The Tao of Gaming

Boardgames and lesser pursuits

Darkest Dungeon

I’m not quite finished with Slay the Spire, but I have certainly put in plenty of time on it, so I decided to get a new game — Darkest Dungeon.

Frankly, the main dungeon crawl aspect has this weird combination of “too many notes” combined with vast repetition. Each character has a wide variety of quirks, modifiers, etc. But it lacks the strategy of StS, the depth and discovery of NetHack. But the game does stand out b/c of its idea of you acting as the guy hiring/training/firing a ton of characters to do dungeon crawl after dungeon crawl, and the idea of the characters gaining “Stress” and afflictions (PTSD) that you have to manage is — if not quite novel, certainly rare.I think there may be some degenerate strategies (you can hire new people, grossly underequip them, send them through a new dungeon, lose half, then take the treasure and fire the shells of the remaining two without reducing the number of new characters who arrive (some of the DLC does appear to address this, but I haven’t enabled it yet. I also haven’t lost anyone yet, but that’s more because I’m treating this as a storytelling game). In many ways this is the old Chaosium’s Call of Cthulu as a dungeon crawler.

The animation and voice work drips with theme. One of the key mechanisms is light — you carry torches and they slowly dim and must be replenished and the light level affects many things. (Oddly, looting is better in low light, but you want bright light for combat and to lower stress). The “preparation” phase where you spend money to equip the next expedition is great, there are so few inventory slots that you want to run out of stuff to free up space for treasure.

My only other comment is that the game seems to hang for a 30s or so after loading, at least on my (new) laptop.

I do not think this will hit nearly as many hours as Slay the Spire for me — but I suspect I’ll at least finish the game (I’m playing on easy) and then try on a harder level or with DLC.

Update — Nope. I got bored with it after about 15 hours. Very repetitive, “too many notes” without much actual variation.

Written by taogaming

April 25, 2020 at 10:26 pm

Some Links — Non-scary edition

A few things I enjoyed from the last few years to offer entré down the binge watching rabbit hole …

Written by taogaming

April 20, 2020 at 11:20 am

Posted in Linky Love

Quarantine Buying suggestions

I think it’s time for a game purchase. I’d buy the Res Arcana expansion (if I could find a copy), since I now have 125 games under my belt. I’m thinking of also getting Quacks of Quaratine’d Quidelenbaiergishmeister (whatever), as a new family-ish/strategy-ish game-ish. Other suggestions?

Written by taogaming

April 12, 2020 at 5:55 pm

Posted in Open Thread

The Colonists Under the Microscope

An anecdote I remember….

Robert Hooke — the inventor of the microscope — once remarked that even the best man-made tools looked crude and jagged under his microscope, while plants, insects and natural objects were smooth and precise.  I believe I read that anecdote in a book of fiction (The Baroque Cycle, probably), but it has a ring of truth.

A few years ago I played The Colonists. It felt familiar: worker placement, but with a geography and only partial blocking; resource management, action management, more than enough chrome, and special powers; but the overall effect overwhelmed the three or four hours we took to get through two eras.  While not smitten I felt intrigued enough to buy a copy. I tried it once with the TaoLing and then … set it aside. Even if it worked it seemed too long.

Enter the Quarantine.

In March most gaming stopped. Most everything stopped. After a few weeks I dug around the closet, pulled out The Colonists, cleared the work desk from my gaming table, set it up and played a solo Era I to relearn the rules. A bored TaoLing walked by and now after three full (four Era) games, I feel qualified to report what I’ve witnessed.

Strikes against The Colonists are obvious from a glance. Long. Fiddly. Limited Interaction (if you view that as a negative, I don’t). Poorly written rules, although I’ve dealt with much worse.

I’ve struggled through rules and games because I find a delight in seeing a system build up. That’s why I’d bought this. None of those are necessarily downsides to me.

I won’t give detailed rules but here’s a peek into the eyepiece.

A significant part of your score involves promoting farmers to citizens to nobles, then employing them in buildings (also worth points). A single employed noble plus the building he works in may be worth 20-30ish points. A good score for our 2p games seems to be north of four hundred. So having a two noble advantage is significant. And when employed your people generate resources that you use to further build up your city. C

Starting with two farmers at the beginning, I employed them as works to get wood and clay, build more farms to attract more workers, who worked. Then I had to (carefully), let some workers away from useful tasks to go back to their farm, because when you upgrade a farm to a flat (for a citizen) you must have a farmer to convert. That was Era’s I and II. Then in III and IV I employed the nobles (for a variety of reasons), but also had to worry about feeding them.

To do this, I spent some of my six actions per year (5 years per era). Each action moved my Stewart one space (until I could upgrade him) around a hex board slowly building up (adding or upgrading 12 hexes per era). So I had to plan my route to get the wood and clay needed to upgrade the houses, tool them into planks and bricks and then go the various sites to build new buildings, including flats and houses, while also managing the timing of the workers so they were available when I needed to remodel.

And by early Era IV I had my first citizen.

The TaoLing got one by playing a card.

And then I realized I’d been playing a hand of Dragon Poker. For eight hours.

After nearly twenty hours, the Colonists repeatedly hits you with these jagged edges. You need to convert Farm to Flat to House. You need to convert Storage Small to Medium to Large. You need to convert Pub to Tavern to Casino. No, wait. You can skip the first two steps on that one. Why? No idea.

You build your colony on a personalized mat (ala Agricola) but your steward walks around a slowly growing landscape. In one game, the wood may be next to the joiner (that turns wood to planks) and Planks will be cheap. The next game, they may be three steps away, and planks will be scarce.

In Era IV, the head official space lets you swap two tiles. “No, no, that Ore Deposit that used to be on the Eastern edge relocated.”

Euros are mostly cube/action management, and thematically somewhat week, but that seriously strained my suspension of disbelief.

After our first game — where I witnessed the TaoLing just play a card to gain what had taken me literally dozens of actions — we discussed it and said “maybe this was just because we had the card drawing space right next to the card playing space.” We deliberately (cooperatively) set up the board making card play as costly as possible.

No matter.

Worse yet, the card deck is highly varied. There’s a deck per era, but some cards are strictly superior to others (in the same dimension). There’s an Era I card (get a free brick). That’s not horrible. That same card (“Free Brick”) is also in the Era IV deck. By this points, getting a brick can often be done freely (at least one/year) by any number of special powers. And even if you have to spend an action getting one, you can often get 2-3 for that action. Another card may give a Citizen. or an improvement worth 5 points.

Every game …. no, every hour revealed another head scratching detail. The more I peered into the microscope, the more blemishes I spotted. Some examples

  • Look at this FAQ! Despite the impressive length, I had about ten questions unanswered.
  • In Era I you can sell wood for 1 point at a market on some turns. Wood at this point is fairly rare, but if that card shows up at the end of Era I and you have wood to spare you could get a few points if you had no better use for your action (meaning the market was in your path and you couldn’t use any of its other actions). In Era IV, one of the market sales lets you sell robes for 1/2 a point. (2:1). You need robes to support nobles, and if you don’t have support them, you can’t employ them. Being a robe short at the end of the game is a sixteen point penalty, and in our three games we’ve never had more than 3-4 saved up. So that’s a pretty insulting offer. In three games I think we saw one sale.
  • But even with sales, never has a players money been the margin of difference. Why not just drop the cash generation system, or at least have some of the special powers give it more oomph.
  • The special powers (“embassies”) do not feel remotely balanced, and some of them bog the game down by introducing “Decide at any time during your turn” mechanisms that do not cleanly mesh with the base game.
  • Apart from the aforementioned “Oh, a card does this”. Many cards that provide a building (or person) do so at a discount and/or provide bonus VPs!
  • Also Agricola has a lot of cards that do weird or fun things. The cards are minor. Here there are only a few cool cards.

I could point out other annoyances, some very nitpicky and some just pet peeves. Why bother?

The sad thing is — if I squint, I see the afterimage of this that works. I wonder what this game would look like with a great developer driving it, stripped of those jagged cutting edges I saw over twenty hours. Streamlined maybe not to two hours, but to four or five. Balanced … maybe not every setup or play. If only, if only, if only…. the card deck balanced, market sales made meaningful (or cut), cleaner embassy powers….

The Colonists could work. And I’m so bored and stir crazy, I’ve spent some time thinking about it….

The TaoLing said “This probably works better with three.” (BGG Disagrees), but even if true this is a fixed fun game that takes 6 hours with only two!

Rating — Indifferent, bordering on avoid.

Quarantine Rating — May try to fix as a side project.

Written by taogaming

April 6, 2020 at 6:42 pm

Posted in Reviews

Tagged with

Some Bridge Reading for You

Mats Nilsland has made his new book “Competitive Bids the Scanian Way” free to download for your Corona-reading pleasure. I’ve only scanned the first bid, but I have a few other books on Modern Scanian (which means approximately “Scandanavian,” with some differences I may not grok) bidding, and they are full of interesting ideas. Kind of like reading “Better Bidding With Bergen” in the late 80s … his ideas were rarely used in club circles, and are now reasonably common.

Written by taogaming

March 27, 2020 at 12:12 pm

Posted in Bridge

Some quarantine sanity tips

Here are a few to start off:

  1. Refer to anyone in your house as a ‘coworker.’ As in (“I have to go, one of my coworkers got out of the bath and is running around naked….”). To add specificity, refer to your spouse as “HR” (“…and HR wants me to deal with.”)
  2. Recreate March Madness by buying doll sized basketball jerseys and putting them on local squirrels.
  3. Take a weekend trip to the most distant parts of your house.

I personally had Chuy’s Tex-Mex yesterday, right before the Mayor’s order shutting down restaurants, which is the Texas equivalent of grabbing the rails of the last helicopter out of Saigon.

Written by taogaming

March 19, 2020 at 4:19 pm

Posted in Non-Gaming, Open Thread

Tagged with

Gaming in the Time of Corona

Honestly, I haven’t gamed much this year. So much so that — despite being a mere hour or two away from finishing my fifty-by-fifty two months ago, I haven’t made the final push. I’ve had one or two trips to the game store, a bridge tournament, and 1862 with the TaoLing.

Even before these last few weeks, I’m a gaming shut-in.

But I was going to the Gathering next month …. maybe. Literally hours before the announcement shutting down air travel from Europe I started to reconsider. I wasn’t worried about getting sick. I get the flu fairly frequently at conventions, but while I understand exponential growth, I also think the base rate of mortality and symptoms don’t warrant drastic measures. But the question is “as compared to staying at home and working, am I more or less likely to get sick.” I live in a city that released a postive person from quarantine accidentally, and went to the mall. I figured the odds that there was a carrier in my building (admittedly a huge building with more ‘retail square footage’ than the pentagon) was at least 50%, based on this Covid planner and some rough guesses, because I don’t for a second believe that the only people who are postive were identified two weeks ago.

I think the odds that I’m going to be exposed (if not already, in the next few months) is high enough that getting sick is basically a coin flip. (I figured the genie was out of that bottle two weeks ago). So getting sick wasn’t my primary concern.

My primary concern? Being half a continent from home when I got sick and/or the world went crazy. My estimate (prior to the last few days, which undoubtedly will slow the growth) was that the US will hit 100,000 cases mid next month, and I figured it would happen then. The US — in my experience — tends to grossly under-react before over-reacting. You can argue if that happened, but I personally expected more under-reaction first. Ironically the heightened scrutiny means we may hit that number faster as drastically more people test (and the various problems with the initial test kits are solved).

But ignoring my health, I have parents that would be at risk if I exposed them. And even more medically fragile in-laws.

Not that they are taking precautions. But still. And then last week happened, and we’re now in as close to a lock down as the American public is likely to accept without mass casualties. My work told at least 25% of IT to work from home for the near future, but that just happened on Friday, although some departments started a few days prior.

Anyway, I know that gaming conventions are being cancelled, game stores are shutting up their public game rooms, etc.

Bridge will be lucky if it only gets decimated, IMO. Not only is the bridge playing population the most at risk, the handling of cards involves ridiculous cootie potential. NABCs are cancelled. I haven’t paid attention to smaller tournaments (since I rarely attend) but I imagine they are going  away. Some clubs are closed because of government orders, there are efforts to move club games online (where you still only play against your local opponents), but I’m skeptical. I’ve personally played on OK Bridge or BBO since ’92 or ’93, but I think the ACBL membership is fairly luddite, and many are interested in the social aspect as much (or more) than the game aspect.

Again, losing only 10% seems conservative.

My gut feeling is that the amount of death attributed to Corona will be on the order of a bad flu season (the CDC estimate for 2017-18 is 61,000, and that was the worst year in the last decade). A bad flu year kills about 60% more people than car wrecks (there were a touch under 40k in 2019). A good flu year kills less.

But society’s reaction to this does appear to have every indication of a game changer. Nothing was stopping my (or my team) from working at home two months ago, except that my manager gave the stink-eye to anyone who did it more than once a month or so.

I suspect that gaming won’t have too many long term changes. Undoubtedly some stores/cons will go out of business (along with a ton of other struggling businesses that aren’t game related) and VASSAL and other “play board games by computers” will get a big boost in the short term. Videogames are likely to grow even more. If I bought individual stocks I’d be tempted to buy Twitch and streaming stocks.

Bridge certainly has a more dire future than general gaming.

Anyway, how are things — gaming wise — in your various wood-necks?

Update 3/16 — The local bridge clubs closed indefinitely (they had not announced as of yesterday). Also my employer confirmed that someone tested postive ‘on campus’ and likely was there last week. And I should clarify. My gut feeling is simply that, a feeling. The straight numbers indicate somewhere on the order of 2M deaths. (360M people in the US, 25-75% infection rate, 1% fatality rate). Perhaps its the normalcy bias talking, but my gut feeling is my gut feeling.

Written by taogaming

March 15, 2020 at 10:59 am

Posted in Non-Gaming, Open Thread

Tagged with

Why I wrote Draco Malfoy and the Practice of Rationality; and How I’ve Been Able to Enjoy it Again

(Warning — Non-gaming content. And a narcissism alert. But where else would I post this?)

Like the Starman sings, it’s been Five Years since Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality ended. And five years ago I was wishing there was more.

(This essay could end here. That’s enough of a reason. But that seems a bit short).

Years ago I read James Gleick’s book on Feynman (Genius: The Life and Science of Richard Feynman), and there’s a line I remember (paraphrasing): There are two types of genius in the world. The first type, you look and think ‘If I just studied more, worked harder, applied myself, were a bit more gifted, I could do that.’ And for the second type you are just bewildered. Those geniuses have thoughts and do things that would never occur to you.

Feynman (and Harry James Potter-Evans-Verres, whose exact name I still have to look up to spell correctly despite having written literally over one hundred thousand words in that universe) are the second type of genius. In HPMOR McGonagall (whose exact name I still have to look up….) has this exact thought about one of Harry’s insights. As for Eliezer Yudkowsky (whose exact …), the author, I’m not sure. I’ve never met him. He clearly rates highly on the mathematical aptitude scale, but I myself won the city-wide math prizes in contests (in a city > 1M), so i can see myself aspiring to the levels of math/CS proofs he does.

But never in a thousand years would the thought of writing Harry Potter Fanfiction as a teaching tool occur to me (more prosaically, neither would the existential threat of a non-malevolent AI, or many of the other ideas I saw on Less Wrong). So he certainly may be.

I’ve wanted to be a writer for decades. As a teenager, I took a summer workshop with famed editor David G. Hartwell on “Writing Science Fiction and Fantasy,” at which point I got my first taste of how difficult writing is. Why SF&F? Well, as a reader I have two axis that I’m looking for:

  1. Interesting ideas
  2. Beautiful language

As a teen, I favored the first reason — and SF writing has enough great ideas in the tropes. As to the writing, well, in published SF it was often acceptable. It wasn’t until later in life I started reading for beauty. I don’t find it often. But there are stories (and books, and series) where literally nothing happens (at least, as to plot) but I can remember the small turns of phrase, the tiny scenes.

These books are often filed under “Literature” in book stores. Some are quite good.

Anyway, I was reading “exquisitely written” books (when I read fiction) when I stumbled on HPMOR over a decade ago. (Fan Fiction lists the first chapter as published in Feb 2010 even thought I’m reasonably certain I read Chapter 100 in 2008, but perhaps that’s just FF’s publication date). For interesting ideas, HPMOR was off the charts. The writing was at least as good as the writing I’d put up with — or perpetrated — in SF&F. I was already familiar with some of the lessons (having read LessWrong, etc, as well as my own studies in Cognitive Science, decision making under pressure, etc) but even discounting those I’d found a story overflowing with ideas.

(And do not discount repetition. At least one of the lessons I knew intellectually, but was restated in such forceful and personal language that I re-evaluated some of of my life choices. Sometimes knowing a thing is quite different than understanding it).

HPMOR had a framework of cognitive science, with the fun part of exploring magic, the “aha” of seeing something in a (great) kid’s book being twisted to an unintended use! It had a villain who wasn’t just a story book character acting as a foil, simply feeding the hero to sharks-with-frikkin’ lasers then leaving and assuming the hero would die. And while HPMOR is clearly an “idea” story, I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that there were beautiful moments and character beats that gave me the shiver up my spine that I associate with moments of true beauty, and that are rare enough that I cherish them, no matter the source. There’s a joy to reading something — almost anything — written with true love. I like baseball; but even if you don’t you can read Bill James (at least, in small doses) because he clearly loves it and thinks about it and it shines through his writing. (Also, Bill James can turn a phrase). And EY had that going, too, but on a topic that I am deeply interested in, much more so than baseball.

And it had Harry Potter. Catnip to me (and so many others). And then …  it went dark for years. I switched jobs (twice by FF’s date, three times by my memory) and was at a new job when it started back up. And unlike so many stories, it seemed to be ending strongly.

Then came the final exam, and I wrote up a quick solution. In an uncharacteristic move I also reached out to some media outlets shopping around an article about the final exam and my theories that he was using this as an actual research experiment. (I reached out to E.Y. for an interview, to no avail). I eventually posted it here, although my premise turned out to be wrong (as I admitted). As the final chapters rolled out over the next two weeks, I rushed home from my career appointed task that gave me no joy to my daily dose of reading, thinking about, arguing online, etc.

And then it was over. But I wasn’t ready to let it go. And I discovered (via r/hpmor) sequels and branching fictions.

Let me be charitable and say that the few I tried were generally uninspired, had too many grating moments, or just felt off. In at least one case I closed the web page after the first sentence. So, I despaired. But, while the thought of writing HPMOR would have never occurred to me, writing a sequel fic seemed do-able. I decided to try it. I was writing it for me.

And — for once when writing fiction (as compared to writing about games) — the words flowed easily. I enjoyed it. I quickly set up some ground rules for myself, because all art is defined by constraints.

Draco would be the main character, because I’m not the second type of genius (or the first, really). I doubted I could plausibly write HJPEV. (Actually, that’s not necessarily true. If I spent a day or week or month coming up with a contrived clever thing, then have my character think of it in a flash, that could work, and I did use that trick). But also because Harry explicitly removes himself from the role of hero at the end of HPMOR. The other (obvious) constraint would be that this was a simple continuation fiction, and HPMOR was canon. And I did not feel that I ‘got’ Hermione. But Draco …. well, my training wasn’t quite as exquisite as his (and was in a vastly different field) but I could work within Draco’s constraints. And let’s put it this way. I’ve been accused of having some  … Slytherin tendencies. A college friend (and still friend) once described me by saying “If [Tao] knew the cure for cancer, he wouldn’t tell anyone until he’d figured out the implications.”

So, Hermione I am not.

DMPOR wasn’t great stylistically but I wrote the first chapters quickly. I didn’t even really bother editing it, I just put down the words (as is obvious from time to time) and fixed gross mistakes. (I did in fact go over each chapter several times, but like many people I mentally autocorrect any writing if I know what the author means, and as the author I always knew what I meant).

It was fun. After all, this was just a lark, my trying to draw out one last hit of my recently cut-off supply, as well as knocking off some cobwebs off a dream discarded years ago. I decided to post the link to my fiction to r/HPMOR and see if anyone else thought it was any good, and got a generally positive response, so I got that little bit of Whuffie and an endorphin rush, kept it up and knocked out the prologue (Ch1-9) in a month or two.

By this point I had decided to continue and also what I wanted my themes to be. One of those themes is a note of mild caution against HPMOR (the story) itself. There are (many) good ideas in there, but as I heard long ago (and the saying is older than that), “there is no difference between theory and practice …. in theory.” I’d had that in mind from the first moment of writing, hence the “practice” of rationality (and the Sorting Hat’s song). One point (that EY made himself, quite forcefully in the final chapter) is that HJPEV isn’t perfect or necessarily even a great role model. He has a very useful skill set, but everyone should be aiming for the type-one genius of Hermione. Work Hard. Be Nice.

But I could never make myself want to be like Hermione. (“A man can do what it wants, but can’t want what he wants.” —  Schopnhauer). I knew I couldn’t capture her point of view, not in the big picture.

I could easily want to be HJPEV (or at least, a more mature version). Or Quirrell. And I’m not alone in that. I had that in the back of my mind from Day 1. And I also had in mind the idea that “every advantage has a corresponding weakness.” If you’ve ever played one of those role playing games where you ‘buy’ a character (X points gets you more skills), you’ve likely been tempted to make yourself.

I’ve wanted to build a game where you can take as many advantages as you want, but each one has a package of disadvantages. Want to be Sherlock Holmes? Fine — because of your acute attention to detail and knowledge you are also easily bored (to the point of doing drugs), irritable, generally unpleasant to be around, unwilling to learn anything that has no practical value, etc. Everyone wants to be Batman, but minus all the dead parents and decade of angst and training.

HJPEV is a great protagonist, yet simultaneously a cautionary tale. DMPOR is both a sequel and also a (gentle) rebuttal, but again no more so than Chapter 122.

While writing the prologue I’d come up with some clever ideas, so I decided to continue but I needed to nail down my theme and general course.

— Broad sweeping Spoilers for DMPOR below but you can skip until the next section —

Continuing the rivalry between the triumvirate seemed obvious, and obvious doesn’t necessarily make it wrong. Within the constraints of the world, it would undeniably happen, and its interesting. Significant Digits (which didn’t exist when I started; if it had I doubt I would have written anything) also latched onto this (in some ways working the opposite of I did, but in others along similar paths that struck me). Both our stories got a sort of ‘first movers’ advantage of premiering so soon after HPMOR ended, but SD is undeniably better written. But back to my story…..

There was not much room for Harry/Hermione antagonism, which led me to the obvious conclusion that Draco/Harry antagonism would work. I remembered the first few episodes of Smallville I only watched two or three before giving up, but I liked the idea of Clark Kent and Lex Luthor growing up together and ending on the opposite sides as adults. (This also echoes The Metropolitan Man by Alexander Wales, which I had read).Yes, its the BigBandFriend trope to have the villain be the guy you were hanging out with, but that works. I mean, if the reveal is that your nemesis is Joe Blow from Accounting. that’s realistic, but hardly dramatic. And this Draco/Harry interaction in many ways mirrored the Harry/QQ interaction (“I don’t have to hate him, I just have to win”). Symmetry is also enjoyable.

But I didn’t want to make Draco the villain. I wanted to make him a tragic heroic figure. In some ways I wanted this to work as a work like a Japanese story, where the heroes often kill themselves because of what they perceive as duty (think of the Forty-seven Ronin). I didn’t have everything plotted out, but by the end of the prologue (where Harry’s slip let’s Draco understand that he spoke with Voldemort extensively). As a sidebar, many readers objected to the Draco’s internal monologue saying that Harry had “chatted” with Voldemort, saying it was imprecise.

Perhaps, but I wanted to draw attention to that fact, and I wanted to draw attention to how Draco viewed that fact.  I’d also foreshadowed how that night would haunt him for years. I decided on the general idea of how Draco would work (self-obliviation with the help of his diary, and his vast resources) and why (including a little nudge from Dumbledore, who may still be operating under prophecy, which I thought would help the readers come to grips with his eventual decision, because even then I recognized that this was not for everyone).

Now I just needed to work out the details.

— End Spoilers —

(Also, I just had to look up how to spell Voldemort. It’s been a while).

Anyway, with the prologue out of the way and the broad strokes as to the “Hows” of the main plot, I went on my merry way. Before starting to write I’d re-read the Chamber of Secrets, which gave me some ideas for twists (such as Draco’s magical diary), red herrings and jokes. I had a goal but no strong urgency to get there, so I could sidebar with whatever interested me, and this let me put in some of my knowledge on Recognition Primed Decision Making, or anything else that held my fancy.

And I made a lot of mistakes. Not just factual mistakes, but story-telling decisions and shortcuts that some readers (and later, myself) disliked. I cut short the battle sequences because having Draco always win would be unrealistic, and he would often be unconscious, and because frankly they didn’t interest me as much. This was called “teasing” and annoying. I wanted to show viscerally the unreasonable effectiveness of ambushes. To call it a theme would be too nice, I had characters come out and say it over and over again. So ambushes would work. (I’ve seen ambushes — social and/or political instead of physical — up close and personal and they are devastatingly effective). So, I tried to have my story show my lessons. Some of this was unconscious but some was decidedly authorial intent.

I put in the”Thirty Four Years Later” epilogue (mirroring the one from Deathly Hallows with Adult Harry and Hermione but not Draco) as foreshadowing and also because I felt it would have more impact there, but that didn’t go over very well.

And then there was ‘the heist.’ The last third of the story.

I’d early on given up on the idea of having a final exam, but I wanted something big and bit off more than I could chew. To say that the last third of DMPOR kept me up at nights is both literally true yet feels like gross understatement. Trying to come up with a plan to achieve what I’d set out to do was hard. I’d built the world up and published mostly as I wrote (I was often 10k words ahead after the prologue, but I knew the ending would take a while. I kept having ideas then — a day or two later — spotting holes. Rationalist fiction has rules and they were liberating: when I wasn’t trying to make an Ocean’s Eleven style show piece.

The structure of the ending annoyed many readers but seemed (to me) fair in the sense that Harry, has to reconstruct it. This let me reveal things in what seemed a better order (instead of strictly temporally ….) and also gave me wiggle room in case I’d overlooked something. It worked (ish), but the last few months were not nearly as enjoyable as the first two thirds of the book.

I can honestly say that If I’d just written whatever came to my mind during my daily commute and breaks and then wrote out would have probably made both myself and the readers happier than the choices I made to make the heist “work.” There were a few chapters in the later parts that really moved me, but overall it was a massive relief to finish. I’d told the story I wanted to tell.

And I got some praise, but also ugly reviews, emails, because many readers did not particularly want to hear a story with. I often use the reviewing phrase of “a noble failure” for a game that tried interesting things but didn’t quite work and I came to the conclusion that DMPOR was a noble failure. I’d tried to tell the story and I thought I had foreshadowed most of the controversial points (excepting the ones that I had to make on the fly, but that also seemed to have a symmetry with HPMOR and regular canon), but the readers were not particularly happy. Or so I thought.

But I was done. A year or two later, while reading the Poems of William Blake I was struck by some lines from the Marriage of Heaven and Hell, that I felt captured … something of what I was trying to say. The dichotomy between rationality and human interaction. I’d always toyed with the idea of a distant future epilogue which had the symmetry of all three of the triumvirate having an impromptu and unexpected re-union and so I wrote it up (farily quickly), dropped it, then deleted my fan fiction password so I wouldn’t be tempted to read the reviews.

Done and done.

I heard from a few friends who read the story but that I closed the book on that chapter of my life. But at some point after the new year (and new Decade) I was ltaking inventory through my old works (in general) and was wondering about timelines and noticed HPMOR ended five years ago. I re-read a few bits, then  went to fan fiction and re-read DMPOR. It wasn’t bad. I still feel the memories of dread when reading the last third, but it was OK. I realize that some of the themes and things I was working through at the time mirrored what I was working through in Essay form in Thinking About Imperfect Thinking (and if you are here from r/HPMOR, I suggest you read that).

Looking at that article, I see the line–

I never thought “Well, I will become recognized for being a good writer.” So there’s no pressure.

That wasn’t true when I was finishing DMPOR. (At least, for the scale of fan fiction).

But its no longer true, I think. I’ve mostly let it go. Perhaps the last little burden was lifted when I saw a recent thread on r/HPMOR with several people listing it as the best sequel, including a few user names that I respect. (although, in all honesty, I’m not exactly sure why in some cases. I think I’ve chatted with them about other things, but it was years ago). I personally think Significant Digits is better … just because the writing is so much better and the plotting and ideas are great, too. And if his ending felt a bit ungainly, well, I know all about that.

At the time I finished I just wanted to throw my hands in the air and say “Well, if they didn’t get it, oh well.” But certainly its the writer’s fault if things aren’t clear. So I felt that now would be a good time to spell out what I was trying to do at some level. Maybe not exactly, but hopefully (particularly with my last essay) you’d get a feeling about my fascination and unease, both with Harry Potter (etc etc) and myself, and perhaps a little more insight into what I was trying to achieve.

Have I learned any lessons? — I am faster to give praise now, probably improving my rating from “geological time” to “snail” or perhaps even “tortoise.” I never used to comment online (and still don’t), but the experience of writing this affected me. This is one of those things I should have known, and did know intellectually, but I really felt it. A line that hits me every time I read HPMOR is Dumbledore’s line to Hermione ” As you would be kind to others, be kinder to yourself as well.” That is a lesson I’m slowly learning. I don’t consider myself a particularly harsh self critic, but I’ve been dropping things that used to gnaw on me as unimportant.

Now I can add this to the list.

I’d like to find another fiction project that inspired me like the first half of the sequel. I’ve had a number of good ideas (ideas are cheap) and every time I’ve started I just stare at a blank page. The number of times I’ve written anything where it flows I can count on the fingers of maybe two fingers. Maybe one day I’ll get another. I’d like that.

(If you came here from r/HPMOR, this is mostly about boardgames, but feel free to look around).

Written by taogaming

March 10, 2020 at 2:45 pm

Minor Gaming, Minor Update

I played a few 1862 games solo (with possibly correct rules). In one game I had a ridiculously good tableau with the four closed areas being the three Leeds RRs and the WstI&CL, so the NW quadrant was blocked but the board wildly free. Towards the end I was tired and didn’t optimize (I really need to write an app to handle the cards, its a pain) so I missed the Yokozuna title by something like £9. But … I’ve also played over a dozen games 2p, so now I’m not as interested in solo. Still, a good game to have picked up.

Since it was Spring Break I took the TaoLing to game night and played (non-1862) board games for a few hours myself for the first time in over a month (according to BGG).

Quacks of Quedlinburg — Still a luckfest, but I must admit this is enjoyable enough that I’m moving my rating from indifferent to indifferent-plus. But If I bought this I’d be playing this 2p with the TaoLing all the time (he loves it), and I don’t think I love it that much. But this would be a good once/month game.

Magic Maze — My thoughts on this are exactly the same as Quacks, except that this is the opposite of a luck fest. This is a good “every now and then” game, but needs the right crowd.  Unfortunately playing it rarely means that it is practically impossible to have the right crowd, as people communicate way more than the game should allow. But it was good to play again.

Rallyman: GT — When this was pulled out with six players I was instantly wary. Rallyman practically defined “Fixed Fun Games” for a year, and is barely playable with 3p, much less 4p. When I pointed this out, I was told “Oh, don’t worry, GT is simultaneous play.” This was a bold faced lie, but I (retroactively, and magnanimously) applaud the intent of having everyone (even your humble narrator) sit down for a game. And — in the speaker’s defense — he set up a track that was done in a reasonable amount of time. Apart from the production values and the introduction of braking dice (apparently done in Rallyman: Dirt), this is close enough to scratch the same itch, and makes me want to run some Rallyman solo, so I might. But unlike seconds and staggered start this is a straight forward “first past the post” race (with some clever turn order rules that reward being in high gear), so I believe the original game is better, assuming you don’t have to six players. (My articles on Rallyman).

At this point other games were played, but I had turned into a pumpkin, so my story ends here.



Written by taogaming

March 10, 2020 at 7:57 am

Posted in Session Reports

How have I never heard of Max Richter until now?

Thanks to Kottke’s link to his tiny desk concert (and Amazon Music, free with Prime) I’ve been listening to him all evening while the Spire Slays Me. (I did get to the final boss on an Ascension 20 Silent fight, and I’m up to A18 or so with Defect and ~12 with Watcher). As someone who listened to a high amount of Philip Glass, I found him in my wheelhouse. (I discovered, courtesy of his Wikipedia page, that his a post-minimalist to Glass’ minimalist style, which makes sense).

And while I hadn’t heard of him, it turns out I (and anyone else who saw Arrival), have heard him.

Anyway, recommended if you are into that sort of stuff. Watch the tiny desk concert.

Written by taogaming

February 22, 2020 at 10:00 pm

Posted in TV & Media