31 July 2009


How well does my wife know me, to give me oversized rubber bouncy dice as an anniversary gift?

No post tomorrow. :-)

(The juggling balls I bought for myself)

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30 July 2009

Critical Mass of Ideas

What's the opposite of writer's block? It's one thing to be stuck with no ideas to write about, but is it possible to have too many ideas? That seems to be the situation I find myself in. So what's a blogger to do, except maybe write about it. Here's a summary of what's been going through my head lately, all of which I hope to come back to and write about when I can.

  • I have been trading comments with Steven Satak about some material from the TRO project. I think it's going to be really good.
  • (ai-yi-yi ... I'd better make shorter comments or I won't even be able to finish this post about having too much to write about.)
  • Lunch and conversation with Ken Burnside of Ad Astra Games has helped me focus my thoughts on some problems I was already working on, specifically how to value the offensive capability of weapons in a games. This lead to discussion of ...
  • ... Lanchester's Laws (something I keep meaning to write about), a formulation of the relative advantage of numerical superiority in combat ...
  • ... and a how it applies to the advantage of longer range individual combat. My intuition tells me this ought to be the same sort of relationship, but I'm trying to work through the math to verify this, and ...
  • ... this ties in nicely with what I've already been working on for the mathematics of Battletech.
  • My efforts in the Game Design Concepts class have been lacking recently. This has been a rich learning experience for me, and I need to make a serious effort to get caught up.
  • A game idea I've been kicking around for a while is starting to gel. It's high time for me to put together a prototype of this fast-paced air combat game, tentatively titled JINK!
  • My project with Tom of PhotonCutter Studios is coming along nicely. The guys in my Battletech group like the prototype I brought in last night, and there are indications it could be popular with a lot of serious miniatures gamers.
  • I got some comments about mt Crazy Climber game I wrote and blogged about for the Game Design Concepts class. Someone might actually give it a try! As a budding game designer, this sort of feedback is an incredibly inspiring experience. Saxywolf: If you are reading this, I haven't forgotten. I hope to repost a revised set of rules as soon as I get the time (but time is in short supply).
  • Finally, there are a few more ideas that came out of my time at ORIGINS that I haven't written about yet.
Time for work. If there are any of these topics you want to see sooner than later, let me know.
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28 July 2009

Six Days in Fallujah

I just heard this on NPR this morning;

Gamers Can Experience Battle Of Fallujah

July 28, 2009

A new video game has upset the families of some Iraq war veterans. "Six Days in Fallujah" takes gamers into a simulation of the 2004 battle. The creators say this is entertainment with substance. Critics say war is not for the amusement of others.

It's a good listen: Pertinent to recent history and current events, and very relevant to the topic of game design. Go Listen!

[UPDATE] A few links to go along with my comments below about games as art:
  1. Games Design Concepts: Games and Art
  2. Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics, and his TED lecture.
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24 July 2009

A New Trenchbucket for Trebuchet

Artist Vadim Antonov Vladimir3D Battletech TrebuchetIn response to a previous post, Steven Satak sent me something to review; a page of text and art from the upcoming fan-produced TRO:3063 Vehicle Annex.

This drawing is by artist Vadim Antonov (Vladimir3D at Deviantart, where you can view his Battletech gallery).

Steve wanted to know if the writing was up to snuff compared to the other Battletech TROs. It is; the "Trebuchet TBT-8K" is a fine addition to the Battletech universe, and the writing style nicely fits with the official TRO series.

Artist Vadim Antonov Vladimir3D Battletech TrebuchetI offered a few minor suggestions for the text and noted a minor technical bug in the artwork. I offered to try to correct this bug, and Steve took me up on the offer. The results of my efforts are on the left.

These images are intentionally of reduced size and of low quality, because I don't want to take anything away from the project itself. I've always enjoyed the TRO series, and I'm very happy I got the opportunity to contribute in a small way. I am excited about seeing the finished results. I will be posting occasional updates when more news is available.

Battletech Fan produced TRP3063

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A Rough Week at Iron Wind Metals

If you have purchased anything from Iron Wind Metals at a convention, then you have probably met Stu. I've just learned that Stu has been seriously injured in a motorcycle accident.

See the full story at The Miniatures Page, or directly from Iron Wind Metals.

In my own experience, Stu enjoys bantering with his customers at the Cons, and loves to play the "grouch" though I'm pretty sure he is really a teddy-bear. One time he teased me for a full 5 minutes before he gave me my credit card back, and he made me work for it too - all in good fun. I look forward to more of his good-natured ribbing in the future.

Get well soon Stu! We need you!!
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21 July 2009

The Battletech Reader

Diomedes UAV Steven Satak Battletech Reader TRO:3063I just discovered Steven Satak's blog: The Battletech Reader. This blog has been around for a few years now, but Steven has recently become very active. He is compiling material for a fan-produced TRO: 3063, and he's lined up some really good art for it too. Nice work Steven - I look forward to seeing the finished product.
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20 July 2009

Introducing PhotonCutter Studios

Miniatures SITS PhotonCutter bases Ad AstraMy friend Tom is starting a business doing custom acrylic design:
including flight bases and 3D forms for air and space combat games. My intent with this post is to help boost him off to a good start.

Miniatures SITS PhotonCutter bases Ad Astra

Ad Astra ORIGINS Gamemaster Mark Seifert Painted these SITS ship miniatures.

Miniatures SITS PhotonCutter bases Ad Astra

Miniatures PhotonCutter bases Ad Astra

Miniatures PhotonCutter bases Ad Astra

These bases are design to work with Ad Astra angle adapters to supports miniatures at any angle of roll, pitch, or yaw (a full three axes of rotation).
Miniatures PhotonCutter bases Ad Astra

My thanks to Ken Burnside of Ad Astra Games for providing the Squadron Strike and AV:T demo minis used in these photos.

Miniatures PhotonCutter bases Ad Astra

Miniatures PhotonCutter bases Ad Astra

Some minis for
Attack Vector: Tactical

Miniatures PhotonCutter bases Ad AstraI will be occasionsally featuring Tom's products on this blog, and I must admit to some selfish reasons for this; I'm working with Tom to produce one of my own ideas for Battletech miniatures. More news on that soon I hope.

PhotonCutter Studios graphic Tom Evans laser cut acrylic[Update: Credit where credit is due - Ken informs me the angle adapters are manufactured by Ninja Magic.]

[Update 2: The PhotonCutter Studios web site is up.]
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17 July 2009

Fire and Motion

I'm linking you to an article about productivity, which is interesting in itself. I happened to be thinking about military sim games when I started reading it though, so in my head I was thinking how the military strategy aspect applies to games and game design.

[From Joel on Software] When I was an Israeli paratrooper a general stopped by to give us a little speech about strategy. In infantry battles, he told us, there is only one strategy: Fire and Motion. You move towards the enemy while firing your weapon. The firing forces him to keep his head down so he can't fire at you. (That's what the soldiers mean when they shout "cover me." It means, "fire at our enemy so he has to duck and can't fire at me while I run across this street, here." It works.) The motion allows you to conquer territory and get closer to your enemy, where your shots are much more likely to hit their target. If you're not moving, the enemy gets to decide what happens, which is not a good thing. If you're not firing, the enemy will fire at you, pinning you down.

I remembered this for a long time. I noticed how almost every kind of military strategy, from air force dogfights to large scale naval maneuvers, is based on the idea of Fire and Motion. It took me another fifteen years to realize that the principle of Fire and Motion is how you get things done in life. You have to move forward a little bit, every day. It doesn't matter if your code is lame and buggy and nobody wants it. If you are moving forward, writing code and fixing bugs constantly, time is on your side. Watch out when your competition fires at you. Do they just want to force you to keep busy reacting to their volleys, so you can't move forward?

There are two aspects of this I found interesting, and the military strategy aspect is the obvious one. I'm not sure I have ever seen any games where this is directly modeled, though I think I have observed it indirectly. In a two player game of Battletech, one player might choose to "take cover" from the opponent by moving into a good defensive position. This might help the other player "Fire and Move", or it may not, depending on how and when the first player finally decides to attack. There is no automatic advantage just for "laying down fire" aside from the odd lucky shot.
In many-players games of Battletech, such as the storyline battles that take place at the Cons (often 8+ players per side), Move and Fire really starts to express itself. Sometimes one side takes advantage of cover, avoiding line-of-site to the other team. Any player who ventures away from cover then become the only target for the other side, and so quickly gets their Battlemech destroyed. Consequently, no player wants to be the first one to venture out from cover. There may be some brave rallying attempts, but always some players cautiously hang back, leaving their braver teammates to face a hail of concentrated fire. This is not written into the game, it's a consequence of psychology and players putting their own performance (not getting damaged) ahead of the team. Fire and Motion works for the team that is able to restrict the actions of the other; Not because it is a rule of the game, but because it takes advantage of group psychology. If the team in cover would all move out to attack as a coordinated unit they would stand a decent change of success. In a two players game each side is fully coordinated, but with many players per side coordination is a serious issue.

The other interesting aspect is that of game design, and the idea that creating something - anything - it a lot better than sitting around and just thinking about it. This is one of the main points Ian has been pushing in his class.

[Hat Tip 2 Paperpools]

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15 July 2009

GDC: Early Stages of the Design Process

Today another of my Game Design Concepts class assignments, which I re-posted from the GDC class forum.

CraZy cLImBEr the Boardgame

Objective: Players try to be the first to reach the top of the building, avoiding hazards along the way.

Components: (I really did create a board and a full set of cards, but my photos didn't turn out. I'll try to recreate the board in a spreadsheet and post it for viewing).

A Board representing a building with 25 "stories", there are five Segments with five levels each. Along one side is a "Grip Track" labeled "fall" at the bottom, then numbered upwards sequenttially 1 through 15. There are also marked area for the card draw stack and discard pile. A small image follows to right, or follow the link for a larger version in an Excel spreadsheet.

Tokens: 4 colored Climber Tokens, and 4 like-colored grip tokens.

Cards: A deck of 80ish cards, all are identical on the back:
Climbing cards -
16 Climb +1 level cards
8 Climb +2 level cards
4 Climb +3 level cards
2 Climb +4 level cards
6 Dodge Hazard cards
3 Dodge Hazard and Climb +1 level card
1 Dodge Hazard and LOSE 1 level card
1 Dodge Hazard and LOSE 2 levels card
4 "draw 2 extra cards" card
3 "draw 3 extra cards" card
2 "draw 4 extra cards" card
(Hazard cards also list the remedy to the hazard)
6 Windows Closing, Climb +1 level or lose 1 grip
5 Falling Flower Pots, Dodge Hazard or lose 2 grip
4 Falling Dumbells, Dodge Hazard or lose 5 grip
3 Angry Birds, Dodge Hazard AND Climb +1 level or lose 3 grip
1 Wild Electrical Wires, Dodge or lose 3 grip
1 Big Bad Monkey, lose 4 grip
1 Falling Stock Broker, Dodge or lose 6 grip (not in the arcade game, but I couldn't resist)
(Bonus item cards give extra Grip, move the players grip token up the grip track to a maximum of 15)
Climbing Gloves, +5 Grip
Climbers Chalk, +5 Grip
Rope, +10 Grip (Max 15)
Climbers "Friend", +5 Grip
Tape, + 5 Grip
Suction Cups, +10 Grip (max 15)

Sequence of Play
Determine Player order randomly.
Shuffle the deck, and deal 4 cards to each player.
Player Climbers tolens begin on "Ground Level" at the bottom of the board. Player Grip tokens begin at "10" on the Grip Track.

Repeating steps
1a) If there are no cards left to draw, reshuffle the discard pile and replace it on the Draw stack.
1b) Players draws a card and adds it to their hand. Exception: Players at the top of the building may not draw more cards.
2a) If a players has at least 4 cards "in hand", then the player may play 1 or more cards, or none.
2b) Players chooses cards to play and lays them on the board
3a) Resolve any Hazards for the player, including Hazard cards already in play for that section of the building. Adjust the Players Grip Track. If a player lays down enough Climb cards to move completely past the next section of the building, apply any in play Hazard cards for that section as well.
3b) If the player's Grip Track is at zero or below, they Fall (Lose 10 levels and any bonus items, Return Grip Track to 10). If a Hazard causes a player to fall, they are no longer subject subject to that type of Hazard for the rest of the game.
4) If the players has not fallen, apply any Climb cards. If the player climbs into a new section of the building, do not apply any Hazard cards in play for that section until the next turn.
5) If a player has more then 8 cards in hand, they must discard 4 cards. If they have reached the top of the building, they may discard one card.
6) Place all played or discarded cards in the Discard Pile.
7) If the player is at the top of the building and has no cards left, they win.
8) Repeat steps 1-8 until a player wins.

Player may climb up the building by the number of indicated levels on the Climb card they play. I play may choose to move sideways instead of up, but may not move down unless a card specifically states this. Players may not move into the Blacked Out squares.

If a player's Grip is reduced to zero the players falls. Place their token on any open square (player choice) 10 levels below the level they fell from, or on the ground level if they fell from less than 10 levels. If there is no open square on the level on which a player should be placed, then go down to the next level with open space.

Hazard Cards:
Hazard cards must be played on a section of the building where at least one player token is located. When these are played, they affect all players in that section of the building when that players turn comes up. Place the Hazard card next to one section of the building. If at the end of a players turn there are no Climbers below that section of the building, remove that card from play and discard it.

Bonus Items:
These give a players extra grip. Move they players Grip Token up by the indicated number. The players Grip Track may not go above 15.

End notes and conclusions

Some preliminary testing reveals some card balance issues which will need further playtesting to resolve. Despite this, I already see some of the dynamic I was hoping for. Players quickly build up a large number of hazard cards and are forced to play them. Players rapidly lose Grip and Fall. Falling make a player immune to the hazard that made them fall, and it is harder to knock them of the building each time. A good strategy is to intentionally fall several times, perhaps even playing Hazards on yourself, before making a run to the top of the building.

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10 July 2009

GDC: My First Game Assignment

My time was sort this week because I've been doing any number of other things (some to do with this blog), but I got my homework assignment for GDC in just before the Noon deadline.

The assignment:

Here is your challenge:

Most war-themed games have an objective of either territorial control or capture/destroy (as described earlier). For this challenge, you’ll be pushing beyond these traditional boundaries. You should design a non-digital game that includes the following:

The theme must relate to World War I. The primary objective of players cannot be territorial control, or capture/destroy.

Being short on time, and sort of new to game design, I chose the "easy" option. Here is what I came up with ...

Description: ALLIANCE! depicts (sort of) the situation leading up to WWI where countries formed mutual defense pacts. These were agreements that if one member of the pact were attacked, the other members would declare war on the aggressor. The results was that when war did break out, many countries were immediately embroiled in the conflict.
The basic mechanic of the game is "Match Two"; when players are able to turn up two cards for the same country, that country is added to their alliance. The object is to have the largest alliance when war breaks out (the end of the game). This is written as a game for two players, but could be modified to include more.

My entire game posting can be found on the GDC forums. The game is not complete, but it could be with a bit more work.
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Battletech Pods at MechaCon

This comment appeared in an older thread, so I'm putting up on top to help get the word out.

MechCorps said...
For those in the Lafayette, Louisiana area, come to MechaCon July 24-26th, 2009 to see what the BattleTech Cockpit Simulator Pods are all about. For more details, visit www.MechaCon.com

I wonder if those two come with the pod? ;-)

I should add that having the pods at ORIGINS was great synergy for Battletech
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08 July 2009

150 ways to destroy a Battlemech

Classic BattleTech Gallery ImageFollowing up on my last post about calculating probability of destroying Mechs with a given amount of damage, I have hit on a big snag ... actually, it's more like 150 little snags.

I had worked out how to calculate the probability distribution for transferred damage from one location to another, but this turns out to not be quite right. It's more accurate to work this out as increasingly larger subsets of locations on the Mech. For example, if I want the distributions describing the Left Arm (LA), separate calculations for LA armor then damage transferred to the LA internal structure doesn't work out right. I need the distribution for the LA armor and the sum of the LA armor + internal structure.

Classic BattleTech Gallery ImageFor calculating the probability that a Mech is destroyed though, it's better to start at the Center Torso (CT) and work out. Once I realized this, it occurred to me that I was missing a lot of calculations, so I started trying to count all the ways a Battlemech can be destroyed by some combination of damage striking different locations.

Classic BattleTech Gallery ImageSo I started counting. Here "CT" refers to damage striking the CT location to destroy the sum of Armor and Internal Structure there, and "CT+LT" is damage striking either location (etc.). (I also need similar calculations for Armor-only at each location for the purpose of critical hits, but that's another story.) Counting, and ignoring damage from the rear (for the moment), here is a partial list of ways to destroy a Battlemech:

If I include damage from the rear, the list starts off like this:
CT@front+LT@rear (not needed)
CT@rear+LT@front (not needed)

Classic BattleTech Gallery ImageI think that enough to give the general idea. Many of these probabilities will likely turn out so small as to be trivial, but since my goal is to do this right, I still need all of these to check my results (sums of all probabilities should add up to 1.0). I ended up writing a simple program to list all possible combinations of locations, and then eliminated those that are not needed, leaving me with a list of 150 probability calculations needed. Ouch.
This also moves the problem out of the realm of of problem that can be solved in an excel spreadsheet, because there is an upper limit of 256 columns, and each calculation needs at least two columns (and that doesn't count critical hit calculations either). Ouch ouch.
Even if I could set this up in a spreadsheet, the prospect of checking all those calculations individually for correctness is truly daunting. I could have errors and never spot them. Ouch ouch ouch.

Classic BattleTech Gallery ImageThe solution to all this is going to be a computer program. I've been looking for an excuse to learn R, because I need it at work too, so this should give me a good introduction. When I get this part worked out, setting up a near approximation in a spreadsheet will be relatively trivial in comparison. I never said this was going to be easy!
[images Classic BattleTech Gallery]
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07 July 2009

Rumours Abound: A new MechWarrior game in the works?

This 9 second video has been making a big splash on the gaming sites:

Lots of people have beaten me to this one, click for the most recent links on this story from Google.

[Kudos to Scrapyard Armory]

[UPDATE 7/8]

IGN seems to have the scoop this morning, and two more 9 second videos.

[UPDATE 7/10]

Rumors confirmed: MechWarrior 5 in in the works. Additionally, MechWarrior 4 is being release for free just to get us all riled up for it. I'm riled!
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06 July 2009

Paper MadCat

I've heard of a paper tiger, but somehow this isn't quite the same.

Nebula Station Paper MadCat Battletech
A paper MadCat model. You can download your own to print/assemble yourself from Nebula Station.
[Hat Tip 2 Papercraft Paradise]
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04 July 2009

ORIGINS 2009 Follow Up

I'm still getting caught up from my vacation, but with the long weekend I should be able to finish all my posts recounting ORIGINS and backdate them. In the meantime, other people are doing much the same. I'll add links and more below as I find them:

Battletech Pods: Ed Grabianowski has posts up at IO9 and Viking Robots.

has pictures up at LotB from the Saturday night Battletech game (6/27).

Origins Awards Winners and Commentary at Cinerati. A long post with a detailed breakdown of the ORIGINS Awards nominees and winners. Check it out.

A little something I picked up at Crazy Egor's. Well worth the $1.50 I spent on it.

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03 July 2009

ORIGINS 2009: Favorite Pictures

Iron Wind Metals at ORIGINS 2009

Iron Wind Metals

Lou Zocchi Forever!

Wisconsin Cheese

Canadian Ham

Teaching Time!

At the Ad Astra Demo Table

Concentration at the

and costumes

and finally, evidence that I was there!

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