Category Archives: General

General

Quick Review: PixelJunk Eden

Enjoyable but cannot decide whether it wants to be stressful or relaxing.

This is not a new game, but I acquired it in a recent Humble Bundle and have played a bit. It is a simple game with few commands. You fling a little “grimp” around plants, opening more plants by defeating enemies to send out pollen, working your way towards a prize in the sky.

The main draw of the game is the soothing atmosphere. The music is light techno/trance. The graphics are abstract and colorful. You are swinging around plants, exploring and enjoying your little musical garden. It is soothing and pleasant.

The game changes when the timer starts to matter. I did not see anything that mentioned the timer in the lower-left corner, but that is what the little bars are. They count down. There are plenty of chances to refill it, but it is difficult to relax with a time limit, making it at best pointless and generally contrary to what I found best about the game. Levels also start adding enemies to attack you and make you start your climb through the plants over.

Entertaining but undercuts its own merits. I could also evaluate its merits as a challenge game rather than a relaxation game, but I do not see why I would.

: Zubon

Scale

One thing I may not have expressed well about Gen Con is the size of the event. There were 56,614 people there. That is people, not triple-counting people who attend several days, and it probably does not include the people who showed up but were not officially attending the conference. Origins felt like a large event at 12,902 attendees; quadruple that. I heard folks spreading the rumor that the event was going to spread into the stadium next door next year, as it has already filled a convention center and spread into nearby hotels, which is a nice idea, but Gen Con would nearly be a sell-out crowd for the stadium and that would be just to pack people in seats watching something. As you might imagine, gaming takes up a bit more space than watching a game.

As Adam Smith explains, The division of labour is limited by the extent of the market, which is to say, you get more niches when you have more people. Games at Gen Con have editions listed for each, in case you insist on D&D 3.0 not 3.5 or refuse to play the revised version of Betrayal at House on the Hill. The vendors can similarly serve narrow markets, such as the booth that did green screen photo shoots for cosplayers to give them exciting, customizable backdrops. A popular game might have an entire floor, and the anime area was larger than some anime conventions.

It’s kind of a big deal. If it repeats this year’s growth, attendance will break 60,000 next year and 70,000 the next. There must be some limit to how big the event can get, but they do not seem to have found it yet.

: Zubon

Writer’s Juice

There’s some bit of finite energy required by blogging. Unfortunately, it is the same juice used to write elsewhere, whether it be at work or in other arenas. I find that if I am active in say a G+ community or a forum, I write less elsewhere. If I write up a solo RPG session, I write less elsewhere. Note that this is not a function of time. It’s more like a function of will.

There’s so much to write about too. The Guild Wars 2 community seems frustrated with ArenaNet’s communication, but then my mid-season view of the Living World story is aces. Windborne got a small update. Chuubo’s Marvelous Wish-Granting Engine just got released in beautiful PDF form. I roleplay with my young daughters every other weekend or so as well, which has opened my eyes to a whole new world.

Then, I also live less than half-hour’s drive from Ferguson. So, I got that going for me.

As always, Zubon and other blogger around the ‘sphere are doing fantastic work. I just felt like I needed to write a note that was like “I’m still here in some form.” I am hoping now that school is started, and things are getting regularly scheduled, I too will find time to manage my juice.

–Ravious

Second Order Preferences

A first order preference is what you want or like. You want pie. A second order preference is your preference about your preferences. You also want to lose weight, so you do not want to want pie. You can keep going to higher orders, where you might run into ambivalence as you miss being interested in something, so you neither want nor want to want it but you kind of want to want to want. Don’t go too deep down that rabbit hole.

I frequently find myself wanting to like things more than I like them. “This is my kind of thing. I should like this. Why don’t I like this?” It’s like I have some misguided loyalty to “my type,” even though I know a thousand details can make it not work. I tend to commit and stick with things, which is good when something goes through a bad patch but bad when it parks in the bad patch and starts digging a hole.

I’m past wanting to play any MMOs, but I still faintly want to want to play because I want to like them. I miss the original ideal of virtual worlds. I love the gameplay of League of Legends, but the community is still highly problematic, so I want to enjoy the game more than I actually enjoy it. Ingress is interesting in the abstract but mostly tedious when I play it more than casually.

I’m not sure of my higher order preferences. I recognize that having a disparity between first and second order is a problem, so I do not want to want to want to play, but I have a certain wistfulness and I am going to cut that thought off there because that way madness lies.

: Zubon

Taking Joy

Because nerds like us are allowed to be unironically enthusiastic about stuff. … Nerds are allowed to love stuff, like jump-up-and-down-in-the-chair-can’t-control-yourself-love it. Hank, when people call people nerds, mostly what they are saying is, ‘You like stuff’, which is just not a good insult at all, like ‘You are too enthusiastic about the miracle of human consciousness’.
John Green

This has been my first con season, and I must say the best part is seeing so many people having so much fun. Gen Con has about it an aura of enthusiasm. Card games? Here is a tournament with hundreds of tables going at once, and that is not the only one, and over there is the entire hall devoted to them. Next to it are areas devoted to board games, from championships to “learn to play” sessions. The dueling successors to Dungeons and Dragons are there, with a large area for the launch of D&D 5th Edition and most of a floor for Pathfinder; just walking by the Pathfinder gaming area was an experience, with themed rooms, groups forming and shouting that they need one more, and generally an air that these people really are going to slay an army of dragons and save the world.

I have really enjoyed the costumes, but I think “outfits” make me happier. That is, there are many costumed characters, but even more people are dressed up without being a particular character. There are more hats and corsets than I see the rest of the year. There are Victorian and steampunk bits, from formal dresses to someone who just felt like wearing goggles. There are more utility kilts than I expected even given that these are gamers. Hair colors stretch far beyond the normal human range, and that was before I ventured into the anime area. People are here to play, and being playful is good. Your steampunk goggles and bronze rocket pack get admiring looks, not confused stares and laughs. The weirdos are the Colts fans who arrived in their thousands for the game last night; why wear a blue and white jersey when you could have a fez and/or chainmail?

: Zubon

Smullyan on Enjoying

He does indeed sift and sort, but he does not know that he is “sifting and sorting.” He is much like a dog who is offered a dish containing a mixture of good foods and bad foods. He spits out the bad foods and eats up the good foods. The doggie does not complain nor criticize the bad foods; he is far too busy enjoying himself hunting out the good foods. And so after the meal is over, if someone asked him how he enjoyed his dinner, the doggie would say, “Delicious! I found so many good foods!” (By contrast, [the grinder] would say, “Horrible! Most of the food was bad! I had a hell of a time finding enough good food to make a meal”)
— Raymond Smullyan, This Book Needs No Title

Comment Spotlight: Meaningful Decisions

There’s a lot of writing about game design in both theory and practice, but what most of it boils down to is that the opportunity to make meaningful decisions on a regular basis is fun.
Alexander Williams

That puts a lot in a nutshell. Why is too much randomness a problem? Your decisions have no meaning if they do not affect the outcome. When the outcome is known at the start due to radically uneven opponents, again your decisions have no effect on the outcome. If the outcome is mutable, how meaningful was that decision when it is wiped away with the next tide? And of course grinding is when you have stopped making decisions and are just carrying out a known algorithm 1000 times until you level, get that rare drop, etc.

The extreme case is “no decisions,” like Progress Quest or Candyland, but the less that it matters what decision you make, the closer you get. If randomness or the starting state determines the outcome far more than your decision does, you could just as easily make the opposite decision and get the same outcome. If the outcome is mutable, and 30 seconds after you’re done the result is wiped away, you could just as easily make no decision or just not show up and it makes no difference. The game plays itself, with the player just cranking the wheel to make it go through the motions.

In some sense, part of the point of games is to have low impact, mutable decisions. You get to fight dragons, blow things up, and conquer the world without any risk to yourself or others. No matter how important your decisions are within the game, once the game is over, you declare a winner and are done. But your decisions need to matter within the game or else your participation in the game does not matter even within the game, at which point it is recursively pointless.

: Zubon

Second Order Preferences

A first order preference is what you want or like. You want pie. A second order preference is your preference about your preferences. You also want to lose weight, so you do not want to want pie. You can keep going to higher orders, where you might run into ambivalence as you miss being interested in something, so you neither want nor want to want it but you kind of want to want to want. Don’t go too deep down that rabbit hole.

I frequently find myself wanting to like things more than I like them. “This is my kind of thing. I should like this. Why don’t I like this?” It’s like I have some misguided loyalty to “my type,” even though I know a thousand details can make it unenjoyable. I tend to commit and stick with things, which is good when something goes through a bad patch but bad when it parks in the bad patch and starts digging a hole.

I’m past wanting to play any MMOs, but I still faintly want to want to play because I want to like them. I miss the original ideal of virtual worlds. I love the gameplay of League of Legends, but the community is still highly problematic, so I want to enjoy the game more than I actually enjoy it. Ingress is interesting in the abstract but mostly tedious when I play it more than casually.

I’m not sure of my higher order preferences. I recognize that having a disparity between first and second order is a problem, so I do not want to want to want to play, but I have a certain wistfulness and I am going to cut that thought off there because that way madness lies.

: Zubon

Test Cases

I have been pondering our QA at work and how that must work out for game development. There is never enough time to do as much as we would like, and there are always more ways things could potentially go wrong. Let’s narrow that discussion to the multiplicity of test environments and the length of regression testing.
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