CampNaNoWriMo Preparation

CampNaNoWriMo starts on the 1st April, an appropriate date for all the self-deprecating writers who think their work is a joke. Thankfully over the last few months my chronic pain has reduced enough that I have started having some good sleep, generally not at night, it is more a case of being at random times; I have tried to establish a regular sleep cycle, but since I still have pain filled days this has proved unreliable. With the sleep improvements, energy levels are improving, and crucially the mental fog diminishes. I am confident that I will reach the CampNaNoWriMo 50,000 word count by the end of April, and I even optimistically envision smashing this target.

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I bought Dragon Naturally Speaking 15 this month. Although I found Dragon 13 was good, since I have so much writing to do in a short time span I want any extra dictation accuracy gains I can get. I have noticed some big differences. I also found that Apple’s Siri is based upon Dragon, one of these irrelevant but interesting facts. Even after all these years the temptation to manually edit is still there, as it is still quicker, the habit just hasn’t faded. Whilst my arms are always in pain, having my RSI pain levels skyrocket due to writing frustration would be silly, never mind my current chronic pain in left shoulder.

In March I started listening to the http://bestsellerexperiment.com/. I have really enjoyed these episodes, and I was partly using them to get me super-inspired for this April’s CampNaNoWriMo. There is too much to state about them here, so I’ll write a blog about them this weekend.

I’ve been working on my world setting for about two years. Due to health reasons I’ve done what I can, for the first year I was bedridden. Over time I have worked out the setting history and since it’s a fantasy setting the all-important metaphysics; this has been engrained in to me due to working in games design, I appreciate some authors don’t think this matters. Typically for me it is a complicated setting, which I think really matters due to the big focus on mental health, plus I do love my fantasy fate stories. I also have a lot of story outlines for important historical events, as well as a collection of scenes.

Basically, I’ve not just done a lot of outlining I’ve done a shocking amount. This is somewhat similar to Mark and Mark at The Bestseller Experiment; I’ll just hint that the Ben Aaronovitch episode alone makes the series for many listeners, plus how they’ve progressed since.

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I decided to write something new in my setting, not obsessing over old ideas and trying to connect scenes spread over centuries. By starting fresh I feel like I am going to be better focused. In theory I won’t get distracted by indulgent fantasy designs like working out how memory & magic in my setting will work; I’ve already worked that out. The world building is done, a lot of it, now is the time to write.

Besides having the CampNaNoWriMo deadline, I have the additional pressure of finishing a board game. I will be visiting some friends, so I need to get this game to a playable state; I’ve had a mini playtest and I feel this game is at least on the right track. The board game work was going well until I strained the muscles around my right ribs at physiotherapy on Tuesday, resulting in two days without sleep, which is accompanied by the usual increase in mental fog. Thankfully my passion for this project, plus the fact I’ve been playing around with ideas for this for years, has helped me dictate a lot of ideas, even if half of them are gibberish at least I can edit the half that are good.

Sadly I haven’t completed some of the blog posts I’ve been working on, mostly due to these new deadlines. Well, technically I wrote the third part of my Lessons from Watching Role-Playing Games two weeks ago, but I had a funny idea for some graphics for that post. I won’t ruin the surprise, but I will say that organising a Skaven photo shoot has proven to be a bit difficult.

I briefly pondered writing a blog every day, but I decided that I should focus on writing. With the board game deadline approaching I already have enough to do, and I do still have health issues to manage.

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#CampNaNoWriMo #AmWriting

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.

Update and NoobGrind GTX 1080 article

I am now fortunate to have occasional hours without any pain, but then excruciating pain in my left shoulder, neck and even arm, can return for seemingly no reason; likely my pathetic amount of activity was too much. Due to this the new role-playing article I have been tinkering with just feels like a low priority. I decided not to force myself to write something, but thankfully something came along and grabbed my attention.

I have been putting off upgrading my PC for about a year. Since my current system does what I need it to do, I have been able to get by. Amusingly I don’t want to upgrade for gaming reasons, but due to how resource demanding Dragon NaturallySpeaking is. Though the software works incredibly accurately the vast majority of the time, there are occasional moments when it struggles.

Last week I finalised a list of parts and sent an email to a company to price up for me. Thankfully they have been slow in responding, which is handy since NVIDIA have announced their new video card range. So at the weekend I watched the presentation and got quite excited due to how impressive the cards are. After a lot of research I ended up writing an article for NoobGrind about them: http://www.noobgrind.com/next-gen-graphics-cards/

The GTX 1080 is certainly more than I need currently. Buying one would be a bit like buying a sports car but then never driving it more than 30mph. However, in the future I do have plans; I will ponder more.

I hope to have a role-playing related article finished in the next few days. I’ve had a few really interesting ideas recently about my decade long unfinished guide, motivation to do something without that is growing.

5 Lessons from my first Role-Playing Session

Oddly I’ve not role-played for nearly a year; it’s quite odd considering how much I have played every years since I was eleven; amusingly my speech recognition thought I said “since I was elven”. Whilst I have been resting, trying to heal, I have been rereading my unfinished role-playing guide, as well as some old anecdotes. This article follows up on my role-playing introduction that I wrote about in role-playing and cyberpunk, I recommend reading that first.

I have written the following about my origin in role-playing to help explain why I emphasis certain aspects. My intent is not to be preachy about what people should do or prioritise; I long since stopped viewing role-playing as a competition.  Whilst I have my preferences, I strive to adapt to different situations, other players’ preferences, and of course moods.

Mr Knowles ran the Warwick High School role-playing games (RPG) club. In 1987 most of the club members played Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 1st Edition, and that is the system I spent the first few years playing. I was aware of other games being played at the club, such as: Traveller, Palladium, as well as board games such as Chainsaw Warrior or Star Warriors. Coincidentally, about 5 years later I got to know several of the older lads I had seen at the club, one became a close friend, and another became my boss when I worked at KJC Games.

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During the first week of joining the club, several of us were allowed to play during our lunch breaks. We got to try out tiny scenarios, to learn mechanics with context. I got a bit more explanation about the concept of in-character (IC) and out-of-character (OOC) from Mr Knowles, as the concept seemed paradoxically easy and confusing to my eleven-year-old mind. That week I also met the older players in the group run by Julian that led me to Pete, which I had mentioned in my cyberpunk article.

My 1st Campaign Session

On Friday the RPG club had its weekly official sessions. For my first Friday I took part in a game that was a big leap for a novice, I was given a level 7 Illusionist! I had barely learnt the core mechanics, yet I was being given an experienced character, and I was expected to know what my spell list was, what the character should memorise, never mind crucial campaign information like monsters and social knowledge.

In a busy science class room, a small group of eleven-year-olds were crowded round a long lab table; I wish I had a picture. We were being mentored by sixteen-year-olds, well more like tolerated. I vaguely remember later talking to a few of the players, trying to figure out why these older lads had agreed to be mentors when they clearly seemed disinterested in more than teasing our inexperience. Playing was more like being dragged along a semi-interactive cut scene, with random dice rolls being called out for the strangest of incidents, like an archaic set of quick time events.

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Looking back now this first session had the typically bad introduction, the Dungeon Master (DM) listed off a bunch of made up nouns in quick succession, and no context was given. Even if we had been playing first level characters that we have made ourselves, we would have still struggled to grasp what was going on. I don’t recall there being a discussion about backstory, plot arc, personality traits, how this existing party dynamic worked. After all, we were given level 7 characters that had allegedly been played for years in the same group.

After a few random encounters the game resulted in our characters being stranded in the wilderness, in winter, on foot, whilst a blizzard was raging. The characters kept travelling, and soon they were days from anyway, they had run out of provisions for fire, and had no shelter. The mentors or DM didn’t have much of an explanation as to why we had been led into this blatantly bad situation; we had just been told that we had to move quickly to catch up with our target (insert random noun).

The phrase “Winter is Coming”, reminds me of this gaming session. A weak quirky association.

So, each IC day a party member took turns begging for divine intervention. A percentile role of 1, was needed, except the cleric needed a 2 or less. Obviously given the statistical chances required, the rolls failed.

A single 1% is hard enough, requiring several rolls?

Eventually after days of failing, and with the party members near death my character, I enquired as to whether my character should be praying to the pantheon as opposed to an Illusion God. The DM made a secret role and declared my character’s thoughts were perceived as blasphemy, a lightning bolt struck my character destroying all clothing, equipment and leaving on 1 hit point. My character then sacrificed themselves in an act of  penance, to have a bonfire lit to save the rest of the party; I had been told my character would die in moments from exposure. The older lads were in hysterics, and apparently I had made a classic mistake?

“HAHA you died due the DM rolling a dice for suspect reasoning!”

Afterwards I spoke with some other players, a few thought it was hysterically funny, which given the maturity level of eleven-year-olds wasn’t surprising. Thankfully a few other players were not mean, and in fact they thought the whole thing was ridiculous. It was highlighted that since my character was good and worshipped a good god, it was very odd that a good god would kill a character for a thought, never mind the fact that worshipping different gods in a pantheon should be normal.

Importantly this incident raises a key query: why was regularly pleading for divine intervention required? If it was common, then surely the population would have an idea of the types of results, and a level 7 character with high intelligence would have some understanding of their own culture, an every-person knowledge.

I’ll save my opinions about a DM having cognitive dissonance in regards to requiring a skill roll for a scenario that they made and are running, whilst claiming they are not involved in decision making. Never mind my thoughts about fudging results.

This incident helped me learn about role-playing, both good and point. I will focus on the  few key lessons that became a big part of my role-playing opinions.

1. The importance of IC and OOC knowledge.

I have been obsessed with this ever since, including working on my own program to aid in tracking it. Whilst working at KJC Games, a core part of the mechanics I made for Quest GME was about tracking the vast information in the different Quest game worlds. With paying customers to consider I prioritised this aspect of the game, since information is power in any scenario, with play by mail (PBM) games it tends to more so due to the heavier focus on strategy. However, I am lenient with myself and others in less professional games, without the tools to track things it’s no wonder that even amazing players can slip up.

2. Mocking players about character death.

Understandable a player that has lost a character is going to be upset, they really could do without the teasing/bullying on top of it. I appreciate that a character death is a big deal, and thus it is often discussed with a high level of emotional energy, but even in PvP at a big live action role play (LARP) game, a bit of respect should be considered.

3. Mentoring new players.

I think it is important to give a new player a good introduction to a game, a chance to immerse themselves in something new. At a small tabletop group level, letting someone join a game is not required and generally a rare event, so it is odd when DM/GMs don’t assist new people. At a large level, like a big LARP, well veteran players stopping a new player from joining is not possible, so why not help make a new friend and at least not make an enemy.

4. Being forgiving of ideas and actions.

This has served me well in all scenarios, from one of my local groups, running games at conventions, to receiving compliments from paying customers at KJC Games. One of my favourite incidents was helping to prevent a civil war due to a player using the wrong ID code on their ships targeting list, but I checked with the customer to make sure instead of assuming it was wrong, after all it could have been intentional. It is much harder to do this at LARP, but even in large LARPs there can be windows of opportunity to check things.

5. Plot Centered Around Multiple Fake Difficult Rolls

Not understanding statistics is a common human problem, the subject is counter-intuitive. I have come across a lot of role-players who do not appreciate the impact of dice rolls, or other random mechanics. Whilst a lot of gamers are good with numbers, statistics is subtly different. Thankfully I have met many gamers who are good with statistics, like with everything else, the population can be represented as a bell curve.

In hindsight I think the whole scenario of spending days in a deadly blizzard praying for constant divine intervention to be not just forcing deus ex machina, but doing so repeatedly? That’s some outrageous odds, and it turns out the whole scenario was fake, since the party was rescued by NPcs, more deus ex machina, and not very player-centric or heroic.

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Health: Cortisone, Writing Motivation

The cortisone injection last week went well, with the doctor successfully injecting the area on the first attempt. The pain of the needle going in was not that bad, I was reading SuperBetter on my Kindle during the process, to help distract me from the pain, it did help a bit. Then as the injection of the fluid occurred the pain skyrocketed, it felt like a large object landing on the area; the doctor said that this could be a good sign, as it indicates that the injection had hit the right area due to how sensitive it was.

My body had an immediate reaction to the amount of pain, I started sweating a lot and nearly passed out. However, the experience sorting out my damaged right ear was far worse, so to anyone reading this due to worrying about their own cortisone injection I’d say yes it will be painful, but you will handle it. The pain experienced for the next two days was more like how the shoulder pain had been a few weeks ago, so not a big deal in the grand scheme of things.

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Example of shoulder injection

Writing & Motivation

Whilst things had improved a little bit I have still lacked motivation to do much, as well as still needing to prioritise doing nothing. So despite receiving positive feedback about the Kaizo Trap and Cyberpunk articles in particular, I have not finished any articles for a few weeks, and I had planned follow-ups on those previous articles. At least I have had time to think about them, but after making a few notes, I then don’t have the urge to continue. Considering I could ramble on using speech recognition whilst in bed it would seem easy enough, but I just didn’t want to, until today when I got so frustrated I decided to ramble a bit.

One of my coping mechanisms whilst resting up has been watching all sorts of videos, I have written a NoobGrind article about Gaming and Disability: Value of Video, which as per normal for me turned into a thousand word piece. I hope to be able to maintain motivation and get back to writing articles about role-playing games and my professional experiences.

What’s Next?

I have another doctor’s appointment today, and I will need a further sicknote extension for hopefully just a week or two, and then maybe the injection will prove to have been effective. As mobility has improved I have been at least able to do a tiny amount of yoga and tai chi, and I hope that this progress will help trigger further strengthening without interfering with the current healing by re-aggravating something. I am still having to hold off at attempting anything Brazilian Jiu Jitsu related.

As pain reduces and health improves, I expect (hope) motivation will return. I guess if things don’t improve then I will have to change mental gears anyway. SuperBetter is helping, but I will write about that another time.

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SuperBetter by Jane McGonigal

360° BBC Click and RSI (Wrists)

Every week I watch Click, a technology programme on the BBC. I think the show does a great job of providing up to date tech news. I also really like the presenters, in particular Spencer Kelly and Kate Russell.

On 11th March 2016 the programme was released with two versions, the standard and a 360° version. This was the first programme to be entirely 360°, so given this landmark and the fact it was Click, I decided to check it out.

I thought this special episode was spectacular. I was very impressed with the choice of locations: the opening shot is of an office with Spencer explaining what it is about happen helps to prepare the viewer for:

“Travel by helicopter to the desolate face of a glacier in the Swiss alps, go 100m underground inside the world’s largest physics experiment CERN with never-before-seen footage of the complex, witness world firsts: the 360 degree magic trick and a preview of computer game SUPERHOT”

I’m sure the majority of people will really enjoy this type of interactivity. Unlike in a normal episode were the editor has already determined what the focus of each shot would be, in a 360° episode the user will be changing the display focus a lot. This is often the case when a change of scene occurs, or maybe when a different person is talking. Add to this novelty of looking at everything, thus I regularly found myself rewinding parts of the video, so I could watch the video time-frame again, but each viewing I focused on a different part of the scene.

As somebody with RSI in my wrists, this level of constant interaction is an issue, due to needing to limit my interaction with keyboard/mouse. My normal method of navigating my system is via the speech recognition. Besides the problem of any audio playing making the software less likely to be effective, the speech navigation process wouldn’t work effectively with the current program. This is due to the amount of speech commands that would be required and how fast the images are changing. I took regular breaks whilst the video, so it took quite a while to watch it all. Crucially I enjoyed the experience, I thought the episode used the technology well, and it was not just a gimmick. Unfortunately I now know that watching a 360° video, whilst constantly updating the focus, is something that I should avoid, or carefully make use of.

Currently there is not much 360° media to consume, so I am not missing out on much. However, over the coming years this is likely to change, in particular when one considers the examples being shown with the new generation of virtual reality headsets. The Click video had comments by people stating that they watched the episode using a VR headset, and that they found the experience incredibly immersive. Of course I would like to try that, but currently I have chronic pain on the left side of my upper body due to shoulder swelling, which affects my neck, so the idea of adding even a small amount of weight to my head by using a headset is horrifying.

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The BBC also have a special report about how the 360° episode. Whilst in the show they do explain the process well, the written report adds a bit more information, and I would recommend reading it as well.

I look forward to being able to play SUPERHOT, particular with a VR headset, although that will have to wait. It seems a sure thing that VR headset will become a major part of gaming. This will be great for most people, as well as helping some disabled or temporarily injured people, whilst being an issue for others. As this technology develops, the ever continuing problem of speculating what could happen next will continue on.

I am not sure about the viability of the majority of videos media becoming 360°. I think with factors like the effects upon on the creation process, such as such as having to hide the crew and equipment, as well as cost increase, there is unlikely to be a rapid change. Never mind the issue of whether making a video 360° provides much bonus.

There will surely be exceptions that utilise the technology well, such as a film plot about the nature of perception, or an animation that does not have the issue of camera placement and green screening the majority of a scene. Maybe other technology, like a cybernetic headset on each actor and even multiple inanimate objects, will take the whole process to the next level!

Cyberpunk RPG and CRPG: style and substance

I have written an article Cyberpunk 2077 a smart linked chromed sandbox for NoobGrind. My gaming group and I first watched the Cyberpunk 2077 trailer around the time it was released; I think we had been looking up something to do with Cyberpunk, whilst playing in a Cyberpunk tabletop role-playing session. We were quite excited, in part because the teaser trailer was well done, but additionally because CD Projekt Red was involved.

The person running the gaming session that night has probably run more Cyberpunk games than most people on the planet, including me, and I’ve run a silly amount. So for us the announcement of Cyberpunk 2077 was a big deal, as I’m sure it is for many other role players around the planet.

I was first introduced to the Cyberpunk 2013 whilst at high school, I think in 1989 via the Dungeons & Dragons (D&D). In 1987 I gamed just about every school lunchtime with some older lads, and via them I meet another old chap called Pete, although I forget exactly when. I had been introduced to some other systems via the D&D club, in particular Warhammer Fantasy/40K wargamming; I started collecting Skaven and Space Marines around then. Of course I had read Tolkien, as well as quite a lot of other fantasy and sci-fi, but looking back I don’t recall reading any cyberpunk books before 89. I think I had seen Dark Future in White Dwarf around this time.

Even back then Pete’s style of game mastering was different to the majority that I had experienced via the D&D club. There was a fun intensity combined with a mature character realism that was less common in most of the D&D games I had played; in part due to our ages. I got to know Pete a little bit, he was odd that he didn’t seem intimidated by people, he had mentioned studying Muay Thai, which I had seen on the telly as a young lad and I thought was psychotic and cool. I once saw Pete stand-up to a much bigger lad bullying people, the lad realised Pete was not worth the hassle and backed down. I think it was this confidence, as well as his relaxed attitude that gave Pete’s games an extra level of fun; it also helps that I was exposed to a new gaming system.

Back in the 80s there were not many cyberpunk style computer games, but my friends and I had at least had some solid reference points via movies, which helped us grasp the setting of Cyberpunk 2013 the RPG. The violence and cybernetics of Robocop was a big influence, the film noir style of Bladerunner, the example of ordinary humans trying to stop Arnie in The Terminator, and even psychic inspiration of a near future setting in Neo Tokyo of Akira.

By 1990 I had Cyberpunk 2020, and yet another expanding RPG book collection. At the time of writing this I started dictating gaming anecdotes about my Cyberpunk experiences, but I’ll save them for future articles.

I just hope that by the time Cyberpunk 2077 does come out, that I am healed enough to be able to play it without worrying about physical problems. Although I have Dragon NaturallySpeaking, if only real-life was as simple as buying a cyber arm for 3000eurodollars, as well as 1200 for a neural processor so I can get a Pain Editor!

NoobGrind Cyberpunk 2077 a smart linked chromed sandbox

Role-Play Timeline, article 2 https://batjutsu.wordpress.com/2016/05/17/role-play-meets-lord-of-the-flies/