Reflections on Aphorisms #33

Going to try to write as much as I can and still be coherent. I’ve been going to bed late because of poor self-discipline, and then sleeping in for the same reason (one of the bad things about not having a fixed daily schedule). Today I forced myself to get up early to go on a nice long walk, but I’m in something of a sleep deficit now, so this will be shorter than usual so I can get to bed early.

Aphorism 56

Mathematics demands an uncontrolled hunger for abstraction, philosophy a very controlled one.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb, from The Bed of Procrustes

Interpretation

Mathematics is something that I struggled with as a child, despite being relatively adept in many ways with the subject. While I certainly didn’t enjoy learning math and I have a propensity to make errors in mental math (solution: write it down and use calculators), I find many of the concepts to be tremendously easy, at least in terms of visualizing and comprehending them.

As a game designer, I’m a fan of math for the simple reason that it leads into good clean designs.

I think that some of this is because it’s abstract. When you’re making a game, you’re really searching for the platonic ideal of something, and it’s not always even something that really exists.

The result of this is that you create broad overarching systems so that each individual event can be represented within those systems. Of course, you don’t necessarily need to do this with great resolution (I write tabletop roleplaying games, so for me I leave almost all of the specifics to the people who play my games), but you do need to have it be coherent in the final picture.

In reality, this coherence is absent. There are broad overarching abstracts (for instance, the concepts of honesty and entropy which illustrate both philosophical and physical abstract concepts), but there is no individual “ideal” because there is no individual who fits the rule.

Even those who fit the rule may actually be nothing more than the creation of a new and individual rule; there is no path to guarantee anything because the universe has never been the same as it is in this moment.

Don’t mistake this for there being no paths; there are paths, and they generally lead in the direction they are supposed to. However, a great hero can be felled by a tragic flaw, and the wicked may be saved by some virtue that is hidden in the depths of their hearts waiting for the right call.

In philosophy, one can’t pass judgment on the basis of abstraction. Montaigne is great about this, because he will find the “general path” (i.e. where something usually leads) and then present both examples and counter-examples in his essays.

I think that there’s a commonality here with the concept of squaring the circle.

Image of squaring the circle, image courtesy of Wikimedia, originally in the public domain. Rasterized by me.

The problem with this is that it’s a matter of precision. You want to try and get a square whose length is equal to the square root of pi, but pi is not something which can be neatly calculated as such (it has infinite length, unless our understanding of it is incorrect).

Squaring the circle is one of the great classical problems of geometry. It has also taken on mystical connotations over the years, as a perceived impossibility, and was one of the common goals of late medieval and Renaissance alchemy.

I think it’s a great illustration for a key point:

Sometimes you have to accept the limits of knowledge.

I want to clarify, because I don’t think that’s necessarily true.

One of the distinctions between an alchemist and modern scientists (and the rational scientism that many espouse) is that the alchemist sought out cosmic mystery (“as above, so below”), and was aware that much of what they knew was unknowable.

There’s something of value to this, because when I say one should accept the limits of knowledge I don’t mean that one should stop dreaming of greater knowledge.

At the same time, it’s simply not always possible to achieve the results one desires dearly. No alchemist successfully completed their magnum opus (and likely none ever will, unless we see people start using particle colliders for alchemy in some weird future), and if they did they were wrong about what they created from a chemical standpoint.

The best example we can get here is that in mathematics, you can hit a “good enough” for the problem of squaring the circle, especially with modern computer-based calculations. It won’t be perfect, but it’ll be within tolerance for all but the most demanding applications (and then the better course is error correction as needed, or merely increasing the precision until it’s satisfactory).

In philosophy, however, you can’t get around the abstraction. Squaring the circle is an important concept for a philosopher because it represents the pursuit of the unknowable. The medieval alchemists were trying to find God (at least, the later ones) as much as they were trying to find gold; their texts were esoteric to protect them from a society which failed to appreciate the independent contemplation of the divine and to force them out of comfort in their understandings. They saw in terms of value, not particles.

Philosophy always must in the end pursue the individual. It cannot be abstracted, because within the individual lies meaning.

Resolution

Know when to follow the rule, know when to see the exception.

Don’t be afraid to try either way to square a circle.

Remember that every outcome, good or bad, is unique. Be thankful for the good, overcome the bad.

Audioshield and VR Design Experiences

I got Audioshield on sale, and I was pleasantly surprised by how different it was from the other VR experiences I’ve tried. I’m generally quite pleased with VR in general, but I noticed a few things that really stood out about how Audioshield was using its design in a much more efficient and smooth method than other games.

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Five Maxims for Designing Good Combat in Games

One of the things that I’ve been thinking about as velotha’s flock goes into product line expansion and maintenance and the core game is essentially finished is how to design a good combat system, not the least of which because Hammercalled needs one that works.

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Things I Learned from Being a GM & a Designer

I’ve been a GM and game designer for years now, and one thing that’s always struck me about the process is how much skills overlap there is in the process, and how many nuggets of wisdom carry over from one to the other. I’ve been thinking about some key points now that I’m working on two projects that should see the light of day relatively soon.

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The Legacy of Eight: Playing the Post-Scarcity Economy

It’s been a long, somewhat harrowing week, but I’ve still found a little time to work on The Legacy of Eight and that interest survey I sent out. Sleep is for the weak, after all. As I move on with the project, I want to make sure that I’m increasingly transparent: I don’t have incredible readership, but I want to make it clear that I think about things before I do them, dangnabit, even if they turn out worse on paper than they did in my head.

And man, is post-scarcity economics in games a difficult thing to do well.

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Game Design: The False Dichotomy of Narrativism versus Simulationism

One of the underlying trends of modern game design (at least since I last reacquainted myself with the buzzwords) has been narrativism versus simulationism. Typically, these games have certain associations with them; narrativist games have a weak point of often falling into mechanical vacuums where characters never develop across sessions or where they fail to be distinct from each other, and simulationist games fall into a pitfall by becoming too heavily dependent on their own systems to allow flexibility and freedom, especially with regards to tabletop roleplaying. However, video games often offer a great example of a way in which all the traditional tabletop game design ideas have broken down over the years and ways to reinvigorate them.

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2014 in Review, and Plans for 2015

It’s the end of 2014, and I’ve fallen behind on the blog (again) because of taking some teacher certification tests. Unfortunately, I didn’t get around to everything I planned to do this year, though there are some exciting things I did get done as well as things that will be going on.

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The Problem of Conceptual Separation

I know that I’ve been majorly off schedule recently, but it’s mostly because of having relatives for the holidays and not being able to get some good writing time, so I’m going to try to be writing ahead for a while to keep things going.

One of the greatest problems that tabletop game designers (and, less frequently, video game designers) have is with conceptual separation between game mechanics, the behaviors they are supposed to be a response/encouragement to.

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Game Design: Choice Paths Part 1: Linear, Option, Divergent, and “Dinner” Paths

Since the majority of games (or, perhaps it is better to say, pretty much every major game out there) relies almost entirely on pre-scripted advancement techniques to handle plots and narratives, I figured I’d write a little article on choice paths in games. Choice paths are something that I used a ton when I was working on Orchestra over on Story Nexus, and they’re a great way to see what you’re doing. Continue reading “Game Design: Choice Paths Part 1: Linear, Option, Divergent, and “Dinner” Paths”

Game Design: Applying Animation Principles to Game Environments

Video games seem to often suffer from a lack of awareness of other fields; it’s not so much that video game designers and developers don’t know what they’re doing but rather that they seem to not communicate with other complementary fields. One of the things I’ve noticed as a game reviewer is that many games do not fully take advantage of known animation principles to provide a greater sense of immersion and activity to their environments. Continue reading “Game Design: Applying Animation Principles to Game Environments”