17 July 2010

“There’s no wrong way to play”

Risus author S. John Ross used to often say, “There’s no wrong way to play Risus.” Today, he says, “There’s no wrong way to play.”

This is a sentiment I also heard in the words of Rob Kuntz and Tim Kask during the “early days of the hobby” round-table at the North Texas RPG Con.

I think it can be very worthwhile to discuss our approaches to role-playing games. It can be hard to remember that what works for me may not work for everyone. Often I see things as “the right way” and “the wrong way” instead of simply as preferences. I try to express my thoughts as first-person opinions. I don’t always succeed.

16 July 2010

A bookshelf app

More often than not, Kindle has a book I’m looking for and the iBook Store does not.

Unfortunately, buying Kindle books isn’t nearly as easy. It’s annoying that I can’t buy books from within the Kindle iOS app as I can from the iBooks app. It’s annoying that I can’t buy Kindle books through the Amazon iOS app. I can’t imagine why this is the case.

The other annoying thing is trying to remember whether I need to go to the iBooks or Kindle app to read a particular book. I wish I had a “bookshelf app” that would show all my iBook and Kindle books and then launch the appropriate reader. It should also have documentation to allow other e-book apps to integrate with it as well.

Pipe dream? Perhaps. It would, however, be “insanely great”.

(I’m less sure about having Good Reader integrate with such a “bookshelf app”.)

15 July 2010

LotFP: RPG: Countdown

Lamentations of the Flame Princess, “Countdown”:

I do provide cross-clone compatibility notes and plug by name “competing” companies and games and publications within my game. Even if someone unfamiliar with anything decides my game looks cool and picks it up at random, they will know that my game is but the latest that celebrates a greater tradition, and they’ll know there are other visions than mine that are producing great things. If I manage to reach new people I hope those people enjoy all of our work, not just mine.

The really sad thing is that there most likely won’t be a single mention of the name Dungeons & Dragons. For legal reasons, whether real or perceived, the original game itself won’t get a mention by name. Unless James chooses to really stick his neck out even farther than he has already.

13 July 2010

Arial versus Helvetica versus...

Thing is, Arial’s faults still don’t make me like Helvetica any better. I wouldn’t mind if both of them disappeared.


There are those who rail against Arial as a poor knock-off of Helvetica. They are known to wail, tear their clothes, and gnash their teeth whenever they spot the impostor insisting that Helvetica should have been used instead.

Bruno Maag feels much the same way about Helvetica, saying that Univers should have been used instead. He has a new typeface, Aktiv Grotesk, which he is billing as the Helvetica killer.

Perhaps it goes without saying, but I’m going to say it anyway: If Maag was serious about Aktiv Grotesk replacing Helvetica, he would give it away. That’s how Arial has gotten to where it is.† This is simple marketing hype and publicity stunt. Which is fine; let’s just be clear about it.

One commenter, Eric S., wrote, “Aktiv is to Helvetica as Weird Al Yankovic is to the late Michael Jackson.” That’s an funny observation. I’m not sure if it was meant to be a compliment or a disparaging remark. Personally, I have bought more Weird Al albums than Michael Jackson albums.

In any case, I think I can paraphrase myself here: Helvetica’s faults don’t make me like Aktiv.

Commenter gareth perhaps said it best:

no such thing as a bad type face - just poor choice of typeface

context is everything!

†Note that neither Helvetica or Arial are technically free. They are merely liberally licensed. They are only practically given away. Any Helvetica killer has to be licensed at least as liberally as Helvetica is to have any real chance.

12 July 2010

Streaming AV UI

Audio/video players can be playing or paused. Streaming AV players, however, have a third state: Waiting. Waiting is like paused in that the content isn’t being played. In the wait state, however, playing will begin as soon as possible. Unfortunately, this third state isn’t directly exposed to the user.

Often the user can’t definitively distinguish this state. If the player is waiting and the user activates the play/pause control, what should the player do? Often the user can’t move the player between the paused and waiting states, and I know at least one user who often wants to.

There’s another wrinkle. Most players don’t switch from waiting to playing as soon as possible. Instead, they use heuristics to try to ensure that they have enough content buffered to prevent having to fall back into waiting. This is a good thing, but it means that waiting is actually two new states: Waiting and buffering. When the heuristics fail, it is reasonable to allow the user to override them, forcing a transition from buffering to playing. Some players give the user this ability, while others do not.

That’s the basics of the situation. Maybe sometime I’ll put together a chart of the states and figure out what should be communicated to the user and what controls should be provided to the user.

11 July 2010

My favorite die

I like the d10. For anyone unfamiliar with the “polyhedral dice” and dice nomenclature of Dungeons & Dragons, this is a die with ten sides. I like that...

  • It has a zero. The sides are numbered zero to nine instead of one to ten like you might expect. (Although the zero is often treated as ten in play.)
  • You can use multiple d10s to simulate a d100, d1000, etc.

What I don’t care for is the shape, which is termed a pentagonal trapezohedron.

If I had to pick a favorite from among my dice, it might well be this one:

It is the d20—twenty-sided die—from my second set of polyhedral dice. Things I like about it:

  • It’s a precision die from Gamescience, which I find aesthetically pleasing.
  • Like almost all d20s, it is a regular icosahedron, one of the platonic solids, which I find aesthetically pleasing.
  • Unlike almost all d20s made today, it is numbered from zero to nine twice, so it can be used as a d10 and shares all the things I like about d10s.
  • Unlike the earliest d20s, which were numbered in the same fashion, half of the faces have a plus sign, so it can be used as a d20 without using a second die or using two different colors for the numbers.

It was unique among my dice. Well, almost. I also have a “diamond” (i.e. clear plastic) one purchased at the same time, but it is hard to read no matter what color you use for the numbers.

I’m not sure if they still make these. The newer Gamescience dice sets I have bought have come with 1–20 d20s. It turns out, however, that Gamestation does sell some of these “d20+” dice, which I suspect are NOS. So, I ordered some. My favorite die now has some competition.

See also: “I’ve been thinking about this for a while, and I gotta say—I’m pretty much through with ten sided dice.”

10 July 2010

Is Apple prepping a new programming language?

waffle → Surpass:

It is my belief that Apple is definitely working on a new language to surpass Objective-C as their intended, primary, publicly recommended programming language...

I’ve been thinking that it seems very strange that Apple’s primary language is (still) Smalltalk grafted onto C.

If he’s right, I hope that, like the A4 processor (which is ARM based) and Safari (which is HTML, CSS, and Javascript based), it isn’t a wholly new language.

Would Smalltalk be a hard sell to developers who have accepted Objective-C?

09 July 2010

Realms of Eternal Epic

New Haven Games has announced a “remake” of second edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. They’re calling it Realms of Eternal Epic. (I’m guessing the name was picked because the abbreviation they use, Ro2E, could be read as “return of 2e” or somesuch.) One of the reasons they’re calling it a “remake” instead of a “clone” is this:

...to fix some of the bad or complicated rules in the system...

Good luck getting two fans of a game to agree on what is bad. This is the reason the clones are having more success than most remakes. Make changes for legal reasons, and most people stay on-board. Make changes to make it “better”, and you lose most people. Because, while they agree some small changes could make it better, they don’t agree on the specific changes.

The bad is delicately remade with modern game theory so that only the game play improves.

This throws up another red flag for me. The vast majority of the RPG landscape was explored in the earliest years of the hobby. Find some grognards—the kind that tried every game that came out—and start talking about recent innovations, and you’ll learn about a lot of old games that trod that ground a decade or more ago. Are there still innovations to be found? Sure, but they are harder and harder to find. Is there really any “modern game theory” of any value that wasn’t known over a decade ago?

Anyway, those are just my opinions on what they’ve said so far. I wish them luck.

08 July 2010


I often like to listen to Morning Edition, Fresh Air, and All Things Considered on the local NPR affiliate—KUT—while driving, but then I have to listen to whatever happens to be on while at the time.

The NPR iPhone app is great because it lets me create a playlist of the stories that I’m interested in, which it will then stream on-demand. Unfortunately, cellular data reception doesn’t always coöperate.

Podcasts are good because my iPhone can download them over wi-fi while I’m at home or the office, then I can listen to them in the car without worrying about connectivity. While that works for the podcasts I listen too, it lacks the per-story granularity of the NPR app.

It would be nice to have a hybrid solution. Stories in my NPR playlist should download in the background when I’m on wi-fi. It would also be nice if the app could transparently switch to streaming when necessary.

07 July 2010

Do one thing well or everything poorly

The end of the ipod era, part II:

First, the very last impression that any company wants to give investors, financial analysts and the financial media is that a company can only do a handful of things well, and that the company is too overly dependent on any one of its product lines.

I think this is a problem. It drives businesses towards becoming large, overly-diverse corporations that tend to do nothing well. Sure, some companies—like Apple—manage to avoid it. Many more, however, become Hasbro.