All RPGs and Storygames by Tod Foley are now available at DrivethruRPG and RPGnow. Bring these games to your table!
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In one of our previous blog post, we have discussed “How To Create Custom SOLR Search With Autocomplete In Drupal 7”. Note, before creating custom Solr search,…
“Now I see, cold, it was them he loved.
Where is he now? Tonight my heart froze.”
-excerpt from “Crust on Fresh Snow” by Rolf Jacobsen
“Winter is coming”
-virtually every character in Game of Thrones
In the winter of 2015 I experienced two life-changing texts that sucked me into enjoying horror as a genre. The first was when I purchased my PlayStation 4 and got Until Dawn on sale with it. The second was when my friends and I saw Krampus in theaters. Until Dawn lured me in with steamy young melodrama and the tease of alpine horror. Krampus felt like a campy “are they serious?” popcorn flick. Over the course of both stories, I saw that easy fun twist and create anxiety that was thrilling to jump at. Both titles are now winter traditions, and I revel in playing & watching them multiple times a year, but never during spring or summer. In fact, it’s only during the colder months that I feel a pull towards horror at all. These things are true: the world is dark and we are alive.
These things are true: the world is dark and we are alive. These words start off every scene in Stephen Dewey’s horror game, Ten Candles. For those unfamiliar, Ten Candles is a game of tragic horror, with every character finding their end in the final scene, exploring a darkened world with no sun or stars, and facing off against a nebulous Them who are always coming. You play in a completely darkened room lit only by ten candles which you progressively extinguish through play, and with each light gone, They get stronger. As you play, you also burn aspects of your character, yes literally burn them to ash, lit by candle flame, while you sit at the table. It’s bleak, terrifying, and one of my favorite games ever written.
I’ve played Ten Candles in the spring and summer: once in Chicago visiting friends while our host serenaded us with cosmic metal and made spicy sausage stew, and once on the balcony of a sketchy high rise hotel in St. Louis, MO as a thunderstorm raged and the St. Louis Arch rose above us like a portal to hell. Both games were fun and heavy, but they pale in comparison to playing Ten Candles in winter.
Riverhouse Games is named after a real house on the bank of the Mississippi river just outside of Minneapolis, MN, where I would visit to spend time with close friends and run games. Minnesota winters can be harsh, with windchill hitting 40 degrees below zero and blizzards that take fleets of plows hours or, in some extreme cases, days to fully clear.
“These things are true: the world is dark, and we are alive.” I intoned last year, running Ten Candles for the first time as we sat inside a toasty room in the Riverhouse, with glass windows iced around the edges. The sun had gone down hours ago and the light of the full moon bounced off of the snow which blanketed everything in sight. More than eight inches had dropped over the evening and it was still coming down in muffling clumps. Other than the flow of the river outside, with the occasional creak as chunks of ice cracked into the stone banking, or off of each other, the world lay blanketed in a white silence. A friend’s family owns a small taxidermy business up north, so the room was adorned with odd skulls and bones, centered on a nexus where ten lit candles flickered in the stale warm air of the room. We made our own winter terror, surrounded by set decorations, and staged on the same snow in which our characters would soon die.
I don’t know what it is, but as soon as that first frost hits, I feel a need in my bones to run Ten Candles. Like all roleplaying games, it can have silly moments, the best horror always has a joke here or there to cut the anxiety like a knife and refresh the scene. And, like the other semi-silly titles I enjoy every year, it’s becoming another winter horror tradition and takes its place next to Until Dawn and Krampus. I’ve already played my first game of the season, a one-on-one game after hours at a volunteer bookstore, with the echoes of a reading room holding two people skittered over the flames as the chilled wind blew through the city around us and we made our winter terror tale. I can’t wait until the snow falls (which may be a while still as we hit an uncharacteristically balmy 75 degrees up here while I write this) and I can bust out my tea lights and cackle out “the world is dark, and we are alive.”
What do you think? I’m definitely interested in padding out my roster of frozen fear if you have further recommendations. Do you have any winter terror traditions?
A few weeks ago I published a call for feedback on a project I've begun to assess agile practices in our industry (Take the Amazee Agile Agency Survey 2017). I would like to share a preliminary overview of the results I have received for the Amazee Agile Agency survey so far. Twenty-five individuals have completed the survey to date, so I have decided to extend the deadline a few more days, to November 5th, in order to gather more responses. Thanks to everyone who has participated so far!Josef Dabernig Tue, 10/31/2017 - 10:00 Initial Observations Popular Methodologies
Given the initial survey results, Scrum (or a Scrum hybrid or variant) is the most widespread development process used by agencies. Many teams consider it their top priority in order to deliver a successful project. Following Scrum as methods most use by agencies are Kanban or Waterfall.
ScrumBan (a hybrid of Scrum and Kanban) has not been widely adopted.
At Amazee, we began using Scrum to deliver projects a little over two years ago and have made great progress on it since then. In the last year, we also started a maintenance team which uses Kanban. Just recently, we began evaluating ScrumBan as a way of integrating our maintenance team with one of our project teams.Project Teams
Agencies ranging in sizes from 1-5 people to over 100 people have responded to the survey. Of those surveyed, the most common team size for project work are, in order from most common to least common:
- three people or fewer
- five people
- four people
- six people
In terms of co-located or working remotely, team location varied wildly, but skewed towards 'mostly co-located' with some degree of remote. More than 50% of agencies form a new team with the launch of a new project, followed by stable teams which deliver multiple projects at the same time. Following multiple-project delivery are stable teams which deliver one project at a time.
At Amazee, we started out spinning up a new team with each new project, but soon realized that the constant starting and stopping of mid-sized projects was too disruptive. These days, we use stable teams to deliver multiple projects.Sprints
Most teams surveyed deliver in two-week sprints. The remaining 33% of respondants deliver anywhere from single-day sprints to month-long sprints.Team Integration
Frontend and backend developers are usually specialized but mostly work together on one team.
DevOps, QA/Testing, as well as the Scrum Master role, are shown in all variations of integrated or totally separate teams.
UX & Design are split, with this role either in a separate team (or external resource) or as part of a stable team.
At Amazee, we try to hire T-shaped experts that can work across most disciplines on a team. For example, a Frontend developer may also have experience with backend tasks, which can help alleviate work silos and ticket bottlenecks.Staying Connected
Most agency teams rely on written communication to stay connected. This can take the form of tickets or via a chat tool such as Slack.
The majority of teams hold team meetings and 1-on-1 meetings, while fewer teams communicate mainly via blogs, wikis or even pull requests.
The majority of standups last fifteen minutes while some are only 5-10 minutes.
At Amazee, our hubs differ. Our Zurich office holds a company-wide standup that takes about ten minutes, followed by a team-specific standup that takes another ten minutes. Our Austin office holds a company-wide standup, which includes a client, which lasts about fifteen minutes.Splitting up the Work
Many agencies vary in their approach to defininig, writing, reviewing, and estimating tasks and tickets. For most agencies, the project team is involved in each step of the ticket creation process. In others, creating tickets falls to the client, project manager, or product owner. In most cases, a technical lead is involved in the high-level ticket creation and the team is brought in for estimations.
The most common approach to estimating ticket is time based (hours, days, weeks) followed by story points (t-shirt sizes, fibonacci sequence)Client Communication
When it comes to meetings between the team and the client, the top mentioned options where 'less frequently' followed by 'more or once per week' and 'every two weeks'.
At Amazee, depending on the project size, our teams meet weekly or bi-weekly with the client. Clients are encouraged to talk directly with the team via Slack. We'd like to offer a daily standup with some clients, but haven't figured out how to do this easily as usually a team works on multiple projects at the same time.Delivery Practices
Most teams surveyed deliver rolling deployments, pushing code whenever necessary.
While a number of agencies have pair programming somewhat in use, Mob programming is mostly unknown.
The majority of teams consider automated deployments / continuous integration very important.
When it comes to story mapping, most agencies are unfamiliar. Those which do implement this tool, however, consider it very important.
At Amazee, peer review for every ticket is a normal part of our development flow. Our developers implement pair programming whenever necessary. This is an excellent practice for sharing knowledge and increasing the team's technical confidence. We are actively exploring story mapping.Take our Survey
This initial post is just a taste of the information I have collected, there is a lot more to be shared. Besides the numerical data, I am especially excited about the free-form responses which give valuable insights into the tangible, real-world decisions that are being taken in agencies to define daily agency life.
Before sharing a deeper analysis and the full, anonymous, survey results, I wanted to share this preliminary data to give an idea of what’s coming in. I hope this information is helpful in determining industry alignment or to find inspiration for what to try next.
Our Agile Agency survey will remain open until Sunday, November 5th at midnight UTC -7. After the survey closes, I will tabulate the results and prepare Part 2 of this series where I look forward to sharing my findings.
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This month Twitch took a swing at hosting a Developer Day ahead of its annual TwitchCon event, and now the fruits of that labor are available online for curious devs to peruse at their leisure. ...
So obviously, the pendulum of progress stopped swinging on my game. As much as I tried to prevent it, pressing obligations just wouldn’t take a back seat (nor would the burglars who, a few weeks ago, stole 90% of my wardrobe and who last week stole my monitor). So after a string of hectic weekends and even crazier weeks, this weekend has been pretty wide open for doing whatever I want to do. And not a moment too soon!
So after doing all the other things I try to do with my weekends, I finally loaded up the ol’ Inform 7 IDE and started working on my game. To get me back in the swing of things, so to speak, I started reading through what I’d already written. It was an interesting experience.
Strangely, what impressed me most was stuff I had done that I have since forgotten I learned how to do. Silly little things, like actions I defined that actually worked, that had I tried to write them today, probably would have had me stumped for a while. Go me! Except, erm, I seem to have forgotten more than I’ve retained.
I also realized the importance of commenting my own code. For instance, there’s this snippet:
A thing can be attached or unattached. A thing is usually unattached. A thing that is a part of something is attached.
The problem is, I have no idea why I put it in there – it doesn’t seem relevant to anything already in the game, so I can only imagine that I had some stroke of genius that told me I was going to need it “shortly” (I probably figured I’d be writing the code the next night). So now, there’s that lonely little line, just waiting for its purpose. I’m sure I’ll come across it some day; for now, I’ve stuck in a comment to remind myself to stick in a comment when I do remember.
It reminds me of all the writing I did when I was younger. I was just bursting with creativity when I was a kid, constantly writing the first few pages of what I was sure was going to be a killer story. And then I’d misplace the notebook or get sidetracked by something else, or do any of the million other things that my easily distracted self tends to do. Some time later, I’d come across the notebook, read the stuff I’d written and think, “Wow, this is great stuff! Now… where was I going with it?” And I’d never remember, or I’d remember and re-forget. Either way, in my mother’s attic there are piles and piles of notebooks with half-formed thoughts that teem with potential never to be fulfilled.
This situation – that of wanting to resume progress but fumbling to pick up the threads of where I left off – has me scouring my memory for a term I read in Jack London’s Call of the Wild. There was a part in the book where Buck’s owner (it’s late, his name has escaped me) has been challenged to some sort of competition to see if Buck can get the sled moving from a dead stop. I seem to remember that the runners were frozen to the ground. I thought the term was “fast break” or “break fast” or something to that effect, but diligent (does 45 seconds count as diligent?) searching has not confirmed this or provided me with the right term. Anyway, that’s how it feels tonight – I feel as if I’m trying to heave a frozen sled free from its moorings.
The upside is, I am still pleased with what I have so far. That’s good because it means I’m very likely to continue, rather than scrap it altogether and pretend that I’ll come up with a new idea tomorrow. In the meantime, I’ll be looking for some SnoMelt and a trusty St. Bernard to get things moving again.
So I didn’t get as much coding done over the weekend as I had hoped, mainly because the telephone company *finally* installed my DSL line, which meant I was up til 5:30 Saturday am catching up on the new episodes of Lost. That, in turn, meant that most of the weekend was spent wishing I hadn’t stayed up until such an ungodly hour, and concentration just wasn’t in the cards.
However, I did get some stuff done, which is good. Even the tiniest bit of progress counts as momentum, which is crucial for me. If the pendulum stops swinging, it will be very hard for me to get it moving again.
So the other day, as I was going over the blog (which really is as much a tool for me as it is a way for me to share my thoughts with others), I realized I had overlooked a very basic thing when coding the whole “automatically return the frog to the fuschia” bit…
As the code stood, if the player managed to carry the frog to another room before searching it, the frog would get magically returned to the fuschia. This was fairly simple to resolve, in the end – I just coded it so that the game moves (and reports) the frog back to fuschia before leaving the room. I also decided to add in a different way of getting the key out of the frog – in essence, rewarding different approaches to the same problem with success.
Which brings me to the main thrust of today’s post. I have such exacting standards for the games I play. I love thorough implementation. My favorite games are those that build me a cool gameworld and let me tinker and explore, poking at the shadows and pulling on the edges to see how well it holds up. A sign of a good game is one that I will reopen not to actually play through again, but to just wander around the world, taking in my surroundings. I’ve long lamented the fact that relatively few games make this a rewarding experience – even in the best games, even slight digging tends to turn up empty, unimplemented spots.
What I am coming to appreciate is just how much work is involved in the kind of implementation I look for. Every time I pass through a room’s description, or add in scenery objects, I realize just how easy it is to find things to drill down into. Where there’s a hanging plant, there’s a pot, dirt, leaves, stems, wires to hang from, hooks to hang on, etc. Obviously, unless I had all the time in the world, I couldn’t implement each of these separately, so I take what I believe to be the accepted approach and have all of the refer to the same thing. Which, in my opinion, is fine. I don’t mind if a game has the same responses for the stems as it does for the plant as a whole, as long as it has some sort of relevant response. Even so, this takes a lot of work. It might be the obsessive part of me, but I can’t help but think “What else would a person think of when looking at a hanging plant?”
Or, as I’ve come to think of it: WWBTD?What Would Beta Testers Do?
I’ve taken to looking at a “fully” implemented room and wondering what a player might reasonably (and in some cases unreasonably) be expected to do. This is a bit of a challenging process for me – I already know how my mind works, so trying to step outside of my viewpoint and see it from a blind eye is hard. I should stop for a second to note that I fully intend to have my game beta tested once it reaches that point, but the fewer obvious things there are for testers to trip over, the more time and energy they’ll have for really digging in and trying to expose the weaknesses I can’t think of.
I’ve found one resource that is both entertaining and highly informative to me: ClubFloyd transcripts. ClubFloyd, for the uninitiated (a group among which I count myself, of course) is a sort of cooperative gaming experience — if anyone who knows better reads this and cares to correct what may well be a horrible description, by all means!– where people get together on the IFMud and play through an IF title. The transcripts are both amusing and revealing. I recently read the Lost Pig transcript and it was quite interesting. The things people will attempt to do are both astonishing and eye-opening. In the case of Lost Pig (which, fortunately, I had already played before reading the transcript), what was even more amazing was the depth of the game itself. I mean, people were doing some crazy ass stuff – eating the pole, lighting pants on fire, and so on. And it *worked*. Not only did it work, it was reversible. You obviously need the pole, so there’s a way to get it back if, in a fit of orc-like passion, you decide to shove it in down Grunk’s throat.
Anyway, my point is, the transcripts gave me a unique perspective on the things people will try, whether in an effort to actually play the game, to amuse themselves, or to amuse others. Definitely good stuff to keep in mind when trying to decide, say, the different ways people will try to interact with my little porcelain frog.Other Stuff I Accomplished
So I coded in an alternate way to deal with the frog that didn’t conflict with the “standard” approach. I also implemented a few more scenery objects. Over the course of the next few days, I’m going to try to at least finish the descriptions of the remaining rooms so that I can wander around a bit and start really getting to the meat of it all. I also want to work on revising the intro text a bit. In an effort to avoid the infodumps that I so passionately hate, I think I went a little too far and came away with something a bit too terse and uninformative. But that’s the really fun part of all of this – writing and re-writing, polishing the prose and making it all come together.
Whattaya know. Midnight again. I think I’m picking up on a trend here.
Grrr… I’ve been so bogged down in work and client emergencies that progress on the game is at a temporary (no, really! Only temporary) standstill. I’ve managed to flesh out a few more room and scenery descriptions, but have not accomplished anything noteworthy in a few days. Hopefully after this week most of the fires on the work front will be extinguished, and I’ll have time to dive into the game this weekend.
(She says to no one, since there’s been one hit on this blog since… it started.)