Thursday, March 31, 2016

What type of gamer are you? (Part 4)

The social gamer is much more interested in interaction with others, whether online or in person. Social gamers gravitate towards games where they can be involved with a group of friends or a like-minded community. Online multiplayer games often allow teams or guilds to form, and social gamers thrive in these situations. Offline games might involve family and friends playing a video game together on a couch, or convening around a table to play cards, board games, or role-playing games. Although not all social gamers are competitive, most competitive gamers are social gamers, constantly seeking opportunities to show off their skills and to compare them with others.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

What type of gamer are you? (Part 3)

The solo gamer prefers to game alone, to set and achieve his own goals in his own time. Quite often, solo gamers are "hardcore" gamers, seeking to acquire all possible virtual trophies and achievements for their favorite games, or to rise to the top of public leader boards with their high scores. The solo gamer is also the type that plays games for the story experience, and enjoys unlocking every possible option available in a game, leaving nothing uncovered when they finally finish the game. These gamers are often known as “hardcore” because of their dedication to solving a game and getting everything they can out of it--this devotion can sometimes border on obsessive.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

What type of gamer are you? (Part 2)

Casual gamers are one of the newest arrivals to the class of gamers. A casual gamer is the kind of person who will pull out her smartphone while waiting on the subway or while waiting in a parking lot to pick up her kid after school. This kind of gamer might play a game on a tablet late at night in bed, or in other circumstances where there's just a little time to kill. Casual gamers are seen by the industry as gateway gamers--if they can be hooked, they might transform into more serious gamers, willing to pay more than a couple dollars for a game. But casual gamers still contribute enormous profits to the industry because there are so many of them.

Monday, March 28, 2016

What type of gamer are you? (Part 1)

If you like games, then you are among many. Gaming has seen tremendous growth and is no longer considered to have the social stigma it did years ago. Casual gaming with smartphone apps, hardcore gaming on PC's and consoles, and even table-top board games and role-playing games are all part of a very successful market in the entertainment industry. Yet within the gaming market, there are several different demographics of gamers. Which type are you?...

Friday, March 25, 2016

The Ripples of Social Technology (part 5)

On the plus side, research has shown that families are actually becoming closer as a result of technology. Children and parents are able to text and communicate 24/7, and sharing photos and videos has allowed for familes to become more a part of each other's lives. Yet research has also shown that parents and kids both are feeling a hunger for more face-to-face time. While it is debatable that the internet and texting is causing us to become more disconnected from each other, it is definitely clear that we now have an entirely different social environment surrounding us than our parents did in their generation. Manners, privacy, and discretion are concepts that we now must make more of an effort to maintain, coupled with the other challenges that come with having so much digital presence and interaction. Our society is changing quickly. How is our humanity changing with it?

Thursday, March 24, 2016

The Ripples of Social Technology (part 4)

How many times have you heard about someone losing their job because of posted comments on social media? You've also no doubt experienced phishing scams—though hopefully haven't been the victim of one—perpetrated through your own inbox. Cyber-bullying, computer viruses, NSA monitoring—these are just a few of the other concerns that come with the use of the internet and texting. Location stamps and other private information through social media and our phones provide stalkers (and worse) with easy access to our lives and those of our children. Advertisers are also enterprising on the lowering of our guard, as the last shreds of our privacy are being stripped away. Even our own “smart” TV's actually monitor and record the conversations we have around it, and then feed that data to the manufacturer. (Don't believe me? Just Google “Samsung Smart TV Listening) With all this technology comes great sacrifice, but are we concerned enough about what we've already lost?

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

The Ripples of Social Technology (part 3)

One advantage of texting is that it provides a digital record of the conversation, which became very useful for us just last week when dealing with Comcast. My wife was trying to set things up for her mother last week, and live-chatted with a tech who made promises for certain channels and internet access. Without going into the long details about how Comcast constantly lied to us and gave us a continual run-around, my wife was able to use the live-chat transcript and email it to the supervising manager to ensure that Comcast kept their word. In legal situations, email and texting records are extremely useful in providing the necessary evidence of claims. In this era, it is much easier to “get things in writing,” though it is easy to wonder if the internet itself has spawned more distrust because of the faceless anonymity it provides.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

The Ripples of Social Technology (part 2)

Smartphones, tablet computers, and other devices used to access the internet have actually seemed to separate us more than bring us together. People prefer texts to email, and email to phone calls—the less we have to deal with someone in person, it seems, the “better.” Couples waiting together in line or at a doctor's office are often totally focused on their phones, texting or browsing seperately rather than talking with each-other. Even video games are moving away from multi-player experiences with other people in the same room to online-only mutliplayer—it's been a challenge for me to find a game these days that I can play at home with my friends or family in person. The more connective technology we get, the less we interact with real people. Texting, chatrooms, and email have all broken down social boundaries in our society, and things you would never comfortably say or even dare to say in person are suddenly easy. Will we eventually lose the ability to deal with people directly, and will politeness be a thing of the past?

Monday, March 21, 2016

The Ripples of Social Technology (part 1)

The other day I talked with a teen, 15 years old, who had his phone taken away from him as a punishment by his parents. He was telling me he couldn't talk to his girlfriend because he couldn't text her. I asked him if he could call from his home phone, or send her an email, and I was informed that this was “not cool.” When I suggested he try talking to her at school, he looked at me like I was crazy, and told me that he and his girlfriend—of 3 months so far--”usually texted” and didn't talk much. I've been hearing from other parents recently that their kids only text each other, and from what I've seen with my own teen daughter, this does seem to be the norm. Texting does have its merits—it's quick, efficient, and people usually respond quickly. But does the de-personalization of texting and its faceless, “digital wall” socially impact us and the next generation?

Friday, March 18, 2016

Are We Paying Attention? (part 5)

Very recently, South Korean Lee Se-dol (the world's greatest “Go” player) was beaten 3 out of 5 games by the AI, “AlphaGo.” The game of Go has been played by humans for over 3,000 years, and AI mastery of the game was believed to be at least a decade away. Yet AlphaGo taught itself to play the game by playing it against itself millions of times to learn and correct its weaknesses. The AI was able to teach itself from an amateur player to a world champion in less than a year. Some have projected that the singularity—the event when AI surpasses all human control and understanding—is within our lifetime, with dates ranging as early as 2027 to as late as 2045. Considering previous projections about AI (AlphaGo, for instance, projected to take ten years longer than it did to achieve Go mastery), it is reasonable to assume that the current rate of progression in AI technology is going to accelerate beyond our expectations. We need to do something, now, and not be reactive to a situation we may find has quickly moved beyond our control. I've always considered science fiction as a warning. Are we paying attention?

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Are We Paying Attention? (part 4)

Two years ago, roboticists from Canada's Clearpath Robotics promised that they will not build robots for military use. On the company website, a declaration was made: “To the people against killer robots: we support you.” Though promising not to build the Terminator is a positive step, military use of AI is rampant, with strike-drones already being near-autonomous. As an example, the British military drone, the Taranis, is an unmanned attack aircraft able to fly itself halfway around the world and select enemy targets on its own. The U.S. military aimed to have at least 30 percent of its ground forces weapon systems automated by the end of last year. Though the military insists that they still retain control of deciding when to fire a weapon system, the progressively autonomous nature of drone AI design raises serious concerns.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Are We Paying Attention? (part 3)

In 1975, molecular biologists met at the Asilomar Conference on Recombinant DNA, where they agreed on standards for scientific research. These standards were intended to prevent the design of manmade, genetically modified organisms that would pose a threat to the public. We need similar standards in place with regard to AI development, and though the conference in Puerto Rico was a start, the chat was far from the conclusive nature of the Asilomar Conference. Artificial Intelligence is quickly becoming a serious threat, where Seed AI is capable of self-modification, able to program itself and optimize its own cognitive functions. Unless we take significant measures to design AI architecture to be “human friendly,” our future may depend on the conditions we create for it through AI development.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Are We Paying Attention? (part 2)

A conference in Puerto Rico was called by Elon Musk for those building products with advanced AI. Musk asked for a pledge to consider the ethical implications of AI research, and an open letter was signed by participants, promising AI research will be conducted for good while “avoiding potential pitfalls.” Musk has also signed the letter, pledging his dedication to “AI Safety.” Nine researchers from the Google-acquired AI research company, DeepMind, also signed the letter, though Google has been very secretive about its ambitions with DeepMind. The letter outlined research priorities for AI, such as its economic and legal implications, as well as the security of AI systems. What measures are in place to prevent trading algorithms from crashing the stock market? How will self-driving vehicles impact the job market for taxi cab and bus drivers? Questions like these are being considered to help prevent AI systems from taking over blue-collar jobs. Still, well-intentioned pledges don't exactly comfort me as much as a restrictive global law.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Are We Paying Attention? (part 1)

The progress of Artificial Intelligence (AI) is advancing much faster than predicted. Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking are concerned that we will be facing an AI apocalypse someday, with computers taking over the world. In the past five years, a branch of AI algorithms known as deep neural networks have been integrated into AI-driven products at the center of our lives. Google, Facebook, and Microsoft are investing heavily in AI research in a tech race seeking smarter computers. Android's speech recognition, Skype's instant translation capabilities, and Google's self-driving cars are just a sampling of how AI is being integrated into our daily lives. Should we really be concerned? What is being done?

Friday, March 11, 2016

Do You Like Rogue-Likes? (part 5)

I've seen some innovation in roguelikes lately. Rogue Legacy, for instance, explains the repeated character death by indicating each character you play is the next generation of a long line of ancestors that have been dying in their attempts to survive the dungeon (cleverly enough, each new character you play has a different name, look, and class.) The roguelike space-shooter Galak-Z lets you earn “crash coins” that roll-over to your next playthrough, and blueprints you discover for ship upgrades can be purchased when just starting out using these coins. The steampunk roguelike Ironcast also has a form of roll-over currency you can use to purchase passive abilities, new pilots, or even new ironcast mechs. However, in all roguelikes, your mileage may vary, depending on the kind of gamer you are. One of the biggest RPG draws for me is that I can continually grow and develop my character—I get a little attached to him, and his stuff. I don't like losing almost everything I earned, and I don't like trying to invest myself in a new character each time. For me, it feels a bit like I suspect it would be to live with a family that moves around a lot: it's hard to let yourself make new friends and get close to them when you know that you might have to leave and never see them again. Yet, despite my tendency to get attached to my character in a game, somehow, I still find myself playing roguelikes. They can be a bit addictive for the determined side of us that demands “just one more try!”

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Do You Like Rogue-Likes? (part 4)

Now, I know what some of you are thinking: “Wouldn't this get dull and repetitive fast?” That didn't seem to bother most of us in the 80's, but today it might sound like a chore, especially when you don't have tons of adolescent time to burn during middle-school summer-breaks. Roguelike game designers have addressed this issue fairly well within the game design by making most of it procedurally-generated (ie, randomly generated.) The game is almost a new game every time you play it, which does keep it interesting, and challenging. I think I was able to finish Ghosts 'n Goblins because technology 30 years ago wasn't advanced enough to make things procedurally generated. Each game session had the exact same level design, monsters, and attack patterns, so I could learn the timing of the patterns and know how to navigate them like an expert.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Do You Like Rogue-Likes? (part 3)

A roguelike is a little different from the brutally difficult and unforgiving video games of the 80's. You do have to start all over from the beginning if you die (and you only have 1 life, not 3), but, roguelikes let some of your progress accumulate. There is still a way to “level up” your character, and often the skills you earn/unlock become abilities you can access again upon restarting, though often for a price. For instance, if your character makes it to level 2 and finds a rocket-launcher but then dies horribly, when you restart, the game might present you with the option to purchase the rocket launcher with the money you've earned so far—usually money stays around after you die in a roguelike, so you can continually accrue wealth. Now, your wimpy level 1 character isn't so wimpy—he has a rocket-launcher, after all! Progressing forward becomes a little easier with each death, and each time, you earn better stuff. This is the idea behind a roguelike: Keep trying, keep dying, but eventually, you'll be overpowered and breezing through levels better and better with each attempt.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

GM's Day Sale!

Solar Echoes products are on sale at RPGNow for their 
GM's Day Sale!

Do You Like Rogue-Likes? (part 2)

On the surface, roguelikes do share many of the same characteristics as games in the larger RPG genre. However, one big difference is that, when your character dies in a roguelike, you usually lose all of your progress and have to start again at the beginning. While I've never experienced a roguelike in a table-top RPG setting (maybe some exist?) I've definitely played a few as video games. Initially, the concept of having to start all over from the beginning might remind some of you (from my generation) of the punishing difficulty of early video games in the 1980's, like “Ghosts 'n Goblins.” In that game, you had only 3 lives, and if you meant to solve the game, you had to go through the entire game using only those 3 lives. If you lost all 3 lives, that was it, GAME OVER, back to the very beginning for you! Imagine how frustrated I was to finally beat the end boss and learn that to win the game, I had to go through the entire game a SECOND time! And yes, I did, I solved that thing finally back when I was a kid. These days, I don't have that kind of insane patience anymore, nor the time! To enjoy a roguelike, do you need patience like that?...

Monday, March 7, 2016

Do You Like Rogue-Likes? (part 1)

If you're unfamiliar with the genre of video games known as “roguelikes,” it is really a subgenre of role-playing games. The most defining characteristic of a roguelike is the permanent death of the player-character, though this at first doesn't sound like anything unusual—character death is a common penalty for not playing a game well enough to survive its challenges. However, where roguelikes differ from other RPG's is that the only way to make progress in the game is to die. Continually. Over and over. In a normal RPG, though it may be challenging to keep your character alive, the game is designed to allow skilled and patient players to advance their character, steadily accumulating new abilities, more powerful items, and often more “hit-points.” Roguelikes can be said to be the same at first glance, but the game designers created challenges in the game that you can only hope to defeat after your character has been defeated countless times. What exactly is the difference, and is a roguelike the kind of game for you?

Friday, March 4, 2016 The Solar Echoes Alien Character Pack

Play Solar Echoes online at! This character pack includes 21 character map icons, with 3 of each race (7 in full color!) by artists Jay Darnell, Sarah Carter, and John Fell. 
Check them out:

Tabletop RPG’s Online (part 5)

Another great feature of is the ability to make appointments and sign up for specific games. Once I have everything prepared for a mission, I plan to set up a few games for players to try Solar Echoes online. I’m still learning the features on Roll20, and I’ve already found a few scripts that people have written—like the ammunition tracker script—that I plan to implement, in addition to a script macro for the unusual dice rolling mechanic used in Solar Echoes. With, I can play games with friends across the country, or even in another country! If you’re interested in trying it out, let me know, and I’ll set a game up for us!

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Tabletop RPG’s Online (part 4)

If you visit the webpage, you’ll find that they’ve made available an impressive program that mimics the table-top environment. This virtual table-top design allows for players to connect online and use webcams (or simple chat, if a webcam isn’t available) to play together at their PC. The GM and players can move icons representing their characters around, roll virtual dice on the screen, and record game information in various ways. Pre-made icons can be brought in by the GM, or purchased in the marketplace. These icons can also be used to track damage, effects, and other details during the game. The GM can spontaneously draw or bring in his own maps, and can even use features like fog of war and dynamic lighting to increase immersion. Solar Echoes works quite well on, and I’ve just begun to put together icon packs for people to use from the Roll20 marketplace. I'll provide a link to the “Solar Echoes Alien Character Pack” as soon as they post it in their marketplace!

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Tabletop RPG’s Online (part 3)

There are many other computer and console games that have tried to emulate the table-top environment, and there is even a new D&D game coming to consoles soon that allows one player to be the Game-master (GM), enabling him to invisibly move around and spawn monsters and traps, or even possess NPC’s for dialogue interaction, much like Neverwinter Nights did. Yet this still doesn’t quite accomplish the open-ended, imagination’s-the-limit quality of a true table-top game. I continually encounter people that tell me they used to play table-top RPG’s, but they explain they just don’t have the time to get together with people anymore. Thankfully, someone recognized this trend and there is a now another option for RPG players:!

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Tabletop RPG’s Online (part 2)

However, though Neverwinter Nights was robust and offered many options, it still had it’s limitations because players could only operate in the pre-programmed game environments I’d built beforehand. Improvisation is really at the heart of role-playing games, and a video game is somewhat restricted by the need to pre-build everything. For instance, I had once built a large town with immense detail, and in one particular spot at the port, there was a ship with pirates walking around on deck. If the players talked with them, or even tried to steal something from the crates the pirates were unloading to the dock, the pirates would react. I did not anticipate, though, that the players would try to sneak into the lower decks of the ship, and when they tried, I realized there was nothing I could do—I had not yet built and programmed in a lower deck for the ship. The pirate ship was, after all, just a peripheral thing I’d added in for overall flavor. If this had been a tabletop game, however, I could have improvised and described the lower decks in great detail, drawing out an impromptu deck design on a fold-out battle map with a marker.