Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Runic System Reference Document

John Kim has posted the System Reference Document that I mentioned yesterday to his web site as HTML.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

RuneQuest SRD now publicly available

The RuneQuest SRD and Developer's Kit is now freely available for download to the public off of Mongoose's web site. This allows you to check out the system yourself before committing to buying the books, and it also allows you to create your own RuneQuest publications, in the same way that the d20 license allows you to create d20 products.

Be warned, though: there are no examples or any other fluff, and the license terms are about as restrictive as the d20 terms. Experienced RPG players shouldn't have too much trouble with it, though.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Buen Provecho!

The Iron Chef New Mexico party was a huge success! Everyone had a great time and ate great, and the competition was very close, with strong entries by both teams.

The secret ingredients were unveiled at 1pm. The ingredients followed a "New Mexico" theme, and were green chile (of course), pecans, and avocado. We originally were going to have tomatillos instead of avocado, but we couldn't find good tomatillos in the stores but avocados were cheap, so we went with that.

Team Iron Chef Messilla, consisting of Tracy, Alexis, and Lacie, made some great dishes. Their appetizer was an avocado and nopalito (prickly pear cactus) salad served in martini glasses, which had a crisp, fresh taste like pico de gallo. Their main course was a really tasty Spanish lasangna made with tortillas, chile, and salsa rather than pasta, meat, and tomato sauce, with a cute little garnish made from a jalapeño. Their dessert was a plate of strawberry nachos with cinnamon, pecans, and whipped cream that was quite good and fun to eat.

Team Iron Chef Ventanas, consisting of Jenny and Kathryn, also put in a strong showing. They presented their dishes with a theme of "threes," and each dish featured one of the three ingredients, but included all three, which must have been a challenge. Their appetizer was a plate with three avocado appetizers on it: a three-pointed tortilla chip with classic guacamole on it, an avocado and goat cheese bruscetta with radish, and some "avocado sashimi," which was just thin slices of avocado with lime and pecan dust. Their main course was three three-pointed green chile ravioli centered with a pecan and avocado compote. Their dessert was three small cups of ice cream, each of a different flavor: butter pecan, green chile, and avocado. (Everyone seemed to like the green chile ice cream, but my favorite was the avocado.)

Our three judges were myself, Jen, and Jess, a friend of Joe's he brought to the party. Judging this event was a lot harder than I thought it would be, because everything was so good, your first inclination is to go with all five-out-of-five's, but then that doesn't do much to differentiate the two teams. Both teams produced food that was, frankly, better than any food you can get here in Las Cruces - you can't find this level of attention to detail and presentation in a restaurant (or at least, not in a reasonably-priced one). That made it very tough to distinguish between them, and I found myself having to really nit-pick to be able to justify in my mind a difference between the two. It was tough. In fact, after the party, I went back and did a little math on my scorecards and found that the point totals I gave both teams came out even.

But after all the points were tallied, team Ventanas won, but only by a slim margin: out of 150 possible points, the difference in scores was a mere three points. Both teams really earned the title Iron Chef.

Both teams said that the time frame - five hours - and the three-ingredient setup worked really well, so I think we have a winning setup for future Iron Chef parties. Anyone out there interested in challenging one of our Iron Chef teams? If so, let us know, and we'll set up another kitchen stadium rematch! Allez Cuisine!

Friday, August 25, 2006

Enter the Kitchen Stadium!

Tomorrow marks the kick-off party for our Halloween planning for 2006. (Well, actually, we've been doing a bit of planning, but now, it's time to get our butts in gear - Walgreen's and Big Lots already have their Halloween junk for sale!)

In order to start it off right, we're having an Iron Chef Competition. That's right, two Iron Chefs and their assistants will be doing battle in our own version of the kitchen stadium right here in New Mexico. Thus, the name of the competition is Iron Chef New Mexico. Here's the logo:
Iron Chef New Mexico
Our house will serve as the judging center. Tomorrow at 1pm, the Iron Chefs will gather at the judging center and we will unveil the secret ingredients for the challenge. The Iron Chefs have five hours to go to the store, buy any additional ingredients, prepare three dishes, and return to the judging center for plating. At exactly 6pm, the plated dishes must be set on the judges table, and then the judging begins!

In a twist on the usual theme, this competition will have three secret ingredients, and each must be the primary focus of one of the three plates: an appetizer, a main course, and a dessert. It's up to the Iron Chefs which ingredient to use with which plate - should they be safe and use the sweetest of the three for the dessert for flavor points, or should they go for originality points by bucking the obvious choice? We'll find out their choices tomorrow!

We're sending video cameras home with each Iron Chef so that we can edit it together into a show. Let's hope we get some great footage!

Allez cuisine!

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Using the CANVAS tag

The Mozilla Developer Center has a good article on using the CANVAS tag to add interactive drawing capabilities to your web pages, say, for adding interactive graphs and charts. Or blobs.

Unfortunately, as with all things web, Internet Explorer can't deal with it, which means it would be difficult to use in a production environment, although there are workarounds.

(Via Particletree.)

Monday, August 21, 2006


Flow is one of the most mesermizing and hypnotic Flash games out there, and it has a great life-simulator feel to it on top of that.

In the game, you play a small organism that, as it eats other organisms, grows longer and faster. Depending on how you play, your organism "evolves" to have a different look, with different placement and lengths of fins. Each level has a blue organism and a red organism. Eating the red organism dives you down deeper, with the background turning to black. Eating the blue lifts you up, with the background turning to a calming blue. As you descend, you encounter many other organisms which you can feast upon (or which can feast upon you!). The goal of the game, I think, is to reach the bottom blackness and see how your organism evolved.

The graphic style, done with calm, glowing circles and line segments, is simple and elegant. The depth levels are achieved with a blurring effect (thanks to Flash 9!) that resembles focusing on different items using a microscope. The audio reinforces the graphic style, and in the end, you have a very well-rounded, intuitive game that is deeply engaging. More Flash games should be this good.

Friday, August 18, 2006


Hyperfabric would be a great technology to put to use in ImaginEERIEing. I wonder how much it costs? Be sure to check out the other interactive technologies at the site.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

The New RuneQuest

While I was in Albuquerque this weekend, I stopped into a local game store and bought their last copy of the Runequest Main Rulebook. I haven't made it all the way through the book yet, but I had a good chunk of time in the car ride back from Albuquerque, so here are my impressions so far:

Production Values Okay, I realize that Mongoose does not have the publishing resources of WotC. They set ambitious goals for themselves and are a prolific publisher on what must be a shoestring budget. But come on, guys. The number of typos in the core rule book is embarassing, and there are some layout mistakes that one cannot believe were overlooked (such as the bullets in bulleted lists flying way off to the left). Typos in a rulebook don't affect the game (unless they're so bad they obfuscate the actual rules), but they do make you wonder about how solid the rule system is if the rulebook looks thrown together.

This impression is made worse by the confusing or incomplete ways in which some rules are presented. A good rewrite and editing job on this book would go a long way.

(Mongoose, if you somehow end up reading this, I'll volunteer to proofread future RuneQuest publications and make suggestions.)

Besides this, though, the production quality is better than most small publishers. It's a solid hardback book with obvious effort in making the interior pages attractive and readable.

Artwork The artwork is quite good in places, but it is unfortunately not of a uniform quality. And there's precious little of it - most pages look exactly the same, and often, when there is artwork, it's just a picture of a rune. I can excuse this due to the likely budget for this offering, but again, art often carries the burden of communicating the atmosphere of the game system (and RuneQuest does differentiate itself from, say, d20 in this respect), so it's not exactly negligible to the rules, either. I would have liked to see a little more artwork used to portray the unique elements of the Runequest flavor, such as showing a situation where a wounded arm causes problems for the hero.

Rules Ah, the meat of the matter. I think it's fair to say that the new edition of RuneQuest preserves much of what made RuneQuest what it was back in version two, with a modernising to bring it more in line with current game systems. For instance, the skill-based system remains, but a game mechanic that allows for "power-ups" for characters, similar to feats in d20, is in place.

But some of the graceful game mechanics that I really appreciated about the game have been removed. For instance, gone are the little checkboxes next to your skills which you roll against to see if you improve in them at the end of an adventure. This is replaced by a "pick three skills to improve" sort of mechanic, which is less satisfying to me. The original system was very cool in that you get better at using a spear by using a spear, and you get better at using an axe by using an axe. It was natural, straightforward, realistic, and best of all, responsive to what the player does throughout every moment of their career.

Also gone is the resistance rule of pitting characteristic versus characteristic, which was an effective and easy core mechanic of version two. In order to achieve this, they had to adopt some conventions that seem clunky on the first read. For instance, what may have been a STR or DEX rolls in version two are now replaced by an "Athletics" skill check. It seems to me that this would largely make the primary characteristics only marginally useful as skills eclipse them in importance.

The good news is that they have somewhat streamlined the hit location mechanic by removing the "total hit points" thing, which always seemed to be extra bookkeeping, and simplified impale and critical rules so that you're not having to figure out what 5% of 37 is on the fly. Fumbles have also been made more infrequent, which is good.

They also streamlined the confusing "strike rank" mechanic from version two in a way that is not only more efficient, but actually makes tactical decisions more interesting. You have a fixed number of actions and reactions per round, and you can use each in different ways that require some interesting combat decisions. For instance, if someone attacks you with their "action" and you do a good enough job parrying the blow with a "reaction", you can also "riposte" and immediately make an attack roll. But to take advantage of this, you must expend an additional "reaction" for that round, which may put you in a position where you are unable to parry or block an incoming attack later in the round. This is the sort of thing that makes combat interesting: tactical decisions that are simple, but important.

Overall, I'd say the changes balance each other out from what I've read so far, and if I were to run a RuneQuest campaign, I'd very quickly put the old version two rules back in place as house rules.

Value Here's where the RuneQuest Main Rulebook falls down in my opinion. The $24.95 price tag was worth it to me mainly because I have prior knowledge of the system and what it is capable of, but a newcomer to the game is likely to feel ripped off. The book is about a third the size of the d20 Player's Handbook, has a font size/line spacing about half again as large, and has rather gigantic margins in comparison. A lot less content than I expected for a core rulebook.

Worse, the organization of these books is going to make for a lot of back-and-forthing. From what I can tell, the RuneQuest Companion contains information that should have been in the core rulebook, like how spirit combat works, character advancement between adventures, and part of the list of character backgrounds for character creation. Meanwhile, the core rulebook has monster stats and giveaways on how certain diseases work and such. If you're going to split the rules into two parts, split them into a book containing player information and a book containing gamemaster information - that speeds up play if only because it will usually be obvious which book to open.

In the end, this book is a lot less content than my well-worn second edition version had. I was willing to buy this new version because I know the value of the system, but I'm skeptical that others will be so gracious. After getting a slim volume for $25, it makes you wary of dropping more cash on that franchise; I would have preferred to see a thicker, more feature-complete core rulebook to usher in new players.

Final review: Disappointing in some ways, delivering in others, it's a moderate offering, but the system remains a solid alternative to the typical d20 fare which focuses more on high fantasy. RuneQuest is more Robert E. Howard than Tolkein, and if that's a fantasy flavor you like, RuneQuest is an excellent system for achieving that feel. Just be prepared to put in a little more work as GM to compensate for the awkwardness of the rules presentation, at least until such time as Mongoose issues a revised edition.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Viacom is buying Atom

Tom Higgins, the product manager for Director and Shockwave Player, blogged today that MTV Networks (owned by Viacom) are going to buy Atom Entertainment. For those who don't know, Atom Entertainment is the owner of, which is basically a heavy install base driver for Shockwave player. This is significant because plays a part in the install process for the Shockwave Player (last I checked, anyway). My understanding is that there has always been a very close relationship between and MacromediaAdobe (but perhaps that has eroded over the years).

Because of this, the fact that Tom is still learning about this is troubling. Tom is a smart, level-headed guy who is intimately familiar with the product and what the development community's reaction to changes to the installation process would result in. If the executives were smart, they would have started out this process by talking to him first to see what he had to say.

This makes me wonder anew whether there are any executives actually viewing Director and Shockwave as a technology instead of as a static brand element, an unchanging token to be traded around for cash. Shockwave's long-term value lies in the developers creating content with it. Every time a developer jumps ship, not only does Adobe lose revenue from the loss of future sales of new versions of Director, but also, there are fewer people developing content in Director, which in turn means less impetus for people to install the Shockwave player. Which in turn makes people less likely to adopt Director. And so on.

They don't appear to understand it, but Adobe executives are sitting on an absolute gold mine. They have a commanding lead in the web-based 3D game technologies realm, and the industry is poised to take casual gaming by storm. It's a no-brainer that this could mean a serious windfall for Adobe (and Atom, and Viacom). But if they squander that away by letting Director and Shockwave languish, letting other technologies move in and leapfrog them, then they won't be taking home the lion's share of development revenue and a cut of the consumption revenue.

Maybe Viacom understands this. Maybe Viacom, to protect their new investment, will prod Adobe into updating their aging 3D player so that new content that comes out for stays on top of the heap. But I doubt it. They probably just view this as buying eyeballs. Otherwise, they would have been talking to people like Tom. But we'll see.

Guess I should start learning Torque.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Developing Dashboard Widgets

Andrew Hedges has a nice article on developing Dashboard Widgets that acts as a nice companion to the Apple document on the same topic.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Leopard will ship with Ruby on Rails

My "Should I learn Django and Python, or should I learn Ruby on Rails?" dilemma just got a serious boost in the direction of Ruby on Rails. It looks like Leopard, the next version of OS X, will ship with Ruby on Rails pre-installed. That means easy peasy Ruby on Rails installation, updating, and quick-starting. With the new Intel Xserves coming out, combined with the heavily-Apple Ruby on Rails community, this looks like it's going to be a pretty sweet next-generation web development platform for yours truly.

I think I need to get a second job

My wife and I had the rare opportunity to go to lunch together today, so at Nopalito's, I asked her what she wanted for her birthday, which is coming up soon.

"Nothing too expensive," she said. She thought about it for a while. Then her face lit up with an idea. "I know! You can get me a Honda Element!"

Monday, August 07, 2006

Brisco County, Jr. coming to DVD!

This news just made my day: the entire Brisco County, Jr. series is coming out on DVD. Took plenty long, too - makes me wonder, to paraphrase Bowler, just where they were hiding them things...

Sunday, August 06, 2006

The Archimedes Palimpsest

"There are things which seem like miracles to men who have not studied mathematics." - Archimedes

I'm a big fan of Archimedes. His early mathematical proofs, such as estimating the radius of the Earth and discovering the properties of density and buoyancy, were ingenious, astonishingly accurate, and insightful. And if scholarly pursuits like that don't get your blood racing, how about this: he is said to have been personally instrumental in staving off Roman attacks, setting fire to ships, building great traps for invaders, and improving catapult technology. Oh, and he demonstrated to his king the power of the pulley by lifting an entire ship, complete with crew and cargo, by pulling on a single rope, saying, "Give me a place to stand, and I can move the Earth."

So it is that the story of the Archimedes Palimpsest continues to fascinate me. It's got so many of the elements that resonate with me:
  • Archimedes, and his brilliance in Mathematics
  • communication of Mathematics
  • the loss of knowledge to the sands of time
  • the historical hostility of organized religion to truth and knowledge
  • interesting details of historic publishing, illumination, and papercraft
  • alert bibliophiles rediscovering important texts thought to be lost
  • philanthropists that do great works and remain anonymous
  • using science to reconnect with truths once known but lost
  • ...and irony.
What's the irony? That the ascetic who scraped off the words of Archimedes to pen his own spiritual treatise, despite his intent, actually served to protect them through the slow and dangerous crawl of time. Had he not done that, this original treatise would have been burned with all the other "heretical" works. Only by masquerading as religious dogma was this important tome of early mathematics saved from holy immolation. And now, despite being scraped away literally to the flesh (goatskin to be precise), the very words penned by Archimedes are being coaxed forth using cutting-edge scientific methods developed specifically for the purpose. It's amazing work, technically and historically, and it makes me glad to have studied Mathematics so that I can appreciate its value.

Friday, August 04, 2006

JSON Communications Module

I'm posting this here mainly for my own reference, but hey, other people may benefit, too, so...

I've written a JSON communications module to make it easy to send JSON-based content back and forth between a server and a Javascript application on the client side. In other words, AJAX, but with JSON as the format instead of XML. (I guess you'd call it AJAJ or AJAJSON for "Asynchronous Javascript and JSON", but that sounds dumb. Maybe something like SONJA or JASON, an anagram using the letters from AJAJSON. Sure, it uses fewer letters, but then, so does JSON compared to XML. Heh.)

Here's how it works. Suppose you have a Javascript object you want to perform an action with that requires communication with a server. You set up an action with a meaningful (unique) name for that action, and then when you want to take that action, you "fire" the action with some postargs. This code handles setting up the connection with the server, sending the postargs, receiving the JSON code from the server, parsing the JSON into a Javascript object, and then calling the given method in the given object with the result.

Dependencies are Prototype and JSON in Javascript. (Truth be told, most of the heavy lifting is done by these libs. My code is just glue.)

Anyhoo, the code can be found here.

Thursday, August 03, 2006


Okay, so one of the geekiest of my interests is something I guess you'd call RPG Archaeology. I'm interested in RPG's not just for playing them, but also from a game design perspective, and one of the interesting things to look at is the manner in which game systems evolve.

I've made it clear in the past that I think very highly of the RuneQuest system, and I think its game system is strong even by today's standards. But I'd have to say (granted, not having seen the new edition yet) that the pinnacle was 1980's release of the second edition. My copy was even more well-worn than my AD&D Player's Handbook.

So it was with great pleasure I found the RPG Archaeology site that relates the entire history of the RuneQuest game. It's an interesting read if you geek out on stuff like this.

Of particular interest to a RuneQuest fan like myself was the discovery that there was - sort of - a fourth edition to RuneQuest which was never really published. It was to be called RuneQuest: Slayers, and apparently had nothing to do with the series (much in the way Halloween III: Season of the Witch had nothing to do with the Halloween movie series), so it's probably a good thing it didn't become an official member of the RuneQuest line.

But it is available as a free download under its modified name, RuneSlayers, if you're interested in scoring a free, fully-developed RPG.

But as I mentioned before, I'm still looking forward to the Mongoose edition of RuneQuest.

Spreading the Horror

Ever since I picked up Arkham Horror, it's been spreading like a nameless, sanity-blasting spawn of an otherworldly eldritch fungus. At this count, I figure I'm responsible for at least three other purchases of the game. (And I've bought two copies of the Curse of the Dark Pharaoh expansion, one for myself, and one for my buddy Rich.)

This game is a lot of fun, and the production values are really high. I've been very impressed by the games from Fantasy Flight Games so far - I've also played the excellent RuneBound game, which had equally high production values. But are they good enough? As a result of playing Arkham Horror and RuneBound, I was thinking of picking up Descent: Journeys in the Dark, until I saw the pricetag: $80 ($65 street). It's just too steep for my blood.