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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

Beholder Pumpkin

Tomorrow's Halloween, the only holiday dedicated to mischief and evil rather than all of that feel-good stuff, religious stuff or government-mandated social consciousness. And Steve Jackson's Daily Illuminator helps us remember to let our inner geek shine through with this awesome picture of a Beholder pumpkin.

But sadly, this bit of text accompanying the image just ruins it:

When I was a kid, we played Dungeons and Dragons in the 5th grade. It was fun, but so complex that we had to cheat to make it more interesting. Soon afterward, I decided that riding my BMX bike was more fun and didn't do so much gaming.

I did keep one relic of these days, it is a book called the Monster Manual and it describes all sort of different monsters. Someone sent in this carving of the monster called "The Beholder". I am unsure what it is, but it looks spooky.

I wonder if the monster manual is worth anything on E-bay.

"We had to cheat to make it more interesting"? This guy sooooo missed the point.

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Friday Free Game: The Tall Stump

Regular readers of The Red Bull Diary will recall that I'm a big fan of jayisgames for being a general distributor of Flash game goodness (for example, a fine little game called S3QUENC3R was once mentioned on the site). Jay has just wrapped up his Fourth Casual Gameplay Design Competition, and announced that the winner is a truly excellent puzzle-platformer called The Tall Stump. And it is this game that I would like to spotlight as the latest Friday Free Game, because it's so damn well-done.

I described it as a puzzle-platformer, but what does that mean? It's a game that appeals to the curiosity of the user, and it will suck you right in if you're the "Explorer" type of player. The Bartle Explorer Play Type describes a player whose primary motivation is in discovering as much as they can about a virtual world. Did you love classic Super Mario Brothers? Tomb Raider? Then you're likely an Explorer-type, and you're bound to love Stump.

Much like many classic games, the story here is simple: the bad guy in black turned your girlfriend into a square and ran off, and you must give chase. Really, this is just the proverbial kick in the pants to start you off. Use left and right cursor keys to move; up to jump; down to pick up items or cycle through your inventory; use the space bar to use your currently selected item. You explore the world, traveling from screen to screen, picking up items that you find along the way and solving puzzles to further your progress.

The game succeeds on a number of levels, most importantly because it's got lots and lots of charm. The music is atmospheric and not distracting, the cartoony graphics are simple yet stylish, and the gameplay is challenging without becoming frustrating. Much of the gameplay centers around using a bazooka-looking device that shoots bouncing balls. Use the ball gun to activate levers that open doors and introduce new elements that will help you move from one screen to the next. While you make your way through the game, you will also find several different kinds of hats, from the newspaper hat right at the beginning to a ninja suit later on. It's easy to see why Jay Bibby and his audience loved The Tall Stump; I think you will, too.

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The PS3's Death Spiral

One of the game design blogs I didn't put on my earlier list is the sporadically-updated but nonetheless interesting Blog of Booth, as in Jason Booth, formerly of Harmonix. His most recent post talks at length about the lack of good games for the PS3 despite its much-touted technological superiority over the XBox 360. He approaches it from the point of view of the game developer, and explains convincingly (to me, at least) why the PS3's games have not — and maybe will not ever — blow anyone away:

[Getting performance equivalent to the XBox 360] out of the PS3 requires a lot of work unique to the platform, and in many cases, even with all these tricks, you still won't see equivalent performance. Thus, many ps3 games have simplified shaders and run at lower native resolutions than the 360 versions. On top of this, there is shrinking incentive to do this work; the PS3 isn't selling.

This turns into what some might call a "death spiral": the PS3 is harder to develop for, which means that fewer developers are doing it, which means fewer games, which means a smaller audience, which means less money in developing for the PS3, which means fewer games, which means a smaller audience... you get the idea. Boy am I glad I decided to sit out the first round of console wars.

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We Are Your Overlords

The History of Religion in 90 Seconds

Recommended by a friend:

How has the geography of religion evolved over the centuries, and where has it sparked wars? Our map gives us a brief history of the world's most well-known religions: Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Judaism. Selected periods of inter-religious bloodshed are also highlighted. Want to see 5,000 years of religion in 90 seconds? Ready, Set, Go!
Maps of War: The History of Religion
Cool stuff. After you're done watching that one, watch The Imperial History of the Middle East for another healthy dose of perspective. Funny that the mainstream media never thinks this kind of historical information is important. Maybe that's because it's harder to spin events if they're set in their proper context?

War! Fear! The Muslims hate us for our freedom! The mainstream media makes me sick.

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The Top Game Design Blogs

While writing another post, I started analyzing the list of game design blogs that I read. My Google Reader subscription list contains no fewer than 26 game design-related feeds (this doesn't count the gaming-related feeds that don't talk specifically about design):

  1. Dan Cook's Lost Garden (Videogames)
  2. Raph Koster's blog (MMO)
  3. Jamie Fristrom's GameDevBlog (Videogames)
  4. Dave Sirlin's blog (Videogames)
  5. Brian "Psychochild" Green's blog (Videogames)
  6. The multi-authored Gone Gaming blog (Board Games)
  7. Joshua BishopRoby's Ludanta Retero (RPGs)
  8. Corvus Elrod's Man Bytes Blog (Videogames)
  9. Damion Schubert's Zen of Design (MMO)
  10. Peter B and psu's Tea Leaves (Videogames)
  11. Jesper Juul's The Ludologist (Academic)
  12. Chris Bateman's Only a Game (Academic/Videogames)
  13. Attacks of Opportunity (RPGs)
  14. Mike Parker's GameDevMike (Videogames)
  15. Ari Järvinen's Games Without Frontiers (Academic)
  16. Greg Costikyan's Games * Design * Art * Culture (Videogames/RPGs)
  17. Jonathan Degan's Journal of Board Game Design (Board Games)
  18. Jurie Horneman's Intelligent Artifice (Videogames)
  19. Kenneth Hite's LiveJournal (RPGs)
  20. Mike Doyle's Art Play (Board Games, specifically, art)
  21. Richard Bartle's QBlog (MMO)
  22. Troy Costisick's Socratic Design (RPGs)
  23. Surreal Software's Surreal Game Design (Videogames)
  24. Aureia Harvey and Michaël Samyn's Tale of Tales (MMO)
  25. Darius Kazemi's Tiny Subversions (Videogames)
  26. Warren Spector's blog (Videogames)
And this is a list that has been refined over about two years (when I started becoming an RSS addict). Some blogs just stop being updated, some have a few good posts but didn't stay interesting, et cetera, et cetera.

For my own analysis, I've broken down the blogs into five groups: academic, board games, role-playing games, video games, and video game blogs that focus on MMO's. Half of the blogs I read focus on video games, with a good smattering of representatives from the other major areas. Interestingly, I'm reading 5 MMO-focused blogs even though the last MMO I actively played was a mud called Tsunami back in college. The thing is, I don't have the time to really get into an MMO, but I think MMOs are paving the way for the next big evolution in videogames.

So if you have any interest at all in reading about game design, I would recommend starting with any of the blogs in my list, especially those first ten or so. And be sure to let me know if you find a good one I've missed.

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Should I Stop Playing?

Now that I am married, I have to add a few additional factors into my decision-making process. And apparently, I'm not the only one, because I was forwarded this flowchart from BBSpot on how "married folks" should answer that age-old question: "should I stop playing this game?"

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How Does an Astronaut Face Mecca?

Wired has a very interesting article about Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor, Malaysia's first astronaut, who plans on spending nine days aboard the International Space Station during the month of Ramadan. Shukor is a Muslim, and as such, must face Mecca five times each day, when he prays. This begs an important question: which way does one face when the qibla (the direction towards Mecca) can change up to 180 degrees during a single prayer?

Angkasa, Malaysia's space program, called upon 150 Muslim scholars to answer this and other questions relating to performing proper worship while in space. The group produced a document covering everything from how to perform ritual ablutions aboard the space station to how to prostrate oneself in zero-gravity. You can read it for yourself here (Word document).

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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.