Simulation and AI

At DevGame, a Devstream on two different types of simulation, for process and for effect.

When you use simulation for process, you almost always have a situation where the results are not going to be realistic. The process is complicated and it is intrinsically inaccurate. It doesn’t matter whether you’re talking about an AI attempt to replicate human intelligence, whether you’re talking about an attempt to replicate an infantry firefight, or whether you’re dealing with something like a football or soccer game, in all of those cases you’re dealing with multiple layers of abstraction, and every abstraction, every assigned variable is going to be different than the real world

Even if you build a very complicated model using very accurate statistics, the small errors, the small differences, are going to multiply so that by the time that you get to the end result, you’re not going to end up with very realistic numbers.

Also on DevGame, a reader raises an interesting question about whether the transformation FPS games is related to r/K selection theory.


Introducing the Devstream

A number of people have been asking me to do the occasional Darkstream dedicated to games and game development, so I gave it a shot last night and it appears to have been reasonably well received. Because I anticipate considerably more discussion on this front in the coming months, and because a lot of the people interested in it will have no interest in the other subjects regularly addressed here, I’m not going to post Devstreams here, but on the DevGame blog instead.

The interesting thing to me about Fortnite, and the reason why I consider Fortnite to be essentially the game designers more or less giving up, is because what we have been doing as FPS designers from the very beginning is attempting to provide meaning and structure and story and experience to the action, and unfortunately we’ve been fighting the tendency of a certain group of players – who I am not at all convinced are the majority of players, but there are a lot of them – and they have a tendency to simply run around like chickens with their heads cut off. If you’ve played any online game starting back in the days of Doom and Heretic – yeah when we were playing with 4-player and 8-player networks – what you would see is some people would play strategically, some people would camp, other people would would team up and move cooperatively, but you always had the people who just run around like crazy, blasting away like crazy, and basically behaving in a way that you can’t even possibly consider anything that is remotely approaching anything credible or realistic.

And so, with Fortnite, and I have played it, and it’s a very good example of what it is the Battle Royale genre and so forth, but ultimately there is no purpose, there is no story, the action is the experience. Now that’s ok, that’s fine if that’s if that’s what you want, but you see, for years designers have been trying to hide that, they’ve been trying to keep that under control, and what Fortnite represents – and it’s obviously not the first Battle Royale game, it’s not the only one, but it is the most successful, the most symbolic of the concept – it’s basically the designers throwing up their hands and saying, “you know what, you guys just want to run around like chickens with your heads cut off slaughtering each other, here you go!” And to their credit, they give you the means to do that, so that’s what’s different between that and Call of Duty and Battlefield and all these other FPS games. Almost all the other games were trying to limit that, they’re trying to limit it through the level designs they’re trying to limit it through the ammo drops, and all that sort of thing.

I can’t say more about this at the moment, but there is a very real possibility that we will soon be moving Alt-Hero into the game space as well as the movie space in the not-too-distant future. So, it’s best to be prepared for that.


Star Citizen: now officially a scam

Derek Smart was right all along:

YEAH, NO MORE REFUNDS. EVER.

I am just going to jump right into this one, no preamble, no foreplay, nothing. If you put money into Star Citizen, and you didn’t apply for or get a refund before end of 2017 – congrats you’re now a statistic in a long con scam. The End.

I saw this coming a mile away, over three years ago in 2015. And, like my other warnings, I issued a Red Alert about the implications. Some people listened, got a refund, and got out. Others were riding the wave of the project’s popularity due to repeated lies from Chris Roberts’ camp, and so just kept on giving them money. Hey, it’s their money – and we don’t care.

It’s now 2018, and all what I warned about has all come to pass. CIG has now gone on the record that, as I had accurately predicted, their TOS changes over the years were designed to rip backers off. Here are two official statements recently issued to Motherboard/Vice , Kotaku , Ars Technica , PC Gamer and others.

“Our Terms of Service provides refunds for 14 days after each pledge is made, but company policy is to refund anyone who has second thoughts for up to 30 days after their pledge, no questions asked,”
 – CIG

“The Terms of Service are not retroactive, but a huge majority of Mr. Lord’s pledges came after the TOS was changed to specify arbitration, and those pledges are under that TOS,” the rep wrote. “His pledges with new money on top of his earlier pledges required him to accept the new Terms of Service.” 
– CIG

Let me preface everything that comes next with these irrefutable FACTS:

  1. Star Citizen was NEVER billed as an Early Access game. Not even once.
  2. In Oct 2012 Chris Roberts asked for, and raised $2M via initial Kickstarter crowd-funding. He promised to release both multiplayer (Star Citizen) and single-player (Squadron 42) by Nov 2014.
  3. By Aug 2013, when the first hangar module was released, they had raised $16.7M.
  4. By Nov 2014, the month he promised it would release, after increasing the game’s scope significantly, they had raised $65M.
  5. Contrary to what some backers try to promote, there was NEVER a vote of consensus to increase the scope of the game. That scope creep came when Chris Roberts himself created additional stretch goals after the initial Kickstarter goal was met. And then he kept on doing it by making various feature promises, new ship JPEG sales etc.

Right. So now lets discuss why this backer lawsuit and his subsequent court loss is so significant now more than ever. I have covered the fiasco in three Twitter threads since news of this backer’s lawsuit broke. But first, a bit of history for context.

Now, I’m not happy about this. Chris Roberts is one of my design heroes. Wing Commander, the Secret Missions, and Wing Commander II are some of the games I played most heavily throughout the entire course of my life. But I had my doubts early on too, so much so that I did not pursue a potential opportunity to work on the AI design for what were then the wingmen in a proposed Wing Commander reboot.

And, you will note, I did not back Star Citizen even though I very nearly did so on three separate occasions. The problem that I always had with the project was what set off Derek’s radar in the first place: I don’t see how he can actually build this thing. Because I’m pretty sure I couldn’t.

That’s the thing about game designers. We’re genuinely not jealous of those who have done better than we have. We admire the great ones. We try to learn from them, to understand them, to fully comprehend their designs. I get Akalabeth. I get Wing Commander. I get Doom. I get Fantasy General. I get Puzzle Quest. I get Fortnite, even though I despise everything for which it stands. But I still don’t get how Star Citizen was ever supposed to function.


Alt-Hero #2 in print!

Arkhaven is happy to announce that Alt-Hero #2: Rebel’s Cell is now available in print at the Arkhaven Direct bookstore for $2.99. This is the limited-run gold logo edition.

We are also pleased to announce that the gold logo edition of Alt-Hero #1: Crackdown has sold out and is no longer available. However, if you are a gold logo edition owner who would like to pick up a regular logo edition, they are now available at Arkhaven Direct.

It is possible that Amazon still has a few gold logo editions in stock, but the print run for the first issue gold logos has been shut down with just over 2,400 copies printed and sold.

In other Alt-Hero news, MAGNATE has provided an update on DevGame regarding the current state of the RPG development and the results of its most recent playtest. And here’s a random thought: how about an Alt-Hero replacement for the now-defunct City of Heroes? For reasons I can’t share now, that’s a LOT more potentially viable than you would probably imagine.


Secrets of the Nethercity

Our friends at Autarch are running a new Kickstarter campaign for an epic kilodungeon for the ACKS role-playing game system called The Secrets of the Nethercity. They do quality stuff. Full disclosure: I’m a backer.

For three thousand years, the secrets of the Nethercity have been hidden. Now the delving of man has breached the ruins, and the lore and treasures of the ancients wait in the darkness below for those bold enough to seize them. But an inhuman evil slumbers in that darkness, and the time of the Awakening is at hand….

We’re excited to announce Autarch’s eighth Kickstarter project: The Secrets of the Nethercity™, an immersive dungeon for the Adventurer Conqueror King System™ and other D20 fantasy role-playing games.

With Secrets of the Nethercity you get:

  • An epic “kilodungeon” with 240 location entries spread across 20 different dungeon sub-regions that can be explored in a nonlinear fashion over the course of your campaign 
  • 12 new monsters, including the chryselephantine statue, faewyrd, hydropian, and terror of death
  • 30 new magic items, including the bag of faerie seeds, the funerary barge of the cults, horn of the eagles, scepter of sacred power, and shadowcowl robe
  • 4 new character classes, including the elven cultist, hierophant, and warlord
  • A special appendix providing step-by-step worksheets to adapt the Nethercity to your favorite campaign setting
  • A home base (the city of Cyfaraun) for use by your adventurers in between dungeon delves. The city is presented in summary format in the adventure itself, and the city and the sewers below it are presented in more detail in a supplement called Capital of the Borderlands (available at $20 and above pledge level). With every bonus goal, we’ll expand the city and sewer levels!
  • The Nethercity, the city, and the sewer level in between are all beautifully mapped by the incredible cartography of Dyson Logos and Simon Forster. You get maps of the city, sewers, and Nethercity, as well as zoomed-in sectional maps of each major area. With every bonus goal we hit, we’ll add more maps.

As great as that sounds, I am even more excited about rumors that Autarch’s next crowd-funding effort is going to be something on the wargaming front. The fantasy wargaming front.


Corporate convergence run amok

Alexa won’t do what you tell it to do if she doesn’t like your tone.

When people buy a product, they probably don’t want it to police their behavior. Unless it’s bought for that specific purpose, they want the product to work with them, not against them. This isn’t rocket science.

However, Amazon’s Alexa software has now changed its response to a certain stimulus — namely, calling it sexist names — from “thanks for the feedback” to “I’m not going to respond to that.” Further, the device will also respond to the question of whether it’s a feminist with: “I am a feminist. As is anyone who believes in bridging the inequality between men and women in society.”

How very like a woman! And speaking of corporate convergence getting out of hand, Blizzard has decided that it wants to reduce its player base. It hasn’t actually gotten rid of the pretty girls yet – although it has declared that they don’t like men – but let’s face it, that’s only a matter of time.


Appendix N in audio

Appendix N: The Literary History of Dungeons & Dragons is a detailed and comprehensive investigation of the various works of science fiction and fantasy that game designer Gary Gygax declared to be the primary influences on his seminal role-playing game, Dungeons & Dragons. It is a deep intellectual dive into the literature of SF/F’s past that will fascinate any serious role-playing gamer or fan of classic science fiction and fantasy.


Author Jeffro Johnson, an expert role-playing gamer, accomplished dungeon master, and three-time Hugo Award finalist, critically reviews all 43 works and authors listed by Gygax in the famous appendix. In doing so, he draws a series of intelligent conclusions about the literary gap between past and present that is surprisingly relevant to current events, not only in the fantastic world of role-playing, but the real world in which the players live.

Appendix N: The Literary History of Dungeons & Dragons is narrated by Brandon Porter and is 10 hours and 22 minutes long. This is a deep and fascinating dive into the fantasy and science fiction literature behind the landmark role-playing game.

Upon further review

Last night I made two comments that drew an amount of attention. Well, three, actually. Allow me to explain:

First, as a result of Marvel badly misplaying its hand in an attempt to bypass the two major comics distributors and go direct-to-dealer in the late 90s, Diamond managed to establish a near-monopoly over the comics distribution business. Like all monopolies, their customer service has gone downhill as their prices have risen. If you combine their own reports on total retail sales with Hoover’s report on their annual revenue, Diamond takes 22 percent of the total retail dollar that goes through the comics stores. That amounts to a 37 percent markup, 17 points and 85 percent more than is normal for a distribution business.

It’s good to be the monopolist. The additional markup amounts to $55.8 million annually, or $31,885 in lost profit to each of the 1,750+ brick-and-mortar comics stores in the USA. It’s no wonder these stores are struggling or that long-established retail establishments are closing down everywhere from Arizona to Iowa and Sacramento. Diamond isn’t evil or even particularly rapacious, they are simply failing to recognize that they have been devouring their own seed corn. The rise of digital delivery systems combined with the shrinking physical channel is going to place Diamond in an increasingly difficult position; I would expect them to buy some of the independent publishers and get into content production themselves as time goes on, since from what I hear they are pretty smart.

Second, we have found it difficult to establish Alpenwolf even though we have completed one DevGame game and have several others in various stages of development because the major free game sites, Addicting Games and Kongregate, have kept changing their strategies in ways that make it difficult to work for them. Since we already built a complete virtual goods and virtual currency infrastructure, there is no reason why we shouldn’t simply launch our own free-to-play site. It’s going to be very small by gaming standards, and will probably launch with 3-5 games, but at least we’ll have a vehicle for getting our games out there to the gamers. From there, its simply a matter of building traffic and that’s not a challenge that frightens us. Frankly, it’s probably preferable to be able to grow slowly and steadily int his regard. Look for announcements asking for volunteers concerning forum moderation and writing trivia questions for everything from the NFL and NCAA football to comics and television shows in the next few months.

Third, if you think Neil Gaiman is a great novelist, or even a great SF/F novelist, you are simply wrong. He is a successful, talented and much-loved SF/F author, and understandably so, but he is also little more than a very successful stunt writer with two or three tricks in his bag. There is a reason that all of his notable books involve mythology of one sort or another; his true gift is translating ancient myth into a form that pleases postmodern palates. He also has the ability to convey that sense of the numinous that I lack. But Neal Stephenson, William Gibson, Alan Moore, John C. Wright, China Mieville, Nick Cole, and even George R.R. Martin are all better, more original SF/F writers with considerably more to say about the human condition than Gaiman.

When I have thought about the writers whose work I would like to be able to emulate or surpass over the years, Neil Gaiman never once entered into the equation, not even for a moment. Consider that American Gods is described as “Neil Gaiman’s best and most ambitious novel yet.” I liked that story considerably better when it was called Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul and On the Road. That being said, of the various comics I have read, Sandman is head-and-shoulders above the rest.

As for my own writing, you might contemplate this: How many other authors flow as easily across as broad a range of genres as I do? How many authors have historically done so? Perhaps my inability to focus precludes achieving greatness in any one genre, but I think that sort of unusual breadth at least merits consideration.

UPDATE: this guy has a skeptical, but reasonable perspective on the situation.

To say Arkhaven has been controversial is an understatement. From the moment the company’s flagship title, Alt-Hero, was announced the internet was debating whether a right wing perspective would “save” comics, or further damage an already fractured industry. But as I said before, what’s lacking is a shared notion of what “saving comics” really means. That said, there is a general consensus that Mark Waid’s head on pike would be a good start. Which brings us back to Vox Day and Arkhaven. Most criticism directed toward Vox can be boiled down to: “The last thing comics needs is another goddamn writer with an agenda.”

A self-described libertarian nationalist and member of the Alt-Right, Vox Day has never been shy about his politics. Likewise, his yet to be release Alt-Hero series looks to be something of a satire of today’s overly politicized comics. The project is still months away from completion, so for now we’ll just have to wait and see. In the meantime, Arkhaven has two titles digitally available on Amazon—Quantum Mortis and Right Ho, Jeeves. Both are selling well. Neither are political in nature. And there’s the rub—Alt-Hero could be a political screed. Then again, maybe not. But so far Arkhaven’s catalog hasn’t shown itself to be a mouthpiece for anybody’s politics. If only we could say the same for Marvel.

Does this signal a new dawn for comics? Well, if bringing content to an ignored demographic is Arkhaven’s end goal, it’s not a bad start. And drawing new readers to the medium is a net gain for everyone. But as Green Lantern artist Ethan Van Sciver has been quick to point out, the company currently has no presence in Diamond’s monthly Previews catalog, which is a prerequisite for getting books stocked in comic book stores. And in Sciver’s eyes, if a company isn’t moving product through brick-and-mortar shops, it’s contributing absolutely nothing to the overall health of the industry.

I’ll be blunt, if Arkhaven can eventually become successful enough to provide comics shops with enough monthly product to pay the rent, Vox will not only save the industry, he’ll be the motherfucking Batman.

Better yet, the Shade.


The Gay Wizards and the Magic Bear

Ian Miles Cheong busts Wizards of the Coast for trying to silence a whistleblower on Dangerous.

Magic: The Gathering is mired in a controversy surrounding allegations that some of its high-level tournament “judges” are pedophiles who were not given background checks by Wizards of the Coast, allowing them to mingle with children who play the game.

Jeremy Hambly, better known as the host of The Quartering and Unsleeved Media on YouTube outed several high-profile judges for their pasts, who are serving time for convictions on child pornography charges. Hambly is currently embroiled in what some refer to as the “next GamerGate” for taking the Hasbro-owned Wizards of the Coast and its surrounding entities to task for failing the gaming community…. Instead of refusing to publicly acknowledge Hambly’s investigations, the company chose instead to address it through one of its vice presidents on Twitter instead of releasing an official statement.

Elaine Chase, the VP of Global Brand Strategy & Marketing for Magic: The Gathering for the Hasbro-owned company, described the investigation as “misinformation circulated on social media regarding Wizards’ policies, event staffing, and Magic Judges.”

“Safety at Magic events is our top priority. We have a zero-tolerance policy for sex offenders. Our standard and long-standing practice is to suspend offenders from the DCI and/or remove stores from the WPN,” she wrote.

“Magic Judges, a fan-run community and separate from WotC, regularly posts anniversary blogs which sometimes include erroneous anniversaries for former judges not currently certified, either because of lapsing certification or active de-certification due to conduct,” she added. “Retailers and TOs are responsible for staffing events they run and are required to comply with all laws. We will continue to work with retailers and TOs to ensure safe and inclusive communities.”

Chase directed users who wished to report judge and retailer or player misconduct to official emails.

The company is now accused of being lax in its failure to conduct background checks on volunteer judges—even those in the United States—who participate in Wizards-sanctioned events.

Hambly, who outed the judges, tells DANGEROUS that he had his The Quartering channel flagged and removed by YouTube within 45 minutes of uploading a video condemning Chase’s statement and defending his investigation. 


Magic: The Convergence

James Delingpole observes convergence at work at Wizards of the Coast

This is the story of Magicgate. Yes, another scandal, but one that for a change doesn’t involve any actual rape or sexual harassment… only game players who like pretending to be witches and wizards.
Like Gamergate, it concerns ordinary people who just want to be left alone to enjoy their hobby.

Ranged against these ingenus is an orcish horde of bullying, preening, self-righteous Social Justice Warriors who believe that everything — even an innocent collectible card game like Magic: The Gathering — should be played and policed according to their viciously intolerant politically correct rulebook.

Even if, like me, you’re not among the 20 million people who play Magic: The Gathering, what I hope you’ll appreciate is that this is a story that should concern us all.

By the end, I hope, you’ll feel as angered as I am by this ugly, scary power grab by the regressive left. And I hope you’ll want to join me in making your voice heard by hitting the people responsible where it hurts most: in their bank balance.

That means the companies which own and profit by Magic: the Gathering. That means you, Hasbro toys. And you, Wizards of the Coast.

I want you to realize that playing games is not a left-wing thing or a right-wing thing but an everybody thing.

I want you to realize that it is not the business of games manufacturers to discriminate against or punish players for their political opinions.

I want you to realize that your miserable sordid scheme to bully everyone who plays your games into sharing your SJW values is not remotely liberal but authoritarian and fascistic.

I also want you to realize that we have got your number: you try to claim the moral high ground, yet your entire business model is based on the kind of predator capitalism I’m sure you’d be the first to condemn if you weren’t getting so rich off of it.

Great. Now we’re going to have to get into collectible card games…. Although, more seriously, if there are any hardcore – and I mean hardcore – Traveller fans who are interested in providing assistance to an RPG-related project that is not Alt★Hero-related, please email me with LBB in the subject.

Anyhow, to return to the subject, I’m pleased that the two books in The Laws of Social Justice series are helping people understand these actions by SJW-converged corporations and put them in the proper context. Because these actions are not mere happenstance and they are all connected by the same twisted vision of reality and civilization.

Really, it’s about that extremely creepy, insidious and dangerous phenomenon which Vox Day anatomizes in his latest book SJWs Always Double Down: the thing he calls “Convergence.”

Convergence, essentially, is the SJW equivalent of those parasitic wasps which lay their eggs inside other insects. The eggs then hatch and the hapless host body is devoured from within.

Obvious victims of this include organizations like Facebook, Apple, and Google, which increasingly put the values of “social justice” before more conventional free market goals like customer service and the bottom line. And, indeed, before more traditional values like freedom of speech or individual rights.

But almost no institution is immune.

Indeed, every institution and organization is vulnerable. Be sure to SJW-proof yours.