Friday, April 18, 2014

SHTFriday: Steel Choices for a Bug-Out Blade

The first in a series of guest posts as I prepare for a week's vacation  (and oh god, do I ever need a vacation from my family) that begins on Monday and culminates at the NRA Annual Meeting in Indianapolis.

I will try to write a post this weekend for Monday so that you, my dearest and faithful readers, will have three days of content until I get back.  However, I cannot make guarantees.

Until then, enjoy this fine hand-crafted post on "What steel should I choose if I can have only one knife in my doomsday kit?"

(PS: the answer is always "high-carbon steel kukri.")

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Dr Wholmes - The Final Chapter: The Exile.

     And now we come to the final installment of comparisons, where I take my premise and stretch it truly past the breaking point. The other three have been pretty clear parallels, but this one even I'll admit pushes it. If you're a Doctor Who fan but haven't seen the 50th anniversary special, you might tune out for fear of spoilers. Likewise if you're a House fan and haven't seen the finale.

     After spending who knows how long avoiding the Time War, the 8th Doctor was mortally wounded attempting to rescue a brave pilot from a crashing starship. That would have been the end of the Doctor due to the severity of his injuries, but he was recovered and aided by associates of the Time Lords. His regenerative cycle was kick-started and, for once, he was given a choice of what his next regeneration would bring.

     A warrior was then born, in fire and pain and conflict. When next we see this warrior, the War Doctor, he's been fighting so long that even his unnaturally long-lived body has worn old and worn down. He's gotten old all over again, bitter and irascible and with very little patience for anyone else, including himself. He'd reached the end of his rope, and was ready to blow it all away to destroy the world he knew in order to make a better world for everyone else. His only connection, his one longest companion, the TARDIS, the only thing to survive.

     Gregory House's life was one much of travel and study, much a background in medicine, physics, archaeology, and assorted other skills. His own personal war started with his father, an abusive military man who House never believed to be his real father. That personal war culminated in an infarction in his leg that left him crippled and in pain. When we meet him, he's very much the same bitter and irascible man, completely incapable of regular social interaction without biting sarcasm and nearly blatant attacks on anyone who engages him.

     By the time his end comes, his war has spiraled so out of control that he's alienated nearly everyone in his life, ruined his professional career, and ended up in jail, rehab, and worse. House's way out of his war, his way to make the world better for those around him, was to destroy himself, or at least fake it. Again, leaving his only connection, his one longest companion, Wilson, the only thing to survive with him.

     Because of his actions to end the Time War, the War Doctor was an exile in his own mind. Because of his actions leading up to faking his death, House was an exile to anyone in his life beyond Wilson. House was Sherlock Holmes on the day it was impossible to be Sherlock Holmes, much as the War Doctor was The Doctor on the day it was impossible to do the right thing, and perhaps they were both wearing a bit thin.

Now, I'd better leave off before I dig up another Doctor that I can connect to Batman, since I seem to be out of recent Sherlock Holmeses.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

[AFTHOTWTTGS] Closure in Game Development

A couple of weeks ago, I was burbling on about an alternative socio-economic model for how roleplaying games are produced and sold. Now, to look at how we can move toward this alternative model by playing with the idea of ‘closure’...

The classic model of making and selling games for a living is one of open streams of income – a game is made, and as sales flag, a new product is released for it in order to make more sales and continue paying the wages, bills, rents and so on and so forth.  Now imagine a game which exists, from the developer’s point of view, as a closed stream of income; it is produced, it sells out, pays the bills for a month or two, and then it’s done.  The developer moves on to paying their bills with something else, whether it be making another game or another job entirely.  Infinite extension through deliberate misdesign is no longer necessary because the developer’s livelihood is being assured by other means.  The system, if reasonably solid, can be preserved as a ‘dead’ system, immune to being buggered about with in the cause of generating further products and further sales.

Alternatively, the game can be an intermittent stream of income, if a different kind of game design emerges.  Game development is usually seen as a closed system – authorship, playtesting, release, done.  One of my very favourite miniature games had a public field test of its second edition, based on the idea that a player base will a) play many, many more games than the design team ever could and b) having not written the rules, will not ‘know what they mean’. This rather neatly dodges the classic self-proofreader’s problem: you read what you think you wrote and not what’s actually there. A public test means that errors, typos, confusions and poor structure can be pinpointed by people who aren't as likely to skim over them because they know that bit already.  It works very nicely for the 'dead game' market too, provided some sort of centralising force emerges to direct the house-ruling and re-drafting process; exactly like what's happened with Games Workshop's defunct Specialist Games range, and exactly like what hasn't happened with the OSR - of which more later.

The basic process I'd like to see in games-making goes something like this.

  1. Alpha testing by a limited number of playtesters, including a control group run by the developers, but also other groups with different styles and priorities, perhaps each including a developer (at this stage, testing is about whether the core principles and mechanics are functional, rather than catching oversights and errors, so the developer’s foreknowledge of how it’s supposed to work is a benefit rather than an adversary in the making).  
  2. Beta testing by anyone and everyone, public and free, with feedback on rules language, clarity, evidence of publicly stated core principles in the system as it’s read and played out-of-house.  
  3. Eventually, the formation of a rulebook – downloadable and printable on demand. We don't build up a stock of the damn things that we have to shift; we sell the damn things when someone wants to buy them, and we accept that a given gaming group might well only buy the damn things once between the four of them.

Of course, it has to stay small.  The more time and money you spend on the product, the more people you involve, the more costs you have to pay, the more hours of labour for which you need to be adequately recompensed (because it is important that you keep paying the bills while you’re working on this stuff) – the more reasons there are to release a product because you need the money, rather than because the game needs the addition.

The goal is to balance your time so that game development is not the One Thing you do for a living, which – in theory – means that more of your decisions can be based on good design practice, and you’re less worried about supporting yourself with a viable game product, because such is not your only means of support.

Essentially, you’re looking at small groups producing games as one of multiple streams of income, rather than large ones producing them as the sole stream.  Sort of how Kickstarter and the OSR have shifted the RPG world away from the traditional publishing model... and we'll talk about a few effects that the emergence of fan development and crowdfunding have had in... the future.

Monday, April 14, 2014

An odd thought for an idle Monday

Isn't it weird/awesome that we, and in fact most of the world, use:
  • months named by Romans (Julian calendar) and then adjusted by another Roman (Pope Gregory XIII),
  • filled with days of the week named after Norse gods (but using the Germanic spelling); 
  • and then we count down those days filled with hours, minutes and seconds using a Base 60 numbering system for time that originated with the ancient Sumerians 
  • and which is written with Hindu-Arabic numerals.

Maybe you shrug your shoulders and say "So what?" but I think it's nifty that this deeply rooted stuff which we take for granted has come from all over the place.  Realizing that the way we measure time is an amalgamation of four seven different and ancient cultures and that it's all so invisible to us is like... well, the best approximation I can come up with would be if I discovered that my skin was made in Brazil, my brain came from Taiwan, and my organs were made by the Inuit, but they were all still me and still American.

When I posted this on Facebook  (and if you aren't following me there, why aren't you?  I'm delightfully weird and random there), I received a wonderfully fascinating reply by a gentleman by the name of Logan Darklighter:
What's the connection between the Space Shuttle and Roman Chariots?

The width of two horses' asses.

Wagons were more or less standardized on the width of tackle it took to harness two (and multiples of two) horses in front of a chariot.

Roads and the ruts worn into those roads more or less demanded carriages be built to the same scale.

Later when trains were invented, in many cases they followed old roads and kept the same standards.

Thus a standard gauge engine and rail cars are based on that width between the rails. Tunnels cut for those trains to go through mountains and hills are cut so that a standard sized railcar will go through.

Morton Thiokol had to design their SRB boosters so that they'd clear through those tunnels when they are being transported by rail to Cape Canaveral. They couldn't be any wider.

Wow! That just gets me. I'm not especially disposed to the whole "We are one" interconnectedness thing, but the concept that these ancient concepts have such an important and measurable, yet invisible, affect upon my life makes me wonder about all the other bits of awesomeness around me that I just can't see.

Inevitably, that leads me to thinking about how all the iron in my blood all comes from exploded stars and then I get really mellow and zen and usually end up looking at the night sky for a while.

Don't worry, this is about as hippie as I get. I'm not going to sit in a circle and hold hands and sing Kumbaya.

Unless, of course, there are ponies involved, in which case, I am totally going to make you sing.

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