Blog Archives

To Infinity…Or Maybe Not!

I’ve found that what I want to write about is predicated heavily by random confluences of events. I’ll have some thought come at me or present itself in multiple ways during a short period of time. It’ll get into my head and I’ll be compelled to write a post about it. For instance, most of my posts about theatre can be traced back to an experience with a couple clueless theatre patrons and a conversation about a week later with a few other theatrical technicians.

Recently, I’ve come across space travel a few times. The Doctor Who season premiere featured the Moon Landing in a particularly awesome and inspiring (to me, at least) way. Xkcd had a comic graphing the declining population of otherworldly travelers. And as I was idly re-watching old videos on The Escapist, I came across an episode of The Big Picture where Movie Bob laments the death of the space shuttle and the apparent death of caring about going into space.

All this got me thinking, how do we go from this:

“Do you know how many people are watching this live on the telly? Half a billion. And that’s nothing, because the human race will spread out among the stars—you just watch them fly. Billions and billions of them, for billions and billions of years. And every single one of them at some point in their lives will look back at this man taking that very first step and they will never ever forget it.”
The Doctor, about the Moon Landing, Day of the Moon

To this:

“The universe is probably littered with the one-planet graves of cultures which made the sensible economic decision that there’s no good reason to go into space–each discovered, studied, and remembered by the ones who made the irrational decision.”
-XKCD alt text, May 2, 2011

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Player Agency & Pacing

Today I’ll be returning to the well of Player Agency. This week, instead of tracing an issue across the Agency Scale, I’d like to spend some time dissecting one of the hardest parts of running a game where Player Agency is important: Pacing.

While pacing can be a problem even in the most railroaded games, the problem compounds itself when the shape of the plot is largely out of the GM’s hands. Even if a GM has filled in enough detail and concepts into a world and is nimble enough on their storytelling feet to fill in anything that he hasn’t thought of such that the players can move through it however they want, it’s a simple fact that all elements of a campaign are not going to be equally interesting.
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How Much is a Free Lunch?

I’ve been playing the game TowerMadness pretty much since I got an iPod touch, or around the beginning of 2010. The object of the game is to use various weapons towers to stop waves of invading aliens from stealing your sheep (they want their wool for scarves).

Originally, it was supported by ads, with the option of buying an ad-free version for a dollar or two. Before too long, alongside one of their periodic updates and releases of new levels, they began offering extra level packs for a buck apiece. Not something I personally felt like paying for, but I wasn’t about to begrudge Limbic Software every chance to make a profit off of their (very fun) game.

Limbic still puts out periodic updates with new free maps as well as offering more level packs. They also offer special weapons for the same prices ($0.99 each). Two of them, flash bait and mines offer different strategies and options. Like the level packs, I find them interesting, but not worth paying for.

The other weapon is the flamethrower. I don’t like the flamethrower.

The question I find myself asking now is whether I really have a right to not like the flamethrower.
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Lighting Design Simplified: Reading the Script

So, last week, I started my epic depiction of a lighting designer’s process with a basic introduction of the goals that a good lighting design should satisfy. Now we’re going to start in with how I proceed from Point A – the script – and end up at Point B – the finished lighting design.

And I would like to stress that this is how *I* proceed…usually. Every production is different and every designer is different. Other designers may go about this process differently, sometimes very differently. I go about it differently on some shows. This is not intended as an ironclad list of steps that I believe must be followed, but as an introduction to the craft intended for those who have little or no idea of how it’s done.

As I said in the introduction, I’ll be using a production of An Enemy of the People (by Henrik Ibsen, as adapted by Arthur Miller) that I recently worked on as an example. Reading the play isn’t necessary; I’ll be filling in necessary details as I go. So let’s go.

Allons-y!
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The Night the PCs Stole Plotmas

I’ve written a fair bit on the subject of player agency. I suspect I find it more interesting than the topic probably warrants. There is a reason for this. It has to do with a situation in which I set out to respect player agency as much as possible, and the players took advantage of that fact. As I mentioned before, I once was one of the Storytellers for a vampire LARP. This experience resulted in the third and – thus far – final time I pledged to myself that I would never ST a LARP again.

That’s not to say that it was a bad experience, or that it was a bad game. On the whole, I think it was successful. Some people seem to still hold the events of that year in high esteem. Others refuse to ever speak of it again. I suspect a lot of my fascination with player agency comes from all the times I’ve thought about how things went that year.
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Cheated or Spoiled?

About a week ago, a friend linked to a New Yorker article about George RR Martin and all of the “fans” who vilify him for the delays of A Dance with Dragons, the fifth book in his “Song of Ice and Fire” saga. While I read all of the previous books in this series and was aware of the increasing discontent with how long the new book was taking, I had no idea things were this bad.

Like a picture of Bigfoot

For those who are unfamiliar, “A Song of Ice and Fire” is a series of fantasy novels set in a low-magic, medieval world. It had drawn a lot of attention for both the intricacies of its politics, and the fact that Martin is unafraid of killing off characters, even beloved main characters. A Feast for Crows, the fourth book in the series – which had also been long delayed – came out in 2005, but only contained story about half the characters and the world. Dragons was meant to be the companion to that, detailing the adventures of the other people and places concurrent to Crows. Over the last several years, fans have gone from eager, to impatient, to angry.

As I read the article, I kept looking for a reason why people feel this way. Why they feel entitled to this book to such a great degree that some angrily and publicly begrudge any time Martin spends on any other pursuit.
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Lighting Design Simplified: An Introduction

Last week, I wrote about the difficulty of explaining theatrical lighting design to someone who has no background in theatre. Long story short, it’s hard to the point of being almost pointless. But, even as I was writing that post, I wanted to try. Maybe it was just a perverse desire to prove myself wrong. Maybe it was the desire to have my work understood. Maybe I just wanted to see if anyone would be interested in listening to me blather on about my work.

Probably, though, it’s because I can’t help but blather on about lighting design. When I go to see plays, I always try to get there early, not just so I won’t be holding up the show, but so that I can crane my head at the ceiling for 15 minutes and see what’s hung there. My fiance should frankly be canonized for all the times ze’s listened to me go on and on about this stuff.

As I said before, this is the type of thing that needs five words or five thousand, and seeing as I’m already a few hundred in, it looks like it’s going to be five thousand. In the interest of making this as readable as possible, I’m going to try to break it up into multiple posts, each post depicting a step in the process that takes me from when I first read the script, to when the show opens and I get to sleep again. And, so that I’m not simply speaking in abstract terms, I’ll be using a production of An Enemy of the People I recently worked on as an example.
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A New Feature!

As I write more and more posts, I come across more and more terms that may need to be defined for some. So, to keep from having to define these terms every time I use them, I’m starting a dictionary of terms. This All-Purpose Dictionariopede can be found either at this link, or through the one in the nav-bar above.

If there are any terms I’m missing or have defined poorly, either comment on this post, or e-mail me at BobbyArcher (dot) Zombie4Hire (at) gmail (dot) com and let me know.

Player Agency & Death, Part 2

Death, not just for PCs!

So, last week, I started talking about player agency. Again. Specifically, how the scale between railroading and complete freedom was reflected in how PC deaths are handled by the GM. As I said at the end of that post, and as the title of this post would imply, I’m continuing on in that vein today with the other kinds of death that affect and reflect the agency scale. As before, all real life examples assume the disclaimer.
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New Year’s Resolution

Yes, I know it’s April, but I didn’t have a blog back when this was fresh news, so you’ll have to hear about this now.

I’ve gone back and forth over the years with how seriously I take New Year’s Resolutions. Most years, I come up with something around 10:30pm on December 31, and have forgotten about it entirely by January 7. It’s not that I don’t think making resolutions has merit. It’s more that I’ve always had trouble coming up with concrete goals; I’d much rather keep my options open and grab onto opportunities as they come around. This has worked out for me at times, and not so much at others.
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