Saturday, 26 December 2015

[off-topic] Payment for services rendered - Programmer

Something that's been nagging me for some time now, is the payment system in companies for services. a.k.a. employment, and how programmers and engineers have royally screwed ourselves, and I blame the hippies, oh and its related to the gaming industry ten-fold.

As an Artist, where are my royalties?

When an Artist creates art, which sells, again and again and again, they get paid for the copies. They own the original, that took them more time and effort to create the original than effort to reproduce.

When a write writes a book, and that book sells, they get royalties on each sale, as long as its being used, and money is changing hands, some of it goes to the person who deals with the ownership, chases the payments etc (the agent) and some goes to the original writer.

So when a programmer 'writes' code, and that code is used to make money, then provided the programmer is also the owner, they get money as long as someone buys the product.

But when a programmer works hard, more effort to create than to reproduce, (s)he gets an hourly wage if (s)he's lucky, and overtime if (s)he's not

I was having a hard time trying to think of any other worker that gets the short end of the stick in being the creator, yet earning none of the profits. Actors get royalties, Artists, Writers, Musicians, yes there is some flow, some screwed, some not, but the system is designed (if flawed) to give them royalties.

So why not programmers?

Because in the beginning, it was a labour of love. People don't care to demand hard cash for something they enjoy doing. Just enough to get by on. The whole concept of digital free, if it can be so easily reproduced, why should I pay for it? This infects the industry of all royalty systems, except in games, where the programmers are screwed. They get an hourly wage, no matter how poorly or how awesomely they work. Which might be why, as often as not, games are so badly done.. its no longer for the lolz, not for the beauty, not for the experience..

Imagine a group of artists, paid to draw millions of pictures, to make a movie, and they all have to 'create' each and every image, from scratch, but collaborate with other artists to make sure it comes together as a coherent whole at the end, to make an animated movie. How insane would that be? Disney Artists had sketches to work from, they copied a style, they drew the frames, but they didn't have to 'recreate' the model for each and every frame.

Worse is the trickle down effect on the industry.

When a big company can spurt out a $0.99 mobile game that has fabulous graphics and half decent game play, they can do so because 100,000 people are going to buy it. Now the customer has an expectation of what a 'mobile game' costs, so they expect their games at that quality and price.

But the little guy, to make the same game, has to spend months of his life, years even to make a game, flesh it out, draw the art, etc and he needs 25k a year to survive, but only 10,000 people see his game, and 80% of them get the free version, so he earns $2,000.

The expectation of the programmer has gone from being a god, someone who can control the amazing lights of the internet, and is in command of the very lifeblood of the future.. to a worker, a slave to the system, a cog. 

How the mighty have fallen..

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

[worldbuilding] Discovering old maps part 2

Having discovered my old maps and deciding to rework them, I continue on my path to create a new.. old world

Part One

The Canvas

To really get a feel for what I was doing, I gathered all my maps and looked over them, drew out sketches of things, very very general sketches.. making sure certain issues were dealt with..

The first was simple world physics. The Original Coyn World was far smaller, the sun would pass overhead which would mean very long days, very hot days.. or the sun would need to move so fast you could watch it shift shadows. So I needed to 'set' the sun to match the more current world maps which I worked on the physics for months before I got it all right.

So the sun rises and falls on the rim of the coyn, but now a new problem.. in the centre of the world is a spire (because remember, that this world was more directly a copy of Terry Pratchett's Discworld). So with only a 30. degree rise, the spire would blot out the sun on the other side of the world, making winter in some areas deadly.. while interesting.. was going to break too many maps..
Zoom in to see details.

So I adjusted the rules of the sun, 40. degree, sped it up slightly to ensure an earth approximate temperature, checked the maths, then started measuring the spire. (see the little image below.. it had to get shrunk..60%)

As you can see from the image, the spire shadow would (from the 16 different months) only cover half of the world in winters shadow.

Now, since I was going to use the zoomed in section, I needed to ensure that any nearby mountain ranges might not interfere with the suns rays.. there was.. you can see the mountain with the green sun lines to determine its midday ranges..

Next, I plotted out the suns direction to give me some workable lines. I no longer had the cad program I used before and I calculated the time it would take to make a new program to work the maths, would exceed the time I would take to simply draw lines on a map myself. So I drew the lines myself.
One Shadow Map

I'm not going to bore you with 16 variants of map, just one. What I did was work out the distances the sun was from the local hills, and the height of the sun at 9am, midday and 3pm, and "shifted" the mountain peaks lines in an art program and filled in the shadows with a darker colour.

Shadow Lines, Shadow Months & Sun Levels
Then I blended all images together to give me a colour coded map for the 4 months of summer, winter, spring and autumn so I could determine biomes. If an area got 2-3 hours of sun, mid-autumn, but remained in the shadow of the local mountains, its going to be a colder region, and will less likely to have temperate forests, so I'd colour those zones with a light green/blue, if it got sun all 18 hours of the day, all times of the year, its going to be a desert.

Rainfall Levels
Next I started adding Water. Simple google searches explain how water evaporates off the ocean, flows across the land, then when it hits mountains it becomes rain and produces forests and rivers and the like. So I mapped out the general flow of the clouds and map a map of that.

Forests in Green, Deserts in Yellow
Next I made sure my river beds on the original maps matched the flow of water coming from the mountains. I had made some mistakes, but mostly it was ok, so I matched the rivers to the shadows to the biomes and drew in the spots where forests could grow (not would.. just could).

Then I scanned all these, and overlayed them in the art program, and this gave me the 'concept' of where the forests 'would be' before humans started chopping them down and building places.

Not that its easy, but you might be able to see that my original 1991 maps have quite different forest lines to the new more legit maps
Lots of little trees, all those green dots.. (yes I'm using copics)

So far so good.

So my new map now has a very cool desert like terrain, not exactly Sahara, but more Australia/Arabia/Egypt, so that unlocks some opportunities. Also the larger expanses of plains on the east, could be used for some battles.. European style.. and now the central valleys are all cold.. snowy cold.. so I can also make some cool little Russian/Mongolian Taiga locations.


The Main draw card for this island, is the History. 12 gigantic Ziggurats from an ancient civilization of 9ft tall crocodile people, built of gold, (based on the 'cities of gold t.v. series when I was a kid). Heroes across the world catch boats here, travel through the cities, spend their money, and some return from the ziggurats with a gold brick the size of a dog, enough to retire the entire group, if they so wish.
My notes are sketchy as to what they contain, but I have some maps and a few pages of notes, so I just need to piece it together (and re-watch the t.v. series to see if it sparks any memories). the main point comes from one line at the top of the page:

"The Ziggurats are heavily guarded, not by living creatures, as they would have died eons ago, no but by traps, ingenious deadly traps, that are designed for 9ft tall priests, who know the correct path, to be able to traverse safely, at the right time, in the right season."

My notes only included traps that players came across, (I used to make everything up as I went). Chessboard battles, Illusionary chasms, a Cart-Voodoo puzzle and some giant cat statues that shoot lazers? So now I just need some ingenious traps to flesh out the rest of the rooms..

Lastly, because I never got around to finishing it, I'm putting the dead remains of one of my old roleplay groups, in a set of Crypts that guard ancient treasures that they collected

Sunday, 20 December 2015

Narrative Sharing, my two cents

Just Wanted to jump on the bandwagon of this wave on the interwebs.

You can look at the arguments across some of the forums, from here and here and here and here

TL;DR; If used sparingly, a narrative mechanic might work, but you gotta be a dang good GM to know how to use it.

Should Players have Narrative Control?

Sure, about themselves, their characters, their decisions, for the most part. When players suddenly decide their law abiding paladin decides to slaughter innocent children, I gotta ask the player.. "hey buddy, that makes zero sense for your character, should we talk about whats happening?" So maybe not 100%.

When it comes to asking the now famous question: "Do I see a rock nearby?" or the other "is there a Botany book in this library" Now we're getting to some of the problem.. I'm thinking, probably yes, but, ... and I'll get to that..

When a player starts saying things like, " I wanna play an elf" and I say, "sorry, but the campaign is set too far from any reasonable expectation of an elf being within dragon-spitting distance, let alone born here, what is it you want to play?" we're not talking narrative, we're talking setting.. so thats another point.. kind of a yes.. but.

If a player ask, in my Pratchettesque fantasy setting, " I want to buy a glock.38" then I'm going to look at him quizzically and say, "you do realize this is a fantasy game right? no guns?" so that's a plain.. No.

Working backwards:

Setting, I hope it doesn't need to be explained in detail, no-one is really arguing that a player insists on breaking the setting, and that a GM need to allow it. strike it off the list.

Bending the setting, When a player wants to create his character that's not really permissible. Early GMs might capitulate because they don't know or haven't experienced how sometimes saying yes to make the player feel good, will break the world. My example of an Elf above, would suggest, somehow against all logic and reason, some Elven parents managed to sneak into territory hostile to elves, have a kid, raise him, all the while disguising themselves and their kid until adult-hood, enough that he can now become an adventurer with the group. This is when my players can use my Karma system, what would be Fate/Bennies/points that could make this 'background' ok, why? Does that break my world? no because its setting, we haven't started playing, its developing their own character, their background, in a way that is interesting to the player and the group.

Ok, struck from the list.. Now for in-game player narrative..

Looking at the Idea, Is there a Book about Botany in the library. To start most would agree, It is pre-destined or it is unknown.  In the case of the pre-destined book existing we have the concept of, the GM pre-thought the books existence or non-existence, and is in his notes. "the Library contains only roleplay manuals". But realistically, a book about botany not existing in a library, sounds quite far-fetched, so maybe the GM takes a moment and thinks.. hmm, well maybe..

So we're left with the Schrodinger cat conundrum, Does the Book exist or not? Like many before me have spoken, There seems two camps of thought..The Book has a chance of existing, because the world has a statistical chance of it existing, or the Book exists because of Narrative reasons.

With the chance of existing, the statistical value is based on factoids that the GM mostly knows, but maybe the players might also know if its a published adventure world, such as forgotten realms or Warhammer40k. In this case, most GMs who follow this style of GMing would roll a percentile dice of chance to see if the book exists. If it does, it does, the GM didn't decide that it existed, the plot didn't decide, The statistical chance determined that is was there all along, the percentile roll only determined that the player found it. Actually, the roll might determine that the player didn't find it, but its still actually there.. If a tree falls in the woods, does the GM hear it?

From the Narrative point of view, the Books existence is based on the flow of the story. If the player has an idea and the idea doesn't directly break the GMs current world view, he allows it, because the player has more narrative control.. and this seems to be the whole argument..

Did the book exist? or did it pop into existance because the player, and not the GM determined it needed to exist.. will this break the world?

Some game systems and Improv Theatre roleplay groups insist that this be the norm, if the GM didn't previously state that it was not so, then the players should be able to include it, sometimes for some kind of point/luck/benny/fate cost.. 

Now sure, if a group decides together that this should be the way they play.. go for it.. find out the dangers and benefits, play to their hearts contents, but don't for a second expect me to listen to your story with any level of immersion, its like kids explaining how cool it is to play a game with god-mode on, or how cool minecraft is in creative mode.. no.. its not cool.. I'm not going to say that to their sweet little cherub faces of course, but I know deep down that they've missed out on the very reason roleplay games work.. 

Experience, creativity, boundaries and obstacles.

Its fun to figure out a puzzle, we get the boundaries and the obstacles, we use creativity and when we solve it we are wiser for the experience. If we can suddenly change the boundaries, how will be ever be able to learn how to solve the original puzzle? we've changed the puzzle and we solve, probably an easier version, probably we've changed it to something we've already done before, because its easier, so we don't even learn anything new.. 

Lets look at the rock in the above example..

The Player stands in a stream and says "Oh I need a rock, is there one nearby?"

Every GM says, of course there's likely to be a rock in a stream, and lets them have one. I say.. Hang on.. what is the player asking? I have an idea.. I want to use a rock for something.. spell component or throw it or.. something.. In a movie, there will be a rock if there needs to be, because we like luck to favour the hero. If the plot determines that a rock will make the event too boring too easy, then there is no rock.. but that's a movie.. Its understood by the writer and director where the movie is going so they can balance this exactly as needed.. but a GM, on the fly? with a player who hasn't told the GM what the rock is for yet? how can he judge if that rock is going to make or break the plot.. so its easier to determine.. likely that rock exists in reality, the player wants one.. so let him have it.

I might think also.. wait, is that player always 'coming up with ideas at the last moment? and using his fate/benny/luck to change the plot? how will a person grow, if he expect life to always have things ready for him.. so maybe the rock will be there, but not accessible, not right this very combat round.. so he thinks, next time, next time I'll get a rock and be prepared, have one in my pocket.. like a good adventurer should.

That's sorta "yes, and" but I've created an obstacle to what they wanted, because they thought of it at the last second and wanted 'god' to 'shift' reality to accommodate, which I hate to do, but they are heroes and they should be lucky, because roleplay is a little cinematic.. but they have to use the luck.

Why is this acceptable to me? because dice are fickle, and narrative is not supposed to end because someone rolled a 1 at the wrong time, but I don't want to bend the rules, because then it never ends.. and when I've played games with GMs who rule bend to keep the narrative, I got bored almost instantly.. why bother to try so hard if the GM is just going to allow me to do my cool thing because it fit the narrative or as much it didn't break the narrative. So I included a mechanic, dice are fickle, monsters and NPCs might die because life is like that, but you are heroes, so if you make a choice and it results in poor dice rolls, you can use your luck to take back that roll, and live another day.. but learn from your mistakes, because you have a limited pool and once they run dry, you've out of luck.

For systems without some kind of saviour, I don't see an answer. fickle dice will kill a straight simulationist story, but player narrative will destroy players agency in the long run, and make a game boring. finding the right balance is hard.. which is why people will argue about it.

Saturday, 19 December 2015

Monopoly New House Rule

Just watched an interesting article about how Monopolies original concept was to teach you to hate the rise of the real-estate barons, I guess that's why everyone gets that negative feeling when playing..

Heres the link:

But an Idea popped up from watching, specifically from the one point,

Choose your Direction, after you roll.

   In roll and move board games, players are at the mercy of the dice. Many games that use this mechanic (which many board games designers call the worst ever mechanic) don't give you any choice, you roll, you see what it results in, you follow the rules of that square, pass the dice.
   The Idea of player agency, player choice, which makes game more interesting, is in monopoly, which is probably why it did so well, vs snakes & ladders and other games of its time. You roll the dice, but then you have a choice, buy the property at the listed price or be the auctioneer on the property (Original rules had no listed price, you just went to auction automatically). Also, if the up coming properties were already taken, you engaged the players in conversation before rolling the dice, get them distracted about some other topic, roll casually, count out your position in your head and if you landed on someone elses property, pass the dice and encourage them to roll "quick game is a good game" as you moved your piece.. if they rolled quick enough, you escaped the rent.
   Paying attention, in a time when board games were more about an excuse to have conversation and get together, than to actually play, was more critical.

But one rule that was lost to time, was the agency of choice. When you rolled. you could choose which direction you wanted to move, except backwards past go (see there was a reason there was an arrow) you could only pass go in one direction to get paid.

Thinking about it, how many lost opportunities are there for games where this kind of mechanic could be employed. What you gain in not going forward to a bad square and going backward to a safer square, you give up in faster income, also teaching players that sometimes going backwards in life can be the better choice.

What other dice choice mechanics could we be using? 

Roll two dice, and move either the value of one dice or the other.. choice in your possible results.
How about moving one die forward and the other backward, takes longer to move around the board, but give you choice.
Two dice, move either the result or either of the individual dice, or reverse for the same. Now you have six possible choices, throw in the +/- variant and you have eight possible locations to choose from..