June 2014


Edit: Fixed for now.  (Downgraded to a php version that worked.  Everything will have to be upgraded again at a later date.)

Dreamhost ‘upgraded’ the phpbb on my domains today, which broke the Almeopedia and, even more annoyingly, the ZBB.

The symptom: logins don’t work.  They give some cryptic messages, and you get a success message, but when you return to the main page you are not actually logged in.

If you’re already logged in, it seems to work OK, so don’t log out. If you’re logged out, you’re out of luck, for now.

I’ve complained to Dreamhost, so hopefully they will fix things tomorrow.

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You undoubtedly know about Ross Scott’s fantastic Freeman’s Mind, in which Gordan Freeman goes through all of Half-Life 1 talking to himself all the way, and turns out to be kind of a maladjusted douche (but an amusing one).    But he also has a series, with Craig Mendel, called Civil Protection.

Dave and Mike, you see, are two beat cops in City 17, trying to get through the day and keep themselves sane in post-apocalyptia. (It’s weird, though, to recognize Scott’s voice, so familiar as Freeman, playing Mike.) Here, warm up on this:

Most of the videos are pretty funny, but this one is the longest and goes into an unexpected direction:

This is one of the best machinima I’ve seen. As a short horror film, it’s actually more effective than this Source Filmmaker one. There’s some genuine mystery to it, and the change in tone as the two goofball cops get in over their heads is cleverly done. Scott’s approach to horror is minimalist, which is refreshing– he doesn’t try to gross us out, and the slow building up of the story allows us to get interested.

(A warning, though– it seems to end on a cliffhanger, and doesn’t offer any closure. FWIW he’s put out another entry in the series, a comedy, but I don’t know if he intends to continue this particular story.)

I’ve got back into making model after model in Blender– current count is 140.  When we last looked in on Ticai, the game looked like this.  Now it looks like this:

Ticai contemplates encroaching urbanization

Ticai contemplates encroaching urbanization

Now I know why, in a game, you’ll often be right next to interesting-looking spaces you can’t get to. Why can’t I go over and explore it?

A game level, conceptually speaking, works like this:

gamezones

There’s a very detailed area where the player can explore. Here you’ll get real doorknobs and window frames and pipes, 3-d trees, and all the hidden triggers that make the level work, like working doors and ladders.

Just outside it is areas you can see into, but can’t get to. Because they’re close, they have to be pretty well rendered, though of course nothing will be interactive.

Outside that is a land of increasing fakery. Here the architectural details are likely to be part of the texture, and for any object, only the sides facing the player need to exist. Even farther out, you get the skybox. In Hammer you can have objects there, coarsely modeled, so you can see far into the distance. At this point you model a tree by pasting a picture of a tree on a transparent quad, and far details like clouds may also be 2-d pictures.

You can’t get into those nice nearby areas because it’d get too close to the fakery zone, and the illusion would be spoiled. The level designer may need to put a lot of work into inaccessible areas, but they’ll only work enough to make it look good from the accessible one.

(This applies to Valve games, as well as games like Dishonored, Mirror’s Edge, Bioshock, Mass Effect, and Dragon Age. It doesn’t entirely apply to open worlds like Skyrim or Saints Row or Arkham City, which have to use different methods to manage the huge maps– though note that interiors still involve a level change. Unity allows huge maps, but I don’t have a development team to fill them!)

Here’s what the city looks like in the editor:

What you'd see with a rocket jump

What you’d see with a rocket jump

Ticai can wander just the four city blocks in the middle of the picture. You can see that the modeling gets simpler outside this region, and even within it there’s some fakery– e.g. there’s no need to create roofs for buildings if there’s nowhere she can get high enough to see them.

You can see the map of the Nezi neighborhood, which I’m using for reference. Just to make those four accessible blocks, I’ve had to model about a third of the neighborhood, and I’m not done yet.

Here’s the mansion of the local aristocrats:

And that's just one wing

And that’s just one wing

I just redid the mansion this week– before the façade was basically a box with nice windows. You can also see a tree– Unity has a tree creator, which is good, because foliage is awful to model.

See the big white cubes in the city map?  Those are placeholders… maybe I can go model something to replace them with right now…

There was a discussion on Mefi about “Peak Ads“. Supposedly Internet advertising is all broken and shit, which is bad news for sites that depend on advertising.

But that’s not why we’re here today. No, we’re here because a couple of schmos brought up micropayments, which will save everything, and have been standing by ready to save everything for more than 20 years now.

I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest

  • We should probably give up on the idea
  • We kind of have them already

I remember reading about the idea in Scott McCloud’s Reinventing Comics (2000).  He liked the idea because, he says, people won’t spend $10 for an online comic, but they’ll spend 30¢.

Back in 2003, Lore Sjöberg didn’t think it would work:

The Web-wide reticence among independent artists to actually hunker down and charge for material is because we know that if we did so, we wouldn’t get fame or fortune. We’d get, at best, beer money and a clique.

That is, if you have 10,000 readers when you’re a free website, you can’t estimate your potential income by multiplying 10,000 by 30¢.  “Ooh, I could get $3,000 for one web page!”  No, because when you raise the price, even to a frippance, your readership will plummet.

Most of the micropayments people were, I think, thinking not as readers but as creators, or at least on behalf of them.  Be honest: you read the web all day long, how often do you have the impulse to toss 30¢ at an author?  Not often, I’ll bet.   The web is built on costless impulse clicking. If you had a little 30¢ roadblock to get anywhere, you’d probably hang it up and play video games instead.

Besides, the problem with micropayments is that creators would get micropaid.  Suppose you couldn’t see my bitchin’ new conlang, Dhekhnami, without forking over 30¢. Let me be generous and assume that 100 people would do so. That’s $30, for several months of work. Beer money, as Lore says.

But it’s not 2003 any more. What do we have?  Arguably, something better than micropayments:

  • Paypal, which allows pretty much anyone with e-mail to safely offer services over the web, and allows payments down to about $0.31.  (There’s a fixed fee to the seller, so it actually costs the seller money to offer things for less.)
  • Print on demand and e-books, which allow anyone to publish.
  • Kickstarter, which allows the medium-famous to move a project along.
  • Patreon, which allows readers to pledge a small amount per creation.
  • Greenlight, where Steam allows indie game creators to sell their crappy games.  OK, they’re not all crappy, but I just got burned on one and I’m pissed.

What this allows is a mixed model: offer content for free; sell physical objects for cash money.  For instance, I’ve read the nearly 1000 episodes of Order of the Stick online without paying a dime. But I’ve spent– let’s see–  688 dimes on OOTS books.

Or take Erika Moen’s extremely NSFW, extremely adorable Oh Joy Sex Toy.  Her comic is free, but she’s doing a Kickstarter for a print book, which has so far raised $46,000, plus she’s got something like $1000 a month coming in from Patreon.  Hey, people love cute sex comics.

And it turns out that people are reasonably fond of linguistics, too.  I make a scant living from writing books on languages, conlanging, and worldbuilding, something that wouldn’t be possible if I hadn’t spent 20 years first creating a huge, free website.

So, people aren’t willing to pay 30¢ a page to browse the web, but they are willing to pay $15 when you’ve amassed a book’s worth of content.  And that’s good, because chunks of $15 add up a hell of a lot faster than dribbles of 30¢. Plus the bigger chunks make for a certain quality threshold, in that you can’t make money unless you can actually produce book-length chunks of readable content.

Mefi itself has been having financial problems– for unknown reasons their Google ad revenue halved, and they had to let half the moderator staff go.  The readership basically said, “Screw all the research that says no one will pay for web content and take our money.”  Over 3000 people have made a one-time payment or signed up for a recurring one.  So the physical object isn’t always necessary.

Now, we’re still talking niches and long tails.  But then, micropayments were not going to allow a million artists to make a living with webcomics.  And anyway, it’s a big plus to get rid of some of the gatekeepers; a lot of stuff is available that wouldn’t exist if it had to be selected by some guy in a suit first.

In between paragraphs I’ve been browsing Reinventing Comics, and I’ve gotta say… I love McCloud, but he was seriously loopy about the infinite canvas thing, too.

 

 

 

I was going to write a placeholder page for Dhekhnami– just to check, I clicked the link on my local page, and found this.

That is, I’d already HTML-ized the grammar (er, well, back in 2010), I just never uploaded it. I was never quite satisfied with the language, but I sure don’t want to re-HTML-ize it. 😛 So, it’s now officially done. (I hope to get to Carhinno someday, in which case I’ll probably add a bunch of borrowings to Dhekhnami.)

(So, you’re wondering, is Sarroc done too? Sadly, no. I have a healthy lexicon, but the grammar is just notes for now.)

Conworlders, this is what happens when you let yourself get carried away.  I’ve been working on a street map of Verduria for about six years now, and I think it’s finally done.  Here’s a preview:

Click to make bigger but still unreadable

Click to make bigger but still unreadable

“Done” means that every street is mapped and named, along with touristic highlights— parks, government and military buildings, churches and temples, guilds, schools, hospitals, and major stores and inns. There’s plenty of room for more buildings, but I’m pretty happy with the coverage.

The size of the Illustrator file is 4.6 meg; the artboard is nearly 17 feet square. There are over 1500 features named. Most of the street names have meaning in Verdurian culture and history, though there are also lots of in jokes (so, your name may be in there, but you’ll have to know Verdurian to recognize it).

It’s based on a poster board map I made years ago, with transparent colored film and X-acto knife (ah, in the pre-computer era, how exciting it was to wander the art supply store). However, that map covered only about 1/3 of the city, and of course it couldn’t be shared.

Next up: chopping the thing into maps of each neighborhood so they can be put into the Almeopedia.

By the way, the square in the middle of the water (at F10) is the size of a Chicago city block, 1/8 mile on a side. The little brown rectangles just to the right are some real buildings so I could size structures correctly– the top one is my apartment building; the bottom one is a nearby school.

I had a wacky plan to re-create the whole island of Arcaln in Hammer. Instead I’m working on a part of the Nezi neighborhood, in Unity, as part of a video game.