Monday, April 26, 2010

Open Tabs 4: The Revenge

Managed to accumulate a bunch more open tabs lately. Some interesting stuff this time around!

* TWIFComp. Interactive fiction in 140 characters or less (not including whitespace) I thought this one was kind of dumb, actually, but after some poking around, it looks as though people with more poetry in their souls than I have (or at least more brevity) have come up with some interesting things.

* A duet for the ages. I will not apologize for sharing this link.

* AutoDesk Sketchbook Mobile. I’ve tried a couple drawing programs for the iPod Touch and mostly found them atrocious. This one intrigues me, but I keep going back and forth over whether I’d use it often enough to be worth the price.

* Paying taxes with art. For the past fifty years or so, Mexican artists of the painterly persuasion have been able to pay their taxes with art! In the process, the Mexican government has amassed a remarkable collection. This intrigues me -- what if Joss Whedon got to pay his taxes this way? (H/T Marginal Revolution)

* Article on statistical significance. I have not yet fully digested this one. On the one hand, I agree that many scientists have a poor grasp of statistics. Human beings in general do poorly with the subject. I have complained for a long time, too, that medical studies I’ve read often have very small and too-heterogeneous sample sizes. I’m not entirely sure what Siegfried’s conclusions are here, thanks mostly to his somewhat aggressive wording. I think that this is best viewed as an argument for earlier and more comprehensive education in statistics. (H/T and further discussion, MR)

* Scotch as a form of vicarious travel. Fun little post about various whiskies, touring Scotland by way of its liquids. Posting it here so I don’t lose it. Summary:
Scotch is an acquired taste, but can be as fun to drink and parse as wine, if you’re so inclined. To me, it’s like a drinking in a sense of place, and since that place is Scotland, you know I dig it. It’s about downing the distilled essence of a landscape, tasting the waters and grains and peats of a far-away land; about turning Scotland into smoke and fluid and taking it in through your nose and mouth.

(H/T Chuck Wendig)

* Jay Lake eats a Double Down. I have to admit, this “sandwich” has become something of an odd obsession for me. Basically, it is a couple pieces of bacon and cheese sandwiched between two pieces of fried chicken. Here, Mr. Lake eats one so that the rest of us don’t have to (want to?). It effectively demonstrates the difference between “good” and “awesome”. (H/T John Scalzi)

* Jane McGonigal’s TED talk on games as art. Prompted Ebert’s most recent ill-informed spew on the subject, which I have no interest in linking to. Interesting talk, though not the best I’ve seen -- honestly, I get a little tired of the “protests too much” aspect of the “games as art” argument. This is pretty much going to be one that will only be won when the people who didn’t grow up playing video games have all died of old age. Until then, lots of handwringing and frustration.

* Installing Linux on a dead badger. I could probably explain this one, but I won’t.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Fascinating Exchange

I came across this exchange earlier today, and have been thinking about it all morning. To recap: There was an article published stating that the Thai government, criticized for not giving much to Haiti earthquake relief, had donated several thousand bottles of skin-whitening cream. The outrage, as you might imagine, was considerable. Trouble is... it’s not true. That site is a satire site, like The Onion, only aimed pretty much primarily at satirizing a particular Thai newspaper. (it has other articles entitled, “Kim Jong Il’s Pancreas Sent To Labor Camp”, “Man Reduces Carbon Footprint By Dying Young”, and “U.S. Torture Memos: Detainee Forced To Eat At Cracker Barrel 83 Times In One Month”. Some of them I thought were pretty funny, most of them fell flat for me.)

What really stuck in my head, though, was the lengths to which the commenter had to go to persuade her friend that no, the story really was fake. The story itself is hard to believe... but if you’re ready and willing to think the worst of people, it’s not too hard to accept, especially when the story is stripped of context. Now, I like this particular exchange because, having seen many others like it, this one is sadly the most surprising because of how impressively civil these two people are to each other, even though they must have each found the other person maddening.

Money quote:
Until and unless I am proven otherwise, my stance is that the original source of that piece was either removed or corrupted due to the sentivity/controversy it could generate.

I do not know what is "legitimate" on the internet when every Dick, Tom and Harry can use the internet to publish "news."

While that last sentence is a valuable insight, it seems to me that this person makes exactly the wrong conclusions from it. Their statement appears to me to boil down to, “I will believe anything I read that confirms my personal biases.” Which does not make this person much different from most other people on the internet, just more up-front about it!

I will do my best to think about this next time I see something on the interwebs that outrages me -- do me a favor and try to do so too?

Friday, April 16, 2010

Writing update

Just to keep myself honest here, I thought I’d post a quick update on my current crop of stories and where they are:

Death in a Tin Can -- submitted to Viable Paradise (workshop)
The Body and the Bomb -- submitted to Strange Horizons
Where Do They Bury the Survivors? -- finished, shopped around, waiting in the desk drawer for either a revision, a market that will take novella-length works from a new writer, or having sold enough other pieces to no longer be as much of a risk
Down Came a Blackbird (critter’d as Proud, working title was Dead Drunk) -- being refactored, lengthened
Midnight Train -- partial draft, somewhat stalled
The Detective and the Detective -- Notes/Outline stage

So! Six works in various stages of finish, a third of them currently on submission. Not great, but not terrible.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Since you ask nicely...

Doc Grasshopper wants your diseases. It would be rude not to share! (Specifically, fictional diseases, as a world-building exercise)

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

An Itemized Bill

Hey, it’s almost April 15th, and if you’re in the US, you’re probably thinking about taxes. I paid mine a while ago, and boy is the IRS quick in cashing those checks. If you’re curious what you just paid for, have a look over here. It’s a little coarse-grained, but interesting.

Update: Oh, hey, if you’re looking for something to do with that big fat refund check, here’s a fun place to spend some cash. Documentary about Japanese entomology? You know you want that.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

A Day For Taking Risks

I finally got around to testing that idea i had about making baked beans with peanuts instead of beans. (Hey, they’re all legumes here) It actually worked remarkably well. I used part roasted peanuts, part raw -- the roasted ones seem to have come out much better texture-wise: they’re darker, softer, and generally tastier. But all told, it’s not bad. Weird, but not bad. I mean, it helps that it had like half a cup of dark brown sugar and four strips of bacon, but it’s not bad! I admit that I had a backup dinner option ready, but I won’t need it!

I also finally got off my butt and submitted my short story The Body and the Bomb to Strange Horizons. I really hope they take it, because of all the markets I’ve looked at, that one has just blown me away. They publish quality fiction and articles (all free to read, though assuredly not free to produce, hint hint), and their submission procedure is amazing: they’re responsive, they give you a tracking page, they just give you information so that you’re not (just) sitting at home in the dark biting your nails. They’ve published a lot of good authors, who seem to be fiercely loyal. Oh, and they pay professional rates, which means that publishing through them makes an author eligible to join SFWA, which is one of my goals for this year.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Cory Doctorow is full of shit

So, like many other people I’ve read Mr. Doctorow’s explanation of why he will not buy an iPad and neither should you. Long story short: he says that Apple’s closed walled-garden platform (that cannot be taken apart or physically modified) is bad for developers and bad for users. Go read it, it’s worth reading. But he’s full of shit.

Am I the only one who remembers just how horrible American cell phones were just a few years ago? Every single one was a locked-down walled-garden captive market with “custom” (read: awful) operating systems from each vendor that crippled even the best hardware. They charged for damn near everything, from ring tones to moving photos around, and removed basic functionality because it didn’t fit their “vision”. Whatever the flaws of the iPhone and the 3G iPad, it’s a hell of a lot better than what we had before, especially as basically a transitional device. From the point of view of the cell phone companies, the iPhone has been a Trojan Horse, and I think it’s no accident that it was picked up by one of the weakest competitors in that field. AT&T was the defector from a common strategy, remember, when they basically broke ranks and agreed to sell a phone over which someone else had control over the software, particularly the Apps.

I have many issues with the App store. But I have never in my life seen such a thriving market for small-scale indie software. There has been a gaping hole in that part of the software market for many years, based on an unwillingness or inability to pay for small pieces of software that do one limited thing well. Up until recently, the only viable paths for these kinds of software have been shareware, freeware, and open source for distributed software, and pretty much only ad-supported software for online services. These are miserable options and have helped stunt the growth of the software industry. The App Store is a worthwhile experiment in small-scale software sales. It’s been done better on a limited scale, but by and large I don’t think it’s terrible.

That said, their review process as-implemented is something that I can’t entirely get behind. Wanting to insure that Apps don’t open security holes? Awesome. Filtering out useful apps just to protect AT&T’s benighted business practices? Obnoxious, but for the moment a semi-reasonable bargain. Going through and cutting out swathes of ‘adult’ apps? Ridiculous and obnoxious. But these flaws are fixable, and market pressure from the Droid contingent may well push Apple to solve them. What’s not as fixable is their ability to squash whole sub-markets by picking winners from an immature field and/or pushing their own solution -- that will require either self-control or Justice Department action. So, this is not a perfect approach by any stretch, but that imperfection can be addressed by competition.

See, I think that the key insight here is that Apple is not so much selling iPads and iPhones so much they are selling convenient and portable access to Apps. The whole philosophy behind this hardware is to be as transparent as possible: it’s supposed to be practically a physical manifestation of software, a blank slate that turns into any other handheld device. They’ve made it possible for someone to sell me a $2 scientific calculator, that turns into someone else’s $1 pocket video game, and someone else’s free e-reader. It’s not intended to replace your laptop (as will be obvious when they unveil their next expensive MacBook lineup) it’s intended to replace the dozens of other (mostly unmoddable!) devices that you already have or would like to have. [1] Here, then, his complaint seems to be that there ought not be a gatekeeper.

But there are significant benefits to having a gatekeeper that Doctorow doesn’t acknowledge. He complains that Apple treats its users like morons. But the majority of the computer-using population has demonstrated incompetence when it comes to computer security, and they’ve been aided and abetted by operating systems that let them install whatever the hell they want. Do you have any idea just how many botnets there are out there? How many people fall for stupid tricks like popping up an official-looking window asking permission to infect their machines with all manner of nasties?

This all isn’t the fault of the users, necessarily. I’ve heard many explanations ranging from confusing user interfaces to a simple lack of education about how computers work, but relatively few proposals for how to address this issue -- many of them basically requiring a step where “All our users suddenly get savvier”. But over the last 25 years of having open platforms (free compilers, free and open source operating systems, standardized hardware that’s easy to mix and match) the average user had gotten continually dumber and less savvy. It may be insulting to assume that most of your consumer base is stupid, but it’s not wrong. And having a device that’s easier to use means attracting users who are too dumb to use even a PC. Apple’s approach is a solution to this problem, with a simplified interface and strictly-controlled installation path. Not the best solution for everyone, but hey: the iPad wasn’t really made for people for whom those aren’t problems. For those who do suffer from those problems, the iPad ain’t bad. I could give my parents or grandparents or teenage cousins an iPad without scaring the hell out of them about being very very careful of what they download and run. (I mean, I won’t, because I’m a cheapskate. But I could.) They’ll fall prey to viruses and worms sooner or later, but with these safeguards they’re going to be more resilient than your average Windows desktop. You say “Apple’s insulting its customers by calling them stupid”, I say “Apple’s talking responsibility for many of its customers being stupid”. Same thing?

Now, that could be seen as rationale for making the device difficult to tinker with, but I reject that notion that it is difficult to tinker with. Software tinkering is much more interesting for this device than hardware tinkering, given that software is the whole point of the thing. I’ve downloaded -- for free -- their SDKs and looked through the many, many tutorials and documentation files they’ve made available, also for free. I hate Objective C with the heat of, oh, a half-dozen suns, but it’s not an intentional hurdle: those poor fucks at Apple use it too. OK, they make you pay like $100 to upload anything to your own device, which I find mildly irritating, but this is not a major or unexpected hurdle. Dev kits for embedded devices like PICs or FPGAs can cost much more than that, and I’ve rarely heard people say that those things were killing innovation. Compilers for a number of systems have frequently been sold rather than given away free, too. Besides, if cost is such a hurdle, jailbreaking works just as well, and judging from Apple’s reactions I doubt they’re really that unhappy about the jailbreakers. So, yeah: if you want to fiddle with your iPad, you have to shell out some dough and/or jump through some hoops. Are those hoops really more onerous than learning to program in the first place? I doubt it.

Having discussed the software, let’s address his complaint that being unable to open it means that you don’t really own it... That’s true to an extent, but it is a gross oversimplification. For one thing, you can open it. I can buy a $10 plastic piece to pop open my iPod Touch, and I nearly did when I broke the screen. Instructions abound for explaining exactly how to disassemble an reassemble it. The trouble is, screws or no screws, the kind of electronic fabrication required to build this device means that modding this thing is going to be extremely difficult no matter what. It’s neither easier nor more difficult to open up and modify than most other similarly-scaled consumer devices -- it’s just a more attractive target. My Nintendo DS isn’t very easy to mod either, but nary a peep about that. Sure, Apple could have added solder points, a better peripheral port, maybe put out hardware documentation, but I can’t exactly pretend to be surprised that they didn’t, considering that the second version of its device was (still is?) delayed while waiting for FCC approval. [2] I’m much less happy about relying on them to swap out batteries, or being unable to change hard drives or add more RAM, but these things are somewhat trivial, amounting to wanting the same thing Apple sold you, only numerically better. The only thing I’m really unhappy about is the Bluetooth lockdown, particularly the inability to add a keyboard.

So, Doctorow is sorta, kinda right as far as that goes: if your interest in a platform have more to do with hacking the hardware than hacking the software, it’s not designed for you. No cell phone type device is, until the FCC decides it’s ok to take a few (reasonable?) risks. But it is friendly to most of its intended audience, it’s not far outside mainstream practices (I’d say that it’s a damn sight more generous than the standard practices of the cell phone industry!), and Doctorow’s unwillingness to acknowledge that fact, or to acknowledge that Apple has helped made the cell phone a hell of a lot more consumer/developer friendly, makes it very hard to take him seriously.

As for the remaining point (his digression on journalism is orthogonal) about ownership of the digital stuff you buy... I am sympathetic, but skeptical. This is a complicated question that society basically has not yet answered, and while I may admire Doctorow for being willing to give away so freely the fruits of his mental labor, I think he frequently goes way too far in expecting others to basically do the same. The end result of his mentality here is, in my opinion, likely to be an environment where creative programming can only be a hobby to many people rather than a means of support. When he says at the end, “If you want to write code for a platform where the only thing that determines whether you're going to succeed with it is whether your audience loves it, the iPad isn't for you.” He might as well say “this society isn’t for you” or “this species isn’t for you.” There are always externalities and tradeoffs: ability to distribute, ability to get the word out, ability to stay within local laws, ability to get your adoring audience to pay you instead of grabbing your code from a warez site, &c. And notice that he doesn’t say “if you want to be paid to write code for a platform...” I question the notion that making that cash selling through Apple’s App Store is that much more onerous for the majority of developers than making that cash dealing with advertising companies or PayPal. I also question the proposition that the difficulties to the remaining developers outweigh Apple’s interest in maintaining the security and ease of use of the device. If he’d like to make an argument in favor of another platform like Android or describe a hypothetical ideal, I’m all ears. If he wants to make an argument in favor of government regulation of walled-garden markets, again, I’m all ears. But he hasn’t attempted to make those arguments, so far as I know.

(Oh, a word on Flash: I hate Flash. Fuck Flash. The people who use Flash now on their sites were the people who used to love blink tags. The notion that Apple’s refusal to support it may mean fewer Flash-based websites and talking ads? Fills me with glee. That will go away when HTML 5 becomes the “let’s annoy the piss out off John!” method of choice, but I’ll take what I can get for now.)

(Also: it bothers me that Apple’s spell-checker flags “ain’t” as a misspelling. Fuck you, Jobs, and the prescriptivist linguistics you rode in on!)

[1] His point that gadgets come and go works against him here, in my opinion: if I desperately need a calculator that handles trig functions exactly once and then never again, owning an iPhone or iPad makes it much easier, more environmentally friendly, and less costly to acquire and then discard it. And how many pedometers are Americans going to buy before finally admitting that we’ll never really like them? Should they go into the landfill, or into the bit bucket? But even if Apple completely drops the iPad and iPhone, I’ll bet dollars to donuts [3] that a slew of emulators will pop up and allow us to keep on using the ones we’ve already bought.
[2] The FCC issue is a big one that he fails to acknowledge, and I think it significantly weakens his argument. In order to keep costs down, the regular iPad needs to be very similar to the 3G one (not to mention the iPhone), and we’re just not going to see such a device being friendly to hardware hackers.
[3] especially if those donuts cost more than a dollar each

Wednesday, April 7, 2010


I was fortunate to attend PAX East a week or so ago. I had a great time, and got to meet and listen to some of the smartest people in gaming. And you know what a lot of those smart people were talking about? Choices. In computer games. So, I will also talk about choice in computer games, and that will make me look smart too. S-M-R-T.

Now, there are plenty of games out there where user choice directs the way the game goes: The Sims, Dwarf Fortress, Spore... sandbox games that don’t have much of a designer-driven narrative. Now, both of those games can have pretty vivid player-driven narratives, but those are unreliable, and not at all guaranteed. Besides, the random number generator can be a lousy storyteller: sometimes you look up at the sky and the clouds just look like clouds.

Many games that are considered to have told strong stories have been very rigid, railroading the player from one plot element to the next, often showing off a series of pre-generated events. The result is a cohesive story that everyone who plays the game can play through, see more or less the whole thing, and then compare notes at the coffee machine. Now, not all linear games are purely linear: like extras on the DVDs, it’s been common to make it possible to get elaborations on the main story by doing additional tasks -- Final Fantasy VI was great for this, with some deeply hidden bits of characterization, and even a willingness to leave story elements unresolved if the player didn’t bother looking for a character in the second half of the game.

But... linear storytelling is such a crazy rigid thing for such a mutable medium. Historically, stories have been changeable: campfire stories, fairy tales, epic poems -- all these things were traditionally tailored to the audiences, which is why Beowulf and the Iliad were so full of carefully dropped names. Everyone likes different things in a story, and when you’re writing a book you can be as narrow as you want, targeting your vegan amputee bulimic skier demographic with laser-like precision. Because hey, with your artistic purity and a case of ramen, you can at least live long enough to get pellagra. But games can cost serious money to develop, and it is frequently desirable to have a multi-digit audience. The larger the budget, the broader the appeal needs to be. You can either achieve that by making the story as bland as possible, filled with violence and T&A, or you can embed many different potential narratives into one game, customizing the game to the personality and interests of the player.

There have been a number of different approaches to that. One example is basically the switched-track railroad: the designers embed multiple plots into one game, and you basically pick the plot you’re watching by throwing switches. These limited, discrete choices can make for very different games, or (more often) basically one story with a bunch of different endings, but are time-consuming to write. As a result, there have tended to be fewer paths, such that a given player can revert back to a few strategic save points and see all of the endings, a practice known as completionism. Sometimes these folks are derided as playing a game to death, but it seems to me that usually they are cherished: they’re rewarded with super-difficult endings that are unlikely to arise through ordinary gameplay, and are often directly marketed to on the box. (“Over 15 nearly identical endings!”)

A lot of the different approaches come from the tabletop gaming realm, and the kind of game you play doesn’t depend entirely on the plot(s). The first big one is character customization: you spend a lot of time with the PC, and getting to customize a bit can help a lot. Even just picking a party of stock characters, some players will give those characters strong personalities. Quest for Glory did this particularly well, I thought, offering multiple paths through the game for the initial three basic character classes. [1] Sometimes all it takes to make a story more interesting to someone is to better match the player... but the big pitfall here is that this little bit of generosity might say a little too much about who you think your audience is (or rather isn’t).

Part of selecting the protagonist can also be modifying abilities, usually derived from the Dungeons and Dragons group: Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Wisdom, Intelligence, and Charisma. (Sometimes also Luck) By choosing a character with, say, high Dex/Int and low Str/Con (See? I speak the lingo!) you have to solve problems very differently than the other way around, leading to a different type of game. Or failure. And if you screw up or just find your play style changing, there are usually ways to alter those stats (and thereby the nature of the character) during gameplay, by spending time leveling up or looking for special items.

Now, that’s basically just selecting the protagonist, but a number of games (and those of Peter Molynieux come to mind first) customize that protagonist at a purportedly deeper level over the course of the game according to the choices that the player makes, usually to place the character on an axis between two extremes. The simplest, and to my mind most common axis is good vs. evil. Do a good thing, you get nudged in the ‘Good’ direction. Do a bad thing, you get nudged in the ‘Evil’ direction. The trouble is, these games usually betray a somewhat simplistic conception of evil, and frequently are very bad at looking at the big picture. Also, possibly because some game designers are apparently uncomfortable with players being ‘evil’ just because they’re bastards, it seems sometimes that they go out of their way to make it so that the choice is more a practical matter between ‘good’ and ‘convenient’ or more generally “Do you use your powers for good or for awesome?” with only the notion of ’this is wrong and no-one should do it ever!’ to prevent the more objectively useful option ... which is itself an interesting statement about the source of morality, but in practice I usually find it pretty lame, especially in games where as the protagonist you had to hack/slash/shoot your way through a bunch of one-dimensional enemies just to get to that moral choice. Killing a whole lot of people and taking their stuff is overlooked, but lying or cheating at cards will get you shunned? That’s... pretty historically accurate, actually. Moving on.

The basis behind these sort of choices is the notion that there is no right answer, that there’s always a tradeoff. This can work much better in games where the choice isn’t between good and bad, per se, but about how the player views the character. Arcanum is my favorite example of this. In that (fantasy steampunk RPG) game, the choices are generally between technology and magic: consistently favoring, say, technology, rewards the player for a sort of purity of vision with awesome things like steampunk robots, but allows the door to magic use to be slammed firmly shut. At any given point, it might be advantageous to go against type, but it would run counter to long-term goals and the vision of the character. I was fortunate to attend a talk given by the fine folks at Oblivion about choice in their upcoming game Alpha Protocol, and one thing that they mentioned (let slip?) is that while all the choices can stand alone, they were designed around a handful of familiar archetypes (the suave James Bond type, the intense Jack Bauer type, or the pragmatic Jason Bourne type. (Huh. Check out those initials.)) and I suspect that the plot of the game will show a bit more thematic consistency if the player sticks to one of those types.

Then there are the approaches that basically ask the player up front what kind of game they want, or code it: picking one’s favorite color in Moonmist, for example, or that tarot reading at the start of Ogre Battle. I’m not sure I’ve seen that done well, honestly.

There is another tactic that’s being used increasingly, of giving the computer a more deliberate role of gamemaster, with the tools to gauge how the game is being played and adjust accordingly. The ‘director’ in Left 4 Dead is a good example of this: it can tell generally whether the players are being cautious or reckless, for example, and throw different kinds of zombies at them to make the game more challenging, or potentially adjust the difficulty to a team that’s doing particularly poorly or very well.

So, what’s to be done? Where’s this going?

The funny thing is, games are already all about choices and style. In a first-person shooter, does this player do a lot of exploring, or get straight to the point? Does this player kill everything that moves, or spare fleeing enemies? In an RPG, does this player walk around in mis-matched armor with a weapon at the ready, even in town? Does this player totally blow off the main plot in favor of looking for treasure or searching out weaker enemies to kill just for the experience of having done so? [2] In an IF game, is the player a total kleptomaniac, picking up anything at all regardless of obvious consequence, or are objects only picked up when there is an obvious use for them? [3] Games frequently offer optional ways to be in-character, like closing doors or turning off lights when leaving a room, or otherwise cleaning up after oneself (I’ll refrain here from overtly spoiling the Last Lousy Point in a very good game by Admiral Jota).

I’m going to go out on a limb here: I think that there is little point in setting up deliberate, discrete choices if the game ignores all the common choices already being made by the player about how to play the game. And I think I see a trend in games to include those choices more actively in the narrative. Now, am I eventually going to be playing a game that basically embeds an MBTI-style personality test to determine just what story I’ll personally find the most satisfying? That would not surprise me. But it would, I think, likely be a disappointment. I think that the next game that really wows people is going to be a bit of a cross between Left 4 Dead and Fallout 3: a sandbox-type game with a range of morally ambiguous paths with multiple axes of personality traits emerging (not just good vs. evil, but pacifist vs. violent, talkative vs. quiet, packrat vs. traveling light, etc) , and a ‘director’ that analyzes style of play and adjusts the plot accordingly. Such a game could do that without ever presenting the player with an explicit choice. (Also, five bucks says that the protagonist in the first such game to do this well is mute, like Chrono)

Anyway, I’ve been sitting on this post and tinkering for the better part of a week. Time to cut the beast loose and let you all kill it.

[1] OK, rant time. I played through those games when I was a kid, and managed to turn a rogue character of mine into a paladin in the second game, without hints or anything. I kept that character through the fourth game, and then held onto that file on a floppy disk for freaking YEARS waiting for QfG 5 to come out. When it finally did and I finally got a copy, I found a floppy drive, went through those old disks, and found them all succumbed to bit-rot. I was So. Pissed. Off. I almost didn’t play QfG 5 as a result.

[2] I’ve made the point before, but it’s worth repeating: The practice of ‘grinding’ is an inherently evil, vicious act. Imagine hearing a third-party report of a typical ten minutes spent grinding: “Yeah, this guy decided he needed killing practice or money or something, so he went out where he knew he’d be attacked, easily finished off the poor bastards he came across (even when he surprised them!) then collected their belongings and sold them in town.” Even killing horrible monsters is morally ambiguous if the player knows that there is an unending supply, particularly if the plot involves finding another way to “clear the land of taint”. That doesn’t mean that a game cannot or should not have these elements, only that they should be treated with a bit more... sophistication?

[3] I do *not* mean the frequently-obnoxious tactic of preventing the player from picking something up before it’s ‘ripe’, or the practice of making every object either mobile and useful or non-mobile and not useful. Nor am I talking about games (*cough* Hitchhiker’s Guide *cough*) that punish the player for not having grabbed something non-obvious earlier. I’m purely talking about reasonable self-restraint here.