29 December 2011

FF or Civ?

“Do you prefer Final Fantasy or Civilization?” noisms asks.

I’ve played Final Fantasy X, and I found it frustrating. I’ve also played Square-Enix’s Chaos Rings, which I found similarly frustrating. Though FFX’s story at least kept me more interested than CR’s.

Civilization, on the other hand, I enjoyed a lot.

That said, I wouldn’t say that my problem with FFX was that it wasn’t Civilization.

28 December 2011

In the days before WIMP

You can look at the changes on Twitter similarly to the advent of a graphical user interface that made its debut in early-1980s computers. The design was called WIMP and stood for “windows, icons, menus and pointers.” Before WIMP, the only way to use a computer was by writing code, something most people couldn’t even comprehend.

Nick Bilton, The New York Times

This isn't just oversimplification. It is just wrong. Before windows or pointers there was “user friendly” software. There was quite a lot of it.

27 December 2011

My question about Louis C.K.’s experiment

A comedian named Louis C.K. produced his own comedy special and sold it through his web site for a low price without any copy protection or region locking or whatnot. He made a nice profit. Great story all around.

But...could he have done it if he hadn’t already made a name through the big media companies?

26 December 2011

3D again

If you want to understand how I feel about stereoscopic video, replace 2D versus 3D with...

black & white versus color

silent versus sound

monaural versus stereophonic

stereophonic versus surround sound

Yes, the things on the left side can be used to great artistic purpose, but that tends to be the exception rather than the rule. Yes, the things on the right side can be used in gimmicky ways, but most of the time they just add depth (pun intended) rather than becoming the message.

I suspect, however, that stereoscopic video will indeed turn out to be a fad yet again. Why? Simply because the fundamental technology has been around for ages and it has never made it out of the fad phase yet.

Now, there have been some recent developments. There has been some movement of some technologies towards greater practicality at the consumer level. So, I hold out some hope.

25 December 2011

The golden rule

In everything, do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets. (Matthew 7:12)

What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. This is the whole Torah; all the rest is commentary. (Talmud, Shabbath 31a)

Not one of you truly believes until you wish for others what you wish for yourself. (Hadith)

This is the sum of duty: do not do to others what would cause pain if done to you. (Mahabharata 5:1517)

Treat not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful. (The Buddha, Udana-Varga 5.18)

23 December 2011

Console game dialog

I got Sonic Generations for Christmas. It’s nice to have back the classic Sonic gameplay that was sorely lacking in the last couple of Sonic titles I played. Though it is going to take some getting used to it in stereoscopic 3D.

So many console games have really annoying dialog. It uses a dozen lines where three or four would have sufficed. The player has to click through it three or four words at a time. And then there’s the ones that throw in lots of pointless interjections for more pointless clicks.

Does anyone really enjoy clicking through this stuff? I enjoy the stories, but I’d enjoy them a lot more if they weren’t so poorly delivered. I used to come up with excuses for why this was handled so poorly, but these days the excuses are worn out.

So far, the biggest sin in the Sonic Generations dialog—ignoring the sin of having dialog in a Sonic game—is the pointless interjections.

22 December 2011

The difference between science and religion

Penn Jillette, via Gruber, via Kottke:

There is no god and that’s the simple truth. If every trace of any single religion died out and nothing were passed on, it would never be created exactly that way again. There might be some other nonsense in its place, but not that exact nonsense. If all of science were wiped out, it would still be true and someone would find a way to figure it all out again.

Actually, I think it is pretty clear that the basic truths—which you find repeated in nigh every religion—would reappear.

The big difficulty with religion is that it is easy to get caught up in the unimportant parts and lose sight of the important ones.

(Though, we don’t need to be putting science and faith into opposition.)

21 December 2011

CT CD surprises

Due to a mix-up, the first time I tried to order the classic Traveller CD-ROM from Far Future, I got the Traveller5 CD instead. During FFE’s December sale this year, I ordered it again. No mix-up this time. Looking through it, I found a few of unexpected surprises.

Firstly, it’s got earlier printings of some books including the 1977 versions of Books 1–3. I’d read about some of the differences therein, but this is the first time I got a look at them myself. Most interesting to me is the “Jump Routes” table from the 1977 Book 3, which was omitted in later versions of the game.

The next surprise was a classic Traveller errata compendium.

And the last surprise—so far: Special Supplement 4, Lost Rules of Traveller. The blurb on the back describes it thusly:

This special supplement examines and interpolates various Lost Rules tucked away and forgotten in various Traveller® sources, and was produced to complement the Classic Traveller Reprints from Far Future Enterprises.

It is really great that Marc has been making all this GDW stuff, as well as stuff produced by other companies under license from GDW, available.

30 November 2011

Infogami archive fixed

Somehow the archive of my infogami site broke. It’s fixed now. As a bonus, I also fixed it so that the server will tell browsers the proper charset to use (UTF-8), so characters like quote marks (“”) and em-dashes (—) will show up properly. Let me know if anything still seems to be broken or if the fix breaks something on the rest of my web site.

(Of course, the infogami features—modification times, commenting, &c.—won’t work as this is just a static archive of the infogami site.)

05 August 2011

One and a half versus the square root of two

After looking at diagonal movement on a square grid, I started wondering how far a figure would need to move before the difference between 32 and the √2 square root of two became significant. (Simple curiosity here. Nothing more.)

What amount of error is significant? 12? 1? 32?

Let’s go with 1. Check my math: (sqrt(2) * x) + 1 = 1.5 * x

It turns out x is about 12. Here’s my check: (1.5 * x) - (sqrt(2) * x); x = 12 which yields a result just a little over 1.

That’s smaller than I was expecting. Though it is still reasonable for most games. A twelve square per turn movement rate will start to get problematic for other reasons.

04 August 2011

More zero dice

So, this was written last year. (16 June 2010) as a follow-up to “My favorite die”. Seems I never got around to publishing it...

I have some six-sided dice marked zero to five.

I believe I got these out of the bin of dice at Kaleidoscope Toys.

The only game I know of that uses such dice is a “WWII space combat” game called Hard Vacuum. (Which I haven’t played.)

They create some nice ranges. Two yields 0–10. Three, 0–15. Four, 0–20. (Keeping in mind, of course, that summing multiple dice doesn’t give linear results.) Use one which a d10 (or d20+) to emulate a d60.

Dice with a zero are also nice for open-ended rolls, as it means you don’t have numbers that can’t be rolled.

And, if you don’t have any 0–5 dice, just roll a normal d6 and read 6 as zero.

03 August 2011

Diagonal movement on a square grid

In games, how do you handle diagonal movement on a square grid?

One of the easiest methods is to simply not allow diagonal movement. In the image below, the circle in the lower left indicates a figure to be moved. Red shows which squares it could move to with one move. Orange, two; yellow, three; green, four; blue, five; & violet, six.

(I only drew the northeast quadrant, but the other four quadrants would look the same.)

Another easy option is to simply allow a diagonal movement to cost the same as orthogonal movement. Which looks like this:

Neither of those are very satisfactory, though.

The d20 system (WotC 3e D&D) has the cost of diagonal movement alternate between 1 and 2. Thus it averages out to 1.5, which is close enough to the real distance of a diagonal move. (The square root of 2.) It ends up looking like this:

This year at the North Texas RPG Con, I picked up another way to handle it from Jeff Dee. Diagonals cost the same as orthogonals but cannot be consecutive. You have to have at least one orthogonal move between two diagonal moves. At first, I thought this was equivalent to the d20 system rule, but it is a bit less accurate. As shown here:

I also recently picked up a rule for estimating the distance to a flying target, though I forget where I found it. Considering the horizontal and vertical distances, add half the shorter to the longer. e.g. A flying monkey is 40' away and 20' up. So, use (20 / 2) + 40 = 50' as the range.

02 August 2011

AoO & Move & Run

In the 3.5 version of the d20 system, there is some possible confusion around the Run and Move actions and Attacks of Opportuny (AoO).

(For those readers who don’t like the d20 system or AoOs, I suggest you stop reading now.)

First, there is a general rule: Leaving a threatened square draws an AoO with two exceptions. The first exception is if your only movement that round is a 5 foot “step”. The second is if you are using the Withdraw action.

Second, there are tables that indicate whether an action itself draws an AoO. Here it is indicated that both the Run and Move actions provoke AoOs.

This can be interpreted to mean that entering a threatened square during a Run or Move action draws an AoO. Because, if the first rule covers the leaving case, there’d be no need for the second rule.

On the Wizards’ web site, however, can be found this clarification:

The move and run actions are worth a special note. According to Table 8-2, both these actions provoke attacks of opportunity; however, the basic rule for movement and attacks of opportunity still applies. When you move from one square to another in combat, you provoke an attack of opportunity when you leave a threatened square—not when you enter a threatened square.

(Thanks to Von for finding that.)

So, for me, that makes it clear that Run and Move are in no way exceptions to the basic rule. The “Yes” in their AoO column merely distinguishes them from Withdraw. Just stick to the basic rule. Mostly...

There is, however, at least one exception to the basic rule: Crawling (which is covered by the Move action). Crawling is only a 5 foot move, and it provokes an AoO for both leaving a threatened square and entering a threatened square.

01 August 2011

Zones of control & attacks of opportunity

(If you aren’t a fan of the d20 system, you may want to bail now.)

The d20 system justifies attacks of opportunity (AoO) thusly:

Sometimes a combatant in a melee lets her guard down. In this case, combatants near her can take advantage of her lapse in defense to attack her for free. These free attacks are called attacks of opportunity.

Hogwash! Yes, this is a role-playing game, and that’s not a bad way to rationalize it “in character”. The truth, however, is that this is primarily a game mechanic. It’s better—in my opinion—to understand the real reason AoO exist and that the description above is simply a façade.

The AoO rules are really a form of zone of control (ZoC) rules that were used in war-games long before role-playing games. Many role-playing games have included such rules as well, but they are often simplified enough that they don’t stand out the way that they do in the d20 system.

Indeed, within classic D&D can be found the origins of the d20 system’s Withdraw action, five foot step rule, and five foot threat range. (Also note that, in classic D&D, missile weapons cannot be used while in melee.)

Now, back to the d20 system. Let’s say we’re playing a d20 game without ZoC or AoO rules. An orc stands in the middle of a 15 foot wide corridor. Ten feet away stands a fighter, and a mage stands behind the fighter. The orc wins initiative and can move past the fighter, past the mage, and attack the mage. Even worse, if you’re using the optional facing rules (from Unearthed Arcana), the orc would be attacking the mage from the rear.

(Click on images for a bigger version.)

If this were “real life” (replace the orc with a generic bad guy), the fighter and the mage aren’t going to let the orc walk past them to attack from the rear.

With typical ZoC rules, the orc would have to stop his movement for that round once he moved into melee range of the fighter. (In fact, the first d20 Star Wars rules worked this way.)

The d20 designers wanted to replace restrictions with consequences. (That is a common theme in the d20 system.) So, instead of a simple ZoC that stopped an opponent’s movement, they needed a consequence for violating a ZoC. The consequence they choose was the risk of suffering a free attack, an AoO.

AoO also proved useful to provide consequences instead of restrictions in other cases. Many games simply say that you can’t fire a ranged weapon when in melee range of an opponent. The d20 system, however, makes it draw an AoO.

Now, I’m not going to say that AoO was the best choice. I might have preferred that instead of AoOs, actions be restricted with skill checks being able to overcome the restrictions. Similar to how the Tumble skill allows characters to move through an opponent’s square. But then, the way I prefer to run combat, I generally don’t need ZoC rules. Anyway, my point is that the AoO rules should be understood as a kind of ZoC rather than a lapse in defense.

ZoC and AoO rules only go so far, however. Put the orc, fighter, and mage in an open area; and now the orc can avoid the fighter’s threatened squares to attack the mage.

This can be mitigated—to an extent—if the fighter previously readied a move triggered by the orc’s movement, but it’s—in my opinion—a needlessly complicated affair.

31 July 2011

d20+ redux

I was a little surprised when I realized how few dice I’ve had out for the current WotC D&D 3e campaign.

With more d20+ dice, I’ve put my ten-siders, my “tens” dice (ten-siders numbered 00–90), and regular twenty-siders in storage. That really lightens up my “in use” bag and the number of dice on the table.

I’ve also swapped all my Gamescience six-siders in favor of my casino-style sixers.

Now I’m thinking that I want to acquire some of those d30s numbered -0 to -9, 0 to 9, and +0 to +9. (d30±) Like these from Kevin Cook’s collection.

30 July 2011

Composite long bow?

AD&D lists a composite long bow. As does WotC’s 3e D&D. Which recently struck me as odd. As I understood it, longbows weren’t composite, and composite bows weren’t long. Am I wrong?

29 July 2011

Real Monopoly

The Campaign For Real Monopoly:

Somewhere along the line someone said, “Let’s just leave out that stupid auction rule; we’ll have much more fun that way.”

Now if parents want to play a crippled game of Monopoly because they’re too scared to teach their children how to deal with interpersonal conflict then fine, that’s their prerogative.

But we’re gamers; we don’t have to descend to their level.

I think there’s something different at work here. When it comes to subterfuge—and lots of games are about subterfuge, younger players are generally going to be at a disadvantage to older players. Though there are certainly exceptions. It’s less about not teaching the kids to deal with interpersonal conflict but trying to put everyone on a more equal footing.

Although, in the matter of auctions in Monopoly, I think it is something different. I think most people just don’t like the auctions themselves. Not the outcome. Not how anyone deals with the outcome. Just the actual auctioning itself. It’s seen as trouble and not fun.

For what it’s worth, I believe the last time I played Monopoly was less than two years ago and the auction rule was used.

22 July 2011

Digital RPG books

In the comments to the Grognardia post, “Books, young man. Books.”, faoladh writes:

When digital books improve considerably, I will consider going there, but for now they are too clumsy (especially for the particular sorts of use that game texts see), there are problems with issues of ownership vs. “licensing”, and they are too expensive for initial entry, among other potential problems.

I can’t say that faoladh is wrong. This is his opinion and experience, and I can’t argue with that. What I can do is look at my own experience and opinion...

I don’t bring books to sessions anymore, unless it is a book I can’t get a digital version of. I just bring my iPad.

The Hypertext d20 SRD site is, for me, better than the books. It has all the open content from several D&D 3.5 books in one location converted into easy-to-read and easy-to-navigate web pages including good hyperlinking. The licensing is clear enough and without issue. (Especially from the “I’m just playing the game” point-of-view.) And, it’s free.

I also really like the SpellbookMaster app that imports the SRD spells into a database.

I bought the Mekton Zeta and Mekton Zeta Plus books from RPGNow. Mekton Zeta Plus I actually bought, downloaded, and used in the middle of a session. They are watermarked PDFs and DRM-free. I don’t remember the prices I paid, but those PDFs are currently $10 and $12. They are pretty clumsy to use, but I have the same issue with the hardcopies. The problem is in the lay-out itself. In fact, the ability to add bookmarks to the PDF may actually make them a bit easier to use.

Not to mention the number of RPG books I can carry with me almost anywhere to read or reference at a moment’s notice.

And it really comes down to the iPad. It was the final piece of the puzzle that made this practical for me.

21 July 2011

AD&D2e Rangers

Why do rangers get two-weapon fighting in second edition AD&D (and later editions)? Well, I’ve heard reasons that claim to be informed by people from TSR, but this is why it made sense to me at the time.

When I looked at the ranger class, I primarily saw Robin Hood. (And perhaps the strongest image of Robin Hood for me then was the Disney movie starring anthropomorphic animals.) My image was of someone who wouldn’t wear heavy armor or carry a shield. Yet, under the AD&D rules (as I and my friends played or misplayed them) the advantage of heavy armor and a shield were too good to pass up. Giving the ranger class two-weapon fighting ability and restricting it to when they were wearing lighter armor gave mechanical reasons for our rangers to look more like my image of the class.

My opinions have changed these days. I have different opinions about armor. I have different opinions about two-weapon fighting. I have different opinions about the ranger class. At the time, however, it made perfect sense to me.

20 July 2011

Operational rules in RPGs

Jeffs Gameblog: LotFP vs DCC

Assuming you aren’t weirded out by the artwork then LotFP shines as pretty much the tightest version of D&D ever. This virtue comes across most clearly in the section devoted to what I call “operations”, i.e. how to open a door or check for traps or crap like that. Most reviews of most D&D descendants (and many whole games!) completely skip this stuff because it's usually boring to read, but in actual dungeoneering play these mechanics are crucial. LotFP delivers the best, most coherent set of operations rules I’ve ever seen.

Let’s consider all the rules in D&D that don’t have to do with combat or magic. Let’s call these the “operational rules”. (Which may be slightly different than what Jeff is talking about above. This is my springboarding off his post.) There’s a surprising amount of them. Even in ye olde original D&D. They are often glossed over when talking about the game, but I’ve come to see them as very important.

These operational rules are what makes D&D an exploration game rather than a combat game.

Take a look at the combat system. Excluding Chainmail and WotC D&D, the D&D combat system is enemic compared to wargames of the era. (Oh, let’s exclude AD&D too just to keep it simple.) And D&D was created by wargamers. That says to me that D&D wasn’t primarily about combat.

Of course, there’s also the fact that D&D is a role-playing game, and that role-playing doesn’t really show up in rules. Yeah, I know you might disagree with me, but whenever I see rules that claim to govern role-playing, I generally see just another mechanical game rather than role-playing. Role-playing happens in the spaces between the mechanics.

19 July 2011

What’s right for you...

Reading this review of Mutant Future, this just struck me as funny. The “to hit” tables get a bulleted mention as a negative. Levels, however, get a “might be a negative to you but not for me” in the concluding paragraph.

18 July 2011

The benefits of standard tuning

One of the reasons that I bought my Roland VG-8EX is that I broke a string.

I was trying to tune one of my guitars in major thirds. The standard tuning for guitar consists of perfect fourths except for the interval between the second and third strings, which is a major third. It would be nice if the tuning were uniform. Also, standard tuning requires shifting position to get to certain notes even on the middle strings. Tuning to straight major thirds addresses both those issues.

The Roland “virtual guitar” systems allow you to “virtually” retune each string, so you can experiment with wacky tunings without having to worry about strings breaking, being too loose, or non-uniform tension across the neck. So, I have been able to play around with major third tuning without breaking any more strings or being worried about abusing my guitars.

Major third tuning is cool. Strangely, though, it has also given me a new appreciation for standard tuning. Those challenges that standard tuning presents are also opportunities for creative solutions. (e.g. Instead of shifting to get to a note, bend to it.) Or sometimes simply pushing yourself to do something that isn’t easy. And that can spur musical creativity too.

17 July 2011

On initiative

The way that a role-playing game determines the order of actions in combat is usually called “initiative”. Some games use a dice roll, while some use a character stat or some combination. Some games determine initiative “per side” while some do it per character or some mix. Some determine initiative anew each round of combat while some keep it the same throughout a combat.

What is my favorite system for initiative? None. At least, none of those. Ideally, for me, it goes something like this:

  1. The judge determines what the NPCs/monsters will do
  2. The players describe what the PCs do
  3. Actions are resolved in the order that makes the most sense based on what everyone is doing

So, a character with a readied ranged weapon is going to be able to get a shot off before his opponents close with him. If two opponents are coming towards each other, they’re going to meet in the middle—exactly where depending on their individual speeds—and the one with the longer weapon is going to get the first attack.

Generally. Extenuating circumstances might change any of those situations.

Some games do list such things as exceptions to the rule. I tend to think of it the other way. Those are the rules and the dice and/or stat method is the exception. There are still plenty of times when the situation doesn’t dictate initiative and dice/stats have a part to play. Though I might prefer an ad hoc contest rather than the generic rule most games have. And, I like a mechanism that allows for ties, because sometimes it happens. (“Jump ball!”)

Now, I’ve heard plenty of reasons why such a subjective system shouldn’t work, but—in practice—it seems to work just fine. Although...

Our Saturday group currently has nine players. We’re playing Wizards 3.5e D&D. While I may not be overly fond of 3e combat, it does handle combats of this size. I think it would be hard to run them my way. The number of PCs alone is pushing “7±2”. On the other hand, based on past experience, I’m wary of running a game with that many players anyway. Still, I might have to experiment.

16 July 2011

Why “story games” aren’t my preference

It’s the difference between being a character in a story and being the author (or a co-author) of a story.

15 July 2011

One of the great things about RPGs

The Guitar Hero & Rock Band games seem to have peaked. No more versions may be produced. Eventually, the controllers will be discontinued. New consoles will come and the old ones—along with their controllers—will get sold in garage sales, given away, etc. The controllers will also start breaking down. Thirty years from now, it may be very expensive to get a working console and working controllers to play some Rock Band with friends.

There’s a great Avalon Hill game called Magic Realm. If you’ve never played it, it will cost you a lot to get a used copy. It has so many parts, there’s a good chance a used copy will be missing some.

Thirty years after the classic, c. 1981, D&D Basic and Expert sets were published, you can download a copy of Labyrinth Lord or Basic Fantasy for free and play pretty much the same game. In another thirty years, that should still be true. (Heck, I’ve got the rules on my phone.) Sure, you need a computer, a connection to the Internet, and—optionally—a printer; but the expense of those things are spread over lots of other uses. If polyhedral dice become hard to find, you can fall back on electronic dice simulations. (I’ve got a bunch of such apps...on my phone.)

14 July 2011

War hammers

Back in “Worst Labyrinth Lord melee weapons”, I wrote:

The war hammer. Is this something like Mjöllnir or a late medieval bec de corbin kind of thing? Is the latter subsumed within pole arm or pick? Why is it two-handed with no one-handed counterpart? Note that dwarfs can’t wield two-handed weapons, but the magical dwarven [sic] thrower war hammer has special rules when used by a dwarf. I’m beginning not to care that the mechanics are suboptimal and unlikely to be picked by a PC. ☺

So, after too little research, I jumped to this conclusion: Mjölnir wasn’t a weapon but a blacksmith’s hammer used as a weapon. Or, if it was a weapon, perhaps it was a throwing hammer. The kind of thing that became the sport of hammer throwing. Or maybe both.

(And that’s ignoring the note I saw that said sometimes Mjölnir was called a club or axe.)

So, the war hammer is your typical bec de corbin sort of thing. (Probably one of the shorter variants with the longer ones being pole arms.) The “War Hammer +2, Dwarven Thrower” is not a really a war hammer but a throwing hammer. Which makes me wonder what the stats for a non-magical throwing hammer ought to be. Same as club or hand-axe?

13 July 2011

Characters and spreadsheets

How much I like a role-playing game system is inversely proportional to how much I feel I need to use a spreadsheet for my character.

As a general thing.

01 June 2011

North Texas RPG Con

Tomorrow, Lauri & I will be headed out to the The North Texas RPG Con. It’s a con organized by Mike Badolato & Doug Rhea dedicated to “old school” role-playing games. It’s a chance to play some games, see and purchase some collectibles, meet some people whose names grace a lot of the games on my shelves, and put faces with some online friends and acquaintances.

We’re registered for...

I hope to catch some of the charity game, where the special guests will be the players. We’ll also be attending the Artist Panel featuring Erol Otus, Paul Jaquays, Jeff Dee, and Jason Braun.

21 May 2011

Rapture day!

From “Why There Will Be No Rapture” on the Exploring Our Matrix blog:

Others understand the Bible even better, and are aware that the passages appealed to in support of the doctrine of the Rapture (such as 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17) do not teach the idea of a Rapture followed by tribulation that is the mainstay of Dispensational Pre-Millennialist eschatology.

I love that. It pretty succinctly tells most of us that we really don’t have the theology chops for this subject.

Honestly, I’m not crazy about the argument that James then makes in that post.

For me, it’s pretty simple. If you’re concerned with when The Rapture will come, you’ve missed the point. Read the book again.

14 April 2011


The number one thing I want most from any iPhone app that plays audio (or video). In particular: Apple’s iPod app, Apple’s YouTube app, Matthew Gallagher’s Stream To Me, and Bottle Rocket’s NPR News app.

The biggest button on the app should be the pause button. The pause button should be separated from other buttons by as much space as possible. I should never go to hit pause and instead find only a spinner. I need to be able to pause even during the time between hitting play and when playback actually begins. (Or, as in the NPR News app, between entries in my playlist.)

10 March 2011

Spell failure

How often in (pre-D&D) literature (including myths and legends) do magic wielders fail to cast a spell or have a spell back-fire? Specific examples are especially welcome.

01 March 2011

Readability’s Open Letter to Apple

Steve Jobs:

We support two platforms at Apple: HTML5. Fully open, uncontrolled platforms forged by widely respected standards bodies. The second platform we support is the App Store. It’s a curated platform

Readability: An Open Letter to Apple

As far as Readability is concerned, our response is fairly straight-forward: go the other way…towards the web.

This seems a little strange.

We can offer you Coke or Pepsi.

An open letter to this restaurant: We don’t like Pepsi. Until you change things, we will go the other way...Coke.

Whether Apple’s policy towards subscriptions is good or not is beside the point. Apple explicitly supports the web route for anyone who doesn’t like the terms of the iOS App Store. And, hey, you were already there anyway. What was your point again?

Honestly, though, Readability’s set-up seems really screwy. Why would anyone pay those authors extra to get a readable version of their content. They ought to have worked with people who would have presented it in a readable fashion in the first place.

Anyway, I hope Apple’s policy doesn’t force Kindle off of iOS. I wouldn’t be happy about that.

28 February 2011

All human knowledge

I wish I had seen this in high school.

The Illustrated Guide To a Ph.D.

Since that circle of all human knowledge is just getting bigger and bigger, doesn’t that mean our ability to apply that knowledge is getting smaller and smaller. Sure, we specialize and operate in parallel, but it seems to me that you get to a point where even that gets overwhelmed.

Which isn't even considering knowledge we may be letting fall through the cracks and get lost.

26 February 2011

Using 3D well

In a comment to a previous post, Anonymous Dimwit wrote:

I don’t even understand what “use 3d well” is supposed to mean from a cinematic context.

I certainly understand that Anonymous Dimwit will probably never be a fan of 3D, and that’s fine. It doesn’t work for everyone.

I think that’s a valid question, though. What do I think is using 3D well?

Actually, I think it is pretty simple. You shoot with a 3D camera.

It is also best to step up to a decent frame rate, but that’s something movies need to do anyway. 3D needs a higher frame rate, but the 24 frame/second that they’re using isn’t even good for 2D. (Or has there already been progress in that area?)

Of course, simply using a 3D camera does make things a bit more difficult. You also lose some tricks that rely on the lack of depth in 2D. Still, making a good 3D movie isn’t really different from making a good 2D movie. If you change what you’re doing significantly for 3D, then you’re most likely using 3D poorly. If you are adding 3D in post-production rather than using a 3D camera, you are almost certainly using 3D poorly.

In my opinion.

25 February 2011

AT&T not so bad after all?

Perhaps the “good but not that good” sales of the Verizon iPhone merely shows that AT&T isn’t quite so awful as the pundits make them out to be?

24 February 2011

Record sales

I had a post scheduled with a comment on this chart, but since, seemingly better charts and analysis have been posted by Michael DeGusta.

The take-away seems to be that album sales are falling, single sales are rising, but single sales aren't up enough to offset the drop from albums.

Questions that come to mind:

1. Is any of this due to people having a lot more to spend money on today? e.g. mobile phone plan, mobile data plan, TV provider, ISP, among many others.

2. What about the larger music industry. Live music? Selling music to businesses rather than consumers?

23 February 2011

AT&T and the App Store

A quote from AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson on the iOS App Store: (courtesy TiPb)

“You purchase an app for one operating system, and if you want it on another device or platform, you have to buy it again,” Stephenson said in a keynote speech at the world’s largest mobile-phone trade show in Barcelona, Spain. “That’s not how our customers expect to experience this environment.”

Well, here’s what experience has taught me to expect. I can choose from:

  • Live in a closed world where I have to buy the same things over and over again for the rest of my life
  • Live in an open world where my life is often made harder by companies who give lip-service to openness but don’t believe in it

There are trade-offs, and so I do a little of both.

I’m not going to hold my breath that AT&T is really going to become my champion here. Especially when I pay them every month for the same thing.

22 February 2011

Sexist gaming art

So, there’s been a lot of talk lately in certain corners of the Internet about sexism in gaming and particularly about art. While I have been aware of sexism in gaming, I’ve personally tended to steer well clear of it, so it isn’t something I encounter regularly. It doesn’t seem so pervasive that I can’t effectively avoid it. (Though, how much of it do I encounter and just not see?)

After reading a lot of the talk about art, though, I have to say that I’m much more concerned with the effect that the “war on obesity” in this country may have on my daughter’s body image than any artwork.

21 February 2011

D&D (details & divisions)

Mike Mearls has started a new column on the Wizards of the Coast website called “Legends and Lore” to talk about the history of D&D. I think that’s a great idea. From what I know of Mike, I think he’ll do a good job of that. (Personally, I’m going to be very interested in any products Mike produces after he leaves Wizards.)

I’m going to join in criticizing his first installment, however.

Whether you play the original game published in 1974, AD&D in any of its forms, 3rd Edition and its descendents, or 4th Edition, at the end of the day you’re playing D&D.

We’re talking about at least three different games here. Sometimes differences are important and glossing over them helps no one.

This is our game, and it is as healthy, vibrant and important as we make it. The rest is details. Don’t let that details drive us apart when the big picture says we should be joined together.

Rob Conley has said, “Wizards needs to take leadership.” He’s right. Preaching unity while sowing division rings hollow. I say, if Wizards of the Coast is serious about fostering a community spirit, here’s what they should do:

  1. Pull any products that are confusing history.
  2. Start teaching history instead of obscuring it.
  3. Admit that the marketing of “4th edition” was over-the-line with its attacks on previous editions (including 3rd).
  4. Admit that pulling the PDFs from sale had nothing to do with piracy.
  5. Make all the old TSR and “3rd edition” products available.

That’s not even leadership. That’s merely acting in good faith and refraining from putting obstacles in the community’s way.

Granted, Mike’s column may be a start on #2, but it will take more than that.

If I were them, I’d do #5 by simply declaring those products to be public domain. After all, they aren’t making any money off of those products anyway. Then the community could simply share what they already having instead of Wizards having to do any work to make the historical artifacts of this hobby widely available both now and for the foreseeable future.

On the other hand, if Wizards wanted to make those products available again for sale, I think that would sow some good will among the community as well. Although, at this point, they’ve created competition that is trying to fill that niche as best as they can.

And now, according to the Joesky rule, a new monster for Labyrinth Lord:

Flame Salamander Guardbeasts

No. Enc: 1, Align: N, Move: 120’ (40’), AC: 4, HD: 4, Att: 1 bite, Dam: 1d6, Save: F4, Morale: 8, Hoard Class: XX

Flame salamanders often keep these elemental beasts to serve like guard dogs. Like their keepers, these quadrupeds have a lizard-like appearance and give off an intense heat. Those within 10’ take 1d4 points of fire damage per round. Fire-based damage does not harm them. They can detect invisibility to a range of 30’.

Once brought to zero hp, the guardbeast does not die. Instead it transforms into two guardbeasts, each half the size of the original and each having 2 HD. When these are brought to zero hp, they likewise divide into two beasts each one-quarter the size of the original with 1 HD each. When these are bought to zero hp, they (finally) die.

03 February 2011

Electric guitar: How many speakers?

Here is a question about electric guitar that I’m finding it very hard to find a credible answer to. Say I have a single amp-head and I’m not doing anything stereo. In what situations should I choose a single speaker cabinet? When should I choose a cabinet with two speakers? When should I choose a cabinet with four speakers?

I understand the trade-offs between the different sizes of speakers but not the different numbers. Indeed, the only thing that seems clear is that multiple speakers cause problems with phase cancellations.

02 February 2011

Guitar shape legal battles

Craig Havighurst wrote a good piece for Premier Guitar entitled “Shapes of Things: A Brief History of the Peculiar Behind-the-Scenes War Over Guitar Designs

In one of the cases covered, Fender wanted to prevent low-quality knock-offs from duplicating the shapes of the Stratocaster, Telecaster, and P-bass. The thing that is ironic to me is that, when CBS bought Fender, the quality of the instruments suffered. The fact that they owned the right to the Fender brand and perhaps could have—then—trademarked the outlines didn’t keep their instruments from essentially being low-quality knock-offs of pre-CBS Fenders.

01 February 2011

Fender Tele-Bration 2011

On of my favorite guitars, the Fender Telecaster, turns 60 this year. (Here’s a little video tribute from Fender’s YouTube channel.) They’re celebrating with a different limited-edition Tele every month. The Music Zoo posted some details. Three stood out to me.

I like the July Cabronita with TV Jones filtertron-style pick-ups. I’d already been thinking a Tele with filtertrons might be in my future. I’m wondering how they would sound with the Tele 4-way switching mod. (bridge—both in parallel—both in series—neck)

The August Tele is made from laminated bamboo, which seems interesting.

The October rosewood Tele recalls the one made for George Harrison. One of my favorite guitars and one of my favorite guitarists and a very distinctive look.

I don’t see myself buying any of these limited-editions, but I’m on the look-out for ideas for possibly getting a custom made Tele-style guitar someday. Hmm...rosewood cabronita?

31 January 2011


As part of my struggle to focus on building a campaign rather than homebrew rule systems that I never complete, here’s another idea. R20 or “if Robert were to run a d20 system game again”...

When I first read Wizards’ third edition D&D Players Handbook, it seemed like a fairly generic game that had been skinned to look like more like D&D. It seemed to me that if they’d gone farther away from D&D (and not called it D&D), I’d probably like it more.

I thought the generic classes from the 3e Unearthed Arcana was a step in the right direction. True20 expanded on that idea, but I’m not crazy about it.

I liked a lot about the “only one class” variant in the d20 Call of Cthulhu, but I’ll put that route aside for now. I didn’t really care for the ability-based classes of d20 Modern. Anyway, back to the generic classes route...

I’m not a big fan of the Expert generic class. Let’s let everyone be an Expert. The Spellcaster and Warrior classes should gang up, kill it, and take its stuff. Spellcasters and Warriors follow the class skill and skill point rules for Experts. It’s kind of fitting that a swords & sorcery game should have two classes: Spellcasters and Warriors.

Next, I’d use “mid20” for probably most rolls other than attack rolls. That means you roll 3d20 and use the middle value. I’ve also considered the 3d6 bell curve rolls from the UA. I also like level-based skills, another UA variant.

Even with all those changes, though, I’m not sure if it becomes a game I want to run. There may still be too many little details in the feats, combat rules, and spells that I’d want to change.

30 January 2011

Two-mechanic RPG systems

I’m OK with “unified mechanic” RPGs. I don’t think lacking a unified mechanic is a flaw, but I don’t think having one is necessarily a flaw either.

There’s an interesting variant that I’ve seen pop up a few times: Using a linear distribution for combat and a normal distribution for skill checks.

e.g. Someone on the TFT mailing list used a d20 for combat rolls but kept the standard nd6 rolls for everything else.

I think the appeal of this comes from the fact that, the way most people play, combat involves lots of rolls while non-combat checks more often involve a single roll. When you use a linear mechanic for skills, the results seem too random. When you use a normal-distribution for combat, things don’t feel random enough.

29 January 2011

Why the 3D movie case is not closed

Roger Ebert posted a letter from film editor and sound designer Walter Murch. “Why 3D doesn’t work and never will. Case closed.

Munch’s main point is around convergence and focus.

The biggest problem with 3D, though, is the “convergence/focus” issue. A couple of the other issues—darkness and “smallness”—are at least theoretically solvable. But the deeper problem is that the audience must focus their eyes at the plane of the screen—say it is 80 feet away. This is constant no matter what.

But their eyes must converge at perhaps 10 feet away, then 60 feet, then 120 feet, and so on, depending on what the illusion is. So 3D films require us to focus at one distance and converge at another.

The greater the distance, the less depth perception matters. The real magic of stereoscopy happen when the convergence and focus distances are similar. When you can see the small differences in depth within the form of the focal object. Large and exaggerated depths and rapid changes of convergence aren’t where the magic is.

Consequently, the editing of 3D films cannot be as rapid as for 2D films, because of this shifting of convergence: it takes a number of milliseconds for the brain/eye to “get” what the space of each shot is and adjust.

If you don’t have a lot of shifting convergence, then I guess this won’t be an issue. In any case, though, I think less rapid cuts would be a very good thing. Rapid cutting annoys me in 2D.

And lastly, the question of immersion. 3D films remind the audience that they are in a certain “perspective” relationship to the image.

shrug I know that I have never felt as immersed in a film as when I was when I was standing outside Baikonur Cosmodrome...when I was really sitting in an IMAX theatre with 3D glasses on.

But who am I to argue with an expert like Munch? Reading their arguments, however, I just can’t help but think that many of the people who dismiss 3D in films dismiss it based on bad and gimmicky 3D instead of on the merits of 3D when used well.