Tuesday, June 21, 2022

Mix Tape

My generation made mix tapes for friends.  It is something my kids won't do.

How should you arrange 60 or 90 minutes of your favorite music?  What shared memories did you and the friend have with the songs, or with their topics?  What story would the songs tell?

I made my best mix tape during my college years.  The titles of the songs told a story.  Perhaps I was proposing to a girl I loved.  I also made a copy for myself, of course.

Born at the right time, summertime, it's not easy being green: land of confusion, time, and tideMad about you, gypsyRight by your side life is a carnival, closer to fineSilent night, we close our eyesWhen you awake we'll be togetherStand by me time after time; then you can tell me goodbye.

I thought about that mix tape yesterday because my younger son wants to play his favorite song repeatedly as background music while he plays Deeprock Galactic with his brother.  He even found it on a one-hour loop, to maximize his happiness (and his brother's frustration).

So I made my kids a Dad's Playlist today.  I left out quite a few sentimentally significant songs in an effort to limit the playlist to one song by each artist.  I put my son's song first, so he would not have to wait for it, even though it is new to me.  Hopefully having a wider variety of fun and catchy songs will bring them peace.

Sunday, January 30, 2022

Why I Love the Dishonored Games

My current favorite computer games are Dishonored and Dishonored 2.

This is not surprising.  I loved the Eidos Thief games.  These two games are their successors, with some of the same design team.

The dramatic theme of the series is once again what makes people turn into monsters, what type of monsters people turn into, and how the main character is already on that path and can embrace it or change to find redemption.

The game has very few actual monsters.  Having just a few (weepers, nest keepers, a few specific characters) works right.  It keeps the existence of monsters present in our minds without changing the focus from people becoming monsters into the very different dramatic theme of physical reality being invaded by monsters.

Remember that historically, the classic monsters were all designed to explore the issue of people becoming monsters.

  • Werewolves are people that loose control of themselves and become violent, usually at night (drunkenly abusive fathers and husbands).
  • Vampires are wealthy nobles who sustain themselves by draining their peasants.
  • Ghosts are people who are dead but still cripple our options (when a depressed person hears in their head "You'll never be any good at..." whose voice is it? usually a parent if it ends "...anything", although often a teacher if it ends "...math" or "...school").
  • The Frankenstein monster explores the danger of when technology becomes unnatural.

We have all heard so many stories with the dramatic theme of people becoming monsters.  It now takes a light touch, and a story without too many monsters, to continue that literary legacy.  Arkane manages to make Dishonored 1 do it very well.

The "nature versus technology" theme was stronger in Thief 1 and Thief 2 but is present in this series too. It gets more significant as the story advances with the existence of Tall Boys as "mechanized troops" in Dishonored 1, and the clockwork robot-like soldiers in Dishonored 2. How should society balance nature and technology? Both can get too extreme. How should we responsibly get energy and metals? Etc.

The Tall Boys are people who take drugs and use tech to make them merciless killers, even when killers of innocents. The robots have programming instead of morals. Both are discussed in notes and conversations. The initial ability to provide better security at a small number of key locations seemed vital at that time to stabilize society.  But what should society do once these killers become commonplace enough to guard a noble's party or police the streets? How should a hero act around them compared to normal guards?

Electricity also allows more game mechanics. We can bypass obstacles by unplugging whale oil tanks, using rewire tools, turning off windmills, etc. In Dishonored 2 there are even "electrical boxes" the size of large crates as part of the scenery that will knock out opponents pushed into them. We can also use electrical obstacles to our advantage, such as by tossing certain objects into a Wall of Light to make it flash and kill a guard who it normally does not harm.

Of course, nature magic is held opposite to technology.

We eventually see three kinds of magic in the Dishonored games.

  • The Outsider's mark grants very controllable powers to a very small number of people.
  • The Outsider's runes cause stranger, uncontrollable thoughts and actions among many people (especially those who build a shrine in their home).
  • Witchcraft involves using plants, pigments, and bone or blood to "siphon" void energy into specific purposes against the Outsider's will.

So just like technology, there are people who use it well to make a living, people who get lost unproductively in TV Tropes, and people who use it for nefarious purposes its inventors did not intend.

Just like in the Thief games, having inventors be major characters in the game makes that comparison more obvious.  Unlike the Thief games, in Dishonored 2 some inventors and nature-witches become allies.

I did like how witch magic was almost done in this game as a two step process.

First you make an oil painting: you literally paint the world as you want to will it to become.  However, your painting must show a tree. With witchcraft you speedily grow a matching tree in the real world to "pencil in" a connection between your painting's alternate reality to the real world.

Then you create runes made of the painting's pigments, its matching tree, and death (human bones) as magical capacitors to "shock" into existence an active magical connection.

That's not quite what witchcraft is in these games. But it is close, and easy to understand without playing the games.  It shows the unique slant on witchcraft in a fantasy setting that still draws from traditional witchy tropes of art, nature, bones, etc.

I adore how the first game is a great example of a tragic story that is not about your character.

Dishonored 1 is not Corvo's story.  I'll explain.

Considering literary analysis (not time in the spotlight) the Lord of the Rings trilogy is Gollum's story. Not only are the crucial plot details about his choices, from the beginning to the end, but he continues making choices and developing as a character more dramatically than any other character.

Similarly, the first six Star Wars films are Anakin's story.

Dishonored 1 is Admiral Havelock's story. Yes, he wants Emily on the throne, but he is always clearly desiring to mold and guide her--to be the real power behind the throne. The contrasting rules of Jessamine and Hiram are baselines by which Havelock (and the player) considers what a good ruler is like, how a ruler should treat Emily and Corvo, how much a ruler can save or damn Dunwall, etc.

Havelock is like Gollum. His choices, from the beginning to the end, are the foundation of the story. His continued choices, and his character development and self-doubt, drive the story forward.

The game works with missions instead of an open world because Havelock is the character with the most character development, not Corvo.

In other words, our character is dishonored because he has fallen from being a lord and is now merely a tool used by those who retain social honor.

(Click that link.  It's a fascinating read!)

In contrast, in Dishonored 2 the main villain is Delilah, who neither continues to make choices nor demonstrates character development. The sequel thus feels much more like our story.

Another way the Dishonored games are successors to the Eidos Thief games is the theme of fascism.

Something I read the other day:

An individual life consists of mistakes, according to Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, and so does history. The strong, he says, know how to lead and also how to obey, whereas the weak "require the illusion of independence." Order, no matter how complex the social organism, rests upon some kind of chain of command or multiple chains of command. Order is more important than freedom, since without order there can be no freedom for anybody.

Solzhenitsyn is not talking about free will, so do not read that into his use of the word freedom. He is claiming that if we want the grocery stores to have full shelves, and the lights to come on when we turn on the light switch, we need structures that include leaders and followers, we need people who organize and people who get things done. The freedom he cares about is being able to buy what you want, and have light when you want, and enjoy all the other benefits of a functional society. To be "strong" in this model is to be willing to lead or follow as needed. To be "weak" is to deny your place in the structures and believe you are supporting society when you are really only parasitically enjoying the fruits of its success.

It's as good a summary as I have found for how the games' Abbey of the Everyman wants society to function.

It sounds a lot like fascism, which isn't surprising because Solzhenitsyn was an admirer of fascism.  So is the Abbey and its Overseers.

One last dynamic.

It is fascinating how Dunwall and Karnaca, despite being big cities, are carefully designed to most resemble a frontier setting by sharing many genre elements with locations set in the American West, Edo-period Japan, and other frontier tropes where a lone protagonist can make a difference.

Here is something I wrote for my own notes when designing a paper-and-pencil RPG setting years ago that I just realized applies to Dunwall and Karnaca.

On the frontier life is dangerous. Villages and towns are threatened by monsters and bandits. Nevertheless, most settled locations have a few loners living on the outskirts due to temperament, profession, or outcast social status. These loners are often in need of help from a single individual, or able to assist a single individual in efforts to clean up trouble in the nearby settled location.

Because of these dangers, most adults carry weapons. (Or perhaps only adults of one gender or social class.) Also, most people cannot afford the price or encumbrance of significant armor, and medical healing is expensive or rare. Thus a lone protagonist can often win a fight by being skilled enough to avoid being hit while injuring enough attackers to cause the remaining opponents to flee. A frontier hero often has special options for effective healing: rare medicines, foreign herbal remedies, or esoteric meditative practices.

Because so many adults are armed, society focuses on honor more than law. Mistakes are kept secret, and significant characters are haunted by one or more great mistakes from their pasts. Because is difficult to govern an honor-focused, armed society at the geographical outskirts, government does little. Big government is distant or nonexistent. Local government is often corrupt and has insufficient money to do more than law enforcement and perhaps oversight of road building and utilities. When leaders do govern justly they are too busy dealing with intrigue to effectively promote social welfare. Most adults pay little in taxation and receive little in services. When big government does appear it interrupts normal life to handle a crisis, chase a criminal, install a trade route, or claim a natural resource.

Because government does little, other groups provide support in crisis situations. Clans, guilds, gangs, or religious congregations pool resources as insurance against medical problems, natural disasters, and urban crime and fires.

Finally, because government is small and people are reliant upon social groups corruption can control a settled location. A social group that grows into a dominating organization can reign unchallenged until a wandering hero or heroine arrives.

Together, this means problems are obvious and local. A monster threatens a farming village, instead of an army of monsters threatening a kingdom. A tyrannical gang overtly runs the town, instead of a evil brotherhood secretly infiltrating every guild in the capital city.

Steps for Solving the Jindosh Riddle

After solving the Jindosh riddle, I confirmed there were already online guides. But I did not see any that provided the logical steps, so here those are. If it helps, read this as a spreadsheet.

r/dishonored - Steps for Solving the Jindosh Riddle

The riddle's first paragraph

We start by making an empty chart.

r/dishonored - Steps for Solving the Jindosh Riddle

We are most clearly told the name of the woman seated on the left, the color next to her, and (from the second paragraph) the drink in the center.

r/dishonored - Steps for Solving the Jindosh Riddle

We next can see which two colors must be in the two right-most columns. This also specifies a drink.

r/dishonored - Steps for Solving the Jindosh Riddle

The left-most woman has a different name from the name of the first woman mentioned. So the left-most woman must have the color whose city is known and be sitting next to a certain heirloom.

This puts the first woman mentioned in the center. We have now finished with the first paragraph.

r/dishonored - Steps for Solving the Jindosh Riddle
r/dishonored - Steps for Solving the Jindosh Riddle

The riddle's second paragraph

We have two options for the woman making a toast. If she is in the rightmost seat, this leads to a contradiction with the drinker known not to be in the center.

r/dishonored - Steps for Solving the Jindosh Riddle

Therefore the woman making a toast must have the only heirloom known so far.

r/dishonored - Steps for Solving the Jindosh Riddle

Next we have two options for the woman we know is sitting next to a certain drink and heirloom. The option right of center leads to a contradiction with the woman known to not be in the center

r/dishonored - Steps for Solving the Jindosh Riddle

So we use the other option.

r/dishonored - Steps for Solving the Jindosh Riddle

There is now only one option for the woman who had a wild youth.

r/dishonored - Steps for Solving the Jindosh Riddle

Process of elimination adds the final city and name, and thus all the information but the never-mentioned heirloom (which is also now known by process of elimination).

r/dishonored - Steps for Solving the Jindosh Riddle

Six Kinds of Dice Modifiers

My role-playing game Nine Powers is doing great.

I have transitioned it from a diceless game (best for when my kids were very young, for my wife and I to play while on a walk with a stroller) to a game that used dice very carefully to help the storytelling.

Here is a repost from something I wrote in Reddit about the many different ways RPG game mechanics can modify a die roll.

Does thinking about the six very different kinds of modifiers help your game design?

1. Change the number of dice rolled

This can allow a character to do something previously impossible, and is thus appropriate for magical or high-tech items. Perhaps using the Wilderness skill to follow a monster's trail required successes on 4 dice. A character that normally rolled 3 dice could not normally succeed, but with an enchanted magnifying glass that grants extra dice the task becomes possible.

2. Change the threshold for success

Tasks still need the same number of successes, but more or less dice will count as successful. This makes tasks easier or harder, and is thus appropriate for high-quality equipment and circumstantial bonuses. A historian will (on average) find out better information with access to the royal library than in a small village.

Also perhaps appropriate for defensive actions do in combat making it harder for your opponent to hit you.

3. Leveraging successes

If the die roll is successful, then additional successes are added (a fixed amount from a bonus, or each successful die counts as two, etc.) Now the effect of success is much more dramatic, which can appropriate for giant foes, poisoned blades, etc.

Also perhaps appropriate for armor, if armor reduces the number of successes that "count" as successful (plate armor mitigates slicing damage), or when armor does nothing to normal successes but negates leveraged successes (maybe brigandine does not mitigate much blunt damage normally, but does prevent blunt damage for getting bonus successes).

4. Rerolling dice

For most dice mechanics, a second chance is less impactful than the above three types of modifiers. Appropriate having both hands free when grappling in combat, blocking with a shield instead of a weapon, and some benefits from a character's background (before adventuring I was a locksmith, but learned nothing special about dungeon traps).

5. Setting some dice to their minimum or maximum value

Rare but sometimes appropriate. Perhaps a character who is already the town hero now gets 1 die set to its maximum value when haggling for prices.

6. Using other size dice

For example, instead of six-sided die, this roll uses four-sided or eight-sided. Perhaps appropriate to differentiate swords from daggers, the benefit of a two-handed grip, etc.

Two Songs About Dying

Another post about music on YouTube after an evening of distraction.

I was introduced to Elizabeth Zharoff's series The Charismatic Voice where she teaches clueless people like me why certain singers sound so talented.

The most touching was her reaction to Johnny Cash singing "Hurt".

My favorite song about coming to terms with dying is still The Great Gig in the Sky, and I was pleased to find a video about Clare Torry's improvisation and recognition.

Saturday, January 29, 2022

I Discovered Song Mashups

I am late to the party.

From 2015, "Staying Alive" mixed with "Back in Black".

Also from 2015, "Sweet Home Alabama" mixed with "Fat Bottomed Girls".

(Of course, the best versions of "Sweet Home Alabama" involve either Rodney Mullen or Leningrad Cowboys with the Red Army Choir.)

From 2019, "Sweet Dreams" mixed with "White Stripes"

What other mixes are out there that I would enjoy?

These are almost as fun as kids reacting to Queen's music.

Monday, December 27, 2021

Things Near Carlsbad

We are visiting Carlsbad, CA again to be near family.

Years ago the decision about what to do here was quite obvious: LegoLand!

But now the boys are too old for that place.

They are not too old for local playgrounds.  Poinsettia Community Park has a very large parking lot and lots of room to run around, play soccer or frisbee, etc.  The playground is delightful but designed for 5-12 year old kids, so the boys got tired of it after about twenty minutes.  Olympus Park is smaller and has a tiny parking lot that makes it only appropriate for an early morning visit.  It does have a unique play structure.

There are some really short hikes near the hotel.  Hosp Grove Park is a little park with trails up the hill behind it, supposedly to nice views of the adjacent lagoon.  But its tiny parking lot means this is either another early morning outing or we have to park at the nearby shopping center (which does dangerously have a Sees Candy.)  There are three other tiny hiking trails near LegoLand.

Of course, the local beaches are great.  South Carlsbad State Beach is easy to get to and usually easy parking, but mostly rocks so okay for kids playing and digging in the sandy spots but not ideal for long walks at sunset.

Gluten-free restaurants include Rim Talay Thai food and Nectarine Grove smoothie shop.  But mostly we prepare food at the hotel suite, which is easy since we are across the street from Costco and within 15 minutes of three different Trader Joes!

For rainy days there is also Sky Zone trampoline park for two hours of bouncing and a respectable price, or K1 Go Carting for indoor racing that is a bit expensive for an extended family outing.