The Dord of Darien

Musings from the Mayor of the Internet

Non-ALF post


How do people figure "3G radiation" works again? Like your iPad spits out a terrifying 3G death beam that can only be blocked by a millimeter of vinyl?


Bet you wish you had this case, sucker.

February 29th, 2012 Posted by | Bullshit | one comment

Speaking of games you’ll hate

I’m absorbed by this weird idea I’ve had to make a multiplayer sneaking game based on ALF.

Is anybody still reading this post? I didn’t think so. Well, I’ll soldier on nonetheless. I have this planned out as a four-player team-based stealth game. Team one consists of Alf, Willie, and Lucky, and team two is Trevor and Raquel Ochmonek. The goal of the game for team Ochmonek is to catch Alf, and the goal for team Alf is to keep the Ochmoneks from catching him until time runs out (after which some deus ex machina occurs; maybe Kate and the kids get home from soccer practice or whatever). Here’s how it works.

Player one plays as both Alf and Lucky, switching between them. Alf can do nothing to defend himself against the Ochmoneks; if they get line of sight to him, it’s game over. So his main priority is to hide somewhere good. Lucky provides an interesting twist; he can be used to scout, so Alf isn’t completely blind, and he can also be used to create distracting noises to fool the Ochmoneks into thinking Alf (or Willie) is nearby, or to draw Willie’s attention. Also there’s a bit of metagaming available with Lucky; if the Ochmoneks find Lucky, and he’s not (seemingly) active, they may be fooled into thinking that Alf is on the move, and adjust their tactics accordingly.

Willie is basically the defensive character. He can move about the house freely, and, if he catches the Ochmoneks, he can throw them out of the house. The catch, though, is that he can only toss one Ochmonek at a time, and he actually has to drag the Ochmonek to the door — it’s not just a freebie /kick button. So Willie has to stay on top of his game in order to keep Alf safe.

The Ochmoneks can move freely, and win the game if they ever catch a glimpse of Alf, but it ain’t their house and Willie can throw them out, so they have to be a bit sneaky (on account of Willie can’t toss them if he can’t find them).

As play begins, Alf, Lucky, and Willie can set up anywhere they want in the house. The Ochmoneks always start outside the house, at the end of the driveway. Each character has variable movement speed — moving faster obviously allows you to cover more ground in less time, but also makes more noise, and making noise is usually bad for you. Strategically, the Team Alf game is about keeping the Ochmoneks distracted so they don’t find Alf’s hiding spot, and the Team Ochmonek game is about keeping Willie from locking them down long enough to make a thorough search.

As written, I suspect that an Ochmonek zerg wins pretty much every time; I’d probably need to add a balancing mechanic to prevent the optimal strategy being to say "eff stealth" and full-speed searching in different directions. Most likely what that would be is a temporary ban if Willie throws you out, on the order of you can’t reënter the house for twenty seconds. I definitely picture Willie having the most frenetic role, since he’s basically being tag-teamed by the Ochmoneks; Lucky can provide a bit of misdirection and scouting, but no actual defense, and Alf is completely helpless if the Ochmoneks are closing in. Alf/Lucky should be a metagame-y role, using very limited tools to try to stay a step ahead of pursuit. And the Ochmoneks probably depend heavily on clear communication and teamwork, since Willie always wins in a straight-up confrontation.

So that’s what’s been on my head all day long. We’ll see if I do it; network code is a bitch.

February 29th, 2012 Posted by | My games | no comments

Two new games!

That’s right, food friends: not one, but two brand new awful games you’ll hate. Who loves you? Yeah.

You heard about this Pirate Kart? Basically it’s a game jam; a bunch of people all got together and spent a weekend (or longer) making a bunch of weird, silly games, and then sent them to these dudes and they’ve made a compilation of them that will be showing on the floor at GDC next week. So, the important point: two games made by me will show at GDC. This year.

Now, since you’re more awesome than all those media flacks, I’ll let you play them right now. The first one’s called Kart Bomber, and it’s a brooding meditation on the sociopolitical climate that led to the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki disguised as a really dumb arcade game about Hitler nuking pirates and Frenchmen and cursing in German. The second one is called Grand Vampire Chase, and it’s a hack of Kart Bomber that’s all about clicking the fuck out of the grand vampire so you can win the game. You’ll absolutely hate them both, so feel free to play them and then come back here and whine that the free entertainment isn’t up to your lofty standards and you demand your fifteen United States dollars back. You’ll see where that gets you, Frenchie!

February 29th, 2012 Posted by | My games | 2 comments

On the morality of exchange

I posted a throwaway snark earlier on the Tweeter that’s earned me some questions. Part of the trouble (most of the trouble, probably) is the data I had to elide to get it into 140 characters, so I’m going to expand it (with context, yet) here. And because I want to, I’m going to delve into the idea a bit. Not my standard bill of fare on this blog, but, hey, if you’re not interested, here’s a very round cat you can pass the time with instead.

Let’s define some terms. A "transaction" refers to any exchange made between two (or more) people, whether successful or not. If I give you a dollar for your widget, that’s a transaction. If I just give you a dollar, that’s a transaction. If I offer you a dollar for your widget and you tell me to get bent, that’s a transaction. If I punch you in the face and take your widget, that’s a transaction.

We then define "violence" as the intentional violation of another person’s natural rights without that person’s consent. Therefore, for our purposes, if I punch you and take your widget, I have used violence against you. However, in these terms, a boxer punching his opponent during a boxing match would not be construed as violence, since both boxers have agreed to accept being punched as a condition of the match. (If you would like me to define "natural rights," I’m willing to do so, but a thorough exploration of the concept really demands its own blog post rather than an aside here.)

Now, it is intuitively obvious to most people that there are some transactions that are wrong. Very few people, I’ll wager, would disagree that it’s wrong to kill someone and take his wallet. So clearly there must be some quality that separates the "wrong" transactions from the "non-wrong" transactions. Can we identify that quality? I say we can: that quality is violence. Any transaction involving violence is wrong, and that includes not only violence done (such as punching you and taking your widget) but also violence threatened (such as telling you to give me your widget or else I’ll punch you). Those are the "wrong" transactions. Everything else is in the "not wrong" transaction pile.

This seems simple, but is made complicated because many people do not want to believe that violence is always wrong. There is significant impetus (some natural, some conditioned) to accept that, sometimes, doing violence is okay; that, in the right circumstances, it is okay to harm another human being.* These people cannot accept that violence is itself the problem — that violence is what separates right from wrong — but they still recognise that some transactions are wrong. So they end up inventing arbitrary categories to place transactions in; we’re told that "exploitative" or "unfair" transactions are wrong, but neither of these qualities is objectively obvious. They’re really just synonyms for "wrong," and the whole argument becomes circular.

The impetus for my tweet was seeing a tweet by another person (who shall remain nameless; this is not an "attack" on that person, so his identity is unimportant) claiming that the "freemium" business model is exploitative, and thus morally wrong. I contend that this is absurd. No maker of a freemium product has ever committed violence against me — not even the subtle violence of fraud. They offer me a set of products or services at a stated range of prices, and I am free to purchase any, all, or none of them at my discretion. How is this "wrong?"

Aren’t you all proud of me? I wrote this whole post without using the words "state," "taxation," or "conscription" even one time!

Self-defense is a complicated issue, and one on which there is significant disagreement among thinkers greater than myself. I’ve come to believe that self-defense is permissible in a certain set of narrowly-defined circumstances because the initiator of violence, by initiating violence, tacitly accepts that the transaction will be conducted with violence (much as in the example of the boxers above, except that the agreement is rarely mutual). As such, one has the right to defend onesself, or to come to the aid of others, in the following circumstances:

  • There must be an actual threat of violence. It is not legitimate to "defend yourself" against inconvenience or disadvantage. You cannot use violence to defend yourself against not getting a seat on the bus, or against other people not giving you something you want, or against people not buying your product.
  • The threat must be imminent. If I get into a fight with a co-worker, and I’m sitting in a bar stewing about it after work, and I’m saying to a buddy "I should just kick that guy’s ass," there is no imminent threat, and no violent response is justified. Similarly, if I punched you in the face last week, there’s no justification for you to attack me today, since the threat is long past.
  • The force employed must be proportionate to the threat. If the threat is that a jilted lover will slap you, shooting her is not justified. If she’s trying to knife you, that’s a different story.
  • The use of violence must end when the threat ends. If I break into your house, and you shoot me in the leg, and I’m down and no longer a threat, there is no justification for you to execute me.

In those limited circumstances I believe self-defense to be permissible. I am hardly the guru on the mountain, however, and there are far more capable thinkers than I who disagree.

February 9th, 2012 Posted by | Bullshit | 6 comments

Randomness and sports

You following the comments on my Super Bowl post? Stephen tried to troll for, like, a really long time, but after that didn’t work out for him he got down to business and took me to school on football analysis. You should read that. It’s good.

I have difficulty accepting Stephen’s assertion that a team could (in the real world) have (before a game begins) an 80% chance of winning that game. I am insufficiently competent at math, analysis, and intelligence even to know how to begin solving this riddle, but I would like to explore it for a bit. One caveat before we begin: I am not swayed by appeals to authority. No need to bother telling me that lots of experts say so. I like logic and data.

To start with, let’s take a look at Tangotiger’s mind-bending analysis of the role of luck in baseball standings (Note to long-time Darien fans: I finally found this goddamn article! Why I never thought to Google "tangotiger luck" defeats me). First, I’d like to mention that you can be sure this is strictly scientific because of the line "they are identical because god told you." God comedy aside, I’ve examined the math and the data, and it’s all correct to the best of my ability. I can see no way of avoiding Tango’s conclusion: 40% of a team’s record is luck.

Now, football is not baseball. The season is only 16 games long, for one thing, which will inevitably increase — dramatically — the effect of luck on the final standings (anecdotally, as a Bears fan who watched the Bears shitheadedly cling to that division championship last year in the face of an obviously superior Packers team, I can attest to the value of luck in really annoying the Packers fans I work with). But we’re not talking about standings — we’re talking about one game. And this is where I end up sailing completely out to sea.

Football is not baseball in one other very important way: there is no bat. The way the ball is put into play in football is far, far less random than in baseball — in most cases, the ball goes pretty much where it’s meant to go, whereas in baseball there’s no way to tell beforehand. So I can accept that football is, at the individual-game level, less random than baseball. But by so much that we can go from 40% luck to < 20% luck? Or am I understanding the math wrong here? Is there some way that the season standings can be 40% luck without the average individual game also being 40% luck?

These are for-reals questions, by the way. I’m not trolling. Based on my extremely feeble grasp of statistical theory, it seems extremely unlikely that a team can even approach 80% likely to win a game before it starts. So what am I missing?

February 8th, 2012 Posted by | Baseball, Games | 6 comments

Super Duper

Today’s the Super Bowl, and it seems like everybody and his brother is picking the Giants to win. That makes no sense, by the way.

I mean, don’t get me wrong; in one game, luck is way way waywayway overpowering. The surest possible thing is maybe 60% likely to win any given game — just ask the Denver Broncos, who built an entire playoff run (and quite possibly an entire career for Tim Tebow) on luck. So I’m certainly not saying the Giants can’t win. I’m just saying that I can’t find any way of looking at it that doesn’t make the Patriots overwhelming favourites. Let’s go down the list, shall we?

1) Defense: This is the thing, innit? We all know the Patriots can’t win because their defense is shit. Everybody knows the Patriots have shit defense. The badness of their defense is the subject of many an epic example of skaldship. Only one question: is their defense really as bad as people make it out to be? I see here that the Patriots allowed 342 points this season. That’s not exactly awesome, but you know what? League average is 354.9. The Patriots have allowed fewer points than the average team, which is not the hallmark of a terrible defensive line.

One could argue that this number is skewed by the fact that the Patriots never had to defend against their own offense, which scored an outrageous 513 points. I’d suggest that one shouldn’t mention the overpowerance of the Patriots’ offense in an argument about how bad they are, but never mind; the point is valid. So what now? We get nerdy up in this shit, that’s what.

The Patriots scored 32.1 points per game. League average is 22.2. So let’s assume that, instead of facing an average team, the Patriots had had a Mortal Kombat Mirror Match, and played against themselves. We would expect them to allow an additional ten points that game, giving them a season total of 352. This total is still slightly better than average.

It’s not that I’m trying to be difficult, lord knows; I just honestly cannot locate a metric by which the Patriots play meaningfully worse than average defense. Pro Football Ref’s weirdo Defensive SRS stat has them at -0.1 for the year — just a tiny tiny bit below average. And how do they stack up against the Giants? Well, the Giants have allowed 400 points this year and have a DSRS of -1.5. That’s much, much worse defense than the Patriots.

2) Offense:

Okay, defense is a little bit skewed, but offense is downright unfair. Behold:

Patriots: 513 points scored
Giants: 394 points scored

Ouch. Now, the Giants are not a bad team, offensively — they scored an above-average number of points, and PFR has them as a respectable 3.1 OSRS. But the Patriots are obscene. They scored an outrageous number of points, and accumulated a 9.4 OSRS for their trouble. Offensively, there simply isn’t any comparison. But if you need the whole package assembled for you, here we are:

Patriots point differential: 171
Giants point differential: -6

The Patriots are awesome. The Giants… well, it looks like 9-7 involved a bit of good luck. They should be an 8-8 team. And, no, I’m not bothering to renormalise the offensive stats to account for not playing against own defense; trust me, it doesn’t close a 119-point gap.

3) Clurtch: Oh, but the Giants have Momentum and Destiny and Voodoo and all that other shit that doesn’t really exist on their side! I don’t care if they have Bigfoot, Xenu, and Charles Bronson on their side — turns out stuff that isn’t real doesn’t help very much.

But okay, okay. I’ll play along. We’ll pretend this stuff actually matters. How do we define "momentum" here, and why do the Giants have it? By definition, any team in the Super Bowl has won its last few games, so it can’t be that. Maybe it’s the team that’s won its last few games by the biggest margins. Is that it?

Conference championships:
Patriots 23, Ravens 20 (3 points)
Giants 20, 49ers 17 (3 points)

Oh. Well, can we go back a round, then?

Division round:
Patriots 45, Broncos 10 (35 points)
Giants 37, Packers 20 (17 points)

Oh. Uh. I guess maybe that’s not what momentum is about. Maybe… maybe momentum is about who had the longest winning streak at the end of the regular season. That would make sense. Let’s check:

Patriots: won last 8 games
Giants: won last 2 games

Hrm. Nope, no Giants-favourable momentum there either. Actually, it turns out the only way to present the bullshit "momentum" argument in the Giants’ favour is to say that, since the Giants won the last time these two teams played in the Super Bowl, they have the all-time Super Bowl momentum!

Do I need to tell you why that’s insane? I didn’t think so.

So what is it then? I really, honestly can’t find anything to suggest that the Patriots aren’t the overpowering favourite in this matchup. I’m beginning to suspect that people place more emphasis on what they feel in their intestines than they do on actual data!

Might want to reserve your place in the comments now so you can edit in an "I-told-you-so" in a good position when the Giants win.

February 5th, 2012 Posted by | Games | 16 comments