Story Pile: Living and Dying in 3/4 Time

Aw hell yes.

Okay, so we have an established formula for Jimmy Buffett albums at this point; he basically has three dials of ‘nostalgia,’ ‘chill,’ and ‘alcoholism,’ and there’s an occasional dash of whatever it is he’s thinking of exactly right now. After Pink Sports Coat we get Living and Dying in 3/4 Time, which was where I learned what a time signature was.

Fifteen years after I first heard the album.

First up, this album had some mainstream pop success with Pencil Thin Mustache and Come Monday, songs that served up the nostalgia and schmoop in pretty solid measures. Pencil Thin Mustache is especially funny to listen to when you remember it’s a dude in his mid-twenties talking about feeling old, making the whole affair feel artificial now in hindsight even if my whole life, Jimmy Buffett’s been the same age as my dad, and therefore, never younger than me.

Get off my lawn, Jimmy.

Anyway, sure, whatever, Come Monday is a – actually no, wait, let’s not skip over this one. This one taught me something, a message that’s served me well in relationships. He refers to himself as being in a proud, ugly haze. Later on I learned the song Foolish Pride by Hatsune Miku. That song includes the lyric Chalk another love lost up to foolish pride, and it’s kind of the whole point of the song. She’s not subtle, that Miku. Anyway, the thing is, I realise there were a lot of times I was doing things because I didn’t want to feel like I was weak or stupid for being mad or hurt in the first place, and I know for a fact there’s a lot of times my long-term relationships have been helped dramatically by a willingness to recognise that I’m being proud and setting that aside.

It’s surprisingly hard. It’s fucked up enough that my ability to recognise these moments in myself, stop, and immediately apologise for being a stupid asshole that it sometimes upsets the person I was arguing with because they can’t believe I actually mean it. That’s weird!

Anyway, Come Monday is a very generic song but it taught me that my pride could hurt the people around me for no good reason.

Anyway, you know what, let’s just skip to the B-side on this album because it fucking rules. Uh, Brahma Fear and Livingstone’s Gone To Texas are attempts to capture the country market again, and Brand New Country Star is making fun of that same market that doesn’t like him (and we’ll get to that). Ringling Ringling is one of those ‘loser town’ songs that touring musicians wind up writing. Anyway, whatever.

The B-side of this album starts with The Wino and I Know, a song that scored on my brain the phrase I am trying to get by, being quiet and shy, in a world full of pushing and shoving and fuck me if that isn’t a phrase that perfectly encapsulates some of my beautifully soft friends. I may not be a quiet and shy person, jagged and bloodstained as I am, but I 100% here to get hot donuts and coffee for my friends who just want to be the metaphorical flannel pajamas of life.

Saxophones is a blatant callout of the way country music (the dominant music of his home state of Alabama) treats him, despite his growing success and mainstream success and it suggests that he’d be better off doing ‘rock’ music with saxophones to try and get their attention. It did not work. It didn’t work for this album or the next, but it’s still a fun track and it sounds good.

Gods Own Drunk is a funny bit of stand-up, barely a song, but whatever. The Ballad of Spider John is a really good, strong closer song for the album, a real classic kind of riverboat story song that you might imagine Kenny Rogers would record if most of what he did didn’t suck ass. But the real gem of this album, the thing that I will always hold up and share with people, the song that may be his best song ever is the song which got this album banned in Canada.

West Nashville Grand Ballroom Gowns is a short song. Two forty. It’s a story song. It’s about picking up a hitch-hiker who shares maybe fifty words in the song. It’s not a big song. But it jam packs those words with the tension of a ruined relationship with an abusive mother and delivers the most satisfying final refrain of any Jimmy Buffett song. Period. This song ends with a raised middle finger fit to split a soul and I love it.

This is probably also the first place I ever heard the word ‘fuck.’

And this is 1973! This is a country album! This is before KISS!

Ugh, I love this song so much. I love it because I had a childhood of women in songs and stories who really didn’t matter, really didn’t make choices and sure didn’t get to cuss their bad moms out.

If you listen to the albums on these articles, you can absolutely skip everything except West Nashville. It’s that good. When talking about this album with Fox and my dad, the funny thing is you can knock out the two best songs on the album and you’d still have a pretty good Jimmy Buffett album.

There’s another album that’s more jam packed, that has more amazing songs I love on it, but this one, this one has the song that I think more and more may just be my single favourite Jimmy Bufffett song.

Decemberween: Picross!

What’s a nonogram?

Well it’s a type of math structure, which has been for some reason of late been labelled as a game distributed under the general label of picross, where you’re presented with a grid where each row and column has numbers in it expressing how many of those squares are filled in and in what kind of sequence and you get something that looks a little bit like a crossword someone forgot to finish making.

There’s a lot of fun stuff in Picross structures that builds around mathematical principles and grids and boundaries and ranges and the good news is that if you play Picross a bit you’ll start to see ways that these things create inferred information that you may have thought was impossible.

Wait, hang on, someone paid to be funny did a video explaining it, here, go see what he has to say:

I’m not going to try to explain how to play Picross? Because I don’t really know how I learned how to do it beyond having it underscored to me that Picross is fundamentally fair and that if you have to guess, that’s a failure of the design, that everything else is literally just a matter of building techniques and processes that always work.

The thing is, this isn’t really a game to recommend as much as it is a genre of games that I am now imparting to you which you can play on almost every platform and with varying degrees of accomplishment or framing that makes it feel good for you to play. In my case, the Picross I play of choice is this website, because the puzzles it generates are effectively meaningless. This isn’t a perfect site – it seems to me after a lot of play that there are some puzzles that it generates that may have a unique solution but that the final steps of that solution may involve guessing between one of two final options. That’s non ideal, but it also takes literally no time to roll up a new puzzle the second you make a mistake, which I do.

Picross is a nice no-impact game to spend your time on, and there are so many different Picross games out there it’s kind of a game itself to find the one or two Picrosses that work best for you. I really liked finding out about Picross this year and it’s a lot faster than booting up The Swindle when my brain worms start to eat me.

Decemberween: Brinkwood

Okay, so around this time each year I and my friends sit around and discuss a weekend game of D&D that we’ll play when they come around. It’s a highlight of my year, even if it lands – typically – smack dab during GDQ, meaning I miss a bunch of the celebration at the end of that event. But that’s not what’s important.

A few years ago, I proposed for this event, to my friends, a game with the short pitch of Robin Hood vs Vampires. The idea got a bit of meat on it, and I served it to my friends, and we wound up playing something else.

But it got a name.

The name it got was Brinkwood: Blood of Tyrants.

 

 

I threw this name out there on the internet at one point because I was happy with the logo I made for the game even though nobody was actually super interested in it. And then Leastwise saw it.

My friend Leastwise, aka Erik the Bearik (and he’ll come up again later this month), saw this pitch, and straight up asked if he could have it. Or more specifically, he had his own idea inspired by this idea, and he asked if he could use my logo.  What resulted is a game that’s been streamed, played by multiple groups, run at cons and may even get to be a major project from the San Janero Co-Op. It is amazing work, and it has all these great, thoughtful pieces at the root of it, like addressing the philosophical vision of what trauma means in Blades in the Dark. The game seems to have coined the term Castlepunk, the idea of ‘hey, that kind of mish-mash of medieval-seeming things we all associate with general fantasy without getting into a long argument about what really counts as medieval.’ It’s great and it’s cool, and you get to adorn these twisted wooden masks with fae blessings on them as you go out on missions to drink the rich.

Time to time when talking about the game, he’ll mention me, as it relates to this idea because I mean it kind of works as an origin story, it’s as good a place to get started. But I need to stamp a stake in the ground right here: This is Erik’s idea. It’s 100% his idea and all of this beautiful, thoughtful, engaging, exciting and creative writing about this idea is his. All I did was make a logo and a name and he went ‘oh, I would do X with it.’ Part of what excites me about this is it’s a kind of fanart? I had an idea, I put it out there and someone else who was inspired by it was able to create with it and make their own thing, and I get to see my little logo become something amazing.

You can go check out the playtest kit over here, on itch.io, and please, I recommend you do.

Game Pile: Fax Machine

Normally, when I write about games on Game Pile, I’m writing about games you can buy, or maybe games you can have for free. I’m not often talking about games that are more practice than they are objects. For some of you, this time of year is a time when you go visit people you kinda like but don’t like much and there’s inevitably, someone who wants to ‘play games’ so I want to equip you with a really good game so you’re not stuck in an hour long slog of trying to remember how mortgages work in a dusty copy of monopoly nobody likes.

Now, then, our basics. First, a fax machine was a kind of email machine that could send a complicated text message over a phone line to a specialised device. These machines are pretty outmoded now, but for a while there they were fundamental to businesses and even had people doing ‘spam’ calls by randomly sending faxes to different phone numbers in the random hope they’d be picked up by a machine and you’d print something in a stranger’s workplace. They were also slow – a fax could take ten to fifteen minutes to arrive when they were new, which means fax correspondence always had a sort of slow stop-and-start nature to them. They were faster than mail, but they still had a sort of asynchronous communication feel to them. That’s the core of this game: People communicating badly with paper.

Okay, with that in mind: Fax Machine is a drawing game. Some people don’t like drawing games, they don’t like being put on the spot like that. That’s fair. Don’t try and make anyone play if they don’t like this kind of game. In fact don’t try and make anyone play games they don’t like the sound of. It’s just a dick move.

Okay, so, rules.

  • Give ever player a way to draw (pen, pencil, texta, whatever) and a pad of paper or stack to draw on. They need to be able to turn the page, so whatever is on the previous page is hidden. You can make booklets using staples and typical printer paper.
  • Every player writes a phrase, word, or name on the first page. People can get hung up on this, so for the first round you may want to ask people to write their favourite movie quote or their favourite vegetable.
  • Then each player passes their work to the next player.
  • Each player turns the page of their work and tries to draw what they just read. This will almost always be hard because nobody went into this thinking they’d have to draw that.
  • Then, players passes their work to the next player.
  • Players turn the page and try to write what they think that picture was trying to describe.
  • Continue as long as you want.

Now I don’t mind drawing and I hang around with a family that are all pretty crafty so it’s not a game that goes badly for us. What it means though is that we don’t think of the same turns of phrase or the same ideas expressed by pictures, and so we get steadily more and more silly pictures. I’ve seen ‘All’s well that ends well’ concluding with ‘a microbe travelling through space and time.’

It’s cheap, it’s fast, it can be played with a big group or a small group and you’ll usually get a good laugh out of it, and if you don’t like it, you’re not out an expensive setup fee.

Decemberween: Surviving my RPR!

I say that like it’s something I did but I think it’s really just because I’m still numb that I did it. I think back on that hour or two of waiting and talking and asking and waiting and waiting and waiting and I feel sick to my stomach thinking about the mistakes I made. It was weird to enter with so much confidence I downplayed myself in the name of not looking like an arrogant dickhole, and in the process it all twisted around on itself.

My PhD scares the hell out of me, and every time I stand in front of an actual academic and explain it, I feel my grasp on my confidence slipping away. It’s scary!

But this year, I did my RPR, my first major presentation on the Phd to someone who doesn’t know the field and doesn’t know me. It didn’t go amazingly, I missed some specific details and – and –

You know what.

The thing is, the real reason I want to write this.

My supervisor and my co-supervisor went into a small room with two of their peers and went in to bat for me. They didn’t defend the indefensible, they provided context that was meaningful.

I’m not saying my work is bad and my supervisors made it look palatable. I’m saying my work is good, but I’m not yet good at making that clear, and my supervisors did heroic work in standing up for me. It’s a huge deal to me, the way I can feel cared for and respected by these people.

It means a lot to me and I’m very grateful for it.

Decemberween: City of Heroes!

City of Heroes is back.

City of Heroes is back and based on these past six months, it might be able to last.

I don’t know how to tell you how unnecessarily happy this makes me.

The game is still a clunky, 2004 content churn of a game. It’s a space full of people who, like me, didn’t get over losing it last time, and have kept their personal roleplaying stories going, or just brought back old ones, and that means I get to see a bunch of people I genuinely hate and never wanted to see again running around and having fun but it’s okay because City of Heroes is back!

As far as free games go, a customisable superhero MMORPG is a pretty sweet one to offer, and here’s the link. I don’t think it’ll be to your taste – it’s a limited appeal kind of work at the best of times – but it’s something I’m so glad to see around, and part of what I love about it is that I get to play this game again and it somehow survived.

There was a lot of anger at the discovery of a secret server this year. It was a big deal, and a lot of people close to me were super pissed about it, because the idea that they didn’t get to play, but someone did was really unpleasant. But what stood out to me was the idea that a population of what, a few hundred people were able to keep this kind of thing a secret, even through breaches on Reddit and multiple attempts to attack it.

I don’t think Corporations are good. I don’t think NCSoft, despite making a thing I love, are a good company. I don’t think that Nexon, the company that owns NCSoft are good, and I don’t think Tencent, the company that wants to buy Nexon are good. Simply put, I do not see a reason to want to defend a corporation in face of people taking things from that corporation. I don’t like the Disney Vault for example, and I don’t feel there’s any shame to be had in making a corporation surrender control over something. Corporations aren’t the heroes. They don’t need us to stand up for them.

We sure don’t want to be their unpaid enforcers.

Instead, for years, years, people kept that secret.

Like you would, for a superhero.

Decemberween: Resplendent in the Sky!

I have a complex relationship with long form fiction.

Undeniably, I have read some long book series, and they were very important to me. I spent a lot of time working on my theories about them, composing diagrams and fanart and all the things we normally associate with fandom these days. I read the entire story arc of the Animorphs books, one seven dollar purchase at a time. I read Robotech and the Mallorean and the Belgariad  and I mean, I read Dungeons & Dragons and Magic: The Gathering novels.

I have read a lot of fiction books.

For the most part, though, I have not read many good books. Not books I hold up and tell my friends hey this rules or hey this is great genre fiction. I do it with Animorphs, but let’s not kid ourselves, those are a bunch of great ideas swaddled in many layers of Dicking Around because the author was on a monthly schedule.

When I talk about long form fiction in TV I often make all sorts of forgiving statements about how they work or don’t work or what’s going wrong in them because of things they couldn’t control like maybe some of the people involved died or there was an incident or they had to find their feet or whatever, and that’s all a byproduct of those works not really knowing what they’re about or what they’re going to be about. Imagine that, imagine eight years and millions of dollars spent on wages and sets and productivity and promotion and advertising and it all falls apart like wet biscuits because when it comes down to it, you don’t know what your story is about and it means you don’t know what the story is doing. JK Rowling didn’t know what Harry Potter was doing aside from making her rich and that’s why the conclusion of that story is a wet fart.

I bring this up because I want to make it exceptionally clear that Resplendent In The Sky is work I am 100% convinced knows what it’s about and knows where it’s going.

Am I saying Resplendent In The Sky, a book of gaslamp fantasy available for free, now, by someone I know and like, is better than Game of Thrones?

Honestly, yeah pretty much. Go check it out!

Story Pile: Rise of the Guardians

My first encounter with this movie, which I understand to be based off a series of children’s books which are wildly different in their overall scope and tone than this, was not in its advertising or reviews (which is weird, I watch a lot more movie reviews than I watch movies these days) but instead as a work of fan remix where people took short gifs from this movie, resubtitled them with different dialogue and intercut them with short gifs from another movie to imply a connected continuity between this story and that one as one of the most interesting and time-intensive forms of fanfiction I’d ever seen when you considered the time investment to make versus the time investment to process and this has all been one sentence, dear god.

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Announcing: Decemberween 2019!

This is the time of year when the last thing I want you to read is Here’s How This TV Show Should Make You Sad, or Videogames Are Made By Assholes, Maybe, and so instead, I dedicate December to a festival of fun stuff.

Now, that means this month is going to be about trying to put forwards people who don’t qualify by my normal metrics as Game Pile or Story Pile candidates. It isn’t to say they’re not good, mind you. I try to avoid putting people making non-commercial or extremely indie work on the same platform as work that is, in no small part because it seems unfair to compare people with a marketing budget to people with none.

The aim is going to be stuff you can enjoy with minimal expenditure or cost, stuff that’s good for sharing or good for binging, stuff that I feel grateful for in small and personal ways, and stuff that yes, unashamedly, puts forwards my friends.

Hope you have fun this month!

November 2019 Wrapup!

Quite frankly, I was very proud of myself this month. I wrote a lot of posts, I got caught up on my backlog, I have planning done for next year, and along with that I also wrote some articles that seemed to hit it off with an audience.

First, the worldbuilding articles about orcs and elves, where I discuss the ways I’m choosing to make these two races different from one another and not have to shoulder the idea of being Human Subraces (in a way racists point to as meaningful). I also wrote about Races of Destiny, an article that’s been in the can for a while now about kind of reviewing one of the many 3.5 sourcebooks and giving it a kicking for silly ideas. Of course the best D&D related article I did this month, and which I hope to make a series out of was this month’s How To Be, an article about being HIL-DA, HIL-DA!

I made an article about a truly absurd Atla Palani commander deck, which has been a lot of fun to playtest now I’ve got all the cards. I also put down some words about how much I liked A Wrinkle In Time, a movie of a book that I completely failed to know about until after I’d seen the movie.

Also, with this month I themed the Game Pile entries around ‘games I didn’t actually play,’ which resulted in articles about Skyrim yes, and venting about Doki Doki Literature Club, but also an article about Kingdom Hearts which has pushed me into the space of Kingdom Hearts fandom. It’s really weird to say but I think I’m technically a fan of Kingdom Hearts now, just because Jacqueline Meritt’s video is so good and the thing she loves is so bad. Look, what I’m saying is I can tell you what Norting is now. This also got me thinking about how gay fanfiction is the storytelling medium of a queer youth and how many people learned about sex from these sources, or at least, got an idea of it from these sources.

Basically, lots of articles I’m happy with this month!

This month’s video was about Skyrim. When it started out, this video was going to be about how controlling language was a key way that our cult controlled us, and therefore, there were some ideas like bisexuality or asexuality or feminism that were themselves, blunted and hidden concepts, and how that sometimes that can lead to people having a magical recognition when they finally get acquainted with a word that explains some concept they didn’t know how to grapple with before.

What I wound up doing instead is a more broad vision of talking about language (and therefore, a bit more of Skyrim), and how the game uses its presentation of language to advance your character and transform the world. That’s really neat, and I managed to do it without just endlessly dunking on Skyrim for being eh.

This month, I should have released a Christmas shirt so you can get something that’ll work as a gift. I guess this will work if you have teachers in your life and they’re fed up with marking.  You can get this design on Redbubble (in white text or black text) or on Teepublic (again, in white text or black text).

Games games games, well, we have four major notes about games this month.

First, this month my Nsburg tourism game, the Pipesm’n Conspiracy, was mentioned once more on Mail Time by Loading Ready Run:

That’s cool! I’m really hoping this means that next Desert Bus I might be able to (say) donate five or ten copies of the game to be distributed to other donors? That’s my aim. It seems to me best as a raffle prize. It’s a smol game!

Second, I was able to do a bunch of ‘mask’ prototypes for a few of my games! That’s where I get some cards, and scribble on them and I even shared some pictures of it, particularly for my game of feckless, useless Roman nobles, currently temporarily known as Desidia. Desidia is now at the state where I am so comfortable with the playtest, I can construct the game on the spot, which means after my testing, what I need to do is construct some playtest or print-and-play copies for my patrons. Which is cool! There’s also some work on this hero drafting game, which was poleaxed for a little bit as supergroup drama happened.

Third and finally, though, Fox did a bunch of work on some characters that are going to be a part of a thing for fans of LFG!

Now, on the personal life front, well… November is a month with Desert Bus in it, which I love, and the ceremonial rewatching of everything in desert bus that we missed, which I’m not quite so fan of because it eats a lot of time. It’s also exam and final assignment season, which means in the start of the month I have all my free time consumed by trying to gauge student work, double checking the work against one another, talking with other tutors, negotiating with myself about marks, about whether I’m doing the right thing by my students, about doing the right thing by the work, if I’m preparing them for the future, and also avoiding sounding too mean.

I legitimately worry if the way I mark students during the semester is too different to the end of the semester. My mid-semester marks are about guiding them to produce better work at the end of the semester, and then I have to look at what and how they’ve taken that on board. Which means they can get five posts of feedback telling them ‘hey, have you thought about or tried this?’ and then an end mark of ‘good grief, what is this.’

I worry I’m too mean! I worry about being mean. That worries me that I worry about that.

Anyway, it’s back onto the reading horse this month. Maybe a little break for crimmus stuff, but broadly, I expect to be doing more daily reading and writing, which is great because I like doing those things and it’s one of the things my patreon subscribers are paying me for.

This month however, I did have an answer for everyone who asked how I was doing: I’m tired. I’ve been tired all month. I haven’t been sleeping great, or enough. I haven’t been doing things to help me recover. And I’ve been feeling so bad at how bad a job I’ve been doing at being a friend because of it.

Sneeze Fetishists

Time to time I’ll talk about a sex thing in some degree of a public space. This is because a lot of my time growing up on the internet, curious about sex but afraid of engaging with the things I knew I was ‘not allowed’ meant that I was pushed out to examine a lot of extremely niche internet spaces that were nonetheless intriguing and had people talking about intimacy and sexuality, without being what you’d call porn.

This meant that I got to be very familiar with the mechanisms of how people related to fetishes they had that I didn’t, and how to listen to people talking about them. Some people have big communities that let them swap information and have a cultural exchange, where there are rules and tropes. Some people don’t, and have nearly unique interests, or interests that are sensitive enough that other people’s interests in the same space are abhorrent to them.

I am particularly resistant, then, to the idea that people with fetishes or kinks are fundamentally ‘wrong’ or ‘bad,’ or that you need to have a fetish or kink to understand it. Mostly all you need to do is be willing to listen to someone and empathise with them.

One example that comes up in my mind a lot to this is the controversy around the 2011 movie, Contagion.

I can tell you nothing about this movie, not at all. I can’t tell you the plot or its cast or its themes. All I can tell you is that in this movie, Gwyneth Paltrow, in glorious high-quality movie framing, sneezes on screen a number of times.

This movie was unremarkable in almost every way. But it was the source of some interesting cultural fractures in the sneeze fetish community. Particularly was the discovery for some fans that they couldn’t enjoy the kink if the character was not sneezing harmlessly. She sneezed in this movie, and then got sick and died.

This movie upset some people so much they had to avoid their sneeze fetish forums. There were people who were very insensitive about sharing gifs of this movie and movie clips or references to it, because to them, it was a beautiful actress doing the thing they had a fetish for seeing beautiful people do. It was like customised, niche pornography made with the highest of production values in a media space often hurting for that kind of attention.

I think about this movie, from time to time. I think about it when I talk to friends who feel sick or wrong or twisted because of their relationship to their own kinks.

At the root of almost all kink is a hope that the other person, responding to it, will be okay with the kink-haver. It’s more complicated than that, but at the root of it, that’s mostly what ‘weird’ kinks and their communities connect to.

But within that space there’s a lot of different ways of reacting to the media, there’s a lot of different vectors for how it works, and it always strikes me when people say ‘this niche interest thing is always about this other thing.’

It’s basic and it’s silly and it throws out a lot of people who are working themselves out.

November Shirt: Do Not @ Me

Look, sometimes the most important thing you can offer, with your clothes, is clear messaging about what you feel and what you think about people messaging you. I made this shirt inspired by Dr Laevantine’s seminal pinned tweet of philosophy:

Welcome to my book of philosophy, “Maybe Don’t;” it has one doctrine, where you fucking don’t (Laevantine, Twitter, 2017)

Here’s the design: 

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Bad Balance: Races of Destiny

I’ve made fun of Dungeons & Dragons 3.5 a lot, and I do it because it’s easy, and fun, and it’s funny, and let’s do more of it.

There were two sets of the first wave of expansions for 3.5, the class style books, known as the Completes, and the race books, known as the Races of books. The Completes touched just a tiny bit on the early days of the class role system – with the first wave being Complete Warrior, Mage, Psionics, Divine and Scoundrel, but expanding into things like Adventurer and Champion. The Races Of books gave you a run down of three races at a time, linked by a common theme, and that was a theme that was routinely straining at the edges. Halflings got treated as a ‘race of the wild,’ and gnomes as a ‘race of stone,’ as opposed to their proper place they shared of ‘races of hobbits fans.’

No time for gnomes or halflings, me, I know.

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Story Pile: El Camino

I try not to make too big a deal out of the fact I like Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul. They’re pretty well made prestige TV, and they’re part of a modern ‘golden age of television’ that, thanks to the outing of the various people involved as abusers or the demonstration of whole waves of fans being awful or terrible endings has been revealed to be mostly coloured with piss. Breaking Bad is one of those shows where it seems that the people involved are broadly speaking pretty okay, and the worst thing about the work is the fandom.

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Academic Success

I usually share this when I’ve released my students’ marks at the end of each semester, captioned with okay here’s how the marks break down.

It’s a cheap gag but let me have it.

Anyway, I was thinking about this as it pertains around about now to getting your marks back. Now I am one of those people in the long slow treadmill of the PhD candidature, so it’s less of a thing for me but I am sibling to teachers and that means I’m always thinking about the marking process, to some extent. About the ways we grade and what we grade.

I have come to have the position for the most part that marks aren’t super important – the only people I’ve dealt with who cared about how well I did at university for my subjects are the uni itself (in determining my use for Honours and the PhD).

There’s an old cynical joke ‘Cs get degrees,’ which is meant to refer to C grades. Except we use C to mean Credit, so we move on to ‘Ps get degrees,’ which refers to passes. More cynically we say ‘Fees get degrees,’ where the fact is, if you pay to the uni your fees, odds are good you’ll pass, no matter the quality of your work if you hand in enough stuff to count as having done the degree.

I apparently did pretty good at university (hence the PhD thingy), but I also seem to project ‘person who has his shit together,’ in a way that I think is very unfair. My students are only dealing with me as someone who has done the course they’re doing and has authority and the means to grade them. And what’s more, me saying ‘I bombed out at the high school certificate’ doesn’t necessarily land.

What happened to me is too unique, I feel, to really ‘matter’ to most. I was raised in a cult, schooled in a small wooden box, broken and abused, then did badly in an exam questions that were designed for people who’d had twelve years to prepare. To give you an idea of how badly I did at it, my grandmother phoned me up – something she only did for birthdays – and spent a few hours degrading me for not applying myself and failing at the test. This is not relatable. This is weird.

That it took me ten more years to get into uni because I thought I was too stupid to do well at it, and now I’m here I love it, is a byproduct of the complete lack of support.

Here’s my advice if you’re going into uni: You will probably not have to worry much about marks. Marks happen when you’re engaged. Passes are fine. Doing the minimum is fine. What you have is a period of a few years to work on creating and exploring projects, and if you can, make something that you can make into classwork. Convince teachers to let you work on your own stuff as it relates to their stuff. Then you have that as you walk out the door.

And also, my grandma was a dick and you shouldn’t listen to the dicks around you when they want to talk about what you should be doing, in uni or in life.

How To Be Hilda From Fire Emblem Three Houses (In 4E D&D)

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.

The rules for these posts are going to be standard and yes I am writing something that’s going to be the boilerplate that becomes the core of how all these posts are going to get made going forwards, but here we go anyway:

  • 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, to give you a place to start.

Another thing to remember is that 4e characters tend to be more about collected interactions of groups of things – it’s less 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.

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Game Pile: Shame Pile 2019

I don’t actually buy a lot of games.

Given that my job involves a lot of game literacy, that I’m constantly consuming games media on youtube and reading about it in books and articles and it’s just generally part of the media space that passes through me as I pass through it, it surprises me to track through a year and recognise just how few games I actually buy. My steam backlog for example is enormous but it’s also almost 50% complete, and that’s with my very rarely buying anything to add to it.

The fact is that the Game Pile is a sort of actual thing; for a time there, a friend of mine, who I now recognise struggled with anxiety, would buy me a game from my wishlist pretty often. If we had an argument, another game. If a sale happened, another game. My birthday? A few games. I didn’t really notice this pattern until I had a few hundred games stocked up in a library that once upon a time I hadn’t even considered something I’d keep running on my computer regularly.

What’s more, as an MMO player at various times, these purchases weren’t getting played. Some people talk about their game backlogs guiltily as if the person who they’re faulting is themselves, and I feel I should remind you that, no, in fact, that’s bullshit. You get to enjoy the experience of buying and owning the game and any time you treat the process as a sin that you have to exorcise by completing the game, you’re kind of doing the corporation’s job for you of putting control over things you bought in their hands. Buying a thing and having your interest change in it isn’t a sign you’re bad, it’s a sign that you enjoyed getting something.

In my case, however, the games I was being bought was by someone who loved me (and loves me!) very much and who was struggling with ways to show it. When I play my Game Pile games, it is in part to recognise that spirit in which the games were given, and in many cases, that’s led to me being more willing to consider a game for its best ideas rather than just lay into them for being bad.

(Not that I haven’t done that.)

Still, there are some games I bought this year explicitly looking forward to play them and I haven’t yet, not in a whole year, and that’s got me thinking as the end of the year draws up. Since the theme for this month seems to be games I didn’t actually play, let’s do a quick rundown of some stuff that I own, that is in my house and isn’t being played right now and what kind of reasons I have for that.

This is also something of a goal and a personal accountancy issue. After all, Christmas season is time to hang with family and maybe, just maybe get to play some of these boxes of cardboard I’ve bought. You might have seen me buy these, you may have seen me talk about how excited I was to play them, so consider this a followup.

I’m going to limit myself on this to stuff I purchased in the two big opening parts of the year: January’s Cancon and stuff I bought myself for my birthday. I bought Lanterns last month because it was cheap second hand, for example, and I’m not going to give myself guff for not playing that since it’s been a few weeks and I’ve played it before (just not my own copy).

Yamatai

I bought this game because I was at the time working on a presentation for DiGRAA about orientalism in board games and oh boy howdy did this game suggest it was going to be in that space. It was also however a big-box Days of Wonder hard euro with great production values and really pretty pieces, so I figured at least there’d be a solid enough game worth digging into there.

But when am I going to get a competitive hard euro to the table?

That presentation went off well in February, but I also went from having two people by my side on the project to doing it on my own (not complaining), which suddenly meant it just wasn’t as important, and that meant I just did not find the time to come in to the uni to play this.

I mean, I’m not going to feel bad if I never play it, I just would rather it be in the house of someone else who can appreciate this near-mint copy of a $60 game.

Korra Pro Firebending

I bought this at the same time as I bought Yamatai, for the same reason. This is a game about a – for lack of a better term – oriental theme with developers with actual cultural grounding in that space. That’s really cool.

Plus, I’m a big mark for Korra, believing it to be one of the many post-Avatar franchises that I like a lot more than I liked Avatar. This game should be an absolute breeze to get onto the table, right?

Well, again, the fallthrough on the paper meant that didn’t happen and this game is sadly a straight-up head-to-head one-versus-one sports game. My single most likely opponent for 2 player games is Fox, and we have something of a rule that it’s best not to play any head-to-head stuff outside of playtesting our games, just because neither of us handle losing all that well.

Now, sometimes I sit down at the table with other friends who are more for that kind of direct competition but that’s when I have three or more friends around and suddenly a 1v1 game means a bunch of people sit out. That’s a bummer.

Hero Realms

This is a game I got for Christmas last year, and I was so excited to get it. It’s a game I already knew I wanted, because it was basically a second edition version of a game I already liked called Star Realms. That game had a fast deckbuilding experience but lacked in individualisation in the base game, where both players started as tabula rasa and the resulting game that followed was all based on who picked what.

Hero Realms instead gave you character classes so your starting decks were different and you’d look at purchaseable cards differently. That’s great, I like that. And I was wonderfully gifted an amazing game that I know I like (I’ve goldfished it) and even gotten to play once, and then… nothing.

That’s because Hero Realms is again, a head-to-head builder. Fox and I don’t play a lot of games in competition with one another, like I said. But, I knew, there was a co-op expansion for Hero Realms, which meant we could sit down and play this game together.

Which I haven’t yet played, and I don’t quite know why. I’ve definitely had the urge, and it even handles larger groups? But the stars haven’t aligned yet for me to sit down with some friends and make decks as we fight an evil sorcerer trying to animate an undead dragon.

It’s a bummer. I’m hoping that my niblings will be able to handle this game soon because hey, it’s fully cooperative and that means we can help each other, but who knows how that’s going to go. I mean it’s a deck builder, I’m asking kids to shuffle a lot of cards.

Bloodborne

This game, ostensibly, was my birthday present from my parents, who gave me about the right amount of money that I then turned into a card game I knew I was really excited to play. Bloodborne has kind of haunted my 2019, a game that I couldn’t finish, informed one of my major creative projects in Hunter’s Dream and yes, sits on my shelf, wondering just why I haven’t gotten around to playing it.

It’s a co-op game! It’s about fighting monsters! It looks really cool! What’s stopping this one from getting to the table?

Wait for it…

Yeah, the minimum player count is three. I don’t tend to have three players. I usually have four (in which case we’re playing D&D) or I have two (me and Fox). And while Fox and I playing Bloodborne would be absolutely great fun, we are still ultimately two people, not three.

It’s a minor logistical thing, but it does mean I have to plan for who I’m going to play this game with.

Before There Were Stars

This is a game that got bought on its pure aesthetics. Fox liked how it looked and she grabbed it. This game is in that rare category of creative storytelling games that wants to be self-contained. Rather than a number of free improv games, though, this one builds itself around a number of really beautiful props made to set the tone of the game.

It’s not gotten to the table because… well, our main people who might want to play a storytelling game about mythologies are a little young to grapple with the idea of improvising a story on the spot with the idea of symbolism in cards.

This one I don’t feel too bad about being on the backfoot. It’s not my normal kind of game but I really want to play it with people who might want to enjoy sitting around in a circle telling stories, but not a story they already had in mind, nor a story that’s about getting a laugh.

It’s a little mystical, and I do love game experiences that take me to places I rarely go on my own.

Mystic Vale

I did an unboxing thread for this, so you may remember it. The basic idea is that this – well okay no the basic idea is you’re all nature druids trying to heal the land and build powerful connections to sites of sacred importance, but the way you do that is by getting points and prizes. It is a game where the cards are made up of transparent plastic with a few things on them, in sleeves, and when you buy powers, you add them to one of your cards, meaning that your deck never gets bigger but the cards in it still change over time to match your changing position in the game. Technologically speaking it’s a deck builder that never changes the size of your deck and it has all sorts of other cute mechanics, like a catch-up mechanic for the player who can’t buy anything.

And…

Yeah.

Never got it to the table.

I don’t know why. It might just be that it’s the kind of crunchy builder game that currently only appeals to me. I know I love deck builders a lot, and my go-to builder game at the moment for new players is my beloved copy of Century: Golem, meaning that the more ornate, more complicated Mystic Vale has to wait.

It’s a beautiful game, I even got a replacement card from AEG when I pointed out there was a slight mangling of one, and I really do like what this game promises, but right now? I just can’t find anyone to play it with in my friend circle. It’s always going to be competing with other games, which makes me a bit sad.

That means it joins the other games in this part of the list where I’m going to make a concentrated effort to play them with other people going forwards. Trying to prioritise these suckers!

Ready Player One And The Hyperconsumer

I had considered going in on Ready Player One last year in response to the trailer. Then I figured I’d wait, see if the movie came out. I think part of it was that I figured if the movie wound up being good, it might be seen as a bit meanspirited to take shots at just the trailer. Maybe the movie was smarter than the trailer had painted it as being.

Then it came out and it was in no way interesting, it had all the same problems everyone expected it to have, and the ways it varied from the source material only served to make it into a generic bad movie, rather than a uniquely flawed one. There is a good point, which I want to say MovieBob made, where by presenting these brands in a visual medium, it’s a lot less clunky to draw attention to the nested references. Sonic the Hedgehog riding atop the Delorean as it cruises down Rainbow Road takes a lot to vividly describe in text, but it’s a fraction of a second in a movie.

Still, there’s something that festers in my mind about the world constructed by Ready Player One. It’s not something diegetic or something the story chooses to be about, but it’s more an examination of the basic assumptions of the movie itself. Particularly, Ready Player One positions our hero, Readiest Player Onetts as someone whose status quo sucks (because he’s poor), and that’s used to demonstrate how important it is for him to change it. It then gets contrasted with the collected, corporate group of ‘baddies,’ who are basically the ‘rich team’ with matching uniforms from movies like The Mighty Ducks (remember that movie, Ready Player One?). There’s your contrast; the guy with no support versus the people with all the support.

The way this shows his lack of support is by making him a poor kid who escapes his shitty life in a virtual reality. His drive to escape his life helps explain his interest in science fiction from one tiny window of time, which is why he’s not like everyone else because in this, the distant space future time of Who Gives A Shit, is extremely into the things the author of the book is into.

It’s not just to say he’s a massive dork to capture the needs of a massive dork to recapture some feeling of being underground in a world where 80s and 90s nerd culture is the dominant moving force in mass media. In universe, he actually consumes this stuff, which is to say this dude is a vintage collector of media that has the long-term archival durability of edible underwear. It’s not just that he’s into freely available, public domain culturally available versions of these things, it’s that he’s a literal authority on these canons, widely and expansively. That means he can construct a whole, real, clean and uncorrupted image of all these things, not just their source material in its entirety, but their meaningful context.

But he’s poor.

The story reassures you he’s poor and downtrodden and has it so rough. His home is beaten up, his hardware is unreliable. His world is one of poorness. Which is to say, he has the behaviour of a wealthy hyperconsumer gamer shithead but the all-purpose moral purity of Being A Poor. The story knows enough to recognise that if this shithead was a rich shithead he’d be a shithead too far but if he’s a poor shithead his shitheadery is acceptable shitheadery even if doesn’t actually inform his shitheadedness

Now it makes sense. Rich gamer idiots like to tell themselves they’re not rich because they clearly recognise that richness is connected to assholeness. People who buy multiple guns that cost thousands of dollars or every new game and every new console as soon as they come out thinking they’re part of ‘the gamer’ oppressed class are just telling themselves the same story. They’re not the rich kids, they only have two of the most recent consoles.

Anyway, eat the rich, even if they like nerd shit.

MTG: The End Of Okotober

Well, there have been stannings in bandard again, and with it comes a new round of discourse. Discourse means arguments, arguments mean redditors mouthing off, and since I don’t like getting into arguments on reddit, I thought, hey, why don’t I have that beef here, on my blog, where nobody has the right to response, because the last thing in the world I give a damn about is arguing with Redditors who don’t appreciate my expertise.

Seriously, Reddit is extremely bad for these conversations.

Okay, so what happened today: three cards were banned, which means that they join Field of the Dead creating an environment where four cards are banned, which is a bit more than normal. The three cards are Oko, Thief of Crowns, Once Upon a Time and Veil of Summer. Now, personally, I’m completely fine with seeing these cards go – but I wasn’t playing standard, because of these cards, and because I didn’t want to deal with ever seeing it when I went to play standard.

Now, historically speaking, Standard is a format that doesn’t tend to get bannings. There have been long periods, like, years at a time, when there weren’t any cards banned in standard. Cards like Umezawa’s Jitte weren’t banned in standard, despite the oppressive effect they had on decks at the time. Comparatively speaking, this is also a pretty fast one – Oko was legal for only a few months. It wasn’t one of the fastest bannings, but it sure was a big one.

What this mostly reminds me of is almost a mulligan on Darksteel’s bannings. Back in 2005, when the bannings came for standard’s beast, the Ravager Affinity deck, there were two sentiments Aaron Forsythe expressed: One, that merely banning Skullclamp and hoping that would fix things hadn’t been enough, and two, that they didn’t just do the bannings to fix the environment, but to make it very clear to anyone who saw it, that the deck they hated wasn’t just weaker, but it was dead. The turn of phrase Forsythe used has stuck with me; he referred to it as Slaying the Dragon.

Did Once Upon A Time need to go? Despite people pontificating about ‘linear play focus’ and ‘the london mulligan is the problem,’ there was probably still room to allow green decks the chance to push into their decks. If Once Upon A Time showed up in another broken deck, odds are good it wouldn’t be as oppressive as Oko, after all, and it could get gone in the next round. Same with Veil of Summer; it was a great tool for stopping blue and black decks that wanted to try and interrupt a green deck. If there was no powerful green deck, or blue and black decks weren’t liable to use tools that Veil of Summer stopped, hypothetically, Veil would rotate out. It wasn’t as important to protect an Oko and all.

But instead, all three of them went, and then some folk wanted to complain about Nissa, Who Shakes The World, suggesting that to some folk, this dragon wasn’t dead enough, and there’s a noisome voice that this problem is linked to how overpowered green is. Also, there’s people talking about how ‘bannings in standard twice in a year is a sign of a broken game,’ or ‘play design need to be fired.’ I don’t countenance these much, and I’m not all that bothered by these bannings and any potential impact they may have compared to older formats.

Why?

Three reasons.

Information has sped up. Right now, there are more people playing Magic in more interconnected ways in more tournaments than ever. Formats are going to get solved more aggressively than they used to. Tech gets discovered and tested and it’s less a question of if someone sees an interaction in the game space as when someone deduces the best way to deal with it. It’s a sad space for the rogue builder, but broadly speaking it feels to me like Magic has transcended the time and space when you could surprise the game at large even if you could outfox one day’s opponents.

This also means Wizards have access to a lot more information to make judgments. Felidar Guardian got nixed after seeing its tournament presence, for example, rather than having to try and make a called shot on something that could be fun and unimpressive or could be oppressive for three months.

Release speed have sped up. Wizards used to print more cards back in the day per year (sets were bigger), but those sets were packed full of lots of cards that you would not remember nor care about. Not even casual players are running around eager to buy up Spitting Gournas. Lots of formats were full of filler cards. Sets have gotten smaller, but they’ve also gotten more cards worth playing, across all rarities (see people complaining about commons being under-represented in tournament decks here, no I don’t care, shut up and go away).

This means there’s more chance that a single card released is going to be a problem, and that problem is just going to kinda… hang around more if wizards expect us to fix it ourselves (as above).

Wizards have more tools for fixing things. This is the big one. There have been times when standard has been sicker, but sick in a variety of different ways. Onslaught  through Kamigawa mirrodin was not a fun standard to get involved in because there were four or five decks that you simply didn’t have a prayer against with anything but one of the other four or five. There was variety, but the play experience was full of fewer decisions and there was a lot more of the game contingent on whether you or they got their busted cards. Tooth and Nail and Affinity were two decks, but they were both kinda ignoring you, even if there was no single card that overwhelmed standard.

But now, Wizards are in a position to make regular changes and updates to standard to try and address things, and as they showed today, they slew a dragon. Maybe standard can be cool now – I don’t know. I’m hoping so, but we’ll have to find out.

Once upon a time, Jamie Wakefield pointed out that by not banning Masticore, Wizards effectively banned every card that wasn’t as good as Masticore; that Flametongue Kavu being as good and ubiquitous as it was made every other 4-toughness creature not worth playing, because answers to it were too efficient. People rent their clothes about the Ravenous Chupacabra, but lo and behold, that wasn’t the thing that ruined standard.

One final point is that all the people complaining about ‘overpowered green’ seem to have neatly forgotten that Oko and Hydroid Krasis aren’t just green cards. I did see the hot take that because the Krasis was expensive, it was effectively a ‘mono green card.’ I’d like to call that person out and say: you’re a ninny.

In general, while people are crying doom and gloom and insulting – literally – Wizards R&D for making the best decisions they can to address the best decisions they were able to make earlier, and where we have old men who like Ancestral Recall hollering at clouds because Planeswalkers ruin magic, I’m just happy to see that the format was addressed, and they’re talking about ways to make these announcements and responses more fluid.

Thumbs up, here’s hoping the next round of standard is a fun one.

 

an unsophisticated cybertext

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aardvark

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Story Pile: A Wrinkle in Time (2018)

When A Wrinkle In Time’s trailer dropped it did so with the immense thud of someone on the other side of a backyard fence raising their voice and now suddenly, the whole neighbourhood gets to be part of this conversation that has been going on for years and is not going to end tonight no matter how much you wish it would. It was like a Discourse Bomb, a sudden and dramatic arrival of a conversation that was both in progress and extremely sophisticated, and it absolutely did not need me.

There was talk about the trailers, about the importance of Oprah as a goddess figure, about the race casting in the books and the movies, about the importance of the work as autistic art, about the intense significance with which people could dismantle scene by scene in the book and how a movie could never manage to express the quantum and fractal nature of the narrative, how Oprah didn’t deserve a role, comparisons to Black Panther for girls and hang on is that meant to say that girls can’t enjoy Black Panther and about how being mean to a billionaire never hurt them, and so on and so on and this was, again

when the trailer dropped.

Now imagine this trailer was literally the first time you ever heard anything at all about this book series or why it was important.

Unpacking what I thought about this movie has taken some time and part of the problem with that unpacking is that largely, I feel like I must have either a very surface reading of it, or I must not understand the contentious issues, because I thought it was really good and I hope other people get a chance to enjoy it without being slurped into that conversation like some kind of eldritch transport system.

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Reviewing My Own Loss Shirts

This year, as with last year, I got to teach a class at my Uni about making media, a class we define in part by being a class where part of your week to week homework is about making memes. It is a class about being Extremely Online, and I resolved, after last year’s completion, to make a plan out of managing my presence in this class this year.

This year, I wore a different shirt every day, and each shirt was a reference to the meme ‘Loss.’

Now, the class is only eleven tutorials, over thirteen weeks. I overdid it a little bit, so there are more than just eleven shirts, and let’s go over them.

Content Warning: If you haven’t worked it out yet, I am absolutely going to show you lots of variants on the meme Loss. Like you have to know that’s what this is.

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“It was as wide as it was long,”

Fanfiction is weird, and I don’t just mean fanfiction as the actual stories. Beating down on fanfiction is one of the easiest things in the world to do, because as a wide-open platform with lots of communal reference points means you’re going to get a lot of people creating fanfiction who aren’t familiar with what we consider to be the standard tools for storytelling. It’s fine, we’ve all been there, churning out two hundred word stories that don’t have a plot or a resolution but which are designed to let the character we like say or do a thing we think we’d like to see.

That’s not what about it is weird that I want to talk about for now.

What I want to talk about is the way that fanfiction is weird as cultural practice. Specifically, that fanfiction is a place where people are aware (or hopeful) that they are being read by other people. I have memories of extremely lengthy author’s notes, things that sought to put the story in a greater context, not by showing things in the story, but in the way the author wanted the story approached. It’s interesting, it’s the kind of thing that these days I’d see serious authors, authors writing books as saying, instead that the text should present for itself –

Hey, did you know in one of my first books my first idea for framing the monsters was to just use the Weird Al song your horoscope for today? Sure did.

– but there’s an enduring practice, often connected to tagging culture and content warning culture that suggests that fanfiction spaces are overwhelmingly full of people who don’t just want to create, but want you to know how they create, and want to make sure you approach their creation ‘the right way.’ That’s really interesting, and it also brings with it a sort of interesting exercise in brand building, of identity presentation.  It’s not just that fanfiction authors want to present their work to an audience, it’s that they also want to present themselves to the audience, and that means even if their fanfiction presents a narrative abotu X, they still feel some reasonable respect for the culture they’re part of. Much of the time this is because these authors came up in the same space, were affected by the presentations of other authors, and it helped to shape them and they’re aware of it.

Okay okay okay, but what brought this on?

Well, people whining about fanfiction authors including sex ed information at the end or middle of their stories about characters fuckin’. It’s pretty popular if you’re, say, a person who has comparatively got their shit together, to dunk on this, and by all means, whatever you want to do, but something I always want to remember is that there’s a lot of things about just the way sex worked that I learned from dirty fanfiction. Like basic mechanisms. It got me thinking about how many ideas I got that were really silly at that time, and how incredibly lucky I am that I never had a reason to act on them until after I had used that grounding to build outwards and overcome my ignorance.

It’s interesting, because in a lot of ways, it’s people while creating fanfiction about anime boys doin’ a butt-fuck still trying to be responsible community members. Which is pretty interesting and I don’t really have it in me to make fun of them for trying.

The title quote by the way, was a line I read in a gay fanfic when I was much younger, which made me realise I was reading fanfiction about dudes doing it that had been written by someone who probably didn’t have a penis to check on periodically for reference.

Game Pile: Doki Doki Literature Club

Gosh, hasn’t the visual novel been brought up a bunch of late?

It seems like only yesterday we had Dream Daddy getting conversations going about religious abuse, trans bodies, fatness in media, and gay dudes who knife-fight going. There was the Kentucky Fried Chicken Visual Novel that produced an eruption of conversation about ironically engaging with marketing and the way that our landscape of critics and reviewers is still ultimately a wing of advertising. Steam banned a Visual Novel (good) this year, there’s been a whole range of talk about where and how to get and market them, and all the while, the Visual Novel as a genre has just trucked on while discourse happened.

These past few years have basically not gone more than a month or two where someone in a position to pay writers has had their money return an article about The Visual Novel and the impact this one’s having or what this means.

The Visual Novel is even a weird phrase because just describing it, I know I’ve written about the way that the format can describe both a kind of game and a kind of amateurishly-constructed video. I’ve also compared them to mazes, where one of the most basic kinds of game challenges is made engaging by making the passages you travel down more interesting for their own sake than just the idea of ‘beating’ the maze. They’re mazes and they’re puzzles and they’re management games and they’re kinetic novels and they’re all these things.

But they’re also, definitely a thing called a visual novel, and we know what a Visual Novel is.

Right?

Spoiler And Content Warning: I talk about Doki Doki Literature Club; there’s a discussion of self-harm and suicide, and I’m pretty open about admitting I think the game is shit. You can just skip on if you don’t wanna see all that.

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Half-Elves (But really Elves)

My earlier treatment of Orcs in Cobrin’Seil was intended, at first, to be a comprehensive examination of the half races. Elves and orcs and humans, the big three that show up in most of the editions of D&D’s player handbooks and most of the settings for them. As I did this though I realised that for all they may work just fine as different versions of the same thing for your setting, I don’t like them feeling so similar and especially not when I laid out my idea that Orcs are made of meat.

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Half-Orcs (but really Orcs)

I have these in my D&D setting, and I have them because, removed from any ontological questions, they are cool things. An orc is like a human, but bigger and usually more physically brawny, and green, and being able to play a half-orc means you have a bunch of outcaster cred, you get to play with the way you look in a way that’s got meaningful signifiers attached to it, and you can funnel your intentions through the lens of ‘how people see orcs.’ The orc – and the elf, but more on that another time – are perfectly good fantasy tools that let you play around with the space of meaningfully physically distinct humantypes, and half-thems are great tools for giving players a way to play as outsiders learning about their world.

Interesting things happen at borders.

I like ’em! But they often, in many settings, don’t make much sense. Part of why they don’t make much sense is how they relate to the half that gets mentioned, the not-human part of orcs, and why they can breed with humans. Questions get asked, and I’m the kind of world builder who’s curious enough to want an answer, and an answer that doesn’t make me wrinkle my nose and go ‘well that’s stupid.’

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Breath of the Wild Recipes And Assumptions

Okay, so, let’s face it, everything I put on the internet is just a vast extelligence of the various different ways I can manage of my thought process, my extrusive thoughts if you will and if you hear me opine about something in person you might see me tweet about it kinda in an adjacent way and then maybe you’ll see me blog about it. It’s a process. It’s a process that’s largely reflective of thinking a bit too much about media that don’t want to be thought too much about at all, of taking the frictionless experience of interfacing with reality and deliberately grinding away at it like a sandblaster until there is nothing to examine but the friction, and with that I want to mouth off about something in Breath of the Wild while simultaneously presenting you, my viewer, with what amounts to a youtube comment because I can’t just throw my words into that trashcan like a normal person would.

Plus, Brian David Gilbert is pretty much getting paid to do the kind of thing I do for free as a wheelie pop and he’s also annoyingly attractive and he’s talked about having love and support from his family since he was very young so it’s clearly only an academic opinion and not deep abiding jealousy that drives me to take this forty minute festival of comically missing the point to task for missing the wrong point, dad.

First, the context.

For those of you who don’t want to watch forty minutes of a wispy millenial beaurocratic wunderkind show you that he can compile a list and fail at cookery (even though the video is extremely funny), I’d like to take an issue with the premise of this video in a way that I think would be way more interesting but also feature less of Anime Gomez Addams choking down milky carrots.

BDG premises this article on the question is Link a good cook, a question that seeks to extrapolate that by having Brian – a bad cook – attempt to replicate the food Link makes – badly – and then present Brian’s findings as to what those foods should restore based on how good a job he, a person I want to remind you is very bad at this, can do at it. There’s some winnowing of the expansive recipe list done for this, and he allows himself a small handful of concessions, including the addition of a neutral oil. Attempts at accuracy fly out the window at the first post, because, as he points out, Link doesn’t have to deal with potential salmonella. While making these recipes, he presents that a number of the recipes Links makes are impossible to make the way they’re presented in the game.

The rationalisation is thus: If a recipe has ingredients involved, that is all you can use as its ingredients. That means only the recipes that call for rock salt can have any salt; only those recipes that call for Goron spices can have spices. The bread cannot have a yeasting agent, the fruit cake cannot have icing or cream and the pie cannot have a crust.

Here’s the thing, though: Those game objects, as much as we see them, do have those things.

When you make a recipe, you don’t list the things you already have. Recipes always come with a degree of assumed availability. Salt, pepper, basic spices, oils and tools are generally left out. In fact, you can tell a lot about a chef about what they don’t assume they need to list on the recipe. I know a patissiere who didn’t think they needed to mention how much butter you’d need for a recipe, because you’d just add more until you had enough. I know a family who do not think they need to tell you to have onions and cilantro because they are givens for everything. Many recipes require water, and never mention water as ‘an ingredient,’ because it’s a staple.

And that’s what I find more interesting. Because Link can make a baked, crusty bread, with tools available to him in the form of a wok. And the thing is, you can turn a wok into an oven: Assuming you have a circular stone and lid for the wok. A number of the recipes require mixing in a variety of different ways, require combining components in separate containers, and they all are displayed in a variey of bowls and breadboards. The apple pie is flecked with cinnamon, the fruit cake is adorned with some variety of frosting and has fruit on it rather than through it, suggesting it is a sponge cake with fruit on top. There’s rice, which again, is pretty difficult to prepare in a wok without water.

Here’s the thing, then. Here’s what I’d rather, and which would have no doubt made a much less interesting kitchen-based video and instead been about visiting people who are good at cooking and talking to them about what they can do and their tools: I want to see a clear breakdown of all the various bits and pieces of cooking equipment Link is always carrying on his person, so much so that it isn’t even worth mentioning to him that he’s got it.

Story Pile: Hanna

Nothing quite kills your SEO like a movie getting a series, especially a series with a really similar name. Thanks, Amazon, thanks.

Anyway, Hanna is a 2011 action thriller movie with a deliberately European tone to its story of a runaway super-deadly badass hero who is trying to escape the threat of the  man who says they’re just coming to help but their form of help involves containment tanks and people with unhelpfully vague names like ‘Project Control.’ This one’s note of being interesting is that our badass one-person war machine isn’t just not a dude this time, but isn’t even an adult.

She’s a girl! She’s a little girl, or at least, a teenage girl! And you hit all those normal beats, all your action movie standby points. The first capture, the escape, the on the run, the escalation, the inevitable confrontation in something laced with imagery and all throughout lots and lots of murder, usually by or of assholes. It’s got an excellent couple of fight scenes where Saorise Ronan, who was at the time sixteen or seventeen sells the hell out of being a tiny little murder machine capable of fighting and leveraging her size against much larger opponents, and there’s one of those ‘look at what I can do’ action sequences in a shipping yard. If you like watching bad dudes getting just wrecked when they underestimate a little girl, then this movie is going to give you some good stuff.

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Making Draft Complicated To Simplify Draft

You know drafting games? I like drafting games. Magic: The Gathering is a drafting game, and it’s really good at it. You draft a deck, then spend some time playing that deck, and that’s fun. We made LFG, a single box card game where you draft a group of heroes to go on an adventure, adventure pending.

Draft is very appealing to me as a designer because it has some virtues like simultaneous turns, and it inherently presents players with choices. Drafting is often used as a component in games, but the drafting itself can be really exciting. Drafting does have problems though, like you need a number of cards and players to make those choices interesting. If you’re drafting, say, four cards between two people, thoes choices need to be extremely difficult to make that interesting, and when you do that, you have a really small number of cards and therefore the game has only so many ways it can be replayed, and that’s risky. I have made games that don’t replay well on purpose, or games with incredibly hard choices that can feel dreadfully unfair (hi, You Can’t Win), but those are hard, thorny games for people who like challenges, and they’re also really small.

There’s also a mastery depth problem when it comes to draft. If you know the most cards, if you remember the cards that are going to be in the pool and potential application with other cards, you’re going to make the player with the largest amount of possible information and the best understanding of ways the game can fork be the player who has the most chance to win, and that’s not great for getting new players involved.

With that in mind for a small card game I’m working on at the moment (one of our $15 range), which is going to be about recruiting your own group of superheroes, I’ve come up with a new drafting technique I want to share.

  1. Deal out all the cards to each player not as a hand, but as a deck. So the player gets their cards, and they don’t look at them and don’t know what they’re going to do.
  2. Set these decks between each player – I’m right handed so when I do this test I intuitively put it to my left, so the player on my left can reach it.
  3. The drafting begins. Each player draws two cards from their deck, chooses to keep one of them, and puts the other card on the top of the next player’s deck.
  4. Repeat step 3 until the decks are only one card.

This means that players still have some specific choices; you know what you’re handing to the next player, but you don’t know all the choices they have. You have to choose between two cards each time, rather than have to manage seven then six then five and so on. Also, you don’t have the chance to determine, at the first draw, everything that you’re going to do, other people’s strategies based on what you’re passing. You’re presented with much more limited information. The draft unfolds a little more, without being all presented up front.