Browsing the blog archives for June, 2006

International Travails

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Miscellaneous

I was looking at my incoming links and noticed a Japanese link incoming… Not sure if this is spam or not, so don’t go there if you’re unsure about visiting such sites.

The site looks to be a bunch of high school / college girls in Japan at their graduation ceremony. I took screenshots of the pictures on there so you don’t need to go there to see some of them. I have no clue why this blog would be linking to mine, and there’s not really a heck of a lot of text on the page in the first place. I even did a search of the page source and didn’t see any links anywhere pointing to my blog. Very odd.

J2

The girls are pretty darn cute though, and the campus of their school (if I can assume it’s their school) is very beautiful. Is this some kind of new spam trick to have pictures of random Japanese girls to draw in viewers?

J3

On another note, as I’m typing this the US-Italy game is going on. One of the Italian players got red carded after an absolutely brutal elbow to the face of McBride. At that point the US team was a player up, but the Italians were taking dives all over the place and you could tell that the referee was just looking for an excuse to give a US player a red card. That idiot Mastreoni did a cleats-up slidetackle in midfield and hit the Italian player — Usually a yellow card offense but as expected the Referee gave out a red card instead. Completely ridiculous. As I’m typing this the US lost another player, Eddie Pope had gotten a yellow card in the first half and the Referee just called a yellow card on him for a slide tackle that gained him possession of the ball and barely even touched the Italian player. This is just disgusting.

Update: Unbelievable. The referee took back a goal that the US scored (with 9 men) because one US player who wasn’t even involved in the play was offside. Final score 1-1.

Roundup

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Culture, Miscellaneous, Personal

My browser’s become a bit cluttered with tabs, so a bit of a roundup of interesting tabs sitting around in my browser:

This article is interesting. Alas, I don’t know enough about quantum mechanics to really know what’s going on here. The way it’s described sounds so confusing and impossible — Maybe this is an example of bad science reporting?

From Digg, an article on Second Life. Apparently Second Life is taking on a trajectory not unlike Sims Online. In its heyday Sims Online had prostitution syndicates running the game, using sexual favors in the game as a way to monopolize markets and driving out competitors or independent agents.

Funny and sad bits from the article:

In the virtual world of Second Life, it is possible to walk up to someone and rub a body part against them without their permission. Ren Reynolds, a virtual-world consultant and Second Life inhabitant who spoke on the ethics panel at the first Sex in Video Games Conference in San Francisco last week, says this is more likely to be “annoying” than a “violation”.

People have long argued whether committing crimes in games encourages the same behaviour in the real world. Although many argue that it must, this is very difficult to prove. Studies have concluded that people who play violent video games are more aggressive, but critics say this merely proves that violent people gravitate towards violent games. Some even argue the reverse – that allowing people to commit virtual crimes reduces the probability that they will transgress in the real world, because they have been able to vent their violent urges. … Bruce Bartholow of the Univesity of Missouri, Columbia, says it is more likely to increase the likelihood that they will engage in violent activities again.

On a sort of similar psychosexual theme, an article from Wired positing some theories on why men play female characters. As usual with Wired it seems like they’re going for the wacky or obscure angle. The article references a “Last Girl” theory developed concerning horror movies, about why people will cheer when early victims get diced up, but cheer when the hero (usually female) starts fighting back. An alternative theory: Maybe men like looking at women.

Riffing on this again, though no videogame theme this time, I was reading over this post by Dr. Helen (ie, the Instawife) and took a look in the comments. Take a look at this link that showed up in the comments (Note: Site is a Russian bride site and thus may not be safe to browse in your usual browser. You may want to pick up Torpark if you’re concerned about privacy when looking at such a site.). All I can say is “Damn.” Even knowing these are glamour shots with some Photoshopping going on, these are some nice looking women. What’s wrong with Russia, and, for that matter, America?

Non-Optimal Play

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RPGs

To follow up a bit on my post about Active and Reactive play, and to head in a sort of tangential direction I wanted to talk a bit about non-optimal choices as roleplaying.

One of the things I find fun is simply rocking the boat. Causing trouble, at least interestingtrouble, is fun. I feel like saying this might cause some people to think I’m disruptive when I play. But the core of what I’m getting at isn’t to be a disruptive player, it’s to be an active participant in the unfolding of the plot.

D&D traditionally has a pretty limited amount of ways the player can actually significantly affect the plot. Your interaction is all done through your character, and it’d take some really innovative thinking to truly break out of the network of options your Dungeon Master usually has laid out for you. What you can do is tangle things up a bit — So you’re supposed to deliver a package, but you take a peek at it when you shouldn’t have. Presumably a minor thing like that wouldn’t cause a serious impediment to your relations, either among the party or with the employer, but it does lead to a more dramatic situation. Not appropriate for all character archetypes, of course. This type of mischief always reminds me of Tasselhoff in DragonLance.

There are other appropriate sorts of complicating factors that can arise from other character concepts. If your character follows a strict code or belongs to an organization (including a family — one of the reasons why I think playing an Orphan is a cop-out), it’s easy to introduce quandaries to him, forcing sacrifices that later may need to be paid for. In general I think of this as non-optimal play. Usually it’s fairly easy to identify the path of least resistance to the plot. But the most interesting situations usually don’t arise along that path.

Many D&Ders see Roleplaying as one of two things: Non-optimal choices, and / or characterization through speech and description. Naturally it’s not either, but the two extremes are common to see. The first is the guy who plays a character with low attribute scores and makes bad build choices specifically to say he’s roleplaying his character (I’m afraid I’m turning into this guy!), and the second is the guy with the killer build who peppers speech with “thee” and “thou”.

So I saw this post at the 20′ by 20′ room which leads to this post. Some pretty cool and great ideas contained in this latter post:

One of the Nobilis design “laws” is the [Insert Random Flowery Name Here] Law, which goes something like, “strength is gained through adversity.” This is the model for the Restrictions system, where characters get a restriction like, “I Freak Out Whenever I’m Around Jell-o” (NOTE: not a real example) and then gain extra resource points when their Jell-o Allergy causes them real difficulties. … in Nobilis, individual players are encouraged to take responsibility for getting their characters into situations where they are trapped in a room with Bill Cosby and a lot of Jell-o Pudding Pops. So Nobilis uses Restrictions as an underhanded way of giving players greater narrative control than they traditionally have, but only to cause a world of hurt for themselves (and gain resource points in the process).

Clinton does something equally cool with Keys in The Shadow of Yesterday, which are sorta like Restrictions in that they give you resources points (XP) in return for narrating certain things, but Keys are character development goals that must be met (“Destroy All the World’s Jell-o”) instead of challanges to give yourself. …

The post goes on a bit to develop a whole idea of things for character development, although it does have the one pitfall of Assigning Weird and Unusual Names to Make Things Sound Really Cool (see: Chakras. Gah.). Still, solid ideas and I’m really considering how I can incorporate something like this when I pick up my campaign again.

Miniatures

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Personal, RPGs

Recently I stopped in at Target and was looking through the sports section for a new bike for exercise purposes. As chance may have it, the toys section is right next to the sports section, and when I passed through one of the aisles I noticed something I rarely see:

Really amazing looking, high-quality miniatures. The company that makes these is Schleich, and let me tell you, the tiny images provided here and on their website don’t really do these things justice.

They seem to have a fairly extensive line of medieval-style figures which look great. Unfortunately there were only about four styles on display, but some places I’ve looked at online have a much greater variety of figures. I have no clue how it’s possible to have such nice looking figures available at such cheap prices (roughly $5 per figure, although the mounted Knights run you the cost of the Knight and the Horse together, or about $10). These things come pre-painted too. Amazing.

The only problem is they’re not to D&D standard scale. These figures are maybe two and a half times the size of your usual 32mm (?) figurine.

Still, a lot of the animals and other such creatures such as the dinosaur above would work even with standard D&D scale. Even though it’s entirely unlikely that I’d ever need a huge selection of crazy dinosaurs to throw at my players I’m tempted to buy them. A few stray cows and pigs and chickens would certainly be interesting though… And the human models could be used for NPCs — Even altered if I got the urge to repaint them…

File Organization

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Personal

As one might’ve expected from yesterday’s posting about FolderShare, I’ve spent considerable time today merging the new files into my playlist and cleaning things up. I had actually transferred more of the music on to here than I had previously thought, with less than 50% of the 10 Gigs actually being new. The most significant things missing from my collection on here were the three CDs of Lord of the Rings soundtracks, and the four CD Final Fantasy X soundtrack.

Update and Aside to justify my putting FFX pictures somewhat gratuitously in this post: A few months ago I ended up created an MP3 DVD for D&D sessions, but ultimately ended up running out of appropriate music to put on it — I started off with some ambient-ish and non-lyrical folk style music on there, as well as some soundtracks. Towards the end, though, I ended up putting on a 15 CD collection of Chopin piano music and other music that’s not really theme-appropriate for gaming sessions. I’m considering putting these two soundtracks on there, but they’re somewhat distinctive and might distract from the game.

Still, I suppose it’s better than having Chopin’s Nocturne’s come on when everyone is already getting tired. It’s actually fairly amusing because our usual play routine tends to correspond pretty well with the DVD I set up — It begins with, I believe, Alio Die, which is ambient, as everyone gets settled. That continues on for awhile until we reach the Berserk: Chapter of the Millenium Falcon soundtrack, which starts off intensely and usually corresponds to some sort of dramatic situation or combat. Then that tapers off into Chopin. We’ve been playing at a friends’ house and he has an older DVD player there that can barely play my MP3 DVD, so we usually don’t fiddle with it to fast forward, although we did change venues recently and now have a DVD player that’s much better. Last session we used the Hercules: The Legendary Journeys soundtrack, which is probably altogether more fitting for your standard D&D anyway.

Anyway, I wonder if the Final Fantasy X soundtrack really goes with the environment I want to evoke. The soundtrack definitely carries hintings of the island theme, and I’m not sure if that entirely fits what I’m going for. It’s also got those familiar melodies that I’m sure all of us in the group have heard a hundred times. I’m leaning towards not using it because of these reasons, but I’m trying to talk myself into it just because I enjoy it so much. Maybe I can slip it in on the DVD as regional background music for if my players ever travel to the islands in the campaign world. Now that would be fun…

A surprisingly large amount of my music collection on the other computer seems to be scattered tracks from here and there — Unusual because I’ve been an album completist for at least four years now and because I felt like my music library on the other computer was more organized than it is on this one. A lot of these random tracks are just songs or remixes I particularly liked, but a few have a bit more sentimental value. Here’s a track I helped some guys make a few years ago: The Hidden Loom. Though not exactly great, when I listen to it again after such a period of separation I’m slightly heartened by how it seems better to me now than it did when we were making it. Makes me want to get into creating music again … I’m sorely tempted.

FolderShare

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Personal, Technology

A few months ago I migrated from Apple, which I’ve been using for a number of years, to a Windows machine. With the release of lots of exciting new things for Apple, namely the Core Duo, which came nearly six months ahead of when I was expecting it, and Bootcamp, which was totally unexpected, I’m slightly regretting my change. Still, I’m glad I have easy access to OS X + *nix + Windows now, even though I’ll likely migrate back to Apple in a few years.

One of the usual problems with getting a new computer is getting all the information off of the old one, and, unfortunately, there still doesn’t seem to be an easy way to do this. I had initially set up the Mac to allow Windows File Sharing through SMB, and connected to it using the Windows network browsing capabilities, but in the process of attempting to set up Wireless networking I managed to break this and haven’t been able to get it working since. The main thing I’m attempting to retrieve from the Mac at this point in time is several Gigs of music I’ve accumulated over the years, and I actually tried transferring the files when SMB was working, but encountered an error (not too surprising given how lengthy a transfer that would be).

There are a few other options — I could turn the Mac into an FTP server or an HTTP server and download via that. About a year ago I was toying with the idea of setting up my computer as an FTP server so that I could access files remotely, but if I wanted to do so again I’d have to refamiliarize myself with the possible issues that could arise, so I was reluctant to do so. Setting up Apache on the Mac is simple and straightforward, and it would be relatively easy to handle sending files… But I still feel reluctant about it, perhaps superstitiously. The last option is to burn CDs of music. It would definitely work, but it’d take several hours at least to organize and burn and transfer.

One day on Digg I saw an article to the effect of “Top 10 Free Mac Utilities” — Scanned down the list, saw this one called FolderShare — Surprisingly, given the title of the article, this program isn’t primarily a Mac application, given that it was acquired by Microsoft, but it does have a Mac port. I tried it out. Set up the program to point to my music directory on the Mac, and to point to an empty folder on my PC. Within a day I managed to have 2/3rds of my music collection available on my PC. It’s not fast, but it’s easy and it works in the background while I’m doing my normal tasks on the computer. Worth checking out if you’re in need of something to casually synchronize files between machines.

Active and Reactive

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Personal, RPGs

I found an article via Treasure Tables that discusses Active and Reactive play in RPGs. The article by Stephen Jarvis talks about the author’s troubles in the game he is currently running with regards to incorporating character beliefs in play.

One of the reasons we seized upon is that our Beliefs are too big, too long-range. They don’t have much immediacy about them, so it’s hard to play on those beliefs down in the dirt of the actual events of the game when the Beliefs are floating way up in the sky above all the time. We need to bring those Beliefs down to where the game’s being played. … Because our existing Beliefs are sorta large and amorphous, we’re having trouble doing things that seem to focus on the Beliefs.

I find myself seeing similarities here between Stephen’s game and the Fire and Ice game I’m playing in currently. We’ve got three major characters who share the same long-term goal, but it’s a goal which is unattainable in the near-term and there’s no clear course from the near-term to the long-term. I’ve noticed this lends itself to a sort of “What now?” approach — Which I strongly dislike. Although I know there are some people who grapple with that question in real life, usually there are too many vagaries of existence for that to become a sticking point. “What now?” — Your next meal is an hour away, you’re starting to get tired, you need to wash, you need a place to stay, you need to meet rent, you’ve got to get to work.

These things don’t enthuse me, and ideally they’d be nothing more than asides, so long as your characters are doing well enough to pay for food and shelter. But I do think they are good pacing points. Since, in my own campaign world, NPCs were scheduled to do certain things at certain times, pacing was a serious issue to me. My players always seemed to want to press onward and I found myself reminding them that they should eat or sleep — Not altogether important in most situations, but when you’ve just been awakened and fought and long and hard battle with your foes, you’re not in the greatest shape to mount a counterattack or any number of other active tasks. When I play my own characters I do try to keep in mind these sorts of things — “I’m tired,” or “I’m hungry” may not be things that heroes ever say, but they’re regular and persistent conflicts that must always be resolved in the near future.

Now, one thing that Martin of Treasure Tables mentions is the dichotomy of “Active” vs “Reactive” play. The difference is pretty easy to grasp, it’s the difference between having your character abandon his watch to go out and hunt small fauna and having the DM tell you that you’re getting really hungry and will start accumulating penalties if you don’t go out and do something about your hunger. According to Martin, “Action vs. Reaction is a major social contract issue.” I’d agree with this, with the particular caveat that this is especially true when playing at a tabletop, and less-so when playing online through chat or Play-By-Post/Email. It’s a lot easier to juggle side-action (such as one character leaving the group to go do something else) online than it is offline, when such things either result in interrupting one storyline or excessive time spent passing notes (which themselves can take a long time to write unless you’re typing them). I also get the sense that the physicality of the person sitting there but not actively helping the group can lead to some resentment.

One of the things I’ve been discussing with my GM in the Fire and Ice game is how my character seems to at once (a) have his own goals and agenda and (b) have some minor friction with the other characters. Now, I can’t say for sure what’s going on with the other players in this game — They may indeed be pursuing their own agendas and I’m just oblivious. But my GM has indicated that she thinks they are playing the game in a more reactive way than I am, and I get the impression that, because of that, my character seems to be taken as not-entirely-on-board with the goals of the group. I’m hoping Martin’s wrong here and that it’s not going to blow up into a “major social contract issue” with the other players, but I guess we’ll see.

I guess I’ve sort of wandered a bit, but then I’m not entirely sure where I’m going either– Bankuei has a D&D “gamehack” (ie, house rule) on character bonds. I think something like this is a good way to encourage people to get a better handle on their goals, and a very similar idea occurred to me for the purpose of encouraging players in my own campaign to be more active in their play. The danger, as Stephen Jarvis’ and my own Fire and Ice campaigns seems to demonstrate is that even using one of these systems is no escape from reactive play. You’ve still got to try to deal with characterization and figuring out what your character wants to pursue in the near-term and the long-term.

Bigger Thumbnails

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Technology, Wordpress

I figured I’d make a note of this here, since it’s something I ran into with WordPress 2.03, and likely a WordPress 2.04 is going to be released soon enough. By default when you upload an image via WordPress’ posting interface, it will create a thumbnail image if the image is larger than a certain size (128×128). This default size is quite small, and WordPress will, by default, insert the thumbnailed version of the image into your posts rather than the full-size version. Images that small are barely even distinguishable, but at the same time I figured that I might sometimes be using source images that are huge (1024×768+) and thus require resizing. Even if an image is being visually sized to fit my layout, such large images would still have to be loaded in full for any people viewing the page, and editing the image’s visible proportions individually can be a hassle.

To resolve these issues I made some changes to my inline-uploading.php file so that thumbnail images are twice as large — Assured to fit virtually any layout, and yet large enough to be distinguishable. It cuts down on work for me on a number of fronts, and cuts down on loading times as the thumbnails are being displayed at actual-size.

$id = wp_insert_attachment($attachment, $file, $post);

if ( preg_match('!^image/!', $attachment['post_mime_type']) ) {
// Generate the attachment's postmeta.
$imagesize = getimagesize($file);
$imagedata['width'] = $imagesize['0'];
$imagedata['height'] = $imagesize['1'];
list($uwidth, $uheight) = get_udims($imagedata['width'], $imagedata['height']);
$imagedata['hwstring_small'] = "height='$uheight' width='$uwidth'";
$imagedata['file'] = $file;

add_post_meta($id, '_wp_attachment_metadata', $imagedata);

if ( $imagedata['width'] * $imagedata['height'] < 3 * 1024 * 1024 ) { if ( $imagedata['width'] > 256 && $imagedata['width'] >= $imagedata['height'] * 4 / 3 )
$thumb = wp_create_thumbnail($file, 256);
elseif ( $imagedata['height'] > 256 )
$thumb = wp_create_thumbnail($file, 256);

New Campaigns and Old Campaigns

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Personal, RPGs

So my campaign’s currently in limbo and one of my players has started up an ad hoc D&D campaign, set in a world he has mentioned is much like the Warhammer campaign world. I managed to settle my character — A human from a horse-centric bedouin tribe. A worshipper of Pelor, he fights primarily using gauntleted fists, using his whip as a tactical weapon.

Meanwhile, work continues on my own campaign at a (ahem) leisurely pace. I’ve managed to dig out one of my old Palladium Pendragon books, picked up the new Mage core rulebook and the True20 rulebook. I feel pretty well equipped — Presumably whenever I can get around to actually reading any of these books I’ll be able to start reconfiguring rules to get more of what I want.

Though I’m mostly at a loss as to how Pendragon works, the character sheet in my book (which is actually a supplement I bought many years ago without knowing it was a supplement) is extremely evocative. I love how the skills are “dancing”, “falconry” etc, and how the character has varying levels of chivalrousness, honor, chasteness, and so on.

Mage: The Ascension was probably one of my favorite games of all time. The Awakening doesn’t seem as interesting to my tastes, but it does seem to be a bit more sensibly put-together than the older game. Although I’d like to just do a wholesale copy of their magic system, I’m not sure how well that’d go over in D20. At the very least I’ll be copying the idea of having spells not be spells, but rather rotes.

I haven’t even had enough of a chance to look through True20 to figure out exactly how it differs from the standard d20 rules. Presumably it’s a pared down ruleset. I did see that they did away with the attribute scores altogether, instead simply having the -5 / +5 scale of modifiers.

In the meantime, I spent a few minutes to block out city-block areas for the main-town in my campaign.

CityLC

I ended up with 53 city blocks. Damn is it going to be a pain to flesh out each of these blocks.