Monday, August 31, 2015

Welcome to Night Vale: The Dog Park

"The City Council announces the opening of a new dog park at the corner of Earl and Sommerset, near the Ralph’s. They would like to remind everyone that dogs are not allowed in the dog park. People are not allowed in the dog park. It is possible that you will see hooded figures in the dog park. DO NOT APPROACH THEM. DO NOT APPROACH THE DOG PARK. The fence is electrified and highly dangerous. Try not to look at the dog park, and, especially, do not look for any period of time at the hooded figures. The dog park will not harm you."

The Dog Park set is designed to resemble Night Vale's newest municipal asset. Obsidian columns support electrified barbed-wire fences. The set's baseplates are connected with hinges--as it opens, if you follow the right-hand fence for long enough, eventually you will arrive in a vast desert other-world populated by masked giants, warlike and distant.
The set includes 2 masked giants, 2 hooded figures, and Night Vale Community radio intern Dana Cardinal. I'm particularly proud of the brickbuilt giants Doug and Alicia, who have all the same articulation as a minifig, plus two ankle articulations. Dana's skin and hair are transparent blue to represent her deliberately ambiguous appearance--she's using a walkie-talkie to represent her cellphone, although a 1x2 flat tile may be preferable. The brown hooded figure glows in the dark. Since dogs are forbidden in the dog park, I decided not to add any dogs.



Detail of the entrance to the Dog Park.
 Detail of a fence column. Each fencepost is mounted on a turntable that allows them to rotate, so that the fences can be realigned to suit current play environment.


Like what we're doing here? Want to learn more about the mysterious radio show from the even more mysterious city of Night Vale? Click here to visit the page for the podcast.

Like this LEGO set and want to turn it into a reality? Click here to add your support to the DOG PARK Set. Want to see more Welcome to Night Vale sets?  Click here to visit the LEGO Ideas page and vote for my radio set!
And hey.
T h  a   n    k     s.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Welcome to Night Vale Lego Set



A pleasant desert community where the Sun is hot, the Moon is beautiful, and mysterious lights pass overhead while we all pretend to sleep. Welcome... to Night Vale.

 Cecil's desk. Contains a mic, Carlos' trophy, a desk (containing some bones) and a coffee mug. The chair rotates on a turntable. Cecil's desk drawers, his microphone, and the tape deck all glow in the dark. I used traditional yellow skin on Cecil because although it is often considered white it can stand in for any color.



The antenna for broadcasting to the city.  Two dishes, two antennae, and a blinking red light. More glow-in-the-dark elements may be incorporated here.





Cecil's blood stone circle, as approved by the city council. 
Like what we're doing here? Want to learn more about the mysterious radio show from the even more mysterious city of Night Vale? Click here to visit the page for the podcast.

Like this LEGO set and want to turn it into a reality? Click here to visit the LEGO Ideas page and vote for it! And hey. Thanks.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Sunday Shortie: The Flash



1) You're actively hamstringing police investigations
In the current episode--S1E19, "Who is Harrison Wells"--a metahuman capable of disguising himself as anybody he touches uses his abilities to frame a detective in the shooting of two cops. It looks like a slam dunk case because nobody really wants to broach the topic of metahumans. Defending the detective, Barry points out some things can't be explained around Central City. Not "I saw someone disguised as the detective" or "you know the Flash and the Weather Wizard and all the other super weird shit that's happening around here? What if something something something, and then that happened?" Barry, you were on the scene as yourself. You can say that you saw what you actually saw, and you're not putting your identity at risk. The DA even admits to having seen the Flash at the end of the episode, so it's not like you would have looked silly because she thinks he's just an urban legend. You idiot.

2) You're putting the public in harm's way
This is kind of like the police--but for literally every person in Central City. Metahumans have so far been proven to be almost universally dangerous. Nearly every single one murders at least one person in the commission of their crimes. Boy! If only people were open to the idea that terrifying people with awful superpowers were everywhere, all the time! People with loved ones that are missing or acting strangely could probably report them, so you're not waiting for someone to be choked to death by psychically controlled strangler vines or something before responding to a metahuman.

3) Oh, you're just illegally detaining people?
Seriously, you just catch people and lock them in a 3x5 cells? (S1E3: Things You Can't Outrun) First of all, it's dumb because it's expensive; even at minimum security it costs about $60 a day to keep an inmate locked up (source), and oh yeah these aren't white collar embezzlers. I guess you see some savings when there's nobody guarding these inmates or... even paying attention to them?
Barry! Barry. Has anyone been feeding them?
S.T.A.R Labs appears to have three employees, who, as far as I can tell, are all volunteers and none of them ever spend any kind of time with all those prisoners you have illegally detained. Oh yeah, no charges, no trial, no sentence. No long-term plan for what to do with these people, or even any effort to study them, as far as has been visible on the show. Just a freak in a red leather bodysuit who's going to keep them down there until it's convenient to let them out to fight someone else. I shouldn't have to explain to a forensic investigator, two police detectives, and three geniuses with multiple degrees across a dozen fields that prosecutors have a special name for what you're doing, and it's called "slam dunk felony convictions". Because false imprisonment is a felony. Oh, and your victim's lawyers will also have a fun name for it: "alley-oop! We own all your possessions now." Central City lawyers are apparently way into basketball.

And here's the dumbest thing! It's so expensive you guys, and you could  probably get paid by the state. These metahumans are horrifying monsters that can do scary things like explode constantly, turn into chlorine, or project the movie version of Green Lantern directly into people's brains. (S1E3, S1E5 respectively) I know, easy joke, but Ryan Reynolds is unbearable. You have a facility that securely holds these people as long as nobody stupidly lets them out for personal reasons, exactly like you guys have do constantly. You know who wouldn't do that? Professional guards with no personal reasons to let them out. Professional guards who would probably be paid by a state that isn't super on-board with the idea of a man who can just straight up turn into anyone he wants. We're barely comfortable with a woman running for office--I can't imagine a woman who can teleport into a bank is going to be popular.

Menstruation AND teleporting? This is why I'm so anti-science 
4) Good luck getting a conviction, idiot
In the legendary Marvel comic arc Civil War, Tony Stark points out that vigilante action drastically reduces crime numbers not by getting criminals off the streets but by preventing criminals from being convicted. That makes sense! On a scale measuring quality witnesses, adults who dress in costumes and commit multiple felonies during the act of "preventing" a crime are probably not reliable people you want on the witness stand. The Flash's anonymity appears to violate the 6th Amendment; you can't face an accuser who, in spite of being a single man in his mid-20s, is refusing to come forward to "protect his family" like every person he catches is going to put a mob hit on him. This is all a fairly standard argument against superheroes, but it gets worse for the Flash.

See, the Flash can often apprehend people before anybody notices what is happening. In S1E18, he catches an armed robber, pulling them out of the car they are driving, and replaces them with a police detective, handcuffing the passenger-side suspect at the same time. All this happens without any interruption to the control of the vehicle, and before the (admittedly distracted) passenger even notices there's been a change.

Instant defense against any of these: "The Flash is framing me. I was just outside, minding my own business, when suddenly I'm sitting in the back of a police cruiser in nothing but a trench coat." A defense attorney could probably make pretty good money just torpedoing cases where the Flash was "unnofficially" involved, by calling on prosecutors to prove that the Flash isn't framing people, as other metahumans like Everyman (S1E19) have already done.

5) Why are you doing this for free again?
This is something that comes up with nearly any superhero. Why they feel the need to patrol the streets in disguises, and keep real jobs in addition to the often late-hours work of fighting crime in the middle of the night. But this is something that's extra baffling for the Flash, who already works for a police department. Barry isn't even afraid of being experimented on--he's literally teamed up with exactly the people who are going to do that.

6) How does this protect Iris again?
Joe, Barry's adoptive father and biological father of his love interest/ adoptive sister Iris insists that Barry keep his identity as the Flash secret from her, "to keep her safe". How would her knowing that Barry is the Flash put her at risk? And what does her not knowing about that connection do to minimize that risk? We've already seen what villains do once they've captured someone they think knows who the Flash is--they torture until they get an answer, and then they stop. (S1E16) Her not knowing just means she has to endure more torture and possibly murder before the villains are satisfied she doesn't know anything. 

Joe and Barry have also tried to convince Iris to stop writing about the Flash. That effort failed so catastrophically that Iris ended up working for a newspaper... writing about the Flash. She has even been kidnapped at least once, and wouldn't it be handy if she knew she had a personal line directly to the Flash for just such occasions? Wouldn't it be handy if she (and everyone who works with the Flash, actually) were prepared to be abducted by lunatics? 

Not only that, but being the Flash isn't the kind of secret one keeps their entire life, like how much you enjoyed Ryan Reynolds as the Green Lantern. As of episode 19 of the first season, there are at least 12 people who know the Flash's true identity, two of whom are the Flash's enemies. Someone's going to slip, or she's going to figure it out, and it's going to be so bad for Barry, and so bad for Joe, when she finds out.

And of course she finds out, and is furious.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Interacting With Other Humans is Hard

The worst thing happened to me today. Well, obviously not the worst worst, since I'm writing about it on my blog and not the inside of the coffin I was buried alive in. But it was this awful thing where a boy came up to me and said "Hi, Mr. Mueller! Hi!" And I responded "Hi, buddy!" And he got this very cogitated look about him, and this sweet little boy looked at me and, not accusingly but also not inquiringly, said "Do you know my name."

...

crap.

...

I did not. I looked around desperately, because when you're a teacher to over seven hundred kids you have a plan for what to do when a child realizes that you've only ever used pronouns or generic waves to get their attention. You drilled for this, Ben. Come on. Frantically I looked around for another kid, because in my ordinary context there are several children around, and I can usually flip the conversation by jokingly calling a boy "Sophie" or "Lupe" until one of the other kids helpfully corrects me. I look around, and with a sinking feeling in the pit of my self-esteem realize there are no kids close enough for this ruse to work.

I cycle through my tricks. I can't ask him to spell his last name. Don't have my class roster. Do I really only have three tricks? This is why I'm not a magician.
What do you mean, it's not your card? I only have two of these.
Now, I'm a librarian and when my mind works it works a bit like a digital catalog. Each kid has a record--albeit a spottily-cataloged one--and I use what I can find to query the catalog for the kid. Now, normally I have a very strict set of parameters. Kind of like:
It's a speciis is definitely Ms. Genericname's Class. Okay then. "Query: Homeroom:Genericname AND Gender:Male AND Ethnicity:Latino OR Ethnicity:Hispanic NOT Name:Jose" 
Standing on the playground at 7:30 in the morning, rolling on five hours of sleep, I cave. I kneel down, I man up, and I admit that "No, buddy. I don't remember your name."

There's a triumphant smile--"I'm Luis!" and I feel completely wretched.  I think it's really important that kids feel that their teachers know them, make them feel singularly important. Teachers have training about it--strategies to make kids feel more secure that the adults in their lives care for them. And nothing undermines that more than not knowing a kid's name.

"Do you think it's fair that I don't remember your name?" I ask. Is that fair is a question I employ a lot. He looks at me with this absolutely canny look. He's not angry that I don't remember. Or confused. He completely gets it, and he empathizes. Which makes me feel even worse. This is cool kid! I offer my hand, he shakes it. "Well, now I know, Luis. Now I know." And he scampers away, leaving me to wonder what I just did to that kid's self-esteem. These kids, man.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Boom Beach Evolution of Buildings

While I was digging around in the archives of the old Boom Beach Wiki, I started comign across buildings. Now, the original buildings for Boom Beach feature some starkly different design choices than the current ones. Currently, buildings have three major color schemes: "team themed" buildings, such as the Gunboat, Landing Crafts, Residences, Outposts, Armories, Sculptors and Headquarters,  which feature either blue for allies or red for Blackguard. "Resource themed": orange for wood, purple for stone, teal for iron. Defensive buildings appear to be more or less random.





The old Quarry, seen below on the left, features the team color scheme instead of the now-familiar purple resource color scheme of Stone. It's also a much less mechanized operation. The September 2014 archive for the Quarry features two new quarries, one of which is recognizably our motorized sledge, which more accurately conveys the industrialized feel of Boom Beach and begins the tradition of color coding buildings by resource. The upper-level building can be seen below on the lower left, and you might even recognize it as the map symbol for a Quarry in current Boom Beach, albeit with a team-colored roof. I assume it was canned and the newer upper-level quarries brought in for the safe of consistency across levels.









The sculptor features the most stark changes, as a ton of character is injected into the new design. Again, the new design is much more iconic, featuring the stoic Warrior-Sculptor. The new design features my favorite piece of flavor text in the whole game--"Power Powder--the sculptor sweeps up power stone powder." It's evocative and creates context in a way that I absolutely adore in video games.

Idea
I'm kind of hoping that the window for crafting Sculptures changes under the upcoming update. Right now, we have a Sculptor but ordering new sculptures feels a bit dry, as you're interacting with a window. Put his picture up next to the window, imply we're having a conversation with him while we're ordering our new statue.


These are the old statues I uncovered. They're a bit stunted and bland, apparently lacking the elemental qualities of newer statues that give them pizzazz and color. I do like the cute little planter in the last one, though.

Idea
I had this idea about sculptures. It struck me as weird that sculptors would voluntarily make sculptures for the Blackguard, since the whole point of the Blackguard invasion is to enslave the people, force them to mine power stones, and experiment on them. So I thought it would be pretty cool if future versions of Blackguard bases feature Masterpieces that either reflect the Blackguard's desire to experiment on them (they've been technologically modified with satellite dishes, etc) or if they reflected the Blackguard's desire for control by being statues of Hammerman himself.
I don't have a lot to say about these buildings, but I wanted to archive them all the same, just because I think a lot of them are cute, if not quite as visually interesting as our current designs. I like the level 4 Sawmill with it's quaintly huge sawblade projecting right through the roof of the compound.









The Cannon is on the left, and the original level 1 Boom Cannon is on the right. They're not very diffferent, and the Boom Cannon is terribly dull, especially for a weapon which shares its name with the game it's from. I'm much more satisfied with the modern cannon, with it's heft, and bright colors, and bullet apron.





Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Boom Beach Evolution

I love looking at old designs. Abandoned concepts. Cut content. More than playing videogames, sometimes I like just seeing into creators brains. I've talked about the interesting light that concept art can shed on a game in my cut content blog entries for Bioshock and I absolutely adored the Fuck Yeah Beta Pokemon. Most of these ideas are cut for a reason. Some reasons are sad--it's too expensive, there's not enough time. Some reasons make sense--this design is confusing, beta testers hated this. And sometimes things get cut because they finally hired an actual artist and they can make things pretty, and the artist isn't even the lead dev's cousin Gary who's just a scared, unemployed kid with Photoshop, you guys. He doesn't know anything and it's not his fault.

Anyway, app games are a great place to look at cut content! Because they're usually being developed and beta tested on a live audience, games that survive a long time will occasionally go through new design phases, getting completely new design art as the company finds itself flush with cash and a product that isn't yet famous enough for new designs to risk brand alienation but established enough that a complete overhaul isn't a total waste of money. Boom Beach is one such game--at some point in early 2014 it got a visual overhaul, making it look so, so much polished and visually distinct than it had at launch. I tried to grab a couple of these images, although I by no means got everything.





The iconic Rifleman. On the left is the beta version I found on the Internet Wayback Machine, the one on the right is the current version as of May 26th, 2015.


















Here we see the progression of the Tank. The first is from the Boom Beach Wiki. The second, an image labelled "New Tank" added to the current wiki in April, 2014.  The final is the current version (again, as of May 2015). The progression from blonde, jumpsuit-wearing man to grease-monkey lady to the final design (whom I call "Tank Ace" for her resemblance in cocky attitude to american flyboy aces) is interesting--to see the shift not just in demographic representation, but also character attitude.















With the warrior, we see a fairly dramatic design shift, as his skin color and facial shape changes. Higher cheekbones, thinner lips, and a sharper, aquiline nose shift the character's appearance from "nonspecific New World island native" to "European in a loincloth". This is an interesting design choice--is it to distance the game from the game's apparent colonialist imagery?

This is a really interesting conversation to have, actually. See, my instinct is to say that the Kual are treated as noble savages and to describe their technology as primitive. After all, they use wind-driven outrigger canoes to transport the tribute goods they pay you for "rescuing" them, when all other boats in the game appear to be modern, steel-hulled vessels. Where most of the game's buildings resemble WW2-era American military hardware, the Kual live in grass huts. They construct large stone statues, but these appear to be religious artifacts only. They march into battle against machine guns and rocket launchers dressed in loin clothes and wielding hammers, like suicidal nudist Gallaghers.

But then I started thinking about it. Their single-person crewed outrigger canoes appear to haul resources equal to the huge cargo vessels that deliver your Ops Rewards (depending on how you parse that imagery, of course). Their large stone structures, while appearing to be magical religious artifacts, are a kind of technology (as a corollary of Clark's Third Law) that apparently can influence a number of factors, such as increase the efficiency of ore extraction in iron mines, bolster the effectiveness of your troops' weaponry, or even make buildings more resistant to bullets. Their hammers, while seeming like blunt, primitive instruments, are (again, Clark's Third Law) powerful technological devices, healing bullet damage and burn wounds with every swing. I assume this stuff is primitive, when in fact it's quite technologically advanced, and perhaps it is my assumption that is racist. Albeit, I think I'm thinking about this way harder than most people do, and it's entirely possible that the actual design decision isn't for Power Crystals to be seen as mysterious technology but mystical mumbo jumbo.

That about wraps up this blog post. Stay tuned next week for another update, where I discuss the evolution of building designs a little bit, or at very least just show you guys pictures so you can go "Wow! Neat!" and then we all high five.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

TF2 Lego MOC: The Hospital Mark 2

I redesigned the LEGO hospital to work as a standalone building set. With 840 pieces, it's my largest build yet. Still working on tightening up the architectural complexity, but I quite like the look of the windows, which I think mirrors the actual design of the hospital nicely.

This hospital has a modular design, a central building with two small wings. The central building has a laboratory on the first floor, with a fridge, a blood sample, and a small medkit. A ladder leads to the second level, which has the operating room.  A nice bed, some cupboards, some tools. Like, you know. Reflex hammer, syringe. Chainsaw. Disembodied heart. The basics.


The wing on the left side is the waiting room. It's got your standard waiting room accoutrement. Orange chairs. Some threadbare little plants. A birdcage on the roof. An unexploded shell still jutting from the smoldering wreckage.

The right side wing is the Medic's personal locker room. Some medipacks, some syringe guns. Extra lab coats. The lab coats aren't pictured here since the LDD doesn't know that minifig torsos fit into 1x1 upright holders.

This set would come with a Heavy, a Medic, some foes, and an ubercharged Heavy Medic team.