Quiet Times

In all the history of GeekNights I think this is the largest quiet period I can remember. We managed only five podcasts in the entire month of September. I think we'll be able to sneak one more in, but that's still not many. There were just so many factors. First PAX, then I was slightly sick, then Rym did much business traveling. In October there will be a few podcasts, then Rym is going back to Australia. After that, I see no cause for interruption the rest of this year other than the holidays. Please accept this newsletter as filler.


Post Office

Got some nice letters this time around. Remember, if you just reply to this e-mail I will see the response! It's that simple.

This e-mail is kind of long, so I truncated it a bit with some ellipsis action.

Hey Scott,

...

I have just listened to your newest Geeknights episode where you gave 
some helpful advise on system maintenance: "Don't install ghetto-ass 
software". I'm interested what you count as ghetto-ass (on a Windows 
system) and I imagine some other listeners and newsletter readers might 
as well.

...

Another thing that I wonder about is, in how far you guys think that 
computer simulations can help in balancing both German-style boardgames 
and card games like Dominion or Race for the Galaxy. You two have talked 
a lot about game theory, mechanism design etc. in the past and I'd be 
interested to hear if you think there are viable approaches to 
mathematically solving some of the problems in designing and balancing a 
new game. Consider this a random topic suggestion that I would enjoy to 
hear you guys ramble on about on Geeknights, but feel free to ignore it 
if you think it's a stupid or boring topic. Also why have you never made 
a game yourself?

Oh and I actually have another real question. As English isn't my native 
language I have always wondered what the conventions for signing off 
mails are in different countries. I get the feeling that Americans tend 
to have a lot more different ways to sign off mails than are common in 
Germany. So far the most interesting thing I found on that topic is this 
article on Forbes:
http://www.forbes.com/sites/susanadams/2013/09/27/57-ways-to-sign-off-on-an-email/

I've noticed that just signing with your name seems to be not uncommon 
in America whereas in Germany I think it would be considered rather rude 
by most people, because you usually end your mails with some kind of 
greetings and your name or with neither. I can't remember having ever 
seen a German sign a mail just with their name.
This puzzles me because Germans are said to be so much more stern than 
Americans and this single instance feels the other way around.
I usually sing off with the line below, does it sound weird to an 
American? I have never seen one use it...

Cheers and all the best,

Martin

Well Martin, that's a lot of questions all at once. I guess it's hard to answer all of them at length. First off, let's discuss "ghetto-ass" software. This is actually something people have a very hard time with. Can you tell just by looking at the web site and UI whether a piece of software is trustworthy? Slysoft has a somewhat shady looking web site, but their software is legit. Meanwhile, seemingly trustworthy big sites like download.com are full of garbage. 

Really, the best thing to do is just assume that all software is evil malware unless you have a ton of evidence to the contrary. You can trust software from major companies like Microsoft, Google, Adobe, AutoDesk, Amazon, Mozilla, Apple, and even maybe Oracle. You can trust big time famous open source projects like 7-Zip, VLC, Python, Linux, Handbrake, etc. You can generally trust software from web startups like Evernote, Spotify, DropBox, Facebook, or Twitter. You can trust games that you get from Steam, GoG, or even the dreaded Origin or Uplay. Pretty much anything else shouldn't be trusted unless there is a very large amount of evidence to suggest it is safe. Even if software falls into one of the above categories, pirated copies are never safe. Photoshop is good. Pirated Photoshop is basically guaranteed to be bad. At least 99% of users will never need a piece of software that isn't in one of the above categories. Just don't install anything you aren't absolutely 100% sure of. It's not worth it.

As for computer simulations, just look at chess. The way that simulations have affected chess is exactly the same way they would affect any other game. The major reason they haven't is because it is impractical. Simulations are most useful for perfect information games like chess, and not so much for other kinds of games. Decent simulations are also incredibly expensive and time consuming to develop. Computers are only so good at chess because they have been "playing" it for decades. Anything that a quickly developed program will tell you, you can figure out yourself just by old fashioned playtesting. You could theoretically learn wonderful things if you spent years developing a sim, but it just isn't feasible or worth it. If the game becomes a big deal like chess, researchers will do the work for you.

As for signing off emails, it feels strange to be so formal when email is so trivial. If I send a one sentence email, do I really have to include a valediction? I think that at least in my culture, such formalities are more and more being recognized as meaningless. What matters is whether people can tell that you are a good person and that in your heart you actually care. Whether you bother to adhere to the etiquette of the last millenium bears no relation to that whatsoever. Your adherence to a strict behavioral code has no relation whatsoever to who you are as a person.


Ok, one more letter

Hey Scott


Like you, I greatly dislike both broadcasting and receiving self-promotion. It feels cloyingly dishonest, gauche, and unnecessary: Surely if someone excels at something, it should become apparent. However, it seems that American culture teems with polar extremes: heroes and villains; good and evil; more sugar, salt, or hot pepper; fad diets; charismatic/eccentric genius and bland drone; and endless noise and flashing lights. Design school has left me excessively disillusioned with the realization that people value image over substance, idealism over empiricism, whether visually, verbally, or otherwise. I have come to expect an average reading and listening comprehension of 60% or less, unless rhetoric, volume, exaggerated language, and "sound bytes" (the MSG of language) are employed. Whether in the workforce or purely socially -- high charisma, nice appearance, and big talk wins. Everything is marketing.

As a pragmatist-gamer, the path seems clear: manipulate, manipulate, manipulate. Funny that the one notion in which I value idealism over empiricism, is the social idealism of honesty. It is not easy to opt-out of this game and enjoy yourself. For some reason, the honest people have a hard time getting along ^_^ . I try to temper my opinions with a pre-determined default of self-doubt/humility/open-mind, but it is a difficult line to draw, especially with other "honest" people -- bulls, togyu, and china shops. I am glad I do not have any level of notoriety to complicate the issue.

As to netrunner, would you be uncomfortable saying "This is Geeknights Netrunner with Scott" and leaving it at that? Think of it as expanding the Geeknights brand, like Penny Arcade and PAX, rather than blowing a horn. Although, if you think Geeknights is not great, why do you care that people appreciate Netrunner with Scott more? You can either make Geeknights (or whatever your dominant self-identifier) better than NWS, and trust that attention will come, or self-promote. Or just not care..

- Vaguely Weird


The first thing you wrote that really caught my attention is "Surely if someone excels at something, it should become apparent." That actually couldn't be further from the truth. As it turns out, absent objective measurement tools, having expertise is a prerequisite for being able to evaluate expertise. This concept is best described by the following video.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wvVPdyYeaQU

Decision making power often ends up in the hands of people who lack the necessary expertise. Even if they defer to experts, they are not able to properly determine which expert to trust when there is disagreement. Thus, in our current society, charisma is more important than competence.

As for honesty, I'll just repost one of my favorite comics.


http://archive.boasas.com/?c=300‚Äč

And as for Netrunner vs. GeekNights, I've decided to promote myself as quickly and as modestly as possible at the start of episodes. Apparently I'm the only one who is bothered by it. As long as I don't upset myself, all is well.
 

New Types

We recently reviewed Gundam Unicorn on GeekNights, and I ended up watching the whole thing. It's a typical example of its genre, but after I finished I started thinking about a lot of things. Regardless of the quality of a particular series, why do all the standard Gundam shows (i.e: not G Gundam) make me feel the same way? What is it about that story, no matter how well, or how many times, it is told, that is so great?

One thing is certain. It is not robot space battles. I like robot battles, but the ones in Gundam are not particularly memorable. If you want a battle that gets your blood pumping, you can watch the Big O punch something, or maybe check out a shonen show like Hajime no Ippo. Personally I get pretty bored during most Gundam battles, and just want them to end quickly.

I can also tell you it's not because of the characters. The main characters of the original Gundam: Char, Amuro, Noa, Sayla, Lala, are all anyone cares about. With few exceptions, the side characters, are also utterly boring. To put it succinctly, I care more about a character Naoki Urasawa created two pages ago than I care about Amuro Ray.

I think bad characters might either be intentional, or at least a positive thing for Gundam. You see, the main characters in Gundam are mostly Newtypes. Sometimes they use a different proper noun, like "Coordinator," but it's the same idea.

The idea is that once humans take to space, a separation begins. Spacenoids become culturally separate from Earthlings. On top of that, there are some humans that by natural birth and/or genetic engineering that are literally superior. These are Newtypes. Their cognitive and athletic abilities are far beyond that of everyone else. Did I mention they also have psychic powers? It's very similar to the mutants in X-Men if every mutant had the same abilities.

The robot battles are a means by which to demonstrate the power of Newtypes. In the first episode of every series a teenage Newtype ends up piloting the most powerful, yet difficult to pilot, mecha that exists. They instantly figure out how to pilot it, and are so proficient that entire armies of professional soldiers stand no chance against them. They also find themselves evenly matched with other Newtype opponents.


While their abilities don't separate them completely from the rest of humanity, their connection with other Newtypes is much stronger than with other people. Their powers don't make them gods like Superman or Thor. They are more akin to Spider-Man. They have power responsibility, but it's not going to be easy. Emotionally speaking, they are on the same level as you and I.

This is why it is better for the characters to be uninteresting. The viewer is meant to self-insert as a Newtype. Our technological aptitude and the Internet give us powers beyond those without them. They also create a cultural separation from our parents generation, just as Spacenoids are culturally separate from Earthlings. Emotionally we're still human, but we have a much easier time connecting with people who are also from the Internet, and a hard time with those who are not. How can we help but imagine ourselves as Newtypes?

If the viewer is the Newtype, why does the story of Gundam such a great experience? Newtypes have to fight in space battles. They watch people they love obliterated by the horrors of space and war. Space colonies containing their families are destroyed. It's not a position you want to be in.

Despite all that, there is still one aspect of being a Newtype that is a complete wish fulfillment. For all the horrors they must endure, the Newtypes actually make a difference. The decisions they make will directly change the course of history for better or worse. Newtypes matter. Only that generation, our generation, will determine the course for humanity. The old generation must stand aside in the face of Newtypes.

And that is pure fantasy. Most of the power to change history lies in the hands of old people with lots of money. If they are any type, they are Oldtypes. With increased life expectancies and declining birth rates, Oldtypes will always wield more power than Newtypes in a peaceful democratic society. Gundam shows us a future where Oldtypes hardly matter any more. Oh what a wonderful world that would be!

But wait a second. Gundam was first created in 1979. How could this story of our generation be written by the previous generation?! They didn't have Internet. They weren't so different than the prior generation! They're Oldtypes now!

Isn't it obvious? Throughout history there have been generations of stagnation. In the dark ages, society itself would not change much at all over the course of a few generations. In the 20th and 21st centuries the rate of change has accelerated non-stop. Every generation now feels as if it is a Newtype compared to those who came before. This story isn't about just us. It speaks to everyone who is alive today.

We often say that the world will change one funeral at a time. Newspapers are dying because the people who read newspapers are dying. TV will die when enough people who grew up with TV are dead. Once the first generation to grow up without YouTube is old enough, YouTube will die as well. Rock and roll music was the devil until people who grew up with it took the reigns. Gundam fulfills the fantasy that this process will somehow accelerate. Somehow our problems might be solved right now instead of after a long period of waiting. 

While I enjoy that fantasy, I recognize that it is not realistic. Despite that, I remain optimistic. As bad as our current situation might seem in any particular area, it's a vast improvement over just a few years ago. Our efforts to change things for the better are working, however slowly. If you take the long view, everything is better over time. Name any problem with the world today and as bad as it may be, it was worse before and it will be better in the future. We don't have psychic powers, but we will still make a difference. Our time will come. Will we be lucky enough to see UC 0001 during our lifetimes?