happen. If it’s my specific notes about that book for my PhD? That goes on, dun dun dun, the other blog.

That other blog, by the way, is one I’m deliberately obscuring access to. That’s partly out of general information security and student safety. That blog has references to my government name on it, a name I really don’t like. I want that blog to be useful as a resource for students following me, I want it to be useful show to my supervisors of the kind of work I’m doing regularly. It is, essentially, a workplace resource.

I don’t think that this should lead to the diminishment of workload here. But it might mean that some articles you went to find here have been moved – just to make sure that searching for their text will take you to the right spot. In those places I might put, I dunno, a picture of a cute dog.

There’s another pragmatic issue here. Those posts of my notes were usually a pretty good way for me to make my day’s PhD work and my blog goal (a post or more every day) line up. But they’re not good content for this blog, they’re not the kind of things that interest readers, and I think you’d rather see me apply the things I’ve read to things, rather than just demonstrate that I’ve read things.

Setting Limits

You know how these things are kind of strands out of time? Because I write so far in advance, nothing I write is actually timely to my personal experience.

Anyway, I’ve been sick for the past three days. Three days ago, I was so sick I did nothing really all day. At night, I put out a draft, did a bit of a glance over of some of my research material. The next day as I recovered, I tried to do a bunch of contributions to my students’ work, and that was all I had in me. The next day, the Friday, I had to go do a presentation to a group of students, which I did, as best I could, and now I’m writing that now, which is now a month ago.

I didn’t get any other work done, not really. I didn’t do anything fascinating or clever. I didn’t hit my normal goal of 2 drafts or schedules a day. I didn’t record or edit podcasts or video, didn’t really generate anything on my current projects, like the Clout box, I didn’t work on my little ship game or the Pipesman conspiracy and I feel

so bad about that.

And right now as I write this, I am bundling up those feelings and just trying to throw them away. Because it’s okay to not be able to create. It’s okay to have times when the urge isn’t there, because you’re in too much pain, or your head is full of goop. It’s okay.

And I need to be okay with that.


I wrote this a few months ago. The day it goes up, today, I am recovering from another cold.

Damnit, this isn’t supposed to be timely.

Term: Cooperative Games

A cooperative game is a game where multiple players are all working together to achieve the common end of the game. This isn’t the same thing as a game where players can cooperate (like many trading games or war games), but games where the entire point of the game is for two or more players to work together to win it.

Utility

Cooperative game designs are great for making games for players who aren’t interested in direct conflict.

They’re also good for making somewhat basic problems much more complicated and engaging. It’s one thing to just lift a box, but if one player has to lift the box, and another player push it forwards, you’re going to make something that wasn’t quite a challenge into a problem of communication.

Honestly, though, cooperative games are excellent for people who just don’t want their games to be about butting heads and would rather work together.

Limitations

One of the big problems that cooperative games tend to get is commonly called quarterbacking. The idea is that as long as all players are collaborating on the project of the game means that it’s possible that one player can take control of the play – that there is, in any situation an optimal play, and then it falls to one player to make that play as best they can.

This can mean that in any given play situation, one player might not be making many choices, and one player might be making more. There are ways around this, but quarterbacking is the biggest problem with pure cooperative games.

Examples

Pandemic, and most of its connected works. Mysterium. Hanabi. Spirit Island.

The Fifty Two Flags Wrapup, Part 4

These are the final two rounds of voting, the top eight of flags. Now, thanks to the vagaries of the voting tournament, there are some flags here that do not belong in a top eight of US state flags. But them’s the breaks in a randomly seeded tournament.

I preserved the order of loss in my original thread, but let’s make no mistake: The original thread had some absolute turkeys last way too long. Texas, for example, probably belongs in the final eight, certainly. Really, a more refined version of this poll would be one where all the unforgivably bad flags are just dumped, but then there might be as few as sixteen options.

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Story Pile: Pacific Rim

Just as Game Pile has developed away from its roots of being a pure videogame review section of the website and instead developed into a house for me to talk about stuff in videogames, using videogames as ways to talk about anything else that interests me as well, I realised that one thing that paralysed me was a movie that I enjoyed but didn’t have anything super-meaningful to say about.

I mean, what am I gunna say about Pacific Rim? Just eight paragraphs of enthusiastic wibbling about big robots and big monsters with three pictures interspersed? Is it enough for me to just talk about disjointed stuff I liked in a movie without some greater, central thesis?

Let’s find out!

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