In the beat of a heart…

April 13th, 2016

A hummingbird shaped spacecraft skimming across a ring system, somewhere in deep space ...

Steven Hawking has just called for humanity to mount a series of missions with tiny craft to Alpha Centauri. In looking around, I have realised that I wrote but never posted this article, last December. Silly me.

A hummingbird’s heart beats 1,260 times every minute. To a human ear, this would register as a high hum; no individual beats perceptible. However, in that infinitesimally short period of time, a particle of light, or a radio wave, would travel 238,000 km.

Perception, distance, and light speed are of fundamental concern of Dr Ronald Hanson, Professor at Delft University of Technology. He works in quantum physics, that branch of science which Einstein famously described as “spooky”. Quantum physicists like perplexing us with weird facts of nature, like particles that don’t appear in one place or another until you actually look at them.

Hansen leads a team that has just demonstrated, for the first time, the principle of quantum entanglement. Read the rest of this entry »

How to play Star Wars

December 21st, 2015

The Force Awakens has a message for you, and it’s about toys. Now, that sounds cynical, but believe me: it’s really kind of wonderful.

The Force Awakens - Kylo Ren, Poe Dameran, Finn, and Rey figurines standing in tableau.

Playing with Star Wars: are you doing it right?

More specifically the message is about how you choose, and how you encourage your kids, to play with toys. And believe me, the movie has opinions about it. Since the very early days of the franchise, Star Wars has had a deeply enmeshed relationship with the little plastic figurines that accompanied it into the world. Sure, they were a major source of income for LucasFilm, but in an entirely unexpected way they also became the primary medium in which Star Wars was experienced.

I was seven years old when The Empire Strikes Back was released, too young for A New Hope on release. Back then there was no way to access the movies on any kind of demand. You had to wait for the networks to screen them on television. And at that age, with commercial breaks included, those films always ended way past my bedtime. So I had never seen the original movie back in 1980. But by the time I went into the packed cinema with my best friend and his parents to watch the second film, I had been immersed in that universe for many years. I cherish clear memories of scuffing friend’s borrowed Star Wars toys around in the dust against the back fence of my pre-school yard, enacting battles with their un-bendable arms, and losing forever their tiny black phasers. I had never seen a frame of the first film, but when I sat down to watch Empire,  I knew ever one of them. I had fought countless battles alongside Han and Leia, flown X-wings with Like and R2, and watched C3PO battle fiercely with Darth Vader. (My understanding of the exact events of the story might have been a little confused. But it was a golden robot fighting a black robot – it was pretty clear who was the good guy.)

In a very real sense, the figurines have become the single largest screen on which Star Wars is seen by its audience. And even with the advent of the VHS, the DVD, and Streaming on Demand, that remains the case. Kids will play for hours on end, dancing through galaxies far, far away with the villains and heroes of their imagination, far in excess of any hours they could possibly spend watching them on screens. This will be true for the new films, as well.

The Force Awakens wears its heart well and truly on its sleeve. Everything part of it is a love letter to the original trilogy, and J.J. Abrams makes no bones about it. And at this point, the obligatory warning: Here be Possible Spoilers. (Although seriously, if you didn’t get out and see it on opening weekend, then don’t get too upset. The Statute of Limitations on this is rapidly expiring.)

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No seriously, the guy is shameless.

After playing with today’s Google Doodle, I found myself inevitably drawn to Youtube, to find a good quality version of the full piece of his most famous work, the 9th in D Minor. I slipped my headphones on, settled in with a design task I had to spend a good hour and a half on, and let it start washing over me.

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Box n’ Dice RPG play test #1

September 24th, 2015

A box o’ dice, paper, pencils, beer and pizza: ALL the essentials.

A box o’ dice, paper, pencils, beer and pizza: ALL the essentials.

Well, last Wednesday I went around to a mate’s place, and Murray, Alex and his two boys Toby and James (8 & 11 years old) helped me play test my Tabletop RPG system, which I am tentatively calling “Box ‘n Dice”. Because at around 10 pages of rules, that is the whole of it. And you play it with the standard set of RPG Polyhedrals, so there’s that too.

The game went really well. I decided to go for a straight out Fantasy Standard setting (basically, low magic D&D), with the regular six Attributes: STR, DEX, CON, INT, WIS, CHA. I nabbed a map and room key from Dyson’s Dodecahedron (AWESOME bloke, and that’s a great resource), and ran the four of them through it.

It really helped, and I’ve identified a key missing piece of the system. I’ve already added it in – a base set of Defensive stats for each character. It will streamline things in combat, and give the game just a little level of sophistication without complicating it.

Alex emailed me afterward:

“I should add that I think you have two converts (no dates for you!). They have been talking about their characters and doing some more table-top RPGs all afternoon.”

Privilege just became hereditary.

September 11th, 2015

An Alpha Human, looking superiorly at a normal.

Of course, to some extent it always has been. Lachlan Murdoch is only 5′ 11″ – fully two and a half inches shorter than I am – but for some unknown reason he is Executive Chairman of NewsCorp and Twentieth Century Fox, while I am neither executed nor chairful at all. We’re both white, male, Australian, with good educations and a Bachelor degree apiece.

We both also have young kids. My daughter started kindergarten this year, at the same time as his little girl, although at vastly different schools. And while my child is bright, pretty and engaging, it’s a simple fact that his daughter will have a lower student to teacher ratio, more iPads in the classroom, and vastly superior quality of glitter and plastic scissors than my child will in her brown-brick public school across the road from our house.

But there’s another difference between our daughters. When they grow up, and have little bundles of joy of their own, Lachlan’s grandkids will be some of the genetically rich. My grandchildren? Maybe not.

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But I think I might get back to putting some content up here.

Major updates from the three years that I have been silent:

  1. I now work as a UX Consultant
  2. I have started a Youtube channel with my wife: Kitty Hollywood. LOTS of content up there.
  3. I have written a novel. No seriously. It’s 120,000 words long. It’s a Solarpunk novel!
  4. I have re-visited my Simple Steampunk RPG concept, and decided to turn it into a Universal, or Omnivariant system.

That last one is probably the easiest to blog about, so I’ll focus on it for a while, I think.

Alright, so this is 5 weeks or so later, rather than every week, but I’ve been busy, alright?
Anyway, if I updated this blog too often, it would become an onerous read. And you don’t all want that, now do you?

Right, progress below:

So, Hopefully you can see some advancement there from the state of play last time.

Basically, Character Generation is done, and I have moved on to Conflict Resolution, or the Mechanics part of things.

That part is pretty simple (the whole thing meaning to be a very simple system) and I am actually finding it quit easy to write.

At the moment it seems to be about 9,000 words long. I’m aiming at about 15,000 for High-T con, and the end result will be possibly as many as 19-20,000.

SSRPG Progress indicator.

July 13th, 2012

Progress tracker, as at 13th July 2012

Progress tracker, as at 13th July 2012

Also, (in preparation for this week’s required update of work done on my game pamphlet) I have developed this nifty little visual aid for myself.

I do this kind of thing in documents at work, and while Google docs isn’t letting me update my Table of Contents with the background colours I put on my headings, I still think it is worth doing, so I can see the scope of the work ahead of me.

And as this series of posts are to allow myself and others to follow my progress, then I reckon I should post it here each week, along with my update to Australian Game Designers.

The Yellow are sections that are still to be written, and the Struck Through are sections that have been written. Pretty simple, Huh?

Also, if you look really closely, you will be able to ascertain and understand the structure of the document that I am putting together, and the topics I am covering.

Simple Steampunk RPG System

July 10th, 2012

I have been doing some more work on games recently, and having enjoyed the writing process decided to head back to my roots in gaming as well.
I am re-purposing a lot of the work I did for GENIUS! the deck-building game, and writing up an old-school tabletop RPG system, in a Steampunk milieu. Now, I know there are a lot of people doing the same thing right now, and several very good offerings out there that are similar. You can delve into some truly innovative and individual worlds that people are taking a lot of time to craft. My issue with most of them is the sheer investment of time (let alone money) that people would have to make to get a gaming session up. I feel that really large and complicated worlds are kind of hard to buy into, unless they are based on some already existing, and for commercial reasons, quite popular setting: from a book or movie, say.
So what I am proposing to do is produce a short, concise set of rules, but with no real defined setting. It is to be short, flexible, and put an emphasis on fast-moving gameplay. The idea being that anyone could pick it up, breeze through it in an afternoon, and be ready to start writing up an adventure or play a module by the evening. That way people can take all their gorgeous setting work, or their favourite Steamy comic book, and have an RPG system that they can just plug it easily into.
One of the wags over at the Brass Goggles forum has suggested that I call it “STURPS”, which is cute, but my aim is not to be everything for every setting: just Steamy enough to let people tell Steampunk stories, and lean enough not to get in the way of their idea of what a Steampunk RPG should be. Thus, Simple Steampunk RPG System.
To that end, I am calling it an RPG “Pamphlet”, like Sherlock Holmes’ essays on blood stains. A neat little thing, that will only be of interest to a narrow group of people, but who should find it quite illuminating.

Back to some writing.

December 12th, 2011

I have been wandering back to my roots recently, delving into the world of pure fiction, and getting my keyboard rattling. Two things in particular have been keeping me busy.

I have finally completed a 35,000 word story that I started over two years ago, about a couple who are dropped into a Fantasy World. That’s always been a favourite theme of mine, but till now I had never found a way to make a relevant statement with it. This time I think I have, and it feels good to have a first draft of a decent length story down.

The second thing I am working on has grown out of that first: another story that is a parable, or a metaphor of people in our world, told in a Fantasy setting. That one is looking like coming in at around 10,000 words, but I think it will need to be culled to around half that on revision.