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Gaming as a service   
01:13pm 29/06/2011
 

Originally published at Transneptune. Please leave any comments there.

There are always a lot of people panhandling and busking on the Pearl St. Mall here in Boulder. But today, as I walked along with the first drops of rain starting to flick through the sky, after a good lunch with a good Rosetta Stone friend, I saw a funny thing. Someone sitting with a chessboard, willing to play anyone who walked by and was interested, donations accepted.

That’s really awesome.

 
     
 
How to spend a summer’s day   
05:49pm 04/06/2011
 

Originally published at Transneptune. Please leave any comments there.

In this case: watching a cricket game up in Longmont with a few friends and the following picnic:

  • cucumber sandwiches
  • bread, cheese and pâté
  • hobnobs and McVitie’s digestives
  • Pimm’s
  • mustardy potato salad
  • treacle tarts
  • nutella

There was nothing not good about this.

 
     
 
Meeting   
12:42pm 22/05/2011
 

Originally published at Transneptune. Please leave any comments there.

I spoke for what I think is the first time today at meeting. It was not really a choice. The message was from me, from somewhere inside of me, but it was not my choice to speak it. Consciously I didn’t want to, but at a certain point, part of my brain said “you’re a Quaker, so get up and quake.” And I did. It was short.

At the end of meeting, lots of kids came in, all the kids from the First Day School whatnot. And I just had to smile; I love seeing old people and young people all intermixed.

 
     
 
Twitter   
10:09am 22/04/2011
 

Originally published at Transneptune. Please leave any comments there.

Twitter is really cool. For a long time, I didn’t understand what it was for, but I’m getting an increased understanding of it. It’s kind of like a room where you can define who’s near you, and nearness is not necessarily transitive. So you can overhear conversations and join into them seamlessly, or hear when someone shouts across the room to you. It’s broadcast IM with a smooth multi-user chat transition.

On top of that, the social expectations of the site are such that talking with people you don’t know is encouraged, which just makes it great at community building, rather than Facebook’s community-recording.

 
     
 
Why   
02:13pm 14/04/2011
 

Originally published at Transneptune. Please leave any comments there.

So, I need to always revisit why I am doing a thing. In this case, grad school seems unpleasant currently, so I am trying to see what it is that I like about it. And really, it is the teaching. I very much want to do that. I am sure that I want to do research and publish things, too, but right now that desire is distant, obscured.

I got a great compliment from a student the other day—she said that I was the only TA she had this semester who seemed to know the material. I then had a conversation with another student about the ways in which what they’re learning in intro Ling isn’t, per se, true, but is, I hope, a set of useful simplifications.

This is probably just end-of-semester workload blues. Lemme write 20 decent pages more and talk with you again. I reckon I’ll be fine in a few weeks.

 
     
 
Public Space   
12:43pm 02/04/2011
 

Originally published at Transneptune. Please leave any comments there.

It’s a beautiful day, and I’m working at a coffee shop on Pearl Street. Nice space, doors open to the air outside, a comfy chair and a nearby outlet. I don’t feel like their choice of music, so I’m listening on my headphones to Carter & Grammer—Drum Hat Buddha right now, but it’ll move on soon.

And amongst this, I am thinking about the use of public space, by which I only mean “spaces not hidden in someone’s home”. We four here have taken to working at coffee shops, and occasionally a local pub or two, when we want to get things done. It gets us away from the distractions of home, but more than that, it shifts our context enough to jump-start some work.

One thought leads to another, and soon I am thinking about  Cassidy’s, on Westmoreland Street in the middle of Dublin. Some friends took me there once, to find the basement bar full of gamers—some people playing card games, some playing role-playing games, some playing board games, some just talking. This idea has stayed with me since I saw it; rare is the place in this country where that would work, was my first reaction. But maybe not; maybe I just have to talk to a few gamers, and talk to a few pubs. Part of what makes it work, of course, is the size and layout of an actual Irish pub; there’s a whole basement bar that allows people to set themselves aside a bit, and not be disturbed or disturbing.

So, from there, I come to something that Vincent Baker posted about today: Owl and Raven, a community space that’s just opened in Northampton, MA. The idea is to have a space where people can come to work on projects, hang out, and learn from each other and talk with each other. This seems a really compelling idea, and I look forward to following these people to see how it works.

Finally, all of this leads me to remember an idea I had a while ago, that I occasionally revisit: gamerspaces. The idea is to make something like hackerspaces, but for gamers and games. A bit over a year ago, I was frequenting the IRC channel of Hacklab.to, and had the notion to get a group of gamers of all stripes to pitch in some membership fees to get a space and furnish it with what you need for games and gamers: tables, couches, nooks and crannies, and 24-hour access and security. One problem with this idea so far has been that companies will sometimes donate to hackerspaces, but I have a hard time envisioning getting funding for a gamerspace from anything but members’ fees.

All of these ideas are as-yet just vaguely related notions floating around, but I thought I’d put them out there, to remind myself and maybe give other people ideas.

 
     
 
Disqus   
04:19pm 20/03/2011
 

Originally published at Transneptune. Please leave any comments there.

Because I like threaded comments and good notifications, I’ve set up Disqus for this here blag. If it perturbs you, sorry. Hopefully, it’ll help people get notified when people reply to comments. You don’t need a Disqus account or anything, but if you have one, awesome.

 
     
 
The Matter of Britain   
02:12pm 20/03/2011
 

Originally published at Transneptune. Please leave any comments there.

I’ve been working on a game set in Regency Britain of magicians and fairies, drawing much inspiration from Susanna Clarke’s fantastic book, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. The themes of madness and manners are so perfectly embodied in the period, with the very king himself being mad. But I’ve had a realization as I work on it that I really need to incorporate another great love of mine: the Matter of Britain.

Some have said that Arthur, the rex quondam rexque futurus did in fact return in Britain’s hour of greatest need, as Arthur Lord Wellington. I think that drawing from this rich body of myth will do nothing but good. So if I start becoming obsessed, and talk all the time about cryptic connections between prominent figures of the late Georgian and Regency periods and figures of Arthurian myth, please encourage me.

There are two prominent and interrelated aspects of game design, system and setting. I’ve got a firm grasp on the system for this game, but now I’m making the meat for those bones.

 
     
 
The King’s Speech   
11:41pm 12/03/2011
 

Originally published at Transneptune. Please leave any comments there.

I saw it tonight. Great movie.

I liked the amount of period detail, for sure, but what I really liked was the fantastic structure: every act and scene and beat was just in place. A problem, a new relationship, a breaking of that relationship, an increased crisis that leads to reconciliation. A gradual escalation of stakes until a twist that breaks the relationship again, and then another, bigger crisis, mirroring the earlier one. A climax and victory.

I’ll need to dissect it a bit more, it’s got plenty of meat to chew on.

 
     
 
Scott Pilgrim   
01:37pm 27/02/2011
 

Originally published at Transneptune. Please leave any comments there.

I finally got around to reading the last two volumes of the comic last night. Great ending to a great comic. I just wanted to say that the “wilderness sabbatical” bit is very Yoda-esque: Scott travels far away, goes into the wild, confronts his shadow, and returns, wiser for it. But at least Luke doesn’t kiss Yoda.

 
     
 
Opera, huh, what is it good for?   
12:08pm 11/02/2011
 

Originally published at Transneptune. Please leave any comments there.

Certainly more than “absolutely nothing, y’all”.

I went, last night, to see Rusalka at the Denver opera house. Allie’s been working on it, and she got me a ticket. It was really good, but it intersected interestingly with my continuing reading of Peter Brook. Opera is almost intrinsically in the category of Deadly Theatre, if theatre it is. And that’s the question. Sure, it has all the inflexibility and Grand Tradition that Brook talks about, but ultimately? I don’t think it’s theater as such.

I don’t mean, by this, to denigrate opera at all. It’s just a different beast. I sat and watched this tragedy (and let me tell you, if opera plots are incoherent, opera-based-on-myth plots are even more incoherent) and felt nothing like catharsis. There was no characterization, in the sense of convincing the audience that the characters were real beings with real minds.

Instead, there was spectacle. There was amazing set and costume design, that interacted perfectly, and played with the lighting design. There was music, there was dance, there was fantastic singing.

So, there, I realized opera is not theatre. But it is great fun, if you stop looking for the fun of a story. (I think I compulsively look for stories. I’m working on non-story fun, ok?)

 
     
 
Free as in Freedom   
07:32pm 25/01/2011
 

Originally published at Transneptune. Please leave any comments there.

I was catching up on This American Life today, and heard about the Brooklyn Free School. It sounds great. Having homeschooled (or possibly unschooled?) myself through high school, I like the idea of it.

And then I’m confronted with taking attendance for my students, and it feels a little ridiculous.

 
     
 
Games Blog   
07:47pm 23/01/2011
 

Originally published at Transneptune. Please leave any comments there.

So, I’ll be moving a lot of my games-related talking to games.transneptune.net, where John and Austin and occasionally Allie will be joining me in blogging about our game development thoughts and process. Follow if you’re interested, avoid if you’re not!

 
     
 
Birthday   
04:03pm 23/01/2011
 

Originally published at Transneptune. Please leave any comments there.

My birthday party was last night. Absolutely lovely. A good bunch of people from various different circles all intersecting and seeming to like each other and stick around for hours. Good food, good drink. Today, nothing to do but dishes.

This is as it should be.

 
     
 
Character and Situation   
12:04pm 21/01/2011
 

Originally published at Transneptune. Please leave any comments there.

This is not a fully-formed thought yet, but here goes.

I’ve been reading and playing and thinking about a lot of story games lately, of course. And in particular, one game: Burning Wheel. I played this game years ago (“classic”) and found it not quite to my liking; there were some good things about it, but it really needed and editor and some constructive criticism and someone who knew math. Many of my friends have been enthusing about this game since it got those things (and is now revised). So, I sat down and carefully read it.

The juxtaposition of reading one game (or book) around the same time as another game (or book) can often lead to particular insights one might not have, were the two readings not so close. In this case, what I’d read just before Burning Wheel (revised) was Fiasco, from Bully Pulpit games. While Burning Wheel is a game of medieval fantasy in the vein of Tolkien or Le Guin, Fiasco is described as a game at the intersection of powerful ambition and poor impulse control. It reads like a recipe for a Coen brothers movie, or a Guy Ritchie movie.

So, what I realized in reading Burning Wheel was that what it does really well, what drives the game, is character development. (Particularly, it seems, character advancement, but that’s another matter.) What Fiasco does is situation development. And I think I find the latter much more interesting. Both are hopelessly intertwined, of course: any situation is meaningful only as it evokes responses from characters, and any character is interesting only because of their situation*. But you can shift the focus between them.

I feel a lot better now that I have a handle not just on what Burning Wheel seems to do, but on the nature of this distinction. There’s a lot of talk in the community about things like author/director/actor stance, etc., but I think that this distinction is not one I’ve heard often talked about, and it’s quite helpful to my thinking. It’s opened up my eyes to similar design in other games: part of what I love about Lumpley’s Dogs in the Vineyard is that there is a procedure in it for creating a situation, and then throwing the characters into it. What I’ve learned from this thinking is that the procedure in Dogs in the Vineyard doesn’t at any point explicitly call for tying the main characters in, but if I’m to get the most out of it, I need to.

So that’s the takeaway for me: I prefer situation-focus to character-focus. Maybe this is why I generally prefer GMing games, when that’s an applicable role? Regardless, I think it’s something to incorporate into future designs.


* From a conversation almost a year ago: “Alex Psh.: Rather, it is a universal truth: protagonists are cool because of their situation.”</p>
 
     
 
Getting ready for another one   
01:08pm 09/01/2011
 

Originally published at Transneptune. Please leave any comments there.

Well, we have a playtest version of Loom, the heroic fantasy RPG we’ve been working on, ready. If you’re interested, drop me a line. It’s rather in the vein of Star Wars or Garth Nix’s Abhorsen series, to my mind. Temptation, heroism, all that.

Beyond that, back in Boulder, getting over a sore throat, and watching the snow come down outside. Semester starts tomorrow; this’ll be a good one.

EDIT: Given various problems with the name Loom, it’s called In a Dragon-Guarded Land at this point.

 
     
 
Home   
05:46pm 26/12/2010
 

Originally published at Transneptune. Please leave any comments there.

I’ve been home a few days now, and in NYC, and now there’s snow. Lovely.

I’ve been working on one of the games; updates soon and possibly some further details.

I’ve also been thinking about security and society. More on that soon.

 
     
 
Semester’s end   
04:17pm 07/12/2010
 

Originally published at Transneptune. Please leave any comments there.

This is the last week of classes. Mostly done my papers (just need to edit a bit), and then there are some presentations and grading to do.

Also, I’ve made an unordered list of what I want to do with my life:

  • to make RPGs
  • to teach
  • to administer a bunch of linux boxes that other people depend on
  • to sing and play concertina
  • to contra dance
  • to sail and scuba dive
  • to sit by the window with a cup of tea and a good book as a north-atlantic storm rages outside
  • to make and eat large good dinners for good friends
  • to travel with friends
 
     
 
Sometimes Fortune Smiles   
11:04pm 08/11/2010
 

Originally published at Transneptune. Please leave any comments there.

I recently, for no good reason and at no expense, won some money. This allowed me to spend tonight doing what I think is the highest calling in my life: treating friends to a good dinner. Good friends, good food, good conversation. We went to Himalayas, the best restaurant in Boulder in my estimation. We stayed a long while, talking and eating. We ended up talking with the guy who runs the place for a while, too. He gave us their chai and saag recipes, and then pointed out that they had accidentally made a double order for some takeout, and that we should take the extra.

Fortune, thank you.

(Beyond that, life has been busy—reading, writing, grading, playing.)

 
     
 
Plain Speech   
03:27pm 24/10/2010
 

Originally published at Transneptune. Please leave any comments there.

Language Log informs me that today is International Talk Like a Quaker Day, and so I think I’ll take the opportunity to think about plain speech, and what it means to me. I don’t think that thee-ing (not, as Language Log discusses, thou-ing) is really appropriate in the modern age. I’m generally against orthopraxy, and I think that the idea of plain speech is to set you apart not by strangeness, but by clarity, honesty and directness of speech. Continuing to thee really misses the point, as far as I’m concerned.

So, do I speak plainly? I try to. I fail in many ways, though: I certainly respond reflexively with clearly-false absurdities in many cases talking with small-f friends. I think I also, generally speaking, talk too much, and don’t allow time to consider my statements and what I’m responding to.

I’ll take today as a reminder to talk less, and mean more.