Game design lesson 2

Today I got my contract for the new semester of tutoring at the University of Technology Sydney. This is the same Data Engineering course that I did last year, and helped the lecturer to redesign. He’s running it again unchanged this year after positive student feedback. It starts on Monday next week. When I started this tutoring job a couple of years ago, I had to print out my contract, sign it, scan it, and email it back in. Then last year I did digital signatures, pasting in a graphic of my signature to the PDF. This year they’ve enabled online contract signing, and all I had to do was click through a few “agree” buttons.

This morning I had the first older students’ ethics class with this week’s new topic: Debt. There was a new student, taking the class up to the maximum of 4, which meant we didn’t get through even nearly all of the material I’d prepared. There was a lot of discussion and it was really good. At one point when one boy was answering a question, I heard someone else interject a different opinion, but I didn’t recognise who it was, so I asked, “Who was that?” And the boy talking said it was his mother! She was in the room with him and overhearing the lesson and felt she needed to add something!

The other thing I did today was the second lesson of the game design class with the girl who started last week. It was supposed to be yesterday, but she didn’t show up, and when I contacted the mother about it, she was very apologetic and agreed to do a make-up class today (which I’d suggested). So the girl appeared and we did the lesson on brainstorming. It was really good, with one exercise asking her to name as many uses as she could for a handful of mud in one minute. She came up with 4 or 5. Then I explained how to brainstorm and free your brain up to come up with ideas, and had her try again, and she came up with 30 or so! I was typing them out because she’d broken her hand and couldn’t write, and I couldn’t keep up, she was saying them so fast. So that was a success.

For lunch today I walked with Scully up to the station and the little cafe there where I tried the satay chicken skewers a few weeks ago. This time I tried the beef rendang. Unfortunately it wasn’t as good as the satay… I don’t think I’d have it again. But I’m still to try some of the other dishes.

New content today:

A busy morning, a hot run

This morning I had an online meeting (via MS Teams) for ISO Photography Standards – specifically an ad-hoc technical meeting for investigating accuracy standards for depth measurement cameras. This is one of the new projects we’re working on and we’re in the experimental phase, gathering information to try to develop standards for measuring depth and resolution accuracy of such cameras. Unfortunately I can’t contribute with any actual experimental lab-work, but I’m in the ad-hoc group (essentially a technical subcommittee) because I have experience with and interest in these devices. The meeting was 08:30-09:30 my time, so convenient, but it ate up some of the morning.

After that my wife suggested we go for a long walk to the Naremburn bakery for morning tea. Sure! So we did that, taking Scully for a walk. They had a nice looking pastry filled with custard and sultanas, topped with flaked almonds, so I tried that.

When we got home (and this is a 4.5 km walk), I immediately changed and went out for a run. An I decided to do a long one, 5k! It was approaching noon by now, but I wanted to get it done then rather than later in the afternoon when it would just be hotter. It was an exhausting run.

I had to be home and showered and have lunch before my second game design class at 2pm – but the student didn’t show up. I’m going to have to contact the parent and arrange some make-up class time.

Then this evening was three more ethics/critical thinking classes on the UFOs topic. Two of them were good, with the kids demonstrating good critical thinking skills. But the first one I had three kids and they were all bouncing alien theories off each other the whole time, for every question! It was… well, interesting. At least I hope they had fun!

New content today:

Getting into Obsidian

I mentioned a couple of days ago that I’d downloaded Obsidian and wanted to try it to see if it could replace Microsoft’s OneNote as my main note-keeping application. I started using it today, and I’m liking it so far.

I created a single vault which I’m planning to use for all my stuff – after doing a bit of searching and reading on the merits of one vault versus multiple vaults. I started making notes and folders and organising things, and it’s all very intuitive and suits my preferred means of organising things in hierarchical folders. I’ve started transferring some things from OneNote, and the folder structure works well. I haven’t done any linking yet, and have just started to apply a few tags, neither of which are available in OneNote (at least on MacOS – I seem to recall using links to other OneNote pages in Windows many years ago). I think they’ll be useful, but I need to get used to them and look for places to apply them to take advantage of their organisational capabilities.

I also turned my vault into a git repository, and pushed it to Github for version-controlled backups. There is an option here to use Obsidian Git, a community plugin which provides Github integration into Obsidian. The issue I have is that I’m not sure exactly what Obsidian Git provides, and if it’s anything I can’t just do on the git command line. Specifically, I was wondering how git would interact with the fact that Obsidian can rename and move files. If I just commit changes in git, will it know that a file has been renamed (thus maintaining its version history), or will it assume the old file was deleted and a new file made with the new name? (A friend of mine tells me that git is smart enough to figure out if a file has been renamed.) Ideally I’d use “git mv”… but if I actually go into the Obsidian vault and do that, will Obsidian know what I’ve done or get confused? Is Obsidian just a viewer/editor layer on top of the vault, and it will show me whatever I do in the vault (using another program like git), or does it need to keep track of changes in there itself? I don’t know.

Ad secondly, does the Obsidian Git plugin just add a bunch of buttons to the Obsidian UI so you can do git operations from the UI rather than from the command line? Or is it actually intercepting Obsidian operations like renaming a note and issuing “git mv” commands and stuff like that? The documentation gives no indication either way. If it’s the former, than I’m just as good using the git command line, since I’m comfortable with that. Anyway, this is a relatively minor issue, which I’m sure will become clearer as I use Obsidian more, and learn by trial and error.

The other thing about today was that it was very rainy. My wife took Scully to work this morning to give me free time to photograph that batch of Irregular Webcomic! strips that I wrote yesterday. After doing that, I went to pick up Scully and go get some lunch, and it was cloudy but I didn’t really expect any rain. However when we got to a shopping area where I planned to grab something to eat, it bucketed down, very heavy rain for about half an hour. I decided to get a table at an Italian place and have pizza for lunch, since it was one of few places where I could sit out of the rain with Scully. It was still raining steadily, though less heavily, when we were done and had to walk back to the car, so we got a bit wet.

And tonight I started the week’s new ethics topic, on UFOs (really more of a critical thinking topic, this one!).

New content today:

Lightning fast comic writing

Today I had one task I really wanted to complete: Write a new batch of Irregular Webcomic! strips. The current batch runs out this week, so I wanted to be able to photograph a new batch tomorrow morning – which meant writing the whole lot today. Normally it takes me at least a couple of days, sometimes more, to write a batch, as it can be slow work sometimes, with writer’s block and not being able to think of jokes at will. But today I powered through it and … I’ve just finished the batch now, at almost 10pm.

In between I had three ethics classes to teach, Scully to take for walks a few times, dinner to cook, and some sourdough bread to make. Phew.

New content today:

Trying Obsidian

Today was fairly mundane: did a 2.5k run, wrote and assembled a Darths & Droids comic strip, worked on brief outlines for future ethics classes (one on Movies for the younger group, and one Colonisation for the older kids), taught three classes.

Last night I started watching Dune (2021). I seldom have time to watch a full movie in one sitting, instead splitting them in half over two nights. And given Dune is a long running time at 2.5 hours, it’s been sitting in my to-watch list for some time now, but I finally decided to tackle it. I’ve never read Dune, or seen the prior movie version, and the only things I knew about it were the name of Paul Atreides, and that there’s a planet with a desert, giant worms, and Spice. So there was a lot of exposition covering stuff that was new to me. In fact, the first half of the movie seemed to be almost entirely exposition and teaching me background stuff that I may need to know when the action actually starts. And then I only found out today when I told my friends that apparently this Dune movie is only the first half of the novel, and a sequel is being made which will cover the second half! Anyway, I’m enjoying it so far.

The other interesting thing I did today was decide to try using Obsidian and see if it’s a good solution for keeping my notes in. I’m currently using Microsoft’s OneNote, which I quite like and have extensive notes in, but Obsidian’s use of plain text files and independence of Microsoft’s cloud sync are appealing, and I understand it also has hyperlinking and some other features that I will find useful.

I’m using OneNote for two very different sorts of notes:

  1. long term notes that I add to and edit occasionally, that I want organised in hierarchies and links, and that I want to have saved safely without necessarily needing the ability to access from mobile;
  2. short term notes such as shopping lists, or lists of things for travel such as hotel addresses, or scripts for comics that I’m working on, which get edited and erased a lot, and which I want to be able to sync and access from mobile (and even by my wife from her phone too, for the case of shopping and travel lists).

I’m thinking I’ll try migrating the former to Obsidian and using Github as a change tracking repository, while leaving the latter in OneNote, which it seems better suited for. I haven’t started doing this yet – I need to play around in Obsidian a bit first and learn how to use it.

New content today:

Tomb of the Serpent Kings

On Friday I hosted Dungeons & Dragons at my place, and five of my friends came over to play the game I ran.

I started running D&D with the Basic Set rules by Tom Moldvay in 1982. Since then I’ve evolved through AD&D, 3rd Edition, and 5th Edition, but I was getting frustrated with 5E’s play style and decided to go back to simple dungeon delving and real risk of death. I grabbed the adventure Tomb of the Serpent Kings to introduce my current players to the style. We used Moldvay Basic/Expert rules plus a few small house tweaks, most notably DCC magic for the rest of us, so spellcasters needed to make spell rolls to successfully cast.

Character creation: The players rolled 3d6 for each stat in order, adjusting stats as per the B/X rules. We ended up with 2 dwarves (Beldrum and Drashi), a fighter (Nogge), a cleric (Volrak), and a magic-user (Notgandalf). Nobody rolled a high Dexterity, so they just decided to go with no thief, which was cool. The outstanding roll was Notgandalf who rolled 17 for Intelligence, and had enough Wisdom to lower it 2 points and go to 18 Intelligence.

One of the party had stumbled across a mysterious opening in a hillside a few miles from the village, and gone back to tell his friends about it. They decided this was their chance to find some treasure and become rich! Beldrum, Drashi, Nogge, Volrak, and Notgandalf returned, with some younger hangers-on tagging along out of curiosity.

The party started warily. They asked for a couple of volunteers to serve as torchbearers and proceeded to explore the passage. They checked out the first four small rooms opening off the sides of the corridor, finding wooden coffins in dusty smelling rooms decorated with murals of entwined or leaping snakes. They avoided these and continued along the corridor until they came across a stone door barred with a heavy looking slab of stone resting on iron pegs. They decided this looked even scarier and went back to cautiously prod open a coffin lid with a 10-foot pole. Inside was a snake-man “body”. They tapped it with the pole, discovering it was a clay statue, then tapped it harder to see if they could smash it. And so they were clever enough to avoid a puff of choking gas released from the hollow inside the statue and recover a small gold amulet from inside. The statue also held the skeleton of a snake. They repeated this in the remaining rooms, taking extra care to also hold their breaths. The last statue was wearing a silver ring. The group decided Notgandalf should try wearing it… It magically grew his fingernail into a sharp forked point like snake fangs! Now he has a snake-fang ring stuck on his right index finger!

Now they examined the door with the stone bar across it. Beldrum tried lifting it, but declared it too heavy to move. They considered having multiple people lift it, but after noticing some gaps in the ceiling they decided to inspect and prod it, where they discovered a large metal object embedded in the ceiling, with a groove running towards the door. They deduced this might be a giant hammer hinged to smash into the door. They decided to tie rope around each end of the stone bar and together pull it off the iron pegs from a distance. This triggered the trap safely, and smashed the stone door open. The hammer slowly retracted back into the ceiling. The party carefully entered the next room…

This was a large room with 3 more wooden coffins. They discussed a plan to drag the coffins to the hammer trap and trigger it again to smash them to smithereens – but decided this was too difficult and proceeded to push the lids open with a 10-foot pole, releasing snake-man skeletons! They did it one by one and defeated each skeleton in combat. Edged weapons seemed less effective, so Volrak was most effective with his club. But the real star was Notgandalf, who threw daggers at the skeletons from a distance, and hit every single time. The daggers passed through the ribs and rattled around inside the ribcages before dropping to the floor – they did little damage, but it was helpful enough that they managed to win, and he got the killing blow for two of them! Drashi had taken the brunt of the damage and Volrak cast Cure Light Wounds to heal him.

Exploring super carefully now, the party proceeded to the chamber to the south, discovering the eroding remains of a hideously deformed snake-god statue. Water dripped from the ceiling and drained through a water-carved hole behind the statue to a passage below.

The party squeezed down, leaving a rope tied there so they could climb back out. A dank, slimy passage opened into a wider corridor guarded by six tall snake-man warrior statues. They stopped and poked one to make sure it was inert. They went back and grabbed a large chunk of stone from the shattered door and Beldrum tossed it at a statue, smashing an arm off (while they were holding their breaths in case of more poison gas). Approaching the statues closely for the first time, they noticed the one they’d knocked an arm off was slightly rotated, so they tried turning it more, revealing a secret door to short passage and room beyond. This room contained rotting furniture, a regal silver snake-man amulet, and a couple of usable pole-arms, which they gave to the torchbearers. They checked if any of the other statues rotated, but they didn’t, and then they proceeded further.

The corridor opened into a large octagonal chamber with a liquorice-smelling, oily black pool in the middle of the room, life-sized snake-man statues in the corners, and doors or openings in each of the eight walls. The party avoided the pool in the middle and walked close to the walls around the room. They looked in the open corridor to the south-west room first, finding 6 ranks of 3 clay snake-man warrior statues. They smashed one to be sure it was a clay statue before deciding to nope their way out and try another room. They opened the unlocked wooden door to the south-east room next and found some scrolls written in a strange language, but had no way to read them. Then they tried the stone door to the southern room, which was only partly excavated and empty except for some rusty digging tools.

Opening the door to the north-west they saw the glint of something shiny reflecting their torchlight back from the end of the corridor, and smelt the tang of a thunderstorm. They decided that it might be some sort of lightning trap, and proceeded to examine the floor very carefully, where they found a pressure plate. They tried tossing the rusty tools from the south room onto it, but it wasn’t heavy enough to trigger the trap, so they tried tossing the stone arm of the large statue that they’d knocked off. This triggered a lightning bolt in the corridor, but the explorers were all safely cowering behind the door and nobody got zapped. They examined the room and lifted off the lid of a stone coffin, to find it empty. They also found the silver disc that had reflected their torchlight, but they were so scared of it that they didn’t dare touch it.

They opened the door to the north room and found the passage blocked by fallen rubble from the ceiling. They heard the sound of shuffling and thumping and scraping from behind the collapsed passageway. They noped their way out of there immediately and shut the door again.

The north-east room contained a stone coffin and a distinctive smell of tar. They repeated their lifting of the stone coffin lid, releasing a horrible black slimy thing that turned out to be the partially tar-mummified remains of a snake-man! This was a tough fight and they knew it. Notgandalf attempted his Magic Missile, but failed his spell roll miserably and it fizzled! The whole adventure he’d been hitting things by throwing daggers, and now he gets to cast his one spell and fails! The others went into a fighting retreat and continued trying to hit the tar-mummy. They instructed a torch-bearer to throw a torch at the tar-mummy, but he missed and the torch clattered uselessly to the floor. They were getting good hits with edged weapons, but the tar-mummy smashed Beldrum and he collapsed! The others managed to finish the mummy off, surviving by the skin of their teeth. Volrak beseeched his god for an additional spell, made his roll… and his god was not happy, so denied the spell, and Beldrum passed bravely into the afterlife. They decided to burn the body of the tar-mummy, and so found a pair of gold rings, but they were too scared to try them on.

Battered, bruised, and dragging Beldrum’s body back, they retreated to the surface and home to their village to rest, recover, and return another day.

One of the players drew a map of their adventure so far, and scanned them today for me:

Tomb of the Serpent Kings: level 1

Tomb of the Serpent Kings: level 2

it was a great night! Also, I made pizza for everyone for dinner. I’d made the dough earlier in the afternoon, and put it in the fridge. Then when people started arriving and rolling up their characters I rolled it out and topped it and baked fresh pizza for everyone. I made a pepperoni pizza, a satay chicken pizza with cashews, and one of my pumpkin, walnut, and feta pizzas. They turned out great and everyone liked them. So all up it was a great games night with my mates. I’ll try to schedule a follow-up session of the game in a few weeks so they can continue exploring the tomb.

Today, Saturday, was very hot, and I stayed in mostly, except for doing a 2.5k run first thing in the morning. I wrote up the above log of the game for our private wiki, so we have a record of it. And the other main thing I did was write a new lesson plan for the advanced ethics class, on the topic of debt.

New content yesterday:

New content today:

Thunder and rain

Today was all about the weather. We had intermittent heavy rainfall all day, with some very loud rolls of thunder at times. Some suburbs of Sydney received over 100 mm of rain in one hour this afternoon, and there was flash flooding in many places. It wasn’t so bad where I am, but it was definitely torrential for a while in the mid afternoon.

I did manage to take Scully for a couple of walks during lulls in the rain, when the sun even came out, just to make it steamy and humid.

Besides my ethics classes, I worked a bit on preparing for tomorrow’s Dungeons & Dragons game. I made an invitation graphic using the picture from the front of the Basic Set rulebook that we’ll be using.


I also planned out the pizza menu for the dinner I’ll be cooking while the guys roll up their characters. Looking forward to it!

New content today:

A good and bad day

For me it was a good day, but tempered by some bad news from my friends. With the current wave of tech sector layoffs sweeping the world, I was saddened to hear today that two of my friends have lost their jobs. Fortunately we’re in Australia so they would have got reasonable redundancy payouts, but it means they’ll be looking for jobs in a shrinking market.

My own day started with a trip to the golf course. I haven’t played in over six months, due to a combination of the extremely wet weather we’ve had, and having limited opportunities due to ramping up my online teaching work. But it’s been drier lately and today I had a free morning, so I decided to trek out to the pitch and putt “par 3” course, to get my eye back in on a short course, and then go next door to the driving range to practice with my longer clubs a bit before attempting a full sized course.

Back 9

The course was not busy and I played two ball simultaneously, scoring 75 and 71 respectively. The round of 71 matched my previous best on this course, so that was pretty good! I got a birdie on hole 17 – tee shot onto the green, and a slightly longish putt to sink in 2. Achieving a birdie on this course is always something exciting.

I went next door to the driving range, most specifically to have some practice with my driver. But when I got in there were big signs everywhere saying “NO DRIVERS”. The net they have to catch the golf balls has apparently developed some problem, and people were hitting balls over it into the parkland beyond, so they had a temporary ban on drivers until they repaired it. I didn’t want to spend half an hour hitting a 5 iron (the only other club I grabbed from the car), so I skipped it and went to get some lunch.

I drove over to Collaroy for pies from the pie shop there. I walked down to the beach to sit on the grass in the shade and eat. There were two piles of towels and stuff nearby, and halfway through eating two woman emerged from the ocean to come and grab their things, followed by two medium-sized dogs, dripping with sea water. One of the dogs came right up to me – I thought it was going to go for the pie I was eating – but it stopped right next to me, touching distance away, and did the doggy shake to fling all the water off! The women were mortified and one yelled out, “Sorry!!” I said it was okay, I had a dog and I understand. We had a bit of a laugh and they wished me a good day as they walked off with the dogs.

While eating I was watching the various birds hanging out on the beach: mostly silver gulls, some pelicans, welcome swallows, little black cormorants, and… I saw what at first I assumed to be a cormorant dive into the surf, and then realised it had a very long neck for a cormorant. I thought it might be an Australasian darter, but I’ve never seen one in salt water before. I thought they usually lived inland on fresh waterways. After finishing my lunch I walked over to see if I could get a closer look and it was drying its wings off on a concrete boat ramp that leads down the beach to the water.

Australasian darter

At first I thought maybe I’d been mistaken and it was a pied cormorant, but when it stretched its neck out I knew it must really be a darter. I recorded it in eBird, and then tried to sneak closer to get some photos. I managed to creep to within about 2 metres and got a decent photo.

Australasian darter

Well, this was pretty exciting! I’ve seen darters before, but only inland, so this was a new experience seeing one in the surf.

I got home in time to teach the first lesson in my current Creative Thinking and Game Design class. There’s only one student, a girl, and I think she enjoyed the lesson. She certainly got some of the thinking techniques that I went through, and did the exercises well. So I’m looking forward to the rest of the classes with her.

New content today:

Planning a lesson on UFOs

Today I wrote my lesson plan for an upcoming class (starting next week) on the topic of UFOs. This was a special request from one of my students. It’s definitely more a critical thinking topic than an ethics one, although I did manage to think of some ethical questions to ask, such as: Is it ethical of media to publish stories of UFO sightings? If they know most of them have mundane explanations?

I found some very interesting graphs to show to the kids, such as the ones in this article indicating UFO sightings peak in the northern hemisphere summer, and have been growing year by year since the 1960s (after an initial peak in the 1940s and 50s). And ones in this article indicating the global distribution of UFO sightings (hint: over 80% of all sightings are in the USA; less than 20% in the entire rest of the world). And then I’ll ask them what could explain these trends. it should be a very interesting class!

But today I started the topic on Lying. This is a retread of one of the first topics I did two years ago when I started the class. Since none of the same kids are still enrolled I’m able to rerun the topic. That saves me some time writing a new lesson plan (which I can spend writing classes for the older students…)

Last night I finished watching the movie Viking Wolf on Netflix. As the second Norwegian creature film I’ve watched recently, I rate it higher than Troll (2022), which was very formulaic. It’s not the best werewolf film I’ve seen, but I enjoyed it enough to recommend it.

New content today:

New pizza tray

It was a pretty bog-standard Monday. Three ethics classes, to wrap up the topic of Games with the younger students. One particular question that I asked was very interesting. It needs a bit of introduction to set up, and there were other questions I asked along the way, but I’ll condense it down to the essentials for the pertinent question:

Tegan, Josh, and Adele are playing a board game together. They roll dice and play cards and move pieces on the board, chatting and laughing while they play. At one point in the game, Tegan makes a really good move which forces Josh to lose a bunch of points.

Later, as the game nears the end, an interesting situation develops. All those points that Josh lost put him in last place, and he only has one turn left. He knows he can’t score enough points to win. Tegan is currently in the lead, and she will win the game… unless Josh uses his turn to steal points off her. If Josh does this, Adele will win the game. Or he can just try to score as many points as he can, in which case he’ll still come last and Tegan will win.

While Josh is thinking about what move to make, Adele sees that he can steal Tegan’s points. She says, “Josh, if you take her points and make me win, I’ll give you a chocolate bar!”

If you were Josh, how would you respond to Adele in this situation?

Most of the kids throughout the week said they’d accept the chocolate and steal Tegan’s points, letting Adele win the game. (One of the earlier questions asked if it was okay for Josh to steal Tegan’s points, and most said yes, because it’s within the rules of the game.) A few kids said that accepting the chocolate would be bad, because it’s bribery outside the game – there are no in-game rules for chocolate bars, so it shouldn’t be allowed, and Adele was bad for trying it.

But in all the classes I did this week, one kid said:

I’d turn to Tegan and say, “If you give me two chocolate bars, I won’t steal the points from you.”

Honestly I burst out laughing at that point. I thought it was a brutally honest and clever answer. One of the other kids in the same class said, “Ooh, start a bidding war!” It was a great moment.

The rest of my day was pretty standard. Took Scully for a couple of walks, got fish and chips for lunch, made a sourdough loaf, and also made pizza for dinner tonight. I tried using the brand new pizza baking tray I bought last week, so we have a second one, to enable me cooking multiple pizzas on Friday night when the guys come over for Dungeons & Dragons. Our first pizza tray has holes in the bottom, which allows heat to bake the crust from beneath, making it crisp. But I didn’t find any with holes, so this new one is a solid aluminium pan, and the pizza turned out with the base a lot less crisp. I considered a pizza stone, but they’re expensive and I didn’t want to start messing around with that. I’m wondering now how difficult it would be to drill some holes in the aluminium pan.

New content today: