Archive for the Gaming Category

Friday Five Minute Maps

March 22, 2013

I like to make maps.  Whether they are buildings, complexes, starship deck plans, or what not, I enjoy making them.  I don’t know that I’m that great at it but it is fun.

To that end, I’ve been seeing a lot of mentions of “Five Minute Maps”.  The idea is that you sit down, set a timer for five minutes and draw to see what you came up with.  I decided to give it a go.  In fact, I even joined The Friday Five Minute Map group on Google+.  In any case, I did my first map today.


It was drawn in my mapping Moleskin with a 0.5mm pencil.  It’s nothing great but I did do it in five minutes.  It shows a large impact crater with central spire that has been  mostly filled in with a shallow lake.  Probably brackish as there is no outflow channel, just an inflow.  The crater walls have been cut down at two points and a road/bridge has been built across the lake to the central spire which holds (the ruins of) a keep. The entire region around and in the crater is forested (it’s an old crater).

Beyond that you can fill in the details as you wish.  The Friday Five Minute Map group has a theme/inspiration idea for each Friday’s map.  These weeks was this image: of an old foliage covered, ruined tomb keep.  Going with that image, the keep and bridge are overgrown with trees/vines and in a great state of disrepair and the area hasn’t been inhabited for centuries.

Of course that begs the back story of why build the keep there, a question that was asked on the Google+ group after I posted it.  Off the top of my head, this was the answer I came up with (taken from my answer to the question):

Why did they build the castle there in the first place?  Let’s see… It’s an impact crater with a central spire, several tens of miles across.  Maybe there was some mystical properties of the material that was the impactor and which is now buried deep below the center of the crater.  A wizard ferried slaves and overseers to the island via boat and began excavation trying to find the source of mystic energy emanating from the region.  Realizing that this would be a good, isolated place to set up shop, both for magical research and controlling the power source, and that it may take some time to find the meteorite, masons were brought in to work the rock being excavated into a keep that would later become the tomb castle.

As work progressed, moving people and supplies by boat tens of miles across the lake was somewhat tedious and the bridge/road was constructed to ease logistics, again being constructed from material being quarried on the central isle.  What later happened, whether the wizard found the meteor, and what happened to cause the keep to fall into disrepair is left as an exercise for the reader.  :)

Someone else suggested that maybe it was built by a civilization that just didn’t want to go out of it’s way,  The shortest path between two points was through the crater so off they went.  That got me thinking of another, related reason for building the bridge, namely a short cut.

If the crater is large, and it probably is given that it has a central spire, going around could add tens to hundreds of miles to a journey.  And maybe that was the way things were for centuries.  But then someone decided that they had the engineering know-how to make a bridge across the lake and shorten the distance.  They built the bridge, built a keep on the island in the middle, and then set up a toll booth on the island.  The road across the crater cut out days or weeks of travel.  And since the toll booth was on the island half way through, most people paid to continue on.  You could refuse the pay the toll but then you had to backtrack all the way out and then around.  It made a lot of money for the original constructor.  And was probably the scene of many battles for control over the years.

Anyway, that was my first foray in the the 5 minute map.  I look forward to doing more in the future.

Other Endeavors

December 10, 2012

I seem to have an infinite number of side projects that I’m always working on.  Today, however, I just want to give a quick shout out to a couple of them that take up the majority of my time.

I like to play (what is now considered) “old school” pen-and-paper role-playing games.  When I started down that hobby decades ago all the adjectives weren’t needed.  You just said role-playing games and people knew what you were talking about.  But today with the computer role-playing games as well other developments, you have to be more specific.

Specifically, I’m a big fan of the old TSR game Star Frontiers.  So much so that I run a Star Frontiers website, The Star Frontiers Network, which primarily hosts gaming forums and a wiki, and I provide hosting for a second site on my server.  You’ll find me hanging out there and on other Star Frontiers sites under my handle Terl Obar, the name of my first major Star Frontiers character.

Related to my love of that game, I let a good friend of mine from the on-line community, Tom Verreault (aka jedion357), talk me into working with him on starting up a science fiction fan magazine, devoted initially to Star Frontiers but with a focus on sci-fi RPGs in general.  The magazine, called the Frontier Explorer, has now published two issues and we’re hard at work getting the third one ready to go.   It’s been a lot of fun and a lot of work.  You can expect to see posts about the magazine and my experiences working with it appearing here in the future.

The other activity that seems to consume the rest of my spare time when I’m not working or spending time with my family is my small publishing company, New Frontier Games.  I haven’t done a lot with this as of yet but things are starting to pick up.  I wrote a book last year (2011) called Discovery which published just as a free e-book.  Just recently I’ve made a print on demand copy available for those that like to have physical copies of their books.  The other thing I’ve been working on is a spaceship combat card game, Star Clash, which I just released as well.  Right now it is available as a “print and play” game.  However, the company we do our distribution through (DriveThruRPG and its related sites) is launching a print on demand card site that Star Clash is specifically suited for.  I’m currently working on preparing the cards to be printed so that people can order the card game ready to play instead of having to print them themselves.

If any of those projects sound interesting, follow the links to check them out.  I’ve had a lot of fun working on them.  Hopefully you’ll enjoy them as well.

Cleaning Out Your Code

February 21, 2011

In my spare time, I’m working on a game. (I wonder if there is any programmer who can’t say that to some extent?)  The details aren’t important (it’s based on the old Star Frontiers RPG) but if you want to check it out you can find it on my gaming site in it’s own forum topic.

I’ve been working on it off an on for several years now.  It’s primarily been a learning exercise for me but it’s getting to the point now where it is actually playable.  I’ve implemented something like 90% of the rule set. And therein lies my dillema.  My efforts on the project have been in spurts.  A couple of weeks spending 10 or more hours on it and then months where I don’t do anything.

During the “on” times, I’m fired up and want to get things implemented and add new features and get them out the door as quickly as possible.  And so I do whatever I can to “just make it work” and get it out there for people to play with.  And so along the way I’ve incurred a lot of technical debt and the code has accumulated a bit of code cruft as well (well, probably much more than a bit).

I was first introduced to the concept of technical debt when reading Jeff Attwood’s post Paying Down Your Technical Debt.  I could defnitely relate to the topic as I was going through the same thing both in my at work code and my game code.

And it seems all I’ve done since then is build up more debt.  I’ve got these last little bits of the game’s rules to implement and it seems that every addition requires reworking things I’ve done before.  But I’m getting better and have started to pay down the debt and clean up the code to make it better and more modular.

As developers, we probably all have to deal with this at some point.  And if we are developing stuff for others to use, they like to see progress and additional functionality with each release.  Unless the bugs were show stoppers, a release that just fixes bugs isn’t very interesting to your users, they want it to do something more than the last one.

But you still need to pay down your technical debt and clean up your code.  And so for the last couple of releases that I’ve done, I’ve adopted a new strategy for dealing with this.  In each release, I’ve added one piece of new functionality, hopefully something that will pique the users’ interest so that they’ll grab the new version and try it out.  But at the same time, I’m working really hard in the background to clean up and refactor the code.  For every visible addition to the game, there have been two or three backend changes that the user doesn’t see (since it doesn’t impact the UI or game play) but which help me get the code under control and pay down my debt.

And it seems to be working, at least to some extent.  In this last go around I fixed several bugs and in the end, the main code was actually smaller than the original and a little easier to understand.  So I must have done something right.

It’s an on-going battle.  In the end, I guess if you are shipping code, you’re winning.  But the faster you can ship, the bigger the win.  And cleaning out your code and paying down your technical debt just makes things easier and makes it possible to have the bigger win.

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