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"Your 'reality', sir, is lies and balderdash and I'm delighted to say that I have no grasp of it whatsoever."
— Karl Friedrich Hieronymus, Freiherr von M√ľnchhausen

The Role of Architecture in Games

Check out this cool article about the The Role of Architecture in Video Games.

The Breakup Bug

I'll be the first one to say that technology will set us free, that innovation is what has made America the great nation that it is, and that the Internet has revolutionized the world forever, making things possible that we could only imagine just twenty years ago. Well, computers sometimes make our lives suck, too. Bruce Schneier relates a sad-but-true story of how an engaged couple broke up over Mozilla bug #330884.

LackeyCCG

LackeyCCG is a shareware product for playing collectible card games online. Its creator explains the inspiration to create such a tool this way:

My friends and I have always enjoyed playing CCGs, like Magic: the Gathering, Lord of the Rings, Warlords, Yu-Gi-Oh, Star Wars, and many others. The genre was invented by Richard Garfield (the creator of Magic) in the early 90s. What I find really cool about CCGs is that they involve a lot of creativity and strategy even before the game starts. Building a deck requires artifice, craftsmanship, and imagination. Being a fan of other CCGs, me and my friends thought it would be cool to be able to design and create our own games and play them. Then we all went off to different colleges and could no longer play any CCGs. Desiring a means to play CCGs online, and finding every existing program to do so woefully inadequate, I decided to create LackeyCCG.
I may investigate using this for Amber: Throne War, but I suspect that since I've left the bounds of a traditional CCG far behind, its usefulness may be limited.

Chinese Online Game Teaches Communist Values

Thanks to GamePolitics for sharing a story about Learn from Lei Feng, an online game intended to teach young people in China about traditional Communist values by following the example of Lei Feng, a national folk hero. As described by ChinaView.cn:

Hard work, a plain life and willingness to help others are the game's themes, which is very different from most other online games.

"For beginners, sewing and mending socks is the only way to increase experience and to upgrade," said Jiao Jian, a six-grade pupil in Yuexiu District, quoted by the newspaper.

"Every time you are promoted to a higher level, your clothes will become more average," he said. "You have to do good deeds in order to upgrade, such as contributing and volunteering on building sites. The more you do, the better and higher you get. Thus boosting your reputation."

The game also sets up tasks like a treasure hunt, which can be found in many online games. But the treasure here is a copy of Chairman Mao's Collection, unlike the usual swords or jewels.

...

He also said he likes to battle against the secret agents mainly. "Sometimes the enemy was very strong. The fight almost exhausted me, so I would go to talk with the Party secretary to replenish my vitality at once."

"As long as my experience, reputation, skill and loyalty satisfy the game's criteria, I will win and meet Chairman Mao," Jiao noted. "I still have several tasks to go through. I will 'work hard' and strive to obtain the Chairman's autograph as soon as I can."

You raise by darning socks. You listen to Party propaganda to heal. You win the game by meeting Chairman Mao. Sounds like fun.

Bored at the Urinal

Ever go into the men's room, unzip your fly, start doing your business and then realize just how boring an exercise the whole thing is? I'm a product of the generation that saw the birth of disposable everything and MTV. For God's sake, entertain me while I pee! Well, luckily, this problem has now been solved. The video game urinal makes urinal boredom a thing of the past.

And a big thanks to Cathode Tan for making me smile with this comment: "I wonder if BatJack (Jack Thompson) believes that this will train kids how to urinate on people."

SimSchool

Now here's a new idea: SimSchool, a classroom simulation to help teachers to learn how to teach better.

SimSchool puts the player in control of a classroom. The player is challenged to teach the entire class, while taking into account each student's specific learning style and behavioral quirks. I played a prerelease version and it's an interesting attempt to simulate classroom management. The player has to look up each student on a computer to get insights into their past performance and to plan how to address that particular student accordingly. Difficulty increases by adding more students. And the students have some fairly amusing responses to incompatible teacher responses. I'm not sure how playable the game is--for teachers or ordinary players--but it's always good to see new, unexpected experiences operationalized in a game like this.
Water Cooler Games
Computer simulations can afford us unique opportunities to explore new techniques and explore hypothetical situations in a way that's safe and repeatable. If it works for fighter pilots, why not for teachers?

Cult Database

Thanks to LVX23 for providing me with a link to the Cult Database at the Rick A. Ross Institute. They're an anti-cult group, so not the most impartial (let alone sympathetic) source of information, but the first list I've seen that is quite this focused and exhaustive.

Gaming for Health

A recent article in GamePolitics talks about something I've known intuitively for a long time: that games are good for you. From promoting analytical skill development, to encouraging quick thinking, games are an excellent form of mental exercise. And while there is an emerging body of work that supports the idea that this exercise helps one avoid the negative effects of aging on the mind, there is still no consensus as to how or why this works.

On Growing Up

Ashley Merryman, co-author of The Factbook on Family, posted an interesting article on a blog she shares with Po Bronson. In her article, she asks the question, "Are Young Adults Today Failing to Grow Up?", following a short series of pieces on the real and perceived shifts we see in the American maturation process. We go to school for much longer, get married later, and wait until later in life to have children. But does this mean we are less mature? less "successful" adults? Ms. Merryman doesn't provide us with solid answers, but certainly questions the yardsticks we use to measure maturity and argues that we need a new vocabulary in order to discuss the idea in modern terms.

September 12th

With all of the anti-gaming legislation being bandied about by censorship advocates like Senator Clinton, it's nice that some people can still demonstrate that games, like any other art form, can be used to entertain, insult, inspire, or even educate. A simple Flash game called September 12th illustrates how difficult it is to combat terrorism. Take a look and roll it over in your head a few times. What does this simulation teach us? You may or may not agree with the premise or the implementation, but you can hardly escape the feeling of futility.

Lesbian Cheerleader Followup

Remember that thing with the Carolina Panthers cheerleaders? Well, The Smoking Gun got a copy of the full police report. It's a pretty fun read. And yeah, they were definitely having sex.

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Isaac Hayes Quits South Park

As reported by CNN:

Soul singer Isaac Hayes said Monday he was quitting his job as the voice of the lusty character "Chef" on the satiric cable TV cartoon "South Park," citing the show's "inappropriate ridicule" of religion.

...

"In ten years and over 150 episodes of 'South Park,' Isaac never had a problem with the show making fun of Christians, Muslim, Mormons or Jews," [South Park co-creator Matt] Stone said in a statement issued by the Comedy Central network.

"He got a sudden case of religious sensitivity when it was his religion featured on the show."

Those Scientologists are a sensitive bunch, aren't they? It cannot be a coincidence that this religion's membership seems to be 50% celebrities, and we all have heard stories about the wackiness associated with the group. And I still just don't get it. I've read Dianetics, and it's a lovely idea about how psychology might work, but it's not science. Scientology is something different. The whole enterprise just feels shady. Sooner or later I'm going to have to do a little piece on them.... they've been getting a lot of press of late.

Anyway, Chef was always one my favorite characters on South Park. We will miss him and his salty, chocolate balls.

A Threat to Yemeni Society

Big up to GamePolitics for pointing out this gem of an article from our friends in Yemen (you know – that country just south of our other friends, the Saudis). As reported by The Yemen Times, video games are a dangerous addiction that causes its victims to descend into indolence, thievery, homosexuality and even murder.

Simpsons Live

Thanks to The Average Gamer for sharing this live-action version of the opening sequence from The Simpsons.

Why Data Mining for Terrorists Doesn't Work

Wired magazine's Bruce Schneier does an excellent job explaining why data mining is not a reliable way to uncover terrorist plots.

We'll be optimistic. We'll assume [a hypothetical data mining system] has a 1 in 100 false positive rate (99% accurate), and a 1 in 1,000 false negative rate (99.9% accurate).

Assume one trillion possible indicators to sift through: that's about ten events -- e-mails, phone calls, purchases, web surfings, whatever -- per person in the U.S. per day. Also assume that 10 of them are actually terrorists plotting.

This unrealistically-accurate system will generate one billion false alarms for every real terrorist plot it uncovers. Every day of every year, the police will have to investigate 27 million potential plots in order to find the one real terrorist plot per month. Raise that false-positive accuracy to an absurd 99.9999% and you're still chasing 2,750 false alarms per day -- but that will inevitably raise your false negatives, and you're going to miss some of those ten real plots.

The root problem he cites is a lack of a well-defined profile of terrorists and their activities. As we have seen, Al-Quaeda in particular has invented new tactics for each attack, has never concentrated on a single geographic location, and have provided no discernable pattern for how they time their activities. In short, we have little to no idea about what specifically characterizes terrorist activity, and thus we end up with thousands of false alarms each month.

Gameplay Notation

The Lost Garden is a blog by a professional game designer who has deep and interesting article about his idea to create a notation for expressing how a game plays, much like musical notation can express melodies.

On my first dive into the topic, I latched onto the use of musical notation to express complex melodies. After pounding on buttons in my last session of Mario and Luigi: Partners in Time, there was an eerie parallel with the rhythm of rewards in a typical game. The bloops and bleeps of the various attacks and power ups seemed remarkably close to a strange form of music. What would they look like if we were able to write them down like music?
"Creating a system of game play notation", lostgarden.com
The post is here if you wanna check it out. Or you could just roll your eyes and wonder why I bother to post this stuff.

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del.icio.us

I've discovered the world of del.icio.us, a site which allows you to store links to web pages you find interesting along with key words (called tags) that you can use to organize them.

You sign up for the site and set up a bookmark to a special page that allows you to post links to del.icio.us with a single click and then you're ready to rock. Whenever you find a site that you want to remember for later, just click the bookmark, optionally enter some tags and a description, and it kindly returns you to the site you came from.

The benefits of using a site like this are several. The first and most obvious advantage is having a web-based catalogue of favorite sites. But the less obvious advantage is that you have access to other peoples' lists of favorite sites, finding them by the keywords they use to tag them. So you can subscribe to any keyword you like in your favorite feed aggregator (I use RSS Bandit) and have a ton of fresh content hand-picked by users around the world. Tasty.

Banned XBox360 Ad

Thanks to the Average Gamer for posting a link to this banned XBox360 ad, deemed too controversial for broadcast by Microsoft's lawyers.

A Panoply of "Opolies"

As a follow-up to my earlier post about the "Campaign for Real Monopoly", I figured I'd completely contradict myself and post some Monopoly variants, and there are a lot of them, running the gamut from simpe thematic makeovers to deep and complex rulesets. The game is so well-known and compelling, that there is no lack of imitation.

And according to Dr. Ralph Ansbach, creator of Anti-Monopoly, this is as it should be. In his book, The Billion Dollar Monopoly Swindle, he tells of his courageous fight against big business and how he uncovered a fascinating history behind the game. In winning a Supreme Court battle to market his game, Ansbach proved that the game of Monopoly had been played in various forms since at least 1910. He claims that it was originally invented by a Quaker woman, Lizzie J. Magie, and took on a number of forms until Charles Darrow, an unemployed salesman from Germantown, Pennsylvania, began creating sets and selling them on his own, claiming the game was his "brainchild". Parker Brothers bought the rights to the game from him and then ruthlessly protected the goldmine game.

But now, thanks to Ansbach's work, we're free to legally make all sorts of "opolies". And there are a lot of them.

First, there are the legions localized versions of the game produced by Parker Brothers. Wikipedia lists around 60 different themed versions of the classic game, including Star Wars and Family Guy Monopoly games. The Monopoly Lexicon lists 147 versions and counting, and the Monopolybase is an online compilation of Monopoly board layouts representing 26 countries.

If you want to go a little farther afield, there's a company by the name of Late for the Sky that produce a huge range of specialty-themed Monopoly variants including Bibleopoly, Milleniumopoly, Booo-opoly, and Cat in the Hat-opoly (that last one's a stretch, isn't it?). They even produce custom games.

Then there's Ghettopoly, which caused a bit of a stir when it was released. Instead of Community Chest, it has "Ghetto Stash" cards that read, for example, "You got yo whole neighborhood addicted to crack. Collect $50 from each playa." And if you remember the Whitewater scandal, then you might like Clintonopoly, a satirical play on an earlier presidency that doesn't seem so bad in hindsight.

And if you leave the realm of packaged products into the realm of homebrew games, you find some really wild stuff. Play Again Games offers an online set of rule variants that you can use to "make Monopoly a whole new game for you". Or you can go further and play Transopoly, a complete Transformers-themed variant with printable cards and everything. Or you can take the game to a whole new level, such as in Illuminopoly, created by Dave Van Domelen of Ohio. In this version of the game, each token represents a secret society that will try to control the board through sabotage and political intrigue, a la Steve Jackson's classic card game, Illuminati. A hat-tip to Emphyrio from bgdf for this one.

And the list goes on. Hmmm... I wonder if there's an Amberopoly....

Design Notes/Sales Pitch

I just ran across Erick Wujcik's Resume online while searching for information on how I might go about acquiring a license for Amber: Throne War, my still-nascent board game. And since I feel like I have to justify posting it, I guess I'll share a little about where the game development stands.

I had a mini-breakthrough with the overall design with the help of the kind folks at The Board Game Designers' Forum (I post as Cedrick). I feel like I may have something playable within another month or so, but that depends on how stable the current model is.

Here's the high-level overview. I'm writing this partially to sell it to myself; after all, if I can't write something persuasive about how great my game is, how can I convince anyone else to buy it?

Amber: Throne War is a unique wargame based on the works of Roger Zelazny's Amber Chronicles, where the sons and daughters of Amber vie for control over the Eternal City. Using political cunning and strength of arms, the siblings attempt to secure control over Amber by becoming powerful enough to crown him or herself as King of Amber.

There is a 13 x 13 board with each space large enough to contain a normal-sized playing card. The center of the board is Amber, a 5 x 5 area with the Forest Arden, the Lighthouse at Cabra, the watery kingdom of Rebma, and the ghostly city of Tir-na Nog'th all there to be visited. The remainder of the board, surrounding Amber, is Shadow, the infinite worlds that are reflections of the One True World. Players move through Shadow by playing cards in the spaces as they can walk to magical groves, two-dimensional landscapes, and alien worlds filled with dangerous creatures and strange phenomena. The Princes of Amber can shape reality to fit their whim.

Play is simultaneously political and strategic. In order to become king, one needs to not only control Amber, but have political backing from allies both in the Royal family and amongst the Shadowfolk. To do so, the Amberites raise armies out of shadow who follow them as gods to enforce their rule while attempting to curry favor amongst the family. And the players are free to collude, trade resources, make deals and backstab one another as they seek the crown.

It's a wargame, where players raise armies and must take advantage of both terrain and position to emerge victorious. It's also a collectible card game, adding a level of depth, expandability, and customizability. And, like every good Amber game, there are no dice.

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Sinfest is Back

Mr. Tatsuya Ishida has decided to grace us with his presence once again. And when confronted on the topic, he had this to say:

Dear audience, let me explain. Baby please. Don't shut me out. I was... there was something I had to do. No, there isn't another audience. I'm not seeing another fanbase behind your back. How could you even think that? You're the only readership for me. I only draw for you, you know that. What? These ink stains on my collar? That's nothing. White out smudges on my boxers? Okay. I was trying out some new material for some test audiences. But they don't mean anything to me. It was just a one time thing. Entertainment, that's all it was. Meaningless entertainment. With you I make art, baby. You and me, we make fine art. What about you? You been reading other cartoonists while I was away? Who? That hack? You've been reading that impostor's work? Good lord. Did you laugh? Don't tell me you laughed. You did. Over and over and over again... He made milk shoot out your nose... You rolled on the floor. You laughed harder than you ever laughed at my... Stop. Don't tell me anymore. I'm so upset I don't know what to do with myself.
-T.
Welcome back and don't ever leave me again!

Non-Transitive Dice

So I'm doing a little reasearch on bgdf for my dice game, and a kindly user named doho123 posted a link to a cool article at ScienceNews.org about non-transitive dice.

It's about breaking the mathematical concept of transitivity. The transitive property describes how we can infer relationships between mathematical entities. For example, if I tell you that A = B and B = C, you can infer that A = C because of the transitive property of equality. Likewise, if I tell you that A < B, and B < C, then you can likewise infer that A < C by the transitive property of inequality.

The same concepts can be applied to game theory. If we have three dice, and die "A" beats die "B", and "B" beats die "C", then we would expect die "A" to beat die "C" as well. This is not always the case. The article explains that you can engineer your probabilities such that "A" beats "B", "B" beats "C", and "C" beats "A". This gives you a Rock/Paper/Scissors effect: each element loses to one element and wins over another. This is the sort of elegant system that makes a game balance itself, and so designers should search for ways to engineer non-transitive relationships between competing elements.

On The History of D&D

For those interested in such things, this Forge article is an excellent discussion of the origins of Dungeons and Dragons, with an eye towards examining the different forms and styles of play that grew up around the hobby. An oldy but a goody.

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An Overboard Reaction to a Teacher Going Overboard

Found via Little Green Footballs, a school district in Colorado is investigating what one student has called "left-wing political rants" given by a high-school geography teacher.

Sean Allen frequently recorded his teachers to back up his notes. Allen recorded Jay Bennish, his 10th grade World Geography teacher, making comments about President Bush's State of the Union Address.

Allen's father claims the comments made in the recording are biased and inappropriate for a geography class.

"I'm not saying Bush and Hitler are exactly the same, obviously they're not. OK? But there are some eerie similarities to the tones that they use," says Bennish in his critique of U.S. economic and foreign policy.

Towards the end of the class, Bennish goes on to say, "I'm not in anyway implying that you should agree with me, I don't even know if I'm necessarily taking a position. But what I'm trying to get you to do is to think about these issues more in depth and not to just take things from the surface."


—"High school teacher's comments investigated by district", 9News.com
As a result of the investigation, Bennish has been placed on academic leave. If you listen to the MP3, it's obvious that the teacher is upset with the current administration, and it's obvious that he's coming from the left side of the political spectrum. Now, I'm staunchly against a teacher using the classroom as a forum to preach to a captive audience, but I also believe that education's number one goal is to promote critical thinking. It's not to accumulate knowledge, or to engineer productive citizens, or to help kids find jobs when they graduate, but to make their lives better overall by giving them tools with which they can evaluate information for themselves and form their own opinions.

This means that while it's important for a teacher to be critical of the subject he teaches (and geopolitics is precisely the sort of subject where students should be introduced to the ideas that shape government policy), he must also be careful not to argue to forcefully or too often on one side of the argument. Having listened to the teacher's comments, I think that while he had indeed taken some controversial positions on these topics, his goal was to encourage critical thinking, not to promote some sort of leftist agenda.

As such, I think that the reaction of the right-wing portion of the blogosphere to this issue is unwarranted. One pundit implied that simply including The Communist Manifesto in a high school curriculum is somehow dangerous. Like it or not, the book has changed the course of world history. It's an important work of political philosophy, and so it deserves scholarly attention. Perhaps the writer lacks the intellectual sophistication to distinguish between evaluating and endorsing a political position.

Certainly, I find Bennish's comparisons between Bush and Hitler unwarranted and even misleading. Certainly, he is cherry-picking facts based on a personal political bias. He should at the very least be warned to keep his discussions more neutral. But why is it not acceptable to question the rhetoric being used to justify war? Why is it not acceptable to ask the question, "Why is it okay for the United States to do things but not okay for other nations to do the same things?" Why is it not acceptable to question whether capitalism is fundamentally at odds with human rights? Properly framed, without crossing the line between the personal and the professional, these questions promote the core skills that we are trying to teach.

Lemmings

Have you ever played the classic video game Lemmings? I sure did. Actually, there's a funny story connected to this game. Lemmings came out right around the same time that I started college and had a number of first experiences in my life. It was my first time living away from my parents, the first time I had to do my own laundry, and my first time entering an "Amsterdam state of mind."

Not-so-coincidentally, it was also the first time that I realized that there was little incentive for actually showing up to class. After all, there was no immediate repercussions for skipping. So I got baked and played Lemmings instead of going to class. Needless to say, that semester was also my first experience failing out of school, but that's a story for another time. But I beat Lemmings, by God. And so Lemmings, to me, will always be synonymous with pointless, self-destructive rebellion against a father figure that I have generalized into society at large.

And now everyone can enjoy this classic game on the web. DHTML Lemmings is an excellent clone of the original coded all in DHTML. So sit back and enjoy, and let's see if you can beat the game, too. But when you discover that your time has been sucked away into Lemming-land, don't say I didn't warn you.

Coder Groaner

This has got to be one of the worst jokes ever.


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The Red Bull Diary is the personal pulpit and intellectual dumping-ground for its author, an amateur game designer, professional programmer, political centrist and incurable skeptic. The Red Bull Diary is gaming, game design, politics, development, geek culture, and other such nonsense.