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."




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.

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.

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.

Monday, May 4, 2015

LEGO MOC: The Hospital

Number five in my TF2 MOC series, the Medic has long been one of my favorite classes. The Victorian operating theater was originally going to be the Medic's hospital lab, but I'd decided to go for a less branded set that backfired--it was still too violent for Lego. 

I kind of regret the diorama style, here. There's a lot of unused space for a playset and it feels kind of flat. Because... it's pretty flat. But I have a lot of fiddly details that I'm pretty proud of some of them. Outside of the operating room is the waiting room we see in "Meet the Medic" Pretty straightforward, although I like the ticket counter.

 The medic's fridge is visible  in the front corner, there. The spy's head is visible on the bottom there, and there's the megababoon heart.

On the other side we have the Medic's locker room. Two medipacks and a medigun next to a bench! There's some bones there. Don't... don't ask about those bones. They're nobody's bones.

Nobody's Shhhhhhhh.

Here's the protoype wall-mounted medigun keeping the Heavy alive while the Medic performs surgery. And here's the heart with the uber meter, sitting on a table near the stretcher

Monday, April 27, 2015

LEGO MOC: Meet the Scout

Number four in my Team Fortress 2 / LEGO MOC set, this time featuring the Scout. This set was designed to hit a much lower price point, in the $10-15 range, so it only contains about 200 pieces. I was striving to build some sets that would add some customizing options to other sets.

BLU scout has a bat, RED scout has a pistol. Miss Pauling has a clipboard and pistol. I should probably make a fancier set featuring Scout and Miss Pauling going on a date and fighting a nice monster or some such. I elected to use clasp legs for the Scout to give him a markedly different profile from other LEGO mercs.

These are two shipping containers, which seemed like a rather fitting prop for the Scout. The RED container also contains a small health kit.

To make this kit seem more individualized to the Scout, I included a BONK vending machine. It sells Crit-a-Cola, Bonk! Cherry Fission and Bonk! Blutonium Berry. 

And finally, we have the BLU bomb cart. Given that the Scout pushes the cart at twice the rate twice that of other units, this seemed like a prop well-dedicated to the Scout. 

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Sunday Shorty: Gotham

"Hey, we're making a Batman-themed ultragritty police drama."
"Will there be powerful, independent women?" 
"Shit, yeah, dog. There'll be tons of tough ladies! And domestic abuse." "Awesome! And, wait what?"
"Oh, domestic abuse. Yeah, you know Batman's colorful entourage of villains that commit cute themed robberies?"
"Well, we replaced all that boring, kiddy stuff with more realistic villains. Like a guy who abducts women, forces them to wait on him hand and foot for weeks, and then ties them up and murders them. No costume or anything. Just a regular guy. We call him The Ogre because it sounds cooler than an appropriate modus operandi nickname like Bluebeard or King Henry or Praying Mantis"
"But there will still be Batman stuff, right?"
"Oh, sure, sure. Every episode the whole cast will stare into the camera chanting /Batman, Batman, Batman/ in a haunting monotone for five minutes. It'll make you totally forget you're basically watching what Criminal Minds would be if their Standards and Practices department ate a bad batch of mescaline."
"...That actually sounds radical."