Monday, November 21, 2016

Learning Outcomes for Outlast

Here is some feedback from the originator of the game idea "teach environmental sustainability through a game with zombies":

What I was thinking about were both reasoning/critical thinking skills and environmental sustainability.  What do you do when the first plan doesn't work? What is your new goal? What information do you need? What is your strategy? I thought the zombies would make it cool and relevant and more exciting, but we could also have used a colony on the moon. Ok, they would have needed a lot more background knowledge! 

Game design: Game Dojo stream pre-report

Hello!  There's a Game Dojo stream tonight where I'll talk with Sen about Outlast.

Here's a brief follow-up of what has happened from the earlier Game Dojo conversation.  The items to consider in the short term were:

  • consider permanent resources (that are location features: shelter, arable land, water, e.g.) as well as temporary resources: I haven't really done this.  
  • consider the minimal best 9 locations to have. What if these were all there are? (letting a location get overrun should be a gut-wrenching decision) This I have done, and played the game with only 9 locations (when a location is overrun, it disappears and nothing replaces it.)  This game is more challenging, of course, but definitely achieves the goal of treating locations as precious.  
  • What's a playable "scenario" that can be "solved" (won) (A deterministic end goal, that is definitely achievable).  There should be a strategy that works regardless of unfortunate die rolls: I tried out a few straightforward scenarios: the farm (which makes it easier to produce food) next to the sustainable storage (which has a win condition if you have enough food), and the laboratory (win condition: medicine and gas) near the hospital and gas station.  I realized that a well-coordinated team can definitely win in either case, quickly.  (more on this)
  • write a bio, then publicize it and this blog so people (you guys!) can follow the story of the game design.  Have not been good about writing a bio. :(

Here are some thoughts to hold off on for the moment, but should be considered down the road:
  • Consider expanding the map to 25 "little" locations rather than 9 "big" ones. Not looked at yet.
  • This game sounds like it wants to be a co-op area control game: This is sort of true, in the sense that a powerful tactic is to move as a pack, with one outrunner on a different location.  This looks a bit like area control: having 3 people in one place is better than 2 here and 1 somewhere else. (If there's a chance for food, for example, 3 searchers on the same location are liable to hit it and can all use it.)
  • Pivot: what makes the players realize they need to switch strategies (from exploit to sustain, explore to hunker down, e.g.), and what makes the timing of the pivot crucial (waiting too long or going too soon has to have a cost): Running through the "scenarios", I am a bit concerned that there isn't a pivot - or at least, focusing solely on the goal from the start was a successful strategy.  This is one of the "counterintuitive" parts of the game -- players naturally start out trying to subsist, but choosing to starve from the start in pursuit of a win condition is a quicker path to victory.
  • building a defensible position; using fortification or something to protect/claim some region: Hypothesized a bit about what "securing locations" might look like as a new action players could take.  I think there's definitely a plausible opportunity here.
  • zombies chasing people around, rather than just showing up? Generally de-emphasizing the zombie attacks in favor of overruns? Not looked at yet.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Game design is happening!

So, I've been designing a game. The working title is Outlast, and it's a zombie game with a subtext of environmental sustainability. More to follow, including the pitch for the game, but if you're here to hear my tale of game design, welcome! The label "games" will show relevant material for you; you're welcome to look at everything, but if you _just_ want stuff about the game, click on that label. Without further ado, here's the hook:

When the zombies overrun society, every resource is precious. In Outlast, you and your friends must grab some resources (like food and guns) and maintain others (like a safe hideout.) As resources dwindle, you must strike out to discover new locations, while continuing to occupy the best sites you’ve already discovered. Locations you don’t use become inaccessible, so players have to develop an evolving “base of operations” consisting of several locations that work well together. If you succeed, you may be able to eliminate the zombies and create a safe haven for humanity. Good luck - we’re counting on you!
I've got a wonderful opportunity to work on this design in the Game Dojo, a mentorship group that Sen-Foong Lim of Meeple Syrup is leading. I had a great conversation with him, with a summary of how the game plays, available here.

 Here are some of my "to-dos" from that conversation:


  • consider permanent resources (that are location features: shelter, arable land, water, e.g.) as well as temporary resources
  • consider the minimal best 9 locations to have. What if these were all there are?
  • What's a playable "scenario" that can be "solved" (won) (A deterministic end goal, that is definitely achievable).  There should be a strategy that works regardless of unfortunate die rolls.
  • (letting a location get overrun should be a gut-wrenching decision)
  • write a bio, then publicize it and this blog so people (you guys!) can follow the story of the game design.

Here are some thoughts to hold off on for the moment, but should be considered down the road:
  • Consider expanding the map to 25 "little" locations rather than 9 "big" ones.
  • This game sounds like it wants to be a co-op area control game
  • Pivot: what makes the players realize they need to switch strategies (from exploit to sustain, explore to hunker down, e.g.), and what makes the timing of the pivot crucial (waiting too long or going to soon has to have a cost)
  • building a defensible position; using fortification or something to protect/claim some region
  • zombies chasing people around, rather than just showing up? Generally de-emphasizing the zombie attacks in favor of overruns?

Sunday, October 09, 2016

Math as Literary Theory (or not at all)

The other day Sarah was explaining multiplication to Zoe, especially about why any number times 0 is 0, and a number times 1 is that number.  I realized in that moment that I had never really heard (or what is called "hearing") the quite logical explanation that Sarah was giving Zoe.  Somehow, when I was Zoe's age (or older?) I had instead just memorized a rule that I either created myself or someone gave me.  The rule is this:

  • The zero is an infection:  it infects anything that "times" it (or something like that).  Whenever a number faces the dreaded zero, that number is completely annihilated by the black hole of the zero's (non-)power.  The zero, in other words, is a principle of contagion.

  • The 1 is a mirror that reflects back whatever "times" it.  If a number confronts the 1, all the number sees is itself.  Mere reflection.

This is of course a horrible way to understand multiplication.  But it's a great entryway into literary theory, especially theories of representation.  Are we dealing with a principle of reflection or mere representation (the 1)?  Or is this a case of reflection as distortion, or rather, not reflection at all but contagion: the one representing ends up infecting what is supposed to be represented? 

It's also a good primer on ethics, or what Levinas called "the ethics of ethics."  When I face the other, am I a "one" or a "zero"?  What would be the ethical integer?  For Levinas, ethics does not take place when I assimilate the other to me (when I infect the other, when I overwhelm the other with my own qualities).  Ethics does not begin with the zero.  Rather, ethics begins when I take up the position of the "one" (1):  my own self is annihilated in my encounter with the other.  Or rather, as a 1, I have no self, and therefore am able to allow the other to be present as such.  A certain reading of Levinas would therefore say that the ethical integer is always the 1.

Of course, literary theory also likes to confuse the difference between the zero and the one: no longer simply contagion or reflection, the "mirror" becomes passageway:

I don't know what "math" would say about that one.  Probably a lot, since Looking-Glass was, for Carroll, a math problem, or at least a chess problem.

The moral of the story:  In effect back in 6th I mean 1st grade, when I was learning multiplication, I really wasn't learning anything about math, but rather ended up assimilating math to my "self," but a self that would not actually be constituted until much later ("math" reflected a self that was not yet).  Or maybe that's what literary theory is, for me anyway:  my own non-encounter with math, my own private zero.  This is why "math" always returns to me as trauma or neurosis. 

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

What RA Feels Like

I just made a little animated video about how my rheumatoid arthritis makes me feel. Please watch. Then, please donate.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Siblings Size-up Margins of Safety



Bob and Sarah worked together again (see the announcement of our first collaboration here) on a post over at Medical Law Perspectives: Uncleanable ERCP Duodenoscopes: Manufacturer, Hospital, and Physician Liability?  This time, Bob clarified the comparison of two margins of safety. 

In an editorial published in JAMA last October, William A. Rutala, PhD, MPH, Professor of Medicine, University of North Carolina School of Medicine, Chapel Hill; Director, North Carolina Program for Infection Control and Epidemiology; Director, Hospital Epidemiology, Occupational Health and Safety Program Hospital Epidemiology, University of North Carolina Health Care; and David J. Weber, MD, MPH, Professor of Medicine, Division of Infectious Diseases, University of North Carolina School of Medicine, Chapel Hill, stated that the margin of safety associated with cleaning and high-level disinfection of gastrointestinal endoscopes is 0-2 log10. Rutala WA, Weber DJ. Gastrointestinal endoscopes: a need to shift from disinfection to sterilization? JAMA. 2014 Oct 8;312(14):1405-6. PMID: 25291575. Rutala and Weber compared this low margin of safety to the 17 log10 margin of safety associated with cleaning and sterilization of surgical instruments. 

But I had no idea how 2 log10 compared to 17log10. Bob explained that, at best, the margin of safety of endoscope reprocessing is 15 to 17 orders of magnitude less than the margin of safety for reprocessing of surgical instruments. Not 15 to 17 times less. 15 to 17 orders of magnitude less. That is literally over a quadrillion times less. So, the margin of safety associated with the cleaning protocol for duodenoscopes recommended in instructions provided by the manufacturer (Olympus Corporation) and the FDA is over a quadrillion times less than the margin of safety for reprocessing surgical instruments.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Chicken Hunters

I mean, the chickens are hunters. I tried to get some videos of them chasing other birds off their lawn, but it was difficult to catch them in the act.  They mostly acted innocent.


Wednesday, December 10, 2014

A Hollywood Tail

Back on November 1st, we discovered two kittens abandoned in our yard. After a daring rescue, they were cold and flea - infested, but adorable.
Unfortunately, David is allergic to cats. So we had to find them a forever home. We emailed; tweeted; and put flyers up in the Department of English, Comparative Literature, and Linguistics, a known cat person hang out. But there were no takers.
Then our friend Bridget, a recovering cat breeder, stepped in. She fostered the remaining kitten (yes, :( DO NOT TELL OUR CHILD) and nursed it back to health and flea-freedom. Then she found it a forever home with a mom and two sons who just lost their elder cat ... in San Jose, which is over a six hour drive without traffic. In trying to find a ride for the kitten, by then named, Oliver, she contacted a friend who is an animal wrangler in Hollywood. Not only did the animal wrangler volunteer to drive Oliver to San Jose, but she lined up some work for him. 

As it is not kitten season, Oliver was able to command a four digit payday for two days of work. He was the model in a photo shoot for Shutterfly.
Now, Oliver has earned his initial veterinarian visit and neutering fees for his forever family and gas money for his ride up the coast. 
While Oliver's story has a happy ending, please remember that if you find young kittens in a relatively safe area, such as in the grass or on a sidewalk, it’s best to leave them alone. Mom is probably moving her babies or out looking for food. Check out this post from the ASPCA for more information.