Pride Flags In Pride Month

Hey, you know how I talk about flags?

You don’t?

God, it’s hard to have a coherent, clear brand. Anyway, yeah, I talk about flags? Sometimes? But when I do talk about them I tend to talk about them a lot because people are really bad at making good flags, even though ‘good flags’ is a category that’s super easy to work on. Anyway, there are a bunch of pride flags, and I’ve worked with them – you may remember my Captain America Pride Shields, for example.

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Pride Month 2020!

Welcome to the month of June, where it’s Pride Month!

You weren’t aware? This is why all the corporate icons have got rainbow flags for exactly no more than the duration of this one month. Pride Month, the Month where we’re all allowed to have some Pride and answer questions like ‘uhh when’s straight pride month,’ because fuck you.

Hm, maybe a bit confrontationl.

Pride Month, thanks to the fact the English Speaking Internet Is Kinda American, set in June to commemorate the Stonewall Riots, an event kicked off by a trans woman throwing a brick at a cop, and the event oriented around it is because a bisexual woman chose it, and that seriously is as much as we need.

For this blog, that means it’s a time to talk about Queer Stuff! last year it was fantastically hard, because lots of queer games are alienating and lots of queer media falls into the same problem space as Smooch Month media. We’re going to talk about queerness, in games and media, and that mostly means me trying to promote stuff I like, talk about queer subtextualisation, the importance of fanfiction, the way media relates to queerness, and the way I relate to that queer media.

There’s also going to be some shirt giveaways, unless something dire happens to my finances in this month. Fingers crossed.

Also, as seems to be traditional, my current plan is to not talk about:

  • Undertale
  • Steven Universe
  • She-Ra

We’ll see what the month has coming for us!

Story Pile: Mahou Tsukai Tai

“Hey, Talen,” I tell myself.

“Yeah?”

“We’re going to do Pride month, right?”

“Yep!”

“And that means you’re going to prioritise the queer articles you mean to write, but they’re kinda hard or need research, or you feel that the nature of the work means it’s best to put them all together, so while you’re doing a lot of related research, it can all kinda reference together, and you don’t wind up switching gears from a mindset of, say, magic tricks and knife crime to trying to talk thoughtfully about gender and our relationship to our bodies, resulting in some horrifying wording problem?”

“Yeah, that, that, and-”

Story Pile then, what are we going to do? Watch some Netflix queer movies that show up when you mash the LGBTQ button? Bust out some old classic texts? Revisit Dragon Prince and go in on the Claudia issue?”

“Well um, I figured I’d,”

“Yeees?”

“Why are you trying to spin the anticipation here, you are me,”

“Rhetorically, I’m not.”

“You know what, forget it. Point is, I’m going to start by talking about the first anime I remembered watching because there was a hot boy in it.”

“Whut.”

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May 2020 Wrapup!

Martha, another month trails by in the grasp of this strangest of years of my life. We stand here at the precipice of June, with a word pit opening beneath me and my reaffirming in my most sincere belief that students, are good. I look forward to seeing you again upon my return to public transport.

Hey, that was fast. May just whizzed by, perhaps because we’ve all gotten really good at frittering away our home time. In fact, my home time has been preeeetty stretched so I kind of feel like I haven’t had much free time, as much as I’ve mostly been doing things to destress. Still had some time for some blog experiments, woop woop.

What’s wild is that I don’t feel like I did a lot of stuff this month, like somehow there are fewer articles, but I check the scheduler and yep, sure did do one every day this month. I’ve been rebuilding the backlog, and if you track this kind of thing, I had one day this month where I didn’t write at least one article. This is good. I did write about How To Be A Gardevoir in a D&D game, which was received really well. I vented at length about Deep Space 9 and even included a page of memes which did absolutely stunning numbers.

This month’s shirt design was waiting in the wings for a while, but I’m happy it came out so well. I mean look at that on black.

This month’s video was going to be one of two. I made a tiny video explaining something I made in Mincraft, which made the video making process fast and easy and I was very happy with it. One practice run, one run at the video, boom, it got made.

I was going to do a Lets-Play-And-Chat, but it didn’t line up with any of my friends, time-wise, and I got under a crunch for work at the end of the month. So be it, that sucks but this is why we build contingencies. Pretty happy with what I did regardless.

 

 

Game Making Friction

I’ve talked about friction in the past. The idea is that in any given action, some energy is lost. When I brought it up, I was talking about the energy lost on interfaces – paying attention to the way the game works, or how you’re going to make the game work in a particular way. It’s one of the reasons why a lot of great games get designed within genres once someone establishes a really good control scheme – check out how many classic platformers use B to run and A to jump (or the other way around, I’m not a NES dude, c’mon).

I’ve also talked about how genre is a library of tools. When you know what a genre is and what a genre does, you can use that genre to do things. Draft lets you have players make competing choices at the same time, it lets you hide information. Deck builders let you take game actions that result in something growing, and that thing is itself unreliable, so once you know the mechanisms of thata, when you understand the genre, you can use that to do things like the fog of war or the unreliability of galactic economies or even things like unreliable children or confused storytelling. These are all options once you understand what a Deck Builder is, or how it works.

What I’ve been thinking about – a lot, lately – is the friction not in game play, but in making.

My computer was in a pretty sorry state last week. Thanks to a failure of hardware, I’d had to replace one part of it, and that had meant a bunch of hardware had been standing around going hey, things are different now. One of the big tricky parts was that my hard drives were all convinced they’d been made by some other Talen Lee. This meant I had to transfer files around, format the hard drive, and then, go through my various files and update and reinstall things. I had to reinstall all my editing software. Had to set up a bunch of interface and system tools, had to get my shortcuts all set up, had to make sure file associations were working, and this also meant that there were whole directories of stuff that I wasn’t using any more that I hadn’t cleaned up.

It was pretty pleasant as an experience, but something it made me realise was how much of what I was doing prior to the shakeup was spending time and effort maintaining a lot of unorganised stuff. I didn’t need to have a correct filing system, because, as long as I was always working on it, I was pretty sure I knew which files were important to what I was doing. In some cases, this cleanup was like archaeology.

This isn’t some paean about the importance of cleaning up. Right now, I think there are a lot of us who are Cleaning Up Everything. But it did put me in mind of how much time we spend putting up with poor tools rather than getting proper ones, how many times we create something new rather than build a template, and how much time we spend reinventing things in our creative process.

I am, once again, thinking about friction.

Game Pile: Hyper Light Drifter (But Not Really)

Oh hey, this game, this atmospheric and thoughtful and meaningful game that’s really good and looks really good and it’s full of execution-based skillful exploration and look we’re talking about Dark Souls and then we’re talking about the statements the author made about the game being about living with a terminal condition and it’s ten dollars and here have a review score, pick the one you like, 7/10, 90% and 5 stars.

Oh and hey here’s the image for the thumbnail, that’ll make people intrigued enough to click.

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May Shirt: Splat the Rich!

A thing I should know better than to do is make something because someone on Twitter says ‘oh, I need this on a shirt.’ I did it this time and did they buy a shirt? Did they flipptertegibbets. But that’s life.

This was an exercise in playing with masks and layers with a nice set of new paintbrushes that look like spatters, rotation and randomisation, as well as lookaliking fonts and styles! Aslo there’s nothing wrong with using childish axes of engagement to solidify meaningful ideas like ‘gender is chosen’ and ‘the uber-wealthy will kill the planet if they are not removed from their unearned position of privilege.’

Here’s the design:


And here the design is on our friendly gormless supposedly unisex Redbubble model:

And here’s the design being modelled by the Teepublic ghost:

This design is available on a host of shirts and styles. Particularly, strangely right now, Redbubble are offering it on two-inch badges and on masks.

You can get this design on Redbubble or on Teepublic.

Deep Space 9, In Images

If you were paying attention to me on twitter, you’ll know I was making memes of Deep Space 9 as I watched it. Well, with those ten thousand words vomited out of my soul and put on the page, I want those pictures where you can search and put them in some context. They also serve as a first draft of my thoughts and feelings as I watched the show – which is helpful for reconstructing my thoughts later for some project so big.

Season 1

This one was short, I hadn’t gotten in the groove of it yet. Also, three of these are just dril tweets overlaid on the image.

Season 2

I thought this season was largely pretty good, thought the Maquis and Bajoran storylines were handled pretty well, Jake and Nog weren’t inexcrable, I even tolerated some Ferengi shit.

Season 3

The series had found its voice, characters were pretty set, O’Brien kept getting stomped on. No special notes here.

Season 4

This season introduced Worf and I’m afraid it’s where I started running out of second chances.

Season 5

Oh yeah, this season had Eddington eps, it had the Garak Gets High And Kills People ep (which I like, even though the actor didn’t), a bunch of good Odo stuff, Julian’s… revelation and the amazing Troubles and Tribble-lations. Good stuff, really.

Season 6

I think this is the point where I got really fed up with the weakest parts of this series. There’s a lot of episodes that are just there, or built around something I hate, like Vic or Quark or Worf. The Pah’wraiths are really explored here but knowing there’s no payoff for all the buildup makes all of their scenes feel like a drudge.

When I watched it, I said the shrinking episode was probably going to be one of the best of the season. In the Pale Moonlight lives here, and turns out that, if that wasn’t here, the shrinking episode might be the best episode of this season.

Season 7

And that’s that, the last of our Deep Space 9 Jokey Notesies. Hope it’s convenient having them all in one place!

Story Pile: Deep Space Nine, Part III

Content warning! I dig into the Cardassians a little bit later on in this, and that means there’s going to be a mention of Nazis and stuff Nazis like in media. Tap out at the end of Take Me Out To The Holosuite if you wanna skip it!

Like I said last time, I actually like Deep Space 9. It may be a bit of a surprise that someone can have four thousand words (good god) of non-stop complaining about a show they liked, but I was trying to avoid being toxic about it. It’s one thing to criticise a show’s direction and story structure and its narrative priorities, and another thing to talk about how people are idiots for liking something. And hell, since I like it, I get to be one of those idiots.

We’ve talked about the death of the author in the past, and we’ve talked about wrestling as live theatre, and I’ve talked about the idea of the Ghost of the Author, an occluded identity of someone who ‘made’ the story and ‘made’ the choices that went into it. In the case of Deep Space 9, though, there’s a clear, fracticious and well-documented explanation for why things were weird.

Rick Berman sucks.

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Liking Things

Well, this is an interesting one.

I was asked to blog about this, and that means that this is going to be approached as a blog post and not as specific advice to the person who asked.

Hey, I like a bunch of stuff other people don’t like. But sometimes they don’t like those things, out loud, and it can make me feel bad about liking it! What do?

This can be one of two problems: One, people do not like the thing I like, and I want them to enjoy the thing I like. The solution to this is to share with your friends, talk about what you’re engaging with, and see if that interests them, and if it doesn’t, you can either discard them as friends because of their opinion of a piece of media (which is a weirdo thing to do) or accept that your friends and you don’t have to all like the same thing.

Or two, people actively dislike the thing I like, and talk about disliking it, and I do not feel okay about liking the thing. This is a little trickier because the solution to this is to respect people. Specifically, respect that they have tastes and wants and opinions and you can recognise those tastes and wants and opinions without them having to align with or change yours.

That is, however, hard.

Instead, let’s look at some strategies for this.

Establish Boundaries

Other people don’t like the thing you like! That’s a real bummer. Of course, there are spaces where you can like your thing and and they can dislike their thing, provided neither you nor they are forcing one another to engage with one another’s opinions, you should be absolutely fine.

But that’s not what’s happening, is it.

What’s happening is that you’re probably in some general space, like facebook or twitter, and there, you find that the people who are important to your life, shit on something you like, and maybe do it in a way that’s hard for you to avoid. The most important skill here is to take control over your space: You get to choose what you see in your social media space. If people are being rude, refusing your requests, avoiding your mutes or blocks, to talk to you about the thing, then that’s not an opinions-on-media thing, that’s people-being-an-asshole thing.

Reject False Dichotomies

Odds are really good this is about something that has ‘problematic elements’ in it, where you’re upset by people pointing out problems the thing has. The notion is that if this media is ‘bad’ and I like it, am I ‘bad?’

This is an incorrect way to view it, and most people, even media critics, aren’t framing it this way. This is you making analysis of a media object – criticism of a thing – into criticism of you. If they’re framing it as criticism of you because you like the thing, then again: that’s people being assholes. That has nothing to do with criticism.

Still, the other thing here is that your opinions on media aren’t you, they’re things you relate to. I don’t know how many ways to restate the idea that other people not liking things doesn’t affect you liking things. The idea that these things are both that simple and binary – liking ‘bad things’ makes you ‘bad’ – is a simplified view of reality that turns everyone who ever ate bread into Hitler.

Accepting The Infinite

Nothing is perfect. For anything you like, there’s a better version of it that doesn’t exist yet. You can point to almost every piece of media and talk about ways in which it, as a product of a flawed, corrupt, capitalist society, fails to completely decouple itself from it. This isn’t even an attempt at a joke, this isn’t hyperbole: There is always going to be a potentially better version of the best thing.

What this means is that even for criticisms of work that are completely valid, are much more about how to remake the thing if it were to be made again. They’re not useful arguments about the thing that exists before you. It’s okay to know that a thing could be better while still respecting what it is. There’s almost no alternative.

How To Be: Gardevoir (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. Our guidelines are as follows:

  • This is going to be a brief rundown of ways to make a character that ‘feels’ like the source character
  • This isn’t meant to be comprehensive or authoritive but as a creative exercise
  • While not every character can work immediately out of the box, the aim is to make sure they have a character ‘feel’ as soon as possible
  • The character has to have the ‘feeling’ of the character by at least midway through Heroic

When building characters in 4th Edition it’s worth remembering that there are a lot of different ways to do the same basic thing. This isn’t going to be comprehensive, or even particularly fleshed out, and instead give you some places to start when you want to make something.

Another thing to remember is that 4e characters tend to be more about collected interactions of groups of things – it’s not that you get a build with specific rules about what you have to take, and when, and why, like you’re lockpicking your way through a design in the hopes of getting an overlap eventually. Character building is about packages, not programs, and we’ll talk about some packages and reference them going forwards.

And now this time, because you on the Twitters voted for it (whether or not you realised you were voting for it specifically), this month’s choice is the elegant mind dancer Pokemon, Gardevoir.

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Game Pile: Purrlock Holmes

I got this game from a Ding-And-Dent at Cancon2020, with an initial idea that it would make a good pickup for my mum, who’d enjoy it, because it was about detectives and cats, and you know, so on. Then when I got it home, I considered that I needed to make sure it was a good gift for her (since, you know, when does my mum get to play games like this), and if it was kid-valid, so I decided instead of making a gift of it, I’d play it with the family a bit, and see what she thought before handing it over, rather than just impose it on her and assume everything would be fine.

Then we played it.

And we played it again because the first thing someone said after we finished it was let’s play again.

And anyway now I’m keeping it.

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Designing Names

You know what’s really hard?

Naming things.

Oh, there’s the challenge in naming people, that stuff’s probably always there. Maybe if you’re the author of a book or you like naming OCs or the like, you’ve seen the difficulty involved in giving your characters names that work well for who they are, that maybe convey a bit of meaning, that don’t tend to recur in particular ways. I know DMing D&D gave me insight into the ways that I reuse certain name components; in one game, I had NPCs, in unrelated spaces, named Buto, Bruno, and Brutus, and what those NPCs did has long been lost to my players’ memories, but I am still periodically teased about choosing such similar names. Those were to me, useful workhorse names that stood apart from one another just enough to be easily grasped, but I didn’t consider that players were going to have conversations with them, in the same session. Players see patterns, and they saw the pattern in those names, assumed they were connected, and were deeply annoyed to find that they weren’t. In that, I messed up – there was a chance for a link and I wasted it.

People names are hard, even fake people names, of course. All the names in One Stone, for example, came after much agonising over different texts, trying to find things that could obliquely reference where they came from or had some linking purpose that made the story space of the world make sense, or stuff like that. I understand there’s some fuss right now about an asshole naming a baby, which I’m kind of not inclined to give any air to, because one, they’re an asshole, but two, it necessarily involves bringing up the baby, and look, that baby didn’t do anything to deserve being tweeted about. Twitter is a bad enough website, let’s leave babies out of it.

Naming places is also hard. I did a whole thing about how for ten years in my D&D setting, I had a kingdom called Kyngdom, and resisted every effort to deal with how obviously stupid that was. Many names were first drafts that I just never addressed because I was too embarrassed to admit they’d literally been pulled out of the air, and my worldbuilding was as much about grab-bagging things on the fly and pretending I had a plan than it was in any way about foresight and a meaningful narrative underpinning the world.

What else is hard is naming game mechanics. Game mechanics need to be named in a way that’s easy and coherent and referential. Words want to be long enough to convey what they do – ideally in a way that you never need to explain them beyond naming them – and short enough that players can talk about them twice in one sentence. They need to change tenses for clarity – imagine if you had a game mechanic named ‘sheep,’ the hassle in dealing with whether this sheep sheeps your sheeps or sheep. There’s also an urge to name some mechanics for the setting, like how Exalted tries to rename ‘player group’ for every different type of Exalt, as if bands and circles and leagues and coracles are all terms that people are going to use properly like the collective nouns for types of vole.

Then there’s the challenge in naming games at all. Our best game names seem to be things that we came up with as a pun, or where stand-in names that never got replaced. Fabricators was just a name for the file I was using to make the cards. Murder Most Fowl was made as a pun name while killing time at a convention. Good Cop, Bear Cop was mishearing someone. Many of our worst game names tend to be the ones that I spent some serious time on – like the Domains of Meh was iterated on multiple times. The Roads to Springdell is a name I like a lot because it conveys the idea that players are on the way to something but not there yet, but it has done absolutely nothing to move the game itself, in all of its tight and charming glory.

I think about this a lot as I try to name some game mechanics, as I look at work of other people asking for my input and I read rulebooks, trying hard to grapple with the difficulty we have in just giving the components we’re talking about names.

Tracer’s Bum

There’s this story about Tracer, from Overwatch.

The story runs that once upon atime, Tracer had a butt pose, and there was a huge outcry, and then Blizzard, the SJW cucktopians that they are, bowed to massive public pressure, and got rid of the Butt Pose, because people were offended. If you go looking for Tracer pictures for research purposes, literally this time, you’ll find people drawing her, showing off her butt, with a catch cry ‘sorry luv, you offended?’ like the problem was Tracer having a butt.

This dialogue about what happened is one of those stories I see being vaguely mentioned as if it was true and it’s interesting to me because it’s not only not true, but the story as framed puts the oppressed people in the wrong box and gives Blizzard a kind of credit it doesn’t deserve while focusing on something else, entirely, which is almost weirder.

No pictures for butt poses here, c’mon, what do you think this blog is.

Anyway, the butt pose was criticised not for being offensive at first; a small number of players noticed the butt pose victory pose, and focused on how out of character it seemed to be for Tracer. Not that Tracer doesn’t have a butt, or indeed, like having a butt. I don’t imagine she’d wear leggings like that if she wasn’t at least okay with having a butt. The issue was that the pose wasn’t really ‘her,’ and this was during the beta development phase of the game where players’ input on expressions of the characters was being taken on board pretty well.

The butt pose was pretty simple; she turned around, then turned to look over her shoulder. With the way she stood and her default outfit structure, it did pretty much centre her butt in the middle of the pose. It wasn’t as dynamic or movement-driven as Tracer’s other poses. It felt, the audience said, out of character, which checks out, because character in these spaces is being defined as much by the limited way people feel out these characters as they learn about them. Overwatch doesn’t have much character, it’s just got a lot of character in potentia, characterisation that’s kind of hovering in an indefinite space, waiting for people to collapse it, but trying very hard to not say no to anyone.

The pose that replaced it was a nosecone pinup; for anyone not familiar, these are the poses you’d see of girly posters on the nosecones of planes during World War 2, and now sometimes done as a reference to World War 2. Mostly, people don’t get to paint big paintings on their planes any more, for some reason. This tracked, of course – Tracer’s a pilot, she likes planes, those poses are pretty common association between that kind of femme and planes, it tracks easily.

The thing about this narrative, and the reason I’m putting this down here is to underscore that Blizzard weren’t responding to a moral outrage, but to one of those things they actually care about: They were trying to express the character design better. If it was a moral outrage issue, we wouldn’t have been teased for a year to learn that Tracer was gay like ‘surprise, we included a lesbian’ was some kind of gacha prize event, or we wouldn’t be… what, how many years before a playable black woman?

The events happen, but how we remember the events really matters.

And hey, I got to title a post ‘Tracer’s bum.’

Story Pile: Deep Space Nine, Part II

I think if you ask me about my general impression of Deep Space 9, it’s going to come across as extremely negative. That’s pretty reasonable, I think because if you bring something up to me about the series, on pure statistics, it’s probably going to be one of the long, large threads that runs throughout the story that really fucking irritates me.

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Minecraft: Building A Punctuated Clock

I try to avoid making item elevators in builds, because I find them extremely easy to mess up. Sometimes they can jam up if the thing they’re meant to pass through produces too quickly, for example.

I also don’t like designs that take up lots of space, because it limits what they can be used for, and I don’t like designs that rely on clocks that are meant to keep running. Servers can handle that, but I run Minecraft on my home computer, and sometimes you can get this thing where an ongoing clock, if you log out while it’s doing its thing, can just forget what it’s meant to be doing, and be left ‘turned off.’ Not great. Clocks can just also consume a lot of computer time.

I’ve done some item elevators that rely on a sticky piston pulse to dump goods, into fires, but they have a problem when they’re fed a hopper full of stuff – they tend to flick on and off, meaning you can get some loud piston chunking when really, they should just turn on, empty the vessel they’re meant to be emptying, then turn off.

This design is something I finally put together that has managed to do that.

It’s an item clock that waits until it has a ‘full load’ as you define it, then, when it has that full load, it turns on the clock, dispenses items until it’s empty, and then, when it is empty, it turns off again, waiting to fill up once more.

If you want an itemised list of what goes into it, you need:

  • The thing you want the clock to affect (dropper or dispenser)
  • two redstone repeaters
  • three redstone comparators
  • four observers
  • two non-sticky pistons
  • one barrel

There’s no need to manage overlapping redstone wiring, and it doesn’t radiate signal much so it’s not likely to turn off hoppers around it (though be careful of the two sides).

 

Game Pile: Spaceshipped

Button Shy card game good imaginative clever bright fun engaging eighteen cards stylish wallet kickstarter pleasant customer service thoughtful high quality available at pnparcade funny hard challenging stay safe was hands.

Boy, hasn’t it been a recent time for board game talk? because suddenly, this year, people have spent a lot of time hanging around the same people, and getting lots of stuff delivered to their homes and I’m trying to circle around mentioning the andemic-pay, but basically, we’ve had a lot of people talking about board games that you can play solo, and board games that you can get access to without going to a store and board games that you can maybe even try out cheaply because right now people are a bit pinched for money because andemic-pay.

Perfect time, then, for me to put up a piece on Spaceshipped, which is another Button Shy game, a cheap game, a game that jams on 18 cards, that’s a solo game, and, it’s available for $10 from Button Shy, and $3 at PNP Arcade. I know it’s a bit weird to lead like that? But it feels like I should get all that basic stuff out of the way first, because, as with Sprawlopolis and Tussie Mussie and Handsome before them, I just freaking love Button Shy games and there’s a sort of inherently dull status to being so consistently excellent. The article follows a pattern, a sort of sloughed out, well damnit it’s amazing and what am I going to do around that?

What Space Shipped is is a space trader game. In eighteen cards. And if you’re like me, and a game designer, you might have an immediate moment of hang on, wait, what? It’s eighteen cards, print and playable, no specialised equipment or dice, and there’s a full space trader game about travelling from planet to planet trying to buy goods low, sell them high and deal with the random events that make that particular kind of job hard. Your aim is to buy two Xeno Crystals, rare and expensive properties, before space pirates steal two, and lose you the contract to acquire the crystals. So far so boilerplate.

This kind of game is something I’ve tried to capture on cards in the past because I like these games and space ships are cool and all, but it’s often very difficult to emulate a market and space – like, an actual movable zone where you transition from point to point, not outerspace specifically – when you have limited resources like card design. Videogames handle this really well because if there’s one thing videogames can generate really easily, it’s spreadsheets and vast distance between doing your accountancy homework. My go-to work for this kind of game is always Lavamind’s Gazillionaire, a game that I wouldn’t go so far as to describe as good but definitely a game that was influential, in that it influenced me, with its ugly Windows 3.1 ass interface and resolute, unfailing, absolute demand that we continue doing things exactly the same way, forever, and ever, which is why even though that game is on Steam right now, despite being thirty years old, it’s still expecting you to pay like, forty bucks.

Anyway, what happens in this genre of game is you load up your pockets with stuff you can afford to buy, go somewhere you think you can sell it for a profit, and something along the way either gives you a candy or kicks you in the teeth. The gameplay loop of buy low sell high is mastered pretty quickly especially in games where you can learn things like supply and demand in other neighbouring places, but you play them because there’s this pachinko-ass effect where if you were just making sensible economic deicions, you’d be fine but the game mixes that up by periodically punching you in the face.

Spaceshipped doesn’t have a great sense of space to it, but it does do a great job of jamming that same feeling where you load your ship up anticipating the demand for your supply next turn, or two turns later, and then hope like hell it’s not going to go terribly for you on the way. The way it does this is through the kind of card face design that makes me disgustedly happy.

 

A single card in Spaceshipped is used in three different zones. You’re looking here at one card, both sides. The first face, with the encounters and market on it, is one of three cards that represent the travel from market to market. Each card shows you what happens when you arrive in the orbit, then on the planet, then the market – but crucially, the three cards together show this combined. That is, you get the orbital effect of card 1, the planetary of card 2, and then the marketplace of card 3 is what you have to care about. This means you can anticipate some things going to happen in your future, and you can compare the marketplaces of your current card and future cards. But sometimes orbital encounters will transform the effect of the planet encounter.

What you then get to do is make purchasing decisions based on what’s available in the market, what prices you can get them for, what future prices you can get for those goods, and upgrades and all that. You don’t have a sense of freedom – not really – you don’t get to pick the planet you go to, so the part of the space-faring trader fantasy the game exchanges is a the freedom of going where you want to try what you want. Instead, you’re given a sort of ghost train experience, where you ride in the cart as the game flings things at you, and that’s okay.

I mean you’re fitting a space trader wallet game on something that fits in your pocket and costs a tenner. It’s easily more playable while you wait for things than Solitaire, and I’ve talked about how that game is pretty good, too.

If you want to check out the rules and play through, here’s a helpful video they shared on the PNParcade page for it:

I think one of the most damning things about my mind as a developer is that my reaction to playing with Spaceshipped was realising how much I wanted to use the card face template for something else. It’s not like the game is perfect; there are some wrinkles about it I wish were a bit better. I rarely ever bother buying upgrades or ships – I just find myself too financially desperate for that. The upgrades and ship changes are too visually indistinct to stick in the memory, and the fact the game is more like a ghost train than an explorer makes it feel like the game narrative could use a little more room to flex in the rules (but how are you going to do that!?).

Still, once again, this game’s excellent, you can have it for cheap and it’s good enough that as with many Button Shy games, I’m kind of mad I didn’t think of how to do something like this myself.

4e Power Sources

Back in the olden days of Fourth Edition, we would cast our minds back to the even oldener days of Third Edition and the slightly less oldener days of Third Point Fifth Edition, all of which predates Fifth Edition, about which, I want to underscore, and reiterate, because I keep having to do this, I know nothing and do not care to know anything. Anyway, back in third edition, there were these terms for magic – arcane and divine. The rules around these mechanics were the kind of thing you’d look up once, then never need to remember again because they only mattered for setting some basic rules. The basic rules being that divine spells didn’t incur ‘arcane spell failure’ and arcane spells did. You had to know whether you did arcane spells or divine spells, but you didn’t really need to know much more about it than that.

There were some splats, some supplemental rules that sought to make the ‘martial’ type a thing, there was some vague wuffling about shadow powers and even once, an entire splatbook about introducing different types of magic to the game that were all, in their own way, terrible, and even involved just being arcane and divine in places, as the code that the game ran on really, really wanted a reference point for that information.

Fourth edition, though, looked at this sort of ‘power source’ idea and asked the question: what if we actually used this game flag for something?

So we got, in the first book, the power sources Arcane, Martial, and Divine. Later books introduced Psionic and Primal, and I guess Shadow exists, somewhere, over there. We don’t talk about Shadow, not here, and not in the Sonic fandom.

Now, hand to my heart, if you go looking in 4th edition for a power or ability that says something like ‘when an opponent attacks you with an arcane spell, do a thing,’ I don’t think you’ll find anything but I’m not entirely sure. They did try some experimental stuff in places in that game. But broadly speaking, you do not find things that reference power sources in the way that they were referenced back in 3.5 D&D! There was no armour attribute that only mattered to arcane characters (and which almost every arcane character class had some way around god damnit 3.5).

Instead, power sources in 4th edition were used in two ways:

  • To give the different classes with the same power source a linked mechanical feel
  • To give characters with a specific style multiple different mechanical opportunities

This may sound like not much, but it’s a hugely useful part of the game and it isn’t something you need to care about. As a designer, being able to say ‘primal characters tend to get these special effects’ is handy set of tools. As a DM, knowing that you have (for example), a group with Primal and Martial characters suggests to you that you’re not likely to have big spread AOEs or super-flexible powers like if you were dealing with Arcane characters. Martial characters care a lot about weapons and combat advantage, Arcane characters tend to have flexible special abilities, Divine characters tend to have heavier armour options, Primal characters tend to have more hit points and Psionic characters get power points.

And nobody cares about Shadow.

You may want to build your character, knowing you want a Ranger and that’s it, oh kay, so much, no problem at all. But if you don’t approach the class system that way, 4th edition’s power sources are here for you. Let’s say you conceive of a character who’s a bit rough around the edges, lives in the woods, tracks their own food and knows how to win a fight, and maybe has a pet. In 3rd edition, you have two options: the Ranger and the Druid. The ranger is a melee damage dealer (or you can try range if you want to be bad) and the druid is … ostensibly, a full spellcaster, and in actuality, brokenly powerful all singing all dancing shitting god-king of numbers mountain. But that’s it, that’s your options; a heavy caster, and a light caster who stabs things. Fox has said that I should add the Barbarian and I am even though I definitely wouldn’t if she didn’t.

But in 4th edition, if you wanted to play that same character, the woodsy outdoor type, you could play a melee damage dealer (ranger), a ranged controller (hunter), a shapeshifting monster person controller (druid), a shapeshifting monster person with a weapon tank (warden), a summoner with healer ghosts (shaman), an angry person with a weapon who hits people real hard (barbarian) and even another, different kind of ranged controller (the seeker, which we don’t talk about). They’ll have unified feels – they’ll all be nature-y, they’ll have nature-skills, they’ll work well for the story space you want to put them, but they’ll all be different mechanical choices with the same thematic space. This matters a lot, because suddenly, players can make choices that are about what they want a character to feel like without needing a super-refined grasp on a thousand rule options to make a build work (like back in 3.5).

See also, the divine. If you wanted to be a religiously chosen holy crusader type in 3.5, your options were Paladin and Cleric (which was also broken). That is, a pair of melee, heavily armoured combatants, who usually wore a shield and cast spells at the direct behest of a god, with some smiteyness thrown in. In terms of differences in style, the cleric didn’t have a horse and the paladin didn’t get to be strong enough to piss in god’s ear. But in 4th edition, if you want to play that same divine, holy crusader type, you have clerics, paladins, avengers, invokers, runepriests and blackguards (who can join the Seeker and Shadow).

These options are all kind of just washing over you at this point, I know, but this is a really important bit of design technology. Unifying thematic space gives players more room to make their own thematic choices. If there’s one way to be something in your world, any player who wants to be that thing can only be that thing.

Power Sources are one of many things in 4th edition D&D that made the game better, and part of what makes them exceptional design technology is that if you didn’t care you never had to notice the bloody things at all.

Didja know I have a Youtube channel?

Yeah, apparently this was something of a mystery! A point that was made by Ettin when this came up is that to get to my Youtube channel is like, five not intuitive steps.

Based on this, I’m doing some minor updates to places around the site. My About page now mentions my Youtube channel, there’s a button on the sidebar – this button! – that takes you to my Youtube channel, and… and…

I’m kinda not sure what else to do?

See, one of the worst things to have in your brain is a negative feedback loop that interprets silence as disinterest from people who are too polite to say anything. I know for a fact a lot of my friends don’t read my blog, and that’s something I’ve kind of had to become okay with. That becoming okayness however has not actually fixed the brain problem, because it means that I kind of intuitively see everyone I know who doesn’t read the blog or listen to the podcast or follow the twitter as disinterested and actively not interested in stuff. The idea they might not have noticed or not checked it out right now or the presence of being advertised on a miserable hellsite full of sadness might be diverting their interest in me talking about videogames doesn’t seem to latch into my head.

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Five Bleach Songs That I Have Arranged In A Way That Looks Like A List Implying Coherence

I’ve talked on twitter about how the anime Bleach (a good?? anime?) wasn’t just culturally important the way that, say, wallet chains were back in the 90s, but how the series, even up to its waning edge, was capable of influencing charts throughout its entire eight year run. If your band made an Ending Theme for Bleach, you were probably going to be a top 50 hit (with only one or two falling lower than that), and if you made an Opening Theme, you were pretty much guaranteed a top ten spot for at least a few weeks.

Now, you can make the case that the Japanese charts are more mercurial, or novelty driven, or maybe made of cheese, I don’t know and I do not pretend to know. What I do know is that this is a charted statistic that someone has organised, and that means I can sort it and that means I can put things in contrast with one another and have opinions.

Here then, are five of those songs that I think you, an assumed non-Bleach-watcher, should check out, because I like them and this is an excuse to talk about them. Am I going to look at them in their relationship to cultural attention? Well, I could, but that sounds hard. Instead I’m just going to bring up five of them and see how my brain meat feels about that after I’m done.

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Two Lanes, All Waiting

Sometimes if you read older papers or articles about videogame storytelling, or if you spend time on Tvtropes, you might encounter the phrase gameplay and story segregation. With Final Fantsy 7 the current hotness, there’s a sort of ongoing riff that’s been used for twenty-five years about how a videogame with a mechanical device for reversing death is mostly known for how the story pivots around a death that you can’t undo, even if you have those items.

Now, setting aside for a time the interesting way in which you can chart stages of grief to players reacting to that moment in Final Fantasy 7, and how you can almost chart something about who they are as a person depending on whether they’re still bargaining (‘you should be able to save her with-‘) or at anger (‘it’s a stupid manipulative game’), the point is one of the enduring seeds at the root of basically all gamer webcomics. “Why is game not like real life?”

I mean it’s a bit. I get it. It’s a really, really tired bit. It’s the videogame culture version of ‘what’s the deal with airline food,’ which is itself a trope because comedians of the time were the ones most likely to be doing a lot of air travel, and therefore, the people most likely to be bothered by what airlines are doing. People who play lots and lots of videogames and look at them critically are going to be the ones who most often see the ways the stories of videogames and the gameplay of videogames don’t line up. It’s kinda that infamous thing of ludonarrative dissonance, which is… a sort of more specific idea, with a more over-arcing, academic kind of consideration.

Setting aside the ‘games are good when they stand out from my slurry of similar games’ problem, though, the idea runs that there are a lot of videogames that keep the narrative and the mechanical storytelling pretty much isolated. The idea runs that gameplay actualises the story, you while the story drives the narrative, and in a number of games these two elements are not driving into one another like an engine, but are instead driving two separate vehicles, often in unrelated directions.

This is typically seen as a videogame problem, but I’ve been recently considering something said by Erik The Bearik over on twitter. Erik’s take was about how Dungeons & Dragons is two systems that don’t quite relate to each other. The notion was that a barbarian can get angrier and angrier out of combat, but in the context of combat all they can do is turn rage ‘on’ or ‘off.’ The consequences of rage as a combat ability has a meaningful, mechanical impact, which responds to particular rules structures. Players are conditioned to see their combat abilities in the simplest terms of working and with enemies only being able to make a check to resist the effect, or having to make a check to determine if they make the check well enough.

On the other hand, there is this space of not combat, and that not combat space is a place of ambiguities and possibilities and maybes and sortas, which has long been a complex knot to unweave for people discussing the idea of the story and mechanics folding together. See, if these two things existed independently, with a game having this layer of – let’s say hacking? – where the physical real world combat and ramifications thereof wasn’t present? You could have these two systems be so isolated that they didn’t relate. But they do relate in Dungeons & Dragons because combat isn’t a separated system like you see in a Final Fantasy game where the interface transforms when combat happens.

It’s an interesting quandrary, and one of those ways in which games of all stripes share a lot of common details. The problem of ‘why do the rules apply here and not there’ is interesting particularly to me, because it feels like the break in immersion isn’t the actual problem: the problem is that the players are not being carried along by the enjoyment of the game enough that these concerns don’t bother them.

Game Pile: Lanterns

Sometimes I feel a tiny bit bad talking about board games that are just really good here. There’s always some sort of impulse to make an examination into a story, for there to be perhaps a certain degree of turnaround or some surprising element to the whole experience of reading it. I know when I talk about Pokemon games, and Button Shy games (usually, though not always), I have a certain, hands-in-the-air ‘well it’s excellent and worth your time, I guess,’

Still.

Chris Chung’s Lanterns.

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The Kids Don’t Meme

Or rather they don’t meme the way we do.

It’s been wild to me how much, recently, I’ve been dealing with kids. I didn’t intend to be a person who interacted with kids and largely, I’m actually very okay with letting kids go off and do their own kid stuff over there. I like to swear a lot and I don’t like having to deal with kids learning from me that the right way to use swears is all the fuckin’ time.

But my students are now at the point where I think I have to very sincerely consider that they are, to me, ‘kids,’ not because I want to infantalise them but because the age gap between us is equal to… well, their entire age in some cases. I taught a seventeen year old last year. That’s messed up.

Also, in order to better accommodate my young niblings’ internet behaviour, I’ve been doing my best to be a kind of internet sleuth. Their mother’s a teacher, and she hasn’t got the time to vet everything they want to watch in screen time, and what’s more they’re also going to be looking at new types of stuff all the time. Back in the day, we used to channel surf, now they can get a lot of concentrated stuff, and thanks to websites like ohhh say Youtube, there’s a potential firehose of Bad Stuff these kids can see.

From there I got in the habit of checking out some kids’ content on Youtube to make sure nobody was going to tell my niblings they needed to invest in the gold standard or something dumb like that. This is why I got into Hermitcraft, which is also why I’m on the /hermitcraft subreddit on reddit.

Now, I am not a snobby memer. I’m really not. But I am pretty seasoned at it. I study the form. In fact, I teach the form. Believe it or not.

Something that stuns me about it, though, is how often the formats of memes escape the attention of the people using them. There are numerous memes that are wielded not to convey the information of the meme form (an argument or a dismissal) but because the people in question genuinely want the meme to serve as a serious platform for their opinion. Petitions as memes, simple observations of two related things as memes, and so very often, ‘I am glad this thing happened,’ as a meme.

Students I teach, who are older and more sophisticated than this are still not particularly memey! They don’t necessarily get that the meme template informs the meme meaning, and that templates create meaning by being templates. There’s a lot of reaction-gifs-are-memes moments, where they have to be told that the image they’re using actually contextualises what they say.

It’s interesting because we made a big fuss linguistically about the millenial generation using memes as a Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra style language, but what’s really wild to me now is how a sublanguage is forming around the structure of the meme that is not attuned to its meaning. It’s a meta meme level, where memes are losing their associations and just becoming something simpler; there’s no need to layer ‘it’s a meme’ around something to explain it.

These are words I put on a page, but there is a picture of Spongebob, so I hope you will read them.

It’s wiiild.

Oh, and no pictures this time because I’m not about to put memes made by little kids or my students on blast.

Hands And Bags

Been thinking about bag builders lately.

If you’re not familiar, a bag builder is a type of game where you have a bag – an actual, physical bag – that you can’t look into very easily. You put things into the bag, ideally things that are hard to tell apart from one another by touch, and then players draw things out of the bag and check the results that indicates.

In its simplest form the bag builder is a slower, more elaborate form of dice. You have a random distribution of potential outcomes, and players choose one. It’s slower because a dice roll is stunningly quick and you can roll four or five dice at once. Really, dice deserve a special mention here because when you’re rolling dice it’s faster to resolve the four or five dice than it is for the player to process the result.

Bag builders swerve wildly away from dice when you start to think about what kinds of control you have. Now, you can make dice do weird things with probability but generally speaking if the game starts with 1d6, you have a hard time making that dice mathematically behave like 1d8. you can usually go down – odds and evens lets the dice behave like a 1d2 – but you can’t readily go up without getting into bell curves and distribution matrices.

For a bag, though, if you want something to be 1d7 you can just put in 7 options in a bag. That’s a pretty basic use for a bag, just to make a sort of softer dice. It puts the cognition on the ‘roll’ earlier, too – players retrieve the object from the bag, and look at it – the action has stopped, and the result is literally in their hand.

The bag builder being a more ornate and elaborate thing means that it won’t be as good for simple turns and simple actions. I think that a good bag builder wants to draw from the bag, say, once a turn, make it the centerpiece of a turn. Rerolls (putting tokens back and drawing again) are valid, but generally, if a player does something with the bag, that should be the turn, and then the choices come from what to do with what you draw.

Here are a few things I think about doing with bag building mechanics.

  • A game with one common bag, everyone is adding to. The bag contains a signifier token for each player, and a number of other tokens. At the start of the turn, you pull tokens from the bag until you pull one with a signifier for each player, and the remaining non-signifiers are used to trigger game events. This could be used to represent something disastrous – each token claimed from the bag is a monster they have to fight – or it could be somehing good. Maybe the tokens represent customers coming to your shop.
  • A game where each player has a bag, and players contribute tokens to other people’s bags. Maybe this represents cooperation or hindrance – you can put good numbers in other players’ bags to hopefully improve their performance.
  • A game where enemies are stacks of tokens, and damaging them results in dice being put into the enemy bag – which indicates each enemy is having a sudden surge of power as they’re damaged.

Some themes I think I can do with Bag Building:

  • Collaborative creative processes. These are naturally messy. Putting ideas into someone else’s bag so they can gestate on them and then when they come out, it’s not something you can force.
  • Cooking and potion brewing! Throw recipe ingredients into the pot and then pull them out when they surface! This is a place explored by Quacks of Quedlingburg.
  • Space trading! I like this one because travelling from planet to planet gives markets lots of time to react weirdly. It can be that each planet has a standard set of ‘needs’ and the tokens from the bag can introduce new needs, or diminish the demand of old needs, so you have some demands that are consistent and some that aren’t. 
  • Ecological behaviour. Imagine if tokens represent types of animals, say, a food source C, predators that eat them B and predators that eat them A. You pull a handful from the bag, and then see how many A B and C that handful can support.

Try out bags for designs that:

  • Want randomisation but don’t want to keep looking up tables
  • Wants something tactile to take out and put down
  • Wants to customise dize conveniently
  • Wants a building and randomisation system, but doesn’t want tons of shuffling