Archive for September, 2013

Humans vs Zombies Week

September 26, 2013

HvZ started thirty minutes ago, and so the week of HvZ has begun.  I will only be posting if I find a bunch of time or have something I really want to post about this week, so do not expect a daily update.

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Dungeons and Dragons Campaign Log #13

September 25, 2013

So, in several of the previous posts I had promised to explain all of the political mumbo jumbo that was going on in the location that they were headed.  Basically, there were two floating continents that were not on each others good sides and were thinking about going to war.  The King, ie the guy who had set the party on this whole big quest thing did not want the to go to war, because if they did, the various militarys would give their leaders ember powers instead of giving it to the king.  The King felt he needed their power however, as the big battle with the dark one was going to start soon and more power is better for ultimate climactic fight things.  Anyways, one of the two continents was fairly reactionary and fairly boring.  It would only fight if the other side attacked it.  The other continent however had an exceedingly complicated political system that might or might not decide whether the war was going to happen or not.  

Alright, so first of all, the system was broken up into seven different regions.  The region that had ultimate control however was the elf region.  Their was a royal line, and an Emperor or Empress that had to be from that line.  The current emperor was very old an kinda senile and was expected to die soon.  When he died, one of his heirs would take his place.  Which heir exactly would be decided by the High Priest of the national religion however.  As it so happens however, the current high priest had gotten herself kicked out, and the country was in the process of electing a new one.  Each province had one elector, who could vote for the new high priest.  Long story short, I wanted the party to travel to different regions, earning votes from various electors so that they high priest that they chose could then pick the right heir so that the two countries would not go to war.  Needless to say, this did not actually happen, though I still got a lot of usefulness out of the whole system.  

Anyways, as it turns out, the ship that the party had robbed was owned by one of the province leaders who had been planning to use the gold to help finance the war.  The party got a bounty put on their head and all was well with the world.  The kid that they had kidnapped was psuedo possessed by a demon that he had gotten powers of in exchange for throwing his sister in a well.  The party ended up going to an island filled with magic demom wells and talking with a man who started every sentance with, “Well, you see,” and Kalin ended up getting partially possessed for a while again.  Eventually they made it to their destination, a mini continent that was technically one of the seven provinces of the interesting continent but ended up having a lot more to do with the country they wanted to go to war with than it did with its own country.  Anyways, they got shot out of the sky, attacked by knights controlling a fire elemental and the changeling was killed, punched to death by the burning fists of the fire elemental.  The party ended up surrendering, but getting out of the battle alright by trading several boxes of their stolen gold away.  Then they had a short confrontation with a phoenix and the next section of the story began.

Originality and Ideas

September 24, 2013

Just moments ago I watched the first episode of Attack on Titan, an anime that is still ongoing and very popular this year.  The basic concept is that a few hundred years ago, these giant creatures, that look human except for the fact that they are two or three stories tall began appearing and eating all the humans.  The humans called these creatures Titans.  Eventually humans managed to build an enormous set of walls that were too tall and strong for the Titans to break through and have been living in safety for the last hundred years behind the enormous walls.  Not going to spoil much, as I have only seen the first episode, but as one would expect in a show like this, the Titans manage to break through the wall in the first episode and shake things up.  

Now when I was watching this show, I was enjoying it, but one of my first thoughts was, “Dang, this is a lot like an idea for a book that I have had for nearly 10 years, if I ever write the book now, people are going to think that I copied this show.”  A few moments later another thought I had was, “The idea of this wall that is being built to stop the giant monsters that popped up out of nowhere is a lot like Pacific Rim, I wonder if they took the idea from that?”  As it turns out, the Manga that the Anime is based upon was written in 2009, years before Pacific Rim came out.  The book idea that I have was also created years before this show or Pacific Rim.  It is possible that Pacific Rim took some ideas from Attack on Titan, but the show only started this year, and the production of Pacific Rim began long before that.  While I am sure that all three ideas probably came from a variety of sources and were not wholly original, their is no super popular piece of media that has the same idea of “Giant Enemy Things appear from out of nowhere, so humanity must hide itself behind walls and must never leave the safety of said walls.”  Thus while none of the three basic concepts are wholly original, they are all original enough that they can not be said to directly derive themselves from something, even though they are all very similar to each other.  Like Calculus, this new idea sprang into existence in several different places at around the same time, but was invented independently in all of these places.  

The question then becomes this:  Are occurances such as this purely coincidence, or do they represent Zeitgeist, the spirit of the times?  Is their some sort of cultural force that really makes the idea of a group of humans trapped inside of a wall or city or what have you, hiding from a force they do not understand appeal to many people right now?  

Much has been said about the strange appeal that Zombies have had to the world for the last decade or so.  Many people have put forth the idea that Zombies represent some sort of force that humans find scary about real life right now, and that that is the reason for the obsession with them.  Could the cultural Zeitgeist be turning away from zombies, towards an obsession with nigh unstoppable, nigh unexplainable creatures that cannot be defeated by the average man?  Could these creatures have their root in something the average human being today is afraid of?  I certainly think it is possible, and can think of a few things that these creatures might represent.  However, as this trend so far extends to two works and one idea, it is perhaps to early to make these wild accusations.  Still, if these sorts of stories become the trend, let me be the first to say, “Called It.”

Starting Strong

September 23, 2013

A week or two ago, I talked about deconstructions and reconstructions.  They take a trope or a genre and take it apart, finding interesting questions to ask about it and such and either show that it would not work like it is typically portrayed, or that their would have to be some specific changes before it would work.  The idea of taking apart an idea is not however limited to existing tropes.  Interestingly, the original founders of many of the most classic conventions and such took the idea apart in its very first incarnation.  As it turns out, people who are creative enough to actually create a new idea are often times creative enough to explore that idea fairly well.  Many times the way that a trope or genre works or is commonly thought of working is based more around the knock offs and copies of the original work, that lose a lot of the creativity and nuance.  

An interesting example of a work that combines this idea with a straigh up deconstruction is Watchmen.  Watchmen both deconstructed the Super Hero genre, and at the same time was one of the originators of the 90’s Anti-hero archetypes.  Rorschach and the Comedian are both very similar in basic idea to what would become the defining main characters of super hero comics in the 90s.  However, both characters are profoundly screwed up on levels that go much deaper than the standard anti hero, with Rorschach having a good number of emotional and mental problems and the Comedian being a rapist and a drunk and such.  If watchmen had been written in 2000, those characters would be thought of as deconstructions of that archetype, but they were actually some of the originators.  

Other good examples include Sailor Moon, which was one of the earliest examples of the Magical Girl genre but was missing two of the elements that would later help define the genre.  The Sailor Scouts would almost never try to redeem those they were fighting, and they had no problem with killing their enemies in order to defeat them.  Astro Boy is one of the earliest examples of the story where a scientist builds a robot to replace their lost son.  Though the appearance of the comic is very cutesy, the comic goes into the kind of messed up psychology that would likely go into a scientist trying to do that, along with a host of other mature themes based around robots being given rights and things like that.  Even Dragon Ball Z, a show that tends to play an enormous number of action hero tropes extremely straight, was one of the first stories with the idea of a super form that a race or group could possess, and even before that form shows up, one villain wipes out most of an entire race in order to prevent them from reaching that stronger level.  In another example, the Mazinger series was one of the originators of the Super Robot genre that Neon Genesis would go on to deconstruct, but it took note of the huge level of destruction that these robots would create, as well as taking a look at the psychology behind the kind of people that would be willing to pilot these robots.  

All in all, its interesting to look at various genres and find out that some of their most glaring flaws had been examined or fixed in the original version.  If you are interested in looking at more examples of this kind of thing search Unbuilt Trope on TVtropes. 

Sorting

September 21, 2013

Today I was introduced to a youtube video called 15 sorting algorithms in 6 minutes.  If you are not into computer science that may sound rather boring, but the video represented all of the sorting algorithms both graphically and tonally, so you could both hear and see the effect of the algorithm on a set of unsorted differing sized lines.  Even if you are still skeptical of how interesting that is, I urge you to take 6 minutes out of your day, search 15 sorting algorithms in 6 minutes and watch the video.  

With that done, you saw some rather impressive algorithms of various sorts(haha).  While some of the most interesting are a bit hard to explain, I’m going to give you the basic gist of what is happening in a few of the easier to explain algorithms.  

Bubble Sort:  Bubble sort is pretty much the easiest algorithm to think about and it is something a human being might use if they were being particularly machine like when sorting something.  It simply goes down the list of numbers, finds the largest one and puts it on the end, swapping the places of the largest and whatever was in the end slot.  Then it checks all the numbers except the one in the last slot and finds the largest.  It puts that one in the second to last spot and so on and so forth until the entire thing is sorted.  Bubble sort is useful when something is close to being sorted already, but is also commonly coded when someone has to add a sorting algorithm to something that is not very complex because it takes only a moment to code and is very simple to understand intuitively.

Radix Sort:  One of the ones in the video that seemed the most like magic was the Radix sort LSD.  The easiest way to think about that one is that it is sorting based on the places in the number.  That is it first sorts everything based on the ones place, then the tens place then hundreds place.  Of course since this is a computer algorithm, its doing this with binary numbers not decimal ones but its still pretty straightforward.  It does look like magic when it makes that last step and just kinda sorts everything at once though.  

Merge Sort:  Merge Sort works by cutting the sorting problem into a bunch of easy problems.  It cuts the first problem in half, then each of the sub problems in half etc until you are looking at a bunch of problems that are just sorting 2 numbers.  It sorts those two numbers, and then mixes them with another set of 2 sorted numbers.  Then that sorted list is merged with another of the same size until it goes all the way back up to the whole list.  The merge sort takes advantage of the fact that it is much easier for a computer to merge two sorted list into a sorted list than it is to just sort all of the elements.  Because of this, this algorithm and one called quicksort are considered the most efficient and quick algorithms for sorting assuming that you have a fully unsorted list.  

Insertion Sort:  An algorithm that is about as intuitive as bubblesort, Insertion Sort basically moves from one side of the list to the other, sorting the list as it goes along.  You order the first two elements, then you take the next element and put it in the correct place within the already sorted part of the list.  Then you put the next element in the correct place in the sorted part of the list, until everything is in the right place.  Depending upon how your list is implemented this can be costly in time, because you have to move each element that is larger over one and end up having to do a whole bunch of swaps.  Its a kind of middle of the line algorithm and is, like bubble sort, basically only implemented because its fairly simple to code.  

Bogo Sort:  The simplest possible sorting algorithm.  Check if the list is sorted.  If it is not, randomize the list.  Each step is very quick, as checking whether a list is sorted is extremely fast most of the time, but the algorithm itself takes an incredible amount of time on average for anything bigger than 6 or 7 elements long and is not guaranteed to terminate ever.  The hope of course is that it is technically possible for this to just instasort something.  Don’t ever use this method of sorting unless you are trying to make an intentionally bad sorting algorithm.  

Suggestions

September 20, 2013

Kinda brain dead today, so today’s post is just going to list five different anime that I think are worth watching and brief description of each.  Might do this again on another dead day, we’ll see.

1.  Hunter X Hunter:  A fairly traditional shonen manga/anime but with very strong characters and a lot of interesting plots and twists.  The thing that makes this stick out is its creativity and its willingness to run with an idea, even if that would make the main characters almost obsolete.  It plays around with some of the strange moral choices that shonen heroes often make and it is in general just a lot of fun, even if it gets very dark at times.

2.  Tenga Toppa Gurren Lagann:  I mentioned this show in my post about deconstructions and reconstructions.  Effectively this is an extremely strong example of the Super Robot Genre.  Its an amazing show because of its self awareness, its ability to defy your expectations, and its core concept that the rule of cool powers the universe.  Its not afraid to be stupid, but its not afraid to be intelligent either.  

3.  Azumangadioh:  Light hearted slice of life anime about a group of highschool girls as they go through high school.  Wacky hi-jinks and extremely amusing characters abound.  Notable for its ability to make you care a lot for the different girls in the show even while using all of their eccentricities for the sake of comedy.  Very cute, very good.

4.  Ghost in the Shell:  A show about cyber-cops in the nearish future.  Each episode tends to deal with an ethical issue that is likely to come up as we begin to develop artificial intelligence, upload ourselves to computers and other staples of the cyber punk genre.  Visually its great and it has a lot of interesting characters, especially the artificially intelligent tanks called the Tachikomas.  Its worth watching for its ability to tell a compelling story while asking you a bunch of ethical questions that don’t have easy answers.

5.  Puella Magi Madoka Magica:  A show that first seems to be playing the magical girl genre straight, then deconstructs it, and then reconstructs it at the end.  Amazing music, great plot twists, strong ability to wrench emotion out of you and an interesting visual style.  Gets very dark, but has an ending that is bittersweet.  

Dungeon & Dragons Campaign Log #12

September 19, 2013

The party having been dropped in the middle of nowhere managed, with the help of the flying members of the party, to make it to a nearby flying island.  There were a bunch of cacti, that turned out to be sentient and psychic and stuff, but soon enough they placated the cactus creatures and found their way to a tavern where they managed to recruit a nice young lady to fly them to their next location.  She flew them in what actually turned out to be a space ship though none of them knew that in character, except for the Aasimar who rolled a great Knowledge Check to figure it out.  When he told the rest of the party, they figured he was crazy though and no body really listened to them.  

From this ladies starship, they some how ended up meeting back up with the prince and rode his airship to the location that they were headed.  On the way they ended up running into a battle between a random human ship and a group of sky pirates.  They ended up deciding that both groups were pretty sucky, defeating everyone and robbing the human groups ship.  From the robbery they acquired a extremely large amount of gold.  I gave the volume of it randomly and then calculated how much that would be worth at the end of the session, found out it was obscenely large and just kinda went with it.  At the end of it, they had a captured child of the former captain, a new airship and something like five or ten million gold pieces worth of gold.  

I’ll talk about the political ramifications of their theft along with a few other random things next time but for now I am going to go ahead and recap two adventures that happened earlier in the game that I had forgotten, but were either funny or important.  

The first was that at one point back when they were on the first island, they were hired by a mage lady on the island to dive into the ocean and retrieve some stuff.  They were each given a necklace of feather fall and underwater breathing and then they just jumped off the island.  They got the lady her thing, made enemies with the Suigin, who would occasionally teleport in and try to steal random items and then got the lady extremely angry at them by using only words that started with d for like ten minutes.

Another adventure that had occured during their first bit of travelling with the prince involved another fight with sky pirates.  It basically consisted of them finding out that the princes younger brother had been kidnapped.  They found the pirates in question, but the kid was convinced he was going to get to be a pirate now and did not want to go.  The captain of that ship was a very silly man who kept the fight from being a fight for an extremely long time, but coming up with increasingly far fetched explanations of the morality of his actions to the paladin.  Evetually the fight actually broke out and it was pretty fun, until the princeiing found out he had been lied to and unleashed a bunch of ember power to blow up the pirate’s airship and flew away.  That session had been fun just because of all the conversation that had gone on between the lying captain and the paladin.

Fate System

September 18, 2013

A friend of mine is going to be starting an rpg campaign soon using the system Fate Core.  The basic idea of the game is that it is set in the world of Tron, but in a more modern version.  Players will be users or programs and will have a chance to travel the internet and such.  One of the players is going to be a spam bot, another is planning to be an old man who knows nothing about computers stuck in the tron world.  All in all it should be a lot of fun.  

The system we are using is called Fate and is the same system used in the Dresdan Files RPG and a few others, such as Spirit of the Century.  The basic resolution system is very simple, with each player having a rank in a skill between 0 and 4 or 5.  When you do something with that skill you roll four dice.  Each die can either add one, subtract one or add zero.  Thus the range of modifiers is -4 to +4 but the big modifiers are extremely rare.  You are either rolling against some set obstacle or having a versus test between two different characters.  

I like the basic resolution system for its ability to have strong random influences but tendency to not.  The more interesting part of the system however is its use of an element it calls aspects.  Aspects are represented in the rule book as bold phrases.  Each character has a set of aspects, such as Son of the Oil Baron, Quick with a Kind Word, Manors of a Horse or any other little descriptive phrase.  Places and even situations can have aspects as well, with caves having aspects like Dark, Cramped and Filled with Crystals.  Situations might have aspects like Hopeless, On the Edge of Darkness or Giggles and Delight.  Aspects can be used for two differant things.  They can be tapped when you are trying to accomplish something in order to help you succeed.  Tapping an aspect requires that a strong connection exists between the aspect and what you are trying to do and also that you spend a resource called Fate Points.  For example, a swordsman trying to win a battle might tap his aspect Always Fights Dirty in order to get a bonus or he might tap Slippery Footing if the terrain had that aspect.  On the other hand aspects can cause negative things or get people into funky situations and doing this earns a player fate points.  If the best fighter in the land chooses to tap the slippery footing and say that they fell on there face and lost to the clueless novice, they would get a fate point.  If the same swordsman with Manors of a Horse walked into a royal ball and totally embarrased themselves in front of the princess that would also get them a fate point.  

All in all its a fun system that rewards players for playing their characters the way they want to play them, along with rewarding them for making the adventure more exciting by throwing in twists and turns.  We’ll see how it works for the TRON setting but I’m pretty hopeful.  

More Space Opera

September 17, 2013

Today’s post is going to be really short because I did an extremely large amount of writing for my pbp ptu game today and its 6 in the morning.  

One other idea I would like to explore in my upcoming book is the different kinds of relationships that AI might have with different kinds of species.    The rabbit folks might never create anything like that because their species is based around fear, and creating something that they could not predict perfectly that might develop into a dangerous predator might be something they would avoid.  The space blob people, with their collective consciousness and such, might build AI that is basically exactly like themselves but more mechanical.  Their spaceships might be run by artificial brains that are really no different than the organic ones.  The two warring species might develop very independent sorts of AI, entirely focused on being useful in warfare.  Kind of thinking of AI as a weapon or tool.  The warlike carnivore people on the other hand might be quick to build ai different than themselves and then recognize it as something different but still something worth respect.    Might need to change that last one, as right now I am being a bit unfair with the different races and I need to make sure I don’t make a “correct” or better race.  Some will be better than others in certain respects, but having one race with all the best traits is pretty messed up.  

Dungeons and Dragons Campaign Log #12

September 16, 2013

The party decided to do some random stuff before they actually got down to the whole finding the magical swords that save the world thing.  The bard ended up going on a whole adventure where he tried to get this flower sellers son and a guard woman that he had met earlier to hook up.  He also took the little girl Kana out to get flowers for her birthday and gave his title, “The Lucky” to said gaurd woman, as she was the one who had survived the pile of horses that had engulfed her.  The rest of the party were doing something during that bit, but I’m not really sure what.  Eventually however, they ended up searching the city for the first sword.  

In their search, the Aasimar ended up doing some more miracles and gaining more followers, and there was this whole thing with a farmer who gave him boots made out of straw that he tried to give back and ended up sneaking back into the house.  For whatever reason, this was the part of the campaign that I really remember the least.  A lot more things might have been going on, but I am going to just sum up something that was all several sessions long.  There was a whole bunch of different things that led to other things, and the party ended up fighting these rival party groups to get to the things.  The changeling ended up splitting up from the party for a bit because he got fed up with the whole thing.  Eventually however the whole group managed to find the sword they had been looking for, right underneath the city that they started theirs search.  

At this point one of the most pivotal points in the campaign occurred.  The bard decided that he wanted to try to figure out the powers of the sword, so he tried using the Use Magic Device skill.  He rolled a natural one.  The spirit within the sword possessed Kalin, and I gave him a basic idea of what the spirit wanted to do, and he ran with it.  The party was out in there airship headed somewhere, when Kalin told me he wanted to ask me something away from the rest of the group.  Earlier in the game he had learned some controls for the airship that no one else knew.  I had put all of those controls on a piece of paper and given it to him.  One such control was the ability to expel everyone else from the airship.  Basically, his possessed body launched everyone else out of the ship, and stole it.  Once his body was away, his mind was able to work again, but was now within the sword.  So the party was out one magical artifact, but their bard was now a sword, and an artifact sword at that.  The group managed to make it back to the king who told them of the location of the next sword and about a whole bunch of political stuff they would have to go through to get it.  I’ll explain that in a bit more detail once they make it to the continent where that is all taking place, but suffice to say, they are headed far north to meet up with a regional ruler who is to help them out getting the other sword.  Now that I think about it, I think that was where they were headed when the Sword kicked them out of the ship.  Next Log, I’ll talk of the various adventures they had along the way to the continent of political intrigue.