cooking reality

A brief interruption from your regularly scheduled political programming to discuss The Great British Baking Show.

I want to make the argument that this show is genuinely great. Not just a feel-good cooking show oozing with quaint British charm, not just a rousing volley in the post-ironic/new-sincerity wholesome media wave, but something that is worth watching for its own merits.

Before I go further, let me drop these opinions to provide some context:

1. reality tv is a cancer developed from our collective apathy and narcissism, a toxic genre that preys upon humanity’s basest instincts for voyeurism.

2. the skyrocketing popularity of cooking shows is something that future historians will write about as evidence that we, as a society, have lost touch with ourselves and each other as human beings. it is an absurd reality where we have somehow come to prefer watching people prepare and consume gourmet food rather than enriching our own lives, particularly as a billion people go hungry and obesity is the greatest threat to our longevity.

The Great British Baking Show is both a cooking show and reality tv. I believe it dodges all the failures of its peers and predecessors with a combination of sharp but minimalist editing, great casting for participants, and by letting humans be humans wherever possible. What results is a heartwarming and enriching composition that is genuinely educational at times.

Paul and Mary are model judges. Their criticisms are always fair, succinct but dense with expertise about the craft, rarely personal or overly familiar, but still sensitive and human. They never shame or twist the knife. They genuinely want everyone to do their very best. This is exactly what constructive criticism ought to look like.

There is never any mention of rewards or prizes. If there’s money on the line, it’s never spoken of. There’s no gimmicks or mechanics to the competition. The only thing that matters is making the judges happy, and this works because the participants have such obvious respect and admiration for Paul and Mary.

The participants love the craft for its own sake, and this means there is zero need to generate drama or force conflict. You get to watch creative, talented people work hard. Sometimes they fail, sometimes they succeed. You get to know them through their work, not as some trope pulled from a hat by the producers.

I recommend this show without qualification. It restored my faith in humanity a little bit, and that is something I find myself needing quite a bit recently.

not zelda

Zelda. There’s a new one. I finished it.
 
Here is my surely unpopular opinion on the matter.
 
Breath of the Wild isn’t Zelda.
 
It’s Skyrim with much better weapons, movement, and navigation. It’s Horizon Zero Dawn minus badass enemies or a world dripping with history. It’s The Witcher with beautiful particle effects but god-awful voice acting and a terrible story.
 
In other words, it’s another open-world sandbox RPG. A lot of people wanted exactly that. I don’t begrudge that desire. It’s a perfectly fine game. But it’s not Zelda.
 
I have three reasons for saying this: music, themes, and dungeons.
 
Zelda is nothing without its music. This has been true for every worthy entry in the series. Breath of the Wild is silent. Barren. You roam across vast plains and climb tall mountains to the tune of absolutely nothing. You stroll through towns while a faint tune drifts in and out, devoid of any worthwhile melody. What little music does appear is yet another rehash of the same melodies from Ocarina of Time.
 
Then there is the total absence of any musical instrument as a usable item – a constant in nearly every Zelda ever made. In particular, for Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask, music is itself a central mechanic in both games. You use the ocarina everywhere. To teleport. To trigger events and quests. To solve puzzles. It marks your progression through the game. By virtue of playing the tunes so frequently, you instinctively memorize them, searing them into your brain as an explicit part of the experience.
 
More importantly, music is just omnipresent in Zelda, constantly playing, setting the tone wherever you are. The melodies are strong, unique, and memorable. It is not part of the background or periphery, but front and center at all times. You walk into a shop and hear a cheery browsing tune. You step into Zora’s Domain and it just feels like you’re surrounded by water. The Song of Storms feels hypnotic and cyclical like the windmill you learn it in. Epona’s Song evokes the warmth and devotion of a loyal steed. These songs are iconic and unforgettable. Zelda completely relies on its music to build its themes.
 
Every Zelda has distinct themes. Complete, immersive concepts, either to the whole game, or in parts and pieces within the game. Windwaker is a flooded waterworld where you sail everywhere and use a conductor’s baton to control the wind. There’s the light and dark world of Link to the Past where every object in the game has a demented counterpart. Majora’s Mask is obsessed with time, and everything is in service to the manipulation of the days and understanding of schedules and routines. And of course, Ocarina of Time’s child/adult paradigm.
 
As an aside, my favorite interpretation of Ocarina of Time is that it’s actually a coming-of-age story where a young, naive child goes on an heartfelt adventure, only to wake up as an adult and realize the world is a terrifying and chaotic mess.
 
There are no discernable themes in Breath of the Wild. People keep describing it as post-apocalyptic, but this is simply not the case. It is a lush, bright world where once in a while you come across unexplained mossy rubble and the same damn model of broken-down machines over and over. The tiny populations of Hyrule are all quite happy in their lives and seem to be carrying on with relatively little worry or internal conflict. There are some drones and robot spiders with lasers but mostly it is goblins and lizards. Oh, and there are fugly animal gundams piloted by ghosts.
 
Which brings us to dungeons.
 
One of the strangest facts about Breath of the Wild is that there are no caves. Not a single one. Barely even a crevice inside of a mountain. Yet, the story goes that Shigeru Miyamoto’s inspiration for the first Zelda was his childhood exploration of forests and caves, diving deep into mysterious and unknown territory not knowing what he might find.
 
At its best, that is exactly what Zelda’s dungeons provide. This sense of delving further into a labyrinth, not knowing what lays around the next corner, the uncertainty of where to go next, forcing you to study the map to make sense of what you might have missed or which room holds the key you need to go further, the excitement of finding a brand new item that will change the way you traverse the environment around you and the world as a whole. All set within the theme of the dungeon, which itself is a piece of the world’s theme.
 
The shrines and divine beasts in Breath of the Wild evoke none of this. They are austere laboratories that rarely challenge the mind, that offer no sense of mystery or curiosity, rarely providing meaningful rewards. They are a shallow, hollow parody of Zelda’s oldest feature, lacking tension, joy, or personality.
 
It seems unfair to skewer Breath of the Wild for this, because I would hardly praise Twilight Princess, Skyward Sword, or the Windwaker for the quality of their dungeons. They often relied on contrived mechanics and useless, even comically stupid single-purpose items. But at least they tried. They knew that this is what Zelda is about, that no other game has ever successfully replicated.
 
Breath of the Wild is not a bad game. It is a good game with many merits and many flaws. But it is not Zelda.

golden age

Westworld might be one of my favorite shows ever. It is a fully-fleshed out idea executed by an ultra-competent team with a clear vision. There are so many nuances to its universe. It raises all sorts of juicy questions about consciousness, power, and storytelling – without being glib or self-absorbed. Its premise is damn near perfect – plausible to the point of being vaguely familiar to concepts we already know in the real world, foreign enough to merit curiosity, but not so much that it competes with its characters and arcs. I can’t recommend it strongly enough.

There’ve been so many creations in the last few years that have raised the bar for what we can hope to find in our media. I feel like we might be in the middle of a renaissance of film and television.

Mad Max is probably my favorite action movie ever. It Follows is easily the best horror movie in several years, and Stranger Things clearly builds on the elements that made classics like The Thing and Alien so good. Black Mirror is so damn prescient and thought-provoking, and never more timely and relevant. Rick & Morty is as funny as it is creative. Game of Thrones is possibly the first genuinely respectable fantasy series.

There’s fabulous shows for kids, too. My generation occasionally likes to get nostalgic about the cartoons we grew up with, but nothing I grew up on holds a candle to Adventure Time, Bravest Warriors, or The Last Airbender. These are actually great shows that don’t treat their younger audiences like unthinking krill.

This, for me, is a bright light in the recent darkness. I’ll take whatever I can get.

outrage loop

The interaction between modern social media and democracy seems overwhelmingly toxic.

More than any previous year, Facebook and Twitter have played a central role in every step of this election cycle, possibly to everyone’s detriment. Facebook shoves breaking news about world events in between wedding photos and clickbait listicles. Everything is competing for our attention.

Modern journalism is enslaved to view counts and there is no room for nuance or depth. Headlines are carefully selected to make people upset, because when we’re upset we click and share. Everyone’s screaming into echo chambers, recursively amplifying outrage.

Our memory seems to grow shorter and shorter. Scandals and tragedies constantly flow through our feeds, but never stick around long enough for the full story. We’re left only with hyperbolic headlines that reinforce our pre-existing notions and biases about the world.

In this environment, it seems that lying is optimal. If what matters most is spreading headlines, then Trump has demonstrated the winning strategy. The man’s tweets are pure, uncut viral gold. Liberal outrage over his nonsense may very well be the fuel for this eternal dumpster fire. We broke one of the basic rules of most internet forums: don’t feed the troll. But we’re way past that advice, now.

It remains to be seen is what lessons other politicians take from this debacle. If we can’t divorce ourselves from this model of news that makes us so susceptible to these loops of outrage, I fear that November 8th will not be anywhere close to the end of what we’ve been experiencing for the last year and a half.

some cow’s pasture

I haven’t written about a game in quite a while, but I definitely felt inspired after spending my week with No Man’s Sky.

I don’t tend to get excited about upcoming games. That feels like a depressingly adult thing to say, but building up expectation when disappointment is so likely seems like a masochistic way of life.

No game taught me this lesson better than Fable. As a kid, I vividly remember reading a now-infamous interview with Peter Molyneux, where he was hyping up Fable. He talked about how the whole world responded to your actions. Knock an acorn to the ground and come back years later to see a fully grown oak tree. Become evil and knights in shining armor would try to hunt you down, or be righteous and fend off bounty hunters and crimelords. Build houses, get married, raise a family, rule the land.

Fable had none of those things. The spirit of the game that was described – an open-ended journey full of countless, unique possibilities – was not present in the slightest. It was a cramped museum of strict and compromised designs. It wasn’t a bad game at all, but it was nothing like what had been promised. It utterly failed to capture the spirit of its promise.

Right around this time was when I first encountered the word procedural, one of the buzzwords that has seen a resurgance alongside No Man’s Sky. In this context, it refers to a world that is generated by formulas and processes, rather than explicitly designed by a human. I heard of this when Will Wright delivered a brilliant GDC presentation on Spore. The game he laid out in that talk was genuinely incredible. He shows a thoughtfully populated universe at several distinct scales, continuously filled out with player creations, crafted by incremental choice, guided evolution. Where Peter Molyneux talked, Will Wright demonstrated in precise detail.

At that time, I was like 15 and had no way of knowing how outrageous the game’s many promises really were. By the time the game came out – a full 3 years later – it was clear it had become mired in development hell and irrevocably damaged by the production process. The game that was released was, like Fable, nothing akin to the vision that had been laid out.

I talk about these games because No Man’s Sky has similarly excessive ambitions. It has an awe-inspiring trailer that immediately generated huge amounts of interest. There’s been countless interviews with the lead developer where he clumsily evades questions while simultaneously stirring up visions of a grand universe with complex interactions and infinite possibilities. But unlike Fable and Spore, No Man’s Sky actually does some justice to this goal.

First, let’s get the negative stuff out of the way. Because for me, getting to the pearls in this game has meant swimming through oceans of hot garbage. Swim with me for a minute, if you will.

Far and away, the most common thing you will spend your time doing in this game is moving piles of exotic sand between inventories.  To worsen matters, the interface for managing your sand collection is just no good.

the antichrist of UIs
the antichrist of UIs

As someone who earns his salary designing and building interfaces, I cannot tell you how little this differs from getting punched in the nuts by each and every member of the 2016 American Olympic team (that’s 558 people, in case you were about to check).

The focus on collection and crafting with this space dust is oppressive. In a game whose soul is all about exploration, to find yourself wedded to the act of vacuuming up shit particles everywhere simply feels wrong. In any other game this might be considered a novel or satisfactory piece of gameplay, but this is No Man’s Sky. There are quintillions of planets begging for exploration, but there you are, unmoving, unthinking, as you squirt lasers on a pillar of galactic fartrock.

Lastly, it must be mentioned how hilariously insufficient – perhaps even inappropriate – the aliens are. Hundreds, if not thousands, of these off-brand Walmart humanoids populate every planet and solar system in the galaxy.

ugly
ugly as goddamn sin

They’re grotesque, poorly animated, and devoid of personality. Most of them are apparently chair-bound, born with an Ipad strapped to their right hand, which they idly peck at before delivering a completely arbitrary multiple choice question. It’s a feature of the game so breathtakingly vanilla, yet somehow so incomplete, that one can only wonder what the developer’s intentions might have been.

It forces you to think of the game as actually being empty, simply devoid of intelligent life. That’s a meaningful distinction, too. If there are no larger civilizaitons or structures waiting out there in the universe, what can this universe really show you? What is the drive for exploration?

The answer to that, for me, is the phenomenal variety of planets. Let me break this down a bit, because this has been a huge part of the sense of awe I get from this game.

Blasting around in a solar system feels great – they nailed the scale and speed of it all.  Planets feel huge and distant, but you still feel fast.  There’s a bit of magic in getting jumped by space pirates and dogfighting among asteroids with a whole planet as your backdrop.

nms15

It’s taken for granted that you can enter a planet’s atmosphere from any direction, but think of any game you’ve ever played – you’re always going through explicitly defined entry and exit points wherever you are. In No Man’s Sky, this experience, which would be a blank loading screen in any other game, is genuinely fun.  All the alarms go off, everything shakes, there’s a lovely halo of plasma, and the features below fade into view.  You can start to make out some of the features – gray soil, purple grass, green oceans. Garish, but still kinda badass.

You cruise around for a minute until you find a landmark that interests you.  It’s a little hard to see from your cockpit, so you spin your ship so that you’re flying sideways and can see the terrain a little better. You fly really fast compared to how you walk, so you have to slow down and start pulling tight circles until you think you’ve got it right. Your ship slowly lowers, and now you get a sense of the scale of the hills you saw from above, which now loom all around you.

This planet has giant mushrooms three times your size, there’s little crab-squid things galumphing around on the ground, and apparently it’s lightly raining acid. There’s a new type of tree you’ve never encountered before at the top of a big hill, so you decide to head that way to take a closer look. On the way you find a species of butt-faced dinosaurs that try to kill you but they can’t quite path around some tentacle flowers so you laugh at them and move on. As you crest the top of the hill, you see a sky filled by a neighboring planet and contrails left by alien spaceships. The view below is a canyon filled by a lake, filled to the brim with platypus-like squiddies and mushrooms with wavy tendrils. The sun starts to rise behind you, and the landscape changes from being heavily tinted green-blue, to a softer orange-red.

If this sounds awesome, that’s because it is. No, not every planet is that great. Many of them are shitty. Some of the patterns in generation become more obvious over time. The interest in exploration goes down once you don’t need to collect resources or upgrades any longer.

The fact remains that No Man’s Sky contains so many stunning compositions of colors and shapes, intermingled with all sorts of comedic and bizarre creatures. No designer sat down and created any one of them specifically, yet many of the environments in No Man’s Sky are far more beautiful than anything you can find in any modern game. I would go as far as to suggest that this is one of the most intrinsically beautiful games ever made.

nms16

There are moments in this game that genuinely made me feel like Darwin visiting the Galapagos. I could imagine his excitement at finding all these new and fascinating kinds of plants and animals, trying to piece together a narrative about why they have these sorts of claws or that sort of beak. That’s the heart of exploration, and No Man’s Sky captures that in a way that no other game has.

This kind of novelty is why procedural generation holds such promise. Games should create unique experiences that were hitherto inaccessible. They should be able to show us things we haven’t yet imagined. No Man’s Sky manages to keep itself together just well enough to do that.

art_work

They say that writing about art is like dancing about architecture.

Just kidding, I’ve never heard anyone say that. But I wanted to record a little formal history of how I started making artwork, explain some of the different kinds of pieces I make, talk a bit about process and such. There will be a smattering of personal details and hopefully very little philosophy about the meaning of art or its practice. There are few questions less interesting than “what is art?” and I do not intend to indulge the inquiry here.

Without further ado, a brief history of my journey with art.

Continue reading art_work

A Future Worth Loving

If the Internet is an ocean, I am a fish. This is where much of my life has been lived, and so I have grown to love it, warts and all. It has enabled, for me, that which I love most in the world: endless knowledge and learning. I never went to university — my education has been largely digital, from beginning to end. Some of my earliest memories are of exploring Encyclopedia Britannica, watching animations about windmills and levies. I remember the first day I found Wikipedia — I immediately went on a 2-hour dive through black holes on through retinas and cow-tipping. I just couldn’t believe that such an expansive resource existed. Everything I know about design and programming has been learned online. I’ve devoted thousands of hours to lectures and documentaries. For me, computers and the Internet really are a bottomless spring of knowledge and ideas.

This isn’t how many people see or use the Internet. For a time, this irked me, similar to the way a dancer might feel about someone who’s never danced — something of intrinsic value, perhaps not actually essential to modern life. Today, however, there is no question that the Internet is a central component of so many of our daily routines and exchanges. Watching this growth, that irksome feeling has steadily grown into a deep concern for the ways computers are failing to unite us, or even creating divisions where before none existed. While the Internet opens up rich new channels of exploration and connection, others seem to be closing.

One beauty of the Internet is that you can, at this very moment, go to YouTube and find all manner of skills demonstrated by people around the world. Your Facebook feed is likely sprinkled with photos of various hobbies, projects, and achievements. And it’s all inferior to experiencing things in real life. The online conversations we share about these activities — particularly with friends and family — are often unsatisfying, lifeless and primitive imitations of real world communication.

For some people, their purest and most powerful form of expression is with a paintbrush. For others, it’s a guitar. A basketball. A pen. A sewing needle. A steering wheel. A deck of cards. Pick whatever you want — there’s someone, somewhere who could stun you with their mastery over these inert objects, that could expose you to new thoughts and ideas through the creative expression realized in their demonstration. It’s passions and talents like these that weave the fabric of culture and enrich the human experience. But on the Internet, these skills are worth only their weight in views and likes.

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video game feminism

I’m a huge fan of Anita Sarkeesian’s Tropes vs Women in Video Games series. Although I highly recommend them to anyone with a serious interest in pop culture or video games, the series is quite long. Since this post involves many of its core ideas, I’ll provide my summary of Sarkeesian’s most important observations.

Video games and the industry surrounding them are extremely male-dominated. Games aren’t just being marketed exclusively towards men — games themselves are designed around the assumption that the players are male. They overwhelmingly cater to this group to such an extent that it is actively alienating the players that do not match this target demographic.

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Hand of Misuse

I originally wrote this post for a more gaming-oriented blog my friends and I created, Bloglomerate. It is exclusively concerned with the game Dota 2. I’ve reposted it here to ensure it lives on in case Bloglomerate is discontinued.

Pro teams are picking up Hand of Midas a lot these days. First, just a brief look at usage over the last year. All stats pulled from datDota.

General Midas appearance and winrate by patch

Here’s the funny thing: Midas was nerfed in 6.79c. Most of the games counted in 6.79 came before that patch, but it was valued much less in 6.78 for no apparent reason. While drafting strategy could explain some of it, it would appear that Midas has become a thriving trend across nearly a full year of use.

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North American Scrubs

I originally wrote this post for a more gaming-oriented blog my friends and I created, Bloglomerate. It is exclusively concerned with the game Dota 2. I’ve reposted it here to ensure it lives on in case Bloglomerate is discontinued.

Swag Sorceror: Why are NA teams such ass all the time – do we just not promote as much? Who does one even talk to to figure out what would be helpful to make the community grow – get more people to watch and spend money on games?

The reason NA sucks at Dota and League is because of internet cafes. Net cafes have always been and still are way, way bigger in China, South Korea, SEA, and all over EU. Home desktop computers didn’t take off in other countries the way they did in the US, and that’s because of population density. Also, broadband adoption and good connection quality has only recently become ubiquitous here. South Korea had 100mbps connections well over 5 years ago.

Net cafes matter a fuckload because that’s where amateur teams form and competitions take place. Cafe owners have always been happy to host these things because that’s an enormous amount of business for them. Spectators and players and all of their friends come together and trigger the feedback loop that gets everyone amped up about the matches, the tournament, the game as a whole. There’s a reason kids in the Philippines stood outside in the fucking rain to watch TI3. It’s because it’s always better to watch together in one place than separately, alone.

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Mythological Creatures

I originally wrote this post for a more gaming-oriented blog my friends and I created, Bloglomerate. It is exclusively concerned with the game Dota 2. I’ve reposted it here to ensure it lives on in case Bloglomerate is discontinued.

Bigfoot, Unicorns, and Non-Standard Drafting

Swag Sorceror: Cranberry Thunderfunk, I’d love your opinion on why non-standard (non just standard right click, basically) carries aren’t more common as a pocket strat in professional. Safelane pugna got thrown into the meta decently heavily during i think 6.80? and that was pretty cool, but not super long lived, but why don’t you see more safelane silencer, carry necro / lesh, or any number of other heroes that can probably carry in ways that I haven’t even thought of, either by forcing a game in the first 25 minutes or whatever.

This is the answer I think most pros would give.

The biggest problem is that they’re easy to gank and easy to focus in team fights. Pretty much all carries that ever get picked have one of these things:

  • a reliable escape mechanism
  • a respectable stun
  • high burst damage

Antimage, Weaver, Void, and Spectre have good escapes. Chaos Knight, Sven (though he hasn’t shown up in forever, for no apparent reason), WK, Tiny, and Slardar have good stuns. Luna and Gyro have good burst damage (also, high base movement speed). All of these make tp support and turn-arounds much more viable.

Continue reading Mythological Creatures

label

Is it dumb to love a label and its culture?

I’m just a huge fan of Mad Decent and its culture. Just really different and always tries something new. I feel like I like it and the idea of it, too much.

Do you feel me?

It’s a good question, one that is ripe for discussion.

One of my favorite labels is Kitsuné – I enjoy the vast majority of the artists they sign, and it’s no coincidence that they also happen to make clothing. They recognize that their listeners have a certain style they can tap into. The cynical perspective is to say they’re manipulating sheep into buying a lifestyle, but the fact of the matter is that music correlates to more than just what we listen to, much the same as any other serious passion in life.

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edify

As a teenager, 24 was one of the first television shows to really draw me in. I’ve been revisiting it, and it’s spurred a lot of thoughts about how television has evolved and why the show held such wide appeal during its run.  It was an intense and tightly edited series. It told multiple stories in parallel, the drama was generally compelling, and the main character was an uncompromising badass. Kiefer Sutherland really knows how to look good running around with a drawn pistol. Now that I’m a bit older and wiser, the show seems almost crass in the simplicity of its dialogue, character construction, plotline, and the absurd quantity of cultural and gender stereotyping that fuels the conflicts and interactions across the show.  But it’s an interesting case study in how network television channels managed to escape the mire of episodic sitcoms that dominated the 90’s.

This is what Jack Bauer looks like at most points during the show.
Jack Bauer is not exactly a complex character.

In 24, characters frequently behave in ways that are clearly motivated by the writers’ need to create drama and increase tension, lest the show drift into that most dangerous territory of the mundane. The writers are frequently shameless in how they generate character interactions, making heavy use of techno-babble simply to provide an excuse for characters to walk from one desk to another. What these characters actually do at their jobs is hilariously difficult to define. With all their talk of protocols, encryptions, and sockets, you might imagine that they’re in IT, but at no other point do these characters profess any expertise in the realm of technology or computers.

Continue reading edify

Ancient Chinese Medicine

I originally wrote this post for a more gaming-oriented blog my friends and I created, Bloglomerate.  It is exclusively concerned with the game Dota 2.  I’ve reposted it here to ensure it lives on in case Bloglomerate is discontinued.

The 1-5 System

A few years ago, the professional Chinese teams devised a simple way to designate hero roles, now known as the 1-5 system as it’s been adopted almost universally. I want to explain it because I think it’s a useful tool in figuring out stronger picks and lanes for each and every game, and that’s an area where I see a lot of room for improvement. Although I include some notes about more advanced strategies, I believe this is fairly accessible to anyone with a basic familiarity with DotA.

Continue reading Ancient Chinese Medicine

massecrate

I generally try to avoid jumping on media bandwagons when picking topics to explore, here, but I’ve seen one too many glib quotes from people who want to explain the world as having one big problem that just so happens to coincide with their worldview. I get as choked up as anyone else reading about the Sandy Hook shooting, but there’s some hard facts that demand recognition.

This is going to happen again. And again. And again. No matter what.

The only factors we can control are the frequency and the severity.  I’m entirely on board with much stronger gun control – but we’re kidding ourselves if we think it was a lack of legislation that allowed this event to happen. Broad legislation is not effective in dealing with lone individuals that aren’t a part of any organization or group. It’s the same with drugs; prosecuting users is a waste of time, and that’s why the focus of law enforcement agencies is on producers and distributors. The goal is to reduce availability and increase the cost of acquisition to the point that it’s no longer desirable or feasible, particularly at larger scales.

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Zombie Arena Simulations

Scenario 1

You’re in line at an amusement park at peak visiting hours. A zombie outbreak occurs.

The challenge: Kill the original zombies before they can infect civilians and without harming uninfected civilians. Each original zombie is worth maximum points, but for each civilian a zombie infects, the original zombie’s value decreases. Infected civilians are worth much less than original zombies. Bonus points for protecting all of the Dippin’ Dots vendors.

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Sand Wraiths and Boar’s Blood

The Setting

Near-future techno-fantasy. Limited forms of magic exist, but are not possessed by humans. There is no mechanical flight and no space exploration, but a few major cities enjoy an extreme level of technological advancement and wealth – automated wireless everything, high speed magnetic rail, laser weapons, flexible and lightweight armor. Recycling is not just mandatory, but ultra-efficient; when old technology is replaced, all of the parts and pieces are broken down and the core materials recovered for future use. While this has made the cities extremely self-sufficient, it has left secondary populations in the dust. As a result, the few remaining rural towns – which are still agrarian and contain a vanishingly small portion of the world population – are a hodgepodge of pre-industrial technology with what little unrecycled gadgetry finds its way out of the cities. Some possess no technology whatsoever. The overwhelming majority of city dwellers know nothing about rural populations because of how few and irrelevant they are.

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pathogen

The last month has seen more activity in the Middle East, complete with senseless murders and vast rioting.  Yet again, this has spurred a great deal of head-scratching as to how in the world a feeble insult in the form of a minute-long YouTube video could inspire such a response.  The usual explanations are everywhere: large groups of unemployed and alienated young men, hyper-conservatism fostered through theocratic rule and aggressive media filtering, or America’s incomprehensibly bad relationship with the entire region – there’s so much to choose from.   However, whatever the situation over there predisposes people to feel or do, the fact remains that hundreds of thousands of people were rioting about a YouTube video.  I propose to you that it’s because they aren’t getting trolled frequently enough.

Trolls are a vaccine for the social immune system.

Continue reading pathogen

electrophoria

I went to my first electronica concert a few weeks ago – but to describe it properly, I have to start from the beginning.  The beginning of my love for electronic music, that is.

The first time I put a track on repeat was when I was 10 years-old.  My dad had bought an album after hearing a song in a commercial; the album was from the electric quarter Bond, the album was their first – Born – and the track was Alexander the Great.  It was arguably the closest thing to electronic music that I’d yet encountered, and it promptly crawled through my ears and into my soul.  I was utterly smitten.  I loved the whole album, actually, but I played that one track well beyond 10,000 times over the course of the following years.  It had certain features that, as it turns out, are hallmarks of the music I love most today:

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The Internet versus Immersion

A Response To “WoW And The Evolution Of Games And Gamers”

It’s no secret that the MMOs we know today are quite directly built out of the tradition that Dungeons & Dragons laid down so long ago. Many of the core principles translate to the digital age quite nicely – namely its overt reliance on stat manipulation to create gameplay mechanics. What doesn’t translate is information inequality, specifically between the players and the dungeonmaster. In traditional D&D, encounters are planned exclusively by the DM. Unless the DM chooses to reveal information within the campaign, valuable strategic data about the environment, NPCs, and encounters are known only by the DM. As a result, a sizable portion of the game is spent in siphoning information out of the DM through skill checks and challenges. The medium of voice communication itself further limits how much can be shared, as all of this has to be described in words by the DM. Human error is also a factor; incorrectly recorded or misunderstood information gets passed occasionally between players, especially when there are simultaenous events to track. Players will debate each other at length simply to verify the accuracy of their knowledge. These sorts of challenges are appropriate for pen-and-paper, but they just aren’t relevant when the interface is a computer with internet access.

Think about the experience of a single-player game. Using a strategy guide to progress through a game is more or less considered cheating, and not simply for elitist reasons. A properly designed single-player game demands no guide because all the information the player needs will be found within the game itself. As in D&D, encounters are designed on the premise that the player possesses only the knowledge that the developers have deigned to reveal, which will be minimally sufficient to progress. It’s for this reason that the types of puzzles and encounters found in a single-player game don’t scale well into multiplayer. The first person to solve the riddle is also the last. That’s why most MMOs don’t bother making meaningful logic puzzles or riddles, outside of the handful you might find in the occasional quest chain. In a genre where time efficiency is highly valued, it’s hard for a mere riddle to compete against alt+tab -> google.

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Discussion: Terraria & Minecraft

And Lo, the Bloglomerate did descend upon Terraria, consuming it with fervor in the fallout of the catastrophe known as Diablo the Third. Verily, Terraria did provide a unique and thrilling video game experience that the blogging conglomerate thoroughly enjoyed, and experimentation began with creating PvP arenas to siphon further joy from the game – but disagreement lurked on the horizon.

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nomenclad

In general, I think Facebook is a good thing. It provides a way for people to stay in touch at all distances, it allows people to share cool and important things, and it provides a snapshot of what your peers value and desire. It does not, however, guarantee any kind of parity to reality. People assume that Facebook is showing real people and real lives because it’s real names that are popping up on their screen. What they forget is that Facebook is one giant filter of intention.

What shows up on Facebook is what people want to show up. Go look through your friend’s albums: how many weddings do you see? How many vacations? Babies? Trips abroad? Graduations? Visits with family? Parties with friends? There’s something missing from this picture. Like, say, people getting fired. Funerals. Arrests. Divorces. Suffice to say that we aren’t rushing to Facebook to tell everyone about our imperfections and admit that we’re not as happy as our pictures would have others believe. For the experienced netizen, this is business as usual. It’s a different story for the average Facebook user, however, and I’ve long pondered over how to challenge the way people perceive Facebook. Recently, I found a way.

As a kid, the game of the internet was always to appear older so as to enhance credibility, and the best way to do that was not to give anyone an excuse to look down on me. The first line of attack is always the display name, and by the time I was 13 I’d mostly standardized my name across the various mediums of the internet: salandarin. It was unique, didn’t have numbers (super important!), was easy enough to type, hard to say wrong, and carried a flavor of fantasy without sounding elven or magical. It’s austere and inert.

The preteen me wanted that because it provided a shield against scrutiny. Passivity is a great strategy for avoiding criticism, but it also leaves any hope of quality interaction in the hands my neighbors. Salandarin provided no material for conversation. However, as I became more engaged in online communities at the end of high school, I had earned a few nicknames. I started adopting them because they were flavorful and personal. Since 2008, my display name evolved thusly:

  • salandarin
  • saladman
  • salad
  • sal
  • salmon
  • salmonesque
  • SALMONATOR

I jumped between all of these sprodically for the next few years, using them for alts or special accounts, picking whichever seemed more thematically appropriate for the given environment. I could only have so many, however, as I still needed to log in to the accounts without going through the “Forgot your username?” prompts every time. But then sites started separating account name and display name. In particular, Steam eliminated all restrictions on what display name you could use. Duplicates were fine. Special characters were fine. Really long, or really short. It was all good. So, when I switched from HoN to DotA 2 and found myself using Steam a whole lot more, I realized I had a golden opportunity.

For the unfamiliar – Steam is a platform for playing video games.  Your display name dictates what identifies you in the game.  So, if my display name is SALMONATOR, it’ll tell everyone in the game “SALMONATOR just got a double kill!“, and it’s the name that appears in front of all chat messages.   With that explained, here are just some of the names I’ve come up with over the last year. Yes, all of them were in caps, and I’m proud to say they’re all original.

  • SALMONATOR
  • HEROIC SALMON
  • SMICKDASH
  • CHIROPRACTIC MANSLAUGHTER
  • PREMIUM FOOD STAMPS
  • GONNA POOP ON YA
  • IMPROMPTU BRODOWN
  • BUTT ALCHEMIST
  • PREHISTORIC MOP
  • JANITORIAL MASQUERADE
  • INTERSTELLAR VISIGOTH
  • SERF DUNKING
  • QUESTIONABLE OSMOSIS
  • LOBSTER CANNON
  • CAPTAIN THUNDERFUNK
  • SMUGFRUIT
  • FATSLAP
  • DUMPTURKEY
  • SPOONIST
  • SHAMBURGER

Some of them are silly and lame. Some of them are alright. A few are hilarious. In general, though, a quirky and unique name goes a long way to breaking the ice in the garden of social butterflies that video gamers are known to be.  I can hear people trying not to laugh when they say “dumpturkey” or “butt alchemist” over voice chat, and it’s absolutely great.  Seeing “GONNA POOP ON YA is GODLIKE!” appear on the screen is just a delight. Anything that gets people to chill out and remember that it’s just a video game is a huge winner, and it makes the overall experience better for me (and hopefully others too).

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Common Ground: Morphling & Spectre

I originally wrote this post for a more gaming-oriented blog my friends and I created, Bloglomerate. It is exclusively concerned with the game Dota 2. I’ve reposted it here to ensure it lives on in case Bloglomerate is discontinued.

In a previous post, I lamented the design of Antimage. Although his lack of counters makes him difficult to deal with, I wouldn’t call him overpowered – just a fun-sucking vampire. In fact, there really aren’t many heroes that I feel truly earn the gold ‘imba’ star. Many heroes are situationally absurd, but for most of these heroes, your team will have the opportunity to prevent these situations from coming about through your choice of heroes, lane matchups, item pickups, and so on.

The role-based nature of the game is part of what helps preserve this delicate balance. On paper, Lion’s stun is strictly superior to Nyx Assassin’s stun – it lasts .3 seconds longer and travels 200 units farther. The difference is that Nyx Assassin is a highly mobile invis ganker that can use his stun whenever and wherever the fuck he wants. Meanwhile, Lion is forced to rely on his team to create an opening, so he can trundle in like a clown, use his disables, ult, and then promptly get his ass shoved into his face because that may as well be Lion’s fourth ability. The point is, the strength of abilities are contextual to that hero’s role. There’s a reason most carries don’t come equipped with hard CC.

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