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Things I Will Be Doing In October 2017

  1. Raising money for Extra Life. I have played for my local hospital in past years, but seeing what’s going in Puerto Rico lately, it seems like they can use all the help they can get. So please, if you have the means, put something up on that page.
  2. Closer to home, I have registered for Intrigue Con in two weeks, and will once again provide highlights from the games I play there. Read my post about Intrigue Con 2016 here.
  3. Continuing to run Alastair’s great series of posts about delving the dungeon of his Steam inventory, aptly named Full Steam Ahead. The next one will be about Wargame – European Escalation.
  4. Next week’s post is going to be about in-game money: is it something we should consider to be worthless because it (usually) can’t buy physical goods? Do we “earn” it? How does it make or break the game?

One Year Old

The first post on this blog was published on the first Saturday of May 2016. That means this post is the fiftysecond weekly post, and therefore marks one full year for Almost Infinite.

The first thing I have learned about running a blog is that measuring your audience is an inexact science at best. I have lots of numbers. Facebook, Twitter, WordPress, Jetpack (a WordPress plugin), WP Statistics (another WordPress plugin I had installed before discovering/needing Jetpack), and my web host all have their own measurements. I don’t have enough expertise to interpret all of these in context, but my intuition tells me that I am reaching more than nine people per week and fewer than one thousand. I know that the higher numbers represent both real person traffic and robots, while the lower numbers seem a little bit too low. The actual number of people reading this blog is therefore a known unknown.

The graph doesn’t tell us a lot of useful things about how many people actually read this blog. The spike in August came from a particularly inept attack that was easily foiled by existing security measures, which were soon improved upon.

But, as much as I admit this is an attempt at reading internet tea leaves, there are a few things that multiple sources of numbers agree on:

  1. The most popular single post so far is Alignments and Absolutes, which is odd because it’s one of my least favourite ones. It was based on a conversation that I enjoyed, and I felt like I had a reasonably good idea, but that it was still a draft that needed work. For some reason, though, I had already scheduled the post to publish on time. This would have been alright, except that I managed to somehow botch my password so much that I couldn’t log in to edit the post further. I was mortified when I saw that my draft had been published in the state it was in. It is still the most popular post of all time, though, so I suppose it’s not as bad as I thought it was.
  2. The series did alright. The Casual Alpha’s Guide to EVE Online was my first attempt to write a series of posts (more than two parts) on a single topic in gaming. I found that I drifted away from talking about the actual gameplay experience as I learned, but I think that’s fairly normal for most people who have some experience with that game. It does not take long to realize the insignificance of your first frigate exploding to bits. And from the writing perspective, I am glad I split it up the way I did, so as not to hit people with too much at once or bore my non-capsuleer audience to tears by focusing on nothing but EVE for a couple months rather than writing about it 1-2 times over the course of several months.
  3. The post that causes the most issues with measurement is the Election of 201X, my Undertale-themed coping mechanism following what happened in the Election of 2016. One of the reasons I built it the way I did is that I wanted to see if I could use a blog post as a way to direct people into a series of pages that aren’t linked to anywhere else on the website. This is an important thing to know how to do if I ever decide to try my hand at doing some interactive fiction stuff which requires getting people onto pages that are neither blog posts nor pages accessible from the navigation bar. The downside is that every one of the 33 pages counts as a separate hit, so every view of that complete sequence looks like way more traffic than it is.
  4. Talking about serious stuff does relatively well compared to other posts. Topics like the gunpowder treason and responding to racist violence seem like they’d be off-topic for a blog about games (in the usual sense of the word). These ones tend to get picked up by blogrolls like Seen and Heard in Edmonton more often than esoteric rambling about video games, which explains some of the additional traffic. I am going to take this as a sign that I can keep doing these posts every once in a while.
  5. The least popular posts aren’t the ones that go the most esoteric. Depending on which measure is used, it’s either A Tale of Three Castles or One More Turn. It seems to me that D&D and Civ would be staple topics for a game blog, but these early posts haven’t gained a lot of traction compared with others that have been mentioned more frequently in subsequent posts. I feel like I have written far less about tabletop, D&D in particular, than I had intended so far. There is definitely more to come here.

Nineteen likes on the Facebook page, thirty-eight followers on Twitter. Twelve comments, and two people who have signed up to receive posts by email. These are all more encouraging numbers than zero, but I’m still a long, long way from being internet famous. If you like what you have been seeing for the past year, please do engage in these channels and share/repost/retweet. It’s what convinces me that taking the time to write every week is worth the effort. External validation is not the be all and end all; it is true that showing up and putting something out there as promised counts for something even if nobody else reads it. However, I still like knowing that it is worth putting it on the internet. So see the comment section? I would love to hear what you think about the whole site in its entirety. Good, bad, what you like, what you want to see in the future. I want to hear about it and improve upon what I am doing.

The Prince

Sometimes if feels as if a character’s fate is decided not by the choices they make, but by the vicissitudes of the dice being rolled to determine their success or failure. Can a commoner overcome the challenges of his circumstances and his natural foes to rise into the ranks of nobility and loyalty? I’d like to take a minute: just sit right there; I’ll tell you how I became the prince of a town called Bel-Air. In west Philadelphia born and raised, on the playground is where I spent most of my days. Chillin’ out max, and relaxin’ all cool – and all shootin’ some b-ball outside of the school. When a couple of guys who were up to no good started makin’ trouble in my neighborhood. I got in one little fight and my mom got scared, and said “you’re movin’ with your auntie and uncle in Bel-Air.”

See what I did there?

I whistled for a cab and when it came near the license plate said “fresh” and it had dice in the mirror. If anything I could say that this cab was rare, but I thought “Nah forget it, yo holmes to Bel-Air!” I pulled up to the house about seven or eight and I yelled to the cabbie “yo homes smell ya later!” Looked at my kingdom; I was finally there to sit on my throne as the prince of Bel-Air

April Fool’s Day  KYM: Bel-Air

Cultural Diversity

There is a vast variety of recreational games that we humans engage in. So vast that when one claims to be a “gamer” or enjoys “games” it’s usually slang for being fond of particular kinds of games and participation in a particular culture. None of the “gamers” I know are going to pay equal attention to what happened at the GDC Expo and what’s going to happen during March Madness.

Basketball is a good example of a game where I can understand the appeal of the finite iterations of the game but not the infinite aspects of the culture. It is something I could play myself, and could probably have fun doing so if I was matched against people of similar enough skill and athletic level that we could play a fair game. I have tried watching college/professional basketball on TV. I can see that the action is fast-paced and that the game isn’t just about who is tallest or fastest; the players at the highest levels have to be highly skilled.

A game that I can see the appeal of, but just can’t get into.

I can see all that, and yet, I have no plans to watch during March Madness or during any other time of year. I’m just not into it because although I can like the finite iterations of the game, the infinite culture that supports playing that game is not something I am a part of. If I had a reason to make a conscious effort to join that culture, maybe I could get into it. It’s not likely to happen. But that doesn’t mean I have anything against basketball.

When it comes to the gaming culture that I am a part of, I am glad to see the increasing volume of people talking about inclusion and breaking down barriers to participation whether based on ability or sociological constructions. However, I am at times reminded of the need to balance our enthusiasm for our own game culture with respecting that not everything is for everyone. I don’t need to convince everyone of the need to play any particular game or class of game in order to be welcoming of those who are actually interested. So yes, I encourage newcomers to be interested in the kind of tabletop games I run and give it a try. But I am not going to try too hard to convince them, because I know that it will not be effective for the same reasons that getting me out to a basketball game might not be an easy sell. It’s not because I would be turned away, but because I don’t really feel the pull. That I have my culture and that football, basketball, and poker players all have theirs is something I see as valuable diversity rather than a competition for an audience.

CAGEO: The Best Ship

This is the fifth post in my series the Casual Alpha’s Guide to EVE Online. At the beginning of the series I thought it might be a good idea to distinguish these from my other posts by using the acronym in the title. Now every time I write a new post for the series the acronym feels sillier and sillier. I just wanted to keep it clear that I write a blog about games that sometimes talks about EVE Online, not an EVE blog that sometimes dabbles in other things. Maybe there is a lesson to be learned here? Let me know in the comments if I am right in feeling silly about the acronym, or if you think it does not detract from the content, or if you have anything to say about the content. I like feedback.

I don’t think it is an unreasonable assumption that a massively multiplayer online game is best enjoyed as interactions between players. One of the criticisms of “high-sec carebearing” (that is, playing the game in ways that do not involve shooting at other players’ spaceships, in space that is deemed to be more secure though not totally safe) is that it gets to be more of a grind than a player-vs-player experience. But, being a sandbox type game, people vary in their opinions on what the right way to play the game is. For myself, learning how to do things like ratting or hacking has not only been a fun experience, but also one that provides in-game income that can be used for other purposes such as getting into PvP or recovering from a big loss. Indeed, a person could just pay extra money for in-game currency, but to seek an in-game solution to the problem of your shiny warship being blasted into tiny bits seems a bit more fun than whipping out the Visa card. And let’s face it, the kind of ships you can get for free or almost free are made of papier-mâché. For example, my Probe class exploration frigate that got ganked in a small pocket of low-sec space a few weeks ago.

This is what using a sledgehammer to kill an ant looks like in [simple_tooltip content='The fictional setting for EVE Online, if you are not already familiar.']New Eden.[/simple_tooltip]
This was my first player-on-player combat. I lost horribly. What napboi does is lurk in the Enden system keeping an eye out for exploration or mining vessels, then flies in and pins them down while his friends FEDERAL OFFICER and NAN0FIBER warp in for the kill. I know this because a look at napboi’s killboard shows this pattern. I was pinned in place then they brought in a supercarrier to squash my probe. It’s a bit like using a tank to kill a bird. But the point of this post is not to offer faint praise for their use of three advanced ships to squash one worth Ƶ2.5 million (which I estimate to be about $0.04 USD worth of spaceship if I paid for my in-game currency with real money). The real point here is that whatever they’re hoping to accomplish with ganking ships like mine, these guys appear to be having fun doing it together (the Tengu alone should have been able to make short work of my Probe if shooting down my ship was their only concern). There is no way I could go get revenge by tactics nor by attempting to pay-to-win. Sure, if I had Omega status and a yuge pile of ISK I could put up a ship more comparable to any one of theirs than the paper airplanes I’ve got in the hangar today. But the reality is that I would likely need a team, not a better ship, to take these guys down. My skills at convincing other pilots to join my revenge fleet would matter far more than my skills at fitting or flying any ship in particular. And since my only causus belli is that these guys shot down my fail-fit exploration frigate, this would be very difficult unless I had several space-rich friends who wanted to do me a favour on a whim.

Or, I suppose if I was a fleet unto myself like Jason Kusion I might be able to solo those guys. Kusion is a famous ganker known for being a big part of CODE.’s larger kills. For those not familiar, CODE. is the alliance that I characterized as basically the space mafia in my post Pirates, Carebears, and Emergent Gameplay. Jason Kusion uses a technique called multiboxing which allows him to control 15 instances of the game at once, with his alternate characters all named Kusion. The following is what it looks like to be fifteen and one at the same time:

Jason Kusion is a fleet unto himself. (source)

Very, very different than what my game looks like. But even a one-man army like this was part of something bigger, the CODE. alliance. The reason I am talking about them so much today is that I was online for a little while last night and saw the Anti-ganking chat channel explode over a breaking news story: Jason Kusion has apparently betrayed his alliance and made off with over Ƶ500 billion. That is as estimated USD value of $7500 (I know it is not exactly Ƶ1 billion ISK for each extension, nor exactly $15 USD in real money, but I like to keep the math simple when precision is not necessary). It is enough to use in-game currency to buy a couple years’ worth of subscription for fifteen accounts. The story broke on reddit here first, followed by this thread allegedly posted by James315 himself admitting that CODE. is dead and his blog, Miner Bumping,will be archived. However, as of right now, a post went up on that blog today that did not address any of this. It certainly didn’t take long on the thread in the official EVE forums for people to start speculating that it this is all a ruse. It is hard to say how all of this will play out. What I know for sure is that this level of drama based on player interaction is what makes EVE special and I hope that if CODE. is really dead and Miner Bumping is over that some other group of people will take its place as the villainous evil empire of high sec. I will have to follow up on this in a future post.

At another point in the past month, I also had the chance to be given a tutorial in high-sec carebear mining, the kind of thing that CODE. was founded to oppose. I really don’t think that is my game (watching my ore hold fill with space rocks while I point a laser at a virtual asteroid), but I think that people who play EVE differently do need to understand what real mining looks like. The beginners’ career missions introduce the basic concept of what buttons to press, but there was NOTHING in that or the new tutorial that covered anything like what I saw that day. It was during this mining run that I discovered why people talk about Orca class ships and mining boosts; it makes a huge difference compared to using mining lasers on an entry-level mining ship. It’s a very different environment than getting ganked in low-sec or watching high stakes alliance drama unfold, but the conclusion remains the same: it’s alright to be good at flying spaceships, it’s not a bad idea to have good spaceships, but the best ship will always be friendship.

Hail To The Chief

When I started this blog I knew I wanted to write about things that can be framed as “games” even though they’re not the recreational pastimes we usually think of when we hear that word. An odd choice to be sure, but one I hope sets this body of work apart from the gaming-related noise on the internet. So I knew at some point I would have to address the phenomenon that is Donald J. Trump, the unlikely prospect for the Republican nomination. At first, I thought I would wait until his primary campaign flamed out and write a retrospective. And then he became the nominee, so I planned to watch the rest of the campaign and write the post-mortem in November. Then I had to wait and see if there would be a stunning upset in the electoral college. And now, as of yesterday, he is the president of the United States of America. Whatever the founding fathers of their nation may have envisioned 240 years into the future, this one man has come to define his nation’s politics. This election result has already changes the political landscape in North America, and it’s only just beginning.

We’d better include some measures in this constitution to prevent the rise of a demagogue…

A lot of ink and pixels have already been devoted to gloating, weeping and gnashing of teeth, and analyzing the causes of the final score in the political game that was the USA 2016 election. I’m not going to rehash most of that here. If you have seen Almost Infinite’s Twitter and Facebook cover photos then you know how I feel. But what interests me as a writer is the remarkable scale of the dissonance between the rules of the game and what people think the rules of the game are. No matter what the game is, this disconnect can be responsible for a lot of unnecessary grief. The remedy I propose is to understand and change rules rather than shout at the world about how things should be but simply aren’t.

One thing I am tired of is hearing American liberals complain that Clinton “won the popular vote” as if achieving a simple majority is the magic threshold of legitimacy. It can be argued that in a bipartisan system this would not an unreasonable standard to adopt, but I am not taking a position in this post about how they should run their elections. I am merely observing the way they do run their elections, and that this way has nothing to do with winning the popular vote at the national level. Their rules are complicated, and seem downright Byzantine to Canadians like me. These rules, though complex, are not vague: the candidate who wins the most votes in the electoral college wins the election. They might be terrible rules, but they are the rules all the same.

Peace, order, and good government: no simple majority required.

This disconnect between what we think the rules and and what they actually are exists in Canadian politics as well. Every time a majority government is elected with less than 50% of the vote you will hear people shout about how ~60% of the population voted for someone other than the Conservatives/Liberals yet the Conservatives/Liberals still got a majority of the seats. “It’s not fair!” Well, maybe it isn’t; I am not taking a position on Canadian electoral reform in this post. What I am saying is that our 39% majorities are a fact of life in this country because that is what happens when the game is played by our rules. It is entirely legitimate to wish to change the rules to something better, and it is quite possible that there are better ways of electing a parliament than the first-past-the-post system we use. However, to suggest that a Canadian government lacks legitimacy without achieving a simple majority is simply absurd (and is usually coated in a strong partisan bias; Liberals seem to have no problem with 39% majorities when it’s a Liberal majority and vice versa for Conservatives). We have not had a federal government that “won the popular vote” since 1984, when the Mulroney Conservatives in a “landslide” just barely cracked the 50% mark. There are many silly things about our antiquated Westminster parliament, and several changes I would like to see, yet I love our parliament for its quirks and its ability to deliver relatively stable governments that most Canadians can live with even if they detest the governing party. Being snarky about the legitimacy of our government because you don’t like the rules is useless at best, and dangerous at worst. Working for a better alternative, changing the game itself, is entirely more worthwhile. Or, get better at the game under the current rules and defeat your opponent like Justin Trudeau did to Stephen Harper. And yes, like Donald Trump did to Hillary Clinton. Despite all his faults, despite all the faults of the system, he won the game as it was intended to be played.

So, what does liberal America do with their situation? It’s not an easy thing to figure out from here and the answer won’t be the same for everyone. But one place where I think disgruntled Democrats can start is to flush the pee jokes out of their system and get to work on improving their game under existing rules while also pursuing electoral reform. Trump is POTUS and just wishing it wasn’t so doesn’t change anything. The same rules that allowed him to win also allow for the Democrats to win back their congress and senate over the next couple years, for impeachment of the president, and failing that they have another run at him in 2020. Their victory is not guaranteed, but there is a path towards it. Americans who oppose what their president stands for have options. As an interested observer, I am hoping that the vast majority of them choose something more productive than complaining about it on social media to their friends and followers who think the same way. Protest. Get involved. Do something about it. The USA is a weird, sometimes frightening, sometimes amazing country that deserves much more than a steady stream of snark piped into a series of echo chambers about what shouldn’t have happened.

Alright, the political rant is done. Back to writing about internet spaceships next week, then more tabletop RPG goodness on February 1.

New Stuff

This is my 30th post on this blog. I think I’ve got enough space here now to be a little bit self-referential. Today, rather than talking about tabletop games or video games or political games I will be reflecting a little bit on my approach then announcing some new stuff!

This may seem counter-intuitive to people who know how blogging works, but I’ve actually avoided doing a lot of self-promotion since I started the blog. I didn’t want to put time, effort, and possibly money into hyping up something and then have it fizzle out just like billions of other ideas that people on the internet have. I didn’t want to try and sell people a promise. Now I feel like I’ve got a solid base of content that shows that I’m somewhat serious about creating stuff. So, without further ado…

New Stuff!

Here is some new stuff that I have either added today or will be doing in the near future:

  1. I added an “About” page to the site to provide some background information on myself and the blog for all those new readers I’m going to be getting.
  2. I’m still doing Mapvember 2016. Check out my Twitter or Facebook pages to see my maps ranging from grade-school art class to reasonably good quality. The idea behind my participation is not to demonstrate the skills of an artist as much as it is to show that anyone can create practical art for tabletop games even if they can’t draw any better than an average eight year old. Also, it means that I will have an online archive of both what I’ve got physically and of ideas. It’ll be a little bit easier to access than having to sort through everything I have in storage.

    Some of my freehand maps I made for Mapvember 2016.
    Some of my freehand maps I made for Mapvember 2016.
  3. Now that EVE Online has a free to play option, I’ve decided to do a series on that. My dad plays this game and has been trying to get me into it for a long time. I’ve resisted because I just can’t devote the kind of time that a retired science fiction fan has available and I know that it’s a huge game that could easily be a full time occupation if one let it become so. However, in discussion with a friend about exploring games that are deep enough to be, well, “almost infinite” I’ve come to the conclusion that I can’t ignore the biggest and most complex MMO out there. I will be doing a series called The Casual Alpha’s Guide to EVE Online which will chronicle my experience using an “alpha state” (read: free-to-play) character on a strictly casual basis (maximum 1-2 hours per week). The mission will be to see how possible it is for a skeptic like me to play and enjoy the game casually without building up a sense of guilt over sunk costs. Humouring my dad will be a nice side bonus to this.
  4. Self-promotion. In 2017 I will be actually be putting some work into promoting the blog now that I can confidently say that it’s not just an ephemeral daydream. It’s a real project now and I want it to go somewhere. If you are a blogger, podcaster, etc. who likes to be a signal booster for this kind of stuff, I’d love to have your support in spreading the word. Seen and Heard in Edmonton has featured my posts a few times now, which I really appreciate. And if you don’t have your own project, engaging with the Almost Infinite social media pages also helps reassure me I’m not just typing into the wind.
  5. I want to actively encourage comments on this post about what you think of the blog in general and where you want to see it go. Or, just say you like what I am doing. I want to hear from you.