Tobold's Blog
Thursday, December 14, 2017
 
Wondering what comes next

The liberal world order has been defined as standing for "greater individual freedom, greater choice, support for democratic forms of government, a fundamental faith in free-market capitalism and private enterprise, a belief in constitutional forms of government with divided powers, an independent judiciary, separation of church and state, a strong support for free trade and an aversion to protectionism, among other things". Obviously there is a lot to like about these values. Most economists believe that this system is the one that is best suited to the creation of wealth. However the predominance of the liberal world order in the last 30 years has also demonstrated that while the system is good for the creation of wealth overall, it isn't all that good in the distribution of that wealth. That not only leads to a lot of opposition, but is also somewhat self-defeating in the long run: Concentrated wealth is less good at further powering the economy than distributed wealth.

In the USA and a lot of other places the current main opposition against the liberal world order comes from the right, from nationalism, protectionism, populism, and ethnocentrism. However if you look at those right-wing forces enacting policies like the current US tax reform or the Brexit from the UK, it is likely that the right will not solve the problem of wealth distribution any better than the liberal world order (and will presumably create less wealth in the first place). Blaming foreigners and the media will only get right-wing politicians so far until the people realize that they aren't in fact "better off than they were four years ago". It is that, and not the whole lot of unrelated shouting about various values, that ultimately will bring change. The liberal world order failed the people, but the conservative version isn't doing any better. So I'm wondering what will come next.

One likely answer is in the form of people like Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn. The economic left might one day look like a good answer to people whose main concern is wealth distribution, because the economic left has always stood for redistribution of wealth. However the economic left also has some policies in their book that hinders wealth creation more than necessary for a fair distribution. And they have a long history of ending up with "more equal than others" policies that aren't in fact much closer to a fair distribution of wealth than the conservative version.

What an optimist could hope for would be a reformed liberal world order, the same values as above but with a priority for wealth distribution and against too much wealth concentration. A vision like in Robert Reich's Saving Capitalism. However if you look at how the world previously solved excesses of wealth creation, there are only few examples of peaceful solutions (e.g. Theodore Roosevelt) and lots of examples of the wealth ending up destroyed or redistributed through war and revolution. A pessimist would buy gold coins instead of bitcoins.

Monday, December 11, 2017
 
Is story important?

I am currently watching a series of YouTube videos (overview page on this blog) of a group currently playing Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition, the official Storm King's Thunder adventure. I watched some of their video on previous adventures, and must say that they are both better than average players and their videos have better than average production values. What I found particularly interesting in this series was that I have read Storm King's Thunder and dismissed it as basically unplayable. But they are doing just fine playing it. Why?

The keyword here is suspension of disbelief. Storm King's Thunder starts out in a very linear fashion with a series of events befalling a fortified village. Within one week the village gets bombarded from the air by giants in a floating castle, then the residents move out and find shelter in a bat cave where they get captured by goblins, the goblins start looting the village, the adventurers arrive and start killing the goblins, then the Zhentarim (a semi-evil political faction) try to take over the empty village, and then a horde of orcs attacks. (In the videos the DM replaced the orcs by more Zhentarim, but added an deus-ex-machina dragon saving the village). So the adventure for the group consists of searching through the abandoned village and killing the goblins, then beating back the Zhentarim, then beating back the orcs, and then finally going to the bat cave and freeing the kidnapped villagers. Then the villagers send them to another town very far away for rather flimsy reasons, and there the adventure loops backs to the giants. As far as stories in D&D adventures go, this is one of the less believable ones. But of course if you don't care and just enjoy the ride, a lot of fun can be had.

It reminds me a bit of MMORPGs, where the story can also be rather weak, but is basically just an excuse to lead people to gameplay. In the D&D videos the story leads not just to gameplay in the form of combat, but also to fun situations where the DM describes a situation in more detail and the players come up with all sorts of plans and ideas instead of just rolling for initiative. A good group and a good DM are the ones where the players constantly fire off ideas, and the DM rolls with them. Then the actual story of the adventure becomes a less important backdrop, because the important story is the one that evolves from the players being in unusual situations. The art as a DM is to get people to play that way. I'm working on that.

Friday, December 08, 2017
 
Quitting early

I still play a lot of Magic Duels, still nearly exclusively against the AI. It is in the nature of that game that there is a certain randomness which is independent of your skill in building decks or playing the game. Sometimes you don't draw enough land, or draw the wrong color of land, and sometimes you draw too many lands and no spells to cast. Sometimes you draw exactly the right mana and spells of the right cost to play with that mana and start the game perfectly. The same is true for your AI opponent. Thus sometimes you get in a situation where your AI opponent had a perfect hand and is playing creature after creature, while either don't have the mana or the spells to do anything much to stop him. After a few turns you already know that you will lose. Knowing that the AI opponent won't be offended, I frequently quit in situations like that.

One of the reasons why I don't like playing Magic Duels in PvP mode is that some people think that this behavior is also okay if you play against a human opponent. And I disagree with that. Imagine a sports event where one team decides to give up at half time and not to play the second half of the game, because the first half makes it near certain that they lost anyway. That would be completely unacceptable behavior is sports. Because winning is not the only thing a match is about, it is also about playing. In Magic a human opponent who has set up a great attack doesn't just want to get a quick and easy win by the other guy conceding, he wants to play out the game until that win. Quitting early is impolite towards that other guy, provided that he isn't an AI who doesn't really mind.

A lot of games these days have no penalties at all for quitting. To some extent that is due to the problem that half of all players lose in a PvP game, so games have tried to hide that fact by rewarding the loser a bit and the winner a bit more. And you don't want a disconnect being interpreted by the game as toxic player behavior and punishing that player by a lot. However that does end up in a situation where quitting early in a game which you aren't clearly winning might actually be the best strategy. Because games are frequently set up in a way where you can immediately start the next game, and staying until the end of a game when the rewards for losing slowly and quitting early are the same is a waste of time you could have spent winning the next game.

I remember a lot of people in the early days of internet gaming enthusing about the internet bringing people from all over the world together. But somehow that ended up with dehumanizing our human opponents: Many people don't think of their human opponents as real people any more, but consider them to be more or less equal to an AI opponent. People who would never cheat in a board game with friends around a table do cheat in multiplayer video games. They don't even consider whether their opponent might quite like to play a game until the actual win condition, but quit early in order to earn rewards in the next game faster. And game design frequently encourages that sort of behavior. Players end up being content in a game for which the devs were too lazy to program an AI. And somehow between all these developments we lost a bit of humanity.

Thursday, December 07, 2017
 
An error of reasoning on Bitcoin

On 22nd May 2010, Laszlo Hanyec bought a pizza for 10,000 bitcoins. This Twitter page shows the current USD value of that pizza, which is $141 million today. It is nearly impossible to hear that story and not regret not having bought 10,000 bitcoins seven-and-a-half years ago for the price of a pizza, and be a multi-millionaire today. So why didn't we?

Bitcoins have no firm link to anything of real value, they aren't supported by gold, or by some brick-and-mortar assets, or by a government. The value of bitcoins is based purely on the stupidity and greed of the people buying it. So we deemed ourselves somewhat more intelligent and decided not to invest in bitcoins.

Our error of reasoning was the following: There are only limited quantities of gold, of brick-and-mortar assets, or of government assets. Human stupidity and greed is in near infinite supply. Thus a currency based on stupidity and greed can rise much, much higher than a currency based on real assets.

Please do not confuse this analysis with a recommendation to buy bitcoins today. You would lose your shirt. Like in any Ponzi scheme the main losers are always the ones investing last.

Wednesday, December 06, 2017
 
Uses and abuses of challenge

Once upon a time, in a past so long a go that few people remember it, computer games came with an options menu in which you could choose the difficulty and challenge of the game yourself. The idea was that all of us would like games to be both winnable and not a pushover, but because preferences on how easily winnable a game should be, as well as experience and skill in a game, vary from user to user, it would be best to have several options in order to please everybody. Now that was way back when games still came in a box. With games increasingly switching to a "game as a service" online experience, difficulty settings fell out of favor. Somehow it appeared to make more sense if the same orc in World of Warcraft held the same challenge for each player, with the only variable being the power level of the player himself. With less and less single-player games around, and PvE games being more and more replaced by PvP, difficulty setting have become increasingly rare.

I've been playing a bunch of pseudo-PvP games on my iPad lately. Pseudo because I don't necessarily fight another player online at the same time, but my army fights his computer-controlled army. That usually was nice enough at the start of the game. But then with each win I gained some sort of trophies or ranking, so that later I was matched against more and more powerful players. Ultimately it was obvious that this was a no-win proposition: The better I did, the more likely it became that I would lose the next game. The only strategy that worked was to deliberately lose games, to drop down in rankings, to then win the now easier PvP games in order to achieve the quests and goals the game set me. But that sort of cheesy strategy isn't exactly fun.

The other type of game I played recently is the one in which your performance doesn't actually matter at all any more. I played Total War: Arena, but many team vs. team multiplayer games fall into the same category: The contribution of any single player to the outcome of a 10 vs. 10 battle is only 5%. That gets quite annoying if you come up with a brilliant move and outmaneuver another player and crush him, only to find that the 9 other players on the enemy team obliterated your 9 team mates, and you lost the battle. Especially since in Total War: Arena you end up with more rewards having done nothing much in a won battle than for a great performance in a lost battle.

Finally my wife was complaining about a problem with challenge levels in her iPad puzzle games: The games are free to play, they get harder and harder with each level until you can't beat it any more, and then the game offers you a way out: Use some sort of booster, which of course you need to pay real money for, to make the too hard levels easy enough to win again.

Somehow I get the feeling we lost something important when difficulty sliders went out of fashion. However the discussion of difficulty and challenge is complicated by the fact that this is one of the issues where gamers are the most dishonest about. Gamers tend to say they want more challenge, but when you observe what they are doing, e.g. attacking the enemy castle in a PvP MMORPG at 3 am in the morning, it is clearly that they are mostly occupied with avoiding or circumventing any actual challenge. Pay2Win and loot boxes wouldn't be such an issue if gamers weren't actually spending their money on improving their chances to win. If most gamers were so interested in challenge, then why is there so much cheating and botting going on? People want to win, by any means, and by talking up the challenge they want to make their win look more impressive. Which is kind of sad, if you think about it, that their positive self-image depends on being a winner in a video game. Many a fragile gamer-ego can't admit that they'd quite like a relaxing game that doesn't constantly challenge them to the max. I do.

Monday, December 04, 2017
 
Is the MMO Blogosphere still alive?

Back in the days when I was still blogging about MMORPGs and had thousands of visitors per day, I would get regularly pestered by various sites who made their living just aggregating content from blogs and other sites. Two days ago one of those sites contacted me again, telling me that I had been awarded a (virtual) medal as one of the Top 75 MMO Blogs on the web. Given how I haven't blogged about MMOs for a long time, that made me wonder about the state of the MMO Blogosphere. If my dead blog is one of the top 75, then how does the rest look?

I surfed to a selection of those "top 75" MMO blogs, as well as other links I knew, and found they more or less all fell into two categories: Either they were dead, or they had changed to report on all sorts of multiplayer games, up to and including Pokemon Go. I didn't see a single site still exclusively discussing the type of MMORPG that I would recognize under that term. Even MMORPG.com right now as I check has the latest article being about Animal Crossing Pocket Camp, which really doesn't fall into the definition of MMORPG for me.

Now obviously there are still millions of people playing MMORPGs. But blogging about them doesn't appear to be a thing any more. Unlike other trends we know the exact date where MMO blogging peaked: The decline started on September 18, 2008, the day WAR was released, as the expectation had swelled the ranks of the MMO bloggers, and the reality let the air out of that bubble rather quickly. But as far as I can see that decline has continued over the last decade, powered both by the general decline of blogging as a form of expression on the internet in favor of tweeting, and by the decline of MMORPGs as a form of gaming in favor of other multiplayer games.

Am I wrong? Have I just overlooked a thriving MMO Blogosphere somewhere on the internet with thousands of daily readers? Or is this all a thing of a past that won't come back?

Saturday, December 02, 2017
 
Sand in my story

I don't believe in black and white. 99.9% of everything is a shade of grey, and absolutes are at best naive simplifications and at worst dangerous traps. That is not a very trendy opinion. To my great despair the internet has not led to people to discuss their differences, but has isolated them into echo chambers where black and white are the only colors available. Whether it is politics, culture, or gaming, nobody wants to discuss the pros and cons of any issue any more, they just want shared outrage at whatever they believe is wrong. This is why blogging is in decline and tweeting is on top, Twitter just does outrage so much better.

In spite of these modern trends, I'm still trying to discuss issues, especially in gaming, by looking at them from both sides. And today I would like to talk about sandboxes and linear stories in Dungeons & Dragons, especially in the official Wizards of the Coast published adventures. Now none of them are perfect sandboxes or completely linear, as neither of the extreme cases works very well in pen & paper roleplaying. But if we compare the shades of grey of today with the shades of grey from the past, the current selection of adventures since the release of 5th edition is way more on the sandbox side as adventure modules from previous editions were.

The sandbox style has certain advantages. I believe that the best 4th edition adventure that Wizards of the Coast released for Dungeons & Dragons is Madness at Gardmore Abbey, which is more sandbox than the other 4E adventures. And so I am currently playing a 5E adaptation. However from the adventure books that WotC released in 5th edition my favorites are the Lost Mines of Phandelver from the Starter Set and Curse of Strahd, and both of these are more linear story than the others. My experience with the more sandbox adventures isn't so good: As a player I watched a less experienced dungeon master flounder with Out of the Abyss; I spent hours to prepare Storm King's Thunder, only to finally give up because the adventure was just too bad; and the Princes of the Apocalypse took me many hours of rewriting and changing into something a bit more linear in order to make it playable.

Much of the problem is one of presentation. A computer has no problems running a sandbox game, because he has perfect memory. In a game of D&D the information has to go from the adventure book into the head of the dungeon master first, before it can then be told at the table to the players. Humans don't have perfect memory, and our brains can more easily remember stories than lists of unconnected facts. Human DMs are simply better at stories than they are at sandboxes. Madness at Gardmore Abbey works because it is basically a collection of stories which can be tackled in any order you like. That freedom makes it feel like a sandbox to the players, but the story content is easy to remember for the DM. When I prepare a session for Princes of the Apocalypse, for example my players currently breaking into Rivergard Keep, the presentation of the place by location number and the bits and pieces of story being distributed all over the location descriptions makes finding the stories much harder. I need to read every location back to front, locate the story bits, then read them again to puzzle them together, and finally find where the book simply doesn't provide much explanation or story and invent some of my own.

I do like the fact that a place like Rivergard Keep has many different options for the players to tackle it. I've looked at YouTube videos of people playing that part of the adventure for inspiration, and various groups have done everything from negotiation, to charming the door guard, to infiltration by water, to frontal assault for this "dungeon". But a better presentation of the power dynamics in that place and their likely response to attacks sure would have helped: In those YouTube videos I also saw DMs overdoing the response, ending with a near total party kill, and some improbable Deus-ex-machina intervention which saved the party but severely mauled the overall story and credibility.

Talking of credibility, I found that many WotC adventures of the sandbox style have a serious problem with experience points and levels. Fundamentally WotC is cheating: If you add up the experience points in Princes of the Apocalypse (the only one for which I have actually done the exercise, but I'm sure the problem is the same for the others) and apply WotC's own level by experience points table, you fall far short of the levels required in the adventure. WotC sells you an adventure that says "level 1 - 15" on the back, but doesn't actually have enough content in it to actually get a group from level 1 to 15 if you play by their own rules. The "fix" is a so-called milestones system in which the group gains a level at the end of a dungeon in order to have enough levels to tackle the next dungeon. However such a milestones system only works really well with a linear story and order of dungeons; it falls flat in a sandbox adventure where people can do the dungeons out of order, or do them only partially at one visit to come back another time. In my own campaign I had to double the regular monster xp and hand out bonus xp for certain story achievements in order to make the level system work. If I hadn't done that, the latter dungeons of the adventure would have become quite impossible to beat.

Overall I believe that the focus on sandbox elements in WotC published adventures is more one of ideology or marketing than one of good game design. The result is that for many of these books as a DM you can't just take the book and start playing. Even as an experienced dungeon master you need quite a lot of hours of preparation time to first understand all the elements in the book in spite of their chaotic presentation, and then to modify them in order to make them actually work. There is a huge gap in the offer between the very well done Starter Set adventure that can be played by a first time DM with no problem and the following books that can drive even an experienced DM to despair. For an edition which is designed to bring a lot new players and dungeon masters into the game, there really is something missing here.

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Friday, December 01, 2017
 
Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp

I never owned any Nintendo Wii or 3DS console. Which means that I have never played any game of the Animal Crossing franchise. I was aware that these games existed due to the generally good press they got, but never played one. So when recently Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp was released on iOS, I decided to give it a try. And ended up seriously disappointed: There is no game in this game!

My general model of modern games is that they have a core game, e.g. combat or a type of puzzle, embedded in a shell of story, rewards, and character progression. Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp certainly has the shell part of that: There is a basic story, you do get plenty of rewards for what you do, and there is some sort of character progression in the form of levels and friendship levels to a growing number of animals. However there isn't really a core game. The core consists of clicking on resources to gather them. And that's it. There is no puzzle to solve to gather those resources, no monster to kill, nothing. Some of the resources have a vague hint of a game, which is tapping once to start the process, and then needing to tap a second time within a time window when "tap" is written on your screen, but that is as complicated as it gets. Other resources, like fruits from trees, don't even have that, you just click to gather them.

Crafting isn't really a game either, you just provide the money and resources and wait for minutes or hours until your crafted item is finished. So all you can do in this game is gather resources, and keep various animals happy by providing them either the resources directly or some furniture crafted from those resources. There is a complete absence of any challenge or even actual gameplay. Describing Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp as a game for children is actually insulting to children.

That the mobile version only provides you with limited amounts of resources every 3 hours or lets you wait for hours for your crafting to finish, but then "allows" you to speed those things up with a currency you get for real money is just the icing on the cake. After playing the game long enough to make sure that I hadn't accidentally overlooked a real game in there, I just uninstalled Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp. Unless you desperately want a game with absolutely no challenge or real gameplay at all, I can't recommend this.

Thursday, November 30, 2017
 
Elemental Evil: Session 10

In the previous session the group had attacked Feathergale Spire, the first stronghold of the elemental evil cult of air. There they had killed the lord of the tower, his guest Glasstaff (a mage they had been chasing since several sessions before) and three knights, before escaping from the top of the tower with magical para-glider suits. While having escaped unseen, the attack hadn't gone unnoticed. So while they were at breakfast the next morning in the tavern in Red Larch, a local poultry merchant came in telling the news: "Bandits" had attacked Featherscale Spire, and the survivors of the Feathergale Society had decided to quit the tower, leaving only a single guardian behind. The merchant was quite distraught over the news, as he had had a nice business selling provisions to the tower, which now needed much less of them.

Feigning concern the group then went to the tower, this time ringing the bell at the front door. As chance would have it, the sole guardian of the tower was Savra, a young noble, who knew Theren from Waterdeep. Being a novice of the cult and a bit naive and trusting towards somebody she knew, Savra told the group that "the prophetess" aka Aerisi Kalinoth (the lady on the cover of the Princes of the Apocalypse book) had come and taken the rest of the Feathergale Society with her through the magical portal into the temple below. Asking about the door the group learned that the cults knew there were 4 keys to open the portal, but as nobody had all 4 keys that was not the usual way to open it; instead the prophetess opens the door with the help of her magical spear. Savra has no means to contact the prophetess or the rest of the Feathergale Society, and was told to wait in the tower. While Theren was chatting with Savra, other group members searched the tower, but of course everything of value or incriminating had been removed.

From there the group moved towards the Dessarin River, with the idea to move north from there and find Rivergard Keep, the suspected stronghold of the elemental evil cult of water. Near the river they came upon a scene where a group of water cultists was harassing a bear, with the bear curiously shouting for help in common. A fight ensued in which the group slew the cultists and rescued the druid/bear. The rescued druid, Varigo, was very grateful and gave them his most prized possession, the Talking Bear Statuette, a magical item allowing a druid in wild shape to talk and even cast 1 spell per transformation. [DM's note: Our druid needed a boost due to the weird power curve of the moon druid compared to other classes, which results him being powerful at level 2, but not growing in power much until level 6, while everybody else surpasses him at level 5. It also solves the stupid problem that moon druids sometimes would like to remain in animal shape between fights, but would then be excluded from discussing plans with the rest of the group.] Varigo also told the group that he was on the way to Scarlet Moon Hall to witness the Rite of the Wicker Giant, a ritual that is supposed to restore nature's balance in the troubled region.

The next day the group reached Rivergard Keep. The keep was well guarded, with patrols on the walls. So after some discussion on how to approach the group decided to climb the wall during the night under cover of a silence spell. They killed the wall guard, and then entered through a door into the second floor of the keep. There they managed to kill 6 crushing wave reavers (the elite soldiers of the keep) without raising an alarm. Having thus successfully infiltrated the keep, we stopped the session there, to continue in the new year.

On a personal note, the player of the paladin was absent, so my wife played her character. That was the first time my wife played a real role-playing game. I don't think she will play frequently, but it is nice that she now knows a bit better what we are doing when we play.

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Monday, November 27, 2017
 
Gardmore Abbey 5E rerun - Session 4

This session started with an interesting fight in a wizard's tower. It turned out the wizard was both undead and quite mad, wanting to preserve everything for eternity by freezing it. So the group was hit with a lot of ice magic which hindered their movement, while battling the wizard and his 4 icy mummies. But the group prevailed and scored another card from the deck of many things, which had been frozen in a block of ice together with a Barlgura demon. That caused quite some concern on how to get to the card without being attacked by the demon, however it turned out that the demon didn't wake up at all and just got banished back to the abyss by defrosting him.

So the group moved on to the garrison, having found both possible ways to open the door there, a scroll from the wizard's tower and the sword of the lost paladin. But there was another Barlgura demon in the garrison, together with some specters, and this time the demon was alive. I had the demon use his disguise spell to assume the same form as the specters, so the group didn't immediately know where the main threat was. But otherwise the combat went without major events, and the group found the brazier, one of the three objects they were searching for Sir Oakley.

So they returned to Sir Oakley and rested in the temple. Then they decided to take the stairs in the temple leading down to a dungeon, where they encountered a band of gnolls. The group attacked immediately, while the gnolls tried to retreat. Most of the gnolls made it to the next room and barred the door, but the barbarian just crashed through that door with an exceptional strength check. So the group fought the gnolls from both rooms at once, which was a tough fight. After the fight we decided to stop for this session.

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Sunday, November 26, 2017
 
An old problem

I played Magic the Gathering both in physical form and in various digital forms. Anybody who does thinks not much differently of his digital cards than of his physical cards. After all the cards in both forms serve the exactly same purpose, and being able to use the physical card as a doorstop isn't really relevant enough to value the physical card more than the digital one. However legally I only ever owned the physical cards. Virtual property still has no legal standing in Europe or the USA, so my digital cards are not considered my property. That is a very old problem, and up to now nobody really cared enough about it to consider it worth changing.

But this month comes along EA's Star Wars Battlefront II with its loot box controversy. And some politicians woke up and realized that such a system is very similar to gambling: You pay real money for a random chance to win something which is of value to you. It is easy to imagine a child being seduced by that and spending hundreds or thousands of daddy's credit card, because daddy is an idiot regarding his kid and his credit card. Even if research suggests that the real whales are more likely to be lonely bankers with too much money, a politician would rather be seen protecting the children than protecting the bankers. So an attack on loot boxes makes political sense with that child protection story.

However suddenly our old problem is back. Virtual property still doesn't exist, legally. So the content of a loot box, legally speaking, has no value. So buying loot boxes can't be gambling, because, legally speaking, you can't win anything of value. Having ignored the problem of virtual property in the past is now biting the legal system in the ass.

I, being a scientist by education, once had a very interesting conversation with somebody with a legal background about the nature of truth. As a scientist I believe that there is an absolute truth, which I can examine and measure, and then describe with words. If the words don't fit with reality, the words are wrong. The legal guy thought that writing down words in a law or contract created truth. If the words didn't fit with reality, reality was wrong. This is one of those cases. It is pretty much obvious to any sane person that loot boxes are a form of gambling (regardless of whether we think gambling is good or bad). You pay money in the hope of winning a prize, and whether you get that prize depends on random chance. Whether you buy a raffle ticket to win a stuffed animal at the carnival or whether you buy a loot box to win a hero character in Battlefront 2 is exactly the same in the mind of the buyer. Only the legal words describing the two situations differ substantially.

While I am in favor of systems that prevent children having access to loot box systems in games, for me that is actually only the start. In order to get to that point we need to legally recognize loot boxes as gambling. And for that we need to legally recognize that virtual property exists and has value. That is a much larger and more important issue than just loot boxes.

Monday, November 20, 2017
 
Printing heroes at home

There is a piece of good news for the few of us who like to print D&D miniatures in 3D at home. And two pieces of bad news. The good news is that Hero Forge is now offering the digital download option on their website. You can use their excellent editor to create a D&D character of one of many different races, with lots of different equipment and pose options. And then instead of choosing a material to have it printed by them, you choose digital download and get an .stl file.

The two pieces of bad news are that a) that option costs $9.99 per miniature, which is only slightly less than the $14.99 for the cheapest printed option. I consider it worth it, but it might not be for everybody. And b) you don't get the file immediately, but sometimes "after one business day for processing", sometimes after a few minutes. So if you want to print a more common miniature, like a wizard with a staff and pointy hat, you'd better first check sites like Thingiverse for a free version. However I really like Hero Forge for the less common hero miniatures, or the ones you want with very specific equipment.

The .stl files are of very high resolution and end up being 75 MB large. When I want to edit them on Tinkercad (e.g. for adding print supports), I first need to use Meshmixer to reduce the number of triangles and the file size. And of course a typical home printer isn't producing that high resolution miniatures. But it's a bit like with photographs, it's better to have too high resolution and scale it down than having too low resolution.

If you want to try it out, check out the Hero Forge Digital Downloads info page. It links to your user profile (if you have an account with them), where you can download two demo .stl files for free.

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