28 December, 2008

New Year's Resolutions

Leah just told me that she doesn't have any.

I've thought about them a couple of times and I usually manage to make it through a couple of months before I break them all.

It's not like I drink heavily (rarely more than an absinthe or two each week, maybe a couple of ciders or shots of some spirit on a saturday night every couple of months when we have friends over), I don't smoke, I'm reasonably fit... most of the usual New Year's Resolutions just don't work.

Last year I wanted to ensure that I got my roleplaying game written, printed and available for sale. So I actually managed to succeed on that one.

With a bit of work underway already, I think I'll aim to get my current comic book project finished in the next couple of months and start sending it to publishing companies.

A second project will have to be the suit of Iron Man armour I'm planning to build. I've got a decent way through moulding up the helmet, and I should start putting some images up on the website. I've also made sure I've got some materials for moulding the armour plates. It's not going to be a short term project (not if it's going to be done prperly), but it should be good once it's finished.

Thirdly, I'll try to be a bit more regular with posting on this blog. Hopefully at least once a week, I'll try for twicea week but I can't make too many guarantees on that.

Fourthly, and probably most importantly, I'll have to make sure I get a new job.

Four resolutions should be enough to cover me for a while. I'll consider it a success if I manage two of them, and I'll be happy if three work out.

17 December, 2008

Leah's Birthday

Today, the 17th of December, is my wife's birthday.

Another year older, despite all hopes and intentions to stay young forever.

It's interesting how some people seem to enjoy the process of birthdays, while others hate them with a vengeance.

Leah, my wife, fits into the latter category.

It seems that every year around mid November, her mood starts to get dark and stormy. Gradually getting worse until it climaxes in the days just before her birthday, at which point she gives up in the struggle against time, and concedes that she'll just have to get a year older.

In turn this leaves her depressed until the end of the year.

It's interesting to think that some scientists claim we are one of the last generations who will die of old age [I wish I had a couple of links to back up that comment...I guess I'll have to go searching].

03 December, 2008

Auditory Fulfilment

I'd forgotten how much fun it is to play with sound.

I'm doing a project in which I have to generate a short film no more than 4 minutes in length. A few people doing similar projects have just decided to sit in front of a camera and talk about themselves for a bit...but I can't do that. It's just to easy...that, and I'm a bit of a cameraphobe.

I'm sure there's a proper word for "cameraphobe"...and it's not photophobic, because I'm not against light in general...but that's getting off topic.

Anyway, I've decided to make a movie in the old silent film style. A series of vignettes interspersed with narrative panels, and a jaunty rag-time piano playing in the background.

As a result of this I've been collecting a few sound bites and the ideas have started flowing.

Hopefully I'll have the project finished this evening.

01 December, 2008

End of the Year

Suddenly, I realise that it's December and I wonder where the time has gone.

This time last year I was about the be terminated from Dick Smith Electronics for having Asperger's Syndrome. I can't prove this, but within a matter of weeks of alerting certain people to this, I had been given a rush of formal warnings and termination.

At the time I didn't bother with the idea of legal repercussions over the incident. It just seemed petty, no more petty than what was done to me, but it seemed petty none-the-less.

But with the passing of a year, I have to consider what I've done over the past 12 months. I've been studying at TAFE, I've written and published a roleplaying game, I've worked for 6 months with a small business that has been on the verge of collapse for the past ten years (it seems to finally be sinking...but I can't be sure about that). I've started working with a new series of concepts for a comic book and I've been toying with the concepts of Ukiyo Zoshi again.

It's been an interesting year, but I get the feeling that I could have done more. I get the feeling that I really should start getting more motivated.

It gets frustrating sometimes.

10 November, 2008

Newtown Fair

I went to a fair yesterday, not surprisingly (given the heading) it was in Newtown.

One of the things I've always enjoyed doing is imply walking around to soak up an atmosphere. Whether it's feeling the rush of emotions at a rock concert, the feeling of support when spectating at a sporting event, the desolation of a forgotten industrial area or the tranquility of a natural area of parkland.

Each has a vibe, something that most people don't seem to acknowledge. I try to take it in, try to get a feel for what other people may be seeing in a situation, and try to see what they might be missing. Maybe it's the Asperger's.

I've taken Okami to dog parks, with other dog owners and have watched them enjoy the antics of their pets. Everyone so focused on their own dogs that they don't seem to see the other people around them (until the dogs start to fight, then blame is inevitably thrown at the other "two-legs"...).

The fair was different, probably because of the attitude that Newtown people have toward animals. But then, that might just be an over-generalised stereotype. There werethousands of people at the fair and hundreds of dogs. Maybe a dog for every 20 people....of course I might be off in my count, because Okami is very curious, she can smell dogs from a mile away, and she seemed to drag me to every other dog she could find.

It interesting how perceptions are tainted by circumstances.

Anyway, the fair was a lot of fun, and I'll try to post a couple of pictures.

30 October, 2008

Fantastic Contraption

PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT

DO NOT PLAY FANTASTIC CONTRAPTION!!!

It's highly addictive and will prevent you from doing other more important work like designing games of your own, posting in forums, feeding the dog or completing assignments.

If you really do need to play this game, here's some ideas that I constructed to get through two of the tougher levels.

http://FantasticContraption.com/?designId=3681201

http://FantasticContraption.com/?designId=3682060

But it's probably easier if you just forget that you ever saw this post.

23 October, 2008

New Sequential Art Project

I've started developing a project that links into one of my other hobbies...sequential art, commonly referred to as comics, but often encompassing a wide variety of media.

There have been some ideas sitting in the back of my mind. Ideas that have festered for quite some time, like many of my game design ideas.

I think I've hinted at a few of these ideas during previous entries of my blog, but I'm just too lazy at the moment to go back through them all and read what I may or may not have written. It's easier to just go forward with my plans and hope that if I'm repeating anything, then a subconscious and instinctive memory pattern will prevent me from making the same mistakes I might have made in the past.

I've spent the last few nights generating some archetypal characters for a story, I'll have to see what I can do to load some of these images up to my photobucket account, or I might try to resubmit some work to Elfwood (though the images of characters don't have an inherently fantasy or science fiction feel to them even if the sequential artwork will eventually link to these concepts). I might have to work up some of the images a bit more and send them to my currently inactive DeviantArt account. For some reason, I can't load them onto my website and access them from here.

16 October, 2008

Dreams

Have you ever had one of those dreams that seems really symbolic at the time, you wake up getting the feeling that you really need to act on the subconscious messages contained within.

I had one of those last night.

Seeing people from my past, people who were apologising for actions they had done, while other members of my private history were telling me not to forgive them.

I'm sure there could be a whole lot of things read into this dream.

But I'm not sure if I want to...how much would be read into it and how much is actually a connection to a global subconscious dreamscape??

14 October, 2008

Rookwood

This morning I decided to take a quick drive around Rookwood Cemetery, the largest working cemetery in the southern hemisphere.

This has caused me to revise some ideas for some concepts I've been working on.

It's a common anthropological theory that funerals are a ritual for the living, not for the dead. Visiting graves is a similar concept that helps the closure of a persons life within the space of their cultural footprint. Those who are more influential within a family draw descendants to their graves, those who have a wider impact on the community (through fame, wealth or other influence) draw visitors to their final resting place beyond their families.

Visiting the Chinese part of the cemetery was a truly interesting part of the journey. I don't know enough about the origins of chinese funeral rites (whether Buddhist or Taoist), but I do know that they believe in many hells. People are believed to spend time in these hells to atone for their sins in the mortal world, before reincarnating or passing on the a higher plane. Time in these hells can be reduced by descendents burning "hell money" which effectively ransoms the soul, shortening the duration in hell between reincarnations.

It's an interesting idea that is similar to the Purgatory of the Catholic faith, or even the concept of Grey angels in Kaballah (where white traditional angels bring goodness, black angels[demons] bring punishment and misery, and Grey angels bring misfortune that may be overcome in the mortal world to atone for the sins of previous stages in your life).

Driving between sections of the graveyard I thought of numerous concepts that could be useful to a game, or to a cosmology. The intersections of the Jewish section are marked with huge paved "Stars of David", the Russian Orthodox section has gravestones marked in Cyrillic, the chinese name both husband and wife on the gravestone even before both parties have passed on (the surviving member covers the letters of their name in a red paint...I'll need to look into this tradition more carefully if I'm going to use this concept in a work of speculative fiction or a game).

Parts of the garveyard are so old that the graves seem to blend in with the landscape, other parts have a palpable energy about them.

One part of the cemetery has a roadway with jewish graves on one side of the road, and chinese graves on the other. I immediately thought of a war between fighting spirits of each faith. But the problem here is that sects within each faith believe in reincarnation.

If spirits do linger in such a place, why would they do so?

If the spirits have moved on, what happens to the energy invested by mortal descendants. If modern physics has begun to establish parallels where belief fuels reality, then what happens to the expended hell money, the incense, the prayers if their recipient is no longer present to accept the blessing?

I was reminded of certain concepts in the old World of Darkness game "Wraith the Oblivion", reminded of how I'd love to expand some of those ideas in my game "Tales".

As I left the cemetery, I was also reminded of the fact that the cemetery is completely surrounded by at least two "rings of iron". Railway tracks border three sides of the cemetery, with a complete ring of track encompassing both the cemetery and a few nearby suburbs. Additional parts of the Sydney rail network form a second complete ring around the cemetery. (The standard network map doesn't show the goods lines that criss-cross the commuter network). A track even led into the cemetery for many decades, with four stations, leading from the Mortuary/Regent St. Station in the city, and with tracks leading toward another cemetary called the "Field of Mars".

I'm seeing some great potential for a game about ghosts and the afterworld here. Now it's just a case of doing it right, or working out how to best incorporate these ideas into my other concepts.

11 October, 2008

Framework for New Website now works.

After encountering a mysterious glitch that stopped most of my pages from rendering on any web-browser other than Firefox 2, it now seem that new updated version of the Vulpinoid Studios website now works.

As for some of the questions about why the website is currently designated version 2.2.0, that's pretty simple, but it goes back a while.

To cut a long story short, I had a previous website in the late 1990's and early 2000's, I even had a domain name registered for it. The various iterations of that website fall under the category of the 1.X.X series of version numbers.

You can probably still find copies of it on the wayback machine, or by googling Ukiyo Zoshi, which was one of my earlier game concepts that was run by a few German groups in the early 2000's and still seems to be used as a object of modification by some game designers.

The 2.X.X series of version numbers represents my second serious web presence. Where versions 2.1.0 through to 2.1.6 were different incarnations of a layout that has developed and evolved over the course of 2008. Enough tweaking and modification led me to abandon the layout concept that formed the core structure for this site. Hence moving onward to version 2.2.0. Hopefully, the next couple of weeks will see a few more revisions of the site, but these should mainly come in the form of updated text/images, insertion of multimedia components, and general improvement of streamlining and usability.

Then I might be able to get back to some game design.

09 October, 2008

Site Upload Version 2.2.0

This afternoon I'm going to start uploading the new version of my website.

vulpinoid studios


I don't know how much of it will actually reach the web this afternoon. But hopefully the next day or two should see a revitalised presence for the Eighth Sea and my other games/projects.

Fingers crossed..but I don't know how conducive listening to Ozzy Osbourne is to work...

07 October, 2008

Sydcon Debrief

It's been 8 years since I last attended a game convention in Sydney, it's surprising how many familiar faces are still around the scene...how many people recognised me...how old some of the crowd is starting to look.

The Eighth Sea was run 7 times over the course of the convention to various degrees of success.

I really have to accept the notion that no game can be for everyone. Some people really just don't get the concept, it's a bit different from the other games that are regularly seen at conventions and anything that deviates from the norm will either resonate more strongly with an individual player or it will just seem a bit off key compared to their regular playing style.

I tried to play with the notion of restricting genre within the system to see how the game would play under a different series of constraints. 3 options...1950's Pulp Sci-Fi, Victoriana Steampunk, and Modern Dramatic Sci-FI (a la Stargate SG-1, Firefly, etc.), I threw in a fourth genre twoard the end...Anime.

I guess it still depends on the players, and since I haven't seen the game run by any GM other than myself, I can only guess that the potential GM plays a major role in the game as well.

It seems to play very similarly depending on the genre, and the different genre conventions simply seem to be set dressing on something that remains the same at it's core. I haven't decided whether this is a good thing or not, it's simply an observation at the moment.

Almost 30 players were introduced to the system, and I sold five more copies...which is a good thing.

Other good things to see with the system are a clearly defined sweet spot. 4 to 6 players is great for inter player intrigue. It's enough to get factions appearing on the table, but not too many for players to get frustrated or bored with the continuously convoluting plot.

One experiemental session ran with 2 players, each controlling a pair of characters. This was purely experimental, and I did warn the players in advance that the result could have easily ended up being a train-wreck...but it ran well. Definitely outside the sweet spot for the game, but with the right players it runs well (I awarded convention trophies to the players for their efforts in this).

One of the slower and less successful sessions involved a pair of kids, young teenagers who've quite probably been alive for less time than I've been roleplaying. Intensely competitive and always trying to dominate the story, they just didn't understand the concept of shared narrative at all which gave the game some tense moments that I had to smooth over as delicately as possible while trying to keep things vibrant and interesting for the other players. The other problem is that one of the pkayers in this groups was an old convention attendee from years ago who had played in my sessions from the mid to late 1990's. He knew how fun the game could be and he knew my GMing style. So thankfully, he was a help.

Among the players, I had individuals who were fascinated with the structure of the mechanics, I had others who were intrigued by the games interplay with narrative and the way it draws forth a communal subconcious for a short period (there were some pretty intense discussions with a few people along these lines). Then there were the players who simply enjoyed the fact that they could run riot, compared to the limiting aspects found in plenty of other games.

On the whole, a successful convention. Marred only by the fact that I didn't go home first to take my wife to the after party for drinks and a bit of socialising/networking.

02 October, 2008

Polyurethane Resin

Over the last couple of weeks I've been working on some more physical projects, and this has meant the blog has been put on hold a bit.

But on the positive side, I've now got some new pictures to show what I've been doing...

steampunk goggles

resin coins

These are some coins and some Steampunk goggles I've been sculpting to go with some of the games I'm working on.

The coins are designed to be used as meta-game currency in The Eighth Sea. The larger coins being used as "Pieces of Eight", which are used by players to purchase changes in the storyline. The smaller coins are use as Wind tokens, to modify difficulties within the game.

At least that's the theory so far...I might end up swapping these two types of coin around depending on how well they play at Sydcon over this weekend.

The goggles are for a number of purposes, but mostly just for use as a fun prop in Steampunk games. I'll be using them at Sydcon over the weekend, and hopefully they'll generate enough interest that someone might want to buy a pair.

Further details about these will be available on my website, as soon as that becomes operational.

19 September, 2008

Landlubbers and Scurvy Dogs

Today be Talk like a Pirate Day.

So it be hardly surprisin' that there'd be a post here 'bout that most important o' days.

Contrary to what many folks be thinkin', this day o' the year was not started t' celebrate those fine films about th' Carribbean, it started long before those films.

In light of this most auspicious o' days I've been much considering whether I should be takin' advantage o' the links between this day and th' Eighth Sea.

Perhaps I should be releasin' a sourcebook ev'ry year on this day, or me'be a discount at the online store...once it be runnin'.

Somethin' t' seriously start thinkin' 'bout fer next year.

12 September, 2008

Living up to my word

When we ran The Eighth Sea at GenCon we promised that one or two people from every session would be sent out a copy of the rules as a prize for their participation and interaction.

Earlier this week I recieved my box of books from Lulu.com and the prizes are now in the process of actually being sent out to the players.

I'm getting back a few good feedback emails, hopefully that word of mouth for the game will start to spread and it will develop further over the next few months.

07 September, 2008

Eighth Sea Distribution

I've got the first batch of the Eighth Sea on it's way to me, with copies to be sent to distributors as a sample of the work. This batch will also include (finally!!) the promised free copies that were due to go to players from GenCon.

Hopefully they'll arrive soon, and hopefully there will be no problems with the binding (unlike some of the horror stories I've heard from Lulu.

Fingers crossed.

02 September, 2008

Marriage and Friends

This month I've been married for five years (on September 20th to be exact). It just struck me.

The reason I thought of this is the fact that the last time I physically laid eyes on my best man was at the wedding, but out of the blue he has appeared again on my radar through Facebook. It's odd that this person who I still consider one of my best friends is someone who I haven't seen in ages.

And it's odd to think of all the changes that have happened in my life since I last saw him (as well as thinking of ll the changes I'd have expected, which simply haven't occured in that time).

18 August, 2008

Hooray!!

I've been checking lulu.com every day or two, to see how my first baby is going.

My first copy of the Eighth Sea has been sold.

Here's hoping it's the first of many.

15 August, 2008

Design Dilemma

I'm working on a new game concept.

Well that's not entirely true.

I'm resuming work on a game concept that got me stuck a few months back.

I keep trying to develop this game concept but my mind keeps shooting off into new directions that expand beyond the original concept in ways that complicate the simple premise.

It was this exact phenomenon that caused me to break my train of thought by developing the Eighth Sea to it's finished status. Now that I'm returning to my earlier concept, I'm finding the same problems developing.

Some would call this "development hell". In fact there are many who say that these festering ideas can evolve into truly revolutionary concepts as they grow in the back of one's mind.

I'm just finding the ideas to be a nuisance.

I think I've been hanging around the forge for too long.

When I started to develop a roleplaying game, I just thought I needed a good game mechanic and an evocative setting. I had given cursory thought to the concepts of character goals and player agendas, these always seemed to be a natural part of play. I hadn't considered the three types of player and how they interacted with the gaming phenomenon, and I certainly hadn't thought of ways that these player agendas could be manipulated through the careful wording of rules. Now I keep getting caught up on how a game experience should be fine-tuned into the system...I keep wondering how a certain new mechanic might influence the types of stories being told. And my preconcieved paradigm of role-playing now seems to be so far beyond my original notions that the game I have resumed working on seems to be a poor reflection of what I could now achieve.

The problem is that I liked the original game for it's elegance and simplicity. Every time I try to apply a creative agenda into the base rules, they just complicate and get messy...which then starts a chain reaction where I start looking to other systems that might better fit the new ideas...which then leads me to abandoning the simple game I'm trying to finish...which then leads me back to the question of whether the original game was better or if the new mutant strain is better.

...and does the mutant strain deserve it's own new place in my mind, while the original concept still stands on it's own as an unfinished masterpiece?

I think the problem lies with the original game's modular concept, where I decided a simple system could be applied in any way through addition of one or more modular components. The simple system is nice on it's own, and the components seem nice on their own, but the fitting of the two is where the problem lies.

It's frustrating.

10 August, 2008

People are idiots...part 1

I'm calling this Part 1, because I know that I'm going to observe a lot more things that prove this point.

It was 2am, I've slept since then so I'm not sure whether to say it was this morning or last night...anyway, that's not the point of the post. I'd had some alcohol a few hours early, but it had been a while before I got in the car...I was pretty sure that I was safe to drive, but Iwas taking things carefully just to make sure.

I was heading toward a set of traffic lights where I know there is an automatic red-light camera.

A car is ahead of me by a hundred metres or so. I see the light turn red and it is solidly red for a good second or so as the car ahead rushes through the intersection. As I start slowing down, red and blue flashing lights start up behind me and a police car shoots around me to catch the traffic offender.

There aren't many cars on the road at 2am, but as I'm stopped at the lights for half a minute or so another vehicle comes through the intersection from my right. They had done exactly the same thing and as they sped through the red light, two white flashes of light indicated that the red-light camera had been activated.

2 cars in a row had gone through red lights at the intersection, both had been caught for traffic offenses by completely different means...

It might not be very interesting for someone who wasn't there, but it was fascinating to watch.

Meanwhile I began the rest of my journey home, possibly over the legal drinking limit...I was just glad that two bigger idiots than myself had been caught for not being careful.

It's just a reminder that no matter how stupid you may be, there are always bigger idiots out there.

Such is life.

07 August, 2008

Game Mechanics 1.2

I'm taking a slight detour in my blogs about game mechanics, I had intended to be detailing aspects of what I think make a good combat system (and how I followed those ideas to generate the system used in Tales).

...instead I'll look a bit deeper at aspects of character generation.

I've already mentioned a strong favour toward perceived mid-points. Two of the scales I've heavily considered are...

Systems with lots of random value generation versus systems that place the focus of thought back into the hands of the players.

and

Systems where the the characters are incredibly detailed with skills, combat abilities and special powers defined to the nth degree versus systems that are almost freeform with arbitrary principles based on vague notions of common sense.

I've always felt that a good game can be judged by it's character generation system, and for an instinctive gut reaction, the generation system can be seen through the character sheet and the sheer size of it in a book. If you're playing a heavy game with lots of detail, you'd be best to avoid a system where the character generation can be defined in less than a half dozen pages. If you want something light then this would be more appropriate. This extends through the whole system. The more a player invests into character generation, the more protective they are going to be when it comes to their character.

In a throw-away game where players can easily risk losing a character or two each session, those player's really don't want to be spending an hour generating each new game-world persona. In a complex game of political intrigue, where subtleties in a character's past can have dramatic effects on the course of the narrative, then an hour may not be enough time to generate a viable persona.

Where you draw the line between these two extremes really depends on the style of play that is the objective of the playing group. This can be one of the critical things that makes or breaks a session of game play.

For Tales, I worked with what I considered to be a reasonable mid-point, but have allowed scope to push the character generation toward a more rapid deployment system, or a more complex version depending on the needs of the story to be told.

The whole thing uses a point assignment system using simple numbers of 10,20,30. People like round numbers, they're easy to remember.

Attributes (10)

How many attributes are enough? How many are too many?

I remember in the late 1980's there were roleplaying games that assigned anything up to a dozen attributes to their characters. I also remember games from the 1990's that rebelled against this concept and reduced the number of attributes to 2 or 3. The godfather of all games, D&D uses 6 attributes, and this seems to be a common number across many systems.

Having played many games, it seems that the sweet-spot for atytribute variety is 5 to 6. But I've been playing with a number of card based systems over the years and 4 suits have stuck with 4 types of task in my mind.

Physical, Social, Mental, Spiritual.
(A lot of games don't touch on the Spiritual aspect, but this is important to me for a number of reasons...instead they may divide the three others into two-or-three different attribute types. Physical could become Strength and Endurance, Mental could become Intelligence and Wisdom, etc.)

4 also works fairly well when a player has 10 points to allocate between them. A player could choose to allocate in the distribution of 4,3,2,1. Giving them a clear area of advantage and a clear area of weakness. It also means that a plauyer can't start with a purely even starting character, the most level method to distribute their attributes will be 3,3,2,2.

When we assume that the average attribute value is +3, we can simply say that players begin slightly less powerful than others who have been performing similar roles for a while. This gives characters something to aspire toward, and that type of motivation is something that helps push the game forward.

Skills (20)

How many skills are enough?

The various areas of knowledge are far more diverse than the basic innate potentials of a person. I've seen games with no skill lists, where a player simply chooses a role to explain the types of skills they'd be likely to have. Conversely there are games with hundreds of finely tuned skills that cover dozens of specific areas.

I like the concept that anyone should be able to attempt anything (within reason). You don't need a skill in computers to turn one on (but it certainly helps). You don't need to be an athlete to jump across a pit (but again it really helps if you have practiced such things).

For starting characters I've decided to allow up to three points to be spent in a skill (this works with the 3 points as a typical high point for an attribute). 1 point shows a passing interest, 2 points shows that this is a regular hobby, 3 points shows that they spend a decent amount of the spare time honing this skill. Yes, skills can go above 3, but more about this will be detailed shortly.

(I had toyed with the notion of making each skill linked to a specific attribute and capping the skills at a level equivalent to the attribute, but even though it seemed an elegant solution this proved to confusing to a number of test groups).

I've divided each attribute into 10 key areas that seem appropriate to the genre, but have allowed room for players to introduce their own skill ideas if they specifically want to develop their characters in ways that aren't defined by the existing rules. 10 skills each across 4 attributes = 40 total skills, meaning that even if a starting character spreads themselves incredibly thin across the range of potential abilities, then they'll have a passing knowledge in half of the skills available.

This is another aspect that I consider pretty important, because I believe that no-one can understand everything, and it is these differences in knowledge that help to define our individuality.

Background Details (30)

Here's where characters really become unique.

I've decided that all characters have access to a range of templates, along with merits and flaws that make them individuals.

Templates cost 5, 10 or 15 points. They may be bought as occupations or as cultures.

Occupational templates reflect how the character earns a living, cultural templates reflect how they fit into their society.

A 5 point occupational template is a hobby, a 10 point occupational template is a part time job, a 15 point occupationaal template is a full time job.

A 5 point cultural template is a connection to a group, a 10 point occupational template is a membership in a group, a 15 point occupational template is a leading role within that group.

A character with a full time job and a role of leadership within a group simply doesn't have time to develop in other ways. Sacrifices have to be made somewhere.

Occupation templates provide bonuses to skills, as well as a few advantages and disadvantages typically associated with this type of job (any skill bonus allow starting characters to begin with skills modifiers above +3). They basically provide benefits to a character in exchange for that character meeting certain responsibilities within society. Occupations have a time commitment associated with them to show that the character's freedom is restricted by the things they are expected to do in exchange for gaining the benefits of that job.

Cultural templates provide backgrounds and give the character a grounding within a specific society or sub-culture. These templates reflect the type of people the character regularly associates with, either in their public daily life or in secret shadowy meetings. Cultural templates often provide specific groups of allies and enemies, and belonging more strongly to a certain culture will have the effect of impacting the character's very beliefs and ideals.

I've allowed a player to purchase as many templates as they like for their character, of any types they might wish. This concept also allows players to pick up a pair of part time jobs, or to mix and match aspects of jobs to create unique employment opportunities...2 parts warrior, 1 part diplomat...2 parts mystic, 2 parts scholar. In this way a dozen defined occupations (each with hobby, part-time and full-time levels) can be combined to give hundreds of viable character options.

If the characters have any points left over after template purchase, these may be used to purchase additional skills, attributes or other advantages.

There's another thing that I've tried to incorporate into the design of the game at this level. This is the belief that walking the established path is easier than forging a new path. This is reflected by bonus points provided through the templates. A player can purchase the same things in a template as they can purchase with their left-0ver points, but there are tutors and mentors who are willing to teach the templates as a package. The advantage provided here isn't big, but it should be enough to make players seriously consider the difference between designing a truly unique character and designing someone who simply fits into the world around them.

A 5 point template basically provides 6 points worth of benefits. A 10 point template provides 12 points of benefits. And to follow the logical progression, a 15 point template provides 18 points worth of benefits. But on the down side, each template has a standard group of disadvantages associated with it, so a player knows that if they are facing up against a standard rank-and-file template enemy there will be certain tactics that can be used against them.

A player can choose to spend all of their background points on templates to generate a character fairly quickly, or they can be far more picky with their character choices and really develop a unique character.

Beyond templates, I like the concept of Advantages and Disadvantages. Little effects that give characters bonuses or penalties in specific situations. It here that I think roleplaying really comes to the fore in most mechanical systems. I've also seen through play that most players will play up their advantages and play down or avoid their disadvantages. So to counter this I've made the disadvantages more severe than advantages of the same value. A 1 point advantage may give +1 to a die roll in a certain situation, while the corresponding 1 point disadvantage gives -2 to a die roll.

There's a few aspects of the whole system that I've had to seriously reconsider over the past few months (through the development of the Eighth Sea), but I'll get to them in later parts of this mechanics discussion.

...hopefully the detour is now concluded, I'll aim back toward combat mechanics for my next post.

Eighth Sea Now Available.

For any who may have been following the progress of my games, The Eighth Sea is now available for purchase.


Support independent publishing: buy this book on Lulu.

05 August, 2008

Game Mechanic 1.1

There are a few schools of thought about characters in roleplaying games. Some believe that characters should be fully detailed in what they can do and where there limitations might lie. Others believe that a general notion of the character will suffice, and common sense should be allowed to fill in the blanks.

Both concepts are valid under different styles of play.

Spread across this split, you have people who believe characters should be primarily defined by what they were born with, versus what they've learned...that whole "nature vs nurture" debate.

Here's where attributes and skills come in.

While these two concepts have been a staple in most roleplayinggames for years, many independent games are moving away from the notion of attributes and skills. These recent games return to a simpler concept of simply assigning a character roles, then follow by allowing certain roles to complete certain tasks with ease. A combatant can physically fight but they may be no good at a verbal debate...a doctor may be able to heal but can they fire a gun??

Attributes and skills allow for more customisation of the character, but at the expense of a longer character generation process.

I've decided with this system to go with the idea that nature and nurture play equal parts in character's potential to achieve a goal...and that characters can learn things beyond the scope of their daily life activities. But how do you make this quick for new players, or for those who simply want to get into the action ASAP??

Since we're using a d6, the maximum power we want a character to have is +12. Half of which comes from the attribute, and half from a skill. So I'm giving each a scale of 1 to 6. Where 1 is the minimum for basic activities and 6 is the highest humanly possible. This means that someone has to have a 6 in both their skill and their attribute to get the best possible result, it also means that everyone is adding at least 1 to their die rolls.

If we say that the average person has an attribute score of 2 to 3 and most people reasonably proficient in an area of skill have the same 2 to 3 points of bonus here, then standard deviation places most people at around the +4 to +6 mark...which is pretty close to what we need.

But what about those times when there's a difference of 6 or more?

To cover this, I've decided to include a fate related pool of points. It replenishes as players progress toward the story goals or toward their own agendas, and it can be expended by them to improve their chances at certain effects.

Through this pool, any time a 6 is rolled, a point may be spent to turn it into an automatic success. If two players roll 6s then the character expending the point gains a success, unless both spend the point and then it comes back to a comparison of modified die rolls.

I've also decided that if one side rolls a 6 and the other rolls a 1, then it automatically goes to the side with the 6 without the need to spend a point from the pool. After all this basically reflects in the game that one character has done the best they possibly can, while the other side has botched. It only makes sense that the character with the 6 would succeed in this case. Besides, there's only a 1 in 36 chance of this happening.

Next I'll explain my rationale for the combat system...

04 August, 2008

Game Mechanic 1.0

I've decided to document some of the game mechanics that I come up with periodically.

I've developed systems based on dice rolls, cards, counters and hand gestures, and each of these has applications to different styles of game. The problem with these conceptual ideas is that I can never decide on the type of game best suited to the mechanic. A poker based mechanic may lend itself well to a wild west game, a tarot mechanic may be good for a game about occultism or mysticism, but where do you place a complex die mechanic?

I've looked at plenty of games over the years and have seen many that have focused on a gimmicky mechanic.

Roll 3 dice, ignore the highest and lowest results and keep the middle die. Then compare this to a difficulty value that's generated by rolling a second die and cross referencing this to a table.

[The result of the die might produce a nice bell-curve, and the cross referencing effect might ground it well in the reality of the game world, but the combined effort is fiddly and time consuming and may slows down the play of the game...especially in combat sequences where numerous people are making die rolls at once and interacting with one another in comnplex ways].

I've seen plenty of these systems, some of which address their settings, while others just seem to be complicated for the sake of complication.

So my aim over the next couple of months is to intersperse a couple of game mechanic ideas that could be applied to a number of situations, and maybe develop a bit of discussion about what sorts of games these systems might be most appropriate for.

On to the first system...

Tales [d6]

This is the system I'm using for my generic game engine, Tales. It's not designed to reflect any specific themes, the concept is more of a chassis that other mechanics can be added to.

The core concept of the system is that everything is resisted, and no-one knows the full extent of that resistance until they've made an attempt at something.

The player rolls a standard die, and adds a number equivalent to the forces favouring the change. Their opponent also rolls d6 and adds a number equivalent to the forces hindering the change. If a character is affecting the general world, then the player's opponent is the GM. If the character is targeting another character, then the player's opponent is the player of the target character.

Simple, and there are a few games that have used this core.

If the opposing forces of stasis and change are balanced, then there is an even chance of the effect occuring (or not). If the opposing forces are not balanced, then the changes of success or failure vary accordingly.

The average number added to a die should be equivalent to the number of sides on the die being used. In this way, if 10 sided dice were used, then the typical modifier to each side should be about +10. A weak force should apply a bonus equal to half the die sides, a strong force should be about one-and-a-half times the number of sides. The weakest forces provide no bonus, the strongest forces typically encountered provide a bonus equal to twice the number of sides.

Using these figures, the numbers don't get too huge, and you don't have to play with negatives.










Die Sides No ForceWeak ForceAverage ForceStrong ForcePowerful Force
4 +0+2+4+6+8
6 +0+3+6+9+12
8 +0+4+8+12+16
10 +0+5+10+15+20
12 +0+6+12+18+24
20 +0+10+20+30+40




Looking at the values, a d4 based system doesn't leave a lot of scope for variablity in the values, and a d12 based system can rapidly get into numbers that are large. Most people like their sums to use small numbers with single digits. So the d6 and d8 versions are probably easiest to use. d6s are far more common, so it becomes a more approachable game to use these.

In any contest, two equally ranked forces have an even chance of succeeding. A force that is one step lower than the opposing force has a 25% chance of succeeding. A force that is two steps lower than the opposing force cannot succeed.

For example: d6+3 results in a value from 4 to 9, while d6+9 results in a value from 10 to 15.

This becomes something to seriously consider in the game.

Do you want a mechanic where there is no chance for someone to succeed when the odds are stacked overwhelmingly against them, or do you still want there to be some kind of success chance?

This is where a numer of systems have deviated. Some systems apply an automatic failure result if the face on the die shows a 1. This basically means that no matter what the difference in skill level between two opponents, then there is always a "1 in X" chance of the little guy winning (where X equals the number of sides on the die being used). Similarly, rolling the highest possible result on a die could count as an auto success (such as using critical hits on a natural 20, in many games).

Other games allow a die roll to "explode" if the high number is rolled. If a 6 shows on the six sided die, then it may be rolled again and the new value added to the 6. This basically equates to a "1 in X" chance of a better result, but not necessarily a guaranteed success. Most systems using this concept expand it further by allowing multiple "explosions".

Neither system is more "realistic", both have their advantages in different styles of play.

For Tales, I didn't want to keep adding numbers together or keep rolling dice. The aim is simply to get a fast game mechanic, a single roll to get a result but a chance for anything to succeed. So I combined the 1 is an "auto fail" option and 6 is an "auto success", but since the game is all about telling stories I added a difference.

More to come shortly...

03 August, 2008

Genre Advancement System

I've just offered a concept for a challenge at the Forge.

I've done this for a simple reason. I'd like to find out what constitutes genre in different people's minds. I could have simply posed a question, but I probably wouldn't have had anything useful come out of it, and would have had a dozen partial concepts.

I figure that offering a contest in this manner will generate a couple of well-considered and fully rounded ideas that I can then use as the basis for genre advancement within the Eighth Sea, or within some of the other game concepts I'm working on.

At the moment I'm finding a lot of products on the market to be very generic and flavourless. This seems to be with the intention of allowing different groups to inject their own style into a setting, but my question is how that style really becomes a part of the setting.

What makes "film noir"? What makes "horror"? How do you convey these concepts in a game mechanic?

It will be interesting to see what results might develop.

01 August, 2008

Eighth Sea Complete??

After months of work setting up a first draft, a fortnight of hasty revisions and editing, I've reached the final stages of getting the Eighth Sea ready for production...

...only to find one more issue.

The PDF files I'm compiling for the internal pages have images on them that look like rubbish.

They're meant to be 300dpi or better, but when I look at them, they look more like 100dpi (barely better than screen resolution and certainly not good enough for a professional looking product).

I guess I'm going to be spending the next few days recompiling images.

Just when I thought I was done...

...oh well.

24 July, 2008

Candycreeps (TAKE 2)

The first time I wrote this, it didn't take. The computer crashed during post upload.

Between finishing work on the Eighth Sea, deciding on follow up projects and real work, I've being doing some layout work for Nick and Elizabeth Licata on their new game "Candycreeps". It looks like a fun setting with a simple and fast game mechanic. I don;t know how much more I can write about this without getting their permission first, but I'd recommend people have a look at it if their into the cute gothic aesthetic of "Emily the Strange" and the tokyo Gothic Lolita look.

22 July, 2008

Five Cards

I've been trawling the web for information about generating a random hand of five cards. The aim here is the create an automated random character generator for the Eighth Sea (first generate a random occupation template, then fill the remainder of the character's attributes and skills with randomised values using the random character generation method described in the rulebook).

This quest led me to a fascinating game called Five Card Nancy which demands further exploration (there's a random online version also). It also led me to the Livejournal of Scott McCloud, and suddenly feel less guilty about not updating this blog as often as I could.

Not that I put myself in the same realm as Scott, but it did make me feel a bit better.

Ideas

Over the past couple of months I've been to Supanova and I've been to GenCon Oz.

I had intended to go to both of these conventions with some kind of product that I could use sell. Or at least attend the conventions with a product that would showcase my thoughts and ideas.

In this regard, GenCon Oz was far more successful. But on the other hand, I did meet someone at Supanova who thought my artwork showed talent. So I'm going to start working on a few new ideas that could be used in a comic.

In this regard I've had a few ideas that might have a bit of potential. The problem I'm having now is that some of the ideas are much better suited to a roleplaying game where the players can interactively explore the ideas within their own group of friends. Other ideas seem better suited to a more linear storytelling format, and hence would work better as a comic. Most of the ideas fit between these two options, and quite a few ideas seem to vary between the options depending on my latest series of thought patterns.

I'm considering the notion of a comic that supports an RPG, or vice versa.

The other problem I'm finding is that a lot of my ideas are getting too esoteric. Such concepts wouldn't work in a comic because it would take two or three issues to really set the tone for a new reader, and it's those first issues that really make or break a comic. Other ideas are very focused and don't allow the depth of exploration that either medum demands. So there's lots of small ideas that could be combined into something special, but not a lot of ideas that can really stand on their own two feet as a good introductory element.

Some of my recent ideas have included:

  • Imagine a group of corporations who defend the world against global menaces. Each of these corporations has a public figure who is basically their sponsored superhero. The characters at the heart of these stories aren't the publically adored heroes, but the behind-the-scenes types who don't get the glory. Most of the members of these companies have some kind of powers, such as the mail clerk with limited telekinesis who sits in his chair putting things into mailboxes and pigeonholes with his power, the public relations girl who can subtly adjust her appearance to look more attractive to the company's clients, the technical genius who runs the IT department. Each of these characters is just as powerful as the company's hero (perhaps moreso), but the public hero had the right parents, or knows how to spin-doctor their own deeds to look better. The stories of this setting are a pretty jaded look at corporate life. The characters of the stories are connected to similar people in other companies; some may have transferred between departments or between companies trying to get their moment of recognition, others may be working behind the scene to sabotage the company's hero in the hope that their own powers will be recognised (there could even be an old guy who used to be a great hero, but lost that position due to former treachery). This story's looking like a winner at this stage.

  • Imagine a huge post-apocalypic world where technological creatures roam the night. These creatures are drawn to radio-waves and feed off electricity. As a result, the technology of the world has reverted to a Steampunk aesthetic. The stories are about a girl and her steam-powered buggy as she roams the world trying to rebuild a more advanced society. The obstacles she faces in this quest tend to revolve around the distrust of humanity, the greed of individuals who have carved their own niche in this new world, and the glimmers of hope that occasionally give her the impetus to keep going. The biggest problem I'm having with this concept is a good way to start it off.

  • I'd also love to revisit Ukiyo Zoshi again. There are still a few fragments of it around the web, and far more on my hard drive. It's getting to the point where the world is so vast and complex that the starting point is getting confused.

Not sure where to go, or how to do it...it's going to take a bit more work.

Time to get in contact with Local Act.

18 July, 2008

The forum is gone!!

As I've just posted my last entry, I decided to look at the forum I've set up for Vulpinoid Game Design. It's gone...probably due to a lack of activity.

Let's hope that can be amended sometime soon. Maybe I'll have to ask for a subforum on the Forge...

...anyway, back to work.

Where does time go?

Two months have passed since I last posted and I'm feeling really slack.

Maybe not, but now that I look back at this blog page I realise that I've had so much stuff that I could have been posting about.

In that time I've been putting the final touches on the Eighth Sea, finished off a semester of study, had a haircut, travelled to GenCon and participated in some panel discussions, come back home to revise the Eighth Sea based on what I learnt at the con, I've done layout work for a game called Candycreeps, got my hair coloured and a few other things.

Life just gets the better of us sometimes, and instead of sitting back to reflect on the issues at hand, it's sometimes better to just take things as they come and live life in the moment.

I'll see what I can do over the next few days to put some of these things into perspective.

No guarantees, but I'll see what I can do.

12 May, 2008

Hardware and Software

I've been thinking about the whole "Nature versus Nurture" debate.

If I look back over a few of the recent posts regarding memories, human nature and some of my recent discussions with people about religious concepts and metaphysics, there are a few common threads that seem to appear.

One of the things that has been a common theme in science fiction over the last few years has been a notion that machines are on the verge of an evolutionary breakthrough. It's only a matter of time before machines reach a critical point where they become capable of learning for themselves, and not long after that when they'll achieve self awareness.

If a machine is able to perceive itself, learn from it's environment, and make adjustments to improve it's station with regard to that new data. Does it become like us? How do we determine the difference?

Does a computer have a buddha nature? When artifical intelligence does become a part of our lives, will it have a soul? What is a soul?

It all goes back to the same questions, and all of those questions can be answered by defining the relative parts. But the term that seems to have the strongest defences against definition is "soul".

In a human body, nature is the hardware, nurture is the software. Nature gives us the body through genetics and nurture gives us the ethics, the social acumen, and even the knowledge that helps us use that body. In many cases, we get both of these from our parents.

Buddhism states that we are nothing but the sum of our experiences. If we choose to experience enough things in a specific field then we become attuned to that field.

Gnostics believed that we were souls trapped in mortal shells, learning through the physical world so that we might transcend it.

Other forms of Christianity choose not to define the soul at all. It seems a bit of a cop out.

If the theories of science fiction come to pass...if electronic life becomes the next dominant form on the planet, what will they perceive of us? We can assume that they'll have the same drive for self improvement, this is a natural instinct that has continued throughout eternity.

Is heaven simply going to be a chance to upload our consciousness into a digital paradise, kind of like the matrix, but without leaving our physical bodies behind to empower great enslaving machines?

Is hell going to be a struggle against those machines when the time of apocalypse dawns?

It's certainly not the way that most fundamentalist Christians or other religious groups might see the end times.

If we transcend our biological hardware, will we still be the people we are today? Will our souls still have relevance?

I don't have the answer, but I'll keep thinking about it.

09 May, 2008

Accident

I had a car accident last night when I was picking up Leah from work.

I can't lay the blame only upon others, but I can't accept it all for myself either.

I tried to get around a car that couldn't turn the corner at an intersection, and needed to change lanes.

I saw a gap in the neighbouring lane and took my chance.

The car that had caused the gap sped up to block my lane change and I turned back into my original lane.

Which led me to smash into the back of the car I was originally trying to get around.

Neither my car, nor the one I hit were doing high speeds so, the damage could have been a lot worse.

We did the courteous thing and exchanged details, Technically, legally, I was in the wrong because I ran up the back of the other car.

What annoys the hell out of me, is the actions of the driver that deliberately cut me off and caused the accident. Once the cars hit, the driver sped off before I could get number plate details or any other useful information.

I guess it's just human nature to avoid responsibility for bad things.

08 May, 2008

Memories and Deja Vu

I had a whole heap of things that I was planning to write when I next logged in...

...but now that I'm sitting in front of the computer screen, the vast majority of them seem to have completely slipped my mind.

I guess that's a suitable topic of posting.

Why do things slip our minds? What is memory?

Buddhism would state that we are the sum total of our memories. As we experience new things, they embed themselves into our psyche. I've posted about this type of thing previously.

A few years back, when I was working as a printer, I found a book that was written by an old acquaintance.

It was called How Do You Think. It's about the author's journey through life and the things he's picked up along the way. It's not a preachy book and it's written in a very down-to-earth manner. All the way through, it poses questions to make you think about the way you think. It touches on drugs, various therapies, relationships, and all those things that make us who we are.

It's a good read, and it was purely by chance that I happened to come across a copy in the excess bin at the printing company where I worked.

The reason that this book came to mind was a section where it describes the author's perspective on deja vu and short term memory loss.

He says that both are linked to a lack of concentration. If someone is telling you something while your mind is somewhere else, then you haven't really focused on the words and you probably won't recall them in the future.

The mind can only focus on a few specific things at a time (some might even say that the mind can only truly focus on one thing at a time). If you are daydreaming, or thinking about other things, then it's far less likely that your minds focus will be on the other person's words. You mind will be more inclined to remember the things that you were daydreaming about.

It's not memory loss, instead your mind is remembering things that aren't really relevant.

Zen buddhism has a concept of No-mind, a time when your thoughts aren't distracted at all by it's internal workings. The rush of adrenaline when you go on a new roller coaster for the first time, the loss of self at the moment of first falling in love, the feel of a crowd at the critical moment of a sporting match. When the mind is truly at one with the surroundings, it is incapable of distraction. These are the moments that permanently embed themselves into our minds and become a part of our long term memories.

I don't agree so much with the author's perspective on deja vu, but it makes sense in context with the rest of his book. He claims that deja vu arises when the mind is distracted and comes back into focus.

Subconsciously, the mind will always draw in information from it's surroundings. Even when it does become lost in it's own fantasy. Aspects of the mind are always grounded in reality. Sometimes a thought pattern in the mind is prematurely ended. Perhaps a person sees something that suddenly draws their attention; it could be a danger, or it could be a desire. Either way, it ends the mind's fantasy pattern and snaps it back to reality. This takes a few moments to achieve as the mind attempts to makes sense of what has just happened.

It taps into the subconscious thread of information that has been occurring, and sees these aspects as memories. Suddenly, a person believes that they have been in this situation before. In fact, it's just the same situation unfolding...the memory is just tapping the current experience memories in a different way. According to the author, maintaining concentration and not allowing the mind to wander will prevent deja vu. (I may be paraphrasing here, and over-simplifying things, but that's the way I remember it).

Throws away any supernatural aspects of deja vu doesn't it?

Given that some people use deja vu as a justification for belief in past lives, this should give them some pause for thought as well.

As I said though, I don't 100% agree with the authors perspective of deja vu. I'm still trying to work my way through a theory that meshes with my own experiences of the phenomenon.

21 April, 2008

Game Chef Part 3

It's a few days into the design part of the Game Chef contest. I'm a little annoyed that it took so long for someone to be inspired by my artwork. But in the end someone did take on my girls, so I guess things could have been worse.

Now I'm busy writing a game based on dark-gothic imaginary friends, and how they survive in a world where innocence is in short supply.

17 April, 2008

One Hand Clapping

I'm starting to get a bit slack with my posting, but I'm still trying to keep up the blogging habit.

Time to look back on a couple of the things that I've promised to observe and make comment on.

Religion, Commerce, Human Nature.

I haven't started with the small ones.

Today I'm going to look at one of my favourite aspects of any religion; Zen koans, kabbalistic riddles and those ancient questions that are designed to make people think outside the square.

Two hands clap and there is a sound; what is the sound of one hand?

If a tree falls in the forest and no-one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?

It is possible for the creator to create a stone so large that even (s)he cannot move it?

Does a dog have Buddha nature or not?


I came to a great conclusion that covers every single one of these questions, it stretches back to Confucius.

I'll be paraphrasing here, but one of the first things that Confucius stated was that conflict often arises through a lack of clear communication. At the time when he was alive, Confucius inhabited a China that was beset by civil wars and turmoil. He envisioned a world where everyone spoke the same language, and kept to a common set of laws under a unified empire and the "Mandate of Heaven".

The first step toward developing that unified vision of the future was to establish a unified written language. A written language which pretty much remains intact to this day, still used after millennia even though the vocal dialects of China are arguably completely different vocal languages.

A belief in a natural order that should be obeyed is a strong tenet of Taoism as well, so I may be confusing the two ideologies. But given their similarity and the fact that Chinese are often able to view them interchangeably, I hope this error isn't too grave.

Anyway, back to the point.

All of the great questions resolve themselves as soon as they are appropriately defined, and in most cases they are revealed as red herrings once the definitions are put into place.

What is the sound of one hand clapping?
  • What is a clap? The rapid collision of two hands, resulting in a shockwave that resolves into a sound when it hits the eardrum.
  • If you need two hands to clap, is it possible to clap with one hand? No.
The whole question is rendered null and void, and it is the misconception of the terms that make up the question that end up causing the intellectual dilemma.

If a tree falls in the forest an no-one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?
  • What is sound? If it's a shockwave of air that will result in the vibration of eardrums, then yes, this shockwave occurs. If it only counts as sound once it is perceived through the vibration of the ear-drum, then it doesn't cause a sound.
Actually now that I think about this example more carefully, I'm reminded of Shroedinger's cat. So the tree makes a quantum flux of "sound" and" no-sound" until someone is present to collapse the probability wave. So from this interpretation, the answer is both yes and no.

Again though, it all comes down to adequate definitions. I think this is where science and religion should never have parted company.

It is possible for the creator to create a stone so large that even (s)he cannot move it?

This one usually ends up getting fixated on the concept of whether the creator is all-powerful or not. But that's the wrong question. Other definitions throw the question into new perspectives.
  • Is the creator separate from creation?
  • If the creator and the creation are separate, then how does the creator exist outside the creation?
  • If there is something beyond creation then what is it? and what could have created it except for a proto-creator.
This is where the gnostics and a few other heretical groups got hooked up on some concepts that made them a bit unpopular. It seems to be a common theme through many of the cults and pseudo-religions of today as well. It's a cyclical argument that cannot be resolved. So we must work with the concept that creation and creator are one, from it's own thought the creator perceived the universe. Through this cycle of imagination and perception reality was born.

But how about defining this...
  • What is a stone? If the stone is so large that it encompasses all of reality, then all of reality would be stone. It would be impossible for us to know the difference between "stone" and "non-stone" because everything we know would be stone. The question becomes irrelevant, because if everything was stone then there would be nowhere for it to move. It would already be there.
If the reality that was "stone" was moved, then all of reality would move with it and we would see no change because we had also been moved.

Once the elements are correctly described, the question becomes irrelevant.

Does a dog have Buddha nature or not?
  • First consider what you think Buddha nature is.
  • Is it the ability to know wrong from right?
  • Is it the ability to learn from mistakes?
Once you choose your definitions, you know the answer of the question as far as it applies to you.

If someone tells you that your answer is wrong, ask them to explain their definitions to the various parts of the question. It will invariably be the differences in definitions that result in the differences in the answers given.

12 April, 2008

Game Chef Part 2

I thought I probably should probably show two of the images I submitted for the Artist's Section of Game Chef.

I hope someone can do something interesting with them.


Game Chef

After having some fun with game design contests over the last few months, I've decided to take part in one of the biggest ones.

I've entered The Game Chef's contest for 2008.

The last contest of this nature that I entered resulted in a game about time-travelling, swashbucklers and quantum mechanics. Something that is nearing the final stages of self publication for a release date in July.

This years Game Chef contest is called "Artists First" and the basis is that artists produce a small string of illustrations to evoke a setting and mood, then a game designer produces a complete result from the artistic basis.

I've looked at some of the artworks being submitted and while some of the work is pretty average, there are some absolutely astounding pieces. I'm not sure at this stage if designers will be randomly allocated images to work with, or if they will be able to choose from those available.

I can see benefits and flaws to both options. If we get randomly allocated images, there are a few where I'd have a hard time doing something that I'd enjoy writing. But if we get the choice from all possible options, I'd have a hard time choosing between some of them.

I guess I'll find out in the next couple of days as the artist phase of the contest ends and the design portion begins.

10 April, 2008

Comparison 1

Nothing too long or dramatic today...just an observation and comparison.



United States protecting its interests in Iraq with a "pre-emptive war" during the 2000s.

vs

Nazi Germany protecting its interests in Poland with an "annexing" during the 1930s.


Shock and Awe???
It might require a bit more historical research, but the cursory stuff I've been looking at today shows a lot of similarities.

07 April, 2008

On Human Nature Part 1

The Seven Deadly Sins.
Lust (Latin, luxuria)
Gluttony (Latin, gula)
Greed (Latin, avaritia)
Sloth (Latin, acedia)
Wrath (Latin, ira)
Envy (Latin, invidia)
Pride (Latin, superbia)

Ever notice how the seven deadly sins are all forms of self indulgence and one of the key points of Christianity is to value to community over the self?

"Do unto others as you would have others do unto you."

In studying several different religions I've noticed a common thread across them all. Each religion basically has the same ideas in place, they just say them in different ways. The three Judaeo-Christian religions (Yes, I'm including Islam among them because it has the same core origins as a religion of the book, founded by the figures Abraham and Moses.) have the Ten Commandments, each of which is a rule that puts the selfish goals of the individual behind a more community oriented goal. Buddhism has a tendency to claim that the very concept of self is a lie, and only by transcending the goals of the self will enlightenment be achieved. Numerous other religions have the same values at their core.

As far as I understand things, the very concept of religion is a method to push community values over individual values.

"Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, just as it is the spirit of a spiritless situation. It is the opium of the people."

- Karl Marx

I've always held the belief that religion isn't merely a new set of rules to obey. It is a way to develop a sense of community when human nature is the tendency to abuse such a community for personal gain. Hence the reason why concepts like the seven deadly sins have developed, each of these forms of self indulgence does nothing to assist the community at large.

From this standpoint, religion isn't a method of finding God. Religion is merely a method to establish a community of like minded individuals. Religion is the rituals that the community follow, and the framework for the ethics of the society.

Perhaps in ancient times, a religion needed to establish a firm grip on the minds of the people because it was such an unusual concept. It would establish this grip through claims of vengeful gods and spirits. Oppressed people are always willing to believe in something if it gives them the idea that their oppressors will be judged by a higher power, through this community spirit the oppressed rise en masse. Oppressors fear the strength of numbers and the religion gains credence.

No religion grows by catering to the oppressors. Whereas cults, ideologies and heresies grow most rapidly when they offer a way to restore the balance.

Of course, I believe that human nature plays a strong part here as well. Many cults cater to the human conditions of greed, pride and other deadly sins. They offer something to the individual that they can't get elsewhere, whether that be secret knowledge, wealth or power.

If you look at things this way, Capitalism is a cult with advertising executives as it's priests. Bodybuilders could be considered a cult with their own rituals dedicated to honing the body to "perfection". Anything that takes the drives of the individual and focuses them in a new direction could fit this category.

I want to be better, what can I do?

Join the cult of Capitalism and if I buy new things then my status will improve...

Join the cult of bodybuilding and dedicate hours each day in the gymnasium to make my body more buff and toned...

Join the local masonic lodge to gain access to secrets passed down for generations...

Become a born again Christian so that all my old sins will be forgotten and I instantly gain a clean slate whenever I need one...

Join the cult of fame, because famous people seem to lead such wonderful lives and maybe we can end up like Mr. Black in yesterday's rant.

It seems that all of the successful religions play a balance between the extremes of catering to the individual and placing laws that moderate the values of the community. Each has it's own values and it is through the interaction of these values that conflicts arise.

Maybe that's where I'll head with tomorrow's entry.

06 April, 2008

Capitalism Part 1

I've got a dozen ideas going through my head at the moment, ideas and observations about belief, spirituality and the whole answer about what is wrong with the world, but the problem is that every time I try to focus on a single point to begin my ideas, a dozen new ideas immediately link up and chains of thought push into new directions.

I guess that following on from my previous post might be a good idea, as this can be used to link into more esoteric concepts later on. Corporate chromatography, thermodynamics and the problem with capitalism as an economic model. It almost sounds like the title for a post-graduate thesis.

The pie chart is a great way of explaining things, it is used frequently throughout economics. It's all about describing a chunk of the world as a whole unit then dividing up the parts according to the relevant players in a particular field. We have $100 between us, I've got $50 and you've got $50, we each have half of the pie. We expand the economy out to a small isolated town, or an island deep in the Pacific Ocean. Two hundred people each have $50, so the whole economy of the island is $10,000.

You do a bit of work, you expect to be paid for it. You get paid $1, but where does that dollar come from. It comes from the person who wanted you to do the work. Suddenly, you've got $51 and the other person has $49. Your skill has proven that you are worth a little more in the scheme of things. I do a bit of work, I make a loaf of bread. I need to spend 50 cents on ingredients, power and just to cover wear and tear on my machines (this will be distributed out among other folks on the island later). I sell the loaf of bread for $1 and you buy it. Your sum of money drops back to $50, and if you want it to go back up again, you'll need to do some more work. My value goes up to $50.50 and five other people get 10c each once the costs are balanced out.

It sounds like a simple and valid concept. The value of people fluctuates as they do work that is valued by the people around them. But let's say someone gets greedy. They want to improve their wealth without doing a lot of work for themselves. They may specialise in one particular task that doesn't have much intrinsic value in itself. Let's call our hypothetical person "Mr. Black", and say that his skill is finding other people with useful skills. He'll charge you fifty cents every time you need to find someone with a particular skill, he doesn't do anything himself, he just knows a lot of people and what they are good at. You need three loaves of bread, Mr. Black refers you to me for fifty cents then you still have to pay me $3 for the loaves.

Mr. Black does this one hundred times and earns $50. Suddenly his value is $100 and he hasn't really had to work for any of it. The rest of the community has $9,900 to go around 199 people (their average value drops to about $49.50), and Mr. Black hasn't worked for any of it. Or has he?

Now that he has more than twice as much money as most people in our closed economy. Mr. Black has a couple of options available to him. Firstly, he could spend the money on loaves of bread, other foods, goods or services to improve his comfort and survivability. Secondly, he could spend the money on a party, or some other method to improve his social standing in society (after all, the more people know about his services, the more useful his services become). Thirdly, he could hoard away his money and lord his wealth over the other inhabitants of the island.

If he follows the first option, Mr. Black distributes his wealth back into the economy. He suddenly has more food, a better shelter, he might even provide for a family. He won't improve his social standing though. Mr. Black will still need to do footwork to stay in contact with the people he knows. Suddenly I stop selling bread and become a butcher. Mr. Black needs to be aware of the changes in the world because if he sends you to me for bread while I only have meat, you won't value his services as highly any more. You'll start searching for your own people to meet certain requirements and Mr. Black is out of a job with no real talents of his own.

If he follows the second path, Mr. Black becomes famous for his abilities. People get free feeds at Mr. Black's place once a month, and his parties are usually talked about for weeks after the event. Mr. Black might even offer donations to members of the island with lower wealth and suddenly he is seen as a philanthropist. He gives $10 away, it's nothing to him, but his social standing rises dramatically (does this sound a bit like celebrities in Hollywood). All the lower wealth people want to know Mr. Black because he might give them the $10 this month, and suddenly he knows plenty of new people with services he can refer on. By following this path, Mr. Black doesn't need to do much except organise parties once a month and people come to him for the rest. In fact Mr. Black probably knows a good party organiser as well, so he doesn't even have to do that.

If he follows the third path, what happens to the money? Everyone knows that Mr. Black is the richest man on the island despite having no real talents of his own. They try to get on his good side in the hope that he may release some of his money by buying their services. This is where human nature comes into play and the downfall of the utopia. Who is Mt. Black going to spend his money on? He has to spend it one someone, and since he has the most money of all the people on the island, when he does spend it he'll probably spend quite a bit of it. People get greedy, I'm selling bread and Mrs. White is selling bread. Mrs. White wants to be known as the person who got Mr. Black to spend his money, so she offers a cheaper price on the bread. Suddenly, even though he has more money and could afford to spend more on bread, he's being offered bread for 75 cents a loaf. It doesn't make sense that he is now paying less for bread despite having no real talents of his own. It's not as though he is going to us the bread for more benevolent or altruistic purposes than the next man. Everyone on the island starts doing the same sort of thing for Mr. Black and he actually gets to keep more of his own money despite purchasing the same goods and services.

The cycle continues. People trying to get on Mr. Blacks good side because he has most of the money on the island. They want a bit of it for themselves, and they want a bit of fame for being associated with the richest man on the island. They might even start offering their services as 2-for-1 deals or even for free, anything to be first out of Mr. Black's mouth when he offers advice on who has the best services. I guess this is the basis of advertising, everyone is greedy and wants a bigger share of the pie.

Mr. Black continues to sell his services, and refers people a few hundred more times (let's say he spends a bit of his money on food to stay alive and to get a nice island shelter of his own), the rest of the island ecomony has been fluctuating as well and a few other people have decided to follow Mr. Black's lead since he seems to be getting a very good deal out of being the richest man on the island. After a time, Mr. Black has $350, Miss Rose and Mr Indigo have $250, Mrs. White has $150 , a ninety-eight people are fairly even at $60 and the remaining ninety-eight have settled as the lower classes at around $30 each (on average).

Mr. Black is still paying 75 cents for a loaf of bread while the lower classes are paying $1. Then let's look at it another way, Mr. Black is paying 0.2% of his total wealth for a loaf of bread while the lower classes are spending 3.3% of their wealth on the same thing.

A government is established on our hypothetical island. Mr. Black is caught disturbing the peace late one night, he is forced to pay a fine of $10 (2.8% of his wealth). A lower classed individual with only $30 does exactly the same thing in the hope that emulating Mr. Black might lead to them getting a bit of fame or island notoriety for themselves. They cop the same fine $10(which equates to 33.33% of their entire wealth). Why should the lower classed individual suffer so much more heavily than the wealthy individual?

One of the Scandinavian countries (I think it's Sweden) has a great system where fines are indexed according to the individual's income. If I remember correctly, they consider themselves as a socialist country, rather than a capitalist country. Because they see that Mr. Black's dominance of the economy isn't matched by an appropriate level of responsibility in most capitalist nations. We're seeing the opposite in nations where the capitalist ethos reigns supreme. Consider a country like the USA, where celebrities get prison sentences measures in days and hours, while regular people get sentenced to weeks and months in prison for the same offences. It's just like Mrs. White and her cheap bread again, only this is teaching those with the money even less social responsibility.

If we apply this type of concept on a more global scale, with the global economy equivalent to the monetary vales of the individuals on the island. The first world nations have the largest share of the pie while the third world nations struggle over the remainder. They desperately try to get "Mr. Black's $10" and offer their services to the first world at budget prices, not realising that their efforts to do this only push the imbalance further toward those who are already rich. The costs of medicines for them are far more in comparison to their meagre wealth, the levels of poverty are far greater because everything just costs more in perspective.

It's odd that the US has outsourced most of it's industry to foreign lands, except the entertainment industry which it proudly proclaims to the rest of the world (through award shows, syndicated television programs, blockbuster movies and music studios, ). It's almost like Mr. Black trying to justify his existence to the rest of the island while providing no useful services of his own...just sitting there and saying how good he is because he's rich and everyone owes him favours for being so nice to them.

Is it any wonder that these poorer countries are exploited, and that they are doing whatever they can to restore a level of balance. I'm not saying that America deserved the 9-11 attacks because of the values of Christianity versus Islam, but I think it was inevitable that the US was targeted by a group of militant extremists who have grown up in a desolate land which they perceive to have been "raped by the ways of capitalism".

I'm sure there are valid points for and against the illustrative points I've mentioned above. I won't claim to be infallible, these are just some pieces of observation so far.

05 April, 2008

Corporate Chromatography

Scientists use a process called chromatography to separate component parts of a mixture. I'm not going to get into a whole lot of detail about this process, there's a decent article in wikipedia about it and I'm sure there are plenty of other articles scattered across the web. I'm no industrial but the analogy fits my rant for today...so bear with me.

Chromatography basically works on density, with the component parts of the mixture dividing themselves out into bands of like-substances over time.

My experience with the corporate world strangely seems to reflect the chemical process of chromatography and I'm starting to wonder if the process is some kind of universal constant that applies as much to social and ideological interactions as it does to chemical interactions.

When you talk to someone who has been successful in the corporate world (or any other social field for that matter), they love to use the phrase "the cream rises to the top". I've heard it used by numerous people in plenty of different fields, I can only guess that some motivational speaker must have said it in a corporate seminar and it spread from there. [Before we go much further, I am aware that this phrase has origins far older than the current batch of motivational speakers and self-help ideologies...but it seems strange that so many people have been using it recently in this manner.]

The intention of using this phrase is to make the listener think that the best people rise to positions of power. If anyone puts their mind to it and becomes the best person that they can, then they'll naturally rise to the position they deserve. The first thing I think of when I hear the phrase is "Pond scum floats on the surface as well".

In my experience, there are far more people who have risen through the ranks of the corporate world being slimy than there are those who've risen through hard work and actually being good at what they do. In fact, the only people I've met in positions of power who actually seem to be competent are either the 2-I-C to slimy individual, or they are about to be betrayed by another slimy individual who is rising just as quickly behind them. I may be wrong, and I sincerely hope that I am, but my experience hasn't differed in this regard.

Those who act with integrity are viewed as fair game, their honesty, honour and ethics are seen by corporate climbers as a crutch that will only slow them down.

Those who act as dynamic forces within their jobs are scorned as renegades and trouble-makers who aren't towing the corporate line, which seem to always tend toward conservatism and avoiding change at all costs.

Those who show any sign of weakness or who may make even the slightest mistake are seized to give the slimy corporate climbers another rung to climb up on their ladder to success.

As time progresses, those with depth of character sink to the bottom of the talent pool, while those who play the superficial and shallow game of corporate etiquette end up rising through the ranks despite having no aptitude for the roles they may actually be in [Eye candy rises even more quickly; but given how vacuous those individuals tend to be, it just confirms my corporate chromatography theory].

I can only imagine that the same sort of theory applies to the public service, as my encounters over the last few days have proven. The receptionists in the Job referral centre seem to know what they are doing, the case officers lose files left and right, the managers of the office are unable to actually deal with problems and hide in their glass walled offices, peeking glances through the shuttered blinds fearful of the world outside.

I'll keep observing this phenomenon and see if any changes need to be made to my theory.

03 April, 2008

Bureaucracy

I'm sitting here typing away at a computer as I develop a website as a part of a year long course at Padstow TAFE. For those who don't know what a TAFE is, it's a technical college.

The reasons why I'm doing this course are long and complicated, as are the reasons that I find myself writing this first post in my blog.

I'll try to sum things up in some short points.

  1. I am no longer employed by my former company, having lost my job in the week before Christmas 2007. (Describing the events around this could involve a long and complicated list of posts in itself, some of which would seethe with venom, while others would be insightful comments on the human nature, greed and ego.)
  2. Very shortly after I lost my job, I took up unemployment benefits knowing full well that Christmas is a difficult time to find employment. I had hoped to find something, or return to study if I had not.
  3. I started doing some casual work to help make ends meet around the house, while I frantically worked on some artworks and projects that have sat on the back-burner for far too long.
  4. After 3 months on unemployment benefits in Australia, a person has to start going to a job referral centre, or must pursue some means of self-improvement. After two months of unemployment, a new college semester was starting, so I chose to study Information Technology, specialising in Website Design.
  5. At this stage I was working casually 2 days per week and studying three days per week, yet I was still expected to look for work by the government division looking after unemployment benefits. 4 jobs a week, not too bad. I decided to look for work in the IT field to match my studies. I gave my relevant paperwork to the government unemployment office, who sent me to the job referral centre.
  6. I have now found myself in a position working for a company specialising in retail price ticketing, they generate self contained programs that provide full pricing solutions to stores. This job is fairly stable, 2 days per week, and between this and study I'm busy from Monday to Friday. I notified all the relevant people of this change as well.
  7. Three months have elapsed. The job referral centre has lost my paperwork proving that I now study. The government office says that I do not need to look for jobs, I merely need to inform the job referral centre of my change in circumstances.
  8. On Tuesday of this week I went to the job referral centre and they said that by studying I had met my obligations for social benefits. I should head to the government office. The office booked me in for an appointment this morning (Thursday) to take care of the details.
  9. This morning I headed in to the office to confirm what was happening. I was told that they couldn't help me and that I had to head back to the job referral centre as they were the only ones able to determine if my workload met certain eligibility requirements. I was told that I hadn't.
  10. Now I have to look for several jobs each week, I need to attend study, and I need to go to my casual job. Somehow I need to fit in interviews with the job referral centre, and need to make myself available if another job interview should come my way. Between study, work and other commitments, I now find myself occupied over 36 hours per week, earning barely a quarter of what I had earned in my previous job, where I was working about 38 hours per week.
I was told this morning that my case was complicated. Apparently, a person isn't supposed to improve themselves through study while doing some part time work on the side to make ends meet. I have to seriously wonder how "dole-bludgers" get away with abusing the system, when I'm trying to do the right thing and getting screwed from every angle.

At least I can get a bit of angst out through the blog.