Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Introducing Arkham Nights: Street Locations

The second casebook for Arkham Investigations, my custom expansion rules for Arkham Horror, has been released.

It's called Arkham Nights: Street Locations, and basically just provides encounters for the street locations, for those of you tired of sitting around in the streets while your buddies go having fun adventures in Arkham locations and other worlds.

It introduces some new cards, notably reputation cards, which are cards which track the town's knowledge of your investigator, and several new ally cards based on Lovecraft's (or Sandy Petersen's) writings. Here are some samples:

Informant CardFather Merluzzo Ally Card

Check it out, and let me know what you think.

Monday, March 26, 2007

PS3 versus XBox360

An interesting juxtaposition of events today. First comes news that you can allow extra cycles from your PS3 to be put to work for cancer research via folding@home. The linked article exhorts you PS3 owners to "Leave your PS3 on for a good cause this Sunday night!" And it's working - folding@home via PS3 is accounting for 666 TeraFlops of the folding effort, some 72% of the total, wiping up the leaderboard.

Not surprisingly, the XBox360 fanboys are chafing a bit, and are pleading with Microsoft to let them fold, too. The purported reason is that it will help save more lives, but I think we all know what happens when fanboys of any stripe get out-clocked.

Anyway, it does lead to one interesting question: so why isn't the Xbox360 capable of being left on overnight to participate in the folding competition? We had one possible explanation happen to us in the game lab today. One of our Xbox360's got left on overnight running Lost Planet. When our lab administrator came in the next day, he discovered that the Xbox360 had gouged the disc into an unreadable, bubbled mess! The game, which we had had only a few days, was now unplayable, $50 down the drain. This is the second XBox360 we've had that has eaten games - the first one ate one of our driving games.

One of the guys at work mentioned that some industry analysts are putting Xbox360 hardware failure rates at near 50% (anyone got a link?). And clearly, Xbox360's are not meant to be left on overnight. These two things combined could lead to a marketing disaster for Microsoft should they try to participate in a scientific modeling effort where lives hang in the balance. If crashing, burning Xbox360's cause troubles for the folding@home effort, that would be pretty embarrasing. Better to just leave the Xbox360 as strictly a home entertainment vehicle.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Why I am not a Republican

Here's yet another example of why I cannot connect with the Republican party platform. In this LA Times story about the investigation into Republican political edits to global warming science, it was revealed that Republicans
...disputed [the scientist on the stand's] contention that taxpayer-funded scientists are entitled to free speech. "Free speech is not a simple thing and is subject to and directed by policy," said Rep. Chris Cannon (R-Utah).
To my view, free speech is a simple thing. So long as you're not inciting a riot or yelling "movie!" in a crowded firehouse, you should be able to express your views. And sharing the results of your scientific findings doesn't even come close to an edge case. But Cannon is correct about one thing. Free speech is directed by policy: the U.S. Constitution.

I wonder...what part of being a taxpayer-funded scientist, in Chris Cannon's mind, makes one ineligible for free speech? Chris Cannon himself is taxpayer-funded, so he certainly couldn't be so hypocritical as to suggest that being supported by taxpayer funds makes one ineligible. So it must be the mere fact that he's a scientist. Says a lot.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007


I'm getting a bit overwhelmed at work lately. Stacked crises, paired with important yet seemingly unassailable issues, tripled with constant minor emergencies have conspired to practically ensure that responsibilities flow in faster than I can knock them back.

Here's a snapshot of what a typical day has looked like for me lately. I come to work thinking that I'm finally going to get that scholarship form redone, or that online catalog started, or that Pirate Science scene programmed, or that CMS built. But there's just a quick thing that needs to get done. Months ago, we built a conference web site, and because we can't accept credit cards yet, we had to outsource the registration form to another university, and that registration has to go live ASAP. But before we can let the registration form go live, we have to get the session descriptions from the program committee and put them up on the site we're building, so that they can be linked to off of the registration form. Because, you know, that would make the form too long.

But the sessions are not in a usable format for import into a database ("I've got it in a Word file..."), so I have to massage the data by hand to import it so I can write some quick PHP code to display it. I get that done, but oh did we mention that the sessions are still being tweaked? So I'll have to scrap the current data and re-massage it again later.

Then we're supposed to give feedback on the form, so we look at the actual registration form that was built. When printed, it's nine pages long, filled with literally hundreds of redundant fields you have to fill out. Many of the controls are inscrutable - some are literally unlabeled. But they think it's awesome because "it's all on one page."

Worse, the registration form was supposed to also communicate the schedule, but it really doesn't because it's just looks like an Excel spreadsheet of session names and times. It begins to dawn on us that we have to put up a session schedule, too, marked up in a way that lets people understand which sessions are opposite which events, admin meetings, and workshops, so that when they go to actually register, they can make sense out of this awful sisyphean form.

So we design a page layout that will communicate the complicated session schedule. But the schedule isn't firmed up yet, either, so we'll have to redo pieces of that, too.

And how to respond to the request for feedback? I have to decide whether to tell them that nine (printed) pages of dense form filling is just too much - which would probably just piss people off and end up with me building the registration form - or to just let it go and have the whole thing reflect poorly on us. Some choice.

Oh, and because they don't want to count the first-day workshops, tours, administrative meetings, and receptions as a conference day, we have to change the logo graphic. Meanwhile, three new responsibilities have come in via email which I've only been able to fire off "yeah, yeah, I'll get to it when I can" responses to. Then I look up and it's five o'clock two days later, sixteen hours of my professional life gone, and that much closer to all the other deadlines that loom like the Eye of Sauron on the horizon. Gah.

I'd say I need a vacation, but I'd just come back with even more pressing deadlines...


Picora is a lightweight MVC framework for PHP from LivePipe.

Sunday, March 18, 2007


Control.Tabs from LivePipe is a nice, clean method for adding tabs to your web pages.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Quest Article on Game Accessibility

KQED QUEST has an interesting article on videogame accessibility, including game accessibility advancements shown at GDC.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

More work in Cocoa

I've been tinkering more with Xcode and Cocoa, working on making a utility to help people write casebooks for Arkham Investigations. Here's a screenie of progress so far:
Casebook screenshot thumbnail
(Click to enlarge)
Not all the controls you see here work yet, but it is letting you click back and forth between the table on the left and paragraphs on the right to edit. You can also shift-click on the table to automatically add a paragraph reference to the clicked-on paragraph to the currently-edited paragraph, something that took me quite a bit of reading to figure out how to do (and I'm pretty sure there are better ways to do it, but I'm just not familiar with the framework yet).

Friday, March 09, 2007


I've been tinkering with different PHP frameworks lately, and CodeIgniter, an open source web application framework, is looking pretty nice. It's nice without being super bloated, and seems to have the nice MVC separation I've been looking for but have not really had the time to code up in a reusable, consistent manner.

Microsoft makes money off of their own screwups

Microsoft is making the lives of IT professionals hell this week, because the Daylight Savings Time change is forcing Microsoft suckerscustomers to do a lot of manual updates for multiple programs. Imagine having hundreds of machines in your fleet to manually update. This is why Microsoft support costs the industry so much.

And here's another reason. From the article:
For those customers still running products like Windows 2000, Exchange 2000 or the earlier Exchange 5.5, are no longer in Microsoft mainstream support and are thus not covered under standard support agreements, the situation is even more dire, as it will cost them $4,000 for all the DST updates.
That's right. Microsoft charges you four thousand dollars for their screw-up.

I am continually boggled why people continue to use Microsoft products. How many times do you have to be burned before you learn not to stick your head in the fireplace? Apple fixed this with a simple patch that came in automatically via software update. And it didn't cost me a dime.

First Steps with Cocoa

I decided the other night that I need to start widening my knowledge of computer programming, and I decided to start learning Objective-C / Cocoa.

This sort of decision is good in theory, but often the learning curve very quickly discourages you, and you wind up giving up and reverting to what you know. But the only way to find out is to dive in.

So I started writing my first objective-C Cocoa program tonight, using XCode from Apple. To my surprise, I was able, on my first night, to get a pretty feature-rich application working. It has a table view that manages multiple objects which can be edited in a text editor on the side. I'm really impressed not only with the Objective-C language - with its very clear and friendly syntax - but with the NextStep-based code library Apple provides for creating applications. Although it took a bit of reading, the organization of the elements I've investigated is clear and powerful.

Maybe this won't take so long to get feeling comfortable with after all...

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Lost Planet (XBOX 360) | The New Gamer

A while ago, I mentioned the gross disparity between what the Lost Planet XBox360 game ads attribute to various reviews, and what the reviews were actually saying. In essence, the ad attributes a game reviewer as saying it "simply rocks" when the actual review in the very same magazine the ad ran in did not say that, nor was that anything close to the spanking the review gave the game.

Now the New Gamer has reviewed Lost Planet, too, and it's yet another ruthless review. One particular gem from the review reads "Your mission, should you choose to accept it: stand still and hold the fire button." Ouch.

Of course, we'll probably soon see an ad that says:
"...exciting..." - New Gamer

Wednesday, March 07, 2007


ADLib is "Another DHTML Library" with much of the same functionality of Prototype.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Thanks for putting New Mexico on the Map

It's starting to look like both Domenici and Wilson, our fine state's Republican representatives, leaned on the District Attourney to bring charges against a Democrat before the November election, and when he didn't comply, he was removed by the Bush administration.

You know, it's not often that New Mexico makes the national news. I'd really prefer that we not make the news this way. I expect this sort of irrational newbie neo-con behavior from Wilson, the selfsame person who actually cried about seeing Janet Jackson's nipple. But Domenici has been in office since, what, 1972? The man should know better.

Monday, March 05, 2007 is a "showroom of nice looking simple downloadable DHTML and AJAX scripts." Several of these downloadable elements are similar to solutions that I've been tinkering with for a custom CMS at work. Interesting. My job may have just gotten easier...

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Arkham Horror Single-Player Rules available

In addition to the new rules release of Arkham Investigations, I've also put up the single-investigator house rules for Arkham Horror developed by my buddy Rich.

Rich has spent a lot of time trying to tweak the difficulty balance for the single-investigator game, and has come up with six rules to help give the lone investigator a fighting chance.

You can grab the new rules on the Arkham Investigations rules page. (Any other house rules and rules variants we produce will also go on that page.)

Arkham Investigations new version out

After lots of feedback, I've made some changes to the Arkham Investigations rules and uploaded them to the site. Go to the Arkham Investigations web site to grab the new versions. There are new versions of the rules set, token sheet, progress cards, and an updated version of the first casebook that is compatible with the new rules.

The major changes include:
Toughness Tokens
Because casebooks tend to focus on particular enemies, it's easy to run out of enemy chips when you take them as monster trophies. So now, instead of taking the monster as your trophy, you take one Toughness Token for each point of toughness the monster has and return the monster to the monster cup. Then, toughness tokens may be spent just like one-toughness monster tokens. This also provides a mechanism to reward players for accomplishing tasks in the case by granting them toughness tokens to spend.
Generic Investigation Progress Cards
The Vignette cards and Investigation Progress cards are now melded into single cards that track progress through the vignette and its state. And because they are generic - with labels like "A", "B", etc. - they may be used from game to game, and don't project the environments the players will face during the case like the old ones did.
Paragraph-based exposition
The game has now adopted a "read paragraph X..." mechanism for presenting the story. This not only helps hide the plot from being revealed prematurely, it also adds more dramatic tension to decisions, because you don't always know the ramifications of a decision you are about to make. Do you approach that stranger on the train station platform, or not? If so, read paragraph 12. If not, read paragraph 37.
Simpler timeline mechanic
We've done away with the doom track and simply made the endgame get triggered when the timeline runs out. This is not only simpler, but it also allows Arkham Investigations to be played as a stand-alone game or as an expansion for the core Arkham Horror game by removing the multiplicative impact the old timeline mechanism would have had on the Doom Track. You could even play multiple games of Arkham Investigations at once.
More author-friendly format
The sum total of the above changes makes creating casebooks much more fan-friendly. Whereas before, authors would have to produce Vignette cards, now authors need only provide text, which can be delivered easily and with little bandwidth. And because of the new timeline mechanism, fans can create short or long stories depending on their commitment to the effort.
Let me know what you think!