Wednesday, June 30, 2010

On Self-Control

So, recent changes in the structure of my life made my previous system of goal setting totally unworkable. The whole deadline thing was nice when I didn’t have a job taking up a good part of my life, but once it combined with the stress from work all it did was shut me down completely by putting too much pressure on me at once. Each time a deadline would fall through I would feel awful about it, and it kept happening all the time. Finally the deadlines stopped having any meaning because so many of them were just impossible to meet as my work schedule grew more demanding. I needed a new system that still rewarded me for doing thing I should be doing, while not pushing me to the breaking point quite as frequently as before.

Of course, the solution I cooked up was quite possibly the nerdiest system ever. I decided that I would break up the tasks that I had each week into two categories, one labeled priorities and the other labeled as extra credit. For each extra credit task I accomplished, I would give myself one point. For each priority task I did not accomplish by the end of the week, I would subtract twice the number of points. Priority tasks would be things like going to work, doing exercise, writing and the like, mainly just things I absolutely needed to get done. Extra credit would be things like cleaning the dishes, reaching a certain point in the story, and so on. Church tasks I made three times the normal amount of points, while writing and work related tasks were only worth two times the points.

As the points added up, I could use them to buy certain things. For example, ten points gets me a book, while five gets me a new iTunes song. My new laptop actually cost one hundred points. I’m going to make it so that once I play video games again, each time I play will cost me points as well. That way, I have encouragement to keep gaining points, since they get traded for something of value, even to my lazy side.

Unfortunately, I’ve encountered an unintended side effect. I’m a video game nerd, the kind who loves RPGs because you can gain points in them which can then be used to advance. Sound familiar? Points are like crack to me. I’ve started point hoarding already. One day I’m sure that I will curl up in some corner clutching a tally of my earned points and muttering ‘my precious’ to myself. It’s not a good situation.

Then again, if it helps me stay motivated and on track, I guess it couldn’t hurt. Right? Sigh. The things we do for productivity…

Monday, June 28, 2010

On Wildlife Control

So apparently Texas is being invaded by boars. I was not aware of this situation when we moved here, but the things have been breeding and overrunning the state for years. There were an estimated 1.5 million of the things here, and their estimated habitat pretty much covers all of the Lone Star State.

These aren’t the tiny little piglets that usually get shown on television, either. We’re talking the 100 to 400 lb suckers with tusks and a nasty temper. They are omnivorous, which means they eat anything they can catch or scrape out of the ground, and are responsible for about 800 million dollars of property damage each year. They’ve been known to eat sheep, goats and other small livestock, and while they don’t usually eat humans, an encounter with one could result in ‘blood loss, broken bones or dismemberment.’ According to one source I found, the recommended weapon for dealing with one is an AK-47.

They are an introduced species, and so, like cheatgrass and a certain ivy species I’ve heard about, they are quickly growing out of control, especially due to their large litters. Every season is hog hunting season here, and there was even an attempt to offer a bounty for the feral boars in order to stop the problem. People managed to down around 2,000 of them before they canceled the bounty due to lack of funds. The boars continued to root and eat, unfazed. From what I’ve heard, the problem has only gotten worse since then. Nobody seems to know what to do about it.

Of course, the only real solution is for people to start eating boar meat. That’s when the situation will really get under control. Can anyone say boar chops? :) Not that I have any ideas about that or anything…

Saturday, June 26, 2010

On Futility

Nuts. I was going to try and figure out a way to embed a document on the Game into today's post, but I wasn't able to figure it out in time. Let me know if you have any suggestions along those lines.

On another, definitely unrelated note, my new laptop rocks. :) Have a great weekend everyone, and I'll see you later!

Friday, June 25, 2010

On Critical Decisions

I think my new laptop may be coming in the next couple of days, which means my computing power is going to expand by about an order of magnitude. This fact, of course, means I have to turn my thoughts to critical decisions I’ve been putting off for a long time.

Namely, what video games to buy for it.

The new version of Dwarf Fortress will be a no brainer. It’s a simulation of a settlement of dwarves that you have to build up and maintain in the face of goblin raids, elven assaults and ancient arcane horrors. And cats (don’t ask). Though it is horribly complicated and the graphics are awful, the complexity and challenge of the game is incredibly addicting. The fact that it is basically free is a huge draw as well, and now that I will have a laptop that won’t overheat just running the program, I will be much, much happier playing it. That, and half the newest additions to the game sound wonderfully interesting.

Battlefield Middle Earth is another game I have my eye on. It basically plops you down in the middle of Tolkien’s books and lets you control the various factions as they fight it out. Then again, it is kind of an older game, and I am not sure it will maintain its appeal in the face of some other, newer options.

Another option is a game that is a lot older, but still managed to catch my eye. Medieval 2 Total War is more or less a mix between Civilization and a tactical army simulator. You basically take charge of a royal family and their nation during the dark ages and try to bring that faction to power over the course of the age. The sheer possibilities in the game, as well as the depth of the details available, make this game worth it.

I’m sure there must be other games out there, but these are the main ones that I’ve fixed my envious eye on for a while. If you know of any other ones that seem good let me know. Or don’t, if you don’t want to aid my self-corruption. :) In any case, I hope all of you are having a good week, and I will see you around!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Back in the Mission Field

I’m no longer in Utah.

I guess I had been somewhat isolated from that fact since I was unemployed for a lot of the preceding year. Unemployment has the effect of isolating you from people, and from the community at large around you. Well, that isolation has come to an end, and I am rediscovering the joys of being a Mormon outside the Beehive State.

Having grown up in Connecticut and other spots besides Utah, I had more or less grown used to being the token Mormon that everybody knows. It’s something you just get used to, and you try to do your best to represent the church well so that the next time your friends meet a Mormon, they don’t bring up all sorts of stories and such that don’t exactly paint the religion in the best of lights. In fact, I think the sudden lack of that responsibility to be an example is why a lot of Mormons from outside Utah act so disoriented and hostile when they suddenly end up inside the state, like at BYU. It’s weird to go from unique and strange to one of many.

In any case, if I had grown used to being in Utah, I am now finding some extra interesting twists on the typical theme. I brought up the fact that I had gone on a mission at one point, and was actually a little taken aback at how surprised my coworkers were when I told them the details of it. I guess I had been isolated from that since most of my post-mission life had been spent at the Y. The concept of not only being the only Mormon, but also the only married Mormon they know is different as well. I get questions about marriage and relationships that I never did before, so I guess I will have to get used to fielding that type of thing too.

It only goes to show you that life will never let you get used to the challenges you face. The moment that you grow accustomed to one thing, life will toss something new in your path. Oh well.

On a side note, my apologies if people have been checking and finding no updates for a bit. I’ve been slacking somewhat, so I will try and update once a day for Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, so that I can still get in three posts this week. Hope all of you are doing well, and I will see you later.

Friday, June 18, 2010

The New Realm

So my most recent writing project is kind of a mix of things that I don’t think that I’ve tried before. It is kind of milieu story, which means that an awful lot of it is focused on the setting rather than the plot or character elements. The focus seems to be more on exploring the environment and the background than it is on anything else. Since I am more used to focusing on plot elements for the structure of my story, it has been a bit disconcerting to try and work with it.

Fortunately, the generation of the setting has been more than enough fun to keep me interested. It all started with Zelda. One of my first video games, the Zelda series has always been entertaining and interesting to me, especially the Ocarina of Time game that came out while I was in high school. In fact, I actually started up a small fan fiction once upon a time, and even dinked around with a few ideas along those lines in the MTC with a few other elders in my district.

In any case, my nerdity aside, at some point I came up with the idea that a Zelda game would be that much more interesting if the bosses at the ends of the dungeons could get out rather than sitting and waiting for you to come to them. I started building a world around that idea, tinkering with it and seeing if it would develop into something interesting. Eventually the world of the New Realm came into being.

Basically, it is a realm of magic that was abandoned a long time ago. The reason it was abandoned was due to an ancient war where a flood of demons tried to exterminate the inhabitants led by a great demon named Gogam. A group of warriors opposed Gogam, managing to lock away some of the demons before the final battle in the last remaining city drove the human inhabitants across the ocean. In that final battle, both demon and warriors vanished, while the refugees flooded into the shelter of more mundane kingdoms.

In the setting of the story, the people have started to come back to the Realm, colonizing it anew. The story follows some of the new immigrants and cataloguing the experiences and challenges they have in part of the New Realm as they struggle in a land of new opportunities and pitfalls. Without looking for it, they quickly stumble onto something deeper and darker than they had anticipated, and the story follows them as they try to protect their new home from the forces that would destroy it.

So what do you guys think? Interesting, or just another fantasy novel? As a coherent story, the book still needs a lot of work. Just looking at it as I finish the first draft, it’ll need at least two rewrites, and probably a lot more refining touches before it is anywhere near ready. Still, I think it has the potential to be fun, as long as I’m willing to struggle with it. Let me know what you guys think, and I’ll see you around.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

All Good Things Must Come to An End

So as of today, my laptop is on its last legs. Due to various circumstances, it has started to forget that it has a bootable hard drive when it starts up. Though I’m not a big computer guy, I can sort of tell that this is a bad sign for its future health. It may be time to replace it before I lose everything.

In other news, which I’m sure you’ll all enjoy, I’ve decided to figure out a way to post the Game stuff on the blog, but not in the body of the post. That way you don’t have to read it if you don’t want to, and I can start trying to put together a guide book of sorts.

Also, my body is very upset with me right now. I spent a lot of yesterday afternoon moving two families into our ward, and my scrawny, cross-country runner frame did not appreciate it. Grumble, grumble, grumble…

So, yeah, that’s how life is going. More of an update tomorrow I think. See ya round!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Game--Physical Skills, Part two

So I made some changes to the Physical Skills system that will hopefully help me resolve all of the problems I mentioned last time.

The first step is to allow for the system to be applied to more than just warrior. Instead of limiting things that way, I’ll widen the skill set to any particular craft that uses mostly physical skills, such as blacksmithing, trapping, etc. It will help my players branch out a little more, and allow for some interesting skills to be learned.

The next change is to modify the way levels are gained. Instead of instantly learning a new level each time someone teaches you, I’ll make it so that it takes a certain amount of in-game time to learn at a school. I’ll make it possible to learn from books as well, though the amount of time and practice will be doubled. I also want it to be possible to learn through ‘on the job’ type training, so that people who go into battle often tend to grow more skilled with their abilities than those who just practice in safety all the time. I would probably figure out a simple system where so many hours gives you so much of a percentage of the next level, while so much time in combat gives you a comparatively larger amount.

I’m also going to make it so that each level comes with a particular skill attached. Rather than just having the warrior skill apply to all weapons, for example, I’ll have it specifically applied to swords. I’ll make it so that players can use the skill they get from each level to develop personalized techniques as well, if that is what they prefer. For example, say your player has a particular move they prefer to use in battle. They can specialize in one technique per level gained.

The last big change I’ll make is allowing the players to develop a style after a certain number of consistent levels. Say a player specializes in offensive techniques and weaponry, they can develop an offensive style to go along with it and boost their offense. Alternatively, a person who works at making a particular craft with certain tools will develop a style along those lines for noncombat stuff. I’m also going to allow the players to retrain their skills and styles if they start to shift their preferences.

So those are the changes I’d planned up to this point. I’m not sure it’s very clear, but I’ll keep tinkering with it as time goes on. Hope all of you are doing well, and I’ll see you later.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Rating Books

So my wife showed me a comment on a blog post the other day that talked about how crappy books have gotten in terms of moral decay. I guess up to that point I would have to agree. I mean, half the books that are published today have some kind of graphic violence or smutty sex scene in them, and it doesn’t seem like that trend is going to turn away from that kind of stuff any time soon.

The part where the comment turned interesting, however, was when the poster started talking about creating a ratings system for books. She talked about how readers have a right to know what is in each book without having to read it, and that parents need some kind of easy way to tell what is in the books their kids read. She felt the publishers were not helping to clarify what was in their books through their summaries, and that it was frustrating to have to spend money on a product that would have these surprise nasty stuff in them.

While I sympathized with her on how bad books have gotten, I disagree with her on the ratings system. I feel, first off, there is no right to know what is in a book without reading it. We have no inborn right to have someone screen what we read, and we certainly don’t have some kind of God given right to a ratings system. Saying that we do only feeds into a trend where we dress up what we want as an inborn right, and thus dilute the power of the actual rights that we do have. The thing that we want may be a good thing, but that doesn’t make it a ‘right’ like say, the right to free speech, or the right to bear arms. I hate it when people do that. Any day now I expect someone to say they have a ‘right’ to eat Twinkies.

Moving on to the actual ratings system, I don’t think there is any way that it would ever be effective or useful. Only two real results come from ratings systems; either they form a huge, faceless bureaucracy that overshadows and leeches off the industry while accomplishing nothing useful, or they are totally ineffective and roundly ignored by everyone involved.

The best example I have of the former would be the movie ratings system. Everything I’ve heard about it points to the group as some bunch of meddlers that make random demands and then slap a pointless label on films. Meeting those demands does not necessarily make a movie any more moral, and probably wastes quite a bit of money on the part of the producers, something the publishing industry cannot really afford. The worst part is how useless it all has become. Think of how many PG13 movies, especially comedies or romantic flicks, that you would actually want to see, let alone send teenagers to watch. The list isn’t long.

The best example of the latter form of ratings would be the food labels that the poster actually mentioned. She said that the FDA requires that a list of what goes into food be put on the side of everything, so why not a book? The answer is, nobody cares what is on the food labels anymore. The system of describing what is and isn’t in the product has gotten so incomprehensibly complex and obtuse that most people barely bother to scan what chemicals or other stuff is in whatever they picked up at the store. I can’t imagine books being any less complex to quantify and label, and I don’t doubt that the labels would quickly be ignored by most.

The best way to avoid bad books is to flip through one before you buy it. Anyone with any experience in books is going to figure out how bad one will be with just a short glance through. If you’re really nervous, check with a few book reviewers first; it’s not like the world is short on book bloggers who are willing to talk about what they’ve read. Establish a relationship with book authors and reviewers, and start figuring out who writes the crappy stuff so you can avoid them. If you need to screen what your kids read, just read through some of their favorite books. The same process applies to TV shows. If you want to know what your kids watch, go sit through a show with them. You don’t have to preview everything, just take a random sample and see how it goes.

Yes, every once in a while you’ll have to take a risk on a new book or series. There will be the occasional book that turns bad partway through, or the crappy novel by a formerly trustworthy author. That’s life. There’s no way to avoid stuff like that completely, and you just have to deal with it and move on. By deal with it, I mean toss the book and share the fact that it bites with everyone else you know, so that at least they don’t get tricked the same way.

So that’s my rant on the subject. What do you guys think? I hope life is going well for you, and I’ll see you later!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The Game--Physical Skills, Part one

I’ll continue in my quest for eternal nerdity today, so those who are bored by these posts, please forgive my little indulgences.

The way physical skills were once handled in the original Game was fairly straightforward. You gained a ‘level’ of weapons training and such simply by learning it from someone new. You could only learn one level from one person, which encouraged players to travel or meet new people in order to learn more levels. Each level granted another bit of speed, skill and strength to the player in combat. Once enough levels had been gained, the player could start to specialize in various skills or techniques. There were no limits on how fast or how strong a player could get. As long as they dedicated themselves to learning the steps, they would continue to increase until the day they died.

In actual fighting, a player would merely describe the technique they were going to use, and I would match it up to what their opponent was going to use. If a player came up with a way to outmatch their opponent, they would win. If their opponent tricked them, they didn’t.

Unfortunately, while it was a good system to start out with, the physical skills system has so many holes in it that it needs a pretty hefty refit. First off, the players quickly figured out that if they could learn a level of warrior from anyone, they could just wander around learning weapons techniques all day long until they had about a hundred levels. I had to keep bringing up reasons out of nowhere to prevent them from taking that route. Also, long range skills such as marksmanship always seemed fairly awkward by comparison.

Another large problem is that it depended heavily on my imagination to direct how a hand to hand fight I imagine that most GMs are not interested in choreographing every fight on the fly, and that they would like a little more structure to combat. Further problems were found in the fact that everything was very generalized. Other than chosing a particular weapon, there was little specialization or customization involved in the process. It got very boring, until there was little difference in the skills of any particular physical fighter. Uninterested players who started off focused on physical skills soon moved to other techniques like Enchanter or Psychic once they were bored with getting level after level of bland warrior.

However, the physical skills also embodied a very important part of the Game, a part I don’t want to lose while I am remaking it: the cinematic feel of the combat. Many of my players enjoyed feeling like they were in an actual fight with an actual opponent, rather than continuing to roll dice to determine the outcome. They seemed to enjoy having to come up with their own moves and skills as well, rather than relying on a predetermined set of feats or techniques, especially since they could come up with a spur of the moment move to bring their enemy down. I have to come up with a balance that serves all these needs, so I will get to that in the next part.

Monday, June 7, 2010

June Update

Alright, so we are back from the wedding. There was much fun had, and much sleep lost. Hopefully over the next week I’ll be able to catch back up on that, but my current work schedule makes that a doubtful proposition at best. In any case, I guess it is time for an update on my situation, in case anyone is curious as to what else I’ve been up to besides work, nerdy gaming posts, and family weddings.

First up, med school applications. I currently have four schools who could still potentially accept me, the same four that I have been hoping for since the beginning of May. Two of them have officially wait-listed me, which means that the spots they want to offer me are technically filled, but if anyone who is currently enrolled drops out, they would give me the slot. The other two still have me in the gray area where they have not said yes, no, or even the tentative maybe of a wait listing.

We had been hoping to get a response back by the end of May, but I guess the competition for these spots is particularly fierce this year, so we are going to be patient a bit longer. That is fine with me, though. The very fact that they have not rejected me yet implies that I must be near the top of their lists, and I would be certainly happy and grateful for the chance to go to any one of these schools. The anticipation is always a killer, though.

As for writing, I have been inching my way through Realm. This story is much longer than my others, and will need quite a bit of work, so it will be quite a while before I think it is readable. The fact that my newfound job has forced me to slow down the writing pace significantly has not helped. I am considering finishing the first draft, then turning my attention to either the next rewrite of Brellan, or maybe putting a quick series of finishing touches on Wolfhound so that I can start sending it out to agents again. I’ll probably make a decision on which of those two courses to take once I get closer to the end, which I hope will come around the end of June.

During the wedding I also ran into a couple of former players from the older version of the Game. I asked them what they liked about it, and what they hated. They told me they liked the fighting, the satisfaction of beating personal adversaries, and the chance to build up awesome bases and such. The only thing they didn’t like was having to get me to let them play. Figures that I was the one problem with the system, huh?

Everything else is going alright for now. My wife’s job just came to a close, and that means we’ll be able to see a bit more of each other, which is nice for me and annoying for her, I’m sure. We haven’t heard of any hurricanes moving towards Houston, which is also nice. So yeah, we’re just still plugging along here. Hope all is well with you guys, and that your lives are enjoyable. I’ll probably post something nerdy on Wed, so until then, have a great week!

Friday, June 4, 2010


My brother is getting married on Saturday, so it kind of takes me back over the course of my own relationship with my wife. It has been an interesting road so far, and it was nice to relive the memories.

As a lot of you already know, I met my future wife my freshman year at Brigham Young University. I had been settling into my first semester there, still kind of weirded out by the feel and culture of being in Utah (more on that another day). I had joined the Quark forums on a whim, and wound up being contacted by the leader of the writing group out of the blue. She convinced me to attend a meeting, in spite of my anti-social tendencies, and I decided to try it out.

When I arrived, I think that there had been a side activity planned. In addition to the traditional ripping apart and rebuilding of stories, there was a game of four way chess. It was at that point that my wife to be caught my eye. You see, we were all talking of nerd stuff as we played, just laughing and joking around. I noticed that this one particular girl to my right kept muttering to herself as she planned out each move, and in my own annoying way, teased her about sounding like an evil genius. She laughed, and I discovered quite possibly the world’s most beautiful smile.

We quickly became good friends over the rest of the school year. To be honest, she was half the reason I attended half the Quark activities I went to, from film forums to writing meetings. The discovery that occasionally, when I was walking to the building where the group met, I would meet her on the way and get to walk with her and talk for a while was only another golden opportunity, as was the fact that we randomly ended up in the same Humanities class together.

It was blatantly obvious to pretty much everyone that we developed feelings for each other fairly early on. It soon became a joke to try and get us to go out, to the point where the characters we created for a group writing project somehow got shoehorned into a romance. Before I left on my mission, however, we were both still too uncertain, nerdy and awkward to do anything about it. So I left for two years, not really sure she would be there when I got back, but really hoping she would be.

My hopes were buoyed by the fact that she wrote me while I was tromping around Mexico, even sending me a package or two along the way. One of the best gifts was a mug that had a picture of the writing group on it, which I still have. I quickly grew to love getting letters from her, and some of the darkest times of my mission were when she stopped writing for a time. I think I still have them all tucked away somewhere.

When I got home, of course, my mom asked me who exactly all the letters were from. I got kind of evasive, since I hadn’t even seen her for years, which gave my mother a clue that this one was special. I came back to the Y, and she visited my apartment, and despite some awkward moments (looking at you Lambson) we started up our friendship again. Soon enough we started to visit each other (though she’ll tell you I took forever) and then started dating. We were exclusive about five days after she mentioned that she had gone on a date with someone else, and engaged a few months after that. The August after my sophomore year of college, we were married at the St George Temple.

Our relationship has been a wonderful blessing, and though we’ve already had our ups and downs, I have never doubted that she is the best thing in my life. I’m a lucky man to have her as a companion, and my fondest wish is to be by her side forever. So as my brother and his fiancĂ© take this new step in their own relationship, I just want to wish them all the best, and hope that they are able to deal with the struggles and challenges of marriage at least as well, if not better, than we have. Stick with her, bro, she’s worth it.

And to the rest of you having to deal with the sappy reminiscing, oh well. Deal with it. :) I’ll get back to blowing things up in my imagination on Monday. Have a great weekend, and I’ll see you around.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The Game--No Dice

Now that I’ve given off a burst of indignant rage for the week, it’s probably time to cool things off with a surge of pure boredom. Might as well talk about my plans for The Game, then. :)

One of the chief problems I have facing me as I try and hammer this system together is how I used to resolve combat and other such things. Rather than rolling dice, for the most part I just matched up what I thought the enemy was doing against what the player was planning on. While it worked well for me, I don’t think other people would enjoy a system like that since it requires a lot of planning and effort that a casual GM wouldn’t want to deal with.

At the same time, I don’t feel like putting things into a full on dice system. I don’t like the idea of having to use specialized dice or complex math systems just to figure out what happens next, especially when it comes to combat. The last thing I want is for the cinematic feel to be broken up by somebody having to roll like thirty dice.

What I’m thinking of doing is allowing the resolution of the various encounters play out a bit more with quick comparisons between skill levels. For example, if a player encounters someone who is far less skilled at hand to hand fighting, the enemy will telegraph the attacks and blocks they will make. The player can then figure out a way around them, say by feinting or dodging, or use more specialized techniques to counter them. If the levels are more equal, then the guesses are less sure, while if the player is at a disadvantage, there’s little chance that they will be able to figure it out. That way there is some math, but it won’t involve dice rolls to determine everything.

I think I will remain stubborn about not using hit points, though. That aspect of some games always seemed like it broke the realism too much to use. I’ll stick with a realistic damage system, where if you get stabbed in the arm, you can’t use the arm, etc. It tended to give players more pause about just throwing themselves into the enemy if they knew a chopped off arm wasn’t just going to come back with a little sleep. Besides, other games like Dwarf Fortress seem to use it effectively without too much loss.

So those are my thoughts on that. Feel free to contribute your suggestions if you want. I’ll just keep tinkering with this as I go in the meantime. See you round!