Weeknotes: 103

Work

This week I came back to a team with broad consensus on what we want to do for a live experiment, and a very basic tech prototype, which was a nice change.

We still need to do some work to bring together the design prototypes used in user research with the tech prototypes—which so far have been developing completely independently—but I’m now less worried that we’re careening towards the self-selected “live experiment launch date” without any hope of achieving it.

Books

This week I read:

  • The Art of Miyazaki’s Spirited Away, from the Studio Ghibli Library.

    This was mostly lots of art, with commentary from some of the staff involved; but there was also a section about the use of CG in Spirited Away which I found interesting.

    For example, they say that 24-bit colour makes a fade from dark to light have more noticeable jumps in colour than you can get from cel animation, and even if you use 48-bit colour, the hardware to output it isn’t widely available. I’m not convinced about that, but I’m neither a professional animator, nor someone who has a 48-bit display available to test things on…

    They also developed some software to introduce visual noise, because in practice when you paint something you don’t get a region of perfectly consistent colour, there’s always variations; but computer colour is perfectly consistent, and so can look wrong when combined with non-CG art.

  • Veins of the Earth, by Patrick Stuart and Scrap Princess.

    This is a sourcebook for Lamentations of the Flame Princess about the Underdark, a vast underground network of cave systems supporting all sorts of weird life. The book really plays into darkness, with the “lux” (fuel for one hour of light) being the primary currency in the Underdark, and all the monsters having descriptions of what they sound and smell like. There’s rules for player characters navigating caves and dealing with starvation and madness, and for game masters on how to generate 3D hexmaps of the terrain.

    While the mechanics and monster stats would need to be tweaked to work in a non-OSR system, there’s a lot of good ideas in there which should apply to any fantasy setting with an underground component more or less unmodified. I don’t have a game like that planned any time soon, but when I am next running a fantasy campaign I’ll definitely be taking some ideas.

  • The Rule of Benedict, by Benedict of Nursia.

    This is an interesting insight into what Catholic beliefs and practices were like back in the 500s. It’s pretty different to general Christian attitudes which I’ve come across these days.

    For example, the Christian Union at my university (who gave me lots of free food in their futile attempts at conversion) were very much of the attitude that deeds are not enough to get into Heaven, and more than that, they’re so ineffectual that so long as you accept Jesus in your heart, you will be forgiven of all your sins.

    This is not the opinion of Benedict. According to him, you not only have to accept Jesus, you also have to be humble, silent, obedient to the abbot, and in general a very virtuous person. Otherwise you would go to Hell for your sins. He frequently argues against talking, of all things, because talking leads to sin. Even to the point of forbidding monks from asking questions during the evening meal if they don’t understand the bible reading, because that might encourage talking!

    The book is an interesting mixture of general commentary on sin and virtue, and highly practical rules like which psalms to sing on a Sunday evening in the winter, or how to dress if you need to leave the monastery for a long journey.

Games

This week I ran a one-shot of Traveller, we had a session for character creation on Wednesday, and then played through a scenario I prepared in our usual game slot on Sunday. It went pretty well, I managed to cover a nice variety of the game’s subsystems, though the space combat I’d prepared ended up being avoided when the players escaped really effectively.

I tried out the fancy dynamic lighting on Roll20, but had to abandon it about 15 minutes into the session because it kept crashing one player’s browser; so I had to switch back to drawing regions of light and dark around the player character’s tokens as they moved around a derelict spaceship with no lights. Not great, but it was functional at least. The Roll20 character sheet for Mongoose Traveller is a bit confusing too, and doesn’t work as well as we’d have liked.

Roll20 is a bit of a disappointment, I keep toying with the idea of trying out one of the fancier-looking virtual tabletops, like Foundry, but they’re all more expensive…

Miscellaneous

Not much to report this week. I’ve been working on my bookmarks tool a bit; I think I’ve hit the difficult part of a search engine: scraping web pages well. Extracting all the text from the page is easy enough, but it’s nice to be able to do things like strip out navigation or “related posts” sidebars so the search is over the actual meat of the page. Fortunately the scope of this tool is small enough that I can just implement lots of special cases.

I also slightly tweaked the templates and CSS for this site (438bb24, c649e6f, 82986bf) so the index page gets a score of 100, up from 98, on Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool.