Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Thinking Out Loud - Level Design

The way I design a level is usually by creating an interesting shape first. I then think about what that shape makes difficult, and add challenges based on that. I usually go too far at this point. Then I go through the whole thing and test it and scale back what I call "the asshole coefficient" of the design.

Depending on the kind of level you are making and the intended difficulty the coefficient can require entirely changing a portion of the shape of a level or the challenges that are in that portion. Finally I test again.

This is when I feel the level is ready for outside testing. I'll ask a coworker to test it real quick, mostly looking for fun vs asshole sections. If a section stands out as being too frustrating, or too easy, I tweak those areas.

This is usually what I would submit to approval and mass testing.

Sometimes, I have trouble picturing a new shape that would be interesting, so I revisit things I've done before and I ask, "are there new challenges I can put here that would change how this plays?" But this is very rare, and a last resort option.

Friday, January 26, 2018

Variance - A Plan Killer

One of the major issues of making decks in Magic the Gathering, is that I'm constantly fighting against variance. Often times, I'm struggling to fit in enough variety while also having enough copies of an effect that I'll see it when I need it.

The biggest issue with that is, that there's multiple types of decks, and facing off against them means that you won't always have a plan for what you're dealing with. The most you can do is plan for the trend, but when you mostly play in big tournaments you really can't rely on that. The bigger the tournament, the more likely you are to run into decks you would never be able to plan for.

So instead I keep tuning this deck that at most I end up being 50% win rate vs most things. It would be fine if it was based on skill, but the win rate is based on draws.  I really can't describe any of my wins as skill based. It's all luck and variance.

This makes it hard for me to plan how to make changes. I'm focusing on being better versus creature decks and having some sideboard cards to ease combo and control (which shares a lot of common hate cards). This way I know that I have a good chance against X types of decks (aggro and midrange should be more likely for me to win), and control and combo should be possible or at least at worst a 50% lose rate.

I'll be testing a new list, and seeing how the changes work out. I'll update with more info later.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Fanfiction is the Remix of Literature

Sometime some twenty years ago I came to realize that I enjoyed remixes, covers, and genre changes in music. Something about listening to a song suddenly played as Bluegrass or a rap song done in the style of Elvis that really makes my ears perk. It helps if I know the original to some degree.

In comic books this is Elseworld stories, and things like Red Son. They take a familiar concept and mess it up, shake it up or change one simple thing that alters the entire timeline from that change. It then asks what happens from there, and usually they find a story they couldn't tell before. Sometimes its about inevitability, the idea that no matter our choices we trend towards one outcome. Sometimes its a "more things change" situation.

In online comics I would say that the work of David Willis exemplifies this perfectly. He's also one of the few where the creator themselves are remixing the work. In this case he takes his characters and resuses them in different situations, each time slightly different, or hugely different. They end up with different people.

All this is to show that fanfiction is to literature what the remix is to music. Sometimes it scrambles it. Sometimes it is a genre change. They'll replace instruments and slow things down. I really started thinking about this when I came across a review of a newly posted story. The review essentially said, "This is an old trope, and it's a lame trope to boot."

Ouch! Harsh criticism strikes a critical blow! Now, this person, they themselves are writing stories that are a bit trope-ish, but he's doing so from a fresh angle. The person he reviewed seems to be rewriting a concept, and honestly this version is coming out better than others I have seen online (maybe even by the same guy, online can be like that).

But that criticism kinda doesn't affect what this guy is doing. He's writing a story he wants to write, and as Nancy Kepner almost said, "Most fans fanfiction is just a form of mas-"-turbation.

But fanfiction is a remix, its a genre change, and sometimes its a cover. Books are catching up on this concept, even though this is older. And has been done by Disney within our lifetimes. I also tend to view any work carried on by others to no longer be the original. And that's okay!

We can change stories to fit the times, and to fit what we want to tell. Characters and events are mutable. Take Batman. Batman is Zorro. Zorro is the Scarlet Pimpernel. And the Scarlet Pimpernel is only now becoming public domain (since it has now been 70 years since the Baroness's passing). But those stories are very much inspired by. Influenced by. But not, an actual fanfiction of the Scarlet Pimpernel.

Smallville is a fanfic of Superman. The new 52 Batman is fanfiction of Batman. Stranger Things is fanfiction of 80s Sci-fi and horror (this one is a bit of a stretch, I'll admit). Thing is, we remix ideas all the time. But it all just happens to be how closely we follow the source material. For fanfiction, we use the names, and sometimes entire history of the series. We branch off somewhere. Or we reinterpret actions. We make characters fall in love or make different choices.

So, if you find a way to step away, and make that fanfic your own. I encourage you to do so. I know I've been trying.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Where Fanfiction Writing Fails

The way I tend to write stories usually involves me picturing a scene as if it were a movie. Then taking that scene and wording it in a way that I'm not just describing a scene in a movie. Writing is very specifically not film. Which is to say that what matters when you write, and if you want to write a physical thing happening, it can be tedious to try to describe a fight with precision. Especially, when you want to make it feel cinematic.

That's the main rub of the whole thing, and what makes me dislike certain writers and specifically, fanfiction writers. They try to describe sight gags and funny things like they show up in film or animation, but they fail to understand that the humor of it fails in words. Because to get the joke, you literally have to explain it. Describing a visually humorous thing tends to break the rule of not explaining the joke.

Some of the best fanfiction writers are able to change what is usually a visually centered show and write it as if it were literature. Some are even able, through fourth wall breaking third person narrative to express character moods and emotions succinctly and expressively.

Again though, this goes back to just proper writing ability. Even when some of the best advice I've read, leads to "write like a camera point of view" then switch to "internal", the movie camera isn't always easy to describe, or shouldn't be described in extreme detail. Like with everything a balance is necessary, but some descriptions become stupidly convoluted when being read.

One way I practice writing these scenes is to watch a show, and then rewrite the scene as if it were to be in a book. It's amazing how you can focus on a single thing, or how entire scenes can be described in one sentence instead of paragraphs of descriptions. Sometimes more time can be spent describing a scene, because the density of details is so important.

Overall though, I have to be able to picture the scene first. Which is why I think scenes I've tried to write before, are easier to write later when I try again. This is why writing every day is so important. Training to make scenes and layering details becomes easier the more times you do it.

So that's my biggest point to make, when writing, don't try to recreate the exact scene, it won't work. Instead transform the scene from visual to novel. Don't try to describe sight gags, find the humor from a different angle. Sometimes a detail that is so very important to visual comedy can be ignored in writing, or can be written or mentioned differently. Feel free to write the in-between moments that get skipped or shortcut moments that can be described more fluidly in a single sentence.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Azorius Induced Amnesia - Modern Deck Tech

Quick Update: Reading the card explains the card. And Induced Amnesia only returns cards when it goes to the graveyard. So part of the deck tech below where you gain advantage for hitting yourself, and the part where you mill your opponent out faster and faster is incorrect. The deck essentially is about removing their hand, which means probably going up in Spirits and other draw replacement effects.

Deck: Azorius Induced Amnesia {w}{u}
Lands Spells Creatures Sideboard
3Adarkar Wastes3Cryptic Command3Eldrazi Displacer4Blessed Alliance
4Flooded Strand4Induced Amnesia2Felidar Guardian4Ceremonious Rejection
3Ghost Quarter4Path to Exile2Flickerwisp1Elspeth, Sun's Champion
3Glacial Fortress4Serum Visions3Spell Queller2Rest in Peace
4Hallowed Fountain1Supreme Verdict2Spirit of the Labyrinth2Settle the Wreckage
3Island2Venser, the Sojourner4Wall of Omens1Spell Queller
2Plains4Æther Vial1Supreme Verdict
22cards 22cards 16cards 15cards
 Display deck statistics

Pangoria's New Deck Tech time! This time I have an Azorius Induced Amnesia value deck for modern. Now I didn't go full combo with Panrharmonicon into infinite drawing your opponent to death. Instead I was trying to go for a value deck that controls the board as it out values your opponent and forces them into a 4 turn clock that can ruin their combos and plans.

Now a deck like this has some obvious issues, such as helping your opponent into drawing into their combo and that it is seemingly weaker vs fast/aggro decks. Some other concerns is the land count, which makes it hard to hit the 4/5 you want on curve.

Now Induced Amnesia is interesting in that you can use it on yourself alternatively for card draw, then blink it back to your opponent and take away their hand and force them to go through more of their deck than they can handle.

On the flip side, if you are against an aggro deck, you're hoping to pop a Spirit of the Labyrinth down and instead you would be restricting their draws while controlling yours. Remember you can blink Induced Amnesia twice and cause the 2nd one to eat up their hand while you get back yours.

Now, I pass it off to anyone out there who wants to try this deck. Feel free to put links to videos in the comments below!

Friday, January 12, 2018

misUnderstanding Criticism

I've been doing a flurry of writing lately.

From blogs to facebook posts to fanfiction and original fiction and poetry, I've been writing every day. I have this goal in my life, to write a novel, or more specifically to write a book that not only has a beginning, middle and end, but that is sold for money to people who are interested in reading it.

I even found platforms online that allow me to easily sell my stories in chunks that are digestible and released when I want it to. I've though of releasing online myself before, but the upfront costs of having a website, self promotion and design always held me back. That and fear.

With all this writing and thinking of future goals, I went back to work that I've published and reviewed the reviews. Now I had plenty of "good story" and positive reviews, which make me feel all warm inside, but I had reviews that were conflicted in even saying that what I did was good.

Those reviews, by people who, not only read the story, but liked it and disliked it enough to talk about it were even more rewarding in a way. Something about a story that in and of itself was a series of surrealistic fetishism and insane narration, receiving such a conflicted review really rewarded what the goal of the story was in the first place.

One of my recent fanfiction posts was met with a review which confused me though. The person simply wrote, and I quote, "...Sigh".

That was it. "...Sigh"

What does that even mean? What pedestal was my fanfiction on that the only feeling they had was "...Sigh"? I kinda feel like I kicked a puppy with that review. Doesn't help that my friends rated it as one of the best reviews ever.

In the end though, I appreciate it. I got feedback on something. What that feedback means though, is very much up to interpretation. One thing I can say for sure, the story at least had a large enough impact on them that they HAD to let me know it. And sometimes, that's enough. 

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Modern Magic - Mardu Control - Rivals of Ixalan

I've been playing Magic: the Gathering on and off for about 15 years now. But it wasn't until the last 3 years or when I started playing Modern, that I became interested in competitive magic. When I first started, I remember reading articles by Zvi Mowshowitz on how to design decks (not to say I'm any good).

One color combination that's been really digging its heels into my psyche is Mardu (Red, Black, White) and I've been building a Modern Mardu Control deck that has shown some success (it's failures more often to do with my own incompetence rather than the deck's failings).

In about a week a new Magic set is coming out, and some cards in it caught my eye, to either include in my own deck, or as potential powerhouses for other Red/White/Black mages out there.


Angrath, the Flame-Chained has a lot of potential for Mardu Control, but in Modern the biggest issue I have is that too often I don't want my opponents to have a graveyard. But I like this in decks that run heavier on Liliana of the Veil. Usually by the time this lands, you have stripped enough of their hand that you are either finishing off their hands or just hitting them in the face for 2 life a turn.


Rekindling Phoenix feels like red's Kitchen Finks. Not in the life gain, but as this free you can't deal with it with 1 removal kinda feeling. It is a value card, and the difficulty in removing it can be of great value in protecting other higher value cards later on.


Dire Fleet Daredevil (or as I like to call her, Snap Other Mage), is a red Snap Caster Mage that trades Flash for the ability to steal spells from your opponent. This is going to be a 4 of to start in my testing, but might be sideboard tech versus control decks. There's a lot to be said for stealing from your opponent's graveyard. The lack of flash is this card's greatest weakness.


Slaughter the Strong is a very interesting wrath effect. It's weakness is that it gives the opponent a choice and leaves some power on the battlefield unless your opponent was just full of huge creatures. It gets around certain things like Hexproof and Indestructible since it forces a sacrifice. I'd have to look deeper into how often the clause would interfere with protecting the player from losing.


Tilonalli's Summoner I feel can be a great control finisher. You want to play this when you have destroyed your opponent's hand, and board state. Something about being able to start spewing out elementals really excites me.


Oathsworn Vampire reminds me a great deal of Blood Soaked Champion. Recursion like this is very fun, but I feel like I would have to change up my deck's build a bit more to fully utilize what this card can do.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Opening Paragraphs - The Whirlwind in the Thorn Tree

"The assassin crept toward the house through cold blue beams, moonlight dancing across the forest floor in a handful of silver coins." ~ S.A. Hunt, The Whirlwind in the Thorn Tree (pg.1).

This one sentence immediately soured me to this book. This is, easily one of the worst opening lines I have read. It is painful to read. It mixes up what it is talking about. It has two different color descriptions for what should be one thing. It sounds like a fantasy book, but is written like modern fiction.

I read this, and on a macro scale, I understood that the whole thing was essentially a man walking through beams of moonlight towards a house. I get it.

But when I first was reading it, I thought, "cold blue beams of what?" I pictured silver coins scattered on a forest floor, shining in the moonlight.

I took a step back.

Cold blue beams of moonlight. Maybe they should have done of instead of a comma. But that messes up the rest of it.

"The assassin crept toward the house through cold blue beams of moonlight dancing across the forest floor in a handful of silver coins."

No, that is really bad too. Now it feels like the creeping assassin is dancing. Also, again what is up with the silver coins? That's when I realized, that the silver coins are describing how these little beams of moonlight look like when the land on the forest floor.

So they took the word like from the simile. It makes it harder to parse. But after a few moments I was able to understand the opening paragraph of this story. I immediately gave up on reading it.