Tuesday, May 30, 2006

The War on Chemistry.

So now chemistry sets are becoming restricted as they are deemed undoubtedly to be the tools of terrorists.
This is getting absurd. Especially after all the discussion about Intelligent Design being imposed on school curriculums . . .
Or the continued federal prosecution of the artist Steven Kurtz for having the test tubes he used in his art projects spotted . . .
It would appear that a trend has been developed by various agencies of the American government to declare science, or at least amateur versions of it, to be an enemy of the state.

Friday, May 26, 2006


I was in an Art Sandwich, (Kelly, Dave, Diebenkorn) on Wednesday.

Friday, May 19, 2006


okay, i've pulled myself together. but this is a cool thing you can look at Mars. Also NEW Superman Returns trailer #2 is out for those interested in the new Man o' Steel movie. ( i hope to god they do a good job with this one.)

***also, I think I got a functional mic working. game on! talk to y'all on sunday!

We now interrupt our three part lecture series on NWN to show you this silly movie...

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Shield Lands II - The Comedy of Failure

Though not as snappy of a title as “Breakin' 2 – Electric Boogaloo” or the recently posted “Warhammer – The Age of Reckoning” (I knew I should have copyrighted that while I had the chance), I believe it to be descriptive and appropriate to the vast on-line role playing game that the diligent and clever Mr. Peter Smith has developed.

I have been attempting to help Mr. Pete test his project since it began and have put forward a number of suggestions along with the other Astromen! I offer this post as an opportunity to really get at the bugs in game play, that if fixed I think could make this game really fun and addictive. That is right, as much as our Dungeon Master begrudges it, that is the goal of making a game. Just check out Lost Labyrinth and see how quickly the hours will pass you by. Please post your suggestions in the comment section so that they can be addressed by the Shield Lands development team.

After a recent streak of being punished, pummelled, and demoralized during the games that have been hosted by Mr. Pete I found myself comparing the current incarnation of the Shield Lands with its first rough draft of last year.

Mr. Pete has succeeded in creating a detailed world of fantasy and adventure in which you can create a character seeking glory and riches. You start out as an untrained and destitute mercenary in the village of Caer Mabon. Throughout your game sessions you can help this besieged military outpost clear the dangerous region of bloodthirsty monsters that wish to destroy all that the Shield Landers stand for. You go out into the wilderness with your character, hopefully with a group of friends and fellow mercenaries, and whittle down the varied and dangerous monster populations (MPOP[tm]) in fierce battle. By gaining experience and salvaging gear from your fallen foes you are able to work your character up to being a mediocre mercenary, now with a bit of hardened battle behind you and some salvaged, shoddily constructed goblin gear in your sack. A bit more confident, you can now set out farther afield from the safety of Caer Mabon in search of the nasty leaders of the savage monsters as well as greater treasures and glory, hoping to strike a decisive blow for the Shield Landers. Problem is, you are then subjected to being bashed, slashed, killed, looted, and eaten so bad that when you limp back to the village you are once again dirt poor and have lost much of your experience and bravery due to the repeated thrashings you received at the hands of your foes. Humiliated, you log off and decide next time to make another character in the hope that his fortunes in the Shield Lands will prove better.

I am not sure if this part of some larger nihilistic philosophy that Mr. Pete holds or if it is just part of ironing out the bugs of such a big gaming project, but most of us have played table top role-playing games with him and know that when he is the Dungeon Master he plays competitively; seeing as he gets to make the rules, the player characters have nothing in store for them but the glory of making important medieval products such as charcoal, and are doomed to a terribly disgraceful death if they venture beyond the safety of civilization. I for one have learned my lesson, and from now when Mr. Pete hosts a game of any kind I will stay close to town and work on becoming a skilled artisan. Feel the Adventure!

Here is an attempt to lay out some changes that I think would vastly improve game play and I believe most of them would be relatively easy to implement. If this is becoming too big to manage I think most of the other Astromen! would be more than happy to help when not doing something productive.

  1. Design Treasure!!!

    It is time to let the beloved monster populations be for a while and now we collectively demand that treasure be added to the game. “Oh those cursed PC's always searching for treasure!” A dagger, rags, and a chicken egg are not treasure, and if that is all that is available than Chuck the Mortician is going to open up a embalming service in search of profits, or maybe a shoe factory full of little Gnome cobblers.

    Especially with the hilarious looting goblins there needs to be a large pool of persistent magic items, valuable exotic crafts, and simple military gear. I am not talking about 127 longsword +3 tokens, no one wants Forgotten Realms or Diablo, but things like “Amulet of the Tree Stump” or “Bill's Cudgel of Ork Skull Bashing.” Heck, maybe just a trusty spear or helm once in a while. Chests, storerooms, weapons racks, weird stuff that only the bard has ever heard of . . . you know, treasure. This would also be a great opportunity to write up background stories from around the Shield Lands. Concerns about abusing an over-abundant game economy would be better addressed when examples actually had the possibility of arising.

  2. Summoning Tables

    A script for interesting summoning tables based on alignment or even randomly would add a lot of fun and personalization to playing a spell caster. As it is now we often have more badgers and wild boars in an adventuring party than Dwarves.

  3. Time

    The time system is a great addition to a video RPG. Its current manifestation is a bit jarring due to its reliance on characters resting to advance time. I know this was one of the hardest systems to implement and I have few ideas for a better alternative, but I think Mr. Alex had some suggestions.

  4. Find Familiar

    It is a shame that every time a wizard summons a familiar he is penalized in his gained experience from battle. Since it has been determined that this problem is unfixable in the NWN tool set short of completely rewriting the experience system, the little bugger could at least help out instead of turning and fleeing with a clever comment at every sign of danger. Developing artificial intelligence is a bitch.

  5. Teleporting

    The addition of easily available scrolls for arcane spell casters helps out with many of the deficiencies of playing those characters that is embedded in Dungeons & Dragons. I also think that by limiting the benefits of non-magical healing to make the Cleric an essential party member like in the tradition of good old first addition settings is great as well.

    The larger issue of the whole party getting completely demolished with no hope of getting back to town without a long and gruelling marathon of enduring ambush after ambush could be foregone with the inclusion of a “Teleport Allies” scroll that could serve as something of an escape hatch when the party inevitably gets in over their heads. This would make bringing along a wizard or bard a lot more desirable when deciding on comrades as well. When I brought this up before there was some grumbling about “suspension of belief” or some such nonsense, but remember this is a fantasy setting where little people shoot lightening bolts out of their fingers and pseudo-Norse gods grant badgers from their celestial realm to devoted followers.

  6. Destinations

    At this point the Shield Lands is set up in the “Town and Dungeon Format” that Mr. Pete is quite fond of (see the module masterpiece the Temple of Elemental Evil). For better or for worse the wilderness areas surrounding town have grown so vast that once you are out there for a spelunking trip it sure seems like a long way back, especially when you are beset by nasty beasts ever ten meters. The population of bad guys is just too dense in the woods (dungeons are another story) but it sure seems desolate when you are looking for an ally outside of town. Travelling, and the elaborate system for it, would make a lot more sense if there was somewhere to arrive at. The prospects of another town or two I find promising for providing role-playing depth, but even just some hidden waypoints where you can acquire food and rest, sell loot, and have some conversation out in the oppressive wild would be nice. Things along the lines of a lonely ranger's cabin, the camp of some merchant/treasure hunter dwarves, or the cave of a witch inserted into larger maps. Herr Ryan designed a quite elaborate town-under-siege and a snowy battlefield with persistent NPC's manning the front, both of which looked very promising.

  7. Rings of Difficulty

    Designing maps and the organization of monster populations in them needs to be a bit more static. Placing foes before every session is unnecessarily labour intensive and the tendency of Mr. Pete to design everything for a party of 14 people with eighth level characters is just too hard to resist. More challenging foes approaching you as you get further out into the wild makes sense within the story and would let characters build up and explore in a more enticing manner. Sometimes it is fun to try and defeat an impossible foe within an inch of your life, but not at every second of game play and as the only adventuring option. The goblin rat shamans want to maraud just like all the other bad guys.

    Also, monsters always get the jump on us, even with skilled scouting we have yet to ambush an enemy.

  8. Travel

    Map design at this time is very linear, but there are no roads leading you through the wilderness. If destinations were added than roads leading you through a linear series of maps might make sense. You could have the possibility of being waylaid along a beaten path, or surely if you were foolish enough to venture away from the road. If it is preferable to organize maps into an open ring of wilderness some changes to area transitions are in order. Area transitions above ground need to open up a lot, there are just too many “bottlenecks of death” with monsters camping in them and no alternative route around. In short, multiple entrances and exits to wilderness areas (without spawn points right there) and an attempt to limit mandatory routes back to town through the “cave of ultimate doom” and along the “stairway of assured ambush” would be appreciated.

    Additionally, if the travel signs could take you not only to the adjacent area but allowed you stay within the travel system to get to a destination, bypass an overly easy area, or to get home when trapped in the 1 hp-no gear-where is my momma-game over man! cycle.

  9. Quest Items

    This idea also seems essential to the game. It gives purpose to adventuring, an opportunity to be rewarded and recognized, and there was some exciting talk about implementing a strategical aspect to the game by sending our heroes back into the wild with a banner that would establish a friendly monster population in a map of the character's choice. Currently quest items are anti-climactic. Gaining 100 xp after you just got thrashed three or four times in a row thus losing 240 xp and gimping back to town with the nothing but your socks and the jewelled necklace in question hardly gets a player jumping for joy. These should be truly coveted because of an experience bonus that vaults you forward, maybe some sort of NPC/PC reaction bonus, and those cool banners that would allow you to call forth Shield Lander soldiers, Dwarven miners, or angry ankle biting Forest Gnomes.

  10. The Dungeon Master

    Mr. Pete (or anyone else for that matter) as the DM or not? With a DM elaborate dialogues with NPCs could be initiated, henchmen could have personality, monster populations could be shifted around appropriate to the situation, and enemies could react unpredictably with leaders spouting snappy threats. The DM could work as an on-line administrator but also could add to the role playing depth and fun, while cutting down on problems that come along with pre-planning everything. This was the original idea in the demo version of the Shield Lands and I think the game has enough variety now to make that work. Mr. Alex did this once or twice in Nordock and it was the only time that module was ever really fun for me.

    Currently Mr. Pete is logging on as a player character and sort of leading us by the nose to the newest thing he has designed. This has two problems: the other players never get to actually discover anything, and if he says, “Let's go check this out over here” you are in for a lot of fun at the newly created “ravine of immanent head wounds.”

Monday, May 15, 2006

Trashy movies

Watching schlocky movies is a prime weekend drinking activity here in the middle-of-nowhere. Recently, my friends and I have run across a few gems.
"A Boy and His Dog"(1975) is a good example of how really good writing can use the expected pacing and accoutrements of a B-movie, but surprise us with them. The writer is none other than Harlan Ellison, a fixture in the science fiction community. This one of my new favourite post-apocalyptic movies, and the bar is pretty high for those.
"Color Me Blood Red" (1965) is courtesy of the director who is often considered the progenitor of the slasher genre, Hershel Gordon Lewis. The premise is that Adam Sorg, failed painter, finds that a specific color determines if his paintings sell or not. Of course the color can only be that of human blood, and of course he accepts no substitutes. The movie has the same sluggish and somewhat dazed pacing of many bad horror movies. The artistic pretensions of the main character is what keeps the movie going for me. And, oh yes, the paintings are bad.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Art in Review

I made a blog that reviews artwork, but I don't want to limit it to just shows I've seen in Berlin. My writing isn't exactly literature, but this site provides me with an opportunity to improve it. So anyone interested in writing reviews for it let me know and I'll give you posting status. I want to open it up so anyone that is interested can be a contributor, but I wanted to ask you guys first.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Attack of the German-Superhero-"Robin Hood"-Anarchists!!

A GANG of anarchist Robin Hood-style thieves, who dress as superheroes and steal expensive food from exclusive restaurants and delicatessens to give to the poor, are being hunted by police in the German city of Hamburg.

The gang members seemingly take delight in injecting humour into their raids, which rely on sheer numbers and the confusion caused by their presence. After they plundered Kobe beef fillets, champagne and smoked salmon from a gourmet store on the exclusive Elbastrasse, they presented the cashier with a bouquet of flowers before making their getaway.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Marcel Broodthaers Musée d'Art Moderne, Départment des Aigles

Marcel Broodthaers Musée d'Art Moderne, Départment des Aigle was a conceptual museum created in Brussels in 1968. It had neither permanent collection nor permanent location, and manifested itself in "sections" appearing at various locations between 1968 and 1971. These sections typically consisted of reproductions of works of art, fine-art crates, wall inscriptions, and film elements. In 1970, Broodthaers conceived of the Financial Section, which encompassed an attempt to sell the museum "on account of bankruptcy." The sale was announced on the cover of the Cologne Art Fair catalogue in 1971, but no buyers were found. As part of the Financial Section, Broodthaers also produced an unlimited edition of gold ingots stamped with the museum's emblem, an eagle, a symbol associated with power and victory. The ingots were sold to raise money for the museum, at a price calculated by doubling the market value of gold, the surcharge representing the bar's value as art. Broodthaers's museum represents a pioneering effort to dispute traditional museum practices by appropriating and altering them.
This is an artist that was in many ways working with insitutional critique, many of you may know him . Though I couldn't find very good sources for his work on the web I did find this courtesy of the Museum by the same name--- MoMA.org (This pretty much means "Thank your
critical analysis.... now we will add you to our collection, whatever WE stand for in the future." -MoMA)