My Curious Cthulhu Visits

Several weeks ago I was abruptly awoken, but not due to my normal constant pain interrupting my sleep, but due to an abnormal feeling. I was quite surprised to see upon the ceiling a multitude of writhing tentacles. As my brain struggled to comprehend what I was perceiving, and my heart-rate raced, the tentacles slowly retreated back to what I eventually determined to be a porthole. Whilst I motionlessly observed things, I became aware of a single bizarre eye that was staring back at me, comprehending me in an alien way. For a moment I was gripped with terror, surprised by the insanity of the vista before me. I knew I was most clearly awake, but for a split second I wondered if reality had changed, or I was somewhere else. Seconds later I saw a small tumbling gorilla hovering between myself and the now closing porthole. A calming thought reminded me of the psychology experiment of video of the basketball game and the person in the gorilla suit… Focus on the gorilla, not the eldritch horror! My feelings of dread subsided as the last tentacle finally closed the porthole, then the gorilla left.

Over the week I experienced more interrupted sleep. Nothing unusual there, but the regular eldritch visitations certainly were, as were the tumbling gorillas; I even had one night when I saw a 4by4 grid of them.

I attempted to try and write about my experiences, but my words felt inadequate, failing to capture the depth of the visitations. I was struck by how ludicrously clichéd the idea of a sleep deprived writer going crazy was, plus as I analysed my writings/ramblings my normal hypercritical opinion of my work screamed at me that I was writing poor fanfiction.

Although I have been suffering from sleep deprivation for a year, what had recently changed was I had been prescribed Amitriptyline due to its common side effect of causing drowsiness. My doctor thought that using Amitriptyline combined with the Remedeine (opiate) could help over-ride the pain interpreting my sleep. I did initially manage to get a few nights of basic uninterrupted sleep before returning to lacking sleep; this was slightly better than my last year’s pattern. Whilst I might have had a bit more sleep that week, I decided to stop taking the drug, since most of the sleep I was getting resulted in a horrifying moment of anxiety when I woke. With the drug out of my system the hallucinations no long occurred.

All in all a fascinating set of experiences, that one day might result in some interesting fiction, and most certainly aid me running role-playing sessions, but I’d rather not have had to go through the process. Sleep wise I have struggled on, I am currently attempting some new non-pill approaches to improving my sleep, and to continue to try do as little as possible so I can prioritise healing.

One possible positive take away is that it seems during the initial hallucination I was quickly able to appreciate my situation, and crucially calm my freaking out heart-rate and panicking thoughts. The later visions just felt like I had to wait for the visitations to wrap-up. A paranoid thought follows this, that my brain chemistry might have been badly affected by the drug, on top of the long-term sleep issues, somehow sowing the seeds for a future psychotic breakdown, because one never knows. Thankfully I’ve had no hallucinations since, which beats my paranoia back in to a sensible state.

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When Pathetic is not Pathetic

Since leaving my job due to my health I have felt almost no stress (until I ponder things in the future, so I mostly don’t), and this has helped relax the pain in my neck and shoulder. Doing much of anything is still too much, and doctors have repeatedly emphasised complete rest is the most important thing, continuing my estimation game for when I can do more. Due to this I decided to not even force myself to finish a particular blog. This helpfully allows me to do something I enjoy: starting a whole load of things, mentally being happy with the direction, but not physically finishing them. Whilst I am financially paying for myself to rest, I decided that getting the most rest, to quicken healing, really is still the priority, because then I can return to actually doing some work.

As part of my continuing focus on resting, I have even avoided doing much dictation by speech recognition. I have a massive mental list of blog posts I have pondered writing for a while now:

  • role-playing articles
    • working at KJC Games
    • game design lessons
    • more gaming stories and the lessons I learned
    • my obsession with White Wolf
    • why GURPS is the best thing, yet I’ve never played
    • tidal force role-players
  • the difficulty of doing nothing,
  • energy levels and how to plan around them
  • chronic pain
  • martial arts
    • returning from injury
    • consideration of training partners when you cannot work at your old pace
  • NoobGrind articles
    • Various thoughts about gaming
    • Guild Wars 2
    • Path of Exile

There is an additional reason that I am avoiding finishing any blog posts, since I envisioned graphics that I feel really add to the articles. The problem being, whilst I can make art and graphs to at least an adequate level, they are not areas that I practice much, so it would take me a long-time to get things to a level I am satisfied with. This links to an issue of sitting at a computer for an extended period, I normally have pain in a variety of places, and thus it is not good for my body, nor is it me resting. Pathetic sounding, but it is the reality of my situation.

I’m also aware that my wanting to have graphics for a blog post, it is me entering into the dangerous territory of pushing these partially started articles towards needing to be near perfect. In a way this justifies me not having to do what I can, and then move on.

Graphics Needed
Well, it is still nice to have some graphics.

So I decided to write the above stream of consciousness, at least then I am writing my intent in regards to what I will be blogging about soon, and I don’t need graphics. Whilst I could again use the word pathetic, that should only apply if I was healthy and avoiding doing work. If your best is barely anything, and you are still managing to get bits done, then that is not pathetic.

Wallowing in Positivity

During my bed-rest I contemplated whether to write a post about things, frustration and embarrassment were strong impediments. Since I have been in a long-term holding pattern with regards to work, training, and well, life in general, it felt like writing a blog post was not worthwhile, since it would be full of vagaries without any conclusion. My circumstances have changed and it seemed odd if I skipped the following.

Things get better, things get worse. Psychologically I kept telling myself that this was my situation. For the last year, and particularly since November, my pain levels have been appalling. When there was a brief respite from pain, my optimism would ramp-up, I was eager to get back to training and work and in those moments it seemed like I was almost healthy again. The problem was that the respite barely lasted long, and usually was due to mixing pain killers with a bit alcohol; I had consulted with several doctors about it being okay to have 1 or 2 units of alcohol a day with my pain meds.

Besides the chronic left shoulder, neck and sometimes back pain, along with lack of sleep, things have been made worse by a lack of exercise. The weaker I get, the worse everything becomes. There were times that I felt like I could get out of bed and do something simple, not too strenuous, like a short walk, but when I did so, I suffered. Even the action of walking, was something I had to carefully consider, pretty obvious when you consider how the arms swing, and the interconnectivity of the body. So, was going for a short walk to help reduce my body’s deterioration, and a chance to get out and about a sensible thing to do, when it also could aggravate damaged areas.

It’s strange having to learn how to tolerate switching between being in chronic pain, to that of having a few hours a day when the pain is tolerable. As the pain level lowers I enter a strange mental place: like being at the eye of a tropical cyclone, allowing me to come out of the fortified cellar, however, coming out is a mistake, the storm has not gone! There is also the weird feeling of being both overtired yet having energy and the need to do something. Since exercise correlates with health and quality of life, I am also concerned about long-term health effects. That even after healing I could be facing a year of rebuilding just to reach a basic level, never mind something more athletic.

So, as the shoulder swelling and pain started reducing, returning to work became the target. A previous phased return to work had failed, since I attempted it shortly after no longer being bedridden, but this time I’d had more rest time, as well as a cortisone injection. I saw several Doctors and they advised that if work/lifestyle changes were in place, that preventative measures at work like using speech recognition: Dragon (DNS), that a phased return to work could help. Having a routine should help with my sleep pattern. That moving about a bit would start to strengthen me weak body as well as my energy levels; simply being out of bed for the day was tiring.

The last phased return to work failed. The pain levels had reduced drastically, but even after the cortisone injection I was not healed enough. Also despite new medication I still had severe problems sleeping.

I didn’t want to leave this job, it wasn’t too demanding, I found it interesting, and they even provided assistance to help keep me in work. Working for social services was also rewarding, since I was part of what is effectively the fourth emergency service, which I agree with. A further bonus was talking with social workers, who I found to be overwhelmingly genuinely nice people. It is easy to imagine that it simply comes with the territory, somebody working in a job where they have to prioritise another person’s needs, as well as a client’s capacity, would be a good person. However, given how tough the job is, the layers of bureaucracy (mostly appropriate), and the complexity of figuring out what is best for somebody, it would be naive to think that all social workers must be wonderful positive perfect people. As somebody interested in psychology and writing I’ve certainly learnt a lot from working there, as well as several interesting ideas to follow up on.

Now I am left with more bed-rest, careful physiotherapy, but a positive attitude that things will improve if I keep things simple and sensible. Throughout my experience I have felt like I am a few days away from being fine, when things were really bad, maybe a few weeks; odd to think that I have been wallowing in positivity. At least I have plenty of time to think about life plans.

Kickstarter The PlayStation Revolution

I have written an article for NoobGrind about the new kickstarter The PlayStation Revolution

http://www.noobgrind.com/the-playstation-revolution-kickstarter

I have backed the Kickstarter, and hopefully it will be of at least the same quality as their previous work http://frombedroomstobillions.com/

I wrote reviews of the previous work:

https://batjutsu.wordpress.com/2016/06/13/8-bit-era-review-from-bedrooms-to-billions/

https://batjutsu.wordpress.com/2016/06/19/review-the-amiga-years/

Check it out at: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1195082866/from-bedrooms-to-billions-the-playstation-revoluti

Review The Amiga Years

I previously wrote a blog about my review on NoobGrind for From Bedroom to Billions, I would recommend checking that out before reading my new review. Although I suppose you can watch them in either order, but the first documentary does provide an overview of the Amiga, and its place in the overall history of computing.

The Amiga Years, what a great documentary, well I guess that spoils my opinion, but I have written a lot more than this. Before watching the film I decided that I would delay writing a review, this way I would have time to reflect on the documentary; I didn’t want to come across as fanatical. Whilst I expected to be rewarded with another great product, I know it is not uncommon to be disappointed when armed with such passionate expectations. Thankfully I was not disappointed.

My own experiences with the Amiga are mostly focussed around the Amiga 500, although I have had a lot of access to other models. It was also great that by the end of the 80s more people I knew had also started getting access to home computers. My high school days were filled with all sorts of chats and a chance to play games at other peoples’ houses.

By the start of the 90s my dad was running a computer shop. This gave my more exposure to all aspects of computing, but particularly more games. The Amiga packs were a big part of the culture then, and it was a shame when the Amiga sales started getting increasing replaced by the IBM compatible PC machines. The capabilities of the PCs at the time still seemed terrible when compared to the range of Amigas, especially considering how cheap the Amiga 500 had become.

By the time I ran the shop in the mid-90s the Amiga was no longer selling, but thankfully the PC finally seemed to have caught up. It’s odd to recall what a difference there was in specifications and cost.

Given the tribal nature of our species it is no surprise that we form clans around a particular brand. I have been accused of being a PC fanatic, having had the luxury of access to them via our family’s computer business, but the reality is, as I mentioned in the last blog, I have had a lot of different computer brands. Although I’ve had a PC since 1995, if I had to pick a brand to be fanatic about it would be Commodore, and if I had to pick one machine in some sort of deathmatch, were era, cost and capability were weighted correctly, then I would pick the Amiga 500!

Please check out my new NoobGrind review The Amiga Years.

5 Positive Role-Play Lessons

Continuing on from the previous articles that started at https://batjutsu.wordpress.com/2016/03/19/cyberpunk-rpg-and-crpg-style-and-substance/

Julian, the Dungeon Master from the high school lunch group I was in, introduced me to Pete I think in 1989. I’d been buying Skaven figures off Julian, painted by Pete; even whilst at high school Pete was a great model painter.  I don’t recall specifics about my initial conversations with Pete, but I do recall that they were relaxed and that it was easy to have a dialogue with him, as opposed to him dictating at me like the other older lads did.

Cyberpunk 2013

1 Explain what something is, not its competitors

Pete explained the Cyberpunk setting well, and I don’t recall him saying bad things about other gaming systems. I grew to appreciate how important that is, focus on what a product is, not on differentiating between its rivals.

Over the years, I’ve been regularly asked questions by experienced role-players about a new game, and they would often ask for comparisons to systems that they already knew. Since I was being explicitly asked to compare, I did so. Whilst comparisons can work well, speeding up the learning curve, but deviating in to negative critiques of other products, all too often results in a time sink that needs further clarifications. Not only because it requires people to know other systems, but also for them to understand what comparative point you are trying to make.

I have grown to understand that people are inclined towards defending how they’ve spent their time, it’s natural for people to feel they are being criticised for their choice of game system and setting. This is particularly magnified if they love said system. This topic can have the additional obstacle as it is common for gamers to discuss their idea of ‘the perfect system’. Perfection is something to aspire towards, whilst being an illusion, and even getting close to such an ideal would be at best just personal preferences. Thus, conversation points are all too easily mixed together. Additionally, I often found that as more points are raised, eventually the original question can get lost amidst overwhelming information.

The above reasons are why I have found focusing on comparisons to be a poor approach. Of course it can still prove to be an effective way of explaining things, but I’d suggest mentioning as few as points as possible. These days I try to focus on more positive aspects, and to stay on target: explaining what a setting and system’s focus is, and its pros and cons.

2 Give things a try

Until 1989 I had mostly played 2nd Ed AD&D, it had been overall great fun, but the games were focused on clearing a dungeon room by room, stat development, without much thought about the setting. One of the fascinating things about playing Cyberpunk 2013, was the emphasis on characters talking and stand-offs, trying to navigate prolific corruption, in a game world full of people in bad situations. With no clear indication of who was good or evil, the fact that so many people were armed and dangerous, added to the finality of combat, it was great to have a reason to talk first, but with the pressure of talking fast.

After the chaotic experience I’d had with my old AD&D lunch group, were choice and repercussions were often disconnected, this game was well run. This was down to the combination of being in a good group as well as having a good referee. This is a lesson I have appreciated ever since, play in games you really enjoy, I had the luxury of trying out so many different groups. Years later I played great D&D games that also focused on more mature plots, it helped not being kids at school, which once again highlights that the group is the big factor in what makes a game.

Don’t be afraid to chat to the group about their play-styles. Try things out, and negotiate about balancing your goals with the other players. If you don’t reach a satisfactory compromise then consider moving on. Since fun is the heart of gaming, don’t torture yourself, or others.

3 Walking through the rules

Pete ran the games well, we enjoyed ourselves, and I can recall some great moments even now. We were not required to become experts of the rules, and certainly not within a single gaming session. Yet despite not being rule experts, the initial several sessions still went well. The lesson I took from this links back to mentoring, which I’ve written about previously. Even if you are playing a simple gaming system, try to introduce the rules in parts, reveal the complexity at a rate the players can cope with. Determining how much is too much is a subtle skill; I’ll explain my opinion another time.

Generally I think it is better to introduce things a bit slower, than to overwhelm players. Context is a key part of understanding, and it is hard to provide any depth during an introductory rules overview. Look at how come board or card games introduce rules over time, for example Dominion ignores curses at the start.

 

Night City 2013

4 Letting Go

My first character was a Solo called Thermo, a cool streetwise mercenary with a minimalistic appearance, cliché but fun. Since I knew practically nothing about the setting, never mind the fact that I was just 14 years old, I went with the idea of the character being the strong silent type. Thankfully it worked well enough, and also helped me learn the game system, whilst helping me to role-play what I had designed.

Similarly, my friends played interesting characters, a few I can still recall even to this day: Black Rain, Jack Deth, along with an NPC Netrunner whose handle was The Idol. Unfortunately I forget the name of the Fixer played by Michael. This is odd since after playing for a while, Pete proposed Michael and I swap characters, since Michael had been playing his character more like a psychopath; not sure the reason Pete didn’t have Michael make a new character, I think it was simply it was quicker to swap.

Within a single gaming session Thermo, my old character had undergone a massive change. The character now had a red Mohawk, painted the back of his leather jacket to show a nuclear explosion surround by lot of flames, with ‘Thermo’ painted across the jacket top. The character was also now quick to resort to gun diplomacy. It was odd seeing my character played this way, but Michael was enjoying himself, so I didn’t tease or correct him. After all I had agreed to the swap, Pete was okay with Michael making the character his own, and I found playing something different to be fun. Crucially Thermo was his character now, I learned to let go.

5 PC Allies can help, just don’t let NPCs take over

Early on the party went to a gun shop, but things quickly got out of hand. Black Rain and Thermo decided to chat with the person behind the security door. I’ve forgotten the specifics, but somehow the confrontational chat quickly escalated. Finally a demand was made for bullets, so a gun was pointed through the security slit at Black Rain, who quickly used his poison dart in his cybernetic eye. Then attempts were made to shoot through the door; this went on for a several seconds, as gun fire was exchanged between someone in the shop and the party, but then this stopped.

Thermo then decided to try breach the door with a fragmentation grenade. The thing was that Black Rain was still near to the door, and not wearing armour; besides a frag would likely do nothing to an armoured door. Luckily Black Rain was warned of the grenade, and passed his dodge roll. The party members took a moment to look at each other and contemplate killing Thermo, but we didn’t. Time passed, nothing was happening, the shock at the escalation oddly hit everyone, and the party become unsure of how to proceed, some still wanted to break through the security door, others wanted to leave before in the CyberPsycho squad had been called.

Finally Pete suggested we could call The Idol, since he was one of the party’s allies, and was close by. Once he arrived he operated as a cleaner, and so momentum was returned to the game. This was handled as calling in a favour. Crucially The Idol didn’t take over the situation, instead aided, and then as we all high-tailed it, he returned to his own plans. We owed a favour, but the party got a bit of mentoring in game without being made to feel like they were the sidekicks to an awesome NPC.

There is another lesson that I took from this game, but I will save that for a longer piece.

Over many sessions the group somehow managed to get things done without drawing the ire of the Megacorporations. But I’ll be honest and admit that I’ve forgotten a lot of what else occurred in the game, it was just too long ago.

I mentioned that Pete was great at model painting even at high school, so it was no surprise that he went on to become a professional artist and teacher. He runs Egg Head Miniatures, check out his work at https://www.facebook.com/eggheadminiatures/ and his shop is at http://stores.ebay.co.uk/eggheadminiatures.

8-bit era & review From Bedrooms to Billions

I recently watched the documentary From Bedrooms to Billions by Anthony and Nicola Caulfield. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and I am looking forward to watching their new film The Amiga Years.

I have posted an article on NoobGrind about it, but whilst writing it I wrote several paragraphs explaining why this documentary meant to so much to me. However, given the size of that article, typical for me, I decided to cut the non-pertinent information from there, but decided to put it here.

My early childhood of growing up in England was dominated by the home computing revolution that took place at the start of the 80s. I was fortunate to have a father who had an interest in electronics, which lead him in to this new home computing hobby.

We started out with a Commodore Vic 20, then upgraded to a Commodore 64; I got my own Commodore 16. A few of our neighbours also got computers, one friend’s house had a Spectrum 48k, whilst another had various Amstrads, and another friend had an Atari 2600. At school we had a BBC Micro. Also living in Blackpool meant I could visit the arcade and compare those machines. So I was exposed to a multitude of systems, and I guess this is why I’ve tried to avoid being dedicated to just one system.

Commodore 64
One of my old Commodore 64 machines. Sadly I don’t have my original one, nor the vast game library I had.

I am not so obsessed with nostalgia that I want to return to those technologically inferior days. I have no issue with retro gaming, my main criteria is that the game has to be good. I acknowledge that some of the games that I have really enjoyed decades ago are of certainly of their era. It certainly wouldn’t make sense to insist that a player in the here and now has to play the ancient games; the term ‘has to’ is nasty. I think even old classics should generally be talked about only in context of their era.

A classic game that can still work well today is Street Fighter 2. It was amazing when it was released, and even with all the developments in the years since, it is still a great game. Whilst Way of the Exploding Fist came out years earlier, and was amazing when it was released, I can appreciate that the game is of its era. I did play it last year and I quite enjoyed it, but I don’t think most gamers would. I’ve previously written about how these two games helped form my role-playing passion, links below.

I ran a computer shop in the mid-90s, and I can recall chats about whether in the future there would be big interest in documentaries about the spread of computer gaming. It was agreed that computing would continue to develop, that interest would increase, but a few regular customers said they thought gaming would always be niche. The majority of my regulars thought the idea that gaming wouldn’t keep expanding was ludicrous, but those who thought gaming would stay relatively small pointed out how biased we were. A fair point to raise, but even back then the game sales figures showed a big trend towards ongoing expansion. This was during the period I referred to at the time as era of the Doom-virus; every PC sold, or even brought in to the shop for repairs, normally went out with the freeware 7 levels of Doom.

 —

Given that I was dabbling with coding from 6 years of age, and trying to learn 6502 assembler at 8, I did ponder whether I should feel regret at not managing to make a game in that time period. I think it is fair to say I was a bit too young for the 8bit bubble. At the time I certainly never heard of young kids making games, whilst there were a few teenagers, even they were rare. By the time I was about 9 years old the Amiga was coming out, at the time I felt like what little progress I’d made had become pointless. When I went to high school at aged 11 I discovered AD&D and other role-playing games, and for many years I had little interest in computing. I actually felt weary of the subject, in part due to the terrible ‘I.T.’ lessons.

A few years ago I read Malcom Gladwell’s book Outliers, which highlights the importance of being in the right place at the right time, and what a small window it usually is. Crucially, since I did eventually go on to study programming and work at a games company, I did achieve major goals.

You can read my NoobGrind article here.

From Bedrooms to Billions

Follow-on review The Amiga Years

Way of the Exploding Fist 3 part series

Part 1 = https://batjutsu.wordpress.com/2015/10/25/noobgrind-article-way-of-the-exploding-fist-is-the-mario-of-8-bit-fighting-games/

Part 2 = https://batjutsu.wordpress.com/2015/11/16/fist-2-on-noobgrind-and-current-life/

Part 3 = https://batjutsu.wordpress.com/2015/12/06/street-fighter-rpg-look-back/