October 2007 Archives

Here's a hint...

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...if you work for a living, you are too fucking old to be wearing a costume at work on Halloween (unless that IS your job anyway).  Every year when this lovely holiday rolls around, there are people who dress up in costume, often extremely lame ones, and come on in to work.  It's time to grow the hell up people.  Seriously.  You're not in grade school anymore, where everyone dresses up for Halloween and goes on parade through school.  You're not at a party with your friends.  You are at your goddamn job.

Yes, I know I'm Captain Crankypants today anyway, thanks to stress of many different sorts and my lovely hormone shot yesterday, but this has driven me crazy for years.  Yes, I know I strangled my inner child to death sometime between middle school and sophomore or junior year of high school, but come on.  I can't be the only one who thinks this.  I am fine with dressing up in costume and going to Halloween parties or whatever (Monday's Chuck was friggin' hilarious), but at work...gah.  I don't want to have a meeting with someone in a stupid Batman costume.  I don't want to be accosted by Godzilla in the hallway while trying to get to my office.  So grow the hell up and keep your stupid costumes for some other more appropriate venue.
As you may have noticed, the blog has suffered in the last two weeks since I broke the one-post-per-day rule, and that certainly is not helping things at all.  And a while back, I mentioned an idea I had for some Cthulhu Rising fiction using a character I first came up with in college.  Well, both those things are sort of putting a fire under my butt to do something to fix both those problems.  As a result, I'm going to go back and work on writing this story as a serial and posting it on my blog in chunks of a few thousand words each, maybe with a bit of analysis to see how it fits into the larger Cthulhu Rising world.

Part of the intent of the story is a fleshing out of Delta Green in the Cthulhu Rising setting, so if you have played or read Delta Green before you may recognize some of the elements of the game within it.  At the moment, the exact status of Delta Green in Cthulhu Rising hasn't quite been fleshed out, so this may not be entirely canon, but since I'm taking part in the discussion of how to develop Delta Green in the setting, hopefully it will be close at least.  With any luck, the first episode will be showing up on the blog in a week or two.
This weekend I went up to Ashland, OH to help run a game of NSDM being sponsored by the university there.  I had a good time and it was an interesting experience for sure, being the first time I've actually really spent much time in Ohio and also the first time I've helped out with an NSDM event outside of GenCon.  Aside from having a good time though, I felt pretty good about being asked to help out in the first place, especially since I have only really been involved with NSDM in any real capacity for a couple years.

My iPod has decided to die on me, so I was listening to the radio on the drive over there, and I have to say that going to Ohio is a bit of a change from Champaign.  Radio-wise, when you're looking for something to listen to that is like what you usually listen to back home, you run into a lot of stuff on the way that is...unusual.  I don't think I've ever heard quite as many Christian music/talk stations before as I heard on the trip through west Indiana and Ohio, and the conservative bias even on the commercial music stations (one of which was evidently having Ann Coulter as a guest on their morning show in the upcoming week, which I would find hard to fathom here in Champaign) was pretty weird.  In terms of terrain, I didn't realize Ohio was as hilly as it was either; I got to experience the lovely weightless queasiness of cresting a steep hill for the first time in quite a while.  I also discovered that Columbus is a lot bigger than I thought it was; I thought it was maybe twice as big as Champaign or Springfield, but I think it's probably a lot closer to Indianapolis or St. Louis than either of those.

As far as the NSDM game went, we had originally planned to run three cells, the US, the PRC, and Iran.  However, we had a few less players than anticipated and ended up only running the US and Iran.  Even so, it was still a good game, with a lot of stuff happening (too much at times, it seemed to some of us), helped out largely by the new US cell design Ed Rollins came up with.  The old cell used mostly members of the executive branch and actually marginalized the role of Congress as much as possible, mostly because getting anything passed was gigantic hassle, and it was hard to have enough people to adequately staff Congress.  The new cell made most of the cell members of the legislature (and didn't bother splitting it into House and Senate), and allowed them to adjust various parts of the budget rather than force endless hashing out of the budget between Congress and the president (I think -- I admit that I missed the explanation of the cell, so I wasn't clear on all the details).  The end result was that the budget didn't take up nearly as much time as it used to, which gave the US players a lot more time to actually work on legislation and getting things done.

And get things done they did.  The US cell got to learn the hard way that social change can't happen overnight.  The first things the US Congress decided to make the center of its social policies (reflecting, I suspect, the conservative leanings of Ashland University's student body) were outlawing affirmative action in all its forms, locking down the borders and banning all immigration, and cutting corporate taxes by a third.  Of course, they didn't seem to have anticipated the uproar this caused with minorities and unions -- it didn't take long before there were marches and strikes all over the country.  Riots broke out not long after as racial tensions continued to rise without abate (leading to the quote that heads this entry), and then when they finally got them under control (mostly by repealing or relaxing the legislation in the first place), they had to deal with the backlash from the far right, including white supremacists.  All in all, a nice mess, and that was just their domestic policies....

Meanwhile, in Iran, we had an 8 year old who was the Hizbollah player (and for a very brief time, the president of Iran) who was getting just a little too excited about blowing things up and causing trouble for everyone else, radical students/professors who started a worldwide smallpox epidemic when their personal biological warfare program blew up in their face, Iranian business and industry that managed to basically do whatever they want (including sell a good deal of oil to the US, somehow), and a nuclear program that was destroyed by a US-sponsored Israeli attack that they couldn't really respond to because a good deal of the population was in the throes of the aforementioned smallpox outbreak.  At the end of the game, the theocrats were pushing to invade Iraq (which the US was trying to abandon as quickly as possible, while defunding the military's strategic transport and naval budgets) when the army and most of the rest of the country decided they had had about enough of them and seized power.

It was a good game, probably on par with the average GenCon one, though i am really getting less and less fond of the closed-door policy in many of the more repressive cells.  Iran had its door closed for most of the game, which really hurt information flow -- it took them almost half an hour to realize that members of their diplomatic staff had been detained by the US government for espionage activities, and it took them way longer than it should have for them to respond to the smallpox outbreak because they weren't talking to anyone outside the country.  Having played in a North Korean cell during GenCon, which is probably the most closed of the closed society cells, I can say that you really do miss out on a lot.  For me as a player, most of the game is interacting with the other players, and when you are stuck dealing with only a relatively tiny number of people (especially when, as when I played as part of North Korea, it is a shark tank with everyone angling to off the rest of the cell), the game experience suffers.  I hope that we can come up with a better mechanic to represent that, instead of just locking out an entire cell.

I am definitely looking forward to playing or facilitating again soon; it's a shame that I don't think I can make it to Fall In or Cold Wars.  I'm going to try to make it to Origins and GenCon (again) next year, but that all depends on ye olde financial situation, which is a bit up in the air these days.  Still, seeing as how there's at least 2-3 NSDM staffers that live in Columbus, Origins might not be out of the question even on a tight budget.  After seeing how things went this weekend, I'm definitely curious how an Origins game is different from a GenCon one.

EPIC FAIL.

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So I realize this morning that I had made no blog post at all yesterday, bringing to an end the streak of blog posts I started when I began this a little more than a month ago.  It's a bit disappointing really -- I didn't even think about blogging last night, I just sort of crashed into bed after messing with Second Life for a while.  On the other hand, I think a lot of my posts were getting pretty lame, and I'm sure my audience of three people and 1047 spammers was getting a little bored with the feeble posts.  So, in a way, I'm kind of glad the streak was broken.  I guess I'll continue to try to make a post every day, but I'll shoot for an average, and not post just to post.  Hopefully that will bring the quality up a little without bringing the quantity down too much.

I have been messing with Second Life for the last few days, after ordering the Second Life Official Guide from Amazon (or, as they seem to spell it, the "Officical Guide") on benoc's recommendation.  So far, it's been a rather clumsy effort on my part and I still haven't quite figured out what it's all about; I'll probably write some more and expand on my thoughts in the next few days.
So today I beat Episode 2 and Portal; still some possible spoilers, so I'll put the rest of my thoughts behind the cut.  If you haven't beaten them, don't peek!  It's better if you don't.
So Halflife 2: Episode 2 came out today, and I admit this is sneaking in just under the wire because I've spent roughly the last 5 hours playing it, with a short break to watch some TV. So what do I think of it so far?  I'll put it behind the cut, just in case it gets spoilery.


In most MMOs, there exists the phenomenon of the "alt."  I have always hated the idea of alts, especially since I play Eve Online as a bit more of an RPG than a lot of other people do.  I think that having a second character is really not good for the game in terms of how much it encourages metagaming; in a strict RP atmosphere, you would have to keep those two characters perfectly separate to prevent what probably comes closest to "cheating" in an RP-heavy game.  That's why many games that enforce strict RP generally simply don't allow more than one account (well, they at least try to thwart it).  I also think that it dilutes the focus on your main character, because you aren't playing them to the best of your ability.  It also means that restrictions on your main character -- for instance, in Eve, if your sec status is low enough, you can't fly to the highsec markets -- mean nothing, because you can make an alt to get around those relatively easily.  And it makes spying much easier than it would be otherwise, or at least the consequences for getting caught would be much higher.

Unfortunately, for pay-for-play games, multiple accounts is good for business.  More accounts means more money and higher subscriber numbers, which are both good things for companies to show to investors.  That means that alts aren't just allowed, in many cases they are encouraged.  In Eve, for instance, the number of people running multiple accounts is probably at least close to 50%.  Because you can't just grind a character up to the top of the game in a week, many players have second, third, fourth, even fifth and sixth accounts to have characters with various specialties.  Some people (notably the ubiquitous macrominers, Eve's version of the gold farmer) have a half dozen accounts to run medium-scale mining operations all on their own.

Currently, CCP is running a promotion where you can get six months of a second account for 50 bucks, in the hope that you'll start your second account and then keep it after the six months are over.  For the longest time I have been vehement in my distaste for this but now I'm being tempted to give this a shot, for a variety of reasons.  I'd like to get a freighter and do some trading, but I don't really want to take away from my main character's training time, and because having a freighter alt in a non-wardeccable NPC corp is much safer, I'd rather have my hauling character not be in a player corp.  Another character would also mean I could do more research.  I could even use it to train up alts and then shift them to my main account (since you can't train two characters on the same account at the same time).  Should I do it?  I don't know.

I was discussing it with Jeremy, whose feelings are much the same as mine, but he gave in to the temptation a while ago.  He says that you should continue to complain about it and try to get the problem changed, but that not getting that second account keeps you at a big disadvantage.  This sounds to me like "everyone else is doing it, so why don't we?"  I just don't know if I want to compromise my principles like that.  Unfortunately, the more I think about it the more I think it would be a good idea, and I'm worried that before the beginning of November (when the offer expires) I'm going to give in.  I really hate that the whole business model is geared towards this sort of thing -- is it inevitable?  There has to be a way to discourage this sort of thing, but honestly, I can't think of one, other than charging a premium for a strict RP atmosphere, and that that is a small enough market already.
So today my dad came over and we put in most of the new floor in my soon-to-be office.  It looks really great -- better even than I expected even.  The color works very well with the red walls, and it's not so dark that it feels like being in a cave.  It didn't even take that long after we got the first few rows in.  Unfortunately, we ran into a little snag.

When I bought the flooring, I got seven boxes of flooring because they were supposed to be about 22 square feet each.  However, it turns out that the boxes actually have a little over 14 square feet instead.  So we ran out just before we got to the far wall.  Tad bit annoying really, since I took the day off (and my dad spent his Columbus Day here helping me out).  So now I have a room that is almost done, but not quite.

On the upside, it turns out I overestimated how much I needed, so I only need one more box of flooring, and since I paid by the square foot, and I got about two-thirds of the square footage I actually ordered, I'm getting a refund of about a hundred and fifty bucks, and the other box of flooring I needed is getting here tomorrow.  Hopefully we can get that in by the end of the month.  Once I get that done, I just have to get the trim and the door replaced.  I'm really looking forward to seeing what the whole room will look like -- I'll probably borrow my dad's camera when it's done and post some pictures.

This weather sucks.

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It's almost a third of the way through October and I've had my A/C on all weekend.  Now, I'm well aware that global warming is a climatological phenomenon and not a meteorological one, and that one hot weekend in October does not a trend make, but I certainly hope this is not the shape of things to come.  My dad says the pond in back of their house is halfway dry, and I know it certainly seems like this year has been warmer than most.  At this point, I'm ready for it to get into the 50s and 60s for the fall.  Looks like I'll get my wish by Wednesday.

I think the reason I most love spring and fall these days is actually more because of fashion than anything else.  I miss jackets.  I like long sleeved shirts and turtlenecks.  I like being able to wear jeans and not sweat to death.  And I'm looking forward to finally being able to wear that leather jacket Mel convinced me to buy this summer.  Hopefully it will not look too stormtrooper-esque.  I am going to miss eating and drinking on the patio at Guido's, but on the other hand, cooler temps might make the walk downtown a bit more viable as well.

It's one of the reasons I'd really like to move somewhere with a less crazy climate -- I'm really getting tired of the broiling hot summers and the bonechilling winters.  Somewhere where it doesn't get too warm or too hot would be nice, as long as it still has seasons.
Since I spent Thursday night checking out Second Life, and Friday night playing Guitar Hero with Jeremy and Jen, the last two new shows I decided to throw on the TiVo were put off until this weekend -- Big Shots, the "Sex and the City with guys" starring Christopher Titus and Josh Malina (among others), and Moonlight, the new vampire PI show.  For what I thought, you can look behind the cut.
There's a maxim among the Eve roleplaying community known as the Garreck Doctrine, which goes "everything you do in game can be considered roleplaying."  In other words, anything anyone does in Eve, whether they consider themselves a roleplayer or not, is roleplaying.  This has been largely embraced by many members of the roleplaying community and basically treated as fact, but I have to wonder myself.  For me, roleplaying involves some inherent effort, or at least recognition of what you're doing.  I don't think "everyone roleplays" in Eve -- to say so dilutes the meaning somewhat in my mind.

The refutation of this is, of course, that you can't simply ignore the parts of the game you don't like as a roleplayer.  I can't say "well, those pirates aren't roleplayers, so I'll just ignore them."  You have to treat what is happening in the game as "real world events," at least as far as your character is concerned.  On the other hand, there's clearly some things that aren't roleplaying and can be treated differently or ignored as the case warrants; people talking about football scores in local, or asking for help with game mechanics questions, for instance.  I don't try to speak to a newbie asking how to fit a ship (as in, open the fitting screen, not asking what to put on it) as if he really was simply a clueless pilot.  I don't try to come up with a complicated roleplaying explanation -- I just say "click on the button with the symbol on it in your station panel."

I also don't think a person is roleplaying in the game just because they are playing -- obviously, you are "playing a role" of a starship captain, but for me, it's all about perception.  I think most people who play Eve and are not roleplayers don't see their characters are really that distinct from themselves, and don't think "I'm playing a starship captain in a virtual world," they think "I'm just playing a game where I blow up other people's space ships."  It's a subtle difference, but one which I think is quite key to the whole idea of roleplaying.

On the other hand, I agree that a roleplayer must take pretty much everything that they see or do as something real as far as their character is concerned.  The enemy is using alt scouts on gates?  Well, you can't cry foul and whine -- it's pretty lame (at least in my mind), but as far as CCP is concerned, it's legitimate gameplay.  Your character needs to accept that her enemies have hired these pilots to sit on gates and report back, and deal with those pilots in that way.  Whether that means berate them in local, shoot at them, avoid them, or whatever, you must treat that alt scout as a real person within the game, in the service of their "benefactors."  You can certain complain, OOC, about those things, and say that they hurt the gameplay, but so long as they are in the game, your character needs to treat them as real.

By the same token, my feelings are that if something isn't done in the context of the game, it's not worth talking about.  If you aren't very good at PvP, don't talk about how you're a veteran of countless battles.  If you barely have a penny to your name and just started playing the other day, don't talk about how you're more powerful than anyone else can imagine.  It just makes you look ludicrous.

Hrm....this is getting a little ranty, and I'm having some trouble with Steam....so I think I'm going to cut this off for now.  I'm sure, however, that this will be a topic I'll return to later.
It's been twenty years since Infocom ruled the gaming industry and what's now become known as interactive fiction was the pinnacle of the computer gaming field.  I have many fond memories of playing Zork and the other Infocom titles, as well as the MUDs that were their multiplayer offspring.  My first step onto the internet as a whole was actually when I dialed in to the university's modem pool (back when they were wide open and everyone trusted everyone else) and played the old IlliniMUD at speedy.cs.  That, of course, led to MUDding for me as a more general hobby; I was an Armageddon and Harshlands junkie in college, among others.  Some of my fondest roleplaying experiences (and most embarrassing ones too, in retrospect) were on those MUDs.

Now, it's been years since I've played a MUD really, and I admit most of my games that I buy and play now have flashy graphics, and I look down my nose at games with poor ones.  Part of me though, still misses the simplicity of those text based games, and it's mostly due to the way a text interface combines the best of simplicity and depth.  As a writer (at least an amateur one), a text interface gave me so much more power to create a vivid description than I can with any sort of graphical interface, and with unbelievable speed and flexibility.  What brought this to my mind tonight is that I'm trying out Second Life after being prodded by benoc for a few weeks now, and it is far more complicated to create an avatar that matches what I see in my mind's eye than it would be for me to write a description of what I want her to look like.

Now I'm still learning the interface, the terminology (is a skin just the textures on the model, or does it include the body shape?), and how to get around and what's there, but I have a hard time believe that even a talented artist can whip out a good avatar in the same time it would take me to write a good, detailed description of what I want.  Now add on top the difficulty with actions....

Just for example, imagine you wanted to translate the following exchange from a MUD like Armageddon to the same thing happening in something like Second Life or Neverwinter Nights:

The dusky, grey-eyed man brushes cobwebs away from the doorway, peering inside with his torch.

The dusky, grey-eyed man says:
       "It doesn't look like anyone's been here in years."

The alabaster-skinned, auburn-haired woman frowns slightly, nervously rubbing the gold locket around her neck with one hand.

The athletic, raven-haired man says:
       "Then our prize may still be here.  Come!"

The athletic, raven-haired man pushes his way past the dusky, grey-eyed man and strides confidently through the doorway, his torch held out in front of him.
Now, that's not exactly the world's most complicated interaction ever, and none of those emotes required a particularly huge amount of effort on my part to write.  But in order to do something like that in Second Life, aside from the effort involved in creating the avatars and the environments, you'd have to custom scripts for the brushing the cobwebs out of the way or peering inside with his torch, and a custom animation for the other man to walk "confidently" (not exactly an objective description that's easy to translate either), and a custom script for the woman to rub her locket.  I'm pretty sure all that would take longer than the 5 minutes it took me to come up with that scene and write it out.  I'm not even sure you could do something like that with an even less flexible environment like Neverwinter Nights.  Furthermore, when you make those custom scripts, you can't be sure how someone is going to take it, whereas when another person reads that description instead, their mind shows them exactly what you want to convey.

For that reason, as much as I'd really like to, I don't think it's going to be possible to translate the tabletop gaming experience (or even the MUDding experience) to the computer anytime soon.  It's also my big frustration with Second Life at the moment (all three hours of it I've messed with).  When text was king, I felt pretty happy with the way I presented myself and it was infinitely customizable.  When graphics are king, I'm just another peasant thanks to my complete lack of artistic ability.
Wednesday night has rolled around and sadly, this year we don't get Lost and Jericho, at least for a while.  Instead, we get NBC's two new Wednesday shows, Bionic Woman and Life.  I had high hopes for both of these, since the first is from David Eick (of Battlestar Galactica) and Life stars Damian Lewis, the actor who played Dick Winters in the excellent HBO miniseries Band of Brothers.  How do they stack up so far?  Have a look behind the cut for what I think.
Over the years I've been writing, I've had a lot of characters I've used that have stuck in my head.  The feeling I get from them is that they have never really been done justice, that the stories they were in were just waypoints on the road to something greater.  Even characters where I've written and rewritten the same story a half dozen times, I still feel like they are just waiting for their big break, like an actor trying to get into a blockbuster movie.  Part of it, maybe, is that they have been so crystallized by the time I've spent on them that I don't want to let them go.  I don't want to put them in the story where I can see all its flaws and then relegate them to that poor, lifeless existence when they could be so much better off.

For instance, I have a character from a story I've been hammering on since college -- a woman soldier, wounded so badly in combat that her arms and legs had to be amputated and replaced with cybernetics.  She doesn't really know any other life, but in the story, she can't go back to being a soldier because someone with so much damage isn't medically fit for it.  Most of it is about her going through getting adjusted to what happened and her new limbs and what happened to the other people in her unit, and at the end, she gets redemption somehow.  I rewrote that one at least five or six different times, but it never really felt right.  The story just didn't seem to bring the emotion across right, the ending seemed really lame, and overall, I just wasn't happy with it.  I wasn't happy with the setting it took place in either, which, in truth, was almost irrelevant to the story.

The last few days I've been thinking about her and wondering if maybe it wasn't time to drag that story back out and try working on it again.  I don't think I even have a copy of it anywhere anymore.  But now, though, I think I have a good way to use her story; I've been thinking about writing some Cthulhu Rising fiction and I think her story is one I can use for it.  The problem is that I feel like I'm cheating -- that every story I write forever is just going to be a retread of this one, or at least, a retread of this character.  I don't want to get stuck in a rut and have people think the only thing I can write is about this woman, and this story.

Is it cheating to keep coming back to these characters?  If I wrote this story, finally liked it (or maybe not), finally put it out there and it had been read by more people than just my RHET 304 class, I suppose that would make it a lot harder to coming back to this particular story again, or I would be looking at that criticism.   Could I come back and use her in another story down the road?  Do I have to put her away and never come back to her?  Writers do sequels all the time, I guess, but the best ones can create a lot of unique characters, not just one.  Am I handicapping myself by not trying to branch out now, or is this good practice?

Until I can really get them out of my blood though, I don't think I'll ever be able to move on -- I just don't know what the best way to do that is.
So, as promised, I'm reviewing the two new shows I've been watching the last two weeks on Mondays, Chuck and Journeyman, which bookend NBC's Monday around Heroes.  As I've done with the rest of these, I'll put them behind the cut to prevent spoilage.

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