Poetry: Ocean of Time

Stretching out into the blue
The currents that I travel through
Looking back at things I rue
Live my life as I do

What else is there but to wait?
Looking back and out at all the hate
Now I struggle just to sate
How can I get enough on my plate?

It’s all laid out in a line
Was there a time it was fine?
Don’t look back for what you pine
As you sail across the ocean of time.

Art: Ink Blotch

InkBlotch

A picture I made using a program called Krita.  It’s made for someone much more advanced than me, I think, although I do suppose that I can have fun learning.  I’ll need to learn how to rotate the brushes and save the result before I can do anything really complicated with it.

A bigger problem, however, is that Krita isn’t meant to be used with a mouse.  In truth, I think I would prefer to feel the brushes and paint dragging across the canvas and paper, but that would require money.  So it goes.

An Issue with the Turn System in “Namco X Capcom”

Namco X Capcom is a turn-based strategy RPG heavily influenced by fighting games.  The turn mechanics are based around units performing actions one at a time, rather than the player and computer moving and attacking with everything at once.  In theory, this could provide a more dynamic play experience, however, due to how the mechanics shake out, the result is very time-consuming.

First, I need to explain the turn mechanics proper.  Every unit has between zero and ten action points, and they move when they have ten AP.  If more than one unit has ten AP at a given time, they activate in a queue determined by some largely hidden process.  When no unit has ten AP, the battle advances by one tick, and every unit gains one AP.

Although a unit can theoretically have any amount of AP between zero and ten, in practice, it’s rare for AP to get below six.  Every action in the game uses up a set amount of AP: moving takes up one, attacking takes three, and other actions take two (or sometimes zero, depending on the unit).  Ending the turn without attacking or an other action also takes a point, so that moving without attacking takes two points total, in the same way that moving and attacking takes four.  The end result of each unit moving and attacking on their turn is that every unit goes in the same order.  When one side starts with all of their units at the top of the queue is that the players basically take turns, except that they don’t get to decide which pieces to move.

There’s a wrinkle in this system, however.  When a player unit is attacked, you can play a bit of a minigame involving pushing buttons when prompted.  Doing well in this minigame gives the attacked unit more AP.  This means that a unit that is attacked often can go as three or even four times as often as a unit that isn’t attacked.

As per tactical RPG conventions, enemies can be divided into units that only a threat through attrition, at best (mooks), and units that have a chance of taking out a unit if you’re not careful (bosses).  Because the player gains AP from taking attacks, they are encouraged to leave mooks alive, letting them put out a steady stream of minor damage, so that they can go more.  The actions they gain from the mooks’ attacks are naturally directed at taking out the bosses.

I mentioned that the mechanics result in taking a huge amount of time, and that because the minigame takes several seconds to complete for each attack.  The optimal way to play is also the most time-consuming way to play.  A typical map can easily take three hours to complete, and there have been points that the actions of one unit took up so much time that I forgot about units on the other side of the map, only to be reminded of them when their turn came up.

And although the time taken up is the worst thing about this system, I also have to question a system that encourages keeping mooks alive.  The player’s first instinct is already to ignore them and go after the actual threats.  The game seems like it wants the player to take out the mooks first and then have a dramatic, climatic battle with the boss.  The only mechanic encouraging this is that killing something gives one AP, but everything else works against it.

In the end, the problem is that the turns system doesn’t feel right.  It doesn’t feel right that the best way to play is to let your units be attacked.  It doesn’t feel right that you should take out the bosses first.  It doesn’t feel like a unit should be able to act more than another, simply because the first is surrounded.  And it doesn’t feel right that the only way to feed a kill to a specific unit is to wait for it so slowly cycle through the cue, while other units go two or three times while it’s waiting.

Pixel Art: Jessica, Ready

JessicaReady

Wow, I really messed up background on this one.  Anyway, this is something I made using Pixelart.com.  You can kind of see the pixels here and there, and had I been thinking, I would have increased the size of this thing and made sure that the background wasn’t black.

As for working with pixels, I’m a long way from making an actual sprite sheet.  I enjoyed the precision I had, even though I suspect that just using my paper drawing method isn’t the right way to do things.  I think I might try other digital methods.

Politics of the Planet Branwen

I had originally wanted Branwen – the planet that the Unity story would take place – to be a typical planet.  I have since realized that there can be no such thing as a typical planet.

The planet Branwen is defined by three major regions: the City, which contains most of the population and is the seat of governance for the world, the Countries, sparsely populated hinterlands that provide food and other resources, and the Oceans, inhabited by the nonhuman species known as the telks or the telka.  Ruling above these regions is the global government, headed by the Executive-General and controlled by the Global Parliament of Branwen.

Branwen is governed by a system that bears some resemblance to a bicameral semi-presidential system.  The first chamber, the General Assembly, is directly elected by the entirety of Branwen, using some system of proportionate representation.  I’m not sure if I want the entire chamber to be selected by a closed-list system, or if I want an open-list or a mixed member system, but at any rate, there would be a large number of Members of Assembly would be elected by no particular group of citizens.  The Assembly would largely be concerned with regulating the economy (mostly through taxes and appropriations) and would be largely uninvolved in the plot.

The second chamber of Branwen’s parliament, the Senate, would be much more involved with the actual story.  The idea would be that while the Assembly took care of the economy in general, the Senate would deal with specifics, including the actions of the agents of Unity.  The Senate’s power to do this would, theoretically, derive from the fact that the senators are elected by the people of each Country and canton of the City, in equal measure.  I think five for each would suffice, simply because it’s a nice number.

The Presidency is a bit of an unusual thing.  My inspiration for it is the British legal concept of the Crown-in-Parliament, where the Monarch kind of makes up their own house of parliament.  As such, I envision the president of Branwen acting as some combination of legislator and executive, mostly acting through appointments, and otherwise serving a chief negotiator with off-world powers, including the Federation.

The President would be elected by the various national governments, in a manner reminiscent of the President of India.  These national governments would also select the President’s advisors, who make of the other part of the Presidency.  In much the same way the Federal Councils provide a control on the Directors, the advisors provide a control on the president.  I’m not quite sure how they do this, but I’m picturing the president needing a certain amount of advisors to act, and that these advisors can resign at any time.

Branwen practices a form of executive-legislative dualism; that is, the executives are not allowed to be a part of parliament.  I’m envisioning a group of politician that are associated with the parties, and generally specializing in government administration.  Two unusual traits of Branwen’s executive are 1) the cabinet members are considered to be subordinate to parliament, and 2) the executives can survive independently from one another, that is, the dismissal of any cabinet member, even the Executive-General, does not always result in the entire cabinet being replaced.

Now that I’ve explained how the world is governed, I can tell you about the world itself.  I’m going to take it region by region.

The City contains billions of people, both human and telk, in a relatively small area, even if this area is still large enough to be seen from space.  Due to the population density, there is a need for a strong government, capable of ensuring that water, waste, electricity, and other things are taken care of.  However, because of the sheer population of the City, it needs to be divided into manageable chunks.

I mentioned above that the City is divided into cantons, first-level divisions each equal to a country, and containing hundreds of millions of people each.  Each canton is divided into some number of wards.  Sometimes, these wards are stacked on top of each other, such that getting from one to another frequently involves an elevator.  Governing this nonsense is a headache and a half.

The City government resembles a federation of federations, a federation of the cantons, each of which is a federation of wards.  The areas of sovereignty for these sub-units are guaranteed less by constitutional law, and more by the fact that it would be ludicrously complicated to switch anything from one level of government to another.

Legislatively, the City has a form of tricaremalism.  The three houses would be the Council of Residents, representing those that live in the City, the Board of Trustees, representing those that work in the City, and the a chamber representing the governments of the cantons.  The Council of Residents is self-explanatory.  The Board of Trustees exists because of the sheer number of people that, while not living in the City itself, are still economically dependent on it.  The Board of Trustees would be based largely on similar bodies in the cantons and wards.

The  third chamber, representing the cantonal governments, wouldn’t exist so much as because the cantons are considered sovereign by right, but more because the City government would desperately need to coordinate with the cantons to make sure, for example, that the ground doesn’t crack open and release thousands of tons of raw sewage onto  the streets.  I suppose it would end up looking like the EU’s council of ministers, with each configuration being made up of experts on one kind of infrastructure.

The Countries don’t need nearly as much coordination between them, and if anything like the City government exists for them, it isn’t nearly as important.  The Countries themselves differ from each other greatly.  I might want each canton to have its own character, but they are still urban areas that are fairly close to each other.  The Countries, meanwhile, take up the rest of the planet, covering every kind of terrain on it.  Their laws and customs would be determined by the part of the world they found themselves in, even if they all grew from the same root.

Governmentally, they are all some kind of elective democracy (as required by the Federation), but beyond that, I see no reason to restrict them from any stable system.  These systems seemed to be produced by legislatures that are stronger than executives, but as the Countries are subordinate entities, I suspect that they can get away with things that would be unstable in sovereign polities.  Regardless, only a few of the Countries would be involved the plot, and I think I could think of things as they came up.

You may have noticed that the Oceans didn’t get any representation in the Senate.  This is because the telka are, at the beginning of the story, largely separated from the rest of the planet.  I figure that aquatic species are unlikely to develop a concept of Westphalian sovereignty, and as such, see nothing odd about living in and around a different polity.  The humans accept this because Branwen is mostly ocean, and the telks have an easier time getting resources out of them.

I want the telk system of democracy to have descended from monarchy in a different way than it did here on Earth.  I want their first parliament to have replaced the king outright, becoming the a collective sovereign.  This isn’t too different from the various countries on Earth that practice parliamentary sovereignty.  The chief difference are first, that they never developed the role of head of state, with unity instead being focused on parliament itself, and second, that they never developed bicameralism.  The first explains where the humans got the idea of a collective presidency from.  The second has much more interesting implications.

No bicameralism means no federalism, or at least a limited amount of it.  I suppose that the telka’s solution to a population becoming unmanageablely large would be to devolve a new parliament, or even effectively release a segment of the citizenry from their rule.  I think that the presence of the humans could complicate matters, however.  If the dominate group of telka tried to retain control of their population as a counterweight against the human government, that could cause issues with the populace, especially among those that live near and with the humans.  And now you understand why the telka are having a rebellion.

One last note is on the political parties.  The three major political parties, at least among the humans, are the Whigs, the Trads, and Labor.  I haven’t decided much about the Whigs, my thoughts on Labor are mostly concerned with their leader in the Senate, and the fact that they are involved with something called Guilds (which really deserve their own post), and the Trads are an alliance of religious groups.  The President and the Speaker of the Senate, if you remember that picture, were Trads, the Executive-General was a Whig, and the Senate Labor leader was, of course, a member of Labor.

I figured that the politics of the City would mostly be controlled by a combination of Labor and the Whigs, while the Countries would have a much greater proportion of Trad governments, with Labor being almost unknown if you get far enough away from the City.  I figure that each party would be associated with an interstellar organization, either something like India’s alliances or the EU’s parliamentary groups.  I might actually want the organizations to be full blown parties, but regardless, I know that I want such organizations to be involved in the Telk Rebellion.

3D Model: Sandstone Column

DoricColumn

I’ve learned how to make a texture in Blender.  I think the pattern was to large for what I had in mind, but the column might also be too short.  I also learned how to deal with shininess and shadows while trying to render this one.

As for why a column, well, it’s a small part of a larger project I want to do.  I’m not sure that I’ll be able to do it all in a reasonable time frame, but I think creating all of the pieces would be worthwhile in and of itself.  I’m going to need more practice, and I think I might have to ask for help somewhere.  Wish me luck.

A Problem of Approaches to Magic and Gods

I’ve developed a bit of a writer’s block with one of my stories.  It’s a story about different kinds of magic, mostly inspired by the various magic classes of Dungeons & Dragons.  It’s largely based on the difference between the wizard’s spellcasting and psionics.

I’ll start with the psychics and how they fit into things.  Psychic powers were introduced into DnD as a weird subsystem that frequently didn’t act like anything else, and when they did, they mostly acted as a kind of magic that wasn’t technically magic.  This idea of magic-that-is-not-magic made me think of a scene where a wizard was cut off from his magical power, and the villains, thinking themselves safe, were surprised by his assistant’s mind bullets.

As I thought about how to cut off the wizard from his magic, I began to think about what magic was in that universe, and how it differed from the mind bullets.  The first thing I thought of was the internal/external divide, that is, the wizard’s power was external, and the psychic’s power was internal.  Part of the reason for this is that I need the villain to believe that whatever it was that disabled the wizard would also disable his assistant, and cutting off all magical power in an area seemed like a good way to do it.

I started to write a story for such a scene, but I realized there was something off about the magic system, and I’m not sure what it is.  I have an idea of the wizard’s spells being like weaving currents of air together, like streams of magic float in the sky and you can control them if you know the trick, while psychic powers are done by forming a vision in your mind, and letting your inborn talent do the rest of the work.

I suppose that the problem is that I don’t know what the difference means thematically.  The obvious choice is the difference between academic study and simply acting, but that doesn’t speak to me.  I think I’ll have to think about this harder, about what the difference is, and how the two forms of magic fit, or don’t fit, into the world.