Zombies: Blogstorming

So, to begin, I need to identify tasks, and seeing as how I am sure I will miss something I’m posting this to get ideas.

In a world overrun with zombies, what tasks must an individual person perform to survive. Obviously, one must kill zeds, because while zombies are a finite problem (if the world population is 7 billion and you are the only survivor there can, at most, be 7 billion minus 1 zombies, since they don’t reproduce) they will cause issues if too many are waiting outside your door. Beyond that, there is gathering food, water, weapons, clothes, sanitation, entertainment and the extremely important activity of repairing the barricades.

Lets start a bulleted list:

  • Kill zombies
  • Gather Food
  • Find/Purify Water
  • Empty poop bucket
  • Find/Maintain weapons
  • Weather appropriate clothing
  • Shelter/Barricade Maintenance
  • Books/Music/Entertainment

Optional items:

  • Maintain Generator (fuel)

I’m sure there are things I am forgetting, so if you have ideas, I’d love to hear them. However, I request that suggestions remain in the “one person all alone” realm as I plan on tackling that first before working on any kind of multi player aspect.

Playing Well With Others

Many moons ago, some friends and I all agreed to pool our money and buy network cards for our PCs. Coaxial token ring cards to do an ad-hoc IPX network. All for the purpose of playing DOOM. We would actually load up our computers in the trunks of our cars and drive over to one person’s house, throw together our network, and spend all night playing, laughing and eating pizza.

It was during these gaming sessions that I was introduced to a little game called Warcraft: Orcs & Humans. We all bought copies and our game nights shifted from DOOM to splitting time between DOOM and Warcraft. It was great, and like the FPS game, the two factions of Warcraft were pretty much equal in design, all that mattered was random luck and a little player skill. When to hold back, when to charge. Warcraft II continued that trend, mostly, and we played the heck out of it.

Then came Starcraft. But it was different than the other games in that the sides were not equal. Supposedly there was balance, but since the units were different, they developed different strategies, and often times defending against an enemy’s attack strategy meant playing to your weaknesses while they played to their strengths. In online play, you either agreed that no one played the Zerg, or everyone played the Zerg because they were strong when the other races were weak. The Zergling rush was very effective and while at the beginning it was considered a cheap tactic, it eventually became a part of standard play with people devising rush strategies for the other two sides. And rush tactics began to invade Warcraft II and Total Annihilation, would become a part of Warcraft III and every RTS game around.

I hated rushing. I liked to settle in and build out units so that we could have later, larger tactical wars that ranged all over. Its not that I couldn’t rush, I could, but I just didn’t like it. It ended the game too quick and utilized so little of the game. Among friends we would set timers and say “No fighting for the first ten minutes.” or something like that, but online, it was nothing but rushing.

Real Time Strategy games were not the only place I ran into this sort of thing. Over in the First Person Shooter world, circle strafing had taken over. Running a circle around a person at high speed (sometimes while jumping, moving in impossible ways), all the while with them unable to reliably target you. Thankfully this was less prevalent in Team Fortress, which I has started playing exclusively. Death Match and regular CTF were closed to me, like with rushing in the RTS games, I could circle strafe, I just thought it was stupid.

When EverQuest came out, I looked forward to the idea of settling back and playing a table top RPG in a 3D world. I’d actually enjoyed UO, even PvP in UO, and this looked to be like a step up. But EQ attracted the FPS crowd, and flaws in (or a simple lack of) game design allowed circle strafe jumping to take over the PvP side of the game. Again, I could do it, I just thought it was lame. Honestly, have you ever tried holding a sword, running around a target in a circle, jumping repeatedly AND successfully hitting that target? Its nearly impossible to hit, and even if you hit that is going to be very little power in that swing. Even now in World of Warcraft, the Battlegrounds are ruled in melee range by circle strafe jumping morons.

One of my more recent addictions (which I recently realized I’ve been playing for over a year) is Conquer Club. Its basically RISK online, but with a couple dozen or so maps, some with very different rules. Playing random pickup games, I run about a 33% win ratio. I’m happy with that. However, I’m a little envious of some of the people there who have regular teammates and work together to develop strategies. So, last week I hooked up with a guy I’d recently won a game with and we decided to play 6 games together as a team. We created the games on Thursday, and in less than 2 days, we’ve already lost 2 of them. In both games we lost to the same strategy. I spent some time looking around and have found, like rushing and circle strafing, this tactic has become prevalent in the team game world on Conquer Club. I don’t like it. I don’t want to play games this way. It makes the games short, and usually ignores any rules of the map… to me, its cheap. Sure, I could do it too, the strategy isn’t that hard, but I don’t want to. Luckily, the strategy only works in team games, so all I need to do is avoid games against prearranged teams.

Overall, all these strategies boil down to one thing that I don’t like… the best defense for them is to use them yourself. Using any of these tactics dumbs down the game and removes nuance. Both teams are now fighting exactly the same way and the only factors remaining are “luck of the dice” and who can execute the strategy faster. I can respect when someone executes a thoughtful attack and forces me to change my plans to react, but I just find it distasteful when the strategy they use is a trump card: I either lose, or I play the game exactly like them.

Can this be fixed? Should this be fixed?

I don’t know… but I do know that slowly it is driving me away from real time multi player games and more toward single player and turn based games with clearly defined rules of game play. You can find me on Xbox Live playing Catan, Carcassonne, Uno and others.

28 Weeks Later

Just got back from seeing 28 Weeks Later, the sequel to 28 Days Later.

It was excellent. Similar to 28 Days Later, in 28 Weeks, the infected and the infection provide the setting, but the overall story is more about the people than it is the monsters. While this isn’t really a zombie movie, it follows along with alot of the same stylistic elements.

In 28 Days, you saw Jim wake up 28 days after a plague of “rage” has engulfed England. He quickly has a few close calls and hooks up with another person, and then two more, and they eventually head to a place that promises a cure. And here is where the “real story” of 28 Days began. Some soldiers were holed up at a mansion and in a moderately twisted way were planning to survive and repopulate the world.

28 Weeks involves none of the characters from the original. Here, we are introduced to a few survivors at the height of the plague, then transported 28 weeks forward to where US troops have reoccupied parts of London, the infected have supposedly starved to death, and reconstruction efforts are beginning. British travelers from abroad are being allowed to return, and in the current batch are two kids, children of a man who managed to survive on the ground in England. Like the original, the movie takes a little turn and takes the focus away from the infection and shows you the world… people living in the safe zone, the guards who protect it. The kids decide to jump the fence and retrieve some possessions from their old house, and as you can guess this is where the trouble begins.

If you were to say that 28 Days Later was like the movie Alien, then 28 Weeks Later is Aliens. It was exciting and scary, like the original, but with more muscle and firepower. If you liked 28 Days Later, 28 Weeks Later should be right up your alley. I definitely recommend it.

Thoughts of Spender

This is going to be a stretch, but maybe I won’t seem too off the mark by the end.

Monday, a man took a couple of guns to the Virginia Tech campus and killed thirty-one people. He wounded another twenty-nine. At least, those were the totals I remember from the stories I read. Immediately, before the bodies were even counted, the airwaves were full of people talking about why someone would do such a thing. Most notably, to me anyway, was Jack Thompson. I’m not going to provide a link, if you want to know exactly what he said you can find it. He certainly doesn’t need my help getting his message out there.

Jack, and he probably was not alone, came forward immediately to lay the blame heavy at the feet of video games, violence in the media and today’s popular culture. I’m sure if pressed he’d blame music and television and movies, but his favorite target is video games. He believes that violent video games are a training ground for violent action. He was blaming video games before the gunman’s body was cold, before we even knew the name of the shooter. Jack is a fool, but he’s a grandstanding fool who knows how to work his audience.

People… and I do mean to make a sweeping generalization here, because from time to time I’ve been known to do it too… seek out external sources for problems. They want to point a finger and say, “Ah ha!” They want to be able to identify a specific action or object that can be blamed for the problem so that it can be removed. But issues like these are usually more internal, more specific to the individual than can be dealt with by calling for blanket legislations and bannings.

People hate cancer. Cancer comes in three forms. The one cancer that everyone hopes they have if they get it is the kind that is someone else’s fault. Be it living next to power lines, or cell phones, or second hand smoke, or radiation they were exposed to at work, they want it to be not their own fault. That kind of cancer is, unfortunately, the rarest kind. The other two forms are the most prevalent. The second is self-inflicted cancer, the kind you get from smoking, the kind that comes from laying out in the sun too long too often, and people hate this cancer because they could have avoided it, probably knew the risk and ignored it. The third is the unknown cancer. You are in perfect health, don’t smoke, don’t lay out in the sun, don’t work with radioactive materials, live far away from power lines and cell phone towers, you’ve got no reason at all to have cancer, then one day you go to the doctor for an indeterminate pain in your gut only to find out you’ve got cancer. This is the one that scares the crap out of people.

It is scary because there is not anything you could have done to prevent it.

When there are shootings, like this one at Virginia Tech, or previous ones at other schools or other public areas, when one person just kinda flips their shit and kills a bunch of people, it is important to examine that person’s life and try to understand what the hell went wrong. But it is the kind of thing you cannot go into with an existing theory. If you approach it with the idea that video games did this to him or influenced him, then if you find video games you will assume that they had an effect. Jack Thompson would love nothing more than to find out this guy had a PC full of First Person Shooters or a couple of Grand Theft Auto titles for his PS2 because it would justify his theory. But the reality is that the games themselves are not justification, they are just evidence. The gunman is dead and can’t tell you if he even played those game. Now, of course, we know that he was an English major, and a playwrite, who wrote some very disturbing works and was even thought to be the school shooter type by his classmates. But at the time of the shootings, as all these talking heads took the airwaves, no one knew that. Now we know that he made videos and wrote things and had a sketchy medical history and previous encounters with faculty and staff, but even though from here it looks like a giant pile of “Hey! Look am me! I’m a nut job who is going to shoot people!!” you have to keep in mind that all this information, all this stuff, was in different people’s hands. No one saw a complete picture until it was too late.

There was a guy at my high school, he was a creepy kind of dude. Very tall, shaved head, ROTC gun nut kind of fellow… not that all ROTC guys are nutjobs, but I’m trying to paint a picture here… in addition, he was standoffish, not a whole lot of friends. I didn’t really know him that well. After graduation, during that first year when I was going to college and working full time, I woke up one morning to a horror story. This guy I didn’t know very well killed his parents and his sister. Sure, he was weird and a loner, but kill his family? His brother had escaped, jumping out of a second story window. This guy got caught, they piled up the evidence against him and his accomplice and threw him in jail. About a year later, I hired a new kid to work in my department down at the Kroger. It was the brother. After working with him a while, one night while closing up, I asked him about it. He paused, then after a couple minutes he finally spoke. Now this isn’t an exact quote, I mean, hell, it was nearly 15 years ago, but… “My brother killed my parents and my sister, and he tried to kill me. There is no question he did it. I don’t think I’ll ever understand it. No one really expected it. He was weird and all, but the truth is all the stuff they found in the garage, the knives, the bows and arrows, the kerosene and stuff, it wasn’t his. He kept all his stuff in his room. The stuff in the garage was mine. Nobody ever asked me if it was though. Isn’t that funny?” And I clearly remember all the newspapers from back when it happened talking about all the things they found, the “indicators of violence.” But this kid, the brother who got away, he just liked target shooting with the bows, collecting knives and setting things on fire. Dangerous? Sure, but he was no killer.

I remember at the time thinking of a quote, that really doesn’t apply if you consider the context of the story that it comes from, but the words, the phrasing, fit. It comes from Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles:

“And last—if it helps any, just think of me as a very crazy fellow who went berserk one summer day and never was right again. It’ll be a little easier on you that way.”
-Jeff Spender

And I thought of this again on Monday. Maybe this guy had his reasons. People will view his tapes and read his words and look at the pile of evidence and try to understand it. And maybe somewhere, somehow, it will make sense. But maybe it won’t. Perhaps it is impossible to know why he did it until you are afflicted like him, troubled like him, and if you are that troubled, that afflicted, would you act the same? Even if it somehow made sense, would you really want it to? Would knowing all the hows and whys lead us to the magic moment where his life could have been fixed if just one action had been taken, and one person could be blamed for not seeing the problem? I’m not sure that’s a road I want to go down.

You really can’t prepare for the extreme. You can’t prevent it, you can’t legislate it. You can try to keep the middle ground large and even, but nothing we can do can stop the determinedly broken from doing what they do, not without compromising the rest of us.

I think perhaps I’m better off believing that he was just a crazy fellow who went berserk one day and never was right again. It’ll be a little easier on me that way.

Next week I’ll return you to our regularly scheduled game design and commentary; book, movie and TV reviews; and the rest of the usual random crap that comes from me emptying my brain onto the internet…

1,000 Paper Cranes

A friend of mine is making 1,000 paper cranes.

If you followed that link, you’ll see a story about a young girl with leukemia who is told of a legend whereby if a person folds a thousand paper cranes their wish will come true. According to the story of the girl, she originally was going to wish to be well, but when she got to the end she wished for world peace instead. She was buries with a wreath of a thousand paper cranes.

In all of my searching, though, I cannot find reference of the original legend itself, only mentions of people being told the legend.

I suppose the point, as my friend says, is that if you see it through, making the thousand cranes, during which you really can’t think of anything other than the wish you will make, by the end you’ll really know what your heart desires. In the girl’s case, being a victim of the atomic bomb herself, she (I assume) realized that she wanted less to get better herself and wanted more that the world would have peace and never see another atomic bomb drop.

I’ve been wondering what I would wish for if I decided to undertake the folding of a thousand cranes. I have no idea…

My friend has been keeping track of his progress on his blog.

The Spirit of Giving

I’ll admit, when it comes to gift giving occasions, like birthdays and Christmas, I usually phone it in. That’s not to say I don’t get the person something they want or something they need, or that they don’t appreciate the gifts, but… I usually play it safe. You like movies, here is a movie; you like console games, here is a console game; you have a wish list at Amazon, here is an item off your wish list at Amazon.

This year though, I think for a couple of people, I’ve finally managed to pull off “the good gift”. You know the one I mean. The thing they didn’t ask for, the thing they think no one will buy them, the thing they forgot that they wanted but that you remembered them talking about… and now I’m all full of excitement about Christmas morning on a level beyond the norm.

Damn, I should have been doing this all along. But I’ll give credit where credit is due… I couldn’t have done it without Amazon.

One of the problems you run into with giving gifts is trying to remember thing people have said they wanted. Usually, you don’t really think about it until the time to give in near and so the main thoughts in your head will be of stuff they’ve talked about recently. But Amazon introduced Gift Idea Lists this year. You can add a person, then add gifts to that person… they’ll even give your three recommendations for gifts based on the list (I do wish this was larger, three just seems to not really be enough). So now, not on some scrap of paper I can lose, whenever someone I know mentions something they want, I can go drop it on their Gift List and save it for when I need to buy them something.

It’ll even keep track of gift giving days for each person… so guys, sorry, but you’ve run out of excuses for forgetting anniversaries.


In Business, there are two types of people.

The first type is the kind of person who expects any individual who has a job to be able to do that job. This means that the individual needs to make the effort to understand each job function and why it is done. They also need to have a fundamental comprehension of the equipment they are involved with on a day to day basis.

The second type is the kind of person who expects the tools they use in their job to not allow them to make mistakes, so that even if they do not understand what they are doing, what they need to do is explained for them at every step and wrong choices are incapable of being made.

I’m the first type. And because of that, when I write programs, I write them so that everything that needs to be possible is available. Many people I write these programs for are the second type, and they want my program to analyse data (and read minds) and allow them on any given screen to only be able to do what they are required to do for their job.

For example, I have a screen that allows you to edit the status of a port and to edit the assignments of that port. I coded it completely open (you can edit either at any time) because our database and backend has been shown to have… quirks where data goes missing. The people I am writing it for want the screen to only allow you to set a port’s status to working if an assignment exists, and only to set it to available if no assignment exists. They also want adding or deleting an assignment disabled if the port is in a working status. So, if a bug happens that obliterates an assignment while leaving the port in a working status… my way, you add the assignment back. Their way… you have to set the port to available, then make the assignment, and then set the port back to working. And if for some reason you want to manually delete a port… my way, delete assignment, set port to available. Their way, set the port to available, delete assignment.

Now, the question is, do you see why my way is better?

This screen is not the entire application. And there are hundreds of people using the application. On another screen, there is an equipment assignment page that searches for and offers available ports for assignment. In both cases, they are making the port available for assignment when it is not ready to be (or is not going to be) available.

So, I do it their way… and the next complaint I get is that one person was working on the manual screen above and the port was assigned by the automatic screen after they made it available when it wasn’t really available. Now they want me to code in a delay, store a time stamp and only offer to automatic assignments ports that have been available for at least an hour… *sigh*

Reputation in games

Over at his blog, Richard Bartle has layed out a very primative sketch of how an effective player driven reputation system might work. The short version is “Amazon’s You-might-also-like Lists”. You would rank people when you get to know them, and based on your selections and the selections of other people, someone you have never met before might be “recommended” to you because people who like the same people you like also like this new person.

Simple example ripped from Richard’s post:

You like A, they like A; you dislike B, they dislike B; you haven’t met C, they like C, so C is probably a decent person. The greater the insersection between lists, the higher the chance that you’ll share their opinions.

The only drawback he found was in the server resources it might take to maintain and display this data. Well, as far as maintaining it, there isn’t much I can suggest, it is going to be a huge amount of data – potentially if you have X players and all X players rank all other players (X-1), you have to store X*(X-1) records. Taking a game like EVE Online that runs a single server with over 100,000 subscribers, that is potentially 10 billion records. Calculating the data, however, could be contained by imbedding the “score” of a player to a “Looking For Group” tool, or as a given command (inspect player), so as to reduce the amount of processing done with these numbers, as opposed to his suggestion of having the results display all the time by a player’s name.

It is definately a good idea, I think, and merits a deeper look at the possibilities and realities of implementation.

Faster Food

I think at the point the thing that angers me the most when I go to eat fast food is the inability of the person at the register to type in exactly what I order. I’ve been eating at Wendy’s restaurants for a long long time, and in that time I have learned their keypad so that I order exactly the way that it must be keyed in. “Junior hamburger with mustard and pickles only.” On the register, all the guy needs to do is hit the junior hamburger button, then the mustard button, then the pickles button and finally the “only” button. Simple. So why do I still get burgers with onions, mayo, ketchup, cheese and/or lettuce on them? I look at the screen and I see that the person working the grill has made my burger to order, the problem being that my order says “Junior cheeseburger with ketchup and onions.”

This is why I get frustrated… I have done everything in my power to eliminate mistakes and yet the people working the register keep messing it up. The other workers to their job correctly, but the person I deal with gets it wrong screwing up the whole chain. Argh!

So, I’m at Wal-Mart and I’m buying two things. Instead of waiting in the ridiculously long lines (because they have three registers open with fifty customers), I head to the self check-out. Beep-beep, scan, beep, bag, scan, beep, bag, credit card, done. And I’m out. This is what fast food places need. Remove the cashiers, they are outdated. Spin the register around, let me punch in my order, swipe my card or insert my bills (provide change if needed) and print me a receipt. Then I proceed to the window and pick up my order when my number is called.

Wendy’s, Burger King, McDonald’s? Any of you guys reading this? As a bonus, it means all the cash is inside the machine in the wall. No more sticky fingers from the employees. No more store hold ups because there is no drawer for them to open. I’m telling you, wave of the future. Wave of the future.

9 0 2 1 Oh no you didn`t!

Just about every Tuesday I can be found down at the North River Tavern (formerly Taco Mac By The River) matching wits with the trivia gods… or at least having some food and drink and conversation while playing trivia for house cash. We do fairly well, our team, winning one of the three cash prize places every couple of weeks. Winning third place nets you $20, and its almost worse than winning nothing… splitting the money five or six ways barely takes a bite out of the bill. Second place at $40 is better, but first place at $60 is where its really worthwhile. Food and a soda will run you $10 at the tavern, so a five or six man split on the winnings means you eat for free and only pay for alcohol. It works out well for the waitress too, with $10 to $15 less to have to spend it means each person will be tossing in an extra couple bucks into the tip pile, quickly pushing a 20% tip into the realm of 40% or better.

Thursday nights, the North River Tavern runs trivia again, and sometimes we go. While Tuesdays is sort of a ‘General Knowledge’ type trivia with all sorts of categories, Thursdays is theme night. Well, this week’s theme was ‘Beverly Hills 90210’. Some of our team didn’t make it, not being thrilled about the topic, but I’ll admit I watched the show… 6 of the 7 seasons anyway, I got bored of it at the end. The show was fun to laugh at.. the plots were ridiculous, and the only person worth rooting for was David Silver. For some reason Brian Austin Green’s character just had this underdog quality that made you want to see him overcome his hardships and win a little bit… everyone else on the show you wanted to see tortured and burning in hell because 99 times out of 100 their problems were their own damn fault and never should have happened to begin with.

Anyway, our team, three members strong, managed to get first place. Woohoo! Go us! Of course, we aren’t complete 90210 geeks or anything, out of a possible 1120 points, we snagged first place with a whopping 220. So no, we aren’t the biggest geeks in the world, but we were the biggest geeks to show up Thursday for trivia at the North River Tavern.