kent_allard_jr: (Default)
As the helicopter flies into the sunset: "What do we do now?" "We own this city. We can do whatever we want." Cue the end credits for Saints Row 2!

Yes, I finished the game and had a blast. As I've said, I'm a lousy video game player so my experience may not be typical, but on "casual" I found it challenging without ever being impossible. (I found it harder than Skyrim, but there I stumbled upon an optimal combat strategy so my Skyrim experience may not be typical.) There was a lot to do, from fighting to chases to "ho-ing" to driving around on fire in an asbestos suit, with a wacky humor that made me LOL quite a few times.

If you don't mind playing a violent sociopath -- and I wouldn't hold it against you if you do! -- I would highly recommend Saints Row 2. Only $15 on Steam, and it runs smooth as silk (only crashing once in 60 hours of gameplay, nearly unheard of for PC games on my machine). Check it out, yo!
kent_allard_jr: (morans)
Thanks to all who commented on my last entry. Most skepticism was directed towards the composition of my second chamber, and rightly so. I said it would be "elected from professional associations or something like that," suggesting it would be come kind of syndicalist body and I'd be giving the AMA, American Bar Association and so forth their own Senators. These special interests have too much influence as it is!

I was thinking more in terms of the Supreme Court. I'm filled with ambivalence towards the USSC, which has been a reactionary body for most of its history but which was responsible for Brown v. Board of Education and other great civil rights milestones of the 50s, 60s and 70s. I sympathize with the democratic rhetoric conservatives use in their critique of the judiciary, but know it's just used opportunistically to attack the reforms of the Warren Court. (I wonder what purpose they think the USSC should serve, beyond committing the nation to pointless antiquarianism.) Why give so much power to a group of unelected judges with lifetime tenure?

My conclusion is we need a role for people who are greatly respected for their knowledge and wisdom, who can speak their conscience, and force the political system to acknowledge their arguments, without fear of reprisals.

I'm not convinced their role should be limited to the constitutional interpretation, and at the same time, I don't think their power should be as unfettered as the USSC's. My answer, for an ideal role, was the "technocratic chamber" I proposed for the Rational Republic.
kent_allard_jr: (morans)
This is a bit of pie-in-the-sky political philosophizing. It's based on a contradiction between two principles.

On the one hand, a good government is one that acts in the best interests of its people, and the only way to ensure this (that we know of) is to hold the government responsible to those people through free, fair and regular elections. On the other, a good government is a well-informed government, one that studies the issues it's involved in.

Traditionally, we've hoped or assumed that representative democracy fulfills both criteria: We elect leaders who then learn all they need to make intelligent decisions, because failing to do so could lead to disasters that they would be held responsible for. Is this, however, a safe assumption? I don't think it is, particularly when dealing with issues of great public interest but limited public knowledge. What's the point of learning about an issue if you're responsible to an uneducated public, that will punish you for taking the correct, well-informed position?

Note that when I say "uneducated" I mean "about a specific issue." Everyone is poorly informed about some matters, and well informed about others. This is not a question of college degrees or anything like that. It isn't about credentials, but a willingness to learn.

My solution to this problem would be, first of all, to have a limited bicameralism, with one elected (and more powerful) chamber, and another made up of technocrats elected from professional associations or something like that. The latter would be able to veto the decisions of the former, but only with a supermajority vote (say, 3/4th of the technocrat chamber); they would only be able to veto if there was a broad professional consensus. (In practice, these vetoes would have to be made by specialist committees, rather than the chamber as a whole. So there'd be one made up of economists, one of national security specialists, and so on.)

In addition, the second chamber's veto could be overridden by a draft lottery legislature. This would be a group of randomly selected citizens, who would listen to arguments from representatives of both chambers before deciding whether to sustain or override the veto. So in my vision, the constitution would be both more technocratic and more democratic at the same time, with the purpose of creating, and putting more power in the hands of, a well-informed public.
kent_allard_jr: (Dungeon Master)
Like many old roleplayers I fell in love with RuneQuest after playing AD&D. The mechanics were elegant and consistent, and its combat system had a verisimilitude that D&D lacked with its clunky abstractions.

One problem with RuneQuest was its basic combat mechanic: In order to damage an opponent, you had to make a successful attack roll and your opponent had to fail a parry roll (or some other defense roll). Rolls were made with percentile dice, and attack and parry skills ranged (more or less) from 5-95, starting at the low range. This meant fights could go on a looooong time. If two folks had skill ratings of 10%, only 9% of their blows would land; and if they had skills of 95% then less than 5% would. Combat was only resolved quickly when skills were in the 50% range. A number of solutions had been suggested over the years, but all of them seemed a bit clunky.

My suggestion is to use other dice, as well as D100s, for skill checks. Use D20s for easy tasks, D40s for somewhat easy, D100 for standard, D200 for hard tasks, and D400 (or higher!) for extremely difficult skill checks. (A D40, in case you wondered, would just be a 4-sided and a 10-sided die rolled simultaneously, and a D200 would be a D20 and a D10.) Criticals and Specials would skill occur if you rolled less than 5% of your skill or 20% of your skill, respectively, so they'd come up more often with easier tasks; while fumbles would occur if you rolled within the die's "threat range" (shown below) and then failed a D100 skill check.

Die Type Threat Range
D20 20
D40 39-40
D100 96-100
D200 191-200
D400 381-400
D1000 951-1000


In combat, attackers would choose which dice to roll, and defenders would (in most cases) use the same dice for their parry or dodge rolls. So a crude, obvious attack would use a D20 roll, and would likely crit if it made contact, but could easily be swatted away, while a super-duper-ninja-mindfuck attack might require D400, but would be nearly impossible to defend against.

I know the subject matter is a bit obscure, but comments are welcome.
kent_allard_jr: (Default)
Years ago, Ben "Yatzee" Croshaw posted a glowing review of Saints Row 2:
On Thursday I found it on sale on Steam for $15 and downloaded the game. Friday morning I created an avatar who looked just like my wife Kimberly. Kimberly expressed approval and left for work.

By the time she returned home I broke out of prison, murdered 100 cops, crashed twenty cars and sprayed half the city with raw sewage (don't ask). I'd also settled on an outfit that, to me, was perfect for the game's trashy wackiness, shown on left. Kimberly was horrified.

"WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO ME?!?!! That's completely INSANE!!! A pimp hat and FLIP-FLOPS?!?!? At least give her boots with those leggings for God's sake. You turned me into a batty old lady!"

She insisted I abandoned my current mission and go to the nearest clothing shop. I had to lose the hat, cover her ass, and get some decent footwear. I grumbled, at least when I wasn't reduced to helpless laughter, but complied nonetheless. I don't know how long I can keep her sensibly dressed, though. At some point I'll find the costume shop and Kim will get to rob banks dressed as a Playboy bunny or something. How could I resist?
kent_allard_jr: (Default)
Switching between Minecraft and assorted MMOs inspired fantasies of a niche MMO called "World of StoneCraft."

It'd be an MMO set in the Neolithic era, loosely defined. Some folks would be hunter-gatherers, others farmers, still others fishermen or herdsmen. Players would make their own tools and weapons with sticks, stone, feathers and bone. They could also build their own shelters with leather, wood, mud, stone and straw. Crafting skills would necessary for survival and key to the game, not just tacked on to the monster slaying.

There would be the occasional monster, hiding in caves or deep in the wilderness, and NPC villagers might give quests to kill them. (Other quests could include rescuing lost villagers, providing supplies, or killing PCs that have killed villagers or stolen supplies.) Day-to-day survival, though, would be the main challenge at the start of the game. You'd need food (possibly of different types), water and shelter from the cold. Killing would be necessary, for meat, leather and bone, but the targets would be mammoth and buffalo instead of zombies or dragons, for the most part.

There'd be some magic: shamanism, witchcraft and crude paganism of some sort or another. I can imagine players building shrines to deities, and getting buffs from animal sacrifices, while shamans would travel to the spirit world and have their own quests there. There would also be herbal remedies and first aid skills.

The map would have to be huge for the whole thing to work, but there could be a natural progression on each server, from hunters to farmers, as the land gradually fills up. Of course farming would be less exciting than hunting, so maybe it that would serve as a thermostat to keep the population down. That assumes, of course, that anyone would find the concept intriguing other than myself.
kent_allard_jr: (Default)
Now that Minecraft has KITTENZ Kimberly says she'd like to try the game. (Recent exchange: "Damn, I just got killed by a creeper!" "Any kittens killed?" "No." "Oh, it's OK then.") She only wants to play multiplayer, though, which is tempting me to set up my own server. Questions:

  1. Is this a good idea, for a non-tech head like myself?
  2. If (A), then would anyone like to join it?
If it were just Kim and I then we'd build a compound, breed animals (Kim wants me to bring her "lots of pink sheep") and do other couple shit. If more folks joined I'd build dungeons and so forth.

I returned to Minecraft after getting stuck in Arkham Asylum: My reflexes are just too damn slow and I couldn't get through a fight with Bane AND a room full of thugs. (I'm sure most of you breezed through this part, but please keep that to yourself, OK? It's embarrassing.) It's too bad because I was really enjoying the game. I love stealthing around, carefully planning each takedown, but the quick-time events are hard for a lousy typist who was diagnosed with bad reflexes as an infant and who hasn't gotten better with age.

A comparison with DC Universe Online is instructive. I created a maskless Batwoman type, and got all of Batman's fragility without the stealth. None of the money, either, and you have to return to vendors to repair your equipment all the time. You also have to buy soda, the main source of healing in the game. (Funny, I don't remember Bats quaffing Mountain Dew very often...) I got to 10th level and called it quits.
kent_allard_jr: (Default)
I wasn't a big TV viewer in the old days. Even as a little kid, I'd watch Sesame Street or something and shut the thing off (much to the annoyance of my mother, who wanted more time to herself). When I married Kim my evenings changed: Kim works in TV and loves the medium, so now we sit in front of the Boob Tube every night. Luckily we have Netflix Streaming and there's a lot of good stuff to watch. I've already talked about Mad Men; here are my thoughts on some other shows we've watched:

  • Mythbusters. I always liked the "Worst Case Scenario Handbooks" that were popular a decade ago, and I enjoy Mythbusters the most when it's like those books, and tells you how to be Batman one way or another. Their love of explosions is endearing, but I don't get the same thrill from the big blasts as I do from, say, watching them break out of prison with watches and paper clips.
  • Justified. Based on an Elmore Leonard short story, it's excellent overall but makes me uneasy. It's filled with Leonard's cutesy machismo, and as I noted to Ta Neishi Coates today, I'm uncomfortable with it when it's coming from a guy with a badge. I highly recommend Justified, but with that reservation.
  • Breaking Bad. Extremely well done but I find it hard to watch. It's not that he's dying of cancer while being threatened by psychotic drug lords; I can accept that. Weirdly enough it's his family: I find his prissy, humorless wife revolting, for some reason, and the main character's cavalcade of dreary misery, from all sides of his life, more depressing than entertaining. Kim and I watch it occasionally but there's only so much we can stand.
  • Archer. Very Adult Swim-esque in that every character is a mild sociopath, but we laugh anyway so who cares?
  • The X-Files. It's amazing how well this show has aged over the last two decades, at least when you rewatch the comedy episodes (I don't remember the "mythos" ones being that great). That's until the 8th and 9th seasons, anyway, when I had stopped watching. I tried some ninth season eps for the first time, but even when the concepts were great (Burt Reynolds as God! The Brady Bunch as serial killers!) the execution was dull as dishwater. So sad.
  • Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Kim likes this a lot better than I do, since I find the mysteries/"thrillers" to be simple-minded and crude (not surprising with only 30 minutes to cover them). Nevertheless the intros and closers with Hitchcock himself are delightful, funny and charming, and the show can be worth watching for those alone.
kent_allard_jr: (Dungeon Master)
Kim's mother got me Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim for Christmas, and I enjoyed it immensely (well... as much as I can with any videogame, since I always have the sense I'm letting my life dribble away while playing). The graphics were stunning, as you can see from the left-hand screenshot, and the world wonderfully immersive. After I finished the main story, became leader of the Companions and Grand Wizard of the magic academy I gradually lost interest; there were a few more quests left, but it didn't seem fulfilling, extorting protection money from shopkeepers after saving the world three or four times. Ultimately I bought the largest house in the game, got married, and happily retired, which wasn't a terrible way to wrap things up.

Before Skyrim I had briefly returned to City of Heroes. Now free to play, they had introduced a few new features that I wanted to try out. One was the "morality mission," which let you turn your villains into "rogues" (mercenary, Catwoman types), your heroes into "vigilantes," and then from rogues to heroes and vigilantes to villains. I took Fantomah on the full path to redemption, and enjoyed the ride, getting a strange sense of accomplishment I never got from the leveling grind. I also tried some of the "user-generated content," and while I still believe amateur dungeons are the future of MMOs, they weren't good enough to make City of Heroes worth playing for long.

I put a lot of faith in amateur-designed dungeons because I'm a non-programmer who's written paper&pencil RPGs, loves to design worlds and loves to be a game-master. I have to acknowledge, though, that something like Skyrim is better than a D&D campaign in just about every way. There's no math to juggle or rules to memorize; you can play it any time you like (no tedious scheduling emails); and the sights and sounds are more vivid and intense than the descriptive text of even the best game master. Players are almost always better off with a computer for a GM.

It's the GM who loses out. I want to create and show off what I make, and for some reason RPGs have been the best medium for my diverse if underdeveloped talents. I don't think I'm alone in that regard, and would like to see more tools for budding Dungeon Masters who would like to continue creating content for a 21st century medium, hopefully without requiring the vast resources that computer games seem to need these days.

That's part of why Minecraft appealed to me so much. I stopped playing after its official release in November -- I just ran out of new stuff to do -- but with a few new features I think a Minecraft server could serve as a custom designed online RPG. I don't think I have the computer chops to run one, but it's a possibility.
kent_allard_jr: (Dungeon Master)
Wizards of the Coast will soon release a 5th edition of Dungeons and Dragons. (They're refusing to call it "fifth edition," saying it's the "next iteration" or some other nonsense like that, but we all know what it is.)

From what I've heard, their main goal is to avoid the fracturing of the market that occurred when 4th edition came out. Right now Pathfinder, essentially a 3e variant, has roughly the same sales as 4e D&D, and Wizards would like to bring its committed players back into the fold.

Right now they're talking about a "modular" rule set. It's hard to know its exact meaning in practice, but I think it's an excellent approach. To me, the ideal game system should have something like the Hero System for infrastructure, and Tunnels & Trolls as a superstructure: Super-simple to the casual player, but with with enormous range for customization for those who want it.

My main suggestion would be two-fold:
  1. Every class trait or feature should be purchasable with one or more feats. In fact, the number of feats should be about equal for each class, so DMs could create new ones by taking, say, 20 feats and matching them with sets of powers.
  2. As players advance, however, their feats will be chosen for them based on their class or sub-class, much as powers were pre-selected under D&D Essentials. They'll have the option of replacing the packaged feat with one of their choice, but they won't have to do so.

In essence, this would be using a point-build system for classes, where 1 feat = 1 character point. From the standpoint of the player, though, it would be like 1st edition D&D, where every "thief" has the same abilities. If he wasn't happy with that straitjacket, though, he could customize his character as he wished.

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August 2012

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