2 – 14 Sept: Mostly about food

Last week, I did make this casserole.  Yes, a casserole using a rue and cheese in the binder instead a can of condensed soup.  The casserole was pretty good, but then it would be considering all the cheese in it.  It was easy to overcook the broccoli.

After I made that lovely schedule with all the regular housecleaning chores, I promptly ignored it last weekend.  no baking soda to make a drain volcano, and both Sprouts and Trader Joe’s sell them in sizes fine for cooking, but not for cleaning.  I’ll buy in bulk in my next Amazon order.

Well, I did do this weekend’s task: clean Bunbury’s room.  A lot of shedding and “territory marking” has accumulated, and it was good to clean it out.  I also spent this morning volunteering at SDHRS, cleaning hay and poop out of rabbit pens.  (The trick is to first sweep up the easy to reach poop so you can safely walk around without accidentally treading on it.)  It was a poopy Sunday.

Meanwhile, my ramekins arrived!  There were extra yolks, so let’s make some creme brulee!  With soy milk instead of cream.  They were good, and the fat is not missed.  Neither Sprouts nor Trader Joe’s has gelatin so, to make panna cotta, guess what else is going is in the next Amazon order?

This weekend I hit up Kiki’s Place (good fish tacos, with more fish than batter, and they have this one awesome red creamy hot sauce) and Tandoori Hut for the lunch buffet (goat curry and tandoori chicken were great, chicken tikka and mango mousse was good, it’s weird that they don’t have chai).  Meanwhile, Loving Hut now considers me a regular; they accidentally forgot to charge for a Peaceful Pink this last time, and the guy told me to just add it onto my next bill.  (Aside: Pretty sure I could make a Peaceful Pin.  In fact, any non-dairy smoothie is basically soy milk, juice, and fruit.  Remove the fruit, and you have a drink that doesn’t need a blender.)

Okay, stuff unrelated to food.  I finally made a budget, and it turns out that even without my end-of-the-year bonus and higher housing costs, I’m still in the black.  Yay.  I didn’t realized I spent that much on games though.  Now to get my investments in order…

But this week there was another Humble Android Bundle, and I have to support Android game developers (by buying their games at heavy discount… whoops).  My favorite of the lot is Color Zen (nice aesthetics, puzzles that require some thinking) even though the it is similar to KAMI.  Other notables are The Room II (nice exploratory puzzles, as usual, though I’m having trouble getting it to save my progress), Tiny Bang Story (this is my first hidden object game, at least it’s hand drawn), and Kingdom Rush Frontiers (one of the few tower defense series I will give the time of day).

This got me playing some other Android games that I’ve let languish on my phone.  I got Bullseye Boxing because of a Pocket Tactics article.  It reminds me of Devil’s Attorney, and I ended up playing that instead.  I finally beat Devil’s Attorney on hard by maxing out my Materialism stat asap and writing a Python script to use dynamic programming to find strategies that optimized the expected number of actions to finish off a target.

Speaking of writing programs to do my thinking for me, I bought Calculords, which is by far the nerdiest game I have installed right now.  However, while finding expressions in order to play cards isn’t hard, finding a partition that uses all the numbers is non-trivial, and I wrote a program to help me with that.  Except it runs incredibly slow with 7 or more cards, so I may have to rewrite it.

I also finally played Ascension.  Like Star Realms, it also has semi-permanent cards that stay in play until removed, blurring the line between deck-builders and tableau games.  This gives me ideas for my Narbonic card game, which I at first envisioned as a tableau game, but a deck-builder is an interesting mechanic for how a player develops their engine.  Combine them for the best of both worlds.  Lab equipment or personnel can be semi-permanents.  They may get damaged/injured during a fight and get sent to the discard deck until they’re repaired.

Speaking of deck-builders, I’ve been thinking about my Quidditch game.  The thing about sports games, compared to other games, is that there’s little sense of progression: generally, both sides play about as well at the end of the game as they do at the beginning.  If anything, many games model attrition as the game goes on (literally, in Blood Bowl; many racing games track wear as the race continues).  So what if, in Quidditch, each player could modify their deck to react to what their opponent was doing.  Oh, right, that’s a deck builder game.  Though I don’t know if I want a straight up deck builder where players, say, play 2 chasers for enough agility points to buy a better chaser card as accumulating slightly more powerful cards doesn’t have a strong visceral feel to it.  I still want players to move the quaffle around the pitch and counter each other’s moves.

Finally, I finished Sorcery, Part 1.  First I had to write down the the spellbook to make it easier to look up spells (honestly, do they expect you to flip page by page through the book to find spells?).   I’m so used to adventure games beating me up and teaching me lessons before I could advance that I was surprised how easy it was to finish.  I did rewind twice: once when I lost all my equipment in a village, and another time to the black lotus.  But the rewind feature allowed me to pick up my game again in seconds.  Nice feature.

I also played the demo for Pixel Defenders.  It’s like Triple Town, where you place pieces into a map and combine 3 things to make an upgraded thing.  Except instead of annoying bears getting in the way of matches, we husband actions used to slow down and defeat monsters.  It is tempting to buy the full game…

An idea I’ve been kicking around for a possible mobile game is an old idea I’ve had since middle school based off the game Hunt the Wumpus.  Except instead of wandering more-or-less blindly, you’re mapping out a 3-dimensional cavern and can deploy sensors (active and passive) and traps.  Meanwhile, an opposing team is doing the same.  But to do that, I’ll have to figure out how to procedurally generate cavern artwork.

I haven’t been keeping up with DDP Yoga.  For a few days after that first session, my back was really tense and aching.  I think all that “activating your muscles” just made them knot up.


29-30 Aug: Games

I guess the theme for today is games.

How to lose your faith in humanity: read the comments on any YouTube video about a game.

Anyway, I had heard that Google had teamed up with Udacity to host a MOOC on Android development.  Except the first time I checked it out, I couldn’t see past Udacity’s paid guided version to see the free-as-advertised version.  There’s also a course on UX design, which may be useful when we design Beast Academy online (may be too late for AoPS version 3).  There look like fun things to try out when I have time.

So thoughts naturally ran to what games I could make for a project.  Finger Ball would be easy to implement: the rules are simple, and I’ve already worked out the AI (though adding in an adaptive AI using n-grams might be cool).

However, my quidditch design (the one where each house plays like its element: Gryffindor = Fire, powerful but only in bursts; Hufflepuff = Earth, slow and steady wins the race; Ravenclaw = Air, quick and mobile; Slytherin = Water, fluidity means tough to pin down but can still hit hard) is the design that’s worrying me gameplay being dragged down by too much extra junk, so maybe having a computer handle some of the junk will help.

Then I thought about my command & control game, but the current iteration uses cards to mimic command & control problems by preventing players from ordering any unit they want.  It would be gimmicky to port that to the computer, so I’ll leave that as a boardgame.

Instead, what a computer can do that a boardgame can’t do easily is hidden information and uncertainty.  For example, a wargame where the player’s orders aren’t put into effect immediately, the player is uncertain how long it will be before they take hold (or how the situation will change in the mean time), or even where exactly units are at the moment.  Dean Essig has made a slew of games simulating similar command & control issues.

Meanwhile, Calculords has come out on Android.  It’s probably the nerdiest game on my phone right now.  I wrote a Python program to help me score Calculord bonuses while deploying the maximum number of cards, which I’m pretty sure was not the way the game was meant to be played.  Luckily, my program only really works for up to 6 cards, 7 if I’m willing to wait minutes, 8 cards is impractical, so I have been doing some of my own thinking.

In non-game news, I fixed my disposal.  Internet to the rescue!

27 Aug: A new beginning

I’ve finally moved into my new place.  Let’s dust this blog off.

Today, I was greeted at work by donuts.  Nice!  As compensation for an all-hands-on-deck Python grading session.  Meh.  So I got to learn tkinter in order to grade homework.  We also got a free lunch out of it.  Who says there isn’t a free lunch?  Oh, right… the grading.

Look, freakin’ Russian paratroopers were captured inside Ukraine.  Can this farce end already?!

I let Bunbury into the living room again today to explore a bit.  It was cute to watch him hop around, exploring and rubbing his chin on everything.  But he was also hungry and wanted to test everything to see if it was food, so back he went with his salad.

We lost another war in Clash of Clans.  But now I have permission to kick out some inactive people, so I expunged 5 people who I’m not sure even play anymore.

I made this recipe for dinner.  I paired it with leftover Lucky Lemongrass from Loving Hut (soy protein fried until it’s crispy, and I have no idea what spice mix they used, but I need to find out) and quinoa cooked in chicken broth.  It was so so good.

The Top Gear guys appeared on Phineas and Ferb.  Ha!

So long and thanks for all the fish

After rewatching The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (the movie) — I think because I forgot how MPDG Zooey Deschanel was — I tracked down the radio show.  Some interesting comparisons:

Storyline: The first half of the movie is very clearly lifted straight from the radio show, down to the dialogue.  Where it deviates, like the whole Humma Kavula detour, was basically where the movie starts to fall flat for me.  The thing with the point of view gun was a little forced.  Basically, it’s a plot device that allows the movie to go: hijinks, hijinks, hijinks, emotional resolution for characters too distracted/self-involved to notice.

Characters: It’s been a while since I’ve read the books, so I can’t compare the characters there.  However, in the movie, Arthur is a bit of a wuss.  He complains that all this stuff is happening to him, and Trillian tells him at one point to, “grow a backbone.”  In contrast, in the radio show Arthur keeps his upper lip stiff.  The Earth is destroyed?  He’s being shot at?  And being shot at again?  He’ll muddle through, and have energy to spare for sarcasm.

Zaphod, in the radio show, is a rock star.  “Hey, man, I’m Zaphod Beebrebrox!”  However, this awesome-ness doesn’t come at the expense of others.  He is quite capable of getting himself out of jams he’s gotten himself into, piloting stolen starships, piecing together the puzzle he laid out for himself, beating the total perspective vortex.  In contrast, the Zaphod in the movie is pretty useless and largely serves to bully and be a romantic rival for Arthur.

Trillian, in the radio show, isn’t a MPDG.  In relation to Ford and Zaphod, she’s the sensible one.  In relation to Arthur, she’s the one he can relate to (being human) and is more space traveled.  In relation to Marvin, she’s the main one that shows compassion.  The narration gives subtext that Arthur wishes he’d hitted it off better with her at the party, but they’re rather adult about it.  Trillian is a cross between The Smart One / The Chick character archetype (Melancholic / Supine temperment) But cast in the lens of 00’s movie industry, Trillian is the MPDG to shake boring Arthur Dent out of his hole.

The End: I believe the chronology of the series went like this: Radio series 1-2, covering much of the first two books; Books 1-5; Radio series 3-5, covering the last three books; the movie.  Let’s face it, the books ended in a fairly depressing manner.  Dimensions are collapsed to ensure that the Earth is destroyed for good, including all earthlings.  In the tag of the 5th radio series, they toss that aside and pencil in happy endings all around: Random is (somewhat) well-adjusted, Arthur finds Fenchurch at Milliways, even Marvin is born again.  I’m not sure how I feel about that.  I mean, I didn’t like the original downer ending, but the new one also seems rather artificial.

Gaming bucket list

I’m not a big fan of bucket lists as I’d rather have a richer/more-fulfilling life than one-off experiences.  That extends to gaming, which is why I’ve sold off my monster games that take a whole weekend (or several) and instead have a variety of short, accessible games which I can play regularly with friends.

There is, however, one gaming experience I would like, well, to experience: a full pen-and-paper RPG campaign.  In particular, there’s one game I’ve wanted to play ever since I heard about it: Primetime Adventures, which isn’t what most people think about when they think of RPGs.  I’m just going to quote the book:

If you enjoy great television, then you’ll love Primetime Adventures, the game that lets you create and play the TV show you always wanted to see, complete with meaningful characters and gripping drama.

As a group, you and other players will create the show and its cast, then play out actual episodes of the series, exploring the personal struggles and cooperatively laying out fantastic stories that television executives can only dream off.

Basically, it’s not a game about hitting monsters with sticks, leveling up, and beating the big bad.  It’s a game where players create characters with their own issues, motivations, and story arc and weave them together to into stories, like Firefly or Glee or Doctor Who.  And I’m looking for 4+ other people who also want to create stories to play.

What can you do in this game?  Well, pretty much anything.  For example, the show can mix and match genres or draw upon your favorite shows.  Create characters you find compelling or want to see in action.

For example, the book gives an example of a show about family, except the family are prohibition-era bootleggers.  The older brother is a war hero trying to readjust to life before trenches.  The sister (Meredith) wants to be a socialite and tries to fast-talk her way into society, but her family’s condition keeps drawing her back.  The dad is trying to support his kids by fighting off a rival bootlegger while coming to terms with his dead wife; his best friend is a cop, which complicates business.  The younger son is trying to escape his brother’s shadow and has become a delinquent; he’s nemesis is the younger brother of a rich girl Meredith is trying to impress.

Here’s another example:

  • A dozen or so years after Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, another generation of students must deal with the realities of the wizarding world.  Students from all houses unite to form a quidditch team to heal the divides.  Various canon characters make cameo appearances.
  • Lucas (Gryffindor) grew up with a father seriously maimed in the last war.  He doesn’t like that Gryffindors are mostly known for their pranking and believes the decades-long systematic alienation of Slytherins is what drove a lot of them to follow Voldemort.  It’s his idea to start the quidditch team.  His nemesis is a Gryffindor prefect who abuses his position.
  • Finley (Slytherin) was formerly a lackey for Malacius (do I have to give a house name?), but was betrayed by them.  He has to deal with his desire for revenge.  He has the Slytherin knack for cunning and is very good at noticing (and exploiting) details, which helps as a seeker.
  • Ava (Ravenclaw) is a muggle-born computer geek and keeps trying to mate muggle technology with magic, but people in the house disapprove, so she is a social outcast even among Ravenclaws.  She tries to prove herself as keeper and team strategist.
  • Callum (Slytherin) was Malacius’ other minion but quit when Finley did.  This causes problems for inside Hogwarts, by antagonizing a powerful Slytherin faction, and for his family outside of Hogwarts for the same reason.  Or he can fix things by just giving up his principles.  Even big hulking beaters have personal problems.
  • Leah (Hufflepuff) is torn by different loyalties: she just made Hufflepuff chaser, and Hufflepuffs make a big deal out of loyalty and friendship (not much else going for them…), but Lucas is her childhood friend and budding romantic interest.
Right, if the above interests you, this is what I’m looking for: people who (even if they are like me don’t think of themselves as that creative) would like to give it a try, can meet for 1.5-3 hour sessions once every 2-4 weeks.  Ideally, a short season would be 6 sessions (one brainstorming/character creation, five episodes).  People who like improv theater, who like seeing what a group can come up with, will probably enjoy this.