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The everyday blog of Richard Bartle.

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1:29pm on Friday, 22nd October, 2021:

Retitled Paintings #8

Weird





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12:34pm on Thursday, 21st October, 2021:

Free

Comment





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4:12pm on Wednesday, 20th October, 2021:

Baths

Anecdote

After our shower had the temerity to leak about a teaspoonful of water through the ceiling of the room below, my wife decided to teach it a lesson. As a result, we're now having to have baths instead of showers.

I used to prefer baths to showers, but after having showers for so long I'm having a second opportunity to assess them.

Showers take less time, which is the main advantage they have over baths. Depending on how long you stay in them, they use less or more water than a bath.

Baths make it hard to wash your hair, unless you use a shower attachment. I always seem to get an earful of water, either way. You can lie down in a bath and relax, although there's a risk of drowning if you fall asleep. Baths take longer to clean after use, but not as long as I remembered. Baths don't cause alarming temperature changes if someone else in the house flushes the toilet while you're having one. Shower gel works in a shower, but in a bath soap is better except when it picks up a hair and you have to scratch it off. Getting out of a bath is harder than getting out of a shower. You can have a good soak in a bath, and reach parts that it's not convenient to reach in a shower.

Overall, I still prefer baths to showers but showers nevertheless win because they take less time.

If the bath leaks and my wife takes against it, I'll have to go round my mum's.



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5:04pm on Tuesday, 19th October, 2021:

Knowledge Transfer

Anecdote

The UK government has grants available to deliver the fruits of research from universities to industry. These are called "Knowledge Transfer Partnerships", or KTPs.

Spurred on by the possibility that we're in the process of landing one of these for games, Essex University's Research and Enterprise Office is looking at other ways we could transfer some of our knowledge to industry (specifically games-related industries). Given that we're in a Computer Science department, that means Artificial Intelligence, Data Science and possible Natural Language Processing.

Although these have plenty of uses in game design, development, production and operation, that's not the same as transferring knowledge. For example, procedural content generation can be done using AI, but no company is going to enter into a partnership with us to create tools for the procedurally-generated content of their game. However, companies may well be interested in helping them rebalance their games after adding new content or bringing out a sequel.

The big companies have data scientists and AI specialists already aboard, so they're not going to need us. The small indies may need us, but not be able to cough up any money for our services (KTP grants only cover part of the expense). Somewhere in between, there's a sweet spot of companies that have some spare cash and know that AI or whatever can help them, but don't know how.

Sadly, the transferring of knowledge to tell people what knowledge they need transferred to them is not part of a KTP project.



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4:39pm on Monday, 18th October, 2021:

Swag

Weird

Over the weekend, my pharmacist daughter went to the Pharmacy Show at the National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham. She was given rather a lot of swag as she walked around.



There are sticking plasters with unicorn pictures on them, vitamins, coasters, pens (lots of pens), notepads, post-it notes, training manuals, penguins for squeezing like stress balls, cannabis oil for when the penguins don't work, mugs, face creams, sweets, body mist, hand cleanser, false nails, a face mask, some kind of wooden puzzle, a hairbrush and a cannister of oxygen that retails at £18.

I don't know how many bags there are there, but knowing her she's certain to find a use for them (which is more than she will for the ano-rectal medicated wipes, I hope).

This is much more than I've ever received in freebies, with the possible exception of the half-a-suitcase load I picked up at the now sadly-defunct Project Horseshoe. At an academic conference, I feel lucky if I receive a single pen (and even luckier if it works for more than a day).

What trade shows give out the most useful freebies? I could do with a new TV for the kitchen.



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2:00pm on Sunday, 17th October, 2021:

Beaker

Anecdote

At school, we used to have these plastic drinking vessels that everyone called "beakers". This is because they were indeed beakers.

The word "beaker" seems to have fallen out of fashion of late. It used to be that adults would drink out of beakers, but now only children seem to do so. There are beakers in chemistry labs, but they're not for drinking out of unless you've watched a bad Youtube video.

Also at school, we were taught about the Beaker People of prehistory, who were so called because they made distinctively-shaped beakers. The name seems to have changed since I was 11, though, and they're now the Bell Beaker Culture. The "Bell" refers to shape of their beakers, which is like an upside-down bell. I don't know why the extra designation was added; it's not as if there are great swathes of prehistoric people known for the different shapes of their beakers. Also, is it really worth adding the extra adjective when it's inaccurate? Those beakers are the shape of inverted bells, not bells.

If they were being given a name today, they'd probably be called the Cuppies.



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10:24am on Saturday, 16th October, 2021:

Dondorf 25

Anecdote

Although eBay seems to have stopped sending me regular search updates for playing cards, that doesn't mean I can't look manually. Most of them are out of my price range these days, but I managed to snap up these last week:



These are Dondorf Kinder Spielkarten #25. They're not the same as Kinder Patience #26, a pack of which I bought in April — the picture cards are quite different.

The way to date Dondorf cards is to look at the Jack of Clubs. This one has "B.DONDORF" and "FRANKFORT s/M." on it. The lack of a "GmbH" after the company name tells us that the cards were printed before 1910. The fact it's "S/M." (for "sur Main") means that the cards were intended for sale in France, but the box has "FRANKFURT a/M." on it so was sold in Germany. The cards themselves changed to "a/M." in 1906.

This particular design was manufactured from 1870 onwards, but until 1880 the cards had square corners. Even the later ones didn't feature numerals in their indeces, so we're looking at a pack manufactured between 1880 and 1906. There's no tax stamp, though, and the deck never had a joker, so this is as close as we can get.

I really like these cards. I don't normally choose Diamonds when I scan cards to show you, but I did this time because I love the way the Queen is holding her dolly. The Queen of Spades has a book, the Queen of Clubs has a flower and the Queen of Hearts has a piece of paper with a heart on it (which I take to be either a greetings card or a letter); my younger daughter used to hold her dolls just like that when she was little, though, so the Queen of Diamonds wins.



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9:30am on Friday, 15th October, 2021:

Facebook Ads

Outburst



A brief summary of all the ads shown to me on Facebook this morning.



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2:17pm on Thursday, 14th October, 2021:

Second Hand

Weird

One of the problems around buying second-hand books off the Internet is that you can never be quite sure that their provenance is exactly legal.



According to the stamp inside, the last (indeed only) time this was loaned out was Feb 22 1995, so I doubt they've missed it.

Oh, it's Avedon and Sutton-Smith's The Study of Games, if you were wondering.



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11:13am on Wednesday, 13th October, 2021:

Manure

Weird

Some of what they sell at our local DIY store is complete and utter shit.





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1:05pm on Tuesday, 12th October, 2021:

Retitled Paintings #7

Weird





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4:07pm on Monday, 11th October, 2021:

Strategy

Anecdote

Back in the day, computer games used to have rule books rather than just tutorials, and strategy guides rather than wiki sites. The strategy guides were mainly concerned with explaining the rules, rather than whatever strategies you might need to win the game.

Here's an example:



This strategy guide is 250 pages long, and explains in tiresome detail what all the individual game concepts are. It contains useful tips such as "Always look for opportunities for promotion of your military units", and occasional design note snippets such as "Rival military units will deliberately move next to your colonies, especially when they can occupy good defensive terrain (Hills and Mountains)".

It's as twee looking at it now as it was back then.

The actual best strategy for winning Colonization is never mentioned in this guide: do very little, so you have a tiny army when the end-game revolutionary war begins. The game uses dynamic difficulty adjustment to determine the size of the forces sent against you, and your army, tiny though it is, will be able to swat them aside like bugs.



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3:28pm on Sunday, 10th October, 2021:

Games and Puzzles

Anecdote

In my teens, we used to subscribe to a monthly print magazine called Games and Puzzles. It was the only such magazine available in the UK, so we really looked forward to reading it. We didn't notice its existence until issue 2, but we took every issue from then onwards until it closed down in 1981. It did briefly resurface a few years later, but wasn't its old self and didn't last long.

The individual magazines, which I'd saved, were all thrown out when I came back from university one summer, along with my old schoolbooks and a lot of my writings. We didn't have enough space in our house to keep them all, so they had to go. One issues did escape this fate, though: number 23 (a double-month issue apparently necessitated by "production difficulties").



This issue was important for me because it contained a four-page article about a fantasy campaign called Hyboria, set in the world of Conan the Barbarian. For a 14-year-old boy who wanted to make his own worlds, it was very inspirational. I did thereafter spend a summer making such a campaign world myself, which I planned to run when I went to university. I'd figured already that I could use a computer to do the bookkeeping, and had an ambitious idea to write a program that could run the world itself. Thus, when I met Roy Trubshaw and found that he'd just started work on a such a computerised world, I was already up to speed with the concept — even though I'd never played such a world myself. Roy had played ADVENT, also known as Adventure and Colossal Cave, but I hadn't; I'd read a one-page transcript of ADVENT in a zine I subscribed to, Bellicus, but that was the extent of it. Nevertheless, it was clear that what Roy was making, I too wanted to make. The scale was smaller than what I'd planned, but the artistic purpose was the same. My interest in implementing a world myself rapidly declined.

This particular issue of Games and Puzzles cost 20p. My rule of thumb for thinking of old prices in modern terms is that a shilling in my childhood is about a pound today, so 20p would be worth around £4, maybe a bit less. The interior of the magazine is not as well laid-out as modern magazines, probably because automatic typesetting was expensive back in 1974. The advertisements are particularly amateurish at times. This wasn't something we really noticed, though, because the same problems beset most magazines. We were interested in the content, not the layout.

The reason issue 23 wasn't thrown out along with the rest of the collection wasn't because I managed to rescue it from the pile: it was because it was in the box where I'd kept the materials for the world I'd designed. These, I did save from the trip to the incinerator.

Unlike my other game design materials, the ones for my campaign world live in the attic, not on the shelves in my study. They escaped being thrown out once; this increases their chance of escaping a second time.

It hasn't been there for 40 years, but maybe I should put Games and Puzzles issue 23 back in this box, too.



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11:10am on Saturday, 9th October, 2021:

Old Games

Anecdote

I was looking through some of my old game designs this morning, lamenting the fact that the paper had yellowed so much that often I could barely make out what I'd written. Given how bad my handwriting is at the best of times, this means they're doubly hard to follow. Pro tip: write in pen, not pencil.

The particular seam I was looking at contained games that were mainly to do with gangsters and Caribbean pirates (three or four of each), but there were some outliers (one called Legions of Doom had potential in concept but its mechanics let it down).

Most of these games are unfinished and none were made professionally. My total lack of core graphical design skills and my absence of any connections with games publishers put paid to any ideas I might have had in that regard. Still, I didn't design them to be sold, or even to be played; I designed them because it was fun.

Paper notes and prototypes don't age well, but I'm pretty sure they'll last longer than the designs on my PC.





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11:25am on Friday, 8th October, 2021:

Cat

Weird

From Wood's Animal History:



The adult cat is wondering whether they remembered to lock the front door before they went out.



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Copyright © 2021 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).