Oct 202013
 

A while back, I wrote a post about aesthetics vs. practicality in designing science fiction spaceships, which also extends to any sort of speculative design.

Recently, a discussion exploded on the same board over an initially small misunderstanding that went rampant really fast. You can read about it here, if you care to (it spans three pages). The short version is that I pointed out some conceptual flaws in this particular artist’s explanation for how the FTL1 drive works. After some back and forth, wherein the artist got increasingly hostile to having their idea poked at, they fired off a massive post/rant. I almost gave into the temptation to respond to it, but that little voice in the back of my head said, “Dude, get real. They’re not listening. They’re not going to listen. They’ve got too much baggage going into this for your points to get through. Just leave it.” So I did. I apologized for upsetting them, restated that my only goal was to share information/correct misconceptions, complimented them on their model, and wished them well on their worldbuilding. Then I bowed out.

This all played out from 10/17 to 10/18. Yet I’m still thinking about it. I don’t feel any better now than I did when it all played out; if anything, I might be feeling even worse. Enumerating all of the reasons why would take too long, but there’s one point that I wanted to home in on because I see it everywhere and it needs to die.

in case nobody told you…the FI in sci fi means Fiction!!! The concept of this system is based on an assumed understanding of physics that guess what? We don’t and may never have

Wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong. The fiction in science fiction serves the exact same role as it does in fantasy fictioncrime fiction, literary fiction, romance fiction, and every other stripe of fiction out there: it serves to indicate that the story, characters, and setting are made-up. Period. Done.

The science in science fiction clarifies the broader genre: these are made-up stories, characters, and settings where science is the driver behind what is different. New technologies, alien species, and so on; just as magic–the truly fantastic–drives fantasy fiction. There can absolutely be overlap: technological magic, magical technology, whatever you like. But these are the distinguishing features of the genres that give them a unique place.

Continue reading »

  1. That’s “faster than light”…but if you’re not familiar with that term, then most of this post is going to seem even more ridiculous to you. []
Sep 112009
 

I mentioned in an earlier post that I had abandoned Chrome to return to Firefox. I admired Chrome’s slim UI and the ability to search directly in the URL bar. Firefox has its search bar, and it also supports keyword searches from the URL bar, but I had yet to find a way to search directly from the URL bar itself.

I found that today. Continue reading »

Aug 062009
 

Been a while since my last post.  Since then, a ton of stuff has happened.

  • We fully moved-in to our house (though we’re still only about 25% unpacked).
  • We set a date for the wedding (8/7) and have picked a location for the reception, which may double as the wedding site too.
  • We selected/customized Cody’s engagement ring and matching wedding band
  • My company laid off about 25% of its work force (a layoff I rather miraculously was not a part of).
  • The Vampire game has resumed.

I’m probably forgetting a few things, but those are the big highlights.


One of the reasons I haven’t posted often of late is that it seems a bit of a chore to go to the blog page, log in, write up a post, etc, etc. I’ve recently implemented an easier method of posting that I think should make posting a more frequent occurrence. I’ve also got to get over my internal reluctance to post a battery of short posts as I think of things to say. If Twitter has proven anything, it’s that people enjoy hearing about the exploits of others in short bites. I don’t think I’ll ever hop on the Twitter bandwagon, though (famous last words…).


I finally got LaTeX-style rendering working on my wikis. It’s not that this is particularly difficult to do, but rather I had never had a server setup that would allow me to make the necessary changes to support it before. The particular implementation I’m using right now is MimeTeX. I had to do some custom hackery to make it work (specifically, my server did not seem content to create image links with some of the formatting required by TeX, so I wrote a PHP “middleman” that stands between the MediaWiki math engine and the MimeTeX CGI to properly handle formatting), but it’s great fun.


The major motivating factor in getting the TeX support to work is that I wanted to explore the idea of “damage potential” in EVE Online. Because of the way damage works in EVE, specifically with turrets, a given ship using a given type of gun is going to do the most damage at close range, and then see that damage falloff gradually as the target gets farther and farther away. This isn’t accounting for aspects of the target, which also play a role. The formula for this falloff is known and can be calculated, but I wanted to see how different ships stacked up to one another when they were compared.

I decided that the best way to do this would be to integrate the falloff curve (i.e. find the area bound by the DPS graph for the ship). Of course, this led to about 15 hours of wrestling with a truly atrocious integral. After consulting with Wolfram’s online integrator, engineers at work, the think tank at SDN, my dad, Cody, and Dr. Math,it became clear that the only way to solve the integral was via approximation and a computer.  I wrote up a Python script to do the integral and started getting good results.  I’m not really sure how valid they are, though.  Mathematically, they’re sound, but I’m not sure about their practical application.


I think that’s about it for now.

Apr 292008
 

I found this What RPG Player Type Are You? quiz at RPG Blog II while browsing Google for other RPG blogs. Thought it was relevant in light of yesterday’s post and the earlier Flawed Origin post. My results:

What RPG Player (Not Character) Type Are You?
You scored as Character Player. The Character Player enjoys creating in-depth characters with distinct and rich personalities. He identifies closely with his characters, feeling detached from the game if he doesn’t. He takes creative pride in exploring different characters, often making each new one radically different than others he’s played. The Character Player bases his decisions on his character’s psychology first and foremost. He may view rules as a necessary evil at best, preferring sessions in which the dice never come out of their bags. For the Character Player, the greatest reward comes from experiencing the game from the emotional perspective of an interesting character.

Character Player
 
90%
Storyteller
 
90%
Tactician
 
60%
Casual Gamer
 
45%
Weekend Warrior
 
40%
Specialist
 
15%
Power Gamer
 
15%

The results seem accurate to me. The quiz doesn’t appear to have a “See All Results” option, but since my “Storyteller” rating tied with my “Character Player” rating, I could go back and get the description for that one.

The Storyteller is in it for the plot: the sense of mystery and the fun of participating in a narrative that has the satisfying arc of a good book or movie. He enjoys interacting with well-defined NPCs, even preferring antagonists who have genuine motivations and personality to mere monsters. To the Storyteller, the greatest reward of the game is participating in a compelling story with interesting and unpredictable plot threads, in which his actions and those of his fellow characters determine the resolution. With apologies to Robin Laws.

Again, pretty close. I sense a post on GNS Theory is imminent.

Apr 252008
 

In my previous post, I highlighted what I felt were the fatal flaws of the d20 System. I’m going to reverse what I said and praise it now, but in a way that is sure to upset d20 fans in the same way the previous post might.

Though d20 is a poor choice of system for creating unique and interesting characters — again, it can be done, but you have to work around the system rather than with it — it shines when placed in the right setting: computer games. Though the trend in cRPGs of late seems to be toward the “action RPG” mode of play (The Elder Scrolls, Mass Effect), several games have had incredible success in adapting the d20 System to a cRPG with few modifications. The turn-based play of combat is often transparent, but two stand-out examples of d20 games spring to mind: Neverwinter Nights and Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic.

While both games put d20 through heavy modification (condensing skills, modifying feats, spells, etc.), they both kept the core idea of d20 at heart. They are also both tremendous fun to play. When the player need only call out to whom they wish to speak, on whom they wish to use a skill, which target they wish to attack, and so forth, d20 works well. That’s not to suggest that the system is too complex; it isn’t. What it is, however, is suited to a user with an avatar and a computer game-style, objective-based mode of play in mind. I would argue against such a mode of play being labeled “role-playing” by any stretch, but that’s a battle with too much inertia pushing in one direction.

Where Levels, Classes, and Races fall down in player-based RPGs, they are a great tool in cRPGs. Levels and experience provide a measurable way for a player to chart their advancement through the game, classes provide a focus down which a player can target his character toward completing that advancement, and races provide interesting visual differentiation and customization options.

I can hear d20 enthusiasts clamoring about how all of those arguments might apply to tabletop games as well. I suspect I would find myself bored in the type of tabletop game they would enjoy. If that’s the kind of game you want to play, why not play it on a computer? Computers can’t (yet!) afford us the possibilities that tabletop games provide for role-playing opportunities; if you don’t care about exploring them, why don’t you play NWN?

In a computer game, too, the weakness of using a 1d20 as a core mechanic is less of a problem. Though I find the visuals a little silly at times (we’re standing still, two feet apart, I swing at you with my three-foot-long sword, and you duck?), it provides a reasonable amount of variation coupled with predictability that tabletop versions of the game don’t seem to afford. Hit Points become much more acceptable, since a paced way of tracking a character’s degradation is more important. Few players would be happy with seeing wound penalties stack up until they drop from a single blow.

I’m sure that systems better than the d20 System can be concocted for cRPGs. Computers are fast enough now that a simulationist’s wet dream should be possible, while leaving the player unencumbered by having to remember all of the mechanics associated thereto. Still, of the games produced (that I’ve played) with the d20 System at their core, they seem to be quite successful.