kent_allard_jr: (Default)
The other night [personal profile] moonlightalice and [personal profile] wellgull were telling me about playing Settler of Catan marathons until the wee hours of the morning. Naturally I thought of Minecraft because ... well, that's what I've been doing since Spring 2011, but also because both games are about resource extraction, and I would love to see trading arise in a competitive, multiplayer game of Minecraft.

Anyway, here's a first draft outline of how it might be set up:
  • The game map uses the new "large biomes" feature. All cattle and sheep would be killed off in advance.
  • There are a series of designated "intersections," placed at equal-size intervals around the map.
  • In half of the intersections (or so) there will be ruins of villages and the ruins of a special building (a library, cathedral, a pyramid, whatever). Monster spawners will be placed in both.
  • In order to "control" an intersection, the player would have to have a contiguous, powered railroad connecting it to her starting position or to other controlled intersections. (My guess is players would be given some or all of the materials needed to build it.)
  • In order to "control" a village, she would have to control the intersection, destroy the monster spawners, and repopulate the village to a certain level. Two villager eggs would be placed in a chest in the ruined village, along with two animal eggs, either cattle or sheep.
  • In order to "control" a special building, one would have to control the nearby village and rebuild the structure, based on specifications given in a book in the ruins. Some materials that are not available locally would be required.
  • Players would start the game on opposite corners of the map, with a starter chest of adequate personal provisions (food, sticks, maybe iron, a bow and some arrows).
  • PvP would be prohibited, although some chests may include deadly monster spawners (creepers, blazes, what have you) which could be placed at will.
  • Players would get 1 point per controlled village, 1 per special building, and 2 points for longest (rail)road. First player with 10 points wins.

Any thoughts?
kent_allard_jr: (creativity)
When it comes to con-myth (constructed mythologies), there are a few tropes that annoy me. One of them is that a god's power is proportional to their worshipers. Cult members send power through their prayers, and the gods bounce some of it back through miracles, keeping the surplus. Thus a god without worshippers is powerless, while a popular god with a huge cult is very powerful. I dislike this for a number of reasons:
  • It denies the gods any role in creation. How could gods create the world before the source of their power even existed?
  • It also implies a double standard with the monstrous rivals of the gods, who don’t have any attested cults and thus must be drawing on alternative sources of power.
  • If taken to its logical conclusion, it turns the gods into a pack of politicians, grubbily competing over worshipers as if they were choosy consumers ("Apollo, now with 50% more healing power than other leading deities!").
  • Turning the gods into politicians makes them comfortable and familiar to our 21st-century tastes. But I don't want them to be familiar. I want them to be awe-inspiring.

Now there is some historical precedence for this trope. Vedic religion was greatly concerned with sacrifices to the gods. Over centuries, theologians decided that the Devas derived much of their power from these sacrifices. The outcome, though, is telling: They decided the Devas were no more powerful than the Brahmins who officiated the rites. This (among other factors) led to a decline in the prestige of the Devas and the dwindling of the sacrificial cult altogether.

As an alternative, I would suggest that the gods don’t need worshippers for their powers. They don't, in fact, need much at all. Instead, they respond to prayers, punish sacrilege and so forth because they feel like it. They do so out of compassion, vanity, or both. They like flattery, they don’t like to be insulted, and sometimes they pity mortals who are weaker than they are. Some gods may ignore humans entirely. Those gods won’t have cults -- there’s no point in praying to a deity that doesn’t listen to them -- but they won’t be any worse off than those who do.

I'm sure many folks read this and think, "BOR-ing!" Yes, it's true: My approach would take away opportunities for Small Gods-style goofiness. That's kind of the idea. I don't object to thought experiments about miracles on layaway and so forth, or to folks who engage in them, but I don't think they're suited for much beyond comedy. If you want gods to be taken seriously, I'd say my approach is better.

Titanomachy

Aug. 6th, 2012 08:00 am
kent_allard_jr: (creativity)
In March I fantasized about "a real God-game." Recently, I decided to whip up a paper & pencil RPG with the same theme. Tentatively called Titanomachy (literally "War of the Titans") you can see a 6-page draft here at Google Docs. While there have been a number of RPGs for the American Gods-style Deities-at-the-Disco settings (such as Scion and Nobilis) I don't know of many that start in the age of mythology, so maybe there's a demand for this sort of thing.
kent_allard_jr: (profile)
My experience with music is typical: My interest peaked around age 18 and my tastes haven't changed much in 25 years. Luckily my tastes weren't typical for an 80s teenager, so I haven't been listening to Huey Lewis and Whitney Houston for a quarter century (thank Zeus), but I wish I'd picked up a little more over the years.

When Kimberly met me she liked my jazz collection -- standard stuff from WWII to the mid-60s -- and that's what we've listened to together ever since. On road trips, though, she prefers the radio, and that's when I really listen to contemporary pop music. My reaction to it has surprised me.

I don't have the stereotypical reaction of a cranky old man. ("Their music is just noise!") Instead I find it ... bland. Pleasant enough, but boring. It's as if nothing new has appeared since the Clinton administration.

Sometimes we'd switch to the classic rock stations, which endlessly recycled the same four-dozen songs from the late-60s to the Disco era, with Nirvana thrown in for the under-40 crowd. God knows I never want to hear "Freebird" again, but even with the endless repetition I got the impression there was a lot more variety in what I was hearing. More experimentation with instruments, more complex harmonies, more contrast in volume.

These were just vague, uninformed impressions, but I'm happy to hear they've been scientifically validated. I'm sure the study has issues -- commentors point out it doesn't measure rhythmic innovation, where hip-hop may shine -- but it confirms I wasn't completely imagining things.
kent_allard_jr: (profile)
Hoo-boy, two months since my last entry. There's been a lot of stuff to blog about, both personal and non-, so much so that it's prevented me from blogging about anything. "Do I write about the honeymoon ... or the new job ... or the health care decision ... or the comic-book cheesecake debate ... or game ideas... or...?"

Well to hell with it, here's a series of bullet-point summaries.

  • Kimberly and I took a cruise to Turkey and the Greek Islands. Both of us have posted pictures, and I'd be happy to share impressions with anyone interested.
  • While I'm still working for the State Senate, off-and-on, I also got a statistician/mapper job for the Nassau Legislature Democrats. It's been frustrating, largely (I've heard) because the county executive (a Republican) has blocked the supplies we need. So after a month I still don't have a key to my office or my mapping software, and I've spent far too long with nothing to do.
  • Naturally I'm happy with the Supreme Court decision on the ACA, but alarmed at the closeness of it. Thinking about the Supremes fueled my whole idea of a "Rational Republic," but since that isn't on the agenda, I think there should at least be a supermajority requirement for striking down acts of Congress. Great decisions like Brown were unanimous, and while I wouldn't demand unanimity I think a 6-3 (or even 7-2) majority should be necessary.
  • On comic-book cheesecake, it may surprise some people but I fall on the anti-cheesecake side. I do so with reservations, though: I find some of the anti- arguments unconvincing, or inconsistently applied, and my general skepticism of politicized cultural criticism kicks in from time to time. I do think more women should be recruited into the industry. Maybe Wonder Woman could be reserved as a comic for female writers and artists? I think the ghost of William Moulton Marston would approve.

I could say more about the last bullet point, and comment on game ideas and so forth, but this is long enough for now.

Xibalba!

May. 10th, 2012 11:25 am
kent_allard_jr: (creativity)
The Mayan epic the Popol Vuh has two fascinating sections in which heroes travel to Xibalba, the land of the dead. (The "X" is pronounced sh.) Xibalba lies underground and will remind any longtime D&D player of a dungeon. In fact it inspired one of my D&D adventures a couple years ago, in which the players had to survive trials in four "houses," just as Hunahpu and Xbalanqu had to in the Popol Vuh.

Now I'm going farther, mapping the whole Hero Twin journey for Minecraft. I'm doing my best to follow the epic, in which the heroes

  1. Left their farm
  2. Went "over the ledge of a steep slope"
  3. Came to the mouths of Rustling and Gurgling Canyons
  4. Passed throw Scorpion Rapids
  5. Crossed Blood River
  6. Crossed Pus River
  7. Came to the Crossroads between Red Road, White Road, Yellow Road and Black Road
  8. Greeted the lords of Xibalba, and endured a pair of practical jokes
  9. Survived the trials in Dark House, Rattling (Cold) House, Bat House, Jaguar House and Razor House
  10. And finally, defeated the death gods in a ball game.
So far I've only finished the Rustling and Gurgling Canyons, as shown by the screencap below.

kent_allard_jr: (morans)
Andrew Rosenthal of the New York Times reports on the fate of Anders Breivik:
If the court finds him insane, Mr. Breivik will be kept under forced psychiatric care “for as long as his illness persists” (possibly the rest of his life). Otherwise, Mr. Breivik’s maximum sentence will be 21 years, although a judge can extend his incarceration after that point if he’s still considered dangerous.

By American standards that’s a shockingly lenient punishment. Comparing one high-profile case with another—if a Florida jury finds George Zimmerman guilty of second-degree murder in the shooting of Trayvon Martin, he’ll face a maximum sentence of life in prison, and a minimum penalty of 25 years.

The American system, oriented around punishment (vengeance) and containment (keeping dangerous people off the streets), is arguably more satisfying for a crime like Mr. Breivik’s. But outside of worst-of-the-worst type cases, it’s Norway, with its focus on rehabilitation, that has the more rational and effective prison policy.
Norway locks up only one-tenth as many people as the US. The sentences (as noted) are much lighter, and conditions in prison much cushier, with each cell having a flat-screen TV, an unbarred window and a private bathroom. Nevertheless they have a far lower recidivism rate: Only 20% of their inmates return to jail after 2 years, while 60% of ours do. Their system clearly works better than ours.

In comments you hear a standard response, one that comes up a lot with crime and punishment: You can't compare Norway with the US because Norway is a "homogeneous society." It's never explicit why "homogeneity" leads to low crime rates, and I wonder if its a euphemistic way of saying "they have less crime because they have fewer n*****s." I doubt they're saying America's history of exploitation and racism is responsible, because while that might explain the US approach to crime, it spectacularly fails in justifying it.

I think there is something to the latter, in fact. When you look at homicide rates around the world you find the highest rates are found in Russia, Latin America from Mexico to Brazil, and South Africa. If we put Putin's Russia aside for a moment, we see a history of race-based slavery and segregation is something they all have in common. It's telling that the highest US crime rates are in the South and Southwest, as well, with slavery and Jim Crow in the former and the Mexican underclass in the latter.

In these countries the police are -- or were for far too long -- an occupying, alien army, deployed against an underclass that "only understood force." Arbitrary violence -- and thus imprecise and unjust violence -- was deployed against them, while they were denied any opportunity to improve themselves. In an environment like that the law has no legitimacy; it's something to be avoided, not cooperated with, no better or worse than the gangsters down the street ... and the gangsters know the community and can keep closer tabs on you.

So crime is high, and it stays high long after slavery is abolished, Apartheid ends and the lynch mobs go home. People hate and fear criminals, and there's nothing wrong with that, as long as they don't let hatred and fear overwhelm their better instincts. Unfortunately it's easy to be overwhelmed when criminals don't look or talk like them; it's easy to fall back on old assumptions, that you're dealing with subhumans who "only understand force." Even when it's clear that treating criminals decently, as the Norwegians seem to do, actually makes the streets safer.
kent_allard_jr: (profile)
Life has been a little busier than usual, so I've had less time for LJ. Here's a summary:
  • I'm back to work for the State Senate. It's full time, but only temporary, and instead of a six-person staff it's just me, alone in the office. Nevertheless money is good, and I'm happy to get out of the house.
  • I spent last week in federal jury duty on a banking fraud case. I'd never been part of deliberations before, and it was a heady experience, something everyone should be part of at least once. Too bad that in New York you're permanently indentured and I've been told I'll called back every two years, grumble grumble. (Once is fun, a lifetime not so much.)
  • Kimberly and I will be in the Aegean for our "real" honeymoon in late May. This was a compromise: I wanted the history and Kim wanted a cruise (she loves being pampered and taken care of, something I don't like much at all). We'll see parts of Greece I missed in '09 (Crete in particular), and this time I'll go full Indiana Jones, bring a flashlight, and get to the bottom on the cistern at Mycenae, damn it!
  • Gaming: After loving Saints Row 2 to death I couldn't resist Saints Row the Third. I enjoyed it a greatly, and LOL'd out loud at the brazen wackiness a few times, but it was a lot easier than its predecessor, and that made it a little less satisfying, as I finished the main storyline in about one-third the time.
  • I finished Mass Effect in about the same amount of time (15-20 hours), and my reaction was ... meh. Maybe I was spoiled by SR3; after running around naked with a rocket launcher, a standard strait-laced SF RPG failed to excite me. It wasn't bad, and the basic premise was intriguing, but I found the combat and general gameplay a little dull. Maybe it's just me.
  • After Mass Effect I turned to Spellbound Caves, one of Vechs' "Super Hostile" Minecraft dungeons. I just finished it this morning, and overall I had a blast. If you've downloaded Minecraft but it didn't engage you, I'd recommend trying it again with one of Vechs' maps. Challenging but a lot of fun.

The picture, by the way, is by the great Phil Foglio from a old Dragon. I wish I had the Photoshop skills for a more elegant editing job (it might help if I used Photoshop instead of Corel Photo-Paint, too), but I don't.
kent_allard_jr: (creativity)
As I've said before, I think the computer RPG has eclipsed the paper & pencil variety, at least when it comes to the player's experience. (I know this doesn't hold for Narrativist RPGs, but I don't like Narrativist RPGs. They're supposed to be collaborative story generators, but I see them as dull games that create bad stories.) Sadly, this leaves wannabe Game Masters without a creative outlet. Minecraft creative mode can serve as an adequate dungeon maker -- see Vech's Super-Hostile series to see some great examples -- but it isn't a good world-making tool.

Here's an idea for a game that would create a CRPG world as you play. Ideally it would start with a small multi-player group -- three to a dozen, perhaps -- which would expand as the world grows. I imagine it progressing in two or three phases:

Phase One: The War Against Chaos, Darkness or Evil


The players start out in world dominated by sinister monsters: Giants, Titans, Dragons, the forces of the Dark Lord ... Ideally there would be many options, and the player that reserves the server space could choose one. The object of the Phase One would be to defeat the Evil Overlord(s) and rule the world in their stead.

A key part of this phase is that once the Dark Force leaders are defeated, their minions would flee and hide from the big bad PCs. They'd withdraw into caves, dense forests, mountain passes and the margins of the world. They would become important later.

Phase Two: The Golden Age


In Phase Two the PCs are the new gods. (New players can become "young" gods in this Phase, with limited opportunities for monster-fighting.) They can build their Olympus/Asgard/Valinor and, more importantly, can create the first mortals. There can be only a single mortal race, or several, and in the latter case the general rule will be (a) the first races have the best magic and craft skills, but (b) each later race will be more numerous and will push the earlier ones to the world's margins. Once the last mortal race is created you can move to the third Phase.

Phase Three: The Heroic Age


In the final (?) Phase, players can take the roles of mortal heroes. For old players, these could be the children of their god-characters (in which case, they would have to be from the last mortal race, i.e., humans). These heroes would battle the monsters left over from Phase One, and fight for or against the kingdoms established in Phase Two. In this Phase the gods would only be able to intervene in extremely limited ways (and those playing demi-god descendants wouldn't be able to intervene at all). The game would be much like a standard fantasy RPG at this point.

So, what do people think?
kent_allard_jr: (morans)
My old thesis adviser Andrew Gelman writes about climate trends today. He notes that it's really hard to predict future trends from past values, something you learn in intermediate stat classes (which is as far as I ever got, sadly) and worth reminding ourselves from time to time. Accurate predictions need a strong model, one consistent with the data but derived independently from it.

Do climate scientists have strong models? Well I only know stuff from Traveller and planet-building guidebooks for science-fiction writers, so I'm no kind of expert, but what little I learned suggests that dumping methane and CO2 into the atmosphere will, all else being equal, make the planet hotter. Are levels of these greenhouse gasses higher than they used to be? From what I've heard, yes.

Naturally, all else is not equal, and there are both negative and positive feedback loops. For example, higher temperatures can lead to more evaporation. That means more water vapor -- which as a greenhouse gas, increases temperature -- but also more cloud cover, which raises the albedo and cools the planet down. These complications, I suspect, add variability to the models and make predictions harder. Climate-change denialists may find that comforting, but not me: I'm not happy that we may end up in an ice age, or we might turn Earth into Venus, but Earth normal is somewhere in the middle so it's all OK. I'd rather take steps to ensure the climate doesn't oscillate out of control.

What's more, the denialists use rhetoric that makes them hard to take seriously. Global warming isn't a "fraud," and anyone who says so is a hack or a nut. Skepticism is called for, particularly with predictions and trends, but that kind of talk has no place.

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kent_allard_jr

August 2012

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