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September 21st, 2005


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02:16 am - Games and puzzles
Life is pretty good at the moment. You probably have a pretty good clue about this by the facts that I'll be with Meg again in less than 100 hours, I've made myself two silly new usericons and I'm posting about games.

Following up on mention of hypothetical Celebrity Dungeons and Dragons two posts ago, and because we all rip off A-list blogs like the boing from time to time, whether we realise it or not, I point to Dungeon Majesty, a public-access TV show about Dungeons and Dragons that people made earlier in the year. You can see the first - only, so far - three episodes to date in RealMedia format at RPGMP3, or the first two-episodes laden with adverts but without plugin requirements at the remarkable Heavy.

The show is elaborately, imaginitively and lovingly made. It is gloriously amateur, which is (of course) no bad thing; as Bernie reminds us, the word amateur comes from the Latin amare; an amateur is a lover, one who does it for love, and there's a whole lot of very obvious love that has gone into the production of the show. Simultaneously, it is unashamedly cheesier than a Monty Python sketch, but in a good way. The participants really throw themselves into it - and, by the middle of the third episode, you can tell they've thrown off their inhibitions and are really having fun, as well as enjoying the process of TV-making and using as many graphical and production tricks as they can consider.

In short, four rather comely young ladies play a very basic Dungeons and Dragons adventure run by a DM who has clearly watched his share of early-'90s pro wrestling. The action is rapidly intercut with live-action style clippings of the players dressed as their characters acting out their adventure in the Live Action Role-Playing stylee, plus there is a chromakey (green screen, weather forecasts etc.) background which is frequently updated. There is frequent use of camera trickery, stop-motion animation, graphical effects and sound effects. These are simultaneously tremendously accomplished for a small group of amateurs, clearly putting in very many tens of hours of loving effort into the production, and simultaneously clearly very far from professional standards. Heck, a professional show wouldn't have nearly as much fun and revelry with what they're trying to do.

The first show intercuts with pre-taped segments including a fantasy book review, an "agony aunt" skit and a couple of what might loosely be termed music videos. The second episode abandons the adventure altogether and has lots of footage from a renaissance faire, mostly interviews with people of varying degrees of fandom and sobriety. The third episode is truest to the concept, though has a strange segment at the end of the show with the team lip-synching (and lip-instrument-playing) to a rock track, which feels rather out of place. The gameplay is by necessity a traditional dungeon-crawl, though it would be interesting to imagine what a show that started from a premise of covering a combatless freeform live action RPG might look like. Ideally it would look indistinguishable from freeform improvised drama, which might actually lose some of the charm.

The programme is fascinating as a demonstration of what amateurs can create in this day and age with current technology and thought-provoking as to what level of sophistication we will require from our entertainment in the future. Some will be prepared to make allowances for the amateur production values of the high-concept features they have tried to implement, others will be less charitable towards the human performances. You just can't hold this show to the values you expect from professional television; some people will be off-put by this, others will not. I'm firmly in the "not" camp and rather hope there is some sort of award for innovation in public access television or IPTV that this show can win other than adulation in a few rather geeky weblogs.

This isn't going to be the show to convert those who are ill-disposed towards tabletop RPGs on principle, but those who are well-disposed towards the genre, like me, may well enjoy and admire the production as much as I did. In lieu of having a 1980s computer magazine accolade to award, for one cannot give a public access TV show a Crash Smash, I award it thumbs aloft. Or +EV. Or a jiggery_pokery Jig Of Joy. An icon of enthusiastic approval, anyhow.

Two dozen of us are playing Channel 4's Fantasy Football at work, and close to the end of the first month, I have opened up a decent league at the top of the "Tidy Tackle Premiership" - my "Fat Duck County" have 41 points to second place's 32. (And my boss's 14 in 20th place.) This is not a tremendous score on a national scale - 3400th out of at least 68,000 - but good enough. I picked my line-up after reading an article saying simply "You score most points from your goalkeeper and defence, then your strikers, then your midfield" - so I splashed out on a boringly sensible back line, bought the Man Utd. forward line and picked up cheap midfielders to pad out my budget.

Pos	Player			Team	Cost	Played	Goals	Assists	Cl/Shts	Conc'd	Wk Pts.	Tl Pts.
GK	P Cech			CHE	4.5	3	0	0	3	0	3	9
FB	Lauren			ARS	4.1	2	0	0	1	2	3	2
FB	A Cole			ARS	4.3	2	0	0	1	2	3	2
CB	J Terry			CHE	5.0	3	0	0	3	0	3	9
CB	S Hyypia		LIV	3.9	2	0	0	2	0	3	6
MF	P Neville		EVE	2.9	2	0	0	0	0	0	0
MF	J Jenas			NEW	3.2	3	0	0	0	0	0	0
MF	G McCann		AV	2.9	2	0	0	0	0	0	0
MF	G Boateng		MID	2.9	3	0	1	0	0	0	2
ST	W Rooney		MU	8.0	3	1	1	0	0	0	5
ST	R van Nistelrooy	MU	8.3	3	2	0	0	0	0	6
15 points from the defence due to five clean sheets in one week? Blimey. Boring, boring Fat Duck County.

Am very much enjoying the "Killer Su Doku" in The Times, a thoroughly lousy name for an entertaining puzzle. It's like normal Su Doku except that you (usually) aren't given any individual numbers to start with, but instead are told the sum of the numbers in blocks of contiguous numbers. There's a bit of a knack to them, but they're much fun. I haven't managed to crack a single one in the indicated time yet, out of five attempts, which probably says more about my ability than anything else, but they're great fun. (Probably because I haven't done thirty of them yet like I have with normal Su Doku. This is where my tolerance starts to run a little thin.)

Anyway, you might or might not have luck at digging the puzzles out of the Times' online archive using these links, though it might be UK-only, they might expire after a few days (so the later ones might work longer than the earlier ones) and you might have to encourage the pictures that they do want to show using "View Image" (Firefox) / "Show Picture" (MSIE): Number 1, Number 2, Number 3, Number 4, Number 5, Number 6, Number 7, Number 8, Number 9, Number 10, Number 11, Number 12, Number 13.

I was also thrilled to discover this weblog about sudoku; far more interesting than a weblog made up of sudoku puzzles. There are tons of sudoku fans on my Friends list and I am convinced you would enjoy lots of other types of similar puzzles as well, except that they only tend to be published in the context of the World Puzzle Championships which makes people assume they're going to be very difficult. Some are, most aren't. We really need a magazine called "Lots Of Different Interesting Logic Puzzles That Are A Bit Like Sudoku But Are Actually No Harder Than The Ones You Find In Newspapers", or perhaps something snappier. (I always did like the name "Sudoku and Friends"...) For instance, the Guardian are printing Cross Sums puzzles now under the name "Kakuro". Never did get into them, though.

Oh, and the European Club Cup in chess is in progress at the moment, which is an annual fixture in this here LJ. However, eight of the world's top players (minus Kasparov, who has retired from competitive chess, and Kramnik, who is sticking by his linear title) are absent, preparing for the double round-robin FIDE World Chess Championship in a week's time. Accordingly the European Club Cup is a little less interesting than usual. even if my old mate from the MSO Jon Tisdall is out of retirement to play for Asker of Norway again. NAO Chess Club Paris are winning after 3 of 7 rounds, mainly because Joel Lautier and little Sergey Karjakin are kicking bottom. Here's the official site but the results page is broken in Firefox. Whoops!
Current Mood: lovedloved
Current Music: mikeneko rock - anettai maji-ska bakudan (DDR Extreme)

(10 comments | Leave a comment)

Comments:


[User Picture]
From:tablesaw
Date:September 21st, 2005 05:48 am (UTC)
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I generally grew out of Number Place puzzles in my teams, but even I enjoyed many of the variations in the newest Math Games article.
[User Picture]
From:jiggery_pokery
Date:September 23rd, 2005 10:36 pm (UTC)
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O, for there to have been Number Place puzzles in the UK for us to solve in my teens!

This is a puzzle-related Gratuitous Icon Comment, but not really a very good one.
[User Picture]
From:tablesaw
Date:September 24th, 2005 06:51 am (UTC)
(Link)
I have no photos with Will Shortz.





But I have had a beer with him.
[User Picture]
From:bateleur
Date:September 21st, 2005 07:24 am (UTC)
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For instance, the Guardian are printing Cross Sums puzzles now under the name "Kakuro".

Amusing. What is it about Japanese-sounding names that make puzzles somehow more appealing ?

Whatever it is apparently works both ways, since I'm told in Japan they call Sudoku "Number Place" (using the English) !
[User Picture]
From:imc
Date:September 21st, 2005 12:00 pm (UTC)
(Link)
I was also thrilled to discover this weblog about sudoku

sudoku would be far too obvious… or would it?

For instance, the Guardian are printing Cross Sums puzzles now under the name "Kakuro". Never did get into them, though.

The other week I joked that I'd like to discover the next big craze in number puzzles and call it "O Kidokei".
[User Picture]
From:citizenpsmith
Date:September 21st, 2005 03:49 pm (UTC)
(Link)
We really need a magazine called "Lots Of Different Interesting Logic Puzzles That Are A Bit Like Sudoku But Are Actually No Harder Than The Ones You Find In Newspapers", or perhaps something snappier. (I always did like the name "Sudoku and Friends"...)

I live in hope that Puzzle Communication Nikoli will see an English edition published in the UK. In the meantime, I settle for getting the occasional issue from Japan, and doing the puzzles to which I've been able to work out the rules...
[User Picture]
From:jiggery_pokery
Date:September 23rd, 2005 10:40 pm (UTC)
(Link)
Congratulations! You've just signed yourself up to be nagged at as a potential participant in the UK WPC team next year. If you do Nikoli puzzles that you don't even understand for fun, you're just the sort of person we need at the tryouts. Well volunteered, that man.

mr_babbage once extremely kindly bought me a load of Puzzle Communication Nikoli mags, along with another mag, which I have great difficulty referring to other than as "the lodestone", which has - ooh - a couple of hundred different Nikoli puzzle formats with solved examples of each and a couple of unsolved examples of each in different difficulty levels. Unfortunately I don't really know how to refer to this magazine so that you might obtain one for yourself. Perhaps I should scan the mag front cover once I return from the US and some far more skilled kanji (etc.) -reader than myself can kindly transliterate.
From:daweaver
Date:September 21st, 2005 06:01 pm (UTC)
(Link)
It's like normal Su Doku except that you (usually) aren't given any individual numbers to start with, but instead are told the sum of the numbers in blocks of contiguous numbers. There's a bit of a knack to them, but they're much fun. I haven't managed to crack a single one in the indicated time yet, out of five attempts, which probably says more about my ability than anything else, but they're great fun.

If for no other reason than they finally give the lie to the canard that su doki are nothing to do with mathematics. Everything is to do with mathematics, especially pure logic puzzles. Only arts students (hawk, spit) would try to split mathematics from logic, and then they get annoyed when we try to split poetry from literature.

Seriously, though, there are only a finite number of tricks to solve a su doku puzzle, and after a little while, they tend to get a bit samey. Something like the "Killer" is far more varied.

other types of similar puzzles as well, except that they only tend to be published in the context of the World Puzzle Championships which makes people assume they're going to be very difficult. Some are, most aren't. We really need a magazine called "Lots Of Different Interesting Logic Puzzles That Are A Bit Like Sudoku But Are Actually No Harder Than The Ones You Find In Newspapers", or perhaps something snappier.

Perhaps "The Puzzles Pages of the Sunday Torygraph", which last weak featured a fill-in-the-dark-squares picture, a circular make-opposite-sides-equal puzzle, some maths puzzles (including one from a recent GCSE paper) and others that I would only expect to find in puzzle mags. Oh, and the usual su doki, crosswords, and quizzes.
[User Picture]
From:oinomel71
Date:September 21st, 2005 08:20 pm (UTC)
(Link)
We really need a magazine called "Lots Of Different Interesting Logic Puzzles That Are A Bit Like Sudoku But Are Actually No Harder Than The Ones You Find In Newspapers", or perhaps something snappier. (I always did like the name "Sudoku and Friends"...)

Nothing on the horizon quite yet, but I think we're getting closer to it. I have the impression that Kakuro is starting to get a head of steam behind it to become the Next Big Thing, at which point people might start to become receptive to Logic Puzzles That Actually Bear No Resemblance Whatsoever To Sudoku.

We live in interesting times.
[User Picture]
From:jiggery_pokery
Date:September 23rd, 2005 10:42 pm (UTC)
(Link)
Interesting and well-placed gossip, certainly.

I really think you need to have sudoku very prominent indeed to try to get the established sudoku fans to try to cross over. I'd be interested to know how the various sudoku mags are doing and how the non-sudoku formats in each one are proving; that's definitely a small step in what I consider to be the right direction, but there's so much further that the concept might be taken...

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