I miss riding my bike
Despite the fact that I have installed new kevlar puncture-resistant tires, I've had my back tire go flat 3 times in a row, and it's driving me crazy!
After the first flat, I found a big industrial-sized metal staple stuck in the tire. Obvious source of puncture. OK. pulled it out, put in a brand-new inner tube, pumped up and rode home.
Everything seemed to be fine, but the next morning, the tire was flat again. Inner tube number 2 had a slow leak apparently.
I put the second inner tube in a sink of water to find the hole. I was right near the valve. I checked the inside and outside of the tire near there to see what could have caused the puncture, but couldn't find anything.
So I shrugged and put in a third inner tube. I rode to work, and everything seemed fine. At the end of the day, it was still full of air. I thought I was out of the woods.
But then I rode home, and sure enough, when I got to my door I heard a loud hiss; a few minutes later the back tire was once again completely flat.
Three punctures out of three rides. Three brand new inner tubes gone flat with no obvious common cause. Very mysterious.
Since my bike apparently can't handle being ridden more than once before needing an inner tube replacement, I've been walking to and from work all month long. This sucks because while it's a 10-minute bike ride, it's about a 35-minute walk. Multiply by 2 for there and back again and you can see that I'm losing almost an hour a day of potentially productive time.
I'm at a loss for what to do. Do I need to replace my back tire, or my whole back wheel? Buy a different brand of tubes? Switch to a mountain bike? Give up and get used to walking?
Hotmail is more like HotFAIL
I've been doing a lot of database/website programming work for Sushu's family's Chinese school. It started as a volunteer project for Mozilla Service Week, but now that I know how their code works I have become sort of a go-to guy for further fixes.
So yeah, it's generally a pain to work on, but I'm cleaning things up as I go to the best of my ability.
The latest problem I've been tackling is that attachments couldn't be sent to Hotmail addresses. You could attach a file to an email and send it, and everyone who had a non-Hotmail address would get it fine, but people with a Hotmail address would get an unreadable email. The body and the attached file would both be screwed up.
I started researching Hotmail attachment bugs and discovered that Hotmail is even worse than I thought. One guy who did some informal experimentation, sending attachments to and from both Hotmail and non-Hotmail addresses, found that Hotmail was losing sixty to eighty percent of incoming and outgoing mails with attachments. These mails weren't going to spam folders or generating bounce messages - they were simply disappearing. I always thought Hotmail was bad, but I had no idea it was this bad.
I worked around Hotmail's bugs by having the email script detect any Hotmail addresses in a To: or CC: list and splitting them out into a separate email. Instead of trying to send them an attachment, it uploads the attachment file to a public directory on the server and sends the Hotmail users a link. It's a bit of a clunky workaround, which will require the attachment directory to be periodically purged so as not to consume the disk, but at least there's nothing Hotmail can do to screw it up.
To test this, I made myself a Hotmail account. When you sign up for one it demands your real name and location, which irked me. I didn't see any reason Microsoft needs to know that, so I told them I was Bartholemew Cubbins from Hyderabad, Pakistan.
My aunt needs $10,000 of dental surgery to fix a bone infection in her upper jaw resulting from a botched root canal years ago.
Insurance would pay for fixing the bone infection, but it would not pay for replacing her top front tooth, which would need to be removed. She'd be walking around with a giant gap in her smile.
Missing your front teeth is no fun: it makes you a bit of a social outcast, and makes it hard to eat a lot of things, but the insurance company can't afford to think about those things. Their job is to keep prices down for their customer base as a whole. I'm not just being snarky here: if we want health insurance to be able to keep medical prices down (and what other purpose is there for health insurance?) then we should want insurance companies look at things with a "needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few" mentality. Using that cold, Spock-like logic, it makes sense to pay to fix the bone infection, which could be life-threatening in the long term, but not to pay for the front-tooth replacement.
In other words, to ration their payments.
We keep hearing objections to any form of government intervention in the healthcare industry on the grounds that it would lead to rationing, i.e. some government bureaucrat is deciding whether you deserve to have your treatment paid for or not.
And you know what? It's true. There is a finite amount of resources out there that can be used for medical treatments. Government-provided health care (public option or single payer) will involve bureaucrats making decisions about rationing of care. Yes.
But, uh... This is different from private insurance companies how? Bureaucrats employed by private insurance companies are making these same sorts of rationing decisions right now, about my aunt's teeth and a million other things.
There is perhaps an argument to be made that private insurance company bureaucrats have incentives to be more accountable to individual needs than government ones do, because it's easier to switch insurance companies than to switch governments. But you try actually switching insurance companies, or try bargaining with them on rates or coverage, or for that matter try getting a human being to answer the phone, and see how much the insurance company cares about keeping one person's business.
It's pure wishful thinking to believe that any system will be able to give free unlimited medical care to everyone. There are a finite amount of resources to be used to pay for treatments. Whoever is doing the paying is going to have to say "no" to some requests. If you want treatment above and beyond that level you're going to have to pay for it yourself. This is true under any system. Thinking that public-option, or single-payer, care will end all need for rationing, as some reform supporters do, is daydreaming. But to claim we don't already have rationing in the current private market, as some reform opponents do, is to be oblivious to reality.
I've got this Leatherman? Multipurpose tool that folds out into a big knife?
I found my Leatherman in my backpack last time I was in Chicago. That was weird, because I don't take it with me when I travel, because it would get confiscated by the TSA at the security checkpoint.
But this time, I left it in by accident, and the TSA didn't confiscate it. They missed it completely. And this was a carry-on. They let me have a potential weapon in the cabin of the aircraft!
Thanks a lot, TSA.
At least the TSA is diligently keeping us safe from the threat of > 3oz shampoo and water bottles. Good job.
Sushu has an awesome recipe, which she learned from her dad (an amazing cook) for Dungeoness crab and tofu in broth. A couple weekends ago, Ranch 99 (giant Chinese supermarket near here) was having a sale on live Dungeoness crabs so we made it together, slowly dissecting the boiled crabs and throwing all the good bits into a bowl.
You know that mysterious yellow stuff inside a crab? It looks like mustard? In this recipe, the yellow stuff (which in Chinese is called xiehuang 蟹黄, meaning just "crab yellow") is separated and used to flavor the broth. The yellow stuff gives the dish its wonderfully rich, savory flavor. Crabmeat, nice as it is, is kind of bland by itself. But with the yellow stuff it becomes delicious.
But what the heck is the yellow stuff? It's not fat, it's not muscle, it's not eggs. It's different from the white goopy mayonnaise-like stuff that you also sometimes find inside crabs, which is nasty and should be thrown away. ("We want the mustard, not the mayonnaise" says Sushu.)
I looked it up and found that the yellow stuff is the crab's hepatopancreas, an organ which performs the function of both a pancreas (generating chemicals used in digestion) and a liver (filtering out toxins). If a crab comes from polluted waters, the toxins are most concentrated in the heptapancreas, so you have to be careful about eating it.
Hepatopancreas! Isn't that a fun word? I'm going to say it every chance I get.
Last Monday, I was walking to work, and Mitchell Baker passed me in her car and offered me a ride the rest of the way to the office. Along the way, we had a really interesting talk about internet privacy. Mitchell is very concerned about how much data ad networks are collecting about us online without our knowledge. (Basically if you look at ten sites that all have ads that all happen to be from the same ad network, then that ad network knows what times you were at each of those sites, and they can build up a profile of your browsing habits.) Mitchell is the Mozilla Foundation chairwoman, and her mission is to protect privacy and freedom on the Internet; to her, Firefox is just a tool to help do that. So she's trying to figure out how Firefox can do more to protect people from scary ad network shenanigans.
I had been in a bit of a slump; the week before, when I wrote this angsty post and this other angsty post, was a low point in my enthusiasm for the Internet, and my emotional state in general. Talking to Mitchell was significantly re-motivating.
Later the same day, my boss Chris came to my desk. He said he was worried about me and asked how I was feeling, and admitted that he didn't really like Facebook or Twitter or the iPhone either. I found out that the reason he was worried was because he had read the angsty blog posts I just linked to.
So I had another really good talk with Chris, about the direction the Internet is going in, what we don't like about it, and what we can do at Mozilla to help steer it in a better direction. We agreed that we want to fight against the Facebookization of the internet.
By that I mean: there shouldn't be a single company which controls everyone's friend network data, refuses to let that data be portable to other services, and uses that data to lock people in, to sell them ads, and to basically moderate their relationships with each other. If one company achieves too much dominance over social networks, then we run the risk of the Internet turning back into AOL, and I don't think anybody wants that.
So it's not that there shouldn't be services like Facebook; clearly everyone loves Facebook and wants to keep doing all the things it lets them do; but my data about my friend network should belong to me, not to Facebook or any other company. So how can we make Firefox help with that?
Finally, Monday evening as I was about to go home, I ran into John Lilly, the CEO of the company. He said that he was worried about me too, and wanted to know how I was feeling, and I found out that he had also read my angsty blog posts. And he was really concerned about the direction the Internet is going in, too. We had another good talk; he reminded me that the wonderful thing about the Internet isn't the technology, it's how it brings people together with people, and "Without the Internet, who would you be telling your game ideas to?" (and I was like, damn, the frelling CEO reads my nerdy blog posts about frelling retro-RPG sprite artwork. Holy crap.)
So, I learned several things that day. One is that I'm not the only one who thinks that all these stupid bandwagons that Silicon Valley keeps getting on are not necessarily in the best interest of the wider world. Two is that I work at a company where I have small but measurable power to fight against the unhealthy trends of the Internet. Three is that I work at a company with very caring, humane people. Four is that apparently, like, all these people read my blog.
I wondered, briefly, whether this readership means that I should tone down the sometimes harsh rhetoric that I use when writing here. I got mad and said "Rar, this makes me want to quit my job", and I didn't really mean that, I was just using hyperbole to express my emotions. But the people I work for read it and got nervous. Maybe I need to restrain myself or just keep quiet about some things?
But you know what? Screw that. I'm going to keep doing what I've been doing since I started this blog. I'm going to tell the truth to the best of my ability, I'm going to think about whether I'm saying what I mean to say, whether I would be harming anyone by saying it, and whether I'm telling secrets that are not mine to tell. But I'm not going to worry overly much about offending people's delicate sensibilities and I'm not going to let the potential for stepping on toes stop me from telling the truth as I see it. Sometimes I'm going to screw up, and when I do, I'll admit it like a grown-up and work to correct things.
I'm especially not going to worry about what Mozilla thinks of this blog, because Mozilla is about protecting the freedom of the internet, and blogging my views is what "the freedom of the internet" is for, am I right?
If Battlestar Galactica was roleplaying game...
I imagine it would play out something like this.
GM: Your ship has been hit with a nuke! You must choose between losing (roll roll roll) half of your fighter docking bays and maneuvering capabilities, or losing (roll roll roll) 85 crew members!
GM: You have 10 seconds to decide, or you lose both!
Player: OK, I'll lose the crew members.
GM: Great! 85 irreplacable human beings with hopes and dreams die a horrible fiery death. You can hear their screams over the intercom as they are sucked into the vacuum of space. Their grieving family members blame you personally. Your underlings question your judgment and accuse you of being a Cylon sleeper agent.
Player: This game sucks.
(Note: I found out after writing this that there is a BSG RPG, but it sounds disappointingly generic, like the designers were unaware that a system could be anything other than GURPS/D20 Modern.)
The other day Mozilla Labs was asking us to volunteer our inspirations, like "What makes you get out of bed in the morning and come to work?"
Suneel said, "We spend more time with our browsers than with our families! So we should want to personalize our browsers and have a deep personal connection with them."
He thought that was inspirational? Seriously? Cuz I think that's totally f***ed up. More time with our browsers than our families? Is that true? Is my work enabling that kind of behavior?
If so, that doesn't motivate me, it makes me want to quit.
Alternative Press Expo
I went to the Alternative Press Expo with Sushu yesterday afternoon. It's an indie comics convention. Well, basically it's nothing but a big dealer's room where indie comic artists you've never heard of try to sell you their wares.
Kate Beaton, who makes
Sushu's favorite webcomic, was there. Sushu was too shy to talk to her, though. So I went up to her and said, "Hi Kate Beaton, my wife is totally a huge fan of your stuff, but she is too shy to talk to you." and then they had a good interaction.
After that, though, it was mostly Sushu talking to artists and me tagging along, like one of those tagging-along-to-the-convention girlfriends or boyfriends you sometimes see. I mildly enjoyed browsing around and glancing at things but I didn't really engage, you know? I felt detached for some reason and at first I didn't know why.
I think part of it is that my webcomics reading has gone way, way down since the old days of 2001-2004 when I used to seek stuff out and do like massive archive binges. I haven't stopped liking webcomics, I've just been doing other things more. But that means I haven't been following the webcomics world, and thus not following the largely overlapping indie comics world, and thus I don't know what's going on there anymore or what artists are worth paying attention to, which means that at APE I had no idea who anybody was or how to find stuff I might be interested in.
Part of it was also that being at APE made me feel big-time guilty about not working on Yuki Hoshigawa.
Finally I just kept thinking about the big pile of unread comics on my bookshelf at home, and how silly it would be to buy more comics before I read those. I guess because I didn't want to buy anything, I found myself avoiding looking at anything too closely, making eye contact, or talking to people, because I didn't want to get drawn into a conversation that was going to end awkwardly unless I bought something.
I guess what I'm saying is, "Comics! I miss the relationship we used to have! Where did the passion go?"
Beneath an Alien Sky: First attempt at sprite artwork
Here's my attempt at making some character artwork in a 16-bit sprite style for "Beneath an Alien Sky". Done from scratch by hand in Graphic Converter, not really based on anything except the general aesthetics I tried to lay out in my previous post. Shown here at 4x the size it would appear in-game.
She's, like, a Space Marine, or some other kind of Macho Space Babe. I dunno exactly what the character classes are in this game yet.
I also don't know how she intends to fit that hairdo inside that helmet, but meh, it's anime, what are you gonna do. Speaking of helmets, I'm thinking that player characters have both an in-spacesuit display mode used when they're out on the planet surface, and an out-of-spacesuit display mode when they're inside a pressurized environment (i.e. a "town").
She's got a darker skin tone because I'm trying to go against the prevailing whiteness of visual science fiction media. (e.g., the whitewashing of Wizard of Earthsea in the TV version.) Hopefully by whatever futuristic year this game is set in, the concept of race as a way to divide up humanity has dissappeared outside of history books; to convey that without being all heavy-handed and preachey about it, I plan to make white people a minority with most people being various shades of brown (as is already the case if you look at Earth as a whole!) and just have that be so normal that nobody bothers mentioning it. Not that this is going to be a utopia or anything; the future is going to have plenty of problems, just hopefully they're different problems.
While I'm at it, you know, Islam is arguably the fastest growing religion in the world, so it would be interesting to make the future humanity primarily Muslim. Maybe it's some kind of semi-secularized "Reformation Islam" interpretation invented in the 22nd century that leaves behind the more vehement tendencies and is more willing to syncretize with other religions and cultures.
And what's the dominant language? Some kind of Spanish/English/Chinese pidgin? Fun times.
Back on the original topic of this post... I welcome criticism on how to improve my sprite artwork!
Beneath an Alien Sky: Inspirations
There's an online game I want to make. As a working title, let's call it "Beneath an Alien Sky". (Bonus points: spot the reference.)
The details will come in a future post. This post is my Inspirations.
Visual Design and Aesthetics:
(Bonus points: What do these have in common, setting-wise?)
(Bonus points: What do these have in common, gameplay-wise?)
The open web is just one of many game development platforms, but it is the only platform where nothing comes between my game and the people who want to play it. - Me, Why You Should Care About The Open Web part 2
There was no mysterious old man sending them on quests. No overarching plot, just an overarching environment. - Ben Robbins, Grand Experiments: West Marches
Without contrived situations to force the PCs into action, the PCs need to be more pro-active. - John H. Kim, Threefold Simulationism Explained
Is there an expected, future metagame payoff, or is the journey really its own reward? Is Simulationist play what you want, or is it what you think you must do in order, one day, to get what you want? - Ron Edwards, The Right to Dream
A Tale in the Desert has been described as a social experiment, and that description is startlingly accurate. - Ron Dulin, Gamespot Review
A group of people interacting with one another will exhibit behaviors that cannot be predicted by examining the individuals in isolation, peculiarly social effects like flaming and trolling or concerns about trust and reputation. - Clay Shirkey, Social Software and the Politics of Groups
A Group Is Its Own Worst Enemy - Clay Shirkey
One reason why I’m fascinated with MMOs is because it seems that game mechanics also change how communities and individuals behave. - Nick Yee, The Daedalus Project: Social Architectures in MMOs
By comparing the game mechanics of EverQuest (EQ) and Dark Age of Camelot (DAOC), this essay explores how these game mechanics can shape the relationships that form in MMORPGs. - Nick Yee, The Daedalus Project: Engineering Relationships
I want the rules to create a powerful expectation between us - part of our unity of interest - that I will hurt your character. - Vincent Baker, Roleplaying Theory: Hardcore
My goal today is to talk about the next level of software design issues, after you've got the UI right: designing the social interface. - Joel Spolsky, Not Just Usability
Wikipedia: Replies to Common Objections
Every lunchtime conversation in Silicon Valley
Twitter iPhone Facebook! Social Networking, Twitter Facebook Google Twitter. Google Wave! User-generated content; Twitter iPhone. Google? Apple. Facebook Twitter. Drill down leverage, stop energy, innovation. Innovative? Revolutionary! The Power Of Social Media Twitter Facebook iPhone App Store. iPhone Mashups Twitter Crowdsourcing. Facebook!
Ugh, Silicon Valley. You're killing me.
Something I realized the other day is that I literally do not use the same Internet as most of my colleagues. I do not use Twitter or Facebook; neither one offers anything I am remotely interested in. They make me feel like an old man as I wonder what all the fuss is about. I do not have an iPhone and I don't want one. I don't want to use the internet on my cell phone. I do not want my cell phone to run "apps". I'm still trying to figure out how to get Verizon to stop charging me an extra $15/month for the apps that I have never used and that I've repeatedly told them to turn off. If I could smash my cell phone under a rock without massively inconveniencing my friends and family I would do it in a heartbeat.
The positive way of looking at this is that my different perspective might bring something to the table at Mozilla that would be otherwise overlooked.
On the other hand, people in the developing world are going straight to using the internet on cell phones without using it on computers first. Iranians aren't overthrowing their government with e-mail, they're overthrowing it with Twitter. Pretty soon cell phones will be the dominant way that people use the Internet. Will my hard-earned skills at developing software for computers, I mean ones with keyboards and mice, become obsolete? Will I adapt or will it be time to change careers? Who knows.
The Giant Wheel Formation: Would it work in real life?
There's an epic movie called Red Cliff, based on the Romance of the Three Kingdoms, which came out in China and is coming out next month in America. It looks pretty bad-ass! It's like the Lord of the Rings but based on real events! They had it on the airplane flight to/from China but there were no English subtitles so I gave up trying to watch it (in favor of trash like Dragonball: Evolution, sadly). I am looking forward to seeing a subtitled version.
You see that giant wheel formation? It's at about 1:19 in the video I linked to above. There's a whole army in a huge elaborate freakin' wheel formation, with spokes and counter-rotating inner circles and all kinds of craziness.
Me (watching the video): What the hell are they doing? What's that giant wheel formation?
Sushu: It's a JUN. When the enemy tries to attack the formation, they are forced to enter an ever-changing maze of traps and counterattacks, and they get all confused and dispersed.
Me: That's an utterly ridiculous strategy that would never work in real life.
Sushu: It did TOO work in real life! Sun Tzu wrote all about it in "Art of War"!
Thus begain a three-days-and-counting argument between us about whether or not the giant wheel formation is effective/realistic. (That's right, our marital arguments are about ancient Chinese military tactics. We're such nerds.)
Sushu grew up reading Chinese historical epics where jun featured prominently in climactic battles, so she's convinced that it is A. awesome and B. totally the way to win.
Although I can see how it makes for a cool story, I have a hard time believing that it wouldn't be easily defeated by a much simpler tactic. Why would you enter the enemy's maze at all? That's what they want you to do! Why wouldn't you ignore the whole ring-around-the-rosie and detour around them to take the city (or whatever your objective is)? Why wouldn't you mass a cavalry charge into a single point on the ring and overwhelm them through local force superiority while the majority of their manpower is tied up in human maze-walls all the way on the other side of the circle, where they can't counterattack effectively?
Then again, all my ideas about military tactics come from games, so what do I know about realism anyway.
Anybody else have any thoughts on this? Sushu, do you want to correct anything I got wrong about your argument?
Edited to add: Sushu's response here.
At work the other day.
Me: "Hey Jinghua, is that a Cylon action figure on your desk? From the new Battlestar Galactica (haven't seen it yet, no spoilers plz)?"
Jinghua: "I love Cylons! I want to be a Cylon!"
Jinghua: "They're so DISCIPLINED!"
Beatles Rock Band
Sushu and me finished Beatles Rock Band the other night. I enjoyed it a lot. (I was basically sold on it as soon as I heard the name, and I was not disappointed. If you got excited when you heard "Beatles Rock Band", then you should play it. Simple as that.) It's the first rhythm game where 100% of the songs are by a band I like! As opposed to, oh, 25% or so in Rock Band 2.
The song selection is pretty good. They've got a good mix of super-famous and relatively obscure songs, including some I'd never heard before ("Dig a Pony"? What?). Amazingly, they do not have "Yesterday", which is maybe the single most famous Beatles song, or at any rate it's the one that every single Japanese salaryman knows how to sing at karaoke. I can't believe it's not included. Maybe they're holding some stuff back for a sequel or expansion pack?
In the story mode, you start as mop-top teenybopper Beatles in Liverpool, and as you progress through the levels you gradually evolve through the Sgt. Pepper's phase and into the psychedelic hippie guru Beatles. Along the way the game does lots of fun stuff with both the between-level animations and the during-song graphics (the one for "I Am the Walrus" is appropriately disturbing). There's also some obscure audio and video clips from the archives that you can unlock, which are somewhere between pointless and fascinating depending on how much of a Beatles trivia maven you are.
I was kinda hoping that the game would end with John Lennon getting shot, you know? Sadly it does not. The last level is the impromptu rooftop concert, and the song selection merely hints at the confusion and jadedness of the Beatles in their break-up phase, without dwelling on it; I guess that would be inappropriate for a game that's really all about celebrating the mythology.
Personally I think the giant elephant creature in the awesome intro animation represents the juggernaut of fame, you know? It's this mass of audience expectations that the Beatles summoned up and then couldn't control and it carries them to the edge of the cliff, you know?
Anyway, if they're gonna do single-band editions, you know what I wish they would make? QUEEN Rock Band!! How awesome would that be?
Play This Thing
I've got a new favorite website. It's called Play This Thing. It's reviews and criticism of "non-mainstream" games: freeware computer games made by hobbyists (like Cave Story and Dwarf Fortress); retrogames and ROM hacks (like Megaman vs. Ghosts and Goblins); artsy conceptual "message" games (like Gravitation); modern interactive fiction (that is less about solving puzzles and more about, um interacting with fiction) like The Baron; Euro-boardgames (like Race for the Galaxy) and even indie tabletop RPGs (like My Life with Master).
This site gets me excited for four reasons.
First of all, I'm excited that all of the above are being covered in one place, because I've long felt there's a similarity between the indie RPG design movement and the modern noncommercial IF movement, for example; they are the same spirit, separated only by an incidental difference in medium, and Play This Thing brings them together again under one banner, making the connection explicit.
Second, I'm excited to find a gateway to an underground where simple, innovative game design lives on. I used to be a hardcore gamer in the 8-bit and 16-bit eras, but in the late 90s / Playstation 1 era I started drifting away from video games; either they were evolving in a direction I didn't want to go in (e.g. adventure games died, FPS became the dominant genre of action game) or maybe because my tastes were changing and video games weren't changing with them (you can only attack/attack/heal/use fire spell on ice-themed boss/buy better sword/watch cutscene/repeat so many times before you realize Japanese console RPGs are a colossal waste of time).
Basically I dropped out of video games when video games started turning into Hollywood: every game had to be this huge slick production with 3-d graphics and voice acting and cutscenes, with an interface that requires a tutorial to master, a story full of sturm und drang, and gameplay consisting of incremental mechanical tweaks on an established genre.
What happened to simple games, games where you can get started, learn to play, and get to the meat within the first thirty seconds? What happened to games with a sense of humor and a cartoony visual style? Most of all what happened to innovation in gameplay, games based on presenting new gameplay concepts and creating novel experiences?* For the most part they went away when game development changed from something done by a team of 1-5 people to something done by a team of hundreds with a million dollar budget. Just like Hollywood, the space for individual creativity got squeezed out and blockbuster sequels became the safe thing to do.
(* To be fair, these things still have a niche on handheld consoles like the Nintendo DS, and a Katamari Damacy still comes along once in a while, but still.)
Third, I'm excited because the games featured on Play This Thing represent a veritable Cambrian Explosion of new ideas and contents that I've never encountered before. A game about bringing peace to Israel and Palestine? Games focusing on social interaction instead of combat? Games that are all about getting different endings depending on moral choices you make for your character? Games that use game mechanics as metaphors to express the author's views about the human condition? Sure, a lot of the new ideas are kind of gimmicky (a game where death is permanent - once you die you can never play the game again, cuz you're dead) but that's OK; a creatively bankrupt mainstream demands a vibrant indie scene, and a vibrant indie scene demands that we indulge people in some high-concept pretentiousness and some creative dead ends as the price for discovering the good stuff.
Fourth, I'm excited because I could totally make a game like one of these. I've got the tools, I've got the know-how, I've got the ideas, and now I've got the inspiration. All I need is a little free time...
Geeks won; now what?
Ben Lehman has a great post about how geeks have pretty much won out over mainstream society and can, like, stop acting all persecuted now. You should read the whole comment thread.
The fact that geeks now run the show is especially easy to see here in Silicon Valley, where geeks have built themselves a virtual utopia: a place where they get paid phenomenal amounts of money to mess around with computers, where obsessing over fantasy and science fiction is completely normal, where everyone can quote internet memes, where offices feature free snacks and beanbag chairs and video game consoles, where you can come to work at noon and work till midnight if you want, and where nobody ever has to wear a suit and tie.
The only question left is, now that we've got the power, what are we doing with it? Are we using our geekiness to make the world a better place? And if not, why not? And if not now, when?
So you're telling me there's now an entire genre of video games recreating the experience of losing at Warcraft by turtling?
Two years ago, I said to my previous dentist "Hey could you take a look at my backmost top molar on the right side? When I touch it with my tongue it feels like there's a big hole in it." and he glanced at it and said there was no cavity, only a "ledge". But it still felt like there was a hole there, so last month I had my new dentist take an X-ray of it and she said "Yeah, the cavity is halfway through the tooth, this needs to come out."
Stupid first dentist totally screwed up!
So tomorrow morning at 10 AM I'm going in to get that tooth pulled.
I'm scared. Hold me.
In a comment on my top 20 list, Ben writes:
"Does it really make sense to talk about albums anyway, as if they were the unit that we listen to? I mean, as for me, I don't really listen to albums.
I mean, I'm not a music buff. I'm definitely on the uneducated consumer side of music-listening. But I mostly listen to tracks and mixes, not albums. I think that the last album I listened to was ... Superstar? Which I think is from 2003."
Does it really make sense to talk about games anyway, as if they were the unit that we play? I mostly play individual rules and mixes, not games. I mean, I've never played Bliss Stage, but I use its relationship mechanics in my GURPS hack of Mage: the Ascension along with the Dark Fates from Mountain Witch and the 1st edition AD&D encounter tables.
OK, sarcasm aside, let me explain why I think albums matter.
"Lark's Tongues in Aspic part II" by King Crimson, by itself? A good* song. Lark's Tongues in Aspic part II in context of the album, coming after part 1 and transitioning out of "The Talking Drum"? A BURNING EXPLOSION OF AWESOME.
* - for people who like King Crimson's style to begin with; your mileage may vary
Until the late 60s almost all albums were just a few single hits plus filler, assembled at the whim of record companies. The song was the unit, they were just bundled together for the convenience of the distribution format. There are still albums that are like that, especially Greatest Hits albums and anthologies and stuff. If all albums were nothing but random bundles of hits + filler then we wouldn't be losing anything by throwing out the filler and putting the hits into an iPod Shuffle (or your electronic music playing gizmo of choice).
But since Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and Frank Zappa's "Freak Out!" there has been a competing definition of album: that the album is the unit in which a musician presents their artistic vision. The musicians say "Here, listen to these songs in this order because we think together they're more than the sum of their parts."
"More than the sum of their parts" is the key. A good album is something that's fun to listen to as a unit. An album that has my favorite song in the world, followed by 11 tracks of filler, is a crappy album! Yes, this means I evaluate albums by different standards than songs. Part of what gets an album on my favorites list is not having any songs that I want to skip. (Sung Tongs by Animal Collective almost made it onto my top 20 but it was disqualified by that annoying part that goes "I need mouth... waaaaaaater".)
Some bands take more-than-the-sum-of-their-parts to the logical conclusion and make records like "Thick As A Brick" by Jethro Tull, which is a 40-minute suite of continuous music, not even broken into songs. But you don't have to go that far; some bands use an album to showcase different sides of their music, to create a pleasing flow between different moods and tempos, or to convey their personal worldview by showing it to you from multiple angles. Some bands tell a story over a series of tracks, or create a portrait of a certain time and place. Some bands use an album to try out something different from their regular style for a while. All of these things are really cool!
And that's why I still listen to albums. I think artistic intent matters and I like to hear things the way the artist chooses to present them. And so I think that album-as-artistic-unit will continue to matter even after the demise of CDs, even if "album" means some kind of playlist streamed out of the artist's webpage.
(P.S. It doesn't hurt that the 40mins - 1 hour length of the average album is a nice organic chunk of time for focusing on a task.)
Best 20 albums of the 2000s
Pitchfork released their top 200 albums of the first decade of the 2000s. Isaac and Stephen both selected their top 20 from Pitchfork's 200. This has inspired me to do my own!
I only know a very few of Pitchfork's 200, since I don't really go for the whole bland white boy indie rock thing. So I'm going to pick my top 20 from wherever.
I did set myself one limitation: No albums by "dinosaur bands". E.g. Level 5 by King Crimson might otherwise be on the list, but even though it was released in the 2000s, King Crimson is not a band that belongs to this decade. They Might Be Giants, sad to say, is also in dinosaur band territory by this point, otherwise Cast Your Pod to the Wind would probably be on here.
Here goes my list...
- 20. Tenacious D (2001)
OK, so Jack Black has gotten really annoying in the past few years what with playing the same damn character in every movie. But this album is still really funny with its tongue-in-cheek metal attitude, and "Wonder Boy" and "Tribute" are both great songs too.
- 19. Avenue Q soundtrack (2003)
The in-ter-net is really really great... FOR PORN. More importantly, there's something in this raunchy sesame-street knockoff that anybody who came of age in the 2000s can relate to. Picking an Avenue Q song at karaoke night is a great way to get the whole room singing along.
- 18. The Dresden Dolls (2003)
Man, there's so much raw bleeding sorrow and RAGE! in her voice. But don't worry - It's just the way the medication makes her.
- 17. Daft Punk, Alive (2007)
They're like the new Kraftwerk!
- 16. Boredoms, Vision Creation Newsun (2000)
A crazy swirling drone of Japanese techno-spiritualism, with unpronounceable symbols for song titles and practically no lyrics (except for the title, shouted over and over again...) It puts you into a trance. It's a fertile proto-musical mass, like a nebula or a pool of primordial ooze.
- 15. The Knife, Silent Shout (2006)
Spooky, haunting Swedish electronica. It's extra spooky as the soundtrack to driving a truck through the Great Plains at midnight, which is how I experienced it for the first time.
- 14. Susumu Hirasawa, Paranoia Agent soundtrack (2002)
This is cheating a little; I really want to represent Susumu Hirasawa because I love his style of electronica, which is all spiritual and transcendent and stuff, and also I think one of the more innovative and forward-looking new styles of the decade. His most brilliant work is scattered across several albums and this isn't exactly the best one to represent it all, so I'm cheating a bit by using this album as a placeholder.
- 13. The Flaming Lips, Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots (2002)
The Soft Bulletin is a little better but it was 1999 so it doesn't count. Yoshimi is a very pink science-fiction concept album full of pretentious weirdness and lush atmospheres that is both sad and hopeful at once.
- 12. Deerhoof, Milk Man (2004)
I think this is a stronger album than either Apple O or The Runners Four which some other people suggested, but they're all good. Deerhoof is one of the most original bands of the decade and they keep making good albums.
- 11. Cee Lo Green is the Soul Machine (2004)
Q: Damn, Cee-Lo! What don't you do? A: Fuck around.
- 10. Bjork, Medulla (2005)
Vespertine is really good too, but Medulla - a dense and challenging album consisting entirely of sounds made from looped and processed human voices (and beatboxing, and throat singing) to make some kind of statement about humanity and technology - is Bjork at her absolute Bjorkiest. It's a very cool sounding album, with a sonic landscape that doesn't sound like anything else I've ever heard. It sounds like it's from the future. It's intimate and intense and a little scary. I'm listening to it again right now and I don't think it's gimmicky at all; I'm enjoying every song.
- 9. Fiery Furnaces, Blueberry Boat (2004)
The Fiery Furnaces take you on a musical adventure over land and sea, encountering pirates and stray dogs and magic lockets and strange people in Damascas computer cafes. The genres and musical influences mingle together like the colorful characters they bring to life with their lyrics. One of the most evocative albums I know.
- 8. Shonen Knife, Strawberry Sound (2000)
The first Shonen Knife album I heard and still one of their best (Let's Knife and Happy Hour are really good too, but those are from the 90s). I had such a good time with this album my first fall in Kamaishi. If happy memories are biasing me then I don't want to be objective.
- 7. MC Frontalot, Secrets from the Future (2007)
Nerdcore: my favorite new genre of the decade. I picked this over Nerdcore Rising just because this is the one with "You / are likely to / be eaten by a grue" on it.
- 6. Tsushimamire, Pregnant Fantasy (2004)
See my post about their concert for all the reasons I love Tsushimamire. Pregnant Fantasy has "Ume Umai", "Lingerie Shop", AND "Manhole"; how could it be any better?
- 5. Fiery Furnaces, Rehearsing My Choir (2004)
I never said I would only have one album per band... This and Blueberry Boat are both so good I couldn't pick just one, but I like Choir slightly better because of Grandma's awesome crazy stories about Chicago in the old days.
- 4. The Roots, Phrenology (2002)
One of the albums to turn me on to hip-hop. It's got everything from hard-hitting raps to smooth catchy tunes to weird-ass meditative journeys to fist-pumping anthems.
- 3. The New Pornographers, Mass Romantic (2000)
But officer! / the rumbling! / the sound of the collective crumbling down / to the ground... The New Pornographers put more awesome catchy rock hooks into one song than most bands put into a whole album.
- 2. Gnarls Barkley, St.Elsewhere (2006)
"Crazy" was enough of a hit that you can find it in karaoke songbooks, but the rest of the album is as good or better. It transcends genre labels; it can transform without even trying.
- 1. Katamari Damacy soundtrack (2004)
Don't believe I would put down a video game as best album of the decade? Fuck yeah, you better believe it! What other song is so catchy and iconic that it can get a whole room singing along even if you hum it without words? And the rest of the album is great too. I wanna roll you up into my life/ let's clump up to make/ a single star in the sky...
What were the 2000s about, musically? Is this even a cromulent question?
VH1 and MTV have taught us to look back on decades worth of music and sum them up in single trends or movements, like the 80s being about new wave, and the 90s being about grunge. Bah! This is mindlessly simplistic, a one-dimensional view of a four-dimensional space. But even recognizing that the past is more complex than our stereotypes of it, I think the first decade of the 2000s is different from what's gone before. I don't think there was any unifying trend, not even superficially. I don't think there was a movement in mainstream popular music that sums up or even represents the decade.
I don't even know what popular music is anymore. What do the kids listen to these days? Every radio station seems to be playing oldies now, rock music is dead, and electronica and hip-hop are the only genres that seem to have any credible claim to mainstreamitude. A homogenous continent of POP MUSIC has been replaced with a scattered archipelago of fandoms, each with their own culture, and little crossover. Technology has made it easier to go hunting and gathering to suit your own taste, so there's no longer any reason to live off of the scraps that the mass media tries to feed you. You find an island that suits you and you dig in deeper and deeper, or else you go exploring the riches of the past.
As lots of people have pointed out, part of what we're mourning in Michael Jackson's death is that we're mourning the last time in our culture that there was a single musician who EVERYBODY liked. That doesn't happen anymore.
That said, the 2000s did give us a lot of great new music.
Moving house while sick: Double the suck!
I was originally planning to go visit relatives in Connecticut last weekend, but I started coming down with a cold on Friday, and I really didn't feel like flying 6 hours (and then driving a rental car in from Providence) while coughing and sneezing. So I postponed my trip.
Then Saturday morning, our landlord knocked on the door and said he wanted us out by Tuesday. This isn't as bad as it sounds: we were already planning on moving... just not quite so soon. Me and Sushu both had full-blown colds on Saturday but we gamely started wheeling stuff over to the new apartment. (Only about a block away, and on the first floor, so not nearly as bad as it could have been.) I lost count of how many times I pushed that wheeled hand cart between the apartments. I had to keep stopping to take naps because my body just wasn't up to the exertion.
Anyway, Jeremy came over and helped us, and then Sushu's dad brought his van to help with the big stuff like the bed and the sofa. Monday night Sushu's whole family suddenly descended and tore through the remaining stuff like a whirlwind. A helpful and eager whirlwind, but one that doesn't know where anything goes. I caught Sushu's uncle just as he was about to take all my painted Warhammer 40k pieces and DUMP THEM INTO A BOX OH MY GOD STOP!! (The chipped paint! the broken swords! shudder!)
Well we met our deadline (mostly - there's still a few miscellaneous small things to get tonight) and we're getting better, so things are mostly alright now. But man, that was not a fun way to spend the weekend.
Oh, and we don't have the internet set up in the new house yet, so my blogging and answering of emails may be more sporadic than usual.
60th anniversary of the People's Republic of China
...was Thursday morning. China's Thursday morning = California's Wednesday night, so I got to watch the parades and stuff on TV during the weekly Wednesday night dinner with Sushu's family. It was a very strange experience for me as a non-Chinese person to watch a giant state propaganda event designed to make Chinese people feel patriotic.
60th anniversaries are a big deal in Chinese culture, because 60 is the lowest common multiple of 10 and 12 so 60 years is when the 12-year animal cycle and the 10-year element/yin-yang cycle both return to their starting point. So the festivities were major, like something America would do for, I dunno, the bicentennial.
The military parade was very impressive, with all the perfectly synchronized high-stepping, but also somewhat threatening. Especially, I bet, if you're Tibetan, Uighur, or Taiwanese, the sight of all these PRC soldiers must have a very different meaning. (Disturbingly, the units were apparently selected so that every soldier in the unit would be the exact same height, which makes them look like a kind of Clone Army.)
The CCTV presentation made a big deal out of the fact that the soldiers had been training for this event so hard that they sweat 2kg per day. They had a montage of the biggest events of the past 60 years of Chinese history, such as people cheering as China tested its first nuclear weapon (an event with a very different meaning to the rest of the world), first Chinese spaceflight, the building of trains to (happily occupied) Tibet, etc. They also included natural disasters like the Sichuan earthquake, and SARS, but unsurprisingly they left out the man-made disasters, which meant they quietly skipped over a lot of the 50s and 60s. I found my reactions swerving between "YEAH GO CHINA! Take your rightful place on the world stage at last!" and "Holy crap, so this is what bald-faced state propaganda looks like".
They also had a 1,000 person military band and a 2,000 person chorus, a square of 80,000 people holding red/yellow cards above their heads to spell out slogans (like "Obey The Will Of The Party", I'm not kidding), and Hu Jintao riding around in an open-topped car inspecting the troops and shouting out "同志们好! 同志们辛苦了!" (Greetings, comrades! Good work, comrades!) It was extra crazy because me and Sushu were just there in Tiananmen Square in July. We were standing on the exact spot that all these dudes were marching through.
Finally, say whatever you want about cultural differences; I will never believe that hot pink is an acceptable color for militia uniforms. I also wonder where they are expecting their heavy artillery pieces to be fighting, exactly, that requires them to have bright blue camouflage.
Trying to put into words why Story Games makes me roll my eyes so much...
Click for full size. One of these is a real Story Games thread. Can you spot it?
Why do people have trouble understanding Creative Agenda, or: A study of internet communication failure
Clyde interviews Vincent Baker on Creative Agenda in this podcast. Vincent has obviously been frustrated by having to explain the concept of Creative Agenda over and over again to people who don't get it. He sounds like a guy who's moved beyond frustration into philosophical acceptance.
Why do people have so much trouble getting it? I have a theory. There's a short version and a long version.
Short version: Traditionalist GMs read Gamism/Simulationism/Narrativism and they badly want it to be a restatement of Robin Laws's classification of player types from Robin's Laws of Good Game Mastering. It's not. Internet Communication FAIL. The end.
Long version: Read the rest of this article...
"It's my job to entertain a group of players with divergent interests." That is how traditionalist GMs conceptualize their role. If you think your players are there to be entertained (emphasis on the passive voice), then obviously you need to come up with a compromise that will give every player at least one thing to be interested in per session, and thus you need to understand what your players want. A breakdown of player "types" like one Robin Laws offers is a starting point for figuring out what your players want and thereby finding that compromise. So far so good.
But the confusion sets in when a person who is used to GM-as-entertainer is looking for Player Types - style advice and comes across an article about Creative Agenda. Creative Agenda is something completely different that just happens to use enough similar words that if you squint a little bit and ignore the parts that don't fit, you can misinterpret CA and force-fit it into your preexisting mental model by interpeting it as a restatement of Player Types. This feels comforting because it feels like what you're reading is confirming what you already believe. (Just saying it in a weird way for some reason.)
So our hypothetical GM is reading along, nodding his head, thinking about stereotypes of players like power-gamers and rules-lawyers and drama queens, and then he gets to the part where Ron Edwards says "In order to be coherent a game must have one and only one Creative Agenda".
Bam! Our hypothetical GM does a spit-take!
Because he's looking for Robin Laws-esque advice on making a compromise to please all types of players, and instead he sees advice that seems to say he should be trying to do the opposite. "WHAT? I can't simultaneously satisfy people who like realism, people who like story, and people who like slashing monsters? Nonsense, that's what I have to do every week. Any functional game has to have all three of those things. This theory is bollocks. This Ron Edwards guy is full of it. All of Forge-derived RPG theory is clearly B.S."
Internet communication FAIL!
People who understand CA know that "people who like slashing monsters" is not Gamism, but if you're a traditional GM looking for Robin Laws-esque advice on being an entertainer for people with diverse interests, then you're going to map "Gamist" onto what you already know about "Power Gamers", and from there you figure out what gamer stereotypes you can map "Narrativist" and "Simulationist" onto, and before you know it you've made a category error akin to confusing a box of dry sphaghetti with Catholicism because they both come from Italy.
In recent years, Forgies have tried to phase out the words gamist/narrativist/simulationist in favor of calling the agendas "Step On Up", "Story Now", and "The Right to Dream". This is probably a good move because these names have the advantage of being grammatically more difficult to apply as labels to indivdiuals and therefore harder to mistake for Player Types. (And if the new names sound like the titles of manifestos, good, because that's exactly what they are).
But this isn't going to solve the underlying misunderstanding, which stems from the fact that traditional RPGers have the (unspoken) meme that "GM = artist, players = audience" and therefore the GM's job is to entertain people with diverse interests. Forge theory rejects this meme. In Forge theory the baseline assumption is that everyone is an active and more or less equal participant in a creative activity; some games may assign a few extra duties to one of the players and call that player the "GM", but it's not an artist-audience relationship any more than the banker in Monopoly is in an artist-audience relationship to the other players. So the fundamental problem to be addressed is not "How can the GM reconcile the desires of all the players they are entertaining for", it's "How do we take the creative ideas of all these different players (including the GM) and weave them together into a functional activity of some kind". It's only from this point of view that CAs make sense: there must be a baseline agreement between the players about the nature of said functional activity. What are they there to do?
It might help to introduce traditional role-players to CA by introducing them as "campaign styles". This is still a little misleading since "campaign style" implies something the GM can choose unilaterally and enforce from above, whereas CA is something the whole group buys into or it doesn't happen. "In order to be coherent a game must have one and only one Campaign Style, and all the players must buy into it" is a more acceptable statement to a traditionalist; in fact it sounds so self-evident as to make you wonder what all the fuss is about, which is exactly how it should be - this is not supposed to be a controversial statement, it's just a starting point for talking about how to achieve the campaign style, or Creative Agenda, that you want.
The sad irony here is that Creative Agenda isn't even really that interesting of a topic. Yes, CA mismatch can kill your gaming group, but that's like the coarsest type of gaming group problem and the easiest to fix. Getting on the same page CA-wise is just a starting point, either for play or for design; the really interesting stuff starts after you've got that. The people who are involved in actually designing, playing, and writing about indie games (/story games / Forge games / narrativist games / whatever you want to call them) barely ever even mention CA anymore except when a newbie comes along and wants to argue about it. There are many, many other concepts from RPG theory and from Forge-derived games that are far more relevant and useful to analyzing and improving the quality of actual play sessions.
But for some reason, and I'm not sure quite why, Creative Agenda has become a gateway of sorts. It's the concept that most people encounter first when starting to read about RPG theory on the Internet (e.g. this Escapist article leads with it), and how they react to CA largely determines whether they'll read more about Forge theory and indie games, or whether they'll decide the whole scene is garbage and develop an aversion to it. The latter reaction is a shame because it means the person is missing out on learning techniques that could improve their enjoyment of role-playing. And missing out on playing innovative games that they might enjoy.
I was thinking about how to design an RPG resolution system that takes into account the concrete fictional details of the situation without getting bogged down in complex mechanics or, like, tables of modifiers for everything.
Most RPG resolution systems boil down to some variant of "I roll higher than you, I get my way; you roll higher than me, you get your way". Or maybe low is good, maybe it's against fixed target numbers or it's a dice pool or based on playing cards or whatever. I don't really care. They're all some kind of numerical comparison to find out whether you got your way or not.
And the problem is that either you need a lot of complicated rules plus GM judgment calls for turning the specific fictional details into numerical modifiers (the traditional RPG design way, think situation modifiers in D&D combat) or you just compare numbers based on completely abstract game mechanics to find out who won and then you narrate a fictional justification for it (the story-games way, think PTA). The second way tends to be much more playable but it has the major drawback of not depending on the state of the fiction and therefore leading to somewhat abstract or detached narration.
So what if we skip numbers altogether? What if we have something like a deck of tarot cards, or a pile of fortune cookies - a randomizable set of qualitative ideas or concepts, not numbers. The idea is not to consult them to say "Did I do good or bad?" but rather consult them to say "What factor is the decisive factor in our situation?"
So, like, imagine my character is having a political debate with yours. We're just freeforming it out - I make all my arguments, you make all your arguments, etc. Eventually we get to the point where if we keep arguing we'll just be repeating ourselves, so we decide it's time to let the resolution system step in and tell us who won. Instead of rolling off, we draw a fortune cookie. Maybe it says something like:
"Age and treachery always triumph over youth and beauty"
This tells us what the decisive factor is. Now we argue over who the decisive factor helps. If one of our characters is a lot more experienced than the other, the advantage goes to that charcter. If one of us has been roleplaying his guy as treacherous, advantage to that character. Alternately, if one of us has been roleplaying his guy as depending on youth and beauty to make people like him, disadvantage to that character.
If you're saying "That's totally ambiguous, it doesn't resolve the conflict at all, it just starts a bunch of new arguments" then you are exactly right. That's the whole point! It requires you to engage with the details of the fiction in order to decide how to interpret the fortune cookie. The arguments over "who's been the most treacherous" could be the most interesting part of the game. (I am assuming here that you're not playing with jerks.)
To make it into a functional game system, maybe you designate one person the referee, or maybe you just ask a player who doesn't have a character in the conflict to read the omen, or whatever. Maybe if you can't figure out how the fortune applies you do another round of freeform and then draw another fortune. Mainly you make it so that whoever is reading the omen doesn't have conflicts of interest, so they can just focus on interpreting it fairly.
Another example: We're having a swordfight, we're narrating it freeform, then we get to the decisive blow, and...
"Your hard work will get payoff today."
If it's previously been established that my guy practices his swordfighting technique a lot, then this is obvious: his hard work gets a payoff in the form of winning the fight. On the other hand, if my "hard work" has been in the form of trying to get this girl to like me. What then? Well, obviously, she shows up in the middle of the fight (...and tries to rush to my aid, which is a dumb thing to do because then my opponent can grab her and threaten to kill her unless I surrender...) In that case, the message might not be a resolution at all: it might be an escalation or complication of the conflict. It's all context-dependent.
The game designer would have a lot of work to do in coming up with a good list of fortunes - ones which have a lot of interesting interpretations in a variety of situations, not lame or boring ones, not ones that are too obvious or too inscrutable. Maybe different sets of fortunes for different types of conflict - one for physical combat, one for persuasion, one for tests of skill or knowledge, etc.
This game would reward system knowledge, because a smart player who knows what sort of fortunes are in each set can set themself up to win by fictional positioning. Like, if you know the Combat pile has a lot of fortune cookies that reward preparation ("You shall reap what you sow"), you can have your character do stuff to be crazy prepared for an upcoming fight. But your preparation does you no good if the fortune that you open is some hippie nonsense about passion and inspiration.
Does anybody know of any games that exist already that work like this?