The everyday blog of Richard Bartle.

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4:05pm on Sunday, 22nd October, 2017:

Cookie Sandwiches


From the menu of the ice-cream parlour in Bristol we visited yesterday evening.

I had trouble making up my mind what to have.


12:32am on Saturday, 21st October, 2017:



Here are some more playing cards I bought recently.

Well, it says "playing cards" on the box, but I know nothing about them. Indeed, this is the first time I've taken them out of the box, because they smell of tobacco and are filthy and I've had to wash my hands after touching them for fear of catching a plague of some sort. They do look very interesting, though, which is why I bought them.

There are 96 in total. The box they're in looks like a slightly-thicker-than-normal playing card box, but they're arranged left-to-right rather than front-to-back. I don't know what games could be played with them, or how they're organised in suits and ranks (if indeed they are at all).

I think my Anglo-Chinese dictionaries will be earning their keep when I have time for a closer inspection.


9:29am on Friday, 20th October, 2017:



It's the 39th anniversary of MUD today. Well, it could actually have been earlier in the week, but 20th October is the most likely date.

Only another 11 years to go and we'd get a long-service medal, were there anyone left in the games industry who'd actually played it.


12:12pm on Thursday, 19th October, 2017:

Honoured, I'm Sure


Yay! I'm a professor again for another three years!

Also, because it's backdated to July, I was a professor when I wasn't a professor, too!


9:22am on Wednesday, 18th October, 2017:



I don't know how the spider that spun this web got into the double glazing of our oven, but it's not going to catch anything there except a premature death.

Still, if evolution ever delivers us bake-proof flies, it's nice to know that spiders are prepared.


12:58pm on Tuesday, 17th October, 2017:

For my Collection


Here are some more antique playing cards for my collection.

They're half-size, to be used for playing patience. I scanned the Clubs pictures, so you could see they were manufactured by J. Muller and company of Schaffhouse, Switzerland. A trip to the World Web Playing Card Museum (which never comes high in searches for antique playing cards, but is the best source I've found for identifying them) says they date from about 1895.

Muller is one of those manufacturers that made very nice cards but they rarely come on the market. The only ones that appear with noticeable frequency are their best-selling range illustrated with costumes from different Swiss cantons, which seem to have been a de rigeur tourist souvenir of the late Victorian era. This is a shame, as Muller employed some famous graphic artists for their cards over the years, with impressive results. You don't often see the Jack of Clubs holding a crossbow, for example.

As with most European playing card manufacturers, Muller was eventually (well, in 1999) acquired by the Belgian firm of Carta Mundi, although it still manufactures tarot cards. I'll keep an eye out for them on eBay, but they tend to fetch more money than I want to pay for them — I snaffled these on a buy-it-now deal.

I did get some other cards recently, too, a description of which I may inflict on you anon.


7:56am on Monday, 16th October, 2017:



Well, it turns out that the large poster the University people put up with maps on it did have a purpose.

They asked people to write down their name, place of origin, degree scheme and what they liked, then they photographed them holding the resulting cards and stuck them on the wall. It looks like a stalker's paradise to me, but what do I know?

The most prevalent likes seem to be forms of alcoholic beverage.


11:54am on Sunday, 15th October, 2017:



This two-foot diameter spider's web appeared overnight in our garden:

Maybe we shouldn't have had the bees moved. Who knows what the beast that created this is capable of doing?


3:20pm on Saturday, 14th October, 2017:



My wife makes the most serene mini apple pies...


10:22am on Friday, 13th October, 2017:

Design as Art


When I gave the design-a-Viking-game students the presentation that explained what they needed to do, I told them to figure out what they were trying to say to their players through their game design and everything else would drop out from that.

Of course, none of them did figure out what they were saying through their design.

Of course, all of them did figure out what they were saying through their design, they just didn't realise it.

Around 40% of the students were on the games degree, with the rest straight Computer Science. Some of the groups had all games students in them; some had none; some were mixed. I was chatting to one of the all-games groups afterwards, commending them on actually having made a game as often when you get a group of game designers together it's a case of too many cooks spoiling the broth: they talk endlessly but can never agree on anything. I was told that this was the case, until someone suggested clans as an idea and everyone else felt they could get on board with this.

Well yes, of course they would. They were a team. They could see the other teams forging ahead, and they knew they needed to rally round and do something. They needed to act as a group — as a clan. Vikings aren't especially known for clans, but the concept of the clan is what the members of this particular group realised individually was needed at that juncture. Their game design was expressing their situation at that very moment.

This happened in other groups, too. It almost always happens; you just have to read the gameplay to see it. Two groups of non-gamers went with slightly modified versions of Snakes and Ladders: you follow a track, doing what you're told, only interacting with others when forced, and at the end you're free. That explained their situation, too. They didn't want to be there, but they were, so they just jumped through the hoops we put before them, behaving in a civil fashion but not really engaging with the challenge or each other, until they reached the end.

One group of non-gamers was particularly interesting as their first concept was for a Viking trivia game. I told them it was a seriously bad idea, and they needed to go away and think of a better game. They'd gone with a quiz idea because they didn't really know what to do to make a game, and had so many questions about it that they didn't even know to ask. Their response was to reflect this in their game design. However, composing hundreds of questions about Vikings that anyone other than an expert on Norse mythology might answer would be next to impossible, so I told them not to do it. They were very deflated by this, and wanted to bounce back. Their resulting game involved building stacks of blocks in a two-player strategy game. The mechanics were quite nice, although they still need some tweaking; they're much better than I'd have expected from non-designers, but programmers are people with a systems-oriented way of thinking and they came up with something that did have some clever interacting systems. The key was the stacks of blocks, though. Other groups used blocks galore, too, but none of them stacked them into towers. Only this group did. They needed to stand tall and reassert themselves after I disparaged their first design and knocked their confidence. Building towers resonated with all of them for this reason.

Another group had a hidden-map game. You didn't know where you were going until it was revealed. They're in the first week of their first year at university. That checks out.

Another group was supposed to have 6 members but only 4 showed up on the first day and only 2 on subsequent days. Their game, Axe to Grind, was about lone heroes slogging across rough terrain with few resources, trying to get to the end.

Sometimes, it's clear the game design is saying something but it's not clear what. There was one with an absolutely symmetric map and absolutely symmetric play. Either this was the work of a group that made its decisions with scrupulous democracy, or it was run with an iron fist by someone who liked order. I don't know which it was.

The other group made up of all games-course people (one of whom has amazing graphic design skills) was built about the concept of different players each playing different gods with different abilities. The group was recognising that every member had their own individuality to bring to the game, but they were willing to buy into the larger picture so long as their own talents were recognised.

One interesting game from a mixed group had a mechanic that led to beautiful, long lines of pieces connecting different players together. On the face of it, it therefore looked like it was a bridging game, but actually it was saying more about exploration. This team, alone among the teams, did (when I prompted them) reflect on what the game was saying and why they had made the decisions they had made. They're presenting their analysis this afternoon; I expect it to be more incisive and accurate than my (somewhat superficial) one.

I could have done this for all the remaining groups, too. They all made artistic decisions that were informed by their situation, environment and group make-up (plus the fact that it had to be about Vikings on a board of hexes). Sure, they didn't know they were doing it, but they were. The ones with game designer potential will note this, and try to bear it in mind in their future designs. Their first attempts will probablly be in the art-game vein: self-conscious attempts to use games to say something they could have said so much better some other way, carrying little meaning in the gameplay and relying heavily on symbolism in the dressing. The best ones will either skip or push through this to think of what they want to say in terms of the gameplay, because the gameplay is how they articulate what they want to say. Reading gameplay is one thing; writing it is where the art of game design manifests itself.

We have some good prospects for game designers here — computer scientists among them. I just hope we don't beat the enthusiasm out of them in their first year, leaving me with empty husks to reinvigorate when I get them in year two.


5:03pm on Thursday, 12th October, 2017:



I bought a number of different-coloured sets of 15 dice for the use of the students making board games this week. This means I can see which ones haven't been used and so divine the most popular dice colour selected for their Viking games.

As you can see, it's black.


4:43pm on Wednesday, 11th October, 2017:

Board Games are Fun


This is from the introduction that our first-year students were given yesterday, explaining the design-a-board-game challenge.

Although it's in the font I usually employ, it's not my slide and not from my talk.

I have a suspicion that you could probably guess that anyway...


8:39am on Wednesday, 11th October, 2017:



Suppose that in her LBC interview yesterday, the Prime Minister had been asked this question: "If there were a general election tomorrow, which way would you vote?". Would she have equivocated, saying that there isn't going to be a general election tomorrow and that she never answers hypothetical questions, or would she have simply answered "Conservative"?

Well, if she hadn't answered "Conservative", she would have been indicating that the issue was in some doubt.

The question she was asked was not which way she would vote in a general election, though. It was whether she would vote to remain or leave the EU if there were a referendum tomorrow. She decided not to answer, by appealing to a general principle of never answering hypothetical questions. In doing so, she indicated that this particular issue is in some doubt.

She could, of course, have stated openly that the issue is in some doubt. She didn't even do that, though. The natural deduction is therefore that the issue is not in any doubt, but to provide an answer would be damaging.

On breakfast TV this morning, I watched the Culture Secretary, Karen Bradley, similarly fail to answer the same question. In the end, she was triumphant about her not having answered a hypothetical question, as if it were some major achievement. She denied that she'd answered it, even though it was put to her that by answering another question she effectively had answered it. It was almost as if she was more interested in not offending whoever told her not to answer the question than she was interested in not looking spineless.

Still, you can't use logic when arguing with these people. Those aren't "hypothetical questions" anyway, they're real questions. If you don't want to answer them, say you don't respond to counterfactuals.


6:36pm on Tuesday, 10th October, 2017:

Game Making


We had the first session of our make-a-Viking-game challenge for our first-year students today. As expected, 60 people in a room intended for 48 was a little crowded, especially as there were no windows and the air condition was stuck on maximum ineffectiveness.

Over the summer, I wore the same jacket any time I went out. I was planning on getting it dry-cleaned when it got dirty, but it never got dirty. I must have worn it on and off for something like four months. I figured I should probably treat it to a clean, though, so yesterday switched to a new jacket.

Standing in a room of 60 students meant for 48 students, with no air conditioning and no windows ... well, let's just say this jacket is probably going to be going to the dry cleaners before the end of the week.


4:48pm on Monday, 9th October, 2017:



I got a birthday present today from one of my PhD students.

OK, so it's nine months after my birthday, but it's the thought that counts.

I think his plan is that I'll roll these thousands of times to see if the dice are indeed fair. Annoyingly, I probably will do this, too.

Actually, it's my dad's birthday today.


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Copyright © 2017 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).