Posts Tagged ideas

Sam Lindsay-Levine

Sam and I were college buddies, but I admit I regret not getting to know him better while I was at ‘Tech. For various (dumb) reasons, I didn’t spend much time with Sam, and then I moved away for grad school. Hilariously, it was at that point I found out (1) Sam was an awesome guy, (2) he was also into Physics, (3) he was also into Magic, and (4) he and my other good friend Nate were willing to take on a roommate for when I moved out to L.A. Thus began our excellent times at the Death Star, where Sam and I often got into philosophical debates and debates over how good various Magic cards were. His cat FORSTSABER and I also did quite a few drafts together (two drops two drops!) on Main Screen, our projector, in the living room. Sam and I even made the Un- set Unsnidd with help from our other Magical ‘Tech friend Dan.

Sam is exactly the kind of person I enjoy conversing with: highly logical, possessed of a reasonable emotional side, and intelligent. He understands quite a bit about the universe, and is willing to argue out a contentious point until both parties are satisfied, something I also enjoy doing. Although he would probably prefer to stay in much of the time, I was quite happy when I or friends were able to convince him to come out with us, because he is a great addition to any group outing. He and his wife Kirsten, also a Caltech friend, were gracious enough to check on me when I visited fair Minneapolis for U.S. Nationals recently, and even invited me and (another) Nate over to game! Truly, Sam is my friend who is most interested in organizing game parties, and I am super grateful because I love game parties!

I know that whatever globular thing Sam sets his mind to, he’ll accomplish, and I am proud to call him friend. (And if you couldn’t tell, we have a number of shared inside jokes, included here for posterity and hilarity.)

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Cool Game Mechanics

I wanted to jot these down because a lot of them have been running through my head!  I don’t know if I’ll incorporate them into a game one day, but I thought they were sort of neat.

  • One player bids an amount for an in-game item and the other three vote on it.  Maybe modify the incentives so that unanimous voting is special?
  • Game turns that are exactly correlated to positions on a game board – that is, kind of like that level in Braid where your position on the screen between A and B determined where in the timeline you were between A and B.  So you could modify your previous moves based on what you see other people doing.
  • A game where you can choose an action each turn, but something special happens if N players in a row choose specific actions (like A-A-A-A or A-B-C-D)
  • You build rooms onto other people’s rooms – building the board as you go, getting a benefit from other people’s stuff.  Like Jenga or Scrabble.
  • You are a character in the game, and as you perform actions you “level up”.  Each level gives you new actions, but you can combine a bunch of lower-level actions to trade in for one bigger action (kind of a limited market system).
  • You can add a “style” or “tone” to your actions verbally (recording what you say) – when you say one, it gives a particular kind of bonus to the action you are taking right then, but at the end of the game, the progression of styles/tones matter.

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Gamer 1

I am a gamer at heart: I love playing games and I love thinking about games.  Games are more than just an entertaining diversion – they are a way to explore the way your mind works, or sometimes to peer into the minds of others (the other players, and the game designers).  I wanted to make a list of some of the things I love about the games I play (which, most recently, include Starcraft 2, Magic, World of Goo, Bioshock, Agricola, Catch Phrase, and Drop7).

  • Depth of strategy. For a couple of reasons, actually: I really enjoy the process of personal discovery, where I am moving beyond the stated rules and finding paths to victory.  The games that require you to develop longer-term strategies often frustrate me at first (a lot of front-loaded work involved!) but they are consistently my favorites.  The key is…
  • Entertaining even when I am losing. I am quite prone to leaving game objectives when they punish me because I made a mistake (poker is a good example of this).  So, if there’s a way for me to remain interested within the game even when I am not really in contention for the game’s primary objective, I’m way happier.
  • Engaging aesthetically, like with pieces or art or what-have-you. I much prefer real Magic cards to stickered ones, or handwritten proxies, because much of the game’s enjoyment to me are the aesthetics that all together set the tone for the play experience.  I also heart iconography and little resource cubes.  Part of games to me is an escape from actual-reality into a generated-reality of the game… and the whole construction that comes in a box or via cards etc. is what generates that experience for me.  I love books more than movies, for example, because they let me imagine the world of the fiction in my head.  Game pieces are merely guides that aid such imagination.
  • Easy to share. This is an interesting point – I really enjoy games that EITHER let me easily play with my friends, or that let me play on my own and easily relate my experience with friends who have also played on their own.  I think this way of sharing with respect to games is a defining aspect of “gamer culture,” such as it is.

More on being a gamer later!

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The Power of an Idea

Taking a short break from game design because I’ve been thinking more about the movie Inception.  My parents really disliked the movie (whereas most of my friends I have talked to, and my sister, liked it) and I began to wonder what aspects of the movie have “staying power” to them.  You see, I’ve found that in general, I will like a wide range of movies that do cutesy action or have neat concepts or good acting, but in general it is a synthesis of all of these in service to some core kernel – an idea or a theme – that I will most strongly identify with.

Here’s a link to my Inception review the day after I saw it the first time.  Since then, I have seen it twice more and I still think it’s great.  I identified the theme as “if a thing (experience, idea, person, etc.) has meaning to you (or possibly, to someone), it is real.”  Here are the components of the movie that I think did an excellent job of accenting that theme:

  • The acting was (in my opinion) good not because of any particular performance (although all three of DiCaprio, Cotillard and Page have wonderful moments of performance) but because the whole ensemble of acting reinforces the dreamlike theme of the movie.  It’s not about what each actor brings to their character, but what is carefully left out to distill each character to an ideal.
  • The ending, in essence, asks the audience two questions: one overt about dreams and reality, and one subtle about meaning and purpose.   That the movie asks the *audience* the second question is a beautiful reinforcement of the theme.
  • The repetition of ideas (reflecting the plot) and the focus on specific moments (reflecting the tone) both combined to make a very odd experience that was at once visceral and intellectual.  The kind of thing that really moves you and then later, as you ponder the logic of it, you think to yourself, how did that move me?   Like a dream.

Inception may be the best constructed movie I’ve seen, if only because it captures its flaws (which, like all things, it of course has) inside its purpose.  That is its beauty, to me, and the power of its idea.

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Humans as Canaries

I had a conversation with my boss Ken yesterday, wherein we discussed the dangers of being unable to identify when you are going in the wrong direction.  Meaning, sometimes you think you are doing everything right, and can’t see/aren’t aware of the subtle feedback that indicates something is wrong and in fact you are heading toward a cliff.  Less a cliff than a gas filled with toxic gas, I suppose: hence the canary metaphor.

It’s a little unjust to use canaries as a metaphor (since historically they die once they detect the danger), given what I am about to suggest — it pays to have another person to be an impartial observer and course-corrector, able to thwack you if you are off course.  There’s a lot of trouble bound up in the word “impartial,” because you don’t *really* want an impartial observer, you want someone who cares about your interests, but doesn’t just fail to tell you something because you don’t want to hear it.  A “true” friend, I suppose, but generally in a working sense and less in a general friendship sense.

I find that I have a number of canaries (or I guess, people I springboard ideas off of) who are friends, but very few such people in my work environment, where I am trusting my instincts (or the data) to tell me if I have gone astray.  It seems like I should get to work on making a mutually beneficial system wherein a person I trust and I are indicating to each other when things are sliding off the rails, when/if that happens.

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Springboard Mind

I caution the reader – I am somewhat inebriated due to the large quantities of Sake I just imbibed at this sweet sushi place in SF called Sanraku.  But the show must go on!  I’ve got kind of an odd mind, that jumps from idea to idea like you might skim over the surface of a pond (well, the metaphorical hovercraft-you).  It’s actually kind of interesting – this natural behavior makes me much better at some tasks (forms of investigation, prototyping, brainstorming) and way less good at other tasks (routine work, planning far out in advance).

In a sense, my brain is (I think) following these semi-invisible connection lines until it finds something compelling.  It’s difficult for the “mundane” parts to hold my attention — this is the reason I have a hard time paying bills or doing chores, because they just aren’t as interesting as the alternatives (interacting with humans or surfing the Internet).  The areas that I find compelling are stuff like science, science fiction, human “instrumentality” / anagnorisis / self-discovery, and romantic serendipity – but these areas aren’t omnipresent in day-to-day conversation and activity.  My brain strains to find connections to stuff it finds interesting, and sort of auto-tuning (not that kind of auto-tuning!) out the “noise.”

I do wonder whether my predilection for this “search for deeper meaning” that causes my mind to jump around and attempt connection is causing me to miss out on some “mundane” meaning that could end up being more meaningful, if that makes sense.  Kind of like a character struggling to find meaning in an unforgiving world when there’s meaning to be found in his/her relationships to regular people already.

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Review: Inception

I’m pretty sure at this point I would put Inception at 3rd or 4th all-time for my favorite movies.  I’ve spent most of the day in my spare thoughts ruminating over the implications of the movie, and just in general the feel and the content of it.  It was outstanding.

The movie had just the right mix of group crime thriller, science fiction and drama to hook me early and keep me all the way through.  DiCaprio’s performance was amazing, of course, but I thought nearly everyone’s was, which is kind of awesome for a movie with such an ensemble cast.  There was also a lot more depth and feeling of meaning (if that makes sense) to the action, which helped me bond with the characters much faster and stronger than I would have otherwise.

They do some crazy stuff with time – at the risk of minor spoilers, there’s some very excellent pacing and drama injected by the conceit that time flows faster in dreams (and even faster in dreams-within-dreams).  I of course appreciated that, being such a time fiction nut.  I heard on the radio the following phrase in relation to Inception: “if you get past the hokey science,” dot dot dot.  I kind of took it as given – the premise is people can share dreams, there’s no need for me to worry about how per se, except in the context of the plot device.

I will be buying this on DVD as soon as I am able, and probably watching it at least once more in the theater.  Two thumbs way up!

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Perception Gap

At the company event for our new Magic set yesterday, where a large number of people from Wizards gather to play Magic in a friendly, more casual play-for-prize environment, I played a few games against Roni.  Since Roni learned Magic not too long ago (we met at a previous one of these events), she’s still early in the progression for Magic players.  This makes her a great person for me to play with, because I get her perspective on cards and rules, both stated and implied.  In fact, I noticed a peculiar thing – because of our very different perspectives, there were a few things each of us did that, later, I realized the other would likely not even think about.

Roni is still shaky on card evaluation, which is understandable, since each individual card is its own world when you don’t know many cards.  So she was willing to put cards in her deck that I would have thrown away, and then (because they were in her deck, and she drew them) I was able to see in practice – not just theory – what the card did in context.  Sure, some of the cards still weren’t great (my evaluation was off) but some were actually quite good at doing some things I would not have expected (like the new Fork, Reverberation, which acted like a trump to my trump nearly all the time).  So seeing things from her perspective gave me a chance to understand that I snap-dismiss too many cards when evaluating.

One of the things that I do, at my point in the progression of Magic, is always look at the game state as a puzzle where “I win” is the solution.  Explaining that mentality to Roni and seeing how she incorporated that into her mental processes was also very helpful for me.

It’s refreshing to play games with people who are not at the same point as you are in the game’s progression/interest/learning curve, and as I found, I can learn quite a bit!

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Analogies are Dangerous

Everyone I know loves to argue by analogy.  I do it all the time!  (In fact, I doubt I will be able to finish this post without them!)  I also explain by analogy, and Zac has indicated to me that psychology research shows that our brains actually *think* in terms of analogies – that is, we are designed to associate ideas in patterns that are essentially analogies.

So why are analogies dangerous?  It’s because when you explicate – give meaning – via analogy, you are collapsing the space of understanding to a particular projection in analogy-space, one in which the analogy is THE way in which things are related (or at least the indicated relevant way).  It is a powerful tool, but like any tool, it is the tool user’s responsibility to be aware of the consequences of the tool’s usage.  When I use an analogy to explain something, I am not only biasing my audience because of the way I am taking stuff in the world and projecting into the analogy-space (before it was a political policy, now it’s a kitchen with too many cooks, etc.), I am also biasing my own thoughts about the matter.

I’ve been trying, when somebody explains something or argues something by analogy, to internally come up with one or two other ways in which I could form a different analogy about that thing.  Sure, the relationship between a game designer and a game developer at Wizards is like a writer and an editor, but it’s also like a cop and a lawyer, or like an architect and an interior decorator.  By stepping back and considering other analogies, I feel I am flexing my brain analogy-pattern muscles.

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Physics Practice

Mike and I had a little laugh about how I’ll need to make the last week of this month “Project Dave Blitz Week” in order to make any progress on my stated month theme!  Which may actually happen, we’ll see.  In the meantime, I’ve decided I want to do something physics-y… that is, relearn a lot of the physics I have forgotten through disuse, and teach myself enough to really teach others.

I looked through some of the texts I still have from college, and they are kind of beyond my ability to grok at this stage.  I think what I really need to do is plot a plan using a GRE study guide or something – many of the classes I remember taking did not follow the texts linearly (if at all!)  I browsed some books online, but I think I will probably want to go to a university-type book store to find what I want.  Although… maybe e-books are a way to go, as another reasonable way to utilize my iPad?

I really enjoy helping people understand crazy things about physics, and I feel bad when I feel like I *should* remember how something works, but I don’t.  This happened at work with a few conversations about relativity and quantum mechanics (not that I had the strongest intuitive grasp of them back in the day, either!) and I’d love to maybe be involved in a, I don’t know, study group or book group style gathering that was like an exploration of concepts in physics weekly/monthly.

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