mead report 2: batch 1

After a month, I tested out my first-ever jug of honey mead. Back then, it was about a month old, and waaaaay too sweet to enjoy fully. So a month later I had a little nip from the same bottle, and I can tell that at least something is happening. It has acquired a tartness that I kind of like, though it is still incredibly sweet: an artifact of the honey used in making it, obviously. Speaking of artifacts, there’s a lot of sediment and fine particulates at the bottom of the jug. Maybe it’s leavings from the yeast? Common sense tells me to avoid consuming it.

this is home-brewed mead, not a urine sample.

The colder months really aren’t the time of the year to be brewing, are they? Seems like my yeast has been sleepy, though the drink is slightly carbonated. An acquaintance suggested I use a yeast starter with mead, as carbons present in the honey prevent effective carbonation/yeast proliferation. Meanwhile, the recipe I used stated that if organic unfiltered honey is used, there should be enough wild yeast and “activators” present in the honey to allow for proper fermentation. The jury’s still out on the yeast starter, but I think brewing over the winter is no longer an option for future batches.

I’m not blind yet, and I’ve not given myself food poisoning. So at least it’s a step up from prison hooch. If this all goes well, maybe I’ll just invest in a still and start making my own with some “proper equipment.”

At this rate, I think it ought to be ready for my birthday in mid-February.We’ll taste again in January to see what’s changed.

Mead Report 1: batch 1

I saw an article about how to make your own mead from honey and water in The New Pioneer magazine, and decided to give it a try. We used filtered water and locally-harvested wild orange blossom honey.

A first taste confirmed that it’s still way too sweet, which means there’s more time needed for the yeast to devour the sugars present from the honey.

We’ll see how it tastes after another month. But I’m surprised that I didn’t break the mead, and we didn’t die or go blind. Pictured below is the mead in its current container: an old sangria bottle with a bit of plastic shopping bag as an airlock. Before I transferred it to this bottle, it was a LOT clearer. But it’s definitely effervescent, which is good.

mead batch 1

New Flash Game: The 13th Hour

I created another Flash game, this one for The TDC Scrolls community project. The theme was THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD.

To play, click here.

ENJOY!

screen shot - the 13th hour

New Flash Game: RUN LIKE HELL

Itching to make a game, and incensed/inspired by a recent visit to The Daily Click, I put together a game for a gamejam. The idea of a gamejam is to make a functional game in a very short period of time. This particular event - The Arbitrary Gamejam (or TAG for short) - had three words to use or combine as an inspirational theme to the competition; I chose “Anabasis” from the lot of ‘em. The game was conceived, rendered, and playtested to my satisfaction by yours truly in about 14 hours, all told.

The game is called RUN LIKE HELL.  Your army has been routed, your leader killed, and you’ve soiled your armour. Nothing left to do but RUN LIKE HELL.

screenshot from RUN LIKE HELL

Had I more time and/or more skill, I would have added in a Mountain stage and a Beach stage, to fit in with the history behind Anabasis. But although I did my best,  reckon I may be able to revisit this game and come up with two new stages, more accomplishments, and more ripped music.

This was fun.

Click to play RUN LIKE HELL.

Card Game: Make 10

Make 10 is a card game for two to four players.  All that is required is a normal deck of cards.

Summary of Play: each player has a deck of ten number cards, each with the same suit.  On their turn, players place a card from their hand of three next to one of up to four available face cards in an effort to out-bid their opponents.  If a player places a card that “makes 10″ when added to  the numbers of all the other surrounding cards, then they may place another card from their hand on the same turn.  When a face card is surrounded on all four sides by number cards, the player with the highest bid surrounding the face card takes it, all number cards are returned to their respective owners in a discard pile, and the next face card is turned face-up.  Once all face cards are claimed by players, then the player with the highest number of points wins.

DETAILED HOW-TO-PLAY INSTRUCTIONS

Separate the deck of cards into five piles: face cards, Hearts, Spades, Clubs, and Diamonds.  The Jokers are not used in this game and should be set aside.  Each player should take one suit pile and shuffle it.  This pile should have 10 cards in it.

Make 10 - separating stacks of cards.

Deal the face cards into four piles of three cards each, and arrange them on the table with space between each of them.

Make 10 - four piles of face cards.

Each player draws a hand of three cards from their draw pile.

Make 10 - a hand of 3 cards.

Whomsoever has the next birthday goes first, and play continues clockwise.  On a player’s turn, they must place one card in an available spot next to one of the face-up face cards on the table: up, down, left, or right.  This is a “bid” in an effort to have the highest sum of their own cards surrounding that face card.  The player then draws cards from their Draw Pile up to a hand of three cards.

Note that in this game, Aces count as 1 for the purposes of bidding.

Make 10 - four positions surrounding a face card.

The next player in turn order places their own card, and soon each player will have played at least one card.  Here’s an example of what the table may look like in a game after that first turn.

Make 10 - example of game table after a first round of play.

Play continues clockwise until a face card has a number card in each of its four positions: up, down, left, and right.

Make 10 - a face card is surrounded with bids.

WINNING A BID

Once a face card is surrounded, play stops for a moment.  The player with the highest bid (sum of the numbers on their own cards) surrounding a face card “wins” that card.  That winner takes the face card and puts it in their Point Pile, and all players collect any number cards used to surround that face card.

In this example, Spades has won with a bid of 12.  They collect the King as well as their 10 and 2.  Diamonds takes their 8, and Clubs takes their 6.  All number cards are put face-up in their respective players’ Discard Pile.

Make 10 - Spades wins the bid for the King card.

Once the face card is claimed, the next face card in that pile is flipped face-up, and play continues with the next player in turn order.

Make 10 - a new face card is flipped face-up.

Here’s an example of what the game table will look like after a face card is claimed.  The new face card - the Jack of Clubs - is not surrounded by a number card on any side.

Make 10 - Play continues after a face card is collected.

WHEN A PLAYER MUST RESHUFFLE

If a player runs out of cards in their Draw Pile, she must momentarily set her hand aside, shuffle their Discard Pile, and make that their new Draw Pile.  She can then draw up to a hand of three cards.

HOW TO MAKE 10

A player may play more than one card per turn if they “Make 10.”  To do this, the cards surrounding a face card must add up to a multiple of 10 (10, 20, 30, or 40) once she places her card next to that face card.

For example, if a player places a 4 next to a face card that already has a 6 next to it, she has just Made 10, and may place another card from her hand on the table if she wants.

Make 10 - a player Makes 10 by adding a 6 to a 4.

A player may place her 10 card next to a face card to Make 10 early in the game…

Make 10 - Make 10 with a 10 number card on its own.

…or place it next to a face card with which they or someone else has already Made 10.

Make 10 - Make 10 with a total of 10, 20, 30, or 40.

In this way, a player can Make 10 more than once on her turn.  But remember: a player may NOT draw cards until the end of her turn. This prevents a “runaway” player from constantly playing more and more cards on their turn.

Play continues until there are no face cards remaining.  At that time, players count up the cards in their Point Pile. Jacks are worth 1 point, Queens are worth 2 points, and Kings are worth 3 points.  The player with the most points wins the game!

Make 10 - Face card point values.

OTHER NOTES:

Here’s an example of a workable player card layout: hand is to the left, and to the right is the Discard Pile, Draw Pile, and Point Pile.

Make 10 - sample player card layout.

BREAKING TIES

If a number card is placed and more than one player ties for the highest bid, then ties must be resolved.  If the player who “closed” the card is tied for the highest, bid, then they take the face card.  If not them, then go to the next player in clockwise order.

If more than one player is tied for the highest score at the end of the game, then each tied player shuffles their Point Cards face down, and flips the first three face-up.  The player with the highest total when adding their three cards together wins.  Repeat this process if the players are still tied.

VARIATIONS ON PLAY

Try playing the game with face card piles sharing number cards with those face card piles next to them.  This makes for a tighter game space and a quicker game overall, but it can be very unpredictable in terms of the outcome.

Try playing the game with face cards not collected until all face cards have been surrounded.  This increases the competitive nature of the game, and increases strategy by allowing astute players to “count cards” more easily.

Francois Tremblay: myth, lies, and religion

I was reading Francois Tremblay’s latest entry: Keep reaching for the pie in the sky.  And it reminded me of a humorous personal anecdote.

Long story short: my day job is at a day program for young adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities.  It is also recognized as a Christian organization.  Working there becomes rather complex at times, as I’m a nonbeliever atheist (as well as an anarchist, though my political leanings have less of an impact on the day-to-day).

Anyway, Franc’s entry reminded me of my introduction of Krampus to the clients.  For the uninitiated, I submit this:

I facilitated “Alternative Christmas Traditions” and introduced the Christmas Demon in a fun, harmless way, and the clients really enjoyed it.  They enjoyed it so much so that Krampus became a scapegoat for any mischief: “Krampus is at it again,” “Must have been Krampus!”

I decided to put an end to it, with the blessing of the other program staff.  It was April, after all.

I presented a grand plan to “catch Krampus” to the clients, and they responded enthusiastically.  As I went upstairs to leave a trail of stale Christmas candy and old beat-up candy canes for Krampus to follow downstairs to the lower-floor room where the clients all lay in wait for him, I quick-changed into a cheap-ass Krampus costume which consisted of my bicycle helmet and a black pullover fleece sweater, covered with strands of shredded black garbage bag.

The clients were persuaded to sing Christmas carols in an effort to convince Krampus to expose himself out-of-season.  So it was to the strains of “Jingle Bells” and “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” that I scampered down the stairs and proceeded to terrify the clients.

I really didn’t know the extent of my theatrics and how much that would have caused problems.  Several of the clients were scared and legitimately terrified.  At least one of the clients was gibbering hysterically, in tears.

That was definitely not my intent.  I wanted to put a fun, engaging, amusing capstone on a Christmas tradition I wanted to reintroduce later in the year at a more appropriate calendar date (um, like December).

So at the end of the day, as the clients were “processing” the experience with another of the staff, I opted to approach the clients holding the Krampus costume in my hands.  I explained to them that Krampus was a Christmas tradition celebrated halfway across the world, it really was me, Krampus wasn’t real.  I apologized to the clients I had seriously frightened, and everyone seemed relieved.

AND I did it without mentioning anything about Santa Claus or any of the other Christmas traditions they may have celebrated.  It wasn’t my place to talk to them about the bigger picture of Christmas itself, or even Christianity.  I simply dealt with the issue at hand, which was reassuring a bunch of frightened clients whose safe space had been recently violated by a horrible monster.

There’s one client who always connects me with Krampus when he sees me, and I’ve heard from his mother that Krampus is mentioned repeatedly at home as a notorious troublemaker.

As for discussing the mythic nature of Christianity?  I’ll save that for another time.  Besides, Francois has already done it better.

The Daily Click - Hosting a Compo

I’d recently hosted a casual software designer competition (AKA “compo”) called Zodiac Attack 2013.  Since I’ve been participating in software compos for the past few years - most often in a behind-the-scenes capacity - I wanted to record and pass along some of my observations and learned best practices that helped keep things smooth.  Here’s the article I wrote for The Daily Click website.

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HOW TO HOST A COMPO
What I’ve Learned After A Few

After being a participant, a judge, and now an occasional organizer for events here at TDC, I wanted to spread the news about how I happen to go about it. Let me see if I can come up with a list of best practices for running a software competition (also known as a “compo” or perhaps even a “tourey” for reasons well- and fondly-remembered by many veterans) here at The Daily Click. I’ve boiled it down to a handful of small, relatively-simple rules that seem to capture all the stuff I’ve learned about the process.

KEEP IT SIMPLE: RULES AND ANNOUNCEMENTS
You’re asking people to do something for you: make games. If you’re like me, then you have at least a dozen projects sitting in deserted files, unfinished and likely forgotten. So how do we encourage others to actually finish their games when we know how hard it is to do that?

Don’t ask too much of them, and make it worth it for them to finish. That’s how.

Narrow down your description to a few basic, easy-to-read directives:
WHAT: the kind of game you want entrants to make. Note that if you have no restrictions on type (stand alone EXEs, Flash applications, etc.) or SDK (MMF2, GameMaker, Unity, etc.)then be sure to actually mention “all genres and platforms accepted.” That stops questions at the outset.

WHEN: the drop-dead due date or finishing period for your game. I’ll have more details about this in a moment, but it’s helpful for your entrants (and fence-sitters and various procrastinators) to know exactly how much time they have to finish their projects.

THE HOOK: What makes your competition unique? Is this a remarkable occasion? Is there a reason that someone ought to put more effort into finishing this project than usual? Some of the competitions I’ve hosted in the past are related to internationally-recognized holidays (Halloween is my personal favourite, and also makes a rich wealth of options for game-making), while my most recent has been related to the classic Greek Zodiac. Why not have a competition centered around a short phrase (popular for the ‘game jam’ events) or even a genre, like “sci-fi tactical RTS”? Notice that you’re focusing the entrant’s attention and material, but still leaving them plenty of breathing room.

THE REWARD: often confused with (or takes the place of) The Hook: what will the winner(s) receive if they are chosen for the top prize? Whatever the reward may be - even if it’s just bragging rights - mention it at the outset. Believe it or not, this part really isn’t as big a deal for the organizer as you may think it is.

If you’re concerned about money, don’t be. Financial reward doesn’t need to be part of it. I personally recommend coming up with an affordable, unique prize for the winner, and leave it at that. You can always add more to the prizes later, but to start the ball rolling I suggest simply making it unique.

THE PRIMARY CONTACT: Make sure people know to contact you (or perhaps your designated official partner) should they have questions about anything related to the competition. I also encourage people to post their questions and responses publicly, so that everyone can read and learn from them once they’ve been asked; it saves me the trouble of writing and editing a FAQ.

COMMMUNICATE
One of the things I attempted this time around (Zodiac Attack ‘13) was to send a brief message to each person who ‘registered’ for the compo, and encourage them to keep at it. I let them know that there were only a handful of announced entrants, and that their entry had a good chance of placing well. I also iterated that if they had questions, they could contact me at any time and I would reply as soon as I was able.

Essential to making this work was requesting that people make known their interest in the main discussion thread of the compo. I would be able to visit their profile, then send them a brief message (composed in and copied from Notepad, slightly modified for each entrant) of encouragement.

Send your entrants one of these encouraging messages. It’s not advisable to overwhelm someone with sappy messages of encouragement. Do too many, and you’ll sound desperate, or weird, or something like both.

I also set up a second thread in the Competition Forum so people could post their screen shots and other media for their games. This didn’t work so well, probably because it violated my “Keep It Simple” rule. I think I did the same thing for the last time I hosted a Halloween competition, and I had a similar result. I think for future competitions, I’ll be asking people to post anything and everything related to their entries in the same thread, for simplicity’s sake.

STAY POSITIVE
Even if your competition announcement seems to have fallen on deaf ears, don’t fret. Treat each comment or question with courtesy, respect, and professionalism (or your closest attempt at it). If someone comments that your compo doesn’t seem fun, is too restrictive, or otherwise negatively comments on it in some way, do your best to not take it personally. This is the Internet, and it’s easy to read too much into someone else’s comment and take it a bit too hard.

Begging and pleading people to submit entries to your compo is also not a solid strategy, particularly if the requests are made public. You’ll likely come across as immature, “desparate for attention,” and so on. It may also discourage participation, with people perceiving it as boring, lacking serious competition, or otherwise unworthy of their time. Instead, when someone pipes in that they want to participate, offer some immediate encouragement and well-wishing. If you make such comments public, then so much the better.

OFFER FEEDBACK
One of my favourite things to read are comments regarding my games and example files. Not only do they usually help me become better at what I’m doing, but they’re rare treats: it’s an affirmation that someone actually played one of my games…! For a casual game-maker like myself, I can’t think of a better compliment.

What’s the best way to give proof that you actually played someone’s game? Give them specific, constructive feedback on their title. My most common method (a hold-over from my boardgame design background, to be honest) is to offer a strongest-point (what I liked the most about the game) and a weakest-point (what I felt needed the most work) critique. Even if you didn’t like the game so much, do your best to come up with a positive note about the game.

Also, being willing to offer feedback keeps you honest. If you say you’re going to judge and consider all entries for the awards, then the rewarding is all the more believable when you have specific, feature-led examples of what you liked and disliked about the different entries. Do the work you say you’re going to do.

END IT AT THE END OF THE WEEKEND
This is simply a logistical thing. If you have a day job like I do, and game-making is not your primary vocation, then you likely make games in your spare time. On what days of the week do most of your idle hours come? For me - and for most folks in the “Western” developed world - it’s the weekend.

One of the silliest things I did with Zodiac Attack ‘13 is have the initial end date following the calendar. Well, the last full day of the contest ended on a Thursday, and the deadline was on a Friday. So how many complaints about the end of the contest surfaced when I posted a reminder of entries being due on a Friday? Way too many. I declared “amnesty” for all entrants, and extended the deadline to the end of that Sunday, giving folks another weekend of potential development time of which they could take advantage.

From that point on, I resolved that - no matter what calendar date it fell on - the last day of any competition I host would be a Sunday.

COMPETITION LENGTH
How long should the competition last? Oh, I don’t know. I usually give people a month, maybe two. But it should really depend on how much follow-up and communication you want to do, as well as the value of the prizes.

Imagine a two-by-two grid. The X-axis is “Development Time” and the Y Axis is “Reward Value.” Things usually break down like this:

1 - SHORT DEVELOPMENT TIME, LOW-VALUE REWARD (bottom-left quadrant): These are completely casual events, with a low (but strangely devoted) following and follow-through rate. Some people dismiss these events as not being a “serious” competition, while others champion these events for the fact that they’re so not-serious. Both camps can be stubborn, if they come to debate about it.

2 - LONG DEVELOPMENT TIME, LOW-VALUE REWARD (bottom-right quadrant): Few completed entries, due to boredom and participant atrophy/forgetfulness. Those who finish these types of events typically do so because of the value they find in the process of making an entry itself, as opposed to the reward. Such self-motivated people are uncommon, generally speaking.

3 - SHORT DEVELOPMENT TIME, HIGH-VALUE REWARD (upper-left quadrant): There’s a high potential for lots of negativity in these types of competitions. You’ll hear a lot of pissing and moaning about how there’s “not enough time” to do anything worthwhile. Once the rewards are granted, you’ll hear a lot of jealous folks chewing on sour grapes about how they could have done better, the organizer “doesn’t know what she’s doing,” and other non-helpful critique. Many people reject these types of competitions simply because the intensity can be intimidating, which tends to breed more negativity. I tend to avoid these kinds of competitions, myself. I have a feeling they bring out the worst in people.

4 - LONG DEVELOPMENT TIME, HIGH-VALUE REWARD (upper-right quadrant): Ah, the sweet spot! The best of both worlds: adequate time to develop a worthwhile, competitive entry, while a valuable-enough reward to make it worth spending so much time making a game. Both novices and veterans will feel they have enough time to put together a fun, competitive entry. I personally think hagar’s Summer FunTition of 2012 is the best example of this I’ve seen so far here at TDC.

I’ve hosted events or compos of all four types, and I’m still unsure which is my favourite. Upon my invite by the staff of Clickteam to include an MMF2 upgrade as a prize, Zodiac Attack ‘13 jumped from category 2 to category 4. I’m very happy with that.

Here’s a link to the Greenwich Mean Time website:
http://wwp.greenwichmeantime.com/world-clock/

BE POLITE, YET FIRM
Note that the official nature of your competition increases in direct proportion with the value of your prizes. In other words, people will be more picky with the winners (and more competitive) if there’s an expensive prize to be won. Vindicate the winners - and silence the complainers - by providing a standard set of criteria. This can be as simple as a ratings sheet from 1 to 5 in a few different categories, to adding more people to the judging panel, to publicly posting the ratings and reviews, and more.

The more official you seem, the more fair you seem. The more fair you seem, the less people will complain about your competition(s) and who won.

CLOSING THOUGHTS
Hosting events is the closest I’ve come to being an admin without actually being one. If you like to be in charge every once in a while - as opposed to all the time - then you’ll want to host your own competition. You don’t need to ask for permission from anyone to make it happen, and all the forum tools needed for success are readily available…Just do it, follow through with what you say you will do, and do your best. Stay fair and play some games.

Rory’s Story Cubes: The Indian in the Desert

Rory’s Story Cubes, where a huntsman is given a magical book, and eats a magnet. 

This is a story created by the students at my day job: young adults with disabilities like Autism and Downs Syndrome.  It’s a fantastic, accessible tool for pretty much anyone to make a satisfying tale, and spend time together or on their own making stories.  We had fun putting this one together.

THE INDIAN IN THE DESERT

Once upon a time…

There was an indian who lived in a tepee in the desert.  They spent a lot of time hunting with a bow and arrow for food.  One day when the indian was out hunting, they met up with a large group of people.

They group told the indian that they had found a magical book.  They also said the book was found inside an old building.  The indian took the book and thanked the group before going out hunting again.  While hunting, he came across a big, green-shelled turtle that happened to be sick with a cold.  Upon noticing this, the indian gave an apple to the turtle, hoping that the turtle would feel better.

The indian said, “I have a thought.  Things will get better around here.  I’ll make sure things will be okay.”  The indian took out his magnet and started to eat it.  Finally, the indian cut down the only tree in the desert so he could take the wood out of it.

THE END.

Nashville Neighborhood Garden, Part 1

Karen and Steve decide to make a community garden in their neighborhood.  Here’s a clip of the day’s assessment.

fun with school supplies

Being obsessed with tabletop game design has its advantages.  One of them is that your impulse shopping takes on unique forms.

It’s not chocolate, tea, or frozen slabs of meat being shipped to my house.  It’s stuff like this:
penta shapes in a bag

Or stuff like this:

hexagon fractions

Or even these little guys:

blank white dice

…I mean, do you know how much this stuff would cost if I ordered it from a game supply company?  If it wasn’t wholesale, it would be a lot more than 17 cents each.

“Learning Toys” (that is, games and toys designed to hoodwink kids into learning something) are some of the AWESOME-EST items for a game designer.  Pretty much every site you’ll find has something on discount.  You’ll be able to find dice, spinners, shapes, counters, winks and chips, and even figures for incredibly affordable prices.  You’ll totally be able to feed your habit.

I used to love Oriental Trading Company (their blatant offshore manufacturing exploitation aside) for this kind of stuff.  But educational supply companies are where it’s at.  My new toy store is Hand2Mind.  We’ll see how long this love affair lasts.

My first shipment from them was $40.  And I barely scratched the surface.