Strategic Idea Reserves

I’ve noticed recently that my behavior has become a bit blander. I am more content to just sit and think rather than share my ideas with others. I doodle less, and when I do it is only about a few select things. This stems, I believe, from this blog. As I write down the ideas stirring around in my brain, I share them definitively. Rather than telling snippets of an idea (or at least its current iteration) to whoever happens to be around me, I can tell the whole idea to the Internet. Thus, there is no reason to discuss it or think about it anymore.

By posting almost everyday this month, I’ve burned through my idea reserves quickly. It’s as if I went straight for the gold nuggets at first and now I’m left to sifting for flakes. Ideas don’t form as rapidly as I’m posting them (although maybe that’s because before now I’ve had enough ideas as it were), and pretty soon I’ll burn through even my strategic idea reserves. Sure, I have interesting little tidbits, but nothing to make a substantial post. Maybe I’ll make an anthology post someday.

My interests balance between three points it seems. The main two are Writing and Coding (which includes the technical side of level design). The third, Drawing (also the creative part of level design), is less influential than it used to be, but I still have an interest in it and upkeep my residual skill often enough through doodling. Right now it seems to be heading from Coding to Drawing and a little bit of Writing. We’ll see where this blog will go as my interests change.

What I wanted to talk about today was circuits and mechanisms in Minecraft, but that can wait. What’s been on my mind this weekend has been a Crysis map I’ve been working on. That’s why I haven’t posted in the past two days; I’ve been up late working on the map. Of course, there’s not much to talk about on that thread. The best way to share it would be a video of the gameplay once the map is finished.

Today is going to have to be a work day. I need to catch up on schoolwork, etc. Tomorrow I will post a legitimate idea. Today I am left thinking about doing a series of tutorials or the Source SDK and finishing the Crysis map (which makes me keep thinking about the game itself, which gets more and more epic every time I think about it). Maybe I should read more and start posting book reviews.

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Kami

My brother and I have had this long standing idea between us. It is sort of a nebulous concept we talk about sometime. Its an amalgamation of games and ideas, a number of concepts which might be cool is put together in the correct fashion and executed well. We call it Kami, which is the Japanese word for “life force”.

At the most basic level, Kami is a MMORPG. The best way to describe it is to compare it to Pokemon. The key difference is that (other than being a MMORPG) you don’t order around animals; you are the animals. Your character is a spirit which can inhabit various animals. Instead of leveling up certain animals (although you can store the wild animals while you aren’t using them, which can improve usage by taming), you level up your control of an animal type. While on a hunt you could possess any of the surrounding unpossessed animals (the one you currently control becomes feral). You can also learn to reside within multiple animals, allowing you to trade off between animal types in battle and have a set of other animals support you. It also introduced the possibility of hybrids, such as a spine-thrower atop a flying animal. If your animal dies, you choose another animal to jump to, or if none are available you can resurrect at the nearest nature shrine.

Kami also has a second half though. A large aspect of the game is based in clans and guilds. Like in EVE Online, clans can own property and build up power. On the fringes of the world map you can battle a clan for control of land plots (a plot might be 15-30 acres). When in control of a plot, clans can exploit any resources and build a varietly of buildings. Some sort of fortifiation is generally wanted, however, because if a vicious clan challenges you, you better be ready to defend. Attackers enter your land from the main road. Your plot becomes instanced, meaning nobody can leave or enter during the battle and the entire plot reverts back to normal if you defend successfully (minus one time traps, etc.) to deter greifing. Each plot has finite resources, however, meaning that the most money lies on the edge of explored space. To make sure more area was always available, new regions made with guided procedural generation would be added regularly through updates. Previously impassable terrain would be removed through natural or NPC activity such as building a bridge over a river, clearing a rockslide, or revealing a new cave.

Constructing buildings on your plot would not be a trivial matter. Materials would first need to be accrued, either by harvesting resources on site or by importing. In the case of materials like stone, large quantities can be expensive and hard to transport. After you have the necessary materials, you need to select both a building site (there are numerous of these “sockets” in every plot, each allowing a different selection of building types) and a building type. From the initial barebones hub, you can add on modules; a barracks probably needs a kitchen and feral pen, while a lodge needs a bar, kitchen, and fireplaces. Once, you know what basic building type you want, you still need it built. You can either hire or assemble a custom construction crew (usually a specialized hybrid of animals). These are controlled by NPCs and build the building over a number of days. They work continuously, and depending on the hired team they may deduct continuously, up front, or after its done. Castles would take a long time and be very expensive. However, it would resist most normal attacks; only climbers, fliers, or siege animals could get past stone walls.

They regular map and game would be like any MMORPG, with quests and towns, etc. You can still make money through business ventures as well as through item sales. Shops could be bought up for instance, and would run continuously and then deliver your profits on login. You wouldn’t be able to found towns, but you could take up residence. General player consensus could drive world-wide events, such as if the majority of residents in a town wanted to declare war against a neighboring town. New quests would be available and the game world would reflect the ongoing war. The world would be essentially player-driven. Not everything would be available, though. Players who want to get into intense politics are encouraged to journey out and join a clan.

Animals would be both specialized and general. While there would be different types of attack classes (e.g. versatile melee, spine-thrower, agile, tank, flying, pack), there would also be pack animals, explorers, messengers, and shopkeepers (tentacled, perhaps?). Construction workers would have very specialized forms, like a quarry beast with a giant saw-blade tail and arms capable of lifting solid stone blocks. Beaver-style animals could be lumberjacks, and a tunneling worm/thing could be a miner. Some animals might work as a pack, sort of like the Tines in aFuTD. Such animals could fulfill roles requiring dexterity, like certain roles in construction or the making of tools.

The game is always changing; it just a fun thing to think about. Right now it appears to be a greatly player-driven MMORPG that’s a cross between EVE Online and Pokemon, with intense politics and economics but also crazy interesting animals/creatures.

Warhammer 40K

I used to play Warhammer 40k, which was one of the coolest things I’ve ever done. It’s a tabletop wargame, in which players buy, assemble, and paint their own models. They then battle it out on custom-made terrain using a set of rules, occasionally augmented by custom rules. The main rulebook is a hefty tome, but most of it is fluff (stories, guides to modeling, strategy, and pictures) and fringe cases. There are numerous races, and each uses its own ‘codex’, which contains both the background of the race within the universe, as well as the choice of units and the rules and lore surrounding each type. Although the game is pretty well balanced, it also relies heavily on probability, meaning that even the best strategy is at the mercy of the luck gods (as some gamers say). By this, I mean that every single action (other than flat movement and choosing targets) is dependent on the dice. So I suppose that dice-rolling is a legitimate skill in the world of 40K.

I played Tau, a young race (only 2000 years from sentience) both noble and technologically advanced. While most of the universe is in a dark age in which the most complex technology are relics from the golden age and machines are worshipped rather than understood, the Tau have both sleek and powerful technology, a sparkling civilization, and drive to spread harmony throughout the stars. Also, their units are absolutely amazing. The Tau are on battlesuits, which look incredible (with a great combination of smooth curves and hard edges, separated by engraved patterns) and can tote a deadly arsenal. There is also the fear factor. Tau Broadsides are renowned throughout the 40K community. These battlesuits carry around two massive railguns that can punch through any armor and spell certain doom for its recipient unless they are a heroic character or gigantic vehicle. To top the firepower, it also has one of the longest ranges in the game. Merely seeing a squad of those deployed can make any opponent tremble. You can count on the fact that they will focus on taking those out first; a fatal error, since the other elements of the Tau arsenal are almost as deadly.

Fire WarriorsClose upModified Broadside

The second army I started was Imperial guard. These guys are regular humans in a military pretty close to our modern one. Their lore isn’t as fascinating, and I mostly started with them because they look great (who doesn’t like model armymen) and because I wanted a different playstyle than Tau. They certainly deliver on that point. The strategy behind the IG is cannon fodder. With the exception of Tyranids (ravenous aliens who work off the same principle), IG have the cheapest men (in terms of points cost) and the worst weapons. Great tanks, though.

Warhammer held a great number of interests for me. It had elements of strategy, which led me to devise great spreadsheets for quickly building army lists. It had elements of design, both in the models and also in the terrain. Not only did I get to design my own army color scheme, but I also got greatly interested in modding, which used ‘green stuff’ (a type of putty) and assorted parts to create new characters. I created mods ranging from Tau fire warriors with cutdown battlesuit weapons and a Kroot hit team (for a custom gametype) to an alien infesting a space marine; with his ribcage broken wide open and tentacles taking over his limbs, it was grotesque. Warhammer had interesting and varied lore, which meant I could think up a plot surrounding my army as well as write entire fictions. What finally made Warhammer great for me was that it was analog. As soon as I got bored with the actual game, I could research custom gametypes as well as make up my own; all I needed was the models.

I stopped playing 40k because I started highschool. I didn’t have the time anymore, we were moving (meaning nowhere to work on the models or play the games) to get closer to both the school and my dad’s work, and neither of the friends with whom I used to play got accepted into my school, so I didn’t have any reason to keep working on my armies. Although I got all my models back out, I realized that I no longer have the time or dedication to work on an army, nor do I have anybody to play with (despite my school being renowned for its ‘nerdiness’, I have yet to meet an actual 40k player, rather than people who have merely “seen” or “hear about” it).

Power Down Day

Today was a lot of fun; I got to antagonize environmentalists! In coordination with student groups, my school sponsored a Power Down Day. The school turned off most of the lights in the school and encouraged people to cut back on use of electrical devices. As you can imagine, I immediately began trying to find a flaw with the idea. This is when I recalled a nifty economic theory (widely acceptable although hotly debated) called Jevons Paradox.

In economics, the Jevons paradox is the proposition that a technological advance which increases the efficiency with which a resource is used tends to increase (rather than decrease) the rate of consumption of that resource.
Wikipedia

It was postulated by William Jevons in the 1800s after he observed that increased efficiency in coal-burning technology resulted in more coal usage, rather that less. This can be applied to any current technology, however. Take cars for instance. Although there are a lot of factors I am not taking into account, these are fairly indicative numbers. These graphs represent the Efficiency and the Consumption of fuel by passenger cars since 1960. Please note the scales of the horizontal axises.

Average MPG (image link broken)
Average fuel consumption (image link broken)
Data from infoplease.com.

This is a great illustration of the Jevons Effect. Even though fuel efficiency has been increasing, fuel consumption has increased as well (after the initial leap in car technology). This goes against the first intuition. The same goes for lightbulbs. Lightbulbs used to be rather rare. In the current day, we have numerous lights not only in every room of every building, but also in cars, on pens, even on shoes. Because lights are cheaper, we use them for more things; or everything.

Now, Power Down Day was not flawed in itself. Although you can use Jevons Paradox to argue that initiatives to increase efficiency are actually hurting the environment more than helping, it doesn’t apply to situation where you are just not using power. Using less power doesn’t necessarily decrease energy prices like more efficient electronics would. However, the whole conservationist effort stems from the same force that pushes for more fuel efficient cars and bans on incandescent lightbulbs. For instance, someone thought it would be a good idea to get a bunch of those useless rubber bracelets made with “Power Down Day” on them. It probably took more energy to make 500 of those wristbands than was saved by “powering down”.

The energy saving effort doesn’t actually save much money, despite that being a major argument point. That only works if you stick with the scheme in the long run. In a gymnasium, for example, there are 3 fluorescent bulbs per panel and the panels might be arranged in a 6 by 6 square. Assuming a wattage of 10 Watts per bulb, thats almost a kilowatt. Over the course of a day, that will save somewhere on the order of $2. With a majority of lights extinguished, that number could be brought up to maybe $50 a day. Which is not bad, but if you are going to keep the lights turned out all the time (thus actually making a legitimate amount in energy savings), you could have saved even more money by never installing them in the first place!

FTP, SSH, WTF

I spent most of today and yesterday trying to set up an FTP server. I want people to be able to download any of the movies and TV shows in my (legal) media folder. I also figure it is easier than a webserver, but still a good way to understand the process. I was so wrong. I went through a number of servers, finally settling on Filezilla. I opened all the necessary ports, and then some. I started the server, set up all the config stuff. I registered a dynamic DNS that works (when I connect to it with the Filezilla client it reroutes to the correct IP). However, nobody can connect using the external IP (I can connect to the server using localhost, so I know that the server works). None of the help threads on the Internet have helped me. Similarly, Cygwin also hates me. I try to set up an SSH server, which should be nice and easy, but instead I run into a bunch of errors based on administrator privileges, which shouldn’t be an issue.

If anybody has any tips, I need them!

Hog Derby: Duels

Back when I was part of the Halo: Custom Edition mapping community, I offered my help to a team called Hog Derby Productions. The team had produced a series of poorly made videos (called Hog Derby) which consisted of the infamous “hog duels”, in which two or more players are driving a warthog but lack a gunner. They run into each other and try to flip the opponent, thus allowing them to be crushed. I ended up befriending the guy behind the series (dariusofwest) but, although I offered my services, never did any work on the actual production. I had joined in at a slow time, when everything was coming apart at the seams after only a few episodes of the reboot, Hog Derby: Duels (which actually had story). After a while, I left the CE community. I kept in contact with the producer, though, who also composed all the music for the show.

Nonetheless, after many false starts involving terrible cameramen, voice actors, and production schedules, the series came back together after dariusofwest joined Machinima. Having just recently released Episode 4 after almost 2 years, HDP has more episodes in (speedy) production. The series has gone from terrible filming, story, and voice acting to an OK show with lots of potential. As I watched darius struggle through the months and the different changes that occured, I have to say that the show would not have survived if it wasn’t for his endless dedication. I must also say that the experience of seeing all the behind-the-scenes mechanics was extremely interesting, as was being able to hear and critique all of darius’s music before it went into the show.

Now it seems that I will soon be working as an editor of one of the episodes (actually a short, rather than a full fledged installment). After 2 years, I’m definitely ready. I’ve always liked video production, from script writing to filming to editing. I haven’t worked on a project in months, and I’m eager to get in the production loop again. To support Hog Derby: Duels, please check out the latest episode (or all of them) and give it a thumbs up!

Episode 4: Part 1


On a separate note, I finished the first phase of my 3D rendering engine today. I coded the entire thing from scratch (and I also figured out all the math), and I’m in the process of adding texture support. It took only 3 days to get this far. It has support for multiple animations, animation blending, camera movement and rotation, and meshes of any type.

Plot has been Achieved

For a while I’ve been developing a set of characters who will certainly be the protagonists in the short story I’m writing. There are five protagonists, forming the crew of a small customized freighter called the Meridia. They work as private contractors, independently solving “problems”, or complex operations and tasks which require both skill and delicacy. Each crew member has a number of specializations, allowing them to collectively pilot their spaceship with only a fraction of the usual crew size. Every one of them is adept in combat and knowledgeable in a wide range of subjects. But they are hardly a veteran team, and having only recently met, they don’t have their team dynamics quite ironed out. Individually, however, they have years of experience in their respective fields and were notorious in the various parts of the galaxy where they worked alone.

But the characters haven’t had a clear purpose until now. I finally came up with a good idea for an overarching plot for my short story. It involves rebels, black hole generators, and perhaps aliens. I mocked up a military intelligence report, so I’ll let it speak for itself.
A report by ONGI on a joint operation between ONGI and OSCO.
Download as PDF

OSCO (Office of Specialized Covert Operations) will end up contracting the crew of the Meridia to infiltrate the rebel operations and discover the source of the tachyon tech. In the process, the crew uncovers a plot way beyond their league, yet it is up to them to stop the impending galactic war. Of course, the crew has had previous run-ins with these particular rebels. While transporting a piece of a key (cryptographic keys are one of the most precious physical cargoes), they have an unlucky encounter with a raiding party. They are forced to make a semi-blind jump with the Meridia, and end up stranded at a backwater spaceport. They manage to repair their ship before the rebels find them (tracking a jump is difficult and imprecise, meaning you have to go through the laborious process of sweeping a great number of systems in order to find the quarry) and barely make it out alive.

On another note, the English language is crazy. Making up words is really fun, especially if you have a certain amount of education in Latin. The great thing is that people are able to understand any word you make up if you do it right. While I mostly mean scientific words, I also mean Jabberwocky/Ulysses style words too. For example, in that short summary I used two new words: terrasapient and extraspecial. I needed to use terrasapient because extraterrestrial is meaningless when you are a spacefaring race. Terrasapient refers to something sapient originating on Earth (humans). Extraspecial is similar, except that it means something is external to the usual system of classifying something by species. It basically means any alien lifeform.

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