Diecast #355: Procgen Render Farm

https://www.shamusyoung.com/twentysidedtale/?p=52848

As a reminder: I’m going in for surgery this week. I don’t expect any problems, but I might not be around as much as usual. Please try to not burn the place down while I’m gone.



Hosts: Paul, Shamus. Episode edited by Issac.
Diecast355


Link (YouTube)

00:00 Blender Render Farmer
Maybe this sort of service is still a bit exotic, so prices are high because there aren’t enough customers to really create the all-important economy of scale?

Rebus Farm even suggests their service would be good for “students”. I don’t know what kind of students have a spare $300 to burn on rendering out single assignments. And if a student has that much dosh to burn, then they probably have access to a good computer and they won’t need an overpriced render farm to get the job done. Like I said on the show, the economics of this make no sense to me.

11:07 Introversion City Generator

Quite interesting.

25:49 Mailbag: Arby’s Dice

Dear Diecast,

You remember that Wendy’s RPG? Well, now apparently Arby’s is selling tabletop gaming dice:
https://www.gameinformer.com/gamer-culture/2021/08/26/arbys-now-sells-official-dungeons-dragons-dice-because-naturally

I just thought it was cute. Have fast food places realized who their core demo is or something?

Jennifer Snow

I looked on YouTube, and I couldn’t find any of the originating advertisements. All I could find were people’s reactions. Strange.

28:09 Kidd Video Tangent

During this segment the audio cuts out. What I said was that Master Blaster looks like a combination between Spider-Man’s Kingpin, and Dilbert’s Pointy-Haired Boss. I’m not crazy, right? The Master Blaster really does look like the PHB, doesn’t he?

WARNING: The following video is the most intensely 80s thing you’ll see all week.


Link (YouTube)

I was 13 when the show came out. Even so, I could tell the show was sort of lame and cringy. But I also watched it every week without fail, so…

36:21 Mailbag: Endgame Reset

Dear Diecast,

I’ve recently been playing the Master Blaster (Zero) series, a metroid-esque game that interleaves the platforming shooting with 2D top-down shooting segments. An interesting feature of these games (02 and 03 in particular) is the “endgame reset”: just before the final level, all your collected weapons and other stuff are removed, and you get a very different set of abilities and weapons to master for the final portion of the game. (in these games, the final level only unlocks when you have collected enough stuff, so it can be seen as a bonus level as well) I think the endgame reset can in theory be applied to any game with (optional) character progression. Are there any games where you think the endgame reset has been applied extremely well or poorly? What games could be improved with an endgame reset?

A few thoughts from me (no novel this time). From a design perspective, the endgame reset is a powerful but tricky tool. Handled well, it can ensure the player is presented with a proper challenge in the final part of the game, the player can enjoy mastering new mechanics, and there is the opportunity to make use of more situational types of weapons. (since there is only one level, it can be tailored to give these weapons a chance to shine) Handled poorly, the player will feel cheated out of their gear, discouraged that their overlevelling doesn’t save them from the boss, and be frustrated by having to learn another set of gimmicky mechanics.

Still, I think I’d much prefer even a failed attempt at an end game reset than an “endgame funnel”, such as at the end of Deus Ex HR, where tension and challenge is added at the cost of removing all but one of the otherwise viable playstyles.

With kind regards,

Marvin

39:32 Mailbag: Mass Effect TV Show

Deer Diecast

Found this interesting video by Lessons from the Screenplay about adapting the Mass Effect trilogy into a TV show.

So what are your thoughts?
-Donkey

The Anti-Entropy Machine

https://www.shamusyoung.com/twentysidedtale/?p=52831

This was a mistake. I knew it when I did it. But sometimes we’re slaves to our obsessions and you don’t have any choice but to make mistakes and hope you can escape the consequences.

(I did not escape the consequences.)

When you’re learning something new – 3D modeling, carpentry, programming, filmmaking, baking, etc. – then the thing to do is to take on many small, quick projects while you’re learning the ropes. If you’re learning to draw, then you should probably start with a small sheet of paper and not try to make a mural to cover the side of a building. You’re going to make a lot of mistakes at first, and it’s best to make them quickly, learn from them, and move on. The stuff you draw in your second hour will be much better than your first, your second day better than the one before, and so on. If you start with a mural then by the time you’re halfway done you’ll have progressed so far that you’ll no longer be satisfied with the first stuff you drew.

My first few Blender Renders reflect what you’re supposed to do: Make something simple, iterate on an idea, get it done, and move on. But then I started making gears and I was really into the idea of making this crazy clockwork machine that moves marbles around. This is the result:


Link (YouTube)

Normally I’d put music over this to hide the uncanny silence, but I’m SO done with the project at this point.

Let’s talk about the problems…

You can see I stuck to my initial idea at the beginning. There are beveled gears, inset gears, a rack-and pinion setup, and a couple of different tumblers that were driven by gears that were driven by a chain. That part is fine. But then the project started to get away from me. The scene got to be frustratingly complex. The physics simulation slowed down my PC and made testing slow. Work got slower and slower. By the end I’d spent way too much time on it, I was sick of the whole thing, and I was left with a half dozen little annoyances and broken bits that were keeping me from finishing.

By the end I’d moved away from setting up complex gear animations and I was just building simple ramps for marbles, just to get it over with.

Finally I just gave up and rendered what I had.  Towards the end you can see holes and gaps in the scenery, the lighting is flat, and several scene elements are floating in space with no means of support. The pacing is a mess and it all drags on for much too long. If I wasn’t so sick of the project, I’d edit the thing down to thirty seconds of the best bits.

What I’m Happy With

I think it was a good call to build the thing around the idea of colored marbles on flat white scenery. From experience, I knew that trying to texture the world would result in me chasing my tail forever. You can spend a ton of time crafting special shaders and materials, and that’s a road that leads you inexorably towards the thankless time-sink that is photorealism.

Hm. This chrome texture is too simplistic for my gears. They would look better with slightly rusty metal.

(Hours later.)

Okay, the metal texture finally looks good now. That took a lot longer than I expected! And now I think the lighting looks off. It was okay when the walls were white, but now these metal textures need more light, and they need light that comes from specific angles so I can really show off the brushed metal.

(More hours pass.)

Arg. Okay, I think I finally have the light levels balanced. And I’ve created apparent light sources so the light is coming from part of the scene. And I have the black levels balanced to provide good contrast without losing any details in the shadows. But now these ramps need a better material.

(More hours pass.)

Okay, I have different materials on the different parts of the scene, but now I see that the woodgrain texture looks wrong on the ramps. The grain is going in different directions on different faces. I need to unwrap this and manually set the UV values.

(DAYS pass.)

Now the scene is starting to look photorealistic, which means some of these simple objects look goofy and fake. I need to re-make them.

(More days pass.)

Okay. I guess it all looks mostly okay. Although there’s still something off about it. Do I need a gloss map? More subtle specular highlights? Maybe a bump map taken from reference photos?

The flat-white look was a good way to save me from that trap by limiting the number of different concepts I’d need to learn. I could focus on modeling, animating, and physics, while ignoring lighting, shaders, textures, and UV wrapping.

Also, I still like the trick at the end where the balls magically sort themselves. I realize I’ve told this visual joke before, and I’m the millionth person to tell it. But I still enjoy watching the last few fall down, creating order from (seeming) chaos.

I like the marbles. I like the rainbow colors and the way I was able to create all of those different patterns using Blender’s procgen textures. (Okay, this means I dabbled with shaders a bit. But this was kid’s stuff and not the rabbit-hole of photorealism.)

I like that first batch of machines, from the initial tumblers, to the mixer, to the gate that moves back and forth. That’s a fun 45 seconds.

What I’m Not Happy With

Conceptually I divide the set into three sections: The machines at the start, the “basement” area with the conveyor belt, and the final Galton board. I’m really only happy with the start and end. I think the entire basement should have been tossed out, and the other two sections should have been shorter.

The conveyor belt was a complete nightmare. So was the chain turning the gears. There are a ton of tutorials on YouTube showing you how “easy” it is to set up a “working” conveyor belt in “just five minutes”. These tutorials have someone throwing the whole thing together at the world origin. It seems so easy.

But if you want to build away from the origin? Well, there are a lot of wrong ways to do that, and these videos don’t tell you about it. Also, things get a lot more complex if you want the conveyors to use looping animations and you also want physics objects to ride them. That stupid ugly conveyor in the basement? With nothing driving the belt, nothing holding it up, and no coherent lighting? I spent an entire day getting that ghastly thing working.

It’s nobody’s fault, really. The tutorials aren’t bad. It’s just that in a system this complex, there are four mutually exclusive correct ways to do something, and fifty wrong ways to do it. Even if a tutorial shows you the correct thing, it’s not always clear why it’s correct or what other options might break it.

Early on, I decided that I was going to embrace a deliberately low-poly, flat-shaded look. But then I drifted away from that and started using smooth shading, and in the end the flat-shaded stuff just looks ugly and primitive.

In terms of layout, I really did make things hard on myself. I had the action take place in a small room, flowing counter-clockwise along the outer wall. The plan was to have all of the stuff connected so that the gears for one thing were also driving the machinery for the next thing. That’s good as a concept, but I didn’t start with a layout or plan in mind. I just started placing gears and decided to wing it. In the end I had all the drawbacks of having everything packed into a small space, but without the interconnected design that would make it worth the trouble. You could take the existing machinery and have it travel in a straight line along a single wall without losing anything in the process. The result would be about ten times easier to work on, for basically the same gag.

(Yes, I know about collections, and I know you can hide collections of objects. I used that extensively. It helped, but it couldn’t save me from my own lack of planning. I still wound up with the problem where I’d need to hide a bunch of machines just so I could see what I was doing. But then I’d build new stuff that overlapped with the existing machines because they were hidden and I misjudged how much room I had to work with.)

A WEEK. That’s how long I spent on this three and a half minutes of animation. I should have gone smaller and simpler, gotten it done in two days, and moved on.

Ah well. Those first couple of days were fun, and I did manage to learn the stuff I set out to learn.

After this boondoggle I aimed much lower, and just did the famous donut tutorial that Blender newbies are supposed to start with:

NO! Some of the sprinkles intersect and it's driving me crazy!
NO! Some of the sprinkles intersect and it's driving me crazy!

That took about an hour, which is much more in line with the sorts of things I ought to be doing at this point in the learning process.

Prey 2017 Part 10: But What Do They SLEEP?

https://www.shamusyoung.com/twentysidedtale/?p=52829

A few entries ago I made a big deal about how much I love the design of Talos-1 and I’m impressed with the attention to detail that went into building this world and making it feel real. So now it’s time for me to do my predictable face-heel turn and obsess over some nitpicky detail. Specifically, the sleeping arrangements on this space station are ridiculous.

I realize this is one of those details we’re not supposed to notice, but the crew quarters are absurdly, comically undersized. They are so undersized that I find it really distracting. I don’t mean they seem too small in retrospect, I mean they are flagrantly, outrageously undersized in a way that I can’t help but notice while playing the game.

I’m making a big deal about this because the population of Talos-1 is a known thing.

Bring Out Yer Dead! (Bonk!)

You okay buddy?
You okay buddy?

In the days of System Shock and BioShock, the level designer just scattered corpses around and called it a day. But here in Prey, everyone is accounted for. Every corpse is a named character with a defined appearance, an assigned job, and a uniform that matches their duty station. The bodies aren’t scattered around at random like office clutter. These people have stories and you can work out which people got ambushed while sneaking around in the dark and which people died in groups behind makeshift barricades. They’ll even have inventory items that make sense based on their job.[1] If they have a desk job, then somewhere in the world you’ll be able to find their workstation with their email history. If they left any audiologs, then in addition to a dead body they’ll also have a portrait and a voice.

You can walk up to any security computer and see a huge list of the crew. You can then pick someone at random, have the computer locate them for you, and follow the waypoint marker to their swiftly cooling cadaver. (Or in exceptionally rare cases, you might find them alive. We’ll talk about the survivors later in this series.)

On top of all of this, you can learn about all of the countless little interpersonal dramas that were interrupted by the Typhon containment breach. These two people were dating. These five people are playing the D&D-esque Fatal Fortress. This guy was blackmailing this woman over smuggled goods. This guy did a half-assed job of repairing something with improvised parts and then was kinda flippant when his boss called him on it.

A lot of work went into this! According to this achievement guide, there are 250 crew members stationed on Talos-1. Imagine the effort that went into coming up with all of those people and their stories, making sure everyone is accounted for, that all of the bodies look like who they’re supposed to, and that there aren’t any duplicates.

Miniature Worlds of Adventure

We’re used to games that play fast-and-loose with size and distance. You can jog across the entire continent of Skyrim in under 15 minutes. The city of Whiterun is supposedly this ultra-important location, but the total population would fit on a typical city bus without anyone needing to stand. Half the population is comprised of town guards who have no names or families or places to live. Everyone in town lives off of the same three-acre farm, which is within shouting distance of a bandit cave so populous that it rivals the civilian population of Whiterun.

We exaggerate the number of bad guys so we have lots of dudes to fight. We compress wilderness distances so the world feels full and different activities are only thirty seconds apart. We leave lots of open spaces between buildings to make spaces easier to render, even though most cities are pretty dense. We make cities feel big by using construction styles and materials that are typically only used in densely populated areas, regardless of the actual size and density of the place.

When the game designer is done bending space to make their tiny world feel big, they turn around and bend time as well. Games with a visible day / night cycle often run at some absurdly accelerated speed, so that a minute of playing is worth an hour or two of in-game daylight.

It’s fine. We’re used to this sort of thing and we recognize it as a compromise in the name of fun. Game designers aren’t lazy or stupid. They know how big stuff ought to be, but they also know that holding down the W key for an hour is a dull and cramp-inducing way to spend your time.

This is common in videogames and the only reason I’m making a big deal about it is because Prey is otherwise meticulously constructed. A lot of thought went into the history, construction, layout, and usage of Talos-1. Most games don’t bother to realize their worlds with so much attention to detail. This extra care and attention spoils me, so that when Prey falls back into standard videogame level design it can feel sort of childish.

So let’s talk about the sleeping arrangements on Talos-1.

Bunkspace

This is part of Alex's apartment. On top of this, he has an 'office', which is basically a house at the top of the arboretum. Morgan has similar space, PLUS the whole simulation wing was dedicated to housing her for the past N months. These two take up a lot of space!
This is part of Alex's apartment. On top of this, he has an 'office', which is basically a house at the top of the arboretum. Morgan has similar space, PLUS the whole simulation wing was dedicated to housing her for the past N months. These two take up a lot of space!

Like I said above, there are 250 regular crew members stationed on Talos-1. In addition, there are 18 “volunteer” prisoners doomed to die like lab rats, plus the Yu siblings.

Alex and Morgan Yu, being the highest-ranking people on board, have their own living spaces, which feel like luxury apartments. You could argue that’s a pretty decadent waste of space in these circumstances, but whatever. This place is run by a private corporation. What did you expect?

There are ten beds in the volunteer quarters. I guess this means that the 18 prisoners need to engage in hot bunking to make sure everyone has a place to sleep. That makes sense. These people don’t live here for very long and I doubt their comfort is high on anyone’s list of priorities. My one quibble with how the volunteer spaces are set up is that they live in the Neuromod Division but they’re ultimately sent to Psychotronics to “take part in the experiments”. (Die.)

This is where the 20 or so 'volunteers' sleep. As you'll see, these disposable slaves get better sleeping arrangements than nearly everyone else.
This is where the 20 or so 'volunteers' sleep. As you'll see, these disposable slaves get better sleeping arrangements than nearly everyone else.

The thing is, there’s no direct route from the Neuromod Division to Psychotronics. The only way to travel between these two places is to pass through the open common area of the lobby. The prisoners, the Typhon, and the experiments involving the two are all highly classified. Some prisoners go to Psychotronics and die right away, while others bounce back and forth between their living spaces and the test chambers many times. I just don’t see how all of that traffic could remain a secret, particularly when the prisoners would need to be guarded and restrained.

The Neuromod Division is physically above Psychotronics, and so it seems like there ought to be a special security elevator between the two. I wouldn’t mind if it was broken and unusable during the course of the game, I just wish the level designer had created an apparent way to move the prisoners around that didn’t involve parading them through the lobby.

In any case, we’ve worked out the sleeping arrangements for the executives and prisoners. Now we just need to figure out where the 250 regular crew members sleep.

The crew section has 12 beds like this one for the 250 station inhabitants to use. If they all shared, then everyone gets a bed for about an hour a day.
The crew section has 12 beds like this one for the 250 station inhabitants to use. If they all shared, then everyone gets a bed for about an hour a day.

Here in the Crew quarters we have dedicated rooms for twelve people. These fancy rooms are spacious single-occupancy deals, and feel a bit like hotel rooms in terms of space and furnishings. These rooms are personalized and clearly belong to specific individuals. We can’t entertain any notions of hot-bunking here.

At the end of the corridor is the “Habitation Pods”, which is an open room with an additional 14 beds.

That’s it. That’s all of the beds on the station, leaving us short 224 beds. The level designer gives themselves a tiny fig leaf justification in the form of a sealed door in the Hab Pods room. The area on the other side has decompressed, but there’s a sign indicating that the door should lead to more hab pods.

If you’re looking to be exceedingly generous, then I guess you could assume that the hab pods room is the first in a long chain that would account for the remaining 224 beds. And if that’s what you want to do, then go ahead and skip the rest of this. I appreciate your willingness to go easy on the level designer, but I can’t do the same.

This pressure door supposedly leads to the missing 224 beds, but I'm not buying it.
This pressure door supposedly leads to the missing 224 beds, but I'm not buying it.

My problem is that it strains credulity to imagine there are 224 beds on the other side of this pressure door. If we assume this first room is representative of the others, then that means we need a whopping sixteen more rooms like this one. That would make for a very long chain of rooms. That chain would certainly protrude from the side of Talos-1. In fact, it would more than double the total footprint of the crew quarters.

More importantly, there is a map of the Crew Quarters in the common area, and that map very clearly shows that there aren’t any rooms beyond the hab pods, not even beyond the pressure door. Also, the shape of the Crew Quarters forms this nice compact layout that fits within the volume of Talos-1 as seen from the outside. That falls apart if we try to glue sixteen more large rooms onto the given floor plan.

Here is the in-world map of the crew section. I've placed a red X where that sealed pressure door is. You can see there was never anything on the other side of that door, much less space for 224 beds.
Here is the in-world map of the crew section. I've placed a red X where that sealed pressure door is. You can see there was never anything on the other side of that door, much less space for 224 beds.

Also, this would make for a horrible layout. If there are sixteen more rooms beyond this door, then that suggests a chain of 17 hab pod rooms in total. The last thing you’d want is to stick them in a long chain like the level designer has suggested with this locked pressure door. The one hab pod room we see would be overwhelmed with foot traffic, since all sixteen of the other rooms would need to pass through here. Also, that would be quite a hike for people on the far end.

Now, arrangements like this do exist in extreme places. In particular, submarines are notorious for having shitty sleeping arrangements. But Talos-1 feels more like a cruise ship, and it doesn’t make any sense to create this long linear chain of rooms (that is never hinted at on any map) and introduce all of these problems with noise, privacy, and travel times. Particularly when there doesn’t seem to be any reason for doing so.

But What Do Yu EAT?

Everyone just leaves all these dead bodies and bits of Typhon gore for the kitchen staff to clean up. Not to mention setting all these tables. Nobody ever thinks of the kitchen staff.
Everyone just leaves all these dead bodies and bits of Typhon gore for the kitchen staff to clean up. Not to mention setting all these tables. Nobody ever thinks of the kitchen staff.

While we’re being unfair and nitpicking trivial things, let’s take a look at the cafeteria and see how Talos-1 does in terms of eating arrangements.

The place is in quite a bit of disarray, but it’s not hard to get a feel for how this place was originally laid out. It’s clear that while many tables have been flipped, turned into barricades, or otherwise moved from their original positions, we can tell that none of them have been destroyed. There are enough tables to reasonably fill the space, and I don’t think we need to entertain the notion of vaporized tables to figure out where everyone ate.

The cafeteria has seven round tables, which – going by the place settings – hold 4 people apiece. In addition there are twenty-one rectangular tables, which hold 6 place settings.

(21*6) + (7 *4) = 154 seats.

That’s just about perfect. The place can hold about two-thirds of the crew at any given time. Most cafeteria settings don’t want to attempt to feed everyone at once because you run into throughput problems in the kitchen. But this dining room is just right if we assume the cafeteria is open for about 90 minutes per meal. That’s enough time for everyone to rotate through, without the kitchen needing to feed everyone at the exact same moment.

Likewise, the Yellow Tulip bar can hold about two dozen people. The theater can hold 36. The television area, card tables, ping-pong, and pinball machines in the rec center can probably occupy another dozen or so people. The upstairs area can hold another dozen people reading, playing chess, or following other quiet pursuits.[2] The fitness center has enough equipment for a dozen people, and the adjacent pool can comfortably hold that many again before things start to feel a little crowded. Again, all of this feels just about right for a crew of 250.

Two dozen seems to be the magic number here. That’s about 10% of the population, and that’s about how many people these various facilities can hold. I’ve never run a hotel, convention center, or cruise ship, so I don’t know if these percentages make sense. Even if you want to argue that they’re too small, they’re at least properly sized relative to each other, so everything feels right on an intuitive level when you’re exploring.

But while it makes sense that we only have enough treadmills and pinball machines to serve 10% of the population at any given moment, that number is too low when it comes to beds. Like, everyone should have a bed.

I’m not sure what happened here. Everything else about Talos-1 is so carefully thought out. How did the designer manage to get all of these other details right and then leave out 90% of the beds?

Fixing This

Here are the hab pods. If we could expand this, maybe we could hide the bed shortage from the player?
Here are the hab pods. If we could expand this, maybe we could hide the bed shortage from the player?

To be clear, I don’t think we literally need 250 beds to fix this. Without looking at the wiki, the player doesn’t know the exact number of people on the station. And there’s no way to know the exact number of available beds short of walking around and counting them.

The problem is that the number of people and the number of beds are very obviously out of whack. Without needing to count, the player can tell there are “a lot” of people and only “a few” beds. To fix this, we just need to create the impression that there are “a lot” of beds, even if they’re still mismatched according to strict arithmetic.

What I’d suggest is taking the existing hab pods room and making it as big as the current floorplan will allow. It’s surrounded by a good bit of void space so we have plenty of available cubic volume to make this room larger. Get rid of the pointless open area in the middle of the room and fill that space with beds. Turn the lights off so the player can’t see the whole place at once, and can only view the beds through their flashlight beam. If polygon counts are a problem, you could cut the room in half with a baffle wall.

If you did all of this, I think you could turn this room of 14 beds into something between 30 and 40. The player could then run through this maze of bed racks. In the confusing darkness, this would leave the impression that there are “a whole lot” of beds here, and the only people to notice the remaining bed shortage would be lunatics like me who go to the trouble of counting.

Theme Proposal

https://www.shamusyoung.com/twentysidedtale/?p=52818

Last week I mentioned that I was planning on updating the site theme. Specifically I said, “I’d like the images to break out of the column and reach across the page.” Like all theme changes, the only feedback I got was negative. Nobody is ever excited about anything new, but lots of people are apprehensive. However, in this case I’m not sure I explained it properly. So let’s have a little conversation about maintainability, readability, and my ability.

If you read this site on mobile, then it ought to look something like this:

(In case it isn’t obvious, the blue here is supposed to represent an image.)

The site is set to use all of the available width. You can’t see the background.

If you’re on a typical desktop and you browse using the default full-screen window, then you’ll get the regular, non-mobile theme:

The red on either side represents the background image.

For those of you who aren’t into this stuff: My site doesn’t send you different themes based on your setup. The site delivers a single identical CSS file[1] to everyone, and your device works out which parts of the file it should use and which parts it should ignore. Specifically, the first 1,126 lines of the file are dedicated to describing the standard desktop layout. Then the last little section of the file says, “Hang on, ignore some of what I told you earlier and replace it with this other layout.”

The trick is that the last section is set to only trigger if your device is behaving in a mobile-ish way. It does this by putting those formatting changes inside of this selector:

@media screen and (max-width : 1280px) {
    //Stuff goes here.
}

Now, this is a little weird to me. Apparently, mobile devices lie to their browsers about how many pixels they have. My phone and my monitor both display 1080p images, but my phone shows the mobile version of the site and my desktop shows the regular version.

This makes some kind of sense. The two devices have the same number of pixels but if my tiny phone displayed the site using the same font and image sizes that my desktop does, then the text would be too tiny to read. Devices with tiny screens apparently tell the web browser they’re small, which creates a situation where the fonts will take up an enormous amount of space. The mobile then uses its pixels to make the letters extra-sharp, rather than using them to cram more text onto the screen.

It seems like what we really need is a way to figure out how many centimeters of screen space we have to work with, but as far as I know physical screen size isn’t available to web browsers.

The code above means you can see the mobile version of the site on your desktop. Just drag the window to make it narrower, and as soon as it goes below 1280 pixels wide it’ll instantly switch to the mobile version.

This stuff can get pretty deep and I am by no means an expert. I’m not even sure if my site is behaving correctly according to the web standards of 2021. Like I said, this theme was developed in 2017, based on things I learned in 2011, from on specs probably written in 2004. But what we have now seems to work well enough that I don’t get any complaints about it.

The Problem we’re Trying to Solve

Desktop screens are pretty dang big these days. They’re big in terms of pixels, but they’re also big in terms of physical size and how much of your field of view they take up. The problem is that you can’t use all of that space. If I made the content full-screen width, then it would be incredibly hard to read on a large-ish screen like the 27 incher in front of me, or the 32 inch monster I was using before that. Your eyes would get to the end of a line, and then you’d have to track ALLLLL the way over to the left and try to find the start of the next line. Some people apparently don’t have any problem doing this, but I think for most people column width is a pretty important usability concern.

(The other problem with naively embracing the full screen width is that it creates layout concerns that make it hard to future-proof the site. The setup I have now guarantees that I only have 2 layouts to worry about, and I don’t need to worry about an entire gradient of possible column widths.)

So anyway. Back to the site changes. When I said that the images would “break out of the column”, I think some people assumed that I was talking about some dreadful animated pop-out / rollover effect. But no. All I’m talking about is this:

The images just reach into the dead space that’s otherwise occupied by the background image. This reclaims some of that space. We can’t make the text full-screen width, but there’s no reason images can’t make use of that space. Although, images would also need to be taller to preserve their aspect ratio. So you’d have to do a little more scrolling. That’s a pain in the ass on mobile, but we’re only talking about the desktop layout here. Mobiles ought to be unaffected.

This is a pretty common design. Kotaku uses it for their feature articles, but not their smaller news articles.

Rock, Paper, Shotgun does it a little bit, with the images sticking out from the column but not reaching across the screen. Then again, RPS uses a weirdly left-justified design that leaves the right side of my screen empty unless they fill that space with a mosaic of advertisements. The point being: Maybe I shouldn’t be looking to RPS for guidance on site design.

I don’t know. On one hand, giving some of the background space to article images seems like a good way to improve the ol’ signal-to-noise ratio. On the other hand, making changes to the site theme is a nightmare that generates complaints and probably does very little to attract and retain readers. On the other OTHER hand, things are often worth doing, even if they don’t drive traffic or bring in money directly. Four years is a long time to go without updates and maybe we’re due.

Discuss.

Diecast #354: Blender Sandwich

https://www.shamusyoung.com/twentysidedtale/?p=52807

I like how LABOR DAY is the one day we’ve all agreed to skip work. It makes a nice companion to Thanksgiving, where – thanks to the shopping nightmare – is a day defined mostly by avarice and gluttony. Maybe we should add a few more inverted holidays. On President’s Day, nobody is allowed to be the president. Of anything. I’ll leave the rest of you to figure out how we should un-observe the other holidays.


Hosts: Paul, Shamus. Episode edited by Issac.

Diecast354
Show notes:

00:00 Blender Adventures

The device I was talking about in this segment is properly called a Galton Board or a Bean Machine, but I couldn’t remember that so I was calling it a “Pachinko Machine”, which is similar, but not quite the same thing. If you’re curious, this is the Captain D video about the magical sorting Galton Board I was talking about.

Anyway, below are my first few renders. You can see they’re low quality because I didn’t think it was worth the time to render such crude first efforts in glorious HD. Also, I had the friction set too low[1] in the last one, so the balls slide to the bottom rather than rolling. Again, not worth the time it would take to re-render.


Link (YouTube)

Here is ten minutes of me using Blender:

WHY? WHY DOES THIS OBJECT KEEP MOVING OVER HERE? THAT’S CRAZY!

Oh. I get it. That’s amazing it can do that.

BUT NOW THIS OTHER THING VANISHED?!? WHERE IS THAT THING?

Erm. I guess I pressed I button to hide it somehow? Nice tool. I’ll have to remember that for when I WANT to hide something.

WHY DO THESE PHYSICS OBJECTS KEEP LAUNCHING THEMSELVES INTO SPACE FOR NO REASON????? ARG. I FOLLOWED THE TUTORIAL EXACTLY AND THE WHOLE THING FLIES APART AS SOON AS I START THE SIMULATION.

I don’t know why that’s happening. But I guess I found a workaround.

Imagine four days of THAT rollercoaster. I’m cycling between impressed, outraged, and baffled. Blender might be the greatest open-source tool ever written. It might also cause me to have a stroke.

15:22 Watch from Aliens


Link (YouTube)

Double the watch for twice the time.

22:20 TI-99-4/A and the TI-89

I make fun of marketing people on this site a lot, but credit where it’s due: Without a marketing team, you end up with consumer product names that look like part numbers.

29:51 Before We Leave-Finally

Hexagons are the Bestagons.

42:27 DaVinci Resolve 1% Compression Ratio

This is the digital equivalent of when you order a product from Amazon and it’s a thing you want inside a Styrofoam container inside a glossy box inside shrink wrap inside a bunch of wadded-up filler inside a cardboard box. Environmental concerns aside, this is a waste of my time.

50:41 Mailbag: Games the Push you to Other Games

Dear Diecast,

I was doing a Dark Souls 2 all achievements run, but I’ve decided to pause it to play some Dragon’s Dogma. For whatever reason playing Dark Souls always makes me want to play DD, which is quite odd since no other action game does that.

Do you guys have a game or series like that? Which when you play it makes you want to play a specific other game?

Vale,

-Tim

Prey 2017 Part 9: Kill the Cook

https://www.shamusyoung.com/twentysidedtale/?p=52788

At this point we run into a couple of new monster types. Actually, you may have run into these earlier, depending on how far you strayed off the obvious path provided by the main quest. But here is where you unavoidably encounter them, so let’s talk about them now…

Telepath

I know it's hard to get a sense of scale from here, but the telepath is bigger than a fridge, smaller than a car.
I know it's hard to get a sense of scale from here, but the telepath is bigger than a fridge, smaller than a car.

This enemy is a big black blob that hovers overhead and mind-controls groups of humans. The dialog hints that this experience is agonizing and terrifying for the victims. If the telepath senses you, it will send these human puppets after you. The human victims will shuffle towards you, flailing their limbs like marionettes in the hands of a novice. If they get too close, their heads explode, dealing huge damage.

I’m not totally sure what causes the head explosion. I mean, it’s obvious the Telepath monster triggers it, but I don’t think that human brain matter is particularly combustible. The game hints that this explosion is extremely violent. The head basically vaporizes and turns the skull fragments into shrapnel. This doesn’t seem like a natural extension of the telepath’s ability to manipulate minds.

Later the cook (we’ll talk about him in the moment) refers to the puppets as having “black eggs behind their eyes”. Maybe he’s talking about neuromods? Typhon flesh is indeed an oily black color and you obtain neuromods by injecting these huge needles through your eye, presumably depositing the mod behind the eyeballs. So perhaps the telepath isn’t exploding your fleshy human think-meat. Maybe it’s causing the clusters of Typhon cells to explode.

If this is the case, then someone without neuromods would be immune. The telepath wouldn’t have any way to weaponize them, and maybe it wouldn’t even be able to control them in the first place. Maybe those neuromods are creating the vulnerability that gives the telepath a way to hijack your brain?

Man, this setting is filled with such interesting ideas. I have a hard time condemning Alex Yu for studying the Typhon, because *I* want to study the dang things.

Here is the one telepath survivor you meet. She begins talking to you from a pitch-dark corner of the room. (The only reason you can see her is that I'm shining the flashlight on her.) Also, she's facing the wall? She begins talking the moment you enter instead of waiting for you to approach. So you end up with this seemingly disembodied voice talking to you from nowhere without warning. It's uh... it's not a great interaction.
Here is the one telepath survivor you meet. She begins talking to you from a pitch-dark corner of the room. (The only reason you can see her is that I'm shining the flashlight on her.) Also, she's facing the wall? She begins talking the moment you enter instead of waiting for you to approach. So you end up with this seemingly disembodied voice talking to you from nowhere without warning. It's uh... it's not a great interaction.

I didn’t realize it on my first trip through the game, but you can save the people being controlled by a telepath. If you knock them out, they’ll go limp. I just assumed these people would just remain unconscious for the rest of the game and were doomed to die when/if you chose to blow up the station at the end. But no! When you come back later, their bodies will be gone. The game isn’t totally forthcoming on where they’re hiding out, but the game seems to suggest that they’re somewhere arbitrarily safe where you don’t need to worry about them and where you can’t talk to them because voice actors are expensive.

You’ll never see these people again,[1] but if you take the ending path that allows people to escape Talos-1, these former puppets will be counted among the survivors.

Poltergeist

My Typhon screenshots have been crap so far, so I'm not even going to TRY and show you a screenshot of an invisible monster in a dark room. Instead, here's a random picture of Alex.
My Typhon screenshots have been crap so far, so I'm not even going to TRY and show you a screenshot of an invisible monster in a dark room. Instead, here's a random picture of Alex.

This is very obviously an attempt to make something spooky. And I guess it worked.

The poltergeist is invisible and attacks by flinging objects around the room. The sound design borrows heavily from common horror movie tropes. Lots of howling, dissonant echoes. It also “speaks” by using weird distorted snippets of chatter from the victims it’s absorbed.

One cool detail is that it’s territorial. Unlike the other foes, it won’t chase you. It’s usually content to patrol one or two rooms and it only bothers you if it catches you trespassing. This encourages either stealth[2] or just running through to get the item you need. Running and hiding is more scare-inducing than combat, which helps keep Poltergeist encounters spooky.

My first few Poltergeist encounters were brilliant. But once I was familiar with their tricks, they stopped being so scary. They’re not physically tough, but they’re annoying to fight because you can’t see them. Once you’re used to their jumpscare noises, they’re more irritating than frightening.

Still, those first few encounters are really something. Particularly if you have no idea what you’re dealing with ahead of time.

And speaking of monsters, there’s a different sort of monster here in the crew quarters…

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?

This guy is the creepiest thing in the dining area, even when there's a mind-controlling tentacle monster flying around.
This guy is the creepiest thing in the dining area, even when there's a mind-controlling tentacle monster flying around.

A Telepath is terrorizing the dining hall. Once you deal with it, the cook calls you over. He’s locked himself in the kitchen, but he’s willing to let you in if you do him a favor. He wants you to go to his room and retrieve some culinary award from his personal belongings. It feels very much like a classic fantasy-style RPG quest, which is a little odd in this context.

Once you fetch his shiny thing, he lets you into the kitchen. Next he asks you to fix some equipment so he’ll have access to fresh drinking water. He plans to hide here in the kitchen until this disaster blows over, so he’s looking to make sure he’s got enough food and water to get through. There’s no way to tell him that his plan is a waste of time because you plan to blow the place up.

He says that if you fix the water, he’ll let you into the freezer. He says he’s stashed some of the Telepath’s victims in there,  and they might have some good stuff for you to loot.

Once you fix the water, he unlocks the freezer. You go inside, he locks the door behind you, gas pours in, and you die.[3]

There’s a lot odd about this setup.

Killer Cook

That thing on the green plate in the foreground? You see these things all over the station. To me it looks like those incense censers that they use in Catholic churches. I'm sure it isn't, but I can't imagine what it's SUPPOSED to be. Liquor bottle maybe?
That thing on the green plate in the foreground? You see these things all over the station. To me it looks like those incense censers that they use in Catholic churches. I'm sure it isn't, but I can't imagine what it's SUPPOSED to be. Liquor bottle maybe?

It turns out that this cook is one of the test subject prisoners. He escaped, murdered the cook Will Mitchell, and then impersonated him. His real name is Luka Golubkin.

The game is sporting enough to give you several clues that he’s a fake:

  1. His name is supposedly the very anglo-sounding “Will Mitchell”, but he’s got a thick slavic accent. We already know that a lot of the human test subjects (the “volunteers”) were from the Soviet Union, so his accent in this context ought to be a bit of a red flag.
  2. If you go to Mitchel’s room, you can see a picture of the real cook. Luka Golubkin looks nothing like Will Mitchell.
  3. In Will’s room you can find a recording of his voice, which is much younger-sounding and doesn’t have an accent.[4]
  4. Luka is wearing a red TranStar pressure suit, which doesn’t make sense for a cook. Given the generous size of the suit, Luka probably stole it from Morgan’s brother Alex.
  5. Luka is initially confused by Morgan’s nametag. He doesn’t recognize this incredibly famous company executive, when Morgan ought to be very familiar to him. Morgan and Will have both been on the station for years, and I have to assume she’s been eating food. There’s no way she would be a stranger to the real Will Mitchell. I can understand why Morgan doesn’t remember the cook, but the cook should at least know her name.
  6. If the player was reading the experiment data Psychotronics, then they probably read about test subject 37, a mentally disturbed individual that a Telepath monster refused to possess. Now they find the cook has been close to a Telepath for hours without being possessed. That’s not enough info to immediately prove that the cook is really subject 37, but it is something to make the player curious if they’ve been paying attention. (Although, that makes me wonder why the Telepaths don’t possess Morgan. I assumed her spacesuit protected her somehow, and Luka is wearing the same kind of suit. So I dunno if this counts as a clue or not.) EDIT: As many people pointed out in the comments, it doesn’t possess Morgan because you have the psychoscope. I KNEW this, at one point, but then I blanked out like a dimwit when I started thinking about this scene.
  7. If the previous items make you suspicious you can go to a security station and have it locate Will Mitchell. The resulting map marker will appear in the freezer and not on the guy claiming to be Mitchell. It’s unlikely a player will try this, but if they do that should be a total giveaway that this guy is both lying and dangerous.

Despite these clues, I managed to blunder into his trap like an idiot anyway. In my defense, there’s a lot going on in the crew quarters section. I was learning a lot of names and following a lot of different plot threads. I’m not great with faces and names to begin with, and the constant stream of audiologs from dozens of people was overwhelming my ability to keep track of everyone. By the time I got around to cleaning out the crew cabins, I’d forgotten the details of who the cook was claiming to be and why I needed this cooking award.

I did notice the red pressure suit and I thought that was kind of odd, but I cynically blamed that on the designers re-using existing character models. “Oh look, they reused Alex’s body and they thought I wouldn’t notice.” I also thought it was weird that the cook wouldn’t know Morgan’s name, but I didn’t immediately jump to the conclusion, “Ah-ha! Imposter!” I just thought it was, you know… a little odd.

Yu Got Me

Hold still. You might feel a little tingle, followed by the sound of me laughing and leaving you behind as mimic food.
Hold still. You might feel a little tingle, followed by the sound of me laughing and leaving you behind as mimic food.

I love the idea of a “gotcha” moment like this, because it was properly telegraphed. During my first-time playthrough I got distracted and blindly followed the in-game waypoint marker, which means I blundered into this trap unaware. That’s cool! I deserved it. Falling for cutscene incompetence is outrage-inducing, but falling due to actual incompetence is actually kinda fun, if handled right. Conversely, if you see it coming and avoid it, then you can feel clever.

Sadly, there are a few oddities with this ambush that kinda took the fun out of it for me.

One is that it feels like this shouldn’t work. When Luka springs his trap, white mist comes down from the ceiling and Morgan collapses. I can’t tell if this is flooding the room with gas, or if it’s flash-freezing me. In either case, what kind of walk-in freezer has a button that allows you to suffocate / insta-freeze someone? It’s not like you can “hack” a freezer to be able to do this. Someone would need to specifically engineer this capability into the freezer. That would be impractical, expensive, and serve no purpose other than to create needless danger for kitchen staff.

Moreover, I’m wearing a spacesuit. It’s specifically designed to provide me with breathable air and keep me warm in the frigid 2.7 Kelvin of space. You can’t get much colder than that, so I don’t see how a walk-in freezer could pose an immediate threat to me. I guess maybe the game is saying that this hits me when I have the helmet open? But then, it takes several seconds for Morgan to fall over, and that seems like plenty of time to get the helmet closed. Also, you get this overlay of triangles on the HUD, which the game normally uses to indicate that your helmet is closed. But if my helmet is closed then how is this a threat to me? I should be able to hang around in here for hours.[5]

Not sure why I knocked him out. If you blow up the station, then leaving him unconscious like this is the same as killing him. Except this way he might get turned into mimics or phantoms that I'll have to deal with. (Not really, but it's what Morgan ought to assume.) He's dead either way, so it makes more sense to just kill him now.
Not sure why I knocked him out. If you blow up the station, then leaving him unconscious like this is the same as killing him. Except this way he might get turned into mimics or phantoms that I'll have to deal with. (Not really, but it's what Morgan ought to assume.) He's dead either way, so it makes more sense to just kill him now.

But the worst thing for me is that this feels like a game over, when it isn’t. There’s a flash of pure red and a musical sting before the fade to white, which really felt like an insta-death damage spike. I associated that musical sting with death, so when I blundered into this trap I just assumed I’d died. So I opened the menu and loaded a save, not realizing that Morgan was knocked out and that I’d be able to wake up and continue playing in a few more seconds.

I’ve been through the game six times now, and I didn’t realize you could survive this ambush until I decided to read about this scenario on the wiki.

Also, what could a freezer POSSIBLY do to someone in a space suit that would knock them out and somehow NOT kill them? If it somehow overwhelmed me with such intense cold that I passed out, then I’m going to freeze to death before I wake up.

This is a great moment, but it’s somewhat ruined by the confusing presentation. It doesn’t make sense that he should be able to knock you out, and when he does it feels like a game over anyway.

Solving the Crime

I couldn't understand a word that was said by Skillet, the kitchen operator robot. The voice distortion was just too strong. Is it just me and my old ears, or is this thing just unintelligible?
I couldn't understand a word that was said by Skillet, the kitchen operator robot. The voice distortion was just too strong. Is it just me and my old ears, or is this thing just unintelligible?

The other problem with this scenario is that it breaks the unspoken rule of a silent protagonist: It’s fine that I can’t talk, as long as you never put me in a position where I NEED to.

It’s possible for an attentive player to realize the cook is sketchy. However, I don’t think they have enough information to justify pulling out a weapon and taking physical action against him. In this situation, the most reasonable course of action would be to draw a weapon and demand to know who he is and why he’s pretending to be Will Mitchell. The game has placed our silent protagonist in a situation where they need to be able to speak, and that’s a no-no.

It would be fine if Morgan was a literal mute or a robot without the ability to speak, but Morgan is presumably a functioning adult that knows how to communicate with other people using mouth noise.

I’m not even sure you could solve this with a dialog wheel. The whole point is to have players fall for this trap, and having pre-baked dialog options would ruin this. If the player sees “I know you’re not the real Chef Mitchell!” in their dialog options, then they’ll realize the truth even if they missed the clues. There’s no way to allow the player to respond in dialog without also ruining the secret for the unaware.

Also, I’d really like to know why Luka Golubkin asks Morgan to go to Will Mitchell’s room and fetch his gold medal. Why would Luka want a sentimental item like this? More importantly, this is what ultimately incriminates him. The cook’s quarters are where you discover[6] that Luka’s face and voice don’t match with who he claims to be. Luka basically incriminates himself by asking you to get an item that is of no practical use to him.

One final oddity with this setup is that Luka offers you the opportunity to loot the people in the freezer. That’s a creepy thing to bargain with. “Hey, I’ve got a bunch of your dead colleagues in my freezer. If you help me out I’ll let you through their pockets!”

Now, as it turns out you really do need something from one of the bodies. But it feels like Luka immediately senses that you’re the player character and thus he knows you’re going to be obsessively looting containers and bodies like a crazy person. I mean, he’s right, but this is usually the sort of thing that NPCs aren’t supposed to notice.

Danielle Sho

Nice job sealing our valuable data archives in with a bunch of Typhon and then locking the door so nobody else could rescue the data YOU'RE supposed to protect. I see you've decided to pointlessly suffocate yourself as penance? So, I guess that saves me from having to kill you myself for the crime of being an obstructionist NPC. Thanks for that, I guess?
Nice job sealing our valuable data archives in with a bunch of Typhon and then locking the door so nobody else could rescue the data YOU'RE supposed to protect. I see you've decided to pointlessly suffocate yourself as penance? So, I guess that saves me from having to kill you myself for the crime of being an obstructionist NPC. Thanks for that, I guess?

Incidentally, the whole reason we need to have to have this crazy misadventure here in the Crew Quarters is that the door to Deep Storage is locked, and that’s our real goal. For some reason, Danielle Sho locked the door to Deep Storage using her voice, meaning she’s the only person on the station that can get in. That’s an outrageous and absurd thing for her to have done. It actually reminds me of the Simpsons gag where Homer exits the power plant during a fire drill and pointlessly barricades the door behind him. Moreover, it’s not even clear why she did it. [7]

The place was already infested with Typhon, so it’s not like she did this in an attempt to keep them out. Moreover, part of her job was the safekeeping of all the drives in Deep Storage. By locking the doors, she not only locked herself out of her own office, but also ensured that nobody would be able to rescue any of the data that had been entrusted to her. If your job is to protect paintings in an art gallery, then the last thing you should do is lock the doors when a fire breaks out. Maybe the paintings can be saved and maybe they can’t, but there’s no reason to guarantee they’ll burn with the building!

It’s possible that this is deliberate on the part of the writer. The confusing thing about Ms. Sho is that she has sympathetic line delivery and a little side-story that humanizes her, but if you judge her solely on her actions in the game then you can actually make a pretty good case that she’s a petty, small-minded dimwit.

I bring this up because you actually get the chance to talk to her. She’s stuck outside the station, but you converse through the window[8] and she gives you the last of the audio samples you need to open the door to Deep Storage.

My problem is that once again, we find ourselves in a situation where my silent protagonist needs to talk. Danielle does all the talking, but I have a dozen questions for her that I’m unable to ask. Why did you lock the door to Deep Storage? Why did you lock it with YOUR voice? Why are you deliberately suffocating outside the ship when you could easily come back inside and be as safe as any of the other dozen or so survivors? My suit seems to have an unlimited ability to recycle oxygen – why doesn’t yours? Why were you hanging out so close to the telepath that was controlling the pool? How did you avoid being mind-controlled? You asked me to kill the cook to avenge his murdering your estranged girlfriend, but why don’t YOU do it? If you’ve already resigned yourself to die, then why not try to make it worth something? Why did you seal yourself in Deep Storage and then escape using the data vault, when you could have just walked downstairs and gone through the door that was keyed to your voice?[9] Also, you seem to be trapped between the outer hull and the inner hull – how did you get there and why?

I like silent protagonists, but only if the writer makes sure that their silence is never a hindrance to the player. Otherwise it turns into I Have No Mouth and I Must Nitpick.

Anyway.

We finally have samples of Sho’s voice, so now we can get around her inexplicable sabotage of the door to Deep Storage. But I have one last thing to nitpick before we leave the crew quarters behind. I’ll talk about that next time.

Sixteen Years of Twenty Sided

https://www.shamusyoung.com/twentysidedtale/?p=52770

This site went live in September of 2005, and has remained running for the last 16 years. If this blog were a person, it would now be old enough to get a job and apply for a driver’s license in these parts. It also would never get invited to parties with any of the cool kids at school because it just won’t shut up about Mars Effect or whatever that stupid videogame is called.

So let’s celebrate with a bunch of trivia.


There are 487,980 comments on the entire site. I’ve written 7,229 of them. Which means that about 1 in 67 comments are from me.[1]

The longest site outage was during these six days in January of 2018. The longest-lasting site theme is the one you’re looking at now, which has been largely unchanged since early 2017. Back when the site was young, I used to get tired of the current theme and rebuild it every other year. But while the change of scenery was nice for me, it was disruptive for regular visitors. Also, there’s always a shake-out period for new themes where I have to chase down aberrant behaviors with popular but troublesome browsers and devise workarounds to correct for their idiosyncrasies.

Is this still a problem today? I kinda doubt it. I mean…

Microsoft wants to pretend they’re still in the running, but the truth is that the browser wars ended years ago, and they… didn’t win. Microsoft Edge is like those stories you hear about a lone soldier that goes into the jungle and lives there for decades because nobody ever tells him the war is over and it’s time to come home.

Having said that, we do need to take the above chart with a grain of salt. These are global stats, not stats for my site. The audience here is a little more tech-savvy than the general population. If we could view the stats for my site in isolation, then I expect that Firefox would be quite a bit higher and Safari would be much lower. (Not because Safari users aren’t tech-savvy. It’s just that Mac gamers aren’t that common, and this site skews towards Windows PC-focused games.)

Why don’t I have stats for my site? I use Cloudflare for DDOS protection. So my site traffic is hidden within their content delivery network, and I’m too cheap to pay for the premium package that would let me see the stats.

Anyway, I’m actually getting the itch to fiddle with the site theme again. I’d like the images to break out of the column and reach across the page. Right now images are capped at 1024 pixels wide, which feels kinda 2009 at this point. I’ve actually been uploading larger images for the last few months, knowing that someday I’ll make this change and we’ll all be able to see the larger images.

So let’s look at how many posts I publish a year:

These are just mine, ignoring guest contributors. We’re two-thirds of the way through 2021, so that last column should grow a bit by the end of the year. Still, this is quite a surprise to me.

I knew I’d missed a few posts this year, mostly due to health concerns. But I didn’t realize quite how many until I compiled these charts. The Diecast is probably the biggest casualty. I can work around bad health by getting stuff done on the good days. But the Diecast requires me to be to be healthy and awake at a specific time in the week.

I have surgery in 14 days. I know it sounds weird, but I’m actually really looking forward to it. If all goes well, I should get a nice boost to my quality of life. I’ll get better sleep and be in less pain, which ought to translate into a more reliable output.

Getting old is terrible. The only good thing I can say about it is that it’s better than the alternative.

Mentally, I divide the site into three eras:

  1. The Early Days. (2005-2010) The proofing is pretty bad, and the content is pretty scattershot. In the first couple of years I often treated the site as a way to communicate with my friends. Also, I hadn’t authored any of my formatting tools yet, and I was using a cheapo webhost with some low data caps. So these posts are filled with postage-stamp images and random formatting oddities.
  2. The Spoiler Warning Era (2010-2017) By this point I’d gotten better at proofing and I’d standardized my formatting so I could change the site theme without breaking old posts. I was posting three videos a week with Spoiler Warning and (starting in 2013) posting a weekly podcast. This lead to a large number of  short posts. You can see the transition away from this in 2017, when the number of posts fell sharply. (See the red chart above.)
  3. The Retrospective Era (2017-Today) I stopped messing with the site theme. Since I wasn’t working with the SW crew anymore, I decided to really focus on long-form retrospectives. They perform well, I enjoy writing them, and they are ideally suited to the format of a weekly blog series.

The really big retrospectives actually began in 2015 with the Mass Effect series, which ran for an entire year. So like a lot of attempts to divide things into “eras” and “generations”, this ends up with some messy overlap and a bit of arbitrary line-drawing. It’s fine. I don’t need precision, I just need a way to mentally organize things so the history of the site doesn’t become one big blur.

This is the total number of words per year across all of my posts. Again, we’ve got a third of the year left, but it still looks like this will be my lightest year since 2014 or so. For context, 187k is the length of The Fellowship of the Ring, and Return of the King is 137k.

Erm. I’m not crazy about the methodology I’m using here. This isn’t a count of swear words, it’s a count of posts that contain swearing. If BioWare announced that The Illusive Man was getting his own spinoff series and my response was an article consisting of the word “fuck” repeated 1,000 times then – as Gimli says – it still only counts as one. Maybe the next time I do one of these I’ll do a proper word count. (I would have done it this time but I need to figure out the MySQL for a multi-word count search. I didn’t have time to sort that out for this post.)

Looking Forward

I think I’ve got some guest content coming up in the coming weeks. I’m still hashing out the details, but if all goes well we should have something besides Prey to argue about.

Speaking of Prey: I’m still fiddling with the ending, but my guess is that the series will end on part 23 or so.  That would land on the first week of December.

I’m not sure what my next long-form retrospective will be. It really depends on what I’m able to hammer out with my guest contributors. Specifically, I want to tag-team a particular game with alternating posts. This is a big project and we’re still hammering out the details. Hopefully it all works out.

That’s it. Thanks for reading.