26 May 2010

Auctions and More

A collection of links I've read recently, most having something to do with game design.

From Play This Thing!
Auctions as a Game Balancing Tool:
Auctions are a widely used in the board games as an in-game mechanic or as a meta game. Read this if you want to cross train or at least avoid being a vidiot
Battletech players should be well aware of auctions in the Battletech universe - the Clans call it the Batchall. As the article describes, actions and board gaming have a long history together.

From Pulsipher Boardgame Design
Game design is no place for “perfectionism”
No game can be perfect–it depends so much on the audience, the individual player, the mood, the group (if played by a group), even the timing of creation and publication.

From Jon Radoff's Internet Wonderland, where you can view this at full size.

History of Social Games

[Tip-O-Hat 2 The Ludologist]

From Once Upon A Geek:

From TEDWill Wright makes toys that make worlds
SPORE has dropped off my horizon, but his comments about games and toys are interesting.

UPDATE: Because this is too cool not to share:

From Ethical Technology

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24 May 2010

Martin Gardner, 1914 – 2010

Martin Gardner passed away Saturday. If you like math and games then you probably know who he is already. If you don't, it will be well worth your time to find some of his books. Steven Novella has some nice words about him.
[photo by Konrad Jacobs, Erlangen, via Wikimedia Commons]

More: I found this remembrance at Improbable.Com
Still More: At Greg Laden's Blog (am I behind the ball or what?)
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22 May 2010

PAC-MAN Turns Thirty

It's the thirtieth anniversary of Pac-Man, and there seem to be articles about it all over the internet. Is it too late for me to jump on the bandwagon?

I've been trying to think of something to say about the mathematics of Pac-Man, and it is not obvious that there is much of anything very mathematical about it. I never played it much, and was never particularly good at it, with space shooter games like Asteroids getting most of my attention (and quarters). I do recall that the good players had patterns they followed to get through each level, and that a well executed pattern would always work. As a kid who liked writing his own games on my then state-of-the-art Apple II+, I always assumed that patterns in Pac-Man worked because the game used simple psuedo random number sequences that always generated the same sequence of events in response to the player's actions. Well it turns out that idea was giving the games too much credit: I did a bit of research today and quickly found James Pitman's Pac-Man Dossier, which explains how the monsters give chase in a completely deterministic fashion. {And aside to James Pitman, "Well Done!")

So if there is nothing random about Pac-Man, what is left? I thought about trying to frame it as sort of a differential game like The Homicidal Chaffeur, where the driver of a not-too-maneuverable car tries to run down a nimble but slow pedestrian. That's a difficult approach though, and just seems like way too much trouble for a game like this. Instead I tried to think about ways to simply Pac-Man down to its basic elements ...

And those basic elements are choices. Every toggle of the joystick in Pac-Man is a choice, and it leads to one of three outcomes:

  1. You make a good choice, maybe get to eat some dots (bringing you closer to finishing the level), and live to make another choice.
  2. You make a neutral choice, which gains you nothing, but you don't get eaten by a ghost and live to make another choice.
  3. You make a bad choice and get eaten by ghost.

This make Pac-Man a sort of puzzle. Outcomes one and two describe all puzzles - you simply keep working at them until you figure it out. The third outcome of Pac-Man is a sort of timer, where a bad choice will lose a life, and maybe the game. The thing about puzzles is that once you figure them out, once you know the pattern, they are easy to solve. Pac-Man is a fancy sort of puzzle with flashing lights and sound effects, but it's a puzzle at heart.

So congratulation to Pac-Man, the game that took the world by storm for thirty years ago, and still continues to entertain us.
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16 May 2010

Orbiter - Space Flight Simulator

This looks cool ...

ORBITER is a free flight simulator that goes beyond the confines of Earth's atmosphere. Launch the Space Shuttle from Kennedy Space Center to deploy a satellite, rendezvous with the International Space Station or take the futuristic Delta-glider for a tour through the solar system - the choice is yours.

This is a simulator firmly based in physic and and reality, but a few bits of Sci-Fi sneak in.

Now all I need is TIME for another diversion! :-)

My old friend Matt brought this simulator to my attention when he posted pictures from it on Facebook. Matt and I used to spend a lot of time in a different sort of spacecraft simulation. ;-)

[Tip-O-The-Hat to my Old Buddy Matt!]

Matt adds (via Facebook):
"Happy to introduce another to it.  If you haven't found www.orbithangar.com, that's the best all-around repository for the stuff you'll need (there are lots of private stashes, too).  Great memories on that Asteroids clip! :D"

Yeah ... good times ... and a LOT of quarters! ;-)

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10 May 2010

Epic Win - Jane McGonigal on TED

If you are a gamer and don't already know who Jane McGonigal is, then you should watch this.

Jane McGonigal: Gaming can make a better world |
| Video on TED.com

Changing the world thru gaming is an ambitious goal, but it just might work. Could be try fun to try too.
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06 May 2010

This and That

Various links of interest (I hope).

Review: Masters Brush Soap from Corbania Prime -->
I use this for my brushes too, and I second the recommendation.

<-- Some cool robot art at IO9.

Gratuitous Space Battles (review) --> This might be my next computer game purchase, and my first in a long time. (Thanks Peter!)

Troll, a language for specifying dice-rolls (Article)
and the web site for Troll. I've been itching to look at this but haven't had the time. (thanks to Ken!)

Details: Basic materials for basing <--- At ++From The Warp++

Also some good commentary on Social Contracts in gaming.

Meet the Sims …
 and Shoot Them --> in America's Army 

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05 May 2010

My New Gaming Table

You already saw bit of it in my last post, but I'm having the gang over tonight for the inaugural Battletech game on my new gaming table.

From Battletech Billboards

A couple of disused closet doors, a pair of sawhorses, and a new felt mat. The hard part was cleaning up the basement so there was actually room to set it up. (There is a bit of that left to do yet).

From Battletech Billboards

Let the battles commence!!!

Oh yeah ... chairs ...
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03 May 2010

Battletech Billboards

I picked up some terrain pieces from the Acheson Creations booth last year at ORIGINS (a few pics 1 2 3). Although they painted up well enough, they still didn't look right. They needed something more.

From Battletech Billboards

Because I always intended these to be barriers for a Solaris style arena, I thought it might be cool to turn them into billboards for various sponsors. All I needed were some ideas for sponsors, and I had this idea I've been wanting to try. I did some digging among the Battletech blogs I follow for banner or icon image, a little image editing in Paint.Net, and sent it to the color printer.

From Battletech Billboards

A bit more work with a good pair of scissors (the Perseus and Thug helped), and then some glue ...

From Battletech Billboards

 ... And viola!

From Battletech Billboards

Steve's Battletech Reader billboard was the most work (image editing, I replaced "Classic Battletech" with "The Battletech Reader") and turned out the least legible. So I might have to redo that one (Hey Steve, got any banner ideas?).

I was so happy with the results, I decided to turn it into a mini tutorial. I have a Picasa album up with the full set of Battletech billboard photos.

From Battletech Billboards

Lesson #1: Try some different sizes, and (if you can) print a black-and-white copy first to check the final size before going to the expensive ink. I did three sizes for the Catalyst Logo, and only the smallest would fit. The MechCorp logo was too big entirely and I'll need to rework it from scratch.

A dry fit to see how the finished piece will look is always a good idea.

Put a drop or two of glue on the back of the paper, right in the middle. A single drop will do for smaller bits, but with larger pieces it helps to put a small amount of glue near the corners.

Next is the part I couldn't take a picture of - place the paper on the piece as you did with the dry fit, then press down with your finger and slide the paper around to spread out the glue underneath the paper. This pushes out bubbles and excess glue, and should give the paper a good bond. The glue starts setting pretty quickly once you do this, and you will feel it getting harder to push around. Get it set where you want it and press down on the corners to make sure they stick. Wipe away any excess glue (I just used my finger). In the event you end up with a corner that isn't glued down, use your hobby knife to place a tiny amount of glue underneath and press it down again.

It was an easy project, and I've got some attractive new terrain pieces to show off. Follow the link if you want a copy of my billboard images (MS Word).
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