Thursday, September 28, 2006

Mr. and Mrs.

This past Saturday in the coastal village of Rockland, Maine, I was married to my sweetheart. Naturally, it rained. We packed all forty odd guests into the creaky (yet lovely) bed and breakfast where we were staying and held the ceremony on the stairs coming down into the entryway. Aya was breathtaking. The vision of her walking towards me makes my heart skip a beat. There was dancing, fine local microbrews, cake, toasts and the sort of joyful intelligent conversation that is the root of all that is great and wonderful.

I am not a superstitious man, but I enjoy the random confluence of happenstance and clever planning that gives the miraculous appearance of good omens. September 23rd was a very special day.
  • Rain, you see, is almost always good luck. Why, I do not know, but I’m very willing to take my aunt’s word on the matter.
  • The day also happened to be the autumn equinox. We had small ritual-sized pumpkins, but I’m not sure anyone got around to performing any proper pagan harvest rites. Note to self: Next time invite more witches.
  • Both my mother and my amazing bride share a birthday, September 23rd to be exact. Yes, I am quite absentminded and yes, the women in my life are kind beyond all reasonable expectations.
  • My mother turned 60. This is the 5th cycle of the Chinese calendar and represents a time of rebirth. She found this to be the best news she had heard in a quite a few birthdays. “No, today you are younger, not older.”
Another connection occurred on that rainy day in Maine. Aya’s parents and good friend Michiko traveled all the way from the distant isle of Honshu to be at the ceremony. A marriage is as much about the joining of two families as it is about finally kicking the bride and groom out of their parent’s house. We were honored to have both sides of our family together in one place.
Two vignettes stand out:
  • At the rehearsal dinner, Aya’s father gave me a bullet shaped USB drive from Akihabara. It was the modern version of a shotgun wedding in this age of birth control and blushing thirty-year-old brides. I smiled and laughed…and took his message very, very seriously.
  • The first night Michiko arrived, we stopped by the nearby greasy spoon to eat a bit of lobster. The weathered waitress couldn’t quite believe Aya and Michiko’s request for soy sauce and lemon instead of melted butter. Delicious. I suspect a local Maine legend was born that night.
After the wedding, the days flew by. There were few thoughts of work, games or honestly much of anything. For our mini-honeymoon we drank mead, moseyed through nearby museums, and supped at fine restaurants. I’m still in mild shock.

My god, she is a beautiful woman. How could I be so lucky?

Many thanks to everyone who helped make our wedding so marvelous.

Monday, September 4, 2006

Fighting the Dice Wars demon

There is no post of substance this week due to my all consuming addiction with the turn-based strategy game Dice Wars.

I have a weakness, a fundamental flaw in the basic fabric of my personality. Sit me in front of a casual turn-based strategy game and I become its willing slave. Another turn. Another game. A short 15 minutes session turns into a lengthy marathon of dozen upon dozens of such delightfully bite sized morsels. Hour and even days fly by in a rush. For many, “Casual” just means that you get your fix quicker, not that you play the title for any less time.

I love it when someone takes a well known game and strips it down to the essentials. This is single player Risk without silly things like moving units or placing reinforcements. There are no cards or lovingly detailed card board maps. Instead we have the following:

  • Two simple verbs: Attack and End turn.
  • Two types of tokens: Board spaces and player units in the form of dice.
  • A simple score to let you know exactly how you are doing.
  • A randomly generated map.
  • Zero load time.
  • Minimal initial learning curve.
The AI isn’t brilliant, but I don’t play this sort of game to demonstrate my superiority. I play Dice Wars like others play solitaire. There is a meditative rhythm to the clicking and periodic taking of territories is quite soothing. Early on, you frantically attempt to claim some small smidge of territory in the midst of the wildly careening enemy hordes. In the midgame, the board hangs in balance and ill planned moves can swing the gathering tide against you. The tension of the early and mid game remains delicious even upon repeat play.

There are minor flaws.

  • New players find the mechanism for allocating new units to be mysterious. This can discourage players from digging deeper into the title.
  • The end game, as with most games of this genre, turns into a bit of a grind. The games are so short however, that a few minutes of grind are very bearable.
  • The abstract board game style doesn’t pull in new players as much as it might with some spiffier graphics. It is however, very easy to use and understand.

“It would be so cool…”
As a serial player of multiple Dice War games, I find myself falling into the well trodden trap of the genre addict. I briefly considered drawing up a far better strategy game that dramatically improved on Dice Wars.

  • Cute little creatures in a lovely verdant landscape instead of stacks of dice. As they grow, they evolve Tamagotchi-like into charming warriors of mass destruction.
  • Special tiles that when captured give your characters increased strength or defense. Collect enough key tiles and the end game is over in an orgy of automated mass destruction.
  • Roulette style conflict resolution that allow for carefully scheduled super combos that make the combat even more addicting.
  • A metagame system that tracked your win/loss average and provided statistics. Nothing says genre addict like a request for detailed and extensive statistics. So I can bath in them and let them lovingly run through my fingers after a game’s post victory bliss.
Drawing the creatures would be quite fun and I even sketched a couple on a napkin. But then just as I was becoming excited about the idea, I was sucked into another beautiful game of Dice Wars. So much for being productive this weekend. :-)

Take care

(So that this post isn't a complete waste of your time, I'm curious how you might redesign Dice Wars. Still keep its rapid gameplay and ease of use, but improve its appeal and perhaps even give it a valid business model.)