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By Samuel Stoddard


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Monday, November 28, 2005

I received a fascinating email from someone commenting on the current Reader Poll question, which asks, "When you toss crumpled up paper at a trash can, how often do you get it in?"

Shawn D. writes:

I wanted to thank you for the latest poll. The fact that I'd never thought about it and didn't know the answer -- coupled neatly with the fact that my homeschooled 13-year old son has just been studying ratios, statistics, and probability -- gave me yet another opportunity to cause intense suffering and untold agony through an exercise in practical application.

In the interest of the most accurate result, we selected five common (on-hand) varieties of paper, put the trash can six feet away from the office chair, and recorded the results.

Giving an overall 76% success rate.

My son ultimately concluded that weight has some bearing on the results, but given the abysmal performance of manilla drawing paper he suggested that the fact I'm always throwing away copy paper at work may have affected the results. So we tried it with him:

Giving him an overall 69% success rate and giving his theory a boost -- he's always throwing away notebook paper and manilla drawing paper but doesn't use printer paper so often.

My husband has abstained from the exercise, citing the fact that he works in an effectively paperless environment and would need to pitch a PDA and a laptop at the trashcan 20 times each to test the veracity of my son's theory. This is unfortunately an impractical exercise given the ratio of our current household income to our household expenditures...which I promptly had my son calculate but won't reproduce here because it's too depressing.

At any rate, your poll also gave us the opportunity to discuss the problem of getting accurate statistics. He noted that people could be flinging any kind of paper at the trashcan and may not necessarily count something like a post-it note as "paper." We played with statistics for half the afternoon, making them say all kinds of interesting things about how often the paper hits the can.

So in summary, thank you for an amusing Saturday of applied mathematics, and my son would probably like to have a word with you about future polls not being something easily tested in the living room on a Saturday afternoon after he says "I'm bored!" <grin>


When I asked Shawn's permission to reproduce her letter here, she added:

Yes, you certainly may reproduce my letter in the RinkWorks Site Journal. My thinks it a great opportunity to warn homeschoolers and would-be homeschoolers of the dangers of your polls.


Homeschoolers, consider yourselves warned.

Friday, September 16, 2005

I should have thought of this sooner -- plug a Site Journal update in the middle of September Blitz like this, so I can take a break from being relentlessly industrious and throw out an update that requires neither creativity nor tedium. I get to blather on about whatever I want to blather on about, and presto, it's new site content! Ok, I'm being partly facetious, but it does feel like I'm in the eye of a storm.

It's time for an update about the state of things, though. When I last wrote, Murkon's Vengeance was new, and I talked about starting the next game for The Role-Player's Vault straight away. Since then, a lot of things have cropped up, but I did start that new game and made some incredible progress on it.

With Murkon's Vengeance, I was prevented, by the "role-reversal" nature of the game, from making much in the way of enhancements to the equipment system, combat system, and user interface. The game had to feel just like Murkon's Refuge in reverse, which meant keeping as much of Refuge as I could. With this new game, I've discovered a great freedom in what I can do. That's been what's motivated me to work on it so much over the last months. Finally, I can take the elements of the previous games that never quite worked, or which have run their natural course, and reinvent them into more interesting things.

The game is still quite a ways off from seeing completion, and I'm not getting anything done on it while September Blitz is commandeering so much of my immediate attention. But progress is going well, and it's a lot farther along at this point than I expected it to be. The big thing left to do is, well, the whole combat system, usually the hardest part of an RPG, and after that there will be a lot of tweaking of numbers to balance the gameplay.

On a completely unrelated note, I've had this better-than-usual list of humorous quotations about dogs for quite a while and always intended to post it here, for lack of a better place, but never got around to it. I got around to it.

Thursday, May 5, 2005

Now that Murkon's Vengeance is open, I am finally able to weigh in on the fascinating kind of anticipation that people have expressed in the Message Forum and in RinkChat about it. It is fascinating because the right conclusions were reached via a series of completely wrong assumptions.

As far as I can remember, I was very careful not to use the word "sequel." I don't think it ever slipped out. When describing the next Refuge-like game I was making, I always described it as a "follow-up" or, simply, "the next game with the Refuge engine." But it's funny what people hear versus how they interpret it. Suddenly, as early as 2002, people were talking about the "promised sequel to Murkon's Refuge." Then someone somewhere said "Murkon's Revenge," and suddenly THAT name got repeated everywhere, but it never came from me. Of course, in the end, it was a sequel to Murkon's Refuge, and the title was close enough.

Originally, it was dead-on. Immediately after releasing the first game, I started developing the second, and I was going to call it Murkon's Revenge. The title change became necessary very early on (and well before any rumors that that would be the eventual title) when people started posting to the Hints Board and coming into RinkChat to talk about the new game "Murkon's Revenge." I guess some people just see the impression of a title and don't really read it, kind of like how sometimes people ask for hints for "The Secret of Broccoli Manor" instead of "The Mystery of Brackly Hall." So I knew right then that I could never release a game called "Murkon's Revenge," because everybody'd say, "Huh? Didn't I already play that?"

This last part of the story I've said a few times, in the forum and in chat; I just never said that it was a real situation, not purely theoretical. Still, "Murkon's Revenge" was the assumption. Despite the fact that this is technically inaccurate, it's amazing how right the fallaciously-derived rumors really were in the end.

Now that it's out, I would like to announce that I will soon begin working on a "third game to use the Murkon's Refuge engine," a "follow-up to the Murkon games," if you will, that will open eventually in The Role-Player's Vault. Hopefully this will occur before 2008, but three years is about how long these games take me to write, since I seem to burn out in the middle of development and need to take a couple years off.

In any case, let the rumor mill begin, and I'll watch with interest to see what they develop into and if they turn out to be half-way right again.

Thursday, April 7, 2005

It's been ten months since I wrote in this thing, and it's high time to regroup and reflect on the state of things. Earlier today, I was looking back through the RinkWorks Timeline to see where things have come in the last three years or so. Well, no longer am I churning out a new feature every month, as once used to be the case in the glory days. Mostly that's because the new features I'm writing are more complex and intricate than they've been in the past. Just compare RinkWorks' earliest game (the Site Market Game) with its latest (Monster Arena, if you skip over the last two Adventure Games Live games), and the reason becomes clear. The latter is pretty feature-rich and intricate, and the former is barely usable, despite being pretty fun sometimes. Someday I may go back and revamp the user interface for the Site Market Game, but I always feel a stronger pull to move forward than back. Which is, I figure, as it should be.

But getting back to the timeline, it sure looks like I took 2003 off. The major releases that year were the Academy Awards Predictions Game and RookChat, not counting the wonderful FNN which wasn't mine. 2004 was better: The Film-Lover's Check List, Monster Arena, Pips, and Smash, which was a threefold Adventure Games Live project: massively extending the language all the games are written in, rewriting the game engine from scratch, and concurrently developing two new games: Heather Billings' Outlaws of the Sierra Nevadas and my own The Early Years. All this took half a year to complete, but it was an investment that will benefit us into the years to come, for it spurred on the development of other adventure games that a number of people are currently writing.

Anyway, it should come as good news that I've been sustaining the momentum of the previous year, and my goal is to grind through still more, to make 2005 RinkWorks' best year yet. Since the finishing touches were put on The Early Years, I decided it was time to unearth a project that had been on the shelf for longer than I ever intended it to be. Remember the promised follow-up game to Murkon's Refuge? Three quarters of it was completed in the months after Murkon's Refuge came out, while I was still on a kick for that type of game. But I burnt myself out, developing those two games back-to-back, and during the summer of 2002 I split my attention to Fantasy Quest II for a breather, and then it was another thing, and then another. Well now it's time to stop fooling around and get it together. I won't make any promises or estimates about when it will get done, but suffice it to say that my goal is "soon."

After that? After that I can't talk about specifics. I don't like to say too much about projects in the making until they're done. If I spill a lot of details and no one seems interested, that's discouraging, and if they are, that enthusiasm can wane if the idea takes too long to come to fruition. But I've got a few different projects in mind to tackle next, a couple of which have already had substantial work done on them.

There is a bit of a pull between two camps of RinkWorks readers: those that prefer the humor and those that prefer the games. There are other types of RinkWorks features, of course, but the humor and games are the biggest draws, both for readers and for me personally. My future plans for the site don't involve neglecting either, but all the "big" projects in the making are games of one sort or another. The humor side will continue to be sustained primarily by updates to existing features, though there is one featurette I've been dabbling with for a year now and will finish as the rest of the inspiration I need hits.

I find it a continual source of frustration that certain types of creative output cannot be forced but must happen in their own time. I am not at all a believer in writer's block: my feeling is that writer's block is simply a cue to inform the writer one of two things: (1) you've written yourself into a corner, and you can't continue because there is a problem in what you've written so far, or (2) you've become so obsessed with perfect writing that you've come to think, deep inside, that no writing is preferable to imperfect writing. In the former case, the solution is to go back, find out what the problems are, and fix them. In the latter case, it's to get over it and realize that the only way to perfect something is for it first to exist imperfectly. (Caution! Sufferers of (2) are liable to mistake it for (1) and worsen the problem by applying (1)'s solution! Ah, the bitter ramifications of the human inability to be objective about the self!)

Nonetheless, there are, as I was saying, certain types of creative writing that cannot be forced out. The most classic example on RinkWorks, is I Think, the most frustrating and most rewarding feature for me to write. I just can't make an idea come to me, and if I don't have a good idea, I can free-write all I want, but nothing worth anything is going to come out of it.

It is true, and frequently misunderstood, that inspiration comes during the creative process, not before it. If you want a good idea for writing, write, and see what happens. But it's easier said than done when it comes to something in the format of I Think: the idea has to come first, because that's all there is. Of course, free-writing is (and has proven to be in the past) a pretty good warm-up exercise and occasionally has resulted in good ideas for the column. But in general what I Think needs is the experience of life. I need to be out in the world, experience something, recognize the experience, then reduce that experience to its simplest terms and use some lateral thinking to explore how the pattern of that experience could almost fit into some wholly other aspect of life, despite the outrageousness of the thought. The point is that it all starts with an experience, and it's tough to force having the particular kind of experience that can stand up through that whole creative process.

Anyway, the new humor featurette I've been developing at a leisurely pace for the last year is that kind of thing, too. I'll be happy with it in the end, but for now it is a test of the patience I have with myself. I dislike incompleteness with a passion. There are actually very few RinkWorks feature ideas that I've begun and will not ever finish. (Those are the ideas I realized belatedly were bad ideas.) Yet the way I work is usually to plow through some of a feature, get burnt out, and do something else for a breather. The Murkon's Refuge follow-up unfortunately got stuck with an unusually long breather period (Murkon's Refuge itself had a three year gap in development!), but it was always going to get done. And now that it's back in active development again, it's safe to say it will continue to be until you're able to play it.

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