Sunday, December 31, 2006

Game world notes

The content of this post isn't valid because this project has been canceled is on hiatus. The Shield Lands is slightly more than two years old. In the first year of its existence, it went through four months of building and two-and-a-half months of play. In this last year, it saw three months of building and nine months of play. It has been a mammoth time investment for me, and has greedily devoured most of the time I would otherwise spend on more serious creative pursuits, or socializing, or reading, or personal growth in any other way. Honestly, I’ve been seriously waffling about going cold turkey off of virtual worlds. Instead, I’ve decided to take the board into the next stage of its development. Here are the things I plan on doing:

1. Bioware plans on releasing a huge body of excellent content in the next update of the game. I have a fairly good idea of will be included, it will be mostly stuff from their premium modules. This provides an excellent opportunity to rebuild our resource hakpak from scratch. I wouldn’t say that I’m going to try to minimize our use of custom content, but the hakpak will most likely shrink; Proving less of a barrier for new people to play with us.

2. I’ll repaint all of the areas on the board, because of expanded tileset options, and to accommodate a new play style.

3. In the current version of the Shield Lands, civilized NPCs are static and robotic. The goal of the next overhaul will be to have PCs be able to treat certain populations as either peacefully or hostilely. The home base town as a fixture of the board will go away, as will the axial town-and-dungeon structure of the areas.

4. The economy of the board will change from currency to barter. PCs will be able to attempt to barter with anyone friendly to them with a “Barter Bag” utility item. Yeomen and merchants will cease to function as you have known them. (Brace yourself.) The warehouse will go away. Loot will cease to be about how many tens-of-thousands of ducats you can hoard, and will revolve more around swapping gems, jewelry and art objects. I will also try to spam your inventories less, so I will install the proper code to make food and material components stackable. I also plan on reorganizing and expanding the treasure types.

5. I’ve decided to treat magic items differently from vanilla 3rd edition D&D. Plus one swords and stat buff items will still be the majority of magic items found in the world. Such items will be more simply named. “Magic sword” or “magic necklace” is preferable to “longsword +1" and “amulet of natural armor bonus”. More powerful items I want to design and script myself, these will...
A. Always have some drawback to use. For instance, making you more vulnerable to certain kinds of damage, or having some kind of uncontrollable collateral or unpredictable effect.
B. Powerful magic items will never be “always on”, they will have to be activated and will function for a random amount of time.
C. There will be a small percentage chance per use that the item will become mundane.

6. The treatment of high-level characters in the typical online RPG: that of expanded range, bigger monsters, and truck-loads of loot, is problematic for a game of our scale. Even if I could produce the amount of game content necessary to smoothly maintain such an escalation, the mutchkin-like behavior such a structure encourages is anti-social, predictable, and a drag for new players. It is an unfortunate pattern and I hope to design my way out of it.
1st edition AD&D has a convention tied to high-level campaigns that was fairly important to that game, though left out of the subsequent editions, and computer RPGs entirely. The convention was that around 9th to 11th level, depending on the class, a PC would attain a level that was called “name level”. For instance, a Fighter of 9th level or above was called a “Lord”, and a Magic-User of 11th level or above was called a “Wizard”. The idea was that at name level the character became a fully recognized hero of the game world and would begin to amass followers and territory, as well as greater responsibility.
The obvious incorporation of such an idea would be to shift the focus at name level to a strategy-style game. The amount of work to write a functional strategy game is prohibitive, and there would be no guarantee that it would mesh well with the smaller-scale game, or that it would even be any fun, until we play-tested it. I’ve been wondering if I should include such a strategy element in our game since I started the project. Fortunately, I’ve recently had a much better idea:
A. At a certain level, player characters will stop receiving experience points for killing monsters. They will select a population to champion, and will then gain and lose experience based on the growth and decline of that population. They will be given to option to donate major treasures to enrich the population, supplementing its growth. This is obliquely a gold-for-experience system, another out-of-use 1st edition convention.
B. In addition to population growth and treasure, high level characters will be able to gain experience for leveling up henchmen of their championed population. PCs with a negative Charisma bonus will be denied followers, those with a high Charisma will be able to take on multiple followers. It’s probably important that the followers survive their training for the experience benefits to “stick”.
C. High level characters who are killed will be considered “stopped” for the remainder of the server session. They will not revive like lower level characters, will drop a couple items, and will not be allowed to re-enter the board. Our standard death penalty will still apply, though since these high level characters are not being revived they are not susceptible to the dreaded chain-death/trail-of-tears.
D. I’m considering lowering the death penalty even further, as this new system provides another element to our soft level-cap. The following chart shows the percentage chance of level loss over three different progressions. The changes in color show the loss of multiple levels. We started early this year using the x12 progression, and are current using the x10 progression.
7. I'm not going to schedule sessions while I am making the new build. It may take a several weeks to a few months to get everything in order. I am willing to hold a "goodbye to the old build" session in the next couple weeks, if there is interest. Feedback, cheers, derision, or debate, would be most helpful for furthering this project's development.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Happy! Happy! Joy! Joy!

May the new year treat you all very well.

PS - For the contributors that have been eliminated by
The Google/MCPtm (please see announcement two posts down), I hope that before your bodies were salvaged for parts that it had the decency to make a back up copy of your brainscans to be uploaded at a later date for consultation.

Monday, December 18, 2006

This is an announcement from the MCP

Blogger (which henceforth will be referred to as The Google) is apparently offing a new service upgrade for Astromen! which merges a number of previously unavailable Google-rific services into, eh, The Google.

Unfortunately, this will require shifting the current incarnation of Astromen! from it's present day location into the future, which may cause unanticipated login and posting difficulties for Astromen! members who have not yet transmitted a copy of themselves into the world of tomorrow via the Microsoft ChronochamberTM on Sub-level 7J.

This has been an announcement from the MCP.

----END OF LINE----

Yep yep yep!

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Julie's Blog

Take a look at the blog, there is quite a bit of info and some interesting things.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Elektro the Robot

This animitronic was exhibited at the 1939 World's Fair by Westinghouse. The same year that General Motors had its "Futurama" exhibit.

Links... 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.

And Sparko, too!

Sunday, December 03, 2006

NYC: Nov. 24th

I took the train up to New York for a day trip on Black Friday. I spent three hours at the MoMA and about two walking in and out of galleries in Chelsea.
The temporary exhibition at the MoMA was the Brice Marden retrospective. It was very much like going to a restaurant with only one thing on the menu; I mean, why give me a menu? Marden has done three types of paintings in a decades long career. First he did flat, but not immaculate, rectangles of neutral color slightly misregistered on their canvases, so in the margins you could see the brush hairs and paint runs. Then he eliminated the margins and clustered more colorful pastel canvases. Finally, he grouped several interwoven, chaotic but evenly spaced loops on larger and more colorful canvases.
I must say that I was unenthused about the work. I didn't expect to be. I was surprised that the paintings didn't reward closer examination. I appreciate the complexity of the latter type of work and its relationship to mathematical knot diagrams. In relation to string theory, the paintings almost have a cosmological overtone. But I find knot diagrams, and not the paintings, to be mo
re satisfying to look at. As for cosmology, Barnett Newman's and Pollock's paintings are philosophy by example, whereas Marden's are simply examples of tasteful painting; they're domesticated. I concede, though, that this attitude might be the result of me waking up at five in the morning and traveling five hours to see the stuff.
Link to the source of this image.
I do very much enjoy looking at the graphics produced by and for mathematicians. I find that spotting mathematical images in their native habitat (i.e. texts and websites) is more satisfying because they are grouped in a more engaging way.
Check out this video entitled "The Optiverse". It is a narrated tour of the topology of an optimal spherical inversion. I don't claim to understand half of what the narrator says, but the overall effect is like a public service announcement from Tron. (Link.)
* * *
I felt somewhat dizzied taking in the permanent collection. I am used to going to art venues where I am intimately familiar with the collection, like the Philadelphia Museum of Art or the Art Institute of Chicago. In these collections I can criss-cross the museum, actively following whatever associations I am making. I felt subdued by the MoMA collection, and felt that I could only absorb what was around me, so I spent a long time gawking.
There were some odd wall-hung assemblage works by P
iero Manzoni, the guy who canned and sold his own shit, but I found the Kurt Schwitters junk-art a few rooms over to be more eloquent. Talk about being overshadowed by precedents, the room I spent the least amount of time in was the conceptual art room. I walked in and thought, "Duchamp annihilates these people", and walked out. I did the same thing with Robert Gober's "Prison Window" piece (image).
There were several things in the design and architecture galleries that were of interest:
There was a large gallery devoted to the new Central Chinese Television Headquarters in Bejing (image), with some truly awe inspiring construction photos.
I watched a grade school class play with some interactive applets that made jumping and warbling geometry and text in response to sound and movement. These were by John Maeda, a professor at MIT Media Lab. He has an intriguing project on his website called "Design by Numbers" which is "a global initiative to teach computer programming to visual artists through a
freely available, custom software system that he designed." (source). I plan on spending at least an afternoon with this program. (Link.)
There was a set of large, slotted cards with various pictures and patterns printed on them, designed by Charles and Ray Eames. This seems fertile as a vehicle for free association, but they frown on museum goers opening the glass cases to play with the objects, so I must buy a set, or make my own. (image) One of the Eames team's most famous creations is a film they did for IBM entitled "The Powers of Ten", which is viewable on Google Video! (Link.)
There was also a poster by the Beggarstaff studio, who developed a beautiful paper cut-out style for large commercial posters in the late nineteenth century. They also have a certain hill named after them in a certain virtual world. (image)
* * *
Roughly a third of the galleries in Chelsea were closed because of the holiday. Leave it to the art world to close up shop on the largest shopping day of the year. The best show was Yayoi Kusama's, whose work has a very large range, but with a very strong synthesis. My favorite pieces were bunches of oversized pinballs (image), which serve as the contemporary equivalent of Don Judd's wall mounted stacks (image), in that they located the viewer in space. Other notables in Chelsea were Yun-Fei Ji and Nigel Cooke.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Holy Mackerel

There was something utterly inconceivable in the used CD bin the other day. Among hundreds of jewel boxes, I spotted a familiar logo: a green fist clutching the earth. Gleefully, I shoved everything else aside. The album is a rock opera, of sorts, with words and music by L.Ron Hubbard. The authorship is a little suspect, because the album was recorded posthumously. The musician responsible for performing the album was Edgar Winter.
After further review I can report: The music itself is the mundane synth-pop that was standard issue in 1985. I expected the lyrics to be outrageous, but they are rather vague and droll. The lyrics are based on Hubbard's ten book series "Mission Earth" and the only entertaining thing about the package is the outline of the plot that goes with the songs. Such as "One of the first people Jettero Heller meets on Earth is Mary Schmeck, once a young bright girl with high goals and hopes, now fallen to drug addiction and prostitution through her involvement with psychiatry and psychology."
This album may be the worst thing ever made. I recommend going to Operation Clambake, as it is far more entertaining.

Link to "Operation Clambake"
Link to "L.Ron Hubbard : Music Maker" webpage, and a link to a page with a RealAudio stream with the fifth track of the album, "Cry Out". Which was somehow a public service anouncement? in association with the United Nations?
Link to "The Church of Scientology"