5 Things In Robotech That Still Rattle Around In My Head

What, didn’t I just Story Pile about Robotech? Yes I did and in that I told you nothing about the actual stuff that happened in Robotech that I loved. I told you about how Robotech doesn’t exist, and how it’s embarrassing to be a fan of it.

Fuck that, here’s stuff from Robotech that lives in my head rent free whenever I think about the sci-fi Epic. Context? No, you don’t get context. Now buckle up and jam on your thinking caps.

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Story Pile: Robotech

It is challenging to know one of your favourite things is so aggressively mediocre.

This music, this opening, set the standard in my child mind for what epic truly represented. This opening that starts with a clearly damaged, recovered piece of footage, then switches constantly between different arcs of the story, showing characters who, at the start of the series aren’t even born. Three generations of a narrative collected in the opening, and in an 85-episode show, screened weekly if I got to catch all the episodes, some of these story beats were a literal year away.

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Who You Are In Bleach (It’s Always A Sword)

The Bleach respecter has logged on.

Okay, so basically there’s a thing in shounen anime how every one of them, more or less, has a thing that means ‘hey, here’s the reason people have a special ability.’ Whether it’s the Devil Fruit from One Piece, the Special Grade Curses from Jujutsu Kaisen, or the special Jutsu from Naruto. Kamen Rider Drivers, X-Men Mutations, Stands, Kwamis, they’re there to explain why Some People have the cool special powers and Some Other People don’t.

In Bleach, the ‘thing’ was a sword. The term for it is your Zanpakuto, but c’mon.

It’s a sword.

These swords aren’t just, you know, a sword, they’re a real sword (hhhnnnnnn I dunno) made out of your soul. It’s not a device with its own personality or traits, it’s something that was Inside Of You All Along (which I guess means Anthy Himemiya was a Soul Reaper?), and the way it works reflects something of who you are. There are three forms this sword can take (basically).

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Let’s talk about scope.

Let’s talk about game mechanics.

Let’s talk about difficulty.

Let’s talk about mythology and the remix and symbolism and men’s failure to communicate and the way queerness spreads to fill empty space and the absolute nonsense that is SNK worldbuilding.

Let’s talk about Kaede.

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Star Control 2: The Thraddash

In the classic science fiction DOS game, Star Control 2, you’re a human captain asked to contend with a variety of different alien cultures, who have a host of different possible reactions to the things you do and a fairly interesting broad range of wants and ideologies. My normal go-to example of the work done to make these cultures interesting is the Ur-Quan, who basically are two cultures engaged in a literal war over who’s got the better unhealthy way to reckon with their personal trauma.

And like, Star Control 2 is still at its root a game which is basically giving you individual people to chat with, with a slightly slack memory. Like, these aren’t cultures cultures. They’re a single surface of a culture that it sometimes implies that there’s degrees within that culture, with individuals that don’t necessarily comply with the standard you’re presented. The Vux have Admiral Zex, the Spathi have the Black Spathi Squadron (and Fwiffo, to an extent), and the Zoq-Fot-Pik show the way their culture varies within itself just by their constant bickering.  The Slylandro talk amongst themselves right in front of you, showing they’re not all these vast monocultures.

This isn’t true of all cultures, though. In this space bursting with life, you have cultures that just don’t get that much variety, so they’re kind of ‘lesser’ cultures. The Supox barely get any screen time. The Druuge are just capitalists. The Umgah are Ettin.

One of these ‘lesser’ cultures – who you can still bully into joining your alliance, mind you – is the infinitely pugnacious Thraddash.

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Story Pile: Only You Can Save Mankind

Johnny Maxwell is an extremely ordinary 12 year old child in 1995. He goes to school, he struggles with homework, he pirates videogames cracked by his nerdier friend Wobbler, and he avoids his parents shouting at each other by submerging himself in the glow of his screen. And it’s all going perfectly well for him as he plays his way through Wing Commander 2 Only You Can Save Mankind until one afternoon, the Kilrathi Screewee reach out to talk to him.

And they want to surrender.

This isn’t part of the game, at least, as far as anyone else has said. It’s not anything that Wobbler’s seen. It’s not in the manual. And back in the day, videogames sometimes did things you didn’t expect, for really specific, interesting reasons and there wasn’t some sort of online compendium you could pop open to check out all the details of how these games work.

And that means that Johnny is confronted by a mystery that may just be a really interesting thing a game does.

Or maybe something else.


I’m going to spoil chunks of the rest of the book, though not exactly how it concludes. If you want to go read the book, it’s on Audible, it’s on Amazon, it’s on Google Books, and I like it a lot. It is however, a book extraordinarily of its time. It’s a book from 1995 about a twelve year old, playing videogames back when Amiga and Amstrad and Macintosh were all names to mention in the same breath. It’s also a book from when Terry Pratchett himself just didn’t understand women so well, and that means there are moments when a major character who’s a girl says some stuff that’s…


It’s very ‘precocious 12 year old’s vision of sexism,’ and that can make her feel pretty embarrassing to look back on now, especially because there are ways in which the story goes out of its way to prove her wrong. Like, it’s not like it makes the story markedly worseBut at the same time there’s a tragic kind of missed opportunity: That the story could have still kept what was important to Johnny while also showing more nuance and depth for the girl character.

Who I’m not naming, because it’s? It’s complicated?

Anyway. I like this book a lot and I’d like to recommend it, but with the caveats that it’s a white guy from 1995 writing about videogames and is a bit of a thicko about some of the topics he handles. Just stuff that hasn’t aged great.

Nonetheless, after this, there be spoilers.

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The Man From Social Media Came Round

The man from social media came round to “check up,” he said, “on what we wanted”
I looked at my partner, thought awhile, and replied, “Just the usual I suppose
Pictures of dogs, some stuff to feel cultural, some videogame deals, stream or two,
but like, not of any shitlords”
He nodded

“Spiritually,” he asked, “do you have any spiritual needs, longings?”
I knew sort of what he was getting at, and I knew too I had to avoid being noticed
“Well I mean I don’t really think about it much,”
I said, as I tried not to start yelling about how the pope sucks arse
He nodded

“I could always use coronavirus updates,” I said, thinking maybe that’s what he wanted
“You know, just something to mix up the anxiety between rent cheques”
He ticked a box and looked up at me
“I see”
“Well,” I said, “I guess I’d like to know about how my friends’ jobs are doing” tick, “and their kids’ schoolwork,” tick, “um, parties, sort of,” he ticked, silent
“You know, all that stuff”

He turned to the next page “and… huge and deviant sexual longings?”
“That’s the AD, mate,” I said
But he went “Yeah, okay, I’ll be back with that form tomorrow
“Really fuckin’ interested, honestly, like, why can’t they ban the nazis-”
“Ah, well, we’ll put that as ‘yes.’ Music?”
“MP3 collection that’s still got weird filenames from napster”
“I mean, I read it, but I don’t own any books”
“How much stuff do you think you buy based on promoted tweets?”
“What do you think of Meghan Markle and Prince Harry?”
“Couldn’t give a fuck, mate”
“lol,” he said. “lmao, even.”
“Yeah, mate.”

He asked me to sign, and complete a capcha, telling me it was non-obligatory,
You know, for the purposes of verification only,
Next morning we got on the feed all we wanted, except for the Meghan Markle stuff

Original Text from TISM’sThe Man From Popular Culture Came Round.

Five Reasons You Shouldn’t Read Animorphs

There are two possible responses, I figure, from reading that title. The first is wait, what’s Animorphs? In which case I’m reminded that my fear that I talk too much about my interests is in fact, wrong. The other is hey, hang on, Talen, I thought you loved Animorphs, what gives?

What give is that I think that a good idea can stand up to scrutiny, and media is a series of communications between you and the people who made it, and the other people who consume it. The appeal of Animorphs, is, to me, a given: Rather, I think I’d like to be able to seriously make a case for why someone shouldn’t necessarily immediately love this series as I do.

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Game Pile: Final Fantasy VI

Oh hey, it’s Talen a PC gamer who didn’t have a console through the 90s talking about a classic of the form in a genre he’s normally pretty condescending towards and it’s an iconic masterwork of the genre so there’s a checklist of things you kind of have to talk about on the way through before you get to talk about whatever it is you want to talk about well guess that means we gotta blaze through the outline.

  • Brilliant classic
  • Inventive mechanics
  • Iconic music
  • Lively cast of interesting characters
  • Innovative MODE SEVENING
  • What’s the DEAL with how the first half of the game was a JRPG and the back half, a WESTERN RPG?
  • Did U Kno The American Release Was III?
  • Girl Hot
  • Other Girl Hot
  • Other Other Girl Hot
  • Boy…? Hot? Maybe?
  • Playstation port bad!
  • Steam port bad!
  • GBA port okay, really!
  • Suplexing A Train

With that list of the key and important details that are necessary to cover I have hopefully cut down a chunk of the mandatory word count for this article. After all, where will we be if I treat Final Fantasy 6 as something that you may already know about, or as some subject that you already probably can find other sources to explain?

I intend to spoil things about this game but I don’t imagine I actually will? Like, you may view it as a spoiler to mention ‘there’s a character named Effuzio in the story’ and that’s fine, but I don’t particularly plan on talking about the main thrust of the plot. Besides, if it helps you at all, the story of Final Fantasy 6 isn’t really that important, or even that interesting. Not the single, big, core narrative that runs from instigating incident to attention arrival to conclusion to denoument, no, that isn’t important. What’s important to me is the sequences of smaller stories that make up the whole of experience of this multi-hour JRPG mammoth of a story, the characters that are Final Fantasy VI.

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Talen Month 2021!

When allocating theme months, some are very easy. Pride Month wasn’t chosen by me, and Decemberween has to fall in December, because it’s in the name. Smooch Month ties to February, when people are marketing Valentines Day nonsense, and with all the spooky stuff we do in October, it only fits it naturally to get Dread Month. What this means is that of the six even numbered months in the year, four of them are already stitched up just fine. August gets Tricks month, because I like tricks, and I think it’s worth talking about them but I feel that if I talk about them all the time, the topic would run thin. Plus they’re kinda referential and you know what fuck you we do Tricks month because why not.

And that means there’s just April left.

And April is the month with Anzac day, a nationalistic holiday that makes me mad, and Easter, a religious holiday that also makes me mad. It’s also the month with my birthday in it, so… well, guess this gets to be Talen Month.

What I tend to use this month to do is either deep dives on subjects I care about or contentious topics that I’m only really getting involved in because I want to indulge the elements of myself that wants to pick fights. This may mean you get a month long examination of the Infinity Engine games starting with Baldur’s Gate 2 and ending with Planescape Torment, but it may also mean you get to see me yell at strangers on the internet in places I don’t go about their incorrect opinions on Magic: The Gathering as a ‘gacha game.

That said, you don’t need to be afraid of the idea that I’m about to present you with a raging analysis of Undertale, or She Ra. Neither of those ideas seem interesting to me right now so they’re just going to go by the wayside this month. Thankfully, both of these topics seem to have matured a little and nobody’s treating me like a failure to enjoy those media is a failure of me as a person. Thank you all for that.

What about stuff that’s coming? Well, this month, just to gear you up, I’m going to talk about some anime I love; I’m going to talk about Animorphs, I’m going to talk about music I’m fond of and how it upset people. I’m going to talk about watching sports! I’m going to talk about two different book series that impacted my life immensely by the same author. And I’m going to talk about a beloved videogame character when the time comes to talk about the How To Be entry for this month.

March 2021 Wrapup!

Curse this Smarch weather!

But March is over and we’re moving on to April! March lacks a theme, which means that anything I wrote in February and went: Hey hang on, this doesn’t relate, got bumped. And thus, I present to you something you can read that directs you to other stuff you can read, that’s all fun and good.

What did we get in the Game Pile? Two videos, and two text articles. The videos were on Second Sight, and how meritocracy is fake and Games Journalism is fundamentally broken, and on how Minecraft doesn’t have anything like Goblins and how that’s? interesting? I also tackled the digital Root board game and how it isn’t quite the same thing as the physical game, but how that can be a good thing, and finally, I took some time to take down Genewars, a 1996 RTS. Man, 90s RTSes are just a genre for me to poop on huh.

The Second Sight video was something I was pretty proud of, especially because there’s some techniques in that that I was afraid would look dumb and bad and it didn’t.  The process of turning a 1500 word article into a video produces a video of about that length, which I think is good, since it means that there’s no reason to just list a series of things that happen in the game and to instead try to focus on what the game is trying to do.

In my efforts to not just become an anime review blog, I wrote about some deliberately oddball stuff. I talked about Chess, a really good musical that fits almost too well into modern discourse about what gamers think matter. I briefly talked about Until This Shakes Apart, a new album by Five Iron Frenzy I’ve been listening to in parts to repeat for months now. I got a single anime article in with The Ascendance Of A Bookworm, which I love a lot and will still use to tease Nixie. I talked a little bit about the way medium influences content with the book series of the Muddle-Headed Wombat. And finally, just a few days ago, I talked about complicated feelings around the series Black Books, which was made by a dreadful dickhead.

What else do I recommend you check out this month? Well, there are two pieces that were put up as part of a sort of ‘Hi, I like you and I like knowing what you like’ Birthday celebration: my article on being Edelgard in 4e D&D, and my article on the Hindren in 4e D&D. These were both little hat-tips to friends near their birthdays, and it seems they were well received, but they also were just, you know good content for if you’re into 4e D&D. While we’re talking about building in other games’ spaces, I wrote about how I use ‘pushed’ when talking about custom magic cards and how Competeitive Commander is essentially building its own game in another game.

On other topics, there’s an article about The Games Of Orcs, which is worldbuilding for nonhuman cultures in fantasy settings. This was really fun to research and involves a lot of thought about the sheer mechanisms of what goes into folk games. I also wrote about how to handle gods based on my own thinking for the gods of Cobrin’Seil, and there’s a piece about how character creation needs to avoid Owlbear Traps because they don’t work.

Game-making practice, there’s one big one: I broke down the rules of my game Die Rich after finally, finally, finally getting a chance to playtest it with some real humans. Also, Fox and I talk about how we’d design Pokemon to fill some holes in the type lineup. It’s a long conversation, about an hour, but you might like it!

Finally, I did write about three equally important political topics; that a dedication to nonviolence doesn’t mean an abdication of a willingness to use force, that Rush Limbaugh is fucking dead, and that Garfield is probably white and Heathcliff is probably black.

Next up, here’s this month’s T-Shirt. Thanks to 2020 I never got to show students my original Naruto-style did you check the subject outline, but I wore it to class this year and they loved it, so it inspired another, updated version of the same idea. I expect I’ll make more on this theme.

March has featured some illness, which in our current situation kind of slowed things down more than I expected. I have two classes going this semester, and they’re both exciting and interesting and I’m talking to students who seem to be split into ‘let me pass and let me out’ and ‘I am genuinely interested in this,’ which is a good split to have. An important piece of PhD documentation got completed and handed in and now I’ve been working on the research part of that, which is exciting. I’m basically finding I have a little more time than I thought I did – that the kind of administrative work of the research project is less arduous than the work I’m enjoying doing, which kind of stands to reason. I even participated in a twitter event with other educators, about games, and got to get them to read ‘Gamification is Bullshit,’ which is


Weirdly, I know I said this last month, but another friend had to bow out of a game I was running. In this case, it wasn’t mental health, it’s that they’re a parent to a two year old, and time in the evenings has become precious. Oh well!

MTG: March’s Custom Cards: Boros Blessings!

March is over, and as I’ve been doing so far this year, it’s time for another round of custom cards! Despite what you may think if you’ve dealt with me on the subreddit, I am not against white getting good stuff. In fact, I’m a firm believer in white’s weakness in Commander presenting an exciting area to put new and interesting things rather than just recoloured Concentrate. It goes even moreso for Boros, where I see their flavour space as full of interesting potential, that largely goes untapped as people just try to fix their problems with the same simple tools of ‘but what if blue,’ and ‘what if I make something overpowered?’ Thus, this month, I’m back to the ‘what about white in multiplayer?’ hobby horse, and we’re looking at Boros Cards. Some quick rules on this front:

  • Not overusing mechanics. There are a lot of good mechanics for making colours with mixed colour identities, like infusing spells like Boros Fury Shield, but I didn’t want to overuse anything. Most keywords are used once, some are used twice.
  • No new keywords. I’m rarely a fan of inventing a keyword when existing keywords are here for exploration.
  • No cycles. These are individual cards for adding to commander decks.

The most popular of the cards, at this point is the Crownbreaker Partisan, a card I was worried was a little weak. I think the complain I found the most ridiculous this time was sniping about the Solimancy Forgecrafter, a white card that improves efficiency, and needs red to copy things.

Story Pile: Black Books

Black Books is a short British TV series, available on Netflix and other less reputable streaming services, that was made in 2000 through to 2004. It means that this series is twenty years old and oh goodness me I am old now.

The series Black Books follows the … let’s be very generous and say ‘life’ of Bernard Black, a second hand bookstore owner in London who hates his job and hates his customers and hates having to do his taxes and hates restocking. It is, on a very deep level, an entire sitcom oriented around the story of a misanthropic shopfront owner, which may read as very true to life if you’ve ever encountered this kind of shopowner. Now, he’d be content to just boil away in his horribleness on his own, occasionally prodded into activity by his ‘friend’ next door, Fran, but then one day, circumstances bring Manny Bianco, a bohemian accountant into his life shortly before an incident of violent assault by some skinheads.

It’s a show that does a lot of weird stuff without spending a lot of money on doing weird stuff. You’re more likely to get weird people saying weird things than special effects, but it does a good job of showing off those weird things.

Black Books is one of those small-cast, small-season British comedy shows that leaves the more sitcom-oriented viewers wondering where the rest of the show went – you can watch all eighteen episodes and think ‘oh that was a short season,’ only to find that was the whole show.

It’s really good, it’s funny, it doesn’t overstay its welcome, and you’ll see, if you watch it, a small who’s who of British comedy people from twenty years ago, people who have since moved on to do solo shows or more prominent roles on their own. Particularly there’s the excellent Bill Bailey’s Guide To The Orchestra, which should be available for free on Youtube at the moment. Dylan Moran’s done solo shows and Tamsyn Grieg went on to lead Green Wing. Great stuff all.



We’re done, right?



Content Warning: Transphobes

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The Circumbendibus of Haruhi Suzumiya

Anime is an art movement that has encapsulated thousands of different competing threads and there’s no true centralising canon because it’s fragmented across all sorts of cultural anchor points. Australians of my age that are into anime so often got started because Aggro’s Cartoon Connection screened Sailor Moon, the ABC screened Astro Boy, Cheez TV screened Teknoman and SBS, in the late 90s, screened Neon Genesis Evangelion, meaning that those four anime are sometimes seen as ‘common ground’ topics. Common ground for one age bracket in one country, and even then, only sometimes.

There are some events that can be looked upon, in the english-speaking anime fandom, though, in terms of their impact on shared cultural spaces, typically conventions, but also just, anime releases that somehow managed to be widespread enough at the right time that they became foundation to the conversation. The big three of Naruto, Bleach and One Piece. Evangelion movies. Fullmetal Alchemist, then Fullmetal Alchemist again. A collection of trans girls and boys and nonbinary people that can trace a lineage from Ranma 1/2 through to Kampfer and Haku and Soul Eater and maybe a few tracing lines to Vandread.

There is a category of people I can annoy enormously by responding to a Touhou picture with which anime is this from?

There’s only so much room for any given series to suck up a lot of the oxygen in the fandom space. You can’t typically have five or six ‘big name’ anime that ‘everyone’ has an opinion on. One of those ‘event’ Anime, that rose, became incredibly prominent, and then deformed the culture at large, becoming one of the rings in the tree trunk that is this strange cultural enclaves, was the enormous franchise known as Haruhi Suzumiya.

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How To Be: Edelgard von Hresvelg (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.

Now this month, we’re going to return to How To Be’s roots, and once more we’re looking at a character from Fire Emblem: Some Number Of Houses. Yes, it’s the gal who’s Horny For Priest Murder (And For Other Reasons), the Look Up Other Reasons People Like Her, the One, the Only: Edelgard von Not Pronouncing That!

Game Pile: Gene Wars

Genewars is a 1996 videogame release from games industry innovator and technology boundary pusher Bullfrog, at the height of their heady, genre-establishing, world-shaking PC gaming juggernaut status, overseen by the pandimensional fish-hoarding gamer genius explorer boy and repeated game revolutionary Peter Molyneux. After inventing the God Game genre with Populous, the RTS genre with Powermonger, perfecting the spatial management game with Theme Park, redefining flight simulator games with Magic Carpet and creating the fantastically engaging real-time squad based strategy dystopian cyberpunk offend-em-up Syndicate, but just before all-purpose warm-fuzzy-feelings inspiring Dungeon Keeper, Bullfrog announced a new RTS game called Genewars.

The premise of Genewars up front was that you weren’t going to buy units from a list, like some kind of plebian, Commanding and Crafting. You were going to create your own units, based on stitching together the DNA of species on the planet, and the possibilities were endless.

And from this perfected and extremely shiny forehead of Peter Molyneux, what could spring, but excellence?

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4e: The Hindren

Hindren are a type of cervitaur (‘part deer, part-humanoid, with four legs and two arms’) people you can meet in the indie videogame Caves of Qud. They’re originally a fan creation by indie bespoke curio crafter Caelyn Sandel, before they were implemented in the game proper in part thanks to the efforts of new Caves of Qud writer Caelyn Sandel, which meant they were present in the game to be streamed by Grahu-Rubufo, the Caves of Qud vtuber (voice acted by Caelyn Sandel).

Here, in this article here, is a version of the Hindren that you can bring to the table in your D&D games, as long as you’re playing 4th edition and have a DM that’s understanding about gay deers. Why now? Why am I doing this? Because it’s someone‘s birthday soon, and she’s lovely, and I like what she does.

Art Source: Phineas Klier. Don’t like the watermark? Go check out his work, it’s clean and big there!

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The Unused Pokemon Types, with Fox Lee (@MunchlaxRegrets)

This audio was originally recorded in March 2020. The intention was to use this audio, along with some video editing of our own original art, to demonstrate the designs we had in mind. Turns out that was a bad time to commit ourselves to a big project idea that maybe required drawing lots of art.

Nonetheless, here’s an hour and change of Fox and I discussing the different unused Pokemon types, and what we’d do to fill those design spaces, and how the ice type sucks.

Story Pile: The Muddle-Headed Wombat

There are fifteen books that could be called Muddle-headed Wombat books. They have such titles as The Muddle-Headed Wombat And The Invention and The Muddle-Headed Wombat Is Very Bad. They are all pretty simple and formulaic narratives following the central character of Wombat, who is muddle-headed, his best friend Tabby, who is convinced that nobody in the world has suffered like him, and his other best friend, Mouse, who is a Mouse.

The stories follow a pretty consistent pattern: Wombat gets an idea inspired by some passing fancy or local event, and tries to get involved, gets it all a bit wrong because he’s a bit stupid, the friends have a bit of a tiff because someone is being a jerk, and then they sort it out by communicating and forgiving one another for their very understandable limitations. They all go home and have lemonade, or a tea cake, or something.

It’s all very low-stakes high-emotion narrative, because it’s aimed at five year olds, but it has a sort of easygoing charm that makes it easy to enjoy as an older reader. Oh, the plots aren’t interesting, not in a truly complex way, but there’s a lot to be said about the way that the stories put weight on finding fault and blame – there’s a lot of effort put in the way the stories flow that the story seldom treats accidents or happenstance as a get out clause for a character being a dickhead to someone else.

Iiiii love this character. I love the illustrations, I love the language, I love the charming simplicity of it all, and I love the way the stories breeze on by. I love the people who respond to this character by laughing and remembering his silly phrases or the way he fell about and kicked his fat little legs in the air. It’s so wombatty with Wombat’s stubbornness and his near indestructibility meaning that he’s not in danger of harm as much as he is in danger of upsetting someone or being upset. It’s a story full of feelings!

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Iteration on Experience

I play Picross pretty regularly. It’s a simple little game that my computer can pull up in a browser window and then I can belt through a game, or fail at it, very quickly. It’s something I’ve been doing pretty much on and off since Fox got me into the game in a waiting room at a doctor’s.

Picross, or a nonogram, is something I’ve written about in the past. The tool I use generates random ones within a particular difficulty grade, and you can ramp it up or remove elements that make it easier whenever you feel you need to. For me, this means that my personal limit on picrosses is around 15×15, no-mistake wins, with the occasional exception for unwinnables. I’m not amazing at them, but they’re functionally infinite and I don’t find myself holding onto great examples so I can share them around.

Though maybe I should.

Chances are if you’re on youtube, you’ve seen some of those specialised channels for dealing with particularly dense, high-potential games like Chess, where there are dozens and dozens of chess channels that want to break down famous games, or explore potential games, or just talk about games in progress as puzzles. In this space, there’s the fairly well known Cracking the Cryptic, which does Sudoku puzzles (and other things, they promise, but, I mostly see Sudoku puzzles).

I haven’t picked up Sudoku as a skill, mind you: I’ve just been observing it, from this other channel, and something I find most interesting is the ways that the people involved get very familiar with making intuitive leaps that they then explain. They’re not guessing – they just see solutions, and then they have to back-fill the explanation, to bring you along with them on their path of logic.

When I start on Picross now, I tend to see how quickly I can get the basics laid down – I know the numbers that matter the most to the kind of things I can do, I’m familiar with certain patterns that reach further than you think, and that means that I have tools that make approaching a Picross puzzle a little bit quicker. Not fast by any means, but it gets some of that initial friction out of the way.

Tonight, as Youtube brought on another Cracking the Cryptic to me, the puzzle involved ‘thermometers’ and that yielded someone describing the way you can slide numbers forwards and back, but you have limited space, and that gives you information you can work from. It was a small detail, but it made me sit up and go: Oh, like 4s in those regions.

And just like that, I was seeing the way these skills translate. I didn’t study Picross, I just played it a lot. Playing it a lot resulted in familiarity. Familiarity made it easier to play a lot. The systems of games feeding one another, and only when you put that in a different context do you see the way that familiarity can be turned into actionable, practical, pragmatic result.

CoX: Brambles

Time to time, I write up an explication of characters I’ve played in RPGs or made for my own purpose.  This is an exercise in character building and creative writing.

In the fey realms, there are courts; courts overseen by great powers, lords of realms or even of ideas themselves. The greatest and vastest powers, strange and incommunicable, are overseen by the Great Courts, with the fey royalty, the names people know, the names so important that they slip through even into the mortal’s realms.

But one court, the Court of Voids, lays hidden and secret, ancient beyond even the knowing of the Fae. A mystery of mysteries, with its Secret Queen, She Who Touches As Iron. Precious and few are the fey of this court, paying fealty to this secret queen, with blessings of stealth, secrets, combat and healing for the maimed.

His name, he says, is Brambles, and he lays fealty to this Secret Queen. But the Secret Queen wants secrets and justice – and where better to find those than the City of Heroes? 

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T-shirt: Did You Check The Subject Outline, Sci Fi Version

First up, the design:

I have a shirt like this already, which I wore to my first of one of two classes this year. When I did, students all reacted positively to it, and I am an absolute sucker for even the most modest elements of praise. And so, here’s another familiar design that builds on this same joke.

Here it is, check it out on models:

You can buy this design on Redbubble with Blue Text, Yellow Text,White Text, and Black Text.

The Games of Orcs

In Homo Ludens, Johan Huizinga argues that it is not that games are a byproduct of culture, but that games represent the defining aspects of the formation of culture. That is, ‘making games’ and ‘playing’ are things you do before you get to the stage of having ‘a culture.’ And that’s exactly as much as we should listen to Huizinga about what and who counts as having ‘a culture,’ because it gets a touch yikesy with all the colonialism.

Nonetheless, Huizinga does argue that games are part of the formation of culture, and he suggests the way that animals with proto-cultures play games is itself a step on that path towards creating a culture. Wolves and birds play with one another to learn, and that implies that there’s a connection between playing and learning, and learning, the assumption runs, turns into civilisation and waistcoats and brandy eventually.

I don’t think that Huizinga was a furry, but I’m saying he’d see top-hat wearing waistcoated werewolves and go ‘yes, that.’

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The Tragedy of Big Willie

There’s this song. It’s called Big Willie Broke Jail.

Song’s pretty cool, I like it, I like some of the subtle details about it – like this is about a community being deputised to deal with a dangerous criminal, rather than about ‘the cops’ doing it. It’s got a good rhythm to it, and if I, an uneducated person on the matter, might call it ‘Mexican.’ This is the earliest version by a guy called Gus Backus, who is primarily known nowadays as a Schlager singer in Germany. He passed away in 2019.

I don’t like this version, not really? It’s a recording from the 1960s, and it shows – the mixing makes him sound kinda ‘soft’ and underwater, his enunciation isn’t quite my style, and while the music is fun, it’s a bit simple-sounding? I don’t mean to sound like I know how to do better, but I just know I like music that feels a bit more like the people involved are having fun. Definitely a 1960s country song style.

And now, unbelievably, Content Warning: some mentions of child sexual assault.

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Story Pile: Ascendance of a Bookworm

It’s something of a meme that ‘light novel series’ is a subgenre of anime that throws up some warning signs. It shouldn’t – after all, two of my favourite anime of all time are both from light novels, but traditionally the field of light novels are known as being primarily harem or isekai anime, often being quickly produced to cash in on recognisable or marketable characters. Often these characters have some particular visual motif that makes them very recognisable and makes for good merch opportunities. Well, Ascendance of a Bookworm is an anime that started its life as a series of light novels, and it is an isekai, and it features a recognisable main character who has a lot of good merch opportunities.

It’s just that she’s also five.

The premise! Urano Mototsu, college nerd and bibliophile dies in a hilarious bookshelf-collapsing incident during an earthquake. Upon her death, she wakes up in a new body, in a fantasy kingdom, which should be considered rather rad, except Urano was not someone who lusted after adventure in fantasy kingdoms, she lusted after books which are pointedly absent in this fantasy kingdom, and her new body, Myne, is also five years old.

What you then follow is a sequence of narratives about a five year old girl personally trying to catapult herself up the tech tree in order to have access to books, even if she has to prompt industrial revolutions to do it.

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MTG: It’s Tough To Be Competitive (When The Format Doesn’t Want You To Be)

Everyone plays Magic in their own way. The game serves as a platform for players to find one another, but even the people who engage with that platform in ways that seem the same are still approaching it in different ways. Players are simply too complex, motivations to play are too varied, and the game itself is too complicated for two players to sit down and truly want and expect the exact same thing out of the game as they play, and formats and rules and social responsiveness are tools we have to make sure people are at least engaging with one another on a reasonably equal level. The utility of the game is that the game sets rules and boundaries that players can use to meaningfully communicate their own parameters, making it easier to dial into what they want out of the experience.

Knowing that, it’s got to be rough to be into Competitive Commander, or, as it’s known, CEDH.

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