Wednesday, December 18, 2013

From a friend, reposted from a blog about game design:

"A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away." - Antoine de Saint-Exupery. Another form, about Japanese gardening actually, is "Your garden is not complete until there is nothing else that you can remove."

This is my guide to game design, but I do not design puzzles. When you design a puzzle you may want to make it more complex, so that it will take longer to solve.


“Never use a long word where a short one will do.” - George Orwell, 1984.

George Orwell is talking about writing, but for game design this amounts to the same advice as in the first quotes, keep everything as simple as possible. Stephen King puts it another way: “When your story is ready for rewrite, cut it to the bone. Get rid of every ounce of excess fat. This is going to hurt; revising a story down to the bare essentials is always a little like murdering children, but it must be done.”


“You can't wait for inspiration, you have to go after it with a club.” - Jack London, Call of the Wild

Many beginners think that ideas will just come to them, that success will just come to them. No, it's more like how Jack London describes writing.


"The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, and wiser people so full of doubts." - Bertrand Russell.

I suppose it depends partly on personality, but I'd argue that if a game designer is absolutely certain that he is right no matter what other people tell him, he's almost certainly wrong. If you’re full of doubts about your game, but playtesters from the right representative group like it, then you're in pretty good shape.


"Vision without action is a daydream. Action without vision is a nightmare."
- Japanese Proverb

Too many beginning designers wait for things to happen, they daydream. You have to DO something, not just dream about doing it. Much like Jack London’s admonition above.


"Patience and perseverance have a magical effect before which difficulties disappear and obstacles vanish." - John Quincy Adams

Especially applicable in the Age of Instant Gratification.

"The greatest motivational act one person can do for another is to listen." - Roy E. Moody

If you're the designer in a team of game developers, take this to heart. Everyone wants to feel that they contribute to the game, as well as to the software. They want to know their ideas are seriously considered.


“Complicated programs are far easier to write than straightforward programs.” - John Page.

The same is true for games: but it's usually the straightforward ones that are really good.


"My thing is that most scripts aren't bad scripts, they're just not finished yet." - Michael Arndt (scriptwriter for Little Miss Sunshine, Toy Story III, etc., and initially for StarWars VII).

The same can be said for a great many published games nowadays.


"A lot of people say, 'Well, I like a challenge.' I don't like challenges. Life is tough enough without any challenges." - Jackie Gleason (a very successful actor and comedian, among other things, you might recall)

People don't want their entertainment to be frustrating these days.


"The first draft is just you telling yourself the story." - Terry Pratchett (Diskworld)

Don’t worry too much about all the details, get a prototype together to play as soon as you can - it’s a first draft, not a final draft.


“Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.” Senator Dan Moynihan

Reality is what counts, not what you think reality is.


"The universe is not required to be in perfect harmony with human ambition." - Carl Sagan

Just because you want it or like it, doesn’t mean it will happen.


"If you want to write better songs, write more songs. If you write 20 songs, ten of them will be better than the other ten." Martin Atkins (of Public Image Limited, Killing Joke, et al)

Not, *listen* to more songs (“play more games”), *write* more songs. Design more games. There’s no substitute.


"You can't build a reputation on what you are going to do." - Henry Ford (cars)

Even less on what you intend(ed) to do. Important especially for younger people who, these days, tend to confuse intention with action. Intention alone counts for very little.

"The way to succeed is to double your failure rate." - Thomas Watson (founder of IBM)

In game design it’s often called “fail fast”: try what you think will work, figure out if it works, get rid of it if it doesn’t, and do this quickly so that you can move on to something else that might work.


"A good plan today is better than a perfect plan tomorrow." - General George S. Patton

There’s little place for perfectionism in game design. You’re never perfect, practically speaking, because even if you’re perfect for a moment, the tastes of your audience will change over time. The Law of Diminishing Marginal Returns applies: at some point, the time it takes to improve a game will not be worth the minuscule value of the improvement.


"If everybody's thinking the same thing, then nobody's thinking." - General George S. Patton

This especially applies to large teams of video game developers. Beware of “groupthink”. It’s a major reason why we see games released that are widely regarded as just awful. What was the team thinking?


"I am Loki, of Asgard. And I am burdened with glorious purpose." - Loki, in The Avengers movie

Sounds like one of those "artiste" game designers to me. You know, the guys who think they’re great artists, and that they’re gifting the world with their brilliance, and they’re sure they’re right . . . and so forth.

Maybe you can actually be that artiste someday, but not when you’re starting out. You have to earn it. Games are entertainment (even educational games, we hope). Don’t lose sight of that.


Here are a few more:

"The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be lit." - Plutarch

"A common mistake that people make when trying to design something completely foolproof is to underestimate the ingenuity of complete fools." - Douglas Adams

"You can't depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus." - Mark Twain

"It's what you learn after you know it all that counts." - John Wooden

"A goal is a dream with a deadline." - Napoleon Hill

" . . . Picasso told the story, which I can only paraphrase, that when art critics get together, they talk about light and color and form; when painters get together, they talk about where to buy cheap turpentine." - Peter Perla

Keep firmly grounded, don't get lost in "meaningfulness" of games.

“Beware of self-indulgence. The romance surrounding the writing profession carries several myths: that one must suffer in order to be creative; that one must be cantankerous and objectionable in order to be bright; that ego is paramount over skill; that one can rise to a level from which one can tell the reader to go to hell. These myths, if believed, can ruin you.

If you believe you can make a living as a writer, you already have enough ego.”
- David Brin (novelist)

The same applies to game designers.

"It is the motivation to pursue excellence, a work ethic that reflects the determination to solve problems, the attention to the smallest details, and the desire to be the very best that distinguishes students who make a difference in their given professions." - Candice Dowd Barnes and Janet Filer

Game designers as well.

Friday, March 8, 2013

I am funny. I think.

Today I think that I am pretty funny. I know... that's dangerous. But I do.

So here's some of what made me laugh when it came out of my head.

I still use asterisks to indicate actions while chatting, i.e. *cough*. So today while chatting with my wife I came up with *scoff cough* and *snot-laden snort* which both made her laugh and cringe respectively. I have a friend who says chat acronyms now instead of the actual words. He says, "LOL" (pronounced lah-wl), for example. I have been saying the word "scoff" in the same way for a while now. My wife thinks that's funny.

I also like to say that "I am a focus group of one." I think that's funny because of how arrogant it sounds, and that I actually believe it sometimes. I have such strong opinions about art and other design things that I really don't play well with others. I can articulate in obsessive detail why I feel strongly about anything in this realm. It's uber-nerdy.

We also got talking about memes and idioms yesterday. I realized that I had an incomplete understanding of idiomatic expressions. But after talking about them I get it now. They're essentially the sorts of statements that cannot be taken for their literal meanings. The sort of thing that a non-native speaker will be confused by.

"Down in the dumps"; "dead in the water"; and "in over my head" are some good examples.

Would "LOL" or "ROFL" be part of the new e-idioms? Surely, ROFLMAO would qualify, and ROFLCOPTER is just damn silly and beyond categorization.

Anyway, after January 1st my wife and I tried adopting a new expression that we'd try use when the opportunity arose. Hers is "So it has come to this." That's funny when she uses it at times when I am not expecting it, and where the gravitas of the statement is not in parallel with the actual circumstances. Mine was "See, this is why we can't have nice things." I liked it as a deadpan response to something tragic happening that didn't involve personal harm. But it a chance to use it doesn't come up that often (thankfully), and my wife was right in saying that it's only really funny if you say it within a group as if they were your family and you were scolding them. It's the fact that it's said outside of a relationship with those boundaries that is funniest.

So I don't like mine anymore. Instead, I may employ a nonsense phrase. I like, "SEE, THAT'S why I HATE lima beans!" I think it would be funny if you're annoyed by someone telling a story in which they're essentially complaining about life or circumstances in a way which sounds like victimstance or old-fashioned bitching to interrupt just near the end of it with "SEE, THAT'S why I HATE lima beans!" I think that it would catch them off guard. It'd definitely indicate how little I was listening to them.

I think that I am funny. I am probably self-deluded. But I have fun with my own fantasy that I am.

*scoff cough*

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Response To A Video About Crime Stats

Choose Your Own Crime Stats

I would say that the speaker leans toward a particular political position, although his statistics appear apolitical. How he uses them is slightly biased.

He does not address thoroughly how significant it is that the murder rate is so much lower in the UK/Wales, despite their violent crime rate being 3x higher. One could easily note the absence of guns for that.

And we do not know what the violent crimes are. Soccer hooligans or stabbings? It would help to know what we are dealing with, because violent crime is too broad of a statistical category. It is a convenient political category, not a sociological/criminological one. We learn nothing from it. Politicians simply use it.

That said, I do not disagree with him fully until he directs his comments against specific people, which makes him appear to have an agenda. He didn't need to do so. Keep us all listening...

His focus on urban crime, spot on in many ways, has been used as the justification for inaction before. I like his comment about improving conditions of poverty and jobs there, and hope that he means that, because the response to urban crime statistics in USA is usually white flight and suburban apathy. Those facts mean that the concentration of property tax wealth has shifted away from the urban center and taken the political will with it.

I live in the inner city of the second most segregated city in USA on purpose. I am committed to see the plight of the urban poor up close. The characterization of the urban poor (usually considered minorities) has been far from the reality. The urban poor I know want to work, they want an education for themselves and their kids, and they want to be safe. But they face massive obstacles to the same.

A recent WI study shows that the urban poor are working harder, for less money, and our urban MPS school system has been sapped of hundreds of millions in support. It's no surprise that the schools are not safe, lack resources, and that less than 4 of 10 black males graduate high school in this city. These kids no longer have working class jobs to fall back on, so they end up casualties, literally and figuratively. Causality is complicated, and they own some of their own failure, but one cannot be as dismissive as has been the political rhetoric about their plight. They're less to blame than policies are in my opinion.

Violent crime in 'da hood tends to be less random than one might think. In Milwaukee, improved policing has recognized that, and our crime rate has dropped. I am safer here in the 'hood than I am in the 'burbs in some ways. Still, we have underfunded our police force for years. We had 3x as many cops on our streets in the 1980s, and that coincided with a period of urban boon. A black male in Milwaukee made the highest wage per capita in USA at that point. That meant the quality of life in Milwaukee was high for the working class.

It is worth noting that this was during the period that we had a long tradition of Sewer Socialists who led the city. The government was notably free from corruption, and focused on municipal services. We were the place where the municipal sewer, the 8-hour work day, and many other current normalities were born.

The urban minority wants the same things, with the same resources available as the suburbs. But they don't get it. They get inadequate policing and impoverished schools. They get neglected and costly public transit, and often live in food deserts. They have to succeed without so many things that the rest of us have. In Milwaukee our poor ride a bus system which is fraught with violence, and pay the highest fare in the lower 48 states. Yet, 90% of riders have no other option.

Are we surprised when the urban poor fail? I could say more about the reality of the urban milieu, but I should simply say that I doubt that there are political leaders who will be honest about what it will take to "fix" the urban crime problem. We tend to believe myths about the urban poor, because it girds our sense of bystander syndrome. Entire political policy trends have been based on myths, like the "lessons learned" from Pruitt-Igoe in St. Louis, for example.

That all said, the issue of gun control on the table now is specific to the mass assassination incidents. Those aren't perpetuated by urban minorities.

It isn't disingenuous to discuss the issue if assault weapons or multi-shot magazines in light of what is a measurable increase in the same.

Police want this discussed. They're facing criminals with more fatal weapons, and the response of police to these events cannot easily match the speed of the violence they enable. Police departments are less staffed nowadays, with slower response times to reported crimes. Couple that with semi automatic weapons and massive magazines and it is a problem.

I would like to see increased funding to police departments, and beat patrols again in metro areas. That has worked in areas of deployment in Brewtown.

I would also like to see a ban in assault weapons and multi-shot magazines. Anything military-grade should be illegal to possess. There is no justification in my mind for any citizen owning anything capable of mass murder.

I am not opposed to handguns or conceal and carry, but I would like a strict and universal licensure-training program. I want someone to be able to carry across state lines with common restrictions.

But I do not support the straw sales or gun show sales of guns. The circumventing of the waiting period is problematic, particularly since we now know more about the profile of these assassins.

I also support people owning hunting rifles. 'Nuff said.

So I agree that we need to help the urban poor. I agree that people should be able to keep most guns. I agree that our crime rate has dropped. But I also agree with some others that want to consider whether citizens should own weapons that are capable of enabling mass assassination events of this nature.

Even with an assailant that has multiple small capacity firearms, they'd have to reload or switch guns. It'd be harder to pull that off, and it would give time to the heroes among us to step up instead of being shot dead.

Friday, December 14, 2012

First Speedbump in Juice Fast

I caved. Yeah. And not for something worthwhile.

It was for Pizza Hut Pizza left over from last night's work party. Terrible stuff... but in my hunger state, almost irresistible to me. I love salty, savory crap.

I was fine with all the Christmas cookies and candy out on the table in the mailroom. I even reorganized the stuff and neatly set out plates for the masses. I used to find that stuff magnetic--but not today.

I drank my juice and was fine until someone came in and said, "Guess what?" "There's pizza left over!"

It was only an hour later that I caved.

I won't be the end for me. I'm back on the juicing again, now hoping to detox AGAIN.

I'll bet that I feel some side effects from eating this pseudo-food as my first solid stuff for days.

Juice Fast: Day Five

I had some strange leg cramps last night where a muscle in my lower leg cramped, causing my big toe to flex in a fixed bend. It was excruciating. This, even though I am doing bananas as part of my juice fast.

I got over it with a little help from my wife. Thanks honey! She helped by pressing on the area of the most pain and massaging out the cramp.

Today I woke up with my first mild headache in five days. Odd, on water fasts I usually have this in day two. I also have a slight tummy ache, and feel a bit irritable. Also, day two phenomena in the water fast.

WARNING: overshare ahead..

What really strikes me as odd is that I am actually still pooping. Seriously? No solid food in nearly five whole days and there are still matters to be worked out in that way? I do have less flatulence, which is good. But shouldn't that all be done with by now?

Anyway, I hope that my chronic eye redness and fatigue will be fixed forever once I get through this and switch to a 95% vegetarian diet, without processed foods or non-organic produce. I've been toxic for far too long.

It'll all work itself out in good time. I'm committed and hopeful.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Juice fast: day three.

I feel great. No strong cravings, headaches, etc. I'm more clear-headed than usual.

But a cheeseburger sounds delightful.

Still, what I am most learning is that I view food like a dysfunctional relationship. It's there to make me feel better, and I don't know proper boundaries with it. No more eating due to boredom or for a quick boost of "happiness". I want to be healthy and truly happy.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Letter to John Boehner

Hello John,

I'm flabbergasted that your party has learned little from the last election, choosing to stand on issues that the majority of voters do not support. A vast majority of taxpayers from both parties agree that we should maintain the tax cut for the middle class. These same people resoundingly agree that we should tax the rich at a higher rate.

So why all the brinksmanship? You know that you've all got the worst rating of public approval in history. Why exacerbate that by doubling-down on that which few support?

It will be the GOP who are blamed if the proverbial car goes over the cliff. You're the one playing politics with the future of the middle class.

We know that the things you claim will be affected (small businesses and jobs) are both ruses based on bad numbers, skewed to say that which they cannot. As a man with a sociology degree this is easy for me to see. Y'all ought to be ashamed of yourselves for trying to dupe the lesser minds among us with the bitter rhetoric of obfuscatory data. There is no correlation to tax cuts for the top 2% and job growth. In fact, one can see the opposite has happened during the Bush tax cut years.

We went from a surplus, and a booming economy to a near-depression, while the very rich were taking record profits in some sectors, others were sitting on massive cash reserves, there was record compensation for CEOs and other top shareholders, and came out with the largest economic disparity in our nation's recorded history.

Is that what you want? Do you serve only the 2%? Or do you serve all 100% by creating a tax climate and code which scales taxes based on income in durable, sustainable ways? The rich CAN afford to pay more and STILL make money. They can live with less. The rest of us have been forced to.

I've worked in the private tech sector, for non-profits, for city, and now for state in the public sector. No matter where I go there is one thing I know for sure. Greed must be regulated, and profit corrupts good motives.

So when you talk about Medicaid and Medicare, why don't you get honest with yourselves and us. The problem is not the cost of those programs. It's the cost that those programs have to pay to the profiteers in health care.

That's a relatively new phenomenon. I worked in the tech sector during the NASDAQ crash. We saw capitalists pull their money and bully their way into health care. Now 12 years later, a break-even proposition has become solidly entrenched near the top 30 profitability mark. That's unacceptable. Profit is what is harming patients all around this nation, and sinking local, state, and federal budgets.

Show some character and source the problem. With integrity you can return the party of my youth back to what it once was. Stand up to the tea party idiots. Give me back my GOP, or get out.

Christian E. Vettrus