Sunday, November 19, 2017

Origin of Species

The Khajiit piece is coming along. Went to a concert of Early Music last night and it has given me ideas.

Mostly about counterpoint...most of the songs performed last night were tenorlieder, in which the outer voices dress a melody held in the tenor voice. Pity I don't have a tenor recorder, and my Susato crumhorn in quality brown ABS plastic is not really suitable for a lyrical line (I can play one, and in theory it fits -- the cat in Prokovfiev's Peter and the Wolf is performed by a low-register clarinet, but in practice the sound is just a little too silly.)

The Bodhran also arrived yesterday. I'm not making a video of that one for the "How long does it take?" series, though. Within an hour or two I could perform the parts I'd written (well...I'd intentionally written parts I was pretty sure I could learn). Before the afternoon was done I also had a pretty good start on the Bodhran triplet.

But then, that series is kind of a fail. First off, I don't have the patience to properly script and edit video (plus I was going for the immediacy and honesty of showing what it really sounds -- and looks -- like when you are struggling with an instrument for the first time.) So it is rambling and semi-coherent (much like this blog).

Second is the question is far too open-ended. "How long does it take to learn to play?" is the perennial question, and the only real answer is, "The rest of your life."

How good is "good enough?" I have been theorizing that there is a fuzzy line you cross where you actually feel like you are playing a melody as opposed to struggling through a technical exercise. But on reflection, I think the question is better turned on it's head; "How bad do you sound after n hours?" Would you be willing to let a friend listen to you after six hours? Would you rather wait six weeks? How long before you tried to play with someone else, in a band, or record?

The other fail is that I'm not a complete noob. I've been messing around with instruments for a long time. I've struck a variety of drums in my life, including as much as a hundred hours on the pads of my electronic drum set. So bouncing a stick off a membrane and getting a good tone is not new territory for me.

The U-bass was a similar exercise. I've never played bass, but I've a couple years of ukulele already. So I'm not starting from ground zero. And in all cases, I have a smattering of music theory, experience in how instruments are supposed to sound (from recording and mixing them), and decades of experience with other complicated manual motions from various sorts of tool and craft use. "Hold it this way and turn your hand this way and then apply pressure like this" is not a terrifying new prospect. It's just one more set of muscle memories to absorb.

And, yeah, the trumpet. I've tried to get a tone from a horn in the past, messed with it enough to be able to get two partials out of a post horn. And I also knew the theory. But the trumpet brings up another problem with the "how long does it take?" question. Because you can practice for a week, but your actual practice time is only a couple of hours.

The reason is, the first hurdle to the trumpet is building strength in your embouchure. You literally can not practice for more than five minutes at a time, and twenty minutes in a day is pushing it. Your muscles fatigue after that and there's nothing more that can or should be done with that instrument that day.

The violin is similar in that getting that rotation -- particularly as an adult -- is bad enough that wrist and shoulder and neck and back strain show up quite rapidly. The pain is enough to mess with your concentration after fifteen minutes. Even now, I get sore if I try to push past thirty minutes without a break. So the time you spent in "days" is not really indicative of the total effort.

(That's not counting watching instructional videos, doing finger exercises, reading up, cleaning and maintaining the instrument, and so forth).

And that also means it isn't actually that silly to be practicing four or five instruments at once. Particularly since I'm practicing the actual instrumental lines I mean to start recording within the week.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Xenephon's Cravat

I'm very much on with "Five Senses" writing. Isaac Asimov made a long and fruitful career without describing as much as the color of a character's hair, but I gravitate towards fiction with enough look and feel to make me feel as much physically embedded in the setting as I am intellectually engaged with the story.

This is not always the easiest stuff to research, especially as one moves back in time. It is also not the easiest thing to describe. The colors in a sunset or the odors of a cooking fire are easy enough to translate to modern eyes and nostrils, but how does one economically carry across design motifs, clothing styles, technologies?

This is exacerbated by the fact that it is much easier to find the name "khopesh" or "krater" than it is to find out how heavy it is, how it breaks, how it smells, how to carry it; in short, all the five-senses stuff that is at the forefront of the experience of someone actually living around and using these things. The name is of use mostly to those who are cataloging them, so of course so many sources both contemporary and modern tend towards lists of names.

Names are also an often necessary short-hand. In a modern-day setting the writer can say "Paris" or "Taxi" or "Starbuck's Coffee" without having to explain and describe. The look and feel comes across to the reader because they have their own sensory experience with the thing to draw upon. Or at least have encountered sufficient other descriptions to be able to fill in.

But for those things which are not modern (or referred to frequently within modern contexts?) Well, there's one peculiarity to note right off. There appear to be certain genres or periods -- Victorian era and Roman era leap to mind -- where part of the contract with the reader is an assumption that the reader knows what a cravat, a Hansom Cab, a spatha, a legate is. And there are sufficient depictions so said reader can get a little of the five-senses impression of how loud, uncomfortable, effective, powerful, etc. these things are, in addition to the general size and shape and color.

This is not like, say, shogun, samurai, kimono and katana, which are more-or-less assumed to be part of our general cultural knowledge (as inaccurate as common understanding of these things might be). This is instead a special expectation; that someone drawn to stories set around Rome or with a Lost Legion on patrol will know or will make an effort to know what the lorica and gladius are and have at least some idea what it means to be a Roman.

I'm pretty sure the Bronze Age isn't one of these exceptions. So the names alone are insufficient. The names are often problematic anyhow. For every wonderfully expressive, essentially self-translating term like "ox-hide ingot," you have two like "krater" that need translation, and two like "stirrup jar" that seem useful until you realize stirrups hadn't been invented yet.

This latter is a tremendous problem for the writer. Not only do many terms in English have specific, known (and therefor culturally inappropriate) origins, so do individual words. "The point of no return" comes from aviation, "running the gauntlet" came to English in the 17th century and had a Swedish origin (although there is a Greek equivalent, "Xylokopia," that just puts it back into the other problem of needing translation.)

You need to catch as many of them as you can, because once the reader's attention is attracted, they are going to realize how many of the words you are using in an ordinary 20th century English-language text are quite obviously derived from other languages, and that brings up too many questions you don't want them to have.

I ran into this during Shirato when I wanted to mention a certain blue glow but "Cherenkov" is both a personal name and the name of a Russian. Which didn't fit at all with my pseudo-Japanese setting. It yanks the reader out of the text while the ordinary anglo-saxon (despite its also complex cultural origins) sneaks by unremarked.

And what do you do with something like "Wanax?" It is the appropriate name of a Mycenaean ruler of the palatial period. It is similar to "king" but there are important differences. Put "King" in the book and the reader will make certain assumptions that don't fit the culture under discussion. But put "Wanax" and you have to explain it, slowing the narrative. Or -- from a later period -- there is the entirely appropriate word "tyrant," which was applied then without the pejorative sense we give it today thus would, again, require explanation.

I'm willing to bet there is no global rule. Each item has to be approached on a case-by-case basis. "King" will do because we're not going to meet many of them, but "Basileus" (which is a later Greek transliteration of a fortunately quite similar Mycenaean term) is a better match for the former functionaries/local governors who during the LHIIIC phase of Mycenaean culture take over from the fallen palaces and morph over the years into local chieftains/warlords.

"Khopesh" is fine because it is vaguely familiar to the audience and (vowels aside) is a faithful recreation of the Egyptian "ḫpš."  "Naue-II" is out because it is obviously an academic coinage and contains the name of the German archaeologist who categorized them. Since they were traded all over the place there are probably some authentic names for them out there, but as that doesn't help visualize them it would be best to describe them from an in-universe point of view; "One of the long narrow swords that had come out of the North in recent years."

And, yeah; this little game is even harder when it comes to the names of entire peoples. I am perhaps fortunate that in the period I am writing few have a national identity per se; they are mostly tribal, with a certain affiliation towards cities in some places. My Mycenaean may self-identify as Athenian, for instance; Athana or perhaps Athenai goes back as a city name to at least the late Bronze Age. My Laconian is less lucky, as his people (quite possibly Mycenae fleeing from the collapse of the palatial system) didn't move from the lower Peloponnese into Laconia until a few hundred years later.

And of course "Egypt" is a modern transliteration of classical Greek; the earlier Linear B inscription is "a-ku-pi-ti-yo" which possibly derived from the Amarna-period name "Hikuptah." Which is back to the original naming problem; "Egypt" is expressive but wrong, but "Hikuptah" would take a bunch of explanation. The one advantage I have in my particular story is my characters are a polyglot bunch; the moment one of them says one name, another will correct or amplify with the name that their people use!

Just as well the Bronze Age is not one of the periods with a special dispensation. Because this research is tough enough without having to face those critical and well-informed readerships.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

TechShop RIP

I can't say I didn't see it coming. When I gave them a thousand bucks for the current year's membership I did so reluctantly aware they might not last the year.

What I didn't expect -- what no-one expected -- is that one Wednesday morning their loyal members would find the doors locked, no-one answering the phone...nothing but a (belated) email later that afternoon explaining that they had filed Chapter 7 and no longer existed as a company.

Yes, I understand why the members were kept in the dark. They were still hoping to find an investor or strike a bargain. But on sober reflection I don't sympathize. The above translates as, "We were in such dire financial shape we had to hide our books from the suckers we were trying to entice to give us more money, so of course we had to lie to our own members lest they give the truth away."

So, yeah. I feel betrayed.

It was a useless effort anyway. When I realized TechShop was in trouble I went web surfing and everywhere I found future investors hanging out, they all knew damn well (and in better depth and detail than I did) how bad off TechShop was.

It might have been smarter to be open and lay out exactly what they were dealing with. The kind of help they needed went beyond finding some random guy in Dubai to send them an infusion of cash. They needed a restructuring, they needed a better business model.

But I have to wonder if this wasn't almost implicit in shape of the very thing we were trying to preserve. TechShop was Maker. It ran on the philosophy of throwing it together. A sort of laissez-faire approach to building where doing it the right way or even the safe way was de-emphasized in favor of experiment and originality and the freedom to fail.

I loved the hands-off approach. TechShop gave you just enough instruction to get started and at least know the obvious ways to cut your own hands off, then let you alone to study, learn, and make your own mistakes. The alternatives I've looked at are much more about the "community," with a touchy-feely atmosphere so strong it makes you look around for the Kool-aid. If you wanted to come in at ten at night, speak to no-one, log into the machine and make a few cuts TechShop was the place to be.

The thing that I will miss most is the multitude of options. Sure, I can get access to many of the operations and some of the machines. I can send away to Ponoko to laser. I can get printing done at Shapeways. I can build my own mini vacuum-former and I can do some machining at the machines at work. But this isn't the same as having all those tools right there to hand.

When TechShop was open I could laser off a little bit bit of material or even a stencil or whatever. Now it is either wait two weeks for Ponoko or use hand-cut with X-acto knives and what-not or simply find some other (probably less efficient) way of achieving the desired effect. I was just that day contemplating using the Brother CNC embroidery machine for a possible project -- that's how I found out within a few hours of the closure.

It is a more flexible, nimble, exploratory way of working. Having daily access also better supports iteration; you can try out ideas knowing that you can run off an improved part the next day. Having to mail off a file and wait two weeks for delivery (plus paying the money for the service) seriously constrains that.

The part I regret most is all of the leveling up. I found all the collectables, I finished the side quests, and I unlocked so much. Which is to say, I took (and paid a lot of money for) a great many Safety and Basic Use classes. CNC mill, CNC router, 3d printer, laser scanner, laser engraver, metal lathe, wood lathe...  That is all waste. The classes are far too introductory to be considered worthwhile general instruction in that tool, and they are too site-specific to save me anything at somewhere like, say, Crucible -- meaning more time and more money to get back to having full access to the same tools.

What could they have done differently? Well, for one thing they were badly organized and badly managed. And their crisis response was to do more of the same. When they saw budget shortfalls they spent less on maintenance and salaries and started shorting their own instructors. Which is to say; they removed value from the thing they were trying to sell in the first place. They also ran endless promotions, which besides bringing in short-term cash at the cost of long-term income (membership specials that over the long run brought in less than the cost of maintaining that membership) raised a pervasive odor of desperation.

I would have gladly paid more. I'm not sure how many other members would agree, but perhaps if they had been open about their books we might have. I'm also not sure it would have been enough.

Let me attempt a back-of-the-envelop here. Assume capital investment in the actual machines on the order of 20K per "machine," a half-dozen machines in four generalized groupings -- call it 20 and apply another 20 worth of smaller tools and supplies. So that's 800K to be amortized over ten years of service life before you need to spend an equivalent amount in replacement or repair. Double that annual cost to 160K to cover staffing, utilities, etc. (And that's probably an understatement; even with the expense of these tools I could easily see their amortization working out to only a quarter of the total annual costs).

I'd say there were fifty people there most times I've visited, with capacity say a hundred. That allows a standing membership of 400-800. Being generous, the latter 800 members would have to pay...$2,000 annually. Which isn't that far off (their Makers Fair specials ran that number down to just below $1k, but to compensate monthly members pay about %140).

I suspect strongly my numbers are far too low both on ongoing maintenance costs for the equipment and staffing costs. So...would I have spent 4K for a membership? Perhaps.

I'm going to also assume that classes are a wash; they money they bring in should go into decent pay for the instructors, because you want quality instructors but the class prices are about as high as anyone wants to go. Also, quality instructors means you could expand past the SBU's and start offering proper in-depth instruction for those that wanted it.

But here's where the model that works for me stumbles into the question of the actual market. And I have some deeply pessimistic ideas about that. I've noticed at other corners of the generalized Maker sphere that the emphasis is on "getting your feet wet." Everyone is offering introductory classes, introductory kits, first-time user specials.

Which is great, and also links into STEAM and the focus on getting more young people started into actually building things again. Leaving aside the gripe that so many of these kits and classes seem more about the illusion of building things -- the Arduino equivalent of a Paint-By-Numbers kit -- I keep getting the sensation that the biggest problem the Make movement faces is retention.

By which I mean I suspect a great many more people are "getting their feet wet" than who actually end up swimming. So that model of yearly members bringing in a steady cash flow may be wrong. It may be that many of the people at TechShop come in for a month, a week, even a single class. Or send their kid there on a STEAM outreach program. And maybe print something or do a couple name tags on the laser printer but don't stay.

And, sure, the typical cycle for the serious user/entrepreneur is to go three to five years during development and growth: until they can afford their own machines and don't need to continue paying membership. I suspect particularly the generalist (like me) is very much the minority. I made "props." Most people coming in on a regular basis are making "product" and they rapidly narrow down to just one or two machines that they do most of the work on (and can as their business grows afford to own themselves).

There's also the impression among some that there are members thriving on the atmosphere. Like investment bankers soaking in the artsiness of live-work loft spaces, they come to park on a table with their laptops and the free wifi and coffee like a more tech-centric Starbucks. Like the Paint-By-Numbers above, I keep getting this impression of people doing the sizzle and not the steak. Of putting on the beret but never actually touching paint.

Because, honestly, if you are young and hungry what you want is investors. Looking like the next Steve Jobs is a lot more important than actually soldering anything. So TechShop functions in this way as a combination meeting ground, bullpen, source of inspiration and photogenic backdrop.

And myself? I don't know.  This is a music week -- I did complete my bass case and post up a new Instructable (which already got Editor's Pick) but basically I'm playing, not building. The only reason I even looked in on TechShop yesterday was about an idea I had for a Bodhran case.

Am I phasing back out of prop work? Am I going to go in different directions? I don't know. About the only thing I'm sure of is none of the other maker spaces in the Bay Area look that attractive. They almost all seem small and ingrown and very clubby, with a sort of shipping pallet and cinderblock earnestness that only really works for the young and hip and at least slightly delusional.

The only offering that exudes any kind of professionalism is the Crucible, and they take it to the other extreme; serious fees, serious classes, and the pervasive impression I get from them is you don't dare think about doing your own machining until you've done five years of apprenticeship under the eagle gaze of the senior members. Plus they are mostly about fire and glass and metal and although I've flirted with the idea of casting it isn't enough to draw me there.

Really, I miss my lasers. (And the vacuum-form machine, and a lathe I didn't have to fight over).

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

My Dog Has Fleas

My first solo recording project is an acoustic rendition of Miracle of Sound's Khajiit Like to Sneak (a comical look at some gameplay elements of the massive RPG Skyrim.)

I've been playing a Khajiit bard, so it occurred to do a cover of this piece using instruments not entirely unlike the bardic collection; lute, end-blown flute, hand drum, etc. The Khajiit accent and cultural trappings are vaguely Arabic and/or Spanish (perhaps Moorish Spain?) to the extent that the extant (third-party) collection of Khajiit songs uses classical guitar. So there's that to fold in, too.

And one big problem; the original song is spoke-sung, meaning it can be notated for time but not for pitch. Fortunately someone posted the underlying chord form up at one of the big guitar tab sites (even if I'm not sure they got it quite right). So I have some guide to possible pitches.

The other angle of attack -- and again I've forgotten the proper musical term -- is using the implied pitch of vowel sounds; like the ukulele mnemonic I've used for my post title. "Khajiit," for instance, implies a medium-sized interval with the lower note first.

Over the past few days I've worked up a MIDI mock-up, using patches that sound similar to the instrumentation I have available, making sure to stay within the actual note range, and practicing to see if I can actually play the ideas I'm writing out.

I've solved the basic orchestration issues. I have sounds that work well together. Now the two-fold task is capturing more of the accents and changes of the original (particularly the rhythmic accents), and fold in more early music and/or Flamenco references (I'm limited to what I can actually play on "guitar" -- actually, a ukulele with leather pick standing in for lute with plectrum -- but I do have a few techniques like rasgueado that I can use).

Of course a major element is going to be bodhran drumming, which I have yet to even start learning!

After that is general tightening. This mock-up is entirely internal; I'm using it as a guide and click track to record the actual parts. The more I problem-solve in MIDI, however, the easier the process is going to be.

The big problem-solve left is voicing in the Recorder section. My first idea was to use a Recorder Consort, interwoven lines performed on SATB (despite only owning sopranino, soprano, and alto recorders myself...they get rapidly more expensive as they get deeper in pitch). It still sort of seems like it will work, but it has been a long time since I studied voice leading and species and so forth.

This is the only place where I'm going dots on a line (at least, until I prepare the parts for recording). I already went to notation for the melody. Borrowing a technique I used extensively for theatrical sound effects I imported the original song into the Reaper file and synchronized the metronome. Then I was able to type out lyrics in the notation view and make sure they lined up accurately with the original vocals. With that, and the chords as a guide, I could come up with pitches that sort of worked.

And that's where I'm going to collect the three or four Recorder lines so I can make sure they are properly outlining the underlying chord progression. This is the sort of thing I did on paper way back long ago. I have a new booklet of staff paper but as with so many things these days it works well enough on the computer.

It still bugs me that the original is really using time and texture to express its ideas, but once you add melody there is inherently a focus on tonal and harmonic elements. Well...I'll see how it goes as I try to clean it up and focus it in better on the important ideas.

Frantic Activity

I forget who said about the swan: that it looks so serene gliding across the water, but under the surface there's all this frantic activity. That seems to apply to a lot of things, musical instruments included. In the case of brass and many of the woodwinds, what the serenity of the resulting melodic line hides is the intense physical effort involved. It takes a ridiculous amount of pressure to even get through the first octave.

It is a different sort of difficulty than that of violin. For violin, the movements are so necessarily precise you have to concentrate intensely no matter how simple the melodic line appears. For brass, there are most certainly nuances, but for the beginning brass player it is all about the physical stamina.

(Well, it is a learning thing. The better my embouchure gets -- and the stronger my lip muscles get -- the less force I have to put behind my breath. And the better the tone as well. That's what's causing the octaves to slowly open up. I'm getting the fifth partial already, and it's been a little over a week).

Of course the piece I'm working on now is all recorder and crumhorn....and bodhran.

The bass case is complete. I'd give it a B+ for concept, maybe even A-, but a D- for execution. It looks ugly, but it works well enough to tote the bass back and forth. But I still haven't gotten around to repairing/replacing the built-in pre-amp so I haven't been getting much practice on it.

So I don't know if I want to do an Instructable on a hybrid case off that example. I may have to wait and make another case. But the next one I might try vacuum-form and expanding foam as techniques...

Sunday, November 5, 2017

A Bridge Too Far: MOH Airborne

Airborne is the 11th installment of the perennial Medal Of Honor series of first-person shooters, and joins a still remarkably small number of games with historical settings; this one being of course World War II.

The ravening horde shouting out unintelligible insults had taken over the FPS genre at this point; it has a rather short "campaign" mode to concentrate it's energies on multiplayer (and as with so many games, the servers crashed on opening day and there were weeks of game-crippling issues with that multiplayer mode).

For the single-player campaign, you play as a low-ranking (eventually buck Corporal) soldier in the 82d named Boyd Travers. And as his clone, as any time you get killed between checkpoints a new "you" parachutes in to take up where you left off.

An unusual and fun mechanic in the game is that you make a combat drop into each new map with a steerable parachute. Not quite sandbox, it still means you can chose what order to take objectives, or even land somewhere completely random and proceed to screw with the game a little.

In the usual FPS mode you get a choice of two long arms, a pistol, and grenades. You can at various times swap out either of the long arms with what you find lying on the ground. And here's my first problem; with the exception of the panzerfaust, all the weapons as depicted are so vastly similar there's little reason to care which you are using.

Older weapons in real life are a lot less consistent. Some are bolt action, some have detachable magazines, some are notoriously unreliable; there's a lot to learn and you really shouldn't be able to just pick one off the battlefield and start shooting. Or find the right ammunition just lying on the ground.

Case in point; at various points a Gammon Bomb (which the game calls a Gammon Grenade) is added to your armory. Which cooks off and throws just like any other grenade. Well, the Gammon had a unique fusing system in which an unwinding strip of linen cloth armed an impact fuse. It should at least look -- and really play -- different. Heck, the game doesn't (as far as I can tell) even give a range advantage with the potato masher, which is pretty much the point of that long wooden handle.

I don't know if you really want to be modeling having to, say, run the bolt with every shot, much less have to go through some multi-button routine to shove a stripper clip through the top -- but then, many FPS already have a gun mechanic where you have to hold down multiple buttons to go into sight mode and shoot. In any case, I'd like something to make the weapons more distinct than just having a different sound and a different HUD model.

This ties into the hands-off philosophy so many of these games have with history. The writers cared about the period, did their research, and had a good consultant. It all looks great. But you as player engage so little with it. At least it is appropriate for Airborne soldiers to be carrying a huge armory around with them. There's a particularly famous picture of one with anti-tank, at least three other guns, and a blanket and poncho as well. But basically this is the FPS mantra; whether it is historically accurate or appropriate to the setting the player must have their four basic weapons groups.

Of course, what I'd really want is a game where you could talk to locals, go on pass between operations, swap stories with your buddies, spend time in hospital. But that's not going to happen, not even on AAA budgets. Mostly. I mean; Skyrim allows you to explore, engage in conversation (stilted as it can often be), even set up as a shopkeeper and put the sword down for good. I'm not asking for a game where you play as Anne and spend the war in an attic, but I do wish for more engagement.

In any case, the ruins are fun and look appropriate (but then, MOH have had eleven games and about as many years to learn how to model and render good-looking debris). The AI are mildly more interesting, as they seem more aware of their surrounding and even give hints of cooperating between each other. But alas, they fall prey like any other to my favorite FPS/3PS game of "confuse the AI." Just like in Tomb Raider, I could leave cover, sprint into their lines and cause the AI soldiers to spin in place as their tracking and pathfinding routines clashed.

And then beat them up with a potato masher. Amusingly enough, you get skill points for kills with a weapon even if you are doing melee with it. I think I got my first marksmanship badge with the pistol by pistol-whipping Italian irregulars behind their own barricades. Oh, right. After completing the main campaign once I went back through the first parts of the game determined to rely on the pistol and ignore the rest of the weapons. And also run around the battlefield like a maniac, which is how I got so intimately familiar with the respawn system.

It is a cover shooter, after all, with a rather cute "lean out of cover" mechanic that, alas, doesn't help against the increasingly skilled enemy shooters. As has been found in real war, the majority of bullet strikes are hands and head (the only parts exposed when you are trying to shoot from cover). The AI is aware enough to make sniper duels nicely challenging and give you a good sense of accomplishment.

The game somewhat goes off the rails in the later maps. Eventually you are fighting in a fantastical concrete warren that looks like a James Bond set against gas-masked black-uniformed super troopers who can take three shots to the head without going down and who advance on you terminator-like carrying a dismounted heavy machine gun. Accompanied by other gents who think a panzerfaust is an indoors weapon.

This is perhaps inevitable. You the player get more skilled as the game progresses, plus it has a skills system that does...something (weapons upgrades are most noticeable). So to make the later levels more difficult something has to be added. More enemy is the usual. Tougher enemy is the other. In the real world, the elite troops are elite because they know what the heck they are doing. They use cover better, they support each other better. Well, the AI is already running at its peak in the early game. The enemy can't get more skilled. So all they can get is weirdly armored. No matter how realism-breaking and un-historical that might be.

(They also in the real world get the better gear, but this is a negative advantage in the FPS world because anything they have, you can have for the price of a few bullets).

This is the sad truth of FPS, and the tired old AAA model. Time is money. To make a player spend money on a game you need to give them playing time in return. And the cheapest playing time comes from the variety and sort-of emergent behavior of AI opponents. Even an extensive dialog tree is only really novel once, and it takes a lot of time writing and recording voice talent and animating actors to achieve. Making a sprawling set that supports multiple strategies of engagement and then filling it with AI opponents is a mature technology, well-honed by the industry and familiar to the player.

Still, it plays well enough, looks fine, and there's at least a little sense of a past place and time.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

So, that was a thing

Wired up all 200 feet of LED strip (it only took 3-4 hours). The hard part was calculating it all, spec'ing it all, making sure everything was actually going to work. So that's done and delivered.

Also finished the costume for my friend's kid. We didn't get to work on it on the weekend so that was a big push yesterday and today. That and being so tired yesterday I gave up around five and basically went to bed (woke up for dinner then went right back to sleep).

The best I can say for the costume is during the last push I finally started to remember what I was doing. It takes a while to blow the dust off skills you haven't used in a while. It all more-or-less worked but I'm sorry the version #2 (version #5 if you count the muslins) of the hood is a little too small. All the others were too big but somehow we overcompensated. Pity, because that medium canvass really drapes well, and I lined it and everything.

(In case you are wondering, that's a simplified Arrow Season One as a vest instead of a long-sleeve body suit. The hood-and-shoulders is detachable, strapping under the arms and velcro'd to either side of the zipper in front. The raw un-hemmed edge at the shoulders is one of the "tells" of that outfit, like the contrasting lining and the chevrons on the angled twill tape (done with iron-on patch material...I am not one to be afraid of expedient construction methods).

Means I am basically clear of favors and designs and other projects with deadlines and can go back to practicing violin and repairing my bass. And possibly shaping a bronze sword; there's a couple of people who offer a raw stone-cast bronze blade for reasonable bucks.