Thinking about Megadungeons

My friends in the gaming group have suggested that I start preparing another Sword and Sorcery Megadungeon. The idea is that this would be a "backpocket" game, which I could pull out and GM whenever we don't have enough players for whatever the main game is at the time.

Backpocket game is a game that I can run with minimal session preparation, and with a small, un-fixed cast. A megadungeon would in theory be perfect for this: 1) There is minimal story besides the experiences the players had in previous sessions; 2) the characters are disposable, and (in the case of the Sword and Sorcery system) can be done very quickly; 3) we can fill in the player gaps with retainers.

In practice, the last time I tried this it didn't go that well -- it was very hard to resist the temptation of chaining sessions together, and running roleplay focused games. Soon, players were getting attached to their characters, and the idea of the characters being disposable, or playing without some characters being around became less appealing.

To avoid that, this time I will try to lay heavier house rules to avoid "town game" and adventures exceeding sessions. The main idea is to force players to flee the dungeon at the end of every session, and have a penalty table to roll for those groups that didn't make it in time. You returned to town, with monsters in tow, in your last hit point, and having dropped almost all your gold pieces, but you did return to town.

Also, I am making the dungeon more mystical and "fun-house"-y this time, borrowing heavily from Etrian Odyssey -- this should encourage the players to see the game more mechanically. I hope!

Maker Faire

Last week I went to the Maker Faire at Odaiba, Tokyo

People there had a great sense of humor!

From what I could see, In most of the stands people were presenting their hand-crafted electronics. Half of the presenters were showing some sort of robot (My favorite was the guy with the "hand extender" - a phone would film your hand, and the robotic hand at the end of a pole would mimic the movement). Then we had the raspberry Pi hacks (and its Japanese versions). After that, a little bit of everything, like the guys who made super detailed star wars costumes.

This robot was pretty cool too. It would clean your glasses in the morning while you had your breakfast. I heard someone nearby say "the robot is too slow, I'd do it faster" -- they clearly didn't get it.

The most interesting part, however, were the children workshops. There quite a few of them. In one, a person was helping the kids build elaborate paper planes and fly them through hoops. In another, this old dude was teaching kids how to program in Scratch. There was an "experimental" one, with multiple tools like air blowers, and the kids could do whatever their wanted.

My favorite one was the wooden racing car -- the kids would get some pieces of woods, wheels, elastics, nuts and bolts, and were asked to build cars for these tracks. Then they would release the cars. Inevitably some of the cars would fall and explode into pieces, which would draw huge cheers from the staff over-viewing the workshop. Maker spirit!

At the end of the Faire, I saw a stand selling the Arduboy, a tiny programmable pocket console. While I certainly would love having one of these, what came to my mind was trying to make a Pico-8 powered hand held using some mix of Raspberry pi, a small led screen, a disassembled controller, and much more experience putting electronics together than I actually have.

I wonder if there is some sort of workshop that would help me with the steps necessary to make this project...

Ludum Dare 39

A few weeks ago, I did a pretty neat game on Ludum Dare!
Can you survive the onslaught of the dead? Duck and roll!
The game is called "Shy Gladiator", and can be played here. The theme this time was "Running out of Energy". As usual, I tried to find a unique interpretation for the theme. Most of the other entrants used the idea that the player had its own energy as some sort of limit. In "Shy Gladiator" on the other hand, it is the ENEMIES who are limited by energy. The idea is that you have to hold your own until the enemy dies out and die (the excuse is that the gladiator is too shy to attack). Most people reviewing the game liked the idea.
This big dragon is here to mess you up and break down columns, and she is almost out of columns...

Also, for the first time, I participated as a group instead of individually, and it was an extremely interesting experience. You might have noticed that the graphics of the game are much better than my usual fare. This is thanks to the amazing work of Felipe who also did the music and part of the sound effects. It was a bit hard to collaborate on the one-file-per-game pico-8 cartridge, but we made do with a common dropbox folder to a "code" cartridge and an "art" cartridge back and forth. The end result was certainly worth it. Felipe used the entire PICO8 sprite sheet to create monsters, fireballs, a background and animations.

If you get close to the cyclops, you can trick him into spending his energy.

The feedback so far from the Ludum Dare has been great. Original idea and animations seems to be the strong point. On the other hand, many people found the game to be "too slow" or "passive", because the main game play is to just sit and wait until the monsters die by themselves. I guess I must agree. In the first monster, the cyclops, there is a small bit of strategy where you can try to stay close to the monster so that it uses its strongest attack and, if you can dodge it, die faster. But for the other two monsters there is no such strategy. If I were to add anything new to the game, it would be an option to "taunt" the monster and make them use a stronger attack at you, to add an element of "risk vs reward" play to the game.

There are, of course, many other smaller additions that I would like to make, such as a better title screen, and some more special effects, but I am very happy with the final result. Please play "Shy Guardian" and let me know what you think!

Play Here. And if you participated in Ludum Dare, vote here.

A bizarre dream

Today I had one of the most bizarre dreams that I have had in a while. So bizarre that it prompted me to use my dusty dream diary again after a long while.

The part of the dream I remember starts with me sending a flirty message to a guy I follow on twitter. This prompt him to send me multiple "send nudes" messages, which creep out dream-me. You reap what you sow, I guess.

But it gets worse: I flee from twitter into this suburban town, and no one is on the streets, because of zombies roaming about. I see an old lady inside a house, and I am now talking to her. She tells me she will show me her house, but the dwarf who is following me (!) says that we should check the basement instead.

The old lady agrees, and we are walking through a poorly lit dungeon, where she says she keeps he mithril weapons (!!). She shows us a dagger, and I notice that it looks a bit like bone. As I handle the dagger, it starts to look like a skull, and moves! The lady says that the mithril daggers use zombie bone dust in their making, and I comment that this is a security risk, the zombies could come back through the zombie-infused weapons!

The last thing I remember before waking up is me in the front steps of a large building, as a group of people run through the streets. As I wake up, I curse the old lady whose carelessness released zombies from her weapon cache into the town.

Whew!

Have some frozen spaghetti!

I was invited by the folks at the Day Dream cafe (the RPG cafe where I have my weekly fix of D&D) to play with them a one shot session of "Undertale" using a Japanese TRPG system. This made me really happy, and curious about how their sessions might be different than what I normally play with the usual suspects. Also, it got me thinking again about Undertale. I, too, did fall into the Undertale hype and fandom back then, and spend a lot of useful hours looking for remixes of Undertale songs. But now the game seems to be completely gone, the internet has moved on (other than a few pockets of die-hard resistance). Memes are such a fickle thing.

The one hour workday

I want to share this text, The 1-hour workday, which a friend posted on Facebook recently (see, it can be good for something!). In the text an academic discuss his trick to keep productive (in the sense of writing papers) in the middle of all other university tasks, such as classes, meetings, reviews, activities. His trick is to set aside one hour per day, usually the first hour of his workday, to do nothing but write. This idea resonated a lot with me because, first, I'm in the very same situation as the author was: Assistant professor, pitiful paper production (compared with my phd days), overwhelmed with non-writing tasks. But not only that, it makes sense that writing, as any other skill, thrives when practiced daily, and withers when not used. I think it may not be a coincidence that my high productive early-phd period coincides with a period where I was writing a lot in this blog. This is a time of change for me. I'm in the later half of my tenure track, feeling the "publish or perish" pressure like never before. At the same time, last week two of the projects I was counting on for the tenure track papers took a terrible setback. I am getting by with a little help from my friends, and I am doubling down on old productivity tools, such as the Kanban. But right now, anything that can take me any closer to jump over that barrier will be tried. And who knows? Maybe this will eventually get me back to updating this place :-P

Tokyo Game Show 2016

I went to Tokyo Game Show 2016 today. It was a near thing -- I was feeling a bit down in the dumps in the morning, but I had a promise to keep, to meet Alex Rose who was showing Rude Bear in the Indie Corner.
When you promise a high five on twitter, you gotta deliver.
When you promise a high five on twitter, you gotta deliver.
When I got there, I first walked through the main wing, where the big companies (Capcom, Konami, etc) were. To my surprise, nothing there really attracted my attention. Another Final Fantasy, another Mafia, another slew of idol games. I was starting to wonder if I had become an old codger that would never get excited about anything ever again -- oh the drama! Fortunately, I eventually went to the secondary wing of the expo, with the Indie zone. Maybe I am a hipster, but those tiny two-man booths with games made of spittle and dreams grab my interest much more than any giant screens and booth babes could. A few games from my steam library were there, such as Moon Hunters and Read-Only Memories. Some others made their way to my wish list today: * Lanota is actually a free mobile game. It is a mix of rhythm game and RPG. * Blockships is a shoot-them up where you build your ship from blocks (lasers, energy, engines) as you go. The game is still a bit away from completion, but it was a concept that I always dreamed of making, back on my game-making Jam days *grumblegrumble* * Star Mazer was the most attractive of the bunch. The dev at the booth called it a "roguelike shoot them up" (a rogue-like-like-like-like?), but the idea is that each of your lives (pilots) have different characteristics (powers, upgrades), and you line-them up before beginning the game. This one will probably bubble up to the top of my wishlist, since I need a new shoot them up. * Campus Notes is a Visual Novel that takes place at the University of Tsukuba. I'm not usually big on Visual Novels, but one of the devs at the booth today was actually a former student from my lab, which I found really neat. Time to re-order my wishlist :-)

Zen Pencils

I got linked the other day to Zen Pencils, a page where the artist creates short comics to illustrate motivational quotes from famous people, such as Feynman, Picasso, Muhammad Ali and Carl Sagan. The hit/miss ratio is very high, and definitely worth a read. Not only the art is good, the quote selection is interesting, but the author also does a great job of talking about and introducing the quoted person, and linking good examples of that person's life and work for further reading. After finishing a quick read through the archive, I'll probably do a second read to follow the links more closely. Here is my favorite so far: Make good Art, from Neil Gaiman (the comics about art are usually the best ones)

Journaling

When I was a kid, "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade" left a lasting impression on me. The image that was burned in my mind was the journal of doctor Jones, Indy's father. The entire story was about the character searching for a treasure based on the clues hand-written in that leather bound book. Scrawly notes, drawings, loose leaves stapled in, Jones's diary was a veritable mess, and yet an unvaluable recourse. It contained not only his knowledge, but his life, his feelings, his art. So I grew up wanting one day to have such a diary for myself, stained with coffee marks, so that one day someone might look at it for knowledge, or for history. Maybe this idea was in the back of my mind when I started writing my "rants" (blog was not a word yet at that time), which I kept for a very long time, and brought many friends and changes into my life. But I would long, from time to time, for a physical book, marked with use and smelling like old words. Once someone who knew about this dream of mine gave me a notebook. But there was too much of that person in that book, and unfortunately it eventually joined my stack of unfinished projects. Last week I was talking to a friend about this, and was encouraged to take up paper journaling again. To avoid putting too much pressure in these ideas, I was encouraged to only write a sentence a day - a key sentence to express how I was feeling. Of course I couldn't do it like that. "New Idea Passion" struck in, and I was doodling the entire weekend in that notebook. The second idea was to take a summary of what I wrote and use it to write blog posts twice a week. That at least I am doing right, as I spent a significant portion of my time writing about writing. Maybe it had an effect. Or maybe it was the barbecue/camping I went to, but I was quite energetic today at work. See you tomorrow! Also a link: a cool short story that won the Hugo award this year: "Cat Pictures Please" http://clarkesworldmagazine.com/kritzer_01_15/

Redacting PDFs in Ubuntu

Some students in my "Experiment Design" course this semester asked me to share with them examples of good reports from students from previous years. Since I usually ask my reports to be submitted in PDF format, I needed some way to alter the PDF and remove the names/personal information before sending them to the class. A quick google check game me this askUbuntu thread, with some suggestions:
  • Load the PDF on Inkscape
  • Load the PDF on xournal
  • Load the pDF on GIMP
The GIMP and Inkscape routes required me to load the PDF page by page, which was kinda inconvenient. I ended up going the xournal route. They don't have a "redact" option, but I could use a black highlighter (need to repeat 2 or 3 times since the highlighter is transparent). I am not sure how foolproof this is though. I have not actually removed the text, so it is quite probable that it can still be retrieved from the PDF if you really want to (which I don't this is the case for this particular situation). If you need something that REALLY needs to be redacted, this might not be the solution for you.