Left-Handed in a Magical World

I’m struggling a bit with the new Harry Potter game. Specifically, I’m struggling with the spellcasting. On the old console games, I didn’t have a problem. But that was tracing each spell’s sigil with the mouse. On the phone, it’s tracing with my fingertip, and apparently little old leftie me doesn’t apply pressure in a way right-handed players do. So the phone doesn’t always acknowledge the accuracy of my spells.

It got me wondering as it was giving me grief over Alohomora for the dozenth time in the same session – Do you have to cast as they’re drawn, or as they’re drawn relevant to your dominant hand? When I started pretending to do Wingardium Leviosa after the movies started coming out, I always drew them to the left. (I still do, actually.) I translated the physical movement of the spell as swish out and up, drag down. In this game, it’s to the right. That threw me the first couple of times I had to trace it. (I can’t for the life of me remember what it was in the old console games or in Pottermore.)

And I’ve never really paid close attention to how people are casting in the movies (which is odd, because that really is something of a second nature behavior for a leftie). So, now I wonder…would casting the mirror image of the spell (as a leftie might, left to their own devices) trigger the spell, or would the leftie have to learn to do the spell to the right?

It’s also got me thinking about side dominance. I started learning ballet before I learned to write. So, while there were hints early on concerning my dominant hand (what hand I used to grab or pick up things), there really wasn’t much confirmation. (This probably also explains why my dominance is split – left hand, right foot. Hmm…) But I became used to doing everything to the right first and then the left at a very young age, because it’s literally just how I grew up. (Right now, that seems very funny to me.)

When I played Amtgard, on the rare occasion when I got to play something other than Reeve (referee), I bounced between Wizard and Scout. Wizards are only allowed to cast charms and spell balls with their left hand (off-hand so as not to impede whatever parry or shield you might choose to carry), until third level when you got access to Ambidexterity. As a leftie, I really never thought about it. It made sense to charge and throw a spellball with my dominant hand. But I knew a lot of mages who were desperate to get to third level as quickly as they could because they were losing half their spellballs regularly because they cast with the wrong hand…their dominant hand. (Actually, I think we had to charge on one side and then throw on the other…but I can’t find my years-old rulebook.)

It’s kind of funny that it’s taken me this long to even notice this, but it’s definitely something to think over…and to watch for the next time I find myself in front of one of the Harry Potter movies.


Ballet and Motion Capture

I first learned about motion capture (mocap) in college while watching the Barbie Nutcracker. The animators put a professional ballerina in a mocap suit and recorded her performing the choreography. I had been dancing since I was a very young child, and was at the time dancing with a civic company, and had watched many an animator struggle to show ballet correctly. This being the early days of mocap, the animation and technology weren’t quite there yet, but it was something to watch an animated ballerina actually doing recognizable ballet steps. I thought it was the coolest thing ever, and I wanted to try doing mocap myself.

Really pay attention to Barbie’s bourrées. While not perfect, they’re not that far off.

A couple of months ago, Extra Play offered a playthrough of a dance-based game called Bound. A dance-based game? I had to watch. It became clear very quickly that the game animators had put a trained dancer in a mocap suit and had her perform various choreographies that they then wove together as the player character moves through the world. It’s beautiful in a jarring world.

But twenty years after that Barbie movie, Bound‘s dancing protagonist had a very obvious problem – she couldn’t bourrée correctly. Across six hours of game play, I counted at least five different bourrée animations (one is shown in the video above), four of which would have made any trained ballerina cringe. They did finally get it right late in the game, but I sat there wondering how with advances in animation and technology this protagonist struggled with a simple move that an animated character had accomplished reasonably well two decades earlier. Was the mocap technology just not able to sort out the dancer’s movements? Was it a shortcoming of the animation program? What happened?

Regardless, it’s been fun watching how the presentation of dance has changed across animation over the years.

Teaching by Example – Geek & Sundry’s DM Tips

I’m well behind the ball on this, but things have been busy. I’ve watched Critical Role from the beginning and I really enjoy watching Matthew Mercer weave his tale around his players (even when they cause him to literally slam closed his book of plans), so when the GM Tips webseries started with him as the host, it made sense to watch it as well. (One does not have to watch one to enjoy the other.) It was pretty much what I expected visually…mainly because it was very similar to the GM station on the Critical Role set at the time, and the tips were solid explanations of how he navigates thornier issues in running a game.

Mercer eventually bowed out, and Satine Phoenix took over the show. The set changed to reflect her DM style, and she started off her first episode talking about how different DMs have different styles and that’s perfectly fine and, really, to be expected. Without calling huge attention to it, she set the stage for this conversation by being exactly what she wanted to show. Where Mercer preferred takeaway tips, Phoenix has invited fellow DMs to come be interviewed for an aspect of DMing that they happen to be strong at. And it’s been pretty awesome.

It will be interesting see how things transition when the next host (assuming there is one) steps up.

Friday Five – Roleplaying Edition

I wish I could say that a lot of thought goes into creating these Friday Fives. That’s why I’m so consistent about it, and encourage y’all to suggest themes in the comments (or on social media, if that’s your thing). Because very often (99% of the time, actually), the Friday Five is a thorn in my side until some time on Thursday when I run into yet another reference to something, scream, throw up my hands, and pull the post together in under an hour. (This one took longer because it took fewer than five references to set me off.)

This week, it was the collision of memories of being involved with roleplaying games. I wasn’t allowed to play roleplaying games growing up. It was just as well, as I had very few friends who gamed. In college, I fell in with a group who did game, and I played a couple of times with them. I’ve experienced a handful of different tabletop RPGs and a couple of LARPs since then, but more often than not I end up in short-lived campaigns because the GM loses interest or I sit on the sidelines listening and contributing snark.

Anyway, you’d probably rather just read the Friday Five than listen to my bad luck with roleplaying games. 😉

1. LARPs: The Series – This one is a bit unfair, as I’ve been watching it since right after it started running on Geek & Sundry’s YouTube channel. But it’s a fun little poke at LARPers, both in game and out of game, and if you’ve ever LARPed you’re probably going to relate to it. (I’ve also said this about The Guild.) My own LARP history consists of being an NPC in a V-LARP (which I enjoyed) and being everything from a wizard to a scout to a reeve (referee) and game maker (Somewhere, I may still have my game book, complete with scenarios, mini encounters, monsters, and relics.) at a fantasy boffer LARP.

2. Critical Role (This is the first episode, but the series runs here.) – I find Twitch a bit difficult to navigate, so I apologize in advance if you encounter problems, too. I didn’t pay close attention when I finally heard a description of this show. Actually, that’s not true. I somehow got a bad description, which suggested this would be an animated D&D game, and I thought, Oh, hey. Cool. Like the old cartoon. It turns out the source was misinformed, and this is actually a lot cooler than that. It’s a group of animation/anime/video game voice actors playing D&D. And it’s pretty much like listening to any laid-back D&D game I’ve ever sat next to. (And I’ve sat next to a fair few in my time.)

3. PBS Idea Channel recently thought about how writing comic books could resemble tabletop roleplaying. It’s an interesting idea. Given how long many comic books have been running, there’s a situation now where those who are writing stories around these characters aren’t the ones who created them. (There’s a parallel for fan fiction here, as well, although it’s sanctioned because of the licensing…sorry. Off topic.) Current writers don’t know what the original intents for a character were, but they can create situations and then have the characters react in ways historically appropriate for them. While someone running an roleplaying game cannot realistically control how the player characters react, they can create situations that should provide some sort of stimulus that will allow the characters to react and respond in ways true to them. Of course…I then start remembering sessions with missing players, and… ;D

4. “Real Magick” in RPGs: Spellbooks – As I’ve mentioned, I’ve played a wizard class a time or two in my roleplaying career. Yelling poorly written poetry at the top of my lungs and pretending something actually happened as a result was sometimes far easier than taking foam-padded shots to any part of my body from guys two to three times my size. While I don’t remember much about the memorization component (beyond the fact there was one) in D&D, I do remember the equivalent (if it could be called that) at the boffer LARP was your spell list, because you had to spend time going through all of the spells available to you to craft a decent list with the points you had available. Most people built a regularly used list, plus ones for special events. I tended to just build my list every week. It wasn’t entirely practical, but it allowed me to do lame things like bring an entire field to a halt when I, as a max-level wizard, pulled out a first-level spell ball and cast it. (I didn’t have the points to carry the higher level of the same spell ball. I knew I’d never get off the verbal side of the higher level of the same spell ball. So I went for cheap and easy…and got away with it.)

5. I don’t have a fifth thing to share, so I’ll just remind those who like a little background noise with their roleplaying that Tabletop Audio is a lot of fun. It’s also not bad for just getting some writing done.

For the record, I do have the very first d20 I ever stole off someone. It’s somewhere around here. (read: It got misplaced when I moved a year and a half ago. Oops.) And my dice bag, filled mostly with marbled dice sets, sits on a shelf of my desk for easy access…although it really doesn’t get used for gaming these days. Transparency!

Friday Five: Game-Based Movies and Television Edition

It’s been a busy week, so it was last night before I realized I hadn’t started working on this week’s Friday Five. I hadn’t even thought about it, actually. But I went to make myself some chai to keep me company while I was writing tomorrow’s Saturday Scene (Yes, it’s been that full a week.), and Mom was watching Clue. We got to talking about the movie and how well it represented its game. And it got me thinking. I enjoy watching movies and cartoons based on games, so I thought this week I’d share some of the ones I’ve seen, and my thoughts on them.

1. Clue – Might as well start with the one that inspired the post. Clue is kind of a brilliant live-action representation of the boardgame. The story takes place in a house with all of the appropriate rooms and secret passages (although the layout doesn’t match the board). The key characters are Mr. Boddy and the six playable characters from the game (plus an easily startled butler). And after Mr. Boddy is killed early in the movie, the characters then set about trying to solve the murder. The movie even has three endings, a nod to the process of players guessing the contents of the Confidential folder in the board game. It’s hilarious. It’s self-referential in all the right ways. And it’s so worth watching way too many times.

2. Tomb Raider – There were two: a good one and an attempt to mash up Tomb Raider and all of the action flicks obsessed with ebola at the time. Let’s focus on the good one. *grin* The first Tomb Raider movie was a clever blending of elements from Tomb Raider 2 and  Tomb Raider 3. Complete with a Shiva that Lara takes down too quickly (I have been proven wrong about this.) and by utilizing her environment. It felt like Tomb Raider, but left me and other fans complaining that she got to do the two things we couldn’t in the game: grapple and pick up anything to use as a weapon. I guess it was a good thing, because we can now make Lara grapple!

3. Mortal Kombat – Again, there are a lot of directions to potentially go here, but I love the first movie. I have never played Mortal Kombat, but I used to watch friends play it. Often enough that I was able to recognize that the movie aligned with Mortal Kombat 3. Like Tomb Raider, it felt like I was watching a Mortal Kombat game, only with an actual story component. So much attention to detail! *swoon* (Plus, I really, really like the soundtrack.)

4. Magi Nation – I played Magi Nation when it first came out, and then I moved to a larger city where the game shops had never heard of it. I was sad. My Arderial/Naroom deck is in a box somewhere around here. When I heard there was a cartoon based on the video game that was based on the card game. I was excited. Given how other TCGs had transferred to cartoons, I was curious to see how Magi Nation was going to work out. The show had the e/i stamp on it, and that kind of colored a lot of things. But what broke my heart more than a technicolor Furok (one of my go-to Naroomi creatures), was the way the Arderial magi were misrepresented in the cartoon. I stopped watching shortly after the characters left Arderial City.

5. Saturday Supercade – Can’t leave this one out! I was obsessed with Saturday Supercade so much as a kid that I actually was one of the characters from it for Halloween. I have to say it that way because I never got to play the game that cartoon segment was based on. (I think it was Space Ace.) Our next-door neighbor repaired game cabinets for local arcades and pizza parlors, so I got to play on them after he was done fixing them. (He actually invited us to come play with when he was done to make sure they worked.)

There are so many more. I could keep going. But that’s it for this week. I’ll try to be better about this next week

Find Five Friday – Girly Geek Edition

I don’t know how things have gone for y’all, but for me it’s been a week. Actually, it’s been a long couple of weeks, and next week will be pretty crazy, too. You may have noticed the blog’s been a little quiet this week. So has the social media. I’m not even sure I’ve done the bare minimum. What I do know is that this week’s Find Five Friday only has four links because things have just been that crazy.

Soooo…on with the show!

1. I have designed jewelry off and on my entire life. I’ve just re-opened an Etsy shop, and was strong-armed last week into a craft show that my work was not a good fit for. But because I have been designing jewelry my whole life, I tend to be fascinated when someone does something interesting with jewelry design, like creating a wearable light show. You can tell from the pictures it’s still a work in progress, but it’s an interesting idea.

2. I’ve also grown up interacting with music. I danced for a long time. I’ve done choirs off and on. In school and at LARP, I even played a couple of instruments. I frequently joke that music runs through my veins, and I can’t imagine not being able to read or interpret sheet music. So, finding out that people with dyslexia can find sheet music daunting was a bit of a surprise. A product designer who has experience trying to get dyslexia and a desire to play music to cooperate has designed a way to create and play music in a way that doesn’t trigger a war with her dyslexia. The Dyssonance looks like Colorforms on steroids, but the idea and implementation are pretty cool.

3. This has been a stressful month for STEM women. In 2013, Mattel released a 2-in-1 Barbie book where one half was called I Can Be…A Computer Engineer. The Barbie line has a mission of trying to show girls all the doors that are open to them, and has come under a lot of heat over the years for the limited number of hard science/STEM professions represented in the line. I suspect this book was part of an attempt to address that. A pair of blogs discovered and shared the book this week, pointing out that while Barbie does design the game featured in the book (girl game designer = good), she then hides behind guy friends to code the game and clean up her virused computer. She then takes credit for both the game and saving the infected computer. Needless to say, women coders and their friends and supporters shredded Mattel, who has now offered a very half-hearted apology for the mess.

The book’s discovery comes only a week after STEM toy developer GoldieBlox announced their Barbie-like action figures. GoldieBlox still leaves a bad taste in people’s mouths after the whole Beastie Boys incident, but their CEO was recently the keynote speaker at a Texas women’s conference where the themes included responsibility and presenting positive role models for up-and-coming STEM women. (I just about spit out my chai when I read that.)

4. While many made memes of the more troubling statements in the Barbie book and some mocked the pink tech and the flash drive necklace, one woman coder created a mock-up of the book (PDF) rewritten to reflect the message Mattel should have put out if they truly want girls to see what they could experience as a coder. The book is heavy-handed, but the message is much more positive.

Also, my inner jewelry designer couldn’t understand those upset about the flash drive necklace. It was completely appropriate to Barbie. But what do I know? I spent part of a season of Pretty Little Liars wanting Jenna’s owl flash drive necklace.


All right, there you go. Four links, but I tried to make up for it in the commentary. Hopefully, I’ll collect five links next week, but we’ll have to see what free time my workload gives me.

Find Five Friday: Eclectic Geek Mix

This week has been a little crazy. The voiceover work piled up unexpectedly. I got roped into a craft show this weekend, so I’ve been trying to pull things together for that. If you’ve been following my DigiWriMo adventures, you know I’ve been quiet there. And the only reason the Saturday Serial will have a new scene this weekend is because I managed to write it last weekend.

So, today’s offerings will be…eclectic. (To be honest, I had no idea what was sitting in Instapaper when I started writing this post.)

1. A fellow DigiWriMo participant introduced me to DailyCreate on Twitter. They post prompts for you to respond to. They’re supposed to rotate through a number of digital arts, but I’ve only seen visual prompts this week.

2. But it did introduce me to the coolest tool that allows you to create virtual magnetic poetry. I wanted to craft something about a Wall of Fire, but as my options were limited, I created this stirring poem instead.

3. Dork Tower introduced me to BrikWars, a system that allows you to use your favorite interconnected brick toys to create tabletop roleplaying spaces. I remember a few years ago when Lego released board game sets, but this strikes me as something a lot of geeks I know would really get into.

4. And while we’re on the topic of geeks doing cool things with Lego bricks, may I introduce you to Rick Martin? This is not a new link for me, but as it’s relevant and his scene recreations for Words of Radiance are cool enough to get shared by Brandon Sanderson, I’m going to declare it fair game.

5. Rounding out the list this week is this Wired article on Jim Davis and the phenomenon of Internet cats. Because it’s always cool and fun to talk about Garfield. (Plus, it was interesting to see just how he perceives the distribution of comics as technology advances.)

There you go. Another five links for another Friday. Next week should (theoretically) be calmer, so maybe I’ll actually stay up-to-date on Instapaper and have interesting, useless links for you.

World Lore in Cartoons and Games

While I do play a fair number of games that have little or no story wrapped around them (otherwise known as “casual” games. My current obsession is Angry Birds Go.), I am a storyteller and a cultural anthropologist at my core. I like a game with a story to it. I like game worlds where a writer or a narrative designer took the time to create an actual world, with a present, and a past, and a future. A world with quirks, with a conflict I can make myself care about.

What’s really funny is that my favorite game set in a game world, The Legend of Zelda, actually doesn’t have a connected story. Each iteration is a new glimpse into the life of Hyrule hero Link. It’s episodic…sort of. Final Fantasy, which I’ve had more fun watching than playing, has a similar issue. What’s even funnier is that the games I decided to look at in this post…are games I have little or no experience with. I’m just fascinated with how world lore and story came together to form each game’s world.

Twenty years ago, when a friend pulled out decks of odd-looking cards and tried to get us to play this hot new game, I glanced at it and went back to chatting. It looked like nothing more than a card game with five suits and funky art. Okay…so it was really cool art in a lot of cases. But still, it was just a deck of cards where you chose what suits you personally played with. The guys got into it; I just stole cards to look at the art. Eventually, I noticed the cards had text on them, beyond just explaining what that card did, and a passing interest with Magic: The Gathering was born. Through the flavor texts, I learned that the game was actually players re-enacting a duel between Urza and Mishra. (I always forget about Mishra when I try to explain this to people.) The flavor texts not only flesh out the world Urza and Mishra are dueling in, but sometimes highlight aspects of that legendary duel. Tie-in novels have actually arisen out of the game’s flavor texts and world design. I lost touch with the game years ago, but I understand Urza has gone on to duel a wizard named Gix.

Ten years ago, I fell into a cartoon that has become a bit of a guilty pleasure. Yu-Gi-Oh is a story about an alternate universe Tokyo where characters resolve their issues by playing card games. (Not even kidding. This was Takahashi’s intention. He thought it would be entertaining.) So, you have battles over souls and territories and egos…being resolved by a Magic-style game. Characters are rescued from certain death…by playing a card game. It’s really quite bizarre, and just as lame as it sounds. There’s nothing really notable about the card game itself. If your only contact with Yu-Gi-Oh was the game, you’d probably have no idea that the game has a backstory in the manga. Beyond the spirits inhabiting the Millennium objects, I probably wouldn’t have noticed, either, until much later in the cartoon. But about halfway through the first season of the cartoon, the character generally regarded as a moron (who becomes the poster child for what happens when you make unfair assumptions about people) shares the tales surrounding one of the monsters in his deck in talking through his strategy. It’s the first flash the cartoon gives (because it’s been so long since I read the manga that I don’t remember if it’s also there) that this story, and by extension the game, might actually have an interesting layer to it. It turns out later to be a rather tragic story, but still. Not bad for a world where all conflicts, small and life-threatening, are resolved through a card game.

When World of Warcraft (WoW) introduced the ability to take on lore as a profession, I briefly started paying attention to it. I still have never played it, but I was following one of the guys working on it on Twitter for a while. I didn’t realize until the announcement of the lore profession that WoW had a story aspect. Apparently, it’s had several, making WoW a far more interesting and complex massively multiplayer online roleplaying game (MMORPG). If I’ve understood things correctly (and WoW players who actually play the story-related quests and activities, please feel free to chime in down in the comments), each release or expansion is a new storyline in this building exposition. And players really get into it. They will even call the narrative designers on continuity and logic issues.

Games really are pushing themselves to be a new storytelling form, through exploring telling stories in ways that make sense to the game’s narrative designers. The stories can serve just as the world background for the game, or can allow the players to help shape the world’s story through their play. As narrative designers continue to push and to work with game designers to explore different ways to deepen these worlds, games are going to become an immersive storytelling experience worth curling up with.

Learning Paths in the Unclassed MMORPG

While I was playing Glitch last night, I was thinking about the class system that started showing up when the DNA story did. So far, we’ve had skills, but no clear direction on what to learn past self-motivated interest.

If we were learning skills for our class, tough, we’d need a specific skill set. Glitch let us run around unchecked, so the skills we currently have (and I have more than I’m supposed to have) may not slot nicely into whatever class scheme Glitch may be cooking up. (Right now, there’s only clear evidence of a wizard class brewing.)

Looking over my skills for the hundredth time (realizing there’s really nothing else I want to learn at the moment), I got to thinking about the skills I have and the possibilities open to me. My Glitchan can grow and harvest really well — useful if I need to grow components for my herbology practice. My Glitchan never passes up a mining opportunity, and has the skills to grid into alchemical components and smelt into materials. I’ve actually had a lot of fun creating new tools over the last couple of days. It was nice to make myself a tool rather than have to hunt down the right vendor.

Other people have taken the gardening skills on their way to the cooking skills. I’m sure some people have taken the mining skills on their way to the engineering skills.

The point is, there are base skills that open doors to a variety of skills. People interested in different paths would take the same base because they need it. D&D always seemed to understand that. It wasn’t unusual for a low-level plant-based spell to show up on potential spell lists for wizards, priests, and rangers.

Education should be viewed this way, too. There are broad skills that benefit a wide group of students, potentially leading them to finding their life work. It also shows them how their work relates to others’ work, promoting cooperation and potential collaboration.

Learning About Yourself Through Gaming

I started playing Glitch yesterday after seeing it recommended on one of the geek sites. It’s billed as a kid-friendly MMORPG, but the innuendos in the game content are just flying! I seem to have gotten the hang of it pretty quickly, even if I’m not really getting into the grinding. I knew that would be a potential problem when I got to WoW because I’ve always hated doing it in Zelda games, and it does seem to be something I’m willing to ignore. (Oddly enough, I don’t mind grinding in The Sims Social, but grinding there involves writing and playing musical instruments while cooking. And they’re all tied to the idea that you’re this fierce multitasking freelancer.)

Anyway, you “learn” skills as you move through Glitch’s (rather expansive) gameworld.  Really, you’re just telling your guide/companion what to learn for you. It’s a bit depressing, but there is a study time associated with everything. I’m interested in what I’m choosing to learn. At first, I just learned everything because I only had the four skills open to me. Now, though, I’m pursuing alchemy (and the prereqs alone are going to take days to get through because you have to learn how to acquire your own minerals and herbs. At least it makes sense!), and I’m looking forward to getting into meditative arts. And then, in the very wee hours of this morning, I realized what I’m doing. I’m going a ranger/priest route! I guess I’m just drawn.

Although…alchemy (and tinkering, because I must explore my deconstructive/constructive nature) are really more an expression of my science side, and I have no intention to go through the cooking skills (that make up nearly half of the learning tree). It’s just funny to watch what I gravitate toward, and realize it’s what I’ve historically gravitated toward in gaming and does reflect to some extent what I gravitate toward in my own life.