bnewman: (explorer)

I can't recommend this game enough. It hits a sweet spot between open-ended creativity and goal-directed challenge. The basic idea is that you build factories out of blocks (as many as you need, although you can compete to use as few as possible), and the factories receive input materials (which are blocks) and produce products (which are made of blocks), in order to serve our alien overlords. There's more than one way to complete every challenge, and figuring out the physics of the game is delightful. If this sounds at all intriguing to you, it's definitely worth a look.
bnewman: (explorer)
Shelter and Shelter 2 are video games in which you play, respectively, a mother badger and a mother lynx, and must care for your litter of young in a hostile world. They are both deeply discounted on Steam until tomorrow, and I think both are good buys at the sale price.

In both games the gameplay is disappointingly simplistic, but it's very much made up for by the gorgeous visuals, reminiscent of Eric Carle illustrations in 3D. I encourage you to check out the trailers and get the games if you think you'd enjoy romping through that visual world. If you want both, you can get them in a bundle on the Shelter 2 page.
bnewman: (explorer)
Lately I have been buying a lot of video games from the Humble Bundle store — a website which started as a one-time deal (and co-created by a friend of a friend from Swarthmore) and has grown into an excellent retail outlet for Indie games. They often have sales (including right now), a portion of your purchase goes to charity, and a lot of the games are really good, so it's worth checking out.

There are a few games I've gotten recently that stand out enough to be worth a mention/recommendation.

Games that are on sale right now and for the next ~35 hours:

FEIST is an action game where you play a small furry creature in a quest to rescue another of your kind from troll-like beasts who have taken it captive. more )

PixelJunk Shooter is an exploratory 2d shooter with a rich materials simulation — water and lava flow, water plus lava turns to steam plus stone, icicles drip, lava melts ice, etc. more )

Last Horizon is a sweet little minimalist space adventure game where you maneuver a spaceship around and land on planets, lunar lander style. more )

Games that are not on sale right now:

Mushroom 11 is not really like anything else. It's a platform game where you play as a sort of blob, and your only control is an eraser tool stolen from a painting program — more )

Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime is a (local) 2-player cooperative space shooter that reminds me a little of the board game Space Alertmore )
bnewman: (explorer)
Sarah and I have been watching Avatar: The Last Airbender on Netflix. It's amazing — well-drawn, full of plot and character development and world-building and nicely done fantasy martial arts action. I've heard and can well believe that the bending disciplines are based on various (distinct) real martial arts.

Meanwhile, I've been realizing I need more exercise, and specifically more martial arts, in my own life. I studied karate in middle school, and the moves are still there in muscle memory. In terms of a real dojo, I'm probably extremely rusty, and was never very highly ranked to begin with. But, in terms of keeping myself active and working out nervous energy, I remember the forms enough to run some (improvised) kata in the living room when I get twitchy, and I plan to make a habit of that.

And that got me thinking... if we can have muggle Quidditch (well on it's way to becoming a "real" intercollegiate competitive sport), why not muggle bending disciplines? )

Which brings us to water. I can think of two basic divisions of muggle waterbending, depending on whether or not the water is contained. (In-world, the water being bent is contained by the bender's will and skill until released, but we can't do that.) That leads me to two "waterbending" forms I call splish and splash:

Splish )

Splash )
bnewman: (explorer)
The other day, the following songs came up consecutively on party shuffle: "Danger and Desire" (track 10 on the linked album) and "Hardware Store". And this seemed perfect, because it perfectly captured the essence of what I was doing at the time:

MineCraft is an indie computer game that places you in a world of giant voxels and leaves you to survive with nothing but your wits and what you can wrest from the low-resolution earth. It's currently in open alpha testing, and thus feature-unstable but mostly perfectly playable. There is multiplayer support for both public and private servers which will eventually actually work. It's clever and addictive and really, really nifty, and it's become something of a viral hit. Well, consider yourselves sneezed on. (Wait, that didn't come out how I meant it to...)

I don't know what the timeframe is on MineCraft going from alpha to beta (and from half-price to full-price), but I'd love for people I know to get the game and create community servers where we can build Castle SWIL, or the Mines of Moria, or whatever, and work together to defend our holdings from the creatures of the night... oh, yeah, there are zombies.

MineCraft currently costs 10 euros.
bnewman: (explorer)
Lately I've recorded a number of my songs that have been "published" for a while, but for which I have not previously posted a recording. There are also several songs that have been finished for a while, but which I hadn't posted because I thought I would set up a new version of my website first — and I still think I wil soon, but I've realized we'll all have more fun if I continue to post songs here meanwhile. On top of that, there are some actually new songs (besides the ones just posted). Here goes:

MP3s have been posted of the following previously-published songs: "The Galaxy is Silent", "Clockwork", "The Highwayman", and "Stars on Our Heads".

I've written two additional songs in the "Walk in the Day" song-cycle: "Long, Bright Day" (mp3) and "Dark Moon Daughter" (mp3). I've also posted a new MP3 of "Walk in the Day" featuring the new and better revised lyrics.

The Storytellers' World is my catch-all setting for high-fantasy ideas. Once, it was only that, without any other unifying theme, which means it tended to indiscriminately accumulate retreads of familiar high-fantasy tropes.

Since deciding to unify it with the idea that it is a world created by storytelling, I've tried to account for as many of those tropes as possible in ways that tie them in to the nature of the world. This isn't strictly essential, since of course any high-fantasy trope can be incorporated into the world as part of the content of a story, but it's more elegant to explain a trope in terms of the structure of the story if I can.

One of the tropes that got in there was the idea of elves, particularly the noble but inscrutable high elves, whom you can fall in among and then go home to realize later that time has done something wacky while you were away — a bit of a mix of the Tolkien sort and the Thomas the Rhymer sort. The song "Two Streams of Time" (mp3) explains what these beings are doing in the Storytellers' World, and what can happen to people who accept their hospitality unawares.

"Honeybird" is about sex the birds and the bees. Which, you know, is a really strange euphemism for what people need to know about sex, because pollination is very different from what people do. There are all kinds of biological implausibilities in this song, starting with the very premise of a sentient pollinatee who is discriminating in her choice of mate, but if there were such creatures, they would totally enjoy National Geographic articles about hummingbirds, and sing lusty ballads about the birds and the bees sex. Sorry, no MP3 yet, but the tune is another variation of the same one I've used for "Circle Story" and "Love Letter" — which fits, somehow.

Two more video game songs (to video game tunes):

For the adorable action/physics/puzzle game World of Goo (highly recommended), "Ode to the Bridge Builder" (mp3), based on the track of the same name (which is in turn a variation of "Amazing Grace") from the game's soundtrack, the music for the level of the same name, which is near the end of world 1 and thus included in the free demo. You can watch a (very skilled) play-through of this level here, which will illustrate a lot of the gameplay references in the song. Like "Many Pikmin", this is an anthem in praise of teamwork.

For the NES adventure game Blaster Master, "FROG!" tells the strange story of this strange but wonderful game — Jason's pet frog Fred has escaped, and... then he randomly gets thrown into a video game, basically. The tune (no MP3 yet) is from level 4 of the game, which does indeed involve "fighting through and endless maze of twisty little slimy tunnels searching for [your character's] giant, mutant frog".

Two songs about A Fire Upon the Deep by Vernor Vinge, (possibly the best gee-whiz epic space opera adventure thriller ever written):

"Transcendence", the Fire Upon the Deep filk of Dar Williams's "The Ocean" which I said I wasn't going to write, so you should just listen to "The Ocean" and pretend I had filked it, has been written (⇐ spoiler warning). It's still very similar to Dar's original (moreso than any of my filks besides "The Vorlon Connection", which is identical to the original), so I feel ambivalent enough about posting a recording that I'm at least not going to do so right now.

Speaking of A Fire Upon the Deep, I've also finally (er, back in September) written a song for my favorite character in that book, the alien pack entity known as Peregrine. Like "So High, So Low", which is my song for the alien protagonist of A Deepness in the Sky, "Wandering Pilgrim Soul" (mp3) is mainly a character study but tied to a particular moment in the story, in this case near the beginning.

Jewish songs:

Two new Jewish songs were just posted, but you saw those already.

Even before those, I've had enough Jewish songs to make up an album for some time. I've known what the title of the album was going to be for some time, because I had come up with a great title for a Jewish filk album. I didn't know if there was going to be a title track, though...

And then, back in September, it all came together, as it seems to with me, with the insight that two stories are the same: the evil empire, the call, the quest in service of that redeeming power which binds the universe together — and not only those things, but also, and foremost, the desert (and it is the same desert!) — and so, out of that insight, I'm pleased to present "Yehudi Mind Tricks" (mp3 — note the musical reference in the chorus). Enjoy, and may the Force be with you!
bnewman: (Default)
I have an idea for an RPG setting, which is clear enough in my mind and based on material which is well-enough known that I might actually think of producing a sourcebook for it, especially if I get some help.

The short version is this: what if academics was magic?

The roots of this idea go back a long way. As philosopher Ken Wilber and my friends in the Sisterhood of the Owl reminded me last spring, Western civilization once had a Wisdom tradition of its own, comparable to those of the East — a tradition of contemplative, mystical insight, passed from teacher to student.

The same ancients had a clear notion of a good education, and when the traditions of scholarship in the West were restored — in the form of a clerical (if firmly exoteric) order of which most of you are members! — so was that notion. And, as the aptly-named [ profile] quadrivium points out, the ancients believed that such knowledge was power in a sense that we might well call magical. Similar connections obtain between my chosen field of study and that other ancient tradition (clerical, scholarly, and mystical) in which I have a portion.

Concretely, this is the same old geek trope about an RPG of college life, with character classes for majors, and so forth, only writ large and taken seriously. I have a handful of particular ideas. (A few of these are based loosely on unpublished proprietary content and will have to be vetted and redacted before they can be publicly discussed.) The basic concept could be embedded in any of a number of RPG systems, Ars Magica being the most obvious, if only because of the appropriateness of the name. Mage: The Awakening, which I've seen described as "Ars Magica modern", could also work, with some modifications.

So, first, has this been done? I don't count Ars Magica itself because, as far as I know, it's a setting in which the Western esoteric tradition is real magic, whereas I'm talking about a setting where exoteric knowledge is real magic. And, second, anyone want to help me brainstorm this? I'm particularly hoping to hear from [ profile] quadrivium, [ profile] mnemex, and [ profile] gaudior and friends, but anyone who wants to is welcome to contribute.
bnewman: (explorer)
Happy birthday to [ profile] ladymondegreen and [ profile] shipwright and [ profile] metaplasmus...

Oh, and to me. For the next 10.5 months, [ profile] fiddledragon and I are both prime. It's been a wonderful, if sometimes frantic, year, and a wonderful, if sometimes frantic, week. I have a number of very shiny projects in the pipeline that I'm really excited about (which is why I'm still awake right now).

My family has been really awesome in the gift department this year. My parents got me a shiny, adorable digital camera and have also ordered me (although I think technically that's for Chanukah) a shiny, adorable laptop. And, continuing the nerdity, what I've been getting myself has mostly been shareware games — or rather, a few weeks ago I was bored and downloaded a lot of indy shareware games, and this week I reminded myself that it's my birthday and if I like a game I should register it.

A couple of the games I really like are multiplayer games. Since these are indy shareware games, there aren't always random people online to play with, so in the interests of fun I'd like to encourage others to try them. In addition, one of the games features a quite significant volume discount for group orders. Here they are:

Once Upon a Time (no relation to the card game) is a fairy-tale themed four-player capture the flag princess game. Although realized in a real-time 3D adventure/combat idiom, its well-defined, compact, and balanced scenario plays like a board game. A typical match lasts 2-5 minutes. When you can't find four humans, decent AI players will automatically fill in. This game is available for Mac and PC. The free demo features unrestricted play on one map (the full game has four, plus a story/tournament mode), and the full game costs $15. I've already registered this game, and since the demo offers nearly unrestricted play, you may as well check it out.

Galcon is a fast-paced, real-time Risk-like game of conquering the galaxy — not the in-depth sort with tech development and economics, the quickie sort with fleets of ships zooming across the galaxy in a tide of conquest that's over in 5 minutes. From the disabled menu items taunting me with their shiny thumbnail screenshots, it looks like there are a lot of modes and fairly open-ended mod potential. This game is available for Mac, Linux, and PC. The demo allows play in the most basic mode, with multi-player access expiring after three days (which is a little bit annoying). Most interestingly, a quite significant volume discount is available on group orders of the full game, which is a primary reason for my making this post: the first copy is $20, the next two are $15 each, and any beyond that are just $10. Thus, the more of you buy this game, (a) the more people I can play with, and (b) the less we all pay — win-win! So, who's in?
bnewman: (explorer)
Something I read recently reminded me of this idea I once had.

Orienteering is the sport of navigating with a map and compass. I've done some orienteering activities at camps, it's fun — of course, competitive orienteering requires that you be a good navigator and a fast runner/biker/etc., and I'm only the former.

The basic idea of navigating with a map and compass is that you can use the compass to orient the map to the terrain. This works because the Earth's magnetic field is approximately uniform over a small area. However, the Earth's isn't the only magnetic field! "Disorienteering" is the (so far imaginary) sport of navigating with a map and compass through an obstacle course of strong, local magnetic anomalies. Puzzles involved in a disorienteering course might include instructions to turn electromagnets on or off to alter the course, instructions to travel in the straight line indicated by a bearing or to follow a (curved) magnetic field line, unmarked reference points located at the intersection of two path segments, etc.

One thing I'm curious about is how much hardware you'd need to set up a disorienteering course. The Earth's magnetic field isn't all that strong, but to create a magnetic obstacle course big enough for a person to get lost in (if you can't get physically lost in it, might as well just call it a board game...) might call for a lot of electromagnets...
bnewman: (damselfly)
I could talk about real life. Real life is being really crazy just now — and please send [ profile] fiddledragon more hugs — but I don't want to talk about real life. Or study database systems, apparently. I want to post songs. Lots of songs.

Some of these songs are new, some were sitting around nearly-written for a while but were only recently finished, and some are rather old but I only got around to posting them now. They run the gamut from epic quests to furry animals to religious devotion (to, would you believe, all three at once?), plus machine learning and rubber-band-powered airplanes. As usual, everything is linked from my songs page. The layout over there is a bit rough just now.

Divine Monkey )
El-ahrairah )
Solitary World )
The Messenger )
Toy Planes and Rubber Bands )
Free Spirit )
Galapagos (Mendel's Escape) )
Tit for Tat )
Tzur Hashlishi )
Ma'ariv Aravim and Yotzer Or )
The Niggun of Zelda )

In addition, I've posted MP3s of the much-requested "Jurassic Park Sunset and "Not All Who Wander Are Lost in Space".
bnewman: (explorer)
Back in 7th grade, instead of math class, I wrote a console-style RPG for the Apple ][. It was called Numbers Land, and it allowed players to learn practice arithmetic while fighting low-res creatures across a fantasy world a sprawling eight tiles across. The 5th graders who played it compared it favorably with Number Munchers, which is high praise indeed.

It's been many years, and that 5¼" disc is around somewhere but probably long-since demagnetized, but I still keep Numbers Land on the list of things I'd like to do — better next time.

Better graphics. A bigger world. More creatures. More variation in the type and difficulty of math. More plot. More puns )
bnewman: (explorer)
One of these things is not like the others.

bnewman: (explorer)
I have this idea every time I fly into Logan. The view of Boston Harbor is spectacular, and it's speckled with small islands. I want to get a bunch of friends together, rent some small sailboats, and play CTF across Boston Harbor.

I'm now pretty sure that this plan won't work, because the area is too large and mooring on the islands is too regulated. However, I remain interested in developing a set of CTF rules involving small boats (and islands, although a pure, open-water CTF game could be nifty, too).

Play, of course, depends on the availability of a lot of very small islands very close together in sheltered water. It must be both legal and possible to land small boats on said islands. Ideally, they should be sand bars, which means anywhere where there are barrier islands is a good place to look, which means most of the middle part of the east coast. Especially promising are these two locations in South Carolina (not that I'm planning a trip to SC just to play CTFwB!) — but I'm not sure that the dots in the second location are actually land.

The equipment required depends on the scale of the play area. For small scale, kayaks would be ideal. For medium scale, small sailboats — racing standard 14-footers would work nicely — or a mixture of kayaks and sailboats. If islands aren't available, inflatable kayaks and inflatable pool platforms could be deployed in an appropriately sized lake.

All of which is not to mention rules. For open-water tagging, either ramming or missile weapons would work. Ramming means eithr padded bows or inflatable boats. As for missile weapons, the ideal choice is water stix, because you can't run out of ammo for it. Rules for land tagging would depend on the scenario and on the character of the islands. Scenarios could range from standard CTF to more scavanger-hunt-like puzzle quests.

I miss boats.
bnewman: (Default)
I've been musing for a while about designing a tabletop orbital simulator — a board game system for Newtonian gravitational motion around a single, massive object (i.e. the Sun). I can think of a couple of different ways to do it. )
bnewman: (Default)
is a 32-bar contra dance for a circular set of six couples:

(1-4) Even couples lead in, take hands, and set. Meanwhile, odd couples turn once around by the right.
(5-8) Odds arch while evens lead out through them with their neighbors and cast back to places.

(9-12) 1s and 2s, 4s and 5s half-pousette while 3s and 6s set to partners and turn single.
(13-16) 2s and 6s, 5s and 3s half pousette while 1s and 4s set to partners and turn single.

(17-24) All balance and swing neighbors.

(25-32) Grand chain half-way round to end progressed.
bnewman: (explorer)
It's also been a good week for game development.

Advanced Civilization has already been developed by Avalon Hill, so I don't have to. However, as much as SWIL loves to play Civ, we don't play that often because we're widely distributed and don't always have big, solid blocks of free time available. Why don't we play by email? Answer: because the in-person interaction is why we love Civ in the first place, but, setting that aside, we'd need some way to share or exchange the game state online, starting with the board.

Yes, that is a giant HTML <table>, decorated with some very elementary CSS. Yes, I typed most of it by hand (okay, I used copy/paste for the repeated elements). Yes, I am crazy. Who wants to play?

Age of Eats is my working title for a game in the same broad thematic universe as Civ, in that each player follows a civilization from the dawn of history through thousands of years of development. However, Age of Eats is primarily focused on cuisine )

*werð is a new game concept which I started working on with [ profile] fiddledragon this week. It, too, is a game with broad, historical scope — in this case, historical-linguistic scope )
bnewman: (Default)
hasn't been created in the time since my last post on this topic. Has it?

I promised I would say more about what I have in mind. So here goes.

I want a world to explore that I can help create. I care more about low barriers to participating in world creation than about high production values. But I insist upon a graphical map, because I want to be able to see changes in the world — and places to explore — "on the horizon", as it were, without having to type "look".

I want world-building to take place arbitrarily near everywhere, which leads me to the idea of a stretchable map — as a region becomes developed, the wilderness areas around it expand to ensure a stable overall density (and a scale-free distribution of density).

The various motivations for MMORG involvement have been discussed elsewhere, but I see MMORPG activity itself as falling into several categories:

Gameplay is the interaction of your character with the environment.

Socialization is the interaction of your character with other characters.

Creation is your contribution to the environment.

In most MMORPGs, gameplay is handled programmatically, socialization is basically up to players, and creation is reserved for the game's developers (an item-crafting system doesn't count unless it's completely open-ended). I want all of these to be part of character advancement as mediated by the software. Here's how: )
bnewman: (Default)
apparently still doesn't exist. Bummer. Well...

I'm not interested in paying an exorbitant amount of money up front, which rules out most commercial offerings. Also, I'm not interested in spending hours just leveling up before things get interesting — and I'm not interested in spending hours making friends and building contacts before things get interesting. Of course I would want to make in-game friends as part of playing a MMORPG. I would just hope that the game isn't pointless and boring before that. And, I want the opportunity to participate in building the world.

I've tried two MMORPGs, both very atypical — Second Life and Yohoho! Puzzle Pirates. I found both enjoyable but unable to hold my attention, for different reasons.

Read more... )
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