of telescopes and astrology

During a vendor-customer technical interview, my manager once introduced me as being an avid amateur astrologer.

Bless his heart, he knew I had a few telescopes and was even working to build my own large Dobsonian sidewalk telescope – right down to grinding out the mirror myself. While astronomers can tell us a lot about the past, in galactic terms, if you wanted a prediction about the future, your lotto numbers, or to know if the gal with the May birthday in apt 403 was compatible with you, you might have consulted an astrologer.

Without much hesitation, the customer manager asked if I could do a reading for his IT systems.

I happened across that memory while on an archeological dig under my house. The remnants of some ancient culture dating back to the mid nineties were in several boxes down there, along with my mostly finished telescope mirror.

With it I found piles and piles of art, articles I wrote for an EverQuest fan-site, a few semi-rare comic books, college papers, my paintball gun, the missing bits of my scuba gear (what I was looking for, score!), some collectible memorabilia from the launch of Ultima Online, and a baby pic of my oldest daughter and my childhood pet cat Maverick, the original orange man-eating king of many naps.

No, Astronomers may have a good idea about what could happen to the solar system in a few million years but they cannot predict the future. I can’t be sure where I’ll store my boxes next – I certainly could not have predicted where the boxes would go when I first packed them three houses ago.

With the ghosts loose, and a fresh reminder to get the irreplaceable properly stored in some sort of albums, I put the lid back on the boxes. The telescope project can wait for darker skies. My perspective checked, I was ready to start making predicitons.

This year, I am getting back in the water. Mask and Snorkel – check.

a theory of fun?

I’ve been interested to read Raph Koster’s “A Theory of fun for Game Design” ever since I saw its title. He is “Designer Dragon” of Ultima Online fame and was Chief Creative Officer for SOE’s “Starwars Galaxies” when it was at it’s peak. Both games were groundbreaking just over a decade ago – peerless in some respects. They both also saw rise of key challenges still faced by game designers today.

Ultima Online practically invented PVP combat in an MMO, and saw the birth of many social (and anti-social) phenomena that rose from competitive, anonymous player vs. player interaction. Most of the actual software written to govern anti-social behavior in UO was written after the initial game was finished. (which was the groundwork for rules generally assumed to be functional in most future MMO titles). What started as “arm the players to police themselves” with a functional crime and honor system was far insufficient to protect the majority of casual gamers from a very small percentage of players who played only to cause casual gamers grief, interrupt their game play experience, or even cause loss of virtual assets (experience, loot, etc).

Only after peeling back the player vs. player features of the game till they were almost non-present would they casual gamer find peace, at the cost of numerous features previously fundamental to character design. This sweeping redesign changed the game completely, as well as the direction for future content releases.

The same type of problems dogged Starwars Galaxies, despite a promising start that encouraged better division between casual and competitive players. Numerous game redesigns rendered Starwars Galaxies unrecognizable next to its original released form.

EverQuest (also a SOE title worth it’s own series of blogs, which built on the success of UO in the same MMO space) had a very interesting faction-and-deed-based system of player vs. player combat and character advancement, but that system was more or less abandoned soon after release and today features mainly cooperative and solo play.

Fast forward ten years. “World of Warcraft”, easily the most successful MMO ever, polished “optional” Player vs. Player combat as both separate from cooperative player vs. environment advancement and occasionally tightly integrated. Even still, game dynamics that govern PVP in WoW are in constant flux and have been central to a few minor redesigns. Warcraft raised the “fun” bar very, very high. It will take a truly kingly title to ever rival Blizzard’s runaway success.

I am interested to see what Raph has to say about fun in a game, a decade later, and if it touches on any of the many social aspects of his previous game titles at all. Either way, the future successor to WoW stands on the back of folks like Raph – that is assuming that Designer Dragon doesn’t pen it himself. 🙂

beach brain

When I close my eyes, I see waves.

I have a serious case of beach brain. What started as an idea, a tropical getaway, turned into a persistent motivation to leave all my electronics at home and flee to someplace where the lands end and water meet. The sensation borders on the spiritual – the compulsion tingles in all of my senses.

Every task at work eventually arrives at the same place: sand between my toes. Each keystroke just another step on the hot boardwalk. There is only one cure, and make no mistake – I am planning my escape.

Ever since my wife had her surfing lessons through wbsurfcamp last year, I have wanted to get on a board myself, at least once. The water is still very cool this spring, but as my dreams of a beach vacation and reality converge, I am certain the water will be just right when I get there.

Until then, time to set down another empty mug of coffee and get set to dig into another day at the office… right after I shoo the ethereal seagulls from my cube.

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